Tim Wu writes for the New Yorker about how Netflix uses a ~70/30 combination of data and human judgment to determine their recommendations and what shows/movies to make.
Over the years, however, I’ve started to wonder whether Netflix’s big decisions are truly as data driven as they are purported to be. The company does have more audience data than nearly anyone else (with the possible exception of YouTube), so it has a reason to emphasize its comparative advantage. But, when I was reporting a story, a couple of years ago, about Netflix’s embrace of fandom over mass culture, I began to sense that their biggest bets always seemed ultimately driven by faith in a particular cult creator, like David Fincher (“House of Cards”), Jenji Leslie Kohan (“Orange is the New Black”), Ricky Gervais (“Derek”), John Fusco (“Marco Polo”), or Mitchell Hurwitz (“Arrested Development”). And, while Netflix does not release its viewership numbers, some of the company’s programming, like “Marco Polo,” hasn’t seemed to generate the same audience excitement as, say, “House of Cards.” In short, I do think that there is a sophisticated algorithm at work here — but I think his name is Ted Sarandos.
I presented Sarandos with this theory at a Sundance panel called “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Trust the Algorithm,” moderated by Jason Hirschhorn, formerly of MySpace. Sarandos, very agreeably, wobbled a bit. “It is important to know which data to ignore,” he conceded, before saying, at the end, “In practice, its probably a seventy-thirty mix.” But which is the seventy and which is the thirty? “Seventy is the data, and thirty is judgment,” he told me later. Then he paused, and said, “But the thirty needs to be on top, if that makes sense.”
This reminds me of the situation in chess, where cyborg human/computer teams can beat computer- or human-only players in chess, although perhaps for not much longer.
Some of you will know that Average is Over contains an extensive discussion of “freestyle chess,” where humans can use any and all tools available — most of all computers and computer programs — to play the best chess game possible. The book also notes that “man plus computer” is a stronger player than “computer alone,” at least provided the human knows what he is doing. You will find a similar claim from Brynjolfsson and McAfee.
Computer chess expert Kenneth W. Regan has compiled extensive data on this question, and you will see that a striking percentage of the best or most accurate chess games of all time have been played by man-machine pairs. Ken’s explanations are a bit dense for those who don’t already know chess, computer chess, Freestyle and its lingo, but yes that is what he finds, click on the links in his link for confirmation. In this list for instance the Freestyle teams do very very well.
I wonder what the human/cyborg split is at Buzzfeed or Facebook? Or at food companies like McDonald’s or Kraft? Or at Goldman Sachs?
From the newly launched site for the National Audubon Society, some gorgeous photos of owls from Brad Wilson.
It’s not easy to get owls to mug for the camera. Even in captivity the birds remain aloof, unruffled by the flash and unmoved by attempts to bribe them. Photographer Brad Wilson learned that lesson firsthand after trying to win over owls from the World Bird Sanctuary in St. Louis and The Wildlife Center near Espanola, New Mexico. He spent hours with each bird, trying to capture its direct gaze. “It’s hard to get animals to look at you like humans do,” he says. “That shot became my holy grail.”
I’ve featured Wilson’s animal photography on the site before. Tons more on his site.
The producers of A Most Violent Year, one of the year’s most acclaimed movies, are doing something interesting to promote their film. They’re running a blog that posts all sorts of media and information about NYC in 1981, the year the film is set. Today, they released a short documentary that features interviews with some people who were scraping together lives in NYC circa 1981. It’s worth watching:
Featuring Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa, performance artist and former Warhol Factory fixture Penny Arcade, actress Johnnie Mae, Harlem street-style legend Dapper Dan, auto body shop owner Nick Rosello, and trucking union rep Wayne Walsh.
The trailer for A Most Violent Year is here…I’ve heard good things about this one and hope to catch it soon.
From Marginal Revolution University, three short videos on the economic concepts of supply, demand, and equilibrium using oil as an example good.
This is an ultra-HD time lapse of planet Earth in infrared. Infrared light is absorbed by clouds and water vapor, so the result is a sphere of roiling storms and trade winds.
Here’s a video with both hemispheres at once and another offering a closer view. If you’ve got a 4K display, this will look pretty incredible on it. James Tyrwhitt-Drake has done a bunch of other HD videos of the Earth and Sun, including Planet Earth in 4K and the Sun in 4K.
Administrators at Palm Desert High School in California have banned 66 students who never got measles vaccinations.
“I think some parents see it as a personal choice, like homeschooling. But when you choose not to vaccinate, you’re putting other children at risk.” From WaPo: Why this baby’s mom is so angry at the anti-vaxxers.
“I respect people’s choices about what to do with their kids, but if someone’s kid gets sick and gets my kid sick, too, that’s a problem.” A Marin County father has demanded that his district keep unvaccinated kids out of school.
Vox: How an Amish missionary caused 2014’s massive measles outbreak.
Bonus tweet: “If my kid can’t bring peanut butter to school, yours shouldn’t be able to bring preventable diseases.”
In the tradition of the 80-minute video of the South China Sea shot from the bow of a container ship, here’s six high-definition hours of 8000 fish and other aquatic animals swimming in the massive Ocean Voyager tank at the Georgia Aquarium.
Are you relaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaxed? (via @riondotnu)
A flock of starlings is called a murmuration, an apt word because the flocks move like a rumor pulsing through a crowded room. This is a particularly beautiful murmuration observed in Utrecht, The Netherlands.
Clive Thompson writes about the newest innovation in junk mail marketing: handwriting robots. That’s right, robots can write letters in longhand with real ballpoint pens and you can’t really tell unless you know what to look for. Here’s a demonstration:
But it turns out that marketers are working diligently to develop forms of mass-generated mail that appear to have been patiently and lovingly hand-written by actual humans. They’re using handwriting robots that wield real pens on paper. These machines cost up to five figures, but produce letters that seem far more “human”. (You can see one of the robots in action in the video adjacent.) This type of robot is likely what penned the address on the junk-mail envelope that fooled me. I saw ink on paper, subconsciously intuited that it had come from a human (because hey, no laser-printing!) and opened it.
Handwriting, it seems, is the next Turing Test.
There is also a company that provided handwritten letters for sale professionals and I don’t know if that or the robot letters are more unusual.
I’ve caught a couple of episodes of CNN’s Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown and I’ve been impressed with the show so far. In it, chef/author Anthony Bourdain travels to places off the beaten path and explores the local culture. But it’s not just about food and culture as with his previous shows. In Parts Unknown, Bourdain also delves into local politics and social issues. In Iran, he spoke with journalists about their tenuous relationship with the government (and two of the journalists he spoke with were subsequently arrested). Episodes in the Congo, Myanmar, and Libya are produced with a focus on their oppressive governments, past and present. Even in the Massachusetts episode, he talks about his former heroin addiction and the current addiction of poor whites in the US. Many of the places he visits, we only hear about the leadership and bad things that happen on the news, but Bourdain meets with the locals and finds more similarities amongst cultures than differences. I’d never considered going to visit someplace like Iran, but Parts Unknown has me considering it…what a great people.
Season four recently wrapped up and they’re shooting season five now. The first three seasons are currently available on Netflix and all four seasons are on Amazon. (FYI to the web team at CNN: “Unknown” is misspelled in the <title> of that page.)
Unreal Engine 4 is the latest edition of Epic Games’ acclaimed gaming engine for creating realistic gaming worlds. UE4 and its predecessors power all sorts of games, from Gears of War to BioShock Infinite to iOS games. But level designer Dereau Benoit recently used UE4 to model a contemporary Parisian apartment and damn if it doesn’t look 100% real. Take a look at this walkthrough:
This + Oculus Rift = pretty much the future. (via hn)
In their latest full episode, Radiolab examines the concept of worth, particularly when dealing with things that are more or less priceless (like human life and nature).
This episode, we make three earnest, possibly foolhardy, attempts to put a price on the priceless. We figure out the dollar value for an accidental death, another day of life, and the work of bats and bees as we try to keep our careful calculations from falling apart in the face of the realities of life, and love, and loss.
I have always really liked Radiolab, but it seems like the show has shifted into a different gear with this episode. The subject seemed a bit meatier than their usual stuff, the reporting was close to the story, and the presentation was more straightforward, with fewer of the audio experiments that some found grating. I spent some time driving last weekend and I listened to this episode of Radiolab, an episode of 99% Invisible, and an episode of This American Life, and it occurred to me that as 99% Invisible has been pushing quite effectively into Radiolab’s territory, Radiolab is having to up their game in response, more toward the This American Life end of the spectrum. Well, whatever it is, it’s great seeing these three radio shows (and dozens of others) push each other to excellence.
Being an avid eater and cooker of steak,1 a passage at the end of Tom Junod’s profile of Wylie Dufresne / obit of WD-50 caught my eye:
“That’s why I’m really proud of what we did here,” he said over his cup of sake. “I’m proud of the big things, but I’m also proud of the little things we routinely did well. Do you know what made me most proud in the meal I served you? The Wagyu beef. It was perfectly cooked.”
“The advantage of sous vide,” someone said.
“But it wasn’t sous vide!” Dufresne said. “That’s the thing. It was cooked in a pan. And it had no gray on it! Do you know how hard that is? Do you know how much work that takes? Turning the beef every seven or eight seconds … And so that question you asked me before, about food and music — that’s my answer: a perfect piece of Wagyu beef cooked in a pan that comes out without any gray on it. It might not be ‘When the Levee Breaks,’ but it’s definitely ‘Achilles Last Stand.’”
I couldn’t recall hearing about this fast flipping technique from the many pieces Kenji Lopez-Alt has published about how to and how not to cook steak, so I pinged him on Twitter. He responded with Flip Your Steaks Multiple Times For Better Results.
Let’s start with the premise. Anybody who’s ever grilled in their backyard with an overbearing uncle can tell you that if there’s one rule about steaks that gets bandied about more than others, it’s to not play with your meat once it’s placed on the grill. That is, once steak hits heat, you should at most flip it just once, perhaps rotating it 90 degrees on each side in order to get yourself some nice cross-hatched grill marks.
The idea sort of makes sense at first glance: flipping it only once will give your steak plenty of chance to brown and char properly on each side. But the reality is that flipping a steak repeatedly during cooking — as often as every 30 seconds or so — will produce a crust that is just as good (provided you start with meat with a good, dry surface, as you always should), give you a more evenly cooked interior, and cook in about 30% less time to boot!
It works for burgers too. Thanks, Kenji!
A bit late for today, but for future snow day reference, here’s a crowdsourced map of good places to go sledding in NYC.
Related to my post last November about how the biodiversity of Yosemite Valley was mismanaged, author Michael Crichton shared a story at a 2005 talk about how the National Park Service has grossly mismanaged nature at Yellowstone National Park, resulting in less biodiversity, the disappearance of many natural species from the park, and catastrophic fires. Since this anecdote was part of a longer talk, I’ll quote the whole thing from the transcript.
Long recognized as a scene of great natural beauty, in 1872, Ulysses Grant set aside Yellowstone as the first formal nature preserve in the world. More than two million acres, larger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined. John Muir was very pleased when he visited in 1885, noting that under the care of the Department of the Interior, Yellowstone was protected from, quote, “the blind, ruthless destruction that is going on in adjoining regions.”
Theodore Roosevelt was also pleased in 1903, when as President, he went to Yellowstone for a dedication ceremony. Here he is. This was his third visit. Roosevelt saw a thousand antelope, plentiful cougar, mountain sheep, deer, coyote and many thousands of elk. He wrote at that time, “Our people should see to it that this rich heritage is preserved for their children and their children’s children forever, with its majestic beauty all unmarred.”
