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kottke.org posts about how to

How Pencils Are Made

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 18, 2019

Even on my busiest day, I will drop everything to watch a video of pencils being made. (I am a particular sucker for sharpening pencils by belt sander.) Blame Mister Rogers and Sesame Street probably, even though they focused on crayons. Here’s a look at how Faber-Castell makes their pencils.

For a more comprehensive and less slickly produced look at how pencils are made, check out this tour of the Derwent Pencil Factory, which opened a new, more efficient facility a few years back but is still located quite near where the first graphite pencil was invented.

A detail that jumped out at me from this video is that Derwent pencils are tested for color and consistency against a group of over 1000 standard pencils, some of which date back to 1937 and are nothing more than tiny nubs now.

In going back through the archive, I realized that pencils are a bit of a thing on the site. And so, a new tag is born: check out all the kottke.org posts about pencils. (thx, jamie)

How to Mail a Package (From Space)

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 04, 2019

Randall Munroe’s new book, How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems, just came out and Wired has a lengthy excerpt: How to Mail a Package (From Space).

How to Mail a Package (From Space)

Getting an object down to Earth from the International Space Station is easy: you can just toss it out the door and wait. Eventually, it will fall to Earth.

There’s a very small amount of atmosphere at the ISS’s altitude. It’s not much, but it’s enough to produce a tiny but measurable amount of drag. This drag sooner or later causes objects to slow down, fall into a lower and lower orbit, and eventually hit the atmosphere and (usually) burn up. The ISS also feels this drag; it uses thrusters to compensate, periodically boosting itself up into a higher orbit to make up for lost altitude. If it didn’t, its orbit would gradually decay until it fell back to Earth.

This shipping method has two big problems: First, your package will burn up in the atmosphere before it ever reaches the ground. And second, if it does survive, you’ll have no way to know where it will land. To deliver your package, you’ll have to solve both these problems.

Fun fact: a piece of paper drifting down from orbit might move slowly enough not to burn up on reentry.

Mister Rogers Cuts a Record

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 23, 2019

From a 1972 episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Mister Rogers demonstrates how to make a record using a machine called a record cutter (also referred to as a “record lathe”). Says Rogers, apparently living his best life: “When I was a little boy, I thought the greatest thing in the world would be to be able to make records.” (via open culture)

Lovely and Relaxing Videos of Traditional Countryside Life in China

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 20, 2019

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

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

(via @juririm)

The Return of Grumpy Cloud

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 20, 2019

Andy Bailey is a stop-motion animator at Laika who worked on Kubo and The Boxtrolls. In this video, he shares his process while making a 658-page flipbook called The Return of Grumpy Cloud that took him 35 work-days over three months to complete. The end result (skip ahead to ~14:25) is pretty impressive given the lo-fi medium. Bailey sells kits for making your own flipbooks, but the store was down for maintenance when I checked.

The Rock Skipping Robot

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 01, 2019

Mark Rober built a rock skipping robot and by adjusting a bunch of different parameters, he figured out the best way to skip rocks. And no, I completely did not get out a notepad and start jotting down notes while watching this video and there’s no way I’m heading out to one of my favorite rock skipping places tomorrow morning to try out some new techniques. Nope. Not gonna happen. (thx, tom)

How to Draw Animals

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 06, 2019

Robert Lambry

Robert Lambry

Robert Lambry

Robert Lambry

Les Animaux Tels Qu’ils Sont is a 1930s book by Robert Lambry that contain instructions for drawing all kinds of animals, from elephants and snakes to birds and horses. Each drawing starts with basic forms — circles, rectangles, etc. — which Lambry builds into simple line drawings of each animal. I love the dogs drawn with parallel lines.

Update: A new English edition of Lambry’s book is being released this fall as The Draw Any Animal Book. (thx, matt)

Animated Knot Tying Tutorials

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 05, 2019

Animated Knots

Animated Knots is a collection of animated tutorials on how to tie almost 200 different knots. The knots are broken down by activity (fishing, surgical, climbing, decorative) and by type (splicing, bends, quick release). You might want to start with the basic knots or the terminology page. (via dense discovery)

Primitive Technology Guy Flirts with the Iron Age

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 04, 2019

Hey it’s been a little while since we checked in on Primitive Technology, so let’s see what everyone’s favorite jacked low-tech Aussie has been up to. For the past four years, this guy has been making huts, tools, weapons, furnaces, and other things in the jungle using only Stone Age tools and techniques. In his most recent video, he made some Polynesian arrowroot flour:

He’s also made some cement out of wood ash and terracotta:

And as part of his “ongoing quest to reach the iron age”, he used charcoal and iron bacteria to make small iron pellets:

You can check out his other projects on his YouTube channel.

