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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:

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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.

More Primitive Technology: sandals, prawn traps, and water hammers

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 14, 2017

It’s been awhile since I’ve looked in on what the proprietor of the Primitive Technology YouTube channel is up to. Over the past two years, this Australian man has built all sorts of tools, structures, and objects using only what he can find in the forest and has racked up over 330 million views on his silent videos demonstrating how he does it all.

One of his latest projects was building a water-powered hammer (video above).

The trough was positioned under the waterspout to collect water and the tripod adjusted so that the resting point of the hammer was horizontal (so water wouldn’t prematurely spill out of the trough).

The trough filled with water, outweighed the hammer head and tilted the hammer up into the air. The water then emptied out of the trough (now slanting downwards) and the hammer then slammed down onto an anvil stone returning to its original position. The cycle then repeated at the approximate rate of one strike every 10 seconds. The hammer crushes small soft types of stone like sandstone or ochre. I carved a bowl into the anvil stone so that it would collect the powder. I then crushed old pottery (useful as grog for new pots) and charcoal. Practically speaking, this hammer worked ok as a proof of concept but I might adjust it or make a new one with a larger trough and bigger hammer for heavy duty work.

He also made a trap for catching freshwater prawns:

And a pair of sandals:

He’s built up quite a following on Patreon as well, with people contributing over $5700 per video, putting him on a path to be able to make Primitive Technology his full-time job.

How to make famous movie cocktails

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 27, 2017

Oliver Babish makes videos showing how to prepare dishes from movies and TV shows…like the carbonara from Master of None, the strudel from Inglourious Basterds, and Pulp Fiction’s Big Kahuna Burger. For this installment, Babish makes a number of notable cocktails from movies, including the White Russian from The Big Lebowski, the French 75 from Casablanca, and James Bond’s Vesper Martini.

Maybe I was a little tired this morning when I watched this, but the joke at 1:30 caught me off guard and I laughed like an idiot.

How to apologize properly

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 13, 2017

Apologizing is as simple as saying “I’m sorry”, right? Well, not quite. In a piece by Katie Heaney for Science of Us, here are the six components of an apology from Beth Polin:

1. An expression of regret — this, usually, is the actual “I’m sorry.”
2. An explanation (but, importantly, not a justification).
3. An acknowledgment of responsibility.
4. A declaration of repentance.
5. An offer of repair.
6. A request for forgiveness.

So no ifs or buts — “I’m sorry if you were offended” is not an apology. Neither is “I’m sorry we missed our appointment but I had to drop off my dry cleaning on the way” or any other statement that’s actually just a counterargument to an accusation of fault. Don’t use the passive voice either: “mistakes were made” is a classic non-apology.

In my experience, a particularly critical component to apologizing is the “this won’t happen again” part. When you do something repeatedly and apologize each time, those are not really apologies. If you do this, you’re pretty clearly acknowledging that your relationship to the person you’re “apologizing” to is not as important to you as the behavior in question. Either stop apologizing for your behavior or work on changing it.

How to raise a feminist son

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 05, 2017

For the NY Times, Claire Cain Miller asked a panel of experts (including neuroscientists and psychologists) how to raise feminist sons. From the introduction:

We’re now more likely to tell our daughters they can be anything they want to be — an astronaut and a mother, a tomboy and a girlie girl. But we don’t do the same for our sons.

Even as we’ve given girls more choices for the roles they play, boys’ worlds are still confined, social scientists say. They’re discouraged from having interests that are considered feminine. They’re told to be tough at all costs, or else to tamp down their so-called boy energy.

If we want to create an equitable society, one in which everyone can thrive, we need to also give boys more choices. As Gloria Steinem says, “I’m glad we’ve begun to raise our daughters more like our sons, but it will never work until we raise our sons more like our daughters.”

