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.

The thousands of bombs exploded on EarthAUG 17

From Orbital Mechanics, a visualization of the 2153 nuclear weapons exploded on Earth since 1945.

2153! I had no idea there had been that much testing. According to Wikipedia, the number is 2119 tests, with most of those coming from the US (1032) and the USSR (727). The largest device ever detonated was Tsar Bomba, a 50-megaton hydrogen bomb set off in the atmosphere above an island in the Barents Sea in 1961. Tsar Bomba had more than three times the yield of the largest bomb tested by the US. The result was spectacular.

The fireball reached nearly as high as the altitude of the release plane and was visible at almost 1,000 kilometres (620 mi) away from where it ascended. The subsequent mushroom cloud was about 64 kilometres (40 mi) high (over seven times the height of Mount Everest), which meant that the cloud was above the stratosphere and well inside the mesosphere when it peaked. The cap of the mushroom cloud had a peak width of 95 kilometres (59 mi) and its base was 40 kilometres (25 mi) wide.

All buildings in the village of Severny (both wooden and brick), located 55 kilometres (34 mi) from ground zero within the Sukhoy Nos test range, were destroyed. In districts hundreds of kilometers from ground zero wooden houses were destroyed, stone ones lost their roofs, windows and doors; and radio communications were interrupted for almost one hour. One participant in the test saw a bright flash through dark goggles and felt the effects of a thermal pulse even at a distance of 270 kilometres (170 mi). The heat from the explosion could have caused third-degree burns 100 km (62 mi) away from ground zero. A shock wave was observed in the air at Dikson settlement 700 kilometres (430 mi) away; windowpanes were partially broken to distances of 900 kilometres (560 mi). Atmospheric focusing caused blast damage at even greater distances, breaking windows in Norway and Finland. The seismic shock created by the detonation was measurable even on its third passage around the Earth.

The Soviets did not give a fuck, man...what are a few thousand destroyed homes compared to scaring the shit out of the capitalist Amerikanskis with a comically large explosion? Speaking of bonkers Communist dictatorships, the last nuclear test conducted on Earth was in 2013, by North Korea.

Pac-Man 256AUG 24

From the developer of Crossy Road (aka Infinite Frogger) comes Pac-Man 256, a Pac-Man game with an infinite board that gets eaten from below by the kill screen glitch from the 256th level of the original game. I love riffs on old school video games like this, and the infinite board is a particularly clever one.1 Here's what the gameplay looks like:

I'm sure everyone is used to this by now (which is sad) but be warned that Pac-Man 256 is one of those games that encourages you to watch ads to level up more quickly or to continue when you're out of credits...and then to buy more credits as an IAP when you're out of ads to watch. There's an option to buy unlimited credits for $7.99, but still. I understand the economics of the situation and why they do it this way, but it just feels so hostile to the player. I want to wholeheartedly recommend this game because the gameplay is so fun, but it feels like you're constantly wading through a little bit of raw sewage to play it. Which, apparently I don't mind doing, wading through sewage. :(

Update: Echoing several similar comments on Twitter, John Gruber writes:

Unlike Kottke, I think the option to buy unlimited "credits" with a one-time $7.99 in-app purchase is a fair deal. Think of it as an $8 game that you can optionally play for free if you're willing to watch ads. That's a good price for a great game.

$8 is a more than fair price. But the option to buy unlimited credits is difficult to find in the game (you need to run out of credits first and then click the "Play" button anyway) and it doesn't tell you exactly what you're getting for your $8. What I want is never to see an ad ever in the game, but I don't actually think that's what it is. Paying full price for a game shouldn't involve hide n' seek.

But the bigger issue for me is how the game, and many many others in the App Store, feels: icky. Like used car salesman icky. Drug dealer icky. Depressing casino icky. The way the game presents itself, the developers seemingly want one thing: your money. Do they want me to have a good time playing the game? Eh, maybe? I don't know, it just seems really cynical to me, like a game built by a bank instead of people that love gaming or Pac-Man.

I really *really* wish the App Store had a trial period option available for apps. 20 minutes into Pac-Man 256 and I would have ponied up $8-10, no problem. I suspect App Store users would love this feature but game developers would hate it because using ads and casino tactics to upsell in your app makes a lot more money than straight sales.

  1. Hey Nintendo, can you make an infinite version of Mario Kart? Pretty please? It would be like Mad Max: Crossy Road or something.

Living without a sense of smellAUG 04

Nick Johnson slammed his head on the ice while playing hockey last year and hasn't been able to smell anything since then.

At the time of his accident, Nick's wife was eight months pregnant with their second child. Over lunch, he says: "I joke I can't smell my daughter's diaper. But I can't smell my daughter. She was up at 4 o'clock this morning. I was holding her, we were laying in bed. I know what my son smelt like as a little baby, as a young kid. Sometimes not so good, but he still had that great little kid smell to him. With her, I've never experienced that."

Much of the article focuses on research about how smell can send signals we are not aware of (e.g. body odor can "smell" like stress), but my favorite thing about smell is its connection to memory...which makes the quote above all the more poignant. There are certain scents that when I smell them, they zap me so vividly back to when I was a kid or in college...it's like time travel.

The Moon crossing the sunlit face of the EarthAUG 05

This is just flat-out incredible... NASA's Deep Space Climate Observatory satellite captured a series of photos of the Moon as it moved between it and the Earth.

