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Javascript Library for Creating XKCD-Style Charts

15 novembre, par Jason Kottke[ —]

Tim Qian has created a Javascript library called chart.xkcd for making charts that look hand-drawn in the style of XKCD.

Xkcd Chart

It’s easy to get started with chart.xkcd. All that’s required is the script included in your page along with a single node to render the chart.

You can use it to make line charts, XY charts, bar charts, radar charts, and pie/doughnut charts. I am definitely going to be using this in the future.

Speaking of XKCD, Randall Munroe has a new NY Times column called Good Question where he answers odd science questions (a la What If?). The first installment: If I Touched the Moon, What Would It Feel Like?

Moon dust may not burn you, but it’s no picnic. Like Earth sand, moon dust is effectively made of tiny glass shards, but the sharp edges have not been worn down by erosion. As a result, it can be pretty unhealthy.

(via sidebar)

Tags: infoviz   Randall Munroe   Tim Qian   XKCD

The Secret to Enjoying a Long Winter

15 novembre, par Jason Kottke[ —]

VT Winter Wonderland

I grew up in Wisconsin, and have lived in Iowa, Minnesota, and New York. Except for a two-year stint in the Bay Area, I’ve experienced winter — real winter, with lots of snow, below-freezing temperatures, and little daylight — every year of my life and never had a problem with it. So I was surprised when my last two Vermont winters put me on my ass. In winter 2017-18, I was depressed, anxious, wasn’t getting out of bed in the morning, spent endless time on my phone doing nothing, and had trouble focusing on my work. And I didn’t realize what it was until the first nice spring day came, 70 and sunny, and it hit me: “holy shit, I’ve been depressed because of winter” and felt wonderful for the next 5 months, like a completely different person. Then last year I was so anxious that it would happen again that all that stuff was worse and started basically a week into fall.

Nothing helped: I tried getting outside more, spent more time with friends, got out to meet new people, travelled to warm places, took photos of VT’s beautiful winter landscapes, spent time in cities, cut back on alcohol, and prioritized sleep. Last year I skied more than ever before and enjoyed it more than I’d ever had. Didn’t matter. This stuff worked during the spring and summer but my winter malaise was seemingly impenetrable. The plan for this fall was to try a SAD lamp, therapy, maybe drugs, and lots more warm travel. But then something interesting happened.

Sometime this fall — using a combination of Stoicism, stubbornness, and a sort of magical thinking that Jason-in-his-30s would have dismissed as woo-woo bullshit — I decided that because I live in Vermont, there is nothing I can do about it being winter, so it was unhelpful for me to be upset about it. I stopped complaining about it getting cold and dark, I stopped dreading the arrival of snow. I told myself that I just wasn’t going to feel like I felt in the summer and that’s ok — winter is a time for different feelings. As Matt Thomas wrote, I stopped fighting the winter vibe and tried to go with it:

Fall is a time to write for me as well, but it also means welcoming — rather than fighting against — the shorter days, the football games, the decorative gourds. Productivity writer Nicholas Bate’s seven fall basics are more sleep, more reading, more hiking, more reflection, more soup, more movies, and more night sky. I like those too. The winter will bring with it new things, new adjustments. Hygge not hay rides. Ditto the spring. Come summer, I’ll feel less stress about stopping work early to go to a barbecue or movie because I know, come autumn, I’ll be hunkering down. More and more, I try to live in harmony with the seasons, not the clock.

Last night, I read this Fast Company piece on some research done by Kari Leibowitz about how people in near-polar climates avoid seasonal depression and it really resonated with this approach that I’d stumbled upon.

At first, she was asking “Why aren’t people here more depressed?” and if there were lessons that could be taken elsewhere. But once she was there, “I sort of realized that that was the wrong question to be asking,” she says. When she asked people “Why don’t you have seasonal depression?” the answer was “Why would we?”

It turns out that in northern Norway, “people view winter as something to be enjoyed, not something to be endured,” says Leibowitz, and that makes all the difference.

