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Life-Sized Lego Electronics

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 15, 2019

Brix System is a collection of scaled-up Lego versions of computers, phones, and music machines made out of wood. This is super nerdy and I am here for it.

See also A Full-Scale Lego Supercar that Actually Drives.

How Leonardo Constructed a Satellite-View Map in 1502 Without Ever Leaving the Ground

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 15, 2019

Have you ever wondered how mapmakers made bird’s-eye-view maps before the invention of satellites or even hot air balloons? I have and was glad to find Phil Edwards’ video on the subject:

Leonardo da Vinci is justly famous for a lot of different things, but we’ve heard somewhat less about his mapmaking prowess than his painting or mechanical designs. His 1502 map of the Italian town of Imola is the oldest surviving example of an ichnographic (i.e. bird’s-eye-view) map of a place, a type of map that is ubiquitous today in the form of satellite imagery.

Most Renaissance maps are known for their fanciful inclusion of dragons, castles, and undulating mountainsides, and most of them show buildings in elevation, or the “oblique perspective.” But da Vinci’s sought to capture the proportions and relationships between land features more accurately, and he developed new technologies to do so. To make this map of Imola, he may have used the special hodometer and magnetic compass he’d already invented (he’d been fascinated by maps and optics for years). With careful measurements in hand, he drew every “street, plot of land, church, colonnade, gate and square, the whole encompassed by the moat,” writes the Renaissance historian Paul Strathern.

Here is Leonardo’s Imola map (cropped) compared with a contemporary satellite image:

Leonardo Imola Map

Leonardo Imola Map

As Edwards notes in the video, Leonardo’s map is not strictly an illustration or drawing of a place but more of an infographic. We take this type of map for granted now, but 500 years ago, that shift was a genuine innovation.

The Historical Precedents for the Excessive Violence in Game of Thrones

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 15, 2019

Game of Thrones made its return to HBO last night and, surprise, someone died! According to this compilation video, over 174,000 people have died on the show in seven seasons. The sheer numbers and the fact that some of the deaths have been, shall we say, a little creative (even for a fantasy show) sometimes interfered with my ability to fully suspend my disbelief when watching. Take Khal Drogo killing Viserys Targaryen by pouring molten gold on his head in the first season:

That’s a pretty outlandish death, an over-the-top display of sadism for the benefit of a TV audience. Right? Well, I’ve been reading Peter Frankopan’s The Silk Roads: A New History of the World and I’ve discovered that Game of Thrones hews close to historical precedent when it comes to inventive murder.

According to some sources, after the Roman Emperor Valerian was captured in battle in the 3rd century, he was subjected to something much worse than a simple death at the hands of the Persian Emperor, Shapur I:

The Emperor Valerian was humiliated after being taken prisoner and held in “the abject form of slavery”: used as a human footstool for the Persian ruler “by bending his back to raise the king as he was about to mount his horse,” his body was eventually flayed “and his skin, stripped from the flesh, was dyed with vermilion, and placed in the temple of the gods of the barbarians, that the remembrance of a victory so signal might be perpetuated and that this spectacle might always be exhibited for our ambassadors.” He was stuffed so all could see the folly and shame of Rome.

Around the end of the 10th century, a leader of the Rus’ was ritually executed by Pecheneg steppe nomads:

The capture of the prince was gleefully celebrated, and his skull was lined with gold and kept as a victory trophy, to be used to celebrate ceremonial toasts.

In 1182, rising tension between the Byzantine Empire and the rising Italian city-states like Venice resulted in attacks against citizens of the city-states who were living in Constantinople:

Many were killed, including the representative of the Latin church, whose head was dragged through the city’s streets behind a dog.

The Mongols, under Genghis Khan and subsequent rulers, used brutality as a tool to shock and awe local populations into peaceful submission, making examples of those who resisted their advances:

Nīshāpūr was one of the locations that suffered total devastation. Every living being — from women, children and the elderly to livestock and domestic animals — was butchered as the order was given that not even dogs or cats should be left alive. All the corpses were piled up in a series of enormous pyramids as gruesome warnings of the consequences of standing up to the Mongols.

It was a very effective technique:

In 1241, the Mongols struck into the heart of Europe, splitting their forces into two, with one spur attacking Poland and the other heading for the plains of Hungary. Panic spread through the entire continent, especially after a large army led by the King of Poland and the Duke of Silesia was destroyed, and the head of the latter paraded on the end of a lance, together with nine sacks filled with “the ears of the dead.”

When the Mongols conquered Baghdad in 1258, they moved through the city “like hungry falcons attacking a flight of doves, or like raging wolves attacking sheep,”

The city’s inhabitants were dragged through the streets and alleys, like toys, “each of them becoming a plaything.” The Caliph al-Mustaʿṣim was captured, rolled up in fabric and trampled to death by horses. It was a highly symbolic moment that showed who held real power in the world.

