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Helsinki Bus Station Theory of Creativity

Several years ago in the Guardian, Oliver Burkeman wrote a piece called This column will change your life: Helsinki Bus Station Theory. It’s about how difficult it can be as a creative person to find your way to making work that feels like it’s uniquely yours.

There are two dozen platforms, Minkkinen explains, from each of which several different bus lines depart. Thereafter, for a kilometre or more, all the lines leaving from any one platform take the same route out of the city, making identical stops. “Each bus stop represents one year in the life of a photographer,” Minkkinen says. You pick a career direction — maybe you focus on making platinum prints of nudes — and set off. Three stops later, you’ve got a nascent body of work. “You take those three years of work on the nude to [a gallery], and the curator asks if you are familiar with the nudes of Irving Penn.” Penn’s bus, it turns out, was on the same route. Annoyed to have been following someone else’s path, “you hop off the bus, grab a cab… and head straight back to the bus station, looking for another platform”. Three years later, something similar happens. “This goes on all your creative life: always showing new work, always being compared to others.” What’s the answer? “It’s simple. Stay on the bus. Stay on the fucking bus.”

(via phil gyford)

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Wired’s Steven Levy on how 8 Google Employees Invented Modern AI. (They developed the pivotal “transformer” idea…you know, the “T” in “GPT”.)

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Letter from the editors of Scientific American: We Need to Make Cities Less Car-Dependent. “We can design or redesign streets to make people drive more slowly or to discourage driving altogether. We can invest in better public transit…”

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CCTV Footage Cross-Stitch

cross-stitch embroidery of a CCTV camera image

cross-stitch embroidery of a CCTV camera image

Oh man, I don’t think this could be any more in my wheelhouse: cross-stitch embroideries of CCTV camera images by Francine LeClercq. I’ve always had a soft spot for cross-stitch — it’s the ur-pixel art — and to see low-res, compressed, B&W security camera footage done in embroidery is just a real treat. There’s not much on LeClercq’s site about the work, but check out these posts at Colossal and designboom for more information and photos.

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PodcastAP allows you to follow podcasts and music feeds in the fediverse. (So when Ezra Klein or On Being drops a new episode, you’ll get it right in your Mastodon feed.)

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I don’t really know how to describe this but here goes: Tavi Gevinson wrote a 76-page zine called Fan Fiction: A Satire about her relationship with & to Taylor Swift and her work.

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This sounds really good: astrophysicist Katie Mack and curious person John Green collaborate on A Podcast About The Entire History Of The Universe.

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Drawing Media, an Interview With Nick Catucci

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Edith here. For the next installment of my newish illustrated column here on Kottke dot org, I talked to my friend Nick Catucci. Nick edits the excellent newsletter Embedded, which partially inspired me to start this column. (Specifically, Embedded has an interview series called My Internet that I’ve always loved.) Nick is also site director at GQ. And about 13 years ago the two of us worked at Vulture together.

Hey Nick! Have you read (watched, listened to, or otherwise experienced) anything good recently?
I think I speak for my demographic when I say that the new Waxahatchee album, Tigers Blood, is a dream. My friends at Pitchfork published a great profile of Katie by Andy Cush where she’s really insightful about how, being sober, she’s drawing from a different well than heroes of hers like Townes Van Zandt and Jason Molina. (One of the neat things about the album is that the harmonies with MJ Lenderman, her new collaborator, sort of dramatize this tension.)

nicktigersblood.jpg

There’s one other thing that gives me serenity the way that Waxahatchee does right now, and that is this couple on TikTok who are renovating a hoarder house in Washington state. I have never watched HGTV and the concept of house-flipping nauseates me, but I’ve grown so attached to the process of these two people (who do flip houses, but plan to move into this one) racing to make this once-grand place livable before their six-month loan runs out that I’m dreading the day that they’re able to refinance.

nickdkdreamhouse.jpg

Anything bad?
Basically everything that goes super viral on Twitter now, like The Willy Wonka Experience and “flush ponytail.” The recycled jokes, race for interviews with random people involved, “imagine explaining this to someone who isn’t chronically online”—the whole cycle seems more childish and desperate than ever. It’s as if everyone is doing their own Millennial meme marketing of themselves.

