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The 2017 TED reading list

posted by Jason Kottke   May 08, 2017

ParrotRead has compiled a list of books recommended on Twitter by the speakers at the recently concluded TED 2017 conference in Vancouver. Some highlights:

Success Through Stillness: Meditation Made Simple by Def Jam cofounder Russell Simmons. “Simmons shares the most fundamental key to success — meditation — and guides readers to use stillness as a powerful tool to access their potential.” Recommended by Serena Williams, who also recommended Eat Yourself Sexy (which sounds like a Troy McClure self-help infomercial).

A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel. I loved Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies so it’s high time I delve into Mantel’s older novels. This work of historical fiction about the Frech Revolution seems like an ideal place to start. Recommended by Atul Gawande.

The Machine Stops by E.M. Forster. Classic sci-fi about humans living underground with all their needs being met by machines. Recommended by Elon Musk, who kinda wants to do that for realsies?

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. Lacks’ cells were taken without her knowledge and used to develop medical breakthroughs worth billions of dollars. Now an HBO movie starring Oprah Winfrey. Recommended by Lisa Genova.

SuperBetter: The Power of Living Gamefully by Jane McGonigal. “She explains how we can cultivate new powers of recovery and resilience in everyday life simply by adopting a more ‘gameful’ mind-set.” Recommended by Tim Ferriss.

The web is a portal to other worlds

posted by Tim Carmody   Apr 20, 2017

Like I mentioned in the post on web comedy, something about the experience of the World Wide Web, the experience of working with a screen, seems to loosen our hold on reality. Maybe we’ve trained ourselves to do it by reading stories and playing video games with very vague visual details (sometimes just text). Maybe it’s part of blocking out the world around us so we can focus and interact on the screen. Maybe it’s a residue of the awkward metaphors of “cyberspace,” or maybe this is where those metaphors come from. But I think we are amenable to the suggestion of a possible world where everything is different, even more so than when we read a book or watch a movie. The closest thing might be comic books, which likewise play endlessly with time travel, alternate universes, and what-if scenarios.

Rome, Sweet Rome” is a short story that began as part of a Reddit thread and eventually turned into a movie deal. It’s about a modern US Marine Corps unit that gets sucked back in time and fights Roman soldiers in 23 BC. It’s just like one of the thousand of ridiculous “what if?” conversations that take place on the web every day. But it’s also something that the people who were involved with it while it was being made never forgot.

A People’s History of Tattooine is something I was involved with, although someone else nominated it for part of the time capsule. In 2014, a bunch of geeky dads (mostly) on a Saturday started to wonder how the Star Wars stories would be told not by the Rebellion or the Empire, but by the nonhuman people seen throughout the series. In other words, as Jake Harris wrote, “what if Mos Eisley wasn’t really that wretched and it was just Obi Wan being racist again?”

This attitude, which treats almost nothing with reverence, but everything with care for its consistency and its consequences, is one of the fundamental modes of being on the web. It’s not like traditional fandom, scholarly pedantry, or manual-driven computation, where the original texts are treated like sacred writ. It’s fanfic, it’s slashfic, it’s deconstruction, it’s inventing your own entire fork of a standard because the standard doesn’t do what you think it ought to do. And it’s an attitude particularly well-suited for world-building.

The Onion imagined a film script that had been floating around Hollywood for 75 years called The Final Symphony, with a part written for Basil Rathbone that was later “rewritten for Mickey Rooney, and later Gene Wilder and then Chris Tucker.”

SB Nation wrote an entire feature imagining quarterback Tim Tebow’s sojourn through the Canadian Football League, little imagining that he would do something even less likely and take up minor league baseball.

The Beatles have two alternate histories that readers nominated: one, a Borgesian counterhistory where the band never broke up (complete with unexplained artifacts from that universe), the other, a timeline of events where The Beatles accepting Lorne Michaels’ stunt offer to reunite on Saturday Night Live leads to a reunion album, Mark David Chapman’s suicide, Michael Jackson’s premature death, and Lennon protesting the second Iraq war.

Dru Johnston’s “I Think I Should Get More Credit For Killing Hitler” shows that in a utopia as well as a dystopia, the gods are indifferent to our heroism.

Finally, there’s the case of Walter Miller’s Homepage. Walter Miller was basically dril before dril. Same dark humor, same misspellings, same grim, bizarre universe, same cult reverence.

The homepage began as a Prodigy site in the mid-1990s at the URL pages.prodigy.com/Hell/walter. It appeared on Suck in January 1996, it was in Time magazine, it won awards, the Harvey company optioned it to be an animated series.

Nobody, as far as I know, ever figured out who Walter Miller was, whether he/she/they were just one person. The site just… faded away. Except it’s mirrored and hosted by fans all over the web, sometimes in different states: an entire sea of alternate versions of an alternate universe, waiting to one day be made whole again.

Some site news: hello advertising, my old friend

posted by Jason Kottke   May 08, 2017

Last month, I told you that I lost the advertising on kottke.org after The Deck folded. After fielding lots of feedback (thank you!) and checking out a few different options, I’ve decided to try out Carbon Ads. By going with Carbon, the advertising on kottke.org retains many of the features I enjoyed about The Deck: a single unobtrusive ad per page, a curated group of sites and advertisers in the network, set it & forget it, and prompt payment. You’ll find the ad on each page of the site, in the post sidebar (or just below the post on mobile).

Before I let you go, I need a tiny bit of your help with this. If you use ad blocking software when you read kottke.org, could you please whitelist kottke.org and/or Carbon Ads (carbonads.com)? It should be pretty easy…check your ad block software’s instructions if you’ve never done it before. I don’t want to get into an argument about the ethics or morality of advertising or ad blocking, but I will say that blocking ads on kottke.org means less revenue for the site. As previously discussed, advertising is an essential piece of the ongoing stability of kottke.org and whitelisting the site would help me out in that regard. Thank you.

Dylan Matthews donated a kidney to a complete stranger

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 11, 2017

Last August, Dylan Matthews donated one of his kidneys to someone he’d never met before.

On Monday, August 22, 2016, a surgical team at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore removed my left kidney. It was then drained of blood, flushed with a preservative solution, placed on ice, and flown to Cincinnati.

Surgeons in Cincinnati then transplanted the kidney into a recipient I’d never met and whose name I didn’t know; we didn’t correspond until this past month. The only thing I knew about him at the time was that he needed my kidney more than I did. It would let him avoid the physically draining experience of dialysis and possibly live an extra nine to 10 years, maybe more.

Why did he do it? Because he thought it was the right thing to do morally.

I’d wanted to give a kidney for years — at least since I first heard it was possible after reading Larissa MacFarquhar’s New Yorker piece on “good Samaritan” kidney donors when I was in college. It just seemed like such a simple and clear way to help someone else, through a procedure that’s very low-risk to me. I studied moral philosophy as an undergrad, and there’s a famous thought experiment about a man who walks by a shallow pond where a child is drowning and does nothing, because leaping in to save the child might muddy his clothes.

As Matthews notes, all you need to do to get started on the road to becoming a living donor is fill out this form.

Three artists who find art in the finger smudges on device screens

posted by Jason Kottke   May 12, 2017

Wired recently featured Tabitha Soren’s project, Surface Tension, for which she photographed the fingerprints and smudges left on the screens of devices.

Smudge Art 01

The marks on the glass screens that technology users normally try to ignore or get rid of are the focal point of SURFACE TENSION. The textural conflicts in these pictures record how we now spend our lives. They’re not just grime; they’re evidence of the otherwise invisible.

In an earlier project (also, weirdly, titled Surface Tension), photographer Meggan Gould took photos of her and her husband’s smudged iPad screens.

Smudge Art 02

In 2012, Evan Roth produced a series of Multi-Touch Paintings, “paintings created by performing routine tasks on multi-touch hand held computing devices”. The tasks include slide-to-unlock, playing Angry Birds level 1-1, adding two numbers with the calculator app, and typing in a username and password.

Smudge Art 03

Smudge Art 04

I prefer Roth’s take the most (it’s the simplest…and first) but what I like about all of these is they compress many actions over time into a single flat images, not unlike BriefCam does with surveillance videos. Simple examples of time merge media.

Still blogging in 2017

posted by Jason Kottke   May 04, 2017

Tim Bray is still blogging in 2017.

I wonder what the Web will be like when we’re a couple more generations in? I’m pretty sure that as long as it remains easy to fill a little bit of the great namespace with your words and pictures, people will.

The great danger is that the Web’s future is mall-like: No space really public, no storefronts but national brands’, no visuals composed by amateurs, nothing that’s on offer just for its own sake, and for love.

Not sure if I’ve ever mentioned this on here before, but I often think of blogging as vaudeville to social media’s moving pictures (aka “movies”). It’s not that blogging and vaudeville are any less entertaining or engaging than they used to be,1 but movies in the 20s/30s and social media like Facebook and Snapchat (and media companies like Vox and BuzzFeed that leverage them well) provided tremendous quantities of scale and integrated means of production. Ok, the analogy needs a little work, but as Bray suggests, a few of us diehards will still be hoofing it here on our small stages until they sweep us off the stage. (via @cbredesen)

  1. Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show is basically vaudeville for the 2010s.

The struggle with the self

posted by Jason Kottke   May 11, 2017

This is a passage from Ethan Hawke’s Rules for a Knight, which takes the form of a fictional diary of lessons and anecdotes from a 15th century squire learning how to behave like a knight from his grandfather.

One time, on a sweltering August night, Grandfather and I made camp down by the ocean. He said, “While I teach you about the ways of war, I want you to know that the real struggle is between the two wolves that live inside each of us.”

“Two wolves?” I asked, seated on an old log near the fire. My eyes were transfixed by the flames twisting uncomfortably in the night air.

“One wolf is evil,” he continued. “It is anger, envy, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, deceit, false pride.” He paused, poking at the embers of our fire with a long stick he’d been carving.

“The other is good. It is joy, love, hope, serenity, humility, loving-kindness, forgiveness, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, faith.”

I considered that for a minute, then tentatively asked, “Which wolf will win?”

Sparks danced towards the stars as the old man stared into the glare of the flames and replied, “Whichever one you feed.”

A helpful reminder that I’ve been feeding the wrong wolf recently. He’s so hungry and there’s been a lot of available food, but I’ve got to get back on track.

Update: As stated on the back cover, in writing this book Hawke borrowed liberally from “the ancient teachings of Eastern and Western philosophy and on the great spiritual and political writings of our time”. The story of the two wolves appears to originate from Billy Graham or perhaps from the Cherokee tribe. (thx, everyone)

Entire films condensed into single photographs using ultra-long exposures

posted by Jason Kottke   May 18, 2017

Photos Of Films 02

Photos Of Films 01

Photos Of Films 03

For his Photographs of Films project, Jason Shulman condenses entire movies into single photos using ultra-long exposures. Some of the resulting photos are just shape and color, but for films that use longer shots of static sets, you can make out some identifying features, as with the war room and Ripper’s office in the Dr. Strangelove still above. And the Dumbo still I could almost drop in as a new header image for kottke.org.

