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A Collection of 100 Years of US National Parks’ Graphical Ephemera

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 22, 2019

From the folks that produced the NYC Transit Authority Graphics Standards Manual and the NASA Standards Manual comes a new book, Parks, about the art, maps, and printed materials produced to support American’s national parks.

Parks Book

Parks Book

Parks Book

From the book’s introduction by Lyz Nagan-Powell:

If, as Wallace Stegner famously declared, the national parks are “America’s best idea,” how can we explore this idea? There is the historical aspect: America invented the concept of nationally owned and operated parks in 1872, when Ulysses S. Grant signed Yellowstone National Park into existence. But there is more to Stegner’s sentiment than just the invention of the parks. The rest of the quote goes on to say that the parks are “Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.”

The national parks story isn’t simple or easy. It’s full of splendor and glory, as well as greed and exploitation. For every person who loves one of the parks like it’s their own home, there is another who resents the federal government for owning it. Even before Yellowstone became the first national park, park history was fraught with tension. Tension between preservation and use, between indigenous people and white explorers, between local rights and federal oversight, between wild freedom and human control, between park purists and park recreationists, and between commercial exploitation and historic value.

With this tense backdrop, or maybe because of it, art, imagery, writing, and design have played a vital role in the history of the national parks. Compelling creative materials that celebrated the land — including books, paintings, performances, and advertisements — have marked developments and milestones. These items have brought the rich landscapes and their scientific and historical significance to life.

Perhaps together, the tension and celebration make the National Park System - parks, monuments, natural areas, historic sites, and more - the perfect embodiment of America itself, and what the “best idea” of the parks is really all about.

Parks is out in October but you can pre-order it now.

Time-lapse film of two seasons of supercell storms

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Aug 02, 2019

We often talk about the damage we are doing to nature, and as often about the catastrophes this is bringing across the globe. And well we should. But we have to also remember that even when it looks enraged, nature is also worth our admiration. Mike Oblinsky gives us a good opportunity for this with his Vorticity 2 film.

For seven and a half minutes massive clouds tear through open skies across plains and mountain ranges, rainbows brighten the calm after the storms, and sheets of rain obliterate horizon lines.

Vorticity 2

Three Feet of Hail Buries Guadalajara, Mexico

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 01, 2019

The high temperature on Saturday in Guadalajara, Mexico was 86 °F. On Sunday morning, up to three feet of hail fell on the city and it looked like this:

Hail Mexico

Enrique Alfaro, the governor of Jalisco, wrote on Twitter that he had never seen anything like it.

“I witnessed scenes that I had never seen before: hail more than a meter high,” he tweeted, “and then we ask ourselves if climate change exists.”

Weather is not climate, but our warmer atmosphere is going to make extreme weather events like this more likely and frequent. As the Times says with characteristic understatement:

Experts say it is not unusual to have a hailstorm at this time of year in western Mexico, but the amount of hail was extreme.

The Border Wall Seesaw

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 12, 2019

I realize that many of you have probably seen it already, but I ran across this while away on vacation and thought it was one of the most clever, moving, and powerful creative projects I’ve seen recently. Working off of a concept from 2009, activist architects Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello installed three seesaws through the US/Mexico border wall near El Paso which allowed children on both sides of the border to enjoy playing together.

Border Wall Seesaw

Here’s video of the seesaws in action (from Rael’s Instagram post):

Brilliant. Damon Stapleton says that the seesaw has a “gentle anarchy” to it.

Their beautiful intention was to bring people together through design. As you may have guessed, I really like this idea. It has power, playfulness, humanity, humour and simplicity in equal measure. But most importantly, it has a gentle anarchy at its core. Great ideas like these have this essential creative point of view. There are no rules. Reject the world as it is or how others tell you to see it. Realise you have the ability to make the world the way you want it to be. And, it will be fun or at the very least, unboring. Gentle anarchy. This point of view can be scary for many. But without it, almost nothing will change or move forward.

The plans for the seesaw are on the cover of Rael’s 2017 book, Borderwall as Architecture: A Manifesto for the U.S.-Mexico Boundary, in which he documents similar projects like Burrito Wall, where the border wall is converted into a small restaurant.

Questionnaire

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 12, 2019

I read a short poem by Wendell Berry this morning called Questionnaire that has relevance to some of the things our society and culture have been chewing on over the past few years. The last two stanzas read:

4. In the name of patriotism and
the flag, how much of our beloved
land are you willing to desecrate?
List in the following spaces
the mountains, rivers, towns, farms
you could most readily do without.

5. State briefly the ideas, ideals, or hopes,
the energy sources, the kinds of security,
for which you would kill a child.
Name, please, the children whom
you would be willing to kill.

Questionnaire is from Berry’s 2009 collection, Leavings. (via fave 5)

An enjoyable week of discovery

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Aug 02, 2019

Looming outdoor landscape

Well this was fun! I’m not sure to which degree readers realize how much work goes into a week of kottke.org, and I’m sure Jason has a number of habits and a flow to things but wow! It’s an occasion to discover things hour after hour and find out what readers enjoy, but it is a lot of work. Hats off to you Jason.

I hope you enjoyed what I shared here this week. I encourage you to have a look at my newsletter Sentiers. Check out the archives and subscribe to keep up with where my curiosity takes me.

In case you missed them the first time around, and perhaps to give you a better idea of what usually draws my attention for Sentiers, here are some favorites from what I posted over the last few days, written as an homage to Tim Carmody’s style in the Kottke newsletter.

There’s a kind of superpower in walking, which is also a good way of encouraging serendipity, you might even find things like these storefronts in Tokyo. Much of my life and career was made possible by reading. I’ve never been to a desert library but I do have ghosts on my shelves. With books you can create futures by inventing utopias, and you can draw lessons from them, like cautionary tales from Frankenstein’s Monster or the many teachings of the great Ursula K. Le Guin.

(Header image, Mountain House in Mist / Shulin Architectural Design.)

See You Next Week

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 05, 2019

Hey, just a short note to say that kottke.org won’t be published this week. This is the first break in publishing the site since…well, I don’t really know. Maybe 5 years? Or even 10? I had a guest editor last week (thanks Patrick!) but this feels like a good time for a break break. Your regularly scheduled information & nonsense will resume on August 12.

Tim will be sending out an installment of the Noticing newsletter this Friday, so make sure to sign up for that if you’re not already on board.

And me? I’m on a LA-to-Portland road trip. I’ll share my adventures from the trip when I get back, but for now you can follow along on Instagram (especially via Stories). So, far, it’s been pretty fun + interesting.

Redwoods

Unearthly Iceland

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 27, 2019

If you need to convince yourself to go to Iceland, this short film by Vadim Sherbakov should do the trick for you. Just stunningly beautiful landscape masterfully shot.

Islandia — is a Latin name for Iceland and relative to the old language since this film portraits primordial and rough nature of Iceland. For the short duration of the film, you will be transported to a place that easily could be a million years ago. From unbelievable landscapes and vast valleys to painting-like terrain and majestic waterfalls and lakes - this film shows the unparalleled beauty of Iceland and its unearthly glory.

Watching the film, I wondered what Iceland would have looked like back when it had trees — probably even more amazing. (via colossal)

What It Feels Like to Die from Heat Stroke

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 23, 2019

From Outside magazine, an article on what your body goes through and what it feels like to die from heat stroke. A perhaps unnecessary note: this gets intense and a little graphic.

There are two kinds of heatstroke: classic and exertional. Classic heatstroke hits the very young, the elderly, the overweight, and people suffering from chronic conditions like uncontrolled diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease. Alcohol and certain medications (diuretics, tricyclic antidepressants, antipsychotics, and some cold and allergy remedies) can increase susceptibility as well. Classic heatstroke can strike in the quiet of upper-floor apartments with no air-conditioning.

Exertional heatstroke, on the other hand, pounces on the young and fit. Exercise drastically accelerates temperature rise. Marathon runners, cyclists, and other athletes sometimes push into what used to be known as the fever of exercise and is now called exercise-induced hyperthermia, where internal temperatures typically hit 100 to 104 degrees. Usually, there’s no lasting damage. But as body temperature climbs higher, the physiological response becomes more dramatic and the complications more profound. The higher temperature can ultimately trigger a cascading disaster of events as the metabolism, like a runaway nuclear reactor, races so fast and so hot that the body can’t cool itself down. A person careens toward organ failure, brain damage, and death.

It’s a sequel of sorts to this piece about what it feels like to freeze to death, which I vividly remember reading many years ago.

At 85 degrees, those freezing to death, in a strange, anguished paroxysm, often rip off their clothes. This phenomenon, known as paradoxical undressing, is common enough that urban hypothermia victims are sometimes initially diagnosed as victims of sexual assault. Though researchers are uncertain of the cause, the most logical explanation is that shortly before loss of consciousness, the constricted blood vessels near the body’s surface suddenly dilate and produce a sensation of extreme heat against the skin.

An intriguing new habitat project “inspired” by NASA

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Aug 01, 2019

TERA habitat

The AI SpaceFactory team won half a million dollars from NASA for its Mars habitat prototype, MARSHA. They are now taking the research, learnings, and technologies they developed for their winning proposal and building an earth habitat (house) using the same concepts.

TERA interjects into the building industry’s massive waste of materials and creates a proof-of-concept for a new type of building - one that is durable and twice as strong as concrete, yet recyclable and compostable.

TERA habitat

Considering how polluting the manufacturing of concrete is, their material certainly sounds interesting:

Biopolymer basalt composite -a material developed from crops like corn and sugar cane - tested and validated by NASA to be (at minimum) 50% stronger and more durable than concrete. This material has the potential to be leaps and bounds more sustainable than traditional concrete and steel, leading to a future in which we can eliminate the building industry’s massive waste of unrecyclable materials. It could transform the way we build on Earth - and save our planet.

In many countries, the production of ethanol with corn is creating problems with the provenance and availability of that grain to feed livestock and humans. I would love to know more about how the use here differs.

Since this is a prototype which they will make available for leasing by the night, they will also be using it as a lab to evolve the concept:

TERA is a living laboratory where feedback and operational data will be used to improve future designs for our future Earth and Space habitats. Each TERA will build on the last until we achieve highly autonomous structurally performing human-rated habitats.

TERA habitat

The link at top is to the firm’s project page but they are also running an Indiegogo and that page has lots more details and pictures.


If you are intrigued by the impact of concrete and cement, and why we don’t yet have widely commercially available real alternatives, Rose Eveleth did a fantastic episode of her Flash Forward podcast on that topic: EARTH: The Cement Ban.

30 Years of New York Drawings

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 27, 2019

Lucinda Rogers

Lucinda Rogers

Lucinda Rogers

Since her first trip in 1988, UK artist Lucinda Rogers has been traveling to NYC to draw the city and its inhabitants. Rogers is working on a book of her illustrations, which she hopes to publish independently with the help of Kickstarter.

With your support this book will for the first time reveal and re-assemble around ninety drawings made between 1988 and 2018.

Working with the designer Simon Esterson we are producing the book independently and by using Kickstarter we have total control of the design and quality of production, resulting in a beautiful edition — if we reach the target!

I am delighted that the introduction will be by Luc Sante, the brilliant writer and chronicler of cities, known best for Low Life : Lures and Snares of Old New York.

The project is most of the way towards the goal with a little over a week left. Let’s help push it over the finish line. (thx, david)

Character Routing Maps of Famous Films

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 15, 2019

Illustrator Andrew DeGraff makes what he calls Cinemaps, maps of movies and their plots in the style of the dotted-line wanderings of The Family Circus comic strip or Harry Potter’s Marauder’s Map. He’s done maps for Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and The Princess Bride.

