Movie intro megamixMAY 22

A cleverly constructed mashup of all the major Hollywood studio intros -- MGM's roaring lion, Disney's castle, Paramount's flying stars, Miramax's skyline -- into one mega-intro.

(via @pieratt)

Some weekend reading from David Foster WallaceMAY 22

The Atlantic has republished and reformatted Host by David Foster Wallace on their website. Originally published in 2005, Host was a profile of talk radio host John Ziegler and contained several layers of footnotes, which are beautifully handled in this new online version.

The Nick Berg beheading and its Internet video compose what is known around KFI as a "Monster," meaning a story that has both high news value and tremendous emotional voltage. As is SOP in political talk radio, the emotions most readily accessed are anger, outrage, indignation, fear, despair, disgust, contempt, and a certain kind of apocalyptic glee, all of which the Nick Berg thing's got in spades. Mr. Ziegler, whose program is in only its fourth month at KFI, has been fortunate in that 2004 has already been chock-full of Monsters -- Saddam's detention, the Abu Ghraib scandal, the Scott Peterson murder trial, the Greg Haidl gang-rape trial, and preliminary hearings in the rape trial of Kobe Bryant. But tonight is the most angry, indignant, disgusted, and impassioned that Mr. Z.'s gotten on-air so far, and the consensus in Airmix is that it's resulting in some absolutely first-rate talk radio.

Yesterday was the 10th anniversary1 of Wallace's commencement speech at Kenyon College, among the finest ever given IMO.

The point here is that I think this is one part of what teaching me how to think is really supposed to mean. To be just a little less arrogant. To have just a little critical awareness about myself and my certainties. Because a huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded. I have learned this the hard way, as I predict you graduates will, too.

That speech is also available as a short book, This Is Water. If you read both of those things and hunger for more, luckily there is so much much more.

  1. I've got nothing to say here...I just really couldn't do a post about DFW without footnoting something. Still miss you, big guy.

Treasure trove of over 1700 mechanical animationsAPR 22

Whenever I watch videos of how things are made, I marvel at the cleverness of the manufacturing machines. Retired engineer Duc Thang Nguyen has created over 1700 3D animations showing how all sorts of different mechanisms work...gears, linkages, drives, clutches, and couplings. Here are a few examples to whet your appetite.

(via make)

Digital deformationsMAY 05

Using professional-grade visual effects combo Arnold and Maya, Lee Griggs makes art. Like these Deformations:

Lee Griggs

Lee Griggs

And Abstract Portraits:

Lee Griggs

(via ignant)

Strange MapsOCT 29

Strange Maps

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

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

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.

Dooce is retiringAPR 24

After many years of blogging professionally at Dooce, Heather Armstrong is stepping down to focus on speaking and brand consultation. She's planning to write for fun again.

But what makes this livelihood glaringly different are not only the constant creative strains of churning out new and entertaining content -- content we cannot delegate to anyone else because our audiences read our stories for our particular voice and perspective -- but also the security systems we've had to set up as an increasingly more diverse group of people throw rocks at our houses with the intention of causing damage: passersby, rubbernecks, stalkers, even journalists. We have separate security systems for those who take every word and decision we share and deliberately misinterpret it, disfigure it to the point of it being wholly unrecognizable, and then broadcast to us and to their own audiences that they have diagnosed us with a personality disorder.

"Living online" for us looks completely different now than it did when we all set out to build this community, and the emotional and physical toll of it is rapidly becoming a health hazard.

There's a lot in what Heather wrote that resonates with me. (See also Amateur Gourmet, Dylan Byers, and Marco Arment.) Two or three years ago, I thought I would do my site professionally for the rest of my life, or at least a good long while. The way things are going, in another year or two, I'm not sure that's even going to be an option. The short window of time in which individuals could support themselves by blogging is closing rapidly. There's a lot more I could say about that, but for now, I'll offer my best wishes to Heather in her new endeavors. Dooce is dead, long live Dooce.

A filtered lifeMAY 08

ESPN's Kate Fagan with Split Image, a look at depression and suicide in the age of social media.

On Instagram, Madison Holleran's life looked ideal: Star athlete, bright student, beloved friend. But the photos hid the reality of someone struggling to go on.

(Life's never as good as it looks on Facebook or as bad as it sounds on Twitter.)

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

An oral history of Industrial Light and MagicMAY 19

Star Wars was a film that literally couldn't be made; the technology required to bring the movie's universe to visual life simply didn't exist.

So George Lucas did what any enterprising young director who was destined to change the movie business would do. He invented a company to invent the technology. Wired's Alex French and Howie Kahn take you inside the magic factory with the untold story of ILM.