The people in the Norwegian communities Leibowitz studied, they got outside as much as they could — “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing” — spent their time indoors being cozy, came together in groups, and marveled at winter’s beauty. I’d tried all that stuff my previous two winters but what seems to have moved the needle for me this year is a shift in mindset.

As I experienced firsthand Tromsø residents’ unique relationship to winter, a serendipitous conversation with Alia Crum, assistant professor of psychology at Stanford University, inspired me to consider mindset as a factor that might influence Tromsø residents’ sunny perspective of the sunless winter. Crum defines mindsets as the “lenses through which information is perceived, organized and interpreted.” Mindsets serve as an overarching framework for our everyday experiences — and they can profoundly influence how we react in a variety of situations.

Crum’s work has shown that mindsets significantly influence both our physical and mental health in areas as diverse as exercise, stress and diet. For example, according to Crum’s research, individuals can hold the mindset that stress is either debilitating (bad for your health and performance) or enhancing (motivating and performance-boosting). The truth is that stress is both; it can cause athletes to crumble under pressure and lead CEOs to have heart attacks, but it can also sharpen focus and critical thinking, giving athletes, CEOs and the rest of us the attention and adrenaline to succeed in high-pressure situations. According to Crum’s work, instead of the mere presence of stress, it is our mindset about stress — whether or not we perceive it as a help or a hindrance — that contributes most to health, performance and psychological outcomes.

This is the woo-woo bullshit I referred to earlier, the sort of thing that always brings to my mind the advice of self-help gurus embodied by The Simpsons’ Troy McClure urging his viewers to “get confident, stupid!” Is the secret to feeling happy really just to feel happy? It sounds ridiculous, right? This is the bit of the Fast Company piece that resonated with me like a massive gong:

But overall, mindset research is increasingly finding that it doesn’t take much to shift one’s thinking. “It doesn’t have to be this huge complicated thing,” says Leibowitz. “You can just consciously try to have a positive wintertime mindset and that might be enough to induce it.”

So how has this tiny shift in mindset been working for me so far? It’s only mid-November — albeit a mid-November where it’s already been 5°F, has been mostly below freezing for the past week, and with a good 6 inches of snow on the ground — but I have been feeling not only not bad, but actually good. My early fall had some seasonally-unrelated tough moments, but I’ve experienced none of last year’s pre-winter despondency. I’m looking forward to the start of skiing, especially since my kids are so jazzed up about it. I don’t currently have any trips planned (just got back from warm & sunny Mexico and am glad to be home even though the trip was great), but I’m definitely eager to start prepping for something in January. I’ve had more time for reading, watching some interesting TV, eating rich foods, making apple pie, and working. I went for a 6-mile walk in the freezing cold with a friend and it was delightful. And I’m already looking forward to spring and summer as well. It’s comforting to know that warmer weather and longer days are waiting for me in the distance, when I can do more of what I want to do and feel more like my true self. But in the meantime, pass the cocoa and I’ll see you on the slopes.

Tags: Jason Kottke   Kari Leibowitz   Matt Thomas   psychology   science   Vermont

What Can Americans Learn from Germany’s Reckoning with the Holocaust?

15 novembre, par Jason Kottke[ —]

For The New Republic, Heather Souvaine Horn reviews Susan Neiman’s book, Learning from the Germans: Race and the Memory of Evil, about the successes and failures of Germany in coming to terms with the Holocaust and what the United States can learn from them in dealing with our history of slavery and genocide.

She sees the murder of nine black Charleston churchgoers in 2015, and the events of the following years, as prime examples of conservative backlash in white communities: “The 2016 election resulted, in large part,” Neiman writes, “from America’s failure to confront its own history.” Her book, Learning From the Germans: Race and the Memory of Evil, offers a possible answer to one of the questions The New York Times’ 1619 Project, published in the same month and focusing on slavery’s centrality to the American nation, has prompted: What now? It is a book about how Americans could better confront their racist past, by looking at the way Germany has come to terms with Holocaust guilt.