But in fact, Yellowstone was not preserved. On the contrary, it was altered beyond repair in a matter of years. By 1934, the Park Service acknowledged that whitetail deer, cougar, lynx, wolf, and possibly wolverine and fisher are gone from the Yellowstone.
What they didn’t say was that the Park Service was solely responsible for the disappearances. Park rangers had been shooting the animals for decades, even though that was illegal since the Lacey Act of 1894. But they thought they knew best. They thought their environmental concerns trumped any mere law.
What actually happened at Yellowstone is a cascade of ego and error, but to understand it, we have to go back to the 1890s. Back then, it was believed that elk were becoming extinct, so these animals were fed and encouraged. Over the next few years, the number of elk in the park exploded. Here you can see them feeding them hand to hand.
Roosevelt had seen a few thousand animals on his visit, and he’d noticed that the elk were more numerous than in his previous visit. Nine years later, in 1912, there were 30,000 elk in Yellowstone. By 1914, there were 35,000.
Things were going very well. Rainbow trout had also been introduced, and although they crowded out the native cutthroats, nobody really worried. Fishing was great. Bears were increasing in numbers, and moose and bison as well.
By 1915, Roosevelt realized the elk had become a problem, and he urged scientific management, which meant culling. His advice was ignored. Instead, the Park Service did everything they could to increase the number of elk. The results were predictable. Antelope and deer began to decline. Overgrazing changed the flora. Aspen and willows were being eaten at a furious rate and did not regenerate. Large animals and small began to disappear from the park.
In an effort to stem the loss, the park rangers began to kill predators, which they did without public knowledge. They eliminated the wolf and the cougar, and they were well on their way to getting rid of the coyote. Then a national scandal broke out. New studies showed that it wasn’t predators that were killing the other animals. It was overgrazing from too many elk. The management policy of killing predators therefore had only made things worse.
Actually, the elk had so decimated the aspen that now, where formerly they were plentiful, now they’re quite rare. Without the aspen, the beaver, which use these trees to make dams, began to disappear from the park. Beaver were essential to the water management of Yellowstone, and without dams, the meadows dried hard in summer and still more animals vanished.
The situation worsened further. It became increasingly inconvenient that all the predators had been killed off by 1930, so in the 1960s, there was a sigh of relief when new sightings by rangers suggested that wolves were returning. Of course, there were rumors all during that time, persistent rumors that the rangers were trucking them in. But in any case, the wolves vanished soon afterward. They needed to eat beaver and other small rodents, and the beaver had gone.
Pretty soon, the Park Service initiated a PR campaign to prove that excessive elk were not responsible for the problems in the park, even though they were. The campaign went on for about a decade, during which time the bighorn sheep virtually disappeared.
Now, we’re in the 1970s, and bears were recognized as a growing problem. They used to be considered fun-loving creatures, and their close association with human beings was encouraged in the park. Here’re people coming to watch bear feedings. There’s a show at a certain hour of the day. And here’s one of my favorites. Setting the table for bears at Lake Camp in Yellowstone Park. You see they’re very well behaved.
But that didn’t actually continue-the good behavior, I mean. There were more bears, and certainly there were many more lawyers, and thus the much-increased threat of litigation, so the rangers moved the grizzlies out. The grizzlies promptly became endangered. Their formerly growing numbers shrank. The Park Service refused to let scientists study them, but once they were declared endangered, the scientists could go back in again.
And by now, we’re about ready to reap the rewards of our 40-year policy of fire suppression, Smokey the Bear and all that. The Indians used to burn forests regularly, and lightning causes natural fires every year. But when these are suppressed, branches fall from the trees to the ground and accumulate over the years to make a dense groundcover such that when there’s a fire, it is a very low, very hot fire that sterilizes the soil. In 1988, Yellowstone burned, and all 1.2 million acres were scorched, and 800,000 acres, one third of the park, burned.
Then having killed the wolves, having tried to sneak them back in, they officially brought the wolves back. And now the local ranchers screamed. The newer reports suggested the wolves seemed to be eating enough of the elk that slowly, the ecology of the park was being restored. Or so it is claimed. It’s been claimed before. And on and on.
The Park Service’s bungling efforts at conservation were covered by Alston Chase in his 1987 book, Playing God in Yellowstone. (via @jhreha)
Update: As Crichton notes above, wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone in 1995 and their presence started what’s called a trophic cascade. From Wikipedia:
Trophic cascades occur when predators in a food web suppress the abundance or alter traits (e.g., behavior) of their prey, thereby releasing the next lower trophic level from predation (or herbivory if the intermediate trophic level is a herbivore). For example, if the abundance of large piscivorous fish is increased in a lake, the abundance of their prey, zooplanktivorous fish, should decrease, large zooplankton abundance should increase, and phytoplankton biomass should decrease. This theory has stimulated new research in many areas of ecology. Trophic cascades may also be important for understanding the effects of removing top predators from food webs, as humans have done in many places through hunting and fishing activities.
In a TED talk, George Monbiot explains the surprising effects the wolves had on Yellowstone…they even changed the courses of the rivers flowing through the park.
Fascinating. A sort of trickle down ecology. (via @gasperak and several others)
This will really appeal to a certain type of nerd: the complete archives of Popular Electronics magazine in PDF format. Popular Electronics was the most popular magazine about electronics for hobbyists and was published from 1954 to 1982. If you’re interested in this, the rest of the American Radio History site is amazing as well.
Using ice-penetrating radar and ice cores, NASA has been able to map the layers in the Greenland ice sheet.
This new map allows scientists to determine the age of large swaths of Greenland’s ice, extending ice core data for a better picture of the ice sheet’s history. “This new, huge data volume records how the ice sheet evolved and how it’s flowing today,” said Joe MacGregor, a glaciologist at The University of Texas at Austin’s Institute for Geophysics and the study’s lead author.
Greenland’s ice sheet is the second largest mass of ice on Earth, containing enough water to raise ocean levels by about 20 feet. The ice sheet has been losing mass over the past two decades and warming temperatures will mean more losses for Greenland. Scientists are studying ice from different climate periods in the past to better understand how the ice sheet might respond in the future.
One way of studying this distant past is with ice cores. These cylinders of ice drilled from the ice sheet hold evidence of past snow accumulation and temperature and contain impurities like dust and volcanic ash that were carried by snow that accumulated and compacted over hundreds of thousands of years. These layers are visible in ice cores and can be detected with ice-penetrating radar.
Ice-penetrating radar works by sending radar signals into the ice and recording the strength and return time of reflected signals. From those signals, scientists can detect the ice surface, sub-ice bedrock and layers within the ice.
New techniques used in this study allowed scientists to efficiently pick out these layers in radar data. Prior studies had mapped internal layers, but not at the scale made possible by these newer, faster methods. Another major factor in this study was the amount of Greenland IceBridge has measured.
It’s amazing that the detectors and data analysis are sensitive enough to pick out different layers in the ice just from radar. (via @ptak)
From the Russian Space Agency, a video of what the sky would look like if the Sun were replaced by some other stars. It starts off with the binary star system of Alpha Centuri, but watch until the end for Polaris, which has a radius 46 times that of the Sun.
See also the view from Earth of different planets replacing the Moon and imagining Earth with Saturn’s rings.
Removal of items from US National Parks is illegal (or at least highly frowned upon). In the case of the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona, the removal of petrified wood has come to be seen by some as unlucky. Bad Luck, Hot Rocks is a book and web site containing “conscience letters” from those who are returning stolen rocks to the park.
In the more than one hundred years since its establishment in 1906, however, some visitors have still been unable to resist the urge to remove wood from the park. Some of these same visitors eventually return their ill gotten souvenirs by mail, accompanied by ‘conscience letters.’ The content of each letter varies, but writers often include stories of misfortune, attributed directly to their stolen petrified wood. Car troubles. Cats with cancer. Deaths of family members. For many, their hope is that by returning these rocks, good fortune will return to their lives. Other common themes include expressions of remorse, requests for forgiveness, and warnings to future visitors.
Amazon has compiled a list of 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime “to create a well-read life”. Lots of the usual suspects here, including Lolita, The Catcher in the Rye, and To Kill a Mockingbird. But there are also some quirkier and more recent picks like A Very Hungry Caterpillar, The Fault in Our Stars, and Unbroken. Went through and counted…I’ve read 29 of these.
If you’d like to relax for 80 minutes, watch this 4K video shot from the bow of a container ship navigating the South China Sea. Strangely compelling.
If you put this on the biggest, highest definition screen you have, it really looks like you’re on the deck of a ship looking out at the ocean. Pretty cool.
All day on Saturday, Amazon will be streaming their acclaimed series Transparent for free (US-only probs) in celebration of the show’s wins at the Golden Globes (best TV series and best actor for Jeffrey Tambor). Here’s the press release.
“We’re incredibly proud of everyone involved in the making of Transparent-the team took a risk and it paid off,” said Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon.com. “Big kudos and congrats to Jill, Jeffrey, and all the cast and crew.”
Written, directed and executive produced by Emmy-nominee and 2013 Sundance Best Director winner Jill Soloway, Transparent is a 10-episode, half-hour novelistic series that explores family, identity, sex, and love.
Amazon is also offering a Saturday-only discount on 1-yr Amazon Prime subscriptions…$72 instead of the usual $99. I loved Transparent…if you’re not doing anything for 5 hours on Saturday, I recommend hopping on this.
Matchbook Diaries is an Instagram account collecting photos of NYC restaurant matchbooks. Some notables:
The food is fresh. Natural. Locally sourced. Sometimes even organic. That might sound like your local farmer’s market, but it’s actually part of a new and growing movement in the fast-food industry. Think Shake Shack, Chipotle, Panera. While we’re not exactly seeing tractors in the drive-thrus, the rise of these chains (and the pressure on their predecessors that placed a lot more emphasis on the fast than the food) tell us a lot about economic inequality, the modern workday, and fries. From The New Yorker’s James Surowiecki: The Shake Shack Economy.
Someone called TolkienEditor has cut the three Peter Jackson The Hobbit movies down into a single 4-hour film and put the result up on BitTorrent. Their goal was to make the film hew more closely to the book, put the focus back on Bilbo as the main character, and to quicken the pace of the narrative.
The investigation of Dol Guldor has been completely excised, including the appearances of Radagast, Saruman and Galadriel. This was the most obvious cut, and the easiest to carry out (a testament to its irrelevance to the main narrative). Like the novel, Gandalf abruptly disappears on the borders of Mirkwood, and then reappears at the siege of the Lonely Mountain with tidings of an orc army.
The Tauriel-Legolas-Kili love triangle has also been removed. Indeed, Tauriel is no longer a character in the film, and Legolas only gets a brief cameo during the Mirkwood arrest. This was the next clear candidate for elimination, given how little plot value and personality these two woodland sprites added to the story. Dwarves are way more fun to hang out with anyway.
I enjoyed PJ’s The Hobbit, particularly the second one, but my main criticism was the lack of focus on Bilbo. I couldn’t rustle up any interest in the dwarves or their quest…they were a bunch of ex-rich dudes trying to get their money back. Bah! Martin Freeman was an amazing Bilbo and we just didn’t get enough of him. (via @tcarmody)
Update: There is also a three-hour cut of the film that keeps even closer to the spirit of the book. (via @cdwarren)
What if the Busy Busy Town Richard Scarry wrote about was Silicon Valley circa 2015? Meet the fine citizens of Business Town. Great stuff, but did someone forget to credit Ruben Bolling’s comic strip Richard Scarry’s 21st Century Busy Town Jobs for the inspiration?
As you know, I love videos of how stuff is made. (See below.) Well, I just discovered this treasure trove of more than 300 14-minute videos from a Japanese show called The Making: playlist #1, playlist #2. Each video shows how a different thing is made, from wires to sugar to trophies to cheese and all of them are dialogue-free. Here’s the one on how golf balls are made:
I can’t wait to show some of these to the kids. Their favorite online video, which they request weekly, is this one on how croissants are made.
