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2019-12-12T21:26:20Z
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Lego Frida Kahlo

Lego Frida

Behold a Lego portrait of Frida Kahlo made by visual artist Karen Cantú Q. She was inspired by Marco Sodano’s Lego portraits made for the company — you’ve likely seen his Mona Lisa but I’m partial to the van Gogh.

Lego Van Gogh

Tags: Frida Kahlo   Karen Cantu Q   Legos   Marco Sodano   Vincent van Gogh

2019-12-12T21:26:20Z


The Time-Traveling Cinematography of The Irishman

Here’s a short clip of cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto talking about his work on The Irishman.

The movie takes place over several decades and Prieto worked with director Martin Scorsese to build a distinct look for each period based on different photo processing techniques: Kodachrome for the 50s, Ektachrome for the 60s & early 70s, and neutral for the film’s present-day:

Irishman Cinematography

Irishman Cinematography

Irishman Cinematography

Prieto also talks a little bit about the three camera system needed to “youthify” the actors. (You Honor, I would like to state for the record that Jennifer Lopez did not require fancy cameras or de-aging CGI to make her look 20 years younger in Hustlers. I rest my case.)

Tags: Martin Scorsese   movies   photography   Rodrigo Prieto   The Irishman   video

2019-12-12T19:25:16Z


Tunes 2011-2019, Burial

On heavy rotation today: Burial’s recent compilation album Tunes 2011-2019.

Here’s the album for sale on Bandcamp and streaming on Apple Music. Pitchfork gave it a 9.0. I have also been listening to Ecstatic Computation by Caterina Barbieri (found via the Flow State newsletter) and Daphni’s Joli Mai. Daphni is one of Daniel Snaith’s stage names; he’s releasing a new album as Caribou in February 2020, a record I’ve been waiting very patiently for since 2014 (Caribou’s Our Love is a particular favorite album of mine). Here are the first two singles from the forthcoming album.

But so anyway, the dark tones of Burial are resonating with me today because I woke up in a bit of a funk. “Why the malaise?” the dumb part of my brain asked seemingly no one. The tiny clever bit of brain answered, “You ate a bunch of ice cream after dinner and then stayed up way too late dicking around on your phone and half-watching DS9.” Burial: The Perfect Music for Your Stayed-Up-Late-Ate-Ice-Cream-and-Watched-Star-Trek Morning Funk™.

Tags: Burial   music

2019-12-12T17:24:41Z


The Artistic Ecosystems of Yellena James

I ran across the work of Yellena James on Instagram the other day and my inner emoji face went all heart-eyes. I love her delicate organic imagery inspired by flowers, coral, and other natural forms.

Yellena James

Yellena James

James has a lot of irons in the fire: she sells prints of her work on Etsy (scarves too!), works with a number of brands on design projects, published a book on learning how to draw using nature as a guide, regularly exhibits her art in galleries & shows, and does painting tutorials for the likes of Adobe.

Tags: art   Yellena James

2019-12-12T15:42:38Z


The Embroidered Memory of the Berlin Wall

Diane Meyer Berlin

Diane Meyer Berlin

For her series called Berlin, artist Diane Meyer embroiders the Berlin Wall back into modern-day scenes of the once-divided German city. Meyer hand-sews the thread right onto the photographs.

In many images, the embroidered sections represent the exact scale and location of the former Wall offering a pixelated view of what lies behind. In this way, the embroidery appears as a translucent trace in the landscape of something that no longer exists but is a weight on history and memory.

(via colossal)

Tags: art   Berlin   Berlin Wall   Diane Meyer   photography

2019-12-11T20:34:42Z


Pachelbel’s Canon Played by Train Horns

This video of the familiar tune of Pachelbel’s Canon being played by different clips of train horns all edited together is both funny and charming. If you need a little pick-me-up right now, this should do the trick. Watch for the celebrity cameo around the 1:00 mark. (via the kid should see this)

Tags: Johann Pachelbel   music   remix   trains   video

2019-12-11T18:44:21Z


The Relative Rotations of the Planets

Planetary scientist James O’Donoghue made this cool little visualization of the rotation speeds of the planets of the solar system. You can see Jupiter making one full rotation every ~10 hours, Earth & Mars about every 24 hours, and Venus rotating once every 243 days. He also did a version where all the planets rotate the same way (Venus & Uranus actually rotate the other way).

See also O’Donoghue’s visualizations of the speed of light that I posted back in January.

Tags: astronomy   James O’Donoghue   science   video

2019-12-11T17:14:10Z


If Hogwarts Were an Inner-City School (Key & Peele)

In this faux HBO documentary short from Key & Peele, we visit Vincent Clortho Public School for Wizards, the American inner-city answer to Harry Potter’s Hogwarts.

“The hallways are a-bluster with the conversation of our Quidditch team.”

“Half the team is back here riding mops. We got two little [kids] on Swiffers.”

If the name “Vincent Clortho” sounds sorta familiar, that’s because they borrowed it from Ghostbusters (Vinz Clortho, the Keymaster).

