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kottke.org posts about how to

Primitive Technology, the Book!

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 03, 2019

We haven’t checked in on the Primitive Technology guy in awhile and — whoa, he has umasked himself! After more than four years of anonymity, the man building all of the tools, huts, weapons, and other Stone Age technologies in the wilds of Australia has revealed himself as John Plant. And in this video compilation from October, he announces that he has a book out: Primitive Technology: A Survivalist’s Guide to Building Tools, Shelters, and More in the Wild. Looks like a step-by-step guide to building all the things in his videos, accompanied by illustrations and photos:

Primitive Technology Book

Primitive Technology Book

This is an instant purchase for me, if only to support what he’s been doing for the past 4+ years. Plant says:

This video compilation, as well as the book, outlines all the skills and achievements I’ve attained in this time period using research, hard work and trial and error. Writing this book is something I wanted to do even before making videos and launching this channel. I wanted to offer something tangible that benefited those who had the same keen interest in primitive technology as I do. With that, I thank each and every one of you for your continued support throughout the years, and I really hope you enjoy the book.

And for good measure, here’s his latest video from a few days ago, which shows him building a kiln for firing bricks:

(via the kid should see this)

Robert Lang on the 11 Levels of Complexity of Origami

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 29, 2019

In this video for Wired, physicist and origami master Robert J. Lang demonstrates the 11 increasingly complex levels of origami. How all the legs and antennae and other small features are designed at the more complex levels is fascinating.

See also Susan Orlean’s 2007 piece about Lang in the New Yorker and Lang’s TED Talk on the mathematics of origami.

How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 25, 2019

The Grist has compiled a list of articles written by Coby Beck “containing responses to the most common skeptical arguments on global warming”. Here are some snippets from a few of the articles.

The temperature record is unreliable:

There is actually some truth to the part about the difficulties; scientists have overcome many of them in turning the hundreds of thousands of measurements taken in many different ways and over a span of more than a dozen decades into a single globally averaged trend.

But this is the nature of science — no one said it was easy. It’s taken the scientific community a long time to finally come out and say that what we have been observing for 100 years is in fact exactly what it looks like. All other possible explanations (for example, the Urban Heat Island effect) have been investigated, the data has been examined and re-examined, reviewed and re-reviewed, and the conclusion has become unassailable.

Global warming has been going on for the last 20,000 years:

If you have look at this graph of temperature, starting at a point when we were finishing the climb out of deep glaciation, you can clearly see that rapid warming ceased around 10,000 years ago (rapid relative to natural fluctuations, but not compared to the warming today, which is an order of magnitude faster). After a final little lift 8,000 years ago, temperature trended downward for the entire period of the Holocene. So the post-industrial revolution warming is the reversal of a many-thousand-year trend.

It’s the sun, stupid:

There has been work done reconstructing the solar irradiance record over the last century, before satellites were available. According to the Max Planck Institute, where this work is being done, there has been no increase in solar irradiance since around 1940.

It’s cold today in Wagga Wagga:

The chaotic nature of weather means that no conclusion about climate can ever be drawn from a single data point, hot or cold. The temperature of one place at one time is just weather, and says nothing about climate, much less climate change, much less global climate change.

Go forth and spread the truth as you travel to dine at various holidays tables around the country. (P.S. I first posted a link to this series in 2006. That it’s almost more necessary now than it was then is beyond depressing.)

How to Buy Drugs

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 12, 2019

The London Review of Books is not normally where one turns for advice on how to cop, but Misha Glenny (author of DarkMarket: How Hackers Became the New Mafia and Callum Lang recently wrote a piece for them called How to Buy Drugs that summarizes how the the customer-facing segment of the global drug market presently functions, with a special emphasis on distribution via the dark web. The improvement in customer service driven by dark web markets is fascinating:

The internet has dramatically improved the experience of drug buyers. The market share of a dark web outlet depends almost entirely on its online reputation. Just as on Amazon or eBay, customer reviews will describe the quality of purchased products as well as reporting on shipping time and the responsiveness of vendors to queries or complaints. If drugs that a buyer has paid for don’t turn up — as once happened to Liam, the Manchester student — a savvy vendor will reship the items without asking for further payment, in the hope of securing the five-star customer reviews they depend on.

As a consequence, the drugs available to the informed buyer are of a higher quality than ever before. They are also safer. The administrators of DNStars.vip — a site on the open web which you don’t need Tor to visit — pose as ordinary users in order to buy samples of popular drugs from major vendors. They then have the drugs chemically tested to see whether they match the seller’s description.

The dark web demonstrates the promise and peril of technology (and capitalism tbh) in a nutshell: lower prices & better quality goods for some (or even many) people but all sorts of hidden nastiness behind the scenes doing real and often unacknowledged harm to society.

