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The internet is an all-in-one machine

posted by Tim Carmody   Apr 17, 2017

Kevin Kelly’s helped me make sense of the internet for as long as I can remember. One of his best blog posts, from 2008, is “Better Than Free.”

The internet is a copy machine. At its most foundational level, it copies every action, every character, every thought we make while we ride upon it. In order to send a message from one corner of the internet to another, the protocols of communication demand that the whole message be copied along the way several times. IT companies make a lot of money selling equipment that facilitates this ceaseless copying. Every bit of data ever produced on any computer is copied somewhere. The digital economy is thus run on a river of copies. Unlike the mass-produced reproductions of the machine age, these copies are not just cheap, they are free…

When copies are super abundant, they become worthless.

When copies are super abundant, stuff which can’t be copied becomes scarce and valuable.

When copies are free, you need to sell things which can not be copied.

Well, what can’t be copied?

Kelly suggests eight “generative” values that can’t be easily copied by the internet: Immediacy, Personalization, Interpretation, Authenticity, Accessibility, Embodiment,
Patronage, and Findability. This list holds up pretty well: digital tech has handled some of these things better than others (we can get our digital files from the cloud almost anywhere; embodiment is still mostly analog). And most of these things we do pay for, if only in the form of being locked in to one company’s ecosystem that manages these things for us. It also ties in clearly to 1000 True Fans and other essays of Kelly’s that have turned out to be prescient and/or influential.

But is the internet really best characterized as a copy machine? This has always bothered me. Unlimited free copies of digital objects proliferating everywhere is a problem because of the internet. But the other things that the internet does pose thorny problems too.

It wouldn’t be wrong to say that “the internet is a fax machine.” Most of what we do on the internet is zip digital documents back and forth from one machine to the other. It would be nice to think of that process as simply copying. But we need channels and tubes and signals and protocols to move those docs back and forth, and all of that we pay for. And at a more abstract level, we need distribution channels so the docs reach who they’re supposed to. TCP/IP is a distribution channel, but so are Facebook and Google and Snapchat and Twitter. Somebody ends up paying for all of them.

The other two parts of the all-in-one machine are more complicated. If we’re just copying things backwards and forwards, we never add anything new. And if you look at a lot of internet media, it’s mostly just recycled content from some other part of the internet. A Reddit thread becomes a Twitter meme becomes a web story becomes a TV story, which becomes 20 web stories. Copying is getting pretty tired. We need to do more scanning — literally and figuratively. We need to think harder about how to make the offline and online worlds meet. The internet companies spending real money right now are spending it on this problem.

Printing is just the other side of the same thing. How can we translate online activity to offline action? Or, even if it stays digital, how do we produce a work that people can recognized as a finished object? How can we move a digital thing from one physical experience to another? If we used to print digital documents or photos from our PCs to get a better look at them, maybe now we move videos and games from our smartphones to bigger screens in our offices and living rooms. It’s still the same kind of process, and we need to solve similar kinds of problems to the ones when we were first figuring out how to establish a WYSIWYG relationship between software and a printed page. All of that takes work, and all of that takes money.

In other words, we don’t pay for the copies — we pay for the toner. Same as it ever was.

The work of photographer Jacques Henri Lartigue

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 24, 2017

Jacques Henri Lartigue

Jacques Henri Lartigue

Born into wealth, Jacques Henri Lartigue got his first camera at age seven and began documenting the world around him: his friends and family at play in the world. His work presaged the “prolonged adolescence” of the “leisure class” readily on display on Instagram these days.

Taking pictures gave Lartigue a hobby and a purpose. His immediate surroundings and leisure class milieu provided the subject matter and Lartigue, a native user, wielded his camera with technical mastery almost from the beginning. He also brought a child’s whimsy to photography’s staid practice of posing and composing. Lartigue had a low vantage, a wandering eye, and a loose frame that was far ahead of his time. He also had the resources and time to experiment. Lartigue continued photographing prolifically into his teens and early adulthood, finding muses in his wives and mistresses and the diversions of prolonged adolescence.

Lartigue’s photography was an influence on director Wes Anderson, particularly in Rushmore and The Life Aquatic. If you can’t see Rushmore’s Max Fischer in the top photo of the homemade go-kart, you certainly can in this one:

Jacques Henri Lartigue

And the kid in the tire boat in the other photo? That is Lartigue’s older brother, Maurice. Everyone called him Zissou. (Curiously, none of this is in The Wes Anderson Collection. Come on! The photo of Zissou’s mentor Lord Mandrake in The Life Aquatic? That’s a self portrait of Jacques Henri Lartigue!)

Is the Great Barrier Reef dead?

posted by Jason Kottke   May 23, 2017

Due to the unprecedented bleaching events over the past few years, the Great Barrier Reef has been eulogized extensively in the media. But it’s not actually dead. Yet. In this video for Vox, Joss Fong explains how corals form, bleach, and die and how our response to climate change might be the only thing that can save the Great Barrier Reef and the world’s other coral reefs from death.

10 ways to have a better conversation

posted by Jason Kottke   May 30, 2017

Celeste Headlee is an expert in talking to people. As part of her job as a public radio host and interviewer, she talks to hundreds of people each year, teasing from her guests what makes them interesting. At a TEDx conference two years ago, Headlee shared 10 tips for having a better conversations that work for anyone:

1. Don’t multitask.
2. Don’t pontificate.
3. Use open-ended questions.
4. Go with the flow.
5. If you don’t know, say that you don’t know.
6. Don’t equate your experience with theirs.
7. Try not to repeat yourself.
8. Stay out of the weeds.
9. Listen.
10. Be brief.

Watch the video for the explanations of each point. I’m pretty good on 1, 5, & 7 while I struggle with 3, 4, and sometimes 6. 9 is a constant struggle and depends on how much I’ve talked with other people recently. (via swissmiss)

Update: From the WSJ, Save Yourself From Tedious Small Talk.

Much of our day-to-day talk is a missed opportunity. The ability to draw others into meaningful conversations can determine whether people want to get to know you, or remember you at all. Failure to learn it can stall your career.

Vanessa Van Edwards had been attending networking events for several years during and after college when she realized she was having the same conversation again and again. “It went like this: So what do you do? Yeah. Where are you from. Yeah, yeah, been there. Do you live around here? Well, I’d better go get another glass of wine,” says Ms. Van Edwards, a Portland, Ore., corporate trainer and author of “Captivate,” a new book on social skills.

She started trying conversation-openers that jarred people a bit, in a pleasant way: “Have you been working on anything exciting recently?” Or, “Any exciting plans this summer?”

“If I’m feeling very brave, I ask, ‘What personal passion projects are you working on?’” Ms. Van Edwards says. She began making contacts who followed up more often.

Dronescapes: beautiful photography from drones

posted by Jason Kottke   May 26, 2017

Dronescapes

Dronescapes

Dronescapes

Dronescapes is an art book of some of the most visually arresting drone photography collected from Dronestagram.

Readers will see the planet from entirely new vantage points, whether it’s a bird’s-eye view of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, a photograph taken inches away from an eagle in midflight, or a vertiginous shot taken above Mexico’s Tamul Waterfalls. There are extended commentaries on how individual images were created and a separate, concise guide containing technical advice on how to use a drone and select the right model.

God knows we can all use a shot of the mini-overview effect right now.

