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Orbital Planes, a Photographic Ode to the Space Shuttle

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 22, 2021

closeup photo of the Space Shuttle Discovery

Space Shuttle instrument panel

Roland Miller has been documenting space exploration for more than 30 years and his latest book, which he’s funding via Kickstarter, is a photo documentation of the final years of NASA’s Space Shuttle program.

I started documenting the Space Shuttle program when I was teaching photography at a college near the Kennedy Space Center. In 2008, I began a concentrated effort to document the final years of the program. Orbital Planes is the result of that photography work. My hope is that Orbital Planes will give the reader their own personal view of the Space Shuttle and the technology and facilities that helped it fly.

You might remember Miller from his collaboration with Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli photographing the ISS. (via colossal)

Quiz: Marvel character or font?

Parents in Barcelona are cycling with their children to school en masse – they're calling it bicibús (bike bus). "What a simple, light-weight way to convert existing streets into bike infrastructure."

How To Recognize When Tech Is Leading Us Down a 'Slippery Slope'. Such arguments are often BS, but if technology makes something significantly cheaper/faster/easier and incentives for misuse are high, then maybe it's time to pay attention.

How finger counting gives away your nationality. "In parts of the Middle East like Iran, they begin with the pinky, whereas in Japan they start with the fingers extended in an open palm, drawing them in to make a closed fist."

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who defined and popularized the psychological concept of flow, has died at the age of 87.

The Art of Not Taking Things Personally. Emotional generosity ("the ability to see past behaviours that we don't understand and proactively look for compassionate ways to explain them") seems difficult to practice these days.

The Case for Quitting. "There is a significant penalty that comes with staying the course. Powering through is often passive. What you're doing is avoiding the harder thing, which is confronting the uncertainty of change."

The Moon is very slowly ghosting the Earth. "About 600 million years from now, the moon will orbit far enough away that humankind will lose one of its oldest cosmic sights: total solar eclipses."

Quick Links Archive

Flingbot: A Robotic Artist That Flings Paint

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 22, 2021

Artist & engineer JBV has built a robot artist called Flingbot that works by throwing paint at a canvas according to a number of randomized parameters, e.g. fling strength, scoop shape, paint color, and throwing angles:

The next parameters are the starting and ending fling angles. Randomly chosen by the code, the trajectory and point it hits the canvas is variable creating another factor of uniqueness. This is all controlled by a servo under the base of the catapult, which also happens to be the motor that allows Flingbot to position itself under the paint reservoirs.

This means that every painting Flingbot creates is effectively unique.

All in all, accounting for all the different parameters, there are almost 3 trillion paintings that Flingbot can make. The number is likely even higher than this because there are even more variables to consider that are out of Flingbots control. These include the consistency of the paint, the angle of the canvas, the temperature in the room…the list goes on. It’s safe to say that each one of Flingbot’s painting is truly one of a kind.

(via the morning news)

The Simpsons Library

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 22, 2021

Lisa Simpson holding a book called Tales of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Sister

Lisa Simpson holding a book about The Simpsons

Lisa Simpson reading a book called Backdoors to Citizenship

Marge Simpson reading a book called Love in the Time of Scurvy

The Simpsons Library Instagram account has been documenting all of the books, magazines, and other printed matter that has appeared on the long-running sitcom.

  listen to the latest episode of kottke ride home  

Producer Butch Vig Breaks Down Iconic Nirvana Songs

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 21, 2021

In these tantalizingly short videos, legendary producer Butch Vig details how the songs on Nirvana’s 1991 breakthrough album Nevermind came together. About Smells Like Teen Spirit, Vig says:

Here comes the guitar solo. He basically copied the vocal melody instead of trying to come up with something punky or frantic or strangled guitar like he usually did. He just copied the exact vocal melody and it works really well.

You can find the breakdowns for Teen Spirit and Drain You embedded above and here are Something In The Way, In Bloom, and Polly. Bonus: Vig describes hearing Smells Like Teen Spirit in person for the first time. (via open culture)

“Drawing in the Air”

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 21, 2021

Korean artist Lee Sangsoo makes these minimalist yet expressive sculptures of animals, people, and objects. And they’re perhaps larger than you expect.

minimalist metal sculpture of a siamese cat

minimalist metal sculpture of flamingos

I know I’ve said this probably 100 times before, but I’m continually amazed at how, with just a few strokes of a brush or twists of metal, an artist can create something that’s both abstract and familiar. That beige and brown sculpture above…my brain took about 0.03 seconds to recognize that as a siamese cat. Artists hacking the human brain’s pattern recognition ability and us being delighted by it is the gift that keeps on giving. (via colossal)

Fuck Everything, We’re Doing 32 Book Covers

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 21, 2021

Eggers Every Cover 01

Eggers Every Cover 02

Eggers Every Cover 03

Eggers Every Cover 04

Eggers Every Cover 05

For his new book, The Every, Dave Eggers and art director Sunra Thompson are doing 32 separate covers, with more to come “in perpetuity”.

