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kottke.org posts about books

Bill Gates’ Pandemic Summer Reading List

posted by Jason Kottke   May 21, 2020

As he does every year, Bill Gates has shared his reading list for this summer. This time around, he’s included more than his usual five picks and many of the recommendations have a connection to the ongoing pandemic.

Of The Choice by Edith Eva Eger, he says:

This book is partly a memoir and partly a guide to processing trauma. Eger was only sixteen years old when she and her family got sent to Auschwitz. After surviving unbelievable horrors, she moved to the United States and became a therapist. Her unique background gives her amazing insight, and I think many people will find comfort right now from her suggestions on how to handle difficult situations.

He also recommends The Great Influenza by John Barry, Good Economics for Hard Times by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, and The Headspace Guide to Meditation and Mindfulness by Andy Puddicombe.

For years, I was a skeptic about meditation. Now I do it as often as I can — three times a week, if time allows. Andy’s book and the app he created, Headspace, are what made me a convert. Andy, a former Buddhist monk, offers lots of helpful metaphors to explain potentially tricky concepts in meditation. At a time when we all could use a few minutes to de-stress and re-focus each day, this is a great place to start.

Gates also recommended some TV shows and movies — Netflix’s Pandemic but also Ozark. He read Cloud Atlas recently — I wonder if he’s seen the movie by the Wachowskis (which is underrated IMO)?

Dr. Seuss Reimagined for the Pandemic

posted by Jason Kottke   May 19, 2020

Dr Seuss Covid

Dr Seuss Covid

Dr Seuss Covid

Dr Seuss Covid

Designer Jim Malloy has reimagined the books of Dr. Seuss for the coronavirus age by altering the titles & cover illustrations and changing the author to “Dr. Fauci”. You can check out the results on Instagram and in this Instagram Story. (via print)

The Best Book Design of 2019

posted by Jason Kottke   May 19, 2020

The Best Book Design of 2019

The Best Book Design of 2019

The Best Book Design of 2019

The Best Book Design of 2019

The Best Book Design of 2019

The AIGA has announced the winners of its annual 50 Books / 50 Covers competition for books published in 2019. The competition recognizes excellence in both book design and book cover design — some of the winners placed in both categories. You’ll notice there are not a lot of books here that you’d find on the front table of the bookstore — the winners tend to be from smaller publishers and/or academic in nature and/or about art or design. For lists containing more mainstream books, check out the lists from the NY Times, Buzzfeed, and Lithub.

The books pictured above (from top to bottom) are Rusty Brown by Chris Ware, When Brooklyn Was Queer by Hugh Ryan, Love Drones by Noam Dorr, Signal. Image. Architecture. by John May, and False Bingo by Jac Jemc.

Cities Are Meant to Stop Traffic

posted by Jason Kottke   May 15, 2020

I recently came across this quote from Kirkpatrick Sale’s 1980 book Human Scale and it succinctly relates a fundamental truth about the purpose of cities.

Cities are meant to stop traffic. That is their point. That is why they are there. That is why traders put outposts there, merchants put shops there, hoteliers erected inns there. That is why factories locate there, why warehouses, assembly plants and distribution centers are established there. That is why people settle and cultural institutions grow there. No one wants to operate in a place that people are just passing through; everyone wants to settle where people will stop, and rest, and look around, and talk, and buy, and share.

Cities, in short, should be an end, not a means. Rationally one wants to have traffic stop there, not go through, one wants movement within it to be slow, not fast.

Sale goes on to list four ways in which cities should think about slowing traffic down:

  1. Cities should not try to move people to facilities but provide facilities where the people are.
  2. Cities should be small enough so that inter-community trips, when necessary, could be managed either on foot, by bike, or with some simple subway or trolley system.
  3. Cities should attempt to slow down the flow of traffic, particularly with plenty of squares and plazas and parks, places where wheeled vehicles are forced to halt, endpoints that invite stopping and resting.
  4. Cities should try to bring home and workplace back together.

You can read the entire excerpt on Google Books. (via @grescoe)

Update: Some alert readers let me know that Kirkpatrick Sale is a left-wing secessionist, which has brought him and his various organizations into contact & cooperation with racist hate groups and white supremacist organizations. I’m not going to link to it, but he’s written some stuff recently about how the Confederacy and slavery weren’t so bad (with tired arguments like white slave owners treating their slaves well) for an organization dedicated to exploring the “Southern tradition”. The white Southern tradition, mind you — there are no black voices or faces represented on their site as far as I can tell. I will leave it as an exercise for the reader as to whether that changes how you feel about his views on how to fix cities.1 (thx, edward & @paulbeard)

  1. For me, it does. It’s fine to advocate for more bike transportation & workplaces close to home, but cities can accomplish that in a way that takes into account lower income communities (which in American cities are often made up of PoC and immigrants) or not. Everyone who lives in the West Village working close to their house and being able to walk to the store is fine — and perhaps if you’re Sale, you’d say “mission accomplished” — but if the restaurant busboys, teachers, shop clerks, dry cleaners, store owners, plumbers, firefighters, and all the other people that make that neighborhood actually function can’t afford to live anywhere close to the neighborhood and are still spending hours every day commuting on the subway to & from Queens, the Bronx, or Brooklyn, I would argue you really haven’t solved, or even begun to solve, the problem of moving home and workplace closer together.

