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Some Programming Notes

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 23, 2020

Hey folks, just wanted to check in on a few things this morning. I hope you are staying healthy and kind.

1. I spent some time this weekend on the Quick Links infrastructure. (Quick Links are posted to the @kottke Twitter acct and displayed on the front page of the site, right under the most recent post.) There is now a public archive of the Quick Links available here. (If you’re a kottke.org member, you’ve had access to this for months now.) I also started periodically pushing the Quick Links into kottke.org’s RSS feed (yes, ppl still use RSS…at least tens of thousands of them by my count).

2. After a hiatus, I have restarted kottke.org’s newsletter. It was previously a weekly affair, but due to quick moving pandemic news and information, I’m now trying to publish a couple times a week at least. Click here to subscribe.

3. If you’re a regular reader, you’ve noticed that about two weeks ago, I abruptly switched to covering the COVID-19 pandemic almost exclusively. Aside from 9/11, kottke.org has never been focused on a single topic like this, but I believed it was important to get the word out about how infectious diseases spread and how seriously we should be taking this. (VERY SERIOUSLY.) I still believe that. But the site will likely start wandering back towards other topics this week, at least a little bit. This crisis is hitting all of us in many different ways — some are sick, some are bored, some are terrified, some are out there on the front lines saving lives. I hope it’s possible to keep all of those folks (and their different realities & needs) in our minds & hearts while still finding moments of connection to other kinds of human interests and obsessions.

Thanks for reading.

Celebrating 22 Years of Kottke.org

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 14, 2020

Hello all. I know there’s a pandemic going on out there, but I wanted to take a moment to celebrate kottke.org turning 22 years old today. If you’ve been reading along the entire time or for only a few days, it’s been an honor for me to inform, provoke, entertain, and possibly even infuriate you all for a few minutes every day. Thanks for reading — and an extra-special thanks to those who support the site with a membership. As I said a few weeks ago, all this really means a lot to me.

Weird Internet Careers

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 09, 2020

Gretchen McCulloch, author of Because Internet, has developed a Weird Internet Career as an internet linguist. In the first installment in a series on such jobs, McCulloch explains what they are:

Weird Internet Careers are the kinds of jobs that are impossible to explain to your parents, people who somehow make a living from the internet, generally involving a changing mix of revenue streams. Weird Internet Career is a term I made up (it had no google results in quotes before I started using it), but once you start noticing them, you’ll see them everywhere.

Weird Internet Careers are weird because there is no one else who does exactly what they do. They’re internet because they rely on the internet as a cornerstone, such as bloggers, webcomics, youtubers, artists, podcasters, writers, developers, subject-matter experts, and other people in very specific niches. And they’re careers because they somehow manage to support themselves, often making money from some combination of ad revenue, t-shirt sales, other merch, ongoing membership/subscription (Patreon, Substack), crowdfunding (Kickstarter, Indiegogo, Ko-Fi), sponsorship deals, conventional book deals, self-published ebooks, selling online courses, selling products or apps or services, public speaking, and consulting.

I’ve had a Weird Internet Career for more than 15 years and even though it’s much more normalized now than when I started (folks generally know that people make money from being popular on YouTube or Instagram), it’s still a struggle to explain. Usually someone will ask me what I do and I tell them. Them, wide-eyed: “That’s your job?!” Then there’s a long pause and eventually their curiosity overwhelms their politeness and they tentatively say: “Can I ask…uh…how do you make money doing that?”

For awhile, in an attempt to have more symmetrical relationships with new friends — because 5 minutes of googling yields so much about who I am, leading to weird information imbalances — I would be vague about my profession, saying that I managed a website and not offering any further information. This approach often backfired because you’ve essentially given people a mystery, and mysteries must be solved. More than one person looked at me with a cocked eyebrow and asked, “Do you run a porn site? Is that why you don’t want to tell me?” *facepalm*

The 15th Anniversary of Doing Kottke.org as a Full-Time Job

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 25, 2020

Kottke 1996

Fifteen years ago this week, on Feb 22, 2005, I announced that I was going to turn kottke.org, my personal website, into my full-time job.

I recently quit my web design gig and — as of today — will be working on kottke.org as my full-time job. And I need your help.

I’m asking the regular readers of kottke.org (that’s you!) to become micropatrons of kottke.org by contributing a moderate sum of money to help enable me to edit/write/design/code the site for one year on a full-time basis.

It seemed like madness at the time — I’d quit my web design job a few months earlier in preparation, pro blogs existed (Gawker was on its 3rd editor) but very few were personal, general, and non-topical like mine, and I was attempting to fund it via a then-largely-unproven method: crowdfunding. As I wrote on Twitter the other day, attempting this is “still the most bonkers I-don’t-know-if-this-is-going-to-work thing I’ve ever done”.

These days, people are used to paying directly for online media through services like Kickstarter, Patreon, and Substack and kids want to run their own personality-driven businesses online when they grow up. But back then, aside from the likes of the WSJ, websites were either a) free to read or b) free to read & supported by advertising and being an online personality was not a lucrative thing. But I figured that enough of you would pitch in to support the site directly while keeping it free to read for everyone with no advertising.

In order to make it feel somewhat familiar, I patterned it after a PBS/NPR fund drive. During a three-week kick-off period, I asked people to support the site by becoming micropatrons. The suggested donation was $30 (but people could give any amount) and there were thank you gifts — like signed books, software, signed photo prints, a free SXSW ticket — for people who contributed. Several hundred people ended up contributing during those three weeks, enough for me to do the site for a year. I still remember that first day, responding to well-wishes from friends on AIM and watching my PayPal account fill up, and it hitting me that this bonkers scheme was actually going to work and pretty much bursting into tears.

Fast forward to the present day and this little website is still chugging along. In its almost 22 years of existence, kottke.org has never gotten big, but it’s also never gone away, predating & outlasting many excellent and dearly missed sites like Grantland, Rookie, The Toast, The Awl, Gawker, and hundreds of others. I have other people write for the site on occasion, but it’s still very much a one-person production by a reluctant influencer (*barf*) who, as an introvert, still (naively?) thinks about posts on the site as personal emails to individual readers rather than as some sort of broadcast. I’d like to thank those early supporters for having faith in me and in this site — you’re the reason we’re all still here, gathered around this little online campfire, swapping stories about the human condition.

About 3 years ago, I returned to the crowdfunding model with kottke.org’s membership program. Since then, I’m very happy to report, readers like you who have purchased memberships have become the main source of financial support for the site. As I’ve written before, I have come to love the directness of this approach — I write, you pay, no middlemen, and, crucially, the site remains part of the Open Web, unpaywalled & free for everyone to read. If you’ll indulge me in a request on this anniversary, if you’re not currently a member of the site (or if your membership has lapsed) and can afford to do so, please consider supporting the site with a membership today. I really appreciate everyone who has become a member over the past few years — thank you!! — and I hope you will consider joining them.

Note: I have no photos of myself taken around this time in 2005, so the photo at the top of the post is me circa spring 1996. I’d dropped out of grad school & was back living at my dad’s house, spending 10-12 hours a day online (via a 28.8K modem) trying to figure out how to build websites. I applied for jobs & internships at places like Wired/Hotwired, Razorfish, Studio Archetype, and MTV but no one wanted to hire a physics major w/ no art or design education or experience to design websites. kottke.org was still a couple of years off at this point…

Hello from Asia!

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 22, 2020

I just wanted to let you know that I am going to be travelling for the next few weeks and the site’s regular metronomic schedule is going to get a little…weird. I am currently halfway around the world in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam1 in the US east coast’s Bizarro timezone (10am here, 10pm there). I’ll be posting while I’m here but on a local schedule, so for many of you there won’t be anything all day but you’ll have a bunch of stuff to read late at night or first thing in the morning.

While I’m here, I might write about my adventures on the site but I’m not quite sure yet — this is an experiment for me all around: solo travelling, digital nomading, working on an iPad instead of a laptop, etc. But I’ll definitely be posting photos and stories over at Instagram.

I’ll be in Saigon for about 2 weeks, followed by a few days in Singapore and about 48 hours in Doha, Qatar. If you’re a kottke.org reader and you live in any of those places, let me know and maybe we can meet up for some food, drink, or wandering around! Or if you’ve have tips for me (esp food and design/architecure stuff), drop me a line on Twitter or via email.

In the meantime, here’s a photo of the bonkers waterfall and rain forest inside the Changi airport in Singapore.

The waterfall at Singapore's Changi airport

I mean…

  1. I’m told the locals still mostly call it Saigon, so I’m going to go with that.

2020 Vision

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 01, 2020

I’m not feeling particularly introspective or retrospective or reflective about 2019 and the 2010s coming to an end, at least not publicly so. I couldn’t even get it together to do a best of my media diet for 2019.1

But I did want to note that with this post, I have now published kottke.org across four decades: the 90s, 00s, 10s, and now the 20s. What. The. F?! That realization has me a little bit shook. Am I in a groove or a rut? I find myself feeling both comfortable here and restless for something different. Can those things work together to our mutual benefit in the year to come? We shall see.

In the meantime, thanks to everyone for reading the site. I know from your email that some of you have been reading since the 90s, which floors me. Thanks also to those of you who have supported the site through the purchase of a membership — this site literally could not function without that support.

  1. Ok fine. In no order, fave movies were Roma, Booksmart, Uncut Gems. Books: Normal People, In the Garden of Beasts. TV: Fleabag, Succession, Mindhunter, Chernobyl, Leaving Neverland, American Factory. Podcasts: 13 Minutes to the Moon, 1619. But travel to Mexico City and to the US west coast overshadowed all of that, with visits to Teotihuacán and California’s redwoods forests being my peak experiences of the year (that I am comfortable sharing in a public forum).

The 2019 kottke.org Holiday Gift Guide

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 05, 2019

Holiday Gift Guide 2019

Over the past few weeks, as I’ve done for the past several years, I’ve combed through many of the best online gift guides to highlight some of the best holiday gifts out there. It’s a curated meta-guide for your holiday giving. Here we go!

First thing’s first: charitable giving should be top-of-mind every holiday season. Giving locally is key. I support our area food shelf year-round, with an extra gift for Thanksgiving and the December holiday; giving money instead of food is best. The kids and I also support Toys for Tots by heading to the local toy store to get some things — they like it because they get to pick out toys and games (they’re thoughtful about deciding which ones would be best). For national/international giving, do your research. GiveWell recently listed their top charities for 2019 and Vox has more tips here. Read up on big charities like Red Cross and Salvation Army…they are often not great places to give to. GiveDirectly sends money to people living in extreme poverty around the world.

