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Updated: 2016-12-07T14:41:25Z

 



Trailer for The Circle

2016-12-07T14:41:25Z

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The film adaptation of Dave Eggers’ novel The Circle is moving right along. The movie stars Tom Hanks and Emma Watson (as well as John Boyega from The Force Awakens) and the first trailer was released yesterday. Looks Black Mirror-ish…I think we’ll be getting a lot of that over the next four years.

Tags: books   Dave Eggers   Emma Watson   movies   The Circle   Tom Hanks   trailers   video



The evolution of Disney animation, from Snow White to Zootopia

2016-12-06T21:30:57Z

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This video quickly sums up almost 80 years of Disney animated movies, from Snow White and Pinocchio to Big Hero 6 and Zootopia. It’s astonishing how good the animation was in the early days and then got less so until fairly recently.

Tags: animation   Disney   movies   video



The 2016 kottke.org Holiday Gift Guide

2016-12-06T17:52:02Z

For the past few years, I’ve featured the season’s best gift guides from other sites and pulled out a few things from each that I think you might be interested in. 2016 has been a rough year for some of us, so getting in a festive mood might be asking too much. But my determination to give is off the charts this year, and if you’re feeling similarly, maybe this will help you. Let’s dig in. Charity is going to be a big part of people’s giving this year. If you have the means, please find a worthy place to spread the wealth at GiveWell or Charity Navigator. A kottke.org reader recently pointed me toward GiveDirectly as well. Find volunteer opportunities in your area, give to your local food shelf, and look for holiday toy drives. On the way to lunch today, the kids and I noticed a Toys for Tots donation box outside a store. I gave each of them some money to spend on toys to put in the box…we’re working hard to make giving back part of our family routine. The Kid Should See This is a true gem of the web and their gift guide is always top-notch. This year, I sat down with my kids and they each picked out two things from the list. Ollie chose The LEGO Architect book and this wind-powered Strandbeest. (As a fan of Strandbeests and their inventor Theo Jansen from way back, I was tickled by that choice.) Minna picked out these colorful playing cards (which we have and use often) and the littleBits Gizmos & Gadget kit. She got one of the littleBits kits from Santa1 last year and really liked it — it’s seen a resurgence in use over the past couple weeks as well. Perhaps another installment from St. Nick is in order. Jodi Ettenberg of Legal Nomads has compiled a list of Great, Affordable Gifts for Travelers, including portable chopsticks, Appetites (a new cookbook from Anthony Bourdain), and Speakeasy Travel Scarves that have hidden pockets big enough to carry a phone, passport, and some cash. Sneaky! And the Altas Obscura book, duh. Last year, Quartz did my favorite holiday gift guide: they asked a bunch of notable folks about the best gift they’d ever received. Unexpectedly poignant. This year, they’re publishing a story every day until Dec 25th (Advent-style) on different aspects of holiday gift-giving. If you haven’t bought your partner an Instant Pot pressure cooker yet, now’s your chance. Goes from zero to risotto in just a few minutes. Every year, The Wirecutter and The Sweethome bring it with the holiday recommendations…my entire house is basically a Wirecutter/Sweethome showroom. Among their extensive recs are littleBits Rule Your Room Kit, the Electric Objects EO2 Digital Art Display, Regarding Cocktails by Sasha Petraske, and this Bosch cordless drill (yo, Santa, I need one of these). Also, you can buy bulk movie tickets? Huh. Stop reading, this is the best gift: Die Hard: The Authorized Coloring and Activity Book. Yippie ki-yay, motherfestivusers! Boing Boing has three separate gift lists this year — for gadgets, books, and toys. Among the picks are the NES Classic Edition (hahaha good luck finding one of these before next year), a disposable hand-crank lantern, the Womanizer sex toy, blank playing cards, and What’s It Like in Space?: Stories from Astronauts Who’ve Been There by Ariel Waldman. The Kindle Paperwhite remains my favorite gadget recommendation. I love mine…my entire library slips into a pocket now. Did you know that Muji and Uniqlo both have online stores now? From Muji I recommend the ultrasonic aroma diffuser (and some essential oils to use with it) and these amazing sock/slipper things I bought there last year but now they don’t have them anymore, sorry! And point Grandma toward Uniqlo so she can get you some socks and underwear you’ll actually wear. Find the readers in your life some books on the best books of 2016 lists. Food52 and Serious Eats have your food picks covered. Fancy cheese knives! Olive oil f[...]



Carl Sagan explains the fourth dimension

2016-12-06T15:44:39Z

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From his seminal TV program Cosmos, Carl Sagan attempts to explain the fourth dimension of spacetime. The story starts with Edwin Abbott’s Flatland, but Sagan being Sagan, his explanation is especially lucid.

Tags: Carl Sagan   Cosmos   physics   science   TV   video



The Dead Bookstore

2016-12-05T20:59:18Z

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Ben Pieratt, who you may recall as the cofounder of Svpply (and many other diverse projects), has a new project called Dead Bookstore, wherein full-sheet pages of old books become art prints for sale. But there’s a DIY component as well…Pieratt helps you track down the original texts and has posted instructions so you can make your own prints.

Tags: art   Ben Pieratt   books



Amazon Go and “Just Walk Out” shopping

2016-12-05T18:31:31Z

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Amazon Go grocery stores will let you walk in by swiping an app, grab whatever you need, and just walk right out the door again.

Our checkout-free shopping experience is made possible by the same types of technologies used in self-driving cars: computer vision, sensor fusion, and deep learning. Our Just Walk Out technology automatically detects when products are taken from or returned to the shelves and keeps track of them in a virtual cart. When you’re done shopping, you can just leave the store. Shortly after, we’ll charge your Amazon account and send you a receipt.

I guess that makes these self-shopping stores? Lame jokes aside, this is a pretty cool idea. Not entirely revolutionary though…Apple’s EasyPay service has allowed shoppers to self-checkout with the Apple Store app since 2011. I used the self-checkout at an Apple Store once and it felt *really* weird, like I was shoplifting. New commercial transactions are always tricky. Things like one-click ordering, contactless payments (e.g. Apple Pay), and Uber-style payments feel strange at first, but you get used to them after awhile. Something like Square’s odd “put it on Jack” system — where instead of swiping a card or scanning a QR code on an app, you need to negotiate with a person about who you are — don’t catch on. It’ll be interesting to see where something like Amazon Go falls on that spectrum.

