The definitive oral history of Die HardJUN 30

Die Hard

Now available as a Kindle single (71 pages): Die Hard: An Oral History.

In this definitive oral history of "Die Hard," writers, actors, producers, and studio executives reveal behind-the-scenes stories, from the curious origins of the film's title, to the script's evolution from a depressing '70s character study to an optimistic Reagan-era blockbuster, to the seminal negotiations between 20th Century Fox and Willis's then-agent which sent his client's career into the stratosphere, to details of moguls Lawrence Gordon and Joel Silver's famously tumultuous relationship while developing some of the '80s most successful franchises.

The Daily Beast has an excerpt on the casting of John McClane.

They went to Arnold [Schwarzenegger]. They went to Sly, who turned it down. They went to Richard Gere-turned it down. They went to James Caan-turned it down. They went to Burt Reynolds, and all of these people rejected it because, remember, this is 1987. You had all these Rambo movies. We've had Commando, Predator, and in the wake of all of these, the hero, they said, was like a pussy. The reaction? "This guy's no hero." Right? In desperation, they went to Bruce Willis.

  quick links, updated constantly

12 Disney Princesses Reimagined as Cats Reimagined as Sharks That Are Not Disney Princesses

What sorcery is this? You can clarify used deep frying oil with gelatin.

A list of 50 of America's best diners, 1 per state

Google Maps just refreshed its satellite view; it's now higher res and more cloudless

Hackers can steal data from a computer not connected to the internet by modulating the machine's cooling fan speed

Illustrated Cross-Sections of Major Train Stations in Tokyo by Tomoyuki Tanaka

"Mass incarceration [in the US] is a moral and policy failure"

Tony Hawk can still do a 900 at age 48

On the 10 anniversary of the film, a short oral history of The Devil Wears Prada

THIS IS IMPORTANT: how to register and vote early before the US Presidential election

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

2016 Presidential election oddsJUN 30

According to the first national election forecast by FiveThirtyEight, Hillary Clinton has an 80.3% chance of winning the Presidency.

538 Trump Hillary

A 20% Trump chance is waaaaay too close for my comfort...that's better odds than ending up dead playing one round of Russian roulette. We gotta Mondale that Cheeto-faced shitgibbon.

Zootopia was going to be a much darker movieJUN 29

This storyboarded scene from Zootopia shows an early and much darker direction for the plot: the predators need to wear collars that shock them if they get too excited. This reminds me that Woody was a "sarcastic jerk" in the early drafts of Toy Story. Oh, and Lightning McQueen was an asshole in Cars whose redemption the audience didn't completely buy, which Pixar didn't end up fixing.

The green screen driving machineJUN 29

Creative agency The Mill has built a car called the Blackbird that, after visual effects are applied in post-production, can impersonate any sort of car in a commercial, TV show, or movie.

The Mill BLACKBIRD® is able to quickly transform its chassis to match the exact length and width of almost any car. Powered by an electric motor, it can be programmed to imitate acceleration curves and gearing shifts and the adjustable suspension alters ride height, rigidity and dampening to replicate typical driving characteristics.

The world's first chatbot lawyerJUN 29

AI chatbot lawyer sounds like a SNL skit, but the DoNotPay chatbot has successfully contested 160,000 parking tickets in London and New York.

Dubbed as "the world's first robot lawyer" by its 19-year-old creator, London-born second-year Stanford University student Joshua Browder, DoNotPay helps users contest parking tickets in an easy to use chat-like interface.

The program first works out whether an appeal is possible through a series of simple questions, such as were there clearly visible parking signs, and then guides users through the appeals process.

The results speak for themselves. In the 21 months since the free service was launched in London and now New York, Browder says DoNotPay has taken on 250,000 cases and won 160,000, giving it a success rate of 64% appealing over $4m of parking tickets.

Having spent a shitload of money on lawyering over the past few years, there is definitely an opportunity for some automation there.

Body of TheseusJUN 29

How old are different parts of our bodies? Does anything stick around the entire time? The hair on our bodies lasts only a few years. Fingernails are fully replaced every six months. Your skin lasts 2-4 weeks. Even your blood and bones regenerate every so often. There's at least one part of your body with lasts the whole time you're alive, which I found somewhat surprising. See the ship of Theseus paradox.

