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Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 07, 2021

Filmmaker Morgan Neville (who did the Fred Rogers doc Won’t You Be My Neighbor?) has directed a documentary about Anthony Bourdain called Roadrunner that opens in theaters on July 16.

It’s not where you go. It’s what you leave behind… Chef, writer, adventurer, provocateur: Anthony Bourdain lived his life unabashedly. Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain is an intimate, behind-the-scenes look at how an anonymous chef became a world-renowned cultural icon. From Academy Award®-winning filmmaker Morgan Neville (20 Feet From Stardom, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?), this unflinching look at Bourdain reverberates with his presence, in his own voice and in the way he indelibly impacted the world around him.

This trailer makes me want to buy a movie ticket — and about 10 plane tickets. So looking forward to this. I need more unabashed living in my life.

My Recent Media Diet, the Fully Vaccinated Edition

posted by Jason Kottke   May 18, 2021

Every few months for the past couple of years, I’ve shared the movies, books, music, TV, and podcasts I’ve enjoyed (or not) recently. Here’s everything I’ve “consumed” since early February, accompanied by a mini review.

How To with John Wilson. What happens near the end of the risotto episode got all the attention, but I’m all about the bag of chips saga. (B+)

Black Art: In the Absence of Light. I can listen to artists and critics talk about art all day long. Also? Everyone in this has impeccable eyewear. (A)

Spirited Away. A masterpiece. (A)

Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 Vaccine (BNT162b2). Possibly the best experience of the past 5 years. (A+++++)

Casino Royale. The best of the Daniel Craig Bonds IMO. (B+)

The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante. Another marvelously constructed world with vibrant characters by Ferrante. (A)

Wandavision. A love letter to television. Watched this with the kids and we all loved it. (A)

Looper. This is perhaps my favorite type of movie: clever sci-fi with a creative director and good actors that give a shit. (A-)

Sonic the Hedgehog. Jim Carrey is the highlight here and not much else. (C+)

The Remains of the Day. One of my favorite movies. I’ve watched this every few years since 1993 and what I get out of it changes every time. Great book too. (A+)

Judas and the Black Messiah. Fantastic performances by Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield. (A)

Zack Snyder’s Justice League. Way too long and nearly pointless. This is what happens when you start treating the director of Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole like an auteur. (B-)

A Promised Land by Barack Obama. I recommend the audiobook version of this. You can really tell the bits of the book he cares about and the stuff he phones in a little bit more. The tone of his voice when he talks about Michelle — that love is real. (B+)

Making Sense — The Boundaries of Self. I listened to this conversation with the poet David Whyte at the beginning of March and it was exactly what I needed to hear at that time. I must have listened to his short essay on Friendship about 5 times. (A)

Thunderstruck by Erik Larson. About the invention of the wireless telegraph and the beginning of our abundantly connected world. (B+)

Still Processing - The N Word. The way that Morris and, particularly, Wortham use inclusive language is fascinating. They invite people into the conversation without any loss of insight or critical capability. A bracing rebuttal to the idea that using so-called “woke” language is hamstringing discourse in America. (A-)

Matilda by Roald Dahl. Read this aloud to the kids and was told my rendition was not nearly as good as Kate Winslet’s. (B+)

You’re Wrong About (The continuing OJ saga). This has become the show’s version of Nicholson Baker’s The Mezzanine, with entire episodes dedicated to explaining mere minutes of the trial. I am here for it. (A)

Godzilla vs. Kong. I watched this after eating an edible and I think that’s the perfect way to do it. Monsters, roar! (B)

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. One of my favorite Trek movies. (A-)

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Less popular with me and the kids than Wandavision. Occasionally fun but also kind of a mess, especially when it comes to the “moral of the story”. (B)

The Talk Show with Craig Mod. Every single second of this 2.5-hour-long conversation between Craig Mod and John Gruber felt like it was created specifically for me. (A-)

Rough Translation - Liberté, Égalité, French Fries… And Couscous. A follow-up to a classic episode about a French McDonald’s that was commandeered by its employees. (B+)

Unstoppable. The perfect movie. I wouldn’t change a thing. (A)

Pac-Man 99. A nice update to this venerable game. The kids dismissed it as “too hectic”. (B+)

Fortnite. The perfect game for introverts — you can actually win by cleverly avoiding crowds and then dealing with a much more manageable 1-on-1 situation. But also I am old and there are too many buttons on this controller. (B+)

Croupier. Young Clive Owen, wow. (B+)

HazeOver. Recommended to me by Mike Davidson, this macOS app dims background windows to help you focus on your work. (B+)

Titanic. Had to rewatch after Evan Puschak’s video about it. Still an amazingly effective blockbuster movie. (A)

For All Mankind (Season One). So many people have recommended this to me over the past year and I finally got around to watching it. I was hooked within the first 5 minutes. (A)

The Mitchells vs. The Machines. Entertaining and stylistically interesting. (B+)

NYC. So much to say about this city and the resilience of the people who call it home. Still undefeated. (A)

Throughline — The Real Black Panthers. Great podcast on the political agenda and strategy of the Black Panther Party. A natural companion to Judas and The Black Messiah. (A)

Frick Madison. They have like 10% of the world’s Vermeers in just one room! (B+)

The Whitney. Great to be back here to see the work of Dawoud Bey and Julie Mehretu. (A)

The outdoor dining situation in NYC. The city has to keep this and the pandemic pedestrian areas reclaimed from cars. More room for people, less room for cars. (A)

Fairfax. This is the sister restaurant to my two favorite places in NYC, both of which closed permanently because of the pandemic, and the first restaurant I’ve been to since March 2020. We ate outside, I had too many cocktails, and it was perfect. (A+)

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

Rick Steves: Germany’s Fascist Story

posted by Jason Kottke   May 18, 2021

Rick Steves’ travel shows and videos typically highlight the positive aspects of travel destinations in Europe and around the world. But more recently, he’s also been making shows about Europe’s unpleasant past. In 2019, he did an hour-long TV special about the history of fascism in Europe

Because Steves hosts a travel show, they visit some of the places where this history played out, including Nuremberg, Auschwitz, and Rome, talk to historians and tour guides, and discuss fascist and anti-fascist art, including Picasso’s Guernica.

And earlier this year, Steves made a similar show that focused just on Germany, embedded above.

Traveling across Germany, we learn how fascism rose and then fell, taking millions of people with it. Visiting actual locations — from Munich to Nürnberg to Berlin — we trace the roots of Nazism in the aftermath of World War I, when masses of angry people were enchanted by Hitler. We explore the totalitarian society Hitler built, and see the consequences: genocide and total war. Learning from Germany’s fascist story, we can recognize that hateful ideology as well as the tricks of wannabe dictators in our own age.

(via open culture)

A 12-Mile Video Walking Tour of Paris

posted by Jason Kottke   May 14, 2021

Walking, cities, Paris, and YouTube are four of my favorite things, so this 5.5-hour, 12-mile video walking tour of Paris is right up my alley. Along the way, they visit the Notre Dame, the Arc de Triomphe, the market on Rue Mouffetard, the Jardins du Luxembourg, the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, and lots more. If you turn the closed captions on, you can read about the histories of the places as the walk progresses. Hopefully this will tide me over until I can visit again. (via open culture)

A Playful Ghibli-esque Ad for Travel Oregon

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 25, 2021

I cannot improve upon the succinct description of this video from Natalie Smillie: “A new Ghibli film?! No — this is an advert for the state of Oregon.” It’s a great ad and certainly takes both content and stylistic cues from Studio Ghibli’s films. The video, along with a previous one, was created for Travel Oregon by creative agency Psyop and animation studio Sun Creature.

Free As In Frequent Flyer Miles

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 05, 2021

Buried deep within Jamie Lauren Keiles’ NY Times article about frequent flyer miles and The Points Guy is this economic observation:

A major reason points-and-miles trips exist is because airlines turn a more stable profit by minting their own currencies than by selling actual airline seats. The flight seems almost ancillary to the financial transaction it enables — a trend across the whole economy, where the selling of goods or services serves to enable the collection of data, the absorption of venture capital funds or the levying of hidden transaction fees. In this scheme, posting to social media, or collecting points and miles, or ordering a taxi or a gyro on your phone, is merely a gesture to keep the whole process in motion. The real moneymaking happens behind the scenes, driven by a series of exchanges where value seems conjured from nothing at all.

