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Entries for June 2017 (July 2017 »    August 2017 »    Archives)

 

Should we be messaging the stars?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 30, 2017

Message Aliens

Humans currently have the capability to blast powerful messages into space that will travel hundreds and thousands of light years and fall on the ears, eyes, and radio telescopes of possible habitable worlds. A group called METI wants to do just that…to say a bracing “hello” to whoever is out there listening. But not everyone, starting with Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking, thinks this is such a good idea. In a piece for the NY Times Magazine called Greetings, E.T. (Please Don’t Murder Us.), Steven Johnson details the effort to communicate with possible alien worlds and the potential pitfalls.

The anti-METI movement is predicated on a grim statistical likelihood: If we do ever manage to make contact with another intelligent life-form, then almost by definition, our new pen pals will be far more advanced than we are. The best way to understand this is to consider, on a percentage basis, just how young our own high-tech civilization actually is. We have been sending structured radio signals from Earth for only the last 100 years. If the universe were exactly 14 billion years old, then it would have taken 13,999,999,900 years for radio communication to be harnessed on our planet. The odds that our message would reach a society that had been tinkering with radio for a shorter, or even similar, period of time would be staggeringly long. Imagine another planet that deviates from our timetable by just a tenth of 1 percent: If they are more advanced than us, then they will have been using radio (and successor technologies) for 14 million years. Of course, depending on where they live in the universe, their signals might take millions of years to reach us. But even if you factor in that transmission lag, if we pick up a signal from another galaxy, we will almost certainly find ourselves in conversation with a more advanced civilization.

It is this asymmetry that has convinced so many future-minded thinkers that METI is a bad idea. The history of colonialism here on Earth weighs particularly heavy on the imaginations of the METI critics. Stephen Hawking, for instance, made this observation in a 2010 documentary series: “If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn’t turn out well for the Native Americans.” David Brin echoes the Hawking critique: “Every single case we know of a more technologically advanced culture contacting a less technologically advanced culture resulted at least in pain.”

As Johnson notes, concerns like these will likely grow in number and magnitude in the coming decades. The march of technology is placing more and more potential power into the hands of fewer people.

Wrestling with the METI question suggests, to me at least, that the one invention human society needs is more conceptual than technological: We need to define a special class of decisions that potentially create extinction-level risk. New technologies (like superintelligent computers) or interventions (like METI) that pose even the slightest risk of causing human extinction would require some novel form of global oversight. And part of that process would entail establishing, as Denning suggests, some measure of risk tolerance on a planetary level. If we don’t, then by default the gamblers will always set the agenda, and the rest of us will have to live with the consequences of their wagers.

Between 1945 and now, the global community has thus far successfully navigated the nuclear danger to human civilization but has struggled to identify and address the threat of climate change initiated with the Industrial Revolution. Things like superintelligence and cheap genetic modification (as with CRISPR) aren’t even on the global agenda and something METI sounds like science fiction to even the tech-savviest politicians. Technology can move very fast sometimes and the pace is quickening. Politics? Not so much.

P.S. If you want to read some good recent sci-fi about the consequences of extraterrestrial communication, try Liu Cixin’s The Three Body Problem.

Update: Johnson’s long piece was even longer pre-publication and he shared some of the outtakes on his site, including a reference to the The Three Body Problem.

Even with 8,000 words to play with, we had to cut a number of passages that might still be of interest. About fifty people asked me on Twitter (or in the Times comments section) why the piece didn’t reference The Dark Forest trilogy, and particularly its opening novel The Three Body Problem, which features a METI-style outreach that goes spectacularly wrong. We did originally have a nod to the books, but just didn’t have the space to keep it; but they are indeed terrific (and haunting) and well worth reading if you’re interested in this question.

Human engineered organisms

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 30, 2017

Zhao Renhui

Zhao Renhui

Zhao Renhui

In his series Guide to the Flora and Fauna of the World, Zhao Renhui photographed a number of animals and plants that have been bred or otherwise modified by humans. Pictured above are a square apple:

Sold in a department store in South Korea, these square apples were created as gifts for students taking the College Scholastic Ability Test, with some inscribed with the words ‘pass’ or ‘success’. A similar square watermelon was developed in Japan in the 1980s. The cubic fruits are created by stunting their growth in glass cubes.

a remote-controlled beetle:

In 2012, Japanese scientists implanted electrodes, a radio and a camera on a Goliath beetle which could be wirelessly controlled. The scientists inserted the parts in the beetle during different phases of the pupa stage. The components were powered by generators connected to the flight muscles of the beetle. Most of the components were not visible to the human eye, except for the tiny camera lens peering out of the beetle’s head. The first photograph by a Goliath beetle camera was taken in December 2012, remotely controlled by researchers in a facility 200km away.

and Chinese pork that’s been made to look and taste like beef:

It has recently been found in China that pork has been made to aesthetically look like beef. ‘Beef colouring’ and ‘beef extracts’ were added to pork to make it look and taste like beef.

(via the atlas for the end of the world)

You have to switch to Sprint to hear Jay-Z’s new album

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 30, 2017

Jay-Z has a new album out today called 4:44 and it’s available exclusively on the streaming music service he owns, Tidal. But that’s not the only catch. To hear the album, you need have been a Tidal customer before today or you need to switch your mobile service to Sprint (or be a current Sprint customer).

This is all part of Tidal’s $200 million deal with Sprint and it makes very little sense to me. It’s a nice extra for current Sprint subscribers, but I can’t imagine that many people are going to sign up for Sprint just to hear an album. And Tidal’s gonna get a bunch of pissed-off first-time subscribers who will sign up thinking they’ll have access to the album but, oops!, they actually don’t. Dumb.

Rumor has it the exclusive is only for a week and then it’ll be elsewhere…which seems like a lot of fuss for very little reward.

Jurassic Park but with the dinosaurs from the 90s TV show Dinosaurs

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 29, 2017

Dinosaurs Park

Dinosaurs Park

If you thought that photoshopping the characters from the 90s TV Dinosaurs into scenes from Jurassic Park would be impossible, well, Jen Lewis found a way.

(FYI, I loved Dinosaurs. I just looked at when it started airing and it came out much later than I thought…I was a senior in high school and continued watching it after heading off to college. I have clearly repressed the memory of how deeply uncool I was then. (“Then? Then?!!” cackles the narrator.))

The Accidental Shop

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 29, 2017

Accidental Store

If kottke.org ran a store, what would that look like? (Like this, but hold that thought for a second.)

Lots of things on kottke.org happen by accident. When I started writing here in 1998, it wasn’t supposed to be a blog. An offhand comment by a friend led me to turn a hobby into a job that I’m still doing 12 years later. A lunch conversation last summer with someone I’d never met before saved the site from financial ruin. kottke.org was never supposed to host fan sites for Wes Anderson and Jane Jacobs or vertical blogs about sports, politics, and climate change.

kottke.org was also never supposed to be a store. But as the years piled on, so did the links to all sorts of interesting books, movies, music, and other products that people could buy. I’ve collected many of those products into The Accidental Shop. The shop contains over 2000 items from 19+ years of posts. You can dip into it by filtering by the most recent items mentioned on the site, my top picks, and with a random selection of items. The default view is a weighted combination of recent, top picks, and random which tries to achieve a blend of recency, serendipity, and relevance. Clicking on the item image will take you to the Amazon page for that product. Most of the items are accompanied by a link to the most recent kottke.org post mentioning that item, so the shop also functions as an alternate way of browsing through the kottke.org’s extensive archive.

This is very much a first version of the shop. Right now, all of the items are from Amazon (if you buy something via the shop, I get a small affiliate fee), but I will be adding non-Amazon items to the shop in the near future — stuff like Tattly, 20x200 prints, pastrami from Katz’s, and kottke.org memberships. I will also be adding a localization feature so readers in Canada and the UK will see links to their respective Amazon stores.

So that’s The Accidental Shop. As always, let me know what you think via email or on Twitter.

P.S. Thanks to kottke.org members for their help with The Accidental Shop. I shared an in-progress version with them on my members-only mailing list a couple of months ago and received lots of great feedback and encouragement. If you’d like to help out on future projects or just lurk on the newsletter, become a member today.

Update: How about a little behind-the-scenes info? I’ve been doing web design since 1995, and I’ve always wanted to design and build an online store but never had the chance. So this was pretty fun. To build the shop’s catalog, I went through and scraped all ~25,000 posts I’ve done over the past 19 years, looking for product links to Amazon. The script found almost 2300 distinct items and put them into a database, noting the dates of the initial & most recent mentions and the # of mentions for each item. Then I used Amazon’s Product Advertising API to retrieve all sorts of information about each item, including title, type (book, eBook, kitchen, DVD, etc.), price, image, and the creator (a book’s author, a movie’s director).

Once that was done, I built the shop interface with an admin function for rating each item on a scale of 1 to 4 (or 0, which excludes the item from the public shop altogether). I used the admin interface to rate every single item in the database — it only took a few hours while watching reruns of ST:TNG on Netflix. Then I wrote a script to assign a “score” to each item based on: my rating, how recently it was mentioned, the frequency of mentions, and a couple other factors. The highest scoring items are an eerily accurate reflection of what I am interested in and what I talk about on the site. FYI, the current highest scoring items: Infinite Jest, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, the Kindle Paperwhite, The Victorian Internet, the Harry Potter books, 1491, and The Making of the Atomic Bomb, all of which I’ve mentioned on the site 10+ times.

The layout is pure CSS…I’m using the column feature to create a quick & dirty Pinterest-style layout. Each of the store filters (recent, top picks, random) is randomized to give you a slightly different product assortment with each page refresh. The scoring and rating system, combined with the semi-randomized output, makes for a lively and ever-changing store interface without me having to constantly pick which items go where in the layout. A high-maintenance, just-so layout that’s updated daily would undoubtedly work better — but probably not way better and as a one-person operation, I don’t have that kind of time anyway. This is pretty much the approach I use for all my projects: do the most I can with the least possible effort. Make it appear complex but work simply. As Milton Glaser said: “Just enough is more.”

A supercut of movie scenes set in NYC

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 29, 2017

Sergio Rojo has cut together scenes from more than 70 movies that are set in NYC, including Manhattan, Ghost, Tootsie, Taxi Driver, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Birdman, and The Devil Wears Prada. Familiar locations like Times Square, Central Park, the Brooklyn & Manhattan Bridges, the subway, the Empire State Building, the NYPL, and the Statue of Liberty are all amply represented. (via gothamist)

Can We Solve World Hunger With One Big-Ass Ear Of Corn?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 29, 2017

From Clickhole, a fascinating video essay on one of the most important scientific projects yet undertaken by the human race: solving world hunger by engineering a single massive ear of corn.

Decoding the geometry, geology, and astronomy of Stonehenge

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 28, 2017

Vox’s Joss Fong assembles a scale model of Stonehenge and explains some of the ancient monument’s geometry, the geology of the stone it’s built from, and the its possible astronomical significance.

Stonehenge is a popular destination for summer solstice celebrations because the 5,000-year-old monument points toward the summer solstice sunrise on the horizon. However, it also points to the winter solstice sunset in the opposite direction and there’s good reason to believe that this may have been the more important alignment for the Neolithic people who built Stonehenge. We investigate by constructing a tiny model of the Stonehenge monument.

