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kottke.org posts about time

Stephen Hawking’s party for time travellers

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 02, 2013

Steven Hawking came up with a simple and clever way of seeing if time travel is possible. On June 28, 2009, he threw a party for time travellers from the future…but didn’t advertise it until after the party was already over.

In an effort to improve the chances of the party invite being noticed by future generations, Peter Dean, working with approval from Hawking, has made this gorgeous hand-printed poster of the party invitation:

Hawking Party Poster

There’s also a smaller less-expensive version of the poster in grey and a fetching yellow/orange.

Time corrections for Big Ben’s chime

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 13, 2013

The universal availability of accurate synchronized time is taken for granted in most areas of the world today, but ‘twas not always so. When Big Ben was built in 1859, charts were issued to show the allowance that had to be made for the sound of the bell, traveling at ~768 mph, to reach different parts of London. This one is from 1875:

Big Ben Ring Correction

Bigger version here. The correction at Paddington Station was 6 seconds, 8 seconds in Notting Hill, and 13 seconds at the Royal Greenwich Observatory, itself the seat of a fledgling universal time standard. (via @michalmigurski)

Seamus Heaney, RIP

posted by Tim Carmody   Aug 30, 2013

Irish poet Seamus Heaney has died at 74. The Guardian has a brief account of his life; The Telegraph grapples more directly with the work There’s also his long, insightful interview with The Paris Review, from 1997.
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“Heaney’s volumes make up two-thirds of the sales of living poets in Britain,” the BBC wrote in 2007, calling him “arguably, the English language’s greatest living bard.”

One of his best-known poems, “Digging,” compares his trade to that of his father and grandfather, who were farmers and cattle-raisers. These are its last two stanzas:

The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.

One of Heaney’s great later achievements was his translation of Beowulf, which I bought and read along with his Selected Poems when I was in college.

Heaney’s take on the Anglo-Saxon most reminds me of the first of Ezra Pound’s Cantos, a weird mix of old epic and contemporary free-verse imagery and meters, a translation of a translation of Homer that begins “And then” and ends “So that:”

When Swinburne died, W.B. Yeats is said to have told his sister, “Now I am King of the Cats.” When Robert Frost died, John Berryman asked, “who’s number one?”

I note this not to pose the question “who’s number one?” now that Heaney has died, but to observe that just as champion boxers and sprinters often have outsized competitive personalities that seem like caricatures compared to other athletes, even among writers, and even when they resist, as Heaney did, being drawn into literary feuds or political debate, great poets are often magnificent and terrible and troubling and glorious and weird.

In living memory

posted by Tim Carmody   Aug 28, 2013

Today is the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The full title is important because the right words are important.

It’s important because the Great March itself was a compromise, an evolution of the movement A. Philip Randolph of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters had forged decades before. During the Roosevelt and Truman administrations, Randolph and other civil rights leaders worked to force the government to desegregate the army and provide more economic opportunities to black Americans. The March was a dream, but it was also a threat. Before 1963, each time the March was about to happen, the government made concessions and it would be called off.

Randolph was 74 when the March finally materialized, with him as its titular head. He was the only figure with the credibility to unify northern labor leaders and southern pastors: radical enough for the relative radicals — the radical radicals saw the March as a distracting sideshow or were directly asked not to participate — and institutional enough for the wary moderates.

Bayard Rustin was Randolph’s lieutenant and did the bulk of the work organizing the March. Rustin was gay, and had been a Communist. He couldn’t be the event’s public face.

Everything that happened at the March, from the arrival of more than 100,000 people straight through all the speeches, all the songs, all the signs painted, all of the 80,000 cheese sandwiches made, distributed, and eaten — each and every one of those moments — happened in one day. Television stations were able to carry the event live. It was a tremendous feat of planning and organization. No one but Bayard Rustin and his dedicated staff could have pulled it off.

