The Final Four of EverythingAPR 28

The Final Four of Everything

In a post on his great blog, The Year in Pictures, James Danziger discusses some of the photography featured in a forthcoming book, The Final Four of Everything, including Danziger's own selections for Iconic American Photographs. The Final Four of Everything seems to be a sequel of sorts to The Enlightened Bracketologist by the same authors...or perhaps just the same book with a much better title.

Auctioneer beatsJUN 27

From the Auctioneer Beats account on Vine, auctioneer calls set to the freshest beats.

Simple and delightful. Some of these auctioneers could give Daveed Diggs a run for his money. (via @fimoculous)

Constructing a grass hut from scratchJUL 19

The dude from Primitive Technology is back and this time he's constructed a grass hut from scratch.

This hut is easy to build and houses a large volume. The shape is wind resistant and strong for it's materials. Gaps can be seen in the thatch but not if viewing from directly underneath meaning that it should shed rain well. A fire should be possible in the hut as long as it's small and kept in a pit in the center.The reason the hut took so long is due to the scarcity of grass on the hill. It could be built much quicker in a field.

Video for Gosh by Jamie xxJUL 05

Directed by Romain Gavras. Best at fullscreen with headphones.

The radicalization of the US Republican PartyJUL 20

Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann argue that the Republican Party has been radicalized and Trump is the result.

Trumpism may have parallels in populist, nativist movements abroad, but it is also the culmination of a proud political party's steady descent into a deeply destructive and dysfunctional state.

While that descent has been underway for a long time, it has accelerated its pace in recent years. We noted four years ago the dysfunction of the Republican Party, arguing that its obstructionism, anti-intellectualism, and attacks on American institutions were making responsible governance impossible. The rise of Trump completes the script, confirming our thesis in explicit fashion.

Stuck in the middle with you(rself)JUN 27

In the Guardian, Oliver Burkeman writes about what's going on when we become a little stubborn about not wanting to enjoy Hamilton, Ferrante, Better Call Saul, or [insert your friends' current cultural obsession here].

Somewhere around the 500th headline I read in praise of Hamilton, the universally acclaimed Broadway musical due in Europe next year, I was struck by a deflating thought: I'll probably never see it. Not just because it's virtually impossible to get a ticket, but because so many people -- people whose tastes I trust -- have raved about it that I now regard the prospect with annoyance. Two years ago, it was the Richard Linklater movie Boyhood, which I still haven't seen; then Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan novels, which I still haven't read. Straw polls of friends suggest I'm not alone in this reaction -- call it "cultural cantankerousness" -- which seems to affect books, films, plays, holiday destinations and restaurants equally. Increasingly, my first thought on seeing something described as a "must-read" is'"Oh really? Try and make me."

This reaction could be a FOMO defense, but the optimal distinctiveness theory explanation is more interesting.

One explanation is what psychologists call "optimal distinctiveness theory" -- the way we're constantly jockeying to feel exactly the right degree of similarity to and difference from those around us. Nobody wants to be exiled from the in-group to the fringes of society; but nobody wants to be swallowed up by it, either.

FWIW, I have not see Boyhood or Better Call Saul yet, but I've read Ferrante and seen Hamilton are both are as good as advertised. (Oh, and Burkeman's own book, The Antidote, is great as well.)

80s and 90s commercials from Saturday morning cartoonsJUL 12

The Internet Archive has just uploaded a bunch of commercials that were shown during Saturday morning cartoons during the 70s, 80s, and 90s.1 Holy nostalgia bomb, OMG that Frosted Mini Wheats commercial! I somehow remember most of the 80s ones...can I delete those memories somehow to make more room for new thoughts about AI, self-driving cars, and climate change?

  1. For you youngsters out there, it used to be that cartoon shows on TV were shown on Saturday mornings...and only on Saturday mornings (mostly). Evenings were for dramas and sitcoms, afternoons were for soaps and game shows, and Sundays were for news shows and religion. It was an Event...and the only time during the week when parents could sleep in knowing for sure where the kids would be and what they were doing. Oh and also, there were only four channels and the TV screen was about as large as a sheet of paper...in B&W. And the phone was on the wall and had a rotary dial! And at the store, they looked your credit card number up in a book to make sure the card was valid! And you had to hand-crank your car to start it! And when the flint started to go on your axe, you just chipped yourself a new one....

Turning your anxiety into excitementJUL 12

Some recent research suggests that if you're feeling anxious, saying "I am excited" can switch your heightened emotional state from negative (anxiety) to positive (excitement).

It's also counterintuitive: When most people feel anxious, they likely tell themselves to just relax. "When asked, 'how do you feel about your upcoming speech?', most people will say, 'I'm so nervous, I'm trying to calm down,'" said Alison Wood Brooks, a professor at Harvard Business School who has studied the phenomenon. She cites the ubiquitous "Keep Calm and Carry On" posters as partial evidence.

But that might be precisely the wrong advice, she said. Instead, the slogan should be more like, "Get Amped and Don't Screw Up."

