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.

Gravity simulatorSEP 25

Give me even the simplest gravity simulator and I will play with it for many many minutes. Or hours. Or days. (Send help!)

Messi, ten years onOCT 09

Lionel Messi made his debut for FC Barcelona 10 years ago. At Grantland, Brian Phillips assesses his career thus far.

The irony of that goal against Getafe, in retrospect, is that he's not the next Maradona; he's nothing like Maradona. Maradona was all energy, right on the surface; watching Messi is like watching someone run in a dream. Like Cristiano Ronaldo, Maradona jumped up to challenge you; if you took the field against him, he wanted to humiliate you, to taunt you. Messi plays like he doesn't know you're there. His imagination is so perfectly fused with his technique that his assumptions can obliterate you before his skill does.

He has always seemed oddly nonthreatening for someone with a legitimate claim to being the best soccer player in history. He seems nice, and maybe he is. (He goes on trial for tax evasion soon; it is impossible to believe he defrauded authorities on purpose, because it is impossible to believe that he manages his finances at all.) On the pitch, though, this is deceptive. It's an artifact of his indifference to your attention. He doesn't notice whether or not you notice. His greatness is nonthreatening because it is so elusive, even though its elusiveness is what makes it a threat.

Messi is only 27, holds or is within striking distance of all sorts of all-time records, and I'm already sad about his career ending. This is big talk, perhaps nonsense, but Messi might be better at soccer than Michael Jordan was at basketball. I dunno, I was bummed when Jordan retired (well, the first two times anyway), but with Messi, thinking about his retirement, it seems to me like soccer will lose something special that it will never ever see again.

Hard day in the Bitcoin minesOCT 03

You can mine Bitcoin by hand with a pencil and paper.

The SHA-256 algorithm is surprisingly simple, easy enough to do by hand. (The elliptic curve algorithm for signing Bitcoin transactions would be very painful to do by hand since it has lots of multiplication of 32-byte integers.) Doing one round of SHA-256 by hand took me 16 minutes, 45 seconds. At this rate, hashing a full Bitcoin block (128 rounds) would take 1.49 days, for a hash rate of 0.67 hashes per day (although I would probably get faster with practice). In comparison, current Bitcoin mining hardware does several terahashes per second, about a quintillion times faster than my manual hashing. Needless to say, manual Bitcoin mining is not at all practical.

Top 10 slo-mo movie momentsOCT 14

From CineFix, their top ten slow motion sequences of all time.

Includes scenes from The Matrix, Hard Boiled, Reservoir Dogs, and The Shining. But no Wes Anderson!?! *burns down internet* (via @DavidGrann)

Infinite illustrationsOCT 01

As a writer, designer, and, hell, as a human being, I value simplicity over most other considerations. But I also have a soft spot for dense hyper-detailed illustrations in the style of Mattias Adolfsson.

Mattias Adolfsson

Many more examples of Adolfsson's work is on Flickr. Reminds me of a pair of books I love reading with the kids: Mark Alan Stamaty's Who Needs Donuts? and Cars and Trucks and Things That Go by Richard Scarry. The illustrations in these books are nearly infinite; the kids and I have read Cars and Trucks probably more than 70 times and almost every time through, we find something new.

The Man Who Rode the ThunderOCT 09

In 1959, Lt Colonel William Rankin ejected from his F-8 Crusader at 47,000 feet. He was not wearing a pressure suit, which was a bummer because it was -58 °F outside the cockpit. Frostbite and symptoms of decompression1
immediately ensued. But his troubles were just beginning.

As the parachute opened, he felt the familiar tug upwards. Except instead of a slow descent, he experienced a rapid ascent. The powerful updraft filled his parachute like a sail and rocketed him vertically thousands of feet at a velocity of nearly 100 mph. During his ascent, he could see hail stones forming around him. The lightning was described by him as "blue blades several feet thick" and incredibly close. The thunder was so loud, he could feel it resonating in his chest cavity and remembered this more so than how loud it was. At one point, the lightning lit up his parachute leading him to believe he had died. The rain would pelt him from all directions, and at times was so intense, he had to hold his breath for fear of drowning. But this was only half the agony -- the other half being the downdrafts.

Once the updraft exhausted itself, the associated downdraft would ensue. It was during this phase of his journey that he truly thought he would die. His parachute would collapse around him, much like a wet blanket, and plunge him into a rapid free fall towards earth. The odds of his parachute re-inflating correctly were slim, but not only did it do so once, it did numerous times through a multitude of updraft and downdraft cycles.

Under normal conditions, Rankin's trip to the ground would have taken less than 10 minutes, but that thunderstorm kept him hostage for 40 minutes. (via @BadAstronomer)

Update: In 1966, pilot Bill Weaver and his navigator Jim Zwayer were testing an SR-71 Blackbird when something went wrong and the plane disintegrated around its occupants. Weaver was incredibly lucky to make it out alive.

My next recollection was a hazy thought that I was having a bad dream. Maybe I'll wake up and get out of this mess, I mused. Gradually regaining consciousness, I realized this was no dream; it had really happened. That also was disturbing, because I could not have survived what had just happened. Therefore, I must be dead. Since I didn't feel bad -- just a detached sense of euphoria -- I decided being dead wasn't so bad after all. As full awareness took hold, I realized I was not dead, but had somehow separated from the airplane. I had no idea how this could have happened; I hadn't initiated an ejection. The sound of rushing air and what sounded like straps flapping in the wind confirmed I was falling, but I couldn't see anything. My pressure suit's face plate had frozen over and I was staring at a layer of ice.

