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Roses are red, violets are insane…

posted by Jason Kottke   May 03, 2017

Pluses Optical Illusion

…this optical illusion broke my brain. And then for a second, I was like, I got it. Then my brain broke again. Repeat for several minutes. (via bb)

Update: This illusion was made by Charlie Deck. (via @tdhooper)

Race, identity, and genetic stories

posted by Jason Kottke   May 01, 2017

Finding out about your family history through a DNA test can be a thrilling or disturbing experience, particularly when it comes to race and identity. In the NY Times, researcher Anita Foeman writes about asking people how they identify and then DNA testing them. A man named Bernard identifies as black and predicted his test would show 50% European and 50% African ancestry (his father was black and his mother was white):

His comments before the test: My mother said, “I know you are me, but no cop is going to take the time to find out your mother is white.” She was very specific about raising me as a black man.

His DNA test showed he is “91% European, 5% Middle Eastern, 2% Hispanic; less than 1% African and Asian”:

Thoughts about his ancestry results: What are you trying to do to me? You have caused a lot of problems in my family. I know my nose is sharp and my skin is light, but my politics are as black as night. Today, I don’t identify as mixed. I reject my white privilege in a racist America. There is no way that I or my kids will identify as anything other than black.

In a follow-up newsletter, Times reader Carl Johnson writes:

I am a 55-year-old American male of African descent. I have a dark complexion and grew up in rural East Tennessee with my mother’s relatives. I wanted to have DNA testing done to confirm rumors of my Native American heritage. To my surprise, my results were 84 percent West African, 14 percent European, and 2 percent East Asian.

My bigger dilemma is: How do I embrace my European origins? It’s assumed that the European DNA was obtained by force during slavery. I think that is most likely. But what if my European ancestors were indentured servants who worked closely with African slaves and a real romance evolved, despite the cultural norms of that time, and now here I am?

If I am true to myself and the scientific evidence that provides richness to the DNA I’ve inherited, I now need to figure out a way to honor all of me and those who survived to make me possible. The journey and adventure continues.

I got DNA tested many years ago and I just went back to look at the results. My parents’ grandparents (or great grandparents, don’t really know) settled in Minnesota and Wisconsin in the mid-to-late 1800s as part of a wave of upper Midwestern immigration from Germany and Scandinavia.1 Unsurprisingly, my results came back as 100% European — mostly Northern European with some Eastern European2 — but with more British and Irish than I suspected (12%):

You most likely had a grandparent, great-grandparent, or second great-grandparent who was 100% British & Irish. This person was likely born between 1850 and 1910.

Huh.

  1. This resulted in some interesting family stories. During WWII, my great uncle Jens Jensen (Danish!) was fighting with the US Armed Forces over in Europe while his wife Hulda (German!) was sending food and clothing to family members in Germany. He was still wound up about it even 40 years later when I heard the story — “I was getting shot at by Nazis and she’s sending them goddamned care packages!” — but stories like that were always accompanied by a wink and a grin, so at least some of the sting had dissipated.

  2. In the 1800s, the territories of Prussia and Germany often included Poland. I don’t know exactly where my branch of the Kottke family lived in the “Old Country” but I’ve heard that it’s more likely to be in modern-day Poland than within the present German borders.

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)

Update: The Movies of Studio Ghibli, Ranked from Worst to Best. Happy to see Princess Mononoke in the top spot and surprised at Spirited Away’s relatively low placement.

A Llama in Times Square

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 06, 2017

Inge Morath Llama

That’s Linda the Llama, photographed by Inge Morath for Life magazine. I have seen this photo many times in various contexts, but until today, I’d never really stopped to ask who photographed it or how a llama came to be riding through Times Square in a car. Perhaps it’s the context of the location, but it looks almost like something a tourist would have snapped…until further inspection reveals the perfect composition of a great photographer at work.

The caption read the llama was enroute to make a television appearance, but Morath recalled differently in her notes: “Linda, the Lama [sic] rides home via Broadway. She is just coming home from a television show in New York’s A.B.C. studios and now takes a relaxed and long-necked look at the lights of one of the world’s most famous streets.” Her contact sheets showed that Morath was already photographing the llama inside the studio, and the Inge Morath Foundation suggests the photographer might have acquainted herself with the llama and the trainer at least a year ahead of their photo-session.

Morath was a member of Magnum Photos, joining the collective a few years after its inception. She initially joined as an editor and researcher but after taking up photography herself and assisting Henri Cartier-Bresson, she became a full member as a photographer in 1955.

I think that in studying [Cartier-Bresson’s] way of photographing I learned how to photograph myself, before I ever took a camera into my hand. […] It was instantly clear to me that from now on I would be a photographer. As I continued to photograph I became quite joyous. I knew that I could express the things I wanted to say by giving them form through my eyes.

I love this story about Morath from her Wikipedia profile (originally from a piece in Time):

In 1959, while photographing the making of The Unforgiven, starring Audrey Hepburn, Burt Lancaster, and Audie Murphy, Morath accompanied Huston and his friends duck hunting on a mountain lake outside Durango, Mexico. Photographing the excursion, Morath saw through her telephoto lens that Murphy and his companion had capsized their boat 350 feet from shore. She could see that Murphy, stunned, was nearly drowning. A skilled swimmer, Morath stripped to her underwear and hauled the two men ashore by her bra strap while the hunt continued uninterrupted.

A poster of A Llama in Times Square is available for sale on Magnum’s website.

Andre Agassi and what the scoreboard doesn’t say

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 23, 2017

Let’s get this out of the way first…this is a photo of Andre Agassi playing tennis at age 7:

Agassi at 7yo

OMG, that face! That photo is from a recent profile/interview of Agassi, who, after some struggles on and off the court early in his career, seems to have figured out how to live his life with purpose. Through his foundation and other efforts, Agassi has helped build almost 80 schools around the country for underprivileged children.

Did Agassi also wish he could be on court playing Federer or Nadal? “No. You can’t believe you once were at that level — and, even if I could do it, I think of my life now and ask: ‘Why do they do it?’ Steffi said: ‘Can you believe what these guys are still willing to put themselves through?’ It’s remarkable but if I went back in time I would probably retire sooner.”

Surely he misses the intensity? “I miss that the least. That was always the tough part for me. I enjoyed the work that went into making yourself the best you can be but I hated what the scoreboard doesn’t say. It just tells you if you won or lost. But the biggest issue for most athletes is you spend a third of your life not preparing for the next two-thirds. One day your entire way of life comes to an end. It’s a kind of death. You just have to go through it and figure it out. In her own quiet way Steffi feels stronger than me. She’s pretty linear in how she lives. I probably do a little more reminiscing than she does — which says a lot.”

As a kid, I always loved watching Agassi play, especially during the second half of his career. He’d been through some shit, dealt with it, and was playing with a different kind of verve. His game was more knowing, purposeful. I still remember Pete Sampras, overflowing with talent, pounding that amazing serve of his at Agassi, a serve that no one else on the tour could return properly. Some of these wicked serves would confound him, but every few points, Agassi would take a Sampras serve, this perfect booming thing, and absolutely paste it right down the line or cross-court for an easy winner. He took everything that was good about that serve and molded it into his return — the better Sampras hit the serve, the better Agassi’s return would be. (via mr)

Ze Frank’s “The Show”

posted by Tim Carmody   Apr 18, 2017

For a few weeks in 2006, people would ask me, “have you seen ‘The Show’? It’s the best thing ever,” and I would answer “Of course! I love it!” But I was talking about this:

It wasn’t until Ze Frank got a lengthy writeup in the New York Times (10,000 daily visitors!) that I realized they were talking about something else. And when I asked Kottke readers to nominate something to put in a time capsule for the World Wide Web, more people suggested Ze Frank’s The Show or episodes from it than they did anything else.

The Show helped establish some enduring conventions for videoblogging: direct address, quick cuts, slightly varied closeup angles, and a curious mix of oversharing, motivational speaking, political commentary, and nerdly zaniness, You never knew quite what you were going to get, but for that one year it ran, you knew you could get it every day.

If the earth was a sandwich We’d get along so well And we could feed everybody With a piece of ourselves

Ze brought The Show back for a short spell in 2012: “An Invocation for Beginnings” was a favorite video of a number of people who wrote in suggestions.

And for years now he’s helped run video at BuzzFeed — where a lot of The Show’s aesthetic can still be found, especially that relentless drive to figure out “what can I do to get people’s attention today?”

Future generations might take a minute to sort out the time-dependent references and figure out why these videos were so compelling. (They will also drop their jaws in wonder at just how old the computers from 2006 now look.) But that drive-for-attention/drive-for-connection part? I bet they’ll understand that part just fine.

Still blogging in 2017

posted by Jason Kottke   May 04, 2017

Tim Bray is still blogging in 2017.

I wonder what the Web will be like when we’re a couple more generations in? I’m pretty sure that as long as it remains easy to fill a little bit of the great namespace with your words and pictures, people will.

The great danger is that the Web’s future is mall-like: No space really public, no storefronts but national brands’, no visuals composed by amateurs, nothing that’s on offer just for its own sake, and for love.

Not sure if I’ve ever mentioned this on here before, but I often think of blogging as vaudeville to social media’s moving pictures (aka “movies”). It’s not that blogging and vaudeville are any less entertaining or engaging than they used to be,1 but movies in the 20s/30s and social media like Facebook and Snapchat (and media companies like Vox and BuzzFeed that leverage them well) provided tremendous quantities of scale and integrated means of production. Ok, the analogy needs a little work, but as Bray suggests, a few of us diehards will still be hoofing it here on our small stages until they sweep us off the stage. (via @cbredesen)

  1. Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show is basically vaudeville for the 2010s.

