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“Listen to a Random Forest”

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 22, 2020

A mossy forest

Tree.fm lets you tune into the sounds of different forests from around the world, bringing a taste of forest bathing to those who are staying at home, people in cities, or anyone else who needs to hear remote wild places. The sounds are taken from this crowdsourced forest soundmap that I featured a few months ago. Feature request: a “take me to another random forest in 10 minutes” button.

See also Gordon Hempton’s work and his recordings of forests and other wild places. (via kottke ride home)

What It Was Like for a Black Cop Protecting Congress on Jan 6th

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 28, 2021

This interview on This American Life with a Black Capitol Police officer who defended Congress against the domestic terrorists who stormed the Capitol Buidling on Jan 6th is essential listening. BuzzFeed’s Emmanuel Felton interviewed an anonymous officer he calls “Officer Jones”:

Emmanuel Felton: Have you ever been in a fight like that?

Officer Jones: No, not like that. No way. These people were deranged, and they were determined. I’ve played video games before. Well, you know, zombie games — Resident Evil, Call of Duty. And the zombies are just coming after you, and you’re just out there. I guess that’s what I could relate it to — Call of Duty zombies. And the further you go, the more and more zombies just coming. You’re just running, running, running. And they wouldn’t stop. You’re seeing they’re getting their heads cracked with these batons, and we’re spraying them, and they don’t care! It was insane.

Jones appealed to some of the mob who were carrying “Blue Lives Matter” flags and that stopped them for a bit. A couple of the insurrectionists pulled out their own police badges. But then the invaders turned hostile again:

They looked at me. They yelled at me. They were yelling at me. And I would not let them go past. They all want to go past me? I’m going to beat all your asses. One by one, I’m going to deck all of y’all. Come on. And that’s when one of the guys that was a cop said, “Hey, man, we’re going to stand here with you.” I was like, “No, get the fuck out of my building.” He was like, “This is our building.” And I was like, “This is my goddamn building. I’m in charge here. Get the fuck out.” And that’s when I started losing my temper even more. I mean, I got tears streaming down my face.

Felton wrote a related piece for BuzzFeed News: Black Police Officers Describe The Racist Attacks They Faced As They Protected The Capitol.

The Year in Photos 2020

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 22, 2020

The Year in Photos 2020

The Year in Photos 2020

The Year in Photos 2020

The Year in Photos 2020

The Year in Photos 2020

The Year in Photos 2020

The Year in Photos 2020

How will we remember this pivotal year in human history? Many of us won’t want to, but in doing so we risk repeating what got us into this mess in the first place. Photography is always a powerful way to document events and this year was particularly suited to it: these photos vividly tell the story of 2020. You can check out many more of them here:

The embedded photos above, from top to bottom: Black Lives Matter protests by Dai Sugano, hospital staff by Sarah Lawrence, Black Lives Matter protests by Matt Rourke, empty grocery shelves by Justin Sullivan, Black Lives Matter protests by David Dee Delgado, California wildfires by Noah Berger, Covid-19 vaccine by Graeme Robertson.

The Credibility Is in the Details

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 17, 2020

The book Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland contains a passage about whether artists should focus of quantity or quality in their work.

The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pound of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot — albeit a perfect one — to get an “A”. Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work — and learning from their mistakes — the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.

It’s a great anecdote but with the absence of specific details (like the teacher’s name), it’s always struck me as apocryphal — a parable of unknown origin used to illustrate a counterpoint to conventional wisdom. Austin Kleon recently noticed another version of this story, featuring photographer Jerry Uelsmann, from James Clear’s Atomic Habits. It starts:

On the first day of class, Jerry Uelsmann, a professor at the University of Florida, divided his film photography students into two groups.

Everyone on the left side of the classroom, he explained, would be in the “quantity” group.

Then it continues exactly as the ceramics story goes. Turns out, Orland says that he and Bayles changed the photography story into one about ceramics for their book, per Clear’s footnote:

“Yes, the ‘ceramics story’ in ‘Art & Fear’ is indeed true, allowing for some literary license in the retelling. Its real-world origin was as a gambit employed by photographer Jerry Uelsmann to motivate his Beginning Photography students at the University of Florida. As retold in ‘Art & Fear’ it faithfully captures the scene as Jerry told it to me — except I replaced photography with ceramics as the medium being explored. Admittedly, it would’ve been easier to retain photography as the art medium being discussed, but David Bayles (co-author) & I are both photographers ourselves, and at the time we were consciously trying to broaden the range of media being referenced in the text. The intriguing thing to me is that it hardly matters what art form was invoked — the moral of the story appears to hold equally true straight across the whole art spectrum (and even outside the arts, for that matter).”

Same anecdote, same takeaway, just different details right? I’m not so sure. The specific details lend credibility to the actual story and to the lesson we’re supposed to learn from it. There’s a meaningful difference in believability and authority between the two versions — one is a tale to shore up an argument but the other is an experiment, an actual thing that happened in the world with actual results. Even though I’ve known it in my bones for years because of my own work, I’m happy now to fully believe the connection between quantity and quality demonstrated in this story.

Update: Tangentially related from Emre Soyer and Robin Hogarth in Havard Business Review: Don’t Let a Good Story Sell You on a Bad Idea. (thx, rob)

How to Self-Rescue If You Fall Through Thin Ice

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 16, 2020

In this video, Kenton Whitman explains how to survive a fall through ice on a frozen lake or river.

The explanation could have been tighter and more engaging, but it gets really interesting around the 6:40 mark when Whitman ventures out onto some ice and falls through it to demonstrate the self-rescue technique (and he’s not wearing a wetsuit). Watching him relax to mitigate the cold shock response in realtime is spellbinding. His calmness really drives home that if you don’t panic and think clearly, you actually have a lot of time and energy to get yourself out of trouble. From the Four Phases of Cold Water Immersion:

While it varies with water temperature and body mass, it can take 30 minutes or more for most adults to become even mildly hypothermic in ice water. Knowing this is vitally important in a survival situation, since people would be far less likely to panic if they knew that hypothermia would not occur quickly and that they have some time to make good decisions and actions to save themselves.

Oh and don’t miss when Whitman gets back into the water so that you can see him climb out from another camera angle. Don’t try this at home, kids.

Raising Baby Grey, a Gender-Neutral Child

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 24, 2020

In this short film from Alex Mallis, we meet a Bronx couple who are raising their child Grey in a gender-neutral way until they make a decision for themselves. No single gender wardrobes or toy collections and they/them pronouns.

Really the goal here is, it’s not about me trying to force anything on Grey, it’s actually the exact opposite. And we don’t know their gender yet, and when they tell us, they’ll tell us. And it might change over time and that’s okay too.

Crispin Long wrote an accompanying piece for the New Yorker on the film.

Watching Grey’s parents navigate this terrain inspires questions about how Grey might one day respond to being brought up this way. Of course, it’s impossible to parent without error, and society does its share of damage, to many of us, without the help of parents. Asking a child to inhabit such a complex and politicized position is demanding, but so is asking a child to perform femininity or masculinity. I get the sense that many trans people would unambivalently prefer to have been raised without the gender they were assigned at birth and its attendant expectations. For me, it’s less clear. If my parents had made every effort to free me from the strictures of the gender binary, I might have rebelled against their liberal piety or appreciated their efforts — or maybe both.

Stream Hundreds of Hours of “Never-Before-Seen” Interviews in New ‘American Masters’ Archive

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 27, 2021

PBS TV series American Masters has been on the air since 1986, profiling prominent American cultural creators. Only a small fraction of the footage for the interviews they do makes it into the episodes, so they’ve created a digital archive of over 1000 hours of footage “from more than 1,000 original, never-before-seen, full, raw interviews”.

For four decades, we’ve asked: who has changed America? We’ve aired hundreds of carefully crafted programs that illuminate the stories of our cultural giants. But just a fraction of the interviews filmed for American Masters appear in the final films; nearly 96% of the footage never gets released. Now, the American Masters digital archive makes this rich catalog of interviews available to the public.

