Microsoft founder Bill Gates, in addition to attempting to save the world, is also a voracious reader. He recently recommended five books that you should read this summer. On the list is Seveneves by Neal Stephenson, which I might finally try, having absolutely loved Snow Crash and Cryptonomicon when I read them a few years ago. Gates also recommends Yuval Noah Harari's Sapiens, which I read earlier this year and think about every few days. I wrote a bit about Sapiens and the invention of farming, which is a topic about which Gates disagreed with Harari.
Strange Maps OCT 29
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.
Annie Hall FEB 09
A young-ish Christopher Walken appears in Annie Hall but his name is misspelled in the credits as "Christopher Wlaken". Were this 1990, I might have invented a eastern European backstory for Wlaken, who, perhaps, Americanized his name sometime after appearing in the film. But as we live in the future, a cool hunk of glass and metal from my pocket told me -- before the credits even finished rolling -- that the actor was born Ronald Walken in Astoria, Queens.
The future isn't any fun sometimes.
The Evolution of God MAY 11
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)
About 13 times per century, the planets align in the heavens and the Earth can watch Mercury crossing the face of the Sun. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory was watching too and captured time lapse videos from several angles using various instruments measuring magnetism, visible light, and UV. The cosmic ballet goes on.
Update: Some prior art, also from Matt, who loves to Photoshop guns into other things.
Room 237 SEP 25
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 <firstname.lastname@example.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."
Velocipedia is a collection of drawings of bicycles paired with realistic renderings of what the real-life bikes would look like. Some of the sketches, drawn from memory, are not that accurate and result in hilariously non-functional bikes.
On the occasion of the release of Radiohead's latest album, Consequence of Sound has ranked every album and every song by the band. I won't tell you the exact order, but Kid A, In Rainbows, and OK Computer are their top 3 albums (spot on...Kid A is my #1) and Airbag, The National Anthem,1 Fake Plastic Trees, and Everything In Its Right Place make the top 10 songs (mine is Everything In Its Right Place or maybe the live version of True Love Waits).
My kids and I were listening to Kid A in the car last summer and when The National Anthem came on, Ollie read the display, scratched his head, and said, "this is a really weird version of the national anthem."↩
From the NY Times, the excellent Jenna Wortham on How I Learned to Love Snapchat. This bit caught my eye:
Its entire aesthetic flies in the face of how most people behave on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter -- as if we're waiting to be plucked from obscurity by a talent agent or model scout. But Snapchat isn't the place where you go to be pretty. It's the place where you go to be yourself, and that is made easy thanks to the app's inbuilt ephemerality.
I wonder if Snapchat's intimacy is entirely due to the ephemerality and lack of a "fave-based economy". Blogs, Flickr, Twitter, Vine, and Instagram all started off as places to be yourself, but as they became more mainstream and their communities developed behavioral norms, the output became more crafted and refined. Users flooded in and optimized for what worked best on each platform. Blogs became more newsy and less personal, Flickr shifted toward professional-style photography, Vine got funnier, and Twitter's users turned toward carefully crafted cultural commentary and link sharing. Editing worked its way in between the making and sharing steps. In 2013, Mat Honan wrote of Vine:
It built a ground up culture that feels loose, informal, and -- frankly -- really fucking weird. Moreover, most of what you see there feels very of-the-moment. Sure, there's plenty of artistry that goes into making six second loops, and there are volumes of videos with high production values. But far more common are Vines that serve as windows into what people are doing right now.
Sounds familiar, right? I'm almost positive that when Instagram was first blowing up, similar things were written about it in comparison to Flickr. Now, as Wortham notes, Instagram is largely a place to put your heavily curated best foot forward. But scroll back through time on anyone's Instagram and the photos get more personal and in-the-moment. Even Alice Gao's immaculately crafted feed gets causal if you go back far enough.
Although more than a year older than Vine and fewer than two years younger than Instagram, Snapchat is a relatively young service that the mainstream is still discovering. It'll be interesting to see if it can keep its be-yourself vibe or if users tending toward carefully constructing their output is just something that happens as a platform matures.
Burn the Witch by Radiohead MAY 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?
A robotic rocks sorter MAY 23
Jller is a machine that sorts stones from a specific river according to their geologic age.