Crafting Eight Large Rafters for a Church Spire Using Medieval Tools & Techniques

posted by Jason Kottke   May 13, 2019

In the spire of a Swedish church built around the end of the 12th century, eight large rafters (that are in spectacularly good shape considering they’re 800 years old) appear to be fashioned from the same tree using a technique that had not been documented before. So, using only medieval woodworking tools and techniques, a team set out to prove that those rafters could have been made in that way.

The woodworkers’ search for a proper tree to use (starting at ~2:55) brings to mind the recent kerfuffle over the replacement beams for the Notre Dame.

Finding a suitable tree for this experiment is not necessarily easy. Where do you find a tall, straight, even pine tree with no branches for at least 13 meters off the ground?

They eventually found a 195-year-old tree with 11 meters of no branches.

The pace of this video is so leisurely that it feels almost meditative at times, watching this massive log slowly yield to the woodworkers’ effort and ingenuity. Recommended if you’re feeling stressed about the pace of the world.

See also How Tree Trunks Are Cut to Produce Lumber with Different Shapes, Grains, and Uses and Watch As a Master Woodworker Turns a Giant Log into an Elegant Dugout Canoe. (via bb)

How to Make Data-Driven Visual Essays

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 30, 2019

Ilia Blinderman of The Pudding has written a pair of essays about how to make data-driven visual essays. Part 1 covers working with data.

It’s worth noting here that this first stage of data-work can be somewhat vexing: computers are great, but they’re also incredibly frustrating when they don’t do what you’d like them to do. That’s why it’s important to remember that you don’t need to worry — learning to program is exactly as infuriating and as dispiriting for you as it is for everyone else. I know this all too well: some people seem to be terrific at it without putting in all that much effort; then there was me, who first began writing code in 2014, and couldn’t understand the difference between a return statement and a print statement. The reason learning to code is so maddening is because it doesn’t merely involve learning a set number of commands, but a way of thinking. Remember that, and know that the little victories you amass when you finally run your loop correctly or manage to solve a particular data problem all combine to form that deeper understanding.

Part 2 is on the design process.

Before you begin visualizing your data, think through the most important points that you’re trying to communicate. Is the key message the growth of a variable over time? A disparity between quantities? The degree to which a particular value varies? A geographic pattern?

Once you have an idea of the essential takeaways you’d like your readers to understand, you can consider which type of visualization would be most effective at expressing it. During this step, I like to think of the pieces of work that I’ve got in my archive and see if any one of those is especially suitable for the task at hand.

Check out The Pudding for how they’ve applied these lessons to creating visual essays about skin tone on the cover of Vogue or how many top high school players make it to the NBA.

Skipping Stones: “Every Throw Is a Complete New Puzzle”

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 08, 2019

In this video, Wired’s Robbie Gonzalez talks to world record stone skipper Kurt Steiner, who achieved 88 skips with a stone in 2013. Steiner shares some of his techniques with Gonzalez and quickly gets him throwing better.

This video might be totally uninteresting to everyone reading this, but I just had to post it. I love skipping rocks. Ever since I was a little kid, it’s been one of my favorite things to do whenever I’m at a lake or quiet river. I may or may not have a stack of stones appropriate for skipping on the shelf next to my spare change jar. My personal record is somewhere in the mid-to-upper 20s…this throw was in that ballpark. After watching Steiner throw, I’m excited to get out in the spring and try hitting the water a little closer (and harder) than I normally do.

How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 05, 2019

How To Randall Munroe

Randall Munroe, proprietor of the excellent XKCD and author of What If? and Thing Explainer, is coming out with a new book in a few months called How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems.

Bestselling author and cartoonist Randall Munroe explains how to predict the weather by analyzing the pixels of your Facebook photos. He teaches you how to tell if you’re a baby boomer or a 90’s kid by measuring the radioactivity of your teeth. He offers tips for taking a selfie with a telescope, crossing a river by boiling it, and getting to your appointments on time by destroying the Moon. And if you want to get rid of the book once you’re done with it, he walks you through your options for proper disposal, including dissolving it in the ocean, converting it to a vapor, using tectonic plates to subduct it into the Earth’s mantle, or launching it into the Sun.

Instant pre-order.