Bill Hayes adored Oliver Sacks

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 27, 2017

The Guardian has an entertaining and touching excerpt of Bill Hayes’ memoir Insomniac City about his moving to New York and his relationship with Oliver Sacks. Even though Sacks had little interest or knowledge about popular culture — “‘What is Michael Jackson?’ he asked me the day after the news [of Jackson’s death]” — he became part of it, and so he and Hayes travel to Iceland to dine with Björk and run into the actress and model Lauren Hutton at a concert.

[Hutton] overheard Oliver talking to Kevin about his new book, Hallucinations, which was coming out in a couple weeks. Lauren leaned across the table and listened intently.

“Hey doc, you ever done belladonna?” she asked. “Now there’s a drug!”

“Well, as a matter of fact, yes, I have,” and he proceeded to tell her about his hallucinations on belladonna. They traded stories. Eventually she began to figure out that this wasn’t his first book.

“Are you — are you Oliver Sacks? The Oliver Sacks?” Oliver looked both pleased and stricken.

“Well, it is very good to meet you, sir.” She sounded like a southern barmaid in a 50s western. But it wasn’t an act. “I’ve been reading you since way back. Oliver Sacks - imagine that!”

Oliver, I should note, had absolutely no idea who she was, nor would he understand if I had pulled him aside and told him.

Fashion? Vogue magazine? No idea…

The two of them hit it off. She was fast-talking, bawdy, opinionated, a broad - the opposite of Oliver except for having in common that mysterious quality: charm.

See also My Own Life, a piece about the cancer diagnosis that would eventually take Sacks’ life.

Over the last few days, I have been able to see my life as from a great altitude, as a sort of landscape, and with a deepening sense of the connection of all its parts. This does not mean I am finished with life.

On the contrary, I feel intensely alive, and I want and hope in the time that remains to deepen my friendships, to say farewell to those I love, to write more, to travel if I have the strength, to achieve new levels of understanding and insight.

This will involve audacity, clarity and plain speaking; trying to straighten my accounts with the world. But there will be time, too, for some fun (and even some silliness, as well).

Sacks dictated the piece to Hayes “nearly verbatim” and is very much worth a re-read. (via @tedgioia)

The Ballad of Holland Island House

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 29, 2017

The Ballad of Holland Island House was created by animator Lynn Tomlinson using a clay-on-glass painting technique.

The Ballad of Holland Island House is a short animation made with an innovative clay-painting technique in which a thin layer of oil-based clay comes to vibrant life frame by frame. Animator Lynn Tomlinson tells the true story of the last house on a sinking island in the Chesapeake Bay. Told from the house’s point of view, this film is a soulful and haunting view of the impact of sea-level rise.

The technique is a hybrid of traditional cel animation (traditionally done on transparent sheets) and claymation stop-motion animation.

The web’s funniest stories

posted by Tim Carmody   Apr 20, 2017

I asked Kottke readers to tell me the funniest stories they’d ever read on the web.

Now let me say this: I like to think I have a pretty eclectic sense of humor. I can go high or low, folksy or surreal, G-rated puns or X-rated filth. But some of you… let’s just say a few of you surprised me with some of this. This is some seriously weird shit.

NOTE: To narrow things down, I knocked out anything that didn’t resemble a story. I knocked out videos and focused on text. People who suggested comedy specials on Netflix — I didn’t watch those. I eliminated anything that seemed downright stupid, mean, or just not funny. And I probably dropped a few other links here and there because I closed the tab instead of saving it, or some other reason. This isn’t a scientific survey; this is a blog.

There’s still something to be said about the kind of humor that the web makes possible, or at least rewards disproportionately to other kinds of media. There’s definitely more short-form, densely-referential bits that somehow fuse tweeness and gallows humor than you see on television, or even in magazines, which might be their nearest successor. Some savage blend of The New Yorker and underground zines.

It’s a little like what happened to television comedy after The Simpsons showed up. Animation opened up the possibility space for other kinds of comedy, found a way for the weirdest bits of Get Smart and Monty Python to exist in their own separate universe.

The web had a similar effect. You could write anything. You could do anything. No sets to build, no pages that had to be filled. You had endless reflections by comics on podcasts and interviews and their own blogs and social media feeds about what made the funniest things funny. There were all sorts of new media genres you could lampoon, pillory, and steal from on the sly. You had greater collisions than ever before of different people from all over the world and every walk of life who brought their own traditions of humor and storytelling. Amateur and up-and-coming jokesters desperate to connect with friends and strangers. And an audience chained to their desks or stuck on a train or a doctor’s office looking to laugh. That’s just good gumbo.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 27, 2017

From director Martin McDonagh, who is also responsible for In Bruges, comes Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri. Frances McDormand stars and even in the trailer, she is a force of nature. (No offense to Meryl Streep, but McDormand is a very strong candidate for the best actor or actress working today.) The red band trailer above is entertaining in its use of many of George Carlin’s seven dirty words but I prefer the more conventional trailer I saw in the theater the other day — which I cannot locate online for some reason — because, among other reasons, it contains more Peter Dinklage.

Citizen Jane, a documentary film about Jane Jacobs

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 24, 2017

Citizen Jane: The Battle for the City is a documentary films about Jane Jacobs and her legendary battle against Robert Moses for the soul of New York City.

People have to insist on government trying things their way.

The film will be available in theaters and on-demand on April 21.

I’m a bit more than halfway through the audiobook of The Power Broker and Robert Moses is approaching the height of his influence. The power that Moses possessed in NYC almost cannot be overstated — I can’t think of any other single person who affected the “look and feel” of the city more than he did. I have heard the story many times, but I can’t wait to get the part with Jacobs, to hear in Caro’s words how this infinitely powerful man lost his grip on the city because of this remarkable woman and a group of concerned citizens. (via @daveg)

Update: Astoundingly, Jacobs is not in The Power Broker. Her chapter was cut for length. (thx, alec)

Kubrick’s original ending of The Shining

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 10, 2017

When The Shining premiered in 1980 in NYC and LA, there was a short scene in a hospital between the shot of Jack Torrence frozen in the maze and the long zoomed-in shot of the framed photo. After the premieres, director Stanley Kubrick decided the scene didn’t work and had it cut from dozens of prints and destroyed.

It’s also important to note that this was likely not the exact scene that Kubrick shot; since the scene no longer exists, it’s impossible to know how exactly it played. Even the many people who saw the epilogue when The Shining was first released have varying recollections of the exact details. Clearly, the final text about the Overlook’s history was an idea omitted during the writing process.

No known copy of the scene remains but you can read it in the screenplay and see brief glimpses in these Polaroids.

Jay Smooth’s Ill Doctrine is still the best

posted by Tim Carmody   Apr 19, 2017

It’s 2008. George W. Bush is President. The Democratic primaries have just ended, and Barack Obama is the unlikely presumptive nominee. The economy is circling around the drain, and America is about to have its first black Presidential nominee by a major political party.

I don’t know exactly how you might measure and graph a country’s level of plausibly deniable racism or awkward attempts to identify or discount such racism, but if you could, summer 2008 would have to be one of its peaks.

That’s when Jay Smooth posted “How To Tell Someone They Sound Racist,” one of the greatest videoblog entries of all time.

Jay’s video turned into a TED Talk and a video series for Fusion called The Illipsis.

But mostly, he’s still hosting WBAI’s Underground Railroad (since 1991!), keeping up his site HipHopMusic.com (not much lately, but he started it in 1997!) and writing blog posts and making consistently great videos about music, race, politics, and culture at Ill Doctrine.

Watching Ill Doctrine is to feel the power and pleasure of seeing a mind at work. He’s always thinking around seven or eight sides of an issue and following them through all the way to the end. He does what you might call “explainers” but without any of the condescension to the audience or pretense to having settled an issue once and forever endemic to the form. It’s conversation.

He’s the best editor of any weblog I know — every cut is a new thought, a new idea, a new argument to hang on the thought right before it, and the cumulative effect is like a cubist painting.

He’s still experimenting with the format, adding interviews, letting his cat co-host, always oscillating between the public and the personal. Jay’s still the best at what he does.

Update: Jay just launched a Patreon campaign to keep Ill Doctrine going well into the future; if you love his work, please consider supporting it.

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.

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

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 04, 2017

Don’t pay too much attention to the letter grades, they’re super subjective. Oh, and don’t pay too much attention to the descriptions…also subjective. You know what, you should probably just skip this post and watch Planet Earth II instead. It’s objectively great.

