rating: 4.5 stars

Annie HallFEB 09

A young-ish Christopher Walken appears in Annie Hall but his name is misspelled in the credits as "Christopher Wlaken". Were this 1990, I might have invented a eastern European backstory for Wlaken, who, perhaps, Americanized his name sometime after appearing in the film. But as we live in the future, a cool hunk of glass and metal from my pocket told me -- before the credits even finished rolling -- that the actor was born Ronald Walken in Astoria, Queens.

The future isn't any fun sometimes.

Slack, Basecamp, and simplicity as a design goalOCT 09

Jason Fried wrote a preview of what's coming in Basecamp 3. Jim Ray noted on Twitter that "Basecamp vs. Slack will be interesting". And suddenly I remembered that back in 2002, Jason, Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield, and I hosted a "peer meeting" on Simplicity in Web Design at SXSW.1 The meeting's description:

As the Web continues to increase in complexity, many designers are looking to simplicity as a tool in designing Web sites that are at once powerful and easy for people to use. Join your peers and colleagues in a discussion facilitated by three working designers who are committed to producing work which is simple: obvious, elegant, economical, efficient, powerful and attractive. We'll be discussing what simplicity in Web design really means, the difference between Minimalism as an aesthetic and simplicity as a design goal, who is and who isn't simple, how you can use simplicity to your advantage, and plenty more.

It's fun to see those two going at it more than 13 years later, still focused on harnessing the power of simplicity to help people get their best work done. (I don't know what the other guy's deal is. He's doing.... something, I guess.)

  1. This was also the year I got food poisoning the first night of the conference, basically didn't eat anything for 5 days, and lost 10 pounds. Either Stewart or Jason suggested running to a bakery to get cookies for everyone at the meeting, and a little nibble one of those chocolate chip cookies was one of the few things I had to eat in Austin that year.

101 Easy Asian RecipesSEP 25

101 Easy Asian Recipes

Lucky Peach is coming out with a cookbook called 101 Easy Asian Recipes. I've always been a little intimidated by Asian cooking.1 Other types of cuisine seem easy: French is butter & salt, Italian is olive oil & garlic, American is roast chicken & burgers. Plus, Asian cuisine is a huge umbrella of wonderful foods from all sorts of different cultures that it's difficult to know where to start. I've been wanting to cook less Western at home, and I'm hoping this cookbook will give me some good ideas on how to proceed.

  1. Truthfully, I've always been a little intimidated by cooking in general, but as I've been doing it more often over the past couple of years, some of that trepidation has fallen away.

The mathematical secrets of Pascal's triangleSEP 16

Pascal's triangle1 is a simple arrangement of numbers in a triangle...rows are formed by the successive addition of numbers in previous rows. But out of those simple rows comes deep and useful mathematical relationships related to probability, fractals, squares, and binomial expansions. (via digg)

  1. As the video says, Pascal was nowhere near the discoverer of this particular mathematical tool. By the time he came along in 1653, the triangle had already been described in India (possibly as early as the 2nd century B.C.) and later in Persia and China.

The Collective Quarterly: Mad River ValleySEP 15

Mad River Collective

The issue of The Collective Quarterly on Vermont's Mad River Valley is wonderful and gorgeous.

When we visited the Mad River Valley -- which includes the towns of Warren, Waitsfield, Moretown, Fayston, and Duxbury -- we found grown men who loiter outside the local general store like furtive minors, sheepishly asking inbound customers if they'd be willing to help them circumvent the three-bottle limit on the impossible-to-find Sip of Sunshine double IPA from Lawson's Finest Liquids. We shared drinks with backwoods boys, each with a quirky approach to extreme sports: kayaking raging rivers, big-air huck fests in sleds, and cliff-jumping at near-suicidal heights. We met a man who builds houses in the trees for the disabled youth of the Mad River Valley. We found a woman who forges artful kitchen knives out of old horse-hoof rasps from her father's blacksmith operation. We ran into a socialist German refugee whose politically charged puppet shows in the fields of the Northeast Kingdom draw thousands.

And of course there were the architects. By some estimates, there are more architects per capita in Warren, Vermont, than anywhere else in the United States. Throughout the '60s and '70s, these freewheeling designers hacked together zany, experimental constructions on Prickly Mountain, heralding the arrival of the design/build movement.

I've spent quite a bit of time there, and I can tell you that the magazine definitely captured it. From just this summer, here's Ollie doing a 360 off a cliff at the swim hole and views of another more peaceful swim hole as well as from a hike I took:

Mad River swim hole

Mad River hike

rating: 4.5 stars

The September IssueMAR 18

I straight-up loved this movie. It's a fascinating look at the creative process of a team with strong leadership operating at a very high level. The trailer is pretty misleading in this respect...the main story in the film has little to do with fashion and should be instantly recognizable to anyone who has ever worked with a bunch of people on a project. Others have made the comparison of Anna Wintour with Steve Jobs and it seems apt. At several points in the film, my thoughts drifted to Jobs and Apple; Wintour seems like the same sort of creative leader as Jobs.

The History of CartographySEP 25

History Of Cartography

Published in 1987, copies of Volume 1 of The History of Cartography are expensive and difficult to find.1 The subsequent two volumes aren't much less expensive. So the publisher of the series, The University of Chicago Press, has made PDFs of the books available online for scholars and map enthusiasts to use.

  1. Copies are $250 on Amazon.

Strike a poseOCT 02

This photo of five Secret Service agents bracing themselves against helicopter prop wash is my favorite photo of the week.