See also Jason Salavon’s amalgamations. (via the guardian)

Update: Kevin Ferguson has been doing the same thing with movies since 2013, prior to Shulman’s project. Ferguson addressed Shulman’s work in a piece for Hyperallergic and included a guide to making your own such images. (via @mattthomas)

Update: Some prior art from Jim Campbell as well. He made flattened versions of Psycho and Wizard of Oz in 2000 and 2001. (thx, ben)

Roses are red, violets are insane…

posted by Jason Kottke   May 03, 2017

Pluses Optical Illusion

…this optical illusion broke my brain. And then for a second, I was like, I got it. Then my brain broke again. Repeat for several minutes. (via bb)

Update: This illusion was made by Charlie Deck. (via @tdhooper)

Giant meteorite sculpture is at the center of a stunning UK Holocaust Memorial proposal

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 12, 2017

Anish Kapoor Holocaust Memorial

Anish Kapoor Holocaust Memorial

British sculptor Anish Kapoor and Zaha Hadid Architects have proposed a massive sculpture resembling a meteorite for the centerpiece of the UK Holocaust Memorial.

Meteorites, mountains and stones are often at the centre of places of reflection, especially in the Jewish tradition. They call on the vastness of nature to be a witness to our humanity. A memorial to the Holocaust must be contemplative and silent, such that it evokes our empathy. It must be a promise to future generations that this terrible chapter in human history can never occur again.

All ten shortlisted proposals can be viewed on the design competition site.

A Golden Age of Oral Histories

posted by Tim Carmody   Apr 17, 2017

Golden Girls is one of my ten favorite TV shows ever. Recently, the entire series came to Hulu. I went to find the terrific oral history of the show, published just last year… and it was gone. The entire publication and its website had folded.

Luckily, the writer (Drew Mackie) had saved a copy, and published it on his own site after the magazine went under. So we still have gems like this anecdote from writer Winifred Hervey:

Bea was always my favorite. I left after the third season, and that’s the year she won her Emmy for Best Actress. I was at the ceremony, and after she gave her speech she came over and said, “Winifred, did you hear I mentioned your name, you little twat?” She was mad because I left.

That Golden Girls oral history is part of why I’ve been thinking about how we might save and recirculate the best parts of the web. So many good things have already vanished. The web is resilient, but fragile, too.

Big, splashy, gossipy pop culture oral histories used to be pretty rare, online or off. Vanity Fair would publish one every once in a while; in 2009, the magazine collected nine of them from the previous decade, including great features on The Simpsons, Saturday Night Live, Motown Records, and a galloping 50-year history of the entire internet, from ARPA to YouTube. Other magazines would do oral histories from time to time — GQ has had some terrific ones — but the real explosion begins in this decade, and it begins and ends on the web.

One of the first pieces Grantland published in 2011 was an oral history of The National, a writerly sports publication stacked with talent that could never make enough money and ended far too soon. (Message!) Right around then, a few really successful features helped kick off the boom.

Since then, my god — we have so many oral histories! Two years ago, Thrillist put together a list of 260 oral histories on music, movies, TV, and related pop culture alone. There are fake oral histories, “oral histories” that only interview two people, oral histories of things the writers profess to hate (trigger warning: autoplay), and oral histories of cult TV shows even more cultish side characters. (“In the end, I really liked Magnitude because I realized that the reason he calls himself Magnitude is because it stands for Magnetic Attitude.”)

But what are the histories you actually need to read? The Kottke Archives have links to and capsule summaries of no fewer than twenty-five oral histories, going back to 2008. These include histories of SXSW Interactive, the Challenger disaster, Freaks and Geeks, Cheers, Die Hard, and George Lucas’s Industrial Light and Magic.

With these alone, you already have enough reading material to get you through this week and beyond. But since we’re saving these for aliens, our grandchildren, and our alien grandchildren, I’m going to add a few more. These are just some of my favorite oral histories that (as far as I can tell) have never appeared on Kottke.org.

That last oral history in particular shows you how much the web has changed over the last twelve years — i.e., about half its life. In 2005, Yacht Rock was a show that me and a few thousand other people were really excited about, and that was enough to make it a web sensation. You couldn’t even get it on YouTube, because YouTube barely existed. Web video series were not getting loving write-ups in prestigious magazines. Yet here we are.

Night time lapse of the Milky Way from an airplane cockpit

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 28, 2017

Sales Wick is a pilot for SWISS and while working an overnight flight from Zurich to Sao Paulo, he filmed the first segment of the flight from basically the dashboard of the plane and made a timelapse video out of it. At that altitude, without a lot of light and atmospheric interference, the Milky Way is super vivid.

Just as the bright city lights are vanishing behind us, the Milky Way starts to become clearly visible up ahead. Its now us, pacing at almost the speed of sound along the invisible highway and the pitch-black night sky above this surreal landscape. Ahead of us are another eight hours flight time, but we already stopped counting the shooting stars. And we got already to a few hundred.

I watched this twice already, once to specifically pay attention to all the passing airplanes. The sky is surprisingly busy, even at that hour. (via @ozans)

Update: Several people asked if this was fake or digitally composited (the Milky Way and ground footage shot separately then edited together). I don’t know for sure, but I doubt it. The answer lies in the camera Wick used to shoot this, the Sony a7S. It’s really good in low-light conditions, better than many more expensive professional cameras even. As the last bit of this Vox video explains, the camera is so good in low light that the BBC used it to capture some night scenes for Planet Earth II. Here’s a screen-capped comparison at 6400 ISO from that video:

Sony A7s Compare

And the full scene at 32000 ISO:

Sony A7s Compare

That’s pretty amazing, right? Wick himself says on his site:

I had to take many attempts and a lot of trying to figure it out. Basically the challenge is to keep shutter speed as fast as possible in order to get razor sharp images. While you can use the 500 or 600 rule on ground this doesn’t work out the same way while being up in the sky. Well of course basically it does if you dont fly perpendicular to the movement of the night sky but even if its really smooth there are usually some light movements of the aircraft. So depending on the focal length of your lense you can get exposure times between 15” to 1”. Thats why you will need a camera that can handle high iso. Thats where the A7s comes into play and of course a ver fast lense. The rest is a good mounting and some luck. Last but not least you need to keep the flight deck as dark as possible to get the least reflections…and the rest is magic ;)

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.

Translating music into American Sign Language

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 07, 2017

Amber Galloway Gallego is a ASL interpreter who has developed new techniques and expressions to translate popular music into a richer experience for deaf and hard-of-hearing people than just simply translating the lyrics.

If you frequent music festivals and concerts, you might see her — or an interpreter like her — grooving to the music, mirroring the emotions and physicality of the artists onstage, interpreting their imaginative lyrics for concert-goers who rely on visual accommodations. She’s interpreted for more than 400 artists at this point, and has a special knack for interpreting hip-hop acts.

Part of the challenge here, particularly with fast-moving rap or hip hop, is combine or abbreviate signs in order to keep time with the lyrics. See Shelby Mitchusson performing Eminem’s Lose Yourself or Gallego doing a faster song of his, Rap God:

New USPS stamps commemorate sports balls

posted by Jason Kottke   May 24, 2017

USPS Balls

The US Postal Service recently announced a new series of stamps that feature balls from eight different sports.

The U.S. Postal Service will soon release first-of-a-kind stamps with the look — and feel — of actual balls used in eight popular sports. Available nationwide June 14, the Have a Ball! Forever stamps depict balls used in baseball, basketball, football, golf, kickball, soccer, tennis and volleyball.

The stamps are round but what’s really cool is that they will have a special coating that lets you feel the unique texture of each kind of ball — the baseball’s laces, the basketball’s nubby surface, the golf ball’s dimples. The ball stamps are available for preorder and will ship in mid-June.

See also their upcoming solar eclipse stamps, which are printed using thermochromic ink — when you touch them, the heat of your finger reveals the hidden Moon passing in front of the Sun. (via print)

Climate change is shifting cherry blossom peak-bloom times

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 10, 2017

Kyoto Cherry Blossom Chart

Records of when the cherry blossoms appear in Kyoto date back 1200 years. (Let’s boggle at this fact for a sec…) But as this chart of peak-bloom dates shows, since the most recent peak in 1829, the cherry blossoms have been arriving earlier and earlier in the year.

From its most recent peak in 1829, when full bloom could be expected to come on April 18th, the typical full-flowering date has drifted earlier and earlier. Since 1970, it has usually landed on April 7th. The cause is little mystery. In deciding when to show their shoots, cherry trees rely on temperatures in February and March. Yasuyuki Aono and Keiko Kazui, two Japanese scientists, have demonstrated that the full-blossom date for Kyoto’s cherry trees can predict March temperatures to within 0.1°C. A warmer planet makes for warmer Marches.

Temperature and carbon-related charts like this one are clear portraits of the Industrial Revolution, right up there with oil paintings of the time. I also enjoyed the correction at the bottom of the piece:

An earlier version of this chart depicted cherry blossoms with six petals rather than five. This has been amended. Forgive us this botanical sin.

Gotta remember that flower petals are very often numbered according to the Fibonacci sequence.

Science is a fundamental part of America

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 24, 2017

Science in America is an impassioned video from Neil deGrasse Tyson about the threat we face from the political uncoupling of science from the truth in America today.

How did America rise up from a backwoods country to be one of the greatest nations the world has ever known? We pioneered industries. And all this required the greatest innovations in science and technology in the world. And so, science is a fundamental part of the country that we are. But in this, the 21st century, when it comes time to make decisions about science, it seems to me people have lost the ability to judge what is true and what is not, what is reliable what is not reliable, what should you believe what you do not believe. And when you have people who don’t know much about science standing in denial of it and rising to power, that is a recipe for the complete dismantling of our informed democracy.

America is a developing nation for most of its citizens

posted by Jason Kottke   May 02, 2017

In his new book, The Vanishing Middle Class: Prejudice and Power in a Dual Economy, MIT economics professor Peter Temin says that the US “is coming to have an economic and political structure more like a developing nation” and that the US is really two countries at this point:

In one of these countries live members of what Temin calls the “FTE sector” (named for finance, technology, and electronics, the industries which largely support its growth). These are the 20 percent of Americans who enjoy college educations, have good jobs, and sleep soundly knowing that they have not only enough money to meet life’s challenges, but also social networks to bolster their success. They grow up with parents who read books to them, tutors to help with homework, and plenty of stimulating things to do and places to go. They travel in planes and drive new cars. The citizens of this country see economic growth all around them and exciting possibilities for the future. They make plans, influence policies, and count themselves as lucky to be Americans.

The FTE citizens rarely visit the country where the other 80 percent of Americans live: the low-wage sector. Here, the world of possibility is shrinking, often dramatically. People are burdened with debt and anxious about their insecure jobs if they have a job at all. Many of them are getting sicker and dying younger than they used to. They get around by crumbling public transport and cars they have trouble paying for. Family life is uncertain here; people often don’t partner for the long-term even when they have children. If they go to college, they finance it by going heavily into debt. They are not thinking about the future; they are focused on surviving the present. The world in which they reside is very different from the one they were taught to believe in. While members of the first country act, these people are acted upon.

