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Entries for December 2018 (January 2019 »    February 2019 »    Archives)

 

The Year in Photos 2018

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 31, 2018

Best Photos 2018

Best Photos 2018

Best Photos 2018

Best Photos 2018

Best Photos 2018

Best Photos 2018

From top to bottom: Christine Blasey Ford by Win McNamee, Emma Gonzalez by Jonathan Ernst, White House rally by Carolyn Kaster, Indian LGBT activist by Abhishek Chinnappa, Nakosha Smith of the Caramel Curves motorcycle club by Akasha Rabut, and a young churchgoer at Orthodox Easter service by Mikhail Svetlov.

That’s just a tiny slice of 2018…check out these sites for many more photos from the year that was:

2018 in Photos (part 2, part 3), Top 25 News Photos of 2018, The Most 2018 Photos Ever, and Hopeful Images From 2018, all from The Atlantic.

Best photos of 2018 from National Geographic.

Pictures of the year 2018 from Reuters.

These Are The Most Powerful Photos From 2018 from Buzzfeed.

Year in Pictures 2018 from Bloomberg.

The Year in Pictures 2018 from the NY Times.

2018 Year in Photos from Associated Press.

2018: The year in pictures from CNN.

Top 100 Photos of 2018 from Time.

Can You Start a Fire with Moonlight and a Magnifying Glass?

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 31, 2018

Equipped with only a magnifying glass and the light of the Sun, it’s pretty easy to start a fire.1 So, with a much bigger glass, could you start a fire with moonlight?

First, here’s a general rule of thumb: You can’t use lenses and mirrors to make something hotter than the surface of the light source itself. In other words, you can’t use sunlight to make something hotter than the surface of the Sun.

There are lots of ways to show why this is true using optics, but a simpler — if perhaps less satisfying — argument comes from thermodynamics:

Lenses and mirrors work for free; they don’t take any energy to operate.[2] If you could use lenses and mirrors to make heat flow from the Sun to a spot on the ground that’s hotter than the Sun, you’d be making heat flow from a colder place to a hotter place without expending energy. The second law of thermodynamics says you can’t do that. If you could, you could make a perpetual motion machine.

In a better world, Randall Munroe would be writing middle school science textbooks.

  1. A few summers ago when I was showing my kids how to do this, I started futzing with the small pile of tissue paper and pine needles we’d assembled and forgot about the magnifying glass I was holding…until I felt a searing pain in my leg and looked down to see a bit of smoke curling up from my slightly toasted thigh. Kids, do as dad says, not as he does.

14 Rules for Maintaining Your Sanity Online

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 31, 2018

In an issue of The Discourse, Sean Blanda shared a list of rules for interacting with others online while maintaining your sanity. Among them are:

4. Take a second.

6. If an online space makes more money the more time you spend on it, use sparingly.

8. Try to give people the benefit of the doubt, be charitable in how you read people’s ideas.

10. Create the kind of communities and ideas you want people to talk about.

12. You don’t always have the moral high ground. You are not always right.

Berthe Morisot, the Forgotten Pioneer of Impressionist Painting

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 31, 2018

Berthe Morisot

Berthe Morisot

Berthe Morisot

Manet, Degas, Renoir, Monet, and Morisot. You’ve likely not heard of that last one, but Berthe Morisot was one of the founding members of painting’s Impressionist movement and because of a new retrospective exhibition, she’s finally getting her due. Berthe Morisot: Woman Impressionist is a collaboration among five museums from around the world and is currently on display at The Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia (though only until January 14). Peter Schjeldahl’s review for the New Yorker calls Morisot “the most interesting artist of her generation”.

About half of the sixty-eight paintings in the show remain in private collections. But, aside from a few partial failures that instructively exemplify risks Morisot took, they are all more than museum-worthy. Morisot is still emerging from the margins of the Impressionist club of certified alphas, betas, and minions, but the priority for valuing her work is not just the issuing of retroactive membership. It’s re-seeing and rethinking the whole history of modern art from the perspective of women who never stood a chance of major attainment. In a different world, Morisot would be the doyenne of an established tradition that built and expanded on her example.

If you miss the show at the Barnes, the exhibition will be touring the other supporting museums, including the Dallas Museum of Art (Feb 24 - May 26, 2019) and the Musée d’Orsay (June 18, Sept 22, 2019).

Women’s Rights and the Policing of Pregnancy

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 28, 2018

The New York Times is running a series of editorials on the erosion of women’s rights in the American judicial system at the expense of extending rights to “clusters of cells that have not yet developed into viable human beings”.

You might be surprised to learn that in the United States a woman coping with the heartbreak of losing her pregnancy might also find herself facing jail time. Say she got in a car accident in New York or gave birth to a stillborn in Indiana: In such cases, women have been charged with manslaughter.

In fact, a fetus need not die for the state to charge a pregnant woman with a crime. Women who fell down the stairs, who ate a poppy seed bagel and failed a drug test or who took legal drugs during pregnancy — drugs prescribed by their doctors — all have been accused of endangering their children.

The introduction also contains a reminder that Republicans were for abortion rights until they realized it was politically advantageous for them to rail against them to rile up evangelicals and divide Democrats:

Out of concern for individual freedom, the Republican Party once treated abortion as a private matter. When Ronald Reagan was governor of California, he signed one of the most liberal abortion laws in the land, in 1967. As late as 1972, a Gallup poll found that 68 percent of Republicans thought that the decision to have an abortion should be made solely by a woman and her doctor.

“Little Man Little Man”, a Children’s Book by James Baldwin

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 28, 2018

Little Man Baldwin

In 1976, James Baldwin and artist Yoran Cazac released a children’s book called Little Man Little Man: A Story of Childhood.

Four-year-old TJ spends his days on his lively Harlem block playing with his best friends WT and Blinky and running errands for neighbors. As he comes of age as a “Little Man” with big dreams, TJ faces a world of grown-up adventures and realities. Baldwin’s only children’s book, Little Man, Little Man celebrates and explores the challenges and joys of black childhood.

The book received mixed reviews and quickly went out of print. Baldwin’s family pushed for a reissue and a few months ago, an updated edition was released, which includes essays from Baldwin’s nephew and niece (who were the inspiration for two of the book’s characters) and Baldwin scholars. The NY Times review has more on how the book and the reissue came about.

Baldwin was daunted by the assignment. When he spoke to a group of students in 1979, he described how challenging it was to write a children’s book.

“I must tell you, I was very frightened to try to write a children’s story or a story for children, because first of all, I think children object to being called children,” he said. “The one thing a child cannot bear is to be talked down to, to be patronized, to be talked to in baby talk. So what I tried to do was put myself inside the minds of the kids in my story, trying to remember what I myself was like when I was a kid, and the way I sounded, and the way TJ sounds.”

Barack Obama’s Favorite Books of 2018

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 28, 2018

As he does every year, President Obama shared his favorite reads of the year on Facebook, books that he found “thought-provoking, inspiring, or just plain loved”. Among them are:

Becoming by Michelle Obama.
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
Why Liberalism Failed by Patrick Deneen.
Warlight by Michael Ondaatje.
How Democracies Die by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt.

This year, Obama also shared his favorite movies and songs. The movie list contains some pretty interesting entries: Annihilation, The Death of Stalin, Shoplifters, Won’t You Be My Neighbor. I wonder if he sees these in the theater or via Netflix/Apple/Amazon or he just gets a ton of screeners from the studios?

And Mr. President, let me know if you ever want to contribute a guest media diet post…I will try to squeeze you into my editorial calendar.

The Best Movie Posters of 2018

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 28, 2018

Movie Posters 2018

Movie Posters 2018

Movie Posters 2018

Movie Posters 2018

Check out these and many other top posters of the year at Creative Review, The Playlist, Little White Lies, and MUBI Notebook.

The Very Slow Movie Player

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 27, 2018

My pal Bryan Boyer has built a device he calls a VSMP (Very Slow Movie Player). It’s an e-paper display that shows a movie not at 24 frames/sec but at 24 frames per hour.

Films are vain creatures that typically demand a dark room, full attention, and eager eyeballs ready to accept light beamed from the screen or projector to your visual cortex. VSMP inverts all of that. It is impossible to “watch” in a traditional way because it’s too slow. In a staring contest with VSMP you will always lose. It can be noticed, glanced-at, or even inspected, but not watched. That’s one of the things I like about the Bill Viola pieces. You don’t watch them because they’re not films; they’re portraits so you see them, and it just so happens that you see them in four dimensions.

Ahhh, look at this gloriously retro aesthetic:

2001

His whole essay about the project is worth reading for the thoughtful insights throughout. I totally want a wall-sized VSMP in my bedroom.

Update: Inspired by the VSMP, Jon Bell built a web page that will show Sofia Coppola’s Lost In Translation stretched out over the course of the next year. You can watch here.

Update: Inspired by the projects above, Nic Magnier made Yearlong Koyaanisqatsi, a Twitter bot that will show Godfrey Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi very slowly over the course of the next year, one frame every 6 hours.

The Effect of Populist Leaders on Democracies

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 27, 2018

In an effort to discover what effect populist leaders have on democratic institutions, a pair of researchers, Harvard’s Yascha Mounk and Jordan Kyle of the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, compiled a list of 46 populist leaders & parties that have been in power in democracies from 1990 until now. Then they looked at how those leaders affected those governmental systems in those countries. Their conclusions were not encouraging: “Populists are highly skilled at staying in power and pose an acute danger to democratic institutions.”

Populists aren’t just more likely to win reelection once or twice; they are also much more likely to remain in power for well over a decade. Six years after they are first elected, populist leaders are twice as likely as non-populist leaders to still be in power; twelve years after they are first elected, they are more than five times as likely.

Arguably, these findings are not, in themselves, all that concerning: The longer survival rate for populists may simply reflect their efficiency or popularity. But among populist leaders who entered office between 1990 and 2015, only a small minority left office as a result of the normal democratic process.

In fact, only 17 percent of populists stepped down after they lost free and fair elections. Another 17 percent vacated high office after they reached their term limits. But 23 percent left office under more dramatic circumstances — they were impeached or forced to resign. Another 30 percent of all populist leaders in our database remain in power to this day. This is partially a function of the recent rise of populism: Thirty-six percent of those populist rulers who still remain in power were elected over the past five years. But even more of them have been in office long enough to raise serious concerns: About half have led their country for at least nine years.

The most important issue, however, is neither how long populists stay in office nor even how they ultimately leave, but what they do with their power-and, in particular, whether their tenure causes what political scientists call “democratic backsliding,” a significant deterioration in the extent to which the citizens enjoy basic rights.

Here, too, our findings were sobering, to say the least: In many countries, populists rewrote the rules of the game to permanently tilt the electoral playing field in their favor. Indeed, an astounding 50 percent of populists either rewrote or amended their country’s constitution when they gained power, frequently with the aim of eliminating presidential term limits and reducing checks and balances on executive power.

Their full paper is available here, which shows that left-wing populism is almost as bad as right-wing populism:

Between 1990 and 2014, 13 right-wing populist governments were elected; of these, five have significantly curtailed civil liberties and political rights, as measured by Freedom House. Over the same period, 15 left-wing populist governments were elected; of these, the same number reduced such freedoms. (Over the same period, there were also 17 populist governments that cannot easily be classified as either right- or left-wing; again, five of these governments diminished civil liberties and political rights.) Although this indicates a slightly higher rate of backsliding among right-wing populists than left-wing ones (38 per cent vs. 33 per cent), these data clearly contradict the belief that left-wing populism does not pose a threat to democracy.

AI-Generated Human Faces That Look Amazingly Real

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 27, 2018

The opening line of Madeline Miller’s Circe is: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” In Miller’s telling of the mythological story, Circe was the daughter of a Titan and a sea nymph (a lesser deity born of two Titans). Yes, she was an immortal deity but lacked the powers and bearing of a god or a nymph, making her seem unnervingly human. Not knowing what to make of her and for their own safety, the Titans and Olympic gods agreed to banish her forever to an island.

Here’s a photograph of a woman who could also claim “when I was born, the name for what I was did not exist”:

AI Faces

The previous line contains two lies: this is not a photograph and that’s not a real person. It’s an image generated by an AI program developed by researchers at NVIDIA capable of borrowing styles from two actual photographs of real people to produce an infinite number of fake but human-like & photograph-like images.

AI Faces

We propose an alternative generator architecture for generative adversarial networks, borrowing from style transfer literature. The new architecture leads to an automatically learned, unsupervised separation of high-level attributes (e.g., pose and identity when trained on human faces) and stochastic variation in the generated images (e.g., freckles, hair), and it enables intuitive, scale-specific control of the synthesis.

The video offers a good look at how this works, with realistic facial features that you can change with a slider, like adjusting the volume on your stereo.

Photographs that aren’t photographs and people that aren’t people, born of a self-learning machine developed by humans. We’ll want to trust these images because they look so real, especially once they start moving and talking. I wonder…will we soon seek to banish them for our own safety as the gods banished Circe?

Update: This Person Does Not Exist is a single serving site that provides a new portrait of a non-existent person with each reload.

Black Mirror: Bandersnatch

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 27, 2018

The trailer for Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, a feature-length special premiering tomorrow (12/28) on Netflix:

In 1984, a young programmer begins to question reality as he adapts a sprawling fantasy novel into a video game and soon faces a mind-mangling challenge. Welcome back.

What if Stranger Things but Black Mirror?

Update: There were rumors that an upcoming Black Mirror episode would feature a Choose Your Own Adventure style narrative. Well, it appears that Bandersnatch is that episode. From Variety:

“Bandersnatch” comes with five possible endings. Viewers who choose the quickest path, and decide against any do-overs, can make it through the film in around 40 minutes. The average viewing time is around 90 minutes.

Altogether, there are over a trillion unique permutations of the story. However, this also includes relatively simple iterations that don’t necessarily alter the story itself. For instance, one of the first decisions is helping Stefan to choose which cereal to eat in the morning. “We want [viewers] to have a successful choice early on,” said Engelbrecht.

The Top 10 Title Sequences of 2018

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 27, 2018

From the Art of the Title, the picks for the best opening credits sequences of the year. Their #1 is Babylon Berlin, which would have been my pick as well.

Babylon Berlin Titles

The list also includes the titles for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which might be the most visually inventive box office #1 in recent memory.

Interestingly, two of the sequences on the list aren’t from film or TV but from conferences: Semi Permanent 2018 and Made In The Middle 2018. Only three out of the ten were from movies.

Chuck Jones’s Trick for Drawing Animal Legs

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 26, 2018

For the past few hundred million years, the legs of vertebrate animals have evolved into many different forms and shapes. But for many animals, there’s an underlying similarity as well. In his book Chuck Amuck, legendary animator Chuck Jones used a simple technique to help visualize how to accurately draw the feet and legs of various animals: he drew shoes and socks on them.

