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kottke.org posts about Jason Kottke

Wherever You Go, There You Are

a very dorky blonde kid in 1984

Noah Kalina on viewing old photos or videos of yourself:

I think that’s why it’s so uncomfortable for some people to watch old videos of themselves. It exposes the core of who you really are.

No matter what you try to do, no matter where you end up going, no matter how much you might try to change, you are who you are, and that very particular and unique type of personality you have stays with you forever.

It’s fascinating, painful, revelatory, and embarrassing.

The photo above is my 6th grade school picture from 1984. I loved that velour vest for reasons I cannot presently fathom. When I think about who that kid was and who I am now, I hope that I’ve retained the best parts and let go of the things that didn’t serve him so well. It’s a process…

Counterpoint (or perhaps complementary point): I think often of this old post from The Sartorialist about a woman who reinvented herself upon moving to New York:

Actually the line that I think was the most telling but that she said like a throw-away qualifier was “I didn’t know anyone in New York when I moved here….”

I think that is such a huge factor. To move to a city where you are not afraid to try something new because all the people that labeled who THEY think you are (parents, childhood friends) are not their to say “that’s not you” or “you’ve changed”. Well, maybe that person didn’t change but finally became who they really are. I totally relate to this as a fellow Midwesterner even though my changes were not as quick or as dramatic.

Reply Β· 2

Welcome to Choppke’s, Your Wich Is My Command

A couple of years ago, frustrated by a takeout Italian sandwich with unevenly distributed fillings, I had a wonderful, life-changing idea: chopped sandwiches. It’s like what you get at those chopped salad places but instead of chopping up all the ingredients and putting them into a bowl, you put them between two slices of bread or in a hoagie roll or whatever. That way, you get all of the elements of the sandwich β€” cheese, tomato, lettuce, dressing/mayo, onion, whatever β€” in every single bite. Yum.

Chopwiches already exist β€” tuna salad, Philly cheesesteaks, chicken salad, egg salad β€” and they’re amazing because you get all of their deliciousness in every bite. I just wanted to extend that enjoyment to many other types of sandwich: banh mi, BLT, Italian sub, gyro, turkey club, and even the humble ham and cheese. Great idea, right? I wanted to open a chopped sandwich restaurant and change the world.

Then I made a mistake: I told people about my idea. And every single one of them laughed at me. To my face! My friends, my kids, everyone. It was a heartbreaking moment but as an entrepreneur, I knew I had to persist and follow my dream. Like Wayne Gretzky said: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” And I was going to win.

But the whole thing became a joke for awhile and I had to play along, biding my time. My friend Caroline came up with a name: Choppke’s. We brainstormed slogans and things the sandwich artists could say to patrons:

  • Choppke’s. You’ll Love It to Bits.
  • Welcome to Choppke’s, your wich is my command.
  • As you wich. [In response to any customer query.]
  • Welcome to Choppke’s! What can I get chopping for you today?

I asked ChatGPT to come up with a logo; this was my favorite one:

a logo for Choppke's

When (not if!) Choppke’s gets huge, there’s gonna be a corporate jet, so I wanted to see what that was going to look like:

a large jet airplane with a Choppke's logo on it

Caroline got me a custom-made hat for my birthday (actual hat and actual dopey human wearing it, not AI-generated):

Jason wearing a Choppke's hat

Ever so slowly, I was winning her over, despite every fiber of her being telling her that a chopped sandwich restaurant was the stupidest idea she’d ever heard and causing her to question the entire basis of our relationship. And if I could get one person on my side, a person who thought I was an idiot, the rest of the world would surely follow. Ideas + persistence = manifesting your reality.

I think it was the legendary management guru Michael Scott (quoting IBM founder Steve Jobs) who said “skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been”. Well, my long chopped sandwich skate has finally paid off β€” the puck is here! According to The Takeout, the chopped sandwich is all the rage on TikTok!

If you enjoy a good chopped salad, the kind where every component (veggies, cheese, protein) is chopped into uniformly forkable bites and then tossed in dressing, you’re halfway to a chopped salad sandwich, sometimes just referred to as a chopped sandwich. It’s simply any version of that same salad, just stuffed into a hinge-cut roll. The shape of the roll is crucial, as it prevents all the fillings from falling out the sides.

Yes, exactly. Wow. I’ve never felt so seen. What’s that smell? No, not a delicious chopped sandwich…it’s the sweet smell of V-I-N-D-I-C-A-T-I-O-N.

Nearly any filling is a candidate for a chopped salad sandwich, and that’s the part that appeals most to TikTok users. Beyond the go-to Italian sub, you can create chopped salad sandwiches that contain Vietnamese banh mi ingredients, wedge salads, Caesar salads, whatever your heart desires. And that versatility means it’s a goldmine for social media content.

A goldmine! You’re goddamn right it’s a goldmine! The time is right, the market is PRIMED, Gen Z is on board, it’s now or never. We’re gonna do it, Choppke’s is a go!

Now, just to properly calibrate expectations, I haven’t looked at any commercial real estate nor have I made a single chopped sandwich of any kind at home to test out whether they actually taste better or not because I just know they will. What I do have is the idea (which is amazing, as we’ve agreed), a janky misspelled AI logo, and a dream.

Right now, you’re probably wondering how you can help, how you can climb aboard this rocket ship, how you can secure a place in a better future for us all. Well, I’m happy to announce that you can join the movement for better, tastier sandwiches today by zhuzhing yourself up with an exclusive Choppke’s t-shirt!

a handsomer man than Jason wearing a Choppke's tshirt

All proceeds from shirt sales will be pumped into developing the Choppke’s franchise (or, if that doesn’t work out, buying myself sandwiches from the local deli). Thanks for the support everyone β€” even though I could have done it without you, I definitely couldn’t have done it without you.

Reply Β· 46

Drawing Media, an Interview With Jason Kottke

jkjk.jpeg

Hi, Edith here. This is the first in an interview series in which I talk to people about their media diets and habits. Jason seemed like a good person to start with as we figure out the format, although honestly his actual Media Diet series is more thorough. Look for the next installment in a few weeks!

So, have you seen or read anything good recently?
I saw Dune Two on opening weekend. And I went by myself, which I like to do. There are no IMAX screens in Vermont, but there’s a theater about 45 minutes from me with a screen called the T-Rex. It’s not quite IMAX, but it’s not bad either.

dune1copy.jpg

How was it?
Great. Better than the first one.

