The Algorithmic SeaMAR 02

For years, one of the holy grails of computer generated visual effects was realistic looking water. Millions of dollars and rendering hours spent. Now, using just 185 lines of WebGL JavaScript code, you can get super-realistic ocean waves rendered right in any modern web browser at 60 frames/sec.

Wow. Wow wow. (via ★interesting-links)

Designer real estate for hermit crabsFEB 06

Aki Inomata Crab

Artist Aki Inomata builds fanciful new houses for hermit crabs.

Miniature windmills, churches, and even entire cities jut from the surface of her 3D-printed shells, which are modelled upon CT scans of abandoned crab shells and then recreated in transparent resin. Inomata then allows the homeless crabs to inspect the shelters at their leisure -- she says "most hermit crabs don't even glance at" them, but occasionally one of the creatures finds its dream real estate and settles in.

Posthumous hackathonFEB 06

Jessamyn West writes about the nuts and bolts of dealing with the death of her techie dad, including wresting control from the hidden computer controlling his house and digitally impersonating him to use his apps and cancel cable.

My dad's retirement home was not quite so high tech but it was designed to provide a certain level of creature comforts with minimal inputs from him. Set it and forget it. An X-10 system turned most of the lights on and off on a schedule. Some of this was pretty straightforward "Turn on the porch lights after dark." and some was a bit more esoteric "Turn off the office lights at 10 pm so that I'll know it's time for bed." He knew the ruleset. I did not. I'd be working on an article or reading a book and suddenly be plunged into total darkness. I'd poke at some wall switches that would sometimes turn the lights back on.

The system was controlled by a laptop. The laptop died. I removed the hard drive to get at the config files. This project went on a lengthy To Do list and never rose to the top. The lights kept turning on and off. Over time their schedules got out of sync. The driveway lights would stay on for days. The porch lights would never come on, or turn on at 6:15 pm and then off at 6:27. Sometimes they'd just blink on and off and we'd be all "Did you see that?" My sister and I kept lists, tried to discern patterns. I pulled the switches off the walls, only to find that they were just stuck on with tape, with no actual wires underneath. Somewhere in some wall there was a transmitter sending out signals that only the lights could hear.

It's oddly comforting that even in the digital age, our loved ones can still haunt us from their graves.

Magic Mike XXL trailerFEB 04

I liked Magic Mike and I hope this one is going to be as good, although no McConaughey hey hey girl, so I dunno.

And also, Soderbergh is not returning as director, although he is responsible for the movie's cinematography, editing, and even some camera operating.

How BuzzFeed won #TheDress sweepstakesFEB 27

The internet went crazy yesterday three separate times: when the FCC officially endorsed Net Neutrality, when two llamas escaped, and over the color of this dress.1 A solid three meme day. That scuffling sound you hear is the media scrambling to deliver all sorts of different takes on What It All Means™. The only one I really read, and the only one I'm going to link to, is Paul Ford on why Buzzfeed got 27 million pageviews for #TheDress2 and some other site didn't.

What I saw, as I looked through the voluminous BuzzFeed coverage of the dress, is an organization at the peak of a craft they've been honing since 2006. They are masters of the form they pioneered. If you think that's bullshit, that's fine -- I think most things are bullshit too. But they didn't just serendipitously figure out that blue dress. They created an organization that could identify that blue dress, document it, and capture the traffic. And the way they got that 25 million impressions, as far as I can tell from years of listening to their people, reading them, writing about them, and not working or writing for them, was something like: Build a happy-enough workplace where people could screw around and experiment with what works and doesn't, and pay everyone some money.

This is not said as an endorsement of BuzzFeed. BuzzFeed is utterly deserving of insanely paranoid criticism just like anyone who makes money from your attention, including me. But it's worth pointing out that their recipe for traffic seems to be: Hire tons of people; let them experiment, figure out how social media works, and repeat endlessly; with lots of snacks. Robots didn't make this happen. It was a hint of magic, and some science.

I'm reminded of a story about Picasso, possibly apocryphal:

Legend has it that Pablo Picasso was sketching in the park when a bold woman approached him.

"It's you -- Picasso, the great artist! Oh, you must sketch my portrait! I insist."

So Picasso agreed to sketch her. After studying her for a moment, he used a single pencil stroke to create her portrait. He handed the women his work of art.

"It's perfect!" she gushed. "You managed to capture my essence with one stroke, in one moment. Thank you! How much do I owe you?"

"Five thousand dollars," the artist replied.

"B-b-but, what?" the woman sputtered. "How could you want so much money for this picture? It only took you a second to draw it!"

To which Picasso responded, "Madame, it took me my entire life."

Similarly, designer Paula Scher took only a few seconds to come up with the new logo for Citibank for which Pentagram likely charged big money for:

How can it be that you talk to someone and it's done in a second? But it is done in a second. it's done in a second and in 34 years, and every experience and every movie and every thing of my life that's in my head.

Ford is exactly right about BuzzFeed; they put in the work for years so that a post that took probably 3 minutes to write captured more traffic in one day than some media outlets get in an entire month. (thx, @DigDoug & @jayfallon)

Update: A post from BuzzFeed's publisher, Dao Nguyen, explains how the company's tech team reacted to the unexpected traffic.

We have a bunch of things going for us at this point. We have heavily invested in infrastructure provisioning and scaling. We know exactly how to scale fast from running drills.

  1. Weirdly, I saw the dress as gold and a light blue. What a fucking cliche I am, needing to see even this dress as a different set of colors than anyone else.

