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Rakka, a short film by Neill Blomkamp

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 23, 2017

Filmmaker Neill Blomkamp (District 9, Chappie) is planning on making a series of experimental short films as proofs-of-concept for possible feature film development. His first short has just been released through Oats Studios; it’s called Rakka, stars Sigourney Weaver, and is kind of a cross between District 9 and Edge of Tomorrow. Also, they’re selling some of the film’s assets on Steam: concept art, 3D print files, and video files with more promised (dailies, visual effects behind-the-scenes, etc.).

A biologist explains CRISPR to people at five different levels of knowledge

posted by Jason Kottke   May 26, 2017

For the second part of an ongoing series, Wired asked biologist Neville Sanjana to explain CRISPR to five people with different levels of knowledge: a 7-year-old, a high school student, a college student, a grad student, and an expert on CRISPR. As I began to watch, I thought he’d gone off the rails right away with the little kid, but as soon as they connected on a personal issue (allergies), you can see the bridge of understanding being constructed.

The first installment in the series featured a neuroscientist explaining connectomes to five people.

The best movie shots of all time

posted by Jason Kottke   May 08, 2017

Cinefix has begun the monumental task of compiling a list of the best shots in film. They’ve got a list of more than 1000 potential clips to evaluate and rank, but in part one of their series, they focus on the best shots by size — “breaking down some of the best close ups, mediums, wide shots and extremes in film history”.

Their picks include Psycho for the extreme close up, The Godfather Part II for the wide shot, and Lawrence of Arabia for the extreme wide shot.

America runs on taxpayer-funded services *and* capitalism

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 26, 2017

Yesterday, Grover Norquist shared a short parable about taxes on Twitter:

How Republicans are born…
Daughter, 8, has been savings up to buy her first Guitar.
Found it for $35. She had 35 exact.
Then…sales tax

Norquist has famously been on a quest to stop tax increases in the US…in 2015 he wrote a book called End the IRS Before It Ends Us.1 Many people took Norquist to task over his remarks:

Did you mention that you drove her to the guitar store on roads that were partly funded by sales taxes?

In a car which only has seat belts preventing you from being badly injured in the event of a crash due to taxpayer funded regulations?

or those same taxes that pay for emergency services that will respond if you do get in an accident?

These responses remind me of a pair of posts written several years ago about the contributions to society of both taxpayer-funded and corporate goods & services. From the liberal version:

After spending another day not being maimed or killed at work thanks to the workplace regulations imposed by the department of labor and the occupational safety and health administration, enjoying another two meals which again do not kill me because of the USDA, I drive my NHTSA car back home on the DOT roads, to my house which has not burned down in my absence because of the state and local building codes and fire marshal’s inspection, and which has not been plundered of all its valuables thanks to the local police department.

And from the conservative viewpoint:

When my Motorola-manufactured Cable Set Top Box showed the appropriate time, I got into my Toyota-manufactured Prius vehicle and set out to my graphic design workplace and stopped to purchase some gasoline refined by the Royal Dutch Shell company, using my debit card issued to me by Bank of the West. On the way to my workplace, I dropped off a package at the local UPS store for delivery, and dropped my children off at a local private school.

  1. How was Norquist radicalized about taxes? In part because his dad was a dick: “After church, his father would buy him and his three younger siblings ice-cream cones and then steal bites, announcing with each chomp, ‘Oops, income tax. Oops, sales tax.’”

4K supercell thunderstorm time lapse

posted by Jason Kottke   May 31, 2017

I have said it before and I will say it again and you will get tired of me saying it for decades to come (or until Facebook just outright buys the internet and shuts down all independent media), but I will never ever tire of watching high-resolution time lapse videos of thunderstorms. Look at those gorgeous mammatus clouds!

Supercell thunderstorms are a manifestation of nature’s attempt to correct an extreme imbalance. The ever ongoing effort to reach equilibrium, or viscosity, is what drives all of our weather, and the force with which the atmosphere tries to correct this imbalance is proportional to the gradient. In other words, the more extreme the imbalance, the more extreme the storm.

I’ve had this up in a tab since last week but lost track of it…glad to rediscover it via Colossal.

NASA Apollo Saturn V Lego set

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 22, 2017

Apollo 11 Lego

Lego has introduced an Apollo Saturn V rocket set, complete with lunar lander and 3 astronaut minifigs.

Packed with authentic details, it features 3 removable rocket stages, including the S-IVB third stage with the lunar lander and lunar orbiter. The set also includes 3 stands to display the model horizontally, 3 new-for-June-2017 astronaut microfigures for role-play recreations of the Moon landings, plus a booklet about the manned Apollo missions and the fan designers of this educational and inspirational LEGO Ideas set.

Three rocket stages! And look at this lander:

Apollo 11 Lego

Amazing detail: the set contains 1969 pieces, which is the year that the Apollo 11 astronauts landed on the Moon. I typically leave the Lego building to my kids, but I might have to make an exception for this. (via mike)

Quantum entanglement effects observed over 100s of miles

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 19, 2017

A group of Chinese scientists say they have demonstrated the effects of quantum entanglement over a distance of 1200 km (745 miles).

Entanglement involves putting objects in the peculiar limbo of quantum superposition, in which an object’s quantum properties occupy multiple states at once: like Schrodinger’s cat, dead and alive at the same time. Then those quantum states are shared among multiple objects. Physicists have entangled particles such as electrons and photons, as well as larger objects such as superconducting electric circuits.

Theoretically, even if entangled objects are separated, their precarious quantum states should remain linked until one of them is measured or disturbed. That measurement instantly determines the state of the other object, no matter how far away. The idea is so counterintuitive that Albert Einstein mocked it as “spooky action at a distance.”

What’s weird to me is that all the articles I read about this touted that this happened in space, that an ultra-secure communications network was possible, or that we could build a quantum computer in space. Instantaneous communication over a distance of hundreds of miles is barely mentioned. Right now, it takes about 42 minutes for a round-trip communication between the Earth and Mars (and ~84 minutes for Jupiter). What if, when humans decide to settle on Mars, we could send a trillion trillion quantum entangled particles along with the homesteaders that could then be used to communicate in real time with people on Earth? I mean, how amazing would that be?

Update: Well, the simple reason why these articles don’t mention instantaneous communication at distance is that you can’t do it, even with quantum entanglement.

This is one of the most confusing things about quantum physics: entanglement can be used to gain information about a component of a system when you know the full state and make a measurement of the other component(s), but not to create-and-send information from one part of an entangled system to the other. As clever of an idea as this is, Olivier, there’s still no faster-than-light communication.

(thx, everyone)

Here’s how we know the Earth is round

posted by Jason Kottke   May 23, 2017

Flat-Earthers aside, people have known that the Earth is round since at least the 3rd century BC. This quick video explores a few of the ways we know the world is spherical, some of them quite simple to recreate as experiments. See also Top 10 Ways to Know the Earth is Not Flat.

(5) Seeing Farther from Higher

Standing in a flat plateau, you look ahead of you towards the horizon. You strain your eyes, then take out your favorite binoculars and stare through them, as far as your eyes (with the help of the binocular lenses) can see.

Then, you climb up the closest tree — the higher the better, just be careful not to drop those binoculars and break their lenses. You then look again, strain your eyes, stare through the binoculars out to the horizon.

The higher up you are the farther you will see. Usually, we tend to relate this to Earthly obstacles, like the fact we have houses or other trees obstructing our vision on the ground, and climbing upwards we have a clear view, but that’s not the true reason. Even if you would have a completely clear plateau with no obstacles between you and the horizon, you would see much farther from greater height than you would on the ground.

This phenomena is caused by the curvature of the Earth as well, and would not happen if the Earth was flat.

Update: Carl Sagan explains how Greek astronomer and mathematician Eratosthenes figured out how the Earth was round in ~200 BC.

(via @preshit)

Seven helpful tips on how to be miserable

posted by Jason Kottke   May 31, 2017

The internet is chock full of articles and videos on how to be happier. But why chase happiness when making yourself miserable is so much easier? In this video, CGP Grey shares seven tactics to maximize your misery:

1. Stay still.
2. Screw with your sleep.
3. Maximize your screentime.
4. Use your screen to stoke your negative emotions.
5. Set vapid goals.
6. Pursue happiness directly.
7. Follow your instincts.

The video is based on Randy Paterson’s recent book, How to Be Miserable: 40 Strategies You Already Use.

Entire films condensed into single photographs using ultra-long exposures

posted by Jason Kottke   May 18, 2017

Photos Of Films 02

Photos Of Films 01

Photos Of Films 03

For his Photographs of Films project, Jason Shulman condenses entire movies into single photos using ultra-long exposures. Some of the resulting photos are just shape and color, but for films that use longer shots of static sets, you can make out some identifying features, as with the war room and Ripper’s office in the Dr. Strangelove still above. And the Dumbo still I could almost drop in as a new header image for kottke.org.