The Handmaiden. Khoi Vinh turned me onto this. Loved it. (A)

What Happened, Miss Simone? Nina Simone is underrated. There are some spine-tingling live musical moments in this film. (B+)

The Three-Body Problem. Recommended by Barry. The first book is great, the next two are good but pretty depressing. (B+)

Moonlight. While this didn’t grab me as much as it did everyone else, the Academy got it right. (A-)

The Night Manager. I can see what Taylor Swift saw in Tom Hiddleston. (B+)

T2 Trainspotting. If you saw and loved the original, you should see this. It is somehow nostalgic and also not. (B)

Girls. The struggles of 20-something New Yorkers and the crises of 40-something males may not be the same, but they sure do rhyme. (B+)

Beauty and the Beast. Better than I expected, even for a musical about the Stockholm syndrome. (I mean, why didn’t the Beast let Belle go like waaaay sooner?) I never saw the original when I was a kid but somehow knew all the songs anyway? I even got a little teary at the end but perhaps that’s just because my emotional life is a puddly mess rn. (B)

Hidden Figures. Really liked this. (A-)

Turing’s Cathedral. Raging Bull. Manchester by the Sea. I am increasingly bored by stories about white dudes. Look at the rest of this list. The best stuff, the things I liked the most, are stories about or stories told by women or people of color or non-Americans. (C)

Homo Deus. Still haven’t finished this, but I’m persisting because Sapiens was so good. Hard to escape the conclusion that the sequel is not quite so good. (B-)

Planet Earth II. This is the best thing I’ve seen in the last year. Just fucking watch it already. (A+)

More Life. Liking this more than Views. Drake’s non-albums are better than his albums. (B+)

Mad Men. My second time through. Better than I remember and I remember it being great. (A+)

The Crown. Expected Downton (soapy but fun) but was rewarded with great acting and writing. Claire Foy as Elizabeth and John Lithgow as Churchill were *kisses fingers*. (A)

“Awaken My Love”. I’m sorry, I just couldn’t figure this one out. (C-)

Wonderland. Steven Johnson’s best book yet. (A)

The Underground Railroad. Nothing to say about this that already hasn’t been said. (A)

Logan. Producers are realizing they’ve stocked their superhero movies with great actors so maybe they should give them material worthy of their talents. (B+)

Finding Dory. It’s a movie about disability. (A-)

Abstract. Pretty good, but I agree with Rob Walker’s take. Niemann is closest to the way I work/think but I liked Bjarke’s episode the best…even though I’ve got some, er, issues with the guy. (B)

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. The script, not the play. I have now read all 8 of the Harry Potter books with my kids…it took more than 4 years. Very sad it’s over…it ended up being one of the most rewarding things I’ve done with them. (B+)

A Golden Age of Oral Histories

posted by Tim Carmody   Apr 17, 2017

Golden Girls is one of my ten favorite TV shows ever. Recently, the entire series came to Hulu. I went to find the terrific oral history of the show, published just last year… and it was gone. The entire publication and its website had folded.

Luckily, the writer (Drew Mackie) had saved a copy, and published it on his own site after the magazine went under. So we still have gems like this anecdote from writer Winifred Hervey:

Bea was always my favorite. I left after the third season, and that’s the year she won her Emmy for Best Actress. I was at the ceremony, and after she gave her speech she came over and said, “Winifred, did you hear I mentioned your name, you little twat?” She was mad because I left.

That Golden Girls oral history is part of why I’ve been thinking about how we might save and recirculate the best parts of the web. So many good things have already vanished. The web is resilient, but fragile, too.

Big, splashy, gossipy pop culture oral histories used to be pretty rare, online or off. Vanity Fair would publish one every once in a while; in 2009, the magazine collected nine of them from the previous decade, including great features on The Simpsons, Saturday Night Live, Motown Records, and a galloping 50-year history of the entire internet, from ARPA to YouTube. Other magazines would do oral histories from time to time — GQ has had some terrific ones — but the real explosion begins in this decade, and it begins and ends on the web.

One of the first pieces Grantland published in 2011 was an oral history of The National, a writerly sports publication stacked with talent that could never make enough money and ended far too soon. (Message!) Right around then, a few really successful features helped kick off the boom.

Since then, my god — we have so many oral histories! Two years ago, Thrillist put together a list of 260 oral histories on music, movies, TV, and related pop culture alone. There are fake oral histories, “oral histories” that only interview two people, oral histories of things the writers profess to hate (trigger warning: autoplay), and oral histories of cult TV shows even more cultish side characters. (“In the end, I really liked Magnitude because I realized that the reason he calls himself Magnitude is because it stands for Magnetic Attitude.”)

But what are the histories you actually need to read? The Kottke Archives have links to and capsule summaries of no fewer than twenty-five oral histories, going back to 2008. These include histories of SXSW Interactive, the Challenger disaster, Freaks and Geeks, Cheers, Die Hard, and George Lucas’s Industrial Light and Magic.

With these alone, you already have enough reading material to get you through this week and beyond. But since we’re saving these for aliens, our grandchildren, and our alien grandchildren, I’m going to add a few more. These are just some of my favorite oral histories that (as far as I can tell) have never appeared on Kottke.org.

That last oral history in particular shows you how much the web has changed over the last twelve years — i.e., about half its life. In 2005, Yacht Rock was a show that me and a few thousand other people were really excited about, and that was enough to make it a web sensation. You couldn’t even get it on YouTube, because YouTube barely existed. Web video series were not getting loving write-ups in prestigious magazines. Yet here we are.

Science is a fundamental part of America

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 24, 2017

Science in America is an impassioned video from Neil deGrasse Tyson about the threat we face from the political uncoupling of science from the truth in America today.

How did America rise up from a backwoods country to be one of the greatest nations the world has ever known? We pioneered industries. And all this required the greatest innovations in science and technology in the world. And so, science is a fundamental part of the country that we are. But in this, the 21st century, when it comes time to make decisions about science, it seems to me people have lost the ability to judge what is true and what is not, what is reliable what is not reliable, what should you believe what you do not believe. And when you have people who don’t know much about science standing in denial of it and rising to power, that is a recipe for the complete dismantling of our informed democracy.

Giant meteorite sculpture is at the center of a stunning UK Holocaust Memorial proposal

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 12, 2017

Anish Kapoor Holocaust Memorial

Anish Kapoor Holocaust Memorial

British sculptor Anish Kapoor and Zaha Hadid Architects have proposed a massive sculpture resembling a meteorite for the centerpiece of the UK Holocaust Memorial.

Meteorites, mountains and stones are often at the centre of places of reflection, especially in the Jewish tradition. They call on the vastness of nature to be a witness to our humanity. A memorial to the Holocaust must be contemplative and silent, such that it evokes our empathy. It must be a promise to future generations that this terrible chapter in human history can never occur again.

All ten shortlisted proposals can be viewed on the design competition site.

The stunning visual effects from Ghost in the Shell

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 11, 2017

From concept designer Ash Thorp, a reel of visual effects he worked on for Ghost in the Shell, from animation tests to completed effects featured in the film.

Early on in the film’s development, I met with Rupert to discuss some of the creative direction. He expressed his desire to paint the city with neon lights in a new form that he coined as “Solograms”, which are solid holograms. It is something in the realm of a particle system of light that can be moved and augmented in Z space. I loved the idea and instantly got to work building out concepts and ideas. Below you will see a mix of various style frames, concepts, and final production assets that made it into the film.

I saw this the other day and the effects are amazing; I wish the story could have been a little better.

Update: For more on the visual effects in Ghost in the Shell, see also this piece in Creative Review and this extensive look from Cinematography Database.

(via @firasd & @holgr)

An average hand-drawn map of the world

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 05, 2017

Average World Map

Zak Ziebell asked 30 people to sketch a map of the world and then averaged the results into the map above. I especially love the bottom one with the satellite terrain.

Tasked with creating “a piece of art that would reveal something unseen” as part of a pre-college fine arts program, Ziebell approached 29 strangers on the University of Michigan’s campus, handed them a pen and half a sheet of paper, and asked them, on the spot, to draw a map of the world. Ziebell, who recently posted his findings to Reddit, then completed the task himself and digitally merged the 30 maps into one image, overlaying the composite drawing with satellite data.

Update: This is yet another world map without New Zealand. (via @edmz)

The paintings of “Afro Surrealist” Alim Smith

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 21, 2017

Alim Smith

Alim Smith

Alim Smith

I really like these paintings by Alim Smith of black culture in America. (The best way to see them all is in the shop.) They’re slightly Cubist almost, reminiscent of Picasso. But of course Picasso’s Cubism was heavily influenced by African art and sculpture; unpacking the levels of cultural influence and appropriation here is above my pay grade. On Instagram, Smith refers to himself as an “Afro Surrealist”. Prints are available. (via @anildash)

What happens when Queen Elizabeth II dies?

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 16, 2017

Queen Elizabeth II

When Queen Elizabeth II dies, who knows how a Brexit-addled Britain might react. She’s ruled now for 65 years; so long that three of her Prime Ministers were born during her rule. That’s why the Palace has a plan (known as “London Bridge”) for announcing her death, “its ceremonial aftermath”, and the ascension of Charles to the throne.

More overwhelming than any of this, though, there will be an almighty psychological reckoning for the kingdom that she leaves behind. The Queen is Britain’s last living link with our former greatness - the nation’s id, its problematic self-regard — which is still defined by our victory in the second world war. One leading historian, who like most people I interviewed for this article declined to be named, stressed that the farewell for this country’s longest-serving monarch will be magnificent. “Oh, she will get everything,” he said. “We were all told that the funeral of Churchill was the requiem for Britain as a great power. But actually it will really be over when she goes.”

Unlike the US presidency, say, monarchies allow huge passages of time — a century, in some cases — to become entwined with an individual. The second Elizabethan age is likely to be remembered as a reign of uninterrupted national decline, and even, if she lives long enough and Scotland departs the union, as one of disintegration. Life and politics at the end of her rule will be unrecognisable from their grandeur and innocence at its beginning. “We don’t blame her for it,” Philip Ziegler, the historian and royal biographer, told me. “We have declined with her, so to speak.”

This is a great piece, full of interesting details and observations throughout. Like that George V was euthanized in time for the morning paper:

“The King’s life is moving peacefully towards its close,” was the final notice issued by George V’s doctor, Lord Dawson, at 9.30pm on the night of 20 January 1936. Not long afterwards, Dawson injected the king with 750mg of morphine and a gram of cocaine — enough to kill him twice over — in order to ease the monarch’s suffering, and to have him expire in time for the printing presses of the Times, which rolled at midnight.

And that radio stations are equipped with a emergency system:

Britain’s commercial radio stations have a network of blue “obit lights”, which is tested once a week and supposed to light up in the event of a national catastrophe. When the news breaks, these lights will start flashing, to alert DJs to switch to the news in the next few minutes and to play inoffensive music in the meantime. Every station, down to hospital radio, has prepared music lists made up of “Mood 2” (sad) or “Mood 1” (saddest) songs to reach for in times of sudden mourning.