  2. I don't think I'm betraying any confidences here in saying that BuzzFeed had to spin up a few extra servers to handle the intense burst of traffic from that post...everyone does it. That's right, dedicated #TheDress servers. Move over, Bieber.

Space ProbesFEB 20

Voyager 2

The Spaceprob.es site tracks the active probes in operation in and around our solar system, from Voyager I (19.56 billion km from Earth) to the Artemis probes (358,000 km away). (via @BadAstronomer)

Happy Presidents' DayFEB 16

On the intersection of Presidents' Day and Black History Month, Erica Armstrong Dunbar highlights an uncomfortable truth about George Washington: he was a proud and fervent slave owner.

During the president's two terms in office, the Washingtons relocated first to New York and then to Philadelphia. Although slavery had steadily declined in the North, the Washingtons decided that they could not live without it. Once settled in Philadelphia, Washington encountered his first roadblock to slave ownership in the region -- Pennsylvania's Gradual Abolition Act of 1780.

The act began dismantling slavery, eventually releasing people from bondage after their 28th birthdays. Under the law, any slave who entered Pennsylvania with an owner and lived in the state for longer than six months would be set free automatically. This presented a problem for the new president.

Washington developed a canny strategy that would protect his property and allow him to avoid public scrutiny. Every six months, the president's slaves would travel back to Mount Vernon or would journey with Mrs. Washington outside the boundaries of the state. In essence, the Washingtons reset the clock. The president was secretive when writing to his personal secretary Tobias Lear in 1791: "I request that these Sentiments and this advise may be known to none but yourself & Mrs. Washington."

(via mr)

The sounds of TarantinoFEB 18

A montage of hundreds of sounds from Quentin Tarantino's movies, from Zed drumming his fingers on top of the gimp's head in Pulp Fiction to the schiiiiing of The Bride's Hattori Hanzo sword in Kill Bill.

A murmuration of starlingsJAN 29

A flock of starlings is called a murmuration, an apt word because the flocks move like a rumor pulsing through a crowded room. This is a particularly beautiful murmuration observed in Utrecht, The Netherlands.

Philip Glass' soundtrack for Errol Morris' A Brief History of TimeFEB 23

Brief History Of Time Soundtrack

Philip Glass did the soundtrack for A Brief History of Time, Errol Morris' documentary on Stephen Hawking, but it was never released as an album. Until earlier this month. Huzzah! Appears to only be available on iTunes -- couldn't find it on Amazon, Rdio, or Spotify -- and I wish they'd done more with that cover. Bleh.

The DWR Champagne Chair ContestFEB 13

The winners have been announced in the 2015 edition of the always-charming DWR Champagne Chair Contest in which contestants compete to build the coolest little chairs using only a single champagne cork. The winner and the runner-up:

Champagne cork chair

Champagne cork chair

I actually like the second place chair more than the winner. You can check out all of the submissions to the contest on the main contest page, including this fantastic swiveling chair:

Champagne cork chair

(via @fromedome)

Handwriting robotsJAN 28

Clive Thompson writes about the newest innovation in junk mail marketing: handwriting robots. That's right, robots can write letters in longhand with real ballpoint pens and you can't really tell unless you know what to look for. Here's a demonstration:

But it turns out that marketers are working diligently to develop forms of mass-generated mail that appear to have been patiently and lovingly hand-written by actual humans. They're using handwriting robots that wield real pens on paper. These machines cost up to five figures, but produce letters that seem far more "human". (You can see one of the robots in action in the video adjacent.) This type of robot is likely what penned the address on the junk-mail envelope that fooled me. I saw ink on paper, subconsciously intuited that it had come from a human (because hey, no laser-printing!) and opened it.

Handwriting, it seems, is the next Turing Test.

There is also a company that provided handwritten letters for sale professionals and I don't know if that or the robot letters are more unusual.

Current paradoxes in cosmologyFEB 04

From the Physics arXiv Blog, a list of paradoxes in modern cosmological physics, i.e. areas where theory and observation disagree, sometimes by a whopping 120 orders of magnitude.

Perhaps the most dramatic, and potentially most important, of these paradoxes comes from the idea that the universe is expanding, one of the great successes of modern cosmology. It is based on a number of different observations.

The first is that other galaxies are all moving away from us. The evidence for this is that light from these galaxies is red-shifted. And the greater the distance, the bigger this red-shift.

Astrophysicists interpret this as evidence that more distant galaxies are travelling away from us more quickly. Indeed, the most recent evidence is that the expansion is accelerating.

What's curious about this expansion is that space, and the vacuum associated with it, must somehow be created in this process. And yet how this can occur is not at all clear. "The creation of space is a new cosmological phenomenon, which has not been tested yet in physical laboratory," says Baryshev.

What's more, there is an energy associated with any given volume of the universe. If that volume increases, the inescapable conclusion is that this energy must increase as well. And yet physicists generally think that energy creation is forbidden.

Baryshev quotes the British cosmologist, Ted Harrison, on this topic: "The conclusion, whether we like it or not, is obvious: energy in the universe is not conserved," says Harrison.

This is a problem that cosmologists are well aware of. And yet ask them about it and they shuffle their feet and stare at the ground. Clearly, any theorist who can solve this paradox will have a bright future in cosmology.

Luckily, these paradoxes are an opportunity to do some great science.

Climate change calculatorFEB 09

Brad Plumer of Vox plays around with the climate change Global Calculator and discovers, among other things, eating less beef and slowing the world's population growth would significantly slow global warming.

The IEA scenario I started with assumed that, by mid-century, the average person will be eating 2,330 calories per day, including 220 calories of meat. It also assumes we'll be eating more beef -- that is, about 25 percent of the world's meat will come from ruminants like cows, up from 22 percent today. Since cows produce a lot of methane, this is significant.