And it was definitely a movie that you want to see on the big screen. Like you could feel the bass, and at one particular moment it felt like the whole theater was vibrating.

I’m sure you’ve read Dune. Have you read it many times?
I have not read Dune, ever.

Really?!
I’m not sure the movie necessarily makes me want to read Dune, either, which is surprising, because usually when I see a movie based on a book, I’ll be like, β€œOh I need to read that.” Like when I saw Oppenheimer, later I read the book it’s based on, which is this 600-page biography of Robert Oppenheimer. And it was good, but I think the movie was better.

jkap.jpeg

You mentioned the other day that you haven’t been enjoying, or even reading, many books recently. Is that true?
Pretty much? For the last couple months, I’ve been working a lot, and that means spending a lot of time on a device – my computer, my phone. And generally I don’t want to read after I’ve been working a lot. TV is much more something I turn to. Also video games. Like I play Fortnite, which is something I started doing with my kids, but now I play more than they do, which is weird.

And so you’re playing against other strangers on the Internet?
Exactly.

Are you good?
I don’t think so. But I’ve gotten a lot better.

And I know you play some of the NY Times games too.
I do the crossword almost exclusively with a friend over FaceTime. She shares her screen, and we solve them together.

I wasn’t a crossword puzzle person beforehand – and I kind of hate Scrabble because at a certain level it’s all about strategy and memorization, which is boring to me. I felt similarly about crossword puzzles, but then she and I started doing them, and I was like, β€œOh this is actually pretty fun,” and now we do maybe two or three a week.

And I don’t do Wordle, but I do play the Spelling Bee and Connections. And I’ll do the little mini crosswords on my phone. But a lot of that is just procrastinating about getting out of bed in the morning.

So they’re mostly morning experiences for you?
Yes. I will go back to Spelling Bee, though, if I didn’t do well in the morning.

What’s doing well?
I don’t get Genius every day, but I would like to. But sometimes I just don’t have the patience for the particular puzzle, and I’m like, I’m sorry, I don’t want to grind.

And I’m not judging others, but for me, if I’m spending too long on the Spelling Bee, it means I probably need to get up and move my body, or, you know, engage my brain in a different way.

jksbcopy.jpg

You mentioned that you read Middlemarch last year. How did you squeeze that in? Because that’s a commitment.
Middlemarch was wonderful. I loved it. When you take seven months off work, you can have time to relax, and my reading went crazy. I couldn’t get enough books, because I wasn’t reading anything online. I stopped cold turkey, basically. People would send me links, like, β€œHere’s an interesting New Yorker article,” and I’m like, nope. Not even news. Not gonna read it. I’m gonna read about Dorothea and Casaubon.

jkmiddlemarchcopy.jpg

What were other highlights, book-wise, from that time?
Middlemarch was definitely the highlight. I don’t know if I’ll ever have another sabbatical like that. It was probably a once-in-a-lifetime thing.

Right now I’m listening to a good audiobook, though: Blood in the Machine, by Brian Merchant. It’s about the Luddites.

jkbloodcopy.jpg

It was painted as an anti-technology movement in the early 19th century, but the book recontextualizes it as a labor movement. Rich factory owners were introducing new technologies, and people were getting laid off. Workers were angry and would go into the factories to smash machines, but they would only smash the ones that were, like, driving people out of work. The machines that actually helped the laborers do their jobs, those were kept.

And he relates it to what’s going on these days with AI and the current anti-tech movement. I’m enjoying it.

How did you hear about it?
I’d seen it on some β€œbest of” lists at the end of 2023, and then Casey Johnston recommended it on Blue Sky. She was like β€œthis book is great,” and so I was like, Okay, that’s good enough for me.

Do you listen to things most of the time while you’re driving?
Maybe half the time. I also use driving time to think. Like if there’s some work thing I need to think over, I’ll put on music without words, and just, you know, spin the wheels.

But when I don’t feel like doing that, I’ll listen to an audiobook or podcast.

What kinds of music do you listen to?
The music thing is embarrassing because I don’t listen to a lot of, like, new music. AndrΓ© 3000’s flute album is maybe the newest thing I’ve listened to recently.

I can’t write when the music has lyrics, so when I’m working I play a lot of classical and soundtracks. Also videos on YouTube. One of my favorites is just basically an ice breaker idling in the Arctic during a storm.

jktrawlercopy.jpg

I also listen to a lot of electronic music, at varying levels of, uh, what would be considered good? And when I’m programming or designing, I listen to a lot of upbeat house, club, and techno.

Anything you’ve seen recently that just wasn’t for you?
Rebel Moon on Netflix was bad. Not even β€œnot for me.” Just objectively terrible.

And something you loved?
The Zone of Interest. I saw it a few weeks ago and have thinking about it ever since, especially the sound design.

Reply Β· 19

Kottke.org Redesigns With 2024 Vibes

a screenshot of the new kottke.org redesign for 2024

Well. Finally. I’m unbelievably pleased, relieved, and exhausted to launch the long-awaited (by me) redesign of kottke.org today. Let’s dive right into what has changed and why.

{ Important: If the “logo” on the left/top is not circles and is squares/diamonds instead, you can update your browser to the latest version to see it how I intended. (Will be looking for a fix for this…) }

(Justified and) Ancient. The last time I redesigned the site, a guy named Barack Obama was still President. Since then, I’ve launched the membership program, integrated the Quick Links more fully into the mix, (more recently) opened comments for members, and tweaked about a million different things about how the site works and looks. But it was overdue for a full overhaul to better accommodate all of those incremental changes and, more importantly, to provide a solid design platform for where the site is headed. Also, I was just getting tired of the old design.

Back to the Future. In my post introducing the new comments system, I wrote about the potential for smaller sites like mine to connect people and ideas in a different way:

The timing feels right. Twitter has imploded and social sites/services like Threads, Bluesky, and Mastodon are jockeying to replace it (for various definitions of “replace”). People are re-thinking what they want out of social media on the internet and I believe there’s an opportunity for sites like kottke.org to provide a different and perhaps even better experience for sharing and discussing information. Shit, maybe I’m wrong but it’s definitely worth a try.

Before Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat came along and centralized social activity & output on the web, blogs (along with online diaries, message boards, and online forums) were social media. Those sites borrowed heavily from blogging β€” in the early years, there wasn’t much that those sites added in terms of features that blogs hadn’t done first. With the comments and now this redesign, I’m borrowing some shit back from the behemoths.

