Im Readin Ur Blogz


January 21, 2019

Rands In Repose

The One About Information Consumption

Two years almost to the day, we’re back with The Important Thing.

In the third episode, Lyle and I talk Information Consumption. Notification purges, marking all as read, and figuring out how to catch the most important information are just a few of the tips and tricks we discuss.

Enjoy it now or download for later. Here’s a handy feed or subscribe via Overcast or iTunes.

by rands at January 21, 2019 04:59 PM

January 20, 2019


not that bad, by roxane gay

…in the long run, diminishing my experience hurt me far more than it helped.

by rachel at January 20, 2019 04:32 AM

January 18, 2019

How to Fix Social Media by Injecting A Chunk of the Blogosphere

Not all hour-long podcasts are worthwhile, but I found this one by The Atlantic’s Matt Thompson and Alexis Madrigal to be pretty compelling. The subject: how to fix social media, or rather, how to create a variation on social media that allows you to properly pose the question as to whether or not it can be fixed.

For both Matt and Alexis, social media (and in particular, Twitter) is not especially usable or desirable in the form in which it presents itself. Both Matt and Alexis have shaped and truncated their Twitter experience. In Alexis’s case, this means going read-only, not posting tweets any more, and just using Twitter as an algorithmic feed reader by way of Nuzzel, catching the links his friends are discussing, and in some cases, the tweets they’re posting about those links. Matt is doing something slightly different: calling on his friends not to like to retweet his ordinary Twitter posts, but to reply to his tweets in an attempt to start a conversation.

Both Matt and Alexis are, in their own way, trying to inject something of the old spirit of the blogosphere into their social media use. In Alexis’s case, it’s the socially mediated newsreader function. In Matt’s, it’s the comment thread, the great discussions we used to have on blogs like Snarkmarket.

(Full disclosure: I was a longtime commenter on Matt and Robin Sloan’s blog Snarkmarket from 2003 to 2008, until I was elevated into a full third member of the site, where I posted pretty regularly until about 2013, when our blog, like so many others, began to wind down, replaced by both social media and professional news sites. I was also one of the early contributors to Alexis’s Tech section at The Atlantic starting in 2010, which is also held aloft as a blog standard during this podcast. So I have some skin in this game.)

Also worth reading into this discussion: Anil Dash’s 20th anniversary roundtable at Function with Bruce Ableson, Lisa Phillips, and Andrew Smales, which pretty explicitly (and usefully!) constructs the early blogosphere as the precursor to contemporary social media.

It’s easy to look at Twitter and look at Facebook, and look at the things that are happening, and how awful people are to each other, and say: the world would be better off without the internet. And I don’t believe that. I think that there’s still space where people can be good to each other.

So here’s the thing:

  1. The blogosphere was not always better than the contemporary social web;
  2. The blogosphere felt like it was getting better in a way that the contemporary social web does not.

And that turns out to make a huge difference! I mean, in general, the world was sort of a crummy place in the early 2000s. (The late 1990s were actually good.) But on the web side, especially, things in the early 2000s felt like they were getting better. Services were improving, more information was coming online, storage and computing power (both locally and in the cloud) were improving in a way that felt tangible, people were getting more connected, those connections felt more powerful and meaningful. It was the heroic phase of the web, even as it was also the time that decisions were being made that were going to foreclose on a lot of those heroic possibilities.

A lot of the efforts to reshape social media, or to walk away from it in favor of RSS feeds or something else, are really attempts to recapture those utopian elements that were active in the zeitgeist ten, fifteen, and twenty years ago. They still exercise a powerful hold over our collective imagination about what the internet is, and could be, even when they take the form of dashed hopes and stifled dreams.

I feel like I can speak to this quite personally. Ten years ago, I was just another graduate student in a humanities program stuck with a shitty job market, layered atop what were already difficult career prospects to begin with. The only thing I had going for me that the average literary modernist didn’t was that I was writing for a popular blog with two very talented young journalists who liked to think about the future of media. That pulled me in a definite direction in terms of the kinds of things I wrote about (yes, Walter Benjamin, but also Google Books), and the places where I ended up writing them (, The Atlantic, and eventually Wired). So instead of being an unemployable humanist, I became an underemployed journalist.

At the same time, the blogosphere, while crucial, has only offered so much velocity and so much gravity. By which I mean: it’s only propelled my career so far, and the blogs I’ve written for (Kottke notwithstanding) have only had so much ability to retain me before they’ve changed their business model, changed management, gone out of business, or been quietly abandoned. They’re little asteroids, not planets. Most of the proper publications I’ve written for, even the net-native ones, have been dense enough to hold an atmosphere.

And guess what? So have Twitter and Facebook. Just by enduring, those places have become places for lasting connections and friendships and career opportunities, in a way the blogosphere never was, at least for me. (Maybe this is partly a function of timing, but look: I was there.) And this means that, despite their toxicity, despite their shortcomings, despite all the promises that have gone unfulfilled, Twitter and Facebook have continued to matter in a way that blogs don’t.

For good or for ill, Twitter lets you take the roof off and contact people you’d otherwise never reach. The question, I think, is whether you have to tack that roof back on again in order to get the valuable newsgathering and conversation elements that people once found so compelling about the blogosphere, or whether there’s some other form of modification that can be made to build in proper protections.

The other question is whether there can be anything like a one-size-fits-all solution to the problem of social media. I suspect there isn’t, just because people are at different points on their career trajectories, which shapes their needs and wants vis-a-vis social media accordingly. Some of us are still trying to blow up, or (in some cases) remind the world what they liked about us to begin with. Others of us are just trying to do our jobs and get through the day. Many more still have little capital to trade on to begin with, and are just looking for some kind of meaningful interaction to give us a reason why we logged in in the first place. The fact that this is the largest group, for whom the tools are the least well-suited, and who were promised the most by social media’s ascendancy, is the great tragedy of the form.

Maybe we need to ask ourselves, what was it that we wanted from the blogosphere in the first place? Was it a career? Was it just a place to write and be read by somebody, anybody? Was it a community? Maybe it began as one thing and turned into another. That’s OK! But I don’t think we can treat the blogosphere as a settled thing, when it was in fact never settled at all. Just as social media remains unsettled. Its fate has not been written yet. We’re the ones who’ll have to write it.

Tags: Alexis Madrigal   Anil Dash   blogs   Matt Thompson   social media

by Tim Carmody at January 18, 2019 07:00 PM

The 1959 Project


1969 is getting all the attention right now, as huge historical landmarks celebrate their 50th anniversary. But what about 1959, and all those 60th anniversaries? 1959 was particularly a landmark year for jazz, and it’s those milestones that are celebrated by an amazing blog called The 1959 Project. Helmed by Natalie Weiner, a sportswriter and history-of-jazz superfan, the premise is simple: every day, a snapshot of the world of jazz sixty years ago.

In the 2 1/2 weeks since the site’s been active, it’s already overflowing with musical goodness. I especially love this deep dive on Ahmad Jamal, an artist I didn’t know much about until my 15-year-old son, a hip-hop head, turned me on to him. There’s also plenty of Charles Mingus, John Coltrane, Max Roach, Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, as well as vocalists like Muriel Roberts, Dakota Staton, Susan Hayward, and Lorez Alexandria.

It’s already one of the few sites that I read every day, and it only promises to get better as the year goes on.

Tags: 1959   jazz   music

by Tim Carmody at January 18, 2019 03:30 PM

Steven Adams is the Evolutionary Bill Laimbeer, and I Am Here For It

Steven Adams - Draymond Green.jpg

One of the best things about the contemporary NBA is that the league is overflowing with villains, great players that it’s easy to root against. It’s just as easy to love LeBron as to hate LeBron, to love or hate the Warriors, to love or hate James Harden or Kyrie Irving or John Wall. You could heat these guys’ guts, and love their entertainment value as heels at the same time.

One of the very best heels is Oklahoma City center Steven Adams, the New Zealand-born, ponytail-clad, Aquaman-resembling brute who sets screens and clears the boards for Russell Westbrook and Paul George. ESPN gave Adams a mostly sympathetic profile that at the same time made it clear why someone like Draymond Green would want to kick Adams in the nuts.

There’s no “NBA’s Strongest Man” contest where players lift Jumbotrons or heave backboards onto the upper concourse, but among peers and people around the league, Adams is widely considered the NBA’s strongman, a walking concrete wall of power and physicality.

“That guy is the strongest, most physical guy in the league,” says Wizards coach Scott Brooks, who coached Adams for two seasons in OKC.

Says teammate Jerami Grant: “He is for sure, definitely the strongest guy in the NBA.”

In a league trending toward speed, spacing, shooting and slashing, Adams is the counterpoint. Old school. A “throwback,” as San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich calls him.

Adams is a bruising, physical relic of the past, a back-to-the-basket brute who will grind possessions in the post and overpower you to get there.

“That m——-f——- is strong. Like, I’m serious,” Philadelphia 76ers star Jimmy Butler said last season. “He hit me with one screen and I thought my life was over.

“He’s from Krypton or something.”

Wait: why don’t we have strongman competitions duringthe NBA All-Star weekend or something? That would be amazing! I would rather watch that than layup drills or half of the stuff they show. I want to see Marc Gasol and Boogie Cousins throwing barrels at each other.

Tags: basketball   NBA   Steven Adams

by Tim Carmody at January 18, 2019 03:00 PM

Gradually, Then Suddenly

Using one of my recent favorite mental models,1 Tim O’Reilly writes about some technology-related changes happening in the world where incremental advances in recent years are set to soon become pervasive.

2) The rest of the world is leapfrogging the US. The volume of mobile payments in China is $13 trillion versus the US’s $50 billion, while credit cards never took hold. Already Zipline’s on-demand drones are delivering 20% of all blood supplies in Rwanda and will be coming soon to other countries (including the US). In each case, the lack of existing infrastructure turned out to be an advantage in adopting a radically new model. Expect to see this pattern recur, as incumbents and old thinking hold back the adoption of new models.

  1. I’ve referenced “gradually, then suddenly” in recent posts about what living in a dictatorship feels like and climate change.

Tags: lists   Tim O’Reilly

by Jason Kottke at January 18, 2019 02:42 PM

The Case for Impeaching Donald Trump

In the cover story for the March 2019 issue of The Atlantic, Yoni Appelbaum clearly and methodically lays out the case that Congress should begin the impeachment process against Donald Trump.

The oath of office is a president’s promise to subordinate his private desires to the public interest, to serve the nation as a whole rather than any faction within it. Trump displays no evidence that he understands these obligations. To the contrary, he has routinely privileged his self-interest above the responsibilities of the presidency. He has failed to disclose or divest himself from his extensive financial interests, instead using the platform of the presidency to promote them. This has encouraged a wide array of actors, domestic and foreign, to seek to influence his decisions by funneling cash to properties such as Mar-a-Lago (the “Winter White House,” as Trump has branded it) and his hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue. Courts are now considering whether some of those payments violate the Constitution.

More troubling still, Trump has demanded that public officials put their loyalty to him ahead of their duty to the public. On his first full day in office, he ordered his press secretary to lie about the size of his inaugural crowd. He never forgave his first attorney general for failing to shut down investigations into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, and ultimately forced his resignation. “I need loyalty. I expect loyalty,” Trump told his first FBI director, and then fired him when he refused to pledge it.

Trump has evinced little respect for the rule of law, attempting to have the Department of Justice launch criminal probes into his critics and political adversaries. He has repeatedly attacked both Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Special Counsel Robert Mueller. His efforts to mislead, impede, and shut down Mueller’s investigation have now led the special counsel to consider whether the president obstructed justice.