One piece of advice is to encourage friendships with girls:

Research at Arizona State University found that by the end of preschool, children start segregating by sex, and this reinforces gender stereotypes. But children who are encouraged to play with friends of the opposite sex learn better problem-solving and communication.

“The more obvious it is that gender is being used to categorize groups or activities, the more likely it is that gender stereotypes and bias are reinforced,” said Richard Fabes, director of the university’s Sanford School, which studies gender and education.

Organize coed birthday parties and sports teams for young children, so children don’t come to believe it’s acceptable to exclude a group on the basis of sex, said Christia Brown, a developmental psychologist at the University of Kentucky. Try not to differentiate in language, either: One study found that when preschool teachers said “boys and girls” instead of “children,” the students held more stereotypical beliefs about men’s and women’s roles and spent less time playing with one another.

I’ve seen this segregation happen in school with both my kids and it drives me bananas.

Seven helpful tips on how to be miserable

posted by Jason Kottke   May 31, 2017

The internet is chock full of articles and videos on how to be happier. But why chase happiness when making yourself miserable is so much easier? In this video, CGP Grey shares seven tactics to maximize your misery:

1. Stay still.
2. Screw with your sleep.
3. Maximize your screentime.
4. Use your screen to stoke your negative emotions.
5. Set vapid goals.
6. Pursue happiness directly.
7. Follow your instincts.

The video is based on Randy Paterson’s recent book, How to Be Miserable: 40 Strategies You Already Use.

10 ways to have a better conversation

posted by Jason Kottke   May 30, 2017

Celeste Headlee is an expert in talking to people. As part of her job as a public radio host and interviewer, she talks to hundreds of people each year, teasing from her guests what makes them interesting. At a TEDx conference two years ago, Headlee shared 10 tips for having a better conversations that work for anyone:

1. Don’t multitask.
2. Don’t pontificate.
3. Use open-ended questions.
4. Go with the flow.
5. If you don’t know, say that you don’t know.
6. Don’t equate your experience with theirs.
7. Try not to repeat yourself.
8. Stay out of the weeds.
9. Listen.
10. Be brief.

Watch the video for the explanations of each point. I’m pretty good on 1, 5, & 7 while I struggle with 3, 4, and sometimes 6. 9 is a constant struggle and depends on how much I’ve talked with other people recently. (via swissmiss)

Update: From the WSJ, Save Yourself From Tedious Small Talk.

Much of our day-to-day talk is a missed opportunity. The ability to draw others into meaningful conversations can determine whether people want to get to know you, or remember you at all. Failure to learn it can stall your career.

Vanessa Van Edwards had been attending networking events for several years during and after college when she realized she was having the same conversation again and again. “It went like this: So what do you do? Yeah. Where are you from. Yeah, yeah, been there. Do you live around here? Well, I’d better go get another glass of wine,” says Ms. Van Edwards, a Portland, Ore., corporate trainer and author of “Captivate,” a new book on social skills.

She started trying conversation-openers that jarred people a bit, in a pleasant way: “Have you been working on anything exciting recently?” Or, “Any exciting plans this summer?”

“If I’m feeling very brave, I ask, ‘What personal passion projects are you working on?’” Ms. Van Edwards says. She began making contacts who followed up more often.

DON’T deep fry gnocchi

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 24, 2017

If you’re like me from three minutes ago and you’ve never seen this video but want to laugh really hard, push play on this little number. You can safely skip ahead to about 0:33…that’s when the action starts.

P.S. Yo Kenji! Why does the gnocchi do that?! (via @essl)

Update: I have not gotten an answer from Kenji yet (to be fair, he just became a father), but the consensus on Twitter is gnocchi and popcorn share some similarities. I will let John Vermylen, who is a Stanford PhD and also runs the pasta company Zerega, explain:

Hydrated starch on gnocchi exterior gelatinizes with temp, forming impervious barrier. Temp builds up inside. Water tries to boil as temp rises, but can’t turn to steam due to barrier. So pressure builds up, which pushes against wall of gnocchi. Eventually high pressure forces crack in that wall, which leads to pressure drop and instant flash off of high temp water to steam.

