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.

The Chef SaysAUG 13

The Chef Says

From PA Press, the latest book in their Words of Wisdom series, The Chef Says. The book features quotes about food and cooking from the likes of Escoffier, April Bloomfield, Julia Child, and Grant Achatz.

The Game of Thrones title sequenceAUG 27

From the excellent Art of the Title, an interview with Angus Wall, the creative director responsible for the opening titles of Game of Thrones.

Basically, we had an existing map of Westeros and a xeroxed hand drawn map of Essos - both done by George R. R. Martin - and I took those into Photoshop and played with their scale until they lined up perfectly. The actual dimensions, the locations and their placement, and the different terrains are all based strictly on George R. R. Martin's maps. It was really important that we stay as absolutely true to the books as possible because of the ardent fans out there.

Wall also works as an editor, often on David Fincher films. He won two Oscars for editing The Social Network and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Every cup of coffee is a spectacle of logisticsTIM CARMODY  ·  JUL 31

Hi, everybody! Tim Carmody here, guest-hosting for Jason this week.

Robinson Meyer drank a cup of coffee shipped hot overnight from a roaster in Minneapolis to The Atlantic's office in DC as part of a Thermos promotion. He traces the beans, cultivated in Kenya and grown in El Salvador, all the way to his mug:

[T]here's something that enables all of this, from my supping of the coffee to your reading this now: the global supply chain. The ability to fling ingredients and products from coast-to-coast and continent-to-continent makes not only Thermos's contest but Spyhouse's very business possible. It's the supply chain that moves coffee beans from El Salvador to Minneapolis, where they can be roasted and sipped in days. It's the supply chain--in the form of FedEx, which, remember, has the world's fourth largest collection of aircraft--that performs the final stunt of getting coffee around the lower 48 in half a day.

Behind every ingredients list stand the movers and shippers of our world: each, like FedEx, possessing a private army of execution. I accepted Thermos's coffee contest because it seemed a spectacle of logistics. But every single day of our lives is already that.

Meyer's essay is part of what seems like a still-developing genre--Paul Ford's essay on "the American room" is another example--of stories that excavate the hidden infrastructure that make everyday experiences possible. These systems are utterly prosaic exactly because they're the product of huge amounts of manpower and material working according to painstakingly developed protocols. The author's motivation for exposing them seems to be to both demystify and reenchant the world, and the attitude expressed is a mixture of admiration, awe, and dread.

Neal Stephenson's classic Wired essay "Mother Earth, Mother Board" might be the model for the genre, like Tolkien is for epic fantasy. Let's call it the "systemic sublime."

I'm Working on My NovelAUG 04

Working On My Novel

From artist Cory Arcangel, Working On My Novel is a book comprised of tweets from people who posted they were working on their novels.

What does it feel like to try and create something new? How is it possible to find a space for the demands of writing a novel in a world of instant communication? Working on My Novel is about the act of creation and the gap between the different ways we express ourselves today. Exploring the extremes of making art, from satisfaction and even euphoria to those days or nights when nothing will come, it's the story of what it means to be a creative person, and why we keep on trying.

Arcangel also ran a blog that reposted "I'm sorry I haven't posted" posts from other blogs.

Running the lungs out of your bodyAUG 08

A wonderful interview with Werner Herzog on soccer, his wonderful fatherless upbringing, the nature of reality, and, of course, Mel Brooks.

I told Mel, "Mel, you know what, I have seen an extraordinary film. Something you must see. You must see. It's only at midnight screenings at the Nuart Theater. And it's a film by -- I don't know his name, I think it's Lynch. And he made a film Eraserhead and you must see the film." And Mel keeps grinning and grinning and lets me talk about the movie and he says, "Yes, his name is really David Lynch, do you like to meet him?" I said, "In principle, yes." He says, "Come with me," and two doors down the corridor is David Lynch in pre-production on The Elephant Man! Which Mel Brooks produced! And the bastard sits there and lets me talk and talk and talk and grins and chuckles. And I had no idea [and kept thinking], Why does he chuckle all the time when I talk about the film? But that was how I love Mel Brooks.

The Sweden Solar SystemAUG 27

Sweden Solar System

Spanning from comets in the south to the termination shock zone in the northern part of the country, The Sweden Solar System is a scale model of the solar system that spans the entire country of Sweden, the largest such model in the world.

The Sun is represented by the Ericsson Globe in Stockholm, the largest hemispherical building in the world. The inner planets can also be found in Stockholm but the outer planets are situated northward in other cities along the Baltic Sea.

2013 Feltron Personal Annual ReportAUG 19

Feltron 2013

The 2013 Personal Annual Report for Nicholas Felton is available for pre-order and online perusal. Pre-ordered...I own a copy of every one except for the first year.

ps. The NY Times did a video about Felton and his annual reports.

Custom burgers at homeAUG 28

Advice from Tom Mylan, The Meat Hook's head butcher, about how to create your own custom burger blend for top notch burgers at home.

Don't believe the "bedazzled blend" burger hype. Using fancy cuts of beef is not important and kind of a bullshit move, according to Mylan. What is important is making sure the meat is high-quality and comes from mature animals, and that your blend has the right fat content.

Use cheaper cuts of beef from harder-working muscles, like chuck or round. Why? These cuts have more myoglobin, Mylan says, and myoglobin is what gives beef its "beefy" flavor and red color. Each cut will contribute its own flavor and textural nuances, and you can play around with different cuts to bolster the flavors you prefer.

And holy cow! (Ahem.) He suggests using a hamburger patty maker, which I didn't even know existed. $13! I'm totally getting one and trying this.

Hawkeye's hearing, or How to use signs in storytellingTIM CARMODY  ·  JUL 31

Hi, everybody! Tim Carmody here, guest-hosting for Jason this week.

In the Marvel comic Hawkeye #15, published in February, the title character was brutally attacked and deafened by a supervillain real estate developer trying to push the hero's neighbors out of their apartment building in Brooklyn's Bed-Stuy. (It's a very special comic book.) This week's issue, #19, took months to finish but finally picks up that story line. It's mostly told in a combination of silent panels, American Sign Language, and half-intelligible lip reading. It's already being talked about as a shoo-in for this year's Eisner award for best single issue.

clint-600x287.jpg

There are precedents here. Last year's mostly-silent Hawkeye #11 was told from the point of view of a dog (named Pizza Dog), using symbols and maps to tell a kind of detective story. (That issue also won writer Matt Fraction and artist David Aja the Eisner.)

Pizza dog.png

There's also a silent issue of Daredevil by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev where the blind superhero is temporarily deafened by an explosion. And there's two gorgeous mini-arcs of Daredevil by writer/artist David Mack, featuring Maya Lopez as Echo, Daredevil's deaf, super-powered love interest and counterpart.