A social media design language has evolved, intelligible to anyone who’s used Twitter or Facebook in the past decade. Literally billions of people can draw what a social media post looks like on a napkin, show it to someone else from the other side of the world, and they’d say, “oh, that’s a post”. In thinking about how I wanted kottke.org to look and, more importantly, feel going forward, I wanted more social media energy than blog energy β€” one could also say “more old school blog energy than contemporary blog energy”. Blogs now either look like Substack/Medium or Snow Fall and I didn’t want to pattern kottke.org after either of those things. I don’t want to write articles β€” I want to blog.

Practically speaking, “social media energy” means the design is more compact, the type is smaller,1 the addition of preview cards for Quick Links, and the reply/share/???? buttons at the bottom of each post. But, it also still looks like a personal (old school) blog rather than a full-blown Twitter clone (I hope). I think this emphasis will become clearer as time goes on.

So What’s Different? I mean, you can probably tell for yourself what’s changed, but I’ll direct your eye to a few things. 1. Member login + easy account access for members on the top of every page. kottke.org has always been very much my site…but now it’s just a little bit more our site. 2. No more top bar (on desktop), so the content starts much higher on the page. 3. Most Quick Links have a preview card (also called an unfurl) that shows the title, a short description, and often an image from the link in question β€” the same as you’d get if someone sent you a link via text or on WhatsApp. 4. We’ve bid a fond farewell to the Whitney typeface and welcomed Neue Haas Unica into the fold. 5. IMO, the design is cleaner but also more information dense, reflecting the type of blogging I’d like to do more of. 6. Dark mode! There’s no toggle but it’ll follow your OS settings.

Billions and Billions. kottke.org has (famously?) never had a logo. I’ve never wanted one thing to represent the site β€” in part because the site itself is all over the place and also because it’s fun to switch things up every once in awhile. Instead, I’ve always gone for a distinctive color or gradient that lets readers know where they are. This time, I’ve opted for a series of circles β€” a friend calls them “the planets” β€” but with a twist. There are 32 images, each with 4 different hues and 8 different rotations, that can slot into the 4 available spaces…and no repeats. By my calculations (corrections welcome!), there are over 900 billion different permutations that can be generated, making it extremely unlikely that you’ll ever see the same exact combo twice. Even if, like last time, this design lasts for almost eight years.

Gimme the Goods. The tiny collection of kottke.org t-shirts has its own page on the site now. The Hypertext Tee based on the previous design will be offered only for another few weeks and then probably be retired forever. To be replaced with…TBD. πŸ˜‰

Winnowing Down. Last time I redesigned, I went back and modified the template of every page on the site, even stuff from the late 90s and early 00s that no one actually remembers. This time around, I’m focusing only on the core site: blog posts from 1998-present, tag pages, membership, and the few pages you can get to from the right sidebar. The rest of the site, mostly pages deep in the archive that see very little (if any) traffic, are going to stick with the old design, effectively archived, frozen in digital amber. We wish those old pages well in their retirement.

So yeah, that’s kind of it for now. There is so much left to do though! The comments need some lovin’, some social media things need tightening up, the about page could use some tuning, the newsletter needs a visual refresh, a few other small things need doing β€” and then it’s on to the next project (which I haven’t actually decided on, but there are several options).

I’m happy to hear what you think in the comments, on social media, or via email β€” feedback, critique, and bug reports are welcome. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have not taken a full day off from the site since late December (including weekends), so I’m going to go collapse into a little puddle and sleep for about a week.

  1. If you’d like the text bigger, you can adjust the size using your browser’s zoom controls (cmd + & cmd -). This is what I do for viewing Instagram on my desktop web browser β€” 150% is the way to go…the photos are teensy otherwise. (I adjust Daring Fireball and Threads too.) The browser even remembers your settings for a site between visits…you only have to adjust it once.
Reply Β· 91

How’s It Going Today?

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 β€” 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 β€” 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 β€” 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 β€” 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 β€” I appreciate you.

Reply Β· 32

Happy Birthday, Jason

Kottke 1996

Today is Jason’s 50th birthday. Ten years ago, Aaron Cohen and I surprised Jason by rounding up as many Kottke.org guest hosts as we could find and taking over the site for the day.

If I’d planned further ahead, I would have done something similarly spectacular, like all of us (and there are even more guest hosts and friends-of-Kottke now) arriving in Vermont to take him on a party train to Montreal. (We need more party trains. We rented a party train — technically just a private car — for my wife Karen McGrane’s 50th birthday, and it was amazing.) But we will just have to settle for this short solo tribute.

Kottke Halt

Jason runs the best blog on the planet, and he’s been doing it for half his life. But blog posts rarely go viral any more, and Jason’s style was never about controversy or provocation or any of the things that lead to virality, even novelty. Jason has cultivated an audience of dedicated readers who help make other things go viral.

I’m sure there are casual Kottke.org readers, but most of the ones I’ve encountered in my thirteen years writing for the site are unusually devoted to it, and to him as a writer and editor — again, even though Jason himself does not do most of the things that inspire that kind of charismatic devotion.

Jason puts the internet first and keeps himself at arm’s length. So you get peeks and pieces of his face and his character, but mostly it shows through his interests rather than his confessions.

Jason_Kottke_2005-04-25.jpg

I’ve been lucky that Jason’s been my friend and counselor and frequent collaborator now for many years. And we’re lucky to have him. We’re lucky that he and a few others from the beginning of blogging/posting are holding it down for RSS and the open web. We’re generationally lucky that so much of Gen X’s contribution to this still evolving form has a steadfast representative — even though again, Jason is not especially well-characterized by most of the stereotypes about Generation X!

We’re lucky that as the fortunes of online advertising for independent sites have waxed and waned, Jason has still found a model that has let him keep doing what he does full-time. And we should celebrate that and keep it going. (It would make an excellent birthday gift.)

Jason Kottke Smiling.jpeg

Ten years ago, when we took over the site for a day, we asked each of the guest hosts to say something about their favorite Kottke.org post. I wrote a short essay called “Computers Are For People,” which riffed on a 2009 post Jason wrote called “One-Handed Computing with the iPhone”. You can read both pieces to find out more about why September 27th is important to me, for reasons only tangentially to do with Jason. But it ends like this:

Jason is important to me because Jason is always writing about how technology is for human beings. He doesn’t bang gavels and rattle sabres and shout “TECHNOLOGY IS FOR HUMAN BEINGS!” That’s partly because Jason is not a gavel-banging, sabre-rattling sort of person. But it’s mostly because it wouldn’t occur to him to talk about it in any other way. It’s so obvious.

