Two hydroelectric dams on the Elwha River in Washington were removed in order to restore the river’s ecosystem — in particular, the salmon habitat. It was the largest dam removal in the US history and, as the video explains, has been successful so far in attracting fish back to its waters. But for our purposes here today, the first 30 seconds shows how the dams were unbuilt and the rivers reshaped.
See also this time lapse of another Washington dam being disabled and its reservoir drained:
Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann argue that the Republican Party has been radicalized and Trump is the result.
Trumpism may have parallels in populist, nativist movements abroad, but it is also the culmination of a proud political party’s steady descent into a deeply destructive and dysfunctional state.
While that descent has been underway for a long time, it has accelerated its pace in recent years. We noted four years ago the dysfunction of the Republican Party, arguing that its obstructionism, anti-intellectualism, and attacks on American institutions were making responsible governance impossible. The rise of Trump completes the script, confirming our thesis in explicit fashion.
Rodney Mullen, one of modern skateboarding’s founding fathers is still skating hard at age 49. (So’s Tony Hawk, landing 900s at 48 years old.) In this short film, he’s captured in 360° video performing some tricks, new and old, in what he refers to as a “stanceless” style. Mullen’s still got it, but he had to resort to some extreme measures to make sure his body came along for the ride.
What makes a soul regular, and what makes a soul goofy? To understand why this question began to grip Mullen, you have to go back to 2003. That’s when his body began to lock up. Decades of skating had yielded decades of scar tissue; his right femur had started to grind against his right hip. “Like anything that grinds, the body will fuse it, will calcify it,” explains Mullen. “I could feel how fast it was cinching me down. I couldn’t roll out of stuff anymore. And if you can’t fall, you can’t skate.” Doctors were wary of breaking up the fusion. One doctor in particular, says Mullen, “said with his eyes what he wouldn’t say with his mouth: There’s no way out for you with this.”
Mullen was determined to find a way out. With wrenches, knife handles, and other instruments, he began to jam open the scar tissue that was locking him down. In time he graduated to pulling the tissue apart, using large objects as leverage. “You know it’s a little rope in there that’s binding you,” he explains. “So you pull, you pull, you pull, and right when you think you can’t take it anymore, that’s when you give it all you have.” Late at night, Mullen would look for things against which he could hoist, heave, and winch himself, tearing the tissue into submission. “Fire hydrants are great,” he says. “Shopping cart racks: Those are really useful.” When scar tissue breaks free, it feels like dried gum snapping in half, or uncooked spaghetti cracking apart. Mullen was twice approached by police who, hearing his screams, thought he might be getting mugged. “You have to be so desperate where you actually don’t care what happens to you at some point.”
Aardman’s films and shows (particularly Shaun the Sheep) are some of my favorite things to watch with the kids. Animator Merlin Crossingham shares how the Gromit character is built, from his stainless steel skeleton on up.
In the first film, A Grand Day Out, Nick was going to make Gromit speak and had planned a whole mouth design. The first time he animated Gromit, however, he found that the way the character could communicate using body language and expressive eyebrows was much more powerful than by speaking. So he made a snap decision not to give Gromit a voice, which he’s stuck to. Our good animators are able to let you know instantly what the model is thinking or doing.
Michael Lewis (c’mon, you know, Moneyball, The Big Short) is coming out with a new book in December called The Undoing Project: A Friendship that Changed Our Minds about the flaws that crop up in human decision-making.
Forty years ago, Israeli psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky wrote a series of breathtakingly original studies undoing our assumptions about the decision-making process. Their papers showed the ways in which the human mind erred, systematically, when forced to make judgments about uncertain situations. Their work created the field of behavioral economics, revolutionized Big Data studies, advanced evidence-based medicine, led to a new approach to government regulation, and made much of Michael Lewis’s own work possible. Kahneman and Tversky are more responsible than anybody for the powerful trend to mistrust human intuition and defer to algorithms.
At Eater, Chris Fuhrmeister hits on another topic near to my amateur linguist heart: policing the word “barbecue”:
When it comes to American barbecue — I certainly won’t attempt to set ground rules for other barbecue cultures across the globe — there are absolute rights and wrongs. Sure, there’s some room for interpretation, but good-intentioned “barbecue” lovers across this country are blaspheming day in and day out. Before declaring what barbecue isn’t, it’s best to define what it is: pork that’s slow-cooked with smoke.
This is controversial, because “barbecue” is also used to mean:
It’s also odd because, as Fuhrmeister notes, it’s an American controversy, and Americans tend to play faster and looser with food words than people elsewhere. Cognac has to be from Cognac, champagne from Champagne, and so on. Americans have lots of different regional words and practices when it comes to food (soda vs pop, sub vs hoagie, etc.), and we’re definitely competitive when it comes to where and how food is made best, but we’re generally pretty pluralist about definitions. Which is probably why “barbecue” has metastasized to mean so many different but related things.
I tried to come up with a shortlist of honest-to-goodness American food word debates.
From here you start to get into all the ways Americans abuse imported food words, which is a much longer list. British English also has a debated distinction between cake and biscuit that I don’t fully understand. Some of us like “is a patty melt a hamburger?,” because the ontology of hamburger is pretty complex stuff. But this is enough to get started.
Donut/doughnut is a straight-up style dispute, and doesn’t have anything to do with definitions. “Are hot dogs sandwiches?” is almost too much about definitions — there’s no history, no implied values, or real stakes. Chicago vs NYC pizza is a regional value rivalry posing as a definitional one: press people, and they’ll say, “yeah, what they make is pizza, it’s just not as good as ours.”
Barbecue is the debate that has everything. It’s a regional rivalry with value attached to it, that’s making definitional claims. And there are so many possible distinctions! Texas and Carolina partisans might unite to reject “barbecue” to mean “cookout,” but fall apart again over the merits of beef vs pork. You can even vote on it; the voting will decide nothing. It is an infinite jewel.
They race motorcycles with sidecars and it is the nuttiest thing: the sidecar passengers throw themselves all over the place in order to shift the center of gravity of the bike in the turns. (via digg)
Update: Ok, Sidecar Motocross might be even nuttier:
From the Auctioneer Beats account on Vine, auctioneer calls set to the freshest beats.