Echo.png

Hawkeye's also been temporarily deaf twice before: once in the limited series Hawkeye, back in the 1980s (his use of a hearing aid made him a minor hero to hearing-impaired readers) and (it's revealed in this new issue) also as a child, as a result of an injury implied to be caused by his abusive father. This is how Clint and his brother Barney are shown to know American Sign Language.

I've been interested in ASL for a long time for personal reasons, but also as a kind of "writing," in the family-resemblance sense of visible language, that functions like speech.

Comic books, at least in print, are a silent medium by necessity. But it's still harder to render ASL in comics than ordinary oral/aural speech, because it's a language of movement, and we don't have the conventions of speech bubbles and the alphabet.

What we do have is a graphic tradition of maps, signs, atlases, manuals, and other forms of everyday iconography to draw on. And those are largely what Mack used in Daredevil, and what Aja uses in Hawkeye.

It's a sign that we, all of us, read signs everywhere, and every kind of reading can be used and incorporated in every other kind. The best way to stay true to what's essential in a medium is to do your best to explode your way out of it.

An ode to Ralph WiggumAUG 20

From Mallory Ortberg at The Toast, an appreciation of Ralph Wiggum.

Ralph is not a rule-follower like Lisa, nor a rule-breaker like Bart; Ralph does not observe the rules because he is almost completely unaware of them. More than any of the other students at Springfield Elementary, Ralph is a child. Bart and Lisa and Milhouse and Nelson and Janey are kids, and therein lies the difference. Ralph sees things that aren't there ("Ralph, remember the time you said Snagglepuss was outside?" "He was going to the bathroom!"), eats paste, picks his nose, volunteers unprompted, nonsensical declarations ("My cat's breath smells like cat food") disguised as Zen koans. His character is sometimes written as dim-but-profound, sometimes borderline-psychotic, and occasionally developmentally disabled, but more than anything else, Ralph like what he is: a child who hasn't yet aged into a kid, which is one of the most embarrassing things a child can be.

Goes nicely with this video of some of Ralph's finest moments:

Judgmental mapsAUG 21

Tumblr of maps of cities with stereotypical labels. For example, NYC, land of Nuclear Industrial Cesspool, Asshole Cops, and Worst Train Station Ever.

Judgmental NYC map

(via subtraction)

Skips Stones for FudgeAUG 26

That's the somewhat unusual name of a feature-length documentary about world-class stone skippers. Here's the trailer:

I love skipping stones. When I see flat water and flat rocks, I can't not do it. They have to change that name though. They were likely going for "Jiro Dreams of Sushi" but really missed the mark. Oh, and they're raising funds on Kickstarter to finish the film.

The zen art of stone skipping meets the competitive nature of mankind in this feature-length documentary. Set in the world of professional stone skipping, this film will examine the competitive nature of mankind. World Records will be tested, rivalries will fester, and a sport will rise from the ashes of obscurity.

The new fashion: phones, Dres, and InstaAUG 28

This year, your back-to-school shopping may have included more devices and downloads than pieces of attire. According to the NYT, today's teenagers favor tech over clothes. One retail analysts explains how his focus groups go these days: "You try to get them talking about what's the next look, what they're excited about purchasing in apparel, and the conversation always circles back to the iPhone 6."

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The 2017 total solar eclipse awarded to the United StatesAUG 21

2017 Eclipse

I do not officially have a bucket list1 but if I did have one, watching a total solar eclipse would be on it. Was just talking about it the other day in fact. Well. I am pretty damn excited for the Great American Eclipse of 2017!

In August 21, 2017, millions of people across the United States will see nature's most wondrous spectacle -- a total eclipse of the Sun. It is a scene of unimaginable beauty; the Moon completely blocks the Sun, daytime becomes a deep twilight, and the Sun's corona shimmers in the darkened sky. This is your guide to understand, prepare for, and view this rare celestial event.

It goes right through the middle of the country too...almost everyone in the lower 48 is within a day's drive of seeing it. Cities in the path of the totality include Salem, OR, Jackson, WY, Lincoln, NE, St. Louis, MO (nearly), Nashville, TN, and Charleston, SC.

Weather will definitely play a factor in actually seeing the eclipse, so I will be keeping an eye on Eclipser ("Climatology and Maps for the Eclipse Chaser") as the event draws near. Early analysis indicates Oregon as the best chance for clear skies. Matt, I am hereby laying claim to your guest room in three years time. So excited!!

[1] Also on this hypothetical bucket list: dunking a basketball, going to outer space, learning to surf, and two chicks at the same time.

Statue selfiesAUG 13

People are taking photos of statues that cleverly make it look as though the statues are taking selfies.

Statue Selfies

There's a group on Reddit but most of the photos really aren't that good. There are more examples on Instagram, including this one and this one from June that predate the activity on Reddit. But the earliest instances I found of statue selfies were this Instagram photo from The Art Institute of Chicago and this tweet featuring the Statue of Liberty, both from December 2013.

Statue Selfies Begin

(via @ThatAmelia)

Policing by consentAUG 18

In light of the ongoing policing situation in Ferguson, Missouri in the wake of the shooting of an unarmed man by a police officer and how the response to the community protests is highlighting the militarization of US police departments since 9/11, it's instructive to look at one of the first and most successful attempts at the formation of a professional police force.

The UK Parliament passed the first Metropolitan Police Act in 1829. The act was introduced by Home Secretary Sir Robert Peel, who undertook a study of crime and policing, which resulted in his belief that the keys to building an effective police force were to 1) make it professional (most prior policing had been volunteer in nature); 2) organize as a civilian force, not as a paramilitary force; and 3) make the police accountable to the public. The Metropolitan Police, whose officers were referred to as "bobbies" after Peel, was extremely successful and became the model for the modern urban police force, both in the UK and around the world, including in the United States.

At the heart of the Metropolitan Police's charter were a set of rules either written by Peel or drawn up at some later date by the two founding Commissioners: The Nine Principles of Policing. They are as follows:

1. To prevent crime and disorder, as an alternative to their repression by military force and severity of legal punishment.

2. To recognise always that the power of the police to fulfil their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behaviour, and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect.

3. To recognise always that to secure and maintain the respect and approval of the public means also the securing of the willing co-operation of the public in the task of securing observance of laws.

4. To recognise always that the extent to which the co-operation of the public can be secured diminishes proportionately the necessity of the use of physical force and compulsion for achieving police objectives.

5. To seek and preserve public favour, not by pandering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolutely impartial service to law, in complete independence of policy, and without regard to the justice or injustice of the substance of individual laws, by ready offering of individual service and friendship to all members of the public without regard to their wealth or social standing, by ready exercise of courtesy and friendly good humour, and by ready offering of individual sacrifice in protecting and preserving life.

