kottke.org posts about books

100 bucket list booksJan 23 2015

Amazon has compiled a list of 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime "to create a well-read life". Lots of the usual suspects here, including Lolita, The Catcher in the Rye, and To Kill a Mockingbird. But there are also some quirkier and more recent picks like A Very Hungry Caterpillar, The Fault in Our Stars, and Unbroken. Went through and counted...I've read 29 of these.

The Hobbit: The Tolkien EditJan 22 2015

Someone called TolkienEditor has cut the three Peter Jackson The Hobbit movies down into a single 4-hour film and put the result up on BitTorrent. Their goal was to make the film hew more closely to the book, put the focus back on Bilbo as the main character, and to quicken the pace of the narrative.

The investigation of Dol Guldor has been completely excised, including the appearances of Radagast, Saruman and Galadriel. This was the most obvious cut, and the easiest to carry out (a testament to its irrelevance to the main narrative). Like the novel, Gandalf abruptly disappears on the borders of Mirkwood, and then reappears at the siege of the Lonely Mountain with tidings of an orc army.

The Tauriel-Legolas-Kili love triangle has also been removed. Indeed, Tauriel is no longer a character in the film, and Legolas only gets a brief cameo during the Mirkwood arrest. This was the next clear candidate for elimination, given how little plot value and personality these two woodland sprites added to the story. Dwarves are way more fun to hang out with anyway.

I enjoyed PJ's The Hobbit, particularly the second one, but my main criticism was the lack of focus on Bilbo. I couldn't rustle up any interest in the dwarves or their quest...they were a bunch of ex-rich dudes trying to get their money back. Bah! Martin Freeman was an amazing Bilbo and we just didn't get enough of him. (via @tcarmody)

Update: There is also a three-hour cut of the film that keeps even closer to the spirit of the book. (via @cdwarren)

Richard Scarry's Business Business TownJan 22 2015

Richard Scarry Business TownRichard Scarry Business TownRichard Scarry Business Town

What if the Busy Busy Town Richard Scarry wrote about was Silicon Valley circa 2015? Meet the fine citizens of Business Town. Great stuff, but did someone forget to credit Ruben Bolling's comic strip Richard Scarry's 21st Century Busy Town Jobs for the inspiration?

Extraordinary BirdsJan 22 2015

Extraordinary Birds

The American Museum of Natural History's research library has an online exhibit of bird illustrations taken from the book Extraordinary Birds. (via @kellianderson)

Stephen Biesty's Incredible Cross-SectionsJan 21 2015

Stephen BiestyStephen BiestyStephen Biesty is a illustrator for books who draws "illustrations that are unrivaled for their ambitious scope and attention to detail". I love this but somehow I hadn't seen any of his apparently quite popular books. Many of them appear to be out of print, but there are some available on Amazon: Stephen Biesty's Incredible Cross-Sections, Stephen Biesty's Incredible Everything, and Into the Unknown.

Looking through these illustrations and also thinking about Richard Scarry's books, I'm reminded of the intricate cross-sections from Wes Anderson's movies. For instance, the boat from The Life Aquatic:

Life Aquatic Cross Section

Biesty's first book with this illustration style came out in 1992, the same year a 23-year-old Anderson shot his first short film, Bottle Rocket. But the director's first real use of the cross-section didn't happen until The Royal Tenenbaums in 2001, and even then it wasn't explicit...but the tour of the Tenenbaum house definitely felt detailed in the same way as Biesty's intricate cross-sectional drawings. I'm not the first person to draw parallels between Anderson's work and Scarry, but I wonder if Biesty is somewhere in there too. (via @aaroncoleman0)

Hermione Granger and the Goddamn PatriarchyJan 16 2015

Along with imagining Mary Poppins as one of Doctor Who's Time Lords, one of my favorite literary alternate realities is imagining Hermione Granger as the main character of the Harry Potter books. In 2011, Sady Doyle wrote a review of the books as if Rowling had focused on Hermione.

In Hermione, Joanne Rowling undermines all of the cliches that we have come to expect in our mythic heroes. It's easy to imagine Hermione's origin story as some warmed-over Star Wars claptrap, with tragically missing parents and unsatisfying parental substitutes and a realization that she belongs to a hidden order, with wondrous (and unsettlingly genetic) gifts. But, no: Hermione's normal parents are her normal parents. She just so happens to be gifted. Being special, Rowling tells us, isn't about where you come from; it's about what you can do, if you put your mind to it. And what Hermione can do, when she puts her mind to it, is magic.

Ditto for the whole "Chosen One" thing. Look: I've enjoyed stories that relied on a "Chosen One" mythology to convince us that the hero is worth our time. I liked Buffy the Vampire Slayer as much as anyone. But it's hard to deny that "Chosen Ones" are lazy writing. Why is this person the hero? Because everyone says he's the hero. Why does everyone say he's the hero? Because everyone says so, shut up, there's magic.

And more recently, Daniel Dalton had a more overtly feminist and humorous take.

It was clear that she was the one who was protecting Harry and Ron, and this was never more evident than when she revealed she could control time.

She'd been using her Time-Turner to attend twice the number of classes, but she agreed to use it to help Harry save his godfather, even though it meant she'd never be able to use it again.

She'd given up her greatest power for her best friend, because helping people made her feel good.

And though she hoped he understood the sacrifice she was making by letting her education slide, she knew he didn't. Because men.

Over the past year or so, I've been rereading the books and rewatching the movies with my kids through the Hermione-as-hero lens. And I've noticed that even without altering the story as Doyle and Dalton do, Hermione is by far the smartest, most loyal, and bravest young witch or wizard at Hogwarts. Harry has his moments but the kid had a rough and abusive childhood and so his principal talent is getting angry and doing stupid impulsive shit. Mainly, he's manipulated by Voldemort and Dumbledore into doing exactly what they want him to do, and he plays the part splendidly. On the other hand, Hermione is an amazing witch and has a real choice as to how she wants to apply her considerable talents. And she chooses goodness, friendship, and doing the right thing over comfort, power, and even her own family, every time. (via @djacobs)

The Grand Budapest Hotel, now in book formJan 15 2015

Grand Budapest Hotel Book

As an addendum to his 2013 book, The Wes Anderson Collection, Matt Zoller Seitz has written a book on Anderson's latest film, The Grand Budapest Hotel.

This supplementary, one-volume companion to The Wes Anderson Collection (Abrams 2013) is the only book to take readers behind the scenes of The Grand Budapest Hotel, with in-depth interviews between Anderson and cultural critic and New York Times bestselling author Matt Zoller Seitz. Anderson shares the story behind the film's conception, the wide variety of sources that inspired it -- from author Stefan Zweig to filmmaker Ernst Lubitsch to photochrom landscapes from turn-of-the-century Middle Europe -- personal anecdotes about the making of the film, and other reflections on his filmmaking process.

Here's an interview with Seitz on the book and Inhabiting Wes Anderson's Universe. This new book will look good next to The Wes Anderson Collection and The Making of Fantastic Mr Fox on my bookshelf.

Update: Martin Venezky is the designer of the book and has shared some spreads from the book. Looks gorgeous.

24 pieces of life advice from Werner HerzogJan 14 2015

Werner Herzog Bear

Paul Cronin's book of conversations with filmmaker Werner Herzog is called Werner Herzog - A Guide for the Perplexed. On the back cover of the book, Herzog offers a list of advice for filmmakers that doubles as general purpose life advice.

1. Always take the initiative.
2. There is nothing wrong with spending a night in jail if it means getting the shot you need.
3. Send out all your dogs and one might return with prey.
4. Never wallow in your troubles; despair must be kept private and brief.
5. Learn to live with your mistakes.
6. Expand your knowledge and understanding of music and literature, old and modern.
7. That roll of unexposed celluloid you have in your hand might be the last in existence, so do something impressive with it.
8. There is never an excuse not to finish a film.
9. Carry bolt cutters everywhere.
10. Thwart institutional cowardice.
11. Ask for forgiveness, not permission.
12. Take your fate into your own hands.
13. Learn to read the inner essence of a landscape.
14. Ignite the fire within and explore unknown territory.
15. Walk straight ahead, never detour.
16. Manoeuvre and mislead, but always deliver.
17. Don't be fearful of rejection.
18. Develop your own voice.
19. Day one is the point of no return.
20. A badge of honor is to fail a film theory class.
21. Chance is the lifeblood of cinema.
22. Guerrilla tactics are best.
23. Take revenge if need be.
24. Get used to the bear behind you.

I bet this is some of the stuff you learn at Herzog's Rogue Film School:

The Rogue Film School is not for the faint-hearted; it is for those who have travelled on foot, who have worked as bouncers in sex clubs or as wardens in a lunatic asylum, for those who are willing to learn about lockpicking or forging shooting permits in countries not favoring their projects. In short: for those who have a sense of poetry. For those who are pilgrims. For those who can tell a story to four year old children and hold their attention. For those who have a fire burning within. For those who have a dream.

My Struggle: Book Four out in April 2015Jan 12 2015

The English translation of the fourth volume of Karl Ove Knausgaard's epic My Struggle is coming out in April.

At eighteen years, old Karl Ove moves to a tiny fisherman's village in the far north of the arctic circle to work as a school teacher. No interest in the job itself, his intention is to save up enough money to travel while finding the space and time to start his writing career. Initially everything looks fine. He writes his first few short stories, finds himself accepted by the hospitable locals, and receives flattering attention from several beautiful local girls. But as the darkness of the long arctic nights start to consume the landscape, Karl Ove's life takes a darker turn.

It looks like an alternate translation of the book will be out in the UK in March in case you want to get a head start on everyone else. Or there's always Norwegian lessons...the sixth and final volume was published in Norway in 2011.

Responsive logos and abstraction in designJan 12 2015

Responsive web design is a technique used by web builders where the design adapts to different screen sizes. Designer Joe Harrison has built a page with responsive logos for several well-known brands, including Coca-Cola, Nike, Disney, and Levi's. If you resize the page, you can see the logos change. Here's how the Disney logo looks as your browser window gets smaller (from L to R):

Responsive Disney Logo

As the browser gets smaller, the logos lose detail and become more abstract. By the time you get to the smallest screen width, you're down to just the Disney "D" or Nike swoosh or Heineken red star, aka the bare minimum you need to render the logo recognizable, if only on a subconscious or emotional level. Which reminds me of Scott McCloud's discussion of iconic abstraction (and The Big Triangle) in Understanding Comics, which is still one of the best books on design and storytelling I've ever read. Here's a bit of the relevant passage:

Comics Abstraction

Defining the cartoon would take up as much space as defining comics, but for now, I'm going to examine cartooning as a form of amplification through simplification. When we abstract an image through cartooning, we're not so much eliminating details as we are focusing on specific details. By stripping down an image to its essential "meaning", an artist can amplify that meaning in a way that realistic art can't.

The reason why those particular logos work responsively is because they each have abstract representations that work on that meaningful emotional level. You see that red Levi's tag or Nike swoosh and you feel something.1 I think companies are having to design logos in this way more frequently. Contemporary logos need to look good on freeway billboards, on letterhead, as iOS icons, and, in the case of the Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest logos, affixed to tiny tweet/like/pin buttons. (via ministry of type)

  1. I've talked about this elsewhere, but in designing the "identity" for kottke.org (such as it is), having an abstract logo identifying element has been an important part of the process. I wanted to have an element (currently the blue gradient) that if you saw it and recognized it, you had a reaction to it on a emotional level. Here's what I wrote about an older kottke.org design: "The yellow-green thing at the top is a tag. Like the red tag on Levi's jeans or even the red stripe on Prada shoes. It's small, out of the way, but when you see it on something, you know exactly what you're holding in your hands." It's my favorite design trick and likely influenced by Understanding Comics more than I realize.

Rise of the RobotsJan 12 2015

From Martin Ford, a book due out in May called Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future.

Artificial intelligence is already well on its way to making "good jobs" obsolete: many paralegals, physicians, and even -- ironically -- computer programmers are poised to be replaced by robots. As technology continues to accelerate and machines begin taking care of themselves, fewer jobs will be necessary. Unless we radically reassess the fundamentals of how our economy and politics work, this transition could create massive unemployment and inequality as well as the implosion of the economy itself.

See also Humans Need Not Apply. (via Tyler Cowen, who thinks highly of Ford's writing on automation and jobs)

Steven Soderbergh's 2014 media dietJan 09 2015

Once again, Steven Soderbergh kept track of every book, TV show, movie, play, and short story he read or watched in 2014. A sampling: Girls, True Detective, Gone Girl, 2001 (3 times), Dr. Strangelove, Olive Kitteridge, My Struggle: Book One, Boardwalk Empire, and his black & white version of Raiders of the Lost Ark (twice).

Here are his lists for 2013 (House of Cards, Koyaanisqatsi), 2012 (This is Spinal Tap, The Lady in the Lake), 2011 (Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Senna), 2010 (Mad Men, Where Good Ideas Come From), and 2009 (Breaking Bad, Slap Shot). (via @khoi)

The 2015 Tournament of BooksJan 09 2015

The Morning News has announced the competitors in their annual Tournament of Books. The ToB features 16 of the best works of fiction published in 2014 pitted against each other in a NCAA Tournament-style contest. It's great fun...I was a judge a few years ago. Books competing this year include All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, David Mitchell's The Bone Clocks, and An Untamed State by Roxane Gay.

Kids, the Holocaust, and "inappropriate" playJan 08 2015

On a strong recommendation from Meg, I have been reading Peter Gray's Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life. Gray is a developmental psychologist and in Free to Learn he argues that 1) children learn primarily through self-directed play (by themselves and with other children), and 2) our current teacher-driven educational system is stifling this instinct in our kids, big-time.

I have a lot to say about Free to Learn (it's fascinating), but I wanted to share one of the most surprising and unsettling passages in the book. In a chapter on the role of play in social and emotional development, Gray discusses play that might be considered inappropriate, dangerous, or forbidden by adults: fighting, violent video games, climbing "too high", etc. As part of the discussion, he shares some of what George Eisen uncovered while writing his book, Children and Play in the Holocaust.

In the ghettos, the first stage in concentration before prisoners were sent off to labor and extermination camps, parents tried desperately to divert their children's attention from the horrors around them and to preserve some semblance of the innocent play the children had known before. They created makeshift playgrounds and tried to lead the children in traditional games. The adults themselves played in ways aimed at psychological escape from their grim situation, if they played at all. For example, one man traded a crust of bread for a chessboard, because by playing chess he could forget his hunger. But the children would have none of that. They played games designed to confront, not avoid, the horrors. They played games of war, of "blowing up bunkers," of "slaughtering," of "seizing the clothes of the dead," and games of resistance. At Vilna, Jewish children played "Jews and Gestapomen," in which the Jews would overpower their tormenters and beat them with their own rifles (sticks).