You can access the archive here. Many of them clock in between 20 and 40 minutes in length — like these interviews from Maya Angelou, David Bowie, Nan Goldin, and Betty White — but some are much longer, like Carol Burnett’s 3-hour 39-minute interview, Quincy Jones’ nearly 2-hour interview, and Steven Spielberg’s 1-hour 20-minute interview. What a treasure trove! (via @tedgioia)

NY Times Retracts “Caliphate” Podcast

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 18, 2020

Caliphate, Rukmini Callimachi’s podcast for the NY Times about ISIS, was one of my favorite podcasts of 2018 — I recommended it in a post in June of that year. The NY Times has now retracted a central story in the podcast, that of an alleged ISIS executioner from Canada named Abu Huzayfah.

During the course of reporting for the series, The Times discovered significant falsehoods and other discrepancies in Huzayfah’s story. The Times took a number of steps, including seeking confirmation of details from intelligence officials in the United States, to find independent evidence of Huzayfah’s story. The decision was made to proceed with the project but to include an episode, Chapter 6, devoted to exploring major discrepancies and highlighting the fact-checking process that sought to verify key elements of the narrative.

In September — two and a half years after the podcast was released — the Canadian police arrested Huzayfah, whose real name is Shehroze Chaudhry, and charged him with perpetrating a terrorist hoax. Canadian officials say they believe that Mr. Chaudhry’s account of supposed terrorist activity is completely fabricated. The hoax charge led The Times to investigate what Canadian officials had discovered, and to re-examine Mr. Chaudhry’s account and the earlier efforts to determine its validity. This new examination found a history of misrepresentations by Mr. Chaudhry and no corroboration that he committed the atrocities he described in the “Caliphate” podcast.

As a result, The Times has concluded that the episodes of “Caliphate” that presented Mr. Chaudhry’s claims did not meet our standards for accuracy.

From a Times piece about Chaudhry’s hoax:

Before “Caliphate” aired, two American officials told The Times that Mr. Chaudhry had, in fact, joined ISIS and crossed into Syria. And some of the people who know and have counseled Mr. Chaudhry say they have no doubt that he holds extremist, jihadist views.

But Canadian law enforcement officials, who conducted an almost four-year investigation into Mr. Chaudhry, say their examination of his travel and financial records, social media posts, statements to the police and other intelligence make them confident that he did not enter Syria or join ISIS, much less commit the grievous crimes he described.

You can read more about this on NPR. Callimachi has been reassigned by the Times; the paper’s editor in chief Dean Baquet said, “I do not see how Rukmini could go back to covering terrorism after one of the highest profile stories of terrorism is getting knocked down in this way.”

Update: Here’s a statement from Callimachi on the retraction. It reads, in part:

Reflecting on what I missing in reporting our podcast is humbling. Thinking of the colleagues and the newsroom I let down is gutting. I caught the subject of our podcast lying about key aspects of his account and I reported that. I also didn’t catch other lies he told us, and I should have. I added caveats to try to make clear what we knew and what we didn’t. It wasn’t enough.

There are several listeners of the podcast in her mentions that do not feel as though they were misled. I’d have to go back and listen to the whole thing again to have an opinion, but I would like to note that Caliphate told a story and showed the behind-the-scenes at the same time. That non-traditional approach was really compelling, a key aspect of the show’s success IMO. Because you’re dealing with violent organizations and sealed investigations (neither ISIS nor government groups like the FBI want their information out there), there are limits on how stories like this can even be told. Callimachi and her colleagues creatively found a way to tell this one: by being upfront and transparent about those limitations and explicitly showing their work, misgivings and all. But perhaps, as she said, it wasn’t enough.

An Incredible 10-Gigapixel Scan of ‘Girl With a Pearl Earring’

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 21, 2021

Girl With a Pearl Earring

Girl With a Pearl Earring

Girl With a Pearl Earring

Girl With a Pearl Earring

Well hell, would you look at this: an interactive 10-gigapixel scan of Johannes Vermeer’s iconic painting Girl With a Pearl Earring made by stitching together thousands of photos from a digital microscope. From top to bottom above: the entire painting, the earring (not even fully zoomed in), her lips (again, not full zoom), and a full-zoom image of the skin on her cheek. The detail is incredible — each pixel is 4.4 microns (0.0044 mm) across. The microscope also captured 3D data about the painting — click on the “3D” button in the viewer to see the 3D views. <— Seriously, don’t miss this.

For a look at how they captured this image, check out this behind-the-scenes video.

See also The Rijksmuseum Has Released a 44.8 Gigapixel Image of Rembrandt’s The Night Watch. (via colossal)

How to Take a Walk During a Pandemic

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 25, 2021

With tongue in cheek, Jon Methven writes about what it’s like to take a walk during the pandemic.

My knapsack is full. I’ve stowed backup masks should I encounter any maskless pandemic denialists. I have Band-Aids, cotton balls and large-wound bandages, in case my run-in with the anti-maskers goes awry. I packed five gallons of backup sanitizer and a refill funnel. I have nine factory-sealed packages of antiseptic wipes. I packed face shields and oral swabs and disposable thermometers in case I need to self-test. I have a rolling oxygen tank. This jaunt is just what I need to unwind.

At least now people without kids know what it’s like leaving the house with a toddler.

Floorplan Alphabet

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 26, 2021

Floorplan Alphabet

Floorplan Alphabet

Floorplan Alphabet

As someone who lives in an A-frame house, I love this architectural alphabet designed by Johann Steingruber in 1773. A typically great find by Present & Correct (see also).

How Children Took the Smallpox Vaccine Around the World

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 03, 2020

With the first approved Covid-19 vaccines set to roll out in the US soon, some of the focus has shifted to how the vaccine will be distributed and its equitable allocation. Part of the distribution logistics puzzle is making sure there are enough glass vials to hold and transport the vaccine around the nation to those waiting to be vaccinated. For the New Yorker, Christopher Payne took some photos of two Corning factories that are manufacturing vials as fast as they can.

But back in the early 19th century, for a colonial empire dealing with overseas smallpox epidemics, glass vials were not an option. Smallpox vaccination at that time was most reliably accomplished by transferring material from cowpox blisters on one person (or cow) to another person. The freshly inoculated person got a little sick but later proved to be immune to the much deadlier smallpox. So when Spain’s Royal Philanthropic Vaccine Expedition set sail in 1803 to inoculate the inhabitants of their overseas colonies for smallpox, they used the bodies of human beings to transport the vaccine. To be more specific, they used “twenty-two orphan boys, ages three to nine”.1

And so it was that, “in the era before refrigeration, freeze-dried vaccines, and jet aircraft,” writes medical historian John Bowers, “the successful circumnavigation of the globe with the vaccine…rested on a single medium — little boys.” During the long crossing, approximately twenty-two orphans who had not previously contracted smallpox or cowpox were “vaccinated in pairs every ninth or tenth day,” via arm-to-arm inoculation (taking lymph from an unbroken pustule on a recently vaccinated boy and introducing it under the skin of another). This created a vaccine chain — the vaccine remained active and viable for the entire journey.

The three-year expedition was success and an early & effective example of philanthropic healthcare, but you also have to note here that the reason the Americas were ravaged by smallpox was because Spain brought it there in the first place.

Update: In The Atlantic, Sam Kean provides some more detail on the vaccination effort.

Given the era, it’s likely that no one asked the orphans whether they wanted to participate — and some seemed too young to consent anyway. They’d been abandoned by their parents, were living in institutions, and had no power to resist. But the Spanish king, Carlos IV, decided to make them a few promises: They would be stuffed with food on the voyage over to make sure they looked hearty and hale upon arrival. After all, no one would want lymph from the arm of a sickly child. Appearance mattered. And they’d get a free education in the colonies, plus the chance at a new life there with an adoptive family. It was a far better shake than they’d get in Spain.

  1. The article describes these children as “orphaned” but I wonder if it’s not more accurate to describe them as “enslaved”. Surely these kids didn’t have a real choice in whether they wanted to be infected with cowpox and carried overseas in a cramped ship.

