All of U.S. History Has Taken Place in One Plutonian Year

posted by Jason Kottke Feb 27, 2024

Back in 2015, as the New Horizons probe was approaching Pluto, NASA posted an illustration of the dwarf planet’s orbital timeline:

an orbital timeline of Pluto's orbit around the Sun

A short piece on Vox then noted:

The entire history of the United States has unfolded in the time it’s taken Pluto to orbit the Sun once.

And that’s still true! But just barely. Pluto takes 247.94 Earth years to orbit the Sun. According to my calculations, the Plutonian year that started on July 4, 1776 will end this year on June 12, 2024 (give or take a few hours).

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All the Ways Mt. Everest Can Kill You

posted by Jason Kottke Feb 27, 2024

A doctor trained in wilderness emergencies (and who has summited Everest three times) explains all the different ways Mt. Everest can kill you — in a refreshingly no-nonsense way.

Mt. Everest is a famously inhospitable environment for humans — if someone from sea level was dropped at the very top they’d be unconscious within minutes. Many dangers await those brave enough to make an attempt at the summit, and Dr. Emily Johnston visits WIRED to break down each and every way Mt. Everest can prove fatal.

Avalanches, ice axes on the loose, high-altitude edemas, “this is what people call ‘the death zone’” — sounds fun, let’s go! 🫠 (via @thenoodleator)

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Join or Die

posted by Jason Kottke Feb 26, 2024

Join or Die is a documentary about the life, work, and ideas of Robert Putnam, popularizer of the concept of social capital and author of the prescient Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community.

How many times last year did you go to church? How many times did you go to a dinner party? How many times last year did you go to club meeting? In barely a couple of decades, half of all the civic infrastructure in America has simply vanished. It’s equivalent to say half of all the roads in America just disappeared.

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The Tricycle Haiku Contest

posted by Edith Zimmerman Feb 26, 2024

In every issue, the quarterly Buddhist magazine Tricycle publishes a winning haiku from its ongoing monthly haiku contest. The poem appears alongside a column written by the contest’s judge, poet and author Clark Strand. This season’s haiku-adjacent column includes the following bit, about one theory on the nature of haiku:

The Japanese haiku critic Kenkichi Yamamoto (1907–1988) believed that the best haiku strike a balance between humor and existential isolation. “Loneliness in life and the comical elements of life are two sides of the same coin,” he wrote. As a genre of literature, haiku thrives on the flip of that coin — the small element of uncertainty that challenges our ordinary understanding of the world.

I hadn’t realized there were such things as haiku critics (!). I also like the idea of loneliness and humor being related somehow.

Read the Spring 2024 winning haiku here. And enter the monthly contest here. (The next round must include the word “turnip.”)


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The Problem With Loving the Unborn

posted by Jason Kottke Feb 26, 2024

This Facebook post from June 2018 by Dave Barnhart, a Methodist pastor, is worth quoting in full:

“The unborn” are a convenient group of people to advocate for. They never make demands of you; they are morally uncomplicated, unlike the incarcerated, addicted, or the chronically poor; they don’t resent your condescension or complain that you are not politically correct; unlike widows, they don’t ask you to question patriarchy; unlike orphans, they don’t need money, education, or childcare; unlike aliens, they don’t bring all that racial, cultural, and religious baggage that you dislike; they allow you to feel good about yourself without any work at creating or maintaining relationships; and when they are born, you can forget about them, because they cease to be unborn. It’s almost as if, by being born, they have died to you. You can love the unborn and advocate for them without substantially challenging your own wealth, power, or privilege, without re-imagining social structures, apologizing, or making reparations to anyone. They are, in short, the perfect people to love if you want to claim you love Jesus but actually dislike people who breathe.

Prisoners? Immigrants? The sick? The poor? Widows? Orphans? All the groups that are specifically mentioned in the Bible? They all get thrown under the bus for the unborn.

(thx, caroline)

If a “helen” is an amount of beauty, then “1 millihelen is the amount of beauty needed to launch a single ship”. See also the list of humorous units of measurement (e.g. “1 kilowarhol – famous for 15,000 minutes, or 10.42 days”).
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“How First Contact With Whale Civilization Could Unfold”

posted by Jason Kottke Feb 26, 2024

Ross Andersen for the Atlantic on the effort to talk to sperm whales using AI tech:

Their codas could be orders of magnitude more ancient than Sanskrit. We don’t know how much meaning they convey, but we do know that they’ll be very difficult to decode. Project CETI’s scientists will need to observe the whales for years and achieve fundamental breakthroughs in AI. But if they’re successful, humans could be able to initiate a conversation with whales.

