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Entries for December 2019 (January 2020 »    February 2020 »    Archives)

 

My Recent Media Diet, The Late 2010s Edition

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 30, 2019

Every month or two for the past couple of years, I’ve shared the movies, books, music, TV, and podcasts I’ve enjoyed (or not) recently. Here’s everything I’ve “consumed” since late October.

Uncut Gems. Watching this movie replicates very closely what it feels like to live in NYC (and not in a good way). This movie contains one of my favorite scenes of the year and Sandler is a genius. (A)

Seduce And Destroy with Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie & Paul Thomas Anderson (A24 Podcast). The best bits of this were fascinating but some of it was too inside baseball. Listen to this after seeing Uncut Gems. (B+)

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. The Iliad as a romance novel (of sorts). Loved it. (A)

Hustlers. Jennifer Lopez did not require fancy cameras or the de-aging CGI of The Irishman to make her look 20 years younger. (B+)

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon. Such a great alchemy of subjects — kind of a miracle how it all works together. (A-)

Jesus Is King. Boring. Christian hip hop isn’t any better than Christian rock. Born again Kanye? I miss the old Kanye… (C-)

The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance. Wonderfully creative. A couple of really disturbing parts though for kids. (A-)

The Dark Crystal. Watched this after Age of Resistance and it holds up really well. (B+)

Tunes 2011-2019. Gets better with every listen. (A-)

The Laundromat. Soderbergh and Streep? This should have been better. (B)

The Fifth Season by N.K Jemison. Liked this but it didn’t make me want to immediately start the next book in the series. (B+)

21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari. Lots to chew on in this one but I ultimately didn’t finish it. But that’s more on me than Harari. (B+)

David Whyte: The Conversational Nature of Reality (On Being). “Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet / confinement of your aloneness / to learn / anything or anyone / that does not bring you alive / is too small for you.” Whyte sounds like a fascinating person. (A-)

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Re-watched the entire series over the past several months. Strong in the middle seasons but not a great ending. (B+)

The OJ Simpson Trial (You’re Wrong About…). Excellent multi-part reexamination of the OJ trial centered on the women, principally Nicole Brown Simpson but also Marcia Clark and Paula Barbieri. It took me awhile to get used to the sometimes-too-casual banter about distressing subject matter, but their knowledge and discussion of the subject matter won me over. (A-)

Ad Astra. The filmmakers couldn’t find a way to do this movie without the voiceover? Just let Pitt act…everything he says is obvious from his face. Beautiful though. (B+)

Dead Wake by Erik Larson. Engaging account of the sinking of the Lusitania, which eventually & circuitously led to the entry of the United States into World War I. (A-)

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. This wasn’t my favorite book I’ve read with my kids. (B-)

The Devil Next Door. Interesting story but I wanted more from this re: the nature of truth & evil. (B)

The Lighthouse. Sunshine x Fight Club. (A-)

Ford v Ferrari. Driving home from the theater, it took every ounce of self-control not to put the pedal on the floor and see if my car can do 120 on a Vermont county road. (A-)

The Crown (season 3). I didn’t like this quite much as the first two seasons, but I did like the overt and not-so-overt references to Brexit. There was a low-stakes-ness to this season which fits with other exported British media (Downton, British Baking Show) and the country’s rapidly dwindling status as a world power. (B+)

Menu Mind Control (Gastropod). Really interesting discussion of how menus are constructed to balance the needs of the restaurant and the desires of the diner. Buckle up though…Gastropod is one of the densest podcasts out there. (A-)

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. A surprisingly trippy adaptation of one of my favorite magazine articles on Fred Rogers. Hanks is great as usual. (B+)

Coco. Another Pixar gem. (A-)

A Table for Two, Please? (Talk Money). From a new podcast by my pal Mesh — the first episode is about the business side of opening and running restaurants. (B+)

Knives Out. From the hype this got, I was expecting a bit more than a good murder mystery but it was just a good murder mystery. (B+)

Marriage Story. Great performances all around, but Jesus why did I watch this? It captures very well the feeling and experience of divorce. Total PTSD trigger though. (D/A-)

Galatea. Engaging short story by Madeline Miller. (B+)

Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker. Impossible at this point for anyone to objectively review the ninth movie in a series which in some ways has defined culture of the last 40 years. I loved it, even the hokey parts. (A)

High Life. Not even sure what to say about this one. (B-)

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

The Best of the Best-of-the-Decade Lists

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 30, 2019

Rex Sorgatz has been compiling a collection of lists related to the 2010s decade — best movies, worst TV shows, top inventions, the defining memes, that sort of thing. There are over 500 lists in the collection, so Sorgatz has helpfully posted the best of these lists in a Twitter thread.

From this list of the most popular baby names, we learn that the top boys names tend toward the biblical and traditional (Noah, Jacob, William, Elijah) while girls names are less so (Emma, Olivia, Ava, Mia, Madison).

Among the top 20 scientific discoveries of the decade is CRISPR, detecting gravitational waves, and fleshing out the human family tree.

Serial and Missing Richard Simmons were two of the podcasts that defined the 2010s. Not sure how you can leave Slow Burn off of here though…

The 100 Best Shoes of the Decade. Counterpoint: almost all of these shoes are terrible — gaudy celeb-driven collectables about as classy as commemorative plates.

The Tesla Model S and the Chevy Volt both made it on Car & Driver’s list of the 10 Most Significant Cars of the 2010s.

Check out the thread for all of the best lists.

How Do You Move a Star? Stellar Engines!

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 30, 2019

In this episode of Kurzgesagt, they’re talking about building engines powerful enough to move entire stars, dragging their solar systems along with them.

At some point we could encounter a star going supernova. Or a massive object passing by and showering earth with asteroids.

If something like this were to happen we would likely know thousands, if not millions of years in advance. But we still couldn’t do much about it.

Unless… we move our whole solar system out of the way.

Kurzgesagt did something interesting for this one. Instead of relying on already available sources, they commissioned physicist Matthew Caplan to write a paper about a novel stellar engine design, a massive contraption that could theoretically move the solar system a distance of 50 light years over 1 million years.

Stellar engines, megastructures used to control the motion of a star system, may be constructible by technologically advanced civilizations and used to avoid dangerous astrophysical events or transport a star system into proximity with another for colonization.

Is this the first scientific paper published in a peer-reviewed journal commissioned by a YouTube channel? The 2019 media landscape is wild.

Barack Obama’s Favorite Books of 2019

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 29, 2019

As he does every year, President Obama has shared his favorite books of the year for 2019. His picks include Sally Rooney’s Normal People, Jenny Odell’s How to Do Nothing, Jia Tolentino’s Trick Mirror, and The Topeka School by Ben Lerner. I wonder what he reads that he doesn’t like.

He also did a list of his favorite movies (Parasite, Booksmart, Little Women) and “TV shows that I considered as powerful as movies” (Fleabag!).

A Self-Driving DeLorean Is Taught How to Drift

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 27, 2019

A group of Stanford engineers has built an electric self-driving DeLorean that they’ve taught how to drift through a fairly complicated kilometer-long course “with the agility and precision of a human driver”. I imagine this will be available as a free update to Telsas soon after some of this project’s team members get hired over there.

According to this article, the car completed the course on the first try, after “seeing” a GPS map of it.

MARTY is a 1981 DeLorean that Goh and his colleagues at Stanford’s Dynamic Design Lab converted into an all-electric, autonomous drift car. Four years ago, MARTY drifted — the style of driving where the car moves forward even though it’s pointed sideways — through its first doughnuts with inhuman precision. Since then, Goh and team have been busy welding and coding to prepare MARTY to apply those basic drifting skills to an intense driving course, and unbelievably everything had worked perfectly. MARTY screeched its way through turns and quick zigs and zags in just a few minutes, kicking up smoke and bits of rubber, without nicking a single cone along the course.

This behind-the-scenes explains how the car was built and how it navigates the course:

Even more details on project lead Jonathan Goh’s website. And of course they shot the whole thing overhead with a drone:

Self Driving Delorean

Embroidery of Homer Simpson Disappearing into the Bushes

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 27, 2019

Homer Bushes Embroidery

Move over, every other craft project — this Homer Simpson disappears into the bushes embroidery piece by Rayna of Hermit Girl Creations is the best embroidery in the history of the world. The scene is taken from a 1994 episode of The Simpsons called Homer Loves Flanders and has become a bit of a meme in recent years; here’s the clip:

Check out her Instagram or Etsy shop — she does a lot of other Simpsons-based embroidery as well as Charlie Brown, The Office, Dr. Seuss, Frog & Toad, Stranger Things, and Futurama. Looks like she takes commissions via Instagram DM.

A Free-to-Use Library of Very Canadian Stock Photos

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 27, 2019

Canada Stock Photos

Cira, the organization that manages the .ca top-level domain, is offering a free stock photo library featuring typically Canadian scenes, like “lumberjack and hockey player discuss quarterly numbers” (above). They also have their version of the distracted boyfriend photo (“hockey player checks out lumberjack while woman in Canadian tuxedo looks on in disbelief”):

Canada Stock Photos

as well as “backpackers enjoy poutine”:

Canada Stock Photos

(via @legalnomads)

The Eyeless Girls

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 26, 2019

Hélène Delmaire paints portraits of girls without eyes.

Helene Delmaire

Helene Delmaire

Helene Delmaire

Helene Delmaire

Delmaire did all of the paintings for the film Portrait of a Lady On Fire and even appears painting in the film.

I did pretty much all the paintings except the one that’s without a face. Céline and the actresses would work out how the scene was going to go. Once that was set up, I’d come, take a photo and while they were shooting the scenes, I went to a little corner of the castle and did my sketches.