Simple and delightful. Some of these auctioneers could give Daveed Diggs a run for his money. (via @fimoculous)
The Stanley Kubrick Exhibition is currently showing at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco and Adam Savage went to take a look and show us around. Super bummed I haven’t seen this in person yet. After SF, it heads off to Mexico City.
Dubbed as “the world’s first robot lawyer” by its 19-year-old creator, London-born second-year Stanford University student Joshua Browder, DoNotPay helps users contest parking tickets in an easy to use chat-like interface.
The program first works out whether an appeal is possible through a series of simple questions, such as were there clearly visible parking signs, and then guides users through the appeals process.
The results speak for themselves. In the 21 months since the free service was launched in London and now New York, Browder says DoNotPay has taken on 250,000 cases and won 160,000, giving it a success rate of 64% appealing over $4m of parking tickets.
Having spent a shitload of money on lawyering over the past few years, there is definitely an opportunity for some automation there.
New Yorker copy editor Mary Norris explains when the magazine uses “which” and when it uses “that”, a distinction I confess I had little knowledge of until just now.1 A cheeky example of the difference by E.B. White:
The New Yorker is a magazine, which likes “that.”
The New Yorker is the magazine that likes “which.”
This is why, when anyone asks me what I do for a living, the answer is never “writer”. Writing for me is a brute-force operation; I’ll use whatever is necessary to make it sound like I’m talking with you in person. (Wait, is a semicolon appropriate there? Should I have used “as though” instead of “like”? Who gives a shit!) I use too many commas (but often not between multiple adjectives in front of nouns), too many “I”s, too many “that”s (OMG, the thats), too many weirdo pacing mechanisms like ellipses, dashes, & parentheses, mix tenses, overuse the passive voice, and place unquoted periods and commas outside quotation marks like the Brits, although I was doing it before I learned they did because it just seemed to make sense. So, anyway, hi, I’m not a writer…who writes a lot.↩
It’s a throwaway line in a longer talk and we probably shouldn’t make too much of it, but I will anyway.
In five years time Facebook “will be definitely mobile, it will be probably all video,” said Nicola Mendelsohn, who heads up Facebook’s operations in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, at a conference in London this morning. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, has already noted that video will be more and more important for the platform. But Mendelsohn went further, suggesting that stats showed the written word becoming all but obsolete, replaced by moving images and speech.
“The best way to tell stories in this world, where so much information is coming at us, actually is video,” Mendelsohn said. “It conveys so much more information in a much quicker period. So actually the trend helps us to digest much more information.”
Maybe this is coming from deep within the literacy bubble, but:
Text is surprisingly resilient. It’s cheap, it’s flexible, it’s discreet. Human brains process it absurdly well considering there’s nothing really built-in for it. Plenty of people can deal with text better than they can spoken language, whether as a matter of preference or necessity. And it’s endlessly computable — you can search it, code it. You can use text to make it do other things.
In short, all of the same technological advances that enable more and more video, audio, and immersive VR entertainment also enable more and more text. We will see more of all of them as the technological bottlenecks open up.
And text itself will get weirder, its properties less distinct, as it reflects new assumptions and possibilities borrowed from other tech and media. It already has! Text can be real-time, text can be ephemeral — text has taken on almost all of the attributes we always used to distinguish speech, but it’s still remained text. It’s still visual characters registered by the eye standing in for (and shaping its own) language.
Because nothing has proved as invincible as writing and literacy. Because text is just so malleable. Because it fits into any container we put it in. Because our world is supersaturated in it, indoors and out. Because we have so much invested in it. Because nothing we have ever made has ever rewarded our universal investment in it more. Unless our civilization fundamentally collapses, we will never give up writing and reading.
We’re still not even talking to our computers as often as we’re typing on our phones. What logs the most attention-hours — i.e., how media companies make their money — is not and has never been the universe of communications.
(And my god — the very best feature Facebook Video has, what’s helping that platform eat the world — is muted autoplay video with automatic text captions. Forget literature — even the stupid viral videos people watch waiting for the train are better when they’re made with text!)
Nothing is inevitable in history, media, or culture — but literacy is the only thing that’s even close. Bet for better video, bet for better speech, bet for better things we can’t imagine — but if you bet against text, you will lose.
The B-2 stealth bomber has a length of 69 feet and a wingspan of 172 feet but possesses the radar profile of a large bird. How does the plane evade radar so effectively?
Launched from Earth in August 2011, the Juno probe is due to arrive at Jupiter on July 4, 2016. Once there, it will circle Jupiter 37 times, observing its atmosphere and magnetic fields, before plunging into the giant planet so as not to contaminate Europa with microbes.
Juno’s principal goal is to understand the origin and evolution of Jupiter. Underneath its dense cloud cover, Jupiter safeguards secrets to the fundamental processes and conditions that governed our solar system during its formation. As our primary example of a giant planet, Jupiter can also provide critical knowledge for understanding the planetary systems being discovered around other stars.
With its suite of science instruments, Juno will investigate the existence of a solid planetary core, map Jupiter’s intense magnetic field, measure the amount of water and ammonia in the deep atmosphere, and observe the planet’s auroras.
Juno will let us take a giant step forward in our understanding of how giant planets form and the role these titans played in putting together the rest of the solar system.
Science is great. That video? Maybe not so much.
For the New Yorker, Heidi Julavits wrote about the easy access to ice being a particularly American trait.
As a kid, I took summer road trips with grandparents, and ice machines proved key to our modern pioneer-style vacations, wagon-bumping from one national park to another. We stored drinks and food in a giant cooler that, each morning, needed to be filled with new ice that would gradually melt during the day, until we reached our final destination.
Yes, this. I drove all over the US with my dad and sister in the summers when I was a kid and we rarely ate out (couldn’t afford it)…a big cooler full of daily replenished ice preserved our stores of food for the whole trip.
Ingri and Edgar Parin D’Aulaire, a married team of writer-artists, are best known for their popular late works on Greek and Norse mythology. (After Calvin and Hobbes, D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths was probably the most important book of my childhood.) But after some early works on Norse folktales (Ingri was Norwegian, Edgar German/Swiss; they met in Germany and emigrated to the US in the 1920s), the D’Aulaires made a series of award-winning books on American history and folklore, much in the mythic, dreamy style of their later work.