This would be a first-contact scenario involving two species that have lived side by side for ages. I wanted to imagine how it could unfold. I reached out to marine biologists, field scientists who specialize in whales, paleontologists, professors of animal-rights law, linguists, and philosophers. Assume that Project CETI works, I told them. Assume that we are able to communicate something of substance to the sperm whale civilization. What should we say?

One of the worries about whale/human communication is the potential harm a conversation might cause.

Cesar Rodriguez-Garavito, a law professor at NYU who is advising Project CETI, told me that whatever we say, we must avoid harming the whales, and that we shouldn’t be too confident about our ability to predict the harms that a conversation could cause.

The sperm whales may not want to talk. They, like us, can be standoffish even toward members of their own species-and we are much more distant relations. Epochs have passed since our last common ancestor roamed the Earth. In the interim, we have pursued radically different, even alien, lifeways.

Really interesting article.

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Knitting Anything?

posted by Edith Zimmerman Feb 23, 2024


I know there are some knitters around here, and I’m curious what people are making, if anyone cares to share. I’ve been knitting a Nine Note Seed Stitch Wrap for the past couple months. Next I’d like to finally try making a Junko Okamoto sweater, or maybe a James Watts sweater. And I’d really love to make this sweet guernsey kids’ sweater by Susie Haumann, but so far the pattern is only in Danish. And if I’m being honest I’ll probably just make something mindless (but no less pleasing).

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posted by Edith Zimmerman Feb 23, 2024

Beautiful stop-frame animated documentary about why people knit and mend. “When your life is sort of falling apart, you need to create a purpose in it for yourself, and if that purpose is quite small, it doesn’t matter.” Directed by Samantha Moore.

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Siblings Step Dancing and Roller Skating

posted by Edith Zimmerman Feb 22, 2024

“Brothers dancing in sync” (above and below) is turning out to be my favorite video genre of 2024 so far. (Thanks, Instagram algorithms.) Both these duos — the Irish Gardiner Brothers and the Delaware-based Griffin Brothers — have been around for years, so they may be old news to many readers, but they only came to my attention recently. I played a bunch of Gardiner Brothers videos (and beyond; Riverdance still rules) for my family a few weeks ago, hoping to plant seeds of Irish dance-interest in my daughters’ hearts and brains. There’s also a roller skating rink not too far away from where we live…

Speaking of forcing encouraging my family to participate in group performance, it’s probably too late for us to meaningfully emulate Natalie MacMaster and her dancing/fiddling family, but I can still watch this one particular video every few years.

‘The Examined Run’ and Virtue in Athletics

posted by Edith Zimmerman Feb 22, 2024

It’s a little painful to me that a woman my own age is not only a philosophy professor and mother to two small children but also a long-distance runner who writes a thoughtful and affecting online column about all of the above. She — Sabrina Little — has a new book out about virtue in athletics, and while I am dying to hate the whole thing, I found her interview with the running newsletter The Half Marathoner to be inviting enough that I ordered the book. Here’s one bit from the interview (I can’t tell if it sounds preachy out of context, but maybe I’ve just drunk too much of the Kool Aid):

I … found a special kinship between the work that I do in virtue ethics and in running. Virtues are acquired by practice. For example, we act courageously to develop courage, honestly to become honest, and so forth. In athletics, we have this same logic of ‘practice.’ We set out everyday in our sneakers to improve in certain respects — becoming faster, more courageous, more perseverant.

However, where character is concerned, if we are not intentional in our training, we may be developing the wrong things — imprudence, poor stewardship, intemperance, or impatience. These traits can impact our training, but also our lives outside of it. So, there is value in examining running as a formative practice. We should ask whether we are practicing being the kinds of people we want to be outside of the sport.

The interview reminded me that my main goal in running is to continue to be able to run. It also reminded me, of course, of “You Should Try Running, According to Me, Your Friend Who Won’t Shut Up About Running,” which is also a thoughtful and affecting read.

The viral advice column of the week: “I Think My Husband Is Trashing My Novel on Goodreads!

Diary Comics, Nov. 18-23

posted by Edith Zimmerman Feb 22, 2024

Welcome to Thursday Afternoons With Edith™! This is when Jason leaves the blog to me while he works on longer-term projects for the site. I’m thinking I’ll share some of my day-in-the-life comics here at these times, unless/until it starts to seem like a bad idea. I shared some back in November when I was guest-editing, and I’m basically picking up where those left off. I still wish I could hide most of them behind a “read more” button, though!


What did Neanderthals look like? An overview of “the evolution of Neanderthal portraits” since the 1800s. “Interpretations sometimes say more about their makers than their subjects.”

via thebrowser.com

How’s It Going Today?

posted by Jason Kottke Feb 22, 2024

I’m feeling a little retrospective and nostalgic today, so if you’ll indulge me, I’m going to acknowledge a couple of personal milestones.

