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The Cute New Burger King Logo

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 08, 2021

I’d like to take a brief moment at the end of this weird and difficult week to appreciate this monogram that’s part of Burger King’s new brand identity.

Burger King monogram logo

B + K + burger = perfect. I hereby dub this new tiny logo “The Slider”. It was designed by Stephen Kelleher Studio; you can see some of their other “explorations” as they worked on refining the finished monogram. Reminds me of Sandwich’s excellent logo.

How the NY Times Got the Pentagon Papers

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 08, 2021

NY Times reporter Neil Sheehan, who was a Vietnam War correspondent, won a Pulitzer Prize, and obtained the Pentagon Papers for the Times, died yesterday at the age of 84. In an interview to be published posthumously, Sheehan revealed for the first time how he obtained the classified report on the Vietnam War from Daniel Ellsberg.

He also revealed that he had defied the explicit instructions of his confidential source, whom others later identified as Daniel Ellsberg, a former Defense Department analyst who had been a contributor to the secret history while working for the Rand Corporation. In 1969, Mr. Ellsberg had illicitly copied the entire report, hoping that making it public would hasten an end to a war he had come passionately to oppose.

Contrary to what is generally believed, Mr. Ellsberg never “gave” the papers to The Times, Mr. Sheehan emphatically said. Mr. Ellsberg told Mr. Sheehan that he could read them but not make copies. So Mr. Sheehan smuggled the papers out of the apartment in Cambridge, Mass., where Mr. Ellsberg had stashed them; then he copied them illicitly, just as Mr. Ellsberg had done, and took them to The Times.

Over the next two months, he strung Mr. Ellsberg along. He told him that his editors were deliberating about how best to present the material, and he professed to have been sidetracked by other assignments. In fact, he was holed up in a hotel room in midtown Manhattan with the documents and a rapidly expanding team of Times editors and reporters working feverishly toward publication.

What a wild tale. Read the whole thing…the kicker is worth it. Thanks to the efforts of Ellsberg, Sheehan, and other journalists, you can now read the complete non-redacted report on the National Archives website.

“The Climate Crisis Will Be Steroids for Fascism”

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 08, 2021

For Gizmodo, Brian Kahn writes about what the 1/6 terrorist action at the Capitol Building means for the climate crisis.

Climate change is chaos by nature. It means more powerful storms, more intense wildfires, more extreme floods and droughts. It is an assault on the weakest among us, and decades of the right-wing mindset of small government have left the country with fewer resources to deal with the fallout. As the summer’s wildfires show, the far-right will be there to try to fill the power void. Those fires occurred in a predominantly white region.

There’s a strong strain of white nationalism and neo-Nazism that ran through Wednesday’s insurrection, and it’s easy to imagine what will happen when flames or storms hit places that are predominantly Black, brown, or Indigenous. In fact, we don’t need to imagine it at all. We’ve seen it in the gunman who showed up at a Walmart to kill immigrants whom he falsely blamed for putting strain on the environment. And we saw it in the white vigilante violence in the vacuum after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. We’ve seen it so frequently, it even has a name: ecofascism.

After Wednesday, the boundaries of permissible violence have now expanded to a distorting degree, at a time of increasing climate instability. White supremacists, neo-Nazis, and other extremists literally took over the halls of power and got away with it. When climate change upends communities with far fewer defenses — communities that hate groups already scapegoat — the results will be catastrophic.

As we’ve seen with the pandemic, fascists will use climate chaos to assert dominance and snatch for power. Others will make vast sums of money — and inequality will continue to grow. Creating confusion with misinformation makes all of that easier to manage for these opportunists.

Brazilian Longboard Dancing

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 06, 2021

This fun short film by Brett Novak features four skateboarders — Sara Watanabe, Ana Maria Suzano, Beatriz Gavelak, and Teresa Madeline — showing off their longboard dancing skills in Brazil.

The video showcases a style of riding where their wheels stay mostly on the ground, harkening back to skateboarding’s “history of freestyle flat-land skateboarding in the 70’s-80’s and the footwork that longboard surfers sometimes use”.

