In his latest video, Evan Puschak takes Batman v Superman director Zack Snyder to task for filling his movies with flashy moments instead of scenes that would give the movie more emotional punch.
It’s a convincing argument. But before watching this — and full disclosure: I have not seen Batman v Superman — I thought he was going to discuss the real flaw in BvS which is very simply: Superman is an invincible man and Batman is a normal guy in a fancy suit. If this were not a movie designed to entertain 14-year-old boys but a real thing happening in an actual world, Superman would just deal with Batman as trivially as you or I might swat a mosquito. And don’t get me started on kryptonite and Superman’s greater Achilles Heel, his goodness and love of humanity. As a storyteller, how many more interesting ways can you exploit those weaknesses? Superman is the most boring superhero — a nearly invincible man with very obvious flaws — and that’s why no one can make a contemporary film about him that’s any good.
P.S. Actually, Superman’s biggest flaw is that he wants to be a writer when he could quite literally do anything else with his time, like fly around or make time go backwards. What an idiot.
Um. Um, um, um. Uh. Frank Ippolito built a costume designed to look like a Lego minifig with real human skin. The hands — the haaaaaands!! — are super super super creepy.
Jason Fried, founder of 37signals (which became Basecamp a few years back) writes about not having goals.
I can’t remember having a goal. An actual goal.
There are things I’ve wanted to do, but if I didn’t do them I’d be fine with that too. There are targets that would have been nice to hit, but if I didn’t hit them I wouldn’t look back and say I missed them.
I don’t aim for things that way.
I do things, I try things, I build things, I want to make progress, I want to make things better for me, my company, my family, my neighborhood, etc. But I’ve never set a goal. It’s just not how I approach things.
A goal is something that goes away when you hit it. Once you’ve reached it, it’s gone. You could always set another one, but I just don’t function in steps like that.
This is my exact approach, which can drive the more goal oriented people in your life a little bit nuts. Oliver Burkeman wrote about goals being potentially counter-productive in The Antidote, which is perhaps the book I’ve thought most about over the past year. An excerpt from the book about goals was published as a piece for Fast Company.
It turns out, however, that setting and then chasing after goals can often backfire in horrible ways. There is a good case to be made that many of us, and many of the organizations for which we work, would do better to spend less time on goalsetting, and, more generally, to focus with less intensity on planning for how we would like the future to turn out.
One illuminating example of the problem concerns the American automobile behemoth General Motors. The turn of the millennium found GM in a serious predicament, losing customers and profits to more nimble, primarily Japanese, competitors. As the Boston Globe reported, executives at GM’s headquarters in Detroit came up with a goal, crystallized in a number: 29. Twenty-nine, the company announced amid much media fanfare, was the percentage of the American car market that it would recapture, reasserting its old dominance. Twenty-nine was also the number displayed upon small gold lapel pins, worn by senior figures at GM to demonstrate their commitment to the plan. At corporate gatherings, and in internal GM documents, twenty-nine was the target drummed into everyone from salespeople to engineers to public-relations officers.
Yet the plan not only failed to work-it made things worse. Obsessed with winning back market share, GM spent its dwindling finances on money-off schemes and clever advertising, trying to lure drivers into purchasing its unpopular cars, rather than investing in the more speculative and open-ended-and thus more uncertain-research that might have resulted in more innovative and more popular vehicles.
Update: Forgot to add: For the longest time, I thought I was wrong to not have goals. Setting goals is the only way of achieving things, right? When I was criticizing my goalless approach to my therapist a few years ago, he looked at me and said, “It seems like you’ve done pretty well for yourself so far without worrying about goals. That’s just the way you are and it’s working for you. You don’t have to change.” That was a huge realization for me and it’s really helped me become more comfortable with my approach.
Alex Ronan interviewed legendary designer Susan Kare for Lenny. Cross-stitch prepared her for designing pixel icons and fonts for the Mac:
Also, I did have limited experience designing for grids from working on craft projects such as tiled ashtrays and cross-stitch embroidery kits.
Photographer Oliver Curtis visits famous landmarks and takes photos faced the wrong direction, capturing essentially what these landmarks see all day. From the top, the Taj Mahal, the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, and Stonehenge.
I have to admit I didn’t watch all 17 minutes of it, but this is a nicely edited compilation of direct narration, looks into the camera, and other self-conscious moments from movies.
Will I ever get tired of this trope? Apple should make David Attenborough the Siri voice…I would immediately start using it more.
On a recent episode of Song Exploder (the podcast where musicians dissect their songs), host Hrishikesh Hirway talks to Grimes about how she made Kill V. Maim for her latest album, Art Angels, which is one of my favorite albums from the past year.
The Playlist lists their picks for the 50 best sci-fi films of this century. Unlike the list of 50 best animated films I posted the other day, there are many movies on this list I haven’t seen or even heard of, so I’m eager to dig in. Here are picks 6-2:
5. Mad Max: Fury Road
4. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
3. Upstream Color
2. Under the Skin
Good choice for #1 too. I really didn’t care for Under the Skin. Nice to see some love for Edge of Tomorrow, Sunshine, Donnie Darko, Primer, and Snowpiercer as well. I would also have included Cloud Atlas, which I know not a lot of other people liked but I loved, and the first Hunger Games movie.
Eric Holthaus, the internet’s favorite meteorologist, is hosting a new podcast on climate change called Warm Regards (on iTunes). A recent episode is embedded above and here’s a bit more about the show, including some info about his co-hosts:
Joining me with co-hosts Andy Revkin, a veteran environment writer for the New York Times who has covered climate change for 30 years, and Jacquelyn Gill, a paleoecologist at the University of Maine who is an actual, real-life climate scientist and flawlessly navigates climate Twitter.
Also, Holthaus recently started a project on Patreon to support his independent journalism on climate change. I’m in for $3/mo…chip in if you enjoy Eric’s work and Twitter contributions and wish to see more.1
Since 1963, Jerry Gretzinger has been working on a map of a world that doesn’t exist. The map is never finished. In the morning, when Gretzinger draws a card out of the deck that sets his task for the day, sometimes that card says “scan”. That means a portion of the map is scanned and archived, and the copy is reworked to “upgrade” that part of the map. And that’s not even the half of it…just watch the whole thing to see how the map has evolved over the years.
It now comprises over 3200 individual eight by ten inch panels. Its execution, in acrylic, marker, colored pencil, ink, collage, and inkjet print on heavy paper, is dictated by the interplay between an elaborate set of rules and randomly generated instructions.
Portions of the map have been shown in Florence, Paris, and New York and it’ll be shown at an upcoming exhibition in Japan. (But where he really wants to display it is in MoMA’s huge atrium.) Prints and original panels are available on Gretzinger’s eBay store. (via @lukaskulas)
To determine which words are the most “metal”, this data scientist wrote a program to sift through more than 22,000 albums to find the words most frequently used in heavy metal songs compared to their use in standard English. “Burn” is the most metal word, followed by “cries”, “veins”, “eternity”, “breathe”, and “beast”. The least metal words?
If you were to run an analysis on what I’ve written at kottke.org, I doubt it would be particularly metal. \m/
Amazon has introduced a new feature called Interesting Finds. Like Canopy or Very Goods (or Svpply, RIP), it presents a curated view of Amazon’s vast selection. Looks great for finding gifts…wish it had a tab for kids stuff. (I got my 9-yo son a ladder ball set for his recent birthday. Success!)
Now that Donald Trump’s officially the Republican candidate, here’s a summary of how a party once led by Abraham Lincoln came to select Mr. Orange as their #1. The Republican Party hasn’t been “the party of Lincoln” for many decades now, but I’m sure Abe is spinning particularly rapidly in his grave over his party’s latest turn. (As I’m sure Andrew Jackson and Jefferson Davis have been doing as well over the past eight years.)
This is a beautifully shot video of the process for making tennis balls, from what looks like bread dough in the first steps to stamping the logo on the ball right before it goes into the canister.
I was commissioned to make a film and shoot a set of images by ESPN for Wilson, to show the manufacturing process of their tennis balls for the US Open. We flew to the factory, shot the film and stills in one day then flew home. Its an amazingly complex manufacture, requiring 24 different processes to make the final ball. It was hot, loud and the people who worked there, worked fast. So much beauty in each stage. I love the mechanics of how things are made, it fills me with great pleasure.
I love the little hand-clasper bots that put the yellow felt on the balls. One question though: the entire video is shot at normal speed, but the people putting the felt on the balls, that seemed sped up. But maybe they were just moving that fast?