The thing that tech companies forget β€” that journalists forget, that Wall Street never knew, that commenters who root for tech companies like sports fans for their teams could never formulate β€” that technology is for people β€” is obvious to Jason. Technology is for us. All of us. People who carry things.

People. Us. These stupid, stubborn, spectacular machines made of meat and electricity, friends and laughter, genes and dreams.

Jason at Webstock.png

Happy birthday, Jason. I hope you’re surrounded by people you love today. Here’s to the next 50 years of Kottke.org.*

* It could be a family business! The Ochs-Sulzbergers did it! Why not Ollie or Minna? Dream big, kids.

Update: Oh man, thank you Tim! And also to the Swedish Chef! What a lovely and touching surprise. I was going to write a bday post this morning β€” something about how the only thing I want for my birthday is for you to support kottke.org with a membership, buy a Squiggle t-shirt, etc. β€” but it seems like Tim’s got that covered. So, I’m gonna take the day and I’ll see you back here tomorrow. I’m gonna get changed, grab my bike, and head out to the trails. πŸ‘‹ -jason

P.S. You should check out Tim’s new gig: he’s producing a weekly newsletter about AI called The Batch.


Kottke AMA, Round 2

Hey folks, just a short note to say that I’m dropping in to answer some more questions over on the Kottke AMA site this afternoon, so head on over there to check out what’s new or read through some previous questions if you missed it a couple of weeks ago.


Kottke AMA - You Asked, I Answered

Just a quick reminder that I answered a bunch of questions from readers for the inaugural Kottke.org Ask Me Anything. I talked about how to separate work from life:

If I let it, every part of my life could be part of my job: not only books, movies, and travel but kids, relationships, emotions, everyday goings-on, etc. etc. etc. That’s the way it used to be, much more than it is now. But slicing and dicing everything up for consumption all the time, meta-experiencing absolutely everything; that’s no way to live. Back in the day, you saw journalers and bloggers burn out from sharing too much of themselves and their lives online with others β€” now you see it happening with YouTubers, TikTokers, and influencers. I’ve learned (mostly) how to meter myself; you get less of me now (this AMA notwithstanding) but hopefully for much longer.

And who I have in mind when I write for the site:

The site is best when I try to write posts as if each one is an email to a curious friend who I think would be interested in the thing I’m writing about, irrespective of topic/subject/field/whatever. I know not everyone is interested in every topic (or even most topics!) but I tend to look for things that people might find intriguing even if they don’t normally collect stamps, skateboard, watch ballet, appreciate mathematics, or listen to rap. Anything is interesting if you dig deep enough, observe it from the correct angle, or talk to the right enthusiast.

And what my kids and I have read before bedtime:

One book we read together that turned out to be surprisingly popular with them (when they were ~9-11 years old) was Emily Wilson’s excellent translation of The Odyssey. They were already fans of Greek mythology and knew some of the story and Wilson’s writing is so wonderful β€” “Soon Dawn was born, her fingers bright with roses” β€” that we blazed right through it and were sad when it ended.

And a favorite recent pasta recipe:

I have been really enjoying this Pasta alla Norcina recipe I found on Instagram awhile back. There’s some great Italian sausage that I get from the local market that works really well for it. And my daughter got me some truffle oil for my birthday, so we put a little bit of that on there too.

I might pop in there later this week to answer some more questions, so stay tuned! Folks had lots of questions about my process and what I learned on my sabbatical, so I may tackle them next.


The Kottke.org Ask Me Anything

Last month, I put out a call for readers to ask me anything β€” “questions about the sabbatical, media diets, 25 years of blogging, membership stuff, editorial policies, my fiddle leaf fig, Mastodon, parenting, Fortnite, etc.” I meant to start answering these sooner, but I ended up getting so any questions (over 330 of them!) that I decided to go a little overboard and build a little site to host the questions and answers.

I’ll be spending the entire day today answering questions over there, so check it out now and then come back later for more. You can favorite posts to help others discover what the collective readership thinks are the best ones. Here’s one of the questions I’ve answered so far:

Q: What’s the reader profile you have in your mind when you write? Are you thinking about someone or some kind of person specifically? I’m a 37 year old lawyer who can’t even remember how I first came across your blog. I’ve read for 10+ years and have always sort of wondered if you had a sense of the breadth of people who read your blog. I don’t necessarily fit neatly within any of the topics you focus on but always learn something when I dip in. - Garo

A: The site is best when I try to write posts as if each one is an email to a curious friend who I think would be interested in the thing I’m writing about, irrespective of topic/subject/field/whatever. I know not everyone is interested in every topic (or even most topics!) but I tend to look for things that people might find intriguing even if they don’t normally collect stamps, skateboard, watch ballet, appreciate mathematics, or listen to rap. Anything is interesting if you dig deep enough, observe it from the correct angle, or talk to the right enthusiast.

Check out the full AMA for more.


Kottke.org Is 25 Years Old Today and I’m Going to Write About It

I realize how it sounds, but I’m going to say it anyway because it’s the truth. When I first clapped eyes on the World Wide Web, I fell in love. Here’s how I described the experience in a 2016 post about Halt and Catch Fire:

When I tell people about the first time I saw the Web, I sheepishly describe it as love at first sight. Logging on that first time, using an early version of NCSA Mosaic with a network login borrowed from my physics advisor, was the only time in my life I have ever seen something so clearly, been sure of anything so completely. It was a like a thunderclap β€” “the amazing possibility to be able to go anywhere within something that is magnificent and never-ending” β€” and I just knew this was for me and that it was going to be huge and important. I know how ridiculous this sounds, but the Web is the true love of my life and ever since I’ve been trying to live inside the feeling I had when I first saw it.

My love for the web has ebbed and flowed in the years since, but mainly it’s persisted β€” so much so that as of today, I’ve been writing kottke.org for 25 years. A little context for just how long that is: kottke.org is older than Google. 25 years is more than half of my life, spanning four decades (the 90s, 00s, 10s, and 20s) and around 40,000 posts β€” almost cartoonishly long for a medium optimized for impermanence. What follows is my (relatively brief) attempt to explain where kottke.org came from and why it’s still going.

It’s an absurd understatement to say that the web has changed a lot in the nearly 30 years since I experienced that “thunderbolt that completely changed my life” β€” it’s now a massive, overwhelmingly corporate entity that encompasses and organizes an ever-growing share of human information and activity. As a web designer in the 90s and early 00s, I helped companies figure out how to use the web for business, but the core of my own personal experience of the web has always been self-expression and making websites for individual humans to read & experience.