When I was a kid, maybe 12 or 13 years old, I watched this program on PBS that showed how a snack food manufacturer came up with a new snack food, from design to manufacturing. The thing that stuck with me the most was that they showed a number of the missteps in-between…like they tried a certain shape with a certain filling and it didn’t work out in taste tests, that sort of thing. I LOVED seeing that trial and error in action. I only saw the show once, but it’s one of my most vivid childhood TV memories. Maybe it’s why I ended up becoming a designer?
Wait, wait! Holy shit, holy shit! I found the show! It was a NOVA program called How to Create a Junk Food that aired in 1988, when I was 14. I couldn’t find the video or even a clip, but here’s a review in the LA Times.
The ultimate weapon is the flavorist, a 20th-Century alchemist who analyzes natural things like Danish blue cheese or barbecued beef, reconstructs them chemically in the lab and produces their essences to punch up the taste of bland fillings.
Marketing and technology co-produce a croissant-dough cone with a moist meat or cheese filling that appears perfect. But when they test it on the mouths of real consumers (English housewives), it’s a bloomin’ flop.
Undaunted, the technologists go back to their gizmos and test tubes. After doing such goofy things as gluing electrodes to a chewer’s cheeks to get “chew profiles” of different fillings, they come up with a second prototype, Crack a Snack. The wheat-cracker wrapped “savory tube” is called a “triumph of food engineering,” which, we’re warned, if it is given the proper image, “there’s little doubt we’ll buy it.”
New Scientist wrote about Crack a Snack around the same time.
So yeah, now you know I’m the sort of kid who gleefully watched food engineering documentaries on PBS at 14. But you probably already suspected as much. (via @go)
The American Museum of Natural History’s research library has an online exhibit of bird illustrations taken from the book Extraordinary Birds. (via @kellianderson)
Alastair Humphreys writes about making his living as an adventurer. But really, this advice works for anyone who wants to turn their hobby into a job. For instance, this list of reasons he’s an adventurer is pretty much why I did the same thing with kottke.org almost 10 years ago.
- I love almost every aspect of what I do.
- I love being self-employed: the freedom and the responsibility and the pressure.
- I think I’m probably now un-employable.
- I love being creative.
- I appreciate that building a profile helps generate exciting opportunities. (And I have come to accept — though not enjoy — the weird world of relentless self-promotion that being a career adventurer requires. I remain uncomfortable with people praising me more than I deserve, and I continue to get very angry and upset with the inevitable haters that your self-promotion will attract.)
Notice I don’t mention “going on adventures”, because there are loads of ways to do that in life. Don’t become a career adventurer solely because you want to go off on fun trips. There’s easier ways to do that.
That third point is a real double-edged sword. I can’t imagine what other job I would be even remotely qualified for other than this one. Feels like walking a tightrope without a safety net sometimes. (via @polarben)
Stephen Biesty is a illustrator for books who draws “illustrations that are unrivaled for their ambitious scope and attention to detail”. I love this but somehow I hadn’t seen any of his apparently quite popular books. Many of them appear to be out of print, but there are some available on Amazon: Stephen Biesty’s Incredible Cross-Sections, Stephen Biesty’s Incredible Everything, and Into the Unknown.
Looking through these illustrations and also thinking about Richard Scarry’s books, I’m reminded of the intricate cross-sections from Wes Anderson’s movies. For instance, the boat from The Life Aquatic:
Biesty’s first book with this illustration style came out in 1992, the same year a 23-year-old Anderson shot his first short film, Bottle Rocket. But the director’s first real use of the cross-section didn’t happen until The Royal Tenenbaums in 2001, and even then it wasn’t explicit…but the tour of the Tenenbaum house definitely felt detailed in the same way as Biesty’s intricate cross-sectional drawings. I’m not the first person to draw parallels between Anderson’s work and Scarry, but I wonder if Biesty is somewhere in there too. (via @aaroncoleman0)
Paul Ford writes about how Greg Knauss scaled Paper’s web site after they broke the internet with nude photos of Kim Kardashian.
Via email, Jacobs told Knauss that PAPER believed “they’ve got something that they think will generate at least 100 million page views, and will their current infrastructure support that?”
“This sort of cold thrill goes down my spine,” Knauss said, “and the only thought that makes it out of my brain is, ‘Eep.’”
He continued: “I reflexively begin designing the architecture in my head. It’s a nerd impulse. Dogs chase after thrown balls, system administrators design to arbitrary traffic.”
I love this article for a whole bunch of reasons (including that it’s written by a friend about two other friends, one of whom is responsible for keeping kottke.org’s servers going), but I was just talking about the burstable web scaling issue with a friend the other day. She was trying to make a reservation for a ferry. The reservations open for the entire season on a particular day at a particular hour and in a matter of hours, most (if not all) of the reservations are taken. And of course, their tiny web site and backend systems melts into a huge puddle that day, people can’t get in, and everyone wastes 4 hours of their day trying to make a simple reservation. Basically, the ferry company needs to be Ticketmaster, but only for 3 or 4 hours every year. That’s a weird problem and it’s been an issue on the web since forever, and no one has solved it in an entirely off-the-shelf way. Someone get on this, riches await.
Last week, Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson completed the first free ascent of The Dawn Wall on Yosemite’s El Capitan. It’s been called the most difficult climb ever completed. The NY Times has some good coverage of the climb, including an interactive feature/map of the wall and a 3.4 gigapixel zoomable photograph of the climb in progress. Here’s a 3-minute video of Caldwell navigating Pitch 15, one of the most difficult sections of the climb:
“The crux holds of pitch 15 are some of the smallest and sharpest holds I have ever attempted to hold onto,” Tommy wrote on his Facebook page. Four unique camera angles reveal those minuscule holds and the 1,300 feet of exposure under Tommy’s precarious foot placements. While multiple pitches of extremely difficult climbing remained above, the completion of pitch 15 was considered the last major hurdle to the eventual success of this seven-year project.
It gets intense around 1:30. Jesus, my palms are sweating right now. I feel like I’m gonna pass out! (via @sippey)
Update: I totally didn’t notice but several people pointed this out on Twitter: Caldwell only has 4 fingers on his left hand. He cut off his index finger with a table saw, got it reattached, and then removed again so it wouldn’t hinder his climbing.1
And as if completing the most difficult climb in the world with only 9 fingers and discarding a finger to pursue a passion isn’t quite enough for one life, Caldwell and some friends were captured by rebels while climbing in Kyrgyzstan. Caldwell helped save the group by pushing one of their captors over a cliff.
All the scheming comes to nothing, until at one point three of the rebels go away leaving a lone man in charge of the captives as they climb a steep ridge. Then, near the top …
Tommy Caldwell: Our captor sees that the hillside is easing off and he starts to run ahead. He has been really scared this whole time on this cliff because he’s not a climber. So I asked Beth if she thinks I should do this.
Beth Rodden: And at that point I just thought that this was our best opportunity.
Tommy Caldwell: So I ran up behind him and grabbed him by his gun strap and pulled him over the edge. We were probably about 2,000 feet (610 meters) above the river, but it’s a cliff that is pretty sheer. We saw him fall 20 feet (6 meters), bounce off this ledge, and then fall basically into the black abyss below. I totally panicked. I broke down. I couldn’t believe I’d just done that, because it’s something that I never morally thought I could do and I never wanted to do. And Beth came up and, you know, gave me a lot of comfort as well as Jason and John.
Beth Rodden: I told him he’d just saved our lives and now we had this opportunity to run and hopefully find the Kyrgyz Army.
Reading that story makes my palms sweat almost as much as watching the video. Jesus.
From the Daily Overview, a photo of the whirlpool exchange that connects three major roads together in Dubai (map).
Worth viewing larger…that’s a 12-lane highway running through the center of this monster. (thx, bill)
In 1958, Fortune magazine published the first major essay by Jane Jacobs that laid out her case against modernist urban developers. Downtown is for People was the catalyst for the publication of Jacobs’ seminal The Death and Life of Great American Cities three years later.
You’ve got to get out and walk. Walk, and you will see that many of the assumptions on which the projects depend are visibly wrong. You will see, for example; that a worthy and well-kept institutional center does not necessarily upgrade its surroundings. (Look at the blight-engulfed urban universities, or the petered-out environs of such ambitious landmarks as the civic auditorium in St. Louis and the downtown mall in Cleveland.) You will see that suburban amenity is not what people seek downtown. (Look at Pittsburghers by the thousands climbing forty-two steps to enter the very urban Mellon Square, but balking at crossing the street into the ersatz suburb of Gateway Center.)
You will see that it is not the nature of downtown to decentralize. Notice how astonishingly small a place it is; how abruptly it gives way, outside the small, high-powered core, to underused area. Its tendency is not to fly apart but to become denser, more compact. Nor is this tendency some leftover from the past; the number of people working within the cores has been on the increase, and given the long-term growth in white-collar work it will continue so. The tendency to become denser is a fundamental quality of downtown and it persists for good and sensible reasons.
If you get out and walk, you see all sorts of other clues. Why is the hub of downtown such a mixture of things? Why do office workers on New York’s handsome Park Avenue turn off to Lexington or Madison Avenue at the first corner they reach? Why is a good steak house usually in an old building? Why are short blocks apt to be busier than long ones?
It is the premise of this article that the best way to plan for downtown is to see how people use it today; to look for its strengths and to exploit and reinforce them. There is no logic that can be superimposed on the city; people make it, and it is to them, not buildings, that we must fit our plans. This does not mean accepting the present; downtown does need an overhaul, it is dirty, it is congested. But there are things that are right about it too, and by simple old-fashioned observation we can see what they are. We can see what people like.
People ask me why I ski.1 A: Because sometimes it’s as insanely fun as this guy makes it look.
He. Skis. THROUGH THE MOUNTAIN. Also, if you can, pause it right after he jumps off the lift platform…the kid on the lift with his dad is like ( ﾟoﾟ).
I’ve started posting more links to the @kottke Twitter account and including them on the front page of the site (pinned to the second post on the page). Read on for an explanation of why and where this is (maybe) going.
More than 12 years ago, before kottke.org became my full-time job, I made 2-3 posts per day. Maaaybe up to 5 on a good day. For whatever reason, in December of 2002 I started posting a bunch of links to the site every day. Like 10-12 per day…sometimes up to 20.1 The next month, I stuck that link blog in the sidebar of the site and called them “remaindered links”. I kept at it, posting a few things to the main blog each week and dozens of remaindered links every week. Eventually, I pulled the remaindered links out of the sidebar and into the main column. The link descriptions became longer, I started pulling short quotes from the articles I was linking to, and eventually, these links became full-fledged posts. These remaindered links, these leftovers, they are kottke.org now.
The links gave the site a velocity it didn’t previously have. I hadn’t really thought about it until I sat down to write this post, but that increase in velocity made it possible, more than two years later, for me to quit my job and do kottke.org full-time. But the web has changed. Sites like Reddit, Digg, and Hacker News and services like Facebook and Twitter are so much faster than this one man band…trying to keep pace is like racing an F1 car on roller skates. So, I’ve traded that velocity for quality (or, if you’d prefer, fussiness). I no longer post 10-12 things per day. Instead I post 4-6 of the most interesting things I can share with you on that given day.2 That means there’s a ton of very interesting but not-quite-right-for-whatever-reason stuff that I see but don’t have time to share. And that’s been frustrating me lately.
