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Entries for January 2017 (February 2017 »    March 2017 »    April 2017 »    Archives)

 

A new AI beats top human poker players

posted by Tim Carmody   Jan 31, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

We Work Remotely

The new rhetoric of television politics

posted by Tim Carmody   Jan 31, 2017

Politics happens in (at least) three places:

These categories all bleed into each other and still leave a whole lot out, but for a quick and dirty chop-job of the universe, well, I’ve seen worse. (And done worse.)

It helps to focus on one but not forget about the others. Keep your head on a swivel, like my football coach used to say. And each sphere has its own grammar, its invisible rules.

Some of the best writing about the Trump regime has been on the second, imaginary sphere, by TV critics on the politics of media. You might think this is the easiest of the three to tell stories about, but the degree of difficulty is absurdly high if you aim to do more than just summarize or react to the thing we’ve all just seen. Help me see. Change my vocabulary. Show me how it works. Show me why it works.

Lili Loofbourow’s glossary of Kellyanne Conway’s rhetorical moves helps you see.

Concept scrabble

“Most Americans are very focused on what their tax returns will look like while President Trump is in office, not what his look like.”

Conway frequently takes the words from the question — tax returns, Trump, Americans — and recombines them. It gives the impression of straightforwardness. The question, you’ll recall, was how Trump will respond to a petition signed by 200,000 Americans demanding that he release his tax returns. Conway takes those concepts — “the people,” “tax return” — and reshuffles them in a way that a) denies the premise (the 200,000 Americans who signed that petition fall out of her framing — let me tell you what the people care about, she says), and b) removes Trump from the sentence as an agent called upon to respond.

Besides “concept scrabble,” there’s “faux frankness,” “impatience signaling,” “Cool girling,” “Agenda Mad Libs,” and more, all illustrated with examples.

Emily Nussbaum’s “How Jokes Won the Election” helps you see — in this case, how many of Trump’s outrageous statements during the campaign had the structure of jokes. A lot of people have made a lot hay out of the “seriously”/”literally” dichotomy breaking down, but Nussbaum focuses instead on how it limits your ability to react, especially when you’re the subject of the “joke”:

The political journalist Rebecca Traister described this phenomenon to me as “the finger trap.” You are placed loosely within the joke, which is so playful, so light—why protest? It’s only when you pull back—show that you’re hurt, or get angry, or try to argue that the joke is a lie, or, worse, deny that the joke is funny—that the joke tightens. If you object, you’re a censor. If you show pain, you’re a weakling. It’s a dynamic that goes back to the rude, rule-breaking Groucho Marx—destroyer of elites!—and Margaret Dumont, pop culture’s primal pearl-clutcher.

When Hillary described half of Trump’s followers as “deplorables,” she wasn’t wrong. But she’d walked right into the finger trap. Trump was the hot comic; Obama the cool one. Hillary had the skill to be hard-funny, too, when it was called for: she killed at the Al Smith charity dinner, in New York, while Trump bombed. It didn’t matter, though, because that was not the role she fit in the popular imagination. Trump might be thin-skinned and easily offended, a grifter C.E.O. on a literal golden throne. But Hillary matched the look and the feel of Margaret Dumont: the rich bitch, Nurse Ratched, the buzzkill, the no-fun mom, the one who shut the joke down.

Conway can float in and out of different modes than Clinton can, partly because she has different political talents, but partly because she’s under different rhetorical constraints. These things are all imaginary, yes — but they work.

Still, Conway can be wrongfooted, too — here’s Loofbourow again:

In thinking about how to transcend the Conway effect, it’s instructive to study the people who’ve effectively interviewed her. Seth Meyers turned out to be a master at it: Comedians have a lot of experience quickly analyzing and calling out behaviors and tricks in ways that scan as funny rather than aggressive…

Meyers took Conway’s statement — meant to discredit a press report — and took its interpretation away from her. In his hands, her statement became the terrifying story of a president-elect who couldn’t be bothered to read his own intelligence briefs, even when they were about him. And he did it by using a more complex version of Conway’s multifactorial rhetoric.

There are limits to what we can learn about politics from comedians and comedy tropes — most of the time, the battles over laws and bodies exceed anybody’s ability to turn a phrase. But this imaginative sphere, too, is all part of the bigger combat, and there are still so many things we can learn about how the fight is fought.

A Japanese smartphone you can wash with soap and water

posted by Tim Carmody   Jan 31, 2017

Smartphones have been getting more water-resistant for a while now, but this is pretty crazy. Via Ina Fried at Recode, who writes:

The phone is a successor to an earlier handset that worked only with certain types of hand soap. The washable phone can be used with a range of soaps, including foaming body wash and hand soap… Waterproof phones have long been a thing in Japan, so it’s not too much of a stretch to think there might be an appetite for soap-proof devices.

In the US, smartphones have gotten so ubiquitous as to be boring — all of them big, flat, and offering slightly different versions of the same thing. I don’t know — maybe that’s an unfair characterization. But I wish the market were just a little weirder, wilder, offering different things to different people with different needs and lives.

Wired in the 1990s

posted by Tim Carmody   Jan 31, 2017

I used to work at Wired, and later at The Verge, and at both places we had a lot of reverence for “Wired in the 90s.” You’d say it fast like that, too — “wired-in-the-90s” — and it was a universally recognized shorthand for relevance, cool, slick design, smart writers, the “culture of now.” I suspect it probably stands for that for a lot of Kottke readers too.

Yesterday, for reasons unknown, my RSS reader spit up a random Kevin Kelly post from 2012 called “Predicting the Present” that excerpts a bunch of quotes from the early years of Wired. Here are some of them (I tried to pick fun ones):

We as a culture are deeply, hopelessly, insanely in love with gadgetry. And you can’t fight love and win.

Jaron Lanier, Wired 1.02, May/June 1993, p. 80

The idea of Apple making a $200 anything was ridiculous to me. Apple couldn’t make a $200 blank disk.

— Bill Atkinson, Wired 2.04, Apr 1994, p. 104

Marc Andreessen will tell you with a straight face that he expects Mosaic Communications’s Mosaic to become the world’s standard interface to electronic information.

— Gary Wolf, Wired 2.10, Oct 1994, p. 116

The human spirit is infinitely more complex than anything that we’re going to be able to create in the short run. And if we somehow did create it in the short run, it would mean that we aren’t so complex after all, and that we’ve all been tricking ourselves.

— Douglas Hofstadter, Wired 3.11, Nov 1995, p. 114

Of all the prospects raised by the evolution of digital culture, the most tantalizing is the possibility that technology could fuse with politics to create a more civil society.

— Jon Katz, Wired 5.04, Apr 1997

It is the arrogance of every age to believe that yesterday was calm.

— Tom Peters, Wired 5.12, Dec 1997

Separately, Ingrid Burrington was leafing through a 1996 issue of Wired and found this beauty:

AI-based investment systems will cut a swath through Wall Street, automating thousands of jobs or downgrading their skills.

— Clive Davidson, freely quoting Ron Liesching, Wired 4.12, Dec 1996

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

posted by Tim Carmody   Jan 30, 2017

borders-closing (wide).jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These David Bowie stamps are gorgeous

posted by Tim Carmody   Jan 30, 2017

bowie_stamps_00.jpg

The United Kingdom’s Royal Mail is releasing a limited edition of ten stamps honoring David Bowie, available on March 14 (although you can preorder now).

The images include Bowie in concert on the Ziggy Stardust tour of 1973; the famous zigzag lightning bolt across his face on the “Aladdin Sane” cover; and the covers of his “Heroes” (1977), “Let’s Dance” (1983) and “Earthling” (1997) albums. An image from Bowie’s final LP, “Blackstar,” released days before his death, is also part of the set…

The Royal Mail said that this will be the first time it has dedicated a full set of stamps to a single musician. Philip Parker, the stamp strategy manager at the Royal Mail, said in a statement that the stamp issue honored Bowie’s “many celebrated personas.”

He said: “For five decades David Bowie was at the forefront of contemporary culture, and has influenced successive generations of musicians, artists, designers and writers.”

I would love for the USPS to do something similar for Prince. I don’t know if we have any other stamps that honor royalty. (Besides maybe Wonder Woman.)

The angel of history

posted by Tim Carmody   Jan 30, 2017

paul-klee-angelus-novus.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

This storm is what we call progress.

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

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

Why is this useful?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Revisiting “Juice,” 25 years later

posted by Tim Carmody   Jan 30, 2017

It’s been a (very!) eventful two weeks, but I still can’t stop thinking about Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib’s terrific appreciation of Ernest Dickerson’s 1992 film Juice. That’s as good a reason as any to share it here.

Juice might be Tupac Shakur’s signature performance as an actor: he’s charming and frustrating, thoughtful and thoughtless — accelerating through emotions and personalities like an athlete changing speed mid-play — beautiful and wrathful and doomed, like Achilles or James Dean. Or, like Tupac.

Willis-Abdurraqib zeroes in a key part of the story, and of the best art from the era in which the film was made — “what so rarely happens with black people who live and die and do wrong today: an ability to visualize a complete life behind simply a finger that pulls a trigger, and a willingness to understand what drove them there.”

Juice came at a time when the black nihilist was being visualized and reconsidered onscreen in ways that had traditionally been afforded to and reheated for white actors and their stories. Movies like New Jack City, Menace II Society, and Boyz n the Hood showed black characters who either gained things with no moral code, or who were deeply aware of how little they had to live for, and conducted themselves in a manner that showed that awareness regardless of whom it hurt. These characters were sometimes sympathetic and complex, but none were like Tupac’s Bishop — in part because it was Tupac playing the role, but also because of the way we find Bishop, and how he ends up. By the time I was old enough to understand the emotion of his narrative, when I watched Bishop fall from the rooftop and heard the sound of a body hitting concrete that followed, I felt like I had lost a friend — a friend who, like some of my actual friends, had drifted into the machinery of some vice and had not felt loved or seen enough to shake their way out of it…

A tragedy is defined by the fatal flaw that plagues its central character, and the ways in which that flaw echoes down to all the other characters, leading to a brief and immediate reversal of fortune. The Greeks referred to this kind of flaw as hamartia — literally, a missing of the mark. Hamartia is to aim for a target and not hit it, and to have yourself end up on the other side of tragedy. It is, perhaps, to aim a gun at someone you want to kill and then pull the trigger, hitting them instead in an arm that they will soon need to pull your body back to safety. The true reversal of fortune rests in the brief moment before Bishop falls to the ground, when you realize that Quincy wants to save him, but can’t.

