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kottke.org posts about books

Hayao Miyazaki’s favorite children’s books

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 22, 2017

Totoro Little Prince

Back in 2010, legendary Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki picked his 50 favorite books for children and young adults. Here are the top five:

1. The Borrowers by Mary Norton
2. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
3. Children of Noisy Village by Astrid Lindgren
4. When Marnie Was There by Joan G. Robinson
5. Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome

It’s easy to see the influence of the books from the list on the movies he made. Indeed, two of the top five books were actually made into Studio Ghibli films (The Borrowers and When Marnie Was There).

P.S. The Totoro / Little Prince illustration is from Pinterest, but I couldn’t find the original source. Anyone?

Fifty Inventions That Shaped the Modern Economy

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 21, 2017

50 Things Economy

Tim Harford, aka The Undercover Economist, is coming out with a new book called Fifty Inventions That Shaped the Modern Economy.

New ideas and inventions have woven, tangled or sliced right through the invisible economic web that surrounds us every day. From the bar code to double-entry bookkeeping, covering ideas as solid as concrete or as intangible as the limited liability company, this book not only shows us how new ideas come about, it also shows us their unintended consequences — for example, the gramophone introducing radically unequal pay in the music industry, or how the fridge shaped the politics of developing countries across the globe.

It’s based on his BBC podcast 50 Things That Made the Modern Economy.

Fun fact that I just discovered: Harford and I share the same birthday, both date and year.

Narrative flowcharts for Choose Your Own Adventure books

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 20, 2017

Choose Your Own Adventure map

Choose Your Own Adventure map

The newest editions of Choose Your Own Adventure books come with maps of the story structure that depicts all the branches, endings, and links of each story.

On the official maps, however, the endings aren’t coded in any way that reveals their nature. Instead, they operate according to a simple key: each arrow represents a page, each circle a choice, and each square an ending. Dotted lines show where branches link to one another.

Mapping the bones of the books can have other purposes, too. Nick Montfort, a poet and professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who studies interactive fiction, has a habit of asking people what they know about “Choose Your Own Adventure” books. “They often say, ‘You have two choices after every page,’” he says. “That’s not true. Sometimes you have one choice. Sometimes you have more than two. When you show the maps, you can see that these books don’t look exactly the same.”

(via @RLHeppner)

There’s gonna be a Black Mirror book

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 15, 2017

Black Mirror Book

Gird your loins, Prime Minister. Charlie Brooker is bringing his mind-warping TV series to bookstores in early 2018. Brooker is editing a book version of Black Mirror (the first in a promised series) “featuring original stories from leading fiction writers, all set in the world of the cult series”.

Smart move and after all, Brooker was influenced by Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected (which appeared first in book form).

If you can’t explain something in simple terms, you don’t understand it

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 15, 2017

Feynman Blackboard

In the early 1960s, Richard Feynman gave a series of undergraduate lectures that were collected into a book called the Feynman Lectures on Physics. Absent from the book was a lecture Feynman gave on planetary motion, but a later finding of the notes enabled David Goodstein, a colleague of Feynman’s, to write a book about it: Feynman’s Lost Lecture. From an excerpt of the book published in a 1996 issue of Caltech’s Engineering & Science magazine:

Feynman was a truly great teacher. He prided himself on being able to devise ways to explain even the most profound ideas to beginning students. Once, I said to him, “Dick, explain to me, so that I can understand it, why spin one-half particles obey Fermi-Dirac statistics.” Sizing up his audience perfectly, Feynman said, “I’ll prepare a freshman lecture on it.” But he came back a few days later to say, “I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t reduce it to the freshman level. That means we don’t really understand it.”

John Gruber writes the simple explanations are the goal at Apple as well:

Engineers are expected to be able to explain a complex technology or product in simple, easily-understood terms not because the executive needs it explained simply to understand it, but as proof that the engineer understands it completely.

Feynman was well known for simple explanations of scientific concepts that result a in deeper understanding of the subject matter: e.g. see Feynman explaining how fire is stored sunshine, rubber bands, how trains go around curves, and magnets. Critically, he’s also not shy about admitting when he doesn’t understand something…or, alternately, when scientists as a group don’t understand something. There’s the spin anecdote above and of his explanation of magnets, he says:

I really can’t do a good job, any job, of explaining magnetic force in terms of something else you’re more familiar with, because I don’t understand it in terms of anything else you’re more familiar with.

Feynman was also quoted as saying:

I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.

Pretty interesting thing to hear from a guy who won a Nobel Prize for explaining quantum mechanics better than anyone ever had before. Even when he died in 1988 at the end of a long and fruitful careeer, a note at the top of his blackboard read:

What I cannot create, I do not understand.

Some things kottke.org readers have recently read/watched/heard/experienced

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 13, 2017

Every once in awhile, I send out an email newsletter to the kottke.org members. I’ve been having fun doing my media diet posts recently, and I’m always on the lookout for new things to try, so I used the most recent newsletter to ask them: “What’s the most interesting thing you’ve read/watched/heard/experienced in the past few weeks?” Here’s a sampling of what they said, accompanied by some of their short thoughts.