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

Make your own Star Wars BB-8 rolling ball droidAPR 20

When the first trailer for JJ Abrams' new Star Wars movie came out, we all assumed the rolling ball droid was CGI (and perhaps based on this 2008 xkcd post). Then an actual working model of the droid, called BB-8, showed up on stage at Star Wars Celebration. Minds blew. Industrial design student Christian Poulsen figured out how to make his own version of BB-8 by hacking a Sphero:

Update: It looks like Sphero will be manufacturing an official BB-8 droid toy, which will likely be a massive success.

An animated history of 20th century hairstylesAPR 23

From The Atlantic, a history of hairstyles from 1900 to the present.

Hairstyles featured include the Gibson Girl, bob, conk, pompadour, beehive, Jheri curl, and hi-top fade.

4K dreamtimeAPR 22

Technically, what you're looking at here is a video shot in 4K resolution (basically 2x regular HD) and at 1000 frames/sec by a Phantom Flex 4K camera which retails for $100,000+. Skateboarders ollie. Dirt bikes spray dirt. Gymnasts contort. Make this as fullscreen as possible and just sit back and enjoy.

My favorite bits were of the gymnasts. In super slow motion, you can see how aerial flips are all about getting your head down as quickly as possible, then snapping your legs around as your head stays almost completely motionless -- like a chicken's! Mesmerizing.

Handdrawn logosMAY 08

Seb Lester can somehow freehand draw the logos for the NY Times, Honda, Ferrari, Coca-Cola, and many more.

Watching the video, I didn't even notice any tracing...it's all freehand. Keep up with Lester's drawings on his Instagram account.

A timeline of human history, from 4004 BC to 1881MAY 11

From the David Rumsey Map Collection, a remarkable timeline/history of the world from 4004 BC to 1881 called Adams' Synchronological Chart. This is just a small bit of it:

Adams Synchronological Chart

According to Rumsey's site, the full timeline is more than 22 feet long. (via @john_overholt)

Update: A replica of this chart is available on Amazon in a few different iterations...I'm going to give this one a try. Apparently the charts are popular in Sunday schools and such because the timeline uses the Ussher chronology where the Earth is only 6000 years old.

The best 300 albums of the past 30 yearsMAY 19

For the 30th anniversary of Spin, the editors compiled a list of the 300 best albums released in the past 30 years. The top 20 includes albums by Nirvana, Pixies, Bjork, Radiohead, Beastie Boys, and DJ Shadow. The #1 album is........ nevermind, you should go find out for yourself. (via @jblanton)

Steve Jobs movie trailerMAY 18

I have been doing a poor job keeping up with my Steve Jobs-related media. I haven't had a chance to pick up the new Becoming Steve Jobs book yet. And I had no idea that the Aaron Sorkin-penned biopic was still in the works, much less that Michael Fassbender is playing Jobs and Danny Boyle is directing. Here's the trailer:

The trailer debuted during last night's series finale of Mad Men, which was possibly the most appropriate venue for it. [Slight spoilers...] Draper always had a Jobs-esque sheen to him, although the final scene showed us that, yes, Don Draper actually would like to sell sugar water for the rest of his life.

Only Fish Fall From the SkyMAY 14

Only Fish Fall From The Sky

From illustrator Leif Parsons, a new children's book called Only Fish Fall From the Sky.

A dreamworld where it rains fish instead of water, people dance through dinner, and children sleep with tigers -- welcome to the imagination of author/artist Leif Parsons, whose detailed dreamscapes make ONLY FISH FALL FROM THE SKY a charming bedtime book sure to fascinate preschoolers and young readers.

Khoi Vinh says:

The pages are exquisitely, elaborately packed with unexpected details that kids (and adults) can pore over for hours.

Instant order...this sounds like my favorite kind of kid's book, like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs crossed with Richard Scarry or something.

Minimal mapsMAY 13

A project by Michael Pecirno, Minimal Maps is a collection of US maps that each depict only a single subject with high-resolution data, from deciduous forest cover to cornfields. Here's where grass grows in the US:

Grasslands Map

Very little grassland coverage in New England...that's surprising. Prints are available.

America's most popular tastes mapMAY 21

Foursquare Tastes Map

From a Foursquare and Mapbox collaboration, a map of the most popular tastes in each US state.

Every state in the U.S. has a unique flavor, from Chicken Cheesesteak to Chinese Chicken Salad. Foursquare analyzed the data to pinpoint which food or drink is most disproportionately popular in each destination, and worked with Mapbox to create the dynamic map.

Louisiana is crawfish, Vermont is maple syrup, and Texas is breakfast tacos. I love that Nevada is bottle service. All that state wants is to get you drunk in the least fiscally responsible way possible.

Jessica Hische's secrets revealed!MAY 21

Jessica Hische

One of my favorite designers, Jessica Hische (she did the film titles for Moonrise Kingdom), is coming out with a new book in September called In Progress: See Inside a Lettering Artist's Sketchbook and Process, from Pencil to Vector.