The Robbery

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 28, 2017

For once, it’s nice to watch an onscreen robbery where everything goes according to plan.

An Atlas for the End of the World

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 28, 2017

Atlas End World

The Atlas for the End of the World is a project started by Penn architect Richard Weller to highlight the effects of human civilization and urbanization on our planet’s biodiversity.

Coming almost 450 years after the world’s first Atlas, this Atlas for the End of the World audits the status of land use and urbanization in the most critically endangered bioregions on Earth. It does so, firstly, by measuring the quantity of protected area across the world’s 36 biodiversity hotspots in comparison to United Nation’s 2020 targets; and secondly, by identifying where future urban growth in these territories is on a collision course with endangered species.

There’s lots to see at the site: world and regional maps, data visualizations, key statistical data, photos of plants and animals that have been modified by humans, as well as several essays on a variety of topics.

And here’s a fun map: countries with national biodiversity strategies and action plans in place. Take a wild guess which country is one of the very few without such a plan in place!

Trailer for The Foreigner, starring Jackie Chan

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 28, 2017

A 63-year-old Jackie Chan kicking ass in a dramatic role as a father trying to avenge his daughter’s murder? Yes. Yes, please. The movie is based on the 1992 novel The Chinaman, is directed by Martin Campbell (Casino Royale), and co-stars Pierce Brosnan.

How to make famous movie cocktails

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 27, 2017

Oliver Babish makes videos showing how to prepare dishes from movies and TV shows…like the carbonara from Master of None, the strudel from Inglourious Basterds, and Pulp Fiction’s Big Kahuna Burger. For this installment, Babish makes a number of notable cocktails from movies, including the White Russian from The Big Lebowski, the French 75 from Casablanca, and James Bond’s Vesper Martini.

Maybe I was a little tired this morning when I watched this, but the joke at 1:30 caught me off guard and I laughed like an idiot.

Super NES Classic

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 27, 2017

SNES Classic

Last year, Nintendo came out with a mini version of their original NES console with 30 pre-installed games. This year, they hoping to repeat that device’s wild popularity with the Super NES Classic. List price is $79.99. The SNES Classic comes with two controllers and 21 games built-in, including Super Mario Kart, F-ZERO, Super Mario World, and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. US pre-order information isn’t available yet (relevant Amazon page), but I’ll update this post when it is.

Halt and Catch Fire season four starts Aug 19th

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 27, 2017

The fourth (and sadly final) season of Halt and Catch Fire starts this August. The show has followed a core cast through the personal computer revolution, through the rise of online service companies, and into Silicon Valley. As teased last season, the action in this final season focuses on the World Wide Web.

We’re building it together and it’s awesome.

Pretty excited about this for a variety of reasons! You can catch up on Netflix before the new season starts.

Update: New promo trailer is out. Someone’s building a search engine?

This is how sperm whales sleep

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 27, 2017

Sleeping Sperm Whales

Sperm whales sleep together in a pod facing up in the water. From bioGraphic:

Photographer Franco Banfi and his fellow divers were following this pod of sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) when the giants suddenly seemed to fall into a vertical slumber. This phenomenon was first studied in 2008, when a team of biologists from the UK and Japan inadvertently drifted into a group of non-responsive sperm whales floating just below the surface. Baffled by the behavior, the scientists analyzed data from tagged whales and discovered that these massive marine mammals spend about 7 percent of their time taking short (6- to 24-minute) rests in this shallow vertical position. Scientists think these brief naps may, in fact, be the only time the whales sleep.

Photo by Franco Banfi, a finalist in the 2017 Big Picture Competition.

Trump has put America’s image into the toilet

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 27, 2017

According to a recently conducted survey by the Pew Research Center, the election of Donald Trump has sharply eroded the confidence of other world nations in the United States and its ability to “do the right thing when it comes to international affairs”.

Confidence in President Trump is influenced by reactions to both his policies and his character. With regard to the former, some of his signature policy initiatives are widely opposed around the globe.

His plan to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, for example, is opposed by a median of 76% across the 37 countries surveyed. Opposition is especially intense in Mexico, where more than nine-in-ten (94%) oppose the U.S. government erecting a wall.

Similar levels of global opposition greet Trump’s policy stances on withdrawing from international trade agreements and climate change accords. And most across the nations surveyed also disapprove of the new administration’s efforts to restrict entry into the U.S. by people from certain Muslim-majority nations.

Trump’s intention to back away from the nuclear weapons agreement with Iran meets less opposition than his other policy initiatives, but even here publics around the world disapprove of such an action by a wide margin.

Trump’s character is also a factor in how he is viewed abroad. In the eyes of most people surveyed around the world, the White House’s new occupant is arrogant, intolerant and even dangerous. Among the positive characteristics tested, his highest rating is for being a strong leader. Fewer believe he is charismatic, well-qualified or cares about ordinary people.

This chart is pretty remarkable:

Pew Trump Us Image

It took George W. Bush more than half of his presidency to reach confidence rates as low as Trump has right out of the gate. Usually in these situations you say something like “there’s nowhere to go but up” but unfortunately there’s plenty of room at the bottom here.

Google search data shows “a crisis of self-induced abortions”

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 26, 2017

For his book Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are, Seth Stephens-Davidowitz combed through data on Google Trends for five years, looking for data on searches that Google users “don’t tell to possibly anybody else, things they might not tell to family members, friends, anonymous surveys, or doctors”.

According to a recent interview with Stephens-Davidowitz, right now the data is showing an increase in search queries on how to perform abortions at home and, no surprise, the activity is highest in parts of the country where access to abortion is most difficult.

I’m pretty convinced that the United States has a self-induced abortion crisis right now based on the volume of search inquiries. I was blown away by how frequently people are searching for ways to do abortions themselves now. These searches are concentrated in parts of the country where it’s hard to get an abortion and they rose substantially when it became harder to get an abortion. They’re also, I calculate, missing pregnancies in these states that aren’t showing up in either abortion or birth rates.

That’s pretty disturbing and I think isn’t really being talked about. But I think, based on the data, it’s clearly going on.

Tiny kindnesses, noticed

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 26, 2017

The Awl’s Everything Changes newsletter gave their readers a mission this week: “to notice people doing tiny kindnesses for each other”. Here’s what they observed.

My toddler and I were waiting in a long line at Russ and Daughters this morning, and a guy gave me a much earlier number. He’d somehow ended up with an extra number right after his, and waited until he saw someone he thought needed it. I gave my number to the last couple in line, and if they did the same, it might still be going.

My husband and I were having lunch together at a deli. A woman two tables over from us was eating by herself and received a phone call on her bluetooth. She began crying from what appears to have been bad news. She was fairly quiet about it and kept it to herself, but she was obviously crying. Another patron in the restaurant stopped, patted her shoulder and mouthed “Are you OK?”. She nodded through her tears and continued with her phone call. He and a few other patrons continued to monitor her out of the corner of their eyes, but gave her her privacy. It seemed a small gesture — but I felt all of us in the restaurant sending her strength through the man’s small pat on the shoulder.

I was about to cross a side street in Brooklyn when a concerned-looking man crossing in the opposite direction stood in the middle of the street and began frantically waving a tshirt in front of the cars that were about to get a green light. I quickly realized that he was stopping traffic so that a blocked ambulance with its sirens on could make it through further down. It worked — the traffic cleared and the ambulance moved. When I got a few blocks down in the direction he’d been coming from, EMTs were on the scene, attending to an unconscious, apparently homeless person on the sidewalk. I think most people would call 911, but this guy went the extra mile. He did what a family member would do.

I think if we all “did what a family member would do” more often, the world would be a better place.

Update: From the early Christian author and philosopher Lactantius:

The whole point of justice consists precisely in our providing for others through humanity what we provide for our own family through affection.

(thx, chris)

Mark Zuckerberg isn’t running for President

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 26, 2017

The scuttlebutt around the tech/media internet water cooler over the past few months is that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is going to run for President in 2020. This feeling has been fueled by Zuck’s goal for this year of visiting the remaining 30 or so US states that he has yet to visit and the way in which he’s been documenting his trips. Nathan Hubbard argues that Zuck actually has other things on his mind as he tours America:

Zuck isn’t running for President. He’s trying to understand the role the product he created played in getting this one elected.

Facebook has undergone two major evolutionary events in its history, both of which were driven by what Zuck saw as existential threats.

The incredible revenue growth in mobile (probably the greatest biz execution of our generation) helped Facebook survive a platform shift.

And the fearless acquisitive streak of Instagram, WhatsApp and others helped Facebook survive a shift in how we communicate and organize.

Zuck woke up on Nov 9th acutely aware that FB had facilitated a new shift he didn’t foresee or understand; that’s terrifying to a founder.

He’s the head of product. So he’s ventured out into the world beyond his bubble to do field research and inform how FB will evolve again.

I am also sympathetic to the argument that Zuckerberg doesn’t need to run for President because he’s already the leader of the largest group of people ever assembled in the history of humanity (aside from possibly the British Empire). Facebook doesn’t possess many necessary qualities of a sovereign country, but it also has many advantages that countries don’t. Zuckerberg is already among the world’s most important people and with Facebook still growing, he could one day soon be the most powerful person in the world.

America runs on taxpayer-funded services *and* capitalism

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 26, 2017

Yesterday, Grover Norquist shared a short parable about taxes on Twitter:

How Republicans are born…
Daughter, 8, has been savings up to buy her first Guitar.
Found it for $35. She had 35 exact.
Then…sales tax

Norquist has famously been on a quest to stop tax increases in the US…in 2015 he wrote a book called End the IRS Before It Ends Us.1 Many people took Norquist to task over his remarks:

Did you mention that you drove her to the guitar store on roads that were partly funded by sales taxes?

In a car which only has seat belts preventing you from being badly injured in the event of a crash due to taxpayer funded regulations?

or those same taxes that pay for emergency services that will respond if you do get in an accident?

These responses remind me of a pair of posts written several years ago about the contributions to society of both taxpayer-funded and corporate goods & services. From the liberal version:

After spending another day not being maimed or killed at work thanks to the workplace regulations imposed by the department of labor and the occupational safety and health administration, enjoying another two meals which again do not kill me because of the USDA, I drive my NHTSA car back home on the DOT roads, to my house which has not burned down in my absence because of the state and local building codes and fire marshal’s inspection, and which has not been plundered of all its valuables thanks to the local police department.

And from the conservative viewpoint:

When my Motorola-manufactured Cable Set Top Box showed the appropriate time, I got into my Toyota-manufactured Prius vehicle and set out to my graphic design workplace and stopped to purchase some gasoline refined by the Royal Dutch Shell company, using my debit card issued to me by Bank of the West. On the way to my workplace, I dropped off a package at the local UPS store for delivery, and dropped my children off at a local private school.

  1. How was Norquist radicalized about taxes? In part because his dad was a dick: “After church, his father would buy him and his three younger siblings ice-cream cones and then steal bites, announcing with each chomp, ‘Oops, income tax. Oops, sales tax.’”

Life in America, in six charts

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 26, 2017

Who We Spend Time With

From Quartz, six charts that show who Americans spend their time with.

Some of the relationships Lindberg found are intuitive. Time with friends drops off abruptly in the mid-30s, just as time spent with children peaks. Around the age of 60 — nearing and then entering retirement, for many — people stop hanging out with co-workers as much, and start spending more time with partners.

