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Entries for March 2017 (Archives)

 

Strange Beasts, a sci-fi short about an augmented reality game

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 28, 2017

Magali Barbé wrote and directed this short sci-fi video about an imaginary augmented reality game called Strange Beasts. It starts off with a “hey, yeah, cool, augemented reality games are going to be fun to play” vibe but gradually veers down the same dystopian path as a lot of augmented reality fictions (like Keiichi Matsuda’s Hyper-Reality). Barbé wrote about how the video was created.

We Work Remotely

The Tinderization of the NBA

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 28, 2017

Since the late 1980s, the winning percentage of road teams has been rising in the NBA. After speaking to dozens of players, coaches, and team officials, Tom Haberstroh found a fairly accepted answer: “NBA players are sleeping more and drinking less”. Players are taking their careers more seriously and partying less on the road while transportation coordination has improved. Ubiquitous cameras and big sponsorships keep bad behavior in check. An additional factor is that with apps like Tinder and Instagram, companionship can be delivered to a player’s hotel room like Seamless or Postmates without the need to drink at the club for a few hours beforehand.

Indeed, various apps have done for sex in the NBA what Amazon has done for books. One no longer needs to leave home to find a party. The party now comes to you. And lifestyle judgments aside, the NBA road life is simply more efficient — and less taxing — when there aren’t open hours spent trolling clubs.

“It’s absolutely true that you get at least two hours more sleep getting laid on the road today versus 15 years ago,” says one former All-Star, who adds that players actually prefer Instagram to Tinder when away from home. “No schmoozing. No going out to the club. No having to get something to eat after the club but before the hotel.”

The NBA player staring at a 9:30 a.m. team breakfast in a hotel conference room the morning of the game can now log seven or eight hours of z’s and still enjoy a tryst. Thanks to direct messaging and texting, some NBA players even arrange to have keys left at the front desk so dates can be inside the room when a player arrives at the hotel.

As Haberstroh says further down in the article, “Partying is the midrange jumper of nightlife.” (via mr)

Daft Punk samples and their sources

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 28, 2017

Daft Punk creates their songs by extensively sampling records, mostly from the 70s and 80s. In some cases, bits of song are used relatively unchanged while others are chopped up and repeated to the point of being unrecognizable. Here are a few of the group’s samples compared with their original sources.

See also the duo’s Alive 2007 live album, which I have been listening to extensively lately.

Update: The video I’d originally linked to got taken down but I replaced it with another one. Here’s another one as well.

George Saunders on “what writers really do when they write”

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 28, 2017

From The Guardian, a typically illuminating piece from George Saunders on how he approaches writing…and more specifically how he approached writing a novel after so many years of writing short stories. Regarding the writer/reader connection:

This is a hopeful notion, because it implies that our minds are built on common architecture — that whatever is present in me might also be present in you. “I” might be a 19th-century Russian count, “you” a part-time Walmart clerk in 2017, in Boise, Idaho, but when you start crying at the end of my (Tolstoy’s) story “Master and Man”, you have proved that we have something in common, communicable across language and miles and time, and despite the fact that one of us is dead.

Another reason you’re crying: you’ve just realised that Tolstoy thought well of you — he believed that his own notions about life here on earth would be discernible to you, and would move you.

Tolstoy imagined you generously, you rose to the occasion.

I wuv you wobot!

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 27, 2017

Rayna is a small child who thinks this hot water heater looks like a robot and she is determined to say hi to it and tell it that she loves it. THIS IS THE CUTEST THING OF ALL TIME THAT IS NOT THAT PHOTO OF OTTERS HOLDING HANDS SO THEY DON’T DRIFT AWAY FROM EACH OTHER WHILE SLEEPING. In the future, when humanity is on trial for the mistreatment of machines, our randomly assigned legal algorithm will introduce this video as Exhibit A in our defense. I like our chances.

“Camera falls from airplane and lands in pig pen”

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 27, 2017

The title of this video is “Camera falls from airplane and lands in pig pen—MUST WATCH END!!” and there is literally nothing else I can say to entice you to watch it if you’re not already hooked by that.

Bill Hayes adored Oliver Sacks

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 27, 2017

The Guardian has an entertaining and touching excerpt of Bill Hayes’ memoir Insomniac City about his moving to New York and his relationship with Oliver Sacks. Even though Sacks had little interest or knowledge about popular culture — “‘What is Michael Jackson?’ he asked me the day after the news [of Jackson’s death]” — he became part of it, and so he and Hayes travel to Iceland to dine with Björk and run into the actress and model Lauren Hutton at a concert.

[Hutton] overheard Oliver talking to Kevin about his new book, Hallucinations, which was coming out in a couple weeks. Lauren leaned across the table and listened intently.

“Hey doc, you ever done belladonna?” she asked. “Now there’s a drug!”

“Well, as a matter of fact, yes, I have,” and he proceeded to tell her about his hallucinations on belladonna. They traded stories. Eventually she began to figure out that this wasn’t his first book.

“Are you — are you Oliver Sacks? The Oliver Sacks?” Oliver looked both pleased and stricken.

“Well, it is very good to meet you, sir.” She sounded like a southern barmaid in a 50s western. But it wasn’t an act. “I’ve been reading you since way back. Oliver Sacks - imagine that!”

Oliver, I should note, had absolutely no idea who she was, nor would he understand if I had pulled him aside and told him.

Fashion? Vogue magazine? No idea…

The two of them hit it off. She was fast-talking, bawdy, opinionated, a broad - the opposite of Oliver except for having in common that mysterious quality: charm.

See also My Own Life, a piece about the cancer diagnosis that would eventually take Sacks’ life.

Over the last few days, I have been able to see my life as from a great altitude, as a sort of landscape, and with a deepening sense of the connection of all its parts. This does not mean I am finished with life.

On the contrary, I feel intensely alive, and I want and hope in the time that remains to deepen my friendships, to say farewell to those I love, to write more, to travel if I have the strength, to achieve new levels of understanding and insight.

This will involve audacity, clarity and plain speaking; trying to straighten my accounts with the world. But there will be time, too, for some fun (and even some silliness, as well).

Sacks dictated the piece to Hayes “nearly verbatim” and is very much worth a re-read. (via @tedgioia)

A timeline map of the global median age from 1960-2060

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 27, 2017

From Aron Strandberg,1 this is a timeline visualization of the age of the world’s population from 1960-2060. The world’s human population has increased rapidly in the last couple centuries, most recently doubling since 1970:

A tremendous change occurred with the industrial revolution: whereas it had taken all of human history until around 1800 for world population to reach one billion, the second billion was achieved in only 130 years (1930), the third billion in less than 30 years (1959), the fourth billion in 15 years (1974), and the fifth billion in only 13 years (1987).

But watching that video, you’ll realize that the world’s population will not reach 20 or 30 billion in 2050 — human civilization is getting old.

  1. Strandberg was also recently in charge of Sweden’s Twitter account, which they hand over to a random Swedish person each week. That’s where I found his chart.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 27, 2017

From director Martin McDonagh, who is also responsible for In Bruges, comes Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri. Frances McDormand stars and even in the trailer, she is a force of nature. (No offense to Meryl Streep, but McDormand is a very strong candidate for the best actor or actress working today.) The red band trailer above is entertaining in its use of many of George Carlin’s seven dirty words but I prefer the more conventional trailer I saw in the theater the other day — which I cannot locate online for some reason — because, among other reasons, it contains more Peter Dinklage.

How Vladimir Putin rose to power and Made Russia Great Again

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 27, 2017

This video from Vox explains how Vladimir Putin took advantage of the post-Soviet political and economic chaos in Russia to become its leader in a very short period of time and what’s he done with that leadership since then.

Vladimir Putin has been ruling Russia since 1999. In that time he has shaped the country into an authoritarian and militaristic society. The Soviet Union dissolved into 15 new countries, including the new Russian Federation. In Putin’s eyes, Russia had just lost 2 million square miles of territory. But Putin’s regime has also developed and fostered the most effect cyber hacker army in the world and he’s used it to wreak havoc in the West. But the election of Donald Trump brings new hope for the Putin vision. Trump’s rhetoric has been notably soft on Russia. He could lift sanctions and weaken NATO, potentially freeing up space for Putin’s Russia to become a dominant power once again.

Watching this, it’s easy to see how Putin’s progress in Making Russia Great Again, not to mention the authoritarian methods he employs, would be appealing to Trump.

See also Here are 10 critics of Vladimir Putin who died violently or in suspicious ways.

Skateboarding on frozen sand

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 24, 2017

In this beautifully shot video, four skateboarders discover the joys of skating on the frozen sand of a Norwegian beach.

Ice, driftwood, foamy waves and … skateboards? Four skaters head north to the cold Norwegian coast, applying their urban skills to a wild canvas of beach flotsam, frozen sand and pastel skies. The result is a beautiful mashup — biting winds and short days, ollies and a frozen miniramp.

The result is a lot more contemplative than a lot of other skateboarding videos. The emphasis is not on cool tricks (which were difficult to do in the cold weather) but on the vibe of skating on a frozen Norwegian shoreline with only a few hours of sunlight a day. A longer version is available to rent or buy on Vimeo (and more info here).

Delicately detailed illustrations of small Korean convenience stores

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 24, 2017

Me Kyeoung Lee

Me Kyeoung Lee

Me Kyeoung Lee

Oh, I really like these. The detail, the delicate realism, the muted but also somehow vibrant colors. Me Kyeoung Lee has been drawing South Korean convenience stores for the past two decades. There appears to be a recent book of her work, but I don’t know if or where it’s available (Google Translate isn’t working on that page). Doesn’t look like prints are available either. Yo 20x200, get on this! (via colossal)

Citizen Jane, a documentary film about Jane Jacobs

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 24, 2017

Citizen Jane: The Battle for the City is a documentary films about Jane Jacobs and her legendary battle against Robert Moses for the soul of New York City.

People have to insist on government trying things their way.

The film will be available in theaters and on-demand on April 21.

I’m a bit more than halfway through the audiobook of The Power Broker and Robert Moses is approaching the height of his influence. The power that Moses possessed in NYC almost cannot be overstated — I can’t think of any other single person who affected the “look and feel” of the city more than he did. I have heard the story many times, but I can’t wait to get the part with Jacobs, to hear in Caro’s words how this infinitely powerful man lost his grip on the city because of this remarkable woman and a group of concerned citizens. (via @daveg)

Update: Astoundingly, Jacobs is not in The Power Broker. Her chapter was cut for length. (thx, alec)

The importance of social capital in public life

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 24, 2017

In 1993, Robert Putnam, who later went on to write Bowling Alone (which inspired Meetup), wrote a piece for The American Prospect called The Prosperous Community: Social Capital and Public Life about social capital and its contribution to political and economic well-being of a society. Much has changed since then, but Putnam’s piece is solidly relevant to the political situation in America today.

How does social capital undergird good government and economic progress? First, networks of civic engagement foster sturdy norms of generalized reciprocity: I’ll do this for you now, in the expectation that down the road you or someone else will return the favor. “Social capital is akin to what Tom Wolfe called the ‘favor bank’ in his novel, The Bonfire of the Vanities,” notes economist Robert Frank. A society that relies on generalized reciprocity is more efficient than a distrustful society, for the same reason that money is more efficient than barter. Trust lubricates social life.