Chuck Jones’s Trick for Drawing Animal Legs

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 26, 2018

For the past few hundred million years, the legs of vertebrate animals have evolved into many different forms and shapes. But for many animals, there’s an underlying similarity as well. In his book Chuck Amuck, legendary animator Chuck Jones used a simple technique to help visualize how to accurately draw the feet and legs of various animals: he drew shoes and socks on them.

Chuck Jones Animal Legs

Using a Chuck Taylor-style shoe, Jones’s intuitive drawings show where each animal’s ankle and knee are simply by the placement of circular “All-Star” patch on the shoe and the height of the socks just below the knee. These are keen and illuminating anatomical observations that would have made Leonardo da Vinci proud.

Ok, that’s footwear all sorted. But how should a dog wear pants?

Dog Wore Pants

Or a chicken?

Chicken Wore Pants

Or an AT-AT?

Atat Wore Pants

I wish Jones was still around to settle this.

How to Build a Dyson Sphere

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 20, 2018

Perhaps the most fundamental way to think about the Universe is in terms of energy. Even when you get away from physics and chemistry (where energy is obviously central) and into a topic like human history or economics, following how and where energy flows can be enlightening. In 1964, Soviet astronomer Nikolai Kardashev proposed thinking about the progress of human civilization in terms of how much energy we were capable of harnessing. On the Kardashev scale, a Type I civilization would be capable of using all of the energy available on their planet, a Type II civilization could use all the energy from their local star, and a Type III civilization could harness all the energy in a galaxy.

According to an equation suggested by Carl Sagan, humans are currently sitting at ~73% of a Type I civilization. But once we reach that milestone in perhaps a few hundred years (assuming we don’t blow ourselves up in the process), the construction of a Dyson sphere or, more likely, a Dyson swarm around the Sun is probably the key to eventually hitting Type II. In the video above, Kurzgesagt explores what would go into building some type of Dyson structure capable of harvesting most of the Sun’s energy. For starters, we’d probably have to completely dismantle the planet Mercury in order to have enough raw materials to build the swarm.

How Parmesan Cheese Is Made

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 29, 2018

Officially, according to the Italian government and the EU, parmesan cheese (or more formally, Parmigiano-Reggiano) can only be made in a small region in northern Italy. Wheels of Parmigiano-Reggiano weigh about 85 pounds, can be aged for three years or more, and can cost upwards of $1000. With all the fakes out there (see also olive oil and canned tomatoes), it can be tough to find the real stuff, but when you do, it tastes amazing.

Update: Headline writers might wait their whole careers for an opportunity like this: A Bank That Accepts Parmesan As Collateral: The Cheese Stands A Loan. (via @jazzfishzen)

How Cookie Cutters Are Made

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 13, 2018

Cookies shaped like Christmas trees are made by pressing a tree-shaped cookie cutter into dough. But how are cookie cutters made? Like this:

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Cookiecutter.com (@otbp_cookiecutters) on

I love how the machine’s little hands come together like in a Little League huddle just before the team takes the field. Aaaaaand, BREAK! Let’s get out there and make some cookies! (via colossal)

How to Make a Big Decision

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 04, 2018

Gladiator Thumb

Steven Johnson’s new book comes out today. Farsighted: How We Make the Decisions That Matter the Most details the relatively little-known science of making choices using the personal stories of great decision-makers to illustrate this “growing multidisciplinary field of research”. Johnson calls the book “an argument for diversity, deliberation, and long-term thinking in the choices we make, both public and private”. The NY Times published a quick but meaty excerpt of the book over the weekend.

Once you have your alternatives, how are you supposed to assess them? One approach, known as scenario planning, developed by a handful of management consultants in the 1970s, involves imagining three different future environments for each alternative: Concoct one story where things get better, one where they get worse, and one where they get weird.

Storytelling is something we instinctively do anytime we are contemplating a big decision. If you’re thinking of leaving the city and moving to the suburbs, you tell a story of family hikes through the trails behind your house, and better public schools, and a garden that you can tend in your backyard. The difference with formal scenario planning is twofold: First, we rarely take the time to do a deep analysis of all the forces that shape that story; and second, we rarely bother to construct multiple stories. How does the story unfold if your children don’t like their new classmates, or if one part of the family loves the new lifestyle but the other is homesick for the old friends and vitality of city life?

The psychologist Gary Klein has developed a variation on this technique. He calls it a “premortem.” As the name suggests, the approach is a twist on the medical procedure of post-mortem analysis. In a post-mortem, the subject is dead, and the coroner’s job is to figure out the cause of death. In a premortem, the sequence is reversed: “Our exercise,” Dr. Klein explains, “is to ask planners to imagine that it is months into the future and that their plan has been carried out. And it has failed. That is all they know; they have to explain why they think it failed.”

