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Some things I’ve read, seen, and heard in the past few weeks

28 April, by Jason Kottke[ —]

1984. I believe I last saw this movie in high school, which seems unlikely given the nudity. Or maybe we saw a censored version, in which case: lolololol. (B+)

Ghost in the Shell. Superb visuals but the story felt flat. (B)

Big Little Lies. I almost gave up on this after two episodes. I can watch TV characters do all sorts of horrible things to each other — lie, cheat, steal, betray, kill — but apparently epically bad parenting is my last straw. But. The final episode contains one of the best scenes I’ve ever watched on TV and was just fantastic all around. Was literally on the edge of my seat for the entire 60 minutes. (A-)

Future Sex. Among the least titillating books about sex you’ll ever read. (That’s a compliment.) (B+)

The Undoing Project. I was unsure about this one until about 1/3 through but persisted because it’s Michael Lewis. Fascinating in places and unexpectedly emotional. (B)

Mr. Bean. I have never seen my kids laugh quite as hard as they did watching Mr. Bean rush to the dentist office. My dad instilled in me an appreciation of British comedy and I guess I’m passing that on to my kids. They seem to get it, but not all kids do. They were so excited recently to show some friends The Ministry of Silly Walks sketch from Monty Python and the friends looked really really confused and didn’t laugh at all. Fawlty Towers is up soon. (B)

The Rules Do Not Apply. At one shocking, heartbreaking point in the book, time reels backwards. If you’ve read Ariel Levy’s Thanksgiving in Mongolia in the New Yorker, you know exactly what I’m talking about. (B+)

Tim Carmody’s Best of the Web series for kottke.org. I love getting to be a reader of the site sometimes, just like all of you. I always enjoy Tim’s residencies here, but this one made me clap my hands in joy and stomp my feet in a jealous rage. It’s not entirely fair that he does the site better than I do, but I’m glad he does. (A)

The final season of Girls. Not their best season, but I’m sad to see it go nonetheless. The ensemble is what made the show special, and they just weren’t together enough this season. The single episode “goodbyes” for each character felt forced. (Same reason why Arrested Development season 4 wasn’t up to scratch.) (B+)

Terror of the Zygons. I started watching old Doctor Whos with the kids and they love them. (B-)

Hedgehog Launch. Ancient iOS game…my phone might contain the last functioning install of it. I started playing it a few weeks ago and now I am addicted to it for absolutely no good reason. The game sucks: it’s tough and not that fun until a certain point and then it gets really easy to win. But I can’t stop playing it. It’s like a metaphor for something in my life I can’t quite figure out. Fuck this game. (F)

Damn. I need to listen to this more. So I shall. (B+)

Get Out. Really good but not great. I saw this weeks after everyone else and my expectations were too high. Kept waiting for it to slip into a slightly higher gear but it never did. Don’t @ me! (B+)

Cloud Atlas. I’ve seen this movie at least four times and I love it. (A-)

The Prestige. Hadn’t seen this since it came out. Holds up. Had totally forgotten about Bowie as Tesla. (A-)

The Holy Mountain. Was way too sober for this. (B-)

The Life Aquatic. Not my favorite Wes Anderson but solid. There’s some weirdly clunky acting in the middle bits. (B+)

Guardians of the Galaxy. Gearing up for the new one. (A-/B+)

See also the last installment of this list from earlier this month.

Tags: TV   books   iPhone apps   lists   movies   music

The meeting that never happened

28 April, by Jason Kottke[ —]

IDAC is an entertaining short film by Casimir Nozkowski that explores the social mores of the awkward youth and, after a twist in the story, the malleability of memory.

When I was leaving for college, my aunt Dana told me I had a cousin I’d never met who was matriculating in the same year as me. We shared classes and had friends in common but for some strange reason I never introduced myself. All during college, and then into the real world, through a decade of overlapping connections, we never met. This film is an examination of that hesitation and an attempt to understand why I never made the easiest connection in the world… until it was too late.

Tags: Casimir Nozkowski   memory   video

What is literature for?

