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Updated: 2017-12-14T21:32:56Z

 



How candles are made (from 1963)

2017-12-14T21:32:56Z

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From British Pathé, a short video from 1963 on how candles are made.

Oh yes, candles make the whole of humanity into one big understanding family.

Candles! I can’t believe the answer has been staring us in the face this whole time. (via the morning news)

Tags: how to   video



Common objects painstaking organized into patterns

2017-12-14T19:29:52Z

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On his Instagram account, Adam Hillman arranges everyday objects into patterns. Prints are available. Related: Always. Be. Knolling. (via colossal)

Tags: Adam Hillman   art



The Fear Box (with John Boyega & Gwendoline Christie)

2017-12-14T17:10:34Z

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Vanity Fair does this thing where they get people to put their hands into a box to touch an unknown object. They call it The Fear Box. The latest installment features John Boyega & Gwendoline Christie from Star Wars: The Last Jedi confronting their fear of snakes, lizards, BB-8s, and plush Chewie toys. If you need a pick-me-up today, this should do the trick.

Tags: Gwendoline Christie   John Boyega   Star Wars   video



Philip Seymour Hoffman, addiction, and being “all in”

2017-12-14T15:09:36Z

In the latest issue of Vogue, Mimi O’Donnell reflects on the death of her husband, Philip Seymour Hoffman, his addiction, and their family.

The first time I met Phil, there was instant chemistry between us. It was the spring of 1999, and he was interviewing me to be the costume designer for a play he was directing — his first — for the Labyrinth Theater Company, In Arabia We’d All Be Kings. Even though I’d spent the five years since moving to New York designing costumes for Off-Broadway plays and had just been hired by Saturday Night Live, I was nervous, because I was in awe of his talent. I’d seen him in Boogie Nights and Happiness, and he blew me out of the water with his willingness to make himself so vulnerable and to play fucked-up characters with such honesty and heart.

I remember walking into the interview and anxiously handing Phil my résumé. He studied it for a few moments, then looked up at me and, with complete sincerity and admiration, said, “You have more credits than I do.” I felt myself relax. He wanted to put me at ease and let me know that we would be working together as equals. After the meeting, I called my sister on one of those hilariously giant cell phones of the time, and after I had raved about Phil, she announced, “You’re going to marry him.”

Tags: crying at work   death   Mimi O’Donnell   Philip Seymour Hoffman



The Fantastic Masculinity of Newt Scamander

2017-12-13T21:49:44Z

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In an episode of Pop Culture Detective, Jonathan McIntosh discusses The Fantastic Masculinity of Newt Scamander. Scamander is the hero of the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them movie that takes place in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Many reviews of the film found Scamander to be a weak hero, but McIntosh argues that the character offers a view of masculinity that we don’t often see in movies, “a gentle empathetic version of heroic masculinity”. Scamander is not The Chosen One (like Harry or Luke Skywalker)…he’s a male hero who is emotional and nurturing and whose strengths are vulnerability, sincerity, and sensitivity.

It’s funny, when I was reading Harry Potter with my kids, we talked a lot about the flaws in Harry’s heroism, e.g. how his hotheadedness frequently put him and his friends into danger. But I didn’t notice how much of strong and vulnerable hero Scamander was. I’m gonna have to go back and watch this again.

Tags: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them   Harry Potter   Jonathan McIntosh   movies   video



Drone shots of NYC

2017-12-13T19:49:47Z

Among Humza Deas’ hundreds of shots of NYC on his Instagram are a collection of drone shots of the city taken in the fall.

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I know that last one has been filtered to within an inch of its life and I normally don’t cotton to those sorts of shenanigans, but this one makes me feel so fricking autumnal that I’ll allow it.

Tags: Humza Deas   NYC   photography



Sibilant Snakelikes

2017-12-13T17:45:38Z

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For his new game, Sibilant Snakelikes, Pippin Barr remade several games (Super Mario Bros, Missile Command, Ms Pacman, Minesweeper) using the gameplay mechanics from the classic cellphone game Snake. Says Barr about making the game:

Making the game has been a continuation of my interest in thinking about how the language of videogames works to express ideas. It strikes me that one useful experimental approach to understanding this is to “translate” one game’s expression into the language of another game. In trying to work out how the very simple mechanics and concepts of Snake can convey different sets of ideas (fighting a colossus, eating dots and running away from ghosts, playing soccer) I was forced to grapple fairly deeply with making reasoned design choices. The translation process doesn’t necessarily lead to “good games” and certainly not to games that are evocative in the same way as the originals, but I do think it shows us something about how a game like Snake can communicate more complex ideas without really changing it very much mechanically (there are exceptions to this of course). And then on the flip side it also shows us how moving the source games into the “Snake universe” alters those games and leads to new gameplay possibilities (or impossibilities, for that matter).

The code of the game is available on Github and is free to adapt and share for non-commercial purposes under a Creative Commons license. See also Snakisms, a philosophical take on Snake by Barr.

Tags: Pippin Barr   video games



An interactive map of debt in America

2017-12-13T15:35:58Z

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The Urban Institute has built an interactive map for exploring debt in America.

Credit can be a lifeline during emergencies and a bridge to education and homeownership. But debt-which can stem from credit or unpaid bills-often burdens families and communities and exacerbates wealth inequality. This map shows the geography of debt in America at the national, state, and county levels.