That's because anxiety and excitement are both aroused emotions. In both, the heart beats faster, cortisol surges, and the body prepares for action. In other words, they're "arousal congruent." The only difference is that excitement is a positive emotion' focused on all the ways something could go well.

Calmness is also positive, meanwhile, but it's also low on arousal. For most people, it takes less effort for the brain to jump from charged-up, negative feelings to charged-up, positive ones, Brooks said, than it would to get from charged-up and negative to positive and chill. In other words, its easier to convince yourself to be excited than calm when you're anxious.

Totally trying this the next time I'm anxious.

Zootopia was going to be a much darker movieJUN 29

This storyboarded scene from Zootopia shows an early and much darker direction for the plot: the predators need to wear collars that shock them if they get too excited. This reminds me that Woody was a "sarcastic jerk" in the early drafts of Toy Story. Oh, and Lightning McQueen was an asshole in Cars whose redemption the audience didn't completely buy, which Pixar didn't end up fixing.

Update: There's more about how Zootopia's story evolved in Fusion's 45-minute feature about the production of the film. (via @luketonge)

The fractal and geometric beauty of plantsJUL 12

Plant Geometry

Plant Geometry

Plant Geometry

When you look at some plants, you can just see the mathematics behind how the leaves, petals, and veins are organized.

The Ambiguous Cylinder optical illusionJUL 01

I couldn't figure this out when I watched it on my phone this morning, but if you watch it in fullscreen HD, you can see how the shapes are cut to look different from various angles. Still trippy though.

Update: Make Anything reverse-engineered the illusion...here's how it works:

(via @dunstan)

The winners of the 2015 50 Books/50 Covers competitionJUN 27

The AIGA and Design Observer have announced the results of the 50 Books/50 Covers competition for books published in 2015. The competition recognizes excellence in design of books and, separately, book covers. Here are a couple of my favorite covers:

50books Covers 2015

50books Covers 2015

Oreo by Fran Ross was designed by Erik Carter and Moon-Kie Jung's Beneath the Surface of White Supremacy was designed by Anne Jordan and Mitch Goldstein.

The green screen driving machineJUN 29

Creative agency The Mill has built a car called the Blackbird that, after visual effects are applied in post-production, can impersonate any sort of car in a commercial, TV show, or movie.

The Mill BLACKBIRD® is able to quickly transform its chassis to match the exact length and width of almost any car. Powered by an electric motor, it can be programmed to imitate acceleration curves and gearing shifts and the adjustable suspension alters ride height, rigidity and dampening to replicate typical driving characteristics.

Strange MapsOCT 29

Strange Maps

The Strange Maps book is out today. The book is based on the awesome Strange Maps blog, one the very few sites I have to exercise restraint in not linking to every single item posted there. The content of the book is adapted from the site, so of course it's top shelf.

My only reservation in recommending the book is the design. When I cracked it open, I was expecting full-bleed reproductions of the maps, large enough to really get a detailed look at them. The maps *are* the book, after all. But that's not the case...only a few of the maps get an entire non-full-bleed page and some of the maps are stuck in the corner of a page of text, like small afterthoughts. The rest of the design is not much better, cheesy at best and distracting at worst. I wasn't expecting Taschen-grade production values, but something more appropriate to the subject matter would have been nice.

Why is Peter Thiel supporting Donald Trump?JUL 21

As Elon Musk plans to introduce a fleet of completely autonomous self-driving vehicles to America's roads, another PayPal co-founder is giving a speech in support of Donald Trump at the Republican National Convention. But why exactly is a canny libertarian with a penchant for undermining the fundamental pillars of democracy to forward his own personal aims supporting Trump? Jeff Bercovici has a not-so-crazy theory:

I think Peter Thiel supports Donald Trump because he believes it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to weaken America's attachment to democratic government.

I'm not accusing Thiel of any ambitions he hasn't more or less copped to. In an often-quoted 2009 essay, Thiel declared, "I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible."

He also wrote that his fellow libertarians were on a "fool's errand" trying to achieve their ends through political means: "In our time, the great task for libertarians is to find an escape from politics in all its forms -- from the totalitarian and fundamentalist catastrophes to the unthinking demos that guides so-called 'social democracy.'"

Here's the essay Bercovici refers to: The Education of a Libertarian. Tyler Cowen, who interviewed Thiel last year and admires him (or at least finds his views interesting), has another take on Thiel's support of Trump, which is perhaps related to Bercovici's:

The Straussian interpretation of the Republican Convention is the correct one, which is perhaps one reason why Peter Thiel will be speaking there. They are not saying what they are saying, in fact they are saying "the world is going to hell, and many of those amongst us have been traitorously disloyal. That is why we scream out stupidities, debase ourselves, and court attention by waving our arms in ridiculous ways. We are a small church seeking to become larger." Is that not how many smaller churches behave? Is that not how some of the early branches of the Christian church behaved? Did they have any influence?

What does Donald Trump actually want? What does Thiel want? What do Republican voters want? I'd wager their actual goals have less to do with the party's official platform and what people are saying at the convention and more to do with broader opportunities to gain power that arise from disruption and the energetic application of fear.