John Lewis was 23 years old and the March’s youngest speaker. He is the only one of that day’s speakers who is still alive. Lewis had recently been made head of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, or SNCC (pronounced “snick”). SNCC was a relatively new, independent civil rights organization that had proven itself integrating lunch counters in Nashville, then on the Freedom Rides with CORE protesting segregated busing and bus stations throughout the south, and working with the NAACP and Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in Albany, Georgia.

If you’re serious about the civil rights movement, you have to learn a lot of organizations’ names and abbreviated titles. You have to learn that the leaders of these organizations rarely agreed with each other about goals, methods, or priorities. You have to know that even within each organization there were equal amounts of discipline and dissent.

They were organized not because they agreed, but because they had to be. They were disciplined because they had to be. They were allied because they had to be. It was all fragile. At any moment, it could all fall apart.

John Lewis had been part of both series of Freedom Rides and was badly beaten during the second, in Montgomery. The state highway patrol that had promised the riders protection — at the insistence of the Kennedy administration and with the reluctant assurance of Alabama’s governor, George Wallace — abandoned them to a white mob waiting at the city’s station house.

Lewis was 21 years old. His friend Jim Zwerg was also 21. Zwerg bravely walked out the door of the bus first to meet the waiting mob, where he was nearly beaten to death. He received a particularly savage beating partly because he was first and partly because he was white.

While being beaten, Zwerg recalls seeing a black man in coveralls, probably just off of work, who happened to be walking by. “‘Stop beating that kid,” the man said. “If you want to beat someone, beat me.”

“And they did,” Zwerg remembered. “He was still unconscious when I left the hospital. I don’t know if he lived or died.”

Jim Zwerg is still alive. It’s amazing any of these people are still alive.

Lewis was originally going to give a much more provocative speech at the March. The plan was to call out the supposedly liberal Kennedy administration for its lukewarm support of civil rights. (A less polite word than “lukewarm” would be “half-assed.”) On behalf of SNCC, Lewis would argue that the civil rights legislation proposed by the Kennedy administration was (in Lewis’s words) “too little and too late.”

But each of the March’s major figures, including Rustin and Dr. King, urged Lewis to moderate his speech. They had a testy but evolving relationship with the Kennedys that they didn’t want to jeopardize or aggravate. It was only A. Philip Randolph who finally swayed Lewis. Rustin went into the crowd to find Randolph, then brought the two men together.

Lewis was 51 years younger than Randolph. Lewis later said of Randolph that “if he had been born in another period, maybe of another color, he probably would have been President.” Randolph had been an actor as a young man, and his voice has that deep, archaic, clear-toned, echoing-from-infinity quality that you imagine is the voice of history itself; the voice you imagine reading the Gettysburg Address and Declaration of Independence.

Lewis and the other young leaders of SNCC were quite rightly in awe of him.

He was 75, and here we were, you know, one-third his age and, you know, he was asking us to do this for him. He said, “I waited all my life for this opportunity, please don’t ruin it.” And we felt that for him, we had to make some concession. [Courtland Cox]

The day’s speeches were already underway. This all happened in one day. Lewis was sixth on the program. So Cox and Lewis and James Forman went to the Lincoln Memorial — no bullshit, they went and sat together at the foot of the Lincoln fucking Memorial — and rewrote Lewis’s speech. It’s still pretty fierce.

To those who have said, “Be patient and wait,” we must say that “patience” is a dirty and nasty word. We cannot be patient, we do not want to be free gradually. We want our freedom, and we want it now. We cannot depend on any political party, for both the Democrats and the Republicans have betrayed the basic principles of the Declaration of Independence…

The revolution is a serious one. Mr. Kennedy is trying to take the revolution out of the streets and put it into the courts. Listen, Mr. Kennedy. Listen, Mr. Congressman. Listen, fellow citizens. The black masses are on the march for jobs and freedom, and we must say to the politicians that there won’t be a “cooling-off” period…

We must say, “Wake up, America. Wake up! For we cannot stop, and we will not be patient.”