What’s something you’ve read or seen that changed your life?
My wife published a memoir, Down City, in 2017, and reading the transcript for the first time completely opened up my perspective—on this woman that I cherish, this sometimes corrupt place where we both grew up, and love within families.

nickdowncity.jpg

Bonus answer: Two editors I was talking to about a staff writer job early in my career asked me what music changed my life, and the answer that popped into my head was Ice-T’s metal band, Body Count, which I would play at eardrum-damaging volume on big headphones when my mother would drive me to middle school. One of my older brothers owned an early cassette version of their first album, when it still included “Cop Killer.” The editors found that response really funny.

Do you subscribe to anything you don’t read? (Or otherwise consume?)
I’m sure that there are nice little communities in the Discords that some newsletters host for subscribers, but I can’t imagine ever logging on to any of them. Separately, I resent that my costly subscription to The New York Times is justified in part by games that I don’t play.

Read anything you don’t subscribe to?
Technically I have access to everything I read in Apple News and the publishers see some revenue for that, but clicking on “The truth about weed and your brain” and “She’s a sociopath. Here’s what she wishes people knew” is not the same as subscribing to National Geographic or The Wall Street Journal.

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What’s something you’ve lied about reading or watching? Or felt tempted to lie about?
I don’t lie. I just allow my friends to think that I must have read their books or listened to their podcasts (which of course I sometimes do, so they can never be sure).

Does anything make you laugh online?
All the time. The For You page was a tremendous innovation for people like me who are powerless not to engage with stupid content. TikTok serves me lots of very funny videos, and I agreed, as I usually do, with my worldly and straight-shooting columnist Chris Black when he wrote in July 2023 that the introduction of Twitter’s For You feed “polarized my timeline but has consistently exposed me to some of the most hilarious stuff I have seen on the app in years.”

Are there any cultural moments you currently think about unusually often? Like are you haunted by a moment from a TV show, or anything like that?
I may be taking “haunted” too literally, but I do think about the Richard Ford protagonist Frank Bascombe, who, in my view, makes a valiant effort to truly live after the death of his young son. I wonder if his life is tragic, or a triumph. (Please don’t email me if you wrote a graduate thesis about this and know the answer.)

What were you really into when you were 12?
I turned 12 in 1991, and at that time, my older brother owned an 18-plus dance club in Providence, RI. He booked DJs like Kid Capri and live shows with painfully early-‘90s rap acts like Das EFX and Fu-Schnickens, and I would sometimes serve sodas at the bar. I witnessed 800 kids pogoing to “The Choice Is Yours (Revisited)” when Black Sheep came through around the height of that song’s popularity, and remember that on the night that Del the Funky Homosapien rolled in, the buzz was that his cousin Ice Cube was on the bus and might jump on stage with him (he was not on the bus). I got to meet most of these guys, and they were impossibly cool, floating through the club’s back rooms on clouds of blunt smoke, but also pretty nice to this nerdy kid asking for their autographs.

nickblacksheep.jpg

Obviously this all left a massive imprint on my soft adolescent brain. To this day, one of my greatest style inspirations remains Grand Puba. The press photo he signed for me shows him, as I remember, immaculately turned out in a baggy striped polo shirt (Ralph Lauren or Tommy Hilfiger, presumably), dark Girbaud denim shorts, and those Timberland boat shoes with the lug soles.

nickgrandpuba.jpg

Is there a book/movie/whatever you wish you could experience again for the first time?
Inception in the theater. I saw Fugazi play in Providence as a high schooler and would like to do that again, if possible.

Please tell me something silly that you love.
Speaking in my dog’s voice (breathless young female resistance Democrat) to threaten myself in the meanest, most violent terms possible when I do something mildly annoying around my wife.

nickdog.jpg

Has anyone ever described you in a way you felt was really accurate?
When I’m with my almost-five-year-old daughter and her friends at the playground or waiting for the bus, she’s sometimes tells them, “That’s my dad—he’s so funny.” And in those moments, I know that I am funny, to her.

