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Barack Obama’s exit interview

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 22, 2016

Doris Kearns Goodwin worked in the White House for LBJ and has written extensively about US Presidents: Team of Rivals (Lincoln), The Bully Pulpit (Teddy Roosevent & Taft), and No Ordinary Time (FDR & Eleanor Roosevelt). For the November issue of Vanity Fair, she visited with Barack Obama in the White House to reflect on his progress and legacy as he approaches the end of his two terms in office. The resulting conversation is excellent.

Early in my presidency, I went to Cairo to make a speech to the Muslim world. And in the afternoon, after the speech, we took helicopters out to the pyramids. And they had emptied the pyramids for us, and we could just wander around for a couple hours [at] the pyramids and the Sphinx. And the pyramids are one of those things that live up to the hype. They’re elemental in ways that are hard to describe. And you’re going to these tombs and looking at the hieroglyphics and imagining the civilization that built these iconic images.

And I still remember it — because I hadn’t been president that long at that point — thinking to myself, There were a lot of people during the period when these pyramids were built who thought they were really important. And there was the equivalent of cable news and television and newspapers and Twitter and people anguishing over their relative popularity or position at any given time. And now it’s all just covered in dust and sand. And all that people know [today] are the pyramids.

Sometimes I carry with me that perspective, which tells me that my particular worries on any given day — how I’m doing in the polls or what somebody is saying about me … for good or for ill — isn’t particularly relevant. What is relevant is: What am I building that lasts?

I particularly enjoyed the part early on about ambition, adversity, and empathy. Oh, this short anecdote from Goodwin about LBJ is great:

L.B.J. had his amphibious car when he was president. He tricked me and took me in his car one day, and the Secret Service collaborated with him. L.B.J., behind the wheel, warned me, “Be careful, we’re going toward a lake. The brakes aren’t working.” Well, we go into the lake: the car became a boat. Then he got so mad at me because I didn’t get scared. I’d figured, He’s not going to die. And he said, “Don’t you Harvard people have enough sense to be scared?”

Has anyone in one of these interviews really pressed Obama on his drone policy? I think it’s the one big stain on his record and would love to hear his personal defense of it in length.

We Work Remotely

An interview with Amazon’s first employee

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 08, 2016

Shel Kaphan was the first person Jeff Bezos hired to work on Amazon. In an interview with Craig Cannon, he talked about how he met Bezos, the early days of the site, and how he feels about the experience now.

At the time I thought, “Okay, I’m going to be building this website to run a bookstore and I haven’t done that before but it doesn’t sound so hard. When I’m done with that I’m not sure what I’ll do.” At that point there was no idea of doing anything but a bookstore. I thought maybe I would be able to go back to Santa Cruz and monitor it from there. I was pretty wrong about how the business would develop and how ambitious Jeff was. I didn’t know him at the time. We had just met.

I had forgotten that Amazon’s IPO happened less than two years after the site went live…can’t imagine something like that happening today.

Floor maps of iconic NYC fast food joints

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 25, 2016

When he was asked to design a new outpost of iconic NYC hot dog joint Papaya King in the East Village, Andrew Bernheimer went around to several other establishments in the city built to serve food quickly — Chipotle, Russ & Daughters, Katz’s, Shake Shack, Gray’s Papaya — and looked at their floor plans and flow of customers through their spaces. Mark Lamster talked to Bernheimer about the survey.

Grays Papaya Floor

Katz Floor

ML: I think at fast food joints we’re conscious that we’re in a very controlled environment, but perhaps don’t realize (because we are in a rush), just how manipulative that space can be. How did you see this playing out in the places you looked at?

AB: It ranged. Artisanal places (like Russ & Daughters) don’t feel manipulative in an insidious way at all (other than showing off some great food and triggering all sorts of synaptic response), while others do (Five Guys and their peanuts, a pretty nasty and obvious trigger to go order soda or spend money on WATER). We didn’t just look at fast food joints, but also icons of New York (R&D, Katz’s) that do try to serve people quickly but I don’t think qualify as “fast food joints.” In these cases the manipulation is either entirely subliminal and beyond recognition, or it has been rendered unnecessary because a place has become iconic, the domain of the “regular.”

Speaking as a customer, places like Katz’s and Russ & Daughters always felt like a total mess to me. Katz’s in particular is the worst: the whole thing with the tickets, paying on the way out, the complete lack of a single line, separate ordering locations for different types of food, etc.

That Gray’s Papaya that used to be on the corner of 8th St and 6th Ave, however, was fantastic. It had the huge benefit of being situated on the corner, but when you walked in, there was the food being cooked right in front of you. It was obvious where the line was and what direction it was moving. And after getting your food, you could exit immediately out the “back” door or circle back against the line to find a counter spot to quickly eat your meal.

Werner Herzog is saying things about the world

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 04, 2016

Lo and Behold, a documentary about technology and the internet directed by Werner Herzog is coming out soon and so Herzog is doing some interviews and such about the film and dozens of other topics. With Paul Holdengraber, Herzog talks about North Korea and volcanoes:

The North Koreans apparently had seen quite a few of my films. I established a trust with them. It’s very strange because you’re accompanied by people who would look after what you were doing, who would politely tell you you cannot film this, or cannot film that, and at one point I filmed something which I was not allowed to do, so I wanted to have it edited or deleted. But since they are filming in 4K or 5K or so, very complicated data management, we were unable to delete it, and they wanted to take the entire memory hard drive. And I said, “But it contains two days worth of shooting, that would be terrible.” So I said, “You know what, I can guarantee to you that I’m not going to use this material.” And they said, “Guarantee, what do you mean by that?” I said, “Just look me in the eye, what I offer is my honor, my face, and my handshake.” And they said “ok” and they trusted me. And of course I’m not going to use this moment of filming that I was not supposed to film.

Herzog talked about Pokemon Go and film school with Emily Yoshida:

Q: You might be able to catch some. It’s all completely virtual. It’s very simple, but it’s also an overlay of physically based information that now exists on top of the real world.