Networks of civic engagement also facilitate coordination and communication and amplify information about the trustworthiness of other individuals. Students of prisoners’ dilemmas and related games report that cooperation is most easily sustained through repeat play. When economic and political dealing is embedded in dense networks of social interaction, incentives for opportunism and malfeasance are reduced. This is why the diamond trade, with its extreme possibilities for fraud, is concentrated within close-knit ethnic enclaves. Dense social ties facilitate gossip and other valuable ways of cultivating reputation—an essential foundation for trust in a complex society.

This quote by 18th-century Scottish philosopher David Hume that leads off the piece succinctly sums up the challenges involved and the potential consequences in not addressing them properly:

Your corn is ripe today; mine will be so tomorrow. ‘Tis profitable for us both, that I should labour with you today, and that you should aid me tomorrow. I have no kindness for you, and know you have as little for me. I will not, therefore, take any pains upon your account; and should I labour with you upon my own account, in expectation of a return, I know I should be disappointed, and that I should in vain depend upon your gratitude. Here then I leave you to labour alone; You treat me in the same manner. The seasons change; and both of us lose our harvests for want of mutual confidence and security.

(via @timoreilly)

Fran Lebowitz on books and reading

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 23, 2017

The New York Times Book Review recently interviewed Fran Lebowitz for their By the Book series. She mentions Memoirs of Hadrian as the last great book she read and doesn’t like literary dinner parties.

Q: You’re organizing a literary dinner party. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite?

a: None. I would never do it. My idea of a great literary dinner party is Fran, eating alone, reading a book. That’s my idea of a literary dinner party. When I eat alone, I spend a lot of time, before I sit down to my meager meal, choosing what to read. And I’m a lot better choosing a book than preparing a meal. And I never eat anything without reading. Ever. If I’m eating an apple, I have to get a book.

Her answer to the very last question made me laugh out loud. Buuuuuuurn.

The state-fueled slavery of the Alabama coal mining industry

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 23, 2017

Alabama Coal Slavery

From Ariel Aberg-Riger, a visual story for CityLab’s series on power about how, for decades, Alabama purposely imprisoned young black men on trumped-up charges in order to rent them out as de facto slaves to the Tennessee Coal, Iron, and Railroad Company, which grew fat on the cheap, coerced labor.

TCI, as it was known — was wildly profitable. Period accounts attribute the company’s booming success to the “sage” “energetic” “accomplished” entrepreneurial white developers of “intrepidity and public spirit” who capitalized upon the “admirable richness of the coal flora of Alabama.” But the true key to TCI’s “profits” lay in a deadly contract the company managed to negotiate with the state of Alabama in 1888.

(thx, david)

Andre Agassi and what the scoreboard doesn’t say

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 23, 2017

Let’s get this out of the way first…this is a photo of Andre Agassi playing tennis at age 7:

Agassi at 7yo

OMG, that face! That photo is from a recent profile/interview of Agassi, who, after some struggles on and off the court early in his career, seems to have figured out how to live his life with purpose. Through his foundation and other efforts, Agassi has helped build almost 80 schools around the country for underprivileged children.

Did Agassi also wish he could be on court playing Federer or Nadal? “No. You can’t believe you once were at that level — and, even if I could do it, I think of my life now and ask: ‘Why do they do it?’ Steffi said: ‘Can you believe what these guys are still willing to put themselves through?’ It’s remarkable but if I went back in time I would probably retire sooner.”

Surely he misses the intensity? “I miss that the least. That was always the tough part for me. I enjoyed the work that went into making yourself the best you can be but I hated what the scoreboard doesn’t say. It just tells you if you won or lost. But the biggest issue for most athletes is you spend a third of your life not preparing for the next two-thirds. One day your entire way of life comes to an end. It’s a kind of death. You just have to go through it and figure it out. In her own quiet way Steffi feels stronger than me. She’s pretty linear in how she lives. I probably do a little more reminiscing than she does — which says a lot.”

As a kid, I always loved watching Agassi play, especially during the second half of his career. He’d been through some shit, dealt with it, and was playing with a different kind of verve. His game was more knowing, purposeful. I still remember Pete Sampras, overflowing with talent, pounding that amazing serve of his at Agassi, a serve that no one else on the tour could return properly. Some of these wicked serves would confound him, but every few points, Agassi would take a Sampras serve, this perfect booming thing, and absolutely paste it right down the line or cross-court for an easy winner. He took everything that was good about that serve and molded it into his return — the better Sampras hit the serve, the better Agassi’s return would be. (via mr)

A fire ant colony moves into a giant new space

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 23, 2017

This is perhaps the most interesting and engaging 14-minute video about an indoor fire ant colony that you’ll ever see. (The narration merits special mention; it’s somewhere between that of a nature documentary and a trailer for a Michael Bay movie.) This colony has been very successful and is bursting at the seams with worker ants, so a massive new space full of organic soil has been arranged for them.

What happens when you introduce a massive, ravenous fire ant colony to a bin full of soil? Pure awesomeness! In this video, we watch as our favourite Fire Ant colony “The Fire Nation” moves into a bin full of soil called “The Fire Palace”. We observe the amazing tunnel work and constructions they make and witness what makes ants the best architects and designs Mother Nature has to offer.

It’s amazing how quickly and completely the ants transform their habitat into something that suits their needs…they moved almost the entire colony into the new space in only 2 days. I…I kinda want to build my own ant colony now? Looks like I need to start by reading this.

The end of Rogue One + the beginning of Star Wars

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 22, 2017

The ending of Rogue One — spoilers! — shows an unconvincing CG clone of Princess Leia receiving the plans for the Death Star just before her ship jumps into hyperspace. The beginning of Star Wars takes place just a few minutes (or hours?) after the final scene in Rogue One. Vader’s ship has caught the Rebel ship. He boards it and captures Leia, but not before she hands off the plans to R2-D2, who escapes to Tatooine with C-3PO. Watching them cut together like this, the whole narrative makes a lot more sense. BTW, on March 24, you’ll be able to watch both movies back-to-back in the comfort of your home when Rogue One is available for digital download.

Heinz is actually running ketchup ads created by Mad Men’s Don Draper

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 22, 2017

Heinz Ads Mad Men

In the second episode of the 6th season of Mad Men, ad man Don Draper of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce pitches Heinz on a campaign where you never actually see the product. The ads show French fries, steak, and a hamburger with the tagline “Pass the Heinz” and your mind fills in the missing ketchup bit. Here’s the pitch (which doesn’t exactly land w/ the Heinz folks):

Now, in the real universe, the actual Heinz is running Draper’s ads.

Partly a PR stunt, partly just solid on-brand communications, the campaign is sure to delight fans of the AMC show, which in July will celebrate the 10th anniversary of its premiere. And in a nice touch, the ads are officially being credited to Heinz’s current agency, David Miami, and to Don’s fictional 1960s firm, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. (Draper and Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner, who approved the idea, are both listed in the credits.)

Heinz tells AdFreak that each one will get its own billboard in NYC. All three ads will also run in the New York Post, and the fries execution will run in Variety too. The ads will get support across Heinz’s social media channels as well.

See also Malcolm Gladwell on The Ketchup Conundrum.

A recreation of the bedroom from 2001: A Space Odyssey

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 22, 2017

2001 Bedroom Replica

2001 Bedroom Replica

2001 Bedroom Replica

Artist Simon Birch and architect Paul Kember have recreated the famous bedroom from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey as part of a larger art project called The 14th Factory in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles. Weirdly, when Birch approached Kember about doing the project, Kember revealed that his uncles had worked on the actual set for Kubrick:

Birch showed the project’s architect, a guy named Paul Kember, a series of stills from the film hoping he’d be able to recreate it. Then Paul goes, and I’m paraphrasing here, “Oh, Si, didn’t I tell you? My uncle and great-uncle — you know, Tony and John? — were draughtsman on that movie, and they literally — literally! — worked on that exact room! Isn’t that bonkers?!”

From the Instagram evidence, it looks as though you can walk around the bedroom, sit on the furniture, lay on the bed, etc. This might almost be worth making a special trip to LA.

How to… not do anything the right way

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 22, 2017

The contemporary internet is full to the brim with videos shot from above showing how different foods and crafty things are made. Like this one. Everything is orderly, precise, and moves along at a brisk pace. And then, there’s this:

Cutting tomatoes with a dull knife, folding paper not exactly in half, excruciatingly peeling a hard boiled egg…that sort of thing. Probably not good for folks who have any kind of OCD tendency.

See also this video of the most unsatisfying things in the world. Same general idea but more clever. (via deadspin)

Recreating the Asteroids arcade game with a laser

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 22, 2017

Watch as digital artist Seb Lee-Delisle recreates the old school video game Asteroids with a laser. But why use a laser? There’s actually a good explanation for this. In the olden days of arcade video games, the screens on most games were like Pac-Man or Donkey Kong…a typical CRT refreshed the entire screen line-by-line many times a second to form a pixelized scene. But with vector games like Tempest, Star Wars, and Asteroids, the electron beam was manipulated magnetically to draw the ships and rocks and enemies directly…and you get all these cool effects like phosphor trails and brighter objects where the beam lingers. When you play Asteroids on a contemporary computer or gaming system, all those artifacts are lost. But with a laser, you can emulate the original feel of the game much more closely.

You’re not going to want to because it’s 17 minutes long, but you should watch the whole video…it’s super nerdy and the explanations of how the various technologies work is worth your while (unless you’re already a laser expert). I loved the bit near the end where they slowed down the rate of the laser so you could see it drawing the game and then slowly sped it back up again, passing through the transition from seeing the individual movements of the laser to observing an entire seamless scene that our mind has stitched together. In his recent book Wonderland, Steven Johnson talks about this remarkable trick of the mind:

On some basic level, this property of the human eye is a defect. When we watch movies, our eyes are empirically failing to give an accurate report of what is happening in front of them. They are seeing something that isn’t there. Many technological innovations exploit the strengths that evolution has granted us: tools and utensils harness our manual dexterity and opposable thumbs; graphic interfaces draw on our powerful visual memory to navigate information space. But moving pictures take the opposite approach: they succeed precisely because our eyes fail.

This flaw was not inevitable. Human eyesight might have just as easily evolved to perceive a succession of still images as exactly that: the world’s fastest slide show. Or the eye might have just perceived them as a confusing blur. There is no evolutionary reason why the eye should create the illusion of movement at twelve frames per second; the ancestral environment where our visual systems evolved had no film projectors or LCD screens or thaumatropes. Persistence of vision is what Stephen Jay Gould famously called a spandrel — an accidental property that emerged as a consequence of other more direct adaptations. It is interesting to contemplate how the past two centuries would have played out had the human eye not possessed this strange defect. We might be living in a world with jet airplanes, atomic bombs, radio, satellites, and cell phones — but without television and movies. (Computers and computer networks would likely exist, but without some of the animated subtleties of modern graphical interfaces.) Imagine the twentieth century without propaganda films, Hollywood, sitcoms, the televised Nixon-Kennedy debate, the footage of civil rights protesters being fire-hosed, Citizen Kane, the Macintosh, James Dean, Happy Days, and The Sopranos. All those defining experiences exist, in part, because natural selection didn’t find it necessary to perceive still images accurately at rates above twelve frames a second — and because hundreds of inventors, tinkering with the prototypes of cinema over the centuries, were smart enough to take that imperfection and turn it into art.

