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kottke.org posts about books

Leonardo da Vinci is overrated

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 19, 2017

Leonardo Overrated

Tyler Cowen asks Is Leonardo da Vinci overrated? and, in a rebuke to Betteridge, proceeds to answer “yes”.

He has no work as stunning as Michelangelo’s David, and too many of his commissions he left unfinished or he never started them. The Notebooks display a fertile imagination, but do not contain much real knowledge of use, except on the aortic valve, nor did they boost gdp, nor are they worth reading. Much of his science is weak on theory, even relative to his time.

So Leonardo was perhaps not the best at any one thing but he was very good or great at many different things. He is literally the quintessential “Renaissance man” and yet Cowen fails to evaluate him on that basis. Not surprising…history’s generalists are under-celebrated as a rule. Anyway, I’m looking forward to reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of Leonardo in the next couple of weeks.

See also how the Mona Lisa became overrated.

My media diet for the past two weeks

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 13, 2017

Quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, heard, and experienced in the past two weeks or so. I’ve been working and traveling, so there have been fewer books and more podcasts in my life. On the way home from NYC, I started The Devil in the White City on audiobook and can’t wait to get back to it.

From Cells to Cities. Sam Harris podcast interview of Geoffrey West, author of Scale. Two genuinely mind-blowing moments can’t quite salvage the remained 2 hours of rambling. (A-/C-)

Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs. I much prefer the book. (C+)

Kingsman: The Secret Service. Entertaining enough. I’ll give the new one a try. (B+)

Philip Glass Piano Works by Vikingur Olafsson. This is relaxing to listen to in the morning. (A-)

Luciferian Towers by Godspeed You! Black Emperor. This sounds very much like all their other albums and I am not complaining. (B+)

mother! An intense film but it was too overly metaphorical for me to take any of the intensity seriously. (B)

The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel. “A fun, high-quality, serial mystery that can be described as Goonies meets Spy Kids meets Stranger Things for 8-12 year olds.” My kids and I listened to season one over the course of a week and they could not wait to hear more. (A-)

The Vietnam War original score. By Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. An unusual choice for the score to a Ken Burns film. (B+)

Blade Runner 2049. Seeing this in IMAX (real IMAX not baby IMAX) really blew my doors off. Visually and sonically amazing. At least 20 minutes too long though. (A-)

New Yorker TechFest. I hadn’t been to a tech conference in awhile because the ratio of style to substance had gotten too high. The caliber of the speakers set this conference apart. My full report is here. (B+)

Items: Is Fashion Modern? Great collection of items, but I’m not sure I’m any closer to knowing the answer to the question in the title. (A-)

LBJ’s War. A short, 6-part podcast on Lyndon Johnson and the Vietnam War, consisting mostly of interviews and audio recordings from the period in question. A good companion to the PBS series on the war. (B+)

Driverless Dilemma by Radiolab. Revisiting an old episode of Radiolab about the trolley problem in the context of self-driving cars. (B)

Max Richter: Piano Works by Olivia Belli. Short and sweet. (A-)

Jerry Before Seinfeld. This felt pretty phoned-in. Some of these old jokes — “women, am I right?” — should have stayed in the vault. (B-)

Blade Runner 2049 soundtrack. A critical part of the movie that also stands alone. (A-)

Spielberg. A solid appreciation of Spielberg’s career, but more of a critical eye would have been appreciated. Also, was surprised how many of his movies referenced his parents’ divorce. (B+)

Universal Paperclips. Ugh, I cannot ever resist these incremental games. What an odd name, “incremental games”. Aren’t most games incremental? (A-/F)

Dictionary Stories, a book of short stories composed entirely of dictionary example sentences

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 12, 2017

Dictionary Stories

From illustrator, designer, and writer Jez Burrows comes a book called Dictionary Stories, a collection of illustrated short stories that are composed entirely of example sentences from the dictionary.

One day, while looking up a word in the New Oxford American Dictionary, Jez Burrows was stopped in his tracks by an example sentence: “He perched on the edge of the bed, a study in confusion and misery.” It seemed like a tiny piece of fiction had gotten lost, wandered out of another book and settled down in the dictionary. With that spark, and a handful of experimental stories posted to Tumblr, Dictionary Stories was born.

Super clever.

Universal Paperclips

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 11, 2017

There’s a new meta game by Frank Lantz making the rounds: Universal Paperclips, “in which you play an AI who makes paperclips”. Basically, you click a button to make money and use that money to buy upgrades which gives you more money per click, rinse, repeat.

