• The Trump administration's attack on "Critical Race Theory" is just HUAC 2.0

    Early this month, the US Office of Management and Budget announced a crackdown on diversity trainings and other similar initiatives that acknowledged the existence of racism or privilege. The concept of "Critical Race Theory" was a particular target — despite the fact that, ya know, the First Amendment is supposed to prevent the government from suppressing ideas or punishing people for having ideas.

    The UCLA School of Public Affairs defines Critical Race Theory as:

    CRT recognizes that racism is engrained in the fabric and system of the American society. The individual racist need not exist to note that institutional racism is pervasive in the dominant culture. This is the analytical lens that CRT uses in examining existing power structures. CRT identifies that these power structures are based on white privilege and white supremacy, which perpetuates the marginalization of people of color.

    Trump himself called out Critical Race Theory — and the work of Howard Zinn specifically — in his scarily authoritarian decree about "Patriotic Education" (read: indoctrination).

    OMB Director Russ Vought has also announced that the federal government is asking employees to "report any sightings" of Critical Race Theory.

    This is just a re-hash of the anti-Commie hunts of the House Un-American Activities Committee under Joseph McCarthy during the Red Scare.

    Most proponents of Critical Race Theory will agree that it evolved from Critical Theory, a school of thought that was primarily developed by the work of Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer at the Frankfurt School, which itself drew on ideas from Western-Marxist philosophy. (The Frankfurt School is largely at the root of all the anti-Semitic dog whistles and conspiracy theories surrounding so-called "Cultural Marxism," and why so many conservatives rage at the thought of postmodernism.)

    So the federal government is once again asking people to snitch on people who might align ideological with anything remotely inspired by the work of Marx and Engels, in order to suppress dissent. Which is exactly what HUAC did. And I think there's bipartisan agreement that HUAC was not good.

    Anyway, I've had this song stuck in my head all week:

    Previously: Trump administration bans diversity training for federal workers, calling it "Anti-American"

  • The typography of Star Trek

    Dave Addey is author of Typeset in the Future: Typography and Design in Science Fiction Movies, a book exploring the typography of films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner, WALL-E, and other classics. In an excerpt on his site, Addey studies the typography of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. From Typeset in the Future:

    If you like the style of Star Trek or [the] Star Trek Film [font], and want to use them to spice up your corporate communications, I have excellent news. In 1992, the creators of the Star Trek franchise partnered with Bitstream to release an officially licensed "Star Trek" Font Pack. The pack contains full versions of Star Trek and Star Trek Film, plus Star Trek Pi (a collection of insignias and Klingon glyphs) and Starfleet Bold Extended (a Eurostile look-alike that appears on the outside of many Starfleet craft)[…]

    Alas, [Star Trek:} The Original Series's inconsistent typography did not survive the stylistic leap into the 1970s. To make up for it, The Motion Picture's title card introduces a new font, with some of the curviest Es known to sci-fi. It also follows an emerging seventies trend: Movie names beginning with STAR must have long trailing lines on the opening S:

    The font seen in The Motion Picture's titles is a custom typeface created by Richard A. Foy, known at the time as Star Trek Film (and now known in digital form as Galaxy):

    Star Trek Film also shows up on the movie's US one-sheet poster, with bonus Technicolor beveling to make it even more futuristic:

    "Typeset in the Future: Star Trek: The Motion Picture" (via Kottke)

  • Moog book explains how to use synths

    The walls of knobs and dials on a classic synthesizer are forbidding to newcomers. Coming from the all-done-on-computers generation, I've never quite gotten into the old-school because of it. Synth-maker Moog's published a new book, Patch & Tweak with Moog, that aims to explain analog synths with detailed charts, glossaries and explanations of what each twist will do.

    PATCH & TWEAK with Moog is the result of more than a year of collaboration with electronic music icons, established and emerging artists, and Moog employee-owners. Opening with a foreword from acclaimed film score composer and sound designer Hans Zimmer, this hardcover book features 200 pages full of synthesizer techniques, creative patch ideas, sound design tips, professional artist interviews, in-depth discussions with Moog engineers, stories behind vintage Moog instruments, a glimpse into the history of Moog Music, and more. Readers will get an inside look into the Moog factory in Asheville, North Carolina, where instruments are built by hand, and learn about the modular synthesis innovator who started it all.