This show-all romp through design-world darling Jessica Hische's sketchbook reveals the creative and technical process behind making award-winning hand lettering. See everything, from Hische's rough sketches to her polished finals for major clients such as Wes Anderson, NPR, and Starbucks. The result is a well of inspiration and brass tacks information for designers who want to sketch distinctive letterforms and hone their skills.

Hische made a video offering a quick tour of the book:

A video posted by @jessicahische on

Looks great!

The centripetal force of lifeMAY 11

I don't quite know what I'm doing to myself these days. Last night was an episode of The Americans in which a marriage was ending, another family was trying to keep itself intact, and a young boy struggles to move on after his entire family dies. This morning, I watched an episode of Mad Men in which a mother tries to reconcile her differences with her daughter in the face of impending separation. And then, the absolute cake topper, a story by Matthew Teague that absolutely wrecked me. It's about his cancer-stricken wife and the friend who comes and rescues an entire family, which is perhaps the truest and most direct thing I've ever read about cancer and death and love and friendship.

Since we had met, when she was still a teenager, I had loved her with my whole self. Only now can I look back on the fullness of our affection; at the time I could see nothing but one wound at a time, a hole the size of a dime, into which I needed to pack a fistful of material. Love wasn't something I felt anymore. It was just something I did. When I finished, I would lie next to her and use sterile cotton balls to soak up her tears. When she finally slept, I would slip out of bed and go into our closet, the most isolated room in the house. Inside, I would wrap a blanket around my head, stuff it into my mouth, lie down and bury my head in a pile of dirty clothes, and scream.

There are very specific parts of all those stories that I identify with. I struggle with friendship. And with family. I worry about my children, about my relationships with them. I worry about being a good parent, about being a good parenting partner with their mom. How much of me do I really want to impart to them? I want them to be better than me, but I can't tell them or show them how to do that because I'm me. I took my best shot at being better and me is all I came up with. What if I'm just giving them the bad parts, without even realizing it? God, this is way too much for a Monday.

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."

All movie trailers are the sameAPR 30

The other day, I made a reference to a trailer for a TV series being "a little too trailery for my taste". What I meant was that it too much like every other trailer (in that genre) and didn't show enough of the character of the particular show being advertised. Action movie trailers are perhaps the worse offenders in this regard, as this meta-trailer shows:

BWAAAAAAAAM!!!

Build up to silence, then BAM!

Like I was saying, too trailery. (via devour)

America's 1.5 million missing black menAPR 21

Missing Black Men

In Ferguson, for every 100 black women between the ages of 25 and 54, there are 60 black men. While Ferguson is extreme, it's not exceptional. Across America, we see similar numbers. So the question arises: What happened to all the black men? The short answer to that question is incarceration and premature death. The longer answer is equally upsetting. From Upshot: 1.5 Million Missing Black Men.

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

1491, the TV seriesAPR 23

1491 TV

Charles Mann's 1491 is one of my all-time favorite books. I mean, if this description doesn't stir you:

Contrary to what so many Americans learn in school, the pre-Columbian Indians were not sparsely settled in a pristine wilderness; rather, there were huge numbers of Indians who actively molded and influenced the land around them. The astonishing Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan had running water and immaculately clean streets, and was larger than any contemporary European city. Mexican cultures created corn in a specialized breeding process that it has been called man's first feat of genetic engineering. Indeed, Indians were not living lightly on the land but were landscaping and manipulating their world in ways that we are only now beginning to understand. Challenging and surprising, this a transformative new look at a rich and fascinating world we only thought we knew.

On Twitter yesterday, Mann shared that a documentary series was being made based on the book. The eight-part series is being commissioned by Canada's APTN (Aboriginal Peoples Television Network) and Barbara Hager, who is of Cree/Metis heritage, will write, direct, and produce.

This is fantastic news. I hope this gets US distribution at some point, even if it's online-only.

Every David Beckham hairstyleMAY 01

In celebration of English footballer David Beckham's 40th birthday, ESPN commissioned Helen Green to take us on an animated voyage through Beck's many hairstyles.

Beckham's Hair

See also every David Bowie hairstyle (also by Green), every Prince hairstyle, and David, a piece of video art by Sam Taylor-Wood of Beckham sleeping for an hour and seven minutes.

Football commentary cheat sheetsMAY 15

Nick Barnes is a football commentator for BBC Radio Newcastle. For each match he does, Barnes dedicates two pages in his notebook for pre-match notes, lineups, player stats, match stats, and dozens of other little tidbits.

Nick Barnes

Nick Barnes

Wonderful folk infographics. NBC commentator Arlo White also shared his pre-match notes. Both men say they barely use the notes during the match...by the time the notes are done, they know the stuff. (via @dens)

Philip Glass discusses his piano etudesAPR 20

For the first episode of BAM's new podcast, Philip Glass and several world-class pianists talk about Glass's piano etudes and what makes them so challenging to perform.