Incredible low-light camera turns night into day

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 07, 2017

The X27 camera takes videos in darkness that looks like they were shot in the daytime. And they’re in color…none of this black and white, thermal, or infrared stuff. The camera was developed for military use, has an effective ISO rating of 5,000,000, and has a comically long name: “X27 Reconnaissance Day/Night high Fidelity true real time low light/low lux color night vision Imaging Security / Multi Purpose camera system”. Pricing information is not available, but I bet you’re paying for every single one of those words. (via digg)

The web’s most useful tools and sites

posted by Tim Carmody   Apr 19, 2017

The World Wide Web isn’t all fun and games. This isn’t television! This isn’t an arcade! This is computing! We’ve got high-powered work machines tuned into this thing! With keyboards and mice and productivity software and everything!

These are the most useful tools and sites on the web, as nominated by the readers of Kottke.org:

WORDS
Thesaurus.com
Linguee
Online Etymology Dictionary (three different people suggested this! which suggests to me that y’all are my kind of people)
Green’s Dictionary of Slang
Behind the Name (which is a baby name site I think?)
Wiktionary
OneLook

TIME AND WEATHER
Time.is
Time and Date
Weather Underground
ABC 13 Southeast Texas Weather (from a reader who lives in Houston)
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (this site is very cool)

KNOWLEDGE REPOSITORIES
Baseball Reference
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Wikimedia Commons
Wikipedia
Old Maps Online
Internet Archive/Wayback Machine
BOOOOOOOM

CONTENT DISCOVERY
Digg
Nowness
Metafilter
Kottke (you’re already here)
Can I Stream It?
TV Muse

CODING AND DESIGN STUFF
Tampermonkey
Stack Overflow
CopyPasteCharacter
Cool Tools
0 to 255
Wordmark.it
Random Password Generator
Google Fusion Tables

SAVE IT FOR LATER
Pocket
Ffffound!
FutureMe.org (write a letter to yourself in the future)

SOLVING UNUSUAL PROBLEMS
This to That (Glue Advice)
Soapcalc (Making soap)
waifu2x (Anime character generator)
Random Oblique Strategies Online

BROWSER EXTENSIONS
Shut Up (hides comments)
OneTab (collapses all your browser tabs into a sortable, exportable list)

SEARCH ENGINES
Google, Craigslist, DuckDuckGo, the usual crap

A lot of you seem like you have really cool jobs.

(A special thank you to Google Forms for making this possible.)

NASA’s new nighttime map of the entire Earth

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 13, 2017

Night Map Earth 2017

Night Map Earth 2017

For the first time since 2012, NASA has released a new map of the entire Earth at night. Of course, you don’t see the Earth so much as the activity of humans in well-lit cities.

Today they are releasing a new global composite map of night lights as observed in 2016, as well as a revised version of the 2012 map. The NASA group has examined the different ways that light is radiated, scattered and reflected by land, atmospheric and ocean surfaces. The principal challenge in nighttime satellite imaging is accounting for the phases of the moon, which constantly varies the amount of light shining on Earth, though in predictable ways. Likewise, seasonal vegetation, clouds, aerosols, snow and ice cover, and even faint atmospheric emissions (such as airglow and auroras) change the way light is observed in different parts of the world. The new maps were produced with data from all months of each year. The team wrote code that picked the clearest night views each month, ultimately combining moonlight-free and moonlight-corrected data.

Scientists are planning on providing “daily, high-definition views of Earth at night” starting later this year. It’s worth clicking through to play with the interactive India map…it’s astounding to see how much light the country has added in the past 5 years. And see if you can spot North Korea at night:

Night Map Earth 2017 03

Barely…just a tiny dot for Pyongyang. You can play around with a fully zoomable version of the entire map here. (via @JamesJM)

A world map for fossil finds

posted by Jason Kottke   May 12, 2017

Fossil World Map

The Paleobiology Database Navigator is a world map that shows where hundreds of thousands of fossils have been found. The data is maintained by an international group of paleontologists and you can filter the map by type of fossil and when it was found. There’s even a toggle to flip back and forth between the current placement of the continents and much earlier Pangea-like configurations. (via @srikardr)

The birthplace of soy sauce

posted by Jason Kottke   May 11, 2017

The small coastal Japanese town of Yuasa is known as the birthplace of soy sauce. Fermented sauces made using soybeans had been around for centuries in China, but a Buddhist monk who settled in Japan in the 13th century started making soy sauce “as we know it”.

Using the abundance of clear, spring water from the town of Yuasa he began producing a type of miso that he had learned about on his travels that had been used to preserve vegetables. A byproduct from this process — a liquid that collected in the barrels of the miso paste — was soy sauce.

More than 750 years later, factories in Yuasa still produce soy sauce using traditional methods.

A Continuous Shape

posted by Jason Kottke   May 22, 2017

Watch stone carver Anna Rubincam as she goes from measuring a live person (essentially creating a geometric model of their face) to a clay model to a finished stone portrait in three weeks.

On a human face, even though there’s a change in pigment, there’s no end. Like, you come to the end of the lips and it just carries on going. And if you try and make it a stark difference, then the face will look strange. The skin is sort of a continuous surface that undulates and has tension in certain places and slack in other places.

I got so anxious watching her carving the stone piece from the clay model. One false move and… *bites nails* More about how the film was made. (via digg)

A Time Capsule for the World Wide Web

posted by Tim Carmody   Apr 17, 2017

Ray - Platinum Reserve.png

There’s an Achewood comic that I love where Ray, one of the strip’s deeply flawed but endearing animal protagonists, frustrated with browsing eBay, types “WHAT’S THE BEST THING YOU GOT” into the search bar. This unlocks a special store called “eBay Platinum Reserve,” where Ray can buy items like “The Biggest Laser,” a real Airwolf helicopter, and Keith Moon’s head in a jar. Ray immediately buys Moon’s head and Airwolf, and the laser… well, eleven years later, like Chekhov’s proverbial pistol, it’s never been fired.

Sometimes I wish the internet worked like eBay Platinum Reserve, turning up the best stuff without us having to look for it. But for all that search engines, social media, and even artificial intelligence have given us over all these years, the closest thing we have to Platinum Reserve are still blogs like Kottke.org. Somebody still has to go out, concierge-style, to find the best stuff on the web and serve it up.

More than ever, what the web serves up on its own is the very worst things that have just happened. It’s an active shooter livestreaming a snuff film on Facebook — or something not as bad, but not much better.

And hey, focusing on very recent, very bad news makes a lot of sense. If there are awful things happening right now, I want to know about them. If some overpaid someone wrote something stupid and everyone I know is slamming it on Twitter, I want to get in on it. We’re only human.

But sometimes, I wonder, with all the abundance and ephemerality of the web, whether we indulge the opposite impulse enough. I don’t mean sharing more new things that are funny, or heartwarming, or relatable. I mean going out and finding or rediscovering the things that are The Very Best We Have to Offer, gathering them together, and saving them, forever.

This week, I am proposing an experiment. I am asking you — all of you: readers of Kottke.org, my friends, my colleagues, my strangers, my citizens of the World Wide Web, people who have known the grandeur of the best webcomics, the best YouTube videos, the best memes, the best stories and articles and entire blogs and games and nonsense with which we entertain and edify ourselves every day — I am asking you:

WHAT’S THE BEST THING YOU GOT

We’re going to find the best things in the history of the internet, and gather them here, together, forever. And never to part. Find me on Twitter at @kottke or at @tcarmody and tell me what you want to show your children and grandchildren; what you want to show the aliens when they arrive; what you showed your partner when you couldn’t believe they’d never seen it. Tell me what made your jaw drop open in awe like Ray’s when he saw Airwolf.

