Tree-eating machineJUN 30

This terrifying machine, called a DAH Forestry Mulcher, eats an entire 30-foot tall tree in less than 15 seconds.

Ok humanity, now invent a machine that plants 30-foot tall trees in 15 seconds... (via digg)

Spielberg to direct The BFG movieJUN 24

I missed this news a couple of months ago: Steven Spielberg is going to direct a movie version of Roald Dahl's The BFG.

Renowned film director Steven Spielberg will direct the new adaptation with Melissa Mathison, who last worked with Spielberg on ET, writing the script. Frank Marshall will produce the film and Michael Siegel and John Madden are on board as executive producers.

I can't find any direct evidence, but the way the news is being reported, this seems like it'll be a live-action film and not a Tintin 3-D motion capture affair.

Rian Johnson to direct Star Wars VIII and IXJUN 20

Rian Johnson, director of Brick and Looper (both of which I really enjoyed) and one of the best episodes of Breaking Bad, is rumored to be the director of the 8th and 9th episodes of Star Wars.

Johnson will take over the core film franchise, and he'll get started quickly and this will be his preoccupation for quite awhile. Technically, he'll write that second treatment but the intention on both sides is that he direct the two installments.

First Abrams and now this...Disney seems to be doing a much better job shepherding the Star Wars franchise than Lucas did. (via df)

A People's History of TattooineJUL 17

In the same vein as the Zinn/Chomsky Lord of the Rings commentary is A People's History of Tattooine, a Twitter conversation that Jacob Harris kicks off thusly:

What if Mos Eisley wasn't really that wretched and it was just Obi Wan being racist again?

Some other highlights:

"more civilized time?" Check your privilege, Obi Wan

the Tusken People. Raiders presumes some malevolent intent

all I'm saying is that I don't blame the Tusken People for steering clear of the racist, violent and armed old man

like anybody forgets what Luke and his friends did to native womp rat populations at Beggars Canyon Park

The Bike BrothersJUL 11

In 1986, the BBC produced a short documentary film on the Taylor brothers, a trio of professional cyclists from the 1930s and 40s. The three of them operated a bicycle shop, which turned out handmade bikes for decades.

Delightful. Don't miss one of the brothers putting the racing stripes on a frame by hand starting at around 12:00. You can read a bit more about the brothers here and here. (via @cdevroe)

Behind the scenes of Orange Is the New BlackJUL 18

I was 29 years old and living the dream, or at least my version of it, when everything changed. I was in love with an amazing woman and had a rent-controlled sublet in New York City's West Village and a good job at a glossy magazine. By any estimation as I now recall my life before it was tossed upside down, my girlfriend and I had no discernible problems.

In Matter, Larry Smith's My Life with Piper: From Big House to Small Screen.

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Rant against birthday dinnersJUL 17

At The Bold Italic, an anonymous San Franciscan rails against the practice of going out to dinner with a group of friends for your birthday.

Look, I don't think I'm a cheap ass, but I typically spend under $100 on a birthday gift for my own mother. And this is San Francisco; your friends are going to range from hella rich to hella poor, and the whole premise of these group dinners makes things uncomfortable for everyone. It's not that I think birthdays need to be extravagant exercises in theme and creativity; I'm just saying there are lots of things you could do on your birthday, and a huge dinner is one of the worst. For less money and less hassle, everyone could pitch in and rent a suite at a fancy hotel with a pool. Do that. Do anything else.

(via @arainert)

Buzz Aldrin's Reddit AMAJUL 08

Buzz Aldrin just did one of Reddit's crowdsourced Q&As. He hits it out of the park with his first answer:

Q: Is there any experience on Earth that even compares slightly to having been on the Moon?

A: My first words of my impression of being on the surface of the Moon that just came to my mind was "Magnificent desolation." The magnificence of human beings, humanity, Planet Earth, maturing the technologies, imagination and courage to expand our capabilities beyond the next ocean, to dream about being on the Moon, and then taking advantage of increases in technology and carrying out that dream -- achieving that is magnificent testimony to humanity. But it is also desolate -- there is no place on earth as desolate as what I was viewing in those first moments on the Lunar Surface.

Because I realized what I was looking at, towards the horizon and in every direction, had not changed in hundreds, thousands of years. Beyond me I could see the moon curving away -- no atmosphere, black sky. Cold. Colder than anyone could experience on Earth when the sun is up -- but when the sun is up for 14 days, it gets very, very hot. No sign of life whatsoever.

That is desolate. More desolate than any place on Earth.

The Forest Man of IndiaJUL 17

Since 1979, Jadav Payeng has planted every single tree in a forest that covers some 1360 acres of an island in the Jorhat district of India. The forest helps prevent the erosion of the island and is now home to elephants, rhinos, tigers, and other animals. Forest Man is a short documentary film on how this forest came to be.

(via @AdmiralTwombly)

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)

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.

