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Tomorrow’s Special Guest…

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 19, 2020

Hey all. I’m taking the day off tomorrow (Friday) to take care of a few things I’ve been neglecting in my life recently (laundry, tidying, showering, maybe even email). But I am pleased to tell you that Mr. Tim Carmody will be covering for me in his typically fine fashion. Tim has been a part of this website for many years now and I’m so glad to welcome him back. He’ll be helming the @kottke Twitter account tomorrow as well, so pop over there if you want to say hello, offer feedback, etc. I’ll be back next week, hopefully with clean clothes.

What Do I Need to Do to Get You Into a Membership Today?

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 30, 2020

Always Be Closing

Hey look, I’m not going to give you the hard sell this year. (Ok, I never do — it’s just not in my nature.) Four years ago I introduced the kottke.org membership program so that folks reading the site could directly support my efforts here, and it’s been wonderfully successful. Or to put it another way, without that member support, this site would not exist.

Why wouldn’t it exist? The online advertising market for small sites like this sucks (especially for non-vertical sites) and I’ve nearly stopped linking to Amazon, losing the corresponding affiliate revenue that comprised 15-20% of my total annual revenue. As much as I like linking to Bookshop.org instead, the revenue from their affiliate program has only filled a tiny bit of that absence.1 Member support is far and away the thing that’s keeping me going here.

I know these are աɛɨʀɖ ȶɨʍɛֆ and that can make it tough to support things like non-essential websites. If you can’t swing it right now, please don’t! And don’t worry about it. If you’re currently a member worried about your finances and a refund of this year’s membership amount would help out, send me an email and let’s make that happen. But if you find value in this site and can manage it, I’d appreciate you supporting the site with a membership, especially if you’re someone who values the switch to Bookshop.org and that the advertising on the site is both minimal and relevant. And if you’re already a member and want to remain so (or even to bump up your membership level), maybe log in to check your status — it’s easy for a credit card to expire and you miss the email…

Ok, that was maybe a bit of a hard sell. But it’s over now. Thanks for hearing me out, I’ll follow up next week with a brochure about that Playa del Carmen timeshare, and you have yourself a lovely weekend. *big gold-toothed Joe Pesci from Home Alone smile*

  1. Bookshop’s affiliate percentage is much more generous than Amazon’s is, but their prices are higher, popular books are often out of stock, shipping is slower than Amazon’s, and their site search is not great. I support their mission, but they have some work to do to make this a viable shopping experience for people who aren’t 100% into their goal of helping small bookstores.

This Is Usually Where the Title Goes

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 23, 2020

Hey everybody stream of consciousness warning. I’m behind on most things in my life and this has been exacerbated recently by some medical drama of my own dumb making (not Covid) so I am going to beg your kind pardon if things continue to be a little slow and disjointed around here while I get some things sorted out. I don’t really know what kottke.org is supposed to be right now — an escape? the spearpoint of the resistance? hopeful? realistic? — but I do know that the site has been not that solid lately. I didn’t even post anything about RBG for pete’s sake. Didn’t get to write about a place in NYC that was very special to me, a place that changed my life, that has closed its doors forever. I have not talked enough about kottke.org’s great new podcast (or maybe I’ve mentioned it too much). In this moment it seems both completely irrelevant and absolutely necessary to share art and film and music and scientific wonder and frivolities and my feelings about this necessity changes from day to day. Anyway, if I default to easier topics or if things seem a little less stable than usual I hope you understand. Thank you as always for reading.

ps. I am personally fine, both in body and soul! Just strapped for time/energy/brainspace right now. And always confused/curious about what the future holds. Aren’t we all these days?

A Conversation with Jason Kottke on the Kottke Ride Home Podcast

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 21, 2020

Hi folks. As you may have seen here recently, there is now an official kottke.org podcast: Kottke Ride Home (subscribe here). Every weekday, host Jackson Bird brings you 15 minutes of “the coolest stuff that happened in the world today”. Last week, Jackson and I talked on Skype for a special weekend bonus episode of the podcast: A Conversation with Jason Kottke (more listening options).

This is a peek behind the scenes of Jason’s process, his philosophies, and general thoughts on the internet — where it’s been, and maybe where it’s going. We talked about what running the blog looks like now, how it’s changed over the years. The evolution of patronage models, and his current thoughts on them. We talked a bit about burn out and managing that tension between what you really want to do versus what may appear to be the path of success online. And about the increasingly challenging task of maintaining ownership over what you create online. We also compared and contrasted our experiences as an OG blogger versus an OG vlogger, and how terrible both of those words are.

I thought this was a really good conversation. Jackson had some great questions that got me talking about some stuff I don’t normally get into. Hopefully we’ll do another one again soon. In the meantime, subscribe to Kottke Ride Home to get the best of the internet into your ears every weekday.

An Interview with ‘Kottke Ride Home’ Host Jackson Bird

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 27, 2020

Last week, I told you about the launch of kottke.org’s new podcast, Kottke Ride Home. The podcast is a 15-minute show with smart news and info hosted by Jackson Bird. I recently “sat down” with Jackson to ask him some questions. In this (very) lightly edited interview, he talks about how the podcast comes together every weekday, provides some insider knowledge on TED Talks, suggests about how we might relate to Harry Potter given JK Rowling’s repeated airing of her anti-trans views, and shares some media suggestions like YouTube videos, podcasts, and movies.

Let’s start with something easy. What are you up to these days, apart from hosting the podcast?

Apart from the podcast, I make videos for my YouTube channel, which I’ve been doing in various capacities since 2007. These days my videos are mostly on LGBTQ+ topics, but sometimes I throw random things on a waffle iron to see what happens. I also co-host a podcast about masculinity with my friend Bo Méndez called Everything’s Bigger. Before the pandemic, I was a pub quiz host. Since bars aren’t opening for indoor activities anytime soon here in New York City, I’m glad to have the Kottke Ride Home to fill my thirst for random knowledge.

How do you go about deciding which stuff to feature on the podcast? What are you looking for? Do you have a system? Is it a gut feeling? How do you know something’s right? (This is something I struggle to explain when I get this question, so I’d love to hear your perspective.)

I have a huge RSS feed list and bookmark anything I see that could possibly be interesting for the podcast, but as far as narrowing it down for what makes the cut each day, that’s a bit tougher. I like to have a nice balance of different genres (i.e. not too much science or too much history in any one day) and try to keep most of it fairly topical, even if I dive into older, archival finds here and there. When we were first developing the show, Brian suggested that each day listeners should learn something new, hear something that makes them smile, and learn something they might share at a dinner party (remember dinner parties?). I still try to stick to that for the most part. I’m aware that some listeners might be more into pop culture and others into scientific discoveries and still others looking for weird cultural finds, design, uplifting stories, and more so I try to make sure there’s something that would keep people listening everyday even if they aren’t interested in every single story. Sometimes it also comes down to length. We try to keep Ride Home shows to 15 minutes, which means each segment is ideally 400-500 words. If I got really into a story and accidentally wrote 1000 words, then the other segments have to be a bit shorter and lighter that day so another long story might get pushed to the next day. I don’t get it perfect everyday. It really is an intricate dance and truly a lot of gut feelings.

Over the past decade, TED has grown into a huge cultural juggernaut. What was it like on the inside, being a TED Resident and doing a TED Talk?

It was really surreal. I still sometimes can’t believe that I was not only picked to be a TED Resident, but also that I actually worked out of TED’s global headquarters in Manhattan everyday for over three months. My fellow residents were all working on amazing projects like an app to locate land mines, a VR time capsule of Coney Island, and a documentary destigmatizing mental illness in communities of color, but just being inside the beating heart of TED was inspiring all on its own. There was always something happening and residents were invited to be a part of most of it — like the day Tony Schwartz, the ghostwriter of Donald Trump’s The Art of Deal, came to speak in TED’s in-house theater just weeks after Trump’s inauguration. Or the day I turned around from my desk and realized the woman who had been working in the conference room behind me for two hours was Monica Lewinsky.

Giving a TED Talk was massively intimidating. Having a TED Talk under your belt is a huge thing so I didn’t want to mess it up and blow the opportunity. I also knew that much of TED’s leadership would be watching from the audience. Part of what makes it so nerve-wracking is that it’s both a live performance and something filmed and shared in perpetuity. I’ve grown up doing both live performances and plenty of on-camera work, but rarely both at the same time — and certainly not for something that would have such a huge impact on my career. If you mess up in a live performance, you try to cover it somehow and keep going. It might not be your best night, but that’s okay because you feed off the audience and no one will ever see it again. If you mess up for a camera, you stop and start over. Because TED uses something like a dozen cameras all over the theater aimed at both you and the audience, we were instructed to use that latter method if we messed up, to stop and start over. With just one shot though, I still wanted to give my best performance for the audience so I just worked as hard as I could to not mess up. I must have practiced my talk close to a thousand times in the month leading up to actually giving it. That was a challenge in and of itself because it meant finishing the talk soon enough to get a month of practice in.

The process of writing, however, was really invigorating. We had a number of sessions with a speaking coach to help us craft our talks and hone our delivery. As someone who has been an independent creator for so long, it was really great to get so much feedback and spend so long making sure every single word had a purpose. TED Talks for residents are only six minutes, so every second has to count. As nervous as I was, I don’t think I could’ve done any better on the night, but I still never watch it back. I can’t stomach it. But it has been really nice to have one quick talk to point to as an example of my work and as a resource for people looking to learn more about transgender topics. If you watch on TED.com, there’s an extensive list of footnotes and further reading that I curated along with the video. TED staff thinks I may have broken a record for most extra resources added at the time.

You wrote a memoir that was published last September. Was writing a book something you’d always wanted to do?

