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kottke.org posts about books

Typeset in the Future, a book about the typography & design of science fiction movies

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 13, 2018

Typeset In The Future

Inspired by the website of the same name, Dave Addey’s Typeset in the Future will look at how design and typography is used to build futuristic worlds in science fiction movies like 2001, Wall-E, Star Trek, and Blade Runner.

The book delves deep into 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Alien, Blade Runner, Total Recall, WALL-E, and Moon, studying the design tricks and inspirations that make each film transcend mere celluloid and become a believable reality. These studies are illustrated by film stills, concept art, type specimens, and ephemera, plus original interviews with Mike Okuda (Star Trek), Paul Verhoeven (Total Recall), and Ralph Eggleston and Craig Foster (Pixar).

You can pre-order the book on Amazon.

Paying the stereotype tax in poker

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 13, 2018

Maria Konnikova is a writer for the New Yorker. Or she was until she went on sabbatical to play poker professionally. After immersing herself in the game while working on her third book, The Biggest Bluff, Konnikova discovered she was quite good at it, winning over $230,000 and a major tournament in a year.

Claudia Dreifus recently interviewed Konnikova for the New York Times and asked her about how she handles being one of the few women on the pro circuit.

When you see someone looking a certain way, you assume they play a certain way. So once I figure out how they view women, I can figure out how to play against them. They’re not seeing me as a poker player, they’re seeing me as a female poker player.

There are people who’d rather die than be bluffed by a woman. They’ll never fold to me because that’s an affront to their masculinity.

I never bluff them. I know that no matter how strong my hand, they are still going to call me because they just can’t fold to a girl.

Other people think women are incapable of bluffing. They think if I’m betting really aggressively, it means I have an incredibly strong hand. I bluff those people all the time.

There are people who think that women shouldn’t be at a poker table, and they try to bully me. So, what do I do? I let them. And I wait to be in a good position so that I can take their chips. Just like life, right?

In a 2015 NPR interview, pro player Annie Duke talked about getting her opponents to pay the stereotype tax.

VEDANTAM: She says she divided the men who had stereotypes about her into three categories.

DUKE: One was the flirting chauvinists, and that person was really viewing me in a way that was sexual.

VEDANTAM: With the guys who were like that, Annie could make nice.

DUKE: I never did go out on a date with any of them, but you know, it was kind of flirtatious at the table. And I could use that to my advantage.

VEDANTAM: And then there was the disrespecting chauvinist. Annie says these players thought women weren’t creative.

DUKE: There are strategies that you can use against them. Mainly, you can bluff those people a lot.

VEDANTAM: And then there’s a third kind of guy, perhaps the most reckless.

DUKE: The angry chauvinist.

VEDANTAM: This is a guy who would do anything to avoid being beaten by a woman. Annie says you can’t bluff an angry chauvinist. You just have to wait.

DUKE: What I say is, until they would impale themselves on your chips.

There’s Waldo, an AI trained to find Waldo

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 13, 2018

Add finding Waldo to the long list of things that machines can do better than humans. Creative agency Redpepper built a program that uses Google’s drag-and-drop machine learning service to find the eponymous character in the Where’s Waldo? series of books. After the AI finds a promising Waldo candidate, a robotic arm points to it on the page.

While only a prototype, the fastest There’s Waldo has pointed out a match has been 4.45 seconds which is better than most 5 year olds.

I know Skynet references are a little passé these days, but the plot of Terminator 2 is basically an intelligent machine playing Where’s Waldo I Want to Kill Him. We’re getting there!

The book of wood

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 06, 2018

Wood Book

Wood Book

Between 1888 and 1913, Romeyn Beck Hough worked on a multi-volume book called The American Woods that contained 1000+ paper-thin wood slices from more than 350 different varieties of North American trees.

Each specimen page of the work is dedicated to a single tree and consists of a cardboard plate into which three translucent slices have been placed, three variations of cross-section — transverse, radial, and tangential. The wafer-thin slivers — which would glow like a slide when held up to the light — were prepared using a slicing machine of Hough’s own design and which he patented in 1886. In addition to the specimens Hough also provides information about the characteristics, growth habits, medicinal properties, and commercial possibilities of the tree. With some of the trees in the book now very rare the series now has an added value and, as Rebecca Onion from Slate’s The Vault comments, “stands as a memorial to the shape and extent of American forests at the end of the 19th century”.

What a fantastically odd book. You can view the whole thing at Internet Archive.

“I have a secret. My father is Steve Jobs.”

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 02, 2018

Vanity Fair has an excerpt of Small Fry, a memoir by Lisa Brennan-Jobs, the oldest daughter of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, who named an early computer after her. Jobs notoriously denied paternity from the moment of Brennan-Jobs’ birth.

Then, in 1980, the district attorney of San Mateo County, California, sued my father for child-support payments. My father responded by denying paternity, swearing in a deposition that he was sterile and naming another man he said was my father.

I was required to take a DNA test. The tests were new then, and when the results came back, they gave the odds that we were related as the highest the instruments could measure at the time: 94.4 percent. The court required my father to cover welfare back payments, child-support payments of $385 per month, which he increased to $500, and medical insurance until I was 18. The case was finalized on December 8, 1980, with my father’s lawyers insistent to close. Four days later Apple went public and overnight my father was worth more than $200 million.

But before that, just after the court case was finalized, my father came to visit me once at our house in Menlo Park, where we had rented a detached studio. It was the first time I’d seen him since I’d been a newborn in Oregon.

“You know who I am?” he asked. He flipped his hair out of his eyes.

I was three years old; I didn’t.

“I’m your father.” (“Like he was Darth Vader,” my mother said later, when she told me the story.)

“I’m one of the most important people you will ever know,” he said.

If Beale Street Could Talk

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 02, 2018

Director Barry Jenkins is back with his first feature film since Moonlight won the Best Picture Oscar in 2016. It’s called If Beale Street Could Talk, an adaptation of a 1974 novel of the same name by James Baldwin.

In this honest and stunning novel, James Baldwin has given America a moving story of love in the face of injustice. Told through the eyes of Tish, a nineteen-year-old girl, in love with Fonny, a young sculptor who is the father of her child, Baldwin’s story mixes the sweet and the sad. Tish and Fonny have pledged to get married, but Fonny is falsely accused of a terrible crime and imprisoned. Their families set out to clear his name, and as they face an uncertain future, the young lovers experience a kaleidoscope of emotions-affection, despair, and hope. In a love story that evokes the blues, where passion and sadness are inevitably intertwined, Baldwin has created two characters so alive and profoundly realized that they are unforgettably ingrained in the American psyche.