Tags: Harry Potter   Key & Peele   movies   video

2019-12-11T15:04:11Z


52 Things Learned in 2019

One of my favorite end-of-the-year lists comes from writer, consultant, and curious human Tom Whitwell: 52 things I learned in 2019.

8. Drunk shopping could be a $45bn/year industry, and only 6% of people regret their drunk purchases.

25. In the US Northwest, rain can damage the fruit on cherry trees. So helicopter pilots are paid to fly over the orchards, using their downdraft to dry the fruit as it ripens. For the pilots, it’s a risky but potentially profitable job.

31. Using machine learning, researchers can now predict how likely an individual is to be involve in a car accident by looking at the image of their home address on Google Street View.

52. Asking ‘What questions do you have for me?’ can be dramatically more effective than ‘Any questions?’ at the end of a talk.

I will add a 53rd item: Whitwell used a machine learning tool trained on his lists from previous years to find a couple of the interesting stories this year. I’ve often wondered if I could do the same with kottke.org…sort of a bot’s-eye view of the daily link zeitgeist.

Tags: best of   best of 2019   lists   Tom Whitwell

2019-12-10T22:56:31Z


The “Harbinger Customers” Who Buy Unpopular Products & Back Losing Politicians

Colgate Foods

This paper, about the curious phenomenon of “harbinger customers” and “harbinger zip codes”, is really interesting. These harbinger customers tend to buy unpopular products like Crystal Pepsi or Colgate Kitchen Entrees and support losing political candidates.

First, the findings document the existence of “harbinger zip codes.” If households in these zip codes adopt a new product, this is a signal that the new product will fail. Second, a series of comparisons reveal that households in harbinger zip codes make other decisions that differ from other households. The first comparison identifies harbinger zip codes using purchases from one retailer and then evaluates purchases at a different retailer. Households in harbinger zip codes purchase products from the second retailer that other households are less likely to purchase. The analysis next compares donations to congressional election candidates; households in harbinger zip codes donate to different candidates than households in neighboring zip codes, and they donate to candidates who are less likely to win. House prices in harbinger zip codes also increase at slower rates than in neighboring zip codes.

It’s fascinating that these people’s preferences persist across all sorts of categories — it’s like they’re generally out of sync with the rest of society.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the harbinger customer effect is that the signal extends across CPG categories. Customers who purchase new oral care products that flop also tend to purchase new haircare products that flop. Anderson et al. (2015) interpret their findings as evidence that customers who have unusual preferences in one product category also tend to have unusual preferences in other categories. In other words, the customers who liked Diet Crystal Pepsi also tended to like Colgate Kitchen Entrees (which also flopped).

(via bb)

Tags: politics

2019-12-10T21:10:33Z


My Strategic Book Reserve - Banking Unread Books from Favorite Authors

When I wrote this post last week about Erik Larson’s new book The Splendid and the Vile, I said I was going to buy and read it the second it comes out. But then I realized that Larson has written several books that I am fully aware of but have not read, including 2015’s Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania. What gives? Why am I not rushing out for that one?

I do this with other favorite authors and books series as well. I’ve read some deep cuts from the archives of David Foster Wallace — stuff he wrote in college & grad school — and Infinite Jest twice but I haven’t read a couple of his collections or his posthumous The Pale King. Books 1 & 2 of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle deeply resonated with me but I can’t quite bring myself to start on the third volume. I burned through stuff from Hilary Mantel and Elena Ferrante, yet I didn’t immediately seek out other books that they’d written. Richard Rhodes too…there are many examples.

Part of it is that I’m a restless and then forgetful reader. Even after finishing an amazing book, I often want to switch gears to something different and then I fail to return to something else by the amazing book’s author. But mainly I do this on purpose. I like the feeling of looking forward to a sure thing, the comfort of a story I haven’t heard but I know will be good. We’re awash in highly acclaimed stories these days — there are hundreds of books published this year alone worth reading — but writers whose stories are particularly resonant to me are still a precious resource, worth saving for when I need a sure-thing read.

Tags: books

2019-12-10T19:04:35Z


A 12-Hour Lawnmower Race, the Greatest Show on Turf

Each year, the British Lawn Mower Racing Association holds a 12-hour lawn mower race in which teams of three drivers compete for a half a day of non-stop racing around a track at speeds up to 50 mph.

As usual, the teams will line up in a traditional Le Mans grid formation with the drivers running to their machines at the start.

The teams of three drivers (male and female) compete throughout the night at speeds approaching 50 mph — and without any form of suspension other than a padded seat, this is no stroll in the park! The pace remains unrelenting for the full 12 hours and it’s not unknown for the first three mowers to be on the same lap when the chequered flag drops. This is a true test of human endurance and mechanical reliability.

The video above follows one of the teams competing in this year’s race to see what the sport is all about. (I didn’t know where to drop a “Deere v Cub Cadet” joke in, so I’ll just leave it here.)

