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kottke.org posts about books

Objects, a coffee table book of artifacts related to the New York City subway

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 13, 2017

NYC Subway objects

NYC Subway objects

From the team that brought us the reissues of the NASA Standards Manual and the NYCTA Graphics Standards Manual comes New York City Transit Authority: Objects by Brian Kelley (@ Amazon), a book full of photographs of artifacts related to the NYC subway and other transit systems in the city.

Kelley started collecting MTA MetroCards in 2011, and he quickly became fascinated by other Subway-related objects. This catalogue is the first of its kind — presenting a previously uncollated archive of subway ephemera that spans three centuries.

Kelley posts photos of many of the artifacts he’s found on Instagram.

Beyonce’s How To Make Lemonade box set

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 11, 2017

How To Make Lemonade Beyonce

Last month, Beyonce released a collector’s edition box set of her latest album called How To Make Lemonade. The set is $300 and includes Lemonade on vinyl as well as downloadable digital versions of the audio and visual albums. But the star of the show here is the 600-page coffee table book full of photos, stories, and poetry about the making of the album.

Lemonade Beyonce

Lemonade Beyonce

Lemonade is still my favorite album of the past few years.

The Drone King, a previously unpublished Kurt Vonnegut short story

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 11, 2017

The Atlantic has just put up a previously unpublished short story by Kurt Vonnegut, The Drone King. It’s about bees.

He examined the card for a long time. “Yes,” he said at last. “Mr. Quick is expecting you. You’ll find him in the small library — second door on the left, by the grandfather clock.”

“Thank you,” I said, and I started past him.

He caught my sleeve. “Sir—”

“Yes?,” I said.

“You aren’t wearing a boutonniere, are you?”

“No,” I said guiltily. “Should I be?”

“If you were,” he said, “I’d have to ask you to check it. No women or flowers allowed past the front desk.”

I paused by the door of the small library. “Say,” I said, “you know this clock has stopped?”

“Mr. Quick stopped it the night Calvin Coolidge died,” he said.

I blushed. “Sorry,” I said.

“We all are,” he said. “But what can anyone do?”

An audio version of the article is available.

The story is one of five that Vonnegut wrote in the early 1950s that were recently discovered in the author’s papers. These five, plus all of Vonnegut’s other short stories, will be out in book form later this month.

You Were Never Really Here

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 07, 2017

You Were Never Really Here is a thriller directed by Lynne Ramsay and starring Joaquin Phoenix as an enforcer for hire. The film is based on a short novel by Jonathan Ames of the same name.

A former Marine and ex-FBI agent, Joe has seen one too many crime scenes and known too much trauma, and not just in his professional life. Solitary and haunted, he prefers to be invisible. He doesn’t allow himself friends or lovers and makes a living rescuing young girls from the deadly clutches of the sex trade. But when a high-ranking New York politician hires him to extricate his teenage daughter from a Manhattan brothel, Joe uncovers a web of corruption that even he may not be able to unravel.

Oh, and Jonny Greenwood did the soundtrack. Looking forward to this one. (via @craigmod)

J.R.R. Tolkien reads from The Hobbit

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 05, 2017

In 1952, a friend of J.R.R. Tolkien showed him a tape recorder, which the author had never seen before. Delighted, Tolkien sat for his friend and read from The Hobbit for 30 minutes “in this one incredible take”. The audio is split between these two videos (with visuals and music added later):

Given the circumstances, the clarity of this recording is pretty remarkable. Give it a listen for at least the first two minutes…hearing Tolkien do Smeagol/Gollum’s voice is really cool. (via open culture)

The Moon 1968-1972

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 01, 2017

Apollo 11 Flag

The Moon 1968-1972 is a slim volume of photographs from the Apollo missions to the Moon that took place over four short years almost 50 years ago. The book contains a passage by E.B. White taken from this New Yorker article about the Apollo 11 landing in 1969.

The moon, it turns out, is a great place for men. One-sixth gravity must be a lot of fun, and when Armstrong and Aldrin went into their bouncy little dance, like two happy children, it was a moment not only of triumph but of gaiety. The moon, on the other hand, is a poor place for flags. Ours looked stiff and awkward, trying to float on the breeze that does not blow. (There must be a lesson here somewhere.) It is traditional, of course, for explorers to plant the flag, but it struck us, as we watched with awe and admiration and pride, that our two fellows were universal men, not national men, and should have been equipped accordingly. Like every great river and every great sea, the moon belongs to none and belongs to all. It still holds the key to madness, still controls the tides that lap on shores everywhere, still guards the lovers who kiss in every land under no banner but the sky. What a pity that in our moment of triumph we did not forswear the familiar Iwo Jima scene and plant instead a device acceptable to all: a limp white handkerchief, perhaps, symbol of the common cold, which, like the moon, affects us all, unites us all.

