homeaboutarchives + tagsshopmembership!
aboutarchivesshopmembership!
aboutarchivesmembers!

Alan Turing was an excellent runner

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 17, 2018

Alan Turing Runner

Computer scientist, mathematician, and all-around supergenius Alan Turing, who played a pivotal role in breaking secret German codes during WWII and developing the conceptual framework for the modern general purpose computer, was also a cracking good runner.

He was a runner who, like many others, came to the sport rather late. According to an article by Pat Butcher, he did not compete as an undergraduate at Cambridge, preferring to row. But after winning his fellowship to King’s College, he began running with more purpose. He is said to have often run a route from Cambridge to Ely and back, a distance of 50 kilometers.

It’s also said Turing would occasionally sometimes run to London for meetings, a distance of 40 miles. In 1947, after only two years of training, Turing ran a marathon in 2:46. He was even in contention for a spot on the British Olympic team for 1948 before an injury held him to fifth place at the trials. Had he competed and run at his personal best time, he would have finished 15th.

As the photo above shows, Turing had a brute force running style, not unlike the machine he helped design to break Enigma coded messages. He ran, he said, to relieve stress.

“We heard him rather than saw him. He made a terrible grunting noise when he was running, but before we could say anything to him, he was past us like a shot out of a gun. A couple of nights later we caught up with him long enough for me to ask who he ran for. When he said nobody, we invited him to join Walton. He did, and immediately became our best runner… I asked him one day why he punished himself so much in training. He told me ‘I have such a stressful job that the only way I can get it out of my mind is by running hard; it’s the only way I can get some release.’”

I found out about Turing’s running prowess via the Wikipedia page of non-professional marathon runners. Turing is quite high on the list, particularly if you filter out world class athletes from other sports. Also on the list, just above Turing, is Wolfgang Ketterle, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist who ran a 2:44 in Boston in 2014 at the age of 56.

Sporting events compressed into single composite photos

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 17, 2018

Pelle Cass

Pelle Cass

Pelle Cass

Photographer Pelle Cass has been constructing composite photos of groups of people for some time now, photoshopping the action from dozens of photos into a single frame.

With the camera on a tripod, I take many dozens of pictures, and simply leave in the figures I choose and omit the rest. The photographs are composite, but nothing has been changed, only selected. My subject is the strangeness of time, the exact way people look, and a surprising world that is visible only with a camera.

More recently, Cass has turned his attention to sporting events, capturing competitors playing basketball, diving, playing lacrosse, running track, and playing hockey. The project is called Crowded Fields; it’s not up on his website yet, but you can see some of the images on Instagram and Booooooom.

I love this sort of thing, whole stretches of time compressed into single frames or short videos. See also time merge media, Peter Funch’s Babel Tales, Dennis Hlynsky’s bird contrails, and busy day at the airport. (via colossal)

The illiterate teacher

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 17, 2018

John Corcoran was slow to talk as a child and then when he got to school, he didn’t learn to read right away. Or in the years following. He graduated from high school and college not being able to read or write…and then got a job teaching high school.

So I graduated from college, and when I graduated there was a teacher shortage and I was offered a job. It was the most illogical thing you can imagine — I got out of the lion’s cage and then I got back in to taunt the lion again.

Why did I go into teaching? Looking back it was crazy that I would do that. But I’d been through high school and college without getting caught — so being a teacher seemed a good place to hide. Nobody suspects a teacher of not knowing how to read.

I taught a lot of different things. I was an athletics coach. I taught social studies. I taught typing — I could copy-type at 65 words a minute but I didn’t know what I was typing. I never wrote on a blackboard and there was no printed word in my classroom. We watched a lot of films and had a lot of discussions.

I remember how fearful I was. I couldn’t even take the roll — I had to ask the students to pronounce their names so I could hear their names. And I always had two or three students who I identified early — the ones who could read and write best in the classroom — to help me. They were my teaching aides. They didn’t suspect at all — you don’t suspect the teacher.

This story is not very complimentary about the US educational system (or society for that matter). BTW, I’m not sure it mattered very much that Corcoran taught while illiterate. For all we know, he was a good teacher whose discussion-based methods and empowerment of student-teachers were more effective than multiple choice tests in fostering learning. I’m much more bothered that he didn’t get the help he needed as a child…and about all the assumptions about reading and learning that are built into our educational system.

