kottke.org posts about how to
In Productivity in Terrible Times, Eileen Webb writes about the challenges of getting things done in the face of uncertain and worrisome times and offers some strategies that might help.
When your heart is worried for your Muslim friends, and deep in your bones you’re terrified about losing access to healthcare, it’s very hard to respond graciously to an email inquiring about the latest microsite analytics numbers. “THE WORLD IS BURNING. I will have those content model updates ready by Thursday. Sincerely, and with abject terror, Eileen.”
It is not tenable to quit my job and hie off to Planned Parenthood HQ and wait for them to make use of my superior content organizing skills. It is not a good idea for you to resign from stable work that supports your family and community because you’re no longer satisfied by SQL queries.
I don’t know about you, but I have been struggling mightily with this very thing. I’ve always had difficulty believing that the work I do here is in some way important to the world and since the election, that feeling has blossomed into a profound guilt-ridden anxiety monster. I mean, who in the actual fuck cares about the new Blade Runner movie or how stamps are designed (or Jesus, the blurry ham) when our government is poised for a turn towards corruption and authoritarianism?
I have come up with some reasons why my work here does matter, at least to me, but I’m not sure they’re good ones. In the meantime, I’m pressing on because my family and I rely on my efforts here and because I hope that in some small way my work, as Webb writes, “is capable of enabling righteous acts”.
Update: Meteorologist Eric Holthaus recently shared how he copes with working on climate change day after day.
I’m starting my 11th year working on climate change, including the last 4 in daily journalism. Today I went to see a counselor about it. I’m saying this b/c I know many ppl feel deep despair about climate, especially post-election. I struggle every day. You are not alone. There are days where I literally can’t work. I’ll read a story & shut down for rest of the day. Not much helps besides exercise & time. The counselor said: “Do what you can”, which I think is simple & powerful advice. I’m going to start working a lot more on mindfulness. Despair is natural when there’s objective evidence of a shared existential problem we’re not addressing adequately. You feel alone.
I also wanted to thank those who reached out on Twitter and email about this post…I really appreciate your thoughts. One reader sent along this passage from Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities:
The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space.
Here’s a technique for putting a comforter inside a duvet cover that involves rolling the whole thing up “like a burrito” and then two solid pieces of matter somehow pass through each other? I dunno, that is some goddamned witchcraft that defies the laws of physics and topology and is probably related to at least one of the Millennium Prize Problems. I don’t know if it’s easier than doing it the normal way1 but it certainly is more entertaining.
See also how to fold a fitted sheet and how to fold a t-shirt in two seconds.
This video is a combination of two things I like very much: long zoom histories and how things are made. The first part of the video follows the story of graphite back to the Big Bang.
[Carl Sagan-eque interlude: “If you want to make a pencil from scratch, first you must invent the universe.”]
The second part shows how pencils are made. Most surprising discovery while watching: Henry David Thoreau (yes, that one) was a talented pencil engineer:
John’s thoughtful son David*, unemployed after graduating from college, started helping out with the family business. He developed new refining techniques that made Thoreau pencils less brittle, less greasy — at the time, they were the finest pencils America had to offer. The Thoreaus were able to offer a variety of pencils, from No. 1 (the softest) to No. 4 (the hardest). That numbering system survives today.
The best artists invent their own tools. (via the kid should see this)
A beautifully shot HD video of machines manufacturing springs and other wire gizmos. I love how all the tools take turns and work together to make the widgets. Imagine the chatter amongst the tools:
“Ok, thanks, my turn.”
“Here, hold this while I turn it. Alright, we’re out.”
“Lemme just bend that a little for you.”
“Outta the way, I just gotta twist this for a sec.”
(via @pieratt, who says to substitute Steve Reich for the provided music)
In the village of Nanshan in China, traditional Suomian noodles are still very much made by hand. The noodles are made and dried outside, which puts the whole process at the mercy of the weather.
The noodle maker has to add different amounts of salt and flour according to the seasons and has to be very observant about the weather when it comes to choosing the days to dry the noodles.
The video doesn’t say, but I’d be very interested to hear what the unique stretching and drying process does to the taste and texture of the noodles.
Designing Your Life is one of the most popular courses at Stanford. Taught by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, the class teaches how you can use design thinking and techniques to shape your life and career. Burnett and Evans just came out with a book based on the class, Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life.
In this book, Bill Burnett and Dave Evans show us how design thinking can help us create a life that is both meaningful and fulfilling, regardless of who or where we are, what we do or have done for a living, or how young or old we are. The same design thinking responsible for amazing technology, products, and spaces can be used to design and build your career and your life, a life of fulfillment and joy, constantly creative and productive, one that always holds the possibility of surprise.
