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One Complaint Per Table

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 24, 2021

Laura Olin is right; this recorded lunch conversation with Orson Welles from 1983 is well worth a read. I mean:

Waiter: Gentlemen, bon appétit. How is everything?

O.W.: We’re talking, thank you. [Waiter leaves.] I wish they wouldn’t do that. If I ever own a restaurant, I will never allow the waiters to ask if the diners like their dishes. Particularly when they’re talking.

H.J.: What is wrong with your food?

O.W.: It’s not what I had yesterday.

H.J.: You want to try to explain this to the waiter?

O.W.: No, no, no. One complaint per table is all, unless you want them to spit in the food. Let me tell you a story about George Jean Nathan, America’s great drama critic. Nathan was the tightest man who ever lived, even tighter than Charles Chaplin. And he lived for 40 years in the Hotel Royalton, which is across from the Algonquin. He never tipped anybody in the Royalton, not even when they brought the breakfast, and not at Christmastime. After about ten years of never getting tipped, the room-service waiter peed slightly in his tea. Everybody in New York knew it but him. The waiters hurried across the street and told the waiters at Algonquin, who were waiting to see when it would finally dawn on him what he was drinking! And as the years went by, there got to be more and more urine and less and less tea. And it was a great pleasure for us in the theater to look at a leading critic and know that he was full of piss. And I, with my own ears, heard him at the ‘21’ complaining, saying, “Why can’t I get tea here as good as it is at the Royalton?” That’s when I fell on the floor, you know.

And this bit, about how people used to treat going to the movies like reading a magazine or flipping on the TV, is fascinating:

H.J.: Warren Beatty was just saying that TV has changed movies, because for most of us, once you’re in a movie theater, you commit, whether you like it or not. You want to see what they’ve done, while at home …

O.W.: I’m the opposite. It’s a question of age. In my real moviegoing days, which were the thirties, you didn’t stand in line. You strolled down the street and sallied into the theater at any hour of the day or night. Like you’d go in to have a drink at a bar. Every movie theater was partially empty. We never asked what time the movie began. We used to go after we went to the theater.

H.J.: You didn’t feel you had to see a movie from the start?

O.W.: No. We’d leave when we’d realize, “This is where we came in.” Everybody said that. I loved movies for that reason. They didn’t cost that much, so if you didn’t like one, it was, “Let’s do something else. Go to another movie.” And that’s what made it habitual to such an extent that walking out of a movie was what for people now is like turning off the television set.

Adam Serwer writes about the five clear ways in which Trump and the Republicans tried to overturn the 2020 election in a coup. The Eastman memo is astoundingly straightforward about it.

Astronomers have found a potential remnant nebula for a supernova recorded by Chinese and Japanese astronomers in 1181 CE. "This sighting in 1181 CE is the only one in the past millennium not to have an associated nebula...with it."

How America's hottest city is trying to cool down. There are solutions to climate challenges in cities (more trees!), but as efforts in Phoenix show, the poorest areas often get short shrift.

Unvaccinated Mom Wants To Know If You're Coming Home For Covid This Year. "After all, Grandma's going to be here, and contracting this disease together could be the last time we get to see her."

The largest space telescope in history is about to blow our minds. "The James Webb Space Telescope will be 100 times as powerful as the Hubble. It will change how we see the universe." I'm ready to be blown.

Betty Reid Soskin is 100 years old today and is the oldest active ranger in the National Park Service. A colleague once once described her as "sort of like Bette Davis, Angela Davis and Yoda all rolled into one".

Netflix plans to combat Disney (Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar) with – *checks notes* – the Roald Dahl Cinematic Universe. "[Netflix] acquired the Roald Dahl Story Co., which manages the rights to the author's characters and stories."

How to Get Things Done When You Don’t Want to Do Anything. This is me today – I could barely even get through this article to figure out how to write this sentence.

Quick Links Archive

The Most Difficult Shot in Movie History (And Why It Matters)

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 24, 2021

I don’t know if a 10-second sequence of a plane landing in one of Brian De Palma’s worst films properly qualifies as “The Most Difficult Shot in Movie History”, but the story behind it is genuinely interesting. The logistics of having only 30 seconds out of an entire year to get this exact shot of the setting sun and coordinating that with a landing supersonic jet at one of the world’s busiest airports are certainly daunting. As Patrick Willems notes in his commentary, this shot also signifies the end of an era in the film industry.

  listen to the latest episode of kottke ride home  

The Circular, Drought-Resistant Gardens of Senegal

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 24, 2021

As part of the Great Green Wall initiative, Senegal has been building circular, drought-resistant gardens to keep the Sahara desert from spreading any further. The Kid Should See This explains how they work:

These Senegalese farmers plant the spiraling gardens with a plan to hold water: Medicinal plants in the inner circle, three rows of vegetables, with fruit and nut trees next. The outer circles are created with large baobab trees and African mahogany trees.