See also Jason Salavon’s amalgamations. (via the guardian)

Update: Kevin Ferguson has been doing the same thing with movies since 2013, prior to Shulman’s project. Ferguson addressed Shulman’s work in a piece for Hyperallergic and included a guide to making your own such images. (via @mattthomas)

Update: Some prior art from Jim Campbell as well. He made flattened versions of Psycho and Wizard of Oz in 2000 and 2001. (thx, ben)

New USPS stamps commemorate sports balls

posted by Jason Kottke   May 24, 2017

USPS Balls

The US Postal Service recently announced a new series of stamps that feature balls from eight different sports.

The U.S. Postal Service will soon release first-of-a-kind stamps with the look — and feel — of actual balls used in eight popular sports. Available nationwide June 14, the Have a Ball! Forever stamps depict balls used in baseball, basketball, football, golf, kickball, soccer, tennis and volleyball.

The stamps are round but what’s really cool is that they will have a special coating that lets you feel the unique texture of each kind of ball — the baseball’s laces, the basketball’s nubby surface, the golf ball’s dimples. The ball stamps are available for preorder and will ship in mid-June.

See also their upcoming solar eclipse stamps, which are printed using thermochromic ink — when you touch them, the heat of your finger reveals the hidden Moon passing in front of the Sun. (via print)

Fashion inspiration boards for Philip & Elizabeth’s 1980s disguises on The Americans

posted by Jason Kottke   May 23, 2017

The FX show The Americans follows a married couple, Philip and Elizabeth Jennings, who are Soviet spies living in America during the 1980s. In the course of their spying activities, the KBG couple often don disguises to protect their identities. Costume designer Katie Irish is responsible for dressing the couple on the show, and she’s been sharing some of the fashion inspiration boards for those disguises (as well as other costumes) on her Twitter and Instagram accounts.

The Americans Bioboards

The Americans Bioboards

The Americans Bioboards

The Americans Bioboards

The Americans Bioboards

As you can see, Irish and her team pull images from anywhere: TV, movies, catalogs, photojournalism, yearbooks, advertising, etc. The goal is authenticity:

The point is to use clothes to embody the characters and bring them to life in a way that lets audiences believe in and feel invested in them. The show’s leads, Elizabeth and Philip Jennings, played by Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys, are characters who live their lives in costume, in a sense. They dress like the upper-middle-class travel agents that they have embodied for years, but there are subtle hints at their internal selves, as ideologically driven Russian spies. “They’re Russian at the core,” Irish explains, “and they don’t want anything that is overtly capitalist.” You won’t see much logo branding on their clothes.

P.S. I’ve been waiting for someone to make a supercut video of all of the Jennings’ disguises, but it hasn’t happened yet. Am I going to have to do it myself?

Awe-inspiring photos of empty European libraries

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 12, 2017

Poirier Libraries

Poirier Libraries

Poirier Libraries

For places that people go to immerse themselves in books, libraries sure do try to steal the show sometimes. For his photo series on libraries, Thibaud Poirier travelled to a number of libraries in Europe and took photos of them while empty.

“Reading is solitude,” Italo Calvino once said, embodying the inspiration behind this series. These temples of cultural worship gather communities, and yet the literary experience, and therefore the experience of a library, remains solitary. Giving groups of scholars and peers glimpses into the past, present and future of humanity, literature offers an unparalleled opportunity to explore one’s self from within through the unique internal narrative that each reader develops. It is this internal narrative that forms us when we are young, matures with us, and grows when we feed it. It was the first means of travel offered to many and continues to be the most accessible form of escape for millions of people seeking knowledge, the world, themselves. It is with an eye towards this improbable bled of public space and private experience that Poirier displays some of the finest libraries, both classical and modern, across Europe.

Ever since Colossal linked to them before the weekend, I’ve been stealing glances at these trying to pick a favorite. I can’t, they’re all so good.

What the world’s strongest man eats in one day

posted by Jason Kottke   May 26, 2017

Brian Shaw is the World’s Strongest Man, having won that competition in 2011, 2013, 2015, and 2016. In order to fuel his body through what I’m sure is a grueling training program, Shaw eats 12,000 calories spread across 6 meals a day. This video follows him through a typical day before a hard training session. His initial meal is peanut butter, 8 scrambled eggs, and a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, which is pretty much just an hors d’oeuvre for Shaw.

This meal, even though it’s eight eggs and all that, it doesn’t seem to really fill me up. I get through it pretty quickly and then I’m hungry again.

What bullets do to bodies

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 16, 2017

Emergency room doctor Leana Wen writes in the NY Times about what bullets do to human bodies.

Early in my medical training, I learned that it is not the bullet that kills you, but the damage from the bullet. A handgun bullet enters the body in a straight line. Like a knife, it damages the organs and tissues directly in its path, and then it either exits the body or is stopped by bone, tissue or skin.

This is in contrast to bullets from an assault rifle. They are three times the speed of handgun bullets. Once they enter the body, they fragment and explode, pulverizing bones, tearing blood vessels and liquefying organs.

Earlier this year, Jason Fagone wrote a much longer piece on the same topic for HuffPost.

“As a country,” Goldberg said, “we lost our teachable moment.” She started talking about the 2012 murder of 20 schoolchildren and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Goldberg said that if people had been shown the autopsy photos of the kids, the gun debate would have been transformed. “The fact that not a single one of those kids was able to be transported to a hospital, tells me that they were not just dead, but really really really really dead. Ten-year-old kids, riddled with bullets, dead as doornails.” Her voice rose. She said people have to confront the physical reality of gun violence without the polite filters. “The country won’t be ready for it, but that’s what needs to happen. That’s the only chance at all for this to ever be reversed.”

She dropped back into a softer register. “Nobody gives two shits about the black people in North Philadelphia if nobody gives two craps about the white kids in Sandy Hook. … I thought white little kids getting shot would make people care. Nope. They didn’t care. Anderson Cooper was up there. They set up shop. And then the public outrage fades.”

I think about this tweet all the time:

In retrospect Sandy Hook marked the end of the US gun control debate. Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.

Logan: when superhero movies get old

posted by Jason Kottke   May 25, 2017

Using John Cawelti’s 1977 article “Chinatown” and Generic Transformation in Recent Films as a guide, Evan Puschak examines the genre of superhero movies (and Logan in particular). In the piece, Cawelti offers four possible responses to the conventions of a genre becoming well-known (or, less kindly, stale):

1. Humorous burlesque
2. The cultivation of nostalgia
3. Demythologization
4. The affirmation of myth

Puschak examines each of these in relation to superhero movies and wonders what sort of response Logan represents.

What if the Earth suddenly turned flat?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 23, 2017

Disc Earth

We all know the Earth is (nearly) spherical. Wellllll, not everyone does. So what if our planet did suddenly turn flat? Gizmodo recently asked a bunch of scientists this question and the answer came back: certain death for all life on Earth. More specifically, seismologist Susan Hough says:

If the earth were to suddenly flatten, presumably all sorts of hell would break loose. I guess it would depend on how flat is flat. If we’re talking pancake flat, gravity would be an immediate problem: gravitational attraction goes as G(m1*m2)/r^2, where G is the gravitational constant, m1 & m2 are two masses, and r is distance. A sphere is the 3D shape that maximizes surface area relative to volume, which kind of gives gravity the biggest bang for its buck. If you flatten the sphere, the far side gets closer to the new center point, but the ends spread way out, so surface gravity goes down at the center, and way down at the edges. Lose gravity and bye-bye atmosphere.

Other first-order problems: heat, radioactivity, etc. In our spherical earth, both of these are concentrated in the core. If the earth were flattened, they would have to go somewhere-presumably a lot closer to the surface.

An amazing online collection of 40,000 vintage film posters

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 09, 2017

Posterati

Posterati

Posterati

Posteritati is a New York movie poster store/gallery that also has an online store featuring more than 40,000 posters. You can view posters by director, year, country of origin, genre, size, and more. Some of the posters are very old, rare, and valuable: Some Like It Hot ($3,000), Lolita ($1,200), and Star Wars ($1,500). And wow, a 1933 Argentinian poster for King Kong for $75,000.

The three posters pictured above are a 1970 Czech poster for Les gauloises bleues, a 1988 Japanese poster for Beetlejuice, and a 1980 Polish poster for Alien.

The transformative power of boredom

posted by Jason Kottke   May 15, 2017

After bouncing out of the minor leagues in the US, Eric Thames found himself playing in a second-tier professional league in South Korea. Not knowing the language and with few other Americans on the team, Thames spent a lot of time by himself, bored. Applying himself, he started working on his approach to the game, his swing, and his patience.

