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kottke.org posts about video

More trippy audio illusions

posted by Jason Kottke   May 21, 2018

Hot on the heels of the Yanny/Laurel audio illusion, many people shared other illusions that are just as weird and fun.

The McGurk effect pairs different mouth movements with speech, and you tend to hear different things with different mouth movements.

In this video, you hear the word for whatever object is on the screen (bill, mayo, pail) even though the audio doesn’t change:

And in this one, whichever word you focus on, “green needle” or “brainstorm”, that’s what you hear:

What all of these effects demonstrate is that there are (at least) two parts to hearing something. First, there’s the mechanical process of waves moving through the air into the ear canal, which triggers a physical chain reaction involving the ear drum, three tiny bones, and cochlear fluids. But then the brain has to interpret the signal coming from the ear and, as the examples above show, it has a lot of power in determining what is heard.

My kids and I listen to music in the car quite often (here’s our playlist, suggestions welcome) and when Daft Punk’s Get Lucky comes on, my son swears up and down that he hears the mondegreen “up all Mexican lucky” instead of “up all night to get lucky”. If I concentrate really hard, I can hear “Mexican lucky” but mostly my brain knows what the “right” lyric is…as does his brain, but it’s far more convinced of his version.

Update: On the topic of misheard lyrics to Get Lucky, there is this bit of amazingness:

(via @jaredcrookston)

Degrees of Uncertainty

posted by Jason Kottke   May 17, 2018

Degrees of Uncertainty is an upcoming documentary by Neil Halloran that “uses data-driven animation to explore the topic of global warming”. It’s based on this XKCD comic of A Timeline of Earth’s Average Temperature.

Halloran is a creator of the excellent The Fallen of World War II interactive documentary, so I’m looking forward to seeing what he does with the topic of climate change.

The Last Dance, a 10-part documentary on Michael Jordan

posted by Jason Kottke   May 17, 2018

A 10-part Netflix/ESPN documentary series on Michael Jordan and the 1990s Chicago Bulls? Sure, I will watch the hell out of that. The Bulls were my team1 when I was a kid and for me, Jordan is still the greatest basketball player of all time. Ok, I am admittedly biased and you could probably talk me into Bill Russell (all those championships), Kareem (stats, championships, longevity), or more recently, Tim Duncan (championships, longevity, consistency)…they were certainly all far more decent people than Jordan, an ultra-competitive dick, was.

But you can get out of here with your LeBrons and Steph Currys…until they start stringing together back-to-back-to-back championships, they are not in the conversation. Jordan had the stats and the championships; the Bulls were a proper dynasty. I’ll put it this way: for eight straight years in the NBA, the most intensely competitive sports league in the US, when Michael Jordan played a full season (in six of those years), his team won the NBA championship. They had it on lock. When he didn’t, they didn’t. Case closed.

(Also, I don’t want to tell the filmmakers their business, but if one of these episodes isn’t just 50 straight minutes of Jordan highlights, they’re cheating the American public.)

  1. I lived in Wisconsin, so the Bucks really should have been my team (this was pre-Timberwolves). But we got WGN on cable, so the Bulls were on TV all the time and the Bucks weren’t. Plus, Jordan was electrifying to watch and Dale Ellis wasn’t. WGN availability of games is also why I was a Cubs fan as a kid instead of a Brewers or Twins fan. It’s tough to be a fan when you can’t watch the team.

Optimism

posted by Jason Kottke   May 16, 2018

For the Universe in Verse 2018 poetry event, Kelli Anderson created this wonderful papercraft stop motion animation to accompany Jane Hirshfield’s reading of her short poem, Optimism.

More and more I have come to admire resilience.
Not the simple resistance of a pillow, whose foam
returns over and over to the same shape, but the sinuous
tenacity of a tree: finding the light newly blocked on one side,
it turns in another. A blind intelligence, true.
But out of such persistence arose turtles, rivers,
mitochondria, figs — all this resinous, unretractable earth.

The music is by Zoë Keating…a song called Optimist. Here’s more on the project from Maria Popova.

A breakdown of Black Panther’s visual effects

posted by Jason Kottke   May 16, 2018

Black Panther animation supervisor Daryl Sawchuk goes through some of the digital visual effects from the film, with an emphasis on the suits for Black Panther and Killmonger, both of which are extensively digital throughout the film.