I’ve mentioned Dreaming the Beatles on the site before, but Celia offered up a short but compelling review: “In any group of 2-4 people, I mentally assign each person the role of John, Paul, George, or Ringo. This book has changed most of my assignments.”

Quoting Lars Gotrich, Robb recommends Green Twins by Nick Hakim: “it’s soul music for outer-space”.

Several people suggested Master of None’s season 2 on Netflix. I watched the first two episodes when season 1 came out and didn’t take to it.

Mind. Blown. Not only was the NBA on NBC theme song composed by John Tesh, he left himself a message singing the tune on his answering machine. Thanks, Alex!

Ben says of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less: “Minimalism is appealing, but often not simple. This feels more simple, and helpful to me.”

Sarah praised Rami Malek’s performance in Mr. Robot as well as the show’s rich visuals. See also the off-kilter cinematography of Mr. Robot.

The A.V. Club’s A History of Violence series was highlighted by Chris. “As a fan of quality action movies (and occasionally cheesy ones) it was great to see an in-depth review of every year’s best of the genre, including things I’ve seen and some I haven’t.”

A few people recommended Tim Urban’s epic post on Elon Musk’s newest venture, Neuralink and the Brain’s Magical Future. Neuralink is working on “a way for our brains to communicate directly with one another”.

Rich shares that Orhan Pamuk’s A Strangeness in My Mind “moved me profoundly and I continue thinking about it months after reading it”.

Benjamin recommends Magnum Manifesto, an exhibition at the International Center of Photography Museum in NYC: “Amazing history of photojournalism and documentary photography. Emphasized the importance of journalism in this specific medium.”

I have friends who rave about Pop-up Magazine and Mary agrees: “It’s a live performance of California Sunday magazine. Insane.”

Big fan of 99% Invisible here and Jessie recommends this recent episode, Squatters of the Lower East Side. “I’m familiar with squatting and adverse possession. However, I have never heard of a city/county working with squatters to legally adversely possess properties, especially those are city-owned.”

Sean recommends The Barkley Marathons, a documentary “about a crazy race, eccentric organizer, and lunatic participants”.

Les Cowboys is a recommendation from Joao: “devastating beautiful take on immigration, terrorism and family”.

HBO’s The Leftovers got many recs. I think I watched most of season 1 and it didn’t stick.

Neil is a doctor and recommends Elisabeth Rosenthal’s An American Sickness: How Healthcare Became Big Business and How You Can Take It Back: “nothing has come closer to capturing how dysfunctional things are in American medicine”.

Suzanne has been enjoying True Story, a monthly publication delivered monthly to your home — what a concept! She particularly enjoyed the first issue, Fruitland.

The Royal Shakespeare Company is broadcasting its production of Julius Caesar to theaters around the world. Says Steve: “A play about the overthrow of a dictator and the rights and wrongs of the method chosen seems more resonant than ever!” (FYI, my query and Steve’s response predated the recent controversy about The Public Theater’s production of the play.)

Diana recommends the audiobook version of Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime (review). Although not normally an audiobook listener, she says: “I have been listening to this for weeks now and am so impressed. It’s the best book of the year for me (and I typically read 100+ books a year).”

Of New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson, Jeff says, “I’m just thrilled that an author as smart as this thinks there will even BE a New York in 2140”. I almost started this the other day after a recommendation from a pal…perhaps I’ll pick it up if my current book sputters.

And last, but perhaps not least, this heartbreaking clip from Clickhole: Hibachi Chef Tries To Make Meal On A Regular Table. Sez Mike: “Having seen teppanyaki food cooked with such drama and precision, this was a nice piece of satire… especially with the music.”

Thanks to everyone who responded and for supporting the site by becoming members!

What Are We Even Doing With Our Lives?: The Most Honest Children’s Book of All Time

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 09, 2017

What Are We Even Doing Book

Chelsea Marshall and Mary Dauterman are coming out with a satirical children’s book called What Are We Even Doing With Our Lives?. It’s Richard Scarry’s Busy, Busy Town crossed with HBO’s Silicon Valley.

Welcome to “Digi Valley,” the epitome of twenty-first-century urban life! The animal-people who call it home do cool things: life coach, cat landlord, baby DJ teacher, app developer, iPhone photographer, new media consultant, beauty blogger, and, of course, freelancer. On the street, in the coffee shop, at the farmer’s market, or the local vegan cafe, you’ll meet new friends like Frances and Sadie, Freelance Frank, Realtor Rick, and Bethany the Beauty Blogger as they bike, drive, bus, hoverboard, and Uber their way around town-or just sit and enjoy a latte while doing important things on their devices.

This is good, but surely this book owes a debt to the prior art of Ruben Bolling and Business Business Town?

Information Age automation is coming for your job

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 09, 2017

This new video by Kurzgesagt examines automation in the past (“big stupid machines doing repetitive work in factories”) and argues that automation in the information age is fundamentally different. In a nutshell,1 whereas past automation resulted in higher productivity and created new and better jobs for a growing population, automation in the future will happen at a much quicker pace, outpacing the creation of new types of jobs for humans.