Earth Moon Anim

The image shows the "dark side" of the Moon, which we can't see from Earth because it's always pointed away from us.

The lunar far side lacks the large, dark, basaltic plains, or maria, that are so prominent on the Earth-facing side. The largest far side features are Mare Moscoviense in the upper left and Tsiolkovskiy crater in the lower left. A thin sliver of shadowed area of moon is visible on its right side.

"It is surprising how much brighter Earth is than the moon," said Adam Szabo, DSCOVR project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. "Our planet is a truly brilliant object in dark space compared to the lunar surface."

I don't know why, but this image gives me chills up my spine! Is anyone else freaking out about this?

The Sunshine HotelAUG 20

Two weeks ago, 99% Invisible broadcast an audio documentary from 1998 about one of the last remaining flophouses on The Bowery in NYC called The Sunshine Hotel. It is an amazing time capsule from a Manhattan that just doesn't exist anymore.

The Sunshine Hotel opened in 1922. Rooms -- or really, cubicles -- were 10 cents a night. The Sunshine, like other flop houses, was always a men-only establishment. In 1998, the hotel had raised it's rates to 10 dollars a night and it was managed by resident Nathan Smith. He sat behind a metal cage at the front desk, answering the phone and doling out toilet paper to residents for 35 cents. Smith had once worked in a bank until he was injured, and then fired. His wife left him and he ended up in the Bowery, and eventually at the Sunshine Hotel.

The interviewees sound like they're characters in a play, not real people. It's so good. There is also a documentary film released in 2001 about The Sunshine Hotel which is available on Amazon Instant; here's a trailer:

Inventing the Aerobie and AeroPressAUG 25

One man invented both the Aerobie Flying Disc and the AeroPress coffee maker. In this short video documentary by David Friedman, inventor Alan Adler tells the story of how those products came to be.

I still remember the first time I threw an Aerobie. The week-long science camp 1 I attended in northern Wisconsin the summer after middle school had one, and I was astounded at how far it flew compared to a Frisbee. As Adler notes in the video, an Aerobie was once thrown 1333 feet (that's over a quarter of a mile) and stayed aloft for 30 seconds. (No word on far an AeroPress can be thrown.)

  1. Let me just pre-empt you here: neeeeeeeeeeeerd!

Green Eggs and HamFEB 20

Green Eggs and Ham

After writing The Cat in the Hat in 1955 using only 223 words, Dr. Seuss bet his publisher that he could write a book using only 50 words. Seuss collected on the wager in 1960 with the publication of Green Eggs and Ham. Here are the 50 distinct words used in the book:

a am and anywhere are be boat box car could dark do eat eggs fox goat good green ham here house I if in let like may me mouse not on or rain Sam say see so thank that the them there they train tree try will with would you

From a programming perspective, one of the fun things about Green Eggs and Ham is because the text contains so little information repeated in a cumulative tale, the story could be more efficiently represented as an algorithm. A simple loop would take the place of the following excerpt:

I do not like them in a box.
I do not like them with a fox.
I do not like them in a house.
I do not like them with a mouse.
I do not like them here or there.
I do not like them anywhere.
I do not like green eggs and ham.
I do not like them, Sam I am.

But I don't know...foreach ($items as $value) doesn't quite have the same sense of poetry as the original Seuss.

Wilco, The Complete Studio AlbumsAUG 26

Here's your workday sorted, then: every studio album Wilco has recorded, all in one go.

(Except, for some reason, the tracks from 2011's The Whole Love are unavailable on the compilation even though that whole album is available elsewhere on Rdio. Music licensing/promotion makes zero sense.)

Mystery Show podcast by Starlee KineAUG 27

My commute these days doesn't lend itself to listening to headphones and I can't listen to anything with words while I work, so I don't listen to many podcasts. But I've been driving more than usual this summer, so I've had a chance to dip into some shows, old favorites and newcomers alike.

I've only listened to the first three cases so far, but Starlee Kine's new Mystery Show is particularly well done. The conceit of the show is that each week, Kine and her team of investigators solve a mystery for someone. Everyone loves a mystery, but the real draw of the show for me is Kine's ability to get normal people to say interesting things about themselves along the way.

The second mystery concerns a not-so-popular book seen clutched in Britney Spears' hand in a paparazzi photo. [Mild spoilers follow...listen to the show if you wish to remain unsullied.] Where did she get it? Did she read it? And if so, did she like it?

The celebrity aspect and the Britneyology was interesting -- What sort of person is Britney? Is she a reader? -- but the best part of the whole thing was Kine's conversation with Dennis, a Ticketmaster customer service representative. She asked Dennis his opinion of Britney and somehow the exchange very quickly got intimate. You could feel their crackling connection right through the phone line, and seemingly out of nowhere, he utters the line, "you can get addicted to a certain kind of sadness", which totally left me breathless. Kine, Dennis, Britney, and I, all suddenly exposed. Fantastic stuff.

The Bridge at Q'eswachakaJUL 29

Each year, using traditional Incan techniques, communities along a canyon in Peru rebuild a rope bridge that has been in continuous use for hundreds of years.

That you can take thousands of thin grass stalks and, through the careful application of engineering and hard work, make them strong enough to hold the weight of several people over a canyon still seems magical. (via cynical-c)

What it's like getting your sense of smell back after five yearsAUG 17

Earlier in the month, I wrote about a man who lost his sense of smell.