There’s an opportunity here to make crispy popcorn gnocchi…which brave chef will take up the challenge?

Watch as a master woodworker turns a giant log into an elegant dugout canoe

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 06, 2017

Rihards Vidzickis is a Latvian master woodworker (and materials scientist) who specializes in making dugout canoes and other rustic works out of wood. In this beautifully shot short film, Vidzickis crafts a dugout canoe from scratch over a period of a few months, using only hand tools. I’ve never considered “elegant” a word that could be associated with a dugout canoe, but here we are.

The video is long (18 min) and you’ll be tempted to skip ahead, but watching it is almost meditative and there are little woodworking tricks throughout that are really clever (like using wooden pegs for depth-finding while hollowing the canoe out). The film also provides ample evidence of the old adage “measure ten times, cut once” (or something like that).

How to… not do anything the right way

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 22, 2017

The contemporary internet is full to the brim with videos shot from above showing how different foods and crafty things are made. Like this one. Everything is orderly, precise, and moves along at a brisk pace. And then, there’s this:

Cutting tomatoes with a dull knife, folding paper not exactly in half, excruciatingly peeling a hard boiled egg…that sort of thing. Probably not good for folks who have any kind of OCD tendency.

See also this video of the most unsatisfying things in the world. Same general idea but more clever. (via deadspin)

How to be productive in terrible times

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 06, 2017

In Productivity in Terrible Times, Eileen Webb writes about the challenges of getting things done in the face of uncertain and worrisome times and offers some strategies that might help.

When your heart is worried for your Muslim friends, and deep in your bones you’re terrified about losing access to healthcare, it’s very hard to respond graciously to an email inquiring about the latest microsite analytics numbers. “THE WORLD IS BURNING. I will have those content model updates ready by Thursday. Sincerely, and with abject terror, Eileen.”

It is not tenable to quit my job and hie off to Planned Parenthood HQ and wait for them to make use of my superior content organizing skills. It is not a good idea for you to resign from stable work that supports your family and community because you’re no longer satisfied by SQL queries.

I don’t know about you, but I have been struggling mightily with this very thing. I’ve always had difficulty believing that the work I do here is in some way important to the world and since the election, that feeling has blossomed into a profound guilt-ridden anxiety monster. I mean, who in the actual fuck cares about the new Blade Runner movie or how stamps are designed (or Jesus, the blurry ham) when our government is poised for a turn towards corruption and authoritarianism?

I have come up with some reasons why my work here does matter, at least to me, but I’m not sure they’re good ones. In the meantime, I’m pressing on because my family and I rely on my efforts here and because I hope that in some small way my work, as Webb writes, “is capable of enabling righteous acts”.

Update: Meteorologist Eric Holthaus recently shared how he copes with working on climate change day after day.

I’m starting my 11th year working on climate change, including the last 4 in daily journalism. Today I went to see a counselor about it. I’m saying this b/c I know many ppl feel deep despair about climate, especially post-election. I struggle every day. You are not alone. There are days where I literally can’t work. I’ll read a story & shut down for rest of the day. Not much helps besides exercise & time. The counselor said: “Do what you can”, which I think is simple & powerful advice. I’m going to start working a lot more on mindfulness. Despair is natural when there’s objective evidence of a shared existential problem we’re not addressing adequately. You feel alone.

I also wanted to thank those who reached out on Twitter and email about this post…I really appreciate your thoughts. One reader sent along this passage from Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities:

The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space.

(thx, gil)

How to put on a duvet cover

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 04, 2017

Here’s a technique for putting a comforter inside a duvet cover that involves rolling the whole thing up “like a burrito” and then two solid pieces of matter somehow pass through each other? I dunno, that is some goddamned witchcraft that defies the laws of physics and topology and is probably related to at least one of the Millennium Prize Problems. I don’t know if it’s easier than doing it the normal way1 but it certainly is more entertaining.

