Whelp

So, President-elect Donald Trump has happened.

Over the cliff we go!

I’m not thrilled about it. I’m not alone, of course.

I’ve been reading way, way too much in the wake. I should probably stop. Of all of it, this article by David Wong was a favorite:

So yeah, be upset for as long as you want. Get drunk. Do whatever you have to do. After that, I want you to sober up, splash water on your face, and consider some facts:

Gay marriage has overwhelming support nationwide – 55 percent to 37 percent against.

Legal abortion is favored by 56 percent, with 41 percent opposed.

The vast majority of the population supports background checks for gun buyers – up to 90 percent in some polls.

A majority of Americans support some kind of universal health care, 58 …

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Functional programming in JavaScript for people who think functional programming is weird and hard

(Hat tip to Chris Coyier for the title.)

What if I told you that you never had to write a for loop ever again? And in the process, your code would be clearer, shorter, and have fewer bugs?

Sound good? Functional programming might be for you.

Quick aside

People who are already down with functional programming probably won’t find a lot of interest here. Also, Functional Programming™ in the eye-crossing Wikipedia-approved definition sense is a huge, complicated topic. So when I’m saying “functional programming”, I mostly mean “using functions to do stuff in a clever way”. I am aware that this is just scratching the surface.

Here we go

Here’s a situation from the the other day at work.

We were hoping to show a chart with memory …

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Random Appreciation Wednesday: Tinted Windows

What would happen if you nabbed the singer from Hanson, the bassist from Fountains of Wayne, the guitarist from Smashing Pumpkins (no, the other one), and the drummer from Cheap Trick and put them in a blender?

Wait. Why are you putting musicians into a blender? You’re a monster.

How about, instead, you put them in a studio maybe? Well, they’d call themselves Tinted Windows and they’d be the perfect guitar-heavy throwback pop soundtrack for those glorious first warm days of spring.

Here’s album standout “Messing With My Head”:

My mental music video of this is me falling backwards into a ball pit over and over and over and over in slow motion. It’s my happy place. Enjoy.

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Is the Konost FF for real?

An American startup named Konost is developing a rangefinder-style camera with a Leica lens mount and a proper 35mm digital sensor.

I have so many questions!

Can I have it now?

top-down view of the Konost FF prototype camera

At first glance: Gimme gimme gimme! This is almost exactly the digital camera I want!

It takes Leica “M”-mount lenses (I own a few)! It has a full-size sensor! Some of their videos show the prototype camera with a Zeiss 35mm f/2.0 Biogon, a lens that I would rank as one the finest lenses available. That’s a small thing, but my irrational tribal brain is saying, “these are my people.”

And it looks so—so!—simple!

Wait, how can it be so simple?

It’s not atypical to complain about how over-complicated digital cameras are. I’ve done it. I’m not alone.

Should you want to design a simpler camera, using the Leica “M” lens mount (which is in the public domain) is a good start. The lenses are manual focus only, so you don’t need a few buttons and a couple dozen configuration settings for autofocus.

You also always set the aperture on the lens, so that eliminates another dial on the camera. Because the aperture is entirely manual, you can’t do automatic, program, and shutter-priority shooting modes. The only automatic exposure you can support is aperture-priority. The Zeiss Ikon does this in a particularly elegant way with a single dial that sets manual shutter speed, automatic shutter speed, exposure compensation, and ISO in a single dial:

Flight deck of the Zeiss Ikon

Now, I don’t see any buttons on the prototype Konost to control other important settings like ISO or exposure compensation. Perhaps those are in menus? Or maybe that rear screen is a touch screen? They’re claiming to support JPEGs, so you’ll also have to set image size, white balance and color settings, right?

Wait, is there a power switch?

These things get more complicated fast, is what I’m saying. I’m interested to see how they tackle this.

“All-digital” rangefinder?

Leica already makes rangefinders with digital sensors, but Konost claims to be “all-digital” by using “a secondary image sensor and image processing algorithms” instead of prisms and mirrors to generate the focusing patch. (If you haven’t used a rangefinder camera before, the Konost page has a little video. Basically you get two overlapping images and one slides left and right while you turn the focus ring; the parts that line up are where you are focusing.)

