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kottke.org posts about video

How Eliud Kipchoge Broke the Two-Hour Marathon Barrier

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 16, 2019

This past weekend in Austria, Eliud Kipchoge ran the marathon distance of 26.2 miles in 1 hour, 59 minutes, and 40 seconds, the first person in recorded history to break the two-hour marathon barrier, a feat once thought impossible. Wanting to know a bit more about how Kipchoge did it, I watched a pair of videos. The first was from Mike Boyd (who you might have seen learning how to kickflip a skateboard in under 6 hours) and it’s very much from an interested fan’s perspective.

Wired has been following Kipchoge’s attempts at a faster marathon, particularly the technology angle, and in their video, they talk with the Mayo Clinic’s Dr. Michael Joyner, who predicted in a 1991 paper that a sub-2:00 marathon was possible.

Boyd’s video references this paper as well. From a piece that Joyner wrote about his paper:

During the 1980s, ideas emerged about how maximum oxygen consumption, lactate threshold and running economy interacted to determine distance running performance. During medical school around 1985, I started think about how a person could run if he/she had the best laboratory values ever recorded for all three variables. I came up with an estimated time a few seconds faster than 1:58!

So how did Kipchoge run so fast? Well, the answer has to do with another interesting thing about this whole thing: his effort did not set an official world record for the marathon. From The Atlantic, The Greatest, Fakest World Record:

The planning that went into the event was a fantasy of perfectionism. The organizers scouted out a six-mile circuit along the Danube River that was flat, straight, and close to sea level. Parts of the road were marked with the fastest possible route, and a car guided the runners by projecting its own disco-like laser in front of them to show the correct pace. The pacesetters, a murderers’ row of Olympians and other distance stars, ran seven-at-a-time in a wind-blocking formation devised by an expert of aerodynamics. (Imagine the Mighty Ducks’ “flying V,” but reversed.)

Kipchoge himself came equipped with an updated, still-unreleased version of Nike’s controversial Vaporfly shoes, which, research appears to confirm, lower marathoners’ times. He had unfettered access to his favorite carbohydrate-rich drink, courtesy of a cyclist who rode alongside the group. And the event’s start time was scheduled within an eight-day window to ensure the best possible weather.

In an official marathon attempt, you’re not allowed to have pacesetters rotating in and out, refreshment via bicycle, or a pace car lighting the way. They touch on this in the Wired video, but technology has been wrapped up in human athletic achievement for more than a century at least. Compared to a runner competing in 1960 — when the record was 2:15:16, set by Abebe Bikila in bare feet — runners today have the benefit of better training techniques, superior knowledge of human physiology, better shoes, corporate sponsorships & other assistance, lightweight clothes that wick away moisture and don’t chafe, specially designed diets, better in-race nutrition, and, let’s be honest here, performance-enhancing drugs.

Drugs aside, all that is fine to use in an official marathon attempt, but racing alone with pacesetters (or downhill) is verboten. It’s always interesting where they draw the line on the use of technology in athletics. I think the most you can say at this point is that even with all these advantages, Kipchoge is perhaps the only person in the world right now who is capable of breaking the 2-hour barrier. But in two or three years? My guess is that 2 hours will be broken in an actual race in the next 5-7 years, even though a rough linear analysis I just did using men’s marathon record times since 1980 indicates that no one will run under 2 hours until 2033.

Men Marathon Graph

The Moog Cookbook

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 15, 2019

I pretty much stopped using iTunes for music when I switched to Rdio1 (and then to Spotify). So going back in there is like unearthing a time capsule of music I listened to from ~2003-2012. This morning, bored of my Spotify playlists, I dug around a little and rediscovered a cache of songs by The Moog Cookbook. The duo uses old school Moog synthesizers to make playful covers of rock & pop songs like Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit, Are You Gonna Go My Way? by Lenny Kravitz, and Ziggy Stardust by David Bowie. Their album of classic rock covers is available on Spotify:

Their debut album (which I like more) is a bit tougher to find, but you can listen to the whole thing here on YouTube:

  1. I still miss Rdio. *sniff*

Can You Draw a Perfect Circle?