Illustrations of the Natural Orders of Plants by Elizabeth Twining (1868)

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 06, 2021

plant illustration by Elizabeth Twining

plant illustration by Elizabeth Twining

plant illustration by Elizabeth Twining

Nicholas Rougeux has beautifully reproduced & remastered botanical illustrator Elizabeth Twining’s catalog of plants and flowers from 1868, Illustrations of the Natural Orders of Plants. Each of the 160 illustrations is accompanied by explanatory text from the original book and an interactive version of the image (click on the highlighted plant for more info).

Posters based on the illustrations are available and, get this, so are puzzles!

Free As In Frequent Flyer Miles

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 05, 2021

Buried deep within Jamie Lauren Keiles’ NY Times article about frequent flyer miles and The Points Guy is this economic observation:

A major reason points-and-miles trips exist is because airlines turn a more stable profit by minting their own currencies than by selling actual airline seats. The flight seems almost ancillary to the financial transaction it enables — a trend across the whole economy, where the selling of goods or services serves to enable the collection of data, the absorption of venture capital funds or the levying of hidden transaction fees. In this scheme, posting to social media, or collecting points and miles, or ordering a taxi or a gyro on your phone, is merely a gesture to keep the whole process in motion. The real moneymaking happens behind the scenes, driven by a series of exchanges where value seems conjured from nothing at all.

But of course, value always comes from somewhere. If you trace the thread back on any one of these businesses, it’s always the same deal: The poor underwrite the fantasies of the middle class, who in turn underwrite the realities of the rich. When credit cards charge high interchange fees, they pass the cost of loyalty programs on to merchants, who in turn pass it back to customers by building the fees into their sticker prices. Those who pay with credit can earn it back in points. Those who pay with debit or cash wind up subsidizing someone else’s free vacation. According to a 2010 policy paper by economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, the average cash-using household paid $149 over the course of a year to card-using households, while each card-using household received $1,133 from cash users, partially in the form of rewards. It remains a regressive transfer to this day.

Emphasis of the second to last sentence is mine.

Tips for a Better Life

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 05, 2021

On his blog, Conor Barnes shared an eclectic list of 100 Tips For A Better Life. I’m less keen on these sorts of lists than I used to be because they’re often written for people who already have pretty good lives and it’s too easy to imagine that a list advocating the opposite of each tip would also lead to a better life. To be fair, Barnes’ list acknowledges the difficulty with generalized advice:

31. The best advice is personal and comes from somebody who knows you well. Take broad-spectrum advice like this as needed, but the best way to get help is to ask honest friends who love you.

That said, here are some of the list items that resonated with me in some way.

3. Things you use for a significant fraction of your life (bed: 1/3rd, office-chair: 1/4th) are worth investing in.

I recently upgraded my mattress from a cheap memory foam one I’d been using for almost 7 years to a hybrid mattress that was probably 3X the cost but is so comfortable and better for my back.

13. When googling a recipe, precede it with ‘best’. You’ll find better recipes.

I’ve been doing this over the past year with mixed results. Google has become a terrible way to find good recipes, even with this trick. My version of this is googling “kenji {name of dish}” — works great.

27. Discipline is superior to motivation. The former can be trained, the latter is fleeting. You won’t be able to accomplish great things if you’re only relying on motivation.

My motivation is sometimes very low when it comes to working on this here website. But my discipline is off the charts, so it gets done 99 days out of 100, even in a pandemic. (I am still unclear whether this is healthy for me or not…)

46. Things that aren’t your fault can still be your responsibility.

48. Keep your identity small. “I’m not the kind of person who does things like that” is not an explanation, it’s a trap. It prevents nerds from working out and men from dancing.

Oh, this used to be me: “I’m this sort of person.” Turns out, not so much.

56. Sometimes unsolvable questions like “what is my purpose?” and “why should I exist?” lose their force upon lifestyle fixes. In other words, seeing friends regularly and getting enough sleep can go a long way to solving existentialism.

75. Don’t complain about your partner to coworkers or online. The benefits are negligible and the cost is destroying a bit of your soul.

Interpreting “partner” broadly here, I completely agree with this one. If they are truly a partner (romantic, business, parenting), complaining is counterproductive. Instead, talk to others about how those relationships can be repaired, strengthened, or, if necessary, brought to an appropriate end.

