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Engineering a Capable Climbing Lego Car

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 24, 2021

In this video, a simple Lego car is repeatedly modified to navigate more and more difficult obstacles until it can climb up and down almost anything. This fun exercise also doubles as a crash course in engineering and how to build a capable all-terrain vehicle as it “demonstrates what you need to consider: wheel diameter, gear ratio, 4-wheel drive, tire grip, breakover angle, weight distribution”. (via the prepared)

Grief Is Unexpressed Love

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 23, 2021

On The Late Show, Stephen Colbert asked Andrew Garfield how performing and art helps him deal with grief. The relevant bit starts at around the 4:05 mark and continues for three minutes — just give it a watch…there’s not much more I can add to what Garfield says and how he says it.

Update: Colbert is no stranger to conversations about grief — here’s his 2019 conversation with Anderson Cooper. (thx, david)

A Whole Day of Sunlight at the South Pole

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 23, 2021

From September to March each year, the Sun never sets at the South Pole. This time lapse video, taken over 5 days in March, shows the sun circling the entire sky just above the horizon, getting ready to set for the first time in months. (via sentiers)

Watch an AI Break Tetris

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 23, 2021

With nearly instant reaction times, superhuman button tapping frequency, and an inability to fatigue, an AI called StackRabbit can play Tetris better than any human player. But how much better? Well, it can play all the way to the end of the game, which…did you know Tetris ended? I didn’t. But before that happens, it plays flawlessly through hundreds of levels while the game itself is throwing up weirdo color schemes and scores from random places in its memory — the game’s creators didn’t imagine anyone or anything would get anywhere close to these levels. Also, I got surprisingly anxious watching this — it was just so fast with so much constant peril! (via waxy)

Stunning, Ultra-HD Short Films of National Parks

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 22, 2021

For the past 5 years, More Than Just Parks, an organization established by two self-professed “National Park nuts”, have been making short films about America’s National Parks and Forests. Each ultra-HD video is only 3-4 minutes long, extended trailers for the beauty and grandeur of parks like Zion, Grand Teton, and the Badlands and forests like Black Hills, Green Mountains, and Bridger Teton.

You can check out all of the videos on their YouTube channel.

One Month of the Sun

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 22, 2021

Seán Doran took 78,846 frames of data compiled by the Solar Dynamics Observatory over the course of a month and made this absolutely fantastic time lapse of the Sun slowly rotating and burning and flaring. Put this on the biggest, high-resolution screen you can and pretend you’re in the solar observation room of the Icarus II in Sunshine.

See also A Decade of Sun and Gorgeous Time Lapse of the Sun. (via colossal)

The Voice Break Choir

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 18, 2021

Puberty is tough on everyone but for members of boys’ choirs, it can be especially hard. When their voices start to crack, an instrument that they’ve spent years tuning and perfecting is suddenly thrown all out of whack, shifting from soprano to alto or even bass in a matter of months. Their once-reliable voices become irregular, they don’t know where they are going to settle, and once they finally do, they almost have to learn how to sing all over again.

Often teen boys will quit singing in the choir when their voices crack, but the Stockholm Boys’ Choir works with boys going through these changes, empowering them to perform while they wait for their voices to develop, an essential intermediate step between the high notes of the boys’ choir and the deeper tones of the mens’ choir. In many ways, these challenges mirror the larger struggles of puberty.

“We really thought it was a good metaphor for this time in life,” Holmqvist said. In the film, the choristers perform songs with lyrics derived from their own interviews in the documentary, in which they bare their young souls. “Maybe I’m just weird. / Is there something wrong with me?” the fourteen-year-old Dan sings, worried about his lack of interest in the soccer his classmates play. “I just like other things, / Like drawing figures.”

He’s not alone in his doubts. “I don’t think I’m a typical boy,” Ludwig says, also fourteen, in an interview. “Right now, at this age, I’m hanging around more with girls, since they’re easier to talk to.” The fifteen-year-old Andrey, on the other hand, can’t bring himself to ask out the girl he longs to take to prom. “If she turns me down, everyone will laugh at me,” he frets.