This is where my anxiety and tendency to overthink things really comes in handy1…when considering big decisions, I am constantly premorteming.

  1. If you’re interested in how you can begin to see “undesirable” behaviors like anxiety in a new light, I recommend reading The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking.

A pair of Asian chefs demonstrate the art of making noodles by hand

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 27, 2018

Watch as Peter Song of Kung Fu Kitchen and Shuichi Kotani of Worldwide Soba make noodles by hand.

I can watch people pull noodles all day, the strands multiplying exponentially from dough to a meal in a matter of seconds. (Kin Jing Mark doubles his dough 12 times to make 4096 noodles in this video.)

But watching Kotani make soba noodles with his eyes closed was almost spiritual. He combines the flour and water using only his sense of touch in a three-step process (sand garden, volcano, ocean wave) so that the dough comes together in the right way. And then he turns a circle into a square and I don’t even know what’s real anymore. The resulting soba dough is amazing, like a piece of luxurious fabric.

Kurt Vonnegut on how to write a good story

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 26, 2018

In this 90-second video, Kurt Vonnegut provides eight guidelines for writing a good short story.

1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.

3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

4. Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.

5. Start as close to the end as possible.

6. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them-in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

This appears to be a reading of the introduction to a collection of Vonnegut’s short fiction; in it, the list is referred to by the author as “Creative Writing 101”.

See also Vonnegut explaining the shapes of stories. (thx, jeannie)

In Search of Forgotten Colors

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 13, 2018

The Victoria and Albert Museum filmed this short four-part documentary about the Somenotsukasa Yoshioka dye workshop near Kyoto, Japan. They make dyes using only natural materials, producing vibrant colors using little-used and often long-forgotten techniques.

Sachio Yoshioka is the fifth-generation head of the Somenotsukasa Yoshioka dye workshop in Fushimi, southern Kyoto. When he succeeded to the family business in 1988, he abandoned the use of synthetic colours in favour of dyeing solely with plants and other natural materials. 30 years on, the workshop produces an extensive range of extremely beautiful colours.

Another great find from internet gem The Kid Should See This.

How to Keep Going

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 27, 2018

I really enjoyed listening to Austin Kleon’s recent talk about how to press forward when doing creative work, even when times get challenging. He talked about ten strategies for keeping yourself moving forward. In addition to “you’re allowed to change your mind”, I particularly liked “forget the noun, do the verb” (don’t worry about being a writer, focus on writing) and “the ordinary + extra attention = the extraordinary” (because sometimes I feel like 80% of what I do on this here site is pay more attention than everyone else…like, that’s the secret sauce).

Update: Kleon posted a transcript of his talk on Medium. Here’s a list of his 10 ways to keep going:

How To Keep Going

How to get yourself out of a funk

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 22, 2018

On Tuesday, I woke up feeling a bit tired, uninspired, and just generally not in the mood to tackle my to-do list for the day. I understand myself well enough by now to know how to react to this situation (most of the time) but was curious about how other people deal with such episodes.1 So I asked on Twitter: “What do you do to get yourself moving when this happens to you?” I got tons of interesting responses, which I’ve organized into some broader categories in the hope that they’ll help someone out in the future.

Please note: the activities on this list are intended for those who need a little kick in the pants every once in awhile to get going. I am not a doctor or therapist, but if you feel listless and unmotivated on a regular basis, you should talk to your doctor or find a therapist or talk to a trusted friend or family member about it. Depression and anxiety are serious and treatable medical conditions that can’t be addressed just by taking a walk in the woods or buying a new watch.

Exercise. Take a run. Go to yoga. Walk around the block…or wander around the city for an hour. Hop on a bike. Meet a friend for a class at the gym. Lift weights. Tons of research has been done on the mental health benefits of exercise. To quote one paper: “Exercise improves mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood and by improving self-esteem and cognitive function.”

Friends and family. Arrange to spend some time with someone you care about and who knows you well enough to understand how and why you’re feeling this way. Texting is cool, but there’s no substitute for a real-life hang. FaceTime or phone calls can help too.

Get out in nature. If you can, head to the ocean, the forest, the mountains, the lake. You don’t even need to run or walk or bike or kayak, just sit and commune with the natural world. The Japanese call this shinrin-yoku or “forest bathing”, which has been shown to lower stress levels, blood pressure, and even blood glucose levels.