Tags: racing   video

2019-12-10T17:05:26Z


Huge Hand-Drawn Map of North America 5 Years in the Making

Anton Thomas Map

Anton Thomas Map

Anton Thomas has been working for the last five years on a huge hand-drawn map of North America.

North America: Portrait of a Continent is drawn completely by hand with colour pencil and pen. It is a 5 x 4 feet (150 x 120 cm) perspective projection of the entire region, spanning from Alaska to Panama; Greenland to the Caribbean. There are tens of thousands of features, including 600 individual cities and towns.

Looks fantastic. He finished it in February and is getting ready to open pre-orders for prints sometime this month.

Tags: Anton Thomas   art   maps

2019-12-10T15:12:19Z


Get Prints of Eleanor Lutz’s Genius Infographics

I’ve featured the maps and science infographics of Eleanor Lutz for years here. You might be interested to learn, as I did the other day, that you can get posters and prints (and iPhone cases and tshirts) of a bunch of her work at Red Bubble. Like this map of the geology of Mars or the butterflies of North America.

Atlas Of Space

Butterflies Lutz

These are definitely going on my holiday gift guide.

Tags: Eleanor Lutz   infoviz   maps

2019-12-09T19:18:13Z


Natural History Museum

Like Andy Warhol famously said,1 someday in the far future you might end up in an exhibit in someone else’s natural history museum. That what happens in this short film by Kirsten Lepore, who you may remember from the weirdo Hi Stranger video. (via waxy)

  1. Who’s to say he didn’t?

Tags: Kirsten Lepore   museums   video

2019-12-09T16:39:27Z


Wonder Woman 1984

This, my friends, is the trailer for Wonder Woman 1984. Ok, let’s see what we have here. Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, the only DC Comics movie superhero worth a damn since Nolan’s Batmans. 1984, one of the best years ever for movies and pop culture. A remix of Blue Monday by New Order, still the best-selling 12” single of all time. Patty Jenkins is directing and came up with the story this time (instead of having to deal with Zack Snyder’s nonsense). YES PLEASE.

Tags: Gal Gadot   movies   music   Patty Jenkins   trailers   video   Wonder Woman

2019-12-09T01:47:15Z


RIP Carroll Spinney, Puppeteer of Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch

Sad news from Sesame Street: Carroll Spinney, the puppeteer who played Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch for almost 50 years, died today at age 85.

Caroll was an artistic genius whose kind and loving view of the world helped shape and define Sesame Street from its earliest days in 1969 through five decades, and his legacy here at Sesame Workshop and in the cultural firmament will be unending. His enormous talent and outsized heart were perfectly suited to playing the larger-than-life yellow bird who brought joy to generations of children and countless fans of all ages around the world, and his lovably cantankerous grouch gave us all permission to be cranky once in a while.

Spinney had retired from the show last year, citing health concerns. Here’s a look at how he operated the Big Bird puppet (more here):

Big Bird Inside

Spinney came out with a book in 2003 called The Wisdom of Big Bird (and the Dark Genius of Oscar the Grouch): Lessons from a Life in Feathers and was the subject of a 2015 documentary called I Am Big Bird. Here’s a trailer:

At Sesame Street creator Jim Henson’s memorial service at Cathedral of St. John the Divine after his unexpected death in 1990, Spinney walked out and, in full Big Bird costume, sang “It Ain’t Easy Being Green” in tribute to his friend:

Total silence after he finished…I can’t imagine there was a dry eye in the house after that. Rest in peace, gentle men.

Tags: Carroll Spinney   obituaries   Sesame Street   TV   video

2019-12-09T00:28:51Z


The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson

Splendid Vile

For me, Erik Larson is one of the best nonfiction storytellers around. I loved both The Devil in the White City (about the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893) and In the Garden of Beasts. So when his new book, The Splendid and the Vile, comes out in February, I’m gonna hop on it right away. As the subtitle says, the book is about Winston Churchill and Britain during the the Blitz.

In The Splendid and the Vile, Erik Larson shows, in cinematic detail, how Churchill taught the British people “the art of being fearless.” It is a story of political brinkmanship, but it’s also an intimate domestic drama, set against the backdrop of Churchill’s prime-ministerial country home, Chequers; his wartime retreat, Ditchley, where he and his entourage go when the moon is brightest and the bombing threat is highest; and of course 10 Downing Street in London.

Drawing on diaries, original archival documents, and once-secret intelligence reports — some released only recently — Larson provides a new lens on London’s darkest year through the day-to-day experience of Churchill and his family: his wife, Clementine; their youngest daughter, Mary, who chafes against her parents’ wartime protectiveness; their son, Randolph, and his beautiful, unhappy wife, Pamela; Pamela’s illicit lover, a dashing American emissary; and the advisers in Churchill’s “Secret Circle,” to whom he turns in the hardest moments.

(via Maria Konnikova, who is doing an event w/ Larson in February at Greenlight Books in Brooklyn)

Tags: books   Erik Larson   The Splendid and the Vile   war   Winston Churchill   World War II

2019-12-06T21:00:08Z


The Breakthrough that Made Animation Look Natural

In the latest in a series of videos on film innovations that came from outside Hollywood, Phil Edwards highlights rotoscoping, a process of filming live action and transferring the motion to produce realistic animated movement invented by Max Fleischer.