28 April, by Jason Kottke[ —]

The School of Life on four uses of literature. I especially liked this bit:

We’re weirder than we’re allowed to admit. We often can’t say what’s really on our minds, but in books, we find descriptions of who we genuinely are and what events are actually like described with an honesty quite different from what ordinary conversation allows for. In the best books, it’s as if the writer knows us better than we know ourselves. They find the words to describe the fragile and weird special experiences of our inner lives: the light on a summer morning, the anxiety we felt at a gathering, the sensations of a first kiss, the envy when a friend told us of their new business, the longing we experienced on the train looking at the profile of another passenger we never dare to speak to. Writers open our hearts and minds and give us maps to our own selves, so that we can travel in them more reliably and with less of a feeling of paranoia and persecution. As the writer Emerson remarked, “In the works of great writers, we find our own neglected thoughts.”

I would argue these points also apply, in one degree or another, to not just literature but to any artful endeavor: film, TV, comics, theater, painting, etc.

Tags: art   books   video

Dieter Rams’ classic design principles updated for the tech industry

28 April, by Jason Kottke[ —]

Dieter Rams, the legendary designer, came up with a now-famous list of Ten Principles for Good Design. Among them:

Good design makes a product understandable. It clarifies the product’s structure. Better still, it can make the product talk. At best, it is self-explanatory.

Recently, designer Tobias Van Schneider posted a tongue-in-cheek update of Rams’ list, the 2017 Tech Industry edition.

Ten Principles for Good Design, tech edition

1. Good design is disruptive.
2. Good design makes a product addicting.
3. Good design is A/B testing.
4. Good design makes a product collect data.
5. Good design is notifications.
6. Good design is agreeing to the terms & conditions.
7. Good design is temporary.
8. Good design is a prototype.
9. Good design is a chatbot?
10. Good design is pleasing your shareholders.

Tags: design   Dieter Rams   lists   Tobias Van Schneider

Night timelapse of the Milky Way from an airplane cockpit

28 April, by Jason Kottke[ —]

Sales Wick is a pilot for SWISS and while working an overnight flight from Zurich to Sao Paulo, he filmed the first segment of the flight from basically the dashboard of the plane and made a timelapse video out of it. At that altitude, without a lot of light and atmospheric interference, the Milky Way is super vivid.

Just as the bright city lights are vanishing behind us, the Milky Way starts to become clearly visible up ahead. Its now us, pacing at almost the speed of sound along the invisible highway and the pitch-black night sky above this surreal landscape. Ahead of us are another eight hours flight time, but we already stopped counting the shooting stars. And we got already to a few hundred.

I watched this twice already, once to specifically pay attention to all the passing airplanes. The sky is surprisingly busy, even at that hour. (via @ozans)


The absurd precision involved in detecting gravitational waves

27 April, by Jason Kottke[ —]

Back in September 2015, the LIGO experiment detected gravitational waves formed 1.3 billion years ago when two black holes merged into one. The physics is pretty straightforward but to get the measurement, scientists had to build one of the most sensitive machines ever built. How sensitive? To get an accurate result, they needed to measure a distance of 4km with an accuracy of 1/10000th the width of a proton. This video from Veritasium looks at how the scientists and engineers accomplished such an amazing feat.

Tags: gravity   physics   science   video

Road dieting

27 April, by Jason Kottke[ —]

The concept of road diets is an alternate approach to dealing with road congestion that’s gained popularity in recent years. The typical solution to heavy traffic on roads is to widen them with more travel lanes. The problem is such an approach can induce demand and instead of two lanes of traffic jam, you get four lanes going nowhere.1

Instead, with a road diet approach, you might turn a four-lane road into three lanes: two travel lanes and a turn lane in the middle.

Realizing these unintended outcomes, some localities implemented a type of road diet: reconfiguring the four lanes (two in each direction) into three (one each way plus a shared turn lane in the middle). The change dramatically reduced the number of “conflict points” on the road-places where a crash might occur. Whereas there might be six mid-block conflict points in a common four-lane arterial, between cars turning and merging, there were only two after the road diet.

Likewise, at an intersection, eight potential conflict points became four after a road diet.