Yeah, I always wanted to be a writer. I was “writing” stories on the family typewriter before I could spell any words. Growing up the only two things I cared about was writing and acting. I more or less quit acting when I went to college and between college papers and then copywriting for a nonprofit, I kind of lost any drive for creative writing for a while. The book kind of happened by accident. I set out to write a zine, something usually in the 3-10 page range, and ended up writing 75 pages. From there, I started thinking maybe I could expand the project into a memoir. I went back and forth for years on if I actually wanted to publish a memoir, but at the end of 2018 the opportunity presented itself and less than a year later I had published a book. It was a whirlwind and has been an awesome experience, but I can’t wait to write more books on a more normal timeline and which aren’t about me. I’ve got a picture book I’m working on, two young adult novels I’m trying to make headway on, and ideas for several other novels and works of creative nonfiction I’d love to one day write. And if Marvel ever let me write a Captain America novel, I’d be over the moon.

My kids and I are big Harry Potter fans. I read the entire series aloud to them, they’ve read all the books more times than I can keep track of, and they know an absurd amount of Potter trivia. The books have spurred & facilitated all kinds of conversations about the value of friendship, the acceptance of differences, and even the dangers of fascism. Their mom and I have told them about the statements that J.K. Rowling has made about trans people and how they differ from our views and seemingly from the inclusive messages in her own work. But I struggle about what guidance to offer them in how they should continue to relate to this entire world that she created that they love. You wrote about this separation of Potter & Rowling in the NY Times back in December before some of her most recent comments. Where are you on this these days?

I used to be the Communications Director for the Harry Potter Alliance, a nonprofit that uses the power of story to mobilize fans towards social action. With over a hundred chapters all over the world, the HPA uses parallels from Harry Potter (and other books, comics, movies, etc.) as an entry point for teaching leadership skills and educating on particular issues and then taps into the inherent enthusiasm and organizing power of fans to effect real change in local communities and around the world. I didn’t write the book on how the Harry Potter series is saturated with inclusive and fairly progressive values, but I did write a peer-reviewed paper on it. So I’m extraordinarily familiar with how people have found solace and inspiration from the books as well as the amazing things fans have created around the books (from fanfiction and fan art to small businesses and an entire genre of music). Which is why I’m both completely nonplussed how the author of a series about unconditional love could have missed the message of her own books entirely and why I personally don’t care anymore. For me, the true magic of the series has always been what we’ve made of it ourselves, and what we’ve made from it. I know not everyone has deep and meaningful fandom experiences like I do to cling onto, especially young kids reading it for the time, but I do think we can separate the author from the art a little bit here. Authors being on social media and clinging ever steadfast to their opinions does make that a bit more challenging than in the past and, admittedly, I don’t think I’ll be able to stomach reading the books anytime soon without hearing her Twitter voice in my head, but I think there are ways to enjoy the books and acknowledge how her views may differ from your own. It’s a chance to interrogate our own biases and have a discussion about important topics. That said, for anyone for whom this was the last straw (because it was certainly not JK Rowling’s first offense), I completely understand. While Harry Potter will always hold a huge place in my heart and in the cultural consciousness of my generation, there are so many other amazing works out there by authors who live out their values and by trans people themselves.

And for anyone who has been a bit confused about the controversy surrounding JK Rowling, I highly recommend this extensively-researched video from YouTuber creators Jamie and Shaaba, a trans man and his fiancée. They’re doctoral researchers in England in the fields of transgender well-being and psychology so they know what they’re talking about. I also recommend this episode of Harry Potter and the Sacred Text, which discusses how fans can continue to be fans (or not) and gives several trans people (admittedly including myself) a chance to share how they’re feeling.

Ok, speed round. Are you a city person or country person? Or suburbs, I guess?

Country. I’ve reluctantly been in New York City for ten years and dreaming of moving to the country for at least five of them. I grew up in Texas so I’m used to more nature and wide open spaces than the urban jungle can in any way provide.

Optimist or pessimist?

Optimist, definitely.

What’s your favorite podcast (other than the one you host)?

So tough to choose just one podcast! I think I’ll go with One From The Vaults, hosted by Morgan M. Page. It’s a history podcast that focuses on one trans or gender nonconforming person from history each episode. Our history has been largely ignored so it’s really cool to learn about unknown or little mentioned individuals in great detail. As an honorable mention, WNYC’s Dear Hank and John always brings a smile to my face. Brothers (and authors/YouTube creators) Hank and John give dubious advice and update listeners on all the news related to Mars and third-tier English football team AFC Wimbledon.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A sidekick.

Favorite book, movie, or TV show?

I don’t know if I could ever choose a favorite book, but my favorite movie is hands down Back to the Future and my favorite TV show is a tie between Parks and Recreation and Downton Abbey.

Who was your favorite teacher?

Dr. Eric Selbin who taught my first year seminar at Southwestern University.

And finally, what question do you wish interviewers would ask you that they never ask?

What’s your most-watched YouTube video?. (Answer.)
—-

Thanks Jackson, not only for taking the time but also for indulging my parenting question. You can listen to Jackson every weekday on Kottke Ride Home. And look for an episode of the podcast in the next few weeks where Jackson will subject me to similar but probably better questions.

Introducing the “Kottke Ride Home” Podcast

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 19, 2020

Hi folks, I’ve got some exciting news today. The newest addition to kottke.org’s tiny media empire debuted yesterday: the Kottke Ride Home podcast. It’s a bloggy daily podcast featuring some of the day’s most interesting news and links in just 15 minutes, and you can subscribe to it on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to your podcasts (more options). The cool thing is that the podcast is very much its own thing with its own engaging host. It’s not a recap of the site in audio form, but instead is a whole different crop of news & information from the Kottke.org Media Universe (the KMU lol).

Here’s the first episode of Kottke Ride Home, featuring segments on the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in America, AI-assisted MRI scans that are up to 4X faster, and the “Lost Colony” of English settlers from 1587:

Ok, now that you’ve returned from subscribing, let me tell you about the show and how it came about.

I’ve been toying with the idea of doing a podcast for awhile now1 — they’re the hot thing, etc. — but I could never get myself interested enough to make it happen as a host/interviewer. But I know a lot of you love podcasts, so the notion remained simmering on a back burner. Knowing of these podcast aspirations, my pal Brian McCullough recently approached me about collaborating on a podcast.

Brian is a fellow old school internet person, host of the Internet History Podcast (for which he interviewed me in 2018), and author of the 2018 book, How the Internet Happened: From Netscape to the iPhone. He’s now running a podcast startup called Ride Home Media that’s focused on delivering short daily news podcasts about a variety of different subjects — some of you might be familiar with their flagship podcast TechMeme Ride Home, which they’ve been publishing since March 2018. Brian told me a podcast version of kottke.org has been on his bucket list for quite awhile, so that’s what we’re doing.

Kottke Ride Home is hosted & curated by writer/speaker/YouTuber Jackson Bird, whose TED Talk How to talk (and listen) to transgender people has been viewed more than 1.6 million times. For the past few months, Jackson’s been hosting Good News Ride Home — “In just 15 minutes, the coolest stuff that happened in the world today. Science, progress, life-hacks, memes, exciting art and hope.” — which will seamlessly shift into Kottke Ride Home with nary a disruption to what he’s already been doing.1 I’ve been listening to the show for the past few weeks and am excited to partner with Jackson to bring the best of the internet to you.

The podcast and the site will operate independently from each other but will obviously cover the same sorts of things. Like I said above, the show won’t be a recap of kottke.org posts; it’s designed to complement the site, to scratch that kottke.org itch when you’re in podcast-listening mode. But like when the Jeffersons showed up on the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, there will undoubtably be things that make their way from the podcast to the site and vice versa.

Ok, that’s the skinny. You’ll be hearing more from me about the show in the coming days, but for now, check out Kottke Ride Home wherever you listen to podcasts.

P.S. Since it’s a new show — or rather a show with a new name — it will take some time for the name and artwork to propagate across the various podcast networks. You can find the show on the major services/apps using the subscribe button here, but here are some direct links: Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, RSS, Overcast, Castro, Pocket Casts, and Luminary.

  1. kottke.org members may recall that I recorded myself reading some posts a couple of years ago as a podcast test run of sorts. And if you don’t remember that, thank you for forgetting.

  2. Bonus origin story for the hardcare footnote readers! The podcast originally launched as the Coronavirus Daily Briefing (hence the weird unchangeable URL for the show) but they pivoted to Good News Ride Home after a few months, patterning the show after sites like kottke.org. Now with name change to Kottke Ride Home, we’ve made that philosophical affiliation official (say that three times fast…)

A Moment of Reflection: On the Paradox of Individual Creative Work

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 10, 2020

After producing over 220 art history videos in 6 years, YouTube channel The Art Assignment is going to take an extended break to “reassess what educational art content should look like in 2020 and beyond”. In the video above, creator Sarah Urist Green reflects on her experience so far and what’s happening next. I’m always interested in what people have to say about their projects at inflection points like this, but I was blindsided by the almost total resonance of Green’s remarks with my own thoughts about the advantages & limitations of how I’ve chosen to work here at kottke.org. Here’s an extended quote from the transcript of the particularly resonant bit:

I don’t actually enjoy being on camera, but individual authentic voices have always been at the core of what makes YouTube great. And I’ve been glad to be able to lend my own voice in the hopes of making art and art history more accessible.

Over time I’ve learned to appreciate the specificity of my own point of view — but also its limitations. I’m a person who’s more interested in art from the 1960s than the 1560s. I have a deeper background in art from North America than South America.

Making this channel has been a hugely rewarding way to stretch beyond my formal education and natural inclinations. But any channel on YouTube, and indeed any experience, is shaped by bias and perspective — both the content itself and the way that each of us interprets and responds to it. The fact that my voice sounds grating to some and comforting to others is a reminder of that.

I’ve also learned that these biases are often reinforced by the recommendation algorithms that govern the platforms we frequent. Whether we want to or not, we citizens of the internet work in collaboration with these algorithms to curate information feeds for ourselves. And even if our feeds feel objective, they never are.

The Art Assignment isn’t, and has never been, the history of art or an introduction to the art world. It’s always been my history of art and a glimpse into my art world. I hope that’s been part of what makes it good, but it’s also part of what makes it limited, subjective, and necessarily incomplete.

The more videos we make, the more aware I am of the vast amount we haven’t covered. Trying to make content on this platform that is both educational and also clickable can be a challenging task with many pitfalls.

We’ve used what I think of as a buckshot technique — making a huge variety of kinds and formats of episodes to see what might possibly stick.

