homeaboutarchivenewslettermembership!
aboutarchivemembership!
aboutarchivemembers!

Entries for December 2022 (January 2023 »    February 2023 »    Archives)

 

Our First Closeup Image of Mars Was a Paint-By-Numbers Pastel Drawing

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 30, 2022

Pastel drawing of the surface of Mars

On July 15, 1965, NASA’s Mariner 4 probe flew within 6,118 miles of the surface of Mars, capturing images as it passed over the planet. The image data was transmitted back to scientists on Earth, but they didn’t have a good way to quickly render a photograph from it. They determined that the fastest way to see what Mariner 4 had seen was to print out the imaging data as a series of numbers, paste them into a grid, buy a set of pastels from a nearby art store, and do a paint-by-numbers job with the pastels on the data grid. The result (pictured above) was the first closeup representation of the surface of an extraterrestrial planet — in color, no less!

After the flyby of the planet it would take several hours for computers to process a real image. So while they were waiting, the engineers thought of different ways of taking the 1’s and 0’s from the actual data and create an image. After a few variations, it seemed most efficient to print out the digits and color over them based upon how bright each pixel was. So Mr. Grumm went to a local art store and asked for a set of chalk with different shades of gray. The art store replied that they “did not sell chalk” (as that was apparently too low for them, only convenience stores sold “chalk”), but they did have colored pastels. Richard did not want to spend a lot of time arguing with them, so he bought the pastels (actual pastels seen below), had the 1’s and 0’s printed out on ticker tape about 3in wide, and his team colored them by their brightness level (color key seen below).

Here’s a closer view of the pastels and numbers:

detail of a pastel drawing of the surface of Mars

The choice of color palette was serendipitous:

Though he used a brown/red color scheme, the thought that Mars was red did not enter his mind. He really was looking for the colors that best represented a grey scale, since that was what they were going to get anyway. It is uncanny how close his color scheme is to the actual colors of Mars. It’s as if they came right out of current images of the planet.

Compare with the photography we’re getting from Curiosity these days; we’ve come a long way in the last 60 years. (via @jenniferrrrrroberts and robin sloan)

Some Wonderful Things From 2022

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 30, 2022

looking out over the Atlantic Ocean

As 2022 recedes into the rearview mirror, I took some time to go back over my media diet posts to pick out some books, movies, TV shows, and experiences from the past year that were especially wonderful. Enjoy.

Everything Everywhere All at Once. I’ve seen this a few times now and I still don’t know how the filmmakers pulled this off. A chaotic martial arts action comedy romance multiverse movie with heart? It is a miracle of a film. Definitely my favorite movie of the year and probably in the past 2-3 years.

Glass Onion. I don’t know, maybe this shouldn’t be here because I just watched it the other day, but whatever. This movie is fun. Janelle Monáe and Blanc’s bathing costume were the highlights for me.

Fortnite. The one thing I worked on more than almost anything else during my sabbatical was my Fortnite skills. My kids play and I wanted to join them, so that we could have an activity to do as a family, one that was on their turf and not mine. I’m still not great at it, but I’m more than competent now and it’s been a great addition to our routine.

A Sunday on La Grande Jatte. Seeing this painting in person is a whole other deal. I think I stood in front of it for a good 10 minutes and then circled back later for another look.

Station Eleven. You can see the ending of this coming a mile away and it still caught me by surprise when it happened. I didn’t think I wanted to watch a TV show about a flu pandemic causing the end of civilization, but it was actually perfect.

Severance. It’s comforting to know that TV shows on these massive streaming services can still be weird. I didn’t love this as much as many other people did, Severance did keep popping up in my thoughts in the months after I watched it.

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin. If you’ve ever worked on a creative project with someone and that collaborative frisson felt like the highlight of your life, this book might be right up your alley.

Tár. Cate Blanchett is just ridiculously good in this.

My Brilliant Friend. The most underrated show on television? This was so much better than a lot of other shows I kept seeing praised but not a lot of people seem to be talking about it.

Kimi. Soderbergh does Rear Window + The Conversation. The direction is always tight and Zoë Kravitz is great in this.

Middlemarch by George Eliot. By far the best thing I read during my sabbatical and an instant addition to my all-time favorites list. For whatever reason, I thought this was going to be stuffy liht-tra-chure but it turns out it’s hilarious? Almost every page had me laughing out loud. The writing is exquisite and Eliot’s observations about human behavior are still, 150 years on, remarkably astute. And there’s a scene near the end of the book that is almost cinematic — she painted such a vivid picture that it took my breath away (like, literally I was holding my breath).

Her Place. This Philly spot is getting a ton of attention and end-of-the-year kudos; it’s well-deserved. The food is great but it’s the casual family-style dinner-party vibe that really makes this place special. People will try to copy this concept — it’ll be interesting to see if they can do it as well.

The Lost Daughter. Based on an Elena Ferrante book and directed by Maggie Gyllenhaal, the acting and cinematography are the central strengths of this film. Olivia Colman & Jessie Buckley shine as an ambivalent mother at two different points in her life and the tight shots keep them smoldering the entire time.

Maus I & II by Art Spiegelman. Correctly lauded as a masterpiece.

Top Gun: Maverick. I was shocked at how much I liked this movie — a Top Gun sequel didn’t have any right to be this entertaining. Straight-up no-frills thrill ride that’s best on a big screen. Loved Val Kilmer’s scenes.

Matrix by Lauren Groff. I find it difficult to pinpoint exactly what I liked so much about this book, but it has something to do with its surprising entrepreneurial bent, its feminist startup vibe. Groff’s Marie de France is one of my favorite characters of the year.

Bar Kismet. The type of place where you instantly feel like a regular. And with the ever-changing food and cocktail menus, you’ll want to become one.

Schitt’s Creek. I was worried that I wouldn’t jibe with the show’s humor — nothing worse than a comedy that isn’t funny — but it delivered so many laugh-out-loud moments that I lost count. The show really hits its stride after the first season or two when it makes you start caring about what happens to these annoying weirdos. I would have watched 10 seasons of this.

The Bear. Again, I didn’t love this as much as some others did, but my thoughts kept returning to it often.

Saap. When someone says a restaurant in Vermont is “good”, you always have to ask: “Is it actually good or just Vermont good?” Saap is great, period.

Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang. I don’t know how to think about the kind of stories that Chiang writes — they are simple and complex and deep and fantastical and familiar all at the same time. It’s the perfect kind of sci-fi for me.

The US and the Holocaust. Essential six-hour documentary series about how the United States responded (and failed to respond) to Nazi Germany’s persecution and murder of European Jews in the years before, during and after WWII. Another banger from Ken Burns, Lynn Novick, and Sarah Botstein.

Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan. I can’t say that this book made me want to become obsessed with surfing, but maybe it made me want to become obsessed with something again. Beautifully written and personally resonant.

Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe. All nonfiction books should aspire to be this compelling.

Mercado Little Spain. José Andrés’ Spanish version of Eataly. I’ve only been there a couple of times, but omg the food. The pan con tomate is the simplest imaginable dish — bread, tomato, olive oil, garlic, salt — but I could easily eat it every day.

Photo of the Atlantic Ocean taken by me on my trip to Portugal this summer.

2022, A Look Back

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 29, 2022

In just 7 minutes, Vox takes a visual look back at the biggest events of 2022, including Ukraine, inflation, Musk/Twitter, tech layoffs, Serena retires, TikTok, the World Cup, the pandemic continues, the climate crisis intensifies, mass shootings, no more Roe, Iranian protests, the death of Queen Elizabeth, and more.

See also 2022 in Review (AP), 2022 Year in Review (Reuters), 50 Wonderful Things from 2022 (NPR), 2022 Year in Review (United Nations), 2022 in Review (New Yorker), and the Year in Search 2022 (Google).

36 Things I Learned in 2022

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 29, 2022

Inspired by Tom Whitwell’s annual list (here is 2022’s), I kept a list of interesting things I learned this year. There are supposed to be 52 things but I took much of the year off so you’ll have to manage with only 36. Enjoy!

  1. For the first time in history in 2020, the weight of things produced by humans (concrete, metals, plastic) was greater than the weight of the global living biomass.
  2. “It is physically impossible to exceed the 70-pound domestic weight limit for a USPS small flat rate box.”
  3. There is a species of fish called “boops boops”.
  4. In a recent experiment by a Turkish farmer, outfitting his cows with VR goggles that simulate being in a pasture upped milk production by 2 gallons per cow per day.
  5. It’s “just deserts”, not “just desserts”.
  6. The Sun has only rotated approximately 20 times around the galactic center.
  7. Of the estimated 1,300,000 to 1,750,000 people sent to the death camps of Sobibór, Bełżec, and Treblinka by the Nazis, “perhaps not more than 150” of them ended up surviving the war. 150. Not 150,000. 150. (From The Holocaust: A New History by Laurence Rees)
  8. A new streaming version of Fight Club released in China changed the ending from Tyler successfully bombing a large city to him being caught by the authorities.
  9. An astounding statistic: approximately 1 out of every 70 Americans 65 years and older has died of Covid-19 in the past three years.
  10. You might be surprised to learn that the crossword puzzle wasn’t invented until 1913. I was even more shocked to learn that the word search puzzle first appeared in 1968.
  11. The burpee exercise was invented by Royal Huddleston Burpee Sr.
  12. The Mediterranean Sea mostly dried up for over 600,000 years but took less than 2 years to completely refill, often at rates of 30 feet per day, by a river moving 1000 times more water per day than the Amazon.
  13. “15% of the searches we see every day have never been Googled before.”
  14. The word “bear” is actually derived from a euphemism for the animal…we don’t know what the original name was.
  15. QR codes “sprang from a lunchtime game of Go more than a quarter of a century ago”.
  16. Abraham Lincoln is the only US president to hold a patent.
  17. Due to the chaotic nature of weather, accurate forecasts of more than 2 weeks are impossible.
  18. Cosmic latte is the average color of the universe.
  19. The silk of Darwin’s bark spiders is ten times stronger than kevlar.
  20. Because of the climate crisis (melting glaciers). Switzerland’s cartographers are having to redraw the country’s topological maps. “Only three cartographers at the agency [are] allowed to tinker with the Swiss Alps.”
  21. Warmlines are telephone/chat hotlines for people who aren’t in crisis but just need to vent or talk to someone.
  22. “Planning the Holocaust took all of 90 minutes.”
  23. “With the exception of a few native species that live in rotting logs and around wetlands, there are not supposed to be any earthworms east of the Great Plains and north of the Mason-Dixon Line.”
  24. A final score never seen before in NFL history is called a scorigami. There were 6 scorigamis in the 2021 season and a total of 1047 unique scores ever.
  25. Actually, it’s “E.E. Cummings” and not “e.e. cummings”.
  26. In a small 5-year study of basic income in Hudson, NY, “employment among the participants went from 29% to 63%” and they reported better health and personal relationships with others.
  27. In the 90s, Meat Loaf coached a JV girls softball team in a small Connecticut town. “To the scrappy group of girls he was trying to mold into softball players, he was Coach Meat.”
  28. The world’s coldest marathon is held in Yakutia, Siberia. 2022’s winner ran it in 3h 22m; the temperature was -53°C.
  29. In January 2022 in Norway, about 84% of new cars sold were EVs. That compares to 53% in Jan 2021.
  30. A 70s board game called The Campaign for North Africa takes around 1500 hours (~62 days) to complete.
  31. Saturn’s rings are disappearing. We only have another 300 million years to enjoy them.
  32. Wisconsin is home to a local delicacy called the cannibal sandwich (raw ground beef and raw onions, sandwiched between two pieces of bread).
  33. There are now 8 billion people in the world.
  34. Due to the lull in human activity, some birds changed their birdsong during the pandemic.
  35. The Pointer Sisters sang Sesame Street’s “Pinball Countdown” song. “One two three four five…six seven eight nine ten…eleven twelve.”
  36. Gun violence recently surpassed car accidents as the leading cause of death for American children. We’re now living in the era of the gun.”