1. Today marks 19 years of me doing kottke.org as a full-time job. What. The. Actual. F? I kinda can’t believe it. Before this, the longest I’d ever stayed at a job was about two years…and the average was closer to 9-12 months. Aside from dropping out of grad school to bet my life on the World Wide Web, choosing to turn this website into my job is the best decision I’ve ever made.

Some of you may not know this, but when I went full-time, I ran a three-week “pledge drive” to fund my activities on the site. In 2005, this was an almost unheard-of thing to do — people did not send money to strangers over the internet for their personal websites. But it worked: that initial boost sustained me that first year and allowed me to build this career sharing the best of the internet with you. Those brave folks got a pretty good return on their risky investment, I’d say.

Several years ago, I circled back to the idea of a reader-funded site and since then, the membership program has completely transformed the site and my engagement with the work I do here. Incredibly, some of the folks who supported me back in 2005 are still supporting me today — a huge thank you to them and to everyone else who has supported the site along the way.

2. This is a less-obvious milestone with diffuse edges but one that came to mind this morning as I looked back at some photos from a couple of years ago. When I announced I was taking a sabbatical in May 2022, I wrote about my fiddle leaf fig and the metaphorical connection I seem to have with it:

I’d brought this glorious living thing into my house only to kill it! Not cool. With the stress of the separation, my new living situation, and not seeing my kids every day, I felt a little like I was dying too.

One day, I decided I was not going to let my fiddle leaf fig tree die…and if I could do that, I wasn’t going to fall apart either. It’s a little corny, but my mantra became “if my tree is ok, I am ok”. I learned how to water & feed it and figured out the best place to put it for the right amount of light. It stopped shedding leaves.

I went on to explain that my tree was not doing that well…and its condition was telling me that I needed a break. Well, what a difference the last two years have made. On the left is a photo I took two years ago today of my fig and on the right is from this morning:

side-by-side comparison of a fiddle leaf fig tree, two years apart

Oh, there are a couple of janky leaves in today’s photo (the product of some inattentive watering earlier this winter as I failed to adjust to the winter dryness), but the plant is happy in a bigger pot and there are several new leaves just from the past two weeks (as the amount of daylight increases). There are also two other fiddles in the house that are descended from cuttings I took from this one — they’re also thriving and both have new leaves coming in right now.

I still have not written a whole lot about what I did (or didn’t do) during the seven months I was off, but after more than a year back, it seems pretty clear that the sabbatical did what I wanted it to. I feel like I’m thriving as much as my tree is. In recent months, I’ve launched a couple of new features (including the comments, which I’ve been really pleased with) and added another voice to the site. There’s a new thing launching soon (*fingers crossed*) and I have plans for more new features, including improvements to the comments.

More importantly, the site feels vital and fun in a way that it hasn’t for quite awhile. It’s not all sunshine and lollipops (nothing is — I’m looking at you, tax season), but I’m having a blast, am engaged with the work, and am feeling pretty fulfilled lately. So another huge thanks to everyone for hanging in there while I sorted my shit out — I appreciate you.

A Kickstarter campaign for a book on the art of band logos. “The Stones ‘Lick’ logo wasn’t inspired by Mick Jagger’s lips, but the Hindu deity Kali.”

Crowded Table

posted by Jason Kottke Feb 22, 2024

an colorful illustration with all kinds of foods and products on it

I love this print from Anastasia Inciardi at 20x200 — lots of familiar foods and comfortably delicious products.

Inciardi is known for her mini print vending machines and also sells prints and other things online. You can check out her work on Instagram.

My Mother Got on a Bike. It Changed Her Life. “I rode my bike with my mother once; believe me, there is nothing more disheartening than being trash-talked by one’s mom as she huffs by you on a hill.”
A list of tautological place names, including Mississippi River (Big River River), Lake Tahoe (Lake Lake), Gobi Desert (Desert Desert), The La Brea Tar Pits (The The Tar Tar Pits), and Milky Way Galaxy (Milky Way Milky).
via nytimes.com

Finnish Bluegrass Band Covers AC/DC’s Thunderstruck

posted by Jason Kottke Feb 21, 2024

This video is 9 years old and has 169 million views so I’m possibly the last person on Earth to see it,1 but I ran across a clip of it on Instagram the other day and just had to share. Steve ‘n’ Seagulls is a country band from Finland that went viral for their covers of classic rock tunes, including AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck”:

I love the way this starts off — and it seems to have become somewhat of a bit in subsequent videos. Open Culture has more in a post from August 2014. Kottke.org: only the freshest viral content for you!

See also AC/DC’s Thunderstruck on the bagpipes, ukelele cover of Thunderstruck, and Thunderstruck accompanied by a washing machine. (Does the internet get any better than this?)

  1. The Earth’s present population being, of course, 169,000,001.