But of course, value always comes from somewhere. If you trace the thread back on any one of these businesses, it’s always the same deal: The poor underwrite the fantasies of the middle class, who in turn underwrite the realities of the rich. When credit cards charge high interchange fees, they pass the cost of loyalty programs on to merchants, who in turn pass it back to customers by building the fees into their sticker prices. Those who pay with credit can earn it back in points. Those who pay with debit or cash wind up subsidizing someone else’s free vacation. According to a 2010 policy paper by economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, the average cash-using household paid $149 over the course of a year to card-using households, while each card-using household received $1,133 from cash users, partially in the form of rewards. It remains a regressive transfer to this day.

Emphasis of the second to last sentence is mine.

Pandemic Stories from Around the World, Fall 2020

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 30, 2020

My friend Jodi Ettenberg spent a decade traveling around the world, so she’s got friends and followers from all over the place. Over the weekend, she asked her Instagram followers to share their pandemic experiences and she’s been republishing them in Story collections: one, two, three. (You can also find them on her Instagram profile page.) Individually and as a collection, the stories she’s received are fascinating and heartbreaking to read. Almost 11 months into the pandemic — Wuhan’s lockdown began on Jan 23 — folks out there are really struggling and the response of governments around the world has varied widely (and wildly). Here are a few of the stories…check out the links above to read the rest.

pandemic stories from around the world

pandemic stories from around the world

pandemic stories from around the world

She’s still gathering & sharing stories from people, so send her a DM on Instagram about how things are going in your part of the world if you’d like to participate.

I solicited stories like this from folks back in early April. It’s surreal reading those responses now — so much completely avoidable death and suffering has occurred between then and now.

Accidentally Wes Anderson, the Book

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 07, 2020

Accidentally Wes Anderson book cover

Inspired by the symmetry and color palettes of Wes Anderson’s movies, the Instagram account Accidentally Wes Anderson has been collecting and featuring photos from folks all over the world that wouldn’t look out of place in The Royal Tenenbaums or The Grand Budapest Hotel. The creators have turned it into a new book called Accidentally Wes Anderson, which features many of the best contributions from the account. It sounds like it’s kind of a travel book, a visually oriented Atlas Obscura.

Now, inspired by a community of more than one million Adventurers, Accidentally Wes Anderson tells the stories behind more than 200 of the most beautiful, idiosyncratic, and interesting places on Earth. This book, authorized by Wes Anderson himself, travels to every continent and into your own backyard to identify quirky landmarks and undiscovered gems: places you may have passed by, some you always wanted to explore, and many you never knew existed.

And while we’re here, I picked out a few of my recent favorites from their Instagram:

Accidentally Wes Anderson

Accidentally Wes Anderson

Accidentally Wes Anderson

Rick Steves’ The Story of Fascism

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 03, 2020

The Story of Fascism is an hour-long TV special from travel guru Rick Steves about the history of fascism in Europe, from its post-WWI rise in Italy and Germany to the defeat of the fascist powers in WWII to efforts by modern-day right-wing ideologues to revive it.

We’ll trace fascism’s history from its roots in the turbulent aftermath of World War I, when masses of angry people rose up, to the rise of charismatic leaders who manipulated that anger, the totalitarian societies they built, and the brutal measures they used to enforce their ideology. We’ll see the horrific consequences: genocide and total war.

Because Steves hosts a travel show, they visit some of the places where this history played out, including Nuremberg, Auschwitz, and Rome, talk to historians and tour guides, and discuss fascist and anti-fascist art, including Picasso’s Guernica.

The combination of the weighty subject matter and Steves’ jaunty TV voice is a bit jarring at first, but this packs a lot of information and context into an hour. There are obviously parallels throughout to contemporary leaders and their tactics, but check out Benito Mussolini’s mannerisms and facial expressions starting at 11:05 and see if they remind you of the current inhabitant of the White House. (via open culture)

Window Swap

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 16, 2020

Well this is lovely: Window Swap lets you experience other people’s views from around the world in the form of videos taken from their windows.

Window Swap is here to fill that deep void in our wanderlust hearts by allowing us to look through someone else’s window, somewhere in the world, for a while.

Very relaxing. See also Virtual Travel Photography in the Age of Pandemic and Let’s Go for a Stroll Outside. (thx, rion)

A Very Short Guide to Union Glacier Camp in Antarctica

posted by Jason Kottke   May 18, 2020

In this charming little film (that feels very Wes Andersonian), we get to visit the Union Glacier Camp in West Antarctica, see what life is like there, and meet the people who run it. The camp is situated next to a blue-ice runway (which makes the area accessible to large aircraft) and serves as the jumping-off point for many kinds of activities, projects, and expeditions.

Union Glacier Camp is the only facility of its kind in Antarctica. Our full-service private camp operates during the Antarctic summer (November through January) and is dismantled at the end of each season. Our camp not only provides accommodations to guests on guided experiences but also serves as a logistics hub, supporting private expeditions and National Antarctic Programs.

I love the grid of tents for guests.

We can house up to 70 guests in our dual occupancy Clam Tents. These double-walled sleeping tents are designed to withstand Antarctic conditions with a high-tech nylon covering and durable aluminum frame that opens up like a clam shell. They are also incredibly comfortable to live in with large doors and a tall interior that allows you to stand upright and move around easily (16 ft x 8 ft or 5 m x 2.4 m). Tents are naturally heated by the 24-hour sunlight up to 60^0-70^0F (15^0-21^0C) but also have a wooden floor underneath to provide insulation from the snow and solid footing. Each guest is provided with a cot, mattress, pillow, linens, towels, and wash basin.

Tourist trips to Union Glacier start at $26,000 for six days.

Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in Three Minutes

posted by Jason Kottke   May 06, 2020

The Pacific Crest Trail runs 2650 miles from the border of Mexico to the border of Canada through California, Oregon, and Washington. Hiking the whole thing usually takes months, but this video by Mac of Halfway Anywhere compresses the entire experience down to just three minutes presented in 1-second snippets.

I was skeptical about this going in — I thought it was going to be like watching one of those impossible-to-follow “my life in one-second increments” videos — but the consistent presence of the path tied all the disparate moments into a cohesive journey. You can check out a much longer cut of the same journey and a similar edit of the Continental Divide Trail in four minutes.

The scenery in both of these videos are spectacular and remind me of my roadtrips from the past two years. (via @stewartbrand)

The Changing Profile of Covid-19’s Presenting Symptoms

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 29, 2020

As Ed Yong notes in his helpful overview of the pandemic, this is such a huge and quickly moving event that it’s difficult to know what’s happening. Lately, I’ve been seeking information on Covid-19’s presenting symptoms after seeing a bunch of anecdotal data from various sources.

In the early days of the epidemic (January, February, and into March), people were told by the CDC and other public health officials to watch out for three specific symptoms: fever, a dry cough, and shortness of breath. In many areas, testing was restricted to people who exhibited only those symptoms. Slowly, as more data is gathered, the profile of the presenting symptoms has started to shift. From a New York magazine piece by David Wallace-Wells on Monday:

While the CDC does list fever as the top symptom of COVID-19, so confidently that for weeks patients were turned away from testing sites if they didn’t have an elevated temperature, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association, as many as 70 percent of patients sick enough to be admitted to New York State’s largest hospital system did not have a fever.

Over the past few months, Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital has been compiling and revising, in real time, treatment guidelines for COVID-19 which have become a trusted clearinghouse of best-practices information for doctors throughout the country. According to those guidelines, as few as 44 percent of coronavirus patients presented with a fever (though, in their meta-analysis, the uncertainty is quite high, with a range of 44 to 94 percent). Cough is more common, according to Brigham and Women’s, with between 68 percent and 83 percent of patients presenting with some cough — though that means as many as three in ten sick enough to be hospitalized won’t be coughing. As for shortness of breath, the Brigham and Women’s estimate runs as low as 11 percent. The high end is only 40 percent, which would still mean that more patients hospitalized for COVID-19 do not have shortness of breath than do. At the low end of that range, shortness of breath would be roughly as common among COVID-19 patients as confusion (9 percent), headache (8 to 14 percent), and nausea and diarrhea (3 to 17 percent).

Recently, as noted by the Washington Post, the CDC has changed their list of Covid-19 symptoms to watch out for. They now list two main symptoms (cough & shortness of breath) and several additional symptoms (fever, chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, new loss of taste or smell). They also note that “this list is not all inclusive”. Compare that with their list from mid-February.