Cinemaps

Cinemaps

Cinemaps

My favorite DeGraff drawing is probably Back to the Future, with Hill Valley represented twice on the same page: 1955 in pink underneath 1985 in blue.

Cinemaps

DeGraff collected these maps (and several more) into a book called Cinemaps. (via fairly interesting)

The Symbiotic & Toxic Relationship Between Houses and Cars in America

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 29, 2019

Since reading Gregory Shill’s writing about how heavily subsidized cars are in the United States, I’ve been on the lookout for different frameworks for thinking about America’s relationship to cars. I recently ran across a pair of interesting things about cars & housing. First, a refresher on what Shill had to say about how our nation’s laws have made cars all but mandatory:

Let’s begin at the state and local level. A key player in the story of automobile supremacy is single-family-only zoning, a shadow segregation regime that is now justifiably on the defensive for outlawing duplexes and apartments in huge swaths of the country. Through these and other land-use restrictions — laws that separate residential and commercial areas or require needlessly large yards — zoning rules scatter Americans across distances and highway-like roads that are impractical or dangerous to traverse on foot. The resulting densities are also too low to sustain high-frequency public transit.

Aaron Bady shared a few meaty pages from Nathanael Lauster’s The Death and Life of the Single-Family House: Lessons from Vancouver on Building a Livable City about houses being urban parasites and their symbiotic relationship with cars. Here’s an excerpt (italics mine):

Returning to the metaphor provided by the pine beetle and blue stain fungus, one parasite often works with another. In similar form, houses cultivate cars. Integrated through planning, they displace vastly more habitat than either could manage alone. Because houses consume space and tend to surround themselves with other houses, which also consume space, people often cannot walk to where they need to go. Because all that space results in a relatively low population density, it is also not very efficient to run public transit lines to areas with many houses. Low-density areas tend to end up with very few riders for what are often very expensive systems to maintain. In short, public transit loves density. The relationship between urban density and public transit use is exceptionally strong, with some suggestion of a cutoff — perhaps around twelve persons per acre (or about three thousand per square kilometer) — below which ridership drops off and expense per user makes transit impractical. By contrast, cars love the sprawl associated with houses and houses love cars back.

Houses cultivate cars. Cars love the sprawl associated with houses and houses love cars back. Lauster continues with the nature metaphor:

Altogether, house habitat displaces alternatives. The establishment of a Great House Reserve has protected house habitat even as it continues to expand in size. Agricultural and wild lands suffer in an immediate sense, as do the more urban habitats prevented from expanding beyond a constrained Urban Core. The house allies itself with the car at the same time as both contribute to global warming, potentially risking the displacement of everyone and everything. The house habitat excludes the poor. But even for those who can afford to live there, the Great House Reserve is a troublesome place to live. By its nature it leads to disengagement, contributes to inequality, and encourages a sedentary, unhealthy lifestyle.

And so on:

Houses are not just unaffordable for most people; they’re ultimately unaffordable for cities too. The fiscal situation of cities varies from place to place, but overall, houses tend to create a drain on municipal coffers. They are often taxed at lower rates than other properties, reflecting zoning restrictions on what could be built on single-family lots and how they can be used. But houses are more expensive to service on a per-unit basis, both in terms of the basic utilities infrastructure and, as previously noted, in terms of transit and transportation infrastructure. This could mean that my modestly wealthy neighbors and I, living in low-rises and town houses, end up supporting the very wealthy house owner nearby by paying more property tax relative to the amount of urban land and services we receive. The disparity becomes more notable as one crosses municipal boundaries into nearby house-dominated suburbs, where residents frequently enjoy the services (e.g., roads, commerce, employment opportunities) provided by the city without paying into the municipal tax base at all.

Josh Vredevoogd’s No Parking Here is about the poor parking policy in LA and leads with the statement: “Let’s build houses for people, not cars.”

For commercial buildings, it’s common to see a parking space required for every 100-200 sq ft. Meaning that parking is built at an almost 2:1 ratio to actual retail space, marginalizing the place that actually creates value and prioritizing temporary car storage. This inefficiency is carried into rent, groceries, meals, and overall raises the floor for cost of living.

Per City of LA code, a set of storefronts like above are illegal to build, instead they are required to be surrounded with empty pavement at the cost of walkability and comfort.

This forces people into driving. Parking requirements increase the density of cars but reduce the density of people. It also puts pressure on businesses by taking up useful real estate and replacing it with car storage.

Certainly a lot of food for thought here. See also Cars! What’s the Matter with Cars Today? and on a lighter note, What On Earth!, Kal Pindal’s Oscar-nominated short film about Martians visiting Earth and their observations about the dominant form of life here, the automobile.

Fortnite World Cup

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Jul 29, 2019

Fortnite World Cup 2019

Incredibly (I guess), I’ve never played Fortnite. I have however been paying some attention to the game / platform, but it still surprised me to see that the prizes totaled an impressive $30 million! Held over three days this past weekend, the competition was hosted at the Arthur Ashe Stadium, home of the US Open of tennis, which is certainly an interesting image for the debate around the use of “sport” in “e-sports.” It was also more than a tournament.

But the World Cup was also home to a miniature Fortnite amusement park, a Marshmello concert, a tease of the game’s upcoming10th season, and multiple moments that blurred the line between the game and the real world. It was a chance for Epic to show off just how big Fortnite really is.

Fortnite World Cup 2019

Player-fans, many of whom were attending as families, could meet mascots, speak with stars of the game, or visit and play multiple attractions. It was pretty much a small scale theme park, and of course there was lots and lots of buying of branded products.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about the World Cup was how it blurred the line between the real world and the digital universe Epic has created. Not only did locations and characters from the game make their way IRL, but so did the Battle Pass. Just like in the game, fans were encouraged to complete multiple tasks each day (in this case, that meant visiting attractions) in order to earn rewards including a physical V-Bucks coin.

More than 40 million people played in the 10 weeks of qualifiers, the oldest player in the final lineup was 24 (!!), and the winning duo won a $3 million grand prize. I feel old.

Perhaps more my beat than actually playing the game, have a look at this fascinating dive into the world of Fortnite, which debunks four hypes about the game, then considers Epic’s (makers of the game) situation and prospectives. The article then really gets interesting when the author starts looking at the use of the game as a public square, the time spent there, and how it could be / is used as a platform. Ball also writes about the founder, Tim Sweeney, and what he is planning for the cloud, a marketplace, and his long time obsession with the “Metaverse.” Imagine something like Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One and a platform vision which might face off with Zuckerberg’s similar(ish) ideas for Oculus.

The Art and Science of Tripping Up the Stairs

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 03, 2019

This is a short video of a set of subway stairs in Brooklyn where one of the steps is juuuust a bit taller than the rest, which makes most people trip on it.

We don’t often think about it but even the least graceful humans move in a finely calibrated way. When we’re climbing stairs, our feet don’t clear the treads by much, so that even the tiniest deviation in the height of a step can spell trouble.

I’d love to see a study of how quickly our bodies learn how high the steps are in a new flight of stairs. Like, maybe we clear the first couple of steps by an inch or two but then we’re locked in and subsequent clearances are much smaller.

Is there a word for the way people tend to speed up after they trip climbing stairs? The stumble hustle? It’s such a small & endearing little thing that most people do.

My least favorite flight of stairs in the entire NYC subway system are, I believe, at the SW corner of 14th St and 6th Ave in Manhattan. Each of the steps is a different height, making for a tricky ascent and a downright dangerous descent. I keep thinking they’re gonna get fixed, but I used them on my last visit to the city in June. At this point, they’re like an old friend who’s kind of a jerk but you’ve known him so long that whaddya gonna do? (via @fishtopher)

Update: On Twitter, André Filipe Barro shared the Brazilian phrase for speeding up after tripping up the stairs: “went on a chicken chase”. Excellent!

An Interview with a Contemporary Russian Spy

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 01, 2019

After the fall of the Soviet Union, Deniss Metsavas served for many years with the Estonian Defense Forces and was, at the same time, a Russian spy. In this video for The Atlantic, Metsavas describes how he was recruited by Russian intelligence using kompromat (compromising material).

For years, Metsavas navigated his disparate allegiances. He got married and started a family. But as he grew in prominence in the Estonian Defense Forces, his Russian handlers began to demand highly classified information on Estonia’s involvement with the United States and NATO, specifically with regard to weapons. Metsavas tried to extricate himself, only to find that his handlers would stop at nothing to obtain the intel-including ensnaring a family member in the increasingly dangerous situation.

Watching the video and reading the accompanying article, you get the sense that maybe the Cold War never ended…

SpaceX Starhopper Rocket Test

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 28, 2019

SpaceX took its Starhopper rocket out for a little test run in Texas the other day, taking off and then landing about 300 feet away after reaching a height of about 500 feet. Spacehopper is a prototype of the company’s Starship spacecraft & rocket, which they plan to fly to and land on the Moon and Mars.

I’ve written about the wonder of SpaceX’s reusable rockets before, but the Starhopper test in particular seems like some deeply sci-fi shit, like what society imagined future space travel would look like. The ship looks and moves like something straight out of a late 60s Dr. Who serial.

The Entire Plane of the Milky Way Captured in a Single Photo

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 26, 2019

Entire Galaxy

By photographing two separate nighttime scenes, one in the northern hemisphere and the other in the southern hemisphere, amateur astrophotographer Maroun Habib cleverly produced this dazzling image of the complete galactic plane visible from Earth.

Is it possible to capture the entire plane of our galaxy in a single image? Yes, but not in one exposure — and it took some planning to do it in two. The top part of the featured image is the night sky above Lebanon, north of the equator, taken in 2017 June. The image was taken at a time when the central band of the Milky Way Galaxy passed directly overhead. The bottom half was similarly captured six months later in latitude-opposite Chile, south of Earth’s equator. Each image therefore captured the night sky in exactly the opposite direction of the other, when fully half the Galactic plane was visible.

See also The Earth Rotating Beneath a Stationary Milky Way, which went viral after I posted it two weeks ago. (via @surfinsev)

Blocky Abstract Oil Paintings

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 15, 2019

Jason Anderson

Jason Anderson

Jason Anderson

Oh, I love these abstract oil paintings by Jason Anderson. They are analog and organic but also more than a little pixel-y. Every time I see something like this, I want to get out my paints, stretch a canvas, and try it out. Note: I do not own any paints nor have I ever built any canvases. These “chunky” abstracts (see also Joseph Lee’s work) always make me curious about how much abstraction you can get away with and still have it look like something the viewer can recognize. Abstraction also always makes me think about Scott McCloud. (via colossal)

Making Food from Carbon Dioxide & Water

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 13, 2019

Using a concept from NASA, a Finnish company called Solar Foods has figured out how to manufacture protein from carbon dioxide, water, and electricity. They call it Solein.

A company from Finland, Solar Foods, is planning to bring to market a new protein powder, Solein, made out of CO2, water and electricity. It’s a high-protein, flour-like ingredient that contains 50 percent protein content, 5-10 percent fat, and 20-25 percent carbs. It reportedly looks and tastes like wheat flour, and could become an ingredient in a wide variety of food products after its initial launch in 2021.

It’s likely to first appear on grocery shelves in protein shakes and yogurt. It could be an exciting development: Solein’s manufacturing process is carbon neutral and the potential for scalability seems unlimited — we’ve got too much CO2, if anything. Why not get rid of some greenhouse gas with a side of fries?

