Last month, I put out a call for kottke.org readers to ask me anything. I ended up getting more than 330 questions from people all over the world. Instead of writing a post or two with some of my answers on the main blog, I thought it would be more fun to build a proper home for the AMA here. After the initial answering session, I'll drop in here from time to time to answer some more.
You can sort the posts here by most recently answered, by popularity (more on that in a sec), and randomly. If you particularly enjoyed a certain Q&A, you can favorite it using the star. The system will tally up everyone's faves and, hopefully, the best ones will float to the top. You only get 9 favorites, so use them wisely (you can unfave stuff too and you'll get more faves when there are more posts). There's no login or anything, so your faves will only be saved in whatever particular browser you're using. That also means the faves are gameable, but that's boring and everyone's on the honor system here, so hopefully there's no fucking around, please and thank you.
Ok, here we go!
What are your ten favorite pieces of art (film, visual arts, music, writing etc.) by women artists? — Jenny Malcolm
I don't know about a top 10, but I'm just gonna start listing some things that I've really enjoyed in recent years and see where that gets us.
The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante. Portrait of a Lady on Fire by Céline Sciamma. Lemonade by Beyoncé. Middlemarch by George Eliot. Judith Beheading Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi. The Wolf Hall trilogy by Hilary Mantel. The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson. Fleabag by Phoebe Waller-Bridge. The Odyssey translated by Emily Wilson. Little Women directed by Greta Gerwig. The Rose by Jay DeFeo. Nanette by Hannah Gadsby. Normal People by Sally Rooney. Circe by Madeline Miller. Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner. Amy Sherald, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Hilma af Klint, etc. etc. etc.
I notice some semiregular overlap between your links and ones I see on Hacker News. (This isn't a criticism.) Is HN a place you frequently look at to glean material, or is it the other way around — that the community there is gleaning stuff from Kottke? — John Pavlus
Yeah, I think it goes both ways. I am not a regular reader or participant of Hacker News – I find the general VC/Silicon Valley/libertarian vibe over there to be pretty off-putting – but there's some good stuff there if you take the time to look. But that's what the job is: sifting through stuff that is unremarkable, irrelevant, and (unfortunately for my mental health at times) toxic to find the good stuff.
I also think the collection of sites and services that traffic in links has gotten much more efficient in recent years. Stuff that's good tends to travel very quickly and widely, so that a link that first appeared on a popular subreddit in the morning is everywhere by noon: Twitter, Insta, FB, Boing Boing, Digg, the newsletters, etc. etc. And the game is less about getting to these links first (a fruitless effort IMO) than about selecting what you think are the best ones from a very large pool.
What are your sports teams? You sometimes post about Messi et al. But I wondered do you have an NFL team, an EPL team, an MLS team et cetera? (Just curious) — Lincoln
I used to have teams, which mostly depended on where I lived, who other people in my life rooted for, and who certain interesting players played for. At times in the past, I've rooted for the Milwaukee Brewers, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Vikings, Georgetown Hoyas (men's college hoops), Barry Sanders-era Detroit Lions, Jordan-era Chicago Bulls, Brady-era New England Patriots, Manny/Papi-era Boston Red Sox, NY Mets, and FC Barcelona. I lost interest in the NBA right around when LeBron entered the league, and I don't watch the NFL anymore.
The only thing I really follow anymore is football/soccer, but my watching strategy probably sounds really strange to most football fans (and tbh, the extremism of football fandom turns me off). I watch a lot of Premier League matches (2-5 per week if I can) but I don't have a particular team. I tune in for certain matchups and to watch certain players, but I'm not rooting for anyone in particular. I also watch some PSG matches (Messi), still have a soft spot for Barca, watch as many Champions League matches as I can (especially w/ Real Madrid – Benzema's recent surge has been fun to watch), and watch the Euros, the Copa America, and the World Cup when they come around. I rooted hard for Argentina in both the Copa America and the World Cup – the WC final against France was one of the most exciting sporting events I've ever watched and it still gives me goosebumps when I think about it.
Have you been tempted into branching out into other media forms? (YouTube, podcasts, etc). If you ever did, would it be for the money, or to explore new ways of expressing yourself? — GS
Yeah, I think about that stuff sometimes. I think the three main temptations would be to 1) write a book, 2) start a YouTube channel, and 3) do a podcast.
Book. I don't think it would be much fun for me to write a book tbh (I actually don't enjoy writing all that much) and I've never really come up with a great idea that I felt compelled to explore. Maybe what I need is an editor or literary agent to whip me into shape and then it would be a positive and rewarding experience. Being the author of a published book still lends a credibility that being a blogger, even a well-read one with 25 years of experience, does not confer and could lead to some interesting opportunities. Overall though, it doesn't excite me much.