But what if we tweaked those assumptions? I told the calculator to assume that in 2050, the average person was only consuming 152 calories of meat per day -- which is the WHO's target for a healthy diet. I also assumed that the mix of meat stayed similar to what it was today -- marginally less beef, more chicken and pork.

The result? Global greenhouse-gas emissions dropped significantly. We're now on pace for around 2.5°C of global warming, give or take.

Ye olde hip hopMAR 04

There are only a dozen images so far, but this Tumblr comparing art from before the 16th century and contemporary images of hip hop is fantastic. My favorites:

Hip Hop Art

Hip Hop Art

The science of anti-vaccinationFEB 23

Host Hank Green of the SciShow looks at the anti-vaccination movement from a scientific perspective: why are US parents growing less likely to vaccinate their children?

In psychology, the search for these explanations is called "Explanatory Attribution" and different people have different "explanatory styles". Some people are more prone to blame themselves, while others search for an external event to blame. But one thing is clear: we are very bad at not blaming anything. It's not surprising that parents of children with autism, especially parents who notice a sudden loss of previous development, will search for a possible cause. And when the most significant recent event in the health of the child was a vaccination, as can be said for many moments in the life of a young American, we might identify that as a potential cause and deem that link worthy of further examination.

Now this, is completely logical. The problem is that over a dozen peer-reviewed papers have found no correlation between autism and the MMR vaccine, or any other vaccine for that matter. And yet, when you Google vaccines and autism, a fair number of the results claim that there is a link between the two, and that that link is being covered up either by the government or by big corporations. A parent, already experiencing frustration with the medical community's inability to tell them why this thing has happened to their child, will, on the internet, find a vibrant community of similarly frustrated people who share their values and experiences. These communities are full of anecdotes that draw connections between vaccines and autism. And so, unsurprisingly, some people become convinced that they have found the reason for their child's disability.

Once their mind has been made up, confirmation bias sets in. Confirmation bias is simply our tendency to more readily, and with less scrutiny, accept information, anecdotes, and world views that confirm our existing beliefs. And, again, it is a completely normal thing that every person does. Indeed, trying to convince someone that a previously held belief is incorrect has been proven to actually increase their affinity for that idea. And so a community is born, and the safety of vaccines is called into question. And once the procedure for getting a vaccine goes from the doctor telling you that it is now time for a vaccine -- and 99% of parents agreeing because that person went through medical school -- to it being a question to ponder, vaccination rates will go down.

Errol Morris interviewedMAR 03

As part of Errol Morris Week on Grantland1, Alex Pappademas did a great interview with Morris about his work. Morris has interviewed serial killers, Holocaust deniers, rapists, and the architect of the Vietnam War but said that the person that most challenged his capacity for empathy was Donald Rumsfeld.

He's confident right now! He doesn't have to wait 100 or 500 years. He doesn't care. I really care whether I'm right or wrong. I really do care. And probably for lots of reasons. I don't want to be seen as a dumbass, I don't want to be seen as someone who believes in something that's absolutely false, untrue, something that can't be substantiated, checked. I believe that there's some deep virtue in pursuing truth. Maybe it's the highest virtue. I believe that. Whether you can attain it or not, you can pursue it. It can be a goal. It can be a destination. I don't believe that's Donald Rumsfeld's goal. I believe that Robert S. McNamara really wanted to understand what he had done and why he had done it. You know, we remain a mystery to ourselves, among the many, many, many other mysteries there are. And McNamara's struggle with his own past -- I was deeply moved by it. I think he's a war criminal, I think he sees himself as a war criminal, but I like him.

Update: Another recent interview, by Brin-Jonathan Butler, is being offered as a .99 Kindle Single.

  1. Yeah cool guys, but it's always Errol Morris Week here at kottke.org.

The Infinite Hotel ParadoxFEB 19

In a lecture given in 1924, German mathematician David Hilbert introduced the idea of the paradox of the Grand Hotel, which might help you wrap your head around the concept of infinity. (Spoiler alert: it probably won't help...that's the paradox.) In his book One Two Three... Infinity, George Gamow describes Hilbert's paradox:

Let us imagine a hotel with a finite number of rooms, and assume that all the rooms are occupied. A new guest arrives and asks for a room. "Sorry," says the proprietor, "but all the rooms are occupied." Now let us imagine a hotel with an infinite number of rooms, and all the rooms are occupied. To this hotel, too, comes a new guest and asks for a room.

"But of course!" exclaims the proprietor, and he moves the person previously occupying room N1 into room N2, the person from room N2 into room N3, the person from room N3 into room N4, and so on.... And the new customer receives room N1, which became free as the result of these transpositions.

Let us imagine now a hotel with an infinite number of rooms, all taken up, and an infinite number of new guests who come in and ask for rooms.

"Certainly, gentlemen," says the proprietor, "just wait a minute."

He moves the occupant of N1 into N2, the occupant of N2 into N4, and occupant of N3 into N6, and so on, and so on...

Now all odd-numbered rooms became free and the infinite of new guests can easily be accommodated in them.

This TED video created by Jeff Dekofsky explains that there are similar strategies for finding space in such a hotel for infinite numbers of infinite groups of people and even infinite amounts of infinite numbers of infinite groups of people (and so on, and so on...) and is very much worth watching:

(via brain pickings)

The 75 best-edited movies of all timeFEB 09

From the Motion Picture Editors Guild, a list of the 75 best-edited movies of all time.

