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kottke.org posts about video

The History of Tetris World Records

I know a lot of you probably aren’t going to take me up on this, but I recommend watching Summoning Salt’s feature-length documentary on the history of Tetris world records. I started watching in the other night and once I got going, I couldn’t stop. Some of plot points were familiar — Why Are Humans Suddenly Getting Better at Tetris?, A Revolutionary NES Tetris Technique Gaining Steam, The Greatest Classic Tetris Game of All Time, 13-Year-Old Becomes First to Beat NES Tetris, Another Tetris World Record Completely Demolished! What Is Going On?! — but seeing it all put together in one engaging & informative narrative was really compelling.

Watching these videos about Tetris (and also Super Mario Bros), what strikes me most is how clearly you can see, over and over again, how innovation works:

This is a great illustration of innovation in action. There’s a clearly new invention, based on prior effort (standing on the shoulders of giants), that allows for greater capabilities and, though it’s still too early to tell in this case, seems likely to shift power to people who utilize it. And it all takes place inside a small and contained world where we can easily observe the effects.

And it’s a credit to Summoning Salt and other video producers that this process is so clear to the viewer:

In the video analysis of this speedrun, if you forget the video game part of it and all the negative connotations you might have about that, you get to see the collective effort of thousands of people over more than three decades who have studied a thing right down to the bare metal so that one person, standing on the shoulders of giants in a near-perfect performance, can do something no one has ever done before. Progress and understanding by groups of people happens exactly like this in manufacturing, art, science, engineering, design, social science, literature, and every other collective human endeavor…it’s what humans do. But since playing sports and video games is such a universal experience and you get to see it all happening right on the screen in front of you, it’s perhaps easier to grok SMB speedrun innovations more quickly than, say, how assembly line manufacturing has improved since 2000, recent innovations in art, how we got from the flip phone to iPhone X in only 10 years, or how CRISPR happened.

I was talking to my son about this video yesterday and of course he’d already seen it — “I love Summoning Salt’s videos” — and I loved his take on the way in which the NES version of Tetris was unwittingly challenging these players beyond what the game’s makers had ever envisioned. Where the designers may have just kept increasing the speed of the game as the levels got higher (boring!), the game glitches and throws all these interesting challenges at players: tile colors you can barely see, game-ending kill screens that you can pick your way around, a level with 810 lines, and the game resetting after hundreds of levels. So instead of players just having to get faster (which they have definitely done), they’ve had to navigate all of these other obstacles as well. (thx, nathan)

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Danny MacAskill Goes Mountain Biking With Friends in Scotland

Danny MacAskill is known ‘round these parts for his jaw-dropping trials riding (I first posted about him 15 years ago) but this ride is a little bit different. MacAskill and four friends take to the local mountain bike trails around Inverness, Scotland on ebikes and have a grand old time. For me, listening to the banter was just as entertaining as watching the riding — it’s obvious they’re just out there having a blast.

P.S. I was also trying to calculate how fast I would die if I tried riding some of that stuff and the answer is “almost immediately”. Yiiiikes.

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Trailer for Season Two of The Rings of Power

I am apparently one of the few people who really liked the first season of the Lord of the Rings prequel series, The Rings of Power. I mean, it had its rough spots and maybe there was a little too much table-setting, but in general it left me wanting to see what was going to happen next. The trailer for season two just dropped and it looks pretty action-packed and stocked with characters & events that would be familiar to those who have read the main book series. Here’s the synopsis:

Sauron has returned. Cast out by Galadriel, without army or ally, the rising Dark Lord must now rely on his own cunning to rebuild his strength and oversee the creation of the Rings of Power, which will allow him to bind all the peoples of Middle-earth to his sinister will. Building on Season One’s epic scope and ambition, the new season plunges even its most beloved and vulnerable characters into a rising tide of darkness, challenging each to find their place in a world that is increasingly on the brink of calamity. Elves and dwarves, orcs and men, wizards and Harfoots… as friendships are strained and kingdoms begin to fracture, the forces of good will struggle ever more valiantly to hold on to what matters to them most of all… each other.

