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Jason Kottke's weblog, home of fine hypertext products



Updated: 2017-11-22T19:31:39Z

 



kottke.org memberships are a great way to support the site

2017-11-22T21:08:01Z

Hello! Jason Kottke here. If you’re a regular reader of this RSS feed, please consider supporting my efforts on kottke.org by becoming a member today. The revenue from memberships is critical to keeping one of the best independent websites running at its full capacity. There are several membership options to choose from; you can check them out here or read about why I’m doing this here.

And if you’re already a member, thank you! You are the best.




A record player that plays slices of wood

2017-11-22T19:31:39Z

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For his project called Years, Bartholomäus Traubeck specially modified a record player to make piano music from the patterns of ringed growth on the cross-sections of trees.

A tree’s year rings are analysed for their strength, thickness and rate of growth. This data serves as basis for a generative process that outputs piano music. It is mapped to a scale which is again defined by the overall appearance of the wood (ranging from dark to light and from strong texture to light texture). The foundation for the music is certainly found in the defined ruleset of programming and hardware setup, but the data acquired from every tree interprets this ruleset very differently.

A digital album of recording from seven different trees (spruce, ash, oak, maple, alder, walnut, and beech) is available on Bandcamp.

Tags: Bartholomaus Traubeck   music   video



Life at the Edge of Sight: A Photographic Exploration of the Microbial World

2017-11-22T17:10:17Z

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In their new book, Life at the Edge of Sight, Scott Chimileski and Roberto Kolter “lead readers through breakthroughs and unresolved questions scientists hope microbes will answer soon”. But the book is also a showcase for Chimileski’s photography of these tiny organisms.

I’m not surprised, but it’s still always a little unnerving to see just how closely some of these photos resemble satellite photos of natural features, ancient cities, and modern-day subway maps. And look, this slime mold made a little human brain-shaped network:

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After all, branching networks like these are often the most efficient way of moving material, information, people, and nutrients from one place to another.

Tags: Life at the Edge of Sight   photography   Roberto Kolter   Scott Chimileski



See what it takes to run MoMA

2017-11-22T15:05:30Z

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At the Museum is a new video series by MoMA in NYC that offers a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to run a world-class modern art museum. The first episode, embedded above, follows the staff as they prepare for new exhibitions, both in the museum and across the Atlantic.

As the Museum of Modern Art prepares to ship 200 masterworks by artists like Picasso, C’ezanne, Rothko and de Kooning for a special exhibition at the Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris, other MoMA staff begin to install a new line-up of exhibitions in New York.

New videos are posted each week. (via the kid should see this)

Tags: art   MoMA   museums   NYC   video



Each night, Walmart’s parking lots turn into America’s largest campground

2017-11-22T02:35:24Z

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Walmart is an example of a commercial third place…a place people go to socialize that isn’t home or the workplace. But like Starbucks and McDonald’s, Walmart also functions as a replacement home for some people. Across America, Walmart parking lots fill up with the vans, RVs, and cars of nomads, vacationers, and the homeless. The NY Times sent a pair of photographers out to capture some of these parking lots at night.

There are standards of etiquette — do not, for instance, sit in the parking lot in lawn chairs — and also online rosters of no-go Walmarts. There is an expectation that you should buy something, but there is no parking fee. There is a measure of solitary privacy, even in a place that is deliberately accessible. Still that doesn’t prevent some people from leaving skid marks in the parking lot.

El Monte RV provides a short guide to Walmart camping and Allstays has a list of Walmarts that allow overnight parking.

Tags: photography   Walmart



The best panoramic photos of 2017

2017-11-21T18:55:57Z

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The winners of the 2017 Epson International Pano Awards have been announced. In Focus has a round-up of some of the best ones. It was tough to choose just three to feature here, so make sure and check out all the winners. Photos by Francisco Negroni, Paolo Lazzarotti, and Ray Jennings.

Tags: best of   best of 2017   lists   photography



An AI makes up new Star Trek episode titles

2017-11-21T16:42:38Z

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Dan Hon, who you may remember trained a neural network to make up British placenames, has now done the same thing with Star Trek. He fed all the episode titles for a bunch of Treks (TOS, DS9, TNG, etc.) into a very primitive version of Commander Data’s brain and out came some brand new episode titles, including:

Darmok Distant (TNG)
The Killing of the Battle of Khan (TOS)
The Omega Mind (Enterprise)
The Empath of Fire (TNG)
Distance of the Prophets (DS9)
The Children Command (TNG)
Sing of Ferengi (Voyager)

Spock, Q, and mirrors are also heavily featured in episode titles.

Tags: artificial intelligence   Dan Hon   language   Star Trek   TV



The first asteroid from outside our solar system pays us a visit

2017-11-21T14:30:39Z

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Back in October, the solar system welcomed a visitor from interstellar space…the first interstellar asteroid ever detected.

Astronomers have confirmed that an object that recently passed by our planet is from outside our Solar System — the first interstellar asteroid that’s ever been observed. And it doesn’t look like any object we’ve ever seen in our cosmic neighborhood before.

Follow-up observations, detailed today in Nature, have found that the asteroid is dark and reddish, similar to the objects in the outer Solar System. It doesn’t have any gas or dust surrounding it, like comets do, and it’s stretched long and skinny, looking a bit like an oddly shaped pen. It’s thought to be about a quarter-mile long, and about 10 times longer than it is wide. That makes it unlike any asteroids seen in our Solar System, none of which are so elongated.

