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)
I finally got a chance to watch "Fury" last weekend, and the part of the movie that was the most compelling to me was the end title sequence. The sequence terrifyingly captures the slamming chaos of war. (Contains graphic imagery.)
The main title sequence and the end title sequence were created by Greenhaus GFX.
This is pretty much the point at which I knew I was going to love Inglourious Basterds:
Although I can sure see why someone might hate it; the film rode that razor's edge all the way through.
This collection of political cartoons depict the FCC's recent ruling on net neutrality as Big Government throttling the free internet, except that every caption has been replaced with "the cartoonist has no idea how net neutrality works". Here's one example followed by the unadulterated cartoon:
The zingers get zinged. (via @john_overholt)
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.
Motherboard has an interesting story about how women who lose limbs are finding prosthetic devices are made for men: "Man Hands."
When Jen Lacey gets her toes done, she does both feet, even though one of them is made of rubber. "I always paint my toenails," she says, "because it's cute, and I want to be as regular as possible." But for a long time, even with the painted toes, her prosthetic foot looked ridiculous. The rubber foot shell she had was wide, big and ugly. "I called it a sasquatch foot," she jokes. "It's an ugly man foot."
Part of the problem is that most prosthetic devices are designed by men and most prosthetists are men.
There are a few reasons for all this male-centric design. The history of prosthetics is, in large part, a history of war. One of the earliest written records of a prosthetic device comes from the Rigveda, an ancient sacred text from India. Ironically, that amputee is a woman--the warrior queen Vishpala loses her leg in battle and is fitted with a replacement so she can return and fight again. But after that, the history of prosthetics is nearly entirely a history of men--Roman generals, knights, soldiers, dukes.
Every year, 30 percent of those undergoing an amputation are women. In other words, it's the 70 percent that's male that drives the market.
In order to keep the Harry Potter gravy train going, Scholastic and Bloomsbury are releasing a fully illustrated version of each of the seven Harry Potter books over the next seven years. Here's the cover for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone:
The book will contain 100+ full-color illustrations done by Jim Kay. (via buzzfeed)
A week ago, Paul Kalanithi, who was 37, died from lung cancer. He had recently finished his neurosurgery residency at Stanford and was a father to an infant daughter.
He was also a writer. If you haven't read his "How Long Have I Got Left?" or "Before I Go," you should.
In this video, he talks about how time changes as you face your mortality. "Clocks are now kind of irrelevant to me," he says. "Time, where it used to have kind of a linear progression feel to it, now feels more like a space."
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.
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.
Oh my, I had forgotten about the Name of the Year site and how amazing it is. Each year, they collect the most unusual names in the world and pit them against each other in a March Madness-style bracket. Here are some of the names in the running for the 2015 Name of the Year:
Dr. Electron Kebebew
Lancelot Supersad Jr.
Jazznique St. Junious
(A reminder...these are actual names of actual people. Somehow.)
Dr. Wallop Promthong
Amanda Miranda Panda
Some Hall of Name inductees include Tokyo Sexwale, Nimrod Weiselfish, Doby Chrotchtangle, Tanqueray Beavers, and Vanilla Dong.
In Mr. Holmes, Ian McKellen plays a post-retirement Sherlock Holmes who has moved to the country to take up beekeeping. Here's the trailer:
As part of Errol Morris Week on Grantland1, Alex Pappademas did a great interview with Morris about his work. Morris has interviewed serial killers, Holocaust deniers, rapists, and the architect of the Vietnam War but said that the person that most challenged his capacity for empathy was Donald Rumsfeld.
He's confident right now! He doesn't have to wait 100 or 500 years. He doesn't care. I really care whether I'm right or wrong. I really do care. And probably for lots of reasons. I don't want to be seen as a dumbass, I don't want to be seen as someone who believes in something that's absolutely false, untrue, something that can't be substantiated, checked. I believe that there's some deep virtue in pursuing truth. Maybe it's the highest virtue. I believe that. Whether you can attain it or not, you can pursue it. It can be a goal. It can be a destination. I don't believe that's Donald Rumsfeld's goal. I believe that Robert S. McNamara really wanted to understand what he had done and why he had done it. You know, we remain a mystery to ourselves, among the many, many, many other mysteries there are. And McNamara's struggle with his own past -- I was deeply moved by it. I think he's a war criminal, I think he sees himself as a war criminal, but I like him.