Green Eggs and HamFEB 20

Green Eggs and Ham

After writing The Cat in the Hat in 1955 using only 223 words, Dr. Seuss bet his publisher that he could write a book using only 50 words. Seuss collected on the wager in 1960 with the publication of Green Eggs and Ham. Here are the 50 distinct words used in the book:

a am and anywhere are be boat box car could dark do eat eggs fox goat good green ham here house I if in let like may me mouse not on or rain Sam say see so thank that the them there they train tree try will with would you

From a programming perspective, one of the fun things about Green Eggs and Ham is because the text contains so little information repeated in a cumulative tale, the story could be more efficiently represented as an algorithm. A simple loop would take the place of the following excerpt:

I do not like them in a box.
I do not like them with a fox.
I do not like them in a house.
I do not like them with a mouse.
I do not like them here or there.
I do not like them anywhere.
I do not like green eggs and ham.
I do not like them, Sam I am.

But I don't know...foreach ($items as $value) doesn't quite have the same sense of poetry as the original Seuss.

Facebook is shutting down PaperJUL 01

Sad but not unexpected news: Facebook is shutting down its Paper app.

When it was introduced in January 2014, Paper signaled the beginning of a design renaissance at Facebook. The look and feel of the app were orchestrated by Mike Matas, whose design firm Push Pop Press was acquired by Facebook in 2011. Paper was notable for the novel animations it used to guide you through the app - tap on a link and it would unfold like a letter; pull down on the story and it would fold back up, returning you to the feed.

They say the app is shutting down on July 29th, but my news feed has already stopped updating.

I love Paper. The look and feel of the app is amazing; it's still one of the best apps ever for reading things online. Paper was the only way I read Facebook...I guess I'll either d/l the Facebook app or stop reading?

Wreck-It Ralph sequel announcedJUL 01

Wreck It Ralph 2

Disney has announced a sequel to Wreck-It Ralph due to come out in 2018. Given that the plot summary is "Ralph's wrecking wreaks havoc on the Web", I guess it's appropriate the announcement took place on Facebook, which has already done its part in wrecking the open web.

The Floating Piers by Christo and Jeanne-ClaudeJUN 23

The Floating Piers is a new art installant from Christo and Jeanne-Claude consisting of massive floating bridges and docks covered in yellow fabric that connects a pair of islands to the mainland in Italy's Lake Iseo. The video above offers an aerial view of the installation.

Visitors can experience this work of art by walking on it from Sulzano to Monte Isola and to the island of San Paolo, which is framed by The Floating Piers. The mountains surrounding the lake offer a bird's-eye view of The Floating Piers, exposing unnoticed angles and altering perspectives. Lake Iseo is located 100 kilometers east of Milan and 200 kilometers west of Venice.

"Like all of our projects, The Floating Piers is absolutely free and accessible 24 hours a day, weather permitting," said Christo. "There are no tickets, no openings, no reservations and no owners. The Floating Piers are an extension of the street and belong to everyone."

The Floating Piers

This is very reminiscent of The Gates, which is one of my favorite pieces of art. (via tksst)

Six million years of human history, explained in 10 minutesJUN 24

Kurzgesagt gives us a short tour of human history, from the six different species of human that existed 100,000 years ago to the present. If you found that interesting and want more detail, you should read Sapiens...Kurzgesagt used it as a major reference here.

Most books about the history of humanity pursue either a historical or a biological approach, but Dr. Yuval Noah Harari breaks the mold with this highly original book that begins about 70,000 years ago with the appearance of modern cognition. From examining the role evolving humans have played in the global ecosystem to charting the rise of empires, Sapiens integrates history and science to reconsider accepted narratives, connect past developments with contemporary concerns, and examine specific events within the context of larger ideas.

Hand-drawn style transfer to 3D modelsJUL 12

This is cool. StyLit is a patent-pending program for tranferring the style of an artist's drawing to a 3D rendering in realtime. (via subtraction)

The man who became a goatJUL 13

Goatman

In response to feeling like he was psychologically "stuck in a big, dark hole", designer Thomas Thwaites decided to become a goat. At least part time.

From this, he builds a goat exoskeleton-artificial legs, helmet, chest protector, raincoat from his mum, and a prosthetic goat stomach to digest grass (with help from a pressure cooker and campfire)-before setting off across the Alps on four legs with a herd of his fellow creatures. Will he make it? Do Thwaites and his readers discover what it truly means to be human?

A book detailing his experience came out earlier this year.

You may remember Thwaites as the guy who built a toaster from scratch (also a book). Like completely from scratch...he smelted his own iron ore.

David Chang's Unified Theory of DeliciousnessJUL 20

Chef and Momofuku founder David Chang spends a lot of time thinking about food and he's arrived at what he calls the Unified Theory of Deliciousness.