Even in the extermination camps, the children who were still healthy enough to move around played. In one camp they played a game called "tickling the corpse." At Auschwitz-Birkenau they dared one another to touch the electric fence. They played "gas chamber," a game in which they threw rocks into a pit and screamed the sounds of people dying. One game of their own devising was modeled after the camp's daily roll call and was called klepsi-klepsi, a common term for stealing. One playmate was blindfolded; then one of the others would step forward and hit him hard on the face; and then, with blindfold removed, the one who had been hit had to guess, from facial expressions or other evidence, who had hit him. To survive at Auschwitz, one had to be an expert at bluffing -- for example, about stealing bread or about knowing of someone's escape or resistance plans. Klepsi-klepsi may have been practice for that skill.

Gray goes on to explain why this sort of play is so important:

In play, whether it is the idyllic play we most like to envision or the play described by Eisen, children bring the realities of their world into a fictional context, where it is safe to confront them, to experience them, and to practice ways of dealing with them. Some people fear that violent play creates violent adults, but in reality the opposite is true. Violence in the adult world leads children, quite properly, to play at violence. How else can they prepare themselves emotionally, intellectually, and physically for reality? It is wrong to think that somehow we can reform the world for the future by controlling children's play and controlling what they learn. If we want to reform the world, we have to reform the world; children will follow suit. The children must, and will, prepare themselves for the real world to which they must adapt to survive.

Like I said, fascinating.

How They Got ThereJan 08 2015

Khoi Vinh is coming out with a book soon called How They Got There: Interviews With Digital Designers About Their Careers. It is, as Tyler Cowen would say, self-recommending. Vinh explains a bit more:

You can read terrific profiles of many of these folks elsewhere, but the conversations that I conducted with them are both narrower and more in-depth. They focus squarely on how these folks discovered their callings in the design profession, how they got their first big breaks, how they put together successful careers in digital media. There are some wonderful, insightful, brilliant, hilarious and amazing stories captured here.

Basically, this is the book that I wish that I could have had handy when I was just starting out, when I was trying to figure out how to get from A to B career-wise. Even better, what I found when I was writing it was that the conversations were so interesting that I felt newly inspired myself. I think you'll feel similarly.

Forget the book (I mean, it looks great), but Khoi, where do you find the time for everything? Three kids, two or three side projects, regular blogger, startup VP...you're almost as productive these days as Beyonce is.

Healthcare: America's Bitter PillJan 06 2015

Steven Brill has written a book about the making of the Affordable Care Act called America's Bitter Pill: Money, Politics, Backroom Deals, and the Fight to Fix Our Broken Healthcare System.

America's Bitter Pill is Steven Brill's much-anticipated, sweeping narrative of how the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, was written, how it is being implemented, and, most important, how it is changing -- and failing to change -- the rampant abuses in the healthcare industry. Brill probed the depths of our nation's healthcare crisis in his trailblazing Time magazine Special Report, which won the 2014 National Magazine Award for Public Interest. Now he broadens his lens and delves deeper, pulling no punches and taking no prisoners.

Malcolm Gladwell has a review in the New Yorker this week.

Brill's intention is to point out how and why Obamacare fell short of true reform. It did heroic work in broadening coverage and redistributing wealth from the haves to the have-nots. But, Brill says, it didn't really restrain costs. It left incentives fundamentally misaligned. We needed major surgery. What we got was a Band-Aid.

I haven't read his book yet, but I agree with Brill on one thing: the ACA1 did not go nearly far enough. Healthcare and health insurance are still a huge pain in the ass and still too expensive. My issues with healthcare particular to my situation are:

- As someone who is self-employed, insurance for me and my family is absurdly expensive. After the ACA was enacted, my insurance cost went up and the level of coverage went down. I've thought seriously about quitting my site and getting an actual job just to get good and affordable healthcare coverage.

- Doctors aren't required to take any particular health insurance. So when I switched plans, as I had to when the ACA was enacted, finding insurance that fit our family's particular set of doctors (regular docs, pediatrician, pediatric specialist that one of the kids has been seeing for a couple of years, OB/GYN, etc.) was almost impossible. We basically had one plan choice (not even through the ACA marketplace...see next item) or we had to start from scratch with new doctors.

- Many doctors don't take the ACA plans. My doctor doesn't take any of them and my kids' doc only took a couple. And they're explicit in accepting, say, United Healthcare's regular plan but not their ACA plan, which underneath the hood is the exact same plan that costs the same and has the same benefits. It's madness.

- The entire process is designed to be confusing so that insurance companies (and hospitals probably too) can make more money. I am an educated adult whose job is to read things so they make enough sense to tell others about them. That's what I spend 8+ hours a day doing. And it took me weeks to get up to speed on all the options and pitfalls and gotchas of health insurance...and I still don't know a whole lot about it. It is the most un-user-friendly thing I have ever encountered.

The ACA did do some great things, like making everyone eligible for health insurance and getting rid of the preexisting conditions bullshit, and that is fantastic...the "heroic work" mentioned by Gladwell. But the American healthcare system is still an absolute shambling embarrassment when you compare it to other countries around the world, even those in so-called "developing" or "third world" countries. And our political system is just not up to developing a proper plan, so I guess we'll all just limp along as we have been. Guh.

  1. I hate the word "Obamacare" and will not use it. It's a derisive term that has been embraced for some reason by ACA/Obama supporters. It needlessly politicizes an already over-politicized issue.

Knausgaard's My Struggle Book 1, the audiobookJan 05 2015

My StruggleBook 1 of Karl Ove Knausgaard's epic My Struggle is now available in English as an audiobook. This was by far my favorite book of 2014...the first 50 pages punched me in the gut about 10 times and the rest did not disappoint. After a bit of a break to recover, I am looking forward to tackling Book 2 & Book 3 in the next couple of months. (via @tylercowen)

Early Home ComputersJan 02 2015

I know nothing about this book or its author (Kevin Murrell, Director of Britain's National Museum of Computing), but something called Early Home Computers is pretty much self-recommending. Amazon has an excerpt.

If they were considered at all by the average person, computers were thought to be impressive, mysterious, awe-inspiring and frightening in equal measure. Press coverage of the time typically described new computers as 'electronic brains' and they were often depicted as cartoon machines with faces and arms. Despite the best efforts of engineers explaining their inventions, most people knew more about malevolent computers like HAL from Kubrick's film 2001 - A Space Odyssey, than the real thing.

In the UK there was at least one well-known benevolent computer: ERNIE. Electronic Random Number Indicating Equipment, or ERNIE for short, was a special-function computer designed to generate random numbers as part of the government's Premium Bond saving scheme. Each month the computer would produce a random batch of bond numbers and the winning bondholders would be awarded cash prizes. ERNIE became so well known in the popular imagination that winners would write personally to thank him!

Presumably home computers were also benevolent...I like that idea. (via russell davies)

Update: See also Digital Retro.

This book tells the story behind 40 classic home computers of an infamous decade, from the dreams and inspiration, through passionate inventors and corporate power struggles, to their final inevitable demise. It takes a detailed look at every important computer from the start of the home computer revolution with the MITS Altair, to the NeXT cube, pehaps the last serious challenger in the personal computer marketplace.

Good review of Digital Retro here. (via @LangeAlexandra)

The unbreakable Laura HillenbrandDec 31 2014

Wonderful piece on Laura Hillenbrand, author of Seabiscuit and Unbroken. Hillenbrand has suffered from chronic fatigue syndrome for more than 25 years and can barely leave her own house, but she has turned her illness into an advantage in some ways.

Somehow, through the dizziness and disorientation, Hillenbrand has managed to produce two of the most critically and commercially successful nonfiction books in recent decades. "Seabiscuit" and "Unbroken" have together sold more than 10 million copies, and the hardcover edition of "Unbroken" remained on The Times's best-seller list for 185 continuous weeks, which by some accounts is the fourth-longest reign of all time. In fact, the hardcover was so successful that Hillenbrand's publisher, Random House, waited nearly four years before releasing a paperback edition this summer; since then, the paperback has held the top position on The Times's list every week except one. Sallye Leventhal, the book buyer for history and politics at Barnes & Noble, told me that Hillenbrand's commercial success is unparalleled. "There are other phenomenal best sellers, but not this phenomenal," she said. "Not with this velocity, year after year after year."

What's startling to consider is that Hillenbrand has done this with little access to the outside world. She is cut off not only from basic tools of reporting, like going places and seeing things, but also from all the promotional machinery of modern book selling. Because of the illness, she is forced to remain as secluded from the public as the great hermetic novelists. She cannot attend literary festivals, deliver bookstore readings or give library talks and signings. Even the physical act of writing can occasionally stymie her, as the room spins and her brain swims to find words in a cognitive haze. There have been weeks and months -- indeed, sometimes years -- when the mere effort to lift her hands and write has been all that she can muster. "In the middle of working on 'Unbroken,'" she told me, "I went just off a cliff and became very suddenly totally bedridden -- I didn't get out of the house for two years." To function as an author, Hillenbrand has been forced to develop a unique creative process. Everything in her working life is organized around the illness: the way she reads, the way she thinks about language, even the way she describes familiar places. When Hillenbrand writes about the "rough, rasping tremor" of the Pacific and the "smoky brown oval" of Pimlico, her readers feel closer to the ocean and the racetrack than Hillenbrand is ever likely to be again.

After you read that, check out Hillenbrand's piece on her illness written for the New Yorker in 2003.

The Quora Anthology 2014Dec 31 2014

Quora is giving their best writers an interesting care package: an anthology of the site's best writing from 2014.

Quora Anthology 2014

But why isn't this an actual book that you can buy in stores, etc.? Seems like a great way to introduce the non-SV part of the world to Quora. (via @pieratt)

Hell and Good CompanyDec 30 2014

Richard Rhodes, who wrote two of my favorite nonfiction books ever (The Making of the Atomic Bomb and Dark Sun), is coming out with a new book in February. Hell and Good Company is a history of the Spanish Civil War.

The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) inspired and haunted an extraordinary number of exceptional artists and writers, including Pablo Picasso, Joan Miro, Martha Gellhorn, Ernest Hemingway, George Orwell, and John Dos Passos. The idealism of the cause-defending democracy from fascism at a time when Europe was darkening toward another world war-and the brutality of the conflict drew from them some of their best work: Guernica, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Homage to Catalonia, The Spanish Earth.

The war spurred breakthroughs in military and medical technology as well. New aircraft, new weapons, new tactics and strategy all emerged in the intense Spanish conflict. Indiscriminate destruction raining from the sky became a dreaded reality for the first time. Progress also arose from the horror: the doctors and nurses who volunteered to serve with the Spanish defenders devised major advances in battlefield surgery and front-line blood transfusion. In those ways, and in many others, the Spanish Civil War served as a test bed for World War II, and for the entire twentieth century.

World's largest book on saleDec 29 2014

Bhutan Book 01

When I went to the Poptech conference 10 years ago, one of the talks featured one of the world's largest books, a book of photographs of Bhutan. The book used to fetch $10,000 a copy, but Amazon now sells it for just under $300. Something is fishy though...many of the vendors selling the book are shipping it for only $3.99, which seems unlikely for a book that weighs 133 pounds. (via cory)

Update: Long story short, there were two versions of this book made: the big one and a smaller one that's only a foot and a half tall. That Amazon link used to go to the big book but it's the little one now. Make sense? Anyway, here's a link to the big one if you want to buy it for $5,824.34 with free shipping. (thx everyone)

During the CrashDec 23 2014

Kazuo Ishiguro wrote his excellent novel, The Remains of the Day, in only four weeks (more or less).

So Lorna and I came up with a plan. I would, for a four-week period, ruthlessly clear my diary and go on what we somewhat mysteriously called a "Crash". During the Crash, I would do nothing but write from 9am to 10.30pm, Monday through Saturday. I'd get one hour off for lunch and two for dinner. I'd not see, let alone answer, any mail, and would not go near the phone. No one would come to the house. Lorna, despite her own busy schedule, would for this period do my share of the cooking and housework. In this way, so we hoped, I'd not only complete more work quantitively, but reach a mental state in which my fictional world was more real to me than the actual one.

The mythology of the Lord of the RingsDec 23 2014

If you've read The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy (and/or watched the movies1) but didn't delve into the appendices or, shudder, The Silmarillion, this is the video for you. It explains about the Gods who created Middle Earth, what wizards are (not men, but angels), and the specialness of Men and Elves.

  1. I saw all three of The Hobbit movies and the last one really isn't worth watching. Jackson never gets close to making us care about Thorin or the dwarves. Bilbo, played wonderfully by Martin Freeman, should have been the focus...which he was, to a greater extent, in the second movie (which was the best of the three by a wide margin). The problem is, The Hobbit isn't so much a story about Bilbo as it is a story told *by* Bilbo. Anyway.

The best book covers of 2014Dec 16 2014

At the NY Times, Nicholas Blechman weighs in with his picks for the best book covers of 2014.

Area X Book Cover

Dan Wagstaff, aka The Casual Optimist, picked 50 Covers for 2014.

Napoleon The Great Book Cover

From Jarry Lee at Buzzfeed, 32 Of The Most Beautiful Book Covers Of 2014.

Strange New Things Book Cover

Paste's Liz Shinn and Alisan Lemay present their 30 Best Book Covers of 2014.

Wolf In White Van

And from much earlier in the year (for some reason), Zachary Petit's 19 of the Best Book Covers of 2014 at Print.

On Such A Full Sea Book Cover

Wolf Hall BBC miniseriesDec 15 2014

Wolf Hall Tv

Wait, how did I miss this...Hilary Mantel's excellent pair of novels about Thomas Cromwell & Henry VIII, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, are being turned into a six-part BBC miniseries. Outstanding! Noted Shakespearian actor Mark Rylance will play Cromwell with Homeland's Damian Lewis as Henry VIII.

BBC One will be airing the show in Britain in January while American audiences without access to BitTorrent will have to wait until PBS airs it in April.

Marbled paper, what a curious nameDec 10 2014

Wow, the art of making marbled paper, a short film from 1970.

Charmingly British, just like the film about the Teddy Grays candy factory or the putter togetherer of scissors. Super cool how the inks are placed on a water bath, swirled expertly to make patterns, and then transferred to the paper. Also of note: the segment on the conservation of old books starting at around 9:55...I never knew they took them apart like that to dunk the pages in water! Sadly, the Cockerell Bindery ceased operation in the late 1980s with the death of Sydney Cockerell and its contents were sold at auction. (thx, matt)

Amazon PrimedDec 08 2014

Photographer Noah Kalina (of Everyday fame) keeps a blog of his purchases from Amazon called Amazon Primed. Recently documented purchases include a Weber grill and a shoulder mount for a camera. Now Kalina has turned his blog into a book published by Amazon.

The 100 greatest console video games, 1977-1987Dec 08 2014

100 Console GamesThe 100 Greatest Console Video Games: 1977-1987 is a recent book chronicling the best games from the first golden era in console video games, from the Intellivision1 to the Atari 2600 to the Nintendo.

  1. My older cousins from Minneapolis had an Intellivision. And cable. And MTV. And scrambled The Movie Channel which you could kind of make out every few seconds. Which to a country bumpkin like me was certainly sufficiently advanced technology. Anyway, I loved playing Tron: Deadly Discs, Pitfall!, and Kool-Aid Man on the Intellivision whenever I was over.