(via @axlotl)

  1. "The sudden decompression caused his stomach to swell, his ears, nose and mouth to bleed, and the only thing keeping him conscious was his O2 canister attached to his helmet."

2014 Nobel Peace PrizeOCT 10

Pakistan's Malala Yousafzai, who shares this year's Nobel Peace Prize with India's Kailash Satyarthi, had to wait until the end of the school day before making her first public statement. "This is not the end ... I want to see every child going to school and getting an education." Kailash Satyarthi, who has been marching and working on behalf of children for three decades, echoed the sentiment: "A lot of work still remains but I will see the end of child labor in my lifetime." One recipient is 17, one is 60. Both fight for the human rights of children. Both have regularly risked their lives for the cause. And both want the award to improve relations between their countries, starting with their decision to invite the prime ministers of India and Pakistan to attend the prize ceremony.

The New Yorker: "Both of these people deserved the award individually. The combination of the two laureates gives it a nuanced character -- and a different kind of power than if it had gone to either of them alone."

+ Malala celebrated her sixteenth birthday by giving a remarkable speech at the UN.

+ "In the paper we read she is favorite for the Nobel Peace Prize. My son is astonished. 'How can she win?' he asks. 'She's always fighting with her brother!'" Christina Lamb in The Sunday Times: My year with Malala.

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Being Mortal is outOCT 07

Atul Gawande's new book about medicine and death, Being Mortal, is out today. Two excerpts of the book are available online, The Best Possible Day:

I spoke with more than 200 people about their experiences with aging or serious illness, or dealing with a family member's -- many of them my own patients, some in my own family. I interviewed and shadowed front-line staff members in old age homes, palliative-care specialists, hospice workers, geriatricians, nursing home reformers, pioneers, and contrarians. And among the many things I learned, here are the two most fundamental.

First, in medicine and society, we have failed to recognize that people have priorities that they need us to serve besides just living longer. Second, the best way to learn those priorities is to ask about them. Hence the wide expert agreement that payment systems should enable health professionals to take sufficient time to have such discussions and tune care accordingly.

and No Risky Chances:

You don't have to spend much time with the elderly or those with terminal illness to see how often medicine fails the people it is supposed to help. The waning days of our lives are given over to treatments that addle our brains and sap our bodies for a sliver's chance of benefit. These days are spent in institutions -- nursing homes and intensive-care units -- where regimented, anonymous routines cut us off from all the things that matter to us in life.

Too many books to read! Gotta make time for this one though.

Our robot future: R2-D2 or C-3PO?OCT 16

Rex Sorgatz wonders what sort of robots we'll build, R2-D2s or C-3POs.

R2-D2 excels in areas where humans are deficient: deep computation, endurance in extreme conditions, and selfless consciousness. R2-D2 is a computer that compensates for human deficiencies -- it shines where humans fail.

C3-PO is the personification of the selfish human -- cloying, rules-bound, and despotic. (Don't forget, C3-PO let Ewoks worship him!) C3-PO is a factotum for human vanity -- it engenders the worst human characteristics.

I love the chart he did for the piece, characterizing 3PO's D&D alignment as lawful evil and his politics as Randian.

How We Got to Now on TVOCT 15

Speaking of PBS shows, Steven Johnson's How We Got to Now starts on PBS tonight with two back-to-back episodes. The NY Times has a positive review.

The opening episode, for instance, is called "Clean," and it sets the pattern for the five that follow. We tend not to acknowledge just how recent some of the trends and comforts of modern life are, including the luxury of not walking through horse manure and human waste on the way to the post office.

The episode turns back the clock just a century and a half, to a time before our liquid waste stream was largely contained in underground pipes. Mr. Johnson then traces the emergence of the idea that with a little effort, cities and towns could have a cleaner existence, and the concurrent idea that cleanliness would have public health benefits.

But his examination of "the ultraclean revolution," as he calls it, doesn't stop at the construction of sewage and water-purification systems. He extends the thread all the way to the computer revolution, visiting a laboratory where microchips are made.

The show is based on Johnson's book of the same name, which enters the NY Times bestseller list at #4 this week. Also, I keep wanting to call the book/show How We Got to Know, which strikes me as a perfectly appropriate title as well.

Update: The first two episodes are available online until 10/30.

The physics of doing an ollie on a skateboardOCT 08

This is fun...Aatish Bhatia maps out the forces and motions involved in doing an ollie on a skateboard.

Ollie Physics

It's a neat piece of science art, and it also tells us something interesting. The arrows show us that the force on the skateboard is constantly changing, both in magnitude as well as in direction. Now the force of gravity obviously isn't changing, so the reason that these force arrows are shrinking and growing and tumbling around is that the skater is changing how their feet pushes and pulls against the board. By applying a variable force that changes both in strength and direction, they're steering the board.

You Have to Fucking EatSEP 25

You Have To Fucking Eat

From the author of the bestselling children's book Go the Fuck to Sleep comes a sequel of sorts: You Have to Fucking Eat.

Thirteen Ways of Looking at Greg MadduxOCT 02

Thirteen Ways of Looking at Greg Maddux is not really a story about Greg Maddux. Or sports. It's about Jeremy Collins' friend Jason Kenney, demons, self-control, determination, friendship, competitiveness, and loss.