The unusual winners of the 2018 Boston Marathon

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 17, 2018

The Boston Marathon was run yesterday under terribly rainy and windy conditions and many of the top competitors didn’t do so well. But as Dennis Young explains, that made room for some unusual names at the top of the winners’ list. The winner on the men’s side was Yuki Kawauchi, an amateur Japanese runner who runs in about one marathon a month (the elite pro runners only do ~2-3 a year), trains in his spare time from his government job, but has run the most sub-2:12 marathons ever.

This was at least his 71st competitive marathon since the beginning of 2012-averaging just under one a month. Overall, he’s run in at least 81 marathons.

He’s run 26 of them faster than 2:12 and 79 of them under 2:20. Both of those numbers are world records.

In January, Kawauchi ran a 2:18:59 marathon in Marshfield, Massachusetts in one-degree weather. He was the only finisher.

That race gave him the most marathons ever run under 2:20; he finished two more between then and Boston. (Obviously he was the only one of his competitors to have already run a marathon this year. Today was his fourth of 2018.)

Oh, and to prep for Boston, he ran a half-marathon in a panda suit. More on Kawauchi and his unusual training methods here. On the women’s side, Desi Linden was the first American woman to win the race in 33 years, beating the field by over four minutes, even after she hung back mid-race to help a fellow American runner re-join the pack.

She told an interviewer on the broadcast that she felt so bad early on that she figured she’d do what she could to help an American win. When Shalane Flanagan sprinted off the course for a bathroom break roughly 12 miles in, it was Linden who hung back and waited for Flanagan before helping her re-catch the pack. A little more than an hour later, Linden had the title wrapped up.

The women’s second place finisher was perhaps even more surprising. Like Kawauchi, Sarah Sellers is an amateur runner with a full-time job (she’s a nurse in Arizona), but unlike the prolific Japanese marathoner, Boston was only Sellers’ second marathon. She didn’t believe she’d gotten second, even when officials told her, which reminded me of Ester Ledecka’s Super-G victory in the 2018 Winter Olympics.

In what other highly visible and competitive sport can amateurs fare so well against professionals? Aside from the accountant who recently played goalie in an NHL game, it’s nearly unimaginable for an amateur to step into one of the major team sports and compete at a high level. Maybe golf?

Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, 50 years of the future

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 16, 2018

50 years ago this month, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey premiered in the US. For this week’s issue of the New Yorker, Dan Chiasson looks at the cultural impact of the film, which got off to a rocky start.

Fifty years ago this spring, Stanley Kubrick’s confounding sci-fi masterpiece, “2001: A Space Odyssey,” had its premières across the country. In the annals of audience restlessness, these evenings rival the opening night of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring,” in 1913, when Parisians in osprey and tails reportedly brandished their canes and pelted the dancers with objects. A sixth of the New York première’s audience walked right out, including several executives from M-G-M. Many who stayed jeered throughout. Kubrick nervously shuttled between his seat in the front row and the projection booth, where he tweaked the sound and the focus. Arthur C. Clarke, Kubrick’s collaborator, was in tears at intermission. The after-party at the Plaza was “a room full of drinks and men and tension,” according to Kubrick’s wife, Christiane.

Chiasson references a 1966 profile of Kubrick in the New Yorker by Jeremy Bernstein, which catches the filmmaker in the act of making 2001.

In addition to writing and directing, Kubrick supervises every aspect of his films, from selecting costumes to choosing the incidental music. In making “2001” he is, in a sense, trying to second-guess the future. Scientists planning long-range space projects can ignore such questions as what sort of hats rocket-ship hostesses will wear when space travel becomes common (in “2001” the hats have padding in them to cushion any collisions with the ceiling that weightlessness might cause), and what sort of voices computers will have if, as many experts feel is certain, they learn to talk and to respond to voice commands (there is a talking computer in “2001” that arranges for the astronauts’ meals, gives them medical treatments, and even plays chess with them during a long space mission to Jupiter-“Maybe it ought to sound like Jackie Mason,” Kubrick once said), and what kind of time will be kept aboard a spaceship (Kubrick chose Eastern Standard, for the convenience of communicating with Washington). In the sort of planning that nasa does, such matters can be dealt with as they come up, but in a movie everything is immediately visible and explicit, and questions like this must be answered in detail. To help him find the answers, Kubrick has assembled around him a group of thirty-five artists and designers, more than twenty special-effects people, and a staff of scientific advisers. By the time the picture is done, Kubrick figures that he will have consulted with people from a generous sampling of the leading aeronautical companies in the United States and Europe, not to mention innumerable scientific and industrial firms. One consultant, for instance, was Professor Marvin Minsky, of M.I.T., who is a leading authority on artificial intelligence and the construction of automata. (He is now building a robot at M.I.T. that can catch a ball.) Kubrick wanted to learn from him whether and if the things that he was planning to have his computers do were likely to be realized by the year 2001; he was pleased to find out that they were.