I’d love to hear why the “share with any debt in collections” is so relatively low in the Upper Midwest, Minnesota in particular.

Update: Unsurprisingly, health insurance coverage is a significant factor in American debt…and Minnesota has a low rate of medical debt in collections along with a relatively low rate of uninsured. This 2016 press release from MN Department of Health provides some clues as to why the uninsured rate is so comparatively low. (via @yodaui)

Tags: economics   healthcare   maps   USA



The best design books that aren’t specifically about design

2017-12-12T22:07:24Z

The other day, Google Ventures’ Daniel Burka asked his followers for suggestions on the best design books that aren’t about design. Burka offered up How Buildings Learn by Stewart Brand as his selection. Agreed! Here are the responses I found most interesting (some of which actually are about design, more or less):

The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs, a reminder to put humans at the center of city planning.

Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud. I read this ages ago and still think about it all the time.

The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker, a book that takes place entirely on an escalator ride.

Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull, about leadership, creativity, and storytelling at Pixar.

Read Burka’s summary of the thread at Medium (please clap).

Tags: books   Daniel Burka   design   lists



The McDonald’s Quarter Pounder with Cheese is a lie. A delicious lie.

2017-12-12T20:41:06Z

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Some facts about the McDonald’s Quarter Pounder with Cheese:

1. As you can see in the photo above, purportedly taken in 1974, there was originally a Quarter Pounder without cheese, which was scrubbed from the menu at some undetermined point (even though you can still order one sans cheese at the counter).

2. The patty on the Quarter Pounder with Cheese does not weigh a quarter of a pound. It weighs 4.25 oz after it was subtly micro-supersized in 2015.

3. The 4.25 oz is actually the pre-cooked weight anyway. The on-bun weight is more like 3 oz.

4. When I’m traveling a significant distance by car, on a trip that requires stopping for food, my go-to meal is a Quarter Pounder with Cheese, fries, and a Coke. Don’t judge.

5. The Quarter Pounder has been discontinued in Japan. No one knows why.

6. In the US, the Quarter Pounder comes with pickles, raw onion, ketchup, and mustard. But in NYC, they omit the mustard. That sound you heard was me slapping my forehead after learning this just now after years of not being able to figure out why my Quarter Pounders sometimes had mustard and sometimes didn’t. (I prefer them without.)

Tags: food   McDonald’s   restaurants



The Not Yorker

2017-12-12T18:31:13Z

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The Not Yorker is a blog collecting cover art rejected by the New Yorker. If you’re an illustrator who’s had a cover rejected, they’re soliciting submissions. (via the morning news)

Tags: art   illustration   magazines   The New Yorker



This is an incredibly satisfying video

2017-12-12T15:58:45Z

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A wheel comes off of a car during a race and behaves in an amazingly tidy way until…well, I won’t spoil it for you but watch until the wheel stops. The polar opposite of this video of the most unsatisfying things in the world.

Tags: video



Life Advice from Teen Experts

2017-12-11T23:23:20Z

The California Sunday Magazine gathered some advice from teens on topics like how to get people to care about something, how to cook with a blowtorch, and how to throw a good dance party. Here are excerpts from two of my favorites. How to meet new people:

If you’re trying to get into a new community, just fake it till you make it. Don’t have a mind-set of, Oh, I’m the new guy. No one’s going to want to be my friend. Fake a fun mind-set until you can be that fun, cool person without a second thought.

And how to organize a political rally (in one week):

I had to do most of the logistical planning during school. A lot of the people who were emailing me to help were from organizations, and they could only talk during their lunch breaks. Which would be right around 11:30, during math class. So I would be like, “Hey, can I go to the bathroom?” Then I’m in a bathroom stall on the phone — “Yeah, so can you bring, like, six cases of water and, like, two cases of granola bars?” At the end of the day, I would go home and do my homework, and the next morning, I would wake up and have a phone call at 7 before class.

Tags: how to



The Dodge of the Art

2017-12-11T22:34:37Z

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For his work Nowhere and Everywhere at the Same Time, William Forsythe sets in motion hundreds of pendulums in a room and invites people to walk among them, attempting to avoid collisions.

Suspended from automated grids, more than 400 pendulums are activated to initiate a sweeping 15 part counterpoint of tempi, spacial juxtaposition and gradients of centrifugal force which offers the spectator a constantly morphing labyrinth of significant complexity. The spectators are free to attempt a navigation this statistically unpredictable environment, but are requested to avoid coming in contact with any of the swinging pendulums. This task, which automatically initiates and alerts the spectators innate predictive faculties, produces a lively choreography of manifold and intricate avoidance strategies.

When I read the preview for the video at The Kid Should See This, I was expecting heavy brass pendulums cutting large swaths through the room, not unlike the first challenge in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where “only the penitent man will pass”. That would have been fun but perhaps too dangerous and not art.

Tags: art   video   William Forsythe



A Bite of China

2017-12-11T17:43:20Z

A Bite of China is documentary TV series on food and cooking in China. Writing for The Guardian, Oliver Thring called it “the best TV show I’ve ever seen about food” and one commenter called it “the Planet Earth of food”. While A Bite of China predates it by 3 years, Chef’s Table might be a better comparison. Here’s a trailer:

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China has a large population and the richest and most varied natural landscapes in the world. Plateaus, forests, lakes and coastlines. These various geographical features and climate conditions have helped to form and preserve widely different species. No other country has so many potential food sources as China. By collecting, fetching, digging, hunting and fishing, people have acquired abundant gifts from nature. Traveling through the four seasons, we’ll discover a story about nature and the people behind delicious Chinese foods.

