kottke.org posts about books
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?
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
Atul Gawande's best selling Being Mortal is getting the Frontline treatment on PBS this January. Here's the trailer:
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
Rose Callahan photographs gentlemen with "exceptional personal style" for her blog, The Dandy Portraits.
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)
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 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)
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.
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.
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)
From the author of the bestselling children's book Go the Fuck to Sleep comes a sequel of sorts: You Have to Fucking Eat.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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)
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.
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."
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.
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:
The maps are the work of designer Michael Tyznik and are available as prints: Westeros and The Known World.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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 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.
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.
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.
An extensive collection of book covers featuring books. Confused? Maybe an example will help:
I love these book posters by Gunter Rambow from the 1970s, especially this one:
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The book cover for Naive Set Theory by Paul Halmos is so so good:
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.
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.
Craig 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 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.
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)
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.
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.
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?"
"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?"
"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.
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).
From a book by Hartmut Esslinger, a collection of photographs of prototypes his company Frog Design worked on for Apple Computer.
The portables and phones are especially interesting.
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.
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)
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.
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)
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.
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.
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)
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?"
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
Photographer David Liittschwager captured the little ecosystem of life contained in a splash of seawater magnified 25 times:
It's the microscopic equivalent of the Hubble Deep Field image and worth seeing larger. Here's part of the larger image:
Liittschwager took the photo for National Geographic, but it also might be contained in his book, A World in One Cubic Foot, in which he took photos in locations all over the world of the life that passed through 1 cubic foot of space in 24 hours.
For A World in One Cubic Foot, esteemed nature photographer David Liittschwager took a bright green metal cube-measuring precisely one cubic foot-and set it in various ecosystems around the world, from Costa Rica to Central Park. Working with local scientists, he measured what moved through that small space in a period of twenty-four hours. He then photographed the cube's setting and the plant, animal, and insect life inside it -- anything visible to the naked eye. The result is a stunning portrait of the amazing diversity that can be found in ecosystems around the globe.
Prints of this image are available at Art.com in sizes up to 64"x48". (via colossal)
I really liked this bit from Rolling Stone's interview with Game of Thrones writer George R.R. Martin:
Ruling is hard. This was maybe my answer to Tolkien, whom, as much as I admire him, I do quibble with. Lord of the Rings had a very medieval philosophy: that if the king was a good man, the land would prosper. We look at real history and it's not that simple. Tolkien can say that Aragorn became king and reigned for a hundred years, and he was wise and good. But Tolkien doesn't ask the question: What was Aragorn's tax policy? Did he maintain a standing army? What did he do in times of flood and famine? And what about all these orcs? By the end of the war, Sauron is gone but all of the orcs aren't gone -- they're in the mountains. Did Aragorn pursue a policy of systematic genocide and kill them? Even the little baby orcs, in their little orc cradles?
Last week, I noted on Twitter that a 700-page academic book by a French economist topped the best sellers list on Amazon. Well, Thomas Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century is still #1 on Amazon, even though the hardcover is currently out of stock. If you're curious about this anti-Kardashian moment in our culture but don't want to dive in fully, you can read the book's introduction on Harvard University Press's site.
The distribution of wealth is one of today's most widely discussed and controversial issues. But what do we really know about its evolution over the long term? Do the dynamics of private capital accumulation inevitably lead to the concentration of wealth in ever fewer hands, as Karl Marx believed in the nineteenth century? Or do the balancing forces of growth, competition, and technological progress lead in later stages of development to reduced inequality and greater harmony among the classes, as Simon Kuznets thought in the twentieth century? What do we really know about how wealth and income have evolved since the eighteenth century, and what lessons can we derive from that knowledge for the century now under way?
Or you can try Vox's short guide to Capital or HBR's Capital in a Lot Less than 696 Pages.