Over lunch, he says: "I joke I can't smell my daughter's diaper. But I can't smell my daughter. She was up at 4 o'clock this morning. I was holding her, we were laying in bed. I know what my son smelt like as a little baby, as a young kid. Sometimes not so good, but he still had that great little kid smell to him. With her, I've never experienced that."

Jason Caplin lost his sense of smell suddenly five years ago, but recently regained that ability. It has not been the fantastic experience you might expect.

And so to tonight. Here it is, then. Smell at full blast. The inside of my head is basically completely uncalibrated. My nose just has no idea what to do with this rediscovered fury of data. Walking to the tube, I tentatively tried breathing in through my nose. Once. I felt alarm bells going off at the back; smells that had no place together (and which I could only vaguely recall in name) set my eyes watering and made me gag. I sneezed, a lot. At the big roundabout I could smell mint, horses, an outdoor pool from a family holiday when I was eight. The supermarket smelt of hair, even though I don't think I could tell you what hair smells like, and it set me wondering how much of this my brain was reconstructing on the fly. The tube was almost unbearable and I blinked to stop crying.

That happened back in May...I hope things have settled down for him. (via gyford)

Infinite model train vortexAUG 18

I can't decide if this video of an ouroboros model train is soothing, menacing, or just kinda boring.

Wait for the Law & Order-esque twist at the 2:00 mark. chung chung

How to get rid of clutterAUG 05

KonMari, meet Mallory Ortberg. She has some hardcore advice for ridding your life of clutter so you can "live abundantly". Some tips:

How many of the spices lining your pantry have you ever actually used? "Most of them?" Get rid of them. Every one. If you're not using a spice right now, it's not important. Your lymph nodes should be covered in turmeric 100% of the time, but you don't even know where the lids to your Tupperware containers are, do you? Look at the moon. That's all of the spice you need.

Thank every item in your refrigerator deeply -- kiss each one of them softly and slowly with your mouth -- then prepare for each item a small Viking funeral. Set them adrift on a blazing ship into the waters of a very cold lake. In the future, when you are hungry, eat your memories. The only thing that belongs in your refrigerator is mindfulness.

Throw away everything in your dirty laundry hamper. If a piece of clothing really mattered to you, you wouldn't let it get dirty.

There is no need for a bed in the truly de-cluttered life. You should hover gently several inches above the floor in perfect harmony with your surroundings during your yearly nap, like a seahorse.

NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of NeurodiversityAUG 18

Neurotribes

Added to the series of things I thought I posted about but never did is Steve Silberman's new book, NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity, out next week.

What is autism? A lifelong disability, or a naturally occurring form of cognitive difference akin to certain forms of genius? In truth, it is all of these things and more-and the future of our society depends on our understanding it. WIRED reporter Steve Silberman unearths the secret history of autism, long suppressed by the same clinicians who became famous for discovering it, and finds surprising answers to the crucial question of why the number of diagnoses has soared in recent years.

Jennifer Senior wrote a largely positive review for the NY Times.

"NeuroTribes" is beautifully told, humanizing, important. It has earned its enthusiastic foreword from Oliver Sacks; it has found its place on the shelf next to "Far From the Tree," Andrew Solomon's landmark appreciation of neurological differences. At its heart is a plea for the world to make accommodations for those with autism, not the other way around, and for researchers and the public alike to focus on getting them the services they need. They are, to use Temple Grandin's words, "different, not less." Better yet, indispensable: inseparably tied to innovation, showing us there are other ways to think and work and live.

Real-life first person shooter on ChatrouletteAUG 21

These folks created a real-life first person shooter game and invited strangers on Chatroulette to control the action.

Here's a behind-the-scenes look at how they did it. (thx, oren)

The economic history of one NYC blockAUG 14

Economist William Easterly and some of his colleagues built a site that focuses on the economic development of a single block in NYC, Greene Street between Houston and Prince. In the past 175 years, use of the block has gone from wealthy residential to sex work to garment manufacturing to artist galleries to luxury retail.

133 Greene Street, for example, has been part of the large Bayard farm, a grand residential home, a brothel, a garment factory, part of a slum, an art gallery, and is today the home of luxury co-op residences and a Dior Homme store.

Many of these shifts took only a decade and could have been very difficult to anticipate.

The site was built to accompany an academic paper on economic development.

By 1870, the Greene Street Block contained 14 brothels, the highest concentration of any block in the City. Just as surprising was the sudden end of prostitution on the block. Brothels still abounded in 1880, but during the next decade entrepreneurs demolished and rebuilt almost the entire block as castiron factories and warehouses, and what was left of the red-light district moved up town.

The site is a little confusing to navigate, but is worth checking out in detail. For instance, check out how quickly the garment manufacturing industry shifted from downtown to the present-day Garment District.

Greene Street

Greene Street

(via wired)

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 art of sound in the moviesAUG 28

Skip Lievsay is one of the best sound designers in the business, having won an Oscar for his work on Gravity and worked on such films as Goodfellas, Silence of the Lambs, Do The Right Thing, and all of the Coen brothers' movies. Jordan Kisner recently profiled Lievsay for The Guardian.