The trailer looks amazing…can’t wait to see this one.

The etymology of “orange”: which came first, the color or the fruit?

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 02, 2018

Orange Painting

The human eye can see millions of colors but it can take awhile for language to catch up. Take the color orange. Until the 16th century, there was no word for that color in English and even then, when writers referenced it, they said something like “that thing that is the color of an orange”.

Orange, however, seems to be the only basic color word for which no other word exists in English. There is only orange, and the name comes from the fruit. Tangerine doesn’t really count. Its name also comes from a fruit, a variety of the orange, but it wasn’t until 1899 that “tangerine” appears in print as the name of a color-and it isn’t clear why we require a new word for it. This seems no less true for persimmon and for pumpkin. There is just orange. But there was no orange, at least before oranges came to Europe.

This is not to say that no one recognized the color, only that there was no specific name for it. In Geoffrey Chaucer’s “Nun’s Priest’s Tale,” the rooster Chaunticleer dreams of a threatening fox invading the barnyard, whose “color was betwixe yelow and reed.” The fox was orange, but in the 1390s Chaucer didn’t have a word for it. He had to mix it verbally. He wasn’t the first to do so. In Old English, the form of the language spoken between the 5th and 12th centuries, well before Chaucer’s Middle English, there was a word geoluhread (yellow-red). Orange could be seen, but the compound was the only word there was for it in English for almost 1,000 years.

Also, it has never occurred to me before reading this that “chromatically brown is a low-intensity orange”. !!! Anyway, this piece is an excerpt from the book On Color.

See also literature’s slow invention of the color blue. Orange painting by James Shull (via jodi)

Being the book, an interview with an audiobook narrator

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 31, 2018

If you grew up in the 80s, you might remember Bronson Pinchot as Balki Bartokomous in Perfect Strangers or Serge in Beverly Hills Cop. But Pinchot has built a second career as an award-winning audiobook narrator. I recently listened to him read A Man on the Moon and while the story of the Apollo program is engrossing all by itself, his narration is fantastic. This interview of Pinchot by Jeff VanderMeer (author of the Southern Reach trilogy) is really interesting, particularly the bits about how he approaches his work.

Q: Do you have a philosophy of how to create the perfect audiobook experience?

A: I do, though, like all philosophical resolutions, I only intermittently achieve it. The essential task facing the narrator is to identify or invent a vivid personal definition of what “narrating” ought to be. I am uncomfortable with the chilliness of the word narration. It sounds very much outside the action - the voice on a National Geographic educational film intoning, “These giraffes are just learning how to mate”; or my mother, upon Audrey Hepburn’s entrance in My Fair Lady, informing the room: “She used to have such big doe eyes; what happened to her eyes?”

Simply “reading a book” aloud in an airless audio booth is the kind of mental and physical punishment only ever glimpsed in the lower section of Michelangelo’s Last Judgment. I decided early on that I should not “read” the book but “be” the book, the way I imagine Homer, in performance, “was” the Odyssey. We know he wasn’t “reading” it. In any case, if an audiobook listener doesn’t have the time to curl up with the actual physical text, he or she still yearns for, and deserves, the experience of being carried away by the author’s vision.

Welcome to Marwen

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 26, 2018

Mark Hogancamp was beaten by five men outside a bar and left for dead. He spent nine days in a coma, lost his memory, and spent over a year in physical therapy. As part of his recovery, Hogancamp built a meticulously constructed WWII town in his backyard that he called Marwencol.

When his state-sponsored rehabilitative therapies ran out, Mark took his recovery into his own hands. In his backyard, he created a new world entirely within his control — a 1:6 scale World War II town he named Marwencol. Using doll alter egos of his friends and family, his attackers and himself, Mark enacted epic battles and recreated memories, which he captured in strikingly realistic photographs. Those photos eventually caught the eye of the art world, which lead to a series of gallery exhibitions, the award-winning documentary “Marwencol,” the acclaimed book “Welcome to Marwencol,” and a new identity for a man once ridiculed for playing with dolls.

Robert Zemeckis has turned Hogancamp’s story into a movie starring Steve Carell called Welcome to Marwen. Here’s the trailer; it comes out in December 2018:

In 2010, Jeff Malmberg made a documentary about Hogancamp & and his project. It’s a little hard to find these days despite a 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but you can watch it on Amazon w/ a trial subscription or buy it on iTunes. Here’s the trailer:

Hogancamp also collected some of the photos of Marwencol into a book.

The Notorious Ruth Bader Ginsburg

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 25, 2018

I watched RBG last night, the documentary film about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. What a remarkable person she is. Here’s the trailer:

If you’ve seen the movie (or even if you haven’t), Jeffrey Toobin’s 2013 New Yorker profile of Ginsburg goes easier on the memes and deeper into her legal process and views.

At this point, Ginsburg was a leader on the legal side of the women’s movement, especially when she became the first tenured woman at Columbia Law School, in 1972. She co-founded the first law review on women’s issues, Women’s Rights Law Reporter, and co-authored the first casebook on the subject. Also in 1972, she co-founded the women’s-rights project at the American Civil Liberties Union. When Sally Reed took her case to the Supreme Court, Ginsburg volunteered to write her brief.

“In very recent years, a new appreciation of women’s place has been generated in the United States,” the brief states. “Activated by feminists of both sexes, courts and legislatures have begun to recognize the claim of women to full membership in the class ‘persons’ entitled to due process guarantees of life and liberty and the equal protection of the laws.” In an opinion for a unanimous Court in Reed v. Reed, Chief Justice Burger overturned the Idaho law as “the very kind of arbitrary legislative choice forbidden by the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.” Sex discrimination, in other words, was unconstitutional. Susan Deller Ross, a professor at Georgetown University Law Center, who also worked as a lawyer on sex-discrimination cases during this period, said of Ginsburg, “She helped turn the Court a hundred and eighty degrees, from a very hands-off attitude, which had often been expressed very cavalierly, to one where they struck down law after law that treated the sexes differently.”

Building on the Reed precedent, Ginsburg launched a series of cases targeting government rules that treated men and women differently. The process was in keeping with Ginsburg’s character: careful, step by step. Better, Ginsburg thought, to attack these rules and policies one at a time than to risk asking the Court to outlaw all rules that treated men and women differently. Ginsburg’s secretary at Columbia, who typed her briefs, gave her some important advice. “I was doing all these sex-discrimination cases, and my secretary said, ‘I look at these pages and all I see is sex, sex, sex. The judges are men, and when they read that they’re not going to be thinking about what you want them to think about,’” Ginsburg recalled. Henceforth, she changed her claim to “gender discrimination.”

