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A worldwide portrait of a shared sky

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 28, 2017

One Sky

Women Who Draw, a directory of female illustrators, organized 88 of their members from around the world to draw the sky on August 13, 2017 at noon Eastern Time.

What each artist saw was unique to the time, the weather, and the place. The locations ranged from Tel Aviv to Brooklyn, Buenos Aires to rural Georgia. Some saw different hues of blue. Some saw black, pink, or gray. Some saw stars or clouds or fog or rain. Here it was summer. There it was night.

I love projects like these…moments of time, collectively caught in the amber.

The Lost Words

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 03, 2017

Lost Words

Written by Robert Macfarlane and illustrated by Jackie Morris, The Lost Words is a collection of words related to the natural world that are fading from our children’s minds as the “wild childhood” disappears from western society.

All over the country, there are words disappearing from children’s lives. These are the words of the natural world — Dandelion, Otter, Bramble and Acorn, all gone. The rich landscape of wild imagination and wild play is rapidly fading from our children’s minds.The Lost Words stands against the disappearance of wild childhood. It is a joyful celebration of nature words and the natural world they invoke.

Lego Grand Theft Auto

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 19, 2017

This video by Nukazooka of Grand Theft Auto being played by Lego characters is uncommonly well done. It looks more or less like the Lego Movie but made with a fraction of the budget.

Off-topic, but on their Twitter account I also discovered this cool 5-second video illustrating how air moves due to a passing semi truck. I can’t stop watching this!!

Full Moons on Flickr

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 13, 2017

Penelope Umbrico Moons

For a pair of projects, Penelope Umbrico collected hundreds of photos of full Moons from Flickr and arranged them into massive wall-sized collages.

Everyone’s Photos Any License, looks at a purportedly more rarified photographic practice: taking a clear photograph of the full moon requires expensive specialized photographic equipment. However, when I searched Flickr for ‘full moon’ I was surprised to find 1,146,034 nearly identical, technically proficient images, most with the ‘All Rights Reserved’ license. Seen individually any one of these images is impressive. Seen as a group, however, they seem to cancel each other out. Everyone’s Photos Any License seeks to address the shifts in meaning and value that occur when the individual subjective experience of witnessing and photographing is revealed as a collective practice, seen recontextualized in its entirety.

For one of the project, Umbrico requested permission to display “Rights Reserved” photos from 654 photographers in exchange for 1/654 of the profit from any potential sale. Many of them were not into that arrangement, so she substituted images with Creative Commons licences instead.

See also Umbrico’s Sunset Portraits, Suns from Sunsets from Flickr, and TVs from Craigslist. (via austin kleon)

My media diet for the past month

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 26, 2017

Quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, heard, and experienced in the past month or so. As always, don’t take the letter grades so seriously. I’ve been watching too much TV and not reading enough books. I’m currently trying to get through Scale & Behave and listening to Superintelligence on audiobook and they’re all good & interesting, but I’m having trouble staying interested enough to actually pick them up in lieu of zoning out in front of the TV. I think I need something with more of a narrative.

The Vietnam War. Excellent, a must-see. (A)

The Matrix. Holds up well. I saw this in the theater in 1999, not knowing a damn thing about it, and walked out in a daze…”what the hell did I just see?” (A)

The Founder. There’s a certain kind of businessperson for whom the Ray Kroc depicted in this film would be a hero. Travis Kalanick, etc. Fuck those people. I stand with the McDonald brothers. (B+)

A Super Upsetting Cookbook About Sandwiches. I aspire to this level of sandwich obsession. (B)

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. I should have stopped watching after 15 minutes but then I would have missed perhaps the worst closing line in movie history. (C-)

Inception. This might be my favorite Christopher Nolan movie. (A-)

american dream by LCD Soundsystem. I’ve never been able to get into LCD Soundsystem. Is there a trick? What’s the secret? (B-)

Basic Instinct. This movie is not great and hasn’t aged well. But you can totally see why it made Sharon Stone a star…she’s the only thing worth watching in the film. (C-)

Minions. *whispers* I kinda like the Minions and think they are funny and not as insipid/cynical as many others think. (B)

The Antidote. “Reread” this as an audiobook. I recommend this book to others more than any other book I’ve read in the past few years, save the Ferrante books. (A+)

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. I enjoyed it the first time, but this movie is so much better when watching it with two kids who think that everything coming out of every character’s mouth is the funniest thing they have ever heard. Biggest laugh was “I’m Mary Poppins y’all!” (B+)

Everything Now by Arcade Fire. Gets better every time I listen to it. (B+)

10 Bullets. Neat little one-button game. There’s an iOS version (and sequel) but they don’t work on iOS 11. (B)

Dunkirk. Saw this again on a larger screen (not IMAX sadly) and liked it even more this time. (A)

Champlain Valley Fair. I love fairs. We ate so many mini donuts and saw a dog walking a tightrope! (B+)

Logan Lucky. I was somewhat lukewarm on this leaving the theater but thinking back on it now, I definitely will see this again. (B+)

Sleep Well Beast by The National. Meh? (B-)

War for the Planet of the Apes. I saw this 3-4 weeks ago and can’t remember a whole lot about it, but I enjoyed it at the time? I do remember that the CG is seamless. (B-)

Applebee’s Artichoke and Spinach Dip. Way better than it had any right to be. I will make a special trip to eat this again. (A-)

Blade Runner. Rewatched in advance of the sequel. The final cut version, naturally. I watched the original cut for about 20 minutes once and had to shut it off because of the voiceover. (B+)

Past installments of my media diets can be found here.

The 100-megapixel Moon

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 06, 2017

100 Megapixel Moon

Seán Doran used images from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter to create this 100-megapixel image of the Moon (full 10000x10000 pixel image here). Phil Plait explains how Doran made the image:

LRO WAC images have a resolution of about 100 meters per pixel over a swath of about 60 km of lunar surface (using what’s called the pushbroom technique, similar to how a flatbed scanner works). They are usually taken straight down, toward the spacecraft nadir (the opposite of the zenith). To get the correct perspective for the Moon as a globe, Doran took the images, along with altimeter data, and mapped them onto a sphere. That way features near the edge look foreshortened, as they really do when you look at the entire Moon. He also used Apollo images to make sure things lined up. So the image isn’t exactly scientifically rigorous, but it is certainly spectacular.

The image is also available at Gigapan for easier exploration.

The undersung middle act of the first Star Wars

posted by Tim Carmody   Oct 24, 2017

Speaking of digging up weird old stories from the pulps — I don’t know if we always appreciate how good the middle of 1977’s Star Wars is. “Middle” is a vague concept, so let’s nail it down to all the parts where Luke, Han, Obi-Wan, R2-D2 and C-Threepio are sneaking around on the Death Star.

The beginning and end of Star Wars are much more straightforward. You have a series of handoffs, from Leia to the droids to Luke. Luke then meets up with Obi-Wan, then Han Solo and Chewbacca, and sets off to find his destiny. That’s the Joseph Campbell part of the movie. The end, where Luke and the rebels attack the Death Star, is a straight-up war movie action sequence that pays off all the threads you’ve set up in the beginning.

The middle is much trickier. Lucas gets all the characters we’ve met so far into very deep trouble, and splits them up. Scenes float from one set of characters to the next before eventually converging back together again. Then he strings together a series of set pieces, largely ripped off from old serials. Han, Luke, and Chewie have to break into one room. Then they have to break into another. Then they have to break out. Meanwhile, Obi-Wan is quietly skulking around, and Threepio bluffing his way out of danger. And it’s all tied together by dialogue taken straight from 1930s-1940s screwball comedy.

Everything slows down, but because there’s a mood that anything can happen, it sustains its tension. The only recent movie I can think of that really does something similar is The Incredibles, as Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl sneak around Syndrome’s base. I think for most contemporary movies, they’d find it too slow or too hard to follow. But pound for pound, it’s the best part of the movie.

I asked my friend Gavin Craig, writer of one of my favorite Star Wars essays ever [PDF], to tell me what he loves about the first Star Wars.

The best thing about the original Star Wars film is that it’s still a bit weird. The aliens that populate the Mos Eisley cantina are still compelling and inexplicable. Darth Vader comports himself with the sense of honor of a samurai serving an evil master without question. Obi-Wan Kenobi is not an old soldier, but a hermit and a wizard, with a trickster’s secret knowledge and impish grin. And for every attempt to recapture its magic, no Star Wars film has yet framed a shot as beautiful as Luke Skywalker standing outside his home while Tatooine’s twin suns set, staring at a horizon that he thinks he’ll never reach.

There are the raw materials for a universe ready to explode into being, but everything is still fresh and raw, not yet sure of what it wants to become.

For all this, it’s the droids that stay with me. C-3PO and R2-D2 have appeared in every Star Wars film to date, and have even starred in their own Saturday morning animated series. Still, their point of view has never been treated as worthy of consideration as it was in their first adventure.

In interviews, Lucas has said that he considers the Star Wars films to be a story narrated long after the fact by R2-D2, and there are fan theories that posit Artoo as a secret rebel agent guiding the action of the war. But in 1977, Threepio and Artoo are… almost human. They fret and squabble. They run from and into danger. They perform acts of sacrifice and bravery, but at least one of them would be happier with a kind word and the comfort of a warm bath. One of them nearly dies, and while the heroes aren’t terribly concerned, the film understands that we are. We are shown that they are restored and reunited. While the heroes are rewarded with a fanfare and medals, the droids find a home, together, and that is the true happy ending.

Beep Beep

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 22, 2017

Beep Beep Stained Glass

I love this Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote stained glass piece from Saudi Arabian artist Rashed Al Shashai. The piece is not actually stained glass but acrylic over a light box, but stained glass is the effect he was going for (see this image search for “Islamic stained glass”).