As for directors, Alfred Hitchcock is the most often cited, making the list 5 times (although not placing in the top 10), and spanning 3 decades. Right behind him are Steven Spielberg and Francis Ford Coppola, both of whom made the list 4 times. Like Hitchcock, Spielberg's pictures were released over 3 decades. Coppola's pictures, however, were all released in the 1970s - with 2 in 1974 (the only director with 2 films in a single year). All of his pictures placed in the top 22 films, with 3 of them in the top 11. At the other end of the continuum, there were 33 years between Terrence Malick's 2 films on the list.

Directors Stanley Kubrick and Martin Scorsese follow, with 3 films each making the cut. Tied with Malick for 2 pictures are Bob Fosse, William Friedkin, Akira Kurosawa, Christopher Nolan, Ridley Scott, Steven Soderbergh, Orson Welles and Bob Wise; all others received 1 mention.

The top ten:

1. "Raging Bull" (Thelma Schoonmaker, 1980)
2. "Citizen Kane" (Robert Wise, 1941)
3. "Apocalypse Now" (Lisa Fruchtman, Gerald B. Greenberg, Walter Murch, 1979)
4. "All That Jazz" (Alan Heim, 1979)
5. "Bonnie And Clyde" (Dede Allen, 1967)
6. "The Godfather" (William H. Reynolds, Peter Zinner, 1972)
7. "Lawrence of Arabia" (Anne V. Coates, 1962)
8. "Jaws" (Verna Fields, 1975)
9. "JFK" (Pietro Scalia, Joe Hutshing, 1991)
10. "The French Connection" (Gerald B. Greenberg, 1971)

You think of filmmaking as male dominated, but one thing I noticed about that top 10 right away: five women in the list, including three in the top five. (via hitfix)

Update: Women have been well-represented in film editing in part because the job began as menial labor.

For much of Hollywood history, there were virtually no filmmaking opportunities available to women other than screenwriting and acting -- with one major exception. Women have always been welcomed -- and in many quarters preferred by male directors -- as film editors, or "cutters," as they were originally known. In the early days, the job was regarded as menial labor, and it largely was. Cutters worked by hand, running film on reels with hand cranks and manually cutting and gluing together strips of it. (Moreover, they almost never received screen credit.) After the advent of the Moviola editing machine in 1924, the process became faster and easier, but was still tedious and low paying, which is why most cutters remained young, working-class women.

It was around this time that the job of cutting films became less about just maintaining proper continuity and more about being creative. The Russian films of Sergei Eisenstein introduced the concept of montage -- how "colliding" separate pieces of film together could advance a storyline and manipulate viewers' emotions -- and this approach became widely discussed and imitated the world over, not least of all by some of the more enterprising female cutters in America, some of whom, like Margaret Booth, began to experiment with leftover footage on the cutting room floor and proved to be quite inventive.

More on the early history here. (via @ironicsans)

A regular expression for finding prime numbersFEB 12

Given that there's so much mathematicians don't know about prime numbers, you might be surprised to learn that there's a very simple regular expression for detecting prime numbers:

/^1?$|^(11+?)\1+$/

If you've got access to Perl on the command line, try it out with some of these (just replace [number] with any integer):

perl -wle 'print "Prime" if (1 x shift) !~ /^1?$|^(11+?)\1+$/' [number]

An explanation is here which I admit I did not quite follow. A commenter at Hacker News adds a bit more context:

However while cute, it is very slow. It tries every possible factorization as a pattern match. When it succeeds, on a string of length n that means that n times it tries to match a string of length n against a specific pattern. This is O(n^2). Try it on primes like 35509, 195341, 526049 and 1030793 and you can observe the slowdown.

Unreal ParisJAN 28

Unreal Engine 4 is the latest edition of Epic Games' acclaimed gaming engine for creating realistic gaming worlds. UE4 and its predecessors power all sorts of games, from Gears of War to BioShock Infinite to iOS games. But level designer Dereau Benoit recently used UE4 to model a contemporary Parisian apartment and damn if it doesn't look 100% real. Take a look at this walkthrough:

This + Oculus Rift = pretty much the future. (via hn)

The sea of NYCFEB 18

NY Sea

Jeffrey Linn makes maps that show how extreme sea level increase will impact major cities around the globe. Recently he made a map of NYC showing what it would look like if sea levels rose by 100 feet, which is what would happen if a third of the world's ice sheets melted. So long, most of Manhattan and Brooklyn; hello Coral Gardens, Prospect Beach, and Sunset Island. Prints are available.

See also Linn's maps of a drowned London, the bay of LA, and islands of Seattle.

Ocean GravityFEB 05

Free diver Guillaume Néry looks like an astronaut floating around in space in this underwater video.

See also this surrealist free diving video and Néry's underwater base jump. (via ★interesting)

Stock OscarsFEB 19

From Dissolve, a video that recreates scenes from some Oscar winning movies using only stock footage.

The recreated movies include Gladiator, The Social Network, Jurassic Park, and 2001. See also their first effort at this sort of thing.

The Michael Jordan of ________FEB 13

Calling someone "the Michael Jordan of [whatever they're good at]" is a familiar journalistic trope. A team at the WSJ decided to search through the newspapers of the world for mentions of the Jordans and LeBrons of their professions.

Calling someone "the Michael Jordan of..." or, more recently, "the LeBron James of..." is a trope that acknowledges excellence in a way that everyone can understand. So with the NBA getting set to host its annual All-Star Game, the Wall Street Journal went on a hunt for all of the Michael Jordans and LeBron Jameses in newspapers around the world. We found thousands, including the Michael Jordan of bagpipers and private detectives, and the LeBron James of yodeling and midwives.