Old MacDonald Had An Apartment HouseDec 05 2014

My favorite book when I was a kid was Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs by Judi and Ronald Barrett.1 So I was excited when the kids brought home a book from the library from the same authors that I hadn't seen before: Old MacDonald Had An Apartment House. The story is about an apartment building super who starts growing food and raising livestock in vacant apartments as the increasingly alarmed tenants move out. Totally awesome 70s hippie energy crisis stuff. It didn't click that I had actually read (and loved!) this book as a kid until we reached this page:

Old MacDonald Had An Apartment Building

Love that page. Hot and cold running sweet potato vines.

  1. I still have my 1970s-era copy that I read with my kids. It's delicate though, so I bought them their own copy to read on their own too. The upsetting part is there are minor differences in the text (but not drawings) of the two books. And the new phrasing is worse...no idea why they'd change it.

Richard Scarry's Busy Town in the 21st CenturyNov 26 2014

21c Busy Town

Oh, this is great. The butchers, farmers, doctors, and children's book librarians of Richard Scarry's original Busy, Busy Town give way to the non-lending officer, one-percenter service provider, fart-sound app maker, and lowly immigrant in Tom the Dancing Bug's 21st century Busy Town.

Beautiful portraits of animals by photographer Brad WilsonNov 25 2014

Brad Wilson

For his recently released book Wild Life, Brad Wilson shot photos of all kinds of animals on a black background, resulting in unusually expressive portraits.

Brad WilsonBrad Wilson

Reminds me of Jill Greenberg's monkey portraits...expressive in the same way.

Lauren IpsumNov 21 2014

Lauren Ipsum is a book about computer science for kids (age 10 and up) published by No Starch Press.

Meet Lauren, an adventurer who knows all about solving problems. But she's lost in the fantastical world of Userland, where mail is delivered by daemons and packs of wild jargon roam.

Lauren sets out for home, traveling through a journey of puzzles, from the Push and Pop Cafe to the Garden of the Forking Paths. As she discovers the secrets of Userland, Lauren learns about computer science without even realizing it-and so do you!

Sounds intriguing. And 1000 bonus points for making the protagonist a girl. There's an older self-published version of the book that's been out for a couple of years. I like the older description slightly better:

Laurie is lost in Userland. She knows where she is, or where she's going, but maybe not at the same time. The only way out is through Jargon-infested swamps, gates guarded by perfect logic, and the perils of breakfast time at the Philosopher's Diner. With just her wits and the help of a lizard who thinks he's a dinosaur, Laurie has to find her own way home.

Lauren Ipsum is a children's story about computer science. In 20 chapters she encounters dozens of ideas from timing attacks to algorithm design, the subtle power of names, and how to get a fair flip out of even the most unfair coin.

Has anyone read it?

How Star Wars Conquered the UniverseNov 20 2014

In his recent book, How Star Wars Conquered the Universe, Chris Taylor tells the story of how avant garde cinema fan George Lucas built one of the biggest movie franchises ever.

How did a few notes scribbled on a legal pad in 1973 by George Lucas, a man who hated writing, turn into a four billion dollar franchise that has quite literally transformed the way we think about entertainment, merchandizing, politics, and even religion? A cultural touchstone and cinematic classic, Star Wars has a cosmic appeal that no other movie franchise has been able to replicate. From Jedi-themed weddings and international storm-trooper legions, to impassioned debates over the digitization of the three Star Wars prequels, to the shockwaves that continue to reverberate from Disney's purchase of the beloved franchise in 2012, the series hasn't stopped inspiring and inciting viewers for almost forty years. Yet surprisingly little is known about its history, its impact -- or where it's headed next.

(via mr)

The real LolitaNov 20 2014

Real Lolita

Near the end of Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov writes:

Had I done to Dolly, perhaps, what Frank Lasalle, a fifty-year-old mechanic, had done to eleven-year-old Sally Horner in 1948?

For years, no one picked up on the fact that Sally Horner really was abducted by a man named Frank La Salle in 1948 and the crime was a definite influence on Nabokov in writing Lolita, not until Alexander Dolinin suggested it in 2005. Sarah Weinman explores the connection in Hazlitt.

On her way home from school the next day, though, the man sought her out again. Without warning, the rules had changed: Sally had to go with him to Atlantic City -- the government insisted. She'd have to convince her mother he was the father of two school friends, inviting her to a seashore vacation. He would take care of the rest with a phone call and a convincing appearance at the Camden bus depot.

His name was Frank La Salle, and he was no FBI agent -- rather, he was the sort G-men wanted to drive off the streets, though Sally didn't learn that until it was far too late. It took 21 months to break free of him, after a cross-country journey from Camden, New Jersey, to San Jose, California. That five-cent notebook didn't just alter Sally Horner's own life, though: it reverberated throughout the culture, and in the process, irrevocably changed the course of 20th-century literature.

(via @DavidGrann)

The Marshmallow Test, the bookNov 19 2014

Marshmallow Test

The Marshmallow Test was developed by psychologist Walter Mischel to study self-control and delayed gratification. From a piece about Mischel in the New Yorker:

Once Mischel began analyzing the results, he noticed that low delayers, the children who rang the bell quickly, seemed more likely to have behavioral problems, both in school and at home. They got lower S.A.T. scores. They struggled in stressful situations, often had trouble paying attention, and found it difficult to maintain friendships. The child who could wait fifteen minutes had an S.A.T. score that was, on average, two hundred and ten points higher than that of the kid who could wait only thirty seconds.

Mischel has written a book about the test, its findings, and learning greater self-control: The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control.

The world's leading expert on self-control, Walter Mischel has proven that the ability to delay gratification is critical for a successful life, predicting higher SAT scores, better social and cognitive functioning, a healthier lifestyle and a greater sense of self-worth. But is willpower prewired, or can it be taught?

In The Marshmallow Test, Mischel explains how self-control can be mastered and applied to challenges in everyday life -- from weight control to quitting smoking, overcoming heartbreak, making major decisions, and planning for retirement. With profound implications for the choices we make in parenting, education, public policy and self-care, The Marshmallow Test will change the way you think about who we are and what we can be.

Here's a video of the test in action:

Update: A recent study showed that the environment in which the test is performed is important.

Now a new study demonstrates that being able to delay gratification is influenced as much by the environment as by innate ability. Children who experienced reliable interactions immediately before the marshmallow task waited on average four times longer -- 12 versus three minutes -- than youngsters in similar but unreliable situations.

(thx, maggie & adam)

The Simpsons and their mathematical secretsNov 13 2014

Simpsons Math

Acclaimed science and math writer Simon Singh has written a book on the mathematics of The Simpsons, The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets. Boing Boing has an excerpt.

The principles of rubber sheet geometry can be extended into three dimensions, which explains the quip that a topologist is someone who cannot tell the difference between a doughnut and a coffee cup. In other words, a coffee cup has just one hole, created by the handle, and a doughnut has just one hole, in its middle. Hence, a coffee cup made of a rubbery clay could be stretched and twisted into the shape of a doughnut. This makes them homeomorphic.

By contrast, a doughnut cannot be transformed into a sphere, because a sphere lacks any holes, and no amount of stretching, squeezing, and twisting can remove the hole that is integral to a doughnut. Indeed, it is a proven mathematical theorem that a doughnut is topologically distinct from a sphere. Nevertheless, Homer's blackboard scribbling seems to achieve the impossible, because the diagrams show the successful transformation of a doughnut into a sphere. How?

Although cutting is forbidden in topology, Homer has decided that nibbling and biting are acceptable. After all, the initial object is a doughnut, so who could resist nibbling? Taking enough nibbles out of the doughnut turns it into a banana shape, which can then be reshaped into a sphere by standard stretching, squeezing, and twisting. Mainstream topologists might not be thrilled to see one of their cherished theorems going up in smoke, but a doughnut and a sphere are identical according to Homer's personal rules of topology. Perhaps the correct term is not homeomorphic, but rather Homermorphic.

What book changed your mind?Nov 12 2014

Changing your mind about something significant as an adult can be very difficult. For many, ideas are identity, and the particular set of ideas you currently possess got you where you are today, so why switch it up? The Chronicle Review recently asked a group of scholars which non-fiction book "profoundly altered the way they regard themselves, their work, the world". Law professor William Ian Miller had this to say:

No nonfiction books in the past 30 years have transformed me. Some have taught me things, made me hold their authors in deep respect (Bartlett, Bynum). Some have moved me greatly (some of the better soldier memoirs). But knocked me off my horse on the way to Damascus? Nope.

I am 68; if you had asked me the question about a self-transforming book when I was 19, I would have had to say just about half of the ones I read. You could say these books changed my mind, but my mind was pretty much a tabula rasa when I was in my first year of college. Rather they made my mind.

David Foster Wallace's greatest hitsNov 12 2014

The David Foster Wallace Reader is a collection of Wallace's best, funniest, and most celebrated writing.

Where do you begin with a writer as original and brilliant as David Foster Wallace? Here -- with a carefully considered selection of his extraordinary body of work, chosen by a range of great writers, critics, and those who worked with him most closely. This volume presents his most dazzling, funniest, and most heartbreaking work -- essays like his famous cruise-ship piece, "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again," excerpts from his novels The Broom of the System, Infinite Jest, and The Pale King, and legendary stories like "The Depressed Person."

Wallace's explorations of morality, self-consciousness, addiction, sports, love, and the many other subjects that occupied him are represented here in both fiction and nonfiction. Collected for the first time are Wallace's first published story, "The View from Planet Trillaphon as Seen In Relation to the Bad Thing" and a selection of his work as a writing instructor, including reading lists, grammar guides, and general guidelines for his students.

If you've somehow been waiting to dig into Wallace's writing but didn't know where to start, this is where you start.

The science of InterstellarNov 10 2014

Kip Thorne is a theoretical physicist who did some of the first serious work on the possibility of travel through wormholes. Several years ago, he resigned as the Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics from Caltech in part to make movies. To that end, Thorne acted as Christopher Nolan's science advisor for Interstellar. As a companion to the movie, Thorne wrote a book called The Science of Interstellar.

Yet in The Science of Interstellar, Kip Thorne, the physicist who assisted Nolan on the scientific aspects of Interstellar, shows us that the movie's jaw-dropping events and stunning, never-before-attempted visuals are grounded in real science. Thorne shares his experiences working as the science adviser on the film and then moves on to the science itself. In chapters on wormholes, black holes, interstellar travel, and much more, Thorne's scientific insights -- many of them triggered during the actual scripting and shooting of Interstellar -- describe the physical laws that govern our universe and the truly astounding phenomena that those laws make possible.

Wired has a piece on how Thorne and Nolan worked together on the film. Phil Plait was unimpressed with some of the science in the movie, although he retracted some of his criticism. If you're confused by the science or plot, Slate has a FAQ.

Update: Well, well, the internet's resident Science Movie Curmudgeon Neil deGrasse Tyson actually liked the depiction of science in Interstellar. In particular: "Of the leading characters (all of whom are scientists or engineers) half are women. Just an FYI." (via @thoughtbrain)

Update: What's wrong with "What's Wrong with the Science of Movies About Science?" pieces? Plenty says Matt Singer.

But a movie is not its marketing; regardless of what 'Interstellar''s marketing said, the film itself makes no such assertions about its scientific accuracy. It doesn't open with a disclaimer informing viewers that it's based on true science; in fact, it doesn't open with any sort of disclaimer at all. Nolan never tells us exactly where or when 'Interstellar' is set. It seems like the movie takes place on our Earth in the relatively near future, but that's just a guess. Maybe 'Interstellar' is set a million years after our current civilization ended. Or maybe it's set in an alternate dimension, where the rules of physics as Phil Plait knows them don't strictly apply.

Or maybe 'Interstellar' really is set on our Earth 50 years in the future, and it doesn't matter anyway because 'Interstellar' is a work of fiction. It's particularly strange to see people holding 'Interstellar' up to a high standard of scientific accuracy because the movie is pretty clearly a work of stylized, speculative sci-fi right from the start.

(via @khoi)

Information Graphics: SpaceNov 07 2014

Space Information Graphics

A children's book about space featuring information graphics illustrated by the completely awesome Jennifer Daniel!?

The third in a visually stunning series of information graphics that shows just how interesting and humorous scientific information can be. Complex facts about space are reinterpreted as stylish infographics that astonish, amuse, and inform.

INSTANT PURCHASE. February 2015 cannot come fast enough.

Fearless GeniusNov 05 2014

Fearless Genius

Beginning in 1985, photographer and filmmaker Doug Menuez wrangled access to some of the people at the center of the Silicon Valley technology boom, including Steve Jobs as he broke away from Apple to create NeXT. Menuez has published more than 100 of those behind-the-scenes photos in a new book, Fearless Genius.

In the spring of 1985, a technological revolution was under way in Silicon Valley, and documentary photographer Doug Menuez was there in search of a story -- something big. At the same time, Steve Jobs was being forced out of his beloved Apple and starting over with a new company, NeXT Computer. His goal was to build a supercomputer with the power to transform education. Menuez had found his story: he proposed to photograph Jobs and his extraordinary team as they built this new computer, from conception to product launch.

In an amazing act of trust, Jobs granted Menuez unlimited access to the company, and, for the next three years, Menuez was able to get on film the spirit and substance of innovation through the day-to-day actions of the world's top technology guru.

The web site for the project details some of the other things Menuez has in store, including a feature-length documentary and a TV series. Ambitious. For a sneak peek, check out the NeXT-era photos Menuez posted at Storehouse. This image of Jobs, labelled "Steve Jobs Pretending to Be Human", is a particular favorite:

Steve Jobs Beach Ball

(via df)

The 10 greatest changes of the past 1000 yearsOct 31 2014

From the emergence of markets in the 13th century to the scientific revolution of the 17th century to castles in the 11th century, this is a list of historian Ian Mortimer's 10 biggest changes of the past 1000 years.

Most people think of castles as representative of conflict. However, they should be seen as bastions of peace as much as war. In 1000 there were very few castles in Europe -- and none in England. This absence of local defences meant that lands were relatively easy to conquer -- William the Conqueror's invasion of England was greatly assisted by the lack of castles here. Over the 11th century, all across Europe, lords built defensive structures to defend them and their land. It thus became much harder for kings to simply conquer their neighbours. In this way, lords tightened their grip on their estates, and their masters started to think of themselves as kings of territories, not of tribes. Political leaders were thus bound to defend their borders -- and govern everyone within those borders, not just their own people. That's a pretty enormous change by anyone's standards.

The list is adapted from Mortimer's recent book, Centuries of Change.

Around the World in 92 MinutesOct 29 2014

Hadfield Venice

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield became a celebrity while aboard the International Space Station. Now he's publishing a book of photographs he took during his time in orbit: You Are Here: Around the World in 92 Minutes.

During 2,597 orbits of our planet, I took about 45,000 photographs. At first, my approach was scattershot: just take as many pictures as possible. As time went on, though, I began to think of myself as a hunter, silently stalking certain shots. Some eluded me: Brasilia, the capital of Brazil, and Uluru, or Ayers Rock, in Australia. I captured others only after methodical planning: "Today, the skies are supposed to be clear in Jeddah and we'll be passing nearby in the late afternoon, so the angle of the sun will be good. I need to get a long lens and be waiting at the window, looking in the right direction, at 4:02 because I'll have less than a minute to get the shot." Traveling at 17,500 miles per hour, the margin for error is very slim. Miss your opportunity and it may not arise again for another six weeks, depending on the ISS's orbital path and conditions on the ground.