I was amazed recently to discover that Reverend Doctor Joseph E. Lowery, one of the co-founders of SCLC, is still alive at 91. He has three videos of interviews up at “His Dream, Our Stories,” a site devoted to the March. Lowery was a pastor in Mobile and helped lead the bus boycott in Montgomery — which, people forget, went on for over a year after Rosa Parks’ arrest. Later, Lowery, along with John Lewis, Hosea Williams, Martin Luther King Jr., and others, led the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery. Ten years after Emmett Till’s murder and the Montgomery bus boycott, two years after the March on Washington, and a year after the Civil Rights Act, the Selma marchers were attacked by Alabama state and local police for asserting their right to vote.

In 2008, Lowery gave the benediction for Barack Obama’s first Inauguration. He is still alive. He is 91 years old.

The March all happened in one day; the Movement happened over years and years and years.

Rosa Parks was 42 when the Montgomery bus boycott began. She was 50 at the time of the March, where she was honored along with other important women of the Civil Rights Movement — Little Rock’s Daisy Bates, SNCC’s Diane Nash Bevel, Gloria Richardson of Cambridge, Maryland, and Mrs. Herbert Lee. The women’s many accomplishments and contributions were noted in a speech by Myrlie Evers-Williams, then listed as Mrs. Medgar Evers.

Parks was older than Lowery, who was 34 when the boycott began. Martin Luther King Jr. was 26, not much older than Lewis was when he was called to lead SNCC and speak in Washington. At the March, King was 34. Within five years, he would be dead. A. Philip Randolph would live to be 90 years old, just a little younger than Lowery is now. He outlived King by more than ten years.

We’ve lost so much. We’ve forgotten so much. We’ve asked so few to stand in for so many. We’re doing it still.

Copyright lawyer Josh Schiller recently wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post, “Why you won’t see or hear the ‘I have a dream’ speech,” examining how the King estate’s vigorous defense of his speech’s copyright has prevented its popular reproduction.

One place you can both see and hear King’s speech is on PBS’s Eyes on the Prize website. Eyes on the Prize is a landmark documentary on the entire modern civil rights movement, from Emmett Till’s murder through the 1980s, when it first appeared. Its producers know more than a thing or two about the thorniest issues of copyright: the documentary’s rebroadcast and distribution were held up for years while rights were cleared for its music, photographs, and videos. (Eventually, some of the original media was replaced.) I’m pretty sure they’ve done their work and paid the right licensing fees to get King’s speech on the website.

Watch Dr King’s speech. It’s not the entire thing, and it’s a crummy little QuickTime video. But it includes footage of the marchers arriving, A. Philip Randolph’s introduction, and footage of President Kennedy meeting with the March’s leaders, plus Walter Cronkite’s contemporary commentary.

Remember this is history, which means we are still within it, even when those for whom it has been living memory leave us. Remember that it is the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Remember how fragile it all was. Remember A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin, Joseph E. Lowery and Jim Zwerg. Remember the man in coveralls, remembered by no one but the stranger whose life he saved.

Remember Martin Luther King, Jr., that thickly-built, still-young man, rooting his feet in our history and turning himself into a column of pure energy, like a beacon through time and space, a light so bright we can’t look at him directly, but have to turn away and look only at his half-remembered shape, still impressed on us when we close our eyes. Remember that day, when he all-too-briefly became a single still point with the granted power to bend straight the crooked lines of history.

Remember that fifty years after the Emancipation Proclamation, A. Philip Randolph was organizing the Shakespearean Society in Harlem. Fifty years after that, he was meeting a President who now owed him more than he probably ever knew. Fifty years is a long time and yet not so very long. If so much can be done in just one day, how much more could we do, now that we know we have another fifty years?

Colorized King, Randolph, Kennedy et al.jpgImage colorized by Mads Madsen for NPR.

A short history of child stars

posted by Tim Carmody   Aug 27, 2013

There’s a history here.

It’s not only uncanny when performers we first knew as girls age into women; it’s awkward when boys become men, too. Molly Shannon used to have the same agent as Gary Coleman (story starts around 2:40).

(Shannon tells a longer/uncensored version of this story on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast.)

Clearly, not everyone gets to have Ron Howard’s or Judy Garland’s career. (And even Judy Garland’s life was the opposite of a success story.)