The Tree Alphabet

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 01, 2017

Tree Alphabet

The Tree Alphabet was made by Katie Holten and was used in her book, About Trees (Amazon), which features writing from Jorge Luis Borges, Charles Darwin, Ada Lovelace, Elizabeth Kolbert, and Robert Macfarlane.

In ABOUT TREES, Katie Holten invites us to enter some of these forests. She has created a Tree Alphabet and used it to translate a compendium of well known, loved, lost and new writing. She takes readers on a journey from ‘primeval atoms’ and cave paintings to the death of a 3,500 year-old cypress tree, from Tree Clocks in Mongolia and forest fragments in the Amazon to Emerson’s language of fossil poetry, unearthing a grove of beautiful stories along the way.

The Trees font file is available for free download and prints of the Tree Alphabet are available as well.

Euclid’s Elements of Geometry done in a modernist Swiss Style

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 31, 2017

Euclid Geometry Book

From Kronecker Wallis, the folks who brought you this reissue of Newton’s Principia, comes a new edition of Euclid’s Elements designed in a modernist Swiss Style.

Euclid’s Elements has been referred to as the most successful and influential textbook ever written. It was one of the very earliest mathematical works to be printed after the invention of the printing press and has been estimated to be second only to the Bible, in the number of editions published since the first printing in 1482.

The Elements is a mathematical treatise consisting of 13 books attributed to the ancient Greek mathematician Euclid. It is a collection of definitions, postulates, propositions (theorems and constructions), and mathematical proofs of the propositions. Elements is the oldest surviving large-scale deductive treatment of mathematics. It has proven instrumental in the development of logic and modern science.

The design and implementation of the book is based off of Oliver Byrne’s edition of Elements from 1847, of which Megan Mulder of the Z. Smith Reynolds Library writes:

Byrne’s Euclid is admired as much for its surprisingly modernist design and color palette — which seems to anticipate Bauhaus and De Stijl — as for its innovative pedagogy.

I have a copy of their Principia reissue (it’s beautiful), so I’m looking forward to this one.

100 Great Works of Dystopian Fiction

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 31, 2017

Dystopian Books

Vulture has compiled a list of 100 Great Works of Dystopian Fiction, “tales about a world gone wrong”. Entries on the list include some of the earliest examples like Mary Shelley’s The Last Man and The Time Machine by H.G. Wells, classics like Huxley’s Brave New World and 1984, modern classics like Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson and William Gibson’s Neuromancer, and some newer books like On Such a Full Sea by Chang-Rae Lee and A Planet for Rent by Cuban author Yoss. Even Infinite Jest makes an appearance. As does It Can’t Happen Here, a 1935 novel by Sinclair Lewis that sounds particularly relevant right now:

As the old saying goes, “history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme” — and Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here is proof. This 1935 satire chronicles the career of fictitious U.S. politician Buzz Windrip, a populist senator who wins the presidency. As it turns out, he’s a bit of a fascist, but more frightening than his actions is the speed — and eagerness — with which Americans join him in his authoritarian crusade. Lewis understood the American soul better than most, and he makes a compelling case that fascist tendencies would make a horrifyingly good fit for our polity if presented with the right amount of good, old-fashioned patriotism.

See also a reading list for the resistance.

My recent (and not-so-recent) media diet

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 29, 2017

Quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, heard, and experienced in the past few weeks. As always, don’t take the letter grades so seriously. Somehow it’s been almost two months since my last installment?

Paterson. I would pay to watch Adam Driver read the phone book and that’s kinda what this is so I was satisfied. (B)

Despicable Me 3. I have a soft spot for the Minions movie (don’t know why, afraid to ask myself) but not for this one. (C+)

Cars and Trucks and Things That Go by Richard Scarry. This was my favorite book to read to my kids, but both of them can read by themselves now, so this is perhaps the last time I will get to sit down and read it with them and oh no I’m crying right now. (A+)

Mr. Holmes. This could have been good but 24 hours after watching, I’d forgotten everything about it. (C)

Spider-Man: Homecoming. My brain let out a big ol’ “ohhhhhh” after I realized two-thirds of the way through where they got the title. (B)