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 14, 2019

This maddening little web toy on vole.wtf challenges visitors to draw a perfect circle and judges them on how well they do. After dozens of tries with a mouse, I could only manage 92.9% perfection (which looks more like 80% tbh).

Perfect Circle

Then I tried it on a touchscreen and got much closer: 95.2%. Several more tries with an Apple Pencil bumped it up to 97.7%, after which I retired so as not to waste the entire rest of my afternoon on this.

And of course, here’s the classic video of Alexander Overwijk drawing a perfect freehand circle on the blackboard in about a second.

I love everything about this video — the way he swings his arm to warm up, his drying-the-blackboard flapping motion, and the ease of his perfection. 100.0%. (via sam potts)

Meet Felipe Nunes, a Skateboarder With No Legs

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 14, 2019

Pro skateboarder Felipe Nunes hails from Brazil, is 20 years old, and recently signed on to Tony Hawk’s Birdhouse team. Nunes also lost both legs when he was six. From an interview with Nunes in Thrasher:

I was six when it happened but the doctors said it was super fast. I didn’t really hesitate because I was so young. I used a wheelchair until about the age of 11. I was a kid who wanted to do everything. Regardless of not having two legs I wanted to do it all. I rode my bike, played soccer, pretty much everything out in front of my house. I was a normal kid. It didn’t even look like I was missing part of my legs. My parents were essential in my recovery because they never stopped me from doing anything. They were afraid of me getting hurt like any parents, but they never held me back. When I wanted to give up the wheelchair and ride the skateboard full time, they let me go.

You can follow Nunes on his latest exploits on Instagram. (via the morning news)

A Video Timeline of Seven Million Years of Human Evolution

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 11, 2019

From the American Museum of Natural History in NYC, an animated timeline of human evolution, from when hominins first show up in the fossil record in Africa some seven million years ago to the appearance of Homo sapiens about 200,000 years ago. You can see artifacts and fossil remains of many of the hominins at the museum in the Hall of Human Origins. I haven’t been there in awhile…might be time for a visit.

I got this from Open Culture, where Colin Marshall goes into more detail:

And though hominins may have walked upright, they also climbed trees, but eventually lost the grasping feet needed to do so. Later they compensated with the very human-like development of making and using stone tools. Two million years ago, the well-known Homo erectus, with their large brains, long legs, and dextrous hands, made the famous migration out of Africa.

We know that by 1.2 million years thereafter Homo erectus’ brains had grown larger still, fueled by new cooking techniques. Only about 200,000 years ago do we, Homo sapiens, enter the picture, but not long after, we interbreed with the various hominin species already in existence as we spread outward to fill “every geographic niche” of the Earth.

The last bit of the video was unexpectedly sobering:

Homo sapiens were highly adaptable, quickly filling nearly every geographic niche. Other hominins went extinct. Climate pressures and competition with Homo sapiens may have wiped them out.

If we don’t change our ways soon, one way to look at the recent history of life on Earth is that modern humans came along 200,000 years ago and systematically conquered and killed the all of the animals on the planet larger than an ant. Not such a great deal for anything but people.

700-Year-Old French Mill Still Cranking Out Handmade Paper

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 11, 2019

For their latest video, Great Big Story visits a French mill that’s been making paper for 700 years. The Richard de Bas mill has supplied paper to the likes of Picasso and Dali and is today one of the few remaining places in France where paper is still made by hand; they only produce about 2 tons of paper a year. That flower paper is incredible. My only complaint about this video is that it wasn’t 6-7 minutes longer. You can see more of the mill in this video (in French, although YT’s auto-translated captions work ok).

The mill and the associated museum in Ambert, France are open to visitors and you can buy some of their paper from the online store. A pack of dozen sheets of their floral paper is €30.

See also this 1970 short film on marbled paper, a personal favorite of mine.

Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner, David Chang’s new Netflix series

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 11, 2019

Despite some reservations (a little too bro-y for one thing), I really enjoyed David Chang’s Netflix series Ugly Delicious. So I’m happy to see that he’s got a new series coming out called Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner. The trailer:

In this one, he’s traveling the world with some non-food celebs: he hits Los Angeles with Lena Waithe, Marrakesh with Chrissy Teigen, Phnom Penh with Kate McKinnon, and Vancouver with Seth Rogen. Will watch.