Update: Another recent interview, by Brin-Jonathan Butler, is being offered as a 99¢ Kindle Single.
For the New Yorker, Alex Ross writes about movie soundtracks, with an emphasis on the scores for the 2014 crop of films.
This year's Oscar nominations for Best Original Score did the field few favors, overlooking some significant work. Jonny Greenwood, increasingly known as much for his film music as for his contributions to Radiohead, has yet to be acknowledged by the Academy, despite his idiosyncratic, imaginative collaborations with the director Paul Thomas Anderson, most recently in "Inherent Vice." Jason Moran deserved a nod for his "Selma" score, which oscillates between subdued moods of hope and dread, avoiding the telltale gestures of the great-man bio-pic. (The Aaron Copland trumpet of lonely American power is in abeyance.) Most baffling was the omission of Mica Levi's score for "Under the Skin," which, like Greenwood's work for Anderson, moves from seething dissonance to eerie simplicity and back again.
I listen to movie soundtracks quite a bit; they're good to play while working. Here are a few I've enjoyed from 2014:
There are only a dozen images so far, but this Tumblr comparing art from before the 16th century and contemporary images of hip hop is fantastic. My favorites:
I, for one, welcome our new ROBOPRIEST overlords. I found ROBOPRIEST on artist Josh Ellingson's website. The robot costume-for-two was intended to perform wedding ceremonies and is the brainchild of Ellingson and Selene Luna, a 3'10" performance artist. It speaks in a robot voice, has flashing eyes, and the interior of its hatch is decorated with dirty pictures.
The idea of ROBOPRIEST started as a joke on Twitter between me and Selene Luna, an actress friend of mine in Los Angeles. We were trying to come up with funny ideas to collaborate on wedding services.The joke then turned into reality when Selene asked me to build ROBOPRIEST for her one woman show, "Sweating the Small Stuff" in San Francisco. The costume consisted mostly of cardboard and foam rubber with a skeleton of plastic hula hoops. The "eyes" are speakers equipped with voice-activated electro-luminescent wire. The audio for ROBOTPRIEST's voice and various sound-effects were created by sound designer, Jim Coursey.
Its components include children's toy claws, silver lame, ductwork, an iPod, and a harness that enables Luna to operate the costume from inside while riding piggyback on Ellingson.
Selene pilots ROBOPRIEST from a harness attached to my back. The harness is called The Piggyback Rider and is really just a backpack strap with a bar that runs along the bottom. This allowed Selene to comfortably stand on my back and easily hop off if needed. The top of ROBOPRIEST is equipped with a hatch from which Selene can address her minions. The inside of the hatch is decorated with a collage of nudie magazine clippings (NSFW), something that I thought appropriate for the insides of a repressed robot's head at the time, although it may just have been all the hot-glue fumes getting to me.
Ellingson's site has sound clips and a video of ROBOPRIEST announcing himself, and there are lots of photos on Flickr showing the build process.
Martin Scorsese is reportedly set to direct a biopic on Mike Tyson with Jamie Foxx in the title role. Tyson has compiled a video of each of his 44 knockouts and wants his fans' help in choosing his top 10 for Foxx to study.
The top 10 from this video are definite contenders.
Ok, I'm starting to feel better about Inside Out, Pixar's upcoming animated feature that takes place mostly inside the mind of a young girl. The first trailer featured a bunch of gender stereotypes and mostly left me scratching my head, but the second trailer is solid:
This video, shot at 36,000 frames per second, shows a balloon popping underwater. I am not quite sure what I expected, but it wasn't this.
For instance, the air bubbles do not immediately rise to the surface...it takes them about 20-25 ms to get in the mood. Compare with a slow motion video of popping a water balloon in air:
Again, watch how it takes for gravity to kick in. It's like Wile E. Coyote after having run off a cliff, hanging in midair holding a sign that says "EEP!" (via @BadAstronomer)
I had a great time guest-blogging here this week! Thanks so much to Jason and to everyone who read, some of the smartest, most interesting readers I've found online. It was really a thrill. It was like being Krang inside the exosuit, but in a good way.