The machine works with a computer vision system that processes the images of the stones and maps each of its location on the platform throughout the ordering process. The information extracted from each stone are dominant color, color composition, and histograms of structural features such as lines, layers, patterns, grain, and surface texture. This data is used to assign the stones into predefined categories.
The app Flyover Country, built by a team at the University of Minnesota, uses GPS to tell you what interesting features you're currently flying over.
Learn about the world along the path of your flight, hike, or road trip with GPS tracking. Offline geologic maps and interactive points of interest reveal the locations of fossils, core samples, and georeferenced Wikipedia articles visible from your airplane window seat, road trip, or hiking trail vista.
Serena Solomon grew up in Australia and when she moved to the US, she was shocked at the number of products sold at American grocery stores. Solomon recently asked other immigrants to share their biggest surprises about American culture. From a French welder:
It is so frustrating here. Nothing is easy. Nothing is efficient. To pay rent, you have to use a check? I have never written a check. The last time I got a check was maybe 20 years ago, from my granddad. Getting an apartment takes so long as opposed to other countries I have lived in where it's just a handshake. That's it. I went to the post office yesterday, and I was waiting in line for maybe an hour -- and there were only five people in front of me. I felt like I went from a Western country to a third-world country. People here with money have access to things. The rest of the people are just trying to survive.
Food is a big difference for some:
Food-wise, I noticed us all getting these round faces from the bad food we ate. We did not realize it, because it was the standard and you think because it's advertised and readily available it can't be bad for you. We were so ignorant coming from South Africa, eating home cooked food every night over there. Then, once we got here, we ate those corn dogs almost every day for lunch, little pizzas for snacks, and sugary cereals for breakfast.
Reminds me of Cup of Jo's excellent series about how parenthood differs around the world.
In Ex Machina, Oscar Isaac's Nathan Bateman performs a dance number with one of his AI robots, played by Sonoya Mizuno. It's the scene where I decided I was going to like the movie. Mizuno is a ballerina as well as an actress, but Isaac has no problem keeping up with her as the pair dance to Get Down Saturday Night.
Now, Twitter account @oscardances is showing how you can plug pretty much any song into that scene and the dance still works. Here's Michael Jackson's Thriller:
thriller - michael jackson pic.twitter.com/JabWfGd49N— oscar dances (@oscardances) April 29, 2016
Intergalactic by the Beastie Boys:
intergalactic - beastie boys pic.twitter.com/OxrVZNbPX4— oscar dances (@oscardances) May 25, 2016
And Oops I Did It Again by Britney Spears:
oops i did it again - britney spears pic.twitter.com/ewnqRhSVHz— oscar dances (@oscardances) May 26, 2016
Radiohead's ninth studio album is out and it's called A Moon Shaped Pool (with a studio version of True Love Waits!). You can buy it directly from the band or on iTunes. The album is also on Apple Music but doesn't appear to be on Spotify yet...dunno whether it will show up there later. There's a special edition that ships in September that will have two extra tracks.
Update: The names of the tracks are in alphabetical order. I've just started listening, but they didn't think track order was important? Lemonade this is not, I guess.
Update: From Buzzfeed's list of 37 Things You Might Not Know About Radiohead, these two tidbits about A Moon Shaped Pool:
36. At the end of the track "Daydreaming" off the new album, Yorke's voice is played backwards, singing the lyric "half of my life" over and over. Yorke, 47, was divorced from his wife last year after 23 years of marriage.
37. "True Love Waits" was originally recorded when Thom Yorke was first married. The fact that it has only now turned up as the final track on an album released following the end of his 23-year marriage is, well, devastating. The first word on A Moon Shaped Pool is "Stay" ... the last is "Leave."
The Crandall Historical Printing Museum has the "most complete and functioning Gutenberg Press in the world" and in this video you can see one of the museum's guides demonstrating it for some visitors. (via digg)
Create Your Own Economy APR 22
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.
How to end a movie APR 28
Using 12 Angry Men, Psycho, The Godfather, and Gone Girl as examples, this video shows several different ways to end a movie. And so, spoilers.
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.
The Demon in the Freezer MAY 17
Errol Morris has made a short film about the world's remaining stocks of smallpox virus 1 and the debate between those who want to eliminate the virus forever and those who want to keep it around.