The Defiant Ones. Great. But I felt Dre’s apology for his violence against women was lacking. As with many apologies from the wealthy and powerful, it had more to do with him than with his victims. (A)

Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein. I love reading weirdo books with my kids. (A)

Game of Thrones (season 7). Pure pulp and soap at this point. (A-)

Hey, Cool Job Episode 21: Wellness Expert And Swole Woman Casey Johnston. I LOL’d at “I’m going to remain poor and right”. (B+)

Dunkirk. I feel like Christopher Nolan watched Mad Max: Fury Road and said, “I can do that…but my way.” Also reminded me strongly of Run Lola Run. (A-)

Dunkirk: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack. Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack contributed heavily to my enjoyment of this film. (A)

Baby Driver. A 2-hour music video. If were 25 and had never seen a Tarantino movie, I would have thought this was the coolest shit ever. (B)

The total solar eclipse. A once-in-a-lifetime experience I will attempt to replicate at the earliest opportunity. (A+++)

Past installments of my media diets can be found here.

Hey Ladies! the book

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 25, 2017

The Hey Ladies! column from The Toast is coming out in book form in May 2018 (pre-order here).

Based on the column of the same name that appeared in The Toast, Hey Ladies! is a laugh-out-loud read that follows a fictitious group of eight 20-and-30-something female friends for one year of holidays, summer house rentals, dates, brunches, breakups, and, of course, the planning of a disastrous wedding. This instantly relatable story is told entirely through emails, texts, DMs, and every other form of communication known to man.

From the column, here’s some Friendsgiving planning:

In terms of NBT aka night before thanksgiving AKA thanksgiving eve, i’m sorry to say that I won’t be here. My dad bought me a flight home (yay daddy’s girl forever haha!) and I’m leaving Monday. I saw a post on Buzzfeed about doing a friendsgiving? Is anyone interested in this? was thinking we could skip the food and just go out for tequila shots? hahah I love the holidays!

I also don’t know if anyone recalls but I will NOT be going out the night before tgiving in my hometown and that is mostly because I do not want to run the risk of seeing Jacob, my high school ex. I keyed his car in 2001 and I’m almost positive he knows it was me. What’s the statute of limitations on a crime like that? I’ve been listening to too much Serial.

Oddly, both the Times and the New Yorker have run knockoff “Hey Ladies!” pieces in the past couple of months. Not so cool.

Knausgaard’s four-book series on the seasons

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 23, 2017

Karl Ove Knausgaard is writing a series of four books, one for each one of the seasons. The first one, Autumn, just came out yesterday.

Autumn begins with a letter Karl Ove Knausgaard writes to his unborn daughter, showing her what to expect of the world. He writes one short piece per day, describing the material and natural world with the precision and mesmerising intensity that have become his trademark. He describes with acute sensitivity daily life with his wife and children in rural Sweden, drawing upon memories of his own childhood to give an inimitably tender perspective on the precious and unique bond between parent and child. The sun, wasps, jellyfish, eyes, lice—the stuff of everyday life is the fodder for his art. Nothing is too small or too vast to escape his attention. This beautifully illustrated book is a personal encyclopaedia on everything from chewing gum to the stars. Through close observation of the objects and phenomena around him, Knausgaard shows us how vast, unknowable and wondrous the world is.

Ah, so that’s what the chewing gum thing was about. The NY Times review is positive overall with a few caveats. The Times also did a By the Book with Knausgaard in which he shares “books I want to read, books I have to read and books I believe I need to read […] we are talking about id, ego and superego books”. Among his book picks are Pond by Claire-Louise Bennett and The Brain: The Story of You by David Eagleman. There is also this:

I hardly ever laugh.

LOL Knausgaard.

This Book Is a Planetarium

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 18, 2017

Planetarium Book

Planetarium Book

A couple of years ago, I told you about designer Kelli Anderson’s upcoming book, This Book is a Planetarium. It took awhile to get everything just right, but I’m happy to report the book will finally be out in early October.

Defying every expectation of what a book can be, this pop-up extravaganza transforms into six fully functional tools: a real working planetarium projecting the constellations, a musical instrument complete with strings for strumming, a geometric drawing generator, an infinite calendar, a message decoder, and even a speaker that amplifies sound. Artist Kelli Anderson contributes enlightening text alongside each pop-up, explaining the scientific principles at play in her constructions and creating an interactive experience that’s as educational as it is extraordinary.

