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Keep Going, a Guide to Staying Creative in Chaotic Times

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 15, 2018

Keep Going Book

Austin Kleon, whose previous books Steal Like an Artist and Show Your Work you may have seen prominently displayed in book shops around the world, is coming out with a new book this spring: Keep Going: 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad.

The world is crazy. Creative work is hard. Whether you’re burned out, starting out, starting over, or wildly successful, the question is always the same: How do you keep going?

In my previous books — the New York Times bestsellers Steal Like An Artist and Show Your Work! — I showed readers how to steal their way to a more creative life and then share their creativity to get discovered. In Keep Going, I show you how to stay creative, focused, and true to yourself in the face of personal burnout and external distractions.

The book is based on a talk he gave earlier this year. Here’s the timeline of the book’s production. If you read Kleon’s blog, you know that he has expansive definition of who is and can be creative. This sounds like a book we could all use right about now…I’m excited to read it.

A recently rediscovered interview with David Foster Wallace from 1990, well before he was famous

A tiny phone for those who are concerned their giant phone makes their trendy small sunglasses look too small. Zoolander approved!

New Social Media Guidelines. "All Twitter users must now check a box indicating whether they're a white supremacist or a comedian."

You can pay 99 cents to see who else paid 99 cents (i.e. this is the Million Dollar Homepage for 2018)

Snetris = a clever mashup of Snake + Tetris

"What does life look like for girls turning 18 in 2018? We gave young women photographers around the world an assignment: Show us 18 in your community."

The most interesting thing about this interview w/ Nobel laureate Paul Krugman is the many times he says some variation of "I don't know."

Andy Warhol’s B/W photography archive at Stanford is available in full to the public, for free: over 3,600 contact sheets and 130,000 images

The rooms where 20 famous books were written, from Agatha Christie’s hotel room in Istanbul to where William Faulkner shoveled coal for the University of Mississippi

“The average person ‘consumes about 34 gigabytes across varied devices each day’ — some 100,000 words’ worth of information.” What does that do to our brains? How does it change how we read, or how we think?

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

How the Mercator Projection Distorts the True Sizes of Countries on Maps

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 15, 2018

Data scientist Neil Kaye made this map to show how much the popular Mercator projection distorts the sizes of many countries, particularly those in the Northern Hemisphere.

Mercator Adjusted

The distortion in the animated version is even clearer. Key takeaway: Africa is *enormous*.

See also the true size of things on world maps.

True Size Map

Nationalism Isn’t Patriotism

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 15, 2018

Nationalism Patriotism

At a time when fascism & authoritarianism are creeping into the global politics of the developed world, it’s useful for us to reacquaint ourselves with the difference between nationalism and patriotism. In the wake of World War II, George Orwell wrote an essay called Notes on Nationalism (available in book form here). The first two paragraphs define nationalism and contrast it with patriotism:

Somewhere or other Byron makes use of the French word longeur, and remarks in passing that though in England we happen not to have the word, we have the thing in considerable profusion. In the same way, there is a habit of mind which is now so widespread that it affects our thinking on nearly every subject, but which has not yet been given a name. As the nearest existing equivalent I have chosen the word ‘nationalism’, but it will be seen in a moment that I am not using it in quite the ordinary sense, if only because the emotion I am speaking about does not always attach itself to what is called a nation — that is, a single race or a geographical area. It can attach itself to a church or a class, or it may work in a merely negative sense, against something or other and without the need for any positive object of loyalty.

By ‘nationalism’ I mean first of all the habit of assuming that human beings can be classified like insects and that whole blocks of millions or tens of millions of people can be confidently labelled ‘good’ or ‘bad’. But secondly — and this is much more important — I mean the habit of identifying oneself with a single nation or other unit, placing it beyond good and evil and recognizing no other duty than that of advancing its interests. Nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism. Both words are normally used in so vague a way that any definition is liable to be challenged, but one must draw a distinction between them, since two different and even opposing ideas are involved. By ‘patriotism’ I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, not for himself but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality.