Chuck Jones Animal Legs

Using a Chuck Taylor-style shoe, Jones’s intuitive drawings show where each animal’s ankle and knee are simply by the placement of circular “All-Star” patch on the shoe and the height of the socks just below the knee. These are keen and illuminating anatomical observations that would have made Leonardo da Vinci proud.

Ok, that’s footwear all sorted. But how should a dog wear pants?

Dog Wore Pants

Or a chicken?

Chicken Wore Pants

Or an AT-AT?

Atat Wore Pants

I wish Jones was still around to settle this.

My Recent Media Diet for Late 2018

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 26, 2018

I’ve been keeping track of every media thing I “consume”, so here are quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, heard, and experienced in the last month or so. Look for 2018 media recap sometime later this week.

Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs. Under-read and under-remarked upon by the tech press…but if you read this just for the Steve Jobs bits, you’re really missing out. (A)

The Good Place. Not quite as charmed by this as everyone else, but I’d definitely listen to a weekly hour-long podcast that goes deeper into the philosophy featured in each episode. (B+)

Outlaw King. Not so bad if you’re in the mood for medieval battles. (B)

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. A letdown after the first film, which has gotten better every time I’ve rewatched it. Way too much exposition and not enough fun. By the end, I was bored. My kids said they liked it but without much conviction in their voices. (C+)

Bodyguard. Some shows, even my all-time favorites, took a few episodes to get into. Bodyguard hooked me after 5 minutes. (A-)

Function. A podcast on “how technology is shaping culture and communications” hosted by my pal Anil Dash. (I listened to the Should Twitter Have an Edit Button? episode.) The podcast reproduces to a remarkable degree the experience & content of dinner conversation with Anil. (B+)

Andy Warhol - From A to B and Back Again. I was personally underwhelmed by this, possibly because I’ve seen so much Warhol and read so much about him and his work? (B)

Hilma Af Klint Gugg

Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future. Absolutely thrilling, like discovering a secret room in your house. Many thanks to Chrysanthe for the nudge. (A)

The Odyssey translated by Emily Wilson. Finally finished reading this with the kids. Everyone loved it. (A)

Yotam Ottolenghi’s green gazpacho. It was hardly the season for it, but I was jonesing for the green gazpacho dish that my favorite restaurant used to serve. I took a guess that they used Ottolenghi’s recipe…naaaaaailed it. Delicious with some shrimp and croutons. Will use less garlic next time though. (A-)

Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay. There’s probably a better movie to be made of Jay’s life, but this was sufficient for my purposes. (B)

Fawlty Towers. Passing on the family tradition of watching old British comedies to my children. Some of the best television ever made, yessiree. (A)

Ralph Breaks the Internet. Perhaps this is small-minded, but I really wanted to see a little kottke.org shop in the background when Ralph and Vanellope are bopping around Internet City, like a tiny boutique next to BuzzzTube or something. (B+)

The Favourite. Delightful and fun. Loved it. (A-)

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. The Coen brothers, perfectly tuned to the streaming TV format. The stories reminded me a bit of Roald Dahl’s The Tales of the Unexpected. (A-)

Can You Ever Forgive Me? Great acting, particularly from Melissa McCarthy. She reminded me of a young Kathy Bates in this. (B+)

The Day After Tomorrow. I’ve seen this movie probably 10 times and it seems more and more plausible with each viewing. (A)

Circe by Madeline Miller. I am enjoying this trend of old stories told from new vantage points. (A-)

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. I was charmed by the first three episodes but the rest wasn’t as entertaining. People kept changing their entire personalities from episode to episode and we’re supposed to just go along with that? I don’t agree with all of it, but I loved reading Emily Nussbaum’s pan of the show for the New Yorker. (B-)

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Visually dazzling and by far my favorite Spider-Man movie, but I preferred Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War. This movie is much more “comics-y” than the live-action Marvel movies and despite much effort, I am just not a comics guy. (B)

Dr Mario

Dr. Mario. Used to play this a lot when I was a kid. Still fun. Would love a networked version to play against friends. (B+)

My Brilliant Friend. About halfway through and enjoying it, but it’s just not the book (which I loved). (B+)

My Brilliant Friend soundtrack. Max Richter, enough said. (A-)

Summer Games. This track off of Drake’s Scorpion has grabbed my attention lately. I love the Chariots of Fire + NES Track and Field vibe of the music. (B+)

On Being with Anand Giridharadas. An interview about his book, Winners Take All. (B+)

The Ezra Klein Show with Anand Giridharadas. This episode was referenced in the On Being interview above and is slightly better because Klein pushes back on Giridharadas’s argument and makes him work a little harder. (B+)

Why Is This Happening? with Ta-Nehisi Coates. They talk politics & racism but also how to focus on what’s important to you, even if it means quitting Twitter. (B+)

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

A Massive Ice-Filled Crater on Mars

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 26, 2018

Korolev Crater

Korolev Crater

ESA’s Mars Express mission recently photographed the Korolev crater on Mars, filled almost to the brim with water ice.1 When I first saw this image I thought, oh cute!, assuming the crater was maybe a few dozen feet across. But no, it’s about 51 miles across and the thickest part of the ice is over a mile thick.

This ever-icy presence is due to an interesting phenomenon known as a ‘cold trap’, which occurs as the name suggests. The crater’s floor is deep, lying some two kilometres vertically beneath its rim.

The very deepest parts of Korolev crater, those containing ice, act as a natural cold trap: the air moving over the deposit of ice cools down and sinks, creating a layer of cold air that sits directly above the ice itself.

Behaving as a shield, this layer helps the ice remain stable and stops it from heating up and disappearing. Air is a poor conductor of heat, exacerbating this effect and keeping Korolev crater permanently icy.

Update: Just to clarify slightly, the top image was generated using photographs taken by Mars Express and a terrain map, so it’s technically not a photograph but is like the oblique view in Google Maps. The bottom image is a composite of five photographs. (via @ryanguill)

  1. Mars also has CO2 ice, so you have to specify.

Kottke.org’s Best of 2018, Parts 1 and 2

posted by Tim Carmody   Dec 21, 2018

2018 light bulb.jpg

Subscribers to Noticing, the Kottke.org newsletter, have already seen our two-part Best of 2018 series, published on Thursday the 20th and Friday the 21st. We decided to split the best-of into two parts, with the first letter, the A-Sides, focusing on the 50 most popular posts of the year, and the second, the B-Sides, collecting our personal favorites.

For the B-Sides, Jason and I each submitted lists of posts we wanted to include, and after discarding redundancies, it turned out that the number of “favorite” posts was an even 100. I’d expected to write up about fifty, which was the number of the first newsletter. But that century mark felt like a sign, and a challenge I wanted to meet. So, fuck it; we wrote up the full 100.

Here’s an excerpt from the first newsletter:

Mapping cities, the planet, the stars

A number of the year’s best posts, as always, featured maps. A literal world map stars countries with the literal translations of their names. A map of the world after four degrees of warming is sobering, if not outright depressing. (Spoiler: most of the places where lots of people live will become hostile to the point of unliveable.) A map of the world where the sizes of countries is determined by their population has a similar “whoa!” effect, making you rethink the distribution of the planet. But maybe nothing is more “whoa!” than a timeline map of the 200,000 year history of human civilization, starting with migrations out of sub-Saharan Africa and following human travel and development through to the present.

We’ve reached the point in our development where we don’t necessarily need cartography to map our surroundings; photography will do the job. Even in 1920, photographers were able to capture stunning aerial photographs like cities, like these snaps of Edinburgh. These days, you can take aerial panoramas from 20,000 feet using as something as ubiquitous as an iPhone. Or use a fractal lens to take pictures of Tokyo, bending yourself into the future from that great contemporary city.

We now know what high-resolution photos of the Earth taken from the surface of the moon look like. We know how our seemingly geometric road grids subtly correct themselves for the curvature of the Earth’s surface. And we can even photograph black holes — or rather, watch stars in orbit around black holes, using a twenty-year time lapse. (Twenty years? Huh.)

That “twenty years” bit is a callback, as Kottke.org turned 20 this year.

And here is an excerpt from the B-Sides issue, which is, let’s just say, more dense:

The Year In Inspiration



Consider the fable of the dragon-tyrant. Literally, it’s about the possibility of extending the human lifespan and human flourishing, instead of sacrificing the young and old alike to the tyranny of death. But allegorically, as Jason writes, “humanity has lots of dragons sitting on mountaintops, devouring people, waiting for a change in the world’s perspective or technology or culture to meet its doom.”

Consider, too, the calmness of airline pilots. In the midst of disaster, good pilots actually get calmer, and this helps them solve their problems.

Do you need to get yourself out of a funk? Or console or otherwise help a grieving friend? Think about what Augustine says about hope: hope stretches us out across time. It makes our hearts bigger in order to contain it. And all our secular hopes help to prepare us for the great hope to come, that all might be redeemed and made perfect, and we can find our true place in the cosmos. Think about Dean Allen, one of the kindest and most talented people in the tech universe, and whether or not he’s found the peace that eluded him — that eludes us all — on Earth.

We are, all of us, explorers and hermits, both searching for adventure and longing for routine. This is why, despite it all, it is some small comfort to know that humans right now are better at Tetris than they have ever been. And that if we decide to move to Los Angeles, we’ll have to solve a lot of problems with ourselves first: “How do you help care for the city that drew you in, rather than allow your presence to steamroll its culture?” And, to generalize: how can we care for 2019, as we’re drawn inexorably into its vortex, rather than allow it to steamroll us all?

It’s been a great year. I’ve loved writing this newsletter, and being able to chime in with my Friday posts and occasional guest weeks. (Guest editor Chrysanthe Tenentes put up some great posts this year as well.) Cheers to Jason for continuing to host the best blog in the universe. Here’s to more and better in 2019. Here’s to blogs making their inevitable comeback. Here’s to another twenty years.

Towards the Future Book

posted by Tim Carmody   Dec 21, 2018

Kyle Bean - The Future of the Book.jpg

Writing in Wired, Craig Mod expertly dissects both the e-book revolution that never happened and the quieter one that actually did:

The Future Book was meant to be interactive, moving, alive. Its pages were supposed to be lush with whirling doodads, responsive, hands-on. The old paperback Zork choose-your-own-adventures were just the start. The Future Book would change depending on where you were, how you were feeling. It would incorporate your very environment into its story—the name of the coffee shop you were sitting at, your best friend’s birthday. It would be sly, maybe a little creepy. Definitely programmable. Ulysses would extend indefinitely in any direction you wanted to explore; just tap and some unique, mega-mind-blowing sui generis path of Joycean machine-learned words would wend itself out before your very eyes.

Prognostications about how technology would affect the form of paper books have been with us for centuries. Each new medium was poised to deform or murder the book: newspapers, photography, radio, movies, television, videogames, the internet.

That isn’t what happened. The book was neither murdered nor fundamentally transformed in its appearance, its networked quality, or its multimedia status. But the people and technologies around the book all did fundamentally change, and arguably, changed for the better.

Our Future Book is composed of email, tweets, YouTube videos, mailing lists, crowdfunding campaigns, PDF to .mobi converters, Amazon warehouses, and a surge of hyper-affordable offset printers in places like Hong Kong.

For a “book” is just the endpoint of a latticework of complex infrastructure, made increasingly accessible. Even if the endpoint stays stubbornly the same—either as an unchanging Kindle edition or simple paperback—the universe that produces, breathes life into, and supports books is changing in positive, inclusive ways, year by year. The Future Book is here and continues to evolve. You’re holding it. It’s exciting. It’s boring. It’s more important than it has ever been.

This is all clever, sharply observed, and best of all, true. But Craig is a very smart man, so I want to push him a little bit.

What he’s describing is the present book. The present book is an instantiation of the future book, in St. Augustine’s sense of the interconnectedness and unreality of the past, future, and eternity in the ephemerality of the present, sure. But what motivated discussions of the future book throughout the 20th and in the early 21st century was the animating force of the idea that the book had a future that was different from the present, whose seeds we could locate in the present but whose tree was yet to flourish. Craig Mod gives us a mature forest and says, “behold, the future.” But the present state of the book and discussions around the book feel as if that future has been foreclosed on; that all the moves that were left to be made have already been made, with Amazon the dominant inertial force locking the entire ecosystem into place.

But, in the entire history of the book, these moments of inertia have always been temporary. The ecosystem doesn’t remain locked in forever. So right now, Amazon, YouTube, and Kickstarter are the dominant players. Mailchimp being joined by Substack feels a little like Coke being joined by Pepsi; sure, it’s great to have the choice of a new generation, but the flavor is basically the same. So where is the next disruption going to come from?

I think the utopian moment for the future of the book ended not when Amazon routed its vendors and competitors, although the Obama DOJ deserves some blame in retrospect for handing them that win. I think it ended when the Google Books settlement died, leading to Google Books becoming, basically abandonware, when it was initially supposed to be the true Library of Babel. I think that project, the digitization of all printed matter, available for full-text search and full-image browsing on any device, and possible conversion to audio formats and chopped up into newsletters, and whatever way you want to re-imagine these old and new books, remains the gold standard for the future of the book.

There are many people and institutions still working on making this approach reality. The Library of Congress’s new digital-first, user-focused mission statement is inspiring. The Internet Archive continues to do the Lord’s work in digitizing and making available our digital heritage. HathiTrust is still one of the best ideas I’ve ever heard. The retrenchment of the Digital Public Library of America is a huge blow. But the basic idea of linking together libraries and cultural institutions into an enormous network with the goal of making their collections available in common is an idea that will never die.

I think there’s a huge commercial future for the book, and for reading more broadly, rooted in the institutions of the present that Craig identifies: crowdfunding, self-publishing, Amazon as a portal, email newsletters, etc. etc. But the noncommercial future of the book is where all the messianic energy still remains. It’s still the greatest opportunity and the hardest problem we have before us. It’s the problem that our generation has to solve. And at the moment, we’re nowhere.

Against Peter Jackson’s “They Shall Not Grow Old”

posted by Tim Carmody   Dec 21, 2018

W.H. Auden, Jacques Barzun, and Lionel Trilling once published a rather unusual review of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. In it, they write:

What a relief to resist what one can entirely respect and even admire! What a comfort it is to be not always defending oneself from vulgarity, or enlightened stupidity, or the masked cliché, or smallness of aim, but sometimes to stand out against the force of greatness.

