homeabout kottke.orgarchives + tagsmembership!
aboutarchives + tagsmembership!
aboutarchivesmembers!

A map of the best dumplings in NYC

posted by Tim Carmody   Jan 27, 2017

Dumpling Map

The Infatuation has an interactive map of the best places to get soup dumplings, fried dumplings, wontons, and all that good stuff in NYC, plus ordering recommendations for each place.

You could easily quibble with the list itself — the numbers 1-17 aren’t supposed to be rankings per se, but it starts with lower Manhattan, then gets to Flushing and Sunset Park, and that’s it. Still, the nice thing about a map interface is that you don’t need to worry about who’s number 1 and who’s number 10 quite so much when you’re just trying to find a place in a nearby neighborhood that can deliver the goods. (God, I miss New York.)

Update: I mistook the numbers in the map’s list view for rankings and was all grumpy about all the Chinatown places being ahead of the Queens ones. As it turns out, some of the places have number ratings, some don’t, and the list is more a geographic sequence than anything else.

We Work Remotely

How Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto designs a game

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 13, 2017

Shigeru Miyamoto has designed dozens of the most popular video games in the world: Donkey Kong, Super Mario Bros, and the Legend of Zelda among them. In this video by Vox, Miyamoto shares how he thinks about game design.

This is one of the first times that a video game’s plot and characters were designed before the programming. [Miyamoto:] “Well, early on, the people who made video games, they were technologists, they were programmers, they were hardware designers. But I wasn’t. I was a designer, I studied industrial design, I was an artist, I drew pictures. And so I think that it was in my generation that people who made video games really became designers rather than technologists.”

Also worth watching is this video by Game Maker’s Toolkit about how Nintendo builds everything in their games around a fun and unique play mechanic.

It seems to me that these two videos slightly contradict each other, although maybe you’ll disagree.

Valentine’s Day word problems

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 14, 2017

Writing for The New Yorker, Tom Batten has come up with some Valentine’s Day themed math word problems.

3. A local pizzeria is offering one large pizza for eleven dollars and seventy-five cents on Valentine’s Day. If you have forty-six dollars in your checking account, it takes you twenty-five minutes to eat a large pizza all by yourself, and your only plan for the evening is to spend ninety minutes scrolling through the Instagram account of a woman you had a crush on in high school for clues that her marriage might be faltering, how did it come to this?

See also how to decipher what’s inside each chocolate in a box of chocolates.

The relaxing sounds of an Arctic icebreaker

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 07, 2017

Need to sleep, focus on work, get away from the news, meditate, or just tickle your ASMR receptors? Try 10 hours of ambient noise from a Norwegian icebreaker idling in the frozen Arctic.

10 hours video of Arctic ambience with frozen ocean, ice cracking, snow falling, icebreaker idling and distant howling wind sound. Natural white noise sounds generated by the wind and snow falling, combined with deep low frequencies with delta waves from the powerful icebreaker idling engines, recorded at 96 kHz — 24 bit and designed for relaxation, meditation, study and sleep.

That is some “Calgon take me away”-level shit. See also the most relaxing song in the world. (via bb)

A Day Without Immigrants strike

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 16, 2017

kottke.org will not be updated today in support of the Day Without Immigrants Strike. From the Washington Post:

Immigrants in D.C. and across the country plan to participate in the “Day Without Immigrants” boycott, a response to President Trump’s pledges to crack down on those in the country illegally, use “extreme vetting” and build a wall along the Mexican border. The social-media-organized protest aims to show the president the effect immigrants have in the country on a daily basis. The boycott calls for immigrants not to attend work, open their businesses, spend money or even send their children to school.

The regularly irregular publishing schedule will resume tomorrow.

Photos of evolution in action

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 18, 2017

Southern Cassowary

For his new book, Evolution: A Visual Record, photographer Robert Clark has collected dozens of images that show the varying ways in which plants and animals have adapted to their changing surroundings.

Evidence of evolution is everywhere. Through 200 revelatory images, award-winning photographer Robert Clark makes one of the most important foundations of science clear and exciting to everyone. Evolution: A Visual Record transports readers from the near-mystical (human ancestors) to the historic (the famous ‘finches’ Darwin collected on the Galapagos Islands that spurred his theory); the recently understood (the link between dinosaurs and modern birds) to the simply astonishing.

The photo above is of a southern cassowary, a flightless bird that is particularly dinosaur-esque in stature and appearance.

“Life is a preexisting condition waiting to happen”

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 17, 2017

I posted earlier about Atul Gawande’s piece in the New Yorker on the importance of incremental care in medicine. One of the things that the Affordable Care Act1 did was to make it illegal for insurance companies to deny coverage to people with “preexisting conditions”, which makes it difficult for those people to receive the type of incremental care Gawande touts. And who has these preexisting conditions? An estimated 27% of US adults under 65, including Gawande’s own son:

In the next few months, the worry is whether Walker and others like him will be able to have health-care coverage of any kind. His heart condition makes him, essentially, uninsurable. Until he’s twenty-six, he can stay on our family policy. But after that? In the work he’s done in his field, he’s had the status of a freelancer. Without the Affordable Care Act’s protections requiring all insurers to provide coverage to people regardless of their health history and at the same price as others their age, he’d be unable to find health insurance. Republican replacement plans threaten to weaken or drop these requirements, and leave no meaningful solution for people like him. And data indicate that twenty-seven per cent of adults under sixty-five are like him, with past health conditions that make them uninsurable without the protections.

That’s 52 million people, potentially ineligible for health insurance. And that’s not counting children. Spurred on by Gawande, people have been sharing their preexisting conditions stories on Twitter with the hashtag #the27Percent.

The 27% figure comes from a recent analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation:

A new Kaiser Family Foundation analysis finds that 52 million adults under 65 — or 27 percent of that population — have pre-existing health conditions that would likely make them uninsurable if they applied for health coverage under medical underwriting practices that existed in most states before insurance regulation changes made by the Affordable Care Act.

In eleven states, at least three in ten non-elderly adults would have a declinable condition, according to the analysis: West Virginia (36%), Mississippi (34%), Kentucky (33%), Alabama (33%), Arkansas (32%), Tennessee (32%), Oklahoma (31%), Louisiana (30%), Missouri (30%), Indiana (30%) and Kansas (30%).

36% uninsurable in West Virginia! You’ll note that all 11 of those states voted for Trump in the recent election and in West Virginia, Trump carried the day with 68.7% of the vote, the highest percentage of any state. The states whose people need the ACA’s protection the most voted most heavily against their own interest.

Update: An earlier version of this post unfairly pinned the entire blame for the lack of coverage of those with preexisting conditions on the insurance companies.2 I removed the last paragraph because it was more or less completely wrong. Except for the part where I said we should be pissed at the Republican dickheads in Congress who want to repeal the ACA without replacing it with something better.3 And the part where we should be outraged. And the part where we regulated cars and cigarettes and food to make them safer, forced companies to build products in ways they didn’t want, and saved millions of lives. We can’t make everyone healthier and raise taxes to do it? Pathetic for what is supposedly the world’s most powerful and wealthy nation. (thx @JPVMan + many others)

  1. I hope, for the love of Pete, that everyone reading this site is aware that the Affordable Care Act (the ACA) is Obamacare. Obamacare is the derogatory name the Republicans gave to the ACA that everyone, including Obama himself, ended up using. Which is unfortunate. President Obama and his administration deserve neither all of the credit nor should shoulder all of the blame for the ACA.

    I would also like to add that I, as a (very) small business owner, rely on the protections afforded by the ACA to get insurance coverage for me and my family. Something to keep in mind if you otherwise don’t know anyone who would be affected by the ACA’s repeal. (Of course, the cushy insurance policy you get through work might be affected as well, you never know.)

  2. At the heart of the ACA is a compromise between the US government and the insurance companies. The insurance companies don’t want to sell people insurance only when people are sick…that would be prohibitively expensive. That’s where the preexisting conditions thing comes in. So, the ACA says, ok, you have to sell insurance to people with preexisting conditions and we’ll make sure that everyone has to buy insurance, whether they’re sick or not. That bargain makes sure more people are covered and gives the insurance companies a larger pool of people to draw premiums from.

    You can see why Republicans don’t like it: it forces people to buy something even if they don’t want to and it forces companies to sell things to people they would rather not sell. And as a bonus, people the Republicans don’t give a shit about — women, the poor, people of color — are disproportionately helped by the ACA. So they’ll repeal it and replace it with magic! And the only cost will be an increase in dead Americans.

  3. I am all for this, BTW. If Paul Ryan and Donald Trump come up with a plan to give better and cheaper healthcare coverage to everyone in America, let’s do it.