If you’re anything like me, you never know what presents to get kids for their birthdays or holidays, even if they’re your own. That’s why I rely heavily on the gift guide from The Kid Should See This. On their list this year is Parks, a board game that takes players on a journey through US National Parks, The Dictionary of Difficult Words, this kit for building your own yarn giraffes, and Kano’s Harry Potter Coding Kit (which I also highlighted last year and still looks cool as hell). See also the 2019 Engineering Gift Guide from Purdue University.

The Accidental Shop is a collection of products I’ve previously linked to here on kottke.org. Some recently items I’d particularly recommend are The Whole Fish Cookbook by Josh Niland, the second volume of Jeff Bridges’ panoramic photographs that he takes on the sets of his films, this professional yo-yo, and Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle, a cooperative deck building game that my kids and I love.

For this year’s guide, I made an extra effort to include products and services from kottke.org’s readership — you’ll see them sprinkled throughout. Let’s start with 20x200. Their motto is “Art for Everyone” and they’ve been populating the walls of homes worldwide since 2007. I’ve bought several things from them and even contributed to their blog earlier this year. 20x200 has prints of Hilma af Klint’s work as well as one-of-a-kind artworks by Yen Ha (who is also a reader).

The Wirecutter is still the first place I go when I need to read up on everything from kitchen essentials to headphones to board games, so their gift guide is always worth a close look. This year I found a high quality but inexpensive jump rope, a wooden alarm clock, the Nintendo Switch w/ Mario Kart 8 (which I am still coveting/resisting), the Raspberry Pi 4, and Sushi Go Party (the kids and I love this game).

I bought my daughter a pair of these antique stork embroidery scissors for her birthday and they look incredible in person. A true hand-crafted piece of art.

Holiday Gift Guide 2019

Robin Sloan and his partner Kathryn Tomajan operate Fat Gold, an olive oil subscription service. Sloan wrote a gift guide this year, in which he recommends buying some sourdough starter from King Arthur Flour, located right here in VT.

A pair of gift guides for buying products from Native American artists & entrepreneurs: Beyond Buckskin’s 2019 BUY NATIVE Holiday Gift Guide and PowWows.com’s 2019 Native American Holiday Gift Guide. Check out these socks from Eighth Generation and handmade moccasins by Jamie Gentry of the Kwakwaka’wakw Nation.

If you’re giving books this year, check out The Best Books of 2019. Almost every best-of list this year included The Topeka School by Ben Lerner, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong, and The Testaments by Margaret Atwood.

Last year’s gift guide is full of great items, including a fire log that smells like Kentucky Fried Chicken when you burn it, A Die Hard Christmas (a Die Hard holiday picture book), and the AWB OneSky Reflector Telescope (a great beginner telescope).

It would not be a kottke.org holiday gift guide if I didn’t highlight this 55-gallon drum of personal lubricant. Someday someone is going to buy one of these — perhaps with a big novelty bow to surprise their loved one(s) on Xmas morning — and it’s going to make me so happy.

For your techie/futurist peeps, check out Wired’s Wish List 2019, which includes the Leica Q2 digital camera that I absolutely cannot afford but would absolutely love to own someday.

Earlier this year I bought a Thermapen Mk4 instant-read thermometer and OMG why didn’t I get this sooner? It’s made grilling and doing the Thanksgiving turkey so much easier.

Food-related gift guides from Chowhound, Serious Eats, Kitchn, and Food52. I have heard great things about Fuchsia Dunlop’s The Food of Sichuan and would happily try some of this barrel-aged soy sauce.

Holiday Gift Guide 2019

If you’re shopping for me this year, you should totally get me a gift certificate for an ultralight flight with birds (more info on these flights here).

More products from kottke.org readers: a 3-pack of notebooks from Field Notes, prints of illustrations of NYC storefronts & restaurants by Kelli Ercolano, gear from Advencher Supply Co (founded by Dribbble cofounder Dan Cederholm), Journey to the End of the Night by Erin Przekop, and Wondermade marshmallows.

My friend Bryan designed this Global Architect Card for architecture tourists that says “I am an architect. I am here to see this significant building.” in 14 different languages.

I love the idea of Slate’s list of Highly Unusual but Incredibly Useful Gifts Your Family Will Love, including this cool LED flashlight that fastens onto the end of a 9V battery and a rubber stamp with your face on it.

Jan Chipchase is a very occasional reader, if only because he’s so damn busy doing cool shit all over the world. His latest project is Hamidashimono, a kit for whittling your own izakaya-grade chopsticks. His company also has a line of field equipment called SDR Traveller. The D3 Traveller duffel bag was a total splurge for me, but I *love* travelling with that bag.

From Jada Pinkett Smith’s gift guide filled with products created by women and people of color, Homegirl Boxes inspired by women like Octavia Butler and Shirley Chisholm. See also this gift list inspired by African American artists, which includes a Jean-Michel Basquiat version of Uno (yes, the card game).

Check out Delph Miniatures, a tiny UK company that makes 1/12th scale miniatures of everyday things like washing machines, ironing boards, and mobility scooters. Here’s a charming video about their work.

Yet more products produced by kottke.org readers: I have one of these Currency Blankets from Hiller Dry Goods and I love it. Five Two wooden spoons from Food52. The Aviary: Holiday Cocktails. The 2020 Astrologicalendar (a wall calendar based on the signs of the zodiac). Fitz (custom 3D-printed eyeglasses…the company was inspired in part by a kottke.org post about DIY orthodontics). Am I Overthinking This? by Michelle Rial. This Book Is a Planetarium by Kelli Anderson. You Think You Know Me. Gracie’s Ice Cream.

Marie Kondo, the woman who has helped people get rid of all sorts of stuff with The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, now has an online shop to help you welcome new stuff into your home. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

And more gift guides: Cup of Jo, Black Enterprise, the NY Times, Dribbble, Tools & Toys.

Ok, that’s quite enough to get you started. I’ve got more recommendations that I’ll add in the next few days. If you’re interested, you can also check out my past gift guides from 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, and 2013.

Update: My friend Jodi Ettenberg is unable to travel the world right now but she put her unquenchable curiosity to use in compiling her guide to Unique Art and Jewelry Gifts for 2019, which includes illustrated bird shenanigans from Birdstrips.

Another selection of products made or sold by kottke.org readers: Kevin Kelly’s Four Favorite Tools. t-shirts, tote bags, and prints of Legal Nomads’ food maps. The best temporary tattoos out there by Tattly. A Dem Women of the House wall calendar by Anneliese Dehner. 33 Books Co. sells tools, guides, and supplies for tasting foods like cheese, wine, coffee, beer, and whiskey. Based in the Pacific Northwest, Crane City Music sells hip-hop records with a focus on “voices underrepresented in mainstream hip-hop” (use code “KOTTKE” for 20% off thru Dec 31).

One of my favorite infographic designers, Eleanor Lutz, has an online shop selling prints, posters, and tote bags of a bunch of her stuff.

The happy mutants at Boing Boing compiled this list of 100 Wonderful Things Worth Buying, including an “insert coin” keychain, the Sega Genesis Mini (it comes with 42 games), and Nancy: A Comic Collection by Olivia Jaimes, who has revitalized the decades-old comic strip character.

The Cool Tools 2019 Holiday Gift Guide features these two-sided magnetic measuring spoons and these WiFi smart plugs.

Update: A few late but great additions. The Ooni 3 is a highly rated wood-fired portable pizza oven and with Storyworth you can “get weekly stories from a loved one, bound in a beautiful keepsake book”. Both made by kottke.org readers. And the folks at Article Group produced this fantastic games guide: 20 Games Every Creative Thinker Should Play — I pulled a couple of things directly off of here for holiday purchases.

When you buy through links on kottke.org, I may earn an affiliate commission. Thanks for supporting the site!

Get Ready for the Global Climate Strike on September 20

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 17, 2019

Global Climate Strike

Just a reminder that the Global Climate Strike begins this Friday, September 20. A coalition of young activists led by Greta Thunberg is calling on all of us to walk out of our schools and jobs to demand political and corporate action on the Earth’s climate crisis.

Once again our voices are being heard on the streets, but it is not just up to us.

We feel a lot of adults haven’t quite understood that we young people won’t hold off the climate crisis ourselves. Sorry, if this is inconvenient for you. But this is not a single-generation job. It’s humanity’s job. We young people can contribute to a larger fight and that can make a huge difference.

So this is our invitation to you. Starting on Friday 20 September we will kick start a week of climate action with worldwide strikes for the climate. We’re asking you to step up alongside us. There are many different plans underway in different parts of the world for adults to join together and step up and out of your comfort zone for our climate. Let’s all join together; with our neighbours, co-workers, friends, family and go out on to the streets to make our voices heard and make this a turning point in our history.

kottke.org will be joining the Digital Climate Strike on Friday; the site won’t be available that day. If you’d like to participate in the strike, there are plenty of resources available here.

The Server Bone Is Connected to the DNS Bone…

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 15, 2019

Zero Days

Some of you may have noticed that kottke.org was unavailable for more than 36 hours on Thursday and Friday last week. That’s the longest stretch of downtime for the site since… well, probably ever. That sucks and I’m sorry. Here’s (briefly) what happened:

On Thursday morning, my domain registrar (Dotster) locked access to the kottke.org domain after they couldn’t reach me at the email address listed, which was an address from when I registered the domain 20+ years ago that I haven’t used since before Obama was President. Seeing as the business address listed on the account was also 20 years old, verification via documents was not going to work either (and that process was going to take days to unfold). Their first-line support people were confused about how to even proceed — “this is a very unusual situation…” It was at this point where I started wondering (ok, freaking out) if I was ever going to get my domain name back. How do I prove that I am who I was 20 years ago?1

Eventually — and I say “eventually” because I missed a voicemail that I thought was one of 3-5 spam voicemails I get every weekday — I was connected (via Twitter) to Winston Wolf’s team at Dotster, the folks who could actually do something for me. After some back and forth and several verifications, they unlocked the domain and the site came back up on Friday afternoon. And then I collapsed into a puddle of whatever chemicals are released from your body after a massively stressful event.

To be clear, not keeping the information on my domain up-to-date was my fault. (The info on my Dotster account was current though, but not the same thing apparently.) And I appreciate Dotster’s efforts in helping me regain access to my domain and ensuring that no one was trying to social engineer it away from me. But locking access like that to a domain name that’s had a single owner since its initial registration and has been paid for by the same credit card for more than 10 years (and was prepaid until 2022) seems overzealous. The sudden need for domain verification was not triggered by some fishy activity on my account but by an internal Dotster process and keeping the site offline until it was resolved was excessive and I’m still not happy about it. Sure, don’t allow changes or transfers until it’s verified, but turning off a domain that’s paid for and been happily humming along without changes for literal decades is just not right.