He began to remedy the poor habits, the swinging-at-everything approach that had exiled him to the minors in 2013 and then the second-best pro league in Asia in 2014. With language still a barrier to working with his Dinos coaches and teammates, Thames arrived at his improved process alone. He began a practice of visualization, of imagining a pitch of a certain type, in a certain location, approaching home plate. He would balance a tablet on a counter or tabletop in his apartment and watch video of pitches, trying to decide whether to swing or lay off of them in real time with bat in hand.

“I kind of like swallowed my pride and said ‘Hey, I really want to get on base,’” Thames said.

He employed the same visualization practice behind the batting cage while teammates took swings. And he does the same practice now in the on-deck circle of major-league games, in his hotel on the road, or in pre-game cage work.

The breakout happened in 2015, his second season in South Korea. He walked (103) more than he struck out (91) and posted a .497 on-base mark and 1.288 OPS. He smashed 47 home runs.

His hard work continues to pay off. This year, Thames is back in the US, playing for the Milwaukee Brewers in the major leagues. He leads the NL in home runs, is 5th in OBP, 4th in OBPS, and 7th in walks. (thx, avi)

There’s gonna be a Black Mirror book

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 15, 2017

Black Mirror Book

Gird your loins, Prime Minister. Charlie Brooker is bringing his mind-warping TV series to bookstores in early 2018. Brooker is editing a book version of Black Mirror (the first in a promised series) “featuring original stories from leading fiction writers, all set in the world of the cult series”.

Smart move and after all, Brooker was influenced by Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected (which appeared first in book form).

Trump has put America’s image into the toilet

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 27, 2017

According to a recently conducted survey by the Pew Research Center, the election of Donald Trump has sharply eroded the confidence of other world nations in the United States and its ability to “do the right thing when it comes to international affairs”.

Confidence in President Trump is influenced by reactions to both his policies and his character. With regard to the former, some of his signature policy initiatives are widely opposed around the globe.

His plan to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, for example, is opposed by a median of 76% across the 37 countries surveyed. Opposition is especially intense in Mexico, where more than nine-in-ten (94%) oppose the U.S. government erecting a wall.

Similar levels of global opposition greet Trump’s policy stances on withdrawing from international trade agreements and climate change accords. And most across the nations surveyed also disapprove of the new administration’s efforts to restrict entry into the U.S. by people from certain Muslim-majority nations.

Trump’s intention to back away from the nuclear weapons agreement with Iran meets less opposition than his other policy initiatives, but even here publics around the world disapprove of such an action by a wide margin.

Trump’s character is also a factor in how he is viewed abroad. In the eyes of most people surveyed around the world, the White House’s new occupant is arrogant, intolerant and even dangerous. Among the positive characteristics tested, his highest rating is for being a strong leader. Fewer believe he is charismatic, well-qualified or cares about ordinary people.

This chart is pretty remarkable:

Pew Trump Us Image

It took George W. Bush more than half of his presidency to reach confidence rates as low as Trump has right out of the gate. Usually in these situations you say something like “there’s nowhere to go but up” but unfortunately there’s plenty of room at the bottom here.

Tension-building in the great first scene of Inglourious Basterds

posted by Jason Kottke   May 09, 2017

Lessons from the Screenplay takes a look at the opening scene from Inglourious Basterds and dissects what makes it so suspenseful. The scene, which is one of my all-time favorites, shows SS officer Hans Landa showing up unannounced at a French farmhouse and sitting down for what starts off as a little chat with a farmer, a Monsieur LaPadite. With just a calm conversation and gestures, Landa ratchets up the tension in the scene, paving the way for an explosive climax.

Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 06, 2017

Bob Dylan finally delivered his Nobel Prize lecture in the form of a video (you can also listen to it on Soundcloud). Over the course of just 27 minutes, he talks about his influences, both musical and literary, and muses on the differences and similarities between music and literature. Listening to the speech, instead of just reading the transcript, is well-worth your time, if only to experience Dylan’s lyrical delivery while exalting Buddy Holly or explaining Moby Dick.

If I was to go back to the dawning of it all, I guess I’d have to start with Buddy Holly. Buddy died when I was about eighteen and he was twenty-two. From the moment I first heard him, I felt akin. I felt related, like he was an older brother. I even thought I resembled him. Buddy played the music that I loved — the music I grew up on: country western, rock ‘n’ roll, and rhythm and blues. Three separate strands of music that he intertwined and infused into one genre. One brand. And Buddy wrote songs — songs that had beautiful melodies and imaginative verses. And he sang great — sang in more than a few voices. He was the archetype. Everything I wasn’t and wanted to be. I saw him only but once, and that was a few days before he was gone. I had to travel a hundred miles to get to see him play, and I wasn’t disappointed.

He was powerful and electrifying and had a commanding presence. I was only six feet away. He was mesmerizing. I watched his face, his hands, the way he tapped his foot, his big black glasses, the eyes behind the glasses, the way he held his guitar, the way he stood, his neat suit. Everything about him. He looked older than twenty-two. Something about him seemed permanent, and he filled me with conviction. Then, out of the blue, the most uncanny thing happened. He looked me right straight dead in the eye, and he transmitted something. Something I didn’t know what. And it gave me the chills.

I arrived late to Bob Dylan and I still haven’t investigated much of his music (relatively speaking), but listening to him talk about his musical and literary influences bleeding all over each other makes me want to go on a Dylan bender and create some shit. (thx, david)

Update: There’s evidence that Dylan based part of his Nobel speech on the SparkNotes study guide for Moby Dick.

Theft in the name of art is an ancient tradition, and Dylan has been a magpie since the 1960s. He has also frequently been open about his borrowings. In 2001, he even released an album titled “Love and Theft,” the quotation marks seeming to imply that the album title was itself taken from Eric Lott’s acclaimed history of racial appropriation, Love & Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class.

What are the largest US cities by population?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 13, 2017

Except for the top three, I’m not sure I could have come up with most of the top 10 largest US cities by population. I’ll give you minute to guess…

1. NYC
2. LA
3. Chicago
4. Houston
5. Phoenix
6. Philadelphia
7. San Antonio
8. San Diego
9. Dallas
10. San Jose

I dunno, San Antonio at #7 really threw me for a loop. Bigger than Dallas? Bigger than San Francisco (by more than 600,000 people)? Of course, when metropolitan areas are taken into account, the picture changes. The San Antonio area drops to #30 while the Bay Area hits #5.

When I was a kid, the list looked a little different…LA had not yet passed Chicago for #2 and Texas had only two cities in the top 10 (and no Austin creepin’ in 11th place):

1. New York
2. Chicago
3. Los Angeles
4. Philadelphia
5. Houston
6. Detroit
7. Dallas
8. San Diego
9. Phoenix
10. Baltimore

That list still carries more weight in my brain than the current ranking. The facts you learn in school influence how you view your country. And some of those facts, dubbed mesofacts by Sam Arbesman, change slowly, so slowly that you’re tricked into thinking they haven’t changed at all. The average age of the US Senate right now is 62. The version of the population list that many Senators learned in school was probably from the 1950 census (or perhaps the 1960 one) and our current President, at 70 years of age, was possibly taught the list from the 1940 census. The entries on those older lists look much more like the industrial America celebrated by truck and beer commercials and represented by classic baseball and football teams — the America that is to be made great again: Detroit, Cleveland, St. Louis, and Pittsburgh.

Another instructive list to look at in this regard is the list of cities that had populations of at least 100,000 people but have since dropped below that threshold. On the list (with the % drop in parentheses) are:

Canton, Ohio (-39%)
Gary, Indiana (-59%)
Scranton, Penn (-46%)
Flint, Michigan (-50%)
Erie, Penn (-29%)
Utica, NY (-40%)

That the idea embodied by those kinds of cities still holds much sway in American politics shouldn’t be so surprising.

Information Age automation is coming for your job

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 09, 2017

This new video by Kurzgesagt examines automation in the past (“big stupid machines doing repetitive work in factories”) and argues that automation in the information age is fundamentally different. In a nutshell,1 whereas past automation resulted in higher productivity and created new and better jobs for a growing population, automation in the future will happen at a much quicker pace, outpacing the creation of new types of jobs for humans.

Their two main sources for the video are Martin Ford’s Rise of the Robots and The Second Machine Age by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee.

  1. The German phrase “kurz gesagt” means roughly “in a nutshell”, so this is a pun. Laugh now!

Divers falling through the air

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 12, 2017

For a short video called The Selfish Gene, director Smriti Keshari cut together a number of divers jumping and spinning and falling in mid-air. The result is a little bit mesmerizing and a little bit soothing. See also Ten Meter Tower.