So, I’ve begun posting those extra links, those remainders, to the @kottke Twitter account. Then I pull those links in from Twitter and publish them to the front page of kottke.org. There’s no permanent archive, I might stop at any time, they’re not gonna show up in RSS, on Facebook, or on Tumblr, and there are no plans beyond what I’ve already done. I wanted to start with the simplest possible thing and see if it sticks or goes anywhere.
I do have a few ideas on where it could go, however. As my remaindered links experience shows, going fast without a plan can be beneficial in unexpected ways. With different tools and media delivery channels available to me now, I wonder: how fast can a one-person site go while still maintaining that choosiness? Using those new tools, 13 people built Instagram into a $1 billion company with millions of users. I’m not after billions, but I’d settle for making kottke.org sustainable in the future and not having to get a regular job again.
Anyway, your thoughts, questions, and feedback are always welcome.
This article attempts to explain, in great detail, what happens when you type ‘google.com’ into your browser and press enter.
To pick a zero point, let’s choose the enter key on the keyboard hitting the bottom of its range. At this point, an electrical circuit specific to the enter key is closed (either directly or capacitively). This allows a small amount of current to flow into the logic circuitry of the keyboard, which scans the state of each key switch, debounces the electrical noise of the rapid intermittent closure of the switch, and converts it to a keycode integer, in this case 13. The keyboard controller then encodes the keycode for transport to the computer. This is now almost universally over a Universal Serial Bus (USB) or Bluetooth connection, but historically has been over PS/2 or ADB connections.
An I, Pencil for the internet age.
Lucky Peach, the publishing arm of the Momofuku restaurant group, recently launched their new web site with a bunch of online content. Among their offerings is a series of videos featuring David Chang making various foods, including this omelette flavored with an instant ramen seasoning packet:
See also Chang making tonkotsu broth and gnocchi from instant ramen noodles.
On the off chance you get this before it spontaneously combusts, you should probably know that Earth just experienced its hottest year on record (again). You can blame humans, you blame nature, you can blame Mister Heat Miser. But for most scientists, there is a towering body of evidence to explain this inferno, and the debate over what’s causing the warm-up has already been decided (which is good, because the venue where the debate was being held just melted).
WaPo got reactions to the latest numbers from 21 scientists: “The temperature record is yet another brick in the massive wall of evidence that the climate is warming due to human activity.” Hey, (Science) Teacher, leave them kids alone…
If we’re going down in flames, let’s at least take 5 charts that explain 2014’s record-smashing heat. Or perhaps you’d prefer an animation?
Apparently, human activity has pushed Earth beyond four of nine planetary boundaries. (In layman’s terms: Uh oh.)
In other news, ocean life faces mass extinction.
Molly Beauchemin is a dental health enthusiast. She talked to several dentists about what the current best practices are for keeping your teeth and gums as healthy as possible: The Truth About Your Smile.
Most people have heard a common criticism of hand sanitizer: using it too often makes you more vulnerable to sickness because it kills off even the beneficial germs that fight viruses like the cold and flu. The same is true for the bacteria in your mouth: mouthwash is so antiseptic that most dentists recommend you only use it if you are impaired or have an injury that prevents you from brushing. Otherwise, you risk killing off even the beneficial flora (yes, our mouths are disgusting wastelands of bacteria, but a lot of them are good guys) that help fight plaque and odor-causing bacteria.
I’ve been searching around for something like this for a few months. Dental hygiene, for me, is a set of mesofacts — I’m mired in the knowledge of my youth about how to brush, when to floss, etc. — but increasingly the kids would come home from the dentist with some new tidbit I’d never heard of before, like the thing about not rinsing the toothpaste out of your mouth after brushing. I have to say though, the oil pulling bit at the end sounds like a bunch of hokum.
This an excerpt of the excellent commencement speech David Foster Wallace gave at Kenyon College in 2005, set to video.
I’ve either heard or read this speech at least 8 or 9 times, and I still got sucked in to watching the entire video.
You can read the whole speech online and in book form or watch it on YouTube. (via kung fu grippe)
Along with imagining Mary Poppins as one of Doctor Who’s Time Lords, one of my favorite literary alternate realities is imagining Hermione Granger as the main character of the Harry Potter books. In 2011, Sady Doyle wrote a review of the books as if Rowling had focused on Hermione.
In Hermione, Joanne Rowling undermines all of the cliches that we have come to expect in our mythic heroes. It’s easy to imagine Hermione’s origin story as some warmed-over Star Wars claptrap, with tragically missing parents and unsatisfying parental substitutes and a realization that she belongs to a hidden order, with wondrous (and unsettlingly genetic) gifts. But, no: Hermione’s normal parents are her normal parents. She just so happens to be gifted. Being special, Rowling tells us, isn’t about where you come from; it’s about what you can do, if you put your mind to it. And what Hermione can do, when she puts her mind to it, is magic.
Ditto for the whole “Chosen One” thing. Look: I’ve enjoyed stories that relied on a “Chosen One” mythology to convince us that the hero is worth our time. I liked Buffy the Vampire Slayer as much as anyone. But it’s hard to deny that “Chosen Ones” are lazy writing. Why is this person the hero? Because everyone says he’s the hero. Why does everyone say he’s the hero? Because everyone says so, shut up, there’s magic.
And more recently, Daniel Dalton had a more overtly feminist and humorous take.
It was clear that she was the one who was protecting Harry and Ron, and this was never more evident than when she revealed she could control time.
She’d been using her Time-Turner to attend twice the number of classes, but she agreed to use it to help Harry save his godfather, even though it meant she’d never be able to use it again.
She’d given up her greatest power for her best friend, because helping people made her feel good.
And though she hoped he understood the sacrifice she was making by letting her education slide, she knew he didn’t. Because men.
Over the past year or so, I’ve been rereading the books and rewatching the movies with my kids through the Hermione-as-hero lens. And I’ve noticed that even without altering the story as Doyle and Dalton do, Hermione is by far the smartest, most loyal, and bravest young witch or wizard at Hogwarts. Harry has his moments but the kid had a rough and abusive childhood and so his principal talent is getting angry and doing stupid impulsive shit. Mainly, he’s manipulated by Voldemort and Dumbledore into doing exactly what they want him to do, and he plays the part splendidly. On the other hand, Hermione is an amazing witch and has a real choice as to how she wants to apply her considerable talents. And she chooses goodness, friendship, and doing the right thing over comfort, power, and even her own family, every time. (via @djacobs)
A map published by Bernard Porter in 1939 depicting physics as a landmass through which several rivers corresponding to the main branches (light, sound, heat, etc.) run and converge into one.
As an addendum to his 2013 book, The Wes Anderson Collection, Matt Zoller Seitz has written a book on Anderson’s latest film, The Grand Budapest Hotel.
This supplementary, one-volume companion to The Wes Anderson Collection (Abrams 2013) is the only book to take readers behind the scenes of The Grand Budapest Hotel, with in-depth interviews between Anderson and cultural critic and New York Times bestselling author Matt Zoller Seitz. Anderson shares the story behind the film’s conception, the wide variety of sources that inspired it — from author Stefan Zweig to filmmaker Ernst Lubitsch to photochrom landscapes from turn-of-the-century Middle Europe — personal anecdotes about the making of the film, and other reflections on his filmmaking process.
Here’s an interview with Seitz on the book and Inhabiting Wes Anderson’s Universe. This new book will look good next to The Wes Anderson Collection and The Making of Fantastic Mr Fox on my bookshelf.
Update: Martin Venezky is the designer of the book and has shared some spreads from the book. Looks gorgeous.
This simulator evolves increasingly effective walking creatures through genetic algorithms. After each round, the winners are sent through to the next round and copied by the rest of the competitors, with mutations introduced. At first, the pace of improvement is swift — two orders of magnitude within 100 generations — but slows pretty dramatically after that. (via @nickrichter)
The Art of the Title covers the opening title sequence to Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove.
Notably, none of the aerial footage in the opening came from — or was even made for — Kubrick’s film. The footage is all stock. Because it came from more than one stock reel, the sequence features multiple aircraft, including an angle from a KC-135 Stratotanker’s refueling deck, which dates back to October 20, 1956 and came directly from the Boeing company. The sequence shows the KC-135 transferring its precious fluids to a B-52 Stratofortress, the colossal bomber featured later in the film. The phallic piece of machinery in the first shot, however, is not the refueling probe of a B-52 or of a KC-135, as one would assume, but possibly that of a Gloster Meteor jet fighter. Regardless, it is the first in a long line of sight gags and sex jokes sprinkled throughout the film.
Also included is a short interview with the title designer, Pablo Ferro.
Here’s a map showing when slavery was abolished in North and South America:
Surprising, right? Along with Cuba, Brazil, and Puerto Rico, the United States was among the last nations in the Americas to abolish slavery. Americans like to think of ourselves as freedom-loving, progressive, and more “evolved” than other countries, particularly those in the “third world” (what a loaded term that is), but this map shows differently.
It’s tempting to dismiss American attitudes toward slavery as something that happened long ago. Except for, you know, the whole Civil Rights Movement and the ongoing racism against African Americans in the US. And there are also many respects in which the US is currently less free, less progressive, and less evolved than some less industrialized nations, e.g. on things like gun control, murder rate, use of the death penalty, prison population, healthcare, and anti-science views (evolution, vaccines). So maybe the lag in abolishing slavery shouldn’t be so surprising, particularly because it was so lucrative and the only thing Americans have historically cared more about than freedom is money. (via civil war memory)
TV1 is the place to be. Amazon recently signed Woody Allen up to do a show. And today, The New Yorker debuts the first episode of their new show on Amazon: The New Yorker Presents, complete with a Alfred Hitchcock-esque silhouette on the title card to match the riff on the name of Hitch’s 50s TV program.
America’s most award-winning magazine comes to life in this new docu-series. Produced by Oscar & Emmy winner Alex Gibney, the pilot features a doc from Oscar winner Jonathan Demme based on Rachel Aviv’s article “A Very Valuable Reputation,” writer Ariel Levy interviewing artist Marina Abramovic, a sketch from Simon Rich and Alan Cumming, poetry read by Andrew Garfield, and cartoons by Emily Flake.
The first episode is free to watch for all. I watched the first five minutes and it’s promising and pretty much what you would expect.
David Ehrlich returns with a video montage of his 25 favorite movies of 2014. (Here’s his 2013 video.)
His top 5:
5. Gone Girl
3. Under The Skin
2. Inherent Vice
1. The Grand Budapest Hotel
These year-end videos by Ehrlich are incredibly effective trailers for movies. Not just the individual films, but the whole idea of cinema itself. Having just watched this, I want to leave my office, head to the nearest theater and just watch movies all day.
There a lots of videos of movies reimagined as 8-bit video games out there (Kill Bill, The Matrix, Pulp Fiction), but I’m posting the Guardians of the Galaxy one because of the excellent chiptune rendition of the Awesome Mix Vol. 1 soundtrack.
Hooked on a Feeling, beep beep doot doot… (via devour)
Today I learned that the US government considers the US border as extending 100 miles into the country. This means that states like Maine, Michigan, and Florida are entirely within the border area and 2/3 of the US population lives within the border.
The problem with this, from the standpoint of the ACLU, is that Border Patrol agents have “certain extra-Constitutional powers” within this area and “routinely” overstep their bounds and violate the constitutional rights of innocent people.
See also 35 maps that explain how America is a nation of immigrants. (via @tcarmody)
Update: So, as you may know, I am not a Constitutional lawyer or even a regular lawyer. The ACLU presumably employs and/or utilizes experts on Constitutional and immigration law. But they have a viewpoint, right? They are interested in the civil liberties of individual Americans. Anyway, Scott Bomboy of the National Constitution Center (who is also not a lawyer), notes that the US has a couple of different ideas of what a border is and what can be done at or within each kind of border is slightly different.