The course itself isn’t available online, but there are a couple of lectures from the class available on YouTube: Reframe Your Passion and Prototypes for Personal Success.
You could argue that the world has never been better: war is increasingly rare, medical science has cured a number of the deadliest diseases, global poverty is down, life expectancy is up, and crime in America is down. But it sure doesn’t seem that way, especially with Brexit, climate change, Trump, Syria, and terrorist incidents around the world. Oliver Burkeman explores some of the reasons why we think the sky is continually falling and what we can do to be happy anyway. I have been thinking about this aspect of it recently:
And there is another, subtler reason you might find yourself convinced that things are getting worse and worse, which is that our expectations outpace reality. That is, things do improve — but we raise our expectations for how much better they ought to be at a faster rate, creating the illusion that progress has gone into reverse.
See also George Saunders’ manifesto from People Reluctant To Kill for an Abstraction.
It all comes down to the limbic systems and your prefrontal cortex. Your monkey brain vs. your human brain. And the one thing that has been shown to weaken your limbic response and strengthen the response of your prefrontal cortex? Mindful meditation. (via @christopherjobs)
The guy behind Primitive Technology (aka my favorite YouTube channel) is back with a video on how to build a forge blower, a device for fanning a fire to make it hotter.
This device produces a blast of air with each stroke of the bow regardless of whether it is pushed or pulled. The bow makes it possible to operate the blower without using a complicated belt and wheel assembly used in traditional forge blowers. There is a brief pause at the end of each stroke where the fan stops to rotate in the other direction, but this is effectively no different to the intermittent blast of a double acting bellows of Europe or box bellows of Asia. The materials used (wood, bark, bark fibre and clay) are readily available on most continents. No leather, valves or precisely fitted piston gaskets are required as with other types of bellows.
The way he shoots & edits these videos is so good…packing, what, dozens or even hundreds of years of technological evolution into a minute or two of wordless video.
This is a beautifully shot video of the process for making tennis balls, from what looks like bread dough in the first steps to stamping the logo on the ball right before it goes into the canister.
I was commissioned to make a film and shoot a set of images by ESPN for Wilson, to show the manufacturing process of their tennis balls for the US Open. We flew to the factory, shot the film and stills in one day then flew home. Its an amazingly complex manufacture, requiring 24 different processes to make the final ball. It was hot, loud and the people who worked there, worked fast. So much beauty in each stage. I love the mechanics of how things are made, it fills me with great pleasure.
I love the little hand-clasper bots that put the yellow felt on the balls. One question though: the entire video is shot at normal speed, but the people putting the felt on the balls, that seemed sped up. But maybe they were just moving that fast?
Speaking of, feel free to have many possibly conflicting feelings about the people making the balls and their inevitable future replacement by a fully automated system. I know I did! (thx, damien)
This is a scene from Miloš Forman’s 1971 film, Taking Off, in which a support group of “square” parents meet to try and understand their children who have run away from home. What a great scene. Unfortunately, the entire movie seems quite difficult to find these days. It’s not streaming anywhere and this Blu-ray is $45. (via @dunstan)
Aardman’s films and shows (particularly Shaun the Sheep) are some of my favorite things to watch with the kids. Animator Merlin Crossingham shares how the Gromit character is built, from his stainless steel skeleton on up.
In the first film, A Grand Day Out, Nick was going to make Gromit speak and had planned a whole mouth design. The first time he animated Gromit, however, he found that the way the character could communicate using body language and expressive eyebrows was much more powerful than by speaking. So he made a snap decision not to give Gromit a voice, which he’s stuck to. Our good animators are able to let you know instantly what the model is thinking or doing.
This video about how not to get screwed buying a used car crams an astounding amount of good information into three minutes.
Update: Bold claim by Robin Sloan on Twitter:
The calm density of this video is way more “future of visual communication” than 99% of claimants to that title
I agree. That video contained more information than a 44-minute episode of Mythbusters but the pace and energy were more relaxed.
The latest video from Primitive Technology (previously, awesome) is about making a bow and set of arrows from scratch.
The bow is 1.25 m (55 inches) long and shoots 60 cm (2 feet) long arrows. I don’t know the draw weight — safe to say greater than 15 kg (35 pounds) perhaps? The stave was made from a tree that was cut with a stone axe and split in half with a stone chisel. I don’t know it’s name but it’s common here and is the same wood I use for axe handles.
I love how these videos are shot and edited. The editing feels very contemporary — quick-fire pacing with very little superfluous material — but the lack of narration, dialogue, or explanatory text feels old school. Reminds me of the super-effective and efficient Buzzfeed Tasty vids.