Speaking of, feel free to have many possibly conflicting feelings about the people making the balls and their inevitable future replacement by a fully automated system. I know I did! (thx, damien)
For a project called Tag Clouds, street artist Mathieu Tremblin paints over graffiti tags and makes them more legible. The result looks like when Word says that the Hardkaze and Aerosol fonts are used in the document you’re trying to open but are missing from your computer and you click OK to replace them with whatever’s available. I think the font above is Arial, which is perfect. I also like this faux-watermark piece he did:
Prince’s iconic symbol was originally designed by Martha Kurtz and Dale Hughes (based on an initial concept by Lizz Frey) for use in a 1992 music video and Hughes shared a bunch of the original files and thinking that went into its design.
The day before Prince was scheduled to view HDMG’s latest edit of the video, Mitch Monson (HDMG partner/video graphics artist) asked Martha and me if we could create an animated 3D logo to use as a close to the video…. by tomorrow.
Umm, okay, and what do you have to work with?
Well, we have these drawings that Lizz has been working on…
(via do I even need to tell you)
Last night, I finished OJ: Made in America, ESPN’s 8-hour documentary series about OJ Simpson. Prior to starting the series, I would rather have poked an eye out than spend another second of my life thinking about OJ Simpson; I’d gotten my fill back in the 90s. But I’d heard so many good things about it that I gave it a shot. Pretty quickly, you realize this is not just the biography of a man or the story of a trial but is a deep look at racism, policing, and celebrity in the US. OJ: Made in America is excellent and I recommend it unreservedly. From Brian Tallerico’s review:
Ezra Edelman’s stunningly ambitious, eight-hour documentary is a masterpiece, a refined piece of investigative journalism that places the subject it illuminates into the broader context of the end of the 20th century. You may think you know everything about The Trial of the Century, especially if you watched FX’s excellent “The People vs. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story,” but “OJ: Made in America” not only fills in details about the case but offers background and commentary that you’ve never heard before. It is an examination of race, domestic abuse, celebrity, civil rights, the LAPD, the legal process and murder over the last fifty years, using the OJ Simpson story as a way to refract society. Its length may seem daunting, but I would have watched it for another eight hours and will almost certainly watch it again before the summer is over. It’s that good.
The only real criticism I have of the series is that the treatment of women in America should have been explored more, on the same level as racism and celebrity. A.O. Scott picked up on this in his NY Times review:
It is hard not to notice the predominance of male voices among the interview subjects, and the narrowness of the film’s discussion of domestic violence. This is not to say that the issue is ignored: Mr. Simpson’s history of abusing Nicole is extensively and graphically documented, as is the fact that most of his friends ignored what was going on at their Rockingham estate. But the film, which so persuasively treats law enforcement racism as a systemic problem, can’t figure out how to treat violence against women with the same kind of rigor or nuance.
A fuller discussion of domestic violence in the US and misogyny in sports would have provided another powerful, reinforcing aspect of the story.
The Complacent Class is a forthcoming book by Tyler Cowen.
Since Alexis de Tocqueville, restlessness has been accepted as a signature American trait. Our willingness to move, take risks, and adapt to change have produced a dynamic economy and a tradition of innovation from Ben Franklin to Steve Jobs.
The problem, according to legendary blogger, economist and bestselling author Tyler Cowen, is that Americans today have broken from this tradition — we’re working harder than ever to avoid change. We’re moving residences less, marrying people more like ourselves and choosing our music and our mates based on algorithms that wall us off from anything that might be too new or too different. Match.com matches us in love. Spotify and Pandora match us in music. Facebook matches us to just about everything else.
Of course, this “matching culture” brings tremendous positives: music we like, partners who make us happy, neighbors who want the same things. We’re more comfortable. But, according to Cowen, there are significant collateral downsides attending this comfort, among them heightened inequality and segregation and decreased incentives to innovate and create.
Cowen is also releasing another book called Stubborn Attachments: A Vision for a Society of Free, Prosperous, and Responsible Individuals.
In that work, I outline a true and objectively valid case for a free and prosperous society, and consider the importance of economic growth for political philosophy, how and why the political spectrum should be reconfigured, how we should think about existential risk, what is right and wrong in Parfit and Nozick and Singer and effective altruism, how to get around the Arrow Impossibility Theorem, to what extent individual rights can be absolute, how much to discount the future, when redistribution is justified, whether we must be agnostic about the distant future, and most of all why we need to “think big.”
It is only available by emailing him that you’ve pre-ordered The Complacent Class. Oh, and a reminder about how I (try to) read books.
I really like Sherlock, but a little less so every season…and this trailer seems to point in what I feel is a bad direction. Why does everything have to be so cartoonishly big and important? This isn’t James Bond with the entire world under imminent threat every 12 months from some heretofore unknown super-villain who is in charge of a global cabal of baddies that suddenly materialized, fully formed, out of nowhere. To be fair, Sherlock is far from the only show/movie series that does this (and to be more fair, they do it less than most), but the constant raising of the stakes is lazy writing and leads only into a corner.
The two most suspenseful movies I saw last year were Mad Max: Fury Road and Spotlight. Both focused on relatively small actions — the rescue and survival of five women in the former and the gathering of long hidden truths about the Catholic Church in the latter — and both were edge-of-your-seat the entire time. And the movie about journalism (journalism!) was actually the more suspenseful of the two, even though I knew the outcome the entire time. That’s excellent writing. I know the Sherlock team is capable of excellent writing — it’s one of the most inventive shows out there — and I hope this season will be more interesting than the OH MY GOD THE WORLD IS ENDING AND ONLY SHERLOCK CAN SAVE US vibe I’m getting from the trailer. TL;DR: the trailer for a TV show is too exciting. (Oh brother.)
When you put a vacuum cleaner and a harmonica together, you get something that sounds a lot like the THX intro sound. This make me laugh SO HARD. See also the shovel that sounds like the Smells Like Teen Spirit intro.
NASA recently released a time lapse video of the Earth constructed from over 3000 still photographs taken over the course of a year. The photos were taken by a camera mounted on the NOAA’s DSCOVR satellite, which is perched above the Earth at Lagrange point 1.
Wait, have we talked about Lagrange points yet? Lagrange points are positions in space where the gravity of the Sun and the Earth (or between any two large things) cancel each other out. The Sun and the Earth pull equally on objects at these five points.
L1 is about a million miles from Earth directly between the Sun and Earth and anything that is placed there will hover there relative to the Earth forever (course adjustments for complicated reasons aside). It is the perfect spot for a weather satellite with a cool camera to hang out, taking photos of a never-dark Earth. In addition to DSCOVR, at least five other spacecraft have been positioned at L1.
L2 is about a million miles from the Earth directly opposite L1. The Earth always looks dark from there and it’s mostly shielded from solar radiation. Five spacecraft have lived at L2 and several more are planned, including the sequel to the Hubble Space Telescope. Turns out that the shadow of the Earth is a good place to put a telescope.
L3 is opposite the Earth from the Sun, the 6 o’clock to the Earth’s high noon. This point is less stable than the other points because the Earth’s gravitational influence is very small and other bodies (like Venus) periodically pass near enough to yank whatever’s there out, like George Clooney strolling through a country club dining room during date night.
And quoting Wikipedia, “the L4 and L5 points lie at the third corners of the two equilateral triangles in the plane of orbit whose common base is the line between the centers of the [Earth and Sun]”. No spacecraft have ever visited these points, but they are home to some interplanetary dust and asteroid 2010 TK7, which orbits around L4. Cool! (via slate)
Life-long Lego fan Joel Carron recently analyzed a data set containing the types, colors, and number of pieces in every Lego set from the past 67 years and graphed the results. The shift in colors is the most striking thing to me: Legos are graying.
Legos have gotten darker, with white giving way to black and gray. The transition from the old grays to the current bluish grays (or “bley”) is a hot-button topic for many Lego fans.
If you look at the dominant color palettes for all of the tie-in sets they’re doing now, it’s not difficult to see where those darker colors are coming from.
From stop motion video wizard PES, the death scenes from five classic video games like Centipede and Asteroids recreated in stop motion using everyday objects like cupcakes, pizza, watches, and croquet balls.
In a short video, Joss Fong and Dion Lee of Vox explore how free mobile games are engineered to make money using behavioral psychology.
By collecting troves of data on how users play their games, developers have mastered the science of applied addiction. And with the rise of “freemium” games that rely on micro-transactions, they have good reason to deploy the tools of behavioral psychology to inspire purchases.
Back in 2013, Ramin Shokrizade explained The Top F2P Monetization Tricks:
To maximize the efficacy of a coercive monetization model, you must use a premium currency, ideally with the ability to purchase said currency in-app. Making the consumer exit the game to make a purchase gives the target’s brain more time to figure out what you are up to, lowering your chances of a sale. If you can set up your game to allow “one button conversion”, such as in many iOS games, then obviously this is ideal. The same effect is seen in real world retail stores where people buying goods with cash tend to spend less than those buying with credit cards, due to the layering effect.