In the story from classical Greece, Pandora was warned: Don't open the box. She opens it anyway. The various pestilences are unleashed on the world but Hope remains at the very bottom of the box. Today there are microbiologists who want to continue to research smallpox. If they are given a free hand, what might they unleash?
There are those who insist that these residual stocks of smallpox should not be destroyed because some ruthless super-criminal or rogue government might be working on a new smallpox, even more virulent than existing strains of the virus. We may need existing stocks to produce new vaccines to counteract the new viruses. New viruses, new vaccines. New vaccines, new viruses. An escalating arms race with germs.
Keep this video in mind when you read about the latest advances with CRISPR.
I'm going to embed the video here, even though it seems like every time I embed a video from anywhere but YouTube or Vimeo, it either autoplays or, even worse, autoplays with the sound on. Also, while I was watching on the Times' site, the video was glitchy and stopped twice, prompting two reloads. I get why the Times (and other media outlets) want to develop their own embeddable media, but until they get it right, they should leave it to Vimeo and YouTube, the only two sites who have actually gotten it right.↩
Werner Herzog has made more than 70 films during his career of 50+ years. This summer, Herzog will be teaching an online filmmaking class at Masterclass. The fee for the course is $90 and includes 5 hours of video lessons about documentary and feature filmmaking, a class workbook, and the chance to get your student work critiqued by the man himself. The trailer above offers a little taste of what you'll be getting.
For example, I do not use a storyboard. I think it's an instrument of the cowards.
See also 24 pieces of life advice from Werner Herzog, including "carry bolt cutters everywhere" and "take revenge if need be".
Humans are amazing. Alexey Romanov has no fingers, took up music only two years ago, and can play the piano better than 99.9% of world's population. (via the guardian)
Thomas Leuthard takes us around Salzburg and demonstrates a number of tricks you can employ to take photos on the street. Tricks sounds too gimmicky...think of these as potential approaches to being creative with a camera. Watching this made me want to start taking photos again. Before I had kids, I carried a camera pretty much everywhere.1 I still do (in the form of an iPhone 6s) but I'm not hunting for photos in the same way.
And, somewhere on my hard drive, I have dozens of photos I took in Salzburg with that camera during a 2006 trip.↩
In 2015, BBC Culture polled critics around the world and came up with a list of the best 100 American films. The video above offers a visual look at the list. Hitchcock, Kubrick, and Spielberg each have several films on the list. Although many of the films were edited by women, only one was directed by a woman.
Argo FEB 20
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.
This 90s TV interview with Seinfeld theme song composer Jonathan Wolff is more interesting than you'd think. He talks through how he matched the theme to Jerry's standup delivery tempo and how each episode's song had to be customized the match the pacing of Jerry's particular monologue that week. (via digg, which is particularly good today)
This video is a quick look at how Pixar thinks about its characters and storytelling. It focuses on one item on this loose list of Pixar's rules for storytelling:
Why must you tell THIS story? What's the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That's the heart of it.
From Austrian street artist Nychos, previews of a Dissection of Darth Vader's Head piece and a "Barbie meltdown" piece from an upcoming show at Jonathan LeVine Gallery in June. You can see more of his work on his Tumblr and Instagram.
In the latest Slow TV experiment, the Norwegian Consumer Council is doing a live read of the terms of service for a number of different apps, including Instagram, YouTube, Kindle, Spotify, and Snapchat. It's in Norwegian and it looks like they're on the last app, but the total time elapsed so far is 1 day, 7 hours, 49 minutes. (via @Rudien)
Update: The live reading is over, and there was wide variation in reading times. The iTunes TOS took almost 200 minutes to read while those for an app called Vipps took only 3 minutes. The terms for Candy Crush, which is just a game, took more than an hour and a half to read aloud. Absurd.
I think this might be my favorite Every Frame a Painting yet: Tony Zhou explores how a film editor does what she does. Or as he puts it, "how does an editor think and feel?" The point about emotions taking time is especially interesting, as is the accompanying comparison between similar scenes from The Empire Strikes Back and Ant Man.
Emotions take time. When we watch people onscreen, we feel a connection to them. And that's because we have time to watch their faces before they speak and time to watch them afterwards. Editors have to decide, "how much time do I give this emotion?"