See also the rules of Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote cartoons, e.g. “The Road Runner cannot harm the Coyote except by going ‘meep, meep.’” (thx, stephen)

Intrigue in the online mattress review world

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 17, 2017

For Fast Company, David Zax wrote about the Casper mattress company suing mattress-reviewing bloggers over their affiliate marketing relationships.

As Casper flourished through 2014 and early 2015, I learned, it enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship with Sleepopolis and similar sites. For many bloggers, in fact, Casper was among the first mattress companies to offer affiliate commissions, leading its competitors to respond in turn. The reviews sites were key parts of what marketers call the “purchase funnel,” converting a vague interest in mattresses into awareness of a specific brand, and often the decision to buy it. Many consumers were Googling terms like “best mattress,” landing on sites like Sleepopolis, and learning about e-tailers like Casper for the first time.

Indeed, one would never have predicted looming lawsuits from a friendly 2015 email exchange, in which Casper CEO Philip Krim attempted to court an affiliate marketer named Jack Mitcham, who ran a Sleepopolis-like site called Mattress Nerd.

In January 2015, Krim wrote Mitcham that while he supported objective reviews, “it pains us to see you (or anyone) recommend a competitor over us.”

Krim went on: “As you know, we are much bigger than our newly formed competitors. I am confident we can offer you a much bigger commercial relationship because of that. How would you ideally want to structure the affiliate relationship? And also, what can we do to help to grow your business?”

I was just thinking the other day about how these companies like Casper formed to undercut the price gouging mattress stores and now, with millions of VC dollars behind them, they’re pulling their own brand of underhanded tricks to manipulate people into buying their products. In five years, Casper will probably have dozens of retail stores and 10 different kinds of mattress at different price points — they already have more than a dozen stores and 3 models ranging from $600 to $1850 — just like the companies they are trying to replace. Their origin story won’t matter…VC-fueled marketing will paper over all of that and, tada, meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

At the 2018 Miss Peru competition, instead of measurements, stats on violence against women

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 01, 2017

Over the weekend, contestants competing in the Miss Peru 2018 beauty pageant were supposed to recite their body measurements for the judges and the audience. Instead, each of them took the opportunity to highlight a statistic related to violence against women in Peru.

My name is Samantha Batallanos, represent Lima, and my figures are: a girl dies every ten minutes as a result of sexual exploitation. My name is Juana Acevedo and my figures are: more than 70 percent of women in our country are victims of street harassment.

The Guardian has further coverage.

Famous logos drawn from memory

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 26, 2017

Logos From Memory

Logos From Memory

Logos From Memory

Signs.com asked dozens of Americans to draw the logos of well-known companies from memory, including Domino’s, Apple, Adidas, and Starbucks. As you can see, there was a wide range in aptitude and some logos fared better than others; overall the Starbucks and Foot Locker logos were the worst drawn while Ikea and Target were the best represented.

There is also this (a true story):

Adidas, the second largest sportswear company in the world, acquired its three-stripes logo in 1952 from footwear brand Karhu Sports for two bottles of whiskey and the equivalent of $2,000.

See also drawing all 50 states from memory, can you draw a working bicycle from memory?, and maps drawn from memory.

Video portrait of a master kunstglaser (a stained glass craftsman)

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 04, 2017

Norbert Sattler is a master kunstglaser, a stained glass craftsman. He strongly denies that he’s an artist, rejecting that label early in his career in favor of working with artists to best help them achieve their artistic visions in the medium of stained glass.

On the origin of time travel in fiction

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 07, 2017

Drawing from David Wittenberg’s book, Time Travel: The Popular Philosophy of Narrative, as a guide, Evan Puschak goes in search of the origins of time travel in fiction. Along the way, he connects Charles Darwin’s work on evolution to the largely forgotten genre of utopian romance novels to the depiction of time travel in modern sci-fi.

P.S. While I was in France, I met up with Evan for lunch (we happened to be in Paris at the same time). We’d never met before, and it was really strange hearing the voice of one of my favorite YouTube channels coming out of an actual person.

Bill Callahan, the only sad man worth loving

posted by Tim Carmody   Oct 27, 2017

I used to be darker
Then I got lighter
Then I got dark again
Something too big
To be seen
Was passing over and over me
— Bill Callahan, “Jim Cain”

Bill Callahan is my favorite living, active musical artist. It’s been three years since his last album, Have Fun With God; until then, he’d released an album of all-new material every year or other year since 1990, mostly under the name band Smog [or “(Smog)”].

Since 2007, he’s toured under his own name. Like other Drag City artists, he’s not on Spotify or most streaming services. (Update: Drag City made a deal with Apple Music this summer, although it’s still missing from most of the other players.) This means his legacy risks being eclipsed for a whole cohort of fans. I find this unacceptable.

At one time or another, Bill’s managed to channel almost every deep-voiced, literary-minded, hard-knocks storyteller in popular music. You can hear bits of Leonard Cohen, Lou Reed, Gil-Scott Heron, Tom Petty, and Johnny Cash; you hear resonances of contemporaries like David Berman, Will Oldham, Mark Everett, or Jim O’Rourke (who produced four of Bill’s albums).

But he’s stranger than any of them. You get autobiography, direct address, dialogue, and narrative, but also surreal tableaux, where the singer/author stands at a remove. His characters talk like Cormac McCarthy’s, but think like Albert Camus. Overtly or covertly, he’s been the model for every sad man in the new generation of indie rock. I like some of them; I don’t like some of them. But all of them offer so much less than he does.

His work has gone through a number of phases. “A Hit” was his home-recorded, low-fi manifesto:

It’s not gonna be a hit
So why even bother
With it

I’ll never be a rock n’ roll saint
I’ll never be a Bowie, I’ll never be an Eno
I’ll never be a Bowie, I’ll never be an Eno
I’ll only ever be a Gary Numan

In the 90s, he moved into the studio and became a more recognizable indie folk artist. The apex of this phase might be “I Break Horses,” a disarming, alarming anthem for men who can’t (or won’t) make a relationship work:

“To Be Of Use” could be written by the same character as “I Break Horses,” but it’s much more musically and lyrically abstract. He’s crossed over from a singer who has practical problems dealing with humans to one who has philosophical problems with humanity.

Most of my fantasies are of
Making someone else come.
Most of my fantasies are of
To be of use—
To be of some hard,
Simple
Undeniable use.

Oh — like a spindle.
Or oh — like a candle.
Oh — like a horseshoe.
Or oh — like a corkscrew.

1999’s Knock Knock, his last collaboration with producer Jim O’Rourke, was his fifteen minutes of fame. “Cold Blooded Old Times” was on the High Fidelity soundtrack: he loaned the movie album a level of indie cred (of course Rob would love Smog), and eighteen years ago, a movie or TV commercial appearance was enough to launch an indie band into the indie stratosphere — i.e., modest, ephemeral fame.

There are so many good songs on Knock Knock, in every indie rock style, but my sentimental favorite is another simple arpeggiated tune that sounds a lot like “To Be Of Use.” “Teenage Spaceship” breaks my heart every time I hear it.

Landing at night
I was beautiful with all my lights
Loomed so large on the horizon
So large, people thought my windows
Were stars

Bill, or Bill’s personae (it’s hard to nail him down), is always worried he’s been mistaken for something he’s not. It’s the most peculiar but totally recognizable kind of butch vulnerability. “You will never know exactly how far I have let you in.”

The hallmark of a good Bill Callahan song is its deceptive simplicity. Later, he’d add orchestration and sometimes work with fuller bands, but even then, there’s generally not a whole lot going on that’s extra.

“Dress Sexy At My Funeral” is the best Lou Reed song Lou never wrote, two chords and a bridge. The concept is jokey, but the execution is compelling:

2003’s Supper is Bill’s most beautiful album, and “Truth Serum” (with Sarabeth Tucek on vocals) may be its most beautiful song.

This is really the hinge in his career. He’d split up with Chan Marshall, aka Cat Power, a few years before (see the cat struck by lightning on the cover of Knock Knock?). He would soon be dating Joanna Newsom, another brilliant young folk singer and songwriter. A River’s Too Much to Love is really his first solo album, but still under the Smog name; the alarmingly upbeat Woke on a Whaleheart the first Bill Callahan album proper. It seemed like good times were ahead. [Narrator: They were not.]

“Sycamore” is the song I played for my son when he was born.

Callahan and Newsom went through a messy breakup. They both wrote great songs about it. They both didn’t seem fully over it. She ended up with Andy Samberg, essentially Bill Callahan’s tonal opposite.

Bill married filmmaker Hanly Banks, who’d directed a documentary of his “Apocalypse” tour. And he wrote “Small Plane,” which is awfully close to perfect.

He still tours. He still writes. His fans still wait for his next work, wondering what it all means.

Amanda Meyncke is a television writer and director, and the biggest fan of Bill’s I know. I asked her to try to explain his appeal.

He’s my favorite musician of all time, followed closely by David Byrne and Bob Dylan — both performers who are startlingly easy to get to know, to research, to understand in time. Not so with Bill.

Bill is like so fucking infamously enigmatic. He makes a wonderful billboard to project your own theories onto as well as a safe home for your feelings to live, since it is unlikely any stories behind the music will ever emerge. Also you get the feeling he’d lie to your face about his own work, or somehow be amused at your insistence on infusing it with meaning beyond the obvious.

I’ve seen him perform perhaps 10 times, I’ve flown to other states for the singular purpose of seeing him. I’ve seen him multiple times on the same tour and he performs the exact, precise set list at every stop of the tour, never altering or adding. He doesn’t seem to like performing, doesn’t seem to like the limelight.

About ten years ago I posed as a promoter and wrote his record label to find out what it would cost to get a solo Bill show. Turns out it will cost $10,000, so I’ve been saving up ever since. I bet it’s close to $15,000 now.