Jason kept a picture of Maddux above his desk in our dorm room at Young Harris College in the north Georgia mountains. A beautiful athlete, the best on campus, Jason played only intramurals and spent serious time at his desk. A physics workhorse and calculus whiz, he kept Maddux's image at eye-level.

Shuffling and pardoning down the aisle to our seats, Jason stopped and squeezed my shoulder. "Look," he said.

Maddux strode toward home, hurling the ball through the night.

It's 2014. I'm thirty-seven. My wife and daughter are both asleep. I'm a thousand miles from the stadium-turned-parking-lot. On YouTube, Kenny Lofton of the American League Champion Cleveland Indians looks at the first pitch for a ball. Inside, low. I don't remember the call. I remember all of us standing, holding our breath. Then I remember light. Thousands of lights. Waves of tiny diamonds. The whole stadium flashing and Jason, who would die five months later on the side of a south Georgia highway, leaning into my ear and whispering, "Maddux."

Great, great story. As Tom Junod remarked on Twitter, "Every once in a while, a writer throws everything he's got into a story. This is one of those stories."

Dubnobasswithmyheadman is 20OCT 07

Underworld put out their seminal record, Dubnobasswithmyheadman, 20 years ago. To celebrate, they've released a "Super Deluxe / 20th Anniversary Remaster" version of the album with the original tracks, remixes, alternate versions, live versions, and other stuff, 6 hours and 15 minutes of music in all.

(via @aaroncoleman0)

The Ebola WarsOCT 21

Ebola Virus

As Ebola enters a deepening relationship with the human species, the question of how it is mutating has significance for every person on earth.

From the front lines in West Africa to the genomics researchers who hope to control the outbreak, The New Yorker's Richard Preston provides a detailed and interesting look at The Ebola Wars. Preston is the author of 1995's The Hot Zone, the bestselling account of the first emergence of Ebola, which is back in the top 50 on Amazon.

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How to write a recipeOCT 22

Christine Muhlke talks to several different chefs and writers about how they approach writing recipes.

The goal should be that the reader can make the recipe his or her own -- that the instructions are clear and good enough that after a few tries, he or she can improvise to please themselves. The chef gives ideas so that the cook can profit. It's not dictation; it's inspiration.

How typefaces get their namesOCT 15

Font Naming

From Tobias Frere-Jones, a short history of how typefaces get their names.

Years ago, I asked one of my mentors what he thought was the hardest part of designing a typeface. I was expecting "the cap S" or "the italic lowercase" or something like that. But he answered without hesitation: the name. Finding the name is the hardest part.

How the Colbert Report is madeOCT 17

For the first episode of podcast called Working, David Plotz talks to Stephen Colbert about how he and his staff construct The Colbert Report. This is fascinating.

My show is a shadow of the news, so I have to know what shadow it's casting right now, so I can distort it in my own way.

At the 13 minute mark, he talks about how the team communicates with each other about how the show is shaping up, changes, concerns, etc. They do it all by what sounds like text messaging. Paging Stewart Butterfield, you should get those folks on Slack. (via digg)

Birds Near MeOCT 09

Birds Near Me is a "worldwide bird guide for iOS".

Birds Near Me is a bird guide for everybody anywhere in the world. Find what birds are near you anywhere in the world or find pictures, songs, locations and information about any bird in the world.

Powered by eBird to provide an accurate list of birds that have beeen recently spotted in your exact area.

It is also "designed and programmed by a birder, for birders". eBird looks like a wonderful resource as well. Pair this app with DIY's Ornithologist skill for a good weekend activity w/ the kids. (via @bradleyland)

Update: Merlin is another fine looking bird ID app. (via @willmorris)

Your Life on EarthOCT 21

With the BBC's new online feature, Your Life on Earth, you plug in when you were born and it spits out all sorts of facts about how the world has changed since you were born. Here are some of mine:

Population has increased by 3,324,602,171 since you were born (currently 7.24 billion)
A coast redwood's growth in your lifetime: 52'10"
Travelled 24.1 billion miles around the Sun
Global life expectancy has increased by 10.1 years since you were born
I am 170 years old on Mercury

Inherent ViceSEP 30

I somehow didn't know or forgot that PT Anderson was doing a movie based on Thomas Pynchon's Inherent Vice. It turns out he totally is and here's the first trailer:

That looks entirely goofy and good.

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)

50 cultural icons and their favorite booksOCT 07

Flavorwire collected a list of the favorite books of 50 well-known people, including Bill Murray, Amy Poehler, Ayn Rand, and Caroline Kennedy. Here are some of the picks:

Bill Murray: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain.
Dolly Parton: The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper.
Joan Didion: Victory by Joseph Conrad.
Robin Williams: The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov.
Michelle Obama: Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison.
Nikola Tesla: Faust by Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe.

(via @davidgrann)

Leech vs earthwormSEP 29

This video of a giant red leech devouring an earthworm twice its own length is the most disturbing nature footage I've ever seen.

Damn nature, you scary!

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.

World's fastest onion chopperSEP 24

I think this guy is the T-1000 robot from Terminator 2, but for chopping onions instead of assassinating future resistance fighters. Evidence:

1. In the brief view we get of his face at about 20 seconds in, he is not even really looking at the onion. Total robot move.