The piece mentions an impromptu serenade of opera fan Ginsburg by Plácido Domingo at Harvard…it’s a cute moment:

For a deeper dive, the best books about Ginsburg are The Legacy of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Scott Dodson, My Own Words (a collection of her writing), and the more fun Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon & Shana Knizhnik.

My media diet for early Summer 2018, special roadtrip edition

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 25, 2018

I’ve been keeping track of every media thing I “consume”,1 so here are quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, heard, and experienced in the two months or so. My summer has been a little slow, media-wise…the World Cup, my roadtrip, and time spent enjoying the outdoors have conspired to limit my reading and watching time. This is not a bad thing. I’m still working my way through The Odyssey w/ the kids (now on hold b/c they’re at camp) and David Christian’s Origin Story. I wanted to get way more reading done this summer than I have…maybe I can pick up the pace in August. (Ignore the letter grades. Or don’t!)

Solo: A Star Wars Story. The movie was fine, but I liked the branding for it more. I would watch an Enfys Nest movie though. (B)

The Dave Chang Show w/ Helen Rosner. Chang is an engaging interviewer, and Rosner is a great guest. (B+)

RBG. What an extraordinary person. (B+)

American Innovations. Engaging and informative podcast hosted by Steven Johnson. (B)

Ocean’s 8. Pretty good but would have benefitted from a slightly more clever plot and direction by Soderbergh. (B+)

ye. As I’ve heard from more than one person: I hate that I like this album. (B+)

Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. This book contains a valuable central message and several fascinating insights but the constant ad hominems, irrelevant tangents, stereotyping, and general antagonistic tone of the writing makes for tough reading. I wish Taleb were a more generous writer. (B)

Incredibles 2. A solid sequel. Kids gave it two thumbs up. (A-)

Everything is Love. Ok, “The Carters”, but they smartly made this a Beyoncé album feat. Jay-Z. This has been on heavy rotation in my car. (A-)

The Disaster Artist. Gave up on this about 30 minutes in…zero interest. (-)

Justice League. Not as terrible as I was led to believe. But maybe DC can trade Wonder Woman to Marvel? (C+)

Caliphate. Finished this…what a great and important series. I know a lot of people think Serial is the podcast gold standard, but this was better and more significant. (A)

Seabiscuit. This one always gets me right in the feels. (B+)

Scorpion. Kanye’s latest album is 23 minutes long while Drake went for a full 90 minutes. I know there’s some controversy about it, but it was genuinely great hearing new music from Michael Jackson. (B)

The Handmaid’s Tale. The remainder of the second season was brutal. (A-)

A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts by Andrew Chaikin. An epic story of adventure and discovery, expertly told. (A)

Sharp Objects. This one is a slow burn, but I will watch Amy Adams in anything…she is mesmerizing. (B+)

Star Trek: Voyager. Still making progress on this…I’m about 70% of the way through. It’s better in the middle seasons than a lot of people give it credit for. (B)

Solo roadtrips. The world is a fascinating place…get out and explore it if you can. (A+)

Pacific Rim Uprising. They could have done more with this, but they didn’t. They really didn’t. (C+)

The 2018 FIFA World Cup. I missed most of the knockout stage because I was traveling, but I still loved every minute of this World Cup. (A-)

Jaws. My first time seeing it. (Yes, yes, I know.) Amazing to see so many of Spielberg’s filmmaking techniques on display so early in his career. (A-)

Westworld. This show asks, over and over again, “Is any of this real?” The result is a complete inability on my part to suspend my disbelief…I’m always very aware that what I’m watching is fake. (C-)

Hot Fuzz. Will watch this anytime. (A-)

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

  1. You probably dislike the use of the word “consume” when it comes to media. So do I. It conjures up an image of mindlessly feeding on things that talented and artistic people have worked hard on. (See also “media diet”.) But different forms of work have different verbs associated with them: TV shows & movies are watched, books are read, podcasts are listened to, theme parks are experienced. What one word works for all of those? Enjoyed? I surely don’t enjoy all the stuff I watch/listen to/watch/experience (see!!). Experienced? That suggests a passiveness that doesn’t apply to how I watch/read things. “Consumed” works, for better or worse. Does anyone have a better suggestion? I am ready to consume it…

A new book from David Grann about a polar journey gone wrong: The White Darkness

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 24, 2018

Author and New Yorker writer David Grann is out with a new book in the fall: The White Darkness. The book tells the story of polar explorer Henry Worsley, who attempted to duplicate the polar voyages of Ernest Shackleton, and is based on a long NYer piece written by Grann earlier this year.

Henry Wolsey

The man felt like a speck in the frozen nothingness. Every direction he turned, he could see ice stretching to the edge of the Earth: white ice and blue ice, glacial-ice tongues and ice wedges. There were no living creatures in sight. Not a bear or even a bird. Nothing but him.

It was hard to breathe, and each time he exhaled the moisture froze on his face: a chandelier of crystals hung from his beard; his eyebrows were encased like preserved specimens; his eyelashes cracked when he blinked. Get wet and you die, he often reminded himself. The temperature was nearly minus forty degrees Fahrenheit, and it felt far colder because of the wind, which sometimes whipped icy particles into a blinding cloud, making him so disoriented that he toppled over, his bones rattling against the ground.

The story has also been optioned for a movie, joining Grann’s previous book, Killers of the Flower Moon, which is being adapted by Martin Scorsese & Leonardo DiCaprio.

Live TV coverage of the Apollo 11 landing and Moon walk

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 20, 2018

Apollo 11 TV Coverage

In May 1961, President John F. Kennedy stood before Congress and said:

I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.

A little more than 8 years later, it was done. On July 20, 1969, 49 years ago today, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the Moon, took a walk, and returned safely to Earth a few days later. And the whole thing was broadcast live on television screens around the world.

For the 40th anniversary of the landing in 2009, I put together a page where you can watch the original CBS News coverage of Walter Cronkite reporting on the Moon landing and the first Moon walk, synced to the present-day time. Just open this page in your browser and the coverage will start playing at the proper time. Here’s the schedule (all times EDT):

4:10:30 pm: Moon landing broadcast starts
4:17:40 pm: Lunar module lands on the Moon

4:20:15 pm: Break in coverage

10:51:27 pm: Moon walk broadcast starts
10:56:15 pm: First step on Moon
11:51:30 pm: Nixon speaks to the Eagle crew
12:00:30 am: Broadcast end (on July 21)

You can add these yearly recurring events to your calendar: Moon landing & Moon walk.