Like any mythological hero, the D’Aulaires’ George Washington has powers beyond those of ordinary men. He’s stronger than other boys and rides his horse more skillfully. He can hurl a rock across the width of the river. He’s shot, but unharmed. Lincoln is also demigod-like, when they tell of how he “wrestled with the strongest and toughest of them all, and threw them to the ground.”
The Internet Archive has just uploaded a bunch of commercials that were shown during Saturday morning cartoons during the 70s, 80s, and 90s.1 Holy nostalgia bomb, OMG that Frosted Mini Wheats commercial! I somehow remember most of the 80s ones…can I delete those memories somehow to make more room for new thoughts about AI, self-driving cars, and climate change?
For you youngsters out there, it used to be that cartoon shows on TV were shown on Saturday mornings…and only on Saturday mornings (mostly). Evenings were for dramas and sitcoms, afternoons were for soaps and game shows, and Sundays were for news shows and religion. It was an Event…and the only time during the week when parents could sleep in knowing for sure where the kids would be and what they were doing. Oh and also, there were only four channels and the TV screen was about as large as a sheet of paper…in B&W. And the phone was on the wall and had a rotary dial! And at the store, they looked your credit card number up in a book to make sure the card was valid! And you had to hand-crank your car to start it! And when the flint started to go on your axe, you just chipped yourself a new one….↩
Cass Sunstein, author of the recently published The World According to Star Wars, says that while most people might dislike the three Star Wars prequels, they function well as “a quick guide to current political struggles”.
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, paralyzing political divisions threatened democratic governments. Disputes over free trade, and the free movement of people and goods, were a big reason. Stymied by polarization and endless debates, the Senate proved unable to resolve those disputes.
As a result, nationalist sentiments intensified, leading to movements for separation from centralized institutions. People craved a strong leader who would introduce order — and simultaneously combat growing terrorist threats.
A prominent voice, Anakin Skywalker, insisted, “We need a system where the politicians sit down and discuss the problem, agree what’s in the interest of all the people, and then do it.” And if they didn’t, “they should be made to.”
Eventually, something far worse happened. The legislature voted to give “emergency powers” — essentially unlimited authority — to the chief executive. An astute observer, Padme Amidala, noted, “So this is how liberty dies… with thunderous applause.”
Well, that was kind of terrifying to read. My ill-feeling peaked at “a democratic body, a senate, not being able to function properly because everybody’s squabbling” as a cause of Hitler’s rise in Germany. As Sunstein notes, the parallels between that situation and our do-nothing Congress & the authoritarian gentleman currently running for President are obvious and possibly significant.
This storyboarded scene from Zootopia shows an early and much darker direction for the plot: the predators need to wear collars that shock them if they get too excited. This reminds me that Woody was a “sarcastic jerk” in the early drafts of Toy Story. Oh, and Lightning McQueen was an asshole in Cars whose redemption the audience didn’t completely buy, which Pixar didn’t end up fixing.
Update: There’s more about how Zootopia’s story evolved in Fusion’s 45-minute feature about the production of the film. (via @luketonge)
LittleSis is a freely available database that documents personal and business connections in the worlds of government and business. For instance, here’s George Soros. And Dick Cheney. Love the Lombardi-esque influence maps. (via @kellianderson)
(P.S. Does anyone remember the name of a similar project done in Flash many years ago by one of the hotshot Flash developers? Can’t find it…)
What compels people to do things? Especially things that don’t make sense to other people? Bruce Zaccagnino has, by himself over the past few years, built Northlandz, a massive model train installation 75 minutes away from NYC. The facility is 52,000 square feet, where more than 100 trains travel over 8 miles of track.
But can it last? While Bruce has even grander plans for Northlandz, his dream has grown beyond what anyone initially imagined. Yet the audiences he hoped Northlandz would attract just aren’t coming. He’s transformed from a creator into a caretaker, wrestling with upkeep instead of making art. Northlandz is not just another roadside attraction. It’s a man’s life, work, and home.
The true scale of the thing becomes evident at 3:40, when you see Zaccagnino walking through a valley with the walls towering over him. As someone who has built a massive, sprawling thing by himself without knowing why or how it was going to be successful, I hope Zaccagnino finds a way to keep Northlandz going.
This 90s TV interview with Seinfeld theme song composer Jonathan Wolff is more interesting than you’d think. He talks through how he matched the theme to Jerry’s standup delivery tempo and how each episode’s song had to be customized the match the pacing of Jerry’s particular monologue that week. (via digg, which is particularly good today)
Update: The Sideshow podcast featured Wolff on an episode last year.
The show’s producers were having difficulty finding music that wouldn’t overpower the comedian’s opening routines. “Jerry, you’ve already given me the melody and theme,” Wolff told Seinfeld. “My job is going to be to support you and the organic nature of your voice.” Wolff sampled his own mouth noises and slapped some funky bass over it and the rest is history. He built the theme to be manipulated - the rhythm of the mouth pops, shakers, and bass notes changed ever so slightly to fit the different monologues that opened every show.
I awoke at 3am last night, perhaps having sensed a disturbance in the Force, read a late-night text from a friend that said, “BREXIT!!” and spent the next two hours reading, shocked and alarmed, about Britain’s voting public’s decision to leave the European Union. Although according to a piece by David Allen Green in the FT, the decision is not legally binding and nothing will immediately change with regard to Britain’s laws or EU member status, the outcome is nevertheless distressing for the reasons outlined succinctly by an FT commenter.
A quick note on the first three tragedies. Firstly it was the working classes who voted for us to leave because they were economically disregarded and it is they who will suffer the most in the short term from the dearth of jobs and investment. They have merely swapped one distant and unreachable elite for another one. Secondly, the younger generation has lost the right to live and work in 27 other countries. We will never know the full extent of the lost opportunities, friendships, marriages, and experiences we will be denied. Freedom of movement was taken away by our parents, uncles, and grandparents in a parting blow to a generation that was already drowning in the debts of our predecessors. Thirdly and perhaps most significantly, we now live in a post-factual democracy. When the facts met the myths they were as useless as bullets bouncing off the bodies of aliens in a HG Well novel. When Michael Gove said ‘the British people are sick of experts’ he was right. But can anybody tell me the last time a prevailing culture of anti-intellectualism has lead to anything other than bigotry?