Some examples:

Jimmy McIntosh, the Scotsman who started Carnegie Mellon's bagpipe program, calls Gillies the Michael Jordan of piping.

We are the Michael Jordan of onion growers, Butch Peri said. "We started off as the smallest onion grower in the state of Nevada, and in 1999, we became the largest producer in the world of fresh market onions, the kind you buy in the grocery store."

If you were to convert him from his importance in science to the sports world, Charles Darwin would be the Wayne Gretzky or the Michael Jordan of biology, says Dr. Greg Bole, a bioscientist from the University of B.C. "He shaped the field."

With a medical cause ruled out, I was forced to accept reality... my son is just really good at screening things out. No, let me rephrase that. The boy is the LeBron James of selective hearing, the Michael Phelps of tuning me out. He's a best-in-class parental ignorer, and actually it would be kind of admirable... if it wasn't so infuriating.

This is surely the Tiger Woods of fun Friday links. (via @lauratitian)

Update: According to Google, describing people as "the Michael Jordan of ________" in books has been on the decline since 1999. (thx, david)

NYC in 1981, a most violent yearJAN 30

The producers of A Most Violent Year, one of the year's most acclaimed movies, are doing something interesting to promote their film. They're running a blog that posts all sorts of media and information about NYC in 1981, the year the film is set. Today, they released a short documentary that features interviews with some people who were scraping together lives in NYC circa 1981. It's worth watching:

Featuring Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa, performance artist and former Warhol Factory fixture Penny Arcade, actress Johnnie Mae, Harlem street-style legend Dapper Dan, auto body shop owner Nick Rosello, and trucking union rep Wayne Walsh.

The trailer for A Most Violent Year is here...I've heard good things about this one and hope to catch it soon.

The cast of SNL, rankedFEB 13

The SNL 40th Anniversary Special will air this Sunday. From Rolling Stone, a list of all of the regular cast members of SNL, ranked from worst to best. The worst is Robert Downey Jr. ("Making him unfunny stands as SNL's most towering achievement in terms of sucking") and the top 10 are:

10. Chevy Chase
9. Gilda Radner
8. Amy Poehler
7. Phil Hartman
6. Bill Murray
5. Dan Aykroyd
4. Mike Myers
3. Tina Fey
2. Eddie Murphy
1. John Belushi

I disagree with Norm MacDonald's placement near the bottom of the barrel...I always liked his stuff. And Dratch at #16? Was never a fan. Most of the original cast ranks too high...I would have preferred Eddie at #1 over Belushi. My favorites: Dana Carvey and Phil Hartman.

FYI, the guest list for the special is kind of incredible. So far, Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy, Alec Baldwin, Jerry Seinfeld, Jim Carrey, Kristen Wiig, Chevy Chase, Chris Rock, Dan Aykroyd, Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, and about 80 other bold-faced names (Hanks, Taylor Swift, Spielberg, etc.) are all scheduled to appear. (via digg)

Vintage weekly bus passesFEB 12

Milwaukee Bus Passes

Milwaukee Bus Passes

Milwaukee Bus Passes

A collection of weekly bus passes from Milwaukee, WI. Years covered are 1930-1979. Was there a new design every single week? (via @slowernet)

What are the Coen brothers trying to say?FEB 18

From Steven Benedict, a short video essay featuring the characters from different Coen brothers' films talking to each other. According to Benedict, the dialogue reveals three main themes of their movies.

While other essays have assembled several recurring visual tropes: elevators, dogs, dream sequences, bathrooms etc., this essay has the characters talk to one another across the films so we can more clearly hear the Coens' dominant concerns: identity, miscommunication and morality. Taken as a trinity, these elements indicate that the Coens' true subject is the search for value in a random and amoral universe.

(via @khoi)

Tutankhamun's unbroken rope sealMAR 02

King Tut Rope Seal

This is the rope seal securing the doors of Tutankhamun's tomb, unbroken for more than 3200 years until shortly after Harry Burton took this photo in 1923. A description from National Geographic:

Still intact in 1923 after 32 centuries, rope secures the doors to the second of four nested shrines in Tutankhamun's burial chamber. The necropolis seal -- depicting captives on their knees and Anubis, the jackal god of the dead -- remains unbroken, a sign that Tut's mummy lies undisturbed inside.

How did the rope last for so long? Rare Historical Photos explains:

Rope is one of the fundamental human technologies. Archaeologists have found two-ply ropes going back 28,000 years. Egyptians were the first documented civilization to use specialized tools to make rope. One key why the rope lasted so long wasn't the rope itself, it was the aridity of the air in the desert. It dries out and preserves things. Another key is oxygen deprivation. Tombs are sealed to the outside. Bacteria can break things down as long as they have oxygen, but then they effectively suffocate. It's not uncommon to find rope, wooden carvings, cloth, organic dyes, etc. in Egyptian pyramids and tombs that wouldn't have survived elsewhere in the world.

Wonderful owl portraitsJAN 30

Brad Wilson Owl

Brad Wilson Owl

Brad Wilson Owl

From the newly launched site for the National Audubon Society, some gorgeous photos of owls from Brad Wilson.

It's not easy to get owls to mug for the camera. Even in captivity the birds remain aloof, unruffled by the flash and unmoved by attempts to bribe them. Photographer Brad Wilson learned that lesson firsthand after trying to win over owls from the World Bird Sanctuary in St. Louis and The Wildlife Center near Espanola, New Mexico. He spent hours with each bird, trying to capture its direct gaze. "It's hard to get animals to look at you like humans do," he says. "That shot became my holy grail."