Tiny kindnesses, noticed

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 26, 2017

The Awl’s Everything Changes newsletter gave their readers a mission this week: “to notice people doing tiny kindnesses for each other”. Here’s what they observed.

My toddler and I were waiting in a long line at Russ and Daughters this morning, and a guy gave me a much earlier number. He’d somehow ended up with an extra number right after his, and waited until he saw someone he thought needed it. I gave my number to the last couple in line, and if they did the same, it might still be going.

My husband and I were having lunch together at a deli. A woman two tables over from us was eating by herself and received a phone call on her bluetooth. She began crying from what appears to have been bad news. She was fairly quiet about it and kept it to herself, but she was obviously crying. Another patron in the restaurant stopped, patted her shoulder and mouthed “Are you OK?”. She nodded through her tears and continued with her phone call. He and a few other patrons continued to monitor her out of the corner of their eyes, but gave her her privacy. It seemed a small gesture — but I felt all of us in the restaurant sending her strength through the man’s small pat on the shoulder.

I was about to cross a side street in Brooklyn when a concerned-looking man crossing in the opposite direction stood in the middle of the street and began frantically waving a tshirt in front of the cars that were about to get a green light. I quickly realized that he was stopping traffic so that a blocked ambulance with its sirens on could make it through further down. It worked — the traffic cleared and the ambulance moved. When I got a few blocks down in the direction he’d been coming from, EMTs were on the scene, attending to an unconscious, apparently homeless person on the sidewalk. I think most people would call 911, but this guy went the extra mile. He did what a family member would do.

I think if we all “did what a family member would do” more often, the world would be a better place.

Update: From the early Christian author and philosopher Lactantius:

The whole point of justice consists precisely in our providing for others through humanity what we provide for our own family through affection.

(thx, chris)

A supercut of movie scenes set in NYC

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 29, 2017

Sergio Rojo has cut together scenes from more than 70 movies that are set in NYC, including Manhattan, Ghost, Tootsie, Taxi Driver, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Birdman, and The Devil Wears Prada. Familiar locations like Times Square, Central Park, the Brooklyn & Manhattan Bridges, the subway, the Empire State Building, the NYPL, and the Statue of Liberty are all amply represented. (via gothamist)

The view from Mars

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 21, 2017

Mars Opportunity 2017

NASA’s Opportunity rover started exploring the surface of Mars in January 2004. Its mission was supposed to last about 90 days, but over 13 years later, Opportunity is still rolling around the red planet, doing science and taking photos. Jason Major processed a few of Opportunity’s most recent snaps of the Endeavour Crater and they’re just wonderful. I’m especially taken with the one included above…it belongs in a museum!

Game of Thrones season 7 trailer

posted by Jason Kottke   May 24, 2017

War, huh, good God, what is good for? Ratings and new HBO Now subscriptions, say it again. Finally, after six seasons of mere skirmishes, Jon Snow says “the Great War is here”. Excited for this, particularly because it appears to lack an aspect that plagued seasons in the past: Parliamentary Procedure with Daenerys Targaryen. (“Your dragon stole my goat! What shall we do about it?”) Anyway, excited for this!

Update: Another new trailer:

American Shokunin

posted by Jason Kottke   May 15, 2017

Ryan Neil has been practicing the art of bonsai for almost 20 years. As he describes it, he’s still got a lot to learn.

Shokunin (Sho-koo-neen) is a Japanese word used to describe an individual that aspires to become a master in their particular craft or art form. Ryan Neil falls firmly into this description, as he has been practicing the art of Bonsai for nearly two decades. In this short film, we get a glimpse at the broader thinking behind a professional American Bonsai practitioner, as well as some of the inherent challenges and aspirations that come along with the pursuit for bonsai mastery in America.

It’s interesting to hear Neil talking about respecting and cultivating healthy trees while he’s ripping a branch in half with a cutting tool to create a certain aesthetic. (via @noahkalina)

This is a metaphor for how cultural, technological, and scientific changes happen

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 01, 2017

Advances in culture, technology, and science depend on past innovations and advances. Humans become capable of more and more as the momentum of knowledge grows. Lined up correctly, a tiny domino results the toppling of a massive domino further down the line.

Shake Shack releases an official cookbook

posted by Jason Kottke   May 11, 2017

Anatomy of a ShackBurger

Big news around these parts: the Shake Shack is coming out with their first cookbook next week. Shake Shack: Recipes & Stories details how the Shake Shack came about and spills the beans with recipes for almost all of the food, burgers, chicken sandwiches, and fries included. According to Eater, the recipes have been tweaked for the home cook:

Rosati shares almost all of the company’s recipes, though unfortunately he isn’t giving away any real secrets here. The processes have been adapted for the home cook, and Garutti told Eater that only “six people” in the world know the real recipe for Shake Shack’s signature sauce.

The recipe in the book for Shack sauce is a mixture of Hellman’s, Dijon, Heinz, pickle juice, salt, and pepper. “We make our own from scratch,” Garutti says, but when he and Rosati first started testing recipes for the book they came to the conclusion that these weren’t recipes “most people would want to make at home,” because they were labor-intensive, “messy,” and time-consuming.

Immediate pre-order. See also Kenji’s Fake Shack burger recipe.

Update: Here’s the recipe for the ShackBurger and sauce from the book. The ShackSauce recipe includes “¼ teaspoon kosher dill pickling brine”, which is also the secret ingredient in my homemade tuna salad.

How to make famous movie cocktails

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 27, 2017

Oliver Babish makes videos showing how to prepare dishes from movies and TV shows…like the carbonara from Master of None, the strudel from Inglourious Basterds, and Pulp Fiction’s Big Kahuna Burger. For this installment, Babish makes a number of notable cocktails from movies, including the White Russian from The Big Lebowski, the French 75 from Casablanca, and James Bond’s Vesper Martini.

Maybe I was a little tired this morning when I watched this, but the joke at 1:30 caught me off guard and I laughed like an idiot.

Three artists who find art in the finger smudges on device screens

posted by Jason Kottke   May 12, 2017

Wired recently featured Tabitha Soren’s project, Surface Tension, for which she photographed the fingerprints and smudges left on the screens of devices.

Smudge Art 01

The marks on the glass screens that technology users normally try to ignore or get rid of are the focal point of SURFACE TENSION. The textural conflicts in these pictures record how we now spend our lives. They’re not just grime; they’re evidence of the otherwise invisible.

In an earlier project (also, weirdly, titled Surface Tension), photographer Meggan Gould took photos of her and her husband’s smudged iPad screens.

Smudge Art 02

In 2012, Evan Roth produced a series of Multi-Touch Paintings, “paintings created by performing routine tasks on multi-touch hand held computing devices”. The tasks include slide-to-unlock, playing Angry Birds level 1-1, adding two numbers with the calculator app, and typing in a username and password.

Smudge Art 03

Smudge Art 04

I prefer Roth’s take the most (it’s the simplest…and first) but what I like about all of these is they compress many actions over time into a single flat images, not unlike BriefCam does with surveillance videos. Simple examples of time merge media.

Vivid new images and flyby videos of Jupiter

posted by Jason Kottke   May 30, 2017

Jupiter South Pole Juno

NASA’s Juno spacecraft is currently orbiting around Jupiter and taking some of the best photos and scientific measurements we’ve seen of the solar system’s largest planet. The photo above is of Jupiter’s south pole, gathering point for massive cyclones.

Early science results from NASA’s Juno mission to Jupiter portray the largest planet in our solar system as a complex, gigantic, turbulent world, with Earth-sized polar cyclones, plunging storm systems that travel deep into the heart of the gas giant, and a mammoth, lumpy magnetic field that may indicate it was generated closer to the planet’s surface than previously thought.

“We are excited to share these early discoveries, which help us better understand what makes Jupiter so fascinating,” said Diane Brown, Juno program executive at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “It was a long trip to get to Jupiter, but these first results already demonstrate it was well worth the journey.”

Using data and photos from Juno, Gerald Eichstädt and Seán Doran have created these videos that approximate what it might look like flying by Jupiter in a spacecraft.

Wonderful.

Ikea products are now available on Amazon

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 14, 2017

Ikea Bag

Ikea products have long been available on Amazon from 3rd-party resellers, but now Ikea is officially selling hundreds of their products on Amazon. Among the items that caught my eye are the iconic blue Frakta bags, the best kids’ drinking glasses ever made (we have dozens of these…love them), a kids’ foot stool, the Swedish meatball sauce packs, and those ubiquitous Glimma tea lights. Also, lots of rugs, picture frames, candles, bedding materials, and many of the other things that are good to stock up on. (via fast company)

Update: I am an idiot. All this Ikea stuff on Amazon is from resellers…the same stuff that’s been available for years on the site. (Same deal with all the Muji items on Amazon.) I mean, they are still genuine Ikea products and some of it isn’t even available from Ikea’s online store. Anyway, not such a huge deal. I was wondering why Ikea would be adopting such a if-you-can’t-beat-‘em-join-‘em attitude towards Amazon; turns out they’re still just trying to beat ‘em.