I started making personal websites shortly after discovering the web, first using Notepad and then a program called HTML Assistant. My first site had an audience of exactly one β€” it lived on a 3.5” floppy disk and was mostly a jazzed-up version of my bookmarks file that I carried back and forth from my dorm room to the physics lab. When I was finally able to finagle public server access, I launched a site called “some web space” (all lowercase, because 90s)1 that included a hand-drawn graphic of swiss cheese and a bunch of links related to Pulp Fiction. This is me right around that time:

Jason Kottke sitting at a desk in 1996

That tiny baby Jason loved cheese, Quentin Tarantino, and the World Wide Web, bless his little heart.

Anyway, the sites I built then were terrible at first, but I was obsessed and slowly they improved. some web space turned into a site called 0sil8, which became a playground of sorts for my experiments in writing and design. Every few weeks/months, I’d create a new “episode” to put up on 0sil8 and gradually I gained an online following and became part of a community of folks who were likewise experimenting with the web.

Around this time, more and more of what I was reading online were diaries and these things called weblogs.2 The updates on weblogs & diaries were smaller but more frequent than on other personal sites β€” their velocity felt different, exhilarating. But by the time I actually got interested enough to start my own weblog, there were so many of them β€” hundreds! maybe thousands! β€” that I thought I was too late, that no one would be interested. I forged ahead anyway and on March 14, 1998, I started the weblog that would soon become kottke.org. It was called Notes and here’s what it looked like:

the very first design of kottke.org

I’m not gonna go through the whole history of the site, but it eventually took off in a way that I didn’t anticipate. Since 2005, kottke.org has been my full-time job and supports my family. I’ve met so many people from all over the world through my work here, including many life-long friends and my (now ex-) wife. I’ve spoken at conferences and travelled the world. I got to be on TV. I launched a membership program (which you should totally join if you haven’t already) that has given the site an incredible boost as it powers through its third decade.

On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of kottke.org, I wrote this:

I’ve been reading back through the early archives (which I wouldn’t recommend), and it feels like excavating down through layers of sediment, tracing the growth & evolution of the web, a media format, and most of all, a person. On March 14, 1998, I was 24 years old and dumb as a brick. Oh sure, I’d had lots of book learning and was quick with ideas, but I knew shockingly little about actual real life. I was a cynical and cocky know-it-all. Some of my older posts are genuinely cringeworthy to read now: poorly written, cluelessly privileged, and even mean spirited. I’m ashamed to have written some of them.

But had I not written all those posts, good and bad, I wouldn’t be who I am today, which, hopefully, is a somewhat wiser person vectoring towards a better version of himself. What the site has become in its best moments β€” a slightly highfalutin description from the about page: “[kottke.org] covers the essential people, inventions, performances, and ideas that increase the collective adjacent possible of humanity” β€” has given me a chance to “try on” hundreds of thousands of ideas, put myself into the shoes of all kinds of different thinkers & creators, meet some wonderful people (some of whom I’m lucky enough to call my friends), and engage with some of the best readers on the web (that’s you!), who regularly challenge me on and improve my understanding of countless topics and viewpoints.

I had a personal realization recently: kottke.org isn’t so much a thing I’m making but a process I’m going through. A journey. A journey towards knowledge, discovery, empathy, connection, and a better way of seeing the world. Along the way, I’ve found myself and all of you. I feel so so so lucky to have had this opportunity.

That all still rings incredibly true and I cannot improve upon it as an explanation of why I’m still here doing this moderately anachronistic thing. Thank you all so much for reading. β™₯

P.S. You can read my thoughts on past anniversaries and view some previous site designs here: 10 years, 18-ish years, 20 years, and 24 years.

P.P.S. I wrote a separate post about this yesterday, but if you find value in what I do here, I’d appreciate if you’d support the site by purchasing a membership. And to everyone who has supported the site over the years, thank you so much!

P.P.P.S. Last one: I’m gonna write more about this later today, but I’ve turned ordering back on for Kottke Hypertext Tees for the next 24 hours or so. Go get ‘em!

P.P.P.P.S. Ha, I’ve thought of one more thing: I’ve turned comments on for this post! kottke.org used to allow comments on every post, but it’s been almost 8 years since the last time they were on. I figured it would be fun to try them out today. No idea if they’re even going to work or how long they will be available, but let’s try it out. If you’d like to share how long you’ve been reading the site or leave any memories or observations, feel free. My inbox is open as well. Ok, that’s really all for now! Thank you!

Update: A bunch of comments got hung up in a spam filter in my CMS that I didn’t even know was active. They should be all through now…sorry about that!

  1. Fun fact: when kottke.org started, I wrote everything in lowercase. At some later point, I switched to mixed-case and went back through the old entries and edited them to use mixed-case too.↩

  2. Peter Merholz wouldn’t coin the word “blog” until sometime in early 1999; they were known as weblogs before then.↩


Ask Me Anything

So, it’s been a few months since I’ve been back to work here and perhaps some of you have noticed that I haven’t really written about my sabbatical at all. It wasn’t my intent to skip out on it, but life outside of work has been much busier than I’ve wanted or planned for and I just haven’t had the bandwidth to do it. Plus I’ve just wanted to get back in the flow here β€” and any extra site time has gone into shoring up some things on the backend, dealing with the Twitter API idiocy, getting in the flow on Mastodon, and thinking about how I might want the site to look/work/feel differently (all stuff that you folks don’t necessarily see day-to-day but do feel the indirect effects of).

Anyway, I thought with the sabbatical in the rear view mirror yet largely unmentioned here in detail and the upcoming 25th anniversary of the site (!!!), it would be a good time to do an AMA (Ask Me Anything). I’ve set up a form at Google to collect questions and sometime in the next couple of weeks (exact date TBD), I’ll spend an entire day answering them right here on the site (exact method of answering also TBD).

So, what would you like to know? I imagine there will be questions about the sabbatical, media diets, 25 years of blogging, membership stuff, editorial policies, my fiddle leaf fig, Mastodon, parenting, Fortnite, etc., but you can also ask about anything you might be curious about or that I might have an opinion about. It would be neat to get some questions that I’m not usually asked β€” but I have no idea what they would be. I don’t mind hard questions β€” as long as they’re thoughtful (gotcha questions will be ignored). I probably won’t get to every question, but I will answer as many as I can. Thanks and ask away!