A: When two persons in search of a pokemon clash at the corner of Sunset and San Vicente is there violence? Is there murder?

Q: They do fight, virtually.

A: Physically, do they fight?

Q: No-

A: Do they bite each other’s hands? Do they punch each other?

Jason Tanz spoke with Herzog for his profile on the director and his new film:

Herzog grins as he takes a seat in a conference room at UCLA, which has been set up for an event later this evening. His eyes droop, but his skin is remarkably smooth, like the surface of a slightly underinflated balloon. And then there’s that voice-silky, portentous-you can imagine it coming out of a GPS system giving driving directions to Valhalla. “I like to look back at the evolution of modern human beings,” he says of his interest in the Internet. “Using fire or electricity was an enormous step for civilization, and this is one of those. And I think the poet must not avert his eyes.”

What is interesting about Lo and Behold is that it’s technically branded content. No, really:

It’s a bonafide film that premiered at Sundance in January and has been generating lots of buzz heading toward its wider release. It also happens to be one giant ad, half in disguise, for POD New York client Netscout. The whole thing started out as an agency idea to produce short videos about the internet as part of a online Netscout campaign. But after they roped in Herzog, the vision for the project soon changed-for the better.

“I come from a digital background, and I’ve talked about the internet for my entire career. My first job was as the internet guy at DDB in Brazil,” Pereira said. “When we hired Werner to do content about the internet, I felt like, OK, I know it’s going to be awesome, but I’m pretty sure I know what I’m going to see. But actually, it’s mind-blowing. We gave him the beginning of the idea and told him, ‘This is where it starts.’ He took it from there and owned it. It’s a mind-blowing documentary.”

I saw the film last week,1 and from what I remember, there’s nothing about Netscout in the film. They financed the film but according to Tanz, Herzog had final cut:

Herzog retained final cut while granting McNiel veto power, a privilege McNiel used only once, to excise some of the more horrifying troll comments, a decision Herzog now says he agrees with.

See also 24 pieces of life advice from Werner Herzog.

  1. It was interesting in spots, but I felt like splitting the narrative into 10 parts was not the right way to go. I would guess, however, the less you know about the technical aspects of technology, the more interesting Lo and Behold will be to you.

Interview with Susan Kare

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 29, 2016

Alex Ronan interviewed legendary designer Susan Kare for Lenny. Cross-stitch prepared her for designing pixel icons and fonts for the Mac:

Also, I did have limited experience designing for grids from working on craft projects such as tiled ashtrays and cross-stitch embroidery kits.

Police racism: a tale of two justice systems

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 08, 2016

In 1974, Studs Terkel published a book called Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do. One of the people he talked to for the book was Chicago police officer Renault Robinson. Robinson is African American and offered up his views to Terkel on how blacks are policed differently…here are the relevant bits of the interview. On traffic stops:

“About sixty percent of police-citizen conflict starts in a traffic situation. It’s easier to stop a person on the pretext of a traffic violation than to stop him on the street. It’s a lot easier to say, “Your tail light’s out.” “Your plate is dented.” “You didn’t make that turn right.” You can then search his automobile, hoping you can find some contraband or a weapon. If he becomes irritated, with very little pushing on your part, you can make an arrest for disorderly conduct. These are all statistics which help your records.

Certain units in the task force have developed a science around stopping your automobile. These men know it’s impossible to drive three blocks without committing a traffic violation. We’ve got so many rules on the books. These police officers use these things to get points and also hustle for money. The traffic law is a fat book. He knows if you don’t have two lights on your license plate, that’s a violation. If you have a crack in your windshield, that’s a violation. If your muffler’s dragging, that’s a violation. He knows all these little things….

So if they stop the average black driver, in their mind the likelihood of finding five or six violations out of a hundred cars is highly possible…. After you’ve stopped a thousand, you’ve got 950 people who are very pissed off, 950 who might have been just average citizens, not doing anything wrong - teachers, doctors, lawyers, working people. The police don’t care. Black folks don’t have a voice to complain. Consequently, they continue to be victims of shadowy, improper, overburdened police service. Traffic is the big entree.”

And on the type of young white male that the job was attracting at the time:

A large amount of young white officers are gung ho. It’s an opportunity to make a lot of arrests, make money, and do a lot of other things. In their opinion, black people are all criminals, no morals, dirty and nasty. So the black people don’t cooperate with the police and they have good cause not to. On the other hand, they’re begging for more police service. They’re over-patrolled and under-protected.

The young white guys turn out to be actually worse than their predecessors. They’re more vicious. The average young white policeman comes from a working-class family, sometimes with less than a high-school education. He comes with built-in prejudices. The average young white cop is in bad shape. I think he can be saved if a change came from the top. If it could be for just eight hours a day. They may still hate niggers when they got off duty. They may still belong to the John Birch Society or the Ku Klux Klan. So what? They could be forced to perform better during the eight hours of work.”

Reading about this stuff, I keep going back to the 9 principles of policing drawn up by London’s Metropolitan Police in the 1820s in which the power of the police comes from the people, force is to be used minimally, and the efficacy of policing is judged on the absence of crime, not on the number of arrests or people sent to jail.

Redditt Hudson served as a police officer in St. Louis during the 1990s. He shared his perspective on race and policing with Vox last year: I’m a black ex-cop, and this is the real truth about race and policing.

It is not only white officers who abuse their authority. The effect of institutional racism is such that no matter what color the officer abusing the citizen is, in the vast majority of those cases of abuse that citizen will be black or brown. That is what is allowed.

And no matter what an officer has done to a black person, that officer can always cover himself in the running narrative of heroism, risk, and sacrifice that is available to a uniformed police officer by virtue of simply reporting for duty.

(via @tonyszhou)

“Robert Moses Is A Racist Whatever”

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 18, 2016

Christopher Robbins recently interviewed Robert Caro (author of The Power Broker, perhaps the best book ever written about New York) for Gothamist. The interview is interesting throughout. (I lightly edited the excerpts for clarity.)

Caro: If you’re publishing on the Internet, do you call them readers or viewers?