In doing so, we’ve discovered that more people click on names of art movements they’ve already heard of, artworks they’ve seen before, and already famous artists (mostly male).

More people watch when I do a hot take about those rare moments when art hits the wider news, like a Banksy stunt or a banana duct-taped to a wall.

I’ve also learned what YouTube viewers are less likely to click on, which is artists they’ve never heard of, artworks they haven’t seen before, and topics that don’t court controversy or outrage. This says something about the YouTube algorithm, but it also says something about what kinds of information we’re all drawn to online. Who wants to watch an educational video when you can watch The Try Guys eat 400 dumplings? (Seriously, I just watched it, it’s great.)

But because I know what tends to get clicked on more and watched for longer stretches, I’ve been more likely to try to serve that to you. Not all the time of course, but even when served in moderation that’s not really good for art history. It reinforces dominant narratives and offers up the same boring old menu of famous artists again and again.

However, I’ve also learned that you all are willing to dive down lesser-known and unexpected rabbit holes of research and bear with me as I simultaneously cook poorly and attempt to understand the eating and cooking lives of artists. You’ve taught me you’re willing to reconsider art and artists you didn’t think you liked, and you’ve tried approaches to art that are far outside of your comfort zones and made beautiful and vulnerable work in response. You’ve tackled really difficult questions with me and been willing to linger in grey zones and leave questions unanswered. I mean we’ve never even established a definition of art on this channel.

Because of your capacity for the abstract and lesser-known, we’ve been able to keep going all these years. And, with the incomparable backing of PBS, we’ve been able to make content not just for the most people, but for an open-minded and discerning audience like you.

I can’t adequately relate to you how unnerving it was for me to hear her say all that — change a few specific references and I very easily could have written it (but not as well). Doing kottke.org is this constant battle with myself: staying in my comfort zone vs. finding opportunities for growth, posting what I like or find interesting vs. attempting to suss out what “the reader” might want, celebrating the popular vs. highlighting the obscure, balancing the desire to define what it is I do here vs. appreciating that no one really knows (myself included), posting clickable things vs. important things I know will be unpopular, protecting myself against criticism vs. accepting it as a gift, deciding when to provoke & challenge vs. when to comfort & entertain, feeling like this is frivolous vs. knowing this site is important to me & others, being right vs. accepting I’ll make mistakes, and saying something vs. letting the content and its creators speak for themselves.

I know that all sounds super dramatic — I don’t intensely feel all of that when I’m working, but that video made me reflect on it hard. And I suspect that many people who do creative work in public struggle in similar ways. Like Green with respect to PBS, I am grateful to kottke.org’s members (“an open-minded and discerning audience” if there ever was one) for their support of my work and trust in the limited & imperfect human who does it.

Some Programming Notes

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 23, 2020

Hey folks, just wanted to check in on a few things this morning. I hope you are staying healthy and kind.

1. I spent some time this weekend on the Quick Links infrastructure. (Quick Links are posted to the @kottke Twitter acct and displayed on the front page of the site, right under the most recent post.) There is now a public archive of the Quick Links available here. (If you’re a kottke.org member, you’ve had access to this for months now.) I also started periodically pushing the Quick Links into kottke.org’s RSS feed (yes, ppl still use RSS…at least tens of thousands of them by my count).

2. After a hiatus, I have restarted kottke.org’s newsletter. It was previously a weekly affair, but due to quick moving pandemic news and information, I’m now trying to publish a couple times a week at least. Click here to subscribe.

3. If you’re a regular reader, you’ve noticed that about two weeks ago, I abruptly switched to covering the COVID-19 pandemic almost exclusively. Aside from 9/11, kottke.org has never been focused on a single topic like this, but I believed it was important to get the word out about how infectious diseases spread and how seriously we should be taking this. (VERY SERIOUSLY.) I still believe that. But the site will likely start wandering back towards other topics this week, at least a little bit. This crisis is hitting all of us in many different ways — some are sick, some are bored, some are terrified, some are out there on the front lines saving lives. I hope it’s possible to keep all of those folks (and their different realities & needs) in our minds & hearts while still finding moments of connection to other kinds of human interests and obsessions.

Thanks for reading.

Celebrating 22 Years of Kottke.org

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 14, 2020

Hello all. I know there’s a pandemic going on out there, but I wanted to take a moment to celebrate kottke.org turning 22 years old today. If you’ve been reading along the entire time or for only a few days, it’s been an honor for me to inform, provoke, entertain, and possibly even infuriate you all for a few minutes every day. Thanks for reading — and an extra-special thanks to those who support the site with a membership. As I said a few weeks ago, all this really means a lot to me.

Weird Internet Careers

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 09, 2020

Gretchen McCulloch, author of Because Internet, has developed a Weird Internet Career as an internet linguist. In the first installment in a series on such jobs, McCulloch explains what they are:

Weird Internet Careers are the kinds of jobs that are impossible to explain to your parents, people who somehow make a living from the internet, generally involving a changing mix of revenue streams. Weird Internet Career is a term I made up (it had no google results in quotes before I started using it), but once you start noticing them, you’ll see them everywhere.

Weird Internet Careers are weird because there is no one else who does exactly what they do. They’re internet because they rely on the internet as a cornerstone, such as bloggers, webcomics, youtubers, artists, podcasters, writers, developers, subject-matter experts, and other people in very specific niches. And they’re careers because they somehow manage to support themselves, often making money from some combination of ad revenue, t-shirt sales, other merch, ongoing membership/subscription (Patreon, Substack), crowdfunding (Kickstarter, Indiegogo, Ko-Fi), sponsorship deals, conventional book deals, self-published ebooks, selling online courses, selling products or apps or services, public speaking, and consulting.

I’ve had a Weird Internet Career for more than 15 years and even though it’s much more normalized now than when I started (folks generally know that people make money from being popular on YouTube or Instagram), it’s still a struggle to explain. Usually someone will ask me what I do and I tell them. Them, wide-eyed: “That’s your job?!” Then there’s a long pause and eventually their curiosity overwhelms their politeness and they tentatively say: “Can I ask…uh…how do you make money doing that?”

For awhile, in an attempt to have more symmetrical relationships with new friends — because 5 minutes of googling yields so much about who I am, leading to weird information imbalances — I would be vague about my profession, saying that I managed a website and not offering any further information. This approach often backfired because you’ve essentially given people a mystery, and mysteries must be solved. More than one person looked at me with a cocked eyebrow and asked, “Do you run a porn site? Is that why you don’t want to tell me?” *facepalm*

The 15th Anniversary of Doing Kottke.org as a Full-Time Job

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 25, 2020

Kottke 1996

Fifteen years ago this week, on Feb 22, 2005, I announced that I was going to turn kottke.org, my personal website, into my full-time job.

I recently quit my web design gig and — as of today — will be working on kottke.org as my full-time job. And I need your help.

I’m asking the regular readers of kottke.org (that’s you!) to become micropatrons of kottke.org by contributing a moderate sum of money to help enable me to edit/write/design/code the site for one year on a full-time basis.

It seemed like madness at the time — I’d quit my web design job a few months earlier in preparation, pro blogs existed (Gawker was on its 3rd editor) but very few were personal, general, and non-topical like mine, and I was attempting to fund it via a then-largely-unproven method: crowdfunding. As I wrote on Twitter the other day, attempting this is “still the most bonkers I-don’t-know-if-this-is-going-to-work thing I’ve ever done”.

These days, people are used to paying directly for online media through services like Kickstarter, Patreon, and Substack and kids want to run their own personality-driven businesses online when they grow up. But back then, aside from the likes of the WSJ, websites were either a) free to read or b) free to read & supported by advertising and being an online personality was not a lucrative thing. But I figured that enough of you would pitch in to support the site directly while keeping it free to read for everyone with no advertising.

In order to make it feel somewhat familiar, I patterned it after a PBS/NPR fund drive. During a three-week kick-off period, I asked people to support the site by becoming micropatrons. The suggested donation was $30 (but people could give any amount) and there were thank you gifts — like signed books, software, signed photo prints, a free SXSW ticket — for people who contributed. Several hundred people ended up contributing during those three weeks, enough for me to do the site for a year. I still remember that first day, responding to well-wishes from friends on AIM and watching my PayPal account fill up, and it hitting me that this bonkers scheme was actually going to work and pretty much bursting into tears.

Fast forward to the present day and this little website is still chugging along. In its almost 22 years of existence, kottke.org has never gotten big, but it’s also never gone away, predating & outlasting many excellent and dearly missed sites like Grantland, Rookie, The Toast, The Awl, Gawker, and hundreds of others. I have other people write for the site on occasion, but it’s still very much a one-person production by a reluctant influencer (*barf*) who, as an introvert, still (naively?) thinks about posts on the site as personal emails to individual readers rather than as some sort of broadcast. I’d like to thank those early supporters for having faith in me and in this site — you’re the reason we’re all still here, gathered around this little online campfire, swapping stories about the human condition.

About 3 years ago, I returned to the crowdfunding model with kottke.org’s membership program. Since then, I’m very happy to report, readers like you who have purchased memberships have become the main source of financial support for the site. As I’ve written before, I have come to love the directness of this approach — I write, you pay, no middlemen, and, crucially, the site remains part of the Open Web, unpaywalled & free for everyone to read. If you’ll indulge me in a request on this anniversary, if you’re not currently a member of the site (or if your membership has lapsed) and can afford to do so, please consider supporting the site with a membership today. I really appreciate everyone who has become a member over the past few years — thank you!! — and I hope you will consider joining them.

Note: I have no photos of myself taken around this time in 2005, so the photo at the top of the post is me circa spring 1996. I’d dropped out of grad school & was back living at my dad’s house, spending 10-12 hours a day online (via a 28.8K modem) trying to figure out how to build websites. I applied for jobs & internships at places like Wired/Hotwired, Razorfish, Studio Archetype, and MTV but no one wanted to hire a physics major w/ no art or design education or experience to design websites. kottke.org was still a couple of years off at this point…

Hello from Asia!

