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Female Bolivian Skateboarders Shred in Traditional Dress

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 07, 2022

a group of Bolivian women skateboard in traditional clothing

a Bolivian woman in traditional dress stands on a skateboard

a Bolivian woman in traditional dress stands holding a skateboard

Brazilian photographer Luisa Dörr travelled to Bolivia and photographed the members of ImillaSkate, a group of Aymara and Quechua women who skateboard, often in traditional cholita clothing. From a slideshow of photos by Dörr in El Pais (translated from Spanish by Google):

I traveled to Cochabamba in September and was struck by the strong prejudice that exists in Bolivian society against indigenous people. There are medical cholitas or lawyers there who radically change their way of dressing if they go to the city and you hardly see young cholitas. It is a culture that is being lost. However, these women, beyond emboldening girls with sport, show their pride in being cholitas.

Here’s a short documentary about ImillaSkate with English subtitles and you can follow more of Dörr’s work on Instagram. See also the Girls of Guanabara.

The Best Book Covers of 2021

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 07, 2022

book cover of Outlawed by Anna North

book cover of Dead Souls by Sam Riviere

book cover of Foucault in Warsaw by Remigiusz Ryzinski

book cover of Orwell's Roses by Rebecca Solnit

book cover of Laserwriter II by Tamara Shopsin

book cover of Pure Gold by John Patrick McHugh

book cover of Nectarine by Chad Campbell

I only read ebooks these days and don’t make it to the one decent bookstore within a 60-minute drive from my house that often, but I still love love book covers. As I do every year, I’ve perused the end-of-year lists of the best covers and pulled out some favorites, which I’ve embedded above.

From top to bottom: Outlawed by Anna North, designed by Rachel Willey; Dead Souls by Sam Riviere, designed by Jamie Keenan; Foucault in Warsaw by Remigiusz Ryzinski, designed by Daniel Benneworth-Gray; Orwell’s Roses by Rebecca Solnit, designed by Gray318; Laserwriter II by Tamara Shopsin, designed by Tamara Shopsin;1Pure Gold by John Patrick McHugh, designed by Jack Smyth; and Nectarine by Chad Campbell, designed by by Dave Drummond.

You can find many more great covers in these lists: The 50 Best Book Covers of 2021 (Print), The Best Book Covers of 2021 (NY Times), The 101 Best Book Covers of 2021 (Literary Hub), Notable Book Covers of 2021 (The Casual Optimist), 8 of the Best Book Covers of 2021 (AIGA Eye on Design), The best book covers of the year 2021 (Creative Review), and The Best Book Covers of 2021 (Book Riot).

See also my lists from past years: 2020, 2019, 2018, 2015, 2014, and 2013.

  1. This is awesome. If I ever write a book with a traditional publisher, I’m going to fight (probably unsuccessfully) to design the cover.

Brik Font: Creating Type with Lego

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 05, 2022

Craig Ward has been creating letterforms using Lego bricks and posting the results to Instagram. The ones I really love are the anti-aliased letters — reminds me of zooming all the way in to do detail work in Photoshop back when I was a web designer.

the word 'ok' made out of Lego bricks

the letter 's' made out of Lego bricks

the letter 'f' made out of Lego bricks

the letter 'a' made out of Lego bricks

There is just something so satisfying about meticulously rendering digital artifacts in a physical medium like Lego.

A Walking Tour of Slavery & Resistance in NYC

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 05, 2022

a map of a walking tour of slavery & resistance in NYC

Activist and educator Mariame Kaba has created a walking tour of NYC (alternate version digitized by Claire Goldberg, Anna Wu, and Fatima Koli) that focuses on activities around slavery and resistance from 1626 to 1865.

The Atlantic Slave Trade was the largest forced migration in world history. Twelve million Africans were captured and enslaved in the Americas. More than 90 per day for 400 years. Over 40,000 ships brought enslaved Africans across the ocean. Though New York Passed an act to gradually abolish slavery in 1799 and manumitted the last enslaved people in 1827, it remained an intrinsic part of city life until after the civil war, as businesspeople continued to profit off of the products of the slave trade like sugar and molasses imported from the Caribbean.