Legally, the 100-mile-wide region is called the “extended border” of the U.S., as defined by Title 8 of the Federal Code of Regulations. There is also something called the “functional equivalent” border, which is the area around international airports in the interior region of the U.S.
The DHS ruling from last Friday said its “warrantless searches” applied to the U.S. “border and its functional equivalent,” with no mention of the extended 100-mile border.
Two analysis papers from the Congressional Research Service from 2009 offer some legal insight into what tactics agents can follow within the 100-mile-wide extended border, and why the distinction between the extended border and the other two borders is important.
Searches within the 100-mile extended border zone, and outside of the immediate border-stop location, must meet three criteria: a person must have recently crossed a border; an agent should know that the object of a search hasn’t changed; and that “reasonable suspicion” of a criminal activity must exist, says the CRS. (The service had done the legal analyses to prepare Congress members for legislation.)
“Although a search at the border’s functional equivalent and an extended border search require similar elements, the extended border search entails a potentially greater intrusion on a legitimate expectation of privacy. Thus, an extended border search always requires a showing of ‘reasonable suspicion’ of criminal activity, while a search at the functional equivalent of the border may not require any degree of suspicion whatsoever,” the CRS says.
In November of 2014, This American Life aired a piece on several people who record on video their interactions with Border Patrol agents at inland checkpoints.
So if you haven’t spent much time in the Southwest, you might not know about this. But there are these Border Patrol checkpoints that are just like in the middle of highway interstates and other roads, not at the border, not even near the border. They’re as far as 100 miles from the border.
There are dozens of these interior or inland checkpoints across the country. They’re mostly in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. But now there are a couple in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Washington state. You know that you’re approaching one of these checkpoints, because the speed limit will suddenly drop to 45 miles an hour and then 25. You’ll slow down, and you stop, you see these orange cones coming up. And then often there’s this big sort of tent-looking structure, like, right in the middle of the highway.
And then you stop, and you’re right in the middle of the highway. And an agent in uniform, an armed agent walks up and asks you questions like, are you an American citizen? Sometimes he asks to look in your trunk. All this so they can catch undocumented immigrants and drug smugglers.
I’ve been through one of these checkpoints in VT, about 40-50 miles from the Canadian border, and hey, these checkpoints really make you feel like a criminal…like if you seem nervous they’re going to pull you over and detain you because you seem like you’ve done something wrong. And that’s what the ACLU is concerned about: Border Agents routinely treating law-abiding US citizens as criminals far from their true areas of jurisdiction. Again from This American Life, one guy got his car window broken at a checkpoint because he did not want to cooperate with the agents:
Violence like this doesn’t happen a lot in these videos, but it does happen. Agents also broke the window of that pastor I mentioned earlier, Steven Anderson. They tased him and bloodied his face.
In Robert’s case, he says the agents seized his cameras, put him in handcuffs, drove him far away to a holding cell, and detained him for hours. Then they drove them even farther away to El Cajon, California, let him out late at night at a bus station, and drove off.
You can watch the video here:
The glass is broken at ~11:00. (thx, @harryh & martha)
Paul Cronin’s book of conversations with filmmaker Werner Herzog is called Werner Herzog - A Guide for the Perplexed. On the back cover of the book, Herzog offers a list of advice for filmmakers that doubles as general purpose life advice.
1. Always take the initiative.
2. There is nothing wrong with spending a night in jail if it means getting the shot you need.
3. Send out all your dogs and one might return with prey.
4. Never wallow in your troubles; despair must be kept private and brief.
5. Learn to live with your mistakes.
6. Expand your knowledge and understanding of music and literature, old and modern.
7. That roll of unexposed celluloid you have in your hand might be the last in existence, so do something impressive with it.
8. There is never an excuse not to finish a film.
9. Carry bolt cutters everywhere.
10. Thwart institutional cowardice.
11. Ask for forgiveness, not permission.
12. Take your fate into your own hands.
13. Learn to read the inner essence of a landscape.
14. Ignite the fire within and explore unknown territory.
15. Walk straight ahead, never detour.
16. Manoeuvre and mislead, but always deliver.
17. Don’t be fearful of rejection.
18. Develop your own voice.
19. Day one is the point of no return.
20. A badge of honor is to fail a film theory class.
21. Chance is the lifeblood of cinema.
22. Guerrilla tactics are best.
23. Take revenge if need be.
24. Get used to the bear behind you.
I bet this is some of the stuff you learn at Herzog’s Rogue Film School:
The Rogue Film School is not for the faint-hearted; it is for those who have travelled on foot, who have worked as bouncers in sex clubs or as wardens in a lunatic asylum, for those who are willing to learn about lockpicking or forging shooting permits in countries not favoring their projects. In short: for those who have a sense of poetry. For those who are pilgrims. For those who can tell a story to four year old children and hold their attention. For those who have a fire burning within. For those who have a dream.
So. Steven Soderbergh has cut his own version of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Like, !!!1
I haven’t had a chance to watch this yet, so I don’t know what’s different about it aside from the shorter runtime of 1h50m. If someone watches it and wants to report in about the differences, let me know. Soderbergh also guessed that Kubrick would have liked shooting on digital:
let me also say i believe SK would have embraced the current crop of digital cameras, because from a visual standpoint, he was obsessed with two things: absolute fidelity to reality-based light sources, and image stabilization. regarding the former, the increased sensitivity without resolution loss allows us to really capture the world as it is, and regarding the latter, post-2001 SK generally shot matte perf film (normally reserved for effects shots, because of its added steadiness) all day, every day, something which digital capture makes moot. pile on things like never being distracted by weaving, splices, dirt, scratches, bad lab matches during changeovers, changeovers themselves, bad framing and focus exacerbated by projector vibration, and you can see why i think he might dig digital.
See also Soderbergh’s B&W edit of Raiders of the Lost Ark. (via @fengypants)
Update: Reader and 2001 fan Dan Norquist watched Soderbergh’s edit and reported back via email:
I love everything Soderbergh does and I love the fact that he cut this film. It’s fun to see it in a more concise form. Really, there’s no choppy edits or anything that doesn’t make sense (except the whole movie of course!). I did miss some of my favorite parts. I love when the father is talking to his daughter on the video phone. Also, if you weren’t around in 1968 it’s really hard to describe how scary the Cold War was. There was always this thing hanging over our heads, that the Russians really had the means to destroy us with nuclear weapons. So you really need the full scene where the American meets the Russians (Soviets). The forced, unnatural politeness is so brilliant and helped to give the film context in its time.
All the important stuff is there — the apes, the monolith, HAL turning evil, astronaut spinning away, the speeding light show (shortened?), old man pointing at space child — and it’s all recut by a master.
Finally, there is something about the full length of the original film that is part of its strength as a piece of art. There is no hurry, no cut to the chase. It’s almost as if you have to go through the entire journey before you can earn the bubble baby at the end.
No surprise that he tightened it up into something less Kubrickian and more Soderberghish. Dan closed his email by saying he would recommend it to fans of the original. (thx, dan)
Update: I’ve seen some comments on Twitter and elsewhere about the legality of Soderbergh posting the 2001 and Raiders edits. The videos are hosted on Vimeo, but are private and can’t be embedded on any site other than Soderbergh’s. But any enterprising person can easily figure out how to download either video. The Raiders video has been up since September, which means either that Paramount doesn’t care (most likely in my mind) or their lawyers somehow haven’t caught wind of it, even though it was all over the internet a few months ago (less likely). We’ll see if whoever owns the rights to 2001 (Time Warner?) feels similarly.
An interesting wrinkle here is that Soderbergh has been outspoken about copyright piracy and the Internet. From a 2009 NY Times article about a proposed French anti-piracy law:
In the United States, a Congressional committee this week began studying the issue. In a hearing Monday before the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives, Steven Soderbergh, the film director, cited the French initiative in asking lawmakers to deputize the American film industry to pursue copyright pirates.
Deputizing the film industry to police piracy sounds a little too much like putting the fox in charge of the henhouse. I wonder if Soderbergh feels like these edits are legal to post publicly, if they are fair use for example. Or rather if he feels it’s not but he can get away with it because he is who he is. (thx, @bc_butler)
Update: Soderbergh has removed his cut of 2001 from his site “AT THE REQUEST OF WARNER BROS. AND THE STANLEY KUBRICK ESTATE”. So, that answers that question. (via @fengypants)
At Serious Eats, Ed Levine writes about Why Diners Are More Important Than Ever. From his ten-point list of what defines a diner:
8. All-occasion places: Diners must rise to many occasions, from first dates to pre- or post-game celebrations by fans or teammates, to wallowing in solitary self-pity. Diners are the best restaurants for planning murders, stick-ups, or other nefarious enterprises.
Being an all-occasion place is not the only egalitarian thing about diners:
People talk about Starbucks reintroducing the notion of what sociologist Ray Oldenburg coined the “third place” in American life: spaces where we gather besides home and work to form real, not virtual, communities. Starbucks and more high-minded cafes that followed in its wake have surely succeeded on this point, but long before 1971, when the first Starbucks opened in Pike Place Market in Seattle, diners were already serving that invaluable function for us, along with the corner tavern.
And that’s why we need to cherish our local diners, whether it’s a mom and pop or a Waffle House or a Greek coffee shop. They’re some of the few cheap, all-inclusive places to eat and hang out and laugh and cry and stay viscerally connected with other folks.
And it warmed my heart to see Ed include Cup & Saucer and Eisenberg’s on his list of notable NYC diners. An unusual thing I’ve noticed about Eisenberg’s: instead of getting your check at the table, you just tell the cashier what you ordered on the way out and pay for it. Like on the honor system! Is there anywhere else in NYC that does this? I wonder what their loss rate is compared to the norm?
In his piece on Back to the Future trilogy, Tim Carmody focuses not on the 2015 future of the movies (hoverboards, self-drying jackets, Mr. Fusion) but on what the movies can tell us about technology in the 1980s. This riff on Back to the Future’s cassette tape method of time travel is quite clever:
I sometimes call this “the cassette era,” and sure enough, cassettes are everywhere. Marty has a Walkman, a camcorder, and an audition tape for his band; the Pinheads have recorded a demo even though they’ve never played in front of an audience.
As a material support for a medium, the cassette has certain advantages and disadvantages. It’s more portable and sturdy than reels or records, and it requires less user interaction or expertise. It requires very fine interactions of miniaturized technology, both mechanical and electronic, in the form of transistors, reading heads, and so forth. Magnetic tape can actually record information as digital or analog, so it’s curiously agnostic in that respect.
Cassettes can also be easily rewound or fast forward. It’s easy to synchronize and dub the contents of one cassette onto another. And users can easily erase or rerecord information over the same tape.
This has clear implications for how we think - and especially, how our predecessors thirty years ago thought-about time travel. It is no accident that many important time travel films, including the Terminator franchise, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, and yes, the Back to the Future movies, appear at this time. In all three cases, time travel is accomplished with a technological mechanism that allows its users precise control of where they arrive in the timestream. (In earlier time travel stories, travellers slide down a river or awake from a dream, but in the 1980s, the H.G. Wells/Doctor Who conception of time travel through a technological device pretty definitively wins out.) And in all three cases, the goal of time travel is to save and/or rewrite events within a specific person’s lifetime, without which a future timeline will cease to exist.
Here’s Matthew McConaughey doing a proto-Wooderson for his Dazed and Confused audition.
Sometimes religion and a bit of wordplay come together to make something clever. So it is with Neil DaCosta’s project, The Book of Mormon Missionary Positions, a collection of photos depicting two fully clothed Mormon Missionaries in various sexual positions, as in the Kama Sutra.
NSFW, I guess…I felt a bit sheepish scrolling through that page at the office even though everyone is fully clothed. (via a photo editor)
Nice four-minute video about how the creators of The Lego Movie used CGI to make the movie look like it was 100% constructed with real Lego bricks with fingerprints and everything and animated in stop motion.