This whole piece on the book by Lynn Parramore is worth a read. Another small tidbit:

In the Lewis model of a dual economy, much of the low-wage sector has little influence over public policy. Check. The high-income sector will keep wages down in the other sector to provide cheap labor for its businesses. Check. Social control is used to keep the low-wage sector from challenging the policies favored by the high-income sector. Check. Mass incarceration. Check. The primary goal of the richest members of the high-income sector is to lower taxes. Check. Social and economic mobility is low. Check.

Road dieting

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 27, 2017

The concept of road diets is an alternate approach to dealing with road congestion that’s gained popularity in recent years. The typical solution to heavy traffic on roads is to widen them with more travel lanes. The problem is such an approach can induce demand and instead of two lanes of traffic jam, you get four lanes going nowhere.1

Instead, with a road diet approach, you might turn a four-lane road into three lanes: two travel lanes and a turn lane in the middle.

Realizing these unintended outcomes, some localities implemented a type of road diet: reconfiguring the four lanes (two in each direction) into three (one each way plus a shared turn lane in the middle). The change dramatically reduced the number of “conflict points” on the road-places where a crash might occur. Whereas there might be six mid-block conflict points in a common four-lane arterial, between cars turning and merging, there were only two after the road diet.

Likewise, at an intersection, eight potential conflict points became four after a road diet.

The result was a much safer road. In small urban areas (say, populations around 17,000, with traffic volumes up to 12,000 cars a day), post-road diet crashes dropped about 47 percent. In larger metros (with populations around 269,000 and up to 24,000 daily cars), the crash reduction was roughly 19 percent. The combined estimate from all the best studies predicted that accidents would decline 29 percent, on average, after a four-to-three-lane road diet — DOT’s reported figure.

Pedestrian and bike usage tends to increase as well (b/c that extra street can be converted to bike lanes or sidewalks), speeding decreases, and car travel times are largely unaffected. This quick video by Jeff Speck shows four different approaches to road dieting:

Update: See also Braess’ paradox.

Braess’ paradox or Braess’s paradox is a proposed explanation for a seeming improvement to a road network being able to impede traffic through it. It was discovered in 1968 by mathematician Dietrich Braess, who noticed that adding a road to a congested road traffic network could increase overall journey time, and it has been used to explain instances of improved traffic flow when existing major roads are closed.

The paradox may have analogues in electrical power grids and biological systems. It has been suggested that in theory, the improvement of a malfunctioning network could be accomplished by removing certain parts of it.

(thx, david)

Update: A street in Oakland recently underwent a road diet: two of five lanes were converted into protected bike lanes. The result is an increase in biking and pedestrian use, a decrease in collisions, a decrease in speeding, and an increase in business along the street.

Along nine blocks of Oakland’s Telegraph Avenue, biking is up 78 percent since protected bike lanes were installed. Walking is up 100 percent - maybe because, thanks to the single lane of through traffic in each direction, the pedestrian yield rate doubled in the mornings and tripled in the afternoons.

Meanwhile, the number of traffic collisions fell 40 percent. Retail sales in a district that has sometimes struggled are up 9 percent, thanks in part to five new businesses.

And the median car speed is now the speed limit: 25 mph. As usual on such projects in urban areas, the main effect of removing a car passing lane was not to jam traffic, only to prevent irresponsible drivers from weaving between lanes in order to get to the next stoplight more quickly.

  1. The concept of induced demand can be seen in other places, like New Orleans’ overcrowded jails.

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 poignant tale of an offbeat animal menagerie

posted by Jason Kottke   May 10, 2017

In this short documentary film, Amy Nicholson features her dad and his wife and the menagerie of animals that they have collected and cared for over the years, including rescue chickens, a fish who couldn’t swim (the eponymous “Pickle”), a paraplegic possum that used a homemade wheelchair to get around, cross-eyed cats, and many many animals who met premature ends after being carted away by various prey.

I try to find a funny side to everything, and tragedy is no exception. This film’s unrelenting march of death has a light side, but hopefully between morbid curiosity and chuckling at the sheer volume of casualties, the audience will find a bit of themselves in this film. “Pickle” examines the depths of one couple’s devotion to their pets while exploring the complicated relationship that we humans have with all animals. If you find a hurt animal that you’re able to help, is it moral to come to its rescue, as we would with a human? Or is it true compassion to let nature take its course?

What the world’s strongest man eats in one day

posted by Jason Kottke   May 26, 2017

Brian Shaw is the World’s Strongest Man, having won that competition in 2011, 2013, 2015, and 2016. In order to fuel his body through what I’m sure is a grueling training program, Shaw eats 12,000 calories spread across 6 meals a day. This video follows him through a typical day before a hard training session. His initial meal is peanut butter, 8 scrambled eggs, and a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, which is pretty much just an hors d’oeuvre for Shaw.

This meal, even though it’s eight eggs and all that, it doesn’t seem to really fill me up. I get through it pretty quickly and then I’m hungry again.

The best movie shots of all time

posted by Jason Kottke   May 08, 2017

Cinefix has begun the monumental task of compiling a list of the best shots in film. They’ve got a list of more than 1000 potential clips to evaluate and rank, but in part one of their series, they focus on the best shots by size — “breaking down some of the best close ups, mediums, wide shots and extremes in film history”.

Their picks include Psycho for the extreme close up, The Godfather Part II for the wide shot, and Lawrence of Arabia for the extreme wide shot.

Seven helpful tips on how to be miserable

posted by Jason Kottke   May 31, 2017

The internet is chock full of articles and videos on how to be happier. But why chase happiness when making yourself miserable is so much easier? In this video, CGP Grey shares seven tactics to maximize your misery:

1. Stay still.
2. Screw with your sleep.
3. Maximize your screentime.
4. Use your screen to stoke your negative emotions.
5. Set vapid goals.
6. Pursue happiness directly.
7. Follow your instincts.

The video is based on Randy Paterson’s recent book, How to Be Miserable: 40 Strategies You Already Use.

The transformative power of boredom

posted by Jason Kottke   May 15, 2017

After bouncing out of the minor leagues in the US, Eric Thames found himself playing in a second-tier professional league in South Korea. Not knowing the language and with few other Americans on the team, Thames spent a lot of time by himself, bored. Applying himself, he started working on his approach to the game, his swing, and his patience.

He began to remedy the poor habits, the swinging-at-everything approach that had exiled him to the minors in 2013 and then the second-best pro league in Asia in 2014. With language still a barrier to working with his Dinos coaches and teammates, Thames arrived at his improved process alone. He began a practice of visualization, of imagining a pitch of a certain type, in a certain location, approaching home plate. He would balance a tablet on a counter or tabletop in his apartment and watch video of pitches, trying to decide whether to swing or lay off of them in real time with bat in hand.

“I kind of like swallowed my pride and said ‘Hey, I really want to get on base,’” Thames said.

He employed the same visualization practice behind the batting cage while teammates took swings. And he does the same practice now in the on-deck circle of major-league games, in his hotel on the road, or in pre-game cage work.

The breakout happened in 2015, his second season in South Korea. He walked (103) more than he struck out (91) and posted a .497 on-base mark and 1.288 OPS. He smashed 47 home runs.

His hard work continues to pay off. This year, Thames is back in the US, playing for the Milwaukee Brewers in the major leagues. He leads the NL in home runs, is 5th in OBP, 4th in OBPS, and 7th in walks. (thx, avi)

Fashion inspiration boards for Philip & Elizabeth’s 1980s disguises on The Americans

posted by Jason Kottke   May 23, 2017

The FX show The Americans follows a married couple, Philip and Elizabeth Jennings, who are Soviet spies living in America during the 1980s. In the course of their spying activities, the KBG couple often don disguises to protect their identities. Costume designer Katie Irish is responsible for dressing the couple on the show, and she’s been sharing some of the fashion inspiration boards for those disguises (as well as other costumes) on her Twitter and Instagram accounts.

The Americans Bioboards

The Americans Bioboards

The Americans Bioboards

The Americans Bioboards

The Americans Bioboards

As you can see, Irish and her team pull images from anywhere: TV, movies, catalogs, photojournalism, yearbooks, advertising, etc. The goal is authenticity:

The point is to use clothes to embody the characters and bring them to life in a way that lets audiences believe in and feel invested in them. The show’s leads, Elizabeth and Philip Jennings, played by Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys, are characters who live their lives in costume, in a sense. They dress like the upper-middle-class travel agents that they have embodied for years, but there are subtle hints at their internal selves, as ideologically driven Russian spies. “They’re Russian at the core,” Irish explains, “and they don’t want anything that is overtly capitalist.” You won’t see much logo branding on their clothes.

P.S. I’ve been waiting for someone to make a supercut video of all of the Jennings’ disguises, but it hasn’t happened yet. Am I going to have to do it myself?

Game of Thrones season 7 trailer

posted by Jason Kottke   May 24, 2017

War, huh, good God, what is good for? Ratings and new HBO Now subscriptions, say it again. Finally, after six seasons of mere skirmishes, Jon Snow says “the Great War is here”. Excited for this, particularly because it appears to lack an aspect that plagued seasons in the past: Parliamentary Procedure with Daenerys Targaryen. (“Your dragon stole my goat! What shall we do about it?”) Anyway, excited for this!

Update: Another new trailer:

“There is no reason to push against [convention]”

posted by Jason Kottke   May 02, 2017

From a Kim Severson profile of chef Thomas Keller:

Preeti Mistry, 40, a classically trained chef with a modified Mohawk who cooks elevated Indian street food at her Juhu Beach Club in Oakland, Calif., and her new spot, Navi Kitchen in nearby Emeryville, was in culinary school when she discovered Mr. Keller’s “French Laundry Cookbook.” It had become an instant professional and spiritual guide for cooks of her generation.

In 2004, she visited the French Laundry. At the time, she thought it was the most amazing meal she had ever eaten. She even got to shake hands with Mr. Keller. “I left feeling like I just met Drake or something,” she recalled.

But now? She views fine dining as disingenuous, built from a system steeped in oppression and hierarchy in which women, gays and other minorities — whether customers or cooks — are not treated the same.

“It’s essentially haute couture, and we know haute couture appropriates from minorities and urban communities,” she said. Chefs as powerful as Mr. Keller, she said, have a responsibility to address those issues. “You need to go on your woke journey.”

Mr. Keller smiled when presented with that lens on his profession.

“I pushed against convention when I was young,” he said. “Then you realize there is no reason to push against things. There is no value in it.” Hard work and dedication to craft, he said, will right all wrongs.

That certainly is one way to think about it. [thinking face emoji]

Cute illustrations of bread birds

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 14, 2017

Bread Birds

Bread Birds

Bread Birds

Twitter user @fuguhitman has recently done a series of bread birds with portmanteau names like Croisswant, Breadolark, Pidgingerbread, Bagull, and Crownut. Now I’m hungry and I want to go sit in a quiet forest with binoculars.