The production of food (and the protein contained in meat in particular) is responsible for a large percentage of our planet’s changing climate, so if Solein pans out, it could be a huge development. It will be interesting to see if the wizards or prophets win the battle to “fix” climate change…Solein is one hell of a salvo by the wizards.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 22, 2019

Well, this trailer for A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is our first look at Tom Hanks playing Fred Rogers and, hmm. I dunno. Hanks looks a little stiff to me, unnatural, but maybe no one could actually play such a beloved childhood figure in a convincing way. I was so young when I watched his show every day for years on end that Mr. Rogers’ movements and mannerisms were imprinted on my super-plastic preschool brain, never to be forgotten. Mr. Rogers tossed his shoe between his hands a little bit differently every day, but he never tossed it like Hanks does in that trailer.

But who am I kidding, I will still see this movie. It’s based on Can You Say…Hero?, a piece that Tom Junod wrote about Rogers for Esquire magazine.

Mister Rogers weighed 143 pounds because he has weighed 143 pounds as long as he has been Mister Rogers, because once upon a time, around thirty-one years ago, Mister Rogers stepped on a scale, and the scale told him that Mister Rogers weighs 143 pounds. No, not that he weighed 143 pounds, but that he weighs 143 pounds…. And so, every day, Mister Rogers refuses to do anything that would make his weight change-he neither drinks, nor smokes, nor eats flesh of any kind, nor goes to bed late at night, nor sleeps late in the morning, nor even watches television-and every morning, when he swims, he steps on a scale in his bathing suit and his bathing cap and his goggles, and the scale tells him that he weighs 143 pounds. This has happened so many times that Mister Rogers has come to see that number as a gift, as a destiny fulfilled, because, as he says, “the number 143 means ‘I love you.’ It takes one letter to say ‘I’ and four letters to say ‘love’ and three letters to say ‘you.’ One hundred and forty-three. ‘I love you.’ Isn’t that wonderful?”

If you’ve never read it, you should…it’s a lovely piece of writing about a wonderful human. I reread it every year or so, just to fill up my cup.

The Origin of Everything (The Bagel)

posted by Tim Carmody   Jun 28, 2019

everything bagel.jpg

Dan Nosowitz digs into the genealogies of bagel-making to find and define the true (i.e., disputed) origin of the everything bagel.

Let’s be honest, it’s probably not possible to have “invented” the concept of putting several different existing bagel toppings on a bagel. In patent law there is something called the rule of “obviousness,” a tricky concept, but one that’s both necessary and necessarily subjective. It states that something cannot be patented if a person with ordinary skill in a subject would naturally use the same idea to solve a problem. A painter, for example, cannot patent a jar of water for cleaning brushes, because any painter, understanding that water is used to clean brushes and that a jar is a good vessel to hold water, would come to the same conclusion. Or, for example, if there are five popular bagel toppings, it is fairly obvious to make a bagel with all of those ingredients. That’s not invention.

But there is one element of the everything bagel that is invention, and that’s the name. “Everything” is the accepted name for a fairly specific combination of toppings: It is not a “combo bagel” or a “spice-lover’s bagel” or, as the Canadians might call it, an “all-dressed bagel.” It is an everything bagel, and someone had to come up with that piece of clear, descriptive branding.

By his own and most other accounts, that person was David Gussin. Around 1979 or 1980, he says, he was a teenager working at Charlie’s Bagels in the Howard Beach neighborhood of Queens, New York. “It didn’t actually say ‘Charlie’s Bagels,’ it just said ‘Bagels,’ but it was Charlie’s,” says Gussin. He was doing typical teenage job stuff: cleaning, working the counter—and cleaning the oven, where excess bagel toppings accumulated when they fell off. “One day instead of throwing them out like I usually did, I gave them to Charlie and said, ‘Hey, make a bagel with these, we’ll call it the everything bagel.’ It wasn’t that big of a deal; we weren’t looking to make the next big bagel. Charlie was probably more interested in what horses he was going to bet on.”

What’s weird, as Nosowitz notices, is that the everything bagel doesn’t include everything. An everything bagel with sunflower seeds is a mistake. “Everything” is sesame, onion, garlic, poppy, and salt. And it’s called “everything.” This is what’s invented, what is non-obvious. It is merely true.

Simulating Natural Selection

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 17, 2019

The YouTube channel Primer is running a series on evolution and how it works. Topics include mutations, selfish genes, and altruism in natural selection. The most popular video of the series is this one on the simulation of natural selection:

In it, you can see how different environments cause groups to tend towards certain traits (size, speed, sensing ability) based on food availability, with random mutation and reproduction in the mix as well. Seeing the populations’ traits change in realtime as the generations pass is a powerful way to make sense of a complex concept.

Barack Obama’s Summer 2019 Reading List

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 16, 2019

As he does every so often, President Obama shared a list of the books that he’s reading this summer in this Facebook post. I am not ashamed to admit that Obama’s recs have pushed me to read quite a few books, including Pachinko and the Three-Body Problem trilogy, and not once have I been disappointed. This time around, he recommends anything and everything by Toni Morrison and a few other things.

Exhalation by Ted Chiang is a collection of short stories that will make you think, grapple with big questions, and feel more human. The best kind of science fiction.

Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel’s epic fictionalized look at Thomas Cromwell’s rise to power, came out in 2009, but I was a little busy back then, so I missed it. Still great today.

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren is a beautifully written memoir about the life of a woman in science, a brilliant friendship, and the profundity of trees. Terrific.

I still recommend Wolf Hall (and her follow-up, Bring Up the Bodies) to almost everyone who asks me what they should read next and am looking forward to tackling Chiang’s collection soon.

The Railrodder, Buster Keaton’s Final Silent Film from 1965

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 13, 2019

In 1965, long after his days making some of the most iconic and physically demanding silent films, pioneering physical comedian Buster Keaton made one last silent flick with the National Film Board of Canada.

This short film from director Gerald Potterton (Heavy Metal) stars Buster Keaton in one of the last films of his long career. As “the railrodder”, Keaton crosses Canada from east to west on a railway track speeder. True to Keaton’s genre, the film is full of sight gags as our protagonist putt-putts his way to British Columbia. Not a word is spoken throughout, and Keaton is as spry and ingenious at fetching laughs as he was in the old days of the silent slapsticks.

Buster Keaton Rides Again, a 55-minute documentary about the making of The Railrodders, might be even more interesting because you hear Keaton talking about his craft and career.

See also The Scribe, a film that was released the following year that was Keaton’s final starring role, Buster Keaton and the Art of the Gag, the small collection of posts about Keaton here at kottke.org, and this video of some of his most amazing stunts (with a voiceover of Keaton talking about his career):

(thx, marcus)

The Possible Link Between Seasonal Allergies and Anxiety & Depression

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 11, 2019

Olga Khazan on The Reason Anxious People Often Have Allergies:

“There is good circumstantial evidence that’s growing that a number of mental illnesses are associated with immune dysfunction,” says Sandro Galea, a physician and epidemiologist at the Boston University School of Public Health.

If the link is in fact real, allergies could be causing anxiety and other mood disorders in a few different ways. For one, it’s stressful to be sick, and people with allergies frequently feel like they have a bad cold. The experience of straining to breathe, or of coughing and wheezing, could simply make people feel anxious.

Then there are biological explanations. Allergies trigger the release of the stress hormone cortisol, which can interfere with a feel-good brain chemical called serotonin. It’s not clear how the cortisol does this, Nanda says; it might inhibit the production of serotonin or make it fail to bind with its receptors properly. But when something goes wrong with serotonin, the theory goes, depression or anxiety might set in.

Huh. I definitely suffer from seasonal allergies (they have thankfully slacked off for the summer) and have struggled with anxiety since I was a kid (though I’ve never been clinically diagnosed). I’ll be following this research with interest.

“Sir Duke” Deconstructed: Stevie Wonder’s Ode to Jazz

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 08, 2019

In the latest episode of Earworm, Estelle Caswell and Jacob Collier break down Stevie Wonder’s Sir Duke, in which he pays tribute to the jazz artists that inspired him, both in lyric and in the arrangement of the music. As someone who isn’t musical but has experience programming, writing, designing, and doing science, it’s fun to see a similar borrow/remix/homage process at work on a virtuoso level.

Metallica’s Enter Sandman, Covered in 20 Different Musical Styles

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 23, 2019

Listen in as Anthony Vincent covered Metallica’s classic Enter Sandman in 20 different musical styles, ranging from yodeling to The Eurythmics to Hans Zimmer to Lil Uzi Vert to John Denver.

Soli touchless interactions are coming to Pixel 4

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Jul 31, 2019

Soli radar visualisation

You may remember a few years ago when a video about Google’s Project Soli made the rounds, it promised very fine touchless gesture control with a custom chip using radar technology. Here’s the demo from back then.

Well years later, Google will finally be releasing it to the general public, including the Federal Communications Commission approved chip and a few basic gestures.

As the article at WIRED mentions, this is more important than one phone, it could be a first step in something new, like when the iPhone brought precise, quality touchscreens to a consumer device.

Google’s gesture technology is merely a glimpse of a touchless future. Just like the iPhone taught millions of people to interact with their world by tapping and swiping, the Pixel may train us on a new kind of interaction, changing how we expect to interact with all of our devices going forward.

Hoi Toider, an American Dialect that Doesn’t Sound American

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 02, 2019

Hoi Toider is a dialect spoken by long-time residents of Ocracoke, North Carolina. It sometimes sounds more Australian, Scottish, or like Elizabethan English than American English.

When older Ocracoke natives, or O’cockers as they call themselves, speak, the ‘I’ sound is an ‘oi’, so they say ‘hoi’ instead of ‘high’. That’s where the Hoi Toider name comes from: it’s based on how the O’cockers say ‘high tide’.

Then there are the phrases and vocabulary, many of which are also kept over from the original settlers. For example, when you’re on Ocracoke, someone might ‘mommuck a buck before going up the beach’, which means ‘to tease a friend before going off the island’.

“We have a lot of words that have been morphed to make our own,” said Amy Howard, another of William Howard’s descendants, who runs the Village Craftsmen, a local arts and crafts store. “[Hoi Toider] is a combination from a whole blend of cultures. A lot of the early settlers were well travelled, so they ran into lots of different types of people. For example, the word ‘pizer’ we use comes from the Italian word ‘piazza’, which means porch. So if you’re going to be sitting on your pizer, you’re sitting on your porch.”

You can hear some folks speaking Hoi Toider is these videos:

The Shining Starring Jim Carrey

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 15, 2019

Taking advantage of inexpensive and easy-to-use software, deepfake artist Ctrl Shift Face has replaced Jack Nicholson’s face with Jim Carrey’s face in several scenes from The Shining. If you pay close attention it looks a little off — it’s not as good as the Bill Hader / Arnold Schwarzenegger one — but if you were unaware of Nicholson or The Shining going in, you probably wouldn’t notice.

These Shining videos are clever and fun and we’ve talked a little bit about how deepfakes might affect our society, but this Hannah Arendt quote from a 1974 interview is likely relevant:

If everybody always lies to you, the consequence is not that you believe the lies, but rather that nobody believes anything any longer. This is because lies, by their very nature, have to be changed, and a lying government has constantly to rewrite its own history. On the receiving end you get not only one lie — a lie which you could go on for the rest of your days — but you get a great number of lies, depending on how the political wind blows. And a people that no longer can believe anything cannot make up its mind. It is deprived not only of its capacity to act but also of its capacity to think and to judge. And with such a people you can then do what you please.