Why AI and paperclips? That’s from a thought experiment by philosopher Nick Bostrom, author of Superintelligence:

Imagine an artificial intelligence, he says, which decides to amass as many paperclips as possible. It devotes all its energy to acquiring paperclips, and to improving itself so that it can get paperclips in new ways, while resisting any attempt to divert it from this goal. Eventually it “starts transforming first all of Earth and then increasing portions of space into paperclip manufacturing facilities”. This apparently silly scenario is intended to make the serious point that AIs need not have human-like motives or psyches. They might be able to avoid some kinds of human error or bias while making other kinds of mistake, such as fixating on paperclips. And although their goals might seem innocuous to start with, they could prove dangerous if AIs were able to design their own successors and thus repeatedly improve themselves. Even a “fettered superintelligence”, running on an isolated computer, might persuade its human handlers to set it free. Advanced AI is not just another technology, Mr Bostrom argues, but poses an existential threat to humanity.

But you know, have fun playing! (via @kevinhendricks)

The 2017 National Book Awards finalists

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 10, 2017

National Book Awards 2017

The National Book Foundation has announced the finalists (and the longlist) for The 2017 National Book Awards. Among the nominees in the categories of fiction, non-fiction, young people’s literature, and poetry are The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia by Masha Gessen, The Book of Endings by Leslie Harrison, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez, and Pachinko by Min Jin Lee.

I’m excited to see David Grann’s Killers of the Flower Moon on the list. I read it earlier this year and it was excellent.

A scientific simulation of Seveneves’ Moon disaster

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 06, 2017

In the first line of Seveneves, Neal Stephenson lays out the event that the entire book’s action revolves around:

The moon blew up without warning and for no apparent reason.

Mild spoilers, but fairly quickly, scientists in the book figure out that this is a very bad thing that will cause humanity to become extinct unless drastic action is taken.

In the novel, one day the moon breaks up into 7 roughly equal-sized pieces. These pieces continue peacefully orbiting the Earth for a while, and eventually two pieces collide. This collision causes a piece to fragment, making future collisions more likely. The process repeats, at what Stephenson says is an exponential rate, until the Earth is under near-constant bombardment from meteorites, wiping out (nearly) all life on Earth.

Jason Cole wondered how plausible that scenario is and created a simulation to model it. Turns out Stephenson had his figures right.

Am I There Yet? by Mari Andrew

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 05, 2017

Mari Andrew

Like some of you, I’ve been a fan of Mari Andrew’s illustrations on Instagram for a while now. Andrew is coming out with a book next March called Am I There Yet?: The Loop-de-loop, Zigzagging Journey to Adulthood. She writes:

I wrote AM I THERE YET? toward the end of my 20s to share what I learned through heartbreak, love, loss, rejection, career confusion, adventures, and the gnawing question in the back of my mind: Where exactly am I going, or am I already there? I wrote and illustrated a book I wish I’d had in my 20s — to know that I wasn’t alone.

Here’s a favorite Andrew illustration of mine:

Mari Andrew

Annihilation, a new film from Alex Garland

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 29, 2017

Adapted from Jeff VanderMeer’s book of the same name, Annihilation is the newest film directed by Alex Garland (Ex Machina).

Area X has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization. The first expedition returned with reports of a pristine, Edenic landscape; the second expedition ended in mass suicide; the third expedition in a hail of gunfire as its members turned on one another. The members of the eleventh expedition returned as shadows of their former selves, and within weeks, all had died of cancer.

Natalie Portman and Jennifer Jason Leigh star as members of the 12th expedition sent into Area X.

My media diet for the past month

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 26, 2017

Quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, heard, and experienced in the past month or so. As always, don’t take the letter grades so seriously. I’ve been watching too much TV and not reading enough books. I’m currently trying to get through Scale & Behave and listening to Superintelligence on audiobook and they’re all good & interesting, but I’m having trouble staying interested enough to actually pick them up in lieu of zoning out in front of the TV. I think I need something with more of a narrative.

