homeabout kottke.orgarchives + tagsmembership!
aboutarchives + tagsmembership!
aboutarchivesmembers!

Important victory for the kids suing the US over climate change

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 15, 2016

A group of children and young adults are suing the United States over climate change.

The young plaintiffs, who range in age from 9 to 20, allege that climate change violates their constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property by causing direct harm and destroying so-called public trust assets such as coastlines. The case argues that climate change is worsened by the aggregated actions of the federal government in permitting fossil fuel development, subsidizing the fossil fuel industry, and many other such actions. Further, the children and their lawyers say these government actions are willfully prioritizing short-term profit, convenience, and the concerns of current generations over those of future generations. The plaintiffs state that the government and these companies have continued to prioritize these short-term gains for more than five decades with full knowledge of the extreme dangers they posed.

Last week, federal district court judge Ann Aiken in Oregon ruled against the federal government’s motion to dismiss, an important hurdle to clear for the lawsuit to move forward. Aiken wrote:

I have no doubt that the right to a climate system capable of sustaining human life is fundamental to a free and ordered society. Just as marriage is the foundation of the family, a stable climate system is quite literally the foundation of society, without which there would be neither civilization nor progress. … To hold otherwise would be to say that the Constitution affords no protection against a government’s knowing decision to poison the air its citizens breathe or the water its citizens drink.

You can donate to their effort on their website.

We Work Remotely

kottke.org memberships

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 01, 2016

If you are a regular reader and appreciate what I do here, please support kottke.org by purchasing an annual membership. It only takes a minute (or about 20 seconds on iOS w/ Apple Pay) and your collective support will mean a lot to the future of kottke.org. This has been in the works for a while now and I have a lot to say about it, but go check it out first, subscribe, and then come back. I’ll wait.

All set? Ok. A couple of recent catalysts have set this into motion, but I’ve been thinking about it for the last few years. So here’s why I feel this is necessary now, in four interconnected main points.

Focus on dedicated readers. Anyone who relies on an audience of some kind — artists, writers, businesses, etc. — has to focus on serving regulars while keeping an eye on attracting new readers/customers/users. As much as I feel that everyone in the world would enjoy reading the world’s best blog — I mean, who wouldn’t? — it’s difficult for me to take time out from writing the site to reach out to potential new readers.1 I love being a regular myself and at this point in the site’s evolution, it makes sense to focus mostly on the people who read and love the site. Part of that focus is building up the financial link between us. In an ideal world: I write for you, you pay me, I write some more. No middlemen. I’m not sure that’s an entirely feasible arrangement at this point, but we can get part of the way there and work on the rest.

Revisiting an old idea. Some of you may remember that I’ve asked for support directly from readers before.2 A few months ago, I went out to lunch with Tim Urban from Wait But Why. We’d hardly said hello when he said something like “my goal for this lunch is by the end of the meal, you’ll agree to ask your readers to financially support kottke.org”. Tim was very clear that asking his readers for support on Patreon had been game-changing for his site. Project creators and potential backers have become comfortable with directly funding creative efforts online, particularly through Kickstarter & Patreon and I’m curious to see how it works for kottke.org in 2016.3

A changed media landscape. It’s been 11+ years since I quit my job to do kottke.org full-time. Online media has changed a lot since then. Hell, it’s changed a lot in the past few years. Blogs are dead — long live blogs! — and the open web is struggling. If you ask around to the creators of other established independent sites on the web (and I have talked to many of them), you’ll hear that traffic and display ad revenue have been falling for the last few years. Many factors have contributed — Facebook, readers switching to mobile, the rise of apps, social overtaking search for discovery, ad blockers, Google Reader’s shutdown, VC money flooding into online media — and smaller sites without dedicated content marketing and mobile/social development teams can’t keep up. Other strategies are necessary.

Diversification. The site currently has two main sources of revenue: advertising via The Deck & the We Work Remotely job board and affiliate income from Amazon & iTunes. In an effort to diversify revenue, I’ve tried several things — RSS sponsorships, sponsored posts for Kickstarter projects, consulting for startups, and speaking — and none of them have stuck. I’ve thought about writing a book, putting on a conference, or doing a podcast. But that all feels like it’s beside the point and not what I really want to do, which is just to write here, for you. A recent (hopefully temporary) hiccup in one of these revenue sources4 has driven home the need for not putting all my eggs in one basket. I would love for reader support to become a healthy third leg on the ol’ revenue stool.

I could go on — and in several previous drafts, boy, did I! — but here’s what it boils down to for me: I’m proud of what I’ve built here at kottke.org over the past 18 years and I’m committed to publishing here regularly and operating independently as long as I am able. Even though the site is primarily a one-person operation, I’ve never done it alone. You have always been an essential part of this site — providing me with feedback, counsel, encouragement, pushback, and many great links and ideas for posts — and I’d love your help in taking this next step. As always, thanks for reading and thanks for the support!

  1. I’ll let you in on a little secret: kottke.org is a secret. Oh, not to you, of course. But approximately no one in the world has ever heard of or read this website before. kottke.org also has this weird little problem that much bigger sites like Buzzfeed or Vox don’t have where readers assume that everyone else is reading the site and so they don’t share links or posts on Facebook or Twitter. I’ll see tweets like “I don’t usually post links to @kottke because everyone reads it, but…” It makes me tear my hair out because I can assure you from looking at my stats that is absolutely not the case. You’re not big sharers, I get it, but tweet out some links, tell a friend, etc. ♫Tomorrow there’ll be more of us!♫

  2. Back in 2005, when I first started working full-time on kottke.org, I launched a micropatron campaign that funded my activities on kottke.org for the first year and bootstrapped the site into a sustainable independent business.

  3. I’m a big believer in supporting the things you love and the people who do them. I’ve backed quite a few projects on Kickstarter, am currently supporting some of my favorite creators on Patreon (Eric Holthaus, Wait But Why, Kurzgesagt, The Nerdwriter, and Every Frame a Painting), give monthly to Wikipedia, and have previously backed Daring Fireball, Mlkshk, and probably a few others I’m forgetting.

  4. Guess which one! I’ll give you a hint: it rhymes with “bisplay madvertising”. Nothing gold can stay, folks.

Silence, a new film by Martin Scorsese

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 23, 2016

It’s been three years since The Wolf of Wall Street and Martin Scorsese is finally coming out with a new film. Based on the novel by Shusaku Endo, Silence is the story of a pair of Jesuit priests who travel to Japan in the 17th century to find a third priest and to convert the Japanese to Christianity. Adam Driver, Liam Neeson, and Andrew Garfield star.

Two years ago, Tony Zhou made an episode of Every Frame a Painting called Martin Scorsese - The Art of Silence.

Since Scorsese has been working on making Silence for over 20 years, Zhou’s video must have been a little wink to the director’s true fans.

AI Hemingway’s The Snows of Kilimanjaro

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 21, 2016

In the NY Times Magazine, Gideon Lewis-Kraus reports on Google’s improving artificial intelligence efforts. The Google Brain team (no, seriously that’s what the team is called) spent almost a year overhauling Google’s translate service, resulting in a startling improvement in the service.

The new incarnation, to the pleasant surprise of Google’s own engineers, had been completed in only nine months. The A.I. system had demonstrated overnight improvements roughly equal to the total gains the old one had accrued over its entire lifetime.

Just after the switchover, Japanese professor Jun Rekimoto noticed the improvement. He took a passage from Ernest Hemingway’s The Snows of Kilimanjaro, translated it into Japanese, and fed it back into Google Translate to get English back out. Here’s how Hemingway wrote it:

Kilimanjaro is a snow-covered mountain 19,710 feet high, and is said to be the highest mountain in Africa. Its western summit is called the Masai “Ngaje Ngai,” the House of God. Close to the western summit there is the dried and frozen carcass of a leopard. No one has explained what the leopard was seeking at that altitude.

And here’s the AI-powered translation:

Kilimanjaro is a mountain of 19,710 feet covered with snow and is said to be the highest mountain in Africa. The summit of the west is called “Ngaje Ngai” in Masai, the house of God. Near the top of the west there is a dry and frozen dead body of leopard. No one has ever explained what leopard wanted at that altitude.

Not bad, especially when you compare it to what the old version of Translate would have produced:

Kilimanjaro is 19,710 feet of the mountain covered with snow, and it is said that the highest mountain in Africa. Top of the west, “Ngaje Ngai” in the Maasai language, has been referred to as the house of God. The top close to the west, there is a dry, frozen carcass of a leopard. Whether the leopard had what the demand at that altitude, there is no that nobody explained.

The evolution of Disney animation, from Snow White to Zootopia

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 06, 2016

This video quickly sums up almost 80 years of Disney animated movies, from Snow White and Pinocchio to Big Hero 6 and Zootopia. It’s astonishing how good the animation was in the early days and then got less so until fairly recently.

