An Honest LiarAPR 08

A few days ago, I watched An Honest Liar, a documentary about the magician and charlatan-debunker The Amazing Randi. I had forgotten that in the 70s and 80s in America, belief in psychics like Uri Geller, faith healers like Peter Popoff, extraterrestrial abductions, and the like was not all that far from the mainstream. Such events and people were covered in newspapers, on the evening news, and featured on talk shows, including The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

The media is awash in pieces attempting to explain the success of the Presidential campaign of Donald Trump. Many are puzzled...how could this happen in America!? After watching Randi debunking hoaxes, I'm no longer surprised at Trump's success. Maria Konnikova, author of a recent book on scams and cons, wrote about Trump and con artists for the New Yorker.

A line, thin but perceptible, divides even egregious liars from confidence men. People deceive one another for all sorts of reasons: they might lie to stay out of trouble, for example, or to make themselves seem more interesting, or to urge a business deal toward its consummation. David Maurer, a linguist turned historian of the con, said, "If confidence men operate outside the law, it must be remembered that they are not much further outside than many of our pillars of society who go under names less sinister." Still, there is a meaningful difference between an ordinary liar and a con artist. A grifter takes advantage of a person's confidence for his own specific ends -- ends that are often unknowable to the victim and unrelated to the business at hand. He willfully deceives a mark into handing over his trust under false pretenses. He has a plan. What ultimately sets con artists apart is their intent. To figure out if someone is a con artist, one needs to ask two questions. First, is their deception knowing, malicious, and directed, ultimately, toward their own personal gain? Second, is the con a means to an end unrelated to the substance of the scheme itself?

She doesn't express an opinion on whether Trump is a con artist -- it's difficult to tell without knowing his intent -- but it's clear that like Uri Geller and Peter Popoff, Trump is adept at making people believe what he is saying without a lot of hard evidence. Like The Amazing Randi said in the movie: "no matter how smart or well educated you are, you can be deceived." Hopefully, like Geller, Popoff, and UFOs eventually did, the idea of Trump as a viable candidate for President will soon disappear back into the fringes of American discourse.

Scientists: climate change isn't a prankMAY 03

Jimmy Kimmel had some scientists on his show recently to tell the American public that anthropogenic climate change is real, that's it's not a prank, and that the scientific community is "not fucking with you" about this. Trigger warning: the first minute of this video features Sarah Palin speaking.

Prince, remembered in 11 songs you might not know he wroteAPR 22

You're probably aware of Sinead O'Conner's Nothing Compares 2 U but The Bangles, MC Hammer, Chaka Khan, Stevie Nicks, and others also made use of songs written by Prince.

Big business pushes back against small minded governanceAPR 19

In his 1975 song Jungleland, Bruce Springsteen laments, "the poets down here don't write nothing at all, they just stand back and let it all be." I was reminded of that line when Springsteen canceled his North Carolina concert to protest the state's recently passed bathroom law. In this case, the poet wrote. While it's not unusual for musicians and other artists to use their public podiums for protest, it's less common for corporations to do the same. At least, that used to be the case. But recently, many top CEOs are using their corporate muscle to influence social and political decisions across the country. When you wondered who would stand up for individual and equal rights in America, it's unlikely that you thought of the The Boss and The Man. Here's The New Yorker's James Surowiecki with more on these unlikely alliances.

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Gay Talese has a cold or some other weird thing going onAPR 04

Over the weekend, writer Gay Talese fumbled hard responding to a question about female writers.

Women reporters don't feel comfortable dealing with unsavory, interesting, dangerous characters.

I think educated women, want to deal with educated people. Men, even educated men like me, are comfortable around uneducated men.

And then, right on cue, the New Yorker published an article by Talese this morning about a man who has been secretly observing guests in the rooms of the hotel he owns for decades, very much without permission.

I know a married man and father of two who bought a twenty-one-room motel near Denver many years ago in order to become its resident voyeur. With the assistance of his wife, he cut rectangular holes measuring six by fourteen inches in the ceilings of more than a dozen rooms. Then he covered the openings with louvred aluminum screens that looked like ventilation grilles but were actually observation vents that allowed him, while he knelt in the attic, to see his guests in the rooms below. He watched them for decades, while keeping an exhaustive written record of what he saw and heard. Never once, during all those years, was he caught.