When Jason originally put out the call on Twitter for a guest blogger, he tweeted, "It's a paid gig or you can do it for the lolz and we'll donate the fee to a charity of your choosing." So we're donating the money to Girls Write Now, a terrific New York City-based non-profit that pairs talented at-risk teen girls with professional writer mentors to create the next generation of great women writers.
You can find me online here or on Twitter.
Update (from Jason): Thanks, Susannah! It's been great having you here. I just dropped your fee into the coffers of Girls Write Now. If some of you would like to do the same, you can donate here; it'll only take you a couple minutes.
And since Susannah was too courteous to promote her recently published short story, The Tumor, I'll do it.
To simulate unusual cloud formations in movies (like Close Encounters, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Independence Day), special effects artists injected paint into tanks containing water with two different densities.
A cloud tank consists of a bottom layer of salt water and a top layer of fresh water and when various forms of liquid are injected into tank, clouds are produced. This was the common technique that Hollywood used for decades to capture supernatural weather.
The developer of the cloud tank effect, Scott Squires, wrote a post detailing how it was accomplished.
Next white liquid tempra paint is injected in the fresh water portion (top), usually just a few inches from the dividing line of the fresh and salt water. Think of a large syringe with an aquarium tube going into the water. When the tempra paint is injected it billows outward like cumulus clouds and will tend to sink a bit. But the salt water prevents it from going lower so the 'cloud' tends to flatten it's base on the salt water line and and billow outward, similar to real clouds based on air pressure levels. Avoid going below into the saltwater since the clouds will just drop to the bottom of tank.
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)
If you've seen "American Psycho," you'll likely remember the scene where Patrick Bateman and his peers pull out their business cards like Old West gunfighters pulled out their firearms. Now you can have Bateman's card -- "That's bone. And the lettering is something called Silian Rail." -- in the form of an iPhone case.
As for Silian Rail, according to IMDb:
This is not a real font, the name was invented by Bret Easton Ellis for the novel. In the film, the actual font seen on the business card is Garamond Classico SC.
You can watch the full scene here. (via The Cut)
Here's The Economist's obituary of Lee Kuan Yew, the founder of Singapore.
Among a number of 20th-century luminaries asked by the Wall Street Journal in 1999 to pick the most influential invention of the millennium, he alone shunned the printing press, electricity, the internal combustion engine and the internet and chose the air-conditioner. He explained that, before air-con, people living in the tropics were at a disadvantage because the heat and humidity damaged the quality of their work.
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You may have seen artist Clayton Cubitt's NSFW Hysterical Literature project. On YouTube, the videos have been viewed nearly 50 million times. The recipe is simple: a woman, a book, and a Hitachi Magic Wand. In the latest installment, Janet, who's in her early sixties, reads Ralph Waldo Emerson. It's a lovely meditation on women, sexuality, and age. The project is also on view at MASS MoCA's Bibliothecaphilia show.
Ok, this is one of the strangest photos I've ever seen. In the background, there's a building on fire and in the foreground, there's a football game going on like there's not a building on fire right there. From their photographic recap of 1965, In Focus has the story:
Spectators divide their attention as the Mount Hermon High School football team in Massachusetts hosts Deerfield Academy during a structure fire in the Mount Hermon science building on November 24, 1965. The science building was destroyed, and Mount Hermon lost the football game, ending a two-year-long winning streak.
Update: The photo above reminded some readers of this photo, taken by Joel Sternfeld in 1978.
You'll notice the fireman buying a pumpkin while the house behind him burns, although there's a bit more to the story than that.
In 1996, a building burned outside the stadium during the LSU/Auburn game:
(via @slowernet & @davisseal)
Better out than in. That's the unofficial motto of the Norwegian Correctional Service. And they seem to mean it. In Norway, there is no death penalty and there are no life sentences. NYT Magazine's Jessica Benko visited Norway's Halden Prison and experienced what she described as its radical humaneness:
Its modern, cheerful and well-appointed facilities, the relative freedom of movement it offers, its quiet and peaceful atmosphere -- these qualities are so out of sync with the forms of imprisonment found in the United States that you could be forgiven for doubting whether Halden is a prison at all. It is, of course, but it is also something more: the physical expression of an entire national philosophy about the relative merits of punishment and forgiveness.
Even the food was good.
The best meal I had in Norway -- spicy lasagna, garlic bread and a salad with sun-dried tomatoes -- was made by an inmate who had spent almost half of his 40 years in prison.