Previously: Jason Kottke, Jim Behrle

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Matthew Haughey: Embrace the Weird. “Who cares? Just make weird shit.” I often fail or am unengaged when I start with goals — picking an interesting direction has always been more fulfilling for me.

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An appreciation of Calvin and Hobbes and its creator Bill Watterson by Colin Marshall at Open Culture: “It took no time at all to master Garfield, but when I started getting Calvin and Hobbes, I knew I was making progress…”

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Are the Kids Alright When They Grow Up?

This is a teenager is an interactive data visualization by Alvin Chang about a group of American teenagers that have been tracked in a longitudinal study since 1997 (they are around 40 years old now). The video version of the visualization is embedded above.

A year from now, in 1998, a researcher named Vincent Felitti will publish a paper that drastically changes the way we think about these kids — and their childhood.

The research will show that these childhood stressors and traumas — called Adverse Childhood Experiences — have a lifelong effect on our health, relationships, happiness, financial security, and pretty much everything else that we value. It will kickstart decades of research that shows that our childhood experiences shape our adulthood far more than we ever thought.

This is a good companion to a recent post, End-Stage Poverty Is Killing People in Safety Net-Free America.

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The Flooding Will Come “No Matter What”, an excerpt from Abrahm Lustgarten’s book about climate migration in the US. People have already begun to move due to floods, fires, and heat — and that number will continue to grow.

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🎵 “We get ‘em from the earth, and they’re our friends.” Someone at the American Museum of Natural History’s Instagram account is getting weird, and I’m here for it, as they say!!! 🕶️

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The homicide rate continues to plummet in major American cities. “The nation is on track to see one of the lowest levels of violent crimes and homicides since President Obama was in office.”

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How Candles Are Made

From Factory Monster (great name), a video of how candles are made in a South Korean candle factory. I like that there’s no music or voiceover, so you can hear the sounds of the production. I also enjoyed the charmingly janky English subtitles:

Blah blah powder for hardness. Yellow powder for pure white color. Irony, huh?!

Can someone who knows something about making candles tell me why that hole is made in each of the candles with the metal rods? It was unclear from the video what its purpose is.

If you’d like to ruin/enhance the rest of your day, Factory Monster has a trove of making-of videos shot in Korean factories and workshops: retreading old tires, distressed jeans, chain link fences, customized Vans sneakers, and making a knife from an old motorcycle chain. (via the kid should see this)

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Apparently you can teach rats to drive tiny cars? Chef Gusteau: “Anyone can drive!

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E-bike subsidies should be more widespread, following the lead of Colorado ($450 back on a bike purchase). “More than half of all trips taken by Americans are less than three miles. E-bikes open up these kinds of trips to a greater diversity of cyclists.”

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Eric Topol interviews Jennifer Doudna on the bright future of genome editing therapy in curing disease (Apple Podcasts). There’s an FDA-approved CRISPR therapy for sickle cell disease out now with others to come.

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The Longest Total Solar Eclipse Ever (73 Minutes!)

Ok, I said no more eclipse posts (maybe) and then posted like two or three more, but really this is the last one — maybe! In 1973, a group of scientists witnessed the longest ever total solar eclipse by flying in the shadow (umbra) of the moon in a Concorde prototype for 74 minutes over the Sahara desert. From the abstract of a paper in Nature about the flight:

On June 30, 1973, Concorde 001 intercepted the path of a solar eclipse over North Africa, Flying at Mach 2.05 the aircraft provided seven observers from France, Britain and the United States with 74 min of totality bounded by extended second (7 min) and third (12 min) contacts. The former permitted searches for time variations of much longer period than previously possible and the latter provided an opportunity for chromospheric observations of improved height resolution. The altitude, which varied between 16,200 and 17,700 m, freed the observations from the usual weather problems and greatly reduced atmospheric absorption and sky noise in regions of the infrared.

Mach 2.05 = 1573 mph = 2531 km/h. 17,700 m = 58,000 ft. They added portholes to the roof of the plane for better viewing and data gathering. This page on Xavier Jubier’s site contains lots of amazing details about the flight, including a map of the flight’s path compared to the umbra, photos of the retrofitted plane, and a graph of the umbra’s velocity across the surface of the Earth (which shows that for at least part of the eclipse, the Concorde was actually outrunning the moon’s shadow).