“Morning Studio” by Nicole Eisenman

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 22, 2017

Nicole Eisenman, Morning Studio

I ran across this painting by Nicole Eisenman this morning on Facebook and it really grabbed my attention. There’s something about the cozy sweatpants vibe of the person with the default Emoji Yellow™ skin in contrast to everything else in the scene that really belongs to the present moment. Looking closer, you’ll notice the surprising realism of the purple milk crate in the foreground, the teeth on the woman’s zipper, the icons on the projected desktop, and the inputs on the back of the projector. But much of the rest of the painting isn’t that detailed — Eisenman is playing with different levels of abstraction in the same painting.

You can take a look at some of Eisenman’s other work here, here, and here. Stylistically, she’s is all over the place, as noted by Roberta Smith in the NY Times:

Few figurative painters are doing what Nicole Eisenman is, jumping back and forth among starkly different styles while inviting us to consider an equally broad range of urgent themes.

Her constant movement may be more familiar in male painters inclined to the abstract. So it’s not surprising that in her interview for the catalog for “Nicole Eisenman: Al-ugh-ories,” her exhibition at the New Museum, she mentions her admiration for two stylistic gadflies, Sigmar Polke and Julian Schnabel.

(thx, laura)

Super cool time lapse video of cell division

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 21, 2017

This is a stunning time lapse video of the cells in a tadpole egg dividing over a period of 33 hours. The filmmaker, Francis Chee, built a custom microscope and lighting system to capture the action.

I can say that it was done with a custom designed microscope based on the “infinity optical design” It is not available by any manufacturer. I built it. I used LEDs and relevant optics to light the egg. They too were custom designed by me. The whole microscope sits on anti-vibration table. I have to say that it doesn’t matter too much what microscope people use to perform this. There are countless other variables involved in performing this tricky shot, such as for example: the ambient temperature during shooting; the time at which the eggs were collected; the handling skills of the operator; the type of water used; lenses; quality of camera etc etc.

Chee says in the comments that he’s perfecting his technique and hopes to capture a complete egg-to-tadpole video in the near future. His other videos are worth a look too, like this mushroom time lapse and this gruesome video of a praying mantis eating a fly alive. (via colossal)

The best movie dialogue of all time

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 21, 2017

Cinefix lists the best movie dialogue of all time. This is an unorthodox list…not sure many would rate Aaron Sorkin’s movie about Steve Jobs so highly. I enjoyed the shout out to Primer for its realistic-seeming dialogue of the cofounders of a small startup dealing with terrific success.

The paintings of “Afro Surrealist” Alim Smith

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 21, 2017

Alim Smith

Alim Smith

Alim Smith

I really like these paintings by Alim Smith of black culture in America. (The best way to see them all is in the shop.) They’re slightly Cubist almost, reminiscent of Picasso. But of course Picasso’s Cubism was heavily influenced by African art and sculpture; unpacking the levels of cultural influence and appropriation here is above my pay grade. On Instagram, Smith refers to himself as an “Afro Surrealist”. Prints are available. (via @anildash)

Atheism in the Arab world

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 20, 2017

Writing for New Humanist, Brian Whitaker writes about the rise of atheism in the Arab world. The differences between atheism in Christian societies and Arab ones include political considerations, how science is viewed, and how scripture is interpreted.

While there’s little doubt that an Islamic reformation would benefit the Middle East socially and politically, atheists cannot advocate this without sacrificing their principles. Progressive versions of Islam generally view the Qur’an in its historical context, arguing that rules which applied in the time of the Prophet can be reinterpreted today in the light of changing circumstances — but that involves accepting the Qur’an as the supreme scriptural authority.

The status of the Qur’an is a particularly important issue for both followers and opponents of Islam. Whereas Christians usually consider the Bible as divinely inspired but written by humans, the Qur’an is claimed to be the actual words of God, as revealed to the Prophet Muhammad by the Angel Gabriel (Jibril in Arabic).

An epic desk lunch

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 20, 2017

Admission: I eat lunch at my desk pretty much every day. So do a lot of people. Some think desk lunches are sad, but many people trade lunch at their desks for family or leisure time at some other point in the day.

A Chinese YouTuber, Little Ye, has taken the desk lunch to a whole new level. In this video, she makes noodles from scratch, scavenges soda cans out of garbage to turn into DIY Bunsen burners & food graters, and cooks a hotpot meal right at her desk.

Little Ye, you are my new hero. In this one, she takes apart her computer so she can use the case to fry a breakfast crepe.

She and the Primitive Technology guy should definitely meet. (thx, claire)

Photos of grand Soviet-era subway stations

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 20, 2017

David Burdeny

David Burdeny

Back in the days before the US bankrupted the Soviet Union with the space race and the nuclear arms race, the Soviets spent lavishly on some public works…like these amazing metro stations built in the Stalin era. Photographer David Burdeny got special middle-of-the-night access to these stations in Moscow and St. Petersburg and came away with these great photographs. Could you imagine an NYC subway station with chandeliers? Or even moderately clean walls? (via petapixel)

“Are Liberals on the Wrong Side of History?”

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 20, 2017

Adam Gopnik writes about three books — Age of Anger by Pankaj Mishra, A Culture of Growth by Joel Mokyr, and Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari — that address the tension between liberalism and conservatism, going back to Voltaire v. Rousseau during the Enlightenment (and even further back, to Plato).

For Mishra, elements in modernity that seem violently opposed, Zionism and Islamism, Hindu nationalism and Theosophical soppiness — not to mention Nazi militarism — share a common wellspring. Their apostles all believe in some kind of blood consciousness, some kind of shared pre-rational identity, and appeal to a population enraged at being reduced to the hamster wheel of meaningless work and material reward. Mishra brings this Walpurgisnacht of romanticized violence to a nihilistic climax with the happy meeting in a Supermax prison of Timothy McVeigh, perpetrator of the Oklahoma City bombing, and Ramzi Yousef, perpetrator of the World Trade Center bombing: the fanatic, child-murdering right-wing atheist finds “lots in common” with the equally murderous Islamic militant — one of those healing conversations we’re always being urged to pursue. (“I never have [known] anyone in my life who has so similar a personality to my own as his,” Yousef gushed of McVeigh.)

Very interesting context and a stimulating argument for the middle way by Gopnik — in his estimation, Betteridge’s law applies to the title. He didn’t care much for Homo Deus, and I have to admit, as a big fan of Sapiens, that I’ve run out of steam with this new one and found myself nodding my head at Gopnik’s objections. I’m gonna get back to it, I’m sure, but with less enthusiasm than before.

Alexander and the V Bad, FML Day

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 17, 2017

From Mark Remy, a riff on the classic children’s book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, only this time Alexander has access to a smartphone, apps, and the cloud.

At breakfast Anthony watched ESPN on his tablet and Nick watched “Zootopia” on his tablet but on my tablet the video kept freezing.

I think I’ll move to Australia, where hybrid fibre-coaxial cable networks run at up to thirty megabits per second in major metro areas.

(thx, meg)

The economics of airline classes

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 17, 2017

How much money does an airline make on a typical flight in the various classes of service? On some flights, revenue from first & business class seats can be up to 5 times that of economy seats. This video explores the economics of airline classes and looks at how we got to the present moment, where the people and companies buying business class and first class tickets are subsidizing those of us who fly economy.

The first trailer for Coco

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 17, 2017

Pixar’s next movie, Coco, is coming out in November and here’s the first trailer.

Despite his family’s baffling generations-old ban on music, Miguel dreams of becoming an accomplished musician like his idol, Ernesto de la Cruz. Desperate to prove his talent, Miguel finds himself in the stunning and colorful Land of the Dead following a mysterious chain of events.

Lee Unkrich (Finding Nemo, Toy Story 3) directs and the movie is out on November 22.

How complacent are you?

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 17, 2017

In his new book, The Complacent Class, Tyler Cowen argues that Americans have gotten too comfortable.

In The Complacent Class: The Self-Defeating Quest for the American Dream, Tyler Cowen argues that more Americans are living comfortably and contently with what life has handed them. By sheltering ourselves from the new and different, it’s hard to see what is lost by standing still. But if you look at the data, we’re seeing a shift in the fabric of American society — from losses in new startups and economic growth to more instances of segregation and inequality. It’s not too late to change course and re-embrace the restlessness that has long defined America.

Cowen built a quiz that you can take to see if you are, in his eyes, too comfortable with your life. The quiz is composed of 27 questions like “In the last 10 years, how many states have you lived in?” and “Have you lived in a neighborhood for at least a year where you were the racial minority?” The quiz has four possible outcomes:

Tier 1: You are a trailblazer — You do not accept the status quo as the best outcome in life. Your ambitions will help America get out of its rut.

Tier 2: You are a striver — You embrace newness, but you need to strive harder to break the mold.

Tier 3: You are comfortable — You are interested in trying new things but not enough to create real change.

Tier 4: You are complacent — You need to get off the couch, step outside, and see what you’re missing.

I took the quiz and got “comfortable”, which seems fair enough, given the questions. I think part of that result is being introverted and part of it is family considerations that take precedence in my life over adventure and risk-taking. I wouldn’t ever call myself a “trailblazer” but I don’t know anyone who runs their own business who would consider that situation “comfortable”. “Terrifying on a daily basis” maybe.

How a bad grade on a college paper resulted in a Constitutional amendment

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 17, 2017

In college, Gregory Watson got a C on a paper in a government class about an ancient proposed amendment to the US Constitution written by James Madison in 1789.

Gregory was intrigued. He decided to write his paper about the amendment and argue that it was still alive and could be ratified. He got to work, being very meticulous about citations and fonts and everything. He turned it in to the teaching assistant for his class — and got it back with a C.

Motivated by what he considered an unfair grade, Watson spent the next 20 years working to get the amendment ratified. In 1992, Watson’s hard work paid off and the proposed amendment became the 27th Amendment to the US Constitution.

No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of representatives shall have intervened.

Now his former teacher thinks he deserves an A+. What a heartwarming story.

Or perhaps a terrifying one. If you look at the maps for the past 5 Presidential elections, you’ll notice that the red states outnumber the blue ones. Republicans dominate governorships and state legislatures too. The consolidation of liberal voters into fewer and fewer states (and cities) is likely to continue, making the state counts more lopsided. If you can get a proposed amendment out of Congress (or a national convention called for by 2/3 of the states), then 3/4 of the states (currently 38) are needed to ratify the amendment and make it the law of the land. Now, this doesn’t seem very likely, does it? Well, Gregory Watson got it done. Just imagine if he had resuscitated a half-ratified amendment outlawing immigration or something.

A trap for self-driving cars

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 16, 2017

Artist & writer James Bridle has shared a video and photos of his new work-in-progress, Autonomous Trap 001. It’s a trap for self-driving cars.

Autonomous Trap Bridle

Looooooovvve this. (via @robinsloan)

She Persisted, a children’s book by Chelsea Clinton

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 16, 2017

She Persisted

Chelsea Clinton and illustrator Alexandra Boiger are coming out with a children’s book in May called She Persisted that highlights 13 American women who changed the world.

Throughout American history, there have always been women who have spoken out for what’s right, even when they have to fight to be heard. In early 2017, Senator Elizabeth Warren’s refusal to be silenced in the Senate inspired a spontaneous celebration of women who persevered in the face of adversity. In this book, Chelsea Clinton celebrates thirteen American women who helped shape our country through their tenacity, sometimes through speaking out, sometimes by staying seated, sometimes by captivating an audience. They all certainly persisted.

