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Blue Planet II, another massively entertaining Attenborough/BBC nature documentary

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 18, 2018

Blue Planet II, the latest BBC nature documentary narrated by David Attenborough, is finally set to air in the US this Saturday on BBC America, AMC, and other networks. Here’s a five-minute preview…if this doesn’t pique your interest, you might actually be dead:

In a review of the program at The Atlantic, Ed Yong makes a bold declaration:

Blue Planet II is the greatest nature series that the BBC has ever produced.

Coming on the heels of Planet Earth II, which I thought was the best thing I watched last year, that’s really saying something. Here’s Yong on the difference between the two:

Who can forget the marine iguanas of Planet Earth II, escaping from the jaws of hungry racer snakes? But in chasing drama, some of the shows became thinner and messier. Many episodes of Planet Earth II felt like glorious visual listicles — selections of (admittedly awesome) set pieces woven together by the flimsiest of narrative gossamer.

By contrast, the threads that hold Blue Planet II together are thick and tightly woven. Each episode flows. For example, the second episode, on the deep ocean, achieves narrative depth through actual depth, sinking deeper and deeper so that each new spectacle is anchored in space. Where previous series felt like they sacrificed the storytelling craft and educational density for technical wizardry and emotional punch, Blue Planet II finally marries all of that together.

Blue Planet II was watched by more people in the UK than Planet Earth II and has seemingly influenced the UK government’s stance on pollution:

Cutting plastic pollution is the focus of a series of proposals being considered by the UK environment secretary, Michael Gove, who has said he was “haunted” by images of the damage done to the world’s oceans shown in David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II TV series.

The government is due to announce a 25-year plan to improve the UK’s environmental record in the new year. Gove is understood to be planning to introduce refundable deposits on plastic drinks bottles, alongside other measures.

I got a sneak peek at the first few episodes of Blue Planet II, and it certainly is a great program. I watched it with my kids and they were riveted the entire time. After the fourth or fifth episode, my son said, “I think I like this better than Planet Earth II.” I’m not quite sure it’s peak Attenborough — I’m still partial to Planet Earth II — but it’s still a must-see and I’m certainly not going to argue with Ed Yong and my son about it.

First clip from the upcoming Mister Rogers documentary

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 18, 2018

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, a documentary film about Mister Rogers, is premiering at the Sundance film festival tomorrow. This short clip is the first look we’ve gotten at the movie:

Love is at the root of everything — all learning, all parenting, all relationships — love or the lack of it. And what we see and hear on the screen is part of who we become.

Love is the root of all learning. That has been a real theme around here lately. In my introduction to Noticing, I noted this recap by A.O. Scott of a favorite scene in Lady Bird:

Sister Sarah Joan (Lois Smith), the principal, has read Lady Bird’s college application essay. “It’s clear how much you love Sacramento,” Sister Sarah remarks. This comes as a surprise, both to Lady Bird and the viewer, who is by now aware of Lady Bird’s frustration with her hometown.

“I guess I pay attention,” she says, not wanting to be contrary.

“Don’t you think they’re the same thing?” the wise sister asks.

The idea that attention is a form of love (and vice versa) is a beautiful insight.

Oh, I can’t wait for this movie! (thx, katharine)

The sounds in that cute falling penguin video are likely fake

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 18, 2018

In the past few weeks, a old video of a penguin falling down and its pals hooting sympathetically has been making the rounds on social media again: “Penguin falls down resulting in best sound ever”.

It’s funny, right? The sounds are also probably fake, added in the editing phase of whatever nature documentary this came from. Foley is the process used by filmmakers to add and enhance sounds in the editing phase…almost every movie and TV show uses them, including nature documentaries.

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.

I mean, just listen to the footsteps of the penguins in that video. There’s no way that was recorded on a mic while shooting that scene from that distance. The noise of the penguin falling? Probably a foley artist punching the innards of a watermelon. Now, maybe the penguins really did make noises that sounded like that and they recreated them in the studio, but maybe they also juiced them a little to seem more anthropomorphic. It’s impossible to know.

Perhaps this is a case of “even if it’s fake it’s real”, the idea that there’s genuine meaning in that video even if those penguins were completely silent in real life. You can imagine some group of penguins somewhere doing exactly that so it’s funny & life-affirming. But you know what…I don’t like the direction “even if it’s fake it’s real” has taken in our culture lately. I’m ready for “if it’s fake, call it out and look for the truth” or something like that, even if it makes penguins a little less cute.