The Real Lord of the Flies

posted by Jason Kottke   May 12, 2020

For his new book, Humankind: A Hopeful History, Rutger Bregman uncovered the real-life story of 6 schoolboys who were stranded on a Pacific island for 15 months in 1965-66. What he learned was not the familiar tale of savagery & death told in William Golding’s novel Lord of the Flies. Instead, the boys cooperated and thrived.

But “by the time we arrived,” Captain Warner wrote in his memoirs, “the boys had set up a small commune with food garden, hollowed-out tree trunks to store rainwater, a gymnasium with curious weights, a badminton court, chicken pens and a permanent fire, all from handiwork, an old knife blade and much determination.” While the boys in Lord of the Flies come to blows over the fire, those in this real-life version tended their flame so it never went out, for more than a year.

On Twitter, Bregman shared how he came to learn about this story:

As a proper investigative journalist, I started Googling. Search terms: ‘Kids shipwrecked’. ‘Real-life Lord of the Flies’ etc. After a while, I came across a blog that told this story.

Wow, I thought. If this really happened, then why isn’t it a super famous story? The article did not provide sources. After a couple of hours, I discovered that it came from a book by the anarchist Colin Ward from 1988. He cited an Italian politician Susanna Agnelli.

From a second-hand bookshop in the UK, I ordered her 1986 book, got it two weeks later, and found the story on page 94. But again: same details, same wording, no source. At that point I started to think that it probably didn’t happen.

Here’s a photo of the six boys with Peter Warner, the sea captain who rescued them:

Real Life Lord Of The Flies

After the rescue, Warner hired the boys as crew members and they worked with him for years. you can read more about Bregman and his new book in this related article.

Update: You may have noticed that Bregman’s piece is told from the perspective of the discoverer of a good story and the sea captain who rescued the boys, and there’s actually relatively little from the boys themselves. Tongan writer Meleika Gesa-Fatafehi wrote a pair of threads on Twitter about how problematic it is that a story about six indigenous schoolboys became one about two white men. First of all, the story was not unknown or forgotten:

I’ve been told many stories about (both) my people getting lost by sea and being stuck on either a boat or Island. But I remember this one significantly because the boys were stuck on ‘Ata. I remember it being called the rock Island.

The local culture that the boys grew up in is essential to the story, particularly w/r/t the lesson Bregman wants to assign to it:

Tongans are taught to share from the beginning. You’re also taught to treat everyone like family. You’re taught to survive together not “Everyman to himself”. It’s hard to exist without community. So when one person is ill or hurt, it’s an automatic reaction to help

To heal and to use knowledge passed down to you. This is seen in every aspect of how the boys survived. They created a community, a small family and worked together.

The white boys of LotF cannot relate because of the very fact they are rich white school boys who aren’t from an Island nation.

LotF isn’t what would happen amongst Tongans because of the value system we have. This is true for every Island nation.

Filmmaker Taika Waititi had this to say about a possible film adaptation:

Personally, I think you should prioritize Polynesian (Tongan if possible!) filmmakers as to avoid cultural appropriation, misrepresentation, and to keep the Pasifika voice authentic.

(via @tinakittelty)

Andy Serkis Is Reading The Hobbit Aloud for 12 Straight Hours

posted by Jason Kottke   May 08, 2020

Andy Serkis, who played Gollum in the Lord of the Rings movies, is reading The Hobbit (the entire book!) aloud for 12 straight hours today to raise money for Covid-19 relief.

So many of us are struggling in isolation during the lockdown. While times are tough, I want to take you on one of the greatest fantasy adventures ever written, a 12 hour armchair marathon across Middle Earth whilst raising money for two amazing charities which are doing extraordinary work right now to help those most in need in the UK: Best Beginnings and NHS Charities Together.

He’s been going since 5am EST, so you can join in progress or rewind your way back to the beginning. The campaign has already reached its initial goal of £100,000 — you can contribute here. A “special surprise” was promised if the goal was met…I wonder if Ian McKellen or Martin Freeman will be stopping by for a chapter or two?

