Footballing without feetJAN 07

If you ever need a good definition for "differently abled" (as opposed to "disabled"), these two videos should suffice.

If movies ended when someone said the titleFEB 04

What a great idea. I just wish it were better executed. The weird music they use for the end credits of each movie is too much...it would have been better to just play it straight and let the gag stand by itself. (via cynical-c)

Streetbeefs, a real-life Fight ClubJAN 11

Chris Wilmore was devastated after his close friend was shot to death on Christmas Eve in 2013, in a dispute over a woman.

Mr. Wilmore, known in his Harrisonburg, Va., neighborhood as Scarface, has his own history with weapons and crime, but he began thinking of ways to squash the gun violence plaguing his community.

He started actively recruiting people with "beefs" to put on boxing gloves and take their arguments off the streets and into his backyard fight club, where he films the action and a referee calls a winner.

I did not enjoying watching the actual fighting, but the second half of the video, in which Wilmore attempts to get a pair of men into gloves to solve an argument, is A+. I read Ron Chernow's Alexander Hamilton over the holiday break (spoiler: it was excellent); Streetbeefs is new-school dueling with gloves.

The top 10 opening shots in filmJAN 21

I like how Cinefix does these videos. They pick the ten films, but they also mention other films that take similar approaches. In this case, the picks are also more populist than usual, which I appreciate.

Personalized cancer vaccinesJAN 22

Neoantigen vaccines use the DNA from a cancer patient's own tumor to, hopefully, eradicate the cancer.

For some 50 years, cancer biologists have tried to incite the immune system to attack cancer by targeting molecules that commonly stud the surfaces of malignant cells. These "antigens" act as homing beacons that immune cells find and lock onto (much as antigens on viruses attract the immune system, the basis for preventive vaccines such as that for measles).

Trouble is, normal cells sometimes sport the same antigens as tumors, and the immune system is programmed not to attack antigens found on healthy cells. As a result, revving up the immune system to target common tumor antigens hasn't worked, leading to a number of failed experimental cancer vaccines.

That led biologists to a different approach: siccing the immune system on antigens found only on cancer cells -- and only on the cancer cells of a single patient. "It's highly unlikely that any two patients have the same neoantigens," said Dr. Catherine Wu of Boston's Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. "That's why we have an opportunity to make cancer vaccines truly personalized, loaded with patient-specific neoantigens."

The first feature film shot entirely with a Prius backup cameraJAN 26

Watch these inspiring film pioneers in this behind the scenes look at the first movie shot entirely with a Prius backup camera. (via @kevin2kelly)

Absurdly challenging recipes from actual cookbooksJAN 22

Ben Schott collects some instructions from the cookbooks of noted chefs that will likely never be attempted by the home chef (unless you're this woman). Like this one from A New Napa Cuisine that calls for phytoplankton:

20 grams marine phytoplankton
100 grams water
4 matsutake mushrooms, peeled and left whole

Or this one from Heston Blumenthal's The Fat Duck Cookbook to make frankincense hydrosol:

50 grams golden frankincense tears
100 grams water

I've owned several cookbooks where one recipe on page 107 calls for the product of a recipe on page 53 which in turn calls for the output of a recipe on page 28. Rube Goldberg cooking. Living in NYC, it's often easier, faster, cheaper, and tastier to walk to the restaurant in question and just order the damn thing. Or head to Shake Shack instead.

Trippy spinning optical illusionFEB 01

Spinning Optical Illusion

Somehow, this woman seems to be spinning both clockwise and counter-clockwise simultaneously. This is worse than the spinning ballerina. Anyone know who did this? Randomly found it on Facebook and couldn't trace the source back...

Let's get in FormationFEB 08

The top 10 closing movie shots of all timeFEB 02

Um, spoilers. Their picks include 2001, Gangs of New York, The 400 Blows, and Inception. I really thought Cache would be on the list.

Climate change artFEB 03

Artist Jill Pelto turns climate change graphs into art. So, for instance, a chart of rising global temperatures turns into a forest fire, which are becoming more common as temps rise:

Jill Pelto

And a graph of the retreat of glaciers over the years becomes a retreating glacier:

Jill Pelto

(via @EricHolthaus & climate central)

Snowboarding on the streets of ManhattanJAN 24

Just as he did a couple of years ago, Casey Neistat busted out his board yesterday and went snowboarding behind a 4WD Jeep in the blizzard covered streets of Manhattan. (thx, david)

The invention of farmingJAN 15

Where Farming Began

A wonderful map by National Geographic of the Fertile Crescent highlighting where the domestication of grains and livestock first took hold.

I'm currently reading an interesting and provocative book called Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari. He calls the Agricultural Revolution "history's biggest fraud".

Rather than heralding a new era of easy living, the Agricultural Revolution left farmers with lives generally more difficult and less satisfying than those of foragers. Hunter-gatherers spent their time in more stimulating and varied ways, and were less in danger of starvation and disease. The Agricultural Revolution certainly enlarged the sum total of food at the disposal of humankind, but the extra food did not translate into a better diet or more leisure. Rather, it translated into population explosions and pampered elites. The average farmer worked harder than the average forager, and got a worse diet in return. The Agricultural Revolution was history's biggest fraud.

Harari also argues that wheat domesticated humans, not the other way around:

Think for a moment about the Agricultural Revolution from the viewpoint of wheat. Ten thousand years ago wheat was just a wild grass, one of many, confined to a small range in the Middle East. Suddenly, within just a few short millennia, it was growing all over the world. According to the basic evolutionary criteria of survival and reproduction, wheat has become one of the most successful plants in the history of the earth. In areas such as the Great Plains of North America, where not a single wheat stalk grew 10,000 years ago, you can today walk for hundreds upon hundreds of miles without encountering any other plant. Worldwide, wheat covers about 870,000 square miles of the globe's surface, almost ten times the size of Britain. How did this grass turn from insignificant to ubiquitous?