This is a lovely little film.

A Humpback Whale Saved My Life

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 18, 2021

In this video, whale scientist Nan Hauser tells the story about how a humpback whale she was swimming with saved her from what she calls “the largest tiger shark I’ve ever seen”. It turns out this is not atypical behavior for humpbacks — they’re one of the nicest animals in the sea or on land and have been known to rescue animals from other species from predators.

First-person accounts of animals saving other animals are rare. Robert Pitman, a marine ecologist with the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, describes a pivotal encounter he witnessed in Antarctica in 2009. A group of killer whales washed a Weddell seal they were attacking off an ice floe. The seal swam frantically toward a pair of humpbacks that had inserted themselves into the action. One of the huge humpbacks rolled over on its back and the 180-kilogram seal was swept up onto its chest between the whale’s massive flippers. When the killer whales moved in closer, the humpback arched its chest, lifting the seal out of the water. And when the seal started slipping off, the humpback, according to Pitman, “gave the seal a gentle nudge with its flipper, back to the middle of its chest. Moments later, the seal scrambled off and swam to the safety of a nearby ice floe.”

Is this behavior in humpbacks altruistic or even compassionate? Or is it “just” instinct?

So are humpbacks compassionate? Scientists, Sharpe tells me, shy away from using the same descriptors we use for humans. “What is exciting about humpbacks is that they are directing their behavior for the benefit of other species,” he says. “But there’s no doubt there are important differences between human compassion and animal compassion.” When I pose the same question to Pitman he concurs. “No editor is going to let me use the word compassion. When a human protects an imperiled individual of another species, we call it compassion. If a humpback whale does so, we call it instinct. But sometimes the distinction isn’t all that clear.”

Objects

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 17, 2021

Objects is a film about the type of person who holds onto things as “a way to keep a treasured record of their lives”. The trailer is embedded above and here is a statement from filmmaker Vincent Liota:

The idea to make Objects came from a phone conversation I had back in 2014 with a long-time friend and collaborator, Robert Krulwich.

We mused about how we had saved objects for years that seemed precious to us, yet had no intrinsic value. Often, we came to own these things accidentally… mementos from an important moment in our lives or objects that evoke a time shared with a loved one. Over the years, these objects gained great significance; some we had each held onto for many decades. To us ‘keepers’ this seemed… natural.

Of course, not everyone shares this quirk. Take both our spouses, who do not hold onto things from the past. For them, objects simply have no resonance or meaning.

Why? What was it that made certain things so important to some people?

Objects is available to stream online at DOC NYC until November 28.

While I’m much more of a person who does not want a lot of possessions, I have keeping tendencies as well — old photos, favorite books I read to my kids when they were tiny, postcards from friends, 90s internet swag, the computer I built the first version of kottke.org on, and nearly every drawing, sculpture, and painting my kids have ever made for me, not to mention keeping online and public every single post I’ve made on kottke.org since March 1998. (via rob walker)

Planktonium

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 17, 2021

Planktonium is a beautiful short film about the microscopic world of plankton, the tiny sea creatures that form the foundation to sustain all life on Earth.

Phytoplankton (small plant-like cells) are producing half of all oxygen on earth by photosynthesis, like plants and trees do on land. Zooplankton are forming the base of the food chain of aquatic life. Plankton are also playing an important part in the global carbon cycle. The plankton are threatened by climate change, global warming and acidification of the oceans.

The abridged version is embedded above; the full 15-minute film is available to stream/download on Vimeo.

Don’t Look Up

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 17, 2021

Somehow, I missed the teaser trailer for Don’t Look Up a couple months back, but the official trailer just came out yesterday. Directed by Adam McKay (The Big Short, Vice) and starring Leonardo DiCaprio & Jennifer Lawrence (and Meryl Streep, Jonah Hill, Mark Rylance, Cate Blanchett, Tyler Perry, and Timothée Chalamet), Don’t Look Up is a comedy about what happens when scientific fact (in the form of a planet-killing comet) slams into the fantasy worlds of politics and entertainment media. Just because you can’t spin Newton’s laws of motion doesn’t mean you can’t try!