Here’s a video of Anderson playing with two of the six contraptions. She sent me a preview of the book in the form of the planetarium pop-up page (accompanied by one of these cool cards) and when I cracked it open, I actually squealed. Seriously, this thing is super awesome. We took it and my iPhone flashlight into the darkest room in the house and sure enough, there was the Big Dipper projected onto the ceiling…my kids could barely stop saying “this is so cool”. Really looking forward to seeing the real thing in October.

The paradox of tolerance

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 17, 2017

Corey Long Charlottesville

In his 1945 book The Open Society and Its Enemies, political philosopher Karl Popper asserted that tolerance need not be extended to those who are intolerant.

Less well known is the paradox of tolerance: Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them. In this formulation, I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be unwise. But we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force; for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols. We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant. We should claim that any movement preaching intolerance places itself outside the law, and we should consider incitement to intolerance and persecution as criminal, in the same way as we should consider incitement to murder, or to kidnapping, or to the revival of the slave trade, as criminal.

The last part bears repeating:

We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant. We should claim that any movement preaching intolerance places itself outside the law, and we should consider incitement to intolerance and persecution as criminal, in the same way as we should consider incitement to murder, or to kidnapping, or to the revival of the slave trade, as criminal.

The photo above was taken by Steve Helber of Charlottesville resident Corey Long pointing an improvised flamethrower at a group of white supremacists this past weekend. Yesha Callahan of The Root interviewed Long about that moment:

“At first it was peaceful protest,” Long said softly as he spoke. “Until someone pointed a gun at my head. Then the same person pointed it at my foot and shot the ground.”

Long said the only weapon he had was a can of spray paint that a white supremacist threw at him earlier, so he took a lighter to the spray paint and turned it into a flame thrower. And a photographer snapped the photo.

But inside every photograph is an untold story. If you look closely at Long’s picture, there’s an elderly white man standing in between Long and his friend. The unknown man was part of the counterprotests, too, but was afraid, and Long and his friends were trying to protect him. Even though, Long says, those who were paid to protect the residents of Charlottesville were doing just the opposite.

A digital archive of Soviet children’s books 1917-1953

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 10, 2017

Soviet Childrens Books

Soviet Childrens Books

Playing Soviet is an online interactive database created by Princeton of children’s books from the Soviet Union.

In the selections featured here, the user can see first-hand the mediation of Russia’s accelerated violent political, social and cultural evolution from 1917 to 1953. These conditions saw the proliferation of new styles and techniques in all the graphic arts: the diverse productivity of the Russian avant-garde, photomontage, experimental typography, and socialist realism. As was clear both from the rhetoric of the arbiters of Soviet culture — its writers and government officials — the illustration and look of Soviet children’s books was of tantamount importance as a vehicle for practical and concrete information in the new Soviet regime. Directives for a new kind of children’s literature were founded on the assumption that the “language of images” was immediately comprehensible to the mass reader, far more so than the typed word. Illustrators were raised as equals to the revered Russian author, bringing artists such as Alexander Deineka, El Lissitzky, Vladimir Lebedev, and numerous other graphic designers to the pages of children’s books to create imaginative models for Soviet youth in the new languages of Soviet modernism.

The bottom image is from a book called For Children About Lenin, a 71-page illustrated book about Lenin and the Russian Revolution published 2 years after his death.

Yes, barbed wire fenced cows but also provided telecommunications

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 08, 2017

Barbed wire is one of the most important inventions of the past 150 years. It tamed the Wild West and solidified the concept of land ownership in America. Tim Harford, author of Fifty Inventions That Shaped the Modern Economy, writes:

After Europeans arrived and pushed west, the cowboys roamed free, herding cattle over the boundless plains.

But settlers needed fences, not least to keep those free-roaming cattle from trampling their crops. And there wasn’t a lot of wood — certainly none to spare for fencing in mile after mile of what was often called “The American Desert”.

Farmers tried growing thorn-bush hedges, but they were slow-growing and inflexible. Smooth wire fences didn’t work either — the cattle simply pushed through them.

Barbed wire changed what the Homestead Act could not.

Until it was developed, the prairie was an unbounded space, more like an ocean than a stretch of arable land.

Private ownership of land wasn’t common because it wasn’t feasible.

With demand came fierce competition; there were dozens of different types of barbed wire:

Barbed Wire Types

Just two years after Joseph Glidden patented his design for barbed wire in 1874, another of the 19th century’s great inventions burst onto the scene in the form of Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone. The two world-changing technologies would combine in a surprising way in the western United States. Because of the expense of running dedicated telephone services over long distances, some farmers opted to run their telecommunications over the hundreds of thousands of miles of barbed wire criss-crossing the land.