I've featured Wilson's animal photography on the site before. Tons more on his site.

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 many causes of America's decline in crimeFEB 12

There's been a decline in crime in America. On the surface, it may seem like that drop is due to the fact that we've locked up so many people. But a new report suggests otherwise. From The Atlantic: The many causes of America's decline in crime.

+ FiveThirtyEight: "Pick a stat, any stat. They all tell you the same thing: America is really good at putting people behind bars." (There are some mind-boggling numbers and charts in this piece.)

+ The Marshall Project: 10 (not entirely crazy) theories explaining the great crime decline.

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The Final Four of EverythingAPR 28

The Final Four of Everything

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

rating: 4.5 stars

The September IssueMAR 18

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

Eating peanuts prevents peanut allergiesFEB 24

The results of a major new trial, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, indicate that for children who are at risk of developing a peanut allergy, eating peanuts greatly reduces the chance of an allergy. This is pretty huge news.

All the babies were between 4 and 11 months old when they were enrolled, and all had either an egg allergy, severe eczema, or both-putting them at high risk of a peanut allergy down the road. Indeed, 98 of them were already heading in that direction: They tested positive for mild peanut sensitivity in a skin-prick test. This meant that these babies were already churning out antibodies to the peanut protein. Eating peanuts in the future could set off an allergic reaction.

The team divided the babies into two groups. Half were to avoid eating peanut products until they were 5 years old. The other half received at least 6 grams of peanut protein a week, spread across at least three meals, until they were 5 years old. Bamba was the preferred offering, though picky eaters who rejected it got smooth peanut butter.

Around the 5th birthdays of the trial subjects came the big test. The children consumed a larger peanut portion than they were used to in one sitting, and the results were clear-cut. Among 530 children who had had a negative skin-prick test when they were babies, 14% who avoided peanuts were allergic to them, compared with 2% of those who'd been eating them. In the even higher risk group, the children who were sensitized, 35% of the peanut-avoiders were allergic versus just over 10% of the peanut eaters.

Even if further studies confirm these results, will American parents start feeding their infants peanuts? I don't know...there are lots of similarities to vaccines in play here.

Update: Somewhat related: children in developed countries might be growing up too clean, making them more likely to develop allergies.

The findings are the latest to support the "hygiene hypothesis," a still-evolving proposition that's been gaining momentum in recent years. The hypothesis basically suggests that people in developed countries are growing up way too clean because of a variety of trends, including the use of hand sanitizers and detergents, and spending too little time around animals.

As a result, children don't tend to be exposed to as many bacteria and other microorganisms, and maybe that deprives their immune system of the chance to be trained to recognize microbial friend from foe.

That may make the immune system more likely to misfire and overreact in a way that leads to allergies, eczema and asthma, Hesselmar says.

(thx,paul)

Google's new officesMAR 02

The plans for Google's new offices in Mountain View blew me away. Not so much the reconfigurable office spaces1 but the greenhouse canopies. If those canopies actually work, they could result in a workspace that combines the best parts of being outdoors (the openness, the natural light & heat, greenery) with the benefits of working indoors (lack of wind & rain, moderate temperatures).

  1. I'm skeptical. Can spaces made for any purpose be right for any single purpose? Swiss Army knives aren't that great at slicing bread.

The Hungarian EuroFEB 20

For her master's project, Barbara Bernát designed a set of fictional banknotes: the Hungarian Euro.

Hungarian euro

I am a total sucker for banknote mockups and aside from the simplicity, what caught my eye about Bernát's project is the one security feature: if you look at the notes under a UV light, you see the skeletons of the animals depicted on the notes:

Hungarian Euro

(via @shaylamaddox)

Anthony Bourdain: Parts UnknownJAN 28

Parts Unknown

I've caught a couple of episodes of CNN's Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown and I've been impressed with the show so far. In it, chef/author Anthony Bourdain travels to places off the beaten path and explores the local culture. But it's not just about food and culture as with his previous shows. In Parts Unknown, Bourdain also delves into local politics and social issues. In Iran, he spoke with journalists about their tenuous relationship with the government (and two of the journalists he spoke with were subsequently arrested). Episodes in the Congo, Myanmar, and Libya are produced with a focus on their oppressive governments, past and present. Even in the Massachusetts episode, he talks about his former heroin addiction and the current addiction of poor whites in the US. Many of the places he visits, we only hear about the leadership and bad things that happen on the news, but Bourdain meets with the locals and finds more similarities amongst cultures than differences. I'd never considered going to visit someplace like Iran, but Parts Unknown has me considering it...what a great people.

Season four recently wrapped up and they're shooting season five now. The first three seasons are currently available on Netflix and all four seasons are on Amazon. (FYI to the web team at CNN: "Unknown" is misspelled in the <title> of that page.)

Audio landscapesFEB 05

Audio Landscape

Drag and drop an MP3 onto this page and soon you're flying over a 3D-rendered landscape made with Javascript that pulses in time to the music. (via prosthetic knowledge)

rating: 4.0 stars

AvatarDEC 29

One of the most difficult things to get right in movies about aliens or the future is matching the cultural and technological sophistication of a people with their environment and history. In Avatar, the Na'vi are portrayed as a Stone Age tribe, living in relatively small groups and essentially ignorant or uninterested in technology beyond simple knives and bows. But the Na'vi are also very physically capable, obviously very intelligent, aware of their global environment, well-nourished, healthy, omnivorous, adaptive, and even inventive. They have domesticated animals, are troubled by few serious natural predators, can live in different environments, have easy access to many varied natural resources (for sustenance and building/making), and can travel and therefore communicate over long distances (dozens if not hundreds of miles a day on their winged animals).