I’ve watched it twice with my kids, and The Lego Movie was way better than it had any right to be. They so easily could have bollocksed the whole thing up. Maybe the secret is Chris Pratt? Guardians of the Galaxy was better than it should have been as well. I’m bearish on Jurassic World, but come on Indy! (via devour)
Helen Green drew all the hairstyles worn by David Bowie from before he was a star in 1964 on up to the present day. Here’s they are in a glorious animated GIF:
Green also did a one-sheet of the B&W drawings. See also every Prince hairstyle from 1978 to 2013. (via @Coudal)
Photographer Vincent Laforet hung himself out of a helicopter hovering at 7500 feet with his high-ISO cameras to capture these gorgeous shots of NYC at night. The blue-purple glow is Times Square.
These are pictures I’ve wanted to make since I was in my teens, but the cameras simply have not been capable of capturing aerial images from a helicopter at night until very recently.
Helicopters vibrate pretty significantly and you have to be able to shoot at a relatively high shutter speed (even with tools like a gyroscope) and that makes it incredibly difficult to shoot post sunset.Special thanks to long time friend and aerial coordinator Mike Isler & Liberty Helicopters.
Armed with cameras such as the Canon 1DX and the Mamiya Leaf Credo 50 MP back — both capable of shooting relatively clean files at 3200 & 6400 ISO and a series of f2.8 to f1.2 lenses including a few tilt-shift lenses.
I was finally able to capture some of the images that I’ve dreamed of capturing for decades.
Check out the whole series on Laforet’s web site.
The English translation of the fourth volume of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s epic My Struggle is coming out in April.
At eighteen years, old Karl Ove moves to a tiny fisherman’s village in the far north of the arctic circle to work as a school teacher. No interest in the job itself, his intention is to save up enough money to travel while finding the space and time to start his writing career. Initially everything looks fine. He writes his first few short stories, finds himself accepted by the hospitable locals, and receives flattering attention from several beautiful local girls. But as the darkness of the long arctic nights start to consume the landscape, Karl Ove’s life takes a darker turn.
It looks like an alternate translation of the book will be out in the UK in March in case you want to get a head start on everyone else. Or there’s always Norwegian lessons…the sixth and final volume was published in Norway in 2011.
Responsive web design is a technique used by web builders where the design adapts to different screen sizes. Designer Joe Harrison has built a page with responsive logos for several well-known brands, including Coca-Cola, Nike, Disney, and Levi’s. If you resize the page, you can see the logos change. Here’s how the Disney logo looks as your browser window gets smaller (from L to R):
As the browser gets smaller, the logos lose detail and become more abstract. By the time you get to the smallest screen width, you’re down to just the Disney “D” or Nike swoosh or Heineken red star, aka the bare minimum you need to render the logo recognizable, if only on a subconscious or emotional level. Which reminds me of Scott McCloud’s discussion of iconic abstraction (and The Big Triangle) in Understanding Comics, which is still one of the best books on design and storytelling I’ve ever read. Here’s a bit of the relevant passage:
Defining the cartoon would take up as much space as defining comics, but for now, I’m going to examine cartooning as a form of amplification through simplification. When we abstract an image through cartooning, we’re not so much eliminating details as we are focusing on specific details. By stripping down an image to its essential “meaning”, an artist can amplify that meaning in a way that realistic art can’t.
The reason why those particular logos work responsively is because they each have abstract representations that work on that meaningful emotional level. You see that red Levi’s tag or Nike swoosh and you feel something.1 I think companies are having to design logos in this way more frequently. Contemporary logos need to look good on freeway billboards, on letterhead, as iOS icons, and, in the case of the Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest logos, affixed to tiny tweet/like/pin buttons. (via ministry of type)
After he died, a book containing legendary movie director Akira Kurosawa’s 100 favorite films was published. The list was made by his daughter, arranged chronologically, and limited to one film per director. His daughter describes the selection process:
The principle of the choice is: one film for one director, entry of the unforgettable films about which I and my father had a lovely talk, and of some ideas on cinema that he had cherished but did not express in public.
Some of Kurosawa’s choices: My Neighbor Totoro for Miyazaki, The King of Comedy for Scorsese (?), Annie Hall for Woody Allen, Fitzcarraldo for Herzog, Barry Lyndon for Kubrick (??), and The Birds for Hitchcock. No Orson Welles, Coens, David Lynch, or Malick.
From Martin Ford, a book due out in May called Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future.
Artificial intelligence is already well on its way to making “good jobs” obsolete: many paralegals, physicians, and even — ironically — computer programmers are poised to be replaced by robots. As technology continues to accelerate and machines begin taking care of themselves, fewer jobs will be necessary. Unless we radically reassess the fundamentals of how our economy and politics work, this transition could create massive unemployment and inequality as well as the implosion of the economy itself.
See also Humans Need Not Apply. (via Tyler Cowen, who thinks highly of Ford’s writing on automation and jobs)
From eHistory, a time lapse view from 1776 to the present day of how the US government systematically took land from Native Americans through treaties and executive orders that were rarely honored for long.
There’s a companion piece at Aeon by Claudio Saunt as well as an interactive version of the map featured in the video.
The final assault on indigenous land tenure, lasting roughly from the mid-19th century to 1890, was rapid and murderous. (In the 20th century, the fight moved from the battlefield to the courts, where it continues to this day.) After John Sutter discovered gold in California’s Central Valley in 1848, colonists launched slaving expeditions against native peoples in the region. ‘That a war of extermination will continue to be waged between races, until the Indian race becomes extinct, must be expected,’ the state’s first governor instructed the legislature in 1851.
In the Great Plains, the US Army conducted a war of attrition, with success measured in the quantity of tipis burned, food supplies destroyed, and horse herds slaughtered. The result was a series of massacres: the Bear River Massacre in southern Idaho (1863), the Sand Creek Massacre in eastern Colorado (1864), the Washita Massacre in western Oklahoma (1868), and a host of others. In Florida in the 1850s, US troops waded through the Everglades in pursuit of the last holdouts among the Seminole peoples, who had once controlled much of the Florida peninsula. In short, in the mid-19th century, Americans were still fighting to reduce if not to eliminate the continent’s original residents.
FYI, it’s always a good rule of thumb to not read comments on YouTube, but in this case you really really shouldn’t read the comments on this video unless you want a bunch of reasons why it was ok for Europeans to drive Native Americans to the brink of total genocide.
Robert Yeoman has been the cinematographer for all of Wes Anderson’s movies, save for the stop-motion The Fantastic Mr. Fox. Kyle Buchanan at Vulture talked to Yeoman about how he shot nine iconic scenes from Anderson’s films. Of the one-take shot near the end of The Royal Tenenbaums:
We had to triple up on scenes from The Royal Tenenbaums just so we could include this subtly marvelous shot from the finale of the film, where the camera drifts from character to character in the aftermath of an accident. “There were a lot of moving parts, and it was very difficult - Wes was determined to get it in one take and didn’t want to make a cut, so we did, I think, about 20 takes of it,” says Yeoman, who mounted a crane arm to a dolly for fluid movement. “The tough part is that it ends with a very emotional moment between Gene Hackman and Ben Stiller, and this scene was so difficult technically - things didn’t always happen when we wanted them to happen, and we’d have to cut - that it’s a testament to Gene and Ben that they were able to hang in there and really deliver on take 20.” What was going wrong before then? “I don’t want to name names, but there was one actor about two thirds of the way through it who kept blowing his lines, and we’d have to start over again,” says Yeoman. “That was a little frustrating, especially because Gene and Ben were waiting there, getting themselves to a certain place emotionally. I felt bad for them, but that’s just part of making films.”
Once again, Steven Soderbergh kept track of every book, TV show, movie, play, and short story he read or watched in 2014. A sampling: Girls, True Detective, Gone Girl, 2001 (3 times), Dr. Strangelove, Olive Kitteridge, My Struggle: Book One, Boardwalk Empire, and his black & white version of Raiders of the Lost Ark (twice).
Here are his lists for 2013 (House of Cards, Koyaanisqatsi), 2012 (This is Spinal Tap, The Lady in the Lake), 2011 (Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Senna), 2010 (Mad Men, Where Good Ideas Come From), and 2009 (Breaking Bad, Slap Shot). (via @khoi)
The Morning News has announced the competitors in their annual Tournament of Books. The ToB features 16 of the best works of fiction published in 2014 pitted against each other in a NCAA Tournament-style contest. It’s great fun…I was a judge a few years ago. Books competing this year include All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks, and An Untamed State by Roxane Gay.
On a strong recommendation from Meg, I have been reading Peter Gray’s Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life. Gray is a developmental psychologist and in Free to Learn he argues that 1) children learn primarily through self-directed play (by themselves and with other children), and 2) our current teacher-driven educational system is stifling this instinct in our kids, big-time.
I have a lot to say about Free to Learn (it’s fascinating), but I wanted to share one of the most surprising and unsettling passages in the book. In a chapter on the role of play in social and emotional development, Gray discusses play that might be considered inappropriate, dangerous, or forbidden by adults: fighting, violent video games, climbing “too high”, etc. As part of the discussion, he shares some of what George Eisen uncovered while writing his book, Children and Play in the Holocaust.
In the ghettos, the first stage in concentration before prisoners were sent off to labor and extermination camps, parents tried desperately to divert their children’s attention from the horrors around them and to preserve some semblance of the innocent play the children had known before. They created makeshift playgrounds and tried to lead the children in traditional games. The adults themselves played in ways aimed at psychological escape from their grim situation, if they played at all. For example, one man traded a crust of bread for a chessboard, because by playing chess he could forget his hunger. But the children would have none of that. They played games designed to confront, not avoid, the horrors. They played games of war, of “blowing up bunkers,” of “slaughtering,” of “seizing the clothes of the dead,” and games of resistance. At Vilna, Jewish children played “Jews and Gestapomen,” in which the Jews would overpower their tormenters and beat them with their own rifles (sticks).
Even in the extermination camps, the children who were still healthy enough to move around played. In one camp they played a game called “tickling the corpse.” At Auschwitz-Birkenau they dared one another to touch the electric fence. They played “gas chamber,” a game in which they threw rocks into a pit and screamed the sounds of people dying. One game of their own devising was modeled after the camp’s daily roll call and was called klepsi-klepsi, a common term for stealing. One playmate was blindfolded; then one of the others would step forward and hit him hard on the face; and then, with blindfold removed, the one who had been hit had to guess, from facial expressions or other evidence, who had hit him. To survive at Auschwitz, one had to be an expert at bluffing — for example, about stealing bread or about knowing of someone’s escape or resistance plans. Klepsi-klepsi may have been practice for that skill.
Gray goes on to explain why this sort of play is so important:
In play, whether it is the idyllic play we most like to envision or the play described by Eisen, children bring the realities of their world into a fictional context, where it is safe to confront them, to experience them, and to practice ways of dealing with them. Some people fear that violent play creates violent adults, but in reality the opposite is true. Violence in the adult world leads children, quite properly, to play at violence. How else can they prepare themselves emotionally, intellectually, and physically for reality? It is wrong to think that somehow we can reform the world for the future by controlling children’s play and controlling what they learn. If we want to reform the world, we have to reform the world; children will follow suit. The children must, and will, prepare themselves for the real world to which they must adapt to survive.
Like I said, fascinating.
Scientists have discovered the first promising new antibiotic in 25 years. And even better, says Ed Yong, is that the antibiotic in question is “resistant to resistance”.