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A new biography of Steve Jobs is coming out in March, written by Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli, a pair of technology journalists who have covered Jobs and the personal computer revolution for decades. John Gruber has read it and calls it "remarkable".
It is, in short, the book about Steve Jobs that the world deserves. You might wonder how such a book could be written without Jobs's participation, but effectively, he did participate. Schlender, in his work as a reporter for The Wall Street Journal and Fortune, interviewed Jobs extensively numerous times spanning 25 years. Remember the 1991 joint interview with Jobs and Bill Gates? That was Schlender. As the book makes clear, Jobs and Schlender had a very personal relationship.
The book is smart, accurate, informative, insightful, and at times, utterly heartbreaking. Schlender and Tetzeli paint a vivid picture of Jobs the man, and also clearly understand the industry in which he worked. They also got an astonishing amount of cooperation from the people who knew Jobs best: colleagues past and present from Apple and Pixar -- particularly Tim Cook -- and his widow, Laurene Powell Jobs.
Update: A glitch in Amazon's Look Inside the Book feature gave Luke Dormehl a sneak peek at some of the book's details, including that Tim Cook offered Jobs a part of his liver and Jobs talked about buying Yahoo.
Another interesting tidbit: Steve Jobs and Disney boss Bob Iger talked about buying Yahoo! together at one point, a move that would have given Apple an "in" in the search business.
While the question of Apple buying Yahoo! has been raised plenty of times over the years, this is the first time there's been a serious suggestion that Jobs considered such an acquisition.
Buying Yahoo! would have given Apple access to a host of patents, web services and other tools in a fiercely competitive sector. Yahoo! would have been an interesting fit for Apple (which is probably why it didn't happen), but it's fascinating to consider what might have been.
Update: Excerpts of the book are starting appear. Fast Company has a Tim Cook-related excerpt as well as an interview with Cook conducted by Schlender and Tetzeli.
One afternoon, Cook left [Jobs'] house feeling so upset that he had his own blood tested. He found out that he, like Steve, had a rare blood type, and guessed that it might be the same. He started doing research, and learned that it is possible to transfer a portion of a living person's liver to someone in need of a transplant. About 6,000 living-donor transplants are performed every year in the United States, and the rate of success for both donor and recipient is high. The liver is a regenerative organ. The portion transplanted into the recipient will grow to a functional size, and the portion of the liver that the donor gives up will also grow back.
I loved every opinionated moment of this interview with Fran Lebowitz about fashion. Where do I even start? Some choice bits:
Yoga pants are ruining women.
Shirts don't go bad, they're not peaches.
I feel very strongly that almost the entire city has copied my glasses.
Dry...clean. These words don't go together. Wet clean -- that is how you clean. I can't even imagine the things they do at the drycleaner. I don't want to know.
I have to say that one of the biggest changes in my lifetime, is the phenomenon of men wearing shorts. Men never wore shorts when I was young. There are few things I would rather see less, to tell you the truth. I'd just as soon see someone coming toward me with a hand grenade. This is one of the worst changes, by far. It's disgusting. To have to sit next to grown men on the subway in the summer, and they're wearing shorts? It's repulsive. They look ridiculous, like children, and I can't take them seriously.
Now people need special costumes to ride bicycles. I mean, a helmet, what, are you an astronaut??
Of course, more people should wear overcoats than those damned down jackets. Please. Are you skiing, or are you walking across the street? If you're not an arctic explorer, dress like a human being.
I, myself, am deeply superficial.
Feeling good about an outfit is the point at which that outfit finally becomes good.
This is a donk.
It can be yours for $65,000.
In 1997, Max-Hervé George's father bought a unique policy from a French insurance company that functions like Grays Sports Almanac from Back to the Future II, only for financial markets. The policy allows George to invest in investment funds offered by the insurance company at prices up to a week old, essentially traveling back in time with knowledge of which investments will increase in price the most.
For instance, he might have his money in an Aviva fund invested in the French stock market. Lets say the Nikkei 225 rises 5 per cent during the week. He'll tell Aviva to move his investments into its Japanese fund, at the price before the market moved.
At last report, in 2007, George's investments were worth €1.4 million and growing at a rate of 68.6% per year. Assuming that rate holds and he continues investing his entire allocation optimally, George will be a billionaire in five years, would be able to buy the insurance company in question by 2025, and be worth a whopping €234 billion by 2030.