It is massive (696 pages) and massively ambitious (the title is a very conscious echo of Karl Marx's Das Kapital). It came out in France last year to great acclaim, which meant that those in the English-speaking world who pay attention to such matters knew that something big was coming. Over the past few weeks it has become one of those things that everybody's talking about just because everybody's talking about it. That, and it really is important.
Is it worth reading? Martin Wolf of the Financial Times called it "enthralling"; a couple people I know have described it as "a slog." I'd liken it to a big river -- muddy and occasionally meandering, but with a powerful current that keeps pulling you along, plus lots of interesting sights along the way. There are endless numbers and (ugly but generally understandable) charts, but also frequent references to the novels of Balzac and Austen, and even a brief analysis of Disney's The Aristocats. Regular people can read this thing; it's just a matter of the time commitment. You should definitely buy it, if your place on the income distribution allows it. It looks good on a bookshelf, plus every copy sold makes Piketty wealthier, allowing us to discover whether this alters his views about inequality.
In his cookbook, Tartine Bread, Chad Robertson lays out, over 38 pages, the recipe for what might be the best bread in the world. The first time through, the recipe takes two weeks to make.
To Chad, bread is the foundation of a meal, the center of daily life, and each loaf tells the story of the baker who shaped it. He developed his unique bread over two decades of apprenticeship with the finest artisan bakers in France and the United States, as well as experimentation in his own ovens.
A streamlined version of the recipe is available from the NY Times. (via smithsonian)
Letters of Note, which I've featured on kottke.org many times, is coming out with a book, which collects some of the site's best and most memorable letters.
This spectacular collection of more than 125 letters offers a never-before-seen glimpse of the events and people of history -- the brightest and best, the most notorious, and the endearingly everyday. Entries include a transcript of the letter; a short contextual introduction; and, in 100 cases, a captivating facsimile of the letter itself.
A UK version has been available since last year and the US version will be out on May 6.
Nathan Pyle has written and illustrated a book about the unwritten rules for how to behave on the streets of NYC. It's called NYC Basic Tips and Etiquette (only $6!).
In NYC Basic Tips and Etiquette, Pyle reveals the secrets and unwritten rules for living in and visiting New York including the answers to such burning questions as, how do I hail a cab? What is a bodega? Which way is Uptown? Why are there so many doors in the sidewalk? How do I walk on an escalator? Do we need be touching right now? Where should I inhale or exhale while passing sidewalk garbage? How long should I honk my horn? If New York were a game show, how would I win? What happens when I stand in the bike lane? Who should get the empty subway seats? How do I stay safe during a trash tornado?
In support of the book, Pyle animated a few of the tips and put them on Imgur. Also, the Apple ebook contains the animated versions of the illustrations. You fancy!
The very first Kickstarter campaign I ever backed was Rachel Sussman's project to photograph the oldest living organisms in the world.
I'm researching, working with biologists, and traveling all over the world to find and photograph continuously living organisms that are 2,000 years old and older. I started the project 5 years ago, and have since photographed nearly 25 different organisms, ranging from the Bristlecone Pine and Giant Sequoias that you've surely heard of, to some truly unusual and unique desert shrubs, bacteria, a predatory fungus, and a clonal colony of Aspen trees that's male and, in theory, immortal.
Her goal was to compile the photographs into a book. Almost four years later, the book is out. Looks like it was worth the wait. The trailer does a nice job explaining what the book is all about:
Egg Apr 13 2014
New from Michael Ruhlman: a cookbook about the mighty egg, "A Culinary Exploration of the World's Most Versatile Ingredient".
For culinary visionary Michael Ruhlman, the question is not whether the chicken or the egg came first, it's how anything could be accomplished in the kitchen without the magic of the common egg. He starts with perfect poached and scrambled eggs and builds up to brioche and Italian meringue. Along the way readers learn to make their own mayonnaise, pasta, custards, quiches, cakes, and other preparations that rely fundamentally on the hidden powers of the egg.