Secret Service

It's like they're each individually posing for their own super-boss album cover. Larger here.

Reviewing jail on YelpTIM CARMODY  ·  SEP 09

An emerging genre:

"When I would shower, I would take my clothes and wash them, people thought it was funny, but it was really a way for me not to get my own clothes robbed being there was no jump suits," [Jason A.] wrote in a 1-star review of Rikers. "Food tasted like wet noodles and grill gristle.... I later learned to get a muslim halal card, and a jewish card, and know the kitchen staff to see which card would get me a better meal for the day."...

In reviewing the Wayne County Jail, Athena Kolbe, a Detroit social worker, says her aim was twofold: first, she wanted potential visitors to "be prepared for it mentally when you go into it." Second, "when you come out of it, know that all that disrespect you experienced, everybody else is also experiencing that. It's not just you."

This is what you need to know might be the best feature of any good review, and is arguably most essential when you don't have a lot of choice in the matter. Not just jails, but hospitals, homeless shelters, emergency psychiatric services -- there is a fair amount of official information, and there has always been informal word-of-mouth, but not many opportunities to get frank advice or to tell your story. Not much to make the experience anything but lonely and terrifying.

The High Times softball dynastyTIM CARMODY  ·  SEP 11

High Times, the magazine for marijuana enthusiasts, has a really, really good softball team. They are called "the Bonghitters," and are defending their championship in the New York Media Softball League.

The mainstreaming of marijuana has helped High Times thrive despite the downturn in print media... This success translates to stability for the team. Media softball rosters are flexible, a mix of current and former staffers, friends, and friends of friends. There's occasional grumbling about "ringers," but usually the only credential you need is an invitation. Still, every team needs a few regular employees. Typically, there's an employee who schedules games, recruits players, sets lineups, and makes sure somebody brings a bat. Each team also needs a keeper of the park permit; the best fields and time slots are almost impossible to get if it lapses. So staff cuts or overhauls can be catastrophic.

Perhaps we can add this to the shortlist of nonstandard economic indicators. Is your media organization healthy? ? How good is your softball team?

Kubrick: more like music than like fictionOCT 06

How many videos can we watch about the films of Stanley Kubrick? If you're anything like me, the answer is never enough. This montage hinting at connections between his films is particularly well done.

Create Your Own EconomyAPR 22

Create Your Own Economy

I don't think he's talked about it on his site yet, but Tyler Cowen has a new book coming out called Create Your Own Economy: The Path to Prosperity in a Disordered World.

As economist Tyler Cowen boldly shows in Create Your Own Economy, the way we think now is changing more rapidly than it has in a very long time. Not since the Industrial Revolution has a man-made creation -- in this case, the World Wide Web -- so greatly influenced the way our minds work and our human potential. Cowen argues brilliantly that we are breaking down cultural information into ever-smaller tidbits, ordering and reordering them in our minds (and our computers) to meet our own specific needs.

Create Your Own Economy explains why the coming world of Web 3.0 is good for us; why social networking sites such as Facebook are so necessary; what's so great about "Tweeting" and texting; how education will get better; and why politics, literature, and philosophy will become richer. This is a revolutionary guide to life in the new world.

I never properly reviewed Cowen's last book (sorry!), but I found it as enlightening and entertaining as Marginal Revolution is. (via david archer)

Camera RestrictaSEP 15

Camera Restricta is a speculative camera design by Philipp Schmitt that won't allow you to take photos if too many have already been taken by others at that location.

On the other hand, I sometimes have the chance, and then the responsibility of course, to take the last photo of a place before the shutter retracts permanently. Or maybe even the first photo of a place, where no photos have been taken yet. This is then guaranteed to be a truly unique capture.

It would be cool to pair this with a service that automatically deposits not-taken photos of heavily photographed places you visit into your account, i.e. when Camera Restricta won't let you take a picture of the Eiffel Tower, a photo of it found online and taken from your exact location would be placed in your Dropbox photos folder. (via @bdeskin)

Stop Googling. Let's Talk.SEP 28

In the NYT, Sherry Turkle provides the backup data to confirm what you already know about the digital age: Stop Googling. Let's Talk.

Studies of conversation both in the laboratory and in natural settings show that when two people are talking, the mere presence of a phone on a table between them or in the periphery of their vision changes both what they talk about and the degree of connection they feel ... Even a silent phone disconnects us.

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rating: 4.5 stars

Inglourious BasterdsDEC 18

This is pretty much the point at which I knew I was going to love Inglourious Basterds:

Inglourious Basterds

Although I can sure see why someone might hate it; the film rode that razor's edge all the way through.

The Evolution of GodMAY 11

The Evolution of God

Robert Wright has a new book out soon called The Evolution of God. Andrew Sullivan has a review.

From primitive animists to the legends of the first gods, battling like irrational cloud-inhabiting humans over the cosmos, Wright tells the story of how war and trade, technology and human interaction slowly exposed humans to the gods of others. How this awareness led to the Jewish innovation of a hidden and universal God, how the cosmopolitan early Christians, in order to market their doctrines more successfully, universalised and sanitised this Jewish God in turn, and how Islam equally included a civilising universalism despite its doctrinal rigidity and founding violence.

Last month's issue of The Atlantic contained an excerpt.