The whole essay is worth a read; you’ll find yourself nodding in recognition at many points. More succinctly, Jen Sorensen’s Patriotism vs. Nationalism comic (excerpted above) and Zach Weinersmith’s An Important Distinction comic (below) cover some of the same ground.

Nationalism Patriotism

See also a more progressive definition of freedom.

The Bounty of the Public Library

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 15, 2018

Wonderful writer Susan Orlean1 is out with a new book called The Library Book, which is specifically about a 1986 fire at the Los Angeles Public Library and more generally a love letter to libraries. The New Yorker recently published an excerpt.

Our visits were never long enough for me — the library was so bountiful. I loved wandering around the shelves, scanning the spines of the books until something happened to catch my eye. Those trips were dreamy, frictionless interludes that promised I would leave richer than I arrived. It wasn’t like going to a store with my mom, which guaranteed a tug-of-war between what I desired and what she was willing to buy me; in the library, I could have anything I wanted. On the way home, I loved having the books stacked on my lap, pressing me under their solid, warm weight, their Mylar covers sticking to my thighs. It was such a thrill leaving a place with things you hadn’t paid for; such a thrill anticipating the new books we would read.

Like Orlean and probably many of you readers, I loved the library when I was a kid. Browsing the shelves, I felt like any and all knowledge was literally at my fingertips. My sister and I would each check out a mess of books, read them all in like a day and a half, and then we’d switch and read each others’ — I have read at least the first dozen of The Baby-Sitters Club books and a lot of Nancy Drew as well as all of Judy Blume’s pre-1990 oeuvre. Our family didn’t have a lot of money growing up and Orlean is spot-on with how wonderful & transformative the infinite library felt compared to the fraught retail environment of forbidden Pac-Man notepads, Bazooka Joe gum, and baseball cards.

  1. I am a little biased here (aren’t I always though?) — I designed Susan’s website back in the day…and the design is still hanging in there!

Two Great Podcasts About Inanimate Objects

posted by Tim Carmody   Oct 12, 2018

Articles of Interest - Plaid.jpg

I love things, material objects in all their haecceity, or irreducible thingness. I also love how inanimate things can unspool whole histories of entire worlds.

There are two podcasts I’ve been enjoying that each take things as their focus, but come at them in strikingly different ways. They’re each (so far) just six episodes long.

The first, Articles of Interest, hosted/created by Avery Trufelman, is an offshoot of 99 Percent Invisible, the design podcast. Articles of Interest (or AOI) is all about clothing, with episodes on plaid, pockets, denim, Hawaiian shirts, kids’ clothes, and punk rock. Each episode digs into the history and social fabric (sorry) of the item(s) in question. From the description to the “Pockets” episode:

Womenswear is littered with fake pockets that don’t open, or shallow pockets that can hardly hold more than a paperclip. If women’s clothes have pockets at all, they are often and smaller and just fit less than men’s pockets do. And when we talk about pockets, we are talking about who has access to the tools they need. Who can walk through the world comfortably and securely.

The other podcast, Everything Is Alive, hosted/created by Ian Chillag, takes the form of fictional interviews with each show’s object of choice: a can of cola, a lamppost, a pillow, an elevator, a bar of soap, or a loosened tooth.

INTERVIEWER: What do you imagine an elevator who’s working in the tallest building, what do you imagine they feel?
ANA (an elevator): Probably tired. I mean, I’m tired after a day of work, and I’m just going to 17. But I see all the other buildings they’re making are getting higher and higher…. You know, Frank Lloyd Wright wanted to make a building that was a mile high.
INTERVIEWER: A mile?!
ANA: Yeah, and it was going to have 76 elevators. And they were going to be nuclear powered. But it never got built.
INTERVIEWER: That’s… it’s terrifying in like, every way.
ANA: Yeah.
INTERVIEWER: It’s too tall. It is powered by the most destructive force man has ever known.
ANA: One elevator mishap and that building is gone…. That kind of danger is, like… to be honest, I’m glad it didn’t get built. Also, I think a lot of people would be scared to use me. So… everything happens for a reason, and some things don’t happen for a reason.