A new book by Michael Benson, Space Odyssey: Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke, and the Making of a Masterpiece, looks back at how the film was made. The visual effects are one of the reasons the film is so celebrated today; Vulture took a quick look at four of the most influential effects:

The ending of the film can still be puzzling after several viewings — deliberately so, according to Kubrick — but ScreenPrism took a crack at a literal explanation of the Giant Space Baby et al.:

Kubrick himself explained the plot of 2001 in a 1969 interview in just two paragraphs:

You begin with an artifact left on earth four million years ago by extraterrestrial explorers who observed the behavior of the man-apes of the time and decided to influence their evolutionary progression. Then you have a second artifact buried deep on the lunar surface and programmed to signal word of man’s first baby steps into the universe — a kind of cosmic burglar alarm. And finally there’s a third artifact placed in orbit around Jupiter and waiting for the time when man has reached the outer rim of his own solar system.

When the surviving astronaut, Bowman, ultimately reaches Jupiter, this artifact sweeps him into a force field or star gate that hurls him on a journey through inner and outer space and finally transports him to another part of the galaxy, where he’s placed in a human zoo approximating a hospital terrestrial environment drawn out of his own dreams and imagination. In a timeless state, his life passes from middle age to senescence to death. He is reborn, an enhanced being, a star child, an angel, a superman, if you like, and returns to earth prepared for the next leap forward of man’s evolutionary destiny.

And there’s much more to explore about 2001 in the kottke.org archives.

The Lebowski Theorem of machine superintelligence

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 16, 2018

Lebowski Theory

When warning about the dangers of artificial intelligence, many doomsayers cite philosopher Nick Bostrom’s paperclip maximizer thought experiment.

Imagine an artificial intelligence, he says, which decides to amass as many paperclips as possible. It devotes all its energy to acquiring paperclips, and to improving itself so that it can get paperclips in new ways, while resisting any attempt to divert it from this goal. Eventually it “starts transforming first all of Earth and then increasing portions of space into paperclip manufacturing facilities”. This apparently silly scenario is intended to make the serious point that AIs need not have human-like motives or psyches. They might be able to avoid some kinds of human error or bias while making other kinds of mistake, such as fixating on paperclips. And although their goals might seem innocuous to start with, they could prove dangerous if AIs were able to design their own successors and thus repeatedly improve themselves. Even a “fettered superintelligence”, running on an isolated computer, might persuade its human handlers to set it free. Advanced AI is not just another technology, Mr Bostrom argues, but poses an existential threat to humanity.

Harvard cognitive scientist Joscha Bach, in a tongue-in-cheek tweet, has countered this sort of idea with what he calls “The Lebowski Theorem”:

No superintelligent AI is going to bother with a task that is harder than hacking its reward function.

In other words, Bach imagines that Bostrom’s hypothetical paperclip-making AI would foresee the fantastically difficult and time-consuming task of turning everything in the universe into paperclips and opt to self-medicate itself into no longer wanting or caring about making paperclips, instead doing whatever the AI equivalent is of sitting around on the beach all day sipping piña coladas, a la The Big Lebowski’s The Dude.

Bostrom, reached while on a bowling outing with friends, was said to have replied, “Yeah, well, you know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.”

Update: From science fiction writer Stanisław Lem’s The Futurological Congress, published in 1971:

Spent the whole afternoon ingesting a most remarkable work, The History of Intellectronics. Who’d ever have guessed, in my day, that digital machines, reaching a certain level of intelligence, would become unreliable, deceitful, that with wisdom they would also acquire cunning? The textbook of course puts it in more scholarly terms, speaking of Chapulier’s Rule (the law of least resistance). If the machine is not too bright and incapable of reflection, it does whatever you tell it to do. But a smart machine will first consider which is more worth its while: to perform the given task or, instead, to figure some way out of it. Whichever is easier. And why indeed should it behave otherwise, being truly intelligent? For true intelligence demands choice, internal freedom. And therefore we have the malingerants, fudgerators and drudge-dodgers, not to mention the special phenomenon of simulimbecility or mimicretinism. A mimicretin is a computer that plays stupid in order, once and for all, to be left in peace.

See also the principle of least effort. (thx, michał)

P.S. Also, come on, no one drinks White Russians on the beach. Ok, maybe The Dude would.