Never one to shy away from pushing boundaries, Eggers teamed up with art director Sunra Thompson for the project, who discovered that the dust jacket printer they were using could run several cover designs on one sheet of paper at once, providing the means to print dozens of different versions at the same time. Thompson decided to exploit this printing feature, enlisting a boatload of artists to design a completely new version of The Every cover.

The hardcover version of the book featuring the 32+ designs will only be available on the McSweeney’s website and in independent bookstores, which doesn’t seem to include Bookshop.org. Amazon, says Eggers, can go pound sand.

“I don’t like bullies,” Eggers wrote in an email. “Amazon has been kicking sand in the face of independent bookstores for decades now.”

The novel follows a former forest ranger and tech skeptic, Delaney Wells, as she tries to take down a dangerous monopoly from the inside: a company called The Every, formed when the world’s most powerful e-commerce site merged with the biggest social media company/search engine.

“One of the themes of the book is the power of monopolies to dictate our choices, so it seemed a good opportunity to push back a bit against the monopoly, Amazon, that currently rules the book world,” he said. “So we started looking into how feasible it would be to make the hardcover available only through independent bookstores. Turns out it is very, very hard.”

The Unchosen One

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 21, 2021

The latest installment in the excellent Almost Famous series from the NY Times and Ben Proudfoot is about Devon Michael, who as a young actor was almost chosen to play Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.

Growing up, Michael had small roles in commercials, television shows and movies. At 9 years old, he understood that an opportunity like “Star Wars” could change his life. From 3,000, the producers narrowed it down to three, and soon Michael was at Skywalker Ranch doing a test screen with George Lucas and Natalie Portman.

It’s pretty poignant listening to Michael talk about the disappointment and disillusionment that followed his not getting chosen, as well as a different kind of hardship for Jake Lloyd, who was picked for the role.

How Radiohead Wrote the Perfect Bond Theme

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 20, 2021

For his YouTube channel Listening In, Barnaby Martin analyzed the theme that Radiohead wrote for the 2015 Bond film Spectre, a song that he calls “one of the greatest Bond themes ever written”. Somewhat notoriously (at least around these parts), the producers rejected this theme in favor of a lukewarm by Sam Smith.

After watching Martin’s video, you should watch the Spectre opening credits sequence with the Radiohead theme — it’s so much better than the theme they used in the film.

Honest Weights, Square Dealings

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 20, 2021

A test printing pattern from Tekserve

Ahhhh, The Verge has published an excerpt of Tamara Shopsin’s LaserWriter II, “a coming-of-age tale set in the legendary 90s indie NYC Mac repair shop TekServe — a voyage back in time to when the internet was new, when New York City was gritty, and when Apple made off-beat computers for weirdos”.

Joel explains that the LaserWriter II was discontinued almost ten years ago. But Tek always encourages people to fix them. Always. LaserWriter IIs are tanks, one of the most solid printers Apple ever made. The printer has only one design flaw, one thing that consistently breaks, and that flaw takes ten years to surface. Joel pauses for breath. Claire is on the edge of her seat.

He concludes, “The fan blades warp a little over time and suck in dust. This dust eventually gets into the optics and causes pages to ghost.”

Claire prints a test page from the LaserWriter II. The edges of the paper are bright white. They stipple to a black stripe of text in the center, in a kind of reverse ice cream sandwich.

Ghosting is a term used to cover a host of printing problems — double images, an image seen through the backside of the paper. Here Joel uses “ghost” to describe printing so faint it has not actually printed.

I recommend reading LaserWriter II, as well as Shopsin’s memoir Arbitrary Stupid Goal.

Date of Viking Visit to North America Pinpointed to 1021 AD

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 20, 2021

Using samples of chopped-down wood left behind by Viking explorers at their settlement in Newfoundland and known chemical markers of powerful solar storms in 993 AD, a group of scientists has determined the exact timing of the first-known visit of Europeans to North America: 1021 AD. If you’re keeping score at home, that’s 471 years before Columbus.