Satellite view of a river changing course over timeAPR 05

River Path Time

Rivers change course as they flow through the years. This is an animation of the fast-changing Ucayali River in Peru built from satellite imagery over the past 30 years.

See also meander maps of the Mississippi River, available as prints from 20x200.

Beautiful drone footage of an Alaskan salmon migrationAPR 07

If you can stop gawping at Alaska's gorgeous scenery long enough, you can witness drone footage of a whole lot of salmon migrating upstream from Lake Iliamna1 to spawn. (via digg)

  1. Lake Iliamna is home to the supposed Iliamna Lake Monster, a beast "10-30 feet in length with a square-like head that is used to place blunt force unto things such as small boats". Where's the drone footage of that?!

Amazon now offering monthly Prime subscriptionsAPR 18

Amazon is now offering the ability to subscribe to Prime and Prime Video monthly rather than just yearly. Prime Video is $8.99/mo (Netflix is going up to $9.99/mo soon) and the full Prime offering is $10.99/mo. A year of Prime is still $99.

In Prime Video, Amazon has built a worthy competitor to Netflix. And it actually might be better at this point. The stable of impressive Netflix originals aside (which Amazon is also doing *cough* Transparent *cough* best show in years), Amazon allows you to rent/buy digital movies not available for free streaming1, provides discounts for subscriptions to Showtime and Starz, and (if you opt for the full Prime) offers free shipping on most stuff in the store (as well as other benefits.) I sub to both services, but if I had to make a choice right now, I'd probably stick with Amazon.

  1. What Amazon should do, to really sweeten the deal (if the movie studios would allow such a thing), is offer Prime-only discounts on renting and buying digital movies and shows. So not only would you get a bunch of free streaming movies, you can rent new-to-video movies, and they're cheaper than at iTunes. That's something that Netflix can't offer right now. I wonder if they'll add a digital video store to their offering to compete?

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.

Animation of the Titanic striking an iceberg and sinking in realtimeAPR 18

When the Titanic struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic on April 14, 1912, it took the ship 2 hours and 40 minutes to sink. I don't necessarily know why you would want to, but now you can watch a highly detailed animation of the ship sinking in realtime, all 2h 40m. I can't quite figure out if this is appropriate or not, although when I think about the inevitable realtime 9/11 version, perhaps it isn't.

First draft of Boogie Nights script rejectedAPR 07

When P.T. Anderson submitted the first draft of his script for Boogie Nights, the studio didn't think too much of it.

Boogie Nights

Boogie Nights is one of my favorite films. I'm glad Anderson stuck with it.

Rival Chinese construction firms battle with bulldozersAPR 19

Worries over the slowing Chinese economy spilled out into the streets of Hebei province last weekend as two construction firms battled with bulldozers while competing for the same business. That is some end-times shit right there.

Super-trippy images and animations created for The Simpsons on FXXAPR 18

I love these trippy Simpsons brand ids created for FXX by LA-based Laundry.

Simpsons

Simpsons

Simpsons

Yes, I'm posting Beyonce fanficAPR 26

Beyonce Lemonade

This is the best thing I've read about Beyonce's recently released album/film Lemonade.

*Beyoncé opens the door and Solange Knowles and Tina Lawson walk in.

Solange throws a reverse roundhouse kick that Jay Z lazily dodges.*

Solo: I'm sorry. I'm just very inspired right now.

Bey: Mommy! Solo! What a pleasant surprise! Neither of you could have had better timing

Jay: Sister-in-law. Mama Tina.

Mama T: Stereotypical Black Man

Solo: Blubberlips McSlutdick

Blue: LMAO

Bey: Baby, take your elevator to your playroom. Mommy will FaceTime you on your IPhone 8 when dinners ready.

Blue: Yes, mommy dearest

Solo: Rihanna called me to congratulate you.

Bey: She couldn't call me?

Solo: Because you were gonna answer?

Bey: hahahahahahahahahaha

Solo: hahahahahahahahahaha

Mama T: lol omg

Bey: You may laugh

Jay: eh heh heh

Mama T: You are pathetic. The universe wasted good water creating you.

Bey: Mama. *high fives*

See also What to read after watching Beyoncé's 'Lemonade'.

The Art of AtariAPR 27

Art Of Atari

The Art of Atari showcases the design of the iconic company's video game packaging, advertisements, catalogs, and other stuff. Judging from my reaction to just the cover, I might die of nostalgia if I were to see the inside. Might be worth the risk though.