By flying inside the umbral shadow cone of the Moon at the same speed, the Concorde was going to stay in the darkness for nearly 74 minutes, the time for astronomers and physicists on board to do all the experiences they could imagine to complete during this incredible period of black Sun. They were able to achieve in one hour and fifteen minutes what would have taken decades by observing fifteen total solar eclipses from places that would have not necessarily gotten clear skies.

And finally, here’s a 30-minute French documentary from 1973 about the eclipse flight.

So. Cool!

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A brief history of the LAN party. In the 90s, if you wanted to play computer games with your friends, you all had to haul your huge computers and bulky monitors over to their house to all be on the same network.

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So, I saw Civil War last night and while it’s well-made with good performances, I don’t quite know what to think of it. Have you seen any good reviews that might help me make sense of what, if anything, the movie was trying to say?

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Today’s Work Music: Philip Glass Solo

I’d missed that Philip Glass Solo (previously) came out in January, but I’ve been listening to it while I work this morning and it’s just lovely. He recorded the album in his home on his piano. Here’s a short video of Glass playing on that very piano:

This is my piano, the instrument on which most of the music was written. It’s also the same room where I have worked for decades in the middle of the energy which New York City itself has brought to me. The listener may hear the quiet hum of New York in the background or feel the influence of time and memory that this space affords. To the degree possible, I made this record to invite the listener in.

And here’s a video of him playing the album’s opening piece on his 87th birthday:

You can stream the album on Spotify, Apple Music, or Bandcamp.

You can buy the album at Bandcamp or on vinyl at Amazon.

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I do not think people should keep octopuses as pets, but I did enjoy the phrase “it’s expensive, wet chaos”.

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Lessons from a First Time EV Owner. This jibes with my experience. Home charging is key, cold weather is tough to deal with, and long-range trips can be challenging. But you get used to it and I don’t ever want to own an ICE car again.

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90 Women Photographers Celebrate Jane Goodall’s 90th Birthday

a tiny sea turtle swimming

Jane Goodall looks out over the jungle

a pack of sled dogs lounge on the snow

women in traditional Bolivian dress pose with a skatebaord

In honor of Jane Goodall’s 90th birthday, Vital Impacts organized a fundraiser selling 90 prints from 90 women photographers. The collection includes some of Goodall’s own work and 60% of the proceeds to the Jane Goodall Institute.

I’ve selected a few of my favorites above — photos by (from top to bottom) Hannah Le Leu, Jane Goodall, Tiina Itkonen, and Luisa Dörr (see also Female Bolivian Skateboarders Shred in Traditional Dress). (via colossal)

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New favorite vocabulary word: wankpanzer (basically, “tank for jerks”). “A pointlessly large and overpowered 4x4 vehicle, usually purchased as a boost to driver’s ego who is likely to have some kind of inferiority complex.” Like the Cybertruck.

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“May thy knife chop and shatter.” A quick update on Choppke’s (my chopped sandwich restaurant chain): a new ad that features one of our snazzy looking hoodies.

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High-Diving Penguin Chicks

When emperor penguin chicks go for their first swim, they usually jump a few feet into the sea. The group of chicks in the video National Geographic video above decided to leap off of a 50-foot ice cliff for their first trip out.

It’s not unusual for emperor penguin chicks to march toward the ocean at a young age, even when they’re just 6 months old. They jump just 2 feet off the ice to take their first swim, according to National Geographic.

Others have jumped from a much a higher altitude, heading to “sheer ice cliffs” knowingly to make the first jump. Satellites have recorded the death-defying jumps since 2009, but what happens next has remained a mystery until now.

Having watched the video, “leap” and “jump” are charitable descriptions of what the penguins are doing here. “Flop”, “plop”, and “fall” might be better…penguins are all kinds of cool, but no one has ever accused them of being graceful out of the water.

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Love this Letterboxd movie list title: “Definitely there was love, oh but the circumstances”. Films include Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Past Lives, Normal People, Brokeback Mountain, Titanic, and Lost in Translation.