Becoming, a Film About Michelle Obama

posted by Jason Kottke   May 06, 2020

Based on her memoir of the same name and produced by the production company she created with her husband, Becoming is a film about Michelle Obama that premiered on Netflix today.

Becoming is an intimate look into the life of former First Lady Michelle Obama during a moment of profound change, not only for her personally but for the country she and her husband served over eight impactful years in the White House. The film offers a rare and up-close look at her life, taking viewers behind the scenes as she embarks on a 34-city tour that highlights the power of community to bridge our divides and the spirit of connection that comes when we openly and honestly share our stories.

The trailer and a clip from the film are embedded above. The clip features Obama talking with a group of young black women on her book tour and one of them asks about getting her life “back on track” after her husband’s presidency. Obama’s answer is remarkably timely:

What I’ve learned is that…get back on what track? It’s a whole new track. It’s not going back — it’s just all different and it’s different forever. So it’s not getting back on track, it’s creating my next track.

I think many Americans and people across the world are struggling with accepting that idea in the midst of the pandemic.

Daniel Radcliffe Reads the First Chapter of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

posted by Jason Kottke   May 05, 2020

As part of the Wizarding World’s Harry Potter at Home initiative, they’re having an all-star cast read the first book in the series aloud on video. The first chapter was just released and it’s read by none other than Daniel Radcliffe himself. You can also listen on Spotify:

A new chapter with a different reader will be released each week — readers of future chapters include Stephen Fry, Dakota Fanning, and Eddie Redmayne.

Update: The next few chapters have been released: Noma Dumezweni’s chapter 2, Eddie Redmayne reads chapter 3, and Stephen Fry does chapter 4. The kids and I have been listening to this on Spotify in the car and we’re loving it. I liked Redmayne’s narration the best so far and Fry does an uncanny impression of Robbie Coltrane’s Hagrid voice.

My Recent Media Diet, The Pandemic Edition

posted by Jason Kottke   May 01, 2020

Well, it has been awhile. I have not done one of these since late December. First I was away for a few weeks and then, well, you know. I’m not even sure if anyone wants to read this sort of thing right now — I barely wanted to write it — but I know a lot of people are stuck at home, looking for stuff to watch, read, and listen to. Plus, keeping the media diet going feels normal, at least a little.

If you’re strapped for time/attention, my top recs are Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Devs, Exhalation, Little Women, Unbelievable, Future Nostalgia, The Overstory, and You’re Wrong About.

Devs. Fantastic. I loved every minute of this gem. (A)

Unbelievable. Based on a true story. Excellent performances by Toni Collette and (especially) Merritt Wever. (A)

The Report. Also based on a true story. The Bush presidency still does not get the credit in terms of the harm it did, and continues to do, to America. (B+)

Exhalation by Ted Chiang. Killer collection of tech/science stories. (A)

Slow Burn (season 3). Not just about Biggie/Tupac, but about 90s hip-hop & the cultural reaction to it. (B+)

AirPods Pro. Wearing these feels a little like the future. (A)

Aeronauts. Perfectly fine. (B)

Portrait of a Lady on Fire. Straight-up masterpiece. (A)

Don’t F**k with Cats. How on Earth did I not hear anything about this case when it originally happened and why is it not more widely known? A media-obsessed wanna-be serial killer caught by online sleuths? It seems like fiction. (B+)

How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan. This maybe would have been better at half the length. (B+)

1917. Technically stunning but I never truly got involved in the story because I was trying to see where the cuts were. (B+)

Icarus. Almost unbelievable where the story goes in this. (A-)

Little Women. My choice for the best 2019 movie. (A)

My Brilliant Friend (season 2). The second part of the first season set a high bar to clear, but I’m loving this season so far. (A)

Jojo Rabbit. Like Inglourious Basterds directed by Wes Anderson. (A-)

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong. Fittingly finished this on the plane to Vietnam. (B+)

Anthropocene. Typically excellent look at the impact of humans on the Earth by Edward Burtynsky. (A-)

Frances Ha. Baby Adam Driver! (B+)

Catch Me If You Can. Spielberg (and DiCaprio) at their most entertaining. (A-)

Edge of Tomorrow. Love this movie. An underrated gem. (A)

The Overstory by Richard Powers. A wonderful novel about trees and the natural world. (A)

Titanic. A masterclass of blockbuster filmmaking and storytelling. (A)

Good Place (season 4). Loved the ending to this. (A-)

Outbreak. Contagion. Deep Impact. 2012. The Core. I Am Legend. I have been watching all of the disaster movies. They are terrible and I love them. (A/C-)

The Aftermath. The ending of this felt random, a gotcha to the audience rather than the natural end to the story. (B)

Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner. I had medium hopes for this, but the Seth Rogan episode made me laugh harder than I have in months. (B+)