This is the incredible and interesting and dangerous thing about the combination of our current technology, the internet, and mass media: “a lying government” is no longer necessary — we’re doing it to ourselves and anyone with sufficient motivation will be able to take advantage of people without the capacity to think and judge.

Relax to the Sounds of Tibetan Singing Bowl Music

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 17, 2019

I don’t know who needs to hear this, but if you’re in need of some relaxing sounds, a meditative moment, or a chill work soundtrack, I recommend this 71-minute video of Tibetan singing bowl music.

See also Hours and Hours of Relaxing & Meditative Videos.

Overview, Young Explorer’s Edition

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 20, 2019

In 2016, Benjamin Grant published Overview, a book of high-definition satellite photos of the Earth that were drawn from his site, Daily Overview (also on Instagram). This fall, a version for younger readers is coming out: Overview, Young Explorer’s Edition: A New Way of Seeing Earth.

Overview, Young Explorer's Edition

When astronauts look down at our planet and see its vibrant surface shining against the blackness of space, they experience the Overview Effect — a sense of awe, an awareness that everything is interconnected, and an overwhelming desire to take care of our one and only home.

This is a no-brainer pre-order…my kids often pull Overview off the shelf just to look at the photos. I’m also adding this to the list of Adult Nonfiction Adapted for Younger Readers.

An illustrated guide to silvopasture

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Aug 01, 2019

Silvopasture grazing cows

Paul Hawken’s Project Drawdown “is the world’s leading source of climate solutions.” In the list of solutions, perhaps surprisingly to many, silvopasture comes in at number nine. Issue 2 of the excellent Australia based Matters Journal came out with this fun illustrated guide to silvopasture.

Silvopasture is the symbiotic integration of livestock grazing and forest management. This can either be achieved by strategically planting trees into a conventional, and usually treeless, grazing pasture or by thinning a wooded forest so that livestock can graze beneath its canopy.

Drawdown estimated that silvopasture is currently practiced on 351 million acres of land globally. If this was increased to 554 million acres by 2050 then CO2 emissions could be reduced by 31.19 gigatons. To put this figure into perspective, Drawdown estimates that if seven percent of the world’s population had rooftop solar to power their houses it would avoid 24.6 gigatons of CO2 emissions.

The piece ends with quite a few links worth checking out to learn more about this agroforestry practice.

Photos from Opening Day at Disneyland in 1955

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 25, 2019

Alan Taylor of In Focus has curated a selection of photos taken during the first few days after Disneyland was opened to the public in July 1955.

Disneyland 1955

Disneyland 1955

Disneyland 1955

Whaaaat the hell is up with Mickey and Minnie’s faces in that last photo? Maybe that’s what the kids in the top photo are running away from in terror?

Deep dive into uber-obscure video game research

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Aug 02, 2019

Plug and play game consoles

Interested in gaming? Old-school 80s-90s games? NES? Chinese shenzhen-speed recombination and innovation? Then I’ve got the thread for you! Or rather, Frank Cifaldi has the thread for you (and it’s a long and detailed one with lots of his research and how he proceeded).

Plug & play game consoles:

In the early 2000s, a new toy category gained popularity in the United States: the “plug & play” video game console. You probably remember seeing a lot of these! The Jakks Pacific stuff was probably the most prolific.

New NES games!

I recently became enamored with a particular sub-set of plug & play history: systems that secretly housed brand new games written for the old 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System! If you were following me toward the end of 2018 you might remember me blathering on about this stuff.

Thanks to Chinese manufacturers in the 90s:

Why were there NES games in these things? Well:

- In the 90s, Chinese manufacturers cloned the NES and put all of its components on one chip

- These were used in all kinds of applications: cloned systems, plug & plays with pirated games, even educational computers!

And this side note is important to remember and be thankful for, around the web in general, the internet archive

I can’t stress enough what a godsend The Wayback Machine is for research. So much real history would literally disappear from the world if not for them.

(Via Darren Wershler.)

Trailer for Harriet, the Harriet Tubman Biopic

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 23, 2019

Harriet is a biopic about freedom fighter Harriet Tubman coming out in November. Tubman is played by Cynthia Erivo, who looked super familiar but I couldn’t place her…turns out I’d seen her in Widows and Bad Times at the El Royale. Erivo is joined by fellow castmembers Leslie Odom Jr., Janelle Monáe, and Clarke Peters.

19th Century Chart of Cities’ Distances from Washington DC

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 16, 2019

DC distances

As you should know by now, I am a sucker for 19th century infographics. This “compendious chart” from the Library of Congress shows the distances and compass directions of about 1300 cities from the central point of Washington DC. You can zoom in on the chart to check out the detail:

DC distances

The map doesn’t say what the colors signify — there’s also a black & white version — but it was created in 1827 so perhaps they denote the three parts of the country at the time: yellow is the North, pink is the South, and green is the West.

The Hubble’s New Portrait of Jupiter

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 27, 2019

Jupiter Hubble 2019

A photo of Jupiter taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in late June was recently released by NASA. Among other things, it shows just how much smaller, redder, and rounder the Great Red Spot has gotten.

The Great Red Spot is a towering structure shaped like a wedding cake, whose upper haze layer extends more than 3 miles (5 kilometers) higher than clouds in other areas. The gigantic structure, with a diameter slightly larger than Earth’s, is a high-pressure wind system called an anticyclone that has been slowly downsizing since the 1800s. The reason for this change in size is still unknown.

The spot was “once big enough to swallow three Earths with room to spare” but has been shrinking steadily since a brief expansion in the 1920s. As the storm contracts, it has stretched up into the Jovian atmosphere.

Because the storm has been contracting, the researchers expected to find the already-powerful internal winds becoming even stronger, like an ice skater who spins faster as she pulls in her arms.

Instead of spinning faster, the storm appears to be forced to stretch up. It’s almost like clay being shaped on a potter’s wheel. As the wheel spins, an artist can transform a short, round lump into a tall, thin vase by pushing inward with his hands. The smaller he makes the base, the taller the vessel will grow.

Recently amateur astronomers have observed “flakes” or “blades” coming off of the storm and dissipating into the larger atmosphere, a formerly rare phenomenon that now seems more common.

The Hubble photographs also yielded a rotating view of the planet as well as a very cool stretched-out photo of the surface:

Jupiter Hubble 2019 Stretch

Lovely and Relaxing Videos of Traditional Countryside Life in China

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 20, 2019

Li Ziqi is a woman who lives in Sichuan province in China with her grandmother, preparing food and making clothing from scratch without the use of modern technology (mostly). Her YouTube channel has more than 5.7 million subscribers. In this video, she makes a purple wool cloak for the winter:

Her practice of shooting the videos herself, her reliance on traditional techniques, and her editing style is strongly reminiscent of the Primitive Technology channel — her videos are meditative in the same way. I watched this video of her making jam this morning and was left both hungry and relaxed, an unusual combination:

(via @juririm)

Urban Nudges

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 14, 2019

Urban Nudges is a site that documents small efforts by cities and the people who live in them to slightly change the behaviors of their inhabitants in some way. A 2008 book by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein defines a nudge as “any aspect of the choice architecture that alters people’s behavior in a predictable way without forbidding any options or significantly changing their economic incentives”. That sounds a bit academic but some examples from the site clarify things. For instance, protected bike lanes encourage bike riding:

The study “Lessons from the Green Lanes: Evaluating Protected Bike Lanes in the U.S.” was conducted in eight protected bike lanes in Austin, Chicago, Portland, San Francisco, and Washington, DC and the major findings were that bike lanes induced new bikers, mostly because they feel safer about the experience.

The researchers interviewed 2,283 cyclists using the bike lanes and found out that nearly ten percent of the users would have taken another mode of transportation if the bike lane hadn’t existed and around one percent of the interviewed said they would not have taken the trip at all.

Dancing zebras in Bolivia cajole motorists into minding crosswalks and other rules of the street:

Zebra Bolivia

Inspired by the Colombian experience, in Bolivia the Department of transportation developed a program where urban educators get dressed as zebras, teaching children and adults urban values through empathy and comedy. The project’s initial concept was to teach pedestrians and drivers the appropriate use of the pedestrian crossing and reduce congestion: urban zebras rejoice when pedestrians wait for green light and grab their head in agony when pedestrians jaywalk. Empathy, humility and comedy made them popular.

A speedometer in Amsterdam raises money for the neighborhood when drivers do the speed limit:

Every driver that passes by the speedometer below the speed limit of 30 km per hour raises EUR0,03 for the neighborhood. “The city’s slogan: Max 30 — Save for the Neighborhood” (Pop Up City). The money raised by this initiative is granted by the city of Amsterdam and is meant to be invested in local community projects.

What kind of nudges could you imagine in your town or city?

What’s Cropped Out of Passport Photos?

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 22, 2019

Passport Photos

Passport Photos

Passport Photos

Passport photos are subject to an extensive list of guidelines and restrictions — for instance, the background has to be “plain white or off-white” with no pattern, you can’t wear glasses or hats, and the photo must be tightly cropped on your face. Max Siedentopf’s Passport Photos project imagines what might have been going on outside of that carefully controlled frame when the photos were taken. (via colossal)

Ghosts on her shelves

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Jul 30, 2019

Photo by Lesly Juarez on Unsplash

It’s always interesting to see how people feel about books. Some don’t read them, some always have one in hand, even walking. Some read everything, some pile the unreads endlessly. Some read them with purpose, to learn something, get better at some tasks; others to escape, dream, discover some new imaginary universe. Karen Olsson at the Literary Hub wonders why she doesn’t read all her books, and, contrary to her husband who diligently reads anything written by a friend or given to him, she has multiple unread books. They remind her of past interests, past lives, future intents, projects, they whisper to her.

I keep this book around even though I don’t wish to make anything of it in a literal sense—I don’t want to write fiction or nonfiction or a nutty screenplay about a mesoamerican document, but I wish for it to somehow whisper in my ear while I write something not at all about the map, for its enigmatic presence to leave some ineffable trace.

I love this idea of books as biographies, including alternative ones.

I’ve become conscious of the alternative biography my books represent, a history of stray intentions, youthful aspirations, old interests that have run their course but not quite expired, since there’s always that chance I might decide to learn at last about portrait miniatures, or neuroscience, or the Battle of the Alamo.

In some cases, there’s even some kind of fear of the real thing not matching up to the mystery.

Perhaps in some cases it has actually meant more to me to possess a book than to read it, because as long as its contents remain unknown to me, it retains its mystery. The unread book is a provocation, a promise of something that might dissipate if I slogged my way through the text.

Up and Up

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 16, 2019

Daehyuk Im

Daehyuk Im

Daehyuk Im

Photos by Daehyuk Im of the Coney Island amusement rides and other structures, framed against the sky. Looking back through some photos I’ve taken of various amusement rides, this is also my favorite way of capturing them. (via moss & fog)

The Forgotten Women Pioneers of Rock & Roll

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 09, 2019

Women in Rock & Roll’s First Wave is a project by Leah Branstetter that uncovers and highlights the women who pioneered rock & roll in the 50s.

For sixty years, conventional wisdom has told us that women generally did not perform rock and roll during the 1950s.

In every decade, you can find someone commenting on the absence of women on the charts during rock and roll’s heyday. Others note that women during that era were typically not so inclined to a wild, raucous style.

The reality is, however, that hundreds — or maybe thousands — of women and girls performed and recorded rock and roll in its early years.