Vermeer and authenticityJUL 10

In the first two installments of a series about artistic authenticity, Rex Sorgatz writes about five different people's efforts to own a Vermeer and how you can get your very own masterpiece.

It's possible that Vermeer -- an artist who many consider the greatest painter of all time -- could paint with no more acuity than you or me. Vermeer may have been a simple technologist -- but a technologist who could recreate the world with scintillating photographic intensity, centuries before photography was invented, which might actually be a bigger deal than being a good painter.

I loved these articles. I wish I would have written them...I am fascinated with both Vermeer and art forgeries. Good stuff.

Where to stand in solar systemJUL 02

xkcd solid Solar System

From XKCD, an illustration of the solar system's solid surfaces stitched together. Best viewed large (if only to find the "all human skin" label). Randall Munroe is just the best, isn't he?

The putter togethererJUL 02

A person who makes scissors by hand is called a putter, short for putter togetherer. The Putter is a four-minute silent film by Shaun Bloodworth that shows putter Cliff Denton making scissors.

You can order a pair of these handmade scissors at Ernest Wright & Sons; a pair of 6-inch desk scissors are £23, but they come with a lifetime guarantee and I bet you won't find a better pair of scissors anywhere. The wonderful music in that video is by The Black Dog. (via colossal)

Worn awayJUL 08

Oh, this is wonderful: Laurin Döpfner took an industrial sander to objects like logs, electronics, a camera, and a walnut, shaved off 0.5 mm at a time, and made a time lapse video of the results.

This is like a full-color MRI process. Could watch it all day. (via colossal)

Planning for griefJUN 26

Rather than slip away gradually into death as a different person, a woman with Alzheimer's disease decided to commit suicide while she was still herself. Planning for her death may have helped her family with their grief.

And even though Emily Bem had supported her mother's decision, this date -- the cold reality of it -- was very hard to accept.

"I said she seemed too well and it seemed too soon. I felt really angry. I felt they were all wrong," Emily says.

And so to ease the process for their daughter and their friends, Sandy and Daryl announced that the Sunday before, everyone would gather to honor Sandy.

"We thought that would be a nice thing," says Daryl Bem. "It made a lot more sense than a funeral where she wouldn't be."

On that Sunday, family and friends sat on the white couch in the living room to talk about Sandy's life, much of which, according to Emily, Sandy had by that point forgotten.

"She just listened and listened and listened, and at the end she would say, 'Wow, I did that? Amazing. Amazing!' "

Emily says when she showed up at the meeting she was still very angry, convinced that her mother should hold on. Emily, who also lives in Ithaca, has a toddler. She wanted more time with her mother. But over the course of the meeting, this feeling began to ebb.

(via @scottlamb)

Black bar sunglassesJUN 26

Maybe I'm the last person in the world to see these (I don't go out on Halloween or to clubs or do anything cool really), but these Black bar censorship sunglasses are a little bit genius:

Black Bar Sunglasses

And they look way better than wearing Google Glass. You can buy a pair on Amazon for $6. Reminds me of David Friedman's pre-pixelated clothes for reality TV shows. (via @mrgan)

What else is out there?JUN 26

Great post on the Fermi Paradox, aka if there are so many potential intelligent civilizations out there in the universe (possibly 10 quadrillion of them), why haven't we heard from anyone?

Possibility 5) There's only one instance of higher-intelligent life -- a "superpredator" civilization (like humans are here on Earth) -- who is far more advanced than everyone else and keeps it that way by exterminating any intelligent civilization once they get past a certain level. This would suck. The way it might work is that it's an inefficient use of resources to exterminate all emerging intelligences, maybe because most die out on their own. But past a certain point, the super beings make their move -- because to them, an emerging intelligent species becomes like a virus as it starts to grow and spread. This theory suggests that whoever was the first in the galaxy to reach intelligence won, and now no one else has a chance. This would explain the lack of activity out there because it would keep the number of super-intelligent civilizations to just one.

Even more AwakeJUN 25

Com Truise remix of Tycho's Awake? Yes please.

Now get Kygo to remix the remix and we'll have the perfect kottke.org sleepy beats trifecta.

Paper to pixelsJUN 26

Nice little video essay on information theory and Claude Shannon, "the most important man you've probably never heard of".

How ramen noodles are madeJUL 17

Sun Noodle makes the ramen noodles for a host of the top ramen shops in NYC, LA, and elsewhere (Ivan, Momofuku, etc.)...here's a look at how the noodles are made in their New Jersey factory:

See also how to make hand-pulled noodles and Sun Noodle's fresh ramen kits are available for retail (via devour)

The Soul of a New MachineJUL 02

Inspired by Halt and Catch Fire, I'm re-reading Tracy Kidder's The Soul of a New Machine. I had forgotten how good this book is. Man. The story follows an engineering team at Data General as they attempt to design and build an entirely new minicomputer in the late 1970s. Kidder won a Pulitzer and a National Book Award for this book.