My first breakthrough on this idea was with salt. It's the most basic ingredient, but it can also be hellishly complex. A chef can go crazy figuring out how much salt to add to a dish. But I believe there is an objectively correct amount of salt, and it is rooted in a counterintuitive idea. Normally we think of a balanced dish as being neither too salty nor undersalted. I think that's wrong. When a dish is perfectly seasoned, it will taste simultaneously like it has too much salt and too little salt. It is fully committed to being both at the same time.

I'm not sure his observations are exactly unified, but they are interesting and also why I enjoy eating at his restaurants so much. A meal I had at Ssam Bar shortly after they switched away from the initial Korean burritos menu is in my top 5 meals of all time and a pair of dishes at Ko (both somehow simultaneously familiar and new) are among the most delicious things I've ever eaten.

The world's first chatbot lawyerJUN 29

AI chatbot lawyer sounds like a SNL skit, but the DoNotPay chatbot has successfully contested 160,000 parking tickets in London and New York.

Dubbed as "the world's first robot lawyer" by its 19-year-old creator, London-born second-year Stanford University student Joshua Browder, DoNotPay helps users contest parking tickets in an easy to use chat-like interface.

The program first works out whether an appeal is possible through a series of simple questions, such as were there clearly visible parking signs, and then guides users through the appeals process.

The results speak for themselves. In the 21 months since the free service was launched in London and now New York, Browder says DoNotPay has taken on 250,000 cases and won 160,000, giving it a success rate of 64% appealing over $4m of parking tickets.

Having spent a shitload of money on lawyering over the past few years, there is definitely an opportunity for some automation there.

How Ghostbusters became GhostbustersJUL 06

In a relatively new video essay about movies, Lessons from the Screenplay, Michael Tucker looks at Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis's original script for Ghostbusters and how the framework it provided, enhanced by the improv skills of the actors, produced a movie better than the script might have indicated at first glance. And oh man, I love the turn-of-the-century Ghostbusters idea. (via one perfect shot)

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.

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.

New from Tinybop: SkyscrapersJUL 21

Tinybop's newest app for kids is called Skyscrapers.

Discover how people build, live, and play in skyscrapers. Construct a skyline full of buildings! Go up and down, through every floor, and underground. Spark a blackout, fix a pipe, or clog the toilets. Test your building's engineering when dinosaurs invade, lightning strikes, or the earth quakes. Find out what keeps skyscrapers standing tall and people happy in them all.

I believe my kids have all of the Tinybop apps and love them...I'm downloading this one right now. See also a bunch of great educational-ish iPad apps for kids.

The pilot for SeinfeldJUL 06

Even though I was one of the (relative) few to watch the first episode when it originally aired,1 I had forgotten how weird the pilot for Seinfeld was. The theme music is completely different, Michael Richards' character is called "Kessler" (because the network had legal concerns related to Larry David's real-life neighbor, Kenny Kramer, on whom the character was based), and Elaine2 neither appears or is mentioned. Oh, and the first season was only five episodes long (NBC was very skeptical about the show) and both Steve Buscemi and David Alan Grier auditioned for the role of George.

Update: Well, that got taken down from Vimeo fairly quickly. You can still watch the pilot on Hulu.

  1. I watched an incredible amount of TV as a kid. I would read TV Guide from cover to cover each week and have seen every episode of a number of embarrassing shows.

  2. Fun fact: Julia Louis-Dreyfus wasn't even aware of the existence of the Elaine-less pilot episode until 2004 (6 years after the show ended) and plans never to watch it. Whoever told her must have earned a solid GET! OUT! shove in the chest.

The surprising history of the infographicJUN 28

1860 Slavery Map

From Clive Thompson, a history of the infographic, which was developed in part to help solve problems with an abundance of data available in the 19th century.

The idea of visualizing data is old: After all, that's what a map is -- a representation of geographic information -- and we've had maps for about 8,000 years. But it was rare to graph anything other than geography. Only a few examples exist: Around the 11th century, a now-anonymous scribe created a chart of how the planets moved through the sky. By the 18th century, scientists were warming to the idea of arranging knowledge visually. The British polymath Joseph Priestley produced a "Chart of Biography," plotting the lives of about 2,000 historical figures on a timeline. A picture, he argued, conveyed the information "with more exactness, and in much less time, than it [would take] by reading."

Still, data visualization was rare because data was rare. That began to change rapidly in the early 19th century, because countries began to collect-and publish-reams of information about their weather, economic activity and population. "For the first time, you could deal with important social issues with hard facts, if you could find a way to analyze it," says Michael Friendly, a professor of psychology at York University who studies the history of data visualization. "The age of data really began."

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)

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 manifesto from People Reluctant To Kill for an AbstractionJUL 15

In 2004, George Saunders wrote a article for Slate in the style of a manifesto for an organization called People Reluctant To Kill for an Abstraction. I believe Saunders' piece has some relevance to current events.

At precisely 9 in the morning, working with focus and stealth, our entire membership succeeded in simultaneously beheading no one. At 10, Phase II began, during which our entire membership did not force a single man to suck another man's penis. Also, none of us blew himself/herself up in a crowded public place. No civilians were literally turned inside out via our powerful explosives. In addition, at 11, in Phase III, zero (0) planes were flown into buildings.