Watchmen. The first three episodes gave me this-is-gonna-end-like-Lost vibes and then they announced there wasn’t going to be second season, so I stopped watching. (B-)

The Farewell. Wonderful. (A-)

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon. Started slow but finished strong. Keep your eyes peeled for all of the sci-fi references. (B+)

Birds of Prey. This was mindless. And not in a good way. (D)

McMillion$. My main takeaway was being aghast at how much time, energy, and money the FBI put into this case, which one of the lead investigators only pursued because it was fun. (B)

Star Trek: Picard. I would have voted against bringing this beloved character back (for fear they’d ruin it) but I enjoyed almost every second of this. (B+)

The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson. Another great book from Larson. The Battle of Britain is surprisingly relevant to these pandemic times. (A-)

Onward. Not my favorite Pixar, but solid as always. (B)

Future Nostalgia. Love this album, not a single weak song. (A)

The Mandalorian. It took me too long to realize that this was a western. I don’t care that much for westerns. (B)

Star Wars Episodes I II III. I needed some true garbage to watch about two weeks into my self-quarantine. These movies are mostly terrible. (C-)

You’re Wrong About. I’ve mentioned this podcast before, but You’re Wrong About has become essential listening for me. The OJ and DC Sniper series are both great, and their episode Why Didn’t Anyone Go to Prison for the Financial Crisis was excellent and surprisingly didn’t really mention the actual crisis at all. (A)

Iron Man. Iron Man 2. Thor. Captain America: The First Avenger. The Avengers. The kids and I are rewatching all the MCU movies in release order. Some are better than others. (B)

Tiger King. I watched the first episode and…is this anything more than just gawping at yokels? Does this documentary have anything important to say about society or is it just reality TV? (C)

LBJ and the Great Society. A fascinating look at a brief moment in time when our government worked and how that happened. (A-)

The Case of the Missing Hit. You’ve likely heard this instant-classic episode of Reply All by now, but if you haven’t, it’s worth the hype. (A-)

Tempest in a Teacup. Outside/In talks to Charles Mann about a passage in 1491 about passenger pigeons, which suggested that their famous abundance was a relatively recent occurence caused by the decimation of indigenous populations in the Americas by Europeans and their diseases. (B+)

The Living Room. The episode of Love + Radio that inspired the Oscar-winning The Neighbor’s Window. (A-)

Simulcast. Tycho’s instrumental companion album to Weather. (B+)

Minority Report. This was cheesier than I remembered it. Hasn’t aged well in some ways. (B)

Pelican Brief. So 90s. But I’d forgotten the star power of Denzel and Julia Roberts, even in a mediocre movie. (B)

Murder on the Orient Express. Rewatch. Branagh sure does chew the scenery, but it is fun to watch. (B+)

Gemini Man. Action. Sci fi. Mostly forgettable. (B-)

Yesterday. Cute flick. (B)

Monsters University. This was the only Pixar movie I had never seen. And now I have. (B)

Dark Phoenix. Slightly more entertaining than I was expecting. (B)

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

Where’s Waldo? in the Social Distancing Age

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 21, 2020

Where's Waldo Pandemic

Finding Waldo is a lot easier when no one can go outside. On his Instagram, art director Pedro Mezzini reimagined Where’s Waldo for the age of social distancing. He’s even wearing a mask! See also Clay Bennett’s version.

Children’s Story Time with Michelle Obama and PBS Kids

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 21, 2020

For the next several Mondays, Michelle Obama will read a favorite children’s book in partnership with PBS Kids. The first reading (of The Gruffalo) is already in the can and archived on YouTube:

(via barry)

The Origin of 8-Bit Arcade Fonts

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 13, 2020

Aided by Toshi Omagari, who wrote Arcade Game Typography, Vox’s Estelle Caswell explores the origins and history of 8-bit arcade fonts. From the description of the book:

Video game designers of the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s faced color and resolution limitations that stimulated incredible creativity. With each letter having to exist in a small pixel grid, artists began to use clever techniques to create elegant character sets within a tiny canvas.

As the creator of a tiny pixelated typeface, I find this stuff infinitely fascinating.

Dr. Seuss’s Fox in Socks Rapped Over Dr. Dre’s Beats

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 09, 2020

As someone who a) thinks Dr. Dre was an amazing producer, and b) read Dr. Seuss’s Fox in Socks to his children roughly 1 million times (enough to be able to, eventually, get through the entire book at a comically high rate of speed w/o any tongue twisting slip-ups), I thought Wes Tank’s video of himself rapping Fox in Socks over Dre’s beats was really fun and surprisingly well done.