It was in building the network connecting homestead to homestead that the farmers’ ingenuity came to the fore. Instead of erecting new poles and wires, many either ran phone wires along the top of wooden fence posts or used the barbed wire itself to carry signals. The latter hardly worked as well as insulated copper wire, but with the lines already in place, installation and operating costs could be kept to a minimum. By one estimate, service ran a mere $3 to $18 a year, far less than the regional phone companies charged, and labor for maintaining the network was supplied by volunteers.

So cool. I’m reading A Mind at Play right now. It’s a biography of Claude Shannon, “the architect of the information age”. As a boy, Shannon wired the half-mile stretch of barbed wire fence between his family’s farm and a friend’s house:

He charged it himself: he hooked up dry-cell batteries at each end, and spliced spare wire into any gaps to run the current unbroken. Insulation was anything at hand: leather straps, glass bottlenecks, corncobs, inner-tube pieces. Keypads at each end — one at his house on North Center Street, the other at his friend’s house half a mile away — made it a private barbed-wire telegraph. Even insulated, it is apt to be silenced for months in the ice and snow that accumulate on it, at the knuckle of Michigan middle finger. But when the fence thaws and Claude patches the wire, and the current runs again from house to house, he can speak again at lightspeed and, best of all, in code.

In the 1920s, when Claude was a boy, some three million farmers talked through networks like these, wherever the phone company found it unprofitable to build. It was America’s folk grid. Better networks than Claude’s carried voices along the fences, and kitchens and general stores doubled at switchboards.

(via mr)

Update: See also the Devil’s Rope episode of 99% Invisible. (thx, dave)

Obama, An Intimate Portrait by White House photographer Pete Souza

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 07, 2017

For all eight years of Barack Obama’s Presidency, Pete Souza was Chief Official White House Photographer and took over 2 million photos of the President and his activities in office. Souza has collected some of those photos into a book: Obama: An Intimate Portrait, out in November.

Obama: An Intimate Portrait reproduces Souza’s most iconic photographs in exquisite detail, more than three hundred in all. Some have never been published. These photographs document the most consequential hours of the Presidency — including the historic image of President Obama and his advisors in the Situation Room during the bin Laden mission — alongside unguarded moments with the President’s family, his encounters with children, interactions with world leaders and cultural figures, and more.

It’s impossible to pick a favorite photo of Souza’s, but these two are right near the top:

Souza Obama Book

Souza Obama Book

What’s Souza up to these days? Trolling the current inhabitant of the White House on Instagram, as you do.

Photos documenting unusual laws across all 50 US states

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 31, 2017

Olivia Locher Law

Olivia Locher Law

Olivia Locher Law

When a normal person finds out that it’s illegal in Alabama to carry an ice cream cone in your back pocket, they might say, huh, that’s interesting. But photographer Olivia Locher took that strange fact and turned it into a project documenting the weirdest laws across all 50 US states (aided by a 70s children’s book called Crazy Laws). Locher has collected the photos into a book, I Fought the Law, which is out in September. Laws depicted in the photos above:

In Alabama, it is illegal to have an ice-cream cone in your back pocket.

In Ohio, it’s illegal to disrobe in front of a man’s portrait.

In Pennsylvania, it’s illegal to tie a dollar bill to a string and pull it away when someone tries to pick it up.

See also you commit three felonies a day.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 28, 2017

From an excerpt of Mark Manson’s book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck:

The desire for more positive experience is itself a negative experience. And, paradoxically, the acceptance of one’s negative experience is itself a positive experience.

Those two sentences are a pretty good way to sum up the human experience. As an exercise, think about how the world’s major religions and philosophies are attempts to help people manage these desires and acceptance.

A big list of the best feminist children’s books

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 28, 2017

Feminist children's books

Buzzfeed recently asked their readers for their favorite feminist children’s books. Their responses included Matilda by Roald Dahl, Babette Cole’s Princess Smartypants, Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren, Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty, and, of course, Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls.

Harry Potter is also on the list because Hermione Granger is amazing.

The winners of the 2016 50 Books/50 Covers competition

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 17, 2017

50 Books 2016

Design Observer and the AIGA have announced their selections for the 50 best designed books and 50 best designed book covers for 2016. You can browse the entire selection in the AIGA archive. Lovely to see Aaron James Draplin’s Pretty Much Everything, Koya Bound, and the Hamilton book on the list. Oh and I love this cover for The Poser.