Appelbaum’s article has already swayed the impeachment opinions of James Fallows (“this piece…changed my mind”) and Stewart Brand. This short video is a good overview of the piece (which you should read in full anyway):

This, for me, is the critical part of Appelbaum’s argument (emphasis mine):

The fight over whether Trump should be removed from office is already raging, and distorting everything it touches. Activists are radicalizing in opposition to a president they regard as dangerous. Within the government, unelected bureaucrats who believe the president is acting unlawfully are disregarding his orders, or working to subvert his agenda. By denying the debate its proper outlet, Congress has succeeded only in intensifying its pressures. And by declining to tackle the question head-on, it has deprived itself of its primary means of reining in the chief executive.

With a newly seated Democratic majority, the House of Representatives can no longer dodge its constitutional duty. It must immediately open a formal impeachment inquiry into President Trump, and bring the debate out of the court of public opinion and into Congress, where it belongs.

Reading this, I was struck by a real sadness. What a massive waste of time the Trump presidency has been. America has urgent challenges to address on behalf of all of its citizens and they’re just not getting much consideration. Instead, we’ve given the attention of the country over to a clown and a charlatan who wants nothing more than for everyone to adore and enrich him. Meanwhile, the US government and a populace bewitched by breaking news is stuck in traffic, gawking at this continually unfolding accident. And we somehow can’t or won’t act to remove him from the most powerful job in the world, this person that not even his supporters would trust to borrow their cars or water their plants while on vacation. What a shame and what a waste.

Tags: Donald Trump   politics   USA   Yoni Appelbaum

by Jason Kottke at January 18, 2019 12:42 AM

January 17, 2019

Menendez Brothers Found Courtside on 1990 Basketball Card

About 30 years ago, the Menendez brothers of Beverly Hills murdered their parents, collected a hefty life insurance policy, and then went on an 8 month spending spree. The brothers bought cars, watches, opulent vacations, restaurants (what?!), and… courtside tickets to see the Knicks play. Incidentally, a photo of Mark Jackson from that game was used as his 1990 basketball card, and you’ll never guess who was in the background

Mark Jackson 1990 Basketball Card

The guy who found it, Stephen Zerance, isn’t an NBA fan but a fan of true-crime. He’d read in court documents the brothers had bought the tickets and went looking for proof. When archival photo and video searches were fruitless, he thought about basketball cards. After looking on eBay, Zerance found his match and announced it this past August, 29 years after the murders. It’s some sort of real-life Time Travelers in Historic Photos bananas coincidence.

As an aside, I learned while writing this post the Menendez brothers weren’t initially considered suspects and got caught after one of the brothers admitted the murders to his psychologist, who told his mistress (the psychologist’s, not the brother’s), who told the cops. Eventually, the affair between the mistress and the psychologist ended, perhaps on account of the stress related to being an ancillary part of a high profile murder case, and likely badly as evidenced by the fact the mistress attended the Menendez trial as a witness for the defense with the intention of impugning the character of the psychologist. What a ride.

Tags: basketball   Mark Jackson   Menendez Brothers   photography

by Aaron Cohen at January 17, 2019 11:08 PM

How We Talk About Racism in America is Wrong

For Vox, Jane Coaston writes about why Republicans took 15 years to act on House member Steve King’s racism. I found her point about how racism has become an insult to be wielded or avoided (depending on your perspective) rather than a useful descriptive term of behavior or views really interesting.

The way we talk about race and racism in the United States is wrong. In short, we think of “racist” as an insult rather than as an adjective. And we have narrowed down the concept of racism to an almost ludicrous extent, in effect often excusing real racism — such as that espoused by people like King — and its impact on nonwhite Americans because it is not literally wearing a hood or setting a cross alight on a lawn.

Later on in the piece, she quotes historian Ibram X. Kendi (who was a frequent guest on the excellent Seeing White podcast series) about this unhelpful shift.

“I think that the way a better part of America defines what a racist is someone who self identifies as a white nationalist or a white supremacist,” said Ibram X. Kendi, a historian at American University and author of Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. “Someone who is in the Ku Klux Klan, someone who says the n-word, someone who engages in racial violence. Anything else, according to them, is not racist.”

We tend to define racism in a way that will not implicate our own views or ideas. “I think people define racism in a way that exonerates them. If they can narrow [the definition of racism] as much as possible to things they are not saying or doing or are about, that leaves them off the hook,” Kendi continued.

In his view, rather than “racist” being “a descriptive term with a clear-cut definition,” we have turned it into a “fixed derogatory putdown,” an insult. He told me that “by conceiving it in this way, we create a culture of denial in which everyone denies being racist but very few people know what a racist is.”

In effect, the term “racist,” which has an actual meaning, has now been turned into a schoolyard insult.

Tags: Ibram X. Kendi   Jane Coaston   language   racism   USA

by Jason Kottke at January 17, 2019 09:07 PM

Why Is the Night Sky Dark?

I love how simple questions can reveal deep truths about how the universe works. Take “why is the night sky dark?” It’s a question a small child might ask but stumped the likes of Newton, Halley, and Kepler and wasn’t really resolved until Einstein’s theory of general relativity and the Big Bang theory rolled around. Here’s the paradox: if we live in a static infinite universe, shouldn’t the sky be unbearably bright?

Distant stars look weak, and very distant stars shine too dimly for you to see with your eyes. But when space telescopes like Hubble peer deep into the darkest spots of sky, they uncover bunches of incredibly faint galaxies. And the deeper they look, the more they find. If the universe went on forever with stars sprinkled evenly throughout — as many early stargazers assumed — the night sky would be full of so many points of light that it would never look dark.

“The fact that the stars are everywhere makes up for the fact that some of the stars are far away,” says Katie Mack, an astrophysicist at North Carolina State University. No matter which way you look, in an endless universe your line of sight would always end smack on the surface of a star, and the entire sky would always blaze with the brightness of the sun.

The answer to this paradox is that the universe is both finite & unbounded (per Einstein) and the darkness we see is the Big Bang.

The mystery of the dark sky is solved by the fact that this history has a beginning — a time before stars and galaxies. Many cosmologists think the universe started out as a very small point, and then started inflating like a balloon in an event called the Big Bang. If you look deep enough, you can see so far back in time that you get close to the Big Bang. “You just run out of stars,” Kinney says. “And you run out of stars, in the grand scheme of things, relatively quickly.”

If you’re anything like me, you just had a Little Bang go off in your brain. (via laura olin)

Tags: Albert Einstein   physics   science

by Jason Kottke at January 17, 2019 07:01 PM

A Stroke Gave This Doctor the Gift of Rhyme

The brain is a fascinating organ. If you’re lucky enough to wake up after having a stroke, there’s a chance you might have some new habits or a different personality.

Some patients become hypersexual or compulsive gamblers. Others have even woken up speaking in a fake Chinese accent. “There was a famous guy in Italy who had what they called ‘Pinocchio syndrome,’” said Dr. Alice Flaherty, a joint associate professor of neurology and psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. “When he told a lie he would have a seizure. He was crippled as a businessman.”

When he was in his 50s, Beverly Hills doctor Sherman Hershfield suffered a stroke, and in the aftermath he become obsessed with poetry and start speaking in rhyme. That let to an interest in rap music and he started competing at an open mic in South Central LA as Dr. Rapp. He even befriended legendary rapper KRS-One, who shared with Hershfield an interest in how rap music and science converged in the human brain.

During the Q&A, Hershfield grabbed the mic and started to tell his story.

He explained that he was getting his language back together after a stroke by listening to rap records. “One of which was one of my songs,” KRS-One recalled.

Hershfield couldn’t stop himself.

“I started to have a stroke,” he rapped. “Went broke.”

The room fell silent.

“I started to think and speak in rhyme. I can do it all the time. And I want to get to do the rap, and I won’t take any more of this crap.”

The crowd erupted.

When Hershfield rapped about his struggles, not history lessons, he inspired the audience.

“He got a standing ovation,” recalled KRS-One. He gave the doctor his telephone number and suggested they hang out.

(thx, mike)

Tags: KRS-One   music   Sherman Hershfield

by Jason Kottke at January 17, 2019 04:51 PM

Massive Naturally Occurring Ice Carousel

Spinning disks of ice can form naturally in slow-moving parts of streams and rivers. What happens is a large chunk of ice gets caught in a quiet part of the river and then is spun and shaped into a circle by the nearby current.

In the video above, Tina Radel captured a particularly huge ice circle in the Presumpscot River in Westbrook, Maine…it’s about 100 yards across!

A couple of years ago, a smaller ice circle was observed in Washington and “went viral”:

The Westbrook ice circle isn’t that much smaller than the world’s largest man-made ice circle, which was fashioned in Maine last year and turned into a carousel by attaching several outboard motors to it.

Tags: Tina Radel   video

by Jason Kottke at January 17, 2019 02:52 PM

zen habits

The Rule of the Edge

By Leo Babauta

In all of my many challenges and habit changes and book writing and learning, I’ve found one thing to be the most powerfully beneficial to all growth, learning and training.

I call it the Rule of the Edge.

Here’s the rule: practice at your edge most of the time.

And this rule is what will help you grow the most, over time.

What do I mean by “your edge”? I mean going just to the edge of discomfort, just to the edge of what is difficult for you, what is pushing your boundaries a bit.

If you’re practicing music, and you just practice the scales all the time, after awhile, doing the scales is too easy for you. You aren’t learning very much by only practicing musical scales. Sure, it’s still a good practice, but you have to push to something that’s more challenging for you.

If you’re exercising, easy exercise is a good thing … but you also need to push yourself. Just a bit.

But your edge isn’t pushing yourself until you’re ready to collapse. It’s not pushing to injury, pushing so that you can’t practice tomorrow. It’s not studying all day long until your brain has melted.

It’s going to the edge, not diving off it.

And when I say, “Practice at your edge most of the time,” notice the phrase “most of the time.” You shouldn’t be at your edge all the time. It’s exhausting, and can take a lot of focus. Instead, try to be there more than half the time. Don’t be lazy, but also give yourself some easy practice.

There’s a lot of value in easy practice — it cements your learning, keeps you in good shape, keeps you sharp. It locks in the easy stuff as easy. And it can be a lot of fun.

You can also experiment with pushing a little past your edge, if you have the experience to know that it’s safe. But best to do this under supervision of a teacher or trainer if you aren’t sure.

So mix it up. More than half of your practice should be at your edge, but anywhere from 20-40% of your practice should be easy stuff. A blend is best — not “all easy and then all edge” but “easy, edge, easy, edge, edge, easy easy” or something similar.

What Edge Training Looks Like in Practice

Here’s how this kind of edge practice might work in real life:

The Way to Practice at Your Edge

When you’re at your edge, it’s one thing to just tolerate it, to grit your teeth and bear it until it’s over … and quite another thing to actually practice with the discomfort and uncertainty of being at that edge.

If you want to get the most out of practicing at your edge, here’s what I suggest:

  1. Go up to the edge and stay there for a little longer than you’d like. You want to collapse, you want to exit. Instead, hold the pose for a little longer. See it as your growth in action.
  2. Now drop mindfully into the discomfort & uncertainty. Drop into your body, noticing the sensations of the discomfort. Standing on stage in front of hundreds of people? Notice the sensations of anxiety or nervousness (or excitement, whatever you’d like to call it). Running a hard mile? Notice the sensations in your legs and torso.
  3. Practice opening in that uncertainty & discomfort. See what you can do to relax into this feeling of being at your edge. Can you bring a sense of curiosity? Explore the bodily feeling for a bit, noticing what it’s like. Relax your muscles around these sensations. Bring a sense of gentleness to it. A sense of compassion. A sense of humor. Open your mind to all sensations in the present moment, including the sense of discomfort but also all of your surroundings. Open up to a vast skylike mind.