As the above video shows, it started with Max’s brother Dave dancing on a roof in a clown costume. Footage of that was then used to model the classic Koko the Clown cartoons, which formed the basis for many Fleischer Studios films. Today, animators still use techniques like rotoscoping to turn real movement into animation.

A number of the studio’s most memorable cartoons used footage of legendary jazz singer Cab Calloway to create fluid animated sequences, like this dancing walrus from Betty Boop.

As Edwards notes, Fleischer’s studio also invented an early multiplane animation device, which allowed for the independent movement of different parts of the background to create the illusion of depth, resulting in yet more realism. Here’s Steven Johnson describing Disney’s more sophisticated multiplane camera in his book Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World:

All of these technical and procedural breakthroughs summed up to an artistic one: Snow White was the first animated film to feature both visual and emotional depth. It pulled at the heartstrings in a way that even live-action films had failed to do. This, more than anything, is why Snow White marks a milestone in the history of illusion. “No animated cartoon had ever looked like Snow White,” Disney’s biographer Neil Gabler writes, “and certainly none had packed its emotional wallop.” Before the film was shown to an audience, Disney and his team debated whether it might just be powerful enough to provoke tears — an implausible proposition given the shallow physical comedy that had governed every animated film to date. But when Snow White debuted at the Carthay Circle Theatre, near L.A.’s Hancock Park, on December 21, 1937, the celebrity audience was heard audibly sobbing during the final sequences where the dwarfs discover their poisoned princess and lay garlands of flowers on her.

Tags: animation   Disney   Max Fleischer   movies   Phil Edwards   Steven Johnson   video

2019-12-06T18:59:44Z


Microscopic Photography of Tiny Plant Structures

Rob Kesseler

Rob Kesseler

Artist Rob Kesseler is a master of the microphotography of plants and their intricately small parts (like pollen, cells, and seeds). At Colossal, Kessler says a childhood gift of a microscope set him on his way.

“What the microscope gave me was an unprecedented view of nature, a second vision,” he writes, “and awareness that there existed another world of forms, colours and patterns beyond what I could normally see.” The artist says his use of color is inspired by the time he spends researching and observing, and that just like nature, he employs it to attract attention.

Check out much more of Kesseler’s work on his website. (via colossal)

Tags: art   photography   Rob Kesseler

2019-12-06T16:44:34Z


The Deep Sea

The Deep Sea

The Deep Sea is a fun little web toy where you scroll down into the ocean to see the depths at which different animals (and a few plants) hang out. Warning: if you start scrolling you probably won’t be able to stop until (spoiler alert!) you reach the bottom of the Challenger Deep.

I was surprised to learn many things along the way, including that elephant seals can dive to 2400 meters (about a mile and a half), there’s such a thing called the headless chicken fish, the Cuvier’s beaked whale is the deepest diving mammal (~1.8 miles), and that “more people have been to the Moon than the Hadal zone” (past 20,000 feet deep).

2019-12-06T15:04:32Z


The 2019 kottke.org Holiday Gift Guide

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.

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

Tags: kottke.org

2019-12-05T19:25:24Z


Incredible Display of Ice Crystal Halos Around the Sun in the Swiss Alps

Ice Halos

This is a photo of several ice crystal halos around the Sun taken by Michael Schneider in the Swiss Alps with an iPhone 11 Pro. It. Is. Absolutely. Stunning. I can barely write more than a few words here without stealing another peek at it. According to Schneider’s post (translated from German by Google), this display developed gradually as he waited for a friend as some icy fog and/or clouds were dissipating at the top of a Swiss ski resort and he was happy to capture it on his new phone.

Using this site on atmospheric optics, Mark McCaughrean helpfully annotated Schneider’s photo to identify all of the various halos on display:

Ice Halos 02

Displays like this are pretty rare, but Joshua Thomas captured a similar scene in New Mexico a few years ago and Gizmodo’s Mika McKinnon explained what was going on.

Ice halos happen when tiny crystals of ice are suspended in the sky. The crystals can be high up in cirrus clouds, or closer to the ground as diamond dust or ice fog. Like raindrops scatter light into rainbows, the crystals of ice can reflect and refract light, acting as mirrors or prisms depending on the shape of the crystal and the incident angle of the light. While the lower down ice only happens in cold climates, circus clouds are so high they’re freezing cold any time, anywhere in the world, so even people in the tropics mid-summer have a chance of seeing some of these phenomena.

Explaining the optics of these phenomena involves a lot of discussing angular distances.

So so so so cool.

Tags: Joshua Thomas   Mark McCaughrean   Michael Schneider   Mika McKinnon   photography   physics   science   Sun

2019-12-05T15:18:53Z


A Map of the 637 Languages Spoken in NYC

NYC Language Map

The Endangered Language Alliance has produced a map of the 637 languages and dialects spoken by the residents of NYC (past and present).