Tension-building in the great first scene of Inglourious Basterds

posted by Jason Kottke   May 09, 2017

Lessons from the Screenplay takes a look at the opening scene from Inglourious Basterds and dissects what makes it so suspenseful. The scene, which is one of my all-time favorites, shows SS officer Hans Landa showing up unannounced at a French farmhouse and sitting down for what starts off as a little chat with a farmer, a Monsieur LaPadite. With just a calm conversation and gestures, Landa ratchets up the tension in the scene, paving the way for an explosive climax.

The other less famous photo of Jack Ruby shooting Lee Harvey Oswald

posted by Jason Kottke   May 19, 2017

Ruby Shoots Oswald

Thread! Austin Kleon shared something he learned on Twitter yesterday: there are actually two photos of Jack Ruby about to shoot Lee Harvey Oswald taken by two different photographers. We’ve all seen the familiar one, taken by Bob Jackson:

Ruby Shoots Oswald

But like Kleon, I had never seen Jack Beers’ version shown at the top of the post, taken a little more than a half-second before Jackson’s. Kleon says:

At the time, Bob Jackson was “depressed” because he didn’t have film in his camera when Kennedy was assassinated. When Beers’ superiors saw the negative they were sure he’d just won the Pulitzer. Meanwhile, Jackson’s editors asked if he’d gotten anything. Jackson’s shot captured the exact right moment, with Oswald recoiling in pain, making the face, etc. He won the Pulitzer and fame. Beers was devastated. He felt like he’d had the Pulitzer and lost it. His daughter says he never really got over his bad luck. So, you have two photographers shooting a guy who got shot — one’s career “ruined” for him, one’s made.

According to an article about the two men who took the photographs, Beers was personally acquainted with Ruby:

He loved crime stories, she says, and went on ride-alongs with the Dallas police. He also came to know a strange little man who often hung out at police headquarters, a stripclub operator named Jack Ruby.

To fatten his pocketbook, Mr. Beers even photographed some of Ruby’s “girls,” whose pictures are part of the family collection.

And Jackson was in President Kennedy’s motorcade and spotted Oswald’s rifle peeking out of a window:

And then came the first shot.

Instinctively, Mr. Jackson says he looked to where the shot was coming from — and saw a rifle protruding from a window in the east end of the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository. The Warren Commission concluded that Oswald fired three shots from a sniper’s perch he had constructed in that window.

But he’d used all of his film up getting crowd shots and was unable to reload quickly enough. Back to the Ruby Oswald photos:

“Out of the corner of my right eye, I saw a sudden movement … My first impression was, it was a photographer out of position or with a very short lens trying to improve his position, then the curse, ‘You son of a bitch,’ punctuated by the shot. The curse was in such an unnatural and excited voice, before it concluded I knew someone had gone berserk and was attacking Oswald.”

The sudden movement provoked Mr. Jackson, six-tenths of a second later, to snap the shutter.

“The reason Beers shot too soon, in comparison to me,” says Mr. Jackson, “is that he saw it easier and quicker than I did. Ruby was more in his vision. I had a better position because I wasn’t distracted by Ruby as much. I was still looking at Oswald’s face, and I knew I was going to shoot before whoever that was blocked my view.”

What a story. (via @austinkleon)

The latest SpaceX rocket launch and landing, start-to-finish

posted by Jason Kottke   May 01, 2017

This is cool. SpaceX has built a reusable rocket for launching things into space. The rocket takes off, separates from its payload, and then lands back on Earth, upright and intact on a landing pad. They’ve had several successful missions but this morning, they webcast the launch and return of the rocket with footage from long-range cameras and a camera fixed to the side of the rocket from start to finish.

The launch happens at 11:58, at 14:24 the main stage separates from the payload, and at 21:00, it’s on the ground — the whole thing is over in 9 minutes. And the views are super-clear (until clouds and exhaust from engines cloud the view right at the end) and the long continuous shot of the rocket is astounding…it looks totally fake, like out of a sci-fi movie.

Speaking of sci-fi, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk shared a better view of the rocket landing on Instagram…here it is on YouTube:

Look at the landing gear delicately fold down about 2 seconds before the landing. Looks totally CG! I’ve seen footage of these landings dozens of times and it’s still incredible.

An amazingly well-preserved dinosaur found in Canada

posted by Jason Kottke   May 14, 2017

Nodosaur

In 2011, an excavator operator working in a Canadian mine uncovered a group of unusual looking rocks. The rocks turned out to be the remains of a dinosaur called a nodosaur that died about 110 million years ago. The nodosaur was so well preserved that it looks like a stone statue of a dinosaur instead of just fossilized remains.

The more I look at it, the more mind-boggling it becomes. Fossilized remnants of skin still cover the bumpy armor plates dotting the animal’s skull. Its right forefoot lies by its side, its five digits splayed upward. I can count the scales on its sole. Caleb Brown, a postdoctoral researcher at the museum, grins at my astonishment. “We don’t just have a skeleton,” he tells me later. “We have a dinosaur as it would have been.”

The photos are amazing…it really does look like a statue.

A brief visual history of Studio Ghibli

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 26, 2017

Studio Ghibli has been making incredible animated movies since 1985. This video traces the history and the work of the studio and its principal director Hayao Miyazaki from his pre-Ghibli work (including Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind) all the way up to Miyazaki’s recent unretirement & involvement in Boro the Caterpillar.

The name Ghibli was given by Hayao Miyazaki from the Italian noun “ghibli”, based on the Libyan-Arabic name for the hot desert wind of that country, the idea being the studio would “blow a new wind through the anime industry”. It also refers to an Italian aircraft, the Caproni Ca.309 Ghibli.

I still remember seeing Princess Mononoke in the theater in 1999 (having no previous knowledge of Ghibli or Miyazaki) and being completely blown away by it. Made me a fan for life. (via film school rejects)

Update: The Movies of Studio Ghibli, Ranked from Worst to Best. Happy to see Princess Mononoke in the top spot and surprised at Spirited Away’s relatively low placement.

My social media fast

posted by Jason Kottke   May 19, 2017

Last week (approx. May 7-14), I stopped using social media for an entire week. I logged out of all the sites and deleted the apps from my phone. I didn’t so much as peek at Instagram, which is, with Twitter and old-school Flickr, probably my favorite online service of all time. I used Twitter as minimally as I could, for work only.1 I didn’t check in anywhere on Swarm. No Facebook. As much as I could, I didn’t use my phone. I left it at home when I went to the grocery store. I didn’t play any games on it. I left it across the room when I went to bed and when I worked.

Many people have given up social media and written about it — the digital equivalent of the “Why I’m Leaving New York” essay — but since I didn’t write about leaving New York, I’m going to do this instead.

I used to be very good about using my phone and social media appropriately. More than a decade of working on kottke.org taught me how to not be online when I wasn’t working (for the most part). I tried super hard not to use my phone at all around my kids and if I was out with friends, my phone stayed in my pocket.2

Almost a year ago, after 13+ years in the city, I moved from lower Manhattan3 to rural Vermont. It’s beautiful here. I live in a house in the country surrounded by horse pasture and there’s great skiing in the winter. The nearest town is only five minutes away by car; it has a two-screen movie theater, a handful of restaurants (none of which are typically open after 10pm), two grocery stores, but nowhere to get a proper donut, sushi, or bowl of ramen. (The nearest ramen is an hour’s drive away.) While I was writing this post yesterday afternoon, the power in my house went out and didn’t come back on for three hours, forcing a delay in publication. It’s been difficult to meet people. Folks here are nice, but they mostly remind me of the people in the small town I grew up in (aka why I moved to the city in the first place). I work from home at a desk in my bedroom and some days, the only beings I’ll talk to are Siri, my landlord’s horses, and some days, my kids and their mom.

Social media, mostly through my phone, has been an important way for me to stay connected with friends and goings on in the wider world. But lately I’d noticed an obsessiveness, an addiction really, that I didn’t like once I became fully aware of it. When I wasn’t working, I was on my phone, refreshing Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook repeatedly in an endless series, like a little old lady at Caesar’s Palace working several slot machines at the same time. And I couldn’t stop it — my phone was in my hand even when I was trying to concentrate on my kids, watching a movie, or reading a book. So, I quit for a week to see what would happen. It’s not a super-long time period, but here’s what I noticed:

- Once I’d set my mind to it, it was pretty easy to go cold turkey. Perhaps my Twitter usage and keeping up with the news for kottke.org acted as a nicotine patch, but I don’t think so. Instagram was the toughest to stay away from, but I didn’t crack once.

- As the week went on, it was more and more evident that it wasn’t so much social media as the phone that was the problem. Even now, a few days after the conclusion of my experiment, I’m leaving my phone at home when I go out or across the room when I’m doing something. I’m going to try hard to keep this up.

- Buuuut, when you have kids, there is no such thing as giving up your phone. There’s always the potential call from their school or their mom or their doctor or another parent regarding a playdate or or or. I spend enough time online at my computer for work that I could mostly do without my phone, but with kids, that’s not really an option.

- Not a single person noticed that I had stopped using social media. (Not enough to tell me anyway.) Perhaps if it had been two weeks? For me, this reinforced that social media is actually not a good way to “stay connected with friends”. Social media aggregates interactions between loved ones so that you get industrialized communication rather than personal connection. No one really notices if a particular person goes missing because they’re just one interchangeable node in a network.

- My no-social week, for a variety of reasons, was probably the shittiest week I’d had in more than a year. Total emotional mess. Being off social media didn’t make it any better, but I doubt it made it worse. Overall, it was probably a good thing I wasn’t subjecting my friends and followers to self-subtweets and emo Instagram Stories…I was already scoring enough own goals without social media’s help.

- So, what did I do instead? I wish I could say that I had loads of extra free time that I used to learn Spanish, clean my house, catch up with old friends, cook delicious meals, and finish a couple work projects. Perhaps if shittiest week ever hadn’t been happening, I would have done some of that. Still, I did end up going to bed early every night, read a couple books, and had more time for work and dealing with kid drama.

After the week was up, I greedily checked in on Instagram and Facebook to see what I had missed. Nothing much, of course. Since then, I’ve been checking them a bit less. When I am on, I’ve been faving and commenting more in an attempt to be a little more active in connecting. I unfollowed some accounts I realized I didn’t care that much about and followed others I’ve been curious to check out. Swarm I check a lot less, about once a day — there was a lot of FOMO going on when I saw friends checked in at cool places in NYC or on vacations in Europe. And I’m only checking in when I go someplace novel, just to keep a log of where I’ve been…that’s always fun to look back on.

Mostly, I’ve resolved to use my phone less. Being on my phone was my fidget spinner…this thing that I would do when there was nothing else to do or that I would use to delay going to bed or delay getting out of bed in the morning. Going forward, I’m going to be more mindful about its use. If nothing else, my hands and thumbs might start feeling better.

  1. Yeah, I did not stop using Twitter. Ideally I would have, but Twitter is a huge source of information for this here website and I couldn’t afford to give it up without ditching work for a week, which I did not want to do because I wanted to maintain my normal schedule. But I didn’t look at Twitter on my phone, didn’t reply to or fave any tweets, muted some non-news/link accounts I follow, and limited my usage to “business hours”.

  1. Still one of my favorite tweets is from Scott Simpson: “My new standard of cool: when I’m hanging out with you, I never see your phone ever ever ever.”