Peter Jackson’s They Shall Not Grow Old is not Finnegans Wake, but it is a stunning technical achievement made by a filmmaker and producer at the top of their form. If I had seen it in my twenties, when I was obsessed with the Great War, with war in general, and with films that emphasized both the quotidian and the unthinkable nature of violence, I would have doubtlessly been very taken with it. But as I am today, given everything I’ve learned about cinema and the universe, I can’t help but refuse and reject this picture in the strongest possible terms. It is a brilliant film that is also, unfortunately, a total mistake.

I’m not interested in films that plunge themselves headlong into violence any more. I’m not interested in the manipulation of multitudinous evidence to tell a simple, linear story. I’m not interested in British soldiers fighting Germans on the Western Front, telling stories about their time in the trenches. I came to the film looking for a story I hadn’t seen or heard before, and those stories were nowhere to be found.

To be sure, the best parts of the film are about the everyday life of soldiers: what they ate, what they wore, the things they carried, how they kept themselves clean, how they occupied themselves in downtime, how they made tea using water heated by tank chassis and took a shit by sitting six abreast on a long pole. This is rich material.

The problem, however, is principally who gets to tell their story, and how their story is told. Peter Jackson took hundreds of hours of archival film footage, and later audio recordings of veterans made by the BBC, and artfully juxtaposes the two.

Despite the many voices, it is almost as if a single soldier is telling his story: he enlisted young because he felt a peculiarly British call of duty, and to alleviate boredom on the home front; he trained and drilled relentlessly until his body was whipped into shape; he was dispatched to fight and kill Germans in defense of France; he visited brothels and became a man; he was gassed and recovered, wounded and recovered; he dodged artillery shells launched by both the enemy and his own side; and he killed Germans in a heroic over-the-top charge across the no-man’s land that soon ended the war; he returned to ungrateful civilians who couldn’t possibly understand the horrors he’d seen, and how they’d forever changed him.

Any differences between these men, of class, of region, of age or experience, of height and weight, of rank or distinction achieved during the war, are completely washed away. They are simply young British infantrymen, made entirely generic and interchangeable. This is whose experience we’re getting in the film: not any particular men with individual stories, but a monolith.

Jackson can do this because he’s already selected these soldiers for their homogeneity. He tells us after the film that he’s discarded any footage that falls outside what really is a quite narrow view of the war and the people who fought it. He’s not interested in any of the other fronts of the war or the nations who fought in it. He has hours of footage of aircraft and pilots. He doesn’t use them. He has footage of women working as nurses and drivers and support staff, on and around the battlefield. He discards it. He has really quite stunning footage of women working in factories to produce the arms and gear that he so lovingly dotes on when they’re in his beloved soldiers’ possession. He throws it away. And, he tells us, he chose not to tell the story of the British colonial soldiers, men from all over the world, or their allies, including Chinese soldiers who fought on the Western front, or white or black Americans or anyone else.

He takes the “world” out of the first world war. And then, he tells us, unbelievably, that this extremely diluted, abstract take on the British soldier could stand in for any soldier who fought in the war. Whether they were German, Canadian, American, Polish, Turkish, or Russian, he thinks their experience of the war was likely very much the same as the British soldiers whose stories he smashes together.

Ask a black American soldier, fighting in a segregated regiment, whether his experience of the war was the same as the British soldiers he fought besides. Ask one of the Arab irregulars immortalized and distorted in Lawrence of Arabia what it was like to fight across German soldiers, who turned out to be really not so different after all, in trenches. Ask the African soldiers who fought and died in Europe. Ask what their equipment situation was, whether they got paid, or what their lives were like when the war ended. Ask the civilians whose lives were uprooted by these soldiers killing and destroying the countryside in their midst. Ask one of the women who cranked out artillery shells in the factory only to be turned away from her job at the war’s end whether or not anyone else could really understand her wartime experience.

Go ahead, ask them. I’ll wait.

Because Jackson didn’t have any footage of hand-to-hand combat, he chose instead to do a kind of Ken-Burns-effect dramatic pan over contemporary cartoons from war magazines. The trouble is that, as Jackson notes, these were racist propaganda magazines that he just happened (for some reason?) to have a complete personal collection of. But, he promises, he and his editors avoided the most egregiously racist images.

Jackson’s depiction of violence in this movie is jolting. One technique he loves is to pick a voice-over of a veteran describing the death of a friend that he witnessed, laying this audio over a zoom-in of a soldier smiling and laughing, then quick-cutting to a dead body lying in a heap, with blood and bodily matter everywhere. The blood isn’t the matted black stuff of reality that the men saw, but a sickly, B-movie red.

If you loved watching orcs get their heads split open in The Lord of the Rings, you will love this movie. If you loved Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan, or any war movie that substituted blood and guts for gritty realism, you will love this movie. If however, you think, as I do, that these films, while works of a kind of genius, ultimately worked to manipulate our emotions and make us less feeling and less human, you will have huge problems with this movie.

Ultimately, at this point in my life, when movies like Moonlight and If Beale Street Could Talk and Creed and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse exist, I’m less interested in brutality for brutality’s sake, and much more interested in the possibility of love between fully realized, lovingly rendered human beings. I’m much less interested in white people’s stories, and the white man’s gaze, especially when they are stories we have heard so many times before, from a point of view that everyone is expected to pretend has no differences from their own.

You will learn nothing about love in They Shall Not Grow Old. You will learn nothing about World War 1 that you didn’t already know if you’d read a few Wilfred Owen poems and skimmed a high school history book. You honestly learn very little that you don’t learn from the trailer.

You get no sense of what the war was about, why it was fought, how it changed anything, or why it mattered, or even if it did matter. The world that it shows is seen through a peephole in a trench, made by a boy who fantasized about reliving his grandfather’s experiences.

That peephole is not a door that can take you anywhere. The shift from a narrow, small black and white screen to a full-screen 3D color experience is just a camera trick. You never left Kansas, not even for a minute.

In an ideal world, Jackson will return to all that footage he left behind, and make the film he should have made, telling the stories of the war that truly have not already been told. As it stands, though, this film is a paltry thing, a tattered coat upon a stick. In trying to celebrate their heroism, it distorts and distends the memories of all those who died in the war, who didn’t return to tell their stories.

There died a myriad,
And of the best, among them,
For an old bitch gone in the teeth,
For a botched civilization.

Charm, smiling at the good mouth,
Quick eyes gone under earth’s lid,

For two gross of broken statues,
For a few thousand battered books.

Deadwood Returns

posted by Tim Carmody   Dec 21, 2018

Swearengen.jpg

More than twelve years after the original, beloved TV series was cancelled, the Deadwood movie is very real. The entire core cast has been reassembled, shooting began this fall, and Entertainment Weekly has behind-the-scenes stills that are, well, very exciting.

That’s 76-year-old Ian McShane as barman Al Swearengen above, and below is Timothy Olyphant as now-venerable lawman Seth Bullock. Jesus, they both look great.

Bullock.jpg

Producer Carolyn Strauss gives the following notes on where the Deadwood movie is taking these characters:

The movie is set in 1889 as the town prepares to celebrate South Dakota joining the Union as the 40th state. What’s the film about, basically?
If you ask David, it’s about the passage of time. The toll of time on people. It’s mellowed some people and hardened others. And it’s about the town’s maturing and becoming part of the Union and what that event sets in motion, in a very personal way for the people that it brings in town and what ensues. The toll of time has not just struck Deadwood and the characters but all the people making it as well, you get to see the faces of people 12 years later. And it was really profound. Actors were crying at the table read — not necessarily from the script but the emotion of being back and doing something we all loved doing so much. You normally have a great experience and then it’s over. You don’t normally get the chance to do this in life. It was kind of a gift.

Al Swearengen was of the driver of much of the action in the series, can you give us a sense of what he’s up to?
The time has taken its greatest toll on Swearengen. He’s the person who really drove so much of the life of the town and there’s a sense of that power waning somewhat, and what ensues of that is a big part of the story.

I can go back and forth on the relative “greatest TV show ever” merits of The Wire or The Sopranos, but Deadwood is the show that’s meant the most to me. I’ll always contend that the first season is the best single season of television ever. And the scene below, when Bullock confronts Alma Garrett’s reprobate father who’s out to steal her gold mine, is the single greatest sequence in television history.

It’s just so magnificently constructed. The wordless, claustrophobic tension, as seemingly the entire town (except Al — Al’s not leaving his bar) intuits that lightning is about to strike in the middle of their camp. The actors’ wordless gestures to each other, that convey so much care and nervous energy. The artful cutting from one part of town to the next, without ever breaking from the overall impression that everything is happening in real time. The barely concealed sexuality of it all, in the middle of the violence. And the beautiful use of rack focus, as single shots flip from one character’s reaction to another. It’s claustrophobic and expansive all at once.

And as Joanie Stubbs tells Alma later, “if he was here, I’d wish a beating on my daddy mornings and evenings like your pa took today.”

I have a quote that I’ve kept in my Twitter bio for years. “Everything changes — don’t be afraid.” It’s a motto I’ve tried to live my life by, and it is, of course, from Deadwood.

Another scene that’s meant a lot to me is Reverend Smith’s quoting from 1 Corinthians at Wild Bill Hickok’s funeral. “For the body is not one member, but many” becomes, in David Milch’s reworking, a spiritually animated philosophy of community. It is a politics, and a form of politics we would do well not to forget.

The New Yorker’s 2005 profile of writer/creator/showrunner/polymath David Milch is one of my favorite pieces ever to appear in the magazine. It does an outstanding job of expanding on the philosophy encapsulated in the Reverend’s speech:

When Milch speaks, it’s with a natural storyteller’s alert, legato fluidity. His hands stay busy and he projects a cerebral intensity. He has brown eyes, a wide mouth, a strong nose, dark hair that he refuses to let go gray—he turns sixty this year—and the pale fleshiness of someone who doesn’t expose himself much to sunlight. “There’s a story by Hawthorne, ‘Ethan Brand,’ about a man who goes out looking for the unpardonable sin,” he continued. “He discovers that it’s the violation of the sanctity of another person’s heart. To use an instrument to open up another person without a loving, terrified humility is the unpardonable sin. That’s what medicine does, and Cochran has done it too much. At the beginning, he falls back on his fear. But then, in apprehending for just a moment the suffering of the others in the room with Swearengen, he’s able to go past it and he finds that the minute one person is brave the spirit comes alive. What I’m trying to suggest to the actors is that the modern situation is predicated upon the illusion of the self’s isolation—that business of ‘I’m alone, you’re alone, we can bullshit each other when we’re fucking or whatever else, but the truth is we’re alone. Right?’ Well, I believe that that is fundamentally an illusion.”

The Deadwood movie is now easily my most anticipated movie/TV show/anything of 2019.

How to Build a Dyson Sphere

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 20, 2018

Perhaps the most fundamental way to think about the Universe is in terms of energy. Even when you get away from physics and chemistry (where energy is obviously central) and into a topic like human history or economics, following how and where energy flows can be enlightening. In 1964, Soviet astronomer Nikolai Kardashev proposed thinking about the progress of human civilization in terms of how much energy we were capable of harnessing. On the Kardashev scale, a Type I civilization would be capable of using all of the energy available on their planet, a Type II civilization could use all the energy from their local star, and a Type III civilization could harness all the energy in a galaxy.

According to an equation suggested by Carl Sagan, humans are currently sitting at ~73% of a Type I civilization. But once we reach that milestone in perhaps a few hundred years (assuming we don’t blow ourselves up in the process), the construction of a Dyson sphere or, more likely, a Dyson swarm around the Sun is probably the key to eventually hitting Type II. In the video above, Kurzgesagt explores what would go into building some type of Dyson structure capable of harvesting most of the Sun’s energy. For starters, we’d probably have to completely dismantle the planet Mercury in order to have enough raw materials to build the swarm.

A Short History of Computer-Generated Visual Effects

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 20, 2018

While it’s billed as “How Pixar Helped Win 27 of the Last 30 Oscars for Visual Effects”, this video from Wired works pretty well as a short history of computer-generated visual effects, from the Genesis visualization in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan to Jurassic Park’s dinosaurs to Pixar’s own Coco.

Die Hard, the Greatest Christmas Story

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 20, 2018

The tradition of fans recutting trailers and clips of movies and TV shows into different genres — like Toy Story as a horror film and The Shining as a romantic comedy — has been around almost as long as YouTube itself. But I think this trailer by 20th Century Fox is the first official effort I’ve seen. Die Hard has become an unlikely holiday favorite so I guess they figured, hey, let’s put out a trailer that explicitly recasts the it as a Christmas film. Merry Christmas Hans!

Mesmerizing B&W Animated GIFs

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 20, 2018

Etienne Jacob

Take a look at these black and white looping animated GIFs by Étienne Jacob. I would have posted these sooner, but those undulating stripes basically hypnotized me for three days and… woo, where was I? (via colossal)

Typewriter Drawings from Lenka Clayton

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 19, 2018

Lenka Clayton

Lenka Clayton

Lenka Clayton does drawings using a portable 1957 Smith-Corona Skyriter typewriter. That vase is amazing. (via @warmestregard)

The Destroyed Collection of the National Museum of Brazil Resurrected Online

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 19, 2018

In 2016, the National Museum of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro started working with Google Arts & Culture to make their collection available online. In September 2018, a devastating fire at the museum destroyed an estimated 20 million pieces, from one-of-a-kind artworks to archeological artifacts. Now Google is hosting an online exhibition of the museum’s collection where you can virtually explore the pre-fire museum in a Street View interface.

Brazil Museum 01

Brazil Museum 02

Brazil Museum 03

The artifacts pictured here are, from top to bottom: a 3000-year-old vase from the Marajoara culture, a skull from the oldest human skeleton discovered in the Americas, and indigenous masks from the Awetí, Waurá and Mehináku people.

The Best Book Covers of 2018

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 19, 2018

Book covers have long been one of my favorite design objects and with all the talented cover designers at work out there, 2018 produced a number of notable covers. In choosing some of my favorites below, I consulted Literary Hub’s 75 Best Books Covers of 2018 (according a panel of book designers), Paste’s 18 Best Book Covers of 2018, and The Casual Optimist’s Book Covers of Note 2018.

Book Cover Design 2018

Book Cover Design 2018

Book Cover Design 2018

Book Cover Design 2018

Book Cover Design 2018

From top to bottom, Cherry by Nico Walker (designed by Janet Hansen), Hippie by Paulo Coelho (designed by Tyler Comrie), My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh (designed by Darren Haggar), Circe by Madeline Miller (designed by Will Staehle), and Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott (designed by Lauren Wakefield).

GDP Per Capita in China and Africa in 1980 and 2016

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 19, 2018

Africa China GDP

Using data from the IMF and World Bank, this map by Näytä Data shows how quickly the relative fortunes of China and African countries changed over the last few decades. For reference, in 1980, Africa had an estimated population of 480 million and China’s population was 994 million, while in 2016, Africa had 1.23 billion people and China had 1.4 billion people.