So, if you’re looking for a charming podcast that explores history by way of everyday things, you’ve got multiple good options. To each their own taste.

How A 1979 Email Chain Letter Helped Give Birth to Our Social Internet

posted by Tim Carmody   Oct 12, 2018

Spocks-death.jpg

The Internet connects various bodies of knowledge and enables all sorts of private communication and coordination. It’s also clear in 2018, and has been for twenty-five years, that the Internet supports a variety of social media: public and semi-public communication for entertainment and cultural purposes.

Vint Cerf, co-inventor of the TCP/IP protocol and general internet pioneer, traces the emerging social use of the Internet to an unlikely candidate: a 1979 chain email from MIT’s Artificial Intelligence labs, titled “SF-LOVERS,” that asked Cerf and his colleagues at DARPA and elsewhere in the network of networks called ARPANET to weigh in on their favorite science fiction authors.

Because the message had gone out to the entire network, everybody’s answers could then be seen and responded to by everybody else. Users could also choose to send their replies to just one person or a subgroup, generating scores of smaller discussions that eventually fed back into the whole.

About 40 years later, Cerf still recalls this as the moment he realized that the internet would be something more than every other communications technology before it. “It was clear we had a social medium on our hands,” he said.

The thread was a hit. It also created what might be thought of as the first online social network. Though individuals had been connected via this internet before, this was the first time they were using it for social interactions and, importantly, building a larger community identity through these personal connections. After SF-LOVERS came YUMYUM, another chain email that debated the quality of restaurants in the new Silicon Valley. (In-house gourmet chefs were still decades away.) Then WINE-TASTERS appeared, its purpose self-evident. The socialization also inspired more science with HUMAN-NETS, a community for researchers to discuss the human factors of these proto-online communities.

In the 1980s, these chain emails saw the first use of spoiler alerts, for the death of Spock in The Wrath of Khan (oops, sorry if I spoiled that for you), and emoticons: “:-)” to indicate a joke and “:-(” to indicate a non-joke. (I’d say the semantics of those has drifted over the years.)

And here we are, almost forty years later, still doing the same shit, only with slightly more sophistication and bandwidth, on the commercial successors to those early email threads.

Contemporary Versions of WPA Public Service Announcement Posters

posted by Tim Carmody   Oct 12, 2018

For Topic, MGMT. Design created a series of 2018 updates to the iconic WPA public service announcement posters from the 1930s and 1940s. Some of the posters are directly imitating specific WPA posters; others have a looser inspiration.

For example, here’s a “Don’t Mix ‘Em” WPA poster:

WPA-1934-1.jpeg

And here’s the corresponding 2018 version:

WPA-2018-1.jpeg

And the rest of the contemporary series:

WPA-2018-2.jpeg

WPA-2018-3.jpeg

WPA-2018-4.jpeg

WPA-2018-5.jpeg

In the accompanying essay, the designers write that “we noticed that the advertising of the 1930s and ’40s seemed far less cynical or manipulative than it is today… Today’s distribution methods have created a relentless flood of messages, putting a torrent of information in the palm of your hand. How the public values, rejects, or embraces this version of public information is up to them.”

The other obvious difference is the overall mood of the messages. The WPA posters are direct, imperative, and point towards solutions, even when they’re being particularly grim about it. The contemporary versions are ironic, diffident, and uncertain about solutions — or at least, uncertain about solutions that can be reduced to a bold-type message across a poster. (Except “Don’t Send Dick Pics.” That one, they’ve got nailed.)

At the same time, there’s a yearning for that level of clarity, aesthetically if not intellectually. All of this seems frustrating but basically honest about the mood and limitations of this political moment.

Jackson Pollock 51

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 12, 2018

In 1950, Swiss photographer Hans Namuth took some photos of Jackson Pollock painting some of his drip paintings, which were used to illustrate a 1951 article in ArtNews. Along with photos published alongside a piece in Life in 1949, they made Pollock and his unusual technique famous.

Namuth returned with a film camera and captured the artist painting in full color motion in a short film called Jackson Pollock 51.