2. Um, he's like superhumanly fast at chopping that onion.

3. The T-1000 can easily morph into other people, like this fast watermelon cutter or this pancake flipper or this lemon chopper. Different people, same shapeshifting food prep robot from the future! (via @kdern)

Mark Alan Stamaty's NYC illustrationsOCT 10

Speaking of Mark Alan Stamaty, the illustrator did a pair of drawings in the late 1970s for the Village Voice: one of Times Square and one of Greenwich Village. They're packed with details of how those areas were perceived in the 70s.

Stamaty Village

Stamaty Times Sq

Prints of both are available.

Cubist watercolorsSEP 30

Man, I don't know what to call this style of painting (rectanglism?) but Adam Lister does these cool pseudo-bitmappy paintings of famous artworks and notable pop cultural icons.

Adam Lister Picasso

Adam Lister Vermeer

Adam Lister R2d2

Prints are available.

What David Fincher doesn't doOCT 03

Tony Zhou of Every Frame a Painting looks at the constraints David Fincher chooses to operate under while shooting a film. For instance, he very rarely uses hand-held cameras.

The last half of the video featuring a breakdown of how some of Fincher's scenes were shot is fascinating.

rating: 4.0 stars

AvatarDEC 29

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

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

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

Three cheers for Pig Pen Sedaris!OCT 14

Pig Pen Sedaris

It makes for a charmingly local headline: Area Man Picks Up So Much Roadside Litter, District Council Names Garbage Truck After Him. Except in this case, the Area Man is the famous author and humorist, David Sedaris, whose fame is apparently (and even more charmingly) unknown by the district council and the paper covering the event.

Thrilled to have the vehicle named after him, David 'Pig Pen' Sedaris, said: "When I first moved to Horsham district three years ago I was struck by the area's outstanding natural beauty but I was also struck by all the rubbish that people leave lying around the roads.

"I'm angry at the people who throw these things out their car windows, but I'm just as angry at the people who walk by it every day. I say pick it up yourself. Do it enough and you might one day get a garbage truck named after you. It's an amazing feeling."

Don't know how I missed this story over the summer...a chapter of his next book just wrote itself. The paper followed up with a "holy shit, this dude is famous" piece the next day. (via sedaris' reddit ama)

Update: I had also missed reading Sedaris' piece about his Fitbit, in which he talks about his anti-litter efforts.

I've been cleaning the roads in my area of Sussex for three years now, but before the Fitbit I did it primarily on my bike, and with my bare hands. That was fairly effective, but I wound up missing a lot. On foot, nothing escapes my attention: a potato-chip bag stuffed into the hollow of a tree, an elderly mitten caught in the embrace of a blackberry bush, a mud-coated matchbook at the bottom of a ditch. Then, there's all the obvious stuff: the cans and bottles and great greasy sheets of paper that fish-and-chips comes wrapped in. You can tell where my territory ends and the rest of England begins. It's like going from the rose arbor in Sissinghurst to Fukushima after the tsunami. The difference is staggering.

(via @mmorowitz)

Who drew the Sriracha rooster?OCT 03

Sriracha Logo

The rooster on the Sriracha bottle has made its way to iPhone cases, t-shirts, and water bottles. But no one (not even the founder of the company) knows the name of the street artist who created the now famous logo.

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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.

TBD CatalogSEP 26

TBD Catalog

TBD Catalog is a catalog from the near future, filled with imagined goods you might see in a SkyMall or IKEA catalog in 2024. Or as they put it, "the catalog of the near future's normal ordinary everyday".

This is not your near future of superlative Silicon Valley exuberance where you happily 3D-print a perfect set of lease-licensed Opinel steak knives or blissfully commute to work in your fascistically sleek Google-powered, chem-battery fueled autonomous vehicles. Nor is this the abysmal near future where you huddle in the smoldering foxholes of apocalyptic ruin. TBD Catalog runs through the middle. It is neither extreme. It is a design fiction about a normal, ordinary everyday near future. TBD Catalog is a design fiction because it makes implications without making predictions. TBD Catalog is a design fiction because it sparks conversations about the near future. It serves to design-develop prototypes and shape embryonic concepts in order to discard them, make them better, reconsider what we may take for granted.

From the brains of Bruce Sterling, James Bridle, Aaron Straup Cope, and a dozen others, you can order yours here. And holy cow, I'm getting one of these Bounty Hunter Coaches Jackets too. (Looking good, @darthjulian)

Clouds crashing in the skySEP 26

There's an incredible 16-second sequence in this video of clouds, starting at around 10 seconds in. It looks as though the sky is a roiling ocean wave about to crash on the beach. I've watched it approximately 90 times so far today.

It's worth making the video fullscreen and pumping it up to the max quality (2160p!) to see it properly. (via colossal)

What the ball boy sawOCT 14

When he was 17, Eric Kester was a ball boy for the Chicago Bears and saw all the stuff you don't hear about on TV or even on blogs.

I lay awake at night wondering how many lives were irreparably damaged by my most handy ball boy tool: smelling salts. On game days my pockets were always full of these tiny ammonia stimulants that, when sniffed, can trick a brain into a state of alertness. After almost every crowd-pleasing hit, a player would stagger off the field, steady himself the best he could, sometimes vomit a little, and tilt his head to the sky. Then, with eyes squeezed shut in pain, he'd scream "Eric!" and I'd dash over and say, "It's O.K., I'm right here, got just what you need."