For all the advances and wonders of our global era, Christians, Jews, and Muslims seem ever more locked in mortal combat. But history suggests a happier outcome for the Peoples of the Book. As technological evolution has brought communities, nations, and faiths into closer contact, it is the prophets of tolerance and love that have prospered, along with the religions they represent. Is globalization, in fact, God's will?

I loved two of Wright's previous books, The Moral Animal and especially Nonzero. (via marginal revolution)

rating: 4.5 stars

ArgoFEB 20

Argo Poster

That's a movie poster for Argo, the fake movie that the CIA "made" as a cover for getting six American diplomats out of Iran in 1980. Ben Affleck's Argo, which cements the former prettyboy actor's status as one of the best young American directors, is somewhat loosely based on The Master of Disguise, a book written by the guy Affleck plays in Argo, and a 2007 Wired magazine article by Joshuah Bearman called The Great Escape. Argo is up for several Oscars and is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.

Update: Here's a CIA report written by Mendez about the caper. And I'm listening to the soundtrack right now.

Radiohead + D'Angelo = OK LADYTIM CARMODY  ·  SEP 11

A brand-new, free-to-listen/download covers/mashup medley EP from Roman GianArthur, featuring labelmate Janelle Monae on the beautiful duet "NO SURPR:SES."

D'Angelo and Radiohead: it's two great late-90s/early-00s/still-pretty-damn-good-in-10s tastes that taste great together!

(via Wired and elsewhere)

Mad Max: Fury Road as a silent B&W filmSEP 23

In an interview with Slashfilm, Mad Max: Fury Road director George Miller stated that "the best version of this movie is black and white" and that the purest version of the film would also be silent (which it very nearly is anyway). Miller wanted to include the B&W version on the Blu-ray, but the studio decided to delay the release of that until a Super Special Ultra Gimme All Your Money Blu-ray Edition can be arranged at some later date. Until then (or, more probably, until Warner's lawyers get around to taking it down), we have this fan-made edit of the film in B&W without dialogue. (via @SebastianNebel)

Update: Well, that was fun while it lasted. Good thing I totally didn't grab a copy to watch later using a Chrome extension. (And before you ask, no I won't.)

rating: 4.0 stars

AvatarDEC 29

One of the most difficult things to get right in movies about aliens or the future is matching the cultural and technological sophistication of a people with their environment and history. In Avatar, the Na'vi are portrayed as a Stone Age tribe, living in relatively small groups and essentially ignorant or uninterested in technology beyond simple knives and bows. But the Na'vi are also very physically capable, obviously very intelligent, aware of their global environment, well-nourished, healthy, omnivorous, adaptive, and even inventive. They have domesticated animals, are troubled by few serious natural predators, can live in different environments, have easy access to many varied natural resources (for sustenance and building/making), and can travel and therefore communicate over long distances (dozens if not hundreds of miles a day on their winged animals).

And most importantly, the Na'vi have regular and intimate access to a moon-sized supercomputer -- a neural net supercomputer at that -- that connects them to every other living thing on their world and have had such access for what could be millennia.

It just doesn't add up. The Na'vi are too capable and live in an environment that is far too pregnant with technological possibility to be stuck in the Stone Age. Plot-wise it's convenient for them to be the way they are, but the Na'vi really should have been more technologically advanced than the Earthlings, not only capable of easily repelling any attack from Captain Ironpants but able to keep the mining company from landing on the moon in the first place.

Taking off and landing a plane with just 44 feet of runwaySEP 18

Pilot Bobby Breeden recently set the official world record for shortest combined distance for takeoff and landing. Flying a single-engine taildragger plane (a Super Cub?), Breeden took off using only 24 feet of runway and landed in just 20 feet.

I've covered STOL (short takeoff and landing) aircraft on the site before...they are amazing. This Super Cub even landed on the side of a snowy mountain. I mean, fuuuuuuu... (via @gak_pdx)

Mother Nature invented the gearSEP 23

Nature Gears

Scientists have discovered that an insect has evolved something like a gearbox to coordinate its leg movements while jumping. That's right, nature invented mechanical gears before man got around to it.

The gears in the Issus hind-leg bear remarkable engineering resemblance to those found on every bicycle and inside every car gear-box.

Each gear tooth has a rounded corner at the point it connects to the gear strip; a feature identical to man-made gears such as bike gears -- essentially a shock-absorbing mechanism to stop teeth from shearing off.

The gear teeth on the opposing hind-legs lock together like those in a car gear-box, ensuring almost complete synchronicity in leg movement -- the legs always move within 30 'microseconds' of each other, with one microsecond equal to a millionth of a second.

This is critical for the powerful jumps that are this insect's primary mode of transport, as even minuscule discrepancies in synchronisation between the velocities of its legs at the point of propulsion would result in "yaw rotation" -- causing the Issus to spin hopelessly out of control.

"This precise synchronisation would be impossible to achieve through a nervous system, as neural impulses would take far too long for the extraordinarily tight coordination required," said lead author Professor Malcolm Burrows, from Cambridge's Department of Zoology.

The 50th LawJUN 23

The 50th Law

Robert Greene, author of The 48 Laws of Power, which has been influential in both halls of business and hip-hop circles, has written a new book with rapper 50 Cent called The 50th Law. Greene was initially skeptical of 50 Cent as a co-author but was impressed by their initial meeting.