After a trip to Berlin last year, I wrote about what I observed of the German remembrance of the Holocaust and its relevance to America:

With overt anti-Semitism growing in the US (as well as other things like the current administration’s policies on immigration and jailing of children in concentration camps), it’s instructive to compare the German remembrance of the Holocaust to America’s relative lack of public introspection & remembrance about its dark history.

In particular, as a nation the US has never properly come to terms with the horrors it inflicted on African Americans and Native Americans. We build monuments to Confederate soldiers but very few to the millions enslaved and murdered. Our country committed genocide against native peoples, herded them onto reservations like cattle, and we’re still denying them the right to vote.

You might think the Civil War & the oppression of African Americans is too far in the past for the US to truly reckon with it, but Neiman argues that we should be looking much closer to the present day:

But this, Neiman holds, is the wrong timeline to be looking at: Americans are only now in the early stages of their reckoning, for the simple fact that the Civil War did not really end in 1865. Due to Reconstruction, due to Jim Crow, and as evidenced by the appalling violence and state-federal standoffs of the 1960s, the appropriate point to mark the South’s “zero hour,” she believes, is not 1865 but 1964, with the passage of the Civil Rights Act. According to this timeline, Americans are a bit behind the Germans, but not by much — “about the place where Germany was when the Wehrmacht Exhibit provoked the kind of backlash that the removal of Confederate monuments provoked in New Orleans.”

Plus, systemic discrimination continues to this day, as does the US government’s poor treatment of indigenous communities. There is plenty of reckoning to go around and no time like the present to begin.

Tags: books   genocide   Germany   Heather Souvaine Horn   Holocaust   Learning from the Germans   racism   Susan Neiman   WWII

Astrology and Wishful Thinking

14 novembre, par Jason Kottke[ —]

In the Guardian, former astrologer Felicity Carter writes about how fortune telling really works and why she had to quit.

I also learned that intelligence and education do not protect against superstition. Many customers were stockbrokers, advertising executives or politicians, dealing with issues whose outcomes couldn’t be controlled. It’s uncertainty that drives people into woo, not stupidity, so I’m not surprised millennials are into astrology. They grew up with Harry Potter and graduated into a precarious economy, making them the ideal customers.

What broke the spell for me was, oddly, people swearing by my gift. Some repeat customers claimed I’d made very specific predictions, of a kind I never made. It dawned on me that my readings were a co-creation — I would weave a story and, later, the customer’s memory would add new elements. I got to test this theory after a friend raved about a reading she’d had, full of astonishingly accurate predictions. She had a tape of the session, so I asked her to play it.

The clairvoyant had said none of the things my friend claimed. Not a single one. My friend’s imagination had done all the work.

The last paragraph, on VC-funded astrology apps, was particularly interesting. I’m reading Yuval Noah Harari’s 21 Lessons for the 21st Century right now and one of his main points is that AI + biotech will combine to produce an unprecedented revolution in human society.

For we are now at the confluence of two immense revolutions. Biologists are deciphering the mysteries of the human body, and in particular of the brain and human feelings. At the same time computer scientists are giving us unprecedented data-processing power. When the biotech revolution merges with the infotech revolution, it will produce Big Data algorithms that can monitor and understand my feelings much better than I can, and then authority will probably shift from humans to computers. My illusion of free will is likely to disintegrate as I daily encounter institutions, corporations, and government agencies that understand and manipulate what was until now my inaccessible inner realm.

I hadn’t thought that astrology apps could be a major pathway to AI’s control of humanity, but Carter’s assertion makes sense.

Tags: 21 Lessons for the 21st Century   artificial intelligence   astrology   books   Felicity Carter   Yuval Noah Harari

Lin-Manuel Miranda on The Role of the Artist in the Age of Trump

14 novembre, par Jason Kottke[ —]

In The Role of the Artist in the Age of Trump, playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda reflects on how truth inherent in art means that “all art is political”.