And finally, if there was any remaining doubt that George R.R. Martin modelled the Dothraki on the Mongols and Khal Drogo on Genghis Khan, consider the death of Inalchuq, a 13th-century Persian governor:

Stories such as that of a high-ranking official who was ordered into the presence of a newly arrived Mongol warlord and had molten gold poured into his eyes and ears became widely known — as was the fact that this murder was accompanied by the announcement that this was fitting punishment for a man “whose disgraceful behaviour, barbarous acts and previous cruelties deserved the condemnation of all.”

Perhaps Game of Thrones doesn’t seem so fantastical after all…

A Short History of Black Holes on Radio Telescopes

posted by Tim Carmody   Apr 12, 2019

So, you’ve probably heard by now that we have our first ever photographs of a black hole and its event horizon. But it’s not like black holes have just been theoretical entities this entire time, awaiting photography’s blessing to finally be anointed as real. We’ve been detecting black holes for a long time now using radio telescopes and infrared cameras. It may be outside the visible spectrum, but that doesn’t mean it ain’t real, son!

The story begins in the mid-1900s when astronomers expanded their horizons beyond the very narrow range of wavelengths to which our eyes are sensitive. Very strong sources of radio waves were discovered and, when accurate positions were determined, many were found to be centered on distant galaxies. Shortly thereafter, radio antennas were linked together to greatly improve angular resolution. These new “interferometers” revealed a totally unexpected picture of the radio emission from galaxies—the radio waves did not appear to come from the galaxy itself, but from two huge “lobes” symmetrically placed about the galaxy….

Ultimately this led to the technique of Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI), in which radio signals from antennas across the Earth are combined to obtain the angular resolution of a telescope the size of our planet! Radio images made from VLBI observations soon revealed that the sources at the centers of radio galaxies are “microscopic” by galaxy standards, even smaller than the distance between the sun and our nearest star.

When astronomers calculated the energy needed to power radio lobes they were astounded. It required 10 million stars to be “vaporized,” totally converting their mass to energy using Einstein’s famous equation E = mc2! Nuclear reactions, which power stars, cannot even convert 1 percent of a star’s mass to energy. So trying to explain the energy in radio lobes with nuclear power would require more than 1 billion stars, and these stars would have to live within the “microscopic” volume indicated by the VLBI observations. Because of these findings, astronomers began considering alternative energy sources: supermassive black holes.

We’ve also been tracing the orbits of planets, stars, and other objects that do give off conventional light. All this tracks back to suggest the supermassive black holes that Laplace et al first theorized about hundreds of years ago.

So, we knew what we were looking for. That’s how we were able to find it. And boom! Now we’ve got its photograph too. No more hiding from us, you goddamn light-devouring singularities. We’ve got your number.

A New Teaser Trailer for Star Wars: Episode IX

posted by Tim Carmody   Apr 12, 2019

It is what it is, right? That infinite scroll of Lawrence of Arabia desert, only instead of knives and dynamite, the rebels have laser swords and spaceships. You’ve got those knight-and-samurai motifs of journeys, honor, and an inevitable confrontation between good and evil. You’ve got Chewbacca, still the best character actor of his generation. It’s Star Wars. Even if you resist it, it’s shaped us all. It’s the closest thing to mandatory mass culture we have left. Might as well check out what you’re going to be in for.

A Catalogue of Lost 16th-Century Books

posted by Tim Carmody   Apr 12, 2019

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Hernando Colón was the illegitimate son of Christopher Columbus. He was also one of the great book collectors of 16th century Europe, having traveled extensively and assembled a library of about 15,000 volumes.

What’s left of Colón’s library has been housed in Seville Cathedral since 1552. The other evidence of the library is a catalogue, with epitomes and summaries of the books in the collection. But the catalog itself, called the Libro de los Epítomes, was thought to be lost, until it was identified in an unlikely collection belonging to “Árni Magnússon, an Icelandic scholar born in 1663, who donated his books to the University of Copenhagen on his death in 1730.”

The discovery in the Arnamagnæan Collection in Copenhagen is “extraordinary”, and a window into a “lost world of 16th-century books”, said Cambridge academic Dr Edward Wilson-Lee, author of the recent biography of Colón, The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books.

“It’s a discovery of immense importance, not only because it contains so much information about how people read 500 years ago, but also, because it contains summaries of books that no longer exist, lost in every other form than these summaries,” said Wilson-Lee. “The idea that this object which was so central to this extraordinary early 16th-century project and which one always thought of with this great sense of loss, of what could have been if this had been preserved, for it then to just show up in Copenhagen perfectly preserved, at least 350 years after its last mention in Spain …”

Another choice quote from Wilson-Lee:

After amassing his collection, Colón employed a team of writers to read every book in the library and distill each into a little summary in Libro de los Epítomes, ranging from a couple of lines long for very short texts to about 30 pages for the complete works of Plato, which Wilson-Lee dubbed the “miracle of compression”.