2001: A Space Odyssey, The Frank Poole Epilogue

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 10, 2019

From Steve Begg (who I would guess is this Steve Begg, who has done VFX on the recent Bond films) comes an epilogue of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. The scene picks up 203 years after the events of 2001, following Frank Poole’s body as it encounters a monolith.

How Flu Vaccines Are Made

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 10, 2019

Ten years ago, in the midst of the 2009 swine flu pandemic, I wrote about the manufacturing process for the H1N1 flu vaccine. It involves billions of chicken eggs.

The most striking feature of the H1N1 flu vaccine manufacturing process is the 1,200,000,000 chicken eggs required to make the 3 billion doses of vaccine that may be required worldwide. There are entire chicken farms in the US and around the world dedicated to producing eggs for the purpose of incubating influenza viruses for use in vaccines. No wonder it takes six months from start to finish.

The post holds up pretty well because, according to the CDC, this is still the way most flu vaccines in America are manufactured. Here’s a look at pharmaceutical company GSK’s egg-based process:

Two other techniques for making flu vaccines were approved for use in the US in 2012 and 2013 respectively, cell-based flu vaccines:

‘Cell-based’ refers to how the flu vaccine is made. Most inactivated influenza vaccines are produced by growing influenza viruses in eggs. The influenza viruses used in the cell-based vaccine are grown in cultured cells of mammalian origin instead of in hens’ eggs.

A cell-based flu vaccine was developed as an alternative to the egg-based manufacturing process. Cell culture technology is potentially more flexible than the traditional technology, which relies upon adequate supply of eggs. In addition, the cell-based flu vaccine that uses cell-based candidate vaccine viruses (CVVs) has the potential to offer better protection than traditional, egg-based flu vaccines as a result of being more similar to flu viruses in circulation.

And recombinant flu vaccines:

NIAID and its industry partners have made progress in moving from both the egg-based and cell-based flu vaccine production methods toward recombinant DNA manufacturing for flu vaccines. This method does not require an egg-grown vaccine virus and does not use chicken eggs at all in the production process. Instead, manufacturers isolate a certain protein from a naturally occurring (“wild type”) recommended flu vaccine virus. These proteins are then combined with portions of another virus that grows well in insect cells. The resulting “recombinant” vaccine virus is then mixed with insect cells and allowed to replicate. The flu surface protein called hemagglutinin is then harvested from these cells and purified.

Both of these new techniques make production quicker, thereby resulting in more effective vaccines because they are more likely to match the strains of whatever’s “going around”.

As a reminder, you should get a flu shot every year in the fall. The CDC recommends that “everyone 6 months of age and older should get a flu vaccine every season with rare exception”, especially those “who are at high risk of serious complications from influenza”. Flu vaccines are covered by your health insurance without copay (thanks, Obama!) and are often available at drug stores without an appointment or a long wait. So go get one!

Silence Is the Presence of Everything

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 10, 2019

This morning, instead of crawling straight from bed to desk and diving into the internet cesspool, I went for a walk. I went because I needed the exercise, because it was a nice sunny day out, because the changing leaves are super lovely right now. (Check out my Instagram story for some of what I saw along the way.) But I also wanted to listen to this episode of On Being with Gordon Hempton called Silence and the Presence of Everything. Hempton is an acoustic ecologist who has a lot of interesting things to say about silence and natural sounds.

Oh, grass wind. Oh, that is absolutely gorgeous, grass wind and pine wind. We can go back to the writings of John Muir, which — he turned me on to the fact that the tone, the pitch, of the wind is a function of the length of the needle or the blade of grass. So the shorter the needle on the pine, the higher the pitch; the longer, the lower the pitch. There are all kinds of things like that, but the two folders where I collected, I have, oh, over 100 different recordings which are actually silent from places, and you cannot discern a sense of space, but you can discern a sense of tonal quality, that there is a fundamental frequency for each habitat.