It represents ELA’s ongoing effort to draw on all available sources, including thousands of interviews and discussions, to tell the continuing story of the city’s many languages and cultures. The patterns it reveals — the clustering of West African languages in Harlem and the Bronx, a microcosm of the former Soviet Union in south Brooklyn, the multifaceted Asian-language diversity of Queens, to name a few — only hint at the linguistic complexity of a city where a single building or block can host speakers of dozens of languages from across the globe.

The online map embedded in the page works ok, but a $50 donation to the organization will get you a 24″ x 36″ print for your wall.

According to a Gothamist post about the map, the size and diversity of the city sometimes means that a significant chunk of a language’s worldwide speakers live in NYC:

Seke is a language spoken in just a handful of towns in Nepal-worldwide, there are fewer than 700 people who speak it. More than 100 of those people live in Brooklyn and Queens, according to the Endangered Language Alliance, a group that seeks to document and preserve smaller, minority, and Indigenous languages across New York City.

(via gothamist)

Tags: language   maps   NYC

2019-12-04T23:17:09Z


A Circle Thief

A Circle Thief is a lovely little animation by Natsumi Comoto of a robber of circular objects and the chalk-wielding commuter who attempts to stop him.

See more meta-animation in Duck Amuck (starring Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny). (via the kid should see this)

Tags: Natsumi Comoto   video

2019-12-04T21:12:02Z


Snowbrawl

Snowbrawl is a fun short film of a children’s snowball fight shot as if it were a John Wick or Mission Impossible action sequence. David Leitch, the uncredited co-director of John Wick and director of Deadpool 2, shot the whole thing for Apple on an iPhone 11 Pro.

Tags: advertising   Apple   David Leitch   telephony   video

2019-12-04T19:10:57Z


Reader’s Block

I stumbled across this comic by Grant Snider this morning and realized that I am often afflicted by reader’s block but have never quite thought about it in that way, somehow.

Readers Block

Some of Snider’s reasons affect my reading more than others: too little time, too much TV, not enough sleep, crippling ennui, low curiosity. I’ve recently started to use an app to help me form some good habits and break bad ones, and one of my daily tasks is “read a book for 15 minutes”. I hit that target almost every day and when I do, I usually get in the groove and go for longer, sometimes an hour or more. This has revealed “too little time” and “too much TV” to be falsehoods that I no longer believe — “too much phone” I am still working on.

I’ve also stopped reading books that don’t grab me, as interesting as they may seem and as acclaimed as their recommenders insist. If I’m reading something and I find myself daydreaming or wanting to check my phone or switching to an episode of something on Netflix, that’s a sign that I should put it down and find another book. The only problem with this is that some of my favorite books (Infinite Jest for one) did not grab me in the beginning but picked up in a major way later, sometimes hundreds of pages in. Great books sometimes do not hand everything to the reader on a silver platter and the hard work they demand becomes part of their reward.

But my main two reader’s block problems persist. The first is represented by “low curiosity” in Snider’s comic — I read all day long for my work here on kottke.org and when it comes time in the evening to wind down, more reading is often not something I can manage, especially with nonfiction (brain sometimes function at night not good). Reading right after I wake up has helped somewhat, but I typically have a logjam of tasks vying for my attention in the high-energy early morning and reading only occasionally wins.

The second thing is that I often get stuck between books. Part of it is the “overwhelmed by infinite possibility” factor — soooo much good stuff to read, how can you possibly choose what’s next? Succumbing to the temptation of other possible diversions or wavering in my disbelief of “too little time” becomes much easier when I’m not currently caught up in a story or someone else’s world view. Lining up your next read before finishing your current book is a possible solution, but that can be tough when you’re fully engaged in what awaits you in the closing chapters of your present literary love.

You can read more thoughts on reader’s block and how to tackle it from Stuart Jeffries, Emily Petsko, and Hugh McGuire. And if you and your preschooler are stuck looking for something new to read together, Snider has a new picture book out called What Color Is Night?

Tags: books   Emily Petsko   Grant Snider   Hugh McGuire   Stuart Jeffries

2019-12-04T16:42:10Z


Primitive Technology, the Book!

We haven’t checked in on the Primitive Technology guy in awhile and — whoa, he has umasked himself! After more than four years of anonymity, the man building all of the tools, huts, weapons, and other Stone Age technologies in the wilds of Australia has revealed himself as John Plant. And in this video compilation from October, he announces that he has a book out: Primitive Technology: A Survivalist’s Guide to Building Tools, Shelters, and More in the Wild. Looks like a step-by-step guide to building all the things in his videos, accompanied by illustrations and photos:

Primitive Technology Book

Primitive Technology Book

This is an instant purchase for me, if only to support what he’s been doing for the past 4+ years. Plant says:

This video compilation, as well as the book, outlines all the skills and achievements I’ve attained in this time period using research, hard work and trial and error. Writing this book is something I wanted to do even before making videos and launching this channel. I wanted to offer something tangible that benefited those who had the same keen interest in primitive technology as I do. With that, I thank each and every one of you for your continued support throughout the years, and I really hope you enjoy the book.