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 22, 2020

I just wanted to let you know that I am going to be travelling for the next few weeks and the site’s regular metronomic schedule is going to get a little…weird. I am currently halfway around the world in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam1 in the US east coast’s Bizarro timezone (10am here, 10pm there). I’ll be posting while I’m here but on a local schedule, so for many of you there won’t be anything all day but you’ll have a bunch of stuff to read late at night or first thing in the morning.

While I’m here, I might write about my adventures on the site but I’m not quite sure yet — this is an experiment for me all around: solo travelling, digital nomading, working on an iPad instead of a laptop, etc. But I’ll definitely be posting photos and stories over at Instagram.

I’ll be in Saigon for about 2 weeks, followed by a few days in Singapore and about 48 hours in Doha, Qatar. If you’re a kottke.org reader and you live in any of those places, let me know and maybe we can meet up for some food, drink, or wandering around! Or if you’ve have tips for me (esp food and design/architecure stuff), drop me a line on Twitter or via email.

In the meantime, here’s a photo of the bonkers waterfall and rain forest inside the Changi airport in Singapore.

The waterfall at Singapore's Changi airport

I mean…

  1. I’m told the locals still mostly call it Saigon, so I’m going to go with that.

2020 Vision

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 01, 2020

I’m not feeling particularly introspective or retrospective or reflective about 2019 and the 2010s coming to an end, at least not publicly so. I couldn’t even get it together to do a best of my media diet for 2019.1

But I did want to note that with this post, I have now published kottke.org across four decades: the 90s, 00s, 10s, and now the 20s. What. The. F?! That realization has me a little bit shook. Am I in a groove or a rut? I find myself feeling both comfortable here and restless for something different. Can those things work together to our mutual benefit in the year to come? We shall see.

In the meantime, thanks to everyone for reading the site. I know from your email that some of you have been reading since the 90s, which floors me. Thanks also to those of you who have supported the site through the purchase of a membership — this site literally could not function without that support.

  1. Ok fine. In no order, fave movies were Roma, Booksmart, Uncut Gems. Books: Normal People, In the Garden of Beasts. TV: Fleabag, Succession, Mindhunter, Chernobyl, Leaving Neverland, American Factory. Podcasts: 13 Minutes to the Moon, 1619. But travel to Mexico City and to the US west coast overshadowed all of that, with visits to Teotihuacán and California’s redwoods forests being my peak experiences of the year (that I am comfortable sharing in a public forum).

The 2019 kottke.org Holiday Gift Guide

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 05, 2019

Holiday Gift Guide 2019

Over the past few weeks, as I’ve done for the past several years, I’ve combed through many of the best online gift guides to highlight some of the best holiday gifts out there. It’s a curated meta-guide for your holiday giving. Here we go!

First thing’s first: charitable giving should be top-of-mind every holiday season. Giving locally is key. I support our area food shelf year-round, with an extra gift for Thanksgiving and the December holiday; giving money instead of food is best. The kids and I also support Toys for Tots by heading to the local toy store to get some things — they like it because they get to pick out toys and games (they’re thoughtful about deciding which ones would be best). For national/international giving, do your research. GiveWell recently listed their top charities for 2019 and Vox has more tips here. Read up on big charities like Red Cross and Salvation Army…they are often not great places to give to. GiveDirectly sends money to people living in extreme poverty around the world.

If you’re anything like me, you never know what presents to get kids for their birthdays or holidays, even if they’re your own. That’s why I rely heavily on the gift guide from The Kid Should See This. On their list this year is Parks, a board game that takes players on a journey through US National Parks, The Dictionary of Difficult Words, this kit for building your own yarn giraffes, and Kano’s Harry Potter Coding Kit (which I also highlighted last year and still looks cool as hell). See also the 2019 Engineering Gift Guide from Purdue University.

The Accidental Shop is a collection of products I’ve previously linked to here on kottke.org. Some recently items I’d particularly recommend are The Whole Fish Cookbook by Josh Niland, the second volume of Jeff Bridges’ panoramic photographs that he takes on the sets of his films, this professional yo-yo, and Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle, a cooperative deck building game that my kids and I love.

For this year’s guide, I made an extra effort to include products and services from kottke.org’s readership — you’ll see them sprinkled throughout. Let’s start with 20x200. Their motto is “Art for Everyone” and they’ve been populating the walls of homes worldwide since 2007. I’ve bought several things from them and even contributed to their blog earlier this year. 20x200 has prints of Hilma af Klint’s work as well as one-of-a-kind artworks by Yen Ha (who is also a reader).

The Wirecutter is still the first place I go when I need to read up on everything from kitchen essentials to headphones to board games, so their gift guide is always worth a close look. This year I found a high quality but inexpensive jump rope, a wooden alarm clock, the Nintendo Switch w/ Mario Kart 8 (which I am still coveting/resisting), the Raspberry Pi 4, and Sushi Go Party (the kids and I love this game).

I bought my daughter a pair of these antique stork embroidery scissors for her birthday and they look incredible in person. A true hand-crafted piece of art.

Holiday Gift Guide 2019

Robin Sloan and his partner Kathryn Tomajan operate Fat Gold, an olive oil subscription service. Sloan wrote a gift guide this year, in which he recommends buying some sourdough starter from King Arthur Flour, located right here in VT.

A pair of gift guides for buying products from Native American artists & entrepreneurs: Beyond Buckskin’s 2019 BUY NATIVE Holiday Gift Guide and PowWows.com’s 2019 Native American Holiday Gift Guide. Check out these socks from Eighth Generation and handmade moccasins by Jamie Gentry of the Kwakwaka’wakw Nation.

If you’re giving books this year, check out The Best Books of 2019. Almost every best-of list this year included The Topeka School by Ben Lerner, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong, and The Testaments by Margaret Atwood.

Last year’s gift guide is full of great items, including a fire log that smells like Kentucky Fried Chicken when you burn it, A Die Hard Christmas (a Die Hard holiday picture book), and the AWB OneSky Reflector Telescope (a great beginner telescope).

It would not be a kottke.org holiday gift guide if I didn’t highlight this 55-gallon drum of personal lubricant. Someday someone is going to buy one of these — perhaps with a big novelty bow to surprise their loved one(s) on Xmas morning — and it’s going to make me so happy.

For your techie/futurist peeps, check out Wired’s Wish List 2019, which includes the Leica Q2 digital camera that I absolutely cannot afford but would absolutely love to own someday.

Earlier this year I bought a Thermapen Mk4 instant-read thermometer and OMG why didn’t I get this sooner? It’s made grilling and doing the Thanksgiving turkey so much easier.

Food-related gift guides from Chowhound, Serious Eats, Kitchn, and Food52. I have heard great things about Fuchsia Dunlop’s The Food of Sichuan and would happily try some of this barrel-aged soy sauce.

Holiday Gift Guide 2019

If you’re shopping for me this year, you should totally get me a gift certificate for an ultralight flight with birds (more info on these flights here).

More products from kottke.org readers: a 3-pack of notebooks from Field Notes, prints of illustrations of NYC storefronts & restaurants by Kelli Ercolano, gear from Advencher Supply Co (founded by Dribbble cofounder Dan Cederholm), Journey to the End of the Night by Erin Przekop, and Wondermade marshmallows.

My friend Bryan designed this Global Architect Card for architecture tourists that says “I am an architect. I am here to see this significant building.” in 14 different languages.

I love the idea of Slate’s list of Highly Unusual but Incredibly Useful Gifts Your Family Will Love, including this cool LED flashlight that fastens onto the end of a 9V battery and a rubber stamp with your face on it.

Jan Chipchase is a very occasional reader, if only because he’s so damn busy doing cool shit all over the world. His latest project is Hamidashimono, a kit for whittling your own izakaya-grade chopsticks. His company also has a line of field equipment called SDR Traveller. The D3 Traveller duffel bag was a total splurge for me, but I *love* travelling with that bag.

From Jada Pinkett Smith’s gift guide filled with products created by women and people of color, Homegirl Boxes inspired by women like Octavia Butler and Shirley Chisholm. See also this gift list inspired by African American artists, which includes a Jean-Michel Basquiat version of Uno (yes, the card game).

Check out Delph Miniatures, a tiny UK company that makes 1/12th scale miniatures of everyday things like washing machines, ironing boards, and mobility scooters. Here’s a charming video about their work.

Yet more products produced by kottke.org readers: I have one of these Currency Blankets from Hiller Dry Goods and I love it. Five Two wooden spoons from Food52. The Aviary: Holiday Cocktails. The 2020 Astrologicalendar (a wall calendar based on the signs of the zodiac). Fitz (custom 3D-printed eyeglasses…the company was inspired in part by a kottke.org post about DIY orthodontics). Am I Overthinking This? by Michelle Rial. This Book Is a Planetarium by Kelli Anderson. You Think You Know Me. Gracie’s Ice Cream.

Marie Kondo, the woman who has helped people get rid of all sorts of stuff with The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, now has an online shop to help you welcome new stuff into your home. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

And more gift guides: Cup of Jo, Black Enterprise, the NY Times, Dribbble, Tools & Toys.

Ok, that’s quite enough to get you started. I’ve got more recommendations that I’ll add in the next few days. If you’re interested, you can also check out my past gift guides from 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, and 2013.

Update: My friend Jodi Ettenberg is unable to travel the world right now but she put her unquenchable curiosity to use in compiling her guide to Unique Art and Jewelry Gifts for 2019, which includes illustrated bird shenanigans from Birdstrips.

Another selection of products made or sold by kottke.org readers: Kevin Kelly’s Four Favorite Tools. t-shirts, tote bags, and prints of Legal Nomads’ food maps. The best temporary tattoos out there by Tattly. A Dem Women of the House wall calendar by Anneliese Dehner. 33 Books Co. sells tools, guides, and supplies for tasting foods like cheese, wine, coffee, beer, and whiskey. Based in the Pacific Northwest, Crane City Music sells hip-hop records with a focus on “voices underrepresented in mainstream hip-hop” (use code “KOTTKE” for 20% off thru Dec 31).

One of my favorite infographic designers, Eleanor Lutz, has an online shop selling prints, posters, and tote bags of a bunch of her stuff.

