What was the Venus de Milo doing with her arms?JUL 03

The Venus de Milo's arms are lost to history but that hasn't stopped historians and scholars wondering what exactly she was doing with them when the statue was carved. In order to test out a theory that Venus was spinning thread, Virginia Postrel hired designer and artist Cosmo Wenman to construct a 3D model of Venus de Milo.

Venus De Milo with arms

  quick links, updated constantly

Nation's Amateur Skateboarders Haven't Landed Trick In 12 Years

Didn't know it was an open secret that indie developers can't make a living on the App Store

Is the fish kick the fastest swimming stroke yet? http://t.co/F2RPo7Q8Sl

In the "it's getting better" column, Lewis Hine photos from 100 years ago of child laborers

A Fairly Comprehensive List of Anti-Vaccination Celebrities (Donald Trump, Jim Carrey, Jenny McCarthy, etc)

Between 1900 and 1930 in the US, chlorinated water reduced infant mortality by 74%. Incredible.

An Incredibly Detailed Map of Europe's Population Shifts

Fracking and the closing wage gap means that US manufacturing costs are almost as low as China's

New Harry Potter!! It's a play opening in London in 2016. Rowling says it's not a prequel but it's totally a prequel.

Judge Richard Posner on the marriage equality ruling: "gratuitous interference in other people's lives is bigotry"

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

A guide to Don DeLillo's booksJUL 03

This list ranking Don DeLillo's novels into categories ranging from "Classic" to "Avoid" from 2007 excludes his two most recent novels, but if you have little exposure to the author, it's a good place to start.

White Noise. DeLillo's breakthrough success, arguably still his quintessential masterpiece, and the funniest and most sustained example of his talent. Jack Gladney, professor of Hitler Studies, struggles with information overload, simulated disasters, an "airborne toxic event," the most photographed barn in America, and a drug that neutralizes the fear of death. If you're going to like DeLillo, this is the book that will make it happen.

Confession: aside from attempting to tackle Underworld1 more than 10 years ago, I have not read any DeLillo. I should probably fix that? (via @davidgrann)

  1. I bought my copy of Underworld at a San Francisco used book store at the same time I bought Infinite Jest. Like I said, Underworld didn't do it for me, but reading IJ became an odd sort of turning point in my life.

Saul Bass' best film title design workJUL 03

Saul Bass designed the opening sequences for dozens of films, including North by Northwest, Psycho, West Side Story, and Goodfellas. Here's a look at some of his best work:

(via art of the title)

How people respond to life-changing inventionsJUL 02

Near the end of a piece by Morgan Housel called Innovation Isn't Dead, appears "the typical path of how people respond to life-changing inventions":

1. I've never heard of it.
2. I've heard of it but don't understand it.
3. I understand it, but I don't see how it's useful.
4. I see how it could be fun for rich people, but not me.
5. I use it, but it's just a toy.
6. It's becoming more useful for me.
7. I use it all the time.
8. I could not imagine life without it.
9. Seriously, people lived without it?

That's about right. I can only recall a couple of instances where I've skipped from step 1 to step 8 or 9: when I first used the Web1 and when Jobs introduced the iPhone at MacWorld. Everything else -- Google, HD TV, Twitter, personal computers, streaming music services, wifi, laptops, Instagram, mobile phones -- went through most of the 9 phases. (via @cdixon)

  1. Not the Internet, the Web. I used the Internet before I used the Web (Usenet, FTP, and Gopher mostly) and I never got the "OMG this is going to change everything" vibe I got after using the Web for five minutes.

How Peter Luger chooses their beefJUL 02

Eater's Nick Solares accompanies the proprietor of Peter Luger Steakhouse to one of the few remaining butchers in the Meatpacking District1 to see how she selects meat for the restaurant.

  1. You know, that place with all the fancy shops, night clubs, and garbage people.

Colbert hosting cable access shows in his spare timeJUL 02

Stephen Colbert recently guest hosted Only in Monroe, a public access cable TV talk show based in Monroe, Michigan. His guest? Michigander Marshall Mathers.1

God, he is so good. I might actually have to watch the Late Show this fall. (thx, michelle)

  1. Do I need the "aka Eminem" here?

Compasses don't work on Mars, so how do you navigate?JUL 02

Unlike the Earth, Mars and the Moon don't have strong directional magnetic fields, which means traditional compasses don't work. So how did the Apollo rovers and current Mars rovers navigate their way around? By using manually set directional gyroscope and wheel odometers.