Delmaire sells originals and prints of her work here. (via @alteredq)

Fleabag: The Scriptures

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 26, 2019

I am sorry this is too late to make my holiday gift guide, but I just found out it existed: Fleabag: The Scriptures consists of the scripts for both seasons of Fleabag, the original stage directions for the play, and commentary from Phoebe Waller-Bridge.

Fleabag Scriptures

Her coat falls open. She only has her bra on underneath. She pulls out the little sculpture of the woman with no arms. It sits on her lap. Two women. One real. One not. Both with their innate femininity out.

The book has been out since November. How am I just finding out about this now?!

Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 26, 2019

I am fascinated with the sound of movies, from the soundtracks to the foley effects and even temp music. Making Waves is a documentary about this integral aspect of cinema. Here’s a trailer:

Directed by veteran Hollywood sound editor Midge Costin, the film reveals the hidden power of sound in cinema, introduces us to the unsung heroes who create it, and features insights from legendary directors with whom they collaborate.

Featuring the insights and stories of iconic directors such as George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, David Lynch, Barbra Streisand, Ang Lee, Sofia Coppola and Ryan Coogler, working with sound design pioneers — Walter Murch, Ben Burtt and Gary Rydstrom — and the many women and men who followed in their footsteps.

(thx, dunstan)

SNL’s Honest Kids Clothing Ad

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 24, 2019

This Saturday Night Live mock TV commercial for a Macy’s holiday sale cuts right to the truth about buying clothes for kids that aren’t right for them or their parents.

Some of their deals include “40% off cozy corduroys that’ll pinch his little nuts”, “kids jackets that are so big & thick they won’t fit in their carseat anymore”, and “everyday savings on mittens they’ll lose, shirts with the wrong Frozen princess, sweaters that make them hot”.

Every Sample from Paul’s Boutique by the Beastie Boys

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 23, 2019

This video catalogs every borrowed sample from Paul’s Boutique by the Beastie Boys, from the soundtrack to Car Wash to the Sugarhill Gang to the Eagles to the Ramones to the Beatles. They play the original first and then what they did with it on the album.

Somehow this video only has 31,000 views?! You can also listen to this remix of Paul’s Boutique on Soundcloud, which combines the source tracks with Beastie Boys vocals and some audio commentary.

Tim Carmody made a Spotify playlist of all the sampled songs or you can download zip files of the original songs sampled in Paul’s Boutique and five of their other albums.

They just don’t make ‘em like this anymore, mostly because clearing all of the samples would be prohibitively expensive if not impossible.

Hip-hop sampling began as a live technique, with DJs working turntables at parties and clubs. Whether it was strictly legal or not, nobody was going to try to sue anyone about it. As the genre’s popularity grew, people naturally started recording performances and releasing them as albums. Early sampling tended to come fast and furious. In the ’80s, short clips of existing recordings were the order of the day, often — as in the case of the Beastie Boys — lots of them, layered and shuffled in a clearly creative way. As hip-hop pushed further into the mainstream, however, the stakes got bigger and so did the samples.

1990 saw the release of both M.C. Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This” and Vanilla Ice’s “Ice, Ice, Baby.” Not only did both songs sample, they each relied heavily on one particular sample — the baselines from Rick James’ “Superfreak” and Queen and David Bowie’s “Under Pressure” — for their main hook. Both hits resulted in legal controversy.

Live in the Country and Need a Hand? I Know a Guy…

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 23, 2019

I live in the country and this thread from Avery Alder about needing a lot of guys is spot on.

Here is the thing about living in the country. You need a lot of guys. You need a wood guy, and a plow guy, and if you don’t have a big enough truck you’re probably going to need a truck guy.

This is my favorite bit:

Everyone should strive toward being a uniquely helpful guy, forming a community-wide matrix of skills and offerings, so that nobody ever has to “make a trip into town” (the failure of the guy state).

I rent so I don’t have a lot of guys, but I still have a car guy, a plow guy, a real estate guy (just in case I do want to buy something), a meat guy, a ski boot guy, and a roof/window guy. My bacon person is a kickass lady butcher. I wish I had a wood stove or fireplace so that I needed a wood guy.

Star Wars Spoiler Generator

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 23, 2019

From Randall Munroe at XKCD, here’s a spoilers generator for the latest Star Wars movie.

Xkcd Star Wars Spoiler Generator

In this Star Wars movie, our heroes return to take on the First Order and new villain Theranos with some help with their new friend Dab Tweetdeck. Rey builds a new lightsaber with a beige blade, and they head out to confront the First Order’s new superweapon, the Moonsquisher, a space station capable of cutting a planet in half and smashing the halves together like two cymbals. They unexpectedly join forces with their old enemy Boba Fett and destroy the superweapon in a battle featuring Kylo Ren putting on another helmet over his smaller one. P.S. Rey’s parents are Obi-wan and Laura Dern.

Radiohead’s Entire Discography Now Available on YouTube

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 23, 2019

Radiohead have uploaded all of their albums to YouTube where they are available for all of your streaming needs.

The move comes after Billboard announced that album charts will reflect YouTube views.

Over at Open Culture, Josh Jones notes that the band has always been willing to experiment with technology and distribution, as with the pay-what-you-want release of In Rainbows:

As Yorke had predicted, Napster encouraged “enthusiasm for music in a way that the music industry has long forgotten to do.” The industry began to collapse. File sharing may have been utopian for listeners, but it was potentially ruinous for artists. 2007’s In Rainbows showed a way forward.

Released on a pay-what-you-want model, with a “digital tip jar,” the release was met with bemusement and contempt. (The Manic Street Preacher’s Nicky Wire wrote that it “demeans music.”) Two years later, the jury was still out on the “Radiohead experiment.”

(via open culture)

An Introvert’s Guide to Cancelling Plans (Without Losing Your Friends)

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 20, 2019

Olga Khazan writes about How to Flake Gracefully:

I am the queen of cancellation.”Heyyyyy guyyyyyyyssss-” begins a typical email from me backing out of plans, yet again. (The Ys multiply the guiltier I feel, and the more recently I’ve no-showed.) A book thing came up, and it has to be done by Monday, so I can’t use that non-transferable ticket you got me after all. Or I’m sick, again. But actually sick this time — not pretending to be sick so I can run errands without making anyone mad. To make time to copyedit something, I canceled on a work party of my boyfriend’s, then canceled on my own work party for good measure. I’ve started feebly sending this same boyfriend to social engagements in my stead, like a sad foreign minister from Flake Nation.

Part of the secret is not to overbook yourself in the first place. I’m a long-time practitioner of this technique — I say a straightforward no to lots of things, and if I say yes to something, I almost never cancel. And lately I’ve been saying yes more often, because as Khazan writes, getting out and doing stuff, even if it’s potentially uncomfortable and maybe not even your cup of tea, is part of caring for yourself. Human souls are not meant to be left on shelves; they need to run and play with others in the real world. Still though, as an introvert, I have to admit that nothing feels better than when someone cancels plans with me. The pure luxury of unanticipated JOMO knows no equal.

How to Get a World-Famous Actor for Your Short Film Project

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 20, 2019

Colin Levy recently finished a sci-fi short that he’s been working on for several years called Skywatch. And spoiler alert: Jude Law is in it for a few seconds. As Levy admits, he had a barebones budget and didn’t have big Hollywood connections, so how did that happen? How do you convince an Oscar nominated actor to be in your no-name low-budget film project? Like so:

That’s pretty cool. Check out the finished product:

What’s interesting is that the explainer video has 250,000 more views than the short film.

The Year in Clouds 2019

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 20, 2019

Clouds 2019

Clouds 2019

The NY Times shares a selection of cloud photos taken by members of the Cloud Appreciation Society. The photos above are by Rod Jones & Jeanette Brown.

Clouds, their manifesto says, are not signs of negativity and gloom, but rather “nature’s poetry” and “the most egalitarian of her displays.”

If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I’m a bit of a cloud nerd myself (e.g. see my Sun & Clouds Story). My favorite cloud pic I took last year (and perhaps even of all time) is this shot of some cumulonimbus mammatus clouds at sunset after a thunderstorm.

Clouds 2019

That was a surreally beautiful evening and I felt lucky to have witnessed it. (thx, michelle)

Almost Famous: “I Was in The Black Eyed Peas. Then I Quit.”

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 20, 2019

Actress and singer/songwriter Kim Hill became a member of the Black Eyed Peas in the mid-90s, appearing with the group on Soul Train and singing on their first two albums. After feeling pressure from management to sexualize her appearance and from the other members of the band to broaden their appeal, Hill quit the group and was eventually replaced by Fergie. In this video by Ben Proudfoot, she talks about that decision:

Yeah, they got rid of the black girl that they never made a part of the band and they got the white girl, they made her a part and they blew up and it’s like, no! That’s not how it happened.

I really really liked this video. Hill has such a great expressive face and a generous soul and Proudfoot makes the most of it by getting in close and just letting her talk.

The 25 Best Films of 2019

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 19, 2019

Hey, Merry Ehrlichmas! David Ehrlich’s video countdown of his top 25 films of the year is one of my most anticipated end-of-the-year thingers. Viewing it always makes me want to watch movies for three straight days. As a companion, Ehrlich listed the movies here, along with the most memorable moment from each.

Watching “The Irishman,” especially for the first time, you get the sense that it’s teeming with hidden moments that will cling to you like barnacles for the rest of your life. Some of them are more apparent than others: Pacino chanting “Solidarity!” Pesci saying “It’s what it is.” Ray Romano asking De Niro if he’s really guilty at heart. The film’s most indelible treasures are lurking a bit deeper under the surface. On my second viewing, nothing hit me harder than the rhyme between two distant confrontations: As a child, Peggy suspects that her father is hiding some demons, but Frank directs his daughter back to her breakfast. Years later, Peggy wordlessly confronts her dad with daggers in her eyes, and Frank is so far beyond salvation that his only recourse is to keep eating his cereal like nothing ever happened.