Saltine crackers arranged artfully is extremely my jam

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 16, 2018

Kristen Meyer

This arrangement of saltine crackers by artist and prop stylist Kristen Meyer is giving me all sorts of feelings. Meyer has done many other similar arrangements (see her site and Instagram) but the geometric chaos of this one is *kisses fingers*

See also gradient food photography, Always. Be. Knolling., common objects painstakingly organized into patterns, and Things Organized Neatly. (via colossal)

Blogging is most certainly not dead

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 16, 2018

A few weeks ago, I asked the readers of the Noticing newsletter to send in links to their blogs and newsletters (or to their favorite blogs and newsletters written by others). And boy, did they! I pared the submissions list down to a representative sample and sent it out as last week’s newsletter. Here’s a smaller excerpt of that list…you can find the whole thing here.

Several people wrote in about Swiss Miss, Subtraction, Damn Interesting, Cup of Jo, sites I also read regularly.

Ted pointed me towards Julia Evans’ blog, where she writes mostly (but not exclusively) about programming and technology. One of my favorite things about reading blogs is when their authors go off-topic. (Which might explain why everything on kottke.org is off-topic. Or is everything on-topic?)

Bruce sent in Follow Me Here, which linked to 3 Quarks Daily, a high-quality blog I’d lost track of.

Marcelo Rinesi blogs infrequently about a little bit of everything. “We write to figure out who we are and what we think.”

Futility Closet is “a collection of entertaining curiosities in history, literature, language, art, philosophy, and mathematics, designed to help you waste time as enjoyably as possible”. (Thx, Peter)

Michael Tsai blogs about technology in a very old school way…reading through it felt like a wearing a comfortable old t-shirt.

Sidebar: the five best design links, every day. And Nico Lumma’s Five Things, “five things everyday that I find interesting”.

Pamela wrote in with dozens of links, among them visual blog But Does It Float, neuroscience blog Mind Hacks, the old school Everlasting Blort.

Elsa recommends Accidentally in Code, written by engineer Cate Huston.

Madeleine writes Extraordinary Routines, “sharing interviews, musings and life experiments that explore the intersection between creativity and imperfection”.

Kari has kept her blog for the last 15 years. I love what she wrote about why she writes:

I also keep it out of spite, because I refuse to let social media take everything. Those shapeless, formless platforms haven’t earned it and don’t deserve it. I’ve blogged about this many times, but I still believe it: When I log into Facebook, I see Facebook. When I visit your blog, I see you.

Social media is as compelling as ever, but people are increasingly souring on the surveillance state Skinner boxes like Facebook and Twitter. Decentralized media like blogs and newsletters are looking better and better these days…

Pristine restoration of a 9-minute silent film of NYC street life from 1911

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 16, 2018

Last year, MoMA presented a nine-minute short film of locales around NYC that was shot in 1911.

This documentary travelogue of New York City was made by a team of cameramen with the Swedish company Svenska Biografteatern, who were sent around the world to make pictures of well-known places. (They also filmed at Niagara Falls and in Paris, Monte Carlo, and Venice, although New York 1911 is the only selection in the Museum’s collection.) Opening and closing with shots of the Statue of Liberty, the film also includes New York Harbor; Battery Park and the John Ericsson statue; the elevated railways at Bowery and Worth Streets; Broadway sights like Grace Church and Mark Cross; the Flatiron Building on Fifth Avenue; and Madison Avenue.

The film was only on the MoMA’s site for a brief time1 but lately some copies have popped up on YouTube, including the one embedded above. Note: this particular copy of the film has audio added and has been slowed down to a “natural rate”. I’d turn the sound off…the added foley effects are poorly done. If you want to see the original video, watch this one.

  1. No idea why they took the video down. Are there licensing issues? Or are they just trying to force an artificial scarcity? Why not just leave it up as a permanent exhibit? If you’re an art museum, you should share the art you have access to as much and as widely as possible.

The most divisive work in all of modern art: all-white paintings

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 13, 2018

Modern art museum patrons are often confounded by all-white paintings like those of Robert Ryman. Like, what the hell? It’s just a white painting? “I could do that.” In this video, Vox’s Dean Peterson talks with The Whitney’s assistant curator Elisabeth Sherman about how you might approach thinking about minimalist art.

The art critic Peter Schjeldahl, writing about a retrospective of Ryman’s work for the New Yorker, gets at what the artist is attempting to communicate with his work:

Always, Ryman invites contemplation of the light that falls on his paintings (which when I saw them, on a recent cloudy day, was glumly tender as it filtered through the Dia skylights) and of their formal relation to the rooms that contain them. There’s no savoring of style, just stark presentation. His work’s economy and quietness may be pleasing, but its chief attraction is philosophical. What is a painting? Are there values inherent in the medium’s fundamental givens — paint skin, support surface, wall — when they are denied traditional decorative and illustrative functions? Such questions absorb Ryman. Do they excite you? Your answer might betray how old you are.