And they also released a behind-the-scenes look at the production of season two:

The second season of The Rings of Power premieres on August 29 on Amazon Prime.

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The Trailer for Francis Ford Coppola’s Megalopolis

Francis Ford Coppola has been making Megalopolis since 1983 and has self funded it “in part by the sale of a significant portion of the director’s wine empire”. But the trailer is finally here and it premieres at Cannes in two days’ time. Here’s a synopsis shared by Coppola himself:

A man balances precariously on a ledge high above a once-grand city in the opening scene of Francis Ford Coppola’s MEGALOPOLIS, and the movie that follows is — at least in part — about an entire civilization teetering on a similarly precarious ledge, devouring itself in a whirl of unchecked greed, self-absorption, and political propaganda, while a few bold dreamers push against the tide, striving to usher in a new dawn. The man is called Caesar (Adam Driver), like the Roman general who gave rise to the Roman Empire, Cesar the labor leader who organized California’s farm workers in the 1960s, and a few other notably great men of history. But he is also clearly an avatar of Coppola himself — a grand visionary witnessing a once-great thing (call it cinema if you must) withering before his very eyes and determined to revivify it. And, after decades of planning, MEGALOPOLIS the movie is the powerful elixir he has produced: a sweeping, big-canvas movie of provocative ideas and relentless cinematic invention that belies its maker’s 84 years of age.

Coppola seems to have been born-again by a strike of filmic lightning, and the movie — no, the experience (complete with in-theater “live cinema”) — that has emerged feels at once the work of a film-school wunderkind unbowed by notions of convention, but also the work of a wizened master who knows much about life and the ways of the world. To paraphrase Coppola himself speaking decades ago about his APOCALYPSE NOW, MEGALOPOLIS isn’t a movie about the end of the world as we know it, it is the end of the world as we know it. Only, where APOCALYPSE left us in a napalm-bombed fever-dream haze, MEGALOPOLIS, surprisingly and movingly, bestows on us a final image glowing with hope for the future.

You should also watch this clip of the film shared by Coppola, which reveals another aspect of the story:

This is either going to be amazing or a beautiful disaster, but either way I’m excited to see it…if they can find someone to distribute the film.

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Patriarchy According to The Barbie Movie

Using the Barbie movie and other media (movies, TV shows) as a guide, Pop Culture Detective delves into what “patriarchy” actually means (mirrors: Patreon & archive.org).

We’re going to use the movie as a sort of primer to help explain what patriarchy actually is, what it isn’t, and how it ends up harming everyone, including men. To have any kind of productive conversation, we have to get over that defensiveness that so many men feel whenever they they come across the word “patriarchy”. Contrary to popular belief, patriarchy is not a synonym for men, nor is it a code word for masculinity, and it certainly has nothing to do with hating men.

The bibliography in the description of the video lists three books if you’d like to do some reading on the topic:

(via waxy)

P.S. While I was watching this video, YouTube removed it after Warner Brothers “blocked it on copyright grounds”. The channel is challenging the takedown and has uploaded it to Patreon and archive.org in the meantime. (I’m leaving the embed in case it comes back to life.) This bullshit is so irritating — Google just totally letting massive media corporations decide what’s copyright infringing without recourse. And Warner (and Gerwig & Robbie too to some lesser extent)…you made the fucking movie to get a message across and to get people talking and someone posts a thoughtful video essay about the central issue of the film and you fucking take it down?


NASA Visualization of Flying Into a Supermassive Black Hole

NASA used one of their supercomputers to model what it would look like if you flew into a supermassive black hole. (You can watch the simulation in a 360° view on YouTube. I bet it looks great on a VR rig like Apple Vision Pro.)

The movies begin with the camera located nearly 400 million miles (640 million kilometers) away, with the black hole quickly filling the view. Along the way, the black hole’s disk, photon rings, and the night sky become increasingly distorted — and even form multiple images as their light traverses the increasingly warped space-time.

In real time, the camera takes about 3 hours to fall to the event horizon, executing almost two complete 30-minute orbits along the way. But to anyone observing from afar, it would never quite get there. As space-time becomes ever more distorted closer to the horizon, the image of the camera would slow and then seem to freeze just shy of it. This is why astronomers originally referred to black holes as “frozen stars.”