I’m doing this walk the next time I’m back in NYC. I’ve been to some of the places on the tour before, but haven’t considered them through the lens of slavery.

Powers of Ten, Updated With Current Science

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 05, 2022

Charles and Ray Eames’ 1977 short film Powers of Ten is one of the best bits of science communication ever created…and a personal favorite of mine. Here’s a description of the original film:

Powers of Ten takes us on an adventure in magnitudes. Starting at a picnic by the lakeside in Chicago, this famous film transports us to the outer edges of the universe. Every ten seconds we view the starting point from ten times farther out until our own galaxy is visible only a s a speck of light among many others. Returning to Earth with breathtaking speed, we move inward — into the hand of the sleeping picnicker — with ten times more magnification every ten seconds. Our journey ends inside a proton of a carbon atom within a DNA molecule in a white blood cell.

As an homage, the BBC and particle physicist Brian Cox have created an updated version that reflects what we’ve learned about the universe in the 45 years since Powers of Ten was made. The new video zooms out to the limits of our current observational powers, to about 100 billion light years away, 1000X wider than in the original. (I wish they would have done the zoom in part of the video too, but maybe next year!)

And if you’d like to explore the scales of the universe for yourself, check out the Universe in a Nutshell app from Tim Urban and Kurzgesagt — you can zoom in and out as far as you want and interact with and learn about objects along the way.

Redesigned Book Spines by Ootje Oxenaar

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 04, 2022

some book cover spines redrawn by Ootje Oxenaar

some book cover spines redrawn by Ootje Oxenaar

some book cover spines redrawn by Ootje Oxenaar

some book cover spines redrawn by Ootje Oxenaar

Over a period of 50 years, legendary Dutch designer Ootje Oxenaar drew replacement book cover spines for the books in his library. A selection of his spine replacements are collected in a book called Ootje Oxenaar Spines.

Although renowned for his designs for Dutch banknotes and postage stamps, Oxenaar was a prolific designer of book spines. This wasn’t done for commercial publishers, but for books in his own library. When he didn’t care for what he saw poking out from a shelf (or when he needed to procrastinate) he would make his own spine for a book. The result is a fantastic and fantastical mosaic made of tall-and-skinny strips, hand-lettered and drawn with great skill and great whimsy.

Check out Steven Heller’s post at Print for more examples. (via i love typography)

Surreal Psychedelic Headshots

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 04, 2022

a painting of a man with a landscape for a face

a painting of a woman with a landscape for a face

a painting of a man with a landscape for a face

a painting of a woman with a landscape for a face

Among Brazilian artist Rafael Silveira’s surrealist work are these portraits of people with landscape faces. I loved what he said about them in brief remarks to Colossal:

From inside, we are a strange mix of dreams, thoughts, feelings, and human meat. I think these portraits are not persons but moods.

(via colossal)

100 Ways to Slightly Improve Your Life Without Really Trying

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 04, 2022

From The Guardian, a list of 100 ways to slightly improve your life without really trying. Some notables:

12. Sharpen your knives.

15. Keep your children’s drawings and paintings. Put the best ones in frames.

25. Look closely.

27. If possible, take the stairs.

35. Eat salted butter (life’s too short for unsalted).

47. Take out your headphones when walking — listen to the world.

75. Keep your keys in the same place.

89. Politely decline invitations if you don’t want to go.

As usual, the last item on any such list should be “Don’t listen to any of this.”

A Close-Up Photo of Comet Leonard by an Amateur Astronomer

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 03, 2022

Comet Leonard

Using a composite of 25 different shots done over a period of 12 minutes in his backyard, amateur astrophotographer Andrew McCarthy created this stunning image of Comet Leonard. From PetaPixel:

Processing comet images is a challenge because even in the span of 12 minutes, the comet drifts across the frame relative to the background stars,” McCarthy tells PetaPixel. “Due to the comet’s motion, it has to be stacked differently. I tell the software to stack the images based on the comet position and star positions separately, which is then combined together to produce an image with the comet and stars both sharp.

See also this image of Leonard and McCarthy’s colorful photo of a full moon.