Update: A bunch of great questions so far! Keep them coming!


Sometimes the Dog Won’t Hunt

I posted this earlier today to the newsletter and thought I’d publish it here too. -jason

Hey folks. I’ve been back at work on kottke.org for a couple of weeks now and just wanted to give you a little update on where I’m at. In a brief reentry post, I promised a “massive forthcoming post” about my sabbatical activities and thoughts. I had planned on having that done by now, but…………….. well, it’s not. And honestly I don’t know when it’s going to be. I’ve got the whole thing sketched out and have been working on it in dribs and drabs, but taking on such a big thing after not having written & thought in a structured way for months is proving difficult. I’ve realized that I haven’t had sufficient time to reflect on my experiences β€” I believe I have interesting things to say and conclusions to draw about the sabbatical, but not just yet.

The other thing is: I’m just having a really good time being back in the saddle here. I’m finding that I’d rather just work on the day-to-day site stuff, which is more variable than just the heads-down, pure writing that the big post requires. (Dirty little secret: The actual writing I do for the site is often my least favorite part of all the different things that go into running kottke.org. Newsflash: writer hates writing, details at 6pm.)

With recent posts about a Chinese painter of replica van Goghs who visits Europe to see real van Goghs, a lovely Twitter thread of big-name authors recalling low-turnout readings they’ve done, Jenny Odell’s forthcoming new book, a new USPS stamp celebrating John Lewis, a site that rates apples, an AI imagining scenes from Jodorowsky’s Tron, a list of the best books of 2022, the truffle industry being a big scam, the best photos from NASA’s Artemis I mission to the Moon, this appreciation of a tight action scene from Top Gun: Maverick, a 1-dimensional version of Super Mario Bros., “wet putty” car paint jobs, parentification, and dozens of other posts and links, I feel like I’ve gotten off to a good start and just want to keep the momentum going on that. So anyway, thank you for your continued patience as I figure out how this all works again.

Oh, and here’s a new thing: for those who have jettisoned Twitter, I’ve created a Mastodon account for kottke.org. Links to all my posts and Quick Links are now available at botsin.space/@kottke, in addition to the usual places: Twitter, RSS, Facebook, and kottke.org. Thanks for reading!


Hi, Hello, I’m Back At It

*peeks hesitantly around the corner*

Hey everyone. Tomorrow, after almost 7 months of a sabbatical break, I’m resuming regular publication of kottke.org. (Actually, I’ve been posting a bit here and there this week already β€” underpromise & over-deliver, etc.) I’m going to share more about what I’ve been up to (and what I’ve not been up to) in a massive forthcoming post, but for now, know that I’m happy to be back here in the saddle once again. (And that my fiddle leaf fig is doing well!)

I am, however, still dealing with some chronic pain that sometimes makes it difficult for me to work. I’m doing the things I need to do to get better & stronger, but just be aware that it might affect my output here. It’s a very frustrating situation β€” in many ways, I’m in the best physical shape of my life and am excited to be back here but this more-or-less constant background pain is a real source of friction as I go about my day. Just wanted to get that out there β€” thanks for your continued patience.

Ok, here we go!


A Brief Sabbatical Update

It’s been about five months since I announced I was taking a sabbatical and lately I’ve been getting messages from members and readers asking what’s been going on. While I don’t have anything specific to say about how it’s been going (other than I’m well and that I’ve been mostly and blissfully offline), I did want to share a brief update on my plans for the fall:

I will be returning to work on the site sometime in November or December. I don’t know exactly what shape that will take, but it will resemble what I was doing before I paused back in May: posting interesting links and things to share with you on this here website. You know, fine hypertext products.

In the meantime, I hope you’ve been enjoying some of the timeless posts from the archive that are being posted to the front page β€” just a few each week. Finishing that republishing system was an enjoyable little sabbatical task…it was fun to dip my toes back into programming.

Anyhoo, I’ll see you soon. -jason


Announcement: I’m Going to Miss You, But I Am Taking a Sabbatical

Hello, everyone. I’m going to be taking an extended break from kottke.org, starting today. I’ve been writing here for more than 24 years, nearly half my life β€” I need a breather. This is something I have been thinking about and planning for years1 and I’d like to share why I’m doing it, how it’s going to work, what I hope to accomplish, and how you can help.

This is a long post and was a hard one to write β€” I hope you’ll give it your thoughtful attention. But first, let me introduce you to my plant.

(This is going somewhere. Trust me.)

Eight years ago when I still lived in NYC, I bought a fiddle leaf fig tree from a store in the Flower District. Here it is a couple of years ago, thriving next to my desk here in Vermont:

overhead view of my home office with a fiddle leaf fig tree

I’d recently moved into my own apartment after separating from my wife and figured a large plant in my new place would add some liveliness to a new beginning that was feeling overwhelming, lonely, and sad. For the first couple of months, I didn’t know if my tree and I were going to make it. I’d never really had a plant before and struggled getting a handle on the watering schedule and other plant care routines. It started losing leaves. Like, an alarming number of leaves.

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.

The fig tree was a happy plant for several years after that. And I was ok because my plant was ok β€” I found new routines and rhythms in my altered life, made new traditions with my kids, got divorced, met new people, moved to a new state (w/ my family and tree), rediscovered who I was as a person, and, wonderfully and unexpectedly, forged a supportive and rewarding parenting partnership and friendship with my ex. We made it through that tough time together, that plant and me.

Recently however, my fiddle leaf fig has been struggling again. It’s been losing leaves and has become lopsided β€” some branches are going gangbusters while others are almost bare and the plant is listing so badly to one side that the whole thing tips over without the weight of water in the pot. This is what it’s looking like these days:

a majestic fiddle leaf fig tree leans precariously to one side in a bedroom

My plant is not ok. And neither am I β€” I feel as off-balance as my tree looks. I’m burrrrned out. I have been for a few years now. I’ve been trying to power through it, but if you’ve read anything about burnout, you know that approach doesn’t work.

I appreciate so much what I’ve built here at kottke.org β€” I get to read and learn about all sorts of new things every day, create new ideas and connections for people, and think in public β€” and I feel incredibly lucky to be able to set my own schedule, be my own boss, and provide for my family. But if you were to go back into the archive for the past several months and read the site closely, you’d see that I’ve been struggling.