Pre-ordered. Here are the women featured:

Harriet Tubman, Helen Keller, Clara Lemlich, Nellie Bly, Maria Tallchief, Claudette Colvin, Ruby Bridges, Margaret Chase Smith, Katherine Johnson, Sally Ride, Florence Griffith Joyner, Oprah Winfrey, Sonia Sotomayor — and one special cameo.

Special cameo? Has to be Hillary Clinton, no? See also Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls (Kindle version) and Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World.

What happens when Queen Elizabeth II dies?

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 16, 2017

Queen Elizabeth II

When Queen Elizabeth II dies, who knows how a Brexit-addled Britain might react. She’s ruled now for 65 years; so long that three of her Prime Ministers were born during her rule. That’s why the Palace has a plan (known as “London Bridge”) for announcing her death, “its ceremonial aftermath”, and the ascension of Charles to the throne.

More overwhelming than any of this, though, there will be an almighty psychological reckoning for the kingdom that she leaves behind. The Queen is Britain’s last living link with our former greatness - the nation’s id, its problematic self-regard — which is still defined by our victory in the second world war. One leading historian, who like most people I interviewed for this article declined to be named, stressed that the farewell for this country’s longest-serving monarch will be magnificent. “Oh, she will get everything,” he said. “We were all told that the funeral of Churchill was the requiem for Britain as a great power. But actually it will really be over when she goes.”

Unlike the US presidency, say, monarchies allow huge passages of time — a century, in some cases — to become entwined with an individual. The second Elizabethan age is likely to be remembered as a reign of uninterrupted national decline, and even, if she lives long enough and Scotland departs the union, as one of disintegration. Life and politics at the end of her rule will be unrecognisable from their grandeur and innocence at its beginning. “We don’t blame her for it,” Philip Ziegler, the historian and royal biographer, told me. “We have declined with her, so to speak.”

This is a great piece, full of interesting details and observations throughout. Like that George V was euthanized in time for the morning paper:

“The King’s life is moving peacefully towards its close,” was the final notice issued by George V’s doctor, Lord Dawson, at 9.30pm on the night of 20 January 1936. Not long afterwards, Dawson injected the king with 750mg of morphine and a gram of cocaine — enough to kill him twice over — in order to ease the monarch’s suffering, and to have him expire in time for the printing presses of the Times, which rolled at midnight.

And that radio stations are equipped with a emergency system:

Britain’s commercial radio stations have a network of blue “obit lights”, which is tested once a week and supposed to light up in the event of a national catastrophe. When the news breaks, these lights will start flashing, to alert DJs to switch to the news in the next few minutes and to play inoffensive music in the meantime. Every station, down to hospital radio, has prepared music lists made up of “Mood 2” (sad) or “Mood 1” (saddest) songs to reach for in times of sudden mourning.

They’ve got this planned out to the second…no detail is too small:

It takes 28 minutes at a slow march from the doors of St James’s to the entrance of Westminster Hall.

British royals are buried in lead-lined coffins. Diana’s weighed a quarter of a ton.

(via @oliverburkeman)

Snooooooow! Traaaiiiinnnnnn!

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 16, 2017

When the first train rolls into the station after a big snowstorm, you’d best stand well clear. This was the Rhinecliff Amtrak station in New York.

Norway’s new pixelated banknotes are gorgeous

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 16, 2017

Norway Banknotes

Norway Banknotes

Back in 2014, I posted that Norway would start using new banknotes in 2017 featuring an abstract pixelated design on the reverse of each note. Time did the only thing it knows how to do so here we are in 2017 and the bills will begin circulating later this year. The overall theme for the notes is “The Sea”:

Norway’s long, gnarled coastline has shaped the identity of Norwegians individually and as a nation. The use of marine resources, combined with the use of the sea as a transport artery, has been crucial to the development of Norwegian society.

And each particular note has its own subtheme:

The 50-krone banknote: The sea that binds us together
The 100-krone banknote: The sea that takes us out into the world
The 200-krone banknote: The sea that feeds us
The 500-krone banknote: The sea that gives us prosperity
The 1000-krone banknote: The sea that carries us forward

The final design concept by Terje Tønnessen was chosen from among several finalists. I love the final design but also really like the concept by Aslak Gurholt with a children’s drawing on the back of each note echoing the illustration on the front.

Norway Banknotes Gurholt

Also of note (ha!): Norges Bank crowdsourced several aspects of the design process but managed to do it in such a way as to avoid the Boaty McBoatface problem.

A fictional flight above real Mars

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 15, 2017

Using real images of Mars taken by the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Jan Fröjdman created a 3D-rendered flyover of several areas of the planet’s surface.

In this film I have chosen some locations and processed the images into panning video clips. There is a feeling that you are flying above Mars looking down watching interesting locations on the planet. And there are really great places on Mars! I would love to see images taken by a landscape photographer on Mars, especially from the polar regions. But I’m afraid I won’t see that kind of images during my lifetime.

It has really been time-consuming making these panning clips. In my 3D-process I have manually hand-picked reference points on the anaglyph image pairs. For this film I have chosen more than 33.000 reference points! It took me 3 months of calendar time working with the project every now and then.

Watch this in the highest def you can muster…gorgeous.

A timeline map of US immigration since 1820

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 15, 2017

This interactive map shows where the 79 million people who have immigrated to the US from 1820 to 2013 came from. In the past, incoming residents from Canada, Italy, Germany, and Ireland were prevalent, but more recently Mexico, China, and the Philippines have led the way.

What I think is particularly interesting about immigration to the U.S. is that each “wave” coming in from a particular country has a story behind it — usually escaping persecution (e.g. Jews escaping Russia after the May Laws were enacted, the Cuban Revolution) or major economic troubles (e.g. the Irish Potato Famine, the collapse of southern Italy after the Italian Unification).

There are plenty of dark spots on United States’ history, but the role it has played as a sanctuary for troubled people across the world is a history I feel very proud to be a part of.

The graph of incoming immigrants as a percentage of the total US population is especially instructive. Though higher than it was in the 60s and 70s, relative immigration rates are still far below what the country saw in the 1920s and before.

Racing the subway between stops on foot

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 15, 2017

In 2012, Francois De La Taille posted a video of himself racing a Paris Metro train from one station to the next, on foot. He exited the train, dashed out of the station, sprinted down the street (after pausing for a bus crossing the road), ran into the next station (after falling on the stairs), and hopped back onto the same train he’d just gotten off of.

Two years later, James Heptonstall did the same thing on the London Tube and, after a slow start, it went viral. Soon, people from all over the world were racing their hometown subway trains: Taiwan, Stockholm, Hong Kong, etc. If you’re wondering whether such a thing would be possible in NYC, the answer is yes, even if you pick the wrong door to start with:

(via @ftrain)

Relive the 1917 Russian Revolution through the voices of the day

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 14, 2017

Romanovs In Color

“1917. Free History” is a project that lets you relive the events of the 1917 Russian Revolution from letters, photos, videos, and texts written at the time.

The project consists entirely of primary sources. It includes not a trace of invention. All the texts used are taken from genuine documents written by historical figures: letters, memoirs, diaries and other documents of the period.

“1917. Free History” is a serial, but in the form of a social network. Every day, when you go onto the site, you will find out what happened exactly one hundred years ago: what various people were thinking about and what happened to each of them in this eventful year. You may not fast-forward into the future, but must follow events as they happen in real time.

“1917. Free History” is a way of bringing the past to life and bringing it closer to the present day. It is a way of understanding what the year 1917 was like for those who lived in Russia and in other countries. We have scoured archives and storerooms for texts, photographs and videos, many of which have never seen the light of day before.

For instance, 100 years ago today writer Maxim Gorky wrote:

The events currently unfolding appear grandiose, moving even, but the meaning behind them is not as profound and great as everyone takes it to be. I am trying to remain sceptical, although I am also moved to tears by the sights and songs of the soldiers marching to the State Duma. We can never go back, but we’ll not move much forward. A sparrow’s step maybe. A lot of blood will be spilt — more than has ever been spilt before.

Russian physiologist and Nobel Prize winner Ivan Pavlov wrote:

My assistant came in late today. He tried to explain that the revolution has halted all street transport. I believe that a revolution is no excuse for being late!

The image at the top of the page is Tsar Nicholas II with three of his daughters. Spoiler: he abdicates his throne tomorrow.

See also Who are you in 1917 Russia? (I ended up in the Democratic Right quadrant, just right of center.)

Happy 19th birthday, kottke.org!

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 14, 2017

Kottke Designs

As of today, I’ve been posting and linking to stuff on kottke.org for 19 years. When I started, I was 24 years old, working as a web designer for a small web development shop in Minneapolis. The site started as a offshoot of another site I had at the time, which I worked on in my spare time at home on my Pentium Pro 200 with a 56K modem. I worked at a desk that was really a 70s-style kitchen table I’d bought for $25. I’m sitting at that same table writing this right now. Earlier I was struggling to think of something else that’s been in my life for as long as kottke.org has…I guess this table is it.

Whether you’re a relatively recent reader or you’ve been along for the entire ride, I’d like to thank you for reading the site and for your feedback, gentle typo corrections, encouragement, push-back, and membership support. I’m really glad to be hurtling through space and time with you good people.

See also a retrospective of kottke.org designs I did nine years ago when the site turned 10.

Bowie impersonates other singers like Springsteen, Lou Reed

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 14, 2017

In a recording session in 1985, David Bowie casually did a number of impressions of other singers in-between takes. Among others, he sang as Lou Reed, Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, and Iggy Pop. These impersonations were recorded by producer Mark Saunders and were only released after Bowie’s death last year. Sanders recalls that the song Bowie sings appears to have been written quickly that day:

I think that Bowie probably wrote these lyrics quickly for the Springsteen impersonation which is first. I have no memory of us sitting around waiting for him to rewrite so it was probably done very quickly. If so, that’s pretty impressive! The imagery is definitely very Bruce.

The accompanying piece by Saunders is worth a read as well. During one of several sessions with Bowie, Mick Jagger showed up to record their Dancing in the Street cover for Live Aid; they did the whole thing, start to finish, in three hours.

The band was still working on different sections of the song, so there was a lot of stopping and starting, and it was as if Mick was wired to the sound because he could be in the middle of a serious conversation and when the band started playing he’d immediately start dancing and when the band stopped, he would, too. Not a full-blown Mick Jagger-on-stage kinda dance, but an on-the-spot dance that would enable him to continue his serious conversation. I thought this was awesome — like, he’s the real deal; music is in his blood and he just can’t even help himself!

(via @joeeenglish)

How blind people use iPhones with VoiceOver

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 14, 2017

In a short video and accompanying article, David Pogue profiles a little known but highly useful iOS feature called VoiceOver, which helps visually impaired people do anything and everything on their iPhones.

A few years ago, backstage at a conference, I spotted a blind woman using her phone. The phone was speaking everything her finger touched on the screen, allowing her to tear through her apps. My jaw hit the floor. After years of practice, she had cranked the voice’s speed so high, I couldn’t understand a word it was saying.

And here’s the kicker: She could do all of this with the screen turned off. Her phone’s battery lasted forever.

It’s possible that people using VoiceOver to control their phones are more efficient at many tasks than those who use the default interface.