The first season is available on Amazon Prime (with English subtitles) but you can also find it on YouTube at varying levels of quality with and without subtitles and dubbed in English. (thx, seamus)

Tags: A Bite of China   China   food   trailers   TV   video



The 2017 Hubble Space Telescope Advent Calendar

2017-12-11T15:09:00Z

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From Alan Taylor at In Focus, the 10th anniversary installment of the Hubble Space Telescope Advent Calendar. One image taken by the Hubble for each day in December leading up to Dec 25th. Here’s Taylor’s caption for the image above:

A Caterpillar in the Carina Nebula. Scattered across the enormous Carina nebula are numerous dense clumps of cosmic gas and dust called Bok globules, including this one, which resembles a huge glowing caterpillar. First described by by astronomer Bart Bok, the globules are relatively small, dark, and cold regions made up of molecular hydrogen, carbon oxides, helium, and dust. The glowing edge of the caterpillar indicates that it is being photoionized by the hottest stars in the surrounding cluster. It has been hypothesized that stars may form inside these dusty cocoons.

Tags: astronomy   Hubble telescope   photography   science   space



The trailer for Spielberg’s Ready Player One

2017-12-11T00:18:34Z

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The first full-length trailer for Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Ready Player One is out. I enjoyed the book, but the teaser trailer was awful. This trailer’s much better and it’ll be interesting to see late Spielberg’s remix of early Spielberg in action.

Tags: books   movies   Ready Player One   remix   Steven Spielberg   trailers   video



A moment of silence, please

2017-12-08T21:05:50Z

This morning, my friend Anil Dash tweeted this question out to his followers (here’s my incomplete answer):

Who is a person (not counting family) that opened doors for you in your career when they didn’t have to? Anytime is a good time to show gratitude!

Yesterday, I finished this podcast episode about Mister Rogers and they talked about when he made public appearances, either as an entertainer or a minister, he would often begin by asking the audience for a moment of silence to think about “the people who have helped you become who you are, those who cared about you and wanted what was best for you in life”. He even did it at the Emmys when accepting a Lifetime Achievement Award:

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I’ve been thinking about Fred Rogers a lot lately…how much I miss him, how much I learned from him, and how much the world could benefit from his perspective and example right now. After this week/month/year, I think we could all use some of Mister Rogers’ radically compassionate humanism. So, if you wish, take a moment right now in silence to think about those who have cared about you and helped you become the person that you are.

 

 

 

 

 

Have a good weekend. I’ll see you back here next week.

Tags: Anil Dash   Fred Rogers   video



The neon glow of Tokyo modified car culture

2017-12-08T19:09:17Z

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New Zealand drift racer Mike Whiddett recently travelled to Japan to explore Tokyo’s “extraordinary after-dark modified auto scene”. He found people making California-style lowriders, Dekotora (my favorite, if only for the sheer spectacle), illegally modified cars, and a man who says with a straight face that “driving an unmodified Lamborghini is boring”.

What’s interesting is that more than one of these guys in the video repeated some variation of “I don’t care what anyone thinks about me”. I….don’t believe you? If there’s one thing most humans care deeply about, it’s what other people think about them, particularly when you’re driving million-dollar, pulsing-neon supercars around the world’s most populous city.

Tags: cars   Japan   Mike Whiddett   video



Area man uses telephone to fight back against sleazy debt collectors

2017-12-08T17:23:32Z

When Andrew Therrien told off a sleazy debt collector for calling about a debt he didn’t owe, the collector called back to threaten violence to Therrien and his wife. Therrien got mad and reached for the most potent weapon in his arsenal: the telephone. Over the course of the next two years, he charmed and bullied his way into the debt collection world in order to learn how it worked and how to take it down.

When the scammers started to hound Therrien, he hounded them right back. Obsessed with payback, he spent hundreds of hours investigating the dirty side of debt. By day he was still promoting ice cream brands and hiring models for liquor store tastings. But in his spare time, he was living out a revenge fantasy. He befriended loan sharks and blackmailed crooked collectors, getting them to divulge their suppliers, and then their suppliers above them. In method, Therrien was like a prosecutor flipping gangster underlings to get to lieutenants and then the boss. In spirit, he was a bit like Liam Neeson’s vigilante character in the movie Taken — using unflagging aggression to obtain scraps of information and reverse-engineer a criminal syndicate. Therrien didn’t punch anyone in the head, of course. He was simply unstoppable over the phone.

Great story…read the whole thing. This is perhaps not your takeaway from it, but reading this, I wonder how much different my life would be if I knew how to talk on the telephone 1/10th as effectively as someone like Therrien.