At the event horizon, even space-time itself flows inward at the speed of light, the cosmic speed limit. Once inside it, both the camera and the space-time in which it’s moving rush toward the black hole’s center — a one-dimensional point called a singularity, where the laws of physics as we know them cease to operate.

“Once the camera crosses the horizon, its destruction by spaghettification is just 12.8 seconds away,” Schnittman said. From there, it’s only 79,500 miles (128,000 kilometers) to the singularity. This final leg of the voyage is over in the blink of an eye.

Black holes: so cool. (via the kid should see this)

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Miranda Lambert’s “Wranglers” & Chappell Roan’s “Good Luck, Babe!”

Here are a couple newish lyric videos that share a nice spirit of “Good riddance!!!”-ness. I learned of the Chappell Roan video from a comment in a post from earlier this week (comment of the week?? by my standards, anyway), and I love it. (Here’s Roan’s awesome Tiny Desk Concert, by the way.) And the Miranda Lambert reminds me of a specific situation in my own life and makes me smile. 🔥👖

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Wes Anderson’s Montblanc Commercial

Rupert Friend, Jason Schwartzman, and Wes Anderson star in an Anderson-directed commercial for Montblanc pens. You know the drill: it’s twee, it’s charming, it’s art-directed to within an inch of its life. Me personally? I love it.

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Skating the Contours of Nature

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a skate video like this before: a group of riders skating the smooth, flowing rocks on the Maltese island of Gozo (site of Calypso’s cave in the Odyssey). Skateboarding has always been such an urban-coded sport — surfing on concrete, reliant on the human-made infrastructure against which it rebels — that it’s a little bit of a mindbend to see it out in nature like this.

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A Calming Visit to Claude Monet’s Famed Gardens in Giverny

The Water Lilies paintings that French impressionist Claude Monet is most known for were all painted in the garden of his house in Giverny. Pay a relaxing visit to the set of the MBU (Monet Botanical Universe) with this leisurely video. Here’s another tour of the gardens with music.

See also Monet painting in his gardens, Claude Monet’s War Paintings, and Monet’s Ultraviolet Vision. (via the kid should see this)

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The Native Youth Olympics

Since the early 70s, the Native Youth Olympics have showcased the traditional games of the Alaska Native people:

Our Alaska Native ancestors developed traditional games in order to test and prove crucial abilities that governed everyday life. Competition was created with each other to hone their ability to hunt and fish for daily survival in the traditional way of life. The creators of the NYO Games wanted an opportunity to demonstrate their favorite traditional Native contests of their forefathers.

I found out about this via a highlight reel on Instagram — here’s last year’s competition highlights:

You can check out a list of the competitive events; they include:

  • One-foot High Kick: “In many cultures, the One-Foot High Kick was used for signaling a successful hunt.”
  • Indian Stick Pull: “The Indian Stick Pull represents grabbing a slippery salmon, and was used traditionally to develop hand and arm strength.”
  • Kneel Jump: “Historically, the Kneel Jump was a game used to strengthen the leg muscles for jumping from ice floe to ice floe, and for lifting prey after a successful hunt.”
  • Seal Hop: “The Seal Hop is a variation of the Inuit Knuckle Hop, and used traditionally as a game of endurance and stamina, and for sneaking up on a seal, mimicking the mammal’s movement on the ice.”
  • Two-foot High Kick: “The Two-Foot High Kick was historically used to communicate the success of a spring hunt.”

I love these events. I think my favorite is a reintroduced event for the 2024 games (just concluded): the Toe Kick, which returned after a 10-year hiatus. Here’s how you do it:

Here’s a short documentary about the NYO and athlete Autumn Ridley from 2013 — her event is the Alaskan High Kick, perhaps the most impressively athletic event:

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Check In On Those Around You

This is a powerful public service announcement about mental health from Norwich City FC and Samaritans (note the content warning at the start of the video). That’s all I’m going to say about it — just watch it.