Tank has also done Green Eggs and Ham (over the beats from Forgot About Dre) and The Lorax. (thx, andrew)

Ken Burns Presents The Gene: An Intimate History

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 08, 2020

From Ken Burns and Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee, The Gene: An Intimate History, a series about the history of genetics based on Mukherjee’s book of the same name. Here’s a trailer:

The series tells the story of the rapid evolution of genetic science from Gregor Mendel’s groundbreaking experiment in the 19th century to CRISPR, and the hope that newfound powers to alter DNA with pinpoint precision will transform the treatment of some of the world’s most complex and challenging diseases. The series also tackles the daunting ethical challenges that these technologies pose for humankind.

This looks great, especially if this clip about Nancy Wexler’s crusade to find a cure for Huntington’s disease is representative of the whole:

In 1968, Nancy Wexler’s mother was diagnosed with a rare genetic disease - Huntington’s. Facing a 50-50 chance of contracting Huntington’s herself, Wexler — a non-scientist — began an odyssey to find the gene that causes the disease. For three decades, Wexler searched for treatments but chose not to get tested. As time passed, she noticed changes in the way she moved. Finally, in early 2020, Wexler decided to face her fears.

Part 1 of the series is now streaming on PBS with part 2 set to premiere next week.

Bong Joon-ho’s Extensive Storyboards for Parasite

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 01, 2020

Parasite Storyboards

Before he begins filming any of his movies, director Bong Joon-ho draws out storyboards for every single shot of every single scene of the film. From an interview with Bong in 2017:

I’m always very nervous in my everyday life and if I don’t prepare everything beforehand, I go crazy. That’s why I work very meticulously on the storyboards. If I ever go to a psych ward or a psychiatric hospital, they’ll diagnose me as someone who has a mental problem and they’ll tell me to stop working, but I still want to work. I have to draw storyboards.

For his Oscar-winning Parasite, Bong has collected the storyboards into a 304-page graphic novel due out in mid-May: Parasite: A Graphic Novel in Storyboards.

Drawn by Bong Joon Ho himself before the filming of the Palme d’Or Award-winning, Golden Globe(R)-nominated film, these illustrations, accompanied by every line of dialog, depict the film in its entirety. Director Bong has also provided a foreword which takes the reader even deeper into the creative process which gave rise to the stunning cinematic achievement of Parasite.

The book has already been released in Korea, and Through the Viewfinder did a 5-minute video comparison of the storyboards with the filmed scenes for the peach fuzz montage scene (and another video of the flood scene).

Amazing. That’s a whole lotta film school packed into five minutes of video.

People Behave More Cooperatively During Disasters

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 31, 2020

I’ve been wanting to write something about this for a few weeks now, so I was glad to find this short but meaty Twitter thread by Dan Gardner about how people react in a crisis: they get more cooperative, not less.

Please remember: The idea that when disaster strikes people panic and social order collapses is very popular. It is also a myth. A huge research literature shows disaster makes people *more* pro-social. They cooperate. They support each other. They’re better than ever.

But the myth matters because it can lead people to take counterproductive actions and adopt policies. The simple truth is we are a fantastically social species and threats only fuel our instinct to pro-social behaviour.

Incidentally, this point is made, and is forgotten, after every disaster. Remember 9/11? Everyone was astonished that snarling, greedy, individualistic New Yorkers were suddenly behaving like selfless saints. No need for surprise. That’s humanity. That’s how we roll.

A reader suggested I check out Rebecca Solnit’s writing on the topic, and indeed she wrote an entire book in 2010 about this: A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster. Solnit recently spoke to CBC Radio about her research.

I had learned by reading the oral histories of the 1906 earthquake, and by reading the wonderful disaster sociologists in a field that begins in part with Samuel Prince, looking at the Halifax Explosion in 1917 … that actually in disasters, most people are altruistic, brave, communitarian, generous and deeply creative in rescuing each other, creating the conditions for success of survival and often creating these little disaster utopias where everyone feels equal. Everyone feels like a participant.

It’s like a reset, when you turn the machine on and off and on again, that our basic default setting is generous and communitarian and altruistic. But what’s shocking is the incredible joy people often seem to have, when they describe that sense of purpose, connection, community agency they found. It speaks to how deeply we desire something we mostly don’t have in everyday life. That’s a kind of social, public love and power, above and beyond the private life.

I’ve put this 2016 episode of On Being with Solnit on my to-listen list.

The amazing thing about the 1989 earthquake — it was an earthquake as big as the kind that killed thousands of people in places like Turkey and Mexico City, and things like that. But partly, because we have good infrastructure, about 50 people died, a number of people lost their homes, everybody was shaken up. But what was so interesting for me was that people seemed to kind of love what was going on.

That same year in the aftermath of the election, she wrote an essay called How to Survive a Disaster.