Their two main sources for the video are Martin Ford’s Rise of the Robots and The Second Machine Age by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee.

  1. The German phrase “kurz gesagt” means roughly “in a nutshell”, so this is a pun. Laugh now!

The 100 best solutions to reverse climate change, ranked

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 08, 2017

Climate Change Solutions

Environmentalist and entrepreneur Paul Hawken has edited a book called Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming which lists “the 100 most substantive solutions to reverse global warming, based on meticulous research by leading scientists and policymakers around the world”.

In the face of widespread fear and apathy, an international coalition of researchers, professionals, and scientists have come together to offer a set of realistic and bold solutions to climate change. One hundred techniques and practices are described here-some are well known; some you may have never heard of. They range from clean energy to educating girls in lower-income countries to land use practices that pull carbon out of the air. The solutions exist, are economically viable, and communities throughout the world are currently enacting them with skill and determination. If deployed collectively on a global scale over the next thirty years, they represent a credible path forward, not just to slow the earth’s warming but to reach drawdown, that point in time when greenhouse gases in the atmosphere peak and begin to decline.

On the website for the book, you can browse the solutions in a ranked list. Here are the 10 best solutions (with the total atmospheric reduction in CO2-equivalent emissions in gigatons in parentheses):

1. Refrigerant Management (89.74)
2. Wind Turbines, Onshore (84.60)
3. Reduced Food Waste (70.53)
4. Plant-Rich Diet (66.11)
5. Tropical Forests (61.23)
6. Educating Girls (59.60)
7. Family Planning (59.60)
8. Solar Farms (36.90)
9. Silvopasture (31.19)
10. Rooftop Solar (24.60)

Refrigerant management is about replacing hydro-fluorocarbon coolants with alternatives because HFCs have “1,000 to 9,000 times greater capacity to warm the atmosphere than carbon dioxide”. As a planet, we should be hitting those top 7 solutions hard, particularly when it comes to food. If you look at the top 30 items on the list, 40% of them are related to food.

If, somehow, we could get to a place where we are talking about dealing with climate change not as “saving the planet” (which it isn’t) but as “improving humanity” (which it is), we might actually be able to accomplish something.

My recent media diet

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 07, 2017

Quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, and heard in the past few weeks. Come on now, don’t take the letter grades so seriously.

The Wright Brothers. A surprising amount of what you’ve heard about the Wright Brothers is wrong. David McCullough sets the record straight. (B+)

Shake Shack: Recipes & Stories. I really wish I could get Martin’s Potato Rolls in Vermont. (B+)

Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative. A good book to have around when you need a creative kick in the pants. (B+)

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. I wasn’t even going to see this, but the power went out in my house for three hours due to a 45-second wind/rain storm, so I went to the movies. It is exactly what you’d expect from a medieval action movie directed by Guy Ritchie, and I left entertained. (B-)

Alien: Covenant. More entertaining and felt more like an Alien movie than Prometheus. Why are the people so stupid though? (B)

Lemonade. Still great. (A+)

Mad Men. I rewatched all seven seasons in just under three months. The middle part lagged in places, but the final seasons were as strong as the first seasons. IMO, Mad Men is among the best ever TV shows. (A+)

Passengers. J. Law and Chris Pratt stranded together in space? Yes, please. But the filmmakers should have found a way around the stalker plot point…it was unnecessarily disturbing and uninteresting. (B-)

Moana. Long-time readers might remember Pamie, one of the most well-known OG online diarists from the late 90s. I noticed her name in the credits…she co-wrote screenplay. Also, I was not the only person to immediately think of Beyonce when I saw Te Fiti. (A-)

The Keepers. Disturbing in more ways than one and well worth watching. (B+)

The Americans. The fifth season did not quite live up to the high standard of the previous seasons. (B)

She Persisted. The day this arrived, my daughter cracked this open and said, delighted, “Harriet Tubman!” (A-)

Emotions Part One of Invisibilia. The classical view is that emotions happen to you. But according to guest Lisa Feldman Barrett, “the way emotion works is opposite of what you think — emotions aren’t reactions to the world; emotions actually construct the world”. See also Barrett’s recent book How Emotions Are Made. (B+)

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band remix album. This sounds like a whole new record. As Sippey says, “now you can simply, finally, hear it”. (A)

Zodiac. Some say this is Fincher’s best film. Not sure I would, but it’s damned fine. (A-)

Wonder Woman. I would happily watch 100 sequels to this. (A-)

Can It Happen Here?: Authoritarianism in America.

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 06, 2017

That’s the title of a forthcoming book edited by Cass Sunstein (Harvard professor, former Obama regulatory administrator). On Twitter, Sunstein says he’s the editor not the author and that the essays will “offer diverse views”. But by the time this book comes out in March 2018, we might already know the actual answer to the title’s question. (via @tylercowen)

101 books about where and how we live

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 05, 2017

Resurfaced recently by Austin Kleon in his weekly newsletter, I missed this Nov 2016 list from Curbed of 101 books about where and how we live the first time around. The list is organized by category:

Urban Classics includes The Death and Life of Great American Cities*, The Works: The Anatomy of a City*, and Richard Scarry’s Busy, Busy Town*.