If you left the house with a lemon, some copper clips, some zinc nails, some wire, and steel wool but somehow forgot your matches, you can still start a fire. I imagine if you had a large enough lemon and enough wire and metal bits, you could also jumpstart a car or a human heart. (via @kathrynyu)
Gordon Ramsay shows us how to chop an onion, cook rice, debone a fish, cook pasta, and sharpen a knife. We’ve been watching a lot of Gordon Ramsay videos at our house recently. My daughter’s class is studying how restaurants work1 — they’re operating a real restaurant in their classroom today — so she’s been really curious about food.
On a recent weekend when it was just the two of us, we watched Ramsay cook his soft-scrambled eggs (and then made them the next morning), which sent us down a rabbit hole of beef wellington, tacos, turkey, and donuts. If you’ve only ever seen him yelling at mediocre chefs and restaurant owners on TV, you should give his cooking videos a try…he’s a super engaging chef that gets you excited about food and cooking.
Aaron Bleyaert lost 80 pounds, got in shape, and wrote about how he did it in four easy steps on his Tumblr.
3.) HAVE YOUR HEART BROKEN
And not just broken; shattered. Into itsy bitsy tiny little pieces, by a girl who never loved you and never will.
Now he’s turned that experience into a short film that showed at Sundance. Watch for the Conan O’Brien cameo.
From the NY Times and Redglass Pictures, a video in which political advisor Mark McKinnon details how to win an election. His short answer: “successful campaigns tell a good story”. My “favorite” part is after discussing his irresponsible fear-mongering campaign for Bush in 2004, McKinnon talks about bowing out of the McCain campaign because he believed Obama was a good man and good for the country and he didn’t want to smear him. Wish he could have moved procuring a conscience up a few years. NSFW if you, like me, see George W. Bush and involuntarily start loudly swearing like a sailor.
I love watching Gordon Ramsay make scrambled eggs. I first saw this video years ago and, possibly because I am an idiot, have yet to attempt these eggs at home. You and me, eggs, next weekend.
P.S. Jean-Georges Vongerichten makes scrambled eggs in a very similar way. Not quite soft-scrambled…Serious Eats calls them fancy French spoonable eggs.
P.P.S. Anyone have a square Japanese omelette pan I can borrow?
P.P.P.S. In Jiro Dreams of Sushi (now on Netflix!), an apprentice talks about making tamagoyaki (Japanese omelette) over 200 times before Jiro declared it good enough to serve in his restaurant.
That apprentice, Daisuke Nakazawa, is now the head chef at Sushi Nakazawa, one of the five NYC restaurants that currently has a four-star rating from the NY Times (along with the aforementioned Jean-Georges and not along with Per Se, which recently got dunce capped down to 2 stars by populist hero Pete Wells).
After 11 years, the WireTap radio show is coming to an end. As a farewell, they put together a video of people giving advice to their younger counterparts.
Training wheels are for babies. Just let go already.
This video is magical…give it 20 seconds and you can’t help but watch the whole thing. (via a cup of jo)
Matt Might, who is a professor in computer science at the University of Utah and a professor at the Harvard Medical School, responded to a question on Quora about minimizing the chances of having a disabled child and ended up answering two seemingly unrelated questions as well: How do you get tenure? and How do you live the good life? Long story short: he got tenure and started living the good life because he had a disabled child. But you should read the long story; it’s worth it.
My son forced me to systematically examine what matters in life — what really matters — and in the end, I came to appreciate a quote from his namesake, Bertrand Russell, more than I could have ever imagined:
“The good life is one inspired by love and guided by knowledge.”
My first year as a tenure-track professor cannot be described as anything other than an abject failure. I was so desperate to publish and raise funds that I began thin-slicing my research and submitting lots of poor quality papers and grant proposals.
I must have had a dozen rejections in a row that year. It sucked.
I remember huddling on the porch at the end of that year with my wife, telling her, “Well, I’ll at least have a job for six more years.”
I looked at my young son, cuddled in her arms. I saw his very existence hung in the balance between knowledge and ignorance.
Then it hit me: Life is too precious and too fleeting to waste my time on bullshit like tenure. I didn’t become a professor to get tenure. I became a professor to make the world better through science. From this day forward, I will spend my time on problems and solutions that will matter. I will make a difference.
I stopped working on problems for the sole purpose of notching up a publication. I shifted gears to cybersecurity. I found a project on cancer in the med school. I joined a project in chemical engineering using super-computing to fight global warming.
Suddenly, my papers started getting accepted.
You may remember Might and his son from a recent New Yorker article on people with ultra-rare diseases.
Larch Wood Enterprises is a Nova Scotian company specializing in the manufacture of cutting boards from end grain wood…that is, the top surface of the board shows the rings of the tree. Not only that, but each row on the board is cut from the same stick of wood so you can see how the grain changes through the tree. It’s tough to explain…just watch how they make ‘em.