  1. Haha, you’re getting a mini leaving NYC essay anyway. Suckers!

How the Internet has changed in the past 10 years

posted by Jason Kottke   May 16, 2017

Alexis Madrigal is back at The Atlantic, where he’ll be writing about technology, science, and business. His first piece is a reflection on how the Internet has changed in the 10 years he’s been writing about it. In 2007, the Web was triumphant. But then came apps and Facebook and other semi-walled gardens:

O’Reilly’s lengthy description of the principles of Web 2.0 has become more fascinating through time. It seems to be describing a slightly parallel universe. “Hyperlinking is the foundation of the web,” O’Reilly wrote. “As users add new content, and new sites, it is bound into the structure of the web by other users discovering the content and linking to it. Much as synapses form in the brain, with associations becoming stronger through repetition or intensity, the web of connections grows organically as an output of the collective activity of all web users.”

Nowadays, (hyper)linking is an afterthought because most of the action occurs within platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and messaging apps, which all have carved space out of the open web.

That strategy has made the top tech companies insanely valuable:

In mid-May of 2007, these five companies were worth $577 billion. Now, they represent $2.9 trillion worth of market value! Not so far off from the combined market cap ($2.85T) of the top 10 largest companies in the second quarter of 2007: Exxon Mobil, GE, Microsoft, Royal Dutch Shell, AT&T, Citigroup, Gazprom, BP, Toyota, and Bank of America.

In 2007, I wrote a piece (and a follow-up) about how Facebook was the new AOL and how their walled garden strategy was doomed to fail in the face of the open Web. The final paragraph of that initial post is a good example of the Web triumphalism described by Madrigal but hasn’t aged well:

As it happens, we already have a platform on which anyone can communicate and collaborate with anyone else, individuals and companies can develop applications which can interoperate with one another through open and freely available tools, protocols, and interfaces. It’s called the internet and it’s more compelling than AOL was in 1994 and Facebook in 2007. Eventually, someone will come along and turn Facebook inside-out, so that instead of custom applications running on a platform in a walled garden, applications run on the internet, out in the open, and people can tie their social network into it if they want, with privacy controls, access levels, and alter-egos galore.

The thing is, Facebook did open up…they turned themselves inside-out and crushed the small pieces loosely joined contingent. They let the Web flood in but caught the Web’s users and content creators before they could wash back out again. The final paragraph of the follow-up piece fared much better in hindsight:

At some point in the future, Facebook may well open up, rendering much of this criticism irrelevant. Their privacy controls are legendarily flexible and precise…it should be easy for them to let people expose parts of the information to anyone if they wanted to. And as Matt Webb pointed out to me in an email, there’s the possibility that Facebook turn itself inside out and be the social network bit for everyone else’s web apps. In the meantime, maybe we shouldn’t be so excited about the web’s future moving onto an intranet.

What no one saw back then, about a week after the release of the original iPhone, was how apps on smartphones would change everything. In a non-mobile world, these companies and services would still be formidable but if we were all still using laptops and desktops to access information instead of phones and tablets, I bet the open Web would have stood a better chance.

Shake Shack releases an official cookbook

posted by Jason Kottke   May 11, 2017

Anatomy of a ShackBurger

Big news around these parts: the Shake Shack is coming out with their first cookbook next week. Shake Shack: Recipes & Stories details how the Shake Shack came about and spills the beans with recipes for almost all of the food, burgers, chicken sandwiches, and fries included. According to Eater, the recipes have been tweaked for the home cook:

Rosati shares almost all of the company’s recipes, though unfortunately he isn’t giving away any real secrets here. The processes have been adapted for the home cook, and Garutti told Eater that only “six people” in the world know the real recipe for Shake Shack’s signature sauce.

The recipe in the book for Shack sauce is a mixture of Hellman’s, Dijon, Heinz, pickle juice, salt, and pepper. “We make our own from scratch,” Garutti says, but when he and Rosati first started testing recipes for the book they came to the conclusion that these weren’t recipes “most people would want to make at home,” because they were labor-intensive, “messy,” and time-consuming.

Immediate pre-order. See also Kenji’s Fake Shack burger recipe.

Update: Here’s the recipe for the ShackBurger and sauce from the book. The ShackSauce recipe includes “¼ teaspoon kosher dill pickling brine”, which is also the secret ingredient in my homemade tuna salad.

In praise of Flickr

posted by Tim Carmody   Apr 17, 2017

Sunset by Tom Hall

Matt Haughey comes not to bury Flickr, but to praise it.

Flickr represents one of the very best of things in the history of the internet. It was the first popular way to share photos in a social way instead of photos lingering in private accounts online and in the real world in shoeboxes under beds. It brought millions together and helped kick off first the digital SLR revolution, then it was eclipsed by the mobile photography revolution. Flickr—despite being a big corporate entity—embraced open licensing and took on the ambitious goal of being a mirror and gallery for oodles of museums around the globe.

Those values that drove Flickr during its influential peak can be seen in its Explore page, which still knocks your socks off. Matt calls it “an entire year’s worth of epic shots from National Geographic, generated each day, automatically by algorithms.”

Lots of wondrous shots from places I’ve never heard of. Lots of “how’d they even get that shot?!” photos of animals… Instagram has an explore tab but it’s popular music and tv stars and their dogs or it’s brand advertising-driven shots cooked up to sell something. There’s something so completely boring about Instagram’s explore page that makes me ignore it and go back to my friend feeds, whereas Flickr is the opposite: my friend feed is largely silent, but the best of the best page is truly awe-inspiring and at least one photo each day is going to take my breath away.

It is bizarre to think now that Flickr was only active for about a year before it was acquired by Yahoo. For those of us who were on the site then, that year felt like everything.

Jason’s first post that mentions Flickr is from March 2004. He wonders whether Flickr could be used as a universal login (much like Facebook, Twitter, and Google accounts are today). Annotation quickly followed. Then calendar view. RSS feed splicing. Organizr. A public API. The interestingness algorithm. Prints. It was step-by-step, bit-by-bit, but every new feature was a milestone. It excited people, and got them thinking and working on what was next.

Jason even has a remarkable post from August 2004 where he imagines an entire web-based operating system linking different services together:

To put this another way, a distributed data storage system would take the place of a local storage system. And not just data storage, but data processing/filtering/formatting. Taking the weblog example to the extreme, you could use TypePad to write a weblog entry; Flickr to store your photos; store some mp3s (for an mp3 blog) on your ISP-hosted shell account; your events calendar on Upcoming; use iCal to update your personal calendar (which is then stored on your .Mac account); use GMail for email; use TypeKey or Flickr’s authentication system to handle identity; outsource your storage/backups to Google or Akamai; you let Feedburner “listen” for new content from all those sources, transform/aggregate/filter it all, and publish it to your Web space; and you manage all this on the Web at each individual Web site or with a Watson-ish desktop client.

Think of it like Unix…small pieces loosely joined.

That last part didn’t come true; the pieces didn’t join so much as fuse together into something new. The companies listed either took over the world, faded into relative obscurity, or stopped existing (at least for a little while). And then there’s Flickr — which didn’t do any of those things, but changed how we use the web forever.

I usually say that platforms stop being vital, even if they continue to have lots of users, when the platforms stop getting better. It’s a tricky thing: sometimes a ham-handed “improvement” can actually ruin a lot of what made a platform special. Flickr was extraordinarily vital, for years. It still has so much to offer. Sometimes there’s something reassuring about a tool that’s still much the same.

Photo by Tom Hall, via Flickr. Used under a CC-BY license.

The web’s best hidden gems

posted by Tim Carmody   Apr 21, 2017

I asked Kottke.org readers to tell me what were the best web sites that they knew about that most people have never heard of. Normally, each of these sites would be worth a blog post on its own, either a longer or shorter one. But this week, we’re…

HYPERPOSTING!!!
A few of the sites readers suggested are actually (in my experience) quite well-known. However, if you’ve never been to Daring Fireball, Longform.org, The Millions, Hacker News, Every Frame A Painting, DuckDuckGo, LMGTFY, xkcd, Nautilus, The Internet Archive, Google Reverse Image Search, or, yes, Kottke.org, you should remedy that as soon as you can.

The rest of the suggestions are really quite something. I’d never heard of most of them. A few others I’ve loved and shared as a secret handshake between friends. In lieu of lengthy explanations, I’m just going to link them all and let you explore.

(This is what most web pages used to be: just long lists of links. We were such dorks back then. But maybe we were on to something.)

Note: The order is not a ranking, but simply an easy way I can count how many links there are.

Also Note: No money changed hands to feature any of these sites on Kottke.org, although in retrospect, that would have been a good idea..

Final Note: If the site required a login, or I couldn’t figure out what it was doing or why it would be interesting to anyone, I didn’t include it. Sorry.