It is a central principle of sound editing that people hear what they are conditioned to hear, not what they are actually hearing. The sound of rain in movies? Frying bacon. Car engines revving in a chase scene? It's partly engines, but what gives it that visceral, gut-level grist is lion roars mixed in. To be excellent, a sound editor needs not just a sharp, trained ear, but also a gift for imagining what a sound could do, what someone else might hear.

Create Your Own EconomyAPR 22

Create Your Own Economy

I don't think he's talked about it on his site yet, but Tyler Cowen has a new book coming out called Create Your Own Economy: The Path to Prosperity in a Disordered World.

As economist Tyler Cowen boldly shows in Create Your Own Economy, the way we think now is changing more rapidly than it has in a very long time. Not since the Industrial Revolution has a man-made creation -- in this case, the World Wide Web -- so greatly influenced the way our minds work and our human potential. Cowen argues brilliantly that we are breaking down cultural information into ever-smaller tidbits, ordering and reordering them in our minds (and our computers) to meet our own specific needs.

Create Your Own Economy explains why the coming world of Web 3.0 is good for us; why social networking sites such as Facebook are so necessary; what's so great about "Tweeting" and texting; how education will get better; and why politics, literature, and philosophy will become richer. This is a revolutionary guide to life in the new world.

I never properly reviewed Cowen's last book (sorry!), but I found it as enlightening and entertaining as Marginal Revolution is. (via david archer)

The Everything MachineAUG 20

The newest app from Tinybop (The Human Body, Homes, and The Robot Factory apps) is called The Everything Machine. A small sampling of what you can do with it:

Use a simple programming language to connect, control, and play with all the sensors and tools. Put the camera, microphone, speaker, screen, gyroscope, and light to work for you.

Playing around with the app with Minna for 30 minutes this evening (she loved it) reminded me of my college electronics classes + Scratch + LabVIEW. Super fun.

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.

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.

Procrastination vs. impatienceAUG 07

From the abstract of a paper on the relationship between impatience and procrastination, this caught my eye:

We find substantial evidence of time inconsistency. Namely, more that half of the participants who receive their check straight away instead of waiting two weeks for a reasonably larger amount, subsequently take more than two weeks to cash it.

This reminded me of a passage I read recently in Oliver Burkeman's The Antidote1 about the pitfalls of positive visualization.

Yet there are problems with this outlook, aside from just feeling disappointed when things don't turn out well. These are particularly acute in the case of positive visualisation. Over the last few years, the German-born psychologist Gabriele Oettingen and her colleagues have constructed a series of experiments designed to unearth the truth about 'positive fantasies about the future'. The results are striking: spending time and energy thinking about how well things could go, it has emerged, actually reduces most people's motivation to achieve them. Experimental subjects who were encouraged to think about how they were going to have a particularly high-achieving week at work, for example, ended up achieving less than those who were invited to reflect on the coming week, but given no further guidelines on how to do so.

In one ingenious experiment, Oettingen had some of the participants rendered mildly dehydrated. They were then taken through an exercise that involved visualising drinking a refreshing, icy glass of water, while others took part in a different exercise. The dehydrated water-visualisers -- contrary to the self-help doctrine of motivation through visualisation -- experienced a significant reduction in their energy levels, as measured by blood pressure. Far from becoming more motivated to hydrate themselves, their bodies relaxed, as if their thirst were already quenched. In experiment after experiment, people responded to positive visualisation by relaxing. They seemed, subconsciously, to have confused visualising success with having already achieved it.

In a similar way, it may be that the people who received their checks right away but didn't cash them "relaxed" as though they had actually spent the money, not just gotten the check. (via mr)

  1. This book was endlessly fascinating to me, like reading the user's manual on how my brain works for the first time. Like, wait, I don't have to be anxious about not setting goals? And it can actually make me happier? Sign me up!

Han Solo frozen in carbonite beach towelAUG 18

Han Solo Beach Towel

This beach towel featuring Han Solo frozen in carbonite is the only Star Wars merch I want in my life. (thx, meg)

Update: Ok, I had forgotten about the Han Solo frozen in carbonite ice cube tray, which is slightly more awesome. (via @ajsheets)

Kingdom of booksAUG 24

Amazon has garnered an enormous share of the book market, and their "activities tend to reduce book prices, which is considered good for consumers." But hundreds of writers (including Philip Roth and V. S. Naipaul) are trying to convince the Department of Justice that -- regardless of the lower prices -- Amazon's monopoly is hurting consumers. From The New Yorker's Vauhini Vara: Is Amazon creating a cultural monopoly?

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The privilege of employer-sponsored parental leaveAUG 07

Netflix made big news by increasing its maternity and paternity leave to a year. But in a really interesting piece, The New Yorker's Vauhini Vara provides some historical and economic background and makes the case why not all paid family leave regulations should be left up to private employers:

Among the earners of the highest wages, twenty-two per cent have access to paid family leave, while among the lowest earners, only four per cent do. It turns out that a disparity exists even within Netflix.

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

Why medieval painting babies were uglyJUL 28

I had no idea Ol' Dirty Bastard and medieval paintings had something in common. One of ODB's AKAs was also the reason why babies in medieval paintings looked like ugly middle-aged men: Big Baby Jesus.

I mean, this baby looks like he wants to tell you that a boat is just a money pit.

Louis CK: Of course... But maybe?JUL 31

This four-minute bit by Louis CK puts me on the floor every time I watch it and then makes me feel really horrible.