I should add, especially for readers who’ve never seen it, that Juice is beautiful. Dickerson was/is one of the best cinematographers alive before he became a director, and it shows. And the soundtrack is amazing. You could say it was a forgotten movie, but it’s just so unforgettable.

A map of the best dumplings in NYC

posted by Tim Carmody   Jan 27, 2017

Dumpling Map

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

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

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

The story behind Homestar Runner

posted by Tim Carmody   Jan 27, 2017

It feels like a stretch to call this “An Oral History of Homestar Runner” — the author only interviews two people, and it zips through time while all the details are kinda glossed over in a way that’s not entirely satisfying.

However. It’s still a solid interview with the two creators of Homestar Runner, which was easily the best all-ages cult video site from a time (the early 00s) when there weren’t exactly a lot of any of those things around.

It’s also a memory of a time when the web, or at least some corners of it, were a respite from the awfulness of the world, without being wholly removed from it. For example, I was introduced to it by a friend who’d just moved to lower Manhattan for grad school in 2002. We went and saw Ground Zero, commiserated about the upcoming midterm elections and the possibility of war with Iraq, and then he showed me a Strong Bad email. None of this seemed discordant. It was a firehose of new things, good and bad, not a stream of distilled horror demanding constant engagement. I miss that, and I know I’m not the only one.

The short history from Emmett Till to here

posted by Tim Carmody   Jan 27, 2017

Emmett Till, 14, was murdered and mutilated for flirting with a white woman, Carolyn Bryant, 21, in August 1955. Some reports say Till whistled at Bryant; others that he said “bye, baby” when leaving her store. Bryant’s husband Roy and his half-brother J.W. Milam kidnapped, tortured, and killed Till, then dumped his body in the river. Bryant and Milam were acquitted by an all-white, all-male jury that September. Till’s lynching and the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision the year before mark the beginning of the modern civil rights movement in the United States.

There are two new books about Emmett Till — or rather, partly about Till and partly about the world around him, which is not so far from ours as we might like. Timothy B. Tyson’s The Blood of Emmett Till includes interviews with Carolyn Bryant Donham, now 82, where she recants much of her testimony in the Till case, including her claim that Till made verbal or physical advances on her.

Clearly, he observed, she had been altered by the social and legal advances that had overtaken the South in the intervening half century. “She was glad things had changed [and she] thought the old system of white supremacy was wrong, though she had more or less taken it as normal at the time.” She didn’t officially repent; she was not the type to join any racial reconciliation groups or to make an appearance at the new Emmett Till Interpretive Center, which attempts to promote understanding of the past and point a way forward.

But as Carolyn became reflective in Timothy Tyson’s presence, wistfully volunteering, “Nothing that boy did could ever justify what happened to him.”

John Edgar Wideman’s Writing to Save A Life takes up the story of Till’s father Louis, who beat his wife, left the family destitute, chose the army over prison, then was court-martialed and hanged in Italy during World War 2 on thinly substantiated rape charges. When it comes to sex and race, the lines we might draw between legal and extralegal punishment, rough familial revenge and precise military bureaucracy, gets blurrier and blurrier. What Wideman finds instead in both Till cases, father and son, is a “crime of being.”

I had never once thought of nor seen Louis Till before Wideman painted him so exquisitely, and now I have to acknowledge that he is all around me. Walter Scott? He’s Louis Till; so is Eric Garner. Michael Brown, unsympathetic as he appears on that convenience-store video — I can no longer see him without conjuring Emmett’s father. Seventeen-year-old Laquan McDonald, wandering through the Chicago night until his body jumps and jerks from 16 shots? Louis (Saint) Till. Poor Philando Castile — pulled over at least 49 times in 13 years before the final and fatal interaction that left him bleeding in front of his girlfriend and her daughter and all the rest of us on Facebook Live — is a high-tech Louis Till. Ditto Alton Sterling down in Baton Rouge, Freddie Gray up in Baltimore and “bad dude” Terence Crutcher out in Tulsa: all these men are Louis Tills. Trayvon Martin and 12-year-old Tamir Rice are something else altogether, heart-rending combinations of both Tills, père and fils, doomed man-children in the fretful, trigger-happy imagination of American vigilantes and law enforcement. Whatever other crimes may or may not have been committed, may or may not have potentially been on the brink of being committed, these were all crimes of being before they were anything else.

It may be too hard to hold all of this in our heads — the elderly woman making gestures of repentance but still complicit in that horrible, racist crime, and the mysterious, violent man ground to dust by racist military machinery — and also recognize that this is still living memory: that Emmett Till and so many others should still be here to tell the stories of their lives, not have others speak for them. At the same time, when the horrors of World War 2 and Jim Crow suddenly in some ways feel closer than ever, how can we not strain to hear whatever they have to tell us?

Athletes get older, I’m getting older too

posted by Tim Carmody   Jan 27, 2017

I’m now about the same age as the oldest competitive pro athletes. Correspondingly, I think this year’s Australian Open finals slate is awesome. I don’t know if I’ll be able to stay awake long enough this weekend to watch the matches live, but I’m excited all the same.

  • Serena Williams (2) vs. Venus Williams (13), Saturday 3:30 AM ET
  • Rafael Nadal (9) vs. Roger Federer (17), Sunday 3:30 AM ET

Sports are also great because commentators talk about athletes in their mid-thirties like they’re historical landmarks in need of restoration and repair. All four of these finalists are born-in-the-80s millennials; nobody talks about them like they talk about other millennials. Maybe because they already came for our jobs with their boundless talent and energy twenty years ago when they were still teenagers, I don’t know. Rafa’s the youngest of them at 30 and looks the oldest. Maybe because the Williams sisters and Federer are actual engineered superhumans. Again, I don’t know. All I know is that Nadal looks like Deathlok now. A sexy, sexy Deathlok.

nadal past, present, future.png

Again, this comforts me, because I feel like Deathlok too. A less conventionally sexy Deathlok, but a cybernetic monstrosity of meat and metal all the same.

The old man bond makes me like athletes I hated. I never liked Vince Carter or Paul Pierce when they were young. Now that they’re two of the only NBA players who are older than me, I hope they never leave.

Vince, Paul, and Dirk Nowitzki are the only players still around from the 1998 NBA draft class. (Tyronn Lue is still around too, but he’s a head coach.) This is Vince talking about Dirk:

He’s a professional scorer. I say this about myself, too, and you could probably say it about Paul as well: When you see him walk into the arena before a game, you could probably say there’s no way in hell that those guys are playing tonight. Then Dirk will come in and drop 35. Regardless of how he feels before the game, once the big lights are on and you come on the court, he knows how to get it done, plain and simple.

When Dirk Nowitzki was drafted in 1998, Ross Perot owned Dallas’s team. I like having guys around who can drop 35 and knew Ross Perot. I think we need that in our lives. For just a little longer.

Update: Serena beat Venus in two tough sets, winning her 23rd Grand Slam championship, a record in the open era and just one behind Margaret Court for most all-time. And Federer beat Nadal in five sets of amazing tennis from both men, improbably beating his way back, backhand after brilliant backhand, after being down three games to one in the final set. The two best tennis players of our time (maybe of all time), each beating their toughest opponents. Just a perfect pair of finals.

Listen to early drafts of Hamilton songs

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 26, 2017

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

Personal stories about political objects

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 26, 2017

Joshua Glenn and Rob Walker have collected a group of writers to tell stories about political objects they own.

Batches of POLITICAL OBJECTS stories will appear on HILOBROW before, on, and just after the inauguration, and will continue to roll out through the end of March. The objects include overtly political artifacts both charismatic and absurd, and items whose stealthily political nature will surprise you; the stories range from the uplifting to the poignant to the unexpectedly illuminating. It’s a terrific collection.

Stephen Duncombe wrote about a God Bless Hysteria protest sign and Ben Greenman wrote about a Matchbox car.

Soon enough, I found what I didn’t know I was looking for — a Corvette. This was early May of 2016. Prince had just died. I had just started writing a book about him. I knew that I needed a little red Corvette, somehow, as a talisman. The only problem was that the one from the bin was black. I bought it. I took it home. I went into the closet and found the model paints that my sons no longer use. I painted it red.

Lisa Ericson’s contemporary chimera

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 26, 2017

Lisa Ericson

Lisa Ericson

Lisa Ericson

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

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

The literary maps of our childhoods

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 26, 2017

Hobbit Map

At The Awl, Victoria Johnson fondly remembers the books of her youth that contained extra material. Like maps.

If I ruled the world, or at least a publishing company, all books would contain as much supplementary information as possible. Nonfiction, fiction — doesn’t matter. Every work would have an appendix filled with diagrams, background information, digressions and anecdata. And of course, maps. Lots and lots of maps.

The Hobbit, Winnie the Pooh, and The Wizard of Oz all included great maps that expanded the story in the mind of the reader. Near the end of the piece, Johnson notes that The Hunger Games didn’t include a map of Panem and links to this fan-drawn map (image here):

Panem Map

The Capitol is in Denver.

D12 is Appalachia.

D11 shares a border with D12, is one of the largest districts, is South of D12, and is primarily used for growing grain and produce.

D10 is primarily used for raising livestock. They do NOT process the livestock in D10. However, to feed an entire nation, D10 is likely another very large District.

D9 processes food for the Capitol and the tesserae; therefore, it likely shares borders with the food production Districts (D4, D10, D11).

D8 produces and treats textiles and is a factory District. It is POSSIBLE to reach D12 from D8 on foot over a course of weeks/months. Therefore, it does not cross a large body of water.

May the maps be ever in your books.

Five books to change conservative minds

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 25, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Hypnotic video of milling metals

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 25, 2017

I don’t know about you, but I could watch milling machines grinding down metal all day long (and very nearly did). Seeing metal behave like soft butter is weiiiird. Those blades are shaaaarp. Some words can be made looooong by repeating voooooowels. (via @rands)

Rogue One’s unique storyboard, remixed from 100s of films

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 25, 2017

In an interview with Yahoo Movies UK, Rogue One editor Colin Goudie shares how he made a full-length story reel for director Gareth Edwards from similar scenes from 100s of other movies so that Edwards could work out the pacing for the action and dialogue.

There was no screenplay, there was just a story breakdown at that point, scene by scene. He got me to rip hundreds of movies and basically make ‘Rogue One’ using other films so that they could work out how much dialogue they actually needed in the film.