Update: Just the other day, Reuters reported that Ikea will test selling items through third-party websites.

“I leave unsaid on which (platforms), but we will test and pilot, to see ‘what does this mean, what does digital shopping look like in future and what do digital shopping centers mean?’,” he said.

IKEA, known for its warehouse-like stores, has recently restructured to give its retail arm more freedom. The Swedish firm has never sold its goods through another company and is also trying new smaller store formats and stepping up integration of stores and online to adapt to new ways of shopping.

(via @checkdisout)

Why did Amazon buy Whole Foods? World domination.

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 20, 2017

Amazon’s New Customer is a really great analysis by Ben Thompson of Amazon’s strategy and why Amazon bought Whole Foods: they purchased a new customer for Amazon infrastructure, not a retailer. Early on in the piece, Thompson lays this one on us:

Amazon’s goal is to take a cut of all economic activity.

No qualifiers. All economic activity. In the world. Sort of a Dutch East India Company for the internet age. Thompson explains how they’re going to do it and why fresh food is such a strategic hole for them.

As you might expect, given a goal as audacious as “taking a cut of all economic activity”, Amazon has several different strategies. The key to the enterprise is AWS: if it is better to build an Internet-enabled business on the public cloud, and if all businesses will soon be Internet-enabled businesses, it follows that AWS is well-placed to take a cut of all business activity.

On the consumer side the key is Prime. While Amazon has long pursued a dominant strategy in retail — superior cost and superior selection — it is difficult to build sustainable differentiation on these factors alone. After all, another retailer is only a click away.

This, though, is the brilliance of Prime: thanks to its reliability and convenience (two days shipping, sometimes faster!), plus human fallibility when it comes to considering sunk costs (you’ve already paid $99!), why even bother looking anywhere else? With Prime Amazon has created a powerful moat around consumer goods that does not depend on simply having the lowest price, because Prime customers don’t even bother to check.

This, though, is why groceries is a strategic hole: not only is it the largest retail category, it is the most persistent opportunity for other retailers to gain access to Prime members and remind them there are alternatives. That is why Amazon has been so determined in the space: AmazonFresh launched a decade ago, and unlike other Amazon experiments, has continued to receive funding along with other rumored initiatives like convenience store and grocery pick-ups. Amazon simply hasn’t been able to figure out the right tactics.

When I heard about the Whole Foods deal, the first thing I thought about was Amazon Go. The company has been trying to experiment with different retail environments, but without the proper scale, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. Whole Foods gives them a chance to develop their fresh food delivery infrastructure at scale…so that they can offer it to other customers just like they do with AWS.

P.S. Whenever I think about Amazon as a business, I recall this 2012 post by Eugene Wei on Amazon’s low-margin strategy. I suspect Thompson’s post will join it in my thoughts.

An amazingly well-preserved dinosaur found in Canada

posted by Jason Kottke   May 14, 2017

Nodosaur

In 2011, an excavator operator working in a Canadian mine uncovered a group of unusual looking rocks. The rocks turned out to be the remains of a dinosaur called a nodosaur that died about 110 million years ago. The nodosaur was so well preserved that it looks like a stone statue of a dinosaur instead of just fossilized remains.

The more I look at it, the more mind-boggling it becomes. Fossilized remnants of skin still cover the bumpy armor plates dotting the animal’s skull. Its right forefoot lies by its side, its five digits splayed upward. I can count the scales on its sole. Caleb Brown, a postdoctoral researcher at the museum, grins at my astonishment. “We don’t just have a skeleton,” he tells me later. “We have a dinosaur as it would have been.”

The photos are amazing…it really does look like a statue.

Away on Vacation

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 02, 2017

Artist Jonas Lund is away on vacation. But in his stead, he’s left his Macbook Pro hard at work using Photoshop to create paintings related to work and vacation.

The computer will open Photoshop and start creating a painting. It will use an array of symbols, brushes, and shapes all, relating to the idea of vacation and its opposite — work. Once the painting has been completed, the software will upload it to the website awayonvacation.live and post it to the Artist’s Twitter and Facebook accounts.

Watch the livestream above or view some of the computer’s past creations:

Away On Vacation

Away On Vacation

An entertaining short documentary about Jeff Koons

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 16, 2017

Fun fact: Koons listens to Led Zeppelin for about an hour every day. From the Museum of Contemporary Art in LA, this is a short documentary on the life and work of artist Jeff Koons, narrated by Scarlett Johansson. I’ve been experiencing Jeff Koons’ art for almost two decades now and I still can’t decide if I like it or not or if Koons is full of shit or not. I would still love to see his project for the High Line come to fruition though.

A very satisfying calligraphy video

posted by Jason Kottke   May 30, 2017

This video has much to teach us about how to live. Be sure to watch all the way to the end.

If you require a chaser, check out calligraphy master Seb Lester’s impressive work, including hand-lettered Beyonce and Netflix logos.

Unreal time lapse of undulating storm clouds at sunset

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 06, 2017

Storm-chasing photographer Mike Olbinski was recently taking photos of a storm in North Dakota close to sunset when asperitas clouds (aka undulatus asperatus clouds) appeared.

Undulatus asperatus clouds are a rare phenomenon and actually the newest named cloud type in over 60 years. I’ve seen tons of photos of them, but never anything like what we witnessed last night. We had a storm with hail in front of us and flashing lightning which was fantastic. But then we had this layer of undulatus clouds flowing across our view. Watching them was amazing already, but then the sun slowly appeared from behind some clouds to the west and lit up our storm like nothing we’ve ever seen before. We were like kids in a candy store.

Nature is ridiculous. More asperitas time lapse goodness here. (via bad astronomy)

An Atlas for the End of the World

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 28, 2017

Atlas End World

The Atlas for the End of the World is a project started by Penn architect Richard Weller to highlight the effects of human civilization and urbanization on our planet’s biodiversity.

Coming almost 450 years after the world’s first Atlas, this Atlas for the End of the World audits the status of land use and urbanization in the most critically endangered bioregions on Earth. It does so, firstly, by measuring the quantity of protected area across the world’s 36 biodiversity hotspots in comparison to United Nation’s 2020 targets; and secondly, by identifying where future urban growth in these territories is on a collision course with endangered species.

There’s lots to see at the site: world and regional maps, data visualizations, key statistical data, photos of plants and animals that have been modified by humans, as well as several essays on a variety of topics.

And here’s a fun map: countries with national biodiversity strategies and action plans in place. Take a wild guess which country is one of the very few without such a plan in place!

Click bait: 35 unbelievable cooking hacks

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 02, 2017

It’s Friiiiiiiday! It’s time for — *fanfare* — 15 minutes of cooking tips and tricks? Yes, why not? Many of these I’ve seen before (like the sucking egg yolks with a plastic bottle trick), but I literally gasped at the rubber band measuring spoon trick. My current baking soda canister doesn’t have a spoon-scraping ledge (my old one did!) and it drives me a little crazy every time I make the world’s best pancakes. Anything that gets me to delicious pancakes quicker is a win. (via swissmiss, whose friday link pack is always worth a look)

The other less famous photo of Jack Ruby shooting Lee Harvey Oswald

posted by Jason Kottke   May 19, 2017

Ruby Shoots Oswald

Thread! Austin Kleon shared something he learned on Twitter yesterday: there are actually two photos of Jack Ruby about to shoot Lee Harvey Oswald taken by two different photographers. We’ve all seen the familiar one, taken by Bob Jackson:

Ruby Shoots Oswald

But like Kleon, I had never seen Jack Beers’ version shown at the top of the post, taken a little more than a half-second before Jackson’s. Kleon says:

At the time, Bob Jackson was “depressed” because he didn’t have film in his camera when Kennedy was assassinated. When Beers’ superiors saw the negative they were sure he’d just won the Pulitzer. Meanwhile, Jackson’s editors asked if he’d gotten anything. Jackson’s shot captured the exact right moment, with Oswald recoiling in pain, making the face, etc. He won the Pulitzer and fame. Beers was devastated. He felt like he’d had the Pulitzer and lost it. His daughter says he never really got over his bad luck. So, you have two photographers shooting a guy who got shot — one’s career “ruined” for him, one’s made.