YouTube. Whenever I look at channels like Nerdwriter, Kurzgesagt, and the much-missed Every Frame a Painting, I start to wonder how to translate the kottke.org experience to YouTube. I think it could be really cool! I would totally subscribe to a kottke.org-ish YouTube channel. But I don't know anything about video production, I'm not great on camera, and at the end of the day I'm just not that curious about it I guess.
Podcast. I've spent a lot of time on this one, thinking it over. There are some ideas, jotted down in a note on my computer. As with YouTube, it's fun to think about what kottke.org in podcast form would look like. But I guess it just boils down to interest again...I do not have the burning desire to will a podcast into existence. Any of these options could be potentially lucrative in and of themselves and also bolster my "brand" across different media, but beyond the initial challenge of trying something new, I'm unsure of how engaged I would be. In spite of how much the web has changed in the nearly 30 years since I first clapped eyes on it, the connectedness of media on the web feels like home to me – podcasts, YouTube videos, and books just aren't able to be connected to each other in any meaningful way.
Curious about your interest in dance, skateboarding, and BMX. — Burt T
I've never really done any of these activities. I danced a bit in college (to rave/techno/electronica) and have logged less than 30 minutes on a skateboard in my life. I wanted a BMX bike so bad when I was a kid but there was no way I could afford one. I remember going to a BMX exhibition at our local mall and just being mesmerized by the tricks those kids were doing on their bikes and it all just seemed impossibly & unobtainably cool. So some of it is like, I wish I could do that stuff.
But mostly I post about BMX, trials riding, dance, and skating because I will forever be in awe of what humans can do with their bodies. The level of control, discipline, dedication, coordination, and practice that's required to do something like this, this, or this is just incredible and I'll never get tired sharing these things with others.
What advice do you have for someone getting divorced? / What was the hardest part for you about separating and how did you cope? — Anonymous
I got several questions about divorce, including a couple of folks who just straight-up wanted me to spill the tea on the end of my marriage – A for effort but I think if you've been reading my site for any amount of time, you know that's not going to happen. ✌️
I'm gonna assume that kids are in the mix here – I'm not sure I have any advice for childless folks divorcing. When we separated, our kids were still pretty young and we made a conscious decision to prioritize them and their needs in everything that we did. My parents divorced when I was young and didn't do that and we decided we weren't going to go down that road, a road that inflicted some pretty lasting damage on me. (Gotta break those inter-generational cycles.) Separating with young kids is incredibly stressful – the day we sat down to tell them what was going on was maybe the hardest thing I've ever had to do – and it was extremely helpful to have that as a framework and I think it benefitted our kids as well.
Kids aside, the toughest aspect about separating from a long-term partner was learning who the hell I was again. It took *years* and boy lemme tell you: it's uncomfortable to spend months and months on end having no idea what to think about things or how to react to situations or what your preferences are. It's just incredibly frustrating and you feel dumb and wonder if you're ever going to find yourself again, but in my more enlightened moments I've come to accept what an amazing gift it is to rediscover who you are in middle age. (Caveat to all of this: who you are is, hopefully, constantly shifting and changing and growing but there is certainly a core set of principles that define us as people throughout our lives.)
The change from doing something daily (or hourly or by the minute) to not at all is often very difficult. Creation is a habit and fulfilling, and for many years you curated Kottke.org then, well, stopped doing so. How long did it take to manage that time and change? And was it at all difficult returning? — nick kokonas
John Gruber asked about this when we recently chatted for The Talk Show and I think I answered something like, "you would not believe how quickly and completely I was able to stop working and not miss it at all". I was off for 7 months and in that time I don't think I read more than 10 things online that I would consider links for the site. I stopped reading the news, I didn't look at my RSS reader, and I unsubscribed from all but a few newsletters. Friends would send me articles and I'd just ignore them – even if the stuff looked really interesting! I posted maybe 3 Quick Links the whole time I was off? I stopped using Twitter completely (and never really went back), stopped using Instagram for 3 weeks and now use it much less than I used to. I dropped all of that almost completely...I just really really needed the break. I needed to go cold turkey.
Returning was more difficult. There were doubts about if I could still do this and even if I could, should I? A close friend remarked that I seemed like a completely different person when I wasn't working during my sabbatical – a person who is more relaxed & present and less anxious & stressed – and I was wary of turning back into that other guy (spoiler alert: I kinda have for reasons that are not uncommon or surprising 🙃). But I also missed the intellectual stimulation of my work and have been looking for ways to maximize that part of the job since I've been back. Life, it's a process...