The best medical science images of the year

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 06, 2017

Wellcome Images 2017

Wellcome Images 2017

Wellcome Images 2017

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

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

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

E-book sales fall below hardcovers for first time since 2012

posted by Tim Carmody   Jan 30, 2017

borders-closing (wide).jpg

Print book sales are increasing (slightly) while e-book sales continue to fall (sharply), says Nielsen’s Jonathan Stolper. Which means for the first time in more than four years, hardcover books are outselling e-books. Stolper lists a few factors driving the switch: the price of e-books has gone up, and fewer people are using dedicated e-readers. Even people buying and reading e-books are doing it on their phones and tablets, not Kindles or Nooks or what-have-you.

Whatever the causes for the decrease in e-book sales, the decline has resulted in something that many publishing experts thought would never happen—unit sales of hardcovers overtook unit sales of e-books. With hardcover units up 5% in 2016 over 2015, hardcover’s 188 million units sold topped that of e-books for the first time since Borders closed in 2012, Stolper said.

I have a pet theory about this, and it’s very simple: it’s about the stores. Here’s how it works.

  1. E-bookstores expand to country after country, publisher after publisher => sales of e-books go up.

  2. Borders and other chain bookstores shut down => sales of print books go down.

  3. Barnes & Noble and other e-bookstores shut down, leaving Amazon basically the only game in town => sales of e-books go down. (Also prices go up.)

  4. People stop using devices that are basically stores with readers attached, and use phones and tablets where it’s harder to buy => sales of e-books go down some more.

It’s the same boom-and-bust that we had when the new chain bookstores came through thirty years ago and gradually killed each other off! Lots of places to buy books, then hardly any places to buy books.

Meanwhile, indie bookstores are weathering the storm and big box stores are still pushing books at a discount, keeping print books afloat. Which is exactly what the publishers and a lot of other players in the market have always wanted: a high e-book prices, both to preserve a revenue floor and to keep the entire print market chain in business. And Amazon’s fine with it — they got the near-monopoly on e-retail they wanted.

Meanwhile, readers are paying more for books and have fewer places from which to buy them. As much as I like a good hardcover, that hardly feels like a win.

Buying a book is what they call a crime of opportunity. If there were more viable e-bookstores (and if DRM weren’t such a monster, there’s no reason every website couldn’t be an e-bookstore), we’d have better competition on price (collusion and market choices aside) and everyone would sell a whole lot more e-books.

Update: I screwed up the first draft of this and conflated hardcover units with total print sales. (I also forgot to include the link to the Publishers Weekly story I quoted.) To be clear, hardcovers are outselling e-books now, from the publishers covered in Nielsen’s survey. E-books have never outsold all print books — even rosy projections back in 2014, when e-book sales were about a third of the market, didn’t think they’d cross that 50/50 threshold until well into this decade. Thanks to Doug Gates who spotted the error.

Update 2: Dan Cohen pointed out a number of other factors tipping sales measurement in favor of print: “dark” but legal reading of e-books that doesn’t get counted (libraries, open e-books, DRM-free private sales by authors and indies), and increased sales of audiobooks, which eats away at the e-book market. E-readers, too, haven’t really improved much; neither have the aesthetics of the books themselves. Other readers pointed out that readers feel burned by stores and services failing.

In short, “cost” is probably the biggest factor, broadly defined — but what exactly that means and how it plays out in readers’ choices is a lot more complex than a binary choice between e-books and print.

Hidden Figures

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 14, 2017

I finally got the chance to see Hidden Figures the other day. Recommended. It’s a science/space story in the vein of Apollo 13, but the twin engines of the film are the three excellent lead actresses — Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer & Janelle Monáe — and the persistent portrayal of the systemic biases of segregation and sexism. You watch this movie and think, how much higher could the human race have flown if women and people of color had always had the same opportunities as white men?1 How many Katherine Johnsons never got the chance to develop and use their skills in math, science, or technology because of their skin color or gender? Our society wastes so much energy and human lives telling people what they can’t do rather than empowering them to show everyone what they can do.

Hidden Figures was adopted from Margot Lee Shetterly’s book of the same name. The film takes some dramatic license with the timing of certain events but overall is historically accurate.

The film primarily focuses on John Glenn’s 1962 trip around the globe and does add dramatic flourishes that are, well, Hollywood. However, most of the events in the movie are historically accurate. Johnson’s main job in the lead-up and during the mission was to double-check and reverse engineer the newly-installed IBM 7090s trajectory calculations. As it shows, there were very tense moments during the flight that forced the mission to end earlier than expected. And John Glenn did request that Johnson specifically check and confirm trajectories and entry points that the IBM spat out (albeit, perhaps, not at the exact moment that the movie depicts). As Shetterly wrote in her book and explained in a September NPR interview, Glenn did not completely trust the computer. So, he asked the head engineers to “get the girl to check the numbers… If she says the numbers are good… I’m ready to go.”

You can view Johnson’s published reports on NASA’s site, including her initial technical report from 1960 on the Determination of Azimuth Angle at Burnout for Placing a Satellite Over a Selected Earth Position.

  1. I’m using the past tense here, but I am definitely not saying that women and people of color now possess those same opportunities. Take a quick look at the current racial and gender wage gaps in the US and you’ll see that they still do not.

City of Women NYC subway map

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 08, 2017

City Of Women Subway Map

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

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

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

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

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

Stevie Wonder and the radical politics of love

posted by Tim Carmody   Feb 03, 2017

You never really need a good reason to listen to Stevie Wonder. But his peak run of albums in the 1970s are particularly welcome today. The songs are beautiful, they’re familiar, and they’re varied. They engage melancholy without being defeated by sadness; they engage anger without being defeated by despair. Stevie Wonder is invincible.

He’s also probably underrecognized as a political songwriter. Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, James Brown, Sly Stone, or even George Clinton are probably much better known for their politics and political anthems. Stevie, the balladeer, is just as fierce, but sly, emotional, and psychologically devastating.

Here are three songs, from three albums recorded in three consecutive years, all from the Nixon era. Each year, the lyrics get more pointed, more obvious in their contempt. But it’s a contempt mingled with understanding, and grounded in a deep, deep love for the people most affected by political failure.

On August 7, 1974, Stevie released “You Haven’t Done Nothin’” as a single, with the two-year-old “Big Brother” as a B-side. (MESSAGE!) Two days later, Nixon resigned.1 By November, the song was a Billboard number one.

And that’s why you don’t mess with Stevie Wonder.

(There was even a Trump-themed remix of “You Haven’t Done Nothin’” that came out last year, but I’m not really a fan. I’d rather listen to Stevie sing with the Jackson 5 than hear his music all mixed up with Trump quotes.)

The next album that would come in the sequence is Songs In the Key of Life. Out of all of Stevie’s albums, this is the hardest for me to listen to right now. It touches too many personal memories, hopes and fears and dreams.

Songs in the Key of Life tries to reconcile the reality of the post-Nixon era — the pain that even though the enemy is gone, the work is not done and the world has not been transformed — with an inclusive hope that it one day will be, and that faith, hope, and love are still possible.

It’s what makes the album such a magnificent achievement. But I’m not there. I don’t know when I will be. So for now I’m keeping Songs In the Key of Life on the shelf. An unopened bottle of champagne for a day I may never see. But I’d like to.

  1. Nixon had more material problems right then than Stevie, but still, that’s good timing.

Kara Walker reimagines “Washington Crossing the Delaware”

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 13, 2017

Trump Crossing the Delaware

Not wanting to listen to the news on inauguration day, artist Kara Walker painted. The result is a Trumpian take on Emanuel Leutze’s famous work “Washington Crossing the Delaware”, a copy of which is on display at the Met Museum. I hope I get to see Walker’s version in a museum or gallery someday soon.

Thank you, Kottke members and readers

posted by Tim Carmody   Feb 03, 2017

That wraps up my week and a day on Kottke.org. I want to thank Jason for letting me sit in his imaginary chair, and I especially want to thank Kottke readers and site members for letting me think my way through a weird-ass, anxiety-inducing time in all of our lives.

If you’re not a member of kottke.org, please consider it: Jason’s work on this site is extraordinary, and still too unsung. Among other things, your support helps him give work to folks like me to keep this place running when he’s not around.

Jason should be back on Monday. Before I check out, I want to tease you with a short list of stories drafted but not published this week. Just imagine what could have been.

Always a pleasure to write for the best blog in the world.