I don’t know exactly when this happened, but somewhere in the past few years, the digital visual effects in these big action movies stopped looking fake to me. Either I’m less discerning about my blockbuster entertainment these days or the effects have successfully crossed the uncanny valley. Probably a bit of both. Engadget’s Devindra Hardawar disagrees, btw: ‘Black Panther’ is amazing. Why are its CG models so terrible?

You can see some more of Black Panther’s visual effects in this video and read about them in Art of VFX.

The fascinating history of the “orchestra hit” in music

posted by Jason Kottke   May 15, 2018

I’m a big fan of Estelle Caswell’s Earworm series for Vox, and this most recent one might be my favorite. It’s about the “orchestra hit” sound that became super popular in the 80s…but which has its origins in an unauthorized sample of Igor Stravinsky included with an influential digital audio workstation invented in the late 70s.

If you listen to the first few seconds of Bruno Mars’ “Finesse” (hint: listen to the Cardi B remix) you’ll hear a sound that immediately creates a sense of 80s hip-hop nostalgia. Yes, Cardi B’s flow is very Roxanne Shante, but the sound that drives that nostalgia home isn’t actually from the 1980s.

Robert Fink and the inventor of the Fairlight CMI, Peter Vogel, help me tell the story of the orchestra hit — a sound that was first heard in 1910 at the Paris Opera where the famed 20th century Russian composer Stravinsky debuted his first hit, The Firebird.

Here’s the isolated sound from the original sample:

I love that all these musicians in the 80s got excited about a bit of classical music composed for a 1910 ballet, to the point where it became perhaps the signature sound of the decade.

The popularity of the orchestra hit is also a good reminder about the power of default settings. The musicians and producers who used the Fairlight CMI could record and sample any sound in the world but they ended up using this one included with the machine. Even the heavyweights — Herbie Hancock, Afrika Bambaataa, etc. — went with a default sample.

Caswell made a playlist of songs that feature the orchestra hit, with songs from Keith Sweat, Britney Spears, Janet Jackson, U2, and The Smiths. Not included is the song it was sampled from…you can listen to that here.

A short animated explanation of Stoicism

posted by Jason Kottke   May 14, 2018

From TED-Ed, Massimo Pigliucci, and Compote Collective, a short animated introduction to the philosophy of Stoicism.

What is the best life we can live? How can we cope with whatever the universe throws at us and keep thriving nonetheless? The ancient Greco-Roman philosophy of Stoicism explains that while we may not always have control over the events affecting us, we can have control over how we approach things.

Pigliucci recorded a 50-minute presentation about Stoicism if you’d like to learn more. (via open culture)

Can bacteriophages rescue us from drug-resistant bacteria?

posted by Jason Kottke   May 14, 2018

Last month when I posted a video comparing the sizes of various microorganisms, I noted the weirdness of bacteriophages, which are bacteria-killing viruses that look a bit like a 20-sided die stuck on the top of a sci-fi alien’s body.

Bacteriophages are really real and terrifying…if you happen to be a bacteria. Bacteriophages attack by attaching themselves to bacteria, piercing their outer membranes, and then pumping them full of bacteriophage DNA. The phage replicates inside of the bacteria until the bacteria bursts and little baby bacteriophages are exploded out all over the place, ready to attack their own bacteria.

I couldn’t find a good explainer (video or text) about these organisms, but over the weekend, Kurzgesagt rode to the rescue with this video. In the second part of the video, they discuss whether bacteriophages might form the basis of an effective treatment for antibiotic-resistant infections.

Dollar Street

posted by Jason Kottke   May 10, 2018

Dollar Street is a project by Anna Rosling Rönnlund that imagines the world as a street ordered by income…poor families live at one end and rich families live at the other. A team of photographers went out and photographed the everyday items owned by families of all income levels — shoes, toothbrushes, TVs, beds, lights, sinks — so that visitors to the site can see how much income affects how families live.

Everyone needs to eat, sleep and pee. We all have the same needs, but we can afford different solutions. Select from 100 topics. The everyday life looks surprisingly similar for people on the same income level across cultures and continents.