Update: This is an IBM commercial from the 90s that showed Just Walk Out shopping.

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(via @stiegjon)

Tags: Amazon   Apple   business   IBM   video



The bell tolls at Britain’s oldest manufacturing company

2016-12-05T17:08:45Z

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The Whitechapel Bell Foundry is the oldest manufacturing company in Britain. It was officially founded in 1570, but there’s an unbroken line of master bellfounders dating back to 1420. The company cast the bell for Big Ben…you may have heard of it. They also made the Liberty Bell…you may have heard of that one too.

The Whitechapel Foundry’s connection with the Liberty Bell was reestablished in 1976, the year of the US Bicentennial. First, there was a group of about thirty or so ‘demonstrators’ from the Procrastinators Society of America who mounted a mock protest over the bell’s defects and who marched up and down outside the Foundry with placards proclaiming WE GOT A LEMON and WHAT ABOUT THE WARRANTY?. We told them we would be happy to replace the bell — as long as it was returned to us in its original packaging.

Alan Hughes, the current master bellfounder, is retiring soon and the business shall have to move — it’s been in the current location for 250 years — but hopes are that the company will be sold and the new owners will carry on with the business of making bells. Spitalfields Life recently sat down with Hughes for an interview and tour.

“Our business runs counter to the national economy,” he continued, “If the economy goes down and unemployment rises, we start to get busy. Last year was our busiest in thirty years, an increase of 27% on the previous year. Similarly, the nineteen twenties were very busy.” I was mystified by this equation, but Alan has a plausible theory.

“Bell projects take a long time, so churches commit to new bells when the economy is strong and then there is no turning back. We are just commencing work on a new peal of bells for St Albans after forty-three years of negotiation. That’s an example of the time scale we are working on — at least ten years between order and delivery is normal. My great-grandfather visited the church in Langley in the eighteen nineties and told them the bells needed rehanging in a new frame. They patched them. My grandfather said the same thing in the nineteen twenties. They patched them. My father told them again in the nineteen fifties and I quoted for the job in the nineteen seventies. We completed the order in 1998.”

The Telegraph did a piece on the foundry as well. (via @richardwestenra)

Tags: business   UK



The future of football

2016-12-05T14:48:23Z

This conversation between Bill Simmons and Malcolm Gladwell about the current state of football and the NFL is quite good, even if you maybe don’t care about sports or aren’t currently watching football. Yes, it’s a sports bro and a nerd bro coming to terms with the fact that their favorite sport is a dumpster fire, but some of their points along the way are more widely applicable. Like Gladwell’s idea about second conversations: There is now a second conversation about baseball — the Moneyball conversation — that is interesting even to people who don’t follow the first conversation, the one that takes place on the field. Same thing for basketball. There’s an obsessive first conversation about a beautiful game, and a great second conversation about how basketball has become a mixed-up culture of personality and celebrity. Boxing had a wonderful second conversation in its glory years: It was a metaphor of social mobility. Jack Dempsey, one of the most popular boxers of all time, dropped out of school before he even got to high school; Joe Louis’s family got chased out of Alabama by the Ku Klux Klan. That underlying narrative made what happened in the ring matter. When the second conversation about boxing became about people like Don King and the financial and physical exploitation of athletes, the sport became a circus. So what’s the second conversation about football? It’s concussions. There’s the game on the field and then there’s a conversation off the field about why nobody wants their kids to play the game on the field. How does a sport survive in the long run when the second conversation contradicts the first? And his assertion that the clarity and size of HD televisions have made the action on the screen too real: In terms of how we watch football, high-definition television has clearly been a two-edged sword for the NFL, hasn’t it? It makes the drama of the game come alive, because we can now see the action in so much more detail. But it also means that when Luke Kuechly is writhing in pain on the ground, we can see every emotion on his face. That’s not a trivial matter. There’s a particular emotional expression that the psychologist Paul Ekman has labeled “Action Unit 1,” which is when your inner eyebrows rise up suddenly, like a drawbridge. It’s almost impossible to do that deliberately. (Try it sometime.) But virtually all human beings do Action Unit 1 involuntarily in the presence of emotional distress. Watch babies cry: Their inner eyebrows shoot up like they are on hydraulics. And when you see that expression appear on someone else’s face, that’s what triggers your own empathy. The point is, in an age when this kind of intimate information about other people’s emotions is available to us when we’re watching TV in our living rooms, a game as violent and painful as football becomes really hard to watch. The first time I realized this was after a hit on Wes Welker in a Broncos playoff game, in the season when he had multiple concussions (2013). I had just bought a new big-screen TV, with an incredible picture, and when the camera zoomed in on Welker, I was so shaken that I had to turn off the game. I wonder how many other people did the same thing. So, yes, we really watch football differently now. Interesting throughout, as they say. BTW, here’s Gladwell’s 2002 piece on Paul Ekman from the New Yorker. Tags: Bill Simmons   football   Malcolm Gladwell   Paul Ekman   sports [...]



52 things learned in 2016

2016-12-02T18:38:44Z

Consultant Tom Whitwell shared 52 things he learned in 2016. Here are three:

Call Me Baby is a call centre for cybercriminals who need a human voice as part of a scam. They charge $10 for each call in English, and $12 for calls in German, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Polish. [Brian Krebs]

Twitter has enough money in the bank to run for 412 years with current losses. [Matt Krantz]

Intervision, the 70s Soviet answer to the Eurovision Song Contest, was judge by electricity grid voting: “those watching at home had to turn their lights on when they liked a song and off when they didn’t, with data from the electricity network then being used to allocate points.” [Nick Heady]

It was hard to whittle the list down to just three, so a bonus one:

Instead of batteries, the ARES project in Nevada uses a network of train tracks, a hillside and electric trains loaded with rocks to store wind and solar power. When there is a surplus of energy, the trains drive up the tracks. When output falls, the cars roll back down the hill, their electric motors acting as generators. [Robson Fletcher]

The Economist did a piece — “Sisyphus’s train set” — on ARES this summer.