Here’s what I wrote when I launched the project, which is one of my favorite things I’ve ever done online:

If you’ve never seen this coverage, I urge you to watch at least the landing segment (~10 min.) and the first 10-20 minutes of the Moon walk. I hope that with the old time TV display and poor YouTube quality, you get a small sense of how someone 40 years ago might have experienced it. I’ve watched the whole thing a couple of times while putting this together and I’m struck by two things: 1) how it’s almost more amazing that hundreds of millions of people watched the first Moon walk *live* on TV than it is that they got to the Moon in the first place, and 2) that pretty much the sole purpose of the Apollo 11 Moon walk was to photograph it and broadcast it live back to Earth.

I’ve been listening to the audiobook of Andrew Chaikin’s account of the Apollo program, A Man on the Moon, and the chapter about Apollo 11’s Moon landing was riveting.1 I’ve watched the TV footage & listened to the recordings dozens of times and I was still on the edge of my seat, sweating the landing alongside Armstrong and Aldrin. And sweating they were…at least Armstrong was. Take a look at his heart rate during the landing; it peaked at 150 beats per minute at landing (note: the “1000 ft altitude” is mislabeled, it should be “100 ft”):

Neil Armstrong's heart rate during the Apollo 11 Moon landing

For reference, Armstrong’s resting heart rate was around 60 bpm. There are a couple of other interesting things about this chart. The first is the two minutes of missing data starting around 102:36. They were supposed to be 10 minutes from landing on the Moon and instead their link to Mission Control in Houston kept cutting out. Then there were the intermittent 1201 and 1202 program alarms, which neither the LM crew nor Houston had encountered in any of the training simulations. At the sign of the first alarm at 102:38:26, Armstrong’s heart rate actually appears to drop. And then, as the alarms continue throughout the sequence along with Houston’s assurances that the alarm is nothing to worry about, Armstrong’s heart rate stays steady.

Right around the 2000 feet mark, Armstrong realizes that he needs to maneuver around a crater and some rocks on the surface to reach a flat landing spot and his heart rate steadily rises until it plateaus at the landing. At the time, he thought he’d landed with less than 30 seconds of fuel remaining. That Neil Armstrong was able to keep his cool with unknown alarms going off while avoiding craters and boulders with very little fuel remaining and his heart rate spiking while skimming over the surface OF THE FREAKING MOON doing something no one had ever done before is one of the most totally cold-blooded & badass things anyone has ever done. Damn, I get goosebumps just reading about it!

Update: The landing broadcast just aired and I wanted to explain a little about what you saw (you can relive it here).

The shots of the Moon you see during the landing broadcast are animations…there is obviously no camera on the Moon watching the LM descend to the surface. There was a camera recording the landing from the LM but that footage was not released until later. This is in contrast to the footage you’ll see later on the Moon walk broadcast…that footage was piped in live to TV screens all over the world as it happened.

The radio voices you hear are mostly Mission Control in Houston (specifically Apollo astronaut Charlie Duke, who acted as the spacecraft communicator for this mission) and Buzz Aldrin, whose job during the landing was to keep an eye on the LM’s altitude and speed — you can hear him calling it out, “3 1/2 down, 220 feet, 13 forward.” Armstrong doesn’t say a whole lot…he’s busy flying and furiously searching for a suitable landing site. But it’s Armstrong that says after they land, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”. Note the change in call sign from “Eagle” to “Tranquility Base”. :)

Two things to listen for on the broadcast: the 1201/1202 program alarms I mentioned above and two quick callouts by Charlie Duke about the remaining fuel towards the end: “60 seconds” and “30 seconds”. Armstrong is taking all this information in through his earpiece — the 1202s, the altitude and speed from Aldrin, and the remaining fuel — and using it to figure out where to land.

The CBS animation shows the fake LM landing on the fake Moon before the actual landing — when Buzz says “contact light” and then “engine stop”. The animation was based on the scheduled landing time and evidently couldn’t be adjusted. The scheduled time was overshot because of the crater and boulders situation mentioned above.

Cronkite was joined on the program by former astronaut Wally Schirra. When Armstrong signaled they’d landed, Schirra can be seen dabbing his eyes and Cronkite looks a little misty as well as he rubs his hands together.

  1. The book is read by Bronson Pinchot, who played Balki Bartokomous on the 80s sitcom Perfect Strangers. He is a fantastic audiobook narrator.

The last working fore-edge painter in the world

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 19, 2018

This is a short video profile of Martin Frost, who might be the last remaining professional fore-edge painter in the world.

Dating back centuries, the delicate art form places intricate scenes on the side of books, cheekily hidden beneath gold gilded pages. The beautiful paintings are only visible to the trained eye, but once you unlock the secret, you’ll find pure magic.

I love the two-way paintings…you fan the book’s pages out one way it depicts one scene and if you fan them out the other, you get another scene.

Gmorning, Gnight!, a book of affirmations from Lin-Manuel Miranda

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 18, 2018

Gmorning Gnight

On Twitter, Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda often begins and ends his days by posting affirmations for his fans & readers. Stuff like:

Good night. Your mind is yours alone and you decide who and what gets in. Draw the curtains. Make yourself at home.

Good morning. Do NOT get stuck in the comments section of life today. Make, do, create the things. Let others tussle it out. Vamos!

Gnight. Don’t forget to look up your work & let real life in. It makes your work better.

Good morning. You are perfectly cast in your life. I can’t imagine anyone but you in the role. Go play.

Miranda has collaborated with illustrator Jonny Sun on a collection of this inspirational tweets called Gmorning, Gnight!: Little Pep Talks for Me & You. It’s out in October, but you can pre-order it now. It doesn’t fit the theme but I hope they found a way to fit this all-time Hall of Fame tweet in there.

The constructive-destructive axis

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 18, 2018

In his biography of Apple founder Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson reports on some comments Jobs made over dinner to News Corp’s Rupert Murdoch about Fox News in 2010.

In return for speaking at the retreat, Jobs got Murdoch to hear him out on Fox News, which he believed was destructive, harmful to the nation, and a blot on Murdoch’s reputation. “You’re blowing it with Fox News,” Jobs told him over dinner. “The axis today is not liberal and conservative, the axis is constructive-destructive, and you’ve cast your lot with the destructive people. Fox has become an incredibly destructive force in our society. You can be better, and this is going to be your legacy if you’re not careful.” Jobs said he thought Murdoch did not really like how far Fox had gone. “Rupert’s a builder, not a tearer-downer,” he said. “I’ve had some meetings with James, and I think he agrees with me. I can just tell.”

Such an insightful comment by Jobs. As John Gruber notes:

This line from Jobs — “The axis today is not liberal and conservative, the axis is constructive-destructive” — is truly the best summary of Trumpism I’ve seen.