88. Remember that many people suffer invisibly, and some of the worst suffering is shame. Not everybody can make their pain legible.

91. Human mood and well-being are heavily influenced by simple things: Exercise, good sleep, light, being in nature. It’s cheap to experiment with these.

This is good advice, but some of these things actually aren’t “cheap” for some people.

100. Bad things happen dramatically (a pandemic). Good things happen gradually (malaria deaths dropping annually) and don’t feel like ‘news’. Endeavour to keep track of the good things to avoid an inaccurate and dismal view of the world.

Oof, this ended on a flat note. Many bad things seem to happen dramatically because we don’t notice the results of small bad decisions accumulating over time that lead to sudden outcomes. Like Hemingway said about how bankruptcy happens: gradually, then suddenly. Lung cancer doesn’t happen suddenly; it’s the 40 years of cigarettes. California’s wildfires are the inevitable result of 250 years of climate change & poor forestry management techniques. Miami and other coastal cities are being slowly claimed by the ocean — they will reach breaking points in the near future. Even the results of something like earthquakes or hurricanes can be traced to insufficient investment in safety measures, policy, etc.

The pandemic seemed to come out of nowhere, but experts in epidemiology & infectious diseases had been warning about a pandemic just like this one for years and even decades. The erosion of public trust in government, the politicization of healthcare, the deemphasis of public health, and the Republican death cult (which is its own slow-developing disaster now reaching a crisis) controlling key aspects of federal, state, and local government made the pandemic impossible to contain in America. (This is true of most acute crises in the United States. Where you find people suffering, there are probably decades or even centuries of public policy to blame.)

Bad news happens slowly and unnoticed all the time. You don’t have to look any further for evidence of this than how numb we are to the fact that thousands of Americans are dying every single day from a disease that we know how to control. So, endeavour to keep track of the bad things to avoid an inaccurate and unrealistically optimistic view of the world — it helps in making a list of injustices to pay attention to and work against.

The Look of the Book

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 05, 2021

Look Of The Book

A book? (I love books.) About book cover design? (I love book cover design.) By book cover designer Peter Mendelsund? (I love Peter Mendelsund. Platonically. More as a concept, really — we’ve never met.) And co-written by David Alworth? (I don’t know David Alworth but he seems like a solid chap.) The Look of the Book checks a lot of my boxes and might do so for you as well.

As the outward face of the text, the book cover makes an all-important first impression. The Look of the Book examines art at the edges of literature through notable covers and the stories behind them, galleries of the many different jackets of bestselling books, an overview of book cover trends throughout history, and insights from dozens of literary and design luminaries.

See also The Best Book Cover Designs of 2020.

GANksy - an AI Street Artist that Emulates Banksy

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 05, 2021

street art made by an AI

street art made by an AI

street art made by an AI

GANksy is an AI program trained on Banksy’s street art.

GANksy was born into the cloud in September 2020, then underwent a strenuous A.I. training regime using hundreds of street art photos for thousands of iterations to become the fully-formed artist we see today. All of GANksy’s works are original creations derived from its understanding of shape, form and texture. GANksy wants to be put into a robot body so it can spraypaint the entire planet.

The results are cool but not super coherent — these look more like abstract NIN and Radiohead album covers than the sly & whimsical works Banksy stencils up around the world. With GANksy, you get the feel of Banksy’s art and the surfaces he chooses to put it on but little of the meaning, which is about what you would expect from training using a neural network based on style.

2000-Year-Old Snack Bar Unearthed in Pompeii

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 04, 2021

Pompeii Snack Bar

Pompeii Snack Bar

This was widely shared last week but I wanted to post about it anyway in case you didn’t see it because it seems just so strikingly contemporary: a Roman snack bar from 79 ACE was recently unearthed in Pompeii.

In this new phase of excavation, the last section of the counter to be unearthed revealed other exquisite scenes of still life, with depictions of animals which were likely butchered and sold here. Bone fragments belonging to the same animals were also discovered inside containers embedded in the counter, which held foodstuffs intended for sale, such as in the case of the two mallard ducks shown upside down, ready to be cooked and eaten; a rooster; and a dog on a lead, the latter serving almost as a warning in the manner of the famed Cave Canem.