How To Talk To Kids About Climate Change

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 28, 2019

NPR’s Anya Kamenetz shares six tips on how to talk to your kids about the climate crisis. Step 1 is to break the silence:

He says, despite the fact that the climate crisis literally affects everyone on earth, too many of us are sitting alone with our worries, our faces lit by our phone screens in the middle of the night. “We seem to be more scared of upsetting the conversation than we are scared about climate change.”

Mary DeMocker, an activist and artist in Eugene, Ore., is the author of The Parents’ Guide To Climate Revolution, a book focusing on simple actions families can take both personally and collectively. “The emotional aspect is actually, I think, one of the biggest aspects of climate work right now,” she says.

Asked what feelings parents tell her they are grappling with, she ticks off guilt, distraction, confusion. And the big one: fear.

See also 8 Ways To Teach Climate Change In Almost Any Classroom.

How Flu Vaccines Are Made

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 10, 2019

Ten years ago, in the midst of the 2009 swine flu pandemic, I wrote about the manufacturing process for the H1N1 flu vaccine. It involves billions of chicken eggs.

The most striking feature of the H1N1 flu vaccine manufacturing process is the 1,200,000,000 chicken eggs required to make the 3 billion doses of vaccine that may be required worldwide. There are entire chicken farms in the US and around the world dedicated to producing eggs for the purpose of incubating influenza viruses for use in vaccines. No wonder it takes six months from start to finish.

The post holds up pretty well because, according to the CDC, this is still the way most flu vaccines in America are manufactured. Here’s a look at pharmaceutical company GSK’s egg-based process:

Two other techniques for making flu vaccines were approved for use in the US in 2012 and 2013 respectively, cell-based flu vaccines:

‘Cell-based’ refers to how the flu vaccine is made. Most inactivated influenza vaccines are produced by growing influenza viruses in eggs. The influenza viruses used in the cell-based vaccine are grown in cultured cells of mammalian origin instead of in hens’ eggs.

A cell-based flu vaccine was developed as an alternative to the egg-based manufacturing process. Cell culture technology is potentially more flexible than the traditional technology, which relies upon adequate supply of eggs. In addition, the cell-based flu vaccine that uses cell-based candidate vaccine viruses (CVVs) has the potential to offer better protection than traditional, egg-based flu vaccines as a result of being more similar to flu viruses in circulation.

And recombinant flu vaccines:

NIAID and its industry partners have made progress in moving from both the egg-based and cell-based flu vaccine production methods toward recombinant DNA manufacturing for flu vaccines. This method does not require an egg-grown vaccine virus and does not use chicken eggs at all in the production process. Instead, manufacturers isolate a certain protein from a naturally occurring (“wild type”) recommended flu vaccine virus. These proteins are then combined with portions of another virus that grows well in insect cells. The resulting “recombinant” vaccine virus is then mixed with insect cells and allowed to replicate. The flu surface protein called hemagglutinin is then harvested from these cells and purified.

Both of these new techniques make production quicker, thereby resulting in more effective vaccines because they are more likely to match the strains of whatever’s “going around”.

As a reminder, you should get a flu shot every year in the fall. The CDC recommends that “everyone 6 months of age and older should get a flu vaccine every season with rare exception”, especially those “who are at high risk of serious complications from influenza”. Flu vaccines are covered by your health insurance without copay (thanks, Obama!) and are often available at drug stores without an appointment or a long wait. So go get one!

Advice from Cormac McCarthy on Writing Great Science Papers

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 30, 2019

Since the 1990s, Pulitzer prizewinning novelist Cormac McCarthy has been a fixture at the Santa Fe Institute, a transdisciplinary research institute in New Mexico. During that time, he’s helped edit scientific papers for many faculty and postdocs. A pair of biologists, Van Savage & Pamela Yeh, recently condensed McCarthy’s scientific writing advice into an article for Nature.

Use minimalism to achieve clarity. While you are writing, ask yourself: is it possible to preserve my original message without that punctuation mark, that word, that sentence, that paragraph or that section? Remove extra words or commas whenever you can.

Inject questions and less-formal language to break up tone and maintain a friendly feeling. Colloquial expressions can be good for this, but they shouldn’t be too narrowly tied to a region. Similarly, use a personal tone because it can help to engage a reader. Impersonal, passive text doesn’t fool anyone into thinking you’re being objective: “Earth is the centre of this Solar System” isn’t any more objective or factual than “We are at the centre of our Solar System.”

Finally, try to write the best version of your paper: the one that you like. You can’t please an anonymous reader, but you should be able to please yourself. Your paper — you hope — is for posterity. Remember how you first read the papers that inspired you while you enjoy the process of writing your own.

Most of this is good advice for the writing in general.

Tony Hawk on the 21 Levels of Complexity of Skateboard Tricks

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 26, 2019

Legendary skater Tony Hawk breaks down 21 increasingly complex skateboarding tricks, from a standard ollie to a kickflip to a McTwist to a 1080 to a couple of tricks that have never been done. As someone who has always been in awe of what skaters can do but hasn’t logged much on-board time myself, I learned a lot from this.

See also a beginning skater learning how to do a kickflip in under 6 hours.

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