One of my friends said he and Joanna Newsom were engaged in the slowest rap battle of all time, warring records being released every three years.

Mostly it’s just the most goddamn beautiful music and vocals I’ve heard. A vision of love that feels more like a New Yorker short fiction from decades ago. A two-step with isolation that is both self-imposed and rejected.

He married the woman who made a documentary about him and they had a kid a year or two ago. Bill as a dad, the family man. What a world.

Audio samples of 1500+ musical genres

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 03, 2017

Every Sound At Once

Warning: you might lose an entire hour to this… Every Noise at Once is a one-page map of playable audio samples for more than 1500 musical genres, from deep tech house to Finnish metal to smooth jazz to geek folk to klezmer to deep opera.

This is an ongoing attempt at an algorithmically-generated, readability-adjusted scatter-plot of the musical genre-space, based on data tracked and analyzed for 1536 genres by Spotify. The calibration is fuzzy, but in general down is more organic, up is more mechanical and electric; left is denser and more atmospheric, right is spikier and bouncier.

You can also listen to a playlist of one song from each musical genre on Spotify (1536 songs that play for 110 hours & 35 minutes):

Or slice and dice genres list in various ways to get to genre specific playlists.

Update: I’ve been informed that if you hover over the name of a genre and then click on the “»”, you get a map of artists in that genre, each with a playable sample. Oops, there goes MY ENTIRE DAY.

How to Care for Your Introvert

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 05, 2017

(Not to be confused with Caring for Your Introvert.) I started this video thinking it was a serious thing but ended up laughing embarrassingly hard almost all the way through.

A pair of introverts is called an ‘awkward’. A group of introverts is called an ‘angst’. They’re generally never found together in the wild, except by accident, in which case they will apologize for making eye contact, nod politely, then run screaming in opposite directions.

It me. It fricking me. On a slightly more serious note, the other day investor Hunter Walk wrote How This Anxious Introvert Handles Large Events.

When I Feel Ready to Ghost, Stay 30m Longer: Before I’d quietly slip away whenever I felt the first tingles of “uh I don’t want to be here anymore.” Now I recognize that impulse, honor it, exhale and see if I’m cool staying another 30 minutes. Once I do this check-in I’m totally ok bouncing after 30 if that’s still the way I’m feeling, but often I’ll end up hanging out much longer without even knowing it.

This haggard-looking eagle is a metaphor for American democracy right now

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 15, 2017

Haggard Eagle

This eagle represents how many of us feel about the repeated attempts on the freedom and well-being of American citizens by the majority Republican Congress and the current Presidential administration: victimized but still resolute and proud. We feel you, eagle…it seems as though it’s already been years since January 20.

This photo was taken by Klaus Nigge on Amaknak Island in Alaska and has put Nigge in the running for the Wildlife Photographer of the Year. (via in focus)

The music of The Vietnam War

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 02, 2017

I’m about two-thirds of the way through Ken Burns & Lynn Novick’s The Vietnam War on PBS. Much like the war itself, the series is epic and complicated and weird and perhaps even too long.1

NY Times TV critic James Poniewozik says that The Vietnam War “is not Mr. Burns’s most innovative film”, but I would argue that doesn’t apply to the music. Half of the music is what you would expect: rock and folk music from 60s & 70s groups and musicians like Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, CCR, The Rolling Stones, Otis Redding, etc. More than two hours of songs used during the series have been released on this album:

Even The Beatles were part of the soundtrack:

Then there’s all that popular music from the 60s and 70s: more than 120 songs by the artists who actually soundtracked the times, such as Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, the Animals, Janis Joplin, Wilson Pickett, Buffalo Springfield, the Byrds, the Rolling Stones, and even the ordinarily permissions-averse and budget-breaking Beatles. Of the Beatles, Novick noted, “They basically said, We think this is an important part of history, we want to be part of what you’re doing, and we will take the same deal everybody else gets. That’s kind of unprecedented.”

But an original score was also provided by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross that sounds a lot like their work on The Social Network and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Seven episodes in, I’m used to the mix of music, but the effect is definitely discongruous; the transitions pulled me out of the narrative more than once. Not sure that’s the effect they were going for…

  1. The whole series starts off on a wrong note. Literally the first thing you hear in the first episode is a shout-out to the sponsors: “Major support for the Vietnam War was provided by…”, which my brain quickly filled in as “Robert MacNamara, Dow Chemical, the American military industrial complex, etc etc”

The Windows of New York

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 20, 2017

Windows Of New York

Windows Of New York

Windows Of New York

Windows Of New York

Windows Of New York

José Guizar is a Mexican designer living in NYC with an obsession for the city’s windows. For his Windows of New York project, he’s done dozens of illustrations of all styles of window from around the city (mostly lower Manhattan).

The Windows of New York project is a illustrated fix for an obsession that has increasingly grown in me since I first moved to this city. A product of countless steps of journey through the city streets, this is a collection of windows that somehow have caught my restless eye out from the never-ending buzz of the streets. This project is part an ode to architecture and part a self-challenge to never stop looking up.

(via @ladyslippers)

The Drone King, a previously unpublished Kurt Vonnegut short story

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 11, 2017

The Atlantic has just put up a previously unpublished short story by Kurt Vonnegut, The Drone King. It’s about bees.

He examined the card for a long time. “Yes,” he said at last. “Mr. Quick is expecting you. You’ll find him in the small library — second door on the left, by the grandfather clock.”

“Thank you,” I said, and I started past him.

He caught my sleeve. “Sir—”

“Yes?,” I said.

“You aren’t wearing a boutonniere, are you?”

“No,” I said guiltily. “Should I be?”

“If you were,” he said, “I’d have to ask you to check it. No women or flowers allowed past the front desk.”

I paused by the door of the small library. “Say,” I said, “you know this clock has stopped?”

“Mr. Quick stopped it the night Calvin Coolidge died,” he said.

I blushed. “Sorry,” I said.

“We all are,” he said. “But what can anyone do?”

An audio version of the article is available.

The story is one of five that Vonnegut wrote in the early 1950s that were recently discovered in the author’s papers. These five, plus all of Vonnegut’s other short stories, will be out in book form later this month.

Video on social media: the return of the silent film

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 19, 2017

At the first movie studio in the US, Thomas Edison filmed cat videos, which are also popular on social media now.

In the NY Times, Amanda Hess writes about the parallels between the type of video that works well on social media these days and silent films from the first part of the last century.

All of that has given rise to a particular kind of video spectacle on social media, one that is able to convey its charms without dialogue, narrative or much additional context. To entertain soundlessly, viral video makers are reanimating some of the same techniques that ruled silent film over 100 years ago. “For coincidental reasons as much as knowing reasons, we’ve seen a rebirth of a very image-forward mode of communication,” said James Leo Cahill, a professor of cinema studies at the University of Toronto. Among its hallmarks: a focus on spectacle, shocking images and tricks; the capture of unexpected moments in instantly recognizable scenarios; an interplay between text and image; and a spotlight on baby and animal stars.

The very first short-form cinematic experiments — silent clips that arose even before film evolved into a feature-length narrative form in the early 20th century — have become known as what film scholar Tom Gunning calls the “cinema of attraction,” films that worked by achieving a kind of sensual or physiological effect instead of telling a story.

Created by early filmmakers like the French brothers Auguste and Louis Lumière and the American inventor Thomas Edison, these early movies took cues from the circus and the vaudeville circuit, featuring performers from that world, and were then played at vaudeville shows. Taken together, they formed what Gunning has called an “illogical succession of performances.”

Social media has created a new kind of variety show, where short, unrelated videos cascade down our feeds one after another. If early films were short by necessity — the earliest reels allowed for just seconds of film - modern videos are pared down to suit our attention spans and data plans.

Anti-invitations for cancelled weddings

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 06, 2017

Cancelled Weddings

For a NY Times piece on cancelled weddings, Jessica Hische created these anti-invitations in the style of fancy wedding invites.

My thoughts immediately went to fancy wedding stationery, and I had a lot of fun both writing and designing these fake anti-invitations. I tried to poke fun at some of the current trends in wedding stationery design, which meant I got to have fun playing with watercolors!

The mechanics of history

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 30, 2017

From choreographer Yoann Bourgeois, a mesmerizing trampoline performance called La mécanique de l’histoire (The mechanics of history). It often looks like they’re moving in slow motion, which is tough to do when the acceleration of gravity is involved.

A man got to have a code

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 12, 2017

In a multi-part series, ScreenPrism will be looking at the codes and values of some of the main characters in The Wire. The first installment is about Jimmy McNulty, who is “good po-lice” but also doesn’t always take personal responsibility for his actions (“what the fuck did I do?”).

Real websites for Halt and Catch Fire’s Rover and Comet

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 28, 2017

HACF Comet

This season on Halt and Catch Fire, competing teams made up of the main characters are building web apps. One team is making a hand-curated directory called Comet and the other is building a search engine with a unique algorithm called Rover. It’s Yahoo vs. Google, more or less. AMC has put up the sites as they appear on the show up on the web: Comet and Rover. They also put up the Cameron Howe fan page seen in the most recent episode, The Howe of It All (that’s a perfectly anachronistic name). See also Yahoo’s website circa 1994 when it was still hosted on a server at Stanford.

A character in the most recent episode also mentioned Justin Hall, creator of the early web’s most well-known personal site, Justin’s Links from the Underground.

Anyone know where I can get a Comet t-shirt? (I already have a Cardiff Electric shirt. (No, really.)) Oh, maybe this?

The Universe is much bigger than it is old

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 20, 2017

In a Twitter thread, author Oliver Morton compares the physical scale of the Universe with its age (from the perspective of humans).

If a human life is 70 years long, there has been room for 200 million lives since the big bang, but 200 million humans, end to end, would reach just a bit further than the moon. If you had started walking towards the centre of the galaxy on the day of the big bang (had there been days, you, paths & galaxies), you would have got about 20 parsecs by now: just 0.25% of the way.