Some random thoughts on the list and the year in movies: Surprised to see Ad Astra so high — I didn’t hear great things so I skipped it. I thought I saw a lot of movies this year, but this list once again proves me wrong. I can’t wait to see Uncut Gems. No Booksmart? I really loved Booksmart. I did not like Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and Knives Out as much as everyone else did. I mean, they were fine, but… Great to see Hustlers on the list — when Jennifer Lopez gets good roles, she knocks the cover off of the ball. Give Jennifer Lopez more good roles!

See also these two 2019 movie trailer mashups:

(thx, brandt & david)

The Trailer for Tenet, Christopher Nolan’s Next Time-Bending Film

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 19, 2019

Christopher Nolan loves to play around with time. In most of his films — Interstellar, Memento, Dunkirk, Inception — time flows slow, fast, and in unexpected directions. His latest project, Tenet, appears from the above trailer to be no different, with events occurring in reverse and characters observing events that haven’t happened yet. You can read more about the movie here, but here in the real world, we’re going to have to somehow wait through the normal passage of time until July 17th, 2020 to see it. (thx, aaron)

The Year in Photos 2019

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 19, 2019

Photos 2019

Photos 2019

Photos 2019

Photos 2019

Photos 2019

Photos 2019

From top to bottom: Hong Kong protests by Vincent Yu, Greta Thunberg by Maja Hitij, the first image of a black hole, dog sled in Greenland by Steffen Olsen, Megan Rapinoe by Franck Fife, Hong Kong protests by Kin Cheung.

What a decade this year has been, right? Here are some year-end photo lists that look back on the most inspiring, memorable, and distressing moments of 2019.

In Focus at The Atlantic: 2019 in Photos (part 2, part 3). The Top 25 News Photos of 2019. The Most 2019 Photos Ever.

NY Times: The Year in Pictures 2019.

Reuters: Pictures of the Year 2019.

Science: Our Favorite Science Photos of 2019.

Time: The Top 100 Photos of 2019.

CNN: 2019: The Year in Pictures.

Associated Press: Top Photos of 2019.

I was surprised (but also not surprised) that none of these lists included photos of the Chilean protests on violence against women that have since spread around the world (see HuffPo and Quartz for coverage). So I’m including one here (by Pablo Sanhueza):

Photos 2019

Come and See

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 19, 2019

Elem Kilmov’s 1985 Soviet anti-war film Come and See is getting a 2K restoration and theatrical re-release in 2020. In a 4/4 star review of Come and See, Roger Ebert called it “one of the most devastating films ever about anything”:

It’s said that you can’t make an effective anti-war film because war by its nature is exciting, and the end of the film belongs to the survivors. No one would ever make the mistake of saying that about Elem Klimov’s “Come and See.” This 1985 film from Russia is one of the most devastating films ever about anything, and in it, the survivors must envy the dead.

Director Steven Soderbergh called it “one of the best things I’ve ever seen”.

Cool Multiplane Animation in this Pinocchio Clip from 1940

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 18, 2019

This is a 45-second clip from Pinocchio, an animated film made by Disney in 1940.

The scene itself isn’t that exciting…until you actually start to wonder, wait, how was this made? The way the camera effortlessly swoops past buildings and through archways like one of Pixar’s infinitely pliable virtual cameras, the depth of field changing as we pan and zoom toward Pinocchio’s door — how did they do that 80 years ago, animating by hand? The film’s animators achieved this effect using a relatively recent invention, the multiplane camera.

The basic idea is that instead of animating characters against a single static background, you can animate several layers of independently moving scenes painted on glass. In a 1957 film, Walt Disney himself explained how the camera worked:

And here’s how Disney used the technique in dozens of scenes from Snow White to Bambi to 101 Dalmatians:

Because we’re seeing the output of an actual camera zooming and panning, many of these scenes feel more grounded in reality than even some of today’s best digital output. Even 80 years later, the effect is impressive, a real testament to the collaborative talent of Disney’s animators & technicians.

Shampoo Packaged in “Bottles” Made of Soap

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 18, 2019

Product designer Jonna Breitenhuber has come up with an interesting way to get rid of plastic shampoo and body wash containers: by packaging the liquids in bottles made of slow-dissolving soap.

Soapbottle

Soapbottle

Soapbottle is a packaging made from soap. As the content within is being used, the soap packaging very gradually dissolves. When finished, remnants can be used again, as hand soap or processed into detergents. Soap is made of natural ingredients and is biodegradable: waste can be completely avoided.

You can see Soapbottle in action here:

I love that you open the bottle by cutting the corner off with a knife. See also Biodegradable Food Containers Inspired by Egg Shells & Orange Peels. (via moss & fog)

The Year in Good News 2019 (and the Bad News About Good News)

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 18, 2019

From Future Crunch, 99 Good News Stories You Probably Didn’t Hear About in 2019. Here are a few representative entries:

8. In Kenya, poaching rates have dropped by 85% for rhinos and 78% for elephants in the last five years, in South Africa, the number of rhinos killed by poachers fell by 25%, the fifth annual decrease in a row, and in Mozambique, one of Africa’s largest wildlife reserves went an entire year without losing a single elephant.

16. China’s tree stock rose by 4.56 billion m^3 between 2005 and 2018, deserts are shrinking by 2,400 km^2 a year, and forests now account for 22% of land area. SCMP

38. Type 3 polio officially became the second species of poliovirus to be eliminated in 2019. Only Type 1 now remains — and only in Pakistan and Afghanistan. STAT

We definitely don’t hear enough good news from most of our media sources. It’s mostly bad news and “feel good” news — that’s what sells. (Note that “feel good” news is not the same as substantive good news and is sometimes even bad news, e.g. heartwarming stories that are actually indicators of societal failures.) In the past few weeks I’ve also posted links to Beautiful News Daily and The Happy Broadcast, a pair of sites dedicated to sharing positive news about the world.

But at this point I feel obligated to remind myself (and perhaps you as well) that focusing mostly on positive news isn’t great either. A number of thinkers — including Bill Gates, Steven Pinker, Nicholas Kristof, Max Roser — are eager to point out that the world’s citizens have never been safer, healthier, and wealthier than they are now. And in some ways that is true! But in this long piece for The Guardian, Oliver Burkeman addresses some of the reasons to be skeptical of these claims.

But the New Optimists aren’t primarily interested in persuading us that human life involves a lot less suffering than it did a few hundred years ago. (Even if you’re a card-carrying pessimist, you probably didn’t need convincing of that fact.) Nestled inside that essentially indisputable claim, there are several more controversial implications. For example: that since things have so clearly been improving, we have good reason to assume they will continue to improve. And further — though this is a claim only sometimes made explicit in the work of the New Optimists — that whatever we’ve been doing these past decades, it’s clearly working, and so the political and economic arrangements that have brought us here are the ones we ought to stick with. Optimism, after all, means more than just believing that things aren’t as bad as you imagined: it means having justified confidence that they will be getting even better soon.

See also other critiques of Pinker’s work: A letter to Steven Pinker (and Bill Gates, for that matter) about global poverty and The World’s Most Annoying Man.

136 Mindblowing & Groundbreaking Internet Videos

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 18, 2019

Joe Sabia is a VP for Conde Nast Entertainment and he and his team have been the creative force behind some of the most interesting video series of recent years, including Vogue’s 73 Questions (Sabia is the questioner), the Billie Eilish time capsule interviews, Wired’s Autocomplete Interviews, and Gourmet Makes.

Recently Sabia shared a list of 136 internet videos which he says “left some sort of impression on me since the dawn of the internet video explosion (which I’ll define as 2006)”. So the collection is personal, but it’s also an expert’s record of creative people & orgs playing around with the internet video form, breaking new ground, or contributing significantly to culture.

I’ve spent my entire career inside internet video. If I didn’t mess around with it in college, I’d be a law school drop out. Back then, so much of YouTube began as a bunch of weird hobbyists making things we were curious about. Meeting people who saw the same popular videos you did felt like meeting someone who genuinely shared a bit of your identity. It was special. It was authentic. It was unusual. Everywhere you looked was some sort of bizarre concept that may have existed in weird avant garde museum galleries decades before, or from DVD curations like Wholphin — and most certainly never in shareable form on your computer.

I’ve posted a lot of these videos over the years, which is not surprising — while I’m not a video creator, Sabia and I are often on the lookout for stuff that is new or creative in some way. Fair warning: this list could occupy your attention for hours. HOURS. Here are a few videos I pulled out:

If this were my list, I would have included Primitive Technology. Even though it’s such a simple premise, I’d never seen anything like it before: a long-ish silent how-to video that felt tight and never boring.

The Happy Broadcast

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 17, 2019

For the past couple of years, Mauro Gatti has been publishing The Happy Broadcast, his antidote to negative news and “the vitriolic rhetoric that pervades our media”. Here are a couple of recent examples:

Happy Broadcast

Happy Broadcast

You can also follow The Happy Broadcast on Instagram. See also Beautiful News Daily.

Fantastic Fungi

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 17, 2019

That’s the trailer for Fantastic Fungi, a feature-length documentary about the worldwide network of mushrooms & mycelium that thrives beneath our feet. Here’s a description of what the film covers, from its companion book:

Fantastic Fungi is at the forefront of a mycological revolution that is quickly going mainstream. In this book, learn about the incredible communication network of mycelium under our feet, which has the proven ability to restore the planet’s ecosystems, repair our health, and resurrect our symbiotic relationship with nature. Fantastic Fungi aspires to educate and inspire the reader in three critical areas: First, the text showcases research that reveals mushrooms as a viable alternative to Western pharmacology. Second, it explores studies pointing to mycelium as a solution to our gravest environmental challenges. And, finally, it details fungi’s marvelous proven ability to shift consciousness.