It’s very simple to have a line [in the script] that reads “Krennic’s shuttle descends to the planet”, now that takes maybe 2-3 seconds in other films, but if you look at any other ‘Star Wars’ film you realise that takes 45 seconds or a minute of screen time. So by making the whole film that way — I used a lot of the ‘Star Wars’ films — but also hundreds of other films too, it gave us a good idea of the timing.

For example the sequence of them breaking into the vault I was ripping the big door closing in ‘Wargames’ to work out how long does a vault door take to close.

So that’s what I did and that was three months work to do that and that had captions at the bottom which explained the action that was going to be taking place, and two thirds of the screen was filled with the concept art that had already been done and one quarter, the bottom corner, was the little movie clip to give you how long that scene would actually take.

Then I used dialogue from other movies to give you a sense of how long it would take in other films for someone to be interrogated. So for instance, when Jyn gets interrogated at the beginning of the film by the Rebel council, I used the scene where Ripley gets interrogated in ‘Aliens’.

So you get an idea of what movies usually do.

That’s super interesting! Like a moving Pinterest mood board or something. Oh, what I wouldn’t give to see that story reel.

The leisurely pace of light speed

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 25, 2017

In a 45-minute video called Riding Light, Alphonse Swinehart animates the journey outward from the Sun to Jupiter from the perspective of a photon of light. The video underscores just how slow light is in comparison to the vast distances it has to cover, even within our own solar system. Light takes 8.5 minutes to travel from the Sun to the Earth, almost 45 minutes to Jupiter, more than 4 years to the nearest star, 100,000 years to the center of our galaxy, 2.5 million years to the nearest large galaxy (Andromeda), and 32 billion years to reach the most remote galaxy ever observed.1 The music is by Steve Reich (Music for 18 Musicians), whose music can also seem sort of endless.

If you’re impatient, you can watch this 3-minute version, sped up by 15 times:

  1. This isn’t strictly true. As I understand it, a photon that just left the Sun will never reach that most remote galaxy.

Ernest Hemingway’s cocktail recipe for bad times

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 24, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hemingway Kicks

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

Why Trump and his staff lie

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 24, 2017

Over at Bloomberg, Tyler Cowen provides an explanation as to why Donald Trump and his staff are lying.

By requiring subordinates to speak untruths, a leader can undercut their independent standing, including their standing with the public, with the media and with other members of the administration. That makes those individuals grow more dependent on the leader and less likely to mount independent rebellions against the structure of command. Promoting such chains of lies is a classic tactic when a leader distrusts his subordinates and expects to continue to distrust them in the future.

Another reason for promoting lying is what economists sometimes call loyalty filters. If you want to ascertain if someone is truly loyal to you, ask them to do something outrageous or stupid. If they balk, then you know right away they aren’t fully with you. That too is a sign of incipient mistrust within the ruling clique, and it is part of the same worldview that leads Trump to rely so heavily on family members.

This is interesting throughout, particularly the bit about “higher-status mistruths and lower-status mistruths”.

Note that these tactics do not require a strategic masterplan.1 We know Trump acts mostly on instinct, so all the lying is just how he’s found success doing business in the past. I’ve been listening to The Power Broker on audiobook for the past few months and the similarities between how Robert Moses operated (particularly in NYC at the height of his powers) and Trump’s tactics are downright eerie, right down to the outright lies, ignoring outside counsel, and favoring short-term results over deeper long-term consequences.2 Both men had so much power and (especially in Moses’ case) capability that they could have really helped people and made a difference in the lives of millions but instead used it mainly to get their own way.

  1. Deeeep breath. Ok. In a weird way, I feel like I understand this aspect of Trump…and it makes me uncomfortable to identify with him in this way. I don’t really make plans or set goals. My about page states “I don’t have a plan.” I approach life tactically, not strategically. And I think Trump does too. (Part of my discomfort here is the realization that a tactical approach to life may require privilege. Maybe Trump doesn’t have to think long-term because he was born two steps from home plate. I don’t know, I’ve never really thought about it…another privilege.) Of course, where I use knowledge to spread the power of good ideas around to the widest possible audience (I hope!), Trump uses lies to consolidate and wield his own personal power.

  2. Moses was brilliant and certainly capable of deep strategic thought, but according to Caro, as his responsibilities, power, and self-confidence increased, he relied on what had worked for him previously with little regard for the circumstances of particular situations. It was literally “we’re doing it my way or (no) highway”.

Finding Dory is a movie about disability

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 24, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The official org chart of the US government

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 24, 2017

The United States Government Manual is the official handbook of the US federal government. Here is the org chart for our government…take notice of what’s right at the top:

US Govt Org Chart

I’m no constitutional scholar, but that particular document starts off:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

I realize the current executive administration doesn’t care and the current majority in the legislative branch barely cares, but remembering exactly who our government works for will be helpful over the next few years. (via @monstro)

Building the perfect country

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 24, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

(via @dunstan)

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

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

(thx, jemal)

Every book Barack Obama recommended during his presidency

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 23, 2017

President Obama is a reader. NY Times book critic Michiko Kakutani interviewed Obama about his reading just before he left office.

Last Friday, seven days before his departure from the White House, Mr. Obama sat down in the Oval Office and talked about the indispensable role that books have played during his presidency and throughout his life — from his peripatetic and sometimes lonely boyhood, when “these worlds that were portable” provided companionship, to his youth when they helped him to figure out who he was, what he thought and what was important.

During his eight years in the White House — in a noisy era of information overload, extreme partisanship and knee-jerk reactions — books were a sustaining source of ideas and inspiration, and gave him a renewed appreciation for the complexities and ambiguities of the human condition.

During his tenure in office, the President publicly recommended 86 different books, compiled into one list by Entertainment Weekly. Here are several of them, some of which I have also read and recommended on this very site:

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, Dr. Atul Gawande
One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez
Seveneves, Neal Stephenson
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Yuval Noah Harari
The Sixth Extinction, Elizabeth Kolbert
Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak
Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life, William Finnegan
The Power Broker, Robert A. Caro
Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. Du Bois
The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead
Working, Studs Terkel
Washington: A Life, Ron Chernow
The Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling
Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, Doris Kearns Goodwin
What Is the What, Dave Eggers

Our most widely read US President, for sure.

Update: I’m getting some pushback on my assertion that Obama was “our most widely read US President”. Since “widely read” seems to have multiple meanings, I should have been more explicit on what I meant. I didn’t mean that he had written the most books read by the most people (that is perhaps Teddy Roosevelt) or had read the most books (George W. Bush and Roosevelt were both voracious readers, as were Jefferson, Clinton, and Lincoln). I meant that compared to previous Presidents, Obama has read books from the widest spectrum of viewpoints and authors. Among the list of 86 (which are not the books he read in office but just the ones he publicly recommended) are books on politics (of course), science, economics, sports, and medicine, some classics, children’s books, plenty of fiction, and science fiction. Most importantly, the list includes many books written by women and persons of color. Judging by this (partial) George W. Bush reading list (which includes only two books written by women (one of whom is his daughter)), outside of Clinton and perhaps Carter, I would wager very few Presidents have read many books by women and no more than a token few books by black authors.

The grand unified theory of Pixar confirmed?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 23, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abstract is a new Netflix series about design

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 23, 2017

Abstract is an upcoming documentary series from Netflix that explores the art of design. Each of the eight episodes profiles a designer at the top of their discipline: photographer Platon, graphic designer Paula Scher, stage designer Es Devlin, illustrator Christoph Niemann, architect Bjarke Ingels, shoe designer Tinker Hatfield, interior designer Ilse Crawford, and automotive designer Ralph Gilles.

Step inside the minds of the most innovative designers in a variety of disciplines and learn how design impacts every aspect of life.

Looks like a Chef’s Table for design. All episodes will be available February 10.

Honor and Respect: how to address President Obama and Donald Trump

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 23, 2017

Robert Hickey is the deputy director of The Protocol School of Washington, which provides etiquette and protocol training. In his book Honor & Respect, he covers the “correct written and oral forms of address for everyone from local officials to foreign heads of state”. For The President of the United States, the proper forms of address are:

Letter salutation: Dear Mr. President:
Complimentary close: Most respectfully,
Announced: The President of the United States
Introduction: Mr. President, may I present …
Conversation: Mr. President

And contrary to how many media outlets refer to former US Presidents, they should not be referred to as “President” (e.g. “President Bush”):

“While it is common practice in the media and elsewhere to address and identify former presidents as ‘President (Name),’ this is a mistake,” said Hickey. “Serving as President of the United States does not grant one the personal rank of ‘President’ for life. The office of President is a one-person-at-a-time role that a specific individual holds and then hands off to the next person.”

“Courtesies, honors, and special forms of address are symbols of the power of the office. They belong to the office and to the citizens, not former office holders.”

Hickey recommends “The Honorable” as an official title (e.g. “The Honorable Jimmy Carter”) and “Mr./Ms.” for conversation or salutation (e.g. “Mr. Clinton”).

While Donald Trump was officially sworn in as the President on Friday, this site will continue to refer to Trump as “Trump” or “Donald Trump”1 and not as “President Trump”. Again and again, almost to a pathological degree, Trump has demonstrated, in word and deed, that he has not earned and does not deserve our respect and the title of his office. It’s a small protest by a small “media outlet”, perhaps petty, but as long as the First Amendment still applies, I will publish what I like on my own damn website.

And since I am all for the “one-person-at-a-time” rule, this site will also continue to refer to Barack Obama as “President Obama”. He’s earned it many times over.

  1. Or even “Fuckface Von Clownstick”. We don’t stand on ceremony here. But I won’t call him just “Donald”…that would be disrespectful to greater Donalds like Sutherland, Glover, and Duck.

A short animated history of Planned Parenthood

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 20, 2017

From Now This, a short animated history of Planned Parenthood, the origins of which date back more than 100 years.

No woman can call herself free who does not own and control her body.

Voices in the video include Mindy Kaling, Amy Schumer, and Meryl Streep.

The Bloody Mary Book

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 19, 2017

The Bloody Mary

I’m happy and proud to announce that my pal Brian Bartels’ book The Bloody Mary will be out in a couple months.

The Bloody Mary is one of the most universally-loved drinks. Perfect for breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner, and beyond, there simply isn’t a wrong time for a Bloody.

In The Bloody Mary, author Brian Bartels — beverage director for the beloved West Village restaurants Jeffrey’s Grocery, Joseph Leonard, Fedora, Perla, and Bar Sardine — delves into the fun history of this classic drink. (Did Hemingway create it, as legend suggests? Or was it an ornery Parisian bartender?)