See also how to fold a fitted sheet and how to fold a t-shirt in two seconds.

  1. And by “the normal way” I mean getting both top corners of the comforter in the corresponding corners of the cover, stuffing the rest of the comforter inside the cover, and giving it a couple of shakes while holding the top edge until it settles in…and not whatever infomercial-ish head-inside-the-cover shenanigans the woman was attempting in the video. Once you get this down, it doesn’t really take that long.

A history of pencil lead and how pencils are made

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 26, 2016

This video is a combination of two things I like very much: long zoom histories and how things are made. The first part of the video follows the story of graphite back to the Big Bang.

[Carl Sagan-eque interlude: “If you want to make a pencil from scratch, first you must invent the universe.”]

The second part shows how pencils are made. Most surprising discovery while watching: Henry David Thoreau (yes, that one) was a talented pencil engineer:

John’s thoughtful son David*, unemployed after graduating from college, started helping out with the family business. He developed new refining techniques that made Thoreau pencils less brittle, less greasy — at the time, they were the finest pencils America had to offer. The Thoreaus were able to offer a variety of pencils, from No. 1 (the softest) to No. 4 (the hardest). That numbering system survives today.

The best artists invent their own tools. (via the kid should see this)

A hypnotic display of robots making tiny springs

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 25, 2016

A beautifully shot HD video of machines manufacturing springs and other wire gizmos. I love how all the tools take turns and work together to make the widgets. Imagine the chatter amongst the tools:

“Ok, thanks, my turn.”

“Here, hold this while I turn it. Alright, we’re out.”

“Lemme just bend that a little for you.”

“Outta the way, I just gotta twist this for a sec.”

(via @pieratt, who says to substitute Steve Reich for the provided music)

How to make traditional Chinese Suomian noodles

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 11, 2016

In the village of Nanshan in China, traditional Suomian noodles are still very much made by hand. The noodles are made and dried outside, which puts the whole process at the mercy of the weather.

The noodle maker has to add different amounts of salt and flour according to the seasons and has to be very observant about the weather when it comes to choosing the days to dry the noodles.

The video doesn’t say, but I’d be very interested to hear what the unique stretching and drying process does to the taste and texture of the noodles.

Designing Your Life

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 04, 2016

Designing Your Life is one of the most popular courses at Stanford. Taught by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, the class teaches how you can use design thinking and techniques to shape your life and career. Burnett and Evans just came out with a book based on the class, Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life.

In this book, Bill Burnett and Dave Evans show us how design thinking can help us create a life that is both meaningful and fulfilling, regardless of who or where we are, what we do or have done for a living, or how young or old we are. The same design thinking responsible for amazing technology, products, and spaces can be used to design and build your career and your life, a life of fulfillment and joy, constantly creative and productive, one that always holds the possibility of surprise.

The course itself isn’t available online, but there are a couple of lectures from the class available on YouTube: Reframe Your Passion and Prototypes for Personal Success.

How to stay happy when the world is collapsing

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 24, 2016

You could argue that the world has never been better: war is increasingly rare, medical science has cured a number of the deadliest diseases, global poverty is down, life expectancy is up, and crime in America is down. But it sure doesn’t seem that way, especially with Brexit, climate change, Trump, Syria, and terrorist incidents around the world. Oliver Burkeman explores some of the reasons why we think the sky is continually falling and what we can do to be happy anyway. I have been thinking about this aspect of it recently:

And there is another, subtler reason you might find yourself convinced that things are getting worse and worse, which is that our expectations outpace reality. That is, things do improve — but we raise our expectations for how much better they ought to be at a faster rate, creating the illusion that progress has gone into reverse.

See also George Saunders’ manifesto from People Reluctant To Kill for an Abstraction.