I landed in Halifax, Nova Scotia, shortly after a big hurricane tore up the city in October of 2003. The man in charge of taking me around told me about the hurricane-not the winds at more than a hundred miles an hour that tore up trees, roofs, telephone poles, not the seas that rose nearly ten feet, but the neighbors. He spoke of the few days when everything was disrupted and lit up with happiness as he did so. In his neighborhood all the people had come out of their houses to speak with each other, aid each other, to improvise a community kitchen, make sure the elders were okay, and spend time together, no longer strangers. “Everybody woke up the next morning and everything was different,” he mused. “There was no electricity, all the stores were closed, no one had access to media. The consequence was that everyone poured out into the street to bear witness. Not quite a street party, but everyone out at once-it was a sense of happiness to see everybody even though we didn’t know each other.” His joy struck me powerfully.

More reading material on this, via Gardner: Disaster Mythology and Fact: Hurricane Katrina and Social Attachment, Psychological disaster myths in the perception and management of mass emergencies, There Goes Hurricane Florence; Here Come the Disaster Myths, and 5 Most Common (and Most Dangerous) Disaster Myths.

Note: A version of this post first appeared in Noticing, the kottke.org newsletter. You can subscribe here.

The Cephalopoda, a Hand-Drawn Atlas of Octopus and Squid (1910)

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 06, 2020

Cephalopoda

Cephalopoda

Cephalopoda

The Valdivia Expedition, led by German marine biologist Carl Chun in 1898-1899, was the first time humans had explored the ocean depths below 500 fathoms. What they found changed our conception of the oceans. The results, in the form of 24 volumes of text and illustrations, took decades to be published. Among the volumes was The Cephalopoda, published in 1910 and filled with colorful hand-illustrated drawings of octopuses and squid, courtesy of the Biodiversity Heritage Library.

I found this on Brain Pickings, which identifies the illustrator as Friedrich Wilhelm Winter, a credit I couldn’t find in the actual book itself. They’re also selling some of the illustrations as prints, like this one of the octopus featured above.

Why Do Poor People Make Bad Decisions?

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 04, 2020

From The Correspondent, this is an article by Dutch historian Rutger Bregman about why poor people make low-quality decisions. In a nutshell, it’s because living in poverty overwhelms your brain, decreasing cognitive ability by a significant amount. The piece cites a number of supporting studies, but this one is perhaps the most relevant to separating cause from effect:

Shafir found what he was looking for some 8,000 miles away in the districts of Vilupuram and Tiruvannamalai in rural India. The conditions were perfect. As it happened, the area’s sugarcane farmers collect 60% of their annual income all at once right after the harvest. This means they are flush one part of the year and poor the other.

So how did they do in the experiment?

At the time when they were comparatively poor, they scored substantially worse on the cognitive tests. Not because they had become less intelligent people somehow — they were still the same Indian sugarcane farmers, after all — but purely and simply because their mental bandwidth was compromised.

Another study, of Cherokee families whose income increased dramatically due to casino revenues, shows just how beneficial more money is to poor communities:

Soon after the casino opened, Costello was already noting huge improvements for her subjects. Behavioural problems among children who had been lifted out of poverty went down 40%, putting them in the same range as their peers who had never known hardship. Juvenile crime rates among the Cherokee also declined, along with drug and alcohol use, while their school scores improved markedly. At school, the Cherokee kids were now on a par with the study’s non-tribal participants.

On seeing the data, Costello’s first reaction was disbelief. “The expectation is that social interventions have relatively small effects,” she later said. “This one had quite large effects.”

Costello calculated that the extra $4,000 per annum resulted in an additional year of educational attainment by age 21 and reduced the chance of a criminal record at age 16 by 22%.

This article was adapted from Bregman’s book, Utopia for Realists: How We Can Build the Ideal World, in which he advocates for three main changes to make our global society more equitable: a universal basic income, a 15-hour work-week, and open borders. The UBI issue is what he’s most known for — check out his 2013 article, Why we should give free money to everyone, and his two TED Talks on the topic. BTW, did you know that Nixon almost implemented a UBI in the US in the late 60s?

The New York Public Library’s List of “125 Books We Love”

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 19, 2020

NYPL 125 Books

To celebrate their 125th anniversary, the New York Public Library has created a list of 125 Books We Love, books published in the past 125 years “that made us fall in love with reading”. First on the list (alphabetically) is 1984, which was the first adult book I fell in love with. Other personal favorites on the list include The Warmth of Other Suns, The Devil in the White City, Cleopatra: A Life, Wolf Hall, My Brilliant Friend, and The Remains of the Day.

You can check out the entire list or read about how the books were selected. (via open culture)

An Online Collection of Mexican Cookbooks (1789-Present)

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 17, 2020

Mexican Cookbooks

The University of Texas at San Antonio maintains a collection of over 2000 Mexican cookbooks dating from as far back as 1789 and a selection of those is available online.

