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Some things I’ve read, seen, and heard in the past few weeks

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 28, 2017

1984. I believe I last saw this movie in high school, which seems unlikely given the nudity. Or maybe we saw a censored version, in which case: lolololol. (B+)

Ghost in the Shell. Superb visuals but the story felt flat. (B)

Big Little Lies. I almost gave up on this after two episodes. I can watch TV characters do all sorts of horrible things to each other — lie, cheat, steal, betray, kill — but apparently epically bad parenting is my last straw. But. The final episode contains one of the best scenes I’ve ever watched on TV and was just fantastic all around. Was literally on the edge of my seat for the entire 60 minutes. (A-)

Future Sex. Among the least titillating books about sex you’ll ever read. (That’s a compliment.) (B+)

The Undoing Project. I was unsure about this one until about 1/3 through but persisted because it’s Michael Lewis. Fascinating in places and unexpectedly emotional. (B)

Mr. Bean. I have never seen my kids laugh quite as hard as they did watching Mr. Bean rush to the dentist office. My dad instilled in me an appreciation of British comedy and I guess I’m passing that on to my kids. They seem to get it, but not all kids do. They were so excited recently to show some friends The Ministry of Silly Walks sketch from Monty Python and the friends looked really really confused and didn’t laugh at all. Fawlty Towers is up soon. (B)

The Rules Do Not Apply. At one shocking, heartbreaking point in the book, time reels backwards. If you’ve read Ariel Levy’s Thanksgiving in Mongolia in the New Yorker, you know exactly what I’m talking about. (B+)

Tim Carmody’s Best of the Web series for kottke.org. I love getting to be a reader of the site sometimes, just like all of you. I always enjoy Tim’s residencies here, but this one made me clap my hands in joy and stomp my feet in a jealous rage. It’s not entirely fair that he does the site better than I do, but I’m glad he does. (A)

The final season of Girls. Not their best season, but I’m sad to see it go nonetheless. The ensemble is what made the show special, and they just weren’t together enough this season. The single episode “goodbyes” for each character felt forced. (Same reason why Arrested Development season 4 wasn’t up to scratch.) (B+)

Terror of the Zygons. I started watching old Doctor Whos with the kids and they love them. (B-)

Hedgehog Launch. Ancient iOS game…my phone might contain the last functioning install of it. I started playing it a few weeks ago and now I am addicted to it for absolutely no good reason. The game sucks: it’s tough and not that fun until a certain point and then it gets really easy to win. But I can’t stop playing it. It’s like a metaphor for something in my life I can’t quite figure out. Fuck this game. (F)

Damn. I need to listen to this more. So I shall. (B+)

Get Out. Really good but not great. I saw this weeks after everyone else and my expectations were too high. Kept waiting for it to slip into a slightly higher gear but it never did. Don’t @ me! (B+)

Cloud Atlas. I’ve seen this movie at least four times and I love it. (A-)

The Prestige. Hadn’t seen this since it came out. Holds up. Had totally forgotten about Bowie as Tesla. (A-)

The Holy Mountain. Was way too sober for this. (B-)

The Life Aquatic. Not my favorite Wes Anderson but solid. There’s some weirdly clunky acting in the middle bits. (B+)

Guardians of the Galaxy. Gearing up for the new one. (A-/B+)

See also the last installment of this list from earlier this month.

We Work Remotely

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking

Field Guide to Dumb Birds of North America. "I hate birds. These are my field notes."

The search for robot-proof jobs

Factual news item that sounds fake: Mario Batali is helping to save Leonardo's The Last Supper

"We spent months bracing and preparing for the death of our daughter. But guess what? We weren't ready.”

Ex Machina as a rom com? Ok!

"It is possible to produce X-rays by simply unrolling Scotch tape"

Optical illusion: when the Sun is directly overhead, some things don't cast shadows and it looks weiiiird

The covers of every Ikea catalog from 1951-2015

Did humans arrive in America 115,000 years earlier than commonly accepted? (Spoiler: probably not.)

There's no quick links archive yet. If you'd like to see 'em all, follow @kottke on Twitter.

The meeting that never happened

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 28, 2017

IDAC is an entertaining short film by Casimir Nozkowski that explores the social mores of the awkward youth and, after a twist in the story, the malleability of memory.

When I was leaving for college, my aunt Dana told me I had a cousin I’d never met who was matriculating in the same year as me. We shared classes and had friends in common but for some strange reason I never introduced myself. All during college, and then into the real world, through a decade of overlapping connections, we never met. This film is an examination of that hesitation and an attempt to understand why I never made the easiest connection in the world… until it was too late.

What is literature for?