In addition, there’s evidence that children might have different symptoms (including stomach issues or diarrhea), doctors are reporting seeing “COVID toes” on some patients, and you might want to look at earlier data from these three studies about symptoms observed in Wuhan and greater China.

The reason I’m interested in this shift in presenting symptoms is that on the last day or two of my trip to Asia, I got sick — and I’ve been wondering if it was Covid-19.

Here’s the timeline: starting on Jan 21, I was in Saigon, Vietnam for two weeks, then in Singapore for 4 days, and then Doha, Qatar for 48 hours. The day I landed in Doha, Feb 9, I started to feel a little off, and definitely felt sick the next day. I had a sore throat, headache, and congestion (stuffy nose) for the first few days. There was also some fatigue/tiredness but I was jetlagged too so… All the symptoms were mild and it felt like a normal cold to me. Here’s how I wrote about it in my travelogue:

I got sick on the last day of the trip, which turned into a full-blown cold when I got home. I dutifully wore my mask on the plane and in telling friends & family about how I was feeling, I felt obliged to text “***NOT*** coronavirus, completely different symptoms!!”

I flew back to the US on Feb 11 (I wore a mask the entire time in the Doha airport, on the plane, and even in the Boston airport, which no one else was doing). I lost my sense of taste and smell for about 2 days, which was a little unnerving but has happened to me with past colds. At no point did I have even the tiniest bit of fever or shortness of breath. The illness did drag on though — I felt run-down for a few weeks and a very slight cough that developed about a week and a half after I got sick lingered for weeks.

According to guidance from the WHO, CDC, and public health officials at the time, none of my initial symptoms were a match for Covid-19. I thought about getting a test or going to the doctor, but in the US in mid-February, and especially in Vermont, there were no tests available for someone with a mild cold and no fever. But looking at the CDC’s current list of symptoms — which include headache, sore throat, and new loss of taste or smell — and considering that I’d been in Vietnam and Singapore when cases were reported in both places, it seems plausible to me that my illness could have been a mild case of Covid-19. Hopefully it wasn’t, but I’ll be getting an antibody test once they are (hopefully) more widely available, even though the results won’t be super reliable.

Update: More on the changing profile of Covid-19 symptoms from a sample size of more than 30,000 tests.

Covid-19 presenting symptoms

Fever is waaay down on the list.

While not as common as other symptoms, loss of smell was the most highly correlated with testing positive, as shown with odds ratios below, after adjusting for age and gender. Those with loss of smell were more likely to test positive for COVID-19 than those with a high fever.

Seeing this makes me think more than ever that I had it. I had three of the top five symptoms, plus an eventual cough (the most common symptom) and a loss of smell & taste (the most highly correlated symptom). The timing of the onset of my symptoms (my first day in Qatar) indicates that I probably got infected on my last day in Vietnam, in transit from Vietnam to Singapore (1 2-hr plane ride, 2 airports, 1 taxi, 1 train ride), or on my first day in Singapore. But I went to so many busy places during that time that it’s impossible to know where I might have gotten infected (or who I then went on to unwittingly infect).

Update: A few weeks ago, I noticed some horizontal lines on several of my toenails, a phenomenon I’d never seen before. When I finally googled it, I discovered they’re called Beau’s lines and they can show up when the body has been stressed by illness or disease. Hmm. From the Wikipedia page:

Some other reasons for these lines include trauma, coronary occlusion, hypocalcaemia, and skin disease. They may be a sign of systemic disease, or may also be caused by an illness of the body, as well as drugs used in chemotherapy, or malnutrition. Beau’s lines can also be seen one to two months after the onset of fever in children with Kawasaki disease.

From the Mayo Clinic:

Conditions associated with Beau’s lines include uncontrolled diabetes and peripheral vascular disease, as well as illnesses associated with a high fever, such as scarlet fever, measles, mumps and pneumonia.

From the estimated growth of my nails, it seems as though whatever disruption that caused the Beau’s lines happened 5-6 months ago, which lines up with my early February illness that I believe was Covid-19. Covid-19 can definitely affect the vascular systems of infected persons. Kawasaki disease is a vascular disease and a similar syndrome in children resulting from SARS-CoV-2 exposure is currently under investigation. And here’s a paper from December 1971 that tracked the development of Beau’s lines in several people who were ill during the 1968 flu pandemic (an H3N2 strain of the influenza A virus) — coronaviruses and influenza viruses are different but this is still an indicator that viruses can result in Beau’s lines. “Covid toe” has been observed in many Covid-19 patients. Harvard dermatologist and epidemiologist Dr. Esther Freeman reports that people may be experiencing hair loss due to Covid-19.

I couldn’t find any scientific literature about the possible correlation of Covid-19 and Beau’s lines, but I did find some suggestive anecdotal information. I found several people on Twitter who noticed lines in their nails (both fingers and toes) and who also have confirmed or suspected cases of Covid-19. And if you go to Google’s search bar and type “Beau’s lines c”, 3 of the 10 autocomplete suggestions are related to Covid-19, which indicates that people are searching for it (but not enough to register on Google Trends).

But I am definitely intrigued. Are dermatologists and podiatrists seeing Beau’s lines on patients who have previously tested positive for Covid-19? Have people who have tested positive noticed them? Email me at jason@kottke.org if you have any info about this; I’d love to get to the bottom of this.

Pandemic Travel Posters (Inviting You to Stay Home)

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 02, 2020

Pandemic Travel Posters

Pandemic Travel Posters

Jennifer Baer of the “Coronavirus Tourism Bureau” made some travel posters designed to get you interested in staying inside and exploring your own home during the pandemic. Posters are available for purchase.

Let’s Go for a Stroll Outside

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 01, 2020

A couple of weeks ago, Sarah Pavis (who has guest edited here in the past) shared some of her favorite YouTubers that post videos of themselves walking around as a way to ease our lack of mobility during the pandemic quarantine. (Remember walking around outside among other people? Ahh, those were the days…)

Most of these are of city walks, the kind of walking I miss most acutely.1 Some of the videos are narrated, but most contain just ambient city noise. You can find lots more walks, including those in more natural settings, by searching YouTube for “4K walks”, “binaural walks”, or similar terms.

See also Virtual Travel Photography in the Age of Pandemic.

  1. Here in Vermont, I feel very lucky that we have access to plentiful uncrowded outdoor spaces to exercise in. And our statewide shelter-in-place order allows people to leave the house for exercise (which is essential for many people’s physical and mental health).

Virtual Travel Photography in the Age of Pandemic

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 24, 2020

Piazza San Marco in Venice, Italy

Times Square in NYC

Huntington Beach, FL

Bourbon Street in New Orleans

Using live feed webcams, Noah Kalina is “travelling” around the world photographing places. From top to bottom, Piazza San Marco in Venice, Italy, Times Square in NYC, Huntington Beach, CA, and Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Here’s St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City from just a few minutes ago — it’s completely deserted.

My Trip to Vietnam, Singapore, and Qatar

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 26, 2020

The waterfall at Singapore's Changi airport

For three weeks in late January and early February, I travelled to Asia, spending two weeks in Saigon, a few days in Singapore, and about 48 hours in Doha, Qatar. Here are some of the things I saw and did and ate. Note: this is a long post, maybe the longest thing I’ve posted here in many years. But I think it’s a quick read — pack a snack, stay hydrated, and you’ll be alright.

Saigon, Vietnam

I flew to Saigon via Doha on Qatar Airways. On my seatback screen, I watched the flight map as we flew a precise path with several course correcting turns that you don’t find in a usual great circle route. We flew over Turkey and Iraq and then out over the Persian Gulf, being very careful not to cross into the airspace of Syria, Iran, Kuwait, or Saudi Arabia — an aerial expression of Middle East tensions & alliances.

On my first full day, I arranged to go on a street food tour via motorbike. My guide, a local college student, picked me up at my apartment and, along with another guide & fellow tourist, we ate some bun bo hue (beef noodle soup), banh mì (pork sandwich), bap xao (stir-fried corn), com tam (broken rice w/ pork), drank some tra rau bap (corn silk tea), visited the flower market, and enjoyed a leisurely and engaging chat at a coffee shop. I did a food tour to kick off my time in Mexico City as well and would recommend it as a great way to meet some locals and quickly get the lay of the culinary land, which you can use as a blueprint for the rest of your trip.