With practice, your edge can even be a place where you find comfort. A sense of easy. A sense of joy at the deliciousness of the groundlessness.

Some Rules About the Rule of the Edge

The Rule of the Edge comes with a few sub-rules:

  1. Don’t always be at your edge. Ease off. Do some easy stuff too.
  2. Sometimes it’s OK to go past your edge, if you keep yourself safe. It’s a sense of exploration, finding new edges.
  3. Your edge will change over time. Notice how it shifts. Keep pushing a little further into your edge, if you sense the shift.
  4. Practice mindfully at your edge, don’t just try to get through it.

by zenhabits at January 17, 2019 02:00 PM

January 16, 2019

Tiny Paper Crane Masterpieces

Check out these elaborate and colorfully decorated origami creations by paper artist Cristian Marianciuc.

Cristian Marianciuc

Cristian Marianciuc

Cristian Marianciuc

To create these intricate artworks, Marianciuc folds traditional origami cranes and then adorns them with hand-cut paper and other materials. Some of his creations are available in his Etsy shop. (via @imperica)

Tags: art   Cristian Marianciuc   origami

by Jason Kottke at January 16, 2019 11:23 PM

Visualizing Dubious Spelling with Flow Diagrams

Colin Morris recently analyzed a corpus of comments from Reddit for misspellings by searching for words near uncertainty indicators like “(sp?)”. Among the words that provoked the most doubt were Kaepernick, comradery, adderall, Minaj, seizure, Galifianakis, loogie, and Gyllenhaal. Morris then used a Sankey diagram to visualize how people misspelled “Gyllenhaal” in different ways (with the arrow thickness denoting the frequency of each spelling):

Sankey Chart Gyllenhaal

Tag yourself! (I’m probably on the yellow “LL” arrow.) Sankey diagrams are typically used in science and engineering to visualize flows of energy in and out of a system, but this is a clever adaptation to linguistics (sp?). I’d to see one of these for rhythm. (via @kellianderson)

Tags: Colin Morris   infoviz   Jake Gyllenhaal   language   Maggie Gyllenhaal

by Jason Kottke at January 16, 2019 09:18 PM

One Film / One Shot

For more than a year now, Jon Lefkovitz has been making short videos of iconic scenes from films backed by the same musical score, a short clip of “Canis Lupus” from Alexandre Desplat’s Fantastic Mr. Fox score. Here’s Groundhog Day, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Jurassic Park (featuring a great example of the Spielberg Face), and the beautiful 2-minute shot from Big Night:

Each clip is between 30 seconds and 2 minutes 30 seconds long. Here’s the whole playlist.

Tags: Jon Lefkovitz   movies   remix   video

by Jason Kottke at January 16, 2019 07:09 PM

The Incurable Disease vs the Relentless Couple

When Sonia Vallabh lost her mother to a rare disease called fatal familial insomnia, she soon found out that she had inherited the disease, that there was no cure, and that she’d be dead in “a decade or two”. Despite almost no scientific training, Vallabh and her husband both quit their jobs to work on a cure. Talk about going all-in.

Within a few weeks of the diagnosis, Sonia had quit her job to study science full time, continuing classes at MIT during the day and enrolling in a night class in biology at Harvard’s extension school. The pair lived off savings and Eric’s salary. Sonia had expected to take a temporary sabbatical from her real life, but soon textbooks and academic articles weren’t enough. “The practice of science and the classroom version of science are such different animals,” Sonia says. She wanted to try her hand in the lab. She found a position as a technician with a research group focusing on Huntington’s disease. Eric, not wanting to be left behind, quit his job too and offered his data-crunching expertise to a genetics lab. The deeper they dove into science, the more they began to fixate on finding a cure.

They’re now on the brink of getting their Harvard PhDs and are pushing ahead with a promising medical therapy.

As soon as the couple began their presentation, Lander says, there was a sense of “pushing on an open door” — quite a surprise, given the agency’s stodgy reputation. “People still flat-out don’t believe the FDA was cool with it,” Minikel says. Afterward, one of the 25 scientists in the audience pulled Lander aside and said, “That was one of the best presentations I’ve ever seen.” Schreiber agreed. He alluded to a pharmaceutical company he’d helped set up early in his career. “Twenty-four years into that company, there was nothing to show for it. Not one thing,” he says. “For two graduate students who are not trained in science to come in and do what they did? Absolute forces of nature, savants. They keep seeing things that other people don’t see.”

Update: D.T. Max wrote a book on prions and prion-based diseases called The Family That Couldn’t Sleep. I looked in the archives and found a 2010 post on a National Geographic article Max wrote about sleep that specifically referenced fatal familial insomnia:

The main symptom of FFI, as the disease is often called, is the inability to sleep. First the ability to nap disappears, then the ability to get a full night’s sleep, until the patient cannot sleep at all. The syndrome usually strikes when the sufferer is in his or her 50s, ordinarily lasts about a year, and, as the name indicates, always ends in death.

(via @mattbucher)

Tags: D.T. Max   medicine   science   Sonia Vallabh

by Jason Kottke at January 16, 2019 04:57 PM

Historic Topographic Maps Pushed Into 3D

Designer Scott Reinhard takes old geological survey maps and combines them with elevation data to produce these wonderful hybrid topographic maps. From top to bottom, here are Reinhard’s 3D versions of a 1878 USGS Yellowstone map, a 1904 USGS map of Acadia National Park, and a 1899 USGS map of the Grand Tetons.

Scott Reinhard

Scott Reinhard

Scott Reinhard

What really sells it is the shadows cast by the topological part of the map onto the borders; it’s particularly evident in the Teton and Acadia maps. I’d love to see an animated version of the mountains pushing up from the flatness of the map. (via the morning news and several emailers)

Update: FYI, if you want to buy prints of some of these maps, Reinhard has set up a shop selling prints.

Tags: maps   Scott Reinhard

by Jason Kottke at January 16, 2019 02:52 PM


the proposal, by jasmine guillory

He’d spent almost five years trying to beat back his grief; the idea of welcoming it in felt obscene.

by rachel at January 16, 2019 04:30 AM

January 15, 2019

The Art of Noticing

When Tim and I first started the Noticing newsletter, I got a note from Rob Walker, a design and technology journalist whose work I’ve followed for some years. He said he was working on a book about paying attention and that the book and an affiliated newsletter were going to have a similar name to “Noticing”. Name collisions like that are always a bummer, but we didn’t challenge each other to a duel or anything. Instead, he asked me to contribute a tiny bit to the book and I said I’d write about it when it was coming out.

So here’s the skinny. The book is called The Art of Noticing: 131 Ways to Spark Creativity, Find Inspiration, and Discover Joy In the Everyday, will be out in May 2019, and can be preordered from Amazon right now. Walker describes it as a practical guide to becoming a better observer, “a series of exercises and prompts and games and things you can actually do (or reflect upon) to build attention muscles or just get off your phone and enjoy noticing stuff that everyone else missed”.

The Art of Noticing is an expansion of an essay by Walker called How to Pay Attention. One of the suggestions is “Look slowly”:

Robert Irwin, the artist mentioned above, shaped his practice in part by spending insane-sounding amounts of time simply looking — at his own paintings, at rooms, at outdoor settings. “Slow Art Day” is an annual event at multiple locations around the country that picks up this spirit in a perhaps more manageable form: Participants meet at a museum and “look at five works of art for 10 minutes each and then meet together over lunch to talk about their experience,” the event’s site explains.

The weekly newsletter associated with the book is right here if you’d like to join me in signing up. So far, it’s both whetting the appetite for the book and also providing interesting attention-adjacent things to snack on in the meantime.

P.S. I love Walker’s idea that paying attention is something that a person can learn to do. In the introduction letter to Noticing, I wrote about a similar assertion Walter Isaacson made about Leonardo da Vinci in his biography:

One of Isaacson’s main points in the book was that Leonardo’s accomplishments were due in no small part to his extraordinary powers of observation. By observing things closely and from all possible angles, he was able to make connections and find details that other people didn’t and express them in his work. Isaacson argues that Leonardo’s observational powers were not innate and that with sufficient practice, we can all observe as he did. People talk in a precious way about genius, creativity, and curiosity as superpowers that people are born with but noticing is a more humble pursuit. Noticing is something we can all do.

P.P.S. When working on the book, Walker asked a number of people for tips on paying better attention. My tip (the “tiny bit” mentioned above) didn’t make it into the book, so I thought I’d share it here:

The thing that popped into my head about noticing suggestions is to pay attention to kids. They are literally at a different level in the world, ocularly speaking, and so notice different things. They’ve also got Beginner’s Minds, again literally. Having been a designer for many years, I am pretty good at observation, but my kids are always noticing details that I miss. I’m not saying you should crawl around on your hands and knees, but occasionally directing your gaze as a child would is often instructive.

Related to this, a few months ago I was able to add a new tool to their observational skills. The kids were having repeated difficulty with the door to a store in our town and on one particular visit, my son voiced his frustration. I asked them why he thought the door was so tough and they couldn’t really say, so I told them about Norman doors and now every time they have trouble with, say, a PULL door with PUSH indications, they go, “Norman door! They should get a better designed door.” It’s really fun because it turns a boring shopping trip into a little exercise in how the world could be a tiny bit better if people were just a little more observant about how others use things.

P.P.P.S. <— Last one, I promise. A version of this post first appeared in last week’s Noticing newsletter. If you’d like to subscribe, right this way.

Tags: books   Rob Walker   The Art of Noticing

by Jason Kottke at January 15, 2019 09:31 PM

Meet the Black Market Dropgangs

Ok, this is fascinating. In “dropgangs, or the future of darknet markets”, Jonathan Logan shares how vendors on the darknet have evolved in recent years. Instead of relying on markets like Silk Road to connect with customers and the post office to deliver, vendors have brought customer communications in-house and utilize public dead drop locations for delivery, just like espionage organizations.

To prevent the problems of customer binding, and losing business when darknet markets go down, merchants have begun to leave the specialized and centralized platforms and instead ventured to use widely accessible technology to build their own communications and operational back-ends.

Instead of using websites on the darknet, merchants are now operating invite-only channels on widely available mobile messaging systems like Telegram. This allows the merchant to control the reach of their communication better and be less vulnerable to system take-downs. To further stabilize the connection between merchant and customer, repeat customers are given unique messaging contacts that are independent of shared channels and thus even less likely to be found and taken down. Channels are often operated by automated bots that allow customers to inquire about offers and initiate the purchase, often even allowing a fully bot-driven experience without human intervention on the merchant’s side.

The use of messaging platforms provides a much better user experience to the customers, who can now reach their suppliers with mobile applications they are used to already. It also means that a larger part of the communication isn’t routed through the Tor or I2P networks anymore but each side - merchant and customer - employ their own protection technology, often using widely spread VPNs.

The other major change is the use of “dead drops” instead of the postal system which has proven vulnerable to tracking and interception. Now, goods are hidden in publicly accessible places like parks and the location is given to the customer on purchase. The customer then goes to the location and picks up the goods. This means that delivery becomes asynchronous for the merchant, he can hide a lot of product in different locations for future, not yet known, purchases. For the client the time to delivery is significantly shorter than waiting for a letter or parcel shipped by traditional means - he has the product in his hands in a matter of hours instead of days. Furthermore this method does not require for the customer to give any personally identifiable information to the merchant, which in turn doesn’t have to safeguard it anymore. Less data means less risk for everyone.