Maybe walking pace is the wrong metric. A nerve impulse travels around 70 times faster than a person walks. But even at the speed of thought, the age of the universe is too small for something to have reached the centre of the galaxy.

The situation is even worse when you choose another reference object, like UY Scuti, the largest known star. The red hypergiant is nearly 1.5 billion miles across and, because of its size and position near the center of the galaxy, is probably around 13 billion years old, just a few hundred million years younger than the age of the Universe itself.

Even if you use light as a marker, the size of Universe remains unfathomably immense. Over the course of the Universe’s lifetime, a photon could have travelled 13.8 billion light-years, just 15% of the current estimate of the Universe’s diameter of 93 billion light-years. See also what are the physical limits of humanity?

SpaceX wants to send people to Mars by 2024

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 29, 2017

Spacex BFR

Elon Musk says SpaceX is on target to send cargo to Mars in 2022 and people in 2024. The way the company will do it is by focusing its resources on a new vehicle, the Interplanetary Transport System (codename: the BFR). That vehicle will be able to travel to Mars, but can also be used to generate revenue for the company through launching satellites, resupplying the ISS, and going to the Moon.

Musk also proposed a variety of new uses for the scaled-down rocket beyond just going to Mars. Supposedly, the ITS can be used to launch satellites, take cargo to the International Space Station, and even do lunar missions to set up a Moon base. SpaceX’s current Falcon 9 fleet is used to do a few of those things already, but Musk says eventually the company will turn to the ITS to do all of its space missions.

“We can build a system that cannibalizes our own products, makes our own products redundant, then all the resources we use for Falcon Heavy and Dragon can be applied to one system,” he said at the conference. Musk says the cost of launching cargo on the ITS will be fairly cheap, too, since the rocket and spaceship will be a fully reusable system — unlike the Falcon 9, which is only 70 to 80 percent reusable.

Musk also astoundingly asserted that the same rocket system could be used for long-distance travel on Earth.

He ended his talk with a pretty incredible promise: using that same interplanetary rocket system for long distance travel on Earth. Musk showed a demonstration of the idea on stage, claiming that it will allow passengers to take “most long distance trips” in just 30 minutes, and go “anywhere on Earth in under an hour” for around the same price of an economy airline ticket.

As they say, “huge if true”. Musk is like the sci-fi Oprah here: You get a electric car! And you get a trip to Mars! And you get a self-driving car! And you get a 30-minute Hyperloop trip from SF to LA! And you get a rocket shuttle from NYC to Mumbai in 43 minutes for $1200! Beeeeeeeeees!!!!

Researchers may have found a CTE test for living patients

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 28, 2017

Currently, the only way to diagnose chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a disease caused by repeated head trauma, is by posthumously examining brain tissue for signs of tau protein buildup. But a group from Boston University may have found a way to test for CTE in living patients.

McKee and her team discovered a specific biomarker in the brains of former football players. A biomarker is a measurable substance which is, in this case, found in the brain and identifies an abnormality.

This particular biomarker is called CCL11, and it’s a secreted protein the human body uses to help regulate the immune system and inflammation in the body.

As The Ringer’s Claire McNear writes, if a CTE test is easily available to players, what will that do to football? (Or indeed, what will it do to sports like soccer, boxing, skateboarding, or even skiing?)

“After learning all of this,” the retiring Ferguson wrote of the clarity he gained when he began researching CTE, “I feel a bit betrayed by the people or committees put in place by the league who did not have my best interests at heart.” He should feel betrayed, as should many of his fellow players. As will, certainly, so very many, once they have the ability to see what has happened to them. They may wonder, rightfully, about the people who trained them and paid them, sometimes even as they attempted to shut down research into CTE. They may look at the league’s structure, at the lopsided contracts that rob many players of their leverage, forcing them to choose between getting back on the field or losing a paycheck (and possibly getting cut), and at how the league cycles through players like they’re nothing more than easily broken pieces on a board.

Short Trip

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 25, 2017

Short Trip

What a beautiful and lovely meditative way to start the week. Short Trip is a 5-minute interactive illustration (you can’t really call it a game) by Alexander Perrin…simply use the left and right arrow keys to move. I won’t say anymore; just go play it (with the sound on).

Things that are more heavily regulated in the US than buying a gun

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 04, 2017

For McSweeney’s, Sarah Hutto offers up a list of things that are more heavily regulated in the United States than buying a gun.

Building a fucking shed in your own backyard
Disposing of fucking batteries
Cutting fucking hair for a living
Watching a fucking DVD
Importing foreign fucking cheese
Transporting a bottle of opened fucking wine home from a restaurant

Discussing the Las Vegas massacre yesterday on Fox Business, commentator Kennedy said:

If that psychopath had…driven a truck into that crowd and killed 100 people would we be talking about truck control?

Many quickly found the flaw in this “argument”, including @zeddrebel:

WE HAVE TRUCK CONTROL. Special licenses. Insurance. Regulations. Weigh stations. UNIONS. Bollards. GPS tracking…

(And btw, yes, it’s that Kennedy, the former MTV VJ and host of Alternative Nation.)

Halt and Catch Fire music playlist for season 4

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 13, 2017

Season four of Halt and Catch Fire finds the show in the 90s and the music has changed accordingly. Here’s the official playlist on Spotify.

See also the playlists for season 3, 1985, 1984, and many more from the show, including playlists for each main character.

The sad humanity of American Captain, the best anti-superhero comic about superheroes

posted by Tim Carmody   Oct 23, 2017

American-Captain-Dream.png
“Old Country,” by Robyn Kenealy. Image via Tumblr.

My favorite webcomic doesn’t exist on the web anymore, except by way of the Wayback Machine. Robyn Kenealy created something beautiful and delicate with “Steve Rogers’s American Captain,” an indie-style diary comic written and drawn by the Marvel movie version of Captain America.

My own belief is that love works a little like a network. Your point of contact opens up a whole universe of experiences and emotions old and new. It begins with points of commonality, known and shared data. At that point it can either exhaust the known nodes or build into something deeper, more branching, more interconnected. Fictional worlds play off of our ability to imagine and project those deeper connections. In the end, those connections give us something that we didn’t have before: new ideas, new experiences, new connections, even new people. Love is both the cause and the symptom of the enlargement of our world.

“American Captain” is a great example of this. It starts with common ground. Paradoxically, that common ground is the fantastic world of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, especially the first wave of films: Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and The Avengers. We know those events and characters. At least we think we do.

“American Captain” gives us Steve Rogers (and to a lesser extent his peers) struggling with downtime, professional frustration, 21st century confusion, and post-traumatic stress. We look through the keyhole of the summer blockbuster and find the muted lifeworld of a sickly kid, now a grown man who can bench-press a car, but can’t figure out online banking. He’s the character who is both most and least like the reader, out of place in every room he enters.

Steve is racked with guilt: not over losing Bucky, like he always is in the comics, but for not being able to protect his mother from his alcoholic father. For leaving the comm on so Sharon Carter could hear his plane crash. For forgetting to return The Hobbit to the NYPL before he was frozen in the ice. He’s thrilled to discover there’s a new Hobbit movie, but panics at the flame and explosions in the theater. He argues, sometimes passive-aggressively and sometimes aggressively, with everyone, including Nick Fury and Bruce Banner. He is marching, in kindness and honor, to his own destruction.

What I find most relatable in “American Captain“‘s Steve is a trait you don’t see much in the movies, especially before Winter Soldier and Civil War: his anger. Bruce Banner has nothing on Steve; neither does Harvey Pekar. Steve is angry at everyone. He has great moments of joy, and he’s quite funny, but for the most part, he’s inwardly seething. His main nemesis is Tony Stark, who delights in trolling him. (The dialogue Kenealy writes for Tony is spot-on, entirely consistent with the Robert Downey Jr. character yet somehow simultaneously older, sadder, and more juvenile.)

Steve strikes up a friendship with Pepper Potts — likewise finally acting her age — and when he finds out Tony has been drunk-texting Pepper, he confronts him. With Pepper, Steve makes it clear that he’s willing to fight Tony, suit and all, if the behavior doesn’t stop. Pepper, who’s seen Steve in the middle of an angry post-traumatic panic attack, is rightfully terrified.

Pepper reminds Steve that the fact that he can beat up a man wearing a tank always stands between them. She relates to Steve the way the other heroes relate to the Hulk. He has unpredictable, unbridled power that forces her to constantly adjust for his presence. Even though she likes him. Even though he’s a good guy. No one that powerful can ever be good enough to not be dangerous.

It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot in the wake of #MeToo, but well before that. To promise a woman that you would throw her abuser from a window — which I have said, and thought and promised to mutual friends many more times than I have said directly — is not a comforting idea for most people. It’s a reminder that they exist in a world whose contours are shaped by male power, anger, and physical strength, where even friends and allies can be dangerously unpredictable. Sonny Corleone is not a role model, for so very many reasons.

Steve Rogers is a better one, but far from perfect. But I think that’s part of why he works.

S.I. Rosenbaum is a writer, editor, comics artist, and Bollywood fan from Boston, now based in New York, who works dozens of places making stories and sentences better behind the scenes. (She should really have been snatched-up by a magazine or website in the city full-time by now; get it together, people.) Anyways, S.I. and I are both big fans of American Captain, and we got to geek out about it together recently. Here’s some of what she had to say.

The thing that was genius about it (to me) was the conceit that Steve Rogers was drawing it. In classic superhero comics, the art functions as a sort of omniscient third-person impersonal narrator. The art isn’t supposed to have a point of view. We get internal monologues — do we ever — but the art is looking from outside, most of the time. But because of “American Captain“‘s conceit as a webcomic DRAWN by Captain America, the art as WELL as the words became first-person. Early on in the strip, Steve “draws” himself as skinny and it’s not just that the webcomic artist has a style; Steve still sees himself as a little guy.