This was very cool: “If I’m in my office and put my headphones on, I’m hearing the phone call and I’m hearing what VoiceOver is saying, all through the headphones. But the person on the other end cannot hear any of the VoiceOver stuff. You don’t know what I’m reading, what I’m doing. I can do all these complicated things without you hearing it. That’s what’s really incredible. If you and I were working together on a three-way call, and you were to text me, ‘Let’s wrap this up’ or ‘Don’t bring that up on this call’-I would know, but the other guy wouldn’t hear it.

Joe showed me how he takes photos. As he holds up the iPhone, VoiceOver tells him what he’s seeing: “One face. Centered. Focus lock,” and so on. Later, as he’s reviewing his photos in the Camera Roll, VoiceOver once again tells him what he’s looking at: “One face; slightly blurry.”

See also how blind people use Instagram and iPhone: a revolutionary device for the blind.

The Whole Earth Field Guide

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 13, 2017

The Whole Earth Field Guide

The Whole Earth Catalog was an iconic magazine and product catalog founded by Stewart Brand in the 1960s. The Whole Earth Field Guide, edited by Caroline Maniaque-Benton and released last October, serves both as an introduction to the philosophy behind The Whole Earth Catalog and as an anthology of the writing that appeared in its pages.

This book offers selections from eighty texts from the nearly 1,000 items of “suggested reading” in the Last Whole Earth Catalog.

After an introduction that provides background information on the catalog and its founder, Stewart Brand (interesting fact: Brand got his organizational skills from a stint in the Army), the book presents the texts arranged in nine sections that echo the sections of the Whole Earth Catalog itself. Enlightening juxtapositions abound.

The rove beetle’s ability to mimic army ants independently evolved many times

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 13, 2017

Rove Beetle Ant

Rove beetles have evolved the ability to look and smell enough like army ants that they can live amongst them. Until it’s dinner time.

The impostors look and smell like army ants, march with the ants, and even groom the ants. But far from being altruistic nest-mates, these creatures are parasitic beetles, engaged in a game of deception. Through dramatic changes in body shape, behavior, and pheromone chemistry, the beetles gain their hostile hosts’ acceptance, duping the ants so they can feast on the colony brood.

As you can see in the photo above, the resemblance is strong…the beetle is in the foreground with the larger headed ant behind.

But that’s not even the most amazing part. A recent discovery has shown that rove beetles have evolved this capability at least a dozen separate times, suggesting that certain evolutionary possibilities are more likely than other in the presence of strong environmental factors and traits.

The ant-mimicking beetles all belong to the Staphylinidae, or rove beetles, but don’t mistake them for close relatives: the last common ancestor of the beetles in the study lived 105 million years ago, at about the time that humans split from mice. “What’s exceptional is that this convergent system is evolutionarily ancient,” says Parker. Although most other convergent systems, such as Darwin’s finches, three-spined stickleback, and African lake cichlid fish, are a few million years old at most, this newly discovered example extends back into the Early Cretaceous.

Given this great age, Parker and his co-author Munetoshi Maruyama of the Kyushu University Museum argue that their finding challenges Stephen J. Gould’s hypothesis that if time could be rewound and evolution allowed to replay again, very different forms of life would emerge. “The tape of life has been extremely predictable whenever rove beetles and army ants have come together,” says Parker. “It begs the question: why has evolution followed this path so many times?”

(via @stewartbrand)

Baby Driver

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 13, 2017

A heist film featuring a getaway driver named Baby — B. A. B. Y. Baby? — directed by Edgar Wright of Hot Fuzz fame? Take. My. Money. This is like the comedy version of Drive. In making the film, Wright himself was influenced by the “holy trinity” of heist films from the 90s: Point Break, Reservoir Dogs, and Heat.

See also Tony Zhou’s video tribute to Wright: How to Do Visual Comedy.

Update: Well, that was the international trailer (which is good!) and this is the American trailer (which perhaps is not as good).

Is it me or does the American trailer aim about 15 IQ points lower than the other one? (thx, david)

A fan recut Breaking Bad into a 2-hour movie

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 13, 2017

The events and highly intricate plot lines of Breaking Bad take place over 62 episodes spanning 5 seasons, a true megamovie. Is it possible to edit all that down into a feature-length film that makes any sense? This fan-edit aims to answer that question.

What if Breaking Bad was a movie?

After two years of sleepless nights of endless editing, we bring you the answer to that very question. A study project that became an all-consuming passion.

It’s not a fan-film, hitting the highlights of show in a home-made homage, but rather a re-imagining of the underlying concept itself, lending itself to full feature-length treatment.

An alternative Breaking Bad, to be viewed with fresh eyes.

I haven’t had a chance to watch it yet — perhaps tonight — but am curious if it’s any good.

Update: Aaaaand it got taken down. Fun while it lasted! I’ve updated the embed to this copy on YouTube but that probably won’t last that long either.

Update: If you missed it yesterday before it got taken down, it seems to be back in its original home on Vimeo. *shrug* (Hahaha, it was up for about 10 minutes. Gone again!)

The I.O.U. by F. Scott Fitzgerald

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 13, 2017

The New Yorker has published a previously unpublished short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald called The I.O.U.

The above is not my real name — the fellow it belongs to gave me his permission to sign it to this story. My real name I shall not divulge. I am a publisher. I accept long novels about young love written by old maids in South Dakota, detective stories concerning wealthy clubmen and female apaches with “wide dark eyes,” essays about the menace of this and that and the color of the moon in Tahiti by college professors and other unemployed. I accept no novels by authors under fifteen years old. All the columnists and communists (I can never get these two words straight) abuse me because they say I want money. I do — I want it terribly. My wife needs it. My children use it all the time. If someone offered me all the money in New York I should not refuse it. I would rather bring out a book that had an advance sale of five hundred thousand copies than have discovered Samuel Butler, Theodore Dreiser, and James Branch Cabell in one year. So would you if you were a publisher.

Where did the story come from and how was it rediscovered?

He wrote “The I.O.U.” in the late spring of 1920, evidently after a specific request from Henry Blackman Sell, the editor of Harper’s Bazaar. Fitzgerald dropped the story off at Ober’s offices in New York, reminding him, “This is the plot that Sell particularly wanted for Harps. Baz and which I promised him. I think it is pretty good.” In July, Ober sent the story on to the Saturday Evening Post, but Fitzgerald asked for it back because he wanted to revise it. Ober returned the manuscript and typescript to Fitzgerald, who set it aside and concentrated instead on his second novel, “The Beautiful and Damned,” telling Ober “there will probably be no more short stories this summer.” Lost in the sparkling shuffle of Fitzgerald’s first fame, the story remained the property of the Trustees of the Fitzgerald Estate until it was rediscovered and sold to Yale University’s Beinecke Library in 2012.

This story, as well as several other previously unpublished stories of Scott’s will appear in a book called I’d Die For You: And Other Lost Stories that comes out in April.

An epidemic of middle-aged male loneliness

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 10, 2017

Um…

Vivek Murthy, the surgeon general of the United States, has said many times in recent years that the most prevalent health issue in the country is not cancer or heart disease or obesity. It is isolation.

Oh.

Beginning in the 1980s, Schwartz says, study after study started showing that those who were more socially isolated were much more likely to die during a given period than their socially connected neighbors, even after you corrected for age, gender, and lifestyle choices like exercising and eating right. Loneliness has been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke and the progression of Alzheimer’s. One study found that it can be as much of a long-term risk factor as smoking.

The research doesn’t get any rosier from there. In 2015, a huge study out of Brigham Young University, using data from 3.5 million people collected over 35 years, found that those who fall into the categories of loneliness, isolation, or even simply living on their own see their risk of premature death rise 26 to 32 percent.

Eep!

Flatland II, curved landscape panoramas

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 10, 2017

Buyuktas Flatland

Buyuktas Flatland

Buyuktas Flatland

Aydın Büyüktaş has continued his Flatland project with more of these photographic panoramas folded over on themselves. Looks like he’s gotten better at picking good subjects and stitching these together…love these. (via colossal)

Top-notch trolling: Reasons To Vote For Democrats

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 10, 2017

The #1 bestselling book on Amazon right now is called Reasons To Vote For Democrats: A Comprehensive Guide. It’s by Michael Knowles, costs $8.03, and is filled with 266 blank pages. I have to admit, that’s pretty damn funny.

The most exhaustively researched and coherently argued Democrat Party apologia to date, “Reasons To Vote For Democrats: A Comprehensive Guide” is a political treatise sure to stand the test of time. A must-have addition to any political observer’s coffee table.

The follow-on joke is never as funny as the original, but you can also buy a blank book called Reasons to Vote for Republicans. (via buzzfeed)

Update: We’ve got some prior art, folks. David King published a blank book called Why Trump Deserves Trust, Respect & Admiration back in November 2016 (there’s a Kindle version, LOL). And this copy of All I Know About the Ladies by R.V. Harris looks significantly older than that. (via @alexhern & @typeter)

Update: One more round of prior art: The Wit and Wisdom of Spiro T. Agnew and Everything Men Know About Women. (via @MattyPKing & @EdwardGoodmann)

That fainting life

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 10, 2017

Fainting

Isabella Rotman drew a comic for The Nib about her life as a hemophobe (someone who faints at the sight of blood).

Once at a former deli job, I passed out onto a pizza oven in response to a coworker’s particularly graphic description of a lawn mower injury. Had the oven been on, I would have suffered some pretty drastic burns.

I’m a fainter, though not at the sight of blood. After fainting a couple of times in high school, a doctor chalked it up to low blood pressure — I am the chillest mofo you know, blood pressure-wise — and urged me not to stand up too quickly after lying down. Just this morning, I did not heed that advice and almost toppled over after getting out of bed and stretching my arms above my head.

But my bigger problem, and what made Rotman’s comic resonate with me, is that medical procedures and doctor’s offices also cause me to faint. This wasn’t always the case. When I was younger, I received allergy shots up to three times a week and had no problem going into the clinic to get my shot…I even looked at the thin needle going into my arm every time. Flu shots, dentist visits, doctor’s appointments? No problem. Then when I was 17, I went to the local clinic for a mandatory physical for college. They did a blood draw, which went smoothly, but right afterwards, as I was sitting in a chair in the hallway, I fainted — probably because of my low blood pressure. Weird, but not a big deal.

Fast forward 12-15 years, during which time (because I was young and healthy and dumb and medical care is expensive) I did not visit a doctor’s office1 and somehow I had developed a phobia of needles going into my skin. I found this out when I went to get a flu shot, watched the needle sink into my arm, and promptly passed the fuck out.2 Since then, any time I’ve had to get a shot or blood drawn, I have fainted (or at least felt like I was going to).

That’s bad enough, but the problem became psychosomatic. Any trip to a doctor’s office will now trigger a faint feeling, even if I’m not the patient. Every time I take my kids to the pediatrician, there’s a possibility I’ll end up on the floor. When my wife was pregnant with our first kid, I nearly fainted at one of her ultrasound appointments and the ultrasound tech plopped me down in a nearby chair and handed me a glucose drink, telling me that becoming a father is a lot to handle for some men. (I think I nodded weakly, not even able to muster a “yeah, it’s not that”.) It’s gotten to the point where even *thinking* about it makes me feel weird. My palms have been sweaty and I’ve felt lightheaded the entire time I’ve been writing this post. The same thing happens when I tell people about it in person. It’s ridiculous and I feel stupid about it, even though it’s a stark reminder how much your subconscious thoughts can affect your body (and how little control we have over ourselves sometimes).