Tags: energy   lists   Tom Whitwell   Twitter



Lovely illustrations drawn on vintage sheet music

2016-12-02T15:35:09Z

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Russian illustrators Alexei Lyapunov and Lena Ehrlich use the notes, staffs, and other musical notation marks on vintage sheet music as a framework to create these inventive illustrations of everyday life and nature. Prints are available. (via colossal)

Tags: Alexei Lyapunov   art   illustration   Lena Ehrlich   music



The best books of 2016

2016-12-01T20:32:59Z

It’s just the beginning of December and the lists of the best books of the year are already starting to stack up like so many clichés about nightstand book piles. Here’s what book editors, voracious readers, and retailers have to say about the year’s top books. Tyler Cowen almost never steers me wrong, so I’ll lead with his best fiction of 2016 and best non-fiction books of 2016 lists. Cowen seems more enthusiastic about the year’s non-fiction than fiction, recommending The Age of Em by Robin Hanson and Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Gene: An Intimate History. He also recommends Atlas Obscura, which arrived in my book pile and was immediately commandeered by my 9-year-old who has read it straight through three or four times now.1 The NY Times somehow narrowed down the entire year’s output to The 10 Best Books of 2016. Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad made this list and many others for good reason: it was an excellent and essential read. Also on the list is Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right by Jane Mayer. From Buzzfeed, The 24 Best Fiction Books Of 2016. Includes The Vegetarian by Han Kang and The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan. Amazon’s editors selected their top 100 picks for the year. Included are The Girls by Emma Cline, Nathaniel Philbrick’s Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution, and When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, a book that came out very early in the year and was well-regarded but got lost in the shuffle a little as the year went on. For their list of the best books of 2016 (part two), The Guardian asked writers what they had enjoyed reading during the year. Yuval Noah Harari (whose Sapiens I’ve been yapping about all year) recommends Cathy O’Neil’s Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie picked Hisham Matar’s The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between, and Taiye Selasi “adored” Swing Time by Zadie Smith. Oh and my fave Hilary Mantel (where’s that next Cromwell book?!) recommends Ian McGuire’s The North Water. The Telegraph’s top 50 books of the year is a wider-ranging list than most, with picks ranging from the Man Booker prize-winning The Sellout by Paul Beatty to several books about sports, including an autobiography by FC Barcelona’s star midfielder Andrés Iniesta called The Artist. On its list of the Top 20 Fiction Books of 2016 The What recommends Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett and The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie. See also 2015’s best books. Ferrante and Ta-Nehisi Coates were the clear favorites last year. I haven’t read Between the World and Me yet, but the Neapolitan Novels were fantastic. Update: Shane Parrish of Farnam Street offers 5 Noteable Nonfiction Books of 2016, including Ed Yong’s I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life. Update: At the Washington Post, Carlos Lozada shares his picks for the most surprising, hopeful, and overrated books of 2016. Among them are Maria Konnikova’s The Confidence Game: Why We Fall for It…Every Time and Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond. The other day he said to me, “Daddy, you should read this book. I think you’d really like it. There might be some interesting stuff in there for your website.”↩ Tags: best of   best of 2016   books   lists [...]



The Map of Physics

2016-12-01T19:09:43Z

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In this video, physicist Dominic Walliman explains how all of the various disciplines of physics are related to each other by arranging them on a giant map. He starts with the three main areas — classical physics, quantum mechanics, and relativity — and then gets into the more specific subjects like optics, electromagnetism, and particle physics before venturing across The Chasm of Ignorance (dun dun DUN!) where things like string theory and dark matter dwell.

Posters of The Map of Physics are available.

Tags: Dominic Walliman   maps   physics   science   video



Political Moneyball: America’s unfair elections and the Republicans’ art of winning them

2016-12-01T16:56:09Z

width="640" height="360" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/s7tWHJfhiyo?rel=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen> Why does the US have only two main political parties? Is it because that’s what people want? Nope! It’s just an artifact of our system of voting. From C.G.P. Grey, a video explaining the problems with first-past-the-post voting systems (like the one used in US elections). Great simple explanation…well worth watching. Check out the rest of Grey’s videos in this series, particularly the one on gerrymandering. width="640" height="360" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/Mky11UJb9AY?rel=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen> Nothing in politics gets my blood boiling faster than gerrymandering…it is so grossly and obviously unfair. I bet you don’t even need to guess which of the two US political parties has pushed unfair redistricting in recent years. More than anything for me, this is the story of politics in America right now: a shrinking and increasingly extremist underdog party has punched above its weight over the past few election cycles by methodically exploiting the weaknesses in our current political system. Gerrymandering, voter suppression, the passing of voter ID laws, and spreading propaganda via conservative and social media channels has led to disproportionate Republican representation in many areas of the country which they then use to gerrymander and pass more restrictive voter ID laws. They’ve limited potential conservative third party candidates (like Trump!) by incorporating them and their views into the main party. I would not be surprised if Republican donors strategically support left-of-center third-party candidates as spoilers — it’s a good tactic, underhanded but effective. They increasingly ignore political norms and practices to stymie Democratic efforts, like the general inaction of the Republican-led Congress over the past few years and the Senate’s refusal to consider Obama’s appointment of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. None of this is an accident. They are a small but (and this is important) unified team that works for the benefit of the group above all else. In football terms, the Democrats are the stronger team: they gain more yards (look at Clinton’s ever-growing lead in the popular vote), they earn more first downs, and they might even score more points over the course of the season. But the Republicans won the Super Bowl by sticking together and deftly pressing their advantages to change the rules of the game in their favor. It’s a Moneyball strategy, but for politics.1 By almost any measure, the US is more liberal than it was 20 years ago and yet we have an incoming administration which is potentially authoritarian, influenced and advised by extremist white nationalists, and unapologetically corruptible. Somehow, we need to make the game more fair again. Fairness and justice should not be partisan. Americans — all Americans, liberal, centrist, and conservative — deserve a fair political process that reflects as closely as possible the collective needs and desires of the citizenry. Anything less should be unacceptable. I mean, the fake news on Facebook…that is a genius Moneyball tactic. Instead of blowing a lot of cash on expensive national TV ads, they bought a ton of cheap propaganda that Facebook and conservative voters spread around for free (or very cheap).And do you recall the subtitle of Michael Lewis’s book? I didn’t until I just looked it up. It’s “The Art of Winning an Unfair Game”. I can’t think of a better description of our political system and what the Republicans have achieved over the past de[...]