Nothing, absolutely nothing whatsoever, about this movie is related to current events, nope, no sir. *sobbing intensifies* (I love disaster movies and will 100% see this even though it will probably be completely enraging.)

How People Live in the Coldest Place on Earth

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 15, 2021

YouTuber Kiun grew up in Yakutia, a region of Siberia that is known for having some of the coldest weather on Earth (we’re talking -40°F on a warm day). In this video, she talks about what daily life is like there, including details about the open-air markets (meat & fish stay naturally frozen) and having a car (owners basically have to keep them running all winter). From a Wired article about Yakutia:

Here arctic chill is simply a fact of life, something to be endured. People develop a variety of tricks to survive. Most people use outhouses, because indoor plumbing tends to freeze. Cars are kept in heated garages or, if left outside, left running all the time. Crops don’t grow in the frozen ground, so people have a largely carnivorous diet — reindeer meat, raw flesh shaved from frozen fish, and ice cubes of horse blood with macaroni are a few local delicacies.

See also Visiting the Coldest City in the World and A Photographic Window into the Remote Siberian Territory of Yakutia.

Julia: A Documentary Film About Julia Child

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 15, 2021

Directed by Betsy West & Julie Cohen (who previously did RBG), Julia is a documentary film that chronicles the life of Julia Child, perhaps the first and still most famous celebrity chef.

Using never-before-seen archival footage, personal photos, first-person narratives, and cutting-edge, mouth-watering food cinematography, the film traces Julia Child’s surprising path, from her struggles to create and publish the revolutionary Mastering the Art of French Cooking (1961) which has sold more than 2.5 million copies to date, to her empowering story of a woman who found fame in her 50s, and her calling as an unlikely television sensation.

The film opened in theaters a couple of weeks ago and is getting great reviews (98% on Rotten Tomatoes).

Shimmering Bees

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 15, 2021

As a defense against predators like hornets, these wild bees flick their bodies in unison, creating these mesmerizing and shimmering waves that ward the hornets off. Watch the video…it’s a wild effect.

In the PLoS ONE study, Gerald Kastberger and colleagues focused on the shimmering behavior in giant honeybees, the intriguing, docile, nest-based trait reminiscent of the Mexican waves seen in football stadiums. It was previously known that shimmering was evoked by visual stimuli of predators-particularly hovering wasps. This highly coordinated response aligns hundreds of colony members and displays a remarkable capacity of fast communication within a society, unique in the animal kingdom.

When a giant honeybee colony shimmers, it has two potential addressees: firstly, its nest mates, which coordinate themselves to participate in the shimmering, and which possibly become aroused or alarmed. The authors posit that the members of the group, which are assembled in the dense networks of a “bee curtain” on both sides of the comb, continuously produce and receive information about the state of the colony, reflecting its day-to-day business of foraging, reproduction, reorganization and defensive actions (such as shimmering). Secondly, the potential predators such as wasps and mammals are targeted — these are thought to be influenced by the dynamic visual cues of shimmering.

The Beauty of Denis Villeneuve’s Films

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 12, 2021

Dune. Arrival. Blade Runner 2049. Sicario. The films of director Denis Villeneuve are filled with incredible cinematography. Some of the best shots are showcased in this 6-minute video accompanied by the haunting strains of Max Richter.

This is from a YouTube channel called The Beauty Of, which has many similar videos featuring the cinematography of movies, TV shows, and video games. Like Studio Ghibli movies, If Beale Street Could Talk, The Wire, Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings films, and The Queen’s Gambit.

The Dutch Angle

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 12, 2021

These days, movies, TV shows, and even commercials all use something called the Dutch angle,1 a filmmaking technique where the camera is angled to produce a tilted scene, often to highlight that something is not quite right. The technique originated in Germany, inspired by Expressionist painters.

It was pioneered by German directors during World War I, when outside films were blocked from being shown in Germany. Unlike Hollywood, which was serving up largely glamorous, rollicking films, the German film industry took inspiration from the Expressionist movement in art and literature, which was focused on processing the insanity of world war. Its themes touched on betrayal, suicide, psychosis, and terror. And Expressionist films expressed that darkness not just through their plotlines, but their set designs, costumes… and unusual camera shots.