Logan expects this type of thing to become more widespread in the near future and it will be difficult to know what effect it will have on society. Maybe one of those effects is that being a corner hopper (like in The Wire) will be more widely available to young people (emphasis mine):

More people will find their livelihoods in taking part in these distribution networks, since required skills and risks are low, while a steady income for the industrious can be expected. Instead of delivering papers, teenagers will service dead drops.

(via @pomeranian99)

Tags: crime   drugs   Jonathan Logan

by Jason Kottke at January 15, 2019 07:26 PM

“All Truths in Roma Are Revealed by Water”

Yesterday on Twitter, Guillermo del Toro shared “10 personal musings about ROMA”, the film by Alfonso Cuarón that just won best film at the Critics’ Choice awards. It is also a tiny masterclass in how to watch a film.

1) The opening shot suggests that earth (the shit-infested ground) and heaven (the plane) are irreconcilably far even if they are joined — momentarily — and revealed, by water (the reflection). All truths in ROMA are revealed by water.

2) These planes of existence, like the separation within classes in the household cannot be broached. The moments the family comes “closer” are fleeting… “She saved our lives” is promptly followed by “Can you make me a banana shake?”

This bit in particular makes me want to watch the whole thing again:

In every sense, ROMA is a Fresco, a Mural, not a portrait. Not only the way it is lensed but the way it “scrolls” with long lateral dollies. The audio visual information (context, social unrest, factions & politics / morals of the time) exists within the frame to be read.

If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend Roma. It’s still showing in a few theaters but is also available on Netflix.

Tags: Alfonso Cuaron   Guillermo del Toro   movies   Roma   trailers   video

by Jason Kottke at January 15, 2019 05:30 PM

In a Nutshell

In a Nutshell is a mesmerizing stop motion animation directed by Fabio Friedli that attempts to sum up the entire world in just five minutes, “from a seed to war, from meat to love, from indifference to apocalypse”. This is very very well done. (via waxy)

Tags: Fabio Friedli   mesmerizing   stop motion   video

by Jason Kottke at January 15, 2019 03:53 PM

zen habits

The Beautiful and Scary Practice of Moving Closer

By Leo Babauta

Life is full of all kinds of stresses, and each of us has habitual ways of reacting to those stresses — we procrastinate, run to comforts, lash out or distance ourselves from others, try to exit from a stressful place, mentally complain about others.

The sad effect of these habitual reactions is that they move us further away from others, and from the direct experience of the moment.

Let’s take a quick example: If you are hurt by the way someone is acting, your habitual reaction might be complaining about them, taking offense, getting angry (all of these or a combo). Then you shut them out, closing your heart to them, moving away from them.

The effect of this is that you’ve now distanced yourself from the other person. And I submit that this is the cause of most of our relationship problems, work issues, violence, racism, political strife, and wars.

Closing our hearts to others and creating distance from them out of habitual reaction to stress is the heart of aggression, violence and pain.

We do the same thing when it comes to our direct experience of the moment — if we’re bored, unhappy with our situation, unhappy with ourselves, stressed or tired … we habitually try to find comfort in food, drink, drugs, online distractions, TV or videos, shopping, porn, drowning everything out with music, and so on. We are moving away from the present moment, shutting out the world around us.

Moving ourselves away from the direct experience of this moment, out of habitual reaction, is the heart of our unhappiness and disconnect from life.

These are all based on the same problem — we have habitual reactions to stress, and those habitual reactions move us further from other people. From life itself. From ourselves.

Today, I’d like to offer you a practice that I’ve been exploring myself: the beautiful practice of moving closer.

It is scary, shaky, and transformative.

It goes like this:

  1. Notice that you’re feeling some kind of stress — anxiety, pain, struggle, frustration, overwhelm, sadness.
  2. Notice your habitual reaction to that stress: you procrastinate, try to exit, shut someone out, complain, run to one of your comforts, hide, quit, run away, lash out, yell, hit, medicate, etc.
  3. Refrain from indulging in your habitual reaction. Instead, just remain still. Instead of complaining, do nothing. Instead of spinning around a narrative about the other person and shutting them out, do nothing. Just refrain.
  4. Breathe deeply into the sensations in your body. When you refrain from your habitual reaction, you are left with an energy in your body that still really wants to do the habitual thing. It will be a strong urge. You just sit still. You do nothing. But you breathe deeply and relax around the energy in your body. Notice how it feels, in your torso. Be curious about it. Stay with it. Be present with it. Welcome it. Give it compassion.
  5. Now, move closer. Someone else stressing you out? After refraining from complaining about them, move closer to them. Open your heart and be fully present with them. Be completely loving. Yes, sometimes you have to physically protect yourself — but that doesn’t mean you have to shut down your heart. You can love the person who has hurt you, without letting them continue to hurt you. Maybe it’s not a person but a situation (or yourself) that’s stressing you out. You are filled with discomfort and uncertainty. You refrain from your habitual reaction, and instead you move closer to the direct experience of this moment. You open your heart to the world, and love it as it is. You love yourself as you are.

Continue to move closer. Continue to reopen your heart. From this place, see what action you need to take. Not from the place of habitual reaction.

It’s an incredibly beautiful practice. And yes, it’s filled with shakiness. That makes it even more courageous.

by zenhabits at January 15, 2019 02:30 PM

January 14, 2019

Is Eating Organic Food Better for Us? For the Earth?

In their latest video, Kurzgesagt asks: “Is Organic Really Better? Healthy Food or Trendy Scam?” Using the results of dozens of studies (their extensive list of sources is here), they examine the evidence that organic food is better for our health and for the environment than food produced by conventional methods (with artificial pesticides, fertilizers, etc.). The result is pretty much a toss-up. Their ultimate conclusion: eating more fruits and vegetables of any kind and buying local food that is in season is a better option than eating organic. (Note: the video and studies they used seem to cover only organic produce and not meat. That comparison might have a different outcome.)

Tags: food   video

by Jason Kottke at January 14, 2019 11:16 PM

The World’s Fastest Human on a Bike

In 1995, Fred Rompelberg set the record for the fastest speed on a bicycle: 167 mph. In September 2018, drafting behind the same custom-made dragster that Rompelberg used to set his record, Denise Mueller-Korenek smashed that record by almost 17 mph.

Mueller-Korenek mounted a specially equipped bike with a massive gear and tethered it to a race car, which then accelerated to 100-plus mph-the velocity necessary for the rider to turn over the cranks on her own volition. Then she unhooked from the car and stayed in the slipstream, smashing the pedals around to hit the highest speed possible under her own power.

Her speed on her final mile on the Bonneville Salt Flats was 183.93 mph. This short film from WSJ shows how Mueller-Korenek became the world’s fastest human on a bike. The salty maelstrom whipped up as she pushed past 180 is incredible. Tough. As. Nails.

Tags: cycling   Denise Mueller-Korenek   sports   video

by Jason Kottke at January 14, 2019 09:25 PM

The Embroidered Computer

Artists Irene Posch & Ebru Kurbak have built The Embroidered Computer, a programmable 8-bit computer made using traditional embroidery techniques and materials.

Embroidered Computer

Embroidered Computer

Solely built from a variety of metal threads, magnetic, glas and metal beads, and being inspired by traditional crafting routines and patterns, the piece questions the appearance of current digital and electronic technologies surrounding us, as well as our interaction with them.

Technically, the piece consists of (textile) relays, similar to early computers before the invention of semiconductors. Visually, the gold materials, here used for their conductive properties, arranged into specific patterns to fulfill electronic functions, dominate the work. Traditionally purely decorative, their pattern here defines they function. They lay bare core digital routines usually hidden in black boxes. Users are invited to interact with the piece in programming the textile to compute for them.

The piece also slyly references the connection between the early history of computing and the textile industry.

When British mathematician Charles Babbage released his plans for the Analytical Engine, widely considered the first modern computer design, fellow mathematician Ada Lovelace is famously quoted as saying that ‘the Analytical Engine weaves algebraic patterns, just as the Jacquard loom weaves flowers and leaves.’

The Jacquard loom is often considered a predecessor to the modern computer because it uses a binary system to store information that can be read by the loom and reproduced many times over.

See also Posch’s & Kurbak’s The Knitted Radio, a sweater that functions as an FM radio transmitter.

Tags: art   computing   Ebru Kurbak   Irene Posch

by Jason Kottke at January 14, 2019 07:09 PM

Say “No” to Crack and Say “Yes” to Roller Skating!

This gave me a solid laugh this morning: perhaps the most local local commercial I’ve ever seen. Jemele Hill called it “the worst-best commercial I’ve ever seen”.

The ad was filmed by comedy duo Rhett & Link for Roller Kingdom in Reno, NV, so the whole thing is definitely tongue-in-cheek…but still worth watching. (via @jemelehill)

Tags: advertising   video

by Jason Kottke at January 14, 2019 05:57 PM

The Colorful 80s Vibe of Blank VHS Tape Cases

I don’t know about you, but my house was blanketed with VHS tapes. The tapes were filled with episodes of Star Trek and movies meticulously taped from network TV without commercials — you had a to be a real Johnny-on-the-spot with the pause button or you’d miss a few post-commercial seconds of Chevy Chase’s antics in the G-rated version of National Lampoon’s Vacation. This video is a quick two-minute ode to the colorfully designed cases those tapes were sold in. Total memory bomb seeing these again.

Tags: design   video

by Jason Kottke at January 14, 2019 04:56 PM

Spacing Toronto: understanding the urban landscape

LORINC: How reducing development charges will spur the ‘missing middle’

While city council tries to figure out how to confront a made-in-Toronto housing affordability crisis, Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government has initiated a consultation, asking for ideas about how to increase the housing supply in the province, by which it means Greater Toronto.

The consultation is almost certainly the packaging for what will be a series of ham-fisted land use planning policies designed to undermine the greenbelt and boost the profit margins of large, Tory-connected developers. But if you scroll down the page linked above, you’ll find a section dedicated to the Missing Middle. “How,” the document properly asks, “can we bring new types of housing to existing neighbourhoods while maintaining the qualities that make these communities desirable places to live?”

If Doug Ford’s Tories, of all groups, are canvassing the public about the Missing Middle, I think we can safely conclude that we have achieved peak consensus about the existence of this glaring gap in the region’s housing mix. On this single issue, Ford Nation finds itself sharing political space with everyone from the Toronto Region Board of Trade to Evergreen, Ryerson’s City Building Institute, various academics and planning reformers like Sean Galbraith and Gil Meslin.

The one institution that continues to toil away in a conspicuous state of denial appears to be Toronto’s planning department and city council. Weird, and troubling.

As discussed in this space last week, Torontonians concerned about issues such as outrageously long social housing waiting lists, NIMBYism and skyrocketing rents should pay very close attention to the “Housing Now” action plan that will surface at executive committee later this month. Mayor John Tory, in council’s first session last December, pledged to take action to make housing a key priority, beginning with a push to use surplus public lands for social housing. The question I posed is whether the city will use its considerable arsenal of planning tools, as well as public assets and national housing strategy funding from the federal government, to operationalize his worthy goal.