He was in the midst of a power struggle with a rival rapper and he talked quite openly about the strategies he was employing, including mistakes he had made along the way. He analyzed his own actions with detachment, as if he were talking about another person. Over the last few years he had witnessed a lot of nasty maneuvering within the music business, and he seemed to want to discuss this with somebody from the outside. He was not interested in myths but reality. Contrary to his public persona, he had a Zen-like calmness that impressed me.

The main theme of the book is about fear and "the reverse power that you can obtain by overcoming [it]".

We found stories from his own life that would illustrate these ideas, many of them culled from his days as a hustler and even highlighting mistakes along the way that taught him valuable lessons. Later, from my own research, I would bring in examples from other historical figures who exemplified this trait. Many of them would be African Americans--Frederick Douglass, James Baldwin, Miles Davis, Malcolm X, Hurricane Carter, et al--whose fearless quality was forged by their harsh struggles against racism. Others would come from all periods and cultures--the Stoics, Joan of Arc, JFK, Leonardo da Vinci, Mao tse-tung, and so on.

A supercut of all Wes Anderson supercutsSEP 16

Posted here purely for the sake of completeness, here is a supercut of every1 supercut, parody, analysis, and compilation of Wes Anderson and his movies, the whole twee ball of wax.

  1. I don't know if every single one is in there, but there are a lot. I've probably linked to at least half of them.

Superstorm Francis descends on the USSEP 24

It's the Pope's first time in America and we sent him straight to Congress. That doesn't exactly seem like we're putting our best foot forward. In his historic speech to a joint session of Congress, Pope Francis addressed climate change, capitalism, the death penalty and immigration. MoJo pulled out the ten most important lines from the speech.

"This Pope often operates through symbolism and gestures that convey his intentions in ways that words never could." The New Yorker on Pope Francis and his little Fiat.

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The intellectual at warTIM CARMODY  ·  SEP 10

Bernard-Henri Levy (known as BHL) is a French philosopher and public intellectual who seems to have come from central casting. Sixty-six, handsome, he wears gorgeous tailored shirts unbuttoned halfway down his chest, weighs in on any public dispute that catches his fancy (like when he argued that his good friend, the IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, could not have assaulted a hotel employee since, as everyone knows, the finest hotels always send in cleaning brigades of two people).

He is, in short, ridiculous, all the more so because he takes himself so seriously, and is taken seriously by others.

All this is background to explain what is absurd, charming, and inexplicably funny about this slideshow of photographs of BHL in various combat zones over the years.

BHL 1.jpg

BHL - Darfour 2007.jpg

BHL - Darfour 2.jpg

BHL poolside.jpg

Human, the filmSEP 24

Photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand is known for his aerial photography of the Earth's landscapes, but in his film Human, he blends his trademark overview style with simply shot interviews with people from all over the world.

Humans made its debut earlier this month and is available in its entirety on YouTube in three 90-minute parts; start here with part one. (via in focus, which is featuring several photos from the film)

The Good Dinosaur: "A Stunning Masterpiece"OCT 09

Charlie Jane Anders of io9 has a great preview of Pixar's upcoming film, The Good Dinosaur, including some juicy details on how the film was made. Because the film uses many big landscape shots, which would have been impossible to render in a timely fashion using their usual processes, the filmmakers needed to come up with another solution. They ended up using real topographical data and satellite images to render the landscapes.

Enter the U.S. Geographical Survey, which posts incredible amounts of topographical data to its website-including the height above sea level of all of the land features, and lots of satellite images. So Munier and his team tried downloading a lot of the USGS data and putting it into their computer, and then using that to "render" the real-life landscape. And it worked: They were able to take a classic Ansel Adams photograph of the Grand Tetons and duplicate it pretty closely using their computer-generated landscape. And with this data, they could point a digital "camera" anywhere, in a 360-degree rotation, and get an image.

A short history of the British Royal FamilySEP 18

The succession of English/British kings and queens explained, from William the Conquerer in 1066 to little Prince George, perhaps, in 2067-ish. For a list of English monarchs organized into their houses (Plantagenet, Tudor, etc.), Wikipedia is the place to go.

Vertical panoramas of churchesOCT 02

Richard Silver Churches

Richard Silver Churches

From photographer Richard Silver, vertical panoramic photos of churches that emphasize their often incredible ceilings. (via ignant)

The end of Key and PeeleTIM CARMODY  ·  SEP 10

Wesley Morris expertly examines the show's achievements:

American television has always been fundamentally white. Its points of view emanate from the vantages of those who control the industry and create its content. If it deals with race as a problem, it typically can do so only if it believes there's a solution. But as a black viewer, I'm never looking for contrition, simply an acknowledgement of a condition; I don't need television -- or American culture -- to provide a remedy. Black America has tended to see the discrepancy between the cultural importance to diagnose and the delusion to attempt to cure. Merely giving a nonwhite person a speaking role is not absolution. That contradiction is visible to a black audience almost anytime it sees itself chauffeuring, housekeeping, mammying, best-friending, sidekicking, saying everything about white characters while saying nothing about itself. That was the biracial brilliance of Key and Peele. It understood race as real and racism as inevitable, and never lost sight of the way in which individual white people can be agents of change but also of offense, wittingly or not supporting a system of demoralization.

Kwame Opam discusses how the show lived and grew across the world wide web:

Key & Peele's greatest strength and weakness was its format; as a sketch show, it's best remembered for its bite-sized bits -- most of which wound up online. "Substitute Teacher," which first aired in 2012, is one of the show's earliest highlights. It quickly went viral, and right it now boasts more than 80 million views on YouTube. Earlier this year, Paramount even announced it plans on turning it into a feature-length film. But the episode it premiered on only pulled in 1.16 million viewers at the time, a drop in the bucket compared to its online views. And it makes sense, especially for a huge swath of the population that doesn't have cable. Why wait for the show when you can watch the best clips on the internet?