Everybody has a competition in their brain of good thoughts and bad thoughts. Hopefully, the good thoughts win. For me, I always have both. I have like the thing I believe, the good thing, that's the thing I believe and than there's this thing. And I don't believe it, but it is there. It's always this thing and then this thing. It's become a category in my brain that I call "of course, but maybe".

I love his gestures throughout this bit...the material is great but the physical comedy really sells it. So so good. (And, of course, terrible.)

The Making of Stanley Kubrick's '2001: A Space Odyssey'JUL 31

Making of 2001

Last year, Taschen came out with a limited edition book on The Making of Stanley Kubrick's '2001: A Space Odyssey'. Only a couple thousand were made and one of them is selling on Amazon for $1750. This year, they're releasing a regular edition for a much more reasonable $47. (via @michaelbierut)

The Problem We All Live WithAUG 17

Oh man, this episode of This American Life on desegregation and the Normandy School District (aka the Missouri district that Michael Brown attended) just totally wrecked me. Tears of sadness and rage.

Right now, all sorts of people are trying to rethink and reinvent education, to get poor minority kids performing as well as white kids. But there's one thing nobody tries anymore, despite lots of evidence that it works: desegregation. Nikole Hannah-Jones looks at a district that, not long ago, accidentally launched a desegregation program.

America likes to pride itself on its focus on the importance of education and everyone getting a crack at living the American Dream, but as this story makes clear, neither of those things are actually true. See also part two of the series and Hannah-Jones' series on segregation at ProPublica.

Solar system exploration updateAUG 11

Emily Lakdawalla provides an update on all of the exploration that's going on in our solar system this month. Here's a quick map view of the 20+ spacecraft exploring our solar system beyond Earth:

Solar System Spacecraft Map

Mars remains the most active spot beyond Earth in the solar system. This week, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter reaches its 10th anniversary of service in space, but it's far from the oldest spacecraft in orbit at Mars; Mars Express and Mars Odyssey are still at work up there. Mars Orbiter Mission has ventured into an extended mission and is still returning photos, though apparently none of the full-disk images in a variety of phases that I had hoped for from its 4-Megapixel color camera. Even Mars' newest resident, MAVEN, is three-quarters of the way through its one-year primary science mission, which began on November 16, 2014. MAVEN's mission will undoubtedly be extended long beyond that, as it will be needed to support surface missions if and when Odyssey and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter eventually fail.

Both Opportunity and Curiosity have been very active lately. Opportunity has finally reached Marathon Valley, a site identified from orbit to have signs of clay chemistry. The team is excited about the science prospects even though the rover's memory problems persist.

The lost language of gay English menAUG 21

Polari was a secret slang language spoken by gay men in England so that they could converse together in public without fear of arrest. It fell into disuse in the 1960s, but this short film by Brian Fairbairn and Karl Eccleston features a conversation conducted entirely in Polari.

This Slate article has more on the film and Polari.

Of all the cultural forms that gay men have created and elaborated since coalescing into a social group around the late 19th century, Polari, a full-fledged gay English dialect with roots among circus folk, sailors, and prostitutes, has to be one of the most fascinating-not least since it has faded along with the need for discretion and secrecy. While some words remain in common use-zhush or zhoosh (to adjust or embellish something to make it more pleasing) and trade (highly masculine or straight-acting sex partners) come to mind -- the richness that we know once defined Polari is difficult to capture in 2015.

Powers of Ten flipbookJUL 27

Using images found on the internet through Google's visually similar images feature, NASA, U.S. Geological Survey, and various mapping services, Kelli Anderson recreated part of the Eames' iconic Powers of Ten as a flipbook. Watch a video here:

Or play around with a virtual flipbook at Anderson's site. This could not possibly be anymore in my wheelhouse. Here's the nitty gritty on how she made it happen.

The inspiration for making discontinuous-bits-of-culture into something continuous goes back to 2011. Some of my friends camped out on a sidewalk to see Christian Marclay's The Clock. Like a loser with a deadline, I missed out-only catching it years later at MoMA. In the day-long film, Marclay recreates each minute of the 24-hour day using clips from films featuring the current time-on a clock or watch. It runs in perfect synchronization with the audience's day (so: while a museum crowd slumps sleepily in their chairs at 6am, starlets hit snooze on the clocks onscreen.)

The Citizens Equality Act of 2017AUG 27

Larry Lessig is raising funds for running for President in the 2016 election. Lessig would run as a "referendum president", whose single task would be to pass a package of reforms called the Citizens Equality Act of 2017, and then resign to allow his Vice President to take over.

The Citizens Equality Act of 2017 consists of three parts: make it as easy as possible to vote, end the gerrymandering of political districts, and base campaign funding on all eligible voters, not just corporations or the wealthy.

Four years ago, Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks told Netroots Nation, "There is only one issue in this country," and he was referring to the corrupt funding of public elections.

That corruption is part of a more fundamental inequality that we've allowed the politicians to create: we don't have a Congress that represents us equally.

Every issue - from climate change to gun safety, from Wall Street reform to defense spending - is tied to this "one issue." Achieving citizens equality in America is our one mission.

Read why he wants to run and watch his pitch:

This is a long shot (and he likely knows it), but I wish him well...it's a worthy and important goal.