While current un-crewed rovers don't have to return to the comfort of a lunar module, some aspects of the Apollo systems live on in their design. Four U.S. Martian rovers have used wheel odometers that account for slippage to calculate distance traveled. They've also employed gyroscopes (in the form of an inertial measurement units) to determine heading and pitch/roll information.

One of the fun things about reading The Martian is you get to learn a little bit about this sort of thing. Here's a passage about navigation on Mars where astronaut Mark Watney is trying to get to a landmark several days' drive away.

Navigation is tricky.

The Hab's nav beacon only reaches 40 kilometers, so it's useless to me out here. I knew that'd be an issue when I was planning this little road trip, so I came up with a brilliant plan that didn't work.

The computer has detailed maps, so I figured I could navigate by landmarks. I was wrong. Turns out you can't navigate by landmarks if you can't find any god damned landmarks.

Our landing site is at the delta of a long-gone river . NASA chose it because if there are any microscopic fossils to be had, it's a good place to look. Also, the water would have dragged rock and soil samples from thousands of kilometers away. With some digging, we could get a broad geological history.

That's great for science, but it means the Hab's in a featureless wasteland.

I considered making a compass. The rover has plenty of electricity, and the med kit has a needle. Only one problem: Mars doesn't have a magnetic field.

So I navigate by Phobos. It whips around Mars so fast it actually rises and sets twice a day, running west to east. It isn't the most accurate system, but it works.

I wonder why the rovers in the story weren't outfitted with directional gyroscopes and wheel odometers? (See also the operations manual for the lunar rovers.) (via @JaredCrookston)

How do bikes ride themselves?JUL 01

Here's something that I knew as a kid but had forgotten about: if you get a bike going on its own at sufficient speed, it will essentially ride itself. MinutePhysics investigates why that happens.

Interesting that the bike seems to do much of the work of staying upright when it seems like the rider is the thing that makes it work. (via devour)

Tennis serve in slow motionJUL 01

At 6000 fps, you can see just how much the racquet flattens a tennis ball on the serve.

(via devour)

Letters to your younger selfJUL 01

Tennis great Pete Sampras recently wrote a letter to his 16-year-old self.

There's more to being a pro than just playing tennis. The more successful you are, the more people will want out of you. It won't always be something you'll want to do, and it won't always be fun. The pressure will be as exhausting as anything you'll ever do on the tennis court. But as a tennis champion, you have that responsibility. You play tennis because you love the game, not because you love the limelight, so get ready. Think about getting some media training. It'll go a long way. Luckily, you'll be out of the game before these things called Twitter and Facebook come around. Be thankful for that. One day you'll understand what I mean.

Oh, and put the newspaper down. Don't read what people are saying about you. No good can come of it. And if you do hear or read something negative about yourself, don't sweat it. Let your racket do the talking.

There's nothing that distinguishes Sampras' letter from others of the format, but it got me wondering if these letters from successful people to their younger selves would have the hoped-for impact. It seems to me that success requires struggle, failure, and a bit of stupidity...or if you want to be nice about it, a beginner's mind. Skipping even some of that might take some of the edge off. Perhaps Sampras should write another letter to his 15-year-old self urging him to ignore any subsequent correspondence.

Self-driving cars drive like your grandmaJUL 01

Observations from a Mountain View resident about driving with self-driving cars.

Google cars drive like your grandma -- they're never the first off the line at a stop light, they don't accelerate quickly, they don't speed, and they never take any chances with lane changes (cut people off, etc.).

And we know how easy it is to take advantage of old people:

It's safe to cut off a Google car. I ride a motorcycle to work and in California motorcycles are allowed to split lanes (i.e., drive in the gap between lanes of cars at a stoplight, slow traffic, etc.). Obviously I do this at every opportunity because it cuts my commute time in 1/3.