More than 50 eclectic recipes, culled from top bartenders around the country, will have drinkers thinking outside the vodka box and taking garnishes to a whole new level.

Brian is probably the one person most responsible/culpable for introducing me, somewhat later in life than many, to the wonderful world of spirits and cocktails. I am not a particular fan of the Bloody Mary, but I’m buying this book because Brian has yet to steer me wrong when it comes to beverages.

Lessons learned

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 19, 2017

Last month, game designer Elizabeth Sampat took to Twitter to share some life lessons she’d learned. Perhaps you’ll find some of them as interesting and useful as I did.

The maximum amount of work you can ever possibly do in a relationship is 50%.

When someone says they can’t do something, 75% of the time it means “There are things not worth sacrificing to make this happen.”

Never feel bad for dropping people from your life. Friends, family, whoever.

Don’t rely on a single person for all your emotional needs, even if monogamous. It’s not a poly thing, it’s a diversification of assets.

Brussels sprouts and spinach are delicious, it’s just that your mom couldn’t cook.

Mallory Ortberg’s “what an odd thing to say!” is the world’s best polite response to someone saying something insulting.

You can’t self-control your way out of sadness.

The greatest engineering innovations in Formula One racing

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 19, 2017

Real Engineering takes a look at some of the greatest innovations in F1 racing, including those that have made their way into passenger cars, like disc brakes, carbon fiber construction, and aerodynamics. The part about how the teams of engineers started competing with each other to increase the aerodynamics was really interesting. The 2014 F1 season was an instance where one team’s innovations were so dominant that the drivers were almost irrelevant. Mercedes dominated in 2015 and 2016 as well, but rule changes for 2017 (wider tires, wider cars, and lower spoilers mean faster cornering) will have everyone scrambling to find the advantages.

Graffiti everywhere

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 19, 2017

Josh Keyes Grafitti

Artist Josh Keyes makes paintings that imagine graffiti written on objects not commonly tagged, like satellites, whales, icebergs, and the Space Shuttle. (via colossal)

Photos of evolution in action

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 18, 2017

Southern Cassowary

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

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

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

Cartographic art by Matthew Rangel

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 18, 2017

Matthew Rangel

Artist Matthew Rangel hikes through what looks like some of the most beautiful terrain in the world and makes these cartographic drawings based on his experiences. Lovely work. (via @djacobs)

How Louis C.K. tells a joke

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 18, 2017

Evan Puschak looks at a single joke Louis C.K. tells about playing Monopoly with his daughters and takes it apart to see how Louis builds and delivers his material. By the end, you’ll likely have a new appreciation of the efficiency and power of Louis’ performance…every word he utters is doing work.

You know, more than anything else I think I’m obsessed with articulation, with the magic of putting things just the right way. There are 207 words in this joke and not a single one is wasted. They’re used either in meaning or in rhythm to contribute to the overall effect, an effect that lets us see the world from a different angle, and more importantly, makes us laugh.

Good phrase, “the magic of putting things just the right way”.

The best of Disney cinematography

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 18, 2017

Jorge Luengo Ruiz has collected what he calls the most beautiful shots in the history of Disney. The scenes are pulled from nearly every Disney feature-length animation ever made, including Snow White, Peter Pan, The Lion King, and Moana. There’s a simple shot early on of Dumbo’s shadow passing over the ground that I really liked.

Buzzfeed did some stills of the best shots from Studio Ghibli movies, but it would be great to see a video collection. Both studios have produced amazing work, but Ghibli might best Disney in terms of sheer artistry and beauty.

“Life is a preexisting condition waiting to happen”

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 17, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slow and steady wins the healthcare race

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 17, 2017

In a piece called The Heroism of Incremental Care for the New Yorker, surgeon Atul Gawande argues that our healthcare system is built for and celebrates heroic intensive care over the slower but more effective efforts of long-term primary care givers.

We have a certain heroic expectation of how medicine works. Following the Second World War, penicillin and then a raft of other antibiotics cured the scourge of bacterial diseases that it had been thought only God could touch. New vaccines routed polio, diphtheria, rubella, and measles. Surgeons opened the heart, transplanted organs, and removed once inoperable tumors. Heart attacks could be stopped; cancers could be cured. A single generation experienced a transformation in the treatment of human illness as no generation had before. It was like discovering that water could put out fire. We built our health-care system, accordingly, to deploy firefighters. Doctors became saviors.

But the model wasn’t quite right. If an illness is a fire, many of them require months or years to extinguish, or can be reduced only to a low-level smolder. The treatments may have side effects and complications that require yet more attention. Chronic illness has become commonplace, and we have been poorly prepared to deal with it. Much of what ails us requires a more patient kind of skill.

The banned children’s books your kid should read

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 17, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

The 8 richest men are now as wealthy as half the world’s population

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 17, 2017

According to a report by Oxfam, the world’s 8 richest men are as wealthy as the poorest half of the world’s population. That’s 8 men with the same combined wealth of 3.6 billion people.

As decision makers and many of the super-rich gather for this week’s World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, the charity’s report suggests the wealth gap is wider than ever, with new data for China and India indicating that the poorest half of the world owns less than previously estimated.

Oxfam, which described the gap as “obscene,” said if the new data had been available before, it would have shown that in 2016 nine people owned the same as the 3.6 billion who make up the poorest half of humanity, rather than 62 estimated at the time.

The gap between the super-rich and poor is widening: in 2010, it would have taken 43 of the richest people to equal the bottom 50%. The eight men in question are Bill Gates, Amancio Ortega, Warren Buffett, Carlos Slim, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Ellison, and Michael Bloomberg.

Five of the men on this list — Gates, Buffett, Ellison, Bloomberg, and Zuckerberg (all Americans) — have signed the Giving Pledge, a public promise to give away the majority of their fortunes while still alive (or upon their deaths). They are essentially agreeing with Oxfam that their wealth should be redistributed. When five men who control, say, as much wealth as 25-30% of the world’s poorest are saying, by their actions, that the wealth inequality gap needs to be narrowed, shouldn’t the government take that as a sign that something needs to be done about it?

Update: The way Oxfam is calculating wealth here takes debt into account:

If you look at the numbers that the statistic is based on, from Forbes and Credit Suisse, you’ll see that the equality here is that the eight richest people in the world have a combined net worth of roughly $426 billion, or 0.16% of all the world’s wealth.

Is it really true that the bottom 50% of the world’s population accounts for only 0.16% of the wealth on the planet? Well, not really. The bottom 50% comprises five different deciles. Of those deciles, the fourth has 0.17% of the world’s wealth, and the fifth has 0.32%. Those are both very small numbers — but they’re both bigger than 0.16%.

So something funny is going on here — and that something funny is debt. When Oxfam looks at net worth, it adds up your assets, and then subtracts your liabilities. And when your liabilities are bigger than your assets, that means you have negative net worth. According to Oxfam’s methodology, the bottom 10% of the world’s population has a net worth of one trillion negative dollars — an almost inconceivably large sum.

The inequality is there, and growing, but Oxfam’s formulation is misleading without the proper context. (thx, everyone)

Jump!

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 13, 2017

Jump Portraits

Jump Portraits

Jump Portraits

Jump Portraits

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

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

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

The evolution of recorded music

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 13, 2017

The Recording Academy has produced a series of three short and breezy videos on the history of recorded music, from the wax cylinder phonograph to cassette tapes to CDs to MP3s. Interest piqued, I went to read more about the history of the CD. When developing the disc, the physical size of it was dictated by Beethoven:

The two companies argued about what size, shape and technology the CD should support. It was eventually settled on a disc of 115 millimetres in diameter and 74 minutes worth of storage. Why 74 minutes? To fit Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, of course.

When the format was released in 1982, players cost $900 and CDs themselves were $30 ($2270 and $75 in 2016 dollars)1 and fewer than 100 individual titles were available for sale.

  1. And remember when movies on VHS cost up to $89.95? (If you paid that for a movie in 1984, that’s $210 in 2016 dollars. Suddenly those Hamilton tickets don’t seem so expensive.) Very few could afford to buy movies outright at that price…therefore, Blockbuster. See also the pricing for the original Nintendo.

How Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto designs a game

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 13, 2017

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

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

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

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

A human-powered paper centrifuge

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 13, 2017

Testing human blood for tropical diseases like malaria can be difficult in some parts of the world. Centrifuges used to separate the blood for testing are expensive and require electricity. Researchers from Stanford have developed an ingenious human-powered centrifuge made of paper and string inspired by a children’s toy invented 5000 years ago (paging Steven Johnson, Steven Johnson to the courtesy desk please).

In a global-health context, commercial centrifuges are expensive, bulky and electricity-powered, and thus constitute a critical bottleneck in the development of decentralized, battery-free point-of-care diagnostic devices. Here, we report an ultralow-cost (20 cents), lightweight (2 g), human-powered paper centrifuge (which we name ‘paperfuge’) designed on the basis of a theoretical model inspired by the fundamental mechanics of an ancient whirligig (or buzzer toy; 3,300 BC). The paperfuge achieves speeds of 125,000 r.p.m. (and equivalent centrifugal forces of 30,000 g), with theoretical limits predicting 1,000,000 r.p.m. We demonstrate that the paperfuge can separate pure plasma from whole blood in less than 1.5 min, and isolate malaria parasites in 15 min.

A million rpm from paper and string…that’s incredible. (via gizmodo)

Mesmerizing strobe light sculptures

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 12, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

(via @waxpancake)

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

(via @kevmaguire)

My holiday shopping adventures and Amazon’s continued retail dominance

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 12, 2017

French drone company Parrot recently announced significant layoffs and will shift focus away from their recreational drone business.

French company Parrot has had a rough year and missed its sales expectations. That’s why the company will lay off 290 employees who were working on drones. In total, Parrot currently has 840 employees on the drone team and more than a thousand employees in total.

While the company isn’t just selling drones, it represents a good chunk of the business. But it looks like other companies, such as DJI, are doing better in this market. Parrot expected to report $105.9 million in sales for 2016. It reported $90 million instead (€85 million vs. €100 million expected).

Even though the company is still selling quite a few drones, Parrot says that it doesn’t generate healthy margins. So here’s the new plan: focusing on commercial drones.