A team of scientists led by Kim Lewis from Northeastern University have identified a new antibiotic called teixobactin, which kills some kinds of bacteria by preventing them from building their outer coats. They used it to successfully treat antibiotic-resistant infections in mice. And more importantly, when they tried to deliberately evolve strains of bacteria that resist the drug, they failed. Teixobactin appears resistant to resistance.
Bacteria will eventually develop ways of beating teixobactin — remember Orgel — but the team are optimistic that it will take decades rather than years for this to happen. That buys us time.
…and also that the process by which teixobactin was discovered is the real breakthrough:
Teixobactin isn’t even the most promising part of its own story. That honour falls on the iChip-the tool that the team used to discover the compound. Teixobactin is a fish; the iChip is the rod. Having the rod guarantees that we’ll get more fish-and we desperately need more.
Khoi Vinh is coming out with a book soon called How They Got There: Interviews With Digital Designers About Their Careers. It is, as Tyler Cowen would say, self-recommending. Vinh explains a bit more:
You can read terrific profiles of many of these folks elsewhere, but the conversations that I conducted with them are both narrower and more in-depth. They focus squarely on how these folks discovered their callings in the design profession, how they got their first big breaks, how they put together successful careers in digital media. There are some wonderful, insightful, brilliant, hilarious and amazing stories captured here.
Basically, this is the book that I wish that I could have had handy when I was just starting out, when I was trying to figure out how to get from A to B career-wise. Even better, what I found when I was writing it was that the conversations were so interesting that I felt newly inspired myself. I think you’ll feel similarly.
Forget the book (I mean, it looks great), but Khoi, where do you find the time for everything? Three kids, two or three side projects, regular blogger, startup VP…you’re almost as productive these days as Beyonce is.
Update: How They Got There is now out and available for purchase.
The Atlantic is beefing up their photography coverage with the launch of The Atlantic Photo. This replaces In Focus and will be edited by Alan Taylor.
I’d like to introduce our readers to The Atlantic’s new Photo section, an expanded home for photography at TheAtlantic.com. This new section features not only an updated look, but more variety in formats, wider images for bigger screens, and a design that works well across a range of mobile devices.
As the editor of the Photo section, I’ll continue to publish long-form photo essays nearly every day, as I have for years, in a series we’ll still call In Focus, but I’ll also start publishing shorter posts-often just a single noteworthy image-under a new category we’re calling Burst. I’m really excited to be able to share even more high-quality photography with even more readers.
NiemanLab did a Q&A with Taylor about the new site.
I spend almost all of my day looking through photos, trying to find stories to tell the next day or the next week. Pretty often, I will come across a single image or two or three images, and there’s nothing more to go with it. And since I’ve made it my thing to always be posting longform narratives — constructed either from a single photographer or multiple photographers — I thought it would be confusing to mix it up, so I just shied away from doing it.
I’ve been doing the photo editing now for seven years, and now it’s nice to have the ability to do it just whenever something comes up. If I want to do a historic photo of the day, something from the archives, or something from the Library of Congress, or a really amazing photo was just released by NASA — I just don’t really have an easy outlet for that, and it’d be nice to have. And now I’m going to have it, hopefully.
I’ve long been a fan of Taylor (since the Big Picture days) and am excited to see what he gets up to with The Atlantic Photo.
Buzzfeed’s Carolyn Kylstra asked some scientists and medical professionals about juice cleanses and while they are (mostly) harmless, they definitely don’t do any of the magical things you think they do, like flush the toxins out of your body or reset your system.
“I don’t know why someone would do a juice cleanse,” Dr. John Buse, M.D., Ph.D., chief of the division of endocrinology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, told BuzzFeed Life. “There’s very little evidence that it does anything good for you.”
And it definitely won’t “rid your body of toxins.” That really is what your liver (and your kidneys and intestines) is for. “I don’t like the marketing around juice cleanses,” Eric Ravussin, Ph.D., associate executive director for clinical science at Pennington Biomedical Research Center, told BuzzFeed Life. “That it’s going to detox and mobilize all these toxins and all that — this is pure marketing.”
Update: From the NY Times in 2009, Flush Those Toxins! Eh, Not So Fast. The last paragraph makes me angry:
Still, many people swear by these programs. Denise Whitney, 37, a registered nurse and mother of three in Traverse City, Mich., did the Master Cleanse over a seven-day period, plus six days of pre and post cleanse, which included consuming copious amounts of organic juice, fruit and vegetables. “With all the fast food, preservatives, chemicals in our food, it seems impossible that our bodies are not loaded with toxins,” Ms. Whitney said, adding that she plans to repeat it in the next few months. “I had more energy during this cleanse than I can ever remember having.”
Can we get this nurse unregistered, please? FFS. But at The Guardian, Oliver Burkeman cautions against over-debunking.
We live in the Age of Debunking: no sooner has somebody made a false or hyperbolic claim online (resulting in clicks) than someone else announces, with an air of triumph, that they’ve debunked it (resulting in clicks). I plead guilty. And often enough, debunking is a noble pursuit: the idea that we only use 10% of our brains, to pick one example, is flat wrong, and people who believe it ought to be corrected. No convincing evidence of a Benghazi conspiracy has ever been unearthed. Marie Antoinette almost certainly didn’t say “let them eat cake”.
But the internet’s enthusiasm for a vigorous debunking now frequently spills over into what you might call the pseudo-debunk. Sometimes, this involves cynically claiming you’re debunking when you’re really just disagreeing — thereby implying that your opinion is more than mere opinion; it’s “the facts”.
Update: Tara Fuller of Greatist writes I’ve Tried Almost Every Cleanse. Here’s Why I’ll Never Do One Again:
2. Eating fruit is much healthier than drinking it.
While juice cleanses may seem like an easy way to load up on vitamins and minerals, they’re often full of added sugars and devoid of the good stuff (like fiber and antioxidants). Juicing fruits does tend to preserve some vitamins, but why guzzle several hundred calories worth of fruit when you can eat one serving and actually feel full? Plus, all that juice can actually lead to type 2 diabetes-whereas eating fruit reduces the risk!
(via @fakejoshstein & @neversent & @alainabrowne)
Update: Once again, Fancy Juice Doesn’t Cleanse the Body of Toxins:
To say that drinking juice detoxifies the body isn’t quite the same as claiming leeches suck out poisons, but it’s fairly close.
The practice of cleansing has become as ubiquitous as the use of hand sanitizer. Celebrities do it. Spas offer it. Fancy food stores sell pricey bottles of juice to accomplish it, and a $700 juicer will soon facilitate the process for those who are not satisfied with the current D.I.Y. options. But what is it that everybody is trying to remove from their bodies? Is there any science behind it?
“People are interested in this so-called detoxification, but when I ask them what they are trying to get rid of, they aren’t really sure,” said Dr. James H. Grendell, the chief of the division of gastroenterology, hepatology and nutrition at Winthrop-University Hospital in Mineola, N.Y. “I’ve yet to find someone who has specified a toxin they were hoping to be spared.”
Update: This sort of magical health thinking isn’t restricted to juice cleanses. Yvette d’Entremont writes about the sickening business of wellness for The Outline:
Health is all the stuff that you know you should do. Wellness is all the peripheral shit that someone marketed to you because it sounded almost like health. It’s modern-day snake oil, and today it either comes from extremely well-off celebrities who look healthy under 18 layers of makeup, internet charlatans who probably know they’re full of shit, and people who might not know there’s no science to back them up, but they do see your open wallet and know when business is good.
This is a great aerial tour (by drone) of all five boroughs of New York.
I bet the Coast Guard boats equipped with the scary-looking machine guns didn’t take kindly to a drone shadowing the Staten Island Ferry. (via @anildash)
The Hubble Space Telescope was launched 25 years ago, and to start the celebration, NASA has released a pair of images that actually did make this space nerd’s jaw drop. The first is an update of a classic: a much sharper photo of the so-called Pillars of Creation:
Although NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has taken many breathtaking images of the universe, one snapshot stands out from the rest: the iconic view of the so-called “Pillars of Creation.” The jaw-dropping photo, taken in 1995, revealed never-before-seen details of three giant columns of cold gas bathed in the scorching ultraviolet light from a cluster of young, massive stars in a small region of the Eagle Nebula, or M16.
The second image isn’t so immediately amazing but is my favorite of the two. It’s a photo of half of the Andromeda galaxy, the big galaxy closest to our own in distance but also in rough size and shape. Here’s a very very scaled-down version of it:
The largest NASA Hubble Space Telescope image ever assembled, this sweeping view of a portion of the Andromeda galaxy (M31) is the sharpest large composite image ever taken of our galactic neighbor. Though the galaxy is over 2 million light-years away, the Hubble telescope is powerful enough to resolve individual stars in a 61,000-light-year-long section of the galaxy’s pancake-shaped disk. It’s like photographing a beach and resolving individual grains of sand. And, there are lots of stars in this sweeping view — over 100 million, with some of them in thousands of star clusters seen embedded in the disk.
The original image is 1500 megapixels (1.5 gigapixels!), which is so big that you’d need 600 HD televisions to display the whole thing. But if you take the biggest reasonable size available for download (100 megapixels) and zoom in on it, you get this:
That looks like JPEG compression noise, right? Nope, each one of those dots is a star…some of the 100 million individual stars that can be seen in the full image.
That’s right, Keanu. Whoa. For an even closer look, check out this annotated close-up released by NASA:
If you’re curious and feel like crashing your browser and/or Photoshop a bunch of times (I did not), the full-res Andromeda images are available here. And Phil Plait writes much more joyfully and knowledgeably about these images than I do…go take a look at his Pillars of Creation and Andromeda posts.
Update: Rob Griffiths took 50+ photos from the Hubble web site and made them into Retina iMac-sized wallpapers. (via @djacobs)
I’ve never looked closely at my dishwasher’s instruction manual before, but apparently all the manuals tell you how best to load the dishwasher. Joe Clark went through a bunch these manuals and compiled screenshots of the “Loading Your Dishwasher” pages and put them on Flickr.
Steven Brill has written a book about the making of the Affordable Care Act called America’s Bitter Pill: Money, Politics, Backroom Deals, and the Fight to Fix Our Broken Healthcare System.
America’s Bitter Pill is Steven Brill’s much-anticipated, sweeping narrative of how the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, was written, how it is being implemented, and, most important, how it is changing — and failing to change — the rampant abuses in the healthcare industry. Brill probed the depths of our nation’s healthcare crisis in his trailblazing Time magazine Special Report, which won the 2014 National Magazine Award for Public Interest. Now he broadens his lens and delves deeper, pulling no punches and taking no prisoners.
Malcolm Gladwell has a review in the New Yorker this week.
Brill’s intention is to point out how and why Obamacare fell short of true reform. It did heroic work in broadening coverage and redistributing wealth from the haves to the have-nots. But, Brill says, it didn’t really restrain costs. It left incentives fundamentally misaligned. We needed major surgery. What we got was a Band-Aid.
I haven’t read his book yet, but I agree with Brill on one thing: the ACA1 did not go nearly far enough. Healthcare and health insurance are still a huge pain in the ass and still too expensive. My issues with healthcare particular to my situation are:
- As someone who is self-employed, insurance for me and my family is absurdly expensive. After the ACA was enacted, my insurance cost went up and the level of coverage went down. I’ve thought seriously about quitting my site and getting an actual job just to get good and affordable healthcare coverage.
- Doctors aren’t required to take any particular health insurance. So when I switched plans, as I had to when the ACA was enacted, finding insurance that fit our family’s particular set of doctors (regular docs, pediatrician, pediatric specialist that one of the kids has been seeing for a couple of years, OB/GYN, etc.) was almost impossible. We basically had one plan choice (not even through the ACA marketplace…see next item) or we had to start from scratch with new doctors.