This made me realize: in the world of “American Captain,” superhero comics don’t exist. Neither do superhero movies or television shows. There are paintings, commercial and conceptual art, and comics like American Splendor, Dykes to Watch Out For, and Maus. Steve doesn’t have a template for understanding who he is as a superhero. He has one for understanding himself as Steve Rogers. I love superhero comics, TV, and movies, but a world without them is probably in some ways a better one.

Dot Piano

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 18, 2017

Dot Piano

Dot Piano is a web-based visual piano that works with a MIDI keyboard peripheral or with your regular computer keyboard. As you play, colorful dots dance across the screen in a variety of ways. Hit record and you can easily save and share your composition with others. This one is fun to watch. (via prosthetic knowledge)

Dinner with Don Rickles

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 25, 2017

Comedian Don Rickles died earlier this year. For his last project, he sat down to dine with more than a dozen comedians, actors, and directors, who interviewed the comedy legend in a series of videos for AARP. Don’s dining companions include Marisa Tomei, Sarah Silverman, Zach Galifianakis, and Martin Scorsese. I’ve embedded two of the videos: Vince Vaughn and Snoop Dogg. In the Snoop video, Rickles and Snoop compare notes on freestyling and they show a 1978 clip of Rickles roasting Orson Welles:

Orson Welles…30 years ago you were handsome and now we’re going to put “Goodyear” on your face and fly you over the beach for a half hour.

I was laughing just as hard as Welles was in the clip.

How to Talk Minnesotan: The Power of the Negative

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 14, 2017

In the Upper Midwest, particularly in Minnesota and the northern part of Wisconsin (where I’m originally from), there’s a tendency to never say exactly what you’re thinking. Which, dontcha know, can lead to some misunderstandings when communicating with people who didn’t grow up in the area. This short video, taken from a longer documentary on How to Talk Minnesotan, demonstrates how a Minnesotan speaker uses negative words (e.g. bad, not, can’t, worse) to express positive feelings. For example, a translation of the phrase “I’m so excited, I can’t believe it!!” into Minnesotan yields:

A guy could almost be happy today if he wasn’t careful.

Salvador Dali’s surreal wine guide

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 03, 2017

Wines Of Gala

Wines Of Gala

Last year, Taschen re-released a new edition of a surrealist cookbook originally written by the artist Salvador Dali back in the 70s. The quirky book was a hit, so now the company is re-releasing another of Dali’s food-related books, a guide to wine called The Wines of Gala.

A Dalinian take on pleasures of the grape and a coveted collectible, the book sets out to organize wines “according to the sensations they create in our very depths.” Through eclectic metrics like production method, weight, and color, the book presents wines of the world in such innovative, Dal’iesque groupings as “Wines of Frivolity,” “Wines of the Impossible,” and “Wines of Light.”

Accompanying the fanciful wine advice are more than 140 illustrations by Dali. Punch reviewed the original book a couple years ago.

Of the more than 140 illustrations by the artist, most are reprinted sketches and details from earlier paintings; of the original pieces made for the book, many were produced by slightly altering the work of other artists, adding touches like the aforementioned torso drawers and penis-wine bottle spout, which were appended to a traditional nude by Bouguereau, a 19th-century French Academy painter.

(via colossal)

“The eclipse was not black but some other color that screamed evil”

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 19, 2017

Eclipse 2017 Mouser

Even two months later, I’m still reeling from seeing the total solar eclipse. When I think about that day and those two minutes, a chill goes right down my spine. Vi Hart, who took part in Atlas Obscura’s eclipse festival in Oregon, wrote a beautifully poetic piece about witnessing the eclipse that took me right back there.

I’m not sure exactly what I expected, but this wasn’t it. I’d seen photos of coronas around suns, but this wasn’t that. And I’d expected that those photos, like many astronomical pictures, are long exposure, other wavelengths, and otherwise capturing things the naked eye can’t see. I thought there might be a glow of light in a circle, or nothing, or, I don’t know. What I did not expect was an unholy horror sucking the life and light and warmth out of the universe with long reaching arms, that what I’d seen in pictures was not an exaggeration but a failure to capture the extent of this thing that human eyes, and not cameras, are uniquely suited to absorb the horror of.

I protest the idea that the sun, or the moon, or the hole in the universe where the sun was ripped away from us, was black. It was not black. It was a new color, perceivable to the human eye only in certain conditions. I’ve read the literature on color perception and color philosophy. I’ve got the ontological chops. I feel qualified to make this statement, that this thing in the sky was not black. I could understand why people would describe it as black, just as without a word for red you might describe blood as black. But it wasn’t, and so no photograph could possibly capture what it’s like, and no screen can yet display it.

(thx, geoff)

Some early thoughts on iPhone X

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 06, 2017

I got an iPhone X on Friday and have been using it all weekend. Here are some of my initial thoughts about it, some of which will likely change after more use and reflection. As an hors d’oeuvre, Apple’s guided tour of iPhone X’s new features and capabilities:

In some ways, the setup process has been streamlined. Soon after turning on the iPhone X, it asked to use my nearby iPhone 7 to transfer its settings. The verification step for this used a cool swirling blue pattern on the X that I had to view with my old phone’s camera…the iTunes visualizer is finally coming in handy.

In other ways, the setup process could still use some work. Anticipating afternoon delivery of the X, I’d backed up my iPhone 7 that morning. When it came time to set up the X using that backup, it failed…iTunes said the backup was not compatible. It didn’t specify why but I had a hunch: my 7 had iOS 11.1 installed but the X had an earlier version installed. I upgraded the X and the backup worked. Less savvy users are going to be completely lost here and Apple should fix it.

The X is slightly thicker and heavier than the 7. With the larger screen area, the iPhone is no longer a one-handed device for me in many situations. This might be a dealbreaker for me.

Haven’t used the “wireless” charging yet. Just added this $25 charging pad to my shopping cart though, so I’ll get to try it out in a couple of days.

Animoji is the “Ewoks in Return of the Jedi” feature of the iPhone X. After the novelty wears off, approximately no one will use it.

I don’t like the notch. It looks idiotic. I’ll probably get used to it. I don’t care for the display’s rounded corners either. If you look at the apps that have been updated for the X, many of them don’t make use of the bottom 1/4” of the display because of the rounded corners. I feel like there’s an optical dissonance happening where I see the edge-to-edge display and think, “wow, massive display” but really the bottom slice of the screen and the two weird bunny ears at the top are not actually that useful. (Pls don’t email me about the utility of the bunny ears for the time, network, & battery display and the tradeoffs involving the camera placement, etc. “You’ve gotta put those somewhere!” I am aware.) Call me old-fashioned, but I want all my screens to be rectangles with square corners.

Face ID works great for me. I had a week of stubble on my face for the initial scan and it still worked after I shaved. It worked with glasses on. (My Ray-Ban sunglasses: no.) It worked with a baseball cap on. It worked in the dark…like a really dark room. It worked in a dark room with my glasses on. It worked with my head rested on my hand with pretty much half my face covered (this one surprised me when I realized what had just happened).

Thank god the home button is gone. So far, Face ID + swiping up is a superior interaction 99% of the time. It’s quicker and you don’t have to think about it. App switching is super simple now…just swipe left/right on the bottom of the screen. Relearning the new Home-less Siri, screenshot, and power-off interactions isn’t that hard.

A note on Face ID security, from Apple’s Face ID Security Guide:

The probability that a random person the population could look at your iPhone X and unlock it using Face ID is approximately 1 in 1,000,000 (versus 1 in 50,000 for Touch ID).

I hadn’t read about the 1 in 50,000 for Touch ID…that seems really high.

The TrueDepth camera is fun for taking new kinds of selfies. (I wonder…can someone take that video and make an animatronic face that can be used to break into my phone?)

Everything on this phone happens instantly…or somehow faster than instantly. It would be fun to use the first iPhone (which seemed really fast at the time) just to compare how blazing this this really is. And I wonder…will the X feel as slow in 10 years as that first phone feels today? It doesn’t seem as though it could get much faster…

The OLED screen is beautiful. I mainly use my phone to read Twitter and my email, so I’m not sure I need this beautiful new screen, but damn your tweets look good!

The camera quality remains the key advantage of the iPhone…they’re just so far ahead of everyone else here.

Update: The reviewers at DxOMark disagree with me on the camera quality. They place the Google Pixel 2 ahead of the iPhone X for image quality and a few other Android phones aren’t far behind.

Fathers, sons, and the lamp in the Pixar logo

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 03, 2017

Luxo Jr Lamp

Spencer Porter’s father works for Pixar and because of an impromptu office game of catch, the pair of them became the models for John Lasseter’s short film, Luxo Jr.

“Luxo Jr.” is, to me, a home movie. It’s me and my dad. Encouraging, comforting, energetic and kind, that big lamp, Luxo Sr., is as much my father as I am Luxo Jr. Every time I see my little lamp logo hop out in front of a Pixar movie, it’s not me I think about — it’s my dad. How he spent an afternoon hitting ground balls to me the day before my first Little League practice, and how proud I was when the other coach on my team said, “Well, I think we found our shortstop.” I must have been 7 years old, and I still remember that moment with such clarity. I can still feel the hard fabric on the bag of baseballs, the position of the sun in the sky.

Fair warning: this story takes a hard right turn midway through and you might find yourself in tears near the end.

Goodbye Uncanny Valley

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 17, 2017

For years, the idea of the uncanny valley has dominated computer graphics. Computers were powerful enough to produce real-ish looking people, places, or things but not quite powerful enough to make audiences believe they were actually real…to the point where they’re actually kind of creepy. In this excellent video essay, Alan Warburton argues that the uncanny valley is behind us and previews where CG is headed next.

