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kottke.org

Something interesting everyday from one of the oldest and best independent sites on the Web.

A feed by Jason Kottke

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Teaser trailer for Incredibles 2

Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-20 10:29

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.


Cutaway illustration of a film camera reveals iconic movie scenes

Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-17 20:45

Directors Cut

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.


A mesmerizing animation of the repeating elements of a medieval cathedral

Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-17 18:43

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)


How today’s animals would look if drawn like dinosaurs

Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-17 16:16

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:

Kosemen Dinosaur

Kosemen Dinosaur


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

Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-17 00:09

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.


Emergence: how many stupid things become smart together

Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-16 21:45

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.


The top 10 bestselling Kindle books of all time

Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-16 19:00

Top Kindle Books All Time

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.


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

Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-16 17:06

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.


Monster thunderstorm supercell in Montana

Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-16 15:32

Ryan Wunsch

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)


The populism of Amazon’s real-world bookstores

Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-15 21:36

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.


Physics lessons using simple homemade marble tracks

Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-15 19:11

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)


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

Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-15 16:48

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!


Jimmy Iovine and most bomb record in the solar system

Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-15 15:03

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?


Envisioning Chemistry, beautifully stunning videos of chemical reactions and processes

Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-14 22:51

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.


What did 17th century food taste like?

Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-14 21:43

Velazquez Woman Eggs

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)


How generative music works

Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-14 19:42

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”.)

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)


Entrepreneurship, inequity, and throwing darts at the carnival

Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-14 17:58

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


Elevator scenes in movies debunked & fact-checked

Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-14 15:43

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.


Google’s impractical voice experiments

Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-13 22:37

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:

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.


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

Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-13 18:30

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.