I’m dying to know how well this works. Does my fat finger block that rangefinder sensor by the lens mount? Are they doing anything innovative like combining the rangefinder image with the live view off the primary sensor? Can it be more accurate than an analog rangefinder?

How about that main image sensor?

I’m not too worried about this. 20 megapixels is low by current standards, but 20 megapixels is beyond sufficient; I just finished up playing with a Canon 6D that has “only” 20 megapixels and I have zero complaints. Sensor tech moves fast, though. I hope the one Konost chose is decent.

How programmable is it?

They have a hardware and software development kit! Best case scenario: you can write your own software for the camera.

It’s geeky, but this is an enormously empowering capability. As far as I know, no major camera company has opened up their software. There’s a pretty decent community dedicated to hacking existing cameras that have done astonishing work enabling new features for the low, low cost of possibly bricking your multi-thousand-dollar tool and leaving you without any warranty.

My hope is that even if (when?) Konost doesn’t get their software exactly right at first, some very particular, camera-loving software nerds can create something wonderful and have some real support from Konost to do it.

How cheap are we talking?

New Leicas with the same lens mount cost $8,000. Not cheap.

Konost wants to come in under that. Undoubtedly there’s some wiggle room there, but how much?

I doubt they can take advantage of many economies of scale. The market for rangefinders is a mere sliver of the overall camera market; the sub-market for non-Leica rangefinders from non-established camera manufacturers must be an even smaller slice of that.

Is this for real?

So I have some concerns. But seriously: can I have it now?

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Random Appreciation Wednesday: John Wick

If you enjoy action movies of any sort, watch John Wick. Here’s a taste:

The plot is perfectly silly

I was sold just on the synopsis: Keanu Reeves used to be an assassin, but he retired when his wife got unspecified-sad-hospital-bed-itis. Her dying gift to him is an adorable, floppy-eared puppy, which makes Keanu happy. Then someone in a crime syndicate breaks into Keanu’s house and kills the puppy, which makes Keanu mad. Everyone in the crime syndicate talks about how it was a pretty terrible idea to make Keanu mad, seeing as how he was the best assassin in the world and now he’s mad. They say this right before Keanu kills them.

That’s about it. Great story, or the greatest story?

The fight choreography is like nothing I’ve ever seen

Every step in Keanu’s measured, focused rampage goes down like this: Keanu and another dude do some kick-punching acrobatics and then Keanu shoots the other dude in the goddamn face.

This happens about three hundred times, but it somehow doesn’t get repetitive. Probably because sometimes there are also stabbings. But more probably because the creators of this movie have dedicated themselves to documenting every possible way to dive around and get shot in the head.

They do justice to their life’s work with truly excellent cinematography. This is no shaky-cam close-up vomit fest; the camera glides and emphasizes the movements between characters. Close-ups are for impact, not to mask inept choreography. It reminded me of old Jackie Chan movies, but with people getting shot in the head.

And notice in the clip above how the different floors of the club all have different lighting and sound; it’s so you don’t get lost! It’s easy to follow, even with fifty goons running around and getting murdered. Great stuff.

This happens in a surprisingly rich universe of terrible people

Need more? As Keanu rampages, we get exposed to a variety of assassins and crime lords played by every awesome character actor in a weirdly specific criminal underworld. There are lots of rules! There’s a hotel where assassins can hang out and not worry about murdering each other! You call someone to clean up bodies like you’re reserving a table at Olive Garden! Everyone pays for everything in gold coins!

Basically, combine the choreography of a classic Jackie Chan flick with the ridiculous plot of Commando with the world-building and gold obsession of Looper with all the guns of a Call of Duty game and you’ve got John Wick. It’s a blast.

(Except when the puppy dies. That was sad.)

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Great things from 2014

Collectively we as a society have decided that 2014 was a real shit sandwich of a year, and good riddance to it! Arguably we think that every year, but it sure feels right about 2014.

It wasn’t all bad, though. Here’s a bunch of random stuff that I thought was pretty wonderful during a pretty shitty year.

T-Pain, king of autotune, sang a few songs for NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series without autotune. Dude can sing. Seriously.