The ship wherein Theseus and the youth of Athens returned from Crete had thirty oars, and was preserved by the Athenians down even to the time of Demetrius Phalereus, for they took away the old planks as they decayed, putting in new and stronger timber in their places, in so much that this ship became a standing example among the philosophers, for the logical question of things that grow; one side holding that the ship remained the same, and the other contending that it was not the same.

How do we know the lifespans of different cells in the body? Carbon-14 levels from nuclear testing done in the 50s and 60s.

Analysis of growth rings from pine trees in Sweden shows that the proliferation of atomic tests in the 1950s and 1960s led to an explosion in levels of atmospheric carbon 14. Now, Jonas Frisen and colleagues at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm have taken advantage of this spike in C14 to devise a method to date the birth of human cells. Because this test can be used retrospectively, unlike many of the current methods used to detect cell proliferation, and because it does not require the ingestion of a radioactive or chemical tracer, the method can be readily applied to both in vivo and postmortem samples of human tissues.

NASA's Juno mission to JupiterJUN 28

Launched from Earth in August 2011, the Juno probe is due to arrive at Jupiter on July 4, 2016. Once there, it will circle Jupiter 37 times, observing its atmosphere and magnetic fields, before plunging into the giant planet so as not to contaminate Europa with microbes.

Juno's principal goal is to understand the origin and evolution of Jupiter. Underneath its dense cloud cover, Jupiter safeguards secrets to the fundamental processes and conditions that governed our solar system during its formation. As our primary example of a giant planet, Jupiter can also provide critical knowledge for understanding the planetary systems being discovered around other stars.

With its suite of science instruments, Juno will investigate the existence of a solid planetary core, map Jupiter's intense magnetic field, measure the amount of water and ammonia in the deep atmosphere, and observe the planet's auroras.

Juno will let us take a giant step forward in our understanding of how giant planets form and the role these titans played in putting together the rest of the solar system.

Science is great. That video? Maybe not so much.

The surprising history of the infographicJUN 28

1860 Slavery Map

From Clive Thompson, a history of the infographic, which was developed in part to help solve problems with an abundance of data available in the 19th century.

The idea of visualizing data is old: After all, that's what a map is -- a representation of geographic information -- and we've had maps for about 8,000 years. But it was rare to graph anything other than geography. Only a few examples exist: Around the 11th century, a now-anonymous scribe created a chart of how the planets moved through the sky. By the 18th century, scientists were warming to the idea of arranging knowledge visually. The British polymath Joseph Priestley produced a "Chart of Biography," plotting the lives of about 2,000 historical figures on a timeline. A picture, he argued, conveyed the information "with more exactness, and in much less time, than it [would take] by reading."

Still, data visualization was rare because data was rare. That began to change rapidly in the early 19th century, because countries began to collect-and publish-reams of information about their weather, economic activity and population. "For the first time, you could deal with important social issues with hard facts, if you could find a way to analyze it," says Michael Friendly, a professor of psychology at York University who studies the history of data visualization. "The age of data really began."

Visualization of the history of cities from 3700 BC to nowJUN 28

Using the results of a recent report by a team of Yale researchers, this visualization shows the growth of urbanization across the globe from 3700 BC to the present day. There is an amazing flurry of activity in the last few seconds of the video because:

By 2030, 75 percent of the world's population is expected to be living in cities. Today, about 54 percent of us do. In 1960, only 34 percent of the world lived in cities.

There are now 21 Chinese cities alone with a population of over 4 million.

The evolution of Pixar's animation from 1984 to nowJUN 28

Watch how far Pixar's skill in animation has come over the past 30+ years, from their initial shorts to the nearly photorealistic animation in last year's The Good Dinosaur to Finding Dory.

It's incredible how dated the original Toy Story looks now. It's going to look positively prehistoric in 20 years and it'll be impossible for anyone who didn't see it at the time to understand how astounding and groundbreaking it was.

Auctioneer beatsJUN 27

From the Auctioneer Beats account on Vine, auctioneer calls set to the freshest beats.

Simple and delightful. Some of these auctioneers could give Daveed Diggs a run for his money. (via @fimoculous)

Stuck in the middle with you(rself)JUN 27

In the Guardian, Oliver Burkeman writes about what's going on when we become a little stubborn about not wanting to enjoy Hamilton, Ferrante, Better Call Saul, or [insert your friends' current cultural obsession here].

