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The Explorer and The Hermit

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 12, 2018

In a piece called I’m the Food Expert But My Kids Love My Husband’s Cooking, Amanda Hesser talks about food, tradition, and the differing cooking styles between her and her husband Tad. When she was younger, Hesser’s approach was to experiment relentlessly with her cooking, moving from one new dish to the next. But her husband took a different approach:

One of my other nicknames for Tad is Mr. Efficiency. He obsesses over the shortest route to a destination, orders everything in bulk, is always on time, writes thank-you notes within a day, and absolutely detests standing in line. Especially for food.

When it came to cooking, Tad was characteristically economical. Once we had our kids and our schedules went haywire, he set about mastering a handful of dishes he could pull off on a moment’s notice: fish tacos, pasta alla vodka, and Daddy’s pasta.

Mr. Efficiency…that could be totally be me. I do occasionally enjoy trying to find new stuff to cook, but their mom is way more adventurous in cooking for the kids. I always come back to my go-tos of caldo verde, taco salad, smoky corn chowder, the world’s best pancakes, burgers, and even the occasional tater tot hotdish.

But Hesser’s approach to cooking has shifted towards the familiar in recent years after noticing the downside to always pushing the boundaries:

Meanwhile, I continued to roam and experiment, rarely making the same dish twice. I enjoy the hunt for a new great recipe, the push for something better. But it comes at a cost; cooking new things is more stressful because the unknowns are many. Tad would chat with the kids while making his pasta; I would cook distracted, with my nose in a recipe. Even after focused cooking, things don’t always work out well, and no one around the table is happy. And it’s hard to expect anyone to build an emotional connection to a dish if they’re only seeing it a few times.

I am really feeling that tension between novelty and stability lately, and not just when it comes to food. Sometimes I feel like I’m two different people. The Explorer craves new experiences, finds routine boring, and wants to learn new things or he’ll feel brain-dead. The Hermit needs the stability of a comfortable routine, finds exploring exhausting, and doesn’t want to have to think about what’s next all the time. Should I go to my favorite restaurant or try a new place? Regarding travel…should I re-experience somewhere I’ve been before or head somewhere new? (For my last trip, I did both: a repeat trip to Berlin with a short stay in Istanbul after.) There are certain types of books, movies, and TV shows I like to watch — their reliability is comforting but when I do venture from those paths, the results can be very rewarding and horizon-expanding. Should I spend time with old friends or work on some new relationships?

The part of my life in which I’m feeling this most acutely is in my work. Editing kottke.org is a constant exercise in balancing the familiar with the new. My approach is: “here’s something you haven’t seen before but packaged in a familiar way” and then do that 9-to-5, day-in and day-out, 52 weeks a year. I bury you (and myself) in novelty, but in a clockwork fashion.1 I never know what I’m going to find on a particular day and you never know what you’re going to read, but by the end of the day, every single weekday, there is (I hope!) an interesting, entertaining, thought-provoking, and awe-inspiring collection of things to explore.

But even though I enjoy editing the site and learn about a lot of new things along the way, the work itself sometimes isn’t that challenging. There’s a lot of repetition, sitting in a chair, and willpower — not insignificant things when trying to accomplish something — but it increasingly feels like I’m on autopilot creatively. Has the site gotten better in the last 5 years? I think so. But have I? What creative boundaries have I pushed along the way? In what ways could kottke.org be better or different that would provide new challenges for me? Don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere anytime soon, but my desire to “roam and experiment” (as Hesser puts it) has been on the rise lately for sure.

  1. When I think about how I approach my work on the site, two references come to mind: 1) the Dunkin Donuts guy (“time to make the donuts”), and 2) what the doctor in Gattaca says about regularity of Ethan Hawke’s character’s heartbeat while exercising (“Jerome, Jerome, the metronome.”).

Which US cities have the most unpredictable weather? Places like Rapid City, Billings, and Kansas City. (San Diego & Phoenix are among the most predictable.)

How Ansel Adams took one of his most famous photos, "Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico". He couldn't find his light meter so he did a seat-of-his-pants exposure time calculation based on the Moon's luminosity.