And in summary:

This is PRKA. To those who would oppose us, I would simply say: We are many. We are worldwide. We, in fact, outnumber you. Though you are louder, though you create a momentary ripple on the water of life, we will endure, and prevail.

(via everything changes)

NASA extends the missions of nine spacecraftJUL 05

While we're on the subject, NASA announced late last week that they are extending the missions of nine spacecraft sprinkled about the solar system. Included are the New Horizon probe, which will wing off to study an object in the Kuiper Belt after doing so well with Pluto and the rover Opportunity, which was slated for a mission lasting just over 90 days but has now spent more than 12 years exploring the surface of Mars.

The Dawn mission to Ceres is another spacecraft whose duration has been extended, beating long odds. Part of the spacecraft's functionality had not been working for some time, but was recently repaired.

It was a bit unexpected because Dawn is low on fuel. "Less than a year ago, I would have thought it was ridiculous that the spacecraft would even be operating at this point," said Marc D. Rayman, the chief engineer for the Dawn mission.

The Dawn spacecraft was designed to use four spinning wheels to pivot in different directions. But at its previous destination, the asteroid Vesta, two of the four wheels overheated and failed. At Ceres, the wheels stayed off, and the spacecraft used its thrusters instead to pivot.

In December, Dawn reached its lowest orbit, just 240 miles above Ceres. Dr. Rayman said he and his team had expected Dawn to exhaust its remaining propellant by March.

But they spun up the wheels again. That succeeded, cutting the use of the thrusters. "It all worked out beautifully," Dr. Rayman said. That left enough fuel to contemplate doing something more.

Amazon Prime Day dealsJUL 12

Kubrick Blu Ray

Amazon's fake sales holiday is back and like last year, there are some good things on offer if you poke around a little.

The Kindle Paperwhite is $90 (I have one of these and love it). Oh, and the regular Kindle is only $50. Oh and also, the Amazon Echo is $50 off as well.

A collection of Stanley Kubrick's best movies on Blu-ray is $70 (down from $125).

A 55-inch 4K TV for $650. Is that a typo? Weren't 4K TVs like $5000 just a couple of years ago?

This wireless b&w laser printer for $50 is a great deal. (I have this printer. It is solid.)

The professional size KitchenAid stand mixer can be had today for $249.

2016 Presidential election oddsJUN 30

According to the first national election forecast by FiveThirtyEight, Hillary Clinton has an 80.3% chance of winning the Presidency.

538 Trump Hillary

A 20% Trump chance is waaaaay too close for my comfort...that's better odds than ending up dead playing one round of Russian roulette. We gotta Mondale that Cheeto-faced shitgibbon.

A tour of the Stanley Kubrick ExhibitionJUL 18

The Stanley Kubrick Exhibition is currently showing at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco and Adam Savage went to take a look and show us around. Super bummed I haven't seen this in person yet. After SF, it heads off to Mexico City.

How discrimination feelsJUL 07

I posted a short video earlier today featuring Jane Elliott. She's a noted anti-racism activist famous for her blue eyes/brown eyes exercise, featured in the video above.

White people's number one freedom in the United States of America is the freedom to be totally ignorant about those who are other than white. And our number two freedom is the freedom to deny that we're ignorant.

In the exercise, Elliott divides the class into two groups based on their eye color: those with blue eyes and those with brown eyes. The brown eyed group is instructed to treat the blue eyed group as inferior because of their eye color -- they are to be called "bluey" or "boy" or "honey" but not by their names.

At the beginning of the session (which starts at about 1:30 (but don't skip the intro!)), Elliott calls herself "the resident bitch for the day" and does she mean it...she does not let up because, as she says in the video, society doesn't let up on people of color either. (via @dunstan)

Freedom for some is not freedomJUL 07

Jane Elliott asks an audience a very simple question about being black in America. (via @carltonspeight who says "No BS, I wish every white person on Twitter could see this. Maybe it'll help")

How to Smoke a JointJUL 14

This is a scene from Miloš Forman's 1971 film, Taking Off, in which a support group of "square" parents meet to try and understand their children who have run away from home. What a great scene. Unfortunately, the entire movie seems quite difficult to find these days. It's not streaming anywhere and this Blu-ray is $45. (via @dunstan)

What's new on Netflix for the July 4th weekend?JUL 02

If you're looking to avoid the family or ocean or grilled meats or fireworks, there are some seriously good movies that have been added to Netflix in the US just in time for the long holiday weekend:

Mean Girls
Beverly Hills Cop
Gladiator
Back to the Future (I II & III)
Deliverance
Lethal Weapon
The Sting

And The Big Short arrives on July 6.

Juno successfully enters orbit around JupiterJUL 05

After a voyage from Earth lasting almost 5 years, the Juno spacecraft successfully entered Jupiter's orbit late last night.