It sounds paradoxical, but I wanted to listen to this podcast in a setting with natural sounds, rather than in my car or on a plane. I had my AirPods in because they don’t block all outside sound, so I could hear the crunch of the road beneath my shoes as I walked and listened. The nature and animal sounds in the episode sounded like they were actually coming from all around me. I paused the episode for a minute or two to listen to a burbling brook I passed along the way. The whole experience was super relaxing and informative.1

You can read more about Hempton and his efforts in preserving the world’s silence places on his website The Sound Tracker or in his book, One Square Inch of Silence. Outside magazine recently profiled Hempton, who, in cruel twist of fate, has suffered dramatic hearing loss in recent years.

The problem Hempton hopes to take on is gargantuan. To understand it, try a little experiment: when you reach the period at the end of this sentence, stop reading for a moment, close your eyes, and listen.

What did you hear? The churn of the refrigerator? The racing hiss of passing traffic? Even if you’re sitting outside, chances are you heard the low hum of a plane passing overhead or an 18-wheeler’s air horn shrieking down a not-so-distant highway.

If you heard only the sounds of birds and the wind in the trees, you’re one of a lucky few. But it’s likely that quiet won’t last.

This short documentary, Sanctuaries of Silence, follows Hempton to some of the quietest places on Earth, including the Hoh Rain Forest in Olympic National Park.

I think what I like most about listening is that I disappear.

If you’d like to disappear for awhile but don’t have access to a quiet place, you should check out some of Hempton’s recordings on Spotify — I’m listening to Forest Rain right now.

Or try out the Sound Escapes podcast to check out some of his best natural soundscapes. (thx Meg, who sent along a link to the On Being episode after reading yesterday’s post on noise pollution)

  1. And it was another good example of the AirPods as an AR device.

True Facts About the Ogre-Faced Spider

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 08, 2019

Ze Frank released the most recent video in his True Facts series about animals last month. Meet the ogre-faced spider. Admittedly I haven’t watched any of the other True Facts videos in awhile, but this one seemed unusually informative (while retaining Frank’s signature humorous asides). I would watch an entire nature series like this: funny but not dumbed down on the science side.

My Favorite Talks from XOXO 2019

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 08, 2019

I was fortunate enough to make it out to Portland, OR for the 2019 XOXO festival back in September. It was my third time attending — I went the first year and in 2015 — and, goodness, the conference has changed a lot. XOXO used to be comfortably in my wheelhouse and now it’s more on the outskirts, so instead of hearing a bunch of stuff I want to hear, I trust the conference organizers to present some things that I need to hear, to keep me curiously exploring new ideas, viewpoints, and experiences unlike my own.

XOXO has started posting videos of all their talks online (one new video each weekday), and I’m going to share some of my favorites here. The first video is of Tracy Clayton’s barnburner of a talk: Log Off, Fam — Self Care in the Timeline Era.

Clayton and I overlapped at Buzzfeed (she was an employee and I had a desk there working on kottke.org) but have never met, so it was interesting to hear about her success and ultimately bad experience there.

I’ll updating this post with the rest of my favorites as they’re posted on YouTube.

Update: I enjoyed Soleil Ho’s talk about how the drive by her and others to shift the food world’s conversation on representation and cultural appropriation is starting to bear some fruit.

Five True Tales of Manhattan

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 07, 2019

Great Big Stories has collected five of their video short stories into a collection: 5 True Tales of Manhattan. The stories include a restaurant that serves Cuban-Chinese cuisine, Sunday night jazz concerts in a Harlem apartment, and a woman who rehabs dozens of turtles in her small apartment.

The Fantastical Flying Machines of Hayao Miyazaki

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 07, 2019

Riffing off a remark made by Guillermo del Toro that a director’s output is all part of the same movie, Andrew Saladino of The Royal Ocean Film Society looks at the many airships in Hayao Miyazaki’s films. What does the director’s continued use of flying machines tell us about filmmaking, technology, and everything else he’s trying to communicate though his films?