“He Ended Up As Nothing”

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 20, 2021

Roxane Gay, The Last Day of Disco(rd):

I am tired of reciting all his crimes, misdeeds, and failures. Trump was a cruel, petty tyrant of a president who surrounded himself with similarly terrible people, slobbering sycophants, and political operatives who knew they could advance their agendas so long as they told him what he wanted to hear.

Trump is the living embodiment of shamelessness. He cannot be shamed. He does not care about the 400,000 dead Americans he has barely acknowledged. He does not care about the suffering he has caused. He does not care about anything that happens beyond the country’s borders. He does not care that he has disrupted the peaceful transfer of power. He is a catastrophe and he does not care. His children are exactly like him. His wife is exactly like him. I wish nothing but the very worst for them, for the rest of their days.

The Look of the Book

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 05, 2021

Look Of The Book

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

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

See also The Best Book Cover Designs of 2020.

The Best Book Cover Designs of 2020

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 15, 2020

Best Book Covers 2020

Best Book Covers 2020

Best Book Covers 2020

Best Book Covers 2020

Best Book Covers 2020

Well, what an unprecedented year that was! *sigh* 2020 is not a great year for ledes, so let’s skip right to the chase: many books were published this year and some of them had great covers. Lit Hub has the best roundup, with a selection of 89 covers chosen by book cover designers. Mark Sinclair’s ten selections for Creative Review are excellent as well. Electric Lit and Book Riot shared their cover picks as well.

I chose a few of my favorites and shared them above. From top to bottom: Zo by Xander Miller designed by Janet Hansen, the UK cover for Night. Sleep. Death. The Stars. by Joyce Carol Oates designed by Jamie Keenan (the US cover for comparison), Anger by Barbara H. Rosenwein designed by Alex Kirby, Uncanny Valley by Anna Wiener designed by Rodrigo Corral, and Verge by Lidia Yuknavitch designed by Rachel Willey. Looking at great work like this always gets my “maybe I should have been a book cover designer” juices flowing…

See also The Best Books of 2020.

Update: Oh good, the annual list from The Casual Optimist is here: Notable Book Covers of 2020. A cover that he highlighted that I particularly liked is from Michael Nylan’s translation of The Art of War by Sun Tzu designed by Jaya Miceli.

Best Book Covers of 2020

The NY Times list of The Best Book Covers of 2020 is out as well.

Tracking Pre-Pandemic “Lasts” and Post-Lockdown “Firsts”

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 24, 2020

Giorgia Lupi's hand-drawn 2020 timeline

For the print version of the NY Times from this past Sunday, information designer Giorgia Lupi created a hand-drawn visualization that “tracks the last time [she] did something before the pandemic hit, and the first time she did something new with social distancing”.

Our lives have been transformed during the Covid-19 pandemic as the activities we used to do every day have been put on hold and new, socially distanced routines have taken their place. Pentagram partner Giorgia Lupi documents these changes in her own life in a data visualization commissioned by The New York Times for the cover of its “At Home” section, which runs as part of the newspaper’s Sunday edition. The hand-drawn visualization is a personal timeline that tracks the “last” time Giorgia did something before the pandemic hit, and the “first” time she did something new as she started to emerge from lockdown.

Not hand-drawn, but I remember pretty clearly what my lasts were:

I don’t remember my firsts as well, although one that sticks out is eating french fries (take-out) in July. On a normal day, french fries are delicious but when you haven’t had them in months, they are otherworldly.

Bubble Wrap Portraits

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 15, 2021

Darian Mederos

Darian Mederos

Darian Mederos

Cuban-born Darian Mederos does oil portraits that look like they are covered in bubble wrap. You can check out more of his work on Instagram.

This Is a Wake-Up Call

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 19, 2021

This video from Matthew Cooke is an excellent and succinct plea for Republicans and Trump supporters to come back to reality.

This is a wake-up call for Republicans. America elected Joe Biden by over 7 million votes, and you’re confused because you didn’t see us flock to his rallies and cheer his smackdowns like we were at a pro wrestling event during a global pandemic. We don’t wear matching hats or have “no more malarkey” flags waving from the backs of our trucks. Do you know why? Because Biden is not our tribal warlord. We believe the job of a U.S. President is to represent more than one interest group. That’s why 81 million of us turned out to stop a narcissistic personality cult that embodies all seven of the deadly sins — most of all pride, which you’ve taken to levels of blasphemy, claiming your political leaders are handpicked by Jesus Christ.

This country is called the United States and we have multiple converging crises that need adult supervision but we are being distracted trying to get control over a critical mass of you who no longer believe in reality.

I don’t know if it will be persuasive to actual Republicans, but it’s a solid attempt.

Jamie xx’s Score from Tree of Codes

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 28, 2021

Several years ago, I saw an NYC performance of Tree of Codes, a collaboration between choreographer Wayne McGregor, artist Olafur Eliasson, music producer Jamie xx, and dancers from the Paris Opera Ballet based on Jonathan Safran Foer’s book of the same name. The whole performance was dazzling but I was especially taken with Jamie xx’s score.

In the weeks after the performance, I looked online for the score, hoping against hope that a recording was out there. No dice. As time went on, whenever one of Jamie xx’s songs popped up in a mix I was listening to, I’d do a bit of searching for the score, always without success. Until the other day, when I discovered this bootleg version on Soundcloud:

So happy to hear this again — for as long as this link lasts. I’m still crossing my fingers for an official release at some point…

Speculation: Scented Candle Ratings Down Due to Covid-19 Loss of Smell

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 30, 2020

After Terri Nelson noticed people complaining online about a lack of scent from newly purchased scented candles, Kate Petrova analyzed Amazon reviews for candles from the past three years and found a drop in ratings for scented candles beginning in January 2020 (compared to a smaller ratings decline for unscented candles).

graph showing a ratings decline for scented candles since January 2020

The hypothesis is that some of these buyers have lost their sense of smell due to Covid-19 infections and that’s showing up in the ratings.

Our Friend

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 25, 2020

That’s the trailer for Our Friend, a movie based on the true story told in this Esquire article by Matthew Teague: The Friend: Love Is Not a Big Enough Word.

His wife was just thirty-four. They had two little girls. The cancer was everywhere, and the parts of dying that nobody talks about were about to start. His best friend came to help out for a couple weeks. And he never left.

I remember very clearly that essay and the day I read it — I think about it all the time. I don’t know if the movie is going to be any good (I hope so), but if you’ve never read this essay, carve out some time to do so today.

Hyperrealist Paintings by Jeff Bartels

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 19, 2021

Jeff Bartels

Jeff Bartels

Canadian artist Jeff Bartels makes these stunningly hyperrealistic oil paintings of things like cameras, typewriters, and vehicles. And they’re pretty large too — here’s his painting of the Leica in progress:

Jeff Bartels

That must take for-ev-er to do. Check out more of his work on Instagram. (via claire salvo)

Today’s Work Music: Max Richter’s My Brilliant Friend Soundtracks

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 18, 2020

That someone was able to turn Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels into a compelling TV series is nothing short of miraculous. It could have gone so wrong.1 A key aspect of that success has to be Max Richter’s score for the show. I’ve been listening to the season one soundtrack for awhile now, but just stumbled across the season two soundtrack.

That’s today work music sorted, then.

P.S. For the first couple of months of the pandemic, I shared what I was listening to during my workday in this thread (continued here). Check it out if you need some wordless music to beaver away to.

  1. Same with Sally Rooney’s Normal People. The TV series could have been terrible but it very much was not.

A Playful Ghibli-esque Ad for Travel Oregon

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 25, 2021

I cannot improve upon the succinct description of this video from Natalie Smillie: “A new Ghibli film?! No — this is an advert for the state of Oregon.” It’s a great ad and certainly takes both content and stylistic cues from Studio Ghibli’s films. The video, along with a previous one, was created for Travel Oregon by creative agency Psyop and animation studio Sun Creature.

The Benefits of Collecting - “One Thing Leads to Another”

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 23, 2020

This video is a lovely little rumination by Iancu Barbarasa “about collecting, cycling caps, art and design, personal connections and why it’s worth doing something for a long time, even if the benefits are not clear at first.”

