General TetrisFEB 12

Tetris General

This is a recent favorite of mine by Christoph Niemann, part of a series of six animations done for MoMA.

  quick links, updated constantly

The best wine pairings for Girl Scout Cookies

Xochitl tortilla chips are the worst. (I reluctantly agree. A+ in taste, D- in picking up guac.) https://t.co/YiL1CTKmp1

Seriously, though: What's so great about monogamy?

According to Tesla, their Model S now makes up 25% of large luxury car sales in the US

Ayn Rand Once Cursed A Guy's Dick So Bad He Moved Across The Country

Hmm, things aren't looking so good for Soundcloud

Can you find all the magic words?

Beyonce's "I got hot sauce in my bag", Jim Crow, and the Great Migration

Quartz: How American tipping grew out of racism and slavery

Heather Havrilesky has a book coming out; it's a collection of her excellent Ask Polly columns

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

Paint like there's nobody watching (or buying)FEB 12

Adam Westbrook talks about Vincent van Gogh and the benefit of doing creative work without the audience in mind. Having never read Csikszentmihalyi's Flow (I know, I know), I was unfamiliar with the word "autotelic". From Wikipedia:

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes people who are internally driven, and as such may exhibit a sense of purpose and curiosity, as autotelic. This determination is an exclusive difference from being externally driven, where things such as comfort, money, power, or fame are the motivating force.

Doug Belshaw has a bit more on autotelism and how it relates to education.

What are gravitational waves?FEB 12

From PHD Comics, and explanation of what gravitational waves are and why their discovery is so important to the future of science. (via df)

So long and thanks for all the free snacksFEB 11

Today is my last day working out of the Buzzfeed office. The company is soon moving to new NYC digs, which seems like a good time for me to hop off. I was the company's design advisor back when it started and have been working out of their offices since there were five of us holed up in a former Communist Party HQ we shared with several enthusiastic roach coworkers in Chinatown. It's been a treat watching this ship rocket into the stratosphere from the inside.1 They've got offices all over the world now and are probably close to 1000 employees, perhaps more, most of whom had no idea why the guy sitting w/ the tech team surfed around on the web all day and never attended any meetings.

Anyway, so many thanks to Jonah and the rest of the crew there. And good luck!

  1. I should probably write a book.

Movie references in The SimpsonsFEB 11

From Celia Gomez, a supercut of some of the most notable movie references from The Simpsons. The Simpsons came out when I was 16 and while I loved it immediately, the show started making a whole lot more sense after I watched The Godfather, Taxi Driver, Citizen Kane, and Dr. Strangelove in my 20s. Lots of Kubrick in the Simpsons.

The Hummingbird Effect: what does the wine press have to do with astronomy?FEB 11

In How We Got to Now, the TV series based on the book of the same name, Steven Johnson explains how the wine press was used to print books, which resulted in a surge in demand for reading glasses, which had yet more unintended effects.

Johnson calls this cascade of inadvertent invention the Hummingbird Effect.

This is how change happens in the natural world: sometime during the Cretaceous age, flowers began to evolve colors and scents that signaled the presence of pollen to insects, who simultaneously evolved complex equipment to extract the pollen and, inadvertently, fertilize other flowers with pollen.

Over time, the flowers supplemented the pollen with even more energy-rich nectar to lure the insects into the rituals of pollination. Bees and other insects evolved the sensory tools to see and be drawn to flowers, just as the flowers evolved the properties that attract bees. The symbiosis between flowering plants and insects that led to the production of nectar ultimately created an opportunity for much larger organisms -- the hummingbirds -- to extract nectar from plants, though to do that they evolved a extremely unusual form of flight mechanics that enable them to hover alongside the flower in a way that few birds can even come close to doing. In other words, they had to learn an entirely new way to fly.

In an interview with Popular Mechanics, Johnson shared another example:

At the start of the 20th century, in Brooklyn, a printer was doing full-color magazines. In the summer the ink didn't set up properly. The printer hired a young engineer, Willis Carrier, to devise a way to bring down the temperature and humidity in the room. He built this contraption that made the printing possible. Then the workers were like, "I'm gonna have my lunch in the room with the contraption, it's cool in there." Carrier says, "Hmm, that's interesting." He sets up the Carrier Corporation, which air-conditions movie theaters, paving the way for the summer blockbuster. Before air conditioning, a crowded theater was the last place you wanted to go. After a/c, summer movies become part of the cultural landscape.