The Diamond Seekers

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 23, 2021

The Diamond is a contemplative short documentary by Caitlyn Greene about the people who look for diamonds in an ancient volcanic crater at the Crater of Diamonds State Park in Arkansas. Whatever you find there, you can keep. But what are they really searching for?

I came across an article about the Crater of Diamonds State Park in Arkansas, which I learned is the world’s only public diamond-bearing site. People from all walks of life search for diamonds atop this ancient volcanic crater, and it’s finders keepers. Some people find substantial diamonds, some don’t, and either way, it takes a lot of digging in the dirt. I was immediately hooked on the metaphor of this place.

I was interested in the hope of treasure, the grittiness of searching, and what people there were actually looking for in their lives. Creatively, I wanted to push an interview-driven piece, especially one in which subjects are given freedom to take you where they want to go, rather than guiding interviews along a plot-driven track. Errol Morris’ Vernon, Florida was a huge inspiration for this approach.

That loudspeaker announcement right at the beginning is surreal — a great way to set the tone for the rest of the film.

The Many Colors of the Moon

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 23, 2021

the Moon in 48 different colors, arranged in a spiral shape

Marcella Giulia Pace photographed the Moon in 48 different hues and arranged them in a lovely spiral pattern.

I have collected some of my Full Moon shots taken over the past 10 years. I selected the shades of color with which the Moon was filmed in front of my lens and my eyes.

The atmosphere gives different colors to our satellite (scattering) based on its height with respect to the horizon, based on the presence of humidity or suspended dust. The shape of the Moon also changes: at the bottom of the horizon, refraction compresses the lunar disk at the poles and makes it look like an ellipse.

Prints of the image are available. (via @djacobs)

The Forgotten Craft & Community of Ice Harvesting

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 23, 2021

Ice Ball is a short documentary that follows legendary polar explorer Will Steger and the community that he’s built up around harvesting ice from frozen winter lakes near Ely in northern Minnesota. Steger lives off the grid and uses the harvested ice for refrigeration — the ice keeps everything cool in the ice house for the whole year, until the next harvest.

Best known for his legendary polar explorations, Will Steger’s life work grew out of a single log cabin he built after moving to the Minnesotan wilderness at age 25. Reliant on sustainable energy and natural commodities, Steger formed a community and culture based on the principle of mutuality. Central to Steger’s operation is the lost art of cutting ice for refrigeration. This annual harvest formed a tradition spanning fifty years that became known as the “Ice Ball”. While this old world technology inevitably became obsolete, its disappearance parallels a concerning loss of social interdependence in modern society.

Come for the ice harvesting, stay for the wonderful Minnesotan accents. (via colossal)

“Caffeine Was an Amazing Aid to the Rise of Capitalism”

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 23, 2021

In this video, Michael Pollan explains how caffeine is woven into the fabric of modern society. Here’s the short version of how that came to be: People used to drink a lot of alcohol because water was unsafe, so folks were often in a sort of low-grade stupor. When coffee hit Europe, it provided the stimulation, focus, and energy necessary for people to work better and longer. Voila, the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution.

You can read more about caffeine in Pollan’s latest book This Is Your Mind on Plants (excerpt here) or in his 2020 audiobook called Caffeine: How Caffeine Created the Modern World.

Have We Reached Peak Car?

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 22, 2021

Tom Standage, whose The Victorian Internet was hugely influential to me in how to think about the history of technology, is out with a new book on transportation and cars: A Brief History of Motion: From the Wheel, to the Car, to What Comes Next (ebook). In this excerpt, he argues that the world has reached “peak car” — “the point at which car ownership and use level off and start to decline”.