  • Gallery of jazz album lettering

    Designer Reagan Ray isolated the lettering from various jazz album covers for a bunch of artists and made an online gallery of little cards. I love the variety and colors.

    But the most influential designer was probably Reid Miles, who created over 500 album covers for Blue Note Records. He pioneered the use of creatively-arranged type over monochromatic photography, which is a style that is still widely used in graphic design today.

    Rather than post 100s of covers and posters, I wanted to isolate the lettering for easy browsing and analysis. There's a lot of lettering out there, and a lot I left out. I tried to cover most of the genre's significant musicians (and only pick one piece per artist), but if missed anything glaring, let me know.

  • A US presidential election to-do list

    I am well aware that this is a vast generalization but, in my daily goings on, I encounter four types of democratic leaning voters:

    1. Despondent:  Those who feel nothing they do matters. Their voice and vote won't impact the election. It's all rigged, Trump has his hand on the scale, and no matter what we do he's going to win. This is exactly how Trump and his cronies want them, and you, to feel.
    2. We've Got This: People who, based on national polls and data provided on sites such as fivethirtyeight.com, believe that Biden has this in the bag. For anyone who falls into this category may I refer you to the 2016 election.
    3. Uninspired: Folks that say they aren't going to vote because they aren't 'inspired' by Joe Biden. Or maybe they'll vote but won't go out of their way to get Biden/Harris elected.
    4. Gung Ho: These people understand the stakes of the game. Even if they started as a Bernie or Warren supporter, they recognize that the election is now between two candidates. They are out there, or on-line, helping to get Biden and Harris into the White House.

    No matter which of above categories you fall under, if you want to see Donald Trump leave the oval office, whether by his own free will or in handcuffs, it's time to do everything in your power to get him the fuck out. The last four years we have been gaslighted, desensitized, and demoralized. Even if you don't hold a lot of faith in our  political system, the fastest and only remedy directly in front of us lies within the upcoming election. The future of our democracy, of the America that we've known our entire lives, hangs in the balance. Joe Biden very well may be our last guardrail.

    Polls have shown that it's not enough to be anti-Trump. A recent study conducted by Future Now, for example, found that positive information about Biden is nearly twice as effective at moving voter choice than negative messaging on Trump. I appreciate Instagram accounts like Settle For Biden but to give him the best chance of winning we need to embrace, embolden and promote Joe Biden. We have to shift the narrative, to emphasize the strengths of him and his campaign, and talk less about the treachery of Trump. 

    If you are feeling apathetic about Joe Biden here are few things that may hit home. He is running a very progressive campaign: Health care, women's rights, climate change, LGBQT issues, and student debt, are strong examples. He's voiced support for Black Lives Matter and any momentum on police reform has an infinitely greater chance of achieving real transformation under Biden. By his own admission Biden sees himself as a 'transition candidate.' His presidency will serve as a bridge to the next generation of leaders, one that is reflective of the changing demographics of America. He has already selected the first woman of color to be nominated for national office by a major political party as his running mate and will build a cabinet of progressive leaders, experts, and activists. He's also a man of character and integrity. Even Trump lapdog Lindsay Graham once proclaimed that "Joe Biden is as good a man as God ever created."

    So, what can we all do as the Election fast approaches?  I am by no means an expert on the matter but having worked at the intersection of music and politics for quite some time I do have a few ideas to share:  