The Atlantic published two lengthy excerpts of the book back in 1981 -- Flying Upside Down and The Ultimate Toy -- but if those catch your fancy at all, I'd recommend skipping them and just read the book.

One holiday morning in 1978, Tom West traveled to a city that was situated, he would later say guardedly, "somewhere in America." He entered a building as though he belonged there, strolled down a hallway, and let himself quietly into a windowless room. Just inside the door, he stopped.

The floor was torn up; a shallow trench filled with fat power cables traversed it. Along the far wall, at the end of the trench, enclosed in three large, cream-colored steel cabinets, stood a VAX 11/780, the most important of a new class of computers called "32-bit superminis." To West's surprise, one of the cabinets was open and a man with tools was standing in front of it. A technician, still installing the machine, West figured.

Although West's designs weren't illegal, they were sly, and he had no intention of embarrassing the friend who had told him he could visit this room. If the technician had asked West to identify himself, West wouldn't have lied and he wouldn't have answered the question, either. But the moment went by. The technician didn't inquire. West stood around and watched him work, and in a little while the technician packed up his tools and left.

Then West closed the door and walked back across the room to the computer, which was now all but fully assembled. He began to take it apart.

West was the leader of a team of computer engineers at a company called Data General. The machine that he was disassembling was produced by a rival firm, Digital Equipment Corporation, or DEC. A VAX and a modest amount of adjunctive equipment sold for something like $200,000, and as West liked to say, DEC was beginning to sell VAXes "like jellybeans." West had traveled to this room to find out for himself just how good this computer was, compared with the one that his team was building.

The rise and fall of American smokingJUL 16

US smoking chart

Over the past century, adult per capita cigarette consumption in the US rose from nearly nothing in 1900 to a peak of more than 4000 cigarettes per year in the early 60s and then fell to the current rate of around 1000/yr. Currently, smoking in the US correlates highly with level of education and poverty.

Smoking, as it happens, also appears to be highly correlated with both poverty and education levels in the United States: 27.9 percent of American adults living below the poverty line are smokers, while just 17 percent of those living above it are, according to the CDC; 24.7 percent of American adults without a high school diploma are smokers, while 23.1 percent of those with one are. Only 9.1 percent of those with an undergraduate degree, and 5.9 percent of those with a graduate degree are smokers.

According to Wikipedia, the US is 51st among nations in annual smoking rates. Eastern Europe and Russia hold all the top spots, but their per capita rates (~2800/yr) are all lower than the rate in the US in the 60s. But that's nothing compared to Scotland...their rate was once 7000 cigarettes per year. (via @dens)

LoTR DVD commentary from Zinn and ChomskyJUL 14

This is an old piece from McSweeney's, but it's absolute gold and I can't believe I've been missing it all these years. In it, Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn record a DVD commentary for the first Lord of the Rings movie. So, so good.

Zinn: You've spoken to me before about Mordor's lack of access to the mineral wealth that the Dwarves control.

Chomsky: If we're going to get into the socio-economic reasons why certain structures develop in certain cultures... it's mainly geographical. We have Orcs in Mordor -- trapped, with no mineral resources -- hemmed in by the Ash Mountains, where the "free peoples" of Middle Earth can put a city, like Osgiliath, and effectively keep the border closed.

Zinn: Don't forget the Black Gate. The Black Gate, which, as Tolkien points out, was built by Gondor. And now we jump to the Orcs chopping down the trees in Isengard.

Chomsky: A terrible thing the Orcs do here, isn't it? They destroy nature. But again, what have we seen, time and time again?

Zinn: The Orcs have no resources. They're desperate.

Chomsky: Desperate people driven to do desperate things.

Zinn: Desperate to compete with the economic powerhouses of Rohan and Gondor.

Chomsky: Who really knows their motive? Maybe this is a means to an end. And while that might not be the best philosophy in the world, it makes the race of Man in no way superior. They're going to great lengths to hold onto their power. Two cultures locked in conflict over power, with one culture clearly suffering a great deal. I think sharing power and resources would have been the wisest approach, but Rohan and Gondor have shown no interest in doing so. Sometimes, revolution must be --

Zinn: Mistakes are often --

Chomsky: Blood must be shed. I forget what Thomas Jefferson --

Here's part two. And the same writers, Jeff Alexander and Tom Bissell, also did one for The Return of the King.

Scientist biography recommendationsJUL 02

Earlier today I asked my Twitter followers for recommendations for "really good" biographies about scientists. I gave Genius (James Gleick's bio of Richard Feynman) and Cleopatra, A Life (not about a scientist but was super interesting and well-written) as examples of what I was looking for. You can see the responses here and I've pulled out a few of the most interesting ones below:

- Isaac Newton by James Gleick. Gleick wrote the aforementioned Genius and Chaos, another favorite of mine. I tried to read The Information last year after many glowing recommendations from friends but couldn't get into it. Someone suggested Never at Rest is a superior Newton bio.