Pets. I was going to group this under “friends and family”, but so many people specifically mentioned hang time with animals that I broke it out separately. Take the dog for a walk, cozy up with your cat on the couch (if your cat allows such behavior), or play with your snake if that’s your thing. Don’t have a pet? Head to the dog park, borrow a friend’s pooch, or ask a friend if you can join them on their evening dog walk.

Press the reset button. Tackling the day’s activities when you’re down can feel like walking straight into a stiff wind. Doing something a bit different with your day can reset your mood and brain into a better mode. Take a different route to work. Try a new coffee spot. If you listen to NPR in the morning, switch to music. If you usually listen to music, try some silence. Take a cold shower…or a long hot one. Scream into a pillow.

Think small. If your lack of motivation stems from a lengthy to-do list, tackle the easiest items on the list first. Or break down some of the bigger to-dos into smaller items and do those. The idea is to score some easy wins and build momentum for the rest of your day.

Treat yourself. If you can, take the morning off or even the whole day. Go see a movie. Don’t eat lunch at your desk; pick a favorite spot and dine out. Make yourself a healthy breakfast. Or an unhealthy one! Buy yourself that breakfast pastry you normally abstain from. Play a game on your phone. Order dessert. Buy yourself something you’ve been wanting that you don’t really need. Note: Use this option sparingly and watch out for unintended effects. Treating yourself to a new coat or gadget every once in awhile is fine, but retail therapy can quickly turn into financial problems.2

Gratitude. To quote a line from Hamilton, look around, look around, how lucky we are to be alive right now. As photographer Clayton Cubitt put it: “I think back to my struggles clawing my way out of the trailer park, the violence I survived, all the shitty jobs I had to work and the shitty bosses I had to tolerate, the extra 15 years it took me, and I find the renewable energy of gratitude for my survival.” Recalling the specific ways in which things could be worse and remembering how lucky you are can be extremely helpful.

Help others. Sometimes the best thing for snapping out of a low mood is to refocus your attention away from yourself and toward helping others. Sign up to volunteer next week. Write a handwritten note to a friend who has been through a rough time lately. Make a donation to an organization you care about. Tell a mentor how much their influence has meant to you. It doesn’t need to be a big thing or an ongoing commitment…”think small” works here too.

Get inspired. We’ve all got our favorite sources of inspiration. Watch a favorite I-wish-I’d-made-something-this-amazing movie. Go to a museum and look at art. Read some poetry. It’s a little weird, but something that always seems to do the trick for me is watching Secretariat win the Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths. It gives me chills every time.

Sleep. Maybe you’re not getting enough rest? Go back to bed for an hour or take a nap in the afternoon…the day will still be there when you wake. As I wrote recently, “One of the best things I’ve done for my work and my sanity is going to bed at about the same time every night and getting at least 6.5 hours (and often 7-8 hours) of sleep every night.”

Meditate. Along with many other items on this list (sleep, exercise, pets, socializing), mindfulness meditation has been shown to improve mental health, including stress reduction, reducing anxiety, addiction, and even chronic pain relief and depression. But you don’t need to sit in the lotus position on a velvet cushion to meditate…it can be as easy as sitting up straight and concentrating on your breathing for 5 minutes. Listening to relaxing music with your eyes closed or even playing video games can be meditative in their own way.

The best thing about many of the things on this list is that they provide benefits beyond just snapping you out of a temporary rut, especially if you can develop a practice around them. Exercise strengthens the body and mind. Feeling gratitude can alter your views on any number of political and social issues. Getting sufficient sleep can upgrade your entire life. Meditation can alter your reality. Helping others makes the world a better place. String enough of these together and perhaps waking up unmotivated and inspired can be a thing of the past. Definitely something to aim for anyway. Good luck!

  1. If you’re curious, here’s what I did to get motivated that morning: made my bed (I usually don’t), meditated with Alto’s Odyssey for 10 minutes, did the dishes, went through all my mail & paid my bills (a task I’d been putting off and dreading), did three other little tasks I’d been putting off, and took a long hot shower. Things I wish I’d been able to do as well: go for a walk (it was muddy and rainy and the nearest walkable town is a 30-minute drive), have lunch with a friend, go to a museum, stand in the sand at the ocean listening to the waves roll in. VT can be a challenge sometimes.