The Vietnam War. Excellent, a must-see. (A)

The Matrix. Holds up well. I saw this in the theater in 1999, not knowing a damn thing about it, and walked out in a daze…”what the hell did I just see?” (A)

The Founder. There’s a certain kind of businessperson for whom the Ray Kroc depicted in this film would be a hero. Travis Kalanick, etc. Fuck those people. I stand with the McDonald brothers. (B+)

A Super Upsetting Cookbook About Sandwiches. I aspire to this level of sandwich obsession. (B)

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. I should have stopped watching after 15 minutes but then I would have missed perhaps the worst closing line in movie history. (C-)

Inception. This might be my favorite Christopher Nolan movie. (A-)

american dream by LCD Soundsystem. I’ve never been able to get into LCD Soundsystem. Is there a trick? What’s the secret? (B-)

Basic Instinct. This movie is not great and hasn’t aged well. But you can totally see why it made Sharon Stone a star…she’s the only thing worth watching in the film. (C-)

Minions. *whispers* I kinda like the Minions and think they are funny and not as insipid/cynical as many others think. (B)

The Antidote. “Reread” this as an audiobook. I recommend this book to others more than any other book I’ve read in the past few years, save the Ferrante books. (A+)

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. I enjoyed it the first time, but this movie is so much better when watching it with two kids who think that everything coming out of every character’s mouth is the funniest thing they have ever heard. Biggest laugh was “I’m Mary Poppins y’all!” (B+)

Everything Now by Arcade Fire. Gets better every time I listen to it. (B+)

10 Bullets. Neat little one-button game. There’s an iOS version (and sequel) but they don’t work on iOS 11. (B)

Dunkirk. Saw this again on a larger screen (not IMAX sadly) and liked it even more this time. (A)

Champlain Valley Fair. I love fairs. We ate so many mini donuts and saw a dog walking a tightrope! (B+)

Logan Lucky. I was somewhat lukewarm on this leaving the theater but thinking back on it now, I definitely will see this again. (B+)

Sleep Well Beast by The National. Meh? (B-)

War for the Planet of the Apes. I saw this 3-4 weeks ago and can’t remember a whole lot about it, but I enjoyed it at the time? I do remember that the CG is seamless. (B-)

Applebee’s Artichoke and Spinach Dip. Way better than it had any right to be. I will make a special trip to eat this again. (A-)

Blade Runner. Rewatched in advance of the sequel. The final cut version, naturally. I watched the original cut for about 20 minutes once and had to shut it off because of the voiceover. (B+)

Past installments of my media diets can be found here.

Monograph by Chris Ware

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 19, 2017

Monograph Chris Ware

Monograph by Chris Ware is a monograph of Chris Ware’s life and work written and illustrated by Chris Ware. Got that? I liked the official description of the book from the Amazon page:

A flabbergasting experiment in publishing hubris, Monograph charts the art and literary world’s increasing tolerance for the language of the empathetic doodle directly through the work of one of its most esthetically constipated practitioners.

Kirkus liked it and Zadie Smith blurbed “there’s no writer alive whose work I love more than Chris Ware”. Instant preorder.

The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine, a previously unpublished children’s book by Mark Twain

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 18, 2017

Prince Oleomargarine

To Mark Twain’s posthumously published works, add one more: a book for children called The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine. Twain jotted down notes for the book — which was discovered a few years ago in the Twain literary archive — but never finished the story. Doubleday bought the rights and worked with Philip and Erin Stead (an author and illustrator, respectively) to complete the story and turn it into a book.

In a hotel in Paris one evening in 1879, Mark Twain sat with his young daughters, who begged their father for a story. Twain began telling them the tale of Johnny, a poor boy in possession of some magical seeds. Later, Twain would jot down some rough notes about the story, but the tale was left unfinished…until now.

Plucked from the Mark Twain archive at the University of California at Berkeley, Twain’s notes now form the foundation of a fairy tale picked up over a century later. With only Twain’s fragmentary script and a story that stops partway as his guide, author Philip Stead has written a tale that imagines what might have been if Twain had fully realized this work.

The Steads introduced several changes to the story, including making the book’s hero black. This New Yorker piece by Mythili Rao explores how much artistic license should be taken with a story that ultimately has Twain’s name on it.

“I was surprised by that,” Bird told me, when I asked him about the Steads’ interpretation of the character. “I just didn’t see the textual evidence for it. If Mark Twain wanted to make somebody black, he would make them black. He was not shy about dealing with matters of race.” When Twain told his daughters bedtime stories, he often incorporated household objects or magazine illustrations in the narrative. In his journals, he wrote, “The tough part of it was that every detail of the story had to be brand-new — invented on the spot — and it must fit the picture.” (Susy, in particular, was an “alert critic.”) The journals suggest that Johnny, a recurring character in Twain’s bedtime stories, was based on a rather clinical William Page illustration of the male figure that the Clemens daughters spotted in an April, 1879, issue of Scribner’s Monthly magazine. It seems likely that neither Twain nor his daughters imagined Johnny as the Steads do.