Robbins: Either, I think.

Caro: How do you know they’re reading it?

Robbins: There’s something called Chartbeat — it shows you how many people are reading a specific article in any given moment, and how long they spend on that article. That’s called “engagement time.” We have a giant flatscreen on the wall that displays it, a lot of publications do.

Caro: What you just said is the worst thing I ever heard. [Laughs]

That exchange makes a nice companion to Snapchat like the teens.

Caro: Moses came along with his incredible vision, and vision not in a good sense. It’s like how he built the bridges too low.

I remember his aide, Sid Shapiro, who I spent a lot of time getting to talk to me, he finally talked to me. And he had this quote that I’ve never forgotten. He said Moses didn’t want poor people, particularly poor people of color, to use Jones Beach, so they had legislation passed forbidding the use of buses on parkways.

Then he had this quote, and I can still hear him saying it to me. “Legislation can always be changed. It’s very hard to tear down a bridge once it’s up.” So he built 180 or 170 bridges too low for buses.

We used Jones Beach a lot, because I used to work the night shift for the first couple of years, so I’d sleep til 12 and then we’d go down and spend a lot of afternoons at the beach. It never occurred to me that there weren’t any black people at the beach.

So Ina and I went to the main parking lot, that huge 10,000-car lot. We stood there with steno pads, and we had three columns: Whites, Blacks, Others. And I still remember that first column — there were a few Others, and almost no Blacks. The Whites would be go on to the next page. I said, God, this is what Robert Moses did. This is how you can shape a metropolis for generations.

That’s something to remember the next time someone tries to rehabilitate Moses’ legacy. Not to mention this excerpt from The Power Broker:

Robert Moses had always displayed a genius for adorning his creations with little details that made them fit in with their setting, that made the people who used them feel at home in them. There was a little detail on the playhouse-comfort station in the Harlem section of Riverside Park that is found nowhere else in the park. The wrought-iron trellises of the park’s other playhouses and comfort stations are decorated with designs like curling waves.

The wrought-iron trellises of the Harlem playhouse-comfort station are decorated with monkeys.

And now I am filled with regret at never having read The Power Broker. I started it a couple times, but could never find the time to follow through. I wish it was available on the Kindle…a 1300-page paperback is not exactly handy to carry about and read. The unabridged audiobook is 66 hours long…and $72.

What Errol Morris thinks about Making a Murderer

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 27, 2016

Oh, this interview with Errol Morris where he talks about Making a Murderer is so so spot on.

To me, it’s a very powerful story, ultimately, not about whether these guys are guilty or innocent — but it’s a very powerful story about a miscarriage of justice.

Yes! If you came out of watching all ten episodes convinced one way or the other whether Avery was innocent, I humbly suggest that you missed the point. And further that you can’t actually know…it’s a TV show! The tip of the iceberg.

Another thing that I was struck by watching Making a Murderer was the feeling of the inexorable grinding of a machine that is producing, potentially, error.

This was my favorite aspect of the show. A lot of people complained about them showing huge chunks of Avery’s and Dassey’s trials, saying that it was too boring, but that’s the whole thing! The crushing boredom of the justice system just grinds those two men and their whole families into the result that the state wanted all along. It was fascinating and horrifying to watch, like a traffic accident in super slow motion.

If you’re asking me, would I sign a petition stating that I believe that Steven Avery is innocent? Well, I don’t know. I really don’t know from watching Making a Murderer, but there’s one thing I do know from watching Making a Murderer — that neither Brendan Dassey nor Steven Avery received a fair trial, and that that trial should be overturned.

My thoughts exactly. If I had to guess, Dassey is entirely innocent and Avery is maybe guilty, but neither of them should have been convicted on the evidence presented or the procedure followed.

Anyway, read the whole thing…his stories about making The Thin Blue Line are great. And he’s making a six-episode true crime show for Netflix? YES!

Noel Gallagher gives no fucks

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 13, 2015

This long interview with former Oasis songwriter Noel Gallagher is a goldmine of rock star swagger, a master class in not giving a shit, and the dictionary definition of unfiltered. I mean:

Am I aware of a hierarchy? I’m aware that Radiohead have never had a fucking bad review. I reckon if Thom Yorke fucking shit into a light bulb and started blowing it like an empty beer bottle it’d probably get 9 out of 10 in fucking Mojo. I’m aware of that.

I used to put us at number seven. It went The Beatles, the Stones, the Sex Pistols, The Who, The Kinks… who came in at six? I don’t know. We were at seven. The Smiths were in there, The Specials. Where would I put us now? I guess I’d probably put us in the top 10. We weren’t as great as the greats but we were the best of the rest. We did more than The Stone Roses could fucking even fathom. We’re better than The Verve: couldn’t fucking keep it together for more than six months at a time. If all the greats are in the top four, we’re in the bottom of the top four, we’re kind of constantly fighting for fifth, just missing out. Just missing out on the top four, I’d say.

He just has opinions on everything and everyone and says them on the record:

I fucking hate whingeing rock stars. And I hate pop stars who are just… neh. Just nothing, you know? “Oh, yeah, my last selfie got 47-thousand-million likes on Instagram.” Yeah, why don’t you go fuck off and get a drug habit, you penis?

This one just made me laugh:

My fragrance? Oh it’s coming, it’s coming. Toe-Rag it’s going to be called. And the bottle’s going to be a massive toe.

Ahhhhhhh, I can’t stop quoting:

I guaran-fucking-tee you this: The Stone Roses never mentioned “career” in any band meetings. Ever. Or Primal Scream, or The Verve. Oasis certainly never mentioned it. I bet it’s mentioned a lot by managers and agents now: “Don’t do that, it’s bad for your career.” “What? Fuck off!” Like when we went to the Brits and we’d won all those awards and we didn’t play. The head of the Brits said, “This’ll ruin your career.” Fucking, wow. I say to the guy, “Do you know how high I am? You know who’s going to ruin my career? Me, not you. Bell-end. More Champagne. Fuck off.”