They’ve got this planned out to the second…no detail is too small:

It takes 28 minutes at a slow march from the doors of St James’s to the entrance of Westminster Hall.

British royals are buried in lead-lined coffins. Diana’s weighed a quarter of a ton.

(via @oliverburkeman)

Bowie impersonates other singers like Springsteen, Lou Reed

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 14, 2017

In a recording session in 1985, David Bowie casually did a number of impressions of other singers in-between takes. Among others, he sang as Lou Reed, Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, and Iggy Pop. These impersonations were recorded by producer Mark Saunders and were only released after Bowie’s death last year. Sanders recalls that the song Bowie sings appears to have been written quickly that day:

I think that Bowie probably wrote these lyrics quickly for the Springsteen impersonation which is first. I have no memory of us sitting around waiting for him to rewrite so it was probably done very quickly. If so, that’s pretty impressive! The imagery is definitely very Bruce.

The accompanying piece by Saunders is worth a read as well. During one of several sessions with Bowie, Mick Jagger showed up to record their Dancing in the Street cover for Live Aid; they did the whole thing, start to finish, in three hours.

The band was still working on different sections of the song, so there was a lot of stopping and starting, and it was as if Mick was wired to the sound because he could be in the middle of a serious conversation and when the band started playing he’d immediately start dancing and when the band stopped, he would, too. Not a full-blown Mick Jagger-on-stage kinda dance, but an on-the-spot dance that would enable him to continue his serious conversation. I thought this was awesome — like, he’s the real deal; music is in his blood and he just can’t even help himself!

(via @joeeenglish)

A recreation of the bedroom from 2001: A Space Odyssey

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 22, 2017

2001 Bedroom Replica

2001 Bedroom Replica

2001 Bedroom Replica

Artist Simon Birch and architect Paul Kember have recreated the famous bedroom from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey as part of a larger art project called The 14th Factory in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles. Weirdly, when Birch approached Kember about doing the project, Kember revealed that his uncles had worked on the actual set for Kubrick:

Birch showed the project’s architect, a guy named Paul Kember, a series of stills from the film hoping he’d be able to recreate it. Then Paul goes, and I’m paraphrasing here, “Oh, Si, didn’t I tell you? My uncle and great-uncle — you know, Tony and John? — were draughtsman on that movie, and they literally — literally! — worked on that exact room! Isn’t that bonkers?!”

From the Instagram evidence, it looks as though you can walk around the bedroom, sit on the furniture, lay on the bed, etc. This might almost be worth making a special trip to LA.

The economics of airline classes

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 17, 2017

How much money does an airline make on a typical flight in the various classes of service? On some flights, revenue from first & business class seats can be up to 5 times that of economy seats. This video explores the economics of airline classes and looks at how we got to the present moment, where the people and companies buying business class and first class tickets are subsidizing those of us who fly economy.

Night time lapse 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)

Update: Several people asked if this was fake or digitally composited (the Milky Way and ground footage shot separately then edited together). I don’t know for sure, but I doubt it. The answer lies in the camera Wick used to shoot this, the Sony a7S. It’s really good in low-light conditions, better than many more expensive professional cameras even. As the last bit of this Vox video explains, the camera is so good in low light that the BBC used it to capture some night scenes for Planet Earth II. Here’s a screen-capped comparison at 6400 ISO from that video:

Sony A7s Compare

And the full scene at 32000 ISO:

Sony A7s Compare

That’s pretty amazing, right? Wick himself says on his site:

I had to take many attempts and a lot of trying to figure it out. Basically the challenge is to keep shutter speed as fast as possible in order to get razor sharp images. While you can use the 500 or 600 rule on ground this doesn’t work out the same way while being up in the sky. Well of course basically it does if you dont fly perpendicular to the movement of the night sky but even if its really smooth there are usually some light movements of the aircraft. So depending on the focal length of your lense you can get exposure times between 15” to 1”. Thats why you will need a camera that can handle high iso. Thats where the A7s comes into play and of course a ver fast lense. The rest is a good mounting and some luck. Last but not least you need to keep the flight deck as dark as possible to get the least reflections…and the rest is magic ;)

Flatland II, curved landscape panoramas

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 10, 2017

Buyuktas Flatland

Buyuktas Flatland

Buyuktas Flatland

Aydın Büyüktaş has continued his Flatland project with more of these photographic panoramas folded over on themselves. Looks like he’s gotten better at picking good subjects and stitching these together…love these. (via colossal)

The Whole Earth Field Guide

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 13, 2017

The Whole Earth Field Guide

The Whole Earth Catalog was an iconic magazine and product catalog founded by Stewart Brand in the 1960s. The Whole Earth Field Guide, edited by Caroline Maniaque-Benton and released last October, serves both as an introduction to the philosophy behind The Whole Earth Catalog and as an anthology of the writing that appeared in its pages.

This book offers selections from eighty texts from the nearly 1,000 items of “suggested reading” in the Last Whole Earth Catalog.

After an introduction that provides background information on the catalog and its founder, Stewart Brand (interesting fact: Brand got his organizational skills from a stint in the Army), the book presents the texts arranged in nine sections that echo the sections of the Whole Earth Catalog itself. Enlightening juxtapositions abound.

DON’T deep fry gnocchi

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 24, 2017

If you’re like me from three minutes ago and you’ve never seen this video but want to laugh really hard, push play on this little number. You can safely skip ahead to about 0:33…that’s when the action starts.

P.S. Yo Kenji! Why does the gnocchi do that?! (via @essl)

Update: I have not gotten an answer from Kenji yet (to be fair, he just became a father), but the consensus on Twitter is gnocchi and popcorn share some similarities. I will let John Vermylen, who is a Stanford PhD and also runs the pasta company Zerega, explain:

Hydrated starch on gnocchi exterior gelatinizes with temp, forming impervious barrier. Temp builds up inside. Water tries to boil as temp rises, but can’t turn to steam due to barrier. So pressure builds up, which pushes against wall of gnocchi. Eventually high pressure forces crack in that wall, which leads to pressure drop and instant flash off of high temp water to steam.

There’s an opportunity here to make crispy popcorn gnocchi…which brave chef will take up the challenge?

Dylan Matthews donated a kidney to a complete stranger

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 11, 2017

Last August, Dylan Matthews donated one of his kidneys to someone he’d never met before.

On Monday, August 22, 2016, a surgical team at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore removed my left kidney. It was then drained of blood, flushed with a preservative solution, placed on ice, and flown to Cincinnati.

Surgeons in Cincinnati then transplanted the kidney into a recipient I’d never met and whose name I didn’t know; we didn’t correspond until this past month. The only thing I knew about him at the time was that he needed my kidney more than I did. It would let him avoid the physically draining experience of dialysis and possibly live an extra nine to 10 years, maybe more.

Why did he do it? Because he thought it was the right thing to do morally.

I’d wanted to give a kidney for years — at least since I first heard it was possible after reading Larissa MacFarquhar’s New Yorker piece on “good Samaritan” kidney donors when I was in college. It just seemed like such a simple and clear way to help someone else, through a procedure that’s very low-risk to me. I studied moral philosophy as an undergrad, and there’s a famous thought experiment about a man who walks by a shallow pond where a child is drowning and does nothing, because leaping in to save the child might muddy his clothes.

As Matthews notes, all you need to do to get started on the road to becoming a living donor is fill out this form.

Pour some out for the sites that aren’t here

posted by Tim Carmody   Apr 19, 2017

Some of the best things ever seen or used on the web can’t be saved. They’re already gone. These are some of them, nominated by Kottke readers.

Google Reader. On the one hand, Google kind of ruined RSS, up until then the best distribution method for serial content, by turning it into a product. At the end, some of the best RSS readers weren’t even RSS readers, just frontends for Google Reader, which handled all the resource-intensive work.

On the other hand, Google Reader was a really wonderful community. It had a lightweight social graph component, but it was really oriented around news and stories and blog updates that people shared. Everything that people wanted online comments to be, Google Reader was. And when it ended, it took all of that away, leaving social media networks — which were really never designed to do content distribution — as the only game in town. I honestly don’t know if we’ve ever recovered.

Geocities. Geocities was a lot of people’s first experience making and reading home pages, putting their lives, personalities, contact information, getting email addresses, and anything else they wanted to share out on the web. The “cities” conceit made it sortable and browsable: they weren’t quite geographical and weren’t quite thematic, but a weird combination of the two. It got bought by Yahoo, back when Yahoo was buying and blending everything, and went the way of all such things.

Now Geocities exists only in Japan, but, like a lot of “first websites,” you can emulate it if you want using Glitch. As Anil Dash writes, “millions of people created their own websites in the era before today’s social networks took over. Learning to tweak HTML to create a GeoCities page, or to customize CSS to make a MySpace page look perfect, was a rite of passage for the first 10 or 15 years of the web.”

Think Secret was an early tech blog focused on Apple, back when Apple was very far from the biggest company in the world. Writing and reading about it, especially rumors about new products, was just a weird obsession for a handful of people. Anyways, Think Secret and its editor Nick “de Plume” Ciarelli got sued for violating trade secrets, and Think Secret was shut down as part of a settlement right as the iPhone was turning Apple into the company everybody was talking about all of the time. Things break another way, and that site’s worth millions of dollars today. Then again, that didn’t save Gawker — so who knows.

Television Without Pity practically invented the genre of TV episode recaps, starting with Dawson’s Creek. Now they’re everywhere! It got bought by NBC in 2007 and shut down in 2014, but supposedly it’s coming back. We’ll see. Nope, turns out it’s just the shell of the website; TWOP won’t running new material after all. But the founders of TWOP went on to start previously.tv. (Thanks, @adrienneLaF, @michelet.)