Bilbo Baggins, The Drug Lord of the Rings

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 14, 2017

Bilbo Smoke

In a epic series of tweets, Matt Wallace reveals the secret truth behind the J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy: it’s a story about Middle Earth’s drug wars.

Here it is, straight-up: The Hobbit economy makes no fucking sense unless Hobbits are running a secret drug empire spanning Middle Earth.

That’s right, the unassuming, perpetually dismissed and ignored ‘harmless’ little Hobbits. They are the Walter White of Middle Earth.

It all started with Sauron. He was indeed trying to conquer Middle Earth……’s illegal pipe weed drug trade. He was the original kingpin.

So the Elves — NOTORIOUSLY anti-pipe weed, the Elves — band together to topple Sauron’s massive drug empire. And they do.

Enter Hobbits, seizing an opportunity. No one would EVER suspect them. They fill the Sauron gap, start manufacturing/distributing pipe weed.

The genius move is they UTILIZE their profile among the other races. They’re openly like, “Yeah pipe weed it’s a harmless lil Hobbit habit.”

“You know us Hobbits,” they say, “smokin’ our pipe weed, being lazy an’ shit.” They turn their illicit product into a comical affectation.

Meanwhile, the Hobbits are stringing humans OUT on pipe weed. Making mad gold. Everyone’s got a dope house filled with gourmet cheese.

See also other alternate tellings of familiar stories: A People’s History of Tattooine (and other Star Wars theories), Hermione Granger and the Goddamn Patriarchy, and Daniel is the real bully in Karate Kid.

Objects, a coffee table book of artifacts related to the New York City subway

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 13, 2017

NYC Subway objects

NYC Subway objects

From the team that brought us the reissues of the NASA Standards Manual and the NYCTA Graphics Standards Manual comes New York City Transit Authority: Objects by Brian Kelley (@ Amazon), a book full of photographs of artifacts related to the NYC subway and other transit systems in the city.

Kelley started collecting MTA MetroCards in 2011, and he quickly became fascinated by other Subway-related objects. This catalogue is the first of its kind — presenting a previously uncollated archive of subway ephemera that spans three centuries.

Kelley posts photos of many of the artifacts he’s found on Instagram.

Beyonce’s How To Make Lemonade box set

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 11, 2017

How To Make Lemonade Beyonce

Last month, Beyonce released a collector’s edition box set of her latest album called How To Make Lemonade. The set is $300 and includes Lemonade on vinyl as well as downloadable digital versions of the audio and visual albums. But the star of the show here is the 600-page coffee table book full of photos, stories, and poetry about the making of the album.

Lemonade Beyonce

Lemonade Beyonce

Lemonade is still my favorite album of the past few years.

The Drone King, a previously unpublished Kurt Vonnegut short story

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 11, 2017

The Atlantic has just put up a previously unpublished short story by Kurt Vonnegut, The Drone King. It’s about bees.

He examined the card for a long time. “Yes,” he said at last. “Mr. Quick is expecting you. You’ll find him in the small library — second door on the left, by the grandfather clock.”

“Thank you,” I said, and I started past him.

He caught my sleeve. “Sir—”

“Yes?,” I said.

“You aren’t wearing a boutonniere, are you?”

“No,” I said guiltily. “Should I be?”

“If you were,” he said, “I’d have to ask you to check it. No women or flowers allowed past the front desk.”

I paused by the door of the small library. “Say,” I said, “you know this clock has stopped?”

“Mr. Quick stopped it the night Calvin Coolidge died,” he said.

I blushed. “Sorry,” I said.

“We all are,” he said. “But what can anyone do?”

An audio version of the article is available.

The story is one of five that Vonnegut wrote in the early 1950s that were recently discovered in the author’s papers. These five, plus all of Vonnegut’s other short stories, will be out in book form later this month.

You Were Never Really Here

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 07, 2017

You Were Never Really Here is a thriller directed by Lynne Ramsay and starring Joaquin Phoenix as an enforcer for hire. The film is based on a short novel by Jonathan Ames of the same name.

A former Marine and ex-FBI agent, Joe has seen one too many crime scenes and known too much trauma, and not just in his professional life. Solitary and haunted, he prefers to be invisible. He doesn’t allow himself friends or lovers and makes a living rescuing young girls from the deadly clutches of the sex trade. But when a high-ranking New York politician hires him to extricate his teenage daughter from a Manhattan brothel, Joe uncovers a web of corruption that even he may not be able to unravel.