Reading this and casting your mind to Trump and the upcoming US election is not that difficult.
I’ve been thinking a lot about a book I read several years ago by Robert Wright called Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny. In it, Wright argues that cooperation among individuals and ever-larger groups has been essential in pushing biological and cultural evolution forward. From the first chapter of the book:
The survey of organic history is brief, and the survey of human history not so brief. Human history, after all, is notoriously messy. But I don’t think it’s nearly as messy as it’s often made out to be. Indeed, even if you start the survey back when the most complex society on earth was a hunter-gatherer village, and follow it up to the present, you can capture history’s basic trajectory by reference to a core pattern: New technologies arise that permit or encourage new, richer forms of non-zero-sum interaction; then (for intelligible reasons grounded ultimately in human nature) social structures evolve that realize this rich potential — that convert non-zero-sum situations into positive sums. Thus does social complexity grow in scope and depth.
This isn’t to say that non-zero-sum games always have win-win outcomes rather than lose-lose outcomes. Nor is it to say that the powerful and the treacherous never exploit the weak and the naive; parasitic behavior is often possible in non-zero-sum games, and history offers no shortage of examples. Still, on balance, over the long run, non-zero-sum situations produce more positive sums than negative sums, more mutual benefit than parasitism. As a result, people become embedded in larger and richer webs of interdependence.
The atmosphere of xenophobia on display in the US, Britain, and elsewhere in Europe is affecting our ability to work together for a better future together. World War II ended more than 70 years ago, long enough in the past that relatively few are still alive who remember the factors that led to war and the sort of people who pushed for it. Putin, Brexit, Trump, the Front National in France…has the West really forgotten WWII? If so, God help us all.
P.S. I also have a couple of contemporary songs running through my head about all this. The first is What Comes Next? from the Hamilton soundtrack:
What comes next?
You’ve been freed
Do you know how hard it is to lead?
You’re on your own
Do you have a clue what happens now?
And the second is a track from Beyonce’s Lemonade, Don’t Hurt Yourself:
When you hurt me, you hurt yourself
Try not to hurt yourself
When you play me, you play yourself
Don’t play yourself
When you lie to me, you lie to yourself
You only lying to yourself
When you love me, you love yourself
Britain just played itself.
Update: Excellent op-ed in the LA Times by Brian Klaas and Marcel Dirsus.
This is the glaring contradiction in the muscular nationalism of right-wing populism, blended with isolationism, that seeks to withdraw from international unions: It cannot shape a better world by shutting the world out. The same people who cheer when Trump laments the decline of American leadership want to ignore key global issues and put “America First.” The people who voted for Brexit, attempting to create a border between Britain and challenges such as the refugee crisis, seem to think Britain can solve such problems without consulting Germany or France or, worst of all to them, Brussels.
The world doesn’t work that way, and it hasn’t for decades. Ever-increasing globalization has created an unprecedented surge in prosperity, but it has also ushered in jarring changes. The rough edges of those changes can only be overcome with more aggressive cooperation and engagement, not less. Whether it’s the risks of terrorism, the tragic flow of refugees, or economic shocks, Britain cannot solve problems alone and neither can the United States.
After a voyage from Earth lasting almost 5 years, the Juno spacecraft successfully entered Jupiter’s orbit late last night.
The engine burn was tense. 35 minutes is a long time for a spacecraft burn; after 20 minutes it had slowed Juno enough to be in orbit, but not the correct one. It had to continue for another 15 minutes to put the spacecraft on the correct orbit. It worked essentially perfectly. The burn time was off by just one second. That will have no real effect on the orbit.
The 35-minute burn slowed Juno down by more than 1200 mph.
Now available as a Kindle single (71 pages): Die Hard: An Oral History.
In this definitive oral history of “Die Hard,” writers, actors, producers, and studio executives reveal behind-the-scenes stories, from the curious origins of the film’s title, to the script’s evolution from a depressing ’70s character study to an optimistic Reagan-era blockbuster, to the seminal negotiations between 20th Century Fox and Willis’s then-agent which sent his client’s career into the stratosphere, to details of moguls Lawrence Gordon and Joel Silver’s famously tumultuous relationship while developing some of the ’80s most successful franchises.
The Daily Beast has an excerpt on the casting of John McClane.
They went to Arnold [Schwarzenegger]. They went to Sly, who turned it down. They went to Richard Gere-turned it down. They went to James Caan-turned it down. They went to Burt Reynolds, and all of these people rejected it because, remember, this is 1987. You had all these Rambo movies. We’ve had Commando, Predator, and in the wake of all of these, the hero, they said, was like a pussy. The reaction? “This guy’s no hero.” Right? In desperation, they went to Bruce Willis.
Saving Private Ryan has been praised for its graphic and intense depiction of World War II, particularly the Normandy landing scene. History Buffs recently analyzed the film for its historical accuracy. How well does the film reflect the events of the actual D-Day landing and aftermath?
The video takes a bit to get going but is really good when it does. For instance, did you know that the Allies used inflatable tanks and Jeeps to make Germany believe Allied forces had strongholds in places they did not? Look at them inflating the tanks and bouncing Jeeps around:
Gravitational waves from two colliding black holes were first detected last September and announced in February. This week, the same science team announced a second wave detection of two smaller black holes in December.
If the first one confirmed the long-held predictions of general relativity, the new detections are a signal to get started on some all-new science.
A black hole’s gravity is so strong that even light can’t escape, so black holes are essentially impossible to see with telescopes. But they do give off gravitational waves.
“Light’s always been how we do astronomy,” Professor Jo Dunkley, an astrophysicist at Oxford University who didn’t work on the experiment, told BuzzFeed News. “Everything we know about space, we’ve got from light. This can show the stuff you can’t see with light.”
Counting black holes, combining telescope with gravitational measurements to better understand neutron stars, all the usual origin-of-the-universe stuff.
If gravitational waves don’t require cataclysmic collisions between enormous black holes for us to measure them, but can be detected on the regular, we can use them to try to figure out a whole lot more than just whether or not Einstein was totally right. That is a very nice tool to have in your pocket.