Imagine we’re making the world’s greatest time capsule, or the world’s greatest mixtape, of everything on the web. Tell me what’s worth saving. And then we will save them all. Here. Together.

Update: Twitter turned out to be the wrong way to handle this, so I created a Google questionnaire that could better manage suggestions. It also lets me ask a few more focused questions, like “what’s the funniest story you’ve read on the web?” or “what’s the best animal thing you’ve ever seen on here?” It also, importantly, allows me to ask for the URL of the thing of you’re talking about. So please, if you have the time, I’d love your help.

A history of tea, the second most-consumed beverage in the world

posted by Jason Kottke   May 19, 2017

From TED-ed and tea expert Shunan Teng, a short video on the history of tea, from its invention in China to its role in globalization.

Our history of tea begins with the legend of the “divine famer” Shen Nong who is credited in many ancient Chinese texts with various agricultural accomplishments. However, some scholars of ancient China now believe Shen Nong might in fact originally have referred to a group of people, living within China and utilizing particularly advanced agricultural techniques for the era. Over time this people’s knowledge of farming was canonized in the form of legends about a divine farmer who shared their name, and whose fame ultimately eclipsed their own.

The writers strike and the rise of Trump

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 25, 2017

The members of the two large writing guilds representing more than 12,000 Hollywood writers recently voted to strike.

Leaders of the Writers Guild of America, East, and the Writers Guild of America, West, announced the results of an online strike authorization vote in an email to members. The unions said that 6,310 eligible members voted; 96 percent of the vote was in favor of a strike.

A three-year contract between the guilds and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents the makers of films and TV series, expires at midnight on May 1. Negotiators were set to resume talks on Tuesday, with funding of a failing union health care plan a sticking point.

Last time there was a writers strike in 2007, networks moved to replace their scripted shows with reality programs, including the resurrection of a fading reality show called The Apprentice.

During the last work stoppage, CBS ordered additional seasons of its flagship reality competition shows to fill airtime. And then there’s NBC.

Trump’s “The Apprentice” had been removed from the network’s lineup amid low ratings. But a new programming chief came aboard in 2007, and the network decided to revive the competition show, but with a twist. And when the writers’ strike meant no more new episodes of “The Office” and “Scrubs,” NBC replaced the Thursday night shows in 2008 with “The Celebrity Apprentice.”

That’s a curious butterfly effect. The writers strike made room for The Celebrity Apprentice on TV. The Celebrity Apprentice gave Trump seven more seasons of primetime TV visibility. Trump parlayed that visibility into the highest political office in the land.

The Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood Marathon on Twitch

posted by Jason Kottke   May 16, 2017

Streaming video site Twitch is currently showing all 886 episodes of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood as a PBS fundraiser.

The Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood Marathon features the most comprehensive collection of episodes available, including many that only aired once and are unavailable elsewhere online. We will be playing the episodes back to back starting at 12PM Pacific on May 15th.

I really wish Mr. Rogers were here right now. He’d know what to do.

Who is the last Jedi? What is the phantom menace?

posted by Jason Kottke   May 31, 2017

Vanity Fair’s David Kamp recently tried to get Kathleen Kennedy and Rian Johnson to tell him the meaning behind The Last Jedi, the title of the upcoming Star Wars movie. LOL. Hopeless move, right? Why would he even ask such a question? Oh, because George Lucas told him who the The Phantom Menace referred to before that movie came out.

Vanity Fair: So, do we know what the words The Last Jedi allude to?

Kathleen Kennedy: Why in the world do you think I would tell you that?

VF: I’ll tell you why. Back in 1998, I interviewed George Lucas for V.F. ahead of The Phantom Menace, and I asked, “Who or what is the phantom menace?” And he nonchalantly said, “Oh, it’s Darth Sidious.”

KK: Did he really?

VF: Just like that.

KK: I’m not going to do that.

VF: So, does the word “Jedi” work in the singular or the plural?

KK: That’s actually what’s interesting about the title, and very intentionally ambiguous.

VF: As you’re being right now.

KK: Yes.

Here’s the relevant passage from a piece written by Kamp and published in 1999:

Given that The Phantom Menace is a Vader- and Emperor-free movie, the role of evil string-puller falls to someone we’ve never heard of. “The phantom menace is a character named Darth Sidious,” Lucas says, “who is the last of the Sith” (“An ancient people… conquered by powerful dark-side Jedi magic”-page 268, Star Wars Encyclopedia, by Stephen J. Sansweet). Actually, Lucas goes on to explain, the “menace” honorific should be broadened to include Sidious’s apprentice, Darth Maul, a terrifyingly fierce-looking character played by the martial-arts expert Ray Park. Maul gets to fight a lightsaber battle with Obi-Wan, but Sidious remains a shadowy figure. “Nobody knows Darth Sidious exists,” says Lucas. “Well, he’s seen to the audience, but not to the players.”

Lucas appears to be firmly in the spoilers are fine camp.

Studying climate change with small self-contained ecosystems

posted by Jason Kottke   May 17, 2017

Carl Zimmer reports that a team of Australian scientists have developed a useful way of studying the effects of climate change: they’re building small-scale ocean ecosystems in the lab and manipulating different variables and studying the outcomes. The approach is a middle-of-the-road effort to minimize the number of variables typically present in a real-world ecosystem like a coral reef while having the habitats be large enough to observe the effects they’re looking for without oversimplifying.

To test the effects of climate change, Dr. Nagelkerken and his colleagues manipulated the water in the pools. In three of them, the researchers raised the temperature 5 degrees - a conservative projection of how warm water off the coast of South Australia will get.

The scientists also studied the effect of the carbon dioxide that is raising the planet’s temperature.

The gas is dissolving into the oceans, making them more acidic and potentially causing harm to marine animals and plants. Yet the extra carbon dioxide can be used by algae to carry out more photosynthesis.

To measure the overall impact, Dr. Nagelkerken and his colleagues pumped the gas into three of the pools, keeping them at today’s ocean temperatures.

In three others, the researchers made both changes, heating up the water and pumping in carbon dioxide. The scientists left the remaining three pools unaltered, to serve as a baseline for measuring changes in the other nine pools.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 01, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teaser trailer for Star Wars: The Last Jedi

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 14, 2017

YAAAAAAAAAAAASSSSSSSS. I will never not be excited for more Star Wars and I don’t care what this says about me as a person.

Bill Gates’ book recommendations for summer 2017

posted by Jason Kottke   May 26, 2017

Just as he did last year, Bill Gates has recommended five books for people to read this summer. Among the picks:

The Heart by Maylis de Kerangal. Gates, who usually reads nonfiction, says:

While you’ll find this book in the fiction section at your local bookstore, what de Kerangal has done here in this exploration of grief is closer to poetry than anything else. At its most basic level, she tells the story of a heart transplant: a young man is killed in an accident, and his parents decide to donate his heart. But the plot is secondary to the strength of its words and characters.

A Full Life by Jimmy Carter. Gates:

Even though the former President has already written more than two dozen books, he somehow managed to save some great anecdotes for this quick, condensed tour of his fascinating life. I loved reading about Carter’s improbable rise to the world’s highest office.