The photos are blowing my mind here. You never really think about the to-go food stall as an architectural archetype — much less one that’s 2000 years old — but all the elements are right there. It doesn’t look so much different from a hot food bar at an NYC bodega or Whole Foods. Archaeologists also found graffiti scrawled on the wall of the snack bar, just like that on the walls & tables of a place like John’s Pizzeria. You could completely imagine yourself standing there, two millennia ago, looking at the pictures and containers of what’s on offer, ordering some lunch, and chuckling at the graffiti with a pal.

The Last Documented Widow of a Civil War Veteran Has Died

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 04, 2021

On December 16, 2020, Helen Viola Jackson died in Marshfield, Missouri at the age of 101. She was the last known widow of a Civil War veteran, marrying 93-year-old James Bolin in 1936 at the age of 17.

James Bolin was a 93-year-old widower when Jackson’s father volunteered her to stop by his house each day and assist him with chores as she headed home from school.

Bolin, who was a private in the 14th Missouri Cavalry and served until the end of the war in Co. F, did not believe in accepting charity and after a lengthy period of time asked Jackson for her hand in marriage as a way to provide for her future.

“He said that he would leave me his Union pension,” Jackson explained in an interview with Historian Hamilton C. Clark. “It was during the depression and times were hard. He said that it might be my only way of leaving the farm.”

Jackson didn’t talk publicly about her marriage until the last few years and never applied for the pension — the last person receiving a Civil War pension from the US government died in mid-2020. As I wrote then, about the Great Span:

This is a great example of the Great Span, the link across large periods of history by individual humans. But it’s also a reminder that, as William Faulkner wrote: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Until this week, US taxpayers were literally and directly paying for the Civil War, a conflict whose origins stretch back to the earliest days of the American colonies and continues today on the streets of our cities and towns.

(via @jerometenk)

Wooden Satellites

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 04, 2021

Wooden Satellites

Researchers at Kyoto University and a Japanese forestry company have joined forces to develop orbital satellites made out of wood, purportedly to address the growing threat of space junk. The design will need to be resistant to dramatic changes in temperature and sunlight but will easy burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere upon reentry.

I love the idea of satellites made from wood — it seems like Victorian-era scifi. The harshness of space seems like a domain exclusively for metals and ceramics, but wood is a surprisingly versatile material used in many different severe environments on Earth. There’s no reason it couldn’t work in space as well — and if their traditional expertise in joinery is any indication, I trust the Japanese to figure out a way make it happen.

But as Ars Technica’s John Timmer notes, wooden satellites won’t meaningfully help with the space junk problem.

Unfortunately, making satellite housings out of wood won’t help with this, for many, many reasons. To start with, a lot of the junk isn’t ex-satellites; it’s often the boosters and other hardware that got them to orbit in the first place. Housings are also only a fraction of the material in a satellite, leaving lots of additional junk untouched by the change, and any wood that’s robust enough to function as an effective satellite housing will be extremely dangerous if it impacts anything at orbital speeds.

The (unrelated) photo above is of toy company Papafoxtrot’s wooden scale models of NASA spacecraft.

Half-Century Mix: 50 Songs from the Last 50 Years

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 04, 2021

DJ Earworm has made a chronological mix of songs, one from each year from 1970 to 2020.1 The Jackson 5 flows into Rod Stewart, Def Leppard into Milli Vanilli, Eric Clapton into Chumbawamba into The Verve, Shakira into Rihanna, and Ed Sheeran into Justin Bieber. Go on then, take a ride.

  1. Ok, the title says “50 Songs from the Last 50 Years” but 1970 to 2020 is really 51 years (and therefore 51 songs). This is a common counting challenge, source of many off-by-one errors in software engineering. The way I learned to deal with it in grade school math class (and how I still think about it) is: are you counting fence posts or the gaps between them? So, a person born in 1970 turned 50 years old in 2020 but a song from each year from 1970 to 2020 totals 51 songs.

    Anyway, I fudged the title to the nice round number of 50. I’m fun at parties!

21 Things That Kept Me Going In 2020

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 31, 2020

overhead view of my home office

For the past few years, I’ve been keeping track of everything I read, watch, listen to, and experience in my media diet posts. As a media diet wrap-up, here’s the most compelling content & experiences from 2020, stuff that helped stimulate and sustain me in a year of isolation and pandemic.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire. This was the final movie I saw in a theater before the pandemic hit; I chose well. Not a week has gone by this year that I didn’t think about some aspect or another of this film.