- The Man Who Loved Only Numbers by Paul Hoffman. I've read this biography of mathematician Paul Erdos; highly recommended.

- Galileo's Daughter by Dava Sobel. I've never read anything by Sobel; I'll have to rectify that.

- Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson. I enjoyed his problematic Jobs biography and I notice that he's written one on Ben Franklin as well.

- Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges.

- American Prometheus by Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin. Bio of J. Robert Oppenheimer, leader of the Manhattan Project. See also: The Making of the Atomic Bomb, one of my favorite books ever.

- Everything and More by David Foster Wallace. I've heard Wallace was bit handwavy with the math in this one, but I still enjoyed it.

- Newton and the Counterfeiter by Thomas Levenson. Newton was a detective?

- The Philosophical Breakfast Club by Laura Snyder. Four-way bio of a group of school friends (Charles Babbage, John Herschel, William Whewell, and Richard Jones) who changed the world.

- The Reluctant Mr. Darwin by David Quammen. How Charles Darwin devised his theory of evolution and then sat on it for years is one of science's most fascinating stories.

- T. rex and the Crater of Doom by Walter Alvarez. Not a biography of a person but of a theory: that a meteor impact 65 million years ago caused the extinction of the dinosaurs.

- Walt Disney by Neal Gabler. Disney isn't a scientist, but when you ask for book recommendations and Steven Johnson tells you to read something, it goes on the list.

- The Man Who Knew Infinity by Robert Kanigel. Bio of brilliant Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan.

- Edge of Objectivity by Charles Gillispie. A biography of modern science published in 1966, all but out of print at this point unfortunately.

- Galileo at Work by Stillman Drake.

- The Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes.

And many more here. Thanks to everyone who suggested books.

Update: Because this came up on Twitter, some biographies specifically about women in science: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Hedy's Folly, On a Farther Shore, Marie Curie: A Life, A Feeling for the Organism, Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA, Jane Goodall: The Woman Who Redefined Man, and Radioactive.

Delving deepJUN 24

Bernhard Lang, Hambach Mine

From Bernhard Lang, aerial photos of the largest made-made hole in Europe, the Hambach Mine in Germany. The mine was started in 1978, is 1150 feet deep, and will eventually encompass an area of over 32 square miles. Here's the mine on Google Maps; it's huge.

Bernhard Lang Hambach Mine

That's a photo of one of the massive mining machines used to extract lignite (aka "brown coal") from the mine. The machines are almost 800 feet long and 315 feet high...those yellow specks to the right of the machine are likely fairly sizable construction trucks. (via co.exist)

PalletskateboardspottingJUL 09

Man rides the rails on a giant skateboard made out of a wooden pallet:

That worked way better than I would have expected. (via digg)

Rowling pens Potter updateJUL 08

In a piece for the Pottermore web site, JK Rowling writes an update on how the gang from the Harry Potter books is doing. The piece is an account of the Quidditch World Cup Final written by Rita Skeeter, the gossip columnist from the books. You need a login to read it on Pottermore, but someone uploaded it to Reddit as well.

The Potter family and the rest of Dumbledore's Army have been given accommodation in the VIP section of the campsite, which is protected by heavy charms and patrolled by Security Warlocks. Their presence has ensured large crowds along the cordoned area, all hoping for a glimpse of their heroes. At 3pm today they got their wish when, to the accompaniment of loud screams, Potter took his young sons James and Albus to visit the players' compound, where he introduced them to Bulgarian Seeker Viktor Krum.

About to turn 34, there are a couple of threads of silver in the famous Auror's black hair, but he continues to wear the distinctive round glasses that some might say are better suited to a style-deficient twelve-year-old. The famous lightning scar has company: Potter is sporting a nasty cut over his right cheekbone. Requests for information as to its provenance merely produced the usual response from the Ministry of Magic: 'We do not comment on the top secret work of the Auror department, as we have told you no less than 514 times, Ms. Skeeter.' So what are they hiding? Is the Chosen One embroiled in fresh mysteries that will one day explode upon us all, plunging us into a new age of terror and mayhem?

That last line is one of a few references to possible new stories in the piece...the last paragraph mentions a new biography of Harry and his pals due out at the end of this month:

And for those who want to know exactly how imperfect they are, my new biography: Dumbledore's Army: The Dark Side of the Demob will be available from Flourish and Blotts on July 31st.

Could Rowling be setting the stage for an eighth Potter book or is she just winding us up?

Eleven great books about soccerJUN 26

There haven't been many good books written about soccer, but here are eleven of them worth your time. Franklin Foer's How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization looks especially interesting.