Ok, that’s enough. Just go read the thing.

What it’s like to be face blind

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 13, 2015

Prosopagnosia is a disorder where you’re unable to recognize faces. Neurologist Oliver Sacks and artist Chuck Close are both face-blind. This is a really interesting interview with a woman who suffers from prosopagnosia so completely that she cannot recognize her own daughter or even herself (sometimes).

The researchers concluded that I’m profoundly face-blind. One thing I find very difficult to get across is that it’s not as if I can’t recognize anybody at all — it’s that it can take me up to five minutes before I can figure out who they are. I have to wait for the signs. The other thing I have discovered is that there is a specific expression people have when they see somebody they know.

I call it the “I know you face” — it’s sort of a surprised micro expression. I’m convinced that it’s completely involuntary. It looks a little like surprise. The eyebrows go up, and usually the mouth opens like they’re about to say something. When I see it, I say hello, and then when I start interacting with them, I’ll remember who they are. That’s just one of a whole set of observational skills I’ve developed. Another is when I’m meeting somebody in public, I’ll arrive early so they’ll approach me.

I’m always looking for visual hooks. My daughter has a particular thing she does with her mouth. If there’s several people who could be her, I look for the mouth thing. If she’s nervous, or she’s irritated, one side of her mouth goes up. She’s done it since she was a baby. She doesn’t like having her photograph taken, so when I look at a group photo, I look for the kid with the smirk and I know it’s my daughter.

But her face-blindness is sometimes an advantage:

I’m also a very good listener because the tone of voice and body language are what I always pay attention to. I’m good at calming people down, because I can tell when they’re starting to freak out.

And she’s also less quick to notice things like race or gender:

When I worked at a homeless shelter, I was often praised for the way I interacted with my African-American clients. I couldn’t figure out what I was doing differently from the other white workers, but I was allowed into their circle and they bonded with me. When we lived in Louisiana, I was always being asked by African-American women if my husband was black.

When I was tested at Dartmouth, I scored low on unconscious racism. Apparently babies show a preference for their own race at about nine months because that’s when they start being able to recognize faces. My head doesn’t do this.

(via mr)

Letterman prepares to sign off

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 29, 2015

Letterman's cups

I was never a particular fan of David Letterman’s show1 but always have appreciated what he did and how he did it. Dave Itzkoff of the NY Times did an interview with Letterman about his impending retirement.

It seems like there’s an increasing emphasis, at least with your network competitors, to create comedy bits that will go viral on the Internet. Did you make a conscious choice to stay out of that arms race?

No, it just came and went without me. It sneaked up on me and went right by. People on the staff said, “You know what would be great is if you would join Twitter.” And I recognized the value of it. It’s just, I didn’t know what to say. You go back to your parents’ house, and they still have the rotary phone. It’s a little like that.

The photo slide show accompanying the piece is worth a look as well, particularly the photo of the stack of paper coffee cups in Letterman’s dressing room (one cup for each show, they cover half his mirror) and the final one of Letterman bounding out onto stage. I hope that when I’m 68, I’m still charging ahead like Dave.

  1. To be honest, I’ve never been a particular fan of any late night television, save for SNL in the late 80s and early 90s. I watched the last few years of Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show and then the first couple years of Leno, mostly because that’s what my parents watched. Letterman I caught every once in awhile after Carson and rarely after his move to CBS. I’ve only seen Conan’s show a handful of times…same with The Daily Show and Colbert. Have never watched a single episode of Fallon or Kimmel or Conan’s new show. Oh, I’ve seen clips on the web and such, but never whole shows.

    My late night TV as a kid was Doctor Who and British comedies — Are You Being Served?, ‘Allo ‘Allo, Fawlty Towers, Good Neighbors, Keeping Up Appearances, The Fall And Rise Of Reginald Perrin, etc. — on the local PBS station. That and Nintendo.

Simple rules for healthy eating

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 20, 2015

From pediatrics professor Aaron Carroll, a list of guidelines for sensible & healthy eating.

1. Get as much of your nutrition as possible from a variety of completely unprocessed foods. These include fruits and vegetables. But they also include meat, fish, poultry and eggs that haven’t been processed. In other words, try to buy food that hasn’t been cooked, prepared or altered in any way. Brown rice over white rice. Whole grains over refined grains. You’re far better off eating two apples than drinking the same 27 grams of sugar in an eight-ounce glass of apple juice.

What’s more interesting than the guidelines is the admission up front that they’re not supported by rigorous science…and neither is nutrition in general. In the absence of science, “everything in moderation” seems to be the recommended course. (via @jimray)

Update: Julia Belluz recently interviewed Surgeon General1 Vivek Murthy for Vox and within, Murthy shares his four basic rules for health:

One is to eat healthy. I tend to avoid salt, added sugar, and processed foods whenever possible, and try to eat fresh fruits and vegetables as part of all my meals whenever possible.

Second is to stay physically active. That means not just going to gym but incorporating activity into whatever I do, whether that’s taking the stairs or converting sitting meetings to walking meetings whenever possible.

Third is making sure I’m focusing on my emotional and mental well-being. For me, an important part of that is the meditation practice that I do every morning. It’s a chance for me to center myself, a chance for me to remember who I want to be every day.

The fourth thing is I remind myself to stay away from toxic substances like tobacco and drugs.

  1. What an odd antiquated governmental post, Surgeon General of the United States. The US government needs a robust advocate for the health of its citizens, but maybe not a 3-star admiral in the uniformed services you refer to as a surgeon? And while we’re on the topic, sort of, why not a Filmmaker Laureate, Musician Laureate, YouTube Star Laureate, TV Showrunner Laureate, iOS App Programmer Laureate, and Blogger Laureate in addition to Poet Laureate?

Fashion advice from Fran Lebowitz

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 25, 2015

I loved every opinionated moment of this interview with Fran Lebowitz about fashion. Where do I even start? Some choice bits:

Yoga pants are ruining women.

Shirts don’t go bad, they’re not peaches.

I feel very strongly that almost the entire city has copied my glasses.