Papercraft Computers

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 19, 2018

Papercraft Electronics

Papercraft Electronics

Papercraft Electronics

Rocky Bergen makes paper models of vintage electronics and computing gear. And here’s the cool bit…you can download the plans to print and fold your own: Apple II, Conion C-100F boom box, Nintendo GameCube, and Commodore 64.

“Working” by Robert Caro

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 18, 2018

Caro Working

Robert Caro, author of The Power Broker and The Years of Lyndon Johnson, is coming out with a memoir called “Working: Researching, Interviewing, Writing” that provides a behind-the-scenes look at his brilliant writing career.

For the first time in his long career, Robert Caro gives us a glimpse into his own life and work in these evocatively written, personal pieces. He describes what it was like to interview the mighty Robert Moses; what it felt like to begin discovering the extent of the political power Moses wielded; the combination of discouragement and exhilaration he felt confronting the vast holdings of the Lyndon B. Johnson Library and Museum in Austin, Texas; his encounters with witnesses, including longtime residents wrenchingly displaced by the construction of Moses’ Cross-Bronx Expressway and Lady Bird Johnson acknowledging the beauty and influence of one of LBJ’s mistresses. He gratefully remembers how, after years of loneliness, he found a writers’ community at the New York Public Library’s Frederick Lewis Allen Room and details the ways he goes about planning and composing his books.

It’s available for pre-order and will be out in early April 2019.

Life-Size Stone Mosaics Based on 16th-Century Anatomical Drawings

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 18, 2018

John Unger Anatomy

Sculptor John T. Unger is making a series of life-size stone mosaics based on anatomical drawings by the 16th-century Italian scientist Bartolomeo Eustachi.

Bartolomeo Eustachi, one of the first modern anatomists, is also considered the first comparative anatomist, as he was the first to use examples from the animal realm for comparison and clarity. Eustachi was a contemporary of Vesalius, and they share the credit of having created the science of human anatomy. In 1552 (nine years after Vesalius published his Fabrica) Eustachi completed a series of anatomical illustrations so accurate that had they been published in his lifetime, a modern understanding of anatomy might have come to pass two centuries before it was attained.

Unger has completed about half of the mosaics and is doing a Kickstarter campaign to help finish the rest of them. The first public showing of the finished artworks will be at the Carrie Haddad Gallery in Hudson, NY starting in June 2019.

The Best News Bloopers of 2018

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 18, 2018

Today has been a weird day for no particular reason and this 15-minute collection of the best news bloopers of 2018 fits right in.

yeah guys yeah guys yeah guys yeah guys yeah guys yeah guys yeah guys yeah guys yeah guys yeah guys yeah guys yeah guys yeah…

See also a roundup of odd 2018 headlines, including “Man calls police to get keys from goose, but a moose on the loose diverts help”.

Package Thief vs. Glitter Bomb Revenge Package

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 18, 2018

This is pretty nerdy and entertaining. After someone stole a package off of his porch, Mark Rober spent months designing and building a fake package to get revenge on the next person stupid enough to try it. He outfitted the box with GPS, motion sensors, four cameras that auto-uploaded to the cloud, a glitter bomb that detonated when the package was opened, and a canister of fart spray that sprayed periodically until the thief threw the package out. Genius.

Update: At least some of the package robberies in this video were staged.

But shortly after the ode to all the packages we’ve lost before swept across the media landscape, viewers on the internet did what they do best: pick it apart.

They noticed some strange coincidences, like how one of the porch bandits seemed to live directly next door to Rober’s friend, Cici, and that the car used in one of the heists, a black Ford Focus with a rosary hanging on the mirror, was parked right in front of her house in Pittsburg, California.

Way to ruin Christmas, you jackholes.

Remastered Film Footage of 1890s Paris

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 17, 2018

The Lumière brothers were among the first filmmakers in history and from 1896 to 1900, they shot several scenes around Paris. Guy Jones remastered the Lumière’s Paris footage, stabilized it, slowed it down to a natural rate, and added some Foley sound effects. As Paris today looks very similar to how it did then, it’s easy to pick out many of the locations seen in this short compilation: the Tuileries, the Notre-Dame, Place de la Concorde, and of course the Eiffel Tower, which was completed only 8 years before filming. Here’s the full location listing:

0:08 - Notre-Dame Cathedral (1896)
0:58 - Alma Bridge (1900)
1:37 - Avenue des Champs-Élysées (1899)
2:33 - Place de la Concorde (1897)
3:24 - Passing of a fire brigade (1897)
3:58 - Tuileries Garden (1896)
4:48 - Moving walkway at the Paris Exposition (1900)
5:24 - The Eiffel Tower from the Rives de la Seine à Paris (1897)

See also A Bunch of Early Color Photos of Paris, Peter Jackson’s documentary film featuring remastered film footage from World War I, and lots more film that Jones has remastered and uploaded. (via open culture)

The Story of the Titanic Keeps Getting Weirder

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 17, 2018

Within the last couple of days, I’ve learned two things about the sinking of the Titanic and I’m going to share them with you. The first is that the discovery of the wreckage of the Titanic by ocean explorer Bob Ballard was actually a cover for the top secret investigation of two nuclear submarines during the height of the Cold War.

In 1985, Ballard’s mission was to dive to depths of 9,800 feet using a towed camera system called Argo to find and document the imploded remains of the Scorpion. The objective of the mission was to locate the submarine’s nuclear reactor and nuclear weapons and to gain evidence to help determine what led to her loss. After concluding his successful investigations of the Scorpion, Ballard used the final 12 days of his expedition to discover the RMS Titanic at a depth of 12,540 feet.

Ballard, you tricksy bastard!

The second thing is that the Titanic was on fire for days before it hit the iceberg, possibly causing damage that contributed to its quick sinking.

The work of Molony in his documentary is compelling and seems to make logical sense. The hidden fire caused damage to a bulkhead in the ship. The increased speed of the ship was due to the excess burning of coal to fight the fire. Also the failure of the bulkhead was due to the incredible heat generated by the coal fire, which was right against the bulkhead. In Molony’s opinion if the bulkheads held, the passengers on the ship may have been rescued. There was a ship hailed and on the way. If the Titanic could have stayed afloat for a few hours longer, a historic tragedy may have been averted.

Update: The coal fire thing has been a theory for years. After Molony’s documentary aired last year, a group of maritime historians who have studied Titanic extensively, wrote a thorough article debunking the idea that the coal fire contributed to the disaster in any way.

When hard evidence is factored in, there is only one viable conclusion: the coal bunker fire aboard Titanic was not a primary factor in her contact with the iceberg, or in causing her to sink after the she struck the ice. It played no part in the significant loss of life.

(thx, andrew)

Update: A group of enthusiasts used a video game engine called Unreal Engine 4 to build a fantastically detailed model of the Titanic that you can (virtually) walk though:

(via @mejum)

Ultra-Precise Ice Core Sampling and the Explosive Cause of the Dark Ages

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 17, 2018

536 AD was an exceedingly bad year for humanity, perhaps even “the worst year to be alive”.

A mysterious fog plunged Europe, the Middle East, and parts of Asia into darkness, day and night — for 18 months. “For the sun gave forth its light without brightness, like the moon, during the whole year,” wrote Byzantine historian Procopius. Temperatures in the summer of 536 fell 1.5°C to 2.5°C, initiating the coldest decade in the past 2300 years. Snow fell that summer in China; crops failed; people starved. The Irish chronicles record “a failure of bread from the years 536-539.” Then, in 541, bubonic plague struck the Roman port of Pelusium, in Egypt. What came to be called the Plague of Justinian spread rapidly, wiping out one-third to one-half of the population of the eastern Roman Empire and hastening its collapse, McCormick says.

For Science magazine, Ann Gibbons writes about a new ice core sampling technique that is providing new insight into the causes of the fall of the Roman Empire and the Dark Ages in Europe.

Mayewski and his interdisciplinary team decided to look for the same eruptions in an ice core drilled in 2013 in the Colle Gnifetti Glacier in the Swiss Alps. The 72-meter-long core entombs more than 2000 years of fallout from volcanoes, Saharan dust storms, and human activities smack in the center of Europe. The team deciphered this record using a new ultra-high-resolution method, in which a laser carves 120-micron slivers of ice, representing just a few days or weeks of snowfall, along the length of the core. Each of the samples — some 50,000 from each meter of the core — is analyzed for about a dozen elements. The approach enabled the team to pinpoint storms, volcanic eruptions, and lead pollution down to the month or even less, going back 2000 years, says UM volcanologist Andrei Kurbatov.

Wow, this is like time travel! You should read the whole piece…it’s not long or technical. I loved the bit about how lead pollution provides evidence for the rise of the merchant class in medieval Europe. (via @tylercowen)

Terrible Maps

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 17, 2018

For the past few years, the @TerribleMaps Twitter account has been posting maps that aren’t useful or that don’t make a lot of sense. Here are some of my favorites.

Terrible Maps

Terrible Maps

Terrible Maps

Terrible Maps

(via laura olin)

Teenagers Performing With Their Idols

posted by Tim Carmody   Dec 16, 2018

This afternoon, my friend Casey Newton posted a thread of YouTube videos so good that I had to login on a Sunday and blog about it. There’s a simple theme connecting these videos that I’ll let Casey explain:

This might be my favorite one:

The kids are all right. Better than, in fact.

Gritty, the Philly Sports Messiah

posted by Tim Carmody   Dec 14, 2018

Gritty 01.jpg

Like any once-and-hopefully-future resident of the great city of Philadelphia, I’m entranced by Gritty, the new mascot for the Philadelphia Flyers. Now, full disclosure: the Flyers were not one of the teams I initially adopted when I moved to Philadelphia, because my hometown Detroit Red Wings were still great in 2002, and so I was all set, hockey-wise. I picked up the New York Rangers when I moved to New York in 2012, when Henrik Lundqvist was winning Vezinas and stunting on fools. But Gritty is sufficiently compelling that I might have to add the Flyers to the Eagles, Phillies, and Sixers, becoming a full Philadelphia sports fan.

Why is Gritty captivating the world? Is it because or despite of his muppet-like googly eyes and shaggy appearance? I mean, when you really dig into it, it’s not like there’s a whole lot there. But a sufficiently advanced cipher can become a multilayered text to the devout, and that’s what’s happened with Gritty. Fans turned what was briefly an object of ridicule into an icon of devotion. And a legend was born.

For a deeper look into the Gritty phenomenon, seek no further than The Ringer, the website that was designed from its origins in the late, beloved Grantland to get to the bottom of sports questions like this. Michael Baumann’s “The Monster In The Mirror” is insightful, and nearly exhaustive, in answering why people inside and outside of Philadelphia have taken to Gritty so strongly. It also doubles as a psychological profile of one of my favorite cities and their sports fans.

Some excerpts:

In the past two and a half months, Gritty has proven to be an overwhelming success as a mascot. More than that, he’s become a legitimate cultural phenomenon, a weird and scary avatar for a weird and scary time. He is all things to all people.

“Gritty is fairly appalling, pretty insurrectionary for a mascot, and I don’t think there’s any question that that’s our kind of symbol,” says Helen Gym, an at-large member of the Philadelphia City Council. “There’s nothing more Philly than being unapologetically yourself.”

And:

The Flyers, Raymond says, had long resisted the idea of creating a mascot, at the insistence of founding owner Ed Snider, whom Raymond calls “old-school.” The Flyers unveiled a furry mascot called Slapshot in 1976 but quickly shelved it, leaving the team without a mascot for more than 40 years. But after Snider’s death in 2016, the team’s marketing department pushed ownership to reconsider, Raymond says, and after overcoming so much institutional inertia, they weren’t going to be half-hearted about their new mascot.

One part of doing a mascot right, Raymond says, is sticking to the bit no matter what, rather than submitting the mascot to the public for approval, a lesson learned from the Sixers’ failed mascot vote in 2011. Philadelphians, and people on the internet in general, can sense uncertainty and will punish it.

On Gritty’s Hensonian roots:

Mascots are always at least a little silly and ridiculous because at their core, they’re created more for children than adults. Gritty is no exception. His hands squeak, and his belly button—which Raymond calls a “woobie”—is a brightly colored outie. The woobie, says Raymond, was the brainchild of Chris Pegg, who plays Rockey the Redbird for the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds and is a mutual friend of Raymond and Flyers senior director of game presentation Anthony Gioia.

When the Flyers unveiled such a weird, menacing mascot, it brought to mind something Frank Oz said about his longtime collaborator and Muppets creator Jim Henson: “He thought it was fine to scare children. He didn’t think it was healthy for children to always feel safe.” According to Raymond, in any sufficiently large group of children, a mascot, even a familiar one, will make at least one of them cry. Not Gritty.

“I’d never seen a mascot rollout anywhere where I didn’t see at least one kid running, crying in terror, trying to grab on to their mother’s legs,” Raymond says of the Please Touch Museum rollout. “I didn’t see any of that [with Gritty]. The kids were dancing and hollering and calling for him to come over, but no kid looked terrified.”

And on Gritty’s additional incarnation as the subject and vehicle for leftist political memes:

Some Gritty memes, however, are not just funny or scary, but overtly political. Gym’s resolution addressed this issue head-on; “non-binary leftist icon” was one of the descriptions quoted in the resolution. The resolution itself goes on to praise Gritty for his status as a political symbol: “Gritty has been widely declared antifa, and was subject to attempted reclamation in the editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal. It has been argued that he ‘conveys the absurdity and struggle of modern life under capitalism’ and that he represents a source of joyful comic respite in a time of societal upheaval.”…

“The great thing about memes—as ridiculous as this sounds—is they create an instant mass internet mobilization,” FWG says. “Memes can be used to perpetuate systematic oppression, or they can be used to burn down the prison-industrial system or talk about police brutality.”

This identity is independent from — this is to say, it has been thoroughly stolen from — Gritty’s original role as a corporate sports mascot.

There’s a danger to wrapping up one’s identity in anything one can’t control, whether it’s an artist, a sports team, or a fuzzy orange monster. And if Gritty played it safe, he’d stop being worth investing in; the reason Gritty is so popular is because he’s weird and unpredictable in a way that isn’t cultivated to be “edgy.” Fear of being let down might just be the price of trying to live with empathy in a society that frequently elevates the cruel. It’s worth thinking about something FWG said: that their Gritty is not the same thing as the Flyers mascot.

“I think that the spirit of Gritty will be fulfilled through the proletariat,” FWG says. “As the spirit of Gritty moves people, that’s how the people will act.”