In a review for RogerEbert.com, Matt Fagerholm called the film “one of the year’s most mind-blowing, soul-cleansing and yes, immensely entertaining triumphs”. (via colossal)

Artworks from the Prado Museum Altered to Show Effects of Climate Change

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 17, 2019

Prado Climate Change

In collaboration with the Prado Museum in Madrid, the World Wildlife Fund altered a few paintings from the museum’s collection to highlight the future effects of climate change: extinction of species, sea level rise, desertification, and climate refugees.

Prado Climate Change

(via open culture)

Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, a Giant of Physics

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 17, 2019

Prompted by this Facebook post, I have been reading about astrophysicist Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, who should be more widely known than she is. From a piece last year in Cosmos:

Cecilia Payne, born on May 10, 1900, in Wendover, England, began her scientific career in 1919 with a scholarship to Cambridge University, where she studied physics. But in 1923 she received a fellowship to move to the United States and study astronomy at Harvard. Her 1925 thesis, Stellar Atmospheres, was described at the time by renowned Russian-American astronomer Otto Struve as “the most brilliant PhD thesis ever written in astronomy”.

In the January, 2015, Richard Williams of the American Physical Society, wrote: “By calculating the abundance of chemical elements from stellar spectra, her work began a revolution in astrophysics.”

Even though she completed her studies at Cambridge, she was not awarded a degree because the university did not give degrees to women. That’s when she decided to move to the US, where Harvard offered greater educational opportunities and a “collection of several hundred thousand glass photographs of the night sky” that Payne-Gaposchkin was uniquely qualified to analyze.

Miss Payne applied the new theories of atomic structure and quantum physics to her analysis of stellar spectra. No one at the Harvard Observatory had yet attempted such an investigation, as no one there possessed the necessary background. She, in contrast, had learned the complex architecture of the “Bohr atom” directly from Niels Bohr, winner of the 1922 Nobel Prize in physics. She had also followed the work of Indian physicist Meg Nad Saha of Calcutta, the first person to link the atom to the stars. Saha maintained that the line patterns in stellar spectra differed according to the temperatures of the stars. The hotter the star, the more readily the electrons of its atoms leaped to higher orbits. With sufficient heat, the outermost electrons broke free, leaving behind positively charged ions with altered spectral signatures.

Building on Saha’s base, with insights gained from a couple of her professors in England, Miss Payne selected specific spectral lines to examine. Then she estimated their intensities in hundreds of stellar spectra. Element by element she gauged, plotted, and calculated her way through the plates to take the temperatures of the stars.

Her groundbreaking work on spectra, laid out in her Ph.D thesis published when she was just 25, puts Payne-Gaposchkin in the same league as some other physics heavy hitters.

Her discovery of the true cosmic abundance of the elements profoundly changed what we know about the universe. The giants — Copernicus, Newton, and Einstein — each in his turn, brought a new view of the universe. Payne’s discovery of the cosmic abundance of the elements did no less.

44,000 Year-Old Cave Painting in Indonesia Is World’s Oldest Figurative Art

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 16, 2019

A team of archaeologists has found a massive painting in a cave in Indonesia that uranium dating analysis shows to be around 43,900 years old, which they say is “currently the oldest pictorial record of storytelling and the earliest figurative artwork in the world”.

Indonesia Rock Art

Indonesia Rock Art

Cave painting was assumed to have originated in Europe, but these Indonesian paintings are thousands of years older. From an NPR piece on the discovery:

Genevieve von Petzinger, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Victoria, says the discoveries in her field are happening very quickly, thanks to newer technology such as the technique used to date the hunting scene. “I think the overall theme here really is that we’ve vastly underestimated the capacity of our ancestors,” she says.

She says the oldest cave paintings in Europe and Asia have common elements. And she thinks that even older paintings will eventually be found in the place where both groups originated from.

“Personally, I think that our ancestors already knew how to do art before they left Africa,” von Petzinger says.

Von Petzinger is the scientist behind one of the most intriguing things I learned this year, that the Stone Age symbols found in caves all over the world may be part of a single prehistoric writing system.

Mashup of Radiohead’s Creep & All I Want for Christmas is You

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 16, 2019

This is a little slice of genius right here, a mashup of Radiohead’s Creep and Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas is You. It takes a little bit to get going but I LOL’d when the vocals finally came in.

I have to say though that it’s not quite as entertaining as this All I Want for Christmas / This Is America combo, which might actually be the best thing on the internet.

Watch This Chimpanzee Swipe Effortlessly Through Instagram

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 16, 2019

I’m not so surprised that this chimpanzee can navigate Instagram — chimps are quite clever tool users — I’m more interested in what this says about social media and smartphones.

These things have such a grip on us because they appeal to our prehistoric primal urges, which are ancient and deep within our animal makeup. With our phones’ touchscreen gestures, we can directly manipulate objects as we would in the real world (more so than with a keyboard and mouse) — chimps and human toddlers can easily use the interface as they would any other tool. And social media satisfies requirements further down towards the base of the pyramid of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs than we would often like to believe, sometimes to the detriment of our esteem and self-actualization.

The Best Optical Illusion of the Year for 2019

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 16, 2019

This mind-bending optical illusion concocted by Frank Force has won this year’s Best Illusion of the Year contest. The illusion features a moving shape that somehow can be seen to rotate around both the horizontal and the vertical axis and rotates in two different directions around each axis. W. T. A. F.

How the Succession Theme Song Was Composed

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 16, 2019

Sitting at a piano, composer Nicholas Britell explains how he came up with the theme music to Succession.

I’m constantly winding in these notes that aren’t part of the scale to just to kind of jolt the music in a different direction. So you see that things are always kind of off-kilter with themselves — like the family in the show.

See also The Succession Theme Works Over Any TV Show Title Sequence.

The Kung Fu Nuns of the Drukpa Order

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 13, 2019

Kung Fu Nuns

Until recently, Buddhist nuns in the Himalayan region were denied leadership positions and the opportunity to exercise as part of their spiritual practice. Then the spiritual leader of the Drukpa Order, frustrated at the lack of equality for women in the region, changed that and the Kung Fu Nuns were born.

Traditionally, Buddhist nuns have not been allowed to exercise. They are forbidden from singing, leading prayers or being fully ordained. In some monasteries, it is believed that female Buddhists can’t even achieve enlightenment unless they are reborn as men.

“Everyone has this old thinking that nuns can’t do anything,” said Jigme Konchok Lhamo, 25, who has been part of the nunnery since she was 12. (Jigme is a first name that all the nuns share, which in Tibetan means “fearless one.”)

But the spiritual leader of the Drukpa lineage, His Holiness Gyalwang Drukpa, has spent much of his life breaking down those patriarchal Buddhist traditions.

Gyalwang Drukpa doesn’t like “the terminology of empowerment,” he said in a 2014 interview. “That actually means that I have the power to empower them.”

“I’m just moving the obstacles, so that they can come up with their own power.”

The nuns train in kung fu and meditate for hours a day, which they say prepares them for their real duty: helping others.

They teach self-defense classes for women in an area that is known for violence against women and have biked thousands of miles to protest against inaction on climate change & human trafficking. The nuns hike to collect litter. Many of them are trained solar panel repair technicians. In the aftermath of the 2015 earthquake in Nepal, they provided aid to communities that other international aid organizations deemed too dangerous to travel to.

Cybertruck Circa 1966

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 13, 2019

In 1966, Ford designed a concept truck they called the Ranger II:

Ford Ranger II

Ford Ranger II

From Ford’s press release:

Ford Division’s Ranger II is an ultra-modern pickup truck with a custom designed passenger compartment. Seen as a two-seater vehicle in the above photo, the Ranger II converts into a four-passenger pickup (below) at the flick of a finger. The rear portion of the cab moves 18-inches into the bed of the truck while a roof section moves up into position and two additional bucket seats fall into place. The Ranger II’s ultra-streamlined windshield is made of specially tempered plastic-type glass. It also features high intensity headlights of rectangular design, extruded aluminum grille and walnut flooring in the cargo bed.

There is more than a passing resemblance to Tesla’s Cybertruck, down to the “specially tempered glass” and “high intensity headlights of rectangular design”:

Cybertruck

How Humans Domesticated Cats (Twice)

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 13, 2019

Sometimes it doesn’t feel like cats are particularly domesticated, but as this PBS video explains, humans have actually domesticated cats two separate times, once in southwest Asia ~10,000 years ago and in Egypt ~3500 years ago. They were probably tamed by being around human settlements for the source of food. This is the commensal pathway to domestication, one of the three major pathways followed by most domesticated animals.

The commensal pathway was traveled by vertebrates that fed on refuse around human habitats or by animals that preyed on other animals drawn to human camps. Those animals established a commensal relationship with humans in which the animals benefited but the humans received no harm but little benefit. Those animals that were most capable of taking advantage of the resources associated with human camps would have been the tamer, less aggressive individuals with shorter fight or flight distances. Later, these animals developed closer social or economic bonds with humans that led to a domestic relationship.

Dogs were probably domesticated through this pathway as well — see Neil deGrasse Tyson’s explanation from Cosmos of how wolves evolved into dogs.

And I love any post about cats because it’s an excuse to revisit one of my favorite short talks ever, in which Kevin Slavin suggests that cats have had a hand in domesticating humans for the purpose of sharing funny cat videos online, thus spreading pro-cat propaganda across the globe.

Lego Frida Kahlo

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 12, 2019

Lego Frida

Behold a Lego portrait of Frida Kahlo made by visual artist Karen Cantú Q. She was inspired by Marco Sodano’s Lego portraits made for the company — you’ve likely seen his Mona Lisa but I’m partial to the van Gogh.

Lego Van Gogh

The Time-Traveling Cinematography of The Irishman

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 12, 2019

Here’s a short clip of cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto talking about his work on The Irishman.