Dry…clean. These words don’t go together. Wet clean — that is how you clean. I can’t even imagine the things they do at the drycleaner. I don’t want to know.

I have to say that one of the biggest changes in my lifetime, is the phenomenon of men wearing shorts. Men never wore shorts when I was young. There are few things I would rather see less, to tell you the truth. I’d just as soon see someone coming toward me with a hand grenade. This is one of the worst changes, by far. It’s disgusting. To have to sit next to grown men on the subway in the summer, and they’re wearing shorts? It’s repulsive. They look ridiculous, like children, and I can’t take them seriously.

Now people need special costumes to ride bicycles. I mean, a helmet, what, are you an astronaut??

Of course, more people should wear overcoats than those damned down jackets. Please. Are you skiing, or are you walking across the street? If you’re not an arctic explorer, dress like a human being.

I, myself, am deeply superficial.

Feeling good about an outfit is the point at which that outfit finally becomes good.

So good.

Errol Morris interviewed

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 03, 2015

As part of Errol Morris Week on Grantland1, Alex Pappademas did a great interview with Morris about his work. Morris has interviewed serial killers, Holocaust deniers, rapists, and the architect of the Vietnam War but said that the person that most challenged his capacity for empathy was Donald Rumsfeld.

He’s confident right now! He doesn’t have to wait 100 or 500 years. He doesn’t care. I really care whether I’m right or wrong. I really do care. And probably for lots of reasons. I don’t want to be seen as a dumbass, I don’t want to be seen as someone who believes in something that’s absolutely false, untrue, something that can’t be substantiated, checked. I believe that there’s some deep virtue in pursuing truth. Maybe it’s the highest virtue. I believe that. Whether you can attain it or not, you can pursue it. It can be a goal. It can be a destination. I don’t believe that’s Donald Rumsfeld’s goal. I believe that Robert S. McNamara really wanted to understand what he had done and why he had done it. You know, we remain a mystery to ourselves, among the many, many, many other mysteries there are. And McNamara’s struggle with his own past — I was deeply moved by it. I think he’s a war criminal, I think he sees himself as a war criminal, but I like him.

Update: Another recent interview, by Brin-Jonathan Butler, is being offered as a 99¢ Kindle Single.

  1. Yeah cool guys, but it’s always Errol Morris Week here at kottke.org.

“Did I marry a pathological liar?”

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 17, 2015

In his new book, Love and Lies: An Essay on Truthfulness, Deceit, and the Growth and Care of Erotic Love, Clancy Martin argues that loving someone requires lying to them. His third wife, Amie Barrodale, recently interviewed Martin about his assertions.

Amie: What if this woman who cheated finds herself fantasizing about it a lot. She’s never contacted the guy, and she never will, but she thinks about him every time she sleeps with her husband.

Clancy: Wow, good one. For the record, you’re my wife, and if this happens, please lie to me about it.

Amie: Wait, that’s a good answer. Why?

Clancy: Because I don’t think I could handle the truth, but I want us to stay married. So I’m asking you to be the strong one, since it’s your deal, your mental affair. If you feel like it’s starting to threaten the relationship — if the only way for us to continue to be happily married is for you to get the truth out — well, then I’d ask you to find a gentle, caring way to do it. Don’t just say: “I can’t stop thinking about this guy I slept with, he was fantastic and had a huge —”

Amie: How come you didn’t go into detail about our marriage, or your previous two marriages, in the book?

Clancy: Two reasons: respect for you and my two previous wives, and respect for my daughters. And also, I guess, fear that you guys would all love me less if I were too bluntly honest. But truthfully there are some things I would love to say, but can’t, because I know they would really hurt people I love.

(via the morning news)

Interview with Wes Anderson’s cinematographer

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 09, 2015

Robert Yeoman has been the cinematographer for all of Wes Anderson’s movies, save for the stop-motion The Fantastic Mr. Fox. Kyle Buchanan at Vulture talked to Yeoman about how he shot nine iconic scenes from Anderson’s films. Of the one-take shot near the end of The Royal Tenenbaums:

We had to triple up on scenes from The Royal Tenenbaums just so we could include this subtly marvelous shot from the finale of the film, where the camera drifts from character to character in the aftermath of an accident. “There were a lot of moving parts, and it was very difficult - Wes was determined to get it in one take and didn’t want to make a cut, so we did, I think, about 20 takes of it,” says Yeoman, who mounted a crane arm to a dolly for fluid movement. “The tough part is that it ends with a very emotional moment between Gene Hackman and Ben Stiller, and this scene was so difficult technically - things didn’t always happen when we wanted them to happen, and we’d have to cut - that it’s a testament to Gene and Ben that they were able to hang in there and really deliver on take 20.” What was going wrong before then? “I don’t want to name names, but there was one actor about two thirds of the way through it who kept blowing his lines, and we’d have to start over again,” says Yeoman. “That was a little frustrating, especially because Gene and Ben were waiting there, getting themselves to a certain place emotionally. I felt bad for them, but that’s just part of making films.”

(thx, greg)

Woz the designer

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 05, 2014

Totally sweet and charming video of Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak talking about the early days at the company while setting up and using an old Apple II.

Of Apple’s two founding Steves, Wozniak was the technologist and Jobs was the one with the artistic & design sense, right? But it’s obvious from watching this video that Woz cared deeply about design and was a designer of the highest order. Those early Apple circuit boards are a thing of beauty, which is echoed in the precision and compactness with which Apple currently designs iPhone and Mac hardware. They each have their own unique way of expressing it, but Woz and Jony Ive speak in a similarly hallowed way about how their products are built.

Update: Wozniak still has improving the Apple II on his mind. From earlier this year:

I awoke one night in Quito, Ecuador, this year and came up with a way to save a chip or two from the Apple II, and a trivial way to have the 2 grays of the Apple II be different (light gray and dark gray) but it’s 38 years too late. It did give me a good smile, since I know how hard it is to improve on that design.

(via @samryan)

Update: From Founders at Work, an interview with Woz that goes a bit deeper into the genesis of the Apple I and the early days at Apple.