Rönnlund explained her project at TED recently:

Bill Gates, who lives just one house in from the very end of the street (Bezos currently occupies the cul de sac), wrote about Dollar Street recently:

Income can often tell you more about how people live than location can. Whenever I visit a new place, I look for clues about which income level local families live on. Are there power lines? What kind of roofs do the houses have? Are people riding bikes or walking from place to place?

The answers to these questions tell me a lot about the people there. If I see power lines, I know homes probably have electricity in this area — which means that kids have enough light to do their homework after the sun sets. If I see patchwork roofs, families likely sleep less during the rainy season because they’re wet and cold. If I see bikes, that tells me people don’t have to spend hours walking to get water every day.

However, Gates’ conclusion — “It’s a beautiful reminder that we have more in common with people on the other side of the world than we think” — is not what I would take away from this. (via @roeeb/status/994474179339501568)

A 1915 short documentary about the evolution of the bicycle

posted by Jason Kottke   May 10, 2018

This is a French film from 1915 that shows the evolution of the bicycle from 1818 to what is pretty much the rear chain-driven bicycle of today. The intertitles are in Dutch, but Aeon has helpfully translated them into English.

9. In 1878, Renard created a bicycle with a wheel circumference of more than 7 feet. Just sitting down on one of these was an athletic feat!

Open Culture shared a similar film made by British Pathé in 1937.

A world record Super Mario Bros speedrun explained

posted by Jason Kottke   May 10, 2018

In this 27-minute video, Bismuth explains how fellow speedrunner Kosmic achieved the world record for the fastest Super Mario Bros game ever. 27 minutes may sound daunting, but if you’ve ever played SMB more than casually, it’s fascinating. As Craig Mod said, “it’s like watching a swiss clock maker explain his machine”.

Heck, even if you aren’t into video games it’s pretty interesting. Here’s why. One of the reasons for the popularity of sports and sports media (analysis, etc.) is that, unlike many other human endeavors, it’s relatively easy for spectators to judge and compare and analyze athletes’ performances, to see how & why they fail, where they might improve, and how they stack up against past performances and records. This is similar to a point David Foster Wallace made in his piece about tennis player Tracy Austin (collected in Consider the Lobster):

Top athletes are compelling because they embody the comparison-based achievement we Americans revere — fastest, strongest — and because they do so in a totally unambiguous way. Questions of the best plumber or best managerial accountant are impossible even to define, whereas the best relief pitcher, free-throw shooter, or female tennis player is, at any given time, a matter of public statistical record. Top athletes fascinate us by appealing to our twin compulsions with competitive superiority and hard data.

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.

Anyway, that video is interesting & well done, you should watch it, the end.

The Happiest Guy in the World?

posted by Jason Kottke   May 09, 2018

Meet Mario Salcedo, who has spent the last 20 years as a full-time resident of Royal Caribbean cruise ships.

For nearly two decades, Mario had been living out of his suitcase, traveling extensively for his corporate job as the director of international finance at a multinational corporation. He spent more time in and out of hotel rooms scattered across Latin America than he did at his home in Miami. After working nonstop for nearly 21 years, Mario — burned out — decided it was time to pursue a lifelong goal: to travel around the world, without leaving home. In 1997, he quit his job, packed an even bigger suitcase and quietly disappeared from the lives of his friends and family to pursue a new life on the open water.

You wouldn’t think that watching a video about “The Happiest Guy in the World” would be so depressing. Maybe he’s happy but observing him through filmmaker Lance Oppenheim’s lens sure didn’t make me happy. I don’t know quite why, but this reminded me of the writing room for The Onion, where none of the writers laugh at any of the jokes that make it into the paper or onto the website.

This Is America

posted by Jason Kottke   May 07, 2018

Over the weekend, Childish Gambino (aka Donald Glover) released a video for his new song, This is America. If you watch it — and you should if you haven’t, even though it isn’t the most Monday morning thing in the world — please know there’s some upsetting scenes…which is the whole point. There’s a lot going on in the video (here’s one thread by LK that explains some of the imagery), but the aspect that jumped out to me is white America’s exuberant acceptance (and co-option) of African American culture and entertainment — hip hop, rap, NBA, movies, TV (like Glover’s own Atlanta), social media memetics — while turning a blind eye to racial injustice and violence inflicted upon black America. As Jon Spence succinctly noted on Twitter:

The fact that Childish Gambino’s “This is America” tackles police brutality, gun violence, media misdirection, and the use of African Americans as a brand shield, all while dancing in Jim Crow-style caricature, shows a transcendence of mere performance and demands attention.