At the end of the day, our job as artists is to tell the truth as we see it. If telling the truth is an inherently political act, so be it. Times may change and politics may change, but if we do our best to tell the truth as specifically as possible, time will reveal those truths and reverberate beyond the era in which we created them. We keep revisiting Shakespeare’s Macbeth because ruthless political ambition does not belong to any particular era. We keep listening to Public Enemy because systemic racism continues to rain tragedy on communities of color. We read Orwell’s 1984 and shiver at its diagnosis of doublethink, which we see coming out of the White House at this moment.

In a 1969 piece, Kurt Vonnegut asserted that art is an early warning system for society:

I sometimes wondered what the use of any of the arts was. The best thing I could come up with was what I call the canary in the coal mine theory of the arts. This theory says that artists are useful to society because they are so sensitive. They are super-sensitive. They keel over like canaries in poison coal mines long before more robust types realize that there is any danger whatsoever.

While not specifically about art, here’s a bit of what I wrote in a January 2017 post, How to Productive in Terrible Times.

I’ve always had difficulty believing that the work I do here is in some way important to the world and since the election, that feeling has blossomed into a profound guilt-ridden anxiety monster. I mean, who in the actual fuck cares about the new Blade Runner movie or how stamps are designed (or Jesus, the blurry ham) when our government is poised for a turn towards corruption and authoritarianism?

I have come up with some reasons why my work here does matter, at least to me, but I’m not sure they’re good ones. In the meantime, I’m pressing on because my family and I rely on my efforts here and because I hope that in some small way my work, as Webb writes, “is capable of enabling righteous acts”.

(via laura olin)

Tags: art   Kurt Vonnegut   Lin-Manuel Miranda   politics   working

The Succession Theme Works Over Any TV Show Title Sequence

14 novembre, par Jason Kottke[ —]

If you’re having withdrawals from Succession, perhaps this will help a little. A fan created these title sequences of iconic TV shows with the pulsing Succession theme song dubbed over them. The Wire, The Simpsons, and Mad Men are particular favorites of mine:

The Succession theme is to title sequences like what “Christ, what an asshole!” is to New Yorker cartoon captions — it even fits Happy Days (mostly):

If you’d like to try your hand at this, the theme song is available on Spotify. Its composer, Nicholas Britell, also scored Moonlight and If Beale Street Could Talk.

Tags: Mad Men   music   Nicholas Britell   remix   Succession   The Simpsons   The Wire   TV   video

Logos of Video Game Consoles from 1976 to the Present

14 novembre, par Jason Kottke[ —]

Video Game Console Logos

Reagan Ray has collected the logos of video game consoles from 1976 to the present. He ignores the first generation of consoles because there would have been too many to include. (Historical interlude: I didn’t know gaming consoles were broken down into generations. Apparently we’re in the 8th generation now — Wii U, PS4, Xbox One, and Switch.)

See also Ray’s collections of classic airline logos, record label logos, 80s action figure logos, American car logos, etc..

Tags: design   logos   Reagan Ray   video games

Bikes Cosplay As Flatscreen TVs to Limit Shipping Damage

14 novembre, par Jason Kottke[ —]

I love this. Bike retailer Vanmoof noticed that a lot of the bikes they shipped to customers in the US arrived damaged. Figuring that package handlers would be more gentle if they thought they were moving fragile electronics, they started printing an illustration of a flatscreen TV on their packages.

TV Bike Box

That small tweak had an outsized impact. Overnight our shipping damages dropped by 70-80%. We sell 80% of our bicycles online, which means we still print TVs on our boxes. More than 60,000 of them have now been shipped directly to our riders worldwide.

Super clever. (via why is this interesting?)

Tags: business   Vanmoof

What Would Mister Rogers Do?

13 novembre, par Jason Kottke[ —]

Mr Rogers Trolley

In 1998, Tom Junod wrote an article for Esquire about Fred Rogers. It is a particular favorite of mine and if you’ve never read it, I would recommend setting aside some time soon to do so.