And for good measure, here’s his latest video from a few days ago, which shows him building a kiln for firing bricks:

(via the kid should see this)

Tags: books   how to   John Plant   Primitive Technology   video

2019-12-03T22:15:03Z


Paul Sougy’s Vintage Scientific Illustrations for French Schools

Paul Sougy

Paul Sougy

Paul Sougy

Paul Sougy

A flea market find by a friend spurred Maria Popova to rediscover and restore Paul Sougy’s mid-century educational illustrations of plants, animals, and the human body.

In the 1940s, Paul Sougy — a curator of natural history at the science museum of the French city of Orléans, and a gifted artist — was commissioned by the estate of the pioneering 18th-century French naturalist and anatomist Louis Thomas Jérôme Auzoux to create a series of illustrations based on Auzoux’s work, to be used in textbooks, workbooks, transparencies, and large-scale educational charts for classroom walls.

Lovely work. The restored illustrations are available as prints — just click on any of the images in the post or visit Popova’s Society6 shop. A portion of the proceeds go to benefit The Nature Conservancy.

Tags: art   Maria Popova   Paul Sougy   science

2019-12-03T18:27:15Z


The Best Books of 2019

Best Books 2019

I made an effort to read more books in 2019 and mostly succeeded (I think). But there are so many good books out there I couldn’t get to, which is at once both panic-inducing (OMG, the endless bedside stack of books) and exciting (so much to look forward to reading). It’s in this spirit that I went through a bunch of end-of-the-year books lists to pull out some of our collective favorite books of the year for 2019.

The NY Times has published two lists so far: The 10 Best Books of 2019 and 100 Notable Books of 2019 (I think their critics’ picks are forthcoming). Ben Lerner’s third novel, The Topeka School, is on both lists and almost all of the others linked here as well. I read Lerner’s 10:04 a few years ago and really enjoyed it. Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist made the longer list and is on my to-read-soon list as well.

As many others did, The Times Literary Supplement recommended The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming by David Wallace-Wells.

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong made the Washington Post’s Best Books of 2019. I pick up Vuong’s book every time I see it on a bookstore shelf…one of these days I’m going to actually buy & read it.

Book Riot’s list of the Best Books of 2019 includes Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle by Emily Nagoski & Amelia Nagoski. Their talk at XOXO 2019 about the stress cycle was my favorite — it seemed at times they were talking directly at me.

In their Best Books of 2019 list, Kirkus Reviews highlighted Exhalation by Ted Chiang and Internment by Samira Ahmed.

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Nobel Prize winner Olga Tokarczuk is on Time magazine’s 10 Best Fiction Books of 2019 list.

Library Journal has a number of lists in many categories — Chris Ware’s Rusty Brown and Mira Jacob’s Good Talk appear on their graphic novels list.

The lists from Goodreads always present a broader view of what’s being enjoyed by readers. See for instance: Most Popular Books Published In 2019 and Best Books of 2019. On the list of books for kids are Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o and Yoon Ha Lee’s Dragon Pearl.

Three Women by Lisa Taddeo and Taffy Brodessner-Aker’s Fleishman Is in Trouble both made the New York Public Library’s list of Best Books of 2019.

Two lists from Five Books: Best Science Books of 2019 and Best Math Books of 2019. Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez topped the first list and Infinite Powers: The Story of Calculus by Steven Strogatz made both lists. I wrote about Perez’s book back in February.

The Guardian selected the best science, nature and ideas books of 2019. Among those mentioned are Greta Thunberg’s No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference (which oddly didn’t make many other lists) and The Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshana Zuboff.

The Guardian also asked a number of writers and celebs for their 2019 favorites. Hilary Mantel highlighted Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout, comparing the author favorably with Jane Austen. Anand Giridharadas picked Jia Tolentino’s Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion, the only book on any of these lists in which I am quoted (as far as I know). Yotam Ottolenghi liked The Whole Fish Cookbook by Josh Niland.

Speaking of cooking, I couldn’t find a good list of the year’s best cookbooks, but I’ll update this if Eater or someone else publishes one. (see update below)

The top two books on Amazon’s Best Books of 2019 list are The Testaments by Margaret Atwood and The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead. I haven’t gotten around to Whitehead’s latest (The Underground Railroad was great) but I did read The Testaments and loved it.

Voracious reader Tyler Cowen weighs in with two lists: favorite fiction of 2019 and best non-fiction books of 2019. He mentions Sally Rooney’s Normal People, which I really enjoyed, and Lakota America: A New History of Indigenous Power by Pekka Hämäläinen.