Here’s a video of the asteroid’s path through the solar system:

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Um, folks…that looks like a rocket. How do we know this “asteroid” isn’t actually an ancient alien ship that’s become encrusted with rock over millions of years? Or an ancient weapon gone awry? We’ve all seen the first Star Trek movie, right? (I am only a little bit kidding about this.)

Tags: astronomy   science   space   video



Classical music scores as colorful data visualizations

2017-11-20T21:27:36Z

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Nicholas Rougeux, who describes himself as a “designer, data geek, fractal nut”, designed a process to turn musical scores into ultra-colorful images. He outlined his process here.

Rougeux also made video versions where you can see the visualizations form as the songs play. Here’s Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons:

width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/hVZsx5d8m98" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen>

Posters are available.

Tags: infoviz   music   Nicholas Rougeux   video



The global exercise heatmap

2017-11-20T18:49:47Z

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Strava, makers of apps that allow people to track and share their athletic activities, have released a global heatmap, a visualization of the humanity’s collective athletic activities. In a recent blog post, the company highlighted some of the most interesting spots on the map, which was created using 27 billion miles of data representing over 200,000 years of hiking, biking, running, skiing, and other sporting activity. Pictured above are the ski areas near Salt Lake City and kiteboarding in Baja, Mexico.

Tags: infoviz   maps   sports   Strava



The Periodic Table of Endangered Elements

2017-11-20T16:19:09Z

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Until recently, humanity has treated the Earth as an infinite resource. As the Earth’s population has exploded over the past century however, we’ve learned in many different ways that that’s untrue. We’ve overfished the ocean, pumped too much carbon into the atmosphere and oceans, driven thousands of species into extinction, and terraformed much of the planet’s land. This periodic table produced by the American Chemical Society shows that there are also 44 chemical elements that will face supply limitations in the coming decades. Among those under a “serious threat in the next 100 years” are silver, helium, zinc, and gallium. Robert Silverberg wrote about The Death of Gallium back in 2008:

Gallium’s atomic number is 31. It’s a blue-white metal first discovered in 1831, and has certain unusual properties, like a very low melting point and an unwillingness to oxidize, that make it useful as a coating for optical mirrors, a liquid seal in strongly heated apparatus, and a substitute for mercury in ultraviolet lamps. It’s also quite important in making the liquid-crystal displays used in flat-screen television sets and computer monitors.

As it happens, we are building a lot of flat-screen TV sets and computer monitors these days. Gallium is thought to make up 0.0015 percent of the Earth’s crust and there are no concentrated supplies of it. We get it by extracting it from zinc or aluminum ore or by smelting the dust of furnace flues. Dr. Reller says that by 2017 or so there’ll be none left to use. Indium, another endangered element-number 49 in the periodic table-is similar to gallium in many ways, has many of the same uses (plus some others-it’s a gasoline additive, for example, and a component of the control rods used in nuclear reactors) and is being consumed much faster than we are finding it. Dr. Reller gives it about another decade. Hafnium, element 72, is in only slightly better shape. There aren’t any hafnium mines around; it lurks hidden in minute quantities in minerals that contain zirconium, from which it is extracted by a complicated process that would take me three or four pages to explain. We use a lot of it in computer chips and, like indium, in the control rods of nuclear reactors, but the problem is that we don’t have a lot of it. Dr. Reller thinks it’ll be gone somewhere around 2017. Even zinc, commonplace old zinc that is alloyed with copper to make brass, and which the United States used for ordinary one-cent coins when copper was in short supply in World War II, has a Reller extinction date of 2037. (How does a novel called The Death of Brass grab you?)

Zinc was never rare. We mine millions of tons a year of it. But the supply is finite and the demand is infinite, and that’s bad news. Even copper, as I noted above, is deemed to be at risk. We humans move to and fro upon the earth, gobbling up everything in sight, and some things aren’t replaceable.

As with many such predictions, the 2017 dates didn’t pan out, but the point that these resources are finite still holds. Eventually, we will run out.

Tags: periodic table   Robert Silverberg



Teaser trailer for Incredibles 2

2017-11-20T10:29:01Z

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I’m posting this mostly for my son. We were talking about this movie the other day and he remembered exactly where we were and what we were doing when I first told him Pixar was making an Incredibles sequel. Like it was the Moon landing or JFK getting shot.

Tags: movies   Pixar   The Incredibles   trailers   video



Cutaway illustration of a film camera reveals iconic movie scenes

2017-11-17T20:45:22Z

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This might be Dorothy’s best print yet: a cutaway view of the Arriflex 35 IIC camera used extensively by directors like Stanley Kubrick but the guts of the camera has been replaced with some of the most iconic movies scenes of all time. The full print contains 60 scenes, but even in the small excerpt above, you can see The Wizard of Oz, Dr. Strangelove, The Empire Strikes Back, Forrest Gump, and The Godfather.

Tags: art   illustration   movies



A mesmerizing animation of the repeating elements of a medieval cathedral

2017-11-17T18:43:08Z

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I barely know how to describe this so maybe you should just watch it. Animator Ismael Sanz-Pena took a single image of a medieval cathedral and used the facade’s repeating elements to find the movement within, kind of like a zoetrope. (Ok, I guess that’s a pretty good description. I still think you should just watch it though.) See also Sanz-Pena’s earlier attempts of the same effect. (via colossal)

Tags: Ismael Sanz-Pena   mesmerizing   video



How today’s animals would look if drawn like dinosaurs

2017-11-17T16:16:07Z

It’s difficult to know how a particular animal might have looked if you only use its skeleton as a guide. For example, we used to think dinosaurs were mostly scaly like lizards until evidence was uncovered that many kinds of dinosaur were more birdlike with feathers.

