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The HD Video Feedback Kinetic Sculpture

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 30, 2021

Here’s a description of what the machine featured in this video does: “The HD Video Feedback Kinetic Sculpture creates fractals and organic-looking images in real-time, without a computer: this is old-school video feedback.” But just watch the video for the full effect — this thing produces some amazing imagery.

This is part sculpture, part performance art, and may make the most complex video feedback ever created, using three cameras, two video switchers, a sheet of beam-splitter glass, and an HDMI input from a phone or live video feed.

Much like a musical instrument, the operator at the helm of this device plays it, but instead of making sounds, makes entire worlds, spirals within spirals, loops within loops, galaxies, classical fractal imagery and primordial organisms, leaves, trees, and insects. It really is the God machine.

Oh of course Google scientists have demonstrated a genuine "time crystal" for the first time ever. "The consequence is amazing: You evade the second law of thermodynamics."

The next month or two is a really great time to see Saturn in the night sky (esp. if you have a telescope).

The US poverty rate is expected to be *cut in half* this year due to pandemic relief efforts from the federal government. Presumably after those efforts end, poverty levels will go back to "normal".

What if the Unvaccinated Can't Be Persuaded? ~15% of Americans just won't do it unless forced and it'll take many months (if not years) of education & outreach to reach another 15% who aren't. *sigh*

Surrealist stock illustrations.

The always excellent Margaret Sullivan on how the media is "equalizing the unequal": "Our democracy is under attack. Washington journalists must stop covering it like politics as usual."

From the first time, scientists have been able to observe x-rays coming from the back side of a black hole, which were bent around the hole and toward us. Einstein's general theory of relativity remains undefeated.

Huh, Gawker is back? RIP that old rainbow logo.

Quick Links Archive

Lora Webb Nichols’ Photographic Chronicle of the 20th Century American West

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 29, 2021

a woman stands in front of a car wearing a deerskin suit

a double exposed photo of a woman playing a banjo

a woman with very long hair bends over to show it off

This is fantastic: for more than 60 years beginning in 1899, Lora Webb Nichols captured and collected about 24,000 photographs of life in a small copper-mining town in Wyoming.

On October 28, 1899, Lora Webb Nichols was at her family’s homestead, near Encampment, Wyoming, reading “Five Little Peppers Midway,” when her beau, Bert Oldman, came to the door to deliver a birthday present. The sixteen-year-old Nichols would marry the thirty-year-old Oldman the following year, and divorce him a decade later. The gift, however — a Kodak camera — would change the course of her life. Between 1899 and her death, in 1962, Nichols created and collected some twenty-four thousand negatives documenting life in her small Wyoming town, whose fortunes boomed and then busted along with the region’s copper mines. What Nichols left behind might be the largest photographic record of this era and region in existence: thousands of portraits, still-lifes, domestic interiors, and landscapes, all made with an unfussy, straightforward, often humorous eye toward the small textures and gestures of everyday life.

You can browse the collection of her photos at the American Heritage Center at the University of Wyoming.

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How Taiwan Held Off Covid-19 (Until It Didn’t)

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 29, 2021

This video from Vox takes a look at how Taiwan avoided a Covid-19 outbreak for more than a year (and kept total deaths to just 7 in 2020 in a country of 23.6 million) while residents were mostly able to go about their normal lives. The video features photojournalist Ed Ou, who underwent a mandatory 14-day quarantine when he traveled to Taiwan last year. Ou had this to say after spending time in Taiwan, doing normal things without lockdowns or restrictions:

This was an alternate universe of what America, and the rest of the world, had seen all year. The Taiwanese people had been able to just live their lives, as if nothing had happened. Like, to me, that’s freedom.

After more than a year of almost no cases, Taiwan experienced its first Covid-19 outbreak in May (after relaxing their quarantine rules and, presumably, the rise of the delta variant) but has since gotten it under control. Other countries that had been successful in controlling the virus until recently — like Vietnam, Thailand, and Mongolia — are also seeing outbreaks now. When the rest of the world is teeming with the virus, it becomes more likely over time that even the most organized and protected systems are going to be vulnerable.

Philosophical CAPTCHAs

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 29, 2021

an image CAPTCHA of the Ship of Theseus

an image CAPTCHA of Magritte's The Treachery of Images

The ship of Theseus image is from Brooks Sterritt and Magritte’s pipe is from Noah Veltman.