Is liberal democracy in trouble? “Warning signs are flashing red.”

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 29, 2016

Political scientists Yascha Mounk and Roberto Stefan Foa have been doing research on the stability of contemporary liberal democracies, looking in particular at the assumption a country becomes a democracy, it will stay that way. Their conclusion? We may be in trouble: “liberal democracies around the world may be at serious risk of decline”.

But since 2005, Freedom House’s index has shown a decline in global freedom each year. Is that a statistical anomaly, a result of a few random events in a relatively short period of time? Or does it indicate a meaningful pattern?

Mr. Mounk and Mr. Foa developed a three-factor formula to answer that question. Mr. Mounk thinks of it as an early-warning system, and it works something like a medical test: a way to detect that a democracy is ill before it develops full-blown symptoms.

The first factor was public support: How important do citizens think it is for their country to remain democratic? The second was public openness to nondemocratic forms of government, such as military rule. And the third factor was whether “antisystem parties and movements” — political parties and other major players whose core message is that the current system is illegitimate — were gaining support.

Regarding that first factor, public support for democracy, their research indicates a worrying trend: younger people around the world think it’s less “essential” to live in a democracy.

Essential Democracy

Younger people would also be more in favor of military rule:

Support for autocratic alternatives is rising, too. Drawing on data from the European and World Values Surveys, the researchers found that the share of Americans who say that army rule would be a “good” or “very good” thing had risen to 1 in 6 in 2014, compared with 1 in 16 in 1995.

That trend is particularly strong among young people. For instance, in a previously published paper, the researchers calculated that 43 percent of older Americans believed it was illegitimate for the military to take over if the government were incompetent or failing to do its job, but only 19 percent of millennials agreed. The same generational divide showed up in Europe, where 53 percent of older people thought a military takeover would be illegitimate, while only 36 percent of millennials agreed.

What’s interesting is that Trump, who Mounk believes is a threat to liberal democracy in the US, drew his support from older Americans, which would seem to be a contradiction. It is also unclear if young people have always felt this way (i.e. do people appreciate democracy more as they get older?) or if this is a newly growing sentiment (i.e. people are now less appreciative of democracy, young people particularly so).

Something I think about often is cultural memory and how it shifts, seen most notably on kottke.org in my mild obsession with The Great Span. Back in July, writer John Scalzi tweeted:

Sometimes feels like a strong correlation between WWII passing from living memory, and autocracy seemingly getting more popular.

Scalzi is on to something here, I think. Those who fought in or lived through World War II are either dead or dying. Their children, the Baby Boomers, had a very different experience in hunky dory Leave It to Beaver postwar America.1 Anyone under 50 probably doesn’t remember anything significant about the Vietnam War and anyone under 35 didn’t really experience the Cold War.2 Couple that with an increasingly poor educational experience in many areas of the country and it seems as though Americans have forgotten how bad it was (Stalin, Hitler, the Holocaust, Vietnam, the Cold War) and take for granted the rights and protections that liberal democracy, despite its faults, offers its citizens. Shame on us if we throw all of that hard-fought progress away in exchange for — how did Franklin put it? — “a little temporary safety”.

Update: The graph above showing public support for democracy is misleading and overly dramatic. Looking at the average scores is more instructive for people’s feelings on democracy:

So where does this graph go wrong? It plots the percentage of people who answer 10, and it treats everyone else the same. The graph treats the people who place themselves at 1 as having the same commitment to democracy as those who answer 9. In reality, almost no one (less than 1 percent) said that democracy is “not at all important.”

Here’s a less misleading graph:

Essential Democracy

The kicker?

Vast majorities of younger people in the West still attach great importance to living in a democracy.

  1. Well, white male Baby Boomers did. Everyone else, less so.

  2. I remember the Cold War vividly — it’s why an increasingly autocratic Putin-led Russia scares the shit out of me — that feeling of ominous dread, day after day, that the world could end, actually end. I’ve only felt that way one other time in my life: in the months after 9/11. And that feeling passed after many months…the Cold War dread was constant for years.

The year in photos 2016

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 14, 2016

Photos of the Year 2016

Photos of the Year 2016

Photos of the Year 2016

Photos of the Year 2016

Photos of the Year 2016

Brexit, climate change, Trump, Syria, white nationalism, Turkey, racism and police violence, the Flint water crisis, natural disasters, terrorist attacks, drowned migrants. I was tempted to just post a photo of a burning dumpster or the this is fine dog and leave it at that. But professional photographers and the agencies & publications that employ them are essential in bearing witness to the atrocities and injustices and triumphs and breakthroughs of the world and helping us understand what’s happening out there. It’s worth seeking out what they saw this year.

Several sites, publications, and agencies have published lists of the best and most newsworthy photos of the year. Among them are In Focus’ Top 25 News Photos of 2016 as well as their three-part 2016: The Year in Photos (part 1, part 2, part 3), National Geographic’s The 52 Best Photographs of 2016, Time’s Top 100 Photos of the Year 2016, AFP’s Pictures of the Year (part 1, part 2, part 3), 2016: The Year in Photos from CNN, Pictures of the Year 2016 from Reuters, the AP’s Top Photos of 2016, some of the top images from the World Press Photo exhibition, which “highlights the best photojournalism of the year”, The Top Photos of 2016 from Maclean’s, and The Best Weird and Wonderful Photos of 2016 from totallycoolpix.com.

I’ve selected five of my favorite photos from these lists and included them above. From top to bottom, the photographers are Jonathan Bachman, Brent Stirton, Kai Pfaffenbach, Anuar Patjane Floriuk, and Mahmoud Raslan. The top photo, by Bachman, pictures the arrest of Ieshia Evans while protesting the death of Alton Sterling by the Baton Rouge police and is just flat-out amazing. In a piece for The Guardian, Evans wrote:

When the armored officers rushed at me, I had no fear. I wasn’t afraid. I was just wondering: “How do these people sleep at night?” Then they put me in a van and drove me away. Only hours later did someone explain that I was arrested for obstructing a highway.

There’s so much fear in that photo — institutional fear, racial fear, societal fear — but none of it is coming from Evans. Total hero.

Update: Buzzfeed shares The 46 Most Powerful Photos of 2016 and the BBC has the 15 finalists in the 2016 Art of Building architectural photography competition.

Update: The NY Times offers up The Year in Pictures 2016.

Update: From Artsy, The Most Powerful Moments of Photojournalism in 2016.

Update: World Press Photo announced the winners of their 2017 Photo Contest (of photos taken in 2016).

The most relaxing song in the world

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 15, 2016

According to a marketing study conducted by Dr. David Lewis-Hodgson, the most relaxing song in the world is Weightless, by ambient band Marconi Union. The song was produced by the band in collaboration with the British Academy of Sound Therapy.

The song makes use of many musical principles that have been shown to individually have a calming effect. By combining these elements in the way Marconi Union have has created the perfect relaxing song. The study found this to be the world’s most relaxing song. It contains a sustaining rhythm that starts at 60 beats per minute and gradually slows to around 50. While listening, your heart rate gradually comes to match that beat.

Many songs were tested and found to relax the participants, but Weightless stood out:

In fact, listening to that one song — “Weightless” — resulted in a striking 65 percent reduction in participants’ overall anxiety, and a 35 percent reduction in their usual physiological resting rates.

This is a “neuromarketing” study conducted on behalf of a company that makes bubble bath and shower gel so grain of salt and all that, but it is a remarkably relaxing song. Here’s a Spotify playlist of ten of the most relaxing songs from the study:

And right now I’m listening to this 10-hour version of Weightless on YouTube:

Awwwww. Much better than the Black Mirror music from this morning.

Beautiful time lapse of clouds, rain storms, and dust storms

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 01, 2016

Photographer and filmmaker Mike Olbinski shot 85,000 frames at 8K resolution to make this 7-minute time-lapse film of storms of all shapes and sizes doing their thing. Just slip on the headphones, put the video on fullscreen, and then sit back & watch. A tonic for these troubled times. (via slate)

Can hypothermia save lives in the trauma center?

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 22, 2016

Nicola Twilley reports on a relatively new technique being used in a Baltimore trauma center: freezing trauma victims to give the doctors working on them more time to save their lives.

When this patient loses his pulse, the attending surgeon will, as usual, crack his chest open and clamp the descending aorta. But then, instead of trying to coax the heart back into activity, the surgeon will start pumping the body full of ice-cold saline at a rate of at least a gallon a minute. Within twenty minutes (depending on the size of the patient, the number of wounds, and the amount of blood lost), the patient’s brain temperature, measured using a probe in the ear or nose, will sink to somewhere in the low fifties Fahrenheit.

At this point, the patient, his circulatory system filled with icy salt water, will have no blood, no pulse, and no brain activity. He will remain in this state of suspended animation for up to an hour, while surgeons locate the bullet holes or stab wounds and sew them up. Then, after as much as sixty minutes without a heartbeat or a breath, the patient will be resuscitated.