This is a complex but not unique irony: how a slice of pop culture in 2015 can be popular enough for the President himself to take notice (and embrace it), and to seem to have zeitgeist-defining properties, but not be quite popular enough to sustain a half hour in basic cable.

Maybe that's tied to something Morris and Opam touch on but don't quite name. More than any show on television, to my mind, Key and Peele felt young. Not young in the shallow way that all media, maybe especially television, seem to exploit young talent; not young in the same reckless, juvenile way Chappelle's Show or vintage Saturday Night Live was; young in the open, searching, insouciant, absurdist key that's so important to sketch comedy.

That's what's in the mix of what Morris rightly identifies as the show's blend of sadness and acceptance. It's youth knowing that this is not forever, that it would be wrong to linger, that the future (and everything good, bad, and unchanging that comes with it) is inevitable.

Edward Snowden's Fermi Paradox solutionSEP 21

Edward Snowden has come up with a solution to the Fermi Paradox that I hadn't heard of before. Maybe we haven't discovered intelligent life elsewhere in the Universe, says Snowden, because their communications encryption is indistinguishable from cosmic background radiation.

"If you look at encrypted communication, if they are properly encrypted, there is no real way to tell that they are encrypted," Snowden said. "You can't distinguish a properly encrypted communication from random behaviour."

Therefore, Snowden continued, as human and alien societies get more sophisticated and move from "open communications" to encrypted communication, the signals being broadcast will quickly stop looking like recognisable signals.

"So if you have an an alien civilization trying to listen for other civilizations," he said, "or our civilization trying to listen for aliens, there's only one small period in the development of their society when all their communication will be sent via the most primitive and most unprotected means."

After that, Snowden said, alien messages would be so encrypted that it would render them unrecognisable, "indistinguishable to us from cosmic microwave background radiation". In that case, humanity would not even realise it had received such communications.

Snowden shared his hypothesis with Neil deGrasse Tyson on Tyson's podcast, StarTalk.

The Earth's nuclear scarsSEP 15

Last month I shared a video showing the thousands of nuclear weapons that humans have detonated on Earth. I hadn't really thought about it too much apart from the two dropped in Japan in WWII, but those weapons created some permanent physical changes in the landscape of the Earth. For instance, dozens of circular scars are visible at this testing range in Nevada near Area 51.

Nuke Blast Holes

Also located in the same area is the Sedan Crater, the largest man-made crater in the United States. The crater is 320 feet deep, 1280 feet across, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and was made by a thermonuclear device with a 104 kiloton yield detonated in 1962.

Sedan Crater

Now, I haven't read a whole lot about nuclear tests, but this one seems particularly idiotic. The purpose of the Sedan shot was not to test a new kind of weapon or to determine the effects of the bomb, but to move earth. Yeah, no big deal, we're just gonna use a fusion bomb like a big stick of dynamite. Sedan was part of Operation Plowshare, an effort to use nuclear devices for peaceful purposes like mining and moving earth. From Wikipedia:

Proposed uses for nuclear explosives under Project Plowshare included widening the Panama Canal, constructing a new sea-level waterway through Nicaragua nicknamed the Pan-Atomic Canal, cutting paths through mountainous areas for highways, and connecting inland river systems. Other proposals involved blasting underground caverns for water, natural gas, and petroleum storage. Serious consideration was also given to using these explosives for various mining operations. One proposal suggested using nuclear blasts to connect underground aquifers in Arizona. Another plan involved surface blasting on the western slope of California's Sacramento Valley for a water transport project.

The Pan-Atomic Canal! This quaint US government video has more on Sedan:

In my post the other day, I said that the Soviets didn't care about their citizenry when testing nuclear devices. Apparently the US didn't either: the Sedan shot -- the purpose of which, as a reminder, was to move a bunch of dirt -- resulted in a significant amount of nuclear fallout, about 7% of the total radioactive fallout generated by all the nuclear tests in Nevada. Fallout from the test reached as far as West Virginia and was particularly high in counties in Iowa and Illinois. Buy hey, they moved 12 million tons of soil! (via @kyledenlinger)

Sunset on PlutoSEP 17

The backlit photos of Pluto just posted by NASA are breathtaking. Look at this:

Pluto backlit

Just 15 minutes after its closest approach to Pluto on July 14, 2015, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft looked back toward the sun and captured this near-sunset view of the rugged, icy mountains and flat ice plains extending to Pluto's horizon. The smooth expanse of the informally named Sputnik Planum (right) is flanked to the west (left) by rugged mountains up to 11,000 feet (3,500 meters) high, including the informally named Norgay Montes in the foreground and Hillary Montes on the skyline. The backlighting highlights more than a dozen layers of haze in Pluto's tenuous but distended atmosphere. The image was taken from a distance of 11,000 miles (18,000 kilometers) to Pluto; the scene is 230 miles (380 kilometers) across.

As they say, best viewed large. Some of those features don't look like mountains at all, but like reptile scales or huge shards of ice pushed up into the sky. Fantastic.