  1. Weird Fiction Review: “an ongoing exploration into all facets of the weird, from the classics to the next generation of weird writers and international weird.”
  2. Pink Trombone: You kinda have to play with this one to get it.
  3. Internet Hockey Database: Statistics, Logos, and Trading Cards.
  4. diamond geezer: A lovely blog about trains and architecture in Great Britain.
  5. MLB Uniforms worn on April 19, 2017: You can do this for any date you want.
  6. Nepali: A Beginner’s Primer Conversation and Grammar
  7. Swear Trek
  8. Fuck You, Broccoli: “An in-depth exploration of vegetables and other so-called healthy foods.”
  9. Spacetrawler: A science-fiction webcomic and comics blog.
  10. Extra Ordinary: Another webcomic, about a little girl who has sweetly surreal adventures.
  11. WPC Probabilistic Winter Precipitation Guidance: Tracks snowfall.
  12. The Drawfee Channel: A video blog about drawing with digital tools.
  13. Is it Christmas?: Current answer: NO
  14. BoardGameGeek | Gaming Unplugged Since 2000
  15. Free online Dictionary of English Pronunciation - How to Pronounce English words
  16. Instant No Button! Unhappy Darth Vader on demand.
  17. Seismic Monitor: Recent earthquakes on a world map and much more.
  18. Autostraddle: News, Entertainment, Opinion, Community and Girl-on-Girl Culture. This site is great.
  19. Superbad.com: I… I don’t understand this thing I’m seeing.
  20. WWWF Grudge Match - Where useless knowledge breeds champions: If you’ve ever wondered, “What if Boris Yeltsin and Ted Kennedy had a drinking contest?” this site is for you.
  21. The Griddle: A puzzle blog with free puzzles.
  22. Badger Badger Badger.com! The Original Dancing Badgers!
  23. Futility Closet - An idler’s miscellany of compendious amusements
  24. Skyline - YouTube: “Esports analyst and coach focusing on the game Overwatch.” Two people suggested this.
  25. The Vintagent: A vintage motorcycles blog.
  26. CDC WONDER: The CDC’s online databases. Get as much government data as you can, while you can.
  27. InfiniteLooper: Endless loops of YouTube videos.
  28. The Morning News: A real blog. I love it.
  29. Deadspin’s The Stacks: Old sports stories from out-of-print magazines republished with the author’s permission. I can’t believe I hadn’t been reading this already.
  30. street dog millionaires: Two dogs, one from India, one from Africa.
  31. FL@33 presents http://bzzzpeek.com: What do animals sound like in different countries? (Every language is different!)
  32. JazzOasis.com - Pat Metheny on Kenny G: Jazz guitarist Pat Metheny takes Kenny G to the woodshed.
  33. McMansion Hell
  34. Scroll Down to Riker: Does what it says on the tin.
  35. Flickr: The Commons
  36. NYPL Digital Collections: This is amazing, and it’s all free to play with.
  37. The Library of Babel
  38. Bowiebranchia: “Nudibranchia or other opisthobranchia compared to the various looks of David Bowie.” Surprisingly compelling!
  39. Play Later: Browse newly released albums and save them for later. Mostly a handy discovery frontend for Spotify.
  40. www.Visual6502.org: Simulation of vintage computers and game systems in the browser.
  41. Political status of Western Sahara: So are we going to have a new country in North Africa or what?
  42. Antipope - Charlie’s Diary: Science fiction writer Charlie Stross’s blog.
  43. Pi.co: Interviews with interesting people by journalist/investor Om Malik.
  44. Deuce of Clubs: A Demonstrated Aptitude for Reasonable Mayhem: A site by Godfrey (“Doc”) Daniels, of Mojave Phone Booth fame.
  45. The Well’s annual conversation with author Bruce Sterling.
  46. Beyond the Frame: visual essays about TV and movies by Luis Azevedo.
  47. Artsy Engineering: An information network and open-source software for people in the art world.
  48. Hart Island Project Stories of unclaimed and unidentified people buried in mass graves in an island near New York city beginning in the 19th century.
  49. Damn Interesting: a science, history, and psychology blog.
  50. What’s Noka Worth? (Part 1) — DallasFood. A takedown of a hot, expensive artisanal chocolate maker… over a decade ago.
  51. Mexican Table Salsas: The eGullet culinary institute’s discussion of traditional salsas, and how to make them.
  52. Histography - Timeline of History: A mighty timeline view of every event in Wikipedia. That’s a lot of dots.
  53. People Reluctant to Kill for an Abstraction, a movement: a short story/manifesto by George Saunders.
  54. Langscape: an interactive map of all world languages, put together by researchers at the University of Maryland.
  55. in Bb 2.0 - a collaborative music/spoken word project: twenty musicians, all playing in the same key — you get to mix and match.
  56. Paper Planes: Use your phone to catch and throw paper planes to and from people all over the world.


There! That ought to be enough magic and wonder to last you through the weekend. Thank you, as always, to the readers who submitted links.

Gender inequality and the Supreme Court

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 06, 2017

Tonja Jacobi and Dylan Schweers have published the results of a study they’ve done related to the role of gender in the workings of the Supreme Court. They found that female justices are interrupted much more often by male justices and advocates than male justices are.

Our empirical study examines interruptions among justices, and between the justices and the advocates, during Supreme Court oral arguments. It shows that women still do not have an equal opportunity to be heard on the highest court in the land. In fact, as more women join the court, the reaction of the male justices and the male advocates has been to increase their interruptions of the female justices.

Even in the most powerful courtroom in the world, the women are being verbally dominated.

Even without adjusting for the low representation of women, the effect is stark. On average, women constituted 22 percent of the court, yet 52 percent of interruptions were directed at them. Overwhelmingly, it was men doing the interrupting: Women interrupted only 15 percent of the time and men interrupted 85 percent of the time, more than their 78 percent representation on the court.

Their study shows that seniority can’t explain this effect — “gender is approximately 30 times more influential than seniority” — but some of it can be explained in terms of political ideology: conservative justices interrupt more than liberal justices do.

We found that the power dynamic does not only affect women: In a court that has been dominated by Republican appointees for over half a century, conservative justices have also dominated liberal justices by interrupting them. We expected cross-ideological interruptions to occur more often than interruptions within ideological camps, and this is true: 62 percent of interruptions cross ideological lines, compared to 38 percent within an ideological camp. However, the effect does not go in both directions: 70 percent of interruptions were of liberals, and only 30 percent of conservatives. Once again, advocates display the same tendency. Advocates interrupting the liberal justices account for over ten percent of interruptions, yet advocate interruptions of the conservative justices account for less than three percent of interruptions.

I wonder what the results would look like if Clarence Thomas ever talked in court? (via @caitlin__kelly)

Research principles of the legendary Xerox PARC

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 14, 2017

Xerox PARC was one of the most influential technology companies of the past 50 years. Among the technologies invented and/or developed there include Ethernet, laser printers, the modern mouse-controlled GUI, and WYSIWYG text editing. On Quora, former PARC researcher Alan Kay shared the principles under which research at the company operated; here are the first five:

1. Visions not goals

2. Fund people not projects — the scientists find the problems not the funders. So, for many reasons, you have to have the best researchers.

3. Problem Finding — not just Problem Solving

4. Milestones not deadlines

5. It’s “baseball” not “golf” — batting .350 is very good in a high aspiration high risk area. Not getting a hit is not failure but the overhead for getting hits. (As in baseball, an “error” is failing to pull off something that is technically feasible.)

(via @pieratt)

The web’s funniest stories

posted by Tim Carmody   Apr 20, 2017

I asked Kottke readers to tell me the funniest stories they’d ever read on the web.

Now let me say this: I like to think I have a pretty eclectic sense of humor. I can go high or low, folksy or surreal, G-rated puns or X-rated filth. But some of you… let’s just say a few of you surprised me with some of this. This is some seriously weird shit.

NOTE: To narrow things down, I knocked out anything that didn’t resemble a story. I knocked out videos and focused on text. People who suggested comedy specials on Netflix — I didn’t watch those. I eliminated anything that seemed downright stupid, mean, or just not funny. And I probably dropped a few other links here and there because I closed the tab instead of saving it, or some other reason. This isn’t a scientific survey; this is a blog.

There’s still something to be said about the kind of humor that the web makes possible, or at least rewards disproportionately to other kinds of media. There’s definitely more short-form, densely-referential bits that somehow fuse tweeness and gallows humor than you see on television, or even in magazines, which might be their nearest successor. Some savage blend of The New Yorker and underground zines.

It’s a little like what happened to television comedy after The Simpsons showed up. Animation opened up the possibility space for other kinds of comedy, found a way for the weirdest bits of Get Smart and Monty Python to exist in their own separate universe.

The web had a similar effect. You could write anything. You could do anything. No sets to build, no pages that had to be filled. You had endless reflections by comics on podcasts and interviews and their own blogs and social media feeds about what made the funniest things funny. There were all sorts of new media genres you could lampoon, pillory, and steal from on the sly. You had greater collisions than ever before of different people from all over the world and every walk of life who brought their own traditions of humor and storytelling. Amateur and up-and-coming jokesters desperate to connect with friends and strangers. And an audience chained to their desks or stuck on a train or a doctor’s office looking to laugh. That’s just good gumbo.

“My Family’s Slave”

posted by Jason Kottke   May 16, 2017

When Alex Tizon was a small child in the 60s, he moved with his family from the Phillipines to the US along with the family’s domestic servant, Lola. It was not until Tizon was nearly a teenager that he realized that Lola was not employed as a servant by his parents…she was a slave.

Her name was Eudocia Tomas Pulido. We called her Lola. She was 4 foot 11, with mocha-brown skin and almond eyes that I can still see looking into mine — my first memory. She was 18 years old when my grandfather gave her to my mother as a gift, and when my family moved to the United States, we brought her with us. No other word but slave encompassed the life she lived. Her days began before everyone else woke and ended after we went to bed. She prepared three meals a day, cleaned the house, waited on my parents, and took care of my four siblings and me. My parents never paid her, and they scolded her constantly. She wasn’t kept in leg irons, but she might as well have been. So many nights, on my way to the bathroom, I’d spot her sleeping in a corner, slumped against a mound of laundry, her fingers clutching a garment she was in the middle of folding.

An incredible and incredibly disturbing story. Heartbreaking, all the more because this sort of thing is probably more common than anyone realizes.

Update: Pulido’s 2011 obituary is worth reading (via andy).

As a teenager in the Philippines, Miss Pulido was asked to care for a young girl whose mother had died. When a relative asked Miss Pulido to always look after the girl, she gave her word.

Miss Pulido not only raised that girl, but the girl’s children and their children - cooking, cleaning and caring for three generations that came to know her as “Lola,” grandmother in her native Tagalog tongue. She asked for nothing in return, said her grandson, Alex Tizon, a former Seattle Times reporter, with whom she lived in Edmonds for nearly 12 years.

There are a few reaction threads on Twitter that are worth reading as well. Josh Shahryar:

How dare the author make excuses for his mother? She enslaved a woman for decades and used her free labor to prosper. She was a monster.

I don’t want to read about the “complexity” of the slave-owner. I don’t want to hear about her sob-story or how much she loved her children.

I am filled with nothing but anger and hatred at the vileness of the attempt by Alex Tizon to whitewash a slaveholder. No. FUCK! NO!

Jay Owens:

As I read it, I was confused by the timeline. It’s made evident teen-Alex hates the situation. But it conceals this: “My Family’s Slave is beautifully written but it doesn’t change that Alex Tizon was 40 before he did anything to improve Lola’s situation.” — @irishchickensoup

The writer is able to talk about his mother’s complicity — but not really grapple with his own. 20 years when he didn’t act.

He is in America, and talking about slavery, and he doesn’t talk about race.

He doesn’t reflect on how race and gender are used to naturalise servitude, and uses writerly sleights of hand to minimise it

Adrian Chen:

“My Family’s Slave” is now trending in the Philippines, where it’s lunch time. I’m going to share a few interesting threads from Filipinos

Sarah Jeong:

When I first read the article, I came away convinced of this: that Tizon died not understanding Lola was his real mother.

Logan: when superhero movies get old

posted by Jason Kottke   May 25, 2017

Using John Cawelti’s 1977 article “Chinatown” and Generic Transformation in Recent Films as a guide, Evan Puschak examines the genre of superhero movies (and Logan in particular). In the piece, Cawelti offers four possible responses to the conventions of a genre becoming well-known (or, less kindly, stale):

1. Humorous burlesque
2. The cultivation of nostalgia
3. Demythologization
4. The affirmation of myth

Puschak examines each of these in relation to superhero movies and wonders what sort of response Logan represents.

Lunar, a short film about humankind’s journey to the Moon

posted by Jason Kottke   May 17, 2017

Using NASA still photographs and audio from the Apollo missions, Christian Stangl created this animated collage as a dedication “to all people who believe in peaceful expansion of our borders”.

In the year 1957 the cold war expands to space. The Soviet-Union sends Sputnik as the first manmade object into earth-orbit. 2 years later Yuri Gagarin enters space as the first man in space. The so called “Space Race” seems to be decided. But in 1961 President Kennedy promised to send American Astronauts to the moon. The Apollo Project was born. A space ship had to be built that is strong enough to escape earth’s gravitation, land on the moon and bring the crew safely back to earth.