Nothing lasts forever on the World Wide Web. Even death.

Update: So many people, after this story went live, answered “what about Suck.com?” that I had to make an update.

Reading Suck is bizarre now, because on the one hand, its wry, teasing, sweetly cynical voice has shaped so much of what we know of the web, but its style is actually quite different. It’s like reading Don Quixote and realizing that Cervantes’s book somehow contains, in miniature, every novel that came after it, but that it is also somehow older and stranger and more imaginative than all of them. Also, that every tech or media hype or hustle is exactly the same as one that happened twenty-odd years before it. This is why reporters who’ve been covering Silicon Valley forever have such a twisted sense of humor.

Anyways, the archive still exists; the best way to get it, in my opinion, is the Suck Again email newsletter, which posts every instance of Suck twenty years after its original publication date. Suck is dead; long live Suck.

Daft Punk samples and their sources

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 28, 2017

Daft Punk creates their songs by extensively sampling records, mostly from the 70s and 80s. In some cases, bits of song are used relatively unchanged while others are chopped up and repeated to the point of being unrecognizable. Here are a few of the group’s samples compared with their original sources.

See also the duo’s Alive 2007 live album, which I have been listening to extensively lately.

Update: The video I’d originally linked to got taken down but I replaced it with another one. Here’s another one as well.

Super cool time lapse video of cell division

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 21, 2017

This is a stunning time lapse video of the cells in a tadpole egg dividing over a period of 33 hours. The filmmaker, Francis Chee, built a custom microscope and lighting system to capture the action.

I can say that it was done with a custom designed microscope based on the “infinity optical design” It is not available by any manufacturer. I built it. I used LEDs and relevant optics to light the egg. They too were custom designed by me. The whole microscope sits on anti-vibration table. I have to say that it doesn’t matter too much what microscope people use to perform this. There are countless other variables involved in performing this tricky shot, such as for example: the ambient temperature during shooting; the time at which the eggs were collected; the handling skills of the operator; the type of water used; lenses; quality of camera etc etc.

Chee says in the comments that he’s perfecting his technique and hopes to capture a complete egg-to-tadpole video in the near future. His other videos are worth a look too, like this mushroom time lapse and this gruesome video of a praying mantis eating a fly alive. (via colossal)

Misty black & white watercolor paintings of animals and children

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 03, 2017

Elicia Edijanto

Elicia Edijanto

Colossal posted these watercolor paintings by Elicia Edijanto on Friday and I’ve been peeking at them all weekend.

“My subject are often children and animal because they are honest, sincere, unprejudiced and unpretentious,” shares Edijanto. “They give me so much inspiration for [a] particular mood or atmosphere, such as tranquility, solemnity, and also wilderness and freedom, which I put on my paintings.”

Instant follow on Instagram.

The web is a portal to other worlds

posted by Tim Carmody   Apr 20, 2017

Like I mentioned in the post on web comedy, something about the experience of the World Wide Web, the experience of working with a screen, seems to loosen our hold on reality. Maybe we’ve trained ourselves to do it by reading stories and playing video games with very vague visual details (sometimes just text). Maybe it’s part of blocking out the world around us so we can focus and interact on the screen. Maybe it’s a residue of the awkward metaphors of “cyberspace,” or maybe this is where those metaphors come from. But I think we are amenable to the suggestion of a possible world where everything is different, even more so than when we read a book or watch a movie. The closest thing might be comic books, which likewise play endlessly with time travel, alternate universes, and what-if scenarios.

Rome, Sweet Rome” is a short story that began as part of a Reddit thread and eventually turned into a movie deal. It’s about a modern US Marine Corps unit that gets sucked back in time and fights Roman soldiers in 23 BC. It’s just like one of the thousand of ridiculous “what if?” conversations that take place on the web every day. But it’s also something that the people who were involved with it while it was being made never forgot.

A People’s History of Tattooine is something I was involved with, although someone else nominated it for part of the time capsule. In 2014, a bunch of geeky dads (mostly) on a Saturday started to wonder how the Star Wars stories would be told not by the Rebellion or the Empire, but by the nonhuman people seen throughout the series. In other words, as Jake Harris wrote, “what if Mos Eisley wasn’t really that wretched and it was just Obi Wan being racist again?”

This attitude, which treats almost nothing with reverence, but everything with care for its consistency and its consequences, is one of the fundamental modes of being on the web. It’s not like traditional fandom, scholarly pedantry, or manual-driven computation, where the original texts are treated like sacred writ. It’s fanfic, it’s slashfic, it’s deconstruction, it’s inventing your own entire fork of a standard because the standard doesn’t do what you think it ought to do. And it’s an attitude particularly well-suited for world-building.

The Onion imagined a film script that had been floating around Hollywood for 75 years called The Final Symphony, with a part written for Basil Rathbone that was later “rewritten for Mickey Rooney, and later Gene Wilder and then Chris Tucker.”

SB Nation wrote an entire feature imagining quarterback Tim Tebow’s sojourn through the Canadian Football League, little imagining that he would do something even less likely and take up minor league baseball.

The Beatles have two alternate histories that readers nominated: one, a Borgesian counterhistory where the band never broke up (complete with unexplained artifacts from that universe), the other, a timeline of events where The Beatles accepting Lorne Michaels’ stunt offer to reunite on Saturday Night Live leads to a reunion album, Mark David Chapman’s suicide, Michael Jackson’s premature death, and Lennon protesting the second Iraq war.

Dru Johnston’s “I Think I Should Get More Credit For Killing Hitler” shows that in a utopia as well as a dystopia, the gods are indifferent to our heroism.

Finally, there’s the case of Walter Miller’s Homepage. Walter Miller was basically dril before dril. Same dark humor, same misspellings, same grim, bizarre universe, same cult reverence.

The homepage began as a Prodigy site in the mid-1990s at the URL pages.prodigy.com/Hell/walter. It appeared on Suck in January 1996, it was in Time magazine, it won awards, the Harvey company optioned it to be an animated series.

Nobody, as far as I know, ever figured out who Walter Miller was, whether he/she/they were just one person. The site just… faded away. Except it’s mirrored and hosted by fans all over the web, sometimes in different states: an entire sea of alternate versions of an alternate universe, waiting to one day be made whole again.

The web’s best hidden gems

posted by Tim Carmody   Apr 21, 2017

I asked Kottke.org readers to tell me what were the best web sites that they knew about that most people have never heard of. Normally, each of these sites would be worth a blog post on its own, either a longer or shorter one. But this week, we’re…

HYPERPOSTING!!!
A few of the sites readers suggested are actually (in my experience) quite well-known. However, if you’ve never been to Daring Fireball, Longform.org, The Millions, Hacker News, Every Frame A Painting, DuckDuckGo, LMGTFY, xkcd, Nautilus, The Internet Archive, Google Reverse Image Search, or, yes, Kottke.org, you should remedy that as soon as you can.

The rest of the suggestions are really quite something. I’d never heard of most of them. A few others I’ve loved and shared as a secret handshake between friends. In lieu of lengthy explanations, I’m just going to link them all and let you explore.

(This is what most web pages used to be: just long lists of links. We were such dorks back then. But maybe we were on to something.)

Note: The order is not a ranking, but simply an easy way I can count how many links there are.

Also Note: No money changed hands to feature any of these sites on Kottke.org, although in retrospect, that would have been a good idea..

Final Note: If the site required a login, or I couldn’t figure out what it was doing or why it would be interesting to anyone, I didn’t include it. Sorry.