And many more participated in other ways: writing songs, owning or working for record labels, working as session or touring musicians, designing stage wear, dancing, or managing talent — to give just a few examples.

Meet, for instance, Laura Lee Perkins.

Perkins cut several sides there, where she was backed by the same band that accompanied Ricky Nelson (she was thrilled that she also got to meet Nelson). The label did some publicity for her — though they appeared to have listed her under several different stage names — and apparently tried to bill her as the “female Jerry Lee Lewis” because of her skill at the piano. Perkins returned to Cleveland, where she had difficulty promoting her recordings. She recalls that being single and working as a waitress, she couldn’t muster the payola required to break through in some markets. She would play record hops where she would lip sync to her Imperial sides. Some of the other acts at the hops she played included Connie Francis, the Everly Brothers, and Fabian.

And Ruth Brown:

Ruth Brown

Brown’s success for Atlantic was such that the label has famously been called “the House that Ruth Built.” She would eventually cut more than one hundred sides for the label. Initially, Brown recorded mainly ballads and jazz standards. Her first #1 R&B hit, “Teardrops from My Eyes,” marked a firm turn in her style toward the “hot” rhythmic style for which she became famous. Hits including “5-10-15 Hours” (1952) and “Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean” (1953) are arguably among the first of the rock and roll era. Her first major crossover success came with “Lucky Lips” (1957), which made it to the Billboard Top 100 list. She recalls in her autobiography that the success of that song plus her involvement with rock and roll “supershows” such as Alan Freed’s was that “I sang ‘Lucky Lips’ seven times in one day. And nothing else! It was a fiasco, a rock ‘n’ roll circus, but it was a huge business.”

And absolutely do not miss this Spotify playlist compiled by Branstetter: Women in Rock & Roll’s First Wave Sampler.

Photo Requests from Solitary Confinement

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 10, 2019

Photo Requests from Solitary is a project that takes photo requests from prisoners being held in solitary confinement and invites volunteer photographers to make the images for them. For prisoners being tortured with long-term solitary stays, photos can be a lifeline to the outside world.

They spend at least 22 hours a day in a cell that measures on average of 6 x 9 feet, either in supermax prisons or in segregation units in other prisons and jails. Meals usually come through slots in the solid steel doors of their cells, as do any communications with prison staff. Exercise is usually alone, in a cage or concrete pen, for no more than one hour a day. People in solitary may be denied contact visits, telephone calls, television, reading materials, and art supplies.

The goal of PFRS is to fulfill each request to exact specifications for the person who requested it, with images that — through some combination of form, content, composition, design, and/or sheer commitment — are compelling enough that someone would want to return to them for repeated viewing. (People in solitary are sharply limited in the numbers of photographs they can have, so every image is important.)

An inmate named Sergio requested:

I would like a picture of the Mexican flag at sunrise, at the Zocalo, in the capitol of Mexico City; while the sun is rising and it hits the Mexican flag un-furled, with the Zocalo in the foreground.

And photographer Nica Ross delivered this image:

Solitary Photos

Another inmate, Dan requested:

I would like a photograph of a female in black leather pants with the same material stitches but a different color like hot pink all which that can define her figures with a setting of orange and blue in the sky posted up next to a benz (powder blue) in a park black female with hazel eyes.

A photographer named Jason Altaan submitted this:

Solitary Photos

David requested:

My photo request is simple, yet, very poignant for me. I’d very much appreciate any photos of fallen autumn leaves. I have no particular preference of area or location; just any scene focusing on the beauty of autumn leaves, (which, as you know, we do not have access to in the concrete box that is deemed as “yard” here.)

Several photographers responded, including Gerard Gaskin:

Solitary Photos

If you look at the site, there are currently many more unfilled requests than requests with submissions. Current requests include “first lady Michelle Obama planting vegetables in the White House garden”, “police being arrested by regular citizens”, “sunrise over the Sahara”, “beautiful women laughing and playing volley ball on the beach in ‘free Raul’ t-shirts”, and “wise old man with an angry expression”. Submitting a photo is easy…you can upload right from the website.

Doreen St. Félix wrote more about the project for the New Yorker.

A Demonstration of 16 Levels of Piano Playing Complexity

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 16, 2019

Watch, listen, and learn as pianist and composer Nahre Sol plays what you might think of as a very simple song, Happy Birthday, in 16 increasing levels of complexity. She starts out using a single finger and ends by playing an original composition that seemingly requires 12 or 13 fingers to play. This gave me, a musical dunce, a tiny glimpse into what a composer does.

Sol has a popular YouTube channel where she posts videos of her musical explorations, including Improvising in the Style of Different Classical Composers and The Blues, As Digested by a Classical Musician. (via open culture)

Is Your Phone’s Electromagnetic Pollution Making You Ill?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 08, 2019

According this video by Kurzgesagt (and their extensive list of sources), the answer to that question for now is: no, our electronic devices are not causing long- or short-term health problems in the brains or bodies of people who use them.

Electrosmog is one of those things that is a bit vague and hard to grasp. When personal health is involved, feelings clash extra hard with scientific facts and there is a lot of misinformation and exaggeration out there. On the other hand, some people are really worried and distressed by the electricity that surrounds them. And just to wave this off is not kind or helpful.

While there is still a lot of researching being done on the dangers of constant weak electromagnetic radiation, it is important to stress that so far, we have no reason to believe that our devices harm us. Other than… well… spending too much time with them.

Posters of STEM Role Models

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 11, 2019

Stem Heroes

Stem Heroes

The folks behind the Nevertheless podcast commissioned a set of seven posters of STEM role models, people who have made significant contributions to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The posters are free to download and print out in eight different languages (including English, Spanish, and Simplified Chinese).

Distorted US Map of Where Candidates Campaigned in 2016

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 26, 2019

Because of the Electoral College and the way the primary system works in the US, presidential candidates end up spending a disproportionate amount of time is so-called “battleground states” like Pennsylvania, Ohio, and our dysfunctional friend Florida and primary states like Iowa and New Hampshire and less time where most of the US population actually lives (NY, CA, TX, IL, and in cities). The campaign for the National Popular Vote has produced a map that shows where the candidates did campaign events in 2016:

Map Campaign Time

Because of these state winner-take-all statutes, presidential candidates have no reason to pay attention to the issues of concern to voters in states where the statewide outcome is a foregone conclusion. In 2012, as shown on the map, all of the 253 general-election campaign events were in just 12 states, and two-thirds were in just 4 states (Ohio, Florida, Virginia, and Iowa). Thirty-eight states were completely ignored.

And here’s the map for the 2012 election, which is even more extreme:

Map Campaign Time

State winner-take-all statutes adversely affect governance. “Battleground” states receive 7% more federal grants than “spectator” states, twice as many presidential disaster declarations, more Superfund enforcement exemptions, and more No Child Left Behind law exemptions.

Also, because of state winner-take-all statutes, five of our 45 Presidents have come into office without having won the most popular votes nationwide. The 2000 and 2016 elections are the most recent examples of elections in which a second-place candidate won the White House. Near-misses are also common under the current state-by-state winner-take-all method of awarding electoral votes. A shift of 59,393 votes in Ohio in 2004 would have elected John Kerry despite President Bush’s nationwide lead of over 3,000,000 votes.

How [Points In A Circle] All This Could Be Different

posted by Tim Carmody   Aug 19, 2019

Gizmodo has a pretty cool theme this week: the Alternate Internet. Not, like, the internet where they play Stone Temple Pilots b-sides — although, cool idea. No, like, the internet of alternate universes, different pasts and futures, where things went differently and like, Yahoo doesn’t ruin all it touches. That’s my kind of party.

Social Media Outlines.jpg

The story on alternate social media networks offers a nice media archaeology of all these sites; how they were covered and explained in the moment. Check out this explanation of Friendster in SF Weekly from August 13, 2003:

“Your induction into Friendster starts out innocently enough: You receive an e-mail invitation from a friend. It doesn’t cost anything to join, so you give it a whirl. You answer questions about your profession, favorite books, movies, music, and other interests, then upload a digital photo of yourself.

Thumbnail versions of your friends’ photos appear on your profile page like a collection of trading cards. Clicking on their pictures takes you to their pages, where you can see all of their friends, and so on. Even with only a few friends, you find that — through friends of friends — you suddenly have access to a social network of thousands of people.”

It’s a pretty common story what happened to all these sites; either they took the money, and got mismanaged, driving off whatever users they had in the first place, or they didn’t take the money, which meant they could never stay usable enough to support all of the users they were taking on.

A few other common threads: a fear of porn, other lewd behavior, and Yik Yak -style harassment. In short, it’s hard to make a social media site actually go big. You need money, a vanilla rep, ruthlessness, and more money. In the end, Facebook really was in the right place at the right time.

The one thing this doesn’t do is some deep left-field speculating, like, what if Google had seen what it had in Blogger to create Facebook before Facebook? Or Yahoo had figured it out with version X of whatever asset Yahoo had? There are social networks, real or latent, bigger than the social media graveyeard — some of the pieces are still here.

Le Corbuffet

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 20, 2019

Le Corbuffet was a series of performances by artist Esther Choi that sought to bring together food with notable artists and designers, along with a healthy dose of puns. A cookbook based on the project will be out in October: Le Corbuffet: Edible Art and Design Classics. Here’s the page for Quiche Haring:

Le Corbuffet

Other dishes include Rhubarbara Kruger Compote, Shigeru Banchan Two Ways, Yokonomiyaki, Rem Brûlée, and the Robert Rauschenburger. Here’s the full menu/table of contents:

Le Corbuffet

Says Choi about where the idea for the project came from:

In 2014, I stumbled across an elaborate menu crafted by László Moholy-Nagy. The multi-panelled bill of fare was for a dinner held in tribute to the Bauhaus founder and architect, Walter Gropius, in 1937. Inspired by the menu for Gropius’s dinner, and the questions that it raised about the elitism of cultural production, I decided to conduct a social experiment a year later.

Reading Krazy Kat in the Public Domain

posted by Tim Carmody   Jul 12, 2019

1922-11-26-krazy-kat.jpg

Krazy Kat is a legendary comic strip by cartoonist George Herriman. It was published from 1913 to 1944. This means that some of the earliest strips are now in the public domain; all you need is to find a decent quality image.

Enter Joel Franusic, a Krazy Kat enthusiast who wrote up some code to scan newspaper archives, confirm that the images were indeed Krazy Kat comics, and download and present the images he found. Here’s Joel:

After becoming a little obsessed with Krazy Kat, I was very disappointed to see many of the books I wanted were incredibly expensive. For example “Krazy & Ignatz: The Complete Sunday Strips 1916-1924” was selling on Amazon for nearly $600 and “Krazy & Ignatz 1922-1924: At Last My Drim Of Love Has Come True” was selling for nearly $90.

At some point, I realized that the copyright for many of the comics that I was looking for has expired and that these public domain comics were likely available in online newspaper archives.

So, driven a desire to obtain the “unobtainable” and mostly by curiosity to see if it was possible, I set out to see if I could find public domain Krazy Kat Sunday comics in online newspaper archives.

As you can see in the “Comics” section of this site, it is possible to find Krazy Kat comics in online newspaper archives and I’ve made all of the comics I could find viewable on this web page.

The most striking thing about these comics is their size: full and half pages of broadsheets. The second most striking thing, for this fan, at least, is the clear influence on Calvin and Hobbes, in style, pacing, and overall feel. It’s not the user-friendliest way to dive into a back catalog of comics, but it is a remarkable and remarkably fun project.