Tags: Andrew Therrien   telephony



Leadership & business lessons gleaned from running an “open-source soccer” club

2017-12-08T15:56:31Z

My pal Dennis Crowley, co-founder of Foursquare, has somehow found the time to also co-found a NPSL soccer club in Kingston, NY called Kingston Stockade FC. The club is only two years old, but they won their division this year, energized a community around the team, and have nearly reached the financial break-even point for 2017…you can read all about it in Crowley’s recap of how the team did in 2017. (And you can read his past writing about building the club from scratch.) According to another club owner, year two was supposed to be more difficult than the first year…but that was not Crowley’s experience: About a year ago, I remember talking to another owner of another club and he said something along the lines of “I know you had a great first season, but the second season is the hardest” — e.g. the novelty will wear off, the crowds will thin, etc. I remember being scared shitless by this piece of advice but our club experienced quite the opposite. Our overall attendance numbers were up (despite us having one fewer match on the schedule) and our biggest crowds were considerably larger than last year’s bigger crowds (and we hit our goal of 1000+ fans/game… twice!) That stuck with me as I read the rest of the piece (which is written in plain, straightforward prose that’s perfectly readable even if you aren’t into soccer or business). I began gathering reasons as to why Stockade FC has thrived when other clubs might how found it difficult and framed them as lessons for anyone who runs a business or is in a leadership position. 1. The first thing is Crowley’s obvious enthusiasm and passion for soccer, starting a business, and his Kingston community (he and his family split their time between Kingston and NYC). No specific excerpt for this one (aside from this photo)…it’s infused throughout everything he’s written about the experience. 2. Be relentless. Sweat the details. Track everything you can. Look for opportunities everywhere to increase revenue and decrease expenses. Be practical. This is just one example of many: Our hotel costs were ZERO because we designed our schedule so that we would not have an overnight trip. If you remember from last year, we did a 3 day / 2 night / 2 match trip through New Hampshire and Maine (aka: 2 nights in a hotel + 3 meals * 14 rooms). Dropping this trip from the schedule saved us a fortune. To say this another way: Our current business model (tickets/sponsors/merch) supports “day-trips by bus” and not “overnight trips and/or flights”. 3. Look for opportunities to build and grow from above: With that said, and before we get real deep into Stockade FC data, I’m happy to share that this past weekend I was elected to the NPSL’s Board of Directors at our league’s Annual Operating Meeting (AOM). I am now one of 12 Board Members (and one of 2 representatives of the Northeast Region) operating under a two-year term. The Board Seat gets me a little closer to the bigger-picture decision making and the longer-team strategic planning for our league. It is literally the “seat at the table” I was referring to above and I’m excited to get back to work helping to build from the bottom up. 4. Look for opportunities to build and grow from below: This is important to the club because a break-even club can operate forever. And this is important to me because I know that if we we can keep Stockade FC going[...]



Universal Basic Income explained

2017-12-07T21:48:26Z

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In their distinctive style, Kurzgesagt tries to explain the concepts behind and pros & cons of Universal Basic Income in just 10 minutes. In US, UBI would be a massive change to how our economy and society functions, so much so that it’s challenging to predict what the effects would be. Nonlinear systems, yo!

Update: Aw dammit… I totally forgot to connect the part of the video where they talk about the non-monetary value of work — which is a worry of UBI critics — to something that Ludicorp (the small company that built Flickr and sold to Yahoo! in the mid-2000s) had on the company’s about page. It was a passage from Disclosing New Worlds: Entrepreneurship, Democratic Action and the Cultivation of Solidarity by Charles Spinosa, Fernando Flores & Hubert Dreyfus:

Business owners do not normally work for money either. They work for the enjoyment of their competitive skill, in the context of a life where competing skillfully makes sense. The money they earn supports this way of life. The same is true of their businesses. One might think that they view their businesses as nothing more than machines to produce profits, since they do closely monitor their accounts to keep tabs on those profits.

But this way of thinking replaces the point of the machine’s activity with a diagnostic test of how well it is performing. Normally, one senses whether one is performing skillfully. A basketball player does not need to count baskets to know whether the team as a whole is in flow. Saying that the point of business is to produce profit is like saying that the whole point of playing basketball is to make as many baskets as possible. One could make many more baskets by having no opponent.

The game and styles of playing the game are what matter because they produce identities people care about. Likewise, a business develops an identity by providing a product or a service to people. To do that it needs capital, and it needs to make a profit, but no more than it needs to have competent employees or customers or any other thing that enables production to take place. None of this is the goal of the activity.

Tags: economics   video



The 2017 kottke.org Holiday Gift Guide

2017-12-07T17:28:47Z

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. Like I wrote in 2016, this year has not been the easiest for many, making it difficult to muster a festive mood. But if you’re determined to give to your loved ones and to those in need, maybe this guide will help you. Let’s get to it! Giving to charity and those in need is always first on the list here. Personally, this past year I’ve spread my giving out across the year with monthly recurring donations…mostly local stuff but also the ACLU and other national orgs that are fighting for the rights of women, people of color, and immigrants. If you’re looking for opportunities to give, you can check GiveWell and Charity Navigator so that you don’t end up sending your money down a hole (e.g. The Red Cross). VolunteerMatch has extensive listings of holiday volunteer opportunities in the US and you can directly help those in your community by donating your time and money to the local food shelf or contributing to holiday toy drives. This weekend, the kids and I are heading to the store to select some items for Toys for Tots. Hands down, the best gift guide for kids is from the excellent The Kid Should See This. Like last year, I had my kids scroll through the list to look for favorites. My 10-year-old son selected this 20g sample of gallium and Space Racers: Make Your Own Paper Rockets. My 8-year-old daughter chose the littleBits Star Wars Droid Inventor Kit and the Kano Pixel Kit. Me? The Kano Computer Kit looks cool as hell. The Accidental Shop is a collection of products I’ve previously linked to on kottke.org. Lots and lots and lots of good stuff there. If someone in your life somehow doesn’t have an Instant Pot or an Anova Sous Vide Precision Cooker, now is your chance. I used my Instant Pot just the other day (in saute mode) to make this delicious chili. Or if those boxes are already checked, perhaps this small-but-powerful portable pizza oven from Uuni…it’s capable of heating to 932°F and can cook a pizza in 60 seconds! The sequel to the awesome Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls is out: Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls 2, “featuring the adventures of extraordinary women from Nefertiti to Beyoncé”. My pal Austin Kleon recommends buying his books (Show Your Work! & Steal Like an Artist) but also this waterproof notepad for taking notes when in-shower inspiration strikes. Whenever I need to buy something for my home, Wirecutter is always my first (and often only) stop. Their collection of gift guides is characteristically helpful. A couple of things that stood out to me: Tokaido, a Japanese board game with a relaxing concept: “whoever has the chillest vacation wins”, this wireless phone charger from Samsung (which works just fine with my iPhone X), and this Nickelodeon slime-making kit. Oh, and I’m coveting their pick for the best 4K TV…I really want to watch Dunkirk, Blade Runner 2049, Planet Earth II, and Blue Planet II in all their 4K glory at home. Pixelated tea towels designed by the legendary Susan Kare? Ok, yes. More available here. The 2017 Engineering Gift Guide from the engineering department at Purdue University is the only guide I’ve found that lists the research papers used when preparing the list (like “Gende[...]