And from Vice, the story of former NFL running back Gerald Willhite:

Memory loss is just one of the problems that plague Gerald Willhite, 55. Frustration, depression, headaches, body pain, swollen joints, and a disassociative identity disorder are other reminders of his seven-season (1982-88) career with the Denver Broncos, during which he said he sustained at least eight concussions.

"I think we were misled," Willhite said from Sacramento. "We knew what we signed up for, but we didn't know the magnitude of what was waiting for us later."

When Willhite read about the symptoms of some former players who were taking legal action against the NFL, he thought "Crap, I got the same issues." He decided to join the lawsuit that claimed the league had withheld information about brain injuries and concussions. He feels that the $765 million settlement, announced last summer and earmarked for the more than 4,000 players in the lawsuit, is like a "Band-Aid put on a gash."

Still haven't watched any NFL this year. (via @arainert)

Parenting around the worldOCT 08

For the past year, Joanna Goddard has been running a series on her blog called Motherhood Around the World. The goal of the series was to tease out how parenting in other countries is different than parenting in the US. From the introduction to the series:

We spoke to American mothers abroad -- versus mothers who were born and bred in those countries -- because we wanted to hear how motherhood around the world compared and contrasted with motherhood in America. It can be surprisingly hard to realize what's unique about your own country ("don't all kids eat snails?"), and it's much easier to identify differences as an outsider.

The results, as Goddard states upfront, are not broadly representative of parenting in the different countries but they are fascinating nonetheless. I've picked out a few representative bits below. On parenting in Norway:

Both my kids attended Barnehage (Norwegian for "children's garden"), which is basically Norwegian pre-school and daycare. Most kids here start Barnehage when they're one year old -- it's subsidized by the government to encourage people to go back to work. You pay $300 a month and your kids can stay from 8am to 5pm. They spend a ton of time outside, mostly playing and exploring nature. At some Barnehage, they only go inside if it's colder than 14 degrees. They even eat outdoors-with their gloves on! When I was worried about my son being cold, my father-in-law said, "It's good for him to freeze a little bit on his fingers." That's very Norwegian -- hard things are good for you.

The Democratic Republic of Congo:

No one thinks twice here about sharing breastmilk. Why let something so valuable go to waste? Not long after my second daughter was born, I went on a work trip to Kenya. I pumped the whole time I was there and couldn't bear to throw away my breast milk, nor imagine the nightmare scenario of leakage in my luggage. So I saved it all up in the hotel fridge in Ziploc bags. On the day I left, I took all the little bags to the local market and said, "All right, ladies. Who's got babies and wants breast milk?!" Not a single Kenyan woman at the market thought twice about taking a random white woman's breast milk. My driver even heard I was handing out milk and asked if I could pump some extra to take home to his new baby.

Abu Dhabi:

There are no car seat or seatbelt laws here. You will regularly see toddlers with their heads peeking out of sunroofs or moms holding their infants in the front seat. The government and the car companies are trying to educate people about the dangers, but the most locals (Emiratis as well as people from countries like India and Egypt) believe that a mother's arms are the safest place for her child.

India:

In a country in which space comes at such a premium, few parents would dream of allocating a separate room for each child. Co-sleeping is the norm here, regardless of class. Children will usually sleep with their parents or their ayah until they are at least six or seven. An American friend of mine put her son in his own room, and her Indian babysitter was aghast. The young children from middle class Indian families I know also go to sleep whenever their parents do -- often as late as 11pm. Our son sleeps in our bed, as well. He has a shoebox of a room in our house where we keep his clothes and crib, and he always starts the night in there, falling asleep around 8pm. That way Chris and I get a few hours to ourselves. Then, around 11pm, Will somehow senses that we are about to fall asleep and calls out to come to our bed. It's like clockwork, and he falls right back into a deep sleep the second his head hits the pillow.

Australia:

On sleep camps: Government-subsidized programs help parents teach their babies to sleep. I haven't been to one (though I did consider it when we were in the middle of sleep hell with our daughter) but many of my friends have. The sleep camps are centers, usually attached to a hospital, that are run by nurses. Most mums I know went when their babies were around six or seven months old. You go for five days and four nights, and they put you and your baby on a strict schedule of feeding, napping and sleeping. If you're really desperate for sleep, you also have the option of having a nurse handle your baby for the whole first night so you can sleep, but after that you spend the next few nights with your baby overnight while the nurses show you what to do. They use controlled crying and other techniques. I have friends who say it saved their lives, friends who left feeling "meh" about the whole thing, and a friend who left after a day because, in her words, "they left my baby in a cupboard to cry."

Chile:

Giving treats to children is seen as a sign of affection, so strangers will offer candy to kids on the street. I'll sometimes turn around and a stranger will be handing my daughter a chocolate bar! Several months ago, we were on a bus, and a woman near us was eating cookies. She saw my daughter Mia and said "Oh, let me give you some cookies." I said, "No, thank you." But she kept on insisting. Then, a random stranger, who was not even connected to the first woman, chimed in, "You should give your daughter the cookies!" They were very serious about it! I was frustrated at the time, but after the fact I found it funny.