Brain damage is a risk — as is, you know, dying from hypothermia — but there are many instances of people surviving even after their hearts stop for an hour or two.

The Brilliant Life of Ada Lovelace

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 09, 2016

From Feminist Frequency, a quick video biography of Ada Lovelace, which talks about the importance of her contribution to computing.

A mathematical genius and pioneer of computer science, Ada Lovelace was not only the created the very first computer program in the mid-1800s but also foresaw the digital future more than a hundred years to come.

This is part of Feminist Frequency’s Ordinary Women series, which also covered women like Ida B. Wells and Emma Goldman.

Amazon Go is AWS for retail

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 22, 2016

Some interesting speculation from Evan Puschak on what Amazon is up to with Amazon Go. Basically, Puschak thinks Amazon Go is Amazon Web Services but for retail stores. In the same way that AWS provides hosting for sites like Netflix and Reddit, Amazon Go will provide patent-protected technology infrastructure for “self-shopping” supermarkets and retail stores. But it remains to be seen whether it’s more like their one-click patent, which was licensed by a few others (notably Apple) but everyone else was able to do without it.

The future of football

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 05, 2016

This conversation between Bill Simmons and Malcolm Gladwell about the current state of football and the NFL is quite good, even if you maybe don’t care about sports or aren’t currently watching football. Yes, it’s a sports bro and a nerd bro coming to terms with the fact that their favorite sport is a dumpster fire, but some of their points along the way are more widely applicable. Like Gladwell’s idea about second conversations:

There is now a second conversation about baseball — the Moneyball conversation — that is interesting even to people who don’t follow the first conversation, the one that takes place on the field. Same thing for basketball. There’s an obsessive first conversation about a beautiful game, and a great second conversation about how basketball has become a mixed-up culture of personality and celebrity. Boxing had a wonderful second conversation in its glory years: It was a metaphor of social mobility. Jack Dempsey, one of the most popular boxers of all time, dropped out of school before he even got to high school; Joe Louis’s family got chased out of Alabama by the Ku Klux Klan. That underlying narrative made what happened in the ring matter. When the second conversation about boxing became about people like Don King and the financial and physical exploitation of athletes, the sport became a circus.

So what’s the second conversation about football? It’s concussions. There’s the game on the field and then there’s a conversation off the field about why nobody wants their kids to play the game on the field. How does a sport survive in the long run when the second conversation contradicts the first?

And his assertion that the clarity and size of HD televisions have made the action on the screen too real:

In terms of how we watch football, high-definition television has clearly been a two-edged sword for the NFL, hasn’t it? It makes the drama of the game come alive, because we can now see the action in so much more detail. But it also means that when Luke Kuechly is writhing in pain on the ground, we can see every emotion on his face. That’s not a trivial matter. There’s a particular emotional expression that the psychologist Paul Ekman has labeled “Action Unit 1,” which is when your inner eyebrows rise up suddenly, like a drawbridge. It’s almost impossible to do that deliberately. (Try it sometime.) But virtually all human beings do Action Unit 1 involuntarily in the presence of emotional distress. Watch babies cry: Their inner eyebrows shoot up like they are on hydraulics. And when you see that expression appear on someone else’s face, that’s what triggers your own empathy.

The point is, in an age when this kind of intimate information about other people’s emotions is available to us when we’re watching TV in our living rooms, a game as violent and painful as football becomes really hard to watch. The first time I realized this was after a hit on Wes Welker in a Broncos playoff game, in the season when he had multiple concussions (2013). I had just bought a new big-screen TV, with an incredible picture, and when the camera zoomed in on Welker, I was so shaken that I had to turn off the game. I wonder how many other people did the same thing. So, yes, we really watch football differently now.

Interesting throughout, as they say. BTW, here’s Gladwell’s 2002 piece on Paul Ekman from the New Yorker.

Anthony Hopkins can still bring it

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 10, 2016

When Westworld started, I thought Hopkins’ character, park founder Robert Ford, was going to be a relatively minor player, an accomplished but past-prime actor popping up occasionally to function as a one-man chorus interpreting a tragedy for us. But as Evan Puschak shows in his breakdown of the Oscar winner’s performance in a single scene from Westworld, Hopkins is still near the height of his powers and Ford is at the center of the narrative. (Shout out as well to Jeffrey Wright and especially Thandie Newton, who along with Hopkins has been the stand-out performer so far.)

Don’t tell me what I already know

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 12, 2016

Director Steven Soderbergh is constantly looking for new ways to give his audience information about the story and the characters. It’s what makes his work seem fresher than that of some other directors, but sometimes the risk doesn’t pay off.

FWIW, I love the Julia Roberts playing Julia Roberts bit in Ocean’s 12. It’s a lookie loo with a bundle of joy, what more do you need?! (via film school rejects)

Richard Feynman’s sweet letter to his late wife Arline

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 07, 2016

At an event called Letters Live, actor Oscar Isaac read a letter that noted physicist Richard Feynman wrote to his wife Arline after her death at age 25 of tuberculosis. The letter remained unopened for more than 40 years until Feynman’s own death in 1988.

I find it hard to understand in my mind what it means to love you after you are dead - but I still want to comfort and take care of you — and I want you to love me and care for me. I want to have problems to discuss with you — I want to do little projects with you.

(via @DavidGrann)

The UI design of Rogue One

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 22, 2016

Rogue One UI

Rogue One UI

Rogue One UI

From design firm Blind Ltd, the user interface graphics they did for Rogue One. They had some graphics from the original Star Wars to play off of, but this is still really nice work. Blind also did onscreen interfaces for The Force Awakens, the Batman films, and some recent Bond films. (via @pieratt)

The seven stages of denial (that a robot will take your job)

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 04, 2017

From an excerpt of Kevin Kelly’s recent book, The Inevitable, a list of the Seven Stages of Robot Replacement:

1. A robot/computer cannot possibly do the tasks I do.

2. [Later.] OK, it can do a lot of those tasks, but it can’t do everything I do.

3. [Later.] OK, it can do everything I do, except it needs me when it breaks down, which is often.

4. [Later.] OK, it operates flawlessly on routine stuff, but I need to train it for new tasks.

5. [Later.] OK, OK, it can have my old boring job, because it’s obvious that was not a job that humans were meant to do.

6. [Later.] Wow, now that robots are doing my old job, my new job is much more interesting and pays more!

7. [Later.] I am so glad a robot/computer cannot possibly do what I do now.

[Repeat.]

I predict that getting to #6 will be challenging for many people.

The Pussy Project

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 02, 2016

Pussy Project

Photographer Helena Price, who you may recall from the Techies project earlier this year, has created a project called The Pussy Project about “women’s perspectives on the significance of this election and its ramifications on society.”. Photos of women are paired with each person’s thoughts on the election. Price explains how the project came about on Medium:

The name is a trigger for all of us. For many it represents the moment in the Trump campaign that incited so many women to finally get angry, get involved and speak out. That shift — the sudden activation of women across America to vocalize their feelings about this election — is what I set out to explore with this project.

Happy to see several women I know and admire interviewed for this…plus Jessica Hische did the logo and Maggie Mason edited the interviews.

How to be productive in terrible times

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 06, 2017

In Productivity in Terrible Times, Eileen Webb writes about the challenges of getting things done in the face of uncertain and worrisome times and offers some strategies that might help.

When your heart is worried for your Muslim friends, and deep in your bones you’re terrified about losing access to healthcare, it’s very hard to respond graciously to an email inquiring about the latest microsite analytics numbers. “THE WORLD IS BURNING. I will have those content model updates ready by Thursday. Sincerely, and with abject terror, Eileen.”

It is not tenable to quit my job and hie off to Planned Parenthood HQ and wait for them to make use of my superior content organizing skills. It is not a good idea for you to resign from stable work that supports your family and community because you’re no longer satisfied by SQL queries.

I don’t know about you, but I have been struggling mightily with this very thing. I’ve always had difficulty believing that the work I do here is in some way important to the world and since the election, that feeling has blossomed into a profound guilt-ridden anxiety monster. I mean, who in the actual fuck cares about the new Blade Runner movie or how stamps are designed (or Jesus, the blurry ham) when our government is poised for a turn towards corruption and authoritarianism?

I have come up with some reasons why my work here does matter, at least to me, but I’m not sure they’re good ones. In the meantime, I’m pressing on because my family and I rely on my efforts here and because I hope that in some small way my work, as Webb writes, “is capable of enabling righteous acts”.

Update: Meteorologist Eric Holthaus recently shared how he copes with working on climate change day after day.

I’m starting my 11th year working on climate change, including the last 4 in daily journalism. Today I went to see a counselor about it. I’m saying this b/c I know many ppl feel deep despair about climate, especially post-election. I struggle every day. You are not alone. There are days where I literally can’t work. I’ll read a story & shut down for rest of the day. Not much helps besides exercise & time. The counselor said: “Do what you can”, which I think is simple & powerful advice. I’m going to start working a lot more on mindfulness. Despair is natural when there’s objective evidence of a shared existential problem we’re not addressing adequately. You feel alone.