Update: Alright, we’ve got a couple of lists of the year’s best cookbooks, In her list of the best baking cookbooks of 2019, Melissa Clark highlights Tartine: A Classic Revisited by Elisabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson. On the SF Chronicle’s best cookbooks of 2019 is Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s I Can Cook Vegan and Alison Roman’s Nothing Fancy: Unfussy Food for Having People Over. And Samin Nosrat (Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat) recently published a selection of her favorite fall cookbooks as a gift guide, including Oaxaca: Home Cooking from the Heart of Mexico by Bricia Lopez and Javier Cabral. (thx merrill & connor)

Update: NPR has updated their Book Concierge for 2019, adding 369 books spread out over a variety of categories from “Love Stories” to “The Dark Side”. I jumped right to the “Staff Picks” (the best section of any bookstore for people who like reading blogs) and found Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James, a finalist for the National Book Award this year. I also spotted Mary H.K. Choi’s Permanent Record.

The NY Times Critics picked their Top Books of 2019, including Susan Choi’s Trust Exercise (the winner of the National Book Award).

Not all of the books on Boing Boing’s 28 favorite books in 2019 were actually published in 2019, but Olivia Jaimes’ Nancy: A Comic Collection was. So was Arcade Game Typography by Toshi Omigari.

Tags: best of   best of 2019   books   lists

2019-12-03T14:38:52Z


Do Kids Today Still Like Mister Rogers?

Fred Rogers and his Neighborhood may seem to belong to a bygone age of slow children’s media, but when Mary Pflum Peterson introduced the show to her four children, she found that they engaged with the show like kids back in the 70s and 80s did.

I asked my youngest two, as they obsessed over the fish, what was it about the show that appealed to them.

After a beat, they gave me that look that parents will readily recognize, the one that best translates to “Isn’t it obvious?”

“He likes kids, Mommy,” my daughter said. “Kids know when a grown-up likes them.”

“And he’s not too loud,” my son added. “When we watch him, there’s no noise. You don’t have to worry about anything.”

Kind and calm. So that explained everything. In a world of so much chaos and noise, kids liked calm sincerity.

Tags: Fred Rogers   Mary Pflum Peterson   TV

2019-12-02T20:33:56Z


The Most Popular TV Shows 1986-2019

If you grew up watching TV (and who didn’t?), this bar chart race animation of the 10 most popular primetime TV shows from 1986-2019 is fascinating.

Ranking is based on the following factors: prime-time first 24 hours audience reports, one week of reported statistics for downloaded copies (pirated), one week of streaming services viewership. Numbers are worldwide with significant bias towards US market up until 2002, afterwards it’s balanced by p2p distribution across the globe.

I’d forgotten what a huge hit ER was in the mid-90s. And note that The Simpsons never cracked the top 10. Ah, I didn’t notice that they snuck in briefly during 1996 — thx @ChasingDom. (via waxy)

Tags: infoviz   TV   video

2019-12-02T18:23:03Z


Former Secret Service Agent Explains How POTUS Is Protected

Jonathan Wackrow spent 14 years as a special agent of the Secret Service and in this video he explains how the Secret Service protects the people under its watch, particularly the President.

It’s a testament to the Secret Service’s training, process, and professionalism that none of the three most recent polarizing Presidents have endured a serious assassination attempt.

Tags: Jonathan Wackrow   Secret Service   video

2019-12-02T16:33:36Z


Every Kind of Thing in Space

This 12-minute animated video is a tour of all of the different kinds of things “out there” in the universe (as opposed to matter and structures smaller than, say, a human being).

This video explores all of the things in the Universe from our Earth and local Solar System, out to the Milky Way Galaxy and looks at all of the different kinds of stars from Brown Dwarfs to Red Supergiant Stars. Then to the things they explode into like white dwarfs, neutron stars and black holes. Then we look at all the other kinds of galaxy in the universe, blazars, quasars and out to the cosmic microwave background and the big bang. It covers most of the different things that we know about in the Universe.

A poster of the final drawing is available here.

Tags: astronomy   space   video

2019-12-02T14:30:37Z


Robert Lang on the 11 Levels of Complexity of Origami

In this video for Wired, physicist and origami master Robert J. Lang demonstrates the 11 increasingly complex levels of origami. How all the legs and antennae and other small features are designed at the more complex levels is fascinating.

See also Susan Orlean’s 2007 piece about Lang in the New Yorker and Lang’s TED Talk on the mathematics of origami.

Tags: how to   origami   Robert Lang   video

2019-11-29T20:54:12Z


A Quick Cyber Shopping Guide for Black Friday

So, I’ve begun working on my annual holiday gift guide (here’s 2018’s guide) and hope to have it done as early as next week. If you’re a pal or a regular reader that has a product or service you think should be on the gift guide this year, let me know! Would love to get more small business stuff on there.

But I wanted to make this quick mini-guide for Black Friday / Cyber Monday because if you’re savvy about it, this weekend can be a good time to find some good deals on holiday gifts for your friends and family. Here’s what I dug up.

The best Kindle, the new waterproof Kindle Paperwhite, is only $85 (35% off). I have one of these and have read a few dozen books on it since I bought it in March.

You can order a Cybertruck from Tesla with only $100 down and then get a refund on your deposit later. It’s a little bit thrilling to push the “Place Order” button on a $77,000 item with the styling of a 1st gen Kindle.