See also how you could have turned $1000 into $167 billion by trading the S&P 500 perfectly last year.
Michael Williams of A Continuous Lean made a video for Mr. Porter about how to care for your new pair of jeans.
I remember reading his original post on the topic and boggling at the concept of wearing a new pair of raw selvage jeans for an entire year before washing them. (I still have never done such a thing. I'm just not that fancy.)
President Obama delivered two key messages during his speech in Selma over the weekend. One, it's a mistake to suggest that racism is banished in America.
We don't need the Ferguson report to know that's not true.
And two, we've made a lot of progress:
If you think nothing's changed in the past 50 years, ask somebody who lived through the Selma or Chicago or L.A. of the Fifties. Ask the female CEO who once might have been assigned to the secretarial pool if nothing's changed. Ask your gay friend if it's easier to be out and proud in America now than it was thirty years ago. To deny this progress -- our progress -- would be to rob us of our own agency; our responsibility to do what we can to make America better.
It's worth putting politics and cynicism aside long enough to consider that on Saturday, a black President spoke at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. There's a long way to go, but that's a hell of a 50 years.
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Mathematical functions depicted as stick figure dance moves. (via @mulegirl)
Copyranter says this is the best St. Patrick's Day ad ever made.
See also: Mouth Eyes, Madonna's "Bedtime Story," and "Born with Three Mouths."
From product designer Greg Koenig, a fantastic display of Kremlinology on how he thinks Apple makes the Apple Watch, based on the available evidence (production videos, patents, product specs).
In the above shot, blanks are placed in an immersion ultrasonic tester. What Apple is looking for is the presence of voids or density variances within the structure of the blank that, under stress, could lead to part failure or surface defects as material is removed in further machining processes. This level of inspection is, to put it mildly, fastidious beyond where most other companies would go (save Rolex). Immersion ultrasonic inspection is typically reserved for highly stressed medical implants and rotating components inside of aircraft engines; not only does this step take time, it also is typically performed by custom built machines of tremendous expense.
If you don't have the time or energy to read through the whole thing, at least skip to the final two paragraphs about manufacturing as ritual.
Also, Koenig's Twitter stream is full of interesting nuggets about Apple. Here are a few that caught my attention:
Snoop Dogg's next album, BUSH, doesn't drop until May 12, but until then, we've got a very cool lyric video for the first single, "Peaches N Cream," featuring Charlie Wilson and directed by Wolf & Crow.
The New York Times would like to tell you how to keep your hair during chemo.
Hair loss is one of the most obvious side effects of cancer treatment. Now, a growing number of breast cancer patients are freezing their scalps as a way to preserve their hair during chemotherapy.
The hair-saving treatment, widely used in Europe, requires a specialized frozen cap worn tightly on the head before, during and for a couple hours after a chemotherapy session. The method can be time consuming, expensive and uncomfortable, but numerous women swear by the results.
I was vaguely aware of this option when I was getting ready to undergo the chemo in early 2012. I recall researching it, but I never looked into it seriously. I wonder how the experience would've been different had I not emerged from it looking like this:
Clearly, I wasn't a happy camper.
When I was originally diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer in November of 2011, we didn't know whether or not I would have to do chemotherapy. But after I had surgery, we knew that I would. Previously, I'd thought, Hey, what's a little hair? Of course, when you're told you're going to go bald, that's another story. I cried. Not because I was going to lose my hair, but because I would lose my hair and then everyone would know.
I went wig shopping, but I never bought one. The American Cancer Society sent me a hideous free brunette wig that showed up one day in a brown envelope in the mail, and I stuck it in a drawer. I didn't wrap a scarf around my head like Elizabeth Taylor. Sometimes, I wore my husband's USMC baseball hat. More often than not, I walked around exposed: I was six-two, I was bald, and I was angry. I felt humiliated, but I did it anyway. I hated that I was sick, yet I was hellbent on refusing to hide the fact that I was. I startled people, and eventually it dawned on me that I wasn't me anymore, I was The Sick Person, and what everyone saw when they saw me was the looming specter of human frailty.
As far as chemo, it seemed like enough to go through it -- the port in the chest, the needle in the hole, the free fall of the drugs -- without freezing my head at the same time. But that was me. The cancer fled. My hair grew back. That was that.