A team of scientists looked at wood found at the L’Anse aux Meadows Viking site. In three cases the trees had been physically cut down, and moreover, they were clearly cut with metal tools — Vikings had metal implements at the time, but indigenous people did not. The wood was all from different trees (one was fir, and another juniper, for example). The key parts here are that the wood was all from trees that had been alive for many decades, and all had their waney edge intact as well.

The scientists extracted 127 samples from the wood, and 83 rings were examined. They used two methods to secure dates. The first was to compare the amount of carbon-14 in each ring with known atmospheric amounts from the time. This gives a rough date for the waney edge of the wood. They also then looked for an anomalous spike in carbon-14 in an inner ring, knowing this would have come from the 993 A.D. event, and then simply counted the rings outward from there to get the date of the waney edge.

In all three samples the waney edge was dated to the same year: 1021 A.D. This would be incredibly unlikely to occur at random.

Outstanding science. It’s incredible how much of a time machine these analysis tools are. There’s so much we don’t know about people who lived 1000 years ago, but it’s astounding that we know anything at all, particularly precise dates like this.

Update: From this Ars Technica piece, some more information on the precision of the dating:

Based on the development stages of certain cells in the waney layer, Dee, Kuitems, and their colleagues say that one of the trees was cut down in the spring, while another was cut down in the summer or fall. The third tree’s final season couldn’t be identified because the cells had been damaged by a conservation treatment, but the results suggest that the Norse cut down these trees within a few months of each other in 1021.

That lends additional support to the other evidence that the Norse only stayed in Newfoundland for a few years.

“One would imagine the dates would have been different if the occupation period of the site was very long,” Dee told Ars. “However, the fact all three of our samples produced the same date does not, of course, mean the site was only occupied for one year. It may indeed have been occupied longer. But I think it is true to say our results support a short occupation.”

Trailer for Season Two of The Great

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 20, 2021

Oh, I’m excited for this one. I’m not saying The Great was the best show I’ve seen over the past couple of years, but it’s definitely one of the most fun and enjoyable. A synopsis:

The Great is a satirical, comedic drama about the rise of Catherine the Great from outsider to the longest reigning female ruler in Russia’s history. A fictionalized, fun and anachronistic story of an idealistic, romantic young girl, who arrives in Russia for an arranged marriage to the mercurial Emperor Peter. Hoping for love and sunshine, she finds instead a dangerous, depraved, backward world that she resolves to change. All she has to do is kill her husband, beat the church, baffle the military and get the court onside.

The Great was created by Tony McNamara, who co-wrote The Favourite — both have the same punchy, ribald dialogue. You can catch up on season one on Hulu while we wait for the season two premiere on Nov 19.

The Design of TV Key Art

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 19, 2021

When the TV watching experience moved from checking “your local listings” or TV Guide and surfing channels with your remote to scrolling through visual onscreen menus on streaming services, key art was born. Key art graphics are the images that identify shows in streaming menus — ok here, it’s just easier to show you:

key art for The Americans

key art for Chernobyl

key art for several other TV shows

Like the best movie posters and book covers, these images are bold and simple promotional signifiers of a larger piece of media, but as Rex Sorgatz argues in today’s edition of Why is this interesting?, key art is its own thing with its own set of constraints and challenges.

Good key art is so evocative, so iconic, that it becomes the image that springs to mind whenever you think about a show:

One neglected characteristic ties all these images together: They are all horizontal.

It sounds trivial, but going wide helped differentiate TV key art as its own medium, distinct from book covers and movie posters. And because these images appear on streaming platforms, they are unencumbered by other marketing copy, like taglines, cast and credits, and multifarious blurbs.

There is a simple purity to key art.

Sorgatz maintains an archive of his favorite key art here.

The Sounds from Mars

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 19, 2021

For the last nine months, NASA’s Perseverance rover has been rolling around on Mars taking photos and doing science. It’s also been recording audio of its environment with a pair of microphones and in this video, a pair of NASA scientists share some of those recordings and what we might learn about Mars from them.

This is one of my absolute favorite sounds. This is the sound of a helicopter flying on Mars. We used this sound to actually understand the propagation of sound in general through the Martian atmosphere, and it turns out that we were totally wrong with our models. The Martian atmosphere can propagate sound a lot further than we thought it could.

And surprisingly for me, that’s my friend Nina in the video! (We eclipse-chased together in 2017.) I knew she was working on the rovers but didn’t know she was going to pop up in this video I found on Twitter this morning. Fun!