Auto-widened Seinfeld and The SimpsonsMAY 06

Artist JK Keller has digitally widened1 episodes of The Simpsons and Seinfeld to fit a 16:9 HD aspect ratio. Watching the altered scenes is trippy...the characters and their surroundings randomly expand and contract as the scenes play out.

Keller also HD-ified an episode of the X-Files and slimmed an old episode of Star Trek into a vertical aspect ratio. (via @frank_chimero)

  1. At least I think that's how they were created. The videos were posted without explanation -- aside from their titles "LEaKeD TesT footagE frOM seiNfelD RemaSter In hiGh-defiNiTiON" and "animAtORs rEdraw old SimPsons epIsodeS fOr hdTv" -- so it's hard to say for sure.

Black Mass trailerAPR 27

Black Mass stars Johnny Depp as Whitey Bulger, real-life Boston mobster and FBI informant. The trailer is damn good and I'm hoping the rest of the movie lives up to it.

Asking "who's the customer?"MAY 07

If you've bought a ticket to an event in the past, oh, 15-20 years, chances are you got it from Ticketmaster. Chances are also pretty good that you think Ticketmaster completely sucks, mostly because of the unavoidable and exorbitant convenience fee they charge. And that probably has you wondering: if everyone who uses the service hates Ticketmaster so much, how are they still in business? Because ticket buyers are not Ticketmaster's customers. Artists and venues are Ticketmaster's real customers and they provide plenty of value to them.

Ticketmaster sells more tickets than anybody else and they're the biggest company in the ticket selling game. That gives them certain financial resources that smaller companies don't have. TM has used this to their advantage by moving the industry toward very aggressive ticketing deals between ticketing companies and their venue clients. This comes in the form of giving more of the service charge per ticket back to the venue (rebates), and in cash to the venue in the form of a signing bonus or advance against future rebates. Venues are businesses too and, thus, they like "free" money in general (signing bonuses), as well as money now (advances) versus the same money later (rebates).

Read that whole Quora answer again...there's nothing in there about TM being helpful for ticket buyers. It turns out asking "who's the customer?" is a great way of thinking about when certain companies or industries do things that aren't aligned with good customer service or user experience.1

Take Apple and Google for instance. Apple sells software and hardware directly to people; that's where the majority of their revenue comes from. Apple's customers are the people who use Apple products. Google gets most of their revenue from putting advertising into the products & services they provide. The people who use Google's products and services are not Google's customers, the advertisers are Google's customers. Google does a better job than Ticketmaster at providing a good user experience, but the dissonance that results between who's paying and who's using gets the company in trouble sometimes. See also Facebook and Twitter, among many others.

Newspapers, magazines, and television networks have dealt with this same issue for decades now.2 They derive large portions of their revenue from advertisers and, in the case of the TV networks, from the cable companies who pay to carry their channels. That results in all sorts of user hostile behavior, from hiding a magazine's table of contents in 20 pages of ads to shrieking online advertising to commercials that are louder than the shows to clunky product placement to trimming scenes from syndicated shows to cram in more commercials. From ABC to Vogue to the New York Times, you're not the customer and it shows.

This might be off-topic (or else the best example of all), but "who's the customer?" got me thinking about who the customers of large public corporations really are: shareholders and potential shareholders. The accepted wisdom of maximizing shareholder value has become an almost moral imperative for large corporations. The needs of their customers, employees, the environment, and the communities in which they're located often take a backseat to keeping happy the big investment banks, mutual funds, and hedge funds who buy their stock. When providing good customer service and experience is viewed by companies as opposite to maximizing shareholder value, that's a big problem for consumers.

Update: I somehow neglected to include the pithy business saying "if you're not paying for the product, you are the product", which originated in a slightly different phrasing on MetaFilter.

Update: One example of how maximizing shareholder value can work against good customer service comes from a paper by a trio of economists. In it, they argue that co-ownership of two or more airlines by the same investor results in higher prices.

In a new paper, Azar and co-authors Martin C. Schmalz and Isabel Tecu have uncovered a smoking gun. To test the hypothesis that institutional investors gain market power that results in higher prices, they examine airline routes. Although we think of airlines as independent companies, they are actually mostly owned by a small group of institutional investors. For example, United's top five shareholders -- all institutional investors -- own 49.5 percent of the firm. Most of United's largest shareholders also are the largest shareholders of Southwest, Delta, and other airlines. The authors show that airline prices are 3 percent to 11 percent higher than they would be if common ownership did not exist. That is money that goes from the pockets of consumers to the pockets of investors.