Wheat did it by manipulating Homo sapiens to its advantage. This ape had been living a fairly comfortable life hunting and gathering until about 10,000 years ago, but then began to invest more and more effort in cultivating wheat. Within a couple of millennia, humans in many parts of the world were doing little from dawn to dusk other than taking care of wheat plants. It wasn't easy. Wheat demanded a lot of them. Wheat didn't like rocks and pebbles, so Sapiens broke their backs clearing fields. Wheat didn't like sharing its space, water and nutrients with other plants, so men and women laboured long days weeding under the scorching sun. Wheat got sick, so Sapiens had to keep a watch out for worms and blight. Wheat was attacked by rabbits and locust swarms, so the farmers built fences and stood guard over the fields. Wheat was thirsty, so humans dug irrigation canals or lugged heavy buckets from the well to water it. Sapiens even collected animal faeces to nourish the ground in which wheat grew.

The body of Homo sapiens had not evolved for such tasks. It was adapted to climbing apple trees and running after gazelles, not to clearing rocks and carrying water buckets. Human spines, knees, necks and arches paid the price. Studies of ancient skeletons indicate that the transition to agriculture brought about a plethora of ailments, such as slipped discs, arthritis and hernias. Moreover, the new agricultural tasks demanded so much time that people were forced to settle permanently next to their wheat fields. This completely changed their way of life. We did not domesticate wheat. It domesticated us. The word 'domesticate' comes from the Latin domus, which means 'house'. Who's the one living in a house? Not the wheat. It's the Sapiens.

The book is full of crackling passages like that...and this one:

History is something that very few people have been doing while everyone else was ploughing fields and carrying water buckets.

I am enjoying reading it a lot. (via @CharlesCMann)

The importance of composition in cinematic storytellingJAN 26

In this video, Lewis Bond shows how the composition of movie scenes can not only result in beauty, but can reveal relationships and convey meaning.

What has Obama got in its pocketses?JAN 21

Last week, after the State of the Union address, President Obama was interviewed by three prominent YouTube users. Oh, the outcry that arose! (Even though he did the same thing last year.) The President giving valuable country-running time over to mere social media stars, what has this country come to?

Well, it turns out if you get different kinds of people asking different kinds of questions, you're going to get answers you normally wouldn't hear. Case in point: Ingrid Nilsen was one of the three YouTubers chosen to interview the President. She asked him to talk about a meaningful item from his house and the President told a wonderful story about what he carries in his pockets every day:

Obama continues to be delightful and Nilsen might be my new favorite person after watching her YT channel for a bit this morning. I mean, just watch the first few minutes of this video where she came out to her viewers.

Air Bonsai, a magnetically floating bonsai tree kitJAN 25

Air Bonsai

A group from Tokyo is selling floating bonsai tree kits on Kickstarter. The starter kit is $200, which includes an electric base and magnetically floating pot...plant not included. (via colossal)

Editing as Punctuation in FilmJAN 12

Riffing on Kathryn Schulz's piece about the five best punctuation marks in literature, Max Tohline explores how editing in film can function as punctuation to separate or join together characters, shots, and ideas within movies.

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)

Horizontal historyJAN 21

At Wait But Why, Tim Urban turns history on its side by thinking about time-synchronized events around the world, as opposed to events through the progression of time in each part of the world.

Likewise, I might know that Copernicus began writing his seminal work On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres in Poland in the early 1510s, but by learning that right around that same time in Italy, Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, I get a better picture of the times. By learning that it was right while both of these things were happening that Henry VIII married Catherine of Aragon in England, the 1510s suddenly begins to take on a distinct personality. These three facts, when put together, allow me to see a more three-dimensional picture of the 1510s -- it allows me to see the 1510s horizontally, like cutting out a complete segment of the vine tangle and examining it all together.

He does this mainly by charting and graphing the lifetimes of famous people, revealing hidden contemporaries.

Horizontal History Graph

I've been slowly making my way through Ken Burns' remastered The Civil War.1 At a few points in the program, narrator David McCullough reminds the viewer of what was going on around the world at the same time as the war. In the US, 1863 brought the Battle of Gettysburg and The Emancipation Proclamation. But also:

In Paris that year, new paintings by Cezanne, Whistler, and Manet were shown at a special exhibit for outcasts. In Russia, Dostoevsky finished Notes from the Underground. And in London, Karl Marx labored to complete his masterpiece, Das Kapital.

And a year later, while the advantage in the war was turning towards the US:1

In 1864, a rebellion in China that cost 20 million lives finally came to an end. In 1864, the Tsar's armies conquered Turkistan and Tolstoy finished War and Peace. In 1864, Louis Pasteur pasteurized wine, the Geneva Convention established the neutrality of battlefield hospitals, and Karl Marx founded the International Workingmen's Association in London and in New York.

Urban explicitly references the war in his post:

People in the US associate the 1860s with Lincoln and the Civil War. But what we overlook is that the 1860s was one of history's greatest literary decades. In the ten years between 1859 and 1869, Darwin published his world-changing On the Origin of Species (1859), Dickens published A Tale of Two Cities (1859) and Great Expectations (1861), Lewis Carroll published Alice in Wonderland (1865), Dostoyevsky published Crime and Punishment (1866), and Tolstoy capped things off with War and Peace (1869).

The Civil War. The Origin of Species. Alice in Wonderland. The infancy of Impressionism. Pasteurization. Das Kapital. Gregor Mendel's laws of inheritance. All in an eight-year span. Dang.

  1. Which is simply excellent. I had forgotten how powerful the storytelling technique Burns devised for his documentaries is. Really really worth your time to watch or re-watch.