Minimalist Creative Funny Photography

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 29, 2021

a woman stands in front of a large subway map and her hat appears to be a station

a woman and a tree lean the same way in front of a building

a woman stands in front of a wall covered in holes and her hat appears to be one of the holes

architectural dots on a wall appear to be raining down on a woman holding an umbrella

a woman appears to be pulling an architectural element across a wall

Spanish photographers Anna Devís and Daniel Rueda cleverly use landscapes and architectural elements to create minimalist and fun portraits of themselves. You can check out more of their work on Instagram. (via moss & fog)

How TikTok’s Algorithm Figures You Out

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 28, 2021

Using dozens of bot accounts, The Wall Street Journal did an investigation and determined that TikTok’s algorithm needs only one piece of information to determine what you want to watch: the amount of time you spend watching individual videos. Observing your watch time and rewatching is enough for them to fill your “For You” page with recommended videos that are right in your wheelhouse after just an hour or two. That this happens so quickly and completely — 90-95% of what users see on TikTok is algorithmically determined — leads to users going down narrow-interest rabbit holes that can be dangerous, e.g. if someone’s Covid interest turns into anti-vax QAnon crap or sadness turns into video after video about depression or harming yourself.

As someone who built an entire web app that collected people’s social media likes/faves, this focus on a single signal is fascinating. API limitations and rate limits on the number of requests would keep you from building a service with a TikTok-like algorithm for Twitter or Instagram that used likes as the only signal for whether to show someone a piece of content or not, but if you could, I bet it would be amazing.

The Twisties

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 28, 2021

Yesterday, world champion gymnast Simone Biles removed herself from the women’s team final at the Olympics after not doing one of the planned two-and-a-half twists on her vault and stumbling on the landing. Biles said after the final:

I just felt like it would be a little bit better to take a back seat, work on my mindfulness. I didn’t want to risk the team a medal for, kind of, my screw ups, because they’ve worked way too hard for that.

On Twitter, former gymnast and diver Catherine Burns explained that Biles was likely experiencing a case of “the dreaded twisties”.

When you’re flipping or twisting (or both!) it is very disorienting to the human brain. When training new flips and twists, you need external cues to learn how it feels to complete the trick correctly. (In diving, a coach yells “OUT” and you kick your body straight and pray).

Once you’ve practiced a trick enough, you develop the neural pathways that create kinesthesia which leads to muscle memory. Your brain remembers how your body feels doing the trick and you gain air awareness.

It’s like driving a car, she explains. At first everything you do is unnatural and requires deep concentration to learn but once you’ve got it down, you can do it instinctively, without thinking or even paying that much attention. Then sometimes, in stressful situations, you start thinking too much about how to do the familiar thing and you lose it completely:

Suddenly, in the middle of driving on the freeway, right as you need to complete a tricky merge, you have totally lost your muscle memory of how to drive a car. You have to focus on making you foot press the pedal at the right angle, turn the steering wheel just so, shift gears..

It’s terrifying. You’re moving way too fast, you’re totally lost, you’re trying to THINK but you know you don’t usually have to think to do these maneuvers, you just feel them and do them.

The twisties are like this, and often happen under pressure. You’re working so hard to get it right that you stop trusting your muscle memory. You’re getting lost in the air, second guessing your instincts, overthinking every movement.

And when you’re driving a car or performing a high-intensity sport like gymnastics, second guessing and overthinking can cause serious injury.

I used to write a lot about this kind of thing in this loosely connected series of posts on relaxed concentration. This phenomenon goes by many names — performance anxiety, stage fright, choking, the yips, cueitis (in snooker), and target panic (for archers) — and the world-class are not immune. Daniel Day-Lewis had stage fright so bad he quit the stage decades ago — an affliction he shared with Laurence Olivier, Barbra Streisand, and Mikhail Baryshnikov. If you’ve read anything at all about this stuff, Biles’ case of the twisties doesn’t seem so unusual or mysterious — it’s just one of those things that makes her, and the rest of us, human.

Update: I’d missed this yesterday: Biles herself told reporters about the twisties.

They saw it a little bit in practice… having a little bit of the twisties.

Which is something she’s struggled with before:

The twisties are an issue Biles has faced before, including in the lead up to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio and prior to the 2019 season.

“2019, at the beginning of the year, I forgot how to twist and flip. It was great,” Biles told Olympics.com in January 2020.

Visualization of Conservative America’s Vaccine Refusal

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 28, 2021

Charles Gaba has been graphing the Covid-19 vaccination rates of the 50 states (and DC) against the percentage of people who voted for Donald Trump in 2020 and there is unsurprisingly a clear correlation between the two:

Covid-19 vaccination rates for the 50 states graphed against the percentage of Trump voters

As one commenter noted, all of the solidly “blue” states are above the vaxxed national average and all the solidly “red” states are below it. The picture is a little more muddy when you look at the rates at the county level:

Covid-19 vaccination rates for US counties graphed against the percentage of Trump voters

The “conservatives are unvaxxed” trend is still there, but a lack of access and education around the vaccines in counties with large Black and Latino populations also plays a large role in whether people are vaccinated or not.