Computer graphics circa 1968TIM CARMODY  ·  SEP 14

"The Incredible Machine" (not to be confused with the 1975 film) is a 1968 documentary about experiments at Bell Labs focusing on graphics, voice, and other art and media applications. Technicians draw circuits using an electric stylus, animate titles for a movie presentation, and look at sound waveforms of different words trying to replicate speech.

It's a treat to see the state-of-the-art the year of 2001: A Space Odyssey, especially when one of the Bell Labs computers sings "Daisy Bell"/"A Bicycle Built For Two".

Also, mind the rabbit hole: the related links bar on YouTube leads to dozens of similar vintage computing videos.

(Via @katecrawford)

What if the world's best goalkeeper...was a cat?SEP 21

(via @dens)

This Much Will Kill YouSEP 22

Turns out, you can have too much of a good thing. Like water for instance...drink six liters of water and it can kill you. So can 85 chocolate bars. Or being almost 9 feet tall. Or listening to music at 185 db.

Vancouver Never Plays ItselfSEP 21

In the latest installment of Every Frame a Painting, Tony Zhou talks about the different techniques filmmakers use to make shoot locations like Vancouver (Zhou's hometown) look like New York, India, Chicago, Shanghai, and San Francisco in the finished films.

Bagel pluralismTIM CARMODY  ·  SEP 08

Murray's Bagels in New York will now toast customers' bagels on request, doubtlessly reviving a debate about the appropriateness thereof that rivals the oxford comma, shorts on men, and the pronunciation of GIF in its ferocity over the smallest things.

To this I say, let a million flowers bloom, à chacun son goût, de gustibus non est disputandum, whatever blows your hair back. Judge not your fellow citizens' bagel choices, whether in flavor, condiment, or the preparation thereof. But customers, you too should not judge your bagelry too harshly if they are not able to toast your bagel to your specifications. Your indignation is as unwelcome as the prejudice against you.

After all, those machines take up a lot of counter space. And you're holding up the line.

Time lapse video of a scale model of the solar systemSEP 17

A pair of filmmakers, Wylie Overstreet and Alex Gorosh, built a scale model of the solar system in the Nevada desert and made a time lapse of the result. For orbits, they drove their car in circles around "the Sun". The Earth they used was the size of a marble, which made Neptune's orbit seven miles across. (via the kid should see this)

The retail churches of the cult of AppleSEP 25

Apple Store Church

Sarah Laskow of Atlas Obscura took cultural historian Erica Robles-Anderson to the Soho Apple store. Robles-Anderson recently studied the use of technology in churches and Laskow wanted to know: are Apple stores the new temples?

"People have used technology for a long time to speak to the gods," she says -- to create collective experiences of the sublime.

These days, technology is more often talked about as a way to create personalized, individual experiences, but Robles-Anderson thinks that's only part of the story. Communal ritual is always a part of technology: Early computers came into group spaces, like families and offices. (Mad Men understood this dynamic: the computer as an event weathered together.) Powerpoint presentations gather people to look at giant screens. Even using an iPhone to tune out the human beings around you requires being part of a larger group.

And Apple, more than any other technology company, has been able to access both these experiences, the individual and the collective. "They feel iconic, like an emblem of the personal," says Robles-Anderson. "And yet it's a cult. Right? It's so obviously a cult."

The architecture of the stores contributes to the sacred feeling of cult membership.

"The oversized doors are fantastic," says Robles-Anderson. "There's no reason for them." They're there only to communicate that this place is important. Also, they're heavy, like church doors, to give purpose and portent to the entry into the space.

We walk inside. It's light and bright, and immediately in front of us, a wide staircase of opaque glass sweeps up to the second floor.

This is an old, old trick. "It's used in ziggurats, even," Robles-Anderson says. "It creates a space that emphasizes your smallness when you walk in. You look at something far away, and that makes your body feel like you're entering somewhere sacred or holy."

The Wire theme, SimpsonsizedSEP 22

The opening credits sequence of The Wire done using clips from The Simpsons. The theme song and clips are from the third seasons of the respective shows.

Major global coral bleaching event underwayOCT 08

Bleached Coral

A persistent underwater heatwave is causing corals worldwide to bleach, and scientists believe up to 5% of the world's coral will die permanently.

Hoegh-Guldberg said he had personally observed the first signs of bleaching on Australia's Great Barrier Reef in the past fortnight, months before the warm season begins. He said the warming pattern indicated bleaching this summer would likely affect 50% of the reef, leaving 5-10% of corals dead. Eakin said seeing bleaching on the reef at this time of year was "disturbing".

Also, no matter how many times I read this, it never gets less scary:

Since the early 1980s the world has lost roughly half of its coral reefs.

The oceans are slowly boiling and we're the frogs who aren't noticing. (via @EricHolthaus)

Hell's Club, a place where all fictional characters meetOCT 06

Mashups are so ubiquitous and overdone that the bar for actually watching one is pretty high. But this one, no joke, might be the best visual movie mashup I've ever seen. Hell's Club is a tour de force of film editing, seamlessly combining scenes from dozens of different films -- Austin Powers, Cocktail, Star Wars, Terminator, Staying Alive, Boogie Nights -- into one cohesive scene. Give it 30 seconds and you'll watch the whole thing.

Meow the JewelsSEP 28

Hip-hop group Run the Jewels have released a remix album called Meow the Jewels of their second album that features various meows, purrs, yowls, and other cat noises. Congratulations Internet, we have achieved Peak Cat.