The movie takes place over several decades and Prieto worked with director Martin Scorsese to build a distinct look for each period based on different photo processing techniques: Kodachrome for the 50s, Ektachrome for the 60s & early 70s, and neutral for the film’s present-day:

Irishman Cinematography

Irishman Cinematography

Irishman Cinematography

Prieto also talks a little bit about the three camera system needed to “youthify” the actors. (You Honor, I would like to state for the record that Jennifer Lopez did not require fancy cameras or de-aging CGI to make her look 20 years younger in Hustlers. I rest my case.)

Tunes 2011-2019, Burial

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 12, 2019

On heavy rotation today: Burial’s recent compilation album Tunes 2011-2019.

Here’s the album for sale on Bandcamp and streaming on Apple Music. Pitchfork gave it a 9.0. I have also been listening to Ecstatic Computation by Caterina Barbieri (found via the Flow State newsletter) and Daphni’s Joli Mai. Daphni is one of Daniel Snaith’s stage names; he’s releasing a new album as Caribou in February 2020, a record I’ve been waiting very patiently for since 2014 (Caribou’s Our Love is a particular favorite album of mine). Here are the first two singles from the forthcoming album.

But so anyway, the dark tones of Burial are resonating with me today because I woke up in a bit of a funk. “Why the malaise?” the dumb part of my brain asked seemingly no one. The tiny clever bit of brain answered, “You ate a bunch of ice cream after dinner and then stayed up way too late dicking around on your phone and half-watching DS9.” Burial: The Perfect Music for Your Stayed-Up-Late-Ate-Ice-Cream-and-Watched-Star-Trek Morning Funk™.

The Artistic Ecosystems of Yellena James

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 12, 2019

I ran across the work of Yellena James on Instagram the other day and my inner emoji face went all heart-eyes. I love her delicate organic imagery inspired by flowers, coral, and other natural forms.

Yellena James

Yellena James

James has a lot of irons in the fire: she sells prints of her work on Etsy (scarves too!), works with a number of brands on design projects, published a book on learning how to draw using nature as a guide, regularly exhibits her art in galleries & shows, and does painting tutorials for the likes of Adobe.

The Embroidered Memory of the Berlin Wall

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 11, 2019

Diane Meyer Berlin

Diane Meyer Berlin

For her series called Berlin, artist Diane Meyer embroiders the Berlin Wall back into modern-day scenes of the once-divided German city. Meyer hand-sews the thread right onto the photographs.

In many images, the embroidered sections represent the exact scale and location of the former Wall offering a pixelated view of what lies behind. In this way, the embroidery appears as a translucent trace in the landscape of something that no longer exists but is a weight on history and memory.

(via colossal)

Pachelbel’s Canon Played by Train Horns

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 11, 2019

This video of the familiar tune of Pachelbel’s Canon being played by different clips of train horns all edited together is both funny and charming. If you need a little pick-me-up right now, this should do the trick. Watch for the celebrity cameo around the 1:00 mark. (via the kid should see this)

The Relative Rotations of the Planets

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 11, 2019

Planetary scientist James O’Donoghue made this cool little visualization of the rotation speeds of the planets of the solar system. You can see Jupiter making one full rotation every ~10 hours, Earth & Mars about every 24 hours, and Venus rotating once every 243 days. He also did a version where all the planets rotate the same way (Venus & Uranus actually rotate the other way).

See also O’Donoghue’s visualizations of the speed of light that I posted back in January.

If Hogwarts Were an Inner-City School (Key & Peele)

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 11, 2019

In this faux HBO documentary short from Key & Peele, we visit Vincent Clortho Public School for Wizards, the American inner-city answer to Harry Potter’s Hogwarts.

“The hallways are a-bluster with the conversation of our Quidditch team.”

“Half the team is back here riding mops. We got two little [kids] on Swiffers.”

If the name “Vincent Clortho” sounds sorta familiar, that’s because they borrowed it from Ghostbusters (Vinz Clortho, the Keymaster).

52 Things Learned in 2019

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 10, 2019

One of my favorite end-of-the-year lists comes from writer, consultant, and curious human Tom Whitwell: 52 things I learned in 2019.

8. Drunk shopping could be a $45bn/year industry, and only 6% of people regret their drunk purchases.

25. In the US Northwest, rain can damage the fruit on cherry trees. So helicopter pilots are paid to fly over the orchards, using their downdraft to dry the fruit as it ripens. For the pilots, it’s a risky but potentially profitable job.

31. Using machine learning, researchers can now predict how likely an individual is to be involve in a car accident by looking at the image of their home address on Google Street View.

52. Asking ‘What questions do you have for me?’ can be dramatically more effective than ‘Any questions?’ at the end of a talk.

I will add a 53rd item: Whitwell used a machine learning tool trained on his lists from previous years to find a couple of the interesting stories this year. I’ve often wondered if I could do the same with kottke.org…sort of a bot’s-eye view of the daily link zeitgeist.

The “Harbinger Customers” Who Buy Unpopular Products & Back Losing Politicians

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 10, 2019

Colgate Foods

This paper, about the curious phenomenon of “harbinger customers” and “harbinger zip codes”, is really interesting. These harbinger customers tend to buy unpopular products like Crystal Pepsi or Colgate Kitchen Entrees and support losing political candidates.

First, the findings document the existence of “harbinger zip codes.” If households in these zip codes adopt a new product, this is a signal that the new product will fail. Second, a series of comparisons reveal that households in harbinger zip codes make other decisions that differ from other households. The first comparison identifies harbinger zip codes using purchases from one retailer and then evaluates purchases at a different retailer. Households in harbinger zip codes purchase products from the second retailer that other households are less likely to purchase. The analysis next compares donations to congressional election candidates; households in harbinger zip codes donate to different candidates than households in neighboring zip codes, and they donate to candidates who are less likely to win. House prices in harbinger zip codes also increase at slower rates than in neighboring zip codes.

It’s fascinating that these people’s preferences persist across all sorts of categories — it’s like they’re generally out of sync with the rest of society.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the harbinger customer effect is that the signal extends across CPG categories. Customers who purchase new oral care products that flop also tend to purchase new haircare products that flop. Anderson et al. (2015) interpret their findings as evidence that customers who have unusual preferences in one product category also tend to have unusual preferences in other categories. In other words, the customers who liked Diet Crystal Pepsi also tended to like Colgate Kitchen Entrees (which also flopped).

(via bb)

My Strategic Book Reserve - Banking Unread Books from Favorite Authors

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 10, 2019

When I wrote this post last week about Erik Larson’s new book The Splendid and the Vile, I said I was going to buy and read it the second it comes out. But then I realized that Larson has written several books that I am fully aware of but have not read, including 2015’s Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania. What gives? Why am I not rushing out for that one?

I do this with other favorite authors and books series as well. I’ve read some deep cuts from the archives of David Foster Wallace — stuff he wrote in college & grad school — and Infinite Jest twice but I haven’t read a couple of his collections or his posthumous The Pale King. Books 1 & 2 of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle deeply resonated with me but I can’t quite bring myself to start on the third volume. I burned through stuff from Hilary Mantel and Elena Ferrante, yet I didn’t immediately seek out other books that they’d written. Richard Rhodes too…there are many examples.

Part of it is that I’m a restless and then forgetful reader. Even after finishing an amazing book, I often want to switch gears to something different and then I fail to return to something else by the amazing book’s author. But mainly I do this on purpose. I like the feeling of looking forward to a sure thing, the comfort of a story I haven’t heard but I know will be good. We’re awash in highly acclaimed stories these days — there are hundreds of books published this year alone worth reading — but writers whose stories are particularly resonant to me are still a precious resource, worth saving for when I need a sure-thing read.

A 12-Hour Lawnmower Race, the Greatest Show on Turf

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 10, 2019

Each year, the British Lawn Mower Racing Association holds a 12-hour lawn mower race in which teams of three drivers compete for a half a day of non-stop racing around a track at speeds up to 50 mph.

As usual, the teams will line up in a traditional Le Mans grid formation with the drivers running to their machines at the start.

The teams of three drivers (male and female) compete throughout the night at speeds approaching 50 mph — and without any form of suspension other than a padded seat, this is no stroll in the park! The pace remains unrelenting for the full 12 hours and it’s not unknown for the first three mowers to be on the same lap when the chequered flag drops. This is a true test of human endurance and mechanical reliability.

The video above follows one of the teams competing in this year’s race to see what the sport is all about. (I didn’t know where to drop a “Deere v Cub Cadet” joke in, so I’ll just leave it here.)

Huge Hand-Drawn Map of North America 5 Years in the Making

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 10, 2019

Anton Thomas Map

Anton Thomas Map

Anton Thomas has been working for the last five years on a huge hand-drawn map of North America.

North America: Portrait of a Continent is drawn completely by hand with colour pencil and pen. It is a 5 x 4 feet (150 x 120 cm) perspective projection of the entire region, spanning from Alaska to Panama; Greenland to the Caribbean. There are tens of thousands of features, including 600 individual cities and towns.

Looks fantastic. He finished it in February and is getting ready to open pre-orders for prints sometime this month.

Get Prints of Eleanor Lutz’s Genius Infographics

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 09, 2019

I’ve featured the maps and science infographics of Eleanor Lutz for years here. You might be interested to learn, as I did the other day, that you can get posters and prints (and iPhone cases and tshirts) of a bunch of her work at Red Bubble. Like this map of the geology of Mars or the butterflies of North America.

Atlas Of Space

Butterflies Lutz

These are definitely going on my holiday gift guide.

Natural History Museum

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 09, 2019

Like Andy Warhol famously said,1 someday in the far future you might end up in an exhibit in someone else’s natural history museum. That what happens in this short film by Kirsten Lepore, who you may remember from the weirdo Hi Stranger video. (via waxy)

  1. Who’s to say he didn’t?

Wonder Woman 1984

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 08, 2019

This, my friends, is the trailer for Wonder Woman 1984. Ok, let’s see what we have here. Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, the only DC Comics movie superhero worth a damn since Nolan’s Batmans. 1984, one of the best years ever for movies and pop culture. A remix of Blue Monday by New Order, still the best-selling 12” single of all time. Patty Jenkins is directing and came up with the story this time (instead of having to deal with Zack Snyder’s nonsense). YES PLEASE.