How do you come up with your topics? Do you browse the net and come across them by chance or do you compile your feeds for us? — Thomas P
I got a lot of questions about process & tools, so I'll be answering a few of those as I go along here. I don't do a lot of aimless web surfing anymore and haven't for quite awhile. The web doesn't link to itself like it used to – you used to be able to traverse large swaths of the web, jumping from site to site like a monkey swinging from tree to tree in the jungle. But now there are lots of dead ends with only internal links and many fewer sites that link broadly out.
Currently I subscribe to a bunch of mailing lists, read a collection of RSS feeds, follow folks on Mastodon (and to a much lesser extent these days, Twitter), and also get the occasional link from Facebook or Instagram. I never get through all of these during the course of the day or even week – I just tend to go with what feels "hot". There are always too many interesting things to link to...maybe if there were 2 or 3 of me I could keep up with all of it. Some of the best links I get from friends and readers – I don't quite know how to describe what distinguishes these from normal linky links (a technical term with a complex definition, lol) but they just feel different.
I’ve been a reader for 20 years, and have an embarrassingly pedestrian question that I’ve wondered about for *ages:* What’s your go-to NHL ‘94 team? I’m a Winnipeg Jets guy, and always move Teemu Selanne to center. — Chris S
Ha! I preferred the Chicago Black Hawks with Jeremy Roenick. I also played the Vancouver Canucks with Pavel Bure. Both unstoppable scoring machines. I think it's time to get the Genesis out of the closet and play a few games!
How has your thinking about the prevalence of life in the universe (and, separately, intelligent life) changed over the past twenty years? — David C
Oh, it feels much more likely to me today that there's intelligent life out there than it did 20 years ago. There's too many potential planets out there, so many more ways we know of for life to exist. It's just too many rolls of the dice for us to be alone in such a massive place. But I also suspect that we won't know for sure either way in my lifetime or even that of my kids' or their kids' lifetimes.
Possibly odd (but genuine) question: Do you ever get "recognized" while out on the street (as a celebrity, essentially)? If so, how do you react? :) — Jonathan P
It happens sometimes, but much less often than it used to – although it happened last month when I had jury duty. It always catches me a little off guard, but people are always nice (of course!) and basically just say hello and leave it at that. It's always nice meeting readers, even in passing – sometimes it's easy to forget that there are real people out there on the other side of the screen or web server or whatever.
I've always enjoyed your takes on interplay of technology and the general well-being of humans. I'm curious on whether you use dating apps and your thoughts on dating apps. — Sarah
I have used dating apps in the past, including Tinder, Bumble, and Feeld. At their worst, these apps make you feel shallow, bad about yourself, and like you are window shopping for human beings. Rejecting people who are probably lovely humans with a quick swipe of your thumb based on your split-second animal brain reaction to their appearance & general vibe, one after the other, feels horribly, awfully judgmental. (And that's just my personal experience. Some of my female friends find being on the apps dehumanizing and are often subjected to all kinds of abusive behavior from men who either do the same shit in bars and coffeeshops or feel entitled/emboldened to do so in-app because it's virtual and anonymous.)
On the other hand, I have met some genuinely good, kind, and interesting people on these apps. They're useful for cutting to the chase and, for someone like me who has been navigating technology-mediated relationships for almost 30 years now (a good 90% of the people I know I've met online), are a good way of gauging what people are like before meeting up and avoiding potential awkwardness. So.......mixed feelings? 🙃
You mentioned in several posts about your relationship with alcohol (stopped drinking for awhile, etc) and said you would post about it but i don't think i ever saw it. I would be interested to hear what was going on if you are will to share. — David in Madison Wi
Yeah, I don't think I ever did post about it. When I lived in NYC, I only drank alcohol socially, when I was with others. I never drank at home. After moving to Vermont, it became harder to drink out (I knew fewer people, have to drive) so now I mostly drink at home by myself. Most of the time, that's fine...I'll have a cocktail or, more rarely, a glass of wine with dinner most nights, but not all. Sometimes I'll notice that I "need" a drink to unwind after a hard day, and that doesn't feel great. Neither does the sleep disruption (esp if I have more than 1 drink) or the depressive effect of the alcohol in the morning.
When I notice that stuff happening, I'll lay off and it feels fine. In that respect, it feels like other things that I occasionally overindulge in, like food, stupid video games on my phone, and mindless television – stuff that I do to excess to numb pain or fill a hole. But most of the time, I drink a little bit for enjoyment and it doesn't affect much else outside of that.