Reinventing yourself on the InternetSEP 24

Julia Nunes is a musician who 1) first developed a following for her music on YouTube, and 2) is putting out her latest album, which drops tomorrow. This summer, Nunes took down a bunch of the videos that started her on this path and explained why.

I took down a bunch of videos bc I don't want what I'm doing now to be lost amongst what I've done for the past 8 years. I don't want the best thing I've ever done to be 10% of what you can find if you're looking. I want anyone who is just finding me now to see who I really am. Later, they can dig deep into the internet and find my nose ring but until then I wanna greet the world as I am now.

Nunes had changed and she wanted her online persona to reflect the shift.

There will always be resistance to change and the first roadblock is usually yourself. I think I was putting myself in a box there for a little bit, too beholden to the image I started with.

One of my favorite posts, which I think about often, is this one about social media and self-reinvention. In it, I quote a post1 from Scott Schuman's The Sartorialist about a woman named Kara who significantly remade her image after moving to NYC.

Actually the line that I think was the most telling but that she said like a throw-away qualifier was "I didn't know anyone in New York when I moved here..."

I think that is such a huge factor. To move to a city where you are not afraid to try something new because all the people that labeled who THEY think you are (parents, childhood friends) are not their to say "that's not you" or "you've changed". Well, maybe that person didn't change but finally became who they really are. I totally relate to this as a fellow Midwesterner even though my changes were not as quick or as dramatic.

I bet if you ask most people what keeps them from being who they really want to be (at least stylistically or maybe even more), the answer would not be money but the fear of peer pressure -- fear of embarrassing themselves in front of a group of people that they might not actually even like anyway.

Taking down those videos is Nunes' way of trying for a fresh online start. Makes me think about whether having more than 17 years of archives on kottke.org still hanging around is such a good idea.

  1. Somewhat fittingly, that post now appears to be missing from Schuman's site. Perhaps he (or Kara) needed to do a little online self-reinvention. Luckily, the Wayback Machine has us covered.

The life and death of languagesTIM CARMODY  ·  SEP 11

John McWhorter looks at Aramaic, once the lingua franca of the near east, now reduced to about half a million speakers (who separately call it Chaldean, Syriac, Assyrian, Mandaic, etc.).

Aramaic, then, is in a splintered and tenuous state. Yet it was the English of its time--a language that united a large number of distinct peoples across a vast region, a key to accessing life beyond one's village, and a mark of sophistication to many. The Aramaeans--according to Biblical lore named for Noah's grandson Aram--started as a little-known nomadic group. But they were seekers, and by the 11th century B.C.E. they ruled large swaths of territory in Mesopotamia, encompassing parts of modern-day Iraq, Syria, and Turkey, including, for a spell, the city of Babylon itself. On the basis of this expansion alone, however, theirs would likely have become just one of various languages of the area that briefly enjoyed fame and then vanished in the endless game of musical chairs that was ancient Middle Eastern politics. The Aramaeans themselves were in Babylon only temporarily: In 911 B.C.E., the Assyrians, who spoke a language called Akkadian, ousted them. But the Assyrians unwittingly helped the Aramaeans' language extinguish their own.

Namely, the Assyrians deported Aramaic-speakers far and wide, to Egypt and elsewhere. The Assyrians may have thought they were clearing their new territory, but this was like blowing on a fluffy milkweed and thinking of it as destruction rather than dissemination: The little seeds take root elsewhere.

There are many differences between English and Aramaic -- English is supposedly simple and easy to learn, while Aramaic is manifestly not -- but that actually had little effect on English's emergence as a global language, or on Aramaic's rise and decline. But one set of differences between the two languages, McWhorter argues, really is material:

At this point, I am supposed to write that English's preeminence could end as easily as Aramaic's. Actually, however, I doubt it: I suspect that English will hold on harder and longer than any language in history. It happened to rise to its current position at a time when three things had happened, profoundly transformative enough to stop the music, as it were: print, widespread literacy, and an omnipresent media.

Together, these things can drill a language into international consciousness in a historically unprecedented way, creating a sense of what is normal, cosmopolitan, cool even--arbitrary but possibly impregnable. If the Chinese, for example, rule the world someday, I suspect they will do it in English, just as King Darius ruled in Aramaic and Kublai Khan, despite speaking Mongolian, ruled China through Chinese translators in the 13th century C.E. Aramaic held sway at a time when a lingua franca was more fragile than it is today.

Leadership merit badgesSEP 21

Michael Lopp, Head of Engineering at Pinterest, recently gave a talk at the Cultivate conference in which he talks about different merit badges that a leader might earn if there were such a thing. Check the video for the whole list, but here are a few of them:

Influence without management authority
Delegate something you care about
Ship a thing
Ask for help from an enemy
Fail spectacularly

Part of the list made me think of parenting, which reminded me of Stella Bugbee's recommendation of the book Siblings Without Rivalry on Cup of Jo.

I have a VERY, VERY unlikely book that I often reference as a boss: Siblings Without Rivalry. It's not about money or business per se, but I've found since reading it that I put so many of its lessons into practice managing my team at work. I love the way it teaches you to listen, repeat the issues without taking sides, empathize and then teach the parties involved to solve their own disputes. It also helps at home. (Duh.)

The Life-Changing Magic of Losing ShitOCT 02

Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up encourages you to examine all of your possessions one by one, ask if they "spark joy", and if they don't, get rid of them. Christina Xu recently lost her backpack with some of her most-used and valuable possessions and came away from the experience with a different spin on the KonMari method.