Koko weighed 280 pounds because she is a gorilla, and Mister Rogers weighed 143 pounds because he has weighed 143 pounds as long as he has been Mister Rogers, because once upon a time, around thirty-one years ago, Mister Rogers stepped on a scale, and the scale told him that Mister Rogers weighs 143 pounds. No, not that he weighed 143 pounds, but that he weighs 143 pounds…. And so, every day, Mister Rogers refuses to do anything that would make his weight change — he neither drinks, nor smokes, nor eats flesh of any kind, nor goes to bed late at night, nor sleeps late in the morning, nor even watches television — and every morning, when he swims, he steps on a scale in his bathing suit and his bathing cap and his goggles, and the scale tells him that he weighs 143 pounds. This has happened so many times that Mister Rogers has come to see that number as a gift, as a destiny fulfilled, because, as he says, “the number 143 means ‘I love you.’ It takes one letter to say ‘I’ and four letters to say ‘love’ and three letters to say ‘you.’ One hundred and forty-three. ‘I love you.’ Isn’t that wonderful?”

The article has been adapted into a movie called A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood; it stars Tom Hanks and will be out in two weeks time. Here’s a recently trailer — my skepticism about Tom Hanks playing Rogers is fading:

Junod recently wrote a piece about his friendship with the television icon, which began with the writing of the Esquire piece, continued until Rogers’ death in 2003, and clearly still reverberates in his life.

What would Fred Rogers — Mister Rogers — have made of El Paso and Dayton, of mass murder committed to fulfill the dictates of an 8chan manifesto? What, for that matter, would he have made of the anti-Semitic massacre that took place last fall in his real-life Pittsburgh neighborhood of Squirrel Hill? The easy answer is that it is impossible to know, because he was from a different world, one almost as alien to us now as our mob-driven world of performative slaughters would be to him. But actually, I think I do know, because when I met him, one of the early school shootings had just taken place, in West Paducah, Kentucky — eight students shot while they gathered in prayer. Though an indefatigably devout man, he did not attempt to characterize the shootings as an attack on the faithful; instead, he seized on the news that the 14-year-old shooter had gone to school telling his classmates that he was about to do something “really big,” and he asked, “Oh, wouldn’t the world be a different place if he had said, ‘I’m going to do something really little tomorrow’?” Fred decided to devote a whole week of his television show, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, to the theme of “little and big,” encouraging children to embrace the diminutive nature of their bodies and their endeavors — to understand that big has to start little.

The whole piece is great, but the latter half, where Junod writes about Rogers’ complicated legacy, the failure of his grand task, and how the people who idolize him today might nevertheless find it difficult to follow his example…well, I’m going to be thinking about that for awhile.

Tags: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood   Fred Rogers   movies   Tom Hanks   Tom Junod   trailers   video

Neutron Stars and Nuclear Pasta. Yummy!

13 novembre, par Jason Kottke[ —]

The latest video from Kurzgesagt is a short primer on neutron stars, the densest large objects in the universe.

The mind-boggling density of neutron stars is their most well-known attribute: the mass of all living humans would fit into a volume the size of a sugar cube at the same density. But I learned about a couple of new things that I’d like to highlight. The first is nuclear pasta, which might be the strongest material in the universe.

Astrophysicists have theorized that as a neutron star settles into its new configuration, densely packed neutrons are pushed and pulled in different ways, resulting in formation of various shapes below the surface. Many of the theorized shapes take on the names of pasta, because of the similarities. Some have been named gnocchi, for example, others spaghetti or lasagna.

Simulations have demonstrated that nuclear pasta might be some 10 billion times stronger than steel.

The second thing deals with neutron star mergers. When two neutron stars merge, they explode in a shower of matter that’s flung across space. Recent research suggests that many of the heavy elements present in the universe could be formed in these mergers.

But how elements heavier than iron, such as gold and uranium, were created has long been uncertain. Previous research suggested a key clue: For atoms to grow to massive sizes, they needed to quickly absorb neutrons. Such rapid neutron capture, known as the “r-process” for short, only happens in nature in extreme environments where atoms are bombarded by large numbers of neutrons.

If this pans out, it means that the Earth’s platinum, uranium, lead, and tin may have originated in exploding neutron stars. Neat!

Tags: astronomy   food   Kurzgesagt   physics   science   space

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