An Animated 3D Video Tour of Paris Through History from 52 BCE to 1889

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 07, 2019

In 2012, a company called Dassault Systèmes launched an interactive application that allowed you to move about in a 3D historical reconstruction of Paris at different points in its history. The application seems to have fallen into disrepair so that you can’t actually use it, but the 13-minute video above offers a tour through several time periods, including:

Yellowstone National Park’s Sound & Video Libraries Are Free for Anyone to Use

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 07, 2019

2018 Roadtrip

Yellowstone National Park maintains a collection of sounds and videos taken in the park that are in the public domain and free for anyone to use. The collection includes the sights and sounds of birds, geysers, bison, bubbling mud pots, fish, wolves, falling snow, storms, and all sorts of other ambient noises and videos.

How Motorcyclists Think People React When They Drive By

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 04, 2019

YMMV, but I laughed really hard at this (sound on, obvs). Good clean Friday fun.

Wicker Musical Chairs

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 04, 2019

I bet you don’t think about wicker furniture that much, but Estelle Caswell does. In this video, which proves that almost anything can be interesting if the right person looks at it from the right angle, she explores how the peacock wicker chair became an unlikely pop culture icon.

The golden age of album cover design doesn’t have a specific start and end date, but many regard the late 1960s to 1970s as one of the field’s most exciting times. From the psychedelic rock covers of the ’60s to glistening airbrush covers of the ’70s, the era was a kaleidoscope of colors worthy of placement in modern art museums.

But there’s one genre of cover so ubiquitous it almost flew under the radar. The covers typically featured a wide shot of the artist sitting on a throne-like wicker chair, like a king or queen. Usually, the artist looked casual and relaxed; sometimes props would sit around them to decorate the scene. No matter what, the oversized woven chair was the main feature. This was the peacock chair album cover, and it was everywhere: Dolly Parton, Al Green, and Cher all sat in it.

1917, a WWI Thriller Presented In Real-Time as a Single Continuous Shot

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 04, 2019

Master cinematographer Roger Deakins has teamed up with director Sam Mendes on 1917, a WWI thriller that follows two soldiers tasked to deliver a message to the front lines to save the lives of thousands of men. To create a more immersive feeling, they decided to present the action of the movie in real-time and pieced together many long takes to make it seem as though the film is a single continuous 2-hour-long shot. In the video above, the filmmakers give us a behind-the-scenes look at how that impressive undertaking was accomplished.

With the emphasis on time as the film’s organizing principle, it’s not difficult to see the influence of Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk here. Even the watch-ticking music in the trailer for 1917 is similar to Hans Zimmer’s score for Dunkirk. (via @jayjrendon)

The Songs of 1979

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 03, 2019

Chicago mashup masters The Hood Internet have been pretty quiet lately — their last mixtape was released more than two years ago. But in the west, a shadow stirs… In the same vein as their 40 Years of Hip Hop video, the duo has released a musical tribute to 1979, combining 50 songs released that year into a tight 3-minute mix.

Their plan is to release a new video each week in October that will cover the subsequent four years, 1980-1983.

Update: Here is their video for 1980. I’ll share the rest of them as they post.

Lizzo vs. The Aristocats

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 03, 2019

A chap named Brendan Carey took footage from the 1970 animated movie The Aristocats and dubbed over Lizzo’s Truth Hurts to make this tiny masterpiece.

See also what is arguably the best video of this genre, Bert & Ernie doing M.O.P.’s Ante Up.

Pixar’s Fake Real Cameras

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 03, 2019

Pixar is always trying to push the envelope of animation and filmmaking, going beyond what they’ve done before. For the studio’s latest release, Toy Story 4, the filmmakers worked to inject as much reality into the animation as possible and to make it feel like a live-action movie shot with real cameras using familiar lenses and standard techniques. In the latest episode of Nerdwriter, Evan Puschak shares how they did that:

As I learned when I visited Pixar this summer,1 all of the virtual cameras and lenses they use in their 3D software to “shoot” scenes are based on real cameras and lenses. As the first part of the video shows, when they want two things to be in focus at the same time, they use a lens with a split focus diopter. You can tell that’s what they’re doing because you can see the artifacts on the screen — the blurring, the line marking the diopter transition point — just as you would in a live-action film.