Ruhlman shares a bit about the book with NPR:
But often, Ruhlman argues, we don't treat our eggs very well. Take scrambled eggs. "It's one of the most overcooked dishes in America," he says. "We kill our eggs with heat."
Instead, we need, in most instances, to give the egg gentle heat. "When you cook them very slowly over very gentle heat, the curds form. And as you sit, the rest of the egg sort of warms but doesn't fully cook and becomes a sauce for the curds. So it should be a creamy and delicious and delicate preparation."
The Vatican is beginning the process of digitizing its extensive library of books and manuscripts, previously only available to a select few scholars and historians. Their plan calls for an initial 3000 manuscripts to be scanned, with the rest of the 82,000 other documents to hopefully follow.
That's 41 million pages spanning nearly 2,000 years of church history that will soon be clickable, zoomable, and presumably, printable. When all is said and done, you'll be able to read the Psalms handwritten across 13th-century vellum on your iPhone -- so long as you speak ancient Greek.
Mason Currey's book about the daily routines of scientists, painters, writers, and other creative people looks interesting. Sarah Green collected a list of common practices among some of the book's "healthier geniuses".
A workspace with minimal distractions. Jane Austen asked that a certain squeaky hinge never be oiled, so that she always had a warning when someone was approaching the room where she wrote. William Faulkner, lacking a lock on his study door, just detached the doorknob and brought it into the room with him -- something of which today's cubicle worker can only dream. Mark Twain's family knew better than to breach his study door -- if they needed him, they'd blow a horn to draw him out. Graham Greene went even further, renting a secret office; only his wife knew the address or telephone number. Distracted more by the view out his window than interruptions, if N.C. Wyeth was having trouble focusing, he'd tape a piece of cardboard to his glasses as a sort of blinder.
I love reading about people's workspaces; here's an old post about George Bernard Shaw's rotating writing room. (via myself apparently?)
Michael Lewis's new book about high-frequency trading dropped on Monday with less than 24 hours notice and the media is scrambling to catch up. There's plenty of love for Lewis and his books out there, but Tyler Cowen has been linking to some critiques. For Bloomberg, Matt Levine writes:
In my alternative Michael Lewis story, the smart young whippersnappers build high-frequency trading firms that undercut big banks' gut-instinct-driven market making with tighter spreads and cheaper trading costs. Big HFTs like Knight/Getco and Virtu trade vast volumes of stock while still taking in much less money than the traditional market makers: $688 million and $623 million in 2013 market-making revenue, respectively, for Knight and Virtu, versus $2.6 billion in equities revenue for Goldman Sachs and $4.8 billion for J.P. Morgan. Even RBC made 594 million Canadian dollars trading equities last year. The high-frequency traders make money more consistently than the old-school traders, but they also make less of it.
And here's Matthew Philips on What Michael Lewis Gets Wrong About High-Frequency Trading:
1. HFT doesn't prey on small mom-and-pop investors. In his first two TV appearances, Lewis stuck to a simple pitch: Speed traders have rigged the stock market, and the biggest losers are average, middle-class retail investors-exactly the kind of people who watch 60 Minutes and the Today show. It's "the guy sitting at his ETrade account," Lewis told Matt Lauer. The way Lewis sees it, speed traders prey on retail investors by "trading against people who don't know the market."
The idea that retail investors are losing out to sophisticated speed traders is an old claim in the debate over HFT, and it's pretty much been discredited. Speed traders aren't competing against the ETrade guy, they're competing with each other to fill the ETrade guy's order.
And Felix Salmon:
This vagueness about time is one of the weaknesses of the book: it's hard to keep track of time, and a lot of it seems to be an exposé not of high-frequency trading as it exists today, but rather of high-frequency trading as it existed during its brief heyday circa 2008. Lewis takes pains to tell us what happened to the number of trades per day between 2006 and 2009, for instance, but doesn't feel the need to mention what has happened since then. (It is falling, quite dramatically.) The scale of the HFT problem - and the amount of money being made by the HFT industry - is in sharp decline: there was big money to be made once upon a time, but nowadays it's not really there anymore. Because that fact doesn't fit Lewis's narrative, however, I doubt I'm going to find it anywhere in his book.