The Ballad of Geeshie and Elvie is a good old fashioned musical detective story told by John Jeremiah Sullivan.
In the world of early-20th-century African-American music and people obsessed by it, who can appear from one angle like a clique of pale and misanthropic scholar-gatherers and from another like a sizable chunk of the human population, there exist no ghosts more vexing than a couple of women identified on three ultrarare records made in 1930 and '31 as Elvie Thomas and Geeshie Wiley. There are musicians as obscure as Wiley and Thomas, and musicians as great, but in none does the Venn diagram of greatness and lostness reveal such vast and bewildering co-extent. In the spring of 1930, in a damp and dimly lit studio, in a small Wisconsin village on the western shore of Lake Michigan, the duo recorded a batch of songs that for more than half a century have been numbered among the masterpieces of prewar American music, in particular two, Elvie's "Motherless Child Blues" and Geeshie's "Last Kind Words Blues," twin Alps of their tiny oeuvre, inspiring essays and novels and films and cover versions, a classical arrangement.
Yet despite more than 50 years of researchers' efforts to learn who the two women were or where they came from, we have remained ignorant of even their legal names. The sketchy memories of one or two ancient Mississippians, gathered many decades ago, seemed to point to the southern half of that state, yet none led to anything solid. A few people thought they heard hints of Louisiana or Texas in the guitar playing or in the pronunciation of a lyric. We know that the word "Geechee," with a c, can refer to a person born into the heavily African-inflected Gullah culture centered on the coastal islands off Georgia and the Carolinas. But nothing turned up there either. Or anywhere. No grave site, no photograph. Forget that -- no anecdotes. This is what set Geeshie and Elvie apart even from the rest of an innermost group of phantom geniuses of the '20s and '30s. Their myth was they didn't have anything you could so much as hang a myth on. The objects themselves -- the fewer than 10 surviving copies, total, of their three known Paramount releases, a handful of heavy, black, scratch-riven shellac platters, all in private hands -- these were the whole of the file on Geeshie and Elvie, and even these had come within a second thought of vanishing, within, say, a woman's decision in cleaning her parents' attic to go against some idle advice that she throw out a box of old records and instead to find out what the junk shop gives. When she decides otherwise, when the shop isn't on the way home, there goes the music, there go the souls, ash flakes up the flue, to flutter about with the Edison cylinder of Buddy Bolden's band and the phonautograph of Lincoln's voice.
This piece originally appeared in the NY Times Magazine, but it works much better online, interspersed with videos and musical snippets cleverly embedded in the text. One of my favorite things I've read all month.
A thought-provoking post from Laurie Frick: "Will a Data-Selfie Boost Your Immune System?"
In the future I imagine human data portraits manifested from reams of personal tracking data gathered invisibly as we move thru the day. Genuine data-selfies. We are so close to gathering every possible morsel of data about us, imagine what could be possible once you owned every bit of data gathered about you. After some thought, I decided it's more than just seeing personal data and abstract patterns of you. It's about what these patterns will tell us about ourselves. Data collected about us will unfold a personal narrative and story to reveal a hidden part of us we are trained to ignore, a way to know ourselves and anticipate what comes next. Perhaps seeing the abstract patterns and rhythms of your self-tracking data is a short-cut to mindfulness. A quick and dirty way to boost your immune system, the benefits of meditation and self-reflection without much effort.
Frick makes art out of data. She also made an app called FRICKbits that empowers you to turn your data into art.
This Garden of Eden-themed serpent rug by Fornasetti belongs in a bedroom.
The Wall Street Journal explores "The Cult of Fornasetti."
The New Yorker's Louis Menand reviews a new book by W. Joseph Campbell, 1995: The Year the Future Began.
Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky is one of the five things that happened in 1995 that Campbell believes opened the door to the future. The others are the O. J. Simpson trial, the Oklahoma City bombing, the Dayton negotiations that settled the Bosnian war, and the rise and fall of the Internet browser Netscape Navigator.
The list certainly reflects the inchoate spirit of the age. But that is not Campbell's point. His point is that our contemporary (American) world started with a White House sex scandal; the murder trial of a former football star; a set of agreements hammered out among foreign heads of state on an Air Force base in Ohio; a loner who thought that blowing up a federal office building was justified on political principles; and a computer program that ultimately lost the "browser wars" to Microsoft. You have to admire a historian who proposes to extract reverse-prediction gold from that material.