And then more recently, they talked to a group of foreign mothers about how parenting in the US differs from the rest of the world. For one thing, there's the babyproofing:

Here in the U.S., there is a huge "baby industry," which does not exist in Romania. There's special baby food, special baby utensils, special baby safety precautions and special baby furniture. In Romania, children eat with a regular teaspoon and drink from a regular glass. They play with toys that are not specifically made for "brain development from months 3-6." Also, before I came here, I had never heard of babyproofing! Now I'm constantly worried about my daughter hurting herself, but my mom and friends from home just laugh at me and my obsession that bookshelves might fall.

And the more permissive and involved parenting:

I was surprised that American children as young as one year old learn to say please, thank you, sorry and excuse me. Those things are not actively taught in India. Another difference is how parents here tend to stay away from "because I said so" and actually explain things to their children. It's admirable the way parents will go into basic reasoning to let the child know why some things are the way they are. When I last visited Bombay, I explained to my then four-year-old about that we couldn't buy too many things because of weight restrictions in the flight, etc. My relatives were genuinely wondering why I didn't just stop at "no."

Like I said, the whole series is fascinating...I could easily see this being a book or documentary (along the lines of Babies).

Self harmonyOCT 06

Watch and listen as Anna-Maria Hefele demonstrates polyphonic overtone singing, a technique where it sounds as though she's singing two different notes at the same time.

This blew my mind a little, particularly starting around the 3:00 mark, where she actually starts to be more fluid in her singing. (via @anotherny)

Update: See also Tuvan throat singing, Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq (who posted a photo online of her infant daughter next to a dead seal, a "sealfie"), and many other cultures who practice overtone singing. (thx, @bmcnely, @ChrisWalks1 & james)

EntangledSEP 24

Entangled is a short film by Tony Elliott about a quantum experiment that goes wrong. Shit gets real at approximately precisely 4:19.

Reminds me a bit of Primer.

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.

Being Mortal, the TV showOCT 15

Atul Gawande's best selling Being Mortal is getting the Frontline treatment on PBS this January. Here's the trailer:

Who Wins the Scene?OCT 16

Tony Zhou's excellent series on filmmaking, Every Frame a Painting, has become a much-watch for me. Here's the latest one, a short look at a single scene from Silence of the Lambs in which Zhou asks: Who Wins the Scene?

Lockheed Martin claims fusion reactor breakthroughOCT 16

Lockheed Martin is in the process of developing a compact fusion reactor they say could revolutionize the world's energy industry.

Dubbed the compact fusion reactor (CFR), the device is conceptually safer, cleaner and more powerful than much larger, current nuclear systems that rely on fission, the process of splitting atoms to release energy. Crucially, by being "compact," Lockheed believes its scalable concept will also be small and practical enough for applications ranging from interplanetary spacecraft and commercial ships to city power stations. It may even revive the concept of large, nuclear-powered aircraft that virtually never require refueling-ideas of which were largely abandoned more than 50 years ago because of the dangers and complexities involved with nuclear fission reactors.

The key difference in Lockheed's approach seems to be the configuration of the magnetic field containing the reaction:

The CFR will avoid these issues by tackling plasma confinement in a radically different way. Instead of constraining the plasma within tubular rings, a series of superconducting coils will generate a new magnetic-field geometry in which the plasma is held within the broader confines of the entire reaction chamber. Superconducting magnets within the coils will generate a magnetic field around the outer border of the chamber. "So for us, instead of a bike tire expanding into air, we have something more like a tube that expands into an ever-stronger wall," McGuire says. The system is therefore regulated by a self-tuning feedback mechanism, whereby the farther out the plasma goes, the stronger the magnetic field pushes back to contain it. The CFR is expected to have a beta limit ratio of one. "We should be able to go to 100% or beyond," he adds.

Charles Seife, who wrote a book about the history of fusion, is skeptical of Lockheed's claims.

This week, Lockheed Martin supposedly managed to achieve a "breakthrough" in nuclear fusion that has gotten a lot of media attention. As Charles Seife points out, it did so "without having built a prototype device that, you know, fuses things on an appreciable scale. It's a stunning assertion, even by fusion-research standards. But a quick look at the defense contractor's ambitious plan-a working reactor in five years-already shows the dream fraying around the edges. A year and a half ago, the company promised that fusion was four years away, meaning that the schedule is already slipping. Negative one years of progress in 20 months is, sadly, business as usual for fusion. At this rate, it'll take Lockheed Martin at least a decade before the natural endpoint: desperately spinning victory out of an underwhelming result generated by a machine whose performance comes nowhere near predictions-and which brings us no closer to actually generating energy from a fusion reaction."

OMG Bob BurnquistOCT 14

I've posted quite a few skateboarding videos here over the years and they all have their share of amazing tricks, but the shit Bob Burnquist pulls on his massive backyard MegaRamp in this video is crazy/incredible. My mouth dropped open at least four times while watching. I rewatched the trick at 2:50 about 10 times and still can't believe it's not from a video game. (via @bryce)

Pixel MiyazakiOCT 09

A short and sweet pixel art tribute to legendary animator and director Hayao Miyazaki.

See also 8-bit Ghibli.