How exactly might this work? It may be that managers of institutional investors put pressure on the managers of the companies that they own, demanding that they don't try to undercut the prices of their competitors. If a mutual fund owns shares of United and Delta, and United and Delta are the only competitors on certain routes, then the mutual fund benefits if United and Delta refrain from price competition. The managers of United and Delta have no reason to resist such demands, as they, too, as shareholders of their own companies, benefit from the higher profits from price-squeezed passengers. Indeed, it is possible that managers of corporations don't need to be told explicitly to overcharge passengers because they already know that it's in their bosses' interest, and hence their own. Institutional investors can also get the outcomes they want by structuring the compensation of managers in subtle ways. For example, they can reward managers based on the stock price of their own firms -- rather than benchmarking pay against how well they perform compared with industry rivals -- which discourages managers from competing with the rivals.

(via @krylon)

  1. BTW, asking who the customer is doesn't help in every situation where bad service and contempt for the customer rears its ugly head. See cable companies, mobile carriers, and airlines. Companies also have other conflicts of interest that interfere with good customer experience. Apple, for instance, does all kinds of things that aren't necessarily in the best interest of the people buying their products. And as the Ticketmaster example shows, determining a company's true customer isn't just a matter of where the revenue comes from. It's never simple.

  2. This is a potential problem with kottke.org as well. Almost all of my revenue comes from advertising. My high regard for the reader keeps me pretty honest (I hope!), but it's difficult sometimes.

Pitfall Jack BlackMAY 12

I remember this commercial for Pitfall! but I had no idea Jack Black was in it.

I learned about this from a short profile of Black by Tad Friend, in which the pair hit up Barcade in Chelsea.

He played Punch-Out, Atari Basketball, Donkey Kong, and Lunar Lander, increasingly nimble on the joystick. "It's all bringing back some foggy déjà vus," he said. Inside the Discs of Tron cabinet, the black light lit up his checked shirt. "Dude, this!" he said. He commenced making his avatar leap from platform to platform, as he sought to "de-rez" his opponent by throwing disks at him. At every level-completed chime, Black snapped his fingers and did a little dance. "He's one tough cookie -- you gotta get him with a ricochet," he said, manhandling the controls. "Taste it! Oh, God -- why? Why?" Regally, he entered "JA" atop the roll of honor.

Perfect cubes of foodMAY 13

Perfect Food Cubes

From the design shop of Lernert & Sander, a poster of almost a hundred different foods cut into perfect little cubes. No CGI involved, it's actually food. No idea how they got some of those foods to hang together...particularly the onion, cabbage, and leek. (via colossal)

Jamie Oliver: how to chop an onionAPR 28

Chef and TV personality Jamie Oliver shows three different techniques for chopping onions, including the dead simple "crystals" method.

2015 Pulitzer Prize winnersAPR 21

Sixth Extinction

Vox has a list of all the 2015 Pulitzer Prize winners. I am especially pleased to see Elizabeth Kolbert win the general nonfiction category for The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History...I've been reading her writing on climate change and environmental issues in the New Yorker for years now.

Letterman prepares to sign offAPR 29

Letterman's cups

I was never a particular fan of David Letterman's show1 but always have appreciated what he did and how he did it. Dave Itzkoff of the NY Times did an interview with Letterman about his impending retirement.

It seems like there's an increasing emphasis, at least with your network competitors, to create comedy bits that will go viral on the Internet. Did you make a conscious choice to stay out of that arms race?

No, it just came and went without me. It sneaked up on me and went right by. People on the staff said, "You know what would be great is if you would join Twitter." And I recognized the value of it. It's just, I didn't know what to say. You go back to your parents' house, and they still have the rotary phone. It's a little like that.

The photo slide show accompanying the piece is worth a look as well, particularly the photo of the stack of paper coffee cups in Letterman's dressing room (one cup for each show, they cover half his mirror) and the final one of Letterman bounding out onto stage. I hope that when I'm 68, I'm still charging ahead like Dave.

  1. To be honest, I've never been a particular fan of any late night television, save for SNL in the late 80s and early 90s. I watched the last few years of Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show and then the first couple years of Leno, mostly because that's what my parents watched. Letterman I caught every once in awhile after Carson and rarely after his move to CBS. I've only seen Conan's show a handful of times...same with The Daily Show and Colbert. Have never watched a single episode of Fallon or Kimmel or Conan's new show. Oh, I've seen clips on the web and such, but never whole shows.

    My late night TV as a kid was Doctor Who and British comedies -- Are You Being Served?, 'Allo 'Allo, Fawlty Towers, Good Neighbors, Keeping Up Appearances, The Fall And Rise Of Reginald Perrin, etc. -- on the local PBS station. That and Nintendo.

America's bias against the common goodMAY 19

In The Plot Against Trains, Adam Gopnik muses about how infrastructure in America has become dilapidated in part because we (or at least much of we) believe little good can come from the government.