Others are more surprising. Hours spent in the company of children, friends, and extended family members all plateau by our mid-50s. And from the age of 40 until death, we spend an ever-increasing amount of time alone.

This would make a great book…one chapter about why each chart looks as it does.

What if the Earth suddenly turned flat?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 23, 2017

Disc Earth

We all know the Earth is (nearly) spherical. Wellllll, not everyone does. So what if our planet did suddenly turn flat? Gizmodo recently asked a bunch of scientists this question and the answer came back: certain death for all life on Earth. More specifically, seismologist Susan Hough says:

If the earth were to suddenly flatten, presumably all sorts of hell would break loose. I guess it would depend on how flat is flat. If we’re talking pancake flat, gravity would be an immediate problem: gravitational attraction goes as G(m1*m2)/r^2, where G is the gravitational constant, m1 & m2 are two masses, and r is distance. A sphere is the 3D shape that maximizes surface area relative to volume, which kind of gives gravity the biggest bang for its buck. If you flatten the sphere, the far side gets closer to the new center point, but the ends spread way out, so surface gravity goes down at the center, and way down at the edges. Lose gravity and bye-bye atmosphere.

Other first-order problems: heat, radioactivity, etc. In our spherical earth, both of these are concentrated in the core. If the earth were flattened, they would have to go somewhere-presumably a lot closer to the surface.

What if animals were round?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 23, 2017

An outfit called Rollin’ Wild makes these fun videos imagining if animals were super round, like balloons. (via swissmiss)

Rakka, a short film by Neill Blomkamp

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 23, 2017

Filmmaker Neill Blomkamp (District 9, Chappie) is planning on making a series of experimental short films as proofs-of-concept for possible feature film development. His first short has just been released through Oats Studios; it’s called Rakka, stars Sigourney Weaver, and is kind of a cross between District 9 and Edge of Tomorrow. Also, they’re selling some of the film’s assets on Steam: concept art, 3D print files, and video files with more promised (dailies, visual effects behind-the-scenes, etc.).

Hayao Miyazaki’s favorite children’s books

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 22, 2017

Totoro Little Prince

Back in 2010, legendary Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki picked his 50 favorite books for children and young adults. Here are the top five:

1. The Borrowers by Mary Norton
2. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
3. Children of Noisy Village by Astrid Lindgren
4. When Marnie Was There by Joan G. Robinson
5. Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome

It’s easy to see the influence of the books from the list on the movies he made. Indeed, two of the top five books were actually made into Studio Ghibli films (The Borrowers and When Marnie Was There).

P.S. The Totoro / Little Prince illustration is from Pinterest, but I couldn’t find the original source. Anyone?

NASA Apollo Saturn V Lego set

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 22, 2017

Apollo 11 Lego

Lego has introduced an Apollo Saturn V rocket set, complete with lunar lander and 3 astronaut minifigs.

Packed with authentic details, it features 3 removable rocket stages, including the S-IVB third stage with the lunar lander and lunar orbiter. The set also includes 3 stands to display the model horizontally, 3 new-for-June-2017 astronaut microfigures for role-play recreations of the Moon landings, plus a booklet about the manned Apollo missions and the fan designers of this educational and inspirational LEGO Ideas set.

Three rocket stages! And look at this lander:

Apollo 11 Lego

Amazing detail: the set contains 1969 pieces, which is the year that the Apollo 11 astronauts landed on the Moon. I typically leave the Lego building to my kids, but I might have to make an exception for this. (via mike)

Blade Runner 2049 making-of featurette

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 22, 2017

As if I weren’t looking forward to this enough: this four-minute making-of featurette on Blade Runner 2049 features Harrison Ford, Roger Deakins, Ridley Scott, Denis Villeneuve, Ridley Scott, and others talking about the forthcoming film. Come *on* October, get here already.

An update to Hidden Folks

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 21, 2017

Hidden Folks

I love the aesthetic for Hidden Folks, an iOS game that’s like an interactive version of Where’s Waldo? in black & white. The creators just released a big update to the game and explained how they designed and built the new level.

Like everything in Hidden Folks, the Factory started on paper. Sylvain Tegroeg, the Illustrator with whom I made the game, uses a fineliner to draw every single element individually. Sylvain and I brainstorm on the theme and possible sub-themes that could work well with interactions, after which Sylvain enters The Zone™ and just draws whatever comes to mind. After drawing a bunch of things, Sylvain scans them and (manually) places them in a sprite sheet.

Sometimes, the technology you use ends up unexpectedly affecting your creative output:

When Sylvain and I started working on Hidden Folks about three years ago, he decided to buy a somewhat medium-quality / cost-efficient scanner for the project. When that scanner broke down recently, he used a better scanner for a while only to discover that his digital drawings suddenly looked very different, and so we bought that same low-budget scanner just to make sure all Hidden Folks drawings look consistent.

(via @njvack)

Fifty Inventions That Shaped the Modern Economy

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 21, 2017

50 Things Economy

Tim Harford, aka The Undercover Economist, is coming out with a new book called Fifty Inventions That Shaped the Modern Economy.

New ideas and inventions have woven, tangled or sliced right through the invisible economic web that surrounds us every day. From the bar code to double-entry bookkeeping, covering ideas as solid as concrete or as intangible as the limited liability company, this book not only shows us how new ideas come about, it also shows us their unintended consequences — for example, the gramophone introducing radically unequal pay in the music industry, or how the fridge shaped the politics of developing countries across the globe.

It’s based on his BBC podcast 50 Things That Made the Modern Economy.

Fun fact that I just discovered: Harford and I share the same birthday, both date and year.

The view from Mars

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 21, 2017

Mars Opportunity 2017

NASA’s Opportunity rover started exploring the surface of Mars in January 2004. Its mission was supposed to last about 90 days, but over 13 years later, Opportunity is still rolling around the red planet, doing science and taking photos. Jason Major processed a few of Opportunity’s most recent snaps of the Endeavour Crater and they’re just wonderful. I’m especially taken with the one included above…it belongs in a museum!

Narrative flowcharts for Choose Your Own Adventure books

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 20, 2017

Choose Your Own Adventure map

Choose Your Own Adventure map

The newest editions of Choose Your Own Adventure books come with maps of the story structure that depicts all the branches, endings, and links of each story.

On the official maps, however, the endings aren’t coded in any way that reveals their nature. Instead, they operate according to a simple key: each arrow represents a page, each circle a choice, and each square an ending. Dotted lines show where branches link to one another.

Mapping the bones of the books can have other purposes, too. Nick Montfort, a poet and professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who studies interactive fiction, has a habit of asking people what they know about “Choose Your Own Adventure” books. “They often say, ‘You have two choices after every page,’” he says. “That’s not true. Sometimes you have one choice. Sometimes you have more than two. When you show the maps, you can see that these books don’t look exactly the same.”

(via @RLHeppner)

Why did Amazon buy Whole Foods? World domination.

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 20, 2017

Amazon’s New Customer is a really great analysis by Ben Thompson of Amazon’s strategy and why Amazon bought Whole Foods: they purchased a new customer for Amazon infrastructure, not a retailer. Early on in the piece, Thompson lays this one on us:

Amazon’s goal is to take a cut of all economic activity.

No qualifiers. All economic activity. In the world. Sort of a Dutch East India Company for the internet age. Thompson explains how they’re going to do it and why fresh food is such a strategic hole for them.

As you might expect, given a goal as audacious as “taking a cut of all economic activity”, Amazon has several different strategies. The key to the enterprise is AWS: if it is better to build an Internet-enabled business on the public cloud, and if all businesses will soon be Internet-enabled businesses, it follows that AWS is well-placed to take a cut of all business activity.

On the consumer side the key is Prime. While Amazon has long pursued a dominant strategy in retail — superior cost and superior selection — it is difficult to build sustainable differentiation on these factors alone. After all, another retailer is only a click away.

This, though, is the brilliance of Prime: thanks to its reliability and convenience (two days shipping, sometimes faster!), plus human fallibility when it comes to considering sunk costs (you’ve already paid $99!), why even bother looking anywhere else? With Prime Amazon has created a powerful moat around consumer goods that does not depend on simply having the lowest price, because Prime customers don’t even bother to check.

This, though, is why groceries is a strategic hole: not only is it the largest retail category, it is the most persistent opportunity for other retailers to gain access to Prime members and remind them there are alternatives. That is why Amazon has been so determined in the space: AmazonFresh launched a decade ago, and unlike other Amazon experiments, has continued to receive funding along with other rumored initiatives like convenience store and grocery pick-ups. Amazon simply hasn’t been able to figure out the right tactics.

When I heard about the Whole Foods deal, the first thing I thought about was Amazon Go. The company has been trying to experiment with different retail environments, but without the proper scale, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. Whole Foods gives them a chance to develop their fresh food delivery infrastructure at scale…so that they can offer it to other customers just like they do with AWS.

P.S. Whenever I think about Amazon as a business, I recall this 2012 post by Eugene Wei on Amazon’s low-margin strategy. I suspect Thompson’s post will join it in my thoughts.

Ikea’s “Cook This Page” posters

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 20, 2017

For a promotion in a Canadian store, Ikea developed a series of posters that help you cook dinner. You lay the poster down, place the food directly on it according to the printed directions, and then you fold up the ends to cook it — the posters double as cooking parchment. (via fast company)

Japanese robot sumo wresting is incredibly fast

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 20, 2017

Robots fighting each other in arenas is a popular sporting event; see Robot Wars. In Japan, such competitions often take place in small sumo rings and the robots need to move incredibly fast to achieve victory. Robert McGregor compiled some of the fastest and most vicious footage in this video…and none of the footage is sped up in any way. Note the protective leg pads worn by the referee in many of the clips…there must have been an “incident”. (via @domyates)

When you walk over to shoot hoops at Drake’s house with Kanye

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 19, 2017

A celebrity story is usually far more interesting when the person telling the story doesn’t give a shit about offending the celebs in question (or talking to them ever again). This story told by Ninja, one half of the Die Antwoord musical group, is clearly in that category. In it, he recounts hanging out at Kanye’s house, eating Kim Kardashian’s delicious banana pudding (not even a euphemism), and then wandering over to Drake’s house (with whom Ninja has a history) to play some basketball. One of the things I liked about this story is that it could have stopped in three or four different places and been a complete & entertaining story, but it just kept going.

Quantum entanglement effects observed over 100s of miles

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 19, 2017

A group of Chinese scientists say they have demonstrated the effects of quantum entanglement over a distance of 1200 km (745 miles).

Entanglement involves putting objects in the peculiar limbo of quantum superposition, in which an object’s quantum properties occupy multiple states at once: like Schrodinger’s cat, dead and alive at the same time. Then those quantum states are shared among multiple objects. Physicists have entangled particles such as electrons and photons, as well as larger objects such as superconducting electric circuits.

Theoretically, even if entangled objects are separated, their precarious quantum states should remain linked until one of them is measured or disturbed. That measurement instantly determines the state of the other object, no matter how far away. The idea is so counterintuitive that Albert Einstein mocked it as “spooky action at a distance.”