A new AI beats top human poker players

posted by Tim Carmody   Jan 31, 2017

Poker is famously hard for machines to model because you have limited information, you have to iterate your strategies over time, and react to shifts in your interactions with multiple other agents. In short, poker’s too real. Sounds like fun! A couple of researchers at Carnegie Mellon found a way to win big:

Carnegie Mellon professor Tuomas Sandholm and grad student Noam Brown designed the AI, which they call Libratus, Latin for “balance.” Almost two years ago, the pair challenged some top human players with a similar AI and lost. But this time, they won handily: Across 20 days of play, Libratus topped its four human competitors by more than $1.7 million, and all four humans finished with a negative number of chips…

According to the human players that lost out to the machine, Libratus is aptly named. It does a little bit of everything well: knowing when to bluff and when to bet low with very good cards, as well as when to change its bets just to thrown off the competition. “It splits its bets into three, four, five different sizes,” says Daniel McAulay, 26, one of the players bested by the machine. “No human has the ability to do that.”

This makes me suspect that, as Garry Kasparov discovered with chess, and Clive Thompson’s documented in many other fields, a human player working with an AI like Libratus would perform even better than the best machines or best players on their own.

Update: Sam Pratt points out that while Libratus played against four human players simultaneously, each match was one-on-one. Libratus “was only created to play Heads-Up, No-Limit Texas Hold’em poker.” So managing that particular multidimensional aspect of the game (playing against players who are also playing against each other, with infinite possible bets) hasn’t been solved by the machines just yet.

Designing the graphics for the Harry Potter movies

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 27, 2017

Daily Prophet

Quibbler

Mudblood Dangers

MinaLima (aka Miraphora Mina and Eduardo Lima) is the design studio that designs all of the graphics, signs, newspapers, decrees, posters, labels, maps, book covers, and packaging that you see in the Harry Potter movies.

The range of design styles on display is impressive and captures the films’ combination of humour, horror and fantasy.

On one wall, packaging and adverts for products in a shop owned by the Weasley family combine early 20th century print advertising with humorous taglines and garish colours, while posters promoting the fictional game of Quidditch (below) reference 1950s Olympics adverts.

Official notices and letters use hand written fonts, and pamphlets demonising ‘mudbloods’ — a wizard born to non-wizard parents — are inspired by Soviet progaganda (top).

“One of the best things about working on the Harry Potter films was being able to try out so many different styles, from Victorian letterpress to modern design,” says Lima.

“The Daily Prophet was designed to look very Gothic, as did the architecture of Hogwarts [the boarding school for wizards where the film is set]. When an organisation called the Ministry of Magic takes control in later films, the school becomes a kind of totalitarian state, so we started looking to Russian constructivist design to reflect that,” says Mina.

They also worked on the Fantastic Beasts movie. You can follow their work on Instagram and a bunch of the best stuff is available for purchase on their site.

Building the perfect country

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 24, 2017

My Perfect Country is a BBC radio program that looks at how you would build a perfect country by looking at policies that work from countries around the world. So far, they have explored teaching mathematics in Shanghai, Japanese gun control, Costa Rica’s progressive energy policy, and drug decriminalization in Portugal.

In 2001 the use of all drugs was decriminalised meaning possession of drugs was now identified as a public health issue rather than a criminal offence. Today, whilst drugs remain illegal, users do not receive a criminal record and are instead referred to rehabilitation and treatment programmes. Drug related deaths, HIV infection rates and use of legal highs are at an all-time low.

I hope they take a look at Iceland’s teen substance abuse policies in a future program:

Young people aren’t hanging out in the park right now, Gudberg explains, because they’re in after-school classes in these facilities, or in clubs for music, dance or art. Or they might be on outings with their parents.

Today, Iceland tops the European table for the cleanest-living teens. The percentage of 15- and 16-year-olds who had been drunk in the previous month plummeted from 42 per cent in 1998 to 5 per cent in 2016. The percentage who have ever used cannabis is down from 17 per cent to 7 per cent. Those smoking cigarettes every day fell from 23 per cent to just 3 per cent.

The way the country has achieved this turnaround has been both radical and evidence-based, but it has relied a lot on what might be termed enforced common sense. “This is the most remarkably intense and profound study of stress in the lives of teenagers that I have ever seen,” says Milkman. “I’m just so impressed by how well it is working.”

(via @dunstan)

Update: This is similar to Michael Moore’s recent film, Where to Invade Next:

The film, in the style of a travelogue, has Moore spending time in countries such as Italy, France, Finland, Tunisia, Slovenia, and Portugal where he experiences those countries’ alternative methods of dealing with social and economic ills experienced in the United States.

(thx, jemal)

How the BBC made Planet Earth II

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 20, 2017

In the first of a three-part video series, Vox’s Joss Fong looks at how the technology used to film nature documentaries has changed over the past 50 years and how the producers of Planet Earth II used contemporary image stabilization techniques to make the series with a more cinematic style.

In the 1970s and ’80s, it was enough for the NHU to show people a creature they’d never seen before and provide the details in the narration. The films were illustrated zoology lectures. Since then, the producers have become sticklers for capturing specific behaviors, and in Planet Earth II, they showcase the drama of those behaviors. Each scene sets up the characters to perform something - something brave, something brutal, something bizarre. They’ve made room for our emotions; that’s what cinematic storytelling means.

And visually, the cinematic approach means the camera is often moving.

Hollywood filmmakers have kept the camera in motion for decades, but for obvious reasons, it’s much more difficult when your subject is wildlife. As we explain in the video at the top of this post, NHU producers used new stabilization tools throughout the production of Planet Earth II to move the camera alongside the animals.

The program doesn’t make you wait long to showcase this new approach. The tracking shot of a lemur jumping from tree to tree is one of the first things you see in the first episode and it put my jaw right on the floor. It’s so close and fluid, how did they do that? Going into the series, I thought it was going to be more of the same — Planet Earth but with new stories, different animals, etc. — but this is really some next-level shit. The kids were more excited after watching it than any movie they’ve seen in the past 6 months (aside from possibly Rogue One). The Blu-ray will be out at the end of March1 but there’s also a 4K “ultra HD” version that had me researching new ultra HD TVs I don’t really need.

Oh, and remember that thrilling sequence of the snakes chasing the newly hatched iguanas? Here’s a short clip on how they filmed it.

Update: The second video in the series is an ode to the BBC’s pioneering use of slow motion and time lapse photography in their nature programs.

Fong also explains one of my favorite things to come out of the first Planet Earth show, the slow motion buffer capture system used by the crew to catch great white sharks leaping out of the water.

But also, digital high-speed cameras came with a continuous recording feature. Instead of pressing a button to start recording and then pressing it again to stop, they could press the button as soon as they saw some action, and the camera would save the seconds that happened before the button was pressed. That’s how the cameraman captured this great white shark coming out of the water, not just in the air, for this sequence in the 2006 Planet Earth series.

I hope the third program is on sound, which has been bugging me while watching Planet Earth II. I could be wrong, but they seem to be using extensive foley effects for the sounds the animals make — not their cries necessarily, but the sounds they make as they move. Once you notice, it feels deceptive.

Update: The concluding video in the series shows how the filmmakers use thermal and infrared cameras to capture scenes at night.

The bit at the end about the Sony a7S is interesting — as cameras go, this one is much cheaper than the professional high-def cameras used for most of the scenes but is way better in low light.

  1. I still have a Blu-ray player than I barely use and only buy 1-2 BR discs a year, but Planet Earth II is one of those increasingly rare programs you want to see in full HD without compression or streaming artifacts.

How MLK’s I Have Dream speech was composed

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 28, 2017

Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech is one of the greatest examples of American oratory. In this video, Evan Puschak looks at how King’s speech was constructed and delivered, examining King’s references to Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address & Shakespeare, his use of lyrical techniques like alliteration and anaphora (the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses), and the mixture of plain and poetic language throughout the speech. Spoiler: King was a rhetorical genius and there’s a lot going on in that speech.

(Fair warning: Trump comes in abruptly at the 6:00 mark. I get the point he’s trying to make with the contrast, but I wish Puschak would have done without it.)

Video Feedbackteria

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 12, 2017

If you point a video camera at a projection of the video camera’s output — and if the conditions are just so — you get some interesting patterns that look almost biological. It’s fascinating that video feedback strongly resembles the patterns on brain coral. There must be an underlying emergent process for filling space that links the two patterns together. The video was made by Ethan Turpin…you can see more of his work here. (via @sleeptest)

Mesmerizing strobe light sculptures

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 12, 2017

If you spin these sculptures by artist John Edmark at a certain speed and light them with a strobe, they appear to animate in slowly trippy ways.