The happy mutants at Boing Boing compiled this list of 100 Wonderful Things Worth Buying, including an “insert coin” keychain, the Sega Genesis Mini (it comes with 42 games), and Nancy: A Comic Collection by Olivia Jaimes, who has revitalized the decades-old comic strip character.

The Cool Tools 2019 Holiday Gift Guide features these two-sided magnetic measuring spoons and these WiFi smart plugs.

Update: A few late but great additions. The Ooni 3 is a highly rated wood-fired portable pizza oven and with Storyworth you can “get weekly stories from a loved one, bound in a beautiful keepsake book”. Both made by kottke.org readers. And the folks at Article Group produced this fantastic games guide: 20 Games Every Creative Thinker Should Play — I pulled a couple of things directly off of here for holiday purchases.

When you buy through links on kottke.org, I may earn an affiliate commission. Thanks for supporting the site!

Get Ready for the Global Climate Strike on September 20

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 17, 2019

Global Climate Strike

Just a reminder that the Global Climate Strike begins this Friday, September 20. A coalition of young activists led by Greta Thunberg is calling on all of us to walk out of our schools and jobs to demand political and corporate action on the Earth’s climate crisis.

Once again our voices are being heard on the streets, but it is not just up to us.

We feel a lot of adults haven’t quite understood that we young people won’t hold off the climate crisis ourselves. Sorry, if this is inconvenient for you. But this is not a single-generation job. It’s humanity’s job. We young people can contribute to a larger fight and that can make a huge difference.

So this is our invitation to you. Starting on Friday 20 September we will kick start a week of climate action with worldwide strikes for the climate. We’re asking you to step up alongside us. There are many different plans underway in different parts of the world for adults to join together and step up and out of your comfort zone for our climate. Let’s all join together; with our neighbours, co-workers, friends, family and go out on to the streets to make our voices heard and make this a turning point in our history.

kottke.org will be joining the Digital Climate Strike on Friday; the site won’t be available that day. If you’d like to participate in the strike, there are plenty of resources available here.

The Server Bone Is Connected to the DNS Bone…

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 15, 2019

Zero Days

Some of you may have noticed that kottke.org was unavailable for more than 36 hours on Thursday and Friday last week. That’s the longest stretch of downtime for the site since… well, probably ever. That sucks and I’m sorry. Here’s (briefly) what happened:

On Thursday morning, my domain registrar (Dotster) locked access to the kottke.org domain after they couldn’t reach me at the email address listed, which was an address from when I registered the domain 20+ years ago that I haven’t used since before Obama was President. Seeing as the business address listed on the account was also 20 years old, verification via documents was not going to work either (and that process was going to take days to unfold). Their first-line support people were confused about how to even proceed — “this is a very unusual situation…” It was at this point where I started wondering (ok, freaking out) if I was ever going to get my domain name back. How do I prove that I am who I was 20 years ago?1

Eventually — and I say “eventually” because I missed a voicemail that I thought was one of 3-5 spam voicemails I get every weekday — I was connected (via Twitter) to Winston Wolf’s team at Dotster, the folks who could actually do something for me. After some back and forth and several verifications, they unlocked the domain and the site came back up on Friday afternoon. And then I collapsed into a puddle of whatever chemicals are released from your body after a massively stressful event.

To be clear, not keeping the information on my domain up-to-date was my fault. (The info on my Dotster account was current though, but not the same thing apparently.) And I appreciate Dotster’s efforts in helping me regain access to my domain and ensuring that no one was trying to social engineer it away from me. But locking access like that to a domain name that’s had a single owner since its initial registration and has been paid for by the same credit card for more than 10 years (and was prepaid until 2022) seems overzealous. The sudden need for domain verification was not triggered by some fishy activity on my account but by an internal Dotster process and keeping the site offline until it was resolved was excessive and I’m still not happy about it. Sure, don’t allow changes or transfers until it’s verified, but turning off a domain that’s paid for and been happily humming along without changes for literal decades is just not right.

Ok. Anyway, that’s what happened. All my information is now updated so it shouldn’t happen again. *fingers crossed* I’d like to thank Mike at Dotster, Greg Knauss (kottke.org’s tech godfather), and the fantastically speedy support folks at Arcustech for their help in diagnosing and fixing the problem. I also want to apologize to everyone who financially supports the site through a membership. Guaranteed uptime for the site was not explicitly part of the arrangement, but I still take any outages seriously. Part of what I imagine the appeal of the site to be is that it’s always here, with URLs that don’t change and a regular publishing schedule, year after year. As of Friday afternoon, we’re on a new uptime streak that will hopefully last a long while.

-jason

  1. A reader called this “the ‘never step in the same river twice’ security conundrum”. Love a Heraclitus reference.

See You Next Week

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 05, 2019

Hey, just a short note to say that kottke.org won’t be published this week. This is the first break in publishing the site since…well, I don’t really know. Maybe 5 years? Or even 10? I had a guest editor last week (thanks Patrick!) but this feels like a good time for a break break. Your regularly scheduled information & nonsense will resume on August 12.

Tim will be sending out an installment of the Noticing newsletter this Friday, so make sure to sign up for that if you’re not already on board.

And me? I’m on a LA-to-Portland road trip. I’ll share my adventures from the trip when I get back, but for now you can follow along on Instagram (especially via Stories). So, far, it’s been pretty fun + interesting.

Redwoods

Summer, Summer, Summertime

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 19, 2019

We interrupt your regularly scheduled flow of fine hypertext products for a short program note or two. Here’s your soundtrack:

1. Posting will be a little slow over the next week or so. My kids will be gone for most of the summer on adventures, so I’m spending some time with them before they scatter to the winds. I’ll be back to full speed next Wednesday-ish.

2. Last year, I did a Summer Fridays thing where the site and newsletter took every other Friday off and it worked out pretty well, so I’m doing it again. As usual, my pal and yours Tim Carmody will be handling Fridays and the newsletter (sign up here).

3. Did I mention that kottke.org has a weekly newsletter called Noticing that slips the best posts and coolest stuff into your inbox on Fridays? Oh, you think three links (now four) to the newsletter in two paragraphs is excessive? At least you don’t need to close A GODDAMN EMAIL SUBSCRIBE POPUP EVERY TIME YOU READ THE SITE. You’re welcome. (Subscribe.)

4a. Several lovely people have recently told me that I’m not vocal enough about kottke.org’s membership program. *clears throat* The only way kottke.org even exists at this point is through the support of readers like you. Seriously. Read this post from Nov 2017 for more info.

What I’m trying to say is: thank you so much for your support over the past year. To say it means a lot to me is insufficient. Member support has made it possible for me to keep publishing kottke.org without compromise (i.e. without splashing trashy ads everywhere or selling to a larger media company), something I know you appreciate and something I’ve grown increasingly thankful for as the 20-year anniversary of the site approaches early next year (!!!).

If you find my work here valuable in some way and are able to do so, please support the site with a membership today.

4b. If you’re currently a member, I have probably thanked you before but guess what? Here it comes again: Thank you! But if you want to continue supporting the site, I need you to do the tiniest bit of housekeeping. Credit cards expire, charges on saved cards are declined for a bunch of incomprehensible reasons (like because you upgraded your phone), and reminder emails are easily overlooked in busy inboxes. As a result, you might be sitting here thinking you’re a member when you’re actually not. To check your status, you can log in on the members page (use the “sign in” link just under the title). If your account isn’t active, you’ll be able to drop in a new credit card to get your membership going again. Thx!

5. Five seems like a nice round number to end on.

Regarding the Thoughtful Cultivation of the Archived Internet

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 06, 2019

Kurzgesagt is one of my favorite YouTube channels. Their videos are entertaining & thoroughly researched, and the subject matter is right in the kottke.org wheelhouse. (This one on the physical limitations of humanity when it comes to space exploration is a particular recent favorite.)

So I appreciated their latest video called Can You Trust Kurzgesagt Videos?

In it, they detail the process of making their videos, which has gotten more extensive as the channel matures. The second half is about a pair of videos that didn’t meet their current standard: one about addiction (which I posted about here) and another about the European migrant crisis of 2015. The addiction video represented only one side of a controversial issue within the scientific community while the migrant video was hastily produced and poorly researched. As a result, they deleted both videos, even though they were among the channel’s most popular and plan to publish a future video about addiction that will look more broadly at its causes.

With 20+ years of kottke.org archives, I’ve been thinking about this issue as well. There are many posts in the archive that I am not proud of. I’ve changed my mind in some cases and no longer hold the views attributed to me in my own words. I was too frequently a young and impatient asshole, full of himself and knowing it all. I was unaware of my privilege and too frequently assumed things of other people and groups that were incorrect and insensitive. I’ve amplified people and ideas in the past that I wouldn’t today.

My process today is more rigorous (but not as rigorous as Kurzgesagt b/c we have different aims) and I’ve gained some wisdom (I hope!) about when vigor or sensitivity are called for. I still place a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of the reader — you are a smart bunch and I expect you to read and view everything here with a critical eye — but I am also more aware of my (small but not insignificant) responsibility as an informational gatekeeper.

But so anyway, I don’t know what to do about those old problematic posts. Tim Berners-Lee’s idea that cool URIs don’t change is almost part of my DNA at this point, so deleting them seems wrong. Approximately no one ever reads any post on this site that’s more than a few years old, but is that an argument for or against deleting them? (If a tree falls in the woods, etc…) Should I delete but leave a note they were deleted? Should I leave the original posts but append updates citing my current displeasure? Or like Mister Rogers used to do, should I rewrite the posts to bring them more into line with my current thinking? Is the kottke.org archive trapped in amber, a record of what I’ve written when I wrote it, or is it a living, breathing thing that thrives on activity? Is it more like a book or a performance? In my mind it’s both, which is why the site is compelling (IMO) but also makes this issue so thorny for me. The web is weird that way…but how do I embrace the weirdness re: this issue?

The Amazon Chronicles

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 28, 2019

My pal and collaborator Tim Carmody is launching a newsletter all about Amazon called Amazon Chronicles. You can subscribe here and read the statement of purpose here. I’m thinking of it as Daring Fireball but for Amazon instead of Apple.