Purchasing in-app premium currency also allows the use of discounting, such that premium currency can be sold for less per unit if it is purchased in bulk. Thus a user that is capable of doing basic math (handled in a different part of the brain that develops earlier) can feel the urge to “save money” by buying more. The younger the consumer, the more effective this technique is, assuming they are able to do the math. Thus you want to make the numbers on the purchase options very simple, and you can also put banners on bigger purchases telling the user how much more they will “save” on big purchases to assist very young or otherwise math-impaired customers.
Having the user see their amount of premium currency in the interface is also much less anxiety generating, compared to seeing a real money balance. If real money was used (no successful game developer does this) then the consumer would see their money going down as they play and become apprehensive. This gives the consumer more opportunities to think and will reduce revenues.
Mike Rose also discussed the psychological aspect of freemium games in Chasing the Whale: Examining the ethics of free-to-play games:
On the topic of in-app purchases, Griffiths says, “The introduction of in-game virtual goods and accessories (that people pay real money for) was a psychological masterstroke.”
“It becomes more akin to gambling, as social gamers know that they are spending money as they play with little or no financial return,” he continues. “The one question I am constantly asked is why people pay real money for virtual items in games like FarmVille. As someone who has studied slot machine players for over 25 years, the similarities are striking.”
Griffiths argues that the real difference between pure gambling games and some free-to-play games is the fact that gambling games allow you to win your money back, adding an extra dimension that can potentially drive revenues even further.
Update: In 2009, Chris Anderson wrote a book called Free: The Future of a Radical Price in which he argued that freemium was going to be an important business model.
The online economy offers challenges to traditional businesses as well as incredible opportunities. Chris Anderson makes the compelling case that in many instances businesses can succeed best by giving away more than they charge for. Known as “Freemium,” this combination of free and paid is emerging as one of the most powerful digital business models. In Free, Chris Anderson explores this radical idea for the new global economy and demonstrates how it can be harnessed for the benefit of consumers and businesses alike. In the twenty-first century, Free is more than just a promotional gimmick: It’s a business strategy that is essential to a company’s successful future.
In Situ is Corey Lee’s new restaurant in the recently refurbished SFMOMA. Like the museum does with art, In Situ brings culinary masterpieces from chefs around the world and presents them to guests. The current menu, which provides the name of the chef and the date the dish was first made in the style of the info cards next to artworks, includes Shrimp Grits from the now-closed WD-50 (Wylie Dufresne, 2013), Spicy Pork Sausage Rice Cakes from Ssam Bar (David Chang, 2007), Meyer Lemon Ice Cream and Sherbet from Chez Panisse (Alice Waters, 1980), and Wood Sorrel & Sheep Milk’s Yogurt from Noma (René Redzepi, 2005).
This sort of thing is not exactly without precedent. From the very beginning of Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas’ Next, one of the ideas was to present the menu from the French Laundry from Achatz’s first day on the job there in October 1996 (which is happening this fall) and the Chicago restaurant has already featured menus with dishes from El Bulli and Trio (Achatz’s first restaurant as head chef). Ssam Bar used to have cocktails from other places (Milk and Honey, Death & Co., etc.) on their beverage menu, properly credited. But as Pete Wells explains in his positive NY Times review, In Situ takes the concept further:
Would any chef have dreamed of building a restaurant like this 25 years ago? Would anyone have gone there? In Situ probably requires a steady supply of customers who care about restaurants in Lima and Copenhagen enough to have seen some of these dishes in cookbooks or at least in the Instagram accounts of the chefs in question. Mr. Lee depends on, and caters to, a class of eaters who pay attention to the global restaurant scene the way certain art hounds follow the goings on in Basel, Miami Beach and Venice.
One thing In Situ proves, just by existing, is that certain chefs are now cultural figures in a sense that once applied only to practitioners of what used to be called high culture: literature, concert music, avant-garde painting. A Redzepi dish can be visited in an art museum in 2016, and nobody finds this very strange.
What In Situ is doing also underscores how context and the renown of an artist can affect our perception of what is creative appropriation versus theft or plagiarism. That In Situ is helmed by one of the best chefs in the US and affiliated with a world-class museum matters. The similar work of an unknown chef might not get the same treatment, as Robin Wickens found out in 2006, when he presented dishes from WD-50 and Alinea on the menu at his Australian restaurant:
That’s what happened three months ago on the eGullet.com Web site. Sam Mason, a pastry chef at WD-50 in New York, set off an international dust-up when he posted a link to the Web site of Interlude, a restaurant in Melbourne, Australia, and asked: “Is it me or are some of these dishes strikingly similar to a few American restaurants?” Interlude’s site showed photos of such unusual fare as noodles made of shrimp and a glass tube full of eucalyptus jelly and yogurt, dishes pioneered at WD-50 and Chicago’s Alinea, respectively. Interlude’s chef, Robin Wickens, had worked for a week at Alinea as a stagiere, or unpaid intern, and had dined at WD-50 while visiting the U.S.
EGullet’s administrators then juxtaposed Interlude’s images to nearly identical ones from WD-50 and Alinea. Within a few days, restaurateurs and chefs from around the country and dozens of eGullet members added to the thread, many branding Mr. Wickens a plagiarist.
Mortified, Mr. Wickens says he removed the dishes from his menu and his site, and sent letters to the chefs whose work he’d copied explaining that he only wanted to utilize what he’d learned on his travels. “I never tried to claim them as my own,” says Mr. Wickens, who says he told many patrons that the dishes had originated at the American restaurants.
I wish I had San Francisco travel plans…In Situ is the first new restaurant I’ve been excited about visiting in ages (for obvious reasons). Soon, hopefully.
Narcos season 2 starts on Netflix on September 2. Oh, how I missed that stare! Wagner Moura is fantastic.
In response to the question “What Do You Think About Machines That Think?” Brian Eno responded that artificial intelligence has been with us for millennia and understanding it is more a matter of managing our ignorance of how it works.
My untroubled attitude results from my almost absolute faith in the reliability of the vast supercomputer I’m permanently plugged into. It was built with the intelligence of thousands of generations of human minds, and they’re still working at it now. All that human intelligence remains alive in the form of the supercomputer of tools, theories, technologies, crafts, sciences, disciplines, customs, rituals, rules-of-thumb, arts, systems of belief, superstitions, work-arounds, and observations that we call Global Civilisation.
Global Civilisation is something we humans created, though none of us really know how. It’s out of the individual control of any of us — a seething synergy of embodied intelligence that we’re all plugged into. None of us understands more than a tiny sliver of it, but by and large we aren’t paralysed or terrorised by that fact — we still live in it and make use of it. We feed it problems — such as “I want some porridge” and it miraculously offers us solutions that we don’t really understand. What does that remind you of?
Interesting perspective. There’s lots more on this question in the book What to Think About Machines That Think, which includes thoughts from Virginia Heffernan, Freeman Dyson, Alison Gopnik, Kevin Kelly, and dozens of others.
From the transcript of the video:
Disturbingly, many of Trump’s early measures didn’t require mass repression. His speeches exploited people’s fear and ire to drive their support behind him and the Republican party. Meanwhile, businessmen and intellectuals, wanting to be on the right side of public opinion, endorsed Trump. They assured themselves and each other that his more extreme rhetoric was only for show.
Oh sorry, looks like autocorrect misspelled “Hitler” a couple times there. (Boy, Godwin’s law makes it difficult to talk about the historical comparisons, although Mike Godwin himself sanctioned the comparison if “you’re thoughtful about it and show some real awareness of history”. Not sure I’m meeting the standard here, but at least we’ve learned something about Hitler?)
Tinybop’s newest app for kids is called Skyscrapers.
Discover how people build, live, and play in skyscrapers. Construct a skyline full of buildings! Go up and down, through every floor, and underground. Spark a blackout, fix a pipe, or clog the toilets. Test your building’s engineering when dinosaurs invade, lightning strikes, or the earth quakes. Find out what keeps skyscrapers standing tall and people happy in them all.
I believe my kids have all of the Tinybop apps and love them…I’m downloading this one right now. See also a bunch of great educational-ish iPad apps for kids.
Edward Snowden and Bunnie Huang are working on a system to help smartphone users determine whether their phones can be tracked. Their aim is to protect journalists from being detected while they’re in the field.
National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden has been working with prominent hardware hacker Andrew “Bunnie” Huang to solve this problem. The pair are developing a way for potentially imperiled smartphone users to monitor whether their devices are making any potentially compromising radio transmissions. They argue that a smartphone’s user interface can’t be relied to tell you the truth about that state of its radios. Their initial prototyping work uses an iPhone 6.
“We have to ensure that journalists can investigate and find the truth, even in areas where governments prefer they don’t,” Snowden told me in a video interview. “It’s basically to make the phone work for you, how you want it, when you want it, but only when.”