Ok. Anyway, that’s what happened. All my information is now updated so it shouldn’t happen again. *fingers crossed* I’d like to thank Mike at Dotster, Greg Knauss (kottke.org’s tech godfather), and the fantastically speedy support folks at Arcustech for their help in diagnosing and fixing the problem. I also want to apologize to everyone who financially supports the site through a membership. Guaranteed uptime for the site was not explicitly part of the arrangement, but I still take any outages seriously. Part of what I imagine the appeal of the site to be is that it’s always here, with URLs that don’t change and a regular publishing schedule, year after year. As of Friday afternoon, we’re on a new uptime streak that will hopefully last a long while.

-jason

  1. A reader called this “the ‘never step in the same river twice’ security conundrum”. Love a Heraclitus reference.

See You Next Week

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 05, 2019

Hey, just a short note to say that kottke.org won’t be published this week. This is the first break in publishing the site since…well, I don’t really know. Maybe 5 years? Or even 10? I had a guest editor last week (thanks Patrick!) but this feels like a good time for a break break. Your regularly scheduled information & nonsense will resume on August 12.

Tim will be sending out an installment of the Noticing newsletter this Friday, so make sure to sign up for that if you’re not already on board.

And me? I’m on a LA-to-Portland road trip. I’ll share my adventures from the trip when I get back, but for now you can follow along on Instagram (especially via Stories). So, far, it’s been pretty fun + interesting.

Redwoods

Summer, Summer, Summertime

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 19, 2019

We interrupt your regularly scheduled flow of fine hypertext products for a short program note or two. Here’s your soundtrack:

1. Posting will be a little slow over the next week or so. My kids will be gone for most of the summer on adventures, so I’m spending some time with them before they scatter to the winds. I’ll be back to full speed next Wednesday-ish.

2. Last year, I did a Summer Fridays thing where the site and newsletter took every other Friday off and it worked out pretty well, so I’m doing it again. As usual, my pal and yours Tim Carmody will be handling Fridays and the newsletter (sign up here).

3. Did I mention that kottke.org has a weekly newsletter called Noticing that slips the best posts and coolest stuff into your inbox on Fridays? Oh, you think three links (now four) to the newsletter in two paragraphs is excessive? At least you don’t need to close A GODDAMN EMAIL SUBSCRIBE POPUP EVERY TIME YOU READ THE SITE. You’re welcome. (Subscribe.)

4a. Several lovely people have recently told me that I’m not vocal enough about kottke.org’s membership program. *clears throat* The only way kottke.org even exists at this point is through the support of readers like you. Seriously. Read this post from Nov 2017 for more info.

What I’m trying to say is: thank you so much for your support over the past year. To say it means a lot to me is insufficient. Member support has made it possible for me to keep publishing kottke.org without compromise (i.e. without splashing trashy ads everywhere or selling to a larger media company), something I know you appreciate and something I’ve grown increasingly thankful for as the 20-year anniversary of the site approaches early next year (!!!).

If you find my work here valuable in some way and are able to do so, please support the site with a membership today.

4b. If you’re currently a member, I have probably thanked you before but guess what? Here it comes again: Thank you! But if you want to continue supporting the site, I need you to do the tiniest bit of housekeeping. Credit cards expire, charges on saved cards are declined for a bunch of incomprehensible reasons (like because you upgraded your phone), and reminder emails are easily overlooked in busy inboxes. As a result, you might be sitting here thinking you’re a member when you’re actually not. To check your status, you can log in on the members page (use the “sign in” link just under the title). If your account isn’t active, you’ll be able to drop in a new credit card to get your membership going again. Thx!

5. Five seems like a nice round number to end on.

Regarding the Thoughtful Cultivation of the Archived Internet

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 06, 2019

Kurzgesagt is one of my favorite YouTube channels. Their videos are entertaining & thoroughly researched, and the subject matter is right in the kottke.org wheelhouse. (This one on the physical limitations of humanity when it comes to space exploration is a particular recent favorite.)

So I appreciated their latest video called Can You Trust Kurzgesagt Videos?

In it, they detail the process of making their videos, which has gotten more extensive as the channel matures. The second half is about a pair of videos that didn’t meet their current standard: one about addiction (which I posted about here) and another about the European migrant crisis of 2015. The addiction video represented only one side of a controversial issue within the scientific community while the migrant video was hastily produced and poorly researched. As a result, they deleted both videos, even though they were among the channel’s most popular and plan to publish a future video about addiction that will look more broadly at its causes.

With 20+ years of kottke.org archives, I’ve been thinking about this issue as well. There are many posts in the archive that I am not proud of. I’ve changed my mind in some cases and no longer hold the views attributed to me in my own words. I was too frequently a young and impatient asshole, full of himself and knowing it all. I was unaware of my privilege and too frequently assumed things of other people and groups that were incorrect and insensitive. I’ve amplified people and ideas in the past that I wouldn’t today.

My process today is more rigorous (but not as rigorous as Kurzgesagt b/c we have different aims) and I’ve gained some wisdom (I hope!) about when vigor or sensitivity are called for. I still place a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of the reader — you are a smart bunch and I expect you to read and view everything here with a critical eye — but I am also more aware of my (small but not insignificant) responsibility as an informational gatekeeper.

But so anyway, I don’t know what to do about those old problematic posts. Tim Berners-Lee’s idea that cool URIs don’t change is almost part of my DNA at this point, so deleting them seems wrong. Approximately no one ever reads any post on this site that’s more than a few years old, but is that an argument for or against deleting them? (If a tree falls in the woods, etc…) Should I delete but leave a note they were deleted? Should I leave the original posts but append updates citing my current displeasure? Or like Mister Rogers used to do, should I rewrite the posts to bring them more into line with my current thinking? Is the kottke.org archive trapped in amber, a record of what I’ve written when I wrote it, or is it a living, breathing thing that thrives on activity? Is it more like a book or a performance? In my mind it’s both, which is why the site is compelling (IMO) but also makes this issue so thorny for me. The web is weird that way…but how do I embrace the weirdness re: this issue?

The Amazon Chronicles

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 28, 2019

My pal and collaborator Tim Carmody is launching a newsletter all about Amazon called Amazon Chronicles. You can subscribe here and read the statement of purpose here. I’m thinking of it as Daring Fireball but for Amazon instead of Apple.

There’s no shortage of good Amazon stories, and good Amazon coverage. I loved Kashmir Hill’s story for Gizmodo about trying (somewhat unsuccessfully) to block Amazon from her life. I loved John Herrman’s exposé on Vine reviewers. I think stories like this are just as important and just as interesting (more so, actually) as the latest on Jeff Bezos’s sex life or speculation about Amazon’s earnings and stock price. I like stories that help me see how a company like Amazon, with its tangled web of services and products, entwines itself into our lives, both consumer and commercial.

But who is going to gather stories like these and help put them into context? Who, really, is able to take the time to get the big picture when it comes to what’s intermittently the biggest and most influential company in the world?

Tim has been covering the Amazon beat from all angles since before the company became one of the most valuable in the world (including recently on kottke.org), so he’s well-positioned to take up this gathering challenge.1 Tim is also applying the Unlocking the Commons approach that has worked well for the kottke.org membership program with a slight wrinkle:

So, here’s the deal. This newsletter — which I’m calling The Amazon Chronicles — will sell paid memberships. These will be $5/month, or $50/year. It will also offer free subscriptions. These will cost nothing.

As long as I get at least 200 paid subscribers (let’s call them “members”), free subscribers will get all the same newsletters members get (give or take housekeeping emails that will only make sense to folks who are paying money).

Essentially, the whole site will be free to anyone who signs up. That will be a newsletter a week, rounding up the biggest and best Amazon coverage, plus original reporting and analysis. The same newsletter, for everybody.

I just subscribed at the annual level…join me, won’t you?

  1. If you’ve been following his work on kottke.org and on Noticing, you know that this gathering will come with a heaping side helping of fresh and razor-sharp analysis about the company and media in general. In fact, the gathering will likely turn into the side helping over time as the newsletter gathers steam.

    (I also find it hilarious that Tim is currently writing two newsletters: one that aggregates the activities of one of the largest companies in the world and the other that aggregates the activities of a tiny independent media concern.)

The Art of Noticing

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 15, 2019

When Tim and I first started the Noticing newsletter, I got a note from Rob Walker, a design and technology journalist whose work I’ve followed for some years. He said he was working on a book about paying attention and that the book and an affiliated newsletter were going to have a similar name to “Noticing”. Name collisions like that are always a bummer, but we didn’t challenge each other to a duel or anything. Instead, he asked me to contribute a tiny bit to the book and I said I’d write about it when it was coming out.

So here’s the skinny. The book is called The Art of Noticing: 131 Ways to Spark Creativity, Find Inspiration, and Discover Joy In the Everyday, will be out in May 2019, and can be preordered from Amazon right now. Walker describes it as a practical guide to becoming a better observer, “a series of exercises and prompts and games and things you can actually do (or reflect upon) to build attention muscles or just get off your phone and enjoy noticing stuff that everyone else missed”.

The Art of Noticing is an expansion of an essay by Walker called How to Pay Attention. One of the suggestions is “Look slowly”:

Robert Irwin, the artist mentioned above, shaped his practice in part by spending insane-sounding amounts of time simply looking — at his own paintings, at rooms, at outdoor settings. “Slow Art Day” is an annual event at multiple locations around the country that picks up this spirit in a perhaps more manageable form: Participants meet at a museum and “look at five works of art for 10 minutes each and then meet together over lunch to talk about their experience,” the event’s site explains.

The weekly newsletter associated with the book is right here if you’d like to join me in signing up. So far, it’s both whetting the appetite for the book and also providing interesting attention-adjacent things to snack on in the meantime.

P.S. I love Walker’s idea that paying attention is something that a person can learn to do. In the introduction letter to Noticing, I wrote about a similar assertion Walter Isaacson made about Leonardo da Vinci in his biography:

One of Isaacson’s main points in the book was that Leonardo’s accomplishments were due in no small part to his extraordinary powers of observation. By observing things closely and from all possible angles, he was able to make connections and find details that other people didn’t and express them in his work. Isaacson argues that Leonardo’s observational powers were not innate and that with sufficient practice, we can all observe as he did. People talk in a precious way about genius, creativity, and curiosity as superpowers that people are born with but noticing is a more humble pursuit. Noticing is something we can all do.

P.P.S. When working on the book, Walker asked a number of people for tips on paying better attention. My tip (the “tiny bit” mentioned above) didn’t make it into the book, so I thought I’d share it here:

The thing that popped into my head about noticing suggestions is to pay attention to kids. They are literally at a different level in the world, ocularly speaking, and so notice different things. They’ve also got Beginner’s Minds, again literally. Having been a designer for many years, I am pretty good at observation, but my kids are always noticing details that I miss. I’m not saying you should crawl around on your hands and knees, but occasionally directing your gaze as a child would is often instructive.