See also season 3 of Boss Fight Books featuring books on SMB3, Mega Man 3, Katamari Damacy, and more. (via df & @robinsloan)

Text editor restricted to 1000 most common wordsMAR 31

Simple Language Editor

Inspired by Randall Munroe's Thing Explainer, Morten Just built a simple text editor for OS X that restricts your writing to the 1000 most common English words. You can also use Munroe's Simple Writer on the web.

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.

An informative and entertaining look at space elevatorsAPR 08

The latest video from Kurzgesagt is on space elevators. How would you build one? Why not just keep launching rockets into space instead? Would be easier to build one on the Moon first?

SnowdenAPR 27

Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Edward Snowden in this film directed by Oliver Stone. I was not at all curious about seeing this, but after watching the trailer, I may give it a shot. See also Citizenfour (which was excellent).

Viral dance moves, 2006-2016APR 19

In a video from the New Yorker, dancers from around the country demonstrate viral dance moves from the past decade, including the Dougie, Walk It Out, and Dabbing. (via @silviakillings)

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.

NBA GM resigns with a thoroughly thinkfluenced letterAPR 11

Sam Hinkie recently resigned as general manager of the NBA's Philadelphia 76ers. His resignation letter took the form of an investor letter, a la Warren Buffett's annual letters. Before he gets down to basketball specifics, Hinkie spends several pages explaining his philosophy. Along with Buffett and his business partner Charlie Munger, Hinkie mentions in this introductory section Atul Gawande, Elon Musk, Bill James, James Clerk Maxwell, Bill Belichick, Jeff Bezos, Tim Urban (whom he suggests the Sixers owners should meet for coffee), AlphaGo, and Slack (the Sixers' front office uses it). He even quotes Steven Johnson about the adjacent possible:

A yearning for innovation requires real exploration. It requires a persistent search to try (and fail) to move your understanding forward with a new tool, a new technique, a new insight. Sadly, the first innovation often isn't even all that helpful, but may well provide a path to ones that are. This is an idea that Steven Johnson of Where Good Ideas Come From popularized called the "adjacent possible." Where finding your way through a labyrinth of ignorance requires you to first open a door into a room of understanding, one that by its very existence has new doors to new rooms with deeper insights lurking behind them.

If I didn't know any better, I'd guess that Hinkie is a regular kottke.org reader. (via farnum street)

A list of nonbinary gender identitiesMAR 31

From the nonbinary.org wiki, a list of gender identities that aren't male or female.

transgender is an umbrella term for all genders that go beyond society's ideas of gender, which includes some kinds of binary gender people. Some call their gender identity simply "transgender," as a nonbinary identity itself.

genderfuzz. Coined by lolzmelmel in 2014. "having multiple genders that are fuzzy and blurred together, making it impossible to identify each one individually or separate one from the rest. alternative names: blurgender (not to be confused with genderblur)

cosmicgender. Coined by dragon-friker in 2014. "A gender so vast and complex that you are only able to process a small bit of it at a time. like viewing the night sky through a telescope you cannot hope to see all of it at once however you may gain more knowledge about parts of it the longer you focus on one part. may contain any number of sub genders within it that may present themselves to you. it is infinite in its possibility. name from the vast reaches of space filled with things we cannot begin to imagine."

hijra. In south Asian countries including India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, the Hijra are people assigned male at birth who have a feminine gender expression. This is a very ancient tradition. Today, Hijra are legally recognized as a gender other than female or male.

nocturnalgender. Coined by passengender in 2014. Any gender that feels more intense during the night, "but weak/nonexistent when it is light out." Syn. batgender, owlgender, moongender. Counterpart: flowergender.

Fascinating.

Update: Sam Escobar answers some frequently asked questions about non-binary gender.

The gender binary separates those who identify as male or female, simple as that. Non-binary genders, however, don't fit neatly within these two-they can be a combination of male and female, a fluid back-and-forth, or totally outside of the binary. Cisgender people, on the other hand, are folks whose identities align with the gender they were assigned at birth.

(via @djacobs)

Racial equality and Mister Rogers' NeighborhoodAPR 06

Actor and singer François Clemmons, who played Officer Clemmons for 30 years on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, talks about how and why Fred Rogers chose a black man to be a police officer on TV.

To say that he didn't know what he was doing, or that he accidentally stumbled into integration or talking about racism or sexism, that's not Mister Rogers. It was well planned and well thought-out and I think it was very impactful.