UTSA’s Mexican Cookbook Collection is comprised of more than 2,000 cookbooks, from 1789 to the present, with most books dating from 1940-2000. In addition to broad general coverage, the collection includes concentrations in the areas of regional cooking, healthy and vegetarian recipes, corporate advertising cookbooks, and manuscript recipe books.

A guide to the entire collection is available or you can just dive in to the digitized content. (thx, megan)

The Process Genre

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 14, 2020

From Duke University Press and author Salomé Aguilera Skvirsky comes what looks like an intriguing book on the beloved phenomenon of “how things are made” media — you know, things like “how to” cooking videos and IKEA instructions — The Process Genre: Cinema and the Aesthetic of Labor (at Amazon). From the book’s introduction:

Chapter 3, “Aestheticizing Labor,” argues that the category of labor is central to the process genre. In my account, the process genre is, in effect, always symptomatically reflecting on the interactions of human labor, technology (i.e., tools, instruments, machines), and nature. The chapter first examines the genre’s relation to technique. Then it surveys the political implications of the ways in which labor is poeticized in the genre. In its most exalted examples, the process genre presents a striking paradox. On the one hand, it is the most instrumentalist of genres. After all, it is a genre constituted by the presentation of a sequential series of steps, all aiming at a useful result; it is a genre that is usually associated with what scholars call “useful cinema.” On the other hand, it is a genre that has produced some of the most romantic, utopian depictions of labor in which labor figures not as that from which human beings seek relief in the form of listless leisure, but as the activity that gives human life meaning. The philosophical basis for the centrality of labor to life — what has been called the “metaphysics of labor” — finds expression in the process genre; thus, the genre stands in opposition to the politics of antiwork.

The photos on the cover of the book are stills from the Mister Rogers video on how crayons are made:

As you’ve probably observed, I am an unabashed fan of the process genre, with dozens of videos & tutorials in kottke.org’s how to tag alone. Some of my particular favorites are the crayon video above (along with a similar one from Sesame Street), an Oscar-winning short from 1958 about glassmaking, the Primitive Technology videos, how marbled paper is made, how candy is made at the Teddy Grays factory, and the National Film Board of Canada’s video about how to make an igloo. (thx, jason! (no relation))

Database of old book illustrations

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Feb 07, 2020

Matterhorn from near the Submit of Theodul Pass

Here’s an enormous library of thousands of old book illustrations, with searchable name, artist, source, date, which book it was in, etc. There are also a number of collections to browse through, and each are tagged with multiple keywords so you can also get lost in there in that manner.

Though the team behind the site doesn’t specifically list the whole site as public domain, chances are a lot of the illustrations you’ll find are way out of copyright in most jurisdictions.

Setting up the watches

South-Australian cobbler

Flore pittoresque--Plate 8

Archbishops' Palace, Narbonne

The Booksellers

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Feb 05, 2020

I’m very much here for this! “A behind-the-scenes look at the New York rare book world.” Includes interviews with Fran Lebowitz, Susan Orlean, Kevin Young and Gay Talese.

Antiquarian booksellers are part scholar, part detective and part businessperson, and their personalities and knowledge are as broad as the material they handle. They also play an underappreciated yet essential role in preserving history. THE BOOKSELLERS takes viewers inside their small but fascinating world, populated by an assortment of obsessives, intellects, eccentrics and dreamers.

From the trailer:

The people that I see reading actual books in the subway are mostly in their twenties, it’s one of the few encouraging things you will ever see int he subway.

Story Time from Space

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 01, 2020

The Story Time from Space program aims to promote language and STEM literacy by having astronauts read educational bedtime books from low-Earth orbit on the International Space Station to kids on Earth. Here’s astronaut Kate Rubins reading Rosie Revere, Engineer:

And Ada Twist, Scientist read by Serena Auñón-Chancellor:

What a cool idea. Check out the rest of the available videos in their library.

Enemy of All Mankind, Steven Johnson

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 01, 2020

Enemy of All Mankind

Steven Johnson (Ghost Map, How We Got to Now) is out with a new book in May called Enemy Of All Mankind: A True Story of Piracy, Power, and History’s First Global Manhunt. The book combines the story of a pirate with the beginnings of global capitalism and the end of an empire in Johnson’s polymathic fashion.