Michael Lewis (The Big Short, Liar's Poker) is back with another book about the financial markets: Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt. It's the story of high-frequency trading and the traders who are fighting against it.
Flash Boys is about a small group of Wall Street guys who figure out that the U.S. stock market has been rigged for the benefit of insiders and that, post-financial crisis, the markets have become not more free but less, and more controlled by the big Wall Street banks. Working at different firms, they come to this realization separately; but after they discover one another, the flash boys band together and set out to reform the financial markets. This they do by creating an exchange in which high-frequency trading-source of the most intractable problems-will have no advantage whatsoever.
The characters in Flash Boys are fabulous, each completely different from what you think of when you think "Wall Street guy." Several have walked away from jobs in the financial sector that paid them millions of dollars a year. From their new vantage point they investigate the big banks, the world's stock exchanges, and high-frequency trading firms as they have never been investigated, and expose the many strange new ways that Wall Street generates profits.
From a Bloomberg article about the book:
His latest target, high-frequency trading, comprises a diverse set of software-driven strategies that have spread from U.S. equity markets to most developed countries as computer power grew and regulators tried to break the grip of centralized exchanges. While the tactics vary, they usually employ super-fast computers to post and cancel orders at rates measured in thousandths or even millionths of a second to capture price discrepancies on more than 50 public and private venues that make up the American equities market.
I don't know too much about it but from what I've read, high-frequency trading seems to involve huge Wall Street banks using the Office Space/Richard-Pryor-in-Superman-III trick of shaving fractions of a penny off of trillions of trades every year, except that it's perfectly legal. The NY Times has an excerpt of the book to further whet your appetite.
Looking forward to this one: a cocktail recipe book from Death & Co, an East Village cocktail joint.
Featuring hundreds of recipes for signature Death & Co creations as well as classic drink formulas,Death & Co is not only a comprehensive collection of the bar's best, but also a complete cocktail education. With chapters on the theory and philosophy of drink-making; a complete guide to the spirits, tools, and other ingredients needed to make a great bar; and specs for nearly 500 iconic drinks, Death & Co is destined to become the go-to reference on craft cocktails.
Kate Ascher, author of the great The Works: Anatomy of a City, has a new book out about transportation. The Way to Go explores how global transportation works, from how car engines work to the ocean routes travelled by huge cargo ships. Slate has an excerpt.
Focusing on the machines that underpin our lives, Ascher's The Way to Go also introduces the systems that keep those machines in business -- the emergency communication networks that connect ships at sea, the automated tolling mechanisms that maintain the flow of highway traffic, the air control network that keeps planes from colliding in the sky. Equally fascinating are the technologies behind these complex systems: baggage tag readers that make sure people's bags go where they need to; automated streetlights that adjust their timing based on traffic flow; GPS devices that pinpoint where we are on earth at any second. Together these technologies move more people farther, faster, and more cheaply than at any other time in history.
Ordered. The kids are going to love this one...it's like a more grown-up version of Richard Scarry's Cars and Trucks and Things That Go.
Ed Catmull has written a book about Pixar's creative process: Creativity, Inc.
Creativity, Inc. is a book for managers who want to lead their employees to new heights, a manual for anyone who strives for originality, and the first-ever, all-access trip into the nerve center of Pixar Animation -- into the meetings, postmortems, and "Braintrust" sessions where some of the most successful films in history are made. It is, at heart, a book about how to build a creative culture -- but it is also, as Pixar co-founder and president Ed Catmull writes, "an expression of the ideas that I believe make the best in us possible."
For nearly twenty years, Pixar has dominated the world of animation, producing such beloved films as the Toy Story trilogy, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Up, and WALL-E, which have gone on to set box-office records and garner thirty Academy Awards. The joyousness of the storytelling, the inventive plots, the emotional authenticity: In some ways, Pixar movies are an object lesson in what creativity really is. Here, in this book, Catmull reveals the ideals and techniques that have made Pixar so widely admired -- and so profitable.