Last year, I took Gates’ advice and read Seveneves by Neal Stephenson, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Seinfeld-sourced paper gets into “legit” science journal

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 26, 2017

John McCool suspected that a scientific journal called the Urology & Nephrology Open Access Journal was essentially a pay-to-publish journal with a flimsy peer-review process. So he wrote a paper based on a bogus medical condition made up for an episode of Seinfeld and submitted it to them.

This was inspired by the classic 1991 episode “The Parking Garage,” where the gang can’t find their car in a mall parking garage. Eventually, Jerry has to urinate; he goes against a garage wall and gets busted by a security guard; and he tries to get out of it by claiming that he suffers from a disease called “uromycitisis” and could die if he doesn’t relieve himself whenever and wherever he needs to.

I went all out. I wrote it as Dr. Martin van Nostrand, Kramer’s physician alter ego, and coauthored by Jay Reimenschneider (Kramer’s friend who eats horse meat) and Leonard “Len” Nicodemo (another of Kramer’s friends, who once had gout). I included fake references to articles written by the likes of Costanza GL, Pennypacker HE, and Peterman J. I created a fake institution where the authors worked: the Arthur Vandelay Urological Research Institute. In the Acknowledgements section, I thanked people such as Tor Eckman, the bizarre holistic healer from “The Heart Attack” episode, giving him a “Doctor of Holistic Medicine (HMD)” degree.

The Arthur Vandelay Urological Research Institute!! That’s some top-shelf trolling right there. If you read the full paper, you’ll also see references to Steinbrenner and Lloyd Braun. Of course the journal accepted and published it:

The journal was excited to receive this “quality” and “very interesting” case report. A mere 33 minutes after receiving it, a representative notified “Dr. van Nostrand” that it had been sent out for peer review (a process the journal’s website touts as “rigorous”). Three days later, reviewer comments were returned to me, and I was asked to make a few minor changes, including adding lab test results from when the patient was in the emergency room. I made these up, too, and promptly resubmitted the revised case report. Soon after, it was officially accepted for publication.

The publication eventually figured out it had been pranked and had a quick back-and-forth with McCool about it.

The hand-painted background scenes of the original Star Wars trilogy

posted by Jason Kottke   May 01, 2017

Star Wars Matte Art

Star Wars Matte Art

Star Wars Matte Art

Back in the 70s and 80s, before photorealistic computer graphics became commonplace, elaborate background sets in movies were hand-painted. Sploid’s Jesus Diaz took at look at the background art featured in the original Star Wars trilogy and the artists who painted them.

Matte paintings are fake sets that-most of the times-used to be made with plexiglass and oil paint. The artists used oversized panels to create the necessary detail that the camera needed to fool the audiences when the film was projected over the large surface of the theater screen. The paintings were combined with live action filmed to match the perspective of the painting. If done well, the public would totally buy into the shot.

Robert Bechtle has nothing on these guys. Bonus painting: the warehouse scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Star Wars Matte Art

They had to use a painting because the filmmakers were unaware of Ikea at the time.

The meeting that never happened

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 28, 2017

IDAC is an entertaining short film by Casimir Nozkowski that explores the social mores of the awkward youth and, after a twist in the story, the malleability of memory.

When I was leaving for college, my aunt Dana told me I had a cousin I’d never met who was matriculating in the same year as me. We shared classes and had friends in common but for some strange reason I never introduced myself. All during college, and then into the real world, through a decade of overlapping connections, we never met. This film is an examination of that hesitation and an attempt to understand why I never made the easiest connection in the world… until it was too late.

Marvelous and super-detailed visualizations of the complex structure of the human brain

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 11, 2017

Self Reflected Brain

Self Reflected Brain

Self Reflected is a project by a pair of artist/scientists that aims to visualize the inner workings of the human brain.

Dr. Greg Dunn (artist and neuroscientist) and Dr. Brian Edwards (artist and applied physicist) created Self Reflected to elucidate the nature of human consciousness, bridging the connection between the mysterious three pound macroscopic brain and the microscopic behavior of neurons. Self Reflected offers an unprecedented insight of the brain into itself, revealing through a technique called reflective microetching the enormous scope of beautiful and delicately balanced neural choreographies designed to reflect what is occurring in our own minds as we observe this work of art. Self Reflected was created to remind us that the most marvelous machine in the known universe is at the core of our being and is the root of our shared humanity.

It’s important to emphasize that these images are not brain scans…they are artistic representations of neural pathways and other structures in the brain.

Self Reflected was designed to be a highly accurate representation of a slice of the brain and is informed by deep neuroscience research to allow it to function as a reliable educational tool as well as a work of art.

Minecraft in real life

posted by Jason Kottke   May 05, 2017

Real Life Minecraft

Real Life Minecraft

Real Life Minecraft

Aditya Aryanto took a bunch of animal photos and, using Photoshop, turned them into cubic Minecraft animals. (via colossal)

How can we save the digital pieces of our hybrid lives?

posted by Tim Carmody   Apr 20, 2017

My friend Brian McCullough is an internet historian and podcaster. In this blog post, he takes my idea of a time capsule for the World Wide Web containing the best examples in different forms and flips it on its head.

When I go to Google Maps and look up my old block, if I go to street view, I can see what feels like a nostalgia miracle now: a picture of me and my now-deceased dog walking into Prospect Park, like we did a thousand times. I remember the day it happened. Noticing the Google Street View car just as it passed us. Wondering if it captured us.

It felt like a lark at the time. Now it feels powerfully meaningful. Proof, somehow, in the vast historical Matrix of the Internet, that Winston was my dog. And we went for walks in the park in the afternoon. And he was a good dog. And they were GOOD, those walks. I miss those walks.

We all know that, more and more, Internet life IS real life. The important, consequential, meaningful things that happen to us increasingly have a digital record; and that’s if they haven’t, in fact, ACTUALLY happened online! So you, reading this right now, probably have 3-4 things that are treasured heirlooms from your digital life that you would save from a digital fire.

And he ends it with this amended version of the time capsule challenge:

Ask your readers to submit some of the most profound, history-changing, this-is-when-my-life-changed PERSONAL moments that are on the web. That upload. That status update. That selfie. The digital, “personal effects,” as it were, that they would save from a fire.

And this is true. If your house was on fire, you wouldn’t save your copy of the collected works of Shakespeare. (Maybe if, for some reason, you have a copy of the First Folio in your house.) You’d save your printed photo albums. You’d save your phone and laptop, the devices that (even if they’re backed up to the cloud) hold the irreplaceable pieces of your life.

It reminds me of this old episode of Radiolab, where Ann Druyan talks about recording the Voyager Golden Record. Along with Mozart and Bach and Chuck Berry, and audio recordings of the major human languages, it includes a recording of her brainwaves, right at the time that she and Carl Sagan were falling in love.

The difficulty, as Brian points out, is that so much (not so little) of our personal data is recorded and stored forever, and stored in huge data silos where we have little access to it, and few ways to curate and preserve it and pass it on ourselves.

I don’t have a solution, to either problem. I know that both problems are at a new scale, even for the World Wide Web. When we first began to blog and scan and document our lives, we weren’t quite capable of imagining how different the collection, storage, and recall of data were going to become. It’s like moving from (slow) Newtonian to (fast) non-Newtonian speeds: the regular laws of physics no longer apply.

And this means that the regular laws of history no longer apply, either. We might have relatively limited insight into individual lives or works, no matter how noteworthy those individuals might be, compared to the massive databanks of all lives and all information sources stored by Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Apple. If only we could get our hands on it.