  2. In talking about the Civil War, I've been trying to use Michael Todd Landis' new language...so, "labor camps" instead of "plantations" and "United States" instead of "Union".

A New Way to DinnerFEB 08

Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs of Food52 are coming out with a new book called A New Way to Dinner.

A smart, inspiring cookbook of 100+ recipes from the founders of the powerhouse web site Food52 showing just how they -- two busy working parents -- actually plan, shop, and cook for delicious dinners (and breakfasts, lunches, and desserts) -- all through the week. The secret? Cooking ahead.

I need this. I want to cook more, eat better, and not dine out so much, but I just haven't been able to get it together. And I love the title..."dinner" cleverly works both as a noun and a verbed noun.

White people are pissedJAN 07

From Dave Pell at Nextdraft, who says that "rage is all the rage these days", comes the results of an Esquire/NBC News poll about how angry Americans are these days. Americans are more angry, especially white Americans.

Half of all Americans are angrier today than they were a year ago. White Americans are the angriest of all. And black Americans are more optimistic about the future of the country and the existence of the American dream. There are depths and dimensions, dark corners and subtle contours to our national mood, and setting aside the issue of who actually has a right to be angry and about what -- these pages are neutral territory; everyone is allowed their beef -- we found three main factors shaping American rage.

I've been thinking about this issue a lot recently and I think part of the rage white Americans feel has to do with a perceived relative loss of power and status. I mean, look who's in the Oval Office right now...a black Muslim man who wasn't even born here!

Syndicated from NextDraft. Subscribe today or grab the iOS app.

An Object at RestFEB 08

This short student film follows a stone through many millions of years, from a large mountain to a grindstone to a cannonball and beyond. See also Al Jarnow's Cosmic Clock. (via @mikesheffernj)

rating: 4.5 stars

The September IssueMAR 18

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

How to make perfect soft-scrambled eggsJAN 14

I love watching Gordon Ramsey make scrambled eggs. I first saw this video years ago and, possibly because I am an idiot, have yet to attempt these eggs at home. You and me, eggs, next weekend.

P.S. Jean-Georges Vongerichten makes scrambled eggs in a very similar way. Not quite soft-scrambled...Serious Eats calls them fancy French spoonable eggs.

P.P.S. Anyone have a square Japanese omelette pan I can borrow?

P.P.P.S. In Jiro Dreams of Sushi (now on Netflix!), an apprentice talks about making tamagoyaki (Japanese omelette) over 200 times before Jiro declared it good enough to serve in his restaurant.

That apprentice, Daisuke Nakazawa, is now the head chef at Sushi Nakazawa, one of the five NYC restaurants that currently has a four-star rating from the NY Times (along with the aforementioned Jean-Georges and not along with Per Se, which recently got dunce capped down to 2 stars by populist hero Pete Wells).

What Errol Morris thinks about Making a MurdererJAN 27

Oh, this interview with Errol Morris where he talks about Making a Murderer is so so spot on.

To me, it's a very powerful story, ultimately, not about whether these guys are guilty or innocent -- but it's a very powerful story about a miscarriage of justice.

Yes! If you came out of watching all ten episodes convinced one way or the other whether Avery was innocent, I humbly suggest that you missed the point. And further that you can't actually know...it's a TV show! The tip of the iceberg.

Another thing that I was struck by watching Making a Murderer was the feeling of the inexorable grinding of a machine that is producing, potentially, error.

This was my favorite aspect of the show. A lot of people complained about them showing huge chunks of Avery's and Dassey's trials, saying that it was too boring, but that's the whole thing! The crushing boredom of the justice system just grinds those two men and their whole families into the result that the state wanted all along. It was fascinating and horrifying to watch, like a traffic accident in super slow motion.

If you're asking me, would I sign a petition stating that I believe that Steven Avery is innocent? Well, I don't know. I really don't know from watching Making a Murderer, but there's one thing I do know from watching Making a Murderer -- that neither Brendan Dassey nor Steven Avery received a fair trial, and that that trial should be overturned.

My thoughts exactly. If I had to guess, Dassey is entirely innocent and Avery is maybe guilty, but neither of them should have been convicted on the evidence presented or the procedure followed.

Anyway, read the whole thing...his stories about making The Thin Blue Line are great. And he's making a six-episode true crime show for Netflix? YES!

Harry Potter as a teen comedyJAN 20

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince reimagined as a wacky teen comedy. Excellent editing and music choice elevate this above similar efforts.

17 equations that changed the worldJAN 28

17 Equations

In the book In Pursuit of the Unknown, Ian Stewart discusses how equations from the likes of Pythagoras, Euler, Newton, Fourier, Maxwell, and Einstein have been used to build the modern world.

I love how as time progresses, the equations get more complicated and difficult for the layperson to read (much less understand) and then Boltzmann and Einstein are like, boom!, entropy is increasing and energy is proportional to mass, suckas!

A master of the toy pianoJAN 08

In the first few seconds of this video, Margaret Leng Tan introduces herself:

I'm the first woman to graduate with a doctorate from Juilliard and now I play the toy piano. Life works in mysterious ways.

You can hear more of Tan's toy piano music on Spotify. (via @robinsloan)

The Brownstone by Paula ScherJAN 22

The Brownstone by Paula Scher

I had no idea mega-designer Paula Scher wrote a children's book back in the early 70s. Just recently re-released in a new edition, The Brownstone is the story of the inhabitants of a NYC apartment building all trying to live together and get along.

Living in harmony with your neighbor isn't always easy, but it's doubly difficult if you're a bear living in a New York City brownstone, getting ready to hibernate, and the kangaroos' tap dancing upstairs and Miss Cat's piano playing reverberate through the walls and floors.

The original has been long out of print (copies are $275 and up), so this is good news.