Catmull was a founder of Pixar and while he never got the press Jobs and Lasseter did, he was instrumental in the company's success and is currently president of both Disney and Pixar's animation studios. Fast Company has an excerpt of the book.
Candor could not be more crucial to our creative process. Why? Because early on, all of our movies suck. That's a blunt assessment, I know, but I choose that phrasing because saying it in a softer way fails to convey how bad the first versions really are. I'm not trying to be modest or self-effacing. Pixar films are not good at first, and our job is to make them so -- to go, as I say, "from suck to not-suck."
Think about how easy it would be for a movie about talking toys to feel derivative, sappy, or overtly merchandise driven. Think about how off-putting a movie about rats preparing food could be, or how risky it must've seemed to start WALL-E with 39 dialogue-free minutes. We dare to attempt these stories, but we don't get them right on the first pass. This is as it should be. Creativity has to start somewhere, and we are true believers in the power of bracing, candid feedback and the iterative process -- reworking, reworking, and reworking again, until a flawed story finds its through line or a hollow character finds its soul.
National Geographic photographer Gerd Ludwig has visited Chernobyl nine times over the past twenty years. The Long Shadow of Chernobyl is a forthcoming book collecting Ludwig's photos, which includes an essay by Mikhail Gorbachev. The publication of the book is being funded via Kickstarter. There is also an iOS app.
Shane Parrish's excerpt and exploration of Paul Tough's How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character made me want to stop everything and read the book all the way through.
"Tell me about your game," Spiegel said. Sebastian flopped into the chair and handed her his notepad, where he'd recorded all the moves for both players in the game.
Sebastian explained that the other guy was simply better. "He had good skills," he said. "Good strategies."
And this is the point where many of us would simply say something along the lines of "did you do your best?," in which case the likely response is "Yes." Everyone is at least let off the hook. The teacher for ensuring students try their best, the student for having lost to someone better. Spiegel did not take this approach.
You may remember Tough's 2011 piece on grit in the NY Times Magazine.
The most critical missing piece, Randolph explained as we sat in his office last fall, is character -- those essential traits of mind and habit that were drilled into him at boarding school in England and that also have deep roots in American history. "Whether it's the pioneer in the Conestoga wagon or someone coming here in the 1920s from southern Italy, there was this idea in America that if you worked hard and you showed real grit, that you could be successful," he said. "Strangely, we've now forgotten that. People who have an easy time of things, who get 800s on their SAT's, I worry that those people get feedback that everything they're doing is great. And I think as a result, we are actually setting them up for long-term failure. When that person suddenly has to face up to a difficult moment, then I think they're screwed, to be honest. I don't think they've grown the capacities to be able to handle that."
Fantastic...Randall Munroe is turning his What If? web series into a book. Munroe explains:
As I've sifted through the letters submitted to What If every week, I've occasionally set aside particularly neat questions that I wanted to spend a little more time on. This book features my answers to those questions, along with revised and updated versions of some of my favorite articles from the site. (I'm also including my personal list of the weirdest questions people have submitted.)
Update: What If? the book is now out. Phil Plait has a rave review.
Look, I answer questions for a living, too, and Randall is really, really good at this. He finds weird little scientific ways to answer the questions, but it's his extrapolations that kill me. I laughed a lot reading this book. Even better: I learned stuff reading this book. And you will too.
When Owen Suskind was three, a switch flipped within him and he went from a typical chatty rambunctious three-year-old to autistic.
I had just started a job as The Wall Street Journal's national affairs reporter. My wife, Cornelia, a former journalist, was home with him -- a new story every day, a new horror. He could barely use a sippy cup, though he'd long ago graduated to a big-boy cup. He wove about like someone walking with his eyes shut. "It doesn't make sense," I'd say at night. "You don't grow backward." Had he been injured somehow when he was out of our sight, banged his head, swallowed something poisonous? It was like searching for clues to a kidnapping.