Blooms are 3-D printed sculptures designed to animate when spun under a strobe light. Unlike a 3D zoetrope, which animates a sequence of small changes to objects, a bloom animates as a single self-contained sculpture. The bloom’s animation effect is achieved by progressive rotations of the golden ratio, phi (ϕ), the same ratio that nature employs to generate the spiral patterns we see in pinecones and sunflowers. The rotational speed and strobe rate of the bloom are synchronized so that one flash occurs every time the bloom turns 137.5º (the angular version of phi).

The effect seems computer generated (but obviously isn’t) and is better than I anticipated. (via colossal)

Update: While not as visually smooth as his sculptures, Edmark’s rotation of an artichoke under strobe lighting deftly demonstrates the geometric rules followed by plants when they grow.

Here we see an artichoke spinning while being videotaped at 24 frames-per-second with a very fast shutter speed (1/4000 sec). The rotation speed is chosen to cause the artichoke to rotate 137.5º — the golden angle — each time a frame is captured, thus creating the illusion that the leaves are moving up or down the surface of the artichoke. The reason this works is that the artichoke grows by producing new leaf one at a time, with each new leaf positioned 137.5º around the center from the previous leaves. So, in a sense, this video reiterates the artichoke’s growth process.

(via @waxpancake)

Update: This similar sculpture by Takeshi Murata is quite impressive as well.

(via @kevmaguire)

Black parents talk to their kids about the police

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 10, 2017

Not going to say much about this one. Just watch it…especially if somehow, as a curious, thoughtful person who reads this site regularly, you are unaware of how many in the black community feel about the police and that they have conversations like this with their children about those who are supposed to protect and serve people.

Logobook, a catalog of great logos

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 28, 2017

Logobook

Logobook is a growing catalog of “the finest logos, symbols & trademarks” in the world. The 5000+ logos are divided into groups like letters & numbers, shapes, animals, objects, and nature and are extensively categorized by industry, designer, and country of origin. Great resource.

They’re backed up with new submissions right now, but you can still send them your logos and they’ll get back to you when submissions are open again. (via @buzz)

Lisa Ericson’s contemporary chimera

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 26, 2017

Lisa Ericson

Lisa Ericson

Lisa Ericson

I love these colorfully imaginative drawings of animals by illustrator Lisa Ericson; fish with coral reef tails and mice with butterfly wings. Sadly her prints are sold out, but hopefully she’ll make more available soon.

BTW, Ericson’s husband is Josh Keyes, whose grafitti-themed art I featured last week. Talented household.

An amazing indoor skydiving freestyle routine

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 06, 2017

The 2017 Wind Games were recently held in Spain and featured skydivers from all over the world competing in a number of indoor skydiving1 events. Maja Kuczynska competed in the freestyle category and her routine/dance/performance was arresting.

My mind broke a little watching this. People are not supposed to move like this, like superheroes…it looks like not particularly well done special effects. At several points, the way she moves reminded me of Saruman toying with Gandalf before flinging him to the top of Orthanc in the Fellowship of the Ring.

Here’s her performance from another angle. Wow. Just wow. Kuczynska finished third in the event while Kyra Poh took first…here’s Poh’s winning routine.

  1. Indoor skydiving is accomplished through the use of a vertical wind tunnel which simulates an endless freefall.

Snakisms

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 03, 2017

Snakisms

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

W.E.B. Du Bois’ hand-drawn infographics from “The Exhibit of American Negroes”

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 09, 2017

W.E.B. Du Bois Infographics

W.E.B. Du Bois Infographics

W.E.B. Du Bois was an American author, sociologist, historian, and activist. Apparently Du Bois was also a designer and design director of some talent as these hand-drawn infographics show.

In addition to an extensive collection of photographs, four volumes containing 400 official patents by African Americans, more than 200 books penned by African-American authors, various maps, and a statuette of Frederick Douglass, the exhibition featured a total of fifty-eight stunning hand-drawn charts (a selection of which we present below). Created by Du Bois and his students at Atlanta, the charts, many of which focus on economic life in Georgia, managed to condense an enormous amount of data into a set of aesthetically daring and easily digestible visualisations. As Alison Meier notes in Hyperallergic, “they’re strikingly vibrant and modern, almost anticipating the crossing lines of Piet Mondrian or the intersecting shapes of Wassily Kandinsky”.

Update: Oh, this is great: Mona Chalabi has updated Du Bois’ charts with current data.

Wealth. If I had stayed close to the original chart, the updated version would have shown that in 2015, African American households in Georgia had a median income of about $36,655, which would fail to capture the story of inflation (net asset numbers aren’t published as cumulative for one race). Instead, I wanted to see how wealth varies by race in America today.

The story is bleak. I hesitated to use the word “worth”, but it’s the language used by the Census Bureau when they’re collecting this data and, since money determines so much of an individual’s life, the word seems relevant. For every dollar a black household in America has in net assets, a white household has 16.5 more.

Web Du Bois Infographics Updated

A VHS-ripped video shows how the internet/web looked in 1996

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 09, 2017

Someone located a VHS copy of an hour-long program from 1996 called Discovering the Internet and ripped it to YouTube. Total nostalgia bomb for me…even at 28.8K modem speeds, I probably spent 12 hours a day online back then, wrestling with HTML, Photoshop, frames, and JavaScript.

In this tutorial, we’ll take a look at the differences between The Internet and The World Wide Web, the differences between commercial OnLine Services such as the Microsoft Network, Prodigy, or America Online and the Internet, how to get connected to the Web, how to use something called a Web browser to navigate the Web, what a Web Page is, and how to search, locate, and download all types of files, from information files to video and audio files.

It’s worth skipping ahead to 17:30 to hear how the host pronounces “URL”.

See also a brief clip of Blogger/Twitter/Medium co-founder Evan Williams explaining the Internet in the mid-90s.

Look at that kid! He just knew the Internet was going to be a big deal, and boy was he right. (via laughing squid)

Listen to early drafts of Hamilton songs

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 26, 2017

Lin-Manuel Miranda recently released the early drafts of eight Hamilton songs on Soundcloud. Miranda sings all the parts himself and they’re a lot less showtuney and more hip-hoppy than the finished product. Worth a listen for fans of process.

Teaser trailer for Deadpool 2

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 09, 2017

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

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

The banned children’s books your kid should read

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 17, 2017

The American Library Association maintains a list of Frequently Challenged Children’s Books, books that people try to get banned from libraries due to their “inappropriate” content. The list includes Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret., Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach, Dr. Seuss’s Hop On Pop (???), Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman, as well as the Harry Potter and His Dark Materials series. Perri Klass writes about what children can learn from these banned books.

“I think it happens in the U.S. more than in some other countries,” said Leonard Marcus, a children’s book historian and critic. “There’s a squeamishness in the U.S. about body parts I think that goes back to the Puritan tradition, and has never completely died out.” He pointed to the controversy around Maurice Sendak’s 1970 children’s book “In the Night Kitchen,” which centered on the illustrations showing the naked — and anatomically correct — little boy whose nocturnal adventures make up the story.

In the Night Kitchen? Seriously? Seriously?! That was one of my favorites as a kid and so we bought it for our kids. Come on, America…we’ve got worse things to worry about. Klass’s point here is exactly right:

When your children read books that have been challenged or banned, you have a double opportunity as a parent; you can discuss the books themselves, and the information they provide, and you can also talk about why people might find them troubling.

We’ve definitely had to do that with the Harry Potter books, the Little House books, and many other books we read together. Reading any book published before the 70s, for instance, is a great opportunity to discuss how the past and current roles of women in society.

The angel of history

posted by Tim Carmody   Jan 30, 2017

paul-klee-angelus-novus.jpg

This is from Walter Benjamin’s essay “On the Concept of History,” but I’m going to use the old translation back when it was called “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” and mess with the line breaks a little. If you’ve read this a million times, forgive me; it’s always worth reading again.

A Klee painting named “Angelus Novus” shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread.

This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet.

The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed.

But a storm is blowing in from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such a violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward.

This storm is what we call progress.

Benjamin wrote this in 1940, in Paris; he’d left Germany shortly before the Nazis seized power. After the Nazis invaded France, he fled to Spain, with a precious travel visa to the United States. Spain’s government then cancelled all transit papers. The police told Benjamin and all the other Jewish refugees in his group would be returned to France. He killed himself.

His friend Hannah Arendt later made it across the border safely; she had the manuscript of this essay. Which is why it exists.

Why is this useful?

These are chaotic times. But to the angel of history, it’s not a sudden eruption of chaos, but a manifestation of an ongoing vortex of chaos that stretches back indefinitely, without any unique origin. When we’re thrust into danger, in a flash we get a more truthful glimpse of history than the simple narratives that suffice in moments of safety. As Benjamin puts it, “the tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the ‘state of emergency’ in which we live is not the exception but the rule.”