Once, I got a little caught out as the traffic transitioned from slow moving back to normal speed. I was in a lane between a Google car and some random truck and, partially out of experiment and partially out of impatience, I gunned it and cut off the Google car sort of harder than maybe I needed too... The car handled it perfectly (maybe too perfectly). It slowed down and let me in. However, it left a fairly significant gap between me and it. If I had been behind it, I probably would have found this gap excessive and the lengthy slowdown annoying. Honestly, I don't think it will take long for other drivers to realize that self-driving cars are "easy targets" in traffic.

But the overall opinion is that self-driving cars are excellent at driving.

I think that, inevitably, non-self driving cars will eventually be banned from the roads to let SD cars operate at their full potential (which personally I'm not thrilled about as I'm a car-nut and I love to drive).

Driving may not have Second Amendment protection, but I predict a hell of a fight against banning non-self-driving cars from the roads, akin to how some people feel about guns. "You can pry the steering wheel from my cold dead hands", that sort of thing. As future drivers feel threatened and membership dwindles and radicalizes, perhaps AAA will become more like the present-day NRA. (via mr)

Update: Several people pointed out that those in the pro-driving camp may not have much of a choice whether to keep driving or not. As more self-driving cars are put into use, insurance rates for human drivers will rise because the pool of insured will shrink and self-driving cars will prove to be safer by an order of magnitude or more. And then driving will return to being a hobby for the wealthy, like car racing is now.

Update: Paul Barnsley is an economist specializing in risk, and he wrote in about the implications of self-driving cars on insurance rates:

I don't buy the theory that self-driving cars will do much to current insurance premiums. The pool of drivers will shrink, sure, but the average quality of its members will stay pretty constant, maybe even improve (if better-than-average drivers want to stay behind the wheel) and they'll be driving in a lower risk environment (because of all the other self-driving cars).

So less risk will be shared over a smaller, but still plenty large, group. Since you can run a viable insurance market over a much smaller group of people than "all car owners in the US" I'd expect the lowered risk effected to dominate and premiums to drop relative to their current levels, though they will be high in comparison to self-driving, which may be your correspondents' argument.

Interesting. Thanks, Paul!

Some science book reading listsJUN 30

From John Horgan, a list of 25 Terrific Science(y) Books. There are some unorthodox picks here (next to some no-brainers):

Ulysses, by James Joyce, 1922. Yeah, it's a work of fiction, but as I argued a few years ago, Joyce was a more astute observer of the mind than anyone before or since. He exemplifies Noam Chomsky's dictum that we will always learn more about ourselves from literature than from science.

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn, 1962. This sneaky, subversive assault on conventional notions of scientific truth and progress triggered a revolution itself within the philosophy of science. Be sure to note where Kuhn compares scientists with drug addicts.

From Steven Weinberg, a list of the 13 best science books for the general reader. Solid list. But The Origin of Species is more than a little tough for the lay reader; I tried reading it a few years ago and it was a slog. I recommend The Elegant Universe and The Making of the Atomic Bomb w/o reservation.

Artificial Killing MachineJUN 30

Artificial Killing Machine

Artificial Killing Machine is an art installation that listens to a public database on US military drone strikes. When there's a strike, a cap gun fires for every death.

This time based work accesses a public database on U.S. military drone strikes. When a drone strike occurs, the machine activates, and fires a children's toy cap gun for every death that results. The raw information used by the installation is then printed. The materialized data is allowed to accumulate in perpetuity or until the life cycle of either the database or machine ends. A single chair is placed beneath the installation inviting the viewers to sit in the chair and experience the imagined existential risk.

The goal of the project is to breathe humanity back into data:

When individuals are represented purely as statistical data, they are stripped of their humanity and our connection to them is severed. Through the act of play and the force of imagination, this project aims to reconnect that which has been lost.

(via prosthetic knowledge)

Google Ocean ViewJUN 30

Google Ocean View

Google Street View includes views from under the Earth's oceans. You can tour shipwrecks, swim with humpback whales, and virtually dive down to dozens of coral reefs.

P.S. You can also climb Yosemite's El Capitan on Google Street View, which is SO OMG TERRFIYING THAT I CANT BE BOTHERED TO CORRECTM Y TPYING. Are anyone else's palms soaking wet right now? (via mr)

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