You can check out last year’s list here.

The McDonald’s Macbeth Sandwich

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 22, 2022

I ran across this video this morning on Instagram and I haven’t stopped laughing about it, so I thought I’d share it with you. It’s an improv by Ross Bryant from a show called Game Changer in which he makes up a commercial for a new McDonald’s product: the Macbeth sandwich.

It’s perhaps a liiiittle bit of a softball prompt for Bryant, who is a member of The Improvised Shakespeare Company, but to pull it off, he needs to be fluent in both fast food advertising and Shakespeare. The accent, timing, and delivery are perfect — somehow in the space of a minute, he does two or three highbrow/lowbrow shifts and oh, just watch the damn thing. (via rachel lopez)

The Best Headlines of 2022

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 22, 2022

Paul Fairie has compiled a list of contenders for the best headline of 2022. They include:

‘How to Murder Your Husband’ writer guilty of murdering her husband

Started Out as a Fish. How Did It End Up Like This?

Monkey that was flushed down toilet, fed cocaine now has a boyfriend

The City of Ottawa wants to hear your garbage opinions

You can click through to see the rest and vote for the winners.

The Top 15 Goals of the 2022 World Cup

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 22, 2022

Since I’m probably not alone in wanting to hang onto the magic of the World Cup a little longer, here are the top 15 goals of the tournament, featuring the likes of Messi (twice!), Rashford, Mbappe, and of course Richarlison’s incredible effort against Serbia. See also this other take on the top goals.

Winners of the 2022 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 22, 2022

a raccoon, waving

one penguin gesturing to another, as if to say 'talk to the hand'

a salmon hitting a bear upside the head

a bird chasing a bull from behind so that it looks like Pegasus

The annual Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards are always a good time and 2022’s competition is no exception. You can peruse the winners and the finalists here. My favorites above are by (from top to bottom) Miroslav Srb, Jennifer Hadley, John Chaney, and Jagdeep Rajput, whose photo captures the wingspan of the sarus crane, the tallest flying bird in the world (up to 5’11”, which is almost as tall as I am!)

What Happens When a Group of 12-Year-Olds Is Left with No Supervision for Five Days?

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 22, 2022

As part of a British reality TV series in the late 2000s, two sets of 11-to-12-year-old children, one group of 10 boys and another group of 10 girls, were left by themselves in a house for 5 days. They had food, bedding, games, paint, toys, bikes, furniture, etc. They had each taken a cooking course beforehand. None of the children had met before. At any time, they could ring a bell to talk to the production team, a parent, or a child psychiatrist. They were free to leave at any time. To produce the videos above, camera crews were in the house to film, but they were not allowed to speak to the kids and could only intervene for safety reasons. (Content warning: both videos include a few instances of homophobic slurs.)

So what happened?

Initially, there’s a bit of chaos in each house but then things diverge — but not as much as you might expect. After a brief attempt at cleaning, the boys completely trash their house, eat mostly sugar, divide into factions, and somehow trash the house even more. A representative bit of narration about the boys:

The atmosphere is becoming hysterical and aggressive. Almost everything has been destroyed.

The girls also somewhat trash their house, have trouble eating regularly, and two of the girls leave early. But they also, IMO, are more successful than the boys at living together.

Two of the children have left and eight have stayed. Close friendships have grown and split apart and then re-formed. Though the girls have argued and fought, they’ve also been able to forgive each other, to comfort each other when upset, to help each other.

Some reflections and observations:

Anyway, fascinating to watch.

The Book of Leaves

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 21, 2022

As a companion to his short film LeafPresser, Brett Foxwell’s simpler and (in my opinion) more effective The Book of Leaves is a stop motion video of 2400 different leaves arranged so that each leaf blends subtly into the next slightly different leaf.

While collecting leaves, I conceived that the leaf shape every single plant type I could find would fit somewhere into a continuous animated sequence of leaves if that sequence were expansive enough. If I didn’t have the perfect shape, it meant I just had to collect more leaves.

It’s fascinating to watch the same basic branching fractal form manifest itself into so many different shapes, sizes, and colors. I’ve posted a bunch of video tagged “mesmerizing” but I think this is the first one that actually put me in a little bit of a trance.

Foxwell’s WoodSwimmer is one of my all-time favorite internet videos. (via colossal)

The Topologist’s Map of the World

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 21, 2022

The Topologist's Map of the World

After seeing an abstract US map where the borders between the states were preserved but the shapes of the individual states were not, Tom Comerford was inspired to design what he calls The Topologist’s Map of the World.

I describe this a a topologist’s map because topology is a branch of mathematics concerned with the way that space is connected. In topology it’s common to think of stretchy, distortable surfaces that can be moved around without being punctured or torn.

With many connections to other countries and bodies of water, countries like Russia, India, Brazil, and China are prominent on the map while the US, which only borders two other countries, is a tiny box in the corner. (via hacker news)

Life Lessons for 2023

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 21, 2022

Lessons from 2022 to bring into 2023

I liked Yung Pueblo’s list of life lessons from 2022 that he’s bringing into the new year. Pueblo’s bestselling Lighter: Let Go of the Past, Connect with the Present, and Expand the Future came out back in October.

P.S. Uhhh, why doesn’t Pueblo (aka Diego Perez) have a Wikipedia page? He’s written three bestselling books and has 2.4 million followers on Instagram.

Elon Musk Can’t Fix Your Commute

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 20, 2022

In this very entertaining and informative video essay, Adam Kovacs details why Elon Musk’s futuristic transportation ideas like the Hyperloop and Boring Loop are not serious solutions to real transportation challenges. Kovacs calls them prime examples of “gadgetbahn”, which he defines as “futuristic transportation that looks cool but is unnecessarily complicated and is definitely not built for real people”. Both the Hyperloop and Boring Loop exhibit several of the main warning signs of gadgetbahn:

- Proposed by some Silicon Valley billionaire
- Carries a very small number of passengers in undue luxury
- Its main feature is also its critical flaw
- The vehicles look like futuristic sex toys
- The vehicles are referred to as “pods”

A pod in a vacuum tube with a dozen couches in it is not innovation. It’s a luxury theme park ride for people with seven-digit bank accounts. Who knows? In 100 years, the Hyperloop might become technically feasible. But until then, we need to invest in technology that we know actually works. Shiny animation won’t take you to work. Actual working, efficient transit systems will. And gadgetbahns just aren’t that.

Kovacs’ YouTube channel Adam Something contains several more entertaining critiques of Musk’s various projects and other transportation and urban projects.

A Timeline of the Evolution of Western Art Movements

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 20, 2022

From Behind the Masterpiece, a whirlwind summary of evolution of Western art movements, from prehistoric art to the Renaissance to Romanticism to Impressionism to Cubism and beyond. 23 minutes seems like the sweet spot for this kind of thing: any shorter and there wouldn’t be time to give the viewer a sense of each movement but if it were 40 minutes, perhaps many fewer people would be enticed to watch. (via open culture)

Talking Trash with George Eliot

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 20, 2022

I read (and loved) Middlemarch this summer and was delighted to find this surprisingly modern usage of the concept of trash-talk about halfway through the book (boldface mine):

But in this doubtful stage of Lydgate’s introduction he was helped by what we mortals rashly call good fortune. I suppose no doctor ever came newly to a place without making cures that surprised somebody — cures which may be called fortune’s testimonials, and deserve as much credit as the written or printed kind. Various patients got well while Lydgate was attending them, some even of dangerous illnesses; and it was remarked that the new doctor with his new ways had at least the merit of bringing people back from the brink of death. The trash talked on such occasions was the more vexatious to Lydgate, because it gave precisely the sort of prestige which an incompetent and unscrupulous man would desire, and was sure to be imputed to him by the simmering dislike of the other medical men as an encouragement on his own part of ignorant puffing. But even his proud outspokenness was checked by the discernment that it was as useless to fight against the interpretations of ignorance as to whip the fog; and “good fortune” insisted on using those interpretations.

Curious if that term had been in use before George Eliot wrote Middlemarch in the early 1870s, I found Mark Liberman’s post on Language Log, where the earliest citation of the “abuse of opponents” sense of the phrase seems to be 1933. I will leave it to the etymological experts whether what Eliot meant by the phrase can be linked to the competitive speech of Muhammed Ali, Michael Jordan, and other athletes.

Daft Punk Live Set from 1997

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 20, 2022

This is video of a live show by Daft Punk recorded at LA’s Mayan Theater on December 17, 1997; they’re playing mostly tracks off of Homework, which was released earlier that year. Note that this was before they started wearing the robot outfits for all of their appearances, so it’s just two normal humans DJing. Here’s the setlist. Ohhh to have been there for this.

See also Daft Punk Live DJ Sets from the 90s. (via flowstate)

A Tour of Legendary Club CBGBs by Photographer David Godlis

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 19, 2022

A short animated film about photographer David Godlis, who documented the glory days of CBGB, ground zero for the punk & new wave scene in the late 1970s.