Do you get spammed by PR people trying to get you to link to stuff? Do you appreciate when creators send you cool work they’ve done? — Eli
I get lots of email from PR folks – the vast majority of it is just shotgunned out into media inboxes across the web. I'm not fussy about where I get my links, but most of it is worthless. But I also get a few each week where the PR person actually knows what kottke.org is and that the thing they are promoting might be a good fit for it. I appreciate those – it's genuine human contact.
And yes, I love it getting email from readers and creators about their work. It's not always right for the site (whatever the hell *that* means 🙄) but I do enjoy taking a peek.
I would love to know your thoughts on AI, and specifically the ones that threaten us writers. I know you've touched on it in the past, but it seems like ChatGPT and the like really exploded while you were on sabbatical. Like, you left and the world was one way, and when you returned, it was very different. — Gregor
I got several questions about AI and I haven't written anything about my experience with it on the site, so here we go. Let's start with two facts:
1. ChatGPT moved me to tears.
2. I built this AMA site with the assistance of ChatGPT. (Or was it the other way around?)
Ok, the first thing. Last month, my son skied at a competition out in Montana. He'd (somewhat inexplicably) struggled earlier in the season at comps, which was tough for him to go through and for us as parents to watch. How much do we let him figure out on his own vs. how much support/guidance do we give him? This Montana comp was his last chance to get out there and show his skills. I was here in VT, so I texted him my usual "Good luck! Stomp it!" message the morning of the comp. But I happened to be futzing around with ChatGPT at the time (the GPT-3.5 model) and thought, you know, let's punch this up a little bit. So I asked ChatGPT to write a good luck poem for a skier competing at a freeski competition at Big Sky.
In response, it wrote a perfectly serviceable 12-line poem with three couplets that was on topic, made narrative sense, and rhymed. And when I read the last line, I burst into tears. So does that make ChatGPT a soulful poet of rare ability? No. I've thought a lot about this and here's what I think is going on: I was primed for an emotional response (because my son was struggling with something really important to him, because I was feeling anxious for him, because he was doing something potentially dangerous, because I haven't seen him too much this winter) and ChatGPT used the language and methods of thousands of years of writing to deliver something a) about someone I love, and b) in the form of a poem (which is often an emotionally charged form) – both of which I had explicitly asked for. When you're really in your feelings, even the worst movie and the cheesiest song can resonate with you and move you – just the tiniest bit of narrative and sentiment can send you over the edge. ChatGPT didn't really make me cry...I did.
But still. Even so. It felt a little magical when it happened.
I've also been using ChatGPT for some other programming projects – we whipped the Quick Links into better shape (it can write Movable Type templating code...really!) and set up direct posting of the site's links to Facebook via the API rather than through Zapier (saving me $20/mo in the process). It has really turbo-charged my ability to get shit done around here and has me thinking about all sorts of possibilities.
I keep using the word "we" here because coding with ChatGPT – and this is where it starts to feel weird in an uncanny valley sort of way – feels like a genuine creative collaboration. It feels like there is a "someone" on the other side of that chat, a something that's really capable but also needs a lot of hand-holding. Just. Like. Me. There's a back and forth. We both screw up and take turns correcting each other's mistakes. I ask it please and tell it thank you. ChatGPT lies to me; I gently and non-judgmentally guide it in a more constructive direction (as you would with a toddler). It is the fucking craziest weirdest thing and I don't really know how to think about it.
There have only been a few occasions in my life when I've used or seen some new technology that felt like magic. The first time I wrote & ran a simple BASIC program on a computer. The first time I used the web. The first time using a laptop with wifi. The first time using an iPhone. Programming with ChatGPT over the past few weeks has felt like magic in the same way. While working on these projects with ChatGPT, I can't wait to get out of bed in the morning to pick up where we left off last night (likely too late last night), a feeling I honestly have not consistently felt about work in a long time. I feel giddy. I feel POWERFUL.
That powerful feeling makes me uneasy. We shouldn't feel so suddenly powerful without pausing to interrogate where that power comes from, who ultimately wields it, and who it will benefit and harm. The issues around these tools are complex & far-reaching and I'm still struggling to figure out what to think about it all. I'm persuaded by arguments that these tools offer an almost unprecedented opportunity for "helping humans be creative and express themselves" and that machine/human collaboration can deepen our understanding and appreciation of the world around us (as has happened with chess and go). I'm also persuaded by Ted Chiang's assertion that our fears of AI are actually about capitalism – and we've got a lot to fear from capitalism when it comes to these tools, particularly given the present dysfunction of US politics. There is just so much potential power here and many people out there don't feel uneasy about wielding it – and they will do what they want without regard for the rest of us. That's pretty scary.