In 90 seconds, Penn & Teller show why vaccination is great

2017-12-07T15:35:32Z

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In only 90 seconds with the use of a few props (and some profanity), entertainers Penn & Teller offer a succinct and compelling argument of the benefits of vaccinating our children.

So even if vaccination did cause autism, WHICH IT FUCKING DOESN’T, anti-vaccination would still be bullshit.

Along with “Vaccines. And now my kids don’t die.”, this might be my favorite anti-vaxxers broadside ever.

Tags: medicine   Penn and Teller   vaccines   video



Google’s AI beats the world’s top chess engine w/ only 4 hours of practice

2017-12-07T14:28:11Z

With just four hours of practice playing against itself and no study of outside material, AlphaZero (an upgraded version of Alpha Go, the AI program that Google built for playing Go) beat the silicon pants off of the world’s strongest chess program yesterday. This is massively and scarily impressive. AlphaZero won the closed-door, 100-game match with 28 wins, 72 draws, and zero losses. Oh, and it took AlphaZero only four hours to “learn” chess. Sorry humans, you had a good run. That’s right — the programmers of AlphaZero, housed within the DeepMind division of Google, had it use a type of “machine learning,” specifically reinforcement learning. Put more plainly, AlphaZero was not “taught” the game in the traditional sense. That means no opening book, no endgame tables, and apparently no complicated algorithms dissecting minute differences between center pawns and side pawns. This would be akin to a robot being given access to thousands of metal bits and parts, but no knowledge of a combustion engine, then it experiments numerous times with every combination possible until it builds a Ferrari. That’s all in less time that it takes to watch the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. The program had four hours to play itself many, many times, thereby becoming its own teacher. Grandmaster Peter Heine Nelson likened the experience of watching AlphaZero play to aliens: After reading the paper but especially seeing the games I thought, well, I always wondered how it would be if a superior species landed on earth and showed us how they play chess. I feel now I know. As I said about AlphaGo last year, our machines becoming unpredictable is unnerving: Unpredictable machines. Machines that act more like the weather than Newtonian gravity. That’s going to take some getting used to. Albert Silver has a good overview of AlphaZero’s history and what Google has accomplished. To many chess experts, it seemed as though AlphaZero was playing more like a human than a machine: If Karpov had been a chess engine, he might have been called AlphaZero. There is a relentless positional boa constrictor approach that is simply unheard of. Modern chess engines are focused on activity, and have special safeguards to avoid blocked positions as they have no understanding of them and often find themselves in a dead end before they realize it. AlphaZero has no such prejudices or issues, and seems to thrive on snuffing out the opponent’s play. It is singularly impressive, and what is astonishing is how it is able to also find tactics that the engines seem blind to. So, where does Google take AlphaZero from here? In a post which includes the phrase “Skynet Goes Live”, Tyler Cowen ventures a guess: I’ve long said that Google’s final fate will be to evolve into a hedge fund. Why goof around with search & display advertising when directly gaming the world’s financial market could be so much more lucrative? Tags: AlphaGo   artificial intelligence   chess   games   Go   Google [...]



“Stuntmen don’t get laughs”, the silent comedy of Jackie Chan

2017-12-06T23:55:48Z

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In this video, Bradley Dixon argues that Jackie Chan belongs on the Mt. Rushmore of silent comedy, along with Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton, and Charlie Chaplin. Like those three legends of the silent film era, Chan uses simple stories, stunts, visual humor, ordinary props, and practical effects to connect with his audience on a non-verbal level.

See also Every Frame a Painting on how to do action comedy, Buster Keaton and the Art of the Gag, and silent film special effects revealed. Oh, and just for fun, Mad Max vs. Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin’s time traveller.

Tags: Bradley Dixon   film school   Jackie Chan   movies   video



NASA is reinventing the wheel

2017-12-06T19:29:18Z

Imagine you’re sending a rover to Mars. The rover’s tires need to be light, durable, and also flexible enough to tackle a variety of terrain. NASA has spent decades trying to craft the perfect rover wheels, but something always comes up short in the pick-two situation…typically durability. Now researchers at the NASA Glenn Research Center have come up with a promising new rover wheel for the next generation of rovers.