NPR also recently shared Clemmons' story.

He says he'll never forget the day Rogers wrapped up the program, as he always did, by hanging up his sweater and saying, "You make every day a special day just by being you, and I like you just the way you are." This time in particular, Rogers had been looking right at Clemmons, and after they wrapped, he walked over.

Clemmons asked him, "Fred, were you talking to me?"

"Yes, I have been talking to you for years," Rogers said, as Clemmons recalls. "But you heard me today."

"It was like telling me I'm OK as a human being," Clemmons says. "That was one of the most meaningful experiences I'd ever had."

Mister Rogers always hits me right in the feels.

The Old New WorldAPR 13

Alexey Zakharov gathered old photos of New York, Washington D.C. and other American cities from Shorpy and animated them into something wonderful. There's a cheesy steampunk time machine at the beginning...push through that to the good stuff. (via @pshoplifter)

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.

A bunch of great educational-ish iPad apps for kidsAPR 15

Kids iPad apps

In this post about Minecraft yesterday, I wrote a footnote about educational-ish1 apps on my iPad:

On my iPad, I have a screen full of educational apps that the kids can work with pretty much anytime they want without asking.

I posted a screenshot of that page on Twitter, and I wanted to follow up with some App Store links as well as some links to other apps that people tweeted back at me. (Note: my kids are 6 and 8, so YMMV.)

Minecraft Pocket Edition - Duh. It doesn't do quite as much as the full versions available on other platforms, but they're improving and adding stuff all the time and the touchscreen experience is great.

The Tinybop Collection - Beautiful, fun apps. The kids most often work with The Everything Machine and Simple Machines.

Mate in 1 - A game that challenges you to find the checkmate using just one move. Ollie takes chess after school once a week, so I downloaded this for when he wants some extra practice during the week. See also Mate in 2.

Monument Valley - This is a straight-up game, but it's so well-made (I love the soundtrack) and the logic puzzles are genuinely challenging that I'm happy to let them work with this one. Ollie has made it all the way through while Minna is still on level 9. Gonna get the Forgotten Shores IAP too.

The Numberlys - This one has ceased to be educational for my kids, but it's great for the younger set.

Crazy Gears - 99 levels of mechanical puzzles involving gears.

Hopscotch - Use an intuitive drag-and-drop interface to build games. It includes many video tutorials for learning how everything works.

And here are a few recommendations from others that I am eager to try out:

Quick Math Pack - Four math apps, including multiplication, fractions, and telling time. See also Prodigy Math Game, The Counting Kingdom, the DragonBox apps.

Barefoot World Atlas - An annotated world atlas. This looks great...downloading now.

Epic! - A eBook library for kids 12 and under with 10,000 titles. A couple of very strong recommendations from people for this.

Brain It On - Draw shapes to solve challenging physics puzzles. See also LiquidSketch.

Endless Reader - For beginning readers. The same company, Originator Inc., has many other apps as well.

Professor Astro Cat's Solar System - Learn about the solar system with a cat and mouse as tour guides.

Deep Green - Top-notch chess game.

Lots of good stuff there...I've downloaded a few already. I really really wish the App Store had a try-before-you buy policy. I have no idea which of these apps the kids will actually like/play and it would be nice not to have to spend $50 to find out. Anyway, thanks to everyone who shared their favorites. Let me know if I've missed anything great!

  1. As you might have guessed from reading this here web site, I tend to have an expansive definition of what is educational. Hence, "educational-ish" to adjust people's expectations.

The Simpsons pay homage to DisneyAPR 26

In this Simpsons couch gag, the show pays homage to some classic Disney animation styles. Featured are Steamboat Willie, Cinderella, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, The Jungle Book and Fantasia. The animation was done by Eric Goldberg, who worked at Disney on films like Aladdin and Pocahontas.

The Birth of a NationAPR 18

Written, produced, and directed by Nate Parker, The Birth of a Nation is a film about Nat Turner, the man who led a slave rebellion in Virginia in 1831. The movie won both the Audience Award and Grand Jury Prize at Sundance this year and will be out in theaters in October.