Frozen soap bubbles are beautifulJAN 12

The man who shot the video writes:

An inspiration for this session was a conversation with my 3year old daughter while dressing up to go out:

- Daddy, I don't want to put this jacket on. - she moaned

- Me too, darling but it is very cold outside. - I explained

- How cold?

and I had to figure out an interesting answer which would satisfy a preschooler's curiosity, so I told her:

- It is so cold that even soap bubbles freeze and it looks really beautiful, you know?

I saw a sparkle in her eye so I promised to make a film to show her that. She was so excited about this idea that of course she forgot that she didn't want to put her jacket on. It wasn't easy to capture those bubbles because only around 5-10% of them didn't break instantly and as you can imagine it was a challenge to be patient at -15 Celsius ;) but it was worth it because now that my daughter has seen it, winter is magic for her.

(via devour)

Product companies were told to exclude Rey from Star Wars related merchandiseJAN 20

This is maddening if true: according to an industry insider, vendors making tie-in products for the new Star Wars movie were directed by Disney1 to exclude Rey from Star Wars related merchandise.

In January 2015, a number of toy and merchandise vendors descended on Lucasfilm's Letterman Center in San Francisco. In a series of confidential meetings, the vendors presented their product ideas to tie in with the highly-anticipated new Star Wars film. Representatives presented, pitched, discussed, and agreed upon prototype products. The seeds of the controversies Lucasfilm is facing regarding the marketing and merchandising of The Force Awakens were sown in those meetings, according to the industry insider.

The insider, who was at those meetings, described how initial versions of many of the products presented to Lucasfilm featured Rey prominently. At first, discussions were positive, but as the meetings wore on, one or more individuals raised concerns about the presence of female characters in the Star Wars products. Eventually, the product vendors were specifically directed to exclude the Rey character from all Star Wars-related merchandise, said the insider.

"We know what sells," the industry insider was told. "No boy wants to be given a product with a female character on it."

What good does it do our culture if JJ Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy work to make popular movies with progressive characters if the cowards in marketing are not going to follow suit?

Update: Lots of people are sharing this story, and I wanted to highlight and explain the "if true" in the first paragraph. There are good reasons to be skeptical of the article I linked to. It relies completely on a single anonymous source. I have no idea what Sweatpants and Coffee's fact-checking procedures are. There are also many Star Wars related products featuring Rey (like Lego), so clearly the directive to "exclude the Rey character from all Star Wars-related merchandise" was either not issued in such a restrictive manner or was disregarded in some cases.

  1. The article was annoyingly unclear on who was doing the directing, but you have to assume it's Disney. Who else in the room would have the authority to so direct?

That time that Prince ditched Questlove in favor of Finding NemoJAN 20

Questlove tells some great stories -- I'm partial to the one about Will Smith's house -- and this story about his attempt to DJ for Prince and how a Pixar movie intervened is top notch.

Two Saturnian moons, lined upJAN 06

Saturn Two Moons

The Cassini spacecraft took a photo of two moons of Saturn, Tethys and Enceladus, beautifully aligned with each other. The cosmic ballet goes on. (via slate)

Massive data analysis of NYC Citi Bike dataJAN 13

Late last year, Todd Schneider did a big data analysis of taxi and Uber usage in NYC. This morning, he posted the results of a similar analysis for Citi Bike.

But unlike the taxi data, Citi Bike includes demographic information about its riders, namely gender, birth year, and subscriber status. At first glance that might not seem too revealing, but it turns out that it's enough to uniquely identify many Citi Bike trips. If you know the following information about an individual Citi Bike trip:

1. The rider is an annual subscriber
2. Their gender
3. Their birth year
4. The station where they picked up a Citi Bike
5. The date and time they picked up the bike, rounded to the nearest hour

Then you can uniquely identify that individual trip 84% of the time! That means you can find out where and when the rider dropped off the bike, which might be sensitive information. Because men account for 77% of all subscriber trips, it's even easier to uniquely identify rides by women: if we restrict to female riders, then 92% of trips can be uniquely identified.

The best rapper alive for every year since 1979JAN 11

Bigge Smalls

From Complex, a listing of the best rapper alive for each year since 1979, from Grandmaster Caz to Biggie to Nicki to Drake.

Christopher Wallace was only alive for 67 days in 1997, but with a talent so immense, that's all it took for him to be the most dominant rapper of the year. In the months after Biggie's March 9 death, it's almost as if his stock rose. The untimely loss of someone so young, with so much heft in the language of hip-hop, was like a call to reflection. Infatuation with his wit, wordplay, and delivery soared, and 1997, in spite of tragedy, was Biggie's biggest year.

Life After Death was released just over two weeks after Biggie passed and peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. The album was an ambitious two-disc set with a tracklist comprised of every type of song imaginable. While the diverse styles and subject matter -- his daughter's college plan, kinky sex, hotel heists, a fully-sung ballad -- were an organic product of Biggie's incomparable range, the strategy of Life After Death's sequencing has become the de facto approach for rap albums in the years since. It's an incredibly influential project, before you even press play.

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.

A small 2009 car demolishes a 1959 Chevy in a crash testJAN 22

In 2009, The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety conducted a crash test between a 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air and a 2009 Chevy Malibu. The video plainly shows how much progress has been made in passenger safety in those 50 years. Even though the Malibu is much lighter, its crumple zone absorbs much of the impact while the Bel Air lets the newer car's front end slam right into the driver.1

Even though I've seen crash test footage before, I was shocked at how quickly the airbag deployed in the newer car...it's fully inflated before the rest of the car and its occupants even realize that inertia is about to do some bad things.

  1. And LOL to the truthers in the comments insisting that the test was flawed (there was an engine in the Bel Air, BTW) and that good ol' American cars were built like tanks back in the day and therefore are impervious to harm.