Update: Nereyda wrote a short thread about why they didn’t like the video.

As someone very into Diasporic dance, which literally saved my life, Glover’s video misses its mark completely for me. Graphic images of mass Black murder layered over by Black dance as a minstrel distraction? That’s what y’all are getting from this? Issa no for me dawg.

(via @tsell89/status/993609185223938048)

Update: From Spencer Kornhaber’s take on This is America (italics mine):

The defining of a nation is the essential task of politics, and Glover’s definition has now been made clear. America is a place where black people are chased and gunned down, and it is a place where black people dance and sing to distract — themselves, maybe, but also the country at large — from that carnage. America is a room in which violence and celebration happen together, and the question of which one draws the eye is one of framing, and of what the viewer wants to see.

Awaken Akira

posted by Patrick Tanguay   May 01, 2018

Awaken Akira was created by two friends, Ash Thorp and Zaoeyo (XiaoLin Zeng), who wanted to collaborate on a tribute to the iconic anime, Akira, by Katsuhiro Otomo. It’s creation took over a year…

Looks great and there’s a lot more on the project website, including multiple long videos about the process for each shot.

(via @Oniropolis )

City Everywhere by Liam Young

posted by Patrick Tanguay   May 01, 2018

I had the chance to see this “lecture performance” live a couple of weeks ago and it’s a great way to catch up on some of Liam Young’s work over the last few years. The lecture takes us all around the world with facts and speculations about drones, cities, pollution, the lithium fields of Bolivia, human conveyor belts, rare earths, Chinese factory workers, and more. The first part is taken from this project:

Where the City Can’t See’ is the world’s first narrative fiction film shot entirely with laser scanners. Set in the Chinese owned and controlled Detroit Economic Zone (DEZ) and shot using the same scanning technologies used in autonomous vehicles, the near future city is recorded through the eyes of the robots that manage it. Across a single night a group of young car factory workers drift through Detroit in a driverless taxi, searching for a place they know exists but that their car doesn’t recognize. They are part of an underground community that work on the production lines by day but at night, adorn themselves in machine vision camouflage and the tribal masks of anti-facial recognition to enact their escapist fantasies in the hidden spaces of the city. They hack the city and journey through a network of stealth buildings, ruinous landscapes, ghost architectures, anomalies, glitches and sprites, searching for the wilds beyond the machine. We have always found the eccentric and imaginary in the spaces the city can’t see.

A side-by-side comparison of the new “unrestored” 2001 with a restored Blu-ray version

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 26, 2018

This summer for the 50th anniversary of the film, Warner Bros. is releasing a 70mm print of 2001: A Space Odyssey made from the original camera negative. Christopher Nolan, who oversaw the process, explains that this release will be as close to what Kubrick intended as possible:

For the first time since the original release, this 70mm print was struck from new printing elements made from the original camera negative. This is a true photochemical film recreation. There are no digital tricks, remastered effects, or revisionist edits. This is the unrestored film — that recreates the cinematic event that audiences experienced fifty years ago.

Here’s a trailer for the new print:

On YouTube, Krishna Ramesh Kumar compared some of the shots in this trailer with those from the 2007 Blu-ray version of the film. Some of the scenes look pretty different in tone:

The Face of Distracted Driving

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 26, 2018

Filmmaker Errol Morris has made a pair of videos for AT&T’s It Can Wait campaign against distracted driving, which “kills an average of 8 people every day in the US”. Each video features the friends and family of someone who was killed in a car accident as a result of texting while driving.

Fair warning: do not watch that second video unless you want your coworkers to see you sobbing at your desk. I very rarely look at my phone while driving and let me tell you, even that little bit stops today.

Morris joins his friend and fellow filmmaker Werner Herzog in the campaign against distracted driving. Herzog made a 35-minute documentary about texting while driving back in 2013.