Somewhere around the 500th headline I read in praise of Hamilton, the universally acclaimed Broadway musical due in Europe next year, I was struck by a deflating thought: I'll probably never see it. Not just because it's virtually impossible to get a ticket, but because so many people -- people whose tastes I trust -- have raved about it that I now regard the prospect with annoyance. Two years ago, it was the Richard Linklater movie Boyhood, which I still haven't seen; then Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan novels, which I still haven't read. Straw polls of friends suggest I'm not alone in this reaction -- call it "cultural cantankerousness" -- which seems to affect books, films, plays, holiday destinations and restaurants equally. Increasingly, my first thought on seeing something described as a "must-read" is'"Oh really? Try and make me."

This reaction could be a FOMO defense, but the optimal distinctiveness theory explanation is more interesting.

One explanation is what psychologists call "optimal distinctiveness theory" -- the way we're constantly jockeying to feel exactly the right degree of similarity to and difference from those around us. Nobody wants to be exiled from the in-group to the fringes of society; but nobody wants to be swallowed up by it, either.

FWIW, I have not see Boyhood or Better Call Saul yet, but I've read Ferrante and seen Hamilton are both are as good as advertised. (Oh, and Burkeman's own book, The Antidote, is great as well.)

The plates are alive with the sound of foodJUN 27

For an episode of food podcast Gastropod, hosts Cynthia Graber and Nicola Twilley consider how sound influences our perception of food and drink.

In this episode, we discover how manipulating sound can transform our experience of food and drink, making stale potato chips taste fresh, adding the sensation of cream to black coffee, or boosting the savory, peaty notes in whiskey.

One takeaway: don't listen to the sound of breaking glass if you want to continue eating potato chips:

He recruited 200 volunteers willing to eat Pringles for science, and played them modified crunching sounds through headphones, some louder and some more muffled, as they ate. And he found that he could make a 15 percent difference in people's perception of a stale chip's freshness by playing them a louder crunch when they bit into it.

"The party version" of this trick, according to Spence, was developed by colleagues in the Netherlands and Japan. Volunteers were asked to crunch on chips in time with a metronome, while researchers played crunching sounds back, in perfect synchrony, through their headphones. All was well until the researchers replaced the crunching with the sound of breaking glass-and "people's jaws just freeze up."

The human brain is fascinating.

A look inside America's assembly line prison systemJUN 27

Reporter Shane Bauer went undercover as a guard in a Louisiana private prison for four months. Mother Jones devoted their entire recent issue to the story.

In class that day, we learn about the use of force. A middle-aged black instructor I'll call Mr. Tucker comes into the classroom, his black fatigues tucked into shiny black boots. He's the head of Winn's Special Operations Response Team, or SORT, the prison's SWAT-like tactical unit. "If an inmate was to spit in your face, what would you do?" he asks. Some cadets say they would write him up. One woman, who has worked here for 13 years and is doing her annual retraining, says, "I would want to hit him. Depending on where the camera is, he might would get hit."

Mr. Tucker pauses to see if anyone else has a response. "If your personality if somebody spit on you is to knock the fuck out of him, you gonna knock the fuck out of him," he says, pacing slowly. "If a inmate hit me, I'm go' hit his ass right back. I don't care if the camera's rolling. If a inmate spit on me, he's gonna have a very bad day." Mr. Tucker says we should call for backup in any confrontation. "If a midget spit on you, guess what? You still supposed to call for backup. You don't supposed to ever get into a one-on-one encounter with anybody. Period. Whether you can take him or not. Hell, if you got a problem with a midget, call me. I'll help you. Me and you can whup the hell out of him."

He asks us what we should do if we see two inmates stabbing each other.

"I'd probably call somebody," a cadet offers.

"I'd sit there and holler 'stop,'" says a veteran guard.

Mr. Tucker points at her. "Damn right. That's it. If they don't pay attention to you, hey, there ain't nothing else you can do."

He cups his hands around his mouth. "Stop fighting," he says to some invisible prisoners. "I said, 'Stop fighting.'" His voice is nonchalant. "Y'all ain't go' to stop, huh?" He makes like he's backing out of a door and slams it shut. "Leave your ass in there!"

"Somebody's go' win. Somebody's go' lose. They both might lose, but hey, did you do your job? Hell yeah!" The classroom erupts in laughter.

Fusion has a summary of Bauer's reporting, which you really should actually read in its entirety. America's prison system is shameful; its reform is one of the biggest issues facing our nation in the future.

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