[Spoilers!] This season, Game of Thrones is experimenting with time travel. A few years ago, Harrison Densmore created a chart showing the three kinds of time travel that happens in movies: fixed timeline (as in 12 Monkeys), dynamic timeline (as in Back to the Future), and multiverse (as in Terminator 2). So which kind of time travel is happening in Game of Thrones?
P.S. In addition to the extensive spoilers about what’s already happened on the show, the latter moments of the video also offers some fan theories about what might happen on the show in the future. If that sort of thing bothers you, maybe stop watching around the 4:05 mark.
Siddhartha Mukherjee has a written a biography of the gene as deft, brilliant, and illuminating as his extraordinarily successful biography of cancer. Weaving science, social history, and personal narrative to tell us the story of one of the most important conceptual breakthroughs of modern times, Mukherjee animates the quest to understand human heredity and its surprising influence on our lives, personalities, identities, fates, and choices.
The book comes recommended by Tyler Cowen, who IIRC also recommended Emperor of All Maladies to me.
This book filled in a number of gaps in my knowledge, plus it is engaging to read. Overall it confirmed my impression of major advances in the science, but not matched by many medical products for general use.
This is on the must-read list this summer. Somehow. When I get a second.
Vintage/Anchor Books recently tweeted out a photo of a Most Stolen Books shelf at a bookstore. Some of the books on the shelf include The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (one of many Murakamis), Charles Bukowski’s Hollywood, and On the Road by Jack Kerouac.
According to research by Candice Huber, books by Bukowski and Kerouac are indeed popular targets for theft from bookstores, along with those by Hemingway, David Sedaris, and The Great Gatsby. All of the books listed are by men, and most by “manly” men. This 2009 list from the UK is slightly different: J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books and Abbie Hoffman’s Steal This Book both rank high.
Libraries are a different story. According to Huber, the most frequently stolen library books are the Guinness Book of World Records, which is a favorite around our house,1 and The Bible. Thieves could use the Good Book’s wisdom more than many, I guess. Art books, the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, and test prep books are also popular with the light-fingered. Judging from my personal experience hanging around garages and auto mechanics when I was a kid, Chilton’s Auto Repair manuals were also lifted quite often.
“Daddy, our copy is from 2014. We should get the one from this year, so we can check if any of the records have been broken.”↩
Tesla has two cars, the S60 and the S75, that are physically more or less identical, but one costs $8500 more than the other. The cheaper car ($66K base price) has a software block on its battery which limits its range to 208 miles on a full charge. Pay $8500 up front, or $9000 for an over-the-air update later, and you get an extra 40 miles.
Same car, same battery. About 20 percent more efficient, for $9000. Better software license.
Cars are big computers, and have been for a while, but we’re slowly starting to treat them like it. Different expectations, different pricing, different ownership structures, different usage; different everything.
Here’s another story on managing expectations for cars, about steering wheels. Steering wheels have a basic function; they control the car. But if a car is capable of driving itself, and is also an interface for a wide range of general computing tools, what does that mean?
Volvo’s Concept 26 vehicle, which debuted in November at the Los Angeles Auto Show, features a retractable steering wheel. Robin Page, Volvo chief of interior design, says Volvo chose to keep the familiar shape of the steering wheel.
“We wanted to keep that recognition of a round steering wheel,” he said. “People need to get used to autonomous drive, so being able to get back to that steering wheel and grab hold of it, that’s comforting. We decided to have it there as a recognizable icon.”
The steering wheel becomes a skeuomorph. It becomes a surveillance device, registering pressure to tell whether you have both hands firmly on the wheel, or if you’ve fallen asleep or are in distress. It becomes an entertainment console. It transforms and retracts into the dash to signal when you’ve shifted between user-controlled and autonomous modes. Its familiar presence soothes you through the transition. Eventually, you forget it was ever there at all.
David Grann has been relatively quiet lately on Twitter and at the New Yorker, where he is a staff writer; he hasn’t written anything for them in more than four years. I figured he was busy writing a book and so he was. Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI is about the murders of the members of the Osage Indian Nation in the 1920s.
In the 1920s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Indian Nation in Oklahoma. After oil was discovered beneath their land, the Osage rode in chauffeured automobiles, built mansions, and sent their children to study in Europe.
Then, one by one, they began to be killed off. One Osage woman, Mollie Burkhart, watched as her family was murdered. Her older sister was shot. Her mother was then slowly poisoned. And it was just the beginning, as more Osage began to die under mysterious circumstances.
Microsoft is buying LinkedIn, and I can’t think of anyone I’d rather read thinking through what that might mean more than Paul Ford.
Microsoft is a software company, sure, but it’s also a bit of a nation-state with an enormously broad mandate. LinkedIn is an unbelievable data-mining platform; it has the ground truth about the global economy, especially around the technology industry, and it has a lock on that data. Microsoft will know what’s going with Facebook before Zuckerberg does; it’ll know what skills are being added to Googlers’ resumes; it’ll know what kind of searches HR departments are doing across the world, and it can use that information to start marketing its own services to those companies…
It’s…terrifying. And we’ll never really know what’s going on. Which makes it kind of brilliant. But still terrifying.
Filled with straightforward observations (hey, Microsoft now has a huge, well-targeted advertising network to match Google’s and Amazon’s) to delightfully bizarre ones, like LinkedIn’s secret synergy with Minecraft (!), 9 Things Microsoft Could Do With LinkedIn blends consulting memo, standup routine, and Borgesian counterfiction. I’ve always aspired to this sort of thing, and Paul just rattles it off. Dang it.
Former Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch on approaching problems head on:
This is the greatest video I have ever seen in my life pic.twitter.com/miB0ZF1Sdt— Football Posts (@FballPosts) June 21, 2016
That might be the best answer to any interview question ever. (via digg)
The AIGA and Design Observer have announced the results of the 50 Books/50 Covers competition for books published in 2015. The competition recognizes excellence in design of books and, separately, book covers. Here are a couple of my favorite covers:
All greeting cards are bad, but can we agree that Father’s Day cards are particularly bad?