The Best Supermarket Beer

posted by Tim Carmody   Jul 26, 2019

This is a fun one; over at The Takeout, they did a fantasy draft where each of the writers picked his/her favorite supermarket beer (i.e., a beer widely available at a supermarket or convenience store).

Number one overall is a favorite beer of mine: Negra Modelo.

Supermarket Beer.png

The back and forth here is nice:

John Carruthers: Good. I’ve had #1 since two seconds after you sent this topic to me.

The very first pick, and my face of the franchise, is Negra Modelo.

Kate Bernot: That would have been in my top 3. Damn.

JC: I’m not real hot on regular Modelo, but man if the dark version isn’t almost perfect 7-Eleven beer

It’s light enough to be refreshing, but has a little more character than a lot of macro beers to keep you interested

It’s a sort of Vienna Lager, owing to the German brewing influence on Mexico’s beer culture

KB: Also a great food beer.

JC: It’s great with the free chips and salsa at a sit-down Mexican or Tex-Mex place

Honestly my idea of “I just want to sit down and order a beer and have it get here fast” perfection

Bonus: the folks at The Takeout interviewed some of their favorite brewers to find out what THEY liked to get when they’re feeling cheap and breezy. Their answers might surprise you!

Serendipity v algorithmy

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Jul 29, 2019

I’ve always liked the concept of serendipity, even more since being involved in the early days of coworking, where we used the term “accelerated serendipity” quite a bit. The idea that, through the creation of a welcoming space and a diversified and thriving community, you could accelerate (or concentrate) “the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.” (Oxford English Dictionary)

So it’s probably a mix of Baader-Meinhof effect and well, serendipity, that these two articles grabbed my attention. In The Serendipity Engine, Gianfranco Chicco explains that he quit his job and will use the time to purposefully built up serendipity, seek fields he knows little about, learn new things, read an eclectic mix of books, be open to meeting strangers, visit new cities, etc. “Slowing down and renewing the commitment to a series of personal rituals.”

The Serendipity Engine works just like an internal combustion engine and, like with a high performance muscle car, you need to feed it with the right kind of propellant. In this analogy, the fuel is made of different activities, skills, and conversations. In my case I select them so that they are deliberately out of or tangential to my current professional domain. The engine also requires maintenance and fine tuning via iterations and changes to the activities or skills I become involved with.

He also connects his engine vision with Steven B. Johnson’s use of the concept of the adjacent possible, describing how different elements and ideas can be combined in various ways to create new elements and ideas.

The Serendipity Engine operates in a similar way, adding new stimulus into my life allow new and unexpected things to emerge.

Dan Cohen on the other hand, realized that he’s missing serendipity in the redesign of The New York Times app. Between the algorithmic “For you” tab and the pseudo old-school but very siloed “Sections,” he feels that he can’t bump into something new, he’s either presented with typecasted suggestions or enclosed in sections that don’t flow together, drawing you in from one to the next, like actual old-school paper newspapers did. For the sake of engagement, the NYT forfeits serendipity.

The engagement of For You—which joins the countless For Yous that now dominate our online media landscape—is the enemy of serendipity, which is the chance encounter that leads to a longer, richer interaction with a topic or idea. […]

Engagement isn’t a form of serendipity through algorithmically personalized feeds; it’s the repeated satisfaction of Present You with your myopically current loves and interests, at the expense of Future You, who will want new curiosities, hobbies, and experiences.

In a related idea, Kyle Chayka mourns some cancelled Netflix shows which were never presented to him because viewers are only shown a supposedly algorithmic homepage on Netflix (and elsewhere). In reality, that selection is corrupted by the business incentives of the company, pushing some shows to us, independent of our interests.

Sometimes there’s an algorithmic mismatch: your recommendations don’t line up with your actual desires or they match them too late for you to participate in the Cultural Moment. It induces a dysphoria or a feeling of misunderstanding—you don’t see yourself in the mirror that Netflix shows you.

One way to interpret all of this is that, even though we are supposed to be well served by algorithms, we end up not only missing some randomness, but we even have to actively seek it, busting our bubbles and building our own versions of Chicco’s engine. Or, as Chayka says below—and likely one of the reasons you are reading this blog:

Often we have to turn to other sources to get a good enough guide, however. Journalists, critics, and human curators are still good at telling us what we like, and have less incentive to follow the finances of the company delivering the content to us.


Found in the engine article; did you know that the word serendipity comes from the the Persian story of The Three Princes of Serendip? And that Serendip is one of the old names of Sri Lanka?

What do you care about?

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Jul 31, 2019

Somewhat as a continuation to the previous post on journalism, which included a call to “look at people and how they use the technology, not just the tech itself.” I’d like to draw your attention to this post by Doug Belshaw which can be summarized as saying that the solution to the problem we have with FOMO, notifications, and busyness might simply be to think of the human (you) first. To be purposeful in your choices, to determine what you need, to focus on how best to answer those choices and needs.

Know who you are, what you care about, and the difference you’re trying to make in the world.

You should read the whole thing, but I’m including it here in part for this great list Belshaw extracted from a Kathy Sierra post from bak in “2006, in the mists of internet time,” The myth of keeping up.

The Version Museum

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 15, 2019

The mission of Version Museum is to record and present what the interfaces of software and websites looked like, from their earliest versions until now. The site’s tagline is “a visual history of your favorite technology”. Here’s the history of Facebook; an early screenshot:

Version Museum

The first version of Microsoft’s Excel for Windows:

Version Museum

Adobe Photoshop:

Version Museum

Internet Explorer (screenshot of the 1.0 version displaying a circa-1995 Yahoo! homepage):

Version Museum

The collection isn’t huge, but the father/son team behind it hits the high points, including Amazon, New York Times, OS X, and iTunes.

Update: One of the Facebook screenshots that the Version Museum is using included Brian Moore’s phone number and other personal information. Per Moore’s general request, I have blurred out that information and I hope the museum does the same. (thx, all)

One 8-Second Sample Yields 800 Radically Different Songs

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 24, 2019

Last year, music software company Ableton gave music producers a challenge: take an 8-second sample of audio and make a track out of it in just 12 hours. They received almost 800 submissions, which you can listen to here. At the company’s conference, three producers working under the same conditions debuted their tracks onstage and talked about their creative process; here’s a highlight reel:

Included in a blog post about the challenge are several playlists that show the common approaches to sampling, including the use of acoustic instruments, using the sample as texture, and of course using the sample as percussion.

While listening back to this huge volume of material we noticed something interesting; above and beyond each track’s individual sound and overall character, we were able to make out a few trends and tendencies in the ways that people were working with the source material. And so we’ve assembled a few playlists with prime examples of some of the main approaches we were hearing.

You can watch the entire panel here. And if you’d like to try your hand at making your own, the sample can be found here. (via digg)

Climate Change Is a Humanitarian Crisis

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 24, 2019

From The New Humanitarian, a mid-year update on 10 humanitarian trends and crises to watch in 2019 (here’s their initial post). The #1 item on the list, deservedly so, is climate displacement:

Vulnerable communities around the world have long known what the aid sector is just beginning to articulate: climate change is a humanitarian issue, and its fingerprints are all over today’s emergencies.

Climate shocks and disasters continued to fuel displacement around the globe through the first half of the year, from tropical cyclones to slow-burning droughts. Pacific Island nations were on high alert early in the year as storm after storm swept through the region in quick succession. Conflict is as dangerous as ever in Afghanistan, yet the number of people displaced by drought and floods in recent months is on par with the numbers fleeing war. Drought has left 45 million in need in eastern, southern, and the Horn of Africa. This, along with conflict, has spurred new displacement in countries like Somalia, where at least 49,000 people have fled their homes so far this year, according to UNHCR. The UN’s refugee agency warns of “growing climate-related displacement” - a sign of the continuing shift in the aid sector as humanitarian-focused agencies increasingly underline the links between climate change and crises.

Our rapidly changing climate has either caused or exacerbated several of the other crises on the list — Syria, Ethiopia, infectious diseases, the global refugee population. This isn’t stuff that’s going to happen…it is happening, it has happened. And it’s going to get worse. (via tmn)

Highlights from In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 18, 2019

You may know of Erik Larson from his excellent book on the 1893 World’s Fair, The Devil in the White City. Larson’s In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin was published in 2011 and tells the story of William Dodd, America’s first ambassador to Nazi Germany, roughly from the time of his appointment in 1933 to the events of the Night of the Long Knives, the July 1934 purge that consolidated Adolf Hitler’s power.

Reading it, I couldn’t help but notice several parallels between what was happening in 1933 & 1934 as Hitler worked to establish an authoritarian government in Germany and some of the actions of our current government and its President here in the US. If you think that sort of statement is hyperbolic, I urge you to read on and remember that there was a time when Nazi Germany and its rulers seemed to its citizenry and to the world to be, sure, a little extreme in their methods, fiery in their rhetoric, and engaged in some small actions against certain groups of people, but ultimately harmless…until they weren’t and then it was too late to do anything.

Here’s everything I highlighted on my Kindle presented with some light commentary…much of it speaks for itself and the parallels are obvious. I apologize (slightly) for the length, but this book provided a very interesting look at the Nazi regime before they became the world’s canonical example of evil.

Page 19 (The practiced good cop/bad cop of the tyrant.):

And Hitler himself had begun to seem like a more temperate actor than might have been predicted given the violence that had swept Germany earlier in the year. On May 10, 1933, the Nazi Party burned unwelcome books — Einstein, Freud, the brothers Mann, and many others — in great pyres throughout Germany, but seven days later Hitler declared himself committed to peace and went so far as to pledge complete disarmament if other countries followed suit. The world swooned with relief.

Page 28 (There is much in the book about anti-Semitic attitudes in the US in the 1930s and the indifference to what was happening to the Jews in Germany.):

But Roosevelt understood that the political costs of any public condemnation of Nazi persecution or any obvious effort to ease the entry of Jews into America were likely to be immense, because American political discourse had framed the Jewish problem as an immigration problem. Germany’s persecution of Jews raised the specter of a vast influx of Jewish refugees at a time when America was reeling from the Depression. The isolationists added another dimension to the debate by insisting, as did Hitler’s government, that Nazi oppression of Germany’s Jews was a domestic German affair and thus none of America’s business.

Page 29 (After reading the book, I couldn’t help but think that if Japan had not bombed Pearl Harbor in late 1941, the US might not have entered the war against Germany and may have gone down an isolationist path that led towards fascism.):

Indeed, anti-immigration sentiment in America would remain strong into 1938, when a Fortune poll reported that some two-thirds of those surveyed favored keeping refugees out of the country.

Page 38:

When the conversation turned to Germany’s persecution of Jews, Colonel House urged Dodd to do all he could “to ameliorate Jewish sufferings” but added a caveat: “the Jews should not be allowed to dominate economic or intellectual life in Berlin as they have done for a long time. “In this, Colonel House expressed a sentiment pervasive in America, that Germany’s Jews were at least partly responsible for their own troubles.

Page 40 (This is in reference to Dodd’s daughter Martha, who was 24 when he was named ambassador and accompanied him to Berlin.):

She knew little of international politics and by her own admission did not appreciate the gravity of what was occurring in Germany. She saw Hitler as “a clown who looked like Charlie Chaplin.” Like many others in America at this time and elsewhere in the world, she could not imagine him lasting very long or being taken seriously.

Page 41:

In this she reflected the attitude of a surprising proportion of other Americans, as captured in the 1930s by practitioners of the then-emerging art of public-opinion polling. One poll found that 41 percent of those contacted believed Jews had “too much power in the United States”; another found that one-fifth wanted to “drive Jews out of the United States.” (A poll taken decades in the future, in 2009, would find that the total of Americans who believed Jews had too much power had shrunk to 13 percent.)