Between 1976 and 1980, young Manhattan photographer David Godlis documented the nightly goings-on at the Bowery’s legendary CBGB, “the undisputed birthplace of punk rock,” with a vividly distinctive style of night photography.

You can check out some of Godlis’s photos on his website. (via open culture)

How Were the First World Maps Created?

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 19, 2022

The first maps of the world were created without satellite imagery but with the compass, mathematics and geometry, reports from explorers, and a healthy dose of imagination & creativity. Jeremy Shuback briskly runs us through a history of early world maps, from perhaps the first map of the world by Anaximander (circa 610-546 BCE) to the Catalan Atlas, created in 1375.

The Catalan Atlas is worth a closer look — here’s a high-res image courtesy of Wikipedia and a 22-minute explainer/appreciation from Flash Point History.

The Trailer for Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 18, 2022

Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book American Prometheus (Kindle), Christopher Nolan’s newest film follows theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer as he leads the Manhattan Project to build the world’s first atomic weapon during World War II. If this film is just 50% slow-motion IMAX-scale fluid dynamics simulations, I don’t think I’d be that mad.

I’m curious to see if this film has one of Nolan’s signature time tricks — aside from the Batmen, they almost all do.

Oppenheimer comes out in the US on July 23, 2023.

P.S. If you want to read an excellent book about the Manhattan Project, you can’t do better than The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes — one of my all-time favorite books.

The Best Book Covers of 2022

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 16, 2022

cover for The Rabbit Hutch

cover for Tomorrow and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow

cover for No Land in Sight

cover for Constructing a Nervous System

cover for Shit Cassandra Saw

cover for The Status Game

cover for Kiki Man Ray

cover for Cold Enough for Snow

cover for Pure Colour

The book cover is one of my all-time favorite design objects and a big part of the reason I love going to bookstores is to visually feast on new covers. I don’t keep an explicit list of my favorites from those trips, but there are definitely those that stick in my mind, covers that I’ll instantly recognize from across the room on subsequent trips.

I’ve spent the last few days rediscovering some of them (and finding new ones) on the end-of-the-year lists of the best covers of 2022. You can find some of 2022’s most wonderfully designed covers above; from top to bottom:

The Rabbit Hutch by Tess Gunty, designed by Linda Huang.
Tomorrow and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin, designed by John Gall.
No Land in Sight by Charles Simic, designed by John Gall.
Constructing a Nervous System by Margo Jefferson, designed by Kelly Blair.
Shit Cassandra Saw by Gwen E. Kirby, designed by Lydia Ortiz.
The Status Game by Will Storr, designed by Steve Leard.
Kiki Man Ray by Mark Braude, designed by Jaya Miceli.
Cold Enough for Snow by Jessica Au, designed by Janet Hansen.
Pure Colour by Sheila Heti, designed by Na Kim.

I’ve linked to each designer’s website above; I urge you to click through and check out some of their other work. You can find many more wonderful covers in the following places: The 103 Best Book Covers of 2022 (Literary Hub), The Best Book Covers of 2022 (NY Times), The Best Book Covers of 2022 (Fast Company), and Best Book Covers 2022 (Chicago Public Library). Literary Hub’s list is particularly good because the best covers are selected by other cover designers and presented with their commentary.

See also The Best Books of 2022 and my lists from past years: 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2015, 2014, and 2013.

Note: When you buy through links on kottke.org, I may earn an affiliate commission. This year, I’m linking to Bookshop.org when I can but if you read on the Kindle or Bookshop is out of stock, you can try Amazon. Thanks for supporting the site!

The 2022 Prize Winners of the Worst Opening Sentences to Novels

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 16, 2022

For 40 years, the Bulwer Lytton Fiction Contest has invited people to come up with the worst possible opening sentences to really bad novels. From the results of the 2022 contest, here’s this year’s grand prize winner:

I knew she was trouble the second she walked into my 24-hour deli, laundromat, and detective agency, and after dropping a load of unmentionables in one of the heavy-duty machines (a mistake that would soon turn deadly) she turned to me, asking for two things: find her missing husband and make her a salami on rye with spicy mustard, breaking into tears when I told her I couldn’t help — I was fresh out of salami.

I am also fond, for some reason, of this one:

Apart from his undergraduate degree in art history and several years under the tutelage of Simone d’Poisson, preeminent Monet scholar at the Louvre, truckin’ was all Billy knew.

The name of the contest is in honor of Edward Bulwer-Lytton, a British writer and politician who was active in the mid-19th century. He’s typically roasted for having the worst opening line in an actual novel: “It was a dark and stormy night.” But Bulwer-Lytton also came up with several pithy and memorable turns of phrase, like “the pen is mightier than the sword”.

The Dangers of Elite Projection

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 16, 2022

Public transit consultant Jarrett Walker:

Elite projection is the belief, among relatively fortunate and influential people, that what those people find convenient or attractive is good for the society as a whole. Once you learn to recognize this simple mistake, you see it everywhere. It is perhaps the single most comprehensive barrier to prosperous, just, and liberating cities.

This is not a call to bash elites. I am making no claim about the proper distribution of wealth and opportunity, or about anyone’s entitlement to influence. But I am pointing out a mistake that elites are constantly at risk of making. The mistake is to forget that elites are always a minority, and that planning a city or transport network around the preferences of a minority routinely yields an outcome that doesn’t work for the majority. Even the elite minority won’t like the result in the end.

He’s talking about transit and cities, but you can see elite projection everywhere — like in social networks.

Sometimes the Dog Won’t Hunt

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 15, 2022

I posted this earlier today to the newsletter and thought I’d publish it here too. -jason

Hey folks. I’ve been back at work on kottke.org for a couple of weeks now and just wanted to give you a little update on where I’m at. In a brief reentry post, I promised a “massive forthcoming post” about my sabbatical activities and thoughts. I had planned on having that done by now, but…………….. well, it’s not. And honestly I don’t know when it’s going to be. I’ve got the whole thing sketched out and have been working on it in dribs and drabs, but taking on such a big thing after not having written & thought in a structured way for months is proving difficult. I’ve realized that I haven’t had sufficient time to reflect on my experiences — I believe I have interesting things to say and conclusions to draw about the sabbatical, but not just yet.

The other thing is: I’m just having a really good time being back in the saddle here. I’m finding that I’d rather just work on the day-to-day site stuff, which is more variable than just the heads-down, pure writing that the big post requires. (Dirty little secret: The actual writing I do for the site is often my least favorite part of all the different things that go into running kottke.org. Newsflash: writer hates writing, details at 6pm.)

With recent posts about a Chinese painter of replica van Goghs who visits Europe to see real van Goghs, a lovely Twitter thread of big-name authors recalling low-turnout readings they’ve done, Jenny Odell’s forthcoming new book, a new USPS stamp celebrating John Lewis, a site that rates apples, an AI imagining scenes from Jodorowsky’s Tron, a list of the best books of 2022, the truffle industry being a big scam, the best photos from NASA’s Artemis I mission to the Moon, this appreciation of a tight action scene from Top Gun: Maverick, a 1-dimensional version of Super Mario Bros., “wet putty” car paint jobs, parentification, and dozens of other posts and links, I feel like I’ve gotten off to a good start and just want to keep the momentum going on that. So anyway, thank you for your continued patience as I figure out how this all works again.

Oh, and here’s a new thing: for those who have jettisoned Twitter, I’ve created a Mastodon account for kottke.org. Links to all my posts and Quick Links are now available at botsin.space/@kottke, in addition to the usual places: Twitter, RSS, Facebook, and kottke.org. Thanks for reading!

Can You Turn the Bay of Fundy’s High Tides into Clean Energy?

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 15, 2022

Canada’s Bay of Fundy has the highest tides in the world, with a difference between low and high tides reaching more than 50 feet in some areas. That’s a lot of water in motion:

In a single tidal cycle of just over 12 hours, about 110 billion tons of water flows in and out of the Bay of Fundy. That sounds like a lot. To get a handle on just how much it is, it is equivalent to the combined total 24 hr flow of all the rivers of the world!

With that much flowing water, you should be able to generate a massive amount of hydroelectric power. But as Tom Scott explains in this succinct video, the problem is that there’s almost too much energy to harness — the tide is so strong that it just destroys turbines.

See also Bay of Fundy Extreme Tides Time Lapse.

Vintage-Style Map of the Mandelbrot Set

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 15, 2022

a vintage-style map of the Mandelbrot set

Bill Tavis designed this lovely vintage-style map of the familiar fractal shape, the Mandelbrot set. He is selling a poster version of the map, starting at the very reasonable price of $24. I don’t usually highlight the price on this sort of thing, but an unauthorized seller on Amazon was selling poor-quality counterfeits of the map and even though it wasn’t his fault, Tavis offered to replace any of the crappy maps for free. Great map, and apparently a great human who made it.

I found Tavis’s map when I was searching for the creator of this similarish map that I found on Twitter (bigger here).

a vintage-style map of the Mandelbrot set

Anyone know who made this version? Jonny Laser made the map in the second image for VSauce (scroll down a bit). (thx, kirsten)

A Fact-Checked Debate About Cannabis Legalization

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 15, 2022

Vox recently invited two people with differing views on the decriminalization and commercialization of cannabis to have an on-camera debate. The topic is interesting and relevant, but I’m mostly highlighting this for the format. Instead of just doing a traditional debate, the producers and participants came up with a list of facts that both parties accepted as true to discuss and rebut:

We thought both of their perspectives were worth hearing but didn’t want to stage a traditional debate where viewers so often come away confused about what to believe. So we created a format that would help establish a shared foundation of facts while still communicating what each of these advocates believe is the most important information to know.

In this new take on a debate, we asked both participants to identify facts that their opponent would have to concede are true. They were given an opportunity to review their adversary’s facts in advance and in a video call agreed on a set of six. In the video, you’ll see those facts presented, with each participant given the opportunity to add a “footnote” to their opponent’s facts.

Producer Joss Fong said of this novel format:

We made something new: a debate format where you don’t have to trust either of the adversaries (or trust us!) to learn something new and valuable about a policy issue.

I think it worked really well — more facts, less arguing & peacocking. I’d definitely welcome a podcast with this debate format.

Why Car-Centric Cities Are a GREAT Idea

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 14, 2022

I was skeptical but if you listen carefully, there are some really solid ideas in this video on why designing cities around lots of cars makes sense.

Brb, currently buying some cars and moving to cities.