RIP Carroll Spinney, Puppeteer of Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 08, 2019

Sad news from Sesame Street: Carroll Spinney, the puppeteer who played Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch for almost 50 years, died today at age 85.

Caroll was an artistic genius whose kind and loving view of the world helped shape and define Sesame Street from its earliest days in 1969 through five decades, and his legacy here at Sesame Workshop and in the cultural firmament will be unending. His enormous talent and outsized heart were perfectly suited to playing the larger-than-life yellow bird who brought joy to generations of children and countless fans of all ages around the world, and his lovably cantankerous grouch gave us all permission to be cranky once in a while.

Spinney had retired from the show last year, citing health concerns. Here’s a look at how he operated the Big Bird puppet (more here):

Big Bird Inside

Spinney came out with a book in 2003 called The Wisdom of Big Bird (and the Dark Genius of Oscar the Grouch): Lessons from a Life in Feathers and was the subject of a 2015 documentary called I Am Big Bird. Here’s a trailer:

At Sesame Street creator Jim Henson’s memorial service at Cathedral of St. John the Divine after his unexpected death in 1990, Spinney walked out and, in full Big Bird costume, sang “It Ain’t Easy Being Green” in tribute to his friend:

Total silence after he finished…I can’t imagine there was a dry eye in the house after that. Rest in peace, gentle men.

The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 06, 2019

Splendid Vile

For me, Erik Larson is one of the best nonfiction storytellers around. I loved both The Devil in the White City (about the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893) and In the Garden of Beasts. So when his new book, The Splendid and the Vile, comes out in February, I’m gonna hop on it right away. As the subtitle says, the book is about Winston Churchill and Britain during the the Blitz.

In The Splendid and the Vile, Erik Larson shows, in cinematic detail, how Churchill taught the British people “the art of being fearless.” It is a story of political brinkmanship, but it’s also an intimate domestic drama, set against the backdrop of Churchill’s prime-ministerial country home, Chequers; his wartime retreat, Ditchley, where he and his entourage go when the moon is brightest and the bombing threat is highest; and of course 10 Downing Street in London.

Drawing on diaries, original archival documents, and once-secret intelligence reports — some released only recently — Larson provides a new lens on London’s darkest year through the day-to-day experience of Churchill and his family: his wife, Clementine; their youngest daughter, Mary, who chafes against her parents’ wartime protectiveness; their son, Randolph, and his beautiful, unhappy wife, Pamela; Pamela’s illicit lover, a dashing American emissary; and the advisers in Churchill’s “Secret Circle,” to whom he turns in the hardest moments.

(via Maria Konnikova, who is doing an event w/ Larson in February at Greenlight Books in Brooklyn)

The Breakthrough that Made Animation Look Natural

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 06, 2019

In the latest in a series of videos on film innovations that came from outside Hollywood, Phil Edwards highlights rotoscoping, a process of filming live action and transferring the motion to produce realistic animated movement invented by Max Fleischer.

As the above video shows, it started with Max’s brother Dave dancing on a roof in a clown costume. Footage of that was then used to model the classic Koko the Clown cartoons, which formed the basis for many Fleischer Studios films. Today, animators still use techniques like rotoscoping to turn real movement into animation.

A number of the studio’s most memorable cartoons used footage of legendary jazz singer Cab Calloway to create fluid animated sequences, like this dancing walrus from Betty Boop.

As Edwards notes, Fleischer’s studio also invented an early multiplane animation device, which allowed for the independent movement of different parts of the background to create the illusion of depth, resulting in yet more realism. Here’s Steven Johnson describing Disney’s more sophisticated multiplane camera in his book Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World:

All of these technical and procedural breakthroughs summed up to an artistic one: Snow White was the first animated film to feature both visual and emotional depth. It pulled at the heartstrings in a way that even live-action films had failed to do. This, more than anything, is why Snow White marks a milestone in the history of illusion. “No animated cartoon had ever looked like Snow White,” Disney’s biographer Neil Gabler writes, “and certainly none had packed its emotional wallop.” Before the film was shown to an audience, Disney and his team debated whether it might just be powerful enough to provoke tears — an implausible proposition given the shallow physical comedy that had governed every animated film to date. But when Snow White debuted at the Carthay Circle Theatre, near L.A.’s Hancock Park, on December 21, 1937, the celebrity audience was heard audibly sobbing during the final sequences where the dwarfs discover their poisoned princess and lay garlands of flowers on her.

Microscopic Photography of Tiny Plant Structures

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 06, 2019

Rob Kesseler

Rob Kesseler

Artist Rob Kesseler is a master of the microphotography of plants and their intricately small parts (like pollen, cells, and seeds). At Colossal, Kessler says a childhood gift of a microscope set him on his way.

“What the microscope gave me was an unprecedented view of nature, a second vision,” he writes, “and awareness that there existed another world of forms, colours and patterns beyond what I could normally see.” The artist says his use of color is inspired by the time he spends researching and observing, and that just like nature, he employs it to attract attention.

Check out much more of Kesseler’s work on his website. (via colossal)

The Deep Sea

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 06, 2019

The Deep Sea

The Deep Sea is a fun little web toy where you scroll down into the ocean to see the depths at which different animals (and a few plants) hang out. Warning: if you start scrolling you probably won’t be able to stop until (spoiler alert!) you reach the bottom of the Challenger Deep.

I was surprised to learn many things along the way, including that elephant seals can dive to 2400 meters (about a mile and a half), there’s such a thing called the headless chicken fish, the Cuvier’s beaked whale is the deepest diving mammal (~1.8 miles), and that “more people have been to the Moon than the Hadal zone” (past 20,000 feet deep).

The 2019 kottke.org Holiday Gift Guide

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 05, 2019

Holiday Gift Guide 2019

Over the past few weeks, as I’ve done for the past several years, I’ve combed through many of the best online gift guides to highlight some of the best holiday gifts out there. It’s a curated meta-guide for your holiday giving. Here we go!

First thing’s first: charitable giving should be top-of-mind every holiday season. Giving locally is key. I support our area food shelf year-round, with an extra gift for Thanksgiving and the December holiday; giving money instead of food is best. The kids and I also support Toys for Tots by heading to the local toy store to get some things — they like it because they get to pick out toys and games (they’re thoughtful about deciding which ones would be best). For national/international giving, do your research. GiveWell recently listed their top charities for 2019 and Vox has more tips here. Read up on big charities like Red Cross and Salvation Army…they are often not great places to give to. GiveDirectly sends money to people living in extreme poverty around the world.

If you’re anything like me, you never know what presents to get kids for their birthdays or holidays, even if they’re your own. That’s why I rely heavily on the gift guide from The Kid Should See This. On their list this year is Parks, a board game that takes players on a journey through US National Parks, The Dictionary of Difficult Words, this kit for building your own yarn giraffes, and Kano’s Harry Potter Coding Kit (which I also highlighted last year and still looks cool as hell). See also the 2019 Engineering Gift Guide from Purdue University.

The Accidental Shop is a collection of products I’ve previously linked to here on kottke.org. Some recently items I’d particularly recommend are The Whole Fish Cookbook by Josh Niland, the second volume of Jeff Bridges’ panoramic photographs that he takes on the sets of his films, this professional yo-yo, and Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle, a cooperative deck building game that my kids and I love.

For this year’s guide, I made an extra effort to include products and services from kottke.org’s readership — you’ll see them sprinkled throughout. Let’s start with 20x200. Their motto is “Art for Everyone” and they’ve been populating the walls of homes worldwide since 2007. I’ve bought several things from them and even contributed to their blog earlier this year. 20x200 has prints of Hilma af Klint’s work as well as one-of-a-kind artworks by Yen Ha (who is also a reader).

The Wirecutter is still the first place I go when I need to read up on everything from kitchen essentials to headphones to board games, so their gift guide is always worth a close look. This year I found a high quality but inexpensive jump rope, a wooden alarm clock, the Nintendo Switch w/ Mario Kart 8 (which I am still coveting/resisting), the Raspberry Pi 4, and Sushi Go Party (the kids and I love this game).

I bought my daughter a pair of these antique stork embroidery scissors for her birthday and they look incredible in person. A true hand-crafted piece of art.

Holiday Gift Guide 2019

Robin Sloan and his partner Kathryn Tomajan operate Fat Gold, an olive oil subscription service. Sloan wrote a gift guide this year, in which he recommends buying some sourdough starter from King Arthur Flour, located right here in VT.

A pair of gift guides for buying products from Native American artists & entrepreneurs: Beyond Buckskin’s 2019 BUY NATIVE Holiday Gift Guide and PowWows.com’s 2019 Native American Holiday Gift Guide. Check out these socks from Eighth Generation and handmade moccasins by Jamie Gentry of the Kwakwaka’wakw Nation.

If you’re giving books this year, check out The Best Books of 2019. Almost every best-of list this year included The Topeka School by Ben Lerner, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong, and The Testaments by Margaret Atwood.

Last year’s gift guide is full of great items, including a fire log that smells like Kentucky Fried Chicken when you burn it, A Die Hard Christmas (a Die Hard holiday picture book), and the AWB OneSky Reflector Telescope (a great beginner telescope).

It would not be a kottke.org holiday gift guide if I didn’t highlight this 55-gallon drum of personal lubricant. Someday someone is going to buy one of these — perhaps with a big novelty bow to surprise their loved one(s) on Xmas morning — and it’s going to make me so happy.

For your techie/futurist peeps, check out Wired’s Wish List 2019, which includes the Leica Q2 digital camera that I absolutely cannot afford but would absolutely love to own someday.