Artist C.M. Kosemen, in his book All Yesterdays: Unique and Speculative Views of Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Animals, illustrated some present-day animals like many dinosaurs are typically drawn, based only on their skeletons.

Most serious paleoart bases itself on the detailed findings of paleontologists, who can work for weeks or even years compiling the most accurate descriptions of ancient life they can, based on fossil remains. But Kosemen says that many dinosaur illustrations should take more cues from animals living today. Our world is full of unique animals that have squat fatty bodies, with all kinds of soft tissue features that are unlikely to have survived in fossils, such as pouches, wattles, or skin flaps. “There could even be forms that no one has imagined,” says Kosemen. “For example there could plant-eating dinosaurs that had pangolin or armadillo-like armor that wasn’t preserved in the fossil. There could also be dinosaurs with porcupine-type quills.”

Here are Kosemen’s drawings of a baboon and swans:

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Tags: C.M. Kosemen   dinosaurs



OMG, Boston Dynamics’ Atlas robot can do an f-ing BACKFLIP!

2017-11-17T00:09:33Z

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So, the jumping from box to box seemed cool. Hey, robot parkour! It seemed awfully agile for something that looks like it weighs quite a bit, but ok. But the casual gymnastics about 20 seconds in broke my brain. Holy. Crap.

Tags: robots   video



Emergence: how many stupid things become smart together

2017-11-16T21:45:24Z

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A nice overview of emergence by Kurzgesagt. I continue to find the concept of emergence endlessly fascinating — order from disorder, complexity from simplicity, more is different. As a society, we tend to underestimate how much emergence plays a role in why things happen the way they do and are therefore often wrong-footed in our analysis and response.

For a good primer on emergence and other related phenomena, check out Steven Johnson’s Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software.

Tags: books   Emergence   Steven Johnson   video



The top 10 bestselling Kindle books of all time

2017-11-16T19:00:43Z

The Kindle debuted 10 years ago this month and Amazon marked its anniversary with top 10 lists of the bestselling fiction and nonfiction books for the device. The fiction list is fairly predictable (I’ll get to it in a moment), but the nonfiction list is a little more interesting in spots: 1. Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand 2. Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back by Todd Burpo, Sonja Burpo, and Lynn Vincent 3. Wild by Cheryl Strayed 4. The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown 5. Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson 6. The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts by Gary Chapman 7. Bossypants by Tina Fey 8. American Sniper by Chris Kyle, Scott McEwen, and Jim DeFelice 9. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey 10. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot It’s really nice to see The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks on there…I would not have guessed that one, although with HBO and Oprah involved, perhaps I should have. Here’s the fiction list, dominated by Shades of Grey and Katniss Everdeen. 1. Fifty Shades of Grey by E L James 2. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins 3. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins 4. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins 5. Fifty Shades Darker by E L James 6. Fifty Shades Freed by E L James 7. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn 8. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins 9. The Help by Katherine Stockett 10. The Fault in our Stars by John Green There are some fine books on both lists, but looking at them, you get an inkling of why the IRL Amazon stores are a bit lackluster. Tags: Amazon   best of   books   Kindle   lists [...]



The Road Movie, a feature-length compilation of Russian dashcam videos

2017-11-16T17:06:51Z

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The Road Movie, out in theaters in January, consists of nothing but videos taken from Russian dashboard cameras. There are car accidents, animal hijinks, fistfights, high/drunk people, meteors, and fires. The trailer is really entertaining…I’m curious to see the entire film to see how it’s stitched into something resembling a narrative that can sustain a viewer’s attention for more than 20 minutes.

Tags: movies   Russia   The Road Movie   trailers   video



Monster thunderstorm supercell in Montana

2017-11-16T15:32:07Z

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This photo of a storm supercell in Montana taken by Ryan Wunsch? Wowza. I can see why people get hooked on chasing these storms about western North America…I’d love to see something like that in person. (via @meredithfrost)

Tags: clouds   photography   Ryan Wunsch   weather



The populism of Amazon’s real-world bookstores

2017-11-15T21:36:15Z

Voracious reader Tyler Cowen recently visited an Amazon Store for the first time and posted some impressions.

1. It is a poorly designed store for me, most of all because it does not emphasize new releases. I feel I am familiar with a lot of older titles, or I went through a more or less rational process of deciding not to become familiar with them. Their current popularity, as measured say by Amazon rankings, does not cause me to reassess those judgments. For me, aggregate Amazon popularity has no real predictive power, except perhaps I don’t want to buy books everyone liked. “A really smart person says to consider this again,” however, would revise my prior estimates.

6. I consider myself quite pro-Amazon, still to me it feels dystopic when an attractive young saleswoman says so cheerily to (some) customers: “Thank you for being Prime!”

Some of his observations match those of other reviewers from when the store opened back in May. On my last trip to NYC, I visited the same store as Cowen (also for the first time) and it didn’t change my opinion about the visibility of the data in the store:

Other bookstores have books arranged according to best-seller lists, store-specific best-sellers, and staff recommendations, but I’ve never seen any store layout so extensively informed by data and where they tell you so much about why you’re seeing each item. Grocery store item placement is very data driven, but they don’t tell you why you’re seeing a display of Coke at the end of the aisle or why the produce is typically right at the entrance. It’ll be interesting to see if Amazon’s approach works or if people will be turned off by shopping inside a product database, a dehumanizing feeling Frommer hints at with “a collection of books that feels blandly standard” when compared to human curated selections at smaller bookstores.