The Evolution of GodMAY 11

The Evolution of God

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

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

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

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

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

Trailer for a Steve Jobs documentaryJUL 27

There's a documentary on Steve Jobs coming out called Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine. The director is Alex Gibney, who directed the excellent Going Clear (about Scientology), We Steal Secrets (about Wikileaks), and Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room. The trailer:

Obama's summer 2015 reading listAUG 13

Obama's off for a couple of vacation weeks on Martha's Vineyard and is taking the following books with him on vacation: All That Is by James Salter, All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert, The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri, Between The World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow. Solid.

My summer reading list so far: Quiet, The Antidote, The Martian, Ready Player One, and the kids and I are slowly working our way through Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

Update: POTUS has also made a Spotify playlist of his favorite summer songs. The Temptations, Dylan, Coldplay, and Aretha. No Jay or Bey?

Update: Ah, he also made a list for a summer night and there's some Beyonce on there. Thank you, Mr. President.

NASA's logo: the worm vs. the meatballAUG 20

NASA's original logo looked something like this:

Nasa Meatball Logo

It was referred to, colloquially, as the meatball. In the 1970s, the meatball was switched out for the worm, a more Modernist take:

NASA Worm Logo

This logo was done by Richard Danne and Bruce Blackburn, and Danne wrote an essay about the experience.

And here is one of the most interesting exchanges I've ever witnessed in a design presentation:

Fletcher: "I'm simply not comfortable with those letters, something is missing."
Low: "Well yes, the cross stroke is gone from the letter A."
Fletcher: "Yes, and that bothers me."
Low: "Why?"
Fletcher: (long pause) "I just don't feel we are getting our money's worth!"

Others, not just the designers were stunned by this last comment. Then the discussion moved back to the strong red/rust color we were proposing. We had tried many other colors of course, including the more predictable blue range, but settled on red because it suggested action and animation. It seemed in spirit with the Can Do nature of the Space Agency.

Fletcher: And this color, red, it doesn't make much sense to me."
Low: "What would be better?"
Fletcher: "Blue makes more sense... Space is blue."
Low: "No Dr. Fletcher, Space is black!"

NASA's Graphics Standards Menu utilizing the worm logo can be seen here.

Nasa Design Manual

The space agency switched back to the original logo in 1992. Michael Bierut compared the two:

The worm is a great-looking word mark and looked fantastic on the spacecraft. By any objective measure, the worm was and is absolutely appropriate, and the meatball was and is an amateurish mess.

(thx, jarrett)

Ice carouselAUG 07

That time in Latvia when some folks cut a huge circle of ice out of a frozen lake, attached an outboard motor to it, and made an ice carousel.

(via devour)

The New Devil's DictionaryAUG 05

From The Verge, The New Devil's Dictionary, a new economy take on Ambrose Bierce's The Devil's Dictionary.

lifehack (v.): To embarrass your ancestors by bragging about an "ingenious" solution to a trivial problem.

operating system (n.): A set of instructions designed to make a particular machine incompatible with other machines.

See also Greg Knauss' The Devil's Dictionary 2.0 from many years ago.

blogosphere, noun. An poisonous environment of methane, self-satisfaction and other hot gasses.

podcast, verb. The audible form of "blog," in much the same way that a series of unhappy grunts and splashes is the audible form of "stomach flu."

John Hersey's HiroshimaAUG 06

In August of 1946, the New Yorker dedicated an entire issue to a piece called Hiroshima by John Hersey. As an introduction, the editors wrote:

TO OUR READERS. The New Yorker this week devotes its entire editorial space to an article on the almost complete obliteration of a city by one atomic bomb, and what happened to the people of that city. It does so in the conviction that few of us have yet comprehended the all but incredible destructive power of this weapon, and that everyone might well take time to consider the terrible implications of its use. The Editors.

For the 70th anniversary of the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima, the New Yorker has digitized Hersey's piece. The piece is quite long (30,000 words) so it can also be found in book form if that's easier to read. Here's the opening paragraph to get you going:

At exactly fifteen minutes past eight in the morning, on August 6, 1945, Japanese time, at the moment when the atomic bomb flashed above Hiroshima, Miss Toshiko Sasaki, a clerk in the personnel department of the East Asia Tin Works, had just sat down at her place in the plant office and was turning her head to speak to the girl at the next desk. At that same moment, Dr. Masakazu Fujii was settling down cross-legged to read the Osaka Asahi on the porch of his private hospital, overhanging one of the seven deltaic rivers which divide Hiroshima; Mrs. Hatsuyo Nakamura, a tailor's widow, stood by the window of her kitchen, watching a neighbor tearing down his house because it lay in the path of an air-raid-defense fire lane; Father Wilhelm Kleinsorge, a German priest of the Society of Jesus, reclined in his underwear on a cot on the top floor of his order's three-story mission house, reading a Jesuit magazine, Stimmen der Zeit; Dr. Terufumi Sasaki, a young member of the surgical staff of the city's large, modern Red Cross Hospital, walked along one of the hospital corridors with a blood specimen for a Wassermann test in his hand; and the Reverend Mr. Kiyoshi Tanimoto, pastor of the Hiroshima Methodist Church, paused at the door of a rich man's house in Koi, the city's western suburb, and prepared to unload a handcart full of things he had evacuated from town in fear of the massive B-29 raid which everyone expected Hiroshima to suffer. A hundred thousand people were killed by the atomic bomb, and these six were among the survivors. They still wonder why they lived when so many others died. Each of them counts many small items of chance or volition -- a step taken in time, a decision to go indoors, catching one streetcar instead of the next -- that spared him. And now each knows that in the act of survival he lived a dozen lives and saw more death than he ever thought he would see. At the time, none of them knew anything.