Many think some people are special but usually those people just put a lot more time in it than others. This applies to sports, arts, almost everything. It’s worth doing something for a long time, even if the benefits are not always clear. Good surprising things come out of it. You also learn about yourself in the process.

His inspiration in doing the film was to “inform, delight, and inspire”:

I mentioned above Milton Glaser’s “inform and delight” definition of art. It’s brilliant, but I always felt something was still missing from it. So I’d say that art — and any creative’s work — should aim to “inform, delight and inspire”. Hopefully my film will inspire people to start something of their own, or share what they’re already doing with other people. That would bring joy to everyone, and there’s never too much of it.

You can check out Barbarasa’s cycling cap collection on Instagram. I have never been much of a collector, but my 22+ years of efforts on this site (collecting knowledge/links?) and my sharing of photos on Flickr/Instagram over the years definitely have resulted in some of the same benefits.

Kids Talk About Gaming During the Pandemic

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 01, 2021

Concerned that recent articles like this one about screen time panic were not adequately capturing the perspective of the kids themselves, Anne Helen Petersen asked a group of parents and caregivers to conduct interviews with kids about gaming and screen time.

So I wanted to hear them talk about their own relationship to the games they play: what they like about it, when they like to play, how games make them feel, who they like to play with, and how they respond to anxiety about their gaming/screen time.

I pulled out a few quotes from the kids but the whole thing is worth a read.

When people say that screentime is bad, I want to say, hey, I want to be more social at the moment and it’s hard to do that right now and I can only do it with technology.

I feel annoyed and angry with the “too much time playing video games argument,” because people don’t really understand. They don’t play these games. They don’t have any experience themselves, and they’re judging what we do based on what they’ve heard or read. Gaming is so new that there’s no conclusive evidence yet to prove if it’s actually harmful. It feels like they’re just trying to control us and tell us what to do.

When adults say that kids play too many video games it makes me kinda angry and confused. We’re already stuck at home and it feels like they’re trying to cut us off from our friends even more. So it’s kinda annoying.

Honestly I don’t really worry about spending too much time game at all. I already spend almost all my time on there anyway and it doesn’t seem to have any negative side effects. Key word “seem.” People need to make sure they don’t get correlation and causation mixed together.

Like many other parents, we’ve been struggling mightily with games, devices, and screen time during the pandemic (although for us this is an issue that carried over from The Before Times). As Petersen says, this is a complicated challenge and I am sympathetic to both the arguments these kids make (which mirror what I’ve heard from my kids) and parental concerns about too much time on devices (the effects of which I’ve seen in my kids).

What we’ve done, imperfectly, is prioritize the social aspect of gaming time — playing with friends, gaming clubs, playing together in the living room — over manically grinding away for hours on end in a dark room. We try to meet them on their terms — ask them what they did today in Minecraft or Among Us, show real interest about their progress, etc. I empathize and commiserate when I can — I grew up playing video games and I still get a little too into them on my phone or iPad sometimes. But we also encourage them to get outside and move their bodies, find ways to connect with friends that don’t involve killing virtual people, and try to get them to recognize some of the worst effects of too much screen time (they do, if you catch them at the right moment about it). Keeping a good connection with your kids around gaming & screens is the key bit, I think. With that in hand, in theory it’s at least possible to keep kids and parents alike safe and sane during all of this.

A Marvelous Marble Machine for Making Music

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 11, 2020

For the past four years, Martin Molin of the “folktronica” band Wintergatan has been building a marble machine that the band can use to make music. He’s documenting the entire build on YouTube in a long series of videos (149 and counting). The most recent videos show Molin’s test of the machine with thousands of marbles and his tweaking to get things juuuust right. In the one above, he makes several adjustments from failures observed from his last test and then runs 30,000 marbles through the machine.

These videos are long, so you’d be forgiven for skipping to the end just to see the machine in action, but Molin is really enthusiastic — obsessed in the best way — and is great at showing his work. People really digging into things, especially tangible mechanical things, and bringing us along for the ride is always interesting. (thx, sippey)

Delightful Acapella Versions of Familiar Jingles

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 04, 2021

This is a fun discovery, via Laura Olin’s newsletter: a Korean acapella group called Maytree that does impressions of famous cultural jingles and sound effects. In this video, they perform a number of movie intro tunes (20th Century Fox, Paramount, etc.):

Watch until the end…the Netflix one is *kisses fingers*. Here they do the music from Super Mario Bros, including the overworld, underworld, and underwater themes:

Tetris (which gets unexpectedly dramatic):

And finally, a bunch of sounds and jingles from Microsoft Windows:

The Moral Calculus of COVID-19

posted by Tim Carmody   Nov 20, 2020

deep-space.jpg

You may have heard that MSNBC host Rachel Maddow has been quarantining at home following close contact with a person who had tested positive for COVID-19. You may have also heard that last night, Maddow returned to her show (still filming from home) to reveal that this person was her partner of 20+ years, artist/photographer Susan Mikula. Mikula is recovering, but at at least one point, the couple genuinely feared for her life. Maddow herself is still testing negative; with Mikula in much less danger and Maddow nearing the end of quarantine, they felt it was time to open the curtain on their experience.

If you haven’t seen it already, I’d like you to watch the video of Maddow describing her experience of living with a loved one who is suffering from COVID-19, whom you have to care for but cannot touch without grave risk to yourself, and then to others. (It is about Mikula’s own experience, but it’s really much more about Maddow’s experience, for good reason.)

Here’s a quick excerpt, if you want a textual preview (via Vulture):

“Just believe me: Whatever you have calculated into your life as acceptable risk, as inevitable risk, something that you’re willing to go through in terms of this virus because statistically, hey probably, it will be fine for you and your loved ones, I’m just here to tell you to recalibrate that,” [Maddow] warned. “Frankly, the country needs you to recalibrate that because broadly speaking, there’s no room for you in the hospital right now.”

She cites hospitals being overwhelmed with a “50 percent” increase in patients “in two weeks.” While it may be easy to risk your own life, the virus doesn’t let you make the choice. “What you need to know is whoever’s the most important person in your life, whoever you most love and most care for and most cherish in the world, that’s the person who you may lose and who you may spend weeks up all night freaking out about and calling doctors all over the place and over and over again all night long, trying to figure out how to keep that person breathing and out of the hospital,” she said. “Whatever you’re doing, however you’ve calibrated risk in your life, don’t get this thing.”

Another moment worth noting in the video is shortly after she begins. Maddow is interrupted by a recurring beeping noise in a room off-camera. She has to attend to it herself, in the middle of a live television show, because there’s no one else at home who can do it. She takes off her microphone and earpiece, then has to put it back on. After already revealing at the beginning of the show that she’s not wearing makeup—she doesn’t know how to apply it herself, and no one can help her—it’s a nice peek behind the scenes.

I don’t know if everyone always understands how much work it takes it is to perform for live television: how many accessories you need, how much support is required. People don’t see what you have to look like, sound like, or act like; they don’t see the almost cyborg contraption you have to become in order to make a successful television appearance. Being good at television is a specific skill. It’s as different from writing, reporting, or public speaking as football, baseball, and basketball are from playing polo. It doesn’t matter if you have your words on a teleprompter (although that does help): you still have to deliver them, in time, no backsies, and look and sound good while you’re doing it.

The disruption of the show also happens in the middle of a charming metaphor Maddow uses to describe her relationship:

The way that I think about it is not that she is the sun and I’m a planet that orbits her—that would give too much credit to the other planets. I think of it more as a pitiful thing: that she is the planet and I am a satellite, and I’m up there sort of beep-beep-beeping at her and blinking my lights and just trying to make her happy.

Compare this to Farhad Manjoo’s essay in The New York Times today, “I Traced My COVID-19 Bubble and It’s Enormous.” Manjoo starts with a classic dilemma: they know it’s unsafe in general to travel for Thanksgiving, but they wonder if it might be safer for their family, given the size of their social circle and the precautions they’ve taken. They’d like to find out more, to replace their general intuitions, which pull them in both directions, with something more concrete. This is a time-honored journalistic premise (a rhetorical trope, really) for answering a question many people might have.