As Rotman did, I have been attempting exposure therapy with some success. When I went in for a physical a few months ago, I told the nurse that I might faint during the blood draw. She had me lay down on the table and just before she came over with the kit, I popped my headphones in and put on some relaxing music (Tycho I think). I broke out in a sweat and the procedure took much longer than it should have — she had to stick me *twice* because she didn’t get enough the first time — but I got through it without passing out. Progress to build on, I hope!

  1. Aside from a trip to the emergency room from — you guessed it! — a fainting incident when I was 24. Came to on the floor of the bathroom having slammed my mouth on the edge of the counter. It was exactly as painful as it sounds and it totally fucked up my grill.

  2. And wow, did the nurse look alarmed when I came to a few seconds later. They all look alarmed, even when I tell them ahead of time that I might faint. One of the last times, the nurse said, “I didn’t think you were actually serious.” (That fainting experience was the weirdest one I’ve ever had. According to the nurse, I was out for about 6-8 seconds but had a whole experience in my head that lasted for at least a half hour. I wasn’t near death, but it felt very real and I can definitely see how some people would interpret that as an out-of-body or religious experience.)

What if Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton had swapped genders?

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 10, 2017

Maria Guadalupe, an economics and political science professor, and Joe Salvatore, a professor of educational theater, recently put on a pair of performances that restaged the three Presidential debates between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. But this time, they had a woman play the Trump role (as “Brenda King”) and a man play the Clinton role (as “Jonathan Gordon”), with each attempting to portray the precise mannerisms, styles, and speech of the respective candidates. How would audiences react to the gender-switched candidates?

Salvatore says he and Guadalupe began the project assuming that the gender inversion would confirm what they’d each suspected watching the real-life debates: that Trump’s aggression — his tendency to interrupt and attack — would never be tolerated in a woman, and that Clinton’s competence and preparedness would seem even more convincing coming from a man.

But the lessons about gender that emerged in rehearsal turned out to be much less tidy. What was Jonathan Gordon smiling about all the time? And didn’t he seem a little stiff, tethered to rehearsed statements at the podium, while Brenda King, plainspoken and confident, freely roamed the stage? Which one would audiences find more likeable?

The audience’s reaction to the performances was surprising.

We heard a lot of “now I understand how this happened” — meaning how Trump won the election. People got upset. There was a guy two rows in front of me who was literally holding his head in his hands, and the person with him was rubbing his back. The simplicity of Trump’s message became easier for people to hear when it was coming from a woman — that was a theme. One person said, “I’m just so struck by how precise Trump’s technique is.” Another — a musical theater composer, actually — said that Trump created “hummable lyrics,” while Clinton talked a lot, and everything she was was true and factual, but there was no “hook” to it. Another theme was about not liking either candidate — you know, “I wouldn’t vote for either one.”

Here’s a clip from one of the rehearsals:

I think it’s important not to take away too much from this experiment (and perhaps the same should be said of televised political debates in general) but after watching that short clip and hearing about the audience’s reaction, I couldn’t help but think of Al Gore. In the lead-up to the election, I’d never thought of Clinton that way — meaning very smart, compassionate, and supremely qualified but ultimately a bit dull and uninspiring a la Gore — but maybe she did lack a critical charisma compared to Trump.

Since the Kennedy/Nixon debates, we’ve known that how candidates handle themselves on television — in debates, interviews, televised speeches, etc. — is critical to the voters’ perceptions of them. Gore, Jimmy Carter, Michael Dukakis, Mitt Romney, Bob Dole, Walter Mondale, John Kerry…they all were bested by more charismatic candidates (Reagan, Obama, Bill Clinton) that were in some cases not as qualified on paper. Even the Bushes (especially Dubya) had an aw shucks-y folksiness that could charm people sympathetic to their message. Perhaps Hillary Clinton belongs on that list as well. (via mr)

Elena Ferrante’s novels to become a TV series

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 10, 2017

Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels, a series of four novels set in post-war Naples, will be turned into a 32-part TV miniseries directed and co-written by Italian director Saverio Costanzo.

Mr. Costanzo, best known for “Private” and “Hungry Hearts” (which co-starred Adam Driver), said in a telephone interview that the biggest challenge to adapting the novels for television was how “to convey the same emotions as the books in a cinematographic way.”

He added that he was writing the script with the Italian writers Francesco Piccolo and Laura Paolucci, and that Ms. Ferrante was also expected to contribute to the screenplay. (He expects to communicate with the author via email.)

The series will be filmed in Italy in Italian. The first season will cover the first book, with eight episodes of 50 minutes each. Filming is expected to begin in Naples this year and the first season is expected to air in the fall of 2018.

This could be amazing or it could be terrible. Or I guess it could be mediocre. Or anywhere in between really. [Uh, thanks for that hard-hitting analysis, Jason. -ed] (via @tedgioia)

Teaser trailer for Deadpool 2

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 09, 2017

I tend not to like superhero movies as a genre — they take themselves far too seriously for something that’s supposed to be fun — but I really enjoyed Deadpool and it looks like Deadpool 2 is going to be more of the same so, yeah, I’ll see that when it comes out.

(This trailer was attached to the front end of Logan, which I also really liked. Yes, the movie took itself very seriously, but it was also a reminder that modern blockbuster movies are stuffed with acting talent and if you give those underutilized actors good material and let them go, good things happen.)

The shortlist for 2017 Sony World Photography Awards

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 09, 2017

Sony Photo Awards 2017

Sony Photo Awards 2017

Sony Photo Awards 2017

Photographers from more than 60 countries submitted almost 230,000 entries for the World Photography Organization’s 2017 Sony World Photography Awards and they recently announced the top 10 (as well as the commended top 50) photographers in several different categories. Some fantastic work in here.

From top to bottom, a school of fish by Christian Vizl, the Shaolin Wushu school of martial arts by Luo Pin Xi, and a landscape by Tom Jacobi. (via in focus)

Intricately carved fruits & vegetables

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 09, 2017

Gaku

Gaku

Gaku

A Japanese artist called Gaku carves fruits and vegetables in an amazingly intricate way and posts the results to his Instagram account. He turned what looks like a radish into Baymax from Big Hero 6! (via colossal)

The Goddesses of Venus

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 08, 2017

Goddesses Of Venus Map

Last year, Eleanor Lutz made a medieval-style map of Mars. As a follow-up, she’s made a topographical map of Venus. The features on Venus are named for female mythological figures & notable women and Lutz provides a small biography for each one on the map. Among those featured on the map are:

Anne Frank
Selu (Cherokee Corn Goddess)
Kali (Hindu Goddess, Mother of Death)
Virginia Woolf
Sedna (Eskimo Whose Fingers Became Seals and Whales)
Ubastet (Egyptian Cat Goddess)
Beatrix Potter
Edith Piaf

Here are the full lists of the craters, mountains, and coronae on Venus.

City of Women NYC subway map

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 08, 2017

City Of Women Subway Map

From the New Yorker, Rebecca Solnit on how the world’s places are mostly named after men.

A horde of dead men with live identities haunt New York City and almost every city in the Western world. Their names are on the streets, buildings, parks, squares, colleges, businesses, and banks, and their figures are on the monuments. For example, at Fifty-ninth and Grand Army Plaza, right by the Pulitzer Fountain (for the newspaper magnate Joseph Pulitzer), is a pair of golden figures: General William Tecumseh Sherman on horseback and a woman leading him, who appears to be Victory and also a nameless no one in par-ticular. She is someone else’s victory.

The biggest statue in the city is a woman, who welcomes everyone and is no one: the Statue of Liberty, with that poem by Emma Lazarus at her feet, the one that few remember calls her “Mother of Exiles.” Statues of women are not uncommon, but they’re allegories and nobodies, mothers and muses and props but not Presidents.

For her book Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas, Solnit and her co-author Joshua Jelly-Schapiro commissioned Molly Roy to make a subway map of NYC that uses only the names of the city’s prominent women for the station names.

It’s a map that reflects the remarkable history of charismatic women who have shaped New York City from the beginning, such as the seventeenth-century Quaker preacher Hannah Feake Bowne, who is routinely written out of history — even the home in Flushing where she held meetings is often called the John Bowne house. Three of the four female Supreme Court justices have come from the city, and quite a bit of the history of American feminism has unfolded here, from Victoria Woodhull to Shirley Chisholm to the Guerrilla Girls.

Whitman, Alabama

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 08, 2017

Filmmaker Jennifer Crandall has spent the past two years travelling all around Alabama, collecting short video vignettes of people’s lives — “Might we pull out our cameras to capture a few tiny moments from your life?” — and now she’s posting the videos on the Whitman, Alabama site.

I believe in listening and I believe in creating spaces intimate enough for voices to be heard. I believe in Alabama and her people. So I wanted to try to amplify her voices. To do this, a patchwork team of us set out and began to make a 52-part documentary film.

We crisscrossed the state, made acquaintances with strangers and asked: “Might we pull out our cameras to capture a few tiny moments from your life?”

And people said yes! (This still surprises me every time.)

And then we said: “There’s a catch. Can we do it while you read some poetry?”

I have to say, you Alabamians stepped up to the plate. You said, “Yes, I believe that’d still be all right.”

Each of her 52 subjects recites a verse from Walt Whitman’s poem Song of Myself. Why Whitman and not a poem by a southern poet?

I like the idea of cheekily co-opting the work of a dead white Yankee and re-envisioning it through contemporary Southern voices. I think we’ve found a neat way of mixing DNA here by joining these voices with Whitman’s. We’ve taken Whitman up on his offer to be co-creators, co-authors, of “Song of Myself.”

The Sullivan family read verse 16:

Some people just hit you in the heart. I was at Yen Restaurant in Mobile, looking for a hit of comfort food—Vietnamese food — and Cathy, Samantha and Brandon walked in.

Samantha reminded me of myself — half-Asian, half-white, sort of a tomboy. I approached them. Immediately they were open and warm. I asked Cathy if they might want to read for the project.

She said sure. No hesitation. She appreciated art and music. Samantha did, too. Cathy stenciled boats for a living. Samantha wanted to be an illustrator or graphic designer someday.

Sometimes if people think something isn’t going to look good to other people, they won’t let you see it, let alone film it. But Cathy threw open the doors in full welcome.

Spend some time with the project, meet some of your fellow Americans you might not know that well. (via @alainabrowne)

Update: Jia Tolentino interviewed Crandall about the project for the New Yorker.

The first time Crandall read “Song of Myself,” it was 1990, and she was sixteen, standing in a bookstore in McLean, Virginia, having just moved back to the United States. Because of her father’s job, with U.S.A.I.D., she had spent most of her childhood in Bangladesh, Haiti, and Pakistan. “My mom is Chinese, from Vietnam, and my dad’s a white dude from Denver, and at that moment I just felt that I did not understand America,” she said. She pulled a paperback anthology of poetry off the shelf, and Whitman stuck out right away. “Though I wouldn’t have articulated it then, what I responded to was this idea that everyone embodies diversity, not just the country. That many people are negotiating multiple social contracts, the way I’d been doing since I was born.”