At its simplest, Enemy Of All Mankind is the story of a rogue pirate and his sensational crime. While piracy is an ancient profession, the most famous pirates of history would not take the stage until two decades or so after the voyage of the Fancy. But that “golden age” generation — Blackbeard, Samuel Bellamy, Calico Jack — was very much inspired by Henry Every’s crimes and the legends that spun up around them. While Every is not as famous today as those iconic figures from the golden age, he had a more significant impact on the course of world events than Blackbeard and his peers. Enemy Of All Mankind is an attempt to measure that impact, to chart its boundaries. It tells the story of the individual lives caught up in the crisis that erupted after the mutiny of 1694, but also the stories of a different kind of character, one step up the chain: forms of social organization, institutions, new media platforms. One of those institutions was as ancient as piracy itself: the autocratic theocracy of the Mughal dynasty. The others were just coming into being: the multinational corporation, the popular press, the administrative empire that would come to dominate India starting in the middle of the next century.

Normal People TV Series

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 28, 2020

The BBC and Hulu are producing a 12-part TV series based on Sally Rooney’s book Normal People (which I excerpted here). The first trailer is above and I have to say, color me intrigued. (via the recently relaunched recs)

The Story of Two Monks and a Woman

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 26, 2020

Something shitty just happened to me. (Don’t worry, I’m alright!) But after it happened, I was pretty preoccupied by the whole thing: feeling victimized, rehashing the stupid mistake I’d made in my mind, wondering what I should have done differently, feeling shame about it all. This incident was on its way to ruining my day and perhaps even my next few days. Then I remembered one of the stories from the lovely Zen Shorts, a book I used to read with the kids.

The tale of two monks and a woman is a well-known Buddhist parable. The story goes that two monks were traveling together, a senior and a junior. They came to a river with a strong current where a young woman was waiting, unable to cross alone. She asks the monks if they would help her across the river. Without a word and in spite of the sacred vow he’d taken not to touch women, the older monk picks her up, crosses, and sets her down on the other side.

The younger monk joins them across the river and is aghast that the older monk has broken his vow but doesn’t say anything. An hour passes as they travel on. Then two hours. Then three. Finally, the now quite agitated younger monk can stand it no longer: “Why did you carry that women when we took a vow as monks not to touch women?”

The older monk replies, “I set her down hours ago by the side of the river. Why are you still carrying her?”

The story is a reminder to not dwell on the past in a way that interferes with living in the present moment. I’m glad to have remembered it today — I’m feeling much better now.

“World Travel: An Irreverent Guide”, an Upcoming Travel Guidebook by Anthony Bourdain

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 16, 2020

World Travel Guide Bourdain

Just before be died, Anthony Bourdain began work on a travel guide with his long-time assistant and coauthor Laurie Woolever. The book was to distill the lessons learned from his life of travel as a TV personality and celebrity food enthusiast. Based on their conversations, Woolever is completing work on World Travel: An Irreverent Guide, which will be out in October.

In World Travel, a life of experience is collected into an entertaining, practical, fun and frank travel guide that gives readers an introduction to some of his favorite places-in his own words. Featuring essential advice on how to get there, what to eat, where to stay and, in some cases, what to avoid, World Travel provides essential context that will help readers further appreciate the reasons why Bourdain found a place enchanting and memorable.

Supplementing Bourdain’s words are a handful of essays by friends, colleagues, and family that tell even deeper stories about a place.

Here’s a brief taste of the kind of advice you’ll find in the book:

Skip the touristy spots, he said: “If you spend all that time waiting to get into the Eiffel Tower, you’ve completely wasted a day”; and forget the concierge: “They’re going to send you to the place with the clean bathroom. Some of the best meals I’ve had, you need a hazmat suit to go to the bathroom.”

You can preorder the book on Amazon.

Steven Soderbergh’s Media Diet for 2019

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 14, 2020

Every year, director Steven Soderbergh publishes a list of the movies, books, TV series, short films, and short stories he’s watched and read over the course of the year (one of the inspirations for my media diet posts). For many creators, the key to making good work is to read and watch widely with an emphasis on quality — it’s difficult make great work if your ingredients are poor — so Soderbergh’s 2019 list is a fascinating look at the director’s inputs for the next year’s creative endeavors.

Some observations:

Winners Take All

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 09, 2020

Winners Take All is Anand Giridharadas’ 2018 book about how “the global elite’s efforts to ‘change the world’ preserve the status quo and obscure their role in causing the problems they later seek to solve”. For instance, Giridharadas would argue that Jeff Bezos donating a billion dollars to charter schools while Amazon pays no federal income tax is a problem.

Why, for example, should our gravest problems be solved by the unelected upper crust instead of the public institutions it erodes by lobbying and dodging taxes? His groundbreaking investigation has already forced a great, sorely needed reckoning among the world’s wealthiest and those they hover above, and it points toward an answer: Rather than rely on scraps from the winners, we must take on the grueling democratic work of building more robust, egalitarian institutions and truly changing the world — a call to action for elites and everyday citizens alike.

The RSA made an animated video of a talk by Giridharadas that distills his central message into about five minutes — it’s a good watch/listen. The full talk is available here. (via aeon)