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US courts & legislatures are giving women the curse of time travel into the past. “Can you hear ragtime music? Can you see the stars without satellite interference? / No, everything is the same, except, for some reason, the laws governing my body.”

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End-Stage Poverty Is Killing People in Safety Net-Free America

Many Patients Don’t Survive End-Stage Poverty by Dr. Lindsay Ryan is a great/upsetting piece about how the poverty many Americans are subjected to in America is killing them. Many people die here in the world’s richest country not because they are sick but because they are poor and our systems of government, justice, business, and health care don’t do enough to help them (or, more cynically and perhaps truthfully, actively work against helping them).

This is one of those pieces where I want to quote every single paragraph, but I’ll start with this one (bold mine):

Safety-net hospitals and clinics care for a population heavily skewed toward the poor, recent immigrants and people of color. The budgets of these places are forever tight. And anyone who works in them could tell you that illness in our patients isn’t just a biological phenomenon. It’s the manifestation of social inequality in people’s bodies.

I have not been able to stop thinking about this phrase since I read it: “Illness in our patients isn’t just a biological phenomenon. It’s the manifestation of social inequality in people’s bodies.”

Medical textbooks usually don’t discuss fixing your patient’s housing. They seldom include making sure your patient has enough food and some way to get to a clinic. But textbooks miss what my med students don’t: that people die for lack of these basics.

People struggle to keep wounds clean. Their medications get stolen. They sicken from poor diet, undervaccination and repeated psychological trauma. Forced to focus on short-term survival and often lacking cellphones, they miss appointments for everything from Pap smears to chemotherapy. They fall ill in myriad ways — and fall through the cracks in just as many.

You should read the whole thing yourself (NY Times gift link). Her argument about the need to expand/shift the definition of what healthcare is (e.g. housing is healthcare) reminds me of this more progressive idea of freedom.

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Always a good day to read Daniel Radcliffe’s open letter to J.K. Rowling on her anti-trans nonsense. “It’s clear that we need to do more to support transgender and nonbinary people, not invalidate their identities, and not cause further harm.”

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A Pareto analysis of the best driver/kart build you can drive in Mario Kart 8. “The Pareto efficiency is an objective criteria to filter out suboptimal choices, but you still need to make up your final decision.”

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As optical illusions go, this is pretty good.

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Papyrus 2: A Bold New Look for Avatar

Ryan Gosling was on Saturday Night Live this weekend and they did a sequel to one of my favorite SNL sketches (which is completely dorky in a design nerd sort of way) ever: Papyrus. Behold, Papyrus 2:

Avatar spawned worlds, right? Every little leaf of every little flower, every little eyelash of every little creature: thoroughly thought out. But the logo: it’s Papyrus, in bold. Nobody cares. Does James Cameron care? I don’t think so.

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So kottke[dot]org had some significant downtime this weekend but it seems to be humming along nicely now. In celebration, we’re not planning on having any significant downtime today! 🤞

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Proudly Second Best!

an Ikea ad with a baby sleeping on their mother's chest with a crib in the background

an Ikea ad with a kid eating on their father's knee instead of sitting in a nearby highchair

an Ikea ad with a kid standing on their mom to reach the sink instead of using a nearby step stool

A clever ad campaign by an Ikea franchisee highlights how their products for kids can’t quite replace the support and comfort offered by their caregivers. (via @gray)

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Starting in 1978, a high school science teacher told his students that he was throwing a viewing party for the 2024 solar eclipse. More than 100 of them showed up.

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Liam Neeson is starring in a Naked Gun reboot? Why? Is it because his name sounds like Leslie Nielsen’s? (Nielsen? Neeson. Neeson? Nielsen.)

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Mount Etna Volcano Blowing Perfect Smoke Rings

My current natural obsession is Mount Etna, a volcano in Sicily that blows perfect smoke rings like it’s frickin’ Gandalf with a pipe-full of Old Toby or something.

It is a relatively rare phenomenon caused by a constant release of vapours and gases. The gaseous mass ascends rapidly through the central part of the conduit, promoting the formation of rings by wrapping the gas upon itself in a vortex motion.