Let's not bury the lede here...Radiohead's new album will be out on Sunday, May 8th at 2pm ET. !!!
The video is by Paul Thomas Anderson for Radiohead's second single, Daydreaming (buy direct, listen at Spotify, etc.) Why PT Anderson? Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood did the soundtrack for Anderson's There Will Be Blood.
Update: In my haste to post this earlier, I forgot that Greenwood has done the music for several of Anderson's projects, including The Master and Inherent Vice. (thx, all)
Not content with mere 3D, some movie theaters are outfitting themselves with what's being called 4DX technology, which makes going to the movies more like a theme park ride. The chairs can move, vibrate, and tickle, and the system can also generate wind, lightning, snow, and even smells1 from the movie.
With only the best technologies, 4DX motion chairs are equipped with three base movements of heave (move up and down), roll (move left and right) and pitch (tilt backward and forward) which can create an endless expanse of possible combinations to mimic such actions as flying and driving. The skilled team of 4DX editors, "i-Studio", are experts in maximizing the feeling of immersion within every movie without overstepping comfort bounds.
Yes, it actually snows in the theater:
There are only three theaters in the US with this system installed, including the Regal in Union Square, where you can currently catch Batman vs. Superman in 4DX. It'll cost you though. A regular screening of BvS at Union Square is $15.60 per ticket, 3D is $20.10, and 4DX is $28.10.
Just think of what Adam Sandler can do with this feature!↩
Pedro Herrero celebrates The Universe of Christopher Nolan by showcasing the themes, both visual and not, that run through Nolan's films, like manipulating time and space, the malleability of memory and perception, and fear. (via one perfect shot)
When a show spans 27 seasons and almost 600 episodes, you're bound to hit your futuristic mark at least some of the time. Here are ten instances in which The Simpsons predicted inventions which have since come to pass, including smartwatches you can talk to, baby translators, and left-handed stores.
Yesterday, New Zealand's William Trubridge set a free diving world record in what's called the free immersion apnea discipline. According to the official results, Trubridge dove, without using fins or weights or tanks, to a depth of 124 meters in Dean's Blue Hole in the Bahamas. The video above offers a view of most of the dive, which took 4 minutes and 24 seconds for Trubridge to complete. I don't know a whole lot about the mechanics of free diving, so I was surprised that after a few pulls on the rope to get himself going, it's a free fall to the bottom. Watching him falling motionless through the water like that was eerie.
Update: Thanks to @chriskaschner for the diving physics lesson:
Below ~25m your lungs compress from pressure and you "fall" underwater, no more floating, only way back is to swim/ pull up
As part of the Interstate Highway System project, expressways were run right through the heart of many American cities, disrupting neighborhoods and displacing hundreds of thousands of people.
The 48,000 miles of interstate highway that would be paved across the country during the 1950s, '60s, and '70s were a godsend for many rural communities. But those highways also gutted many cities, with whole neighborhoods torn down or isolated by huge interchanges and wide ribbons of asphalt. Wealthier residents fled to the suburbs, using the highways to commute back in by car. That drained the cities' tax bases and hastened their decline.
So why did cities help build the expressways that would so profoundly decimate them? The answer involves a mix of self-interested industry groups, design choices made by people far away, a lack of municipal foresight, and outright institutional racism.
Here's some homework: think about Uber/Lyft and the coming self-driving cars (Tesla, Apple, Google, Ford, etc.) in the context of the highways' effect on the American city. Who benefits most from these services? (The wealthy? Huge companies?) How will they affect the funding and use of public transportation? What will happen to cities? To urban sprawl? To the economically disadvantaged?
The Samurai Guitarist recorded himself playing the Beatles' Here Comes the Sun reeeeally slowly for 30 minutes and then sped the audio up by 20 times, which made his guitar sound like a violin. He explains how on Reddit.
Ok so my original plan was to rerecord the guitar normally when the video was done. I have a musical notation software that I plugged in everything exactly how I wanted to play it. I then added a metronome to trigger every 1/32nd note and set the tempo to 7 bpm, knowing that when sped up 20x that would be a nice tempo. It would also take 30 minutes or so which should be about the perfect time for a sunrise.