After visits to several doctors, we first heard the word "autism." Later, it would be fine-tuned to "regressive autism," now affecting roughly a third of children with the disorder. Unlike the kids born with it, this group seems typical until somewhere between 18 and 36 months -- then they vanish. Some never get their speech back. Families stop watching those early videos, their child waving to the camera. Too painful. That child's gone.
But a tenuous connection remained between Owen and his pre-autistic self: Disney movies. And through them, Owen slowly learns how to communicate with the outside world again.
So we join him upstairs, all of us, on a cold and rainy Saturday afternoon in November 1994. Owen is already on the bed, oblivious to our arrival, murmuring gibberish.... "Juicervose, juicervose." It is something we've been hearing for the past few weeks. Cornelia thinks maybe he wants more juice; but no, he refuses the sippy cup. "The Little Mermaid" is playing as we settle in, propping up pillows. We've all seen it at least a dozen times, but it's at one of the best parts: where Ursula the sea witch, an acerbic diva, sings her song of villainy, "Poor Unfortunate Souls," to the selfish mermaid, Ariel, setting up the part in which Ursula will turn Ariel into a human, allowing her to seek out the handsome prince, in exchange for her voice.
When the song is over, Owen lifts the remote. Hits rewind.
"Come on, Owen, just let it play!" Walt moans. But Owen goes back just 20 seconds or so, to the song's next-to-last stanza, with Ursula shouting:
Go ahead -- make your choice!
I'm a very busy woman, and I haven't got all day.
It won't cost much, just your voice!
He does it again. Stop. Rewind. Play. And one more time. On the fourth pass, Cornelia whispers, "It's not 'juice.' " I barely hear her. "What?" "It's not 'juice.' It's 'just' ... 'just your voice'!"
I grab Owen by the shoulders. "Just your voice! Is that what you're saying?!"
He looks right at me, our first real eye contact in a year. "Juicervose! Juicervose! Juicervose!"
Walt starts to shout, "Owen's talking again!" A mermaid lost her voice in a moment of transformation. So did this silent boy. "Juicervose! Juicervose! Juicervose!" Owen keeps saying it, watching us shout and cheer. And then we're up, all of us, bouncing on the bed. Owen, too, singing it over and over -- "Juicervose!" -- as Cornelia, tears beginning to fall, whispers softly, "Thank God, he's in there."
This is the best thing I've read in a month, so so heartbreaking and amazing. Just pre-ordered the book...can't wait to read the full version.
Been reading Crabtree with the kids lately and they really like it. Reminds me of Richard Scarry's books a bit...lots of different and often humorous objects to discover on each page.
Alfred Crabtree has lost his false teeth. But don't worry, he'll find them if he can just get his things organized! Alfred's world is cluttered with surprising objects. Some are very uncommon, and some are probably not where they ought to be. There are a lot of pencils and small yapping dogs.
And who knew McSweeney's made children's books?
The folks behind Cabin Porn are making a book with photography by Noah Kalina. Outstanding.
Raffi Khatchadourian's long piece on the construction of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) is at once fascinating (for science reasons) and depressing (for political/bureaucratic reasons). Fusion reactors hold incredible promise:
But if it is truly possible to bottle up a star, and to do so economically, the technology could solve the world's energy problems for the next thirty million years, and help save the planet from environmental catastrophe. Hydrogen, a primordial element, is the most abundant atom in the universe, a potential fuel that poses little risk of scarcity. Eventually, physicists hope, commercial reactors modelled on iter will be built, too-generating terawatts of power with no carbon, virtually no pollution, and scant radioactive waste. The reactor would run on no more than seawater and lithium. It would never melt down. It would realize a yearning, as old as the story of Prometheus, to bring the light of the heavens to Earth, and bend it to humanity's will. iter, in Latin, means "the way."