It’s been eight years since that conversation and the Republican Party & their voters have doubled down in destroying opportunities for people (particularly those with little power), driven by the likes of Fox News. This destruction will be felt for generations to come.

Tenements, Towers & Trash: An Unconventional Illustrated History of New York City

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 16, 2018

I really like these drawings of NYC with a historical bent by illustrator and “amateur historian” Julia Wertz.

Julia Wertz 01

Julia Wertz 02

They’re from a book Wertz wrote & illustrated called Tenements, Towers & Trash: An Unconventional Illustrated History of New York City. Gothamist recently interviewed Wertz about the book and her work.

Q: Bob Dylan (and my boss, Jake Dobkin) both like to exclaim that “nostalgia is death.” Which probably says more about them, and their own particularly complex relationships with nostalgia, than anything else. But do you think of yourself as a nostalgic person? How does nostalgia play into your appreciation of the urban landscape?

A: I understand what people mean by that expression, but it categorizes nostalgia in too simple a way. Nostalgia is like an intoxicant — in moderation it can be a rewarding experience, but if abused/overused, it becomes toxic. To indulge in nostalgia is to romanticize the past and stop living in the present. This could be totally fine for short periods of time, just a nice way to remember a pleasant time you experienced, but if it becomes a way of thinking, it ruins the present because there’s no way the present moment can compare to a fabricated, romanticized version past. Nostalgia has a way of erasing the shitty parts of reality. Like when people are nostalgic for, say, NYC in the 1800’s — the horse and buggies, the handmade shop signs, the elaborate suits and dresses — they’re forgetting (or perhaps never knew) that the city then was a filthy cesspool of trash and sewage, disease was rampant, and the clothing was insufferably hot and restrictive, and sometimes even deadly for women cooking with open flame.

Barack Obama’s 2018 Summer Reading List

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 13, 2018

President Obama is heading to Africa this week for the first time since he left office. In preparation, he shared a recommended summer reading list that’s heavy on African authors. Here’s the full list:

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
A true classic of world literature, this novel paints a picture of traditional society wrestling with the arrival of foreign influence, from Christian missionaries to British colonialism. A masterpiece that has inspired generations of writers in Nigeria, across Africa, and around the world.

A Grain of Wheat by Ngugi wa Thiong’o
A chronicle of the events leading up to Kenya’s independence, and a compelling story of how the transformative events of history weigh on individual lives and relationships.

Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela
Mandela’s life was one of the epic stories of the 20th century. This definitive memoir traces the arc of his life from a small village, to his years as a revolutionary, to his long imprisonment, and ultimately his ascension to unifying President, leader, and global icon. Essential reading for anyone who wants to understand history — and then go out and change it.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
From one of the world’s great contemporary writers comes the story of two Nigerians making their way in the U.S. and the UK, raising universal questions of race and belonging, the overseas experience for the African diaspora, and the search for identity and a home.

The Return by Hisham Matar
A beautifully-written memoir that skillfully balances a graceful guide through Libya’s recent history with the author’s dogged quest to find his father who disappeared in Gaddafi’s prisons.

The World As It Is by Ben Rhodes
It’s true, Ben does not have African blood running through his veins. But few others so closely see the world through my eyes like he can. Ben’s one of the few who’ve been with me since that first presidential campaign. His memoir is one of the smartest reflections I’ve seen as to how we approached foreign policy, and one of the most compelling stories I’ve seen about what it’s actually like to serve the American people for eight years in the White House.

One of the books on my summer reading list is The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World by Desmond Tutu & Mpho Tutu, recommended to me by a reader a few months ago.

Each of us has a deep need to forgive and to be forgiven. After much reflection on the process of forgiveness, Tutu has seen that there are four important steps to healing: Admitting the wrong and acknowledging the harm; Telling one’s story and witnessing the anguish; Asking for forgiveness and granting forgiveness; and renewing or releasing the relationship. Forgiveness is hard work. Sometimes it even feels like an impossible task. But it is only through walking this fourfold path that Tutu says we can free ourselves of the endless and unyielding cycle of pain and retribution.

A movie adaptation of Sapiens is coming

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 12, 2018

Ridley Scott and Asif Kapadia are working on a film adaptation of Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. Scott (Blade Runner, Gladiator, Alien) is producing while Kapadia (the excellent documentaries Amy & Senna) will direct. Harari, you’ll recall, is a Prophet and states in Sapiens that the Agricultural Revolution is “history’s biggest fraud”.

Rather than heralding a new era of easy living, the Agricultural Revolution left farmers with lives generally more difficult and less satisfying than those of foragers. Hunter-gatherers spent their time in more stimulating and varied ways, and were less in danger of starvation and disease. The Agricultural Revolution certainly enlarged the sum total of food at the disposal of humankind, but the extra food did not translate into a better diet or more leisure. Rather, it translated into population explosions and pampered elites. The average farmer worked harder than the average forager, and got a worse diet in return. The Agricultural Revolution was history’s biggest fraud.

Shade: A Tale of Two Presidents

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 12, 2018

Obama Shade Souza

Pete Souza spent 8 years photographing President Obama as the official White House photographer. Souza compiled some of the best of those photos (including the ones with kids) into a book, Obama: An Intimate Portrait. Since Trump took office in January 2017, Souza has used his Instagram account to post photos of Obama in response to Trump’s actions — for instance, when Trump initiated the travel ban against Muslim nations, Souza posted a photo of Obama meeting with a refugee girl.

Souza has collected all of that shade into another book of Presidential photos: Shade: A Tale of Two Presidents.

Shade is a portrait in Presidential contrasts, telling the tale of the Obama and Trump administrations through a series of visual juxtapositions. Here, more than one hundred of Souza’s unforgettable images of President Obama deliver new power and meaning when framed by the tweets, news headlines, and quotes that defined the first 500 days of the Trump White House.

The book comes out in October, but you can preorder it now from Amazon.

The story of the last survivor of the Atlantic slave trade

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 11, 2018

In the late 1920s & early 1930s, African-American writer Zora Neale Hurston interviewed an Alabama man named Cudjo Lewis about his life. Lewis was the last survivor of the last slave ship to arrive in America in 1860, decades after the international slave trade had been made illegal in the US. Hurston attempted to publish Lewis’ story as a book, but her extensive use of Lewis’ “unique vernacular” kept publishers away. Last month, Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo” was finally published.