Related to this, a few months ago I was able to add a new tool to their observational skills. The kids were having repeated difficulty with the door to a store in our town and on one particular visit, my son voiced his frustration. I asked them why he thought the door was so tough and they couldn’t really say, so I told them about Norman doors and now every time they have trouble with, say, a PULL door with PUSH indications, they go, “Norman door! They should get a better designed door.” It’s really fun because it turns a boring shopping trip into a little exercise in how the world could be a tiny bit better if people were just a little more observant about how others use things.

P.P.P.S. <— Last one, I promise. A version of this post first appeared in last week’s Noticing newsletter. If you’d like to subscribe, right this way.

Unlocking the Commons and Collective Micropatronage

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 04, 2019

For NiemanLab’s annual Predictions for Journalism package, Tim Carmody revisited his take on how kottke.org’s membership program works and what that could mean for independent media.

The most economically powerful thing you can do is to buy something for your own enjoyment that also improves the world. This has always been the value proposition of journalism and art. It’s a nonexclusive good that’s best enjoyed nonexclusively.

Anyways. This is a prediction for 2019 and beyond: The most powerful and interesting media model will remain raising money from members who don’t just permit but insist that the product be given away for free. The value comes not just what they’re buying, but who they’re buying it from and who gets to enjoy it.

If you’d like to help support independent media and keep access to kottke.org open and free, you can join the membership program.

And as always, a huge thank you to all of you who have already contributed. As I wrote in an update back in November 2017, I’m not sure the site would even be here without your support:

While I didn’t know it at the time, your support saved kottke.org. This is not even hyperbole. As I hinted at in the announcement post, the industry-wide drop in revenue from display advertising was beginning to affect kottke.org and just a few months later, the site’s largest source of revenue (ads via The Deck) went from “hey, I can make a living at this!” to zero. … But over the course of the past year, hundreds and then thousands of you became members, exceeding even my loftiest expectations. Membership is now the primary source of revenue for kottke.org.

Kottke.org’s Best of 2018, Parts 1 and 2

posted by Tim Carmody   Dec 21, 2018

2018 light bulb.jpg

Subscribers to Noticing, the Kottke.org newsletter, have already seen our two-part Best of 2018 series, published on Thursday the 20th and Friday the 21st. We decided to split the best-of into two parts, with the first letter, the A-Sides, focusing on the 50 most popular posts of the year, and the second, the B-Sides, collecting our personal favorites.

For the B-Sides, Jason and I each submitted lists of posts we wanted to include, and after discarding redundancies, it turned out that the number of “favorite” posts was an even 100. I’d expected to write up about fifty, which was the number of the first newsletter. But that century mark felt like a sign, and a challenge I wanted to meet. So, fuck it; we wrote up the full 100.

Here’s an excerpt from the first newsletter:

Mapping cities, the planet, the stars

A number of the year’s best posts, as always, featured maps. A literal world map stars countries with the literal translations of their names. A map of the world after four degrees of warming is sobering, if not outright depressing. (Spoiler: most of the places where lots of people live will become hostile to the point of unliveable.) A map of the world where the sizes of countries is determined by their population has a similar “whoa!” effect, making you rethink the distribution of the planet. But maybe nothing is more “whoa!” than a timeline map of the 200,000 year history of human civilization, starting with migrations out of sub-Saharan Africa and following human travel and development through to the present.



We’ve reached the point in our development where we don’t necessarily need cartography to map our surroundings; photography will do the job. Even in 1920, photographers were able to capture stunning aerial photographs like cities, like these snaps of Edinburgh. These days, you can take aerial panoramas from 20,000 feet using as something as ubiquitous as an iPhone. Or use a fractal lens to take pictures of Tokyo, bending yourself into the future from that great contemporary city.



We now know what high-resolution photos of the Earth taken from the surface of the moon look like. We know how our seemingly geometric road grids subtly correct themselves for the curvature of the Earth’s surface. And we can even photograph black holes — or rather, watch stars in orbit around black holes, using a twenty-year time lapse. (Twenty years? Huh.)

That “twenty years” bit is a callback, as Kottke.org turned 20 this year.

And here is an excerpt from the B-Sides issue, which is, let’s just say, more dense:

The Year In Inspiration





Consider the fable of the dragon-tyrant. Literally, it’s about the possibility of extending the human lifespan and human flourishing, instead of sacrificing the young and old alike to the tyranny of death. But allegorically, as Jason writes, “humanity has lots of dragons sitting on mountaintops, devouring people, waiting for a change in the world’s perspective or technology or culture to meet its doom.”



Consider, too, the calmness of airline pilots. In the midst of disaster, good pilots actually get calmer, and this helps them solve their problems.



Do you need to get yourself out of a funk? Or console or otherwise help a grieving friend? Think about what Augustine says about hope: hope stretches us out across time. It makes our hearts bigger in order to contain it. And all our secular hopes help to prepare us for the great hope to come, that all might be redeemed and made perfect, and we can find our true place in the cosmos. Think about Dean Allen, one of the kindest and most talented people in the tech universe, and whether or not he’s found the peace that eluded him — that eludes us all — on Earth.



We are, all of us, explorers and hermits, both searching for adventure and longing for routine. This is why, despite it all, it is some small comfort to know that humans right now are better at Tetris than they have ever been. And that if we decide to move to Los Angeles, we’ll have to solve a lot of problems with ourselves first: “How do you help care for the city that drew you in, rather than allow your presence to steamroll its culture?” And, to generalize: how can we care for 2019, as we’re drawn inexorably into its vortex, rather than allow it to steamroll us all?

It’s been a great year. I’ve loved writing this newsletter, and being able to chime in with my Friday posts and occasional guest weeks. (Guest editor Chrysanthe Tenentes put up some great posts this year as well.) Cheers to Jason for continuing to host the best blog in the universe. Here’s to more and better in 2019. Here’s to blogs making their inevitable comeback. Here’s to another twenty years.

The Official Kottke.org Music Playlist

posted by Tim Carmody   Dec 14, 2018

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the mini-phenomenon of book playlists — music playlists designed to accompany new books, as a kind of disembodied soundtrack. Then last week, in the newsletter, I wondered out loud what songs would be on a Kottke.org playlist, and asked you, the readers, for help figuring that out. Jason amplified the call on Twitter, and we were off and running.

So, for the past week, I took the advice that came in, reached out to a few musically-minded Kottke readers that I trust, and trolled the “music” tag on the site to get some more ideas. (I was tempted to include some Kenny G, but ultimately passed.) And here it is:

Update: (Ben Samuels-Kalow made an Apple Music version of this playlist, if that’s your jam.)

It’s almost exactly two hours long, or about the length of a double album. (Disc 2 would start with Coltrane’s “Giant Steps.”) Daft Punk, John Cale, Johnny Cash, The Strokes, Nina Simone, and The Echelon Effect all came from reader suggestions. So did Tom Misch and Carmody (!), an artist with whom I’d only had passing acquaintance, but turned out to deliver one of my favorite songs in the mix. Thanks to E.A. Gordon, Olga Nunes, David Gagne, Dan McCue, and Michael Ashbridge for their invaluable help putting this together. (Seriously, Mr. Ashbridge: Nina Simone’s cover of “Isn’t It A Pity” might be the best song I’ve ever heard.)

The rest of the contributions came out of my own head, after doing a lot of reading of the site. Readers will spot some of their favorite tags in the titles, which happen to correspond to magnificent songs: “The Moon” by The Microphones, or “Maps” by Yeah Yeah Yeahs, or “Photograph” by Weezer. (Somewhere my college friends are laughing at me for putting Weezer on a playlist.) “Blogging” by Wire was frankly a no-brainer based on the title alone, but I’m pleased it’s such a good, pointed song. I wanted to include one Philip Glass song and one Radiohead song, and I think I picked some good ones. And if you listen to the rest of the songs, you’ll see plenty of Kottke-esque themes and moods reflected in the lyrics. But it’s a playlist that I made, which means it has plenty of hip-hop and indie rock, some jazz and instrumental numbers, and a Dionne Warwick song.

One thing I hope is clear from this playlist: I love Kottke.org. This is a love letter. And the way Paul Westerberg sings about Alex Chilton is how I feel about Jason. He’s my guy. And I hope he finds something in this that reflects his personality and sensibilities, from his infinite capacity for wonder and his meticulous sense of taste to — and I was surprised by how much this seemed to naturally creep in — that midwestern, A Charlie Brown Christmas mood of introverted melancholy that lies behind all of that other-directed wonder. Not all of these songs are happy songs, but they are songs that find joy in the universe. And that’s deeper and richer than a giddy, booster-ish hayride. After all, as Dionne sings, loneliness remembers what happiness forgets.

I love listening to this music, and I hope you do too. A little early Christmas present from your friends here at what I will always think is the best blog in the world.

The Explorer and The Hermit

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 12, 2018

In a piece called I’m the Food Expert But My Kids Love My Husband’s Cooking, Amanda Hesser talks about food, tradition, and the differing cooking styles between her and her husband Tad. When she was younger, Hesser’s approach was to experiment relentlessly with her cooking, moving from one new dish to the next. But her husband took a different approach:

One of my other nicknames for Tad is Mr. Efficiency. He obsesses over the shortest route to a destination, orders everything in bulk, is always on time, writes thank-you notes within a day, and absolutely detests standing in line. Especially for food.

When it came to cooking, Tad was characteristically economical. Once we had our kids and our schedules went haywire, he set about mastering a handful of dishes he could pull off on a moment’s notice: fish tacos, pasta alla vodka, and Daddy’s pasta.

Mr. Efficiency…that could be totally be me. I do occasionally enjoy trying to find new stuff to cook, but their mom is way more adventurous in cooking for the kids. I always come back to my go-tos of caldo verde, taco salad, smoky corn chowder, the world’s best pancakes, burgers, and even the occasional tater tot hotdish.

But Hesser’s approach to cooking has shifted towards the familiar in recent years after noticing the downside to always pushing the boundaries:

Meanwhile, I continued to roam and experiment, rarely making the same dish twice. I enjoy the hunt for a new great recipe, the push for something better. But it comes at a cost; cooking new things is more stressful because the unknowns are many. Tad would chat with the kids while making his pasta; I would cook distracted, with my nose in a recipe. Even after focused cooking, things don’t always work out well, and no one around the table is happy. And it’s hard to expect anyone to build an emotional connection to a dish if they’re only seeing it a few times.

I am really feeling that tension between novelty and stability lately, and not just when it comes to food. Sometimes I feel like I’m two different people. The Explorer craves new experiences, finds routine boring, and wants to learn new things or he’ll feel brain-dead. The Hermit needs the stability of a comfortable routine, finds exploring exhausting, and doesn’t want to have to think about what’s next all the time. Should I go to my favorite restaurant or try a new place? Regarding travel…should I re-experience somewhere I’ve been before or head somewhere new? (For my last trip, I did both: a repeat trip to Berlin with a short stay in Istanbul after.) There are certain types of books, movies, and TV shows I like to watch — their reliability is comforting but when I do venture from those paths, the results can be very rewarding and horizon-expanding. Should I spend time with old friends or work on some new relationships?