The engine burn was tense. 35 minutes is a long time for a spacecraft burn; after 20 minutes it had slowed Juno enough to be in orbit, but not the correct one. It had to continue for another 15 minutes to put the spacecraft on the correct orbit. It worked essentially perfectly. The burn time was off by just one second. That will have no real effect on the orbit.

The 35-minute burn slowed Juno down by more than 1200 mph.

How did Hitler rise to power?JUL 21

From the transcript of the video:

Disturbingly, many of Trump's early measures didn't require mass repression. His speeches exploited people's fear and ire to drive their support behind him and the Republican party. Meanwhile, businessmen and intellectuals, wanting to be on the right side of public opinion, endorsed Trump. They assured themselves and each other that his more extreme rhetoric was only for show.

Oh sorry, looks like autocorrect misspelled "Hitler" a couple times there. (Boy, Godwin's law makes it difficult to talk about the historical comparisons, although Mike Godwin himself sanctioned the comparison if "you're thoughtful about it and show some real awareness of history". Not sure I'm meeting the standard here, but at least we've learned something about Hitler?)

Game of Thrones for beginners, narrated by Samuel L. JacksonJUL 13

HBO did a beginner's guide to Game of Thrones and got Samuel L. Jackson to narrate it.

Over in Westeros, Lord Eddard Stark, aka Ned, is asked by his friend the King, Robert Baratheon, to be the Hand of the King, aka his right hand man. Ned doesn't wanna go, but das his boy! So he uproots his family and heads to King's Landing. Nice family, right? Don't get attached. I'm just saying.

Does anyone swear as delightfully well as Samuel L. Jackson?

View from the camera car during a Jason Bourne car chaseJUL 20

Watch the intricate dance of trailing camera car, camera, and stunt car as they each bob and weave through traffic during the filming of the latest Jason Bourne movie in Las Vegas. The relevant scene is at 2:23 in the behind-the-scenes video above. (via @MachinePix)

The evolution of Pixar's animation from 1984 to nowJUN 28

Watch how far Pixar's skill in animation has come over the past 30+ years, from their initial shorts to the nearly photorealistic animation in last year's The Good Dinosaur to Finding Dory.

It's incredible how dated the original Toy Story looks now. It's going to look positively prehistoric in 20 years and it'll be impossible for anyone who didn't see it at the time to understand how astounding and groundbreaking it was.

How happy is Twitter?JUL 06

Using a 5000-word dictionary of words rated on their happiness, the Hedonometer measures the average happiness on Twitter.

Happy Twitter

Christmas is always the happiest day of the year ("merry", "happy", and "joy" are all pretty positive) while shootings and terrorist attacks are Twitter's saddest events. The recent mass shooting in Orlando seems to be the least happy Twitter has been over the past 7+ years.

The Hedonometer also analyzes the overall happiness of movies based on their scripts. The happiest movie is Sex in the City while the saddest is Omega Man (followed by The Bourne Ultimatum). Somehow, the fourth happiest movie is Lost in Translation, which might be reason for some overall skepticism about the project's sensitivity to context.

The happiness over time of individual movie scripts has been analyzed by the Hedonometer too. Pulp Fiction's happiest moment is when Vincent and Mia go to Jackrabbit Slim's and the low point is "Bring out the Gimp".

Happy Pulp Fiction

The system has analyzed books as well...the low point of the entire Harry Potter series seems to be the event at the end of The Half-Blood Prince.

Update: Grain of salt and all that, but the shootings of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and the Dallas police officers have pushed the happiness quotient on Twitter lower again so that the two least happy days have both occurred in the past month. There's been a general feeling that 2016 has been a bad year, like George RR Martin is writing it. I wish the data were available for a closer analysis, but if you look at the chart, you can see that Twitter's overall happiness starts to rise around the end of 2012 but starts to fall again right around the beginning of 2016...the effect is quite clear, even just from eyeballing it.

As American as free hotel iceJUL 14

For the New Yorker, Heidi Julavits wrote about the easy access to ice being a particularly American trait.

As a kid, I took summer road trips with grandparents, and ice machines proved key to our modern pioneer-style vacations, wagon-bumping from one national park to another. We stored drinks and food in a giant cooler that, each morning, needed to be filled with new ice that would gradually melt during the day, until we reached our final destination.

Yes, this. I drove all over the US with my dad and sister in the summers when I was a kid and we rarely ate out (couldn't afford it)...a big cooler full of daily replenished ice preserved our stores of food for the whole trip.

Anyway, for more info on refrigeration and how it changed America, see also the chapter on refrigeration in Steven Johnson's How We Got to Now and Nicola Twilley's posts on the artificial cryosphere.

We're the SuperhumansJUL 18

Channel 4 is broadcasting the 2016 Paralympic Games in the UK and the commercial they made for it is great. I spied Richard Whitehead in there...his performance winning the 200 meters in the 2012 Paralympic Games is incredible:

Britain votes to leave the EUJUN 24

I awoke at 3am last night, perhaps having sensed a disturbance in the Force, read a late-night text from a friend that said, "BREXIT!!" and spent the next two hours reading, shocked and alarmed, about Britain's voting public's decision to leave the European Union. Although according to a piece by David Allen Green in the FT, the decision is not legally binding and nothing will immediately change with regard to Britain's laws or EU member status, the outcome is nevertheless distressing for the reasons outlined succinctly by an FT commenter.