Because Colón collected everything he could lay his hands on, the catalogue is a real record of what people were reading 500 years ago, rather than just the classics. “The important part of Hernando’s library is it’s not just Plato and Cortez, he’s summarising everything from almanacs to news pamphlets. This is really giving us a window into the entirety of early print, much of which has gone missing, and how people read it - a world that is largely lost to us,” said Wilson-Lee.

What a wonder.

What Do We Do Now That Will Be Unthinkable in 50 Years?

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 12, 2019

Vox recently asked a group of writers, advocates, and thinkers about ideas & practices that we accept now that will be unthinkable or barbaric to people living 50 years from now. Kathleen Frydl asserts that “the war on drugs” will be one such practice.

Today, heroin is still classified as a Schedule I, or prohibited, drug. The consequences of this fateful decision continue to haunt us. Gross failures of our criminal justice system, ranging from police corruption to excessive use of force, all achieve a scale, and foster a profound alienation, as a result of drug prohibition and the militant drug war it spawned.

Maybe in times of only modest failure, or devastation that affects only the marginalized, the tactics of deflection traditionally used to defend the drug war would be enough to sustain it. But it is untenable in the midst of the opioid crisis, the worst drug epidemic in our country’s history.

It is my belief that its staggering body count gives us little choice but face hard truths, even in the face of the deep dependence on the drug war that the US government has developed. What falls between now and that awful reckoning is nothing but denial.

Meredith Broussard believes that self-driving cars will be unthinkable 50 years from now:

The simple explanation for why this situation didn’t escalate: the unspoken social contract of the bus driver’s authority in this space. We have invested years in developing social contracts around both private and public transportation. When you get into a bus or a train, or even a car, you acknowledge that the person at the wheel is in charge. This power relationship is what allows shared transportation to flourish, and this social contract is what helps many of us in marginalized groups feel safer while riding transportation. It doesn’t feel safe to imagine riding in a shared driverless vehicle. Not just because the technology doesn’t work — but because it doesn’t feel safe to be alone in a small, enclosed space with strange men.

Simon Being Taken to Sea for the First Time Since His Father Drowned

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 11, 2019

Chris Killip

This photograph was taken by Chris Killip in 1983 in the British coastal village of Skinningrove. According to Killip, it shows a difficult but necessary moment in a young man’s life, rebuilding his trust in the life-giving sea.

It was a fishing village and it was very difficult to gain access to photograph there. Simon’s father had drowned in an incident at sea. They had this ritual where they came out and took Simon out to sea so that he wouldn’t become fearful of it. It’s very formal. He’s dressed very formally. I was on the boat and nobody spoke.

What an intimate moment. You can read more about Killip and his process here. In this short film by Michael Almereyda, Killip talks about the time he spent photographing in Skinningrove:

59 Ways to Cook Your Eggs

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 11, 2019

Eggs are an extremely versatile food. They taste great alone, make super sauces (including the much maligned mayonnaise, which I love), and can dress up leftovers into a whole other meal — just put an egg on it.

In this video, Bon Appétit editor Amiel Stanek explores almost 60 different ways to cook an egg, from over easy to coddled to grilled to something called “blowtorched egg” (not great). Be sure to catch the Rollie egg cooker in action at ~20:50…yucko. In general, the classic cooking methods beat newer techniques in terms of taste, texture, and convenience.

See also Every Way to Cook a Chicken Breast, Kenji’s guide on making perfect hard-boiled eggs, and How to Make Perfect Soft-Scrambled Eggs.

Too Much Will Cause Damage

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 11, 2019

Too Much Will Cause Damage

Jenny Holzer, in the collection at MoMA.

A Thousand Strokes of Color

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 11, 2019

I really like these portraits by artist, illustrator and conceptual designer Linsey Levendall.

Linsey Levendall

Linsey Levendall

Like I said last week, I am a sucker for any sort of contemporary impressionism that reminds me of the likes of van Gogh, Seurat, or Monet. Maybe I’m just a rube who didn’t see enough art as a kid, but I will never not be impressed by how a thousand tiny strokes of a pen or brush magically come together to make not only a recognizable human face but can also spark a feeling in my brain. (also via colossal)

Greek Weird Wave

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Apr 11, 2019

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Perhaps you saw The Lobster (stunning and strange dystopian love story starring Rachel Weisz and Colin Farrell) or my recent Oscar favorite The Favourite (cheeky and wicked period drama with the powerhouse trio of Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, and Olivia Colman) or maybe you’ve been following him since 2009’s Dogtooth. All three are examples of the relatively new “Greek Weird Wave” cinema, from the genre’s godfather himself, Yorgos Lanthimos. It’s hard to find pieces on Weird Wave written in English, but Dazed has a roundup from a few years ago: Greece may be broke, but its film scene is rich. Here’s a more current list of films via IMDB.