It’s 2017 and computer graphics have conquered the Uncanny Valley, that strange place where things are almost real… but not quite. After decades of innovation, we’re at the point where we can conjure just about anything with software.

The question is, now that computers can realistically simulate anything, what will big movie studios, individual filmmakers, game makers, artists, and media outlets do with this capability? Computer graphics are so good, how can we trust what our eyes are seeing on a screen?

Am I There Yet? by Mari Andrew

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 05, 2017

Mari Andrew

Like some of you, I’ve been a fan of Mari Andrew’s illustrations on Instagram for a while now. Andrew is coming out with a book next March called Am I There Yet?: The Loop-de-loop, Zigzagging Journey to Adulthood. She writes:

I wrote AM I THERE YET? toward the end of my 20s to share what I learned through heartbreak, love, loss, rejection, career confusion, adventures, and the gnawing question in the back of my mind: Where exactly am I going, or am I already there? I wrote and illustrated a book I wish I’d had in my 20s — to know that I wasn’t alone.

Here’s a favorite Andrew illustration of mine:

Mari Andrew

I have a message for you…

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 13, 2017

Klara Prowisor, now 92 and living in Tel Aviv, escaped the gas chamber at Auschwitz by leaving her sick father and jumping from a train in Belgium. Years later, she received a message from him. Just watch this…it might be the best 13 minutes you’ll spend online all week.

My grandmother Lea once told me a story about the woman who lived next door to her in Tel Aviv, of her capture by the Nazis in Belgium and of an unfathomable decision she had to take to save herself. I never forgot it, and am pleased to share it with you in this Op-Doc film.

Even as a teenager, I was familiar with stories from the Holocaust. My grandfather had survived the horrors of the camps himself, and his stories formed a large part of our family’s shared narrative.

But this woman’s story felt different. Her pain and horror were woven with love, loss, guilt and redemption - and the epilogue was truly extraordinary. Many years later, once I’d become a documentary filmmaker, I decided to find out whether the woman was still alive.

Amazing, incredible story. You can see the whole world, all of humanity, in this wonderful woman’s face.

Annihilation, a new film from Alex Garland

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 29, 2017

Adapted from Jeff VanderMeer’s book of the same name, Annihilation is the newest film directed by Alex Garland (Ex Machina).

Area X has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization. The first expedition returned with reports of a pristine, Edenic landscape; the second expedition ended in mass suicide; the third expedition in a hail of gunfire as its members turned on one another. The members of the eleventh expedition returned as shadows of their former selves, and within weeks, all had died of cancer.

Natalie Portman and Jennifer Jason Leigh star as members of the 12th expedition sent into Area X.

Update: A full trailer is out and it looks pretty heavy on the horror. Or is that just how all trailers for thrillers are cut now?

Stranger Things season 2 soundtrack

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 31, 2017

One of the best parts about Stranger Things is the music. 80s tunes, the opening title music, and the synth-heavy scores. The second season of the show is out on Netflix and with it are the score and the soundtrack from the first season (featuring the likes of Corey Hart, Cyndi Lauper, Duran Duran, and Scorpions).

Add to this volume one and volume two of the season one soundtrack, baby, you’ve got yourself a stew going.

Beautiful opening credit sequence for Star Trek: Discovery

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 25, 2017

I haven’t had a chance to watch the new Star Trek series yet. The early reviews are good, but the opening credit sequence is really good.

Blue Planet II

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 28, 2017

Having achieved spectacular success with Planet Earth II, the BBC and David Attenborough are revisiting another of their previous nature documentaries, the 2001 series The Blue Planet, “a comprehensive series on the natural history of the world’s oceans”. Blue Planet II, Attenborough promises, will use new technology and our increased understanding of the natural world to great advantage in telling the story of the animal and plant life — dancing yeti crabs! dolphins spitting to trick prey! TurtleCam! — that dwells in our oceans.

The score is by Hans Zimmer, who also collaborated with Radiohead to rework an old song of theirs for the series. Bloom, off of King of Limbs, was originally inspired by the first Blue Planet series, so it’s come full circle with its inclusion in the new series. Vox examines how Zimmer and the band adapted the song:

If you listen closely enough to Radiohead and Hans Zimmer’s rework of “Bloom” for Blue Planet II, you can hear a really fascinating orchestral trick at work. They call it the “tidal orchestra” — it’s a musical effect created by instructing each player to play their notes only if the person next to them isn’t playing. The result is a randomly swelling and fading musical bed for the entire series that captures the feeling of ocean waves. It’s a captivating way to score a soundtrack for the ocean — but it also fits in with a long history of capturing randomness in music composition.

The “tidal orchestra” technique was inspired by pointillism and randomness: using small individual sounds to build a soundscape rather than starting with a specific tune. For some reason, it also reminds me of Sol LeWitt’s Wall Drawing 797. (No idea what inspired Yorke’s pants though. MC Hammer? Wow.)

Planet Earth II was probably my favorite movie/show/media from the past year, so I am really looking forward to Blue Planet II.

Bilbo Baggins, The Drug Lord of the Rings

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 14, 2017

Bilbo Smoke

In a epic series of tweets, Matt Wallace reveals the secret truth behind the J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy: it’s a story about Middle Earth’s drug wars.

Here it is, straight-up: The Hobbit economy makes no fucking sense unless Hobbits are running a secret drug empire spanning Middle Earth.

That’s right, the unassuming, perpetually dismissed and ignored ‘harmless’ little Hobbits. They are the Walter White of Middle Earth.

It all started with Sauron. He was indeed trying to conquer Middle Earth……’s illegal pipe weed drug trade. He was the original kingpin.

So the Elves — NOTORIOUSLY anti-pipe weed, the Elves — band together to topple Sauron’s massive drug empire. And they do.

Enter Hobbits, seizing an opportunity. No one would EVER suspect them. They fill the Sauron gap, start manufacturing/distributing pipe weed.

The genius move is they UTILIZE their profile among the other races. They’re openly like, “Yeah pipe weed it’s a harmless lil Hobbit habit.”

“You know us Hobbits,” they say, “smokin’ our pipe weed, being lazy an’ shit.” They turn their illicit product into a comical affectation.

Meanwhile, the Hobbits are stringing humans OUT on pipe weed. Making mad gold. Everyone’s got a dope house filled with gourmet cheese.

See also other alternate tellings of familiar stories: A People’s History of Tattooine (and other Star Wars theories), Hermione Granger and the Goddamn Patriarchy, and Daniel is the real bully in Karate Kid.

Climate change could be making our food less nutritious

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 18, 2017

A potential link between human-driven climate change and the nutrients in our food has some scientists worried. More study is needed, but here’s what may be happening. Plants are bingeing on the increasing amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which causes them to contain fewer nutrients and more sugar. Plants with fewer nutrients result in animals with fewer nutrients…and the humans who eat both are receiving fewer nutrients from eating the same amount of food.

Loladze and a handful of other scientists have come to suspect that’s not the whole story and that the atmosphere itself may be changing the food we eat. Plants need carbon dioxide to live the same way humans need oxygen. And in the increasingly polarized debate about climate science, one thing that isn’t up for debate is that the level of CO2 in the atmosphere is rising. Before the industrial revolution, the earth’s atmosphere had about 280 parts per million of carbon dioxide. Last year, the planet crossed over the 400 parts per million threshold; scientists predict we will likely reach 550 parts per million within the next half-century-essentially twice the amount that was in the air when Americans started farming with tractors.

If you’re someone who thinks about plant growth, this seems like a good thing. It has also been useful ammunition for politicians looking for reasons to worry less about the implications of climate change. Rep. Lamar Smith, a Republican who chairs the House Committee on Science, recently argued that people shouldn’t be so worried about rising CO2 levels because it’s good for plants, and what’s good for plants is good for us.

“A higher concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere would aid photosynthesis, which in turn contributes to increased plant growth,” the Texas Republican wrote. “This correlates to a greater volume of food production and better quality food.”

But as the zooplankton experiment showed, greater volume and better quality might not go hand-in-hand. In fact, they might be inversely linked. As best scientists can tell, this is what happens: Rising CO2 revs up photosynthesis, the process that helps plants transform sunlight to food. This makes plants grow, but it also leads them to pack in more carbohydrates like glucose at the expense of other nutrients that we depend on, like protein, iron and zinc.

The US Climate Explorer

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 12, 2017

Last year, the NOAA updated their Climate Explorer tool, which lets you see how climate change will affect the weather (daily max/min temperatures, really hot & cold days, precipitation, etc.) in different parts of the United States. For example, if emissions of greenhouse gases continue to increase throughout the next 80 years, the average temperature in Miami will increase from a current ~84.5 °F to over 91 °F in 2100…and even worse, the annual number of 95+ degree days will go from less than 10 to 140.

Climate Explorer

Climate Explorer

Which actually isn’t that big of a deal because a bunch of the city will be underwater and uninhabitable because of rising sea levels. Ok, moving on…

You live in the northeast and like to ski? Well, that might be a problem in the future. In Stowe, VT, the annual number of days with minimum temperatures below 32 °F will decrease from about 175 now to ~140 by 2070 even if emissions of greenhouse gases start dropping in 2040.

Climate Explorer

And if emissions don’t drop, Vermont could only see ~105 days of minimum temperatures below 32 °F by 2100. Goodbye ski season.

See also our potential neverending hot American summer.

Former NFL player Aaron Hernandez had severe CTE

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 22, 2017

Former New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez, who was serving a life sentence for murdering a friend and who died in prison from suicide earlier this year, was found to have “a severe form” of CTE, a brain disease linked to repeated head trauma that has also been found in many other former NFL players.