This is serious business! But as Walter Benjamin wrote, in a time of crisis, the here-and-now becomes shot through with messianic time. Gritty recalls the Phillie Phanatic, Sesame Street’s muppets, and Blastaar from the Fantastic Four, but puts all of their energy to use in a sense of futurity, that hope for the future that sports fandom echoes, however dimly. To quote Benjamin again:

It is well-known that the Jews were forbidden to look into the future. The Torah and the prayers instructed them, by contrast, in remembrance. This disenchanted those who fell prey to the future, who sought advice from the soothsayers. For that reason the future did not, however, turn into a homogenous and empty time for the Jews. For in it every second was the narrow gate, through which the Messiah could enter.

It’s ridiculous to see Gritty, the googly-eyed, outie-bellybuttoned Philadelphia Flyers mascot, as a messianic figure of the revolutionary left. But is that any more ridiculous than everything else that is happening in our fucked-up present? No. No, it is not.

paul-klee-angelus-novus.jpg

The Importance of Food in Howl’s Moving Castle

posted by Tim Carmody   Dec 14, 2018

Howl's Moving Castle - Food.jpg

Howl’s Moving Castle by Hayao Miyazaki is one of my favorites if not my very favorite movie. I’ve written about it here before at some length. I use pictures from it as my Twitter background, as my login prompts on both of my computers, and my pinned tweet is a quote about the film and its simple-yet-allegorical applicability to understanding your own life and psyche.

One aspect of HMC I haven’t touched on here, but is essential to understanding the film and its appeal, is the importance of food in the film. Luckily, Sarah Welch-Larson at Bright Wall/Dark Room has you covered.

First, there’s this remarkably concise and comprehensive survey of food in the Miyazaki-verse:

In Studio Ghibli movies, food is a feast for the eyes. Nearly every one of Hayao Miyazaki’s films includes a memorable shot of food, some more extravagant than others. A monk stirring a pot of soup on a cold night in Princess Mononoke. A herring pie, golden and steaming, fresh from the oven, in Kiki’s Delivery Service. Ramen noodles piled with toppings in Ponyo. Piles of roasted meat and dumplings spilling across the counter of an enchanted restaurant in Spirited Away. Even the Miyazaki films that don’t focus so heavily on food still allow their characters a chance to pause and eat. Nausicaä stops for a moment to eat a small bag of nuts as the world falls apart around her. Porco Rosso eats spaghetti bolognese as he hides out from the Italian authorities. Extravagant or simple, quick or languorous, the shots of food in Miyazaki films all tempt the senses.

Then this close reading of food and its themes in Howl:

In Howl’s Moving Castle, food is more than just a necessity. It sustains life, in every sense of the phrase: it helps a body hold skin and sinew together, and acts as an expression of love and care. We get the sense that Howl is a good person from the way he prepares breakfast. He has a sure hand, and a light touch. He might be flighty, but he cares enough to put together a well-cooked breakfast big enough for everyone in the room, including Sophie the interloper.

Food is also an expression of identity. Howl’s cooking is simple and elegant, but feels like a feast. The bacon is thick and crackling, and the eggs are perfect, cooked sunny-side-up with not a single yolk broken. Sophie’s own choices of food are plain and practical, like her, but that doesn’t make them any less valuable than the more extravagant examples of food we see in other Miyazaki films. Her bread and cheese look just as tasty as Howl’s bacon and eggs, and they’re likely just as satisfying. Calcifer, too, needs to eat, despite being a supernatural creature. He stuffs logs into his mouth, one by one, every time he needs to move the castle. When he isn’t active, he’s still perpetually consuming wood, albeit at a slower pace; fire is a hungry creature, and will go out if it is not fed.

Hunger in Howl is twofold: it can be the desire to be sustained, and it can be the desire to possess. This second desire takes the form of gluttony, and it is a destructive force. While he’s out in his wanderings, Howl comes across battles between the two rival countries. He refuses to fight, but he can’t stay away; the war is encroaching. Other wizards who swore loyalty to the king take part in these battles, and on more than one occasion, Howl is chased through the skies by the “hack wizards” who turned themselves into monsters in service of the war. They’re horrible half-lizard, half-dragonfly things, all oily skin and gaping mouths full of sharp teeth, open as if ready to devour. Miyazaki’s war imagery tends toward images of devouring, but the action of eating here is neither life-giving nor sustaining. War is gluttony, a force that needs to mindlessly consume until there is nothing left.

And this remarkable conclusion:

The kitchen is said to be the heart of a home, and Howl’s kitchen was empty until Sophie talked her way in to clean it. Food and love are both life-sustaining forces, but only when held lightly, without thought of possession or ownership. Sophie saves Howl without a thought for her own happiness, and, in return, Howl loves her back of his own free will. Neither takes what the other is not willing to give. Their love is neither greedy nor ravenous, but rather a hunger for food that sustains and leaves the hungry satiated.

I’m convinced: food, and the overlapping and contradictory economies of food, are the keys to this movie! This puts it up with Babette’s Feast as my favorite movies about food, love, and community. Thank you, Sarah, for helping me appreciate this remarkable film in a whole new way.

(Thanks too to @nandelabra for pointing this my way.)

Climate Change Is Stealing Our Children’s Futures

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 14, 2018

On Wednesday, 15-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg addressed the UN plenary meeting at the COP24 climate talks in Poland. In it, she blasted world and business leaders for their political inaction on climate change, calling them immature (italics mine).

But to do that, we have to speak clearly, no matter how uncomfortable that may be. You only speak of green eternal economic growth because you are too scared of being unpopular. You only talk about moving forward with the same bad ideas that got us into this mess, even when the only sensible thing to do is pull the emergency brake. You are not mature enough to tell it like it is. Even that burden you leave to us children.

But I don’t care about being popular. I care about climate justice and the living planet. Our civilization is being sacrificed for the opportunity of a very small number of people to continue making enormous amounts of money. Our biosphere is being sacrificed so that rich people in countries like mine can live in luxury. It is the sufferings of the many which pay for the luxuries of the few.

The year 2078, I will celebrate my 75th birthday. If I have children, maybe they will spend that day with me. Maybe they will ask me about you. Maybe they will ask why you didn’t do anything while there still was time to act. You say you love your children above all else, and yet you are stealing their future in front of their very eyes.

“You are not mature enough to tell it like it is. Even that burden you leave to us children.” Damn. Thunberg has been leading school strikes for climate justice in Sweden and is calling for worldwide strikes in schools today. She recently gave a talk at TEDxStockholm about her climate activism.

In October, Masha Gessen profiled Thunberg for the New Yorker.

Thunberg developed her special interest in climate change when she was nine years old and in the third grade. “They were always talking about how we should turn off lights, save water, not throw out food,” she told me. “I asked why and they explained about climate change. And I thought this was very strange. If humans could really change the climate, everyone would be talking about it and people wouldn’t be talking about anything else. But this wasn’t happening.” Turnberg has an uncanny ability to concentrate, which she also attributes to her autism. “I can do the same thing for hours,” she said. Or, as it turns out, for years. She began researching climate change and has stayed on the topic for six years. She has stopped eating meat and buying anything that is not absolutely necessary. In 2015, she stopped flying on airplanes, and a year later, her mother followed suit, giving up an international performing career. The family has installed solar batteries and has started growing their own vegetables on an allotment outside the city. To meet me in central Stockholm, Thunberg and her father rode their bikes for about half an hour; the family has an electric car that they use only when necessary.

Update: Thunberg does not mince words. At a lunchtime panel at Davos (featuring Bono and Jane Goodall), she told the room:

Some people say that the climate crisis is something that we all have created. But that is not true, because if everyone is guilty then no one is to blame. And someone is to blame. Some people, some companies, some decision makers in particular have known exactly what priceless values they have been sacrificing to continue making unimaginable amounts of money. And I think many of you here today belong to that group of people.

The Official Kottke.org Music Playlist

posted by Tim Carmody   Dec 14, 2018

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the mini-phenomenon of book playlists — music playlists designed to accompany new books, as a kind of disembodied soundtrack. Then last week, in the newsletter, I wondered out loud what songs would be on a Kottke.org playlist, and asked you, the readers, for help figuring that out. Jason amplified the call on Twitter, and we were off and running.

So, for the past week, I took the advice that came in, reached out to a few musically-minded Kottke readers that I trust, and trolled the “music” tag on the site to get some more ideas. (I was tempted to include some Kenny G, but ultimately passed.) And here it is:

Update: (Ben Samuels-Kalow made an Apple Music version of this playlist, if that’s your jam.)

It’s almost exactly two hours long, or about the length of a double album. (Disc 2 would start with Coltrane’s “Giant Steps.”) Daft Punk, John Cale, Johnny Cash, The Strokes, Nina Simone, and The Echelon Effect all came from reader suggestions. So did Tom Misch and Carmody (!), an artist with whom I’d only had passing acquaintance, but turned out to deliver one of my favorite songs in the mix. Thanks to E.A. Gordon, Olga Nunes, David Gagne, Dan McCue, and Michael Ashbridge for their invaluable help putting this together. (Seriously, Mr. Ashbridge: Nina Simone’s cover of “Isn’t It A Pity” might be the best song I’ve ever heard.)

The rest of the contributions came out of my own head, after doing a lot of reading of the site. Readers will spot some of their favorite tags in the titles, which happen to correspond to magnificent songs: “The Moon” by The Microphones, or “Maps” by Yeah Yeah Yeahs, or “Photograph” by Weezer. (Somewhere my college friends are laughing at me for putting Weezer on a playlist.) “Blogging” by Wire was frankly a no-brainer based on the title alone, but I’m pleased it’s such a good, pointed song. I wanted to include one Philip Glass song and one Radiohead song, and I think I picked some good ones. And if you listen to the rest of the songs, you’ll see plenty of Kottke-esque themes and moods reflected in the lyrics. But it’s a playlist that I made, which means it has plenty of hip-hop and indie rock, some jazz and instrumental numbers, and a Dionne Warwick song.

One thing I hope is clear from this playlist: I love Kottke.org. This is a love letter. And the way Paul Westerberg sings about Alex Chilton is how I feel about Jason. He’s my guy. And I hope he finds something in this that reflects his personality and sensibilities, from his infinite capacity for wonder and his meticulous sense of taste to — and I was surprised by how much this seemed to naturally creep in — that midwestern, A Charlie Brown Christmas mood of introverted melancholy that lies behind all of that other-directed wonder. Not all of these songs are happy songs, but they are songs that find joy in the universe. And that’s deeper and richer than a giddy, booster-ish hayride. After all, as Dionne sings, loneliness remembers what happiness forgets.

I love listening to this music, and I hope you do too. A little early Christmas present from your friends here at what I will always think is the best blog in the world.

How to Be an Artist

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 13, 2018

From Jerry Saltz, failed artist and art critic for New York Magazine, a list of 33 rules on how to be a successful artist.

Lesson 3: Feel Free to Imitate. We all start as copycats, people who make pastiches of other people’s work. Fine! Do that. However, when you do this, focus, start to feel the sense of possibility in making all these things your own — even when the ideas, tools, and moves come from other artists. Whenever you make anything, think of yourself as entering a gigantic stadium filled with ideas, avenues, ways, means, and materials. And possibilities. Make these things yours. This is your house now.

And on the other side of the same coin:

Lesson 12: Know What You Hate. It is probably you. Make a list of three artists whose work you despise. Make a list of five things about each artist that you do not like; be as specific as possible. Often there’s something about what these artists do that you share. Really think about this.

The 2018 Movie Trailer Mashup: One Big Trailer to Rule Them All

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 13, 2018

Sleepy Skunk took audio and footage from dozens of trailers of movies that came out in 2018 and mashed them together into one mega movie trailer. And it’s actually coherent! Or at least as coherent as trailers for blockbuster movies typically are. I dunno, I’d watch this movie.

Typewriter Maps

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 13, 2018

Typewriter Map

Daniel Huffman dug his dad’s old typewriter out of the basement and used it to type out a map of the major rivers draining into Lake Michigan.

The final product has various interesting smudges where the paper accidentally contacted the ribbon. In particular, I noticed that typing in red always produced a faint black “shadow” a couple of lines above. When the slug hit the red part of the ribbon, a small portion of it would lightly hit the black portion of the ribbon, too. Later on, I started holding scrap paper over my map in order to prevent this, so that the black shadow would go on the scrap.

In sum: my typewriter is not a precision instrument. This makes it a somewhat uncomfortable-feeling tool for a detail-oriented designer like me. I like being able to zoom in to 64,000% in Illustrator and correct errors that are small enough that no human eye could possibly ever see them. But, there’s something attractive about the organic messiness of the typewriter.

He experimented with a couple of other maps as well: a shaded relief map of Africa and a contour relief map of the Great Lakes.

See also An Atlas for the Blind.

What Was Inside the Glowing Briefcase in Pulp Fiction?

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 13, 2018

Before I started making my own web pages, I spent a not-insignificant amount of my time on the Internet trawling the alt.fan.tarantino newsgroup for bits of knowledge about Quentin Tarantino, Pulp Fiction, and Reservoir Dogs. A big topic of discussion back then was speculation about the contents of the briefcase that Jules and Vincent were tasked to retrieve for Marsellus Wallace. Was it gold? Diamonds? Wallace’s soul? No one knew and Tarantino wasn’t telling. It was the most compelling MacGuffin since Hitchcock himself.

Now, after nearly 25 years, we finally learn what was in the briefcase:

Pulp Fiction Briefcase

If you’d like to make one of your own, just follow these instructions.

If you want a Bad Motherfucker wallet just like Jules’, here you go.

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.”).

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.

Love Letters to Mars

posted by Tim Carmody   Dec 07, 2018

Mars-Illustration.jpg

Rebecca Boyle is one of my favorite science writers. In two recent pieces, she takes on our nearest, most Earth-like neighbor, Mars. The first is about a team of scientists doing research on extremophiles in South America.

The Atacama Desert stretches 600 miles south from the Peruvian border, nestled between the Pacific Cordillera and the Andes, “a cross extended over Chile,” in the words of the Chilean poet Raúl Zurita. Some parts of it are so devoid of life that their microbe-per-inch count can compete with near-sterile hospital surgical suites. Some areas of the Atacama, Earth’s driest nonpolar desert and the oldest desert anywhere, have been rainless for at least 23 million years, and maybe as long as 40 million years. Carbon cycling happens on timescales of thousands of years, comparable to Antarctic permafrost and places deep within Earth’s crust; the Atacama contains some of the most lifeless soils on the planet. The Atacama is one reason that Chile has become a haven for astrobiologists and astronomers: Its pristine dark skies offer an unparalleled view of the stars, and its depleted desert offers a peerless lab for studying the dry limits of life, including how life might survive among those stars. And honestly, it just looks a lot like Mars. It is the closest that these astrobiologists will ever get to the planet that occupies their grant proposals and their imaginations.