What an ideology does is give you reasons not to pursue your own apparent rational interest -- and this cuts both ways, including both wealthy people in New York who, out of social conviction, vote for politicians who are more likely to raise their taxes, and poor people in the South who vote for those devoted to cutting taxes on incomes they can never hope to earn. There is no such thing as false consciousness. There are simply beliefs that make us sacrifice one piece of self-evident interest for some other, larger principle.

What we have, uniquely in America, is a political class, and an entire political party, devoted to the idea that any money spent on public goods is money misplaced, not because the state goods might not be good but because they would distract us from the larger principle that no ultimate good can be found in the state. Ride a fast train to Washington today and you'll start thinking about national health insurance tomorrow.

The ideology of individual autonomy is, for good or ill, so powerful that it demands cars where trains would save lives, just as it places assault weapons in private hands, despite the toll they take in human lives. Trains have to be resisted, even if it means more pollution and massive inefficiency and falling ever further behind in the amenities of life -- what Olmsted called our "commonplace civilization."

The way he brings it back to trains at the end is lovely:

A train is a small society, headed somewhere more or less on time, more or less together, more or less sharing the same window, with a common view and a singular destination.

Well, except when you're on that Snowpiercer train. Although in the end (spoiler!), Curtis brought the train's segregated society back to "a common view and a singular destination" by crashing it and killing (almost) everyone on it. Hopefully America isn't headed toward the same end.

Radiohead x Cubicolor x Jamie xxMAY 12

Really enjoying this chill remix of Radiohead's Reckoner by Cubicolor this morning.

The band hasn't shared anything in over three years, but Radiohead does have a Soundcloud account full of remixes of their stuff, including this remix of Bloom by Jamie xx:

Speaking of Jamie xx, a new track from his upcoming album dropped yesterday. I've been wearing out his preview album on Rdio for the past couple of weeks. Good Times. (via @naveen)

"I Googled how to be a porn star"MAY 20

Miriam Weeks was in the news last year as the Duke freshmen who performed in pornographic movies as Belle Knox. In this five-part documentary video series, Weeks discusses her decision to work in the porn industry and how it has affected her life.

I'm 18 years old, and I travel across the country having sex with people on camera, and every dollar I make goes to tuition. I've built a name for myself. I'm building a brand. I love the porn industry. It makes me feel like a strong independent woman. It's given me back my sense of self.

Probably NSFW, although all the nudity appears to be blurred.

Amazon's goat grazing servicesAPR 21

Amazon Goats

Included in Amazon's recently launched Home Services is a goat grazing service, currently in beta.

Q: If goat grazing is right for my property, what would the service entail?

A: Once a pro has met with you to determine if unleashing some friendly goats on your property will help you get rid of any unwanted vegetation, you'll receive a recommendation for how many goats will be loaned to you, how long those goats will keep you company, and how often a pro will come check on them to make sure they're not attempting any fancy tricks to break free from the temporary fencing that will be placed around them. As they graze, they will likely leave behind some droppings, too, and you'll get to keep this fertilizer as a friendly parting gift!

The goat grazing service isn't available in Manhattan, but Amazon really does want to sell everything in the world, don't they. Buy N Large, here we come. (via @mkonnikova)

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.

rating: 4.5 stars

Annie HallFEB 09

A young-ish Christopher Walken appears in Annie Hall but his name is misspelled in the credits as "Christopher Wlaken". Were this 1990, I might have invented a eastern European backstory for Wlaken, who, perhaps, Americanized his name sometime after appearing in the film. But as we live in the future, a cool hunk of glass and metal from my pocket told me -- before the credits even finished rolling -- that the actor was born Ronald Walken in Astoria, Queens.

The future isn't any fun sometimes.

Gay Talese's address bookMAY 14

Writer Gay Talese talks about his address book, in which he has written the names and phone numbers of almost everyone he's ever had "an encounter" with over the past 50 years.

(via submitted for your perusal)

The backwards bike will break your brainAPR 28

Do you think you could ride a bicycle that steers backwards...aka it turns left when you turn right and vice versa? It sounds easy but years of normal bike riding experience makes it almost impossible. Destin Sandlin of Smarter Everyday taught himself how to ride the backwards-steering bike; it took months. Then he tried riding a normal bicycle again...

Loved this video...great stuff. (via ★interesting)

The Remarkable Apple ComputerMAY 06

Early Apple Article

From 1977, is this the first news article written about Apple Computer? Sheila Craven wrote about the fledgeling computer maker in the second issue of Kilobaud, The Small Computer Magazine.

"My interview with the two Steves took place while they were still in the folks' garage," Craven tells Business Insider. She remembers it this way:

"I flew up from LA, and the two Steves picked me up in a red Chevy Luv Truck, tossed my suitcase in the back, and put me between them in the front seat. We went someplace for lunch, and talked about their plans.