Nintendo introduces Labo, DIY interactive cardboard toys for the Switch

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 18, 2018

Nintendo has introduced a new product category that harkens all the way back to Duck Hunt, Robbie the Robot, and papercraft models the company produced in the 70s. Labo is a suite of cardboard peripherals for the Switch that you construct yourself and then play using the Switch console screen and controllers. Pianos, fishing rods, car accelerator pedals. Just watch the video…this really blew my mind.

Caine’s Arcade anyone? I love that Nintendo is making DIY cardboard toys. Love it. I think I may have to get a Switch now. You can preorder the Labo Robot Kit (a wearable robot suit) and the Labo Variety Kit (cars, bike, house, piano, fishing rod) on Amazon…they come out on April 20.

Ronaldinho officially retires from world football

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 17, 2018

The great Ronaldinho has officially retired from world football at age 37. When you talk about the best football players ever, Ronaldinho has to be part of the conversation. He was awarded three player of the year awards, won the World Cup with Brazil, and won the Champions League with Barcelona. He was also only one of two Barcelona players ever to receive a standing ovation from Real Madrid supporters at their home stadium. More than many other players, he consistently did things with a ball that left you, mouth agape, thanking whatever higher power you believe in that you just witnessed a minor miracle. He was dazzlingly talented and I just loved watching the guy play.

But. Because of issues with fitness, injury, and lifestyle, Ronaldinho didn’t live up to his full potential. He managed only ten seasons of play in the top European leagues and only a handful of those were full seasons at his best. In his final full season at AC Milan, he played well and showed flashes of his best self but ended up leaving halfway though the next season. He was only 31. For reference, Lionel Messi will turn 31 this summer and has played 14 seasons for Barcelona with no signs of slowing; Cristiano Ronaldo will be 33 next month, has played 15 seasons for Manchester United & Real Madrid, and won the Ballon d’Or in 2017 for a record-tying fifth time; and Zlatan Ibrahimovic has played 19 seasons for 7 different top European clubs and scored 50 goals in a season at 34 years of age. If Ronaldinho had been able to combine his talent with fitness and a better mindset for training & competing, perhaps instead of placing him somewhere on the list of the best 100 players of all time, we’d be talking about the top 5 or 10.

There are a ton of videos on YouTube that show Ronaldinho’s skill and best goals. But my two favorite Ronaldinho moments are decidedly less dramatic. The first is when he scored a goal by shooting it under the wall on a free kick:

Many other players have scored similar goals (Ronaldinho himself did it more than once) but he does it in such a casual yet precise way.

Speaking of casual, my all-time favorite Ronaldinho moment didn’t even happen in a game. A fan recorded him warming up before a game, lazily juggling the ball. He boots the ball high in the air and settles it dead on the pitch with such indifference that you can almost hear him yawn. Then he playfully nutmegs a teammate:

I’ve watched this video dozens and maybe even hundreds of times and it never gets old.

The imagined decaying storefronts of Facebook, Google, and Instagram

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 17, 2018

Social Decay

Social Decay

Social Decay

For a project called Social Decay, Andrei Lacatusu imagines what it would look like if big social media companies were brick & mortar and went the way of Blockbuster, Woolworth’s, and strip malls across America. These are really well done…check out the close-up views on Behance.

The telescoping effect

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 17, 2018

This morning on Twitter, I wrote out a list of places my brain thinks I have been to “recently”:

Berlin (17 years ago)
Thailand & Vietnam (13 years ago)
Austria (12 years ago)
Ireland (13 years ago)
London (10 years ago)
Hawaii (18 years ago)
Alaska (16 years ago)

And it’s true. I remember being in Austria not so very long ago, maybe five or seven years tops. Berlin is particularly vivid in my memory as a recent destination, perhaps because I loved being there so much.

So what’s going on here? Why don’t I have a proper sense of how much time has really passed between now and these trips? Cognitive psychologists have a name for this: the telescoping effect.

The telescoping effect (or telescoping bias) refers to the temporal displacement of an event whereby people perceive recent events as being more remote than they are and distant events as being more recent than they are. The former is known as backward telescoping or time expansion, and the latter as is known as forward telescoping. Three years is approximately the time frame in which events switch from being displaced backward in time to forward in time, with events occurring three years in the past being equally likely to be reported with forward telescoping bias as with backward telescoping bias. Although telescoping occurs in both the forward and backward directions, in general the effect is to increase the number of events reported too recently.