52 Things I Learned in 2021

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 03, 2022

For the last few years, I’ve been a fan of Tom Whitwell’s annual list of 52 things he learned during the past year — here’s his list for 2021. This year, I kept track of my own list, presented here in no particular order:

  1. “In Fargo, Carl says ‘30 minutes, Jerry, we wrap this thing up’ when there are exactly 30 minutes of the movie remaining.”
  2. There’s a Boeing 727 cargo plane that’s used exclusively for horse transportation nicknamed Air Horse One.
  3. In March 2020, the Covid-19 testing capacity for all of NYC was 120 tests per day.
  4. “The last time ships got stuck in the Suez Canal [in 1967], they were there for eight years and developed a separate society with its own Olympic Games.”
  5. The pronunciation of the last name of the man who lent his name to Mount Everest (over his objections) is different than the pronunciation of the mountain.
  6. While recording the audiobook version of Charlotte’s Web, E.B. White needed 17 takes to read Charlotte’s death scene because he kept crying.
  7. America’s anti-democratic Senate, in one number. “Once Warnock and Ossoff take their seats, the Democratic half of the Senate will represent 41,549,808 more people than the Republican half.”
  8. The first rap video shown on MTV was Rapture by Blondie.
  9. As of 2019, only 54% of Americans accept the theory of evolution.
  10. When CBD is taken orally (as in a pill, food, or beverage), as little as 5% of it enters your bloodstream. “If you’re at the coffee shop and like ‘oh, yeah, give me a CBD,’ you’re just wasting $3.”
  11. The size of FedEx boxes is proprietary. “The size of an official FedEx box, not just its design, is proprietary; it is a volume of space which is a property exclusive to FedEx.”
  12. In golf, finishing four strokes under par on a single hole is called a condor.
  13. A commemorative press plate is given to authors and photographers who have made the front page of the NY Times for the first time.
  14. A button installed at the behest of the previous President summoned a Diet Coke to the Oval Office when pressed.
  15. The number of people born in Antarctica (11) is fewer than the number of people who have walked on the Moon (12).
  16. The market for table saws is $200-400 million but they cause almost $4 billion in damage annually. Power tools companies aren’t liable for the damage, which is borne by individual users, workers comp, and the health system.
  17. Disney animators occasionally “recycle” scenes from older films, keeping the motion and choreography while redrawing the characters.
  18. In the past 45 years, the top 1% of Americans have taken $50 trillion from the bottom 90%.
  19. People age at different speeds. “People varied widely in biological aging: The slowest ager gained only 0.4 ‘biological years’ for each chronological year in age; in contrast, the fastest-aging participant gained nearly 2.5 biological years for every chronological year.”
  20. The Six Flags amusement parks were named after the flags of the six countries that represented Texas throughout its history, including the Confederacy. The last Confederate flags flying outside Six Flags’ locations were removed only in 2017.
  21. Humans have evolved to out-drink other mammals. “Many species have enzymes that break alcohol down and allow the body to excrete it, avoiding death by poisoning. But about 10 million years ago, a genetic mutation left our ancestors with a souped-up enzyme that increased alcohol metabolism 40-fold.”
  22. “It takes about 200 hours of investment in the space of a few months to move a stranger into being a good friend.”
  23. There are only 25 blimps in the whole world.
  24. In 2016, a fourth division Spanish football club renamed itself Flat Earth FC.
  25. “What exactly is meant by the term ‘Holocaust’? It means that the global Jewish population in 2019 (~15 million) is still lower than it was in 1939 (16.6 million). So many Jews were murdered that we still haven’t recovered demographically after 80 years.”
  26. Cannabis delivery isn’t legal in Maine, so this enterprising online shop employs “psychics” to “find a wide selection of your lost weed and drop it off at your home”.
  27. How algorithms radicalize the users of social media platforms. “Facebook’s own research revealed that 64 percent of the time a person joins an extremist Facebook Group, they do so because the platform recommended it.”
  28. Andre Agassi learned to break Boris Becker’s fierce serve by noting the position of Becker’s tongue right before he served.
  29. In emergencies, mammals can breathe through their anus.
  30. There are chess positions that humans players can understand easily that the most powerful chess engines can’t.
  31. As of May 2021, “Republicans and white people have actually become less supportive of Black Lives Matter than they were before the death of George Floyd.”
  32. Build-A-Bear over-purchased yellow fabric to make Minions plushies, so the company released a number of yellow stuffed animals made of the surplus “minion skin”.
  33. Scientists didn’t discover that the cause of the 1918 influenza pandemic was a virus until 1933. “At the time most microbiologists believed that influenza was caused by a bacteria.”
  34. Skinny bike tires are not faster than wider tires. “The increased vibrations of the narrower tires caused energy losses that canceled out the gains from the reduced flex.”
  35. The first RV was made out of a fallen redwood tree and was called “Travel Log”.
  36. “In the last four years, Costa Rica has generated 98.53% of its electricity from renewable sources.”
  37. Disney Imagineers use smaller bricks at the top of buildings to make them seem bigger and taller than they are.
  38. “Dogs tend to poop aligned north-south.”
  39. There are three different types of fun. “Type 2 fun is miserable while it’s happening, but fun in retrospect.”
  40. Babylonians were using Pythagorean calculations for the dimensions of right triangles 1000 years before Pythagoras was born.
  41. Galileo didn’t invent the telescope and wasn’t even the first to use it for astronomical purposes.
  42. By counting excess deaths from Jan 2020 to Sept 2021, the Economist estimates that more than 15 million people have died of Covid-19 worldwide, more than 3 times the official death toll of ~4.6 million.
  43. Michael K. Williams choreographed the dancing in the music video for Crystal Waters’ 100% Pure Love.
  44. Gas stations don’t make much money selling gasoline. The goods inside gas station stores “only account for ~30% of the average gas station’s revenue, yet bring in 70% of the profit”.
  45. Solastalgia “is the pain experienced when there is recognition that the place where one resides and that one loves is under immediate assault” (e.g. by climate change).
  46. The Beishan Broadcasting Wall in Kinmen, Taiwan was a massive three-story speaker system built in 1967 to broadcast anti-Communist messages to China.
  47. Before he became a famous actor, Timothée Chalamet had a small YouTube channel where he showed off his custom-painted Xbox 360 controllers.
  48. “China is planning at least 150 new [nuclear] reactors in the next 15 years, more than the rest of the world has built in the past 35.”
  49. Earlier this fall, a bar-tailed godwit set the world record for the longest continual flight by a land bird: about 8100 miles and “flapping its wings for 239 hours without rest”.
  50. “About one in five health-care workers [in the US] has left medicine since the pandemic started.”
  51. The Chevy Suburban has been in production under that same name since 1935, “making it the longest continuously used automobile nameplate in production”.
  52. The ubiquitous Chinese food takeout container was originally invented for carrying oysters.