You’re Wrong About. By far my favorite episodic podcast. The joy with which the hosts delight each other with insights and humorous asides is the engine that drives the show. Literally my only complaint: I wish they hadn’t changed the theme music.

The Queen’s Gambit. Seems like everyone watched this miniseries this fall and I loved it just as much as anyone.

The Rain Vortex at Singapore’s Changi Airport. An enchanting oasis in the middle of an airport indicative of Singapore’s incorporation of natural elements into urban spaces.

MASS MoCA. For my birthday, I treated myself with a road trip to this superb museum. The Sol LeWitt, James Turrell, and Jenny Holzer exhibitions alone were worth the trip. I sorely miss museums.

Ted Lasso. Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood + Major League. Who knew you could make radical empathy funny? Everyone I’ve recommended this show to has loved it.

The Land That Never Has Been Yet from Scene on Radio. An essential series on American democracy. Like, do we even have one? It’s hard to choose, but the episode on how the libertarianism of the contemporary Republican Party was the result of a deliberate campaign by just a few people that increasingly came to dominate American politics is my favorite.

Carol. I remember liking this back when it came out, but my rewatch a couple of months ago was a revelation. A remarkable, sparkling film.

Caste by Isabel Wilkerson. Wilkerson has a gift for finding new ways for her readers to think about entrenched systems and behaviors.

Devs. This show got neglected a little in the end-of-year lists because of an early-in-the-pandemic release, but it was one of my top 2-3 shows this year.

The Great. I really enjoyed this Hulu show as I watched it and it’s grown in my esteem in the months since. It’s one of the first shows I recommend when friends ask what I’ve been watching lately. Huzzah!

Nintendo Switch. To distract themselves from the pandemic, did America spend more hours playing video games or watching TV? I did both. Mario Kart 8, Super Mario 35, Rocket League, Fortnite, Minecraft, Among Us, and all the old NES games were popular in our household this year.

Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney. I found reading difficult for most of the year — I only finished three books in the past 10 months. But this one I couldn’t put down; finished it in two days.

Exhalation by Ted Chiang. Perfect little stories expertly told. Don’t miss the endnotes, where Chiang reveals where the ideas for each of his stories came from.

AirPods Pro. The best augmented reality device yet devised — the music feels like it’s actually in your head more seamlessly than ever before.

Little Women. Fantastic casting, performances, and direction. Waiting patiently for whatever Gerwig does next.

My Brilliant Friend (season 2) & Normal People. I didn’t think anyone could effectively adapt either of these authors, but somehow the shows nearly equalled the books.

The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson. Everything from Larson is great and this book about the Battle of Britain and the triumph of leadership resonated throughout this pandemic year.

Future Nostalgia. I listened to this more than anything else in 2020. Also notable because IMO there are no skippable songs on this album.

Tomidaya shoyu ramen. This tiny ramen shop in the Little Tokyo section of Saigon is supposed to closely resemble Japan shops. One of the best bowls I’ve ever had.

The Mandalorian. I was lukewarm on season one but loved season two. Of all the recent Star Wars things, this show best channels the sometimes goofy/campy magic that made the original movie so compelling.

The image above is an overhead view of my home office, where all the kottke.org magic happens.

That’s All, Folks!

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 29, 2020

VT Monolith

As things are winding down here in 2020, I’m taking this last week off. Mostly. There might be a couple of things that trickle through, but regular posting will resume on Jan 4th or 5th. Covering the pandemic and politics this year has been challenging at times — reading continuously on social media and in the news about how the sky is falling for months on end isn’t great for one’s mental health — and I haven’t had a break of more than a day or two since February, so I’m calling this a necessary pause.

I’d like to thank you all for reading and for the membership support this year. Thanks to your response to my mini membership drive at the end of October, the site is on solid ground for the next year. I feel beyond lucky to have had steady and meaningful work that can be done from home during all of this. Thanks again — I’ll see you in 2021.

Photo above is of Vermont’s very own monolith, taken Dec 31, 2020.