Of course, Steve Jobs did all the talking. After lunch we drove to his parents home in Palo Alto-never went inside the house-straight to the garage. On a workbench sat a PC board. above the workbench on a shelf sat a TV set where wires dangled from it to the PC board.

The whole time Steve Jobs was talking, explaining, outlining future plans for marketing and development, he was just about dancing on his tippy toes in his tennies. Then Woz sat at the workbench, initiating the operating system (I suppose) to demonstrate a program. Woz was pretty quiet. I got that he was the engineering brain power, and Jobs was the idea guy.

One of the things Jobs told me was that they would make certain there would be an Apple in every classroom and on every desk, because if kids grew up using and knowing the Apple, they would continue to buy Apples and so would their kids. The computers would be donated by Apple Computer. I understand that when that article came out, orders starting pouring in, and Apple Computer was seriously launched."

Star Wars x Star Trek: The Carbonite ManeuverMAY 12

From an alternate universe in 1985, a Star Wars crossover with Star Trek that never happened in which Lord Vader has the Genesis Device.

Paging JJ Abrams. Mr. Abrams to the white courtesy phone please. (via @khoi)

Finding ZeroAPR 23

Finding Zero

The latest book from Amir Aczel, who has written previously about the compass, the Large Hadron Collider, and Fermat's Last Theorem, is Finding Zero: A Mathematician's Odyssey to Uncover the Origins of Numbers...in particular, the number zero.

Finding Zero is an adventure filled saga of Amir Aczel's lifelong obsession: to find the original sources of our numerals. Aczel has doggedly crisscrossed the ancient world, scouring dusty, moldy texts, cross examining so-called scholars who offered wildly differing sets of facts, and ultimately penetrating deep into a Cambodian jungle to find a definitive proof.

The NY Times has a review of the book, written by another Amir, Amir Alexander, who wrote a recent book on infinitesimals, aka very nearly zero. (via @pomeranian99)

Mining the internet for time lapsesMAY 18

Software from a group at the University of Washington and Google discovers time lapses lurking in photos posted to the internet. For example, their bot found hundreds of photos of a Norwegian glacier on the Web, taken over a span of 10 years. Voila, instant time lapse of a retreating glacier.

First, we cluster 86 million photos into landmarks and popular viewpoints. Then, we sort the photos by date and warp each photo onto a common viewpoint. Finally, we stabilize the appearance of the sequence to compensate for lighting effects and minimize flicker. Our resulting time-lapses show diverse changes in the world's most popular sites, like glaciers shrinking, skyscrapers being constructed, and waterfalls changing course.

This is like a time machine, allowing you to go back 5 or 10 years and position a camera somewhere to take photos every few days or weeks. Pretty clever.

The Hateful Eight teaser trailerAPR 17

This is the teaser trailer for Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight, the movie whose script leaked, was cancelled, was planned to be released as a book, and then uncanceled.

Update: I'm getting emails and tweets saying this trailer is fake. And if it is fake, is there a non-fake leaked trailer out there or...?

Update: Just to be clear, this is totally fake and constructed from bits of other movies, etc.

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)

Web MandelbrotMAY 04

Mandelbrot

This web app allows you to explore the Mandelbrot set interactively...just click and zoom. I had an application like this on my computer in college, but it only went a few zooms deep before crashing though. There was nothing quite like zooming in a bunch of times on something that looked like a satellite photo of a river delta and seeing something that looks exactly like when you started. (via @stevenstrogatz)

The Artists' and Writers' CookbookMAY 06

Artists and Writers Cookbook

Published in 1961 with an introduction by Alice B Toklas, The Artists' and Writers' Cookbook features recipes and wisdom from dozens of writers and artists, including Harper Lee, Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, Pearl Buck, Upton Sinclair, John Keats, and Burl Ives. Lee shared her recipe for crackling cornbread:

First, catch your pig. Then ship it to the abattoir nearest you. Bake what they send back. Remove the solid fat and throw the rest away. Fry fat, drain off liquid grease, and combine the residue (called "cracklings") with:

1 ½ cups water-ground white meal
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 egg
1 cup milk

Bake in very hot oven until brown (about 15 minutes).

Result: one pan crackling bread serving 6. Total cost: about $250, depending upon size of pig. Some historians say this recipe alone fell the Confederacy.

And Marcel Duchamp offers up a preparation of steak tartare:

Let me begin by saying, ma chere, that Steak Tartare, alias Bitteck Tartare, also known as Steck Tartare, is in no way related to tartar sauce. The steak to which I refer originated with the Cossacks in Siberia, and it can be prepared on horseback, at swift gallop, if conditions make this a necessity.