Powerful, weird, scary, uncanny, giddy – how the hell do we collectively navigate all that?
(Note: ChatGPT didn't write any of this, nor has it written anything else on kottke.org. I used it once while writing a post a few weeks ago, basically as a smart thesaurus to suggest adjectives related to a topic. I'll let you know if/when that changes – I expect it will not for quite some time, if ever. Even in the age of Ikea, there's still plenty of handcrafted furniture makers around and in the same way, I suspect the future availability of cheap good-enough AI writing/curation will likely increase the demand and value for human-produced goods.)
What do you use for a mobile note taking app (does it sync with your computer)? — Alan H
I am very low-tech when it comes to note taking. I use the default iOS/MacOS Notes app for most things, including keeping track of my media diet. It's simple, works pretty well, can handle to-do lists, and syncs seamlessly with all of my devices.
For work, I use a great big text file that I edit with Textmate. Seriously. I dump all my notes for posts into it – there's stuff in there, waaaaay at the bottom, from 10-12 years ago. Every once in awhile, I read through almost all of it, to see if any of those old ideas or half-written posts sparks anything (Steven Johnson calls it his spark file). I write all my posts and Quick Links in that text file – it's tricked out with a bunch of useful macros I use to write more quickly. I am writing this answer in it right now. You can pry my great big text file out of my hands when I die.
How do you know Joanna Goddard from Cup of Jo? — Sam S
We met online, just like how I've gotten to know dozens (hundreds?) of other folks online who do (or have done) similar work over the years. I forget the details, but at some point one of us emailed the other in admiration of their website and we've kept up a correspondance ever since. I really admire how Cup of Jo's comments work and how Joanna has turned an individual blog with her name on it into a bonafide media site (with employees and everything!) without losing its personality, something I've never really been able to see how to do with kottke.org. I know several of my readers first found their way here from Cup of Jo and they are among the most thoughtful readers I have – it's an increasingly rare place of thoughtfulness and goodness online and I'm glad we're neighbors.
As a father myself, I'm curious how much your children know about your profession. Do they independently consume your content? And if so, do they engage with you personally about any of the posts? Have they shown any interest in doing anything similar? — Bob H
They know what I do for work. In some ways, I think it's easy for them to understand because they are familiar with influencers and creators making a living from their activities on YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok. People my age or my parents' age, they often still don't really get it – e.g. "And you make money doing that?!" I do remember when they were younger and they found out how many followers I had on Twitter and were like, wait a minute, this is not normal, who is this guy? Wikipedia entry, what?! But now they could care less...I don't think either of them reads the site and if so, they don't talk to me about it. I don't think Kottke & Kids is in the cards as a future direction for the site.
I did find out fairly recently that my son watches a bunch of the same nerdy YouTube channels that I regularly post to the site, but he didn't get them from me. So, the apple hasn't fallen too far from the tree here I guess.
How is the fiddle leaf fig doing? Any tips you can pass on? — Jayme
I got several similar questions about the fiddle leaf fig tree (and my plants in general). When last we heard of triple-F (as I absolutely do not call it), it wasn't doing so well (and neither was I).
Recently however, my fiddle leaf fig has been struggling again. It's been losing leaves and has become lopsided – some branches are going gangbusters while others are almost bare and the plant is listing so badly to one side that the whole thing tips over without the weight of water in the pot.
My plant is not ok. And neither am I – I feel as off-balance as my tree looks. I'm burrrrned out. I have been for a few years now. I've been trying to power through it, but if you've read anything about burnout, you know that approach doesn't work.
After I wrote that, I didn't do a whole lot with the tree, not right away. It was one of those "put your own mask on first before assisting others" situations. But after a few weeks, I got to work using "houseplant fanatic" Claire Akin's excellent website and YouTube channel as a guide. I tied the tree to a stake to try to get it growing a little more upright again. I transplanted it into a bigger pot. I trimmed it back quite a bit to encourage new growth. I took some of the trimmed branches and tried to propagate them. Not everything worked (more on that in a sec) but it looks much better today than it did last year (sorry about the backlit photo, what is this, a Spielberg movie?!):
All those leaves near the base...those are all new! Actually, I'd say most of the leaves are new (the fiddle leaf fig of Theseus).
What also happened is that the tree somehow became even more metaphorical for my life. If you'll recall, the tree and I have this seemingly symbiotic relationship where "if my tree is ok, I am ok". Transplanting it into a new pot and lopping off a bunch of its leaves and branches stimulated new growth in some areas but also killed most of one of its three main branches (if you look closely in the photo above, you can see some dead leaves). It's still a bit lopsided tbh but is headed in the right direction. I too made some changes in my life and have experienced some growth but it's been uneven. Some of the branches I tried to propagate worked out but most died – many of them after I returned to work. In the same way, a few new avenues of personal exploration gained traction but going back to work killed a lot of them (reading more books and getting regular exercise, for instance). But, we're both still alive and trying, so that's something!