  1. Weird Fiction Review: “an ongoing exploration into all facets of the weird, from the classics to the next generation of weird writers and international weird.”
  2. Pink Trombone: You kinda have to play with this one to get it.
  3. Internet Hockey Database: Statistics, Logos, and Trading Cards.
  4. diamond geezer: A lovely blog about trains and architecture in Great Britain.
  5. MLB Uniforms worn on April 19, 2017: You can do this for any date you want.
  6. Nepali: A Beginner’s Primer Conversation and Grammar
  7. Swear Trek
  8. Fuck You, Broccoli: “An in-depth exploration of vegetables and other so-called healthy foods.”
  9. Spacetrawler: A science-fiction webcomic and comics blog.
  10. Extra Ordinary: Another webcomic, about a little girl who has sweetly surreal adventures.
  11. WPC Probabilistic Winter Precipitation Guidance: Tracks snowfall.
  12. The Drawfee Channel: A video blog about drawing with digital tools.
  13. Is it Christmas?: Current answer: NO
  14. BoardGameGeek | Gaming Unplugged Since 2000
  15. Free online Dictionary of English Pronunciation - How to Pronounce English words
  16. Instant No Button! Unhappy Darth Vader on demand.
  17. Seismic Monitor: Recent earthquakes on a world map and much more.
  18. Autostraddle: News, Entertainment, Opinion, Community and Girl-on-Girl Culture. This site is great.
  19. Superbad.com: I… I don’t understand this thing I’m seeing.
  20. WWWF Grudge Match - Where useless knowledge breeds champions: If you’ve ever wondered, “What if Boris Yeltsin and Ted Kennedy had a drinking contest?” this site is for you.
  21. The Griddle: A puzzle blog with free puzzles.
  22. Badger Badger Badger.com! The Original Dancing Badgers!
  23. Futility Closet - An idler’s miscellany of compendious amusements
  24. Skyline - YouTube: “Esports analyst and coach focusing on the game Overwatch.” Two people suggested this.
  25. The Vintagent: A vintage motorcycles blog.
  26. CDC WONDER: The CDC’s online databases. Get as much government data as you can, while you can.
  27. InfiniteLooper: Endless loops of YouTube videos.
  28. The Morning News: A real blog. I love it.
  29. Deadspin’s The Stacks: Old sports stories from out-of-print magazines republished with the author’s permission. I can’t believe I hadn’t been reading this already.
  30. street dog millionaires: Two dogs, one from India, one from Africa.
  31. FL@33 presents http://bzzzpeek.com: What do animals sound like in different countries? (Every language is different!)
  32. JazzOasis.com - Pat Metheny on Kenny G: Jazz guitarist Pat Metheny takes Kenny G to the woodshed.
  33. McMansion Hell
  34. Scroll Down to Riker: Does what it says on the tin.
  35. Flickr: The Commons
  36. NYPL Digital Collections: This is amazing, and it’s all free to play with.
  37. The Library of Babel
  38. Bowiebranchia: “Nudibranchia or other opisthobranchia compared to the various looks of David Bowie.” Surprisingly compelling!
  39. Play Later: Browse newly released albums and save them for later. Mostly a handy discovery frontend for Spotify.
  40. www.Visual6502.org: Simulation of vintage computers and game systems in the browser.
  41. Political status of Western Sahara: So are we going to have a new country in North Africa or what?
  42. Antipope - Charlie’s Diary: Science fiction writer Charlie Stross’s blog.
  43. Pi.co: Interviews with interesting people by journalist/investor Om Malik.
  44. Deuce of Clubs: A Demonstrated Aptitude for Reasonable Mayhem: A site by Godfrey (“Doc”) Daniels, of Mojave Phone Booth fame.
  45. The Well’s annual conversation with author Bruce Sterling.
  46. Beyond the Frame: visual essays about TV and movies by Luis Azevedo.
  47. Artsy Engineering: An information network and open-source software for people in the art world.
  48. Hart Island Project Stories of unclaimed and unidentified people buried in mass graves in an island near New York city beginning in the 19th century.
  49. Damn Interesting: a science, history, and psychology blog.
  50. What’s Noka Worth? (Part 1) — DallasFood. A takedown of a hot, expensive artisanal chocolate maker… over a decade ago.
  51. Mexican Table Salsas: The eGullet culinary institute’s discussion of traditional salsas, and how to make them.
  52. Histography - Timeline of History: A mighty timeline view of every event in Wikipedia. That’s a lot of dots.
  53. People Reluctant to Kill for an Abstraction, a movement: a short story/manifesto by George Saunders.
  54. Langscape: an interactive map of all world languages, put together by researchers at the University of Maryland.
  55. in Bb 2.0 - a collaborative music/spoken word project: twenty musicians, all playing in the same key — you get to mix and match.
  56. Paper Planes: Use your phone to catch and throw paper planes to and from people all over the world.


There! That ought to be enough magic and wonder to last you through the weekend. Thank you, as always, to the readers who submitted links.

“Are Liberals on the Wrong Side of History?”

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 20, 2017

Adam Gopnik writes about three books — Age of Anger by Pankaj Mishra, A Culture of Growth by Joel Mokyr, and Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari — that address the tension between liberalism and conservatism, going back to Voltaire v. Rousseau during the Enlightenment (and even further back, to Plato).

For Mishra, elements in modernity that seem violently opposed, Zionism and Islamism, Hindu nationalism and Theosophical soppiness — not to mention Nazi militarism — share a common wellspring. Their apostles all believe in some kind of blood consciousness, some kind of shared pre-rational identity, and appeal to a population enraged at being reduced to the hamster wheel of meaningless work and material reward. Mishra brings this Walpurgisnacht of romanticized violence to a nihilistic climax with the happy meeting in a Supermax prison of Timothy McVeigh, perpetrator of the Oklahoma City bombing, and Ramzi Yousef, perpetrator of the World Trade Center bombing: the fanatic, child-murdering right-wing atheist finds “lots in common” with the equally murderous Islamic militant — one of those healing conversations we’re always being urged to pursue. (“I never have [known] anyone in my life who has so similar a personality to my own as his,” Yousef gushed of McVeigh.)

Very interesting context and a stimulating argument for the middle way by Gopnik — in his estimation, Betteridge’s law applies to the title. He didn’t care much for Homo Deus, and I have to admit, as a big fan of Sapiens, that I’ve run out of steam with this new one and found myself nodding my head at Gopnik’s objections. I’m gonna get back to it, I’m sure, but with less enthusiasm than before.

America is a developing nation for most of its citizens

posted by Jason Kottke   May 02, 2017

In his new book, The Vanishing Middle Class: Prejudice and Power in a Dual Economy, MIT economics professor Peter Temin says that the US “is coming to have an economic and political structure more like a developing nation” and that the US is really two countries at this point:

In one of these countries live members of what Temin calls the “FTE sector” (named for finance, technology, and electronics, the industries which largely support its growth). These are the 20 percent of Americans who enjoy college educations, have good jobs, and sleep soundly knowing that they have not only enough money to meet life’s challenges, but also social networks to bolster their success. They grow up with parents who read books to them, tutors to help with homework, and plenty of stimulating things to do and places to go. They travel in planes and drive new cars. The citizens of this country see economic growth all around them and exciting possibilities for the future. They make plans, influence policies, and count themselves as lucky to be Americans.

The FTE citizens rarely visit the country where the other 80 percent of Americans live: the low-wage sector. Here, the world of possibility is shrinking, often dramatically. People are burdened with debt and anxious about their insecure jobs if they have a job at all. Many of them are getting sicker and dying younger than they used to. They get around by crumbling public transport and cars they have trouble paying for. Family life is uncertain here; people often don’t partner for the long-term even when they have children. If they go to college, they finance it by going heavily into debt. They are not thinking about the future; they are focused on surviving the present. The world in which they reside is very different from the one they were taught to believe in. While members of the first country act, these people are acted upon.

This whole piece on the book by Lynn Parramore is worth a read. Another small tidbit:

In the Lewis model of a dual economy, much of the low-wage sector has little influence over public policy. Check. The high-income sector will keep wages down in the other sector to provide cheap labor for its businesses. Check. Social control is used to keep the low-wage sector from challenging the policies favored by the high-income sector. Check. Mass incarceration. Check. The primary goal of the richest members of the high-income sector is to lower taxes. Check. Social and economic mobility is low. Check.

An Inconvenient Sequel

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 04, 2017

In 2006, Davis Guggenheim directed An Inconvenient Truth, a documentary film about Al Gore’s fight to educate the world about climate change. It made nearly $50 million at the box office, won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature, and is credited for moving the conversation about climate change along (although not nearly fast enough, in my mind). This July, a followup documentary will be released: An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power. From a review in the LA Times:

Eleven Sundances later, Gore’s star wattage seemed entirely undimmed at Thursday evening’s premiere of “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power,” an awkwardly titled, stirringly crafted follow-up that measures the progress that has and hasn’t been made in the battle against global warming. Taking over for Davis Guggenheim, the directors Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk largely abandon the framing device of Gore’s lecture (which he and his international team of trainees continue to give regularly) in favor of a nimbler, more on-the-go approach.

Despite some updates on the continuing decline of the world’s glaciers and the link between climate change and the recent Zika virus outbreak, the focus this time is less on science than on politicking. Cohen and Shenk tag along with Gore on a globe-trotting mission to persuade various heads of state to invest in wind and solar energy, and reduce their reliance on fossil fuels — an effort that culminates on-screen with the signing of last year’s historic Paris climate accord.

What will the night sky look like in 5 million years?

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 13, 2017

Based on the motions of the 2 million stars observed by ESA’s Gaia mission over the past two years, scientists created this simulated animation of how the view of the Milky Way in the night sky will evolve over the next 5 million years.

The shape of the Orion constellation can be spotted towards the right edge of the frame, just below the Galactic Plane, at the beginning of the video. As the sequence proceeds, the familiar shape of this constellation (and others) evolves into a new pattern. Two stellar clusters — groups of stars that were born together and consequently move together — can be seen towards the left edge of the frame: these are the alpha Persei (Per OB3) and Pleiades open clusters.

Stars seem to move with a wide range of velocities in this video, with stars in the Galactic Plane moving quite slow and faster ones appearing over the entire frame. This is a perspective effect: most of the stars we see in the plane are much farther from us, and thus seem to be moving slower than the nearby stars, which are visible across the entire sky.

Well, how’s that for some perspective? (via blastr)

In praise of Flickr

posted by Tim Carmody   Apr 17, 2017

Sunset by Tom Hall

Matt Haughey comes not to bury Flickr, but to praise it.

Flickr represents one of the very best of things in the history of the internet. It was the first popular way to share photos in a social way instead of photos lingering in private accounts online and in the real world in shoeboxes under beds. It brought millions together and helped kick off first the digital SLR revolution, then it was eclipsed by the mobile photography revolution. Flickr—despite being a big corporate entity—embraced open licensing and took on the ambitious goal of being a mirror and gallery for oodles of museums around the globe.

Those values that drove Flickr during its influential peak can be seen in its Explore page, which still knocks your socks off. Matt calls it “an entire year’s worth of epic shots from National Geographic, generated each day, automatically by algorithms.”

Lots of wondrous shots from places I’ve never heard of. Lots of “how’d they even get that shot?!” photos of animals… Instagram has an explore tab but it’s popular music and tv stars and their dogs or it’s brand advertising-driven shots cooked up to sell something. There’s something so completely boring about Instagram’s explore page that makes me ignore it and go back to my friend feeds, whereas Flickr is the opposite: my friend feed is largely silent, but the best of the best page is truly awe-inspiring and at least one photo each day is going to take my breath away.