Bowl of noodles in Saigon, Vietnam

The food here is off the chain. Street food is generally safe to eat, where all the good stuff is, and a full meal is never more than a few bucks. Some of my favorites were banh mì, bun cha (pork w/ rice noodles), and bo la lot (beef wrapped in lolot leaves).

Before I went, I did a bunch of research on specific places to eat, which turned out to be not so useful because about half of the places I’d flagged had permanently closed. In some cases, not only was the restaurant or food cart gone, whole blocks had been razed to make way for an entirely new buildings. Some of these missing places had just been written about a year or two ago, but the pace of change in Saigon is unimaginably fast. Locals I talked to said it feels like an entirely new city every few years.

Founded by a pair of Japanese expats, Pizza 4P’s makes excellent pizza. The growing chain also makes their own burrata and mozzarella in-house.

Mr. Masuko said he leased an alley-side building in Ho Chi Minh City and invested about $100,000 of his savings into a renovation, kitchen gear and other start-up essentials. He and a Japanese employee, Keinosuke Konuki, taught themselves how to make mozzarella by watching a YouTube video.

I also had one of the best bowls of ramen I’ve ever had at Tomidaya in Little Toyko, a tiny place with only 8 seats at a counter. The shoyu was so good I went back a few days later for tsukemen (which was not quite as good but still very tasty).

Craft beer is growing in popularity in Vietnam and the cocktail scene is well established. The Vietnamese palete tends to run sweeter than in America, so go-to cocktails here used to lean towards the tiki end of the spectrum, but now is more varied. Thanks to my pal Brown, I got to visit the tiny speakeasy tucked away behind a hidden door in The Studio Saigon, where artist/bartender Richie Fawcett served up a couple of delicious drinks, including a barrel-aged whiskey cocktail that he smoked with some Irish peat right in front of us.

The official English name for Vietnam’s largest city is Ho Chi Minh City. But locals still call it Saigon (or Sài Gòn), particularly when referring to the central districts. It’s a bit like how New York or NYC refers just to Manhattan.

The War Remnants Museum (formerly known as the Exhibition House for US and Puppet Crimes) is a must-visit if you’re in Saigon. It’s an eye-opening look at how the American role in the Vietnam War (which in Vietnam was known as the Resistance War Against America or the American War) was perceived by the Vietnamese. The photographs showing the damage done by Agent Orange and the almost casual brutality against Vietnamese civilians (including women & children) by US soldiers were really hard (but necessary) to look at. John Lennon’s Imagine was playing on a continuous loop in the lobby of the museum.

I ended up being in Vietnam for Tet, the lunar New Year, which in terms of celebratory scale is like Christmas, Hanukkah, Thanksgiving, and New Year’s all rolled into one holiday that lasts for several days and reverberates for a few weeks. I hadn’t exactly planned on this timing, but having read about the Tet experience on Legal Nomads, I was prepared.

Families celebrating in Saigon on the first day of Tet

Most of the city was shut down for the holiday — the first day of Tet is a day for family and I saw people spilling out into the alleyways, eating and drinking and laughing — but it wasn’t that hard to find dinner or a place to stop for tea. The only time I really felt the Tet crunch was when I needed to buy a new phone (more on that in a bit) but couldn’t because all of the electronics stores were closed. Most of the time, though, I was thankful for the slightly slower pace and festive atmosphere.

Travel tip: find a rooftop bar in whatever city you’re in and pop in for a drink around sunset.

I’m always interested in cities where a particular mode of transportation sets the tone for everything else. In much of the US — particularly in places like LA, Dallas, or Raleigh — the car reigns. In Copenhagen and Amsterdam, it’s the bicycle. You could make the argument that in Manhattan, the dance of the streets revolves around the pedestrian. As a city, Saigon is defined by the motorbike. They overwhelm every other mode of transportation here — cars and pedestrians must tailor their movements to the motorbike swarm.

Because of the motorbikes, the process for crossing the street on foot in Saigon is different than in a lot of other places. You basically just wait for any buses (which will absolutely not stop for pedestrians) or cars to go by and then slowly wade out into traffic. Do not make any sudden movements and for god sake don’t run. The motorbike swarm will magically flow around you. It’s suuuuuper unnerving the first few times you do it, but you soon get used to it because the alternative is never ever getting across the street.

The motorbikes make walking around Saigon absolutely exhausting.1 It’s not just crossing the street. You literally have to be on the lookout for them everywhere. They drive up on the sidewalks. They drive into and out of houses and buildings, turning every doorway into a potential intersection. Having to look both ways every few seconds when you’re walking 6 or 8 miles a day around the city really drains the ol’ attention reserves.

Things I saw carried on motorbikes in Saigon, a non-exhaustive list: trees, dogs, tiny babies, ice (for delivery to a drinks cart, the ice block was not even strapped down), a family of five, a dessert cart, an entire toy store, a dried squid shop, and 8 huge bags of clams.

I spent a worthwhile morning exploring the antique shops on Le Cong Kieu street. Many of the shops carried the same sorts of items, so it got a little repetitive after awhile, but the shops with the more unique items were worth the effort.

The hip coffee shops in Saigon look much the same as those in Portland, Brooklyn, Berlin, or Mexico City.

Office in the basement bunker of the Independence Palace in Saigon

Designed by architect Ngô Viết Thụ, the Independence Palace was the home and office of the South Vietnamese President during the Vietnam War. After the North Vietnamese capture of the building effectively ended the war in 1975, the palace was preserved as a historical site, a time capsule of 60s and 70s architecture and interior design. I spent half a day wandering the palace taking photos like crazy. Lots of Accidentally Wes Anderson material there.

The oranges in Asia are green?

An American expat I met in Saigon said that American veterans who fought in Vietnam are now retiring here, a fact which I found to be a) true and b) deeply weird for a number of reasons. Here’s a recent LA Times article on the phenomenon.

Rapid growth in Vietnam and its Southeast Asian neighbors has created a situation that would have been unthinkable in the past: Aging American boomers are living a lifestyle reminiscent of Florida, Nevada and Arizona, but in Vietnam. Monthly expenses here rarely exceed $2,000, even to live in a large unit like Rockhold’s, including the help of a cook and a cleaner. The neighbors are friendly: A majority of Vietnamese were born well after the war ended in 1975, and Rockhold says he has rarely encountered resentment, even when he talks about his service as a combat veteran.

The vast majority of the owners in his apartment building are members of Vietnam’s burgeoning urban middle class; many work in government or in education, and can afford to take vacations abroad. He estimates that no more than 1 in 5 residents in the 25-floor complex are foreigners.

“The Vietnamese were extremely nice to me, especially compared to my own country after I came back from the war,” Rockhold said at a coffee shop recently inside a polished, air-conditioned office tower that also houses a restaurant and cinema.

Small truck full of flowers, Saigon

And last and certainly least, my phone was stolen while I was in Saigon. I’d really hoped that 2020 was going to be the year that I’d avoid making a blunder that would cost me thousands of dollars, but I’d neglected to pay sufficient attention to this bit in the Legal Nomads piece about Tet:

Unfortunately, the city also enters into what is locally known as “stealing season” — a proliferation of petty crimes like phone and purse theft, with the money used toward paying for these Tet gifts. In the weeks leading up to Tet and shortly thereafter, locals would come up to me on the street mimicking someone making off with my bag, a warning to keep an eye on belongings. Several friends found their phones snatched out of their hands in mid-conversation during this time, though no one had any more significant issues (e.g. there were no violence or armed muggings) to report.

It was the second day of Tet and I had just gotten off a motorbike taxi in front of a cafe in a tony part of town. I pulled out my phone to check on something quickly and was about 2 seconds away from putting it in my pocket and going into the cafe when a guy on a motorbike rode up onto the sidewalk — a totally normal thing here, so I didn’t think anything of it — and snatched my phone right out of my hand. I swore at the guy and ran after him for about two steps before I realized a) he was already halfway down the block and b) no one within earshot spoke English well enough to help me quickly enough to chase the guy down or flag down a police officer. The phone was gone.