Google Earth Timelapse

2016-12-01T14:56:22Z

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Google has updated their Timelapse feature on Google Earth, allowing you to scrub satellite imagery from all over the globe back in forth in time.

This interactive experience enabled people to explore these changes like never before — to watch the sprouting of Dubai’s artificial Palm Islands, the retreat of Alaska’s Columbia Glacier, and the impressive urban expansion of Las Vegas, Nevada. Today, we’re making our largest update to Timelapse yet, with four additional years of imagery, petabytes of new data, and a sharper view of the Earth from 1984 to 2016.

A good way to experience some of the most compelling locations is through the YouTube playlist embedded above…just let it run for a few minutes. Some favorite videos are the circular farmland in Al Jowf, Saudi Arabia, the disappearing Aral Sea, the erosion of the Breton National Wildlife Refuge in Louisiana, the urban growth of Chongqing, China, the alarmingly quick retreat of Alaska’s Columbia Glacier, and this meandering river in Tibet.

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Tags: geography   Google   Google Earth   maps   time lapse   video



China’s Lucky Knot bridge

2016-11-30T19:37:34Z

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Built by NEXT architects in the Chinese city of Changsha,1 the Lucky Knot bridge is a wonderfully inventive piece of architecture and engineering. It does not, however, appear very accessible to cyclists or the handicapped in the way that their Melkwegbridge project is. (via @robinsloan)

  1. I’m guessing you’ve never heard of Changsha — I hadn’t. It’s the 36th most populous city in the world, with a greater population than any city in the US except NYC. The scale of China’s population is incredible…16 of the most populous 50 cities in the world are in China and many Americans would struggle to name more than 3 or 4 of them.

Tags: architecture   China



This is women’s work

2016-11-30T17:08:34Z

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For a photo project called Women’s Work, Chris Crisman made portraits of women who have jobs not typically done by women in the US. In an interview at aPhotoEditor, Crisman explained the why he did the project:

I am a father of two — a 4 year old boy and a 2 year old girl. I was raised to believe that I could do whatever I wanted to when I grew up. I want pass down a similar message to my children and without caveats. I want to raise my children knowing that their dreams have no limits and that they have parents supporting them to dive into anything they feel passionate about.

Crisman shot a short film of Sadie Samuels, the Maine lobster fisherman1 pictured in the photograph above.

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  1. What’s the gender neutral alternative for fisherman? Fisherperson? Washington State uses fisher. Interestingly, Samuels calls herself a “fisherman” in the video.

Tags: Chris Crisman   gender   photography   working



A massive billion-dollar movable arch now covers the destroyed reactor at Chernobyl

2016-11-30T15:16:35Z

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A building which cost $1.5 billion and was 20 years in the making was moved into position over the highly radioactive remains of the main reactor at Chernobyl this week. The time lapse video above shows how the building was inched into place.

The new structure, which is about 500 feet long, has a span of 800 feet and is 350 feet high, is designed to last at least a century and is intended to prevent any additional spewing of toxic material from the stricken reactor.

Even with the building in place, the surrounding zone of roughly 1000 square miles will remain uninhabitable.

Tags: architecture   Chernobyl   Russia   time lapse   video



How the NY Times prepared for Castro’s death

2016-11-29T22:53:43Z

In a peek at how the media sausage is made, the NY Times has documented how the newspaper prepared for the death of Fidel Castro. For instance, they’ve had an advance obituary on hand for him since 1959, which has been revised and rewritten dozens of times before it was finally published over the weekend.

Fidel Castro’s obituary cost us more man/woman hours over the years than any piece we’ve ever run.

Every time there was a rumor of death, we’d pull the obit off the shelf, dust it off, send it back to the writer, Tony DePalma, for any necessary updates, maybe add a little more polish here and there and then send it on to be copy-edited and made ready — yet again — for publication.

Even deep into his 70s and 80s, the Cuban dictator outlived the broadsheet size of the paper and digital media formats.

One piece that didn’t make it into this weekend’s digital coverage was a four-part, 20-plus-minute-long audio slide show on Mr. Castro’s life. The audio slide show — a mostly bygone format intended to marry photos and audio in an age when slow dial-up connections couldn’t handle video — was originally produced around 2006 by Geoff McGhee, Lisa Iaboni and Eric Owles and featured narration from Anthony DePalma, who wrote The Times’s obituary.

With over 80 photos and several audio files, the slide show was managed with a custom-made program called “configurator” that lived on a single, aging Macintosh in a windowless room on the ninth floor of the Times building.

That Mac and the program it housed died 7 years before Castro did.

Update: The Miami Herald also wrote up their preparations for Castro’s death, which they called The Cuba Plan.

I have a bulging file filled with various iterations of The Cuba Plan, before we relied on a shared Google Doc.

The plan changed drastically over the decades, driven by both changes in the industry and politics on the island.

Early in our planning, the document was 60 pages long.

Fidel Castro was still healthy and in power, and we planned for a possible political revolution. We played out the most extreme scenario, espoused by many experts, of unrest in the island, and Cubans on both sides of the straits taking to the seas. We thought carefully about the multiple ways we might get reporters into Cuba, knowing that at the time the government would not permit a Miami Herald journalist on the island. One plan might even have involved renting a boat.

(via @Julisa_Marie)