I also wanted to thank those who reached out on Twitter and email about this post…I really appreciate your thoughts. One reader sent along this passage from Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities:

The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space.

(thx, gil)

The ultimate Wes Anderson music playlist

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 14, 2016

Music is an essential aspect of Wes Anderson’s films. Michael Park has created a 9-hour playlist of music from Anderson’s movies, from Bottle Rocket (Artie Shaw & Chet Baker) to The Royal Tenenbaums (Elliott Smith & Nico) to Fantastic Mr. Fox (Burl Ives & The Rolling Stones) to The Grand Budapest Hotel (mostly by Alexandre Desplat).

The truth about the McDonald’s coffee lawsuit

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 20, 2016

You may have heard about the dumb old lady who was driving with a cup of McDonald’s coffee in her lap, spilled it, and then greedily sued McDonald’s, winning millions of dollars and setting off an epidemic of frivolous personal injury lawsuits that’s still alive and well today. Well, that’s not really what happened. Adam Conover explains what actually went down in this entertaining short video.

P.S. If you’re following along, what we have here is a video by CollegeHumor of a comedian debunking misinformation deliberately spread by a large multinational corporation (with publicly available sources!), packaged as a comedy bit but is every bit as informational as a piece in the Times or on Vox. If you’re being disingenuous, you might call this fake news. (See also Last Week Tonight, The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, etc.) (via subtraction)

Update: Hot Coffee is a feature-length documentary about the McDonald’s coffee case and tort reform in America. (via @aabhowell)

Update: Retro Report has a piece on the suit as well. (via @DavidGrann)

Order from Chaos, a mesmerizing video of emergence

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 03, 2017

French visual effects artist Maxime Causeret took a track from Max Cooper’s album Emergence and created these wonderful biologically inspired patterns and interactions.

Maxime also shows us a section of animated reaction-diffusion patterns, where simple chemical feedback mechanisms can yield complex flowing bands of colour — these forms of system were originally thought up by Alan Turing, and were part of the early seeds of the field of systems biology, which seeks to simulate life with computers, in order to better understand the systems producing the complexity we see in the living world. They were also the starting point of my main research area many years ago before I got lost in music! (where I began with the question of what patterns could be produced via reaction-diffusion forms of system as opposed to gene-regulatory network controlled patterning).

There’s a blue brain coral pattern at the 1:30 mark and a neuron-ish pattern at 2:30 that I wish would go on forever. Headphones recommended, psychoactive drugs optional. (via colossal)

Disney’s multiplane camera, an innovation in illusion

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 05, 2017

In a short film shot in 1957, Walt Disney described the multiplane camera, one of the many inventions and innovations his company had developed in order to produce more realistic and affecting animations. Instead of shooting single cels of animation on a single movable background, the multiplane camera could shoot several independently moving backgrounds, creating a sense of depth and perspective. A 1938 article in Popular Mechanics explained how the camera works.

Disney wanted to increase the eye value of the many paintings making up a picture by achieving a soft-focus effect on the backgrounds, illuminating the various levels of each scene individually, and separating” background from foreground, thus keeping background objects to their proper relative size.

His production crew labored for three years to perfect the novel picture-taking device to achieve these results. It consists of four vertical steel posts, each carrying a rack along which as many as eight carriages may be shifted both horizontally and vertically. On each carriage rides a frame containing a sheet of celluloid, on which is painted part of the action or background.

Resembling a printing press, the camera stands eleven feet tall and is six feet square. Made with almost micrometer precision, it permits the photographing of foreground and background cels accurately, even when the first is held firmly in place two feet from the lens and the lowest rests in its frame nine feet away. Where the script calls for the camera to “truck up” for a close-up, the lens actually remains stationary, while the various cels are moved upward. By this means, houses, trees, the moon, and any other background features, retain their relative sizes.

After being deployed on a short film as a test, the multiplane camera was used to film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the first feature-length animated film. In the chapter on “Illusion” in his newest book Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World, Steven Johnson writes that the use of the multiplane camera (along with other innovations in animation developed since the days of Steamboat Willie) had a profound effect on audiences.

All of these technical and procedural breakthroughs summed up to an artistic one: Snow White was the first animated film to feature both visual and emotional depth. It pulled at the heartstrings in a way that even live-action films had failed to do. This, more than anything, is why Snow White marks a milestone in the history of illusion. “No animated cartoon had ever looked like Snow White,” Disney’s biographer Neil Gabler writes, “and certainly none had packed its emotional wallop.” Before the film was shown to an audience, Disney and his team debated whether it might just be powerful enough to provoke tears — an implausible proposition given the shallow physical comedy that had governed every animated film to date. But when Snow White debuted at the Carthay Circle Theatre, near L.A.’s Hancock Park, on December 21, 1937, the celebrity audience was heard audibly sobbing during the final sequences where the dwarfs discover their poisoned princess and lay garlands of flowers on her. It was an experience that would be repeated a billion times over the decades to follow, but it happened there at the Carthay Circle first: a group of human beings gathered in a room and were moved to tears by hand-drawn static images flickering in the light.

In just nine years, Disney and his team had transformed a quaint illusion — the dancing mouse is whistling! — into an expressive form so vivid and realistic that it could bring people to tears. Disney and his team had created the ultimate illusion: fictional characters created by hand, etched onto celluloid, and projected at twenty-four frames per second, that were somehow so believably human that it was almost impossible not to feel empathy for them.

Interestingly, the multiplane camera also seems to be an instance of simultaneous invention (a concept also covered by Johnson in an earlier book, Where Good Ideas Come From). In addition to Disney’s multiplane camera, there were a few earlier earlier efforts and it’s unclear whether they were invented independently or how one inventor influenced another. But one thing is for certain: only Disney’s camera was deployed so skillfully and artfully that it changed cinema and our culture forever.1

  1. Without getting into it (too much), I can’t help thinking of Pixar’s push to make Toy Story. There’s always an emphasis on the technology with Pixar, but Lasseter and the rest of them were huge animation nerds…and Walt Disney nerds in particular. They were interested in telling stories and they believed, like Disney, that developing new technologies could help them do that more effectively. Toy Story was Pixar’s Snow White and their subsequent movies (Finding Nemo, Wall-E, Ratatouille) have shown how successful they were in telling affecting stories with 3D computer animation.

The Atlas of Design

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 21, 2016

Denali Map

The North American Cartographic Information Society has published the third volume of The Atlas of Design, a book consisting of “beautiful and inspiring maps from around the world”.

National Geographic took a look at some of the maps included in the book.

The striking panorama above of Denali and the Alaska Range was created by draping satellite imagery over a three-dimensional model of the terrain. Brooke Marston, a cartographer at the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, was inspired by the Austrian artist Heinrich Berann, who is famed for his beautiful panoramas of mountain ranges.

While Berann took some artistic license with the precise location and positioning of mountains in his panoramas, Marston’s map is true to the geography. The oblique, bird’s-eye view emphasizes the sheer size of the mountains while maintaining a closeness with the viewer. “Good oblique mapping can transport the viewer straight into the landscape,” Elmer says. “This map makes me feel lost among the jagged, cold, majestic mountains just looking at it.”

Advice from burglars to homeowners

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 11, 2016

Burglar Letter

A local TV station in Portland, OR wrote letters to dozens of convicted burglars and asked them for details about how they broke in, what they were looking for, etc. in order to give homeowners some suggestions on how avoid being robbed.

7. Did you typically knock on the front door before breaking into a home?

Yes. All of the inmates who responded said they would knock on the front door before breaking in.

8. If someone answered the door, what would you do or say?

“Act like I was lost or looking for a friend.”

“I would approach the resident as though they had posted an ad on Craigslist.”

“Say wrong house, sorry and thank you.”

“Ask if they’d seen my dog and leave.”

“Sometimes I would wear nice clothing and print a questionnaire off the Internet and carry a clipboard and see if they could spare a moment for an anonymous survey.”

Possibly relevant note: all this information is from people who got caught burgling, so, you know, grain of salt.

The Aberdeen Bestiary, a gorgeous medieval illuminated manuscript

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 17, 2016

Aberdeen Bestiary

Aberdeen Bestiary

Aberdeen Bestiary

A bestiary was a type of book popular in the Middle Ages, featuring descriptions of animals accompanied by moral lessons. The Aberdeen Bestiary is a particularly fine example of a 12th century bestiary.

The Aberdeen Bestiary (Aberdeen University Library MS 24) is considered to be one of the best examples of its type due to its lavish and costly illuminations. The manuscript, written and illuminated in England around 1200, is of added interest since it contains notes, sketches and other evidence of the way it was designed and executed.