The Secret Lives of MI6’s Top Female Spies

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 14, 2022

Helen Warrell’s piece in the Financial Times about women who work for Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (aka MI6) is fascinating throughout. Warrell talked to three women who occupy three of the four directors-general positions in the agency, as well as women who used to work for the agency. It’s tough to find a single paragraph to excerpt in articles like this, but this passage is representative:

Recruiting and managing agents overseas was not always easy, especially when the template for the role was cartoonishly male. “Early in my career, it felt as if there were particular ways of behaving and getting things done which felt challenging,” says Kathy. “There was definitely some machismo around the idea of the lone operator.” Then, as now, bonding methods that worked in male-to-male relationships didn’t in female-to-male ones. “I would not necessarily sit up drinking whiskey all night with an agent,” she says, explaining that she had to make things work on her own terms, such as inviting people to her home, which immediately establishes a degree of trust. At one point, she took up golf in an attempt to build rapport with a prospective agent who was obsessed with the sport. It did not go well. “My golf teacher, on lesson three, just said, ‘This is not your game.’”

Kathy argues that, counter-intuitively, it is in the most conservative countries that women sometimes have the upper hand. “When you’re playing into a culture which is particularly male-dominated, women tend to be underestimated and therefore perceived as less threatening,” she says. “That’s been an advantage for me, because sometimes those individuals won’t necessarily see you coming. And it’s about their perceptions of SIS. They’re not necessarily expecting a younger woman to bowl up to them.” This element of surprise, she says, “can definitely be a secret sauce”.

The Boring Conservatism of Elon Musk

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 14, 2022

After restricting the visibility of the account that tracks the location of Elon Musk’s private jet, Twitter has now completely suspended it. Using publicly available data, @elonjet would tweet where and when the $70 million Gulfstream G650 ER was taking off and landing. (It’s still available on Instagram.)

Musk said in November that the account was a “direct personal safety risk” but that he would not ban it as part of his “commitment to free speech.”

Lol. In recent months, Musk has revealed himself to be conservative, a boring and completely predictable move for someone with a shit-ton of money, but which seemingly flies in the face of his acolytes’ conception of him as a free-thinking maverick genius god being. Banning @elonjet is a pretty minor event in the grand scheme of potentially dangerous things happening over at Twitter since Musk took over, but it demonstrates Musk’s commitment to Frank Wilhoit’s succinct definition of conservatism:

Conservatism consists of exactly one proposition, to wit: There must be in-groups whom the law protects but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect.

So after going on and on about how important free speech is (in society and on Twitter), Twitter essentially shadow-banned @elonjet — shadow-banning on Twitter being something that Musk is trying to censure with the comical “Twitter Files” hogwash — and then just suspended the account altogether. From this and other actions, it’s pretty obvious that in running Twitter, Musk will define which people will be protected by The Twitter Rules and which groups of people will be governed by those same rules. It’s a private company and he has every right to do so, but for the love of god, his governance will not increase the amount of freedom that people using Twitter have. Musk will have freedom to bend and break the Rules, as will others of his choosing, but everyone else will have to toe the line and be subject to the Rules’ consequences and to the actions of those the Rules protect.

Update: Charlie Warzel wrote about Musk’s obvious and self-serving conservatism using a much more dangerous and harmful jumping off point: a recent Musk tweet that reads “My pronouns are Prosecute/Fauci”.

In five words, Musk manages to mock transgender and nonbinary people, signal his disdain for public-health officials, and send up a flare to far-right shitposters and trolls. The tweet is a cruel and senseless play on pronouns that also invokes the right’s fury toward Anthony Fauci, the chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden, for what they believe is a government overreach in public-health policy throughout the pandemic and an obfuscation of the coronavirus’s origins. (Fauci, for his part, has said he would cooperate with any possible investigations and has nothing to hide.)

Beyond its stark cruelty, this tweet is incredibly thirsty. As right-wing troll memes go, it is Dad-level, 4chan-Clark Griswold stuff, which is to say it’s desperate engagement bait in the hopes of attracting kudos from the only influencers who give Musk the time of day anymore: right-wing shock jocks. But that is the proper company for the billionaire, because whether or not he wants to admit it, Musk is actively aiding the far right’s political project. He is a right-wing activist.

Warzel invokes Wilhoit as well:

The hypocrisy at the center of Musk’s Twitter tenure is crucial to the understanding of Musk’s political activism. He has championed ideals of free-speech maximalism and amnesty to those who’ve offended his rules. Twitter, under his management, has let back on organizers of the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia; neo-Nazis such as Andrew Anglin; and January 6-investigation personalities such as Roger Stone. At the same time, Twitter has suspended accounts that have mocked Musk or expressed left-leaning views. Whether intentionally or not, Musk has, in effect, been governing Twitter using the classic Frank Wilhoit maxim: “Conservatism consists of exactly one proposition, to wit: There must be in-groups whom the law protects but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect.” Put differently, the billionaire has been advancing a long-running right-wing political project described recently by my colleague Adam Serwer as a “belief in a new constitutional right. Most important, this new right supersedes the free-speech rights of everyone else: the conservative right to post.”

(via @torrHL)

Blue Room

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 14, 2022

a man in prison watches a nature video

Merete Mueller’s short film Blue Room is about as meditative and peaceful a look at life in prison as you’ll ever see. It’s also quietly disturbing. In the US, our prison system is designed to punish incarcerated people by separating them from the outside world. Perhaps most significantly for their mental health, they are kept separate from nature: trees, rivers, lakes, oceans, the night sky; things that can keep people happy, healthy, and well-balanced. After learning about a program that shows nature videos in prisons, Mueller went to film and observe:

Years ago, I read about an exploratory program that showed nature imagery to people in prison to improve their mental health. During allotted downtime and in high-stress situations, individuals could request to visit the “blue room” to watch nature videos. Prison administrators hoped that these sessions would offer alternatives for people who were struggling emotionally, many of whom often ended up in solitary confinement.

We believe in the power of relaxing and meditative videos around here and I’m glad people in these prisons are able to find some peace in the blue room, but videos are not the real world. If Blue Planet II is necessary for incarcerated people to maintain their sanity and tenuous connection to nature and the outside world, as a society we really need to rethink what this system is doing to people. A friend said it reminded her of the incredibly dystopian use of VR goggles on cows in order to produce more milk. In his 2009 New Yorker article, Atul Gawande said that long-term solitary confinement is torture — but maybe all imprisonment is torture in our deeply punitive system? (thx, caroline)

Hell Yeah, Spider-man: Across the Spider-Verse

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 13, 2022

They just nailed the tone and aesthetic with these Spider-Verse movies. Really looking forward to seeing this one.

As a refresher, here’s how the team at Sony Pictures Animation created the distinctive look and feel of the first Spider-Verse movie.

Some of the Best Moon & Earth Photos from NASA’s Artemis I Mission

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 13, 2022

photo of the Moon and Earth with the Artemis I spacecraft in the foreground

photo of the Moon and Earth with the Artemis I spacecraft in the foreground

close-up of the lunar surface

photo of the Earth with the Artemis I spacecraft in the foreground

close-up of the lunar surface

photo of the Moon with the Artemis I spacecraft in the foreground

photo of the Moon and Earth with the Artemis I spacecraft in the foreground

Over the weekend, NASA’s Artemis I mission returned from a 25-day trip to the Moon. The mission was a test-run of the rockets, systems, and spacecraft that will return humans to the surface of the Moon. Visual imaging has been an integral part of even the earliest space missions — strap a camera to a spacecraft, let the people see what space looks like, and they will be inspired. Well, the photographs returned by Artemis I’s Orion spacecraft have certainly been inspirational. Working from NASA’s archive of images (on Flickr too), I’ve selected some of the most interesting and dramatic photos from the mission. The one at the top, showing a crescent Earth rising over the Moon’s surface, might be one of my favorite space photos ever (and that’s really saying something) — you can see a bigger version of it here.

How Jamiroquai Shot Their Iconic Virtual Insanity Video

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 13, 2022

Some 26 years after the release of the group’s groundbreaking music video for Virtual Insanity, Jamiroquai’s Jay Kay explains how the band and director Jonathan Glazer achieved such a convincing moving floor effect. The trick to getting the video made on a budget was to channel Einstein a bit in remembering that motion is relative to your frame of reference.

See also the hilarious musicless version created by Mario Wienerroither. Squeeeeeeeak. (via a whole lotta nothing)

Genetic Portraits: Split Multi-Generational Portraits of Family Members

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 13, 2022

Genetic Portraits

Genetic Portraits

Genetic Portraits

I’m not going to actually look, but I’ve probably featured Ulric Collette’s series Genetic Portraits here before. Collette photographed family members in the same pose and then digitally stitched them together. The resemblances and differences between family members are fascinating. (via jenni leder)

Update: A similar series by Bobby Neel Adams. (via @geedix)

Update: See also these similar paintings by Daevid Anderson.

The Best Books of 2022

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 09, 2022

Oh man, I read so many books during my time away from the site this summer — but barely made a dent in the towering pile of books I desired to read.1 Even so, I am excited to dig into the various end-of-year book lists to see what everyone else has been reading — and what I might add to my own pile for 2023.

As I’ve done for several years now, I went through many of these best-of lists and compiled a list of reads that appeared often or just looked interesting. And since I’m not doing a gift guide this year (sorry!), I will just note that great books make great holiday gifts. So here they are: (some of) the best books of the year.

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow (ebook) by Gabrielle Zevin.

Spanning thirty years, from Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Venice Beach, California, and lands in between and far beyond, Gabrielle Zevin’s Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow is a dazzling and intricately imagined novel that examines the multifarious nature of identity, disability, failure, the redemptive possibilities in play, and above all, our need to connect: to be loved and to love. Yes, it is a love story, but it is not one you have read before.

Sea of Tranquility

Sea of Tranquility (ebook) by Emily St. John Mandel.

The award-winning, best-selling author of Station Eleven and The Glass Hotel returns with a novel of art, time travel, love, and plague that takes the reader from Vancouver Island in 1912 to a dark colony on the moon five hundred years later, unfurling a story of humanity across centuries and space.

The Wok

The Wok: Recipes and Techniques (ebook) by J. Kenji López-Alt.

J. Kenji López-Alt’s debut cookbook, The Food Lab, revolutionized home cooking, selling more than half a million copies with its science-based approach to everyday foods. And for fast, fresh cooking for his family, there’s one pan López-Alt reaches for more than any other: the wok.