Tags: Fidel Castro   journalism   Miami Herald   NY Times   obituaries



Fighting authoritarianism: 20 lessons from the 20th century

2016-11-29T21:17:51Z

Yale history professor Timothy Snyder took to Facebook to share some lessons from 20th century about how to protect our liberal democracy from fascism and authoritarianism. Snyder has given his permission to republish the list, so I’ve reproduced it in its entirety here in case something happens to the original. Americans are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience. Now is a good time to do so. Here are twenty lessons from the twentieth century, adapted to the circumstances of today. 1. Do not obey in advance. Much of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then start to do it without being asked. You’ve already done this, haven’t you? Stop. Anticipatory obedience teaches authorities what is possible and accelerates unfreedom. 2. Defend an institution. Follow the courts or the media, or a court or a newspaper. Do not speak of “our institutions” unless you are making them yours by acting on their behalf. Institutions don’t protect themselves. They go down like dominoes unless each is defended from the beginning. 3. Recall professional ethics. When the leaders of state set a negative example, professional commitments to just practice become much more important. It is hard to break a rule-of-law state without lawyers, and it is hard to have show trials without judges. 4. When listening to politicians, distinguish certain words. Look out for the expansive use of “terrorism” and “extremism.” Be alive to the fatal notions of “exception” and “emergency.” Be angry about the treacherous use of patriotic vocabulary. 5. Be calm when the unthinkable arrives. When the terrorist attack comes, remember that all authoritarians at all times either await or plan such events in order to consolidate power. Think of the Reichstag fire. The sudden disaster that requires the end of the balance of power, the end of opposition parties, and so on, is the oldest trick in the Hitlerian book. Don’t fall for it. 6. Be kind to our language. Avoid pronouncing the phrases everyone else does. Think up your own way of speaking, even if only to convey that thing you think everyone is saying. (Don’t use the internet before bed. Charge your gadgets away from your bedroom, and read.) What to read? Perhaps “The Power of the Powerless” by V’aclav Havel, 1984 by George Orwell, The Captive Mind by Czeslaw Milosz, The Rebel by Albert Camus, The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt, or Nothing is True and Everything is Possible by Peter Pomerantsev. 7. Stand out. Someone has to. It is easy, in words and deeds, to follow along. It can feel strange to do or say something different. But without that unease, there is no freedom. And the moment you set an example, the spell of the status quo is broken, and others will follow. 8. Believe in truth. To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights. 9. Investigate. Figure things out for yourself. Spend more time with long articles. Subsidize investigative journalism by subscribing to print media. Realize that some of what is on your screen is there to harm you. Bookmark PropOrNot or other sites that in[...]



Every story is the same

2016-11-29T19:22:36Z

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A few years ago, Dan Harmon broke the structure of stories down into eight basic parts:

  1. A character is in a zone of comfort,
  2. But they want something.
  3. They enter an unfamiliar situation,
  4. Adapt to it,
  5. Get what they wanted,
  6. Pay a heavy price for it,
  7. Then return to their familiar situation,
  8. Having changed.

Calling himself a “corny screenwriting guru”, this is Harmon’s attempt to simplify Joseph Campbell’s concept of the monomyth, or hero’s journey.

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.

In the video above, Will Schoder explains Harmon’s theory using a number of different stories (movies, books, TV shows, etc.) as examples, most notably the original Star Wars, which George Lucas created using Campbell’s ideas.

Tags: Dan Harmon   George Lucas   Joseph Campbell   movies   Star Wars   video   Will Schoder



Evolution at work: ivory poaching and tuskless elephants

2016-11-29T17:20:43Z

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Poachers in Africa in search of the biggest ivory tusks have altered the gene pool of African elephants in the process.

In Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique, 90 per cent of elephants were slaughtered between 1977 and 1992, during the country’s civil war. Dr Poole said that because poachers disproportionately targeted tusked animals, almost half the females over 35 years of age have no tusks, and although poaching is now under control and the population is recovering well, they are passing the tuskless gene down to their daughters: 30 per cent of female elephants born since the end of the war also do not have tusks.

“Females who are tuskless are more likely to produce tuskless offspring,” she said.

(via mr)

Tags: biology   crime   evolution   science



Is liberal democracy in trouble? “Warning signs are flashing red.”

2016-11-29T15:39:49Z

Political scientists Yascha Mounk and Roberto Stefan Foa have been doing research on the stability of contemporary liberal democracies, looking in particular at the assumption a country becomes a democracy, it will stay that way. Their conclusion? We may be in trouble: “liberal democracies around the world may be at serious risk of decline”. But since 2005, Freedom House’s index has shown a decline in global freedom each year. Is that a statistical anomaly, a result of a few random events in a relatively short period of time? Or does it indicate a meaningful pattern? Mr. Mounk and Mr. Foa developed a three-factor formula to answer that question. Mr. Mounk thinks of it as an early-warning system, and it works something like a medical test: a way to detect that a democracy is ill before it develops full-blown symptoms. The first factor was public support: How important do citizens think it is for their country to remain democratic? The second was public openness to nondemocratic forms of government, such as military rule. And the third factor was whether “antisystem parties and movements” — political parties and other major players whose core message is that the current system is illegitimate — were gaining support. Regarding that first factor, public support for democracy, their research indicates a worrying trend: younger people around the world think it’s less “essential” to live in a democracy. Younger people would also be more in favor of military rule: Support for autocratic alternatives is rising, too. Drawing on data from the European and World Values Surveys, the researchers found that the share of Americans who say that army rule would be a “good” or “very good” thing had risen to 1 in 6 in 2014, compared with 1 in 16 in 1995. That trend is particularly strong among young people. For instance, in a previously published paper, the researchers calculated that 43 percent of older Americans believed it was illegitimate for the military to take over if the government were incompetent or failing to do its job, but only 19 percent of millennials agreed. The same generational divide showed up in Europe, where 53 percent of older people thought a military takeover would be illegitimate, while only 36 percent of millennials agreed. What’s interesting is that Trump, who Mounk believes is a threat to liberal democracy in the US, drew his support from older Americans, which would seem to be a contradiction. It is also unclear if young people have always felt this way (i.e. do people appreciate democracy more as they get older?) or if this is a newly growing sentiment (i.e. people are now less appreciative of democracy, young people particularly so). Something I think about often is cultural memory and how it shifts, seen most notably on kottke.org in my mild obsession with The Great Span. Back in July, writer John Scalzi tweeted: Sometimes feels like a strong correlation between WWII passing from living memory, and autocracy seemingly getting more popular. Scalzi is on to something here, I think. Those who fought in or lived through World War II are either dead or dying. Their children, the Baby Boomers, had a very different experience in hunky dory Leave It to Beaver postwar America.1 Anyone under 50 probably doesn’t remember anything significant about the Vietnam War and anyone under 35 didn’t really experience the Cold War.2 Couple that w[...]



Come Together, a short film by Wes Anderson

2016-11-28T21:22:50Z

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Wes Anderson directed a short holiday film starring Adrien Brody for H&M. It is delightful. You can criticize the twee formality in his work,1 but this is a reminder that Anderson can bring the emotion when he wants.