Walking around, I half-expected to see SQL queries accompanying some of the displays — “SELECT * FROM books WHERE rating > 4.8 AND pub_year = 2017 ORDER BY number_sold”. Amazon definitely needs to figure out how to get a little weird into their stores, a little of the human touch. Toning down the data talk would help. A more casual typeface might work too — not Comic Sans but perhaps something at least approaching handwritten? They’ve got so so much data about how people buy books…they just need to be more clever about how they slice and dice it. Maybe look for books that exhibit the Napoleon Dynamite Problem? Find people with interesting wishlists?

Ultimately, I didn’t buy anything either.

Tags: Amazon   books   business   Tyler Cowen



Physics lessons using simple homemade marble tracks

2017-11-15T19:11:12Z

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Bruce Yeany teaches physical science to 8th graders in Annville, PA and he is very enthusiastic about it. On his popular Homemade Science YouTube channel, Yeany highlights all sorts of physics experiments and demonstrations without using any special equipment. In one of his latest videos, he shares a bunch of marble tracks that he’s built to demonstrate motion and momentum.

The “identical track race” starting at 1:43 might blow your noodle a little bit unless you’re familiar with Galileo’s pendulum research. (via digg)

Tags: Bruce Yeany   physics   science   video



Join me in supporting Tim Carmody’s writing on Patreon?

2017-11-15T16:48:10Z

Over the past few years of doing kottke.org, I’ve been lucky enough (with your support) to be able to take some time off now and again to relax, spend time with my family, and recharge the batteries. My vacations are also a chance to introduce different voices and perspectives to the site in the form of guest editors. For my last few absences, Tim Carmody has stepped into the guest editor role and has done an incredible job. It’s a win-win…I get some time off and the site improves while I’m gone. Most recently, he organized the creation of a time capsule for the internet and wrote an amazing collection of posts about love letters and time machines.

If you enjoy and appreciate what Tim does here (and elsewhere), I hope you’ll join me in supporting his independent “rogue writing” efforts on Patreon.

Can I tell you a secret?

I don’t know what my work is any more.

Or rather: I don’t know what to call it. Not anything that makes sense.

There was a time when that would have been a very easy question to answer. I’m a reporter who writes about the intersection of technology and media. Or: I’m a scholar who studies the history of comparative media and the stories we tell about it going back forever. Or: I’m a blogger who’s trying to figure out what the liberal arts are in a networked age.

I think all of those things are still true, but how and where I’m doing them have changed. I don’t have a university job like I used to at Penn. I don’t have a regular gig at a fancy magazine like Wired or The Verge (or Newsweek or National Geographic or The Atlantic or the few dozen other places I’ve written). I don’t even have a sweet collective blog like Snarkmarket or The Message to call home.

Like a lot of us, I’m adrift, a planet flung out of its orbit into some other new system: strange, unfamiliar, ready at any moment to collide with another planet and make something new.

So that’s what I am. A rogue writer trying to put things together again and figure them out. I’m using all the tools I can find to do it: anything I can learn, anything I can leverage.

I’m proud that kottke.org has been a frequent venue for Tim’s writing, but the web could use more of it and I’m happy to support him in that effort.

P.S. Tim and I are also plotting how he can contribute more regularly here. No promises, but stay tuned!

Tags: kottke.org   Tim Carmody



Jimmy Iovine and most bomb record in the solar system

2017-11-15T15:03:05Z

While preparing for a conference talk/conversation I’m doing in Amsterdam this weekend, I was reading about the Golden Record that NASA sent along as a potential greeting from Earth to alien civilizations who might run across the Voyager probes in interstellar space millions of years from now. For the 40th anniversary of the Voyager launches, science writer Timothy Ferris (author of the Pulitzer-nominated Coming of Age in the Milky Way) wrote about the production of the Record for the New Yorker.

In the winter of 1976, Carl was visiting with me and my fiancee at the time, Ann Druyan, and asked whether we’d help him create a plaque or something of the sort for Voyager. We immediately agreed. Soon, he and one of his colleagues at Cornell, Frank Drake, had decided on a record. By the time nasa approved the idea, we had less than six months to put it together, so we had to move fast. Ann began gathering material for a sonic description of Earth’s history. Linda Salzman Sagan, Carl’s wife at the time, went to work recording samples of human voices speaking in many different languages. The space artist Jon Lomberg rounded up photographs, a method having been found to encode them into the record’s grooves. I produced the record, which meant overseeing the technical side of things. We all worked on selecting the music.

Carl Sagan was project director, Ann Druyan the creative director, and Ferris produced the Record. And the sound engineer for the Golden Record? I was surprised to learn: none other than Jimmy Iovine, who was recommended to Ferris by John Lennon.

I sought to recruit John Lennon, of the Beatles, for the project, but tax considerations obliged him to leave the country. Lennon did help us, though, in two ways. First, he recommended that we use his engineer, Jimmy Iovine, who brought energy and expertise to the studio. (Jimmy later became famous as a rock and hip-hop producer and record-company executive.)