I’m neither an astrobiologist nor a professional astronomer, but I spend a lot of time thinking about Mars. I keep tabs on the robots spread across its surface and in its orbit, and sometimes I check their nightly photo downloads. The Atacama is not a giant leap from the Mars of my mind. As I drove up the coast, I found the view so much more like Mars than Earth. There are no palm trees or tourists or bleating gulls. There is nothing but brown, tumbling tanly down the hills, darkening to chocolate inside shadowy ravines and runnels, bleaching to an impoverished shade of cardboard, and crumbling into fine white beach before being swallowed by the cobalt hues of sea and sky. With no trees or succulents or even a blade of grass—not a smidge of green—the only disruption in the brown is a strip of asphalt, Ruta 1. With my cruise control set and David Bowie blaring, I pictured myself driving through Meridiani Planum, a vast equatorial Martian plain, en route to visit the Opportunity rover. The only reminders of other humans were the grim commemorations of car-wreck victims: Almost every mile of Ruta 1 is marked with roadside shrines to the dead…

Salar Grande was once a coastal inlet, much like today’s San Francisco Bay. It dried up between 1.8 and 5.3 million years ago, leaving behind a salt flat between 225 and 300 feet thick. The salar is therefore an analogue for the last time Mars was habitable, after Mars’ oceans, if there were any, dried up, when Martian ecosystems became concentrated in smaller places. And, like Mars itself, the Atacama is a glimpse into Earth’s own future. One day, billions of years from now, all of Earth may resemble this parched land of fissures and knobs, after our own oceans boil away, after the last trees fall, after the algae are all that is left of us.

“In the beginning,” Davila said, “there was bacteria. And at the end, there will be bacteria.”

The second piece is literally a letter, written to the Curiosity Rover that’s explored the red planet since 2012.

I think of you often. For much of this year, I saw Mars shining red in the window right above my computer. It was nice, like keeping an eye on you. And when I went to Mars earlier this year—actually the Atacama, a desert at the bottom of this world—the landscape made me think of you a lot. It made me grateful for the Mars you gave me, the Mars of my mind. Even more than your forebears did, you helped me understand why Mars stands out among the planets.

Earth’s other neighbors are interesting, sure. Jupiter is a peach-and-tan inkwell stirred with gothic darkness. Saturn and its orrery of moons trace feverish circles, as if brushed onto the void by the painter Kandinsky. Uranus and Neptune are the plain Christmas ornaments I hang next to the ornate ones, just to make the tree seem less busy. Mercury is a purple version of the moon, and Venus is a blast-furnace hellscape.

But Mars, little red Mars—it’s just like home. When you gaze out on the Murray Buttes, I see my Rocky Mountains.

That Mars — so like our world, yet so unlike it. Like a lover who understands and compliments us through similarity amid difference. It may be in the distance, but it is next.

And its visitors, like Curiosity, are already our friends:

I admire Juno’s photos of Jupiter and Cassini’s photos of Saturn, sure, but I don’t see the spacecraft in those images. And that means I don’t see myself. My connection to Mars comes from seeing you there. Seeing the terrain as you see it, that’s wonderful—but seeing you seeing it, feeling the photographer’s undeniable presence, is transformative.

Update: Boyle wrote a coda to her two pieces on Mars today for Last Word on Nothing. It’s Earth-focused, but then again, Earth is a very strange planet too:

At one point, after a couple hours of driving south, I needed a break. I needed to smell the ocean, mere feet to my right. I pulled over to the shoulder, parked my silver SUV on the sand, and walked a few feet. I was completely on my own. I saw nothing alive—no gull, no driver, no seaweed, no plant. I stared at the Pacific and felt my chest tighten. I was thousands of miles from my family, and I have never felt more alone.

The ocean was loud, dashing against dark rocks, and within a minute I felt like its rhythm was a part of me. It was going to swallow me and the sun was going to drive me mad. I strained to see anything else alive, some sign that I was still on Earth, but I saw nothing but sand and blue.

I squinted for a minute. The entire planet looks like this, from a great distance. From the Moon, you can make out the continents, patches of brown and green beneath a light frosting of clouds. But the general impression of Earth is one of blue and white. Ocean and sky. Our blue marble.

I listened to the Pacific and took a step forward. I was on Earth. I was so lucky to be here. So goddamn lucky I suddenly wanted to scream. Do you know how rare it is to have a planet covered in water? How precious it is to get out of the car, walk a few feet, and touch the ocean? It was the deep blue of my daughter’s eyes. This water is flowing through me, through her, through all of us here, together. Is this enlightenment? I thought to myself. I don’t know enough about Buddhism.

It was hard to get back in the car after that. But I feared that if I didn’t, the Pacific would rise up and consume me, swallow me whole before I had a chance to tell anyone I saw it. I had to tell her what I saw.

Michelle Obama’s Becoming, Reviewed

posted by Tim Carmody   Dec 07, 2018

Michelle Obama College.jpg

Isabel Wilkerson, writing for The New York Times, has the definitive review of Michelle Obama’s juggernaut of a book:

One of the great gifts of Obama’s book is her loving and frank bearing-witness to the lived experiences of the black working class, the invisible people who don’t make the evening news and whom not enough of us choose to see. She recreates the dailiness of African-American life — the grass-mowing, bid-whist-playing, double-Dutch-jumping, choir-practicing, waiting-on-the-bus and clock-punching of the ordinary black people who surrounded her growing up. They are the bedrock of a political party that has all too often appeared to take their votes for granted in the party’s seeming wistfulness for their white equivalents (for whom the term “working class” has come to stand in public discourse).

Like many Americans, Obama’s parents made do with what they had and poured their energy into their children, who they hoped would fulfill the families’ as yet unrealized aspirations. The parents bought them a set of Encyclopaedia Britannica and insisted on proper diction. They went on Sunday drives to a richer neighborhood known as Pill Hill (after the number of black doctors living there) in her father’s Buick Electra, looking at houses they could only dream of. Michelle’s father suffered from multiple sclerosis, a degenerative disease, and his beloved Buick gave him mobility that his legs alone could not. He never complained and rarely spoke of his condition, she says, but it was a daily consideration. “Our family was not just punctual,” she writes. “We arrived early to everything.” This was in part to allow time for any contingency, given her father’s declining strength, a habit that instilled in her the value of planning and vigilance in one’s life. Her mother kept their cramped apartment in such good order that years later Obama would remember how it smelled: “It’s because of my mother that still to this day I catch the scent of Pine-Sol and automatically feel better about life”…

We see her father’s diminishing health and his uncompromising work ethic. At one point, he used a motorized scooter to get from boiler to boiler. “In 26 years, he hadn’t missed a single shift,” she writes. We feel her heartbreak as she loses her father to the disease he refused to let define him. By then, Obama was a grown woman, grieving and even more appreciative of her parents’ sacrifices for her sake. Her parents had never taken trips to the beach or gone out to dinner. They didn’t own a house until Aunt Robbie bequeathed them hers when Michelle was halfway through college. “We were their investment, me and Craig,” she writes. “Everything went into us.”

It also includes a tidy capsule of her and Barack’s unusual, unlikely-yet-inevitable courtship:

How their office relationship turned into a quick-moving romance that summer, how the box-checking pragmatist warmed to the loose-limbed free spirit, is a delight to read, even though, or perhaps because, we know the outcome. His cerebral intensity was clear from the start. One night, soon after they had become a couple, she woke to find him staring at the ceiling, apparently troubled. She wondered if their new relationship was on his mind, or perhaps the death of his father. “‘Hey, what are you thinking about over there?’ I whispered. He turned to look at me, his smile a little sheepish. ‘Oh,’ he said. ‘I was just thinking about income inequality.’”

He struck her as a visionary with no material interests. The first time she visited him in Cambridge during the long-distance phase of their young relationship, he picked her up in a “snub-nosed, banana-yellow Datsun” with a “four-inch hole in the floor” and a tendency to spasm “violently before settling into a loud, sustained juddering.” She knew then that “life with Barack would never be dull,” she writes. “It would be some version of banana yellow and slightly hair-raising.”

And her lack of interest in politics:

After a series of unlikely events, among them scandals forcing one opponent after another to drop out of the race, Barack won. Michelle, against the advice of a veteran Senate wife, chose not to move their family to Washington. “None of this had been my choice in the first place,” she writes of the stress of being a politician’s wife and managing a household while her husband commuted from the capital when he could. “I didn’t care about the politics per se, but I didn’t want to screw it up.” When Barack began mulling a run for the White House and consulting trusted advisers, “there was one conversation he avoided having,” she writes, “and that was with me. He knew, of course, how I felt.”

This was where their temperaments and upbringing were at odds. She wanted the kind of family stability she had grown up with. “Barack had always had his eyes on some far-off horizon, on his notion of the world as it should be,” she writes. “Just for once, I wanted him to be content with life as it was.” By then, they had been through five campaigns in 11 years. “Each one had put a little dent in my soul and also in our marriage,” she writes. Bottom line: She didn’t want him to run for president, especially not then. They talked about it over and over. She agreed to support him, she writes, because “I loved him and had faith in what he could do.” Speaking in London in early December, she was more candid, saying “deep down” she believed “there’s no way he’s going to win. And we can just sort of get this out of the way. … That was my whole plan.”

Funny story! Barack Obama won the nomination and then the Presidency, becoming the first black President of the United States and winning two terms, thrusting Michelle into a role she never wanted but seemed to be made for.

As a young girl, she had modest aspirations: a family, a dog and “a house that had stairs in it — two floors for one family.” She had grown up in a 900-square-foot attic apartment. Now, at the end of Inauguration Day, she was the first lady, moving into a home with “132 rooms, 35 bathrooms and 28 fireplaces spread out over six floors,” and a staff of ushers, florists, housekeepers, butlers and attendants for her every need. Three military valets oversaw the president’s closet. “You see how neat I am now?” he said to her one day. She had seen, she said, smiling back, “and you get no credit for any of it.”

It’s a shame that Michelle dislikes politics so much. I think if she chose, she could be an even better President than her husband. And I liked him a lot.

Metallic Pinatas Inspired By Medieval Illuminations

posted by Tim Carmody   Dec 07, 2018

Medieval Pinata 1.jpg

Roberto Benavidez is a Los Angeles-based artist who previously created a series of piñatas inspired by the art of Hieronymous Bosch, as well as a magnificent series of sculpted birds. His latest project, “Illuminated Piñata,” is inspired by mythical creatures found in the illuminations from medieval manuscripts. They are gorgeous, multidimensional, and inspiring. Here are just a few of them.

Medieval Pinata 2.jpg

Medieval Pinata 3.jpg

Medieval Pinata 4.jpg

Medieval Pinata 5.jpg

Medieval Pinata 6.jpg

Via Colossal.

Into the Spider-Verse is One of the Five Best Superhero Movies Since Blade

posted by Tim Carmody   Dec 07, 2018

Spider-Verse.jpg

Since 2014, Abraham Riesman has kept a regularly updated list of the best superhero movies since Blade. This is partly an arbitrary starting point (would it really be so hard to rank the early Superman and Batman movies too?), and partly not: Blade moved away from the Superman and Batman top character mini-franchises, kicked off Marvel’s entry into modern superhero cinema, and started the pattern of every-other-year/no, every-year/wait-how-many-superhero-movies-are-out-this-year? sprawling multiverses we associate with the genre(s) today.

While there were a lot of superhero movies between 1998 and 2014, there have been, um, a lot more since. And some of the very best ones, too. “When I did the first edition of this list in the fall of 2014, I did not in any way predict that it would become my life’s work in the way it has,” Abe writes.

Today, a new entry cracks the top five. Abe rates the animated Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, starring the former Ultimate Comics hero Miles Morales, fifth on his list, well ahead of the rest of the Spider-movies and just behind the highly revered The Dark Knight. Abe writes:

The unassuming and artistic Miles, a more recent addition to the comics’ Spider-canon, feels new and Zeitgeist-y in a way that Peter hasn’t in decades, and we want desperately for him to find his footing as he tries to be a hero. Luckily, he has the assistance of an array of other Spider-people from alternate dimensions — a gimmick common in comics, never before dared on the big screen, and here executed with deft and thrilling elegance. The story, performances, and jokes are all top-flight, but perhaps the greatest delight is the film’s awe-inspiring mastery of visual whizbang: Rather than try to ape reality, everyone is designed to evoke a feeling, be it the hulking intimidation of the inhumanly massive Kingpin or the proud wackiness of the stoutly cartoony Spider-Ham. It’s a damn shame that Lee and Ditko both died a matter of weeks and months before they could see the release of Into the Spider-Verse (though the famously reclusive Ditko wouldn’t have watched it, anyway), but their beloved baby is in good hands.

I love Miles Morales, and can’t wait to see him on screen. It’s been surprising that Marvel and DC haven’t done more with animation outside of television: cartoons are proven family-friendly money makers at the box office, and there’s a natural connection between comics and animation. Here’s hoping this spurs the superhero cabal to give more formats a try.

Miles is also in a new comic book series, written by Saladin Ahmed and drawn by Javier Garrón. Issue #1 comes out next Wednesday, December 12.

How to Spot a Fake Jackson Pollock Painting

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 07, 2018

Forensic scientist Thiago Piwowarczyk and art historian Jeffrey Taylor are often called upon to authenticate purported paintings by well-known artists. Using a drip painting resembling Jackson Pollock’s work, they show how they use historical research, hardcore science, and good-ol’ human observation. The steps they go through are:

1. Provenance research. Is there any documentation of the artist painting this? Who owned it and when? Forged documentation can be an issue here.

2. Visual analysis. Does the material used for the painting fit the artist and the timeframe? Often, a forger won’t sign a fake to mitigate any potential legal ramifications.

3. Photography and ultraviolet analysis. Was the canvas reused? Is there an under-painting or drawing?

4. X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy. What elements are present in the paint? Do they match those in the paints normally used by the artist?

5. Microscopy & Raman spectroscopy. What kind of paint was used? Did that paint exist when the artist was working?

Super interesting. All of the craft aside, Piwowarczyk also says that “if the deal is too good, there’s something wrong”. $25,000 for a Pollack? Nope. (via open culture)

Time Lapse Photos of Nighttime Airport Traffic

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 06, 2018

Pete Mauney

Pete Mauney

Pete Mauney spends his nighttime hours hunkered down near airports to capture these these time lapse photos of arriving and departing air traffic. (He does a similar thing with fireflies.)

On Facebook, Mauney is selling prints of some of these photos, hand-printed and quality guaranteed.