Does what I do here make a difference in other people’s lives? In my life? Is this still scratching the creative itch that it used to? And if not, what needs to change? Where does kottke.org end and Jason begin? Who am I without my work? Is the validation I get from the site healthy? Is having to be active on social media healthy? Is having to read the horrible news every day healthy? What else could I be doing here? What could I be doing somewhere else? What good is a blog without a thriving community of other blogs? I’ve tried thinking about these and many other questions while continuing my work here, but I haven’t made much progress; I need time away to gain perspective.

Β· Β· Β·

So. The plan, as it currently stands, is to take 5-6 months away from the site. I will not be posting anything new here. I won’t be publishing the newsletter. There won’t be a guest editor either β€” if someone else was publishing here, it would still be on my mind and I’m looking for total awayness here. I’m planning on setting up a system to republish some timeless posts from the archive while I’m away, but that’s not fully in place yet. If you send me email (please do!), it might take me awhile to read it and even longer to reply β€” I plan to ignore my inbox as much as I can get away with. I probably won’t be on Twitter but will be more active on Instagram if you want to follow me there.

The goal of my time away from the site is resting, resetting, recharging, and figuring out what to do going forward. In this NY Times feature, Alexandra Bell said this about how art is made: “I need some space to think and live and have generative conversations and do things, and then I’ll make something, but I can’t tell you what it is just yet.” That’s the sort of energy I need to tap into for a few months.

Here’s the way I’ve been thinking about it: there’s a passenger ferry that goes from Cape Cod to Nantucket and there’s a stretch of time in the middle of the journey where you can’t see the mainland behind you and can’t yet see the island ahead β€” you’re just out in the open water. That’s what I need, to be in that middle part β€” to forget about what I’ve been doing here for so many years without having to think about where I’m going in the future. I need open water and 5-6 months feels like the right amount of time to find it.

Β· Β· Β·

This is probably a good time to admit that I’m a little terrified about taking this time off. There’s no real roadmap for this, no blueprint for independent creators taking sabbaticals to recharge. The US doesn’t have the social safety net necessary to enable extended breaks from work (or much of anything else, including health care) for people with Weird Internet Careers. I support a lot of individual writers, artists, YouTubers, and bloggers through Substack, Patreon, and other channels, and over the years I’ve seen some of them produce content at a furious pace to keep up their momentum, only to burn out and quit doing the projects that I, and loads of other people, loved. With so many more people pursuing independent work funded directly by readers & viewers these days, this is something all of us, creators and supporters alike, are going to have to think about.

I’ve said this many times over the past 5 years: kottke.org would not be possible today without the incredible membership support I have gotten from the people who read this site. Members have enabled this site to be free for everyone to read, enriching the open web and bucking the trend towards paywalling information online. I hope you will continue to support me in taking this necessary time off.

If, for whatever reason, you would like to pause/suspend your membership until I return, email me and I would be happy to do that for you. You’re also free of course to raise or lower your membership support here if you’d like. Regardless of what you choose to do, I hope I will see you back here in the fall.

Β· Β· Β·

If you’re curious about what’s on my agenda for the next few months, so am I! I’m leaving on a long-planned family trip soon, but other than that, I do not have any set plans. Suggestions and advice are welcome! I’d like to spend some unrushed time with my kids, who too often see me when I’m stressed out about work. I want to read more books. Watch more good movies. Take more photos. Go on pointless adventures. I want to exercise a little more regularly and figure out how to eat a bit better. Maybe travel some, visit friends or the ocean or both. Bike more. Stare at the walls. I hope to get a little bored. I need to tend to my fiddle leaf fig tree β€” if my tree is ok, I will be too.

I’m going to miss this β€” and all of you β€” more than I probably realize right now, but I’m ready for a break. I’ll see you in a few months.

*deep breath*

Here I go!

*jumps*

Β· Β· Β·

P.S. The best way to keep tabs on when the site starts up again is to subscribe to the newsletter. You can also follow @kottke on Twitter, subscribe to the RSS feed, or follow me on Instagram so you don’t miss anything.

P.P.S. Big big thanks to the many people I’ve talked to about this over the past few months and years, especially Anil, Alaina, David, Adriana, Tim, Caroline, Matt, Joanna, Meg, Aaron, Edith, Kara, Megan, Anna, Jackson, and Michelle. (Forgive me if I’ve forgotten anyone.) I value your wise counsel and your pointing me, hopefully, in the right direction.

P.P.P.S. A quick blogroll if you’re looking for sites and newsletters to keep you busy while I’m gone. In no particular order, a non-exhaustive list: The Kid Should See This, The Morning News, Waxy, Colossal, Curious About Everything, Open Culture, Drawing Links, Clive Thompson @ Medium, Cup of Jo, swissmiss, Storythings, things magazine, Present & Correct, Spoon & Tamago, Dense Discovery, Austin Kleon, NextDraft, Tressie McMillan Cottom, Poetry Is Not a Luxury, A Thing or Two, The Honest Broker, Interconnected, The Whippet, Craig Mod, Why is this interesting?, Sidebar, The Prepared, Life Is So Beautiful, Fave 5, Sentiers, The Fox Is Black, and Scrapbook Chronicles. Happy hunting!

Update: Hello, everyone. I want to thank you all so much for your emails, tweets, and DMs…yesterday was just a little overwhelming. I was apprehensive yesterday morning about publishing this post β€” I had no idea what the reaction was going to be β€” and, well, you folks turned it into a party. I’m so grateful for your support, advice, well-wishes, and understanding. I should not have doubted you β€” if this site is anything, it’s that way because of all of you. Thank you again for the support and I will see you in a few months. ❀

  1. The original plan was to do this in late spring 2020 but….you know.↩


24 Years

a collection of past designs for kottke.org

24 years ago today, I published the first post on kottke.org and, aside from a few weeks-long stretches (including a two-month paternity break when my son was born), I just never stopped. 1998! The late 20th century, for god’s sake. I write an anniversary post like this every year and I’m increasingly unsure how to think about the magnitude of that length of time β€” 24 years is just a few months away from being half of my life. Half. Of. My. Life. How? Why?!

In 2018, on the 20th anniversary of the site, I wrote a little bit about what I’ve gotten out of the site:

Some of my older posts are genuinely cringeworthy to read now: poorly written, cluelessly privileged, and even mean spirited. I’m ashamed to have written some of them.