Well, this explains my holiday shopping difficulties with Parrot. Ollie asked for a drone for Christmas and after doing some research, I decided on the Parrot Swing. Amazon was out of stock, so I decided to buy directly from Parrot. They had stock and the site said they’d ship in plenty of time for Xmas. So I ordered one. The next day, I get a call from Parrot saying I need to “verify my order”. So, I call them back, give them some info about my order and where it’s being shipped and the very nice woman on the phone tells me that I’m all set and they’re shipping it out.

Two days go by, no shipping confirmation email in sight. I get another voicemail: you need to call us to verify your order. I call back, give them the same info and tell them, oh by the way I’ve already done this once. Profuse apologies were offered, that was a mistake, and the very nice woman on the phone tells me she’s going to tell the shipping people to send out my order “right away”. It will still arrive in time for Xmas. The next day I get an email from Parrot:

Hello! We have refunded your order No. XXXXX-XXXXX placed 12/15/2016. We are sorry that your order did not meet your expectations and hope that you will visit us again.

Obviously, I am done with them at this point but still need that drone. Amazon is still out of stock, but Walmart has them. I order one, it arrives two days later (with free shipping), and on Christmas morning, after some reflection, Ollie says it was the best present Santa has ever gotten him.

I did quite a bit of holiday shopping this year…went a bit nuts making up for some not-so-great efforts the past two years. The kids and I shopped for Toys for Tots (twice), I bought gifts for them from me and from Santa, I bought non-holiday stuff like clothes for myself,1 and I shopped virtually for the gift guide. I shopped every which way: small, locally, at big box stores, and online at 4-5 different retailers. My main takeaway from that experience? Amazon is miles and miles and miles ahead of everyone else. It is not even close.

Sure, Walmart had the drone in stock, but when I’d tried shopping with them earlier in the month, the product page threw a 404 error. I switched to Safari and was able to put the item into my cart, but then a form in the ordering flow wouldn’t work, so I had to get that item elsewhere. (When I did finally create an account while ordering the drone, Walmart thought my name was “Ashley”?!)

Target’s site was so slow that it was nearly unusable (like 30-40 seconds for a product page to start loading). But I persevered because they had an item I really wanted that no one else had in stock. I got an email two days before Xmas saying they were out of stock and couldn’t ship until Jan 4 at the earliest, but that if I still wanted the item, I would have to log in to my account to verify the new shipping date. I didn’t want the item later, so I did nothing. Guess what arrived on my doorstep last week?

My troubles with Parrot I shared above. The local toy stores are expensive (Lego sets are $5-10 more than if you buy online) and ran out of popular items 2-3 weeks before Xmas. Very few online stores outside Amazon, Walmart, etc. had clear holiday shipping policies, so relying on them more than a week or two out was risky. Zappos was great (Amazon owns them) and Patagonia was pretty good, although their shipping estimates aren’t that great and returns aren’t free.

And Amazon? The site is always fast, I have never seen a 404’d product page, the URLs for their products haven’t changed in almost 20 years,1 each product page was clearly marked with holiday shipping information, they showed the number of items in stock if they were running low, shipping was free (b/c I’m a Prime member), returns are often free, and the items arrived on time as promised. More than 20 years after the invention of online retailing, how is it that Amazon seems to be the only one that’s figured all this out? How come massive companies like Walmart and Target, whose very businesses are under immense pressure from Amazon, can’t get this stuff right despite having spent hundreds of millions on it? I’m not a financial analyst, but unless something changes drastically, Amazon is just going to continue to eat more and more of the US retail pie and at this point, with all these advantages they’ve accrued and their razor-sharp focus on low pricing, it’s difficult to see how anyone is going to compete.1

  1. After freezing my ass off wearing improper clothing the last few years (because, to be clear, I am an idiot), I made myself a promise this year that I was not going to be cold this winter. So in November and December, I spent a bunch of energy outfitting myself with the proper gear: sweaters, thermal layers, coats, mittens, boots, etc. I am both warm and happy now.

  2. I linked to the Office Space DVD on kottke.org in 1999 and the link still works. What’s the percentage of URLs from 1999 that still work? 5%? 2%? 0.1%?

  3. Just for fun, let’s take a quick stab. Stripe and Shopify are arguably better than Amazon in some ways and when the one-click patent expires this year, those payment flows will get even easier. And anyone can use them to sell anything. So the problem becomes stocking and shipping. Who’s going to build/provide the third-party fulfillment infrastructure so that shipping and returns are cheap and reliable…like Amazon’s fulfillment warehouses but for anyone to use? UPS? FedEx? The USPS? (Hahaha.) Uber? Can that company offer a Prime-like or Costco-like shipping membership? What is the rationale for everyone involved (the retailers, the payment company, the online store service, the fulfillment company) to keep prices as relentlessly low as Amazon does? There are a lot of different reasons why a collection of interchangeable third-party services could succeed against a fully integrated solution, but price does not seem like one of them…there’s just too much margin lost because of the friction between services.

    (And we haven’t even talked about AWS here. It’s profitable by itself but is also turning out to be a massive competitive advantage. The likes of Walmart and Target can’t use it even if it would be better than their home-grown infrastructure because that’s like the Trojans paying the Greeks to invade. AWS also potentially insulates Amazon against competitors like Shopify and Stripe. Imagine if Amazon got serious about integrating AWS with their payment and fulfillment systems…a low-cost, bulletproof, integrated system that almost anyone could use to sell almost anything would put an enormous amount of pressure on every other retail experience, particularly if they continue to ramp up their real-world retail offerings.)

Video Feedbackteria

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 12, 2017

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

The best ending movie credits of all time

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 11, 2017

Cinefix takes a look at what makes ending credit sequences effective, the different techniques used to end movies, and picks a number of films with the best end credits.

The shape of the narratives movies tend to tell lend themselves to an emotional climax that hits right as the screen fades to black for the last time. Be it triumphant, tragic, bittersweet, or thoughtful, the most important feeling is often the last. So, wisely, one of the most common functions of the creative end title sequence is what we’re going to call the coda credits. They grab on to the final emotional note and let it ride out in a long sustain, letting the audience hold onto the final feeling and carry the echoes out with them as the credits roll.

80s covers of contemporary pop songs

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 11, 2017

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

The greatest chess game ever played

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 11, 2017

Garry Kasparov, who is one of the top chess players ever, said that his 1999 match against Veselin Topalov was the greatest game of chess he ever played. In this video, MatoJelic goes through the game, move by move. Even if you only have a passing interest in chess, I’d recommend watching…it gets really interesting after the first 10-12 moves (which are presented without explanation) and listening to someone who is passionate about a topic is often worth it.

Also entertaining and informative was his explanation of The Game of the Century, which pitted a 13-year-old Bobby Fischer against Donald Byrne, a top-ranked American player. (via farnam street)

Silent film special effects revealed

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 11, 2017

Back in the days of silent film, directors and cinematographers had to be exceedingly clever to pull off visual effects that appeared real. There were obviously no computers so they had to rely on skewed perspectives, glass matte paintings, and double exposures. That famous clip of Harold Lloyd hanging off of a clock…here’s how that was done:

Harold Lloyd Clock Effects

Here are several more examples. See also Disney’s multiplane camera. (via @mccanner)

What is the Great American Novel?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 10, 2017

Great American Novel

From Emily Temple at Literary Hub, a collection of contenders for the title of Great American Novel. The list includes everything from Moby-Dick, The Great Gatsby, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to Beloved, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and Infinite Jest.

Why cities are where they are

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 10, 2017

It makes sense that villages and towns would develop a short distance away from each other so that people living nearby wouldn’t have to travel far to sell their goods, bank, or go to school. But what about cities? Geography has a lot ot do with where cities are located.

If you enjoy this video but haven’t read Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel yet, you probably should.

Beyonce interviews Solange

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 10, 2017

Solange Wedding

Beyoncé Knowles recently interviewed her sister Solange Knowles for Interview magazine.

And, as far back as I can remember, our mother always taught us to be in control of our voice and our bodies and our work, and she showed us that through her example. If she conjured up an idea, there was not one element of that idea that she was not going to have her hand in. She was not going to hand that over to someone. And I think it’s been an interesting thing to navigate, especially watching you do the same in all aspects of your work: Society labels that a control freak, an obsessive woman, or someone who has an inability to trust her team or to empower other people to do the work, which is completely untrue. There’s no way to succeed without having a team and all of the moving parts that help bring it into life. But I do have — and I’m unafraid to say it — a very distinctive, clear vision of how I want to present myself and my body and my voice and my perspective. And who better to really tell that story than yourself?

This exchange just made me laugh out loud:

BEYONCÉ: Well, it brought tears to my eyes to hear both of our parents speak openly about some of their experiences. And what made you choose Master P to speak on the album?

SOLANGE: Well, I find a lot of similarities in Master P and our dad.

BEYONCÉ: Me, too. [laughs]

I loved the simple mic drop bio for Beyoncé at the bottom:

BEYONCÉ IS A 20-TIME GRAMMY AWARD-WINNING RECORDING ARTIST. HER SIXTH STUDIO ALBUM AND COMPANION FILM, LEMONADE, WAS RELEASED LAST YEAR.

And Beyoncé is right about Solange’s wedding photo (above), it is indeed “the dopest wedding photo of all time”. (via @caseyjohnston)

Gun control is popular and effective, so why don’t we have it?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 10, 2017

The Upshot recently conducted a survey about 29 gun control ideas and graphed the results based on the popularity of the ideas with the American public and their potential effectiveness according to experts.

Gun Control Matrix

Oh, shit like this makes me SO ANGRY. I didn’t even include the bottom part of the graph because there’s nothing down there. That’s right, the majority of Americans support all sorts of different gun control tactics, especially those likely to be most effective. But a focused and organized minority of gun nuts has somehow made it impossible for any reform to happen, so things like Newtown and Orlando and Charleston and San Bernardino and Aurora and toddlers killing people with guns will just continue to happen all over the nation like it’s completely fucking normal.

“Pablo Escobar’s son is a good architect now”

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 10, 2017

Sebastian Marroquin

Sebastian Marroquin is an architect who also happens to be the son of Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar. Matt Shaw of The Architect’s Newspaper recently interviewed Marroquin, and it’s interesting throughout, more so than I expected.

For the first house that I built in Colombia, I didn’t even know who the client was. It was a mystery. There was a request, and they sent me the photographs, the plans, the coordinates, and everything that I needed to design the house. I never went to the place where the house is built. I don’t even know where it exists. When it was complete, they called me and I found out that the owner was one of the guys who, in 1988, put 700 kilos of dynamite in my house. It was a miracle that we survived because I was with my mom and my little sister there. It was the first car bomb in Colombia’s history. So I built the house for the guy who ruined mine.