    • First and foremost, check your voter registration to make sure it is up to date. You can do that at Vote.org.
    • If you plan to vote by mail and haven't requested an absentee ballot do so immediately. This can also be done at Vote.org.
    • Distribute accurate, vetted information about the candidates, the issues, deadlines, and polling locations. Disinformation is one of the cornerstone tactics of voter suppression. I know that posting on our own social media timeline can feel like screaming into the void but the more that accurate information can be reinforced is crucial. Websites likes Headcount.org, Vote 411 and Vote Save America are few sources that come to mind. Also, Fivethirtyeight.com built a handy voter resource page.
    • Get the message out about voting early. Even during a typical election year, there are issues with mail-in voting. As I'm sure you've read or heard, mail is now taking longer to reach its destination given the recent politicized changes within the Postal Service. The safest bet is to vote early and in person. However, if you are voting by mail send your ballot in as soon as possible to ensure it is delivered and counted. A new Instagram account, The Early Vote,  has posted simple and clear state-specific information and you can find the same, with a bit more detail, on Vote.org.
    • Call voters. Let them know when early voting begins in their state, if they are mailing in a ballot to do it early and make sure it is filled out correctly. If they plan to vote in person, confirm where the nearest polling station is located. If they are voting on Election Day, prepare them for long lines and suggest they bring something to read, a snack and a bottle of water. Grass Roots Dems and Swing Left have phone banking resources that are simple to utilize.
    • Write to voters. Talk about killing two birds with one stone! You are supporting the USPS while supplying information to potential voters in what, nowadays, is a novel fashion. Vote Forward is great for this and Swing Left gives you the tools to host a virtual letter writing party.
    • Volunteer to be a poll worker. As anyone who has voted at a polling station can attest, these are largely staffed by older people who are the most vulnerable to Covid. There is a valid concern that stations will be understaffed leading to even longer lines. If you are young and able-bodied you can play a crucial role in helping people to cast their ballot in 2020. Lebron James, along with a number of other professional athletes, recently launched an initiative to register poll workers called More Than a Vote. You can also sign up as part of Fair Fight's Power the Polls initiative.
    • Donate. If you don't have time but have the financial resources that is great too. Donate directly to Biden's campaign or the DNC or any of the organizations named above. Some others to consider: Black Voters Matter Fund, Future Now and Voting Rights Lab. There are also numerous organizations working on the ground in specific swing states or districts if you prefer to go that route.
    • Be prepared, and prepare others, that it is unlikely we will know the winner come election night due to the unprecedented number of mail-in ballots. It's quite possible that Trump will try to declare victory that evening regardless, and begin a push to leave millions of votes left uncounted. Be vocal, ready to take to the streets to protest (with masks on!) and dig in for a long fight. This election just might make 2000 feel like child's play. We need to make sure each and every vote is counted. That, after all, is the cornerstone of our democracy.

    My intention is not to cause additional stress during an incredibly stressful period of time. My hope is to provide helpful information and, ultimately, motivate you to do what you can to win this election and get our country back on track. Whatever you can do, however you are able to contribute, even if it doesn't always feel this way, matters. We all have a voice, the ability to make an impact and ultimately, enact change. We need you, every single one of you. Now.

    Jordan Kurland is a founding partner of Brilliant Corners Artist Management. The company's roster includes Death Cab for Cutie, Postal Service, Toro Y Moi, Best Coast, She & Him and Soccer Mommy. Most recently he quarterbacked, along with author Dave Eggers, the release of the digital compilation, Good Music to Avert the Collapse of American Democracy, which raised over $250k in 24 hours for Fair Fight and Color of Change. He is also a partner in live events producer Noise Pop Industries and served on the Entertainment Advisory Committee for Barack Obama in 2012 and Hillary Clinton in 2016.

    image: alteration of original photo by Tom Arthur (CC BY-SA 2.0)

  • Can you spot the professional troll?

    In this game, called Spot the Troll, you are presented with screenshots of 8 different people's tweets or Facebook posts and then you have to guess whether or not the person is a troll. I got a score of 5/8

    Each of the following 8 profiles include a brief selection of posts from a single social media account. You decide if each is an authentic account or a professional troll. After each profile, you'll review the signs that can help you determine if it's a troll or not.

  • Very enthusiastic geode hunter shows off his finds

    YouTuber The Crystal Collector shows off his massive geode haul and cracks a few open to show how beautiful they are inside.

    He found a riverbed that was quite a treasure trove of them in a previous video. We used to do this when I was a kid with my Aunt Henny and Uncle Rollie, and it is quite exciting to shake a rock and hear the distinctive rattling sounds of loose quartz inside a geode.

    Image: YouTube / The Crystal Collector

  • Florida Republicans banned old felons from voting if they had outstanding fines. Wealthy Dems just paid off 32,000 accounts.

    In a landslide referendum two years ago, Florida voters gave rehabilitated felons the right to vote, but Republican legislators "gutted the biggest voting rights victory in recent history" by making those rights contingent on people paying off any outstanding fines they had. Billionaire Mike Bloomberg and several other wealthy celebrities announced that they will pay $16m to pay off 32,000 fines. Right-wingers, horrified at the prospect of more lower-income Black and Hispanic citizens voting in Florida, claim that it's bribery. But it's the rule they decided upon blowing up in their faces.

    The memo says that the 31,790 targeted voters, of which 25,548 are black, is a margin close to that which elected Republican Governor Ron DeSantis and Republican Senator Rick Scott in 2018.