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 28, 2017

The School of Life on four uses of literature. I especially liked this bit:

We’re weirder than we’re allowed to admit. We often can’t say what’s really on our minds, but in books, we find descriptions of who we genuinely are and what events are actually like described with an honesty quite different from what ordinary conversation allows for. In the best books, it’s as if the writer knows us better than we know ourselves. They find the words to describe the fragile and weird special experiences of our inner lives: the light on a summer morning, the anxiety we felt at a gathering, the sensations of a first kiss, the envy when a friend told us of their new business, the longing we experienced on the train looking at the profile of another passenger we never dare to speak to. Writers open our hearts and minds and give us maps to our own selves, so that we can travel in them more reliably and with less of a feeling of paranoia and persecution. As the writer Emerson remarked, “In the works of great writers, we find our own neglected thoughts.”

I would argue these points also apply, in one degree or another, to not just literature but to any artful endeavor: film, TV, comics, theater, painting, etc.

Dieter Rams’ classic design principles updated for the tech industry

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 28, 2017

Dieter Rams, the legendary designer, came up with a now-famous list of Ten Principles for Good Design. Among them:

Good design makes a product understandable. It clarifies the product’s structure. Better still, it can make the product talk. At best, it is self-explanatory.

Recently, designer Tobias Van Schneider posted a tongue-in-cheek update of Rams’ list, the 2017 Tech Industry edition.

Ten Principles for Good Design, tech edition

1. Good design is disruptive.
2. Good design makes a product addicting.
3. Good design is A/B testing.
4. Good design makes a product collect data.
5. Good design is notifications.
6. Good design is agreeing to the terms & conditions.
7. Good design is temporary.
8. Good design is a prototype.
9. Good design is a chatbot?
10. Good design is pleasing your shareholders.

Night timelapse of the Milky Way from an airplane cockpit

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 28, 2017

Sales Wick is a pilot for SWISS and while working an overnight flight from Zurich to Sao Paulo, he filmed the first segment of the flight from basically the dashboard of the plane and made a timelapse video out of it. At that altitude, without a lot of light and atmospheric interference, the Milky Way is super vivid.

Just as the bright city lights are vanishing behind us, the Milky Way starts to become clearly visible up ahead. Its now us, pacing at almost the speed of sound along the invisible highway and the pitch-black night sky above this surreal landscape. Ahead of us are another eight hours flight time, but we already stopped counting the shooting stars. And we got already to a few hundred.

I watched this twice already, once to specifically pay attention to all the passing airplanes. The sky is surprisingly busy, even at that hour. (via @ozans)

The absurd precision involved in detecting gravitational waves

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 27, 2017

Back in September 2015, the LIGO experiment detected gravitational waves formed 1.3 billion years ago when two black holes merged into one. The physics is pretty straightforward but to get the measurement, scientists had to build one of the most sensitive machines ever built. How sensitive? To get an accurate result, they needed to measure a distance of 4km with an accuracy of 1/10000th the width of a proton. This video from Veritasium looks at how the scientists and engineers accomplished such an amazing feat.

Road dieting

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 27, 2017

The concept of road diets is an alternate approach to dealing with road congestion that’s gained popularity in recent years. The typical solution to heavy traffic on roads is to widen them with more travel lanes. The problem is such an approach can induce demand and instead of two lanes of traffic jam, you get four lanes going nowhere.1

Instead, with a road diet approach, you might turn a four-lane road into three lanes: two travel lanes and a turn lane in the middle.

Realizing these unintended outcomes, some localities implemented a type of road diet: reconfiguring the four lanes (two in each direction) into three (one each way plus a shared turn lane in the middle). The change dramatically reduced the number of “conflict points” on the road-places where a crash might occur. Whereas there might be six mid-block conflict points in a common four-lane arterial, between cars turning and merging, there were only two after the road diet.

Likewise, at an intersection, eight potential conflict points became four after a road diet.

The result was a much safer road. In small urban areas (say, populations around 17,000, with traffic volumes up to 12,000 cars a day), post-road diet crashes dropped about 47 percent. In larger metros (with populations around 269,000 and up to 24,000 daily cars), the crash reduction was roughly 19 percent. The combined estimate from all the best studies predicted that accidents would decline 29 percent, on average, after a four-to-three-lane road diet — DOT’s reported figure.

Pedestrian and bike usage tends to increase as well (b/c that extra street can be converted to bike lanes or sidewalks), speeding decreases, and car travel times are largely unaffected. This quick video by Jeff Speck shows four different approaches to road dieting:

Update: See also Braess’ paradox.

Braess’ paradox or Braess’s paradox is a proposed explanation for a seeming improvement to a road network being able to impede traffic through it. It was discovered in 1968 by mathematician Dietrich Braess, who noticed that adding a road to a congested road traffic network could increase overall journey time, and it has been used to explain instances of improved traffic flow when existing major roads are closed.