There’s no shortage of good Amazon stories, and good Amazon coverage. I loved Kashmir Hill’s story for Gizmodo about trying (somewhat unsuccessfully) to block Amazon from her life. I loved John Herrman’s exposé on Vine reviewers. I think stories like this are just as important and just as interesting (more so, actually) as the latest on Jeff Bezos’s sex life or speculation about Amazon’s earnings and stock price. I like stories that help me see how a company like Amazon, with its tangled web of services and products, entwines itself into our lives, both consumer and commercial.

But who is going to gather stories like these and help put them into context? Who, really, is able to take the time to get the big picture when it comes to what’s intermittently the biggest and most influential company in the world?

Tim has been covering the Amazon beat from all angles since before the company became one of the most valuable in the world (including recently on kottke.org), so he’s well-positioned to take up this gathering challenge.1 Tim is also applying the Unlocking the Commons approach that has worked well for the kottke.org membership program with a slight wrinkle:

So, here’s the deal. This newsletter — which I’m calling The Amazon Chronicles — will sell paid memberships. These will be $5/month, or $50/year. It will also offer free subscriptions. These will cost nothing.

As long as I get at least 200 paid subscribers (let’s call them “members”), free subscribers will get all the same newsletters members get (give or take housekeeping emails that will only make sense to folks who are paying money).

Essentially, the whole site will be free to anyone who signs up. That will be a newsletter a week, rounding up the biggest and best Amazon coverage, plus original reporting and analysis. The same newsletter, for everybody.

I just subscribed at the annual level…join me, won’t you?

  1. If you’ve been following his work on kottke.org and on Noticing, you know that this gathering will come with a heaping side helping of fresh and razor-sharp analysis about the company and media in general. In fact, the gathering will likely turn into the side helping over time as the newsletter gathers steam.

    (I also find it hilarious that Tim is currently writing two newsletters: one that aggregates the activities of one of the largest companies in the world and the other that aggregates the activities of a tiny independent media concern.)

The Art of Noticing

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 15, 2019

When Tim and I first started the Noticing newsletter, I got a note from Rob Walker, a design and technology journalist whose work I’ve followed for some years. He said he was working on a book about paying attention and that the book and an affiliated newsletter were going to have a similar name to “Noticing”. Name collisions like that are always a bummer, but we didn’t challenge each other to a duel or anything. Instead, he asked me to contribute a tiny bit to the book and I said I’d write about it when it was coming out.

So here’s the skinny. The book is called The Art of Noticing: 131 Ways to Spark Creativity, Find Inspiration, and Discover Joy In the Everyday, will be out in May 2019, and can be preordered from Amazon right now. Walker describes it as a practical guide to becoming a better observer, “a series of exercises and prompts and games and things you can actually do (or reflect upon) to build attention muscles or just get off your phone and enjoy noticing stuff that everyone else missed”.

The Art of Noticing is an expansion of an essay by Walker called How to Pay Attention. One of the suggestions is “Look slowly”:

Robert Irwin, the artist mentioned above, shaped his practice in part by spending insane-sounding amounts of time simply looking — at his own paintings, at rooms, at outdoor settings. “Slow Art Day” is an annual event at multiple locations around the country that picks up this spirit in a perhaps more manageable form: Participants meet at a museum and “look at five works of art for 10 minutes each and then meet together over lunch to talk about their experience,” the event’s site explains.

The weekly newsletter associated with the book is right here if you’d like to join me in signing up. So far, it’s both whetting the appetite for the book and also providing interesting attention-adjacent things to snack on in the meantime.

P.S. I love Walker’s idea that paying attention is something that a person can learn to do. In the introduction letter to Noticing, I wrote about a similar assertion Walter Isaacson made about Leonardo da Vinci in his biography:

One of Isaacson’s main points in the book was that Leonardo’s accomplishments were due in no small part to his extraordinary powers of observation. By observing things closely and from all possible angles, he was able to make connections and find details that other people didn’t and express them in his work. Isaacson argues that Leonardo’s observational powers were not innate and that with sufficient practice, we can all observe as he did. People talk in a precious way about genius, creativity, and curiosity as superpowers that people are born with but noticing is a more humble pursuit. Noticing is something we can all do.

P.P.S. When working on the book, Walker asked a number of people for tips on paying better attention. My tip (the “tiny bit” mentioned above) didn’t make it into the book, so I thought I’d share it here:

The thing that popped into my head about noticing suggestions is to pay attention to kids. They are literally at a different level in the world, ocularly speaking, and so notice different things. They’ve also got Beginner’s Minds, again literally. Having been a designer for many years, I am pretty good at observation, but my kids are always noticing details that I miss. I’m not saying you should crawl around on your hands and knees, but occasionally directing your gaze as a child would is often instructive.

Related to this, a few months ago I was able to add a new tool to their observational skills. The kids were having repeated difficulty with the door to a store in our town and on one particular visit, my son voiced his frustration. I asked them why he thought the door was so tough and they couldn’t really say, so I told them about Norman doors and now every time they have trouble with, say, a PULL door with PUSH indications, they go, “Norman door! They should get a better designed door.” It’s really fun because it turns a boring shopping trip into a little exercise in how the world could be a tiny bit better if people were just a little more observant about how others use things.

P.P.P.S. <— Last one, I promise. A version of this post first appeared in last week’s Noticing newsletter. If you’d like to subscribe, right this way.

Unlocking the Commons and Collective Micropatronage

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 04, 2019

For NiemanLab’s annual Predictions for Journalism package, Tim Carmody revisited his take on how kottke.org’s membership program works and what that could mean for independent media.

The most economically powerful thing you can do is to buy something for your own enjoyment that also improves the world. This has always been the value proposition of journalism and art. It’s a nonexclusive good that’s best enjoyed nonexclusively.

Anyways. This is a prediction for 2019 and beyond: The most powerful and interesting media model will remain raising money from members who don’t just permit but insist that the product be given away for free. The value comes not just what they’re buying, but who they’re buying it from and who gets to enjoy it.

If you’d like to help support independent media and keep access to kottke.org open and free, you can join the membership program.

And as always, a huge thank you to all of you who have already contributed. As I wrote in an update back in November 2017, I’m not sure the site would even be here without your support:

While I didn’t know it at the time, your support saved kottke.org. This is not even hyperbole. As I hinted at in the announcement post, the industry-wide drop in revenue from display advertising was beginning to affect kottke.org and just a few months later, the site’s largest source of revenue (ads via The Deck) went from “hey, I can make a living at this!” to zero. … But over the course of the past year, hundreds and then thousands of you became members, exceeding even my loftiest expectations. Membership is now the primary source of revenue for kottke.org.

Kottke.org’s Best of 2018, Parts 1 and 2

posted by Tim Carmody   Dec 21, 2018

2018 light bulb.jpg

Subscribers to Noticing, the Kottke.org newsletter, have already seen our two-part Best of 2018 series, published on Thursday the 20th and Friday the 21st. We decided to split the best-of into two parts, with the first letter, the A-Sides, focusing on the 50 most popular posts of the year, and the second, the B-Sides, collecting our personal favorites.

For the B-Sides, Jason and I each submitted lists of posts we wanted to include, and after discarding redundancies, it turned out that the number of “favorite” posts was an even 100. I’d expected to write up about fifty, which was the number of the first newsletter. But that century mark felt like a sign, and a challenge I wanted to meet. So, fuck it; we wrote up the full 100.

Here’s an excerpt from the first newsletter:

Mapping cities, the planet, the stars

A number of the year’s best posts, as always, featured maps. A literal world map stars countries with the literal translations of their names. A map of the world after four degrees of warming is sobering, if not outright depressing. (Spoiler: most of the places where lots of people live will become hostile to the point of unliveable.) A map of the world where the sizes of countries is determined by their population has a similar “whoa!” effect, making you rethink the distribution of the planet. But maybe nothing is more “whoa!” than a timeline map of the 200,000 year history of human civilization, starting with migrations out of sub-Saharan Africa and following human travel and development through to the present.



We’ve reached the point in our development where we don’t necessarily need cartography to map our surroundings; photography will do the job. Even in 1920, photographers were able to capture stunning aerial photographs like cities, like these snaps of Edinburgh. These days, you can take aerial panoramas from 20,000 feet using as something as ubiquitous as an iPhone. Or use a fractal lens to take pictures of Tokyo, bending yourself into the future from that great contemporary city.



We now know what high-resolution photos of the Earth taken from the surface of the moon look like. We know how our seemingly geometric road grids subtly correct themselves for the curvature of the Earth’s surface. And we can even photograph black holes — or rather, watch stars in orbit around black holes, using a twenty-year time lapse. (Twenty years? Huh.)

That “twenty years” bit is a callback, as Kottke.org turned 20 this year.

And here is an excerpt from the B-Sides issue, which is, let’s just say, more dense:

The Year In Inspiration





Consider the fable of the dragon-tyrant. Literally, it’s about the possibility of extending the human lifespan and human flourishing, instead of sacrificing the young and old alike to the tyranny of death. But allegorically, as Jason writes, “humanity has lots of dragons sitting on mountaintops, devouring people, waiting for a change in the world’s perspective or technology or culture to meet its doom.”



Consider, too, the calmness of airline pilots. In the midst of disaster, good pilots actually get calmer, and this helps them solve their problems.



Do you need to get yourself out of a funk? Or console or otherwise help a grieving friend? Think about what Augustine says about hope: hope stretches us out across time. It makes our hearts bigger in order to contain it. And all our secular hopes help to prepare us for the great hope to come, that all might be redeemed and made perfect, and we can find our true place in the cosmos. Think about Dean Allen, one of the kindest and most talented people in the tech universe, and whether or not he’s found the peace that eluded him — that eludes us all — on Earth.



We are, all of us, explorers and hermits, both searching for adventure and longing for routine. This is why, despite it all, it is some small comfort to know that humans right now are better at Tetris than they have ever been. And that if we decide to move to Los Angeles, we’ll have to solve a lot of problems with ourselves first: “How do you help care for the city that drew you in, rather than allow your presence to steamroll its culture?” And, to generalize: how can we care for 2019, as we’re drawn inexorably into its vortex, rather than allow it to steamroll us all?