Why We Build features Geoff Manaugh’s A Burgler’s Guide to the City* and Building Stories* by Chris Ware.

Cities We Love includes Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas by Rebecca Solnit, A.J. Liebling’s Between Meals: An Appetite for Paris, and Make Way for Ducklings.

Changing Places highlights The Devil in the White City* by Erik Larson and The Levittowners: Ways of Life and Politics in a New Suburban Community by Herbert Gans.

Planning the Future includes Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us)* by Tom Vanderbilt and Annalee Newitz’s Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction.

Understanding People features Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone by Eric Klinenberg, Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns*, and Working by Studs Terkel.

And How We Live Today includes The Power Broker* and Robert Putman’s Bowling Alone.

I love the inclusion of Busy, Busy Town and Make Way for Ducklings. Books marked by an asterisk I have read or can otherwise personally vouch for. If I could recommend just one book to read from this list, it would be The Warmth of Other Suns.

Putin’s playbook for discrediting America and destabilizing the West

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 05, 2017

Last week, journalist Jules Suzdaltsev wrote:

Just wanna make sure you all know there is a Russian handbook from 1997 on “taking over the world” and Putin is literally crossing shit off.

The book in question is The Foundations of Geopolitics: The Geopolitical Future of Russia by neo-fascist political scientist Aleksandr Dugin, whose nickname is “Putin’s Brain”. The book has been influential within Russian military & foreign policy circles and it appears to be the playbook for recent Russian foreign policy. In the absence of an English language translation, some relevant snippets from the book’s Wikipedia page:

The book declares that “the battle for the world rule of [ethnic] Russians” has not ended and Russia remains “the staging area of a new anti-bourgeois, anti-American revolution.” The Eurasian Empire will be constructed “on the fundamental principle of the common enemy: the rejection of Atlanticism, strategic control of the USA, and the refusal to allow liberal values to dominate us.”

The United Kingdom should be cut off from Europe.

Ukraine should be annexed by Russia because “Ukraine as a state has no geopolitical meaning, no particular cultural import or universal significance, no geographic uniqueness, no ethnic exclusiveness, its certain territorial ambitions represents an enormous danger for all of Eurasia and, without resolving the Ukrainian problem, it is in general senseless to speak about continental politics”.

The book stresses the “continental Russian-Islamic alliance” which lies “at the foundation of anti-Atlanticist strategy”. The alliance is based on the “traditional character of Russian and Islamic civilization”.

Russia should use its special services within the borders of the United States to fuel instability and separatism, for instance, provoke “Afro-American racists”. Russia should “introduce geopolitical disorder into internal American activity, encouraging all kinds of separatism and ethnic, social and racial conflicts, actively supporting all dissident movements — extremist, racist, and sectarian groups, thus destabilizing internal political processes in the U.S. It would also make sense simultaneously to support isolationist tendencies in American politics.”

Ukraine, Brexit, Syria, Trump, promotion of fascist candidates in European elections (Le Pen in France), support for fascism in the US…it’s all right there in the book. And they’ve done it all while barely firing a shot.

Murder on the Orient Express

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 02, 2017

Kenneth Branagh is directing and starring in (as uber-detective Hercule Poirot) a movie adapted from Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. I mean, what more do you need?

Oh. More? Alright. The movie also stars Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Derek Jacobi, Leslie Odom, Jr., Michelle Pfeiffer, and Daisy Ridley. I mean…

More? Did you miss the part where I mentioned Judi flipping Dench? Well, the movie comes out in November so there’s no Rotten Tomatoes score yet. You know what, just watch the trailer and go about your business.

Dronescapes: beautiful photography from drones

posted by Jason Kottke   May 26, 2017

Dronescapes

Dronescapes

Dronescapes

Dronescapes is an art book of some of the most visually arresting drone photography collected from Dronestagram.

Readers will see the planet from entirely new vantage points, whether it’s a bird’s-eye view of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, a photograph taken inches away from an eagle in midflight, or a vertiginous shot taken above Mexico’s Tamul Waterfalls. There are extended commentaries on how individual images were created and a separate, concise guide containing technical advice on how to use a drone and select the right model.

God knows we can all use a shot of the mini-overview effect right now.

Bill Gates’ book recommendations for summer 2017

posted by Jason Kottke   May 26, 2017

Just as he did last year, Bill Gates has recommended five books for people to read this summer. Among the picks:

The Heart by Maylis de Kerangal. Gates, who usually reads nonfiction, says:

While you’ll find this book in the fiction section at your local bookstore, what de Kerangal has done here in this exploration of grief is closer to poetry than anything else. At its most basic level, she tells the story of a heart transplant: a young man is killed in an accident, and his parents decide to donate his heart. But the plot is secondary to the strength of its words and characters.

A Full Life by Jimmy Carter. Gates:

Even though the former President has already written more than two dozen books, he somehow managed to save some great anecdotes for this quick, condensed tour of his fascinating life. I loved reading about Carter’s improbable rise to the world’s highest office.