An AI can realistically “paint in” missing areas of photographs

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 26, 2018

This video, and the paper it’s based on, is called “Image Inpainting for Irregular Holes Using Partial Convolutions” but it’s actually straight-up witchcraft! Researchers at NVIDIA have developed a deep-learning program that can automagically paint in areas of photographs that are missing. Ok, you’re saying, Photoshop has been able to do something like that for years. And the first couple of examples were like, oh that’s neat. But then the eyes are deleted from a model’s portrait and the program drew new eyes for her. Under close scrutiny, the results are not completely photorealistic, but at a glance it’s remarkably convincing. (via imperica)

Tuileries, a short film about Paris by the Coen brothers

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 26, 2018

As part of a larger anthology film called Paris Je T’aime, the Coen brothers directed a short film about a character played by Steve Buscemi waiting for a train in the Tuileries Metro station. Buscemi makes the mistake of making eye contact with another person.

The entire movie sounds really interesting…I just put it on my watch list. 20 directors were chosen to direct short films, one each about the 20 Parisian arrondissements, among them the Coens, Alfonso Cuarón, Alexander Payne, Tom Tykwer, and Olivier Assayas. And in addition to Buscemi, the film features appearances by Juliette Binoche, Willem Dafoe, Nick Nolte, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Elijah Wood, and Natalie Portman. (via open culture)

True facts about frogfish

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 25, 2018

Proto-YouTuber Ze Frank momentarily steps down from his executive perch at Buzzfeed to get back on the mic for the humorous nature documentary True Facts, which is “f(bleep)ing back” following a three-year hiatus. This episode is about the elegant & graceful frogfish. (via andy)

The Fable of the Dragon-Tyrant

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 24, 2018

From CGP Grey, an animated version of philosopher Nick Bostrom’s The Fable of the Dragon-Tyrant.

Seeing that defeating the tyrant was impossible, humans had no choice but to obey its commands and pay the grisly tribute. The fatalities selected were always elders. Although senior people were as vigorous and healthy as the young, and sometimes wiser, the thinking was that they had at least already enjoyed a few decades of life. The wealthy might gain a brief reprieve by bribing the press gangs that came to fetch them; but, by constitutional law, nobody, not even the king himself, could put off their turn indefinitely.

Spiritual men sought to comfort those who were afraid of being eaten by the dragon (which included almost everyone, although many denied it in public) by promising another life after death, a life that would be free from the dragon-scourge. Other orators argued that the dragon has its place in the natural order and a moral right to be fed. They said that it was part of the very meaning of being human to end up in the dragon’s stomach. Others still maintained that the dragon was good for the human species because it kept the population size down. To what extent these arguments convinced the worried souls is not known. Most people tried to cope by not thinking about the grim end that awaited them.

For many centuries this desperate state of affairs continued. Nobody kept count any longer of the cumulative death toll, nor of the number of tears shed by the bereft. Expectations had gradually adjusted and the dragon-tyrant had become a fact of life. In view of the evident futility of resistance, attempts to kill the dragon had ceased. Instead, efforts now focused on placating it. While the dragon would occasionally raid the cities, it was found that the punctual delivery to the mountain of its quota of life reduced the frequency of these incursions.

Bostrom explains the moral of the story, which has to do with fighting aging:

The ethical argument that the fable presents is simple: There are obvious and compelling moral reasons for the people in the fable to get rid of the dragon. Our situation with regard to human senescence is closely analogous and ethically isomorphic to the situation of the people in the fable with regard to the dragon. Therefore, we have compelling moral reasons to get rid of human senescence.

The argument is not in favor of life-span extension per se. Adding extra years of sickness and debility at the end of life would be pointless. The argument is in favor of extending, as far as possible, the human health-span. By slowing or halting the aging process, the healthy human life span would be extended. Individuals would be able to remain healthy, vigorous, and productive at ages at which they would otherwise be dead.

I watched the video before reading Bostrom’s moral and thought it might have been about half a dozen other things (guns, climate change, agriculture, the Industrial Revolution, racism) before realizing it was more literal than that. Humanity has lots of dragons sitting on mountaintops, devouring people, waiting for a change in the world’s perspective or technology or culture to meet its doom.

Three Identical Strangers

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 23, 2018

Two men attending the same college in the early 80s kept getting mistaken for each other and when they met, they realized that they were actually twins. And then they met a third doppelganger, who turned out to the third triplet, all separated from each other at birth. Three Identical Strangers, a feature-length documentary that premiered at Sundance, tells the story of the three men: how they met, what happened after they were born, and “an extraordinary and disturbing secret that goes beyond their own lives”.