Thanks to the work of the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, where the book has been housed since the 1620s, a high-resolution copy of the book is available to browse online. The level of detail at full magnification is incredible. The text accompanying the top image of a panther is translated as:

There is an animal called the panther, multi-coloured, very beautiful and extremely gentle. Physiologus says of it, that it has only the dragon as an enemy. When it has fed and is full, it hides in its den and sleeps. After three days it awakes from its sleep and gives a great roar, and from its mouth comes a very sweet odour, as if it were a mixture of every perfume. When other animals hear its voice, they follow wherever it goes, because of the sweetness of its scent. Only the dragon, hearing its voice, is seized by fear and flees into the caves beneath the earth. There, unable to bear the scent, it grows numbed within itself and remains motionless, as if dead. Thus our Lord Jesus Christ, the true panther, descending from Heaven, snatched us from the power of the devil. And, through his incarnation, he united us to him as sons, taking everything, and ‘leading captivity captive, gave gifts to men’ (Ephesians, 4:8). The fact that the panther is a multi-coloured animal, signifies Christ, who is as Solomon said the wisdom of God the Father, an understanding spirit, a unique spirit, manifold, true, agreeable, fitting, compassionate, strong, steadfast, serene, all-powerful, all-seeing.

Jesus, the true panther. (via hyperallergic)

Discovery of a pre-Columbian “Stonehenge” in Brazil

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 15, 2016

Research on an arrangement of massive granite blocks in the Brazilian Amazon has indicated that they were used as an astronomical observatory about 1000 years ago.

After conducting radiocarbon testing and carrying out measurements during the winter solstice, scholars in the field of archaeoastronomy determined that an indigenous culture arranged the megaliths into an astronomical observatory about 1,000 years ago, or five centuries before the European conquest of the Americas began.

Their findings, along with other archaeological discoveries in Brazil in recent years — including giant land carvings, remains of fortified settlements and even complex road networks — are upending earlier views of archaeologists who argued that the Amazon had been relatively untouched by humans except for small, nomadic tribes.

I still remember reading Charles Mann’s piece in 2002 about the mounting evidence against the idea of a largely wild and pristine pair of continents civilized and tamed by Europeans.

Erickson and Balée belong to a cohort of scholars that has radically challenged conventional notions of what the Western Hemisphere was like before Columbus. When I went to high school, in the 1970s, I was taught that Indians came to the Americas across the Bering Strait about 12,000 years ago, that they lived for the most part in small, isolated groups, and that they had so little impact on their environment that even after millennia of habitation it remained mostly wilderness. My son picked up the same ideas at his schools. One way to summarize the views of people like Erickson and Balée would be to say that in their opinion this picture of Indian life is wrong in almost every aspect. Indians were here far longer than previously thought, these researchers believe, and in much greater numbers. And they were so successful at imposing their will on the landscape that in 1492 Columbus set foot in a hemisphere thoroughly dominated by humankind.

That article turned into 1491, which remains one of my favorite books.

See also Ars Technica’s recent piece Finding North America’s lost medieval city.

Google Earth Timelapse

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 01, 2016

Google has updated their Timelapse feature on Google Earth, allowing you to scrub satellite imagery from all over the globe back in forth in time.

This interactive experience enabled people to explore these changes like never before — to watch the sprouting of Dubai’s artificial Palm Islands, the retreat of Alaska’s Columbia Glacier, and the impressive urban expansion of Las Vegas, Nevada. Today, we’re making our largest update to Timelapse yet, with four additional years of imagery, petabytes of new data, and a sharper view of the Earth from 1984 to 2016.

A good way to experience some of the most compelling locations is through the YouTube playlist embedded above…just let it run for a few minutes. Some favorite videos are the circular farmland in Al Jowf, Saudi Arabia, the disappearing Aral Sea, the erosion of the Breton National Wildlife Refuge in Louisiana, the urban growth of Chongqing, China, the alarmingly quick retreat of Alaska’s Columbia Glacier, and this meandering river in Tibet.

Things you notice when you quit the news

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 13, 2016

David Cain quit following the news many years ago — “I’m mostly talking about following TV and internet newscasts here” — and noticed several benefits.

A common symptom of quitting the news is an improvement in mood. News junkies will say it’s because you’ve stuck your head in the sand.

But that assumes the news is the equivalent of having your head out in the fresh, clear air. They don’t realize that what you can glean about the world from the news isn’t even close to a representative sample of what is happening in the world.

The news isn’t interested in creating an accurate sample. They select for what’s 1) unusual, 2) awful, and 3) probably going to be popular. So the idea that you can get a meaningful sense of the “state of the world” by watching the news is absurd.

Their selections exploit our negativity bias. We’ve evolved to pay more attention to what’s scary and infuriating, but that doesn’t mean every instance of fear or anger is useful. Once you’ve quit watching, it becomes obvious that it is a primary aim of news reports-not an incidental side-effect-to agitate and dismay the viewer.

What appears on the news is not “The conscientious person’s portfolio of concerns”. What appears is whatever sells, and what sells is fear, and contempt for other groups of people.

Curate your own portfolio. You can get better information about the world from deeper sources, who took more than a half-day to put it together.

I watch and read plenty about current events, but the last time I “followed the news” was probably in high school. 95% of it is gossip & soap opera and the 5% that isn’t, you can get elsewhere, better.

The serial killer who won The Dating Game

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 03, 2016

Rodney Alcala, who was convicted of killing seven women between 1971 and 1979 and possibly murdered many more, took time out during his killing spree to appear on The Dating Game. At the time, he was a convicted child molestor. The Bachelorette picked him over the other two contestants.

The Bachelorette, Cheryl, doesn’t pick up on any of this. In fact, she ends up choosing Alcala over the other two contestants despite his lackluster answers like, “Nighttime is the best time,” and “I’m a banana… peel me.” However, she cut things off immediately after their one date, claiming that she found him “creepy.”

Imagine if that happened today…the lawsuits and outcry would have shut the show down immediately.

The best media corrections of 2016

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 20, 2016

The annual list of media errors and corrections by Poynter is always worth a read. Some favorites:

Because of an editing error, an article on Monday about a theological battle being fought by Muslim imams and scholars in the West against the Islamic State misstated the Snapchat handle used by Suhaib Webb, one of Muslim leaders speaking out. It is imamsuhaibwebb, not Pimpin4Paradise786.

No wonder people think the NY Times is untrustworthy. Another from the Times:

An article on March 20 about wave piloting in the Marshall Islands misstated the number of possible paths that could be navigated without instruments among the 34 islands and atolls of the Marshall Islands. It is 561, not a trillion trillion.

This one was only slightly wrong:

CORRECTION: Boris Johnson’s award-winning limerick about the Turkish president referred to Erdogan as a wanker who performed a sex act with a goat. A previous version of this article included the prompt for the poetry contest, which included a different sex act, also with a goat.

When in doubt, blame technology:

Correction at 9:58 a.m. on 3/09/2016: Due to an oversight involving a haphazardly-installed Chrome extension during the editing process, the name Donald Trump was erroneously replaced with the phrase “Someone With Tiny Hands” when this story originally published.

The absolutely nutso Quintuple Anvil Triathlon

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 02, 2016

The competitors in standard course triathlons, which is the format used for the Olympics, have to swim nearly a mile, bike 25 miles, and run 6.2 miles. The men’s gold medalist at the 2016 Olympics finished with a time of 1 hour 45 minutes. The Ironman triathlon is much longer: a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride, and then you run an entire marathon (26.2 miles); the current world record for this distance is 7 hours 35 minutes.

The Quintuple Anvil Triathlon is five Ironman triathlons in five days, i.e. your basic total insanity.

Crushed by exhaustion, you may dream of a competitor’s head morphing into a Pokémon-like demon — and then open your eyes and still see it. The next day you will quit the race.

To fill your queasy stomach during your third 112-mile bike ride, you will discover the best way to eat a sausage-and-egg sandwich: shove it in your mouth and let it slowly dissolve.

After 500 miles on a bike, 10 in the water and more than 100 on foot, it will make perfect sense to grab a branch and a broomstick in a desperate bid to propel yourself — like a giant mutant insect — the last 31 miles. It will not be enough. You will collapse on the road.

Seasick, miles into the swim, you will vomit. Twice.

Neck cramps will attack so fiercely on the bike that your head will slump. You will go cross-eyed and nearly crash.

This reminds me of one of my favorite things I’ve ever posted, this story about ultra-endurance cyclist Jure Robic.

For one thing, Jure Robic sleeps 90 minutes or less a day when competing in ultracycling events lasting a week or more…and goes crazy, like actually insane, during the races because of it. Because he’s insane, his support crew makes all the decisions for him, an arrangement that allows Robic’s body to keep going even though his mind would have told him to quit long ago.