In 1927, Zora Neale Hurston went to Plateau, Alabama, just outside Mobile, to interview eighty-six-year-old Cudjo Lewis. Of the millions of men, women, and children transported from Africa to America as slaves, Cudjo was then the only person alive to tell the story of this integral part of the nation’s history. Hurston was there to record Cudjo’s firsthand account of the raid that led to his capture and bondage fifty years after the Atlantic slave trade was outlawed in the United States.

In 1931, Hurston returned to Plateau, the African-centric community three miles from Mobile founded by Cudjo and other former slaves from his ship. Spending more than three months there, she talked in depth with Cudjo about the details of his life. During those weeks, the young writer and the elderly formerly enslaved man ate peaches and watermelon that grew in the backyard and talked about Cudjo’s past-memories from his childhood in Africa, the horrors of being captured and held in a barracoon for selection by American slavers, the harrowing experience of the Middle Passage packed with more than 100 other souls aboard the Clotilda, and the years he spent in slavery until the end of the Civil War.

Cudjo Lewis

Vulture has an excerpt of the book.

De King of Dahomey, you know, he got very rich ketchin slaves. He keep his army all de time making raids to grabee people to sell. One traitor from Takkoi (Cudjo’s village), he a very bad man and he go straight in de Dahomey and say to de king, “I show you how to takee Takkoi.” He tellee dem de secret of de gates. (The town had eight gates, intended to provide various escape routes in the event of an attack.)

Derefore, dey come make war, but we doan know dey come fight us. Dey march all night long and we in de bed sleep. It bout daybreak when de people of Dahomey breakee de Great Gate. I not woke yet. I hear de yell from de soldiers while dey choppee de gate. Derefore I jump out de bed and lookee. I see de great many soldiers wid French gun in de hand and de big knife. Dey got de women soldiers too and dey run wid de big knife and dey ketch people and saw de neck wid de knife den dey twist de head so it come off de neck. Oh Lor’, Lor’! I see de people gittee kill so fast!

There’s an audiobook version as well…I bet it’s amazing to listen to.

Nabokov’s dreams

posted by Tim Carmody   Jul 09, 2018

Nabokov.jpg

Lately, I’ve been getting more and more interested in dreams, as experiences and as psychological phenomena. I don’t have a fancy theory of dreams as yet beyond “brain garbage,” but brain garbage is still a pretty interesting idea.

A British writer named JW Dunne, writing in the 1920s, did have a fancy theory of dreams — he thought they were a way to access a different kind of consciousness of time, giving clues to precognition and all sorts of other metaphysical leaps. And Dunne’s philosophies appealed to many writers, including Vladimir Nabokov, who kept records of his dreams on neat stacks of index cards. (Nabokov loved index cards.)

Though he kept up his index-card routine for eighty nights, [Nabokov] drifted from Dunne’s method. Rather than flagging his dreams for their precognitive potential, he began to find patterns among them, breaking them into categories: nostalgic or erotic, shaped by current events or professional anxieties. Apart from a dry spell he referred to as “dream constipation,” Nabokov was a prodigious dreamer, his mind a wellspring of trenchant, tender, and perturbing images that he recounts with verve. An old Cambridge classmate “gloomily consumes a thick red steak, holding it rather daintily, the nails of his long fingers glisten[ing] with cherry-red varnish.” A cryptic caller “wonders how I knew she was Russian. I answer dream-logically that only Russian women speak so loud on the phone.” There are capers: in one, Nabokov and his son, Dmitri, “are trying to track down a repulsive plump little boy who has killed another child—perhaps his sister.” And there are intimations of mortality: “A tremendous very black larch paradoxically posing as a Christmas tree completely stripped of its toys, tinsel, and lights, appeared in its abstract starkness as the emblem of permanent dissolution.”

Nabokov’s dream thinking found its apex in the novel Ada, where he writes, “What are dreams? A random sequence of scenes, trivial or tragic, viatic or static, fantastic or familiar, featuring more or less plausible events patched up with grotesque details, and recasting dead people in new settings.” Dreams are “tricks of an agent of Chronos… Some law of logic should fix the number of coincidences, in a given domain, after which they cease to be coincidences, and form, instead, the living organism of a new truth.”

When you’ve died and gone to book heaven

posted by Tim Carmody   Jul 09, 2018

Strahov-Monastery-Alamy.jpg

No, you’re burned out and just want to look at pretty pictures of books artfully arranged in architecture! Luckily, Condé Nast Traveler has an article featuring “17 Places Book Lovers Need to Visit,” which fits the bill. Just check out the Royal Portuguese Cabinet of Reading in Rio de Janeiro.

Royal-Portuguese-Reading-Room-GettyImages-530795685.jpg

Or China’s Zhongshuge Yangzhou, which uses curved bookshelves and mirrors to create amazing optical illusions. (Dezeen has more pics of this place.)

Yangzhou-Zhongshuge-H611BF.jpg

Moscow’s Cafe Pushkin is also bookishly gorgeous. Oh, just check out the whole thing. Some of the places are less visually exciting, others you’ve heard of a million times, but it’s a nice little piece. Then when you’re done, check out Rachel Leow’s “Bookporn” archives over at a historian’s craft for more of the good stuff.

cafe-pushkin-cr-courtesy.jpg

The dinosaur-killing asteroid that struck Earth was unbelievably huge and fast

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 26, 2018

Humans are so small compared to the size of the Earth, it’s sometimes difficult to comprehend the scale of things like, say, the massive meteorite that struck the Yucatan peninsula about 66 million years ago, an event that triggered the mass extinction of plants and animals, including the dinosaurs. In his recent book, The Ends of the World, Peter Brannen takes a crack at explaining just how big the meteorite was and how quickly the event occurred.

“The meteorite itself was so massive that it didn’t notice any atmosphere whatsoever,” said Rebolledo. “It was traveling 20 to 40 kilometers per second, 10 kilometers — probably 14 kilometers — wide, pushing the atmosphere and building such incredible pressure that the ocean in front of it just went away.”

These numbers are precise without usefully conveying the scale of the calamity. What they mean is that a rock larger than Mount Everest hit planet Earth traveling twenty times faster than a bullet. This is so fast that it would have traversed the distance from the cruising altitude of a 747 to the ground in 0.3 seconds. The asteroid itself was so large that, even at the moment of impact, the top of it might have still towered more than a mile above the cruising altitude of a 747. In its nearly instantaneous descent, it compressed the air below it so violently that it briefly became several times hotter than the surface of the sun.

“The pressure of the atmosphere in front of the asteroid started excavating the crater before it even got there,” Rebolledo said. “Them when the meteorite touched ground zero, it was totally intact. It was so massive that the atmosphere didn’t even make a scratch on it.”