They are calling the device an introspection engine:1
Snowden and Huang are calling this device an “introspection engine” because it will inspect the inner-workings of the phone. The device will be contained inside a battery case, looking similar to a smartphone with an extra bulky battery, except with its own screen to update the user on the status of the radios. Plans are for the device to also be able to sound an audible alarm and possibly to also come equipped with a “kill switch” that can shut off power to the phone if any radio signals are detected. “The core principle is simple,” they wrote in the blog post. “If the reporter expects radios to be off, alert the user when they are turned on.”
Huang also announced today that he’s suing the US government over Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act:
Section 1201 means that you can be sued or prosecuted for accessing, speaking about, and tinkering with digital media and technologies that you have paid for. This violates our First Amendment rights, and I am asking the court to order the federal government to stop enforcing Section 1201.
As Elon Musk plans to introduce a fleet of completely autonomous self-driving vehicles to America’s roads, another PayPal co-founder is giving a speech in support of Donald Trump at the Republican National Convention. But why exactly is a canny libertarian with a penchant for undermining the fundamental pillars of democracy to forward his own personal aims supporting Trump? Jeff Bercovici has a not-so-crazy theory:
I think Peter Thiel supports Donald Trump because he believes it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to weaken America’s attachment to democratic government.
I’m not accusing Thiel of any ambitions he hasn’t more or less copped to. In an often-quoted 2009 essay, Thiel declared, “I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible.”
He also wrote that his fellow libertarians were on a “fool’s errand” trying to achieve their ends through political means: “In our time, the great task for libertarians is to find an escape from politics in all its forms — from the totalitarian and fundamentalist catastrophes to the unthinking demos that guides so-called ‘social democracy.’”
Here’s the essay Bercovici refers to: The Education of a Libertarian. Tyler Cowen, who interviewed Thiel last year and admires him (or at least finds his views interesting), has another take on Thiel’s support of Trump, which is perhaps related to Bercovici’s:
The Straussian interpretation of the Republican Convention is the correct one, which is perhaps one reason why Peter Thiel will be speaking there. They are not saying what they are saying, in fact they are saying “the world is going to hell, and many of those amongst us have been traitorously disloyal. That is why we scream out stupidities, debase ourselves, and court attention by waving our arms in ridiculous ways. We are a small church seeking to become larger.” Is that not how many smaller churches behave? Is that not how some of the early branches of the Christian church behaved? Did they have any influence?
What does Donald Trump actually want? What does Thiel want? What do Republican voters want? I’d wager their actual goals have less to do with the party’s official platform and what people are saying at the convention and more to do with broader opportunities to gain power that arise from disruption and the energetic application of fear.
Tonight, Elon Musk shared part two of Tesla’s “Master Plan” (here’s part one, from 2006). The company is going all-in on sustainable energy, building out their fleet of available vehicle types (including semi trucks and buses), and pushing towards fully self-driving cars that can be leased out to people in need of a ride.
When true self-driving is approved by regulators, it will mean that you will be able to summon your Tesla from pretty much anywhere. Once it picks you up, you will be able to sleep, read or do anything else enroute to your destination.
You will also be able to add your car to the Tesla shared fleet just by tapping a button on the Tesla phone app and have it generate income for you while you’re at work or on vacation, significantly offsetting and at times potentially exceeding the monthly loan or lease cost. This dramatically lowers the true cost of ownership to the point where almost anyone could own a Tesla. Since most cars are only in use by their owner for 5% to 10% of the day, the fundamental economic utility of a true self-driving car is likely to be several times that of a car which is not.
In cities where demand exceeds the supply of customer-owned cars, Tesla will operate its own fleet, ensuring you can always hail a ride from us no matter where you are.
Summing up: Telsa, Uber, and probably Apple all want to replace human drivers with robot chauffeurs. It’s a race between the Jetson’s future and the Terminator’s future. Fun!
Watch the intricate dance of trailing camera car, camera, and stunt car as they each bob and weave through traffic during the filming of the latest Jason Bourne movie in Las Vegas. The relevant scene is at 2:23 in the behind-the-scenes video above. (via @MachinePix)
In Sapiens (which I enjoyed and recommend), Yuval Noah Harari gave us a “brief history of humankind”. In his upcoming Homo Deus, Harari turns “his focus toward humanity’s future, and our quest to upgrade humans into gods”.
Over the past century humankind has managed to do the impossible and rein in famine, plague, and war. This may seem hard to accept, but, as Harari explains in his trademark style — thorough, yet riveting — famine, plague and war have been transformed from incomprehensible and uncontrollable forces of nature into manageable challenges. For the first time ever, more people die from eating too much than from eating too little; more people die from old age than from infectious diseases; and more people commit suicide than are killed by soldiers, terrorists and criminals put together. The average American is a thousand times more likely to die from binging at McDonalds than from being blown up by Al Qaeda.
What then will replace famine, plague, and war at the top of the human agenda? As the self-made gods of planet earth, what destinies will we set ourselves, and which quests will we undertake? Homo Deus explores the projects, dreams and nightmares that will shape the twenty-first century — from overcoming death to creating artificial life. It asks the fundamental questions: Where do we go from here? And how will we protect this fragile world from our own destructive powers? This is the next stage of evolution. This is Homo Deus.
A short but info-packed explanation about how film works…you know, the actual stuff that snakes its way through movie cameras. (via one perfect shot)
Chef and Momofuku founder David Chang spends a lot of time thinking about food and he’s arrived at what he calls the Unified Theory of Deliciousness.
My first breakthrough on this idea was with salt. It’s the most basic ingredient, but it can also be hellishly complex. A chef can go crazy figuring out how much salt to add to a dish. But I believe there is an objectively correct amount of salt, and it is rooted in a counterintuitive idea. Normally we think of a balanced dish as being neither too salty nor undersalted. I think that’s wrong. When a dish is perfectly seasoned, it will taste simultaneously like it has too much salt and too little salt. It is fully committed to being both at the same time.
I’m not sure his observations are exactly unified, but they are interesting and also why I enjoy eating at his restaurants so much. A meal I had at Ssam Bar shortly after they switched away from the initial Korean burritos menu is in my top 5 meals of all time and a pair of dishes at Ko (both somehow simultaneously familiar and new) are among the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten.
Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann argue that the Republican Party has been radicalized and Trump is the result.
Trumpism may have parallels in populist, nativist movements abroad, but it is also the culmination of a proud political party’s steady descent into a deeply destructive and dysfunctional state.
While that descent has been underway for a long time, it has accelerated its pace in recent years. We noted four years ago the dysfunction of the Republican Party, arguing that its obstructionism, anti-intellectualism, and attacks on American institutions were making responsible governance impossible. The rise of Trump completes the script, confirming our thesis in explicit fashion.
If you’re an Amazon Prime member, you can buy the BLU R1 HD smartphone for only $50 (or double the memory and RAM for $10 more). The phone is unlocked so you don’t need to sign a 2-year phone contract, but Amazon’s ads and product offers display on the lock screen (just like they do for the Kindle). According to Joanna Stern at the WSJ, it’s no iPhone or Galaxy, but it’s great for the price.
No, the R1 doesn’t feel or look like a premium phone, but it also doesn’t feel like something you’d find on a Toys “R” Us shelf. The metal frame and the touch screen’s curved edges give it a weighty feel, while the black plastic casing is more firm Coke bottle than flimsy ShopRite water bottle. Even the power and volume buttons have a satisfying click.
The 5-inch, 720p screen is very bright and viewable at multiple angles, even outdoors. It’s not as crisp as the 1080p displays you’ll get on $200 Moto G4 or Honor 5X, but again…$50.
In only 9 years, we’ve gone from smartphones with touchscreens being magical to companies nearly giving them away. Back in 2009, John Walkenbach predicted that Kindles would be free by sometime in 2011.
The price for Amazon’s Kindle 2 has dropped again. It started at $359, and then was reduced to $299 last July. Now it’s $259.
If this price trend continues, it will be free by June, 2011. I’m actually serious about this. At some point, the Kindle will be free. It will probably be before June, 2011.
The cheapest Kindle is currently $80, so we haven’t quite gotten there yet. Which is a bit puzzling now that I’m thinking about it again. Amazon is famous for playing the long game. If compare the cost to giving away a free Kindle (or highly subsidized higher-end Kindle) to every Prime member who signs up or re-ups for two years vs. a) the revenue gained from the ebooks purchased by those customers, b) the revenue from new Prime members, and c) being able to offer a package which is basically free shipping on all Amazon orders + Netflix + Spotify + a ton of free books + a free Kindle…that’s gotta make good economic sense for them, right? I mean, unless so many Prime users already have Kindles that giving them to those that don’t doesn’t make sense.
Anyway, it’ll be an interesting race…will the smartphone beat the Kindle to free? (via df)
Well! Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos, directors of Making a Murderer, are working on six more episodes of the series for Netflix.