Researchers who examined the brain determined it was “the most severe case they had ever seen in someone of Aaron’s age,” said a lawyer for Hernandez in announcing the result at a news conference on Thursday. Hernandez was 27.

Hernandez played three seasons in college and only three in the NFL, yet the damage to his brain was similar to “players with a median age of 67 years”. If you’re a young football player in college or the NFL right now, you have to be looking at this situation pretty hard right now.

See also: Don’t Let Kids Play Football, what the ball boy saw, I’m quitting football, NFL deliberately campaigned against science regarding head injuries, Junior Seau’s family sues NFL over concussions, how professional football might end (sooner than you think), and a message in an NFL player’s suicide.

In praise of Cookie Monster, the literary muppet

posted by Tim Carmody   Oct 26, 2017

monsterpiecekcomp.jpg

In De pueris instituendis (On the education of children, 1529), the great Renaissance humanist, borrowing from the classical rhetoricians Horace and Quintillian, helped reintroduce an important idea:

I have now come to the stage of my argument where I shall briefly explain how love of study may be instilled in children - a subject which I have already touched upon in part. As I have said, through practice we acquire painlessly the ability to speak. The art of reading and writing comes next; this involves some tedium, which can be relieved, however, by an expert teacher who spices his instruction with pleasant inducements. One encounters children who toil and sweat endlessly before they can recognize and combine into words the letters of the alphabet and learn even the bare rudiments of grammar, yet who can readily grasp the higher forms of knowledge. As the ancients have demonstrated, there are artful means to overcome this slowness. Teachers of antiquity, for instance, would bake cookies of the sort that children like into the shape of letters, so that their pupils might, so to speak, hungrily eat their letters; for any student who could correctly indentify a letter would be rewarded with it.

In grad school, I worked with a British literary historian who expertly broke this down into a post-psychoanalytic framework. Biscuits, like speech and writing, form a circuit between the eyes, hand, and mouth. The regulation of desire clears the way for the discipline of discourse. Like Plato, we move from the immanent and particular to the abstract and universal, but this is always mediated by the body, whose conflicting drives trouble these ideal categories.

I responded: “It’s Cookie Monster.” Growing up in England, he’d never heard of him.

Cookie’s idiosyncratic pronouns and truncated consonant clusters are a ruse. He’s easily the most verbally adept, best-educated character on Sesame Street. He teaches children the alphabet and vocabulary, and of course doubles as Alistaire Cookie on Monsterpiece Theatre. The growly voice, googly eyes, and outsized yearnings mask the heart of a scholar.

I bet he used to be a graduate student. You can’t show any of us free food without us reacting like this.

cookies.gif

He even loves absurdist metafiction:

Cookie is all of us who always get underestimated, just because we refused to always change how we talk and how we act because we went to school. But we love those sweet leatherbound books, too.

NOTE: Cookie Monster was invited and was originally slated to collaborate on this post. He was excited; I was excited. Unfortunately, due to a scheduling conflict, he wasn’t able to appear. You have his and my regrets. (I swear on Mr. Snuffleupagus: All of this is 100 percent true.)

Borges on Homer, Milton, and Blindness

posted by Tim Carmody   Oct 27, 2017

borges-library.jpg

My favorite Jorge Luis Borges short story, “El Hacedor (The Maker),” is about the Greek poet Homer going blind:

He had never dwelled on memory’s delights. Impressions slid over him, vivid but ephemeral. A potter’s vermilion; the heavens laden with stars that were also gods; the moon, from which a lion had fallen; the slick feel of marble beneath slow sensitive fingertips; the taste of wild boar meat, eagerly torn by his white teeth; a Phoenician word; the black shadow a lance casts on yellow sand; the nearness of the sea or of a woman; a heavy wine, its roughness cut by honey-these could fill his soul completely. He knew what terror was, but he also knew anger and rage, and once he had been the first to scale an enemy wall. Eager, curious, casual, with no other law than fulfillment and the immediate indifference that ensues, he walked the varied earth and saw, on one seashore or another, the cities of men and their palaces. In crowded marketplaces or at the foot of a mountain whose uncertain peak might be inhabited by satyrs, he had listened to complicated tales which he accepted, as he accepted reality, without asking whether they were true or false.

Gradually now the beautiful universe was slipping away from him. A stubborn mist erased the outline of his hand, the night was no longer peopled by stars, the earth beneath his feet was unsure. Everything was growing distant and blurred. When he knew he was going blind he cried out; stoic modesty had not yet been invented and Hector could flee with impunity. I will not see again, he felt, either the sky filled with mythical dread, or this face that the years will transform. Over this desperation of his flesh passed days and nights. But one morning he awoke; he looked, no longer alarmed, at the dim things that surrounded him; and inexplicably he sensed, as one recognizes a tune or a voice, that now it was over and he had faced it, with fear but also with joy, hope, and curiosity. Then he descended into his memory, which seemed to him endless, and up from that vertigo he succeeded in bringing forth a forgotten recollection that shone like a coin under the rain, perhaps because he had never looked at it, unless in a dream.

Borges also gradually went blind, as had many members of his family. “The world of the blind is not the night that people imagine,” he said in a 1977 lecture called “Blindness,” collected in his magnificent posthumous anthology Selected Nonfictions. “I should say that I am speaking for myself, and for my father and my grandmother, who both died blind—blind, laughing, and brave, as I also hope to die. They inherited many things—blindness, for example—but one does not inherit courage.”

This lecture is the source of a famous Borges quote: “I had always imagined Paradise as a kind of library.” It does not usually include the context: Borges had been appointed as director of Argentina’s national library almost exactly when he became so blind he could no longer read.

No one should read self-pity or reproach

into this statement of the majesty of God;

who with such splendid irony

granted me books and blindness at one touch.

In his lecture, Borges discusses his own blindness, as well as that of Homer, Joyce, his predecessor at the library Paul Groussac, and a number of other writers. One of its most striking passages concerns John Milton, about whom Borges writes relatively little elsewhere. Milton, we’re told, went blind voluntarily, writing pamphlets in poor lighting to support the execution of Charles I, which landed him in political trouble after the Restoration. Borges likewise resisted, and survived Peron’s rule in Argentina.

Borges is especially struck by Milton’s Samson Agonistes, which is also about a blind hero who strikes down a wicked king.

He wanted to create a Greek tragedy. The action takes place in a single day, Samson’s last. Milton thought on the similarity of destinies, since he, like Samson, had been a strong man who was ultimately defeated. He was blind. And he wrote those verses which, according to Landor, he punctuated badly, but which in fact had to be “Eyeless, in Gaza, at the mill, with the slaves” — as if the misfortunes were accumulating on Samson.

Milton has a sonnet in which he speaks of his blindness. There is a line one can tell was written by a blind man. When he has to describe the world, he says, “In this dark world and wide.” It is precisely the world of the blind when they are alone, walking with hands outstretched, searching for props. Here we have an example — much more important than mine — of a man who overcomes blindness and does his work: Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained, Samson Agonistes, his best sonnets, part of A History of England, from the beginnings to the Norman Conquest. All of this was executed while he was blind; all of it had to be dictated to casual visitors.

Here we return to Borges’s “The Maker”:

Why did those memories come back to him, and why did they come without bitterness, as a mere foreshadowing of the present?

In grave amazement he understood. In this night too, in this night of his mortal eyes into this he was now descending, love and danger were again waiting. Ares and Aphrodite, for already he divined (already it encircled him) a murmur of glory and hexameters, a murmur of men defending a temple the gods will not save, and of black vessels searching the sea for a beloved isle, the murmur of the Odysseys and Iliads it was his destiny to sing and leave echoing concavely in the memory of man. These things we know, but not those that he felt when he descended into the last shade of all.

Four versions of “A House Is Not A Home”

posted by Tim Carmody   Oct 25, 2017

The first, of course, is by Dionne Warwick. It’s a 1964 live version of the Bacharach and David arrangement she’d already made a hit. It’s the first track from her third album: she’d made all three in a year and a half.

Dionne’s performance is all about funneling emotion through control. It’s like shooting an explosive bullet through a rifled barrel, for maximum velocity, accuracy, and impact.

Almost all of Hal David’s lyrics are all about loss and unfulfilled dreams, but he/they always find an objective correlative that roots those feelings in specific places, scenes, and experiences. It’s a phenomenology of loss — and “A House Is Not A Home” is maybe the purest example of this.

Burt Bacharach is Burt Bacharach, a composer with a perfect combination of brains and swag. Everyone sounds like him, and nobody sounds close. (Also, Paul Griffin is maybe the best session piano player in the history of pop music. Someday, he deserves his own post.)

This BBC documentary gives some of the history between Warwick, Bacharach, and David (check around 10:45):

And this terrific clip shows Warwick and Bacharach at work on “Loneliness Remembers What Happiness Forgets”:

The second version of “A House Without A Home” is by Luther Vandross, from his first proper album, Never Too Much. It’s more than twice as long as Dionne’s version. (From here on out, I’m going to call Dionne and Luther by their first names, because they are my best friends.)

Instead of opening with “House,” Luther closes with it, and by god, does he close. He closes it, sets it on fire, collects the insurance money, and spends it all on you.

My friend Zach Curd is a musician, singer, and composer (with a brand new album out!), and most importantly, a fellow Luther fan. He recently put Luther’s cover of “House” on a playlist of “perfect songs,” and agreed to share some thoughts about what makes this version so good.

The things I love about “A House Is Not a Home”:

This is the thing about Luther: casual fans remember the slowed-down crooning, but forget that he sets up that framework just to play against it. This leads to otherwise intelligent people saying crazy things in public like “Luther doesn’t slap.” It’s okay. Everyone gets a chance to be completely wrong.