Involuntarily losing shit is the ultimate version of the KonMari method. It brutally takes things away at random and makes you fight to get them back so that you remember and reaffirm the value of each one.

This will henceforth be known as the XuHulk method.

Does every creative genius need a bitter rival?OCT 09

Jacob Burak in Aeon: "Michelangelo and Raphael; Leibniz and Newton; Constable and Turner. Does every creative genius need a bitter rival?"

Turner and Constable are not alone in the pantheon of epic rivalries between creative giants. Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz, two of the most brilliant mathematicians and thinkers of the 17th century, laid claim to the development of calculus, the mathematical study of change. Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla both invented electrical systems in the 1880s. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates went head-to-head as pioneers of the computer age. If you Google almost any famous figure along with 'rivalry', you'll find some interesting results.

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These 11 actors play 119 characters on The SimpsonsSEP 30

When I'm GoneOCT 06

In this story by Rafael Zoehler, a father who dies at 27 wrote his son a series of letters to be opened at several of life's milestones, including WHEN YOU HAVE YOUR FIRST KISS, WHEN YOU BECOME A FATHER, and WHEN YOUR MOTHER IS GONE. This letter was entitled "WHEN I'M GONE":


If you're reading this, I'm dead. I'm sorry. I knew I was going to die.

I didn't want to tell you what was going to happen, I didn't want to see you crying. Well, it looks like I've made it. I think that a man who's about to die has the right to act a little bit selfish.

Well, as you can see, I still have a lot to teach you. After all, you don't know crap about anything. So I wrote these letters for you. You must not open them before the right moment, OK? This is our deal.

I love you. Take care of your mom. You're the man of the house now.

Love, dad.

PS: I didn't write letters to your mom. She's got my car.

(via @Atul_Gawande)

The effect of choosing and changing aspect ratios in filmSEP 16

The aspect ratio of a movie can have a significant effect on how the scenes in the movie are perceived by the viewer. Changing the ratio during a movie (as in Interstellar, The Dark Knight Rises, etc.) can be an effective way to signal a thematic change.

College football is riggedTIM CARMODY  ·  SEP 09

Sports and education are the two parts of American life where our meritocratic fantasies crash hardest into exploitative reality.

In "BROKE," SBNation's Spencer Hall has a powerful argument for paying student-athletes, specifically college football players.

When and if [student-athletes] do receive their degree, it might mean even less in terms of real future dollars than those received by their peers. The networking they might have done with others on campus is restricted by their class schedules and practice; the networking with wealthy alumni that might benefit them in business is explicitly forbidden in many instances, something Princeton's own Michael Lewis points out in The Blind Side. The athlete receives no dividend or funds kept in trust for their well-above-average financial contributions to the university on graduation.

By rule they are separated from the income they make, and by system they are separated from the university education they were promised. They are neither amateurs nor professionals, and effectively moved as undeclared contraband through the United States tax system.

Hall's argument is intercut with a personal essay about growing up with his own family precariously in and out of poverty. The two halves don't quite join up, but it helps break some of the abstractions around the amateur ideal and gives the whole thing an added urgency.

Interviewing Kermit's new partnerTIM CARMODY  ·  SEP 10

No, not his new girlfriend Denise (although I hope for Kermit nothing but happiness), but Steve Whitmire, the puppeteer who became the man behind the frog (and Ernie, and several other beloved characters) after Jim Henson's death. It's also a sweet, mournful look into the mystery of puppeteering:

Until Being Elmo, the documentary about long-time Elmo performer Kevin Clash, nobody knew who Clash was. Elmo was just Elmo. Consider the secondary performer, the underling to the already-invisible: They don't play a fictional character; they gesture a single limb. That dark empty sleeve is the foxhole of puppeteers--you dig in, protecting your neighbor and hope you come back alive. Survive and your own identity awaits. Jerry Nelson began as a right hand for the Muppets in 1965--eventually he would perform one of the most recognizable Sesame Street citizens, Count von Count. If anyone knows the value of digits, it's a 4-year-old learning their numbers by extending one finger at a time until, finally, their hand is open, the better to grab on.

The Muppets premieres on September 22, and a Jim Henson documentary will air on September 15.

A linear Lake MichiganSEP 29

Linear Lake Michigan

Cartographer Daniel Huffman made a map that imagines the shoreline of Lake Michigan as a straight line. Click through to see the entire map and to read about houw Huffman did it. (thx, mark)

2015 fall foliage mapSEP 24

2015 Foliage Map

SmokyMountains.com has the best fall foliage map I've ever seen. It's very simply designed and has a slider that lets you check the leaf peeping forecast across the entire US.

P.S. It's decorative gourd season, motherfuckers.

This is what it looks like to land on MarsOCT 07

When the Curiosity rover landed on the surface of Mars, it took high-resolution photos all the way down. Luke Fitch took those photos and stitched them together into a first-person HD video of the rover's landing.

Update: I was wondering if someone had done a stabilized version of this video and lo:

(via @willhains)

Why is there something rather than nothing?OCT 05

That is the question that physicist Lawrence Krauss answers in his book, A Universe from Nothing. The book's trailer provides a little more context.

Everything we see is just a 1% bit of cosmic pollution in a Universe dominated by dark matter and dark energy. You could get rid of all the things in the night sky -- the stars, the galaxies, the planets, everything -- and the Universe would be largely the same.

And my favorite line from the trailer:

Forget Jesus, the stars died so you could be born.

(via open culture)

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