In researching their close contacts, and their own exposure to other people, Manjoo quickly has cold water thrown on the notion that their bubble is in any way contained to the degree they’d imagined it to be. (This part of the story is well-illustrated: I’ll give you the text excerpts, but it’s worth clicking through and scrolling through yourself.)

I thought my bubble was pretty small, but it turned out to be far larger than I’d guessed.

My only close contacts each week are my wife and kids.

My kids, on the other hand, are in a learning pod with seven other children and my daughter attends a weekly gymnastics class.

I emailed the parents of my kids’ friends and classmates, as well as their teachers, and asked how large each family’s bubble was.

Already, my network was up to almost 40 people.

Turns out a few of the families in our learning pod have children in day care or preschool.

And one’s classmate’s mother is a doctor who comes into contact with about 10 patients each week.

Once I had counted everyone, I realized that visiting my parents for Thanksgiving would be like asking them to sit down to dinner with more than 100 people.

They aren’t actually done counting yet: from themself, they’ve only gone to three degrees of separation. But presumably, the point in the headline is made. The author’s bubble is enormous, and presumably the reader’s is, too.

Then a curious thing happens. Manjoo decides that what they’ve learned doesn’t matter. They thinks their family and their contacts are special after all. “All of my indirect contacts are taking the virus seriously—none of them spun conspiracy theories about the pandemic, or suggested it was no big deal or told me to bug off and mind my own business.” (This is a very low threshold for “taking the virus seriously.”) And they would really like to take their wife and children to see their parents. An epidemiologist gives them some cover, saying their desire to see their parents is understandable, and it’s all a matter of assessing and evaluating risk.

So, they change their mind again. They make a few concessions (drive, not fly; an outdoor meal rather than an indoor one; staying off-site rather than sleeping over). And they’re going to travel five hours each way with their wife and children and their 100+ direct and indirect contacts to celebrate Thanksgiving with their parents.

This is contrarianism on a scale not usually seen in a newspaper article. (They’re usually too short to take this many turns.) It is one thing to counter received wisdom by posing a counterfactual. It is another to spend hours of reporting, gathering facts, calling in experts, putting everything on the record, and then deciding that none of that matters.

On Twitter, I called it “the full Gladwell”; only Malcolm Gladwell at The New Yorker can consistently pull this hairpin twist off and stick the landing, even if he frequently violates good sense and plain facts to do it.

It’s important, though, that this is not just a rhetorical trick. These are the real lives of real people, both in the story itself, and radiating out to its readers and their contacts in a global newspaper, the United States’ paper of record. And the reasoning and evidence that are considered but discarded gives the illusion that this is a choice motivated not by setting reason aside, but considering all options and maximizing one’s expected utility.

Not to “both sides” this, but I’m gonna “both sides” this: in some sense, both Maddow and Manjoo are putting their thumb on the scales, in opposite directions. For Maddow, the experience of almost losing the love of her life makes it so that she would take no willing risk that might endanger her or anyone else. (She acknowledges that a certain amount of unavoidable, unwilling risk remains.)

Manjoo is different. They acknowledge that they have no such experience. They are less concerned with the possible loss of their parents’ lives than the loss of their presence in his life and in their childrens’ lives. They see the willing assumption of risk as an open moral question, and something that can be calculated and appropriately mitigated.

Maddow has constructed a universe where she is a tiny satellite orbiting a much larger planet, whose continued health and existence is the central focus of her concern. Manjoo has drawn a map with themself at its center, where anyone beyond the reach of their telephone falls off the edges.

Maddow is also explicitly pleading with her viewers to learn what they can from her experience, and adjust their behavior accordingly. Manjoo is performing their calculus only for themself; they implicitly present themself as a representative example (while also claiming they and their circle are extraordinarily conscientious and effective), but each reader can draw their own conclusions and make their own decision.

At this point the balancing dominoes tip over. Maddow’s position, her argument, and her example are clearly more moral and more persuasive than Manjoo’s. Manjoo’s essay is worth reading, but the conclusion is untenable. It doesn’t do the work needed to arrive there or persuade anyone else to do the same. And at a time when many people are spinning conspiracies about the pandemic, or claiming that it’s no big deal, and in turn influencing others—when we haven’t even yet considered the virus’s impact on the uncounted number of people, from medical staff and many other essential workers to prisoners and the impoverished, who do not simply get to choose how to spend their holiday—it’s irresponsible.

The larger moral tragedy is that because our leaders have failed, and too often actually worked to damage the infrastructure, expertise, and goodwill accumulated over generations, we have no consistent, authoritative guidance on what we should and should not do. We do not know who to trust. We have no money, no help, and no plan but to wait. We have no sense of what rules our friends and neighbors, colleagues and workers, are following when they’re not in our sight; we don’t even know what practices they would even admit to embracing. We have no money; we have no help. We are left on our own, adrift in deep space, scribbling maps and adding sums on the back of a napkin. We are all in this together, yet we are completely alone.

Update: An earlier version of this post used incorrect pronouns for Farhad Manjoo. Manjoo uses they/them pronouns. I regret the error, which, compunded, led to many errors. —TC

Second Update: Actually, Farhad uses both they/them and he/him pronouns. I am relieved I didn’t inadvertently offend the subject of my post with the first version, and since this one is still correct, I am not changing it back.

Unendurable Line

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 15, 2020

For Design Ah by Daihei Shibata, Unendurable Line is a short film about sudden changes due to “thresholds hidden in everyday life”. The choral accompaniment to this is delightful.

See also Shibata’s Unexpected Outcome. If you’re in the US, you can watch 60 full episodes of Design Ah on THIRTEEN.

Lava Lamps Help Keep The Internet Secure??

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 14, 2021

Web performance and security company Cloudflare uses a wall of lava lamps to generate random numbers to help keep the internet secure. Random numbers generated by computers are often not exactly random, so what Cloudflare does is take photos of the lamps’ activities and uses the uncertainty of the lava blooping up and down to generate truly random numbers. Here’s a look at how the process works:

At Cloudflare, we have thousands of computers in data centers all around the world, and each one of these computers needs cryptographic randomness. Historically, they got that randomness using the default mechanism made available by the operating system that we run on them, Linux.

But being good cryptographers, we’re always trying to hedge our bets. We wanted a system to ensure that even if the default mechanism for acquiring randomness was flawed, we’d still be secure. That’s how we came up with LavaRand.

LavaRand is a system that uses lava lamps as a secondary source of randomness for our production servers. A wall of lava lamps in the lobby of our San Francisco office provides an unpredictable input to a camera aimed at the wall. A video feed from the camera is fed into a CSPRNG [cryptographically-secure pseudorandom number generator], and that CSPRNG provides a stream of random values that can be used as an extra source of randomness by our production servers. Since the flow of the “lava” in a lava lamp is very unpredictable, “measuring” the lamps by taking footage of them is a good way to obtain unpredictable randomness. Computers store images as very large numbers, so we can use them as the input to a CSPRNG just like any other number.

(via open culture)

Learn Some Black American Sign Language

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 01, 2020

After a video Nakia Smith did with her grandfather went viral, Netflix asked her to explain what Black American Sign Language is, how it came about, and how it differs from American Sign Language.

Black American Sign Language is a dialect of American Sign Language. It’s still a language. It was developed by Black deaf people in the 1800s and 1900s during segregation. For reference, the first American school for the deaf was created in 1817, but only started admitting Black students in 1952. So as a result, Black communities had a different means of language socialization and BASL was born.

Smith demonstrates a few BASL signs that differ from ASL signs and you can see more of those differences in the video w/ her grandfather, who is also deaf.

For more information, you can check out Smith’s TikTok, Wikipedia, and a documentary film called Signing Black in America.

Update: There was also a book about BASL published this year: The Hidden Treasure of Black ASL (Bookshop.org). The book includes 10 companion videos on YouTube.