What makes Star Wars Star Wars?JAN 08

A short entertaining look at Star Wars' secret sauce. Joseph Campbell? Kurosawa? Flash Gordon? The ancient future? The sounds? (PS: The Wilhelm Scream shows up pretty early on in The Force Awakens, as Poe and Finn exit the First Order hangar bay.)

A brief history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflictJAN 21

From Vox, a history of the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. More here.

Visual effects breakdown for The MartianJAN 26

My main thought in watching these VFX videos for The Martian, Star Wars, and Mad Max is how amazing visual effects are now. The effects folks do their jobs so well now that audiences don't even notice the effects...it's almost boring.

Related: see also how much video game graphics have improved from the beginning of Kobe Bryant's NBA career to now.

Kobe Bryant, Now And Then

The Syrian lodgerJAN 12

In the Guardian, an English woman named Helen takes in a Syrian refugee as a lodger and shares her story:

What does he make of my bourgeois life? He does not appreciate the middle-class obsession with sanded floorboards, when we could all afford wall-to-wall carpets. He cannot believe I own a cook book holder. Cook books themselves he finds hilarious; the women in Yasser's life have always cooked for him (he is an excellent washer-upper) and his early forays into gastronomy appalled and amused me in equal measure. One morning he asked me how to turn on the oven. I showed him, asking what he wanted to warm up. "Safari eggs," he said. No amount of miming or Google Translate could make me understand. It was something he'd bought the previous night, he said, rummaging through the bin for the packaging of what turned out to be "savoury eggs" -- scotch eggs. "Two things you need to know about these eggs, Yasser," I said. "One, we eat them cold. Two, they contain pork and you don't eat pork."

And her lodger, Yasser, shares his side:

Soon after I moved in, Helen threw a Halloween party -- my first. She dressed up in a fake white beard, with black rings round her eyes. "I'm Jeremy Corbyn of the Labour party," she said. "Then I should be David Cameron," I replied. I didn't really mean it, but Helen liked the idea. I borrowed a suit and shaved my beard. She taught me some catchphrases about hard-working families, low tax something and housing benefits. The idea of a Syrian refugee dressed up as David Cameron was very amusing for other people. People drank so much at the party. I couldn't believe the recycling bin the next day!

I had a good time and things began to be less awkward. Every one of Helen's friends offered to help me if need be. Some of them offered to help me with my English. You hear things about British people; that although they might smile at you, they never show their true feelings. This hasn't been true for me. Although I come from a completely different culture, I found something very familiar. People are loving, thoughtful and compassionate, both here in Britain and back in Syria.

On the 30th anniversary of the Space Shuttle Challenger disasterJAN 28

Today is the 30th anniversary of the final launch and subsequent catastrophic loss of the Space Shuttle Challenger. Popular Mechanics has an oral history of the launch and aftermath.

Capano: We got the kids quiet, and then I remember that the line that came across the TV was "The vehicle has exploded." One of the girls in my classroom said, "Ms. Olson [Capano's maiden name], what do they mean by 'the vehicle'?" And I looked at her and I said, "I think they mean the shuttle." And she got very upset with me. She said, "No! No! No! They don't mean the shuttle! They don't mean the shuttle!"

Raymond: The principal came over the PA system and said something like, "We respectfully request that the media leave the building now. Now." Some of the press left, but some of them took off into the school. They started running into the halls to get pictures, to get sound-people were crying, people were running. It was chaos. Some students started chasing after journalists to physically get them out of the school.

I have certainly read about Feynman's O-ring demonstration during the investigation of the disaster, but I hadn't heard this bit:

Kutyna: On STS-51C, which flew a year before, it was 53 degrees [at launch, then the coldest temperature recorded during a shuttle launch] and they completely burned through the first O-ring and charred the second one. One day [early in the investigation] Sally Ride and I were walking together. She was on my right side and was looking straight ahead. She opened up her notebook and with her left hand, still looking straight ahead, gave me a piece of paper. Didn't say a single word. I look at the piece of paper. It's a NASA document. It's got two columns on it. The first column is temperature, the second column is resiliency of O-rings as a function of temperature. It shows that they get stiff when it gets cold. Sally and I were really good buddies. She figured she could trust me to give me that piece of paper and not implicate her or the people at NASA who gave it to her, because they could all get fired.

I wondered how I could introduce this information Sally had given me. So I had Feynman at my house for dinner. I have a 1973 Opel GT, a really cute car. We went out to the garage, and I'm bragging about the car, but he could care less about cars. I had taken the carburetor out. And Feynman said, "What's this?" And I said, "Oh, just a carburetor. I'm cleaning it." Then I said, "Professor, these carburetors have O-rings in them. And when it gets cold, they leak. Do you suppose that has anything to do with our situation?" He did not say a word. We finished the night, and the next Tuesday, at the first public meeting, is when he did his O-ring demonstration.

We were sitting in three rows, and there was a section of the shuttle joint, about an inch across, that showed the tang and clevis [the two parts of the joint meant to be sealed by the O-ring]. We passed this section around from person to person. It hit our row and I gave it to Feynman, expecting him to pass it on. But he put it down. He pulled out pliers and a screwdriver and pulled out the section of O-ring from this joint. He put a C-clamp on it and put it in his glass of ice water. So now I know what he's going to do. It sat there for a while, and now the discussion had moved on from technical stuff into financial things. I saw Feynman's arm going out to press the button on his microphone. I grabbed his arm and said, "Not now." Pretty soon his arm started going out again, and I said, "Not now!" We got to a point where it was starting to get technical again, and I said, "Now." He pushed the button and started the demonstration. He took the C-clamp off and showed the thing does not bounce back when it's cold. And he said the now-famous words, "I believe that has some significance for our problem." That night it was all over television and the next morning in the Washington Post and New York Times. The experiment was fantastic-the American public had short attention spans and they didn't understand technology, but they could understand a simple thing like rubber getting hard.