What’s weird to me is that all the articles I read about this touted that this happened in space, that an ultra-secure communications network was possible, or that we could build a quantum computer in space. Instantaneous communication over a distance of hundreds of miles is barely mentioned. Right now, it takes about 42 minutes for a round-trip communication between the Earth and Mars (and ~84 minutes for Jupiter). What if, when humans decide to settle on Mars, we could send a trillion trillion quantum entangled particles along with the homesteaders that could then be used to communicate in real time with people on Earth? I mean, how amazing would that be?

Update: Well, the simple reason why these articles don’t mention instantaneous communication at distance is that you can’t do it, even with quantum entanglement.

This is one of the most confusing things about quantum physics: entanglement can be used to gain information about a component of a system when you know the full state and make a measurement of the other component(s), but not to create-and-send information from one part of an entangled system to the other. As clever of an idea as this is, Olivier, there’s still no faster-than-light communication.

(thx, everyone)

WoodSwimmmer, a gorgeous stop motion journey through wood

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 19, 2017

Engineer & animator Brett Foxwell and musician & animator Conor Grebel collaborated on this gorgeous stop motion animation of pieces of wood being slowly ground away by a milling machine. Watch as the knots and grain of the wood come alive to mirror teeming cities, spiraling galaxies, flowing water, and dancing alien worlds. Colossal briefly interviewed Foxwell about the video:

“Fascinated with the shapes and textures found in both newly-cut and long-dead pieces of wood, I envisioned a world composed entirely of these forms,” Foxwell told Colossal. “As I began to engage with the material, I conceived a method using a milling machine and an animation camera setup to scan through a wood sample photographically and capture its entire structure. Although a difficult and tedious technique to refine, it yielded gorgeous imagery at once abstract and very real. Between the twisting growth rings, swirling rays, knot holes, termites and rot, I found there is a lot going on inside of wood.”

Some stills from the video are available as prints.

Robots dreaming of flowery dinosaurs

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 19, 2017

Chris Rodley

Chris Rodley

Chris Rodley (who is also partially responsible for @MagicRealismBot) is using deep learning (aka artificial intelligence aka machine learning aka what do these things even mean anymore) to cross illustrations of dinosaurs with illustrations of flowers and 19th-century fruit engravings. All your favorites are here: tricherrytops, velocirapple, tree rex, pomme de pterodactyl, frondasaurus, stegosaurose, tuliplodocus. (via @robinsloan)

The Defiant Ones

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 16, 2017

From HBO, The Defiant Ones is a four-part documentary on Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine directed by Allen Hughes (who co-directed Menace II Society).

The four-documentary event is told with the help of many of the most notable artists and figures of our time, reflecting Hughes’ unfettered access to Iovine, Dre and the remarkable cast of figures who have been a part of their success story. In addition to extensive interviews with Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine, who speak frankly about their highs and lows, the show includes interviews with such music icons as Bono, David Geffen, Eminem, Nas, Ice Cube, Gwen Stefani, Jon Landau, Tom Petty, Trent Reznor, Snoop Dogg, Bruce Springsteen and will.i.am. The series also features never-before-seen footage from a multitude of recording and writing sessions with Eazy-E, JJ Fad, Stevie Nicks, N.W.A., Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen and U2, among others.

Ok, fine, looks good, but the real reason you should watch this trailer is to hear Snoop talking about being on the cover of “The Rolling Stones” magazine and its aftermath…and then the cut to Eminem. Who says there’s no good editing happening in trailers?

Also, I wonder if they’re going to go into Dre’s history of domestic violence? I’m guessing not? Defiant indeed.

An entertaining short documentary about Jeff Koons

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 16, 2017

Fun fact: Koons listens to Led Zeppelin for about an hour every day. From the Museum of Contemporary Art in LA, this is a short documentary on the life and work of artist Jeff Koons, narrated by Scarlett Johansson. I’ve been experiencing Jeff Koons’ art for almost two decades now and I still can’t decide if I like it or not or if Koons is full of shit or not. I would still love to see his project for the High Line come to fruition though.

Man uses a 3D model of his face to get a national ID card

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 16, 2017

Raphael Fabre

Frenchman Raphael Fabre recently requested a French national ID card, but instead of sending in a headshot, he sent in a 3D model of his face created on a computer. The French government issued the card to him.

The photo I submitted for this request is actually a 3D model created on a computer, by means of several different software and techniques used for special effects in movies and in the video game industry. It is a digital image, where the body is absent, the result of an artificial process.

The image corresponds to the official demands for an ID: it is resembling, is recent, and answers all the criteria of framing, light, bottom and contrasts to be observed.

The document validating my french identity in the most official way thus presents today an image of me which is practically virtual, a version of video game, fiction.

If you look long and close enough at the high-res 3D image, there are little tells that it’s fake (the hairline, for example) but you could glance at it 1000 times without suspecting a thing. Even if it’s fake it’s real, eh Sippey? (via @zachklein)

What bullets do to bodies

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 16, 2017

Emergency room doctor Leana Wen writes in the NY Times about what bullets do to human bodies.

Early in my medical training, I learned that it is not the bullet that kills you, but the damage from the bullet. A handgun bullet enters the body in a straight line. Like a knife, it damages the organs and tissues directly in its path, and then it either exits the body or is stopped by bone, tissue or skin.

This is in contrast to bullets from an assault rifle. They are three times the speed of handgun bullets. Once they enter the body, they fragment and explode, pulverizing bones, tearing blood vessels and liquefying organs.

Earlier this year, Jason Fagone wrote a much longer piece on the same topic for HuffPost.

“As a country,” Goldberg said, “we lost our teachable moment.” She started talking about the 2012 murder of 20 schoolchildren and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Goldberg said that if people had been shown the autopsy photos of the kids, the gun debate would have been transformed. “The fact that not a single one of those kids was able to be transported to a hospital, tells me that they were not just dead, but really really really really dead. Ten-year-old kids, riddled with bullets, dead as doornails.” Her voice rose. She said people have to confront the physical reality of gun violence without the polite filters. “The country won’t be ready for it, but that’s what needs to happen. That’s the only chance at all for this to ever be reversed.”

She dropped back into a softer register. “Nobody gives two shits about the black people in North Philadelphia if nobody gives two craps about the white kids in Sandy Hook. … I thought white little kids getting shot would make people care. Nope. They didn’t care. Anderson Cooper was up there. They set up shop. And then the public outrage fades.”

I think about this tweet all the time:

In retrospect Sandy Hook marked the end of the US gun control debate. Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.

A commonsensical approach to sales and marketing

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 15, 2017

First, congrats to my friend Gina for becoming a partner at Postlight. Second, I love how Postlight thinks about their sales and marketing process:

“Sales” at Postlight is probably not what you’re thinking. It’s an un-flashy, consultative process done in everyday clothing (although sometimes we put on nicer shoes). Our goal is always to figure out what a potential client really needs, and then to figure out the fastest way to make that happen. By the time we get to a formal proposal it’s usually exactly that — a formality. Gina has been involved with the Postlight sales process for many months now, and has proven to be a natural.

Similarly, “marketing” at Postlight is less about brochures and more about sharing what we know, giving good talks, hosting events for the NYC tech/design community, interviewing podcast guests, and saying good, true things about Postlight when appropriate. Here again, Gina’s experience as the founder of Lifehacker and her years of experience giving conference talks around the world comes to bear.

Seems to me that this approach gets you closer to potential clients and employees and hews more to the truth than “traditional” methods.

There’s gonna be a Black Mirror book

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 15, 2017

Black Mirror Book

Gird your loins, Prime Minister. Charlie Brooker is bringing his mind-warping TV series to bookstores in early 2018. Brooker is editing a book version of Black Mirror (the first in a promised series) “featuring original stories from leading fiction writers, all set in the world of the cult series”.

Smart move and after all, Brooker was influenced by Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected (which appeared first in book form).

Winners of the 2016 Red Bull Illume photo contest

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 15, 2017

Red Bull Illume

Red Bull Illume

Red Bull Illume

Over at In Focus, Alan Taylor is featuring a selection of the winning photos from the the Red Bull Illume photo contest, an “international photography contest dedicated to action and adventure sports”. If nothing else, we’ve discovered that there is nothing that says “Red Bull” more than slacklining on an iceberg (unless it is snowboarding on an iceberg).

The bottom photo is actually from the 2013 contest but is a good reminder that waves are nothing more than a bunch of high water that needs to get down in a hurry, not unlike Wile E. Coyote hanging in midair after running off of a cliff. Photos of the waves at Teahupo’o makes this pretty evident as well.

From the top, photos by Lorenz Holder, Alexandre Voyer, and Stuart Gibson.

If you can’t explain something in simple terms, you don’t understand it

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 15, 2017

Feynman Blackboard

In the early 1960s, Richard Feynman gave a series of undergraduate lectures that were collected into a book called the Feynman Lectures on Physics. Absent from the book was a lecture Feynman gave on planetary motion, but a later finding of the notes enabled David Goodstein, a colleague of Feynman’s, to write a book about it: Feynman’s Lost Lecture. From an excerpt of the book published in a 1996 issue of Caltech’s Engineering & Science magazine:

Feynman was a truly great teacher. He prided himself on being able to devise ways to explain even the most profound ideas to beginning students. Once, I said to him, “Dick, explain to me, so that I can understand it, why spin one-half particles obey Fermi-Dirac statistics.” Sizing up his audience perfectly, Feynman said, “I’ll prepare a freshman lecture on it.” But he came back a few days later to say, “I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t reduce it to the freshman level. That means we don’t really understand it.”

John Gruber writes the simple explanations are the goal at Apple as well:

Engineers are expected to be able to explain a complex technology or product in simple, easily-understood terms not because the executive needs it explained simply to understand it, but as proof that the engineer understands it completely.

Feynman was well known for simple explanations of scientific concepts that result a in deeper understanding of the subject matter: e.g. see Feynman explaining how fire is stored sunshine, rubber bands, how trains go around curves, and magnets. Critically, he’s also not shy about admitting when he doesn’t understand something…or, alternately, when scientists as a group don’t understand something. There’s the spin anecdote above and of his explanation of magnets, he says:

I really can’t do a good job, any job, of explaining magnetic force in terms of something else you’re more familiar with, because I don’t understand it in terms of anything else you’re more familiar with.

Feynman was also quoted as saying:

I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.

Pretty interesting thing to hear from a guy who won a Nobel Prize for explaining quantum mechanics better than anyone ever had before. Even when he died in 1988 at the end of a long and fruitful careeer, a note at the top of his blackboard read:

What I cannot create, I do not understand.

An audiovisual remix of La La Land

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 14, 2017

An LA-based DJ named Sleeper has made an audiovisual mashup of La La Land, featuring music by Boyz II Men, Alicia Keys, Adele, and the Beach Boys and visuals from other musicals like Singin’ In The Rain and West Side Story.

I love La La Land. The movie presents the agony and wonder of dreams in spectacular ways. I think it captures a tiny taste of God’s dreams for us. I wanted to create an audio and visual experience that allows you to enjoy the film over and over again. It’s a turntable tribute to La La Land.

Art history comes to life

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 14, 2017

Alexey Kondakov

Alexey Kondakov

Alexey Kondakov

I’ve featured the work of Alexey Kondakov before…he takes people from classic paintings and inserts them seamlessly into contemporary photographs. Kondakov has continued to hone his craft and many of his recent efforts are shockingly good. For more of his work, check out his Instagram or Facebook.