Oh, and Jonny Greenwood did the soundtrack. Looking forward to this one. (via @craigmod)

J.R.R. Tolkien reads from The Hobbit

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 05, 2017

In 1952, a friend of J.R.R. Tolkien showed him a tape recorder, which the author had never seen before. Delighted, Tolkien sat for his friend and read from The Hobbit for 30 minutes “in this one incredible take”. The audio is split between these two videos (with visuals and music added later):

Given the circumstances, the clarity of this recording is pretty remarkable. Give it a listen for at least the first two minutes…hearing Tolkien do Smeagol/Gollum’s voice is really cool. (via open culture)

The Moon 1968-1972

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 01, 2017

Apollo 11 Flag

The Moon 1968-1972 is a slim volume of photographs from the Apollo missions to the Moon that took place over four short years almost 50 years ago. The book contains a passage by E.B. White taken from this New Yorker article about the Apollo 11 landing in 1969.

The moon, it turns out, is a great place for men. One-sixth gravity must be a lot of fun, and when Armstrong and Aldrin went into their bouncy little dance, like two happy children, it was a moment not only of triumph but of gaiety. The moon, on the other hand, is a poor place for flags. Ours looked stiff and awkward, trying to float on the breeze that does not blow. (There must be a lesson here somewhere.) It is traditional, of course, for explorers to plant the flag, but it struck us, as we watched with awe and admiration and pride, that our two fellows were universal men, not national men, and should have been equipped accordingly. Like every great river and every great sea, the moon belongs to none and belongs to all. It still holds the key to madness, still controls the tides that lap on shores everywhere, still guards the lovers who kiss in every land under no banner but the sky. What a pity that in our moment of triumph we did not forswear the familiar Iwo Jima scene and plant instead a device acceptable to all: a limp white handkerchief, perhaps, symbol of the common cold, which, like the moon, affects us all, unites us all.

The Tree Alphabet

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 01, 2017

Tree Alphabet

The Tree Alphabet was made by Katie Holten and was used in her book, About Trees (Amazon), which features writing from Jorge Luis Borges, Charles Darwin, Ada Lovelace, Elizabeth Kolbert, and Robert Macfarlane.

In ABOUT TREES, Katie Holten invites us to enter some of these forests. She has created a Tree Alphabet and used it to translate a compendium of well known, loved, lost and new writing. She takes readers on a journey from ‘primeval atoms’ and cave paintings to the death of a 3,500 year-old cypress tree, from Tree Clocks in Mongolia and forest fragments in the Amazon to Emerson’s language of fossil poetry, unearthing a grove of beautiful stories along the way.

The Trees font file is available for free download and prints of the Tree Alphabet are available as well.

Euclid’s Elements of Geometry done in a modernist Swiss Style

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 31, 2017

Euclid Geometry Book

From Kronecker Wallis, the folks who brought you this reissue of Newton’s Principia, comes a new edition of Euclid’s Elements designed in a modernist Swiss Style.

Euclid’s Elements has been referred to as the most successful and influential textbook ever written. It was one of the very earliest mathematical works to be printed after the invention of the printing press and has been estimated to be second only to the Bible, in the number of editions published since the first printing in 1482.

The Elements is a mathematical treatise consisting of 13 books attributed to the ancient Greek mathematician Euclid. It is a collection of definitions, postulates, propositions (theorems and constructions), and mathematical proofs of the propositions. Elements is the oldest surviving large-scale deductive treatment of mathematics. It has proven instrumental in the development of logic and modern science.

The design and implementation of the book is based off of Oliver Byrne’s edition of Elements from 1847, of which Megan Mulder of the Z. Smith Reynolds Library writes:

Byrne’s Euclid is admired as much for its surprisingly modernist design and color palette — which seems to anticipate Bauhaus and De Stijl — as for its innovative pedagogy.

I have a copy of their Principia reissue (it’s beautiful), so I’m looking forward to this one.

100 Great Works of Dystopian Fiction

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 31, 2017

Dystopian Books

Vulture has compiled a list of 100 Great Works of Dystopian Fiction, “tales about a world gone wrong”. Entries on the list include some of the earliest examples like Mary Shelley’s The Last Man and The Time Machine by H.G. Wells, classics like Huxley’s Brave New World and 1984, modern classics like Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson and William Gibson’s Neuromancer, and some newer books like On Such a Full Sea by Chang-Rae Lee and A Planet for Rent by Cuban author Yoss. Even Infinite Jest makes an appearance. As does It Can’t Happen Here, a 1935 novel by Sinclair Lewis that sounds particularly relevant right now:

As the old saying goes, “history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme” — and Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here is proof. This 1935 satire chronicles the career of fictitious U.S. politician Buzz Windrip, a populist senator who wins the presidency. As it turns out, he’s a bit of a fascist, but more frightening than his actions is the speed — and eagerness — with which Americans join him in his authoritarian crusade. Lewis understood the American soul better than most, and he makes a compelling case that fascist tendencies would make a horrifyingly good fit for our polity if presented with the right amount of good, old-fashioned patriotism.