Last year, I took Gates’ advice and read Seveneves by Neal Stephenson, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Amazon’s data-driven bookstores

posted by Jason Kottke   May 24, 2017

Amazon Bookstore

Over at Recode, Dan Frommer has a look inside Amazon’s first NYC bookstore, opening Thursday in the mall in the Time Warner Center. I haven’t visited any of Amazon’s stores yet (they’ve got several around the country), but what I find interesting from the photos is how up-front they are about the shopping experience being data driven. There are signs for books rated “4.8 Stars & Above”, a shelf of “Books Kindle Readers Finish in 3 Days or Less”, a section of “If You Like [this book], You’ll Love [these other books]”, and each book’s shelf label lists the star rating and number of reviews on Amazon.com. Another sign near the checkout reads “Over 7950 Goodreads members like this quote from Cassandra Clare’s Clockwork Prince: ‘We live and breathe words.’”

Other bookstores have books arranged according to best-seller lists, store-specific best-sellers, and staff recommendations, but I’ve never seen any store layout so extensively informed by data and where they tell you so much about why you’re seeing each item. Grocery store item placement is very data driven, but they don’t tell you why you’re seeing a display of Coke at the end of the aisle or why the produce is typically right at the entrance. It’ll be interesting to see if Amazon’s approach works or if people will be turned off by shopping inside a product database, a dehumanizing feeling Frommer hints at with “a collection of books that feels blandly standard” when compared to human curated selections at smaller bookstores.

P.S. So weird that there’s no prices on items…you have to scan them with a store scanner or a phone app. Overall, the store feels less oriented towards its book-buying customers and more towards driving Prime memberships, Amazon app downloads, and Kindle & Echo sales (which might be Amazon’s objective).

Update: Jia Tolentino on Amazon’s stores.

The store’s biggest shortcoming, though, is that it is so clearly not intended for people who read regularly. I normally walk into a bookstore and shop the way a person might shop for clothes: I know what I like, what generally works for me, what new styles I might be ready to try. It was a strange feeling, on Thursday, to do laps around a bookstore without feeling a single unexpected thrill. There were no wild cards, no deep cuts, no oddballs — just books that were already best-sellers, pieces of clothing I knew wouldn’t fit me or that I already owned.

Tolentino also notes that the fiction section in the NYC store contains fewer than 200 different titles.

This Is How We Do It: One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids from Around the World

posted by Jason Kottke   May 16, 2017

This Is How We Do It

This Is How We Do It is a children’s book by Matt Lamothe that follows the daily lives of seven real kids from different countries around the world (Japan, Peru, Iran, Russia, India, Italy, and Uganda).

In Japan Kei plays Freeze Tag, while in Uganda Daphine likes to jump rope. But while the way they play may differ, the shared rhythm of their days — and this one world we all share — unites them. This genuine exchange provides a window into traditions that may be different from our own as well as a mirror reflecting our common experiences.

Watch the trailer. This is exactly the sort of book I love getting for my kids: it’s What Do People Do All Day plus What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets.

My recent media diet

posted by Jason Kottke   May 15, 2017

Quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, and heard in the past few weeks. Don’t take the letter grades too seriously (that’s just good life advice).

The Simpsons. Watched some old episodes w/ the kids. I can’t tell if they’re still any good or not because I can still recite most of the dialogue by heart. (A-)

Dr. Strangelove. Superb. (A+)

DAMN. by Kendrick Lamar. I said I wanted to listen to this more and I have. Great. (A)

Citizen Jane. Watching this at a theater a short walk from the West Village and Washington Square Park was a powerful experience. (B+)

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann. As good as everyone says. As a country we’ve never reckoned with what we did (and continue to do) to Native Americans and I doubt we ever will. (A-)

Pleasure by Feist. I had kinda forgotten about Feist but I will definitely remember this one. (B+)

S-Town. This didn’t go where you expected it to and it was all the better for it. Still, by the last two episodes, I’d run out of steam a little. (B+)

Nukes. Radiolab asks if there are any checks on the President ordering a nuclear strike and the answer is as terrifying as you might imagine. (B+)

True Love Waits by Christopher O’Riley & Radiohead. An old favorite. Good for when you’re feeling down. (B+)

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2. Sequels are hard. (B)

Rules for a Knight by Ethan Hawke. Mindfulness Lite, not that that’s a bad thing. (B-)

Mad Men. Still plugging away at watching this all the way through a second time. The later seasons lack a little something but it’s still great overall. (A-)

Is This It by The Strokes. Great NYC terroir. This album is all mixed up with my first few months/years in the city. (A)

Past installments of my media diets can be found here.

The struggle with the self

posted by Jason Kottke   May 11, 2017

This is a passage from Ethan Hawke’s Rules for a Knight, which takes the form of a fictional diary of lessons and anecdotes from a 15th century squire learning how to behave like a knight from his grandfather.

One time, on a sweltering August night, Grandfather and I made camp down by the ocean. He said, “While I teach you about the ways of war, I want you to know that the real struggle is between the two wolves that live inside each of us.”