P.S. If the name of the movie sounds familiar, it was deliberately given the same name as D.W. Griffith's 1915 silent film, which dramatized the formation of the Ku Klux Klan. In an interview, Parker said:

When I endeavored to make this film, I did so with the specific intent of exploring America through the context of identity. So much of the racial injustices we endure today in America are symptomatic of a greater sickness - one we have been systematically conditioned to ignore. From sanitized truths about our forefathers to mis-education regarding this country's dark days of slavery, we have refused to honestly confront the many afflictions of our past. This disease of denial has served as a massive stumbling block on our way to healing from those wounds. Addressing Griffith's Birth of a Nation is one of the many steps necessary in treating this disease. Griffith's film relied heavily on racist propaganda to evoke fear and desperation as a tool to solidify white supremacy as the lifeblood of American sustenance. Not only did this film motivate the massive resurgence of the terror group the Ku Klux Klan and the carnage exacted against people of African descent, it served as the foundation of the film industry we know today.

I've reclaimed this title and re-purposed it as a tool to challenge racism and white supremacy in America, to inspire a riotous disposition toward any and all injustice in this country (and abroad) and to promote the kind of honest confrontation that will galvanize our society toward healing and sustained systemic change.

(via trailer town)

Burn the Witch by RadioheadMAY 03

Two days ago, Radiohead withdrew its forces from the internet. Today, they dropped a new video on YouTube. The rest of the new album soon? Please?

Update: It's on Spotify now and available for sale on Radiohead's site and iTunes. Also, I am liking this song a lot.

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.

New EP from Com TruiseMAR 31

Com Truise's new EP, Silicon Tare, comes out tomorrow but you can listen on Soundcloud right now. Grab the mp3s or vinyl at Ghostly or Amazon. (Previously.)

The link between health and wealthAPR 12

If you're poor, you might want to consider moving to a place where your life expectancy will be reasonably high. In many parts of America, there is only a minor gap between the life expectancies of the wealthy and the poor.

But in some other parts of the country, adults with the lowest incomes die on average as young as people in much poorer nations like Rwanda, and their life spans are getting shorter.

If you're rich, you're probably OK right where you are (regardless of where that happens to be). Here are some remarkable numbers from the NYT Upshot: The rich live longer everywhere. For the poor, geography matters.

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Misplaced New YorkAPR 27

Misplaced NYC

Misplaced NYC

The Misplaced Series removes notable New York buildings from their surroundings and "misplaces" them in desolate landscapes around the world. Concrete behemoths and steel-and-glass towers rise from sand dunes and rocky cliffs, inviting viewers to see them as if for the first time. Out of context, architectural forms become more pronounced and easily understood.

See all 10 buildings in their new surroundings at Misplaced New York.

Famous paintings recreated with colorful masking tapeAPR 21

Nasa Funahara

Nasa Funahara

Nasa Funahara makes art out of colorful masking tape, including recreations of famous artworks.

Phil Collins past and presentAPR 07

Phil Collins Albums Remastered

When six of Phil Collins' albums were recently remastered, he went back and recreated the covers as well. That's fun! (via @pieratt)

Update: Patrick Balls was the photographer for the reshoots.

Create Your Own EconomyAPR 22

Create Your Own Economy

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

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

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

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

The inadvertent cinematography of police body camerasAPR 14

Body cameras, dashboard cams, and bystander videos all offer different views of police officers doing their jobs, which underscores the importance of perspective in skewing our perceptions of what's happening. For instance, body cams can tend to put you in the shoes of the wearer.

These details were not captured by the police body camera, though, revealing another important point: Body cameras prioritize the officer's point of view.

"When video allows us to look through someone's eyes, we tend to adopt an interpretation that favors that person," Professor Stoughton said, explaining a psychological phenomenon known as "camera perspective bias."

Thanks to Reed for sending me the link and pointing out the connection to how film directors use the camera to tell stories effectively:
The importance of composition in cinematic storytelling
and "What a film director really directs is the audience's attention." What are these law enforcement surveillance cameras inadvertently directing our attention to?

Koyaanisqatsi trailer recreated using stock footageAPR 08

Koyannistocksi is a shot-by-shot remake of the trailer for Godfrey Reggio's Koyaanisqatsi using only stock footage.

A testament to Reggio's influence on contemporary motion photography, and the appropriation of his aesthetic by others for commercial means.

(via @waxpancake)

Space archaeology uncovers potential Viking settlement in North AmericaAPR 04

Sarah Parcak is a space archaeologist. She looks at infrared aerial photography for evidence of human activities that have been covered up by the march of time. Last year, Parcak located a site in Newfoundland that showed "possible man-made shapes" and may be the site of a Viking settlement from 1000 years ago.