Cards for dads are a lot like T-shirts for toddlers: aggressively, relentlessly gendered. It’s telling many of the sports-themed cards look like wallpaper you might find in a child’s bedroom. As it turns out, the blue-is-for-boys, pink-is-for-girls anxiety doesn’t end in childhood. Now it’s beer-is-for-dads, wine-is-for-moms. To that end, Mother’s Day cards aren’t much better — hope you like flowers! — but there’s something striking about cards for dads, as though they exist to remind dads they are Manly Men Who Like Things For Manly Men, As Randomly Determined By Popular Culture.
A greeting card is a strange commercial product for lots of reasons, not least because of agency problems. By definition, the person buying a card is pretty much never the person whom it’s for. Add in whatever traditions are associated with the occasion, gaps in power or familiarity between the gifter and giftee, and it’s practically a recipe for people to tighten up and go super-conservative.
This does remind me of a thread in the webcomic Achewood where Roast Beef is inspired to create his own line of greeting cards for everyday occasions. By the end, he and his friend Ray are coming up with “Dude-to-Dude” cards like “Dogg Let’s Go Eat Dishes With Chorizo When Our Ladies Aren’t Around” or “Dogg It Must Feel Sick As Hell To Recieve A Card From A Dude.” (If I were to ever receive either of these cards from my son for Father’s Day, I’d be thrilled.)
One of the most popular map projections of the world is the Mercator projection:
It’s useful but misleading in important ways. With the the True Size Map, you can drag countries and continents around a Mercator map to uncover their true sizes. For example, it may not be apparent on a Mercator map that Australia is about the same size as the lower 48 US states (see above). Or that Africa is much larger than it seems on the map:
Or is it that North America is oversized on the map? Greenland certainly is. Its true size becomes more clear when you overlay it on India:
Mercator’s been around for hundreds of years, so luckily cartographers have invented dozens of other ways to visualize the world in 2D, each of which have their own strengths and disadvantages. You can view many of them here.
Update: I had somehow forgotten about this great scene from The West Wing discussing the geographic bias of the Mercator map:
(thx to the many who reminded me)
From Cinefix, a list of 10 movies (plus dozens more runners-up) that broke the rules of filmmaking most effectively by using jump cuts, nonlinear narrative, lack of plot, surrealism, and breaking the fourth wall.
Jan Chipchase is the founder of Studio D Radiodurans, which is sort of a modern day A-Team, except with more field research and fewer guns. For example, Chipchase is the sort of person who, for vacation, does not sip pina coladas in Bali but heads for “Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan’s GBAO region and China’s western provinces”. At the conclusion of the trip, which was actually only partially a vacation, Chipchase jotted down 61 Glimpses of the Future. A few of my favorite observations:
7. A white male travelling alone in interesting places, will always need to disprove they are a spy. Thanks Hollywood.
24. There is only one rule for driving in the GBAO: give a lift to every local that wants one, until the car is full. It’s common to travel main thoroughfares for a day and only see a couple of vehicles.
33. People wearing fake Supreme are way more interesting than those that wear the real deal.
34. An iPhone box full of fungus caterpillar in Kham Tibet sold wholesale, is worth more than a fully specced iPhone. It’s worth 10x at retail in 1st/2nd Tier China. It is a better aphrodisiac too.
38. Tibetan monks prefer iOS over Android.
53. Visitors to Tibet proper are supposed to go in a tour group and hire a local guide. With the right agent you can become a tour group of one and on arrival tell the guide you don’t need their services. It helps to look like you’re going to behave.
This is, as Tyler Cowen might say, interesting throughout. (via @themexican)
Thomas Leuthard takes us around Salzburg and demonstrates a number of tricks you can employ to take photos on the street. Tricks sounds too gimmicky…think of these as potential approaches to being creative with a camera. Watching this made me want to start taking photos again. Before I had kids, I carried a camera pretty much everywhere.1 I still do (in the form of an iPhone 6s) but I’m not hunting for photos in the same way.
And, somewhere on my hard drive, I have dozens of photos I took in Salzburg with that camera during a 2006 trip.↩
Beginning in 1904, Edward Curtis travelled around North American for more than 20 years photographing Native Americans. While his collection of over a thousand photos housed at the Library of Congress isn’t a precise record of how American Indians lived at the time (he took some liberties in romanticizing the past), it is nonetheless a valuable record of a people largely marginalized by history. (via open culture)
Swiss illustrator Martin Panchaud created a massive infographic that tells the entire story of the first Star Wars movie. How massive? It’s 465152 pixels long.
This long ribbon reminds the ancient Chinese script rolls that had to be rolled in and rolled out simultaneously in order to be read. I like this stretch between ages, cultures, and technologies.
So cool. The style reminds me a bit of Chris Ware in places.
As a child, Danica McKellar played Winnie Cooper on The Wonder Years. After the show was over, McKellar had difficulty breaking away from other people’s perceptions of her. But in college, she discovered an aptitude for mathematics, went on to have a theorem named after her — not because she was famous but because she’d helped prove it — and forged a new identity. (via @stevenstrogatz)
Fake trees to pull carbon dioxide out of the air, sun shields to deflect heat and radiation without damaging the atmosphere, giant ice cubes mined from comets to cool down the oceans. Okay, that last one is from a Futurama episode. But some researchers really do think we can try to slow or reverse climate change with technology built for that purpose — and that we’ve already changed the Earth’s environment so much that we may have no choice. I guess it’s worth a try.
Well! Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos, directors of Making a Murderer, are working on six more episodes of the series for Netflix.
The new episodes of Making A Murderer will provide an in-depth look at the post-conviction process of convicted murderer Steven Avery, and his co-defendant, Brendan Dassey, as their respective investigative and legal teams challenge their convictions and the State fights to have their life sentences upheld.
They will also offer access to Avery’s new lawyer Kathleen Zellner and Dassey’s legal team, led by Laura Nirider and Steve Drizin, as well as the families and characters close to the case.
I thought Making a Murderer was excellent, one of the best things I watched last year. Reminder: the entire first episode of the show is on YouTube for free. (via @beaucolburn)
Sad news from the NY Times: legendary street fashion photographer Bill Cunningham has died today at the age of 87.