Gravitational waves detectedFEB 11

Lights Askew In Heavens

After a potential detection of gravitational waves back in 2014 turned out to be galactic dust, scientists working on the LIGO experiment have announced they have finally detected evidence of gravitational waves. Nicola Twilley has the scoop for the New Yorker on how scientists detected the waves.

A hundred years ago, Albert Einstein, one of the more advanced members of the species, predicted the waves' existence, inspiring decades of speculation and fruitless searching. Twenty-two years ago, construction began on an enormous detector, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO). Then, on September 14, 2015, at just before eleven in the morning, Central European Time, the waves reached Earth. Marco Drago, a thirty-two-year-old Italian postdoctoral student and a member of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, was the first person to notice them. He was sitting in front of his computer at the Albert Einstein Institute, in Hannover, Germany, viewing the LIGO data remotely. The waves appeared on his screen as a compressed squiggle, but the most exquisite ears in the universe, attuned to vibrations of less than a trillionth of an inch, would have heard what astronomers call a chirp -- a faint whooping from low to high. This morning, in a press conference in Washington, D.C., the LIGO team announced that the signal constitutes the first direct observation of gravitational waves.

The NY Times headline above is from when the concept of gravitational lensing suggested by Einstein's theory of relatively was confirmed in 1919. I thought it was appropriate in this case. Wish they still ran headlines like that.

How to write telegrams properlyFEB 11

From a small booklet written by Nelson Ross in 1928, a guide on How to Write Telegrams Properly.

Handwriting in Telegrams -- There is a classic joke of the telegraph business which may not be out of place here. A lady, filing a message with the counter clerk for transmission, first enclosed it in an envelope. When the clerk tore open the envelope to prepare the telegram for sending, she reached for it indignantly with the exclamation: "The idea! That is my personal telegram and I don't want anyone else to see it."

It must be remembered that a telegram is transmitted letter by letter. Telegraph operators, like post office employees, are expert in reading handwriting, but even so, words cannot be guessed at. If you write the word "opportunity" very clearly as far as "oppo" and the rest of the word is a mere scribble, it cannot be transmitted in that fashion. It must be "opportunity" or nothing. If you sign your name "John" followed by a series of hen tracks, neither can that be transmitted. You may have intended the word for "Johnson," but you cannot reasonably expect the telegraph employee to be a mind reader as well as an operator.

How did telegrams hit moving targets? Like so:

Messages for Persons on Trains -- A message addressed to a passenger on a train should show the name of the railroad, train number or name or time due, place where the message is to be delivered, and also the point for which the passenger is bound. If the train is run in 13 sections, the section should be specified if known. A sample address is: "John Smith, en route Los Angeles, Care Conductor, Southern Pacific, Train 103, El Paso, Texas." Even though when the train stop at El Paso and John Smith is paged, he may be pacing the Platform for fresh air and exercise, the conductor will strive hard to effect delivery. If you expect to have occasion to telegraph a friend setting out on a journey, it is a good idea to get from him his Pullman berth and car number, so that you will be able to indicate this on your telegram. Telegraph clerks generally will be found to be courteous in aiding you to determine the progress of the train and station where it most likely can be intercepted.

And sending money was possible as well, using the HTTPS of its time:

The procedure is simple. A person wishing to send a sum of money by wire merely calls at the telegraph office, fills out an application blank, and pays the clerk the amount to be sent and the fee for its transmittal. The telegraph companies have a secret code which they use in directing their agent in the distant city to make payment to the person designated. The payee is notified to call at the office for a sum of money, or a check is sent to the payee, as may be directed. It is optional with the sender of the money order, whether the payee shall be required to identify himself absolutely or whether identification shall be waived. The Western Union Telegraph Company alone handles more than $250,000,000 annually in telegraphic money orders.

I wonder what sort of shenanigans telegraph hackers got up to trying to intercept those "secret codes" and make fake payouts. See also The Victorian Internet.

The symbolic PresidentFEB 10

Laura June likes Bernie Sanders in many ways but is going to vote for Hillary Clinton because Clinton is a woman.

As with many issues that stem from the fact of my motherhood -- breast-feeding, co-sleeping -- I speak only for myself, and cannot generalize my experience from "I am" to "you should." I only know in my heart that I simply don't want my daughter to grow up in a world where a woman has never been president. And if not now, when?