6. To use physical force only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient to obtain public co-operation to an extent necessary to secure observance of law or to restore order, and to use only the minimum degree of physical force which is necessary on any particular occasion for achieving a police objective.

7. To maintain at all times a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and that the public are the police, the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.

8. To recognise always the need for strict adherence to police-executive functions, and to refrain from even seeming to usurp the powers of the judiciary of avenging individuals or the State, and of authoritatively judging guilt and punishing the guilty.

9. To recognise always that the test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, and not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them.

As police historian Charles Reith noted in 1956, this philosophy was radical when implemented in London in the 1830s and "unique in history and throughout the world because it derived not from fear but almost exclusively from public co-operation with the police, induced by them designedly by behaviour which secures and maintains for them the approval, respect and affection of the public". Apparently, it remains radical in the United States in 2014. (thx, peter)

Enter PyongyangAUG 09

Many videos and photo projects promise a glimpse of life inside North Korea "as you've never seen it", but I believe this video by JT Singh and Rob Whitworth actually delivers the goods. It's one of those 3-minute time lapse portraits of a city that are in vogue, with the North Korean capital Pyongyang as its subject.

Time lapse videos are interesting because they show movement over long periods of time. The Western conception of North Korea is of a place frozen in time, so the time lapse view is highly instructive. (thx, jeff)

Update: Sam Potts, who travelled to Pyongyang and North Korea in 2012 and took these photos, finds this "deeply fake as filmmaking". From his Twitter acct:

Re the time lapse of Pyongyang video, it feels deeply fake as filmmaking, to me. Thus I mistrust it as a document of what real PY is like. You don't see any of the details to that reveal, even in PY, how very poor a country it is. Some of those buses didn't have tail lights. They had blocks of wood painted red to look like tail lights. And the library computers are incredibly poor quality.

Gizmodo's Alissa Walker also noted the propaganda-ish nature of the video. At the very least, the video is a dual reminder of the limitations of time lapse video in showing the whole story and of how manipulative attractively packaged media can be.

The hyperlapse algorithmAUG 11

Microsoft has developed software to transform shaky time lapse videos into impressively smooth hyperlapse movies. Take a look at a couple of examples.

Read more about the project on the Microsoft Research site.

The last true hermitAUG 25

When he was 20, Christopher Knight walked into the woods of Maine and didn't speak to another soul (save a quick "hi" to a passing hiker) for 27 years, during which he lived not off the land but off the propane tanks and freezers of his neighbors.

He started to speak. A little. When Perkins-Vance asked why he didn't want to answer any questions, he said he was ashamed. He spoke haltingly, uncertainly; the connection between his mind and his mouth seemed to have atrophied from disuse. But over the next couple of hours, he gradually opened up.

His name, he revealed, was Christopher Thomas Knight. Born on December 7, 1965. He said he had no address, no vehicle, did not file a tax return, and did not receive mail. He said he lived in the woods.

"For how long?" wondered Perkins-Vance.

Knight thought for a bit, then asked when the Chernobyl nuclear-plant disaster occurred. He had long ago lost the habit of marking time in months or years; this was just a news event he happened to remember. The nuclear meltdown took place in 1986, the same year, Knight said, he went to live in the woods. He was 20 years old at the time, not long out of high school. He was now 47, a middle-aged man.

Make sure you read until the end. This isn't a just-the-facts-ma'am piece on some hermit; it turns out that someone who has spent almost three decades alone has something insightful to say about being human.

Hood Internet Mixtape Vol. 8AUG 11

New mixtape from The Hood Internet, the eighth in a hopefully infinite series. You know what to do.

An ode to the SteadicamAUG 25

A short appreciation of the Steadicam and its inventor, Garrett Brown. (Brown also invented the football SkyCam.) Features footage from Rocky, Return of the Jedi, and The Shining.

From Wikipedia:

The Steadicam was first used in the Best Picture-nominated Woody Guthrie biopic Bound for Glory (1976), debuting with a shot that compounded the Steadicam's innovation: cinematographer Haskell Wexler had Brown start the shot on a fully elevated platform crane which jibbed down, and when it reached the ground, Brown stepped off and walked the camera through the set. This technically audacious and previously impossible shot created considerable interest in how it had been accomplished, and impressed the Academy enough for Wexler to win the Oscar for Best Cinematography that year. It was then used in extensive running and chase scenes on the streets of New York City in Marathon Man (1976), which was actually released two months before Bound for Glory. It landed a notable third credit in Avildsen's Best Picture-winning Rocky (1976), where it was an integral part of the film's Philadelphia street jogging/training sequences and the run up the Art Museum's flight of stairs, as well as the fight scenes (where it can even be plainly seen in operation at the ringside during some wide shots of the final fight). Garrett Brown was the Steadicam operator on all of these.

The Shining (1980) pushed Brown's innovations even further, when director Stanley Kubrick requested that the camera shoot from barely above the floor. This prompted the innovation of a "low mode" bracket to mount the top of a camera to the bottom of an inverted post, which substantially increased the creative angles of the system, which previously could not go much lower than the operator's waist height. This low-mode concept remains the most important extension to the system since its inception.

(via @robinsloan)

Möbius BagelTIM CARMODY  ·  JUL 31

What if you wanted to cut a bagel in half not for toasting or sandwich purposes, but to explore its topology and mildly astonish your friends?

bagel cutting pattern.jpg

If you cut a bagel along a möbius strip pattern, you end up with two separate halves that form interlocking rings, as shown below.

bagel9.jpg

Geoge Hart, who cut this bagel and made this video, is an engineering professor at SUNY-Stony Brook and "mathematical sculptor. On his web site, he offers two bagel-derived math problems: What is the ratio of the surface area of this linked cut to the surface area of the usual planar bagel slice? and Modify the cut so the cutting surface is a one-twist Mobius strip.

Via @mark_e_evans and The Onion A/V Club.

Naming the machinesTIM CARMODY  ·  JUL 29

Hi, everybody! Tim Carmody here, guest-hosting for Jason this week.

Not everybody gives their computers, smartphones, or wireless networks distinctive names. You're more likely to see a thousand public networks named "Belkin" or some alphanumeric gibberish than one named after somebody's favorite character in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

But many, many people do name their machines -- and ever since we slid into the post-PC era, we're more likely to have a bunch of different machines of every different type living together on a network, each needing a name. So, how do you decide what to call them? Do you just pick what strikes your fancy at the moment, or do you have a system?

About three years ago, I asked my friends and followers on Twitter this question and got back some terrific responses. I don't have access to all of their answers, because, well, time makes fools of us all, especially on Twitter. But I think I have the best responses.

Most people who wrote back did have unifying themes for their machines. And sweet Jesus, are those themes nerdy.