And most importantly, the Na'vi have regular and intimate access to a moon-sized supercomputer -- a neural net supercomputer at that -- that connects them to every other living thing on their world and have had such access for what could be millennia.

It just doesn't add up. The Na'vi are too capable and live in an environment that is far too pregnant with technological possibility to be stuck in the Stone Age. Plot-wise it's convenient for them to be the way they are, but the Na'vi really should have been more technologically advanced than the Earthlings, not only capable of easily repelling any attack from Captain Ironpants but able to keep the mining company from landing on the moon in the first place.

How YouTube changed the worldFEB 10

Burning a person alive is not a new act in warfare or intimidation. Far from it. So how did the gruesome burning of a Jordanian pilot become a incident that outraged the world and possibly altered a war? It was on video. Seeing a video changes everything. The existence of video footage can determine what leads the news, what drives public opinion, and what gets lodged in our memories. It can also determine who becomes a celebrity, who gets elected, which products we purchase, and confirm again and again the dominance of the once overlooked house-cat. Whoever controls the video controls the story. And since about 2005, the person who's controlled the video has been you. You, the cat owner. You, the aspiring singer. You, the citizen journalist. And yes, you the terror group determined to intimidate and remain at the forefront of a global conversation. From The Telegraph: How YouTube Changed the World.

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

The Real Don DraperFEB 27

Vice did a nice little feature on George Lois, the kind of 1960s big-egoed ad man on which Mad Men's Don Draper was based.

Lois created a number of iconic ad campaigns as well as dozens of fantastic Esquire covers. Or at least he says he did. ;) (via devour)

Update: Here's the transcript for the episode of This American Life in which Sarah Koenig interviews her father Julian Koenig about George Lois taking credit for some of his best ideas.

In my instance, the greatest predator of my work was my one-time partner George Lois, who is a most heralded and talented art director/designer, and his talent is only exceeded by his omnivorous ego. So where it once would've been accepted that the word would be "we" did it, regardless of who originated the work, the word "we" evaporated from George's vocabulary and it became "my."

Of course, Koenig also claims to have invented thumb wrestling and to have popularized shrimp in America, so... (via @kevinmeyers)

Serenading the cattleFEB 02

Watch as farmer Derek Klingenberg calls his cattle in by playing Lorde's Royals on his trombone.

I can't tell if this is the perfect Monday video or the perfect Friday video. Maybe I'll post it again on Friday and we'll compare. (via the esteemed surgeon and writer @atul_gawande)

Seagull contrailsFEB 12

Using a tiny bit of post-processing, the flight paths of seagulls become visible in this video:

See also the bird contrail videos by Dennis Hlynsky.

The reimprisonment of homosexuals in Germany after WWIIFEB 10

After the end of World War II in Europe, homosexual prisoners of liberated concentration camps were refused reparations and some were even thrown into jail without credit for their time served in the camps. From the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum:

After the war, homosexual concentration camp prisoners were not acknowledged as victims of Nazi persecution, and reparations were refused. Under the Allied Military Government of Germany, some homosexuals were forced to serve out their terms of imprisonment, regardless of the time spent in concentration camps. The 1935 version of Paragraph 175 remained in effect in the Federal Republic (West Germany) until 1969, so that well after liberation, homosexuals continued to fear arrest and incarceration.

After 1945, it was no longer a crime to be Jewish in Germany, but homosexuality was another matter. Paragraph 175 of the German Criminal Code had been on the books since 1871. An English translation of the earliest version read simply:

Unnatural fornication, whether between persons of the male sex or of humans with beasts, is to be punished by imprisonment; a sentence of loss of civil rights may also be passed.

In Germany, homosexuality was considered a crime worthy of up to five years of imprisonment until Paragraph 175 was voided in 1994.

Update: I missed this while writing the post: Paragraph 175 was amended in 1969 to limit enforcement to engaging in homosexual acts with minors (under 21 years). (thx, eric)

Daft Punk soundboardFEB 12

Daft Punk Soundboard

A keyboard-controlled soundboard for Daft Punk's Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger. See also the Beyonce Soundboardt. (via waxy)

The secret life of machinesFEB 06

From Tim Hunkin, The Secret Life of Machines is a series of drawings illustrating how everyday objects work, from fax machines to refrigerators to quartz watches.

Secret Life of Radio

Update: The drawings are nice, but Hunkin's real The Secret Life of Machines project is this series of videos, uploaded by some kind soul to YouTube:

(via @leftnotracks & john)

Finding Love After a Heart TransplantFEB 24

Kellan Roberts died suddenly at 22. He had decided to be an organ donor and his heart went to a high school student from Minnesota, Connor Rabinowitz. After receiving the heart, Connor visited Kellan's family in Seattle and met Kellan's sister Erin. After a few years, Erin and Connor, well, just watch...this is a wonderful story well told.

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.

Reef lifeFEB 23

A beautiful time lapse of colorful sea creatures going about their days.

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.

On sitting at the barFEB 11

David Chang is exactly right: when dining at a restaurant, often the best option is to sit at the bar.

When everyone's so close, it changes the dining experience. Out on the floor, you're a dickhead if you overhear a conversation and chime in. Not at the bar. You connect, trade stories, then trade bites. I've never shared as much food with strangers as I have at the bar. You meet great people that way -- you're part of this band of outsiders within the restaurant. And for me, that's the best possible dining experience of all.

I almost always eat at the bar at my regular place.

The latest anti-vaxxer crazinessJAN 30

Administrators at Palm Desert High School in California have banned 66 students who never got measles vaccinations.