It is bizarre to think now that Flickr was only active for about a year before it was acquired by Yahoo. For those of us who were on the site then, that year felt like everything.

Jason’s first post that mentions Flickr is from March 2004. He wonders whether Flickr could be used as a universal login (much like Facebook, Twitter, and Google accounts are today). Annotation quickly followed. Then calendar view. RSS feed splicing. Organizr. A public API. The interestingness algorithm. Prints. It was step-by-step, bit-by-bit, but every new feature was a milestone. It excited people, and got them thinking and working on what was next.

Jason even has a remarkable post from August 2004 where he imagines an entire web-based operating system linking different services together:

To put this another way, a distributed data storage system would take the place of a local storage system. And not just data storage, but data processing/filtering/formatting. Taking the weblog example to the extreme, you could use TypePad to write a weblog entry; Flickr to store your photos; store some mp3s (for an mp3 blog) on your ISP-hosted shell account; your events calendar on Upcoming; use iCal to update your personal calendar (which is then stored on your .Mac account); use GMail for email; use TypeKey or Flickr’s authentication system to handle identity; outsource your storage/backups to Google or Akamai; you let Feedburner “listen” for new content from all those sources, transform/aggregate/filter it all, and publish it to your Web space; and you manage all this on the Web at each individual Web site or with a Watson-ish desktop client.

Think of it like Unix…small pieces loosely joined.

That last part didn’t come true; the pieces didn’t join so much as fuse together into something new. The companies listed either took over the world, faded into relative obscurity, or stopped existing (at least for a little while). And then there’s Flickr — which didn’t do any of those things, but changed how we use the web forever.

I usually say that platforms stop being vital, even if they continue to have lots of users, when the platforms stop getting better. It’s a tricky thing: sometimes a ham-handed “improvement” can actually ruin a lot of what made a platform special. Flickr was extraordinarily vital, for years. It still has so much to offer. Sometimes there’s something reassuring about a tool that’s still much the same.

Photo by Tom Hall, via Flickr. Used under a CC-BY license.

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)

A trap for self-driving cars

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 16, 2017

Artist & writer James Bridle has shared a video and photos of his new work-in-progress, Autonomous Trap 001. It’s a trap for self-driving cars.

Autonomous Trap Bridle

Looooooovvve this. (via @robinsloan)

Climate change is shifting cherry blossom peak-bloom times

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 10, 2017

Kyoto Cherry Blossom Chart

Records of when the cherry blossoms appear in Kyoto date back 1200 years. (Let’s boggle at this fact for a sec…) But as this chart of peak-bloom dates shows, since the most recent peak in 1829, the cherry blossoms have been arriving earlier and earlier in the year.

From its most recent peak in 1829, when full bloom could be expected to come on April 18th, the typical full-flowering date has drifted earlier and earlier. Since 1970, it has usually landed on April 7th. The cause is little mystery. In deciding when to show their shoots, cherry trees rely on temperatures in February and March. Yasuyuki Aono and Keiko Kazui, two Japanese scientists, have demonstrated that the full-blossom date for Kyoto’s cherry trees can predict March temperatures to within 0.1°C. A warmer planet makes for warmer Marches.

Temperature and carbon-related charts like this one are clear portraits of the Industrial Revolution, right up there with oil paintings of the time. I also enjoyed the correction at the bottom of the piece:

An earlier version of this chart depicted cherry blossoms with six petals rather than five. This has been amended. Forgive us this botanical sin.

Gotta remember that flower petals are very often numbered according to the Fibonacci sequence.

Experiencing grief can feel like tripping on hallucinogens

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 13, 2017

Last year, Ariel Meadow Stallings wrote a piece in the Guardian called Seven things I wish I’d known before my divorce: an optimistic guide to the future. It’s a good list, full of problems turned into opportunities, but the first item blew my mind a little.

1. Trip out on grief — it’s a hallucinogen.

Regardless of how your marriage ends, it’s a death. Maybe it’s a loving euthanasia that you both agree on, maybe it’s a violent one-sided decision that only one of you sees coming, but it’s a death regardless. This means both of you will go through grief — a powerful mind-altering substance.

In the darkest of my days, I felt like I was on a low dose of LSD at all times — time was weird, my vision was odd, I threw up for no reason, my emotions were out of control. Even eating was an intellectual exercise (chew, chew … swallow? Is that what you do next?). I generally felt like I was tripping.

This state of mind was profoundly uncomfortable, but also weirdly educational. Never a big crier, I received a crash course in what tear-induced catharsis felt like — and holy wow, it felt good. Like many mind-altering substances, there are lessons there if you want to learn them.

I didn’t realize it until I read this, but having experienced the sort of grief Stallings describes here and come out the other side (mostly) the better for it, I can attest to her description of it as a trippy educational experience.

An epic desk lunch

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 20, 2017

Admission: I eat lunch at my desk pretty much every day. So do a lot of people. Some think desk lunches are sad, but many people trade lunch at their desks for family or leisure time at some other point in the day.

A Chinese YouTuber, Little Ye, has taken the desk lunch to a whole new level. In this video, she makes noodles from scratch, scavenges soda cans out of garbage to turn into DIY Bunsen burners & food graters, and cooks a hotpot meal right at her desk.

Little Ye, you are my new hero. In this one, she takes apart her computer so she can use the case to fry a breakfast crepe.

She and the Primitive Technology guy should definitely meet. (thx, claire)

Recreating history for the movies

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 30, 2017

For movies based on historical events, getting the details right can be essential in convincing the audience they’re watching something meaningful and important, particularly if the real-world scenes are iconic. But often, historical happenings are changed to make scenes more cinematically effective. This video shows several historical events coupled with their cinematic recreations in films like Jackie, Into the Wild, JFK, Catch Me If You Can, and Selma.

Cute illustrations of bread birds

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 14, 2017

Bread Birds

Bread Birds

Bread Birds

Twitter user @fuguhitman has recently done a series of bread birds with portmanteau names like Croisswant, Breadolark, Pidgingerbread, Bagull, and Crownut. Now I’m hungry and I want to go sit in a quiet forest with binoculars.

“There is no reason to push against [convention]”

posted by Jason Kottke   May 02, 2017

From a Kim Severson profile of chef Thomas Keller:

Preeti Mistry, 40, a classically trained chef with a modified Mohawk who cooks elevated Indian street food at her Juhu Beach Club in Oakland, Calif., and her new spot, Navi Kitchen in nearby Emeryville, was in culinary school when she discovered Mr. Keller’s “French Laundry Cookbook.” It had become an instant professional and spiritual guide for cooks of her generation.

In 2004, she visited the French Laundry. At the time, she thought it was the most amazing meal she had ever eaten. She even got to shake hands with Mr. Keller. “I left feeling like I just met Drake or something,” she recalled.

But now? She views fine dining as disingenuous, built from a system steeped in oppression and hierarchy in which women, gays and other minorities — whether customers or cooks — are not treated the same.

“It’s essentially haute couture, and we know haute couture appropriates from minorities and urban communities,” she said. Chefs as powerful as Mr. Keller, she said, have a responsibility to address those issues. “You need to go on your woke journey.”

Mr. Keller smiled when presented with that lens on his profession.

“I pushed against convention when I was young,” he said. “Then you realize there is no reason to push against things. There is no value in it.” Hard work and dedication to craft, he said, will right all wrongs.

That certainly is one way to think about it. [thinking face emoji]

Should we get rid of the European Union?

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 13, 2017

As Britain lumbers towards Brexit, other parts of Europe seem to be weighing, electorally and otherwise, if the European Union is something worth keeping or whether it belongs on the trash heap of history next to The League of Nations and the Roman Empire. In this video, Kurzgesagt takes a look at some of the benefits and criticisms of the EU and considers whether the former outweigh the latter.

How complacent are you?

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 17, 2017

In his new book, The Complacent Class, Tyler Cowen argues that Americans have gotten too comfortable.

In The Complacent Class: The Self-Defeating Quest for the American Dream, Tyler Cowen argues that more Americans are living comfortably and contently with what life has handed them. By sheltering ourselves from the new and different, it’s hard to see what is lost by standing still. But if you look at the data, we’re seeing a shift in the fabric of American society — from losses in new startups and economic growth to more instances of segregation and inequality. It’s not too late to change course and re-embrace the restlessness that has long defined America.

Cowen built a quiz that you can take to see if you are, in his eyes, too comfortable with your life. The quiz is composed of 27 questions like “In the last 10 years, how many states have you lived in?” and “Have you lived in a neighborhood for at least a year where you were the racial minority?” The quiz has four possible outcomes:

Tier 1: You are a trailblazer — You do not accept the status quo as the best outcome in life. Your ambitions will help America get out of its rut.

Tier 2: You are a striver — You embrace newness, but you need to strive harder to break the mold.

Tier 3: You are comfortable — You are interested in trying new things but not enough to create real change.

Tier 4: You are complacent — You need to get off the couch, step outside, and see what you’re missing.

I took the quiz and got “comfortable”, which seems fair enough, given the questions. I think part of that result is being introverted and part of it is family considerations that take precedence in my life over adventure and risk-taking. I wouldn’t ever call myself a “trailblazer” but I don’t know anyone who runs their own business who would consider that situation “comfortable”. “Terrifying on a daily basis” maybe.

Strange Beasts, a sci-fi short about an augmented reality game

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 28, 2017

Magali Barbé wrote and directed this short sci-fi video about an imaginary augmented reality game called Strange Beasts. It starts off with a “hey, yeah, cool, augemented reality games are going to be fun to play” vibe but gradually veers down the same dystopian path as a lot of augmented reality fictions (like Keiichi Matsuda’s Hyper-Reality). Barbé wrote about how the video was created.