Besides Harry Potter did you have any other books you read with the kids for bedtime? — Isaac J
One book we read together that turned out to be surprisingly popular with them (when they were ~9-11 years old) was Emily Wilson's excellent translation of The Odyssey. They were already fans of Greek mythology and knew some of the story and Wilson's writing is so wonderful – "Soon Dawn was born, her fingers bright with roses" – that we blazed right through it and were sad when it ended.
They're older now and sadly the bedtime reading has come to an end. We mostly watch TV together – recently finished s02 of The Mysterious Benedict Society, currently watching The Mandalorian and Poker Face, and are waiting to watch the final season of His Dark Materials – and play Fortnite.
What kind of MTB do you ride (full sus/hardtail)? Have you tried an eMTB? They're amazing, like riding a bike for the first time all over again; a feeling of childish wonder. — Andy
I have a Kona Honzo hardtail which I like a lot. I'm currently debating an upgrade to a full-suspension bike, but OMG are they expensive...I don't know if I can swing it right now, even with a trade-in. OTOH, I've tried XC skiing, downhill skiing, running, hiking, and paddleboarding and I like them all to some extent, but mountain biking is the thing that I've really taken to. Especially this past summer: I'd get cranky if I didn't get out for a ride every couple of days. So maybe I should upgrade...
I haven't tried an eMTB. I don't think they are allowed on our local trails – they're still figuring out the appropriate level of technology in our quaint little area. I think I'd be more interested in a electric road or gravel bike though, just to mix things up.
Which constellation gives you that feeling of 'oh'? — Alistair Knock
I don't know exactly what you're asking here – Oh, I am but a tiny speck? Oh, how wondrous the universe is? – but I have always loved Orion and look for in the night sky in winter. I'm lucky enough to live somewhere that's a 3 (and occasionally closer to 2) on the Bortle scale and the Milky Way pops so much out here, it's really something.
If it weren't for kottke.org, what would you / could you see yourself doing these last 25 years?! — naveen selvadurai
There were lots of variations on this question. I graduated college in 1995 with a degree in physics and then entered grad school – I was planning on getting a PhD in ceramic engineering. Had I continued down that path, maybe I'd be a materials science professor somewhere or working at Corning on the latest iteration of Gorilla Glass for the iPhone (my undergraduate research focused on glass). But halfway through the first semester of grad school, I realized I was much more interested in what was happening with the nascent World Wide Wide and decided to drop out without actually talking it over with anyone. Perhaps the best & dumbest decision I have ever made in my whole life.
Later on, I quit a job doing web design to focus full-time on kottke.org. If I hadn't, I'd probably still be doing web design or development. Maybe I would have gone to work for one of the several startups that friends started in the 2000s, gotten lucky, and retired to do who knows what. Maybe I would have pivoted to programming & back-end development. Programming often frustrates the hell out of me but I love building things and when I get something to work, it's an amazing feeling that I do not get from design or writing.
In 2013 you wrote about being a regular at a neighbourhood restaurant. Since moving away from the city, have you found a replacement? — Paul J
(Here's the post they're referring to.) I did for a couple of years. There was a small Italian place about a five-minute drive from my house and soon after I moved here, I went down there for dinner at the bar. The bartender and I hit it off and she's now one of my absolute favorite people in the world. But outside of that, the restaurant was never the magical place that my old NYC regular was and I stopped going after my friend left. I definitely miss having a regular place to go. (Both restaurants are closed now BTW, the NYC one was killed by an asshole landlord during Covid and the nearby one closed just a couple of weeks ago after a long run.)
Is there anything you're very enthusiastic about which you don't get to talk about often? — Nick!
I don't talk about soccer/football on the site very much (and when I do there's very little interest in it), but I spend quite a bit of time watching and reading about it. I guess maybe sports in general – I don't follow American football, baseball, or basketball anymore, but I've grown to love mountain biking over the past couple of years and skiing still dominates my winters, but I don't talk about that stuff on the site much.
What's your therapist like? (I believe you've hinted at being in therapy. I just love hearing clients talk about their therapists.) — Josué B
I'm actually taking some time out of doing the AMA today for my therapy session. My therapist is great – she's smart and kind and just enough like me to relate but different enough to keep me from knowing where she's going much of the time. (I think maybe like Leonardo DiCaprio's character in Inception, if I don't know what the map looks like, it's better that way.)