To drill further down, we can also ask, given the pleasant outpouring of agreement about the Missing Middle, whether Tory’s Housing Now action plan will include planning reforms that provide incentives or reduce barriers to projects that seek to gently intensify residential neighbourhoods with duplexes, triplexes, walk-ups and other forms of housing that will not cause the sky to fall.

Exhibit A in this discussion should be development charges. The City in the past two years has rapidly phased in a breathtaking hike (doubling between 2016 and 2020) in these levies, which ostensibly pay for the additional infrastructure required to accommodate development and intensification. Once phased in, the new DCs will add $500 million to municipal coffers per year. The increase, according to the city’s fact sheet, is justified by the fact that Toronto’s rates lag behind others in the region.

According to the official plan, DCs should be “fair and equitable” to all stakeholders, but even a casual survey of the city’s development scene should reveal the hollowness in this pious policy goal. Everyone in the building industry knows that the outrageous rates, combined with other bureaucratic impediments, provide developers with the incentive to go as high as possible. That’s why the OP’s long-standing goal of lining Toronto’s “avenues” with mid rise, mixed-use buildings remains unrealized.

Now consider the DC story from the perspective of a small contractor or a homeowner who dares to build a duplex or triplex or even a walk-up on his or her property. If you want to turn your house into a duplex, you’re going to be hit, as of 2020, with a bracing $81,000 development charge, and that doesn’t include the parks levy, which can add tens of thousands more to the bill. [Clarification: the charges apply when the project is a new-build and the additional unit(s) are larger than those which were replaced. JL]

I don’t want to argue that DCs aren’t warranted. If a builder is loading dozens or hundreds of units to a site that once had no residential activity, by all means impose a development charge. The fee in those cases address real needs: the infrastructure in the immediate vicinity will experience a surge of use.

But in neighbourhoods that were home to a lot more people in past decades than they are now, the gigantic DC on a duplex is just a cash grab, and no one – especially the planning department and the city’s housing experts — should pretend otherwise. The municipal infrastructure exists, and is probably underutilized due to the de-population identified in the last census. In fact, the DCs in such cases are not “fair and equitable” at all; quite the contrary.  They’d never stand up to the test of evidence-based decision-making, and serve only as a disincentive to all but the most committed contractor.

The foregoing is hardly an original insight, I must add. The Pembina Institute in 2012 identified a range of locational/environmental failings associated with development charges (page 39 of this document). By contrast, Ryerson’s CBI in 2016 offered case studies of how DC exemptions can be used to achieve certain policy goals, like promoting density in areas that will be served by higher order transit. (Thanks to Ryerson CBI’s executive director Cherise Burda for these references.) [Clarification: The 2016 report linked above was co-sponsored by the Ontario Home Builders Association. JL]

Is there a policy case for exempting or sharply reducing DCs on missing-middle type development in order to promote more of it?

Let us count the ways: re-populating neighbourhoods rendered inaccessible to young families by crazy real estate prices; expanding the supply of low-rise rental housing; making better use of civic infrastructure; creating housing that allows older people to downsize without leaving their communities; enabling projects tailored to multi-generational families (e.g., duplexes where grandparents live in one unit and a family with children live in another). Basically, all the Missing Middle justifications identified by a growing chorus of planner reformers.

Here’s one more: if the province uploads the subway, it logically follows that council should eliminate that portion of the development charge levy that goes towards maintaining and expanding the subway (about 38% of DC revenues go to transit, and probably half of that goes to the rocket). After all, Queen’s Park will be picking up that tab and it’s only fair that the fees be adjusted accordingly.

The final point has to do with the fiscal issue. With an anticipated slowing of revenues from that cash cow known as the municipal land transfer tax, the City will be loath to tinker with the development charge rates because these levies continue to represent an important — and growing — source of income for a city allergic to increasing property taxes.

But surely council should be able to wrap its collective head around the fact that while fiscal probity is an important goal for any government, it is not the only or even the most important goal when it comes to building a healthy, sustainable, prosperous and inclusive city.

The housing crisis is threatening to kill the goose that laid the golden egg. Young people with the means or opportunity are leaving, while many more are finding their housing options becoming ever more unstable and depressing. As part of Housing Now, the City need to explore the potential of increasing the supply of missing middle-type housing by providing incentives ranging from fast-tracked approvals to fee holidays. It’s hard to know why this council would even consider doing otherwise.

photo by Sam Javanrouh (CC)

The post LORINC: How reducing development charges will spur the ‘missing middle’ appeared first on Spacing Toronto.

by John Lorinc at January 14, 2019 04:00 PM

Sunshine Considered Harmful? Perhaps Not.

For Outside magazine, Rowan Jacobsen talks to scientists whose research suggests that the current guidelines for protecting human skin from exposure to the sun are backwards. Despite the skin cancer risk, we should be getting more sun, not less.

When I spoke with Weller, I made the mistake of characterizing this notion as counterintuitive. “It’s entirely intuitive,” he responded. “Homo sapiens have been around for 200,000 years. Until the industrial revolution, we lived outside. How did we get through the Neolithic Era without sunscreen? Actually, perfectly well. What’s counterintuitive is that dermatologists run around saying, ‘Don’t go outside, you might die.’”

When you spend much of your day treating patients with terrible melanomas, it’s natural to focus on preventing them, but you need to keep the big picture in mind. Orthopedic surgeons, after all, don’t advise their patients to avoid exercise in order to reduce the risk of knee injuries.

Meanwhile, that big picture just keeps getting more interesting. Vitamin D now looks like the tip of the solar iceberg. Sunlight triggers the release of a number of other important compounds in the body, not only nitric oxide but also serotonin and endorphins. It reduces the risk of prostate, breast, colorectal, and pancreatic cancers. It improves circadian rhythms. It reduces inflammation and dampens autoimmune responses. It improves virtually every mental condition you can think of. And it’s free.

These seem like benefits everyone should be able to take advantage of. But not all people process sunlight the same way. And the current U.S. sun-exposure guidelines were written for the whitest people on earth.

Exposure and sunscreen recommendations for people with dark skin may be particularly misleading.

People of color rarely get melanoma. The rate is 26 per 100,000 in Caucasians, 5 per 100,000 in Hispanics, and 1 per 100,000 in African Americans. On the rare occasion when African Americans do get melanoma, it’s particularly lethal — but it’s mostly a kind that occurs on the palms, soles, or under the nails and is not caused by sun exposure.

At the same time, African Americans suffer high rates of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, internal cancers, and other diseases that seem to improve in the presence of sunlight, of which they may well not be getting enough. Because of their genetically higher levels of melanin, they require more sun exposure to produce compounds like vitamin D, and they are less able to store that vitamin for darker days. They have much to gain from the sun and little to fear.

Tags: medicine   Rowan Jacobsen   Sun

by Jason Kottke at January 14, 2019 03:00 PM

January 13, 2019

Penelope Trunk Careers

Will Jeff Bezos Get Half of MacKenzie Bezos’s Fortune in the Divorce?

How much do you think Jeff Bezos will get in the divorce?

I haven’t heard anyone ask that. I’ve only read headlines like How Much Could MacKenzie Bezos Get? and How Much Will Jeff Bezos Lose?

In the Bezos marriage, the partners are equals. Jeff and MacKenzie started the company together. And they worked side by side. When the company was big and they had four kids, MacKenzie took half the load (kids) and Jeff took half the load (work).

Why do people assume Jeff will be doling out money to MacKenzie? The money is as much hers as it is his. Some headlines are simply despicable. NBC ran the headline The settlement between the world’s richest man and his wife. But if he is the world’s richest man, then she is the world’s richest woman. Already. Before the settlement. Because all his money is her money.

Consider what it would be like if NBC ran this headline: The settlement between the world’s richest woman and her husband. It sounds odd, right? Because the power in the sentence is so firmly on MacKenzie’s side. But then we should recognize the first headline as odd, too. The headline NBC ran is bad journalism because it distorts reality.

The language of divorce is about power, and we take power away from all stay-at-home spouses when we talk about MacKenzie like she has no money of her own.

Wired magazine published a great piece about how the famed companies of Silicon Valley are never founded by one, single person. It takes a team of people to do something so grand as Amazon, and MacKenzie was a key part of that team. Years ago, MacKenzie put any doubts about her contribution to rest in a long, meticulous review of a biography of Jeff. She gave the book one star.

MacKenzie has always stood up for her contribution in the marriage. But it’s not so easy for most women. Most women did not work side by side with their spouse to start the most disruptive company in the world.

Most women do their half of the team’s work and get very little credit for it. Because when it comes to spousal partnerships, society talks about the stay-at-home spouse like they are a freeloader, waiting to pick up their check in the divorce.

USA Today describes MacKenzie and Jeff starting Amazon together. But then USA Today frames the marriage this way:

Since then, Bezos became the world’s richest man, supplanting Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates on Forbes’ annual list of the 400 richest Americans three months ago, with his net worth rising to $160 billion, up from $81.5 billion a year ago.

MacKenzie Bezos became a novelist, winning an American Book Award for her 2005 debut novel “The Testing of Luther Albright.” Subsequently, she released the book “Traps” in 2013.

This is not an accurate representation of either Jeff or MacKenzie. One of the most dangerous parts of the USA Today summary is they left out that “since then” Jeff and MacKenzie also became parents. This is very important because it’s the work that MacKenzie did that makes her an equal partner in the marriage and equally as wealthy as Jeff.

So, USA Today should make a correction to give a more accurate description:

Since then, Jeff Bezos and MacKenzie Bezos became parents. At the same time, Jeff was the CEO of Amazon, and MacKenzie became a novelist. They also became the richest couple, supplanting Bill and Melinda Gates. 

It’s unusual for such a high-profile CEO to be married to someone who is their equal. Which is why the language we use to talk about this divorce is so important. Society does not celebrate the contribution stay-at-home partners make to corporate jobs. But huge jobs like CEO of Amazon are actually two-person jobs.

When we automatically assume the stay-at-home spouse is the one with less money, we disparage the contribution of the stay-at-home spouse. Today more and more women choose to stay at home with kids, but only after they spend time in the corporate world, where people get money and accolades and promotions. The transition to parenting is difficult, because there are no awards or promotions. The transition is even more difficult when journalists don’t give women credit for their contributions.

How you talk about the Bezos divorce says a lot about you. We don’t come across divorces like this very often; MacKenzie is a powerhouse. Let’s talk about her that way, because talking about women with power while being respectful of that power teaches us to respect the power inside ourselves.


by Penelope Trunk at January 13, 2019 05:16 PM

January 11, 2019

A Year in Weather

This is mesmerizing to watch for a few minutes: a time lapse map of weather activity across the entire US in 2018. I was thinking it would be instructive to see this sped up a bit more, that perhaps different patterns might reveal themselves, and then I remembered that you can control the playback speed on YouTube videos…just click the gear icon. I think I like the 2X version better. (via @DesignObserver)

Tags: maps   time lapse   video   weather

by Jason Kottke at January 11, 2019 08:13 PM

The Self-Domestication of Humans

In an essay adapted from his forthcoming book, The Goodness Paradox: The Strange Relationship Between Virtue and Violence in Human Evolution, anthropologist Richard Wrangham says that before humans domesticated dogs, cows, and pigs, we domesticated ourselves.

No other mammal has the brainpower to organize capital punishment. When language became sufficiently sophisticated, our ancestors’ ability to conspire led not only to a more peaceful species but also to a new kind of hierarchy. No longer would human groups be ruled by the physical force of an individual. The emergence of capital punishment meant that henceforth, anyone aspiring to be an alpha couldn’t get away with just being a fighter. He had to be a politician, too.