A quick note on the first three tragedies. Firstly it was the working classes who voted for us to leave because they were economically disregarded and it is they who will suffer the most in the short term from the dearth of jobs and investment. They have merely swapped one distant and unreachable elite for another one. Secondly, the younger generation has lost the right to live and work in 27 other countries. We will never know the full extent of the lost opportunities, friendships, marriages, and experiences we will be denied. Freedom of movement was taken away by our parents, uncles, and grandparents in a parting blow to a generation that was already drowning in the debts of our predecessors. Thirdly and perhaps most significantly, we now live in a post-factual democracy. When the facts met the myths they were as useless as bullets bouncing off the bodies of aliens in a HG Well novel. When Michael Gove said 'the British people are sick of experts' he was right. But can anybody tell me the last time a prevailing culture of anti-intellectualism has lead to anything other than bigotry?

Reading this and casting your mind to Trump and the upcoming US election is not that difficult.

I've been thinking a lot about a book I read several years ago by Robert Wright called Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny. In it, Wright argues that cooperation among individuals and ever-larger groups has been essential in pushing biological and cultural evolution forward. From the first chapter of the book:

The survey of organic history is brief, and the survey of human history not so brief. Human history, after all, is notoriously messy. But I don't think it's nearly as messy as it's often made out to be. Indeed, even if you start the survey back when the most complex society on earth was a hunter-gatherer village, and follow it up to the present, you can capture history's basic trajectory by reference to a core pattern: New technologies arise that permit or encourage new, richer forms of non-zero-sum interaction; then (for intelligible reasons grounded ultimately in human nature) social structures evolve that realize this rich potential -- that convert non-zero-sum situations into positive sums. Thus does social complexity grow in scope and depth.

This isn't to say that non-zero-sum games always have win-win outcomes rather than lose-lose outcomes. Nor is it to say that the powerful and the treacherous never exploit the weak and the naive; parasitic behavior is often possible in non-zero-sum games, and history offers no shortage of examples. Still, on balance, over the long run, non-zero-sum situations produce more positive sums than negative sums, more mutual benefit than parasitism. As a result, people become embedded in larger and richer webs of interdependence.

The atmosphere of xenophobia on display in the US, Britain, and elsewhere in Europe is affecting our ability to work together for a better future together. World War II ended more than 70 years ago, long enough in the past that relatively few are still alive who remember the factors that led to war and the sort of people who pushed for it. Putin, Brexit, Trump, the Front National in France...has the West really forgotten WWII? If so, God help us all.

P.S. I also have a couple of contemporary songs running through my head about all this. The first is What Comes Next? from the Hamilton soundtrack:

What comes next?
You've been freed
Do you know how hard it is to lead?

You're on your own
Awesome. Wow
Do you have a clue what happens now?

And the second is a track from Beyonce's Lemonade, Don't Hurt Yourself:

When you hurt me, you hurt yourself
Try not to hurt yourself
When you play me, you play yourself
Don't play yourself
When you lie to me, you lie to yourself
You only lying to yourself
When you love me, you love yourself

Britain just played itself.

Update: Excellent op-ed in the LA Times by Brian Klaas and Marcel Dirsus.

This is the glaring contradiction in the muscular nationalism of right-wing populism, blended with isolationism, that seeks to withdraw from international unions: It cannot shape a better world by shutting the world out. The same people who cheer when Trump laments the decline of American leadership want to ignore key global issues and put "America First." The people who voted for Brexit, attempting to create a border between Britain and challenges such as the refugee crisis, seem to think Britain can solve such problems without consulting Germany or France or, worst of all to them, Brussels.

The world doesn't work that way, and it hasn't for decades. Ever-increasing globalization has created an unprecedented surge in prosperity, but it has also ushered in jarring changes. The rough edges of those changes can only be overcome with more aggressive cooperation and engagement, not less. Whether it's the risks of terrorism, the tragic flow of refugees, or economic shocks, Britain cannot solve problems alone and neither can the United States.

Amazon's ad-supported Android phone is only $50JUL 19

If you're an Amazon Prime member, you can buy the BLU R1 HD smartphone for only $50 (or double the memory and RAM for $10 more). The phone is unlocked so you don't need to sign a 2-year phone contract, but Amazon's ads and product offers display on the lock screen (just like they do for the Kindle). According to Joanna Stern at the WSJ, it's no iPhone or Galaxy, but it's great for the price.

No, the R1 doesn't feel or look like a premium phone, but it also doesn't feel like something you'd find on a Toys "R" Us shelf. The metal frame and the touch screen's curved edges give it a weighty feel, while the black plastic casing is more firm Coke bottle than flimsy ShopRite water bottle. Even the power and volume buttons have a satisfying click.