Poser Book Cover

A collection of free coloring books from libraries and museums

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 17, 2017

Library Coloring Books

Library Coloring Books

Library Coloring Books

Library Coloring Books

A bunch of libraries and museums have banded together for the Color Our Collections campaign, offering up free coloring books that let you color artworks from their collections. Participating institutions include the NYPL, the Biodiversity Heritage Library, the Smithsonian, the New York Botanical Garden, and the Bodleian Libraries at Oxford.

An appreciation and reevaluation of Contact, 20 years after its theatrical release

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 12, 2017

Contact, based on Carl Sagan’s book of the same name, is on its face a movie about science vs. religion. On the 20th anniversary of its release, Germain Lussier rewatched the film and came away with a different impression: director Robert Zemeckis wanted viewers to think about our relationship to media and technology.

Once Ellie and her team discover the signal from Vega, seemingly every scene in the film features a monitor or some kind of television-related paraphernalia. Whether that’s unpacking a TV to unveil the Olympic footage, people watching news reports on CNN, a terrorist videotaping himself, or multiple scenes in the screen-filled Mission Control, Contact is filled with monitors, forcing both the characters and the audience to watch them. Full scenes of the film are made up of fuzzy TV footage. There are numerous press conferences on TV. The selection of the Machine representative unfolds via the news. Ellie’s interactions with Hadden are almost entirely done over a monitor. Even in scenes where the camera is in a room with the characters, Zemeckis often films them watching TV, or simply puts TV monitors in the frame to constantly remind us they’re there.

But that’s not it. People video chat regularly, which was not common in 1997. The terrorist attack on the Machine is first discovered on a TV monitor and subsequently played out there too. Then, finally, what’s the smoking gun of Ellie’s whole trip at the end of the movie? Eighteen hours of video footage. I could go on and on with examples where Contact uses television and monitors, but once you start seeing the film’s obsession with video, it’s almost comical how often it’s used. Which poses the obvious question, “Why?”

In this light, the organized religion & organized science depicted in the film are just other forms of mediated experience, separate from the personal experience of seeing something with your own eyes.

Contact is one of my favorite movies — I watch it every 12-18 months or so — and this makes me appreciate it all the more. And I had forgotten how good the trailer was:

It’s dead simple: that amazingly resonant Vega signal sound over a series of quickly cut scenes that tells the story in miniature. Surely this belongs on best movie trailers lists as much as any of these.

Oh, and while I’m not generally a fan of reboots, I would love to see what Denis Villeneuve could do with Sagan’s story. I’m also not crazy about Jodie Foster — I find her less and less tolerable as Arroway with each viewing — so it would be cool to see another actress in the role. Arrival’s Amy Adams is almost too on the nose…how about Lupita Nyong’o, ?Emma Watson, Janelle Monáe, Brie Larson, or Emma Stone?

A 2017 summer reading list from TED speakers

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 07, 2017

Back in May I shared a list of books that TED speakers had mentioned on Twitter. That list was a little uneven because a mention isn’t necessarily a recommendation and some speakers aren’t on Twitter while others tweet books constantly. This list of 101 books to dive into this summer compiled by TED is much more cohesive and useful. Among the picks that sounded interesting:

Pocket Atlas of Remote Islands: Fifty Islands I Have Not Visited and Never Will by Judith Schalansky.

The Atlas of Remote Islands, Judith Schalansky’s beautiful and deeply personal account of the islands that have held a place in her heart throughout her lifelong love of cartography, has captured the imaginations of readers everywhere. Using historic events and scientific reports as a springboard, she creates a story around each island: fantastical, inscrutable stories, mixtures of fact and imagination that produce worlds for the reader to explore.

The More They Disappear by Jesse Donaldson.

There’s a lot of talk about the opioid crisis these days, but what’s missing from the statistics is the human story, the understanding of why people are making the choices they do. This novel, which focuses on Kentucky in the 1990s, gave me that understanding. After I finished it — which didn’t take long because I couldn’t put it down — I felt like I had physically been transported to that time and place.

Placing Outer Space: An Earthly Ethnography of Other Worlds by Lisa Messeri.

In Placing Outer Space Lisa Messeri traces how the place-making practices of planetary scientists transform the void of space into a cosmos filled with worlds that can be known and explored. Making planets into places is central to the daily practices and professional identities of the astronomers, geologists, and computer scientists Messeri studies.

Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst by Robert Sapolsky.

Due to my work filming with former jihadis, I’ve become very interested in understanding more about human interaction. Behave explores human nature, from the firing of a synapse all the way to the broader effects of culture. Based on a wide and multidisciplinary knowledge of science, this book provides a fascinating exploration of humanity, which might give us some important information on how we can work towards a better future for us all.

The Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone.

I recently reread this children’s classic. It’s surprisingly relevant now, and shows us the irrational fears we can have of various groups.

The US far right’s game plan? A suppression of the majority.

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 07, 2017

Rebecca Onion recently interviewed Nancy MacLean, who has written a book about economist James McGill Buchanan, whose work MacLean believes is the origin of the ideas & strategy of the far right in America (most notably represented by the Koch brothers). As told by MacLean in her book Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, the goal of this coalition is to switch the US to a “totally new vision of society and government, that’s different from anything that exists anywhere in the world”.

When the Supreme Court decided, in the 1954 case of Brown vs. Board of Education, that segregated public schools were unconstitutional, Tennessee-born economist James McGill Buchanan was horrified. Over the course of the next few decades, the libertarian thinker found comfortable homes at a series of research universities and spent his time articulating a new grand vision of American society, a country in which government would be close to nonexistent, and would have no obligation to provide education-or health care, or old-age support, or food, or housing-to anyone.

This radical vision has become the playbook for a network of people looking to override democracy in order to shift more money to the wealthiest few.

I suspect MacLean’s argument is much more fleshed out in her book than in the interview and criticisms are easy to find (although I don’t know how ideologically motivated they are), but what she says could explain what’s happening in our government right now. As I wrote back in December:

More than anything for me, this is the story of politics in America right now: a shrinking and increasingly extremist underdog party has punched above its weight over the past few election cycles by methodically exploiting the weaknesses in our current political system. Gerrymandering, voter suppression, the passing of voter ID laws, and spreading propaganda via conservative and social media channels has led to disproportionate Republican representation in many areas of the country which they then use to gerrymander and pass more restrictive voter ID laws.

In the interview, McLean says that Buchanan advised Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet on the structure of his country’s constitution:

This document was later called a “constitution of locks and bolts,” [and was designed] to make it so that the majority couldn’t make its will felt in the political system, unless it was a huge supermajority.

That feels like where we’re heading in this country right now. Perhaps slowly and perhaps it won’t come to that, but it’s difficult to escape the conclusion these days that Republicans (or at least the ascendant far right arm of the party) want anything less than to rule the US no matter what the majority of its citizens might want.

My recent media diet

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 06, 2017

Quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, and heard in the past few weeks. As always, don’t take the letter grades so seriously. Lots of music & TV and fewer movies & books this time around.

Enemy of the State. Ripe for a remake. (B-)

Cafe Society. Jesse Eisenberg is the worst version of Woody Allen yet. (C+)

Behave. I’ve barely started reading this (and then stopped because I was in the mood for fiction instead) but aspire to finish because I’ve heard really great things from a diverse array of trusted sources. (n/a)

Narcos. Season 2 is less compelling than the initial season, but Wagner Moura as Escobar is flat-out amazing. If you skipped this show, do yourself a favor and try season 1. (B+)

My Struggle: Book 2. I generally don’t find myself in characters in books, historical figures, or working artists, but the degree to which I identify with Karl Ove Knausgaard as depicted in the first two My Struggle books scares the shit out of me. On practically every page, he writes something that resonates with me and how I approach the world. I’m not sure any other book has helped me identify and understand the good and bad parts of myself as much as this one. (A+)

Zen Shorts. A recommendation by several kottke.org readers after the story of the Chinese farmer post. (A-)

This Bridge Will Not Be Gray. The only Dave Eggers book I’ve read in recent years. Sparked an interest in Art Deco in my kids a couple years ago. (A-)

Melodrama. After such a strong debut, it’s great to see Lorde come back with such a strong sophomore effort. (B+)

It Will Be Forever. Recommended by a friend who never gets it wrong. (He also put me onto this.) Tycho-esque. (B+)

Ctrl. Haven’t listened to this much but want to give it more attention. (B)

Cars 3. Way better than the deplorable Cars 2 but it felt very much like a sequel in a way that the Toy Story movies didn’t. (B)

Halt and Catch Fire. Rewatching from season one, which ppl will tell you to skip, but they’re wrong. I had forgotten how good it is, right away. Looking forward to their final season starting in August. (A-)