The new episodes of Making A Murderer will provide an in-depth look at the post-conviction process of convicted murderer Steven Avery, and his co-defendant, Brendan Dassey, as their respective investigative and legal teams challenge their convictions and the State fights to have their life sentences upheld.
They will also offer access to Avery’s new lawyer Kathleen Zellner and Dassey’s legal team, led by Laura Nirider and Steve Drizin, as well as the families and characters close to the case.
I thought Making a Murderer was excellent, one of the best things I watched last year. Reminder: the entire first episode of the show is on YouTube for free. (via @beaucolburn)
I am not alone in saying that The Darjeeling Limited is perhaps my least favorite Wes Anderson movie (even though Ebert liked it). But it’s Evan Puschak’s favorite and he does an admirable job in raising my appreciation for the film.
One of the most popular map projections of the world is the Mercator projection:
It’s useful but misleading in important ways. With the the True Size Map, you can drag countries and continents around a Mercator map to uncover their true sizes. For example, it may not be apparent on a Mercator map that Australia is about the same size as the lower 48 US states (see above). Or that Africa is much larger than it seems on the map:
Or is it that North America is oversized on the map? Greenland certainly is. Its true size becomes more clear when you overlay it on India:
Mercator’s been around for hundreds of years, so luckily cartographers have invented dozens of other ways to visualize the world in 2D, each of which have their own strengths and disadvantages. You can view many of them here.
Update: I had somehow forgotten about this great scene from The West Wing discussing the geographic bias of the Mercator map:
(thx to the many who reminded me)
The dude from Primitive Technology is back and this time he’s constructed a grass hut from scratch.
This hut is easy to build and houses a large volume. The shape is wind resistant and strong for it’s materials. Gaps can be seen in the thatch but not if viewing from directly underneath meaning that it should shed rain well. A fire should be possible in the hut as long as it’s small and kept in a pit in the center.The reason the hut took so long is due to the scarcity of grass on the hill. It could be built much quicker in a field.
The Stanley Kubrick Exhibition is currently showing at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco and Adam Savage went to take a look and show us around. Super bummed I haven’t seen this in person yet. After SF, it heads off to Mexico City.
The Playlist has decided on their list of the 50 best animated films of the 21st century (so far). Here is 50-46:
49. The Pirates! Band of Misfits
48. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
47. Tokyo Godfathers
5. The Triplets of Belleville
4. It’s Such a Beautiful Day
2. The Incredibles
I’ll give you a hint about #1: it is somehow not Wall-E, which didn’t even crack the top 10. And come on, Up? The opening of that movie is damn near perfect, but the rest of it is good but not great.
Channel 4 is broadcasting the 2016 Paralympic Games in the UK and the commercial they made for it is great. I spied Richard Whitehead in there…his performance winning the 200 meters in the 2012 Paralympic Games is incredible:
Designer Tina Gorjanc plans to create a collection of leather goods made from skin grown from human DNA, specifically the DNA of fashion designer Alexander McQueen. McQueen died in 2010, but he sewed his own hair into the items in his first collection, which is where Gorjanc is sourcing the genetic material for her leather.
The Pure Human project was designed as a critical design project that aims to address shortcomings concerning the protection of biological information and move the debate forward using current legal structure.
Furthermore, the project explores the ability of the technology to shift the perception of the production system for luxury goods as we know it and project its implementation in our current commercial system.
In other words, should we be able to make handbags from of Alexander McQueen’s DNA without his (or his estate’s) permission? Dezeen has more details on the project. BTW, the handbag pictured above is a mockup created from pigskin, onto which freckles have been applied. Other mockups include replicas of McQueen’s tattoos, which, you know, wow. (via @claytoncubitt)
The Auralnauts are back with their expertly made revisions of Star Wars movies (see also Star Wars Episode II: The Friend Zone) and this time their subject is Kylo Ren from The Force Awakens.
What? What, dude?! Jim, what is up with your friend?
The Po Dameron interrogation scene: I haven’t laughed that hard in a loooong time.
If you need a small window of peaceful beauty today, here you are.
Stacey Baker, who is a photo editor at the NY Times, spends some of her leisure time photographing the legs of women on the streets of NYC. Her Instagram account has 78K+ followers and now she’s turned the project into a book: New York Legs.
In 2004, George Saunders wrote a article for Slate in the style of a manifesto for an organization called People Reluctant To Kill for an Abstraction. I believe Saunders’ piece has some relevance to current events.
At precisely 9 in the morning, working with focus and stealth, our entire membership succeeded in simultaneously beheading no one. At 10, Phase II began, during which our entire membership did not force a single man to suck another man’s penis. Also, none of us blew himself/herself up in a crowded public place. No civilians were literally turned inside out via our powerful explosives. In addition, at 11, in Phase III, zero (0) planes were flown into buildings.
And in summary:
This is PRKA. To those who would oppose us, I would simply say: We are many. We are worldwide. We, in fact, outnumber you. Though you are louder, though you create a momentary ripple on the water of life, we will endure, and prevail.
(via everything changes)
For the New Yorker, Heidi Julavits wrote about the easy access to ice being a particularly American trait.
As a kid, I took summer road trips with grandparents, and ice machines proved key to our modern pioneer-style vacations, wagon-bumping from one national park to another. We stored drinks and food in a giant cooler that, each morning, needed to be filled with new ice that would gradually melt during the day, until we reached our final destination.
Yes, this. I drove all over the US with my dad and sister in the summers when I was a kid and we rarely ate out (couldn’t afford it)…a big cooler full of daily replenished ice preserved our stores of food for the whole trip.
Anyway, for more info on refrigeration and how it changed America, see also the chapter on refrigeration in Steven Johnson’s How We Got to Now and Nicola Twilley’s posts on the artificial cryosphere.
This is a scene from Miloš Forman’s 1971 film, Taking Off, in which a support group of “square” parents meet to try and understand their children who have run away from home. What a great scene. Unfortunately, the entire movie seems quite difficult to find these days. It’s not streaming anywhere and this Blu-ray is $45. (via @dunstan)
Saving Private Ryan has been praised for its graphic and intense depiction of World War II, particularly the Normandy landing scene. History Buffs recently analyzed the film for its historical accuracy. How well does the film reflect the events of the actual D-Day landing and aftermath?
The video takes a bit to get going but is really good when it does. For instance, did you know that the Allies used inflatable tanks and Jeeps to make Germany believe Allied forces had strongholds in places they did not? Look at them inflating the tanks and bouncing Jeeps around:
George Dvorsky at Gizmodo highlights 10 Predictions About the Future That Should Scare the Hell Out of You. My, uh, favorites are:
1. Virtually anyone will be able to create their own pandemic
5. Robots will find it easy to manipulate us
7. The antibiotic era will end
8. Getting robots to kill humans will be disturbingly routine — and dangerous
From the manipulating robots section:
“Human empathy is both one of our paramount gifts and among our biggest weaknesses,” Brin told Gizmodo. “For at least a million years, we’ve developed skills at lie-detection…[but] no liars ever had the training that these new [Human-Interaction Empathetic Robots] will get, learning via feedback from hundreds, then thousands, then millions of human exchanges around the world, adjusting their simulated voices and facial expressions and specific wordings, till the only folks able to resist will be sociopaths — and they have plenty of chinks in their armor, as well.”
Many of the things on the list seem to have a similar potential for mischief as the discovery of nuclear fission chain reactions in the 1930s. On the other hand, humans have at least temporarily turned that possible civilization-ending technology into a major source of clean energy and 75+ years of world peace (relatively speaking) so maybe there’s some room for optimism here? Maybe? Hello?
In November, Nintendo is coming out with a mini NES gaming system that includes 30 games and a classic controller. Among the games are Legend of Zelda, Dr. Mario, Bubble Bobble, all three Super Mario Bros., Excitebike, Castlevania, and Metroid. It hooks to your TV with HDMI and will cost $60.1
There’s is no way I am not getting one of these. There’s no way to buy online yet, but keep your eye on this Amazon search and I imagine it’ll show up sometime soon.
Update: Amazon says the NES Classic will go on sale on November 11 at 5pm ET. One-click ordering will be disabled, so make sure your current CC and address are in there and practice that checkout routine. Quantities will be extremely limited, so you best act quickly.
In response to feeling like he was psychologically “stuck in a big, dark hole”, designer Thomas Thwaites decided to become a goat. At least part time.
From this, he builds a goat exoskeleton-artificial legs, helmet, chest protector, raincoat from his mum, and a prosthetic goat stomach to digest grass (with help from a pressure cooker and campfire)-before setting off across the Alps on four legs with a herd of his fellow creatures. Will he make it? Do Thwaites and his readers discover what it truly means to be human?
A book detailing his experience came out earlier this year.
You may remember Thwaites as the guy who built a toaster from scratch (also a book). Like completely from scratch…he smelted his own iron ore.