Paul Ford was on fire this year. I particularly liked “How to Be Polite” and his exploration of YouTube’s secret star, “The American Room”.

Sam Biddle at Gawker followed up and discovered that Justine Sacco is good at her job.

Mallory Ortberg has my vote for queen of the internet. I could link to so, so …

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Billions are sort of hard to think about

I’ve been watching and enjoying the update Cosmos, so I’ve been bombarded with the inevitable billions that come about when talking on the cosmic, geologic, or atomic scale. The numbers—size of the universe! age of the universe! numbers of stars! numbers of atoms!—are so vast that they're nearly incomprehensible.

Thankfully Neil deGrasse Tyson is quite good at turning gigantic numbers into something you can understand, as he does in this 2011 talk where he discusses exactly how wealthy Bill Gates is.

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August video dump

I found this story about authenticity, motorcycles, and family to be quite charming:

The last time I watched it, the pre-roll ad was for a motorcycle company, which shows how incompetent targeted advertising really is. (Once you watch it, you'll understand.)

Next up, this short video about a project that you can't just let go of:

Solid lessons in there for anyone with their own albatrosses, whether they're video games or whatever.

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The value of pitiless editing

I do mostly front-end web work these days, but in another life I think I’d be an OK editor. I’ve found that I prefer rewriting, critiquing, and tweaking instead of facing the blank page. (I also like stealing great phrases like that last sentence that I appropriated from this New Yorker profile on Harold Ramis.)

One exercise that I try while critiquing websites is to ask the authors for very most important idea they’re trying to get across. In my experience, that idea is often present but mostly buried under corporate-speak, carousels, and safe but empty blue-green imagery. I then tell them that they should maniacally focus on their good idea and ruthlessly throw all that other crap out.

Throwing out all the crap is very hard to do. …

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You should follow Colossal

One of my favorite design-y/artsy blogs out there is Colossal, curated by Christopher Jobson. Here's some of my favorites from the past few months.

These abstract-realistic urban paintings by Jeremy Mann:

The Last Light of San Francisco by Jeremy Mann

These oil landscapes by Erin Hanson that look like Bob Ross on acid (“Just some trippy little trees…”):

Trippy little trees in a landscape painting

These insane watercolor paintings by Maja Wronska (and some more), which remind me a little bit of Monet’s studies of the Rouen Cathedral that I could stare at for hours:

Vibrant watercolor painting of a church

These paintings by Valerio Dospina that look like long-exposure photographs:

A blurry oil painting of a street corner

These turbulent paintings by Samantha Keely Smith:

Abstract wave painting by Samantha Keely Smith

These photographs of sunsets on shattered mirrors by Bing Wright:

Sunset on a shattered mirror

These crazy …

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Two types of video game hell

One way to wring some extra fun out of video games is to set up some artificial constraints to make the game more challenging beyond the usual tiers of difficulty levels. You could maybe beat Mega Man 2 without taking any damage, ignore unnecessary items to plow through Super Metroid in under an hour, or take down the biggest enemies in Doom with only your fists and pistol. (Doom challenge fans are bananas.) Seems like a good way to end up with a fist through a wall.

Or you could fight back and try to drive the game itself bananas. That’s what Jon Bois at SB Nation is up to with his Breaking Madden series. Here’s the recipe:

  1. Come up with a ludicrous football scenario such as BEEFTANK, the 400-pound quarterback, or swapping out all of the Browns’ receivers with kickers.
  2. Create new custom players to make it happen; Twitter followers crack jokes to have a player named after them.
  3. As the game tries to square itself with this new reality, GIF the results.

Instant hilarity, every time. I particularly enjoyed replacing Peyton Manning’s offensive line with stick figures.

So add “attempt to infuriate the computer” to the list of ways to make video games more difficult or exciting. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen people try to make it more difficult or exciting to review games; that’s exactly what some masochists are doing at Hot Pepper Gaming.

You can probably guess how this goes: someone eats an insanity pepper and tries to spit out a game review. It’s pretty brutal. I can’t look away:

(The music drops when the host has to pause the review—a nice touch.)

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