The third version of “A House Is Not A Home” is my very favorite. It is Luther singing Dionne’s song to Dionne at the 1986 NAACP Image Awards. The orchestration’s a little fuller, splitting the difference between Dionne’s original and Luther’s studio version. And it is just a goddamn showcase for what one man can do with his voice. Just watch:

At this point, if you’re still with me, set aside an hour and watch this terrific documentary about Luther. It’s about his childhood, his early career, his first encounter with Dionne Warwick’s music [he patterned his entire style on hers], his appearances on Sesame Street, his struggles with weight, and what to me is frankly an admirable “I will never confirm, I will never deny, because I don’t owe you assholes EVERYTHING” attitude about publicly discussing his homosexuality.

I hate the closet and wish Luther could have been free to be who he was with all of us, but my god, did anyone make more out of his life in the closet than Luther Vandross?

The fourth version of “A House Is Not A Home” is from Luther’s 2003 concert at Radio City Music Hall. As Zach points out, it is somehow even slower than his studio version, a full ten minutes long. I don’t even know how you make a drummer play that slow without medication. When Luther says “I’m gonna take my time and sing this thing — can I do that?” he means it.

This song is outer space, and Luther’s voice is a gravitational wave. It’s radiating from colliding stars millions of miles away. It bends spacetime. We might be farther away from Dionne’s tightly channeled emotion and David’s carefully charted physical details. But nowhere else are we closer to the godhead.

Time lapse of a Sol LeWitt wall drawing

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 12, 2017

Wall Drawing 797 is a conceptual artwork by Sol LeWitt consisting of instructions that anyone can use to make a drawing. I found this at The Kid Should See This1 and I cannot improve on their description:

How does one person’s actions influence the next person’s actions in a shared space? Sol LeWitt’s wall drawings explore this intricate visual butterfly effect in the collaborative art entitled Wall Drawing 797, a conceptual piece that can be drawn by following LeWitt’s instructions. (He died in 2007.)

“Intricate visual butterfly effect” is such a good way of putting it. I have a huge wall right above my desk…I kind of want to make my own Wall Drawing 797 now.

  1. You should be reading The Kid Should See This even if you don’t have children. It’s always so good and interesting.

Our collective happiness on Twitter reaches a new low

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 04, 2017

Twitter Happiness 2017

The Hedonometer measures the average happiness of Twitter on a daily basis and the shooting in Las Vegas has pushed the index to a new low. The previous low point was after the terror attack in Orlando last July. The two other lowest scores have occurred in the past year and a half: the mass shooting of Dallas police officers and the election of Donald Trump, which is the only non-shooting or non-terror attack to achieve such a low score in the 9-year history of the index.

People matching artworks

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 31, 2017

Photographer Stefan Draschan spent hours hanging around museums waiting for people who matched in some way the artwork around them.

People Matching Artworks

People Matching Artworks

People Matching Artworks

People Matching Artworks

Draschan has done several other similar-ish projects, including People Touching Artworks. If I ever get really into Buddhism and mindfulness, I think my biggest obstacle in achieving enlightenment will be observing people in museums touching the art and remaining calm about it.

Universal Paperclips

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 11, 2017

There’s a new meta game by Frank Lantz making the rounds: Universal Paperclips, “in which you play an AI who makes paperclips”. Basically, you click a button to make money and use that money to buy upgrades which gives you more money per click, rinse, repeat.

Why AI and paperclips? That’s from a thought experiment by philosopher Nick Bostrom, author of Superintelligence:

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.

But you know, have fun playing! (via @kevinhendricks)

Chilling video footage of a 1939 pro-Nazi rally at Madison Square Garden

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 16, 2017

On February 20, 1939, a crowd of 20,000 gathered at Madison Square Garden for a “Pro-American” rally sponsored by the German American Bund, a pro-Nazi organization. I’d seen photos of the event, but I didn’t know there was film footage as well.

There is a moment during an on-stage scuffle involving a protestor (a Brooklyn man named Isadore Greenbaum), right around the 4:15 mark, when a young boy in the background rubs his hands and does a gleeful jig — I…I don’t even know what to say about how I felt watching that. After Greenbaum is spirited away, his clothes nearly ripped from his body, the crowd roars. As director Marshall Curry said in an interview about the film:

In the end, America pulled away from the cliff, but this rally is a reminder that things didn’t have to work out that way. If Roosevelt weren’t President, if Japan hadn’t attacked, is it possible we would have skated through without joining the war? And if Nazis hadn’t killed American soldiers, is it possible that their philosophy wouldn’t have become so taboo here?

(via open culture)

If I Were/Was Your Girlfriend

posted by Tim Carmody   Oct 23, 2017

It’s tempting to treat Prince’s “If I Was Your Girlfriend” as a genderscrambled version of Gladys Knight & The Pips’ “If I Were Your Woman” or Janet Jackson’s “If.” It’s really not. All three songs are great, but thematically and grammatically, “If I Was Your Girlfriend” is way more complicated than the others, and more intricate than almost any other song Prince wrote.

Prince is not just saying you’d be better off with him; he is not just saying that he wants to get in your pants. He’s not not saying those things, but Prince has written dozens if not hundreds of songs with that as his theme, and none of those songs are “If I Was Your Girlfriend.”

Prince is up to something. Even the usual interpretive trick for Prince’s songs — imagine that he is singing them to and about himself — doesn’t get you very far here.

Let’s start with that “Was.” We use the simple past “was” instead of the subjunctive mood “were” all the time, mostly because the subjunctive in English almost only shows up for a few irregular verbs like “were.” But there’s a songwriting tradition here; Prince knows it; every word is carefully chosen; we should take that “Was” seriously.

If I was your girlfriend, would U remember

To tell me all the things U forgot when I was your man?

The song is built on a series of conditional clauses, all of which are firmly set in the past. Was, would, could, sometime. Over and over again. Even when the singer lapses into something that seems like a present or present continuous tense, we get a counterpoint placing it in the past conditional again.

Sugar
Sugar, do you know what I’m saying 2 U this evening?
(If I was your girlfriend)
Maybe U think I’m being a little self-centered
But I, I said I want to be all of the things U are to me
(if I was your girlfriend)
Surely, surely you can see

That “this evening” is deixis — it’s pointing to say, “I am speaking these words HERE and NOW.” And it gets completely wiped away by the conditional past “If I was your girlfriend” and the conditional future “I want to be” and “surely you can see.”

This is an amazing song about intimacy, fantasy, the limits of gender roles, the limits of gender flexibility, a man’s full catalog of shortcomings and possibilities. This is also a breakup song, about heartbreak and desperation. It’s a song about a man putting the pieces of the past together and hoping they can add up to something more than they were.

Breakup songs are not exactly plentiful in the Prince catalog, although the ones he wrote were amazing. He wrote “Nothing Compares 2 U” for The Family because it didn’t fit the brand of progressive party pop he’d established for Prince and the Revolution. Sinead O’Connor covered it in 1989, after Prince had shifted his image with Sign O’ The Times, and everyone marveled (again) at his songwriting.

“If I Was Your Girlfriend” gets smuggled in as a Prince song at the right place and time. (Principle: every song on “Sign O’ The Times” is doing something other than what it seems to be doing.) The song is sexy because Prince is sexy. But the singer is losing the thread between past, present, and future. All those nesting dolls are collapsing. Even the marvelous, sensual come-on at the end, a desperate throw of the dice that pulls the song into the full future tense for the first time, gets framed as a dream:

And would you, would you let me kiss you there You know, down there where it counts I’ll do it so good, I swear I’ll drink every ounce And then I’ll hold you tight and hold you long And together we’ll stare into silence

And we’ll try to imagine what it looks like Yeah, we’ll try to imagine what, what silence looks like Yeah, we’ll, we’ll try to imagine what silence looks like Yeah, we’ll try

The song seemed to evolve for Prince himself. In early live shows and the song’s official video above, Prince is the sexy seducer. Of course he talks his ex into bed. He’s Prince — the one and only — and his fans came to see a Prince show.

Later, he can’t do the splits any more. He’s sitting at the piano. The BPM is slowed down to about 80 percent. His eyes are closed. It’s a Joni Mitchell ballad.

Anil Dash, CEO of Fog Creek software, blogging pioneer, and Prince superfan, told me about these late performances of “If I Was Your Girlfriend”:

In his final shows, Prince would do the song in medley with Bob Marley’s “Waiting In Vain”, a song he only started playing very late in life, that seemed to have a lot of meaning for him.

[“Wait(ing) In Vain is one of the saddest songs I’ve ever heard, even in Bob Marley’s bouncey version. Prince’s cover on solo piano is devastating.]

In his last set of concerts, he’d pause the song to bring up a still of Streisand and Redford in “The Way We Were”, after the part where he says “if somebody hurt u, even if that somebody was me.”

[This was at Prince’s second-to-last show, in Atlanta.]

It was one of the most honest and unexpected and sincere and heartbreaking things I think I ever heard him do. I was listening to audio of that in an airport in Tokyo a few months before he passed, and it brought me to tears, and it was one of the first things I returned to after I heard about his death. Was just as purely empathetic as I’d ever heard a straight man be in pop culture, and taught me a lot.

For me, losing Lou Reed was like losing a great teacher; losing Bowie was losing a hero; losing Phife was losing a best friend. But losing Prince, for many of us, was like losing the love of your life.

Studio Ghibli characters in real world scenes

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 11, 2017

A South Korean video editor named Kojer took characters from Studio Ghibli films and digitally inserted them into real world scenes and background. So you get to see Ponyo running on a lake, Totoro waiting in the rain on an actual train platform, the Catbus running through a real meadow, and Howl’s castle moving through a city.

This is super-cool…the effect is nearly seamless. Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at how he did the rotoscoping, touch-ups, background replacement, and shadow work on the animated characters:

It’s incredible how much the tools and technology have advanced when one person using off-the-shelf software on a single computer can do what took months to accomplish using traditional cel animation on Who Framed Roger Rabbit?