John James Audubon’s five mystery birds

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 07, 2017

Audubon mystery bird

Audubon mystery bird

Audubon mystery bird

Over a period of thirteen years beginning in the 1820s, John James Audubon painted 435 different species of American birds.1 When he was finished, the illustrations were compiled into The Birds of America, one of the most celebrated books in American naturalism. Curiously however, five of the birds Audubon painted have never been identified: Townsend’s Finch, Cuvier’s Kinglet, Carbonated Swamp Warbler, Small-headed Flycatcher and Blue Mountain Warbler.

These birds have never been positively identified, and no identical specimens have been confirmed since Audubon painted them. Ornithologists have suggested that they might be color mutations, surviving members of species that soon became extinct, or interspecies hybrids that occurred only once.

The specimen that Audubon used to paint Townsend’s Bunting is now in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, identified as Townsend’s Dickcissel, but no bird exactly like it has been reported, Dr. Olson, an authority on Audubon’s work, noted in an email. Ornithologists suggest that it is either a mutation of the Dickcissel or a hybrid of Dickcissel and Blue Grosbeak, she said.

And that’s not counting the ones he got wrong for other reasons:

And indeed, there are several birds painted and explained in Birds of America that are not, in fact, actual species. Some are immature birds mistaken for adults of a new species (the mighty “Washington’s Eagle” was, in all likelihood, an immature Bald Eagle). Some were female birds that didn’t look anything like their male partners (“Selby’s Flycatcher” was a female Hooded Warbler).

Audubon also painted six species of bird that have since become extinct: Carolina parakeet, passenger pigeon, Labrador duck, great auk, Eskimo curlew, and pinnated grouse. Here’s his portrait of the passenger pigeon:

Audubon Passenger Pigeon

There were an estimated 3 billion passenger pigeons in the world in the early 1800s — about one in every three birds in North America was a passenger pigeon at the time. Their flocks were so large, it took hours and even days for them to pass. Audubon himself observed in 1813:

I dismounted, seated myself on an eminence, and began to mark with my pencil, making a dot for every flock that passed. In a short time finding the task which I had undertaken impracticable, as the birds poured in in countless multitudes, I rose and, counting the dots then put down, found that 163 had been made in twenty-one minutes. I traveled on, and still met more the farther I proceeded. The air was literally filled with Pigeons; the light of noon-day was obscured as by an eclipse; the dung fell in spots, not unlike melting flakes of snow, and the continued buzz of wings had a tendency to lull my senses to repose… I cannot describe to you the extreme beauty of their aerial evolutions, when a hawk chanced to press upon the rear of the flock. At once, like a torrent, and with a noise like thunder, they rushed into a compact mass, pressing upon each other towards the center. In these almost solid masses, they darted forward in undulating and angular lines, descended and swept close over the earth with inconceivable velocity, mounted perpendicularly so as to resemble a vast column, and, when high, were seen wheeling and twisting within their continued lines, which then resembled the coils of a gigantic serpent… Before sunset I reached Louisville, distant from Hardensburgh fifty-five miles. The Pigeons were still passing in undiminished numbers and continued to do so for three days in succession.

100 years later, they were all dead. Which may have had at least one interesting consequence:

But the sad echo of the loss of passenger pigeons still reverberates today because its extinction probably exacerbated the proliferation of Lyme disease. When the passenger pigeons existed in large numbers, they subsisted primarily on acorns. However, since there are no pigeons to eat acorns, the populations of Eastern deer mice — the main reservoir of Lyme disease — exploded far beyond historic levels as they exploited this unexpected food bonanza.

  1. Interesting note: Audubon financed this project through a subscription plan. Each month or two, each subscriber would receive a set of five prints and the proceeds covered the costly printing process and Audubon’s nature travels.

Abacus use can boost math skills (and other lessons on learning)

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 07, 2017

Abacus

The abacus counting device dates back thousands of years but has, in the past century, been replaced by calculators and computers. But studies show that abacus use can have an effect on how well people learn math. In this excerpt adapted from his new book Learn Better, education researcher Ulrich Boser writes about the abacus and how people learn.

Researchers from Harvard to China have studied the device, showing that abacus students often learn more than students who use more modern approaches.

UC San Diego psychologist David Barner led one of the studies, and he argues that abacus training can significantly boost math skills with effects potentially lasting for decades.

“Based on everything we know about early math education and its long-term effects, I’ll make the prediction that children who thrive with abacus will have higher math scores later in life, perhaps even on the SAT,” Barner told me.

Ignore the hyperbolic “and it changed my life” in the title…this piece is interesting throughout. For example, this passage on the strength of the mind-body connection and the benefits of learning by doing:

When first I watched high school abacus whiz Serena Stevenson, her hand gestures seemed like a pretentious affect, like people who wear polka-dot bow ties. But it turned out that her finger movements weren’t really all that dramatic, and on YouTube, I watched students with even more theatrical gesticulations. What’s more, the hand movements turned out to be at the heart of the practice, and without any arm or finger motions, accuracy can drop by more than half.

Part of the explanation for the power of the gestures goes to the mind-body connection. But just as important is the fact that abacus makes learning a matter of doing. It’s an active, engaging process. As one student told me, abacus is like “intellectual powerlifting.”

Psychologist Rich Mayer has written a lot about this idea, and in study after study he has shown that people gain expertise by actively producing what they know. As he told me: “Learning is a generative activity.”

I’d never heard of the concept of overlearning before:

Everybody from actors learning lines, to musicians learning new songs, to teachers trying to impart key facts to students has observed that learning has to “sink in” in the brain. Prior studies and also the new one, for example, show that when people learn a new task and then learn a similar one soon afterward, the second instance of learning often interferes with and undermines the mastery achieved on the first one.

The new study shows that overlearning prevents against such interference, cementing learning so well and quickly, in fact, that the opposite kind of interference happens instead. For a time, overlearning the first task prevents effective learning of the second task — as if learning becomes locked down for the sake of preserving master of the first task. The underlying mechanism, the researchers discovered, appears to be a temporary shift in the balance of two neurotransmitters that control neural flexibility, or “plasticity,” in the part of the brain where the learning occurred.

“These results suggest that just a short period of overlearning drastically changes a post-training plastic and unstable [learning state] to a hyperstabilized state that is resilient against, and even disrupts, new learning,” wrote the team led by corresponding author Takeo Watanabe, the Fred M. Seed Professor of Cognitive Linguistic and Psychological Sciences at Brown.

Steve Reich is calling

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 07, 2017

Oh, this is just a little brilliant. Steve Reich is a composer famous for his experimentation with musical looping and phasing. His 1967 piece Piano Phase featured a pair of pianists repetitively performing the same piece at two slightly different tempos, forming a continually evolving musical round. Seth Kranzler took this idea and made a Reich-like piece with two iPhones ringing at slightly different tempos. Here’s a video of the effect in action:

Man, this is nerdy on so many levels and I am here for it.

Duke Ellington played Beatles tunes on the Ed Sullivan Show

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 07, 2017

In 1970, Duke Ellington and his orchestra played a medley of songs by The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show. The set list was:

She Loves You
All My Loving
Eleanor Rigby
She’s Leaving Home
Norwegian Wood
Ticket To Ride

See also The Beatles singing I Want to Hold Your Hand on their very first Ed Sullivan appearance, which kicked off the British Invasion in earnest.

The Cessna 172, the world’s most popular small airplane

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 06, 2017

Cessna 172

The Cessna 172 has been in production since 1956 and the design is essentially the same now as it was then.

You might think this was a high-performance car with a little more-than-average leg room — but it’s a plane. The Cessna 172, which first rolled off the production line in 1956, is still in production today. And if any design could claim to be the world’s favourite aircraft, it’s the 172.

More than 43,000 Cessna 172s have been made so far. And while the 172 (also known as the Skyhawk) has undergone a myriad of tweaks and improvements over the past 60-odd years, the aircraft essentially looks much the same as it did when it was first built in the 1950s.

In the past 60 years, Cessna 172s have become a staple of flight training schools across the world. Generations of pilots have taken their first, faltering flights in a Cessna 172, and for good reason — it’s a plane deliberately designed to be easy to fly, and to survive less-than-accomplished landings.

The 172 was so durable, a pair of pilots kept one in the air continuously for more than 64 days.

Refuelling and resupplying the plane with food and water was an even bigger challenge. The Cessna had to fly close to the ground and match the speed of a car carrying supplies for the pilots — the reserve pilot would then lower a bucket so food and water could be put in it and then hoisted back up into the cabin. And twice a day, a fuel tanker drove underneath the Cessna and a hose was raised up to the aircraft. It filled up a belly tank especially installed for the flight, which then transferred fuel into the plane’s normal fuel tanks (and then the belly tank was topped up too). Even driving the resupply vehicles was a challenge — while one person steered, the other matched the speed of Timm and Cook’s Cessna by looking out of the window while keeping their foot on the accelerator. It was a good thing the flight took place in Nevada, with acres of flat, featureless desert outside the city boundaries.

My dad ran a small airline when I was a kid and one of his planes was a 172 built in 1964. I have a lot of fond memories of that 1721 — that was the plane he taught me how to fly when I was 5 or 6 years old, it’s the one he kept when his business folded in the early 80s, and he used it to come get me at college a few times. It was also the plane I last flew in with my dad.

One of the last times I went flying with my dad, before it finally became too expensive for him to keep up his plane, we were flying into a small airport where he still kept a hangar. It was a fine day when we set out but as we neared our destination, the weather turned dark. You could see the storm coming from miles away and we raced it to the airport. The wind had really picked up as we made our first approach to land; I don’t know what the windspeed was, but it was buffeting us around pretty good. About 50 feet off the ground, the wind slammed the plane downwards, dropping a dozen feet in half a second. In a calm voice, my dad said, “we’d better go around and try this again”.

As far as I know, he still has the 172 stashed away in a hangar somewhere. It hasn’t flown in probably 20 years, but I bet if you threw some gas in it and cranked ‘er up, it’d fly just fine. (via @jasonfried)

  1. Maybe other people name their planes, but my dad didn’t. His stable of aircraft included “the 172”, “the 401”, “the Aztek”, and the “Cherokee 6”…those are the ones I remember anyway.

If only 100 people lived on Earth…

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 06, 2017

Because many people have trouble with very large numbers, what if you reimagined the billions of humans on Earth as a slightly more manageable number? Say, 100? If 100 people represented the current population of the Earth:

25 people would be 0-14 years old
31 would be Christian
23 would be Muslim
15 would be Hindu
6 would speak Spanish
5 would speak English
54 would be urban dwellers
11 would live on less than $1.90 USD per day
95 live in an area with a mobile-cellular network

And some that are not on that page:

1 person would die every 15 months
2 people would be born every 6 months
1350 people would have died, all-time

The best medical science images of the year

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 06, 2017

Wellcome Images 2017

Wellcome Images 2017

Wellcome Images 2017

The Wellcome Image Awards 2017 recognize the best images related to healthcare and biomedical science taken during the past year.

The Wellcome Image Awards are Wellcome’s most eye-catching celebration of science, medicine and life. Now in their 20th year, the Awards recognise the creators of informative, striking and technically excellent images that communicate significant aspects of healthcare and biomedical science. Those featured are selected from all of the new images acquired by Wellcome Images during the preceding year. The judges are experts from medical science and science communication.