Lennon, Springsteen, Tom Petty, Patti Smith, Stevie Nicks, Interscope, Dre, Snoop, Death Row Records, Eminem, Lady Gaga, Beats By Dre, Apple, *and* The Golden Record? Iovine is like the record industry’s Forrest Gump or something. How was this not in The Defiant Ones?

Tags: Ann Druyan   audio   Carl Sagan   Jimmy Iovine   music   NASA   space   Timothy Ferris   Voyager



Envisioning Chemistry, beautifully stunning videos of chemical reactions and processes

2017-11-14T22:51:46Z

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As a follow-up to Beautiful Chemistry, the Beauty of Science and the Chinese Chemical Society have teamed up to showcase the natural beauty of chemical reactions in Envisioning Chemistry.

To achieve this goal, we took two approaches. The first was the artistic approach, in which we used chemical reactions as an essential element in the film media, together with music and editing, to explore the new possibility of film-making. The second was the technical approach, in which we took advantages of the state-of-the-art photography equipment, including high-resolution microscopes, infrared thermal imaging cameras, high-speed cameras, and 4K Ultra HD cameras, to reveal beauty of chemical reactions like never before.

You’ll notice while watching some of these videos how alive these reactions look and how common the growing/branching structures of crystals & skeletons & trees & circulatory systems are in nature, on all scales.

Tags: science   video



What did 17th century food taste like?

2017-11-14T21:43:16Z

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Can art history help us understand how food tasted in the 1600s? Not really, but it can shed some light on what people cooked and what kinds of foods were available.

What can we learn about how people ate in the seventeenth century? And even if we can piece together historical recipes, can we ever really know what their food tasted like?

This might seem like a relatively unimportant question. For one thing, the senses of other people are always going to be, at some level, unknowable, because they are so deeply subjective. Not only can I not know what Velazquez’s fried eggs tasted like three hundred years ago, I arguably can’t know what my neighbor’s taste like. And why does the question matter, anyway? A very clear case can be made for the importance of the history of medicine and disease, or the histories of slavery, global commerce, warfare, and social change.

By comparison, the taste of food doesn’t seem to have the same stature. Fried eggs don’t change the course of history.

Maybe fried eggs don’t, but spices did. Coffee beans did. Cacao beans, potatoes, and tomatoes did. Europe was in such a hurry to upgrade the flavor of its bland, rotten food that it colonized most of the world, waged wars, enslaved millions, and invented the multinational corporation.

See also Tom Standage’s An Edible History of Humanity and Charles Mann’s 1493. (via @robinsloan)

Tags: art   food



How generative music works

2017-11-14T19:42:20Z

From software developer and writer Tero Parviainen, an interactive presentation on how generative music works. (Roughly speaking, generative music is “about making music by designing systems that make music”.)

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The presentation includes many examples — Terry Riley’s In C, Brian Eno’s recent app, Listen to Wikipedia, Steve Reich’s work, neural nets for generating music — and a few interactive generative music toys you can play around with. (via waxy)

Tags: music   Tero Parviainen   video



Entrepreneurship, inequity, and throwing darts at the carnival

2017-11-14T17:58:34Z

In a reply to an article called Entrepreneurs Aren’t A Special Breed — They’re Mostly Rich Kids, Hacker News commenter notacoward wrote:

Entrepreneurship is like one of those carnival games where you throw darts or something.

Middle class kids can afford one throw. Most miss. A few hit the target and get a small prize. A very few hit the center bullseye and get a bigger prize. Rags to riches! The American Dream lives on.

Rich kids can afford many throws. If they want to, they can try over and over and over again until they hit something and feel good about themselves. Some keep going until they hit the center bullseye, then they give speeches or write blog posts about “meritocracy” and the salutary effects of hard work.

Poor kids aren’t visiting the carnival. They’re the ones working it.

That’s a pretty succinct summary of the “born on third base and thinks they hit a triple” effect…and it doesn’t just apply to entrepreneurship or being rich.

Update: In response to Forbes’ most recent 30 Under 30 feature, Helen Rosner replied:

My take is: all 30 Under 30 lists should include disclosure of parental assets

Tags: business   Helen Rosner



Elevator scenes in movies debunked & fact-checked

2017-11-14T15:43:55Z

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How realistic are the elevator scenes in movies? Cinefix enlists the help of elevator technician John Holzer to fact-check and debunk scenes featuring elevators from movies like Die Hard, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, and Speed. True true: there’s actually an elevator now that can travel sideways, a la the Wonkavator.

Tags: elevators   John Holzer   movies   video



Google’s impractical voice experiments

2017-11-13T22:37:41Z

Google has launched a series of voice experiments that work with Google Home and also in the browser. For example, Mystery Animal is a 20 questions style game in which you attempt to guess the identity of a particular animal. Here’s how it works:

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Another of the experiments, MixLab, helps you make music with simple voice commands (“add a club beat”, etc.). The experiments use AI to understand what people are asking them.

Nicole He, who worked on Mystery Animal and another experiment called Story Speaker, explains why it’s an interesting time to be goofing around with voice technology.

Talking out loud to computers has always felt more science fiction than real life. But speech recognition technology has come a long way, and developers are now making lots of useful things with voice devices. These days, you can speak out loud and have your lights turn on, or your favorite music played, or the news read to you.

That’s all nice and good, but there’s something clearly missing: the weird stuff. We should make things for voice technology that aren’t just practical. We should make things that are way more creative and bizarre. Things that are more provocative and expressive, or whimsical and delightful.