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The wheels are made from nickel titanium, a shape memory alloy that allows the tires to bounce back into their former shape even when they’re severely deformed.

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The story of how the team stumbled upon this solution is a classic case of how important cross-disciplinary knowledge is for creation and invention. All it takes is one person in a different area of expertise to solve a seemingly intractable problem:

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Tags: NASA   science   video



New extreme sport: Thomas the Tank Engine stunts

2017-12-06T17:41:20Z

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It is what it says on the tin: a toy Thomas the Tank Engine doing stunts on wooden tracks. My favorite part is that the slowed-down audio makes it sound somewhat like a skateboard.

Tags: video



A man turned his backyard shed into the top-rated restaurant in London

2017-12-06T14:41:09Z

Having previously written fake reviews for restaurants on TripAdvisor for £10 a pop, Oobah Butler decided to go one step further. He listed his backyard shed on TripAdvisor, set up a dummy website (complete with appetizing food photos constructed from bleach tablets and shaving cream), and wrote a bunch of phony reviews.

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As the shed began climbing in the London restaurant ranking, Butler began to get more and more requests for reservations from actual people.

Emails? I check my computer: tens of “appointment” requests await. A boyfriend tries to use his girlfriend’s job at a children’s hospital for leverage. TV executives use their work emails.

Seemingly overnight, we’re now at #1,456. The Shed at Dulwich has suddenly become appealing. How?

I realise what it is: the appointments, lack of address and general exclusivity of this place is so alluring that people can’t see sense. They’re looking at photos of the sole of my foot, drooling. Over the coming months, The Shed’s phone rings incessantly.

And then, after it reaches #1, Butler actually opens The Shed at Dulwich for one night.

Update: When I initially posted this, I almost closed the post with something like “the best part of all this is that we don’t really know if any of this happened the way Butler says it did”. And indeed, Jonathan Power noticed that the URL for the restaurant’s website wasn’t registered until Oct 27, not in April as the article implies. Hmmm. The Facebook page for the restaurant has posts going back to June 30 (can you backdate FB posts?) & reviews back to April 5th. The listing appears to have been on TripAdvisor as of Dec 4 (Google cache) and was mentioned and screenshotted on Twitter in mid-November. Maybe Butler fudged the timeline slightly for the article…he used the Facebook page as the restaurant’s website until doing it up properly with its own URL in October? So, I dunno…is the joke on us, on Vice, on TripAdvisor, or…?

Tags: food   Oobah Butler   restaurants   TripAdvisor



How Technicolor changed movies

2017-12-05T23:43:23Z

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In The Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy lands after being brought to Oz by a tornado, she opens the door and, bang!, Technicolor. It’s a surprising transition, one of the most effective in film history. But it wouldn’t have been a complete shock for audiences in 1939 because Oz was not the first film to feature the color technology. In this video, Phil Edwards details the history of Technicolor, how it works, and how it changed movie making.

Many people recognize Technicolor from The Wizard of Oz, but the technology existed long before then. Two strip Technicolor and three strip Technicolor both revolutionized the film industry and shaped the look of 20th century film.

But Technicolor also influenced movies through its corporate control of the technology. People like Natalie Kalmus shaped the aesthetic of color films, and directors redesigned their sets and films based on the Technicolor look that the company — and viewers — demanded.

Edwards also did a “director’s cut” video with further information that wasn’t in the first video.

Tags: color   movies   Phil Edwards   video



“Airport Novella? Sounds interesting,” he said with a nod.

2017-12-05T20:22:33Z

Airport Novella by Tom Comitta is what he calls a “literary supercut”. Constructed exclusively from the kinds of novels one normally finds in airport bookshops, the 48-page book contains four chapters, one each for the gestures most often found in airport prose: nodding, shrugging, odd looks, and gasps. An short excerpt from the shrugging chapter:

Jeremy was silent for a moment before finally shrugging.

She shrugged without answering. “Can I be frank now?”

He shrugged. “Anything that might help me with the history of the cemetery and the town.”

She shrugged. “Shows me what I know. Being that you’re a journalist from the big city.”

He shrugged, acting innocent.

She suddenly remembered that he’d been trying to guess her age yesterday. “Yep,” she said with a shrug.

He gave a sheepish shrug, and she had a sudden vision of what he must have looked like as a small boy. “Hey, I know it’s none of my business, but how did it go with Rodney?”

She hesitated before finally shrugging. “You’re right. It is none of your business.” He could almost hear her shrug.

He gave a sheepish shrug. “I suppose that depends on the perspective.”

For source material, Comitta used books like The Da Vinci Code, the Twilight series, and a novel commissioned by Donald Trump (tagline: “Leave your modesty downstairs. Trump Tower is the sexiest novel of the decade.”)

Tags: Airport Novella   books   language   remix   Tom Comitta



The making of Burial’s Untrue

2017-12-05T18:06:33Z

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Ten years ago, electronic musician Burial released his second album, Untrue, which went on to be quite influential.

Where would UK dance music be without Burial’s Untrue? The South Londoner’s second album, released ten years ago this month on Hyperdub, has arguably done more than any other record in recent history to shape electronic music, presenting not only novel production techniques but the power of rooting a record in a specific time, mood and place.