A groundbreaking work -- named one of the five most influential sports books of the decade by Sports Illustrated -- How Soccer Explains the World is a unique and brilliantly illuminating look at soccer, the world's most popular sport, as a lens through which to view the pressing issues of our age, from the clash of civilizations to the global economy.

Foer is one of the contributors, alongside authors Aleksandar Hemon and Karl Ove Knausgaard, to the New Republic's excellent World Cup coverage.

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."

Halt and Catch FireJUN 20

Halt And Catch Fire

I've been hearing some good things about Halt and Catch Fire, which is three episodes into its first season on AMC. The show follows a group of 80s computer folk as they attempt to reverse engineer the IBM PC. The first episode is available online in its entirety.

Many reviews mention the similarity of the characters to Apple founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, but the trio of managers from Texas Instruments who left to form Compaq in the early 80s are a much closer fit. The Compaq Portable was the first 100% IBM compatible computer produced. Brian McCullough recently did a piece on Compaq's cloning of the IBM PC for the Internet History Podcast.

The idea was to create a computer that was mostly like IBM-PC and mostly ran all the same software, but sold at a cheaper price point. The first company to pursue this strategy was Columbia Data Products, followed by Eagle Computer. But soon, most of the big names in the young computer industry (Xerox, Hewlett-Packard, Digital Equipment Corporation, Texas Instruments, and Wang) were all producing PC clones.

But all of these machines were only mostly PC-compatible. So, at best, they were DOS compatible. But there was no guarantee that each and every program or peripheral that ran on the IBM-PC could run on a clone. The key innovation that Canion, Harris and Murto planned to bring to market under the name Compaq Computer Corporation would be a no-compromises, 100% IBM-PC compatibility. This way, their portable computer would be able to run every single piece of software developed for the IBM-PC. They would be able to launch their machine into the largest and most vibrant software ecosystem of the time, and users would be able to use all their favorite programs on the road.

My dad bought a machine from Columbia Data Products; I had no idea it was the first compatible to the market. My uncle had a Compaq Portable that he could take with him on business trips. I played so much Lode Runner on both of those machines. I wonder if that disk of levels I created is still around anywhere... (via @cabel)

Update: I'm all caught up, five episodes into the season, and I'm loving it.

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.

World's fastest pancake flipperJUL 10

Everyone has a superpower. This guy's superpower is that he can flip mini-pancakes faster than I thought humanly possible.

I love watching stuff like this...here's a guy chopping lemons in half 20 times quicker than Superman himself would.

ps. This is still the world's best pancake recipe.

AffinageJUL 08

A short film about how Neal's Yard Dairy, a top seller of cheese in London, works with producers to make cheese.

I had a tour of the caves below Murray's in the West Village where they do the same sort of thing as at Neal's Yard. Pretty cool to see the process in action and to taste the same cheeses at different ages.

Scorsese's silenceJUN 30

Martin Scorsese uses silence very effectively in his films. Tony Zhou explains:

(via dot info)

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)

The leaf that hates waterJUN 20

Aatish Bhatia noticed a plant in his backyard whose leaves naturally repelled water. He took a sample to a friend who had access to a high-speed camera and an electron microscope to investigate what made the leaves so hydrophobic.

But how does a leaf become superhydrophobic? The trick to this, Janine explained, is that the water isn't really sitting on the surface. A superhydrophobic surface is a little like a bed of nails. The nails touch the water, but there are gaps in between them. So there's fewer points of contact, which means the surface can't tug on the water as much, and so the drop stays round.

The leaf is so water repellant that drops of water bounce right off of it:

The Final Four of EverythingAPR 28

The Final Four of Everything

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

Inside Out, Pixar's next filmJUN 23

2014 is the first year without a Pixar film since 2005's gap between The Incredibles and Cars. The company has two films planned for 2015 and one of them will hopefully do something about one of my long-standing pet peeves about their movies: the lack of strong women characters. Inside Out takes place inside the brain of a teenaged girl, with her emotions as the main characters.

The film's real protagonist is Joy (voiced by an effervescent Amy Poehler), one of five emotions who steer Riley through life via a control center in her mind that's akin to the bridge from the Starship Enterprise. Joy and her cohorts -- including Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Anger (Lewis Black), and Sadness (Phyllis Smith) -- all work together to keep Riley emotionally balanced, and for the first 11 years of her life, the primary influencer is Joy, as evidenced by Riley's sunny demeanor.

But as adolescence sets in, Joy finds her lead role usurped. Suddenly, Sadness wants to pipe in at inappropriate times -- coaxing Riley to cry during her first day at a new school, for instance -- and as the two emotions jostle for control, both of them fall into the deepest reaches of Riley's mind and have to work their way back. Meanwhile, left to their own devices, Fear, Disgust, and Anger collude to transform Riley into a moody preteen.

Holy cow, that sounds great.