The new Canadian site, with telltale signs of iron-working, was discovered last summer after infrared images from 400 miles in space showed possible man-made shapes under discolored vegetation. The site is on the southwest coast of Newfoundland, about 300 miles south of L'Anse aux Meadows, the first and so far only confirmed Viking settlement in North America, discovered in 1960.

Since then, archaeologists, following up clues in the histories known as the sagas, have been hunting for the holy grail of other Viking, or Norse, landmarks in the Americas that would have existed 500 years before Columbus, to no avail.

The History Blog has more info. Parcak won the million TED Prize last year for her space detective work. A PBS documentary, Vikings Unearthed, features Parcak's work; it debuts online today and on TV on Wednesday.

BB-8 will watch Star Wars with youAPR 05

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is now out on Blu-ray and digital download. If you have Sphero's BB-8 toy, you can have BB-8 watch the movie with you and react to what's going on on-screen. Here's BB-8 reacting to seeing the Millennium Falcon for the first time in the movie:

Hey, quiet in front, #bb8. Some of us are trying to watch #theforceawakens.

A video posted by Chris Taylor (@futurechris) on


That's pretty cute. But I kinda wish it worked for any Star Wars movie. Or any movie period...like a Mystery Science Theater 3000 just with BB-8 reactions. (via nerdist)

Strange MapsOCT 29

Strange Maps

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

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

rating: 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."

A Prank Time!APR 14

This animation is super-freaky and somewhat NSFW and you should just watch it. Also: and that's why you always leave a note. (via @gavinpurcell)

Speaking is DifficultAPR 15

From The Intercept and director A.J. Schnack, a simple and powerful short film about more than a dozen mass shootings that have occurred in the US since 2011.

A scene of tragedy unfolds, accompanied by fear, chaos and disbelief. As Speaking is Difficult rewinds into the past, retracing our memories, it tells a story about a cumulative history that is both unbearable and inevitable.

Fuck, that was difficult to watch. When Sandy Hook came up, I just lost it. We should be deeply deeply ashamed that that happened and we did nothing about it.

Addressing climate change is not about saving the planetAPR 11

This video from Vox makes an often overlooked point about climate change. Climate change is not about saving the planet. Earth will be fine. Life, in general, will be fine. But many species of plants and animals will die. Addressing climate change is about saving plants and animals that are in some way "useful" to us and preventing human suffering. (via @mims)

Update: George Carlin riffs on this point in an old standup routine:

There is nothing wrong with the planet. The planet is fine. The people are fucked.

(via @austinkleon)

A view of the Earth from the ISS in ultra high def 4KAPR 25

Full-screen this baby on the biggest high-definition screen you can find. A 5K iMac works spectacularly well.

Medieval Fight ClubMAY 02

This is NUTS. The members of the Armored Combat League get dressed up in medieval armor and go at it, hard. Like full on with knives and axes and clubs.

We've seen guys' fingers get cut off, we've seen guys' knees kicked in, we've seen guys break both of their arms in the same fight, we've seen guys get all their teeth knocked out because the helmet smashes up against their face or something, some guy had to get flown out by helicopter because he has blood in his brain...

Makes movie fighting seem a lot more like dancing, doesn't it? (thx, byrne)

Beautiful aerial photography by Bernhard EdmaierAPR 26

Bernhard Edmaier 01

Bernhard Edmaier 02

Bernhard Edmaier 03

National Geographic has a selection of wonderful aerial photos from German photographer Bernhard Edmaier. His photos can also be found in two of his most recent books, Water and EarthArt.

The Concentric States of AmericaAPR 20

Concentric States

From Neil Freeman, proprietor of the excellent Fake is the New Real, a map of the continental United States with the 50 states reorganized into concentric circles of equal population.

See also the map accompanying Parag Khanna's recent piece, A New Map for America, which calls for the creation of seven mega-regions centered around metropolitan clusters in place of the lower 48 states: the Pacific Coast, the Inland West, the Great Plains, the Gulf Coast, the Great Lakes, the Southeast Manufacturing Belt, and the Great Northeast.

7 States Of America

These days, in the thick of the American presidential primaries, it's easy to see how the 50 states continue to drive the political system. But increasingly, that's all they drive -- socially and economically, America is reorganizing itself around regional infrastructure lines and metropolitan clusters that ignore state and even national borders. The problem is, the political system hasn't caught up.