  • A lot of people name their computers, networks, and hard drives after characters, places, and objects from Star Wars. Like, a lot of them.
  • Even more of my friends name devices after their favorite books and writers. My favorite of these came from @DigDoug: "All of my machines are named after characters in Don Quixote. My Macbook is Dulcinea, the workhorse is Rocinante." (Note: these systems are also popular among my friends for naming their cats. I don't know what to make of that.)
  • Science- and mythology-inspired names are well-represented. Mathias Crawford's hard drives are named after types of penguins; Alan Benzie went with goddesses: "The names Kali, Isis, Eris, Juno, Lilith & Hera are distributed around whatever devices and drives I have at any time." (When I first read this, I thought these might have been moons of Jupiter, which would both split the difference between science and mythology and would be a super-cool way to name your stuff.)
  • Wi-fi networks might be named for places, funny phrases, or abstract entities, but when it comes to phones or laptops, most people seemed to pick persons' names. Oliver Hulland's hard drives were all named after muppets; Alex Hern named his computer's hard drive and its time capsule backup Marx and Engels, respectively.
  • Some people always stuck with the same system, and sometimes even the same set of names. A new laptop would get the same name as the old laptop, and so forth -- like naming a newborn baby after a dead relative. Other people would retire names with the devices that bore them. They still refer to them by their first names, often with nostalgia and longing.

As for me, I've switched up name systems over the years, mostly as the kinds of devices on my network have changed. I used to just have a desktop PC (unnamed), so I started out by naming external hard drives after writers I liked: Zora, after Zora Neale Hurston, and then Dante. The first router I named, which I still have, is Ezra.

Years later, I named my laptop "Wallace": this is partly for David Foster Wallace, but also so I could yell "where the fuck is Wallace?!?" whenever I couldn't find it.

Without me even realizing it, that double meaning changed everything. My smartphone became "Poot." When I got a tablet, it was "Bodie." My Apple TV was "Wee-Bay," my portable external drive "Stringer." I even named my wi-fi network "D'Angelo" -- so now D'Angelo runs on Ezra, which connects to Dante, if that makes sense.

As soon as it was Wallace and Poot, the rules were established: not just characters from The Wire, but members of the Barksdale crew from the first season of The Wire. No "Bunk," no "Omar," no "Cheese." And when the machines died, their names died with them.

The first one to go, fittingly, was Wallace. I called the new machine "Cutty." I was only able to justify to myself by saying that because he was a replacement machine, it was okay to kick over to Season 3. Likewise, my Fitbit became "Slim Charles."

Now, for some reason, this naming scheme doesn't apply at all to my Kindles. My first one was "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius," and its replacement is "Funes the Memorious." I have no explanation for this, other than to say that while all my other devices commingle, the Kindles seem to live in a hermetic world of their own.

The Evolution of GodMAY 11

The Evolution of God

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

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

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

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

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

Milton Glaser, foodieAUG 06

Today I learned that iconic designer Milton Glaser co-wrote a column for New York magazine (which he co-founded) about where to find cheap-but-good food in NYC. It was called The Underground Gourmet. Here's a typical column from the October 27, 1975 issue, reviewing a ramen joint in Midtown called Sapporo that is miraculously still around:

Underground Gourmet

Glaser and his co-authior Jerome Snyder eventually packaged the column into a series of books, some of which you can find on Amazon...I bought a copy this morning.

I found out about Glaser's food enthusiasm from this interview in Eye magazine about The Underground Gourmet and his long collaboration with restaurateur Joe Baum of the Rainbow Room and Windows on the World.

We just walked the streets ... When friends of ours knew we were doing it we got recommendations.

There were parts of the city where we knew we could find good places ... particularly in the ethnic parts. We knew if we went to Chinatown we would find something if we looked long enough, or Korea Town, or sections of Little Italy.

More then than now, the city was more locally ethnic before the millionaires came in and bought up every inch of space. So you could find local ethnic places all over the city. And people were dying to discover that. And it was terrific to be able to find a place where you could have lunch for four dollars.

In 2010, Josh Perilo wrote an appreciation of The Underground Gourmet in which he noted only six of the restaurants reviewed in the 1967 edition had survived:

Being obsessed with the food and history of New York (particularly Manhattan), this was like finding a culinary time capsule. I immediately dove in. What I found was shocking, both in the similarities between then and now, and in the differences.

The most obvious change was the immense amount of restaurants that no longer existed. These were not landmarked establishments, by and large. Most of them were hole-in-the wall luncheonettes, inexpensive Chinese restaurants and greasy spoons. But the sheer number of losses was stunning. Of the 101 restaurants profiled, only six survive today: Katz's Delicatessen, Manganaro's, Yonah Schimmel's Knishes Bakery, The Puglia and La Taza de Oro. About half of the establishments were housed in buildings that no longer exist, especially in the Midtown area. The proliferation of "lunch counters" also illustrated the evolution of this city's eating habits. For every kosher "dairy lunch" joint that went down, it seems as though a Jamba Juice or Pink Berry has taken its place.

Man, it's hard not get sucked into reading about all these old places...looking forward to getting my copy of the book in a week or two.

Update: Glaser's co-author Jerome Snyder was also a designer...and no slouch either.

Game FinallyendedAUG 07

When Stewart Butterfield's first game company wasn't going all that well, he and his team decided to focus on one of the game's features that enabled players to share images. Before long, Flickr had taken over the web, and in some ways, launched a new era of social media. So Stewart went back to his original passion. And his next game flopped. So he focused on an internal communication tool his team had built to better work on the game. That became a new product called Slack. And Slack could be huge. In Wired, Mat Honan does an excellent job tracing the career of Stewart Butterfield, and in doing so, paints a very accurate portrait of the evolution of the start-up world: The most fascinating profile you'll ever read about a guy and his boring startup.

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Wireless electricity? Wireless electricity!AUG 06

For the NY Times, Nick Bilton writes about uBeam, Meredith Perry's startup that is working on wireless electricity. Sounds like the company is on track to deliver a product in a couple of years.

Ms. Perry's company, uBeam, announced on Wednesday that it took an early prototype concept of this technology, first developed for Ms. Perry's college innovation competition, and turned it into a fully functional prototype that the company now plans to build for consumers.

"This is the only wireless power system that allows you to be on your phone and moving around a room freely while your device is charging," Ms. Perry said in an interview. "It allows for a Wi-Fi-like experience of charging; with everything else you have to be in close range of a transmitter."

That is some future shit right there. (via @tcarmody)

The Great Man Theory of FunkTIM CARMODY  ·  AUG 01

Douglas Wolk isn't happy with the long-awaited James Brown biopic Get On Up:

Treating Brown's personality as the interesting thing about him means that Taylor doesn't end up saying much about Brown's music, the fascinating way it was made, or the colossal effect it had on the culture around it. As far as Get On Up is concerned, James Brown was an unstoppable personality more than he was a musician; the film suffers from "the Great Man theory of funk."