Evidence for peak car in Western countries, meanwhile, has been accumulating for some time. In America, the total number of vehicle miles traveled has continued to increase. But it has been growing more slowly than both the total number of vehicles and the population. The number of miles driven per vehicle, and per person of driving age, both peaked in 2004 and have since fallen to levels last seen in the 1990s. The average distance driven per person per year peaked in the 2000s or earlier in many Western cities including London, Stockholm, Vienna, Houston, and Atlanta. In Australia, Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, and Spain, distance traveled per person has been flat or falling since the early 2000s (in Britain, the average motorist drove seventy-six hundred miles in 2018, down from ninety-two hundred in 2002). Miles traveled by car per annum per capita in Italy, Britain, the Netherlands, and Sweden peaked in 2000, 2002, 2004, and 2005 respectively.

See also this interview with Standage in Grist (which features the phrase “horse-drawn transport monoculture”).

The pandemic caused a drop in driving, and then an uptick as people came out of lockdowns and decided, in some cases, that they would rather drive than use public transit. But the longer-term trend seems clear: driving is becoming less popular, because it’s becoming less convenient, and the alternatives are becoming more convenient. The growing prevalence of remote working may encourage people to move to urban fringes where it’s difficult to live without a car, but overall I don’t think this will be enough to reverse the longer-term trend.

And here’s another excerpt of Standage’s book from The Guardian: The lost history of the electric car — and what it tells us about the future of transport.

In 1897, the bestselling car in the US was an electric vehicle: the Pope Manufacturing Company’s Columbia Motor Carriage. Electric models were outselling steam- and petrol-powered ones. By 1900, sales of steam vehicles had taken a narrow lead: that year, 1,681 steam vehicles, 1,575 electric vehicles and 936 petrol-powered vehicles were sold. Only with the launch of the Olds Motor Works’ Curved Dash Oldsmobile in 1903 did petrol-powered vehicles take the lead for the first time.

Perhaps the most remarkable example, to modern eyes, of how things might have worked out differently for electric vehicles is the story of the Electrobat, an electric taxicab that briefly flourished in the late 1890s. The Electrobat had been created in Philadelphia in 1894 by Pedro Salom and Henry Morris, two scientist-inventors who were enthusiastic proponents of electric vehicles. In a speech in 1895, Salom derided “the marvelously complicated driving gear of a gasoline vehicle, with its innumerable chains, belts, pulleys, pipes, valves and stopcocks … Is it not reasonable to suppose, with so many things to get out of order, that one or another of them will always be out of order?”

The two men steadily refined their initial design, eventually producing a carriage-like vehicle that could be controlled by a driver on a high seat at the back, with a wider seat for passengers in the front. In 1897 Morris and Salom launched a taxi service in Manhattan with a dozen vehicles, serving 1,000 passengers in their first month of operation. But the cabs had limited range and their batteries took hours to recharge. So Morris and Salom merged with another firm, the Electric Battery Company. Its engineers had devised a clever battery-swapping system, based at a depot at 1684 Broadway, that could replace an empty battery with a fully charged one in seconds, allowing the Electrobats to operate all day.

How to Solve Thorny Global Problems

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 22, 2021

Within the past 50 years, the global community has solved two huge problems that had the potential to harm every person on Earth. Smallpox once killed 30% of the people who contracted the disease but through the invention of an effective, safe vaccine and an intense effort that began in the 1960s, smallpox was completely eradicated by 1980. In the 1980s, scientists discovered a hole in the ozone layer that protects the Earth from UV radiation; further depletion would have caused major problems with the world’s food supply and an epidemic of skin cancer. Forty years later, we’ve virtually eliminated the chemicals causing the depletion and ozone losses have stabilized and have recently shown improvement.

So how did we do it? The short video above talks through each of challenges, how they were met (science + politics + a bit of luck), and how we might apply these lessons to the big problems of today (climate emergency, the pandemic).

Winners of the Ocean Photography Awards for 2021

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 22, 2021

a tiny turtle swims near the surface of the ocean

Ocean Photos 2021 02

Oceanographic Magazine has announced the winners of their annual Ocean Photography Awards for 2021. The official site is reeeally slow so you can check out the winners at The Guardian, the BBC, or on Instagram. Photos above are by Hannah Le Leu (top) and Aimee Jan (bottom).

Attention Deconcentration and the Secrets of Freediving

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 22, 2021

This is a lovely, almost poetic piece by Daniel Riley about the sport of freediving and one of the best freedivers in the world, Alexey Molchanov.