In an interview with Quartz, Hadfield says the proceeds from the book are being donated to the Red Cross.

Old mastersOct 27 2014

The NY Times interviewed several people in their 80s who are still killing it in their careers and creative pursuits. Says Ruth Bader Ginsberg about surprises about turning 80:

Nothing surprised me. But I've learned two things. One is to seek ever more the joys of being alive, because who knows how much longer I will be living? At my age, one must take things day by day. I have been asked again and again, "How long are you going to stay there?" I make that decision year by year. The minute I sense I am beginning to slip, I will go. There's a sense that time is precious and you should enjoy and thrive in what you're doing to the hilt. I appreciate that I have had as long as I have... It's a sense reminiscent of the poem "Gather ye rosebuds while ye may." I had some trying times when my husband died. We'd been married for 56 years and knew each other for 60. Now, four years later, I'm doing what I think he would have wanted me to do.

The interviews are accompanied by an essay by Lewis Lapham, himself on the cusp of 80.

John D. Rockefeller in his 80s was known to his business associates as a crazy old man possessed by the stubborn and ferocious will to know why the world wags and what wags it, less interested in money than in the solving of a problem in geography or corporate combination. By sources reliably informed I'm told that Warren Buffett, 84, and Rupert Murdoch, 83, never quit asking questions.

I read a book several years ago which is relevant here called Old Masters and Young Geniuses, in which economist David Galenson divided creative people into two main camps: conceptual and experimental innovators:

1) The conceptual innovators who peak creatively early in life. They have firm ideas about what they want to accomplish and then do so, with certainty. Pablo Picasso is the archetype here; others include T.S. Eliot, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Orson Wells. Picasso said, "I don't seek, I find."

2) The experimental innovators who peak later in life. They create through the painstaking process of doing, making incremental improvements to their art until they're capable of real masterpiece. Cezanne is Galenson's main example of an experimental innovator; others include Frank Lloyd Wright, Mark Twain, and Jackson Pollock. Cezanne remarked, "I seek in painting."

The Ebola WarsOct 21 2014

Ebola Virus

As Ebola enters a deepening relationship with the human species, the question of how it is mutating has significance for every person on earth.

From the front lines in West Africa to the genomics researchers who hope to control the outbreak, The New Yorker's Richard Preston provides a detailed and interesting look at The Ebola Wars. Preston is the author of 1995's The Hot Zone, the bestselling account of the first emergence of Ebola, which is back in the top 50 on Amazon.

The 50 best movie adaptations of booksOct 20 2014

From Silence of the Lambs (#1) to To Kill A Mocking Bird (#9) to Blade Runner (#28), these are the 50 best book-to-movie adaptations ever, compiled by Total Film.

Somehow absent is Spike Jonze's Adaptation and I guess 2001 was not technically based on a book, but whatevs. The commenters additionally lament the lack of Requiem for a Dream, Gone with the Wind, The French Connection, Rosemary's Baby, Last of the Mohicans, and The Wizard of Oz.

CosmigraphicsOct 17 2014

Cosmigraphics

From Michael Benson comes Cosmigraphics, a survey of many ways in which humans have represented the Universe, from antiquity on up to the present day.

Selecting artful and profound illustrations and maps, many hidden away in the world's great science libraries and virtually unknown today, he chronicles more than 1,000 years of humanity's ever-expanding understanding of the size and shape of space itself. He shows how the invention of the telescope inspired visions of unimaginably distant places and explains why today we turn to supercomputer simulations to reveal deeper truths about space-time.

The NY Times has an adaptation of the introduction to the book.

Among the narrative threads woven into the book are the 18th-century visual meditations on the possible design of the Milky Way - including the astonishing work of the undeservedly obscure English astronomer Thomas Wright, who in 1750 reasoned his way to (and illustrated) the flattened-disk form of our galaxy. In a book stuffed with exquisite mezzotint plates, Wright also conceived of another revolutionary concept: a multigalaxy cosmos. All of this a quarter-century before the American Revolution, at a time when the Milky Way was thought to constitute the entirety of the universe.

How We Got to Now on TVOct 15 2014

Speaking of PBS shows, Steven Johnson's How We Got to Now starts on PBS tonight with two back-to-back episodes. The NY Times has a positive review.

The opening episode, for instance, is called "Clean," and it sets the pattern for the five that follow. We tend not to acknowledge just how recent some of the trends and comforts of modern life are, including the luxury of not walking through horse manure and human waste on the way to the post office.

The episode turns back the clock just a century and a half, to a time before our liquid waste stream was largely contained in underground pipes. Mr. Johnson then traces the emergence of the idea that with a little effort, cities and towns could have a cleaner existence, and the concurrent idea that cleanliness would have public health benefits.

But his examination of "the ultraclean revolution," as he calls it, doesn't stop at the construction of sewage and water-purification systems. He extends the thread all the way to the computer revolution, visiting a laboratory where microchips are made.

The show is based on Johnson's book of the same name, which enters the NY Times bestseller list at #4 this week. Also, I keep wanting to call the book/show How We Got to Know, which strikes me as a perfectly appropriate title as well.

Update: The first two episodes are available online until 10/30.

Being Mortal, the TV showOct 15 2014

Atul Gawande's best selling Being Mortal is getting the Frontline treatment on PBS this January. Here's the trailer:

The abortion choice: not easy, not sorryOct 15 2014

In the November issue of Elle, Laurie Abraham talks about the fear, pressure, regret, and misconceptions related to how we think about abortion in America, written through the lens of her own experiences.

In several meetings at work in which this essay was discussed, I noticed that none of the other editors in the room, all of them pro-choice, could bring themselves to utter the word abortion; it was "Laurie's pro piece," or her "memoir." I know that my colleagues, many of whom are my friends, were just trying to be kind when they referred to my "reproductive rights" story. The truth is, I felt uncomfortable saying it out loud too. Abortion is a conversational third rail, women's dirtiest dirty laundry, to mix metaphors. Because the other thing about living in a political culture where a single-cell zygote is constantly being called a "person" is that there is a penumbra of shame surrounding abortion. For myself, however, I wonder: Am I really ashamed -- and, if so, what is it exactly that I'm ashamed of?

The book Abraham references throughout, Katha Pollitt's Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights sounds really interesting. (via @atotalmonet)

Club Soccer 101Oct 09 2014

Club Soccer 101

As I've written before, after the World Cup in 2010, I wanted to keep watching soccer but didn't quite know how club soccer worked or anything about the various teams. I wish I'd had this book then: Club Soccer 101. It's a guide to 101 of the most well-known teams from leagues all over the world.

The book covers the history of European powerhouses like Arsenal, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Chelsea, Inter Milan, Manchester United, Paris Saint-Germain, and Real Madrid; historic South American clubs like Boca Juniors, Corinthians, Penarol, and Santos; and rising clubs from Africa, Asia, and America, including such leading MLS clubs as LA Galaxy, New York Red Bulls, and Seattle Sounders. Writing with the passion and panache of a deeply knowledgeable and opinionated fan, Luke Dempsey explains what makes each club distinctive: their origins, fans, and style of play; their greatest (and most heartbreaking) seasons and historic victories and defeats; and their most famous players -- from Pelé, Eusébio, and Maradona to Lionel Messi, Wayne Rooney, and Ronaldo.

50 cultural icons and their favorite booksOct 07 2014

Flavorwire collected a list of the favorite books of 50 well-known people, including Bill Murray, Amy Poehler, Ayn Rand, and Caroline Kennedy. Here are some of the picks:

Bill Murray: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain.
Dolly Parton: The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper.
Joan Didion: Victory by Joseph Conrad.
Robin Williams: The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov.
Michelle Obama: Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison.
Nikola Tesla: Faust by Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe.

(via @davidgrann)

Being Mortal is outOct 07 2014

Atul Gawande's new book about medicine and death, Being Mortal, is out today. Two excerpts of the book are available online, The Best Possible Day:

I spoke with more than 200 people about their experiences with aging or serious illness, or dealing with a family member's -- many of them my own patients, some in my own family. I interviewed and shadowed front-line staff members in old age homes, palliative-care specialists, hospice workers, geriatricians, nursing home reformers, pioneers, and contrarians. And among the many things I learned, here are the two most fundamental.

First, in medicine and society, we have failed to recognize that people have priorities that they need us to serve besides just living longer. Second, the best way to learn those priorities is to ask about them. Hence the wide expert agreement that payment systems should enable health professionals to take sufficient time to have such discussions and tune care accordingly.

and No Risky Chances:

You don't have to spend much time with the elderly or those with terminal illness to see how often medicine fails the people it is supposed to help. The waning days of our lives are given over to treatments that addle our brains and sap our bodies for a sliver's chance of benefit. These days are spent in institutions -- nursing homes and intensive-care units -- where regimented, anonymous routines cut us off from all the things that matter to us in life.

Too many books to read! Gotta make time for this one though.

Plenty MoreOct 03 2014

Plenty More

If you're at all interested in cooking at home, you've likely got one of Yotam Ottolenghi's cookbooks on your shelf: Jerusalem, Plenty, and Ottolenghi. I don't cook much myself, but from everything I've heard from friends, this guy is a wizard with vegetables. Now Ottolenghi is out with a new cookbook: Plenty More.

Yotam Ottolenghi is one of the world's most beloved culinary talents. In this follow-up to his bestselling Plenty, he continues to explore the diverse realm of vegetarian food with a wholly original approach. Organized by cooking method, more than 150 dazzling recipes emphasize spices, seasonality, and bold flavors. From inspired salads to hearty main dishes and luscious desserts, Plenty More is a must-have for vegetarians and omnivores alike. This visually stunning collection will change the way you cook and eat vegetables.

Infinite illustrationsOct 01 2014

As a writer, designer, and, hell, as a human being, I value simplicity over most other considerations. But I also have a soft spot for dense hyper-detailed illustrations in the style of Mattias Adolfsson.

Mattias Adolfsson

Many more examples of Adolfsson's work is on Flickr. Reminds me of a pair of books I love reading with the kids: Mark Alan Stamaty's Who Needs Donuts? and Cars and Trucks and Things That Go by Richard Scarry. The illustrations in these books are nearly infinite; the kids and I have read Cars and Trucks probably more than 70 times and almost every time through, we find something new.

You're My Favorite ClientOct 01 2014

After writing Design is a Job and noticing no one had written a book for clients who hired designers, Mike Monteiro of Mule Design decided to write one: You're My Favorite Client.

Whether you're a designer or not, you make design decisions every day.

Successful design projects require equal participation from both the client and the design team. Yet, for most people who buy design, the process remains a mystery.

In his follow-up to Design Is a Job, Mike Monteiro demystifies the design process and helps you prepare for your role. Ensure you're asking the right questions, giving effective feedback, and hiring designers who will challenge you to make your product the best it can be.

Monteiro recently wrote 13 Ways Designers Screw Up Client Presentations and gave an interview to fellow designer Khoi Vinh.

I've been doing the primary research for this book for 20 years. I deal with clients every day and I see what works and doesn't work and I've screwed up more times than I'd like to think about. But every lesson in that book is field tested. This book has zero percent theory in it. It was written on a factory floor.

Inherent ViceSep 30 2014

I somehow didn't know or forgot that PT Anderson was doing a movie based on Thomas Pynchon's Inherent Vice. It turns out he totally is and here's the first trailer:

That looks entirely goofy and good.

Liquid IntelligenceSep 29 2014

Mad food scientist Dave Arnold, lately of high-tech NYC bar Booker & Dax, is coming out with a book called Liquid Intelligence: The Art and Science of the Perfect Cocktail.

Years of rigorous experimentation and study -- botched attempts and inspired solutions -- have yielded the recipes and techniques found in these pages. Featuring more than 120 recipes and nearly 450 color photographs, Liquid Intelligence begins with the simple -- how ice forms and how to make crystal-clear cubes in your own freezer -- and then progresses into advanced techniques like clarifying cloudy lime juice with enzymes, nitro-muddling fresh basil to prevent browning, and infusing vodka with coffee, orange, or peppercorns.

Practical tips for preparing drinks by the pitcher, making homemade sodas, and building a specialized bar in your own home are exactly what drink enthusiasts need to know. For devotees seeking the cutting edge, chapters on liquid nitrogen, chitosan/gellan washing, and the applications of a centrifuge expand the boundaries of traditional cocktail craft.

I don't know how many cocktail books the world can handle but even with The Bar Book, Death & Co., The PDT Cocktail Book, and Bitters, my personal library still has space on the shelf for more. (via @kathrynyu)

Modern dandiesSep 29 2014

Rose Callahan photographs gentlemen with "exceptional personal style" for her blog, The Dandy Portraits.

Dandies 01Dandies 02

She's collected some of her best shots into a book, I Am Dandy: The Return of the Elegant Gentleman. See also the great dude battles of the 1880s. (via slate)

Quack This WaySep 26 2014

One of the last interviews David Foster Wallace gave was with Bryan Garner, a lawyer and lexicographer who became friendly with Wallace due to their mutual love of language. That hour-long interview is reproduced in Quack This Way: David Foster Wallace & Bryan A. Garner Talk Language and Writing.

David Foster Wallace was at the center of late-20th-century American literature, Bryan A. Garner at that of legal scholarship and lexicography. It was language that drew them together. The wide-ranging interview reproduced here memorializes 67 minutes of their second and final evening together, in February 2006. It was DFW's last long interview, and the only one devoted exclusively to language and writing.

It was Wallace's piece featuring Garner in Harper's, Tense Present, that cemented him as a favorite writer of mine, even before I tackled Infinite Jest. Wallace later expanded the essay to 62 pages in Consider the Lobster and Other Essays.

TBD CatalogSep 26 2014

TBD CatalogTBD Catalog is a catalog from the near future, filled with imagined goods you might see in a SkyMall or IKEA catalog in 2024. Or as they put it, "the catalog of the near future's normal ordinary everyday".

This is not your near future of superlative Silicon Valley exuberance where you happily 3D-print a perfect set of lease-licensed Opinel steak knives or blissfully commute to work in your fascistically sleek Google-powered, chem-battery fueled autonomous vehicles. Nor is this the abysmal near future where you huddle in the smoldering foxholes of apocalyptic ruin. TBD Catalog runs through the middle. It is neither extreme. It is a design fiction about a normal, ordinary everyday near future. TBD Catalog is a design fiction because it makes implications without making predictions. TBD Catalog is a design fiction because it sparks conversations about the near future. It serves to design-develop prototypes and shape embryonic concepts in order to discard them, make them better, reconsider what we may take for granted.

From the brains of Bruce Sterling, James Bridle, Aaron Straup Cope, and a dozen others, you can order yours here. And holy cow, I'm getting one of these Bounty Hunter Coaches Jackets too. (Looking good, @darthjulian)

The faces of the Manhattan ProjectSep 26 2014

Alex Wellerstein took all of the badge photos of the people who worked on the atomic bomb project during World War II at Los Alamos and made a huge image out of them.