In 1942, the US government hired Dorothea Lange (of Migrant Mother fame) to take photos of the removal and imprisonment of Japanese Americans during World War II. Although Lange quit after a few months because government censors wouldn't let her shoot images of barbed wire and the bayonets on guards' guns, she took hundreds of photos documenting this shameful moment in American history.
Famous for her forlorn images of Dust Bowl America, this pioneering female photographer was hired by the War Relocation Authority in 1942 to document the removal and imprisonment of Japanese Americans. Although her skill at candid portraiture was unparalleled, "Lange was an odd choice, given her leftist politics and strong sympathy for victims of racial discrimination," writes scholar Megan Asaka. The position was a challenging one for Lange as well. "Appalled by the forced exile, she confided to a Quaker protestor that she was guilt stricken to be working for a federal government that could treat its citizens so unjustly."
The WRA initially gave Lange little instruction about where and what to shoot, but controlled and censored her while she was at work. When documenting life inside the assembly centers and concentration camps, she was prohibited from taking shots of barbed wire and bayonets. Unable to tolerate this censorship and her own conflicted feelings about the work, Lange quit after just a few months of employment with the WRA.
Less ashamed at what they'd done and more worried about PR backlash, the government embargoed Lange's photos until 1972.
If this all makes you think of some recent comments about Muslims from a certain Republican presidential candidate, history may not repeat itself, but it sure does rhyme.
Update: Ansel Adams also took dozens of photos of the Japanese American interment camp at Manzanar.
So did photographer Toyo Miyatake, who was among the prisoners at Manzanar.
The exclusion order forced Miyatake, his wife and four children, to the concentration camp at Manzanar. He was able to store his photographic equipment but managed to smuggle a camera lens and film plate holder into the camp against government orders. Miyatake told his son Archie that he felt it was his duty to document camp life. An Issei carpenter in camp constructed a box to house the lens, and Miyatake was able to get film into camp by way of a hardware salesman and former client. The photographer eventually asked camp director Ralph Merritt if he could set up a photo studio, and Merritt, who learned about Miyatake from Edward Weston, consented with the provision that Miyatake only load and set the camera, and a Caucasian assistant snap the shutter. Eventually, that restriction was lifted, and Miyatake was designated official camp photographer, and granted the freedom to take photos of everyday life at Manzanar.
Miyatake and Adams met at the camp and began a collaboration. Lange and Adams were friends -- he printed Migrant Mother for her -- and she was instrumental in convincing Adams to document Manzanar. But she was also critical of his detached approach:
In 1961, Lange said about Adams's taking landscape pictures at the Manzanar Relocation Center: "It was shameful. That's Ansel. He doesn't have much sense about these things."
Wes Copeland recently shattered the all-time record high score for Donkey Kong with 1,218,000 points. During the 3 hour and 20 minute game, he didn't die a single time.
It's how he took the title, though that's so staggering. Copeland did not lose a single Mario in the game. He took his first life all the way from the first level all the way to the end, cashing in the extra lives to obliterate all comers.
"This will be my last record score," Copeland wrote on Facebook. "I don't believe I can put up a game any higher than this." Copeland had set 1.2 million as his ultimate goal in Donkey Kong, and said he'd retire from competition if he could reach that.
Copeland's effort was a nearly perfect score; though the theoretical maximum is 1,265,000 points, the randomness of each game limits the number of points available before reaching the kill screen. If you're looking for pointers, you can watch the entire game here:
Ricky Jay, sleight of hand APR 29
On Ask MetaFilter, sleepy psychonaut declares their love for spending time in temporarily deserted places that are normally crowded.
Examples include San Francisco during Burning Man weekend, Penn Station at 2pm on Christmas day, almost everywhere in the US on Easter Sunday, the Financial District in Boston on Saturdays and Sundays, many major European cities during August.
Several people offered up suggestions; these were my favorites:
Any big amusement park on a day when it's raining. The heavier the rain, the fewer people. (Cue family flashback to an idyllic day at Disneyland when there was hardly anyone there.)
Unless there's a special event, people don't go to museums in the evening. Here's what the British museum looks like if you go on such an evening.
Any Colorado ski resort town during the summer when there's not a festival going on. The ski paths are alpine meadows full of flowers you can hike on, and the streets are pretty much empty. Also renting condos there is super cheap off-season.