They’re doing a similar thing by capturing the movement of actual cameras and then importing the motion into their software:

To get the motion just right for the baby carriage scene in the antique store for TS4, they took an actual baby carriage, strapped a camera to it, plopped a Woody doll in it, and took it for a spin around campus. They took the video from that, motion-captured the bounce and sway of the carriage, and made it available as a setting in the software that they could apply to the virtual camera.

Now, this is a really interesting decision on Pixar’s part! Since their filmmaking is completely animated and digital, they can easily put any number of objects in focus in the same scene or simply erase the evidence that a diopter was used. But no, they keep it in because making something look like it was shot in the real world with real cameras helps the audience believe the action on the screen. Our brains have been conditioned by more than 100 years of cinema to understand the visual language of movies, including how cameras move and lenses capture scenes. Harnessing that visual language helps Pixar’s filmmakers make the presentation of the action on the screen seem familiar rather than unrealistic.

  1. Q: How do you know when someone has recently visited Pixar?

    A: Oh don’t worry, they’ll tell you.

How Accurate Is Your Listening?

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 03, 2019

In a 2010 interview with the BBC, Alan Rickman talked about the importance of listening as an actor:

You only speak because you wish to respond to something you’ve heard. So the notion of an actor going away and looking at a speech they have in their bedroom alone at night is a complete nonsense to me. What you have to say is completely incidental. All I want to see from an actor is the intensity and accuracy of their listening. And then what you have to say will become automatic.

I love that — “the intensity and accuracy of their listening”. It seems like good advice not only for actors but for other professions and personal relationships. How accurate is your listening? (via @tedgioia)

Gross Domestic Product: Banksy’s New Homewares Store

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 01, 2019

Artist Banksy has opened a storefront in the South London borough of Croydon called Gross Domestic Product. It’s literally a storefront and not a store…you can’t go in and buy anything. Here’s a quick tour:

The impetus behind the store, aside from the artist’s continuing discourse with capitalism, is to help settle a legal dispute with a greeting card company:

Banksy Gross Domestic Product

This post from Colossal has a bunch more information on the project.

The temporary installation, which will be on view for two weeks in the Croydon neighborhood, incorporates multiple window displays for a shop that is not in fact open to passersby. However, some of the items on display are available for purchase in GDP’s associated online store including the welcome mats, which Banksy hired refugees in Greek detainment camps to stitch; all proceeds go back to the refugees. Revenue from sales of the doll sets will also support the purchase of a replacement boat for activist Pia Klemp, whose boat was confiscated by the Italian government. The product line is rounded out with such oddities as disco balls made from riot gear helmets, handbags made of bricks, and signed — and partially used — £10 spray paint cans.

No fooling, I would love to cop one of those used spray paint cans.

p.s. Does anyone remember Grot, the shop Reggie opens in The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin? For some reason, Banksy’s shop reminds me of that.

The Global Mega-Colony of Ants

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 01, 2019

Ants are fascinating. They’re small and individually dumb, but together they can form very complex societies capable of activities like farming and altering entire ecosystems. In this video, Kurzgesagt shows how the Argentine ant became one of the most numerous and successful species of ant in the world, forming a single mega-colony across the entire Earth, from Argentina to the US to Japan.

“The enormous extent of this population is paralleled only by human society,” the researchers write in the journal Insect Sociaux, in which they report their findings.

However, the irony is that it is us who likely created the ant mega-colony by initially transporting the insects around the world, and by continually introducing ants from the three continents to each other, ensuring the mega-colony continues to mingle.

“Humans created this great non-aggressive ant population,” the researchers write.

The Tyranny of Meritocracy

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 30, 2019

In this quick animated excerpt of a longer talk, political philosopher Michael Sandel critiques the idea of the meritocracy, the notion that innate talent and hard work are the main drivers of personal success and “the smug conviction of those who land on top that they deserve their fate”.

A lively sense of the contingency of our lot conduces to a certain humility. The idea that ‘there but for the grace of God, or the accident of fortune, go I’. But a perfect meritocracy banishes all sense of gift or grace or luck; it diminishes our capacity to see ourselves as sharing a common fate. And so, it leaves little room for the solidarity that can arise when we reflect on the contingency of our talents and fortunes. This is what makes merit a kind of tyranny.