See also a reading list for the resistance.

My recent (and not-so-recent) media diet

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 29, 2017

Quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, heard, and experienced in the past few weeks. As always, don’t take the letter grades so seriously. Somehow it’s been almost two months since my last installment?

Paterson. I would pay to watch Adam Driver read the phone book and that’s kinda what this is so I was satisfied. (B)

Despicable Me 3. I have a soft spot for the Minions movie (don’t know why, afraid to ask myself) but not for this one. (C+)

Cars and Trucks and Things That Go by Richard Scarry. This was my favorite book to read to my kids, but both of them can read by themselves now, so this is perhaps the last time I will get to sit down and read it with them and oh no I’m crying right now. (A+)

Mr. Holmes. This could have been good but 24 hours after watching, I’d forgotten everything about it. (C)

Spider-Man: Homecoming. My brain let out a big ol’ “ohhhhhh” after I realized two-thirds of the way through where they got the title. (B)

The Defiant Ones. Great. But I felt Dre’s apology for his violence against women was lacking. As with many apologies from the wealthy and powerful, it had more to do with him than with his victims. (A)

Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein. I love reading weirdo books with my kids. (A)

Game of Thrones (season 7). Pure pulp and soap at this point. (A-)

Hey, Cool Job Episode 21: Wellness Expert And Swole Woman Casey Johnston. I LOL’d at “I’m going to remain poor and right”. (B+)

Dunkirk. I feel like Christopher Nolan watched Mad Max: Fury Road and said, “I can do that…but my way.” Also reminded me strongly of Run Lola Run. (A-)

Dunkirk: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack. Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack contributed heavily to my enjoyment of this film. (A)

Baby Driver. A 2-hour music video. If were 25 and had never seen a Tarantino movie, I would have thought this was the coolest shit ever. (B)

The total solar eclipse. A once-in-a-lifetime experience I will attempt to replicate at the earliest opportunity. (A+++)

Past installments of my media diets can be found here.

Hey Ladies! the book

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 25, 2017

The Hey Ladies! column from The Toast is coming out in book form in May 2018 (pre-order here).

Based on the column of the same name that appeared in The Toast, Hey Ladies! is a laugh-out-loud read that follows a fictitious group of eight 20-and-30-something female friends for one year of holidays, summer house rentals, dates, brunches, breakups, and, of course, the planning of a disastrous wedding. This instantly relatable story is told entirely through emails, texts, DMs, and every other form of communication known to man.

From the column, here’s some Friendsgiving planning:

In terms of NBT aka night before thanksgiving AKA thanksgiving eve, i’m sorry to say that I won’t be here. My dad bought me a flight home (yay daddy’s girl forever haha!) and I’m leaving Monday. I saw a post on Buzzfeed about doing a friendsgiving? Is anyone interested in this? was thinking we could skip the food and just go out for tequila shots? hahah I love the holidays!

I also don’t know if anyone recalls but I will NOT be going out the night before tgiving in my hometown and that is mostly because I do not want to run the risk of seeing Jacob, my high school ex. I keyed his car in 2001 and I’m almost positive he knows it was me. What’s the statute of limitations on a crime like that? I’ve been listening to too much Serial.

Oddly, both the Times and the New Yorker have run knockoff “Hey Ladies!” pieces in the past couple of months. Not so cool.

Knausgaard’s four-book series on the seasons

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 23, 2017

Karl Ove Knausgaard is writing a series of four books, one for each one of the seasons. The first one, Autumn, just came out yesterday.

Autumn begins with a letter Karl Ove Knausgaard writes to his unborn daughter, showing her what to expect of the world. He writes one short piece per day, describing the material and natural world with the precision and mesmerising intensity that have become his trademark. He describes with acute sensitivity daily life with his wife and children in rural Sweden, drawing upon memories of his own childhood to give an inimitably tender perspective on the precious and unique bond between parent and child. The sun, wasps, jellyfish, eyes, lice—the stuff of everyday life is the fodder for his art. Nothing is too small or too vast to escape his attention. This beautifully illustrated book is a personal encyclopaedia on everything from chewing gum to the stars. Through close observation of the objects and phenomena around him, Knausgaard shows us how vast, unknowable and wondrous the world is.