How to harvest nearly infinite energy from a spinning black hole

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 23, 2018

Well, this is a thing I didn’t know about black holes before watching this video. Because some black holes spin, it’s possible to harvest massive amounts of energy from them, even when all other energy sources in the far far future are gone. This process was first proposed by Roger Penrose in a 1971 paper.

The Penrose process (also called Penrose mechanism) is a process theorised by Roger Penrose wherein energy can be extracted from a rotating black hole. That extraction is made possible because the rotational energy of the black hole is located not inside the event horizon of the black hole, but on the outside of it in a region of the Kerr spacetime called the ergosphere, a region in which a particle is necessarily propelled in locomotive concurrence with the rotating spacetime. All objects in the ergosphere become dragged by a rotating spacetime. In the process, a lump of matter enters into the ergosphere of the black hole, and once it enters the ergosphere, it is forcibly split into two parts. For example, the matter might be made of two parts that separate by firing an explosive or rocket which pushes its halves apart. The momentum of the two pieces of matter when they separate can be arranged so that one piece escapes from the black hole (it “escapes to infinity”), whilst the other falls past the event horizon into the black hole. With careful arrangement, the escaping piece of matter can be made to have greater mass-energy than the original piece of matter, and the infalling piece has negative mass-energy.

This same effect can also be used in conjunction with a massive mirror to superradiate electromagnetic energy: you shoot light into a spinning black hole surrounded by mirrors, the light is repeatedly sped up by the ergosphere as it bounces off the mirror, and then you harvest the super-energetic light. After the significant startup costs, it’s basically an infinite source of free energy.

The storytellers who read aloud to Cuban cigar rollers

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 20, 2018

In a practice that started in 1865 and still continues today, lectores (storytellers) in Cuban cigar factories read to the workers while they roll cigars. They read the news, novels, horoscopes, recipes…it’s like a live daily radio show or podcast for the workers.

I’m not just a reader; I’m rather a cultural promoter of sorts. I usually try to bring topics that can influence their day-to-day, and help them face certain issues.

(Gee, that sounds like what I do here!) The practice started as a way to educate and entertain workers and eventually helped fuel the Cuban independence movement…a little knowledge goes a long way. Nowadays, the practice is less revolutionary. From a piece in The Economist about lectores:

The workers themselves choose the lectores. “This is the only job in Cuba that is democratically decided,” says an employee. The audience is demanding. Torcedores signal approval by tapping chavetas, oyster-shaped knives, on their worktables; slamming them on the floor shows displeasure. They vote on reading material: Ms Valdés-Lombillo recently finished “A Time to Die” by Wilbur Smith, a South African novelist, and “Semana Santa en San Francisco”, by Agustin García Marrero, a Cuban. When the readings get steamy, torcedores provide an accompaniment of suggestive sound effects. They laugh when a horoscope suggests that someone might inherit a fortune.

This piece in Mental Floss also contains some interesting tidbits:

One lectora, Maria Caridad Gonzalez Martinez, wrote 21 novels over her career. None were published; she simply read them all aloud to her audience.

Update: Anna in the Tropics is a Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Nilo Cruz in which the main action features a lector.

And a 1909 photograph by Lewis Hine, a lector reading to cigar workers in Tampa, FL.

Lector Lewis Hine

(thx, aaron & jason)

Robot successfully assembles an Ikea chair

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 19, 2018

Fittingly using only off-the-shelf components, a team of researchers in Singapore built a robot capable of assembling a Stefan chair from Ikea (minus actually bolting it together). The assembly time was around 20 minutes, about 5-10 minutes slower than a typical human would take.

It took a few attempts to get it right. Early on, the robots dropped wooden pins, let go of parts too soon, and performed moves that did more to dismantle the chair than assemble it. Some moves required a part to be held by both robots at the same time, and since industrial robots are far stronger than Ikea furniture, a number of mistakes ended badly. “We bought four chair kits and broke a few of them,” said Pham.

Once the robot can fully assemble Ikea furniture in near-human timeframes, I propose we stop all robotics and AI research. When humanity no longer has to struggle with Ikea assembly, we can live like Scandinavian kings and not have to worry about AI murderbots killing us all (before they get bored, of course).