I’m also reminded of Ben Saunders and Tarka L’Herpiniere skiing/walking to the South Pole and back, covering a distance of 1795 miles in 105 days. That’s 17 miles a day for more than three straight months. And just this morning, I was thinking my chair was a little uncomfortable.

Update: So get this: the the Quintuple Anvil Triathlon is a mere trifle compared to the Triple DECA Iron in which competitors do an Ironman triathlon every day for 30 days. ASDFADASGRETHRYJH!!! I cannot even start to think about beginning to even with this. (via @ben_lings)

The Future of Cities

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 16, 2016

Collaborating with a number of different people from all over the place, filmmaker Oscar Boyson went out into the world and came back with this excellent 18-minute video on the future of cities. Among the cities profiles are Shenzhen, Detroit, Singapore, NYC, Copenhagen, Seoul, Lagos, and Mumbai.

What does “the future of cities” mean? To much of the developing world, it might be as simple as aspiring to having your own toilet, rather than sharing one with over 100 people. To a family in Detroit, it could mean having non-toxic drinking water. For planners and mayors, it’s about a lot of things — sustainability, economy, inclusivity, and resilience. Most of us can hope we can spend a little less time on our commutes to work and a little more time with our families. For a rich white dude up in a 50th floor penthouse, “the future of cities” might mean zipping around in a flying car while a robot jerks you off and a drone delivers your pizza. For many companies, the future of cities is simply about business and money, presented to us as buzzwords like “smart city” and “the city of tomorrow.”

A few tidbits from the video to whet your appetite:

And boy, listening to Janette Sadik-Khan talk about cities being for people and the importance of public transportation and then, directly after, having to listen to some dipshit from Uber was tough. (via @mathowie)

Photographic reunions

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 16, 2016

Chris Porsz

Chris Porsz

Photographer Chris Porsz has been taking candid photos of people on the streets of the English city of Peterborough since the 1970s. Recently, he tracked down a bunch of his subjects — many of them strangers — to recreate photos taken decades before, often in the same location. See also The Up Series, I should think.

You can order a book of the photographs directly from Porsz’s website.

Hamilton/Beyonce mashup

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 28, 2016

A singing group delivers a tight six-minute mashup of songs by Beyonce and the hit Broadway show Hamilton. It starts a bit slow but gets better as it goes along.

Amazon Go and “Just Walk Out” shopping

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 05, 2016

Amazon Go grocery stores will let you walk in by swiping an app, grab whatever you need, and just walk right out the door again.

Our checkout-free shopping experience is made possible by the same types of technologies used in self-driving cars: computer vision, sensor fusion, and deep learning. Our Just Walk Out technology automatically detects when products are taken from or returned to the shelves and keeps track of them in a virtual cart. When you’re done shopping, you can just leave the store. Shortly after, we’ll charge your Amazon account and send you a receipt.

I guess that makes these self-shopping stores? Lame jokes aside, this is a pretty cool idea. Not entirely revolutionary though…Apple’s EasyPay service has allowed shoppers to self-checkout with the Apple Store app since 2011. I used the self-checkout at an Apple Store once and it felt *really* weird, like I was shoplifting. New commercial transactions are always tricky. Things like one-click ordering, contactless payments (e.g. Apple Pay), and Uber-style payments feel strange at first, but you get used to them after awhile. Something like Square’s odd “put it on Jack” system — where instead of swiping a card or scanning a QR code on an app, you need to negotiate with a person about who you are — don’t catch on. It’ll be interesting to see where something like Amazon Go falls on that spectrum.

Update: This is an IBM commercial from the 90s that showed Just Walk Out shopping.

(via @stiegjon)

Feathered dinosaur tail trapped in amber

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 09, 2016

Dino Amber

Paleontologist Lida Xing found the feathered tail of a tiny dinosaur trapped in a piece of amber for sale at a market in Myanmar.

As soon as Xing saw it, he knew it wasn’t a plant. It was the delicate, feathered tail of a tiny dinosaur.

“I have studied paleontology for more than 10 years and have been interested in dinosaurs for more than 30 years. But I never expected we could find a dinosaur in amber. This may be the coolest find in my life,” says Xing, a paleontologist at China University of Geosciences in Beijing. “The feathers on the tail are so dense and regular, this is really wonderful.”

LightMasonry

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 07, 2016

Lightmasonry

LightMasonry is a light installation by Jason Bruges Studio in York Minster, one of the largest cathedrals in Europe. The Creators Project profiled the installation recently.

LightMasonry by Jason Bruges Studio recently paid homage to the work of the highly skilled masons and carvers using beams of choreographed light.

The beams seek out and outline the vaults of the huge space using a custom system of 48 computer-controlled lights. Designer Adam Heslop, who helped visualize the performance, said it required the studio to develop a whole range of new techniques.

This would be something to see and/or rave to in person. (thx, peter)

The Children’s Holocaust Memorial

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 19, 2016

Childrens Holocaust Memorial

The small town of Whitwell, Tennessee is home to The Children’s Holocaust Memorial. The memorial consists of eleven million paperclips, one for each Holocaust victim, housed in a German boxcar that was used to transport victims to camps. The project began when local middle school students studying the Holocaust had trouble imagining the enormity of the number of people who died.

In 1998, Principal Linda Hooper wanted to begin a project that would teach the students of Whitwell Middle School about the importance of tolerating and respecting different cultures. Mrs. Hooper sent David Smith, 8th grade history teacher and assistant principal to a teacher-training course in Chattanooga.

He returned and suggested an after school course that would study the Holocaust. Eighth grade Language Arts teacher Sandra Roberts held the first session in October of 1998. As the study progressed, the sheer number of Jews exterminated by the Nazis overwhelmed the students. Six million was a number that they could not grasp.

The school group decided to start collecting paper clips as a way to help students visualize that number. After the students wrote letters requesting people send them paper clips, donations poured in from around the country. In 2004, a documentary about the memorial was released. At the entrance to the car, there’s a sign that reads:

As you enter this car, we ask that you pause and reflect on the evil of intolerance and hatred.

I’ve never been to the Children’s Holocaust Memorial, but I once had the opportunity to stand in a German boxcar used to transport Holocaust victims and I will never ever forget it. (thx, jim)

Black Mirror soundtracks

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 15, 2016

Perhaps listening to the pulsing, creepy, and foreboding music from Black Mirror is too much at a time like this, but in case you’d really like to wallow, there are several albums of music from the show available on Spotify: Be Right Back, White Bear, White Christmas, Nosedive, and Men Against Fire. I’ve added all five albums to this Black Mirror playlist.

I hadn’t realized while watching, but the show used some top-shelf composers for the music, including Clint Mansell, Max Richter, and Geoff Barrow & Ben Salisbury (who did the Ex Machina soundtrack).

Black Mirror creator Charlie Brooker also put together a playlist of 80s music from the stand-out episode of season 3, San Junipero.

The playlist includes “tracks from the episode, tracks which didn’t make it in (for rights/other reasons)…and a couple which inspired elements of the story”.

Is this ham blurry or in focus?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 06, 2017

Blurry Ham

Is this a blurry photo of some sliced ham? Or is the ham perfectly in focus? This is a gnarly optical illusion, that’s for sure. Even when I force myself to realize the photo is in focus, that ham still looks blurry. (via digg)

The best maps of 2016

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 21, 2016

Map Anton Thomas

Map Eleanor Lutz

From National Geographic, a list of the best maps produced (or made publicly available) in 2016, including a few I’ve featured on this little site you’re reading.

The two images included above are from a handdrawn map of North America by Anton Thomas and Eleanor Lutz’s Medieval Map of Mars.

Parking lot tree

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 02, 2016

Parking Lot Tree

The tire tracks in this parking lot make a tree pattern in the snow, a self-producing infographic of the cars’ collective pathway to their parking spaces. It’s fun to trace individual tracks — I’m fascinated by the one that comes in, starts right, turns back to the left, then heads back down before turning toward the left again into a space.

The photo was taken in a Shell Centre parking lot near Waterloo Station in 1963. Photographer unknown. (via @robnitm)

Update: Nicholas Felton shared an annotated single-car version of a car’s tracks in the snow.

Update: A reader randomly picked up a copy of a book recently called The World From Above, “a pretty brilliant collection of aerial photographs, mostly black and white, published in the mid 60’s” and the parking lot photo was in it. No photographer listed, but the photo is credited to dpa, the German Press Agency. (thx, david)

The 14 Features of Eternal Fascism

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 16, 2016

In 1995, Italian novelist and philosopher Umberto Eco wrote a piece for The New York Review of Books on fascism.1 As part of the article, Eco listed 14 features of what he called Ur-Fascism or Eternal Fascism. He began the list with this caveat:

These features cannot be organized into a system; many of them contradict each other, and are also typical of other kinds of despotism or fanaticism. But it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it.

Here’s an abbreviated version of Eco’s list:

1. The cult of tradition. “One has only to look at the syllabus of every fascist movement to find the major traditionalist thinkers. The Nazi gnosis was nourished by traditionalist, syncretistic, occult elements.”