When I started seeing her, it was near the beginning of the pandemic (pre-vaccine), so we did virtual sessions. She's kept her practice entirely virtual since then, so we've still never actually met in person, even though she's local. ("Local" in rural VT means anything within an hour's drive.) I thought I wouldn't like virtual sessions but it's really nice having such intimate and sometimes upsetting conversations in your own space and not some office somewhere, no matter how cozy. And we both like not having to commute, so win-win.
I really enjoy reading about the trips you take and your reflections on the place. How do you put yourself in a frame of mind to enjoy visiting a new or familiar place without having a “critic’s mindset”? To experience without the sort of “meta-experience”. — Chaston K
Many years ago, I used to review books and movies on the site – full reviews, not just media diet one-liners. At first, knowing I'd need to review sharpened the mind; I paid more attention and read/watched in a more focused way. By as time passed, reading and movie viewing started to feel like chores; the reviewing was choking off these activities I loved doing. I especially loved going to the movies (still do when I can manage it!) and at a certain point, I was thinking too much about what I was going to write while watching and wasn't actually immersed. Good movies and books deserve our surrender so they can take us into their worlds – that's the way I wanted to experience them again. So, I stopped reviewing, and my enjoyment returned.
When I travel, the lessons from that experience are never far from my mind. Most of the time, I don't even write about where I go – I was just in Montreal this weekend and that's pretty much all you're going to hear about it. And when I do write about a trip, I sometimes take a few notes while I'm traveling, but it's often just as easy to reconstruct the trip from my camera roll and Swarm after I get home. Maybe I miss a few things that way, but I'd rather be in the moment as much as I can.
If I let it, every part of my life could be part of my job: not only books, movies, and travel but kids, relationships, emotions, everyday goings-on, etc. etc. etc. That's the way it used to be, much more than it is now. But slicing and dicing everything up for consumption all the time, meta-experiencing absolutely everything; that's no way to live. Back in the day, you saw journalers and bloggers burn out from sharing too much of themselves and their lives online with others – now you see it happening with YouTubers, TikTokers, and influencers. I've learned (mostly) how to meter myself; you get less of me now (this AMA notwithstanding) but hopefully for much longer.
(I don't know what that last paragraph has to do with the question asked, but this shit is all connected up in my brain.)
What do you do for a living? (Is it this?) — Greg
Several people asked about this – a popular alternate form of the question was "Do you actually live off of your website?" I guess I don't do a good enough job at letting people know about the membership program that supports my work here or that I have been doing this as my full-time job since 2005 – more than 18 years at this point.
But yeah, this is my job and I don't have income from any other source. Over the years, the revenue from kottke.org has come from advertising, affiliate revenue, and memberships. In the last 5-6 years, the overwhelming majority of the revenue is from memberships. Without that, the site would either be dead or plastered in advertising. So, again, a sincere thank you to everyone who has contributed over the years. 🙏
You called a plumber to your home lately? How much money would it take to make you spend a night in a cemetary? — Caroline
Nice try, Jonathan Frakes.
(But actually my electricity was off for a few days in December, so I shut the water off. When I turned it back on and tested the shower, the initial blast of air/water very slightly busted the shower control. It still works, but I'll have to get someone in to replace it sooner or later.)
Was there worry before the sabbatical about losing part of your audience, has that happened and do you have an opinion on the necessity (or lack thereof) of having to keep posting all the time? — Joost
Yeah, I was definitely worried about losing readers and also members – it's probably the biggest reason I delayed so much in deciding to take a break. As I explained in my recent post about memberships, the number of people contributing actually went up when I announced the sabbatical but then went down below pre-sabbatical levels after a few months.
When I announced the sabbatical back in May 2022, something completely unexpected happened: memberships went up. People signed up or increased their membership levels specifically to support me taking time off, and very few people cancelled. I actually burst into tears when I checked my member dashboard and saw this happening in the hours after the announcement. That display of support – and the hundreds of emails I received – allowed me the space and peace of mind I needed to fully disengage and disconnect from my work here to reflect and recharge (and, like, get some chores done around the house for a change).
I almost never look at my stats anymore, but I just checked and yeah, traffic is down. At least web traffic is...I don't know about RSS. The decline of Twitter and rise of Mastodon has definitely had an effect on readership – I think some people decamped for RSS and others for Mastodon. So, more chance for discovery of accounts & sites that offer high-quality content but also a better chance of things falling through the cracks as people shift platforms.