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Watch Chuck Jones Draw Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Porky Pig

This is great: a 25-minute interview with legendary animator Chuck Jones as he sits and draws some of his iconic characters (Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Daffy Duck). He told this anecdote about how Steven Spielberg and George Lucas were both influenced by a particular space-themed cartoon of his:

Porky was just a kind of a little third-string Boy Scout and was not very interesting to me. And then when I put him in a picture called Duck Dodgers in the 24th and a Half Century. Spielberg used that picture in Close Encounters the Third Kind - when his kids were watching television in the picture, they were watching Duck Dodgers in the 24th and a Half Century. And Lucas told me that he saw that picture when he was 12 years old and when when he opened Star Wars in San Francisco he told them they couldn’t have Star Wars in San Francisco unless they ran Duck Dodgers in the 24th and a Half Century.

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The Feeling That the Time for Doing Something Has Passed

Here is a pleasantly painful trailer for a new movie from the filmmaker Joanna Arnow. It opens this Friday, April 26, at IFC and Lincoln Center in NYC. I don’t know if I’m going to watch it, but I couldn’t really look away.

Arnow also stars as…

an emotionally detached young Brooklynite drifting through unremarkable days and nights. Neither her on-again-off-again BDSM relationship with a mildly disinterested older dom, nor her nondescript corporate job, appear to bring her any satisfaction.

And yet “she finds a core of poignant truth about the ways people search for … emotional happiness and sexual gratification” (per the Lincoln Center summary). It’s currently at a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, FWIW. (This bit also made me laugh out loud.)

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A Huge Collaborative Flipbook Animation

I love this: The Pudding ran an online experiment where they started with a shape (like a straight line or circle) and asked people to trace, as best they could, the tracing of the person before them. This resulted in a series of “flipbook” animation of how the shapes evolved over time — invariably, a squiggle.

One thing I noticed right away was how all the squiggles ended up squished over on the right side of the screen. The Pudding team had a theory on why that happened (the 3:20 mark in this video):

I found this study from like 35 years ago - they were trying to figure out why people kept missing their targets on touch screens. They found people tended to touch below their target and people tended to touch closer to the edges of the screen. And so I figure if it’s like right-handers who are missing, you’re going to be missing to the right. We probably had about half the users on mobile and 90% of the those half are probably going to be right-handed so it would make sense that it would gradually go to the right.

Go read the rest of the post — they also did an experiment about people’s inclination to draw penises on “any free-form drawing project on the internet”. (via waxy)

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What Bird Is That?

As someone who is interested in birds but doesn’t know a whole lot about them, this new animated video series from Will Rose is right up my alley. What Bird Is That? is a beginners guide to birding. The second episode, embedded above, is all about how to identify birds from their calls.

What’s that bird that sounds like Star Wars singing on my roof? What bird sings it’s own name? What’s that laughing sound you heard in the woods?

Right now, I “cheat” by using Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s eBird app, which allows you to record a bit of birdsong and it’ll ID the bird for you. (via the kid should see this)

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Bizarre Traveling Flame Discovery

Steve Mould’s videos are always entertaining and informative but this one is also a little bit mind-blowing. If you build a circular trough with just the right dimensions and fill it with lighter fluid, a flame will travel around it. And other shapes will do other things — the effect created by the star/octopus shape is especially cool. The effect is an example of an excitable medium:

An excitable medium is a nonlinear dynamical system which has the capacity to propagate a wave of some description, and which cannot support the passing of another wave until a certain amount of time has passed (known as the refractory time).

A forest is an example of an excitable medium: if a wildfire burns through the forest, no fire can return to a burnt spot until the vegetation has gone through its refractory period and regrown.

Other examples:

Normal and pathological activities in the heart and brain can be modelled as excitable media. A group of spectators at a sporting event are an excitable medium, as can be observed in a Mexican wave (so-called from its initial appearance in the 1986 World Cup in Mexico).

(via waxy)

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Denis Villeneuve’s Four Favorite Films

Letterboxd asked Dune director Denis Villeneuve what his four favorite films were and he cheated and listed five (including 2001 and Blade Runner).