Luckily, I had my iPad in my backpack, so I went into the cafe and deactivated the phone with Find My. For about an hour, I stewed and felt violated & pissed that I had been careless. I’ve had mixed experiences with solo travel — it’s hard sometimes! — so some despondency along those lines crept in too. I posted an Instagram Story about the theft (w/ my iPad) and some kind and wise words from my pals Craig and Stewart got me back on the right track. Stewart in particular reminded me that events like this are “the tax we pay on traveling” and that “maybe we don’t pay it every trip, but it comes around eventually”.

So yeah anyway, that shitbird didn’t ruin my trip — although being without a phone (no maps, no rideshare apps, no texting to coordinate meetups, no translation app) for a couple of days definitely restricted my movements for a couple of days until the electronics stores opened after Tet. That dude’s year may have gotten off to an unlucky start by stealing from someone, but I’ll be damned if I’m gonna let losing some property set the tone for my year or change my affection for this city and its people.

Singapore

Singapore felt like the future, full stop. And it’s not just the incredible waterfall & tropical forest in the airport or the mid-building gardens in the skyscrapers. Energy-saving escalators ran slowly or not at all until human motion was detected. Infrared temperature scanners like this one were set up at the airport to automatically screen disembarking passengers for coronavirus-related fevers. Public transportation was fast, cheap, and ubiquitous — my train ride from the airport to downtown was ~$1.50. I exited the country via Automated Immigration — a machine scans your passport & thumb and you’re good to go. A vending machine made me a cup of fresh-squeezed orange juice, sealed with a thin plastic lid. A Buddhist temple I went to had self-serve offering kiosks. Everything was incredibly clean and just worked the way you thought it should — you could sense the organization and infrastructure behind every little thing. And did I mention the waterfall at the airport?!

Gardens spilling over from a Singapore hi-rise

Coming from Vietnam, the food in Singapore was going to have to clear a high bar. And it did. Unlike in Saigon, where street food sellers filled any and every possible nook and cranny of the streets, sidewalks, and alleyways, always-on-brand Singapore has organized their street food vendors into communal hawker centers. In these centers, you can get the most delicious food from all around the world — Malay, Indian, Chinese, and Singaporean cuisines are among the most popular. I ended up eating almost all my meals at food centers — I visited Maxwell Food Centre, Chinatown Complex Food Centre, Hong Lim Food Centre, and Tekka Centre.

At the Chinatown Complex Food Centre, I waited in line for about 10-15 minutes to try the soya sauce chicken rice dish (just US$2!) at Hawker Chan, the first hawker stall ever to be awarded a Michelin star. This. Dish. Was. Amazing. I have never had chicken that tender & juicy. A revelation.

The Asian Civilizations Museum and the Singapore National Gallery were both great — definitely worth visiting if you’re in town for more than a day or two.

The Singapore Botanic Gardens, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a marvelous place to spend an afternoon wandering around. I particularly enjoyed the rainforest and the specialty gardens: the Evolution Garden, the Fragrant Garden, and the Healing Garden (full of plants with medicinal uses). (While looking at the website just now, I’m irritated to learn that I missed the Bonsai Garden. Dammit!) The National Orchid Garden was spectacularly beautiful — there’s an entry fee of $5 that’s well worth paying.1

The Atlas Bar is notable for its huge Art Deco space and extensive gin library. You can get a gin martini with gin made in the 1910s (~US$180) or have a G&T using one of their 1300 gins from around the world. Bar Stories was much more minimal and intimate with no cocktail menu at all — you just tell the bartender the flavors and spirits you’re into and they whip something up for you. You can check out some of their creations on Instagram.

For my first two nights, I stayed in a pod hotel. I opted for a private room and it was perfect. I had just enough space in my room to sleep and change — I was barely there for more than that as I spent most of my time exploring the city. The bathrooms were clean and private — and the showers were great, better than in many American hotels I’ve stayed in. They could do more to dampen the door noise, but other than that, it was really quiet.

The infinity pool on the 58th floor of the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore

For my last night, I splurged on a room at the Marina Bay Sands, aka the hotel with the infinity pool on the 58th floor overlooking the city. Was it worth the price? I don’t know, but the views from the roof were incredible and I did spend a lot of time relaxing by that pool.

Doha, Qatar

Main atrium of the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar

On my way home from Singapore, I spent about 48 hours in Doha, Qatar. In retrospect, I maybe should have opted for 2 more days in Singapore. Nothing against Doha, but I just didn’t have the energy to fully explore a third different place/culture in 3 weeks. (Still exploring my limitations…) I did have some great food there — including kofte at a Turkish restaurant and a simple fried halloumi sandwich I’m still thinking about more than a week later. The Museum of Islamic Art was fantastic and deepened my already significant appreciation of Islamic art.

Some miscellaneous thoughts and reflections

I met up with some kottke.org readers in both Saigon and Singapore. Thanks to Brown, Bryan, Joel, Corrie, and the Singapore meetup crew for taking me to some local spots with excellent food & drink, helping me understand a little bit more about Vietnamese & Singaporean culture, and making this solo traveller feel a little less solo. A special thanks to Brown for welcoming me into his home and introducing me to his family. After 20+ years of writing this site, it still blows me away how quickly complete strangers who read kottke.org seem like old friends. ♥

I posted several photos to my Instagram and also compiled Stories from Saigon and Singapore.

I got sick on the last day of the trip, which turned into a full-blown cold when I got home. I dutifully wore my mask on the plane and in telling friends & family about how I was feeling, I felt obliged to text “***NOT*** coronavirus, completely different symptoms!!”

Being in Asia during the early days of the coronavirus outbreak was an interesting experience. I wasn’t worried about contracting the virus — I kept my hands clean & sanitized, wasn’t interacting with anyone who had been to China recently, and wore my mask in the airport and on the airplane. By my last few days in Vietnam, the growing epidemic had the government worried, so people who normally wore masks only while riding motorbikes now wore them all the time in public. I observed that foreign tourists were more likely to wear masks than locals. Many businesses adopted a mandatory mask policy in their offices. Buddhist temples posted signs urging visitors to wear masks.

In the airport on my way to Singapore (and on the flight), every single person was wearing a mask, except for one guy who had no mask and a personal fan blowing air (and all the germs in the vicinity) right into his face. When I got to Singapore, way fewer people were wearing masks in the airport — probably only 50% — even though there were more coronavirus cases in Singapore than in Saigon. As I mentioned above, they had infrared scanners set up checking people for fever. At the Marina Bay Sands, all customers checking in had to have a temperature check with a hand-held thermometer — same if you wanted to use the hotel gym. I also got temp-scanned at one of the museums I went to.

This was my 7th long trip in the past two years and my longest one by more than a week. Despite the benefits of solo travel that I really enjoy, I’ve struggled at times with loneliness and getting a bit overwhelmed by having to figure everything out on my own in unfamiliar places. This trip, aside from a couple hours of stolen phone despair, was struggle-free — or rather the struggle was expected, manageable, and even welcome. Part of it is just practice — I feel like I’ve got the solo travel thing mostly down now. I’ve also had a couple of significant mindset shifts in recent months (like this one about winter weather) that have helped my general outlook. Working full time for two out of the three weeks I was gone helped anchor me to something familiar and provided some structure. And as I mentioned, meeting up with some friendly folks helped too.

And finally to finish up… Whenever I travel abroad, of course I have thoughts about the overall character of the places I go, but they’re based on such an incomplete experience of those places that I’m hesitant to share them. The Saigon metro area has a population of ~13.5 million and I was there for 2 weeks as a tourist, so what the hell could I possibly know about it beyond the superficial? What I mainly tend to come away with is how those places compare to the United States. What freedoms exist in a place like Vietnam vs Singapore vs Qatar vs the United States? How are those freedoms distributed and who do they benefit? And from what authority are those freedoms derived? The more places I go, the less obviously free the US feels to me in many ways, even though our country’s baseline freedom remains high (for some at least).

But the main observation I came home with after this trip is this: America is a rich country that feels like a poor country. If you look at the investment in and the care put into infrastructure, common areas, and the experience of being in public in places like Singapore, Amsterdam, Paris, and Berlin and compare it to American cities, the difference is quite stark. Individual wealth in America is valued over collective wealth and it shows.

I know that’s a bit of a downer to end on, but despite what you see on Instagram, travel is not always fun & games and often provides some potentially tough lessons and perspectives. You might get your phone stolen and come back feeling a little bit less great about your home country. Them’s the breaks, kid — welcome to the world. Thanks for following along as always.