    "We have identified a significant vote share that requires a nominal investment," the memo read. "The data shows that in Florida, Black voters are a unique universe unlike any other voting bloc, where the Democratic support rate tends to be 90 per cent to 95 per cent."

    An advisor to Mr Bloomberg speaking to the Post on condition of anonymity said that the former Democratic presidential candidate wanted to pay off the fines "because it immediately activates tens of thousands of voters who are predisposed to vote for Joe Biden".

  • Watch how sediments settle much faster in an angled container

    This great demonstration of the Boycott effect, where "the rate at which solid particles sediment under the action of gravity can be greatly enhanced if the walls of the settling vessel are inclined rather than vertical." Discovered by Arthur Edwin Boycott in 1920, the effect is caused by convection and has important uses in everything from plasma processing to sewage treatment.

    Image: YouTube / Fluid Dynamics

  • Epic space exploration game No Man's Sky gets another massive free update

    I reviewed No Man's Sky three years ago, after the stylish space-exploration game received big patches adding depth, detail and story to the poorly-received original release. But its creators didn't stop there, and today's No Man's Sky: Origins (officially v3.0 of the game) marks yet another massive free upgrade. From stellar disappointment to space game of the decade in a few giant leaps—and it seems there are still plenty of warp cells in the storage cubes.

    New Planets: Existing solar systems have birthed new planets, creating millions of untouched new worlds to explore.

    Binary and Ternary Stars: Some rare systems are now home to multiple stars, creating stunning new patterns in the sky.

    Dramatic Landscapes: These new worlds have vast, sweeping terrain. Their mountains and vistas are on a colossal new scale, giving shape to more dramatic, awe-inspiring scenery than ever before.

    User Interface Refresh: Interface and menus have been totally overhauled with new colours and styles, for a fresh new aesthetic.

    Richer Diversity: New life has been breathed into every planet in the universe. A huge range of never-before seen planetary flora and curiosities have been poured into the galaxy. Countless strange new combinations are out there, awaiting discovery…

    There's biomes, weather (not just annoying storms), no more atmospheric level-of-detail glitches, an overhauled photo mode, and a ton of other stuff in the patch notes. Can't wait to check it out.

  • Aston Martin's £57,500 sit-in driving simulator

    The first time I saw an Out Run cabinet in Worthing, England's New Amusements pier arcade in 1986, I was shocked that it cost 50p a game. 50p! But that's nothing on Aston Martin's latest driving game cabinet, the £57,500 (~$74k) AMR-C01. This handmade sit-in, crafted by Curv Racing Simulators, has the luxury fit and finish you'd expect of a roadbound Aston Martin; the official press release doesn't even list the technical specifications, presumably because those buying the 150-unit limited edition couldn't care less how much RAM it has or what sort of video card lurks behind the dash. Specs can be found on Curv's own site; that's a 32:9 QHD monitor powered by an Intel i7 CPU and an Nvidia 2080 GTX—already last year's model.

    This steering motor is the gold standard for high-end simulators, offering exceptionally high torque response and precise feedback.

    State-of-the-art Formula style steering wheel with paddle shift and clutch. The wheel boasts 9 rotary dials and 12 push buttons, putting the user in total control of set up on every lap. With a full colour LCD display, the wheel has dual-clutch paddles with an adjustable bite point, to sit alongside carbon fibre gear shifter paddles.

    Electronically-controlled sliding pedal box with 200mm of travel, electric actuator, carbon fibre enclosure, with all mechanics hidden away in a clean, dust-free environment.

    That's Assetto Corsa on screen, a driving simulation game that prioritises realism. It's only $20 on Steam—a relative bargain!

    Crafted in carbon fibre, the front of the sim's bodywork is shaped to invoke the signature Aston Martin Racing grille. AMR-C01 has a powerful-looking stance but at the same time keeps the level of refinement and surface quality and finish that customers expect from any Aston Martin. The all-carbon fibre monocoque provides a rigid structure, the design of which also adds to the sporting look of the simulator.

    Aston Martin Chief Creative Officer, Marek Reichman said: "This was a challenge for the design team as, although the simulator isn't a car, it is inspired by our racing cars. It needed to exude the same elegance, boasting the same dynamic lines and balance of proportions as any Aston Martin with a racing lineage. I can picture the AMR-C01 in the most beautiful of residences as a sculptural work of art in its own right."