Page 54 (The “if it’s not happening to me, it must not be happening” response to injustice.):

When Martha left her hotel she witnessed no violence, saw no one cowering in fear, felt no oppression. The city was a delight.

Page 56 (Read more about Coordination):

Beneath the surface, however, Germany had undergone a rapid and sweeping revolution that reached deep into the fabric of daily life. It had occurred quietly and largely out of easy view. At its core was a government campaign called Gleichschaltung — meaning “Coordination” — to bring citizens, government ministries, universities, and cultural and social institutions in line with National Socialist beliefs and attitudes.

Page 56 (This paragraph, and the one that follows below, about “self-coordination” was one of the most chilling I read…I had to put the book down for a bit after this.):

“Coordination” occurred with astonishing speed, even in sectors of life not directly targeted by specific laws, as Germans willingly placed themselves under the sway of Nazi rule, a phenomenon that became known as Selbstgleichschaltung, or “self-coordination.” Change came to Germany so quickly and across such a wide front that German citizens who left the country for business or travel returned to find everything around them altered, as if they were characters in a horror movie who come back to find that people who once were their friends, clients, patients, and customers have become different in ways hard to discern.

Page 57:

The Gestapo’s reputation for omniscience and malevolence arose from a confluence of two phenomena: first, a political climate in which merely criticizing the government could get one arrested, and second, the existence of a populace eager not just to step in line and become coordinated but also to use Nazi sensitivities to satisfy individual needs and salve jealousies. One study of Nazi records found that of a sample of 213 denunciations, 37 percent arose not from heartfelt political belief but from private conflicts, with the trigger often breathtakingly trivial. In October 1933, for example, the clerk at a grocery store turned in a cranky customer who had stubbornly insisted on receiving three pfennigs in change. The clerk accused her of failure to pay taxes. Germans denounced one another with such gusto that senior Nazi officials urged the populace to be more discriminating as to what circumstances might justify a report to the police. Hitler himself acknowledged, in a remark to his minister of justice, “we are living at present in a sea of denunciations and human meanness.”

Page 58:

“Hardly anyone thought that the threats against the Jews were meant seriously,” wrote Carl Zuckmayer, a Jewish writer. “Even many Jews considered the savage anti-Semitic rantings of the Nazis merely a propaganda device, a line the Nazis would drop as soon as they won governmental power and were entrusted with public responsibilities.” Although a song popular among Storm Troopers bore the title “When Jewish Blood Spurts from My Knife,” by the time of the Dodds’ arrival violence against Jews had begun to wane. Incidents were sporadic, isolated. “It was easy to be reassured,” wrote historian John Dippel in a study of why many Jews decided to stay in Germany. “On the surface, much of daily life remained as it had been before Hitler came to power. Nazi attacks on the Jews were like summer thunderstorms that came and went quickly, leaving an eerie calm.”

Page 66 (LOL, a “moderate nationalist regime”):

Neurath saw himself as a sobering force in the government and believed he could help control Hitler and his party. As one peer put it, “He was trying to train the Nazis and turn them into really serviceable partners in a moderate nationalist regime.”

Page 68:

It was a problem Messersmith had noticed time and again. Those who lived in Germany and who paid attention understood that something fundamental had changed and that a darkness had settled over the landscape. Visitors failed to see it.

Page 81:

Dodd reinterated his commitment to objectivity and understanding in an August 12 letter to Roosevelt, in which he wrote that while he did not approve of Germany’s treatment of Jews or Hitler’s drive to restore the country’s military power, “fundamentally, I believe a people has a right to govern itself and that other peoples must exercise patience even when cruelties and injustices are done. Give men a chance to try their schemes.”

Page 84 (Yeah, where did all those nice houses come from?):

The Dodds found many properties to choose from, though at first they failed to ask themselves why so many grand old mansions were available for lease so fully and luxuriously furnished, with ornate tables and chairs, gleaming pianos, and rare vases, maps, and books still in place.

Page 85 (Dodd’s Jewish landlord, who lived in the attic, rented his house to Dodd at a significant discount to gain protection from state persecution of Jews.):

Panofsky was sufficiently wealthy that he did not need the income from the lease, but he had seen enough since Hitler’s appointment as chancellor to know that no Jew, no matter how prominent, was safe from Nazi persecution. He offered 27a to the new ambassador with the express intention of gaining for himself and his mother an enhanced level of physical protection, calculating that surely even the Storm Troopers would not risk the international outcry likely to arise from an attack on the house shared by the American ambassador.

Page 94 (Nazi forces would often beat people who failed to “Heil Hitler!”, even non-Germans. This order did not stop the beatings.):

The next day, Saturday, August 19, a senior government official notified Vice Consul Raymond Geist that an order had been issued to the SA and SS stating that foreigners were not expected to give or return the Hitler salute.

Page 97:

She too had been shaken by the episode, but she did not let it tarnish her overall view of the country and the revival of spirit caused by the Nazi revolution. “I tried in a self-conscious way to justify the action of the Nazis, to insist that we should not condemn without knowing the whole story.”

Page 105:

Messersmith met with Dodd and asked whether the time had come for the State Department to issue a definitive warning against travel in Germany. Such a warning, both men knew, would have a devastating effect on Nazi prestige. Dodd favored restraint. From the perspective of his role as ambassador, he found these attacks more nuisance than dire emergency and in fact tried whenever possible to limit press attention.

Page 108:

Göring too seemed a relatively benign character, at least as compared with Hitler. Sigrid Schultz found him the most tolerable of the senior Nazis because at least “you felt you could be in the same room with the man,” whereas Hitler, she said, “kind of turned my stomach.” One of the American embassy’s officers, John C. White, said years later, “I was always rather favorably impressed by Göring. … If any Nazi was likeable, I suppose he came nearest to it.”

Page 115:

Martha’s love life took a dark turn when she was introduced to Rudolf Diels, the young chief of the Gestapo. He moved with ease and confidence, yet unlike Putzi Hanfstaengl, who invaded a room, he entered unobtrusively, seeping in like a malevolent fog.

Page 117:

Yet under Diels the Gestapo played a complex role. In the weeks following Hitler’s appointment as chancellor, Diels’s Gestapo acted as a curb against a wave of violence by the SA, during which Storm Troopers dragged thousands of victims to their makeshift prisons. Diels led raids to close them and found prisoners in appalling conditions, beaten and garishly bruised, limbs broken, near starvation, “like a mass of inanimate clay,” he wrote, “absurd puppets with lifeless eyes, burning with fever, their bodies sagging.”

Page 118:

During a gathering of foreign correspondents at Putzi Hanfstaengl’s home, Diels told the reporters, “The value of the SA and the SS, seen from my viewpoint of inspector-general responsible for the suppression of subversive tendencies and activities, lies in the fact that they spread terror. That is a wholesome thing.”

Page 130 (“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” -Maya Angelou):

Dodd said, “You cannot expect world opinion of your conduct to moderate so long as eminent leaders like Hitler and Goebbels announce from platforms, as in Nuremberg, that all Jews must be wiped off the earth.”

Page 134 (“A kind of daily suspense” is definitely a tool in the political toolbox today. The news media practices this as well.):

Klemperer detected a certain “hysteria of language” in the new flood of decrees, alarms, and intimidation — “This perpetual threatening with the death penalty!” — and in strange, inexplicable episodes of paranoid excess, like the recent nationwide search. In all this Klemperer saw a deliberate effort to generate a kind of daily suspense, “copied from American cinema and thrillers,” that helped keep people in line. He also gauged it to be a manifestation of insecurity among those in power.

Page 135:

Persecution of Jews continued in ever more subtle and wide-ranging form as the process of Gleichschaltung advanced. In September the government established the Reich Chamber of Culture, under the control of Goebbels, to bring musicians, actors, painters, writers, reporters, and filmmakers into ideological and, especially, racial alignment. In early October the government enacted the Editorial Law, which banned Jews from employment by newspapers and publishers and was to take effect on January 1, 1934. No realm was too petty: The Ministry of Posts ruled that henceforth when trying to spell a word over the telephone a caller could no longer say “D as in David,” because “David” was a Jewish name. The caller had to use “Dora.” “Samuel” became “Siegfried.” And so forth.

Page 136 (George Messersmith was the head of the US Consulate in Germany from 1930 to 1934 and was one of the few people at the time who properly diagnosed the Nazi threat. In a 1933 letter to the US State Department, he called Hitler and his cronies “psychopathic cases” that would “ordinarily be receiving treatment somewhere”.):

Messersmith proposed that one solution might be “forcible intervention from the outside.” But he warned that such an action would have to come soon. “If there were intervention by other powers now, probably about half of the population would still look upon it as deliverance,” he wrote. “If it is delayed too long, such intervention might meet a practically united Germany.” One fact was certain, Messersmith believed: Germany now posed a real and grave threat to the world. He called it “the sore spot which may disturb our peace for years to come.”

Page 148 (On a speech Dodd gave in Berlin in October 1933 in front of an audience that included Joseph Goebbels.):

He gave the talk the innocuous title “Economic Nationalism.” By citing the rise and fall of Caesar and episodes from French, English, and U.S. history, Dodd sought to warn of the dangers “of arbitrary and minority” government without ever actually mentioning contemporary Germany. It was not the kind of thing a traditional diplomat might have undertaken, but Dodd saw it as simply fulfilling Roosevelt’s original mandate.

Page 149 (The reaction to Dodd’s speech):

“When the thing was over about every German present showed and expressed a kind of approval which revealed the thought: ‘You have said what all of us have been denied the right to say.’” An official of the Deutsche Bank called to express his own agreement. He told Dodd, “Silent, but anxious Germany, above all the business and University Germany, is entirely with you and most thankful that you are here and can say what we can not say.”

Page 154 (Hanfstaengl, a confidant of Hitler, tried to set up Hitler with Martha Dodd as a moderating influence.):

Putzi Hanfstaengl knew of Martha’s various romantic relationships, but by the fall of 1933 he had begun to imagine for her a new partner. Having come to feel that Hitler would be a much more reasonable leader if only he fell in love, Hanfstaengl appointed himself matchmaker.

Page 154 (Shocker that Hitler was controlling and abusive when it came to women.):

Hitler liked women, but more as stage decoration than as sources of intimacy and love. There had been talk of numerous liaisons, typically with women much younger than he — in one case a sixteen-year-old named Maria Reiter. One woman, Eva Braun, was twenty-three years his junior and had been an intermittent companion since 1929. So far, however, Hitler’s only all-consuming affair had been with his young niece, Geli Raubal. She was found shot to death in Hitler’s apartment, his revolver nearby. The most likely explanation was suicide, her means of escaping Hitler’s jealous and oppressive affection — his “clammy possessiveness, “as historian Ian Kershaw put it.

Page 157 (The banality of evil…):

Apart from his mustache and his eyes, the features of his face were indistinct and unimpressive, as if begun in clay but never fired. Recalling his first impression of Hitler, Hanfstaengl wrote, “Hitler looked like a suburban hairdresser on his day off.”

Page 159 (On Dodd’s meeting with Hitler):

Though the session had been difficult and strange, Dodd nonetheless left the chancellery feeling convinced that Hitler was sincere about wanting peace.

Page 159:

“We must keep in mind, I believe, that when Hitler says anything he for the moment convinces himself that it is true. He is basically sincere; but he is at the same time a fanatic.”