  1. The awful state of repair of many of the city’s sidewalks didn’t help either.

  2. Soon after entering the orchid garden, I got stopped for a short survey and the woman gave me $10 for my time, so I actually ended up making money.

Trailer for Season 2 of Ugly Delicious

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 25, 2020

Chef David Chang, who I guess is in the process of being not a chef now in the way that Bourdain became not a chef, is back for season 2 of Ugly Delicious, a food/travel/culture show on Netflix. From Eater:

Like the first season, this one promises to “use food as a vehicle to break down cultural barriers, tackle misconceptions and uncover shared experiences,” per a press release. The four episodes — only half the number of episodes as season 1 — will focus on food made for babies and children (“Kids’ Menu”), the vast world of Indian food (“Don’t Call It Curry”), the appeal and mystique of steak (“Steak”), and the varied cuisines that encompass what’s generalized as “Middle Eastern” cooking (“As the Meat Turns”).

I really liked season 1 of this show and I am not going to lie, I would love to somehow be involved in season 3. David, I have a passport, love to eat, and can talk about *gestures around at website* almost anything. Hit me up!

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.

An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Airplane Sleeping Positions

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 17, 2020

Airplane Sleeping

From The Washington Post, an illustrated encyclopedia of sleeping positions on a plane. Economy only…we don’t need to see how peacefully the lie-flat fancies in business are slumbering. Tag yourself! (I’m a Bobblehead.)

“World Travel: An Irreverent Guide”, an Upcoming Travel Guidebook by Anthony Bourdain

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 16, 2020

World Travel Guide Bourdain

Just before be died, Anthony Bourdain began work on a travel guide with his long-time assistant and coauthor Laurie Woolever. The book was to distill the lessons learned from his life of travel as a TV personality and celebrity food enthusiast. Based on their conversations, Woolever is completing work on World Travel: An Irreverent Guide, which will be out in October.

In World Travel, a life of experience is collected into an entertaining, practical, fun and frank travel guide that gives readers an introduction to some of his favorite places-in his own words. Featuring essential advice on how to get there, what to eat, where to stay and, in some cases, what to avoid, World Travel provides essential context that will help readers further appreciate the reasons why Bourdain found a place enchanting and memorable.

Supplementing Bourdain’s words are a handful of essays by friends, colleagues, and family that tell even deeper stories about a place.

Here’s a brief taste of the kind of advice you’ll find in the book:

Skip the touristy spots, he said: “If you spend all that time waiting to get into the Eiffel Tower, you’ve completely wasted a day”; and forget the concierge: “They’re going to send you to the place with the clean bathroom. Some of the best meals I’ve had, you need a hazmat suit to go to the bathroom.”

You can preorder the book on Amazon.

Air Travel in the Age of Climate Crisis: Is It Wrong to Fly?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 08, 2020

Because of the climate crisis, Greta Thunberg doesn’t fly anymore. Neither does climate journalist Eric Holthaus (aside from this recent trip). The flight shame movement and personal reflection on the climate has caused others to limit their air travel.

In this video, Joss Fong and her team at Vox look at the cost of air travel to our environment, investigate electric airplanes, and consider whether it’s wrong to fly in the age of climate crisis.

Climate change implicates us all in a planet-sized injustice. If I fly, if I drive, if I heat or cool my home, if I buy stuff, if I eat stuff, all of this now has a cost that I’m not paying.

Colorful & Meticulous Hand-Drawn Travel Notebooks

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 07, 2020

Jose Naranja

Jose Naranja

Jose Naranja

Jose Naranja

Good God, these hand-drawn & painted notebooks by José Naranja documenting his travels are fantastic! From Colossal:

Formerly an aeronautic engineer, Naranja now archives his thoughts while visiting foreign countries by hand-crafting journals replete with items like collected stamps, an illustration of the periodic table, and a study of fountain pens. Each mixed-media page centers on a theme, such as the culture surrounding eating a bowl of ramen or the flamingos found in a zoo.

Whenever I see something like this, it makes me want to learn how to draw/paint better than my current 4th grade level.1 I spent about 45 minutes poring over his work just now. So creative & exacting…look at that handwriting! And check out the tiny box of watercolors he carries with him.

You can keep up with Naranja’s latest adventures on his blog or on Instagram. If you’d like to buy some of his art — including a bound copy of some of his notebooks — there’s a small shop. (via colossal, which is also endlessly creative & meticulous)

  1. Ok, let’s be honest: 1st grade level. Most people might find it difficult to fake kids’ drawings but not me!

Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner, David Chang’s new Netflix series

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 11, 2019

Despite some reservations (a little too bro-y for one thing), I really enjoyed David Chang’s Netflix series Ugly Delicious. So I’m happy to see that he’s got a new series coming out called Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner. The trailer:

In this one, he’s traveling the world with some non-food celebs: he hits Los Angeles with Lena Waithe, Marrakesh with Chrissy Teigen, Phnom Penh with Kate McKinnon, and Vancouver with Seth Rogen. Will watch.

My 2019 Roadtrip Along the Pacific Coast of the US

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 28, 2019

2019 Roadtrip

In late July after visiting my kids at camp, I flew into LA, rented a car, and spent two weeks driving up the coast from there to Portland, OR. Along the way, I visited old friends and made some new ones, got to see how some of my favorite movie magic is performed, ate very well, spent some time in an old neighborhood, drove 1700 miles, communed with the tallest trees on Earth, and watched the ocean churn and swell and crash and froth for a very very long time. Here are some reflections and observations from the trip, from my vantage point a month later.

To start off the trip I spent a little less than three days in LA, essentially my first trip to the second largest city in the US (aside from 24 hours spent there in 2005). It was…fine? The food was good, beach was good, museums were good, but I guess I didn’t feel a whole lot of natural affinity for the place. Then again, three days isn’t a lot of time and I will go back to explore more for sure. I somehow didn’t even get tacos, an oversight I rectified once I got to Santa Barbara. But I was able to see a few friends, which trumped any possible attractions or sights I could have seen instead.

Aside from visiting friends, like 75% of the reason I wanted to go to LA was to see Chris Burden’s Metropolis II at LACMA. I timed my visit for the weekend so it’d actually be running, and it did not disappoint. Could have watched it for hours:

Electric scooters (I used the ones from Lime and Lyft) made getting around LA a breeze. Cities need to figure out how to work these into their transportation infrastructure without clogging their sidewalks, keeping riders & pedestrians safe, theft/breakage, and not undermining other more accessible forms of public transportation.

2019 Roadtrip

Not much to say about Big Sur other than it’s gorgeous but crowded. Around each curve was a seemingly better view than the last.

The redwoods. Where do I even start? They were my absolute favorite part of the trip. I spent the better part of three days exploring Big Basin Redwoods State Park, Humboldt Redwoods State Park, and Redwood National and State Parks and even at the end of the third day, I was looking up at these 300-foot monsters and saying “wow!” It was like going to church. I can’t wait for my kids to spend some time exploring the redwood forests.

When I lived in SF from 2000-2002, my favorite place to visit was Muir Woods and I was really looking forward to seeing it again. When I swung by to visit on this trip, I was frustrated to learn from the friendly park ranger at the entrance that parking now requires advance reservations. So no Muir Woods for me this trip. Luckily there were many more redwoods to be had elsewhere…

Along almost the entire route of my trip (I stuck mostly to Highway 1 and the 101), I passed people working in fields. They were everywhere, toiling away to earn a hard living so their families could eat, so that they could pay their taxes, so that they could make a good life for their children. The news of ICE raids and the continued separation of children from their parents by the most inhumane administration in recent American history were never far from my mind.

Every summer when I was a kid, my dad, my sister, and I would take a roadtrip to a different part of the country: Florida, Virginia, Texas. Sometimes we took a car and camped along the way (with occasional motel stays) and other times we drove in a used motorhome my dad bought one year (approximately one of these). But the ocean was always a constant as a destination. My sister and I had grown up in Wisconsin but had never seen the ocean before, and after our first trip to the Gulf Coast of Texas, we were hooked. One year we drove out to California and up the coast to Oregon. I remember vividly the freezing cold ocean and the winding coastal roads — we almost got our camper stuck in a particularly tight hairpin curve. I loved those roadtrips…they are my absolute happiest memories from childhood. Driving some of those same curves in northern California this time around, I waved to pretty much any RV I saw, as if I were saying hello to my past teenaged self, who was getting a taste of what awaited him in this whole wide world.