But ITER is a collaborative effort between 35 different countries, which means the project is political, slow, and expensive.
For the machine's creators, this process-sparking and controlling a self-sustaining synthetic star-will be the culmination of decades of preparation, billions of dollars' worth of investment, and immeasurable ingenuity, misdirection, recalibration, infighting, heartache, and ridicule. Few engineering feats can compare, in scale, in technical complexity, in ambition or hubris. Even the iter organization, a makeshift scientific United Nations, assembled eight years ago to construct the machine, is unprecedented. Thirty-five countries, representing more than half the world's population, are invested in the project, which is so complex to finance that it requires its own currency: the iter Unit of Account.
No one knows iter's true cost, which may be incalculable, but estimates have been rising steadily, and a conservative figure rests at twenty billion dollars -- a sum that makes iter the most expensive scientific instrument on Earth.
I wonder what the project would look like if, say, Google or Apple were to take the reins instead. In that context, it's only $20 billion to build a tiny Sun on the Earth. Facebook just paid $19 billion for WhatsApp, Apple has a whopping $158.8 billion in cash, and Google & Microsoft both have more than $50 billion in cash. Google in particular, which is making a self-driving car and has been buying up robots by the company-full recently, might want their own tiny star.
But back to reality, the circumstances of ITER's international construction consortium reminded me of the building of The Machine in Carl Sagan's Contact. In the book, the countries of the world work together to make a machine of unknown function from plans beamed to them from an alien intelligence, which results in the development of several new lucrative life-enhancing technologies and generally unites humanity. In Sagan's view, that's the power of science. Hopefully the ITER can work through its difficulties to achieve something similar.
Great book cover design alert:
The book is the forthcoming Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle. Cover art direction by Rodrigo Corral, designed by Timothy Goodman. (via @robinsloan)
Pop Chart Lab has produced a print of grammatical diagrams of the opening lines of notable novels. Here's Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea:
There are also sentences from DFW, Plath, and Austen. Prints start at $29.
Love this concept cover for Fahrenheit 451 by designer Elizabeth Perez...the 1 is a match and the spine is striking paper for lighting it.
Fahrenheit 451 is a novel about a dystopian future where books are outlawed and firemen burn any house that contains them. The story is about suppressing ideas, and about how television destroys interest in reading literature.
I wanted to spread the book-burning message to the book itself. The book's spine is screen-printed with a matchbook striking paper surface, so the book itself can be burned.
About 250 million years ago, Earth suffered its fifth (and worst) mass extinction event. Nearly seventy percent of land species disappeared. And they got off easy compared to marine species. Are we headed for another mass extinction on Earth? I'm not ready to break that news. But something unusual is definitely going on and extinction rates seem to be speeding up. Here's an interesting chat with Elizabeth Kolbert, author of The Sixth Extinction.
The worst mass extinction of all time came about 250 million years ago [the Permian-Triassic extinction event]. There's a pretty good consensus there that this was caused by a huge volcanic event that went on for a long time and released a lot of carbon-dioxide into the atmosphere. That is pretty ominous considering that we are releasing a lot of CO2 into the atmosphere and people increasingly are drawing parallels between the two events.
Rebecca Mead's new book comes out today, My Life in Middlemarch. The New Yorker has an excerpt adapted from the book about George Eliot's biggest fan, Alexander Main.
My copy of "Wise, Witty, and Tender Sayings," which I bought a few years ago from a secondhand bookseller, is the tenth edition, from 1896, which gives Main an enviably long time on the back-list. When I thumb through its pages of quotations, some of them extending for more than a page, printed in a font size that has me reaching for reading glasses, I am overcome by a dreadful sense of depletion. I can think of no surer way to be put off the work of George Eliot than by trying to read the "Wise, Witty, and Tender Sayings." On any given page is an out-of-context pronouncement -- "iteration, like friction, is likely to generate heat instead of progress" -- or a phrase so recondite that it requires several readings before it can be parsed. Main's book is the nineteenth-century equivalent of the refrigerator magnet.