“Two wolves?” I asked, seated on an old log near the fire. My eyes were transfixed by the flames twisting uncomfortably in the night air.

“One wolf is evil,” he continued. “It is anger, envy, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, deceit, false pride.” He paused, poking at the embers of our fire with a long stick he’d been carving.

“The other is good. It is joy, love, hope, serenity, humility, loving-kindness, forgiveness, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, faith.”

I considered that for a minute, then tentatively asked, “Which wolf will win?”

Sparks danced towards the stars as the old man stared into the glare of the flames and replied, “Whichever one you feed.”

A helpful reminder that I’ve been feeding the wrong wolf recently. He’s so hungry and there’s been a lot of available food, but I’ve got to get back on track.

Update: As stated on the back cover, in writing this book Hawke borrowed liberally from “the ancient teachings of Eastern and Western philosophy and on the great spiritual and political writings of our time”. The story of the two wolves appears to originate from Billy Graham or perhaps from the Cherokee tribe. (thx, everyone)

Shake Shack releases an official cookbook

posted by Jason Kottke   May 11, 2017

Anatomy of a ShackBurger

Big news around these parts: the Shake Shack is coming out with their first cookbook next week. Shake Shack: Recipes & Stories details how the Shake Shack came about and spills the beans with recipes for almost all of the food, burgers, chicken sandwiches, and fries included. According to Eater, the recipes have been tweaked for the home cook:

Rosati shares almost all of the company’s recipes, though unfortunately he isn’t giving away any real secrets here. The processes have been adapted for the home cook, and Garutti told Eater that only “six people” in the world know the real recipe for Shake Shack’s signature sauce.

The recipe in the book for Shack sauce is a mixture of Hellman’s, Dijon, Heinz, pickle juice, salt, and pepper. “We make our own from scratch,” Garutti says, but when he and Rosati first started testing recipes for the book they came to the conclusion that these weren’t recipes “most people would want to make at home,” because they were labor-intensive, “messy,” and time-consuming.

Immediate pre-order. See also Kenji’s Fake Shack burger recipe.

Update: Here’s the recipe for the ShackBurger and sauce from the book. The ShackSauce recipe includes “¼ teaspoon kosher dill pickling brine”, which is also the secret ingredient in my homemade tuna salad.

The 2017 TED reading list

posted by Jason Kottke   May 08, 2017

ParrotRead has compiled a list of books recommended on Twitter by the speakers at the recently concluded TED 2017 conference in Vancouver. Some highlights:

Success Through Stillness: Meditation Made Simple by Def Jam cofounder Russell Simmons. “Simmons shares the most fundamental key to success — meditation — and guides readers to use stillness as a powerful tool to access their potential.” Recommended by Serena Williams, who also recommended Eat Yourself Sexy (which sounds like a Troy McClure self-help infomercial).

A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel. I loved Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies so it’s high time I delve into Mantel’s older novels. This work of historical fiction about the Frech Revolution seems like an ideal place to start. Recommended by Atul Gawande.

The Machine Stops by E.M. Forster. Classic sci-fi about humans living underground with all their needs being met by machines. Recommended by Elon Musk, who kinda wants to do that for realsies?

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. Lacks’ cells were taken without her knowledge and used to develop medical breakthroughs worth billions of dollars. Now an HBO movie starring Oprah Winfrey. Recommended by Lisa Genova.

SuperBetter: The Power of Living Gamefully by Jane McGonigal. “She explains how we can cultivate new powers of recovery and resilience in everyday life simply by adopting a more ‘gameful’ mind-set.” Recommended by Tim Ferriss.

The Field Study Handbook

posted by Jason Kottke   May 05, 2017

Field Study Handbook

Jan Chipchase runs Studio D, which I’ve previously described as “a modern day A-Team, except with more field research and fewer guns”. He and the studio are publishing a book called The Field Study Handbook and financing it through Kickstarter. Here’s how Chipchase describes the book:

The comprehensive how-to, why-to guide to running international field research projects.

But it’s not just for professionals. It’s for anyone who has travelled and has felt missed opportunities—

In understanding what is going on.

Experiences that didn’t sit right.

Conversations that fell short of their potential.

Questions left unanswered.

I wanted to create an artefact. A beautiful thing that takes up space in your life, and nudges you with its presence.

To travel, and experience the world with an open mind, and fresh eyes. So that when you return you too are ready to shape the world.

And from the rough table of contents, a preview of the chapter about conducting interviews:

Types of interview. Interview roles. Guides versus scripts. Interview setup. Client assumptions around data, note-taking. Focus, expansion, evidence, rapport, repetition, defensiveness, hostility and other in-depth interview techniques. Interview preparation. The importance of social parity. Native languages. Projecting and reading body language. Being non-judgemental. Embracing judgment. Dissecting emotional responses. The long pause and the grand tour. Leading questions. Running bilingual interviews. The nine stages of in-depth interview.

This looks great…can’t wait to get my copy.