  1. I mean, I love that about his stuff, but I know many don’t. Criticize away!

Tags: Adrien Brody   advertising   H&M   holidays   video   Wes Anderson



Hamilton/Beyonce mashup

2016-11-28T19:45:54Z

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A singing group delivers a tight six-minute mashup of songs by Beyonce and the hit Broadway show Hamilton. It starts a bit slow but gets better as it goes along.

Tags: Beyonce   Hamilton   music   remix   video



Voting under the influence of celebrity

2016-11-28T17:06:51Z

Dave Pell from Nextdraft on the connection between OJ Simpson and Donald Trump and how celebrity warps American minds.

By the time OJ Simpson was arrested after the infamous ride in the White Ford Bronco, it was totally impossible to imagine he’d be found not guilty.

By the time Trump reached election day, he had broken every rule of politics. He committed more campaign-ending gaffes in a week than most losing presidential campaigns during an entire run.

Both men had a fame that completely cut across all American demographics.

I thought I’d mentioned this somewhere at the time — Twitter? kottke.org? Can’t find it… — but when I watched the excellent OJ: Made in America documentary this summer, the parallels between the OJ story and Trump made me feel very uneasy. Two men, both broadly famous, both wealthy, both charming, both outcasts from their respective social groups, both misogynist abusers, both committed crimes, both gamed the American political and legal systems to get away with something that they shouldn’t have. OJ eventually got his but will Trump? Are Americans doomed to keep repeating these mistakes when it comes to celebrity?

Tags: 2016 election   celebrity   crime   Dave Pell   Donald Trump   OJ Simpson   politics



Boo, Cyber Monday! Yay, giving!

2016-11-28T15:59:29Z

The eagerly awaited kottke.org holiday gift guide for this year is coming soon (here is last year’s in the meantime), but very quickly: if you’re in the holiday shopping mood, check out these Cyβ3r M0nd@y deals: the KitchenAid 6-qt. stand mixer for $220 (60% off), the Kindle Paperwhite for $100, the Anova Precision Cooker (for easy at-home sous vide cooking) for $110, the Amazon Echo for $140, and did you know that you can get a Segway for $600 now? Remember when those were going to change how cities were built? Good times.

Bonus: this is what happens when you order any of these items…an Amazon robot scurries to fulfill it.

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A glimpse at how self-driving cars really will change how cities are built.




President Obama names 2016 Presidential Medal of Freedom recipients

2016-11-28T14:57:40Z

Lost in the shuffle over the past two weeks — with the focus on the incoming presidential administration and the Thanksgiving holiday — was President Obama’s awarding of the Presidential Medal of Freedom to 21 worthy recipients.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the Nation’s highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.

Many of the honorees have dedicated their lives to science, technology, and social justice, including:

Margaret H. Hamilton led the team that created the on-board flight software for NASA’s Apollo command modules and lunar modules.

Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, known as “Amazing Grace” and “the first lady of software,” was at the forefront of computers and programming development from the 1940s through the 1980s.

Bill and Melinda Gates established the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2000 to help all people lead healthy, productive lives. In developing countries, the foundation focuses on improving people’s health and giving them the chance to lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the National Basketball Association’s all-time leading scorer who helped lead the Los Angeles Lakers to five championships and the Milwaukee Bucks to another.

Ellen DeGeneres is an award-winning comedian who has hosted her popular daytime talk show, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, since 2003 with her trademarked humor, humility, and optimism.

Maya Lin is an artist and designer who is known for her work in sculpture and landscape art. She designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. and since then has pursued a celebrated career in both art and architecture.

You can watch the full event here or just catch the highlights:

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Obama has made the most awards of the medal by any President since it was established by President Kennedy in 1963. Notable recipients though the years include Thurgood Marshall, Kennedy himself (posthumously), Cesar Chavez, Mother Teresa, Aretha Franklin, Stephen Hawking, Maya Angelou, Mies van der Rohe, Lucille Ball, Yo-Yo Ma, Julia Child, and Rosa Parks.

It is important these days to remember the good work, the good deeds, and the good fight being fought by many creative, fierce, dynamic, and rational people who need our help and attention more than ever.

Tags: Barack Obama   politics   video



Why chess has failed to catch on as a spectator sport

2016-11-28T14:10:09Z

Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin are competing in the FIDE World Chess Championship Match in NYC and are currently tied going into the final match. By all accounts, it’s been a tense competition. But watching chess being played in real time is perhaps only for die-hard fans. Here’s video of Karjakin thinking about a move for 25 minutes:

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And here’s Carlsen thinking about Karjakin thinking about the same move for 25 minutes:

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(via @juririm)

Tags: chess   games   Magnus Carlsen   Sergey Karjakin   video



A world map of every country’s tourism slogan

2016-11-23T21:38:44Z

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A site called FamilyBreakFinder produced a world map with every country’s tourism slogan on it. A few of my favorite slogans:

Netherlands: The original cool
Colombia: Colombia is magical realism
El Salvador: The 45 minute country
Slovenia: I feel sLOVEnia
Cape Verde: No stress
Spain: #spainindetail
Morocco: Much mor
Bhutan: Happiness is a place
India: Incredible !ndia

Some of these countries should ask their ad agencies for their money back. (via @ftrain)

Tags: advertising   maps   travel



An animated interpretation of The Garden of Earthly Delights

2016-11-23T19:53:00Z

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The MOTI Museum in The Netherlands commissioned Studio Smack to interpret the middle panel of Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights and they delivered a beautiful high-definition animation. See also an interactive version of the real Garden of Earthly Delights. (via waxy)