It’s been a great year. I’ve loved writing this newsletter, and being able to chime in with my Friday posts and occasional guest weeks. (Guest editor Chrysanthe Tenentes put up some great posts this year as well.) Cheers to Jason for continuing to host the best blog in the universe. Here’s to more and better in 2019. Here’s to blogs making their inevitable comeback. Here’s to another twenty years.

The Official Kottke.org Music Playlist

posted by Tim Carmody   Dec 14, 2018

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the mini-phenomenon of book playlists — music playlists designed to accompany new books, as a kind of disembodied soundtrack. Then last week, in the newsletter, I wondered out loud what songs would be on a Kottke.org playlist, and asked you, the readers, for help figuring that out. Jason amplified the call on Twitter, and we were off and running.

So, for the past week, I took the advice that came in, reached out to a few musically-minded Kottke readers that I trust, and trolled the “music” tag on the site to get some more ideas. (I was tempted to include some Kenny G, but ultimately passed.) And here it is:

Update: (Ben Samuels-Kalow made an Apple Music version of this playlist, if that’s your jam.)

It’s almost exactly two hours long, or about the length of a double album. (Disc 2 would start with Coltrane’s “Giant Steps.”) Daft Punk, John Cale, Johnny Cash, The Strokes, Nina Simone, and The Echelon Effect all came from reader suggestions. So did Tom Misch and Carmody (!), an artist with whom I’d only had passing acquaintance, but turned out to deliver one of my favorite songs in the mix. Thanks to E.A. Gordon, Olga Nunes, David Gagne, Dan McCue, and Michael Ashbridge for their invaluable help putting this together. (Seriously, Mr. Ashbridge: Nina Simone’s cover of “Isn’t It A Pity” might be the best song I’ve ever heard.)

The rest of the contributions came out of my own head, after doing a lot of reading of the site. Readers will spot some of their favorite tags in the titles, which happen to correspond to magnificent songs: “The Moon” by The Microphones, or “Maps” by Yeah Yeah Yeahs, or “Photograph” by Weezer. (Somewhere my college friends are laughing at me for putting Weezer on a playlist.) “Blogging” by Wire was frankly a no-brainer based on the title alone, but I’m pleased it’s such a good, pointed song. I wanted to include one Philip Glass song and one Radiohead song, and I think I picked some good ones. And if you listen to the rest of the songs, you’ll see plenty of Kottke-esque themes and moods reflected in the lyrics. But it’s a playlist that I made, which means it has plenty of hip-hop and indie rock, some jazz and instrumental numbers, and a Dionne Warwick song.

One thing I hope is clear from this playlist: I love Kottke.org. This is a love letter. And the way Paul Westerberg sings about Alex Chilton is how I feel about Jason. He’s my guy. And I hope he finds something in this that reflects his personality and sensibilities, from his infinite capacity for wonder and his meticulous sense of taste to — and I was surprised by how much this seemed to naturally creep in — that midwestern, A Charlie Brown Christmas mood of introverted melancholy that lies behind all of that other-directed wonder. Not all of these songs are happy songs, but they are songs that find joy in the universe. And that’s deeper and richer than a giddy, booster-ish hayride. After all, as Dionne sings, loneliness remembers what happiness forgets.

I love listening to this music, and I hope you do too. A little early Christmas present from your friends here at what I will always think is the best blog in the world.

The Explorer and The Hermit

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 12, 2018

In a piece called I’m the Food Expert But My Kids Love My Husband’s Cooking, Amanda Hesser talks about food, tradition, and the differing cooking styles between her and her husband Tad. When she was younger, Hesser’s approach was to experiment relentlessly with her cooking, moving from one new dish to the next. But her husband took a different approach:

One of my other nicknames for Tad is Mr. Efficiency. He obsesses over the shortest route to a destination, orders everything in bulk, is always on time, writes thank-you notes within a day, and absolutely detests standing in line. Especially for food.

When it came to cooking, Tad was characteristically economical. Once we had our kids and our schedules went haywire, he set about mastering a handful of dishes he could pull off on a moment’s notice: fish tacos, pasta alla vodka, and Daddy’s pasta.

Mr. Efficiency…that could be totally be me. I do occasionally enjoy trying to find new stuff to cook, but their mom is way more adventurous in cooking for the kids. I always come back to my go-tos of caldo verde, taco salad, smoky corn chowder, the world’s best pancakes, burgers, and even the occasional tater tot hotdish.

But Hesser’s approach to cooking has shifted towards the familiar in recent years after noticing the downside to always pushing the boundaries:

Meanwhile, I continued to roam and experiment, rarely making the same dish twice. I enjoy the hunt for a new great recipe, the push for something better. But it comes at a cost; cooking new things is more stressful because the unknowns are many. Tad would chat with the kids while making his pasta; I would cook distracted, with my nose in a recipe. Even after focused cooking, things don’t always work out well, and no one around the table is happy. And it’s hard to expect anyone to build an emotional connection to a dish if they’re only seeing it a few times.

I am really feeling that tension between novelty and stability lately, and not just when it comes to food. Sometimes I feel like I’m two different people. The Explorer craves new experiences, finds routine boring, and wants to learn new things or he’ll feel brain-dead. The Hermit needs the stability of a comfortable routine, finds exploring exhausting, and doesn’t want to have to think about what’s next all the time. Should I go to my favorite restaurant or try a new place? Regarding travel…should I re-experience somewhere I’ve been before or head somewhere new? (For my last trip, I did both: a repeat trip to Berlin with a short stay in Istanbul after.) There are certain types of books, movies, and TV shows I like to watch — their reliability is comforting but when I do venture from those paths, the results can be very rewarding and horizon-expanding. Should I spend time with old friends or work on some new relationships?

The part of my life in which I’m feeling this most acutely is in my work. Editing kottke.org is a constant exercise in balancing the familiar with the new. My approach is: “here’s something you haven’t seen before but packaged in a familiar way” and then do that 9-to-5, day-in and day-out, 52 weeks a year. I bury you (and myself) in novelty, but in a clockwork fashion.1 I never know what I’m going to find on a particular day and you never know what you’re going to read, but by the end of the day, every single weekday, there is (I hope!) an interesting, entertaining, thought-provoking, and awe-inspiring collection of things to explore.

But even though I enjoy editing the site and learn about a lot of new things along the way, the work itself sometimes isn’t that challenging. There’s a lot of repetition, sitting in a chair, and willpower — not insignificant things when trying to accomplish something — but it increasingly feels like I’m on autopilot creatively. Has the site gotten better in the last 5 years? I think so. But have I? What creative boundaries have I pushed along the way? In what ways could kottke.org be better or different that would provide new challenges for me? Don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere anytime soon, but my desire to “roam and experiment” (as Hesser puts it) has been on the rise lately for sure.

  1. When I think about how I approach my work on the site, two references come to mind: 1) the Dunkin Donuts guy (“time to make the donuts”), and 2) what the doctor in Gattaca says about regularity of Ethan Hawke’s character’s heartbeat while exercising (“Jerome, Jerome, the metronome.”).

The 2018 kottke.org Holiday Gift Guide

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 04, 2018

Gift Guide 2018

As I’ve done for the last five years, I’ve spent the past few weeks scouring the internet for the best 2018 gift guides and pulled a few of the most interesting items from each. Think of it as a curated meta-guide for your holiday giving. Let’s dig in.

Charitable giving always tops this list. Check out GiveWell and Charity Navigator to find organizations that will put your money to the best use. (Read up on big charities like Red Cross and Salvation Army…they are often not the best use of your charity dollar.) GiveDirectly sends money directly to people living in extreme poverty around the world. I always recommend Volunteer Match to find local volunteer opportunities but they force you to log in now, so just an FYI. Alternate sites for volunteering are the AARP’s Create the Good and United Way. If you’re giving to the local food shelf, skip buying food yourself for the donation bin and set up a direct debit or CC payment instead…that will put your donation to better use.

If you’re looking for great gift ideas for kids (and/or Toys for Tots), the best place to look remains the excellent The Kid Should See This Gift Guide. I use this almost exclusively for all of my kid-related holiday and birthday shopping. This year’s stand-out items include The littleBits Space Rover Inventor Kit (littleBits stuff is *huge* in our household), The Atlas Obscura Explorer’s Guide for the World’s Most Adventurous Kid (got this for my daughter for her birthday), SET (a pal also recently recommended this game), and a set of four board books including Quantum Physics for Babies. And whoa, the Harry Potter Coding Kit from Kano? Accio Coding Kit!

The Accidental Shop is a collection of products I’ve previously linked to on kottke.org. It is heavy on books…I’d particularly recommend Emily Wilson’s The Odyssey, Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs, and Arbitrary Stupid Goal by Tamara Shopsin. Oh, and I’m flying through Madeline Miller’s Circe right now…what a read!

For those of you into food, you’ve probably already have an Instant Pot and Anova Sous Vide Cooker, so check out the gift guides from Eater, Food52, Serious Eats, Kitchn, and Ruth Reichl. Among their recommendations are a Korean fermeting crock (for making kimchi), the Five Two double-sided cutting board, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat, a Taco Passport, Anita Lo’s well-regarded Solo: A Modern Cookbook for a Party of One, and aged fish sauce (!!).

I love my Kindle Paperwhite and there’s an updated version this year that’s waterproof, lighter & thinner, has Bluetooth for audiobooks, and has more storage.

I’ve seen several guides touting so-called “inexpensive” gifts and then going on to recommend $50 bars of soap, so Slate’s The Good Enough List is a welcome effort. They’ve recommended a bunch of items that are almost as good as the best available options but more affordable. My favorite pick is their rec for a $7 pedometer over a Fitbit or Apple Watch. They also highlight the Gulliver crib from Ikea, which I have taken apart and put back together approximately 30 times. It’s a basic, durable, simple, and fantastic crib.

The kids and I have been playing two games pretty heavily this year: Sushi Go Party and Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle. I really like Hogwarts Battle because it’s cooperative — all the players play together against the villans on the board and it’s fun to strategize how to allocate tokens and hearts to get everyone through the danger areas.