This got me thinking about my favorite shot from Black Panther, this camera roll in the scene where Killmonger takes the Wakandan throne:

It’s the Dutch angle but even more dynamic and it blew me away the first time I saw it. I poked around a little to see if this particular move had been done before (if director Ryan Coogler and cinematographer Rachel Morrison were referencing something specific) and I found Christopher Nolan (although I’d argue that he uses it in a slightly different way) and Stranger Things (in the scene starting at 1:33). Anywhere else?

  1. As with Pennsylvania Dutch, the Dutch in Dutch angle is a bastardization of Deutsch (German).

David Fincher’s VOIR

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 12, 2021

A few weeks ago, I posted about David Fincher’s new project with Netflix. Unfortunately, it’s not a third season of Mindhunter. But, here’s what it is: a 6-episode series of visual essays about movies and filmmaking, not unlike the YouTube videos I post here all the time (many of which you can find under the film school tag).

VOIR is a series of visual essays celebrating Cinema and the personal connection we each have to the stories we see on the big screen. From intimate personal histories to insights on character and craft, each episode reminds us why Cinema holds a special place in our lives.

Tony Zhou and Taylor Ramos of the dearly missed Every Frame a Painting are contributing to at least one of these visual essays, so that right here is reason enough to rejoice. VOIR drops Dec 6 on Netflix.

A 3D Animation of Ocean Depths

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 11, 2021

The ocean is deep, deeper in some places than Mount Everest is tall. In this 5-minute 3D animation, we take a trip from the shallows of the shoreline to the deepest parts of the ocean, with occasional comparisons to things like the height of the Statue of Liberty, Eiffel Tower, and Mount Everest along the way. See also The Deep Sea. (via open culture)

How to Make a Bespoke Savile Row Suit

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 11, 2021

As part of an online course on fashion and design, MoMA visited the Savile Row tailors Anderson & Sheppard to learn how they go about making one of their bespoke suits.

Behind a drawn curtain, a master cutter takes an initial series of 27 measurements: 20 for the jacket, 7 for the trousers. From these measurements, the cutter fashions a pattern in heavy brown paper. At the cutter’s table, the cloth is cut in using heavy shears, and the many pieces of fabric are rolled for each garment into tiny packages, which await the tailors.

See also $399 Suit Vs $7900 Suit. And you can check out the rest of the MoMA’s online course Fashion as Design in this YouTube playlist.

Four-Day Commute to Work Via Kayak

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 11, 2021

Adventurer Beau Miles has been focused recently on exploring near where he lives rather than in far-flung locales. He’s walked 56 miles to work a couple of times, adventuring and foraging along the way and recently posted a video of him commuting to work in a kayak. It took him four days. Miles explains:

I’m really fascinated by something as mundane as a commute to work. I think it can offer me a whole bunch of adventure. I’ve already walked to work — I stripped it right back and it was hard and challenging, and really insightful of me and humanity. Now to extend that idea, why don’t I try and paddle to work? I can get to work via the very water that falls on my roof. In doing so, I’m reinventing my idea of adventure. I no longer feel the need to go and paddle great distances down a continent shore, or go to the highest peaks. Your carbon footprint goes through the roof, just so you can go and find yourself, somewhere else. And so I really want to do these things in my backyard now, and why not my boyhood river that I want to reinvent with some adult ideas?

Update: Inspired by Miles’ journey, a high school senior did a kayak commute to school: The 54.5 Hour Commute.

Throughout the trip, Gralyn was offered help from friends and family — everything from transportation to Clif bars — but he accepted none of it. “That would be cheating,” Gralyn says, it would have completely changed the experience. He wanted to experience the full challenge, he wanted to be self-sufficient, and he wanted to know if it was even possible. “Water used to be so common for traveling everywhere and now we never use it. It’s the road less traveled now.”

Update: Back in 2007, Tom Chiarella walked to the mall in 2.5 days.