A more recent piece on Medium went a bit deeper into what makes a film Greek Weird Wave, stylistically speaking:

Reclusive and isolated social groups, with specific rules and a tendency for confinement are certainly the center of Lanthimos movies. He uses his actors in an innovative way, directing them to play as unrealistically as possible, in a way that reminds us of marionettes or robots who are not yet really aware of the element of speech and thought. Every frame is designed and stylized strictly, to a great extent where the camera stays motionless in space, after being set in a carefully thought-out position, where the only movement comes from the actors playing in the scene. In this unorthodox way Lanthimos is trying to introduce us to his unique utopian environments and isolated social groups.

I’m hoping The Favourite’s ten Oscar nominations were enough to get Lanthimos and Greek Weird Wave more attention so we can see more films from the genre in coming years, especially ones filmed and produced in Greece. They can use the economic boost.

Sally Rooney’s first two books are perfectly of the moment

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Apr 10, 2019

Ignore the m-word and read Sally Rooney: How Should a Millennial Be?

As a portrait of young people today, Rooney’s books are remarkably precise—she captures meticulously the way a generation raised on social data thinks and talks. Rooney’s characters love to announce where they fall on the matrix of taste and social awareness. They read Patricia Lockwood and watch Greta Gerwig movies; they read Twitter for jokes. Decisions are made according to typologies. There’s built-in social meaning for any interest or opinion. “No one who likes Yeats is capable of human intimacy,” says Nick, and I was reminded of friends swiping left on Tinder, rejecting dates because their favorite movies signaled unquestionable incompatibility.

The review’s later parenthetical reference to Andrew Martin’s debut novel is noteworthy. I read Rooney’s Conversations with Friends and Martin’s Early Work in close succession last year and see similarities in perspective. I’d also include Benjamin Lytal’s A Map of Tulsa in that grouping. All are told from a fresh standpoint, with varying degrees of lush language, and romantic turmoil only bearable among a certain age group, with a healthy dose of capital-L Literary references. None are stodgy nor dated despite some social media observations.

Russian Doll has depth, and bodega scenes

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Apr 10, 2019

In one of his recent media diet* posts, Jason mentioned Russian Doll.

Russian Doll. Groundhog Day adjacent. Natasha Lyonne is mesmerizing. (B+)

natasha-lyonne-russian-doll-bangs.jpg

Natasha Lyonne is quite mesmerizing in Russian Doll, and both Greta Lee and Chloe Sevigny give layered performances around her curly bangs and gruff but sensitive delivery. But the Groundhog Day comparison sells it short.

Russian Doll is all at once a New York story, a story of rediscovery, of addiction, of healing, of trauma, and of how visually stunning a vivid palate can be on the small screen. The full season was utterly captivating on many levels, and deserves more recognition than just being good episodic television. The soundtrack is note-perfect as well, though Love’s “Alone Again Or” will forever stand in my mind as part of this scene in Bottle Rocket. (The best Wes Anderson film. Fight me.)

I lived by Lyonne’s tidbit of advice via The Cut for a couple cold weeks in March, but really it’s always applicable for introverts.

This is all to say, please watch Russian Doll if you haven’t already, and let’s discuss. Find me on Twitter.

Black is Beautiful photography show and monograph

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Apr 10, 2019

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Photographer Kwame Brathwaite is best known for his images of black superstars in the 1970s (Muhammad Ali training for the Rumble in the Jungle, the Jackson 5 on their first tour in Africa, Bob Marley at home in Kingston). A new exhibition highlights earlier work from his archives and positions him as an influential figure in a burgeoning movement. The now 81-year-old has his first book coming out in May after a six decade career: Kwame Brathwaite: Black is Beautiful.

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Brathwaite co-organized a fashion show in Harlem that became iconic. Naturally ‘62: The Original African Coiffure and Fashion Extravaganza Designed to Restore Our Racial Pride and Standards used the slogan “Black is Beautiful,” later to be a major part of history. His imagery and ideals elevated the slogan to part of the zeitgeist. Artsy has a beautiful slideshow of the Grandassa models and this:

The participants, known as the Grandassa models, were not professionals in the fashion world, which reinforced Brathwaite’s political and artistic vision. They were dark-skinned and their hair was unprocessed; they wore African-inspired garments full of lush colors, waxed cotton prints, and elaborate patterns.

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The FT has a great piece with more context on Kwame’s history and work.

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Black is Beautiful: The Photography of Kwame Brathwaite opens April 11 at the Skirball Center in Los Angeles.