The 2018 Engineering Gift Guide from Purdue University is full of “gift ideas that engage girls and boys in engineering thinking and design”. Their picks this year include Duct Tape Engineer and Kiwi Crate’s monthly subscription service for project kits (which a friend also recently recommended).

The Astronomers Without Borders OneSky Reflector Telescope is probably the best $200 telescope you can buy. I got one this summer and it’s been great for looking at the Moon, planets, and even some nearby galaxies.

Gift Guide 2018

My kids would flip out if I bought the family a Nintendo Switch with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe but I don’t think it’s going to happen. [crying emoji]

Whenever I need to buy something for around the house, Wirecutter is the first (and often only) place I go for recommendations. From their Gifts We Want to Give in 2018, I found Blue Planet II (the *perfect* family holiday entertainment), a Carhartt tool bag, fleece blankets from Uniqlo, and a pack of Blackwing pencils.

Remember Viewmaster? Now you can Create Your Own Reel Viewer.

The 2018 Christmas Catalog from Tools & Toys is blissfully heavy on the nerdy stuff. Their picks include an instant photo printer for your iPhone, the Field Cast Iron Skillet, these enamel steel signs from Best Made, and this clever magnetic wrist band for keeping track of errant screws and parts while you’re doing projects. And Lego has a Voltron kit? Holy nostalgia.

Every year I “recommend” this 55-gallon drum of personal lubricant because why would anyone actually buy this? (Have any of you ever bought this? Report back, please!)

I recently did a round-up of Adult Nonfiction Adapted for Younger Readers, including The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan and Howard Zinn’s A Young People’s History of the United States.

Recommended this last year but gonna repeat: a Christmas storybook based on Die Hard. Self-recommending. See also this sequined Jeff Goldblum pillow.

Some friends of mine love this Ooni portable pizza oven…it can cook a pizza at 932°F in just 60 seconds.

I’m lucky to know so many people who have written books or built companies that sell great products. Here are some of them: Advencher, prints from Mari Andrew (a rare occurrence), This Book is a Planetarium, Legal Nomads, 20x200, Tattly, The Bloody Mary, SDR Traveller, Cora Ball, Austin Kleon, Happy Cooking Hospitality, you think you know me, Gracie’s Ice Cream, Kingston Stockade FC, Storyworth, The Aviary Cocktail Book, Chris Piascik, Salty Avocado, Hoefler & Co, Tinybop, Fat Gold, Hella Cocktail Co, Storq maternity wear, Milkmade, and Field Notes.

From The Colossal Shop, multi-colored toy soldiers doing yoga. See also this maddening puzzle…the pieces change colors depending on how you look at them.

My daughter endlessly rereads her Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls books (sequel). I Am A Rebel Girl Journal is their newest product and just might be under our family tree this year.

Socks inspired by Eric Carle’s Very Hungry Caterpillar? Yes, please. And they make them for adults too! The same company makes all sorts of book-related products, from Harry Potter t-shirts to Kurt Vonnegut necklaces.

From the NY Times’ collection of gift guides, a US National Parks annual pass (I put mine to good use this summer), a phone mount for your car (I got one of these this summer and love it), and these Jabra wireless earbuds that the Wirecutter rates as better than Apple AirPods. Oh and Bananagrams.

From Curbed’s 21 holiday gifts for people who like nice things, this ramen puzzle and a radio designed by Charles and Ray Eames in 1946 but was never produced (until now).

More gift guides: Cup of Jo, Canopy, Engadget (tech), The Guardian, Buzzfeed, Daily Nous (philosophy), Tom’s Guide (tech), and Red Tricycle (kids).

My gift guides from the last few years have yet more ideas: 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, and 2013.

Update: A few miscellaneous gifts suggested by readers. Island Creek’s Oyster of the Month Club. A retro SNES game console from Ghostly and Analogue. From Richard Eaglespoon’s 2018 Holiday Gift Guide, these small metal tins of Malden’s sea salt for bringing to restaurants.

I’ve also posted my yearly round-up of best books of the year. Among the most frequent recommendations for 2018 are Madeline Miller’s Circe, David Blight’s biography of Frederick Douglass, Educated by Tara Westover, and How to Change Your Mind: The New Science of Psychedelics by Michael Pollan.

Update: I wasn’t going to update this anymore but I’m making an exception for this: a firelog that smells like Kentucky Fried Chicken when you burn it. !!! Only $18.99 (incl s&h).

Update: From Julia Carrie Wong, the Reverse Gift Guide — “give your friends and family the gift of not having these products”. The list includes DNA kits and “toys that require batteries to make noise”.

Rookie and the Business of Independent Publishing

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 03, 2018

Tavi Gevinson started Rookie in 2011 when she was 15 years old and late last week announced that the online magazine was ceasing publication. The stories about the struggle of independent online media in the age of Google & Facebook are well-worn by now, but the first couple of pages of Gevinson’s letter really resonated with me and with what I’m doing (and not doing) here at kottke.org. This paragraph specifically:

It has sometimes felt like there are two Rookies: There’s the publication that you read, that I also love reading, writing for, and editing; and then there is the company that I own and am responsible for. The former is an art project; the latter is a business. Each one needs and feeds the other, but when I started Rookie at age 15, I saw the two as mutually exclusive. Rookie had been founded, in part, as a response to feeling constantly marketed to in almost all forms of media; to being seen as a consumer rather than a reader or person. In my black-and-white view of the world, the idea of capitalizing on an audience seemed cynical, selfish, and something only evil adults do. It would be misleading to say I was a total purist, though, because I also thought Rookie was really good, and that it should reach people rather than be small and struggling. I wanted it to be able to hire more editors, pay contributors more, and grow so that not everything would need my oversight and other voices could be more prominent. I also wanted Rookie to eventually be a source of income for me, which I didn’t need it to be when I was a teenager and living at home. In those first few years, however, just the day-to-day running of the site was brain-consuming enough without also actively trying to make it as profitable as possible. And, that was the part I was most passionate about, and adept at: collaborating with writers and artists, curating and editing their work, and watching the conversations that would unfold around it.

Over the years, kottke.org could have gone in many different directions — possible acquisitions by Conde Nast publications, funding, partnerships — but I could never convince myself that any of those options would actually make the site any better or make me any happier. I thought then, and I still think now (more than ever actually), that growing the reach and operations of the site would be a terrific idea, but the business challenge is tougher than ever. Thanks to the support of my readers through the membership program (more on that in a second), the business side is stable-ish and I’ve been able to grow modestly here and there (e.g. the weekly Noticing newsletter written by Tim Carmody), but the scope of this enterprise from a financial standpoint is still just one person. Adding another full-time person to the mix sounds easy, but doubling the size of your business is rocket-ship growth, even when you’re tiny. So I continue to put almost 100% of my efforts into writing the site and almost 0% into things like audience growth, business development, promotion, or marketing…and hoping that the product will continue to speak for itself. This feels both like the right way forward for me and also idiotic, like the foundation of this house I’ve spent 20 years building is slowly rotting away out from under us. It’s a real catch-22 that keeps me up some nights.

But back to Rookie. I’m a little surprised that Gevinson didn’t pursue subscriptions or a membership program, but I can relate to what she writes here:

I also know that the idea of taking money from readers made me feel an immediate and intimidating sense of responsibility. (In retrospect, that may have been a more manageable kind of responsibility than money from investors, and could have been a hint to how I’d feel about investors, but you can’t know what you don’t know.)

The first time I tried funding kottke.org with reader support back in 2005, I ended up scrapping the scheme after a year because of that same “intimidating sense of responsibility”. Now with the membership program, it feels more like the site and the business part are in greater alignment…that this is something we’re all doing together for similar reasons. There should have been a way for a site with a strong sense of community like Rookie to come up with a membership plan that seemed collaborative and not extractive, that felt good for everyone. But maybe Gevinson was just ready to move onto other challenges in other arenas. God knows I can empathize with that myself.

The Web Design Museum

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 05, 2018

Ok, if you started using the web 15-25 years ago, prepare yourself for the nostalgic blast of the Web Design Museum.

Web Design Museum

I remember all of these from back in the day — what a trip. Even kottke.org circa 1999 made it in there.

Reminder: support kottke.org with a membership today!

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 25, 2018

I’ve been a bit lax about getting the word out about this lately — been busy in the content mines and with the Noticing newsletter and I am bad at self-promotion — but this is your periodic reminder that kottke.org is financially supported primarily by memberships from readers. If you’d like to support one of the best independent sites on the web, you can check out your options here. It takes less than a minute to sign up and your collective support will keep the site chugging along for the foreseeable future.

If you’re already a member, thank you again! Your support has enabled me to publish the site without compromise & encouraged me to experiment with a few new things, which you’ve gotten glimpses of over the last 18 months via the members-only newsletter.

Speaking of the members-only newsletter, I’ve sent out 2 issues over the past 10 days or so. If you’re a member and haven’t gotten them, your membership may have lapsed because of an expired credit card…you can sign in on the membership page to check your status and renew.

Ok, self-promotion over…that wasn’t so bad. Here’s a fun handclapping clip from Sesame Street to celebrate getting through that together:

(Sesame Street is supported by “viewers like you”…just like kottke.org. Become a member!)

On Margins 005 with Jason

posted by Patrick Tanguay   May 01, 2018

Jason interviewed on On Margins

Jason is a humble guy so I’m not sure he’d post this. Good timing then that he’s on vacation and I’m writing here because I will! He’s the guest on the most recent episode of the excellent On Margins podcast by the equally excellent Craig Mod. Not everyone is a podcast listening person but still have a look, there’s a full transcript of the interview and you can also see some excerpts written up by Mod on Medium.

For those of us who have not just used the web but built on the web for decades, a place like kottke.org becomes almost physical in its emotional resonance. […]

These last few years have been tipified by a realization: I think we understand the brittle nature of our institutions a little more than we ever have.

These things we love in the world are not in this world, unless we continually put energy into them, supportive energy into them. I think we felt that really strongly in the last two years, especially. (Emphasis mine)

(Header image shamelessly lifted from Mod’s Medium post.)