It was a way for them to ask for forgiveness and in a way to understand us. They knew who I was from the beginning. It was weird and it was a clear opportunity and it was clear that a lot of things have changed in Colombia and that is a great example of how things have really changed now. People want to make peace.

Marroquin struggles with his father’s legacy and its effect on his career but also took obvious inspiration from Escobar’s own interest in architecture.

I believe that in a way my father was also an architect, he was very clever. He was just an architect for his own convenience. There was a Sunday my father took me to airplane fields and in the middle of the jungle, we were standing on the airfield and he asked me, “where is the airfield?” I couldn’t see it, and he said, “You are standing in it.” I couldn’t see it because I was looking at a house in the middle of the runway and there was no way the plane could land because it would crash against the house. He took a walkie-talkie and told one of his friends to move the house. It was on wheels. When the airplanes from the DEA (US Drug Enforcement Agency) were searching with satellites looking for hideouts, they couldn’t find anything because there was a house in the middle of what was a possible airfield. The planes can use it — just move the house.

That’s why he was a great architect because when you visited the house, it worked. It had the bathrooms, the shower, everything. If the police went to the house, it would function perfectly. I believe that a lot of things from architecture I learned from my father and especially places to hide. He used architecture to hide.

(via @DesignObserver)

The ABCs of Death

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 09, 2017

I know, I know. This is a car commercial and it’s morbid and at this moment in time it’s not really that funny, but it caught me at just the right time today and I laughed harder at this than I have at something in several weeks. So I guess even ad agencies are capable of enabling righteous acts (or at least inappropriately hilarious acts) these days?

A super-simple recipe for creamy mac & cheese

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 09, 2017

After tinkering in the kitchen for weeks, Kenji Lopez-Alt has discovered a super-simple recipe for macaroni & cheese that uses only three ingredients and takes about ten minutes to make.

The idea for this came from working on my recipe for cacio e pepe, the Roman pasta and cheese dish. In that recipe, I cook spaghetti in a small volume of water, using the starchy pasta water to emulsify the cheese into a creamy sauce. I wondered if the same thing would work for an American-style macaroni and cheese, using a much higher ratio of cheese to pasta and using cheddar in place of pecorino.

It didn’t quite work the first time — the high proportion of cheese caused the sauce to break and turn greasy — but with a few tweaks, I nailed it.

Need to try this soon.

The 10th anniversary of the iPhone

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 09, 2017

Today marks the 10th anniversary of the introduction of the iPhone.

In the ten years since, iPhone has enriched the lives of people around the world with over one billion units sold. It quickly grew into a revolutionary platform for hardware, software and services integration, and inspired new products, including iPad and Apple Watch, along with millions of apps that have become essential to people’s daily lives.

You can watch Steve Jobs introduce the iPhone during the MacWorld 2007 keynote in the video above; it’s one of the best technology demos ever. Here’s my liveblog of the keynote, my thoughts from a couple of days later, and my review after getting an iPhone in June. (I also constructed a cardboard version of the phone to see how the size compared to my then-current mobile phone.)

I guess we know why iPod development has seemed a little sluggish lately. When the Zune came out two months ago, it was thought that maybe Apple was falling behind, coasting on the fumes of an aging product line, and not innovating in the portable music player space anymore. I think the iPhone puts this discussion on the back burner for now. And the Zune? The supposed iPod-killer’s bullet ricocheted off of the iPhone’s smooth buttonless interface and is heading back in the wrong direction. Rest in peace, my gentle brown friend.

It’s difficult to overstate the impact of the iPhone on the world. In just 10 short years, smartphones have completely and irreversibly changed how a large part of humanity communicates and is quickly changing how the rest will. And that all started with the iPhone. As I noted at the time, you could see a product like this coming but Apple put it all together in a way that became the blueprint, for better and for worse, for every device and mobile application that followed. Not bad for a computer that didn’t have copy/paste when it launched.

I Am Not Your Negro

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 09, 2017

This is the trailer for I Am Not Your Negro, a film that “finishes” a book that writer James Baldwin was working on when he died.

In 1979, James Baldwin wrote a letter to his literary agent describing his next project, Remember This House. The book was to be a revolutionary, personal account of the lives and successive assassinations of three of his close friends — Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr.

At the time of Baldwin’s death in 1987, he left behind only thirty completed pages of his manuscript.

Now, in his incendiary new documentary, master filmmaker Raoul Peck envisions the book James Baldwin never finished. The result is a radical, up-to-the-minute examination of race in America, using Baldwin’s original words and flood of rich archival material. I Am Not Your Negro is a journey into black history that connects the past of the Civil Rights movement to the present of #BlackLivesMatter. It is a film that questions black representation in Hollywood and beyond. And, ultimately, by confronting the deeper connections between the lives and assassination of these three leaders, Baldwin and Peck have produced a work that challenges the very definition of what America stands for.

The reviews so far are uniformly positive.

I don’t know about you, but those clips of Baldwin speaking in the trailer piqued my interest, so I’m going to make some time tonight to watch some Baldwin talks, speeches, and debates on YouTube: a 1969 talk in London, a 1963 debate with Malcolm X (audio only), a 1963 panel on civil rights w/ Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte, Marlon Brando, and Charlton Heston, and his 1965 debate with William F. Buckley on the question “Is the American Dream at the expense of the American Negro?”

Meryl Streep on our current political moment

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 09, 2017

Last night, as she accepted a lifetime achievement award at the Golden Globes, Meryl Streep made some comments about the current political situation and about Donald Trump in particular (although she never mentioned him by name). The clip above (which may not last long on YouTube) is worth watching.

But there was one performance this year that stunned me. It sank its hooks in my heart. Not because it was good; there was nothing good about it. But it was effective and it did its job. It made its intended audience laugh, and show their teeth. It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter. Someone he outranked in privilege, power and the capacity to fight back. It kind of broke my heart when I saw it, and I still can’t get it out of my head, because it wasn’t in a movie. It was real life. And this instinct to humiliate, when it’s modeled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life, because it kinda gives permission for other people to do the same thing. Disrespect invites disrespect, violence incites violence. And when the powerful use their position to bully others we all lose. OK, go on with it.

And the NY Times — in an effort to “get both sides” of the story, I guess? — ran a story that I’m not going to link to called “Donald Trump Says He’s Not Surprised by Meryl Streep’s Golden Globes Speech”. Is it newsworthy, what he thought of Streep’s remarks? Unless he agrees with her and plans to honestly reevaluate how he treats others when he speaks, I would argue it’s not at all worth printing what’s essentially a Trump press release full of bullshit. And news outlets that actually care about the truth and not just printing spin should stop doing it.

The dazzling and depressing architecture of density in megacities

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 06, 2017

Michael Wolf

Michael Wolf

Michael Wolf

Michael Wolf

I’ve featured the work of photographer Michael Wolf here before, particularly his series of photos taken in Hong Kong called Architecture of Density, photographs which capture the immense scale of the city’s apartment buildings and the smallness of the apartment they contain. Another of his projects is 100x100, interior photographs of 100 Hong Kong dwellings that measure 100 square feet or less in size. (See also Hong Kong Cage Homes.)

In this pair of videos, Wolf discusses these projects and a couple of other ones I hadn’t seen before.

In Tokyo Compression, Wolf captures the boredom and despair of Japanese train commuters, smushed into cars dampened by the heat of humanity. For Back Door, he ventured into the alleys of Hong Kong and witnessed people using the infrastructure of the city for storing, sorting, and drying all sorts of things, from after-work clothes to mops to lettuce. (via craig mod)

How to be productive in terrible times

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 06, 2017

In Productivity in Terrible Times, Eileen Webb writes about the challenges of getting things done in the face of uncertain and worrisome times and offers some strategies that might help.

When your heart is worried for your Muslim friends, and deep in your bones you’re terrified about losing access to healthcare, it’s very hard to respond graciously to an email inquiring about the latest microsite analytics numbers. “THE WORLD IS BURNING. I will have those content model updates ready by Thursday. Sincerely, and with abject terror, Eileen.”

It is not tenable to quit my job and hie off to Planned Parenthood HQ and wait for them to make use of my superior content organizing skills. It is not a good idea for you to resign from stable work that supports your family and community because you’re no longer satisfied by SQL queries.

I don’t know about you, but I have been struggling mightily with this very thing. I’ve always had difficulty believing that the work I do here is in some way important to the world and since the election, that feeling has blossomed into a profound guilt-ridden anxiety monster. I mean, who in the actual fuck cares about the new Blade Runner movie or how stamps are designed (or Jesus, the blurry ham) when our government is poised for a turn towards corruption and authoritarianism?

I have come up with some reasons why my work here does matter, at least to me, but I’m not sure they’re good ones. In the meantime, I’m pressing on because my family and I rely on my efforts here and because I hope that in some small way my work, as Webb writes, “is capable of enabling righteous acts”.

Update: Meteorologist Eric Holthaus recently shared how he copes with working on climate change day after day.

I’m starting my 11th year working on climate change, including the last 4 in daily journalism. Today I went to see a counselor about it. I’m saying this b/c I know many ppl feel deep despair about climate, especially post-election. I struggle every day. You are not alone. There are days where I literally can’t work. I’ll read a story & shut down for rest of the day. Not much helps besides exercise & time. The counselor said: “Do what you can”, which I think is simple & powerful advice. I’m going to start working a lot more on mindfulness. Despair is natural when there’s objective evidence of a shared existential problem we’re not addressing adequately. You feel alone.

I also wanted to thank those who reached out on Twitter and email about this post…I really appreciate your thoughts. One reader sent along this passage from Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities:

The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space.

(thx, gil)

“When I talk about climate change, I don’t talk about science”

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 06, 2017

Climate change has shifted from being a scientific issue to a political issue, both because the science is settled1 and because conservatives have embraced climate denialism. As a result, when deep-sea biologist Andrew Thaler talks to people about climate change, he doesn’t talk about science. He talks to people about things like fishing:

Fishermen know that things are changing, that black bass, scup, and butterfish (an important prey species in the tuna fishery) are moving further and further north. Oystermen know that the increasingly high high tides have a negative effect on the recruitment and growth of commercial oysters. More importantly, fishing communities have records and cultural knowledge that go back centuries, and they can see from multi-generational experience that the seasons are less predictable now than in the past and that the changes taking place today are nothing like the more gradual changes of previous generations.