In his nearly 40 years working for The Times, Mr. Cunningham operated both as a dedicated chronicler of fashion and as an unlikely cultural anthropologist, one who used the changing dress habits of the people he photographed to chart the broader shift away from formality and toward something more diffuse and individualistic.
At the Pierre hotel on the East Side of Manhattan, he pointed his camera at tweed-wearing blue-blood New Yorkers with names like Rockefeller and Vanderbilt. Downtown, by the piers, he clicked away at crop-top wearing Voguers. Up in Harlem, he jumped off his bicycle — he rode more than 30 over the years, replacing one after another as they were wrecked or stolen — for B-boys in low-slung jeans.
I saw Cunningham out on the streets of NYC twice and both times chills ran up my back watching a master at work. Unless Cunningham had something in the can before he died, it looks as though the last of his On the Street features is about black and white fashion. Tonight might be a good time to watch the documentary Bill Cunningham New York — it’s available on Amazon (free with Prime).
For an episode of food podcast Gastropod, hosts Cynthia Graber and Nicola Twilley consider how sound influences our perception of food and drink.
In this episode, we discover how manipulating sound can transform our experience of food and drink, making stale potato chips taste fresh, adding the sensation of cream to black coffee, or boosting the savory, peaty notes in whiskey.
One takeaway: don’t listen to the sound of breaking glass if you want to continue eating potato chips:
He recruited 200 volunteers willing to eat Pringles for science, and played them modified crunching sounds through headphones, some louder and some more muffled, as they ate. And he found that he could make a 15 percent difference in people’s perception of a stale chip’s freshness by playing them a louder crunch when they bit into it.
“The party version” of this trick, according to Spence, was developed by colleagues in the Netherlands and Japan. Volunteers were asked to crunch on chips in time with a metronome, while researchers played crunching sounds back, in perfect synchrony, through their headphones. All was well until the researchers replaced the crunching with the sound of breaking glass-and “people’s jaws just freeze up.”
The human brain is fascinating.
Wes Anderson’s films are chock full of bad fathers and father figures. Bad Dads, the third book in the Wes Anderson Collection, showcases some of the art from the annual Bad Dads art show (prints!) at the Spoke Art Gallery in San Francisco.
In November, Nintendo is coming out with a mini NES gaming system that includes 30 games and a classic controller. Among the games are Legend of Zelda, Dr. Mario, Bubble Bobble, all three Super Mario Bros., Excitebike, Castlevania, and Metroid. It hooks to your TV with HDMI and will cost $60.1
There’s is no way I am not getting one of these. There’s no way to buy online yet, but keep your eye on this Amazon search and I imagine it’ll show up sometime soon.
Taking inflation into account, the original NES Deluxe System (with R.O.B. the robot) sold in 1985 cost $664 in 2016 dollars. When it was released in 1987, Legend of Zelda retailed for $111 in 2016 dollars. Zelda was one of the more expensive games and some of the games included with the Classic Edition came out later, but say a typical game is $80 in 2016 dollars. That’s $3000 worth of games and system crammed into something that fits in your hand and costs $60. Moore’s Law!↩
Wired recently talked to a couple of Lego Master Builders about how they create new pieces for display at Legoland. They have a custom CAD program for making Lego structures (and people and animals) which can show MRI-like slices for whatever thing they’re working on for ease of construction. The subway station mosaic detail at the end is super cool.
The Industrial Revolution began in the mid-18th century in Great Britain. To provide power for the wondrous new inventions producing marvelous new goods and services, coal (and later oil) was dug out of the ground and burned, releasing billions and billions of tons of carbon dioxide. In time, the speedy introduction of all this new carbon into the atmosphere caused the Earth’s climate to change.
In order to procure new resources for manufacturing and gain access to new markets for finished goods, the British Empire expanded across the globe. At some point, Great Britain invaded nearly 90% of the world’s countries. The expansion fueled climate change and created avenues for immigration to Britain from their colonies. Their activities eventually bring them to the Middle East in search of oil.
Fast forward to 2006. Drought exacerbated by climate change is one of many factors that pushed Syria into a prolonged civil war. The war triggered a humanitarian crisis and millions flee the country, becoming refugees, and some are able to migrate to Europe and other countries around the world, including Britain. The Syrian immigration issue fueled British nationalism, racism, and xenophobia, triggering a vote about whether Britain should leave the European Union. Yesterday, more than 17 million Britons voted to leave, with strong support for Leave in areas with now-empty coalfields and declining industrialization.
In 1852, Frederick Douglass gave a speech in Rochester, NY which historian James West Davidson calls “the most remarkable Independence Day oration in American history”.
In Rochester, Douglass stalked his largely white audience with exquisite care, taking them by stealth. He began by providing what many listeners might not have expected from a notorious abolitionist: a fulsome paean to the Fourth and the founding generation. The day brought forth “demonstrations of joyous enthusiasm,” he told them, for the signers of the Declaration were “brave men. They were great men too-great enough to give fame to a great age.” Jefferson’s very words echoed in Douglass’s salute: “Your fathers staked their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor, on the cause of their country … “
Your fathers. That pronoun signaled the slightest shift in the breeze. But Douglass continued cordially. “Friends and citizens, I need not enter further into the causes which led to this anniversary. Many of you understand them better than I do.” Then another step back: “That is a branch of knowledge in which you feel, perhaps, a much deeper interest than your speaker.”
The text of the speech itself is well worth reading…that “slightest shift in the breeze” slowly builds to a mighty hurricane.
Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? and am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?
Several years ago, James Earl Jones read a portion of Douglass’ speech:
Update: Baratunde Thurston recently presented Douglass’ speech live at the Brooklyn Public Library. (thx, rick)
Using a 5000-word dictionary of words rated on their happiness, the Hedonometer measures the average happiness on Twitter.
Christmas is always the happiest day of the year (“merry”, “happy”, and “joy” are all pretty positive) while shootings and terrorist attacks are Twitter’s saddest events. The recent mass shooting in Orlando seems to be the least happy Twitter has been over the past 7+ years.
The Hedonometer also analyzes the overall happiness of movies based on their scripts. The happiest movie is Sex in the City while the saddest is Omega Man (followed by The Bourne Ultimatum). Somehow, the fourth happiest movie is Lost in Translation, which might be reason for some overall skepticism about the project’s sensitivity to context.