Tags: art   Hieronymus Bosch   video



Five Steps to Tyranny

2016-11-23T16:42:18Z

width="640" height="360" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/jk2-ZXAWkfg?rel=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen> In 2000, the BBC broadcast an hour-long documentary called Five Steps to Tyranny, a look at how ordinary people can do monstrous things in the presence of authority. Horrific things happen in the world we live in. We would like to believe only evil people carry out atrocities. But tyrannies are created by ordinary people, like you and me. [Colonel Bob Stewart:] “I’d never been to the former Yugoslavia before in my life, so what actually struck me about the country was how beautiful it was, how nice people were, and yet how ghastly they could behave.” The five steps are: “us” and “them” (prejudice and the formation of a dominant group) obey orders (the tendency to follow orders, especially from those with authority) do “them” harm (obeying an authority who commands actions against our conscience) “stand up” or “stand by” (standing by as harm occurs) exterminate (the elimination of the “other”) To illustrate each step, the program uses social psychology experiments and explorations like Jane Elliott’s blue eyes/brown eyes exercise on discrimination, the Stanford prison experiment conducted by Philip Zimbardo (who offers commentary throughout the program), and experiments by Stanley Milgram on obedience, including his famous shock experiment, in which a participant (the “teacher”) is directed to shock a “learner” for giving incorrect answers. The teacher is told to administer an electric shock every time the learner makes a mistake, increasing the level of shock each time. There were 30 switches on the shock generator marked from 15 volts (slight shock) to 450 (danger — severe shock). The “learners” were in on the experiment and weren’t actually shocked but were told to react as if they were. The results? 65% (two-thirds) of participants (i.e. teachers) continued to the highest level of 450 volts. All the participants continued to 300 volts. The program also shows how real-life tyrannies have developed in places like Rwanda, Burma, and Bosnia. From a review of the show in The Guardian: But there is no doubt about the programme’s bottom line: tyrannies happen because ordinary people are surprisingly willing to do tyranny’s dirty work. Programmes like this can show such things with great vividness — and there is news footage from Bosnia, or from Rwanda, or from Burma to back it up with terrible clarity. It isn’t clear why the majority is so often compliant, but the implication is that democracy should always be grateful to the protesters, the members of the awkward squad, the people who challenge authority. But don’t take it for granted that the awkward squad must be a force for good: in Germany, in the 1920s, Hitler was an outsider, a protester, a member of the awkward squad. When he came to power in 1932, he found that German medical professors and biologists had already installed a racial ideology for him, one which had already theorised about the elimination of sick or disabled German children, and the rejectio[...]



Silence, a new film by Martin Scorsese

2016-11-23T15:00:56Z

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It’s been three years since The Wolf of Wall Street and Martin Scorsese is finally coming out with a new film. Based on the novel by Shusaku Endo, Silence is the story of a pair of Jesuit priests who travel to Japan in the 17th century to find a third priest and to convert the Japanese to Christianity. Adam Driver, Liam Neeson, and Andrew Garfield star.

Two years ago, Tony Zhou made an episode of Every Frame a Painting called Martin Scorsese - The Art of Silence.

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Since Scorsese has been working on making Silence for over 20 years, Zhou’s video must have been a little wink to the director’s true fans.

Tags: Martin Scorsese   movies   Silence   Tony Zhou   trailer   video



Mesmerizing mushroom time lapse from Planet Earth II

2016-11-22T23:09:28Z

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Damn the Brits! First Brexit paves the way for Trump (ok, not entirely accurate) and now they are currently enjoying Planet Earth II with the sublime David Attenborough while we Americans have to wait until late January 2017, at which point there might not even be a planet Earth on which to watch nature frolic on our living room high-definition displays. But — Jesus where was I? Oh yes: for now we can watch this clip from the Jungles episode of Planet Earth II about fungi, including some great time lapse footage of mushrooms growing, some of which glow in the dark! Also from Planet Earth II: the incredible iguana/snake chase scene and bears scratching themselves on trees. (via colossal)

Tags: David Attenborough   Planet Earth   time lapse   TV   video



The trans community of Christopher Street

2016-11-22T22:01:43Z

Over a number of recent summers, well-known portrait photographer Mark Seliger has been documenting the transgender community that gathers on Christopher St in the West Village. Since Seliger’s website is slow and bloated, I’d recommend checking out coverage of the photos on The Advocate, The New Yorker, American Photo, and PDN. I lived on Christopher Street for several years1 and definitely recognize a couple of people in Seliger’s photos. It was in the Village, on Christopher Street and the nearby piers, where many trans and queer people first shared space with others like them. For generations, these places provided mirrors for those who rarely saw reflections of themselves. On Christopher Street, there were multitudes of potential selves: transgender, transsexual, non-binary, genderqueer, femme, butch, cross-dresser, drag king or queen, and other gender identities and sexual orientations that challenge social norms. Seliger has collected the photos into a book, On Christopher Street: Transgender Stories and the photos will be on display at 231 Projects in Chelsea until early January. What an amazing and challenging place to live. While the rest of Manhattan (and the West Village) was either gentrified or gentrifying quickly, on Christopher St, you could still find aspects of “old New York” some long-time residents are so nostalgic for. When I lived there (roughly 2009-2014), it was still very much a place where LGBTQ+ people (especially those of color) could come and be their authentic selves with other members of their community, an opportunity denied them in their neighborhoods in Queens or Jersey City. But there was also crime: people openly selling drugs on the corner, robberies, open prostitution, anti-gay violence, and every single weekend from mid-spring to mid-fall, there was property damage up and down the street from visitors absolutely trashing the neighborhood. In response to the crime, the NYPD basically set up a command center on the street with mobile patrol towers and massive lights. Some summer Saturday nights felt like a war zone.↩ Tags: LGBT   Mark Seliger   NYC   photography [...]



The 100 most influential images of all time

2016-11-22T18:59:08Z

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Time Magazine has selected the 100 most influential photos of all time, from the first permanent photograph taken (in 1826) to the heartbreaking photo of the body of a 3-year-old refugee washed up on a beach from last year. As you might expect, many of the images are tough to view, but history and our good conscience compels us not to look away.

I was pleased to see Josef Koudelka’s photo Invasion of Prague included (it’s the one above with the wristwatch); it’s one of my favorites.

Josef Koudelka, a young Moravian-born engineer who had been taking wistful and gritty photos of Czech life, was in the capital when the soldiers arrived. He took pictures of the swirling turmoil and created a groundbreaking record of the invasion that would change the course of his nation. The most seminal piece includes a man’s arm in the foreground, showing on his wristwatch a moment of the Soviet invasion with a deserted street in the distance. It beautifully encapsulates time, loss and emptiness — and the strangling of a society.

The photos are also available in book form.

Tags: best of   Josef Koudelka   lists   photography



Can hypothermia save lives in the trauma center?

2016-11-22T16:38:18Z

Nicola Twilley reports on a relatively new technique being used in a Baltimore trauma center: freezing trauma victims to give the doctors working on them more time to save their lives.