2. The rejection of modernism. “The Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, is seen as the beginning of modern depravity. In this sense Ur-Fascism can be defined as irrationalism.”

3. The cult of action for action’s sake. “Action being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, any previous reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation.”

4. Disagreement is treason. “The critical spirit makes distinctions, and to distinguish is a sign of modernism. In modern culture the scientific community praises disagreement as a way to improve knowledge.”

5. Fear of difference. “The first appeal of a fascist or prematurely fascist movement is an appeal against the intruders. Thus Ur-Fascism is racist by definition.”

6. Appeal to social frustration. “One of the most typical features of the historical fascism was the appeal to a frustrated middle class, a class suffering from an economic crisis or feelings of political humiliation, and frightened by the pressure of lower social groups.”

7. The obsession with a plot. “The followers must feel besieged. The easiest way to solve the plot is the appeal to xenophobia.”

8. The humiliation by the wealth and force of their enemies. “By a continuous shifting of rhetorical focus, the enemies are at the same time too strong and too weak.”

9. Pacifism is trafficking with the enemy. “For Ur-Fascism there is no struggle for life but, rather, life is lived for struggle.”

10. Contempt for the weak. “Elitism is a typical aspect of any reactionary ideology.”

11. Everybody is educated to become a hero. “In Ur-Fascist ideology, heroism is the norm. This cult of heroism is strictly linked with the cult of death.”

12. Machismo and weaponry. “Machismo implies both disdain for women and intolerance and condemnation of nonstandard sexual habits, from chastity to homosexuality.”

13. Selective populism. “There is in our future a TV or Internet populism, in which the emotional response of a selected group of citizens can be presented and accepted as the Voice of the People.”

14. Ur-Fascism speaks Newspeak. “All the Nazi or Fascist schoolbooks made use of an impoverished vocabulary, and an elementary syntax, in order to limit the instruments for complex and critical reasoning.”

I found this list via Paul Bausch, Blogger co-inventor and long-time MetaFilter developer, who writes:

You know, we have a strong history of opposing authoritarianism. I’d like to believe that opposition is like an immune system response that kicks in.

It difficult to look at Eco’s list and not see parallels between it and the incoming Trump administration.2 We must resist. Disagree. Be modern. Improve knowledge. Welcome outsiders. Protect the weak. Reject xenophobia. Welcome difference. At the end of his piece, Eco quotes Franklin Roosevelt saying during a radio address on the “need for continuous liberal government”:

I venture the challenging statement that if American democracy ceases to move forward as a living force, seeking day and night by peaceful means to better the lot of our citizens, fascism will grow in strength in our land.

And Eco himself adds: “Freedom and liberation are an unending task.”

  1. You’re probably going to be hearing that word a lot in the coming months, so before we get to Eco’s list, here’s a quick dictionary definition of fascism: “an authoritarian and nationalistic right-wing system of government and social organization”. That’s imprecise as hell, but “authoritarian” and “nationalistic” are components you’ll always see associated with fascism.

  2. As an exercise as you read through the list, think about statements and policies made by Trump and his team that reflect each point. As I said, it is not difficult.

Membership update

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 06, 2016

Last Tuesday, I asked the regular readers of kottke.org to support the site by purchasing an annual membership. The response, I am pleased and a little shocked to say, was overwhelming. If this were a Kickstarter campaign, it would be firmly in “stretch goals” territory. I’ve definitely found my 1000 True Fans. A big heart-felt thank you to all those who chose to support the site and for all your emails.1 The first members mailing should be going out sooooon.

If you haven’t had a chance to contribute yet, you can check out the post and the membership page to see if it’s something you’d be interested in.

[I’m not going to be releasing any stats, at least not right now, but I will give you a breakdown of the memberships by amount contributed by level:1 $30/yr: 52%, $60/yr: 42%, with the rest split between the $3/mo and $600/yr options.]

  1. Even the one from the guy who thought it was a bad move for me ask for support and then “badmouth” Trump. (I think this was the badmouthing…perhaps the mildest burn on record.) I didn’t think the kottke.org and Trumpworld Venn circles overlapped at all.

  2. This is by amount, not by number of memberships. So 52% of the total money came from those who contributed $30/yr, etc.

This is women’s work

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 30, 2016

Womens Work

Womens Work

For a photo project called Women’s Work, Chris Crisman made portraits of women who have jobs not typically done by women in the US. In an interview at aPhotoEditor, Crisman explained the why he did the project:

I am a father of two — a 4 year old boy and a 2 year old girl. I was raised to believe that I could do whatever I wanted to when I grew up. I want pass down a similar message to my children and without caveats. I want to raise my children knowing that their dreams have no limits and that they have parents supporting them to dive into anything they feel passionate about.

Crisman shot a short film of Sadie Samuels, the Maine lobster fisherman1 pictured in the photograph above.

  1. What’s the gender neutral alternative for fisherman? Fisherperson? Washington State uses fisher. Interestingly, Samuels calls herself a “fisherman” in the video.

The trans community of Christopher Street

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 22, 2016

Trans Christopher St

Trans Christopher St

Trans Christopher St

Over a number of recent summers, well-known portrait photographer Mark Seliger has been documenting the transgender community that gathers on Christopher St in the West Village. Since Seliger’s website is slow and bloated, I’d recommend checking out coverage of the photos on The Advocate, The New Yorker, American Photo, and PDN. I lived on Christopher Street for several years1 and definitely recognize a couple of people in Seliger’s photos.

It was in the Village, on Christopher Street and the nearby piers, where many trans and queer people first shared space with others like them. For generations, these places provided mirrors for those who rarely saw reflections of themselves. On Christopher Street, there were multitudes of potential selves: transgender, transsexual, non-binary, genderqueer, femme, butch, cross-dresser, drag king or queen, and other gender identities and sexual orientations that challenge social norms.

Seliger has collected the photos into a book, On Christopher Street: Transgender Stories and the photos will be on display at 231 Projects in Chelsea until early January.

  1. What an amazing and challenging place to live. While the rest of Manhattan (and the West Village) was either gentrified or gentrifying quickly, on Christopher St, you could still find aspects of “old New York” some long-time residents are so nostalgic for. When I lived there (roughly 2009-2014), it was still very much a place where LGBTQ+ people (especially those of color) could come and be their authentic selves with other members of their community, an opportunity denied them in their neighborhoods in Queens or Jersey City. But there was also crime: people openly selling drugs on the corner, robberies, open prostitution, anti-gay violence, and every single weekend from mid-spring to mid-fall, there was property damage up and down the street from visitors absolutely trashing the neighborhood. In response to the crime, the NYPD basically set up a command center on the street with mobile patrol towers and massive lights. Some summer Saturday nights felt like a war zone.

Beeeeeeeeeeeee Mooooooovie

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 18, 2016

This is the trailer for the animated film Bee Movie, except that the action and audio is slowed down every time someone says “bee”. That is a little bit clever.

Update: Monkeying with bits of video based on simple rules is a full-blown thing on YouTube right now. The Bee Movie seems to have started it off and there are now many variations on the theme: every “bee” is repeated by how many were said before it, every time they say bee it gets faster, the Seinfeld theme plays every time they say bee, and every time they say bee it does the whole trailer really fast. It’s spread to other media: here’s the video for All Star by Smash Mouth but it gets 15% faster every time he says “the” (which is a great illustration of exponential growth, like compound interest), the first Harry Potter movie but every time they say his name it gets faster, and so on. (via @waxpancake)

Dear Donald Trump, you should visit your hometown someday

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 04, 2016

In a short essay from Literary Hub titled New York is a Book Conservatives Should Read, Rebecca Solnit writes an open letter to Donald Trump urging him to take some lessons from the city in which he lives. Solnit argues that Trump’s wealth has insulated him from experiencing one of the true pleasures of American cities like New York: energetic and meaningful diversity.

You treat Muslims like dangerous outsiders but you seem ignorant of the fact that the town you claim to live in has about 285 mosques, and somewhere between 400,00 and 800,000 Muslims, according to New York’s wonderful religious scholar Tony Carnes. That means one out of ten or one out of twenty New Yorkers are practitioners of the Islamic faith. A handful of Muslims, including the Orlando mass murderer, who was born in Queens, have done bad things, but when you recognize how many Muslims there are, you can stop demonizing millions for the acts of a few.

NYC is only one-third white and is home to hundreds of thousands of Muslims and Jews and millions of blacks, Latinos, and Asians.

Speaking of African-Americans: have you ever been to Harlem or the Bronx? You keep talking about black people like you’ve never met any or visited any black neighborhoods. Seriously, during that last debate you said, “Our inner cities are a disaster. You get shot walking to the store. They have no education. They have no jobs. I will do more for African-Americans and Latinos than she can ever do in ten lifetimes. All she’s done is talk to the African-Americans and to the Latinos.” Dude, seriously? Did you get this sense of things from watching TV-in 1975?