The part of my life in which I’m feeling this most acutely is in my work. Editing kottke.org is a constant exercise in balancing the familiar with the new. My approach is: “here’s something you haven’t seen before but packaged in a familiar way” and then do that 9-to-5, day-in and day-out, 52 weeks a year. I bury you (and myself) in novelty, but in a clockwork fashion.1 I never know what I’m going to find on a particular day and you never know what you’re going to read, but by the end of the day, every single weekday, there is (I hope!) an interesting, entertaining, thought-provoking, and awe-inspiring collection of things to explore.

But even though I enjoy editing the site and learn about a lot of new things along the way, the work itself sometimes isn’t that challenging. There’s a lot of repetition, sitting in a chair, and willpower — not insignificant things when trying to accomplish something — but it increasingly feels like I’m on autopilot creatively. Has the site gotten better in the last 5 years? I think so. But have I? What creative boundaries have I pushed along the way? In what ways could kottke.org be better or different that would provide new challenges for me? Don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere anytime soon, but my desire to “roam and experiment” (as Hesser puts it) has been on the rise lately for sure.

  1. When I think about how I approach my work on the site, two references come to mind: 1) the Dunkin Donuts guy (“time to make the donuts”), and 2) what the doctor in Gattaca says about regularity of Ethan Hawke’s character’s heartbeat while exercising (“Jerome, Jerome, the metronome.”).

The 2018 kottke.org Holiday Gift Guide

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 04, 2018

Gift Guide 2018

As I’ve done for the last five years, I’ve spent the past few weeks scouring the internet for the best 2018 gift guides and pulled a few of the most interesting items from each. Think of it as a curated meta-guide for your holiday giving. Let’s dig in.

Charitable giving always tops this list. Check out GiveWell and Charity Navigator to find organizations that will put your money to the best use. (Read up on big charities like Red Cross and Salvation Army…they are often not the best use of your charity dollar.) GiveDirectly sends money directly to people living in extreme poverty around the world. I always recommend Volunteer Match to find local volunteer opportunities but they force you to log in now, so just an FYI. Alternate sites for volunteering are the AARP’s Create the Good and United Way. If you’re giving to the local food shelf, skip buying food yourself for the donation bin and set up a direct debit or CC payment instead…that will put your donation to better use.

If you’re looking for great gift ideas for kids (and/or Toys for Tots), the best place to look remains the excellent The Kid Should See This Gift Guide. I use this almost exclusively for all of my kid-related holiday and birthday shopping. This year’s stand-out items include The littleBits Space Rover Inventor Kit (littleBits stuff is *huge* in our household), The Atlas Obscura Explorer’s Guide for the World’s Most Adventurous Kid (got this for my daughter for her birthday), SET (a pal also recently recommended this game), and a set of four board books including Quantum Physics for Babies. And whoa, the Harry Potter Coding Kit from Kano? Accio Coding Kit!

The Accidental Shop is a collection of products I’ve previously linked to on kottke.org. It is heavy on books…I’d particularly recommend Emily Wilson’s The Odyssey, Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs, and Arbitrary Stupid Goal by Tamara Shopsin. Oh, and I’m flying through Madeline Miller’s Circe right now…what a read!

For those of you into food, you’ve probably already have an Instant Pot and Anova Sous Vide Cooker, so check out the gift guides from Eater, Food52, Serious Eats, Kitchn, and Ruth Reichl. Among their recommendations are a Korean fermeting crock (for making kimchi), the Five Two double-sided cutting board, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat, a Taco Passport, Anita Lo’s well-regarded Solo: A Modern Cookbook for a Party of One, and aged fish sauce (!!).

I love my Kindle Paperwhite and there’s an updated version this year that’s waterproof, lighter & thinner, has Bluetooth for audiobooks, and has more storage.

I’ve seen several guides touting so-called “inexpensive” gifts and then going on to recommend $50 bars of soap, so Slate’s The Good Enough List is a welcome effort. They’ve recommended a bunch of items that are almost as good as the best available options but more affordable. My favorite pick is their rec for a $7 pedometer over a Fitbit or Apple Watch. They also highlight the Gulliver crib from Ikea, which I have taken apart and put back together approximately 30 times. It’s a basic, durable, simple, and fantastic crib.

The kids and I have been playing two games pretty heavily this year: Sushi Go Party and Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle. I really like Hogwarts Battle because it’s cooperative — all the players play together against the villans on the board and it’s fun to strategize how to allocate tokens and hearts to get everyone through the danger areas.

The 2018 Engineering Gift Guide from Purdue University is full of “gift ideas that engage girls and boys in engineering thinking and design”. Their picks this year include Duct Tape Engineer and Kiwi Crate’s monthly subscription service for project kits (which a friend also recently recommended).

The Astronomers Without Borders OneSky Reflector Telescope is probably the best $200 telescope you can buy. I got one this summer and it’s been great for looking at the Moon, planets, and even some nearby galaxies.

Gift Guide 2018

My kids would flip out if I bought the family a Nintendo Switch with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe but I don’t think it’s going to happen. [crying emoji]

Whenever I need to buy something for around the house, Wirecutter is the first (and often only) place I go for recommendations. From their Gifts We Want to Give in 2018, I found Blue Planet II (the *perfect* family holiday entertainment), a Carhartt tool bag, fleece blankets from Uniqlo, and a pack of Blackwing pencils.

Remember Viewmaster? Now you can Create Your Own Reel Viewer.

The 2018 Christmas Catalog from Tools & Toys is blissfully heavy on the nerdy stuff. Their picks include an instant photo printer for your iPhone, the Field Cast Iron Skillet, these enamel steel signs from Best Made, and this clever magnetic wrist band for keeping track of errant screws and parts while you’re doing projects. And Lego has a Voltron kit? Holy nostalgia.

Every year I “recommend” this 55-gallon drum of personal lubricant because why would anyone actually buy this? (Have any of you ever bought this? Report back, please!)

I recently did a round-up of Adult Nonfiction Adapted for Younger Readers, including The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan and Howard Zinn’s A Young People’s History of the United States.

Recommended this last year but gonna repeat: a Christmas storybook based on Die Hard. Self-recommending. See also this sequined Jeff Goldblum pillow.

Some friends of mine love this Ooni portable pizza oven…it can cook a pizza at 932°F in just 60 seconds.

I’m lucky to know so many people who have written books or built companies that sell great products. Here are some of them: Advencher, prints from Mari Andrew (a rare occurrence), This Book is a Planetarium, Legal Nomads, 20x200, Tattly, The Bloody Mary, SDR Traveller, Cora Ball, Austin Kleon, Happy Cooking Hospitality, you think you know me, Gracie’s Ice Cream, Kingston Stockade FC, Storyworth, The Aviary Cocktail Book, Chris Piascik, Salty Avocado, Hoefler & Co, Tinybop, Fat Gold, Hella Cocktail Co, Storq maternity wear, Milkmade, and Field Notes.

From The Colossal Shop, multi-colored toy soldiers doing yoga. See also this maddening puzzle…the pieces change colors depending on how you look at them.

My daughter endlessly rereads her Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls books (sequel). I Am A Rebel Girl Journal is their newest product and just might be under our family tree this year.

Socks inspired by Eric Carle’s Very Hungry Caterpillar? Yes, please. And they make them for adults too! The same company makes all sorts of book-related products, from Harry Potter t-shirts to Kurt Vonnegut necklaces.

From the NY Times’ collection of gift guides, a US National Parks annual pass (I put mine to good use this summer), a phone mount for your car (I got one of these this summer and love it), and these Jabra wireless earbuds that the Wirecutter rates as better than Apple AirPods. Oh and Bananagrams.

From Curbed’s 21 holiday gifts for people who like nice things, this ramen puzzle and a radio designed by Charles and Ray Eames in 1946 but was never produced (until now).

More gift guides: Cup of Jo, Canopy, Engadget (tech), The Guardian, Buzzfeed, Daily Nous (philosophy), Tom’s Guide (tech), and Red Tricycle (kids).

My gift guides from the last few years have yet more ideas: 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, and 2013.

Update: A few miscellaneous gifts suggested by readers. Island Creek’s Oyster of the Month Club. A retro SNES game console from Ghostly and Analogue. From Richard Eaglespoon’s 2018 Holiday Gift Guide, these small metal tins of Malden’s sea salt for bringing to restaurants.

I’ve also posted my yearly round-up of best books of the year. Among the most frequent recommendations for 2018 are Madeline Miller’s Circe, David Blight’s biography of Frederick Douglass, Educated by Tara Westover, and How to Change Your Mind: The New Science of Psychedelics by Michael Pollan.

Update: I wasn’t going to update this anymore but I’m making an exception for this: a firelog that smells like Kentucky Fried Chicken when you burn it. !!! Only $18.99 (incl s&h).

Update: From Julia Carrie Wong, the Reverse Gift Guide — “give your friends and family the gift of not having these products”. The list includes DNA kits and “toys that require batteries to make noise”.

Rookie and the Business of Independent Publishing

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 03, 2018

Tavi Gevinson started Rookie in 2011 when she was 15 years old and late last week announced that the online magazine was ceasing publication. The stories about the struggle of independent online media in the age of Google & Facebook are well-worn by now, but the first couple of pages of Gevinson’s letter really resonated with me and with what I’m doing (and not doing) here at kottke.org. This paragraph specifically:

It has sometimes felt like there are two Rookies: There’s the publication that you read, that I also love reading, writing for, and editing; and then there is the company that I own and am responsible for. The former is an art project; the latter is a business. Each one needs and feeds the other, but when I started Rookie at age 15, I saw the two as mutually exclusive. Rookie had been founded, in part, as a response to feeling constantly marketed to in almost all forms of media; to being seen as a consumer rather than a reader or person. In my black-and-white view of the world, the idea of capitalizing on an audience seemed cynical, selfish, and something only evil adults do. It would be misleading to say I was a total purist, though, because I also thought Rookie was really good, and that it should reach people rather than be small and struggling. I wanted it to be able to hire more editors, pay contributors more, and grow so that not everything would need my oversight and other voices could be more prominent. I also wanted Rookie to eventually be a source of income for me, which I didn’t need it to be when I was a teenager and living at home. In those first few years, however, just the day-to-day running of the site was brain-consuming enough without also actively trying to make it as profitable as possible. And, that was the part I was most passionate about, and adept at: collaborating with writers and artists, curating and editing their work, and watching the conversations that would unfold around it.