Paul Romer got married Monday morning and later that day accepted the 2018 Nobel Prize for economics

Abstract Aerial Photographs Reveal the Beauty of Meandering Waterways

This year there were many good threads about history on Twitter which added "context and accuracy to the news cycle"

10x18: 33 graphic artists create visual interpretations of their favorite albums of 2018

Wes Anderson's Rushmore came out 20 years ago today. Still one of my all-time favorite movies.

NASA's OSIRIS-REx probe has already found evidence of water on the asteroid Bennu...and this is before the probe is due to grab a physical sample & return it to Earth

Little-known computer pioneer Evelyn Berezin built & sold the first computerized word processor. She died recently aged 93.

I Pity the Dolls, a book celebrating the world's largest collection of Mr. T memorabilia

There's no quick links archive yet. If you'd like to see 'em all, follow @kottke on Twitter.

Putting a British Scissors Company Back Together

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 12, 2018

In 2014, I shared a short film by Shaun Bloodworth called The Putter about Cliff Denton, a master scissors craftsman for a company called Ernest Wright & Sons.

A person who makes scissors by hand is called a putter, short for putter togetherer. The Putter is a four-minute silent film by Shaun Bloodworth that shows putter Cliff Denton making scissors.

The film went viral and the once-struggling company was inundated with orders and launched a very successful Kickstarter campaign for a special pair of kitchen scissors. But as I wrote in a sad update back in June, the company was struggling and on the verge of collapse:

Under new leadership, the company vowed to carry on and fulfill all of the Kickstarter orders, but a message to Kickstarter backers yesterday revealed the company was deep in debt and would be “going into receivership”. It also revealed that Wright had taken his own life.

In late October, a story on the company’s web site called Keeping the Heritage Alive revealed that a pair of Dutch entrepreneurs, Paul Jacobs and Jan Bart, have purchased the company with an eye towards investing in the workshop and its workers while keeping the mission the same.

When we acquired the assets of the company, there had been decades of decline and recent tragedy. The machinery was in neglect and although the workers had done all they could to keep the ship afloat, the heritage was slipping away.

To make sure that Ernest Wright continues to manufacture quality, handmade scissors, we’ve invested heavily in the workshop. By researching how to improve production, new machinery has been introduced that salutes the heritage and skill of our Putters. We’re working hard to keep the craft alive. Cliff Denton and Eric Stones, each with over 60 years worth of experience, are currently passing on their knowledge to new apprentices.

This seems like a really good outcome for the company, its employees, and the city of Sheffield. Now go buy some scissors.

Email Love Letters to Trees

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 12, 2018

You might remember this 2015 Atlantic piece about what happened when Melbourne gave each of the city’s trees its own email address for reporting arboreal problems: people started writing love letters to the trees.

“My dearest Ulmus,” the message began.

“As I was leaving St. Mary’s College today I was struck, not by a branch, but by your radiant beauty. You must get these messages all the time. You’re such an attractive tree.”

This is an excerpt of a letter someone wrote to a green-leaf elm, one of thousands of messages in an ongoing correspondence between the people of Melbourne, Australia, and the city’s trees.

More than three years later, people are still writing. ABC News has collected some of the most interesting emails and presented them alongside photos of the trees they’re directed to.

Melbourne Trees Email

Another admirer wrote to a Moreton Bay Fig tree:

You are beautiful. Sometimes I sit or walk under you and feel happier.

I love the way the light looks through your leaves and how your branches come down so low and wide it is almost as if you are trying to hug me. It is nice to have you so close, I should try to visit more often.

Bao, a Heartwarming Short Film from Pixar

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 12, 2018

Bao, a short film by Domee Shi, was shown in front of The Incredibles 2 at theaters this past summer.

In “Bao,” an aging Chinese mom suffering from empty nest syndrome gets another chance at motherhood when one of her dumplings springs to life as a lively, giggly dumpling boy. Mom excitedly welcomes this new bundle of joy into her life, but Dumpling starts growing up fast, and Mom must come to the bittersweet revelation that nothing stays cute and small forever. This short film from Pixar Animation Studios and director Domee Shi explores the ups and downs of the parent-child relationship through the colorful, rich, and tasty lens of the Chinese immigrant community in Canada.