"I think some parents see it as a personal choice, like homeschooling. But when you choose not to vaccinate, you're putting other children at risk." From WaPo: Why this baby's mom is so angry at the anti-vaxxers.

"I respect people's choices about what to do with their kids, but if someone's kid gets sick and gets my kid sick, too, that's a problem." A Marin County father has demanded that his district keep unvaccinated kids out of school.

Vox: How an Amish missionary caused 2014's massive measles outbreak.

Bonus tweet: "If my kid can't bring peanut butter to school, yours shouldn't be able to bring preventable diseases."

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

The origin of the Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures album cover artFEB 26

Joy Division Unknown Pleasures

For Scientific American, Jen Christiansen tracks down where the iconic image on the cover of Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures came from. Designer Peter Saville found the image, a stacked graph of successive radio signals from pulsar CP 1919, in a 1977 astronomy encyclopedia but it actually originated in a 1970 Ph.D. thesis.

By now I had also combed through early discovery articles in scientific journals and every book anthology on pulsars I could get my hands on to learn more about early pulsar visualizations. The more I learned, the more this descriptor in the 1971 Ostriker caption began to feel significant; "computer-generated illustration." The charts from Bell at Mullard were output in real time, using analogue plotting tools. A transition in technology from analogue to digital seemed to have been taking place between the discovery of pulsars in 1967 to the work being conducting at Arecibo in 1968 through the early 1970's. A cohort of doctoral students from Cornell University seemed to be embracing that shift, working on the cutting edge of digital analysis and pulsar data output. One PhD thesis title from that group in particular caught my attention, "Radio Observations of the Pulse Profiles and Dispersion Measures of Twelve Pulsars," by Harold D. Craft, Jr. (September 1970).

When a star gets old and fat, it explodes in a supernova, leaving a neutron star in its wake. Neutron stars are heavily magnetized and incredibly dense, approximately two times the mass of the Sun packed into an area the size of the borough of Queens. That's right around the density of an atomic nucleus, which isn't surprising given that neutron stars are mostly composed of neutrons. A teaspoon of neutron star would weigh billions of tons.

A pulsar is a neutron star that quickly rotates. As the star spins, electromagnetic beams are shot out of the magnetic poles, which sweep around in space like a lighthouse light. Pulsars can spin anywhere from once every few seconds to 700 times/second, with the surface speed approaching 1/4 of the speed of light. These successive waves of electromagnetic pulses, arriving every 1.34 seconds, are what's depicted in the stacked graph. Metaphorical meanings of its placement on the cover of a Joy Division record are left as an exercise to the reader.

The Katering ShowFEB 17

About a minute into The Katering Show, I already knew it was going to be my favorite cooking show of all time. In this episode, the toothsome twosome with the Beatlesesque names of McCartney and McLennan make risotto hot wet rice using a Thermomix.

So "what is a Thermomix?" I hear anyone under the age of 33 ask. It's a blender, a microwave, an ice bucket, and a set of kitchen scales. It's a gangbang of kitchen appliances that's created a futuristic robot saucepan. It's the kind of appliance that your rich mother-in-law gives you as a wedding gift because she doesn't think you can cook. Or something that you buy yourself because you've always wanted to join a cult, but you don't have the energy for the group sex.

(via digg)

Taylor Swift's Nine Inch NailsFEB 05

If you take the vocals from The Perfect Drug by Nine Inch Nails and match them to the beats from Taylor Swift's Shake It Off, you get this little bit of magic:

Update: I totally forgot I'd previously featured this awesomeness: NIN's Head Like a Hole vs. Carly Rae Jepsen's Call Me Maybe. Also of note: Mark Romanek directed the videos for Shake It Off and The Perfect Drug. (via ★interesting, @sarahmakespics, and mark)

The coming American megadrought of 2050FEB 13

Megadrought

A recent paper by three climate scientists concludes there's a high risk of an unprecedented drought in the Southwest and Midwest United States later this century, even if we manage to get our carbon emissions under control. The scientists say it'll be drier in the Western US than at any point in the past 1000 years.

In the Southwest and Central Plains of Western North America, climate change is expected to increase drought severity in the coming decades. These regions nevertheless experienced extended Medieval-era droughts that were more persistent than any historical event, providing crucial targets in the paleoclimate record for benchmarking the severity of future drought risks. We use an empirical drought reconstruction and three soil moisture metrics from 17 state-of-the-art general circulation models to show that these models project significantly drier conditions in the later half of the 21st century compared to the 20th century and earlier paleoclimatic intervals. This desiccation is consistent across most of the models and moisture balance variables, indicating a coherent and robust drying response to warming despite the diversity of models and metrics analyzed. Notably, future drought risk will likely exceed even the driest centuries of the Medieval Climate Anomaly (1100-1300 CE) in both moderate (RCP 4.5) and high (RCP 8.5) future emissions scenarios, leading to unprecedented drought conditions during the last millennium.

Eric Holthaus has the layperson's explanation of the study and its implications.

Smerdon's study is the first to examine the future risk of "megadrought" in the southwest and central United States in the context of historical episodes of drought in the same regions. Smerdon's study suggests that the coming years are likely to see droughts worse than the epic dry periods that are thought to have caused profound changes to human settlement in the region over the last millennium.

"They're 'mega' because they are droughts that lasted in these regions for multiple decades," said Smerdon in an interview with Slate. "We haven't seen anything like this since at least the 1400s." In comparison, the current California drought is four years old, though drought has been present in most of the last 15 years somewhere in the West.

Update: This NASA video provides a quick overview of this study and what it means for our climate.

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.

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