By the time I was done, the design of the Nova was half as many chips as all of the other minicomputers from Varian, Digital Equipment Corp., Hewlett-Packard, all of the minicomputers of the time (I was designing them all). And I saw that Nova was half as many chips and just as good a computer. What was different? The architecture was really an architecture that just fit right to the very fewest chips.

My whole life was basically trying to optimize things. You don’t just save parts, but every time you save parts you save on complexity and reliability, the amount of time it takes to understand something. And how good you can build it without errors and bugs and flaws.

Interview with Chris Rock

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 01, 2014

This Frank Rich interview with Chris Rock is fantastic, full of keen comedic, political, and sociological insights from Rock.

Q: What do you think of how he’s done? Here we are in the last two years of his presidency, and there’s a sense among his supporters of disappointment, that he’s disengaged.

A: I’m trying to figure out the right analogy. Everybody wanted Michael Jordan, right? We got Shaq. That’s not a disappointment. You know what I mean? We got Charles Barkley. It’s still a Hall of Fame career. The president should be graded on jobs and peace, and the other stuff is debatable. Do more people have jobs, and is there more peace? I guess there’s a little more peace. Not as much peace as we’d like, but I mean, that’s kind of the gig. I don’t recall anybody leaving on an up. It’s just that kind of job. I mean, the liberals that are against him feel let down because he’s not Bush. And the thing about George Bush is that the kid revolutionized the presidency. How? He was the first president who only served the people who voted for him. He literally operated like a cable network. You know what I mean?

Q: He pandered to his target audience.

A: He’s the first cable-television president, and the thing liberals don’t like about Obama is that he’s a network guy. He’s kind of Les Moonves. He’s trying to get everybody. And I think he’s figured out, and maybe a little late, that there’s some people he’s never going to get.

And this:

Q: What would you do in Ferguson that a standard reporter wouldn’t?

A: I’d do a special on race, but I’d have no black people.

Q: Well, that would be much more revealing.

A: Yes, that would be an event. Here’s the thing. When we talk about race relations in America or racial progress, it’s all nonsense. There are no race relations. White people were crazy. Now they’re not as crazy. To say that black people have made progress would be to say they deserve what happened to them before.

Q: Right. It’s ridiculous.

A: So, to say Obama is progress is saying that he’s the first black person that is qualified to be president. That’s not black progress. That’s white progress. There’s been black people qualified to be president for hundreds of years. If you saw Tina Turner and Ike having a lovely breakfast over there, would you say their relationship’s improved? Some people would. But a smart person would go, “Oh, he stopped punching her in the face.” It’s not up to her. Ike and Tina Turner’s relationship has nothing to do with Tina Turner. Nothing. It just doesn’t. The question is, you know, my kids are smart, educated, beautiful, polite children. There have been smart, educated, beautiful, polite black children for hundreds of years. The advantage that my children have is that my children are encountering the nicest white people that America has ever produced. Let’s hope America keeps producing nicer white people.

Q: It’s about white people adjusting to a new reality?

A: Owning their actions. Not even their actions. The actions of your dad. Yeah, it’s unfair that you can get judged by something you didn’t do, but it’s also unfair that you can inherit money that you didn’t work for.

Old masters

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 27, 2014

The NY Times interviewed several people in their 80s who are still killing it in their careers and creative pursuits. Says Ruth Bader Ginsberg about surprises about turning 80:

Nothing surprised me. But I’ve learned two things. One is to seek ever more the joys of being alive, because who knows how much longer I will be living? At my age, one must take things day by day. I have been asked again and again, “How long are you going to stay there?” I make that decision year by year. The minute I sense I am beginning to slip, I will go. There’s a sense that time is precious and you should enjoy and thrive in what you’re doing to the hilt. I appreciate that I have had as long as I have… It’s a sense reminiscent of the poem “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.” I had some trying times when my husband died. We’d been married for 56 years and knew each other for 60. Now, four years later, I’m doing what I think he would have wanted me to do.

The interviews are accompanied by an essay by Lewis Lapham, himself on the cusp of 80.

John D. Rockefeller in his 80s was known to his business associates as a crazy old man possessed by the stubborn and ferocious will to know why the world wags and what wags it, less interested in money than in the solving of a problem in geography or corporate combination. By sources reliably informed I’m told that Warren Buffett, 84, and Rupert Murdoch, 83, never quit asking questions.

I read a book several years ago which is relevant here called Old Masters and Young Geniuses, in which economist David Galenson divided creative people into two main camps: conceptual and experimental innovators:

1) The conceptual innovators who peak creatively early in life. They have firm ideas about what they want to accomplish and then do so, with certainty. Pablo Picasso is the archetype here; others include T.S. Eliot, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Orson Wells. Picasso said, “I don’t seek, I find.”

2) The experimental innovators who peak later in life. They create through the painstaking process of doing, making incremental improvements to their art until they’re capable of real masterpiece. Cezanne is Galenson’s main example of an experimental innovator; others include Frank Lloyd Wright, Mark Twain, and Jackson Pollock. Cezanne remarked, “I seek in painting.”

How the Colbert Report is made

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 17, 2014

For the first episode of podcast called Working, David Plotz talks to Stephen Colbert about how he and his staff construct The Colbert Report. This is fascinating.

My show is a shadow of the news, so I have to know what shadow it’s casting right now, so I can distort it in my own way.

At the 13 minute mark, he talks about how the team communicates with each other about how the show is shaping up, changes, concerns, etc. They do it all by what sounds like text messaging. Paging Stewart Butterfield, you should get those folks on Slack. (via digg)

You’re My Favorite Client

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 01, 2014

After writing Design is a Job and noticing no one had written a book for clients who hired designers, Mike Monteiro of Mule Design decided to write one: You’re My Favorite Client.

Whether you’re a designer or not, you make design decisions every day.

Successful design projects require equal participation from both the client and the design team. Yet, for most people who buy design, the process remains a mystery.