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:

Option B: building resilience and finding meaning in the face of adversity

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 25, 2017

Option B

Two years ago, Facebook COO and Lean In author Sheryl Sandberg lost her husband to an unexpected death. The loss left her bereft and adrift. Grieving hard, she struggled to figure out how to move forward with her life. The result of her journey is a book co-authored by Adam Grant called Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy.

After the sudden death of her husband, Sheryl Sandberg felt certain that she and her children would never feel pure joy again. “I was in ‘the void,’” she writes, “a vast emptiness that fills your heart and lungs and restricts your ability to think or even breathe.” Her friend Adam Grant, a psychologist at Wharton, told her there are concrete steps people can take to recover and rebound from life-shattering experiences. We are not born with a fixed amount of resilience. It is a muscle that everyone can build.

Option B combines Sheryl’s personal insights with Adam’s eye-opening research on finding strength in the face of adversity.

Jessi Hempel’s piece on Sandberg is a good overview on the book and that period in her life, particularly in relation to Sandberg’s return to work and how that changed leadership & communication at Facebook.

Every year in late May, Facebook gathers its policy and communications team for a day-long retreat. Employees fly in from satellite offices in Germany, say, or Japan. It’s a chance to address problems, and set strategy for the year to come.

Sandberg always speaks, but that year Caryn Marooney, who was then in charge of technology communications, remembers everyone told her she could skip it. She insisted on coming anyway. As 200 people looked on, she began telling the group what she was going through, and how it was. “There were a lot of tears. It was incredibly raw, and then she said, “I’m going to open it up to Q and A,” Marooney remembers. People spoke up.

Talking about her situation allowed Sandberg — and the entire team — to move past it and transition into a productive conversation. Having acknowledged the proverbial elephant in the room, they could all focus on the work at hand. “I think people think that vulnerable is soft, but it’s not,” said Marooney, as she described Sandberg’s tough approach to business questions that followed. “It was a blueprint of what we saw from Sheryl going forward.”

Sandberg has also started a non-profit “dedicated to helping you build resilience in the face of adversity — and giving you the tools to help your family, friends, and community build resilience too.”

See also Sandberg’s Facebook post about her husband’s death and her NY Times opinion piece How to Build Resilient Kids, Even After a Loss.

One afternoon, I sat down with my kids to write out “family rules” to remind us of the coping mechanisms we would need. We wrote together that it’s O.K. to be sad and to take a break from any activity to cry. It’s O.K. to be happy and laugh. It’s O.K. to be angry and jealous of friends and cousins who still have fathers. It’s O.K. to say to anyone that we do not want to talk about it now. And it’s always O.K. to ask for help. The poster we made that day — with the rules written by my kids in colored markers — still hangs in our hall so we can look at it every day. It reminds us that our feelings matter and that we are not alone.

I’m With Her: designing Hillary Clinton’s campaign identity

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 31, 2017

Hillary Logo Sketch

Pentagram’s Michael Bierut and his team designed the identity for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 Presidential campaign (of which I was not initially a fan but came around later). Here’s how it happened.

I put together a three-person team: me, designer Jesse Reed, and project manager Julia Lemle. We would work in secret for the next two months. Our first meeting with the Clinton team began with a simple statement: “Our candidate has 100 percent name recognition.” There is a well-known marketing principle that is often credited to midcentury design legend Raymond Loewy. He felt that people were governed by two competing impulses: an attraction to the excitement of new things and a yearning for the comfort provided by what we already know. In response, Loewy had developed a reliable formula. If something was familiar, make it surprising. If something was surprising, make it familiar.

That same principle applies to political campaigns. In 2008 Sol Sender, Amanda Gentry and Andy Keene were faced with the challenge of branding a candidate who had anything but name recognition. Barack Obama’s design team responded with a quintessentially professional identity program, introducing — for the first time — the language of corporate branding to political marketing. Obama’s persona — unfamiliar, untested, and potentially alarming to much of the voting public — was given a polished logo and a perfectly executed, utterly consistent typographic system. In short, they made a surprising candidate seem familiar.

We faced the opposite problem. Our candidate was universally known. How could we make her image seem fresh and compelling?

This is a great look at how a designer at the top of his game approaches a problem…and reckons with failure. Even this little bit:

It wasn’t clever or artful. I didn’t care about that. I wanted something that you didn’t need a software tutorial to create, something as simple as a peace sign or a smiley face. I wanted a logo that a five-year-old could make with construction paper and kindergarten scissors.

Leading up to the election, how many photos did you see of Hillary logos hand-drawn by kids on signs and t-shirts? Lots and lots…my kids even got into the act.

Anyway, a huge contrast to the process and impact of the Trump campaign’s identity.

Fran Lebowitz on books and reading

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 23, 2017

The New York Times Book Review recently interviewed Fran Lebowitz for their By the Book series. She mentions Memoirs of Hadrian as the last great book she read and doesn’t like literary dinner parties.

Q: You’re organizing a literary dinner party. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite?

a: None. I would never do it. My idea of a great literary dinner party is Fran, eating alone, reading a book. That’s my idea of a literary dinner party. When I eat alone, I spend a lot of time, before I sit down to my meager meal, choosing what to read. And I’m a lot better choosing a book than preparing a meal. And I never eat anything without reading. Ever. If I’m eating an apple, I have to get a book.

Her answer to the very last question made me laugh out loud. Buuuuuuurn.

A timeline map of US immigration since 1820

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 15, 2017

This interactive map shows where the 79 million people who have immigrated to the US from 1820 to 2013 came from. In the past, incoming residents from Canada, Italy, Germany, and Ireland were prevalent, but more recently Mexico, China, and the Philippines have led the way.

What I think is particularly interesting about immigration to the U.S. is that each “wave” coming in from a particular country has a story behind it — usually escaping persecution (e.g. Jews escaping Russia after the May Laws were enacted, the Cuban Revolution) or major economic troubles (e.g. the Irish Potato Famine, the collapse of southern Italy after the Italian Unification).

There are plenty of dark spots on United States’ history, but the role it has played as a sanctuary for troubled people across the world is a history I feel very proud to be a part of.

The graph of incoming immigrants as a percentage of the total US population is especially instructive. Though higher than it was in the 60s and 70s, relative immigration rates are still far below what the country saw in the 1920s and before.

Recreating the Asteroids arcade game with a laser

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 22, 2017

Watch as digital artist Seb Lee-Delisle recreates the old school video game Asteroids with a laser. But why use a laser? There’s actually a good explanation for this. In the olden days of arcade video games, the screens on most games were like Pac-Man or Donkey Kong…a typical CRT refreshed the entire screen line-by-line many times a second to form a pixelized scene. But with vector games like Tempest, Star Wars, and Asteroids, the electron beam was manipulated magnetically to draw the ships and rocks and enemies directly…and you get all these cool effects like phosphor trails and brighter objects where the beam lingers. When you play Asteroids on a contemporary computer or gaming system, all those artifacts are lost. But with a laser, you can emulate the original feel of the game much more closely.

You’re not going to want to because it’s 17 minutes long, but you should watch the whole video…it’s super nerdy and the explanations of how the various technologies work is worth your while (unless you’re already a laser expert). I loved the bit near the end where they slowed down the rate of the laser so you could see it drawing the game and then slowly sped it back up again, passing through the transition from seeing the individual movements of the laser to observing an entire seamless scene that our mind has stitched together. In his recent book Wonderland, Steven Johnson talks about this remarkable trick of the mind:

On some basic level, this property of the human eye is a defect. When we watch movies, our eyes are empirically failing to give an accurate report of what is happening in front of them. They are seeing something that isn’t there. Many technological innovations exploit the strengths that evolution has granted us: tools and utensils harness our manual dexterity and opposable thumbs; graphic interfaces draw on our powerful visual memory to navigate information space. But moving pictures take the opposite approach: they succeed precisely because our eyes fail.

This flaw was not inevitable. Human eyesight might have just as easily evolved to perceive a succession of still images as exactly that: the world’s fastest slide show. Or the eye might have just perceived them as a confusing blur. There is no evolutionary reason why the eye should create the illusion of movement at twelve frames per second; the ancestral environment where our visual systems evolved had no film projectors or LCD screens or thaumatropes. Persistence of vision is what Stephen Jay Gould famously called a spandrel — an accidental property that emerged as a consequence of other more direct adaptations. It is interesting to contemplate how the past two centuries would have played out had the human eye not possessed this strange defect. We might be living in a world with jet airplanes, atomic bombs, radio, satellites, and cell phones — but without television and movies. (Computers and computer networks would likely exist, but without some of the animated subtleties of modern graphical interfaces.) Imagine the twentieth century without propaganda films, Hollywood, sitcoms, the televised Nixon-Kennedy debate, the footage of civil rights protesters being fire-hosed, Citizen Kane, the Macintosh, James Dean, Happy Days, and The Sopranos. All those defining experiences exist, in part, because natural selection didn’t find it necessary to perceive still images accurately at rates above twelve frames a second — and because hundreds of inventors, tinkering with the prototypes of cinema over the centuries, were smart enough to take that imperfection and turn it into art.

Baby Driver

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 13, 2017

A heist film featuring a getaway driver named Baby — B. A. B. Y. Baby? — directed by Edgar Wright of Hot Fuzz fame? Take. My. Money. This is like the comedy version of Drive. In making the film, Wright himself was influenced by the “holy trinity” of heist films from the 90s: Point Break, Reservoir Dogs, and Heat.

See also Tony Zhou’s video tribute to Wright: How to Do Visual Comedy.

Update: Well, that was the international trailer (which is good!) and this is the American trailer (which perhaps is not as good).

Is it me or does the American trailer aim about 15 IQ points lower than the other one? (thx, david)