Ready to make your own Duchamp?JUL 07

Sometime around 1918 in Buenos Aires, Marcel Duchamp designed a chess set:

Duchamp chess set

Sometime earlier this year, Scott Kildall and Brian Sera used archival photos of the hard-to-find set, turned them into 3D models of the chess pieces, and made a pattern for 3D printing your own set:

Duchamp chess set

The community at Thingaverse is already busy making interesting variations of Duchamp's set...look at this one:

Duchamp Chess 03

Something tells me Duchamp would have loved this whole thing.

12 Monkeys TV series trailerJUL 18

The first season of a new series based on 12 Monkeys (and La Jetée) is set to debut on Syfy in January; here's the trailer:

(via the verge)

A Disappearing PlanetJUL 15

From ProPublica, an alarming series of graphs and charts on animal extinction: A Disappearing Planet.

Animal species are going extinct anywhere from 100 to 1,000 times the rates that would be expected under natural conditions. According to Elizabeth Kolbert's The Sixth Extinction and other recent studies, the increase results from a variety of human-caused effects including climate change, habitat destruction, and species displacement. Today's extinction rates rival those during the mass extinction event that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

(via @SrikarDR)

The New Yorker's new siteJUL 21

The New Yorker has got a new web site and with it, they are offering everything they've published since 2007 online for free all summer. From the editor's note:

Beginning this week, absolutely everything new that we publish -- the work in the print magazine and the work published online only -- will be unlocked. All of it, for everyone. Call it a summer-long free-for-all. Non-subscribers will get a chance to explore The New Yorker fully and freely, just as subscribers always have. Then, in the fall, we move to a second phase, implementing an easier-to-use, logical, metered paywall. Subscribers will continue to have access to everything; non-subscribers will be able to read a limited number of pieces -- and then it's up to them to subscribe. You've likely seen this system elsewhere -- at the Times, for instance -- and we will do all we can to make it work seamlessly.

Previously, only select articles from each issue were available for free online...everything else was for subscribers only. (Umlaats and extensive commas will be forever freely available on all the New Yorker's publishing platforms.) Longform has a solid list of their 25 favorite now-unlocked pieces.

See also: In Praise of Slow Design, a piece by Michael Bierut about The New Yorker's careful design evolution.

Infant shirts for adultsJUL 14

Jokey t-shirts for infants are almost never funny but putting the same shirts on adults is the best idea ever.

I Pooped Today

All the designs featured are actually available for sale -- here's that I Pooped Today shirt -- just click on the "See all styles" button for adult options. Ok, just one more:

Gigglebelly Train

(via @mulegirl)

World War I in PhotosJUN 30

Alan Taylor has concluded his 10-part series on WWI over at In Focus with a look at the present-day effects of the war. If you haven't been following along, it's worth starting at the beginning and working your way through.

WWI Poppies

Also worth a look is the NY Times' interactive package about the war.

Getting high on programmingJUN 20

David Auerbach writes about the high you get from coding.

These days I write more than I code, but one of the things I miss about programming is the coder's high: those times when, for hours on end, I would lock my vision straight at the computer screen, trance out, and become a human-machine hybrid zipping through the virtual architecture that my co-workers and I were building. Hunger, thirst, sleepiness, and even pain all faded away while I was staring at the screen, thinking and typing, until I'd reach the point of exhaustion and it would come crashing down on me.

It was good for me, too. Coding had a smoothing, calming effect on my psyche, what I imagine meditation does to you if you master it.

Auerbach asserts that there's something different about the flow state one enters while programming, compared to those brought on by making art, writing, etc. Over the years, I've written, designed, and programmed for a living, and programming is, by far, the thing that gets me the best high. I've definitely had productive multi-hour Photoshop and writing benders, but coding blocks out the world and the rest of myself like nothing else. In attempting to articulate to friends why I enjoy programming more than design or writing, I've been explaining it like this: for me, the coding process is all or nothing and has a definitive end.

When code doesn't work within the specifications, it's 100% broken. It won't compile, the web server throws an error, or gives the wrong output. Writing and design almost always sorta work...even a first draft or an initial design communicates something to the reader/viewer. When the code works within the specifications, it's done. The writing or design process is never done; even a great piece of writing or the best design can be improved incrementally or even scrapped altogether to go in a different and potentially more fruitful direction. Maybe, for me, programming's definite ending is what makes it so enjoyable. The flow state comes from knowing that, while the journey is difficult and maddening and messily creative (just as with writing or design), there's a definite point at which it's done and you can move on to the next challenge. (via 5 intriguing things)

American CatchJUN 23

American Catch

Paul Greenberg has an excerpt in the NY Times of his new book, American Catch: The Fight for Our Local Seafood.

As go scallops, so goes the nation. According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, even though the United States controls more ocean than any other country, 86 percent of the seafood we consume is imported.

But it's much fishier than that: While a majority of the seafood Americans eat is foreign, a third of what Americans catch is sold to foreigners.