In the film, you can see the physicality and performative aspect of Pollock’s work, the near repetition, the footwork, the precise imprecision of his arm movements, the cigarette dangling from his mouth. Pollock narrates part of the film:

I don’t work from drawings or color sketches. My painting is direct. I usually paint on the floor. I enjoy working on a large canvas. I feel more at home, more at ease, in the big area. Having the canvas on the floor, I feel nearer, more a part of the painting. This way, I can walk around it, work from all four sides, and be in the painting, similar to the Indian sand painters of the West.

At one point, Pollock paints on glass and Namuth shoots from underneath, so you can see how it looks from the point of view of the canvas. A 1998 NY Times piece by Sarah Boxer has an account of how the photos and film were captured, including a series of incidents that brought the Namuth/Pollock collaboration (and, some say, Pollock’s life six years later) to an end:

When Pollock and Namuth came in from outside, blue from the cold, the first thing Pollock did was pour himself a tumbler of bourbon. It was the beginning of the end. Pollock had been sober (some say) for two years. Soon Namuth and Pollock got into an argument — a volley of “I’m not a phony, you’re a phony.” Then Pollock tore a strap of cowbells off the wall and started swinging it around.

With the dinner guests seated and food on the table, Pollock and Namuth continued to argue. Finally Pollock grabbed the end of the table, shouting “Should I do it now?” to Namuth. “Now?” Then he turned over the whole table, plates, glasses, meat, gravy and all. (There is a scholarly disagreement about whether it was turkey or roast beef.) The dogs lapped at the glassy gravy. Krasner said, “Coffee will be served in the living room.”

After that night, Pollock never stopped drinking. He didn’t bring in the glass painting (“No. 29, 1950”) until it was covered with rain and leaves. He returned to a more figurative style of painting. Six years later, bloated, depressed and drunk, he drove his car into a tree, killing himself and a friend.

(via open culture)

Oh, the Boston Dynamics Robot Can Do Parkour Now

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 11, 2018

I’ve watched this a dozen times now and it looks fake and I can’t figure out quite why. Is it the uncanny valley at work? This thing moves mostly like a human would…but not entirely. Look at the robot when it hops over the log. It appears too effortless…not enough recoil on the landing or something. And going up the steps, it looks like it’s levitating, like how CG characters sometimes move, unaffected by actual contact with surfaces. See also the robot’s casual gymnastics.

A Brief History of America’s Shameful Inaction on Climate Change

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 11, 2018

Vox has updated their video on how US politicians talked about climate change over the past 12 years. Until recently, climate change was more or less a bipartisan issue. Democrats and Republicans alike publicly acknowledged that climate change was happening, that humans were at least partially responsible, and that we needed to do something about it. Perhaps Republicans were a little less sincere in their desire for action and all politicians were not as urgent in their response as the situation required, but at a minimum, they all believed what scientists were saying.

Then, as this video shows, after the election of Barack Obama in 2008 and the Republican victories in the 2010 midterms, things shifted. Republicans increasingly came out saying, well, the science isn’t settled on this, we don’t know what is causing climate change, so we’re not going to do anything about it. They did this in part because their big political donors wanted them to.

Those divisions did not happen by themselves. Republican lawmakers were moved along by a campaign carefully crafted by fossil fuel industry players, most notably Charles D. and David H. Koch, the Kansas-based billionaires who run a chain of refineries (which can process 600,000 barrels of crude oil per day) as well as a subsidiary that owns or operates 4,000 miles of pipelines that move crude oil.

Government rules intended to slow climate change are “making people’s lives worse rather than better,” Charles Koch explained in a rare interview last year with Fortune, arguing that despite the costs, these efforts would make “very little difference in the future on what the temperature or the weather will be.”

I posted about the first installment of this video last year and watching it again hit me about as hard as it did the first time around. The amount of cynicism and lack of integrity & sense of duty here is staggering. What tiny tiny minds. [Insert a lot of swearing about Republicans here that I will get email about so I’ll just save us all some time and skip it. But seriously, fuck these assholes.]