Gothamist uncovered a NYC guide book from the 1920s called Valentine's City of New York: A Guide Book. Some of the tips include:
Don't take the recommendation of strangers regarding hotels... Don't get too friendly with plausible strangers.
Don't gape at women smoking cigarettes in restaurants. They are harmless and respectable. They are also "smart."
Don't forget to tip. Tip early and tip often.
David Carr writes about the surprising success of Kevin Kelly's Cool Tools book, which is based on his long-running website of the same name.
But last year, he had what sounded to me like a dumb idea. Mr. Kelly edits and owns Cool Tools, a website that writes about neat stuff and makes small money off referral revenue from Amazon when people proceed to buy some of those things. He decided to edit the thousands of reviews that had accrued over the last 10 years into a self-published print catalog -- also called "Cool Tools" -- which he would then sell for $39.99.
So, to review, his idea was to manufacture a floppy 472-page catalog that would weigh 4.5 pounds, full of buying advice that had already appeared free on the web, essentially turning weightless pixels into bulky bundles of atoms. To make it happen, he crowdsourced designs from all over the world, found a printer in China and then arranged for shipping and distribution. It all seemed a little quixotic and, well, beside the point.
Except the first printing of 10,000 copies, just in time for Christmas, sold out immediately, a second printing of 12,000 will go on sale at Amazon next week and a third printing of 20,000 copies is underway. So, not so dumb after all.
I haven't had a chance to dig too deeply into my copy yet, but my six-year-old sat down with it a few weeks ago and had about a million questions per page for me. Which seems a like a positive sign.
Magazine covers, movie posters, and book covers all have the same basic job, so it seemed proper to group these lists together: 50 [Book] Covers for 2013, The 20 best magazine covers of 2013, The 50 Best Posters Of 2013, Top [Magazine] Covers 2013, The Best Book Covers of 2013, The 30 Best Movie Posters of 2013, Best Book Covers of 2013. Lots of great work here. I still can't figure out whether I love or hate this cover of W with George Clooney on it:
Jason Segel is set to play David Foster Wallace in a movie adaptation of David Lipsky's Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself.
Story finds Lipsky accompanying Wallace across the country on a book tour promoting "Infinite Jest," just as Wallace starts to become famous. Along the way, jealousy and competition bubbles up between the two writers as they discuss women, depression and the pros and cons of fame.
Reaction from the DFW fan club abut Segel playing DFW has been tepid, to say the least.
Inspired by the A History of the World in 100 Objects project done by the BBC and the British Museum, Adrian Hon presents A History of the Future in 100 Objects, presented from the perspective of someone writing in 2082. From the introduction:
Every century is extraordinary, of course. Some may be the bloodiest or the darkest; others encompass momentous social revolutions, or scientific advances, or religious and philosophical movements. The 21st century is different: it represents the first time in our history that we have truly had to question what it means to be human. It is the stories of our collective humanity that I hope to tell through the hundred objects in this book.
I tell the story of how we became more connected than ever before, with objects like Babel, Silent Messaging, the Nautilus-3, and the Brain Bubble - and how we became fragmented, both physically and culturally, with the Fourth Great Awakening, and the Biomes.
With the Braid Collective, the Loop, the Steward Medal, and the Rechartered Cities, we made tremendous steps forward on our long pursuit of greater equality and enlightenment -- but the Locked Simulation Interrogations, the Sudan-Shanghai Letter, the Collingwood Meteor, and the Downvoted all showed how easy it was for us to lapse back into horror and atrocity.
We automated our economy with the UCS Deliverbots, the Mimic Scripts, the Negotiation Agents, and the Old Drones, destroying the entire notion of work and employment in the process; and we transformed our politics with Jorge Alvarez's Presidential Campaign, and the Constitutional Blueprints.
The book is available on the Kindle.