In the days before I left, everyone told me it was a stupid idea, pointless, fraught with risk. My brother called me an idiot. My golf partners cackled. Many people worried what would happen to me in the city. Another group of friends saw the isolation of the country as more threatening. My wife wanted to forbid it, thinking it incredibly stupid, a blatant invitation to dismemberment, a prelude to disappearance. I told her I’d be okay, that I wasn’t afraid. I was plenty brave enough to handle what came my way. “You think you’re brave,” she said. “You’ve always had a car. It’s easy to be brave when you have a car.”

(via @DavidNir)

8-Bit Christmas

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 10, 2021

8-Bit Christmas is a Christmas movie set in the 80s starring Neil Patrick Harris and centered around the Nintendo Entertainment System that seems to be hitting the Christmas Story, Doogie Howser, Stranger Things, Princess Bride, The Wizard, and Goonies nostalgia buttons all at the same time. As someone who was roughly the age of the movie’s child protagonist when the NES came out,1 this movie is directed squarely at me, I will probably watch it, and I cannot see how it can possibly be good. But…maybe?

  1. I am not exactly sure when I got my first Nintendo, but I do know it was early enough to get the Deluxe Set with R.O.B., the Zapper gun, Gyromite, and Duck Hunt. I also got Super Mario Bros. at the same time. My recollection was that I used some money I had saved up from my confirmation to buy it, but I’m not sure that lines up with the timeline. Maybe I got it for Xmas? Whatever the case, it was a big deal…it was by far the most expensive thing I’d ever owned and the first video game system our family had. I played that thing into the ground for years and years afterward.

Visualizing Auto-Tuned Vocals (Freddie vs. Bublé)

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 10, 2021

Using the sound visualizations of two tracks, one from Freddie Mercury and the other from Michael Bublé, Fil Henley shows us how to recognize the subtle auto-tuning that has applied to the vocals of some recordings (like Bublé’s in this instance). You can see quite easily that the precise hitting and holding of notes in the auto-tuned version is unnaturally superhuman. (via the morning news)

Great Art Explained: The Mona Lisa (The Extended Cut)

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 09, 2021

In the most recent episode of the excellent YouTube series Great Art Explained, James Payne expands on an earlier, shorter video on the Mona Lisa with this double-length extended cut.

For Mona Lisa, Leonardo used a thin grain of poplar tree and applied an undercoat of lead white, rather than just a mix of chalk and pigment. He wanted a reflective base. Leonardo painted with semi-transparent glazes that had a very small amount of pigment mixed with the oil, so how dark you wanted your glaze to be depends on how much pigment you use. He used more like a “wash”, which he applied thin — layer by layer. Here you can see two colors of contrast — light and dark. When you apply thin glaze over both of them, you can see it starts to unify the contrast but also brings depth and luminosity. The lead white undercoat reflects the light back through the glazes, giving the picture more depth and in essence, lighting Mona Lisa from within.

This was fascinating, not a wasted moment in the whole thing. I’ve read, watched, and listened to a lot of analysis of the Mona Lisa over the years, but Payne’s detailed explanation both added to my knowledge and clarified what I already knew.

Hats Off to This Excavator Operator

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 08, 2021

“Fastest time to remove 6 caps using an excavator” is possibly the world’s most pointless Guinness World Record, but watching record-holder Zhu Fei deftly & precisely operate his massive machine is really something. I bet he could delicately crack an egg without breaking the yolk, pet a kitten without waking it up, or expertly frost a cake with that thing.

See also Lao Pang’s excavator tricks, including slicing a cucumber that’s sitting on a top of a balloon without popping the balloon and this collection of excavator tricks.

Meet the Liverbirds!

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 05, 2021

In the early 60s in Liverpool, inspired by going to see The Beatles at the legendary Cavern Club, four teenaged girls formed the Liverbirds, one of the first all-female rock bands. They toured Britain and gained their greatest fame in Hamburg, Germany, where they followed the Beatles by playing at the Star-Club. During their six-year existence, the band played with Jimi Hendrix, the Rolling Stones, and the Kinks. In this installment of Almost Famous, the group’s two remaining members detail the history of the band. What a great story.