Pixar recently posted the entire short online on Twitter so you can watch it if you missed it in theaters.

Shi, who is developing a full-length feature for Pixar, did an interview with the LA Times about her inspiration for Bao and its portrayal of the Chinese immigrant experience.

We also brought my mom in twice to do dumpling-making classes for the whole crew. That was really fun research because we actually filmed her hands kneading the dough and making the wrappers, and that was used as reference for the opening shots of the short.

James Niehues: The Man Behind the Map

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 11, 2018

I’ve you’ve ever skied or snowboarded in the US, Canada, or many other spots around the world, chances are you’ve used a ski map painted by James Niehues. He’s hand-painted almost 200 trail maps for places like Alta, Vail, Big Sky, Okemo, and Mammoth.

Ski Magazine regularly ranks the Top 50 resorts in North America. Jim has hand painted 45 of them. His tools of choice are a camera, a notepad, a paintbrush and a canvas. Every painstaking detail — peaks, cliffs, trees and shadows — is painted by hand. Jim’s large and beautiful paintings have helped generations of skiers navigate and capture the unique character of each mountain. He has had more impact on the image and feel of skiing than almost anyone, yet few people know his name.

With the help of a small team, Niehues is publishing a hardcover coffee table book featuring all of his work along with a series of prints. Here are a couple of the maps that will be in the book:

Niehues Maps 01

Niehues Maps 02

Watch How Hermit Crabs All Line Up to Exchange Their Shells

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 11, 2018

Hermit crabs use the scavenged shells of other animals as their homes. As the crabs grow, they periodically need to upgrade their housing to bigger shells. When a new shell appears on the beach, the cramped crabs will form a orderly queue nearby and then change shells all at once, with each crab moving into the next biggest shell just abandoned by its former occupant. This is possibly the most British thing I’ve ever seen an animal do…and the David Attenborough narration is the icing on top.

Flying Alongside Migrating Birds in an Ultralight

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 11, 2018

For more than 20 years, Christian Moullec has been flying with migratory birds in his ultralight aircraft. He raises birds of vulnerable species on his farm and then when it’s time for them to migrate, he shows them how, guiding them along safe migration paths. To support his conservation efforts, Moullec takes paying passengers up with him to fly among the birds. What a magical experience!

My passengers come from all over the world and are all kinds of people, especially Europeans. The flight inspires in me a huge respect for nature and I can communicate this respect to my passengers. There are also people with disabilities and those who want to experience a great time in the sky with the birds before leaving this world. It is an overwhelming spiritual experience. The most beautiful thing is to fly in the heavens with the angels that are the birds.

When watching the video, it’s difficult to look away from the birds, moving with a powerful grace through the air, but don’t miss the absolute joy and astonishment on the faces of Moullec’s passengers. This is going right on my bucket list.

See also The Kid Should See This on Moullec’s efforts, the 2011 documentary Earthflight that features Moullec, and Winged Migration, a 2001 nature film that features lots of stunning flying-with-birds footage. (via @tcarmody)

A List of Weird Facts

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 11, 2018

Helmed by someone with a knack for asking good questions & telling interesting stories and followed by nearly 100,000 people who have fascinating tales to tell, Nicole Cliffe’s Twitter account is an internet gem. Last night, Cliffe tweeted “Tell me your fav weird fact” and the replies kept me busy for quite awhile. Here are a few of my favorites:

“The low German (plauttdeutch) word for vacuum is Huulbessen. Literally translated it means Screaming Broom.” -@JayelleMo

“From the time it was discovered until now, Pluto hasn’t completed a single orbit. And it won’t for another 160 years.” -@TylerMoody

“Male giraffes will headbutt female giraffes in the bladder in order to make them pee, so that they can smell their urine and determine if the females are in heat.” -@anannabananacan