Puff on, Etna, puff on.

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Why don’t we have solar eclipses every month? Because we don’t deserve them! (Ok no, it’s that the orbital planes of the Earth and moon are skewed slightly relative to each other.)

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Jamelle Bouie on the inappropriate use of the presumed intent of the long-dead framers of the Constitution to determine how we live today. “They cannot justify the choices we make while we navigate our world.”

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20 Minutes of Charles Schulz Drawing Peanuts Comics

This is wonderful: a collection of video clips of Charles Schulz drawing his iconic Peanuts comic strip — “everything I could find of Charles Schulz drawing his Peanuts characters” in the words of the compiler.

Unfortunately, I’m not highly educated. I’m merely a high school graduate. I studied art in a correspondence course because I was afraid to go to art school. I couldn’t see myself sitting in a room where everyone else in the room could draw much better than I and this way I was protected by drawing at home and simply mailing my drawings in and having them criticized.

I wish I had a better education but I think that my entire background made me well-suited for what I do. If I could write better than I can, perhaps I would have tried to become a novelist and I might have become a failure. If I could draw better than I can, I might have tried to become an illustrator or an artist and would have failed there. But my entire being seems to be just right for being a cartoonist.

Charles Schulz: Unbothered. Moisturized. Happy. In his lane. Focused. Flourishing.

See also a 90-minute compilation of cartoonists working (from the same YT channel) and Chuck Jones demonstrating how to draw Bugs Bunny and other characters. (via open culture)

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Moira Donegan: “OJ Simpson died the comfortable death in old age that Nicole Brown should have had.” He abused, stalked, terrorized, and then killed Nicole Brown & Ronald Goldman. Finally, a truthful obit of OJ.

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This “overexposed” photo of the total eclipse by Randy Olson is just all kinds of wonderful. “I didn’t realize the overexposed frames had this much detail.”

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The UN’s climate chief says governments, business leaders and development banks have two years to take decisive action on climate change. “Yet last year, the world’s energy-related CO2 emissions increased to a record high.”

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Viral Videos I Missed: Is This Available? (Attorney General)


I missed this when it first came out — way back in 2021 — but my friend shared it in a group chat the other day, and it made me laugh out loud. It has 9 million views; where have I been?? But in the spirit of “sharing stuff I love, even if it’s old,” I post it here anyway. The 15,000-pound horse one is also great. Even … catchy? Creator Lubalin is a “regular” musician, too. (Thanks, Lucy!)

(To make sure Jason hadn’t already blogged about this, I searched the site for “attorney general,” lol. There were posts. But not about this.)

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Take a Letter Maria, the Live Audience Music Video


R.B. Greaves’ 1969 hit “Take a Letter Maria” has been in my head for weeks now, and while this might be too much of a stretch, I’m realizing it shares something with “Jolene” — both are odd, wonderful songs sung to an initially unromantic female character. Maybe? Anyway, I was pleased to discover this live-audience version on YouTube. Also, is “Maria” due for a cover, or an update? Take a letter, Alexa

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What’s Happening Now That Might Only Make Sense in 1,200 Years?

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This morning I mentioned to Jason that I was still thinking about the Mayan calendar/Julian calendar overlap thing — did both cultures really record the same solar eclipse?! — and how mind-blowing it is to even contemplate. We then talked about how crazy it must have been to live back then (in 790 AD) and see the sun just casually disappear, etc.

And then I was wondering: What’s happening now that people living in the year 3200 will pity us for not understanding? “Wow, can you imagine living back then and not knowing exactly how [viruses appear/cancer strikes/the Voynich Manuscript came into existence]? Or precisely what happened at Dyatlov Pass, or on board the Mary Celeste?” (Okay now I’m just googling “mysteries.”) Anyway, I’m not high, I swear. But please chime in if anything comes to mind. “It must have been so weird to not know what dogs were saying.”

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It’s National Card & Letter Writing Month (🎉), and Metafilter just drew my attention to the American Library Association’s letter-themed games list, from which I learned of the upcoming Curios: Albrecht Manor: “an epistolary horror mystery experience”!

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