Whether stir-frying, deep frying, steaming, simmering, or braising, the wok is the most versatile pan in the kitchen. Once you master the basics — the mechanics of a stir-fry, and how to get smoky wok hei at home — you’re ready to cook home-style and restaurant-style dishes from across Asia and the United States, including Kung Pao Chicken, Pad Thai, and San Francisco-Style Garlic Noodles. López-Alt also breaks down the science behind beloved Beef Chow Fun, fried rice, dumplings, tempura vegetables or seafood, and dashi-simmered dishes.

The Candy House

The Candy House (ebook) by Jennifer Egan.

The Candy House opens with the staggeringly brilliant Bix Bouton, whose company, Mandala, is so successful that he is “one of those tech demi-gods with whom we’re all on a first name basis.” Bix is forty, with four kids, restless, and desperate for a new idea, when he stumbles into a conversation group, mostly Columbia professors, one of whom is experimenting with downloading or “externalizing” memory. Within a decade, Bix’s new technology, “Own Your Unconscious” — which allows you access to every memory you’ve ever had, and to share your memories in exchange for access to the memories of others — has seduced multitudes.

Dilla Time

Dilla Time: The Life and Afterlife of J Dilla, the Hip-Hop Producer Who Reinvented Rhythm (ebook) by Dan Charnas.

He wasn’t known to mainstream audiences, even though he worked with renowned acts like D’Angelo and Erykah Badu and influenced the music of superstars like Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson. He died at the age of thirty-two, and in his lifetime he never had a pop hit. Yet since his death, J Dilla has become a demigod: revered by jazz musicians and rap icons from Robert Glasper to Kendrick Lamar; memorialized in symphonies and taught at universities. And at the core of this adulation is innovation: a new kind of musical time-feel that he created on a drum machine, but one that changed the way “traditional” musicians play.

Either/Or

Either/Or (ebook) by Elif Batuman.

Unfolding with the propulsive logic and intensity of youth, Either/Or is a landmark novel by one of our most brilliant writers. Hilarious, revelatory, and unforgettable, its gripping narrative will confront you with searching questions that persist long after the last page.

The Nineties

The Nineties (ebook) by Chuck Klosterman.

It was long ago, but not as long as it seems: The Berlin Wall fell and the Twin Towers collapsed. In between, one presidential election was allegedly decided by Ross Perot while another was plausibly decided by Ralph Nader. In the beginning, almost every name and address was listed in a phone book, and everyone answered their landlines because you didn’t know who it was. By the end, exposing someone’s address was an act of emotional violence, and nobody picked up their new cell phone if they didn’t know who it was. The 90s brought about a revolution in the human condition we’re still groping to understand. Happily, Chuck Klosterman is more than up to the job.

An Immense World

An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us (ebook) by Ed Yong.

In An Immense World, Ed Yong coaxes us beyond the confines of our own senses, allowing us to perceive the skeins of scent, waves of electromagnetism, and pulses of pressure that surround us. We encounter beetles that are drawn to fires, turtles that can track the Earth’s magnetic fields, fish that fill rivers with electrical messages, and even humans who wield sonar like bats. We discover that a crocodile’s scaly face is as sensitive as a lover’s fingertips, that the eyes of a giant squid evolved to see sparkling whales, that plants thrum with the inaudible songs of courting bugs, and that even simple scallops have complex vision. We learn what bees see in flowers, what songbirds hear in their tunes, and what dogs smell on the street. We listen to stories of pivotal discoveries in the field, while looking ahead at the many mysteries that remain unsolved.

Checkout 19

Checkout 19 (ebook) by Claire-Louise Bennett.

In a working-class town in a county west of London, a schoolgirl scribbles stories in the back pages of her exercise book, intoxicated by the first sparks of her imagination. As she grows, everything and everyone she encounters become fuel for a burning talent. The large Russian man in the ancient maroon car who careens around the grocery store where she works as a checkout clerk, and slips her a copy of Beyond Good and Evil. The growing heaps of other books in which she loses — and finds — herself. Even the derailing of a friendship, in a devastating violation. The thrill of learning to conjure characters and scenarios in her head is matched by the exhilaration of forging her own way in the world, the two kinds of ingenuity kindling to a brilliant conflagration.

The Revolutionary: Samuel Adams

The Revolutionary: Samuel Adams (ebook) by Stacy Schiff.

In The Revolutionary: Samuel Adams, Schiff brings her masterful skills to Adams’s improbable life, illuminating his transformation from aimless son of a well-off family to tireless, beguiling radical who mobilized the colonies. Arresting, original, and deliriously dramatic, this is a long-overdue chapter in the history of our nation.

The Song of the Cell

The Song of the Cell: An Exploration of Medicine and the New Human (ebook) by Siddhartha Mukherjee.

In The Song of the Cell, Mukherjee tells the story of how scientists discovered cells, began to understand them, and are now using that knowledge to create new humans. He seduces you with writing so vivid, lucid, and suspenseful that complex science becomes thrilling. Told in six parts, laced with Mukherjee’s own experience as a researcher, a doctor, and a prolific reader, The Song of the Cell is both panoramic and intimate — a masterpiece.

Strangers to Ourselves

Strangers to Ourselves: Unsettled Minds and the Stories That Make Us (ebook) by Rachel Aviv.

In Strangers to Ourselves, a powerful and gripping debut, Rachel Aviv raises fundamental questions about how we understand ourselves in periods of crisis and distress. Drawing on deep, original reporting as well as unpublished journals and memoirs, Aviv writes about people who have come up against the limits of psychiatric explanations for who they are. She follows an Indian woman, celebrated as a saint, who lives in healing temples in Kerala; an incarcerated mother vying for her children’s forgiveness after recovering from psychosis; a man who devotes his life to seeking revenge upon his psychoanalysts; and an affluent young woman who, after a decade of defining herself through her diagnosis, decides to go off her meds because she doesn’t know who she is without them. Animated by a profound sense of empathy, Aviv’s exploration is refracted through her own account of living in a hospital ward at the age of six and meeting a fellow patient with whom her life runs parallel — until it no longer does.

The Book of Goose

The Book of Goose (ebook) by Yiyun Li.

A magnificent, beguiling tale winding from the postwar rural provinces to Paris, from an English boarding school to the quiet Pennsylvania home where a woman can live without her past, The Book of Goose is a story of disturbing intimacy and obsession, of exploitation and strength of will, by the celebrated author Yiyun Li.

The World We Make

The World We Make (ebook) by N.K. Jemisin.

All is not well in the city that never sleeps. Even though the avatars of New York City have temporarily managed to stop the Woman in White from invading — and destroying the entire universe in the process — the mysterious capital “E” Enemy has more subtle powers at her disposal. A new candidate for mayor wielding the populist rhetoric of gentrification, xenophobia, and “law and order” may have what it takes to change the very nature of New York itself and take it down from the inside.

The Last White Man

The Last White Man (ebook) by Mohsin Hamid.

One morning, a man wakes up to find himself transformed. Overnight, Anders’s skin has turned dark, and the reflection in the mirror seems a stranger to him. At first he shares his secret only with Oona, an old friend turned new lover. Soon, reports of similar events begin to surface. Across the land, people are awakening in new incarnations, uncertain how their neighbors, friends, and family will greet them. Some see the transformations as the long-dreaded overturning of the established order that must be resisted to a bitter end. In many, like Anders’s father and Oona’s mother, a sense of profound loss and unease wars with profound love. As the bond between Anders and Oona deepens, change takes on a different shading: a chance at a kind of rebirth — an opportunity to see ourselves, face to face, anew.

Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands

Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands (ebook) by Kate Beaton.

Before there was Kate Beaton, New York Times bestselling cartoonist of Hark! A Vagrant, there was Katie Beaton of the Cape Breton Beaton, specifically Mabou, a tight-knit seaside community where the lobster is as abundant as beaches, fiddles, and Gaelic folk songs. With the singular goal of paying off her student loans, Katie heads out west to take advantage of Alberta’s oil rush — part of the long tradition of East Coasters who seek gainful employment elsewhere when they can’t find it in the homeland they love so much. Katie encounters the harsh reality of life in the oil sands, where trauma is an everyday occurrence yet is never discussed.

I was particularly excited to see books by Stacy Schiff and Siddhartha Mukherjee in several lists. I read Schiff’s Cleopatra and Mukherjee’s The Emperor of All Maladies right around the same time and I remember being blown away by both of them. I recommend those two books to others all the time.

Here are some of the lists I used to assemble this collection:

Note: When you buy through links on kottke.org, I may earn an affiliate commission. This year, I’m linking to Bookshop.org when I can but if you read on the Kindle or Bookshop is out of stock, you can try Amazon. Thanks for supporting the site!

  1. The Japanese have a word for the bedside stack of books that pile up unread: tsundoku.

The New York City Sub-Culinary Map

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 09, 2022

The New York City Sub-Culinary Map

In the early 2000s, Rick Meyerowitz and Maira Kalman made a version of the NYC subway map where names of all the stations and landmarks were replaced with food. Here’s a detailed view of lower Manhattan and part of Brooklyn:

detail of The New York City Sub-Culinary Map

See also Simon Patterson’s The Great Bear and the City of Women NYC subway map.

A Short History of the Banjo and Early Black Folk Music

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 08, 2022

In this video from Vox (produced by none other than Estelle Caswell, who does the excellent Earworm series), scholar and musician Jake Blount runs us through a quick history of early Black folk music, using the banjo as a rough through-line. If you’d like to read more about Black stringband music, Blount has compiled some recommended resources.

Flamingos From Above

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 08, 2022

a flock of flamingos from overhead

a flock of flamingos from overhead

The flamingo’s vibrant color makes it a particularly striking bird to take photographs of, especially from the air — the pink really pops against the dark background of the water. Photographer Raj Mohan showcases this in his beautiful photos of flamingos at Pulicat Lake in India.

The annual flamingo festival is held in the month of January, and it is said that about 18 to 20 flamingo groups are distributed across the lake with each group having 700 to 800 birds. This pink flock congregation makes lake Pulicat a pink heaven.

You might remember that flamingos get their pink color from eating halophile dunaliella salina algae and shrimp that feel on algae. (via colossal)

The Top Gun “Mach 10” Scene Is Like a Perfect Pop Song

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 08, 2022

As I said in my recent media diet post, I really enjoyed Top Gun: Maverick. It’s a movie that’s made to be seen on a big screen with a loud sound system — I ended up seeing it in the theater twice. The movie just felt…good. Like a really well-crafted pop tune. In this video, Evan Puschak takes a look at the first scene in the film where (spoilers!) test pilot Maverick needs to achieve Mach 10 in an experimental plane and compares it to the structure of a pop song. His comparison really resonated with me because I listen to music and watch movies (particularly action movies) in a similar way: how movies and music feel and how they make me feel is often more important than plot or dialogue or lyrics.