Global refugees, the stubborn pervasiveness of white supremacy, the arbitrary power of the state, the fragility of national and international institutions — we’ve been here for some time now, haven’t we? One day, you stir, and there you are — right where you’ve always been. With nothing under your feet, and ghosts pausing for breath next to your cheek.

This is not normal — and yet it’s the same as it’s always been. Because there is no normal. Not really. Just a series of accidents, a trick of the light, a collective hallucination we’ve all worked to diligently maintain.

Even now, most of us are working to impose an order on the world, to see a plan at work, to sort the chaos into “distractions” and “reality,” whether it’s “real news,” uncovering the secret aims of an unseen puppet master, or articulating the one true politics that can Fix Everything. We can’t help it; it’s what we do.

Remembering the angel helps ameliorate that impulse. Yes, there are opportunists everywhere, and real losses and victories, but the perfect theory that links events into beautiful chains of causality is elusive enough to be a dream for a fallen people. “Only a redeemed mankind receives the fullness of its past — which is to say, only for a redeemed mankind has its past become citable in all its moments.” For now, it’s all part of the storm; we’re all going to have to improvise.

For all his pessimism, rooted in a contempt and longing for a safety he couldn’t enjoy, Benjamin (I think) really did believe in the possibility of a Messiah, who would appear at a moment of great danger. It was a Jewish and a Marxist belief for someone who had great difficulty believing in either Judaism or Marxism in any of their existing forms.

There are a lot of people, on the left and the right, who share a version of this idea as a matter of dogma, without anything like the Kierkegaardian leap of faith Benjamin took in order to suspend his disbelief in it. Better to knock everything down, to build something new to replace it; heighten the stakes, so we have no choice but to take drastic steps to build paradise. I’m a lot less sure. I know what it took to build those things, and the emergencies that forced us to build them. It’s not an algebra problem to me, a clever lecture, a witty conjecture. I like those. Those are fun. This is not fun. This is blood and bones and broken things that do not come back. It would be nice to have a political or religious framework in which all those things can be mended or redeemed. It’s not available to me, except in its absence.

But for all that, I think I do believe in something smaller, more limited:

I think James Baldwin is right (Baldwin, like Benjamin, is somehow always right) when he writes in “Stranger in the Village” that while so many “American white men still nourish the illusion that there is some means of recovering the European innocence, of returning to a state in which black [and brown] men [and women] do not exist,” that

This is one of the greatest errors Americans can make. The identity they fought so hard to protect has, by virtue of that battle, undergone a change: Americans are as unlike any other white people in the world as it is possible to be. I do not think, for example, that it is too much to suggest that the American vision of the world — which allows so little reality, generally speaking, for any of the darker forces in human life, which tends until today to paint moral issues in glaring black and white — owes a great deal to the battle waged by Americans to maintain between themselves and black men a human separation which could not be bridged. It is only now beginning to be borne in on us — very faintly, it must be admitted, very slowly, and very much against our will— that this vision of the world is dangerously inaccurate, and perfectly useless. For it protects our moral high-mindedness at the terrible expense of weakening our grasp of reality. People who shut their eyes to reality simply invite their own destruction, and anyone who insists on remaining in a state of innocence long after that innocence is dead turns himself into a monster.

The time has come to realize that the interracial drama acted out on the American continent has not only created a new black man, it has created a new white man, too. No road whatever will lead Americans back to the simplicity of this European village where white men still have the luxury of looking on me as a stranger. I am not, really, a stranger any longer for any American alive. One of the things that distinguishes Americans from other people is that no other people has ever been so deeply involved in the lives of black men, and vice versa. This fact faced, with all its implications, it can be seen that the history of the American Negro problem is not merely shameful, it is also something of an achievement. For even when the worst has been said, it must also be added that the perpetual challenge posed by this problem was always, somehow, perpetually met. It is precisely this black-white experience which may prove of indispensable value to us in the world we face today. This world is white no longer, and it will never be white again.

In short, I believe in the future — not a paradise, not a tranquil place, not a reward, but in all its mundane possibility and broken uncertainty. I choose to believe in the future, simply because we have nowhere else to go.

The grand unified theory of Pixar confirmed?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 23, 2017

The Pixar Theory is an idea forwarded by Jon Negroni that all of Pixar’s movies take place in the same universe and are all connected to each other somehow. (Negroni turned the theory into a 100-page book.)

Centuries later, the animals from Brave that have been experimented on by the witch have interbred, creating a large-scale population of animals slowly gaining personification and intelligence on their own.

There are two progressions: the progression of the animals and the progression of artificial intelligence. The events of the following movies set up a power struggle between humans, animals, and machines.

The stage for all-out war in regards to animals is set by Ratatouille, Finding Nemo, and Up, in that order. Notice I left out A Bug’s Life, but I’ll explain why later.

Last week, the official Toy Story account released a video on Facebook that make explicit many of the connections between the films:

One of the dinosaurs from The Good Dinosaur shows up in Inside Out, a Monsters Inc. character is pictured in Brave, a Lightning McQueen toy is in Toy Story 3, a moped from Ratatouille is in Wall-E’s junkyard, etc. etc. This is a perfect bit of superfan trolling from the Pixar team. Kudos.

Five books to change conservative minds

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 25, 2017

Back in November, former Obama administration official Cass Sunstein came up with a list of five books that conservatives should read to in order to learn something about contemporary progressivism. On the list is Success and Luck: Good Fortune and the Myth of Meritocracy by Robert Frank:

In Frank’s view, we overstate the role of individual merit and underestimate the massive role of luck in producing individual success or failure — being born into the right family, finding oneself in the right place at the right time, having a good mentor. He makes “there but for the grace of God go I” into a rallying cry.

A month earlier, Sunstein offered a similar list of books liberals should read to learn something about conservatives, including Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind:

Do conservatives have moral commitments that progressives may not even recognize? Haidt says yes, and he identifies three: authority, loyalty and sanctity. If, for example, someone has betrayed a trust, or treated a boss or a parent disrespectfully, conservatives are far more likely to be outraged than progressives.

Haidt is not himself a conservative, but he offers a sympathetic explanation of why progressives often fail to understand their political adversaries. He also shows that the moral commitments that resonate among conservatives have deep roots in human history — and that it is a form of blindness not to acknowledge and respect those commitments.

WhaleSynth, a neat online toy for generating whale sounds

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 15, 2017

WhaleSynth

WhaleSynth is a cool little instrument for making whale sounds. There are three different species of whale to choose from, you can add clicks and sonar echoes, and you can also adjust the depth and number of whales in your chorus. Warning: this might occupy many many minutes of your time but could also soothe frayed political nerves.

MIT Technology Review’s 10 Breakthrough Technologies of 2017

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 06, 2017

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

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

The piece on Hot Solar Cells caught my eye:

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

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

The typography of Stanley Kubrick

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 14, 2017

Kubrick Typography

From designer Christian Annyas, an overview of the typography used in the titles and posters of Stanley Kubrick’s movies. Click on each graphic to see the poster or title sequence it was sourced from.

Maybe there’s more that brings us together than you think

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 08, 2017

This lovely video from a television station in Denmark highlights the similarities we all share across seemingly impassable social, economic, racial, and religious boundaries.

It’s easy to put people in boxes. There’s us and there’s them. The high-earners and those just getting by. Those we trust and those we try to avoid. There’s the new Danes and those who’ve always been here. The people from the countryside and those who’ve never seen a cow. The religious and the self-confident. There are those we share something with and those we don’t share anything with.

And then suddenly, there’s us. We who believe in life after death, we who’ve seen UFOs, and all of us who love to dance. We who’ve been bullied and we who’ve bullied others.

Last week I started reading The Undoing Project, Michael Lewis’s book about the friendship and collaboration of psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. This passage on Tversky’s work seems relevant to this video.

From Amos’s theory about the way people made judgments of similarity spilled all sorts of interesting insights. If the mind, when it compares two things, essentially counts up the features it notices in each of them, it might also judge those things to be at once more similar and more dissimilar to each other than some other pair of things. They might have both a lot in common and a lot not in common. Love and hate, and funny and sad, and serious and silly: Suddenly they could be seen — as they feel — as having more fluid relationships to each other. They weren’t simply opposites on a fixed mental continuum; they could be thought of as similar in some of their features and different in others. Amos’s theory also offered a fresh view into what might be happening when people violated transitivity and thus made seemingly irrational choices.