The result was a much safer road. In small urban areas (say, populations around 17,000, with traffic volumes up to 12,000 cars a day), post-road diet crashes dropped about 47 percent. In larger metros (with populations around 269,000 and up to 24,000 daily cars), the crash reduction was roughly 19 percent. The combined estimate from all the best studies predicted that accidents would decline 29 percent, on average, after a four-to-three-lane road diet — DOT’s reported figure.

Pedestrian and bike usage tends to increase as well (b/c that extra street can be converted to bike lanes or sidewalks), speeding decreases, and car travel times are largely unaffected. This quick video by Jeff Speck shows four different approaches to road dieting:

Update: See also Braess’ paradox.

Braess’ paradox or Braess’s paradox is a proposed explanation for a seeming improvement to a road network being able to impede traffic through it. It was discovered in 1968 by mathematician Dietrich Braess, who noticed that adding a road to a congested road traffic network could increase overall journey time, and it has been used to explain instances of improved traffic flow when existing major roads are closed.

The paradox may have analogues in electrical power grids and biological systems. It has been suggested that in theory, the improvement of a malfunctioning network could be accomplished by removing certain parts of it.

(thx, david)

  1. The concept of induced demand can be seen in other places, like New Orleans’ overcrowded jails.

Tags: architecture   cities   Jeff Speck   traffic   video

How fake are nature documentaries?

26 April, by Jason Kottke[ —]

When you’re watching a nature documentary, you notice it right away: there’s something odd about the sound effects. They seem a little too…Hollywood. When Vox did their series on how the BBC made Planet Earth II, they didn’t mention the sound:

I hope the third program is on sound, which has been bugging me while watching Planet Earth II. I could be wrong, but they seem to be using extensive foley effects for the sounds the animals make — not their cries necessarily, but the sounds they make as they move. Once you notice, it feels deceptive.

Several other people noticed and complained, causing the BBC to explain that getting real sounds in many cases was impossible. Audio producer Matt North adds some context:

Whilst I’m no wildlife expert, it’s fairly straightforward to conclude that such an unpredictable and uncontrollable subject as wildlife would have prompted the need to often shoot on long lenses, thus making it almost physically impossible for a sound recordist to obtain ‘realistic’ recordings that would match the treatment and emotive style of the programme. Combine this with the shooting climate, as well as the need for frequent communication between crew just to capture the necessary shots that will cut well in the edit suite and you have a recipe for failure in regards to obtaining useable sound. Therefore, it’s not only impractical but virtually impossible to capture the ‘real’ sound that some of these disgruntled viewers may be protesting for.

As Simon Cade shows in the video above, sound is only one of the ways in which nature documentaries use editing to “fake” things. Is it manipulation? Or good storytelling? And what’s the difference between the two anyway? A silent security feed of a Walmart parking lot is not a documentary but The Thin Blue Line, with its many dramatizations and Philip Glass score, is a great documentary.

Update: 99% Invisible recently did a show on the sounds in nature documentaries as well. (thx, everyone)

Tags: audio   Matt North   Planet Earth   Simon Cade   video

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

26 April, by Jason Kottke[ —]

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

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


A brief visual history of Studio Ghibli

26 April, by Jason Kottke[ —]

Studio Ghibli has been making incredible animated movies since 1985. This video traces the history and the work of the studio and its principal director Hayao Miyazaki from his pre-Ghibli work (including Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind) all the way up to Miyazaki’s recent unretirement & involvement in Boro the Caterpillar.

The name Ghibli was given by Hayao Miyazaki from the Italian noun “ghibli”, based on the Libyan-Arabic name for the hot desert wind of that country, the idea being the studio would “blow a new wind through the anime industry”. It also refers to an Italian aircraft, the Caproni Ca.309 Ghibli.

I still remember seeing Princess Mononoke in the theater in 1999 (having no previous knowledge of Ghibli or Miyazaki) and being completely blown away by it. Made me a fan for life. (via film school rejects)

Tags: animation   Hayao Miyazaki   movies   Princess Mononoke   Studio Ghibli   video

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