I graduated from college in 1995 so I'm probably biased, but that year does seem like a cultural turning point in many ways. Interested to read Campbell's book.
Oh, this sounds fantastic: PBS is set to air a six-hour documentary series, Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies, starting at the end of March. How have I not heard about this before today?
This "biography" of cancer covers its first documented appearances thousands of years ago through the epic battles in the 20th century to cure, control and conquer it, to a radical new understanding of its essence. The series also features the current status of cancer knowledge and treatment -- the dawn of an era in which cancer may become a chronic or curable illness rather than its historic death sentence in some forms.
The series is based on Siddhartha Mukherjee's The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, which is one of the most interesting books I've read in the past few years. Ken Burns is executive producing and Barak Goodman is directing.
Thanks to Sarah Klein at Redglass Pictures for letting me know about this. Redglass created a pair of videos for the series featuring Terrence Howard and Ken Jeong talking about their experiences with cancer.
This metaphorical explanation of the post-2008 Irish banking crisis works equally well as an explanation for contemporary global financial markets in general.
Mary is the proprietor of a bar in Dublin. She realises that virtually all of her customers are unemployed alcoholics and, as such, can no longer afford to patronise her bar -- she will go broke.
To solve this problem, she comes up with a new marketing plan that allows her customers to drink now, but pay later.
She keeps track of the drinks consumed on a ledger (thereby granting the customers loans).
Word gets around about Mary's 'drink now, pay later' marketing strategy and, as a result, increasing numbers of customers flood into Mary's bar.
Soon she has the largest sales volume for any bar in Dublin -- all is starting to look rosy.
By providing her customers freedom from immediate payment demands Mary gets no resistance when, at regular intervals, she substantially increases her prices for wine and beer, the most consumed beverages.
Consequently, Mary's gross sales volume increases massively.
A young and dynamic vice-president at the local bank recognises that these customer debts constitute valuable future assets and increases Mary's borrowing limit.
He sees no reason for any undue concern, since he has the debts of the unemployed alcoholics as collateral.
At the bank's corporate headquarters, expert traders figure a way to make huge commissions, and transform these customer loans into Drinkbonds and Alkibonds. These securities are then bundled and traded on international security markets.
The new investors don't really understand that the securities being sold to them as 'AAA' secured bonds are really the debts of unemployed alcoholics. They have had a 'rating house' certify they are of good quality.
Since I wasn't a High Times reader in 1975, I missed the debut of Dope Rider, a totally trippy, startlingly surrealistic comic strip starring a Wild West skeleton and created by Paul Kirchner. Thankfully, Kirchner has uploaded the entire Dope Rider oeuvre and shared the back story on what may be one of the comic world's stranger strips. The psychedelic comic features dope trading, Hells Angels references, and lines like, "The best things about being high is the view."
Finland is planning on phasing out teaching by subject (math, geography, etc.) and replace it with a teaching-by-topic approach.
Subject-specific lessons -- an hour of history in the morning, an hour of geography in the afternoon - are already being phased out for 16-year-olds in the city's upper schools. They are being replaced by what the Finns call "phenomenon" teaching -- or teaching by topic. For instance, a teenager studying a vocational course might take "cafeteria services" lessons, which would include elements of maths, languages (to help serve foreign customers), writing skills and communication skills.
More academic pupils would be taught cross-subject topics such as the European Union -- which would merge elements of economics, history (of the countries involved), languages and geography.
As a generalist, wannabe polymath, and obvious fan of a scattershot approach to knowledge gathering & dissemination, I approve. (via qz)
Update: From the Finnish National Board of Education: Subject teaching in Finnish schools is not being abolished.
The news that Finland is abolishing teaching separate subjects has recently hit the headlines world-wide. Subject teaching is not being abolished although the new core curriculum for basic education will bring about some changes in 2016.