Earlier this year I bought a Thermapen Mk4 instant-read thermometer and OMG why didn’t I get this sooner? It’s made grilling and doing the Thanksgiving turkey so much easier.

Food-related gift guides from Chowhound, Serious Eats, Kitchn, and Food52. I have heard great things about Fuchsia Dunlop’s The Food of Sichuan and would happily try some of this barrel-aged soy sauce.

Holiday Gift Guide 2019

If you’re shopping for me this year, you should totally get me a gift certificate for an ultralight flight with birds (more info on these flights here).

More products from kottke.org readers: a 3-pack of notebooks from Field Notes, prints of illustrations of NYC storefronts & restaurants by Kelli Ercolano, gear from Advencher Supply Co (founded by Dribbble cofounder Dan Cederholm), Journey to the End of the Night by Erin Przekop, and Wondermade marshmallows.

My friend Bryan designed this Global Architect Card for architecture tourists that says “I am an architect. I am here to see this significant building.” in 14 different languages.

I love the idea of Slate’s list of Highly Unusual but Incredibly Useful Gifts Your Family Will Love, including this cool LED flashlight that fastens onto the end of a 9V battery and a rubber stamp with your face on it.

Jan Chipchase is a very occasional reader, if only because he’s so damn busy doing cool shit all over the world. His latest project is Hamidashimono, a kit for whittling your own izakaya-grade chopsticks. His company also has a line of field equipment called SDR Traveller. The D3 Traveller duffel bag was a total splurge for me, but I *love* travelling with that bag.

From Jada Pinkett Smith’s gift guide filled with products created by women and people of color, Homegirl Boxes inspired by women like Octavia Butler and Shirley Chisholm. See also this gift list inspired by African American artists, which includes a Jean-Michel Basquiat version of Uno (yes, the card game).

Check out Delph Miniatures, a tiny UK company that makes 1/12th scale miniatures of everyday things like washing machines, ironing boards, and mobility scooters. Here’s a charming video about their work.

Yet more products produced by kottke.org readers: I have one of these Currency Blankets from Hiller Dry Goods and I love it. Five Two wooden spoons from Food52. The Aviary: Holiday Cocktails. The 2020 Astrologicalendar (a wall calendar based on the signs of the zodiac). Fitz (custom 3D-printed eyeglasses…the company was inspired in part by a kottke.org post about DIY orthodontics). Am I Overthinking This? by Michelle Rial. This Book Is a Planetarium by Kelli Anderson. You Think You Know Me. Gracie’s Ice Cream.

Marie Kondo, the woman who has helped people get rid of all sorts of stuff with The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, now has an online shop to help you welcome new stuff into your home. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

And more gift guides: Cup of Jo, Black Enterprise, the NY Times, Dribbble, Tools & Toys.

Ok, that’s quite enough to get you started. I’ve got more recommendations that I’ll add in the next few days. If you’re interested, you can also check out my past gift guides from 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, and 2013.

Update: My friend Jodi Ettenberg is unable to travel the world right now but she put her unquenchable curiosity to use in compiling her guide to Unique Art and Jewelry Gifts for 2019, which includes illustrated bird shenanigans from Birdstrips.

Another selection of products made or sold by kottke.org readers: Kevin Kelly’s Four Favorite Tools. t-shirts, tote bags, and prints of Legal Nomads’ food maps. The best temporary tattoos out there by Tattly. A Dem Women of the House wall calendar by Anneliese Dehner. 33 Books Co. sells tools, guides, and supplies for tasting foods like cheese, wine, coffee, beer, and whiskey. Based in the Pacific Northwest, Crane City Music sells hip-hop records with a focus on “voices underrepresented in mainstream hip-hop” (use code “KOTTKE” for 20% off thru Dec 31).

One of my favorite infographic designers, Eleanor Lutz, has an online shop selling prints, posters, and tote bags of a bunch of her stuff.

The happy mutants at Boing Boing compiled this list of 100 Wonderful Things Worth Buying, including an “insert coin” keychain, the Sega Genesis Mini (it comes with 42 games), and Nancy: A Comic Collection by Olivia Jaimes, who has revitalized the decades-old comic strip character.

The Cool Tools 2019 Holiday Gift Guide features these two-sided magnetic measuring spoons and these WiFi smart plugs.

Update: A few late but great additions. The Ooni 3 is a highly rated wood-fired portable pizza oven and with Storyworth you can “get weekly stories from a loved one, bound in a beautiful keepsake book”. Both made by kottke.org readers. And the folks at Article Group produced this fantastic games guide: 20 Games Every Creative Thinker Should Play — I pulled a couple of things directly off of here for holiday purchases.

When you buy through links on kottke.org, I may earn an affiliate commission. Thanks for supporting the site!

Incredible Display of Ice Crystal Halos Around the Sun in the Swiss Alps

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 05, 2019

Ice Halos

This is a photo of several ice crystal halos around the Sun taken by Michael Schneider in the Swiss Alps with an iPhone 11 Pro. It. Is. Absolutely. Stunning. I can barely write more than a few words here without stealing another peek at it. According to Schneider’s post (translated from German by Google), this display developed gradually as he waited for a friend as some icy fog and/or clouds were dissipating at the top of a Swiss ski resort and he was happy to capture it on his new phone.

Using this site on atmospheric optics, Mark McCaughrean helpfully annotated Schneider’s photo to identify all of the various halos on display:

Ice Halos 02

Displays like this are pretty rare, but Joshua Thomas captured a similar scene in New Mexico a few years ago and Gizmodo’s Mika McKinnon explained what was going on.

Ice halos happen when tiny crystals of ice are suspended in the sky. The crystals can be high up in cirrus clouds, or closer to the ground as diamond dust or ice fog. Like raindrops scatter light into rainbows, the crystals of ice can reflect and refract light, acting as mirrors or prisms depending on the shape of the crystal and the incident angle of the light. While the lower down ice only happens in cold climates, circus clouds are so high they’re freezing cold any time, anywhere in the world, so even people in the tropics mid-summer have a chance of seeing some of these phenomena.

Explaining the optics of these phenomena involves a lot of discussing angular distances.

So so so so cool.

A Map of the 637 Languages Spoken in NYC

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 04, 2019

NYC Language Map

The Endangered Language Alliance has produced a map of the 637 languages and dialects spoken by the residents of NYC (past and present).

It represents ELA’s ongoing effort to draw on all available sources, including thousands of interviews and discussions, to tell the continuing story of the city’s many languages and cultures. The patterns it reveals — the clustering of West African languages in Harlem and the Bronx, a microcosm of the former Soviet Union in south Brooklyn, the multifaceted Asian-language diversity of Queens, to name a few — only hint at the linguistic complexity of a city where a single building or block can host speakers of dozens of languages from across the globe.

The online map embedded in the page works ok, but a $50 donation to the organization will get you a 24″ x 36″ print for your wall.

According to a Gothamist post about the map, the size and diversity of the city sometimes means that a significant chunk of a language’s worldwide speakers live in NYC:

Seke is a language spoken in just a handful of towns in Nepal-worldwide, there are fewer than 700 people who speak it. More than 100 of those people live in Brooklyn and Queens, according to the Endangered Language Alliance, a group that seeks to document and preserve smaller, minority, and Indigenous languages across New York City.

(via gothamist)

A Circle Thief

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 04, 2019

A Circle Thief is a lovely little animation by Natsumi Comoto of a robber of circular objects and the chalk-wielding commuter who attempts to stop him.

See more meta-animation in Duck Amuck (starring Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny). (via the kid should see this)

Snowbrawl

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 04, 2019

Snowbrawl is a fun short film of a children’s snowball fight shot as if it were a John Wick or Mission Impossible action sequence. David Leitch, the uncredited co-director of John Wick and director of Deadpool 2, shot the whole thing for Apple on an iPhone 11 Pro.

Reader’s Block

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 04, 2019

I stumbled across this comic by Grant Snider this morning and realized that I am often afflicted by reader’s block but have never quite thought about it in that way, somehow.

Readers Block

Some of Snider’s reasons affect my reading more than others: too little time, too much TV, not enough sleep, crippling ennui, low curiosity. I’ve recently started to use an app to help me form some good habits and break bad ones, and one of my daily tasks is “read a book for 15 minutes”. I hit that target almost every day and when I do, I usually get in the groove and go for longer, sometimes an hour or more. This has revealed “too little time” and “too much TV” to be falsehoods that I no longer believe — “too much phone” I am still working on.

I’ve also stopped reading books that don’t grab me, as interesting as they may seem and as acclaimed as their recommenders insist. If I’m reading something and I find myself daydreaming or wanting to check my phone or switching to an episode of something on Netflix, that’s a sign that I should put it down and find another book. The only problem with this is that some of my favorite books (Infinite Jest for one) did not grab me in the beginning but picked up in a major way later, sometimes hundreds of pages in. Great books sometimes do not hand everything to the reader on a silver platter and the hard work they demand becomes part of their reward.

But my main two reader’s block problems persist. The first is represented by “low curiosity” in Snider’s comic — I read all day long for my work here on kottke.org and when it comes time in the evening to wind down, more reading is often not something I can manage, especially with nonfiction (brain sometimes function at night not good). Reading right after I wake up has helped somewhat, but I typically have a logjam of tasks vying for my attention in the high-energy early morning and reading only occasionally wins.

The second thing is that I often get stuck between books. Part of it is the “overwhelmed by infinite possibility” factor — soooo much good stuff to read, how can you possibly choose what’s next? Succumbing to the temptation of other possible diversions or wavering in my disbelief of “too little time” becomes much easier when I’m not currently caught up in a story or someone else’s world view. Lining up your next read before finishing your current book is a possible solution, but that can be tough when you’re fully engaged in what awaits you in the closing chapters of your present literary love.