Unlike the typical Hollywood CGI depictions of asteroid impacts, where an extraterrestrial charcoal briquette gently smolders across the sky, in the Yucatan it would have been a pleasant day one second and the world was already over by the next. As the asteroid collided with the earth, in the sky above it where there should have been air, the rock had punched a hole of outer space vacuum in the atmosphere. As the heavens rushed in to close this hole, enormous volumes of earth were expelled into orbit and beyond — all within a second or two of impact.

“So there’s probably little bits of dinosaur bone up on the moon,” I asked.

“Yeah, probably.”

I don’t know if your eyes are as wide as mine are about now but…

What made the Nazis possible? Why didn’t anyone stop them?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 20, 2018

With an eye on the current political situations in the US, Turkey, Russia, and China, Cass Sunstein reviews three books that shed light on how the Nazis came to power in Germany in the 1930s: They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-45 by Milton Mayer, Broken Lives: How Ordinary Germans Experienced the Twentieth Century by Konrad Jarausch, and Defying Hitler by Sebastian Haffner.

Mayer’s book was published in 1955 and consisted of post-war interviews with normal German people (janitor, baker, teacher) who had been Nazi party members. Their recollection of what had happened differed somewhat from the rest of the world’s.

When Mayer returned home, he was afraid for his own country. He felt “that it was not German Man that I had met, but Man,” and that under the right conditions, he could well have turned out as his German friends did. He learned that Nazism took over Germany not “by subversion from within, but with a whoop and a holler.” Many Germans “wanted it; they got it; and they liked it.”

Mayer’s most stunning conclusion is that with one partial exception (the teacher), none of his subjects “saw Nazism as we — you and I — saw it in any respect.” Where most of us understand Nazism as a form of tyranny, Mayer’s subjects “did not know before 1933 that Nazism was evil. They did not know between 1933 and 1945 that it was evil. And they do not know it now.” Seven years after the war, they looked back on the period from 1933 to 1939 as the best time of their lives.

They also denied the Holocaust had happened. They didn’t see it because their lives were just fine (up until the war started).

Mayer suggests that even when tyrannical governments do horrific things, outsiders tend to exaggerate their effects on the actual experiences of most citizens, who focus on their own lives and “the sights which meet them in their daily rounds.” Nazism made things better for the people Mayer interviewed, not (as many think) because it restored some lost national pride but because it improved daily life. Germans had jobs and better housing. They were able to vacation in Norway or Spain through the “Strength Through Joy” program. Fewer people were hungry or cold, and the sick were more likely to receive treatment. The blessings of the New Order, as it was called, seemed to be enjoyed by “everybody.”

This reminded me of how ISIS improved the lives of many in Iraq & Syria by fixing electrical problems, regularly collecting garbage, and focusing on law & order. The quotes around “everybody” in the last line of that paragraph also reminded me of the criticism1 directed at people like Steven Pinker, Bill Gates, or Hans Rosling who insist the world is getting better. Better for whom? Everybody?

See also the Sunstein-edited Can It Happen Here?: Authoritarianism in America.

  1. It’s interesting that this post was deleted from the TED blog. I wonder why?

New Dark Age: Technology and the End of the Future

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 14, 2018

Artist, writer, and thinker James Bridle is an interesting fellow. He coined the term New Aesthetic in 2011. Dronestagram was a three-year project where he posted satellite photos of drone strike locations to social media. He built a trap for self-driving cars. Last year, he wrote a widely read essay on how YouTube’s recommendation algorithms are being used “systematically frighten, traumatise, and abuse children, automatically and at scale”.

New Dark Age

In his forthcoming book, Bridle argues that we’re living in a New Dark Age, where it’s not so much the lack of information as too much information that’s the issue.

In actual fact, we are lost in a sea of information, increasingly divided by fundamentalism, simplistic narratives, conspiracy theories, and post-factual politics. Meanwhile, those in power use our lack of understanding to further their own interests. Despite the accessibility of information, we’re living in a new Dark Age.

From rogue financial systems to shopping algorithms, from artificial intelligence to state secrecy, we no longer understand how our world is governed or presented to us. The media is filled with unverifiable speculation, much of it generated by anonymous software, while companies dominate their employees through surveillance and the threat of automation.

As I wrote recently, “we’re under a constant denial-of-service attack on our ability to think and reason”.

Update: The Guardian has an extended excerpt of Bridle’s book.

Today the cloud is the central metaphor of the internet: a global system of great power and energy that nevertheless retains the aura of something numinous, almost impossible to grasp. We work in it; we store and retrieve stuff from it; it is something we experience all the time without really understanding what it is. But there’s a problem with this metaphor: the cloud is not some magical faraway place, made of water vapour and radio waves, where everything just works. It is a physical infrastructure consisting of phone lines, fibre optics, satellites, cables on the ocean floor, and vast warehouses filled with computers, which consume huge amounts of water and energy. Absorbed into the cloud are many of the previously weighty edifices of the civic sphere: the places where we shop, bank, socialise, borrow books and vote. Thus obscured, they are rendered less visible and less amenable to critique, investigation, preservation and regulation.

Are we completely fucked because of climate change?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 14, 2018

In a review of William T. Vollman’s Carbon Ideologies, a two-volume set of books that the review calls “the Infinite Jest of climate books”, Wen Stephenson succinctly answers a question about our climate that is on many people’s minds: Are we completely fucked because of climate change?

Yes, of course, we’re fucked. (Though it’s important to specify the “we” in this formulation, because the global poor, the disenfranchised, the young, and the yet-to-be-born are certifiably far more fucked than such affluent, white, middle-aged Americans as Vollmann and myself.) But here’s the thing: with climate change as with so much else, all fuckedness is relative. Climate catastrophe is not a binary win or lose, solution or no-solution, fucked or not-fucked situation. Just how fucked we/they will be — that is, what kind of civilization, or any sort of social justice, will be possible in the coming centuries or decades — depends on many things, including all sorts of historic, built-in systemic injustices we know all too well, and any number of contingencies we can’t foresee. But most of all it depends on what we do right now, in our lifetimes. And by that I mean: what we do politically, not only on climate but across the board, because large-scale political action — the kind that moves whole countries and economies in ways commensurate with the scale and urgency of the situation — has always been the only thing that matters here. (I really don’t care about your personal carbon footprint. I mean, please do try to lower it, because that’s a good thing to do, but fussing and guilt-tripping over one’s individual contribution to climate change is neither an intellectually nor a morally serious response to a global systemic crisis. That this still needs to be said in 2018 is, to say the least, somewhat disappointing.)

I got this via Robinson Meyer, who calls it “as good an answer as I’ve seen”.