I'm a woman, and a mother, and I'm voting for Hillary Clinton for my daughter, and for her future.

If I had a vote to cast in the upcoming NY Democratic primary, I would also vote for Hillary Clinton and also because she is a woman. I believe the most important and longest-lasting effect of Barack Obama's election in 2008 is that tens of millions of kids (of all racial backgrounds) got to experience an African American being President. Those kids are going to grow up knowing, and not just theoretically, that a non-white person can be elected (and even re-elected) President of the United States. Clinton's election would send a similar message to those same kids (both girls and boys): a woman can be elected President. I think it would have a huge future effect, more than any of the policy differences between her and Sanders, especially back-to-back with an Obama presidency.

The real story of The RevenantFEB 10

Revenant Mountains

From Richard Grant, the real life story of Hugh Glass, who is played by Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant. As Grant allows, the story of Glass's life is "a blend of history and mythology" and is only a little less plausible than the events of the movie (and the novel on which the movie is based).

The expedition leader, a terminally luckless man named Andrew Henry, assigned two hunters to travel ahead of the main group. Most historians think that Hugh Glass was not one of them, because these northern plains and mountains were a new environment to him, and other men had more experience hunting here. But Glass was a loner by nature and stubborn as they come, and it seems clear that he was off breaking orders, hunting by himself when he surprised a huge female grizzly bear with cubs.

She might have weighed 500 pounds, even 800 is not inconceivable. He shot her as she charged, but as he surely knew, even a .53 calibre rifle ball was unlikely to stop an enraged grizzly. She ripped his scalp to ribbons with her three-inch claws and shredded his throat. Accounts of the mauling vary slightly, but all agree that Glass was "tore nearly all to peases", as one mountain man later recorded. There were deep lacerations on his back, his face, one leg, his chest and one shoulder and arm. In Michael Punke's book, based on Glass's life, she picks him up in her teeth and shakes him. Most versions of the story have the dead bear, having finally succumbed to the rifle wound, lying on top of the half-dead Glass.

I saw The Revenant two weeks ago and thought it was good but not great. Underwhelmed, I guess I'd say. As usual, Leo was too distracting as himself to fully blend into the rest of the movie...Leo's DiCaprio-ness always breaks the fourth wall for me.

Harry Potter and Cursed ChildFEB 10

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

On Twitter this morning, Little Brown UK announced that they will be publishing an 8th Harry Potter book called Harry Potter and Cursed Child. The book is the rehearsal script of the play of the same name co-written by Rowling. Which is a bit disappointing, to be honest...play scripts are not fully-formed books. Anyway, from the play's website, here's the vague plot:

It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn't much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband and father of three school-age children.

While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places.

Even though employees are probably still in their jammies at home, you can already pre-order the book on Amazon. (via mic)

This Russian truck is amazingFEB 09

This Russian truck is mostly tires, which gives it a short turning radius, cuteness,1 and the ability to swim. Yep, you can drive it right into a lake. Jalopnik has more details, including the truck's surprisingly pint-sized engine:

It weighs just 2,866 pounds dry, so while it might only have a 44.3 horsepower 1.5 liter Kubota V1505 four-cylinder diesel linked to a five-speed manual, it will still do 28 mph on land, or 3.7 mph in water, depending on the wind. It will also crawl at up to 9.3 mph in first gear.

(via digg)

  1. The oversized tires on the normal-sized frame have a similar effect as large eyes on a cartoon character do.

The geniuses of the adaptable characterFEB 09

I really enjoyed this piece by Catherine Nichols about a literary technique invented by 19th century female novelists that she calls adaptation.

Adaptation is a kaleidoscopic way of understanding human nature, and a novelistic technique for showing that character isn't fixed. In real life, people change constantly, depending on who's in the room, or what they've each understood of the others' nature and mood.

Here's an example from Pride and Prejudice:

The first time Mr. Darcy tries to express his interest in Elizabeth, he asks her to dance, and she refuses. Later, he sees her reading, and he comments to other people in the room that reading is important and his library is huge. Really great library at Darcy's house. Elizabeth, however, doesn't take the hint. Any shy person might recognize the arrows in his flirting quiver-standing around near her and saying to his friends that he likes the things that he thinks she likes. It's as effective for him as it usually is for the rest of us; she doesn't know, or doesn't want to, that flirting is taking place.