In his follow-up to Design Is a Job, Mike Monteiro demystifies the design process and helps you prepare for your role. Ensure you’re asking the right questions, giving effective feedback, and hiring designers who will challenge you to make your product the best it can be.

Monteiro recently wrote 13 Ways Designers Screw Up Client Presentations and gave an interview to fellow designer Khoi Vinh.

I’ve been doing the primary research for this book for 20 years. I deal with clients every day and I see what works and doesn’t work and I’ve screwed up more times than I’d like to think about. But every lesson in that book is field tested. This book has zero percent theory in it. It was written on a factory floor.

The Game of Thrones title sequence

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 27, 2014

From the excellent Art of the Title, an interview with Angus Wall, the creative director responsible for the opening titles of Game of Thrones.

Basically, we had an existing map of Westeros and a xeroxed hand drawn map of Essos - both done by George R. R. Martin - and I took those into Photoshop and played with their scale until they lined up perfectly. The actual dimensions, the locations and their placement, and the different terrains are all based strictly on George R. R. Martin’s maps. It was really important that we stay as absolutely true to the books as possible because of the ardent fans out there.

Wall also works as an editor, often on David Fincher films. He won two Oscars for editing The Social Network and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Running the lungs out of your body

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 08, 2014

A wonderful interview with Werner Herzog on soccer, his wonderful fatherless upbringing, the nature of reality, and, of course, Mel Brooks.

I told Mel, “Mel, you know what, I have seen an extraordinary film. Something you must see. You must see. It’s only at midnight screenings at the Nuart Theater. And it’s a film by — I don’t know his name, I think it’s Lynch. And he made a film Eraserhead and you must see the film.” And Mel keeps grinning and grinning and lets me talk about the movie and he says, “Yes, his name is really David Lynch, do you like to meet him?” I said, “In principle, yes.” He says, “Come with me,” and two doors down the corridor is David Lynch in pre-production on The Elephant Man! Which Mel Brooks produced! And the bastard sits there and lets me talk and talk and talk and grins and chuckles. And I had no idea [and kept thinking], Why does he chuckle all the time when I talk about the film? But that was how I love Mel Brooks.

DFW, on the cusp of literary stardom

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 01, 2014

Just after Infinite Jest was published, David Foster Wallace came to Boston and did a radio interview with Chris Lydon. Radio Open Source recently unearthed that interview, probably unheard for the past 18 years, and published it on their site.

When I started the book the only idea I had is I wanted to do something about America that was sad but wasn’t just making fun of America. Most of my friends are extremely bright, privileged, well-educated Americans who are sad on some level, and it has something, I think, to do with loneliness. I’m talking out of my ear a little bit, this is just my opinion, but I think somehow the culture has taught us or we’ve allowed the culture to teach us that the point of living is to get as much as you can and experience as much pleasure as you can, and that the implicit promise is that will make you happy. I know that’s almost offensively simplistic, but the effects of it aren’t simplistic at all.

Some sort of a new media onion

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 11, 2014

Felix Salmon, who used to blog for Reuters but now works for a new cable TV network, interviews Jonah Peretti of Buzzfeed, a site best known for its lists and snackable meme content, for a site called Matter which is in turn published by Medium. Medium tells us the interview will take 91 minutes to read. Also, I am writing this from the Buzzfeed office and Jonah is a friend of mine.

Jonah is not your typical media mogul, however. He’s smarter than most, and more accessible, and also much happier than many to share his thoughts. Which is why I asked Jonah if he’d be interested in talking to me over an extended period. To my delight, he said yes, and we ended up having four interviews spanning more than six hours.

The resulting Q&A is long, for which I make no apologies. You’ll learn a lot about Jonah Peretti and how he thinks - but you’ll also learn a great deal about the modern media world, the way the Internet has evolved, and the way that Jonah has evolved with it.

If you want to learn the secret of how Jonah managed to build two of the world’s most important online media properties, you’ll find that here, too. Which brings me to another way in which Jonah differs from most other moguls. If you succeed in building something similarly successful as a result, he will be cheering you all the way.

I am looking forward to someone publishing the highlights of this. (via @choire)

Update: Here’s an attempt at some crib notes. (via @tgeorgakopoulos)

Louis C.K. on testing the limits

posted by Tim Carmody   Jun 06, 2014

Louis C.K. sat down with Jonah Weiner for an extended interview where he discusses learning how to fix cars, tell jokes, fry chicken, and more. (Seriously, Medium is milking that whole time spent reading thing now.) He also gives some clues as to what he seems to be up to in the current season of Louie:

JW: You’ve talked about how you’ve had to explain moral lessons to your daughters, but do it in a catchy way. It’s almost as though you’re writing material for them. What’s the place of morality and ethics in your comedy?

I think those are questions people live with all the time, and I think there’s a lazy not answering of them now, everyone sheepishly goes, “Oh, I’m just not doing it, I’m not doing the right thing.” There are people that really live by doing the right thing, but I don’t know what that is, I’m really curious about that. I’m really curious about what people think they’re doing when they’re doing something evil, casually. I think it’s really interesting, that we benefit from suffering so much, and we excuse ourselves from it. I think that’s really interesting, I think it’s a profound human question…

I think it’s really interesting to test what people think is right or wrong, and I can do that in both directions, so sometimes it’s in defense of the common person against the rich that think they’re entitled to this shit, but also the idea that everybody has to get handouts and do whatever they want so that there’s not supposed to be any struggle in life is also a lot of horseshit. Everything that people say is testable.

At the LA Review of Books, Lili Loofbourow has a good essay about Louie’s abrupt shifts in perspective, in the context of its recent rape-y episodes. There’s Louie the dad, who garners sympathy and acts as a cover/hedge/foil to Louie’s darker impulses. There’s standup Louie, who acts as a commentary and counterpoint to dramedy Louie… except when he doesn’t, and the two characters blur and flip.

Louie is — despite its dick-joke dressing — a profoundly ethical show… Louie is sketching out the psychology of an abuser by making us recognize abuse in someone we love. Someone thoughtful and shy, raising daughters of his own, doing his best. Someone totally cognizant of the issues that make him susceptible to the misogyny monster. Someone who thinks hard about women and men and still gets it badly wrong.