The 5 Qt KitchenAid mixer is on sale for $240 (48% off). Today only so hop on this one.

My Tattly pals are offering 30% off on almost all of their awesome temporary tattoos.

23andMe’s Health + Ancestry DNA testing kit is $99 (50% off). AncestryDNA’s kit is only $50 (51% off). There’s also a DNA kit for dogs on sale for $90 (40% off) if you want find out what breeds make up that rescue you just adopted.

My friend Jodi is offering 15% off today at her Legal Nomads shop…just use the code HOLIDAYSALE19.

The 8 Qt Instant Pot is discounted down to $95 (47% off) while the 6 Qt WiFi-enabled Instant Pot is $90 (40% off).

The New York Public Library would like to remind you that everything at the library is free (with free returns).

Apple is offering gift cards if you buy select products like iPhone XR, AirPods, iPad Pro, and Beats headphones.

It’s not the most current retina-screen model, but this Macbook Air is only $650 (35% off).

A 3-month Audible subscription is $6.95/mo (53% off).

Need a VPN for private browsing? TunnelBear is just $50 for the year today (58% off).

Amazon has a slight discount (6%) on AirPods Pro, but they’ll likely arrive after the holidays (“usually ships within 1 to 2 months”). The Apple Watch Series 5 is also on sale for $380 (5% off).

I have zero idea if this product is any good, but you can buy a 50-inch 4K TV for just $217.

Hulu is $1.99/mo for 12 months for their ad-supported plan (regularly $5.99/mo).

I love my electric toothbrush and it’s on sale for $30 (40% off).

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

2019-11-29T17:50:26Z


Why We Celebrate Thanksgiving

Boston College historian Heather Cox Richardson has been writing a near-daily political dispatch called Letters from an American for the past several weeks (her archives go further back on Facebook), mostly about the impeachment proceedings and their historical context.

In today’s letter, Richardson reminds us why Americans celebrate Thanksgiving.

Everyone generally knows that the Pilgrims and the Wampanoags shared a feast in fall 1621, and that early colonial leaders periodically declared days of thanksgiving when settlers were supposed to give their thanks for continued life and — with luck — prosperity.

But this is not why we celebrate Thanksgiving.

We celebrate thanks to President Abraham Lincoln and his defense of American democracy during the Civil War.

Northerners elected Lincoln to the presidency in 1860 to stop rich southern slaveholders from taking over the government and using it to cement their own wealth and power. When voters elected Lincoln, those same southern leaders pulled their states out of the Union and set out to create their own nation, the Confederate States of America, based in slavery and codifying the idea that some men were better than others and that this small elite group should rule the country. Under Lincoln, the United States government set out to end this slaveholders’ rebellion and bring the South back into a Union in which the government worked for people at the bottom, not just those at the top.

Tags: Heather Cox Richardson   holidays   Thanksgiving   USA

2019-11-28T15:58:57Z


Ornitographies, Time-Merged Images of the Paths of Birds Through the Sky

For his Ornitographies project, Xavi Bou takes photographs of birds and stitches them together into single images so that you can see their flight paths through the sky.

Xavi Bou Ornitographies

Xavi Bou Ornitographies

Xavi Bou Ornitographies

My guest editor Patrick briefly shared one of Bou’s images on his exit post a couple of weeks ago, but I thought they were worth another look.

Tags: birds   photography   remix   Xavi Bou

2019-11-27T20:52:32Z


415 Hours of East German Home Movies from 1947-1990

Open Memory Box

Open Memory Box houses what they say is the largest digitized collection of home movies from East Germany. The 415 hours of footage was filmed between 1947 and 1990 by 149 different families, who captured scenes of what it was like behind the Iron Curtain. Here’s one of the few videos they’ve posted to YouTube (the rest are presented on the site with a custom video player):

Some interesting searches are Trabant, sports, Berlin, China, and Brandenburg Gate. Light NSFW warning…East Germans went about in the nude more often than one might have guessed. Also, a lot of the footage has a huge watermark over it, which can make it difficult to focus on the actual subject matter.

Tags: Cold War   East Germany   video

2019-11-27T18:48:48Z


Beautiful News Daily

Beautiful News

Beautiful News

Beautiful News

Each day since the beginning of October, the team of designers, technologists, and researchers at Beautiful News Daily (a project by Information Is Beautiful) have been posting infographics and data visualizations that share some good news about the world. The site’s tagline is “unseen trends, uplifting stats, creative solutions”.

The bad news we see everyday on news websites, newspaper front pages, and magazine covers is important (or can be, if it’s not designed to keep people frightened and hooked on the news), but the good news is just as significant (or can be, if it doesn’t cause you to forget the world’s true suffering and turmoil).

You can keep up with Beautiful News via their website, their weekly newsletter, or Twitter & Instagram. (via moss & fog)

Tags: design   infoviz

2019-11-27T16:41:29Z


Page created: Fri, Dec 13, 2019 - 09:05 AM GMT