America faces a two-part problem. It's no secret that the country has fallen behind on infrastructure spending. But it's not just a matter of how much is spent on catching up, but how and where it is spent. Advanced economies in Western Europe and Asia are reorienting themselves around robust urban clusters of advanced industry. Unfortunately, American policy making remains wedded to an antiquated political structure of 50 distinct states.

To an extent, America is already headed toward a metropolis-first arrangement. The states aren't about to go away, but economically and socially, the country is drifting toward looser metropolitan and regional formations, anchored by the great cities and urban archipelagos that already lead global economic circuits.

Holy shit, could you imagine? Most of America would have a fit over this.

"HELP" sign on deserted beach worksAPR 11

Help Island Rescue

It did not work for Gilligan and the Skipper, but writing "HELP" with palm fronds on the beach got three men rescued from a deserted island in the Pacific.

A Navy P-8 Madfox 807 aircrew from Misawa Air Base in Japan was conducting a search pattern for the missing mariners when they spotted survivors holding lifejackets and their makeshift sign. This information was relayed back to search and rescue watchstanders in Guam and shared with the family. The survivors were then picked up and transferred by a local small boat to Pulap.

Update: A woman in Arizona was rescued a few days ago in part because of a HELP sign she wrote with sticks.

Help Forest Rescue

(via @mchamblin)

New maps of the growth of American slavery in the SouthAPR 25

American slavery, 1850

From Bill Rankin at Radical Cartography, a series of maps showing the rapid explosion of slavery in the United States from 1790-1860. Departing from previous efforts, Rankin used a uniform grid of dots to represent slave populations rather than counties.

First, I smash the visual tyranny of county boundaries by using a uniform grid of dots. The size of each dot shows the total population in each 250-sqmi cell, and the color shows the percent that were slaves. But just as important, I've also combined the usual county data with historical data for more than 150 cities and towns. Cities usually had fewer slaves, proportionally, than their surrounding counties, but this is invisible on standard maps.

A detail that struck me while cycling through the years was that the number of slaves as a percentage of the total population of the South stayed relatively steady at 33% from 1790 to 1860.

The FounderAPR 21

The Founder is about the early years of McDonald's and how Ray Kroc (played by Michael Keaton) came to gain control of the company. The official McDonald's corporate history glosses over the events of the film in a few sentences:

In 1954, he visited a restaurant in San Bernardino, California that had purchased several Multi-mixers. There he found a small but successful restaurant run by brothers Dick and Mac McDonald, and was stunned by the effectiveness of their operation. They produced a limited menu, concentrating on just a few items-burgers, fries and beverages-which allowed them to focus on quality and quick service.

Kroc pitched his vision of creating McDonald's restaurants all over the U.S. to the brothers. In 1955, he founded McDonald's System, Inc., a predecessor of the McDonald's Corporation, and six years later bought the exclusive rights to the McDonald's name. By 1958, McDonald's had sold its 100 millionth hamburger.

Kroc's Wikipedia entry provides more flavor:

The agreement was a handshake with split agreement between the parties because Kroc insisted that he could not show the royalty to the investors he had lined up to capitalize his purchase. At the closing table, Kroc became annoyed that the brothers would not transfer to him the real estate and rights to the original unit. The brothers had told Kroc that they were giving the operation, property and all, to the founding employees. Kroc closed the transaction, then refused to acknowledge the royalty portion of the agreement because it wasn't in writing. The McDonald brothers consistently told Kroc that he could make changes to things like the original blueprint (building codes were different in Illinois than in California), but despite Ray's pleas, the brothers never sent any formal letters which legally allowed the changes in the chain. Kroc also opened a new McDonald's restaurant near the McDonald's (now renamed "The Big M" as they had neglected to retain rights to the name) to force it out of business.

See also some early McDonald's menus.

Video footage from 1956 of the first American shopping mallAPR 28

Opened in 1956, Southdale Center in Edina, MN was the first fully enclosed shopping mall of its kind. Designed by Victor Gruen, it became the archetype of the typical American mall. Malcolm Gladwell's New Yorker piece about Gruen is a great read.