3D Image Capture Just Got Much Easier

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 07, 2022

Neural Radiance Fields (NeRFs) is a relatively new technique that generates well-lit, complex 3D views from 2D images. If you’ve seen behind-the-scenes looks at how image/motion capture is traditionally done, you know how time-consuming and resource intensive it can be. As this video from Corridor Crew shows, NeRFs changes the image capture game significantly. The ease with which they play around with the technology to produce professional-looking effects in very little time is pretty mind-blowing. (via waxy)

The Climate Book by Greta Thunberg

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 07, 2022

cover of The Climate Book by Greta Thunberg

Activist Greta Thunberg is coming out with a new book about the climate crisis called The Climate Book: The Facts and the Solutions (kindle).

In The Climate Book, Greta Thunberg has gathered the wisdom of over one hundred experts — geophysicists, oceanographers and meteorologists; engineers, economists and mathematicians; historians, philosophers and indigenous leaders — to equip us all with the knowledge we need to combat climate disaster. Alongside them, she shares her own stories of demonstrating and uncovering greenwashing around the world, revealing how much we have been kept in the dark. This is one of our biggest challenges, she shows, but also our greatest source of hope. Once we are given the full picture, how can we not act? And if a schoolchild’s strike could ignite a global protest, what could we do collectively if we tried?

The book is already out in Europe (I actually included the European cover above because, unsurprisingly, it’s better than the US cover), but will be released in the US in February.

The NYPL’s Collection of Weird Objects

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 07, 2022

The New York Public Library maintains a collection of literary paraphernalia (which they call “realia”) that has gathered almost by accident and includes items like a lock of Walt Whitman’s hair, the death mask of E.E. Cummings, and Vladimir Nabokov’s butterfly drawings. The collection is only available by appointment, but the New Yorker snuck in for a look.

On the third floor of the New York Public Library, off of a quiet, marble-tiled hallway, is the Berg Reading Room. Mary Catherine Kinniburgh is one of the literary-manuscript specialists in charge of the cache of artifacts, which includes a lock of Walt Whitman’s hair, Jack Kerouac’s boots, and Virginia Woolf’s walking cane-all guarded by a buzzer and a strict protocol for appointment-only visits. “You can’t help but be a person in space and time in history, particularly in this room. It’s an opportunity to encounter an object in a very physical way, to generate meaning that transcends the shape of time,” Kinniburgh said.

The Northern Lights Photographer of the Year for 2022

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 06, 2022

a photo of the northern lights

a photo of the northern lights

Science fiction and fantasy artists could labor for a thousand years and never come up with something as beautiful and unbelievable as the aurora borealis. Nature: still undefeated. Those two shots are from the 2022 Northern Lights Photographer of the Year awards — the top one was captured by Tor-Ivar Næss in Norway and the bottom one was taken in Denmark by Ruslan Merzlyakov.

“Fox Sports’ US World Cup Coverage Is An Unmissable Abomination”

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 06, 2022

There are plenty of problematic things about this year’s World Cup, starting with the human rights situation in the host country, but for US viewers, Fox Sports’ coverage is really stinking up the joint. Aaron Timms burns them down in The Guardian:

In these circumstances you might expect Fox’s coverage of the matches, untroubled by politics, to be razor-sharp. You would be mistaken. From its Orientalist redoubt on the Doha Corniche (Arabesque motifs, casino lighting, no actual Arabs unless they’re from the Qatari tourism agency), the Fox team has set about its task with vigor: to beam all the tournament matches into the living rooms of America while being maximally patronizing to the country’s soccer fans. In those rare moments when Fox is not jamming a brand down our throats (“Here’s the player to watch segment, presented by Coca-Cola”, “Your first-half moment, sponsored by Verizon”, “Our player spotlight is hosted by the Volkswagen ID.4”), the network’s hosts, analysts, and match commentators seem determined to mansplain the sport as if we, the soccer-watching public of the United States, have spent the past four decades with our heads in the desert sands surrounding Lusail Iconic Stadium.

Insults to our collective intelligence have come from all angles: the constant, tedious analogies to American sports (stepovers and feints described as “dekes” and “hesis”, corners constantly compared to “pick and rolls”); the neverending quest to “contextualize” the world game by comparing whole countries to American states (“Qatar is the size of Connecticut,” we were told repeatedly on the opening day); the network’s embrace and promotion of the interminable “it’s called soccer” cause (who cares?); the strange extended segment in the run-up to USA v England about how much Harry Kane likes American football (ditto); the employment of Piers Morgan as a special guest pundit (no thanks).

The “it’s called soccer, no it’s football” thing is beyond stupid — it’s the sort of debate that 4th graders have on the playground. I watched the Netherlands vs. USA match the other day with my friend David and it was so bad we switched the channel to Telemundo even though neither of us speaks Spanish — and you know what, it was better because you could just enjoy the game. (Also, my pet peeve about the coverage: when showing the starting lineups and formations, they do not list the possible subs. The bench players matter, especially on these deep international teams! They come on late in games and score winning goals! Tell us who these people are!)

Destroy the World With This Asteroid Launcher Simulation

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 06, 2022

Creative coder Neal Agarwal has launched his newest project: Asteroid Launcher. You can choose the asteroid’s composition (iron, stone, comet, etc.), size, speed, angle of incidence, and place of impact. Then you click “launch” and see the havoc you’ve wrought upon the world, with all kinds of interesting statistics. I bombarded Los Angeles with an iron asteroid a half-mile across moving at 50,000 mph and the results were significant, as you can see from the fireball it created:

Map showing a (fake) fireball caused by a (fake) asteroid impact in Los Angeles

Some of the most interesting bits about the impact:

Crikey! See also the description of the much more massive meteorite that slammed into the Yucatan peninsula 66 million years ago:

The meteorite itself was so massive that it didn’t notice any atmosphere whatsoever,” said Rebolledo. “It was traveling 20 to 40 kilometers per second, 10 kilometers - probably 14 kilometers — wide, pushing the atmosphere and building such incredible pressure that the ocean in front of it just went away.

And The World’s Loudest Sound:

The sound made by the Krakatoa volcanic eruption in 1883 was so loud it ruptured eardrums of people 40 miles away, travelled around the world four times, and was clearly heard 3,000 miles away.

Danny MacAskill’s Postcard From San Francisco

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 06, 2022

Trials rider and mountain biker Danny MacAskill is one of my long-running obsessions here — I first posted about him all the way back in 2009 and if there’s ever a kottke.org konference, you’d better believe MacAskill will be performing at it. Anyway, MacAskill recently visited San Francisco with Red Bull and explored some of that beautiful city’s most iconic locations on his bike. Wow, the tennis net ride at 2:45 — BONKERS.

This video is actually a trailer of sorts for a 4-episode series that’s available on Red Bull’s site:

Watch as Danny lands a host of new tricks — some five years in the making — in spectacular spots around San Francisco. Then go behind the scenes and learn what this deeply personal edit means to him.

Super Rider (another trials rider) also did a behind-the-scenes video with MacAskill where they go in-depth on the tennis court setup.

The NOW Clock

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 05, 2022

Now Clock

Based on an illustration she did for a tech blog in 2014, Hallie Bateman is selling the NOW clock, a timepiece that reminds you whatever time it happens to be, it’s also always the present moment.

Love a Good Train Station Mosaic

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 05, 2022

Dang, look at these new mosaics by Kiki Smith and Yayoi Kusama for Grand Central Madison, the MTA’s newest LIRR station.

mosaic in Grand Central Madison by Kiki Smith

detail of mosaic in Grand Central Madison by Yayoi Kusama

detail of mosaic in Grand Central Madison by Kiki Smith

As a former (and future?) New Yorker, I know a lot of the city’s dwellers appreciate the MTA’s commitment to public art and to mosaics in particular. Like the Dude’s rug, it really ties the city together.

20 Iconic Photos of the Climate Crisis

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 05, 2022

a massive icreberg threatens a Greenland village

golfer play in front of massive wildfires in the Pacific Northwest

sled dogs pull a sled through water in Greenland

Gabrielle Schwarz at The Guardian has gathered 20 of the most iconic and meaningful photographs of the effects of the climate crisis. Metaphors abound. I think often of Kristi McCluer’s photograph of the golfers casually playing a round in proximity to 2017 Eagle Creek fire in the Pacific Northwest. As David Simon said at the time, “In the pantheon of visual metaphors for America today, this is the money shot.” (Iceberg photo by Magnus Kristensen and sled dog photo by Steffen Olsen.)

My Sabbatical Media Diet

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 02, 2022

As you’ll soon read in a comically long “what I did on my summer break” post I’m writing, almost everything I do on a day-to-day basis when I’m working on the site came to a complete halt when I went on sabbatical back in May - I stopped reading online, unsubscribed from all newsletters (save one or two), ignored Twitter, stopped paying attention to the news, didn’t really read my email. Pretty much the only concession I made was to keep track of what I was reading, watching, and listening to. So here you go, my media diet over the past seven months.