The piece made quite an impression upon its release, which you can read about on Wikipedia.

Highlights from Michael Jordan's rookie yearAUG 04

The best way to get me to click on something is to label it "Michael Jordan Rookie Year Highlights".

What a time capsule. (via devour)

Why movie CG sucks (except that it doesn't)AUG 04

Are computer generated special effects ruining movies? Freddie Wong says no; CG is so good these days that we only notice it when it's bad and in bad movies.

My biggest concern with CG is with unrealistic camera movements, e.g. like when the camera is following Spider-Man swooping all over NYC. I can't not notice it and it almost always takes me out of the experience, which is the opposite of what I want. (via @tonyszhou)

Homme LessAUG 13

Mark Reay is a former model, actor, and fashion photographer who was homeless in NYC for six years. Homme Less is a documentary on Reay; here's a trailer:

So began a period of my life sleeping rough. It was pretty tiring, and I didn't have much luck with the photos, but I stuck it out. I've never let the lack of money stop me having a good time, and I still had (dwindling) savings from my modelling. It was a happy time. At night I would always treat myself to a rotisserie chicken, but I always wanted a chilled rosé with it. So, in the afternoon, I would sneak into a minimarket, get the cheapest one from the shelf and hide it under the frozen peas. Then, at night, I would put on a fresh shirt and go to one of the fancy bars with my wine in my bag. Again, maybe because I had a certain look, no one ever checked my bag. I'd just go in, nick a glass off the counter and drink my wine surrounded my millionaires.

You can get away with anything if you're confident. Oh, and male, white, and good looking.

Dolphins surfingAUG 12

As if you needed more proof that dolphins are cool: they enjoy surfing.

Their life without genderAUG 10

Tyler Ford

Tyler Ford was born a girl, transitioned to being a man in college, but now identifies as an agender person.

I have been out as an agender, or genderless, person for about a year now. To me, this simply means having the freedom to exist as a person without being confined by the limits of the western gender binary. I wear what I want to wear, and do what I want to do, because it is absurd to limit myself to certain activities, behaviours or expressions based on gender. People don't know what to make of me when they see me, because they feel my features contradict one another. They see no room for the curve of my hips to coexist with my facial hair; they desperately want me to be someone they can easily categorise. My existence causes people to question everything they have been taught about gender, which in turn inspires them to question what they know about themselves, and that scares them. Strangers are often desperate to figure out what genitalia I have, in the hope that my body holds the key to some great secret and unavoidable truth about myself and my gender. It doesn't. My words hold my truth. My body is simply the vehicle that gives me the opportunity to express myself.

Ford uses the "they", "them", and "their" pronouns to refer to themselves. (Is it themselves? Or would it be themself? English is a relatively young and fluid language but even it can't keep up.)

Food truck name ideasAUG 21

From Mark Christian, a selection of deliciously pun-filled food truck name ideas. Some favorites:

Shwarmageddon
Calamari Damacy
Get Quiche Or Die Tryin'
What About Kebab?
Planet of the Crepes
Naan Disclosure Agreement
Entrée the Giant

(via @mathowie)

Project SunroofAUG 18

Google's latest project is called Project Sunroof. Sunroof utilizes Google Earth data to estimate the solar energy potential of buildings.

Enter Project Sunroof, my recent 20% project. Project Sunroof is a new online tool we're testing to help homeowners explore whether they should go solar. Available in the San Francisco Bay Area, Fresno (in central California), and the Boston area for now, the tool uses high-resolution aerial mapping (the same used by Google Earth) to help you calculate your roof's solar energy potential, without having to climb up any ladders.

If you're in one of our test regions, simply enter your address and Project Sunroof will crunch the numbers. It first figures out how much sunlight hits your rooftop throughout the year, taking into account factors like roof orientation, shade from trees and nearby buildings, and local weather patterns. You can also enter your typical electric bill amount to customize the results. The tool then combines all this information to estimate the amount you could potentially save with solar panels, and it can help connect you with local solar providers.

Google still has 20% time?

1WTC elevators show NYC time lapseAUG 10

The walls of the elevator to the observatory at the top of 1 World Trade Center are covered with screens and when you ride it to the top, you see a time lapse of NYC's development, from 1500 to the present.

The observatory is open daily from 9am to 8pm.

Around the world in three yearsAUG 03

Walter Chang saved up, quit his job, travelled around the world for three years, and made this video.

I went to South America and trekked through Patagonia. In Zimbabwe, hippos, lions, and elephants roamed through our camping ground. When I got to South Korea, my relatives treated me as one of their own, despite having last seen them 18 years prior.

It was in China, the third country of my trip, when I realized that what I was doing wasn't totally crazy. I had already met a multitude of other backpackers taking extended trips ranging from several months to four years. Young people from abroad were prioritizing travel over hurrying into careers.

This video makes me happy. And sad...I am clearly not grabbing enough tiger by the tail in life currently. Chang is doing a Kickstarter campaign for a book of photos from the trip.