The result of generations of such selective pressure is that human beings are best understood as an animal species that has been domesticated — like dogs, horses or chickens. Recent archaeological evidence suggests that humans became increasingly docile and less reactively aggressive around the time of becoming Homo sapiens, a process that started about 300,000 years ago.

Markers of domestication show up in the fossil records of domesticated animals and they are present in human fossils too:

Dr. Leach listed four characteristics of the bones of domesticated animals: They mainly have smaller bodies than their wild ancestors; their faces tend to be shorter and don’t project as far forward; the differences between males and females are less highly developed; and they tend to have smaller brain cavities (and thus brains). As it turns out, all of these changes appear in human fossils. Even our brain size fits the pattern: While the human brain grew steadily over the last two million years, that trajectory took a sudden turn about 30,000 years ago, when brains started to become smaller.

The essay is from the WSJ and might be paywalled…here’s an article from Big Think early last year that goes over some of the same material. I couldn’t find a definitive paper that Wrangham has written on the topic…feel free to browse through his published papers on Google Scholar.

Tags: books   evolution   humans   Richard Wrangham   science   The Goodness Paradox

by Jason Kottke at January 11, 2019 06:25 PM

Why Video Games Are Made of Tiny Triangles

For Vox, Cleo Abram explains why game designers use triangles when designing 3D animated games (and not, say, circles or rectangles).

Triangles are a key part of how these gorgeous, detailed games appear on your screen — the hidden heroes we should all thank as we play. This simple shape helps keep the number of computations needed for each detail as low as possible, allowing the player’s computer to process these elaborate games.

I like how the arms race among game developers to create more and more realistic objects out of smaller and smaller triangles mirrors the process in differential calculus of finding the slope of a curve by — wait for it — using smaller and smaller triangles. The game designers are going to have a problem truly getting to infinitesimally small triangles though…

Tags: Cleo Abram   video   video games

by Jason Kottke at January 11, 2019 03:07 PM

January 10, 2019

The Inverted Grand Canyon

Inverted Grand Canyon

What would the Grand Canyon look like as a Grand Mountain, i.e. if its depth became its height? Not quite as Grand perhaps, but still pretty cool.

Some of my earliest memories of the place had to do with the trippy feeling of my eyes and mind trying to make sense of the scale. I had seen many mountain ranges and vistas, including some on the way, but the vast negative space played havoc with my perception of magnitude. I’ve felt it a few times since, but never like that first Grand Canyon overlook.

I wondered, then, if flipping the Grand Canyon into a Grand Mountain might in some way help me make sense of its scale. I’m much more accustomed to seeing the mass of something rather than the massive void of something. So, here’s what that looks like.

For reference, the depth at the deepest part of the canyon is ~6000 feet and the top of the canyon is between 6000 and 8000 feet above sea level, so the highest point of the Grand Mountains would be somewhere between 12,000 and 14,000 feet, in the ballpark of the Rocky Mountains. It would be fun to see what an inverted Kola Superdeep Borehole would look like: a 9-inch spire rising 40,000 feet into the air from a starting point very close to sea level, more that 10,000 feet higher than Everest.

If you want to dig into the details of how this visualization was made, check out this post on the ArcGIS blog. (thx, john)

Tags: geography   Grand Canyon   maps   remix

by Jason Kottke at January 10, 2019 11:26 PM

Slipping the Surly Bonds of Earth

Shuttle Endeavour rising through the clouds

I love this photo of the Space Shuttle Endeavour rising through the clouds on a plume of smoke during its last launch in 2011. We are but infinitesimal specks on a tiny rock orbiting a small star in an ordinary galaxy among trillions in an endless universe. And yet we’ve pushed our way into that vastness, just a little bit. I wonder where we’ll end up?

Tags: NASA   science   space   Space Shuttle

by Jason Kottke at January 10, 2019 07:10 PM

Mongolian Heavy Metal Band Shreds with Traditional Instruments and Throat Singing

For years, Mongolian folk metal band The Hu have been honing their distinctive brand of heavy metal, combining the Western musical form with traditional instruments and throat singing. From an NPR piece on the band:

Mongolian rock combines traditional Mongolian instruments, like a horsehead fiddle (morin khuur), Jew’s harp (tumur khuur) and Mongolian guitar (tovshuur) with the pounding bass and drums of rock.

It also involves singing in a guttural way known as throat singing while throwing heads back and forth reminiscent of the headbanging of ’80s heavy metal bands like Metallica. Those who study Mongolian music believe one reason The Hu has proved so popular with outsiders is this combining of modern and historical and Eastern and Western elements.

The group’s music videos take a bit to get going, but once the music starts, it’s pretty cool. (via open culture)

Tags: Mongolia   music   The Hu   video

by Jason Kottke at January 10, 2019 05:14 PM

The Flag of the Popular Vote

Flag Of The Popular Vote

Toph Tucker has designed an algorithmic version of the US flag called the Flag of the Popular Vote, where the size of the stars and stripes are proportional to the current populations of the original 13 colonies (stripes) and current 50 states (stars). There’s also an animated version with tiny new stars appearing when new states are admitted into the union and the stars & stripes shift in size as populations grow. This New Aesthetic flag reminds me a bit of Rem Koolhaas’ proposed EU flag.

Tags: design   Toph Tucker   USA

by Jason Kottke at January 10, 2019 02:49 PM

January 09, 2019

Creating Livable City Streets

In 1981, a Berkeley urban design professor named Donald Appleyard published a book called Livable Streets (now out of print). In it, he described the results of research he’d done in the late 1960s about the effects of car traffic on the people who live in cities. For the study, he selected three similar residential streets in San Francisco that only differed in the amount of street traffic and then measured how the residents used their streets.

To illustrate his findings, Appleyard used these simple and revealing maps of the data he collected. The first map shows gathering spots on the streets and the friendships made amongst neighbors:

Livable Streets

The second map shows what residents considered their “home territory” on their street:

Livable Streets

What Appleyard found was that the amount of car traffic on the street dictated how friendly neighbors were with each other, how “at home” people felt in their neighborhood, and how familiar they were with their surroundings.

In the late 1960s Appleyard conducted a renowned study on livable streets, comparing three residential streets in San Francisco which on the surface did not differ on much else but their levels of traffic. The 2,000 vehicles per day street was considered Light Street, 8,000 traveled on Medium Street and 16,000 vehicles passing down Heavy Street. His research showed that residents of Light Street had three more friends and twice as many acquaintances as the people on Heavy Street.

Further, as traffic volume increases, the space people considered to be their territory shrank. Appleyard suggested that these results were related, indicating that residents on Heavy Street had less friends and acquaintances precisely because there was less home territory (exchange space) in which to interact socially.

Light Street was a closely knit community. Front steps were used for sitting and chatting, sidewalks for children to play and for adults to stand and pass the time of day, especially around the corner store, and the roadway for children and teenagers to play more active games like football. Moreover, the street was seen as a whole and no part was out of bounds.

Heavy Street, on the other hand, had little or no sidewalk activity and was used solely as a corridor between the sanctuary of individual homes and the outside world. Residents kept very much to themselves, and there was virtually no feeling of community. The difference in the perceptions and experience of children and the elderly across the two streets was especially striking.

Cars separate people from each other and so does traffic. As @wrathofgnon put it:

This was in 1969, and here we are today in 2018 still building these terrible anti-human suburbs and cities. There is no progress, and there certainly is no science, when we ignore basic common sense and even the studies that prove it.

In 1973, just a few years after Appleyard conducted his research, George Lucas’s ode to American car culture, American Graffiti, came out. Even with the gas and oil shortages in the 1970s, the sense of freedom, rebellion, and individualism depicted in American Graffiti and similar films like The French Connection, Bullitt, Smokey and the Bandit, and Cannonball Run won out over Appleyard’s attempts to show how cars wrecked the social fabric of cities. It was no contest…Americans love cars.

In a sad twist of fate, Appleyard died relatively young at 54 — he was struck and killed by a speeding car in Athens, Greece in 1982.

Tags: books   cities   Donald Appleyard   Livable Streets   traffic

by Jason Kottke at January 09, 2019 10:48 PM

Richard Feynman and the Myth of Separating Science from the Scientist

In Surely You’re a Creep, Mr. Feynman, science historian Leila McNeill writes about the difficulty in separating science from the behavior of the scientist.

In addition to cataloguing the trespasses of individual scientists who abuse the cultural power of their position, we have to dismantle the structures that have allowed their abuses to continue with little to no disruption. Just for starters, this means abandoning the myth that the science can be separated from the scientist.

The conversation about separating the person from the practice has been slower to surface in science than it has in the literary, film, journalism, and art worlds. It might seem that there is less distance between an artist and the thing they create than for their counterparts in the sciences because art is often positioned as subjective and abstract. It’s easier to draw a clear line from a writer like Junot Diaz who has displayed abusive behaviors to women in real life and his male characters who do the same. Scientists, however, have been framed as objective observers of phenomena while scientific practice itself has been seen as empirical, measureable, stable, and separate. This typical framing disconnects science from the rest of the world, allowing it to be perceived as a disembodied conduit for unadulterated knowledge. But science isn’t just a body of knowledge; it’s an institution and a culture with material connections to a lived-in world. Its practitioners are makers of and participants in that institution and culture.

Tags: Leila McNeill   Richard Feynman   science   sexism

by Jason Kottke at January 09, 2019 09:10 PM

Americans Greatly Overestimate Racial Economic Equality in Our Country

One of the defining features of the United States is a deep and long-lasting economic inequality between white and black people in terms of wages, income, and especially wealth.

Average wealth for white families is seven times higher than average wealth for black families. Worse still, median white wealth (wealth for the family in the exact middle of the overall distribution-wealthier than half of all families and less-wealthy than half) is twelve times higher than median black wealth. More than one in four black households have zero or negative net worth, compared to less than one in ten white families without wealth, which explains the large differences in the racial wealth gap at the mean and median. These raw differences persist, and are growing, even after taking age, household structure, education level, income, or occupation into account.

Despite the magnitude and persistence of this inequality, Americans (both black and white) vastly underestimate racial gaps in income and wealth.

For instance, one question in the study asked: “For every $100 earned by an average white family, how much do you think was earned by an average black family in 2013?” The average respondent guessed $85.59, meaning they thought black families make $14.41 less than average white families. The real answer, based on the Current Population Survey, was $57.30, a gap of $42.70. Study participants were off by almost 30 points.

The gap between estimate and reality was largest for a question about household wealth. Participants guessed that the difference between white and black households would be about $100 to $85, when in reality it’s $100 to $5. In other words, study participants were off by almost 80 points. Participants were also overly optimistic about differences in wages and health coverage.

The full paper is here. Closing that gap will be challenging, in part because the often racist mythology around it is persistent. In a report called
What We Get Wrong About Closing the Racial Wealth Gap, the authors conclude “that the wealth gap is structural in nature, cannot be solved through the individual actions of blacks, and can only be solved through ‘a major redistributive effort or another major public policy intervention to build black American wealth’”.

Tags: economics   racism   USA

by Jason Kottke at January 09, 2019 07:15 PM

Barber Shaves Play Button into Man’s Head

Technology is so ubiquitous now that bits of our digital interfaces make their way into real life — like people saying “hashtag” in conversation or coding error messages printed onto clothing labels. In a hilarious recent instance of this, a man showed his barber a paused video clip of the haircut he wanted, and the barber obliged, shaving the overlaid play button into the side of the man’s head.