The happiness over time of individual movie scripts has been analyzed by the Hedonometer too. Pulp Fiction’s happiest moment is when Vincent and Mia go to Jackrabbit Slim’s and the low point is “Bring out the Gimp”.
The system has analyzed books as well…the low point of the entire Harry Potter series seems to be the event at the end of The Half-Blood Prince.
Update: Grain of salt and all that, but the shootings of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and the Dallas police officers have pushed the happiness quotient on Twitter lower again so that the two least happy days have both occurred in the past month. There’s been a general feeling that 2016 has been a bad year, like George RR Martin is writing it. I wish the data were available for a closer analysis, but if you look at the chart, you can see that Twitter’s overall happiness starts to rise around the end of 2012 but starts to fall again right around the beginning of 2016…the effect is quite clear, even just from eyeballing it.
Even though I was one of the (relative) few to watch the first episode when it originally aired,1 I had forgotten how weird the pilot for Seinfeld was. The theme music is completely different, Michael Richards’ character is called “Kessler” (because the network had legal concerns related to Larry David’s real-life neighbor, Kenny Kramer, on whom the character was based), and Elaine2 neither appears or is mentioned. Oh, and the first season was only five episodes long (NBC was very skeptical about the show) and both Steve Buscemi and David Alan Grier auditioned for the role of George.
Update: Well, that got taken down from Vimeo fairly quickly. You can still watch the pilot on Hulu.
I watched an incredible amount of TV as a kid. I would read TV Guide from cover to cover each week and have seen every episode of a number of embarrassing shows.↩
Fun fact: Julia Louis-Dreyfus wasn’t even aware of the existence of the Elaine-less pilot episode until 2004 (6 years after the show ended) and plans never to watch it. Whoever told her must have earned a solid GET! OUT! shove in the chest.↩
Stacey Baker, who is a photo editor at the NY Times, spends some of her leisure time photographing the legs of women on the streets of NYC. Her Instagram account has 78K+ followers and now she’s turned the project into a book: New York Legs.
A number of political thinkers have penned a non-partisan letter to supporters of Donald Trump. The letter is striking for its non-confrontational tone in nevertheless painting Trump as a dangerous authoritarian.
We aren’t criticizing or praising Mr. Trump’s policy proposals or his likely appointments. Our objection to him is deeper-we believe that his entire way of behaving represents a rejection of the essential character traits (the “qualities”) that our democracy requires of its leaders. We of course acknowledge that policy positions matter. But doesn’t political behavior inimical to democracy matter more?
A good read, but I’m skeptical of its impact. I keep thinking of Tyler Cowen’s description of the Brexit vote as “the one lever” for sending a political message to the country’s leaders:
Cities such as Bradford, while still predominantly white, no longer feel as English (and German!) as they once did. And if you are thinking that voting “Leave” does not at all limit Pakistani immigration, you are truly missing the point; this vote was the one lever the English were given for sending a message to their politicians.
Many Americans share a frustration of the current political system and how it is wielded against us in our name by skilled political practitioners, but I do not believe the US is a country filled with small-minded, intolerant racists, despite the perplexing level of national support for a proudly dishonest and bigoted TV personality, whatever his keen political instincts. Trump is the one lever being given to those frustrated voters for sending a message to their politicians and many are choosing to use it despite many of the reasons listed in that letter. Sending that message is more important than its potential consequences. (via @marcprecipice)
Kurzgesagt gives us a short tour of human history, from the six different species of human that existed 100,000 years ago to the present. If you found that interesting and want more detail, you should read Sapiens…Kurzgesagt used it as a major reference here.
Most books about the history of humanity pursue either a historical or a biological approach, but Dr. Yuval Noah Harari breaks the mold with this highly original book that begins about 70,000 years ago with the appearance of modern cognition. From examining the role evolving humans have played in the global ecosystem to charting the rise of empires, Sapiens integrates history and science to reconsider accepted narratives, connect past developments with contemporary concerns, and examine specific events within the context of larger ideas.
Not everyone can distinguish between left and right. Besides natural affinity (or lack of it), health, drug use, other chemical changes, and stress can all cause our basic body compass to break down.
Telling left from right necessitates complex brain processes that include spatial perceptions, memory, language, and the integration of sensory information. The task is made increasingly complex when a person must identify laterality on someone else. Yoga teachers and other fitness instructors have it extra rough: While calling out to students to bend their left knee, the instructor has to raise their own right to mirror the class…
However, the field under the most pressure to avoid lateral confusion is medicine. In the dentist’s chair, there’s money wasted when hygienists x-ray the wrong tooth. It’s even worse when a left-right-disoriented dentist pulls one or more teeth from the incorrect side of the mouth. It’s even more serious in general surgery: A 2011 report estimates that there are 40 wrong-site surgeries done weekly in the U.S., and many of those involve mixing up a patient’s left and right. This is a devastating problem: If a doctor removes the healthy kidney and not the cancerous one, the results can be fatal. Wrong eye? Now we have a fully blind patient.
There’s nothing inherent about left, right, up, and down — or what are sometimes called “egocentric coordinates.” Speakers of Guugu Yimithirr in Australia famously use a coordinate system that leans much more heavily on absolute geocentric references at right angles (their equivalent of north, south, east, and west).
This plays a little easier when you’re playing off objects with fixed positions, like landmarks, or especially, the sun, than it does in big twisty-turny cities. But you could imagine in a world with ubiquitous handheld maps and compasses that a north/south/east/west orientation might make more sense.
What’s more, some of the old tech people used to train themselves to distinguish or remember left and right — miming handwriting, or wearing a wristwatch on one arm — aren’t as common or dominant as they once were. See also: distinguishing angular position by analogy with the face of an analog clock.
Either we come up with new tricks and new metaphors, or it’s conceivable that what’s seemed like an intuitive, natural way to think about the relative position of bodies in space could become a whole lot less intuitive for more and more people.
The Auralnauts are back with their expertly made revisions of Star Wars movies (see also Star Wars Episode II: The Friend Zone) and this time their subject is Kylo Ren from The Force Awakens.
What? What, dude?! Jim, what is up with your friend?
The Po Dameron interrogation scene: I haven’t laughed that hard in a loooong time.