  • How to calculate the power of a black hole collision

    After writing about the collision between two black holes that weren't "supposed to exist," I received the following email from Álvaro Díez, a particle physicist at the University of Warsaw:

    Being a huge astrophysics enthusiast, I just built a Black Hole Collision Calculator that explains the after-effects of a star (or any astronomical object) being eaten by a massive black hole.

    It's a tool that computes the amount of energy released and how every collision expands the size of the event horizon. Did you know?If the 'Sun' was swallowed up by this black hole it'll produce 10,725,744,303,045,181,715,760,000,000,000,000,000,000
    Megajoules of energy waves that would ripple through the whole Universe? 
    (That's 27,903,988 quintillion years of Earth's total energy consumption).

    This is the kind of physics that I find endlessly fascinating and that I will spend hours digging into, even though it goes completely over my head. (My high school AP Physics teacher announced his retirement on the second day of school, so I spent the 5th period senior year just fucking around with speakers and amplifiers and thus totally bombed the AP exam and gave up on physics entirely.)

    But if you, like me, are into this kind of stuff, there's lots of information to consume, and Díez does a great of explaining what, exactly, the fuck a lot of these heady astrophysical concepts even mean. For example:

    When an object, typically a star or a star remnant, falls into a black hole, a huge amount of energy is dispersed into the Universe. The amount of energy in this flash of light varies from about 3% to 42% of the mass of the object, depending on the properties of the black hole it falls into.

    artistic impression of a star being swallowed by a black hole
    One of the most common ways in which this happens is what we call a tidal disruption event. In this case, when the star gets close to the black hole, different parts of it are attracted with different strengths, causing the star to be torn apart. Those bits that are closer to the black hole detach from the star and start spiraling around the black hole, before being "eaten" – i.e. passing into the event horizon and disappearing forever.


    First, we need to describe what is happening before the collision: a star wandering the Universe, minding its own business. Oh no star! Look out for that black hole! To set up the initial conditions of this scenario, we need the mass of the object being eaten (Mfalling) and the mass of the black hole (Mblack hole). You can also use the event horizon's radius (Revent horizon) since a black hole's mass and radius are related.

    I can at least wrap my head around that (even if I can't fathom any practical application for the knowledge). Pretty cool! Now to play with numbers.

    Black Hole Collision Calculator [Álvaro Díez / Omni Calculator]

    Image: Public Domain via NASA / Wikimedia Commons

  • Kumi Yamashita discusses her shadow art projects

    Kumi Yamashita tells a cool story about watching a gallery visitor realize her art installations form shadows. The story is in English, though the interview appeared in her native Japan.

    See more at her website.

  • Knife Aid's sharpening by mail service will feel like you bought a new set of knives

    If you've been hacking away at meat or vegetables with blunted kitchen knives, annoyed that they're so dull that it's starting to feel more like tenderizing than slicing, you should probably stop.

    Dull knives are more than just a nuisance. They aren't safe. The worn-down edge of your blade requires more force from you to make a cut, increasing the chance of a slip or another accident due to the increased force. And yeah…it's frustrating trying to cut with a dull knife too.

    For those who don't have the tools, the talent or the time to restore their knives to their original luster, Knife Aid has a proposition for you — send them your compromised cutlery and they'll fix 'em up for you.

    Knife Aid employs trained master knifesmiths who actually know what they're doing. They can even repair blades with broken tips or with chips to restore your instrument at a fraction of the cost of buying a new one.

    The process is simple. With this offer, you redeem the discount code on the Knife Aid website. Then they send you a special secure Knife Aid envelope. Drop up to five knives in the envelope, get it into the mail and you're done. Knife Aid's trained craftsmen will renew the razor-sharp edges of your blades — and even guarantee they'll be sharper than the day you bought them.

    The whole process only takes about 7 to 10 days.

    Knife Aid assesses each knife for their material, design and anatomy, then sharpens accordingly. Most work is done by hand on air-cooled ceramic belts. Then for re-profiling, repairs, thinning or re-bevelling, the Knife Aid magicians have a variety of tricks and routines for getting each knife back to its prime, no matter its angle requirements.

    Right now, you can have Knife Aid sharpen and restore five of your blades for just $64.99, which works out to only $13 per blade. Trust us…the dull knives you're growing to hate will feel like a brand-new set.

    Prices are subject to change.

    Do you have your stay-at-home essentials? Here are some you may have missed.