I never talked with Sally about it later. We both knew what had happened and why it had happened, but we never discussed it. I kept it a secret that she had given me that piece of paper until she died [in 2012].

Whoa, dang. Also not well known is that the astronauts survived the initial explosion and were possibly alive and conscious when they hit the water two and a half minutes later.

Over the December holiday, I read 10:04 by Ben Lerner (quickly, recommended). The novel includes a section on the Challenger disaster and how very few people saw it live:

The thing is, almost nobody saw it live: 1986 was early in the history of cable news, and although CNN carried the launch live, not that many of us just happened to be watching CNN in the middle of a workday, a school day. All other major broadcast stations had cut away before the disaster. They all came back quickly with taped replays, of course. Because of the Teacher in Space Project, NASA had arranged a satellite broadcast of the mission into television sets in many schools -- and that's how I remember seeing it, as does my older brother. I remember tears in Mrs. Greiner's eyes and the students' initial incomprehension, some awkward laughter. But neither of us did see it: Randolph Elementary School in Topeka wasn't part of that broadcast. So unless you were watching CNN or were in one of the special classrooms, you didn't witness it in the present tense.

Oh, the malleability of memory. I remember seeing it live too, at school. My 7th grade English teacher permanently had a TV in her room and because of the schoolteacher angle of the mission, she had arranged for us to watch the launch, right at the end of class. I remember going to my next class and, as I was the first student to arrive, telling the teacher about the accident. She looked at me in disbelief and then with horror as she realized I was not the sort of kid who made terrible stuff like that up. I don't remember the rest of the day and now I'm doubting if it happened that way at all. Only our classroom and a couple others watched it live -- there wasn't a specially arranged whole-school event -- and I doubt my small school had a satellite dish to receive the special broadcast anyway. Nor would we have had cable to get CNN...I'm not even sure cable TV was available in our rural WI town at that point. So...?

But, I do remember the jokes. The really super offensive jokes. The jokes actually happened. Again, from 10:04:

I want to mention another way information circulated through the country in 1986 around the Challenger disaster, and I think those of you who are more or less my age will know what I'm talking about: jokes. My brother, who is three and a half years older than I, would tell me one after another as we walked to and from Randolph Elementary that winter: Did you know that Christa McAuliffe was blue-eyed? One blew left and one blew right; What were Christa McAuliffe's last words to her husband? You feed the kids -- I'll feed the fish; What does NASA stand for? Need Another Seven Astronauts; How do they know what shampoo Christa McAuliffe used? They found her head and shoulders. And so on: the jokes seemed to come out of nowhere, or to come from everywhere at once; like cicadas emerging from underground, they were ubiquitous for a couple of months, then disappeared. Folklorists who study what they call 'joke cycles' track how -- particularly in times of collective anxiety -- certain humorous templates get recycled, often among children.

At the time, I remember these jokes being hilarious1 but also a little horrifying. Lerner continues:

The anonymous jokes we were told and retold were our way of dealing with the remainder of the trauma that the elegy cycle initiated by Reagan-Noonan-Magee-Hicks-Dunn-C.A.F.B. (and who knows who else) couldn't fully integrate into our lives.

Reminds me of how children in Nazi ghettos and concentration camps dealt with their situation by playing inappropriate games.

Even in the extermination camps, the children who were still healthy enough to move around played. In one camp they played a game called "tickling the corpse." At Auschwitz-Birkenau they dared one another to touch the electric fence. They played "gas chamber," a game in which they threw rocks into a pit and screamed the sounds of people dying.

  1. Also, does anyone remember the dead baby jokes? They were all the rage when I was a kid. There were books of them. "Q: What do you call a dead baby with no arms and no legs laying on a beach? A: Sandy." And we thought they were funny as hell.

How to win at Monopoly and piss off your friendsFEB 08

Monopoly Win

If you're forced into playing Monopoly by friends, you can employ this simple strategy to ensure they will never ever ask you to play again.

With a second monopoly completed, your next task is to improve those properties to three houses each, then all of your properties to four houses each. Six properties with three houses will give you more than half of the houses in the game, and four houses each will give you 75% of the total supply. This will make it nearly impossible for your opponents to improve their own property in a meaningful way. Keep the rulebook nearby once the supply gets low, as you will undoubtedly be questioned on it. At this point, you will be asked repeatedly to build some friggin' hotels already so that other people can build houses. Don't.

At this point, you more or less have the game sewn up. If losing a normal game of monopoly is frustrating, losing to this strategy is excruciating, as a losing opponent essentially has no path to victory, even with lucky rolls. Your goal is to play conservatively, lock up more resources, and let the other players lose by attrition. If you want to see these people again, I recommend not gloating, but simply state that you're playing to win, and that it wasn't your idea to play Monopoly in the first place.

It is difficult to read this without thinking about income inequality in the real world.

A brief history of swearing in moviesJAN 20

Swearing in Hollywood movies was banned from the 1930s until 1968. And even then it took two more years for a movie (MASH) to use the word "fuck". NSFW if you've got your fucking sound turned up.

Kubrick in ColorJAN 13

A video exploring Stanley Kubrick's use of color in his films. See also Kubrick's use of the color red. (via @john_overholt)

Woman escapes hired killers, shows up at own funeralFEB 05

Noela Rukundo, whose husband had only recently paid to have killed, showed up at her own funeral.

Finally, she spotted the man she'd been waiting for. She stepped out of her car, and her husband put his hands on his head in horror.

"Is it my eyes?" she recalled him saying. "Is it a ghost?"

"Surprise! I'm still alive!" she replied.