A touching Star Wars video tribute to Carrie Fisher

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 14, 2017

Next month is the 40th anniversary of the release of Star Wars and at Star Wars Celebration this year, there was a 40 Years of Star Wars panel with George Lucas, Mark Hamill, Billy Dee Williams, and Harrison Ford. At the end of the panel, after some personal thoughts from Lucas and the other panelists about Carrie Fisher, they played this video tribute to Fisher.

Snowflakes

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 02, 2017

And now, a poem from my daughter.

Minna Snowflakes

To play
play
Play

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

Have a good weekend, everyone.

Bowler rolls a perfect 300 game in just 90 seconds

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 25, 2017

My top bowling score is probably 1381 and took more than an hour because there were 6 people using the same lane and no one was really paying that much attention to anything other than conversation and chicken wings. This guy, using all the lanes in the alley, rolled a 300 in just under 90 seconds. With two hands…I’ve never seen that before. And I love the way he scampers from lane to lane.

  1. Or somewhere in the high 200s if you count Wii bowling. I don’t think I ever scored a perfect 300 on the Wii.

A brief history of America’s shameful inaction on climate change

posted by Jason Kottke   May 31, 2017

This is the most depressing video I have seen in a long time. The premise is devastating in its simplicity: a collection of clips of news programs and politicians (mostly Republicans) talking about climate change next to a pair of charts showing rising global temperatures and falling Arctic sea ice coverage.

I found it striking that before the 2008 election of Obama and (especially) the 2010 midterm election that resulted in a Republican majority in the House, Republican politicians spoke clearly and publicly that climate change was happening and that something needed to be done about it. And now? Republicans deny climate change is happening and Trump is on the verge of pulling the US out of the Paris Agreement.

Update: See also How G.O.P. Leaders Came to View Climate Change as Fake Science.

Those divisions did not happen by themselves. Republican lawmakers were moved along by a campaign carefully crafted by fossil fuel industry players, most notably Charles D. and David H. Koch, the Kansas-based billionaires who run a chain of refineries (which can process 600,000 barrels of crude oil per day) as well as a subsidiary that owns or operates 4,000 miles of pipelines that move crude oil.

Government rules intended to slow climate change are “making people’s lives worse rather than better,” Charles Koch explained in a rare interview last year with Fortune, arguing that despite the costs, these efforts would make “very little difference in the future on what the temperature or the weather will be.”

History, I hope, will not be kind to the Koch brothers. The ruin they have brought upon America for their own personal gain will be felt for decades.

The absurd precision involved in detecting gravitational waves

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 27, 2017

Back in September 2015, the LIGO experiment detected gravitational waves formed 1.3 billion years ago when two black holes merged into one. The physics is pretty straightforward but to get the measurement, scientists had to build one of the most sensitive machines ever built. How sensitive? To get an accurate result, they needed to measure a distance of 4km with an accuracy of 1/10000th the width of a proton. This video from Veritasium looks at how the scientists and engineers accomplished such an amazing feat.

Insecurity questions for password recovery

posted by Jason Kottke   May 10, 2017

Insecurity Questions

Insecurity Questions

Liana Finck came up with a list of password recovery questions that will remind you of your insecurities. Check out Finck’s Instagram for more of her acerbic and anxious drawings.

Why the mayor of New Orleans had Confederate statues torn down

posted by Jason Kottke   May 23, 2017

New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu recently gave a speech about why the city chose to remove four Confederate monuments. Here’s a snippet from the transcript…it’s worth reading or watching in full.

The historic record is clear: the Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and P.G.T. Beauregard statues were not erected just to honor these men, but as part of the movement which became known as The Cult of the Lost Cause. This ‘cult’ had one goal — through monuments and through other means — to rewrite history to hide the truth, which is that the Confederacy was on the wrong side of humanity.

First erected over 166 years after the founding of our city and 19 years after the end of the Civil War, the monuments that we took down were meant to rebrand the history of our city and the ideals of a defeated Confederacy.

It is self-evident that these men did not fight for the United States of America, They fought against it. They may have been warriors, but in this cause they were not patriots.

These statues are not just stone and metal. They are not just innocent remembrances of a benign history. These monuments purposefully celebrate a fictional, sanitized Confederacy; ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement, and the terror that it actually stood for.

After the Civil War, these statues were a part of that terrorism as much as a burning cross on someone’s lawn; they were erected purposefully to send a strong message to all who walked in their shadows about who was still in charge in this city.

The presence of the monuments became something that was impossible for Landrieu and the city to ignore for any longer:

Another friend asked me to consider these four monuments from the perspective of an African American mother or father trying to explain to their fifth grade daughter who Robert E. Lee is and why he stands atop of our beautiful city. Can you do it?

Can you look into that young girl’s eyes and convince her that Robert E. Lee is there to encourage her? Do you think she will feel inspired and hopeful by that story? Do these monuments help her see a future with limitless potential? Have you ever thought that if her potential is limited, yours and mine are too?

Logan Lucky

posted by Jason Kottke   May 30, 2017

He said he was retired from making movies, but Steven Soderbergh is back with a new movie called Lucky Logan. It’s a heist movie that looks like a cross between Ocean’s 11, Talladega Nights, and O Brother, Where Art Thou? Cast? I mean: Adam Driver, Hilary Swank, Daniel Craig, Riley Keough, Katie Holmes, and Channing Tatum. Soderbergh describes the film like so:

On the most obvious level, it’s the complete inversion of an Ocean’s movie. It’s an anti-glam version of an Ocean’s movie. Nobody dresses nice. Nobody has nice stuff. They have no money. They have no technology. It’s all rubber band technology, and that’s what I thought was fun about it. It seemed familiar to me, but different enough. The landscape, the characters, and the canvass were the complete opposite of an Ocean’s film. What was weird is that I was working as a producer on Ocean’s Eight while we were shooting Logan, and it was kind of head-spinning. That’s like a proper Ocean’s film. This is a version of an Ocean’s movie that’s up on cement blocks in your front yard.

Between this and Baby Driver, it looks like we’re all set with crazy car capers for Summer 2017.

The Art of Slamming Paper Against Metal

posted by Jason Kottke   May 25, 2017

A short vignette of Bowne & Co. Stationers at Manhattan’s South Street Seaport, an old-school letterpress printing shop. I love the description of printing as “dancing with the machine”. My pals at Swayspace — who have printed a couple of jobs for me over the years, including this watercolor map of Paris — taught me how to use one of their presses many years ago and there’s definitely a rhythm to it that takes awhile to master. I’m just glad I still have all my fingers.

The best tweets ever (nominated by Kottke readers)

posted by Tim Carmody   Apr 18, 2017

failwhale.jpg

Twitter, in principle, could have been invented at any point in the history of the internet. A big networked message board with an upper limit of 140 characters? It sounds like something a resource-conserving developer would have invented before web browsers existed. A few hundred people would have used it, and it would have been legendary. Maybe a few thousand.

Instead, Twitter happened in the early days of developing for mobile devices (originally, not even phones but pagers), when there were a critical mass of intense and casual users, and mass network graphs were quickly becoming the new hotness for software companies. You could get scale in a hurry, you needed scale after a certain point to survive.

And so we have this bizarre new communication platform-meets-vernacular art form. Which may end up killing us all. But first…

Jason joined Twitter in early 2007 and naturally, wrote about it intelligently and presciently here on Kottke.org. The first mention is in a kinda-sorta-liveblog of Steve Jobs’s legendary iPhone keynote, and makes Twitter sound like a new tech site. This is where I, personally, found out about it, although I didn’t sign up until a little later.