And flooding:

I know fishermen in Guinea living in houses that have stood for hundreds of years. Some of those houses now flood at high tide. Every high tide. They weren’t built at the water’s edge, the water’s edge came to them. I lived in the same house in Beaufort, North Carolina for ten years. When I moved in, we were high and dry. Now our street has a permanent “high water” sign. The farm I just left in coastal Virginia is inundated after heavy rains or strong tidal surges. The front fields, which once held vibrant gardens, now nurture short grass and salty soil.

And other things like farming and faith. People who aren’t scientists and have grown distrustful of them won’t be convinced by science. But they will believe stories that relate to important matters in their lives. (via @EricHolthaus)

  1. Overwhelmingly, science says the Earth’s climate is warming quickly and humans are the cause.

Is this ham blurry or in focus?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 06, 2017

Blurry Ham

Is this a blurry photo of some sliced ham? Or is the ham perfectly in focus? This is a gnarly optical illusion, that’s for sure. Even when I force myself to realize the photo is in focus, that ham still looks blurry. (via digg)

Beijing smog time lapse

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 05, 2017

Covering an actual time of 20 minutes, you can watch this time lapse of smog rolling into Beijing in a matter of a few seconds. The NY Times has a short piece on the video, which was filmed on January 2.

Residents have come to expect such dense air pollution in the late fall and winter, as people burn coal to heat their homes. Recently, the problem has been particularly bad, and the city has been enveloped in smog for extended periods starting in October.

Mr. Pope, writing on Twitter, pegged the air quality index, a measure of the pollution, above 400 around the time of the video. The United States government rates readings of 301 to 500 as “hazardous.”

What a disaster…and the air wasn’t that clear before the smog rolled in. I’ve been to Beijing once, back in 1995, and even though I’d love to see how the city has changed over the past 20 years, I have no interest in returning until they get their air quality under control.

Update: And it’s not just Beijing; cities around the world are struggling with pollution. Parts of London have blown through their annual 2017 emissions limits in just 5 days.

By law, hourly levels of toxic nitrogen dioxide must not be more than 200 micrograms per cubic metre (µg/m3) more than 18 times in a whole year, but late on Thursday this limit was broken on Brixton Road in Lambeth.

Many other sites across the capital will go on to break the annual limit and Putney High Street exceeded the hourly limit over 1,200 times in 2016. Oxford Street, Kings Road in Chelsea and the Strand are other known pollution hotspots.

Disney’s multiplane camera, an innovation in illusion

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 05, 2017

In a short film shot in 1957, Walt Disney described the multiplane camera, one of the many inventions and innovations his company had developed in order to produce more realistic and affecting animations. Instead of shooting single cels of animation on a single movable background, the multiplane camera could shoot several independently moving backgrounds, creating a sense of depth and perspective. A 1938 article in Popular Mechanics explained how the camera works.

Disney wanted to increase the eye value of the many paintings making up a picture by achieving a soft-focus effect on the backgrounds, illuminating the various levels of each scene individually, and separating” background from foreground, thus keeping background objects to their proper relative size.

His production crew labored for three years to perfect the novel picture-taking device to achieve these results. It consists of four vertical steel posts, each carrying a rack along which as many as eight carriages may be shifted both horizontally and vertically. On each carriage rides a frame containing a sheet of celluloid, on which is painted part of the action or background.

Resembling a printing press, the camera stands eleven feet tall and is six feet square. Made with almost micrometer precision, it permits the photographing of foreground and background cels accurately, even when the first is held firmly in place two feet from the lens and the lowest rests in its frame nine feet away. Where the script calls for the camera to “truck up” for a close-up, the lens actually remains stationary, while the various cels are moved upward. By this means, houses, trees, the moon, and any other background features, retain their relative sizes.

After being deployed on a short film as a test, the multiplane camera was used to film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the first feature-length animated film. In the chapter on “Illusion” in his newest book Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World, Steven Johnson writes that the use of the multiplane camera (along with other innovations in animation developed since the days of Steamboat Willie) had a profound effect on audiences.

All of these technical and procedural breakthroughs summed up to an artistic one: Snow White was the first animated film to feature both visual and emotional depth. It pulled at the heartstrings in a way that even live-action films had failed to do. This, more than anything, is why Snow White marks a milestone in the history of illusion. “No animated cartoon had ever looked like Snow White,” Disney’s biographer Neil Gabler writes, “and certainly none had packed its emotional wallop.” Before the film was shown to an audience, Disney and his team debated whether it might just be powerful enough to provoke tears — an implausible proposition given the shallow physical comedy that had governed every animated film to date. But when Snow White debuted at the Carthay Circle Theatre, near L.A.’s Hancock Park, on December 21, 1937, the celebrity audience was heard audibly sobbing during the final sequences where the dwarfs discover their poisoned princess and lay garlands of flowers on her. It was an experience that would be repeated a billion times over the decades to follow, but it happened there at the Carthay Circle first: a group of human beings gathered in a room and were moved to tears by hand-drawn static images flickering in the light.

In just nine years, Disney and his team had transformed a quaint illusion — the dancing mouse is whistling! — into an expressive form so vivid and realistic that it could bring people to tears. Disney and his team had created the ultimate illusion: fictional characters created by hand, etched onto celluloid, and projected at twenty-four frames per second, that were somehow so believably human that it was almost impossible not to feel empathy for them.

Interestingly, the multiplane camera also seems to be an instance of simultaneous invention (a concept also covered by Johnson in an earlier book, Where Good Ideas Come From). In addition to Disney’s multiplane camera, there were a few earlier earlier efforts and it’s unclear whether they were invented independently or how one inventor influenced another. But one thing is for certain: only Disney’s camera was deployed so skillfully and artfully that it changed cinema and our culture forever.1

  1. Without getting into it (too much), I can’t help thinking of Pixar’s push to make Toy Story. There’s always an emphasis on the technology with Pixar, but Lasseter and the rest of them were huge animation nerds…and Walt Disney nerds in particular. They were interested in telling stories and they believed, like Disney, that developing new technologies could help them do that more effectively. Toy Story was Pixar’s Snow White and their subsequent movies (Finding Nemo, Wall-E, Ratatouille) have shown how successful they were in telling affecting stories with 3D computer animation.

How Do I Explain America to My Black Son?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 05, 2017

In November, shortly after the election, Vann Newkirk wrote an article for The Atlantic called This Is Who We Are, a reflection on racism in America.

At a gas station just outside of Rockingham, serendipity found us. As we pulled up to the pump, just there in front of our car was Mr. Confederate Plate, leaning like all villains do against the side of his car. I’m not sure who recognized whom first, but I remember the shouting match, and Mr. Confederate Flag calling my father the one name he would never answer to, looking at me and saying the same, and then pantomiming that he had a gun in the car. I remember looking around at similar flags on another truck and inside the gas station, and knowing instinctively that we were not in friendly territory. I also remember my father shaking with rage and that same hot shame as my own when he climbed back in the truck.

After another cussing fit, Vann Newkirk Sr. looked at me and said the thing that’s always stuck with me since. “This is who we are,” he told me. “Don’t forget.” And we went back down the road.

The piece was adapted into the short video above. Both are worth your time.

What are we but a fire?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 05, 2017

An excerpt from Elisa Chavez’s poem “Revenge” in the Seattle Review of Books:

Since you mention it, I think I will start that race war.

I could’ve swung either way? But now I’m definitely spending
the next 4 years converting your daughters to lesbianism;
I’m gonna eat all your guns. Swallow them lock stock and barrel
and spit bullet casings onto the dinner table;

I’ll give birth to an army of mixed-race babies.
With fathers from every continent and genders to outnumber the stars,
my legion of multiracial babies will be intersectional as fuck
and your swastikas will not be enough to save you,

This is a powerful poem, and I laughed out loud so hard to the “This is a taco truck rally and all you have is cole slaw” line.

Medium’s pivot and the inherent instability of new businesses

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 05, 2017

From this piece by Evan Williams, it sounds like Medium is still trying to figure out what it wants to be when it grows up.

So, we are shifting our resources and attention to defining a new model for writers and creators to be rewarded, based on the value they’re creating for people. And toward building a transformational product for curious humans who want to get smarter about the world every day.

It is too soon to say exactly what this will look like. This strategy is more focused but also less proven. It will require time to get it right, as well as some different skills. Which is why we are taking these steps today and saying goodbye to many talented people.

I like Medium and read thoughtful & engaging stuff on there daily, including articles by the many publications that moved their entire publishing operations to Medium and who were caught off-guard by Williams’ announcement:

As part of the strategic pivot, Medium will lay off 50 staffers and close its satellite offices in New York and Washington. It will also stop selling “Promoted Stories,” its native ad unit, and distributing revenue from those sales to publishers.

Medium’s exit from the online ad business was news to some of its publishing partners, many of whom have come to depend on the publishing platform as a key source of revenue. More than two dozen publications are members of Medium’s revenue beta program, which allows them to sell paid subscriptions to readers and to receive a cut of Medium’s native advertising revenue.

Five members of the revenue beta program told POLITICO that they did not receive any advance notice of Medium’s change in strategy before Williams’ public announcement. One publishing partner only learned about the pivot after reading an article about it on the tech news site Recode.

Over the past year, when I was thinking about how best to steward kottke.org into a financially stable future, moving to Medium was definitely an option. But never, in my mind, a very serious option. It was just too many eggs in one basket for a small publisher like me, especially when Medium is still obviously trying to figure out if they’re even in the egg-carrying business. New businesses are unstable…that’s just the way it is.1 In Silicon Valley (and in other startup-rich areas), these unstable businesses have lots of someone else’s money to throw around — which makes them appear more stable in the short term — but they cannot escape the reality of the extreme risk involved in building a new business, particularly a business that needs to grow quickly (as almost all VC-backed startups are required to do). All of which can make it difficult to enter into a business arrangement with a startup…just ask publishers working with Facebook or businesses dependent on Twitter’s API or Vine or Tumblr, not to mention the thousands of startups that have ceased to exist over the years.

With kottke.org, even though it hasn’t been easy, I’ve opted for independence and control over a potential rocketship ride. Instead of moving the site to Medium or Tumblr or focusing my activities on one social network or another, I use third-party services like The Deck, Amazon Associates, Stripe, and Memberful that plug in to the site. Small pieces loosely joined, not a monolithic solution. If necessary, I can switch any of them out for a comparable service and am therefore not as subject to any potential change in business goals by these companies. Given the news out of Medium, I’m increasingly happy that I’ve decided to do it this way (with your very kind assistance).