But what about the alternative? What if child stars never changed their acts, and just aged in place? Wouldn’t that be equally unsettling? On Comedy Bang Bang, Scott Aukerman, Reggie Watts, Seth Rogen, and the great Bob Odenkirk try to answer that question through the life of champion birdcaller Tommy Chalders.

Actually, maybe that would be beautiful. I wish Judy Garland had lived to sing “Over the Rainbow” at an auto show.

But time never stands still for us to paint its portrait. As Marshall McLuhan would, and, what the hell, very well might have said: “we look at the present through a rear-view mirror. We twerk backwards into the future.”

Twelve Monkeys TV adaptation is in YOUR FUTURE

posted by Tim Carmody   Aug 26, 2013

Looks like Syfy has ordered a “cast-contingent” hour-long pilot for an adaptation of Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys, with an eye to make it into a proper TV series. One of the producers of Gilliam’s 1995 film is on board, and Terry Matalas and Travis Fickett, who both worked on Terra Nova and Nikita, wrote it. The model here is Battlestar Galactica: a movie reboot that could be a mini-series that could be multiple seasons.

Syfy’s Mark Stern talked about it with The Hollywood Reporter, back when the pilot was 90 minutes long and still waiting to be approved for production while the network and producers figured out what the whole series would be about:

It’s a return to our roots in terms of science fiction: cool, interesting push-the-genre science fiction. Some we’re looking at doing straight to series, because you really want to give them the flexibility and do a closed-ended, arced run. Some of them are going to be traditional pilots, and then we’ll decide and they may be a bit more episodic.

Given the time-travel theme, the fact that the source material (both Twelve Monkeys and La Jetée) are well-known, and the way TV’s changed over the last ten years with jigsaw-puzzle series like LOST and the revived Arrested Development, I’m curious to see if the showrunners might mess around with the timelines a bit, jumping around, giving the audience previews of things the story doesn’t explain right away, and generally making Doctor Who look like it’s for precocious kids (which, really, it kinda is).

Via Adi Robertson at The Verge.

How to make your own slow jams

posted by Tim Carmody   Aug 26, 2013

A couple of weeks ago, a slowed-down version of Dolly Parton’s classic ballad “Jolene” went viral. A lot of people who heard it loved it, a few people didn’t, but everyone seemed to agree that it was like listening to either an entirely new song or the same song again for the first time.

One of the things that’s eerie about this is that if you listen closely, everything is just a little bit out of tune. There’s conflicting information about exactly how much the track has been slowed. Some people have said that it’s simulating a 45 RPM record played at 33 1/3, which is certainly the most common way people who lived with record players heard popular songs at slower speeds. But that would actually be quite a bit slower and lower than this.

The other figure I’ve seen (forgive me for not citing everything, I’m typing as fast as I can) is “Jolene” has been slowed by 17 percent, which sounds about right and would explain why all the notes seem just a little bit sharp. Here’s the formula for slowing or speeding up a recording to shift the pitch but generally stay in tune:

(2 ^ (semitones change/12) - 1) *100 = Percent Change

So — as one does when procrastinating from remunerative work — I made an Excel spreadsheet.

If you want to drop two semitones, you shift the speed down by 12.2462 percent; drop three, you shift by 18.9207 percent, which significantly changes the track. To imitate a 45 RPM record played at 33 1/3, that’s about 25.926, but very few records still sound like something a person actually made at this speed. All of these slowdowns are interesting, even the ones that don’t work.

You can do all of them in the free/open-source audio processing app Audacity; it’s very fast and very easy. (If you want to get freaky, you can also use Audacity to change pitch without changing tempo, or vice versa, or to start out slow and go fast, and all manner of lesser and greater perversity.)

But after messing with Audacity for longer than was strictly necessary, I can tell you that some songs and transformations work out better than others, and they tend to be those that share a lot of the same characteristics as Jolene:

And so, here are some of the results:

I described this Prince track as sounding like the slowest, sultriest, funkiest Sylvester song you’ve ever heard.