And Ryman himself talked about why he uses white in an interview with Art21:

White has a tendency to make things visible. With white, you can see more of a nuance; you can see more. I’ve said before that, if you spill coffee on a white shirt, you can see the coffee very clearly. If you spill it on a dark shirt, you don’t see it as well. So, it wasn’t a matter of white, the color. I was not really interested in that. I started to cover up colors with white in the 1950s. It has only been recently, in 2004, that I did a series of white paintings in which I was actually painting the color white. Before that, I’d never really thought of white as being a color, in that sense.

The Westworld season two soundtrack covers Kanye & Nirvana

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 13, 2018

One of my favorite aspects of HBO’s Westworld is the music, particularly the acoustic covers of modern rock and pop songs, many of which sound like they could be coming from a player piano in the show’s Old West saloon. The first season’s soundtrack, composed by Ramin Djawadi, featured covers of songs by Radiohead, Amy Winehouse, and the Rolling Stones. The second season is starting in just a couple of weeks, but they’ve already released two new covers from this season’s soundtrack: Heart-Shaped Box by Nirvana and Kanye West’s Runaway.

Djawadi, perhaps best known as the composer of the Game of Thrones theme song, spoke to Pitchfork about the rationale behind the cover songs:

What I love about that is it just comes out of nowhere and you don’t expect it at all. You see the settings and the way people are dressed and even though you know it’s robots and it’s all made to be modern entertainment, you would think the people in control would make everything authentic, including whatever is played on that player piano. It would be from that time period. And when it’s not, it’s that subtle reminder that, ‘Wait, there is something not right. This is not real.’ It’s just such a powerful tool that only music can do.

The NBA Court Database

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 13, 2018

NBA Courts

NBA Courts

NBA Courts

NBA Courts

Flickr user kodrinsky has compiled a massive collection of more than 1100 illustrations of NBA courts dating back to the 50s, an online museum of basketball hardwood. The collection contains floors for every NBA team with additions documenting even small changes in arena names, team logos, free-throw lane layouts, paint schemes, sponsors, and even wood patterns.

Above are the courts for the Boston Celtics (1964-1966), the Golden State Warriors (1975-1979), the Philadelphia 76ers (1978-1979), and the Milwaukee Bucks (1977-1979).

City DNA

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 12, 2018

City DNA

City DNA

City DNA

After Piet Mondrian moved to New York in 1940, his work became influenced by Manhattan’s grid system, particularly expressed in Broadway Boogie Woogie. Similarly, for his City DNA project, Xinjian Lu studied satellite maps of cities like Beijing, Athens, New York, and Los Angeles and then created these maze-like paintings that resemble the street layouts of each city. Mondrian++. Holy moly, I *love* these.

From top to bottom, Lu’s paintings depict Beijing, London, and Paris.

Trailers for Wall-E in the style of seven different genres (horror, romance, etc.)

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 12, 2018

Recutting movie trailers to wrong-foot movies into different genres is an old YouTube tradition — see The Shining as a romantic comedy, 90s-style opening credit sequences for prestige dramas like Game of Thrones, and Toy Story as a horror film — but this recasting of Wall-E into trailers for seven different genres (including a Jony Ive bit at an Apple keynote) is a good demonstration of the power of film editing. Just switch a few scenes, slip in some different music, change the pacing of cuts, and you’ve got yourself a completely different movie. Watching these types of videos always makes me think that film editors do not get the credit they deserve. (See, for example, how extensive editing rescued Star Wars.) (via @johnbarta)

A helpful meditation exercise for use in public places

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 12, 2018

Meg Lewis recently shared a Public Place Meditation Exercise for when you’re in a place that might not be conducive to normal meditation (on the subway, in a coffeeshop, at the airport).

Public Meditation Exercise

Here are the next two steps:

2. Shift to a soft focus on that person and picture them in their happiest moments — Hugging a friend, picking up their kids from school, reuniting with someone they love, celebrating after some good news.

3. Now, picture them in their saddest moments and imagine what they would look like when feeling low. Feel their sadness and despair with them.

I do this kind of thing from time to time when I’m out and about, not as meditation exactly, but as a way of empathizing with others in a small way, especially those I might feel certain ways about because of personal or cultural prejudice. It’s difficult for me to remember to do this, but I always feel better and more human when I do. (via @pieratt)