20 Years of Lauryn Hill

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 19, 2018

Yesterday, hip hop legend Lauryn Hill announced The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill 20th Anniversary Tour 2018.

This summer marks the 20th anniversary of seminal hip-hop album The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill, and Lauryn Hill is marking the occasion with a special anniversary tour dedicated to the album. Hill will be performing Miseducation in full, and each stop on the tour will feature “special guest performers” that haven’t been named yet. Plus, a portion of ticket sales will be donated to Hill’s MLH Foundation, which backs a huge group of charities built to help people all over the world-including the Africa Philanthropic Foundation, Appetite For Change, Apps & Girls, and the Equal Justice Initiative.

And Nerdwriter’s Evan Puschak, always with his ear to the ground (or perhaps with his ear to Drake’s Nice for What), just came out with this mini-doc celebrating of Hill’s music, influences, and people she’s influenced:

This might be one of the best Nerdwriter videos yet: no commentary, just clips of Hill performing and talking, music she was influenced by, and people & music that were influenced by her…an impressionistic portrait of a significant and uncompromising artist.

A lovely ode to stop motion animation

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 18, 2018

In this short film, animator and director Ainslie Henderson talks about how he designs puppets for his stop motion animations, creating a charming little stop motion music video in the process.

Puppet-making often begins by just gathering stuff, like materials that I find attractive. Wood and sticks and wire and leaves and flowers and petals and bits of broken electronics…things that have already had a life are lovely to have in puppets.

Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, 50 years of the future

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 16, 2018

50 years ago this month, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey premiered in the US. For this week’s issue of the New Yorker, Dan Chiasson looks at the cultural impact of the film, which got off to a rocky start.

Fifty years ago this spring, Stanley Kubrick’s confounding sci-fi masterpiece, “2001: A Space Odyssey,” had its premières across the country. In the annals of audience restlessness, these evenings rival the opening night of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring,” in 1913, when Parisians in osprey and tails reportedly brandished their canes and pelted the dancers with objects. A sixth of the New York première’s audience walked right out, including several executives from M-G-M. Many who stayed jeered throughout. Kubrick nervously shuttled between his seat in the front row and the projection booth, where he tweaked the sound and the focus. Arthur C. Clarke, Kubrick’s collaborator, was in tears at intermission. The after-party at the Plaza was “a room full of drinks and men and tension,” according to Kubrick’s wife, Christiane.

Chiasson references a 1966 profile of Kubrick in the New Yorker by Jeremy Bernstein, which catches the filmmaker in the act of making 2001.

In addition to writing and directing, Kubrick supervises every aspect of his films, from selecting costumes to choosing the incidental music. In making “2001” he is, in a sense, trying to second-guess the future. Scientists planning long-range space projects can ignore such questions as what sort of hats rocket-ship hostesses will wear when space travel becomes common (in “2001” the hats have padding in them to cushion any collisions with the ceiling that weightlessness might cause), and what sort of voices computers will have if, as many experts feel is certain, they learn to talk and to respond to voice commands (there is a talking computer in “2001” that arranges for the astronauts’ meals, gives them medical treatments, and even plays chess with them during a long space mission to Jupiter-“Maybe it ought to sound like Jackie Mason,” Kubrick once said), and what kind of time will be kept aboard a spaceship (Kubrick chose Eastern Standard, for the convenience of communicating with Washington). In the sort of planning that nasa does, such matters can be dealt with as they come up, but in a movie everything is immediately visible and explicit, and questions like this must be answered in detail. To help him find the answers, Kubrick has assembled around him a group of thirty-five artists and designers, more than twenty special-effects people, and a staff of scientific advisers. By the time the picture is done, Kubrick figures that he will have consulted with people from a generous sampling of the leading aeronautical companies in the United States and Europe, not to mention innumerable scientific and industrial firms. One consultant, for instance, was Professor Marvin Minsky, of M.I.T., who is a leading authority on artificial intelligence and the construction of automata. (He is now building a robot at M.I.T. that can catch a ball.) Kubrick wanted to learn from him whether and if the things that he was planning to have his computers do were likely to be realized by the year 2001; he was pleased to find out that they were.