My faulty travel memories are a trivial example, but the telescoping effect becomes more important when people’s political actions are tied to their memories of, say, the weather, acts of terrorism, or financial events. (via @pjdoland)

Gorgeous 50-megapixel panoramas shot on an iPhone at 20,000 feet

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 17, 2018

Laforet Iphone Pano

Laforet Iphone Pano

Laforet Iphone Pano

Over on his Instagram account, photographer Vincent Laforet is sharing some 50-megapixel panoramic photos he shot for Apple. He strapped an iPhone 7 to the bottom of a Learjet, set it on Pano mode, and flew it over various landscapes at a height of 20,000 feet. Here’s the first one.

For 7 consecutive days I will be posting a series of 50+ Megapixel Panoramic Photographs shot on an @apple iPhone 7, from the belly of a LearJet from 20,000 feet above the earth.

We set the standard Camera App to “Pano” Mode and flew for 2-7 minutes at 220+ Knots on a perfectly straight line and we witnessed the iPhone effectively paint the landscape like a roller brush. It produced a stunningly high quality image that I’d never before seen before from any smartphone!

Laforet also shot a video from some of those same flights using a RED camera in 8K resolution.

Watch this on as big a screen as you can in 4K. Wonderful.

Art observation skills can transfer to the medical lab

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 17, 2018

In a study done by UPenn researchers, first-year medical students who were taught art observation classes at the Philadelphia Museum of Art were more proficient at reading clinical imagery than students who didn’t take the classes.

If you’re unfamiliar or uncomfortable with how art and science can mingle to produce something clinically beneficial, it’s a study premise that might seem far-fetched — but it didn’t seem that way to Gurwin, an ophthalmology resident at Penn, in part because she’d already seen the benefits of art education on a medical career firsthand.

“Having studied fine arts myself and having witnessed its impact on my medical training, I knew art observation training would be a beneficial practice in medical school,” she said. “Observing and describing are skills that are taught very well in fine arts training, and so it seemed promising to utilize their teachings and apply it to medicine.”

Gurwin and Binenbaum’s findings, published in the journal Ophthalmology in September: The medical students who’ve dabbled in art just do better.

It’s a glimpse at how non-clinical training can and does make for a better-prepared medical professional. Not only does art observation training improve med students’ abilities to recognize visual cues, it also improves their ability to describe those cues.

The results of this study reminded me of Walter Isaacson’s assertion in his book that Leonardo da Vinci’s greatest skill was his keen observational ability. Not coincidentally, Leonardo was both an artist and a medical researcher who dissected more than 30 human cadavers to study human anatomy. These dissections helped him to represent the human form more realistically in his paintings and drawings.

Leonardo Anatomy

It’s easier to draw a hand, particularly a hand that appears to be moving (as Leonardo liked to do), if you know that’s going on underneath the skin. Looking carefully and purposefully at art, at anatomy, at the physical world, at people’s actions, at movies; it’s all the same skill that can be applied to anything.

I’ve been preoccupied with observation lately…the new kottke.org newsletter is named Noticing for good reason. Again, Leonardo factors in:

Isaacson argues that Leonardo’s observational powers were not innate and that with sufficient practice, we can all observe as he did. People talk in a precious way about genius, creativity, and curiosity as superpowers that people are born with but noticing is a more humble pursuit. Noticing is something we can all do.

The soundtrack to Kurzgesagt

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 17, 2018

Even if you only read kottke.org once a fortnight in a drunken stupor, you’re likely aware that I love Kurzgesagt, a YouTube channel that makes animated explainers about everything from robot rights to the failure of the War on Drugs to black holes to The Most Efficient Way to Destroy the Universe.

Epic Mountain is a music and sound design company based in Munich that does all of the music for Kurzgesagt episodes. They’ve put four volumes of their Kurzgesagt music on Spotify, iTunes, Soundcloud, and Bandcamp.

I’ve been listening to these on and off for the past few days and they make lovely background music to work to.

The magic carpet ride scene from Aladdin dubbed with realistic audio

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 16, 2018

This is silly and I loved it: someone took the clip from Aladdin when he and Jasmine sing A Whole New World while riding the magic carpet and dubbed realistic audio over it. I laughed embarrassingly hard at this. (via @JossFong)

Time lapse video of a man building a log cabin from scratch

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 16, 2018

Over the course of several month, Shawn James built a log cabin all by himself in the wilderness of Canada.

Once on site, I spent a month reassembling the cabin on a foundation of sand and gravel. Once the log walls were up, I again used hand tools to shape every log, board and timber to erect the gable ends, the wood roof, the porch, the outhouse and a seemingly endless number of woodworking projects.

For the roof, I used an ancient primitive technology to waterproof and preserve the wood - shou sugi ban, a fire hardening wood preservation technique unique to Japan and other areas in northern climates.