According to an article about the two men who took the photographs, Beers was personally acquainted with Ruby:

He loved crime stories, she says, and went on ride-alongs with the Dallas police. He also came to know a strange little man who often hung out at police headquarters, a stripclub operator named Jack Ruby.

To fatten his pocketbook, Mr. Beers even photographed some of Ruby’s “girls,” whose pictures are part of the family collection.

And Jackson was in President Kennedy’s motorcade and spotted Oswald’s rifle peeking out of a window:

And then came the first shot.

Instinctively, Mr. Jackson says he looked to where the shot was coming from — and saw a rifle protruding from a window in the east end of the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository. The Warren Commission concluded that Oswald fired three shots from a sniper’s perch he had constructed in that window.

But he’d used all of his film up getting crowd shots and was unable to reload quickly enough. Back to the Ruby Oswald photos:

“Out of the corner of my right eye, I saw a sudden movement … My first impression was, it was a photographer out of position or with a very short lens trying to improve his position, then the curse, ‘You son of a bitch,’ punctuated by the shot. The curse was in such an unnatural and excited voice, before it concluded I knew someone had gone berserk and was attacking Oswald.”

The sudden movement provoked Mr. Jackson, six-tenths of a second later, to snap the shutter.

“The reason Beers shot too soon, in comparison to me,” says Mr. Jackson, “is that he saw it easier and quicker than I did. Ruby was more in his vision. I had a better position because I wasn’t distracted by Ruby as much. I was still looking at Oswald’s face, and I knew I was going to shoot before whoever that was blocked my view.”

What a story. (via @austinkleon)

Jurassic Park but with the dinosaurs from the 90s TV show Dinosaurs

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 29, 2017

Dinosaurs Park

Dinosaurs Park

If you thought that photoshopping the characters from the 90s TV Dinosaurs into scenes from Jurassic Park would be impossible, well, Jen Lewis found a way.

(FYI, I loved Dinosaurs. I just looked at when it started airing and it came out much later than I thought…I was a senior in high school and continued watching it after heading off to college. I have clearly repressed the memory of how deeply uncool I was then. (“Then? Then?!!” cackles the narrator.))

My social media fast

posted by Jason Kottke   May 19, 2017

Last week (approx. May 7-14), I stopped using social media for an entire week. I logged out of all the sites and deleted the apps from my phone. I didn’t so much as peek at Instagram, which is, with Twitter and old-school Flickr, probably my favorite online service of all time. I used Twitter as minimally as I could, for work only.1 I didn’t check in anywhere on Swarm. No Facebook. As much as I could, I didn’t use my phone. I left it at home when I went to the grocery store. I didn’t play any games on it. I left it across the room when I went to bed and when I worked.

Many people have given up social media and written about it — the digital equivalent of the “Why I’m Leaving New York” essay — but since I didn’t write about leaving New York, I’m going to do this instead.

I used to be very good about using my phone and social media appropriately. More than a decade of working on kottke.org taught me how to not be online when I wasn’t working (for the most part). I tried super hard not to use my phone at all around my kids and if I was out with friends, my phone stayed in my pocket.2

Almost a year ago, after 13+ years in the city, I moved from lower Manhattan3 to rural Vermont. It’s beautiful here. I live in a house in the country surrounded by horse pasture and there’s great skiing in the winter. The nearest town is only five minutes away by car; it has a two-screen movie theater, a handful of restaurants (none of which are typically open after 10pm), two grocery stores, but nowhere to get a proper donut, sushi, or bowl of ramen. (The nearest ramen is an hour’s drive away.) While I was writing this post yesterday afternoon, the power in my house went out and didn’t come back on for three hours, forcing a delay in publication. It’s been difficult to meet people. Folks here are nice, but they mostly remind me of the people in the small town I grew up in (aka why I moved to the city in the first place). I work from home at a desk in my bedroom and some days, the only beings I’ll talk to are Siri, my landlord’s horses, and some days, my kids and their mom.

Social media, mostly through my phone, has been an important way for me to stay connected with friends and goings on in the wider world. But lately I’d noticed an obsessiveness, an addiction really, that I didn’t like once I became fully aware of it. When I wasn’t working, I was on my phone, refreshing Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook repeatedly in an endless series, like a little old lady at Caesar’s Palace working several slot machines at the same time. And I couldn’t stop it — my phone was in my hand even when I was trying to concentrate on my kids, watching a movie, or reading a book. So, I quit for a week to see what would happen. It’s not a super-long time period, but here’s what I noticed:

- Once I’d set my mind to it, it was pretty easy to go cold turkey. Perhaps my Twitter usage and keeping up with the news for kottke.org acted as a nicotine patch, but I don’t think so. Instagram was the toughest to stay away from, but I didn’t crack once.

- As the week went on, it was more and more evident that it wasn’t so much social media as the phone that was the problem. Even now, a few days after the conclusion of my experiment, I’m leaving my phone at home when I go out or across the room when I’m doing something. I’m going to try hard to keep this up.

- Buuuut, when you have kids, there is no such thing as giving up your phone. There’s always the potential call from their school or their mom or their doctor or another parent regarding a playdate or or or. I spend enough time online at my computer for work that I could mostly do without my phone, but with kids, that’s not really an option.

- Not a single person noticed that I had stopped using social media. (Not enough to tell me anyway.) Perhaps if it had been two weeks? For me, this reinforced that social media is actually not a good way to “stay connected with friends”. Social media aggregates interactions between loved ones so that you get industrialized communication rather than personal connection. No one really notices if a particular person goes missing because they’re just one interchangeable node in a network.

- My no-social week, for a variety of reasons, was probably the shittiest week I’d had in more than a year. Total emotional mess. Being off social media didn’t make it any better, but I doubt it made it worse. Overall, it was probably a good thing I wasn’t subjecting my friends and followers to self-subtweets and emo Instagram Stories…I was already scoring enough own goals without social media’s help.

- So, what did I do instead? I wish I could say that I had loads of extra free time that I used to learn Spanish, clean my house, catch up with old friends, cook delicious meals, and finish a couple work projects. Perhaps if shittiest week ever hadn’t been happening, I would have done some of that. Still, I did end up going to bed early every night, read a couple books, and had more time for work and dealing with kid drama.

After the week was up, I greedily checked in on Instagram and Facebook to see what I had missed. Nothing much, of course. Since then, I’ve been checking them a bit less. When I am on, I’ve been faving and commenting more in an attempt to be a little more active in connecting. I unfollowed some accounts I realized I didn’t care that much about and followed others I’ve been curious to check out. Swarm I check a lot less, about once a day — there was a lot of FOMO going on when I saw friends checked in at cool places in NYC or on vacations in Europe. And I’m only checking in when I go someplace novel, just to keep a log of where I’ve been…that’s always fun to look back on.

Mostly, I’ve resolved to use my phone less. Being on my phone was my fidget spinner…this thing that I would do when there was nothing else to do or that I would use to delay going to bed or delay getting out of bed in the morning. Going forward, I’m going to be more mindful about its use. If nothing else, my hands and thumbs might start feeling better.

  1. Yeah, I did not stop using Twitter. Ideally I would have, but Twitter is a huge source of information for this here website and I couldn’t afford to give it up without ditching work for a week, which I did not want to do because I wanted to maintain my normal schedule. But I didn’t look at Twitter on my phone, didn’t reply to or fave any tweets, muted some non-news/link accounts I follow, and limited my usage to “business hours”.

  1. Still one of my favorite tweets is from Scott Simpson: “My new standard of cool: when I’m hanging out with you, I never see your phone ever ever ever.”

  1. Haha, you’re getting a mini leaving NYC essay anyway. Suckers!

My recent media diet

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 07, 2017

Quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, and heard in the past few weeks. Come on now, don’t take the letter grades so seriously.