When people picked coffee over tea, and tea over hot chocolate, and then turned around and picked hot chocolate over coffee — they weren’t comparing two drinks in some holistic manner. Hot drinks didn’t exist as points on some mental map at fixed distances from some ideal. They were collections of features. Those features might become more or less noticeable; their prominence in the mind depended on the context in which they were perceived. And the choice created its own context: Different features might assume greater prominence in the mind when the coffee was being compared to tea (caffeine) than when it was being compared to hot chocolate (sugar). And what was true of drinks might also be true of people, and ideas, and emotions.

The idea was interesting: When people make decisions, they are also making judgments about similarity, between some object in the real world and what they ideally want. They make these judgments by, in effect, counting up the features they notice. And as the noticeability of features can be manipulated by the way they are highlighted, the sense of how similar two things are might also be manipulated. For instance, if you wanted two people to think of themselves as more similar to each other than they otherwise might, you might put them in a context that stressed the features they shared. Two American college students in the United States might look at each other and see a total stranger; the same two college students on their junior year abroad in Togo might find that they are surprisingly similar: They’re both Americans!

By changing the context in which two things are compared, you submerge certain features and force others to the surface. “It is generally assumed that classifications are determined by similarities among the objects,” wrote Amos, before offering up an opposing view: that “the similarity of objects is modified by the manner in which they are classified. Thus, similarity has two faces: causal and derivative. It serves as a basis for the classification of objects, but is also influenced by the adopted classification.” A banana and an apple seem more similar than they otherwise would because we’ve agreed to call them both fruit. Things are grouped together for a reason, but, once they are grouped, their grouping causes them to seem more like each other than they otherwise would. That is, the mere act of classification reinforces stereotypes. If you want to weaken some stereotype, eliminate the classification.

That’s what this video did so effectively…it switched up the contexts. Rabid soccer fans became dancers, bullies became lonely people, people of different faiths were united by their believe in an afterlife. An exercise for investors and entrepreneurs building media companies and social networks (as well as people running small independent sites….I’m staring hard at myself in the mirror here): how can you build tools and platforms that give people more ways to connect to each other, to switch up the contexts in which people are able to group themselves?

Nicholas Winton saved 100s of children from the Holocaust

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 23, 2017

In 1938-39 on the eve of World War II, Nicholas Winton established an organization to rescue Jewish children living in Czechoslovakia from the Holocaust by giving them safe passage to Britain, which had recently approved a measure allowing refugees younger than 17 entry into the country. Winton’s organization ended up saving 669 children — future poets, politicians, scientists, and filmmakers among them. Getting these children out of Czechoslovakia was literally a matter of life and death. From Winton’s Wikipedia page:

The last group of 250, scheduled to leave Prague on 1 September 1939, were unable to depart. With Hitler’s invasion of Poland on the same day, the Second World War had begun. Of the children due to leave on that train, only two survived the war.

Although he continued his humanitarian work after the war, Winton rarely spoke of his efforts in saving the children. The full scope of what he had done was revealed only after his wife found a scrapbook in 1988 of the children’s names and the names of the British families that had taken them in. The public learned of Winton’s efforts on a TV show called That’s Life. Winton believed he was attending the show as an audience member, but it was revealed that he was actually sitting amongst about 2 dozen of the now-grown children that he had saved:

For his efforts, Winton was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2003. He died just a year and a half ago, at the age of 106.

80s covers of contemporary pop songs

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 11, 2017

A Canadian musician called TRONICBOX is taking contemporary pop songs like Katy Perry’s Firework, Baby by Justin Bieber, and Somebody I Used To Know by Gotye and remixing them so they sound like they came out in the 80s. The effect is unnerving for someone like me who grew up immersed in 80s pop music. Even though it’s impossible, I can almost remember listening to some of these songs back in my bedroom, probably taped off the radio during Casey Kasem’s top 40 countdown. Total time travel paradox nostalgia bombs. (via digg)

Every NY Times front page in under a minute

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 21, 2017

In this short video, Josh Begley shows all of the front pages of the NY Times in chronological order from 1852 to the present. The Times began publishing in 1851 so not every front page is represented, but that’s still more than 50,000 pages in less than a minute. Since they go by so quickly, here are some highlights:

Dec 11, 1861: The Times publishes their first illustrations on the front page. One is a map of Virginia and the other two are political cartoons lampooning James Gordon Bennett, founder of the New York Herald, one of the Times’ main rivals.

Apr 15, 1865: The front page columns were lined with black as they reported on the assassination of Lincoln.

Dec 1, 1896: The hyphen is dropped from “The New-York Times”.

Feb 10, 1897: The slogan “All the News That’s Fit to Print” appears for the first time on the front page.

May 30, 1910: The first news photograph appears on the front page, a photo of aviator Glenn Curtiss flying from Albany to NYC at the blistering pace of 54 mi/hr.

May 1, 1926: The Times prints the first photo “radioed” to the newspaper from London. Transmission time: 1hr 45m.

Jul 21, 1969: The first use of 96 pt. type on the front page announces the Apollo 11 landing on the Moon and subsequent moonwalk. The large type will also be used to announce Nixon’s resignation, the first day of 2000, 9/11, and the election of Barack Obama.

Sept 7, 1976: The columns on the front page are widened, reducing their number from 8 to 6.

Oct 16, 1997: The first color photo is printed on the front page of the Times. (The Times Machine scan is in B&W for some reason, but the photo was in color.)

Begley also made Best of Luck With the Wall, a video showing the entire extent of the US-Mexico border.

America is confused about healthcare coverage

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 08, 2017

According to a recent poll, over a third of those polled did not know that Obamacare and the Affordable Care Act were the same thing.

In the survey, 35 percent of respondents said either they thought Obamacare and the Affordable Care Act were different policies (17 percent) or didn’t know if they were the same or different (18 percent). This confusion was more pronounced among people 18 to 29 and those who earn less than $50,000 — two groups that could be significantly affected by repeal.

And that’s perhaps not even the worse part:

For instance, only 61 percent of adults knew that many people would lose coverage through Medicaid or subsidies for private health insurance if the A.C.A. were repealed and no replacement enacted. In contrast, approximately one in six Americans, or 16 percent, said that “coverage through Medicaid and subsidies that help people buy private health insurance would not be affected” by repeal, and 23 percent did not know.

I’ve never liked the Obamacare moniker, but clearly that’s only part of the problem.

John James Audubon’s five mystery birds

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 07, 2017

Audubon mystery bird

Audubon mystery bird

Audubon mystery bird

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

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

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

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

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

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

Audubon Passenger Pigeon

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

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

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

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

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

Jump!

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 13, 2017

Jump Portraits

Jump Portraits

Jump Portraits

Jump Portraits

Philippe Halsman was a renowned portrait photographer who was particularly active in the 40s, 50s, and 60s and most famous for his iconic photos of Salvador Dali and Albert Einstein. For a period in the 1950s, Halsman ended his portrait shoots by asking his famous subjects to jump. The results were disarming.

When you ask a person to jump, his attention is mostly directed toward the act of jumping and the mask falls so that the real person appears.

Halsman got all sorts of people to jump for his camera: Richard Nixon (above), Robert Oppenheimer, Marilyn Monroe (above), Aldous Huxley, Audrey Hepburn (above), Brigitte Bardot, and the Duke & Duchess of Windsor (above). He collected all his jump photos into the recently re-released Philippe Halsman’s Jump Book.

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 17, 2017

George Saunders has written his first novel and it’s just as unusual as his short stories. Lincoln in the Bardo is historical fiction about Abraham Lincoln mourning the death of his son Willie, who is caught between lives.

February 1862. The Civil War is less than one year old. The fighting has begun in earnest, and the nation has begun to realize it is in for a long, bloody struggle. Meanwhile, President Lincoln’s beloved eleven-year-old son, Willie, lies upstairs in the White House, gravely ill. In a matter of days, despite predictions of a recovery, Willie dies and is laid to rest in a Georgetown cemetery. “My poor boy, he was too good for this earth,” the president says at the time. “God has called him home.” Newspapers report that a grief-stricken Lincoln returns, alone, to the crypt several times to hold his boy’s body.

Buzzfeed has an excerpt of the novel, which takes the form of a collection of quotes.

The boy, frustrated at being denied the attention he felt he deserved, moved in and leaned against his father, as the father continued to hold and gently rock the—
the reverend everly thomas

Sick-form.
hans vollman

At one point, moved, I turned away from the scene and found we were not alone.
roger bevins iii

A crowd had gathered outside.
the reverend everly thomas

All were silent.
roger bevins iii

As the man continued to gently rock his child.
the reverend everly thomas

While his child, simultaneously, stood quietly leaning against him.
hans vollman

Then the gentleman began to speak.
roger bevins iii

Time to bust out the Google Cardboard: the NY Times VR team adapted a part of the novel into a 10-minute VR film.

