👍 The Staircase

The Staircase is a multi-episode documentary which follows the trial of Michael Peterson after the death of his wife under suspicious circumstances in 2001.

There exists countless murder-mystery documentaries, but what grabs my attention about this film is the fact the even after watching the full series, I am completely torn about whether Michael Peterson is guilty. Throughout episodes 1-8, I was led further and further towards believing that Peterson was guilty. His remarkably odd behavior and lack of remorse, along with quite damning evidence, seem to prove his guilt. However, once the verdict is read in episode 8, my opinion almost immediately flipped. Episodes 9-13 suddenly show Michael Peterson in a completely different light which points towards his innocence.

After finishing the last episode, I have no idea how I should feel about the case. The fact that I could assume such strong feelings of both guilt and innocence is remarkable. In the end, I am left with feelings of sorrow about how the tragedy affected the lives of a family.


IMDB
Netflix

👍 California Sun email newsletter

California Sun logo

Every morning when I sit down at my computer I engage in the same routine of checking websites and my email to bring myself up to speed with what is occurring in the world around me. Reddit and the Washington Post provide a view of the larger world, but when it comes to California news nothing beats the California Sun email newsletter.

The California Sun is a daily weekday newsletter written by two men, a former correspondent and a former staff editor for the New York Times. They compile a list of the most important news articles about California and provide the list in a format that is easy to quickly digest. Each newsletter follows the same format: The first section is called The Lede and focuses on the most important California story. Next comes statewide news followed by a section with Northern California stories and another section with Southern California stories. The final section usually contains three stories that do not fit neatly into other sections of the newsletter. Several subjects are summarized in each section and each summary comes with a link to a media outlet for the full story. When relevant, subjects will contain links to multiple media outlets which provide different views.

I have a remarkable appreciation of the California Sun because it is comprehensive and well built. The newsletter allows me to both quickly bring my understanding of the news up-to-speed as well as dive deeply into topics I want to know more about. After reading 6 email newsletters and listening to 7 news podcasts every day, I feel that removing the California Sun would have the largest impact on my understanding of current events.

Give the California Sun newsletter a try for one or two weeks. They won’t send you anything except the newsletter and unsubscribing is as simple as a single click if you want the subscription to end. I promise that you will not be disappointed.

The California Sun

👍 Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind

Movie poster for Robin Williams: Come Inside My MindThis documentary provides a fantastic look at the life of Robin Williams. I was quite surprised to learn that while he attended the Claremont Men’s College, now renamed to Claremont McKenna College, Williams spent a good portion of his time chasing the girls who attended Pitzer College. This struck me as odd given that CMC is closer to Scripps College, an all-girls school, than it is to Pitzer. I suspect that Pitzer’s drug-loving, hippy reputation had something to do with it.

IMDB
HBO

👍 Sortem for Amazon – Google Chrome extension

Sortem for Amazon is an extension for Google’s Chrome web browser which provides an additional sorting option when looking at search results on Amazon.com.

To find the best products, one might think that sorting by product rating (avg. customer review) is the best way to find the highest quality products. After all, if people like a product they will rate it highly. However, that sorting method does not consider that products with fewer ratings are more likely to be rated higher than products with many ratings.

For example, if product A has a single 5-star rating, it will be ranked above product B which has 1,000 4 and 5-star reviews. This is because a single perfect 5-star rating is ranked above 1,000 reviews which average out to a 4.5-star rating.

While sorting by the number of reviews doesn’t magically display the absolute best product as the first result, it does provide a useful sorting option that can be used in conjunction with filtering by product rating.

Sortem for Amazon – Chrome Web Store

👍 The Queen of Versailles and Generation Wealth

The Queen of Versailles

While this documentary film was released all the way back in 2012, I did not learn about its existence until this month. The film introduces the Siegel family and their extravagant billionaire lifestyle as they begin construction on their dream mansion, which is inspired by the Palace of Versailles.

However, their plans soon come to a halt as the timeshare empire they built crumbles during the 2008 financial crisis. The family proceeds to engage in ever more ridiculous behavior as their budget tightens. You will want to tape your mouth shut for this film, otherwise it will spend a lot of time dropping to the floor.