Faces Of Project Y

I just finished reading Genius, James Gleick's excellent biography of Richard Feynman. Here's Feynman (left) and his friend Klaus Fuchs, whose car he used to borrow on the weekends to visit his ailing wife in Albuquerque.

Feynman Fuchs

After the war, Fuchs was revealed to be a Soviet spy. If you're at all interested in the Manhattan Project and the espionage surrounding it and somehow have not read Richard Rhodes' The Making of the Atomic Bomb and Dark Sun, do so now...they are two of my all-time favorite books. (via greg.org)

You Have to Fucking EatSep 25 2014

You Have To Fucking Eat

From the author of the bestselling children's book Go the Fuck to Sleep comes a sequel of sorts: You Have to Fucking Eat.

Knowledge Is BeautifulSep 24 2014

Knowledge Is Beautiful

David McCandless has been highlighting good information design for years on Information Is Beautiful. The site spawned a book of the same name in 2009. Now McCandless is back with a new book, Knowledge Is Beautiful.

Every day, every hour, every minute we are bombarded with information, from television, from newspapers, from the Internet, we're steeped in it. We need a way to relate to it. Enter David McCandless and his stunning infographics, simple, elegant ways to interact with information too complex or abstract to grasp any way but visually. McCandless creates visually stunning displays that blend the facts with their connections, contexts, and relationships, making information meaningful, entertaining, and beautiful. And his genius is as much in finding fresh ways to provocatively combine datasets as it is in finding new ways to show the results.

Here's some more information about the book.

A list of 50 books that influenced Leo TolstoySep 23 2014

Tolstoy List Books

When Russian author Leo Tolstoy was in his 60s, he was asked to list the books which influenced him the most in his career. He responded by grouping the books into three main categories by level of impact: great, v. great, and enormous. Some of his picks:

Matthew's Gospel: Sermon on the Mount - Enormous
Dickens' David Copperfield - Enormous
Victor Hugo. Les Misérables - Enormous
Pushkin's Yevgeny Onegin - V. great
George Eliot. Novels - Great

The NY Times reprinted the list in 1978; here's the original listing.

Kindle VoyageSep 19 2014

Kindle Voyage

Amazon updated their line of Kindles and tablets and the Kindle Voyage looks like great top-of-the-line dedicated ereader. The Verge loves it. I'm still rocking a third-generation Kindle and have been pondering an upgrade to a Paperwhite, but the Voyage is very tempting.

The Assassination of Margaret ThatcherSep 19 2014

From Hilary Mantel's forthcoming collection, The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher, an excerpt of the title story in the NY Times Sunday Book Review.

I said, "It's the fake femininity I can't stand, and the counterfeit voice. The way she boasts about her dad the grocer and what he taught her, but you know she would change it all if she could, and be born to rich people. It's the way she loves the rich, the way she worships them. It's her philistinism, her ignorance, and the way she revels in her ignorance. It's her lack of pity. Why does she need an eye operation? Is it because she can't cry?"

When the telephone rang, it made us both jump. I broke off what I was saying. "Answer that," he said. "It will be for me."

And this line!

She lives on the fumes of whiskey and the iron in the blood of her prey.

I love Hilary Mantel. Instant pre-order. (via @TomJunod)

Update: A member of Parliment's House of Lords is calling for Hilary Mantel to be investigated by the police for this story.

"If somebody admits they want to assassinate somebody, surely the police should investigate," Lord Timothy Bell, a friend and former PR adviser to Thatcher, told the Sunday Times. "This is in unquestionably bad taste."

The Guardian took Bell to task for his own taste:

Let us deal first with taste. This man's client-list presently glitters with Rolf Harris and Cuadrilla, the UK fracking company. He has previously managed the reputations of General Pinochet and Asma al-Assad, wife of the Syrian president. "I'm not concerned with taste," said Mantel in my interview with her. Apparently neither is Lord Bell.

English PEN released a statement in support of Mantel:

Lord Bell's call for the police to investigate Mantel for writing a work of fiction is disproportionate and wholly inappropriate. The fact that Ms Mantel's story has caused offence is not a matter for the police: authors are free to shock or challenge their readership by depicting extraordinary events or extreme acts.

'If depicting a murder in literature were equivalent to inciting murder, then Lord Bell's colleagues Lord Dobbs, Baroness James and Baroness Rendell would all need to be investigated by the police too,' said Robert Sharp, Head of Campaigns at English PEN. 'It is most disturbing when politicians and commentators in a democracy start calling for censorship on the grounds of offence or bad taste. Not only does it undermine the right to freedom of expression in the UK, it sends a very poor signal to politicians in authoritarian regimes who sue, threaten and sometimes kill writers and journalists for satirising or criticising the political class.'

Even if it's fake it's real?

As You WishSep 18 2014

Princess Bride Westley

Actor Cary Elwes (Westley, The Dread Pirate Roberts) has written a book about the making of the Princess Bride, As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride.

From actor Cary Elwes, who played the iconic role of Westley in The Princess Bride, comes a first-person account and behind-the-scenes look at the making of the cult classic film filled with never-before-told stories, exclusive photographs, and interviews with costars Robin Wright, Wallace Shawn, Billy Crystal, Christopher Guest, and Mandy Patinkin, as well as author and screenwriter William Goldman, producer Norman Lear, and director Rob Reiner.

The Princess Bride isn't currently streaming on Netflix, but you can rent it from Amazon.

Meat: Everything You Need to KnowSep 17 2014

Meat, Pat LaFrieda

Whoa hey, super-butcher Pat LaFrieda has a cookbook out, Meat: Everything You Need to Know.

No one understands meat's seductive hold on our palates better than America's premier butcher, Pat LaFrieda. In Meat: Everything You Need to Know, he passionately explains the best and most flavorful cuts to purchase (some of them surprisingly inexpensive or unknown) and shares delicious recipes and meticulous techniques, all with the knowledge that comes from a fourth generation butcher. If you have ever wondered what makes the meat in America's finest restaurants so delectable, LaFrieda -- the butcher to the country's greatest chefs -- has the answers, and the philosophy behind it.

Paired up with Tartine Bread, all we need now is some emulsifying genius to hit us with Mayonnaise cookbook and we'll be all set in sandwich-land.

The InnovatorsSep 12 2014

Walter Isaacson has written books on Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, and Steve Jobs. His newest book, The Innovators, is due out in early October and focuses on the people who invented computing and the Internet.

In his masterly saga, Isaacson begins with Ada Lovelace, Lord Byron's daughter, who pioneered computer programming in the 1840s. He explores the fascinating personalities that created our current digital revolution, such as Vannevar Bush, Alan Turing, John von Neumann, J.C.R. Licklider, Doug Engelbart, Robert Noyce, Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak, Steve Jobs, Tim Berners-Lee, and Larry Page.

This is the story of how their minds worked and what made them so inventive. It's also a narrative of how their ability to collaborate and master the art of teamwork made them even more creative.

Make Popeye's chicken and biscuits at homeSep 04 2014

Wylie Chix

Well, well. For a cookbook called Fried & True: More than 50 Recipes for America's Best Fried Chicken and Sides, food genius Wylie Dufresne recreated the recipes for Popeye's chicken and biscuits.

The tenders first get an overnight soak in buttermilk and hot sauce that makes them juicy and, um, tender. To nail the perfectly seasoned crust, he eventually landed on a breading that includes a packet of onion soup and a hefty dose of McCormick's Italian Herb Spaghetti Sauce Seasoning Mix. (If this makes you cringe, remember who we're talking about here, and trust.) Cornstarch, potato starch and baking soda added to the self-rising flour mixture ensure the signature craggy texture and exceptional crunch. Finally, after much experimentation to find the perfect frying temperature, he settled on a relatively low 300°, which renders the crust a deep golden-brown and keeps the lean meat moist.

Better than the original, says Serious Eats' Maggie Mariolis. Dang.

Pioneer Girl by Laura Ingalls WilderSep 03 2014

Pioneer Girl

Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote her autobiography, Pioneer Girl, in the early 1930s. The book was deemed unsuitable for publication, but Wilder reworked her story into the successful Little House on the Prairie series for children.

Now the South Dakota Historical Society is publishing an annotated version of Pioneer Girl, which includes stories from Wilder's childhood that didn't make it into the kids' books. And for good reason.

It contains stories omitted from her novels, tales that Wilder herself felt "would not be appropriate" for children, such as her family's sojourn in the town of Burr Oak, where she once saw a man became so drunk that, when he lit a cigar, the whisky fumes on his breath ignited and killed him instantly. In another recollection, a shopkeeper drags his wife around by her hair, pours kerosene on the floor of his house, and sets their bedroom on fire.

Wilder's memoir also paints a different picture of her father, Charles Ingalls, known in the novels as Pa. Although the real man's character is essentially the same as the version in the novels - affectionate, musical and restless to move on through America's frontier - he is, said the book's publisher, the South Dakota Historical Society Press, clearly "romanticised and idealised". In Wilder's autobiography, he is described sneaking his family out of town in the middle of the night after failing to negotiate the rent with the landlord, justifying the flit by calling the man a "rich old skinflint".

Earlier this year, there was an open casting call for the role of Laura in a new movie version of Little House on the Prairie. Maybe the drunken self-immolation will make it into this one!

Willy Wonka's Fudge MountainSep 02 2014

The Guardian has published a lost chapter of Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which was cut from the book early on.

"I wonder how Augustus Pottle and Miranda Grope are feeling now?" Charlie Bucket asked his mother.

"Not too cocky, I shouldn't think" Mrs Bucket answered. "Here - hold on to my hand, will you, darling. That's right. Hold on tight and try not to let go. And don't you go doing anything silly in here, either, you understand, or you might get sucked up into one of those dreadful pipes yourself, or something even worse maybe. Who knows?"

There's not much to the chapter...it seems as though for the finished product Dahl pared down the number of children from ten to four and fleshed out each of their stories more. Here's more on the lost chapter and early drafts of the book. (via @DavidGrann)

Being MortalAug 25 2014

Surgeon and New Yorker writer Atul Gawande has a new book about death coming out in October called Being Mortal.

Medicine has triumphed in modern times, transforming birth, injury, and infectious disease from harrowing to manageable. But in the inevitable condition of aging and death, the goals of medicine seem too frequently to run counter to the interest of the human spirit. Nursing homes, preoccupied with safety, pin patients into railed beds and wheelchairs. Hospitals isolate the dying, checking for vital signs long after the goals of cure have become moot. Doctors, committed to extending life, continue to carry out devastating procedures that in the end extend suffering.

Gawande, a practicing surgeon, addresses his profession's ultimate limitation, arguing that quality of life is the desired goal for patients and families. Gawande offers examples of freer, more socially fulfilling models for assisting the infirm and dependent elderly, and he explores the varieties of hospice care to demonstrate that a person's last weeks or months may be rich and dignified.

This piece Gawande wrote for the New Yorker in 2010 was probably the genesis of the book. I maintain a very short list of topics I'd like to write books about and death is one of them. Not from a macabre Vincent Price / Tim Burton perspective...more like this stuff. Dying is something that everyone has to deal with many times during the course of their life and few seem to have a handle on how to deal with it. That's fascinating. Can't wait to read Gawande's book.

Behind the scenes with the Coen brothersAug 21 2014

When Alex Belth was 25 years old, he worked with Joel and Ethan Coen on The Big Lebowski, first as a personal assistant and then as an assistant editor. He recently published a short Kindle book about the experience.

The Dudes Abide is the first behind-the-scenes account of the making of a Coen Brothers movie, and offers an intimate, first-hand narrative of the making of The Big Lebowski -- including never-before-revealed details about the making of the film, and insight into the inner workings of the Coen Brothers' genius.

An excerpt of the book was published on Deadspin.

Joel told Goodman about re-recording dialogue for the profanity-free television version of Fargo. They rewrote the line, "I'm fucking hungry now" to "I'm full of hungry now."

"Why didn't we write it like that originally?" said Joel. "It's funnier."

Goodman said, "Who else is coming on this show?" (In Los Angeles, movie people call a movie a "show.")

There was Steve Buscemi as Donny, Julianne Moore as Maude, Jon Polito as Da Fino.

Joel said, "Our friend Luis, who was an assistant film editor on Hudsucker, will be playing the enraged Mexican."

"Yeah, you'll like Luis," Ethan said in a creaky voice. "He makes a big statement."

"Turturro is coming in to play the pederast," Joel said. "He said he'd do his best F. Murray Abraham."

(thx, brad)

Our DeclarationAug 19 2014

For the New York Review of Books, Gordon Wood reviews Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality by Danielle Allen, a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study. Any review that starts "This is a strange and remarkable book" is worth paying attention to.

This is a strange and remarkable book. There must be dozens of books on the Declaration of Independence written from every conceivable point of view -- historical, political, theoretical, philosophical, and textual -- but no one has ever written a book on the Declaration quite like this one. If we read the Declaration of Independence slowly and carefully, Danielle Allen believes, then the document can become a basic primer for our democracy. It can be something that all of us -- not just scholars and educated elites but common ordinary people -- can participate in, and should participate in if we want to be good democratic citizens.

Westeros transit mapAug 15 2014

If the continent of Westeros from Game of Thrones had rail service, this is what the transit map might look like. Here's the King's Landing transport hub:

Westeros Transit Map

The maps are the work of designer Michael Tyznik and are available as prints: Westeros and The Known World.

The Chef SaysAug 13 2014

The Chef Says

From PA Press, the latest book in their Words of Wisdom series, The Chef Says. The book features quotes about food and cooking from the likes of Escoffier, April Bloomfield, Julia Child, and Grant Achatz.

SuperintelligenceAug 12 2014

Nick Bostrom has been thinking deeply about the philosophical implications of machine intelligence. You might recognize his name from previous kottke.org posts about the underestimation of human extinction and the possibility that we're living in a computer simulation, that sort of cheery stuff. He's collected some of his thoughts in a book called Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies. Here's how Wikipedia summarizes it:

The book argues that if machine brains surpass human brains in general intelligence, then this new superintelligence could replace humans as the dominant lifeform on Earth. Sufficiently intelligent machines could improve their own capabilities faster than human computer scientists. As the fate of the gorillas now depends more on humans than on the actions of the gorillas themselves, so would the fate of humanity depend on the actions of the machine superintelligence. Absent careful pre-planning, the most likely outcome would be catastrophe.

Technological smartypants Elon Musk gave Bostrom's book an alarming shout-out on Twitter the other day. A succinct summary of Bostrom's argument from Musk:

Hope we're not just the biological boot loader for digital superintelligence. Unfortunately, that is increasingly probable

Eep. I'm still hoping for a Her-style outcome for superintelligence...the machines just get bored with people and leave.

Milton Glaser, foodieAug 06 2014

Today I learned that iconic designer Milton Glaser co-wrote a column for New York magazine (which he co-founded) about where to find cheap-but-good food in NYC. It was called The Underground Gourmet. Here's a typical column from the October 27, 1975 issue, reviewing a ramen joint in Midtown called Sapporo that is miraculously still around:

Underground Gourmet

Glaser and his co-authior Jerome Snyder eventually packaged the column into a series of books, some of which you can find on Amazon...I bought a copy this morning.