Far from being elated, the man looked terrified. Five days earlier, he had ordered a team of hit men to kill Rukundo, his partner of 10 years. And they did - well, they told him they did. They even got him to pay an extra few thousand dollars for carrying out the crime.

Now here was his wife, standing before him. In an interview with the BBC on Thursday, Rukundo recalled how he touched her shoulder to find it unnervingly solid. He jumped. Then he started screaming.

What a story. As @tcarmody says, "I like to imagine Bezos grinning and salivating over this story like Charles Foster Kane".

The secret world of casinosJAN 13

From Ben Schott, an examination of the inner workings, personnel, and lingo of casinos.

It is curious how irrational even experienced dealers and floor men can be, though inexplicable runs of luck may signal a flaw in security.

Supervisors have been known to perform a range of rituals to cool the action: Shaking salt behind players or under tables, turning the drop-box paddle around in its slot, standing on one leg, swapping out winning dice or cards-sometimes for replacements that have literally been chilled in a fridge. One shift manager places a folded surveillance photograph of a "lucky" player inside his shoe before walking the floor.

Craps is a hotbed of superstition. Pit bosses have been known to place seven ashtrays around a table, to spray paint the number seven on the table when changing the cloth and even to have "hot" tables moved an inch or so. Unscrupulous dealers might throw coins under the table to bring bad luck or find any excuse to touch the dice or brush against a shooter.

I still think it's hilarious that casinos ban players for counting cards but it's perfectly ok for the casinos to have the advantage in every single game they offer.

Filling plot holes in The Force AwakensJAN 11

Some people were bothered over supposed gaps in the plot in The Force Awakens. I wasn't...save the hand-wringing for more weighty fare. But if you were, the novelization of the movie connects some of the dots left detached. Here are some of the more interesting ones (spoilers, obvs):

The Resistance had no idea Starkiller Base existed. This is extrapolated on quite a bit. Snoke's decision to destroy the New Republic is about flushing out the Resistance. Utter annihilation of the enemy is a mere side effect. Snoke knew using the weapon would give away the base's location. The Resistance would then send a reconnaissance team to scout the place and the First Order could follow the scouts back to the Resistance HQ and destroy them once and for all. While this is what happens in the movie, the motivations are a bit murkier.

Kylo Ren knows who Rey is. After failing to call Anakin Skywalker's lightsaber to his hand, Ren turns to Rey -- who is now holding the blue lightsaber -- and he declares, "It IS you," and then the fight begins.

Ok, whoa. What does that mean?

Han hadn't seen Kylo Ren/Ben since he became an adult. When Ben removes the helmet of Kylo Ren, Han Solo is shocked by how grown-up his son looks as he hasn't seen him since he became an adult. This lends credence to the theory that Snoke seduced a teenaged Ben to the Dark Side. Speaking of which, Leia knew Snoke was trying to get his claws in her son since he was a child and never told Han until right before the Starkiller mission.

[Rey] struggles with the Dark Side almost immediately. Rey might look serene as she finds the Force and battles a badly injured Kylo Ren, but she is fighting with rage. After beating down her opponent, a voice inside her encourages her to kill him. She rejects the notion, but is still struggling with herself when the rift opens up and separates the two of them.

[Ren] also cracked open something in Rey's mind. One of the advantages of a book is internal narration. When Ren attempts to retrieve the map from Rey's brain he senses something weird within her mind. Not resistance, but a barrier. Probing at it is what causes Rey to suddenly find herself -- with no provocation -- inside Ren's mind. Now this is just speculation, but it certainly sounds like someone had walled off Rey's Force sensitivity and Kylo Ren accidentally broke down the wall.

The script for the movie clarifies a few things as well.

Luke Skywalker Immediately Knows Who Rey Is and Why She Is Here. The script describes Luke Skywalker as being older now, with white hair and a beard. It says that he looks at Rey with a "kindness in his eyes, but there's something tortured, too." Most interestingly, it says that Luke "doesn't need to ask her who she is, or what she is doing here." Does this mean that he knows Rey is his child? Or does this mean that he knows because of the Force? The script only adds that "his look says it all."

Kylo Ren Is Horrified By His Actions. The script gives us some internal insight into Kylo Ren after he just killed his father Han Solo. The screenplay notes that "Kylo Ren is somehow WEAKENED by this wicked act," noting that he is "horrified" and his "SHOCK is broken only when" Chewbacca cries out in agony.

Fun fact that I just discovered: the novelizations of all three of the original Star Wars movies were released before the movies came out! Star Wars the book came out 6 months before the movie, Empire a month before, and Jedi a couple of weeks before. I'm amazed you could walk into a bookstore an entire month before The Empire Strikes Back was released and discover that Vader was Luke's father. Truly a different approach to spoilers.

Absolutely mind- and leg-bending acrobatic gymnastics routineFEB 03

The thing these three Russian women do starting at about 0:45 and continuing until about 1:20, is just flat-out amazing. Just watch. (via @dunstan)

The best facts I learned from reading The Best Facts I Learned from Books in 2015JAN 07

Kathryn Schulz, who wrote the now-infamous New Yorker piece about earthquake that will devastate the Pacific Northwest, shared a list of the best facts she learned fron books in 2015. Two stuck out for me. The first is from Sarah Hrdy's Mother Nature: Maternal Instincts and How They Shape the Human Species and provides some necessary context for the debates over birth control and abortion:

In the era before women had any control over their fertility, child abandonment -- a de-facto form of infanticide -- "affected not tens of thousands, not even hundreds of thousands, but millions of babies," according to the anthropologist and primatologist Sarah Hrdy. In Florence, for instance, the average annual rate of infant abandonment between 1500 and 1843 ranged from twelve per cent to forty-three per cent. In response, societies eventually began establishing foundling hospitals, but the mortality rates at these were equally high. Two-thirds of babies left at a Florence foundling home between 1755 and 1773 died before their first birthday; in 1767, mortality rates in foundling homes in St. Petersburg and Moscow reached ninety-nine per cent. While contemporary readers may find these statistics shocking, many people at the time knew exactly what was going on. In the town of Brescia, in northern Italy, residents proposed carving a motto over the entrance to the foundling home: "Here children are killed at public expense."