Russian Doll (season two). A worthy second act of Natasha Lyonne’s surprising hit. The NYC subway is the best time machine since the police box and the DeLorean. (A-)

Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman. Another Burkeman banger. If The Antidote was a self-help book for people who don’t like self-help books, this is time management for people who don’t want to organize their lives like a Toyota factory. (A-)

Middlemarch by George Eliot. By far the best thing I read during my sabbatical and one of my favorite books of all time. For whatever reason, I thought this was going to be stuffy liht-tra-chure but it turns out it’s hilarious? Almost every page had me laughing out loud. The writing is exquisite and Eliot’s observations about human behavior are still, 150 years on, remarkably astute. And there’s a scene near the end of the book that is almost cinematic — she painted such a vivid picture that it took my breath away (like, literally I was holding my breath). (A+)

All of This by Rebecca Woolf. You’re about to split up with your husband and then he gets cancer and dies. That is a complex emotional landscape; Woolf describes how she navigated her relief and grief as her life was torn apart and put back together again. A brutally honest read. (B+)

Conversations with Friends. Not quite up to Normal People’s high bar but still pretty entertaining and affecting. (A-)

Ten Steps to Nanette: A Memoir Situation by Hannah Gadsby. Unexpectedly resonant — one of a number of things I’ve read recently by people who have discovered they’re on the autism spectrum as adults. (B+)

Troubling Love by Elena Ferrante. Didn’t like this one quite as much as her excellent Neapolitan novels. (B+)

Old. Decent M. Night Shyamalan effort. The Sixth Sense remains the only film of his I’ve actually liked though. (B-)

The Mt. Qi Pork Hand-Ripped Noodles Meal Kit from Xi’an Famous Foods. I find most restaurant meal kits to be expensive and the resulting food unsatisfyingly unlike what you’d get at the restaurant. Not so with this one…I feel like it’s an incredible bargain (when paired with some bok choi or something it feeds 4-6 in my experience) and it tastes exactly like what you get at the restaurant. I’ve recommended this to several folks and everyone loves this kit. Note: neither the ingredients or the finished product freezes well — order this when you can make and consume the whole thing over the course of a few days. (A)

Apple Watch. I haven’t worn a watch since the early 90s, so it took me awhile to talk myself into this. But I wanted a good way to track my exercise and perhaps use my phone less. The Watch has succeeded on the first point but not really on the second, and I’m convinced that this thing has no idea how to accurately track calories on mountain bike rides. (B+)

Blade Runner 2049. Always up for a rewatch of this. I (sacrilegiously?) prefer it to the original. (A)

Gattaca. I always use the title of this movie when I need to remember the four nucleotide bases of DNA. Which, admittedly, is not super often. (A-)

Against the Rules (season three). Timely and fascinating exploration of the role of experts in our society by Michael Lewis. (B+)

Maus I & II by Art Spiegelman. Finally got around to reading this after finding it on a local bookstore’s table of banned books. A masterpiece. (A+)

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. I guess I am having a little trouble with caring about Marvel stuff after Endgame. Also, Sam Raimi’s horror thing doesn’t jibe with my dislike/indifference of/about horror movies. (B-)

Everything Everywhere All At Once. Second time. I love this movie so hard. (A+)

Top Gun: Maverick. I was shocked at how much I liked this movie — a Top Gun sequel didn’t have any right to be this entertaining. Straight-up no-frills thrill ride that’s best on a big screen. Loved Val Kilmer’s scenes. (A)

Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain. I was a little wary of watching this; from what I’d read, it seemed like it was a bunch of Bourdain’s friends and loved ones blaming Asia Argento (who was not interviewed for the film) for his death. It’s a delicate balancing act, but the film doesn’t actually do that, IMO. And the stuff about his early-mid career is great and was personally resonant. (A-)

Slow Burn: The L.A. Riots. I was 18 years old and a busy freshman in college when the 1992 LA riots happened, so this was fascinating to listen to. Joel Anderson was the perfect host for this — authoritative, probing, and skeptical in all the right places. (A)

Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs by Sally Mann. Nearly unbelievable family stories combined with fascinating insights on what it’s like to be an uncompromising artist. (A-)

Red Notice. Fun but forgettable. (B)

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart. Read this after my kids and I watched the Disney+ series. (B+)

Obi Wan Kenobi. This could have been terrible or messed too much with the original trilogy timeline/vibe, but they pulled it off. (B+)

Operation Mincemeat. If you like war dramas, this is a war drama. (B)

Last Night in Soho. Not my favorite Edgar Wright film. (C+)

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi. A friend recommended this after I read Maus. Another masterpiece about the effects of authoritarianism. (A)

The Card Counter. Good performances but ultimately not that memorable. (B+)

The Grand Budapest Hotel. A rewatch after many years. Anderson’s most commercially successful film but not my favorite. I love that there are hundreds of reviews of the hotel on Tripadvisor. (B+)

Thor: Love and Thunder. Natalie Portman is a great actress who sometimes seems like she’s a bad actress — see also Star Wars. Maybe superhero sci-fi is not her bag? Also, I think they went a little overboard on the stuff that made Ragnarok so much fun…it just didn’t work as well here. (B)

Persuasion. Oof. A poor adaptation of Austen through the lens of Fleabag. (C-)

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. Hinton was in high school when she wrote this so it’s a little uneven, but the voice is amazing. (A-)

For All Mankind (seasons two and three). Not as good as the first season IMO. It’s tough for alt-histories as they get farther and farther from where the timelines split. That said, I am a sucker for such an artfully placed Radiohead song. (B+)

Schitt’s Creek. Late to this but what a delightful show! Was very sad when it ended; I wanted to spend more time with these people. P.S. If you’re in the US and missed this on Netflix, it’s available on Hulu now. (A)

The Bear. I’ll admit I didn’t love this at first — I got my fill of the edgy/grungy aesthetic in the 90s — but it crescendoed nicely. (A-)

Saap. Nisachon Morgan, the chef of this unassuming Thai place in the tiny town of Randolph, VT, won the 2022 James Beard award for best chef in the northeast. A friend of mine has been a regular there for years, so we stopped in for a meal. Let’s just say the Beard Foundation got this one right. (A)

The Gray Man. Gotta be honest — I think I got this confused with Red Notice. (B-)

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. Still incredible that this was written in 1931 — it’s strikingly modern in many ways. (A-)

Deception Point by Dan Brown. Total beach read. Tom Clancy did this sort of book much better though. (B)

Lightyear. Solid Pixar effort. (B+)

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. I don’t understand the poor reviews of this series and its (unfair) comparison to the sexier House of the Dragon. It was engaging throughout, though maybe a little slow in places (I didn’t care much for the Harfoots plotline.) And it’s a setup for an epic tale that lasts four more seasons…there’s bound to be a lot of table-setting. (B+)

The Great Canadian Baking Show. Not as good as the original but worth a watch if you’re in Canada (either physically or via VPN), if only to catch how judge Bruno Feldeisen pronounces “sponge” and “layers”. Seasons one and two feature the delightful Dan Levy as one of the hosts. (B+)

Junior Bake Off. I understand that they’re children, but Bake Off just isn’t as fun when the baking is, uh, not great. (B)

Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr. With five different stories spanning hundreds of years, this was challenging to listen to as an audiobook at first. But it paid off well in the end. (B+)

Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang. Love anything and everything that Chiang writes. (A)

Source Code. I’m not sure this aged super-well but it was entertaining. (B)

Escape into Meaning: Essays on Superman, Public Benches, and Other Obsessions by Evan Puschak. Not quite the target audience here — I feel like this book would have hit me straight between the eyes in my late 20s or early 30s. (B-)

The US and the Holocaust. Essential documentary by Ken Burns, Lynn Novick, and Sarah Botstein about how the United States responded (and failed to respond) to Nazi Germany’s persecution and murder of European Jews in the years before, during and after WWII. (A+)

The Holocaust: A New History by Laurence Rees. I’ve watched and read a fair bit about the Holocaust over the years, but watching The US and the Holocaust and reading Maus spurred an interest in learning about how the Holocaust happened in detail. After some research, I settled on this book by Laurence Rees, which provides a good overview on how the Nazis harnessed European anti-Semitism to gain power and then used it to murder six millions Jews. It was unsettling to read but important to know this history so that we do not let it repeat. (A)

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie. The perfect little murder mystery. Like a magician revealing her tricks, Christie lays bare how murder mysteries are structured — and it takes nothing away from the thrill of the story. (A-)

Renaissance. Not my favorite Beyoncé album — it’s a little all over the place and the disco/house vibe isn’t exactly my jam — but there are some definitely bangers on here. All Up in Your Mind is my favorite track…I just wish it were longer! (B+)

Star Fluxx. A friend recommended this after I asked him for card/board games that would be good to play with my now-teenaged kids. Part of the game play includes changing the rules of the game as you go…we’ve been enjoying it. (B+)

Unspoken Words. Ambient-ish electronica from Max Cooper. My favorite track from this one is Everything. (A-)

See How They Run. Fun murder mystery with a few laugh out loud moments and great performances by Saoirse Ronan and Sam Rockwell. (B+)

Cool It Down. First new album from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs for the first time in nearly a decade? Yes yes yes. Spitting Off the Edge of the World is sublime. (A-)

Downton Abbey: A New Era. Sometimes, nothing but a low-stakes British period drama will do. (B+)

Night and Fog. An illuminating but difficult-to-watch companion to my other explorations of the Holocaust. (A)

Munich — The Edge of War. Solid historical drama that takes place around the events of the Munich Agreement that gave the so-called Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia to Nazi Germany in exchange for postponing WWII for about a year. (B+)

The Worst Person in the World. Really interesting and affecting in parts and a great performance by Renate Reinsve. (A-)

Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan. I can’t say that this book made me want to become obsessed with surfing, but maybe it made me want to become obsessed with something again. Beautifully written and personally resonant. (A)

Enemy. Good acting and direction but this is the type of film that I don’t think I care for anymore. (B)

Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe. Compelling and well-researched. The Troubles happened during my lifetime and I saw bombings on the news as a kid, but I didn’t have any more than a vague sense of what it was all about until I read this. (A)

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. I thought Coogler and co. did a good job in paying tribute to Chadwick Boseman while moving the story forward. But the kids and I agreed that we missed some of the fun and lightheartedness of the first film. (B+)

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. We listened to the audiobook in the car over several months — the British Stephen Fry version not the (IMO) inferior Jim Dale versions. (B+)

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. The rules are, when you finish the audiobook, you watch the movie. (B)

Her Place. A unique dining experience that’s not unlike going over to someone’s house for a dinner party. There are two seatings a night, at 6:00 and 8:30; all parties are seated at the same time. It’s a set menu with no substitutions and everyone in the restaurant is served at the same time. Every course or two, the chef quiets the diners to explain what’s coming up, who cooked it, where the ingredients are from, and anything else she thinks is relevant. It’s operationally smart and creates a great dining environment. Esquire just named it one of the best new restaurants in America. (A)

Tim Carmody’s wedding. Tim has been my friend and a vital part of this website for more than a decade, so it was a real pleasure to be able to join him and Karen McGrane for their wedding. We got to walk through a 20-foot-tall model of a human heart at the Franklin Institute! What a metaphor! (A)

The Handmaid’s Tale (seasons four and five). The first two seasons of this show were great. And then…well, they turned June into an antihero and a superhero, neither of which was very compelling. I dunno, maybe I just can’t get past how Elisabeth Moss can play someone escaping a cult-driven society while belonging to a cult herself. (C)