Page 161 (Martha Dodd met Hitler once briefly):

At this vantage, she wrote, the mustache “didn’t seem as ridiculous as it appeared in pictures — in fact, I scarcely noticed it.” What she did notice were his eyes. She had heard elsewhere that there was something piercing and intense about his gaze, and now, immediately, she understood. “Hitler’s eyes,” she wrote, “were startling and unforgettable — they seemed pale blue in color, were intense, unwavering, hypnotic.”

Page 165 (I didn’t highlight this, but at several points in the book, officials from the US and other countries acknowledged that they also had a “Jewish problem”, i.e. the Jews had too much power, money, and influence.):

Dodd believed that one artifact of past excess — “another curious hangover,” he told Phillips — was that his embassy had too many personnel, in particular, too many who were Jewish. “We have six or eight members of the ‘chosen race’ here who serve in most useful but conspicuous positions,” he wrote. Several were his best workers, he acknowledged, but he feared that their presence on his staff impaired the embassy’s relationship with Hitler’s government and thus impeded the day-to-day operation of the embassy.

Page 186 (Again with the belief that you can control an irrational & psychopathic nationalist.):

Papen was a protege of President Hindenburg, who affectionately called him Franzchen, or Little Franz. With Hindenburg in his camp, Papen and fellow intriguers had imagined they could control Hitler. “I have Hindenburg’s confidence,” Papen once crowed. “Within two months we will have pushed Hitler so far into a corner that he’ll squeak.” It was possibly the greatest miscalculation of the twentieth century. As historian John Wheeler-Bennett put it, “Not until they had riveted the fetters upon their own wrists did they realize who indeed was captive and who captor.”

Page 189 (Relevant to this are Hannah Arendt’s thoughts on lies. See also Donald Trump’s “fanciful thinking” about 9/11 and his continuing condemnation of the Central Park Five.):

An odd kind of fanciful thinking seemed to have bedazzled Germany, to the highest levels of government. Earlier in the year, for example, Göring had claimed with utter sobriety that three hundred German Americans had been murdered in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia at the start of the past world war.

Page 213 (Subtle oppression is still oppression and sets the stage for the later acceptance of overt & violent oppression.):

But Schweitzer understood this was in large part an illusion. Overt violence against Jews did appear to have receded, but a more subtle oppression had settled in its place. “What our friend had failed to see from outward appearances is the tragedy that is befalling daily the job holders who are gradually losing their positions,” Schweitzer wrote. He gave the example of Berlin’s department stores, typically owned and staffed by Jews. “While on the one hand one can observe a Jewish department store crowded as usual with non-Jews and Jews alike, one can observe in the very next department store the total absence of a single Jewish employee.”

Page 223 (Even rumors are enough to change behavior when dealing with an authoritarian regime.):

A common story had begun to circulate: One man telephones another and in the course of their conversation happens to ask, “How is Uncle Adolf?” Soon afterward the secret police appear at his door and insist that he prove that he really does have an Uncle Adolf and that the question was not in fact a coded reference to Hitler. Germans grew reluctant to stay in communal ski lodges, fearing they might talk in their sleep. They postponed surgeries because of the lip-loosening effects of anesthetic.

Page 225:

You lingered at street corners a beat or two longer to see if the faces you saw at the last corner had now turned up at this one. In the most casual of circumstances you spoke carefully and paid attention to those around you in a way you never had before. Berliners came to practice what became known as “the German glance” — der deutsche Blick — a quick look in all directions when encountering a friend or acquaintance on the street.

Page 226:

An American professor who was a friend of the Dodds, Peter Olden, wrote to Dodd on January 30, 1934, to tell him he had received a message from his brother-in-law in Germany in which the man described a code he planned to use in all further correspondence. The word “rain,” in any context, would mean he had been placed in a concentration camp. The word “snow” would mean he was being tortured. “It seems absolutely unbelievable,” Olden told Dodd. “If you think that this is really something in the nature of a bad joke, I wonder if you could mention so in a letter to me.”

Page 229 (Hitler had been saying this shit since the 1920s and no one took him seriously.):

First Hitler spoke of broader matters. Germany, he declared, needed more room in which to expand, “more living space for our surplus population. “And Germany, he said, must be ready to take it. “The Western powers will never yield this vital space to us, “Hitler said.”That is why a series of decisive blows may become necessary - first in the West, and then in the East.”

Page 241 (A reminder that the US was also treating millions of people as second-class citizens at this time.):

After studying the resolution, Judge Moore concluded that it could only put Roosevelt “in an embarrassing position.” Moore explained: “If he declined to comply with the request, he would be subjected to considerable criticism. On the other hand, if he complied with it he would not only incur the resentment of the German Government, but might be involved in a very acrimonious discussion with that Government which conceivably might, for example, ask him to explain why the negroes of this country do not fully enjoy the right of suffrage; why the lynching of negroes in Senator Tydings’ State and other States is not prevented or severely punished; and how the anti-Semitic feeling in the United States, which unfortunately seems to be growing, is not checked.”

Page 265:

He reached into his pocket, and pulled out a small bag of candy fruit drops. Lutschbonbons. Bella had loved them as a child.” Have one,” Hanfstaengl said. “They are made especially for the Führer.” She chose one. Just before she popped it into her mouth she saw that it was embossed with a swastika. Even fruit drops had been “coordinated.”

Page 270 (Wow, “inner emigration”.):

In the months following Hitler’s ascension to chancellor, the German writers who were not outright Nazis had quickly divided into two camps — those who believed it was immoral to remain in Germany and those who felt the best strategy was to stay put, recede as much as possible from the world, and wait for the collapse of the Hitler regime. The latter approach became known as “inner emigration,” and was the path Fallada had chosen.

Page 273:

Even so, Fallada made more and more concessions, eventually allowing Goebbels to script the ending of his next novel, Iron Gustav, which depicted the hardships of life during the past world war. Fallada saw this as a prudent concession. “I do not like grand gestures,” he wrote; “being slaughtered before the tyrant’s throne, senselessly, to the benefit of no one and to the detriment of my children, that is not my way.” He recognized, however, that his various capitulations took a toll on his writing. He wrote to his mother that he was not satisfied with his work. “I cannot act as I want to — if I want to stay alive. And so a fool gives less than he has.” Other writers, in exile, watched with disdain as Fallada and his fellow inner emigrants surrendered to government tastes and demands. Thomas Mann, who lived abroad throughout the Hitler years, later wrote their epitaph: “It may be superstitious belief, but in my eyes, any books which could be printed at all in Germany between 1933 and 1945 are worse than worthless and not objects one wishes to touch. A stench of blood and shame attaches to them. They should all be pulped.”

Page 279 (Nazi leaders had already begun using their power to amass opulent wealth.):

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Göring said, “in a few minutes you will witness a unique display of nature at work.” He gestured toward an iron cage. “In this cage is a powerful male bison, an animal almost unheard of on the Continent. … He will meet here, before your very eyes, the female of his species. Please be quiet and don’t be afraid.” Göring’s keepers opened the cage. “Ivan the Terrible,” Göring commanded, “I order you to leave the cage.” The bull did not move. Göring repeated his command. Once again the bull ignored him. The keepers now attempted to prod Ivan into action. The photographers readied themselves for the lustful charge certain to ensue. Britain’s Ambassador Phipps wrote in his diary that the bull emerged from the cage “with the utmost reluctance, and, after eyeing the cows somewhat sadly, tried to return to it.” Phipps also described the affair in a later memorandum to London that became famous within the British foreign office as “the bison dispatch.”

Page 282:

The next day Phipps wrote about Göring’s open house in his diary. “The whole proceedings were so strange as at times to convey a feeling of unreality,” he wrote, but the episode had provided him a valuable if unsettling insight into the nature of Nazi rule. “The chief impression was that of the most pathetic naivete of General Göring, who showed us his toys like a big, fat, spoilt child: his primeval woods, his bison and birds, his shooting-box and lake and bathing beach, his blond ‘private secretary,’ his wife’s mausoleum and swans and sarsen stones. … And then I remembered there were other toys, less innocent though winged, and these might some day be launched on their murderous mission in the same childlike spirit and with the same childlike glee.”

Page 306 (during the aforementioned Night of the Long Knives purge):

In Munich, Hitler read through a list of the prisoners and marked an “X” next to six names. He ordered all six shot immediately. An SS squad did so, telling the men just before firing, “You have been condemned to death by the Führer! Heil Hitler.” The ever-obliging Rudolf Hess offered to shoot Röhm himself, but Hitler did not yet order his death. For the moment, even he found the idea of killing a longtime friend to be abhorrent.

Page 321 (in the aftermath of the purge):

As the weekend progressed, the Dodds learned that a new phrase was making the rounds in Berlin, to be deployed upon encountering a friend or acquaintance on the street, ideally with a sardonic lift of one eyebrow: “Lebst du noch?” Which meant, “Are you still among the living?”

Page 328:

Throughout that first year in Germany, Dodd had been struck again and again by the strange indifference to atrocity that had settled over the nation, the willingness of the populace and of the moderate elements in the government to accept each new oppressive decree, each new act of violence, without protest. It was as if he had entered the dark forest of a fairy tale where all the rules of right and wrong were upended.

Page 333:

Hitler’s purge would become known as “The Night of the Long Knives” and in time would be considered one of the most important episodes in his ascent, the first act in the great tragedy of appeasement. Initially, however, its significance was lost. No government recalled its ambassador or filed a protest; the populace did not rise in revulsion.

Page 334 (Hitler cracked down on the Storm Troopers because their leadership was against him, but their doing of bad deeds were soon replaced by the SS.):

The controlled press, not surprisingly, praised Hitler for his decisive behavior, and among the public his popularity soared. So weary had Germans become of the Storm Troopers’ intrusions in their lives that the purge seemed like a godsend. An intelligence report from the exiled Social Democrats found that many Germans were “extolling Hitler for his ruthless determination” and that many in the working class “have also become enslaved to the uncritical deification of Hitler.”

Page 336 (on the good treatment of horses in Germany):

“At a time when hundreds of men have been put to death without trial or any sort of evidence of guilt, and when the population literally trembles with fear, animals have rights guaranteed them which men and women cannot think of expecting.”

Page 340 (Dodd eventually came to see the danger of Nazi Germany):

He became one of the few voices in U.S. government to warn of the true ambitions of Hitler and the dangers of America’s isolationist stance. He told Secretary Hull in a letter dated August 30, 1934, “With Germany united as it has never before been, there is feverish arming and drilling of 1,500,000 men, all of whom are taught every day to believe that continental Europe must be subordinated to them.” He added, “I think we must abandon our so-called isolation.” He wrote to the army chief of staff, Douglas MacArthur, “In my judgment, the German authorities are preparing for a great continental struggle. There is ample evidence. It is only a question of time.”

Page 351:

Dodd’s sorrow and loneliness took a toll on his already fragile health, but still he pressed on and gave lectures around the country, in Texas, Kansas, Wisconsin, Illinois, Maryland, and Ohio, always reprising the same themes — that Hitler and Nazism posed a great risk to the world, that a European war was inevitable, and that once war began the United States would find it impossible to remain aloof. One lecture drew an audience of seven thousand people. In a June 10, 1938, speech in Boston, at the Harvard Club — that den of privilege — Dodd talked of Hitler’s hatred of Jews and warned that his true intent was “to kill them all.”

Dodd died in February 1940. He lived long enough to witness the start of Hitler’s war on Europe but not long enough to see America’s isolationism come to an end or Hitler’s attempt to kill all the Jews.