Mazzy Star surprised me. I always thought Hope Sandoval’s vocals were gorgeous but a little warbly, which gave them character, but that’s almost entirely a production effect. When you slow it down, you can really hear how clean and sustained her notes are.

My Bloody Valentine is the best example of that fractal quality. You can slow it down almost indefinitely and it still sounds like My Bloody Valentine. At this rate, though, it really just turns Bilinda Butcher’s vocals into Kevin Shields’.

There’s more at my Soundcloud page, including The Breeders’ “Cannonball,” “House of Jealous Lovers,” Hot Chip’s “Over and Over,” Grizzly Bear’s “Two Weeks” (which I actually sped up), and more. (Finally, if slowing a track down and posting it online somehow breaks copyright, let me know and I’ll take them down.)

Update: Andy Baio tips me to a second remix of “Jolene” that slows down the track, but corrects the pitch. Sounds great.

Update 2: Here’s Michael Jackson’s “P.Y.T.” slowed from 127 BPM to 110 BPM, leaving the pitch as-is.

About an hour of Christian Marclay’s The Clock

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 10, 2013

Here are a few clips from Christian Marclay’s The Clock that have been surreptitiously filmed and uploaded to YouTube and Vimeo.

The clips are crappy bootlegs that cut off part of the screen, but I still totally get sucked in after 30 seconds of each clip.

The watches of Fantastic Mr. Fox

posted by Jason Kottke   May 22, 2013

Of course the watches worn by the characters in Fantastic Mr. Fox are going to be classic 70s and 80s timepieces.

Watches, Fantastic Mr Fox

Perpetual motion: the “time crystals” edition

posted by Jason Kottke   May 01, 2013

Normally when someone says they’ve thought up a theoretically possible perpetual motion scheme, you roll your eyes and pass the dutchie to the left hand side. But when that someone is a Nobel laureate in physics, is not generally off his rocker, and has published his idea in a prestigious peer-reviewed journal, people pay attention. Frank Wilczek believes he’s invented something called time crystals.

In February 2012, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Frank Wilczek decided to go public with a strange and, he worried, somewhat embarrassing idea. Impossible as it seemed, Wilczek had developed an apparent proof of “time crystals” — physical structures that move in a repeating pattern, like minute hands rounding clocks, without expending energy or ever winding down. Unlike clocks or any other known objects, time crystals derive their movement not from stored energy but from a break in the symmetry of time, enabling a special form of perpetual motion.

“Most research in physics is continuations of things that have gone before,” said Wilczek, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This, he said, was “kind of outside the box.”

An effort to prove or disprove Wilczek’s theory is underway…let’s hope it holds up to scientific scrutiny better than Time Cube. (via digg)

Time travel is depressing

posted by Aaron Cohen   Apr 08, 2013

In an interview last month with Esquire’s Eric Spitznagel, Michel Gondry talked about his newest movie, The We and the I, and about how time travel is depressing.

ES: In your real life. If you, Michel Gondry, found a time machine and could go anywhere, to any period in history, where would you take it?

MG: I would travel back a few years ago and fix some screw-up I did.

ES: A personal or professional screw-up?

MG: In my personal life.

ES: Can you be more specific?

MG: I would come back and say yes to a girl. That’s all. Actually, I find the whole idea of traveling back in time to be profoundly depressing.

ES: Really? Why so?

MG: Because I know the future. Living in the past, it would feel weird to know what’s going to happen next. You couldn’t escape it. That future’s already in your head. You know it doesn’t get better.

ES: You’d rather not know about the future?

MG: The future is about hope. If you travel from the present to the past, you don’t have that hope anymore. You know how everything turns out.

ES: There are no surprises.

MG: No surprises, exactly! To me, that just sounds so… depressing.

Petition the White House to eliminate daylight saving time

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 10, 2013

Ask anyone with young children what they think of daylight saving time and you’ll probably get a stabbing in the eye. It just totally fucks your world for two+ weeks a year with zero benefit. This petition needs 100,000 digital signatures for the White House to issue an official response to it. Sign it or I might get stabby.