Exposing the Slavers of New York

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 03, 2022

sticker that says 'John van Nostrand was a slave owner'

map of New York City places named for slave owners

A group of activists called Slavers Of New York is working to educate people about the prominent New Yorkers who lent their names to the city’s geography (Nostrand, Bergen, Rivington, Stuyvesant, Lefferts, Boerum) and were also slave owners or traffickers. From the NY Times:

Just a few months before, while scrolling through social media, Mx. Waithe had stumbled upon records from the nation’s first census in 1790, which listed well-known New York families like the Leffertses, the Boerums and the Nostrands. To the right of those names was another category: “slaves.”

According to the census, the Lefferts family enslaved 87 Black people throughout New York City (Prospect Lefferts Gardens and an avenue in that Brooklyn neighborhood were named after them). The Boerums owned 14 slaves (the neighborhood Boerum Hill is named for them). And the Nostrands (of the eight-mile-long Nostrand Avenue), enslaved 23 people (this number would nearly double by the beginning of the 19th century).

The discovery sparked Slavers of New York, a sticker campaign and education initiative dedicated to calling out — and eventually mapping — the history of slavery in New York City.

The group detailed how they started where the project is headed in an interview in Guernica:

Mainly, our goal is to just educate people about the legacy of slavery and how it persists in the present day. We don’t advocate for changing the names in any way. We hope that, if people feel so inclined to change names, they create their own groups and engage in political action. I definitely think there should be more context available in public places. When Maria and I went to Stuyvesant Square in Manhattan, a statue of Peter Stuyvesant was there in the middle of the park, glorified, and there’s no information about his slave-owning history.