Sandel’s full talk, A New Politics of Hope, is available online here.

P.S. A reminder that the term “meritocracy” was originally a satirical term invented by writer Michael Young in 1958 to describe a dystopian society. He is disappointed to see how people now wear the term as a badge of honor.

The business meritocracy is in vogue. If meritocrats believe, as more and more of them are encouraged to, that their advancement comes from their own merits, they can feel they deserve whatever they can get.

They can be insufferably smug, much more so than the people who knew they had achieved advancement not on their own merit but because they were, as somebody’s son or daughter, the beneficiaries of nepotism. The newcomers can actually believe they have morality on their side.

(via open culture)

The Delicate Microscopic Repair of a 112-Year-Old Painting

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 30, 2019

Watch as MoMA art conservator Diana Hartman repairs some weak spots of Paula Modersohn-Becker’s 1907 self-portrait. The painting is still on the artist’s original canvas stretchers, so Hartman can’t access the back of the canvas during the repair process. So she employs a tiny curved needle made for doing eye surgeries to gently darn with some linen thread.

The first thing I like to do when I sit down is just get my tools. No tools displayed on this tray were made specifically for conservation.

Watching someone tend to a treasured object with such devotion is quite relaxing, perhaps because it’s comforting to imagine ourselves being treated with equal concern by those around us. (via colossal)

What’s the Fastest Way to Board an Airplane?

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 27, 2019

In this video, CGP Grey investigates fast and not-so-fast methods for boarding commercial airline flights. Most airlines board passengers using the relatively slow back-to-front method — with a bit of the even slower front-to-back method at the start for first, business, premium economy, and frequent flying passengers — even though boarding in a random order would be quicker. In 2008, physicist Jason Steffen determined the optimal boarding method, which involves passengers boarding in a precise order to minimize people waiting for other people putting their luggage in the overhead bin.

The Mother of Forensic Science and Her “Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death”

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 26, 2019

(Note: This post contains images of simulated crime scenes.) Frances Glessner Lee is known as “the mother of forensic science” for her role in revolutionizing how crimes were investigated. Starting in the 40s and using her skills in making miniature models that she learned as a young girl, Lee built detailed and intricate crime scene dioramas to help train homicide investigators to properly investigate and canvas a crime scene. From a Smithsonian exhibition of Lee’s work:

At the time, there was very little training for investigators, meaning that they often overlooked or mishandled key evidence, or irrevocably tampered with crime scenes. Few had any medical training that would allow them to determine cause of death. As Lee and her colleagues at Harvard worked to change this, tools were needed to help trainees scientifically approach their search for truth. Lee was a talented artist as well as criminologist, and used the craft of miniature-making that she had learned as a young girl to solve this problem. She constructed the Nutshells beginning in the 1940s to teach investigators to properly canvass a crime scene to effectively uncover and understand evidence. The equivalent to “virtual reality” in their time, her masterfully crafted dioramas feature handmade objects to render scenes with exacting accuracy and meticulous detail.

Every element of the dioramas — from the angle of minuscule bullet holes, the placement of latches on widows, the patterns of blood splatters, and the discoloration of painstakingly painted miniature corpses — challenges trainees’ powers of observation and deduction. The Nutshells are so effective that they are still used in training seminars today at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Baltimore.

Here are some images of Lee’s surviving dioramas (found here):

Nutshell Forensic

Nutshell Forensic

Nutshell Forensic

In a video about the Smithsonian exhibition, curator Nora Atkinson explains that it shows how Lee “co-opted traditionally feminine crafts to advance the male-dominated field of police investigation”:

See also this Vox video about Lee’s work, which goes into detail about the evidence at a couple of the crime scenes:

Tony Hawk on the 21 Levels of Complexity of Skateboard Tricks

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 26, 2019

Legendary skater Tony Hawk breaks down 21 increasingly complex skateboarding tricks, from a standard ollie to a kickflip to a McTwist to a 1080 to a couple of tricks that have never been done. As someone who has always been in awe of what skaters can do but hasn’t logged much on-board time myself, I learned a lot from this.

See also a beginning skater learning how to do a kickflip in under 6 hours.