You’re Wrong About. I’ve given it a chance over the past several months but the new iteration of You’re Wrong About isn’t as good as the Sarah and Michael version. The show is still interesting and guests are fine, but the podcast is missing that comfortable witty banter, pacing, and Michael’s sharp editing (the double intro and outro are awkward and should be discarded). One odd thing for a show that is literally about explaining things: since the format changed, they often don’t plainly describe the subject matter at hand — it’s just assumed that we all know what they’re talking about (the eugenics and Henry Lee Lucas episodes for example). (B)

Le Relais de l’Entrecôte. If I ever own a restaurant, it’s gonna serve one thing, really fucking well. (A)

Arnaud Nicolas. Absolutely mind-blowing charcuterie. (A)

Trains in Europe. Specifically in Switzerland & France and to a lesser extent in Portugal & Italy. *sigh* (A)

The Strasbourg astronomical clock. A mechanical wonder located in the Cathédrale Notre-Dame in Strasbourg, France. I stayed for quite awhile, examining all the details. (B+)

Venice. This city seems fake, like you’re on a movie set or something. Even though Venice is unbelievably crowded in the touristy areas and the food is often so-so, it’s so so so relaxing and quiet to walk around a city without cars. (A)

Switch Sports. Nice to have a sports game on the Switch, but I miss the golf and a couple of games from Wii Sports Resort. (B+)

Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers. Couldn’t get into this one. (C+)

Benfica vs. Newcastle United. My very first time watching a football match in a European stadium and wow, what a stadium and experience. Great crowd for a preseason friendly and an 89th minute winner by the home club didn’t hurt either. Almirón, who is making some waves in the Premier League this season, scored two goals for the away team. (A)

Bar Kismet. Reminded me of my dearly departed favorite place in NYC. Great food, great casual atmosphere, creative cocktails, friendly service. (A)

Snowden Deli. My new favorite place for smoked meat in Montreal. (A-)

The Wok: Recipes and Techniques by Kenji López-Alt. Have only scratched the surface of this one, but it’s upped my wok cooking game already. Also, does anyone else’s entire family groan when I weigh in on some food question with “well, Kenji says…” or is that just me? (A-)

Legacy of Speed. Great story about athletics, politics, and activism. (B+)

The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race by Walter Isaacson. Conventional overview of the discovery of CRISPR and what it means for the future of humanity. I think there’s a better book to be written about this though. (B)

Slaughterhouse-Five: Or the Children’s Crusade, a Duty-Dance with Death by Kurt Vonnegut. Despite it being a modern American classic, I had very little idea what this book was about. I was not expecting….Tralfamadorians. (A-)

Ejaculate Responsibly: A Whole New Way to Think about Abortion by Gabrielle Blair. A clever & compelling common-sense reframing of the abortion debate that places much more of the responsibility for birth control on men (for a whole host of reasons enumerated by Blair). Fellows, this is worth your attention and consideration. (A-)

Enola Holmes 2. Fun and entertaining but could have been 20 minutes shorter. (B)

Tár. Incredible performance from Cate Blanchett. I’m not going to weigh in on what I thought the film was about, but do read Tavi Gevinson’s take in the New Yorker. (A)

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

The Greatest Films of All Time

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 02, 2022

Since 1952, Sight and Sound has been asking critics and other folks in the film world what the greatest films of all time are. For decades, Citizen Kane was in the top slot and therefore occupied this seemingly unassailable position in western culture as the greatest film ever made. Then in 2012, Kane was unseated by Vertigo. This year, Sight and Sound polled more than 1600 academics, curators, critics, archivists, and programmers to determine the current list of The Greatest Films of All Time. Here’s the top 10:

1. Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles
2. Vertigo
3. Citizen Kane
4. Tokyo Story
5. In the Mood for Love
6. 2001: A Space Odyssey
7. Beau Travail
8. Mulholland Drive
9. Man with a Movie Camera
10. Singin’ in the Rain

I have to confess, I’d never heard of the top pick before today (which appears to be 3 hours and 21 minutes long and on HBO Max if you’re interested.). The most recent film that’s highest on the list is the excellent Portrait of a Lady on Fire, coming it at #30. (And boy some folks on social media are big mad about it!) A second poll was taken among directors and their top 10 was slightly different:

1. 2001: A Space Odyssey
2. Citizen Kane
3. The Godfather
4. Tokyo Story
4. Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles
6. Vertigo
6. 8 1/2
8. Mirror
9. Persona
9. In the Mood for Love
9. Close-Up

Animation of the Lifecycle of the SARS-CoV-2 Virus

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 02, 2022

From Maastricht University in The Netherlands, this is a fantastic animation of the lifecycle of the SARS-CoV-2 virus as it invades and then multiplies in the human lung. A more scientific version is available as well. Great explanation but I love the visual style of this. They used textures similar to stop motion animations — e.g. the proteins look like clay and the cell membranes seem to be made of felt. (via carl zimmer)

China’s Van Goghs

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 01, 2022

I did not mean to watch an entire 75-minute documentary in the middle of my workday, but this sucked me right in and it might do the same to you. Zhao Xiaoyong is one of thousands of painters in Dafen, China who hand-paint replicas of famous paintings by the likes of Matisse, Degas, Renoir, Leonardo, and Kahlo. But a favorite artist amongst many of them, including Zhao, is Vincent van Gogh.

Zhao says, “I’ve been painting his paintings for nearly 20 years. I want to see the originals.” He works from photos of paintings and believes his work will be better if he can see them in person. And so, he and a few others make the trip to Europe — to visit a buyer of their paintings in the Netherlands, to see the originals of their replicas in the Van Gogh Museum, and to visit some of the places he lived and worked. It quickly becomes a spiritual journey. On a street in Arles, they came across a scene that van Gogh painted in 1888:

Here we are! Oh, it is like this. Things from a hundred years ago are still here. See, the sky in my picture is so blue. The sky is so blue! Van Gogh also painted this picture at dusk. Now I know why his sky is so bright. It was at dusk when he painted. Just like how we experienced today. It’s just like that.

Never having painted from life before but inspired by the scene, Zhao paints the scene as van Gogh would have more than a century before — that is, as van Gogh would have stood there painting but also in the artist’s signature style and informed by Zhao’s deep knowledge of having made many replicas of that specific painting over the years.

After his trip, while sitting around a dinner table with friends, Zhao asks, “Have I become an artist? Do I have anything that deserves appreciation?” and it’s not difficult to imagine any number of painters and artists throughout the centuries and asking themselves those same questions over dinner and drink. Fascinating documentary.

P.S. You can follow and buy Zhao’s work on Instagram. (via open culture)

Always Interesting: “52 Things I Learned in 2022”

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 01, 2022

Something I look forward to at the end of each year is Tom Whitwell’s list of 52 things I learned in 20221 because I know I’m about to read about a bunch of interesting things. As always, here are a few of my favorite items from the list:

6. Heavenbanning is a hypothetical way to moderate social networks. Instead of being thrown off the platform, bad actors have all their followers replaced with sycophantic AI models that constantly agree and praise them. Real humans never interact with them. [Asara Near]

13. Older travellers use airport toilets to hear flight announcements, because acoustics are much clearer. [Christopher DeWolf via Ben Terrett]

22. Applicants are 1.5% more likely to be granted asylum by a US judge the day after their city’s NFL team won. [Daniel L. Chen]

32. Before the industrial revolution, silver didn’t need to be polished, because there was less sulfur in the atmosphere (unless you lived near a volcano). [Michael Briggs]

52. During a French Navy exercise, a frigate was (virtually) destroyed despite radio silence. The (virtual) enemy was able to roughly locate the ship via an (real) active Snapchat account from one of the sailors. [Arthur Laudrain]

I did my own list of these last year and have been keeping sporadic track of interesting morsels I’ve come across this year, so hopefully I can pull a post together in the next few weeks. (thx, john)

  1. Ok, I do not specifically look forward to 2022’s specific list each year, but you know, unless you want to take the awkwardly long way ‘round, sometimes English makes you take the L. AKA, you know what I mean.

The Case of the Missing Scorsese Film

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 01, 2022

Movie poster for Goncharov

In 1973, Martin Scorsese made a film called Goncharov starring Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, Gene Hackman, Al Pacino, and Cybill Shepherd. But no one has actually seen it. Because it doesn’t actually exist…a bunch of scamps on Tumblr made it up.

So a few years ago, a Tumblr user posted a photo of some “knockoff boots” they had ordered online that had a very strange tag on the tongue: “The greatest mafia movie ever made. Martin Scorsese presents GONCHAROV. Domenico Proccacci production. A film by Matteo JWHJ0715. About the Naples Mafia.”

This mostly went ignored until 2020, when another Tumblr user reblogged a comment made on the original post, reading: “this idiot hasn’t seen goncharov.” Like the good lord himself and the Guardian’s coffee machine, the internet works in mysterious ways; earlier this month, Tumblr user beelzeebub made a fake poster for the film, tens of thousands of people were suddenly sharing it and lo: a new Scorsese film was born.

You can find the poster here. In a text to his daughter Francesca, Scorsese acknowledged, “Yes. I made that film years ago.” The way movies and memes work these days, it’s a solid chance this gets made in the next two years, as a “remake” with Scorsese executive producing.

Jodorowsky’s Tron

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 01, 2022

imagined film still from Jodorowsky's Tron

imagined film still from Jodorowsky's Tron

imagined film still from Jodorowsky's Tron

imagined film still from Jodorowsky's Tron

imagined film still from Jodorowsky's Tron

Cult avant-garde filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky famously did not make his ambitious adaptation of Dune but what if he had brought his unique brand of surrealist psychedelia to the screen with a version of Tron in the 70s? Using the AI platform Midjourney, Johnny Darrell imagined what Jodorowsky’s Tron might have looked like. I love these — I would like to see this movie please.

See also Jodorowsky’s Frasier.

Update: Frank Pavich, director of Jodorowsky’s Dune, ruminates on these AI images of Jodorowsky’s Tron.

I’m still trying to wrap my mind around it all. There seems to be a correlation between how Alejandro’s work was absorbed and referred to by subsequent filmmakers and how his work was ingested and metabolized by computer programming. But these two things are not the same. I want to say that influence is not the same thing as algorithm. But looking at these images, how can I be sure?

It’s hard to find many shortcomings in the software. It can’t render text. And like many painters and sculptors throughout history, it has trouble getting hands right. I’m nitpicking here. The model contains multitudes. It has scanned the collected works of thousands upon thousands of photographers, painters and cinematographers. It has a deep library of styles and a facility with all kinds of image-making techniques at its digital fingertips. The technology is jaw-dropping. And it concerns me greatly.

Archives    November 2022 »    October 2022 »    May 2022 »