What compels people to do things? Especially things that don’t make sense to other people? Bruce Zaccagnino has, by himself over the past few years, built Northlandz, a massive model train installation 75 minutes away from NYC. The facility is 52,000 square feet, where more than 100 trains travel over 8 miles of track.
But can it last? While Bruce has even grander plans for Northlandz, his dream has grown beyond what anyone initially imagined. Yet the audiences he hoped Northlandz would attract just aren’t coming. He’s transformed from a creator into a caretaker, wrestling with upkeep instead of making art. Northlandz is not just another roadside attraction. It’s a man’s life, work, and home.
The true scale of the thing becomes evident at 3:40, when you see Zaccagnino walking through a valley with the walls towering over him. As someone who has built a massive, sprawling thing by himself without knowing why or how it was going to be successful, I hope Zaccagnino finds a way to keep Northlandz going.
HBO did a beginner’s guide to Game of Thrones and got Samuel L. Jackson to narrate it.
Over in Westeros, Lord Eddard Stark, aka Ned, is asked by his friend the King, Robert Baratheon, to be the Hand of the King, aka his right hand man. Ned doesn’t wanna go, but das his boy! So he uproots his family and heads to King’s Landing. Nice family, right? Don’t get attached. I’m just saying.
Does anyone swear as delightfully well as Samuel L. Jackson?
Rodney Mullen, one of modern skateboarding’s founding fathers is still skating hard at age 49. (So’s Tony Hawk, landing 900s at 48 years old.) In this short film, he’s captured in 360° video performing some tricks, new and old, in what he refers to as a “stanceless” style. Mullen’s still got it, but he had to resort to some extreme measures to make sure his body came along for the ride.
What makes a soul regular, and what makes a soul goofy? To understand why this question began to grip Mullen, you have to go back to 2003. That’s when his body began to lock up. Decades of skating had yielded decades of scar tissue; his right femur had started to grind against his right hip. “Like anything that grinds, the body will fuse it, will calcify it,” explains Mullen. “I could feel how fast it was cinching me down. I couldn’t roll out of stuff anymore. And if you can’t fall, you can’t skate.” Doctors were wary of breaking up the fusion. One doctor in particular, says Mullen, “said with his eyes what he wouldn’t say with his mouth: There’s no way out for you with this.”
Mullen was determined to find a way out. With wrenches, knife handles, and other instruments, he began to jam open the scar tissue that was locking him down. In time he graduated to pulling the tissue apart, using large objects as leverage. “You know it’s a little rope in there that’s binding you,” he explains. “So you pull, you pull, you pull, and right when you think you can’t take it anymore, that’s when you give it all you have.” Late at night, Mullen would look for things against which he could hoist, heave, and winch himself, tearing the tissue into submission. “Fire hydrants are great,” he says. “Shopping cart racks: Those are really useful.” When scar tissue breaks free, it feels like dried gum snapping in half, or uncooked spaghetti cracking apart. Mullen was twice approached by police who, hearing his screams, thought he might be getting mugged. “You have to be so desperate where you actually don’t care what happens to you at some point.”
I mean!!! (via @freney & @UnlikelyWords)
Some recent research suggests that if you’re feeling anxious, saying “I am excited” can switch your heightened emotional state from negative (anxiety) to positive (excitement).
It’s also counterintuitive: When most people feel anxious, they likely tell themselves to just relax. “When asked, ‘how do you feel about your upcoming speech?’, most people will say, ‘I’m so nervous, I’m trying to calm down,’” said Alison Wood Brooks, a professor at Harvard Business School who has studied the phenomenon. She cites the ubiquitous “Keep Calm and Carry On” posters as partial evidence.
But that might be precisely the wrong advice, she said. Instead, the slogan should be more like, “Get Amped and Don’t Screw Up.”
That’s because anxiety and excitement are both aroused emotions. In both, the heart beats faster, cortisol surges, and the body prepares for action. In other words, they’re “arousal congruent.” The only difference is that excitement is a positive emotion’ focused on all the ways something could go well.
Calmness is also positive, meanwhile, but it’s also low on arousal. For most people, it takes less effort for the brain to jump from charged-up, negative feelings to charged-up, positive ones, Brooks said, than it would to get from charged-up and negative to positive and chill. In other words, its easier to convince yourself to be excited than calm when you’re anxious.
Totally trying this the next time I’m anxious.
This is cool. StyLit is a patent-pending program for tranferring the style of an artist’s drawing to a 3D rendering in realtime. (via subtraction)
When you look at some plants, you can just see the mathematics behind how the leaves, petals, and veins are organized.
The Internet Archive has just uploaded a bunch of commercials that were shown during Saturday morning cartoons during the 70s, 80s, and 90s.1 Holy nostalgia bomb, OMG that Frosted Mini Wheats commercial! I somehow remember most of the 80s ones…can I delete those memories somehow to make more room for new thoughts about AI, self-driving cars, and climate change?
Amazon’s fake sales holiday is back and like last year, there are some good things on offer if you poke around a little.
The Kindle Paperwhite is $90 (I have one of these and love it). Oh, and the regular Kindle is only $50. Oh and also, the Amazon Echo is $50 off as well.
A collection of Stanley Kubrick’s best movies on Blu-ray is $70 (down from $125).
A 55-inch 4K TV for $650. Is that a typo? Weren’t 4K TVs like $5000 just a couple of years ago?
This wireless b&w laser printer for $50 is a great deal. (I have this printer. It is solid.)
The professional size KitchenAid stand mixer can be had today for $249.
Wes Anderson’s films are chock full of bad fathers and father figures. Bad Dads, the third book in the Wes Anderson Collection, showcases some of the art from the annual Bad Dads art show (prints!) at the Spoke Art Gallery in San Francisco.
Back in 2014, Ukrainian Danyl Boldyrev scampered up a 15-meter course in just 5.60 seconds. That’s almost 6 mph, straight up a wall.
Jan Chipchase is the founder of Studio D Radiodurans, which is sort of a modern day A-Team, except with more field research and fewer guns. For example, Chipchase is the sort of person who, for vacation, does not sip pina coladas in Bali but heads for “Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan’s GBAO region and China’s western provinces”. At the conclusion of the trip, which was actually only partially a vacation, Chipchase jotted down 61 Glimpses of the Future. A few of my favorite observations:
7. A white male travelling alone in interesting places, will always need to disprove they are a spy. Thanks Hollywood.
24. There is only one rule for driving in the GBAO: give a lift to every local that wants one, until the car is full. It’s common to travel main thoroughfares for a day and only see a couple of vehicles.
33. People wearing fake Supreme are way more interesting than those that wear the real deal.
34. An iPhone box full of fungus caterpillar in Kham Tibet sold wholesale, is worth more than a fully specced iPhone. It’s worth 10x at retail in 1st/2nd Tier China. It is a better aphrodisiac too.
38. Tibetan monks prefer iOS over Android.
53. Visitors to Tibet proper are supposed to go in a tour group and hire a local guide. With the right agent you can become a tour group of one and on arrival tell the guide you don’t need their services. It helps to look like you’re going to behave.
This is, as Tyler Cowen might say, interesting throughout. (via @themexican)
Alex Gibney, the documentary filmmaker who directed the awesome Going Clear (on Scientology) as well as films about Enron and Wikileaks, has a new film out called Zero Days. The film is generally about cyberwarfare and specifically about the Stuxnet virus, which has a particularly cyberpunk sci-fi first paragraph on Wikipedia:
Stuxnet is a malicious computer worm believed to be a jointly built American-Israeli cyber weapon. Although neither state has confirmed this openly, anonymous US officials speaking to The Washington Post claimed the worm was developed during the Obama administration to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program with what would seem like a long series of unfortunate accidents.
The movie was funded on Kickstarter and is out in select theaters…but is also available to rent on Amazon right now. Gonna watch this tonight.
Update: Ok, weird. Zero Days was not funded on Kickstarter. The KS film was originally called Zero Day and changed its name to Every Move You Make when the focus of the film changed. Gibney came on as a “Consulting Producer” to Every Move last year so that’s where my confusion came in. (thx, ken)
Casimir Nozkowski grew up in a building at 70 Hester Street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Before his parents occupied it in the late 1960s, the building had been a synagogue, a Prohibition-era distillery, and a raincoat factory. Before they moved out in 2012, Nozkowski “filmed the hell out of it” and made a short documentary about his childhood home.
My documentary is about my childhood home and how much of the past you could still see in it when we left. It’s about the development of a neighborhood a lot of lives have passed through and whether you can protect that legacy while still making room for new lives and new memories. In making my movie, I tried to follow some advice my mom gave me: “Don’t make a movie about moving out. Make it about how great it was to live here.” I like that sentiment but I couldn’t help wondering what was going to happen next to the old building I grew up in.