The seafood industry, it turns out, is a great example of the swaps, delete-and-replace maneuvers and other mechanisms that define so much of the outsourced American economy; you can find similar, seemingly inefficient phenomena in everything from textiles to technology. The difference with seafood, though, is that we're talking about the destruction and outsourcing of the very ecological infrastructure that underpins the health of our coasts.

The article and book focus on three formerly American seafoods that we now mostly import from elsewhere: salmon, oysters, and shrimp.

In 2005, the United States imported five billion pounds of seafood, nearly double what we imported twenty years earlier. Bizarrely, during that same period, our seafood exports quadrupled. American Catch examines New York oysters, Gulf shrimp, and Alaskan salmon to reveal how it came to be that 91 percent of the seafood Americans eat is foreign.

In the 1920s, the average New Yorker ate six hundred local oysters a year. Today, the only edible oysters lie outside city limits. Following the trail of environmental desecration, Greenberg comes to view the New York City oyster as a reminder of what is lost when local waters are not valued as a food source.

Farther south, a different catastrophe threatens another seafood-rich environment. When Greenberg visits the Gulf of Mexico, he arrives expecting to learn of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill's lingering effects on shrimpers, but instead finds that the more immediate threat to business comes from overseas. Asian-farmed shrimp-cheap, abundant, and a perfect vehicle for the frying and sauces Americans love-have flooded the American market.

Finally, Greenberg visits Bristol Bay, Alaska, home to the biggest wild sockeye salmon run left in the world. A pristine, productive fishery, Bristol Bay is now at great risk: The proposed Pebble Mine project could undermine the very spawning grounds that make this great run possible. In his search to discover why this precious renewable resource isn't better protected, Greenberg encounters a shocking truth: the great majority of Alaskan salmon is sent out of the country, much of it to Asia. Sockeye salmon is one of the most nutritionally dense animal proteins on the planet, yet Americans are shipping it abroad.

SnowpiercerJUL 18

This is a lie, but I got dozens of emails today asking, "Jason, what movie should I watch tonight?" Whoa, slow down everyone, I've got just the thing: Snowpiercer. It's a Korean film from 2013 that's just now trickling into the consciousness of the rest of the world (c.f. this Grantland piece). The film takes place entirely on a train carrying the last remaining humans speeding forever around a frozen Earth (caused by an overenthusiastic response to climate change) and director Bong Joon-ho takes full advantage of this confined and linear setting. Plus, Tilda Swinton as a Terry Gilliam-ified Maggie Thatcher is worth the price of admission alone.

Snowpiercer is out in ~350 theaters in the US, so if you're not in a major metropolitan area, it might be a little hard to catch. But the movie is also available digitally at Amazon and iTunes.

Life ItselfJUL 07

Life Itself, the documentary about Roger Ebert, is now out in theaters. But you can also watch it via various Video On Demand services, including Amazon and iTunes. Here's the trailer to whet yer whistle:

How graffiti vanished from NYC subwaysJUN 27

Nice episode of 99% Invisible on how New York City got rid of the graffiti on all of their subway trains.

For decades, authorities treated subway graffiti like it was a sanitation issue. Gunn believed that graffiti was a symptom of larger systemic problems. After all, trains were derailing nearly every two weeks. In 1981 there were 1,800 subway car fires -- that's nearly five a day, every day of the year!

When Gunn launched his "Clean Trains" program, it was not only about cleaning up the trains aesthetically, but making them function well, too. Clean trains, Gunn believed, would be a symbol of a rehabilitated transit system.

Remember, the train cars used to look like this:

Christopher Morris Subway

Soccer: 55 vs. 2JUN 25

Watch as two players from the Japanese national soccer team try to score against 55 kids.

The kids had two opportunities to stop the pro players, once with 33 players and the second time with 55 players. This didn't turn out how I expected, given how a similar stunt involving fencing ended.

This was posted on Marginal Revolution a few days ago and garnered several interesting comments about how much better professional athletes are than us regular folk. Here are a few:

Rugby: I played against an international player once. Watching him play, I'd seen a chap who ran in straight lines, a strong tackler with a weak kick. Playing against him revealed him to be skillful, agile and possessed of a howitzer kick.

Back in the 1980s a friend was watching a pickup basketball game in Boston and reported what happened when a player from the Celtics showed up. He was so much faster, more athletic, and more agile than the other players that it seemed like he was playing a different sport. The player turned out to be Scott Wedman, who by that time was old and slow by NBA standards, and mainly hung around the 3-point line to shoot outside shots after the defense had collapsed on Bird, McHale, et al. But compared to non-NBA players, he was Michael Jordan (or LeBron James).

My U-19 team (we were very good by local standards) had a practice with the New Zealand All Blacks, who were on some sort of tour. It was like they were from a different planet. I stood no chance of containing, or conversely getting past, the smallest of them under almost any circumstance.