The Wright Brothers. A surprising amount of what you’ve heard about the Wright Brothers is wrong. David McCullough sets the record straight. (B+)

Shake Shack: Recipes & Stories. I really wish I could get Martin’s Potato Rolls in Vermont. (B+)

Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative. A good book to have around when you need a creative kick in the pants. (B+)

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. I wasn’t even going to see this, but the power went out in my house for three hours due to a 45-second wind/rain storm, so I went to the movies. It is exactly what you’d expect from a medieval action movie directed by Guy Ritchie, and I left entertained. (B-)

Alien: Covenant. More entertaining and felt more like an Alien movie than Prometheus. Why are the people so stupid though? (B)

Lemonade. Still great. (A+)

Mad Men. I rewatched all seven seasons in just under three months. The middle part lagged in places, but the final seasons were as strong as the first seasons. IMO, Mad Men is among the best ever TV shows. (A+)

Passengers. J. Law and Chris Pratt stranded together in space? Yes, please. But the filmmakers should have found a way around the stalker plot point…it was unnecessarily disturbing and uninteresting. (B-)

Moana. Long-time readers might remember Pamie, one of the most well-known OG online diarists from the late 90s. I noticed her name in the credits…she co-wrote screenplay. Also, I was not the only person to immediately think of Beyonce when I saw Te Fiti. (A-)

The Keepers. Disturbing in more ways than one and well worth watching. (B+)

The Americans. The fifth season did not quite live up to the high standard of the previous seasons. (B)

She Persisted. The day this arrived, my daughter cracked this open and said, delighted, “Harriet Tubman!” (A-)

Emotions Part One of Invisibilia. The classical view is that emotions happen to you. But according to guest Lisa Feldman Barrett, “the way emotion works is opposite of what you think — emotions aren’t reactions to the world; emotions actually construct the world”. See also Barrett’s recent book How Emotions Are Made. (B+)

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band remix album. This sounds like a whole new record. As Sippey says, “now you can simply, finally, hear it”. (A)

Zodiac. Some say this is Fincher’s best film. Not sure I would, but it’s damned fine. (A-)

Wonder Woman. I would happily watch 100 sequels to this. (A-)

How the Internet has changed in the past 10 years

posted by Jason Kottke   May 16, 2017

Alexis Madrigal is back at The Atlantic, where he’ll be writing about technology, science, and business. His first piece is a reflection on how the Internet has changed in the 10 years he’s been writing about it. In 2007, the Web was triumphant. But then came apps and Facebook and other semi-walled gardens:

O’Reilly’s lengthy description of the principles of Web 2.0 has become more fascinating through time. It seems to be describing a slightly parallel universe. “Hyperlinking is the foundation of the web,” O’Reilly wrote. “As users add new content, and new sites, it is bound into the structure of the web by other users discovering the content and linking to it. Much as synapses form in the brain, with associations becoming stronger through repetition or intensity, the web of connections grows organically as an output of the collective activity of all web users.”

Nowadays, (hyper)linking is an afterthought because most of the action occurs within platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and messaging apps, which all have carved space out of the open web.

That strategy has made the top tech companies insanely valuable:

In mid-May of 2007, these five companies were worth $577 billion. Now, they represent $2.9 trillion worth of market value! Not so far off from the combined market cap ($2.85T) of the top 10 largest companies in the second quarter of 2007: Exxon Mobil, GE, Microsoft, Royal Dutch Shell, AT&T, Citigroup, Gazprom, BP, Toyota, and Bank of America.

In 2007, I wrote a piece (and a follow-up) about how Facebook was the new AOL and how their walled garden strategy was doomed to fail in the face of the open Web. The final paragraph of that initial post is a good example of the Web triumphalism described by Madrigal but hasn’t aged well:

As it happens, we already have a platform on which anyone can communicate and collaborate with anyone else, individuals and companies can develop applications which can interoperate with one another through open and freely available tools, protocols, and interfaces. It’s called the internet and it’s more compelling than AOL was in 1994 and Facebook in 2007. Eventually, someone will come along and turn Facebook inside-out, so that instead of custom applications running on a platform in a walled garden, applications run on the internet, out in the open, and people can tie their social network into it if they want, with privacy controls, access levels, and alter-egos galore.

The thing is, Facebook did open up…they turned themselves inside-out and crushed the small pieces loosely joined contingent. They let the Web flood in but caught the Web’s users and content creators before they could wash back out again. The final paragraph of the follow-up piece fared much better in hindsight:

At some point in the future, Facebook may well open up, rendering much of this criticism irrelevant. Their privacy controls are legendarily flexible and precise…it should be easy for them to let people expose parts of the information to anyone if they wanted to. And as Matt Webb pointed out to me in an email, there’s the possibility that Facebook turn itself inside out and be the social network bit for everyone else’s web apps. In the meantime, maybe we shouldn’t be so excited about the web’s future moving onto an intranet.

What no one saw back then, about a week after the release of the original iPhone, was how apps on smartphones would change everything. In a non-mobile world, these companies and services would still be formidable but if we were all still using laptops and desktops to access information instead of phones and tablets, I bet the open Web would have stood a better chance.

Victoria & Abdul

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 07, 2017

Judi Dench playing a British monarch? I’m there. Victoria & Abdul is based on the true story of the friendship that developed between Queen Victoria and a young Indian named Abdul Karim during the Queen’s later years.

When Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal), a young clerk, travels from India to participate in the Queen’s Golden Jubilee, he is surprised to find favor with the Queen herself. As the Queen questions the constrictions of her long-held position, the two forge an unlikely and devoted alliance with a loyalty to one another that her household and inner circle all attempt to destroy. As the friendship deepens, the Queen begins to see a changing world through new eyes and joyfully reclaims her humanity.

Karim was also Muslim, which makes this movie all the more relevant today. In 2012, Channel 4 aired a short documentary about the relationship called Queen Victoria’s Last Love:

(thx, meg)

Blindingly fast data entry

posted by Jason Kottke   May 10, 2017

This man punching numbers into the device hanging from his belt with a calm ferocity is doing inventory. A commenter on Reddit explains:

He is doing an inventory audit on the store. First, he enters the price, then the number of items, then moves to the next item. The entering of items is done by doing them in groups. When I used to do this, I would count in 4s. It would be 4+4+4+4+4+3 to indicate 23 items. When he looks at the 10-key he is probably correcting an error he just made. It is pretty rare to double check the count unless you fat fingered something. The end report does not contain SKU numbers but a categorical pricing of all the items in the store.

In Japan, there are competitions and clubs for performing quickly on calculators. Asuka Kamimura, a young Japanese featured in the beginning of this video, can work her calculator at a rate of nine keystrokes per second.

(via @dunstan)

Can It Happen Here?: Authoritarianism in America.

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 06, 2017

That’s the title of a forthcoming book edited by Cass Sunstein (Harvard professor, former Obama regulatory administrator). On Twitter, Sunstein says he’s the editor not the author and that the essays will “offer diverse views”. But by the time this book comes out in March 2018, we might already know the actual answer to the title’s question. (via @tylercowen)

Human engineered organisms

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 30, 2017

Zhao Renhui

Zhao Renhui

Zhao Renhui

In his series Guide to the Flora and Fauna of the World, Zhao Renhui photographed a number of animals and plants that have been bred or otherwise modified by humans. Pictured above are a square apple:

Sold in a department store in South Korea, these square apples were created as gifts for students taking the College Scholastic Ability Test, with some inscribed with the words ‘pass’ or ‘success’. A similar square watermelon was developed in Japan in the 1980s. The cubic fruits are created by stunting their growth in glass cubes.

a remote-controlled beetle:

In 2012, Japanese scientists implanted electrodes, a radio and a camera on a Goliath beetle which could be wirelessly controlled. The scientists inserted the parts in the beetle during different phases of the pupa stage. The components were powered by generators connected to the flight muscles of the beetle. Most of the components were not visible to the human eye, except for the tiny camera lens peering out of the beetle’s head. The first photograph by a Goliath beetle camera was taken in December 2012, remotely controlled by researchers in a facility 200km away.

and Chinese pork that’s been made to look and taste like beef:

It has recently been found in China that pork has been made to aesthetically look like beef. ‘Beef colouring’ and ‘beef extracts’ were added to pork to make it look and taste like beef.

(via the atlas for the end of the world)

The Earth’s five energy revolutions

posted by Jason Kottke   May 22, 2017

Five Energy Expansions

Since life first formed on Earth billions of years ago, the ability of organisms to use more powerful and efficient energy sources has been key in driving the diversity and complexity of life. According to this provocative piece in Nature by Olivia Judson, the history of life on Earth can be divided into five energetic epochs characterized by the following energy sources: geochemical energy, sunlight, oxygen, flesh and fire.

The first two were present at the start, but oxygen, flesh and fire are all consequences of evolutionary events. Since no category of energy source has disappeared, this has, over time, resulted in an expanding realm of the sources of energy available to living organisms and a concomitant increase in the diversity and complexity of ecosystems. These energy expansions have also mediated the transformation of key aspects of the planetary environment, which have in turn mediated the future course of evolutionary change. Using energy as a lens thus illuminates patterns in the entwined histories of life and Earth, and may also provide a framework for considering the potential trajectories of life-planet systems elsewhere.

Organisms formed on Earth and changed the planet, which led to the formation of new organisms more suited to the new environment. For instance, when a type of bacteria evolved to turn sunshine into oxygen, it completely changed the planet.

In the absence of a biotic source of oxygen, trace quantities of the gas can be generated abiotically: water molecules can be split by sunlight or radioactive decay. However, these abiotic processes are much less efficient than their biotic equivalent. Had cyanobacteria, or something like them, never evolved, oxygen would never have built up in the atmosphere of the Earth.