Update: I honestly don’t care which time we keep (DST or standard time), as long as the biannual time switching nonsense stops.

The Twitter version of Marclay’s The Clock

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 19, 2012

Chirp Clock finds tweets containing the current time and displays them on the site.

Chirp Clock

Nearly every second, a user on Twitter tweets about what time it is. It could be groaning about waking up, to telling a friend when to meet, to an automated train scheduler altering when the next one is coming. By searching Twitter for the current time we get a tiny glimpse of how active and far reaching the social network is.

See also The Clock by Christian Marclay. (via @noahkalina)

Ten things everyone should know about time

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 06, 2011

From Sean Carroll at Cosmic Variance, a list of facts and very strong opinions about the nature of time.

4. You live in the past. About 80 milliseconds in the past, to be precise. Use one hand to touch your nose, and the other to touch one of your feet, at exactly the same time. You will experience them as simultaneous acts. But that’s mysterious - clearly it takes more time for the signal to travel up your nerves from your feet to your brain than from your nose. The reconciliation is simple: our conscious experience takes time to assemble, and your brain waits for all the relevant input before it experiences the “now.” Experiments have shown that the lag between things happening and us experiencing them is about 80 milliseconds.

5. Your memory isn’t as good as you think. When you remember an event in the past, your brain uses a very similar technique to imagining the future. The process is less like “replaying a video” than “putting on a play from a script.” If the script is wrong for whatever reason, you can have a false memory that is just as vivid as a true one. Eyewitness testimony, it turns out, is one of the least reliable forms of evidence allowed into courtrooms.

Why 60 seconds and minutes but 24 hours?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 22, 2011

Why are there 60 seconds in a minute and 60 minutes in an hour but 24 hours in a day?

Thanks to the ancient civilizations that defined and preserved the divisions of time, modern society still conceives of a day of 24 hours, an hour of 60 minutes and a minute of 60 seconds. Advances in the science of timekeeping, however, have changed how these units are defined. Seconds were once derived by dividing astronomical events into smaller parts, with the International System of Units (SI) at one time defining the second as a fraction of the mean solar day and later relating it to the tropical year. This changed in 1967, when the second was redefined as the duration of 9,192,631,770 energy transitions of the cesium atom. This recharacterization ushered in the era of atomic timekeeping and Coordinated Universal Time (UTC).

Meaningful clocks in photos

posted by Jason Kottke   May 12, 2011

This photo was taken recently by Sergey Ponomarev in Miyagi Prefecture in northeastern Japan:

Tsunami clock

The line on the wall is the high water mark from the March 11 tsunami and the time on the clock is when the water crested (Wikipedia puts the max readings right around 15:20 local time). Each element alone is documentation of a thing…together they tell a story.

I have a soft spot for storytelling clocks in photos. Joseph Koudelka’s 1968 photo of the empty streets of Prague before the Soviet crackdown of The Prague Spring is one of my favorite photos. And obviously I love the photo taken by my wife of me holding my son Ollie when he was exactly 20 mintues old. It was the first time I’d held him and oh crap I’m crying at work again… (via in focus)

Stopping the world

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 01, 2010

Oh, this is lovely. Someone took a high-speed camera and instead of pointing it at something fast, they put it on a fast-moving train and shot footage of the platform moving by.

Wonderful illustration of the concept of frames of reference. (via capn design)

Charlie Chaplin’s time traveller

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 26, 2010

Mesmerizing Zapruder-esque footage that seems to show a woman talking on a mobile phone at the 1928 premiere of a Charlie Chaplin film at Mann’s Chinese Theatre.

According to this guy, the simplest explanation is that the woman is a time traveller. Stick that in your Occam’s razor and shave it! (via geekologie)

A movie that tells time

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 22, 2010

Christian Marclay is working on a 24-hour film called The Clock.