NASA’s super accurate map of the 2017 eclipse

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 14, 2017

Using data about the Moon’s terrain from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter as well as elevation data on Earth, NASA’s Ernie Wright created a very accurate map of where and when the August 2017 eclipse will occur in the United States.

Standing at the edge of the moon’s shadow, or umbra, the difference between seeing a total eclipse and a partial eclipse comes down to elevation — mountains and valleys both on Earth and on the moon — which affect where the shadow lands. In this visualization, data from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter account for the moon’s terrain that creates a jagged edge on its shadow. This data is then combined with elevation data on Earth as well as information on the sun angle to create the most accurate map of the eclipse path to date.

You can download maps of your area from NASA’s official eclipse website…I will be studying the Nebraska map closely.

Nebraska Eclipse Map

See also Eclipse Megamovie 2017, an eclipse simulator you can use to check what the eclipse will look like in the sky in your area, and what looks like an amazing eclipse watching festival put on by Atlas Obscura.

Ikea products are now available on Amazon

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 14, 2017

Ikea Bag

Ikea products have long been available on Amazon from 3rd-party resellers, but now Ikea is officially selling hundreds of their products on Amazon. Among the items that caught my eye are the iconic blue Frakta bags, the best kids’ drinking glasses ever made (we have dozens of these…love them), a kids’ foot stool, the Swedish meatball sauce packs, and those ubiquitous Glimma tea lights. Also, lots of rugs, picture frames, candles, bedding materials, and many of the other things that are good to stock up on. (via fast company)

Update: I am an idiot. All this Ikea stuff on Amazon is from resellers…the same stuff that’s been available for years on the site. (Same deal with all the Muji items on Amazon.) I mean, they are still genuine Ikea products and some of it isn’t even available from Ikea’s online store. Anyway, not such a huge deal. I was wondering why Ikea would be adopting such a if-you-can’t-beat-‘em-join-‘em attitude towards Amazon; turns out they’re still just trying to beat ‘em.

Update: Just the other day, Reuters reported that Ikea will test selling items through third-party websites.

“I leave unsaid on which (platforms), but we will test and pilot, to see ‘what does this mean, what does digital shopping look like in future and what do digital shopping centers mean?’,” he said.

IKEA, known for its warehouse-like stores, has recently restructured to give its retail arm more freedom. The Swedish firm has never sold its goods through another company and is also trying new smaller store formats and stepping up integration of stores and online to adapt to new ways of shopping.

(via @checkdisout)

Some things kottke.org readers have recently read/watched/heard/experienced

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 13, 2017

Every once in awhile, I send out an email newsletter to the kottke.org members. I’ve been having fun doing my media diet posts recently, and I’m always on the lookout for new things to try, so I used the most recent newsletter to ask them: “What’s the most interesting thing you’ve read/watched/heard/experienced in the past few weeks?” Here’s a sampling of what they said, accompanied by some of their short thoughts.

I’ve mentioned Dreaming the Beatles on the site before, but Celia offered up a short but compelling review: “In any group of 2-4 people, I mentally assign each person the role of John, Paul, George, or Ringo. This book has changed most of my assignments.”

Quoting Lars Gotrich, Robb recommends Green Twins by Nick Hakim: “it’s soul music for outer-space”.

Several people suggested Master of None’s season 2 on Netflix. I watched the first two episodes when season 1 came out and didn’t take to it.

Mind. Blown. Not only was the NBA on NBC theme song composed by John Tesh, he left himself a message singing the tune on his answering machine. Thanks, Alex!

Ben says of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less: “Minimalism is appealing, but often not simple. This feels more simple, and helpful to me.”

Sarah praised Rami Malek’s performance in Mr. Robot as well as the show’s rich visuals. See also the off-kilter cinematography of Mr. Robot.

The A.V. Club’s A History of Violence series was highlighted by Chris. “As a fan of quality action movies (and occasionally cheesy ones) it was great to see an in-depth review of every year’s best of the genre, including things I’ve seen and some I haven’t.”

A few people recommended Tim Urban’s epic post on Elon Musk’s newest venture, Neuralink and the Brain’s Magical Future. Neuralink is working on “a way for our brains to communicate directly with one another”.

Rich shares that Orhan Pamuk’s A Strangeness in My Mind “moved me profoundly and I continue thinking about it months after reading it”.

Benjamin recommends Magnum Manifesto, an exhibition at the International Center of Photography Museum in NYC: “Amazing history of photojournalism and documentary photography. Emphasized the importance of journalism in this specific medium.”

I have friends who rave about Pop-up Magazine and Mary agrees: “It’s a live performance of California Sunday magazine. Insane.”

Big fan of 99% Invisible here and Jessie recommends this recent episode, Squatters of the Lower East Side. “I’m familiar with squatting and adverse possession. However, I have never heard of a city/county working with squatters to legally adversely possess properties, especially those are city-owned.”

Sean recommends The Barkley Marathons, a documentary “about a crazy race, eccentric organizer, and lunatic participants”.

Les Cowboys is a recommendation from Joao: “devastating beautiful take on immigration, terrorism and family”.

HBO’s The Leftovers got many recs. I think I watched most of season 1 and it didn’t stick.

Neil is a doctor and recommends Elisabeth Rosenthal’s An American Sickness: How Healthcare Became Big Business and How You Can Take It Back: “nothing has come closer to capturing how dysfunctional things are in American medicine”.

Suzanne has been enjoying True Story, a monthly publication delivered monthly to your home — what a concept! She particularly enjoyed the first issue, Fruitland.

The Royal Shakespeare Company is broadcasting its production of Julius Caesar to theaters around the world. Says Steve: “A play about the overthrow of a dictator and the rights and wrongs of the method chosen seems more resonant than ever!” (FYI, my query and Steve’s response predated the recent controversy about The Public Theater’s production of the play.)

Diana recommends the audiobook version of Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime (review). Although not normally an audiobook listener, she says: “I have been listening to this for weeks now and am so impressed. It’s the best book of the year for me (and I typically read 100+ books a year).”

Of New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson, Jeff says, “I’m just thrilled that an author as smart as this thinks there will even BE a New York in 2140”. I almost started this the other day after a recommendation from a pal…perhaps I’ll pick it up if my current book sputters.

And last, but perhaps not least, this heartbreaking clip from Clickhole: Hibachi Chef Tries To Make Meal On A Regular Table. Sez Mike: “Having seen teppanyaki food cooked with such drama and precision, this was a nice piece of satire… especially with the music.”

Thanks to everyone who responded and for supporting the site by becoming members!

What are the largest US cities by population?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 13, 2017

Except for the top three, I’m not sure I could have come up with most of the top 10 largest US cities by population. I’ll give you minute to guess…

1. NYC
2. LA
3. Chicago
4. Houston
5. Phoenix
6. Philadelphia
7. San Antonio
8. San Diego
9. Dallas
10. San Jose

I dunno, San Antonio at #7 really threw me for a loop. Bigger than Dallas? Bigger than San Francisco (by more than 600,000 people)? Of course, when metropolitan areas are taken into account, the picture changes. The San Antonio area drops to #30 while the Bay Area hits #5.

When I was a kid, the list looked a little different…LA had not yet passed Chicago for #2 and Texas had only two cities in the top 10 (and no Austin creepin’ in 11th place):

1. New York
2. Chicago
3. Los Angeles
4. Philadelphia
5. Houston
6. Detroit
7. Dallas
8. San Diego
9. Phoenix
10. Baltimore

That list still carries more weight in my brain than the current ranking. The facts you learn in school influence how you view your country. And some of those facts, dubbed mesofacts by Sam Arbesman, change slowly, so slowly that you’re tricked into thinking they haven’t changed at all. The average age of the US Senate right now is 62. The version of the population list that many Senators learned in school was probably from the 1950 census (or perhaps the 1960 one) and our current President, at 70 years of age, was possibly taught the list from the 1940 census. The entries on those older lists look much more like the industrial America celebrated by truck and beer commercials and represented by classic baseball and football teams — the America that is to be made great again: Detroit, Cleveland, St. Louis, and Pittsburgh.

Another instructive list to look at in this regard is the list of cities that had populations of at least 100,000 people but have since dropped below that threshold. On the list (with the % drop in parentheses) are:

Canton, Ohio (-39%)
Gary, Indiana (-59%)
Scranton, Penn (-46%)
Flint, Michigan (-50%)
Erie, Penn (-29%)
Utica, NY (-40%)

That the idea embodied by those kinds of cities still holds much sway in American politics shouldn’t be so surprising.

Exploded art installations by Damian Ortega

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 13, 2017

Damian Ortega

Artist Damián Ortega, who started off as a political cartoonist, makes a wide variety of art, but my favorites are his hanging and “exploded” art installations.

One of his most celebrated works titled “Cosmic Thing” (2002), shows a disassembled Volkswagen Beetle, suspended from wires in mid-air in the manner of a mechanic’s instruction manual. The result is a fragmented object that offers a new perspective of the car first developed in Nazi Germany which was later produced en masse in Mexico. Through his work, Damián Ortega discusses specific economic, aesthetic and cultural situations and how regional culture affects commodity consumption. He began his career as a political cartoonist and his art has the intellectual rigour and sense of playfulness, causing an association with his previous occupation. Ortega’s works highlight the hidden poetry of everyday objects as well as their social and political complexity.

How to apologize properly

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 13, 2017

Apologizing is as simple as saying “I’m sorry”, right? Well, not quite. In a piece by Katie Heaney for Science of Us, here are the six components of an apology from Beth Polin:

1. An expression of regret — this, usually, is the actual “I’m sorry.”
2. An explanation (but, importantly, not a justification).
3. An acknowledgment of responsibility.
4. A declaration of repentance.
5. An offer of repair.
6. A request for forgiveness.

So no ifs or buts — “I’m sorry if you were offended” is not an apology. Neither is “I’m sorry we missed our appointment but I had to drop off my dry cleaning on the way” or any other statement that’s actually just a counterargument to an accusation of fault. Don’t use the passive voice either: “mistakes were made” is a classic non-apology.

In my experience, a particularly critical component to apologizing is the “this won’t happen again” part. When you do something repeatedly and apologize each time, those are not really apologies. If you do this, you’re pretty clearly acknowledging that your relationship to the person you’re “apologizing” to is not as important to you as the behavior in question. Either stop apologizing for your behavior or work on changing it.

Photos from a trip to Uzbekistan

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 12, 2017

Kevin Kelly Uzbekistan

Kevin Kelly recently visited Uzbekistan and shared a bunch of photos from his trip.

I knew almost nothing of Uzbekistan before my visit there so everyday was a cascade of surprises. While Americans think of Central Asia as the most remote places possible, people in Uzbekistan see themselves as at the center of the universe. They’ve been farming there for 6,000 years, and everyone has passed through over the centuries. I was so delighted I could as well.