For an area that gets not quite as deserted but is much nicer to visit after the end of the usual season, you have to promise not to tell anyone (because this is a secret) but the beach towns along Lake Michigan are just about empty by a week after Labor Day but the beaches are actually at the nicest they will be all season because the lake has been warming all summer. Mid-September is a really nice time of year to visit the Great Lakes if you like clean, deserted beaches, farm markets full of fresh produce, restaurants with plenty of open tables, and relaxed hospitality staff who are happy to have survived the summer.
I went to the Muse D'orsay deep off season in the days before Christmas. Being alone in a room full of Van Goghs for at least 10 minutes (well but for a security guards & cameras) is still one of the highlights of my life.
Fifty films critics weighed in on their favorite movies directed by women and Fandor tallied the results into a top 20 list.
"Frog and Toad and the Self" MAY 27
Bert Clere wrote a nice appreciation for the children's books of Arnold Lobel, among them the Frog and Toad series and Owl at Home. Clere says Lobel's stories offered insights for children about, yes, friendship but also about the importance of individuality.
Lobel's Frog and Toad series, published in four volumes containing five stories each during the 1970s, remains his most popular and enduring work. Frog and Toad, two very different characters, make something of an odd couple. Their friendship demonstrates the many ups and downs of human attachment, touching on deep truths about life, philosophy, and human nature in the process. But it isn't all about relationships with others: In the series, and in his lesser-known 1975 book Owl at Home, Lobel offers a conception of the self that still resonates decades later. Throughout his books, he reminds readers that they are individuals, and that they shouldn't be afraid of being themselves.
Frog and Toad are favorites at our house. I'm going to read them to the kids this weekend with a new appreciation. Wanting to fit into the group is a powerful impulse for children, reinforced these days by the increased focus on group work in schools, so it's nice to have a counterpoint to share with them.
In his latest video, Evan Puschak argues that intertextuality in movies -- you know, fan service: "hey look, that thing you know from the previous thing!" -- is increasingly doing the heavy lifting of creating drama and excitement, resulting in weaker stories.
I loved seeing the Millennium Falcon for the first time in The Force Awakens, the use of the original Jurassic Park vehicles in Jurassic World, and hearing Dumbledore's name in the trailer for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, but yeah, those things have to be the cherry on top of good storytelling elements, not the whole sundae.
If you skip to around 3:15 in this video, you'll see a race between the Tesla Model X, the company's electric SUV, and an Alfa Romeo 4C Spider sports car. The Model X easily beats the Alfa Romeo to 60 mph while towing another Alfa Romeo 4C Spider behind it. Here's Keanu with a comment: "Whoa." How can you not love a car outfitted with something called Ludicrous Mode? (via a proud @elonmusk)
In the same vein as these renderings of bicycles drawn from memory, here are celebrities photoshopped to look like fan art drawings. A simple example of dancing the flip flop.
Avatar DEC 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.
I was just thinking about Hamilton1 and Captain America: Civil War, two of pop culture's current obsessions, and thought, hmm, what if you made a superhero movie about the early years of American democracy? And then I quickly realized that Civil War in some ways echoes the political battle between Hamilton's Federalists and Jeffersonian Republicans.
In the film (or at least the first part of it), Tony Stark is a Federalist; he realizes the need for regulation and oversight of the Avengers by the government. Captain America is a Republican; he believes in the rights of the smaller group (states' rights!) and that regulation comes at the cost of essential freedoms. Karen Walsh wrote much more about the parallels between the two.
Captain America: Civil War begins with a focus on the Sokovia Accords. As the Avengers split into two groups, Iron Man and his cronies focus on granting the Accords validity in order to remain a unified front and gain popular trust. Cap and his cohorts determine that sacrificing their freedom to the government allows for errors that overshadow the purpose of their ability to protect the people who most need them.
In essence, Iron Man and his team represent the Federalist belief that a strong central government is essential to aggregating the trust and the will of the people.
Update: Two more takes on the parallels between Hamilton and Captain America: Captain America, Aaron Burr, And The Politics Of Killing Your Friends and Best of Frenemies. (via @Chan_ing)
The play, not the man so much. The play that I'm not going to get a chance to see before [EVENT HAPPENS] without splashing out an impossible amount of cash. Has anyone written a script for entering the Hamilton ticket lottery yet?↩
American white male anxiety MAY 25
In Trump Taps Into the Anxiety of American White Males, Anand Giridharadas writes:
Yet there is some evidence that a sizable number of white men see the push toward diversity, along with the larger changes it telegraphs, as less about joining and more about replacement, and a country that is less hospitable to them.