I found out about Glaser's food enthusiasm from this interview in Eye magazine about The Underground Gourmet and his long collaboration with restaurateur Joe Baum of the Rainbow Room and Windows on the World.

We just walked the streets ... When friends of ours knew we were doing it we got recommendations.

There were parts of the city where we knew we could find good places ... particularly in the ethnic parts. We knew if we went to Chinatown we would find something if we looked long enough, or Korea Town, or sections of Little Italy.

More then than now, the city was more locally ethnic before the millionaires came in and bought up every inch of space. So you could find local ethnic places all over the city. And people were dying to discover that. And it was terrific to be able to find a place where you could have lunch for four dollars.

In 2010, Josh Perilo wrote an appreciation of The Underground Gourmet in which he noted only six of the restaurants reviewed in the 1967 edition had survived:

Being obsessed with the food and history of New York (particularly Manhattan), this was like finding a culinary time capsule. I immediately dove in. What I found was shocking, both in the similarities between then and now, and in the differences.

The most obvious change was the immense amount of restaurants that no longer existed. These were not landmarked establishments, by and large. Most of them were hole-in-the wall luncheonettes, inexpensive Chinese restaurants and greasy spoons. But the sheer number of losses was stunning. Of the 101 restaurants profiled, only six survive today: Katz's Delicatessen, Manganaro's, Yonah Schimmel's Knishes Bakery, The Puglia and La Taza de Oro. About half of the establishments were housed in buildings that no longer exist, especially in the Midtown area. The proliferation of "lunch counters" also illustrated the evolution of this city's eating habits. For every kosher "dairy lunch" joint that went down, it seems as though a Jamba Juice or Pink Berry has taken its place.

Man, it's hard not get sucked into reading about all these old places...looking forward to getting my copy of the book in a week or two.

Update: Glaser's co-author Jerome Snyder was also a designer...and no slouch either.

Thoughts on DesignAug 05 2014

Thoughts On Design

Legendary designer Paul Rand's Thoughts on Design is back in print for the first time since the 1970s. The new version, which will be out on Aug 19, is available for preorder and comes with a foreword by Michael Bierut.

One of the seminal texts of graphic design, Paul Rand's Thoughts on Design is now available for the first time since the 1970s. Writing at the height of his career, Rand articulated in his slender volume the pioneering vision that all design should seamlessly integrate form and function. This facsimile edition preserves Rand's original 1947 essay with the adjustments he made to its text and imagery for a revised printing in 1970, and adds only an informative and inspiring new foreword by design luminary Michael Bierut. As relevant today as it was when first published, this classic treatise is an indispensable addition to the library of every designer.

I'm Working on My NovelAug 04 2014

Working On My Novel

From artist Cory Arcangel, Working On My Novel is a book comprised of tweets from people who posted they were working on their novels.

What does it feel like to try and create something new? How is it possible to find a space for the demands of writing a novel in a world of instant communication? Working on My Novel is about the act of creation and the gap between the different ways we express ourselves today. Exploring the extremes of making art, from satisfaction and even euphoria to those days or nights when nothing will come, it's the story of what it means to be a creative person, and why we keep on trying.

Arcangel also ran a blog that reposted "I'm sorry I haven't posted" posts from other blogs.

Kern Your EnthusiasmAug 01 2014

For August, the writers at HiLobrow will have a month of appreciations of fonts and typefaces, lovingly titled "Kern Your Enthusiasm." Matthew Battles kicks things off with the legendary Aldine Italic developed for Venetian publisher Aldus Manutius, a new set of metal letters that helped jumpstart a little thing we call the Renaissance.

When Aldus put the first version of a typeface we call italic to use in 1501, the printing press had been proliferating in Europe for half a century. In other words, it was about as old as the computer is now. It was a time of immense invention and swiftly spun variety in the printed book, and a time of new mobility and independence of thought and activity among certain classes of people as well -- and the combination of new ways and new tools meant new kinds of books. Crucially, the book was getting smaller, small enough to act not only as a desktop, but as a mobile device.

Previous HiLobrow series include "Kirb Your Enthusiasm" (on Jack Kirby), "Kirk Your Enthusiasm" (on Star Trek's Captain Kirk) and "Herc Your Enthusiasm" (on old school hip-hop, where I contributed a short thing on Afrika Bambaataa.)

Naming the machinesJul 29 2014

Hi, everybody! Tim Carmody here, guest-hosting for Jason this week.

Not everybody gives their computers, smartphones, or wireless networks distinctive names. You're more likely to see a thousand public networks named "Belkin" or some alphanumeric gibberish than one named after somebody's favorite character in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

But many, many people do name their machines -- and ever since we slid into the post-PC era, we're more likely to have a bunch of different machines of every different type living together on a network, each needing a name. So, how do you decide what to call them? Do you just pick what strikes your fancy at the moment, or do you have a system?

About three years ago, I asked my friends and followers on Twitter this question and got back some terrific responses. I don't have access to all of their answers, because, well, time makes fools of us all, especially on Twitter. But I think I have the best responses.

Most people who wrote back did have unifying themes for their machines. And sweet Jesus, are those themes nerdy.

  • A lot of people name their computers, networks, and hard drives after characters, places, and objects from Star Wars. Like, a lot of them.
  • Even more of my friends name devices after their favorite books and writers. My favorite of these came from @DigDoug: "All of my machines are named after characters in Don Quixote. My Macbook is Dulcinea, the workhorse is Rocinante." (Note: these systems are also popular among my friends for naming their cats. I don't know what to make of that.)
  • Science- and mythology-inspired names are well-represented. Mathias Crawford's hard drives are named after types of penguins; Alan Benzie went with goddesses: "The names Kali, Isis, Eris, Juno, Lilith & Hera are distributed around whatever devices and drives I have at any time." (When I first read this, I thought these might have been moons of Jupiter, which would both split the difference between science and mythology and would be a super-cool way to name your stuff.)
  • Wi-fi networks might be named for places, funny phrases, or abstract entities, but when it comes to phones or laptops, most people seemed to pick persons' names. Oliver Hulland's hard drives were all named after muppets; Alex Hern named his computer's hard drive and its time capsule backup Marx and Engels, respectively.
  • Some people always stuck with the same system, and sometimes even the same set of names. A new laptop would get the same name as the old laptop, and so forth -- like naming a newborn baby after a dead relative. Other people would retire names with the devices that bore them. They still refer to them by their first names, often with nostalgia and longing.

As for me, I've switched up name systems over the years, mostly as the kinds of devices on my network have changed. I used to just have a desktop PC (unnamed), so I started out by naming external hard drives after writers I liked: Zora, after Zora Neale Hurston, and then Dante. The first router I named, which I still have, is Ezra.

Years later, I named my laptop "Wallace": this is partly for David Foster Wallace, but also so I could yell "where the fuck is Wallace?!?" whenever I couldn't find it.

Without me even realizing it, that double meaning changed everything. My smartphone became "Poot." When I got a tablet, it was "Bodie." My Apple TV was "Wee-Bay," my portable external drive "Stringer." I even named my wi-fi network "D'Angelo" -- so now D'Angelo runs on Ezra, which connects to Dante, if that makes sense.

As soon as it was Wallace and Poot, the rules were established: not just characters from The Wire, but members of the Barksdale crew from the first season of The Wire. No "Bunk," no "Omar," no "Cheese." And when the machines died, their names died with them.

The first one to go, fittingly, was Wallace. I called the new machine "Cutty." I was only able to justify to myself by saying that because he was a replacement machine, it was okay to kick over to Season 3. Likewise, my Fitbit became "Slim Charles."

Now, for some reason, this naming scheme doesn't apply at all to my Kindles. My first one was "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius," and its replacement is "Funes the Memorious." I have no explanation for this, other than to say that while all my other devices commingle, the Kindles seem to live in a hermetic world of their own.

Explaining HitlerJul 25 2014

Explaining Hitler is a 1998 book by Ron Rosenbaum that compiled a number of different theories about why Adolf Hitler was the way he was, updated recently with new information.

Hitler did not escape the bunker in Berlin but, seven decades later, he has managed to escape explanation in ways both frightening and profound. Explaining Hitler is an extraordinary quest, an expedition into the war zone of Hitler theories. This is a passionate, enthralling book that illuminates what Hitler explainers tell us about Hitler, about the explainers, and about ourselves.

Vice recently interviewed Rosenbaum about the book.

Oh my God, there are so many terrible psychological attempts to explain Hitler. I think the subject brings out the worst in talk show psychologists. There's a lot of 'psychopathic narcissism' among those psychologizing Hitler. The examples in my book were two psychoanalysts-one wanted to claim that Hitler became Hitler because he was beaten by his father, and the other psychoanalyst was equally determined to believe that Hitler had a malignant mother who was over-protective. As if everyone who has an over-protective mother or abusive father turns into Hitler. If everyone who has been struck by their father turned into Hitler we would be in a lot more trouble than we are.

Related by not related: Rosenbaum wrote a story in 1971 for Esquire about phone phreaking, Secrets of the Little Blue Box, which inspired the very first partnership between a pair of young future tech titans, Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs. (via @errolmorris)

Update: Rosenbaum talks about Explaining Hitler on the Virtual Memories podcast.

The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the FutureJul 24 2014

From a pair of science historians, Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, comes The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future, a book of science fiction about the consequences of climate change.

The year is 2393, and a senior scholar of the Second People's Republic of China presents a gripping and deeply disturbing account of how the children of the Enlightenment, the political and economic elites of the so-called advanced industrial societies, entered into a Penumbral period in the early decades of the twenty-first century, a time when sound science and rational discourse about global change were prohibited and clear warnings of climate catastrophe were ignored. What ensues when soaring temperatures, rising sea levels, drought, and mass migrations disrupt the global governmental and economic regimes? The Great Collapse of 2093.

Update: In the same vein is Steven Amsterdam's Things We Didn't See Coming.

Richly imagined, dark, and darkly comic, the stories follow the narrator over three decades as he tries to survive in a world that is becoming increasingly savage as cataclysmic events unfold one after another. In the first story, "What We Know Now" -- set in the eve of the millennium, when the world as we know it is still recognizable -- we meet the then-nine-year-old narrator fleeing the city with his parents, just ahead of a Y2K breakdown. The remaining stories capture the strange -- sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes funny -- circumstances he encounters in the no-longer-simple act of survival; trying to protect squatters against floods in a place where the rain never stops, being harassed (and possibly infected) by a man sick with a virulent flu, enduring a job interview with an unstable assessor who has access to all his thoughts, taking the gravely ill on adventure tours.

(thx, matty)

Goodnight MoonJul 23 2014

Goodnight Moon

From Aimee Bender, an appreciation of Margaret Wise Brown's Goodnight Moon, a favorite of mine to read to my kids when they were younger.

"Goodnight Moon" does two things right away: It sets up a world and then it subverts its own rules even as it follows them. It works like a sonata of sorts, but, like a good version of the form, it does not follow a wholly predictable structure. Many children's books do, particularly for this age, as kids love repetition and the books supply it. They often end as we expect, with a circling back to the start, and a fun twist. This is satisfying but it can be forgettable. Kids - people - also love depth and surprise, and "Goodnight Moon" offers both.

Haven't read Goodnight Moon in ages...at 4 and 7, my kids protest whenever I suggest it. We're currently powering our way through the third Harry Potter book, which, though I enjoy Potter, is no Goodnight Moon.

Update: How Goodnight Moon overcame bad initial reviews and became a word-of-mouth bestseller.

Books on book coversJul 23 2014

An extensive collection of book covers featuring books. Confused? Maybe an example will help:

Yarn Whisperer

Book postersJul 22 2014

I love these book posters by Gunter Rambow from the 1970s, especially this one:

Gunter Rambow

(via @michaelbierut)

Copying is my way of learningJul 22 2014

From Portraits in Creativity, a video profile of Maira Kalman, doer of many wonderful things.

Kalman's newest book is Girls Standing on Lawns, a collaboration with MoMA and Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket).

This clever book contains 40 vintage photographs from the collection of The Museum of Modern Art, New York, more than a dozen original paintings by Kalman inspired by the photographs, and brief, lyrical texts by Handler. Poetic and thought-provoking, Girls Standing on Lawns is a meditation on memories, childhood, nostalgia, home, family, and the act of seeing.

I once saw Kalman while I was eating lunch with my son in the cafe on the second floor of MoMA. She came in and sat opposite us a few tables away and started sketching. What a thrill to watch her work. (via @curiousoctopus)

A theory on Jon Snow's parentageJul 21 2014

If you've been paying attention to the promos for HBO's Game of Thrones series, there's been a lot of Jon Snow sitting on the Iron Throne. When the show started, Snow seemed like a relatively minor character, but his uncertain parentage hinted at possible greater things on the horizon. Here's a video explanation of one of the more popular theories about Snow's parents:

BTW, if you, like me, haven't read the books and have only seen the TV show, the video doesn't contain any outright spoilers, only enriching context. So watch away. And if you've read the books, you probably don't need to watch the video because you're probably already aware of this old theory. If you're interested, there are more theories (and crazy spoilers) where that came from.

Scientist biography recommendationsJul 02 2014

Earlier today I asked my Twitter followers for recommendations for "really good" biographies about scientists. I gave Genius (James Gleick's bio of Richard Feynman) and Cleopatra, A Life (not about a scientist but was super interesting and well-written) as examples of what I was looking for. You can see the responses here and I've pulled out a few of the most interesting ones below:

- Isaac Newton by James Gleick. Gleick wrote the aforementioned Genius and Chaos, another favorite of mine. I tried to read The Information last year after many glowing recommendations from friends but couldn't get into it. Someone suggested Never at Rest is a superior Newton bio.

- The Man Who Loved Only Numbers by Paul Hoffman. I've read this biography of mathematician Paul Erdos; highly recommended.

- Galileo's Daughter by Dava Sobel. I've never read anything by Sobel; I'll have to rectify that.

- Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson. I enjoyed his problematic Jobs biography and I notice that he's written one on Ben Franklin as well.

- Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges.

- American Prometheus by Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin. Bio of J. Robert Oppenheimer, leader of the Manhattan Project. See also: The Making of the Atomic Bomb, one of my favorite books ever.

- Everything and More by David Foster Wallace. I've heard Wallace was bit handwavy with the math in this one, but I still enjoyed it.

- Newton and the Counterfeiter by Thomas Levenson. Newton was a detective?

- The Philosophical Breakfast Club by Laura Snyder. Four-way bio of a group of school friends (Charles Babbage, John Herschel, William Whewell, and Richard Jones) who changed the world.

- The Reluctant Mr. Darwin by David Quammen. How Charles Darwin devised his theory of evolution and then sat on it for years is one of science's most fascinating stories.

- T. rex and the Crater of Doom by Walter Alvarez. Not a biography of a person but of a theory: that a meteor impact 65 million years ago caused the extinction of the dinosaurs.