Over the years, kottke.org could have gone in many different directions — possible acquisitions by Conde Nast publications, funding, partnerships — but I could never convince myself that any of those options would actually make the site any better or make me any happier. I thought then, and I still think now (more than ever actually), that growing the reach and operations of the site would be a terrific idea, but the business challenge is tougher than ever. Thanks to the support of my readers through the membership program (more on that in a second), the business side is stable-ish and I’ve been able to grow modestly here and there (e.g. the weekly Noticing newsletter written by Tim Carmody), but the scope of this enterprise from a financial standpoint is still just one person. Adding another full-time person to the mix sounds easy, but doubling the size of your business is rocket-ship growth, even when you’re tiny. So I continue to put almost 100% of my efforts into writing the site and almost 0% into things like audience growth, business development, promotion, or marketing…and hoping that the product will continue to speak for itself. This feels both like the right way forward for me and also idiotic, like the foundation of this house I’ve spent 20 years building is slowly rotting away out from under us. It’s a real catch-22 that keeps me up some nights.

But back to Rookie. I’m a little surprised that Gevinson didn’t pursue subscriptions or a membership program, but I can relate to what she writes here:

I also know that the idea of taking money from readers made me feel an immediate and intimidating sense of responsibility. (In retrospect, that may have been a more manageable kind of responsibility than money from investors, and could have been a hint to how I’d feel about investors, but you can’t know what you don’t know.)

The first time I tried funding kottke.org with reader support back in 2005, I ended up scrapping the scheme after a year because of that same “intimidating sense of responsibility”. Now with the membership program, it feels more like the site and the business part are in greater alignment…that this is something we’re all doing together for similar reasons. There should have been a way for a site with a strong sense of community like Rookie to come up with a membership plan that seemed collaborative and not extractive, that felt good for everyone. But maybe Gevinson was just ready to move onto other challenges in other arenas. God knows I can empathize with that myself.

The Web Design Museum

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 05, 2018

Ok, if you started using the web 15-25 years ago, prepare yourself for the nostalgic blast of the Web Design Museum.

Web Design Museum

I remember all of these from back in the day — what a trip. Even kottke.org circa 1999 made it in there.

Reminder: support kottke.org with a membership today!

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 25, 2018

I’ve been a bit lax about getting the word out about this lately — been busy in the content mines and with the Noticing newsletter and I am bad at self-promotion — but this is your periodic reminder that kottke.org is financially supported primarily by memberships from readers. If you’d like to support one of the best independent sites on the web, you can check out your options here. It takes less than a minute to sign up and your collective support will keep the site chugging along for the foreseeable future.

If you’re already a member, thank you again! Your support has enabled me to publish the site without compromise & encouraged me to experiment with a few new things, which you’ve gotten glimpses of over the last 18 months via the members-only newsletter.

Speaking of the members-only newsletter, I’ve sent out 2 issues over the past 10 days or so. If you’re a member and haven’t gotten them, your membership may have lapsed because of an expired credit card…you can sign in on the membership page to check your status and renew.

Ok, self-promotion over…that wasn’t so bad. Here’s a fun handclapping clip from Sesame Street to celebrate getting through that together:

(Sesame Street is supported by “viewers like you”…just like kottke.org. Become a member!)

On Margins 005 with Jason

posted by Patrick Tanguay   May 01, 2018

Jason interviewed on On Margins

Jason is a humble guy so I’m not sure he’d post this. Good timing then that he’s on vacation and I’m writing here because I will! He’s the guest on the most recent episode of the excellent On Margins podcast by the equally excellent Craig Mod. Not everyone is a podcast listening person but still have a look, there’s a full transcript of the interview and you can also see some excerpts written up by Mod on Medium.

For those of us who have not just used the web but built on the web for decades, a place like kottke.org becomes almost physical in its emotional resonance. […]

These last few years have been tipified by a realization: I think we understand the brittle nature of our institutions a little more than we ever have.

These things we love in the world are not in this world, unless we continually put energy into them, supportive energy into them. I think we felt that really strongly in the last two years, especially. (Emphasis mine)

(Header image shamelessly lifted from Mod’s Medium post.)

The only winning move is not to play?

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 11, 2018

The other day I observed that whenever a new issue of the Noticing newsletter goes out, a bunch of people unsubscribe. When this happens each week I panic a little, so I asked other newsletter writers if this happened to them too. And it does.

In the ensuing thread, a former Twitter employee chimed in to say that “the single biggest correlation with people unfollowing an account [on Twitter] was whenever an account tweeted anything at all”. And someone else chimed in with “historically the biggest problem of newspaper subscriptions: physical delivery of the damn things leads to churn!” I also remarked that this reminded me of Jon Bois’ amazing Chart Party episode on Barry Bonds, where he concludes (spoilers!) that in 2004, Bonds would have finished with essentially the same on-base percentage if he hadn’t used a bat for the entire season.

Newsletters you’re better off not sending, newspapers you shouldn’t publish, and pitches you should never swing at. Was WOPR right in WarGames? Is the only winning move not to play?

Global thermonuclear war notwithstanding, this issue highlights the need to keep in mind why you’re playing a particular game in the first place. I often return to something that Ludicorp (makers of Flickr) had on their about page from a book by Charles Spinosa et al. about the goal of business:

Business owners do not normally work for money either. They work for the enjoyment of their competitive skill, in the context of a life where competing skillfully makes sense. The money they earn supports this way of life. The same is true of their businesses. One might think that they view their businesses as nothing more than machines to produce profits, since they do closely monitor their accounts to keep tabs on those profits.

But this way of thinking replaces the point of the machine’s activity with a diagnostic test of how well it is performing. Normally, one senses whether one is performing skillfully. A basketball player does not need to count baskets to know whether the team as a whole is in flow. Saying that the point of business is to produce profit is like saying that the whole point of playing basketball is to make as many baskets as possible. One could make many more baskets by having no opponent.

The game and styles of playing the game are what matter because they produce identities people care about. Likewise, a business develops an identity by providing a product or a service to people. To do that it needs capital, and it needs to make a profit, but no more than it needs to have competent employees or customers or any other thing that enables production to take place. None of this is the goal of the activity.

The people who work for newspapers want to provide their readers with high quality information.1 Barry Bonds wants to play baseball, be competitive, and provide entertainment to the fans instead of standing bat-less in the batter’s box; the Giants & MLB presumably want those things as well. With my efforts here and with the newsletter, I’m not playing a subscriber or profits maximization game — I want to share my ideas & information that I find and connect with people. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t keep your eye on how much money you make or how many subscribers you’ve got for a relatively new newsletter,2 but keeping your purpose firmly in mind while you do those things is of paramount importance. Otherwise you’re just stalemating yourself.

  1. We’re witnessing many counter-examples to this in American journalism right now, where corporations are buying up newspapers and, in an effort to maximize profits, firing “expensive” journalists and producing a lower-quality product that’s unsatisfying to their employees and readers alike.

  2. The other issue with the newsletter situation in particular is you’re seeing a small but loud negative signal (people unsubscribing) but not seeing a much larger but quiet positive signal (everyone else reading the newsletter with some degree of satisfaction); this is probably an example of availability bias. That results in a perception that’s 180° from reality…which is, you know, not helpful!

A tip for a better media diet: delay reading the news

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 09, 2018

In The Guardian, Oliver Burkeman writes about the benefits of time-shifting your news reading.

One excellent way to stay calm but well-informed, I’ve found, is to consume the news a day or three later than everyone else. Print is one way to do this. But it works online, too: more and more, I find myself promiscuously cruising the web, saving umpteen articles in a “read later” app (in my case Evernote, though you could use your browser’s bookmarks). By the time I read them, the time filter has worked its magic: a small proportion of them stand out as truly compelling.

A new car loses about 10% of its value as soon as you drive it off the lot; most news depreciates a lot faster than that. Humans are curious, hard-wired to seek out new information on a continuous basis. But not everything we haven’t seen before is worth our attention. As Burkeman says, a great way to determine if something is intrinsically interesting or worthwhile apart from its novelty is to set it aside for awhile.

My process for gathering links and information for kottke.org is pretty much what Burkeman outlines in the article: when I see something that looks interesting, I file it away and revisit it later. I don’t even leave it that long sometimes…even a few hours works wonders. Most of the links I throw out, some because they weren’t as interesting as I’d hoped from reading a headline or pull quote but more often because they won’t be interesting after a day or two passes. I’m proud that you can go back weeks, months, years, and (more rarely) decades into the kottke.org archives and still find things worth your time.

20 years of gratitude and acknowledgements

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 20, 2018

I was on the road for an unexpectedly long time last week, so the post I wrote about kottke.org’s 20th anniversary was a little rushed and incomplete. I often call kottke.org my “one-man band” but it has been anything but. Today, I want to swing back around and thank all of the people and organizations who have supported me and the site with their encouragement, advice, criticism, well-wishes, hard work, and services.

I’ve thanked ‘em before and I’ll thank ‘em again: the support of kottke.org members has given this here webmaster new life. If you’d like to see kottke.org run another 20 years, the best way to do that is to sign up for a membership (it’ll only take you a minute).

I’ve been lucky to work with a bunch of talented guest editors over the years, including Sarah Pavis, Greg Allen, Adam Lisagor, Choire Sicha (now the editor of the NY Times Style section — fancy!), Deron Bauman of the dearly missed Clusterflock, Susannah Breslin, Cliff Kuang, Ainsley Drew, Jenni Leder, Joel Turnipseed, Lance Arthur, Andy Baio, and Chrysanthe Tenentes. Chris Piascik has provided the occasional high quality illustration. Aaron Cohen guest edited for a couple of weeks and then, unbidden & for reasons unknown, posted 3-5 posts each week for several months. (Aaron still bugs me bi-monthly about doing a Kottke Konference and someday he might actually persuade me to do it.)

And a special mention goes to Tim Carmody, who has guest edited several times and is now writing the Noticing newsletter and posting on Fridays. He’s like my smarter and more verbose brother, and I love what he contributes to the site.

Back in 2005, when I quit my job to work on kottke.org full-time, I asked my readers to support me in a precursor to the membership program. Hundreds of them did just that, and I’m forever grateful.

To Greg Knauss, Anil Dash, Heather Armstrong, Michael Sippey, Mark Wilkie, David Jacobs, Meg Hourihan, Jake Dobkin, and Jonah Peretti: your advice and counsel over the years has been invaluable to me. Best informal board of advisors ever.

I need to thank Greg Knauss & Mark Wilkie again, along with Finn Smith, for helping me out with the heavy lifting server admin stuff. Mark in particular hosted kottke.org on his own personal server for many years in the early days.

Along with his counsel, I’d like to thank Jonah Peretti for providing me with a space at Eyebeam Labs in 2005 as a senior fellow and again at Buzzfeed as a design advisor and a desk-squatter for almost 10 years.

kottke.org is proudly hosted by Arcustech, which keeps the site running at top speed with no downtime. I dunno, maybe the site’s been down once, for like 2 seconds in the middle of the night, but I was sleeping and didn’t notice.