That sentiment is perhaps expressed in a quote widely circulated online in these discussions, though the origin is unknown: "When you're accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression."
This is perhaps what Tyler Cowen was getting at with his highly speculative and provocative What the hell is going on?
The contemporary world is not very well built for a large chunk of males. The nature of current service jobs, coddled class time and homework-intensive schooling, a feminized culture allergic to most forms of violence, post-feminist gender relations, and egalitarian semi-cosmopolitanism just don't sit well with many...what shall I call them? Brutes?
Quite simply, there are many people who don't like it when the world becomes nicer. They do less well with nice. And they respond by in turn behaving less nicely, if only in their voting behavior and perhaps their internet harassment as well.
I wouldn't recommend it, but a spin through the comments on Cowen's piece provides some examples of what he's talking about.
In a conversation last year with Nikole Hannah-Jones, Ta-Nehisi Coates recommended that readers of his acclaimed Between the World and Me check out a baker's dozen other books, including his mentor David Carr's The Night of the Gun, The Half Has Never Been Told (previously mentioned here), and James Baldwin's The Fire Next Time.
I could have imagined Isabel Wilkerson's excellent The Warmth of Other Suns on this list too; it's the most eye-opening American history book I've read in years. (Paging Lin-Manuel Miranda to make a play out of this.)
Robert Langdon is back. The Da Vinci Code's Dan Brown wrote a book about a secret riddle related to Dante's Inferno and Tom Hanks is back to star in the movie version. Oh yes.
Confession: The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons are two of my favorite guilty pleasure movies. Further even more embarrassing confession: my pleasure in The Da Vinci Code is not even guilty...I think it's just a straight-up good action adventure movie. In summary: are you sure you want to trust my movie advice in the future? (via trailer town)
On the 500th anniversary of his death, the Dutch public broadcasting service has created an interactive version of Hieronymus Bosch's The Garden of Earthly Delights.
The Airbus A380 is currently the world's largest passenger jet. Depending on the seating configuration, the A380 can carry anywhere from 400 to 615 passengers and is certified for up to 853 passengers.
As of November 2013, only 536 people have ever been in space (any flight above 100 kilometres).1The listing of their names on Wikipedia is shorter than the site's page on Game of Thrones. Only 24 of those people left low Earth orbit (on the Apollo missions) and only 12 of those men set foot on the Moon. Seven of the moon walkers are still alive; they're all in their 80s. Six people are currently in space.
We've been sending humans into space for 55 years. That's an average of about 10 people per year if you don't count repeats. Human space exploration is still very much in its infancy.
From Nelson Carvajal, an examination of the visual influences of Beyonce's Lemonade visual album, from Pipilotti Rist to Terrence Malick to David Lynch.
The biggest influence present in Lemonade, is that of the great Terrence Malick. Imagery from his films To The Wonder and The Tree of Life (in particular a standout sequence involving a bedroom underwater) definitely inspired a lot of the overall tone of introspection and spiritual reflection that Beyoncé is striving for here. One of Lemonade's directors, Kahlil Joseph, shot B-roll on Malick's To The Wonder, so the impressionistic style of filmmaking has obviously carried over.
From the excellent collection of British Pathé videos on YouTube comes footage of a 1928 bicycle race on penny farthings aka the "boneshaker" aka those bikes with the big wheel in front. Here are a couple of contemporary penny farthing races. (via @sampotts)
The Internet Archive is now hosting thousands of hours of hip-hop mixtapes. Jason Scott explains:
The code I had to write to pull in these tapes (which are often distributed via torrents, because the albums generally range between 80-200mb), then to clean up the resulting downloads, and make sure the right cover is the "official" cover in the collection, took me a while. It's "human/machine augmented" stuff, because there's massive variation in how the files come in. Let's not pretend it's real work -- the real work is even keeping track of all this stuff.
I have a list of 17,000 tapes to access at the exact moment, and so something close to that number might end up at the Archive across the next couple months. Keeping track of new releases will have to be automated, I suppose. I'll probably need help.