“The Clock” is a montage of clips from several thousand films, structured so that the resulting artwork always conveys the correct time, minute by minute, in the time zone in which is it being exhibited. The scenes in which we see clocks or hear chimes tend to be either transitional ones suggesting the passage of time or suspenseful ones building up to dramatic action. “If I asked you to watch a clock tick, you would get bored quickly,” explains the artist in remarkably neutral English. “But there is enough action in this film to keep you entertained, so you forget the time, but then you’re constantly reminded of it.”

Love that Marclay. Back when I was still doing 0sil8 — man, what a time capsule that is — one of the projects that I started working on but never got close to finishing was a clock made up of photographs…1440 photographs, one for each minute of the day.

What’s your time perspective?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 04, 2010

A fascinating 10-minute animated talk by Philip Zimbardo about the different “time zones” or “time perspectives” that people can have and how the different zones affect people’s world views.

The six different time zones are:

- Past positive: focus is on the “good old days”, past successes, nostalgia, etc.
- Past negative: focus on regret, failure, all the things that went wrong
- Present hedonistic: living in the moment for pleasure and avoiding pain, seek novelty and sensation
- Present fatalism: life is governed by outside forces, “it doesn’t pay to plan”
- Future: focus is on learning to work rather than play
- Transcendental Future: life begins after the death of the mortal body

Find out which time zone you’re in by taking this survey.

Fun fact: Zimbardo conducted the famous Stanford prison experiment in 1971. (thx, sean)

How to build a time machine

posted by Jason Kottke   May 07, 2010

According to Stephen Hawking, there are three good ways to do it.

If we want to travel into the future, we just need to go fast. Really fast. And I think the only way we’re ever likely to do that is by going into space. The fastest manned vehicle in history was Apollo 10. It reached 25,000mph. But to travel in time we’ll have to go more than 2,000 times faster. And to do that we’d need a much bigger ship, a truly enormous machine. The ship would have to be big enough to carry a huge amount of fuel, enough to accelerate it to nearly the speed of light. Getting to just beneath the cosmic speed limit would require six whole years at full power.

Be there in a jiffy

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 10, 2010

A “jiffy” actually has a formal definition. More than one, in fact.

In electronics, a jiffy is the time between alternating current power cycles, 1/60 or 1/50 of a second in most countries.

In astrophysics and quantum physics a jiffy is the time it takes for light to travel one fermi, which is the size of a nucleon.

In computing, a jiffy is the duration of one tick of the system timer interrupt. It is not an absolute time interval unit, since its duration depends on the clock interrupt frequency of the particular hardware platform.

Acceleration

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 02, 2009

Somewhat related to the apple video from the other day is Jake Lodwick’s Acceleration.

Rules for time travelers

posted by Jason Kottke   May 20, 2009

Sean Carroll lays out the rules for time travel for movies (but also more generally) based on our current understanding of physics.

1. Traveling into the future is easy. We travel into the future all the time, at a fixed rate: one second per second. Stick around, you’ll be in the future soon enough. You can even get there faster than usual, by decreasing the amount of time you experience elapsing with respect to the rest of the world — either by low-tech ways like freezing yourself, or by taking advantage of the laws of special relativity and zipping around near the speed of light. (Remember we’re talking about what is possible according to the laws of physics here, not what is plausible or technologically feasible.) It’s coming back that’s hard.

Star Trek

posted by Jason Kottke   May 11, 2009

[Note: spoilers.] Bones did it for me. As soon as he sat down next to Kirk on the shuttle, I was hooked. Loved Star Trek, wanted to go again as soon we got out.

J.J. Abrams did something kinda crazy with the film though. He took the entire Star Trek canon and tossed it out the window. Because of the whole time travel thing, the events that occurred in The Original Series, The Next Generation, Voyager, DS9, and the previous 10 movies will not happen. Which means that in terms of sequels to this film, the slate is pretty much clean for Abrams or whomever he passes it off to.

Well. Almost. Events in this alternate timeline unfold differently but the same. Even though the USS Kelvin was destroyed with Kirk’s father aboard, Kirk and the rest of the gang somehow all still end up on the Enterprise. But the destruction of an entire planet and 6 billion people should have a somewhat larger effect going forward.