The fonts for the site are courtesy of Hoefler & Co. I’m proud to have been one of the first sites on the web to use their web fonts.

I’d like to thank my advertising partners throughout the years: Carbon Ads, We Work Remotely (which started out as the job board for 37signals), and especially The Deck.

And last but not least, I’d like to thank all of you for reading all these years, despite the repeated use of cliches like “last but not least”. I you all!

Twenty.

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 14, 2018

Kottke Twenty

kottke.org is 20 years old today. Holy shit! On March 14, 1998, I launched a new episode of 0sil8 called “Notes”. 0sil8 was a previous website of mine, started in 1995 or 1996. The site’s format was episodic: every month or two the design and content was completely different. With Notes, I wanted to have somewhere to write regularly for my friends, modeled after the online diaries that were growing in popularity at the time. Weblogs were a thing, one of the many types of regularly updated personal sites that were in existence then; they wouldn’t take off and begin to consume all media for another year or two. In December 1998, I registered kottke.org (kottke.com was taken and I wasn’t a network so .org it was) and sometime later moved Notes over, where it’s been ever since. And now it’s one of the oldest regularly updated sites on the web.

I’ve been reading back through the early archives (which I wouldn’t recommend), and it feels like excavating down through layers of sediment, tracing the growth & evolution of the web, a media format, and most of all, a person. On March 14, 1998, I was 24 years old and dumb as a brick. Oh sure, I’d had lots of book learning and was quick with ideas, but I knew shockingly little about actual real life.1 I was a cynical and cocky know-it-all. Some of my older posts are genuinely cringeworthy to read now: poorly written, cluelessly privileged, and even mean spirited. I’m ashamed to have written some of them.

But had I not written all those posts, good and bad, I wouldn’t be who I am today, which, hopefully, is a somewhat wiser person vectoring towards a better version of himself. What the site has become in its best moments — a slightly highfalutin description from the about page: “[kottke.org] covers the essential people, inventions, performances, and ideas that increase the collective adjacent possible of humanity” — has given me a chance to “try on” hundreds of thousands of ideas, put myself into the shoes of all kinds of different thinkers & creators, meet some wonderful people (some of whom I’m lucky enough to call my friends), and engage with some of the best readers on the web (that’s you!), who regularly challenge me on and improve my understanding of countless topics and viewpoints.

I had a personal realization recently: kottke.org isn’t so much a thing I’m making but a process I’m going through. A journey. A journey towards knowledge, discovery, empathy, connection, and a better way of seeing the world. Along the way, I’ve found myself and all of you. I feel so so so lucky to have had this opportunity. When kottke.org turned 10, my post marking the anniversary ended with “I’ll see you in 2018”. In my recollection, that line was somewhat serious but also partially somewhere between a joke and a dare. Like, “how has this thing lasted 10 years, why not go for 20?” So…why not go for 30? 40? I’ll see you for sure in 2028 and perhaps even in 2038. Thank you so very much for being here with me, I surely don’t deserve such fine company.

P.S. And if you’ll indulge me for a moment in a brief shameless sale pitch, if you have found something valuable here over the past 20 years, please consider supporting the site with a membership. Member support has put the site on a stable financial path into the future and has personally re-energized my involvement and commitment to the site. Thanks!

  1. This is still arguably the case.

Guest editing this week: Chrysanthe Tenentes

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Mar 05, 2018

[Hello gang. I am off this week and am very pleased that my pal Chrysanthe Tenentes will be taking over while I’m gone. We haven’t caught up in awhile, so I’m eager to learn what she’s thinking about these days and what she’s been working on. Welcome, Chrysanthe! And I’ll see the rest of you rascals next week. -jason]

Longtime reader, first time guest editor here…I’ve been mostly behind the scenes working on content strategy and other editorial projects the past few years but you may know me from Brooklyn Based, where I was co-founder, Foursquare, where I was an early hire, or The Shed story salon, which I run with friends in Brooklyn. I’m currently on the west coast, consulting for a few clients and about to launch LA IS OK. I’m on Twitter and most things as eqx1979, which is a reference to the alternative radio station I listened to in high school (heart you forever WEQX) and that Smashing Pumpkins song that I apparently liked enough to use in my ICQ screen name that then became all my screen names.

But enough about me, let’s get back to the links! I’m very much looking forward to spending the week with you all.

The best kottke.org posts and links of 2017

posted by Tim Carmody   Jan 02, 2018

[ As a tease for the first issue of the just-announced Noticing newsletter coming up on Friday, here is last week’s newsletter that we previewed for kottke.org members. It’s a review of the best kottke.org posts and links from 2017. You can sign up for Noticing if you find this kind of thing appealing. Ok, I’ll let Tim take it from here. -jason ]

 
2017 Through the Lens of Kottke.org

If 2016 was chaos, then 2017 was catastrophe. In the middle of an ongoing disaster, the world reckoned with bills long overdue. Kottke.org has never been a terribly political blog, but it’s always been one that’s grappled with history, the problems of art and media, self-reflection, and the long trajectory into the future. The site couldn’t help but reflect that catastrophe back to its readers. At the same time, it continued to offer some small oasis by selecting and presenting the best of the World Wide Web.

 
Messages in Bottles

One of the most exciting weeks of 2017 for me was when I asked Kottke.org readers to help me build a time capsule for the World Wide Web. It felt particularly important this year to try to save the best parts of the things we loved. We had to have something to show the future, despite all this destruction and heartache, that we were still capable of making things that surprised and delighted.

The entire “best of the web” series paid homage to the 20th century technologies that have defined so much of the 21st. It also showcased the deep knowledge and generosity of Kottke readers, who contributed and helped curate all of the entries. If you missed it, or are looking to refresh yourself, the web’s best hidden gems and the web’s funniest stories are good places to start.

Jason on Halt and Catch Fire

Jason as gas station patron on Halt and Catch Fire. Photo courtesy of AMC.

One of the most exciting weeks of 2017 for me on Jason’s behalf was his appearance on Halt and Catch Fire. Jason wrote this wonderful love letter to the show and the moment it tries to capture:

When I was a kid, there was nothing I was more interested in than computers. My dad bought one of the first available IBM PC-compatibles on the market. I’ve read and watched a ton about the PC revolution. I used online services like Prodigy. And the web, well, I’ve gotten to experience that up close and personal. One of the reasons I love Halt and Catch Fire so much is that it so lovingly and accurately depicts this world that I’ve been keenly interested in for the past 35 years of my life. Someone made a TV show about my thing and it was great, a successor to Mad Men great. Getting to be a microscopically tiny part of that? Hell yeah, it was worth it.

Recently, I saw The Farthest, a wonderful documentary about the Voyager missions. In it, Timothy Ferris, producer of the famous Golden Record, laments the fact that so much wonderful music was left off, but says something like, “who would want to live in a civilization that only ever produced 90 minutes of great music?” It made me feel better about leaving off so many wonderful parts of the web in my time capsule; who would want to honor a technology whose entire set of great achievements could be documented in a week of blog posts?

 
In Search of Deep Time

In 2014, it was easier to believe in the future. For The Future Library, an art project by Katie Paterson, a thousand trees were planted. In a century, the trees will become part of an anthology of books, written by Margaret Atwood and David Mitchell, among others.

Between now and then, one writer every year will contribute a text, with the writings held in trust, unpublished, until the year 2114. Tending the forest and ensuring its preservation for the one hundred year duration of the artwork finds a conceptual counterpoint in the invitation extended to each writer: to conceive and produce a work in the hopes of finding a receptive reader in an unknown future.

Deep Time, conceptualized in the eighteenth century but coined in the twentieth by John McPhee, is bigger than centuries; it’s really about time on the geologic scale. Even the time of human civilizations (Stone, Bronze, Iron, etc.) is too small. Deep time is deep.

Something like “The Earth’s five energy revolutions” gets us closer to it: all life on earth begins with geochemical energy, then augmented by sunlight, and finally, oxygen, flesh, and fire. The life and death of entire forests of trees, of entire species and kingdoms, is dwarfed by the history of an entire planet and all the life that’s ever been on it. This point of view has always been a powerful perspective, but in 2017, the cosmic telescope of time was almost a comfort. Even if nations fall and species fail, this too will pass.

Coleman's Cafe in Greensboro, Ala.

Coleman’s Cafe in Greensboro, Ala., in 1971. By William Christenberry

But deep time has its own human counterparts. Consider Teju Cole’s essay “The Image of Time,” on photographer William Christenberry. Christenberry photographed buildings in small towns in the American south over time: seemingly the same photograph, of the same object, from the same distance, with the same framing, shows the object’s subtle or radical transformations, its non-identity.

Time is photography’s illusion. Almost every photograph appears instantaneous. But of course, there’s no such thing as “instantaneous”: All fragments of time have a length. In a photograph, the time during which the light is refracted by the lens, enters the aperture and is allowed to rest on the photosensitive surface could be 1/125th of a second, one-eighth of a second, half a second, a whole minute, much more or much less. What is intriguing about a practice like Christenberry’s is that it employs time elsewhere in the photograph too: as a source of narrative.

Or look at Jon Bois’s magnificent “17776: What Football Will Look Like in the Future,” which dives right into the familiar — maps, calendars, printer readouts — and estranges it, exactly to make the reader experience time. (I can’t even blockquote or screenshot it. It’s one piece you have to read for yourself.)

 
Time Collapsed

In 17776, the angel of history is a far-flung space probe that’s absorbed all of human culture, emotions, and sports statistics through radio transmissions. For Walter Benjamin in 1940, the Angel of History was a thought-experiment to try to understand all of history as an ongoing catastrophe.

These are chaotic times. But to the angel of history, it’s not a sudden eruption of chaos, but a manifestation of an ongoing vortex of chaos that stretches back indefinitely, without any unique origin. When we’re thrust into danger, in a flash we get a more truthful glimpse of history than the simple narratives that suffice in moments of safety. As Benjamin puts it, “the tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the ‘state of emergency’ in which we live is not the exception but the rule.”

For James Baldwin, there were no angels, and no robots; only fallen, imperfect beings who’d likewise absorbed the surrounding culture, but hadn’t necessarily been humanized by it. “People who shut their eyes to reality simply invite their own destruction,” writes Baldwin, “and anyone who insists on remaining in a state of innocence long after that innocence is dead turns himself into a monster.”

Baldwin and Benjamin were the two writers that best helped me understand this year, because they’d already seen how fascism and Jim Crow could fold time over on itself. Had he not been murdered, Emmett Till would have turned 76 in 2017; instead, a new book revealed what was long known, that he died because of a lie.