How to live the good lifeAUG 20

Matt Might, who is a professor in computer science at the University of Utah and a professor at the Harvard Medical School, responded to a question on Quora about minimizing the chances of having a disabled child and ended up answering two seemingly unrelated questions as well: How do you get tenure? and How do you live the good life? Long story short: he got tenure and started living the good life because he had a disabled child. But you should read the long story; it's worth it.

My son forced me to systematically examine what matters in life -- what really matters -- and in the end, I came to appreciate a quote from his namesake, Bertrand Russell, more than I could have ever imagined:

"The good life is one inspired by love and guided by knowledge."

My first year as a tenure-track professor cannot be described as anything other than an abject failure. I was so desperate to publish and raise funds that I began thin-slicing my research and submitting lots of poor quality papers and grant proposals.

I must have had a dozen rejections in a row that year. It sucked.

I remember huddling on the porch at the end of that year with my wife, telling her, "Well, I'll at least have a job for six more years."

I looked at my young son, cuddled in her arms. I saw his very existence hung in the balance between knowledge and ignorance.

Then it hit me: Life is too precious and too fleeting to waste my time on bullshit like tenure. I didn't become a professor to get tenure. I became a professor to make the world better through science. From this day forward, I will spend my time on problems and solutions that will matter. I will make a difference.

I stopped working on problems for the sole purpose of notching up a publication. I shifted gears to cybersecurity. I found a project on cancer in the med school. I joined a project in chemical engineering using super-computing to fight global warming.

Suddenly, my papers started getting accepted.

You may remember Might and his son from a recent New Yorker article on people with ultra-rare diseases.

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.

Explore Mars from the comfort of your officeAUG 12

Mars Sat Photo

What are you doing today Jason? Oh not much just exploring Mars. The hell you say. Like fun I am! NASA has released a pair of web apps: one lets you drive Curiosity around the surface of Mars and the other is a 3D visualization of the planet. Oh cool that's what I'm doing today now too. And when you're done with that, follow NASA's new Tumblr. Far out man.

The sounds of Voyager's Golden RecordJUL 29

When they were launched in 1977, the two Voyager spacecraft each carried with them a 12-inch gold-plated copper record containing images and sounds of Earth for the viewing pleasure of whichever aliens happened across them. NASA has put the sounds of the Golden Record up on Soundcloud. Here are the greetings in 55 different languages (from English1 to Hittite to Polish to Thai):

And the sounds of Earth (wild dogs, Morse code, trains):

What's missing from the two playlists is UN Secretary General Kurt Waldheim's greeting:

...as well as several other UN greetings overlaid with whale sounds:

Due to copyright issues, also missing are the 90 minutes of music included on the record. Among the songs are Johnny B. Goode by Chuck Berry, The Rite of Spring by Stravinsky, and Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground by Blind Willie Johnson. Here Comes the Sun by The Beatles was originally supposed to be included, but their record company wouldn't allow it, which is pretty much the most small-minded thing I have ever heard.

  1. The English greeting was spoken by Nick Sagan when he was six years old. Nick is the son of Carl Sagan, who chaired the committee that selected the contents of the record.

Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of The National LampoonAUG 14

Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead is a documentary about National Lampoon coming out this fall. Here's the trailer:

From the 1970s thru the 1990s, there was no hipper, no more outrageous comedy in print than The National Lampoon, the groundbreaking humor magazine that pushed the limits of taste and acceptability -- and then pushed them even harder. Parodying everything from politics, religion, entertainment and the whole of American lifestyle, the Lampoon eventually went on to branch into successful radio shows, record albums, live stage revues and movies, including Animal House and National Lampoon's Vacation. The publication launched the careers of legends like John Belushi, Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, Christopher Guest and Gilda Radner, who went on to gigs at Saturday Night Live and stardom.

Director Douglas Tirola's documentary about the Lampoon, DRUNK STONED BRILLIANT DEAD: THE STORY OF THE NATIONAL LAMPOON, cleverly chronicles its founding by two former Harvard students, its growth, demise and everything in between. Told thru fresh, candid interviews with its key staff, and illustrated with hundreds of outrageous images from the mag itself (along with never-seen interview footage from the magazine's prime), the film gives fans of the Lampoon a unique inside look at what made the magazine tick, who were its key players, and why it was so outrageously successful: a magazine that dared to think what no one was thinking, but wished they had.

(via subtraction)

Slacklining 1000 feet in the air without safety ropesAUG 14

Are your palms dry? Do you wish they were soaked with sweat right now? Then you should definitely watch Spencer Seabrooke walk on a slack line across a 210-foot gap almost 1000 feet in the air without any ropes or safety harnesses.

I mean, Jesus. (via devour)

Real Windows 3.0 Solitaire deck of cardsAUG 10

Susan Kare Cards

Susan Kare, who famously designed the original icons for the Apple Macintosh, has teamed up with Areaware to offer real decks of cards with her artwork from Windows 3.0's version of Solitaire. Nice example of defictionalization. They're currently sold out but I'm hoping they restock so I can order a deck. (via subtraction)

Update: Areaware tells me that the cards aren't out of stock, they are just not in stock yet. So don't worry...they haven't sold out or anything.

rating: 1.0 stars

Room 237SEP 25

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

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

Just watch "The Shining" again instead.

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

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

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

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

*** the price is $13,000.00

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

*** nobody has gottten it right

*** i guarantee satisfaction

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

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

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

i look forward to your response

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

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

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