Southdale Mall still exists. It is situated off I-494, south of downtown Minneapolis and west of the airport -- a big concrete box in a sea of parking. The anchor tenants are now J.C. Penney and Marshall Field's, and there is an Ann Taylor and a Sunglass Hut and a Foot Locker and just about every other chain store that you've ever seen in a mall. It does not seem like a historic building, which is precisely why it is one. Fifty years ago, Victor Gruen designed a fully enclosed, introverted, multitiered, double-anchor-tenant shopping complex with a garden court under a skylight -- and today virtually every regional shopping center in America is a fully enclosed, introverted, multitiered, double-anchor-tenant complex with a garden court under a skylight. Victor Gruen didn't design a building; he designed an archetype. For a decade, he gave speeches about it and wrote books and met with one developer after another and waved his hands in the air excitedly, and over the past half century that archetype has been reproduced so faithfully on so many thousands of occasions that today virtually every suburban American goes shopping or wanders around or hangs out in a Southdale facsimile at least once or twice a month. Victor Gruen may well have been the most influential architect of the twentieth century. He invented the mall.

Things were changing even as that piece was published in 2004. Sprawling shopping malls are closing and new construction has slowed dramatically. Commerce moved online and to big box stores. Southdale's still kicking though!

A trip to The Northernmost Town on EarthAPR 29

Situated on the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, Longyearbyen is only 600 miles south of the North Pole and has a population of more than 2000, which makes it the northernmost town in the world. It is also home to a Toyota dealership, but people use snowmobiles to get around most of the time.

Super Mario Bros speedrun record brokenAPR 18

NES player darbian just broke his own record for the fastest time through Super Mario Bros. He completed the entire game in just 4 minutes 57.260 seconds. But the most entertaining part of the video is watching his heart rate slowly creep up from 80 bpm at the beginning to ~140 bpm in World 8-2 and spiking to 171 bpm when he beats the record. (via digg)

Update: Compare that with this insane level from Mario Maker:

(via @pieratt)

rating: 4.5 stars

ArgoFEB 20

Argo Poster

That's a movie poster for Argo, the fake movie that the CIA "made" as a cover for getting six American diplomats out of Iran in 1980. Ben Affleck's Argo, which cements the former prettyboy actor's status as one of the best young American directors, is somewhat loosely based on The Master of Disguise, a book written by the guy Affleck plays in Argo, and a 2007 Wired magazine article by Joshuah Bearman called The Great Escape. Argo is up for several Oscars and is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.

Update: Here's a CIA report written by Mendez about the caper. And I'm listening to the soundtrack right now.

The Panama PapersAPR 04

A huge cache of data has leaked from a Panama-based tax firm that shows how some of the world's politicians and the rich hide their money in offshore tax havens. The video above, from the Guardian, is a quick 1:30 introduction on how these offshore havens work.

The documents show the myriad ways in which the rich can exploit secretive offshore tax regimes. Twelve national leaders are among 143 politicians, their families and close associates from around the world known to have been using offshore tax havens.

A $2bn trail leads all the way to Vladimir Putin. The Russian president's best friend -- a cellist called Sergei Roldugin -- is at the centre of a scheme in which money from Russian state banks is hidden offshore. Some of it ends up in a ski resort where in 2013 Putin's daughter Katerina got married.

Among national leaders with offshore wealth are Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan's prime minister; Ayad Allawi, ex-interim prime minister and former vice-president of Iraq; Petro Poroshenko, president of Ukraine; Alaa Mubarak, son of Egypt's former president; and the prime minister of Iceland, Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson.

Here is an important bit:

Are all people who use offshore structures crooks?
No. Using offshore structures is entirely legal. There are many legitimate reasons for doing so. Business people in countries such as Russia and Ukraine typically put their assets offshore to defend them from "raids" by criminals, and to get around hard currency restrictions. Others use offshore for reasons of inheritance and estate planning.

Are some people who use offshore structures crooks?
Yes. In a speech last year in Singapore, David Cameron said "the corrupt, criminals and money launderers" take advantage of anonymous company structures. The government is trying to do something about this. It wants to set up a central register that will reveal the beneficial owners of offshore companies. From June, UK companies will have to reveal their "significant" owners for the first time.

There is much more here, including Lionel Messi's involvement.

Update: The Panama Papers have claimed their first political victim. The now-former prime minister of Iceland has resigned because of his family's offshore investments.

Ricky Jay, sleight of handAPR 29

Let's all just take the rest of the day off and watch Ricky Jay effortlessly perform impossible card tricks. (via @sampotts)

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