Ah, so that’s what the chewing gum thing was about. The NY Times review is positive overall with a few caveats. The Times also did a By the Book with Knausgaard in which he shares “books I want to read, books I have to read and books I believe I need to read […] we are talking about id, ego and superego books”. Among his book picks are Pond by Claire-Louise Bennett and The Brain: The Story of You by David Eagleman. There is also this:

I hardly ever laugh.

LOL Knausgaard.

This Book Is a Planetarium

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 18, 2017

Planetarium Book

Planetarium Book

A couple of years ago, I told you about designer Kelli Anderson’s upcoming book, This Book is a Planetarium. It took awhile to get everything just right, but I’m happy to report the book will finally be out in early October.

Defying every expectation of what a book can be, this pop-up extravaganza transforms into six fully functional tools: a real working planetarium projecting the constellations, a musical instrument complete with strings for strumming, a geometric drawing generator, an infinite calendar, a message decoder, and even a speaker that amplifies sound. Artist Kelli Anderson contributes enlightening text alongside each pop-up, explaining the scientific principles at play in her constructions and creating an interactive experience that’s as educational as it is extraordinary.

Here’s a video of Anderson playing with two of the six contraptions. She sent me a preview of the book in the form of the planetarium pop-up page (accompanied by one of these cool cards) and when I cracked it open, I actually squealed. Seriously, this thing is super awesome. We took it and my iPhone flashlight into the darkest room in the house and sure enough, there was the Big Dipper projected onto the ceiling…my kids could barely stop saying “this is so cool”. Really looking forward to seeing the real thing in October.

The paradox of tolerance

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 17, 2017

Corey Long Charlottesville

In his 1945 book The Open Society and Its Enemies, political philosopher Karl Popper asserted that tolerance need not be extended to those who are intolerant.

Less well known is the paradox of tolerance: Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them. In this formulation, I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be unwise. But we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force; for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols. We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant. We should claim that any movement preaching intolerance places itself outside the law, and we should consider incitement to intolerance and persecution as criminal, in the same way as we should consider incitement to murder, or to kidnapping, or to the revival of the slave trade, as criminal.

The last part bears repeating:

We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant. We should claim that any movement preaching intolerance places itself outside the law, and we should consider incitement to intolerance and persecution as criminal, in the same way as we should consider incitement to murder, or to kidnapping, or to the revival of the slave trade, as criminal.

The photo above was taken by Steve Helber of Charlottesville resident Corey Long pointing an improvised flamethrower at a group of white supremacists this past weekend. Yesha Callahan of The Root interviewed Long about that moment:

“At first it was peaceful protest,” Long said softly as he spoke. “Until someone pointed a gun at my head. Then the same person pointed it at my foot and shot the ground.”

Long said the only weapon he had was a can of spray paint that a white supremacist threw at him earlier, so he took a lighter to the spray paint and turned it into a flame thrower. And a photographer snapped the photo.

But inside every photograph is an untold story. If you look closely at Long’s picture, there’s an elderly white man standing in between Long and his friend. The unknown man was part of the counterprotests, too, but was afraid, and Long and his friends were trying to protect him. Even though, Long says, those who were paid to protect the residents of Charlottesville were doing just the opposite.

A digital archive of Soviet children’s books 1917-1953

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 10, 2017

Soviet Childrens Books

Soviet Childrens Books

Playing Soviet is an online interactive database created by Princeton of children’s books from the Soviet Union.

In the selections featured here, the user can see first-hand the mediation of Russia’s accelerated violent political, social and cultural evolution from 1917 to 1953. These conditions saw the proliferation of new styles and techniques in all the graphic arts: the diverse productivity of the Russian avant-garde, photomontage, experimental typography, and socialist realism. As was clear both from the rhetoric of the arbiters of Soviet culture — its writers and government officials — the illustration and look of Soviet children’s books was of tantamount importance as a vehicle for practical and concrete information in the new Soviet regime. Directives for a new kind of children’s literature were founded on the assumption that the “language of images” was immediately comprehensible to the mass reader, far more so than the typed word. Illustrators were raised as equals to the revered Russian author, bringing artists such as Alexander Deineka, El Lissitzky, Vladimir Lebedev, and numerous other graphic designers to the pages of children’s books to create imaginative models for Soviet youth in the new languages of Soviet modernism.

The bottom image is from a book called For Children About Lenin, a 71-page illustrated book about Lenin and the Russian Revolution published 2 years after his death.