Why Starting a Cannabis Business Is So Hard

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 04, 2021

This video provides a good overview of the difficulty involved in starting a business that grows, sells, or distributes cannabis products, which can include money, federal illegality, state regulations, and structural racism.

Jeannette: So you really got to get your business funded from your personal wealth or from your network wealth.

Nancy: Those situations begin to favor people who’ve traditionally had good access to capital.

Jeremy: And oftentimes that correlate with being white.

Adriana: It is very white male-dominant. And there’s no reason that that is what it should be.

Narrator: Only 2% of cannabis entrepreneurs are Black. Yet Black Americans were most affected by marijuana’s illegal status in the past.

Jeremy: There is kind of a clear throughline from the war on drugs. According to the ACLU, Black people are four times as likely than whites to get arrested for cannabis use, despite using at very similar rates across age groups, across different states.

See also A Post-Legalization Cannabis Reading List.

The Ultimate Ski Run

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 04, 2021

This is a really entertaining ski video from Markus Eder that combines the playful free skiing of Candide Thovex with JP Auclair’s street skiing. My kids do free skiing — not on stuff like this quite yet — and let me assure you that as steep, fast, and big as everything looks in that video, it’s steeper faster, and bigger in real life. It took so much effort and planning to make that run look so easy.

Time Lapse of Carnivorous Plants and Their Prey Preparing for Battle

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 04, 2021

Backed by a soundtrack from Alexis Dehimi that sounds like it’s from a Christopher Nolan or Denis Villeneuve movie, Thomas Blanchard’s short film provides a glimpse into the tiny, dynamic world of plants and insects: “A butterfly in the process of being born, plants in the process of growing, Carnivorous plants in the process of hunting.”

It’s all very dramatic, but never fear, a tender disclaimer in the video’s description: “All insects captured by the plants have been released.” (via colossal)

Finch? Finch.

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 03, 2021

Finch is a movie starring Tom Hanks, whose character befriends a dog in post-apocalyptic America and then builds a robot to protect the dog. It’s like Short Circuit meets I Am Legend meets Turner and Hooch meets Castaway meets Terminator 2. The only reason I am telling you about this preposterous-sounding entertainment product is that David Ehrlich (who is responsible for the epic movie recaps I post every year) wrote a mostly favorable review of it. The star of the show, says Ehrlich, is Jeff, the dog’s robot bodyguard:

Dewey sets the tone as the first of Finch’s manufactured friends. An articulating arm that’s attached to a metal cube on wheels, the prototype is lovable despite being only lightly anthropomorphized, and the decision to cast him as a 100-percent practical animatronic makes it that much easier for your eyes to accept that Jeff is just as real (Jones’ on-set motion-capture work and top-notch CGI help to complete the illusion). From the moment Finch powers him up, there isn’t a doubt in your mind. In fact, Jeff is so tactile and endearing that a more adorable design might have risked a kind of overkill; essentially an oblong, gourd-like orange cushion affixed with two protruding camera eyes and squished on top of a giant chassis of exposed titanium joints, Finch’s magnum opus doesn’t seem like the solution to all his problems so much as a robot Cousin Greg who’s been programmed with Asimov’s Three Laws plus a prime directive to “protect dog above all else.” He can only be loved for his potential.

It’s streaming on Apple+ starting this Friday. I might….watch it?

An Animated Music Video for a Jarvis Cocker Cover, Directed by Wes Anderson

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 03, 2021

Wes Anderson has directed a stylish animated music video for Jarvis Cocker’s lovely cover of Christophe’s “Aline”, which was a big hit in France in the summer of 1965. The video, illustrated by Javi Aznarez, also doubles as a trailer/moving poster of sorts for the film in which the song appears, Anderson’s own The French Dispatch.

The song appears on the soundtrack for The French Dispatch, as well as on an album called Chansons d’Ennui Tip-Top, a collection of French pop songs covered by Cocker in character as Tip-Top, the character he voices in the movie. (via open culture)