Then, the next time Mr. Darcy is alone with Elizabeth and his friends, he adapts. He makes an unflattering observation about Mr. Bingley's personality, offered to Elizabeth as a gift. He's changing his approach based on a comment she made in the previous scene. He can only change within the range of his own character, which is shy (he'd never say this in another context), clever (no one fully gets the insult except for Elizabeth), and sort of mean. It's an incredibly efficient scene, and it's how Darcy, a man with few lines and no third person narration spilling his secrets, can be as well-developed a character as Elizabeth herself.

For my money, P&P is one of best novels of all time. The adaptation technique goes a long way toward explaining why it's such an effective lens into human nature.

Snapchat like the teensFEB 09

Snapchat Teens

Buzzfeed's Ben Rosen recently got a lesson from his 13-year-old sister Brooke about how she and her friends use Snapchat. Some highlights:

I would watch in awe as she flipped through her snaps, opening and responding to each one in less than a second with a quick selfie face. She answered all 40 of her friends' snaps in under a minute.

I assume this is a slight exaggeration, but even 40 replies in 2 minutes is an insane pace.

BROOKE: My new account? About a month and a half.
ME: New account?
BROOKE: Yeah, I didn't like my old name, so I made a new account.

Fluid identity, check. I have had the same email address and username on any and all new services since the 90s.

BROOKE: No conversations...it's mostly selfies. Depending on the person, the selfie changes. Like, if it's your best friend, you make a gross face, but if it's someone you like or don't know very well, it's more regular.
ME: I've seen how fast you do these responses... How are you able to take in all that information so quickly?
BROOKE: I don't really see what they send. I tap through so fast. It's rapid fire.

Response as message. Virtual eye contact. Like liking or faving. This reminds me of Matt Webb's Glancing project. I'm ok, you're ok. Virtual primate social grooming.

BROOKE: Yeah. This one girl I know uses 60 gigabytes [of cellular data] every month.

I use 60 Gb of data per year. If that. Do teens not know about wifi?

ME: How often are you on Snapchat?
BROOKE: On a day without school? There's not a time when I'm not on it. I do it while I watch Netflix, I do it at dinner, and I do it when people around me are being awkward. That app is my life.

ME: What the hell is a NARP?
BROOKE: Nonathletic Regular Person. NARP.

I am looking forward to working for Brooke when she's 24. She's clearly going to be in charge.

BROOKE: If you want to take a screenshot without your friend knowing, turn on airplane mode, take the screenshot, log out of the app immediately, turn off airplane mode, and then load the app back up.

Up up down down left right left right B A.

Update: I've seen a few people saying that how Brooke and her friends use Snapchat is how adults should be or will be using social media in the future. I don't think that's right. How teens use Snapchat is how many teens use anything they are intensely interested in and/or keep them in contact with their friends. Adults probably cannot and will not use Snapchat like this. They have different priorities.1 Go read the Buzzfeed piece again...it's all about social status, something 13-year-olds care about very much, perhaps more than anything. "That app is my life" is not an exaggeration or an over-dramatization.

Back in the day -- and I'm talking about around the invention of farming and even further back -- everyone you knew in the entire world was never more than a few hundred feet from you for more than a few days. Wheels, domesticated crops & animals, industrialization, cars, and airplanes made it so that people could live farther and farther apart from each other, which is weird for social animals like humans and particularly difficult for teenagers for whom that social connection is the most important thing in their lives.

Smartphones, Instagram, Snapchat, and generous data plans have closed that distance again in many ways...or more precisely, have made the distance less relevant. Interacting with 190 friends1 dozens or even hundreds of times a day probably feels a lot like being back in a hunter/gatherer band, socially speaking. Thanks to these magic pocket-sized rectangles, everyone you know in the world is never more than a few seconds away for more than a few hours.

  1. Think about how teens used malls in the 80s and 90s as a social device. Adults didn't use malls like that...it didn't make sense in their lives. Malls were for shopping, eating, and maybe seeing a movie. Functional stuff. The intense social stuff happened mainly elsewhere: at work, at home, or at bars/clubs/restaurants/church/etc.

  2. Note how close Brooke's number of friends (180 or 190) is to Dunbar's number, a proposed cognitive limit for stable social group sizes, and to the estimates of how big various hunter-gatherer societies were. That's interesting, right?

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