“If It Doesn’t Shine In Your Face, You Don’t See Anything”

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 28, 2021

Jocelyn Bell Burnell as a graduate student

As I’ve written before, in the history of astronomy and astrophysics, women have made major discoveries and played a significant role in advancing our understanding of the universe but have often not gotten the recognition their male peers enjoy. In 1967, while she was working on her doctoral research with her advisor Antony Hewish, Jocelyn Bell Burnell (then Jocelyn Bell) discovered a new and unusual kind of object, the pulsar. In this short documentary, Bell Burnell shares her story — how she got interested in radio astronomy, the prejudice with which she was treated as the only woman in her university program, how she discovered the first pulsar and persisted (more than once) through Hewish’s assertions that the object was “interference”, and how she was passed over for the Nobel Prize for her discovery.

In 2018, Bell Burnell was awarded the Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics “for fundamental contributions to the discovery of pulsars, and a lifetime of inspiring leadership in the scientific community”, joining past honorees like the LIGO team, Stephen Hawking, and the team that discovered the Higgs boson. She donated the entire $3 million prize to the Institute of Physics to help support “PhD physics students from under-represented groups” with their educations.

It’s not justice, but I will note that Bell Burnell’s Wikipedia page is longer and more substantial than Hewish’s, despite his Nobel.

The Problem of Corporate Solutions to Public Needs

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 27, 2021

For Vox, Emily Stewart writes about the shortcomings of the, er, system we’ve developed here in America of outsourcing public needs to private industry: Corporations aren’t going to save America.

Across various segments of American life, the private sector has begun to take on tasks big and small that one might think should be tackled by the public sector. Domino’s filled in potholes. Dawn’s dish soap saved ducks. American Express pitched in on historic preservation. Walmart started selling low-priced insulin. A slew of companies help workers pay for school. Much of America’s health care system is still handled through private insurers and your job. As people lose faith in government to act on sweeping issues such as climate change and guns, they’re increasingly looking to corporate America and asking whether there’s something they can do about it. If Congress won’t tackle gun violence, maybe Dick’s Sporting Goods can try.

It’s not a bad thing for brands and companies to try to make the world better. Starting a business often involves identifying a problem to solve, and it’s much better for companies to help than to do harm. Corporate social responsibility is fine. There are, however, limits.

“Of course we want businesses to be responsible,” said Suzanne Kahn, managing director of research and policy at the Roosevelt Institute. But she emphasized that this does not constitute a plan for how to organize society. “Private companies don’t, can’t, or won’t plan with the same values that we demand and expect the government to.”

(via the morning news)

Nissan Taps Video Game Company for New In-Car Warning Sounds

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 27, 2021

Car warning sounds urging drivers to buckle up or turn off the headlights can be quite unpleasant to listen to. So Nissan teamed up with sound designers at Bandai Namco, the gaming company known for Pac-Man and Tekken, to replace those warning noises with something more musical.

I had a car once that beeped really sharply and loudly whenever the temperature dropped to 37°F as a warning for potential slippery roads and it scared the shit out of me every time. As someone who is sensitive to sound, I applaud efforts like these to make non-emergency sounds less jarring. (via rob walker (again))

Winners of the 2021 IPPA Photographer of the Year Contest

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 27, 2021

two shepards in Romania carrying lambs

a girl jumps in the air, with her shadow behind her

a street scene at sunset

The IPPA Photographer of the Year Award is open to photographers who use an iPhone or iPad to take photos, and the winners of the 2021 competition demonstrate just how capable these devices are (and how much photography is not about your equipment). I’m struck by how many of the winners were not taken with the latest phones — the grand prize winner (above, top) was shot with an iPhone 7, which came out in 2016. Photos above by Istvan Kerekes, Jeff Rayner, and Enhua Ni.

Stand Here for Dance Party

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 27, 2021

Since 2001, performance art group Improv Everywhere have been staging events in public, aiming to “surprise and delight random strangers through positive pranks”. Their latest endeavor takes place in NYC, perhaps the best place on Earth for exposing random strangers to positive pranks. A man in an orange vest places a “Stand Here for Dance Party” sign on the ground and then walks away. A brave soul steps onto the sign and, well, you might guess what happens next.

I found this via Rob Walker’s newsletter about his book, The Art of Noticing. I love what he wrote about it:

Now that you’ve seen it, you know that once someone did stand on the decal, a squad of Improv Everywhere operatives, with boom boxes and impressive dance moves, converted the public space into (as promised) an open-air dance party. Very fun.

But here’s what makes this work: Not just the planning and the expert performers and the slick choreography and the clever subversion of social-distance design. None of that matters unless somebody stands on the decal. What activates this entire operation is curiosity.

He continues, describing the woman who gets the party started:

This woman is my hero! I love everything about her, her body language, her openness, the thrilling sense she radiates that anything could happen and she’s up for it. And if you’ve watched the video, you know that she in fact unleashed an experience that she (and many strangers nearby) will never forget.

What’s not in the video, but we know is true, is some huge majority of people not even noticing, or actively ignoring, the invitation to an impromptu, on-the-spot dance party. As always, attention is the first step.

Curiosity. Attention. There are those words again, the universe trying to tell me something.