IMDB

YouTube
Amazon Video

 

Generation Wealth

The Baader-Meinhof Syndrome was alive and well this week as I browsed Reddit. Having watched The Queen of Versailles only a few days ago, I found it remarkable to see an image from the film in my Reddit feed. However, instead of taking me to The Queen of Versailles, the post was about a new film and project titled Generation Wealth.

The film comes from Lauren Greenfield who also directed The Queen of Versailles. Her new project consists of multiple mediums: a museum exhibition, a photographic monograph, and a feature documentary film (July 20th, 2018 US & UK theatrical release). This work examines society’s increasing obsession with wealth over the last 25 years.

With her new film, Generation Wealth, she puts the pieces of her life’s work together for in an incendiary investigation into the pathologies that have created the richest society the world has ever seen. Spanning consumerism, beauty, gender, body commodification, aging and more, Greenfield has created a comprehensive cautionary tale about a culture heading straight for the cliff’s edge. Generation Wealth, simultaneously a deeply personal journey, rigorous historical essay, and raucously entertaining expose, bears witness to the global boom-bust economy, the corrupted American Dream and the human costs of capitalism, narcissism and greed.

I probably won’t get a chance to view this documentary until later this year, but nevertheless I am very much looking forward to it.

 

Generation Wealth website

🎵👍 Dan Deacon and Rat Film

Rat Film posterI learned about Rat Film through my appreciation of Dan Deacon, an American composer and electronic musician. “Trippy” is the first word that comes to mind when I listen to his albums.

In addition to producing his own music, Dan Deacon has produced the soundtrack to a few films. The soundtrack to Rat Film popped up in Spotify since I follow Dan Deacon and after hearing the first track, I knew that the film would look intriguing.

The film takes an abstract look at the relationship between rats and humans while exploring Baltimore’s history. I do not have any insights or revelations to share after watching Rat Film. I simply thought it was beautiful and fun to watch, so I recommend the film to you.

 

IMDB
Amazon Video
YouTube

👍 Bobby Kennedy For President

Bobby KennedyNetflix has become a remarkable player in the world of documentary filmmaking in the last 5 years. The film Bobby Kennedy For President is their latest documentary production and like most of the others it is a great film. This production is split into 4 individual hour-long episodes which introduce the Kennedys, portray Bobby Kennedy’s path into government, and delve into his eventual assassination.

While I certainly paid attention in history classes back in school, none of the classes I took even scratched the surface of modern American history from the 1950s forwards. This gap in knowledge has been gradually filled in over time thanks to books, articles, essays, and podcasts. However, seeing first-hand footage from history provides a layer of historical understanding that the written medium cannot. I certainly did not have a full understanding of Robert Kennedy’s contribution to government and the impact of his assassination until finishing this documentary series.

What I take away from this documentary is just how much the assassinations of the 1960s impacted the course of the United States. The strongest voices for equality and justice were silenced at a time where the country had the potential of going through a vast transformation. Instead of facing this reckoning, the country chose to stick to the status quo of rampant corruption and classism which we still live with today.

IMDB
Netflix

👍 Weather resources

There are two weather-related items I want to share with you today: Dark Sky and Weather West

Dark Sky

When it comes to weather apps, there are a million of them. Some are simple, some are complex, but regardless of what they look like almost all of them represent the same underlying data. That data comes from the National Weather Service (NWS), part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). However, there is a weather forecasting service called Dark Sky that is different from other weather apps.

Dark Sky’s main screen on iOS.

Dark Sky’s primary function is providing hyperlocal weather forecasts. Specifically, Dark Sky can provide precipitation forecasts which are accurate down to the minute-level. While Dark Sky is still using the same NWS weather data that other apps use, Dark Sky does more. They pull in NWS data, process it, clean it, and then use the results to build extraordinarily fluid precipitation maps like the one below. There’s a detailed post on the Dark Sky blog if you’d like to read more about how Dark Sky works.