  2. Part of the reason I asked this question on Twitter is that I wanted to avoid treating myself on that particular morning. I didn’t want to play a game on my phone (I do that too much), take the day off (I’d already done that a few days earlier), or treat myself to an afternoon cookie (my diet lately has been terrible). And I definitely did not want to buy a TV I don’t need or a Nintendo Switch I wouldn’t really play.

A visit to an American factory that’s been producing pencils since 1889

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 14, 2018

Pencil Factory

Pencil Factory

Pencil Factory

What a marvelous little photo essay by Christopher Payne and Sam Anderson about General Pencil, one of the last remaining pencil factories in America.

Other parts of the factory are eruptions of color. Red pencils wait, in orderly grids, to be dipped into bright blue paint. A worker named Maria matches the color of her shirt and nail polish to the shade of the pastel cores being manufactured each week. One of the company’s signature products, white pastels, have to be made in a dedicated machine, separated from every other color. At the tipping machine, a whirlpool of pink erasers twists, supervised patiently by a woman wearing a bindi.

You can see many more of Payne’s photos of General Pencil on his website. Here’s Maria, her shirt and nails red to match the color of the pastel cores. There are also a couple of videos of the General Pencil factory:

And this older one that shows much more of the pencil-making process. Neither video includes a shot of the belt sander sharpening system…you can see that in action here.

See also I, Pencil, which details the construction of the humble pencil as a triumph of the free market, a history of pencil lead and how pencils are made, and how crayons are made, with videos from both Mister Rogers and Sesame Street. Oh, and you can buy some of General Pencil’s #2 Cedar Pointes right here.

The art and science of carnival games and how to win them

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 28, 2017

Mark Rober and some friends staked out the carnival games at a local fair for the day in order to find the scams and the ones you can win…if you know how. Armed with info from their observations, Rober hit the fair with a Mets player who could dominate all the throwing games and cleaned them out.

I spent some time at a county fair this past summer and, if you’re with little kids, the carnies will sometimes show you how to win the games that are winnable (like the basket toss). But even after he was shown, my son still couldn’t get that damned wiffle ball in the basket on the two-out-of-three times needed to win a prize.

How to make Baltimore foods (pit beef, lake trout) featured on The Wire

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 27, 2017

For the holidays, the dusky-voiced gentleman behind Binging with Babish prepares some of the Baltimore specialties featured on The Wire…like pit beef and lake trout, which as Bunk says, features “no lake, no trout”. He even prepares the beer with an egg cracked in it enjoyed by the dock workers, although I didn’t appreciate his “kind of inferior season two” remark.

Speaking of inferior seasons of The Wire, I wonder if it’s time to go back to see how season five holds up in this current atmosphere of fake news. Maybe it wasn’t so outlandishly over-the-top after all?

How candles are made (from 1963)

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 14, 2017

From British Pathé, a short video from 1963 on how candles are made.

Oh yes, candles make the whole of humanity into one big understanding family.

Candles! I can’t believe the answer has been staring us in the face this whole time. (via the morning news)

Life Advice from Teen Experts

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 11, 2017

The California Sunday Magazine gathered some advice from teens on topics like how to get people to care about something, how to cook with a blowtorch, and how to throw a good dance party. Here are excerpts from two of my favorites. How to meet new people:

If you’re trying to get into a new community, just fake it till you make it. Don’t have a mind-set of, Oh, I’m the new guy. No one’s going to want to be my friend. Fake a fun mind-set until you can be that fun, cool person without a second thought.

And how to organize a political rally (in one week):

I had to do most of the logistical planning during school. A lot of the people who were emailing me to help were from organizations, and they could only talk during their lunch breaks. Which would be right around 11:30, during math class. So I would be like, “Hey, can I go to the bathroom?” Then I’m in a bathroom stall on the phone — “Yeah, so can you bring, like, six cases of water and, like, two cases of granola bars?” At the end of the day, I would go home and do my homework, and the next morning, I would wake up and have a phone call at 7 before class.

How balloons are made

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 19, 2017

A cool kid-friendly look at how balloons are made, from the origins of latex rubber to what looks like the very fun job of balloon quality control. I gasped while watching how they make the rubber ring at the end of the balloon…industrialization is bloody clever sometimes. Oh, and they also do hot air balloons…the air in the average hot air balloon weighs a ton! (via the kid should see this)

How to hear what your voice sounds like to others

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 29, 2017

Chances are, you hate the sound of your own voice because when you hear it played back on recording, it doesn’t sound anything like what you hear when you talk. Vocal coach Chris Beatty shows us a simple trick to hear our own voice (in real time) closer to how others do.