Truth will outOCT 02

Emergent follows recent stories in the news and confirms their veracity. Some recent examples:

Claim: White House fence-jumper made it inside the main floor (Confirmed true)

Claim: A Florida woman got a third breast (Confirmed false)

Claim: Apple is buying Path (Unverified)

(via waxy)

The Days They Changed the GaugeSEP 26

After the Civil War, the economic recovery of the southern United States hinged on trade with the North and moving goods westward via the railroad. But there was a problem. Tracks in the South had been built with a gauge (or track width) of 5 feet but the majority of tracks in the North had a 4-foot 9-inch gauge (more or less). So after much planning, over a concentrated two-day period in the summer of 1886, the width of thousands of miles of railroad track (and the wheels on thousands of rail cars) in the South was reduced by three inches.

Only one rail would be moved in on the day of the change, so inside spikes were hammered into place at the new gauge width well in advance of the change, leaving only the need for a few blows of the sledgehammer once the rail was placed. As May 31 drew near, some spikes were pulled from the rail that was to be moved in order to reduce as much as possible the time required to release the rail from its old position.

Rolling stock, too, was being prepared for rapid conversion. Contemporary accounts indicate that dish shaped wheels were provided on new locomotives so that on the day of the change, reversing the position of the wheel on the axle would make the locomotive conform to the new gauge. On some equipment, axles were machined to the new gauge and a special ring positioned inside the wheel to hold it to the 5-foot width until the day of the gauge change. Then the wheel was pulled, the ring removed, and the wheel replaced.

To shorten the axles of rolling stock and motive power that could not be prepared in advance, lathes and crews were stationed at various points throughout the South to accomplish the work concurrently with the change in track gauge.

And you thought deploying software was difficult.

Update: In their book Information Rules, Carl Shapiro and Hal Varian point out that sometimes having different standards from the norm is a good thing.

As things turned out, having different gauges was advantageous to the South, since the North could not easily use railroad to move its troops to battle in southern territory during the Civil War. Noting this example, the Finns were careful to ensure that their railroads used a gauge different from the Russian railroads! The rest of Europe adopted a standard gauge, which made things easy for Hitler during World War II: a significant fraction of German troop movements in Europe were accomplished by rail.

They also describe the efforts that the South went through to support the stronger standard of the North without switching over:

In 1862, Congress specified the standard gauge for the transcontinental railroads. By this date, the southern states had seceded, leaving no one to push for the 5-foot gauge. After the war, the southern railroads found themselves increasingly in the minority. For the next twenty years, they relied on various imperfect means of interconnection with the North and West: cars with a sliding wheel base, hoists to lift cars from one wheel base to another, and, most commonly, a third rail.

At home, I have a drawer full of sliding wheel bases and third rails in the form of Euro-to-US & Asia-to-US power adapters.

The first drafts of WikipediaOCT 16

John Overholt, a curator of early modern books and manuscripts at Harvard's Houghton Library, has started a new blog called First Drafts of History that features the first versions of Wikipedia articles. Here's the first draft of the iPhone entry, dated more than a year and a half before it was introduced.

iPhone

I'm sure there were many giggles about this kind of thing in the Britannica offices back then. Wikipedia has come a long way.

Espresso machine gunOCT 10

Do you want to make a lot of espresso really fast? Enter the The Gatlino®, a machine gun that uses Nespresso capsules in place of bullets.

Espresso Machine Gun

It was during one bleary break-of-dawn that I found myself slouched over the machine making coffee and drifting into visions of the Nespresso hooked up to a belt of ammunition, or a machine gun being fed by a chain of Nespresso capsules. I'm not sure which. Doesn't matter. What's important is that it led me to wonder how long it would take to fire all the Nespresso cartridges ever made. The environmentally-conscious will be appalled.

The reading level of Presidential speechesOCT 10

Using the Flesch-Kincaid readability test, Vocativ analyzed more than 600 speeches from all the American Presidents for ease of comprehension. What they found was a trend toward simpler language as speeches needed to appeal to a wider range of people, not just super-educated white men.

President Reading Level

I think President Obama, no more or less than President Bush, tries to pack a lot of nuance and subtext into language that is as plain and straightforward as possible. While President Bush was often inarticulate off the cuff, Bush's speeches were underestimated. There was a crisp formality to a lot of his best speeches, particularly the ones he delivered shortly after Sept. 11.

Definitely click through for their analysis of the data.

Club Soccer 101OCT 09

Club Soccer 101

As I've written before, after the World Cup in 2010, I wanted to keep watching soccer but didn't quite know how club soccer worked or anything about the various teams. I wish I'd had this book then: Club Soccer 101. It's a guide to 101 of the most well-known teams from leagues all over the world.

The book covers the history of European powerhouses like Arsenal, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Chelsea, Inter Milan, Manchester United, Paris Saint-Germain, and Real Madrid; historic South American clubs like Boca Juniors, Corinthians, Penarol, and Santos; and rising clubs from Africa, Asia, and America, including such leading MLS clubs as LA Galaxy, New York Red Bulls, and Seattle Sounders. Writing with the passion and panache of a deeply knowledgeable and opinionated fan, Luke Dempsey explains what makes each club distinctive: their origins, fans, and style of play; their greatest (and most heartbreaking) seasons and historic victories and defeats; and their most famous players -- from Pelé, Eusébio, and Maradona to Lionel Messi, Wayne Rooney, and Ronaldo.

40,000 year-old cave paintings found in IndonesiaOCT 08

Sulawesi Cave Paintings

Paintings in a cave in Indonesia have been dated to 40,000 years ago, as old or older than any paintings found in Europe.

For decades, the only evidence of ancient cave art was in Spain and southern France. It led some to believe that the creative explosion that led to the art and science we know today began in Europe.