We’re in what I’m going to call The 1996 Web Design Era of voice technology. The web was created for something practical (sharing information between scientists), but it didn’t take very long for people to come up with strange and creative things to do with it.

I am terrible at 20 questions, so of course Mystery Animal stumped me. My last guess was “are you a zebra?” when the animal was actually a panda bear.

Tags: audio   games   Google   music   Nicole He   video



These conjoined twins can share each other’s thoughts & vision

2017-11-13T18:30:46Z

Tatiana and Krista Hogan are conjoined twins. But not only that, they are joined at the head, an extremely rare occurence that’s resulted in the girls sharing parts of their brains with each other.

Neurological studies have stunned the doctors. Tatiana can see out of both of Krista’s eyes, while Krista can only see out of one of Tatiana’s. They also share the senses of touch and taste and the connection even extends to motor control. Tatiana controls 3 arms and a leg, while Krista controls 3 legs and an arm.

Amazingly, the girls say they also know one another’s thoughts without needing to speak. “We talk in our heads” is how they describe it.

Despite their unique connection, the twins remain two distinct people. Tatiana is talkative, outgoing and high-strung, while Krista is quieter, more relaxed and loves to joke. But she has a temper and can be aggressive if she doesn’t get her way.

When they were little, they used to try to pull their heads apart. Their mother always told them they were stuck, so they would have to work things out. But as they’ve gotten older and the frustrations mount, they still fight. As they freely admit, some days they don’t like being together. “She’s annoying,” says Tatiana, who promptly gives her twin a reassuring hug.

That’s from a writeup of a CBC documentary about a year in the twins’ lives. The doc is only viewable in Canada, but there are several clips that anyone can watch.




Vacationland: True Stories from Painful Beaches by John Hodgman

2017-11-13T16:13:11Z

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John Hodgman, formerly of The Daily Show and those Apple commercials, is out with a memoir of his middle-aged wanderings through New England called Vacationland.

Disarmed of falsehood, he was left only with the awful truth: John Hodgman is an older white male monster with bad facial hair, wandering like a privileged Sasquatch through three wildernesses: the hills of Western Massachusetts where he spent much of his youth; the painful beaches of Maine that want to kill him (and some day will); and the metaphoric haunted forest of middle age that connects them.

Vacationland collects these real life wanderings, and through them you learn of the horror of freshwater clams, the evolutionary purpose of the mustache, and which animals to keep as pets and which to kill with traps and poison. There is also some advice on how to react when the people of coastal Maine try to sacrifice you to their strange god.

Some of this hits remarkably close to the bone:

Though wildly, Hodgmaniacally funny as usual, it is also a poignant and sincere account of one human facing his forties, those years when men in particular must stop pretending to be the children of bright potential they were and settle into the failing bodies of the wiser, weird dads that they are.

I don’t know about wiser, but weird dad with a failing body is pretty much right on the money. And I love that cover by Aaron James Draplin. *kisses fingers*

Tags: Aaron Draplin   books   John Hodgman   travel   Vacationland



Mirror, a short story of similar objects

2017-11-13T13:54:58Z

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A snack-sized video look at objects which have similar shapes, like a soft-serve ice cream cone and a compact fluorescent light bulb, a giraffe and a light pole, and an Oreo cookie and a manhole cover. (via colossal)

Tags: video



“How Picasso Bled the Women in His Life for Art”

2017-11-10T21:24:12Z

From Cody Delistraty in the Paris Review, a timely article on Pablo Picasso, his artwork, and how he treated the women in his life (spoiler alert: quite poorly). Sixteen years ago, Marina Picasso, one of Pablo Picasso’s granddaughters, became the first family member to go public about how much her family had suffered under the artist’s narcissism. “No one in my family ever managed to escape from the stranglehold of this genius,” she wrote in her memoir, Picasso: My Grandfather. “He needed blood to sign each of his paintings: my father’s blood, my brother’s, my mother’s, my grandmother’s, and mine. He needed the blood of those who loved him.” After Jacqueline Roque, Picasso’s second wife, barred much of the family from the artist’s funeral, the family fell fully to pieces: Pablito, Picasso’s grandson, drank a bottle of bleach and died; Paulo, Picasso’s son, died of deadly alcoholism born of depression. Marie-Therese Walter, Picasso’s young lover between his first wife, Olga Khokhlova, and his next mistress, Dora Maar, later hanged herself; even Roque eventually fatally shot herself.”Women are machines for suffering,” Picasso told Francoise Gilot, his mistress after Maar. After they embarked on their affair when he was sixty-one and she was twenty-one, he warned Gilot of his feelings once more: “For me there are only two kinds of women: goddesses and doormats.” At the same time, his granddaughter has curated a show in Paris of Picasso’s art celebrating his relationship with his daughter Maya. Diana Widmaier-Picasso, who is the daughter of Maya Widmaier-Picasso and Pierre Widmaier, a shipping magnate, and the granddaughter of Picasso and Marie-Therese, curated the exhibition. She is well aware of the usual misanthropic, misogynistic characterizations of Picasso. “He’s a man of metamorphoses,” she tells me carefully in Paris, a few days before the vernissage of her exhibition. “A complex person to grasp.” When I was in Paris recently, I went to the Picasso Museum, where one of the exhibitions showcased his art from 1932, the artist’s “année érotique”. The Guardian described the show thusly: Achim Borchardt-Hume, the gallery’s director of exhibitions and co-curator of the 2018 show, said the challenge facing curators was: “How can you get close to Picasso as an artist and a person? How can you get beyond the myth?” Their answer was to focus on one period in Picasso’s long life. They chose 1932, a time called Picasso’s “year of wonders”. It was a year when he cemented his superstar status as the world’s most influential living artist, producing some of his greatest works of art and staging his first retrospective, which he curated. It was also a year when his passion for Walter almost boiled over. Picasso was 45 when, in 1927, he spotted the 17-year-old Walter as she exited a Paris Metro station. He approached her, grabbed her arm and declared: “I’m Picasso! You and I are going to do g[...]