Blake Harris, the author of Console Wars, has written a piece on how NHL '94 came to be. For those unaware, NHL '94 is one of the greatest sports video games ever created. This is the sort of attention to detail that made it so great:
For example, it could emulate the ambience of a game day NHL arena by including the proper organ music. The problem, though, was that each team's organist played different songs. 'That's not a problem, actually,' explained Dieter Ruehle, the organist for the San Jose Sharks (and previously for the Los Angeles Kings), 'I can do that.' True to his word, Ruehle provided EA with organ music for every team; and he didn't just provide all of their songs, but also noted which music was blasted during power plays, which tunes were used to celebrate goals, and all the other inside info needed to make each arena feel like home. Ruehle was so diligent about getting it right and capturing that home crowd essence, that during a recording session at EA's sound studio he asked:
'The woman who plays the organ for the Washington Capitals has arthritis; would you like me to play the songs how they are meant to be played, or the way that she plays them because of her condition?'
'Definitely the way she plays it!' Brook answered, after a laugh.
I think I might have to bust out the Genesis this week. Anyone wanna come over?
I am a total sucker for great wave photography. Like these photos from Ray Collins.
Prints are available of Collins' photos and many of them have been collected into a coffee table book called Found at Sea. (via @naveen)
Photoshop 1.0 came out in 1990 and didn't have layers, live preview, multiple levels of undo, or many other features. See some current Photoshop experts wax nostalgic and wrestle with the lack of features in this entertaining video.
We've come a long way, baby.
In Alaska, people search for the cost of a gallon of milk. In Alabama and Florida, people search for the cost of abortions. In other states, vasectomies, facelifts, and taxis are popular searches. The map was compiled using the autocomplete results for "how much does a * cost"... for each of the 50 states. (via mr)
If you and a friend are walking around Manhattan trying to find dinner, this is how the conversation will go:
It's funny because it's true. That's a clip from We'll Find Something, a short film by Casey Gooden starring Upstream Color's Shane Carruth and Amy Seimetz.
Whoa! Robert Durst has been arrested in New Orleans in connection with the killing of his friend Susan Berman in Los Angeles in 2000.
Robert A. Durst, the scion of a New York real estate family, was arrested on Saturday in New Orleans on a warrant issued in a homicide investigation by Los Angeles County, law enforcement officials said.
For years, questions have swirled around Mr. Durst about the unsolved killing of a close friend and confidante in Los Angeles 15 years ago, and about his first wife's disappearance in 1982 and the shooting and dismemberment of a Texas neighbor in 2001.
Durst is the subject of the HBO series The Jinx, which I have been obsessed with over the past few weeks. The final episode airs tonight. Jinx director Andrew Jarecki must be freaking out...the arrest might be due to new evidence uncovered by Jarecki during the production of the show.
Hello! I'm going to be off for the next week and Susannah Breslin will be editing the site in my stead. From her bio:
I created one of the internet's first sex blogs, The Reverse Cowgirl, and I've been called a "modern-age Studs Terkel." In 2008, TIME named me one of the top 25 bloggers of the year. I'm best known for my longform investigation of the Great Recession's impact on the porn industry: "They Shoot Porn Stars, Don't They?" I've written for Harper's Bazaar, Details, Newsweek, Salon, Slate, The Daily Beast, Marie Claire, Variety, The San Francisco Chronicle, and The LA Weekly. I've appeared on CNN, NPR, and "Politically Incorrect."
Her newest work is a new short story called The Tumor that was drawn from her breast cancer diagnosis a few years ago. Susannah has long sent me interesting links and emails, so I'm excited to see what she gets up to this week. Welcome, Susannah!
Funny or Die digitally inserted the singer Michael Bolton into Office Space, where he plays Michael Bolton, the Initech programmer.
These Shylights are amazing. Kinetic ceiling lights that resemble blooming flowers, unfurling parachutes, descending ghosts.
The concept is based on nyctinasty, the process by which flowers open and close due to light or temperature changes.
"We wanted to find this exact moment, where the difference is in an object, when it is dead or when it starts to become alive."
(via This Isn't Happiness)
The plans for Google's new offices in Mountain View blew me away. Not so much the reconfigurable office spaces1 but the greenhouse canopies. If those canopies actually work, they could result in a workspace that combines the best parts of being outdoors (the openness, the natural light & heat, greenery) with the benefits of working indoors (lack of wind & rain, moderate temperatures).
Apparently, this is what it looks like when a lion is getting a CAT scan.
(via Amanda Macias)
In 1940, Germany published a tourist map of occupied Paris intended for use by German soldiers on leave.
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.