Two Puzzles

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 09, 2020

Two Puzzles

Two Puzzles by Micah Lexier consists of a pair of jigsaw puzzles, each with the die-cut pattern of the other puzzle printed on it. From Lexier’s Instagram:

They look like two of the exact same puzzles, but are in fact different. One is the image of the nine-piece puzzle foil-stamped on to the 16-piece die-cut puzzle and the other is the image of the 16-piece puzzle foil-stamped on to the nine piece die-cut puzzle.

The puzzles are for sale in a limited edition of 100 at Paul + Wendy Projects. (via @kellianderson)

Update: See also Jigsaw Jigsaw, the puzzle for fans of the Droste effect. (via @christopherjobs)

Congress Is Under Attack

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 13, 2021

Details from the 1/6 terrorist attack on Congress continue to trickle out. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was not in the Capitol during the event, but said in an hour-long Instagram Live video that she had a “very close encounter” that day and thought she was going to die. Here’s Ocasio-Cortez quoted by Emma Gray:

“Wednesday was an extremely traumatizing event. And it was not an exaggeration to say that many members of the House were nearly assassinated.”

She also felt unsafe around other members of Congress — From Buzzfeed News:

The Democrat said that she worried during the storming of the Capitol about other members of Congress knowing her location and did not feel safe going to the same secure location as her colleagues because of members who believe in the QAnon collective delusion and “frankly, white supremacist members of Congress … who I know and who I have felt would disclose my location,” saying she was concerned there were colleagues “who would create opportunities to allow me to be hurt, kidnapped, etc.” She said that she “didn’t feel safe around other members of Congress.”

Not an unfounded fear — Republican Representative Lauren Boebert, gun nut and QAnon supporter, tweeted about Speaker Pelosi’s location while terrorists were storming the Capitol Building. And several Republicans refused to wear masks while in lockdown in the aftermath of the Capitol incursion and now three Democratic lawmakers have tested positive for Covid-19.

Members of Congress briefed by security and law enforcement agencies (FBI, DoD, DHS, Secret Service) say that more attacks are planned in the coming days and weeks:

“Based on today’s briefing, we have grave concerns about ongoing and violent threats to our democracy,” that group of Democratic chairs said in a cryptic statement after the meeting on Tuesday. The briefing included the chairs and other top members of the House Oversight, Judiciary, Homeland Security, Armed Services and Intelligence panels.

“It is clear that more must be done to preempt, penetrate, and prevent deadly and seditious assaults by domestic violent extremists in the days ahead,” the statement said.

The lawmakers voiced their concerns moments after a public FBI and Justice Department briefing revealed their belief that the Jan. 6 violence could be part of a much graver, well-organized “seditious conspiracy.”

What an remarkable collection of statements & events. This is not going away. Any elected official who supported this coup effort must resign or be removed from office. How can you “secure Congress” when members of Congress are part of the effort to subvert it?

The Gap Between Having Good Taste and Doing Good Work

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 24, 2020

I’ve shared this observation from Ira Glass about the gap between having good taste and doing good creative work before, but I ran across it the other day and thought it was worth highlighting again. Here’s a partial transcript (courtesy of James Clear):

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, and I really wish somebody had told this to me.

All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But it’s like there is this gap. For the first couple years that you’re making stuff, what you’re making isn’t so good. It’s not that great. It’s trying to be good, it has ambition to be good, but it’s not that good.

But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is good enough that you can tell that what you’re making is kind of a disappointment to you. A lot of people never get past that phase. They quit.

Everybody I know who does interesting, creative work they went through years where they had really good taste and they could tell that what they were making wasn’t as good as they wanted it to be. They knew it fell short. Everybody goes through that.

And if you are just starting out or if you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Do a huge volume of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week or every month you know you’re going to finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you’re going to catch up and close that gap. And the work you’re making will be as good as your ambitions.

The full interview from which the video above is excerpted can be found here. Notably, Glass’s advice matches that of this parable from Art & Fear.

This Is Who We Are

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 11, 2021

NPR’s Sam Sanders on The Lies We Tell Ourselves About Race.

There is a lie some Americans tell themselves when America is on its worst behavior: “This isn’t America!” or “This isn’t who we are!” or “We’re better than this!”

You heard versions of this lie again this week after armed insurrectionists stormed the U.S. Capitol on urging from President Trump, attempting to undo the results of last November’s election.

Even in the halls of Congress, after the broken glass was cleared and U.S. senators and representatives were allowed back into their chambers from undisclosed locations, Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska came back to this refrain: “Our kids need to know that this isn’t what America is.”

We are a country built on fabrication, nostalgia and euphemism. And every time America shows the worst of itself, all the contradictions collapse into the lie I’ve heard nonstop for the last several years: “This isn’t who we are.”

Until America fully reckons with, accepts, and makes amends for the two primary sins of its founding — the colonization and genocide of indigenous people and the system of heredity chattel slavery — the nation cannot truly move forward and be a democracy. From the standpoint of indigenous and Black people — as well as women, LGBTQ+ folx, people of color, and other historically marginalized groups — America has always been a fascist country. The sooner that the white ruling class and those of us who benefit from white supremacist-misogynist identity politics (as Rebecca Solnit put it recently) understand and own up to that fact, the sooner we can actually start coming together as a nation committed to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” of all its inhabitants.

Beer Can Pinhole Camera Takes Longest Exposure Photograph Ever

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 14, 2020

a long exposure photo taken of the path of the sun through the sky using a beer can pinhole camera

This pinhole solargraph, taken using a beer can pinhole camera over a period of eight years and one month, is thought to be the longest exposure image ever made. The photo shows the path of the Sun across the sky over that time period, almost 3000 trails in all. Regina Valkenborgh set the camera up in 2012 and then forgot about it; it was found by someone else this year. Said Valkenborgh of the project:

“It was a stroke of luck that the picture was left untouched, to be saved by David after all these years. I had tried this technique a couple of times at the Observatory before, but the photographs were often ruined by moisture and the photographic paper curled up. I hadn’t intended to capture an exposure for this length of time and to my surprise, it had survived. It could be one of, if not the, longest exposures in existence.”

If you want to make your own solargraph (it doesn’t have to go for 8 years…), check out the instructions here.

The Best Books of 2020

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 08, 2020

The Best Books of 2020

I’m guessing that for most of you, reading books was either a comfort or a near impossibility during this unprecedentedly long and tough year. For me, I got some good reading in earlier in the year and then, as my focus shifted to writing about and researching the pandemic for this site and managing the logistics of safely navigating this new world, my energy for books waned. The last thing I wanted to do at the end of most days was more reading, especially anything challenging.

I also kinda didn’t know what to read, aside from the few obvious choices that were impossible to ignore. As I’m sure it is for many of you, a big part of my “getting the lay of the land” w/r/t books is seeing what my favorite bookstores were putting on their front tables — and that’s been difficult for the past several months. Looking through a bunch of end-of-2020 lists for what books everyone else recommended was especially valuable for me — there really were so so many good books published this year that are worth seeking out. So, here’s a selection of the best books of 2020 and links to the lists I used to find them. I hope you find this useful.

Let’s start with the NY Times. Their 10 Best Books of 2020 includes Deacon King Kong by James McBride while their larger list of 100 Notable Books of 2020 has both Maria Konnikova’s The Biggest Bluff and The End of Everything: (Astrophysically Speaking) by Katie Mack on it. The Times’ critics have their own list for some reason; one of the books they featured is Anna Wiener’s Uncanny Valley.

Isabel Wilkerson’s masterful Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents and The Mirror & the Light by Hilary Mantel (two books I actually read this year) deservedly made almost every list out there, including Time’s 100 Must-Read Books of 2020. Those two books are also, respectively, on Time’s lists of The 10 Best Nonfiction Books of 2020 and The 10 Best Fiction Books of 2020.

The Guardian breaks down their list of the Best Books of 2020 into several categories. The list of the best science fiction and fantasy books of 2020 includes The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson and Kacen Callender’s King of the Rising.

The year-end lists on Goodreads (Best Books of 2020, Most Popular Books Published In 2020) typically cast a wider net on what a broader audience is reading. Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games prequel The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes and The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett made their lists this year.