What’s really interesting is that some of the naming of places for slavers happened more recently than you would imagine. Boerum Hill wasn’t called “Boerum Hill” until 1964 or so, when that name was resurrected as part of the gentrification of Brooklyn. You can see, directly, the entanglement of the history of slavery and gentrification. Bringing this man’s name back into the neighborhood is a symbol of violence. The persistence of these names and links carry this space through history.

You can keep up with the group’s efforts on Twitter and Instagram and support their mission on GoFundMe. (Map above courtesy of The Decolonial Atlas.)

2021, Recapped in 6 Minutes

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 03, 2022

Vaccines, reunions, coups, climate crisis, shortages, resignations, crypto, strikes, protests, conspiracy thinking, inequality, exploration, breaking down barriers…these are just some of the things that we experienced and turned our focus on in 2021.

See also the AP’s Year in Review, the UN’s 2021 Year in Review, and 100 Things We Learned in 2021 from Mental Floss.

18 Things That Kept Me Going In 2021

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 31, 2021

a snowy peak through the trees

For a few years now, I’ve been keeping track of all the stuff I read, watch, listen to, and experience — I call it my media diet. As 2021 comes to a close, I’m sharing some of my favorite things from a year that was somehow even weirder than last year.

The French Dispatch. I saw this twice and loved it. Maybe my favorite Wes Anderson movie since Tenenbaums? (That feels crazy to say but also might be true?)

Making Sense — The Boundaries of Self. This podcast conversation with poet David Whyte felt like a turning point in my year.

Strava. I first tried mountain biking in the fall of 2020 and this year it blossomed into a favorite hobby. Despite a lot of other responsibilities and engagements, I got out on the bike once or twice a week during the spring, summer, and fall and missed it when I couldn’t manage a ride. I recorded all of my rides with Strava and was gratified to see progress and to try and beat my personal bests.

Handshake Speakeasy. Post-vaccination (and pre-Delta and Omicron) I was able to travel a bit. This new-ish bar in Mexico City had some of the coolest, tasty, and unique cocktails I’ve ever had. (Handshake was named the 25th best bar in the world earlier this month.) Baltra Bar was also quite good. Restaurant-wise, Quintonil was amazing. But just walking around the city, eating street food, going to museums, ducking into bookstores, and wandering through markets was such a fantastic experience after a difficult 16 months.

Fleabag (season two). I rewatched this when I was deep in the emotional weeds this summer and I think it might be the best season of television ever made. I laughed like a maniac and cried like a baby. The final scene is absolute perfection.

The Great British Bake-Off. My kids got me into this over the summer and it is, as many of you discovered in early 2020, the perfect low-stakes entertainment for getting one’s mind off of current events for 60 minutes at a time.

Pfizer-BioNTech (BNT162b2) and Moderna (mRNA-1273) Covid-19 Vaccines. Getting vaccinated (full three-series) and seeing my kids & friends (and their kids) get fully vaccinated was the absolute best thing that happened to me this year. Getting back to some semblance of normalcy, at least in certain situations at certain times with certain people, while being protected against severe disease and death, felt incredible.

The Premier League. I’ve watched a lot of football this year, mostly the Premier League but also the occasional PSG, Dortmund, Bayern, and Barca matches. Oh, and the Euros and Copa America. I don’t have a favorite team, I just like watching the best players in the world play football at a high level. I know this particular way of being a sports fan is often offensive to Real Sports Fans™ because you need to have a team and get upset and rend your garments when they lose and beat up the other teams’ fans, but my parents didn’t happen to live within 20 miles of an English soccer stadium when I was born, so I can do what I like.

You’re Wrong About. For the second year in a row, my favorite podcast. I couldn’t wait for the new episodes to drop on Monday. However. Michael Hobbes left the show in October and while I’ve been giving the show’s new format the benefit of the doubt, I’m not sure about it. Both Hobbes and co-host Sarah Marshall are individually wonderful but it was their combination that made the show marvelous and that bit is missing now.