First of all, who knows how long Blade Runner has been on his top 5 (or even 10 or 20 list) but getting to do a sequel of one of your favorite films has to be unbelievably rewarding as a director.1

And I’m going to cheat as well here and list a number of other films that Villeneuve has publicly praised, courtesy of this piece from IndieWire: Vertigo, Children of Men, Downsizing (?), There Will Be Blood, Seven Samurai, The Beguiled, Jaws, and three Nolan films (Dunkirk, Inception, Tenet).

  1. I was trying to think of what might be the equivalent to this for me and all I could come up with is getting hired to reboot Suck or something.
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This Beaver Dam is So Huge, You Can See It from Space

A family of beavers in Canada has built a dam that’s twice as wide as the Hoover Dam. This huge dam is kind of a click-baity promotion (it worked!) but the essence of the video is how beavers can help make landscapes more resilient to effects of climate change.

It’s so big it can be seen from outer space. But that’s not the only reason NASA is interested in this architecturally minded species… Increasing diversity and resilience, not to mention creating wetlands, are just some of the impacts beavers can have on their surroundings. What does this mean for the wider environment? And how can we humans learn from it?

See also Unleashing Beaver to Restore Ecosystems and Combat the Climate Crisis.

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Are the Kids Alright When They Grow Up?

This is a teenager is an interactive data visualization by Alvin Chang about a group of American teenagers that have been tracked in a longitudinal study since 1997 (they are around 40 years old now). The video version of the visualization is embedded above.

A year from now, in 1998, a researcher named Vincent Felitti will publish a paper that drastically changes the way we think about these kids — and their childhood.

The research will show that these childhood stressors and traumas — called Adverse Childhood Experiences — have a lifelong effect on our health, relationships, happiness, financial security, and pretty much everything else that we value. It will kickstart decades of research that shows that our childhood experiences shape our adulthood far more than we ever thought.

This is a good companion to a recent post, End-Stage Poverty Is Killing People in Safety Net-Free America.

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How Candles Are Made

From Factory Monster (great name), a video of how candles are made in a South Korean candle factory. I like that there’s no music or voiceover, so you can hear the sounds of the production. I also enjoyed the charmingly janky English subtitles:

Blah blah powder for hardness. Yellow powder for pure white color. Irony, huh?!

Can someone who knows something about making candles tell me why that hole is made in each of the candles with the metal rods? It was unclear from the video what its purpose is.

If you’d like to ruin/enhance the rest of your day, Factory Monster has a trove of making-of videos shot in Korean factories and workshops: retreading old tires, distressed jeans, chain link fences, customized Vans sneakers, and making a knife from an old motorcycle chain. (via the kid should see this)

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The Longest Total Solar Eclipse Ever (73 Minutes!)

Ok, I said no more eclipse posts (maybe) and then posted like two or three more, but really this is the last one — maybe! In 1973, a group of scientists witnessed the longest ever total solar eclipse by flying in the shadow (umbra) of the moon in a Concorde prototype for 74 minutes over the Sahara desert. From the abstract of a paper in Nature about the flight:

On June 30, 1973, Concorde 001 intercepted the path of a solar eclipse over North Africa, Flying at Mach 2.05 the aircraft provided seven observers from France, Britain and the United States with 74 min of totality bounded by extended second (7 min) and third (12 min) contacts. The former permitted searches for time variations of much longer period than previously possible and the latter provided an opportunity for chromospheric observations of improved height resolution. The altitude, which varied between 16,200 and 17,700 m, freed the observations from the usual weather problems and greatly reduced atmospheric absorption and sky noise in regions of the infrared.

Mach 2.05 = 1573 mph = 2531 km/h. 17,700 m = 58,000 ft. They added portholes to the roof of the plane for better viewing and data gathering. This page on Xavier Jubier’s site contains lots of amazing details about the flight, including a map of the flight’s path compared to the umbra, photos of the retrofitted plane, and a graph of the umbra’s velocity across the surface of the Earth (which shows that for at least part of the eclipse, the Concorde was actually outrunning the moon’s shadow).