The paradox may have analogues in electrical power grids and biological systems. It has been suggested that in theory, the improvement of a malfunctioning network could be accomplished by removing certain parts of it.

(thx, david)

  1. The concept of induced demand can be seen in other places, like New Orleans’ overcrowded jails.

How fake are nature documentaries?

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 26, 2017

When you’re watching a nature documentary, you notice it right away: there’s something odd about the sound effects. They seem a little too…Hollywood. When Vox did their series on how the BBC made Planet Earth II, they didn’t mention the sound:

I hope the third program is on sound, which has been bugging me while watching Planet Earth II. I could be wrong, but they seem to be using extensive foley effects for the sounds the animals make — not their cries necessarily, but the sounds they make as they move. Once you notice, it feels deceptive.

Several other people noticed and complained, causing the BBC to explain that getting real sounds in many cases was impossible. Audio producer Matt North adds some context:

Whilst I’m no wildlife expert, it’s fairly straightforward to conclude that such an unpredictable and uncontrollable subject as wildlife would have prompted the need to often shoot on long lenses, thus making it almost physically impossible for a sound recordist to obtain ‘realistic’ recordings that would match the treatment and emotive style of the programme. Combine this with the shooting climate, as well as the need for frequent communication between crew just to capture the necessary shots that will cut well in the edit suite and you have a recipe for failure in regards to obtaining useable sound. Therefore, it’s not only impractical but virtually impossible to capture the ‘real’ sound that some of these disgruntled viewers may be protesting for.

As Simon Cade shows in the video above, sound is only one of the ways in which nature documentaries use editing to “fake” things. Is it manipulation? Or good storytelling? And what’s the difference between the two anyway? A silent security feed of a Walmart parking lot is not a documentary but The Thin Blue Line, with its many dramatizations and Philip Glass score, is a great documentary.

Update: 99% Invisible recently did a show on the sounds in nature documentaries as well. (thx, everyone)

A brief visual history of Studio Ghibli

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 26, 2017

Studio Ghibli has been making incredible animated movies since 1985. This video traces the history and the work of the studio and its principal director Hayao Miyazaki from his pre-Ghibli work (including Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind) all the way up to Miyazaki’s recent unretirement & involvement in Boro the Caterpillar.

The name Ghibli was given by Hayao Miyazaki from the Italian noun “ghibli”, based on the Libyan-Arabic name for the hot desert wind of that country, the idea being the studio would “blow a new wind through the anime industry”. It also refers to an Italian aircraft, the Caproni Ca.309 Ghibli.

I still remember seeing Princess Mononoke in the theater in 1999 (having no previous knowledge of Ghibli or Miyazaki) and being completely blown away by it. Made me a fan for life. (via film school rejects)

Seinfeld-sourced paper gets into “legit” science journal

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 26, 2017

John McCool suspected that a scientific journal called the Urology & Nephrology Open Access Journal was essentially a pay-to-publish journal with a flimsy peer-review process. So he wrote a paper based on a bogus medical condition made up for an episode of Seinfeld and submitted it to them.

This was inspired by the classic 1991 episode “The Parking Garage,” where the gang can’t find their car in a mall parking garage. Eventually, Jerry has to urinate; he goes against a garage wall and gets busted by a security guard; and he tries to get out of it by claiming that he suffers from a disease called “uromycitisis” and could die if he doesn’t relieve himself whenever and wherever he needs to.

I went all out. I wrote it as Dr. Martin van Nostrand, Kramer’s physician alter ego, and coauthored by Jay Reimenschneider (Kramer’s friend who eats horse meat) and Leonard “Len” Nicodemo (another of Kramer’s friends, who once had gout). I included fake references to articles written by the likes of Costanza GL, Pennypacker HE, and Peterman J. I created a fake institution where the authors worked: the Arthur Vandelay Urological Research Institute. In the Acknowledgements section, I thanked people such as Tor Eckman, the bizarre holistic healer from “The Heart Attack” episode, giving him a “Doctor of Holistic Medicine (HMD)” degree.

The Arthur Vandelay Urological Research Institute!! That’s some top-shelf trolling right there. If you read the full paper, you’ll also see references to Steinbrenner and Lloyd Braun. Of course the journal accepted and published it:

The journal was excited to receive this “quality” and “very interesting” case report. A mere 33 minutes after receiving it, a representative notified “Dr. van Nostrand” that it had been sent out for peer review (a process the journal’s website touts as “rigorous”). Three days later, reviewer comments were returned to me, and I was asked to make a few minor changes, including adding lab test results from when the patient was in the emergency room. I made these up, too, and promptly resubmitted the revised case report. Soon after, it was officially accepted for publication.

The publication eventually figured out it had been pranked and had a quick back-and-forth with McCool about it.