And from Thunder & Lightning: Weather Past, Present, Future by Lauren Redniss comes the realization that London's poor visibility was not limited to outdoors:

Having read my share of Victorian novels, I was familiar with the phenomenon of London fog, but I was surprised to learn, from Lauren Redniss's "Thunder & Lightning," that the combination of atmospheric conditions, factory emissions, and coal fires sometimes made the city's air so impenetrable that visibility was reduced to just a few feet even indoors. That was bad news for theatregoers, who could not see the stage, but good news for thieves, who could not be seen. Worse, ambulances got lost, trucks accidentally drove into the Thames, and at least one airplane overshot its runway. Conditions began to improve only in 1956, with the passage of England's Clean Air Act.

Thanks, Kathryn!

Rosa Parks on To Tell the TruthJAN 08

In 1980, civil rights hero Rosa Parks appeared on To Tell the Truth, a long-running game show. Parks appeared alongside two other women claiming to be Parks and a celebrity panel tried to guess the identity of the true Parks. See also the appearance of a Lincoln assassination witness on a 50s game show. (via @ptak)

Alan Rickman, RIPJAN 14

In this short video (oh just be patient and watch the whole damn thing), Alan Rickman demonstrates how I feel this morning that he has died of cancer at the age of 69. (Same age and affliction as Bowie, you'll note.)

That Rickman never won an Oscar (he did receive a Golden Globe, an Emmy, a Bafta and many more) became a perennial topic in interviews but did not seem to trouble the actor himself. "Parts win prizes, not actors," he said in 2008. It was the wider worth of his art to which Rickman remained committed, saying that he found it easier to treat the work seriously if he could look upon himself with levity.

"Actors are agents of change," he said. "A film, a piece of theatre, a piece of music, or a book can make a difference. It can change the world."

I loved Rickman as Hans Gruber in Die Hard and as Dr. Lazarus in Galaxy Quest, but I'll remember his turn as Severus Snape in the Harry Potter films the most. Among several fantastic actors in that series, Rickman's performance was arguably the best. Many characters in Potter struggled between the good and not-so-good sides of themselves (including Harry and Dumbledore) but none of them carried that battle off as well as Rickman's Snape.

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.

Liquid columns of falling animated peopleJAN 19

This is a bunch of animated naked people falling into two precise columns. Mesmerizing. Perhaps a little NSFW? And throw some headphones on...the sound, while subtle, is essential.

See also that video -- you remember the one -- of a bunch of computer-generated people being mowed down by a rotating bar.

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: 1.0 stars

Room 237SEP 25

John Gruber's tweet last night reminded me I'd never written up a review for Room 237, the documentary about Stanley Kubrick's The Shining. Gruber writes:

Broke down and watched "Room 237". It was bad. Really bad. Boring bad. Crazy people.

Just watch "The Shining" again instead.

I agree. I watched it earlier this year and disliked the film so much, I didn't even finish it, which is rare for me. As I hinted at on Twitter, I'm exposed to enough anti-vaccine, anti-evolution, anti-anthropogenic climate change, anti-science, and religious fundamentalist "theories" in my day-to-day reading that are genuinely harmful to humanity that an examination of how the minds of conspiracy theory crackpots take the smallest little details and weave them into fantastical stories that make no sense is not how I want to spend my time.

As if to underscore my dislike of the film, the following arrived in my inbox shortly after I watched it.

To: Jason Kottke <jason@kottke.org>
Prospective Story: Re: Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining"

i'm not good at salesmanship so i'll get right to the point. i've solved the mystery of room 237 in stanley kubrick's 'the shining' i'm shopping this information to various media sources. here's the deal:

*** the price is $13,000.00

*** i'm aware of the documentaries, the scholarly analyses and the terrabytes of web space dedicated to the topic

*** nobody has gottten it right

*** i guarantee satisfaction

*** there's no risk. either you think the solution to the greatest cinematic mystery of all time is worth 13k or you don't. all i require beforehand is a conditional agreement protecting me from ip theft

*** i remain anonymous. once the transaction is complete the information is yours. i don't care who receives credit or what you do with it

it's been over 30 years. this information should be public. YOU can be the first.

i look forward to your response

Putting on my tin foil hat for a minute, DONT YOU SHEEPLE UNDERSTAND WHAT THIS MEANS? That someone is watching what I'm watching! How did this person know I had just watched Room 237?! I bet it's the NSA! Or something! They are watching for people with large audiences to plant lies about Kubrick to deflect attention away from the faked Moon landing! For some reason! THIS IS THE PROOF WEVE BEEN WAITING FOR!??

Yep: "Really bad. Boring bad. Crazy people."

The ChickeningJAN 26

The Chickening is a surreal visual remix of Stanley Kubrick's The Shining done by Nick DenBoer and Davy Force. It mostly defies description, so just watch the first minute or so (after which you won't be able to resist the rest of it). The short film is playing at this year's Sundance Film Festival.

But seriously, WTF was that?! (via @UnlikelyWorlds)

FootGolfJAN 15

It took me a few minutes to realize that FootGolf, like chessboxing, is an actual sport and not a Funny or Die skit. As you might have guessed, FootGolf is golf but with soccer balls and feet instead of golf balls and clubs.

A house with a rooftop infinity poolJAN 29

Roof Infinity Pool

I don't know how practical this is -- for one thing, how do you get into it? -- but this house with a rooftop infinity pool is stunning. Design by Kois Associated Architects.

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