All prints are lovingly made by myself and print robot Epson 3880. They are fully archival and should last until well after I am dead, assuming they are properly cared for. I am super uptight/compulsive and quality control is strict. I spent many years making my living as an exhibition printer and no image of mine will leave my hands unless I am happy with it. If something not up to spec manages to squeak through, I will happily replace.

The post also doubles as a look into the process of photography & printmaking and how to price your art.

Pricing is the hard part for me. On one side there is there $12 in materials that that make and pack each print for shipping and the minimal labor involved in making the physical objects once the hard work in photoshop is already done. Based on that I could sell them for $15 and make a profit. Then, of course, are the hours spent processing and compositing each image. Oh, and then, there is the time spent driving and flying and and actually making the images. And days spent on Google Maps and Flight Aware observing flight patterns and planning my routes and locations. The mosquitoes. Hypothermia.

But, really, I am OK with doing all of that because I will do it regardless of whether I am getting paid or not (see “compulsive” above). I do it because I fucking love it. The point of all this is not to justify my labor and obsessions. The point of this is to pay for an awesome show so I can share these in the real world with other real humans like yourselves. As stated previously, all proceeds from this sale will go towards production, materials, software, prints, monitors, frames, and all the other inevitable costs that I can’t think of right now and that keep me up at night.

I read something years ago about the expense of art and photography that’s always stuck with me. Time, materials, and equipment are one part of the equation, but really what you are paying for is the lifetime of expertise, the hundreds of thousands of their previous shots and an aesthetic honed to a razor-sharp edge. $5000 for shoot by someone who knows exactly how to get the perfect shot in just 20 minutes can seem like an outrageous price (that’s $15,000/hour!), but $1000 for an two-hour-long shoot by some doofus often isn’t going to get you the result you actually need.

So yeah, drop Mauney a line and get some great prints delivered in time for the holidays. (via jen bekman)

Computer Simulations of Black Hole Mergers Observed by LIGO

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 06, 2018

As of December 1, 2018, the LIGO experiment has detected gravitational waves from 10 black hole merger events. In the computer simulations shown in this video, you can see what each of the mergers looked like along with the corresponding gravitational waves generated and subsequently observed by the LIGO detectors.

The Best Books of 2018

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 06, 2018

Best Books 2018

2018 was the year that tsundoku entered our cultural vocabulary. It’s a Japanese word that doesn’t translate cleanly into English but it basically means you buy books and let them pile up unread. The end-of-the-year book lists coming out right now won’t help any of us with our tsundoku problems, but there are worse things in life than having too many books around. I took at look at a bunch of these lists and picked out some of the best book recommendations for 2018 from book editors, voracious readers, and retailers. Let’s dig in.

The NY Times published three different lists: The 10 Best Books of 2018 (as chosen by the editors of the Times Book Review), the 100 Notable Books of 2018, and the Times Critics’ Top Books of 2018. My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh and David Blight’s Frederick Douglass both appear on these lists and I’ve seen them on many other lists as well.

I am delighted to see Lisa Brennan-Jobs’ memoir Small Fry on the Times’ top 10 list as well. I’m gonna have more to say about this in an upcoming post, but in an era where we’re re-evaluating the importance of the personal conduct and personalities of the people running massive tech and media companies, this book did not get the attention it deserved, particularly in the tech press.

Tyler Cowen, who samples upwards of 1800 books every year, has led me to many of my favorite reads over the years. He has two lists this year: the best non-fiction books of 2018 and the best fiction of 2018. His top fiction pick overall is Emily Wilson’s translation of The Odyssey, which I have been banging on about for several months as well. Another of his fiction picks is Circe by Madeline Miller, which is another contemporary reinterpretation of Greek mythology from the perspective of a woman. I’m 3/4s of the way through Circe right now and I might like it even more than The Odyssey. Among the nonfiction picks, I can testify to the greatness of Charles Mann’s The Wizard and the Prophet (my review is here and the book’s topic also featured in Avengers: Infinity War) and am most interested in checking out W. J. Rorabaugh’s Prohibition: A Concise History, having watched the Ken Burns and Lynn Novick documentary on it earlier this year.

Amazon’s editors selected Tara Westover’s Educated as their top book of the year. Also on the list is Tommy Orange’s There There, which appears on many other lists as well. Amazon’s This Year in Books is also worth a look…it is definitely not the critic’s view of what we read: the most-sold fiction book was Ready Player One and the most-sold nonfiction book was Michael Wolf’s book about Trump, Fire and Fury.

NPR’s 2018 Book Concierge contains hundreds of books in more than two dozen categories. The Rather Short filter appeals to me and I found on there Michael Lewis’ The Fifth Risk and Denis Johnson’s The Largess of the Sea Maiden.

Barbara Kiser, books columnist for Nature, picked The Best Science Books of 2018. I noticed one of her selections on a few other lists as well: The Tangled Tree: A Radical New History of Life by David Quammen.

Eater calls Anita Lo’s Solo: A Modern Cookbook for a Party of One the best cookbook of the year. And from Book Riot’s The 25 Best Cookbooks of 2018 To Get You In The Kitchen, here’s Snoop Dogg’s cookbook From Crook to Cook. Bow wow wow, yummy yum.

For The Guardian’s Best Books of 2018, a group of authors including Hilary Mantel, Chris Ware, and Yuval Noah Harari share their top picks of the year. Mantel, the author of an excellent pair of books on Thomas Cromwell (Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies) recommends Diarmaid MacCulloch’s biography of Cromwell, who was Henry the VIII’s chief minister, a key figure of the English Reformation. Harari recommends Michael Pollan’s How to Change Your Mind: The New Science of Psychedelics, which also features on a number of other lists. Oh, and Yotam Ottolenghi highlights Lateral Cooking by Niki Segnit, a cookbook “designed to help creative cooks develop their own recipes”.

The National Book Award for fiction went to The Friend by Sigrid Nunez, the nonfiction award went to The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke by Jeffrey Stewart, and the poetry award went to Justin Phillip Reed’s Indecency. Check out the other winners and runners-up here. The Man Booker Prize went to Anna Burns for her novel Milkman.

Bill Gates’ 2018 list is pretty eclectic, with books about meditation and military AI. A more standard pick for him is 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari.

Update: Bloomberg asked “dozens of business leaders” about the best book they read this year. The top result was The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt. Most of the list is nonfiction (only three novels were chosen), which is a shame. Last month when Erika Hall asked: “If you could make tech CEOs read one book, what is it?”, I answered:

Something — anything! — fictional. Something as far away from Science Tells You How To Business Better by Dr. M.B.A. Smith as you can get.

Update: On Buzzfeed’s list of The Best Nonfiction Books of 2018 is Susan Orlean’s The Library Book. And Slate reviewed the 10 Best Audiobooks of 2018, including Kiese Laymon’s Heavy.

Transportation-less Transportation

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 06, 2018

Google finally announced a consumer service around the self-driving car technology they’ve been developing for almost a decade. Waymo One is basically a taxi hailing service backed by a fleet of automated cars. The promotional video for the service is an upbeat but ho-hum reminder of the convenience of app-hailed transportation:

But there’s a voiceover line about halfway through that gets at the heart of why self-driving cars seem so compelling to people:

What if getting there felt like being there?

Sure, it’s not so much the destination that matters, it’s the journey…but commuting isn’t a journey. People in cities spend a lot of their time in rooms: working, reading, drinking, chatting, etc. Waymo’s cars aren’t quite rooms, but that’s where they’re headed: private rooms for hire that also get you from one place to another. It’s WeWork on wheels, a mobile Starbucks, a portable third place. Along the way, you could have a beer or coffee, do karaoke, make some work calls, watch a movie, chat with friends, make out, or answer some emails. C-suite executives with dedicated chauffeured transportion are already doing this with custom vans. Private jets are essentially vacation homes that can travel anywhere in the world. (Cruises offer this experience too.) If Waymo (or someone else) can make this happen for a much larger segment of the population, that’s a compelling service: transportation-less transportation.

Optician Sans

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 06, 2018

Optician Sans

Eye charts at your optometrist’s office typically only have 10 letters on them: CDHKNORSVZ. Inspired by that lettering, creative agency ANTI Hamar and typographer Fábio Duarte Martins have expanded that abbreviated alphabet into a free font with a full alphabet called Optician Sans. Here’s a video look at how they did it:

(via khoi)

How People Ate in Medieval England

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 05, 2018

In this episode of Modern History, Jason Kingsley and Chris Carr talk about the kind of food that an English knight would encounter on the road…i.e. what might commonly be termed “peasant food”. Depending on what was in season, the midday meal offered would be the sort of farm-to-table artisanal fare that urban dwellers crave at their neighborhood bistro on date night: house-brewed beer, artisan bread made from interesting grains, fresh salmon, peas from the garden, and a drizzled sauce made from an unusual herb.

The pair discuss what a knight would eat at home in a follow-up episode. A knight’s dedicated cook would consult with his physician on dietary matters and the ingredients and level of processing would reflect the knight’s higher status in society, e.g. his bread would be white and not dark, basically the opposite of today.

Kenny G and How Smooth Jazz Took Over the 90s

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 05, 2018

Jazz crossed over into pop music territory in the 70s, with jazz artists like Grover Washington Jr. and George Benson gaining airplay on the radio but losing the respect of “straight-ahead” jazz critics & peers. One reviewer wrote of a popular album by Benson:

Hearing George Benson on this album is like watching Marlon Brando in the Three Stooges movie. Such is the relationship between the artist and the “art”.

In this third installment of Earworm’s series on jazz, Estelle Caswell charts the rise of smooth jazz from its beginnings in the 70s right on through to Kenny G and the format’s eventual crash in the 2000s. There’s also a Spotify playlist of smooth jazz standards in case you’re in the mood to hear more.

Also, how perfect is it that the term “smooth jazz” was coined by a participant during a focus group convened by a market research firm? That’s so smooth jazz.

52 Things Learned in 2018

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 05, 2018

Consultant Tom Whitwell is back this year with 52 things he learned in 2018.

4. 35% of Rwanda’s national blood supply outside the capital city is now delivered by drone. [Techmoran]

13. US nuclear testing between the 1940s and 1970s may have killed as many Americans (from radioactive pollution) as were killed by the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. [Tim Fernholz]

26. Men who’ve experienced earthquakes are willing to take more risks and gamble more. Women show no such effect. [Chie Hanaoka & co]

51. Vanilla pods now cost $500/kg, roughly the same as silver. Madagascan farmers have briefly become vanillionaires, causing chaos in areas where the nearest bank might be a day’s walk away. [Annah Zhu]

Check out his lists from 2017 and 2016.

Time Lapse of the Sushi Scene in Isle of Dogs

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 05, 2018

My favorite scene in Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs is the sushi-making scene. It’s a pure showcase of stop motion animation goodness and wordless storytelling.

Andy Biddle has posted a behind-the-scenes time lapse video of him and Anthony Farquhar-Smith animating that scene:

From the costume changes, it looks like that 40 seconds of video took about 29 days to complete, although obviously not full days in many cases.

You can see more of Biddle’s work here and Farquhar-Smith’s work here.

Update: Somehow I totally missed the days counter in the upper left corner of the video…the sequence took 32 days to do. (This is like the awareness test with the moonwalking bear.) (thx, all)

Update: Isle of Dogs’ head puppet master explains a bit more about what goes into making these stop motion scenes.

The Last Chess Shop in NYC

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 04, 2018

From directors Molly Brass and Stephen Tyler, this is a really lovely & poignant short film about Chess Forum and its owner, Imad Khachan, a Palestinian refugee who came to America to get a PhD in American literature and ended up as the owner/operator of a classic NYC establishment.

Anybody who doesn’t speak any language or different languages, they can sit here and play chess. You can still hold a meaningful conversation without saying a word.

In the 90s, Khachan opened Chess Forum across the street from another chess shop, The Chess Shop, after a disagreement with its owner.

After an ownership agreement between Khachan and a former business mentor fell to pieces, Khachan opened the Chess Forum directly across the street from his former partner’s shop, The Chess Shop. His move triggered what, in New York chess circles, is still known as the Civil War on Thompson Street.

“Sometimes attack is the best defense,” Khachan said of his decision.

His move tore New York’s tight-knit chess community in two. A ceasefire eventually settled in, with each shop courting its own customers and suppliers. His business rival closed in 2012, but the feud taught Khachan a lesson as strong as any he learned on the board.

“Like any chess game it’s the thinking ahead that keeps you one step ahead of the guy who’s shooting after you and not hitting you,” he said. “You have to keep moving.”

Update: Speaking of “holding a meaningful conversation without saying a word”, Gregor McEwan sent in links to a pair of papers he co-authored that argue that game play should be considered conversation: Chess as a Conversation: Artefact-Based Communication in Online Competitive Board Games and “I’m Just Here to Play Games:” Social Dynamics and Sociability in an Online Game Site.

Our analysis provides new evidence that even simple turn-based games contain a great deal of interaction richness and subtlety, and that the different levels of communication should be considered by designers as a real and legitimate vehicle for social interaction.

The Top 25 Films of 2018

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 04, 2018

My favorite end-of-the-year review of movies is always David Ehrlich’s video countdown of the top 25 best films. In this year’s review, I was surprised to see Annihilation on the list (I thought it was ok?) and also delighted by the high ranking of Paddington 2. Eighth Grade, The Favourite, and First Reformed all deservedly made the list, along with Mission: Impossible - Fallout, which I really liked. Would have liked to have seen Black Panther on there though.

Ehrlich shared the best moment from each of the 25 movies at Indiewire.

The 2018 kottke.org Holiday Gift Guide

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 04, 2018

Gift Guide 2018

As I’ve done for the last five years, I’ve spent the past few weeks scouring the internet for the best 2018 gift guides and pulled a few of the most interesting items from each. Think of it as a curated meta-guide for your holiday giving. Let’s dig in.

Charitable giving always tops this list. Check out GiveWell and Charity Navigator to find organizations that will put your money to the best use. (Read up on big charities like Red Cross and Salvation Army…they are often not the best use of your charity dollar.) GiveDirectly sends money directly to people living in extreme poverty around the world. I always recommend Volunteer Match to find local volunteer opportunities but they force you to log in now, so just an FYI. Alternate sites for volunteering are the AARP’s Create the Good and United Way. If you’re giving to the local food shelf, skip buying food yourself for the donation bin and set up a direct debit or CC payment instead…that will put your donation to better use.

If you’re looking for great gift ideas for kids (and/or Toys for Tots), the best place to look remains the excellent The Kid Should See This Gift Guide. I use this almost exclusively for all of my kid-related holiday and birthday shopping. This year’s stand-out items include The littleBits Space Rover Inventor Kit (littleBits stuff is *huge* in our household), The Atlas Obscura Explorer’s Guide for the World’s Most Adventurous Kid (got this for my daughter for her birthday), SET (a pal also recently recommended this game), and a set of four board books including Quantum Physics for Babies. And whoa, the Harry Potter Coding Kit from Kano? Accio Coding Kit!