Brown's songs... were collaborative and process-based, more than any other pop star's work: Both on record and on stage, Brown directed and instructed the band, restructuring arrangements on the fly... In Get On Up, though, there's no sense that anyone else's voice mattered to him. Brown's right-hand man and backup singer Bobby Byrd (played as a hapless second banana by True Blood's Nelsan Ellis) morosely explains that James is a genius whose coattails he's lucky enough to ride, and that he himself wasn't meant to be a frontman. The Byrd who had a decadelong string of R&B hits with Brown backing him up--the best-remembered is "I Know You Got Soul"--might have disagreed.

Here two bad cultural fallacies come together: treating artists like self-contained auteurs and thinking every movie has to be an origin story. In the best stories, like in reality, everything and everyone is in medias res.

Flying car sculpturesAUG 06

Gerry Judah

Gerry Judah

Gerry Judah

These sculptures by Gerry Judah for the Goodwood Festival of Speed are amazing. Here's how they made the Mercedes arch for this year's festival. (via ministry of type)

Thoughts on DesignAUG 05

Thoughts On Design

Legendary designer Paul Rand's Thoughts on Design is back in print for the first time since the 1970s. The new version, which will be out on Aug 19, is available for preorder and comes with a foreword by Michael Bierut.

One of the seminal texts of graphic design, Paul Rand's Thoughts on Design is now available for the first time since the 1970s. Writing at the height of his career, Rand articulated in his slender volume the pioneering vision that all design should seamlessly integrate form and function. This facsimile edition preserves Rand's original 1947 essay with the adjustments he made to its text and imagery for a revised printing in 1970, and adds only an informative and inspiring new foreword by design luminary Michael Bierut. As relevant today as it was when first published, this classic treatise is an indispensable addition to the library of every designer.

Interstellar trailer #3AUG 05

Christopher Nolan + Matthew McConaughey + space + doomed Earth. Oh man, this is looking like it might actually be great. Or completely suck.

Please don't suck, please don't suck, please don't suck, please don't suck, please don't suck, please don't suck, please don't s (via @aaroncoleman0)

Kern Your EnthusiasmTIM CARMODY  ·  AUG 01

For August, the writers at HiLobrow will have a month of appreciations of fonts and typefaces, lovingly titled "Kern Your Enthusiasm." Matthew Battles kicks things off with the legendary Aldine Italic developed for Venetian publisher Aldus Manutius, a new set of metal letters that helped jumpstart a little thing we call the Renaissance.

When Aldus put the first version of a typeface we call italic to use in 1501, the printing press had been proliferating in Europe for half a century. In other words, it was about as old as the computer is now. It was a time of immense invention and swiftly spun variety in the printed book, and a time of new mobility and independence of thought and activity among certain classes of people as well -- and the combination of new ways and new tools meant new kinds of books. Crucially, the book was getting smaller, small enough to act not only as a desktop, but as a mobile device.

Previous HiLobrow series include "Kirb Your Enthusiasm" (on Jack Kirby), "Kirk Your Enthusiasm" (on Star Trek's Captain Kirk) and "Herc Your Enthusiasm" (on old school hip-hop, where I contributed a short thing on Afrika Bambaataa.)

The Hateful EightAUG 12

Tarantino Hateful Eight

So, a few months ago Quentin Tarantino scrapped plans to make what was supposed to be his next film, The Hateful Eight, after the script leaked. Which struck me as weird and petty, but Hollywood in general seems weird and petty to me. Turns out that Tarantino's gonna do the movie after all.

During the Comic-Con panel, one of the audience members point blank asked Tarantino if he'll be making the script as his next feature, following recent word that it could be heating back up again. Tarantino hemmed and hawed for a bit -- before finally committing: "Yeah -- We're going to be doing The Hateful Eight." So there you have it: The Hateful Eight will be the next Quentin Tarantino feature.

The photo at the top is the first official poster for the film.

Why the increase in food allergies?AUG 28

Hmm, this is interesting. Recent studies suggest that food allergies may be caused by the absense of certain intestinal bacteria...in part due to increased use of antibiotics in very young children.

Food allergies have increased about 50% in children since 1997. There are various theories explaining why. One is that the 21st century lifestyle, which includes a diet very different from our ancestors', lots of antibiotic use, and even a rise in cesarean section deliveries, has profoundly changed the makeup of microbes in the gut of many people in developed countries. For example, the average child in the United States has taken three courses of antibiotics by the time he or she is 2 years old, says Martin Blaser, an infectious disease specialist and microbiologist at New York University in New York City. (See here for more on the reach of microbiome research these days.)

Cathryn Nagler, an immunologist at the University of Chicago in Illinois, has spent years probing links between the immune system, intestinal bacteria, and the onset of allergies. Back in 2004, she and her colleagues reported that wiping out gut bacteria in mice led to food allergies. Since then, Nagler has continued trying to understand which bacteria offer allergy protection and how they accomplish that.

Michael Jordan vs Kobe BryantAUG 06

Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant played against each other in only eight NBA games, but none of the games took place with both players in their prime. Their first few meetings, dominated by Jordan, happened during Kobe's first and second NBA seasons, when he was an impulsive and unpolished teen. Their final meetings, dominated by Bryant, found an out-of-retirement Jordan on the hapless Washington Wizards, pushing 40 years old.

But more than any other two marquee players in NBA, Jordan and Kobe have played with very similar styles. Like almost identically similar, as this video clearly shows:

The first 15 seconds of the video is a fantastic piece of editing, stitching together similar moves made by each player into seamless single plays. And dang...even the tongue wagging thing is the same. How many hours of Jordan highlight reels did Kobe watch growing up? And practicing moves in the gym?

As an aside, and I can't believe I'm saying such a ridiculous thing in public, but I can do a pretty good MJ turnaround fadeaway. I mean, for a 6-foot-tall 40-year-old white guy who doesn't get a lot of exercise and has never had much of a vertical leap. I learned it from watching Jordan highlights on SportsCenter and practicing it for hundreds of hours in my driveway against my taller next-door neighbor. I played basketball twice in the past month for the first time in years. Any skills I may have once had are almost completely gone...so many airballs and I couldn't even make a free throw for crying out loud. Except for that turnaround. That muscle memory is still intact; the shots were falling and the whole thing felt really smooth and natural. I think I'll still be shooting that shot effectively into my 70s. (via devour)

The Theory of EverythingAUG 07

From James Marsh, the director of the excellent Man on Wire, a biopic of physicist Stephen Hawking and his first wife, Jane. Here's the first trailer:

The film is based on a book by Jane Hawking, Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen.