Here’s a good interview with Saunders about the book and a review by Colson Whitehead. The book has been hovering near the top of the Amazon best sellers list since its release — it was #2 when I looked yesterday but is currently 6th, right after Orwell’s 19841 — and I’ve seen several people in my Instagram feed reading it…or at least socially signaling that they’re reading it. ;)

  1. The current #1 is a hardcover strategy guide for a new Legend of Zelda game that doesn’t come out until next month.

Map of where Germans voted for the Nazis in 1933

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 01, 2017

Nazi Support Map 1933

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

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

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

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

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

Auto-generated maps of fantasy worlds

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 22, 2017

Uncharted Atlas

Uncharted Atlas

Uncharted Atlas

Martin O’Leary is a research scientist who studies glaciers, but in his spare time, he built Uncharted Atlas, a program that auto-generates maps of fantasy lands (like from Game of Thrones or LOTR) and posts them to a Twitter account. The explanation of how the terrain is generated is quite interesting and includes embedded map generators that you can play around with (i.e. prepare to lose about 20 minutes to this).

There are loads of articles on the internet which describe terrain generation, and they almost all use some variation on a fractal noise approach, either directly (by adding layers of noise functions), or indirectly (e.g. through midpoint displacement). These methods produce lots of fine detail, but the large-scale structure always looks a bit off. Features are attached in random ways, with no thought to the processes which form landscapes. I wanted to try something a little bit different.

There are a few different stages to the generator. First we build up a height-map of the terrain, and do things like routing water flow over the surface. Then we can render the ‘physical’ portion of the map. Finally we can place cities and ‘regions’ on the map, and place their labels.

And here’s how the languages for the place names are generated; each map has its own generated language so all of the place names are consistant with each other and different from those regions shown on other maps.

I wanted to produce something which was a step above the usual alphabetic soup of generated placenames, and which was capable of producing recognisably distinct languages. The initial idea was that different regions of each map would have different languages, but I abandoned this because it was too hard to make it clear that this was what was going on, while still having the languages themselves be interesting.

The problem is to generate something like what the constructed languages (conlang) community call a ‘naming language’. This is a light sketch of a language, focusing purely on the parts which are necessary to produce names. So there’s little to no grammar, but a good sense of what the language sounds like, and how it’s written.

Ernest Hemingway’s cocktail recipe for bad times

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 24, 2017

In 1937, Ernest Hemingway devised a cocktail called Death in the Gulf Stream for dealing with hard times.

Take a tall thin water tumbler and fill it with finely cracked ice.

Lace this broken debris with 4 good purple splashes of Angostura, add the juice and crushed peel of 1 green lime, and fill glass almost full with Holland gin…

No sugar, no fancying. It’s strong, it’s bitter — but so is English ale strong and bitter, in many cases.

We don’t add sugar to ale, and we don’t need sugar in a “Death in the Gulf Stream” — or at least not more than 1 tsp. Its tartness and its bitterness are its chief charm.

More drinks should involve lacing broken debris with alcohol. So the next time you feel like Hemingway kicking this can

Hemingway Kicks

…you’ll have something to drink. (via rands in repose)

The top 10 coin flips in history

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 17, 2017

The Super Bowl is old news at this point and I have a love/hate thing with Bill Simmons going on, but I loved his ranking of the top 10 coin flips in history, which in typical Simmons fashion, crosses a bunch of different boundaries, from technology:

10. The Wright Brothers. In 1903, Wilbur and Orville flipped a coin to see who would attempt the first airborne flight. Wilbur won … and couldn’t keep the plane in the air. They repaired the plane and three days later Orville nailed the second flight, leading Skip Bayless to tweet, “I know this is Orville’s day but I can’t get over that choke job by Wilbur!”

…to sports:

3. Secretariat. Remember when Penny Chenery and Ogden Phipps flipped a coin for the first pick of two foals that Bold Ruler had sired? And Phipps won and picked a foal born from Bold Ruler and Hasty Matelda? And Chenery settled for Secretariat, the eventual Triple Crown winner that became the most famous race horse who ever lived? And then Diane Lane played Chenery in Disney’s Secretariat movie that was 25 minutes too long? Poor Ogden Phipps.

…to the #1 pick from the musical world (which you might guess but will have to click through for).

A visit to a French butter factory

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 10, 2017

In a bonus from the food series The Mind of a Chef, LA chef Ludo Lefebvre visits a butter factory where they make customized butter for restaurants.

So when we visited the Jean-Yves Bordier Butter factory in the Brittany region of France and had chef Ludo Lefebvre help in the process, it was nothing but pure amazement in his eyes. Le Beurre Bordier customizes it’s butter to the specifications of the chefs they send it to.

The video is subtitled and they go really quick, but I love the look on Lefebvre’s face after he runs his thumb through the finished butter: pure childlike wonder. The full episode featuring Lefebvre is available on PBS’s website (likely for US viewers only). This clip pairs well with this video on how to make croissants. (via the excellent the kid should see this)

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

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 06, 2017

Cessna 172

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The myth of Apple’s great design

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 13, 2017

In the Atlantic, Ian Bogost takes on the accepted view that Apple has great design, calling it “the biggest myth in technology today”.

At base, such a claim seems preposterous. In 1977, the Apple II made the microcomputer useful and affordable. In 1984, the Macintosh made the computer more usable by the everyperson thanks to the graphical user interface. In 2001, the iPod fit a music library in a pocket. In 2007, the iPhone made computing portable (and obsessive).

But if Apple designs at its best when attending closely to details like those revealed in the construction of its spaceship headquarters, then presumably the details of its products would stand out as worthy precedents. Yet, when this premise is tested, it comes up wanting. In truth, Apple’s products hide a shambles of bad design under the perfection of sleek exteriors.

While I find this piece to be hyperbolic, it hints at where Apple’s design is weakest. Apple is great at designing products but less good at designing the connections between these products and the rest of the world.1 iPhones, iPods, and iPads are great, but you have to go through iTunes to manage their contents. As Bogost notes, the power cords and chargers for their products are often bulky and awkward…you can’t even charge the newest iPhone using the newest Macbook Pro without a separate adapter. Who makes all the apps that people want to use on their iPhones to chat/connect/flirt/collaborate with their loved ones? Facebook, Snap, Google, Slack…not Apple, who initially wasn’t even going to provide a way for 3rd parties to build apps for the iPhone. Almost every attempt by Apple to build services to connect people — remember Ping?! — has failed. Even iCloud, which promised to unite all Apple devices into one fluid ecosystem, was plagued for years with reliability problems and still isn’t as good as Dropbox. How devices, apps, and people interconnect are far more important now than in 1977, 1984, and even 2007, when the iPhone was introduced, and Apple could stand to focus more of their design energy on that experience.

  1. Another way of saying this is when it comes to design trade-offs, Apple prioritizes the integrity of the device over other considerations.

Intricately carved fruits & vegetables

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 09, 2017

Gaku

Gaku

Gaku

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

Time capsule: the best media of millennium

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 24, 2017

Back in 2000, Amazon ran a poll asking their customers what they thought were the best books, music, and movies of the past 1000 years. The results, archived by the Internet Archive, are a time capsule not only of recently popular works (Braveheart, Millennium by the Backstreet Boys, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling) but also of who was on the internet at that time. It’s interesting that Harry Potter made the list; the first book had only been out in the US for less than a year and a half and the 2nd and 3rd books had been out for less than 6 months.

The winners in each category were The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles, and Star Wars. The author of the millennium was J.R.R. Tolkien (runner-up: Ayn Rand), The Beatles and Pink Floyd were the top musical artists, and the directors were Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. Here are the full top 10 lists:

Books
1. The Lord of the Rings - J.R.R. Tolkien
2. Gone With the Wind - Margaret Mitchell
3. To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
4. The Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger
5. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone - J.K. Rowling
6. The Stand - Stephen King
7. Ulysses - James Joyce
8. Atlas Shrugged - Ayn Rand
9. The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
10. 1984 - George Orwell

Music albums
1. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band - The Beatles
2. The Beatles (The White Album) - The Beatles
3. Millennium - Backstreet Boys
4. Dark Side Of The Moon - Pink Floyd
5. Abbey Road - The Beatles
6. Thriller - Michael Jackson
7. The Joshua Tree - U2
8. The Wall - Pink Floyd
9. Kind Of Blue - Miles Davis
10. Nevermind - Nirvana

Movies
1. Star Wars
2. Titanic
3. Citizen Kane
4. Gone With the Wind
5. The Godfather
6. Schindler’s List
7. The Matrix
8. Saving Private Ryan
9. Casablanca
10. Braveheart

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

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 02, 2017

Profiles In Courage

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

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

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

Van Gogh’s Starry Night painted on top of water

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 24, 2017

Artist Garip Ay recently painted van Gogh’s Starry Night (along with his self-portrait) on top of water. Ebru, or paper marbling, is an art form where paint or ink is splattered or “painted” on the surface of water. Typically the painted scene is then transferred to paper with the finished product resembling polished marble stone. But Ay records his marbling on video and the effect is pretty cool.