“Al Gore and Tommy Lee Jones were college roommates” -@msmessica

“The sound you think of Bald Eagles making is actually the screech of a Red Tailed Hawk. Eagles sound kind of like seagulls and that couldn’t stand, so they’ve been dubbed over forever.” -@Alison_Claire

“My grandfather grew up on coastal Maine, and said when he was a kid (1920s Maine at this point) the rich kids brought peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to school and the poor kids brought lobster, since the lobstermen couldn’t afford to buy their kids peanut butter and jelly.” -@sgtjanedoe

“Samuel Beckett drove Andre the Giant to school sometimes.” -@WinchMD

“One of the foods with the highest amounts of naturally occurring umami (natural MSG) is BREAST MILK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” -@CiaoSamin

My weird fact would be that cabbage, kale, broccoli, brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, collard greens, and cauliflower are all the same species of plant.

The Winners of the Information Is Beautiful Awards for 2018

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 11, 2018

Since 2012, Information Is Beautiful has picked the best data visualizations of the year. Here are the winners of the 2018 Awards, which includes the team at Northeastern University & National Geographic for their Simulated Dendrochronology of U.S. Immigration 1790-2016 project.

Immigration Dendrochronology

Nature has its own ways of organizing information: organisms grow and register information from the environment. This is particularly notable in trees, which, through their rings, tell the story of their growth. Drawing on this phenomenon as a visual metaphor, the United States can be envisioned as a tree, with shapes and growing patterns influenced by immigration. The nation, the tree, is hundreds of years old, and its cells are made out of immigrants. As time passes, the cells are deposited in decennial rings that capture waves of immigration.

A deserving winner in the “Most Beautiful” category. Here’s an animated view of US immigration’s “tree rings”:

The Cube Rule of Food, the Grand Unified Theory of Food Identification

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 10, 2018

On the internet, a fierce debate rages. Are hot dogs sandwiches? Are Pop-Tarts ravioli? Is sushi toast? Into the fracas steps @phosphatide with their brilliant Cube Rule of Food. The idea is that you can fit all food into one of seven categories based on where the starch in a dish is positioned:

Cube Rule Food

For example, enchiladas, falafel wraps, and pigs in a blanket are all sushi because the starch covers four sides of the cube like so:

Cube Rule Food 02

Likewise, pizza is toast, a quesadilla is a sandwich, a hot dog is a taco, key lime pie is a quiche, and a burrito is a calzone.

The zero-eth category is a salad, i.e. anything that doesn’t include starch (like a steak) or in which the starch is distributed throughout the dish (like fried rice, spaghetti, and soup (“a wet salad”)).

Remembering Anthony Bourdain, The Last Curious Man

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 10, 2018

For GQ, Drew Magary talked to the family, friends, and coworkers of Anthony Bourdain for this piece on the life of the late chef/traveler/writer/explorer/whatever. Here’s how he got his big writing break, which led to so much else:

David Remnick (editor in chief, ‘The New Yorker’): My wife came home one day, and she said, “Look. There’s a really nice woman at the newspaper. Her son is a writer. She wanted you to take a look at his work,” which seemed…adorable, right? A mother’s ambition for a son. I took this manuscript out of its yellow envelope, not expecting much. I started to read. It was about a young cook, working at a pretty average steak-and-frites place on lower Park Avenue. I called this guy up on the phone. He answered it in his kitchen. I said, “I’d like to publish this work of yours in The New Yorker. I hope that’s okay.” That was the beginning of Anthony Bourdain being published. I don’t know if there’s any way to put this other than to say he invented himself as a writer, as a public personality. It was all there.

Prior to becoming the best-ever host of a travel show, he’d actually traveled very little internationally (only France and Japan) and his first go of it wasn’t successful:

Tenaglia: Japan was a fucking disaster.

Chris Collins (co-founder, ZPZ): The mistakes were very clear. He did not engage with us. He would not acknowledge our presence and that we were there working together.

Tenaglia: I think he was thinking, “Great! I just got a free ride to all these countries.”

Collins: It was a ruse. It was, I’m gonna double dip here. I’m going to be able to get paid to go make something, and I’m going to write articles.