Trippy Geometric Illustrations by Andy Gilmore

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 11, 2018

The NY Times article about the Event Horizon Telescope that I wrote about here introduced me to Andy Gilmore’s geometric illustrations.

Andy Gilmore

Andy Gilmore

Andy Gilmore

Andy Gilmore

Andy Gilmore

Really lovely stuff. More on his Instagram.

Kurt Vonnegut on the Role of Artists in Society

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 11, 2018

In times of turmoil, it can be tough to feel like the work you do to support you and your family is also nourishing to society, if you’re doing “enough”. For artists and writers at least, Kurt Vonnegut had a compelling call to duty as messengers from the near future. As part of an address to the American Physical Society published as “Physicist, Heal Thyself” in the Chicago Tribune Magazine in 1969, the author wrote:

I sometimes wondered what the use of any of the arts was. The best thing I could come up with was what I call the canary in the coal mine theory of the arts. This theory says that artists are useful to society because they are so sensitive. They are super-sensitive. They keel over like canaries in poison coal mines long before more robust types realize that there is any danger whatsoever.

He said something similar in a 1973 interview in Playboy:

Writers are specialized cells doing whatever we do, and we’re expressions of the entire society — just as the sensory cells on the surface of your body are in the service of your body as a whole. And when a society is in great danger, we’re likely to sound the alarms. I have the canary-bird-in-the-coal-mine theory of the arts. You know, coal miners used to take birds down into the mines with them to detect gas before men got sick. The artists certainly did that in the case of Vietnam. They chirped and keeled over. But it made no difference whatsoever. Nobody important cared. But I continue to think that artists — all artists — should be treasured as alarm systems.

(via nitch)

Fly Me to the Moonmoon

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 11, 2018

Moonmoon

In a paper called “Can Moons Have Moons?”, a pair of astronomers says that some of the solar system’s moons, including ours, are large enough and far enough away from their host planets to have their own sizable moons.

We find that 10 km-scale submoons can only survive around large (1000 km-scale) moons on wide-separation orbits. Tidal dissipation destabilizes the orbits of submoons around moons that are small or too close to their host planet; this is the case for most of the Solar System’s moons. A handful of known moons are, however, capable of hosting long-lived submoons: Saturn’s moons Titan and Iapetus, Jupiter’s moon Callisto, and Earth’s Moon.

Throughout the paper, the authors refer to these possible moons of moons as “submoons” but a much more compelling name has been put forward: “moonmoons”.

Moonmoon is an example of the linguistic process of reduplication, which is often deployed in English to make things more cute and whimsical. In the pure form of reduplication, you get words like bonbon, choo-choo, bye-bye, there there, and moonmoon but relaxing the rules a little to incorporate rhymes and near-rhymes yields hip-hop, zig-zag, fancy-shmancy, super-duper, pitter-patter, and okey-dokey. And with contrastive reduplication, in which a word repeats as a modifier to itself:

“It’s tuna salad, not salad-salad.”
“Does she like me or like-like me?”
“The party is fancy but not fancy-fancy.”
“The car isn’t mine-mine, it’s my mom’s.”

Fun! And astronomy should be fun too. Let’s definitely call them moonmoons.

Miniature Replicas of Japanese Kodokushi (“Lonely Deaths”)

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 10, 2018

Dying alone in Japan is so common that they have a term for it: kodokushi (“lonely death”). Miyu Kojima works for a company that cleans up apartments after people die and for awhile now, she’s been creating miniature replicas of some of the rooms that she’s cleaned. Note: some of these images might be a little disturbing.

Kodokushi Kojima

Kodokushi Kojima

Kodokushi Kojima

Kojima has been working for the clean-up company for about 4 years and explains that she cleans on average 300 rooms per year. To preserve and document the scene, the company always takes photographs of the rooms in case relatives want to see them. However, Kojima noticed that the photographs really don’t capture the sadness of the incident. And while she had no formal art training, she decided to go to her local craft store and buy supplies, which she used to create her replicas. She sometimes uses color-copies of the photographs, which she then sculpts into miniature objects. Kojima says that she spends about 1 month on each replica.