Solnit wrote the piece after compiling her most recent book, Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas.

Bringing together the insights of dozens of experts — from linguists to music historians, ethnographers, urbanists, and environmental journalists — amplified by cartographers, artists, and photographers, it explores all five boroughs of New York City and parts of nearby New Jersey. We are invited to travel through Manhattan’s playgrounds, from polyglot Queens to many-faceted Brooklyn, and from the resilient Bronx to the mystical kung fu hip-hop mecca of Staten Island.

This NY Times piece on the political inclinations of rural areas vs cities is an interesting companion to Solnit’s letter.

“There is something really kind of strange and interesting about the connection between peoples’ preferences — what they view as the good life, where they want to live — and their partisanship,” said Jonathan Rodden, a political scientist at Stanford. His precinct-level maps of presidential election results show deep blue in the densest, central parts of metropolitan areas, where you’d find the Main Streets, city halls, row homes and apartment buildings. The farther you travel from there, the redder the precincts become. And this is true whether you look around New York City or Terre Haute, Ind.

Lovely illustrations drawn on vintage sheet music

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 02, 2016

Lyapunov Ehrlich

Lyapunov Ehrlich

Lyapunov Ehrlich

Russian illustrators Alexei Lyapunov and Lena Ehrlich use the notes, staffs, and other musical notation marks on vintage sheet music as a framework to create these inventive illustrations of everyday life and nature. Prints are available. (via colossal)

Voting paradoxes explained

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 07, 2016

With almost every election comes a push from some to change the way Americans elect their representatives in government. The problem is, there’s no perfect method of voting. The Exploratorium has produced a video that looks at how different voting methods fail in different ways, including through the spoiler effect, cyclic preferences, and the failure of monoticity. In short, every potential way of voting allows for some irrational outcome to arise out of the choices of individuals. So says Kenneth Arrow, who came up with Arrow’s impossibility theorem, explained in more layman’s terms here on Marginal Revolution.

Paradoxes such as the above have been known for centuries. What Arrow showed is that no decision mechanism can eliminate all of these types of paradoxes. (n.b. Arrow’s theorem actually applies to any mechanism for aggregating any rankings not just voting and not just preferences.) We can tamp down some paradoxes but only at the expense of creating others (or eliminating democracy altogether.)

More generally, what Arrow showed is that group choice (aggregation) is not like individual choice.

Also, think for a minute about how Arrow’s impossibility theorem might affect what Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Digg, and hundreds of other media companies and apps are trying to do in aggregating the world’s news and information by social media “voting”.

The Great American Word Mapper

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 15, 2016

US Map Language

It’s that time of year again. No, not Christmas or Hanukkah. As the year winds down, it’s an opportunity for Americans to investigate how differently they use words in different parts of the country. In December 2013, for example, people lost their damn minds over the NY Times’ dialect quiz. This year, you can play around with The Great American Word Mapper which uses Twitter data from 2014 to plot geographic usage patterns.

For instance, you can see where people use “supper” vs. “dinner” (see above). The map indicates mixed usage where I grew up, which checks out…we mostly said “supper” but “dinner” was not uncommon, particularly as I got older. Other results are less useful…the Twitter-based “soda” vs. “coke” vs. “pop” doesn’t tell you as much as directly asking people what they call soft drinks.

US Map Language

The swearing maps are always fun (see also the United States of Swearing)…I wonder why “shit” is so relatively popular in the South?

Some other interesting searches: “moma” (alternate spelling of “momma” in the South with a small pocket of usage around NYC for MoMA), “city” doesn’t give the result you might expect, the distribution of “nigger” vs “nigga” suggests they are two different words with two different meanings, and in trying to find a search that would isolate just urban areas, the best I could come up with was “kanye” (or maybe “cocktails” or “traffic”). And harsh, map! Geez. (via @fromedome)

Never Happened

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 04, 2016

Never Happened is a short sci-fi film by Mark Slutsky about a pair of colleagues who have a fling on a business trip. Worth watching…a snack-sized Black Mirror. NSFW. (via df)

Why chess has failed to catch on as a spectator sport

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 28, 2016

Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin are competing in the FIDE World Chess Championship Match in NYC and are currently tied going into the final match. By all accounts, it’s been a tense competition. But watching chess being played in real time is perhaps only for die-hard fans. Here’s video of Karjakin thinking about a move for 25 minutes:

And here’s Carlsen thinking about Karjakin thinking about the same move for 25 minutes:

(via @juririm)

Carl Sagan explains the fourth dimension

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 06, 2016

From his seminal TV program Cosmos, Carl Sagan attempts to explain the fourth dimension of spacetime. The story starts with Edwin Abbott’s Flatland, but Sagan being Sagan, his explanation is especially lucid.

Relaxing time lapse videos

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 09, 2016

Michael Shainblum makes time lapse videos of nature, landscapes, and cities, and some of them are very relaxing to watch. The resolution on these is great, so make ‘em big, sit back, and enjoy. (via bb)

The Secret World of Stuff

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 08, 2016

Sean Charmatz makes these cute little video vignettes about the secret lives of everyday things like French fries, leaves, paper, ice, mops, Post-it Notes, and the like. Think Christoph Niemann but even simpler. Basically: these videos will start making you happy in less than 10 seconds or your money back.1 (via @arainert)

  1. Offer not valid in the US, Canada, Mexico, France, Botswana, Thailand, and all the rest of the world’s countries. Also not valid in international waters, or in any sub- or supra-national territories. If you can feel the pull of gravity, you’re out of luck. Oh, and outer space.

Bill Gates starts new $1 billion clean energy fund

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 13, 2016

Bill Gates and a number of other investors are starting a billion venture fund focused on “cheap, clean, reliable energy”.

Bill Gates is leading a more than $1 billion fund focused on fighting climate change by investing in clean energy innovation.

The Microsoft co-founder and his all-star line-up of fellow investors plan to announce tomorrow the Breakthrough Energy Ventures fund, which will begin making investments next year. The BEV fund, which has a 20-year duration, aims to invest in the commercialization of new technologies that reduce greenhouse-gas emissions in areas including electricity generation and storage, transportation, industrial processes, agriculture, and energy-system efficiency.

The company’s tagline is “Investing in a Carbonless Future” and their investment criteria are:

  1. CLIMATE IMPACT. We will invest in technologies that have the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least half a gigaton.
  2. OTHER INVESTMENTS. We will invest in companies with real potential to attract capital from sources outside of BEV and the broader Breakthrough Energy Coalition.
  3. SCIENTIFIC POSSIBILITY. We will invest in technologies with an existing scientific proof of concept that can be meaningfully advanced.
  4. FILLING THE GAPS. We will invest in companies that need the unique attributes of BEV capital, including patience, judgment by scientific milestones, flexible investment capabilities, and a significant global network.

Jeff Bezos, Mike Bloomberg, Richard Branson, Reid Hoffman, and Jack Ma are also participating in the fund.

In related-yet-unrelated news, a recent report says investment funds controlling more than $5 trillion in assets have dropped some or even all of their fossil fuel stocks.

The report, released Monday, said the new total was twice the amount measured 15 months ago — a remarkable rise for a movement that began on American college campuses in 2011. Since then, divestment has expanded to the business world and institutional world, and includes large pension funds, insurers, financial institutions and religious organizations. It has also spread around the world, with 688 institutions and nearly 60,000 individuals in 76 countries divesting themselves of shares in at least some kinds of oil, gas and coal companies, according to the report.

“It’s a stunning number,” said Ellen Dorsey, the executive director of the Wallace Global Fund, which has promoted fossil fuel divestment and clean energy investment as part of its philanthropy.

Like it or not, economics has to be a significant driver for combatting climate change. Driving public opinion against fossil fuel companies, falling prices for solar and battery energy, and clean energy investment funds: it all helps support the decisions made by the world’s forward-thinking leaders. And maybe, just maybe, if you can get the world’s leaders, the public, and the economy all pointed in the right direction, we’ve got a chance.

The last steps on the Moon

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 18, 2016

In May of 1961, President John F. Kennedy told Congress and the rest of the American public that the US was going to send a man to the Moon. Just over 11 years later, as part of the Apollo 17 mission in December 1972, humans set foot on the Moon for the last time.1 The Last Steps is a summary of that final mission, during which NASA accomplished the near-impossible yet again and was met with increasing public indifference about a journey that had taken on the ease of a car trip to grandma’s house.

Update: Perhaps humans will set foot on the Moon sooner than 2060. The European Space Agency is planning on a manned mission “by 2030” and China is shooting for 2036. (via @T_fabriek)

  1. For now, I guess I should add. It’s been 44 years since then and at the rate things are going, it might be another 44 years before it happens again. I’m hoping for a reboot of the Apollo franchise sooner rather than later, though.