Freediving is, after all, a lifelong opportunity to radically reshape one’s body and mind in the process. In pursuing depth, humans must train their lungs and brains to unlock secret sources of clarity and strength and oxygen and potential that are hidden within the body. They are secrets that, once revealed, make the divers not just more effective at their craft, they argue, but more effective, conscious, skillful, and thoughtful as human beings. There is a shift in perspective. A global realignment within one’s consciousness. The look in their eyes when they talk about this thing…every diver who’s gone truly deep sounds like those rarest of individuals who’ve seen the earth from the moon, or died and been resuscitated.

Alexey learned how to excel in the sport of freediving from his mother Natalia Molchanova:

When Alexey was younger, his mother, Natalia Molchanova, was the world’s best freediver, a distinction that she held for many years. She was a pioneer in the sport and the practitioner of a mind-and-body-control technique called “attention deconcentration.” She passed her secrets to her son, who perfected them and uses the regimen to reach a state of intense calm. By doing so, he can slow his heart rate, his metabolic rate, while simultaneously slowing the activity of his brain and his body. His focus deepens. He relaxes to the point of seeming asleep. He takes deep, drowsy breaths, like a summer breeze filling a sail.

I first learned about freediving from Alec Wilkinson’s 2009 piece in the New Yorker, where Natalia explained attention deconcentration:

To still the unbidden apprehensions that might interfere with her dive - what she describes as “the subjective feeling of empty lungs at the deep” — Molchanova uses a technique that she refers to as “attention deconcentration.” (“They get it from the military,” Ericson said.) Molchanova told me, “It means distribution of the whole field of attention — you try to feel everything simultaneously. This condition creates an empty consciousness, so the bad thoughts don’t exist.”

“Is it difficult to learn?”

“Yes, it’s difficult. I teach it in my university. It’s a technique from ancient warriors — it was used by samurai — but it was developed by a Russian scientist, Oleg Bakhtiyarov, as a psychological-state-management technique for people sho do very monotonous jobs.”

I asked if it was like meditation.

“To some degree, except meditation means you’re completely free, but if you’re in the sea at depth you will have to be focussed, or it will get bad. What you do to start learning is you focus on the edges, not the center of things, as if you were looking at a screen. Basically, all the time I am diving, I have an empty consciousness. I have a kind of melody going through my mind that keeps me going, but otherwise I am completely not in my mind.”

After reading both of these great pieces, you can check out one of Molchanov’s recent world record dives:

Today Is September 21st

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 21, 2021

Every year for the past several years on September 21, Demi Adejuyigbe makes a video featuring the 1978 Earth, Wind & Fire song September (which begins “Do you remember, twenty-first night of September?”) This year, for what he says is his final effort, Adejuyigbe made a whole-ass movie, complete with special effects. Gonna watch this later with my daughter, who is 12 today (and owns the t-shirt).

In tandem with the video, Adejuyigbe is raising money to benefit The West Fund (a pro-choice Texas organization), Imagine Water Works (a New Orleans organization focused on Hurricane Ida relief efforts), and The Sunrise Movement (a climate emergency advocacy group) — you can donate here.

L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped by Christo and Jeanne-Claude

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 21, 2021

the Arc de Triomphe, wrapped in a layer of fabric

the Arc de Triomphe, wrapped in a layer of fabric

For the next two weeks, L’Arc de Triomphe in Paris will be wrapped, an installation that realizes a project begun by the late husband and wife team Christo and Jeanne-Claude in 1961.

L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped, a temporary artwork for Paris, is on view for 16 days from Saturday, September 18 to Sunday, October 3, 2021. The project has been realized in partnership with the Centre des Monuments Nationaux and in coordination with the City of Paris. It also receives the support of the Centre Pompidou. The Arc de Triomphe is wrapped in 25,000 square meters of recyclable polypropylene fabric in silvery blue, and with 3,000 meters of red rope.

In 1961, three years after they met in Paris, Christo and Jeanne-Claude began creating works of art in public spaces. One of their projects was to wrap a public building. When he arrived in Paris, Christo rented a small room near the Arc de Triomphe and had been attracted by the monument ever since. In 1962, he made a photomontage of the Arc de Triomphe wrapped, seen from the Avenue Foch and, in 1988, a collage. 60 years later, the project will finally be concretized.

Jeanne-Claude died in 2009 and Christo followed in 2020, so the project was completed by their team according to their wishes. I would have liked to have seen this in person…The Gates in NYC were wonderful.