Back in the olden thymes I was a pretty good baseball player. Early in my high school career I got the chance to catch a AAA pitcher. I went into thinking I would have no trouble. The first pitch was on top of me so fast I was knocked off balance. It took a bunch of pass balls before I got used to how to handle his breaking stuff.

The result in the video might also shed some light on the question of choosing to fight one horse-sized duck or 100 duck-sized horses.

Prestige TV in the time of climate changeJUN 27

Television is in the midst of a protracted golden age. Anthropogenic climate change is beginning to affect the planet's weather. Sarah Miller puts these two ideas together in a short piece of humor writing.

About half an hour later, a Boston Whaler was cruising down Ninth Avenue, and a man stood on the bow with a megaphone, shouting, "Please leave your buildings. Make your way to the nearest rooftop" in English, then in Spanish, then in Chinese. By this point, the water had risen to the top of the first floor. An emergency siren came on and stayed on. Irritated, Marci turned on the closed captioning. Then she wrote a short post about how watching "House of Cards" with subtitles revealed that, in domestic situations, people with less power spoke more words than those with more power but, in professional situations, it was the reverse. She posted it to her Tumblr. "This is so exactly what I was thinking about right now," someone commented.

Song ExploderJUL 11

On each episode of the Song Exploder podcast, Hrishikesh Hirway interviews musicians about how their songs were made..."where musicians take apart their songs, and piece by piece, tell the story of how they were made." I listened to this episode about the House of Cards theme song via this 99% Invisible episode and the inaugural episode features Jimmy Tamborello of The Postal Service talking about The District Sleeps Alone Tonight:

Airship hangar waterpark funtimesJUL 18

In his new video, Casey Neistat and his son visit a German waterpark housed in a giant former airship hangar.

Some information on the structure from the waterpark's web site:

The Tropical Islands Dome is gigantic. In fact, it is the largest free-standing hall in the world: 360 metres long, 210 metres wide and an incredible 107 metres high.

That is big enough to fit the Statue of Liberty in standing up and the Eiffel Tower lying on its side. The Tropical Islands Dome covers an area of 66,000 m², the size of eight football fields. And it is high enough to fit in the whole of Berlin's Potsdamer Platz, with all its skyscrapers.

(via john hodgman)

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.

Cyclomaniacs 2JUL 16

Occasionally I'll go to my page of addictive Flash games to revisit some old favorites. I mostly play games on my phone now, but some of these are still pretty good. One of my absolute faves is a game called Cyclomaniacs, which I've played all the way through several times over the years. Last night I discovered there's a Cyclomaniacs 2. So good.

Minimalist movie posters made out of card stockJUL 03

Spanish design firm Atipo made these nifty minimalist movie posters out of card stock. I really like the one for Rear Window:

Rear Window

The hidden message in the old Milwaukee Brewers logoJUL 07

Somehow I lived in WI for the first 17 years of my life, was a Brewers fan for many of those years, and never realized the old Brewers logo contained the letters "m" and "b" hidden in the ball and glove.

Old Brewers logo

Wow. If your mind is blowing right now too, there's a Facebook group we can join together: Best Day of My Life: When I Realized the Brewers Logo Was a Ball and Glove AND the Letters M and B. (via kathryn yu)

ps. If you've somehow missed the hidden arrow in the FedEx logo, here you go. Best kind of natural high there is.

Moneyball 2.0JUL 01

After Michael Lewis wrote Moneyball in 2003 about the Oakland A's, their general manager Billy Beane, and his then-unorthodox and supposedly superior managerial strategy, a curious thing happened: the A's didn't do that well. They went to the playoffs only twice between 2003 and 2011 and finished under .500 four times. Teams like the Red Sox, who adopted Beane's strategies with the punch of a much larger payroll, did much better during those years.

But Beane hung in there and has figured out how to beat the big boys again, with two first place in 2012 & 2013 and the best record in the majors this year so far. Will Leitch explains how.

First, don't spend a lot on a little; spend a little on a lot.

The emotional through-line of Moneyball is Beane learning from his experience as a failed prospect and applying it to today's game. The idea: Scouts were wrong about him, and therefore they'll be wrong about tons of guys. Only trust the numbers.

That was an oversimplification, but distrusting the ability of human beings to predict the future has been the centerpiece of the A's current run. This time, though, the A's aren't just doubting the scouts; they're also skeptical that statistical analysis can reliably predict the future (or that their analysis could reliably predict it better than their competitors). Instead, Beane and his front office have bought in bulk: They've brought in as many guys as possible and seen who performed. They weren't looking for something that no one else saw: They amassed bodies, pitted them against one another, were open to anything, and just looked to see who emerged. Roger Ebert once wrote that the muse visits during the act of creation, rather than before. The A's have made it a philosophy to just try out as many people as possible -- cheap, interchangeable ones -- and pluck out the best.

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.

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