Max Deutsch trained a neural network using the first four Harry Potter books and then asked it to write its own chapter.
“The Malfoys!” said Hermione.
Harry was watching him. He looked like Madame Maxime. When she strode up the wrong staircase to visit himself.
“I’m afraid I’ve definitely been suspended from power, no chance - indeed?” said Snape. He put his head back behind them and read groups as they crossed a corner and fluttered down onto their ink lamp, and picked up his spoon. The doorbell rang. It was a lot cleaner down in London.
Hermione yelled. The party must be thrown by Krum, of course.
Harry collected fingers once more, with Malfoy. “Why, didn’t she never tell me. …” She vanished. And then, Ron, Harry noticed, was nearly right.
“Now, be off,” said Sirius, “I can’t trace a new voice.”
Rowling, your job is safe for now. Deutsch did the same thing with the Hamilton soundtrack…the result is not particularly good but that last line!
Beginning in 1904, Edward Curtis travelled around North American for more than 20 years photographing Native Americans. While his collection of over a thousand photos housed at the Library of Congress isn’t a precise record of how American Indians lived at the time (he took some liberties in romanticizing the past), it is nonetheless a valuable record of a people largely marginalized by history. (via open culture)
In 1974, Studs Terkel published a book called Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do. One of the people he talked to for the book was Chicago police officer Renault Robinson. Robinson is African American and offered up his views to Terkel on how blacks are policed differently…here are the relevant bits of the interview. On traffic stops:
“About sixty percent of police-citizen conflict starts in a traffic situation. It’s easier to stop a person on the pretext of a traffic violation than to stop him on the street. It’s a lot easier to say, “Your tail light’s out.” “Your plate is dented.” “You didn’t make that turn right.” You can then search his automobile, hoping you can find some contraband or a weapon. If he becomes irritated, with very little pushing on your part, you can make an arrest for disorderly conduct. These are all statistics which help your records.
Certain units in the task force have developed a science around stopping your automobile. These men know it’s impossible to drive three blocks without committing a traffic violation. We’ve got so many rules on the books. These police officers use these things to get points and also hustle for money. The traffic law is a fat book. He knows if you don’t have two lights on your license plate, that’s a violation. If you have a crack in your windshield, that’s a violation. If your muffler’s dragging, that’s a violation. He knows all these little things….
So if they stop the average black driver, in their mind the likelihood of finding five or six violations out of a hundred cars is highly possible…. After you’ve stopped a thousand, you’ve got 950 people who are very pissed off, 950 who might have been just average citizens, not doing anything wrong - teachers, doctors, lawyers, working people. The police don’t care. Black folks don’t have a voice to complain. Consequently, they continue to be victims of shadowy, improper, overburdened police service. Traffic is the big entree.”
And on the type of young white male that the job was attracting at the time:
A large amount of young white officers are gung ho. It’s an opportunity to make a lot of arrests, make money, and do a lot of other things. In their opinion, black people are all criminals, no morals, dirty and nasty. So the black people don’t cooperate with the police and they have good cause not to. On the other hand, they’re begging for more police service. They’re over-patrolled and under-protected.
The young white guys turn out to be actually worse than their predecessors. They’re more vicious. The average young white policeman comes from a working-class family, sometimes with less than a high-school education. He comes with built-in prejudices. The average young white cop is in bad shape. I think he can be saved if a change came from the top. If it could be for just eight hours a day. They may still hate niggers when they got off duty. They may still belong to the John Birch Society or the Ku Klux Klan. So what? They could be forced to perform better during the eight hours of work.”
Reading about this stuff, I keep going back to the 9 principles of policing drawn up by London’s Metropolitan Police in the 1820s in which the power of the police comes from the people, force is to be used minimally, and the efficacy of policing is judged on the absence of crime, not on the number of arrests or people sent to jail.
Redditt Hudson served as a police officer in St. Louis during the 1990s. He shared his perspective on race and policing with Vox last year: I’m a black ex-cop, and this is the real truth about race and policing.
It is not only white officers who abuse their authority. The effect of institutional racism is such that no matter what color the officer abusing the citizen is, in the vast majority of those cases of abuse that citizen will be black or brown. That is what is allowed.
And no matter what an officer has done to a black person, that officer can always cover himself in the running narrative of heroism, risk, and sacrifice that is available to a uniformed police officer by virtue of simply reporting for duty.
I posted a short video earlier today featuring Jane Elliott. She’s a noted anti-racism activist famous for her blue eyes/brown eyes exercise, featured in the video above.
White people’s number one freedom in the United States of America is the freedom to be totally ignorant about those who are other than white. And our number two freedom is the freedom to deny that we’re ignorant.
In the exercise, Elliott divides the class into two groups based on their eye color: those with blue eyes and those with brown eyes. The brown eyed group is instructed to treat the blue eyed group as inferior because of their eye color — they are to be called “bluey” or “boy” or “honey” but not by their names.
At the beginning of the session (which starts at about 1:30 (but don’t skip the intro!)), Elliott calls herself “the resident bitch for the day” and does she mean it…she does not let up because, as she says in the video, society doesn’t let up on people of color either. (via @dunstan)
Crackerjack science writer Ed Yong is coming out with his very first book in a month’s time. It’s called I Contain Multitudes (good title!) and is about “astonishing partnerships between animals and microbes”.
Every animal, whether human, squid, or wasp, is home to millions of bacteria and other microbes. Ed Yong, whose humor is as evident as his erudition, prompts us to look at ourselves and our animal companions in a new light-less as individuals and more as the interconnected, interdependent multitudes we assuredly are.
The microbes in our bodies are part of our immune systems and protect us from disease. In the deep oceans, mysterious creatures without mouths or guts depend on microbes for all their energy. Bacteria provide squid with invisibility cloaks, help beetles to bring down forests, and allow worms to cause diseases that afflict millions of people.
I will read anything described as “like a David Attenborough series shot through a really good microscope”.
Jane Elliott asks an audience a very simple question about being black in America. (via @carltonspeight who says “No BS, I wish every white person on Twitter could see this. Maybe it’ll help”)
From the films he made as a teenager on up to the recently released BFG, this is a look at the evolution of the films of Steven Spielberg.
I was 20 when Jurassic Park came out and while I really liked it, I didn’t think much about who directed it at the time. It certainly didn’t remind me much of Raiders of the Lost Ark or ET. I watched it again last night (it’s on Netflix) and it is soooooo obviously Spielberg.
Using a 5000-word dictionary of words rated on their happiness, the Hedonometer measures the average happiness on Twitter.
Christmas is always the happiest day of the year (“merry”, “happy”, and “joy” are all pretty positive) while shootings and terrorist attacks are Twitter’s saddest events. The recent mass shooting in Orlando seems to be the least happy Twitter has been over the past 7+ years.
The Hedonometer also analyzes the overall happiness of movies based on their scripts. The happiest movie is Sex in the City while the saddest is Omega Man (followed by The Bourne Ultimatum). Somehow, the fourth happiest movie is Lost in Translation, which might be reason for some overall skepticism about the project’s sensitivity to context.
The happiness over time of individual movie scripts has been analyzed by the Hedonometer too. Pulp Fiction’s happiest moment is when Vincent and Mia go to Jackrabbit Slim’s and the low point is “Bring out the Gimp”.
The system has analyzed books as well…the low point of the entire Harry Potter series seems to be the event at the end of The Half-Blood Prince.
Update: Grain of salt and all that, but the shootings of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and the Dallas police officers have pushed the happiness quotient on Twitter lower again so that the two least happy days have both occurred in the past month. There’s been a general feeling that 2016 has been a bad year, like George RR Martin is writing it. I wish the data were available for a closer analysis, but if you look at the chart, you can see that Twitter’s overall happiness starts to rise around the end of 2012 but starts to fall again right around the beginning of 2016…the effect is quite clear, even just from eyeballing it.
In a relatively new video essay about movies, Lessons from the Screenplay, Michael Tucker looks at Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis’s original script for Ghostbusters and how the framework it provided, enhanced by the improv skills of the actors, produced a movie better than the script might have indicated at first glance. And oh man, I love the turn-of-the-century Ghostbusters idea. (via one perfect shot)
Even though I was one of the (relative) few to watch the first episode when it originally aired,1 I had forgotten how weird the pilot for Seinfeld was. The theme music is completely different, Michael Richards’ character is called “Kessler” (because the network had legal concerns related to Larry David’s real-life neighbor, Kenny Kramer, on whom the character was based), and Elaine2 neither appears or is mentioned. Oh, and the first season was only five episodes long (NBC was very skeptical about the show) and both Steve Buscemi and David Alan Grier auditioned for the role of George.
Update: Well, that got taken down from Vimeo fairly quickly. You can still watch the pilot on Hulu.