See also the Primitive Technology guy, who recently bought a new property and is starting from scratch building on it.

A wishlist of scientific breakthroughs by Robert Boyle

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 16, 2018

Robert Boyle List

17th-century scientist Robert Boyle, one of the world’s first chemists and creator of Boyle’s Law, wrote out a list of problems he hoped could be solved through science. Since the list was written more than 300 years ago, almost everything on it has been discovered, invented, or otherwise figured out in some fashion. Here are several of the items from Boyle’s list (in bold) and the corresponding scientific advances that have followed:

The Prolongation of Life. English life expectancy in the 17th century was only 35 years or so (due mainly to infant and child mortality). The world average in 2014 was 71.5 years.

The Art of Flying. The Wright Brothers conducted their first flight in 1903 and now air travel is as routine as riding in a horse-drawn carriage in Boyle’s time.

The Art of Continuing long under water, and exercising functions freely there. Scuba gear was in use by the end of the 19th century and some contemporary divers have remained underwater for more than two days.

The Cure of Diseases at a distance or at least by Transplantation. Not quite sure exactly what Boyle meant by this, but human organ transplants started happening around the turn of the 20th century. X-rays, MRI machines, and ultrasound all peer inside the body for disease from a distance. Also, doctors are now able to diagnose many conditions via video chat.

The Attaining Gigantick Dimensions. I’m assuming Boyle meant humans somehow transforming themselves into 20-foot-tall giants and not the obesity that has come with our relative affluence and availability of cheap food. Still, the average human is taller by 4 inches than 150 years ago because of improved nutrition. Factory-farmed chickens have quadrupled in size since the 1950s. And if Boyle paid a visit to the Burj Khalifa or the Mall of America, he would surely agree they are Gigantick.

The Acceleration of the Production of things out of Seed. To use just one example out of probably thousands, some varieties of tomato take just 50 days from planting to harvest. See also selective breeding, GMOs, hydroponics, greenhouses, etc. (P.S. in Boyle’s time, tomatoes were suspected to be poisonous.)

The makeing of Glass Malleable. Transparent plastics were first developed in the 19th century and perfected in the 20th century.

The making of Parabolicall and Hyperbolicall Glasses. The first high quality non-spherical lenses were made during Boyle’s lifetime, but all he’d need is a quick peek at a pair of Warby Parkers to see how much the technology has advanced since then, to say nothing of the mirrors on the Giant Magellan Telescope.

The making Armor light and extremely hard. Bulletproof armor was known in Boyle’s time, but the introduction of Kevlar vests in the 1970s made them truly light and strong.

The practicable and certain way of finding Longitudes. When pushed to its limits, GPS is accurate in determining your location on Earth to within 11 millimeters.

Potent Druggs to alter or Exalt Imagination, Waking, Memory, and other functions, and appease pain, procure innocent sleep, harmless dreams, etc. Dude, we have so many Potent Druggs now, it’s not even funny. According to a 2016 report, the global pharmaceutical market will reach $1.12 trillion.

A perpetuall Light. It’s not exactly perpetual, but the electric lightbulb was invented in the 19th century and the longest-lasting bulb has been working least 116 years.

Varnishes perfumable by Rubbing. Scratch and sniff was invented by 3M in 1965.

(via bb)

Black Mirror’s USS Callister and the toxic fanboy

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 16, 2018

For many, the standout episode of the newest season of Black Mirror is USS Callister. In a recent video (w/ spoilers galore), ScreenPrism breaks down how the episode veers from the Star Trek-inspired opening into a parable about toxic fanboyism, sexism, and online behavior.

Daly is clearly driven by the lack of respect he gets, but Nanette didn’t disrespect him. She’s shown him huge respect and admiration; it’s just for his work rather than expressed as wanting to sleep with him. There’s a weird cultural assumption we tend to make that if a woman thinks highly of a man, she must want to sleep with him. And then if she doesn’t, it’s somehow an insult to him, and that’s exactly what we see going on in this episode.

When I finished watching the episode, it struck me as a timely repudiation of Gamergate, meninists on Reddit & Twitter, and those who want to roll back the clock to a time when a woman’s place was wherever a man told her to be. Great episode, one of my favorites of the entire series.

Season two of The Handmaid’s Tale

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 16, 2018

Oooh, the trailer for season two of The Handmaid’s Tale. The first season was one of the best things I watched last year. Season two premieres on Hulu on April 25th. Season one episodes are available on Amazon and elsewhere, but if you’re going to binge it, it’s cheaper to just sign up to Hulu (30 days free then $8/mo).