Mosaic, Steven Soderbergh’s app/HBO TV series thingie

2017-11-10T19:13:19Z

width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/Km_u51OE3VA" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen> Steven Soderbergh’s latest project, Mosaic, takes two forms. The first is a free iOS app that contains an interactive miniseries with over seven hours of footage that you can move through in the style of Choose Your Own Adventure, with “DVD extras” built right into the story. Mosaic will also air in a more conventional linear form on HBO in January. Both versions star Sharon Stone, Beau Bridges, and Garrett Hedlund. Wired has the story of how Mosaic came to be. Where they ended up was a smartphone-enabled story, developed and released by Silver’s company PodOp, that lets viewers decide which way they want to be told Mosaic’s tale of a children’s book author, played by Sharon Stone, who turns up dead in the idyllic ski haven of Park City, Utah. After watching each segment — some only a few minutes, some as long as a standard television episode — viewers are given options for whose point of view they want to follow and where they want to go next. Those who want to be completest and watch both options before moving on can do so, those who want to race to find out whodunit can do that too. Because each node, filmed by Soderbergh himself, feels like a TV show, launching Mosaic can be akin to sneaking a quick show on Netflix while commuting to work or waiting on a friend; but because it’s long story that’s easily flipped through, it can also enjoyed like the pulpy crime novel on your nightstand, something you chip away at a little bit at a time before bed. It’s concept isn’t wholly original — Soderbergh himself notes that “branching narrative has been around a long time” (the most obvious analogue is a Choose Your Own Adventure book, but Soderbergh cringes at that analogy) — but that it finds a way to appeal to both fans of interactive storytelling, and people who just want to watch some decent TV. Matt Zoller Seitz also interviewed Soderbergh about the app/show for Vulture. It’s a really good interview (not surprising with Seitz at the helm); they inevitably got into the question of Hollywood and abuse of power: MZS: Do you believe that in order to make memorable art, you have to be disturbed in some way? SS: Not at all. MZS: That’s what’s often raised as a defense of Roman Polanski, Mel Gibson, and others. SS: No, I don’t believe that at all. It takes a lot of energy to be an asshole. The people I admire most just aren’t interested in things that take away from their ability to make stuff. The people I really respect, and that I’ve met who fit this definition, have a sense of grace about them, because they know that there is no evolving and there is no wisdom without humility. You can’t get better if you behave in a way that shuts people off. You can’t! You don’t have all the ideas necessary to solve something. You don’t! I’m sure if you spoke to Harvey in his heyday and said to him what I just said to you, he would believe that he acc[...]



The Future Library

2017-11-10T16:56:14Z

width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/D2BUq2Q8_6M" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen> A few years ago, in a forest just outside of Oslo, 1000 trees were planted. In 2114, after a century of growth, the trees will be cut down and made into paper for an anthology of books. Meet the Future Library, an artwork by Katie Paterson. Between now and then, one writer every year will contribute a text, with the writings held in trust, unpublished, until the year 2114. Tending the forest and ensuring its preservation for the one hundred year duration of the artwork finds a conceptual counterpoint in the invitation extended to each writer: to conceive and produce a work in the hopes of finding a receptive reader in an unknown future. The first three writers to contribute texts are Margaret Atwood, David Mitchell, and Icelandic novelist Sjón. Atwood said of her participation: How strange it is to think of my own voice — silent by then for a long time — suddenly being awakened, after a hundred years. What is the first thing that voice will say, as a not-yet-embodied hand draws it out of its container and opens it to the first page? See also the John Malkovich movie that no one will see for 100 years. The Future Library also has something in common with the (possibly apocryphal) story of the grove of oak trees specifically planted to replace the massive ceiling beams in the dining hall at Oxford hundreds of years in the future. Stewart Brand told the story in the TV adaptation of How Buildings Learn. width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/YqH4eWR7jDQ" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen> One of the Junior Fellows stuck his neck out and suggested that there might be some worthy oaks on the College lands. These colleges are endowed with pieces of land scattered across the country which are run by a college Forester. They called in the College Forester, who of course had not been near the college itself for some years, and asked him if there were any oaks for possible use. He pulled his forelock and said, “Well sirs, we was wonderin’ when you’d be askin’.” Upon further inquiry it was discovered that when the College was founded, a grove of oaks had been planted to replace the beams in the dining hall when they became beetly, because oak beams always become beetly in the end. This plan had been passed down from one Forester to the next for over five hundred years saying “You don’t cut them oaks. Them’s for the College Hall.” Tags: art   books   Katie Paterson   Margaret Atwood   Stewart Brand   video [...]



Incredible photo of the black ice covering an Antarctic lake

2017-11-10T15:07:48Z

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Hilary Dugan is a limnologist, which means she studies inland bodies of water like rivers, streams, lakes, ponds, and marshland. Specifically she studies lakes:

As a limnologist, I study how terrestrial and atmospheric changes, such as warming air temperatures or land use patterns, alter biogeochemical fluxes and aquatic processes in lakes.