Endless robotic loop of a toy train

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 26, 2017

This video of robot continuously building a looped track in front of a toy train is definitely a metaphor for something. Procrastination? Living paycheck to paycheck? Life with small children? I don’t know, but it makes me SO ANXIOUS! Why does it wait so long to place the next section of track?!! I couldn’t watch for more than 10 seconds or so.

See also the chase scene from The Wrong Trousers. (via @MachinePix)

Bowler rolls a perfect 300 game in just 90 seconds

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 25, 2017

My top bowling score is probably 1381 and took more than an hour because there were 6 people using the same lane and no one was really paying that much attention to anything other than conversation and chicken wings. This guy, using all the lanes in the alley, rolled a 300 in just under 90 seconds. With two hands…I’ve never seen that before. And I love the way he scampers from lane to lane.

  1. Or somewhere in the high 200s if you count Wii bowling. I don’t think I ever scored a perfect 300 on the Wii.

Preemie lambs successfully grown to term in artificial wombs

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 25, 2017

Artificial Womb

Researchers at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia have succeeded in gestating premature lambs in artificial wombs. The abstract from the paper in Nature Communications:

In the developed world, extreme prematurity is the leading cause of neonatal mortality and morbidity due to a combination of organ immaturity and iatrogenic injury. Until now, efforts to extend gestation using extracorporeal systems have achieved limited success. Here we report the development of a system that incorporates a pumpless oxygenator circuit connected to the fetus of a lamb via an umbilical cord interface that is maintained within a closed ‘amniotic fluid’ circuit that closely reproduces the environment of the womb. We show that fetal lambs that are developmentally equivalent to the extreme premature human infant can be physiologically supported in this extra-uterine device for up to 4 weeks. Lambs on support maintain stable haemodynamics, have normal blood gas and oxygenation parameters and maintain patency of the fetal circulation. With appropriate nutritional support, lambs on the system demonstrate normal somatic growth, lung maturation and brain growth and myelination.

The Atlantic’s Olga Khazan translates what that might mean for human babies born prematurely.

One reason preterm birth is so dangerous is that, for an underweight baby, the first few breaths of air halt the development of the lungs. “Infants that are currently born and supported in a neonatal intensive care unit with gas-based ventilation demonstrate an arrest of lung development,” Partridge says, “which manifests in a long-term, severe restriction of lung function.”

With the artificial womb, the infant would continue “breathing” through the umbilical cord as its floats in amniotic fluid, which would flow into and out of the bag. Using its tiny heart, the fetus would pump its own blood through its umbilical cord and into an oxygenator, where the blood would pick up oxygen and return it to the fetus-much like with a normal placenta. In addition to boosting lung growth, the amniotic fluid would protect the baby from infections and support the development of the intestines.

If this does work for humans, there’s a possibility that at some point using artificial wombs may be safer (or just preferable for some people) than women carrying babies to term…which would have an interesting effect on childbirth (to say the least). And as Khazan mentions, there are potential implications related to abortion rights:

If they ever materialize, artificial wombs may stir concerns among pro-choice advocates, since the devices could push the point of viability for human fetuses even lower. That might encourage even more states to curtail abortions after, say, 20 weeks’ gestation. But speaking with reporters Monday, the Philadelphia researchers emphasized they don’t intend to expand the bounds of life before the 23rd gestational week. Before that point, fetuses are too fragile even for the artificial wombs.

Update: There’s a short video clip of the lamb in the artificial womb as well:

The writers strike and the rise of Trump

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 25, 2017

The members of the two large writing guilds representing more than 12,000 Hollywood writers recently voted to strike.

Leaders of the Writers Guild of America, East, and the Writers Guild of America, West, announced the results of an online strike authorization vote in an email to members. The unions said that 6,310 eligible members voted; 96 percent of the vote was in favor of a strike.

A three-year contract between the guilds and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents the makers of films and TV series, expires at midnight on May 1. Negotiators were set to resume talks on Tuesday, with funding of a failing union health care plan a sticking point.

Last time there was a writers strike in 2007, networks moved to replace their scripted shows with reality programs, including the resurrection of a fading reality show called The Apprentice.

During the last work stoppage, CBS ordered additional seasons of its flagship reality competition shows to fill airtime. And then there’s NBC.

Trump’s “The Apprentice” had been removed from the network’s lineup amid low ratings. But a new programming chief came aboard in 2007, and the network decided to revive the competition show, but with a twist. And when the writers’ strike meant no more new episodes of “The Office” and “Scrubs,” NBC replaced the Thursday night shows in 2008 with “The Celebrity Apprentice.”

That’s a curious butterfly effect. The writers strike made room for The Celebrity Apprentice on TV. The Celebrity Apprentice gave Trump seven more seasons of primetime TV visibility. Trump parlayed that visibility into the highest political office in the land.