America is a developing nation for most of its citizens

posted by Jason Kottke   May 02, 2017

In his new book, The Vanishing Middle Class: Prejudice and Power in a Dual Economy, MIT economics professor Peter Temin says that the US “is coming to have an economic and political structure more like a developing nation” and that the US is really two countries at this point:

In one of these countries live members of what Temin calls the “FTE sector” (named for finance, technology, and electronics, the industries which largely support its growth). These are the 20 percent of Americans who enjoy college educations, have good jobs, and sleep soundly knowing that they have not only enough money to meet life’s challenges, but also social networks to bolster their success. They grow up with parents who read books to them, tutors to help with homework, and plenty of stimulating things to do and places to go. They travel in planes and drive new cars. The citizens of this country see economic growth all around them and exciting possibilities for the future. They make plans, influence policies, and count themselves as lucky to be Americans.

The FTE citizens rarely visit the country where the other 80 percent of Americans live: the low-wage sector. Here, the world of possibility is shrinking, often dramatically. People are burdened with debt and anxious about their insecure jobs if they have a job at all. Many of them are getting sicker and dying younger than they used to. They get around by crumbling public transport and cars they have trouble paying for. Family life is uncertain here; people often don’t partner for the long-term even when they have children. If they go to college, they finance it by going heavily into debt. They are not thinking about the future; they are focused on surviving the present. The world in which they reside is very different from the one they were taught to believe in. While members of the first country act, these people are acted upon.

This whole piece on the book by Lynn Parramore is worth a read. Another small tidbit:

In the Lewis model of a dual economy, much of the low-wage sector has little influence over public policy. Check. The high-income sector will keep wages down in the other sector to provide cheap labor for its businesses. Check. Social control is used to keep the low-wage sector from challenging the policies favored by the high-income sector. Check. Mass incarceration. Check. The primary goal of the richest members of the high-income sector is to lower taxes. Check. Social and economic mobility is low. Check.

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

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 28, 2017

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.

What is literature for?

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 28, 2017

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.

Option B: building resilience and finding meaning in the face of adversity

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 25, 2017

Option B

Two years ago, Facebook COO and Lean In author Sheryl Sandberg lost her husband to an unexpected death. The loss left her bereft and adrift. Grieving hard, she struggled to figure out how to move forward with her life. The result of her journey is a book co-authored by Adam Grant called Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy.

After the sudden death of her husband, Sheryl Sandberg felt certain that she and her children would never feel pure joy again. “I was in ‘the void,’” she writes, “a vast emptiness that fills your heart and lungs and restricts your ability to think or even breathe.” Her friend Adam Grant, a psychologist at Wharton, told her there are concrete steps people can take to recover and rebound from life-shattering experiences. We are not born with a fixed amount of resilience. It is a muscle that everyone can build.

Option B combines Sheryl’s personal insights with Adam’s eye-opening research on finding strength in the face of adversity.

Jessi Hempel’s piece on Sandberg is a good overview on the book and that period in her life, particularly in relation to Sandberg’s return to work and how that changed leadership & communication at Facebook.

Every year in late May, Facebook gathers its policy and communications team for a day-long retreat. Employees fly in from satellite offices in Germany, say, or Japan. It’s a chance to address problems, and set strategy for the year to come.

Sandberg always speaks, but that year Caryn Marooney, who was then in charge of technology communications, remembers everyone told her she could skip it. She insisted on coming anyway. As 200 people looked on, she began telling the group what she was going through, and how it was. “There were a lot of tears. It was incredibly raw, and then she said, “I’m going to open it up to Q and A,” Marooney remembers. People spoke up.

Talking about her situation allowed Sandberg — and the entire team — to move past it and transition into a productive conversation. Having acknowledged the proverbial elephant in the room, they could all focus on the work at hand. “I think people think that vulnerable is soft, but it’s not,” said Marooney, as she described Sandberg’s tough approach to business questions that followed. “It was a blueprint of what we saw from Sheryl going forward.”

Sandberg has also started a non-profit “dedicated to helping you build resilience in the face of adversity — and giving you the tools to help your family, friends, and community build resilience too.”

See also Sandberg’s Facebook post about her husband’s death and her NY Times opinion piece How to Build Resilient Kids, Even After a Loss.

One afternoon, I sat down with my kids to write out “family rules” to remind us of the coping mechanisms we would need. We wrote together that it’s O.K. to be sad and to take a break from any activity to cry. It’s O.K. to be happy and laugh. It’s O.K. to be angry and jealous of friends and cousins who still have fathers. It’s O.K. to say to anyone that we do not want to talk about it now. And it’s always O.K. to ask for help. The poster we made that day — with the rules written by my kids in colored markers — still hangs in our hall so we can look at it every day. It reminds us that our feelings matter and that we are not alone.

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

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 04, 2017

Don’t pay too much attention to the letter grades, they’re super subjective. Oh, and don’t pay too much attention to the descriptions…also subjective. You know what, you should probably just skip this post and watch Planet Earth II instead. It’s objectively great.