Aside from its status as a former Soviet republic, I also knew next to nothing about Uzbekistan until a month or two ago. My barber told me he was “from Russia” when I first started seeing him many years ago, but at my last appointment, I asked him where he lived in Russia before his family moved to the US and he said he was actually from Uzbekistan. But then he went on to explain that Uzbekistan is a predominately Muslim country, that his family is Jewish, and so he didn’t consider himself an Uzbek. “If you’re not Muslim, you can’t really be considered a true Uzbek,” he told me. According to Wikipedia, Uzbekistan was home to a small Jewish community until the fall of the Soviet Union, when nationalism drove most Jews to leave for the US and Israel. We moved on to other topics before I learned more of the specifics — getting to know someone in 20-minute intervals every month or two can be challenging — but the post-collapse timing makes sense; he probably moved to the US as a kid in the early 90s, grew up in Queens, and now runs a successful business cutting hair.

Awe-inspiring photos of empty European libraries

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 12, 2017

Poirier Libraries

Poirier Libraries

Poirier Libraries

For places that people go to immerse themselves in books, libraries sure do try to steal the show sometimes. For his photo series on libraries, Thibaud Poirier travelled to a number of libraries in Europe and took photos of them while empty.

“Reading is solitude,” Italo Calvino once said, embodying the inspiration behind this series. These temples of cultural worship gather communities, and yet the literary experience, and therefore the experience of a library, remains solitary. Giving groups of scholars and peers glimpses into the past, present and future of humanity, literature offers an unparalleled opportunity to explore one’s self from within through the unique internal narrative that each reader develops. It is this internal narrative that forms us when we are young, matures with us, and grows when we feed it. It was the first means of travel offered to many and continues to be the most accessible form of escape for millions of people seeking knowledge, the world, themselves. It is with an eye towards this improbable bled of public space and private experience that Poirier displays some of the finest libraries, both classical and modern, across Europe.

Ever since Colossal linked to them before the weekend, I’ve been stealing glances at these trying to pick a favorite. I can’t, they’re all so good.

A montage of title drops

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 12, 2017

Sometimes in a movie, a character will say the name of the movie. This is a supercut of 150 examples of title dropping from movies like The Right Stuff, Free Willy, Chinatown, Back to the Future, Full Metal Jacket, Con Air, and a bunch of Bond films.

Update: Paul Thomas Anderson talked about film titles on Fresh Air several years ago:

I had a friend who…any time he went to see a film and the title of the film was said onscreen he would scream out this horrible obnoxious noise, he would say “buk-CAW!” really loud.

Update: In the late 80s and early 90s, Penn Jillette did a movie night in NYC and there were rules. One of them was responding to film titles:

If the title of the movie is mentioned in the movie, it is always greeted by Movie Night people with polite applause. I’m still not clear as to how that custom began, but I do know that it leads to a lot of applause in a movie like “Wall Street.”

And if the title of another film is mentioned, that leads to a different reaction:

Whenever the title of another film was mentioned in the dialogue (as in, “I don’t want to be home alone tonight”), everybody whispered, “Wow.”

That EW piece also mentions a 12-year-old kid who shows up to Movie Night named Nick Jarecki, who has to be director Nicholas Jarecki (brother of Andrew Jarecki, director of Capturing the Friedmans and Jinx, the HBO doc about Robert Durst). (via @fortybillion)

Divers falling through the air

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 12, 2017

For a short video called The Selfish Gene, director Smriti Keshari cut together a number of divers jumping and spinning and falling in mid-air. The result is a little bit mesmerizing and a little bit soothing. See also Ten Meter Tower.

“We’re in the era of the living god”

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 09, 2017

Sports superstars are staying superstars longer than ever before. Sure, there have been outliers before (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Ted Williams) but increasingly the best players in the major sports are veterans fighting off the ravages of time: Tom Brady, Roger Federer, Cristiano Ronaldo, Gianluigi Buffon, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Aaron Rodgers, etc.

When players perform at such a high level for so long, we no longer get sick of them. Instead, they become such an ever-present part of sports culture that many of us can’t help but love them. Buffon was launched to superstardom in 2006, when, perhaps already the best goalkeeper in the world, he was one of the faces of a then-unlikable Italian team that controversially made their way to winning the World Cup. Now he probably has a near-100-percent approval rating — still saving enough shots, winning enough games and doing enough stunts to earn it. Ronaldo became a worldwide name after replacing Beckham in the no. 7 shirt for Manchester United and doing a bunch of stepovers. He was unpopular with a segment of English fans for his entire stay in the Premier League; they viewed him as having an overly precious playing style in a game that was supposed to be anything but. Even upon his 2009 departure to Madrid, which came after he delivered every major trophy to Manchester, Ronaldo was mocked for, as this Telegraph headline put it, being a preening peacock: England would miss his footballing talents but not “the theatrics, the astonishing self-regard.”

But if you hang around long enough, you begin to earn a grudging respect from everyone who isn’t a Barcelona fan. If you have closely watched the last decade-plus of Ronaldo, Buffon, Messi, and Zlatan and not seen a play in which you learned to love them, then you haven’t really watched them.

Interesting observation, but I would have liked to read more about why…the piece only quickly mentions “modern training methods [and] technology”. Training and technology have made it possible to blend the energy & power of youth with the wisdom gained through experience, and it’s a potent combination.

P.S. A round of applause for writer Kevin Clark for the line: “It is possible that Ronaldo cannot pass the Turing test.”

An amazing online collection of 40,000 vintage film posters

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 09, 2017

Posterati

Posterati

Posterati

Posteritati is a New York movie poster store/gallery that also has an online store featuring more than 40,000 posters. You can view posters by director, year, country of origin, genre, size, and more. Some of the posters are very old, rare, and valuable: Some Like It Hot ($3,000), Lolita ($1,200), and Star Wars ($1,500). And wow, a 1933 Argentinian poster for King Kong for $75,000.

The three posters pictured above are a 1970 Czech poster for Les gauloises bleues, a 1988 Japanese poster for Beetlejuice, and a 1980 Polish poster for Alien.

What Are We Even Doing With Our Lives?: The Most Honest Children’s Book of All Time

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 09, 2017

What Are We Even Doing Book

Chelsea Marshall and Mary Dauterman are coming out with a satirical children’s book called What Are We Even Doing With Our Lives?. It’s Richard Scarry’s Busy, Busy Town crossed with HBO’s Silicon Valley.

Welcome to “Digi Valley,” the epitome of twenty-first-century urban life! The animal-people who call it home do cool things: life coach, cat landlord, baby DJ teacher, app developer, iPhone photographer, new media consultant, beauty blogger, and, of course, freelancer. On the street, in the coffee shop, at the farmer’s market, or the local vegan cafe, you’ll meet new friends like Frances and Sadie, Freelance Frank, Realtor Rick, and Bethany the Beauty Blogger as they bike, drive, bus, hoverboard, and Uber their way around town-or just sit and enjoy a latte while doing important things on their devices.

This is good, but surely this book owes a debt to the prior art of Ruben Bolling and Business Business Town?

Information Age automation is coming for your job

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 09, 2017

This new video by Kurzgesagt examines automation in the past (“big stupid machines doing repetitive work in factories”) and argues that automation in the information age is fundamentally different. In a nutshell,1 whereas past automation resulted in higher productivity and created new and better jobs for a growing population, automation in the future will happen at a much quicker pace, outpacing the creation of new types of jobs for humans.

Their two main sources for the video are Martin Ford’s Rise of the Robots and The Second Machine Age by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee.

  1. The German phrase “kurz gesagt” means roughly “in a nutshell”, so this is a pun. Laugh now!

The 100 best solutions to reverse climate change, ranked

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 08, 2017

Climate Change Solutions

Environmentalist and entrepreneur Paul Hawken has edited a book called Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming which lists “the 100 most substantive solutions to reverse global warming, based on meticulous research by leading scientists and policymakers around the world”.

In the face of widespread fear and apathy, an international coalition of researchers, professionals, and scientists have come together to offer a set of realistic and bold solutions to climate change. One hundred techniques and practices are described here-some are well known; some you may have never heard of. They range from clean energy to educating girls in lower-income countries to land use practices that pull carbon out of the air. The solutions exist, are economically viable, and communities throughout the world are currently enacting them with skill and determination. If deployed collectively on a global scale over the next thirty years, they represent a credible path forward, not just to slow the earth’s warming but to reach drawdown, that point in time when greenhouse gases in the atmosphere peak and begin to decline.

On the website for the book, you can browse the solutions in a ranked list. Here are the 10 best solutions (with the total atmospheric reduction in CO2-equivalent emissions in gigatons in parentheses):

1. Refrigerant Management (89.74)
2. Wind Turbines, Onshore (84.60)
3. Reduced Food Waste (70.53)
4. Plant-Rich Diet (66.11)
5. Tropical Forests (61.23)
6. Educating Girls (59.60)
7. Family Planning (59.60)
8. Solar Farms (36.90)
9. Silvopasture (31.19)
10. Rooftop Solar (24.60)

Refrigerant management is about replacing hydro-fluorocarbon coolants with alternatives because HFCs have “1,000 to 9,000 times greater capacity to warm the atmosphere than carbon dioxide”. As a planet, we should be hitting those top 7 solutions hard, particularly when it comes to food. If you look at the top 30 items on the list, 40% of them are related to food.

If, somehow, we could get to a place where we are talking about dealing with climate change not as “saving the planet” (which it isn’t) but as “improving humanity” (which it is), we might actually be able to accomplish something.

Michael Lewis and the parable of the lucky man taking the extra cookie

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 08, 2017

In 2012, Michael Lewis gave a commencement speech at Princeton University, his alma mater. In the speech, Lewis, the author of Liar’s Poker, Moneyball, and The Big Short, talks about the role of luck in rationalizing success. He tells the graduates, the winners of so many of life’s lotteries, that they “owe a debt to the unlucky”. This part near the end is worth reading even if you skip the rest of it.

I now live in Berkeley, California. A few years ago, just a few blocks from my home, a pair of researchers in the Cal psychology department staged an experiment. They began by grabbing students, as lab rats. Then they broke the students into teams, segregated by sex. Three men, or three women, per team. Then they put these teams of three into a room, and arbitrarily assigned one of the three to act as leader. Then they gave them some complicated moral problem to solve: say what should be done about academic cheating, or how to regulate drinking on campus.

Exactly 30 minutes into the problem-solving the researchers interrupted each group. They entered the room bearing a plate of cookies. Four cookies. The team consisted of three people, but there were these four cookies. Every team member obviously got one cookie, but that left a fourth cookie, just sitting there. It should have been awkward. But it wasn’t. With incredible consistency the person arbitrarily appointed leader of the group grabbed the fourth cookie, and ate it. Not only ate it, but ate it with gusto: lips smacking, mouth open, drool at the corners of their mouths. In the end all that was left of the extra cookie were crumbs on the leader’s shirt.

This leader had performed no special task. He had no special virtue. He’d been chosen at random, 30 minutes earlier. His status was nothing but luck. But it still left him with the sense that the cookie should be his.

This experiment helps to explain Wall Street bonuses and CEO pay, and I’m sure lots of other human behavior. But it also is relevant to new graduates of Princeton University. In a general sort of way you have been appointed the leader of the group. Your appointment may not be entirely arbitrary. But you must sense its arbitrary aspect: you are the lucky few. Lucky in your parents, lucky in your country, lucky that a place like Princeton exists that can take in lucky people, introduce them to other lucky people, and increase their chances of becoming even luckier. Lucky that you live in the richest society the world has ever seen, in a time when no one actually expects you to sacrifice your interests to anything.