Play Symbol Haircut

I laughed for a solid minute when I first saw this. It’s the literal cake wrecks of haircuts. It’s also an inadvertent example of the flip-flop, Robin Sloan’s term for things moving from the physical world to the digital world and back again. The play button has been used on media players since at least the 60s, made the jump to digital interfaces sometime in the 70s/80s, and has now flipped back to analog on the side of this dude’s head.

Tags: Robin Sloan

by Jason Kottke at January 09, 2019 04:17 PM

Why Snowpiercer Is a Sequel to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

In this video, Luke Palmer makes a surprisingly compelling case that Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer is actually a sequel to the beloved 1971 film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. (Spoilers for both films to follow.) The main idea is that Charlie Bucket inherits the Wonka fortune and grows up to be Wilford, who builds the train to save humanity.

They’re both two movies about groups of people that work their way through a large fantastic structure. One-by-one, a person from the group is removed in each room until one person makes it to the very end, who then found out that the entire thing was a test because a wealthy industrialist needed to find a new successor.

I love this, but I wouldn’t go so far as saying it’s a sequel. A reboot maybe or an homage. (via @mulegirl)

Tags: Bong Joon-ho   Luke Palmer   movies   Snowpiercer   video   Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory

by Jason Kottke at January 09, 2019 02:39 PM

January 08, 2019

Ancient Greek Vase Shaped Like a Lobster Claw

Greek Claw Vase

Greek Claw Vase

Terracotta vase in the form of a lobster claw from the collection at the Met. Circa 460 BC.

Because so many aspects of Greek life depended on the sea, a vase in the shape of a lobster claw is not surprising. It is, however, exceptional and may be a variant of the askos — a bag-shaped oil container provided with a vertical mouth and strap handle. The Dionysiac iconography of the lobster claw suggests that it was a novelty item used at symposia (drinking parties).

The vase bears an inscription that reads “the boy is fair”.

Tags: art   Greece

by Jason Kottke at January 08, 2019 10:31 PM

“The Invisible Helping Hand”

Feeding America (formerly known as America’s Second Harvest) is a non-profit organization that receives food donations from farmers, manufacturers, and retailers and distributes them to food banks around the nation. As this excerpt from Tim Sullivan and Ray Fisman’s book, The Inner Lives of Markets, tells it, this system was working pretty well but wasn’t as efficient as it could be, resulting in food being wasted and people going hungry.

Food banks might provide feedback on their likes and dislikes, but at its core, the Second Harvest allocation still resembled 1960s-era Chinese central planning (which, free-market economists will note, helped to cause the Great Famine of 1959-61). Second Harvest’s management felt that it was falling short in its efforts to get food banks the donations they most needed. Prendergast gives the example of sending potatoes, unbidden, to a foodbank in Idaho that already had warehouses full. Or delivering milk to a bank that didn’t have the refrigeration capacity to store it and so would end up throwing it away. In fact, Second Harvest would sometimes turn down food donations from giant food companies because they weren’t sure where to send it. Second Harvest was also, at the time, treating different kinds of food as the same — a pound of broccoli was the same as a pound of cereal was the same as a pound of potato chips. When it comes to feeding the poor and hungry, however, not all foodstuffs are of equal value.

So Feeding America asked University of Chicago economist Canice Prendergast to design a market for the donated food, hoping that would make things run more efficiently. After listening to concerns raised by the food banks, particularly from the smaller ones who didn’t want to get out-muscled in the market by the larger banks, they came up with an economy where food banks were given shares to bid on the food they wanted each day.

Crucially, the market was overseen by a “central banker”, so that certain market dynamics didn’t result in a disruption of the ultimate goal of getting the most food to the people that needed it.

Food bank presidents, the market designers discovered, were hoarders of shares. To keep the market from dipping into a deflationary spiral, Prendergast needed to pump extra shares into the market to encourage bidding. There was also the ebb and flow of goods into it to consider. Some days, Kraft might dump half a dozen container — loads of mac and cheese into circulation; other days there’d be none. If everyone used their points to bid on mac and cheese, the prices of, say, potato chips and broccoli would plummet, not because broccoli was suddenly worth less, but because of a temporary surge in the supply of more desirable donations. So extra shares would need to be put into circulation to prop up prices — lest Arnold see last week’s lower price of potato chips and bid too timidly on them, misinterpreting short-run price declines as permanent ones. Similarly, in a dry spell of donations, shares would be withdrawn from the market: Since there was so little to bid on, there would be a run-up in prices unless the number of shares also declined.

As a result of their implementation of an economy, a couple of benefits emerged. First, Feeding America learned which foods were most sought after by banks (i.e. those for which the bidding was highest) and were able to be more aggressive in seeking out donors for them. Second, the amount of total food donations doubled, with about 25% of the increase directly attributable to the market:

As Prendergast reports in an academic paper summarizing the Second Harvest market experiment, the annual supply of food donations increased by 50 million to 100 million pounds as a result. Twelve million pounds can be traced directly to the market itself, in the form of excess donations that flush food banks placed into the market in exchange for shares. That’s 12 million pounds of food that would otherwise have been wasted.

Tags: Canice Prendergast   economics   food   Ray Fisman   Tim Sullivan

by Jason Kottke at January 08, 2019 08:42 PM

Going Birdwatching in Red Dead Redemption 2

Birding in Red Dead Redemption 2

For Audubon, avid birder Nicholas Lund writes about the experience of going birdwatching in the mega-popular Red Dead Redemption 2 game, set in the American West, circa 1899. The attention to detail and the number of species represented is impressive.

I spent most of my time finding birds, and was impressed with the breadth and relative accuracy of the species represented. Birds change with habitat: Roseate Spoonbills and Great Egrets feed in the bayous of Saint Denis. Laughing Gulls and Red-footed Boobies roost along the coast, while eagles and condors soar over mountain peaks. Each of these are crafted with accurate field marks and habits. There are dozens of species I couldn’t even find, including Carolina Parakeets, Ferruginous Hawks, and Pileated Woodpeckers. Like real life birding, you’re never guaranteed to see anything.

The sound design, too, is impressive. The landscape is alive with birdsong, including many species not actually in the game, like Northern Flicker and Ruby-crowned Kinglet. I was riding through a wooded area one time as dusk turned to night, and whip-poor-wills began singing out all around me.

But the game’s realistic portrayal of wildlife and its exploitation by humans causes Lund to reflect on how much destruction we’ve caused.

The demand for egret plumes for fancy hats was driving several species toward extinction. (Snowy Egret plumes can be sold in-game for $2.50 apiece.) Habitat loss and overhunting contributed to the extinction of the Carolina Parakeet soon after the game’s timeframe, in the early 20th century. (Carolina Parakeet flight feathers can be used to make far-flying arrows in the game.) The type of wanton destruction encouraged in Red Dead Redemption 2 is what led the National Audubon Society to lobby for, and Congress to pass, the real Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 1918, and other environmental legislation in the following decades.

Lund’s birding trip reminded me of other non-conventional uses of realistic video games by players: Jim Munroe being a tourist in Grand Theft Auto III and war photographer Ashley Gilbertson sending back photographs from the ultra-violent The Last of Us Remastered.

Tags: birds   Nicholas Lund   Red Dead Redemption   video games

by Jason Kottke at January 08, 2019 06:38 PM

January 07, 2019

Spacing Toronto: understanding the urban landscape

LORINC: Will this council actually fix Toronto’s housing crisis?

If you did the blink test on last fall’s municipal election (disregarding all the static created by Doug Ford’s intervention), it would be fair to say the ballot question was about housing and the city’s run away affordability mess.

So it was fitting that the lead policy item on the agenda at the first council meeting in December had to do with how the city can accelerate its production of affordable housing. Council hustled through a plan to develop eleven municipally owned properties that staff identified in December as potential locations for social housing.

This move represents the opening salvo in what’s being dubbed Toronto’s “Housing Now” agenda. The word “now,” of course, is a bit rich, given how the election campaign featured some useful exposition about how Mayor John Tory’s 2015 signature housing program, “Open Door,” had produced conspicuously thin results in its first three years.

Perhaps chagrined, the mayor exhorted council to “urgently scale up our efforts to increase the supply of new affordable housing” via a ten-year action plan, the first details of which will surface at the inaugural meeting of the executive committee later this month (January 23).

As he (correctly) described the magnitude of the challenge, Toronto is expected to add half a million residents over the next 20 years. “By 2041,” Tory noted in his letter to council, “there will be increasing pressure to provide new affordable and supportive housing options for seniors, low-income singles and families, persons with disabilities, and other groups that will struggle to find and maintain stable, affordable housing.”

So far, so good, and it’s certainly encouraging to hear the mayor frame the issue this broadly. But the proof of council’s determination will lie in its willingness to use all the policy tools at the city’s disposal, which means going well beyond the re-development of public lands and the bagging of new federal housing grants, although both are crucial elements.

The solutions must also involve long-overdue planning reforms and difficult conversations about the role that “stable” residential neighbourhoods will need to play in addressing what increasingly looks and feels like an existential civic crisis. In other words, if the report that lands at executive committee in three weeks doesn’t recommend non-cosmetic changes in land use planning, zoning, and the approvals process, council’s bold “housing now” rhetoric will be little more than window dressing, and, what’s worse, an abdication of the municipality’s responsibility to the city’s future.

Spacing will be exploring these issues in further detail in the months to come, but here are two elements that should be part of the discussion going forward:

Operationalizing the Missing Middle Planning Agenda

Given that the swelling chorus of voices pushing the city to take action on this set of fixes now includes the Toronto Region Board of Trade, (TRBOT) it’s safe to conclude that Tory & Co. would have plenty of political cover if they want to order up planning reforms that loosen the rigid restrictions on the gentle intensification of “stable” residential neighbourhoods with non-intrusive rental projects that range from duplexes to walk-ups.

As TRBOT’s housing agenda report points out, adding just one residential unit per hectare across the so-called yellowbelt — neighhourhoods designated just for detached houses — would create accommodation for 45,000 people (this number is just shy of the net number of newcomers who settle in Toronto each year).

Yet if the missing middle is to become part of Tory’s Housing Now agenda — as it certainly should — council will have to crack open something called Official Plan Amendment 320, (OPA 320) the city’s updated “neighbourhoods” policy, which was approved in 2015 but only finally settled at the Ontario Municipal Board this past December after the disposition of numerous appeals.

Planning experts understand that OPA 320 is a measure that effectively flash freezes development across a very broad swath of Toronto’s residential neighbourhoods, and accomplishes this dubious goal with super subtle policy language about maintaining the “prevailing physical character” of these areas.

Though OPA 320 has truly profound long-term consequences for where intensification may and may not occur, it became an official city policy despite a breathtaking lack of scrutiny. As the original staff report noted, all of 35 people showed up to the statutory public meeting where it was first bruited, and only one of those individuals spoke up in favour of more European-style intensification within neighhourhoods. As far as I can tell, OPA 320 has been mentioned exactly once in the media, in a Globe and Mail story from last year. (Mea culpa: Spacing missed it as well.)

The culprit, of course, is a municipal governance system that produces local councillors who depend on homeowner votes for their political survival. But if the residents of Toronto’s neighbourhoods believe their city should include housing for teachers and nurses and occupational therapists and baristas and public servants and all the other people who can never afford an $800,000 home but get the city from one day to the next, they’ll have to begin thinking differently about who gets to live where.

A More Meaningful Public Consultation Process

There’s been a great deal of talk in recent years about how to do better public consultation — a conversation that includes everything from more engaging communication techniques in meetings to improved electronic outreach and opportunities for feedback, as well as the growing use of specialized consultation experts to manage these processes for government clients.