Right now, Dugan is in Antarctica on a research trip to Lake Vanda, where she took this amazing photo of the 12-ft sheet of black ice covering the lake. (She also took a video of herself walking on the ice.) Beautiful.

Lake Vanda sounds fascinating btw: three thermal layers of water that don’t mix (the bottom layer is a toasty 73 °F) and it’s one of the saltiest bodies of water in the world, more than 10 times saltier than seawater (although very little of that salt is contained in the upper layers). The lake is also home to the The Royal Lake Vanda Swim Club, a largely abandoned tradition of skinny dipping in the lake when the ice melts enough to permit it.

Tags: Antarctica   Hilary Dugan



The tension between creativity and productivity

2017-11-09T22:35:51Z

Cory Doctorow was an early adopter of the lifehacking lifestyle and toolkit, including David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done. Allen’s book is a fantastic and inspiring read. The core of his philosophy is to recognize that there are more things in the world that you want to do than you could do, and that, in the absence of a deliberate approach to this conundrum, you are likely to default to doing things that are easy to scratch off your to-do list, which are also the most trivial. After a lifetime of this, you’ll have accomplished a lot of very little. Allen counsels deliberate, mindful prioritization of this list, jettisoning things on the basis that they are less satisfying or important than the other things you’d like to do - even if those other things are harder, more time consuming and less likely to result in a satisfying chance to scratch an item off the list. After living and working this way for more than a decade, Doctorow reports that there’s a conflict between the optimization of your time via getting things done and the sort of experimental playtime you often need to do creative work. The corollary of this is that it gets much, much harder to winnow out activities over time. Anything I remove from the Jenga stack of my day disturbs the whole tower. And that means that undertaking new things, speculative things that have no proven value to any of the domains where I work (let alone all of them) has gotten progressively harder, even as I’ve grown more productive. Optimization is a form of calcification. Quinn Norton wrote an essay called Against Productivity in which she moves to Puerto Rico to focus on working productively but ends up goofing off and discovering a new career & life path in the process. I visited with new friends, and tooled around on the net (albeit always at 2G speeds). I watched rain fall. I cooked. I considered the shape of the buildings a lot, and looked after cats periodically. I walked to old forts and lookouts. At one point I took pictures of doors for no reason I could discern. I berated myself for being unproductive, for wasting this precious time I’d set aside to put my professional life together. I spent hours anxious to craft my time to be quantitatively better for writing. Then it all collapsed, and the only habit I fell into was depressive empty afternoons when I was alone with the cats and the rain. But I also, and wholly by accident, thought the thoughts that would take my career and life in a new and unimagined direction. I was chatting with a friend on the phone today about a talk we’re doing together in a couple weeks and she brought up the same issue, unprompted. She’s a naturally productive person who finds herself with some free time, yet she’s finding it difficult to not stay busy, even though she knows she needs the mind-wandering time to replenish her creative reserves. I struggle with the same thing. I get more done in less time than I ever have, but sometimes I feel like there’s nothing crea[...]



A Tapestry of Time and Terrain

2017-11-09T20:54:22Z

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A Tapestry of Time and Terrain is a map from the USGS that shows the topology and ages of rock underneath the surface of the United States. The age scale on the right is difficult to read unless you download the full 45Mb PDF version, but it goes from Precambrian (2.6 billion years ago) at the bottom to more-or-less the present day at the top.

Through computer processing and enhancement, we have brought together two existing images of the lower 48 states of the United States (U.S.) into a single digital tapestry. Woven into the fabric of this new map are data from previous U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) maps that depict the topography and geology of the United States in separate formats. The resulting composite is the most detailed and accurate portrait of the U.S. land surface and the ages of its underlying rock formations yet displayed in the same image. The new map resembles traditional 3-D perspective drawings of landscapes with the addition of a fourth dimension, geologic time, which is shown in color. This union of topographic texture with the patterns defined by units of geologic time creates a visual synthesis that has escaped most prior attempts to combine shaded relief with a second characteristic shown by color, commonly height above sea level (already implicit in the shaded relief). In mutually enhancing the landscape and its underlying temporal structure, this digital tapestry outlines the geologic story of continental collision and break-up, mountain-building, river erosion and deposition, ice-cap glaciation, volcanism, and other events and processes that have shaped the region over the last 2.6 billion years.

(via @robgmacfarlane)

Tags: geology   infoviz   maps   USA



Biomimicry: turning birds into bullet trains

2017-11-09T19:48:09Z

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Nature has amassed 3.8 billion years of R&D on how to engineer and design things and systems. So when designers are looking at how to solve problems, they should pay closer attention to how the evolutionary process dealt with similar situations. For example, an engineer working on a redesign of the Japanese bullet train used his birdwatching knowledge to borrow design elements from birds like a kingfisher, an owl, and a penguin.

Japan’s Shinkansen doesn’t look like your typical train. With its long and pointed nose, it can reach top speeds up to 150-200 miles per hour.

It didn’t always look like this. Earlier models were rounder and louder, often suffering from the phenomenon of “tunnel boom,” where deafening compressed air would rush out of a tunnel after a train rushed in. But a moment of inspiration from engineer and birdwatcher Eiji Nakatsu led the system to be redesigned based on the aerodynamics of three species of birds.

I love the idea of the Shinkansen as a chimerical creature constructed from the bodies of three very different types of birds. (via the kid should see this)

Tags: biology   design   trains   video