Playing with Twitter reminds me of blogging circa 2000. Back then, all weblogs were personal in nature and most people used them to communicate with their friends and family. If I wanted to know what my friends were up to back then, I read their blogs. Now I follow Twitter (and Flickr and Vox).

The reaction to Twitter mirrors the initial reaction to weblogs…the same tired “this is going to ruin the web” and “who cares what you ate for dinner” arguments…

When one thing (i.e. Twitter) is easier than something else (i.e. blogging) and offers almost the same benefits, people will use it.

I’d completely forgotten about this post, and it’s totally amazing.

[One] way of thinking about how to choose web projects is to take something that everyone does with their friends and make it public and permanent. (Permanent as in permalinked.) Examples:
  • Blogger, 1999. Blog posts = public email messages. Instead of “Dear Bob, Check out this movie.” it’s “Dear People I May or May Not Know Who Are Interested in Film Noir, Check out this movie and if you like it, maybe we can be friends.”
  • Twitter, 2006. Twitter = public IM. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that one of the people responsible for Blogger is also responsible for Twitter.
  • Flickr, 2004. Flickr = public photo sharing. Flickr co-founder Caterina Fake said in a recent interview: “When we started the company, there were dozens of other photosharing companies such as Shutterfly, but on those sites there was no such thing as a public photograph — it didn’t even exist as a concept — so the idea of something ‘public’ changed the whole idea of Flickr.”
  • YouTube, 2005. YouTube = public home videos. Bob Saget was onto something.

Some successful tweets seem predictable given the restrictions on the form — wordplay, pop culture mashups, classic setup-and-punchline jokes. But why are weird little micronarratives so compelling?

And on a platform packed with self-promoting brands, cynical media types, and actual Nazis, why do we love sweet, sincere animals who talk? (Wait, I may have just answered my own question)

Ten years later, I don’t know why Twitter is, but I’m glad that it does.

A cheeky review of the different kinds of Facebook videos

posted by Jason Kottke   May 25, 2017

You may recognize some of these types of videos in Materialisimo’s funny review of Every Facebook Video EVER. (via @JossFong)

What if Barry Bonds had played without a baseball bat?

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 11, 2017

Barry Bonds was a ridiculously good baseball player. In this installment of the highly entertaining Chart Party series, Jon Bois answers a very hypothetical question: What if, during his monster 2004 season, Bonds had gone to the plate without a bat? This is super entertaining if you’re any kind of a baseball fan and the end result is really shocking. (via @caseyjohnston)

Exploring the sound design of Star Wars

posted by Jason Kottke   May 09, 2017

When considering the massive success of Star Wars, special effects and the Jospeh Campbell-inspired story always get their due. But the sound design of the film was just as important and revolutionary as the visual effects. From Darth Farmer’s overdubbing with James Earl Jones’ voice and the now-famous breathing noise (created using a SCUBA apparatus) to the lightsaber battles (the lightsaber noise comes from the hum of film projectors plus the buzz from a CRT TV set), the sounds added to the film hold everything together, creating the illusion of reality where none actually exists.

An algorithm imagines a train ride

posted by Jason Kottke   May 12, 2017

Damien Henry trained a machine learning algorithm with a bunch of videos recorded from train windows. Then, to test what it had learned, he asked the algorithm to make an hour-long video of a train journey — it began with a single frame and guessed subsequent frames as it went along. The video shows the algorithm getting smarter as it goes along…every 20 seconds the video gets a little more detailed and by the end of the video, you get stuff that looks like trees and clouds and power lines. Composer Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians is the perfect accompaniment.

How fake are nature documentaries?

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 26, 2017

When you’re watching a nature documentary, you notice it right away: there’s something odd about the sound effects. They seem a little too…Hollywood. When Vox did their series on how the BBC made Planet Earth II, they didn’t mention the sound:

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.

Several other people noticed and complained, causing the BBC to explain that getting real sounds in many cases was impossible. Audio producer Matt North adds some context:

Whilst I’m no wildlife expert, it’s fairly straightforward to conclude that such an unpredictable and uncontrollable subject as wildlife would have prompted the need to often shoot on long lenses, thus making it almost physically impossible for a sound recordist to obtain ‘realistic’ recordings that would match the treatment and emotive style of the programme. Combine this with the shooting climate, as well as the need for frequent communication between crew just to capture the necessary shots that will cut well in the edit suite and you have a recipe for failure in regards to obtaining useable sound. Therefore, it’s not only impractical but virtually impossible to capture the ‘real’ sound that some of these disgruntled viewers may be protesting for.

As Simon Cade shows in the video above, sound is only one of the ways in which nature documentaries use editing to “fake” things. Is it manipulation? Or good storytelling? And what’s the difference between the two anyway? A silent security feed of a Walmart parking lot is not a documentary but The Thin Blue Line, with its many dramatizations and Philip Glass score, is a great documentary.

Update: 99% Invisible recently did a show on the sounds in nature documentaries as well. (thx, everyone)

Princess Leia’s Stolen Death Star Plans

posted by Jason Kottke   May 02, 2017

A duo called Palette-Swap Ninja has produced a mashup of Star Wars and the entirety of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album. Each song on the album is paired chronologically with a scene from the movie:

Princess Leia’s Stolen Death Star Plans (Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band)
Luke Is In The Desert (Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds)
Being From The Spaceport Of Mos Eisley (Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite!)

The effort here is amazing, particularly when this whole thing is going to get yanked at some point soon — it’s a race between Disney and Sony for quickest takedown notice. The whole video playlist is here and you can download the full album on their website or stream it on Soundcloud. (thx, tim)

Ben Affleck’s DVD commentary on Armageddon is LOL

posted by Jason Kottke   May 03, 2017

For the past 33 years, The Criterion Collection has been “dedicated to gathering the greatest films from around the world and publishing them in editions that offer the highest technical quality and award-winning, original supplements” and includes films like The 400 Blows, Hoop Dreams, and Seven Samurai. One of the more unusual movies in the collection is Michael Bay’s Armageddon. You definitely won’t find many other films with a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 39% in there.

On the commentary track included on the Armageddon DVD, Ben Affleck goes off for a couple of minutes about the scene where Bruce Willis’ character argues for sending oil drillers into space rather than training astronauts to drill. It’s hilarious.

I asked Michael why it’s easier to train oil drillers to be astronauts than it was to train astronauts to become oil drillers. He told me to “shut shut shut the fuck up.” So that was the end of that talk. … See here’s where we demonstrate that because Bruce is gonna tell the guys that they did a bad job of building the drill tank. See, he’s a salt of the earth guy and the NASA nerdonauts don’t understand his salt of the earth ways, his rough and tumble ways. Like somehow they can build rocket ships but they don’t understand, like what makes a good tranny.

But he didn’t actually hate the movie. Or perhaps he did.

But Ben Affleck is far from finished with this movie. He recounts an argument wherein an incredulous Michael Bay asked him why he’d never learned how to pretend like he was floating in acting school. Affleck told him most acting training does not, in fact, include “weightless mime.”