Tech investor Fred Wilson recently gave the commencement address for the very first graduating class at the Academy For Software Engineering. In it, he shared the secret to his success:
So with that, I am here to tell you that the secret to success in your career comes down to three things, take risks, work hard, and get lucky.
I essentially1 agree with Wilson here. Earlier today I was listening to the latest episode of the Recode Media podcast where Peter Kafka’s guest was Daring Fireball’s John Gruber. Gruber recounted how he got started blogging about Apple and eventually turned it into a very successful business. I’ve heard the story before and it conforms nicely to Wilson’s path to success.
1. Take risks. Gruber bet heavily on three things for Daring Fireball: Apple, blogs, and (later) podcasts. None looked that impressive from a business standpoint when his bets were made. In 2002 when he started writing DF, Apple was still an underdog computer company whose partisans had mostly stuck with the company through its lean years of offering products that weren’t competing well and which didn’t exemplify the ideals of the Apple of yore. The iPod had just come out a year earlier and the life- industry- company-changing iPhone was years in the future. But Gruber never viewed Apple as an underdog…to him it was a legendary company in the world poised for future greatness. Professional blogs were just starting to be a thing back then as well, and it was far from certain that you might be able to earn even a partial living from them, especially on your own. And when he started his Talk Show podcast in 2007, podcasting was still largely a hobbyist endeavor. Sure, you could make some money doing it, but 9 years on, there’s big money to be had for the most popular shows. Three risky bets that paid off.
2. Work hard. Tens of thousands of posts and hundreds of hours of podcasts over the past 13+ years, yeah, I think that covers it. Gruber has put in the necessary ass-in-chair time.
3. Get lucky. There’s a lot of luck sprinkled around the success of DF, but perhaps the biggest break Gruber got was Apple’s decision to open up the iOS App Store to outside developers. Suddenly, you had all of these developers, startups, established software companies, and venture capitalists pouring money into the development and promotion of iOS apps. So these companies had money and needed somewhere to advertise their apps, a place where they could be sure all of the most influential and rabid Apple aficionados would see their message. Daring Fireball was the obvious place and the site’s RSS sponsorships were the perfect format.
A number of political thinkers have penned a non-partisan letter to supporters of Donald Trump. The letter is striking for its non-confrontational tone in nevertheless painting Trump as a dangerous authoritarian.
We aren’t criticizing or praising Mr. Trump’s policy proposals or his likely appointments. Our objection to him is deeper-we believe that his entire way of behaving represents a rejection of the essential character traits (the “qualities”) that our democracy requires of its leaders. We of course acknowledge that policy positions matter. But doesn’t political behavior inimical to democracy matter more?
A good read, but I’m skeptical of its impact. I keep thinking of Tyler Cowen’s description of the Brexit vote as “the one lever” for sending a political message to the country’s leaders:
Cities such as Bradford, while still predominantly white, no longer feel as English (and German!) as they once did. And if you are thinking that voting “Leave” does not at all limit Pakistani immigration, you are truly missing the point; this vote was the one lever the English were given for sending a message to their politicians.
Many Americans share a frustration of the current political system and how it is wielded against us in our name by skilled political practitioners, but I do not believe the US is a country filled with small-minded, intolerant racists, despite the perplexing level of national support for a proudly dishonest and bigoted TV personality, whatever his keen political instincts. Trump is the one lever being given to those frustrated voters for sending a message to their politicians and many are choosing to use it despite many of the reasons listed in that letter. Sending that message is more important than its potential consequences. (via @marcprecipice)
From Jamie xx’s In Colour. Directed by Romain Gavras. Best at fullscreen with headphones.
In 1852, Frederick Douglass gave a speech in Rochester, NY which historian James West Davidson calls “the most remarkable Independence Day oration in American history”.
In Rochester, Douglass stalked his largely white audience with exquisite care, taking them by stealth. He began by providing what many listeners might not have expected from a notorious abolitionist: a fulsome paean to the Fourth and the founding generation. The day brought forth “demonstrations of joyous enthusiasm,” he told them, for the signers of the Declaration were “brave men. They were great men too-great enough to give fame to a great age.” Jefferson’s very words echoed in Douglass’s salute: “Your fathers staked their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor, on the cause of their country … “
Your fathers. That pronoun signaled the slightest shift in the breeze. But Douglass continued cordially. “Friends and citizens, I need not enter further into the causes which led to this anniversary. Many of you understand them better than I do.” Then another step back: “That is a branch of knowledge in which you feel, perhaps, a much deeper interest than your speaker.”
The text of the speech itself is well worth reading…that “slightest shift in the breeze” slowly builds to a mighty hurricane.
Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? and am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?
Several years ago, James Earl Jones read a portion of Douglass’ speech:
Update: Baratunde Thurston recently presented Douglass’ speech live at the Brooklyn Public Library. (thx, rick)
While we’re on the subject, NASA announced late last week that they are extending the missions of nine spacecraft sprinkled about the solar system. Included are the New Horizon probe, which will wing off to study an object in the Kuiper Belt after doing so well with Pluto and the rover Opportunity, which was slated for a mission lasting just over 90 days but has now spent more than 12 years exploring the surface of Mars.
The Dawn mission to Ceres is another spacecraft whose duration has been extended, beating long odds. Part of the spacecraft’s functionality had not been working for some time, but was recently repaired.
It was a bit unexpected because Dawn is low on fuel. “Less than a year ago, I would have thought it was ridiculous that the spacecraft would even be operating at this point,” said Marc D. Rayman, the chief engineer for the Dawn mission.
The Dawn spacecraft was designed to use four spinning wheels to pivot in different directions. But at its previous destination, the asteroid Vesta, two of the four wheels overheated and failed. At Ceres, the wheels stayed off, and the spacecraft used its thrusters instead to pivot.
In December, Dawn reached its lowest orbit, just 240 miles above Ceres. Dr. Rayman said he and his team had expected Dawn to exhaust its remaining propellant by March.
But they spun up the wheels again. That succeeded, cutting the use of the thrusters. “It all worked out beautifully,” Dr. Rayman said. That left enough fuel to contemplate doing something more.
After a voyage from Earth lasting almost 5 years, the Juno spacecraft successfully entered Jupiter’s orbit late last night.
The engine burn was tense. 35 minutes is a long time for a spacecraft burn; after 20 minutes it had slowed Juno enough to be in orbit, but not the correct one. It had to continue for another 15 minutes to put the spacecraft on the correct orbit. It worked essentially perfectly. The burn time was off by just one second. That will have no real effect on the orbit.
The 35-minute burn slowed Juno down by more than 1200 mph.
Elie Wiesel died yesterday in NYC aged 87. He survived the Auschwitz and Buchenwald during WWII and later wrote and spoke extensively about the experience, not letting the world forget what happened to so many Jews under Hitler’s boot. For his efforts, Wiesel won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986 and this part of his acceptance speech remains as vital as when he spoke it:
And then I explained to him how naive we were, that the world did know and remain silent. And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must — at that moment — become the center of the universe.
I am going to be thinking about that paragraph a lot in the next few months, I think.
If you’re looking to avoid the family or ocean or grilled meats or fireworks, there are some seriously good movies that have been added to Netflix in the US just in time for the long holiday weekend:
Beverly Hills Cop
Back to the Future (I II & III)
And The Big Short arrives on July 6.
I couldn’t figure this out when I watched it on my phone this morning, but if you watch it in fullscreen HD, you can see how the shapes are cut to look different from various angles. Still trippy though.
Update: Make Anything reverse-engineered the illusion…here’s how it works:
Evan Puschak examines the rise of the independence movement in Britain, from their entrance into the European Community in 1973 to Thatcher’s rumblings about EU governance to UKIP’s rise, culminating in Brexit last week. I thought this was a pretty succinct summary of right-wing political tactics:
And that’s the point about far-right political organizations: they use the fulcrum of populism and fear to lift many times their weight in people.
Update: More on the history of the movement to withdraw Britain from the EU from Gary Younge in The Guardian.
Disney has announced a sequel to Wreck-It Ralph due to come out in 2018. Given that the plot summary is “Ralph’s wrecking wreaks havoc on the Web”, I guess it’s appropriate the announcement took place on Facebook, which has already done its part in wrecking the open web.
Sad but not unexpected news: Facebook is shutting down its Paper app.
When it was introduced in January 2014, Paper signaled the beginning of a design renaissance at Facebook. The look and feel of the app were orchestrated by Mike Matas, whose design firm Push Pop Press was acquired by Facebook in 2011. Paper was notable for the novel animations it used to guide you through the app - tap on a link and it would unfold like a letter; pull down on the story and it would fold back up, returning you to the feed.
They say the app is shutting down on July 29th, but my news feed has already stopped updating.
I love Paper. The look and feel of the app is amazing; it’s still one of the best apps ever for reading things online. Paper was the only way I read Facebook…I guess I’ll either d/l the Facebook app or stop reading?
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