I had to stop watching Louie after Season 1. I raced greedily through those episodes, enjoying the dumb jokes and the sophisticated storytelling, and telling my friends, “this is like looking at my life in ten years.” Then my wife and I separated and that joke wasn’t funny any more, if it ever was. The things in Louie that are supposed to indicate the cracks in the fourth wall — the African-American ex-wife and the seemingly white children — are actually true in my life. His character is more like me than his creator is (except Louie has more money). No haha, you’re both redheads with beards. It’s an honest-to-goodness uncanny valley. I had to walk away.

At the same time, I feel like I understand Louis C.K., the comedian/filmmaker, better now than I did three years ago. If you read that interview, you see someone who’s more successful now than he’s ever been, who knows he’s good at what he does, but who’s never been certain that anyone’s ever loved him or if he’s ever been worthy of love.

Now America loves Louis C.K. and hangs on his every word: on gadgets, on tests in school, on what’s worth caring about. How can he not want to test those limits? How can he not want to punish his audience for caring about a character based on him that he doesn’t even like very much?

The need not to know yourself

posted by Tim Carmody   Jun 04, 2014

Adam Phillips is a writer and psychoanalyst, working on (among other things) a digressive, deflationary biography of Freud. He recently gave an “Art of Nonfiction” interview to The Paris Review which is one of those great Paris Review interviews about writing and life and approaching the universe.

PHILLIPS: Analysis should do two things that are linked together. It should be about the recovery of appetite, and the need not to know yourself. And these two things—

INTERVIEWER: The need not to know yourself?

PHILLIPS: The need not to know yourself. Symptoms are forms of self-knowledge. When you think, I’m agoraphobic, I’m a shy person, whatever it may be, these are forms of self-knowledge. What psychoanalysis, at its best, does is cure you of your self-knowledge. And of your wish to know yourself in that coherent, narrative way…

I was a child psychotherapist for most of my professional life. One of the things that is interesting about children is how much appetite they have. How much appetite they have—but also how conflicted they can be about their appetites. Anybody who’s got young children, or has had them, or was once a young child, will remember that children are incredibly picky about their food. They can go through periods where they will only have an orange peeled in a certain way. Or milk in a certain cup.

INTERVIEWER: And what does that mean?

PHILLIPS: Well, it means different things for different children. One of the things it means is there’s something very frightening about one’s appetite. So that one is trying to contain a voraciousness in a very specific, limiting, narrowed way. It’s as though, were the child not to have the milk in that cup, it would be a catastrophe. And the child is right. It would be a catastrophe, because that specific way, that habit, contains what is felt to be a very fearful appetite. An appetite is fearful because it connects you with the world in very unpredictable ways. Winnicott says somewhere that health is much more difficult to deal with than disease. And he’s right, I think, in the sense that everybody is dealing with how much of their own aliveness they can bear and how much they need to anesthetize themselves.

We all have self-cures for strong feeling. Then the self-cure becomes a problem, in the obvious sense that the problem of the alcoholic is not alcohol but sobriety. Drinking becomes a problem, but actually the problem is what’s being cured by the alcohol. By the time we’re adults, we’ve all become alcoholics. That’s to say, we’ve all evolved ways of deadening certain feelings and thoughts. One of the reasons we admire or like art, if we do, is that it reopens us in some sense—as Kafka wrote in a letter, art breaks the sea that’s frozen inside us. It reminds us of sensitivities that we might have lost at some cost.

Good Morning Minnesota

posted by Jason Kottke   May 27, 2014

Photographer Alec Soth is interviewed by his young son Gus about his job, art, and leaving his family for work.

This is completely charming and awesome and heartbreaking. (via @polan)

Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 30, 2014

I really liked this bit from Rolling Stone’s interview with Game of Thrones writer George R.R. Martin:

Ruling is hard. This was maybe my answer to Tolkien, whom, as much as I admire him, I do quibble with. Lord of the Rings had a very medieval philosophy: that if the king was a good man, the land would prosper. We look at real history and it’s not that simple. Tolkien can say that Aragorn became king and reigned for a hundred years, and he was wise and good. But Tolkien doesn’t ask the question: What was Aragorn’s tax policy? Did he maintain a standing army? What did he do in times of flood and famine? And what about all these orcs? By the end of the war, Sauron is gone but all of the orcs aren’t gone — they’re in the mountains. Did Aragorn pursue a policy of systematic genocide and kill them? Even the little baby orcs, in their little orc cradles?

(via mr)

H.G. Wells interviews Joseph Stalin

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 21, 2014

In 1934, H.G. Wells interviewed Joseph Stalin. This is how the interview began:

Wells: I am very much obliged to you, Mr Stalin, for agreeing to see me. I was in the United States recently. I had a long conversation with President Roosevelt and tried to ascertain what his leading ideas were. Now I have come to ask you what you are doing to change the world …

Stalin: Not so very much.

Wells: I wander around the world as a common man and, as a common man, observe what is going on around me.

Stalin: Important public men like yourself are not “common men”. Of course, history alone can show how important this or that public man has been; at all events, you do not look at the world as a “common man”.

Wells: I am not pretending humility. What I mean is that I try to see the world through the eyes of the common man, and not as a party politician or a responsible administrator. My visit to the United States excited my mind. The old financial world is collapsing; the economic life of the country is being reorganised on new lines.

Lenin said: “We must learn to do business,” learn this from the capitalists. Today the capitalists have to learn from you, to grasp the spirit of Socialism. It seems to me that what is taking place in the United States is a profound reorganisation, the creation of planned, that is, Socialist, economy. You and Roosevelt begin from two different starting points. But is there not a relation in ideas, a kinship of ideas, between Moscow and Washington?

In Washington I was struck by the same thing I see going on here; they are building offices, they are creating a number of state regulation bodies, they are organising a long-needed civil service. Their need, like yours, is directive ability.