The Accidental Shop is a collection of products I’ve previously linked to on kottke.org. It is heavy on books…I’d particularly recommend Emily Wilson’s The Odyssey, Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs, and Arbitrary Stupid Goal by Tamara Shopsin. Oh, and I’m flying through Madeline Miller’s Circe right now…what a read!

For those of you into food, you’ve probably already have an Instant Pot and Anova Sous Vide Cooker, so check out the gift guides from Eater, Food52, Serious Eats, Kitchn, and Ruth Reichl. Among their recommendations are a Korean fermeting crock (for making kimchi), the Five Two double-sided cutting board, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat, a Taco Passport, Anita Lo’s well-regarded Solo: A Modern Cookbook for a Party of One, and aged fish sauce (!!).

I love my Kindle Paperwhite and there’s an updated version this year that’s waterproof, lighter & thinner, has Bluetooth for audiobooks, and has more storage.

I’ve seen several guides touting so-called “inexpensive” gifts and then going on to recommend $50 bars of soap, so Slate’s The Good Enough List is a welcome effort. They’ve recommended a bunch of items that are almost as good as the best available options but more affordable. My favorite pick is their rec for a $7 pedometer over a Fitbit or Apple Watch. They also highlight the Gulliver crib from Ikea, which I have taken apart and put back together approximately 30 times. It’s a basic, durable, simple, and fantastic crib.

The kids and I have been playing two games pretty heavily this year: Sushi Go Party and Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle. I really like Hogwarts Battle because it’s cooperative — all the players play together against the villans on the board and it’s fun to strategize how to allocate tokens and hearts to get everyone through the danger areas.

The 2018 Engineering Gift Guide from Purdue University is full of “gift ideas that engage girls and boys in engineering thinking and design”. Their picks this year include Duct Tape Engineer and Kiwi Crate’s monthly subscription service for project kits (which a friend also recently recommended).

The Astronomers Without Borders OneSky Reflector Telescope is probably the best $200 telescope you can buy. I got one this summer and it’s been great for looking at the Moon, planets, and even some nearby galaxies.

Gift Guide 2018

My kids would flip out if I bought the family a Nintendo Switch with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe but I don’t think it’s going to happen. [crying emoji]

Whenever I need to buy something for around the house, Wirecutter is the first (and often only) place I go for recommendations. From their Gifts We Want to Give in 2018, I found Blue Planet II (the *perfect* family holiday entertainment), a Carhartt tool bag, fleece blankets from Uniqlo, and a pack of Blackwing pencils.

Remember Viewmaster? Now you can Create Your Own Reel Viewer.

The 2018 Christmas Catalog from Tools & Toys is blissfully heavy on the nerdy stuff. Their picks include an instant photo printer for your iPhone, the Field Cast Iron Skillet, these enamel steel signs from Best Made, and this clever magnetic wrist band for keeping track of errant screws and parts while you’re doing projects. And Lego has a Voltron kit? Holy nostalgia.

Every year I “recommend” this 55-gallon drum of personal lubricant because why would anyone actually buy this? (Have any of you ever bought this? Report back, please!)

I recently did a round-up of Adult Nonfiction Adapted for Younger Readers, including The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan and Howard Zinn’s A Young People’s History of the United States.

Recommended this last year but gonna repeat: a Christmas storybook based on Die Hard. Self-recommending. See also this sequined Jeff Goldblum pillow.

Some friends of mine love this Ooni portable pizza oven…it can cook a pizza at 932°F in just 60 seconds.

I’m lucky to know so many people who have written books or built companies that sell great products. Here are some of them: Advencher, prints from Mari Andrew (a rare occurrence), This Book is a Planetarium, Legal Nomads, 20x200, Tattly, The Bloody Mary, SDR Traveller, Cora Ball, Austin Kleon, Happy Cooking Hospitality, you think you know me, Gracie’s Ice Cream, Kingston Stockade FC, Storyworth, The Aviary Cocktail Book, Chris Piascik, Salty Avocado, Hoefler & Co, Tinybop, Fat Gold, Hella Cocktail Co, Storq maternity wear, Milkmade, and Field Notes.

From The Colossal Shop, multi-colored toy soldiers doing yoga. See also this maddening puzzle…the pieces change colors depending on how you look at them.

My daughter endlessly rereads her Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls books (sequel). I Am A Rebel Girl Journal is their newest product and just might be under our family tree this year.

Socks inspired by Eric Carle’s Very Hungry Caterpillar? Yes, please. And they make them for adults too! The same company makes all sorts of book-related products, from Harry Potter t-shirts to Kurt Vonnegut necklaces.

From the NY Times’ collection of gift guides, a US National Parks annual pass (I put mine to good use this summer), a phone mount for your car (I got one of these this summer and love it), and these Jabra wireless earbuds that the Wirecutter rates as better than Apple AirPods. Oh and Bananagrams.

From Curbed’s 21 holiday gifts for people who like nice things, this ramen puzzle and a radio designed by Charles and Ray Eames in 1946 but was never produced (until now).

More gift guides: Cup of Jo, Canopy, Engadget (tech), The Guardian, Buzzfeed, Daily Nous (philosophy), Tom’s Guide (tech), and Red Tricycle (kids).

My gift guides from the last few years have yet more ideas: 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, and 2013.

Update: A few miscellaneous gifts suggested by readers. Island Creek’s Oyster of the Month Club. A retro SNES game console from Ghostly and Analogue. From Richard Eaglespoon’s 2018 Holiday Gift Guide, these small metal tins of Malden’s sea salt for bringing to restaurants.

I’ve also posted my yearly round-up of best books of the year. Among the most frequent recommendations for 2018 are Madeline Miller’s Circe, David Blight’s biography of Frederick Douglass, Educated by Tara Westover, and How to Change Your Mind: The New Science of Psychedelics by Michael Pollan.

Update: I wasn’t going to update this anymore but I’m making an exception for this: a firelog that smells like Kentucky Fried Chicken when you burn it. !!! Only $18.99 (incl s&h).

Update: From Julia Carrie Wong, the Reverse Gift Guide — “give your friends and family the gift of not having these products”. The list includes DNA kits and “toys that require batteries to make noise”.

What Doctors Know About CPR

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 04, 2018

For this month’s issue of Topic, palliative care doctor Nathan Gray wrote & illustrated a comic about What Doctors Know About CPR. It does not match what you might have seen on TV.

CPR Comic

CPR holds an almost sacred space in medicine. Most doctors won’t refuse to perform it, even if they think it will be harmful or useless.

See also a hospital’s playlist of songs for doing perfect CPR chest compressions featuring Crazy in Love, Sweet Home Alabama, and Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive.

A Lion Fighting Off a Pack of Hyenas

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 03, 2018

David Attenborough’s new nature series, Dynasties, is already airing in the UK and Canada (we have to wait until January 19 in the US) and they’ve also been posting some video clips on YouTube. Perhaps the most compelling is the video above, of a young male lion being attacked by a pack of hyenas.

You can check out some of the other clips in this playlist, including painted wolves fighting off honey badgers to protect their young and emperor penguins practicing parenthood with a snowball.

The Fun Is Back in Social Media…Again!

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 03, 2018

Every time there’s a new social media app or network that breaks out, someone writes an article about how this new network encourages people to be themselves and have fun without all of the heaviness of other platforms. The latest example of this is Kevin Roose’s NY Times piece about TikTok.

TikTok has none of that. Instead, it’s that rarest of internet creatures: a place where people can let down their guards, act silly with their friends and sample the fruits of human creativity without being barraged by abusive trolls or algorithmically amplified misinformation. It’s a throwback to a time before the commercialization of internet influence, when web culture consisted mainly of harmless weirdos trying to make each other laugh.

In 2016, Jenna Wortham wrote this about Snapchat for the NY Times:

Its entire aesthetic flies in the face of how most people behave on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter — as if we’re waiting to be plucked from obscurity by a talent agent or model scout. But Snapchat isn’t the place where you go to be pretty. It’s the place where you go to be yourself, and that is made easy thanks to the app’s inbuilt ephemerality.

In 2013, Mat Honan wrote this about Vine:

It built a ground up culture that feels loose, informal, and — frankly — really fucking weird. Moreover, most of what you see there feels very of-the-moment. Sure, there’s plenty of artistry that goes into making six second loops, and there are volumes of videos with high production values. But far more common are Vines that serve as windows into what people are doing right now.

Implicit in these pieces is the idea that there’s something intrinsic to these apps/networks that makes them hew closer to real life and/or lightheartedness than older and bigger platforms…the ephemerality of Snapchat, the ease of shooting a Vine video, the fun filters and templates of TikTok. Some part of that is surely true, but what if being small and new is the thing that makes these networks fun? As I wrote in response to Wortham’s article a couple of years ago:

Blogs, Flickr, Twitter, Vine, and Instagram all started off as places to be yourself, but as they became more mainstream and their communities developed behavioral norms, the output became more crafted and refined. Users flooded in and optimized for what worked best on each platform. Blogs became more newsy and less personal, Flickr shifted toward professional-style photography, Vine got funnier, and Twitter’s users turned toward carefully crafted cultural commentary and link sharing. Editing worked its way in between the making and sharing steps.

TikTok probably feels a lot like Flickr or Twitter in the early days, where everyone is exploring and the users are all kind of doing the same things with it. As networks get bigger, they reach a point where there isn’t just one big group exploring the same space together. Instead, you have many big groups who have different goals and desires that all need to fit under one roof (essentially, politics becomes necessary)…and that can get messy, particularly when the companies running these apps want to appeal to the widest possible audience for capitalization purposes.

Novelty is probably the biggest factor though. TikTok is fun because it’s new. When you join up, you get new superpowers and flexing those abilities gives the old brain a shot of dopamine, particularly when the flexing is social. Later, when many of the social possibilities have been explored and even exploited, fun becomes harder to come by. Even Twitter can still be fun — see the replies to Wortham’s recent tweet about fave NYC moments — but the templates for interaction on the platform have long since been set in stone. It would be very surprising if a large & mature social network came along that didn’t also get less fun and “real” as it developed. That would be a special achievement.

The Iconic Jazz Album Covers of Blue Note Records

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 03, 2018

In part 2 of Earworm’s series on jazz, Estelle Caswell talks to producer Michael Cuscuna about the iconic album covers of Blue Note Records.

Inspired by the ever present Swiss lettering style that defined 20th century graphic design (think Paul Rand), Blue Note captured the refined sophistication of jazz during the early 60s, particularly during the hard bop era, and gave it a definitive visual identity through album covers.

The covers were the work of Reid Miles, who was paid $50 per cover but later landed a gig making ads for the likes of Coca-Cola to the tune of $1 million per year. Here are a few of the covers designed by Miles for Blue Note:

Miles Blue Note

Miles Blue Note

Miles Blue Note

Miles Blue Note

Rookie and the Business of Independent Publishing

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 03, 2018

Tavi Gevinson started Rookie in 2011 when she was 15 years old and late last week announced that the online magazine was ceasing publication. The stories about the struggle of independent online media in the age of Google & Facebook are well-worn by now, but the first couple of pages of Gevinson’s letter really resonated with me and with what I’m doing (and not doing) here at kottke.org. This paragraph specifically:

It has sometimes felt like there are two Rookies: There’s the publication that you read, that I also love reading, writing for, and editing; and then there is the company that I own and am responsible for. The former is an art project; the latter is a business. Each one needs and feeds the other, but when I started Rookie at age 15, I saw the two as mutually exclusive. Rookie had been founded, in part, as a response to feeling constantly marketed to in almost all forms of media; to being seen as a consumer rather than a reader or person. In my black-and-white view of the world, the idea of capitalizing on an audience seemed cynical, selfish, and something only evil adults do. It would be misleading to say I was a total purist, though, because I also thought Rookie was really good, and that it should reach people rather than be small and struggling. I wanted it to be able to hire more editors, pay contributors more, and grow so that not everything would need my oversight and other voices could be more prominent. I also wanted Rookie to eventually be a source of income for me, which I didn’t need it to be when I was a teenager and living at home. In those first few years, however, just the day-to-day running of the site was brain-consuming enough without also actively trying to make it as profitable as possible. And, that was the part I was most passionate about, and adept at: collaborating with writers and artists, curating and editing their work, and watching the conversations that would unfold around it.

Over the years, kottke.org could have gone in many different directions — possible acquisitions by Conde Nast publications, funding, partnerships — but I could never convince myself that any of those options would actually make the site any better or make me any happier. I thought then, and I still think now (more than ever actually), that growing the reach and operations of the site would be a terrific idea, but the business challenge is tougher than ever. Thanks to the support of my readers through the membership program (more on that in a second), the business side is stable-ish and I’ve been able to grow modestly here and there (e.g. the weekly Noticing newsletter written by Tim Carmody), but the scope of this enterprise from a financial standpoint is still just one person. Adding another full-time person to the mix sounds easy, but doubling the size of your business is rocket-ship growth, even when you’re tiny. So I continue to put almost 100% of my efforts into writing the site and almost 0% into things like audience growth, business development, promotion, or marketing…and hoping that the product will continue to speak for itself. This feels both like the right way forward for me and also idiotic, like the foundation of this house I’ve spent 20 years building is slowly rotting away out from under us. It’s a real catch-22 that keeps me up some nights.

But back to Rookie. I’m a little surprised that Gevinson didn’t pursue subscriptions or a membership program, but I can relate to what she writes here:

I also know that the idea of taking money from readers made me feel an immediate and intimidating sense of responsibility. (In retrospect, that may have been a more manageable kind of responsibility than money from investors, and could have been a hint to how I’d feel about investors, but you can’t know what you don’t know.)

The first time I tried funding kottke.org with reader support back in 2005, I ended up scrapping the scheme after a year because of that same “intimidating sense of responsibility”. Now with the membership program, it feels more like the site and the business part are in greater alignment…that this is something we’re all doing together for similar reasons. There should have been a way for a site with a strong sense of community like Rookie to come up with a membership plan that seemed collaborative and not extractive, that felt good for everyone. But maybe Gevinson was just ready to move onto other challenges in other arenas. God knows I can empathize with that myself.

Learn About Tom Hanks, Star of Tuber & Hoonis

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 03, 2018

From Neil Cicierega, who you may remember from this hilarious recap of J.R.P.G. Torkelson’s Lorne of the Rings trilogy, comes this short guide to the film career of Tom Hanks, including his best-known works like Tuber & Hoonis, Sadness in the Saddle, and You’ll Get Soil. I woke up feeling a little blah this morning, but this cheered me right the hell up.

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