But the discovery of paintings of a similar age in Indonesia shatters this view, according to Prof Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London.

"It is a really important find; it enables us to get away from this Euro-centric view of a creative explosion that was special to Europe and did not develop in other parts of the world until much later," he said.

The discovery of 40,000-year-old cave paintings at opposite ends of the globe suggests that the ability to create representational art had its origins further back in time in Africa, before modern humans spread across the rest of the world.

"That's kind of my gut feeling," says Prof Stringer. "The basis for this art was there 60,000 years ago; it may even have been there in Africa before 60,000 years ago and it spread with modern humans".

The world's loudest soundOCT 02

Krakatoa

The sound made by the Krakatoa volcanic eruption in 1883 was so loud it ruptured eardrums of people 40 miles away, travelled around the world four times, and was clearly heard 3,000 miles away.

Think, for a moment, just how crazy this is. If you're in Boston and someone tells you that they heard a sound coming from New York City, you're probably going to give them a funny look. But Boston is a mere 200 miles from New York. What we're talking about here is like being in Boston and clearly hearing a noise coming from Dublin, Ireland. Travelling at the speed of sound (766 miles or 1,233 kilometers per hour), it takes a noise about 4 hours to cover that distance. This is the most distant sound that has ever been heard in recorded history.

A much much smaller eruption occurred recently in Papua New Guinea. From the video, you can get a tiny sense of the sonic damage unleashed by Krakatoa:

Holy smoking Toledos indeed. On Reddit, a user details how loud a Saturn V rocket is and what the effects would be at different distances. At very close range, the sound from the Saturn V measures an incredible 220 db, loud enough to melt concrete just from the sound.

At 500 meters, 155 db you would experience painful, violent shaking in your entire body, you would feel compressed, as though deep underwater. Your vision would blur, breathing would be very difficult, your eardrums are obviously a lost cause, even with advanced active noise cancelling protection you could experience permanent damage. This is the sort of sound level aircraft mechanics sometimes experience for short periods of time. Almost twice as "loud" as putting your ear up to the exhaust of a formula 1 car. The air temperature would drop significantly, perhaps 10-25 degrees F, becoming suddenly cold because of the air being so violently stretched and moved.

Even at three miles away, the sound is loud enough to cause permanent hearing damage. But that's nothing compared to the Krakatoa sound. The Saturn V sound is ~170 db at 100 meters away while the Krakatoa explosion was that loud 100 miles away! What happens at 170 db?

...you would be unable to breathe or likely see at all from the sound pressure, glass would shatter, fog would be generated as the water in the air dropped out of suspension in the pressure waves, your house at this distance would have a roughly 50% chance of being torn apart from sound pressure alone. Military stun grenades reach this volume for a split second... if they are placed up to your face. Survival chance from sound alone, minimal, you would certainly experience permanent deafness but probably also organ damage.

The word "loud" is inadequate to describe how loud that is. (thx, david)

Swimming with icebergsOCT 21

Watch as Stig Severinsen, aka The Man Who Doesn't Breathe, swims underwater amongst icebergs. Beautiful.

Severinsen is currently the world's record holder for the longest time holding a breath at 22 minutes. 22! I barely breathed myself while watching this video of his record breaking attempt. (via devour)

Time to think about itOCT 22

From Grantland's 30 for 30 Shorts series, a short film on former major league catcher Mackey Sasser and how he lost the ability to throw the ball back to the pitcher.

[I took the video out because someone at ESPN/Grantland is idiot enough to think that, by default, videos embedded on 3rd-party sites should autoplay. Really? REALLY!? Go here to watch instead.]

I remember Sasser (I had his rookie card) but had kinda stopped paying attention to baseball by the time his throwing problem started; I had no idea it was so bad. The video of him trying to throw is painful to watch. According to the therapists we see working with Sasser in the video, unresolved mental trauma (say, from childhood) builds up and leaves the person unable to resolve something as seemingly trivial as a small problem throwing a ball back to the pitcher. I've read and written a lot about this sort of thing over the years.

Simple CPUOCT 20

Very quickly, here's how a computer works at the simplest level.

D Latch

Want to see how computers store data? This next device is called a 'D-Latch'. It holds a binary bit. The top switch is the value to be stored, the bottom switch enables storage. Eight of these devices can be used to store a byte in memory.

Quack This WaySEP 26

One of the last interviews David Foster Wallace gave was with Bryan Garner, a lawyer and lexicographer who became friendly with Wallace due to their mutual love of language. That hour-long interview is reproduced in Quack This Way: David Foster Wallace & Bryan A. Garner Talk Language and Writing.

David Foster Wallace was at the center of late-20th-century American literature, Bryan A. Garner at that of legal scholarship and lexicography. It was language that drew them together. The wide-ranging interview reproduced here memorializes 67 minutes of their second and final evening together, in February 2006. It was DFW's last long interview, and the only one devoted exclusively to language and writing.

It was Wallace's piece featuring Garner in Harper's, Tense Present, that cemented him as a favorite writer of mine, even before I tackled Infinite Jest. Wallace later expanded the essay to 62 pages in Consider the Lobster and Other Essays.

Beautiful chemistryOCT 06

Gorgeous videos of chemical reactions (precipitation, bubbling, crystallization, etc.). I think the metal displacement reaction video is my favorite:

(via hn)

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)

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