- Many doctors don’t take the ACA plans. My doctor doesn’t take any of them and my kids’ doc only took a couple. And they’re explicit in accepting, say, United Healthcare’s regular plan but not their ACA plan, which underneath the hood is the exact same plan that costs the same and has the same benefits. It’s madness.
- The entire process is designed to be confusing so that insurance companies (and hospitals probably too) can make more money. I am an educated adult whose job is to read things so they make enough sense to tell others about them. That’s what I spend 8+ hours a day doing. And it took me weeks to get up to speed on all the options and pitfalls and gotchas of health insurance…and I still don’t know a whole lot about it. It is the most un-user-friendly thing I have ever encountered.
The ACA did do some great things, like making everyone eligible for health insurance and getting rid of the preexisting conditions bullshit, and that is fantastic…the “heroic work” mentioned by Gladwell. But the American healthcare system is still an absolute shambling embarrassment when you compare it to other countries around the world, even those in so-called “developing” or “third world” countries. And our political system is just not up to developing a proper plan, so I guess we’ll all just limp along as we have been. Guh.
A couple episodes of Game of Thrones will be shown on IMAX screens.
An exclusive season five trailer, as well as the final two episodes of the fourth season, will get an unprecedented run Jan. 23-29 at 150 theaters in top markets across the U.S.
While the visual spectacle of the HBO hit makes it a natural for the large-screen treatment, “Thrones” will be digitally remastered to fit the Imax format.
Fans will be able to purchase tickets to the special event for an unspecified price on Imax.com in the coming weeks.
Pixel is a dance show that premiered in November at Maison des Arts de Créteil in France. The dancers are synced cleverly with an elaborate light show that makes it seem as though the two are interacting in real time. The effect is very convincing:
From astrophysicist Robert Simpson, a tour of the Universe from humans to the largest structure of the Universe. The piece is full of interesting little bits like:
The average female is 1.62 metres [tall] — that’s 5.4 light-nanoseconds.
If the Earth was a beach ball then all life on Earth exists within just 1mm around the surface.
Out by Pluto, the Sun itself is has dimmed to look like an other stars.
If the Sun was a blood cell then the Milky Way is the size of Europe.
See also Steven Strogatz on the Sagan Planet Walk in Ithaca, NY.
As you stroll from one to another, you can’t help noticing that the first four planets are really close together. It takes a few seconds, a few tens of steps, to walk from the Sun to Mercury and then on to Venus, Earth and Mars. By contrast, Jupiter is a full two-minute walk down the block, just past Moosewood Restaurant, waiting for someone to stop by and admire it. The remaining planets are even lonelier, each marooned in its own part of town. The whole walk, from the Sun to Pluto, is about three-quarters of a mile long and takes about 15 minutes.
My favorite detail: they added a new station to the Sagan Walk, the star nearest to our solar system. It’s in Hawaii.
The Cooper Review unveils Delta Airlines’ new seating chart, including several new sections like Economy Discomfort and Where Is Your God Now? Economy. Also clearly marked are crying babies and passengers eating smelly sandwiches.
Leo Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers International union, writes about a Institute for Policy Studies report called Fleecing Uncle Sam. One of the most eyebrow-raising details is this:
Of America’s 100 top-paid CEOs, 29 worked schemes that enabled them to collect more in compensation than their corporations paid in income taxes. The average pay for these 29: $32 million. For one year.
And from the report:
All seven of these firms were highly profitable, collectively reporting more than $74 billion in U.S. pre-tax profits. However, they received a combined total of $1.9 billion in refunds from the IRS, giving them an effective tax rate of negative 2.5 percent.
The seven CEOs leading these tax-dodging corporations were paid $17.3 million on average in 2013. Boeing and Ford Motors both paid their CEOs more than $23 million last year while receiving large tax refunds.
You don’t typically think of The Wire as a show that used audio to great effect, but you’d be wrong. From the show’s use of music only ambient to the scene (e.g. a car radio playing), the season-end montages, and the background soundtracks that accompanied certain characters or situations, The Wire’s use of music and sound was quite calculated and effective. At Reddit, a sound editor who worked on the show shared her experiences.
One of my crew’s challenges, then, was to find ways to evoke mood with backgrounds. When a character is in a crowded situation he is not comfortable with, listen for background laughter. When McNulty is drunk and on the prowl, listen for dogs barking (because he’s a dog - my own private commentary on his character). There was a whole world of work that went in to creating the sound of Hamsterdam and building it from an empty to thriving enterprise.
Working with Felicia Pearson was challenging:
Snoop was tricky. That DeWalt scene wasn’t the first time she was in the show (she’s a scout for Marlo the first time we see him in season three maybe?) but it was the most dialog she had up until then, and the HBO note was that she was completely unintelligible. I had her in the studio to do pretty much the entire scene over it felt like, and whenever I had a new actor in the studio, I would always ask (unless I recognized them from something else) if they had done ADR before because “The Wire” used so many non-actors. She said “no ma’am” so I walked her through the process and she did a great job. Stayed in sync, matched her cadence… and sounded exactly as unintelligible as she did on set!
But so was Dominic West:
McNulty (Dom West) came in often and was awesome, as well. His accent showed most often when the character was drunk or angry. Oddly, the name “Stringer Bell” tripped him up a lot. “Stringa” and then a very over-enunciated end to “Bell-eh.” Also, the words “fuck” and “cunt” came out “feck” and “cahnt” and the only way to break him of it was to stand right in front of him (so he could watch the mouth shape) and say the word over and over again. So a Dom West ADR session often went like this:
Me (with Dom staring at my mouth): Cunt. Cunt. Cunt.
Dom: Cahnt. Shit, do it again, please.
Me: Cunt. Cunt. Cunt.
Dom: Cunt. Cunt. OK, let’s record…
(three beeps, the line starts and):
Dom: …cahnt. Feck! Say it again.
There were some instances where we didn’t bring Dom in for ADR because the emotion and energy of the scene would be compromised if we tinkered with his accent, and I support that decision, but it still pains me to hear those lines and feel like something slipped by me. I was like, the last checkpoint before dialog went on the air.
Which reminds me, the “Fuck” scene (McNulty/Bunk) — when picture came to me, there were only about 30 “fucks” in it. We brought the guys in together and played the scene over and over and slammed a variation of “fuck” everywhere it would fit. I think the final mix tops off at somewhere in the 80 range? My personal contribution was Bunk’s “fuck, fuck fuckitty fuck.”
And Michael K. Williams cannot whistle:
Michael K Williams cannot whistle! It’s totally true. We brought him in and he tried but it just wasn’t happening. Omar’s whistle is provided by a lovely and talented loop group member named Susan, who is an actor and John Waters’ personal assistant.
To which another Redditor replied, “Susan’s coming yo!” The whole thread is great, read it.
Book 1 of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s epic My Struggle is now available in English as an audiobook. This was by far my favorite book of 2014…the first 50 pages punched me in the gut about 10 times and the rest did not disappoint. After a bit of a break to recover, I am looking forward to tackling Book 2 & Book 3 in the next couple of months. (via @tylercowen)
Over the holiday, the Smithsonian’s Freer|Sackler art galleries put more than 40,000 works of art online; that’s their entire collection available for high-resolution download. Here’s the announcement on their blog.
We’ve digitized our entire collection and today, we’re making it available to the public. That’s thousands of works now ready for you to download, modify, and share for noncommercial purposes. As Freer|Sackler Director Julian Raby said, “We strive to promote the love and study of Asian art, and the best way we can do so is to free our unmatched resources for inspiration, appreciation, academic study, and artistic creation.”
Great to see galleries and museums doing this sort of thing, e.g. the Met and all the institutions participating in The Commons at Flickr. (via the verge)
From Mike Hale in the NY Times, a short appreciation of Hayao Miyazaki, among the best filmmakers of his generation.
Even at its high end, in the works of the Pixar studio or the director Henry Selick, the American children’s movie (a category that these days is pretty much congruent with the animated feature film) approaches its young viewers in a different and less rewarding way. There is always a sense of the filmmakers looking across a divide at their audience, trying with various degrees of grace or desperation to create an entertainment for them, to figure out what will keep those allegedly hyperdistracted children from losing interest.
Mr. Miyazaki cares deeply about that young audience, but you get the feeling that he doesn’t waste any time trying to guess what it wants. Like other great directors of films for and about children — Carroll Ballard (“The Black Stallion”) Steven Spielberg (“E.T.”), Alfonso Cuaron (“A Little Princess” and “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”) — he inhabits the child’s point of view and directly communicates her joys, her trepidations and, perhaps most important, her endless curiosity.
From The Nerdwriter, some of the best uses of slow motion in movies, TV, and music in 2014.
Good stuff. But they missed one. :) (via devour)
Jason Snell on the supreme uncoolness of Movable Type, the outdated blogging software that powers Snell’s site, Daring Fireball, and also kottke.org.
Regardless, it turns out that software can also be considered uncool, even if it still works. Not only is Movable Type uncool —the equivalent of ’80s hair metal, but the language it’s written in, Perl, is supremely uncool. Like, New Kids on the Block uncool. The razzing John Siracusa takes about being a Perl developer isn’t really because Perl is old, or bad, but because it’s just not what the cool kids are talking about. The world has moved on.
And yet, sometimes that old stuff still works, and is still the best tool for the job.
Movable Type is often maddening and frustrating, but it’s familiar, behaves consistently, and I know it better than any other piece of software. In other words, MT is like a member of my family.
It’s 2015. Stuff that happened in the 80s and 90s is getting to be positively ancient. Allow Tim Urban to make you feel old. I want to quote the whole thing, but I’ll make do with just a few snippets:
These movies came out closer to World War II than to today: The Empire Strikes Back, The Shining, Airplane, Caddyshack.
There are millions of people alive today who will live well into the 22nd century.
How about 1980? It’s closer to FDR, Churchill and Hitler fighting each other than it is to 2015.
As you know, I love this sort of thing. Part of it is nostalgia and the whole “fuck I’m old” lament. I like it for the shift in perspective; it’s cheap time travel.
Update: And whoa, somehow I missed Urban’s post on Putting Time in Perspective. Wow.
I know nothing about this book or its author (Kevin Murrell, Director of Britain’s National Museum of Computing), but something called Early Home Computers is pretty much self-recommending. Amazon has an excerpt.
If they were considered at all by the average person, computers were thought to be impressive, mysterious, awe-inspiring and frightening in equal measure. Press coverage of the time typically described new computers as ‘electronic brains’ and they were often depicted as cartoon machines with faces and arms. Despite the best efforts of engineers explaining their inventions, most people knew more about malevolent computers like HAL from Kubrick’s film 2001 - A Space Odyssey, than the real thing.
In the UK there was at least one well-known benevolent computer: ERNIE. Electronic Random Number Indicating Equipment, or ERNIE for short, was a special-function computer designed to generate random numbers as part of the government’s Premium Bond saving scheme. Each month the computer would produce a random batch of bond numbers and the winning bondholders would be awarded cash prizes. ERNIE became so well known in the popular imagination that winners would write personally to thank him!
Presumably home computers were also benevolent…I like that idea. (via russell davies)
Update: See also Digital Retro.
This book tells the story behind 40 classic home computers of an infamous decade, from the dreams and inspiration, through passionate inventors and corporate power struggles, to their final inevitable demise. It takes a detailed look at every important computer from the start of the home computer revolution with the MITS Altair, to the NeXT cube, pehaps the last serious challenger in the personal computer marketplace.
Good review of Digital Retro here. (via @LangeAlexandra)
A supercut of all the times Carl Sagan says “million”, “billion”, “trillion”, and “quadrillion” during Cosmos.
Update: Oh man, and here’s Sagan saying “billion” once but stretched out over an hour.
Archives • December 2014 » • November 2014 » • October 2014 »