See also the art of making marbled paper, which is well worth your attention.

Making Television’s Marquee Moon, 40 Years Later

posted by Tim Carmody   Feb 02, 2017

To celebrate Marquee Moon’s 40th (!) anniversary, Damien Love has posted an extended interview with guitarist Richard Lloyd. Lloyd describes meeting Richard Hell (then Richard Meyers) and Tom Verlaine (then Tom Miller), forming a band, making some singles, Hell leaving to form the Voidoids, and then recording what would slowwwwly turn out to be one of the greatest albums ever.

Tom and I, our guitars meshed together immediately. I had studied a kind of classic rock guitar, where you do whole step bends, half step bends. When I was a teenager, I had a friend who knew Jimi Hendrix, and Jimi gave this guy lessons, who passed them on to me, and I met Hendrix and watched him play, so that’s where I was coming from.

Tom played with a completely different style. He used the classical vibrato. It’s technical to describe, but it’s like on a violin: you move your wrist back and forth, the finger doesn’t move, but the pitch goes up and down. I don’t know where he got it. It was more like a sitar player, but that was Tom’s style, this magnificent classical vibrato. He’d never do whole step bends, always micro-bends. But our two styles just suited each other beautifully. Between the two of us, we had all the different guitar aspects you could want. I was playing much more classical rock, Tom was playing his odd, in-between thing. But if Tom would show me something, I could play it.

The next thing was convincing Richard Hell to play bass. Tom couldn’t do it. Richie said, “I’m not a musician. I can’t do it.” When Tom wasn’t around, I asked him what the problem was. He said, “Listen. Playing with Tom is like going to the dentist. Except you’d rather go to the dentist.”

Like a lot of kids with a lot of cult rock bands, I didn’t hear about Television until I went to college. I really liked Talking Heads, and in the liner notes of their greatest hits comp Sand in the Vaseline, David Byrne says that when their band first got together, they sounded a lot like “early Television.” I was intrigued.

Then VH1 (this being the glory days of VH1) put out a “100 Greatest Albums” special and threw in Marquee Moon at #83. They showed clips of the band and their songs, and people I knew like Sonic Youth and Henry Rollins talking about how beautiful and influential it was.

It didn’t sound like anything else on that list, besides maybe The Velvet Underground & Nico. (At the time, I thought VU was a totally obscure band that I was a genius for discovering and liking.) It still doesn’t. It didn’t sound like the other punk albums, and the only other indie rock album that made the cut was The Replacements’ Let It Be, which has a totally different vibe. It was this little constellation of Gen X diamonds hidden in a list otherwise dominated by aging boomers and young pop-worshippers, with a few undeniable golden age hip-hop albums thrown in to mix it up.

I think I went out and bought Marquee Moon, Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks, Liz Phair’s Exile In Guyville, and Iggy & The Stooges’ Raw Power the next day. Television helped get me to Big Star, The New York Dolls, My Bloody Valentine, and the hundred other record-store guitar bands that made me a sweetly happy, insufferable, twentysomething cliché, now fully prepared to crap all over VH1’s or any other list of 100 Greatest Albums.

But while my pleasure in debating greatest-ever lists has faded, as has my joy in digging through album crates and filesharing sites to find new bands everyone else has already heard of, my love and appreciation for Marquee Moon remains pretty much the same.

Great sound, great songs, great gossipy soap-opera stories — what else could you want?

Finding Dory is a movie about disability

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 24, 2017

I watched Finding Dory with my daughter this weekend. It was our second time through and while I’d enjoyed it when we saw it in the theater, this time the theme really hit home. At the most basic level, Finding Dory is about animals with disabilities, how their supposed weaknesses can be strengths, and the challenges faced and strategies employed by parents of children with disabilities. The characters from the movie use their varying abilities in many different to help their friends.

Hank is an octopus who is missing a tentacle and struggles with anxiety about the open ocean. He’s able to fight through that anxiety to form a fast bond with Dory and return to the ocean.

Becky is a loon who appears unbalanced but is a very loyal friend once you’ve made a personal connection with her. Nemo believes in Becky and she comes through in a crucial moment in the movie. (Note that “loon” is a bird but is also slang for someone who is mentally ill.)

One of Nemo’s fins is smaller than the other. It doesn’t slow him down. In this film as well as in Finding Nemo, Nemo journeys across the ocean and helps his friends out of numerous scrapes.

Marlin, Nemo’s father, struggles with anxiety related to parenthood1 after he lost his mate and all but one of his children in a terrible accident. In Finding Nemo, that anxiety fuels him as he searches an entire ocean for his missing son, but at a crucial moment he also realizes that it’s damaging his relationship with his son and holding him back. In this movie, he comes to accept Dory and her full abilities and, with the help of his son, is able to put himself in her shoes — “What would Dory do?” — to make a timely escape.

Destiny is a nearsighted whale shark who nevertheless has a keen ability to help people find their way using her superior verbal communication skills. With the help and encouragement of friends, she is able to escape her tank and help rescue her friend Dory.

Bailey is a beluga whale who temporarily loses his echolocation and struggles with a lack of confidence. With their friends in need, Destiny encourages Bailey to rediscover his ability to help. (Basically, Bailey and Destiny help each other “see” in different ways.)

Jenny and Charlie are Dory’s parents. When Dory was young, they taught her to face her disability head-on and spent countless hours providing her with the encouragement and skills that she needed to become self-sufficient. And after Dory disappeared, they escaped to the ocean, built an elaborate display designed to help Dory find her way back to them, and waited years for her to return.

And Dory, the hero of the story, has short-term memory loss. Her inability to remember things for more than a minute or two has equipped her with a fierce sense of loyalty for her friends & family, a canny impulse for action when they are in need, and an infectious enthusiasm. Again and again, she acts when something needs to be done without the burden of past or future holding her back. In the end, with the help of Nemo and Marlin, she comes to see that her disability is a great strength and uses it to save her friends and find her parents.

Yeah, Pixar makes movies for children that are fun and full of gags & engaging characters. But time and again, from The Incredibles to Wall-E to Ratatouille to Inside Out, Pixar challenges audiences of all ages with larger themes relevant to society at large. If you missed it the first time around or just left your kids to watch it alone, I encourage you to give Finding Dory a chance. Bona fide blockbuster movies 1 that deal intelligently and with care about marginalized issues like disability are hard to come by.

  1. I relate so much to Marlin in this respect that it makes me uncomfortable. Finding Nemo was my favorite Pixar film for a long while and watching it now, after becoming a parent in the meantime, it resonates in an entirely different way.

  2. Finding Dory grossed more than $1 billion worldwide in 2016, second only to Captain America: Civil War for highest worldwide gross. The movie is currently 8th on the all-time domestic grosses list, the highest entry for an animated film.

Harrowing illegal abortion stories from before Roe v. Wade

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 21, 2017

Before the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision in 1973, most women seeking abortions in the US had to get them illegally. Illegal abortions were often unsafe & painful, and many women died, were injured, or were sexually assaulted by the men performing the procedures. In this video, three women who had abortions before 1973 and a woman who worked at a Brooklyn hospital in that era described their experiences.

“He said, ‘I’m not going to give you any anesthetic’ and he said ‘If you scream, they will hear you.’”

That’s how Connie described the illegal abortion she received in 1953 when she was 16 years old. Now a retired teacher, mother and grandmother, Connie said that after she received the abortion, the man who performed the procedure proceeded to sexually assault her as she lay bleeding on the table.

NASA has found 7 Earth-like planets orbiting a single nearby star

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 22, 2017

Trappist 1

Today NASA announced the discovery of seven planets “that could harbor life” around a dwarf star called Trappist-1.

The planets orbit a dwarf star named Trappist-1, about 40 light years, or about 235 trillion miles, from Earth. That is quite close, and by happy accident, the orientation of the orbits of the seven planets allows them to be studied in great detail.

One or more of the exoplanets - planets around stars other than the sun - in this new system could be at the right temperature to be awash in oceans of water, astronomers said, based on the distance of the planets from the dwarf star.

“This is the first time so many planets of this kind are found around the same star,” said Michael Gillon, an astronomer at the University of Liege in Belgium and the leader of an international team that has been observing Trappist-1.

Here’s the paper published in Nature.