Tenaglia: We would go back to the hotel and say, “We are so screwed.”

But it turns out this inexperienced traveler & newbie TV host was the exact right person for the job.

He came alive, because those frames of reference were starting to pop. His sudden inclination was to turn and share that with us. You could sense this excitement, like, “Holy crap, I’m actually on the ground in a location that I have studied, that I know, that I have references to.” You know, Apocalypse Now, Heart of Darkness, Graham Greene, the Vietnam War. He was percolating with an excitement that was very genuine.

My only complaint about this piece is the length…I would have happily read on for hours.

Paula Froelich (author, journalist): I’ll never forget laughing my ass off because he was obsessed with my dog, who’s a small dachshund. He’d always walk my dog, and he was so tall and the dog was so long and short, they would look like this movable L.

Love in the Modern Age

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 10, 2018

Girl meets boy in the workplace, circa 2018. This should be a movie.

We were online content moderators taking down nude photos. All day, we sorted through thousands of photos and messages flagged as inappropriate on a meet-up app. We sat nearby, but our office had a strict no-talking rule, so our relationship began in silence as we sent each other funny things we found via Gchat. This led to more messaging until one day we grew tired of talking about nudes and decided to see each other naked instead.

That’s a story by Kristine Murawski from a relatively new feature at the NY Times, Tiny Love Stories. There are only three other installments so far…it’ll take you about 5 minutes to read through them all.

Greenland, Land of Unending Ice

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 10, 2018

Swiss nature photographer Stefan Forster has been visiting Greenland for eight years, documenting the ice, glaciers, icebergs, and wildlife of this “magical country”. For his latest video, Greenland - The Land of Unending Ice, he visited several parts of the country to witness a glacier calving, icebergs from above, the aurora borealis, and a changing landscape.

Today quiet and untouched places are becoming more and more rare. On my first visit to Greenland, I was fascinated by the incredible power of nature that can be felt everywhere. But during the last years things have changed. The amount of icebergs is increasing savagely. Glaciers I’m visiting every year are retreating not meters but kilometers a year and the unending amount of ice seems to be endless. There is nothing more beautiful than an iceberg — everyone is unique and the light reflecting from its surface is magical. It’s sad how close beauty and decay can be seen in an iceberg.

A new study published in Nature says that Greenland’s ice sheet is melting at its fastest rate in 350 years.

“From a historical perspective, today’s melt rates are off the charts,” Sarah Das, a glaciologist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and co-author of the new study, said in a statement. “We found a 50 percent increase in total ice sheet meltwater runoff versus the start of the industrial era, and a 30 percent increase since the 20th century alone.”

Forster also ran into an interesting technical problem while using his drones to capture video:

But the hardest thing of flying in Greenland is the fact, that every 2-3 minutes the difference between the magnetic north and the geographic north (which are not the same place — especially so far north) causing a fatal p-gps flight error and the drone is flying away (also the camera’s horizon).

Hear the First Sounds Ever Recorded on Mars

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 09, 2018

NASA’s InSight mission recently landed on Mars and like other missions before it, the lander is a equipped with a camera and has sent back some pictures of the red planet. But InSight is also carrying a couple of instruments that made it possible to record something no human has ever experienced: what Mars sounds like:

InSight’s air pressure sensor recording the sound of the wind directly and the seismometer recorded the sounds of the lander’s solar panels vibrating as Martian winds blew across them.

Two very sensitive sensors on the spacecraft detected these wind vibrations: an air pressure sensor inside the lander and a seismometer sitting on the lander’s deck, awaiting deployment by InSight’s robotic arm. The two instruments recorded the wind noise in different ways. The air pressure sensor, part of the Auxiliary Payload Sensor Subsystem (APSS), which will collect meteorological data, recorded these air vibrations directly. The seismometer recorded lander vibrations caused by the wind moving over the spacecraft’s solar panels, which are each 7 feet (2.2 meters) in diameter and stick out from the sides of the lander like a giant pair of ears.

The sounds are best heard with a good pair of headphones.