2019 Roadtrip

When I was in the Bay Area, I got to fulfill a long-time dream of mine: visiting the Pixar campus in Emeryville. I gotta say, stepping into the main building, designed by Steve Jobs to foster collaboration among the company’s employees, gave me goosebumps. I could have spent hours looking at all of the sketches, storyboards, and ephemera from Incredibles II that they had hanging on the walls. I visited the recording studios, the screening rooms, the secret speakeasy, and saw a few of the animators’ wildly decorated cubicles. They told me how the process of making a movie at Pixar has changed from “laying down the track in front of a moving train” to “laying down the track in front of a moving train while also building the train”…it sounds like they’ve really worked hard on making their development process as asynchronous as possible. I was told that Pixar has an entire team just for making crowds now.

My tour guides showed me some of the company’s favorite misrendered scenes culled from an internal mailing list, including an amazing rain tornado around a car in Toy Story 4. I saw in action the AI spiders that were designed to weave the cobwebs in TS4.

Typically, cobwebs must be made by hand, but, because of the number of cobwebs which the crew wanted to include, Hosuk Chang (Sets Extensions Technical Director) wrote a program to create a group of artificial intelligence spiders to weave the cobwebs just like a real spider would.

We actually saw the AI spiders in action and it was jaw-dropping to see something so simple, yet so technically amazing to create realistic backgrounds elements like cobwebs. The spiders appeared as red dots that would weave their way between two wood elements just like a real spider would.

They showed me a scene from TS4 and how it was made — the different layers of shading and lighting, storyboards, effects, the different cameras and lenses that were available for the director’s use. One cool tidbit: the virtual cameras used in the Toy Story movies are human-scale and shot from human height so that the toys actually look like toys. Ok, another cool tidbit: the virtual cameras & lenses are based on actual cameras and actual lenses so the directors know what sort of depth of field, angle, and views they’re going to get with a given setup. The software is incredible — they showed me a screen with like 30 different camera/angle/lens/focus combinations so that a director can simultaneously watch a single scene “filmed” all those different ways and choose which shot they want to go with. I mean…

To get the motion just right for the baby carriage scene in the antique store for TS4, they took an actual baby carriage, strapped a camera to it, plopped a Woody doll in it, and took it for a spin around campus. They took the video from that, motion-captured the bounce and sway of the carriage, and made it available as a setting in the software that they could apply to the virtual camera. I MEAN…

I also heard a few Steve Jobs stories that I’m going to keep to myself for now…they are not mine to tell. Thanks to Tom, Ralph, and Bob for showing me around and being so generous with their time. Ok, </pixar>

I had forgotten that driving though the groves of eucalyptus just north of San Francisco was so wonderfully fragrant. Way better than one of those Muji aroma diffusers. But I’ll tell you: I do not miss living in SF. I spent a lovely afternoon walking around my old neighborhood, wandering in Golden Gate Park, and stopping in to check out the Dahlia Garden (my favorite place in SF), but that was enough for another few years.

While driving, I listened to To Kill a Mockingbird on audiobook; I’d never read or listened to it before. A favorite line: “Delete the adjectives and you’ll find the facts.” I’m not sure I’ve been successful in curbing my adjective use in this post.

2019 Roadtrip

At dinner one night, I asked an LA pal about work and she said she’d quit her bartending job to deliver weed — better schedule and pay. There were cannabis dispensaries everywhere in California and Oregon. The one I visited in central CA had a security guard outside checking for IDs and weapons, a double door system in the reception area, and once you got into the retail space, you could find out more about a product by placing it on a sensor and the info would appear on a nearby touchscreen. But at other dispensaries, like the one I walked past in Arcata, the door was wide open and you could just mosey on in. Let’s just say I slept pretty well on this trip.

After seeing the 45-minute-long line for lunch at the Tillamook Creamery (and a 20-minute-long line just for cheese samples), I decamped to a local Burger King to try the Impossible Whopper for the first time. All the people saying that the Impossible patty tastes just like a real burger have either never tasted meat before or don’t pay a whole lot of attention when they eat. It’s the best veggie burger patty I’ve ever had, but it sure ain’t beef.

2019 Roadtrip

A few small towns caught my attention. Cambria, CA was a cool little place I would gladly spend more time in — Moonstone Beach was beautiful. Los Alamos, CA is possibly the quaintest town I have ever seen — ate a great breakfast at Bob’s Well Bread Bakery. I breezed through Arcata, CA and explored the downtown a bit, but it had such a cool vibe that I’d definitely go back for another look.

Sometimes the problem with going on vacation is that you have to take yourself along with you. No matter how astounding the sights, how engaging the catchups with friends, how relaxing it is, and how far away the rest of the world seems, your thoughts and anxieties and hang-ups come with you everywhere you go. Near the end of my trip, I splurged on a nice hotel room for two nights in Yachats, OR and mainly sat on the rocks and watched the waves crash. It was perfect. The ocean remains my ultimate happy place and I need to find a way to spend more (or perhaps all) of my time closer to it.

2019 Roadtrip

And then it was time to head home. You can check out a bunch of my photos from the trip on Instagram and in this Instagram Story. Thanks to my friends Alex, Michael, and Matt for the accommodations & fellowship along the way. This trip was not the once-in-a-lifetime experience that last year’s western roadtrip was, but I did feel similarly at its conclusion:

Doing this roadtrip reminded me of many great things about this country & the people who live in it and gave me the time & space to ponder how I fit into the puzzle, without the din of the news and social media. If you can manage it, I encourage you all to do the same, even if it’s just visiting someplace close that you’ve never been to: get out there and see the world and visit with its people. This world is all we have, and the more we see of it, the better we can make it.

Thanks for following along with my journey.

Amish Vacation Snaps

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 20, 2019

Amish Vacation

Amish Vacation

From Dina Litovsky, photos of Amish and Mennonite families on their annual Florida getaway. Her photos were recently featured in The New Yorker. I first read about Amish spring break in 2012 in the NY Times.

Walking around Pinecraft is like entering an idyllic time warp. White bungalows and honeybell orange trees line streets named after Amish families: Kaufman, Schrock, Yoder. The local Laundromat keeps lines outside to hang clothes to dry. (You have to bring your own pins.) And the techiest piece of equipment at the post office is a calculator. The Sarasota county government plans to designate the village, which spreads out over 178 acres, as a cultural heritage district.

Many travelers I spoke to jokingly call it the “Amish Las Vegas,” riffing off the cliché that what happens in Pinecraft stays in Pinecraft. Cellphone and cameras, normally off-limits to Amish, occasionally make appearances, and almost everyone uses electricity in their rental homes. Three-wheeled bicycles, instead of horses and buggies, are ubiquitous.

Cloud gazing in the Bristol Channel

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Apr 03, 2019

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I occasionally fantasize about ditching my iPhone and all related apps for a flip phone and fewer distractions. In this dream life, I have no notifications blinking at me, I don’t care about exes liking old Instagram photos of mine after months of not talking, I have no inbox anxiety, and I never experience a phantom buzz (currently listed on WebMD as Phantom Vibration Syndrome). I sit with a contented smile cross-legged pose overlooking a cliff. I go on long walks, surrounded by exotic flora and fauna, with big, open skies overhead. Gazing at cloud formations becomes a meditation in itself.

Please consider this my formal pitch to The New Yorker: recovering tech worker of almost a decade and a half leaves the modern world behind to look at the sky, be with nature, and attend talks amongst other cloud enthusiasts. For several blissful days on a mostly-uninhabited island (unless you count the puffins) off the North Devon coast, she exists with only a notebook, disposable camera, and her conscious awareness.

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Read more about the upcoming sky gathering of the Cloud Appreciation Society on the isle of Lundy and see my earlier post on this very website from the fall. There’s a lot more cloud content on kottke.org if that’s your thing.

(First image via AMC, second via CAS)

A Journey Along the Mekong

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 31, 2019

Niemann Cambodia

National Geographic sent illustrator Christoph Niemann to Cambodia and Vietnam and he returned with this series of drawings and observations. He talked about the trip in this behind-the-scenes video.

In a region with so much natural beauty, ancient architecture, and vibrant culture, travelers can easily get stuck behind their viewfinders — consumed with capturing the most vivid moments for their photo albums and Instagram feeds. But over the years, Niemann has developed a different method of documenting his trips.