End Grain is when the individual boards of wood are arranged so that the grain of the wood (the growth rings) runs vertically (up and down). This puts one end of each board up so that the cutting surface is actually the end of many individual pieces of wood. With the grain aligned in this manner (up and down), when the knife strikes the surface during cutting, the grain of the wood actually separates and then closes when the knife is removed. This accounts for the self-healing aspect of the end-grain surface. The wood itself is not cut, but instead you are cutting between the fibers.
A medium sized board costs $220 but if you can pass it on to your grandkids, perhaps it’s worth the price to upgrade yourself. (via devour)
As something of an expert on the topic, I thought this New York Magazine piece about spending time alone in the Big Apple is pretty good. The opening of the piece gets at why busy, crowded NYC is actually a good place for an introvert to be:
Being alone here is a state of mind, a perpetual choice, and an occasional imposition, a burden, and a gift — and sometimes the very best way to meet a fellow stranger. “Every form of human expressiveness is on display,” Vivian Gornick writes of walking the streets by herself, “and I am free to look it right in the face, or avert my eyes if I wish.”
And this tip on the Empire State Building is one for the ol’ bucket list:
A lot of people don’t know this, but the Empire State Building is open until 2 a.m. The last elevator leaves at 1:15. If you go up then, it’s empty, it’s beautiful, and the city sounds like the ocean.
Each year, using traditional Incan techniques, communities along a canyon in Peru rebuild a rope bridge that has been in continuous use for hundreds of years.
That you can take thousands of thin grass stalks and, through the careful application of engineering and hard work, make them strong enough to hold the weight of several people over a canyon still seems magical. (via cynical-c)
From Zerega Pasta, a video that shows, in slow motion, how farfalle (aka bow-tie pasta) is made at their factory.
Incredible combination of precision and quickness.
Man at Arms is a YouTube show in which real-life weapons from movies and TV shows are recreated. Recently they made the Bride’s Hattori Hanzo sword from Kill Bill. They started from scratch by building a furnace from before the Edo period (before 1603) to smelt the iron ore.
I know zero about swords, but it looks like these guys really did their homework in making as close to a traditional katana blade as they could. (via devour)
Chef and TV personality Jamie Oliver shows three different techniques for chopping onions, including the dead simple “crystals” method.
As the old saying goes, it is sometimes unpleasant to watch the sausage being made. But not as unpleasant as watching the olive loaf being made.
Whenever I watch videos of how things are made, I marvel at the cleverness of the manufacturing machines. Retired engineer Duc Thang Nguyen has created over 1700 3D animations showing how all sorts of different mechanisms work…gears, linkages, drives, clutches, and couplings. Here are a few examples to whet your appetite.
As you know, I love videos of how stuff is made. (See below.) Well, I just discovered this treasure trove of more than 300 14-minute videos from a Japanese show called The Making: playlist #1, playlist #2. Each video shows how a different thing is made, from wires to sugar to trophies to cheese and all of them are dialogue-free. Here’s the one on how golf balls are made:
I can’t wait to show some of these to the kids. Their favorite online video, which they request weekly, is this one on how croissants are made.
When I was a kid, maybe 12 or 13 years old, I watched this program on PBS that showed how a snack food manufacturer came up with a new snack food, from design to manufacturing. The thing that stuck with me the most was that they showed a number of the missteps in-between…like they tried a certain shape with a certain filling and it didn’t work out in taste tests, that sort of thing. I LOVED seeing that trial and error in action. I only saw the show once, but it’s one of my most vivid childhood TV memories. Maybe it’s why I ended up becoming a designer?
Wait, wait! Holy shit, holy shit! I found the show! It was a NOVA program called How to Create a Junk Food that aired in 1988, when I was 14. I couldn’t find the video or even a clip, but here’s a review in the LA Times.
The ultimate weapon is the flavorist, a 20th-Century alchemist who analyzes natural things like Danish blue cheese or barbecued beef, reconstructs them chemically in the lab and produces their essences to punch up the taste of bland fillings.
Marketing and technology co-produce a croissant-dough cone with a moist meat or cheese filling that appears perfect. But when they test it on the mouths of real consumers (English housewives), it’s a bloomin’ flop.
Undaunted, the technologists go back to their gizmos and test tubes. After doing such goofy things as gluing electrodes to a chewer’s cheeks to get “chew profiles” of different fillings, they come up with a second prototype, Crack a Snack. The wheat-cracker wrapped “savory tube” is called a “triumph of food engineering,” which, we’re warned, if it is given the proper image, “there’s little doubt we’ll buy it.”
New Scientist wrote about Crack a Snack around the same time.
So yeah, now you know I’m the sort of kid who gleefully watched food engineering documentaries on PBS at 14. But you probably already suspected as much. (via @go)