In this compelling memoir, his first wife, Jane Hawking, relates the inside story of their extraordinary marriage. As Stephen's academic renown soared, his body was collapsing under the assaults of motor neurone disease. Jane's candid account of trying to balance his 24-hour care with the needs of their growing family reveals the inner-strength of the author, while the self-evident character and achievements of her husband make for an incredible tale presented with unflinching honesty.

As promising as this looks, the Kanye in me needs to remind you that Errol Morris' A Brief History of Time is the best film about Stephen Hawking of all time. OF ALL TIME.

A 3D search engineAUG 07

Yobi3D is a search engine for finding 3D objects. Here's a search for "horses":

3d Horses

This is pretty neat...all the objects are zoomable and rotatable in the browser. (via prosthetic knowledge)

YouTube's invisible standardsTIM CARMODY  ·  JUL 30

Great essay by Paul Ford on the hidden infrastructure that makes most of your favorite user-created viral videos possible: 4' by 8' by 1/2" slabs of drywall, screwed into studs and painted beige.

The people dancing and talking and singing in beige rooms with 8' ceilings are surrounded by standards, physically and online. Technological standards like HTML5 also allow us to view web pages and look at video over the Internet. All of their frolic is bounded by a set of conventions that are essentially invisible yet define our national physical and technological architecture. Their dancing, talking bodies are the only non-standardized things in the videos.

Humans need not applyAUG 15

This video combines two thoughts to reach an alarming conclusion: "Technology gets better, cheaper, and faster at a rate biology can't match" + "Economics always wins" = "Automation is inevitable."

That's why it's important to emphasize again this stuff isn't science fiction. The robots are here right now. There is a terrifying amount of working automation in labs and warehouses that is proof of concept.

We have been through economic revolutions before, but the robot revolution is different.

Horses aren't unemployed now because they got lazy as a species, they're unemployable. There's little work a horse can do that pays for its housing and hay.

And many bright, perfectly capable humans will find themselves the new horse: unemployable through no fault of their own.

(via waxy)

Guardians of the Galaxy Awesome Mix Vol. 1AUG 15

The mixtape that Star-Lord carries around in Guardians of the Galaxy is of course available as an actual album (Amazon mp3, iTunes). The album isn't on Rdio, but William Goodman cobbled together a playlist of all the songs:

As Slate notes, the movie merch album isn't totally true to the movie as it includes two songs from Awesome Mix Vol. 2, but I will never complain of Marvin Gaye's or the Jackson 5's inclusion in anything.

Update: And here's a playlist on Spotify, courtesy of Casey Johnston.

The 50th LawJUN 23

The 50th Law

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

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

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

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

How I work: Ira GlassAUG 18

The American Life's Ira Glass talks with Lifehacker about how he works. When asked what his best time-saving shortcut or life hack was, he responded:

I've got nothing. Reading other people's answers to this question on your website today made me realize I live my life like an ape. I eat the same breakfast and lunch everyday, both at my desk. I employ no time-saving tricks at all.

Though come to think of it, I guess my biggest life hack -- and this is the very first time I've attempted to use the phrase "life hack" in a sentence -- is that my wife and I decided to live just a few blocks from where I work. We did this because of our dog. Since I spend at least an hour every night walking the dog, I didn't want to spend another 60 or 90 minutes a day commuting. I don't have the time. Like lots of people, I work long hours.

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."

Robin Williams, RIPAUG 11

Actor Robin Williams was found dead in his home today of an apparent suicide. He was 63. I have been thinking a lot about this scene from Dead Poets Society lately:

Digital Atlas of the Roman EmpireAUG 04

Digital Map Ancient Rome

The Digital Atlas of the Roman Empire lets you explore ancient Rome in a Google Maps interface. (via @pbump)

Update: From Vox, 40 Maps That Explain the Roman Empire.

Two thousand years ago, on August 19, 14 AD, Caesar Augustus died. He was Rome's first emperor, having won a civil war more than 40 years earlier that transformed the dysfunctional Roman Republic into an empire. Under Augustus and his successors, the empire experienced 200 years of relative peace and prosperity. Here are 40 maps that explain the Roman Empire -- its rise and fall, its culture and economy, and how it laid the foundations of the modern world.

Texting in moviesAUG 20

From Tony Zhou, A Brief Look at Texting and the Internet in Film.

Michele Tepper wrote about Sherlock's display of texts in 2011.

The rise of instant messaging, and even more, the SMS, has added another layer of difficulty; I'm convinced that the reason so many TV characters have iPhones is not just that Hollywood thinks they're cool, but also because the big crisp screen is so darn easy to read. Still, the cut to that little black metal rectangle is a narrative momentum killer. What's a director trying to make a ripping good adventure yarn to do?

The solution is deceptively simple: instead of cutting to the character's screen, Sherlock takes over the viewer's screen.

And just today, a trailer for Jason Reitman's Men, Women & Children, which movie seems to consist entirely of texting and social media interaction:

(via @tcarmody)

Bad British NASCAR commentaryAUG 27

Anthony Richardson (previously, previouslyer, previouslyest) describes a NASCAR race from the British perspective.

Now for the bumper view! Wow, the easiest way to work out what on Earth is going on. Oh, the car's giving the one in front a little sniff. Ah, they're a bit like dogs, aren't they? Petrol dogs.

The greatest documentaries of all timeAUG 05

Sight and Sound polled 340 critics and filmmakers in search of the world's best documentary films. Here are their top 50. From the list, the top five:

A Man with a Movie Camera
Shoah
Sans soleil
Night and Fog
The Thin Blue Line

Unless you went to film school or are a big film nerd, you probably haven't seen (or even heard of) the top choice, A Man with a Movie Camera. Roger Ebert reviewed the film several years ago as part of his Great Movies Collection.

Born in 1896 and coming of age during the Russian Revolution, Vertov considered himself a radical artist in a decade where modernism and surrealism were gaining stature in all the arts. He began by editing official newsreels, which he assembled into montages that must have appeared rather surprising to some audiences, and then started making his own films. He would invent an entirely new style. Perhaps he did. "It stands as a stinging indictment of almost every film made between its release in 1929 and the appearance of Godard's 'Breathless' 30 years later," the critic Neil Young wrote, "and Vertov's dazzling picture seems, today, arguably the fresher of the two." Godard is said to have introduced the "jump cut," but Vertov's film is entirely jump cuts.