- Walt Disney by Neal Gabler. Disney isn't a scientist, but when you ask for book recommendations and Steven Johnson tells you to read something, it goes on the list.

- The Man Who Knew Infinity by Robert Kanigel. Bio of brilliant Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan.

- Edge of Objectivity by Charles Gillispie. A biography of modern science published in 1966, all but out of print at this point unfortunately.

- Galileo at Work by Stillman Drake.

- The Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes.

And many more here. Thanks to everyone who suggested books.

Update: Because this came up on Twitter, some biographies specifically about women in science: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Hedy's Folly, On a Farther Shore, Marie Curie: A Life, A Feeling for the Organism, Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA, Jane Goodall: The Woman Who Redefined Man, and Radioactive.

The Soul of a New MachineJul 02 2014

Inspired by Halt and Catch Fire, I'm re-reading Tracy Kidder's The Soul of a New Machine. I had forgotten how good this book is. Man. The story follows an engineering team at Data General as they attempt to design and build an entirely new minicomputer in the late 1970s. Kidder won a Pulitzer and a National Book Award for this book.

The Atlantic published two lengthy excerpts of the book back in 1981 -- Flying Upside Down and The Ultimate Toy -- but if those catch your fancy at all, I'd recommend skipping them and just read the book.

One holiday morning in 1978, Tom West traveled to a city that was situated, he would later say guardedly, "somewhere in America." He entered a building as though he belonged there, strolled down a hallway, and let himself quietly into a windowless room. Just inside the door, he stopped.

The floor was torn up; a shallow trench filled with fat power cables traversed it. Along the far wall, at the end of the trench, enclosed in three large, cream-colored steel cabinets, stood a VAX 11/780, the most important of a new class of computers called "32-bit superminis." To West's surprise, one of the cabinets was open and a man with tools was standing in front of it. A technician, still installing the machine, West figured.

Although West's designs weren't illegal, they were sly, and he had no intention of embarrassing the friend who had told him he could visit this room. If the technician had asked West to identify himself, West wouldn't have lied and he wouldn't have answered the question, either. But the moment went by. The technician didn't inquire. West stood around and watched him work, and in a little while the technician packed up his tools and left.

Then West closed the door and walked back across the room to the computer, which was now all but fully assembled. He began to take it apart.

West was the leader of a team of computer engineers at a company called Data General. The machine that he was disassembling was produced by a rival firm, Digital Equipment Corporation, or DEC. A VAX and a modest amount of adjunctive equipment sold for something like $200,000, and as West liked to say, DEC was beginning to sell VAXes "like jellybeans." West had traveled to this room to find out for himself just how good this computer was, compared with the one that his team was building.

DFW, on the cusp of literary stardomJul 01 2014

Just after Infinite Jest was published, David Foster Wallace came to Boston and did a radio interview with Chris Lydon. Radio Open Source recently unearthed that interview, probably unheard for the past 18 years, and published it on their site.

When I started the book the only idea I had is I wanted to do something about America that was sad but wasn't just making fun of America. Most of my friends are extremely bright, privileged, well-educated Americans who are sad on some level, and it has something, I think, to do with loneliness. I'm talking out of my ear a little bit, this is just my opinion, but I think somehow the culture has taught us or we've allowed the culture to teach us that the point of living is to get as much as you can and experience as much pleasure as you can, and that the implicit promise is that will make you happy. I know that's almost offensively simplistic, but the effects of it aren't simplistic at all.

Eleven great books about soccerJun 26 2014

There haven't been many good books written about soccer, but here are eleven of them worth your time. Franklin Foer's How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization looks especially interesting.

A groundbreaking work -- named one of the five most influential sports books of the decade by Sports Illustrated -- How Soccer Explains the World is a unique and brilliantly illuminating look at soccer, the world's most popular sport, as a lens through which to view the pressing issues of our age, from the clash of civilizations to the global economy.

Foer is one of the contributors, alongside authors Aleksandar Hemon and Karl Ove Knausgaard, to the New Republic's excellent World Cup coverage.

Spielberg to direct The BFG movieJun 24 2014

I missed this news a couple of months ago: Steven Spielberg is going to direct a movie version of Roald Dahl's The BFG.

Renowned film director Steven Spielberg will direct the new adaptation with Melissa Mathison, who last worked with Spielberg on ET, writing the script. Frank Marshall will produce the film and Michael Siegel and John Madden are on board as executive producers.

I can't find any direct evidence, but the way the news is being reported, this seems like it'll be a live-action film and not a Tintin 3-D motion capture affair.

Fantastic recursive book coverJun 23 2014

The book cover for Naive Set Theory by Paul Halmos is so so good:

Naive Set Theory Cover

The cover is a riff on, I think, Russell's Paradox, a problem with naive set theory described by Bertrand Russell in 1901 about whether sets can contain themselves.

Russell's paradox is based on examples like this: Consider a group of barbers who shave only those men who do not shave themselves. Suppose there is a barber in this collection who does not shave himself; then by the definition of the collection, he must shave himself. But no barber in the collection can shave himself. (If so, he would be a man who does shave men who shave themselves.)

Reminds me of David Pearson's genius cover for Benjamin's The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.

American CatchJun 23 2014

American Catch

Paul Greenberg has an excerpt in the NY Times of his new book, American Catch: The Fight for Our Local Seafood.

As go scallops, so goes the nation. According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, even though the United States controls more ocean than any other country, 86 percent of the seafood we consume is imported.

But it's much fishier than that: While a majority of the seafood Americans eat is foreign, a third of what Americans catch is sold to foreigners.

The seafood industry, it turns out, is a great example of the swaps, delete-and-replace maneuvers and other mechanisms that define so much of the outsourced American economy; you can find similar, seemingly inefficient phenomena in everything from textiles to technology. The difference with seafood, though, is that we're talking about the destruction and outsourcing of the very ecological infrastructure that underpins the health of our coasts.

The article and book focus on three formerly American seafoods that we now mostly import from elsewhere: salmon, oysters, and shrimp.

In 2005, the United States imported five billion pounds of seafood, nearly double what we imported twenty years earlier. Bizarrely, during that same period, our seafood exports quadrupled. American Catch examines New York oysters, Gulf shrimp, and Alaskan salmon to reveal how it came to be that 91 percent of the seafood Americans eat is foreign.

In the 1920s, the average New Yorker ate six hundred local oysters a year. Today, the only edible oysters lie outside city limits. Following the trail of environmental desecration, Greenberg comes to view the New York City oyster as a reminder of what is lost when local waters are not valued as a food source.

Farther south, a different catastrophe threatens another seafood-rich environment. When Greenberg visits the Gulf of Mexico, he arrives expecting to learn of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill's lingering effects on shrimpers, but instead finds that the more immediate threat to business comes from overseas. Asian-farmed shrimp-cheap, abundant, and a perfect vehicle for the frying and sauces Americans love-have flooded the American market.

Finally, Greenberg visits Bristol Bay, Alaska, home to the biggest wild sockeye salmon run left in the world. A pristine, productive fishery, Bristol Bay is now at great risk: The proposed Pebble Mine project could undermine the very spawning grounds that make this great run possible. In his search to discover why this precious renewable resource isn't better protected, Greenberg encounters a shocking truth: the great majority of Alaskan salmon is sent out of the country, much of it to Asia. Sockeye salmon is one of the most nutritionally dense animal proteins on the planet, yet Americans are shipping it abroad.

Ghana's Kindle libraryJun 19 2014

Craig Mod Ghana KindleCraig Mod visited Ghana recently to check on the progress of Worldreader, an organization dedicated to distributing digital books to children and families in places like Rwanda, Ghana, and South Africa.

Those of us who work in technology tend to take religious-like stances over its ability to change the world, always for the better. My paranoia of trickery comes from an inherent suspicion towards technology, and an even deeper suspicion of presuming to know better. It's too easy to fall into the first-world trope of "all the poor need is a little sprinkling of silicon and then everything will be fine." It's never that simple. Technology is, at best, the tip of the iceberg. A very tiny component of the work that needs to be done in the greater whole of reforming or impacting or increasing accessibility to education, first-world and third-world alike. Technology deployed without infrastructure, without understanding, without administrative or community support, without proper curriculum is nearly worthless. Worse than worthless, even -- for it can be destructive, the time and budget spent on the technology eating into more fundamental, more meaningful points of badly needed reform.

The Mozart ProjectJun 17 2014

Mozart ProjectThe Mozart Project is a book about the life and music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Or is it an app? Stephen Fry calls it "a completely new kind of book"...you read it in iBooks but it acts more like an app than anything. Over 200 pages of text by leading Mozart scholars is accompanied by hours of music, videos, photo slideshows, all sorts of other goodies.

Curated and authored by some of the most respected experts, The Mozart Project gives new insight into the life of a musical genius, providing the ultimate experience both in terms of contributors and the carefully selected playlist of music and images that they have chosen to feature throughout the book.

How to make cocktailsJun 09 2014

After thumbing through a copy at my local bar the other night, I've had my eye on Jeffrey Morgenthaler's new book, The Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique.

Written by renowned bartender and cocktail blogger Jeffrey Morgenthaler, The Bar Book is the only technique-driven cocktail handbook out there. This indispensable guide breaks down bartending into essential techniques, and then applies them to building the best drinks. More than 60 recipes illustrate the concepts explored in the text, ranging from juicing, garnishing, carbonating, stirring, and shaking to choosing the correct ice for proper chilling and dilution of a drink. With how-to photography to provide inspiration and guidance, this book breaks new ground for the home cocktail enthusiast.

I've been beefing up my home bar over the past few weeks and hopefully this book will help me along in the technique department. Nothing in there about catching glasses behind your back, but no book is perfect, I guess. (thx, gabe)

Paul Otlet and the birth of networked informationJun 04 2014

Alex Wright previously wrote about Paul Otlet (and many other things) in his 2007 book Glut (my post about the book is here). Otlet imagined something like personal computing and the internet back in the 1930s.

Here, the workspace is no longer cluttered with any books. In their place, a screen and a telephone within reach. Over there, in an immense edifice, are all the books and information. From there, the page to be read, in order to know the answer to the question asked by telephone, is made to appear on the screen. The screen could be divided in half, by four, or even ten if multiple texts and documents had to be consulted simultaneously. There would be a loudspeaker if the image had to be complemented by oral data and this improvement could continue to the automating the call for onscreen data. Cinema, phonographs, radio, television: these instruments, taken as substitutes for the book, will in fact become the new book, the most powerful works for the diffusion of human thought. This will be the radiated library and the televised book.

Wright is back with a new book called Cataloging the World in which Otlet takes center stage.

In Cataloging the World, Alex Wright introduces us to a figure who stands out in the long line of thinkers and idealists who devoted themselves to the task. Beginning in the late nineteenth century, Paul Otlet, a librarian by training, worked at expanding the potential of the catalog card, the world's first information chip. From there followed universal libraries and museums, connecting his native Belgium to the world by means of a vast intellectual enterprise that attempted to organize and code everything ever published. Forty years before the first personal computer and fifty years before the first browser, Otlet envisioned a network of "electric telescopes" that would allow people everywhere to search through books, newspapers, photographs, and recordings, all linked together in what he termed, in 1934, a reseau mondial--essentially, a worldwide web.

You're using the wrong dictionaryJun 02 2014

James Somers says that we're probably using the wrong dictionary and that most modern dictionaries are "where all the words live and the writing's no good".

The New Oxford American dictionary, by the way, is not like singularly bad. Google's dictionary, the modern Merriam-Webster, the dictionary at dictionary.com: they're all like this. They're all a chore to read. There's no play, no delight in the language. The definitions are these desiccated little husks of technocratic meaningese, as if a word were no more than its coordinates in semantic space.

As a counterpoint, Somers offers John McPhee's secret weapon, Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary, the bulk of which was the work of one man and was last revised in 1913.

Take a simple word, like "flash." In all the dictionaries I've ever known, I would have never looked up that word. I'd've had no reason to -- I already knew what it meant. But go look up "flash" in Webster's (the edition I'm using is the 1913). The first thing you'll notice is that the example sentences don't sound like they came out of a DMV training manual ("the lights started flashing") -- they come from Milton and Shakespeare and Tennyson ("A thought flashed through me, which I clothed in act").

You'll find a sense of the word that is somehow more evocative than any you've seen. "2. To convey as by a flash... as, to flash a message along the wires; to flash conviction on the mind." In the juxtaposition of those two examples -- a message transmitted by wires; a feeling that comes suddenly to mind -- is a beautiful analogy, worth dwelling on, and savoring. Listen to that phrase: "to flash conviction on the mind." This is in a dictionary, for God's sake.

And, toward the bottom of the entry, as McPhee promised, is a usage note, explaining the fine differences in meaning between words in the penumbra of "flash":

"... Flashing differs from exploding or disploding in not being accompanied with a loud report. To glisten, or glister, is to shine with a soft and fitful luster, as eyes suffused with tears, or flowers wet with dew."

Did you see that last clause? "To shine with a soft and fitful luster, as eyes suffused with tears, or flowers wet with dew." I'm not sure why you won't find writing like that in dictionaries these days, but you won't. Here is the modern equivalent of that sentence in the latest edition of the Merriam-Webster: "glisten applies to the soft sparkle from a wet or oily surface ."

Who decided that the American public couldn't handle "a soft and fitful luster"? I can't help but think something has been lost. "A soft sparkle from a wet or oily surface" doesn't just sound worse, it actually describes the phenomenon with less precision. In particular it misses the shimmeriness, the micro movement and action, "the fitful luster," of, for example, an eye full of tears -- which is by the way far more intense and interesting an image than "a wet sidewalk."

It's as if someone decided that dictionaries these days had to sound like they were written by a Xerox machine, not a person, certainly not a person with a poet's ear, a man capable of high and mighty English, who set out to write the secular American equivalent of the King James Bible and pulled it off.

Don't miss the end of the piece, where Somers shows how to replace the tin-eared dictionaries on your Mac, iPhone, and Kindle with the Webster's 1913. (via @satishev)

Update: In the same vein, Kevin Kelly recommends using The Synonym Finder as a thesaurus.

Just look up a word, any word, and it proceeds to overwhelm you with alternative choices (a total of 1.5 million synonyms are presented in 1,361 pages), including short phrases and only mildly related words. Rather than being a problem of imprecision, the Finder's broad inclusiveness prods your imagination and prompts your recall.

Harry Potter by Ayn RandMay 30 2014

What if Ayn Rand had written Harry Potter? It might go a little something like this.

Professor Snape stood at the front of the room, sort of Jewishly. "There will be no foolish wand-waving or silly incantations in this class. As such, I don't expect many of you to appreciate the subtle science and exact art that is potion-making. However, for those select few who possess, the predisposition...I can teach you how to bewitch the mind and ensnare the senses. I can tell you how to bottle fame, brew glory, and even put a stopper in death."

Harry's hand shot up.

"What is it, Potter?" Snape asked, irritated.

"What's the value of these potions on the open market?"

"What?"

"Why are you teaching children how to make these valuable products for ourselves at a schoolteacher's salary instead of creating products to meet modern demand?"