By flying inside the umbral shadow cone of the Moon at the same speed, the Concorde was going to stay in the darkness for nearly 74 minutes, the time for astronomers and physicists on board to do all the experiences they could imagine to complete during this incredible period of black Sun. They were able to achieve in one hour and fifteen minutes what would have taken decades by observing fifteen total solar eclipses from places that would have not necessarily gotten clear skies.

And finally, here’s a 30-minute French documentary from 1973 about the eclipse flight.

So. Cool!

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Today’s Work Music: Philip Glass Solo

I’d missed that Philip Glass Solo (previously) came out in January, but I’ve been listening to it while I work this morning and it’s just lovely. He recorded the album in his home on his piano. Here’s a short video of Glass playing on that very piano:

This is my piano, the instrument on which most of the music was written. It’s also the same room where I have worked for decades in the middle of the energy which New York City itself has brought to me. The listener may hear the quiet hum of New York in the background or feel the influence of time and memory that this space affords. To the degree possible, I made this record to invite the listener in.

And here’s a video of him playing the album’s opening piece on his 87th birthday:

You can stream the album on Spotify, Apple Music, or Bandcamp.

You can buy the album at Bandcamp or on vinyl at Amazon.

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High-Diving Penguin Chicks

When emperor penguin chicks go for their first swim, they usually jump a few feet into the sea. The group of chicks in the video National Geographic video above decided to leap off of a 50-foot ice cliff for their first trip out.

It’s not unusual for emperor penguin chicks to march toward the ocean at a young age, even when they’re just 6 months old. They jump just 2 feet off the ice to take their first swim, according to National Geographic.

Others have jumped from a much a higher altitude, heading to “sheer ice cliffs” knowingly to make the first jump. Satellites have recorded the death-defying jumps since 2009, but what happens next has remained a mystery until now.

Having watched the video, “leap” and “jump” are charitable descriptions of what the penguins are doing here. “Flop”, “plop”, and “fall” might be better…penguins are all kinds of cool, but no one has ever accused them of being graceful out of the water.

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Papyrus 2: A Bold New Look for Avatar

Ryan Gosling was on Saturday Night Live this weekend and they did a sequel to one of my favorite SNL sketches (which is completely dorky in a design nerd sort of way) ever: Papyrus. Behold, Papyrus 2:

Avatar spawned worlds, right? Every little leaf of every little flower, every little eyelash of every little creature: thoroughly thought out. But the logo: it’s Papyrus, in bold. Nobody cares. Does James Cameron care? I don’t think so.

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Mount Etna Volcano Blowing Perfect Smoke Rings

My current natural obsession is Mount Etna, a volcano in Sicily that blows perfect smoke rings like it’s frickin’ Gandalf with a pipe-full of Old Toby or something.

It is a relatively rare phenomenon caused by a constant release of vapours and gases. The gaseous mass ascends rapidly through the central part of the conduit, promoting the formation of rings by wrapping the gas upon itself in a vortex motion.

Puff on, Etna, puff on.

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20 Minutes of Charles Schulz Drawing Peanuts Comics

This is wonderful: a collection of video clips of Charles Schulz drawing his iconic Peanuts comic strip — “everything I could find of Charles Schulz drawing his Peanuts characters” in the words of the compiler.

Unfortunately, I’m not highly educated. I’m merely a high school graduate. I studied art in a correspondence course because I was afraid to go to art school. I couldn’t see myself sitting in a room where everyone else in the room could draw much better than I and this way I was protected by drawing at home and simply mailing my drawings in and having them criticized.

I wish I had a better education but I think that my entire background made me well-suited for what I do. If I could write better than I can, perhaps I would have tried to become a novelist and I might have become a failure. If I could draw better than I can, I might have tried to become an illustrator or an artist and would have failed there. But my entire being seems to be just right for being a cartoonist.

Charles Schulz: Unbothered. Moisturized. Happy. In his lane. Focused. Flourishing.

See also a 90-minute compilation of cartoonists working (from the same YT channel) and Chuck Jones demonstrating how to draw Bugs Bunny and other characters. (via open culture)

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