But build up it did. Between 2.45 and 2.32 Ga, significant quantities of oxygen began to accumulate in the air, an episode known as the Great Oxidation Event. Before the Great Oxidation, atmospheric oxygen levels were less than 10^-5 of the present atmospheric level of ~21%. By ~2 Ga, they had risen to perhaps 0.1-1% of the present atmospheric level. Although the subsequent history of oxygen is complex and many details are uncertain, Earth’s atmosphere has contained an appreciable level of the gas ever since. (Full oxygenation of the oceans, however, would not happen until around 1.8 billion years after the Great Oxidation.)

The original piece in Nature is fairly readable for a science journal, but this summary in The Atlantic is worth a look if you’re short on time or attention. (via @CharlesCMann)

Some site news: hello advertising, my old friend

posted by Jason Kottke   May 08, 2017

Last month, I told you that I lost the advertising on kottke.org after The Deck folded. After fielding lots of feedback (thank you!) and checking out a few different options, I’ve decided to try out Carbon Ads. By going with Carbon, the advertising on kottke.org retains many of the features I enjoyed about The Deck: a single unobtrusive ad per page, a curated group of sites and advertisers in the network, set it & forget it, and prompt payment. You’ll find the ad on each page of the site, in the post sidebar (or just below the post on mobile).

Before I let you go, I need a tiny bit of your help with this. If you use ad blocking software when you read kottke.org, could you please whitelist kottke.org and/or Carbon Ads (carbonads.com)? It should be pretty easy…check your ad block software’s instructions if you’ve never done it before. I don’t want to get into an argument about the ethics or morality of advertising or ad blocking, but I will say that blocking ads on kottke.org means less revenue for the site. As previously discussed, advertising is an essential piece of the ongoing stability of kottke.org and whitelisting the site would help me out in that regard. Thank you.

Decoding the geometry, geology, and astronomy of Stonehenge

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 28, 2017

Vox’s Joss Fong assembles a scale model of Stonehenge and explains some of the ancient monument’s geometry, the geology of the stone it’s built from, and the its possible astronomical significance.

Stonehenge is a popular destination for summer solstice celebrations because the 5,000-year-old monument points toward the summer solstice sunrise on the horizon. However, it also points to the winter solstice sunset in the opposite direction and there’s good reason to believe that this may have been the more important alignment for the Neolithic people who built Stonehenge. We investigate by constructing a tiny model of the Stonehenge monument.

“My Family’s Slave”

posted by Jason Kottke   May 16, 2017

When Alex Tizon was a small child in the 60s, he moved with his family from the Phillipines to the US along with the family’s domestic servant, Lola. It was not until Tizon was nearly a teenager that he realized that Lola was not employed as a servant by his parents…she was a slave.

Her name was Eudocia Tomas Pulido. We called her Lola. She was 4 foot 11, with mocha-brown skin and almond eyes that I can still see looking into mine — my first memory. She was 18 years old when my grandfather gave her to my mother as a gift, and when my family moved to the United States, we brought her with us. No other word but slave encompassed the life she lived. Her days began before everyone else woke and ended after we went to bed. She prepared three meals a day, cleaned the house, waited on my parents, and took care of my four siblings and me. My parents never paid her, and they scolded her constantly. She wasn’t kept in leg irons, but she might as well have been. So many nights, on my way to the bathroom, I’d spot her sleeping in a corner, slumped against a mound of laundry, her fingers clutching a garment she was in the middle of folding.

An incredible and incredibly disturbing story. Heartbreaking, all the more because this sort of thing is probably more common than anyone realizes.

Update: Pulido’s 2011 obituary is worth reading (via andy).

As a teenager in the Philippines, Miss Pulido was asked to care for a young girl whose mother had died. When a relative asked Miss Pulido to always look after the girl, she gave her word.

Miss Pulido not only raised that girl, but the girl’s children and their children - cooking, cleaning and caring for three generations that came to know her as “Lola,” grandmother in her native Tagalog tongue. She asked for nothing in return, said her grandson, Alex Tizon, a former Seattle Times reporter, with whom she lived in Edmonds for nearly 12 years.

There are a few reaction threads on Twitter that are worth reading as well. Josh Shahryar:

How dare the author make excuses for his mother? She enslaved a woman for decades and used her free labor to prosper. She was a monster.

I don’t want to read about the “complexity” of the slave-owner. I don’t want to hear about her sob-story or how much she loved her children.

I am filled with nothing but anger and hatred at the vileness of the attempt by Alex Tizon to whitewash a slaveholder. No. FUCK! NO!

Jay Owens:

As I read it, I was confused by the timeline. It’s made evident teen-Alex hates the situation. But it conceals this: “My Family’s Slave is beautifully written but it doesn’t change that Alex Tizon was 40 before he did anything to improve Lola’s situation.” — @irishchickensoup

The writer is able to talk about his mother’s complicity — but not really grapple with his own. 20 years when he didn’t act.

He is in America, and talking about slavery, and he doesn’t talk about race.

He doesn’t reflect on how race and gender are used to naturalise servitude, and uses writerly sleights of hand to minimise it

Adrian Chen:

“My Family’s Slave” is now trending in the Philippines, where it’s lunch time. I’m going to share a few interesting threads from Filipinos

Sarah Jeong:

When I first read the article, I came away convinced of this: that Tizon died not understanding Lola was his real mother.

The struggle with the self

posted by Jason Kottke   May 11, 2017

This is a passage from Ethan Hawke’s Rules for a Knight, which takes the form of a fictional diary of lessons and anecdotes from a 15th century squire learning how to behave like a knight from his grandfather.

One time, on a sweltering August night, Grandfather and I made camp down by the ocean. He said, “While I teach you about the ways of war, I want you to know that the real struggle is between the two wolves that live inside each of us.”

“Two wolves?” I asked, seated on an old log near the fire. My eyes were transfixed by the flames twisting uncomfortably in the night air.

“One wolf is evil,” he continued. “It is anger, envy, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, deceit, false pride.” He paused, poking at the embers of our fire with a long stick he’d been carving.

“The other is good. It is joy, love, hope, serenity, humility, loving-kindness, forgiveness, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, faith.”

I considered that for a minute, then tentatively asked, “Which wolf will win?”

Sparks danced towards the stars as the old man stared into the glare of the flames and replied, “Whichever one you feed.”

A helpful reminder that I’ve been feeding the wrong wolf recently. He’s so hungry and there’s been a lot of available food, but I’ve got to get back on track.

Update: As stated on the back cover, in writing this book Hawke borrowed liberally from “the ancient teachings of Eastern and Western philosophy and on the great spiritual and political writings of our time”. The story of the two wolves appears to originate from Billy Graham or perhaps from the Cherokee tribe. (thx, everyone)

If you can’t explain something in simple terms, you don’t understand it

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 15, 2017

Feynman Blackboard

In the early 1960s, Richard Feynman gave a series of undergraduate lectures that were collected into a book called the Feynman Lectures on Physics. Absent from the book was a lecture Feynman gave on planetary motion, but a later finding of the notes enabled David Goodstein, a colleague of Feynman’s, to write a book about it: Feynman’s Lost Lecture. From an excerpt of the book published in a 1996 issue of Caltech’s Engineering & Science magazine:

Feynman was a truly great teacher. He prided himself on being able to devise ways to explain even the most profound ideas to beginning students. Once, I said to him, “Dick, explain to me, so that I can understand it, why spin one-half particles obey Fermi-Dirac statistics.” Sizing up his audience perfectly, Feynman said, “I’ll prepare a freshman lecture on it.” But he came back a few days later to say, “I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t reduce it to the freshman level. That means we don’t really understand it.”

John Gruber writes the simple explanations are the goal at Apple as well:

Engineers are expected to be able to explain a complex technology or product in simple, easily-understood terms not because the executive needs it explained simply to understand it, but as proof that the engineer understands it completely.

Feynman was well known for simple explanations of scientific concepts that result a in deeper understanding of the subject matter: e.g. see Feynman explaining how fire is stored sunshine, rubber bands, how trains go around curves, and magnets. Critically, he’s also not shy about admitting when he doesn’t understand something…or, alternately, when scientists as a group don’t understand something. There’s the spin anecdote above and of his explanation of magnets, he says:

I really can’t do a good job, any job, of explaining magnetic force in terms of something else you’re more familiar with, because I don’t understand it in terms of anything else you’re more familiar with.

Feynman was also quoted as saying:

I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.

Pretty interesting thing to hear from a guy who won a Nobel Prize for explaining quantum mechanics better than anyone ever had before. Even when he died in 1988 at the end of a long and fruitful careeer, a note at the top of his blackboard read:

What I cannot create, I do not understand.