Indications: Chop one half pound (per person) of the very best beef obtainable, and shape carefully with artistry into a bird's nest. Place on porcelain plate of a solid color -- ivory is the best setting -- so that no pattern will disturb the distribution of ingredients. In hollow center of nest, permit two egg yolks to recline. Like a wreath surrounding the nest of chopped meat, arrange on border of plate in small, separate bouquets:

Chopped raw white onion
Bright green capers
Curled silvers of anchovy
Fresh parsley, chopped fine
Black olives minutely chopped in company with yellow celery leaves
Salt and pepper to taste

Each guest, with his plate before him, lifts his fork and blends the ingredients with the egg yolks and meat. In center of table: Russian pumpernickel bread, sweet butter, and bottles of vin rosé.

Not to be outdone, MoMA published their own artists' cookbook in 1977, featuring contributions from Louise Bourgeois, Christo, Salvador Dali, Willem De Kooning, Roy Lichtenstein, and Andy Warhol. Here's Warhol's recipe:

Andy Warhol doesn't eat anything out of a can anymore. For years, when he cooked for himself, it was Heinz or Campbell's tomato soup and a ham sandwich. He also lived on candy, chocolate, and "anything with red dye #2 in it." Now, though he still loves junk food, McDonald's hamburgers and French fries are something "you just dream for."

The emphasis is on health, staying thin and eating "simple American food, nothing complicated, no salt or butter." In fact, he says, "I like to go to bad restaurants, because then I don't have to eat. Airplane food is the best food -- it's simple, they throw it away so quickly and it's so bad you don't have to eat it."

Campbell's Milk of Tomato Soup
A 10 3/4-ounce can Campbell's condensed tomato soup
2 cans milk
In a saucepan bring soup and two cans milk to boil; stir. Serve.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, the TV seriesAPR 29

Ever since I read Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell just after it came out, I've wondered when someone was going to do a movie or miniseries adaptation. Well, BBC has stepped up with a seven-part series that debuts on BBC One in May and on BBC America "this summer". Here's a trailer:

Set at the beginning of the 19th-century, England no longer believes in practical magic. The reclusive Mr Norrell of Hurtfew Abbey stuns the city of York when he causes the statues of York Cathedral to speak and move. With a little persuasion and help from his man of business Childermass, he goes to London to help the government in the war against Napoleon. It is there Norrell summons a fairy to bring Lady Pole back from the dead, opening a whole can of worms...

That trailer was a little too trailery for my taste (if you know what I mean), but I'm excited nonetheless. (via ★interesting)

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.

Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything?MAY 08

Gwyneth Wrong

From juice cleanses to vaccines to gluten to exercise to, uh, vagina steaming, celebrities like Jenny McCarthy and Gwyneth Paltrow are often found making claims that have little or no scientific evidence behind them. Timothy Caulfield recently wrote a book exploring the world of celebrity pseudoscience called Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything?

But while much has been written about the cause of our obsession with the rich and famous, Caulfield argues that not enough has been done to debunk celebrity messages and promises about health, diet, beauty, or the secret to happiness. From the obvious dangers, to body image of super-thin models and actors, or Gwyneth Paltrow's enthusiastic endorsement of a gluten free-diet for almost everyone, or Jenny McCarthy's ill-informed claims of the risks associated with vaccines, celebrity opinions have the power to dominate our conversations and outlooks on our lives and ourselves.

Julia Belluz of Vox interviewed Caulfield about the book.

JB: So is Gwyneth actually wrong about everything?

TC: It's incredible how much she is wrong about. Even when she is right about stuff -- like telling people to eat more fruits and vegetables -- there is always a bit of a tinge of wrongness. She'll say, "It has to be organic," for example. She is still distracting us with these untrue details, as opposed to just pushing the honest truth.

See also Your detoxing juice cleanse is bullshit.

Berlin in 1945MAY 04

Seven minutes of color film footage of Berlin in 1945, right after the end of World War II. Lots of bombed out buildings, soldiers, bicycles, rebuilding, and people going about their daily business.

Be sure to watch all the way to the end...there's an incredible aerial shot of the Brandenburg Gate and the Unter den Linden that shows the scale of damage done to the city's buildings. More of that aerial footage here. (via devour)

Slow motion candle magicMAY 15

If you hold a lit match an inch or two over the smoking wick of a recently extinguished candle, the candle will light again. If you record that happening with a high speed camera and then slow it way down, it gives you some clues to how that happens:

Hint: wax is a candle's fuel and smoke is wax vapor... (via digg)

Freeline skate tricksAPR 20

I'd never heard of freeline skates before...they're like little skateboards, one for each foot. This video shows how they're used for tricks and such:

That looks hard, much more difficult than skateboarding or inline skates. But maybe not, once you get the hang of it? Can't beat the portability though...they'd slip right into a small bag when you're not using them. (via @matiasfrndz)

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)

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