If you're curious, the film is available on YouTube in its entirety:

(via open culture)

Ambient space sounds playlistAUG 13

From YouTube, a playlist of 12- and 24-hour-long videos of ambient space noise, mostly of the sounds of spaceships like the Tardis, the USS Enterprise, and the Nostromo (from Alien). I think the Death Star is my favorite:

Or the completely unrelaxing 12 hours of Star Trek red alert sound:

Sadly, the list is missing my favorite spaceship sound, Sebulba's podracer from Phantom Menace. See also Super Mario Bros Sound Loops and Extended Star Wars Sounds. (via @finn)

SuperintelligenceAUG 12

Nick Bostrom has been thinking deeply about the philosophical implications of machine intelligence. You might recognize his name from previous kottke.org posts about the underestimation of human extinction and the possibility that we're living in a computer simulation, that sort of cheery stuff. He's collected some of his thoughts in a book called Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies. Here's how Wikipedia summarizes it:

The book argues that if machine brains surpass human brains in general intelligence, then this new superintelligence could replace humans as the dominant lifeform on Earth. Sufficiently intelligent machines could improve their own capabilities faster than human computer scientists. As the fate of the gorillas now depends more on humans than on the actions of the gorillas themselves, so would the fate of humanity depend on the actions of the machine superintelligence. Absent careful pre-planning, the most likely outcome would be catastrophe.

Technological smartypants Elon Musk gave Bostrom's book an alarming shout-out on Twitter the other day. A succinct summary of Bostrom's argument from Musk:

Hope we're not just the biological boot loader for digital superintelligence. Unfortunately, that is increasingly probable

Eep. I'm still hoping for a Her-style outcome for superintelligence...the machines just get bored with people and leave.

I give this feature my full endorsementTIM CARMODY  ·  AUG 01

Erik Malinowski takes a baseball commercial that used to air late nights on ESPN in the '90s and '00s, and uses it to trace the effect of technology on sports.

"He was the first guy I ever knew who used video as a training device in baseball," says Shawn Pender, a former minor-league player who would appear in several of Emanski's instructional videos. "There just wasn't anyone else who was doing what he did."

It's also something of a detective story, since its subject Tom Emanski has virtually fallen off the face of the earth:

Fred McGriff is surely correct that nearly two decades of video sales -- first through TV and radio and now solely through the internet -- made Emanski a very wealthy man, but this perception has led to some rather outlandish internet rumors.

According to one, the Internal Revenue Service investigated Emanski in 2003 for unpaid taxes and, in doing so, somehow disclosed his estimated net worth at around $75 million. There's no public record of such an investigation ever having taken place or been disclosed, and an IRS spokesman for the Florida office would say only that the agency is "not permitted to discuss a particular or specific taxpayer's tax matter or their taxes based on federal disclosure regulations and federal law."

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.

The problem with OKCupid is the problem with the social webTIM CARMODY  ·  AUG 01

Hi, everybody! Tim Carmody here, guest-hosting for Jason this week.

On Monday, I tried to list some reasons why OKCupid's self-acknowledged experiments on its users didn't seem to be stirring up the same outrage that Facebook's had. Here at the end of the week, I think I was largely right: fewer people are upset, the anger is more tempered, and that has a lot to do with the reasons I gave. But one reaction I didn't expect is that some people took it as saying that I wasn't upset by what OKCupid did, or that people shouldn't be as upset by it.

What OKCupid did has actually made me madder and madder as the week's gone on, but for reasons that are different from other people's. I think this is pretty important, so I'm going to try to explain why.

Let's start with the Facebook "social contagion" study. Most Facebook critics focused on the people who were the subjects of the study, for good reasons. Did these users give consent? Can terms of service count as consent for an academic study? Should they have been informed of the study afterwards? Is Facebook responsible for any harm these users might have suffered? Is an increase or decrease in engagement really a sign that users' emotions were affected? How else has Facebook attempted to influence its users, or might try in the future? These are all good questions.

But what if you flip it around? What if you weren't one of the subjects whose moods Facebook was trying to study, but one of their friends or family? What if you were one of the people whose posts were filtered because your keywords were too happy, too angry, or too sad?

I think there's no way to know whether the Facebook study may have harmed people who weren't being studied. And even though the TOS basically says that users give Facebook permission to do whatever they want not only with the users' data, but all of their friends' too, you can't call that consent with a straight face. (This is just another reason that software terms of service are a rotten legal and ethical basis for research. They just weren't built for that reason, or to solve any of those problems.)

So Facebook didn't just mess around with some of its users' feeds, hoping to see if it might mess around with their feelings. It used some of its users' posts in order to do it. Arguably, it made them complicit.

To be clear, filtering posts, giving preference to some and not others, is how Facebook's newsfeed algorithm always works. Facebook users have been complaining about this for a long time, especially brands and news organizations and other companies who've built up their subscriber counts and complain that hardly anybody ever sees their posts unless they pay off Facebook's ad department. And Facebook makes no guarantees, anywhere, that they're going to deliver every message to every user who's subscribed to it. Readers miss posts all the time, usually just because they're just not looking at the screen or reading everything they could see. Facebook isn't certified mail. It's not even email. All this is known.

However.

We all buy in to Facebook (and Twitter, and OKCupid, and every other social media network), giving them a huge amount of personal data, free content, and discretion on how they show it to us, with the understanding that all of this will largely be driven by choices that we make. We build our own profiles, we select our favorite pictures, we make our own friends, we friend whatever brands we like, we pick the users we want to block or mute or select for special attention, and we write our own stories.

Even the filtering algorithms, we're both told and led to assume, are the product of our choices. Either we make these choices explicitly (mute this user, don't show me this again, more results like these) or implicitly (we liked the last five baby pictures, so Facebook shows us more baby pictures; we looked at sites X, Y, and Z, so we see Amazon ads for people who looked at X, Y, and Z. It's not arbitrary; it's personalized. And it's personalized for our benefit, to reflect the choices that we and the people we trust have made.

This is what makes the user-created social web great. It's the value it adds over traditional news media, traditional classified ads, traditional shopping, everything.

We keep copyright on everything we write and every image we post, giving these services a broad license to use it. And whenever the terms of service seem to be saying that these companies have the right to do things we would never want them to do, we're told that these are just the legal terms that the companies need in order to offer the ordinary, everyday service that we've asked them to do for us.

This is why it really stings whenever somebody turns around and says, "well actually, the terms you've signed give us permission to do whatever we want. Not just the thing you were afraid of, but a huge range of things you never thought of." You can't on one hand tell us to pay no attention when you change these things on us, and with the other insist that this is what we've really wanted to do all along. I mean, fuck me over, but don't tell me that I really wanted you to fuck me over all along.

Because ultimately, the reason you needed me to agree in the first place isn't just because I'm using your software, but because you're using my stuff. And the reason I'm letting you use my stuff, and spending all this time working on it, is so that you can show it to people.

I'm not just a user of your service, somebody who reads the things that you show it to me: I'm one of the reasons you have anything that you can show to anyone at all.