All of you have been faced with the extra cookie. All of you will be faced with many more of them. In time you will find it easy to assume that you deserve the extra cookie. For all I know, you may. But you’ll be happier, and the world will be better off, if you at least pretend that you don’t.

You can watch Lewis’ speech as delivered on YouTube:

I wonder if hearing that moved the needle for any of those grads? I suspect not…being born on third base thinking you hit a triple is as American as apple pie at this point. (via @goldman)

Oldest homo sapiens fossils found in Morocco, dating back 300,000 years ago

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 08, 2017

Oldest Human Jawbone

The oldest known fossils of homo sapiens have been found in Morocco. The bones date back to ~300,000 years ago, more than 100,000 years earlier than previous fossils found. Here’s Carl Zimmer reporting for the NY Times about the paper in Nature:

Dating back roughly 300,000 years, the bones indicate that mankind evolved earlier than had been known, experts say, and open a new window on our origins.

The fossils also show that early Homo sapiens had faces much like our own, although their brains differed in fundamental ways.

Until now, the oldest fossils of our species, found in Ethiopia, dated back just 195,000 years. The new fossils suggest our species evolved across Africa.

“We did not evolve from a single cradle of mankind somewhere in East Africa,” said Phillipp Gunz, a paleoanthropologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Liepzig, Germany, and a co-author of two new studies on the fossils, published in the journal Nature.

The previous oldest fossils were found clear across the continent in Ethiopia, in eastern Africa. From a New Yorker article on the discovery:

And the specimens in question were found not in East Africa, which has become synonymous with a sort of paleoanthropological Garden of Eden, but clear on the other side of the continent — and the Sahara — in Morocco. “We’re not claiming that Morocco is the cradle of modern humankind,” the lead author, Jean-Jacques Hublin, of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, said at a press conference yesterday. Rather, he added, our emergence as a species was pan-African. “There is no Garden of Eden in Africa — or if there is, it’s Africa,” Hublin said. “The Garden of Eden is the size of Africa.”

My recent media diet

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 07, 2017

Quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, and heard in the past few weeks. Come on now, don’t take the letter grades so seriously.

The Wright Brothers. A surprising amount of what you’ve heard about the Wright Brothers is wrong. David McCullough sets the record straight. (B+)

Shake Shack: Recipes & Stories. I really wish I could get Martin’s Potato Rolls in Vermont. (B+)

Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative. A good book to have around when you need a creative kick in the pants. (B+)

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. I wasn’t even going to see this, but the power went out in my house for three hours due to a 45-second wind/rain storm, so I went to the movies. It is exactly what you’d expect from a medieval action movie directed by Guy Ritchie, and I left entertained. (B-)

Alien: Covenant. More entertaining and felt more like an Alien movie than Prometheus. Why are the people so stupid though? (B)

Lemonade. Still great. (A+)

Mad Men. I rewatched all seven seasons in just under three months. The middle part lagged in places, but the final seasons were as strong as the first seasons. IMO, Mad Men is among the best ever TV shows. (A+)

Passengers. J. Law and Chris Pratt stranded together in space? Yes, please. But the filmmakers should have found a way around the stalker plot point…it was unnecessarily disturbing and uninteresting. (B-)

Moana. Long-time readers might remember Pamie, one of the most well-known OG online diarists from the late 90s. I noticed her name in the credits…she co-wrote screenplay. Also, I was not the only person to immediately think of Beyonce when I saw Te Fiti. (A-)

The Keepers. Disturbing in more ways than one and well worth watching. (B+)

The Americans. The fifth season did not quite live up to the high standard of the previous seasons. (B)

She Persisted. The day this arrived, my daughter cracked this open and said, delighted, “Harriet Tubman!” (A-)

Emotions Part One of Invisibilia. The classical view is that emotions happen to you. But according to guest Lisa Feldman Barrett, “the way emotion works is opposite of what you think — emotions aren’t reactions to the world; emotions actually construct the world”. See also Barrett’s recent book How Emotions Are Made. (B+)

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band remix album. This sounds like a whole new record. As Sippey says, “now you can simply, finally, hear it”. (A)

Zodiac. Some say this is Fincher’s best film. Not sure I would, but it’s damned fine. (A-)

Wonder Woman. I would happily watch 100 sequels to this. (A-)

A subway-style map of Roman Empire roads circa 125 A.D.

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 07, 2017

Roman Empire Subway

After much research, Sasha Trubetskoy has completed a subway-style map of the road system of the Roman Empire. From about 300 BC, the Romans built or improved over 250,000 miles of roads (50,000 miles were stone paved) that extended into the farthest reaches of the Empire: from Spain to modern-day Iraq to Britain to northern Africa.

Creating this required far more research than I had expected — there is not a single consistent source that was particularly good for this. Huge shoutout to: Stanford’s ORBIS model, The Pelagios Project, and the Antonine Itinerary (found a full PDF online but lost the url).

The lines are a combination of actual, named roads (like the Via Appia or Via Militaris) as well as roads that do not have a known historic name (in which case I creatively invented some names). Skip to the “Creative liberties taken” section for specifics.

(via @zachklein)

Victoria & Abdul

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 07, 2017

Judi Dench playing a British monarch? I’m there. Victoria & Abdul is based on the true story of the friendship that developed between Queen Victoria and a young Indian named Abdul Karim during the Queen’s later years.

When Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal), a young clerk, travels from India to participate in the Queen’s Golden Jubilee, he is surprised to find favor with the Queen herself. As the Queen questions the constrictions of her long-held position, the two forge an unlikely and devoted alliance with a loyalty to one another that her household and inner circle all attempt to destroy. As the friendship deepens, the Queen begins to see a changing world through new eyes and joyfully reclaims her humanity.

Karim was also Muslim, which makes this movie all the more relevant today. In 2012, Channel 4 aired a short documentary about the relationship called Queen Victoria’s Last Love:

(thx, meg)

Systemic racism in America explained in just three minutes

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 07, 2017

This short video shows several ways in which systemic racism is still very much alive and well in the United States in 2017. See also Race Forward’s video series featuring Jay Smooth.

“What Is Systemic Racism?” is an 8-part video series that shows how racism shows up in our lives across institutions and society: Wealth Gap, Employment, Housing Discrimination, Government Surveillance, Incarceration, Drug Arrests, Immigration Arrests, Infant Mortality… yes, systemic racism is really a thing.

The reason why this matters should be obvious. Just like extra effort can harness the power of compound interest in knowledge and productivity, even tiny losses that occur frequently can add up to a large deficit. If you are constantly getting dinged in even small ways just for being black, those losses add up and compound over time. Being charged more for a car and other purchases means less life savings. Less choice in housing results in higher prices for property in less desirable neighborhoods, which can impact choice of schools for your kids, etc. Fewer callbacks for employment means you’re less likely to get hired. Even if you do get the job, if you’re late for work even once every few months because you get stopped by the police, you’re a little more likely to get fired or receive a poor evaluation from your boss. Add up all those little losses over 30-40 years, and you get exponential losses in income and social status.

And these losses often aren’t small at all, to say nothing of drug offenses and prison issues; those are massive life-changing setbacks. The war on drugs and racially selective enforcement have hollowed out black America’s social and economic core. There’s a huge tax on being black in America and unless that changes, the “American Dream” will remain unavailable to many of its citizens.

Can It Happen Here?: Authoritarianism in America.

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 06, 2017

That’s the title of a forthcoming book edited by Cass Sunstein (Harvard professor, former Obama regulatory administrator). On Twitter, Sunstein says he’s the editor not the author and that the essays will “offer diverse views”. But by the time this book comes out in March 2018, we might already know the actual answer to the title’s question. (via @tylercowen)

Cream, the product that will fix your life

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 06, 2017

From David Firth comes the story of Cream, a magical invention that’s poised to fix all of the world’s problems. Until… (via @faqsonly)

Unreal time lapse of undulating storm clouds at sunset

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 06, 2017

Storm-chasing photographer Mike Olbinski was recently taking photos of a storm in North Dakota close to sunset when asperitas clouds (aka undulatus asperatus clouds) appeared.

Undulatus asperatus clouds are a rare phenomenon and actually the newest named cloud type in over 60 years. I’ve seen tons of photos of them, but never anything like what we witnessed last night. We had a storm with hail in front of us and flashing lightning which was fantastic. But then we had this layer of undulatus clouds flowing across our view. Watching them was amazing already, but then the sun slowly appeared from behind some clouds to the west and lit up our storm like nothing we’ve ever seen before. We were like kids in a candy store.

Nature is ridiculous. More asperitas time lapse goodness here. (via bad astronomy)

Compound interest applied to learning

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 06, 2017

How are some people more productive than others? Are they smarter or do they just work a little bit harder than everyone else? In 1986, mathematician and computer scientist Richard Hamming gave a talk at Bell Communications Research about how people can do great work, “Nobel-Prize type of work”. One of the traits he talked about was possessing great drive:

Now for the matter of drive. You observe that most great scientists have tremendous drive. I worked for ten years with John Tukey at Bell Labs. He had tremendous drive. One day about three or four years after I joined, I discovered that John Tukey was slightly younger than I was. John was a genius and I clearly was not. Well I went storming into Bode’s office and said, “How can anybody my age know as much as John Tukey does?” He leaned back in his chair, put his hands behind his head, grinned slightly, and said, “You would be surprised Hamming, how much you would know if you worked as hard as he did that many years.” I simply slunk out of the office!

What Bode was saying was this: “Knowledge and productivity are like compound interest.” Given two people of approximately the same ability and one person who works ten percent more than the other, the latter will more than twice outproduce the former. The more you know, the more you learn; the more you learn, the more you can do; the more you can do, the more the opportunity — it is very much like compound interest. I don’t want to give you a rate, but it is a very high rate. Given two people with exactly the same ability, the one person who manages day in and day out to get in one more hour of thinking will be tremendously more productive over a lifetime.

Thinking of life in terms of compound interest could be very useful. Early and intensive investment in something you’re interested in cultivating — relationships, money, knowledge, spirituality, expertise, etc. — often yields exponentially better results than even marginally less effort.

See also this metaphor for how cultural, technological, and scientific changes happen. (via mr)

Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 06, 2017

Bob Dylan finally delivered his Nobel Prize lecture in the form of a video (you can also listen to it on Soundcloud). Over the course of just 27 minutes, he talks about his influences, both musical and literary, and muses on the differences and similarities between music and literature. Listening to the speech, instead of just reading the transcript, is well-worth your time, if only to experience Dylan’s lyrical delivery while exalting Buddy Holly or explaining Moby Dick.

If I was to go back to the dawning of it all, I guess I’d have to start with Buddy Holly. Buddy died when I was about eighteen and he was twenty-two. From the moment I first heard him, I felt akin. I felt related, like he was an older brother. I even thought I resembled him. Buddy played the music that I loved — the music I grew up on: country western, rock ‘n’ roll, and rhythm and blues. Three separate strands of music that he intertwined and infused into one genre. One brand. And Buddy wrote songs — songs that had beautiful melodies and imaginative verses. And he sang great — sang in more than a few voices. He was the archetype. Everything I wasn’t and wanted to be. I saw him only but once, and that was a few days before he was gone. I had to travel a hundred miles to get to see him play, and I wasn’t disappointed.