Time lapse of a cloud inversion filling the Grand Canyon with an undulating vaporous ocean

posted by Jason Kottke   May 18, 2017

Usually, the air nearest the Earth is the warmest and it gets cooler as the altitude increases. But sometimes, there’s a meteorological inversion and colder air gets trapped near the ground with a layer of warmer air on top. While working on a dark sky project, Harun Mehmedinovic shot a time lapse movie of a rare cloud inversion in the Grand Canyon, in which the entire canyon is filled nearly to the brim with fluffy clouds. (via colossal)

On the anniversary of the eruption of Mount St. Helens

posted by Jason Kottke   May 18, 2017

Mount St Helens

Mount St Helens

37 years ago today, on May 18, 1980, Washington’s Mount St. Helens erupted in a blast that killed 57 people and covered a huge swath of the western US with ash and destruction. Alan Taylor, who grew up nearby and vividly remembers the eruption, shared some photos of the eruption and its aftermath at In Focus.

I was 6 when Mount St. Helens erupted and it was probably my first concrete memory of the wider world from childhood. For days and days, it was all anyone talked about at school. The next summer (or it may have been 1982), my parents, my little sister, and I embarked on a car trip west towards the Pacific from Wisconsin, which I later learned was a last hurrah family vacation before my parents divorced. We motored in a beast of a station wagon resembling The Griswold Family Truckster, and stopped at the Badlands, Mount Rushmore, Wall Drug, Rapid City, Yellowstone, and finally Seattle, where the only memory I have is of seeing the Space Needle briefly.

But the highlight of the trip was going to see Mount St. Helens. The landscape looked very much like in the second photo above, trees flattened over an ashy lunar landscape. It’s still one of the weirdest, most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen. We collected a couple of jars of ash to take home, along with some pumice stone.

Back at school in the fall, I managed a brief respite from my crippling unpopularity by showing off the ash jars and demonstrating how the pumice floated in water. A rock floating in water! But then the holes in the pumice filled with water, it slowly sank, and with it my new-found popularity. I imagine that pumice and those jars are still somewhere at my dad’s house, in a pile of something somewhere…it would be great to see them again.

Born Sexy Yesterday

posted by Jason Kottke   May 08, 2017

The most recent video by The Pop Culture Detective Agency explores a trope in TV and movies they call Born Sexy Yesterday.

It’s a science fiction convention in which the mind of a naive, yet highly skilled, girl is written into the body of a mature sexualized woman. Born Sexy Yesterday is about an unbalanced relationship, but it’s also very much connected to masculinity. The subtext of the trope is rooted in a deep seated male insecurity around experienced women and sexuality.

Note that Born Yesterday isn’t meant literally. Born Sexy Yesterday can be written literally but it doesn’t have to be. If media uses a “fish out of water” plot to frame an adult woman as an inexperience child then it fits the trope.

Examples of this trope can be seen in The Fifth Element, Forbidden Planet, Tron: Legacy, Splash, My Stepmother is an Alien, Japanese anime, and just about any episode of Star Trek where Kirk seduces an alien woman.

These websites could change your life

posted by Tim Carmody   Apr 21, 2017

I asked Kottke.org readers if they had ever seen, heard, or read something on the web that literally changed their lives.

Fourteen people said no. Sixteen said maybe. Thirty-eight people said yes. These are some of their answers. Everyone is anonymous. Some said more than others.

Four different people listed pages from Metafilter:

Five readers listed works of journalism.

Five listed personal essays or advice.

Five listed videos or video series.

And ten listed entire websites.

Now pick up your instruments, and go start a band.

A huge collection of high-res National Park maps

posted by Jason Kottke   May 02, 2017

National Park Maps

National Park Maps

A maps enthusiast who works as a ranger for the National Park Service has amassed an easy-to-access collection of more than 1600 high-resolution maps of US national parks, monuments, recreation areas, and seashores, all available for free download.

His page of favorite maps is a good place to start if you don’t have specific mapping needs.

What Is Digital Humanism?

posted by Tim Carmody   Apr 18, 2017

dolphin and anchor.jpg

In this century, most people use “humanist” to mean something like “atheist, but nice about it.” That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m thinking about Renaissance Humanism, but applied, updated, or translated to digital technology in the 21st century.

In the Renaissance, Humanism is a complicated umbrella term for different, sometimes contradictory intellectual movements. The most consistent attributes in these humanists are these three things:

  1. they were really into old books and manuscripts, the weirder the better;
  2. they tried hard to save and preserve these texts;
  3. they worked hard to disperse these texts and the ideas inside them to as many people as possible.

And once the printing press came along, they were off to the races.

Aldus Manutius might be my favorite humanist who didn’t write very much. He edited and published classical texts in slim, portable, affordable printed volumes, and invented or popularized a bunch of typographical conventions, like italics, commas, and semicolons.

In the metaphor of the all-in-one machine, Humanists were first and foremost scanners. They translated knowledge from one technology, and its attendant modes of thinking, into another. They took old things and made them new.

Planetary - Elijah Saves Things
[From Planetary by Warren Ellis, John Cassaday, and Laura Martin]

All of the genuinely great works of the 21st century have been acts of digital humanism. And of those works, three stand out as the purest and maybe the best, both to me and (in their suggestions) the readers of Kottke.org.

Wikipedia, Google Books, and The Internet Archive. These three projects, imperfect as they are, are the best attempts we’ve made to save what we know and make it available in new forms to as many people as possible.

Here are some other projects that readers mentioned:

Every day, sometimes visibly and sometimes not, people work to save all of the things we’ve built on the web. It’s probably the most massive, audacious, unlikely project in the history of the written word. If we ever do build a time capsule for the internet, we’ll only have anything left to save because someone else worked to save it first.

Dieter Rams’ classic design principles updated for the tech industry

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 28, 2017

Dieter Rams, the legendary designer, came up with a now-famous list of Ten Principles for Good Design. Among them:

Good design makes a product understandable. It clarifies the product’s structure. Better still, it can make the product talk. At best, it is self-explanatory.

Recently, designer Tobias Van Schneider posted a tongue-in-cheek update of Rams’ list, the 2017 Tech Industry edition.

Ten Principles for Good Design, tech edition

1. Good design is disruptive.
2. Good design makes a product addicting.
3. Good design is A/B testing.
4. Good design makes a product collect data.
5. Good design is notifications.
6. Good design is agreeing to the terms & conditions.
7. Good design is temporary.
8. Good design is a prototype.
9. Good design is a chatbot?
10. Good design is pleasing your shareholders.

My recent media diet

posted by Jason Kottke   May 15, 2017

Quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, and heard in the past few weeks. Don’t take the letter grades too seriously (that’s just good life advice).

The Simpsons. Watched some old episodes w/ the kids. I can’t tell if they’re still any good or not because I can still recite most of the dialogue by heart. (A-)

Dr. Strangelove. Superb. (A+)

DAMN. by Kendrick Lamar. I said I wanted to listen to this more and I have. Great. (A)

Citizen Jane. Watching this at a theater a short walk from the West Village and Washington Square Park was a powerful experience. (B+)

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann. As good as everyone says. As a country we’ve never reckoned with what we did (and continue to do) to Native Americans and I doubt we ever will. (A-)

Pleasure by Feist. I had kinda forgotten about Feist but I will definitely remember this one. (B+)

S-Town. This didn’t go where you expected it to and it was all the better for it. Still, by the last two episodes, I’d run out of steam a little. (B+)

Nukes. Radiolab asks if there are any checks on the President ordering a nuclear strike and the answer is as terrifying as you might imagine. (B+)

True Love Waits by Christopher O’Riley & Radiohead. An old favorite. Good for when you’re feeling down. (B+)

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2. Sequels are hard. (B)

Rules for a Knight by Ethan Hawke. Mindfulness Lite, not that that’s a bad thing. (B-)

Mad Men. Still plugging away at watching this all the way through a second time. The later seasons lack a little something but it’s still great overall. (A-)

Is This It by The Strokes. Great NYC terroir. This album is all mixed up with my first few months/years in the city. (A)

Past installments of my media diets can be found here.