This video from Resident Advisor explores that influence and how Burial’s novel production methods contributed to the album’s success. For one thing, instead of using music software that everyone else used to build and layer beats, Burial used Soundforge, which only shows the waveforms.

So I thought to myself fuckit I’m going to stick to this shitty little computer program, Soundforge. I don’t know any other programs. Once I change something, I can never un-change it. I can only see the waves. So I know when I’m happy with my drums because they look like a nice fishbone. When they look just skeletal as fuck in front of me, and so I know they’ll sound good.

Basically, he eyeballed it, which makes the whole thing feel more natural (and makes it difficult for DJs to mix). (via @pieratt)

Tags: Burial   music   video



Dear catcallers, it’s not a compliment

2017-12-05T15:57:53Z

To show how routine street harassment is, Noa Jansma took a selfie with every man who catcalled her for a month and posted the photos to Instagram.

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It’s fun1 to see how happy and pleased almost all of these men look having harassed this young woman on the street. (thx, joel)

  1. By which I mean the exact opposite of fun.

Tags: Noa Jansma   photography   sexism



Inequality and America’s Lost Einsteins

2017-12-04T22:32:41Z

In response to some poorly conducted and racist research attempting to correlate the size of people’s brains to their intelligence, science historian and paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould wrote in his 1980 book, The Panda’s Thumb: I am, somehow, less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops. Gould’s assertion is echoed by this piece in the NY Times, in which David Leonhardt reports on the research of Stanford’s Raj Chetty. Chetty’s findings (unsurprisingly) show that financial inequality and differences in race & sex have a large effect on which Americans end up inventing things. Leonhardt calls this “a betrayal of American ideals”. Not surprisingly, children who excelled in math were far more likely to become inventors. But being a math standout wasn’t enough. Only the top students who also came from high-income families had a decent chance to become an inventor. This fact may be the starkest: Low-income students who are among the very best math students — those who score in the top 5 percent of all third graders — are no more likely to become inventors than below-average math students from affluent families. In the article, AOL founder Steve Case says: “Creativity is broadly distributed. Opportunity is not.” The problem is even more severe when you consider differences in sex and race: I encourage you to take a moment to absorb the size of these gaps. Women, African-Americans, Latinos, Southerners, and low- and middle-income children are far less likely to grow up to become patent holders and inventors. Our society appears to be missing out on most potential inventors from these groups. And these groups together make up most of the American population. Because of survivorship bias, it’s tough to focus on the potential inventors, the lost Einsteins: The key phrase in the research paper is “lost Einsteins.” It’s a reference to people who could “have had highly impactful innovations” if they had been able to pursue the opportunities they deserved, the authors write. Nobody knows precisely who the lost Einsteins are, of course, but there is little doubt that they exist. Tags: Albert Einstein   David Leonhardt   Raj Chetty   science   Stephen Jay Gould   USA [...]



52 things learned in 2017

2017-12-04T20:58:34Z

One of my favorite end-of-the-year lists last year was Tom Whitwell’s 52 things I learned in 2016. An item from that list:

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.

Whitwell’s list for 2017 is similarly interesting:

In Silicon Valley, startups that result in a successful exit have an average founding age of 47 years. [Joshua Gans]

“Artificial intelligence systems pretending to be female are often subjected to the same sorts of online harassment as women.” [Jacqueline Feldman]

Dana Lewis from Alabama built herself an artificial pancreas from off-the-shelf parts. Her design is open source, so people with diabetes can hack together solutions more quickly than drug companies. [Lee Roop]

Amazon Echo can be useful for people suffering from Alzheimers’: “I can ask Alexa anything and I get the answer instantly. And I can ask it what day it is twenty times a day and I will still get the same correct answer.” [Rick Phelps]

China opens around 50 high bridges each year. The entire rest of the world opens ten. [Chris Buckley]

Men travelling first class tend to weigh more than those in economy, while for women the reverse is true. [Lucy Hooker]

Facebook employs a dozen people to delete abuse and spam from Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook page. [Sarah Frier]

Tags: lists   Tom Whitwell



Watch how smoke, dust, and salt circulate in the Earth’s atmosphere

2017-12-04T18:42:40Z

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Using a combination of satellite data and mathematical weather models, scientists at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center made this simulation that shows how aerosols like dust, smoke, and salt were circulated in the atmosphere during the 2017 hurricane season. It’s amazing to see how far some of these things spread.

During the 2017 hurricane season, the storms are visible because of the sea salt that is captured by the storms. Strong winds at the surface lift the sea salt into the atmosphere and the particles are incorporated into the storm. Hurricane Irma is the first big storm that spawns off the coast of Africa. As the storm spins up, the Saharan dust is absorbed in cloud droplets and washed out of the storm as rain. This process happens with most of the storms, except for Hurricane Ophelia. Forming more northward than most storms, Ophelia traveled to the east picking up dust from the Sahara and smoke from large fires in Portugal. Retaining its tropical storm state farther northward than any system in the Atlantic, Ophelia carried the smoke and dust into Ireland and the UK.

I watched this several times to pick up on different things…the hurricanes of course, but also how smoke from the forest fires in the Pacific Northwest makes it all the way to Scotland (!!!) and dust from the Sahara desert makes it to the Caribbean (also !!!). (via phil plait)

Update: All that dust from the Sahara blowing across the ocean? Some of the dust, 27 million tons per year on average, is deposited in the Amazon basin in South America, providing the ecosystem there vital phosphorus:

This trans-continental journey of dust is important because of what is in the dust, Yu said. Specifically the dust picked up from the Bodélé Depression in Chad, an ancient lake bed where rock minerals composed of dead microorganisms are loaded with phosphorus. Phosphorus is an essential nutrient for plant proteins and growth, which the Amazon rain forest depends on in order to flourish.

