This week on Last Week Tonight, John Oliver rails against the penny. This seems like such an obvious thing, that we should stop using pennies, but I bet if the government ever moved to ban pennies, it would set off a firestorm of protest.
The person I listen to the most regarding books I should be reading is Tyler Cowen...he has never once steered me wrong. So when he wrote about the best fiction of 2015, I perked up. I've been hearing many good things about Elena Ferrante's series (Cowen himself flagged her The Lost Daughter as a favorite back in 2008) but his assertion that her recent series of novels ranks as "one of the prime literary achievements of the last twenty years" puts it solidly on my holiday beach reads list. The New World by Chris Adrian & Eli Horowitz and Vendela Vida's The Diver's Clothes Lie Empty also sound particularly interesting.
Update: Cowen recently shared his list of best non-fiction books of the year as well. Biographies rule the list: on Elon Musk, Henry Kissinger, Margaret Thatcher, and Genghis Khan. What a list...but I have to say that reading biographies of Thatcher or Kissinger doesn't appeal at all.
Update: The NY Times weighs in with their list of 100 Notable Books of 2015. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates makes an appearance, as do the latest installments by Ferrante and Karl Ove Knausgaard.
Update: From Buzzfeed, The 24 Best Fiction Books of 2015 and from Slate, The Overlooked Books of 2015.
A team of three Pennsylvania meteorologists is now providing a coast-to-coast sunset quality forecast.
The team behind SunsetWx has already published a thorough methodology of its algorithm and a case study of successfully predicted "vivid" sunsets its first day of forecasting last week. Basically, the model blends high-resolution forecasts of humidity, pressure changes, and clouds at various levels of the atmosphere, weighting wispy upper-level clouds the strongest and penalizing for thick, low-level clouds or average clear sky evenings.
They totally called Sunday's bonkers NYC sunset, so maybe they're worth a follow. Sunset photo by @AirlineFlyer.
A rocket built by Blue Origin, an aerospace company backed by Jeff Bezos, recently reached space and executed a controlled landing back on Earth, which allows it to be used again. Bezos himself joined Twitter1 this morning to announce the news. Elon Musk, whose SpaceX company has been trying (and failing) to do something similar lately, congratulated Bezos and his team on Twitter2 but also threw a little shade on BO's efforts to reach "space" vs. SpaceX's efforts to reach "orbit".
It is, however, important to clear up the difference between "space" and "orbit", as described well by https://what-if.xkcd.com/58/. Getting to space needs ~Mach 3, but GTO orbit requires ~Mach 30. The energy needed is the square, i.e. 9 units for space and 900 for orbit.
Welcome to Twitter, Jeff.
The Slow Mo Guys lit a bucket of kerosene on fire, surrounded it with 12 box fans, whipped the fire into a tornado, and filmed it with slow motion cameras at up to 2500 fps. I don't know about you, but I want quit my job, say goodbye to my family, give this mesmerizing rotating fire all of my money, and follow it around the world, doing its bidding. (via colossal)
Perhaps inspired by the long time scale filmmaking of Richard Linklater's Boyhood, John Malkovich and Robert Rodriguez have teamed up to make a movie that won't be released until 2115. Why? As a promotion for luxury brand Louis XIII Cognac, which is also aged 100 years. According to io9, Louis XIII is sending out 1000 tickets to people whose descendants will be able to see a screening of the film 100 years from now.
I wonder how serious they are about this? To what extent have they futureproofed their media? The io9 piece says the movie is "preserved on film stock"...is that and an old movie projector sufficient? Have they consulted with MoMA or Danny Hillis?
For the latest installment of Every Frame a Painting, Tony Zhou examines the artistry and thought silent film master Buster Keaton put into the physical comedy in his movies. I used to watch all sorts of old movies with my dad (Chaplin, Keaton, Laurel & Hardy) and had forgotten how good Keaton was. If you're anything like me in wanting to head down a Keaton rabbit hole, Zhou recommends starting with the first short film he directed and released, One Week.
See also Studs Terkel's 1960 interview with Keaton, a video showing Keaton's use of symmetry and center framing (Wes Anderson, Kubrick), Every Frame a Painting episode on Jackie Chan, and The Ultimate Buster Keaton Collection, a 14-disc Blu-ray box set.
Transparent was my favorite first season of television since Game of Thrones, or maybe even Mad Men. So I'm delighted to see the trailer for the show's second season, which starts on Dec 11. If you haven't seen the first season yet, I would highly recommend doing so...this show does so many things right.
At the risk of turning this into an Adele fan site, here are the isolated vocals for her performance of "Hello" for Saturday Night Live. They are raw and flawless and real and everything pop music isn't these days.
Update: That YouTube video got yanked, but I found the vocals on Soundcloud. We'll see how long that'll last.
Update: Welp, that lasted about 10 minutes. Digg has embedded their own video. How fast will that one disappear?
Kyle McDonald hooked a neural network program up to a webcam and had it try to analyze what it was seeing in realtime as he walked around Amsterdam. See also a neural network tries to identify objects in Star Trek:TNG intro. (via @mbostock)
This is all sorts of charming. BBC held an Adele impersonator contest and arranged for Adele to compete in disguise as a woman named Jenny. I love the looks on the women's faces when they realize what's going on.
See also Jewel's undercover karaoke and Macklemore and Ryan Lewis surprising a bus full of passengers with a performance.
Charles Haggerty is a promising candidate for the best and most chill dad of all time. In the late 1950s, in a much less progressive era, he had a talk with his son, who would come to realize later in life that he (the son) was gay, about the responsibility you have to your true self.
Don't sneak. Because if you sneak like you did today, it means you think you doing the wrong thing. And if you run around spending your whole life thinking that you're doing the wrong thing, then you'll ruin your immortal soul.
Reader, I don't often say things like "that stopped me dead in my tracks" because life doesn't work like that most of the time, but that last bit, about ruining your soul, did just that. A fantastic reminder of to thine own self be true. (via cup of jo)
Noma: My Perfect Storm is a feature-length documentary about chef René Redzepi and his Copenhagen restaurant Noma, which is currently ranked #3 in the world.
How did Redzepi manage to revolutionize the entire world of gastronomy, inventing the alphabet and vocabulary that would infuse newfound pedigree to Nordic cuisine and establish a new edible world while radically changing the image of the modern chef? His story has the feel of a classic fairy tale: the ugly duckling transformed into a majestic swan, who now reigns over the realm of modern gourmet cuisine.
The film is out Dec 18 in theaters, on Amazon, iTunes, etc.
The Cassini probe, launched from Earth in 1997 (six months before I started publishing kottke.org), has been taking photos of Saturn and its moons for 11 years now. The Wall Street Journal has a great feature that shows exactly what the probe has been looking at all that time. (Note: the video above features flashing images, so beware if that sort of thing is harmful to you.)
In 1995, Danny Hillis came up with the idea of building a clock that would last 10,000 years.
I cannot imagine the future, but I care about it. I know I am a part of a story that starts long before I can remember and continues long beyond when anyone will remember me. I sense that I am alive at a time of important change, and I feel a responsibility to make sure that the change comes out well. I plant my acorns knowing that I will never live to harvest the oaks.
I want to build a clock that ticks once a year. The century hand advances once every 100 years, and the cuckoo comes out on the millennium. I want the cuckoo to come out every millennium for the next 10,000 years.
The Clock of the Long Now is a short video portrait of Hillis and his collaborators as they build this clock in a mountain in western Texas. I like what Hillis had to say about our future:
I'm very optimistic about the future. I'm not optimistic because I think our problems are small. I'm optimistic because I think our capacity to deal with problems is great.
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