Succession (season 3). My interest waned at times in the middle of the season, but I thought the last two episodes were outstanding. Plus, in preparation for this season, I watched season two’s finale and got to see this scene again.

The ocean. This should be on the list every year. Visiting the ocean nourishes my soul like little else and I was able to make that happen several times this year.

The Painter and the Thief. Remarkable documentary and maybe the best film I saw this year.

L.L. Bean fleece-lined hoodie. I lived in this thing for most of the year — so comfortable.

Dune. I can’t even put my finger on why I enjoyed this movie so much.

Donda. Ugh, I know. I continue to hate how much I love parts of this album.

The pandemic scribes. Even if you’re not a conspiracy theorist in thrall to religion, fascist media, or “wellness”, it’s been difficult to find steady, non-hysterical information, analysis, and opinion about the pandemic. I’m grateful to Zeynep Tufekci, Eric Topol, Ed Yong, Katelyn Jetelina, Jodi Ettenberg, Carl Zimmer, and others for keeping me informed.

NYC. I missed this place immensely: the restaurants, the bars, the museums, the people, the subway, the bookstores, the architecture, the crowds, the culture, the walkability. Keep all the outdoor seating and space reclaimed from cars please!

Wandavision. I was extremely charmed by this wonderful love letter to television.

I also enjoyed Mare of Easttown, Nixon at War, Summer of Soul, Black Art: In the Absence of Light, The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante, Ted Lasso (season two), Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney, Soul (+ the soundtrack), and Laserwriter II by Tamara Shopsin but don’t have anything specific to say about them, for secret reasons. I’ll see you in 2022.

The Photos of the Year for 2021

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 23, 2021

tornado debris is visible from inside a movie theater

a ship called the Ever Given is stuck in the Suez Canal

terrorist storm the Capitol Building on January 6

a man dressed in an elaborate costume get a vaccine shot

a group of kids play soccer in front of a setting sun

a young child with Covid on a respirator

a school band rehearses, each in an individual airtight pod

a monkey walks though a scale model of a city

volcanic ash almost completely covers a house

citizens protesting the coup in Myanmar firing slingshots

Simone Biles flying high in the air above the vault

It is difficult to separate 2021 from the previous year — Covid, social & political unrest, and the climate crisis bind them together in my memory. I think, at the beginning of this year, many people thought it was going to be better year than the last, but instead it was 2020: The Sequel. Meaghan Looram summed the year up succinctly for the NY Times:

The year 2021 opened with the promise of vaccines, and the belief that we would all return to “normal” after the tumultuous year of the pandemic. But the year instead took off with an insurrection in the U.S. Capitol, and saw a summer of carefree gatherings derailed by a fast-spreading virus. Governments fell, democracies were challenged, and climate-related destruction was unleashed, all while the casualties of the pandemic continued to amass. The vaccine saved some lives, but human passions, hopes and fears did their usual work to create a year that was anything but calm, and is ending with the prospect of a new variant upending plans once again.

As I do every year, I went through a bunch of photos-of-the-year lists and picked up some favorites; they are embedded above. The first photo, taken by amateur photographer Shawn Triplett with his iPhone in the aftermath of the Kentucky tornados, wasn’t included in any of the lists but it was probably my favorite of the year. There’s something about the framing, the emptiness, the destruction, and the screen-mediated chaos vs. order that is the perfect metaphor for how things are feeling right now.

You can check out more of the year’s best photos here:

The photos above were taken by (from top to bottom): Shawn Triplett, satellite imagery, Shannon Stapleton, Jouni Porsanger, Siphiwe Sibeko, Callaghan O’Hare, Don Seabrook, Alexey Pavlishak, Emilio Morenatti, Anonymous, and Doug Mills.

Dreamy & Surreal Imagery by KangHee Kim

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 23, 2021

clouds appear to come out of the top of a gas station canopy

a transparent road sign says 'Hope 1/2 Mile'

clouds in the middle of a lamp

a cloud nestles in a tre branch above a cliff face

Loving these fanciful and playful manipulated photos by KangHee Kim, which can be found on her Instagram or her series Street Errands.