The Handmaiden. Khoi Vinh turned me onto this. Loved it. (A)

What Happened, Miss Simone? Nina Simone is underrated. There are some spine-tingling live musical moments in this film. (B+)

The Three-Body Problem. Recommended by Barry. The first book is great, the next two are good but pretty depressing. (B+)

Moonlight. While this didn’t grab me as much as it did everyone else, the Academy got it right. (A-)

The Night Manager. I can see what Taylor Swift saw in Tom Hiddleston. (B+)

T2 Trainspotting. If you saw and loved the original, you should see this. It is somehow nostalgic and also not. (B)

Girls. The struggles of 20-something New Yorkers and the crises of 40-something males may not be the same, but they sure do rhyme. (B+)

Beauty and the Beast. Better than I expected, even for a musical about the Stockholm syndrome. (I mean, why didn’t the Beast let Belle go like waaaay sooner?) I never saw the original when I was a kid but somehow knew all the songs anyway? I even got a little teary at the end but perhaps that’s just because my emotional life is a puddly mess rn. (B)

Hidden Figures. Really liked this. (A-)

Turing’s Cathedral. Raging Bull. Manchester by the Sea. I am increasingly bored by stories about white dudes. Look at the rest of this list. The best stuff, the things I liked the most, are stories about or stories told by women or people of color or non-Americans. (C)

Homo Deus. Still haven’t finished this, but I’m persisting because Sapiens was so good. Hard to escape the conclusion that the sequel is not quite so good. (B-)

Planet Earth II. This is the best thing I’ve seen in the last year. Just fucking watch it already. (A+)

More Life. Liking this more than Views. Drake’s non-albums are better than his albums. (B+)

Mad Men. My second time through. Better than I remember and I remember it being great. (A+)

The Crown. Expected Downton (soapy but fun) but was rewarded with great acting and writing. Claire Foy as Elizabeth and John Lithgow as Churchill were *kisses fingers*. (A)

“Awaken My Love”. I’m sorry, I just couldn’t figure this one out. (C-)

Wonderland. Steven Johnson’s best book yet. (A)

The Underground Railroad. Nothing to say about this that already hasn’t been said. (A)

Logan. Producers are realizing they’ve stocked their superhero movies with great actors so maybe they should give them material worthy of their talents. (B+)

Finding Dory. It’s a movie about disability. (A-)

Abstract. Pretty good, but I agree with Rob Walker’s take. Niemann is closest to the way I work/think but I liked Bjarke’s episode the best…even though I’ve got some, er, issues with the guy. (B)

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. The script, not the play. I have now read all 8 of the Harry Potter books with my kids…it took more than 4 years. Very sad it’s over…it ended up being one of the most rewarding things I’ve done with them. (B+)

Tabitha Soren documented in photos what happened after Moneyball

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 30, 2017

Tabitha Soren Baseball

Tabitha Soren, who you may remember as a reporter for MTV News, has for the past number of years been working as a photographer. One of her projects began more than 13 years ago as she accompanied her husband Michael Lewis on his visits to the Oakland A’s while working on Moneyball. After the book was published, Soren kept returning to photograph the up-and-coming players Lewis had profiled, following their careers as they either made it in the big leagues or didn’t.

Since then, she has followed the players through their baseball lives, an alternate reality of long bus rides, on-field injuries, friendships and marriages entered and exited, constant motion, and very hard work, often for very little return. Some of the subjects, like Nick Swisher and Joe Blanton, have gone on to become well-known, respected players at the highest level of the game. Some left baseball to pursue other lines of work, such as selling insurance and coal mining. Others have struggled with poverty and even homelessness.

The culmination of the project was a gallery show called Fantasy Life, which is now being released as a book.

The satirical origins of the meritocracy

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 29, 2017

In 1958, Michael Young published a book called The Rise of the Meritocracy as a satirical criticism of the concept of meritocracy. From Wikipedia:

It describes a dystopian society in a future United Kingdom in which intelligence and merit have become the central tenet of society, replacing previous divisions of social class and creating a society stratified between a merited power holding elite and a disenfranchised underclass of the less merited.

In 2001, Young wrote a piece for The Guardian about his disappointment that the satire had been stripped away from his term and embraced by an elite using it to justify their status.

The business meritocracy is in vogue. If meritocrats believe, as more and more of them are encouraged to, that their advancement comes from their own merits, they can feel they deserve whatever they can get.

They can be insufferably smug, much more so than the people who knew they had achieved advancement not on their own merit but because they were, as somebody’s son or daughter, the beneficiaries of nepotism. The newcomers can actually believe they have morality on their side.

So assured have the elite become that there is almost no block on the rewards they arrogate to themselves. The old restraints of the business world have been lifted and, as the book also predicted, all manner of new ways for people to feather their own nests have been invented and exploited.

Salaries and fees have shot up. Generous share option schemes have proliferated. Top bonuses and golden handshakes have multiplied.

As a result, general inequality has been becoming more grievous with every year that passes, and without a bleat from the leaders of the party who once spoke up so trenchantly and characteristically for greater equality.

Perhaps the tide seems to be turning slightly of late, but the meritocracy is thrown around pretty regularly in Silicon Valley as a justification for all sorts of things. Maybe the problem is the Valley doesn’t understand satire…after all, they invented a food product called Soylent. (via @mulegirl)