Kirkus has a bunch of categories in their Best Books of 2020 as well, including the timely Best Fiction for Quarantine Reading in 2020 — I found What Are You Going Through by Sigrid Nunez (“Dryly funny and deeply tender; draining and worth it”) on there.

The NYPL’s Best Books of 2020 has separate lists for adults, teens, and kids. For adult poetry, Nate Marshall’s Finna made their list. And for teen historical fiction: We Are Not Free by Traci Chee.

Some recommended books for kids from various lists (NYPL, NY Times, NPR): Shinsuke Yoshitake’s There Must Be More Than That!, Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson (my daughter is reading this one right now for her book club), and Echo Mountain by Lauren Wolk.

YA novel Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo and Homie by Danez Smith both made Book Riot’s Best Books of 2020. Oh, and I’d missed that Zadie Smith published a book of pandemic-inspired essays called Intimations.

NPR’s Book Concierge is always a great resource for finding gems across a wide spectrum of interests. Erik Larson’s The Splendid and the Vile and The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante both made their Seriously Great Writing list and their Cookbooks & Food list includes Ottolenghi Flavor by Yotam Ottolenghi & Ixta Belfrage and Eat A Peach by David Chang.

Speaking of cookbooks and food, among the top titles for 2020 were In Bibi’s Kitchen by Hawa Hassan & Julia Turshen and Falastin by Sami Tamimi & Tara Wigley. (Culled from Food & Wine’s Favorite Cookbooks of 2020 and The Guardian’s Best Cookbooks and Food Writing of 2020.

I saw Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia on several lists, including Library Journal’s Best Books 2020.

The Book of Eels by Patrik Svensson and The Alchemy of Us by Ainissa Ramirez both made Smithsonian Magazine’s The Ten Best Science Books of 2020.

Hyperallergic has selected Some of the Best Art Books of 2020, including Kuniyoshi by Matthi Forrer.

For the Times Literary Supplement’s Books of the Year 2020, dozens of writers selected their favorite reads of the year. Elizabeth Lowry recommended Artemisia, the companion book to the exhibition of Artemisia Gentileschi’s at The National Gallery and sadly the best way for most of us to be able to enjoy this show.

More lists: Audible’s The Best of 2020 and Washington Post’s The 10 Best Books of 2020. I’ll update this post a couple of times in the next week with more lists as I run across them.

If you’d like to check out what I’ve read recently, take a look at my list on Bookshop.org.

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

The Pandemic Is a Marathon Without a Finish Line. How Can We Win?

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 25, 2020

With the positive news about the Covid-19 vaccine trials, I assume many of you have started to think about the potential end of the pandemic — what we’ll do, where we’ll go, who we’ll see, and reckon with what’s changed and what’s been lost. I know I have. Alex Hutchinson has written an intriguing piece on what sports science might be able to tell us about the psychology of a situation like the pandemic, where the finish line is poorly defined, ever-changing, or even non-existent.

As it happens, there’s a whole subfield of sports science, at the intersection of physiology and psychology, that explores this terrain. It’s called teleoanticipation, a term coined in 1996 by German physiologist Hans-Volkhart Ulmer to describe how our knowledge of an eventual endpoint (or telos) influences the entirety of an experience. Using endurance sports as their medium, researchers in this subfield have probed what happens when you hide the finish line, surreptitiously move it or take it away entirely. For those of us tempted by promising vaccine updates to start fantasizing about an end to the pandemic, these researchers have some advice: don’t.

Instead, the key seems to be remaining in the moment instead of focusing on the goal.

It turns out that, if you ask yourself “Can I keep going?” rather than “Can I make it to the finish?” you’re far more likely to answer in the affirmative.

This squares with mindfulness practices from Buddhism and Stoicism but also reminds me of a motivational trick I first heard a few years ago: that you can do anything for 10 seconds — and then you just begin a new 10 seconds. Turns out that was popularized by Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Good advice can come from anywhere.

Vanity Fair Interviews Billie Eilish for a Fourth Consecutive Year

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 01, 2020

For the fourth year in a row, Vanity Fair interviewed teen pop star Billie Eilish on where she is in her life, what she’s learned, where she sees herself in the future, how her work is progressing, and how her answers from previous years hold up. (Past interviews: 2019, 2018.) This year is obviously different because of the pandemic and hits differently because of it.

I still marvel that Vanity Fair embarked on this project with this particular person. They could have chosen any number of up-and-coming 2017 pop singer/songwriters and they got lucky with the one who went supernova and won multiple Grammys.

Detailed Forensic Reconstruction of the Beirut Port Explosions

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 02, 2020

On August 4, 2020, materials stored in a warehouse in Beirut, Lebanon caught on fire and then exploded multiple times. More than 200 people were killed, 6,500 injured, and around 300,000 residents were left homeless. Using photos and videos shot of the incident as well as other materials, a company called Forensic Architecture built a 3D model of the warehouse (inside and out), the fires, and the explosions. They cleverly used the unique second-to-second shape of the smoke plumes to sync up various bits of video shot from different vantage points.

We collected and examined images and videos taken by witnesses of the blast and shared on different platforms online. Using details about the smoke, fires, and explosions, we were able to geolocate each piece of footage and calculate the camera’s cone of vision. We places the cameras in the open source 3D model of the city , which we had adjusted to match the necessary precision. This helped us to identify the precise location of the source of the smoke plume within Warehouse 12 in each frame of each footage.

It’s a fascinating analysis. After going through more than 9 minutes of explanation of what they learned about the placement of materials (including highly explosive ammonium nitrate, tires, and fireworks) inside the warehouse from smoke colors, interior videos, and warehouse manifests, the narrator says simply:

From an engineering perspective, this is the spacial layout of a make-shift bomb on the scale of a warehouse, awaiting detonation.

The video is also available in Arabic. They’ve made the 3D files of the warehouse, the smoke plumes, and the port — as well as the source media used in their analysis — freely available for download on GitHub. (thx to several people who sent this in)

2000-Year-Old Snack Bar Unearthed in Pompeii

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 04, 2021

Pompeii Snack Bar

Pompeii Snack Bar

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

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

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

Ted Lasso, a Model for the Nurturing Modern Man

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 14, 2020

Have you watched Ted Lasso? If not, you should — it’s probably my favorite TV thing of 2020. (It’s ok if you don’t care for sports. It’s not about sports.) Maureen Ryan’s excellent review of the series gets at why people are finding it so compelling.

A few weeks ago, I stumbled across this 2016 essay by Nora Samaran, who later expanded it into a slim but transfixing book called Turn This World Inside Out. It addresses a number of persistent questions I’ve had with lucid, thoughtful prose.

As Samaran puts it, “the men I know who are exceptionally nurturing lovers, fathers, coworkers, close friends to their friends, who know how to make people feel safe, have almost no outlets through which to learn or share this hardwon skill with other men…. Meanwhile, the men I know who are kind, goodhearted people, but who are earlier on in growing into their own models for self-love and learning how to comfort and nurture others, have no men to ask. … The answer to all of these difficulties is to openly discuss nurturance: how it looks, how it feels, how men can learn to practice it from the men who already know how.”

Ryan argues that Ted Lasso is an outlet that models the type of nurturing that Samaran is talking about.

Ted Lasso does a lot of things well — I adore the budding friendship between Rebecca and marketing whiz Keeley (Juno Temple) — but one of the things it explores wisely and well is what it looks like when men engage in (sorry for using these dreadful words) nurturing behaviors.

It’s a sprightly, well-constructed, enjoyable comedy about sports, sure, but it’s also about men who — like the many good men I have known (even in Hollywood!) — take responsibility for the example they set, for their emotions and for the actions they take. Ted Lasso will remain deeply valuable into next year and beyond, because it is also about a bunch of very different people who display fulfilling, conscientious confidence and leadership — not the bullying, toxic, arrogant, violent, condescending domination that has, in this country, has too often masqueraded as “leadership” and “confidence.” In evolving and supporting each other through those changes, these characters form friendships and communities that are truly meaningful.