I am a total sucker for everything Moon/Apollo related. To me, putting humans on the Moon is one of the best and most inspiring things we have ever done as a species, even though it’s the poster child for the right thing done for the wrong reason.

Okja

posted by Jason Kottke   May 18, 2017

In his directorial follow-up to Snowpiercer, Korean director Bong Joon-ho has teamed up once again with Tilda Swinton for Okja. The title character is a giant pig-like animal sought by a multinational corporation as a superfood. There’s more, but just watch the trailer…this looks weeeeird and good.

Oh, and it’s from Netflix, available on June 28.

Africa is urbanizing without globalizing

posted by Jason Kottke   May 17, 2017

This is pretty interesting. Daniel Knowles:

This is Africa’s third biggest city. At 12 million, its population is bigger than London’s. Yet it has almost no connections to the outside world. On normal days, there are only 11 international flights out of Kinshasa per day. At Heathrow, the figure is around 1,400. Apart from the airport, the only other way into this vast megacity is the rickety ferry from neighbouring Congo-Brazzaville. If you were extremely brave, you could try the road to the Atlantic Ocean. But that’s about it. Kinshasa can burn and most of the world doesn’t notice, because Kinshasa is only slightly better connected to the global economy than the North Pole.

And yet somehow it is one of the world’s fastest growing cities. Kinshasa is a particularly extreme example of how Africa is urbanising without globalising. Sixty years ago the whole of sub-Saharan Africa had no cities with a population of more than a million people. Now it has dozens.

But unlike the English peasants who moved to factory cities in the 19th century, or Chinese ones in the 20th, the people moving to African cities are not moving to new global metropolises. Africa’s urbanisation is not driven by economic growth. Instead, people are moving to miserable mega-cities, with crumbling infrastructure and corrupt political systems, and which export almost nothing. Two thirds of Africa’s urban population growth is accounted for by slums. Changing that may well be the biggest challenge facing African governments in the 21st century.

Pour some out for the sites that aren’t here

posted by Tim Carmody   Apr 19, 2017

Some of the best things ever seen or used on the web can’t be saved. They’re already gone. These are some of them, nominated by Kottke readers.

Google Reader. On the one hand, Google kind of ruined RSS, up until then the best distribution method for serial content, by turning it into a product. At the end, some of the best RSS readers weren’t even RSS readers, just frontends for Google Reader, which handled all the resource-intensive work.

On the other hand, Google Reader was a really wonderful community. It had a lightweight social graph component, but it was really oriented around news and stories and blog updates that people shared. Everything that people wanted online comments to be, Google Reader was. And when it ended, it took all of that away, leaving social media networks — which were really never designed to do content distribution — as the only game in town. I honestly don’t know if we’ve ever recovered.

Geocities. Geocities was a lot of people’s first experience making and reading home pages, putting their lives, personalities, contact information, getting email addresses, and anything else they wanted to share out on the web. The “cities” conceit made it sortable and browsable: they weren’t quite geographical and weren’t quite thematic, but a weird combination of the two. It got bought by Yahoo, back when Yahoo was buying and blending everything, and went the way of all such things.

Now Geocities exists only in Japan, but, like a lot of “first websites,” you can emulate it if you want using Glitch. As Anil Dash writes, “millions of people created their own websites in the era before today’s social networks took over. Learning to tweak HTML to create a GeoCities page, or to customize CSS to make a MySpace page look perfect, was a rite of passage for the first 10 or 15 years of the web.”

Think Secret was an early tech blog focused on Apple, back when Apple was very far from the biggest company in the world. Writing and reading about it, especially rumors about new products, was just a weird obsession for a handful of people. Anyways, Think Secret and its editor Nick “de Plume” Ciarelli got sued for violating trade secrets, and Think Secret was shut down as part of a settlement right as the iPhone was turning Apple into the company everybody was talking about all of the time. Things break another way, and that site’s worth millions of dollars today. Then again, that didn’t save Gawker — so who knows.

Television Without Pity practically invented the genre of TV episode recaps, starting with Dawson’s Creek. Now they’re everywhere! It got bought by NBC in 2007 and shut down in 2014, but supposedly it’s coming back. We’ll see. Nope, turns out it’s just the shell of the website; TWOP won’t running new material after all. But the founders of TWOP went on to start previously.tv. (Thanks, @adrienneLaF, @michelet.)

Nothing lasts forever on the World Wide Web. Even death.

Update: So many people, after this story went live, answered “what about Suck.com?” that I had to make an update.

Reading Suck is bizarre now, because on the one hand, its wry, teasing, sweetly cynical voice has shaped so much of what we know of the web, but its style is actually quite different. It’s like reading Don Quixote and realizing that Cervantes’s book somehow contains, in miniature, every novel that came after it, but that it is also somehow older and stranger and more imaginative than all of them. Also, that every tech or media hype or hustle is exactly the same as one that happened twenty-odd years before it. This is why reporters who’ve been covering Silicon Valley forever have such a twisted sense of humor.

Anyways, the archive still exists; the best way to get it, in my opinion, is the Suck Again email newsletter, which posts every instance of Suck twenty years after its original publication date. Suck is dead; long live Suck.

Endless robotic loop of a toy train

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 26, 2017

This video of robot continuously building a looped track in front of a toy train is definitely a metaphor for something. Procrastination? Living paycheck to paycheck? Life with small children? I don’t know, but it makes me SO ANXIOUS! Why does it wait so long to place the next section of track?!! I couldn’t watch for more than 10 seconds or so.

See also the chase scene from The Wrong Trousers. (via @MachinePix)

Striking B&W photos of humpback whales

posted by Jason Kottke   May 30, 2017

Cresswell Humpbacks

Cresswell Humpbacks

Jem Cresswell swam with humpback whales, took over 10,000 black & white photos, and whittled them down into his series, Giants. From Colossal:

In addition to being intrigued by the animals’ size, the Australian-based artist is also fascinated by their brains. In 2006, spindle cells, which were only thought to be present in humans and great apes, were also found to exist within the brains of humpback whales. These cells, which are tied to social organization, empathy, and intuition, were found to be more than three times as prevalent in humpback whales than they were in humans.

Humpbacks aren’t blue whales,1 but that reminded me of a passage I read recently from Robert Sapolsky’s Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst:

Many neurons are also outlandishly large. A zillion red blood cells fit on the proverbial period at the end of this sentence. In contrast, there are single neurons in the spinal cord that send out projection cables many feet long. There are spinal cord neurons in blue whales that are half the length of a basketball court.

Anyway, here’s a behind-the-scenes of Cresswell doing his work.

Beautiful. I may have to add “swimming with humpbacks” to my bucket list.

  1. Duh. As the largest animal ever known to swim the ocean or walk the earth, blue whales are almost twice as big as humpbacks and can live more than twice as long.

A biologist explains CRISPR to people at five different levels of knowledge

posted by Jason Kottke   May 26, 2017

For the second part of an ongoing series, Wired asked biologist Neville Sanjana to explain CRISPR to five people with different levels of knowledge: a 7-year-old, a high school student, a college student, a grad student, and an expert on CRISPR. As I began to watch, I thought he’d gone off the rails right away with the little kid, but as soon as they connected on a personal issue (allergies), you can see the bridge of understanding being constructed.

The first installment in the series featured a neuroscientist explaining connectomes to five people.

Preemie lambs successfully grown to term in artificial wombs

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 25, 2017

Artificial Womb

Researchers at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia have succeeded in gestating premature lambs in artificial wombs. The abstract from the paper in Nature Communications:

In the developed world, extreme prematurity is the leading cause of neonatal mortality and morbidity due to a combination of organ immaturity and iatrogenic injury. Until now, efforts to extend gestation using extracorporeal systems have achieved limited success. Here we report the development of a system that incorporates a pumpless oxygenator circuit connected to the fetus of a lamb via an umbilical cord interface that is maintained within a closed ‘amniotic fluid’ circuit that closely reproduces the environment of the womb. We show that fetal lambs that are developmentally equivalent to the extreme premature human infant can be physiologically supported in this extra-uterine device for up to 4 weeks. Lambs on support maintain stable haemodynamics, have normal blood gas and oxygenation parameters and maintain patency of the fetal circulation. With appropriate nutritional support, lambs on the system demonstrate normal somatic growth, lung maturation and brain growth and myelination.

The Atlantic’s Olga Khazan translates what that might mean for human babies born prematurely.

One reason preterm birth is so dangerous is that, for an underweight baby, the first few breaths of air halt the development of the lungs. “Infants that are currently born and supported in a neonatal intensive care unit with gas-based ventilation demonstrate an arrest of lung development,” Partridge says, “which manifests in a long-term, severe restriction of lung function.”

With the artificial womb, the infant would continue “breathing” through the umbilical cord as its floats in amniotic fluid, which would flow into and out of the bag. Using its tiny heart, the fetus would pump its own blood through its umbilical cord and into an oxygenator, where the blood would pick up oxygen and return it to the fetus-much like with a normal placenta. In addition to boosting lung growth, the amniotic fluid would protect the baby from infections and support the development of the intestines.

If this does work for humans, there’s a possibility that at some point using artificial wombs may be safer (or just preferable for some people) than women carrying babies to term…which would have an interesting effect on childbirth (to say the least). And as Khazan mentions, there are potential implications related to abortion rights:

If they ever materialize, artificial wombs may stir concerns among pro-choice advocates, since the devices could push the point of viability for human fetuses even lower. That might encourage even more states to curtail abortions after, say, 20 weeks’ gestation. But speaking with reporters Monday, the Philadelphia researchers emphasized they don’t intend to expand the bounds of life before the 23rd gestational week. Before that point, fetuses are too fragile even for the artificial wombs.

Update: There’s a short video clip of the lamb in the artificial womb as well:

What will the night sky look like in 5 million years?

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 13, 2017

Based on the motions of the 2 million stars observed by ESA’s Gaia mission over the past two years, scientists created this simulated animation of how the view of the Milky Way in the night sky will evolve over the next 5 million years.

The shape of the Orion constellation can be spotted towards the right edge of the frame, just below the Galactic Plane, at the beginning of the video. As the sequence proceeds, the familiar shape of this constellation (and others) evolves into a new pattern. Two stellar clusters — groups of stars that were born together and consequently move together — can be seen towards the left edge of the frame: these are the alpha Persei (Per OB3) and Pleiades open clusters.

Stars seem to move with a wide range of velocities in this video, with stars in the Galactic Plane moving quite slow and faster ones appearing over the entire frame. This is a perspective effect: most of the stars we see in the plane are much farther from us, and thus seem to be moving slower than the nearby stars, which are visible across the entire sky.

Well, how’s that for some perspective? (via blastr)

The Earth’s five energy revolutions

posted by Jason Kottke   May 22, 2017

Five Energy Expansions

Since life first formed on Earth billions of years ago, the ability of organisms to use more powerful and efficient energy sources has been key in driving the diversity and complexity of life. According to this provocative piece in Nature by Olivia Judson, the history of life on Earth can be divided into five energetic epochs characterized by the following energy sources: geochemical energy, sunlight, oxygen, flesh and fire.