What’s your favourite go-to breakfast to make, and to order? — Hendrik
To make: the world's best pancakes, of course. Finding real buttermilk in stores is a lot easier now in much of the US, so these plus some bacon or sausages are a no-brainer for Sunday morning.
My favorite breakfast at a NYC-style diner would be two eggs over-easy, hashbrowns, sausages, and white toast with butter & those little packets of grape jelly. At a deli, I'd get a sausage, egg, and cheese on a roll (or English muffin). At a bakery: pain au chocolat. I'm also a big doughnut fan – when travelling, I often seek out the local doughnut shop to see what's good. The best breakfast I've had in the past year was a slice of kouing-amann from Au Kouing-Amann in Montreal. It looked like a slice of the most boring unfrosted cake you've ever seen but tasted like the soul of butter.
But I mostly skip breakfast so... ? 🤷♂️
There are a few different ways to read kottke.org: the website; via Mastodon, Twitter, and Facebook; through RSS; and via the ((very) occasional) newsletter. What's the optimal way to read kottke.org in your opinion? — Jason K.
Ok, I submitted this question because no one else asked and I wanted to answer it. For me, going to the front page of the website on a desktop or laptop computer will always and forever be the best way of reading kottke.org. You get the design, the proper fonts, bigger images & video embeds, etc. And no popups or big ads or chumboxes. Just as a movie isn't just the plot, so too is kottke.org not "just the content".
Of course, I recognize that many (most?) of you get to the site some other way and that's why I provide lots of ways to keep up with what's going on here. Still, if I'm being completely honest, it bums me out that all the context of the website gets stripped away and flattened down to whatever RSS reader design is most efficient. At the risk of sounding like a purist fusspot, I guess I metaphorically agree with David Lynch about watching movies on phones.
What’s the reader profile you have in your mind when you write? Are you thinking about someone or some kind of person specifically? I’m a 37 year old lawyer who can’t even remember how I first came across your blog. I’ve read for 10+ years and have always sort of wondered if you had a sense of the breadth of people who read your blog. I don’t necessarily fit neatly within any of the topics you focus on but always learn something when I dip in. — Garo
The site is best when I try to write posts as if each one is an email to a curious friend who I think would be interested in the thing I'm writing about, irrespective of topic/subject/field/whatever. I know not everyone is interested in every topic (or even most topics!) but I tend to look for things that people might find intriguing even if they don't normally collect stamps, skateboard, watch ballet, appreciate mathematics, or listen to rap. Anything is interesting if you dig deep enough, observe it from the correct angle, or talk to the right enthusiast.
What's your favorite pasta recipe? (Also: hello!) — Adam Rakunas
I watched Halt and Catch Fire largely because of your guest spot, despite all the praise you'd already heaped on it. I then followed it with Mr. Robot. Loved both of them. I'm currently watching Silicon Valley. It's good, but in a different way. If I loved HACF and Mr. Robot, but am not as much into comedies (e.g. Silicon Valley), what other shows, movies, books, etc. would you recommend? — Michael S
I'm gonna stick with TV since that's where your question started. I really liked Devs from Alex Garland (Ex Machina, Annihilation), which you can watch on Hulu. The first couple of episodes came out right before the pandemic hit in the US, so it kinda got lost in the shuffle a little bit but it's a show I still think about a lot and it's newly relevant with all the excitement & skepticism around AI these days.
Can you name 5 women artists? — Anonymous
This one is a little bit of a gotcha; I'll answer it anyway. I might have struggled with this in the past but: Bisa Butler, Amy Sherald, Yayoi Kusama, Kara Walker, and Artemisia Gentileschi.
What’s your coffee routine? — Gorgeous
I'm not a coffee drinker. I don't even like the smell, which everyone I've ever admitted that to thinks is weird.
Did you travel alone? If so, how was that? — Robb Kranz
As an introvert, I have traveled alone quite a bit over the past several years, with mixed reviews. Sometimes I find it exhilarating and freeing – I can do/go/see whatever I want completely on my terms – but it can also be lonely and challenging – Jesus, dinner alone, again?! And I have to handle all the logistics by myself? What I've found is best for me is traveling somewhere where I know people or when I know a friend or acquaintance is going to be there at the same time. That way, I get most of the invigorating freedom (and recharging downtime) I want but with occasional dinners or museum visits to keep me from veering too far into loneliness.
Who is your favorite of these three painters: van Gogh, Monet, Matisse? And why? — @BAMstutz
Van Gogh. I like the boldness and vibrancy of his paintings. There's a dynamic "velocity" to his painting, almost like you can see how it came together by looking at the finished product. But whether I like art or not is mostly in the gut, not the head – I just really enjoy looking at van Gogh's work. It makes me feel stuff.