When this patient loses his pulse, the attending surgeon will, as usual, crack his chest open and clamp the descending aorta. But then, instead of trying to coax the heart back into activity, the surgeon will start pumping the body full of ice-cold saline at a rate of at least a gallon a minute. Within twenty minutes (depending on the size of the patient, the number of wounds, and the amount of blood lost), the patient’s brain temperature, measured using a probe in the ear or nose, will sink to somewhere in the low fifties Fahrenheit.

At this point, the patient, his circulatory system filled with icy salt water, will have no blood, no pulse, and no brain activity. He will remain in this state of suspended animation for up to an hour, while surgeons locate the bullet holes or stab wounds and sew them up. Then, after as much as sixty minutes without a heartbeat or a breath, the patient will be resuscitated.

Brain damage is a risk — as is, you know, dying from hypothermia — but there are many instances of people surviving even after their hearts stop for an hour or two.

Tags: medicine   Nicola Twilley



Casey Neistat ends his vlog

2016-11-22T14:32:30Z

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For the past year and a half, Casey Neistat has been putting out a daily 10-minute video blog about his day. After more than 500 episodes, Neistat announced that he’s hanging up his vblogging spurs to pursue other projects. In his final video, he discusses the complacency of success and the difficulty of advancing your career without taking creative risks, something many of us can identify with.

What [the vlog] hasn’t been doing is challenging me. It hasn’t been the creative fistfight that I want and need every single day.

I’m definitely a fan and can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.

Update: Ah, well that explains it: CNN Acquires Social-Video Startup Beme, Co-Founded by YouTube Star Casey Neistat.

CNN has acquired video-sharing app startup Beme, co-founded by popular YouTube creator Casey Neistat and Matt Hackett, and will invest in the team to launch a new standalone media brand.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed. CNN said the new venture that it’s forming out of the acquisition - aimed at reaching millennial viewers with the street cred of Neistat’s reporting and commentary - will launch in the summer of 2017. All 11 of Beme’s employees will join CNN; the cable news network will be shutting down Beme, which had garnered more than 1 million downloads.

Tags: Casey Neistat   video



The Atlas of Design

2016-11-21T20:56:30Z

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The North American Cartographic Information Society has published the third volume of The Atlas of Design, a book consisting of “beautiful and inspiring maps from around the world”.

National Geographic took a look at some of the maps included in the book.

The striking panorama above of Denali and the Alaska Range was created by draping satellite imagery over a three-dimensional model of the terrain. Brooke Marston, a cartographer at the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, was inspired by the Austrian artist Heinrich Berann, who is famed for his beautiful panoramas of mountain ranges.

While Berann took some artistic license with the precise location and positioning of mountains in his panoramas, Marston’s map is true to the geography. The oblique, bird’s-eye view emphasizes the sheer size of the mountains while maintaining a closeness with the viewer. “Good oblique mapping can transport the viewer straight into the landscape,” Elmer says. “This map makes me feel lost among the jagged, cold, majestic mountains just looking at it.”

Tags: books   design   maps   The Atlas of Design



NASA’s analysis of seemingly impossible engine: it works

2016-11-21T18:52:22Z

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NASA has published their highly anticipated and peer-reviewed analysis of the EM Drive and they’ve concluded the engine works despite appearing to violate Newton’s third law of motion.

In case you’ve missed the hype, the EM Drive, or Electromagnetic Drive, is a propulsion system first proposed by British inventor Roger Shawyer back in 1999.

Instead of using heavy, inefficient rocket fuel, it bounces microwaves back and forth inside a cone-shaped metal cavity to generate thrust.

According to Shawyer’s calculations, the EM Drive could be so efficient that it could power us to Mars in just 70 days.

But, there’s a not-small problem with the system. It defies Newton’s third law, which states that everything must have an equal and opposite reaction.

According to the law, for a system to produce thrust, it has to push something out the other way. The EM Drive doesn’t do this.

Yet in test after test it continues to work. Last year, NASA’s Eagleworks Laboratory team got their hands on an EM Drive to try to figure out once and for all what was going on.

There’s a lot of skepticism around this project, but NASA’s review is definitely a boost to the EM Drive’s credibility.

Update: Just to reiterate, even with this latest paper, there is still skepticism about the EM Drive.

In the end, we can’t conclude that this is a null result, nor can we excitedly say that it works. The sad truth is that this paper is not much better than the researchers’ last one, and it doesn’t actually have enough detail to let us fully evaluate the data. Nor does the paper have enough data to allow a conclusion in the absence of a model. And despite mention of a model in the paper, any model that exists is very well hidden.

Also a clue that the science isn’t quite there on this one yet: very few mainstream science outlets covered this. When the NY Times picks this up and gets prominent physicists on the record about the thruster’s promise, that’s when you’ll know something’s up. Until then, remain skeptical. (via @paudo)

Tags: NASA   physics   science



Actors’ movie accents, rated

2016-11-21T16:52:09Z

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Erik Singer is a dialect coach who works with actors to perfect different accents and dialects. In this video, he quickly analyzes the performances of 32 actors based on their use of accents. Pretty fascinating to watch. He singles out Philip Seymour Hoffman’s portrayal of Truman Capote as an exemplary use of the proper accent. High marks also go to Kate Winslet doing a Polish accent, Idris Elba’s South African accent while portraying Nelson Mandela (and his Bal’more accent in The Wire), and Cate Blanchett playing Katherine Hepburn in The Aviator.

Nicolas Cage in Con Air and Tom Cruise in Far and Away? Well, let’s just say they couldn’t pahk the cah in Hahvahd Yahd.

Update: Actress Sarah Jones takes a slightly different approach to speaking in different accents. Instead of aiming for a particular generalized dialect, she picks out a particular person to impersonate.

Let’s say you want to sound like a Trinidadian woman, as Ms. Jones does in her show. She recommends you watch YouTube clips of speakers at council meetings in Trinidad until you find the person you most want to sound like. If you can meet your subject in person, it will help make your goal much easier to reach.

“I ask them to speak something very slowly three times in a row and then I have them say it at normal speed the way they’d say it three times in a row,” she said. “I have them say it the way they’d say it in school as compared to how they’d say it to a friend.”

Be sure to play the embedded audio clips of Jones speaking as her different characters. And you can watch her in action in this TED Talk:

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Tags: Erik Singer   language   movies   Sarah Jones   video