Watching the show and reading this, I can’t help but think of another person who modeled kindness, goodheartedness, and nurturing male behaviors on TV for decades: Fred Rogers. (See, for instance, soaking in a kiddie pool with François Clemmons.) Ted Lasso co-creators & co-stars Jason Sudeikis and Brendan Hunt are right around my age; I’d be shocked if one or both of them didn’t watch a bunch of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood growing up like I did. The two shows are obviously very different but Rogers’ brand of radical empathy is all over Ted Lasso. As I’ve grown more conscious over the past decade about the type of person I want to be in the world and the type of example I want to set for my kids, Rogers has been a guiding light and I’m happy to add Ted Lasso to the list as well.

Update: I forgot to add: another aspect I appreciate about the show is it demonstrates how you can be competitive without being toxic. Lasso is a very competitive guy who cares about winning, but he goes about it in a constructive way, not a destructive way. It’s the kind of energy their mom and I are always trying to impart to our kids, who are both competitive (albeit in pretty different ways).

See also Building Belonging at Summer Camp.

The Right’s “Respectable” Rioters

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 13, 2021

Adam Serwer writing at The Atlantic: The Capitol Rioters Weren’t ‘Low Class’.

They were business owners, CEOs, state legislators, police officers, active and retired service members, real-estate brokers, stay-at-home dads, and, I assume, some Proud Boys.

The mob that breached the Capitol last week at President Donald Trump’s exhortation, hoping to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, was full of what you might call “respectable people.” They left dozens of Capitol Police officers injured, screamed “Hang Mike Pence!,” threatened to murder House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and set up a gallows outside the building. Some were extremists using the crowd as cover, but as federal authorities issue indictments, a striking number of those they name appear to be regular Americans.

Brazilian Longboard Dancing

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 06, 2021

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

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

Werner Herzog on Skateboarding

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 31, 2021

Werner Herzog doesn’t know anything about skateboarding. But suspecting the director was a kindred spirit, Ian Michna interviewed Herzog for skate mag Jenkem. My favorite bit is when Michna asks Herzog if he shot a skateboarding video, what music would he choose as a soundtrack:

What comes to mind first and foremost would be Russian Orthodox church choirs, something that creates this kind of strange feeling of space and sacrality — so what you are doing is special, bordering the sacred.

(via @mathowie)

Unsettling Photographs

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 17, 2020

Thundergirl

Thundergirl

Thundergirl

Thundergirl

Some unsettling/weird/funny photos from @thundergirl_xtal on Instagram. They have a separate account just for nails/hands. (via swissmiss)

Fuck You, 2020!

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 20, 2020

I enjoyed this holiday campaign ad from Public Inc. (It contains some salty language! It’s ok — kids are swearing more during the pandemic.)

I watched it twice, donated to the Mental Health Coalition as requested, and now I feel……. better? A little bit? (fuck you, adam lisagor!)

Max Richter’s Tiny Desk (Home) Concert

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 22, 2021

Like many of you, I really enjoyed when NPR hosted Max Richter for a Tiny Desk Concert early in 2020, before the unpleasantness. Almost a year later, the composer is back with a Tiny Desk (Home) Concert. Recorded in spare black & white last summer, Richter plays six of his typically meditative pieces on a piano. Just set this going in the background and relax into your workday (or weekend, depending on your time zone). Enjoy.

The Chart of Doom: Ranking Apocalypses

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 10, 2020

Chart Of Doom

Spurred by the pandemic — what he calls “the first experience we’ve had of a global disaster affecting every single person on Earth”1 — Domain of Science’s Dominic Walliman takes stock of many of the possible catastrophes that might befall humanity, ranking possible threats based on their likelihood and the number of potential casualties.

This year was the first experience we’ve had of a global disaster affecting every single person on Earth. And also how unprepared society was to deal with it, despite plenty of people giving warnings that this was going to happen at some stage.

But in the midst of all the doom I started to wonder, what other things could threaten humanity, that we are not thinking about? So I made the Map of Doom to list all the threats to humanity in one place.

The result is the quadrant chart and the video above as well as the Map of Doom.

One could imagine a third dimension of this chart: what, if anything, humans can do about each of these threats. Earthquakes can be detected, buildings can be designed to withstand them, and evacuation procedures enacted and prioritized. Many effects of climate change can be mitigated. Asteroids can be detected, but doing something about them might prove difficult. We’ve lowered the threat of nuclear war — for now. Supervolcanoes? Yikes.

You can find a list of references used in the video’s description. (via open culture)

  1. Well, I think you could make good arguments for Western colonial expansion and capitalism here. Oh and some past volcanic eruptions.

A Vintage Paper Airplane Collection

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 02, 2021

vintage paper airplane

vintage paper airplane

vintage paper airplane

Harry Everett Smith was an artist and a collector. One of the things he collected was paper airplanes — he picked up hundreds of them from the streets and buildings of New York between 1961 and 1983.

Smith was “always, always, always looking” for new airplanes, one friend said: “He would run out in front of the cabs to get them, you know, before they got run over. I remember one time we saw one in the air and he was just running everywhere trying to figure out where it was going to be. He was just, like, out of his mind, completely. He couldn’t believe that he’d seen one. Someone, I guess, shot it from an upstairs building.”

The whereabouts of much of his collection is presently unknown, but photos of part of the collection were compiled into a book: Paper Airplanes: The Collections of Harry Smith: Catalogue Raisonné, Volume I. You can see more of Smith’s collection at the New Yorker and SFO Museum. (via moss & fog)

Newly Released Footage of a 2007 Daft Punk Concert

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 02, 2021

As a post-Tr*mp gift to the world, YouTube user Johnny Airbag uploaded a “previously uncirculated” full-length video of a Daft Punk concert in Chicago in 2007. This was from the first night of Lollapalooza and was one of the stops on the duo’s Alive tour, which later resulted in their Alive 2007 album (recorded live in Paris a few weeks before the Chicago show). You can find bootleg recordings of several of their 2007 shows on Soundcloud.

How the NY Times Got the Pentagon Papers

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 08, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

Testing Out a Giant Bell

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 03, 2021

If you’re anything like me and all you want to do today is watch some guys hand-ringing a giant bell, here you go. If we click play at the same time, we can watch it together. Ready? 3…2…1…go.

See also The Otherworldly Sounds of a Giant Gong. (via @MachinePix)

21 Things That Kept Me Going In 2020

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 31, 2020

overhead view of my home office

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life Lessons From 100-Year-Olds

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 05, 2021

In this video, three English centenarians share what it’s like to live so long, lessons they’ve learned along the way, and regrets they have. I don’t particularly have the desire for long life, but if I do end up living past my life expectancy, I hope it’s with the vitality shown by these folks.

P.S. I could have sworn that I’d linked to this video before (it’s from 2016) but I can’t find it anywhere in the archives. This is similar though: How to Age Gracefully. (via open culture)

Free As In Frequent Flyer Miles

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 05, 2021

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

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

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

Emphasis of the second to last sentence is mine.

A Sneak Preview of Peter Jackson’s Documentary About The Beatles

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 21, 2020

The Beatles: Get Back, Peter Jackson’s documentary about the making of Let It Be, was delayed by the pandemic, so he and the studio have released a montage of about four minutes of the film as a sneak peek. The film, constructed from 55+ hours of largely unseen footage and 140 hours of audio recordings, seeks to portray the making of the band’s final studio album in a better light than previous accounts. The project has the support of Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Yoko Ono, and Olivia Harrison and will out in August 2021. (via ted gioia)

Inuit Coastline Maps Carved from Driftwood

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 29, 2021

Inuit Cartography

I love these coastline contour maps made by the Inuit people of Greenland. So simple and functional.

In Kalaallit Nunaat (Greenland), the Inuit people are known for carving portable maps out of driftwood to be used while navigating coastal waters. These pieces, which are small enough to be carried in a mitten, represent coastlines in a continuous line, up one side of the wood and down the other. The maps are compact, buoyant, and can be read in the dark.

See also the Marshall Islands Navigation Charts. (thx, kate)

Wooden Satellites

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 04, 2021

Wooden Satellites

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

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

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

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

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