The first two were present at the start, but oxygen, flesh and fire are all consequences of evolutionary events. Since no category of energy source has disappeared, this has, over time, resulted in an expanding realm of the sources of energy available to living organisms and a concomitant increase in the diversity and complexity of ecosystems. These energy expansions have also mediated the transformation of key aspects of the planetary environment, which have in turn mediated the future course of evolutionary change. Using energy as a lens thus illuminates patterns in the entwined histories of life and Earth, and may also provide a framework for considering the potential trajectories of life-planet systems elsewhere.

Organisms formed on Earth and changed the planet, which led to the formation of new organisms more suited to the new environment. For instance, when a type of bacteria evolved to turn sunshine into oxygen, it completely changed the planet.

In the absence of a biotic source of oxygen, trace quantities of the gas can be generated abiotically: water molecules can be split by sunlight or radioactive decay. However, these abiotic processes are much less efficient than their biotic equivalent. Had cyanobacteria, or something like them, never evolved, oxygen would never have built up in the atmosphere of the Earth.

But build up it did. Between 2.45 and 2.32 Ga, significant quantities of oxygen began to accumulate in the air, an episode known as the Great Oxidation Event. Before the Great Oxidation, atmospheric oxygen levels were less than 10^-5 of the present atmospheric level of ~21%. By ~2 Ga, they had risen to perhaps 0.1-1% of the present atmospheric level. Although the subsequent history of oxygen is complex and many details are uncertain, Earth’s atmosphere has contained an appreciable level of the gas ever since. (Full oxygenation of the oceans, however, would not happen until around 1.8 billion years after the Great Oxidation.)

The original piece in Nature is fairly readable for a science journal, but this summary in The Atlantic is worth a look if you’re short on time or attention. (via @CharlesCMann)

The swirling beauty of colored ink in water

posted by Jason Kottke   May 05, 2017

Macro Room, which has previously brought you close-up shots of melting ice cream and pills dissolving in water, recently filled an aquarium with water, shot various colors of ink into it, and filmed the swirling beauty in close-up slow motion.

P.S. It’s worth sitting though the bro-y thanks portion of the video to get a glimpse of their lo-fi rooftop setup. Did they shoot all that on a phone?

Ze Frank’s “The Show”

posted by Tim Carmody   Apr 18, 2017

For a few weeks in 2006, people would ask me, “have you seen ‘The Show’? It’s the best thing ever,” and I would answer “Of course! I love it!” But I was talking about this:

It wasn’t until Ze Frank got a lengthy writeup in the New York Times (10,000 daily visitors!) that I realized they were talking about something else. And when I asked Kottke readers to nominate something to put in a time capsule for the World Wide Web, more people suggested Ze Frank’s The Show or episodes from it than they did anything else.

The Show helped establish some enduring conventions for videoblogging: direct address, quick cuts, slightly varied closeup angles, and a curious mix of oversharing, motivational speaking, political commentary, and nerdly zaniness, You never knew quite what you were going to get, but for that one year it ran, you knew you could get it every day.

If the earth was a sandwich We’d get along so well And we could feed everybody With a piece of ourselves

Ze brought The Show back for a short spell in 2012: “An Invocation for Beginnings” was a favorite video of a number of people who wrote in suggestions.

And for years now he’s helped run video at BuzzFeed — where a lot of The Show’s aesthetic can still be found, especially that relentless drive to figure out “what can I do to get people’s attention today?”

Future generations might take a minute to sort out the time-dependent references and figure out why these videos were so compelling. (They will also drop their jaws in wonder at just how old the computers from 2006 now look.) But that drive-for-attention/drive-for-connection part? I bet they’ll understand that part just fine.

4K supercell thunderstorm time lapse

posted by Jason Kottke   May 31, 2017

I have said it before and I will say it again and you will get tired of me saying it for decades to come (or until Facebook just outright buys the internet and shuts down all independent media), but I will never ever tire of watching high-resolution time lapse videos of thunderstorms. Look at those gorgeous mammatus clouds!

Supercell thunderstorms are a manifestation of nature’s attempt to correct an extreme imbalance. The ever ongoing effort to reach equilibrium, or viscosity, is what drives all of our weather, and the force with which the atmosphere tries to correct this imbalance is proportional to the gradient. In other words, the more extreme the imbalance, the more extreme the storm.

I’ve had this up in a tab since last week but lost track of it…glad to rediscover it via Colossal.

Some things I’ve read, seen, and heard in the past few weeks

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 28, 2017

1984. I believe I last saw this movie in high school, which seems unlikely given the nudity. Or maybe we saw a censored version, in which case: lolololol. (B+)

Ghost in the Shell. Superb visuals but the story felt flat. (B)

Big Little Lies. I almost gave up on this after two episodes. I can watch TV characters do all sorts of horrible things to each other — lie, cheat, steal, betray, kill — but apparently epically bad parenting is my last straw. But. The final episode contains one of the best scenes I’ve ever watched on TV and was just fantastic all around. Was literally on the edge of my seat for the entire 60 minutes. (A-)

Future Sex. Among the least titillating books about sex you’ll ever read. (That’s a compliment.) (B+)

The Undoing Project. I was unsure about this one until about 1/3 through but persisted because it’s Michael Lewis. Fascinating in places and unexpectedly emotional. (B)

Mr. Bean. I have never seen my kids laugh quite as hard as they did watching Mr. Bean rush to the dentist office. My dad instilled in me an appreciation of British comedy and I guess I’m passing that on to my kids. They seem to get it, but not all kids do. They were so excited recently to show some friends The Ministry of Silly Walks sketch from Monty Python and the friends looked really really confused and didn’t laugh at all. Fawlty Towers is up soon. (B)

The Rules Do Not Apply. At one shocking, heartbreaking point in the book, time reels backwards. If you’ve read Ariel Levy’s Thanksgiving in Mongolia in the New Yorker, you know exactly what I’m talking about. (B+)

Tim Carmody’s Best of the Web series for kottke.org. I love getting to be a reader of the site sometimes, just like all of you. I always enjoy Tim’s residencies here, but this one made me clap my hands in joy and stomp my feet in a jealous rage. It’s not entirely fair that he does the site better than I do, but I’m glad he does. (A)

The final season of Girls. Not their best season, but I’m sad to see it go nonetheless. The ensemble is what made the show special, and they just weren’t together enough this season. The single episode “goodbyes” for each character felt forced. (Same reason why Arrested Development season 4 wasn’t up to scratch.) (B+)

Terror of the Zygons. I started watching old Doctor Whos with the kids and they love them. (B-)

Hedgehog Launch. Ancient iOS game…my phone might contain the last functioning install of it. I started playing it a few weeks ago and now I am addicted to it for absolutely no good reason. The game sucks: it’s tough and not that fun until a certain point and then it gets really easy to win. But I can’t stop playing it. It’s like a metaphor for something in my life I can’t quite figure out. Fuck this game. (F)

Damn. I need to listen to this more. So I shall. (B+)

Get Out. Really good but not great. I saw this weeks after everyone else and my expectations were too high. Kept waiting for it to slip into a slightly higher gear but it never did. Don’t @ me! (B+)

Cloud Atlas. I’ve seen this movie at least four times and I love it. (A-)

The Prestige. Hadn’t seen this since it came out. Holds up. Had totally forgotten about Bowie as Tesla. (A-)

The Holy Mountain. Was way too sober for this. (B-)

The Life Aquatic. Not my favorite Wes Anderson but solid. There’s some weirdly clunky acting in the middle bits. (B+)

Guardians of the Galaxy. Gearing up for the new one. (A-/B+)

See also the last installment of this list from earlier this month.

Race, identity, and genetic stories

posted by Jason Kottke   May 01, 2017

Finding out about your family history through a DNA test can be a thrilling or disturbing experience, particularly when it comes to race and identity. In the NY Times, researcher Anita Foeman writes about asking people how they identify and then DNA testing them. A man named Bernard identifies as black and predicted his test would show 50% European and 50% African ancestry (his father was black and his mother was white):

His comments before the test: My mother said, “I know you are me, but no cop is going to take the time to find out your mother is white.” She was very specific about raising me as a black man.

His DNA test showed he is “91% European, 5% Middle Eastern, 2% Hispanic; less than 1% African and Asian”:

Thoughts about his ancestry results: What are you trying to do to me? You have caused a lot of problems in my family. I know my nose is sharp and my skin is light, but my politics are as black as night. Today, I don’t identify as mixed. I reject my white privilege in a racist America. There is no way that I or my kids will identify as anything other than black.

In a follow-up newsletter, Times reader Carl Johnson writes:

I am a 55-year-old American male of African descent. I have a dark complexion and grew up in rural East Tennessee with my mother’s relatives. I wanted to have DNA testing done to confirm rumors of my Native American heritage. To my surprise, my results were 84 percent West African, 14 percent European, and 2 percent East Asian.

My bigger dilemma is: How do I embrace my European origins? It’s assumed that the European DNA was obtained by force during slavery. I think that is most likely. But what if my European ancestors were indentured servants who worked closely with African slaves and a real romance evolved, despite the cultural norms of that time, and now here I am?

If I am true to myself and the scientific evidence that provides richness to the DNA I’ve inherited, I now need to figure out a way to honor all of me and those who survived to make me possible. The journey and adventure continues.

I got DNA tested many years ago and I just went back to look at the results. My parents’ grandparents (or great grandparents, don’t really know) settled in Minnesota and Wisconsin in the mid-to-late 1800s as part of a wave of upper Midwestern immigration from Germany and Scandinavia.1 Unsurprisingly, my results came back as 100% European — mostly Northern European with some Eastern European2 — but with more British and Irish than I suspected (12%):

You most likely had a grandparent, great-grandparent, or second great-grandparent who was 100% British & Irish. This person was likely born between 1850 and 1910.

Huh.

  1. This resulted in some interesting family stories. During WWII, my great uncle Jens Jensen (Danish!) was fighting with the US Armed Forces over in Europe while his wife Hulda (German!) was sending food and clothing to family members in Germany. He was still wound up about it even 40 years later when I heard the story — “I was getting shot at by Nazis and she’s sending them goddamned care packages!” — but stories like that were always accompanied by a wink and a grin, so at least some of the sting had dissipated.

  2. In the 1800s, the territories of Prussia and Germany often included Poland. I don’t know exactly where my branch of the Kottke family lived in the “Old Country” but I’ve heard that it’s more likely to be in modern-day Poland than within the present German borders.

Kubrick’s original ending of The Shining

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 10, 2017

When The Shining premiered in 1980 in NYC and LA, there was a short scene in a hospital between the shot of Jack Torrence frozen in the maze and the long zoomed-in shot of the framed photo. After the premieres, director Stanley Kubrick decided the scene didn’t work and had it cut from dozens of prints and destroyed.

It’s also important to note that this was likely not the exact scene that Kubrick shot; since the scene no longer exists, it’s impossible to know how exactly it played. Even the many people who saw the epilogue when The Shining was first released have varying recollections of the exact details. Clearly, the final text about the Overlook’s history was an idea omitted during the writing process.

No known copy of the scene remains but you can read it in the screenplay and see brief glimpses in these Polaroids.