Yes, barbed wire fenced cows but also provided telecommunications

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 08, 2017

Barbed wire is one of the most important inventions of the past 150 years. It tamed the Wild West and solidified the concept of land ownership in America. Tim Harford, author of Fifty Inventions That Shaped the Modern Economy, writes:

After Europeans arrived and pushed west, the cowboys roamed free, herding cattle over the boundless plains.

But settlers needed fences, not least to keep those free-roaming cattle from trampling their crops. And there wasn’t a lot of wood — certainly none to spare for fencing in mile after mile of what was often called “The American Desert”.

Farmers tried growing thorn-bush hedges, but they were slow-growing and inflexible. Smooth wire fences didn’t work either — the cattle simply pushed through them.

Barbed wire changed what the Homestead Act could not.

Until it was developed, the prairie was an unbounded space, more like an ocean than a stretch of arable land.

Private ownership of land wasn’t common because it wasn’t feasible.

With demand came fierce competition; there were dozens of different types of barbed wire:

Barbed Wire Types

Just two years after Joseph Glidden patented his design for barbed wire in 1874, another of the 19th century’s great inventions burst onto the scene in the form of Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone. The two world-changing technologies would combine in a surprising way in the western United States. Because of the expense of running dedicated telephone services over long distances, some farmers opted to run their telecommunications over the hundreds of thousands of miles of barbed wire criss-crossing the land.

It was in building the network connecting homestead to homestead that the farmers’ ingenuity came to the fore. Instead of erecting new poles and wires, many either ran phone wires along the top of wooden fence posts or used the barbed wire itself to carry signals. The latter hardly worked as well as insulated copper wire, but with the lines already in place, installation and operating costs could be kept to a minimum. By one estimate, service ran a mere $3 to $18 a year, far less than the regional phone companies charged, and labor for maintaining the network was supplied by volunteers.

So cool. I’m reading A Mind at Play right now. It’s a biography of Claude Shannon, “the architect of the information age”. As a boy, Shannon wired the half-mile stretch of barbed wire fence between his family’s farm and a friend’s house:

He charged it himself: he hooked up dry-cell batteries at each end, and spliced spare wire into any gaps to run the current unbroken. Insulation was anything at hand: leather straps, glass bottlenecks, corncobs, inner-tube pieces. Keypads at each end — one at his house on North Center Street, the other at his friend’s house half a mile away — made it a private barbed-wire telegraph. Even insulated, it is apt to be silenced for months in the ice and snow that accumulate on it, at the knuckle of Michigan middle finger. But when the fence thaws and Claude patches the wire, and the current runs again from house to house, he can speak again at lightspeed and, best of all, in code.

In the 1920s, when Claude was a boy, some three million farmers talked through networks like these, wherever the phone company found it unprofitable to build. It was America’s folk grid. Better networks than Claude’s carried voices along the fences, and kitchens and general stores doubled at switchboards.

(via mr)

Update: See also the Devil’s Rope episode of 99% Invisible. (thx, dave)

Obama, An Intimate Portrait by White House photographer Pete Souza

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 07, 2017

For all eight years of Barack Obama’s Presidency, Pete Souza was Chief Official White House Photographer and took over 2 million photos of the President and his activities in office. Souza has collected some of those photos into a book: Obama: An Intimate Portrait, out in November.

Obama: An Intimate Portrait reproduces Souza’s most iconic photographs in exquisite detail, more than three hundred in all. Some have never been published. These photographs document the most consequential hours of the Presidency — including the historic image of President Obama and his advisors in the Situation Room during the bin Laden mission — alongside unguarded moments with the President’s family, his encounters with children, interactions with world leaders and cultural figures, and more.

It’s impossible to pick a favorite photo of Souza’s, but these two are right near the top:

Souza Obama Book

Souza Obama Book

What’s Souza up to these days? Trolling the current inhabitant of the White House on Instagram, as you do.

Photos documenting unusual laws across all 50 US states

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 31, 2017

Olivia Locher Law

Olivia Locher Law

Olivia Locher Law

When a normal person finds out that it’s illegal in Alabama to carry an ice cream cone in your back pocket, they might say, huh, that’s interesting. But photographer Olivia Locher took that strange fact and turned it into a project documenting the weirdest laws across all 50 US states (aided by a 70s children’s book called Crazy Laws). Locher has collected the photos into a book, I Fought the Law, which is out in September. Laws depicted in the photos above:

In Alabama, it is illegal to have an ice-cream cone in your back pocket.

In Ohio, it’s illegal to disrobe in front of a man’s portrait.

In Pennsylvania, it’s illegal to tie a dollar bill to a string and pull it away when someone tries to pick it up.

See also you commit three felonies a day.