The Guardians of the Galaxy music-playing bag of Doritos

posted by Jason Kottke   May 01, 2017

Doritos Galaxy

Frito-Lay and Marvel have teamed up to offer a limited-edition Doritos bag to promote Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. The bag comes with a integrated MP3 player containing the soundtrack from the movie, a pair of 80s-style headphones, and a USB charging cable.

Plug your headphones into the bag, press play, and enjoy the Doritos packaged inside!

Their custom hashtag isn’t taking off the way that they had hoped (only 1 result on Twitter and 2 on Insta), but I have to admit, this is kinda cool…exactly the sort of weirdo product promotion that people would have gone bonkers for in the 80s.1 Engadget has a look at the bag and how it works:

The bags are sold out on Amazon (and I don’t think they were ever available anywhere else), but if you really want one, they are selling on eBay for anywhere from $50 to $500.

  1. You might even say — wait for it (actually don’t, this is stupid and beneath us all) — that it’s all that and a bag of chips. (Told you.)

Trailer for Errol Morris’ new documentary, The B-Side

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 24, 2017

Errol Morris’ documentary about portrait photographer Elsa Dorfman is coming out in early June and the first trailer was just released.

Errol Morris’s surprising new film is simplicity itself: a visit to the Cambridge, Massachusetts studio of his friend, the 20x24 Polaroid portrait photographer Elsa Dorfman, who specifies on her website that she likes her subjects “to wear clothes (and to bring toys, skis, books, tennis racquets, musical instruments, and particularly pets…).” As this charming, articulate, and calmly uncompromising woman takes us through her fifty-plus years of remarkable but fragile images of paying customers, commissioned subjects, family, and close friends (including the poet Allen Ginsberg), the sense of time passing grows more and more acute.

Murder on the Orient Express

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 02, 2017

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

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

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

The infinitely breaking wave

posted by Jason Kottke   May 15, 2017

By subtly animating still photos of waves shot by Ray Collins (previously), Armand Dijcks created short looping videos of waves that never break. It’s the visual equivalent of the Shepard tone, a sound that has the illusion of a forever rising or falling pitch.

history of the entire world, i guess

posted by Jason Kottke   May 11, 2017

You may remember Bill Wurtz from his video history of Japan, which I called “the most entertaining history of anything I have ever seen”. I still stand by that, but his new video on the history of the Earth from before the Big Bang — “a long time ago, actually never, also now, nothing is nowhere” — to the present day is just as good. On the development of the ozone layer billions of years ago:

Hey, can we go on land?

NO.

Why?

The Sun is a deadly lazer.

Oh, ok.

Not anymore, there’s a blanket.

The stock market’s reaction to United debacle vs a school shooting

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 11, 2017

Yesterday, a video of a man dragged from an overbooked United flight because he wouldn’t give up his seat went viral. Public reaction to the incident and United’s subsequent fumbling of the aftermath has resulted in UAL’s stock falling several percentage points this morning:

Ual Stock 2017

The stock has rebounded slightly this afternoon and will probably fully recover within the next few weeks.

Also yesterday, a man walked into a San Bernardino elementary school and killed a teacher (his estranged wife) and an 8-year-old boy before shooting himself. The story has received very light national coverage, particularly in comparison to the United story. In response, the stock prices of gun companies were up a few percent this morning (top: American Outdoor Brands Corp which owns Smith & Wesson; bottom: Sturm, Ruger & Company):

Amer Outdoor Stock 2017

Sturm Ruger Stock 2017

This follows a familiar pattern of gun stock prices rising after shootings; Smith & Wesson’s stock price rose almost 9% after the mass shooting in Orlando last year.

Update: It took about three and a half weeks, but on May 2, United’s stock had regained all of the value “lost” due to the incident and subsequent PR blunders. As of this writing (May 3 at 12:41 PM ET), UAL is actually up about 3.5% from the closing price before the incident.

Coming up short in pursuit of a SuperBaby

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 10, 2017

In SuperBabies Don’t Cry, Heather Kirn Lanier writes beautifully about the birth of her first daughter, disability, control, and acceptance.

By eight months Fiona developed a love for clapping. At nine months she had her first grand mal seizure. At eleven months she rolled from front to back. At one year old she weighed twelve pounds. During that first year, her syndrome revealed itself to be simultaneously life-altering and, in some strange way, just fine. A new normal. Her medical issues were manageable. The problem, it became clear, was mine: I wanted her different. The daily prayer inside me was an impossible wish to scrounge the earth and find that missing bit of her fourth chromosome. I imagined it was buried among fossils in an ancient, surreal sand dune.

Ten times this piece sent my thoughts spiraling out in all directions. I already know I’m gonna be thinking about this all week. (via @ftrain)

The colors of Mister Rogers’ cardigan sweaters, 1979-2001

posted by Jason Kottke   May 19, 2017

Mr Rogers Sweater Colors

Using data from The Neighborhood Archive, Owen Phillips charted the color of every sweater Mister Rogers wore on his PBS television program from 1979 to 2001.

Some sweaters were worn once and then never again, like the neon blue cardigan Rogers wore in episode 1497. Others, like his harvest gold sweaters, were part of Rogers’ regular rotation and then disappeared. And then there were the unusual batch of black and olive green sweaters Rogers wore exclusively while filming the “Dress-Up” episodes in 1991.

Some things about the sweaters and Mister Rogers:

- His mother knit the sweaters. Sorry, MISTER ROGERS’ MOTHER KNIT HIS CARDIGAN SWEATERS! I have not heard a more perfect detail about anything recently. He talks about his mom and the sweaters in this video — “I guess that’s the best thing about things. They remind you of people.”

- As you can see from the visualization above, Mister Rogers’ sweaters got darker as the show progressed. I will not speculate about what that might have meant.

- The Mister Rogers Marathon on Twitch is still going.

- But if you miss the marathon, there are plenty of episodes available on Amazon Prime.

Foursquare: US tourism is down sharply in the age of Trump

posted by Jason Kottke   May 24, 2017

Over the past couple of years, Foursquare has used their location data to accurately predict iPhone sales and Chipotle’s sales figures following an E. coli outbreak. Their latest report suggests that leisure tourism to the United States was way down year-over-year over the past 6 months (relative to tourism to other countries).

Foursquare Tourism

Our findings reveal that America’s ‘market share’ in international tourism started to decline in October 2016, when the U.S. tourism share fell by 6% year-over-year, and continued to decrease through March 2017, when it dropped all the way to -16%. Currently, there is no sign of recovery in the data.

And business travel to the US is suffering as well, relative to other countries:

Business trip activity is up in the U.S. by about 3% (as a share of international traveler global activity), but that trend line is not as high as elsewhere in the world, where YoY trends are closer to 10%. Relative to business travel gains globally, business travel to the U.S. is suffering.

As Foursquare notes, correlation is not causation and there are other factors at play (e.g. a stronger US dollar), but it’s not difficult to imagine that our xenophobic white nationalist administration and its travel & immigration policies have something to do with this decline.