(via tom whitwell)

Tags: hurricanes   NASA   video   weather



The top 25 films of 2017

2017-12-04T16:34:21Z

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Nothing makes me want to quit my job and just watch movies all day than David Ehrlich’s annual video countdowns of the year’s best movies. Although I’m still a little irritated at him for leaving Arrival off of last year’s list, I’m looking forward to seeing Phantom Thread, The Post, Columbus, Lady Bird (which has been difficult to come by living in a rural area), and many others from this year’s list.

At Indiewire, Ehrlich explains his picks. I wasn’t as keen on Baby Driver and Get Out as Ehrlich and seemingly everyone else was, but here’s what he wrote about Dunkirk, one of my favorite films of the year:

“Virtual reality without the headset.” That’s what Nolan has called the experience of seeing this film’s aerial sequences in their proper glory, and he wasn’t kidding — “Dunkirk” is the ultimate fuck you to the idea of streaming a new movie to your phone. The director and his team customized an IMAX rig so the camera could squeeze into the cockpit of a WWII fighter plane, and the footage they captured from the sky is so transportive that every ticket should earn you frequent flier miles. One shot, in which we share a pilot’s POV as they make a crash landing on the water, singlehandedly justifies this entire portion of the film long before Nolan inevitably converges it with the other two for the rousing final act.

I might splurge on a bigger, better TV just to watch this one in 4K at home.

P.S. Also from Ehrlich: Wreath Witherspoons. LOL.

Tags: best of   best of 2017   David Ehrlich   movies   video



Voyager 1 just fired its trajectory thrusters for the first time since 1980

2017-12-04T14:56:15Z

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The last time that the four trajectory thrusters on the Voyager 1 probe were fired, Jimmy Carter was still President of the United States. But with the main attitude control thrusters deteriorating from trying to keep the probe oriented correctly, the team thought they could keep the mission going using the trajectory thrusters. So they fired them up.

On Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017, Voyager engineers fired up the four TCM thrusters for the first time in 37 years and tested their ability to orient the spacecraft using 10-millisecond pulses. The team waited eagerly as the test results traveled through space, taking 19 hours and 35 minutes to reach an antenna in Goldstone, California, that is part of NASA’s Deep Space Network.

Lo and behold, on Wednesday, Nov. 29, they learned the TCM thrusters worked perfectly — and just as well as the attitude control thrusters.

Voyager 1 was launched in 1977, is currently more than 13 billion miles from Earth, and is still functional and doing science. Incredible.

Tags: astronomy   NASA   science   space   Voyager



RIP Every Frame a Painting

2017-12-03T15:12:25Z

Sad but expected news: Tony Zhou and Taylor Ramos have shut down their excellent video series on film, Every Frame a Painting. They wrote about their decision in the form of the script for a final episode that never got made:

(TONY) As many of you have guessed, the channel more or less ended in September 2016 with the release of the “Marvel Symphonic Universe” video. For the last year, Taylor and I have tinkered behind-the-scenes to see if there was anything else we wanted to do with this YouTube channel.

(TAYLOR) But in the past year, we’ve both started new jobs and taken on other freelance work. Things started piling up and it took all our energy to get through the work we’d agreed to do.

When we started this YouTube project, we gave ourselves one simple rule: if we ever stopped enjoying the videos, we’d also stop making them. And one day, we woke up and felt it was time.

I was a huge fan of the series and posted many episodes on kottke.org. Here are a few particular favorites:

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Cheers to Tony and Taylor…you made a great thing and knew when to quit (unlike some people).

P.S. Poking around, I found a mini Every Frame a Painting that Zhou and Ramos did for Criterion about The Breaking Point, posted to YouTube back in August:

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Gah, that just makes me miss it even more!

Tags: movies   Taylor Ramos   Tony Zhou   video



What’s under the trees? LIDAR exposes the hidden landscapes of forested areas.

2017-12-01T18:29:02Z

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The Washington State Geological Survey is using LIDAR technology to study the geology of the land hidden under forested areas of the state. LIDAR is like radar, but instead of bouncing radio waves off of objects to detect their distances, you use lasers. When you shoot laser light at a forested area, most of it is reflected back by the trees. But some of it reaches the ground, so by measuring the light that’s reflected back from the lowest point, you get a very accurate map of the bare earth, sans nature. Using the LIDAR maps, they can study the course changes in rivers, landslides, volcanic lava flows, earthquake faults & fault zones, tsunami inundation zones, and glaciers.

The beautiful photo at the top is a LIDAR image of the Sauk River and all its current and former channels…the bluish tint makes it look like an x-ray, which it pretty much is. It also reminds me of the meander maps of the Mississippi River made by Harold Fisk for the US Army Corps of Engineers.

Here are two images of Bainbridge Island:

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The LIDAR image clearly shows a horizontal earthquake fault scarp that’s completely hidden by the ground cover.

These two images are of drumlins left behind by a glacier:

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Again, the LIDAR image shows the movement of a long-gone glacier with stunning clarity compared to the satellite photo with ground cover.

Tags: geology   maps