And in 2017, in a different sort of lie, Rachel Dolezal, a white woman who self-identifies as black, changed her name to Nkechi Amare Diallo. When Baldwin wrote “the world is white no longer, and it will never be white again,” I don’t think this is what he was talking about.

It was not the first time that the curiously stagnant nature of time made me wonder if we were all dead and in Hell. It would not be the last.

 
The New Callousness

In 2017, knowing how to apologize properly is an essential skill. (You might even call it a new kind of liberal art.) The essential components of a genuine apology, according to 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.

Most of 2017’s public apologies whiffed on one or more of these. It was a year filled with soul-searching, but also much rejection of any real contrition. We might remember individual acts of selflessness, but the year was fueled by selfishness.

This photo by Kristi McCluer of wildfires in the Pacific Northwest became a metaphor for the summer, and the whole year.

Summer 2017 Fire

A man golfs with a wildfire raging behind him. One of the defining images of 2017.

The New Callousness, swept into power in the United States and elsewhere, led to widespread physical and political fatigue: Kayla Chadwick’s “I Don’t Know How to Explain to You That You Should Care About Other People” reflects the prevailing mood of exhausted incredulity.

It is probably fair to say that in every direction, 2017 involved a lot of human beings writing off other human beings. But pushing back against this were great technologist-humanists like the legendary Ellen Ullman, explaining why hackers need the humanities:

Algorithms surround us, determining how we get mortgages or apartment rentals, or whether we get hired. It is crucial that we open up those algorithms and take them apart, and then either put them back together or scrap and rewrite them. Algorithms may run our lives, but I really believe people make the future.

 
Sharp as Possible

Trying to figure out how to live through this year, I often thought about Thelonious Monk’s advice on how to play a gig:

Just because you’re not a drummer, doesn’t mean you don’t have to keep time.

Don’t play the piano part. I’m playing that.

Don’t play everything (or every time). Let some things go by.

Some music just imagined. What you don’t play can be more important than what you do play.

Whatever you think can’t be done, somebody will come along and do it. A genius is the one most like himself.

What should we wear tonight? Sharp as possible!

I also tried to remember Richard Feynman’s advice that if you can’t explain something simply, you probably don’t really understand it. I admire complexity, but whenever it’s possible, simplicity is better.

The best of all things may be to be able to ratchet the explanation’s complexity up or down depending on who your audience is: neuroscientist Bobby Kashturi explaining a connectome to a five-year-old, teenager, college student, grad student, and scholarly peer is a great example of that.

It all builds from the foundation. As Richard Hamming observed, knowledge and productivity are like compound interest. You grow from work you put in over time, simple things repeated until they become (or appear to become) complex. Learning effects, network effects, path dependence — over time, they all roll up, and who you’re becoming overtakes who you are.

 
The Great Eclipse

In August, after a jab step into Nebraska, Jason drove to Rayville, Missouri to witness and photograph the solar eclipse.

As totality approached, the sky got darker, our shadows sharpened, insects started making noise, and disoriented birds quieted. The air cooled and it even started to get a little foggy because of the rapid temperature change.

We saw the Baily’s beads and the diamond ring effect… When the Moon finally slipped completely in front of the Sun and the sky went dark, I don’t even know how to describe it. The world stopped and time with it. During totality, Mouser took the photo at the top of the page. I’d seen photos like that before but had assumed that the beautifully wispy corona had been enhanced with filters in Photoshop. But no…that is actually what it looks like in the sky when viewing it with the naked eye (albeit smaller). Hands down, it was the most incredible natural event I’ve ever seen.

Eclipse 2017 by Mouser

A view of the eclipse from Rayville, MO. Photo by Mouser.

Jason also collected the best photos and videos of the eclipse, this NASA map showing the eclipse’s path across the continental United States. and eclipse maps of the United States from 2000 BC until 2117 AD. Even for those of us who just sat under a tree and watched the shadows turn into scallops, it was a special experience this year.

 
Did Someone Say Maps?

Talk about visualizing deep time! Here we go:

A Tapestry of Time and Terrain shows the ages of rock in different parts of the continental US.

Another map shows the hometown of nearly all of the warriors from Homer’s The Iliad.

This map of the Roman Empire c. 125 AD shows the major Roman roads as if they were London’s tube.

A collection of miniature metro maps shows world cities with smaller systems, from Bangalore to Tblisi.

There’s a timeline map of US immigration since 1820, a set of hand-drawn infographics made by W.E.B. Du Bois and his students at Atlanta University, auto-generated maps of fantasy worlds, a topographical map of Venus (with geographic features named for historical and mythological women), and even an interactive map of personal debt.

There’s also The Atlas for the End of the World, which looks at critically endangered bioregions worldwide, and NASA’s striking nighttime map of the world, complete with a patch of void separating China from South Korea; the one nation, that, light-wise, may as well be open ocean.

 
So What Was Good?

There were so many essays and features and pop-up op-eds and shameless resistance grifters and rust belt whisperers that all tried to explain what was really happening in 2017. Almost always reporting either from a small red-state town or the comforts of one’s own imagination. And almost always thoroughly ignoring what was happening in the wider world in favor of warmed-over anecdotes and armchair realpolitik. All that noise nearly drowned out a few moments genuine insight. That’s always the case, but it all felt sharper this year.

I’ve already listed a lot of what I loved about this year — and everything I’ve mentioned appeared as a blog post or a Quick Link on Kottke.org. But two pieces of documentary art stand out for having a different set of ambitions, in search of a different kind of truth about 2017.

Flamingos in Planet Earth II

A flock of flamingos in Planet Earth II.

The first is Planet Earth 2. We already know that when the BBC breaks out Sir David Attenborough, they deliver the goods: a respite from our overweening humanity, with cutting-edge photography and cogent commentary. But PE2 went further, because it was just so goddamned beautiful.

The tracking shot of a lemur jumping from tree to tree is one of the first things you see in the first episode and it put my jaw right on the floor. It’s so close and fluid, how did they do that? Going into the series, I thought it was going to be more of the same — Planet Earth but with new stories, different animals, etc. - but this is really some next-level shit.

The second is Whitman, Alabama. Jennifer Crandall’s serial documentary benefits enormously from the fact that it didn’t set out to explain what happened politically in 2016 or 2017. The filmmaking began much earlier as a meditation on the longstanding problems of democracy and diversity in America.

It’s a very different kind of film from Planet Earth 2. It’s not state of the art. It’s relentlessly human. It manifests the spirit of Walt Whitman: his generosity, his capaciousness, his gentle but insistent concern on the public and private lives of his fellow Americans.

The first time Crandall read “Song of Myself,” it was 1990, and she was sixteen, standing in a bookstore in McLean, Virginia, having just moved back to the United States. Because of her father’s job, with U.S.A.I.D., she had spent most of her childhood in Bangladesh, Haiti, and Pakistan. “My mom is Chinese, from Vietnam, and my dad’s a white dude from Denver, and at that moment I just felt that I did not understand America,” she said. She pulled a paperback anthology of poetry off the shelf, and Whitman stuck out right away. “Though I wouldn’t have articulated it then, what I responded to was this idea that everyone embodies diversity, not just the country. That many people are negotiating multiple social contracts, the way I’d been doing since I was born.”

Somewhere between those two, between the whole planet and just one town, between the deep time of the age of fire and the quickfire moments of the post-web internet, between the human and the indifference to humans, is where we are. It’s where we’ve been in 2017 and will be again in 2018, no matter what comes. It’s where we’ve always been, careening between catastrophe and epiphany, callousness and generosity, the divine and the mundane. With luck, we will not destroy ourselves. With luck, and grace, and hope, and because we have no choice, we will find a way to make it through.

Noticing, a new weekly newsletter from kottke.org

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 02, 2018

As kottke.org enters its 21st calendar year of activity (!!!!), it’s time for something new. And old. Email was invented in 1972, the year before I was born, but is still going strong. The email newsletter has re-emerged in recent years as a unique way to connect with readers, distinct from social media or publishing on the web. So Tim Carmody and I have teamed up to launch Noticing, a free email newsletter. You can subscribe here.

Written by Tim Carmody and published by me every Friday, Noticing will contain a curated roundup of the week’s posts from kottke.org as well as some extra stuff that we’ll be introducing in the weeks to come. It most definitely won’t be a replacement for kottke.org…more like something to read alongside it.

Initial funding for the newsletter comes from two sources: the bulk of it from kottke.org (made possible through the support of members) but also from Tim’s supporters on Patreon. Noticing is an experiment in unlocking the commons.

The most economically powerful thing you can do is to buy something for your own enjoyment that also improves the world. This has always been the value proposition of journalism and art. It’s a nonexclusive good that’s best enjoyed nonexclusively.

The newsletter is very much a work in progress and a departure from the way I usually do things around here. For one thing, it’s a collaboration…almost everything else I’ve done on the site was just me. We’ve previewed it over the last two weeks just for members, but it’s still more “unfinished” than I’m comfortable with. The design hasn’t been nailed down, the logo will likely change, and Tim & I are still trying to figure out the voice and length. But launching it unfinished feels right…we aren’t wasting time on optimization and there’s more opportunity to experiment and move toward what works as time goes on. We hope you’ll join us by subscribing and letting us know your thoughts and feedback as we get this thing moving.

P.S. A quick note on the name. I thought of it while listening to the last part of Walter Isaacson’s Leonardo da Vinci on audiobook on the drive home from NYC last week. One of Isaacson’s main points in the book was that Leonardo’s accomplishments were due in no small part to his extraordinary powers of observation. By observing things closely and from all possible angles, he was able to make connections and find details that other people didn’t and express them in his work. Isaacson argues that Leonardo’s observational powers were not innate and that with sufficient practice, we can all observe as he did. People talk in a precious way about genius, creativity, and curiosity as superpowers that people are born with but noticing is a more humble pursuit. Noticing is something we can all do.

I also thought about one of my favorite scenes from Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird. From A.O. Scott’s review:

Sister Sarah Joan (Lois Smith), the principal, has read Lady Bird’s college application essay. “It’s clear how much you love Sacramento,” Sister Sarah remarks. This comes as a surprise, both to Lady Bird and the viewer, who is by now aware of Lady Bird’s frustration with her hometown.

“I guess I pay attention,” she says, not wanting to be contrary.

“Don’t you think they’re the same thing?” the wise sister asks.

The idea that attention is a form of love (and vice versa) is a beautiful insight.

I agree. Drawing honest & straightforward attention to things I love is much of what I do here on kottke.org, so I thought Noticing was a natural name for its newsletter extension.

P.P.S. An additional programming note. In addition to doing the newsletter, Tim is also taking over the posting duties on kottke.org most Fridays. This will free me up to work on other site-related things that I haven’t been able to tackle due to the daily scramble. Again, thanks to member support for making this possible!