A new book by Michael Benson, Space Odyssey: Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke, and the Making of a Masterpiece, looks back at how the film was made. The visual effects are one of the reasons the film is so celebrated today; Vulture took a quick look at four of the most influential effects:

The ending of the film can still be puzzling after several viewings — deliberately so, according to Kubrick — but ScreenPrism took a crack at a literal explanation of the Giant Space Baby et al.:

Kubrick himself explained the plot of 2001 in a 1969 interview in just two paragraphs:

You begin with an artifact left on earth four million years ago by extraterrestrial explorers who observed the behavior of the man-apes of the time and decided to influence their evolutionary progression. Then you have a second artifact buried deep on the lunar surface and programmed to signal word of man’s first baby steps into the universe — a kind of cosmic burglar alarm. And finally there’s a third artifact placed in orbit around Jupiter and waiting for the time when man has reached the outer rim of his own solar system.

When the surviving astronaut, Bowman, ultimately reaches Jupiter, this artifact sweeps him into a force field or star gate that hurls him on a journey through inner and outer space and finally transports him to another part of the galaxy, where he’s placed in a human zoo approximating a hospital terrestrial environment drawn out of his own dreams and imagination. In a timeless state, his life passes from middle age to senescence to death. He is reborn, an enhanced being, a star child, an angel, a superman, if you like, and returns to earth prepared for the next leap forward of man’s evolutionary destiny.

And there’s much more to explore about 2001 in the kottke.org archives.

Pristine restoration of a 9-minute silent film of NYC street life from 1911

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 16, 2018

Last year, MoMA presented a nine-minute short film of locales around NYC that was shot in 1911.

This documentary travelogue of New York City was made by a team of cameramen with the Swedish company Svenska Biografteatern, who were sent around the world to make pictures of well-known places. (They also filmed at Niagara Falls and in Paris, Monte Carlo, and Venice, although New York 1911 is the only selection in the Museum’s collection.) Opening and closing with shots of the Statue of Liberty, the film also includes New York Harbor; Battery Park and the John Ericsson statue; the elevated railways at Bowery and Worth Streets; Broadway sights like Grace Church and Mark Cross; the Flatiron Building on Fifth Avenue; and Madison Avenue.

The film was only on the MoMA’s site for a brief time1 but lately some copies have popped up on YouTube, including the one embedded above. Note: this particular copy of the film has audio added and has been slowed down to a “natural rate”. I’d turn the sound off…the added foley effects are poorly done. If you want to see the original video, watch this one.

  1. No idea why they took the video down. Are there licensing issues? Or are they just trying to force an artificial scarcity? Why not just leave it up as a permanent exhibit? If you’re an art museum, you should share the art you have access to as much and as widely as possible.

The most divisive work in all of modern art: all-white paintings

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 13, 2018

Modern art museum patrons are often confounded by all-white paintings like those of Robert Ryman. Like, what the hell? It’s just a white painting? “I could do that.” In this video, Vox’s Dean Peterson talks with The Whitney’s assistant curator Elisabeth Sherman about how you might approach thinking about minimalist art.

The art critic Peter Schjeldahl, writing about a retrospective of Ryman’s work for the New Yorker, gets at what the artist is attempting to communicate with his work:

Always, Ryman invites contemplation of the light that falls on his paintings (which when I saw them, on a recent cloudy day, was glumly tender as it filtered through the Dia skylights) and of their formal relation to the rooms that contain them. There’s no savoring of style, just stark presentation. His work’s economy and quietness may be pleasing, but its chief attraction is philosophical. What is a painting? Are there values inherent in the medium’s fundamental givens — paint skin, support surface, wall — when they are denied traditional decorative and illustrative functions? Such questions absorb Ryman. Do they excite you? Your answer might betray how old you are.

And Ryman himself talked about why he uses white in an interview with Art21:

White has a tendency to make things visible. With white, you can see more of a nuance; you can see more. I’ve said before that, if you spill coffee on a white shirt, you can see the coffee very clearly. If you spill it on a dark shirt, you don’t see it as well. So, it wasn’t a matter of white, the color. I was not really interested in that. I started to cover up colors with white in the 1950s. It has only been recently, in 2004, that I did a series of white paintings in which I was actually painting the color white. Before that, I’d never really thought of white as being a color, in that sense.