The 5-inch, 720p screen is very bright and viewable at multiple angles, even outdoors. It's not as crisp as the 1080p displays you'll get on $200 Moto G4 or Honor 5X, but again...$50.

In only 9 years, we've gone from smartphones with touchscreens being magical to companies nearly giving them away. Back in 2009, John Walkenbach predicted that Kindles would be free by sometime in 2011.

The price for Amazon's Kindle 2 has dropped again. It started at $359, and then was reduced to $299 last July. Now it's $259.

If this price trend continues, it will be free by June, 2011. I'm actually serious about this. At some point, the Kindle will be free. It will probably be before June, 2011.

The cheapest Kindle is currently $80, so we haven't quite gotten there yet. Which is a bit puzzling now that I'm thinking about it again. Amazon is famous for playing the long game. If compare the cost to giving away a free Kindle (or highly subsidized higher-end Kindle) to every Prime member who signs up or re-ups for two years vs. a) the revenue gained from the ebooks purchased by those customers, b) the revenue from new Prime members, and c) being able to offer a package which is basically free shipping on all Amazon orders + Netflix + Spotify + a ton of free books + a free Kindle...that's gotta make good economic sense for them, right? I mean, unless so many Prime users already have Kindles that giving them to those that don't doesn't make sense.

Anyway, it'll be an interesting race...will the smartphone beat the Kindle to free? (via df)

Where did Brexit come from?JUL 01

Evan Puschak examines the rise of the independence movement in Britain, from their entrance into the European Community in 1973 to Thatcher's rumblings about EU governance to UKIP's rise, culminating in Brexit last week. I thought this was a pretty succinct summary of right-wing political tactics:

And that's the point about far-right political organizations: they use the fulcrum of populism and fear to lift many times their weight in people.

Update: More on the history of the movement to withdraw Britain from the EU from Gary Younge in The Guardian.

Classic video games recreated in stop motionJUL 22

From stop motion video wizard PES, the death scenes from five classic video games like Centipede and Asteroids recreated in stop motion using everyday objects like cupcakes, pizza, watches, and croquet balls.

Huge collection of photos of Native Americans taken by Edward CurtisJUL 11

Edward Curtis

Edward Curtis

Edward Curtis

Beginning in 1904, Edward Curtis travelled around North American for more than 20 years photographing Native Americans. While his collection of over a thousand photos housed at the Library of Congress isn't a precise record of how American Indians lived at the time (he took some liberties in romanticizing the past), it is nonetheless a valuable record of a people largely marginalized by history. (via open culture)

Kylo Ren's outtakes by the AuralnautsJUL 16

The Auralnauts are back with their expertly made revisions of Star Wars movies (see also Star Wars Episode II: The Friend Zone) and this time their subject is Kylo Ren from The Force Awakens.

What? What, dude?! Jim, what is up with your friend?

The Po Dameron interrogation scene: I haven't laughed that hard in a loooong time.

Poem from 1943 complaining about poor street sign typography in NYCJUN 30

Nyc Type Poem

In 1943, artist and poet Gelett Burgess wrote a poem to New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia complaining of the poor typography on some of the city's street signs. La Guardia wrote back, also in verse. (via @john_overholt)

The legs of New YorkJUL 15

NY Legs

NY Legs

NY Legs

NY Legs

Stacey Baker, who is a photo editor at the NY Times, spends some of her leisure time photographing the legs of women on the streets of NYC. Her Instagram account has 78K+ followers and now she's turned the project into a book: New York Legs.

NY Legs Cover

Great cover.

4K video of Norway's stunningly beautiful fjordsJUL 15

If you need a small window of peaceful beauty today, here you are.

To the supporters of Donald TrumpJUL 05

A number of political thinkers have penned a non-partisan letter to supporters of Donald Trump. The letter is striking for its non-confrontational tone in nevertheless painting Trump as a dangerous authoritarian.

We aren't criticizing or praising Mr. Trump's policy proposals or his likely appointments. Our objection to him is deeper-we believe that his entire way of behaving represents a rejection of the essential character traits (the "qualities") that our democracy requires of its leaders. We of course acknowledge that policy positions matter. But doesn't political behavior inimical to democracy matter more?

A good read, but I'm skeptical of its impact. I keep thinking of Tyler Cowen's description of the Brexit vote as "the one lever" for sending a political message to the country's leaders:

Cities such as Bradford, while still predominantly white, no longer feel as English (and German!) as they once did. And if you are thinking that voting "Leave" does not at all limit Pakistani immigration, you are truly missing the point; this vote was the one lever the English were given for sending a message to their politicians.

Many Americans share a frustration of the current political system and how it is wielded against us in our name by skilled political practitioners, but I do not believe the US is a country filled with small-minded, intolerant racists, despite the perplexing level of national support for a proudly dishonest and bigoted TV personality, whatever his keen political instincts. Trump is the one lever being given to those frustrated voters for sending a message to their politicians and many are choosing to use it despite many of the reasons listed in that letter. Sending that message is more important than its potential consequences. (via @marcprecipice)

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