A rainy morning and afternoon in the Seattle, Washington area.

 

The forecasts that Dark Sky produces are so detailed and accurate that many other weather apps use Dark Sky’s API to obtain weather forecasts instead of using NWS data. Sun, Weather Line, and Poncho are three app examples and other users include Yelp, Microsoft, Con Edison, and DuckDuckGo.

Dark Sky started life in 2011 as a weather app for iPhone. In fact, Dark Sky came to life with a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised about $39,000, which is how I became familiar with the service. Since then, Dark Sky has grown to include an app for Android as well as a full website.

One reason Dark Sky is able to provide accurate forecasts at the hyperlocal level is because of the reporting features that exist within the Dark Sky app. With a user’s permission, the app can periodically measure and report the barometric pressure sensed by their phone. Users can also manually report the current weather at their location. As Dark Sky collects this data, they are able to refine their forecasting system to produce more accuracy.

 

While Dark Sky is known for its precipitation forecasts, a lesser known yet particularly stunning section of the service is Dark Sky Maps. Dark Sky Maps provides a Google Maps-like view of Earth with different data layers overlaid. Temperature, cloud cover, precipitation, wind, dew point, UV exposure, atmospheric pressure, and ozone are all covered by layers in Dark Sky Maps. There’s even an emoji layer which fills the map with adorable little icons.

A look at the temperature across the United States during the afternoon.
A detailed look at the temperature across southeastern California and southern Nevada.
A map showing wind patterns in the Pacific Northwest.
A detailed look at precipitation over Washington.
A UV exposure map at 1:00pm on the west coast.
A map where the weather and temperature is represented by emojis.

 

Any of these maps can be embedded in a website too. Try interacting with the map below:

 

There’s even a “time machine” feature on the Dark Sky website which lets you view the weather conditions for specific dates in history, such as the day you were born. I don’t know how far their data goes back, but when I punch in the year 1950 I’m still able to see weather data.

I cannot recommend Dark Sky highly enough. While it’s not perfect for absolutely every use case, snow and surf reports come to mind, I have been a daily user of Dark Sky for many years and it has served me extremely well.

 

Weather West

When I need to know what the weather forecast is, I open up Dark Sky. When I want to know why the weather is going to behave as it is predicted, I open up Weather West.

Weather West is the online name of Dr. Daniel Swain. He is best introduced using the words from his own About page at WeatherWest.com:

Dr. Daniel Swain is currently a NatureNet Postdoctoral Fellow in the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at the University of California, Los Angeles. As a climate scientist, he studies the changing character and causes of extreme meteorological events. Daniel holds a PhD in Earth System Science from Stanford University and a B.S. in Atmospheric Science from the University of California, Davis. His full curriculum vitae is available here.

The California Weather Blog is where Dr. Swain posts 2-3 times per month with his perspective on the current weather affecting California. While he does use complicated words such as orographic, isothermal, and prodigious, Dr. Swain’s posts are actually quite comprehensible. It is fascinating to gain an understanding of the current California weather and climate from his perspective. If our climate is a machine, Dr. Swain can point out the individual gears and explain what they are doing. The breadth and depth of Dr. Swain’s understanding of the weather allows him to turn what is usually a dry subject into something engaging.

Dr. Swain’s study of California’s climate has been influential, even outside of the world of climate scientists. If you’ve heard anything about California’s Winter weather over the past 5 years, chances are that you’ve heard something about the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge (RRR).  That’s a term coined by Dr. Swain which is now widely used.

If California weather affects you in any way, or if you simply share a curiosity about the weather and climate in general, I definitely recommend subscribing to The California Weather Blog.

👍 The China Hustle

The China HustleThis documentary comes from the acclaimed Alex Gibney, producer of many other excellent documentaries such as Enron: The Smartest Guys in the RoomWater & Power: A California Heist, Going Clear: Scientology & the Prison of Belief, and The Trials of Henry Kissinger. The China Hustle provides details about how Chinese companies which are listed on the American stock market are defrauding investors of billions of dollars.

YouTube [$]
Amazon [$]
IMDB