Also worth noting is how the time travel in Trek compares with that on Lost, a show Abrams co-created and currently executive produces. On Lost (so far), the universe is deterministic: no matter who travels when, not much changes. Time travel can affect little details here and there, but the big events unfold the same way each time and every character remembers events unfolding in the same way, no matter when they are on the timeline. Star Trek’s universe is not that way; characters before time travel events remember events unfolding differently. According to the older Spock, the Romulan ship going back in time changed things. Kirk knew his dad, Vulcan wasn’t sucked into a black hole, etc.

On the excellent Bad Astronomy blog, Phil Plait doesn’t cover the time travel aspect of the film but reviews the rest of the science in the film.

And yeah, we do hear ships whoosh as they go to warp and all that, but that’s what we expect to hear, having evolved in an atmosphere which whooshes when things fly past us. I’d prefer that we hear nothing, but I accept that as a filmmaker’s prerogative to make the audience comfortable.

But I’ll add that for years I have complained about sounds in space, saying that done correctly, making things silent can add drama. That sentiment was proven here; the sudden silence as we leave the ship and fly into space with the doomed crewmember is really eerie and unsettling.

In the NY Times, David Hajdu tackles time travel of a different kind, arguing that the original Star Trek was not about science or the future; it was a nostalgic lens through which to view pop culture.

“Star Trek” was an early manifestation of our contemporary absorption with the pop culture of the past. The show’s creator, Gene Roddenberry, was a gifted hack writer for TV Westerns like “Have Gun, Will Travel” and cop shows like “Highway Patrol,” and “Star Trek,” though set in a nominally stylized future, was essentially a Western cop show. In fact, Roddenberry pitched the series to NBC as “Wagon Train” to the stars; and, as Captain Kirk noted in his log, the ship would venture out on “patrol,” cruising the galaxy like a city beat.

Steampunk GPS

posted by Jason Kottke   May 04, 2009

Christopher Fahey on the watchclock, a device built to keep track of the movements of night watchmen.

The mechanism itself has barely changed for a century: although some more recent models incorporate GPS and other technologies, the mechanical key-based watchclock system is still in wide usage, with many buildings still employing the same keys and the same clockwork devices they’ve used since the 1940s. It’s a genuine example of an “if it aint broke, don’t fix it” kind of technology.

(via df)

Flower and bee clocks

posted by Jason Kottke   May 01, 2009

On the Zeitgedächtnis, or time-sense, of honeybees.

Flowers of a given species all produce nectar at about the same time each day, as this increases the chances of cross-pollination. The trick works because pollinators, which in most cases means the honeybee, concentrate foraging on a particular species into a narrow time-window. In effect the honeybee has a daily diary that can include as many as nine appointments — say, 10:00 a.m., lilac; 11:30 a.m., peonies; and so on. The bees’ time-keeping is accurate to about 20 minutes.

The time loop theory of Lost

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 04, 2009

Your Lost prep for the evening: The Time Loop Theory. Spoilers.

All of the “werid” things that we see happen in seasons 1 & 2 of LOST are a result of the Losties now existing in the year 1996 on the island. This is why Locke can walk, and why Rose is Healed — their bodies are now existing in a time prior to them contracting their illnesses. This is also why some characters, such as Walt, have extraordinary perception — because they’re technically from the future.

This is Lost as Primer (note the Primer timeline map).

1234567890 Day

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 11, 2009

This Friday, in addition to being Friday, is also 1234567890 Day. At 6:31 pm EST on that day, the Unix time will be 1234567890.

Unix time [is] defined as the number of seconds elapsed since midnight Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) of January 1, 1970, not counting leap seconds. It is widely used not only on Unix-like operating systems but also in many other computing systems.

(via scribbling)

Regarding meetings

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 21, 2009

As a general rule, meetings make individuals perform below their capacity and skill levels. This doesn’t mean we should always avoid face-to-face meetings - but it is certain that every organization has too many meetings, and far too many poorly designed ones.

Reid Hastie, behavioral scientist