Update: It’s tough to hear about the small companies that put their faith in Medium and then got blindsided by their umpteenth pivot.

“Right now, we’re very concerned about the future of our site’s partnership with Medium,” said Neil Miller, the founder of pop culture site Film School Rejects. “What we were sold when we joined their platform is very different from what they’re offering as a way forward.”

“It’s almost as if Ev Williams wasn’t concerned that he was pulling out the rug from underneath publishers who had placed their trust in his vision for the future of journalism,” he said.

Update: Film School Rejects ended up jumping ship back to an independently hosted site.

Our story begins last May, when we joined the Medium platform as one of their first 12 premium publishers. This meant moving 10-years of content over to their platform, where we were promised a beautiful user experience and a way forward that would allow us to grow our business, continue to pay our writers, continue our growth as a publication, and ultimately keep FSR on the cutting edge. It was a great partnership, until Medium changed its mind about what kind of platform it wanted to be. At first, we were a part of a group of publishers that took a wait-and-see approach with Medium. As time went on, it became clear that Medium’s priorities had shifted from being a platform for independent publishers to being itself a publisher of premium, subscription-based content. As we learned more about their future plans for the now-existent Medium ‘Members Only’ program, it became clear that our site wouldn’t be able to continue to operate the way we always had.

This was an interesting side effect of their time at Medium:

When we moved to Medium, we stopped worrying about what would be popular and started focusing on what we wanted to talk about. And guess what? Readers continued to follow us. So we’re going to continue to allow our very talented team to write freely. We’ll continue to deliver passionate, thoughtful, topical, and sometimes well-marketed articles.

I’ve never been that interested in chasing clicks because The Deck (the advertising network I used for 10 years) was not strictly based on clicks or pageviews. Even so, thinking about what sorts of posts might attract more attention than others was a growing consideration for me as traffic fell off the past few years. After launching memberships back in November, I feel as though I’m slowly trending back towards caring less about attention and more about writing for myself and the members. And lo and behold, traffic is up slightly since then.

  1. I will add that new services by large companies are unstable as well. They need to reach scale just as quickly as VC-backed startups or they don’t stick around that long or pivot to something else.

How to put on a duvet cover

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 04, 2017

Here’s a technique for putting a comforter inside a duvet cover that involves rolling the whole thing up “like a burrito” and then two solid pieces of matter somehow pass through each other? I dunno, that is some goddamned witchcraft that defies the laws of physics and topology and is probably related to at least one of the Millennium Prize Problems. I don’t know if it’s easier than doing it the normal way1 but it certainly is more entertaining.

See also how to fold a fitted sheet and how to fold a t-shirt in two seconds.

  1. And by “the normal way” I mean getting both top corners of the comforter in the corresponding corners of the cover, stuffing the rest of the comforter inside the cover, and giving it a couple of shakes while holding the top edge until it settles in…and not whatever infomercial-ish head-inside-the-cover shenanigans the woman was attempting in the video. Once you get this down, it doesn’t really take that long.

A beautiful aquarium supernova

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 04, 2017

Using mostly old-school visual effects — like ink dispersing in an aquarium and poking holes in napkins (to represent stars) — Thomas Vanz created a pretty compelling representation of a dying star going supernova.

Novae is a movie about an astronomical event that occurs during the last evolutionary stages of a massive star’s life, whose dramatic and catastrophic death is marked by one final titanic explosion called supernova.

By only using an aquarium, ink and water, this film is also an attempt to represent the giant with the small without any computed generated imagery.

As a tribute to Kubrick or Nolan’s filmography, Novae is a cosmic poem that want to introduce the viewer to the nebulae’s infinite beauty.

Vanz documented his process in these two videos, which are almost as entertaining as the finished product.

The seven stages of denial (that a robot will take your job)

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 04, 2017

From an excerpt of Kevin Kelly’s recent book, The Inevitable, a list of the Seven Stages of Robot Replacement:

1. A robot/computer cannot possibly do the tasks I do.

2. [Later.] OK, it can do a lot of those tasks, but it can’t do everything I do.

3. [Later.] OK, it can do everything I do, except it needs me when it breaks down, which is often.

4. [Later.] OK, it operates flawlessly on routine stuff, but I need to train it for new tasks.

5. [Later.] OK, OK, it can have my old boring job, because it’s obvious that was not a job that humans were meant to do.

6. [Later.] Wow, now that robots are doing my old job, my new job is much more interesting and pays more!

7. [Later.] I am so glad a robot/computer cannot possibly do what I do now.

[Repeat.]

I predict that getting to #6 will be challenging for many people.

National Geographic Infographics

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 04, 2017

National Geographic Infographics

National Geographic Infographics

National Geographic Infographics

National Geographic Infographics is an anthology published by Taschen of some of the best infographics featured by National Geographic in the past 128 years.

Through seven sections — History, The Planet, Being Human, Animal World, World of Plants, Science and Technology, and Space — we encounter the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, the mysterious origins of the Easter Island statues, Cleopatra’s Alexandria and a history of Hawaiian surfboarding, all distilled in expert, accessible graphic form. We discover how our genetic patterns have been pieced together over the years or how hip-hop emerged as a cultural heavyweight; we get to grips with global warming, and explore our ever-expanding study of an ever-expanding universe.

Order from Chaos, a mesmerizing video of emergence

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 03, 2017

French visual effects artist Maxime Causeret took a track from Max Cooper’s album Emergence and created these wonderful biologically inspired patterns and interactions.

Maxime also shows us a section of animated reaction-diffusion patterns, where simple chemical feedback mechanisms can yield complex flowing bands of colour — these forms of system were originally thought up by Alan Turing, and were part of the early seeds of the field of systems biology, which seeks to simulate life with computers, in order to better understand the systems producing the complexity we see in the living world. They were also the starting point of my main research area many years ago before I got lost in music! (where I began with the question of what patterns could be produced via reaction-diffusion forms of system as opposed to gene-regulatory network controlled patterning).

There’s a blue brain coral pattern at the 1:30 mark and a neuron-ish pattern at 2:30 that I wish would go on forever. Headphones recommended, psychoactive drugs optional. (via colossal)

What scientific term or concept ought to be more widely known?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 03, 2017

Each year, Edge has asked a group of scientists, philosophers, musicians, writers, and designers a simple but provocative question and collects the answers on their website. Past questions have included:

What do you think about machines that think? (2015)
What have you changed your mind about? Why? (2008)
What do you believe true even though you cannot prove it? (2005)
What is the most important invention in the past two thousand years? (1999)

This year, the question is: What scientific term or concept ought to be more widely known?

Of all the scientific terms or concepts that ought to be more widely known to help to clarify and inspire science-minded thinking in the general culture, none are more important than “science” itself.

Many people, even many scientists, have traditionally had a narrow view of science as controlled, replicated experiments performed in the laboratory-and as consisting quintessentially of physics, chemistry, and molecular biology. The essence of science is conveyed by its Latin etymology: scientia, meaning knowledge. The scientific method is simply that body of practices best suited for obtaining reliable knowledge.

Here are some of the responses. Alison Gopnik chose “Life History”:

“Life history” is the term biologists use to describe how organisms change over time-how long an animal lives, how long a childhood it has, how it nurtures its young, how it grows old. Human life history is weird. We have a much longer childhood than any other primate-twice as long as chimps, and that long childhood is related to our exceptional learning abilities. Fossil teeth suggest that this long childhood evolved in tandem with our big brains-we even had a longer childhood than Neanderthals. We also rapidly developed special adaptations to care for those helpless children-“pair-bonding” and “alloparents.” Fathers and unrelated kin help take care of human children, unlike our closest primate relatives.

And we developed another very unusual life history feature-post-menopausal grandmothers. The killer whale is the only other animal we know that outlives its fertility. The human lifespan was expanded at both ends-longer childhood and a longer old age. In fact, anthropologists have argued that those grandmothers were a key to the evolution of learning and culture. They were crucial for the survival of those helpless children and they also could pass on two generations worth of knowledge.

Jessica Flack chose “Coarse-Graining”:

In physics a fine-grained description of a system is a detailed description of its microscopic behavior. A coarse-grained description is one in which some of this fine detail has been smoothed over.

Coarse-graining is at the core of the second law of thermodynamics, which states that the entropy of the universe is increasing. As entropy, or randomness, increases there is a loss of structure. This simply means that some of the information we originally had about the system has become no longer useful for making predictions about the behavior of a system as a whole. To make this more concrete, think about temperature.

Temperature is the average speed of particles in a system. Temperature is a coarse-grained representation of all of the particles’ behavior — the particles in aggregate. When we know the temperature we can use it to predict the system’s future state better than we could if we actually measured the speed of individual particles. This is why coarse-graining is so important — it is incredibly useful. It gives us what is called an effective theory. An effective theory allows us to model the behavior of a system without specifying all of the underlying causes that lead to system state changes.

And physicist Nigel Goldenfeld chose “The Scientific Method” itself:

There’s a saying that there are no cultural relativists at thirty thousand feet. The laws of aerodynamics work regardless of political or social prejudices, and they are indisputably true. Yes, you can discuss to what extent they are an approximation, what are their limits of validity, do they take into account such niceties as quantum entanglement or unified field theory (of course they don’t). But the most basic scientific concept that is clearly and disturbingly missing from today’s social and political discourse is the concept that some questions have correct and clear answers. Such questions can be called “scientific” and their answers represent truth. Scientific questions are not easy to ask. Their answers can be verified by experiment or observation, and they can be used to improve your life, create jobs and technologies, save the planet. You don’t need pollsters or randomized trials to determine if a parachute works. You need an understanding of the facts of aerodynamics and the methodology to do experiments.

There are 200 more contributions from bold-faced names like Richard Dawkins, Hanna Levin, Brian Eno, Kevin Kelly, and Danny Hillis. Have fun!

Mini metro maps

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 03, 2017

Mini Metros

Mini Metros features small and simplified maps of over 200 metro and light rail systems from around the world. Many of the systems are small and simple themselves, just a single line or two, like in Edmonton, Mumbai, Seville, and Qingdao. Others, like in Munich, Shanghai, Tokyo, London, Seoul, and New York, are densely interconnected.

Prints and mugs are available.

This is the new year

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 03, 2017

For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.

Attributed to F. Scott Fitzgerald, but was actually written by screenwriter Eric Roth for the film adaptation of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

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