Despite that, NIMBYism continues to be an extraordinarily potent force in local land use discussions, one reinforced by the bureaucratic rhetoric about “stable” neighbourhoods that’s baked into the city’s foundational planning documents. After all, if residents’ groups can point to official plan language about ring-fencing neighbourhoods with policies that have been rigged to exclude, no one should profess surprise about the tenaciousness of this kind of orchestrated homeowner resistance.

The first stubborn paradox at the heart of all such consultation exercises is that the participants will never include all the people who really want to live in these areas, if only the city would allow for a modest measure of intensification. Such residents, however, are only theoretical people who will never materialize because monied local voices, formal planning restrictions, and the approvals logjams facing small contractors can easily conspire to prevent them from materializing.

The second stubborn paradox is that much of the city’s most prized residential real estate was built without a whit of public consultation, and instead reflects the far less prescriptive approach to neighbourhood building that prevailed in the pre-Second World War era, when much of the older city was developed.

The contemporary reality, of course, is that the expectation of dutiful consultation is hard wired into the rituals and regulations of our land use planning system. Yet it seems to me the city needs to rethink it’s approach to these approvals processes.

There are many ideas about how to improve consultation, but one of the most critical involves framing the issues as broadly as possible. It is incumbent on the consultants and city staff managing such consultations to inform participants about the broader social context in which housing policy and approvals decisions are made, and then to ensure that non-homeowner voices are present in these conversations, e.g., residents of local apartments or group homes. Absent a wider range of voices and individuals with a real stake in the outcomes, such sessions offer nothing more than an echo chamber for organized NIMBYs with the resources to mount a vigorous defence of their own financial and social interests.

None of this change will happen unless Tory can convince his council to re-think some bedrock assumptions about where intensification belongs in Toronto, and why. For well over a generation now, the lion’s share of new housing in Toronto has been shoe-horned onto re-zoned commercial or industrial lands, often at ridiculous densities and only after absurd fights with residents organizations (see, by way of example, any of the many backlashes against mid-rise projects on arterial roads). The countless current and future Torontonians who have been permanently priced out of the city are paying the price for this planning status quo.

The cooling of the real estate market potentially presents a window for city officials to scope out reforms in a calmer environment where speculation and homeowner debt don’t dominate public conversation. Yet, if Tory and this council genuinely want housing now, as he claims, they’ll have to seize this opportunity and confront the fundamental failures in the city’s planning policies. It’s a generational fix that will require equal measures of courage and foresight, but one that must be seen as an indispensable part of the housing affordability solutions that emerge from City Hall in coming months.

photo by VV Nincic

The post LORINC: Will this council actually fix Toronto’s housing crisis? appeared first on Spacing Toronto.

by John Lorinc at January 07, 2019 06:46 PM

January 06, 2019

Rands In Repose

The 2018 Emoji Report

I do a lot of work in Slack. It’s been almost three years since I started working there and can’t remember a world where I needed to wait anywhere from two minutes to two days for someone to get through their inbox and respond to that urgent email. I take it for granted that everyone is there and they tend to respond quickly. Your Slack mileage will differ.

Emoji continues to be one of my favorite work habits. As I wrote earlier, I initially resisted emoji. But the efficiency of the lightweight communication that occurs via emoji and emoji reactions can’t be denied. It also happens to be fun.

In preparation for writing this piece, I went through all of the Slacks I am actively part of and unscientifically examined my most popular used emoji. The following are my go-to emojis. For each, I briefly explain when and why I use them.1

Let’s start with the workhorse emoji:

The rest all ready slightly sillier, my question is: if you were attempting to replicate the feeling or emotion these emoji (hopefully) impart, how would you do it? In words? 🤔

Emoji seem silly, but that is because they are often exaggerated human expressions. The picture tells a story, and those stories are a few simple keystrokes away. Each time that unicorn spins, I am a small part of a conversation where I’d otherwise be absent. When that penguin dances, I can instantly be a small part of a celebration.

Lastly, and most importantly, yes, I’m an adult, and I can use my words. But each emoji I use is an email not sent.

  1. The ones listed below that are not included as part of the default set-up are compressed and sitting right here. Install them! 🎉 

by rands at January 06, 2019 04:02 PM

January 03, 2019


the high cost of living, by marge piercy

…she could not imagine that there could be on the screens anyplace images that would speak to her pain, her need, her loneliness, images that would make her feel good.

by rachel at January 03, 2019 04:28 AM

December 31, 2018



Honestly though this was a devastatingly hard year, politically, professionally, and personally; and it was the fifth such year in a row. Breaking my leg was the least of it.

It was too blustery to ride today, but too sunny to stay inside, so Jeremy and I went for a walk in Heron’s Head Park.

It’s the site of a never-completed shipping terminal, next to the decommissioned Hunter’s Point Power Station, not far from where Islais Creek, our local watershed, meets the Bay. Back in the 90s, citizen activists spearheaded wetlands restoration and now it’s a sparkling salt marsh, a magnet for pelicans and sandpipers. There’s an eco center with a living roof.

We walked and talked for a long time, and then dropped by Bay Natives nursery and bought some eggs still warm from the nest. Reclaimed Industrial Landscape is one of my top three aesthetics, and my hope for the new year is that the same transformation can happen in my cold dead heart.

by rachel at December 31, 2018 11:35 PM

20gayteen in books

20gayteen was a good year for reading if nothing else. I read 180 books, mostly in the second, more broken-ankley half of the year. Of the 180, 142 were by women, 38 by POC, 24 by queer authors, and 8 by trans folk. I wasn’t consciously trying to diversify what I read, and that lack of effort shows. I read fewer writers of color and fewer queer writers this year than I did in 2017, even though I read more books overall. In 2019 I will reprioritize other voices.

Some standouts from the second half of the year: Lydia Kiesling’s The Golden State, an irresistibly Northern Californian road trip novel for mothers of toddlers and those who love them; Lisa Brennan-Jobs’ Small Fry, also brilliantly evocative of the Bay Area and its terrible hollow men; The Line Becomes a RiverFrancisco Cantú’s haunting memoir about the militarized borders inside us; The Far Away Brothers, Oakland schoolteacher Lauren Markham’s frightening and hopeful book about two of her immigrant students; and Barbara Comyn’s one-of-a-kind cosy post-apocalypse, Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead.

I also hunted down and re-read two extraordinarily good books that I first encountered in my teens or early twenties: Sylvia Townsend Warner’s Lolly Willowes and Marge Piercy’s The High Cost of Living. The characters in the Piercy novel seemed unattainably adult to me the first time I read it. Now, it’s like reading Alison Bechdel’s Dykes to Watch Out For, in that I clearly used it to define what adulthood would mean to me. Lolly Willowes, about an elderly English spinster who sells her soul to the devil (she is exactly my age) is even stranger. I didn’t understand it at all the first time around, and I wouldn’t say that I understand it now; only that it touches a deep, sympathetic resonance in my heart.

by rachel at December 31, 2018 12:43 AM

December 29, 2018


the king of attolia, by megan whalen turner

Fields can be reseeded every year, but there is little point in planting trees that will be cut down before they grow old enough to bear fruit. So, where there is no peace, there are no trees.

by rachel at December 29, 2018 12:00 AM

December 26, 2018


the queen of attolia, by megan whalen turner

Steal peace, Eugenides. Steal me some time.

by rachel at December 26, 2018 11:59 PM

December 23, 2018


my year of rest and relaxation, by ottessa moshfegh

I can’t say it didn’t hurt me that she held herself at such a distance. But to confront her about it would have been cruel. I had no right to make any demands.

by rachel at December 23, 2018 11:58 PM

Penelope Trunk Careers

To do something big, aim to be irrelevant.

Urban Meyer, coach of Ohio State football, likes three-sport athletes more than singularly focused athletes. Yet sites like Active for Life jump on the three-sport thing to tell parents that early specialization is bad for kids.

I don’t believe specialization is bad. But I do believe it’s scary. You could get hurt, you could miss your big chance, you could be disappointed, you could fail publicly. But if you don’t learn to take risks by specializing early then you won’t be able to be great at anything later in life.

But what does it mean to be great at something?

Being great is relative. Relative to what you’ve been exposed to.

Before Eddie George played football for Ohio State, he left home for a private high school that specializes in keeping kids for a fifth year so they’re better recruits for college football. There’s tons of Ohio State football players who played multiple sports, but to go pro like Eddie George, you have to build your life around it. Because specializing is how you go from great to the best.

Corporate life has the same rules. You can be a parent and work full-time, but you can’t get to the top while making your kids a higher priority than work. Really. People at the top hand over parenting to someone else.

I say this a lot. And then people tell me, “I don’t need to be CEO. I just want an interesting job.”

And then I say, “How can things be interesting if you’re not trying to be the best?” You can’t be great at three sports or three instruments or three careers. I don’t want to do the work equivalent of three sports. It’s so insanely uninteresting to me to just be OK at something.

But when I start pounding my fists and shouting about the difference – commitment, focus, determination, grit, risk – people say, “Oh. I don’t want to do all that. I just want to [insert some mediocre version of what they are doing here].” Those people sound so rational, but I’ve spent my life trying to be great.

I am so enthralled with the relativism of being great – that’s the arena I’m always trying to be in, even though I think it’s killing me. Also, I look at that picture of my son being little and playing football not very well, and I am happy thinking about him being happy playing.

I can’t tell if I’m exhausted or changing or both.

So few people understand the gulf between the top and the very top. Most people know they don’t want to work hard enough to be the very best, but they still want to be learning and growing. But that level of constant engagement is really intense. Very few people want to live that intensely. Because it’s exhausting.

Science says you’re always going to want 20% more than what you have – whether it be money or skills or recognition. We get used to where we are and then it’s not exciting anymore so we want more. We always want more. It’s human nature.

You actually have to approach your entire life differently. You have to want the crazy life of singular focus.

Which is why talking about how to be the best is sort of boring. Because being the best disrupts all calibration in your life.

People who are trying to do something huge are on the fringe. They are doing stuff no one else is trying to do. They are taking risks no one else relates to. Most of the time you can’t even talk to people trying to do something huge. Because those people don’t ever leave their office unless the hugeness requires leaving. They’re overly invested to the point of being irrelevant in any social gathering or reasonable conversation.

Until they are big and great, that is.

Which may be never.




by Penelope Trunk at December 23, 2018 09:03 PM

WFMU's recent playlists from Gateway to Joy with Donna

WFMU Playlist: Gateway to Joy with Donna from Dec 22, 2018

Playlist from Gateway to Joy with Donna on WFMU, from Dec 22, 2018

December 23, 2018 02:00 AM

December 22, 2018


proposed staycation-jaunts

ETA: success!

by rachel at December 22, 2018 09:59 PM

back in the saddle

A big week round these parts: Claire got her braces off. I got out of the moon boot, retrieved my car from the barn, got a job, and rode Bentley for the first time in two and a half months. We saw a heron and an eagle mantled over its prey. Bentley, as whorled in his winter coat as a bear, arched his neck and stepped prettily through the mud. If I never jump again, if I never even trot, I will be so happy just to be able to sit on a horse, walking around the park like Queen Elizabeth, looking at the world more charitably through a pair of pricked ears.

by rachel at December 22, 2018 06:25 AM

red clocks, by leni zumas

And at this point, what else can she do? You could stop trying so hard. You could love your life as it is.

by rachel at December 22, 2018 06:19 AM

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