Freddish, the special language Mister Rogers used when talking to children

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 11, 2018

Maxwell King, the former director of the Fred Rogers Center and author of the forthcoming book The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers, shared an excerpt of the book with The Atlantic about how much attention Rogers paid to how children would hear the language on the show. For instance, he changed the lyrics on Friday’s installment of the “Tomorrow” song he sang at the end of each show to reflect that the show didn’t air on Saturdays.

Rogers was so meticulous in his process for translating ideas so they could be easily understood by children that a pair of writers on the show came up with a nine-step process that he used to translate from normal English into “Freddish”, the special language he used when speaking to children.

1. “State the idea you wish to express as clearly as possible, and in terms preschoolers can understand.” Example: It is dangerous to play in the street.

2. “Rephrase in a positive manner,” as in It is good to play where it is safe.

3. “Rephrase the idea, bearing in mind that preschoolers cannot yet make subtle distinctions and need to be redirected to authorities they trust.” As in, Ask your parents where it is safe to play.

4. “Rephrase your idea to eliminate all elements that could be considered prescriptive, directive, or instructive.” In the example, that’d mean getting rid of “ask”: Your parents will tell you where it is safe to play.

5. “Rephrase any element that suggests certainty.” That’d be “will”: Your parents can tell you where it is safe to play.

6. “Rephrase your idea to eliminate any element that may not apply to all children.” Not all children know their parents, so: Your favorite grown-ups can tell you where it is safe to play.

7. “Add a simple motivational idea that gives preschoolers a reason to follow your advice.” Perhaps: Your favorite grown-ups can tell you where it is safe to play. It is good to listen to them.

8. “Rephrase your new statement, repeating the first step.” “Good” represents a value judgment, so: Your favorite grown-ups can tell you where it is safe to play. It is important to try to listen to them.

9. “Rephrase your idea a final time, relating it to some phase of development a preschooler can understand.” Maybe: Your favorite grown-ups can tell you where it is safe to play. It is important to try to listen to them, and listening is an important part of growing.

These are boss-level communication skills. Steps 6 & 8 are particularly thoughtful. Using language like “your favorite grown-ups” instead of “your parents” is often decried these days as politically correct nonsense but Rogers knew the power of caring language to include as many people as possible in the conversation.1

You can also see Rogers’ care in how he went back and fixed problematic language in old shows.

But as the years would go on, he would find things that had happened in old episodes that didn’t feel current, where maybe he used a pronoun “he” instead of “they” — or he met a woman and presumed that she was a housewife. So he would put on the same clothes and go back and shoot inserts and fix old episodes so that they felt as current as possible, so that he could stand by them 100 percent.

Fred Rogers understood more than anyone that paying attention and sweating the details is a form of love. It was never enough for him to let you know that he loved you. He made sure to tell you that he loved you “just the way you are” and that made all the difference.

  1. As opposed to those who, for instance, refuse to use people’s preferred pronouns or can’t bring themselves to use “they/their” instead of “he/his” in writing. Those refusals are also an exercise of power, against individuals or marginalized groups, based on fear, uncertainty, and hate.

Robert Wadlow, the world’s tallest ever human

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 07, 2018

When I was a kid, I devoured books like locusts ravage crops on the plains. My sister and I would go to the library, get 5 or 6 books each, and when I was done reading all of mine, I’d read hers — Little Women, Judy Blume, The Baby-Sitters Club…I was not picky. I read Roald Dahl, all the Little House books, Where the Red Fern Grows, Encyclopedia Brown, E.B. White, the Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, all kinds of biographies of famous people, and almost everything else in our local library. Reading was how I learned about the world outside my tiny town. Reading was how I came to know about Robert Wadlow, the world’s tallest man.

In 1981, when I was 8 years old, our household acquired two books that I would read more than any other during my childhood: a set of World Book encyclopedias and the Guinness Book of World Records.1 The encyclopedia, a prized family possession, sat on a shelf in the living room and one of my favorite things was to grab a random volume, crack it open to a random page, and start reading. The Guinness Book of World Records, in contrast, sat on a small table in the bathroom; I read it while sitting on the toilet.

The first few pages of the book, which I am pretty sure is still sitting on that table in my dad’s bathroom, contained records related to the human body. I particularly remember reading about Robert Earl Hughes, then the world’s heaviest human, and The McGuire Twins, the world’s heaviest twins; they liked to ride motorcycles:

Mcguire Twins

But most captivating part of that book was the section about Robert Wadlow, the world’s tallest person: 8ft 11in tall, shoe size of 37AA, wingspan of 9.5 feet, and he could carry his father up the stairs at age 9, a feat unimaginable by a scrawny Wisconsin boy of the same age. The tallest person I’d ever seen up until then was probably like 6’3” — a man almost 9 feet tall was like something out of the stories I read from the library. Who needs fiction when you’ve got facts like these?

I hadn’t thought about any of this in years until I ran across a short video of Wadlow the other day (there’s more footage here, here, and elsewhere on YouTube):

Holy shit. Suddenly this almost mythical person from my childhood is walking across my screen! Digging a little, I found the Retronaut’s collection of Wadlow photos, only a couple of which were included in my Guinness book. Here’s Wadlow at 10 years old, when he was already 6’5”:

Robert Wadlow

And here are a couple more photos that show just how tall he was:

Robert Wadlow

Robert Wadlow

You can read more about Wadlow on Wikipedia, on Retronaut, or, yes, on the Guinness World Records site. I don’t care what anyone says…the World Wide Web is still a marvel. It brought Robert Wadlow alive for me, all these years later. What a thing.

  1. I will leave as an exercise to the reader how these books massively influenced my current choice of vocation.

A Summer 2018 reading list for America

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 06, 2018

The other day, Erika Hall asked on Twitter: “If you could assign every American to read one book over the summer, what would it be?” I love these kinds of questions because it puts people into the shoes of teachers, curators, librarians, or, for the particularly strident, benevolent dictators. For many people, the question actually being asked is: “What do you want America to be? “Here are some of the answers worth mentioning:

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer.
A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn.
Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. & E.B. White.
So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo.
The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism by Edward Baptist.

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole.
The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin.
When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times by Pema Chödrön.
The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson.
Why Buddhism Is True by Robert Wright.
Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History by Kurt Andersen.

When I first read this thread, someone gave an answer that I thought was pretty much spot on and now I can’t find it. They didn’t recommend a specific title but instead suggested that everyone read a simple book about kindness. I don’t know what that book would be, but in my imagination, it’s like a book version of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. I would totally read that this summer.

See also a reading list for the resistance.