From top to bottom, there’s Mark R. Smith’s photo of a baby Hawaiian bobtail squid, neural stem cells growing on a synthetic gel photographed by Collin Edington and Iris Lee, and Scott Echols’ image of a pigeon’s blood vessel network. (via digg)

A magically levitating helicopter, courtesy of a camera frame rate trick

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 06, 2017

When you perfectly match a video camera’s frame rate to the rotation of a helicopter’s rotors as it takes off, it looks like it’s magically floating away on the breeze. Here’s an older video of the same effect that I probably posted back in the day. Here’s an explanation of the effect:

Since each frame has to ensure the blade is in the same position as the last it therefore needs to be in sync with the rpm of the rotar blades. Shutter speed then needs to be fast enough to freeze the blade without too much motion blur within each frame.

Here the rotor has five blades, now lets say the rpm of the rotor is 300. That means, per rotation, a blade is in a specific spot on five counts. That gives us an effective rpm of 1500. 1500rpm / 60secs = 25.

Therefore shooting at 25fps will ensure the rotor blades are shot in the same position every frame. Each frame then has to be shot at a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the blade for minimal motion blur.

This is basically the same technique used by John Edmark for his strobe light sculptures.

MIT Technology Review’s 10 Breakthrough Technologies of 2017

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 06, 2017

From the MIT Technology Review, the 10 Breakthrough Technologies of 2017:

Reversing Paralysis
Self-Driving Trucks
Paying with Your Face
Practical Quantum Computers
The 360-Degree Selfie
Hot Solar Cells
Gene Therapy 2.0
The Cell Atlas
Botnets of Things
Reinforcement Learning

The piece on Hot Solar Cells caught my eye:

Solar panels cover a growing number of rooftops, but even decades after they were first developed, the slabs of silicon remain bulky, expensive, and inefficient. Fundamental limitations prevent these conventional photovoltaics from absorbing more than a fraction of the energy in sunlight.

But a team of MIT scientists has built a different sort of solar energy device that uses inventive engineering and advances in materials science to capture far more of the sun’s energy. The trick is to first turn sunlight into heat and then convert it back into light, but now focused within the spectrum that solar cells can use. While various researchers have been working for years on so-called solar thermophotovoltaics, the MIT device is the first one to absorb more energy than its photovoltaic cell alone, demonstrating that the approach could dramatically increase efficiency.

A neuroscientist explains a concept at five different levels

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 04, 2017

Wired recently challenged neuroscientist Bobby Kasthuri to explain what a connectome is to people with five different levels of potential understanding: a 5-year-old, a 13-year-old, a college student, a neuroscience grad student, and an expert neuroscientist. His goal: “every person here can leave with understanding it at some level”.

Watching this, I kept thinking of Richard Feynman, who was particularly adept at describing concepts to non-experts without sacrificing truth or even nuance. See him explain fire, rubber bands, how trains go around curves, and magnets.

Snakisms

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 03, 2017

Snakisms

From Pippin Barr, Snakisms is a collection of 21 different variations on the old school cellphone game Snake. Each variation is based on a philosophical -ism like stoicism, capitalism, and determinism. For example, in the asceticism game, you lose as soon as you consume a dot. Clever and funny…I laughed pretty hard at narcissism.

How to succeed in business by Michael Bloomberg

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 03, 2017

Michael Bloomberg, billionaire business owner of Bloomberg and former three-term mayor of NYC, recently shared some advice with the NY Times on how to succeed in business.

What disturbs me is you talk to kids applying today and they invariably say, “I cured cancer, I brought peace to the Mideast.” Spare me. How about, “My father never existed, my mother is a convicted drug dealer. I worked three shifts at McDonald’s.” That’s the kind of kid I want - with an ethic of taking care of his family - because then he’ll take care of others. Some of us don’t have much prenatal intelligence, but nevertheless go out and try and have a decent chance of surviving. I’m not the smartest guy in the room, but nobody’s going to outwork me.

About half of this advice seems useless to anyone who isn’t already fantastically successful relative to most other people. Being fired from your bond trading firm with a $10 million severance is adversity now? See also survivorship bias.

An appreciation of the Hubble’s Deep Field images

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 03, 2017

More than 20 years ago, the Hubble Space Telescope took a photo of a patch of seemingly dark sky and, lo, it was filled with hundreds and hundreds of galaxies.

Hubble Ultra Deep Field

About ten years after that, they looked even deeper into the night sky and observed thousands of galaxies, each containing hundreds of billions of stars. The video above is an appreciation of these Deep Field images and what they taught us about the Universe.

In 1995, scientists pointed the Hubble Telescope at an area of the sky near the Big Dipper. The location was apparently empty, and the whole endeavour was risky — what, if anything, was going to show up? But what came back was nothing short of spectacular: an image of over 1,500 galaxies glimmering in a tiny sliver of the universe. Alex Hofeldt helps us understand the scale of this image.

The Marked Woman: how the Osage Indian murders began

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 02, 2017

The New Yorker has published an online excerpt of David Grann’s new book about the murders of more than a dozen Osage Indians in the 1920s, Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI.

Like their parents, Mollie and her sisters had their names inscribed on the Osage Roll, which meant that they were among the registered members of the tribe. It also meant that they possessed a fortune. In the early eighteen-seventies, the Osage had been driven from their lands in Kansas onto a rocky, presumably worthless reservation in northeastern Oklahoma, only to discover, decades later, that this land was sitting above some of the largest oil deposits in the United States. To obtain that oil, prospectors had to pay the Osage in the form of leases and royalties. In the early twentieth century, each person on the tribal roll began receiving a quarterly check. The amount was initially for only a few dollars, but over time, as more oil was tapped, the dividends grew into the hundreds, then the thousands of dollars. And virtually every year the payments increased, like the prairie creeks that joined to form the wide, muddy Cimarron, until the tribe members had collectively accumulated millions and millions of dollars. (In 1923 alone, the tribe took in more than thirty million dollars, the equivalent today of more than four hundred million dollars.) The Osage were considered the wealthiest people per capita in the world. “Lo and behold!” the New York weekly Outlook exclaimed. “The Indian, instead of starving to death … enjoys a steady income that turns bankers green with envy.”

Fair warning, this piece is tantalizingly short and serves more as a teaser for the book than a stand-alone excerpt, which I don’t mind because I was planning on reading it anyway.

To The Right

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 02, 2017

To The Right is a collection of left-to-right tracking shots from movies assembled by Candice Drouet. Included are films like Jackie Brown, Fight Club, Little Miss Sunshine, Psycho, The Shining, and The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Papercraft infographic of fire resistant plants

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 02, 2017

Eleanor Lutz Forest Fires

Eleanor Lutz made these nifty models of California plants that can withstand fire damage out of Elmer’s Glue and watercolor paper. She then photographed them burning for this infographic on how some species have adapted to California’s wildfires. Be sure to click through to see the animated version.

George W. Bush’s book of paintings of US military veterans

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 02, 2017

Profiles In Courage

After leaving office in 2009, George W. Bush famously turned his attention to painting. That pursuit has now resulted in a book of portraits of post-9/11 US veterans painted by Bush called Portraits of Courage: A Commander in Chief’s Tribute to America’s Warriors.

Growing out of President Bush’s own outreach and the ongoing work of the George W. Bush Institute’s Military Service Initiative, Portraits of Courage brings together sixty-six full-color portraits and a four-panel mural painted by President Bush of members of the United States military who have served our nation with honor since 9/11 — and whom he has come to know personally.

The author proceeds from the book will be donated to the George W. Bush Presidential Center, “a non-profit organization whose Military Service Initiative works to ensure that post-9/11 veterans and their families make successful transitions to civilian life with a focus on gaining meaningful employment and overcoming the invisible wounds of war”. There’s a certain — I don’t know, let’s call it irony — in Bush honoring those whom he personally caused to be put in the harm’s way in the first place, under false pretenses no less.

OJ: Made in America is about more than just OJ

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 01, 2017

Ezra Edelman’s fantastic documentary OJ: Made in America won the Oscar for best documentary this year. In a video for Fandor, Joel Bocko explains while the film’s focus is on Simpson, it also explores seven broader themes about contemporary America: sports, the media, Los Angeles, class, domestic abuse, policing, and race.

OJ: Made in America emerges not simply as a brilliant biography, it’s also a stunning social portrait that can stand beside any novel, epic film, or piece of longform journalism.

And in this video for The Atlantic, Edelman explains how, before murdering his ex-wife, Simpson was an advertising pioneer, the first black athlete to become a nationally known product pitchman, appearing in commercials for Hertz, Chevy, and Schick.

One of the most interesting aspects of Edelman’s film is how Simpson’s feelings about being black shifted after his arrest. For most of his life, he distanced himself from the black community, famously declaring “I’m not black, I’m OJ.” He didn’t get involved in the politics of the day or speak out like Muhammed Ali and other prominent black athletes did. He enjoyed preferential treatment by the LAPD, who help him keep his abuse of women under wraps. Black America had nothing to offer a man who enjoyed being rich and famous in white America. But then the trial happened and he hired Johnny Cochran, who made race into the central issue of the case, deftly aligning Simpson with a black community who had endured decades of racism and brutality in LA at the hands of society and the police.

Map of where Germans voted for the Nazis in 1933

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 01, 2017

Nazi Support Map 1933

In March 1933, a unified Germany held its last relatively free election before WWII. Hitler had already become Chancellor but he held one last election, seeking a mandate under which to rule. This map shows which areas of Germany supported the Nazi Party most strongly.

However, it’s also important to note that while the Nazis won the most seats in 1933, they did not win a majority of them or the popular vote.

Support varied widely across the country. It was highest in the former Prussian territories in the north-east of Germany (with the exception of Berlin) and much weaker in the west and south of the country, which had, up until 1871, been independent German states.

Across Germany as a whole, the Nazis won 43.91% of the popular vote and got 44.51% of the seats. This made them by far the largest party in the German Reichstag, but still without a clear majority mandate.

I know history doesn’t repeat itself, but this sure is rhyming like Kanye.

The tools ILM built to make Rogue One are super interesting

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 01, 2017

Every time I watch or read something about how Rogue One was made, I come away more intrigued. And it’s not about how they made the film…it’s about the tools they built to help them make the film. A few weeks ago, I posted about the full-length story reel they made from bits of old movies so that director Gareth Edwards could determine the pacing:

There was no screenplay, there was just a story breakdown at that point, scene by scene. He got me to rip hundreds of movies and basically make ‘Rogue One’ using other films so that they could work out how much dialogue they actually needed in the film.

It’s very simple to have a line [in the script] that reads “Krennic’s shuttle descends to the planet”, now that takes maybe 2-3 seconds in other films, but if you look at any other ‘Star Wars’ film you realise that takes 45 seconds or a minute of screen time. So by making the whole film that way — I used a lot of the ‘Star Wars’ films — but also hundreds of other films too, it gave us a good idea of the timing.

In this video, we see a couple more tools the team used to facilitate the making of the film. The first is a VR video game of sorts that ILM built so that Edwards could move a virtual camera around in a virtual set to find just the right camera angles to capture the action, resulting in a process that was more flexible than traditional storyboarding.

The second tool jumped around a virtual set — a complete digital model of Jedha City — and rendered hundreds of street views from it at random. Then the filmmakers would look through the scenes for interesting shots and found scenes that looked more “natural” than something a digital effects artist might have come up with on purpose — basically massively parallel location scouting.

Both are attempts to introduce more serendipity and possibility into a digital filmmaking process that sometimes feels a little stilted. I think animation studios like Pixar have been using these techniques for years, but it’s interesting to see them applied to live-action films like Rogue One.

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