You can read more thoughts on reader’s block and how to tackle it from Stuart Jeffries, Emily Petsko, and Hugh McGuire. And if you and your preschooler are stuck looking for something new to read together, Snider has a new picture book out called What Color Is Night?

Primitive Technology, the Book!

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 03, 2019

We haven’t checked in on the Primitive Technology guy in awhile and — whoa, he has umasked himself! After more than four years of anonymity, the man building all of the tools, huts, weapons, and other Stone Age technologies in the wilds of Australia has revealed himself as John Plant. And in this video compilation from October, he announces that he has a book out: Primitive Technology: A Survivalist’s Guide to Building Tools, Shelters, and More in the Wild. Looks like a step-by-step guide to building all the things in his videos, accompanied by illustrations and photos:

Primitive Technology Book

Primitive Technology Book

This is an instant purchase for me, if only to support what he’s been doing for the past 4+ years. Plant says:

This video compilation, as well as the book, outlines all the skills and achievements I’ve attained in this time period using research, hard work and trial and error. Writing this book is something I wanted to do even before making videos and launching this channel. I wanted to offer something tangible that benefited those who had the same keen interest in primitive technology as I do. With that, I thank each and every one of you for your continued support throughout the years, and I really hope you enjoy the book.

And for good measure, here’s his latest video from a few days ago, which shows him building a kiln for firing bricks:

(via the kid should see this)

Paul Sougy’s Vintage Scientific Illustrations for French Schools

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 03, 2019

Paul Sougy

Paul Sougy

Paul Sougy

Paul Sougy

A flea market find by a friend spurred Maria Popova to rediscover and restore Paul Sougy’s mid-century educational illustrations of plants, animals, and the human body.

In the 1940s, Paul Sougy — a curator of natural history at the science museum of the French city of Orléans, and a gifted artist — was commissioned by the estate of the pioneering 18th-century French naturalist and anatomist Louis Thomas Jérôme Auzoux to create a series of illustrations based on Auzoux’s work, to be used in textbooks, workbooks, transparencies, and large-scale educational charts for classroom walls.

Lovely work. The restored illustrations are available as prints — just click on any of the images in the post or visit Popova’s Society6 shop. A portion of the proceeds go to benefit The Nature Conservancy.

The Best Books of 2019

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 03, 2019

Best Books 2019

I made an effort to read more books in 2019 and mostly succeeded (I think). But there are so many good books out there I couldn’t get to, which is at once both panic-inducing (OMG, the endless bedside stack of books) and exciting (so much to look forward to reading). It’s in this spirit that I went through a bunch of end-of-the-year books lists to pull out some of our collective favorite books of the year for 2019.

The NY Times has published two lists so far: The 10 Best Books of 2019 and 100 Notable Books of 2019 (I think their critics’ picks are forthcoming). Ben Lerner’s third novel, The Topeka School, is on both lists and almost all of the others linked here as well. I read Lerner’s 10:04 a few years ago and really enjoyed it. Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist made the longer list and is on my to-read-soon list as well.

As many others did, The Times Literary Supplement recommended The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming by David Wallace-Wells.

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong made the Washington Post’s Best Books of 2019. I pick up Vuong’s book every time I see it on a bookstore shelf…one of these days I’m going to actually buy & read it.

Book Riot’s list of the Best Books of 2019 includes Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle by Emily Nagoski & Amelia Nagoski. Their talk at XOXO 2019 about the stress cycle was my favorite — it seemed at times they were talking directly at me.

In their Best Books of 2019 list, Kirkus Reviews highlighted Exhalation by Ted Chiang and Internment by Samira Ahmed.

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Nobel Prize winner Olga Tokarczuk is on Time magazine’s 10 Best Fiction Books of 2019 list.

Library Journal has a number of lists in many categories — Chris Ware’s Rusty Brown and Mira Jacob’s Good Talk appear on their graphic novels list.

The lists from Goodreads always present a broader view of what’s being enjoyed by readers. See for instance: Most Popular Books Published In 2019 and Best Books of 2019. On the list of books for kids are Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o and Yoon Ha Lee’s Dragon Pearl.

Three Women by Lisa Taddeo and Taffy Brodessner-Aker’s Fleishman Is in Trouble both made the New York Public Library’s list of Best Books of 2019.

Two lists from Five Books: Best Science Books of 2019 and Best Math Books of 2019. Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez topped the first list and Infinite Powers: The Story of Calculus by Steven Strogatz made both lists. I wrote about Perez’s book back in February.

The Guardian selected the best science, nature and ideas books of 2019. Among those mentioned are Greta Thunberg’s No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference (which oddly didn’t make many other lists) and The Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshana Zuboff.

The Guardian also asked a number of writers and celebs for their 2019 favorites. Hilary Mantel highlighted Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout, comparing the author favorably with Jane Austen. Anand Giridharadas picked Jia Tolentino’s Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion, the only book on any of these lists in which I am quoted (as far as I know). Yotam Ottolenghi liked The Whole Fish Cookbook by Josh Niland.

Speaking of cooking, I couldn’t find a good list of the year’s best cookbooks, but I’ll update this if Eater or someone else publishes one. (see update below)

The top two books on Amazon’s Best Books of 2019 list are The Testaments by Margaret Atwood and The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead. I haven’t gotten around to Whitehead’s latest (The Underground Railroad was great) but I did read The Testaments and loved it.

Voracious reader Tyler Cowen weighs in with two lists: favorite fiction of 2019 and best non-fiction books of 2019. He mentions Sally Rooney’s Normal People, which I really enjoyed, and Lakota America: A New History of Indigenous Power by Pekka Hämäläinen.

Update: Alright, we’ve got a couple of lists of the year’s best cookbooks, In her list of the best baking cookbooks of 2019, Melissa Clark highlights Tartine: A Classic Revisited by Elisabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson. On the SF Chronicle’s best cookbooks of 2019 is Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s I Can Cook Vegan and Alison Roman’s Nothing Fancy: Unfussy Food for Having People Over. And Samin Nosrat (Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat) recently published a selection of her favorite fall cookbooks as a gift guide, including Oaxaca: Home Cooking from the Heart of Mexico by Bricia Lopez and Javier Cabral. (thx merrill & connor)

Update: NPR has updated their Book Concierge for 2019, adding 369 books spread out over a variety of categories from “Love Stories” to “The Dark Side”. I jumped right to the “Staff Picks” (the best section of any bookstore for people who like reading blogs) and found Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James, a finalist for the National Book Award this year. I also spotted Mary H.K. Choi’s Permanent Record.

The NY Times Critics picked their Top Books of 2019, including Susan Choi’s Trust Exercise (the winner of the National Book Award).

Not all of the books on Boing Boing’s 28 favorite books in 2019 were actually published in 2019, but Olivia Jaimes’ Nancy: A Comic Collection was. So was Arcade Game Typography by Toshi Omigari.

Update: Along with Oprah and President Obama, Bill Gates has somehow become known for his reading. He periodically publishes lists of what he’s been reading on his website, and to his credit, he seems to be reading a bit more widely than he used to. Compare 2019’s list with this one from five years ago. The 2014 list (and the 2013 list) is mostly business & economics, almost all nonfiction, and all written by white men. This year is still mostly non-fiction but the majority of the books are by women (like These Truths by Jill Lepore), mostly not about business, and includes An American Marriage by Tayari Jones. Perhaps it’s a low bar to clear, but it’s definitely progress for the world’s ur-nerd.

Do Kids Today Still Like Mister Rogers?

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 02, 2019

Fred Rogers and his Neighborhood may seem to belong to a bygone age of slow children’s media, but when Mary Pflum Peterson introduced the show to her four children, she found that they engaged with the show like kids back in the 70s and 80s did.

I asked my youngest two, as they obsessed over the fish, what was it about the show that appealed to them.

After a beat, they gave me that look that parents will readily recognize, the one that best translates to “Isn’t it obvious?”

“He likes kids, Mommy,” my daughter said. “Kids know when a grown-up likes them.”

“And he’s not too loud,” my son added. “When we watch him, there’s no noise. You don’t have to worry about anything.”

Kind and calm. So that explained everything. In a world of so much chaos and noise, kids liked calm sincerity.

The Most Popular TV Shows 1986-2019

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 02, 2019

If you grew up watching TV (and who didn’t?), this bar chart race animation of the 10 most popular primetime TV shows from 1986-2019 is fascinating.

Ranking is based on the following factors: prime-time first 24 hours audience reports, one week of reported statistics for downloaded copies (pirated), one week of streaming services viewership. Numbers are worldwide with significant bias towards US market up until 2002, afterwards it’s balanced by p2p distribution across the globe.

I’d forgotten what a huge hit ER was in the mid-90s. And note that The Simpsons never cracked the top 10. Ah, I didn’t notice that they snuck in briefly during 1996 — thx @ChasingDom. (via waxy)

Former Secret Service Agent Explains How POTUS Is Protected

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 02, 2019

Jonathan Wackrow spent 14 years as a special agent of the Secret Service and in this video he explains how the Secret Service protects the people under its watch, particularly the President.

It’s a testament to the Secret Service’s training, process, and professionalism that none of the three most recent polarizing Presidents have endured a serious assassination attempt.

Every Kind of Thing in Space

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 02, 2019

This 12-minute animated video is a tour of all of the different kinds of things “out there” in the universe (as opposed to matter and structures smaller than, say, a human being).

This video explores all of the things in the Universe from our Earth and local Solar System, out to the Milky Way Galaxy and looks at all of the different kinds of stars from Brown Dwarfs to Red Supergiant Stars. Then to the things they explode into like white dwarfs, neutron stars and black holes. Then we look at all the other kinds of galaxy in the universe, blazars, quasars and out to the cosmic microwave background and the big bang. It covers most of the different things that we know about in the Universe.

A poster of the final drawing is available here.

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