Now let's go back to the OKCupid experiment. Facebook didn't show some of its users posts that their friends wrote. But at least it was a binary thing: either your post was shown, just as you wrote it, or it wasn't. OKCupid actually changed the information it displayed to users.

You can pick nits and say OKC didn't change it, but rather, just selectively repressed parts of it, deleting photos on some profiles and text on others. But if you've ever created a profile on any web site, you know that it's presented as being a whole ensemble, the equivalent of a home page. The photos, the background, the description, the questions you answer: taken altogether, that's your representation of yourself to everyone else who may be interested. It's the entire reason why you are there.

Now imagine you're an OKCupid user, and you strike up a conversation with someone or someone strikes up a conversation with you. You assume that the other person has all of your information available to them if they're willing to look at it. That's the basis of every conversation you have on that site. Except they don't. The profile that OKCupid has implicitly promised they'll show to everyone who looks at it has been changed. The other person either doesn't know what you look like (and assumes you can't be bothered to post a photo) or doesn't know anything else about you (and assumes you can't be bothered to write anything about yourself.) Both of you have been deceived, so the site can see what happens.

This is why I question the conclusion that OKC users who were only shown profiles with pictures are shallow, because their conversations were almost as long as the ones who were shown full profiles. This is how I imagine those conversations going:

Rosencrantz: So what do you do?
Guildenstern: Um I work in marketing?
Rosencrantz: That's great! Where did you go to school?
Guildenstern: I went to UVA
Guildenstern: Wait a minute are you some kind of bot?
Rosencrantz: What makes you say that?
Guildenstern: You keep asking me questions that are in my profile, did you even read it
Rosencrantz: I'm looking at it right now, why didn't you answer any of the questions
Guildenstern: lol I guess you can't read nice pic though goodbye

That's a high-value interaction by the OKC researchers' standards, by the way.

This is also why I don't have much patience with the idea that "The worst thing could have happened [with the OkCupid testing] is people send a few more messages, and maybe you went on a date you didn't like." (Rey Junco told this to ReadWrite to explain why he thought Facebook's study was worse than OKCupid's, but you see versions of this all over.)

First, going on "a date you didn't like" isn't a frivolous thing. It definitely incurs more material costs than not seeing a Facebook status. And bad (or good) messages or a bad or good date can definitely have a bigger emotional impact as well.

More importantly, though, don't make this just a question about dates or feelings, about what somebody did or didn't read and what its effect on them was. I don't care if you think someone making a dating profile is a frivolous thing. Somebody made that. They thought the company hosting it could be trusted to present it honestly. They were wrong.

So this is the problem I see not just with Facebook and OKCupid's experiments, but with most of the arguments about them. They're all too quick to accept that users of these sites are readers who've agreed to let these sites show them things. They don't recognize or respect that the users are also the ones who've made almost everything that those sites show. They only treat you as a customer, never a client.

And in this respect, OKCupid's Christian Rudder and the brigade of "and this surprises you?" cynics are right: this is what everybody does. This is the way the internet works now. (Too much of it, anyway.) It doesn't matter whether your site is performing interventions on you or not, let alone publishing them. Too many of them have accepted this framework.

Still, for as long as the web does work this way, we are never only these companies' "products," but their producers, too. And to the extent that these companies show they aren't willing to live up to the basic agreement that we make these things and give them to you so you will show them to other people -- the engine that makes this whole world wide web business go -- I'm not going to have anything to do with them any more. What's more, I'll get mad enough to find a place that will show the things I write to other people and tell them they shouldn't accept it either. Because, ultimately, you ought to be ashamed to treat people and the things they make this way.

It's not A/B testing. It's just being an asshole.

Update: OKCupid's Christian Rudder (author of the "We Experiment On Human Beings" post) gave an interview to Alex Goldman and PJ Vogt for On the Media's TLDR podcast.

Rudder says some of the negative response "is my own fault, because, y'know, the blog post is sensationally written, for sure." But he doesn't back off of that tone one bit. In fact, he doubles down.

Alex Goldman: Have you thought about bringing in, say, like an ethicist to, to vet your experiments?

Christian Rudder, founder of OkCupid: To wring his hands all day for a hundred thousand dollars a year?... This is the only way to find this stuff out. If you guys have an alternative to the scientific method, I'm all ears.

I think he maybe should have just written the blog post and left it alone.

rating: 4.5 stars

Inglourious BasterdsDEC 18

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

Inglourious Basterds

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

Ceramics mastersAUG 20

Take a closer look at how half-a-dozen ceramics masters practice their craft.

The last blockbuster syndromeAUG 07

Using Motorola, Nokia, and Nintendo as examples, Tero Kuittinen explains how dominant tech companies are lulled into "a comfy trip to the grave" by huge but ultimately short-lived successes before new paradigms take over.

For years, Nintendo has believed it could reject smartphone and tablet apps, yet still flourish. The reason for this delusion is familiar -- it's the toxic Last Blockbuster Syndrome that doomed the consumer electronics divisions of Motorola in 2004 and Nokia in 2007. Often at the start of a massive trend shift in consumer electronics, dominant dinosaurs get one massive hit built on a nearly obsolete paradigm, and that allows them to be lulled into a comfy trip to the grave.

The best example from the past few years is when Motorola, Nokia, and RIM were flying high with their phone products when the iPhone came along and changed the game.

IdleplexAUG 19

Idleplex starts you off playing sheep pong and when you earn enough money from that, you can buy other mini-games which you can level up enough to play themselves, and then you become a manager of sorts of the games. The game's creator, John Cooney, attempts to explain:

I approached this game wanting to return to simple game mechanics. In fact, I considered how simple game mechanics could go, with simple shapes and single-button mechanics controlling everything. After defining these simple mechanics, I wanted to let the games play themselves, and let the players focus on cultivating a mosaic of these moving pieces.

I love these types of games. (via waxy)

Strange MapsOCT 29

Strange Maps

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

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

Hobbit human updateAUG 11

The latest word on Homo floresiensis, the potential new species of hobbit-like humans discovered ten years ago in Indonesia, concerns a pair of papers which argue the single specimen found is actually a regular human with Down syndrome.

Now, the debate has reignited with two new papers published this week by a team of researchers from Penn State and other institutions. In one of those papers, they argue that the Flores skull is not a new species, but instead represents an ancient person with Down syndrome.

The researchers also point out, in the second paper, that the original report on the bones seemed to have exaggerated the skull's diminutive size. Cranial measurements and features, along with shorter thigh bones, the team found, all correspond with modern manifestations of Down syndrome. "The difference is significant, and the revised figure falls in the range predicted for a modern human with Down syndrome from the same geographic region," they say in a statement.

(via @daveg)

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