GLOW. Enjoyable television: really fun and just a little meaty. (B+)

OK Computer OKNOTOK 1997 2017. A reissue of one of the best albums of all time? Sure. (A+)

Star Trek: The Next Generation. I’ve seen all of these multiple times, and I just love them. Even the ones where Troi is possessed and Geordi falls in love with Holodeck characters. (A)

Iteration. If you love Com Truise, you will love this. (B+)

Big Fish Theory. The album of the summer? I haven’t been able to stop playing this in the car. (A-)

Okja. I wanted to like this way more than I did. Felt muddled. Never a good sign when you stop a movie halfway through to go to bed. (C+)

4:44. But I liked this way more than I thought I would. It’s no Lemonade (the fingerprints of which are all over 4:44), but Jay-Z has reminded everyone that he’s still a formidable artist. And the way he says “okay” after “I’m not black, I’m O.J.” is pitch perfect. Further reading: ‘4:44’ is a Shawn Carter album. Jay-Z is dead., ‘4:44’ Producer No I.D. Talks Pushing Jay-Z, Creating ‘500 Ideas’, and Jay-Z’s Pitch for Generational Wealth. (A-)

Past installments of my media diets can be found here.

Google search data shows “a crisis of self-induced abortions”

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 26, 2017

For his book Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are, Seth Stephens-Davidowitz combed through data on Google Trends for five years, looking for data on searches that Google users “don’t tell to possibly anybody else, things they might not tell to family members, friends, anonymous surveys, or doctors”.

According to a recent interview with Stephens-Davidowitz, right now the data is showing an increase in search queries on how to perform abortions at home and, no surprise, the activity is highest in parts of the country where access to abortion is most difficult.

I’m pretty convinced that the United States has a self-induced abortion crisis right now based on the volume of search inquiries. I was blown away by how frequently people are searching for ways to do abortions themselves now. These searches are concentrated in parts of the country where it’s hard to get an abortion and they rose substantially when it became harder to get an abortion. They’re also, I calculate, missing pregnancies in these states that aren’t showing up in either abortion or birth rates.

That’s pretty disturbing and I think isn’t really being talked about. But I think, based on the data, it’s clearly going on.

Hayao Miyazaki’s favorite children’s books

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 22, 2017

Totoro Little Prince

Back in 2010, legendary Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki picked his 50 favorite books for children and young adults. Here are the top five:

1. The Borrowers by Mary Norton
2. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
3. Children of Noisy Village by Astrid Lindgren
4. When Marnie Was There by Joan G. Robinson
5. Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome

It’s easy to see the influence of the books from the list on the movies he made. Indeed, two of the top five books were actually made into Studio Ghibli films (The Borrowers and When Marnie Was There).

P.S. The Totoro / Little Prince illustration is from Pinterest, but I couldn’t find the original source. Anyone?

Fifty Inventions That Shaped the Modern Economy

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 21, 2017

50 Things Economy

Tim Harford, aka The Undercover Economist, is coming out with a new book called Fifty Inventions That Shaped the Modern Economy.

New ideas and inventions have woven, tangled or sliced right through the invisible economic web that surrounds us every day. From the bar code to double-entry bookkeeping, covering ideas as solid as concrete or as intangible as the limited liability company, this book not only shows us how new ideas come about, it also shows us their unintended consequences — for example, the gramophone introducing radically unequal pay in the music industry, or how the fridge shaped the politics of developing countries across the globe.

It’s based on his BBC podcast 50 Things That Made the Modern Economy.

Fun fact that I just discovered: Harford and I share the same birthday, both date and year.

Narrative flowcharts for Choose Your Own Adventure books

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 20, 2017

Choose Your Own Adventure map

Choose Your Own Adventure map

The newest editions of Choose Your Own Adventure books come with maps of the story structure that depicts all the branches, endings, and links of each story.

On the official maps, however, the endings aren’t coded in any way that reveals their nature. Instead, they operate according to a simple key: each arrow represents a page, each circle a choice, and each square an ending. Dotted lines show where branches link to one another.

Mapping the bones of the books can have other purposes, too. Nick Montfort, a poet and professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who studies interactive fiction, has a habit of asking people what they know about “Choose Your Own Adventure” books. “They often say, ‘You have two choices after every page,’” he says. “That’s not true. Sometimes you have one choice. Sometimes you have more than two. When you show the maps, you can see that these books don’t look exactly the same.”

(via @RLHeppner)