“I always drew when I traveled … I draw just to calm down essentially, so I’m not constantly checking my phone,” he says.

Niemann believes that painting and drawing his experiences creates a dialogue between his mind and a place — this process ultimately allows him to turn the lens on himself. “Essentially the drawing is like a visual filter,” he explains. “You take the world — and you take it through the abstraction of your drawing — and you start seeing differently.”

Some my favorite posts I’ve written over the past few years have been about my travel: my western roadtrip, Berlin, Istanbul, the solar eclipse. Aside from the eclipse post (which gives me goosebumps every time I reread it), I hadn’t intended to start writing about travel. Ostensibly these trips are supposed to be vacations, my time off from constantly sifting through culture for observations. But Niemann is right…there’s something about applying the creative process to unfamiliar places that that makes the experience more worthwhile. For me, photographing and taking notes for a later post gives me a much better sense of a place, forces me to pay more attention & be more open, causes me to learn about myself, and produces a written document of my trip that I can go back to and experience again.

AeroMexico Trolls Xenophobic Americans with “DNA Discounts” Commercial

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 23, 2019

This commercial from Mexican airline AeroMexico cleverly reminds some Americans of the melting pot nature of our nation, where even “white” folks living near the border share significant amounts of DNA with those in Mexico. According to this piece in Adweek, the ad features non-actors and their actual DNA test results.

For those wondering how legit the scenarios shown in the ad are, Agost Carreño says it’s all real and that each person featured in the video was a non-actor who did have a 23andMe DNA test done in advance of the reveal.

Update: A possible inspiration for the AeroMexico video is The DNA Journey commercial by travel search engine Momondo:

The folks in that commercial may seem a bit naive about how DNA and ancestry works, but I took the 23andMe DNA test many years ago and was also surprised to find a few significant possible geographic outliers (British/Irish, Dutch) that were not accounted for in the handed-down family genealogy. (via @rudhraigh)

The Best of My Media Diet for 2018

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 01, 2019

2018 Bestnine

Just like last year, I kept track of almost everything I read, watched, listened to, and experienced in my media diet posts. In this post, I’m gonna share some of the very best of that content, stuff that stuck with me in one way or another. I marked my absolute favorites with a (*). (Above, my #bestnine Instagram images of 2018.)

Books. I made an effort to read more books this year, particularly those written by women. Hope to continue both of those trends in 2019.

After years of reading the entire Harry Potter series with my kids, we spent several months reading Emily Wilson’s translation of The Odyssey. I was unsure whether they would be into it, but they’d routinely ask for some extra reading time before bed.*

Charles Mann is one of the best nonfiction authors out there, a master of combining culture, history, and science into compelling stories. The Wizard and the Prophet is his latest book and I recommend you read it.*

Normally I shy away from terms like “must-read” or “important” when talking about books, but I’m making an exception for this one. The Wizard and the Prophet is an important book, and I urge you to read it. (The chapter on climate change, including its fascinating history, is alone worth the effort.)

(The theme of the book also popped up in Avengers: Infinity War.)

A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts by Andrew Chaikin. I will always be a total space nerd and this is a great history of the Apollo program.

Arbitrary Stupid Goal by Tamara Shopsin. Lots for me to chew on in this one, not least of which is the value of a non-traditional childhood.

I listened to the audiobook version of Kitchen Confidential read by Anthony Bourdain. This book is 18 years old but aside from some details, it felt as immediate and vital as when it came out. What a unique spirit we lost this year.

Circe by Madeline Miller. A fun and engrossing “sequel” to The Odyssey.

In response to this post about They Shall Not Grow Old by Tim Carmody, Stephan Pimpare wrote: “Howard Zinn is derided for a sometimes simplistic and sloppy history, but his singular contribution was a kind of historical Rashomon — the urgent lesson that the shape of all histories can and should be inverted.” Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs is an inversion of sorts of the traditional history of Silicon Valley.

Movies. Geography has hindered my movie choices since moving to Vermont, and I haven’t seen many of the movies on everyone else’s best of lists. But my movie-viewing has also been less adventurous this year; I’ve preferred less challenging fare after long work days.

Somehow, Black Panther came out this year? It seems like it’s always been with us. BP is the 2018 movie I’d most like to erase from my memory so I could watch it again for the first time. (Honorable mention to Avengers: Infinity War.)

Isle of Dogs. The cinematography and production design of this were just so good. I left the theater wanting to make great things.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? I waited to see this one at home because I didn’t want to be caught sobbing in public.

Even in the age of Netflix, going to the theater can still be a lot of fun. I saw Bohemian Rhapsody on opening night with a bunch of Queen fans and they made the theater shake with their singing, clapping, and stomping.

Three Identical Strangers. A fascinating documentary about nature vs nurture.

TV. I watched a lot of TV this year, perhaps too much. But not a whole lot of it ended up being that substantial…I saw nothing this year as good as Planet Earth II, Blue Planet II, or The Vietnam War. Maybe I should watch a little less next year?

The Americans. An excellent final season and a very strong and heartbreaking last episode.*

My Brilliant Friend. I spent the first 3-4 episodes disappointed that it wasn’t the books, but by the end, I was ready for a second season. The two lead actresses were excellent, particularly Margherita Mazzucco as Elena Greco.

The Handmaid’s Tale. Many people felt this stumbled this season, but I was not one of them.

Music. Not a musical year for me. The only thing I would single out is Kendrick Lamar’s album for Black Panther.

Podcasts. I like listening to podcasts with discrete seasons or topics these days…so not a lot of Reply All or Radiolab but more like the following…

Seeing White. Recommended by a reader, this 14-part series on race and whiteness is essential listening.*

Slow Burn. Two seasons, one on Watergate and the other on the Clinton/Lewinsky affair. Both excellent.*

Caliphate. Upsetting and important. This is a look at ISIS you don’t get on cable.*

Experiences & misc. Most of my favorite stuff falls into this category this year.

An Incomplete History of Protest. This exhibition at the Whitney was up for a long while, so I got to see it a few times.

Alto’s Odyssey. Perhaps one of my all-time favorite games. Several months ago, I made it up to #2 on the global high score list. I deleted it from my phone last week because I was playing it too much.*

Kennedy Space Center. Hoping to go back for a launch sometime soon!*

Lots of things about Istanbul, including the Hagia Sophia, my breakfast at Van Kahvalti Evi, and having dinner on a tiny street of tiny businesses, loosely joined.*

While I waited for my food, I noticed an order of köfte going out of the kitchen…to a diner at the restaurant across the street. When he was finished, the staff at that place bussed the dishes back across the way. Meanwhile, my meal arrived and the köfte were flavorful and tender and juicy, exactly what I wanted…no wonder the place across the street had outsourced their meatballs to this place. I’d noticed the owner, the waiter, and the cook drinking tea, so after I finished, I asked if I could get a tea. The owner nodded and started yelling to a guy at the tea place two door down. A few minutes later, a man bearing a tray with four glasses of tea arrived, dropping one at my table and the other three for the staff.

Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future. What Chrysanthe said.

Electricity. Ok, let me explain. I live in a rural area and work from home so when it’s really windy or there’s an ice storm, the power goes out. Sometimes it’s out for an hour or two, sometimes longer. It would be quaint if I didn’t have stuff to do. When electricity isn’t the default, you come to appreciate it a lot more.

The Deutsches Technikmuseum. Science and technology museum in Berlin. Along with the Topographie Des Terrors, this was my favorite thing from my stay in Berlin.

Foggy hikes. I’d never hiked in the fog before and now I think I might prefer it to sunny days?*

My new electric toothbrush. I’ve had it for months now and I still look forward to brushing with it. My mouth and teeth feel so much cleaner.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Florida. After spending so much time in the Wizarding World on the pages of books and on movie screens, it was a complete trip to wander around Diagon Alley, Hogwarts, and the rest.*

Solo roadtrips across the United States. Probably my favorite thing of the year. Can’t wait to do this again, perhaps in the American Southwest.*

SpaceX launch of Falcon Heavy. Watching those two boosters land back on the surface at almost the same time was mind-blowing.

Sleep. Getting at least 7 (and often 8+) hours of sleep every night has transformed my life. This is even lower-hanging self-help fruit than yoga or meditation.

Goodthreads t-shirt. I’m heading into uniform territory and having plain white t-shirts that fit me perfectly is essential.