He was powerful and electrifying and had a commanding presence. I was only six feet away. He was mesmerizing. I watched his face, his hands, the way he tapped his foot, his big black glasses, the eyes behind the glasses, the way he held his guitar, the way he stood, his neat suit. Everything about him. He looked older than twenty-two. Something about him seemed permanent, and he filled me with conviction. Then, out of the blue, the most uncanny thing happened. He looked me right straight dead in the eye, and he transmitted something. Something I didn’t know what. And it gave me the chills.

I arrived late to Bob Dylan and I still haven’t investigated much of his music (relatively speaking), but listening to him talk about his musical and literary influences bleeding all over each other makes me want to go on a Dylan bender and create some shit. (thx, david)

Update: There’s evidence that Dylan based part of his Nobel speech on the SparkNotes study guide for Moby Dick.

Theft in the name of art is an ancient tradition, and Dylan has been a magpie since the 1960s. He has also frequently been open about his borrowings. In 2001, he even released an album titled “Love and Theft,” the quotation marks seeming to imply that the album title was itself taken from Eric Lott’s acclaimed history of racial appropriation, Love & Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class.

A masterful video tribute to 40 years of hip hop in 4 minutes

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 06, 2017

Biggie, Nicki, Snoop, Wu-Tang, Biz Markie, Lil Kim, Public Enemy, Missy Elliott. In a video featuring 150+ songs from more than 100 artists, The Hood Internet has distilled 40 years of hip hop into a tight 4-minute video.

It’s not a chronological history of hip hop. It’s rappers from different eras finishing each other’s rhymes over intersecting beats, all woven together to make one song.

I just watched that three times in a row. Lots more Hood Internet in the archivestheir last remix was a retrospective of the past 10 years of hip hop and indie music.

101 books about where and how we live

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 05, 2017

Resurfaced recently by Austin Kleon in his weekly newsletter, I missed this Nov 2016 list from Curbed of 101 books about where and how we live the first time around. The list is organized by category:

Urban Classics includes The Death and Life of Great American Cities*, The Works: The Anatomy of a City*, and Richard Scarry’s Busy, Busy Town*.

Why We Build features Geoff Manaugh’s A Burgler’s Guide to the City* and Building Stories* by Chris Ware.

Cities We Love includes Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas by Rebecca Solnit, A.J. Liebling’s Between Meals: An Appetite for Paris, and Make Way for Ducklings.

Changing Places highlights The Devil in the White City* by Erik Larson and The Levittowners: Ways of Life and Politics in a New Suburban Community by Herbert Gans.

Planning the Future includes Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us)* by Tom Vanderbilt and Annalee Newitz’s Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction.

Understanding People features Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone by Eric Klinenberg, Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns*, and Working by Studs Terkel.

And How We Live Today includes The Power Broker* and Robert Putman’s Bowling Alone.

I love the inclusion of Busy, Busy Town and Make Way for Ducklings. Books marked by an asterisk I have read or can otherwise personally vouch for. If I could recommend just one book to read from this list, it would be The Warmth of Other Suns.

Putin’s playbook for discrediting America and destabilizing the West

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 05, 2017

Last week, journalist Jules Suzdaltsev wrote:

Just wanna make sure you all know there is a Russian handbook from 1997 on “taking over the world” and Putin is literally crossing shit off.

The book in question is The Foundations of Geopolitics: The Geopolitical Future of Russia by neo-fascist political scientist Aleksandr Dugin, whose nickname is “Putin’s Brain”. The book has been influential within Russian military & foreign policy circles and it appears to be the playbook for recent Russian foreign policy. In the absence of an English language translation, some relevant snippets from the book’s Wikipedia page:

The book declares that “the battle for the world rule of [ethnic] Russians” has not ended and Russia remains “the staging area of a new anti-bourgeois, anti-American revolution.” The Eurasian Empire will be constructed “on the fundamental principle of the common enemy: the rejection of Atlanticism, strategic control of the USA, and the refusal to allow liberal values to dominate us.”

The United Kingdom should be cut off from Europe.

Ukraine should be annexed by Russia because “Ukraine as a state has no geopolitical meaning, no particular cultural import or universal significance, no geographic uniqueness, no ethnic exclusiveness, its certain territorial ambitions represents an enormous danger for all of Eurasia and, without resolving the Ukrainian problem, it is in general senseless to speak about continental politics”.

The book stresses the “continental Russian-Islamic alliance” which lies “at the foundation of anti-Atlanticist strategy”. The alliance is based on the “traditional character of Russian and Islamic civilization”.

Russia should use its special services within the borders of the United States to fuel instability and separatism, for instance, provoke “Afro-American racists”. Russia should “introduce geopolitical disorder into internal American activity, encouraging all kinds of separatism and ethnic, social and racial conflicts, actively supporting all dissident movements — extremist, racist, and sectarian groups, thus destabilizing internal political processes in the U.S. It would also make sense simultaneously to support isolationist tendencies in American politics.”

Ukraine, Brexit, Syria, Trump, promotion of fascist candidates in European elections (Le Pen in France), support for fascism in the US…it’s all right there in the book. And they’ve done it all while barely firing a shot.

How to raise a feminist son

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 05, 2017

For the NY Times, Claire Cain Miller asked a panel of experts (including neuroscientists and psychologists) how to raise feminist sons. From the introduction:

We’re now more likely to tell our daughters they can be anything they want to be — an astronaut and a mother, a tomboy and a girlie girl. But we don’t do the same for our sons.

Even as we’ve given girls more choices for the roles they play, boys’ worlds are still confined, social scientists say. They’re discouraged from having interests that are considered feminine. They’re told to be tough at all costs, or else to tamp down their so-called boy energy.

If we want to create an equitable society, one in which everyone can thrive, we need to also give boys more choices. As Gloria Steinem says, “I’m glad we’ve begun to raise our daughters more like our sons, but it will never work until we raise our sons more like our daughters.”

One piece of advice is to encourage friendships with girls:

Research at Arizona State University found that by the end of preschool, children start segregating by sex, and this reinforces gender stereotypes. But children who are encouraged to play with friends of the opposite sex learn better problem-solving and communication.

“The more obvious it is that gender is being used to categorize groups or activities, the more likely it is that gender stereotypes and bias are reinforced,” said Richard Fabes, director of the university’s Sanford School, which studies gender and education.

Organize coed birthday parties and sports teams for young children, so children don’t come to believe it’s acceptable to exclude a group on the basis of sex, said Christia Brown, a developmental psychologist at the University of Kentucky. Try not to differentiate in language, either: One study found that when preschool teachers said “boys and girls” instead of “children,” the students held more stereotypical beliefs about men’s and women’s roles and spent less time playing with one another.

I’ve seen this segregation happen in school with both my kids and it drives me bananas.

Artistic brunch

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 05, 2017

Artisan Brunch

Artisan Brunch

For their playful Artisan Brunch project, Kyle Bean, Aaron Tilley, and Lucy-Ruth Hathaway imagined how noted artists like Damian Hirst, Salvador Dali, and Alexander Calder would incorporate the idea of brunch into their art works. Loved this, despite the conspicuous lack of a bloody mary…perhaps a second edition with a Warhol soup can representation of the bloody? (via colossal)

Old new Radiohead: I Promise

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 05, 2017

OK Computer is 20 years old and to mark the occasion, Radiohead is reissuing the album with three previously unreleased songs from that era (as well as eight B-sides). The album is now available for pre-order and will be released on June 23, but one of the unreleased songs, I Promise, is out now on Spotify, YouTube (see above) and elsewhere.

Snowflakes

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 02, 2017

And now, a poem from my daughter.

Minna Snowflakes

To play
play
Play

Yes play!
So if i have not made that clear,
I will make it clear.
Play!

Have a good weekend, everyone.

Click bait: 35 unbelievable cooking hacks

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 02, 2017

It’s Friiiiiiiday! It’s time for — *fanfare* — 15 minutes of cooking tips and tricks? Yes, why not? Many of these I’ve seen before (like the sucking egg yolks with a plastic bottle trick), but I literally gasped at the rubber band measuring spoon trick. My current baking soda canister doesn’t have a spoon-scraping ledge (my old one did!) and it drives me a little crazy every time I make the world’s best pancakes. Anything that gets me to delicious pancakes quicker is a win. (via swissmiss, whose friday link pack is always worth a look)

This incredible State Word Map explains everything about America

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 02, 2017

State Word Map

No, not that one. Or this one. Or any of these. This one.

State Word Map

Away on Vacation

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 02, 2017

Artist Jonas Lund is away on vacation. But in his stead, he’s left his Macbook Pro hard at work using Photoshop to create paintings related to work and vacation.

The computer will open Photoshop and start creating a painting. It will use an array of symbols, brushes, and shapes all, relating to the idea of vacation and its opposite — work. Once the painting has been completed, the software will upload it to the website awayonvacation.live and post it to the Artist’s Twitter and Facebook accounts.

Watch the livestream above or view some of the computer’s past creations:

Away On Vacation

Away On Vacation

Murder on the Orient Express

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 02, 2017

Kenneth Branagh is directing and starring in (as uber-detective Hercule Poirot) a movie adapted from Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. I mean, what more do you need?

Oh. More? Alright. The movie also stars Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Derek Jacobi, Leslie Odom, Jr., Michelle Pfeiffer, and Daisy Ridley. I mean…

More? Did you miss the part where I mentioned Judi flipping Dench? Well, the movie comes out in November so there’s no Rotten Tomatoes score yet. You know what, just watch the trailer and go about your business.

Photos of the Tiananmen Square protests, unseen for 28 years

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 01, 2017

David Chen Tiananmen

At the time of the pro-democracy Tiananmen Square protests in 1989, David Chen was a 25-year-old student. Using a camera his uncle had given him, he spent a week taking photos of the protests. Those photos have been hidden away until now: the NY Times has published a selection of them today.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 01, 2017

In the wake of World War II, after the establishment of the United Nations, the international community drew up an international bill of rights that became known as The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The founding document of the UN, the United Nations Charter, contained language about universal human rights, but as the abuses of Nazi Germany became more apparent after the war, the UN felt that a stronger and more explicit declaration was necessary.

The UDHR, adopted by the UN in December 1948, contains 30 articles that cover issues like freedom, legal protections, employment, property rights, leisure, and health. Here are a few of them:

Article 2. Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

Article 7. All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.

Article 9. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

Article 17. (1) Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others. (2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.

Article 20. (1) Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association. (2) No one may be compelled to belong to an association.

Article 23. (1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment. (2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work. (3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection. (4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

Article 24. Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.

Article 25. (1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control. (2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

Reading through them, it’s instructive to think about places in the world where these rights are not being upheld, either explicitly or implicitly, almost 70 years after the UDHR’s adoption. And lest you think I’m referring exclusively to places like Saudi Arabia, the Philippines, Syria, or Sudan, consider the treatment of Native Americans, women, people of color, the prison population, LGBT+ people, and the poor here in the United States, the treatment of people in other countries because of US military actions, and how the political goals of the Trump administration and the Republican majority in Congress would further erode those rights both in the US and around the world.

This is a metaphor for how cultural, technological, and scientific changes happen

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 01, 2017

Advances in culture, technology, and science depend on past innovations and advances. Humans become capable of more and more as the momentum of knowledge grows. Lined up correctly, a tiny domino results the toppling of a massive domino further down the line.

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