"You impertinent boy-"

"Conversely, what's to stop me from selling these potions myself after you teach us how to master them?"

"I-"

"This is really more of a question for the Economics of Potion-Making, I guess. What time are econ lessons here?"

"We have no economics lessons in this school, you ridiculous boy."

Harry Potter stood up bravely. "We do now. Come with me if you want to learn about market forces!"

The students poured into the hallway after him. They had a leader at last.

How We Got to Now trailerMay 28 2014

Steven Johnson has been working on a six-part series for PBS called How We Got to Now. (There's a companion book as well.) The series is due in October but the trailer dropped today:

And here's a snippet of one of the episodes about railway time. I'm quite looking forward to this series; Johnson and I cover similar ground in our work with similar sensibilities. I'm always cribbing stuff from his writing and using his frameworks to think things through and just from the trailer, I counted at least three things I've covered on kottke.org in the past: Hedy Lamarr, urban sanitation, and Jacbo Riis (not to mention all sorts of stuff about time).

Early Apple prototypesMay 28 2014

From a book by Hartmut Esslinger, a collection of photographs of prototypes his company Frog Design worked on for Apple Computer.

Apple prototype

The portables and phones are especially interesting.

The Aviator's HeartMay 28 2014

Baladeuse

In Brazil's National Air and Space Museum, there is a golden globe containing the preserved heart of Alberto Santos-Dumont, a man who thought he beat the Wright Brothers in building and flying the first heavier-than-air flying machine. Santos-Dumont's first success was with dirigibles; at the turn of the century, he would regularly use his personal airship to fly to dinner or to visit friends.

Imagine the frenetic pace of life in belle époque Paris. Automobiles appearing on the streets, attracting huge crowds. The telegraph bringing news from all over the world. Cafés playing phonographs while their patrons drank absinthe and cocaine wine. Now imagine a Parisian walking the streets in the early morning, in a time where an automobile was still a fascinating novelty, and then suddenly, a small airship appears floating just above the street. A crowd would gather to see the aviator driving his Baladeuse (The Wanderer), a personal sized dirigible, over the streets as if it were a carriage or automobile. Santos-Dumont would then land in front of his favorite café, tie the guide rope much like one might tie a horse to a hitching post, and walk in for a meal. It must have been quite a sight. Going to the café was not the only time Santos-Dumont used his Baladeuse -- he was also fond of surprising his friends by landing in front of their porches with his airship.

Paul Hoffman wrote a well-reviewed book about Santos-Dumont called Wings of Madness.

50 Cent, life coachMay 27 2014

Let's talk cultural mesofacts. You likely recall 50 Cent as a rapper In Da Club but much has happened since then. 50 diversified like crazy: started a record label, parlayed a possible Vitaminwater endorsement into an investment worth $100 million, and, relevant to the matter at hand, wrote several books, including a pair of self-improvement books: Formula 50: A 6-Week Workout and Nutrition Plan That Will Transform Your Life and The 50th Law. Zach Baron recently recruited 50 Cent to be his life coach for a GQ piece and it ends up going way better than he expected.

50 Cent thinks for a minute. Actually, he says, my girlfriend -- the one I just mentioned, the one I'd just moved in with? 50 Cent would like her to make a vision board, too. Then we're going to compare. "Take things out of your folder and things out of her folder to create a folder that has everything," he says. "Now the vision board is no longer your personal vision board for yourself: It's a joint board." That joint board will represent what we have in common. It will be a monument to our love.

But there will be some leftover unmatched photos, too, in each of our folders. And that's what the joint board is really for -- what it's designed to reveal. "The things that end up on your vision board that aren't in hers are the things that she has to accept," 50 Cent says. "And the things that she has that you don't are the things that you have to make a compromise with." In a healthy relationship, he explains, your differences are really what need talking about. This is how you go about making that conversation happen.

This article just keeps getting better the more you read it. (via @ystrickler)

Hachette job: Amazon UnprimeMay 23 2014

Internet mega-retailer Amazon is trying, mob-style, to pressure Hachette for better terms on ebooks by disappearing the publisher's book from amazon.com.

The retailer began refusing orders late Thursday for coming Hachette books, including J.K. Rowling's new novel. The paperback edition of Brad Stone's "The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon" -- a book Amazon disliked so much it denounced it -- is suddenly listed as "unavailable."

In some cases, even the pages promoting the books have disappeared. Anne Rivers Siddons's new novel, "The Girls of August," coming in July, no longer has a page for the physical book or even the Kindle edition. Only the audio edition is still being sold (for more than $60). Otherwise it is as if it did not exist.

No question about it: this sucks on Amazon's part and demonstrates the degree to which the company's top priority isn't customer service. Better customer service in this case would be to offer these books for sale. I noticed another less nefarious instance of this the other day: because Amazon is offering a streaming version of The Lego Movie (which presumably has a high profit margin), they are not currently taking pre-orders of the The Lego Movie Blu-ray (out on June 17), even though Barnes and Noble has it for pre-order and Amazon has no problem offering for pre-order a Blu-ray of The Nutty Professor that isn't out until September. I guess it makes sense to drive sales to the high-margin streaming offering but not letting people pre-order what is likely to be a very popular Blu-ray is baffling.

Anyway, if this trend continues, I'd look for Amazon to start more aggressively promoting the Kindle editions of books, to the point of manipulating available inventory as with Hachette. That is, if they're not doing it already.

Great Jaws book coverMay 22 2014

Jaws Cover

No idea if this is for sale anywhere (I couldn't find it) or if it's just a design exercise, but this cover for Peter Benchley's Jaws designed by Tom Lenartowicz is inspired. (via ★interesting)

How to parent like a mad scientistMay 21 2014

Parentology

This may be the strangest parenting book I've ever come across: Parentology by Dalton Conley, a sociologist at NYU. In an interview with Freakonomics, Conley explains what makes his parenting approach so unconventional:

As an immigrant society with no common culture, we Americans have always made things up as we go -- be it baseball, jazz or the Internet. Parenting is no different, whether we admit it or not. If we want to keep producing innovative kids who can succeed in today's global economy, we should be constantly experimenting on them.

For example, I read the latest research on allergies and T-cell response and then intentionally exposed my kids to raw sewage (in small doses, of course) to build up their immune systems. I bribed them to do math thanks to an experiment involving Mexican villagers that demonstrated the effectiveness of monetary incentives for schooling outcomes. I perused a classic study suggesting that confidence-boosting placebos improved kids' actual cognitive development, fed my kids vitamins before an exam, told them that they were amphetamines -- and watched their scores soar.

And in this excerpt of the book from Salon, Conley explains why he and his wife named their kids E and Yo.

Unlike having fewer kids, birthing them in the Northern Hemisphere during October of a year when not many others are having kids, avoiding the mercury in fish (while still getting enough omega-3 and omega-9 fatty acids), and being rich, well-educated, and handsome to boot, there is one thing you can bequeath your kids that is entirely within your control. I'm talking about selecting their names. We may not control what race or gender we bequeath our offspring (unless, of course, we are utilizing a sperm bank in the Empire State Building for IVF), but we do have say over their names. If you play it safe with Bill or Lisa, it probably means your kids will be marginally more likely to avoid risk, too. If you're like us and name them E or Yo, they are likely to grow up into weirdoes like their parents-or at least not work in middle management.

Early studies on names claimed that folks with strange ones were overrepresented in prisons and mental hospitals. But the more recent (and in my professional opinion, better) research actually comes to the opposite conclusion: Having a weird name makes you more likely to have impulse control since you get lots of practice biting your tongue when bigger, stronger, older kids make fun of you in the schoolyard. This study makes me happy, given the growing scientific literature around the extreme importance of impulse control and its close cousin, delayed gratification. These two, some argue, are even more important than raw IQ in predicting socioeconomic success, marital stability, and even staying out of prison.

Maker DadMay 20 2014

Mark Frauenfelder of Boing Boing and Make Magazine recently published Maker Dad, a book full of father-daughter DIY projects. I haven't dug too far into my copy yet, but the projects seem appropriate for kids and parents of all genders.

As the editor in chief of MAKE magazine, Mark Frauenfelder has spent years combing through DIY books, but he's never been able to find one with geeky projects he can share with his two daughters. Maker Dad is the first DIY book to use cutting-edge (and affordable) technology in appealing projects for fathers and daughters to do together. These crafts and gadgets are both rewarding to make and delightful to play with. What's more, Maker Dad teaches girls lifelong skills-like computer programming, musicality, and how to use basic hand tools-as well as how to be creative problem solvers.

Projects run the gamut from "Easy and Quick" to "Challenging" and include silkscreening tshirts, a lunch box guitar, custom rubber stamps, and programming in Scratch.

The age of the jellyfishMay 16 2014

In Stung! On Jellyfish Blooms and the Future of the Ocean, Lisa-ann Gershwin argues that the jellyfish are coming on, and they're coming on strong.

If I offered evidence that jellyfish are displacing penguins in Antarctica -- not someday, but now, today -- what would you think? If I suggested that jellyfish could crash the world's fisheries, outcompete the tuna and swordfish, and starve the whales to extinction, would you believe me?

This New York Review of Books review of Stung! by Tim Flannery is well worth a read, with fascinating bits throughout.

The question of jellyfish death is vexing. If jellyfish fall on hard times, they can simply "de-grow." That is, they reduce in size, but their bodies remain in proportion. That's a very different outcome from what is seen in starving fish, or people. And when food becomes available again, jellyfish simply recommence growing. Some individual jellyfish live for a decade. But the polyp stage survives pretty much indefinitely by cloning. One polyp colony started in 1935 and studied ever since is still alive and well in a laboratory in Virginia.

One kind of jellyfish, which might be termed the zombie jelly, is quite literally immortal. When Turritopsis dohrnii "dies" it begins to disintegrate, which is pretty much what you expect from a corpse. But then something strange happens. A number of cells escape the rotting body. These cells somehow find each other, and reaggregate to form a polyp. All of this happens within five days of the jellyfish's "death," and weirdly, it's the norm for the species. Well may we ask of this astonishing creature, "Sting, where is thy death?"

(via phil gyford)

Console WarsMay 15 2014

From Grantland, an excerpt from Console Wars, a new book by Blake J. Harris about the video game console battles of the 1990s between Nintendo and Sega. The excerpt is about the rise of Nintendo.

And just like that, the North American videogame industry ground to a halt. Hardware companies (like Atari) went bankrupt, software companies (like Sega) were sold for pennies on the dollar, and retailers (like Sears) vowed never to go into the business again. Meanwhile, Nintendo quietly glided through the bloody waters on a gorilla-shaped raft. The continuing cash flow from Donkey Kong enabled Arakawa, Stone, Judy, and Lincoln to dream of a new world order, one where NOA miraculously resurrected the industry and Nintendo reigned supreme. Not now, perhaps, but one day soon.

Harris is also working on a documentary based on the book. And Sony is making a "feature-film" adaptation of the book as well. Cool!

Update: Medium has another excerpt from the book.

Maybe this Sonic could sell in Japan, but in America he belonged inside a nightmare.

Kalinske got off the phone with Nakayama and took the fax to Madeline Schroeder's office. "I have good news and I have scary news." He handed her the artwork. "What do you think?"

She looked it over. "I think we'll be the first videogame company whose core demographic is goths."

"Nakayama loves it."

"Of course he does," she said. "It's so weirdly Japanese. I'm surprised the girlfriend's boobs aren't hanging out of a schoolgirl outfit."

Despite his sour mood, Kalinske laughed. "Her name is Madonna."

Schroeder put the drawing on the desk. After a long silent inspection they both spoke at the same time, saying the exact same thing: "Can you fix it?"

My daddy was the Zodiac KillerMay 13 2014

This is odd: Gary Stewart has written a book about the search for his biological father and through the process discovered his father is the still-uncaught Zodiac Killer. The book's description promises new "forensic evidence".

An explosive and historic book of true crime and an emotionally powerful and revelatory memoir of a man whose ten-year search for his biological father leads to a chilling discovery: His father is one of the most notorious-and still at large-serial killers in America.

Soon after his birth mother contacted him for the first time at the age of thirty-nine, adoptee Gary L. Stewart decided to search for his biological father. It was a quest that would lead him to a horrifying truth and force him to reconsider everything he thought he knew about himself and his world.

The book is out today and was kept secret until yesterday. This sounds about as plausible as Jesus's wife, but who knows?

Think Like a FreakMay 09 2014

Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, the co-authors of the immensely popular Freakonomics, are back with their third book in the series: Think Like a Freak. In it, rather than discussing what they think, they talk about how they think.

Levitt and Dubner offer a blueprint for an entirely new way to solve problems, whether your interest lies in minor lifehacks or major global reforms. As always, no topic is off-limits. They range from business to philanthropy to sports to politics, all with the goal of retraining your brain. Along the way, you'll learn the secrets of a Japanese hot-dog-eating champion, the reason an Australian doctor swallowed a batch of dangerous bacteria, and why Nigerian e-mail scammers make a point of saying they're from Nigeria.

The book is out on May 12, but of course you can preorder, etc.

Update: Excerpt in the WSJ.

Lying to RuthMay 07 2014

Peter Bach, a cancer doctor, writes about losing his wife to cancer.

The streetlights in Buenos Aires are considerably dimmer than they are in New York, one of the many things I learned during my family's six-month stay in Argentina. The front windshield of the rental car, aged and covered in the city's grime, further obscured what little light came through. When we stopped at the first red light after leaving the hospital, I broke two of my most important marital promises. I started acting like my wife's doctor, and I lied to her.

I had just taken the PET scan, the diagnostic X-ray test, out of its manila envelope. Raising the films up even to the low light overhead was enough for me to see what was happening inside her body. But when we drove on, I said, "I can't tell; I can't get my orientation. We have to wait to hear from your oncologist back home." I'm a lung doctor, not an expert in these films, I feigned. But I had seen in an instant that the cancer had spread.

The last sentence here really got to me:

Our life together was gone, and carrying on without her was exactly that, without her. I was reminded of our friend Liz's insight after she lost her husband to melanoma. She told me she had plenty of people to do things with, but nobody to do nothing with.

Bach's discussion of treatment options reminded me of Siddhartha Mukherjee's The Emperor of All Maladies, which is one of my favorite books of recent years. I was also reminded of how doctors die.

The ten best sentencesMay 06 2014

From the editors of The American Scholar, the ten best sentences. Presumably in all of literature? Here's one of them, from James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man:

I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.

Why are these the ten best sentences?

The economics of The SimpsonsMay 02 2014

Homer Economicus is a new book which uses the fictional world of Springfield on The Simpsons to explain the basic concepts of economics.

Since The Simpsons centers on the daily lives of the Simpson family and its colorful neighbors, three opening chapters focus on individual behavior and decision-making, introducing readers to the economic way of thinking about the world. Part II guides readers through six chapters on money, markets, and government. A third and final section discusses timely topics in applied microeconomics, including immigration, gambling, and health care as seen in The Simpsons. Reinforcing the nuts and bolts laid out in any principles text in an entertaining and culturally relevant way, this book is an excellent teaching resource that will also be at home on the bookshelf of an avid reader of pop economics.

(via mr)

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