But had I not written all those posts, good and bad, I wouldn’t be who I am today, which, hopefully, is a somewhat wiser person vectoring towards a better version of himself. What the site has become in its best moments β€” a slightly highfalutin description from the about page: “[kottke.org] covers the essential people, inventions, performances, and ideas that increase the collective adjacent possible of humanity” β€” has given me a chance to “try on” hundreds of thousands of ideas, put myself into the shoes of all kinds of different thinkers & creators, meet some wonderful people (some of whom I’m lucky enough to call my friends), and engage with some of the best readers on the web (that’s you!), who regularly challenge me on and improve my understanding of countless topics and viewpoints.

I had a personal realization recently: kottke.org isn’t so much a thing I’m making but a process I’m going through. A journey. A journey towards knowledge, discovery, empathy, connection, and a better way of seeing the world. Along the way, I’ve found myself and all of you. I feel so so so lucky to have had this opportunity.

I’ve been going through a bit of a rough patch for the past several months, both related to the site and not, and it’s so helpful for me to read that today, to be reminded of what kottke.org has given me and the special place it occupies in my life. I know some of you have been reading since the very beginning and others only for a few weeks/months, but I’d like to thank all of you for coming along with me on this journey.

And hey, while I have you here, I’d especially like to thank those readers who have supported kottke.org with a membership over the last five years β€” that financial support has allowed me to keep this site open and free for everyone to read, an increasing rarity in today’s subscription media environment. If you would like to join them (or if you’re a former member1 wanting to contribute again), step right this way.

  1. I discovered the other day that there are nearly as many former members of kottke.org as current members. That seems surprising to me, but I’m not entirely sure why…↩


A Grand Day Out

Jason Kottke reflected in a fractured mirror

Hey all. Today is my birthday and the boss has given me the day off. I’m gonna spend time with some of my favorite humans, start a book I’ve been looking forward to reading, eat some good food, and, if it stops raining, go for a bike ride. I’ll see you back here tomorrow, bright eyed and bushy tailed.


It’s Been 23 Years

On March 14, 1998, I started writing here and, aside from a month or two here and there, never stopped. Things just kinda got out of hand, I guess. *shrug* I keep thinking that at some point, someone is going to inform me that vaudeville is over and yank me off stage with a hook, but until then you’re stuck with me. Thanks everyone for reading β€” I know from past emails that some of you have been following along since the beginning.

While I have you, two things:

1) After several months of inactivity, the Noticing newsletter has relaunched as a weekly recap of this here website β€” it’s got a new design too. You can subscribe here or read the latest issue with the new look.

2) The newsletter and kottke.org are completely free for everyone to read, thanks to financial support from readers like you. If you’d like to support this small corner of an increasingly paywalled web, please consider investing in a kottke.org membership. Thanks!


Between the Places Where I Have Lived

In 1980, Sol LeWitt created a piece of art called The Area of Manhattan Between the Places I Have Lived Is Removed where he cut out the area between all the places he’d lived in NYC on a satellite image. Matt Miller whipped up an app on Glitch that allows you to make your own map according to those rules. Here’s my Between the Places map:

Between the spaces

Here is LeWitt’s original map:

The Area of Manhattan Between the Places I Have Lived Is Removed by Sol LeWitt

Looks like Miller’s app doesn’t optimize for solid, filled polygons β€” I suspect if I’d been a little more careful about entering my addresses in the correct order, mine would look more like LeWitt’s. But still a fun exercise!


A Conversation with Jason Kottke on the Kottke Ride Home Podcast

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 β€” 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.


Introducing the “Kottke Ride Home” Podcast

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 β€” they’re the hot thing, etc. β€” 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 β€” 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 β€” “In just 15 minutes, the coolest stuff that happened in the world today. Science, progress, life-hacks, memes, exciting art and hope.” β€” 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 β€” or rather a show with a new name β€” 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

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 β€” 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 β€” 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 β€” 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 β€” 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 β€” 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.


Carly Rae Jepsen Uses My Silkscreen Font in a Promo Video

This morning, Carly Rae Jepsen released a new album called Dedicated Side B (stream here). Amidst rumors of fresh music, the pop star had been teasing fans with its release all week, including this video of a simulated chat posted to Twitter and Instagram yesterday.

Long-time readers will recognize that the chat text is displayed with typeface called Silkscreen, which I designed back in 1999, an era of small monitors and even smaller fonts.

Carly Rae Jepsen, Silkscreen Font

Back in the day, Britney Spears used Silkscreen on her website, and now it’s come (sorta) full circle with Jepsen. Silkscreen pops up here and there every few months, and I’m glad to see people are still getting some use out of it. It was retro when I made it and now its retro-ness is retro. Culture is fun! (thx to @desdakon for spotting this)


The Changing Profile of Covid-19’s Presenting Symptoms

As Ed Yong notes in his helpful overview of the pandemic, this is such a huge and quickly moving event that it’s difficult to know what’s happening. Lately, I’ve been seeking information on Covid-19’s presenting symptoms after seeing a bunch of anecdotal data from various sources.

In the early days of the epidemic (January, February, and into March), people were told by the CDC and other public health officials to watch out for three specific symptoms: fever, a dry cough, and shortness of breath. In many areas, testing was restricted to people who exhibited only those symptoms. Slowly, as more data is gathered, the profile of the presenting symptoms has started to shift. From a New York magazine piece by David Wallace-Wells on Monday:

While the CDC does list fever as the top symptom of COVID-19, so confidently that for weeks patients were turned away from testing sites if they didn’t have an elevated temperature, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association, as many as 70 percent of patients sick enough to be admitted to New York State’s largest hospital system did not have a fever.

Over the past few months, Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital has been compiling and revising, in real time, treatment guidelines for COVID-19 which have become a trusted clearinghouse of best-practices information for doctors throughout the country. According to those guidelines, as few as 44 percent of coronavirus patients presented with a fever (though, in their meta-analysis, the uncertainty is quite high, with a range of 44 to 94 percent). Cough is more common, according to Brigham and Women’s, with between 68 percent and 83 percent of patients presenting with some cough β€” though that means as many as three in ten sick enough to be hospitalized won’t be coughing. As for shortness of breath, the Brigham and Women’s estimate runs as low as 11 percent. The high end is only 40 percent, which would still mean that more patients hospitalized for COVID-19 do not have shortness of breath than do. At the low end of that range, shortness of breath would be roughly as common among COVID-19 patients as confusion (9 percent), headache (8 to 14 percent), and nausea and diarrhea (3 to 17 percent).

Recently, as noted by the Washington Post, the CDC has changed their list of Covid-19 symptoms to watch out for. They now list two main symptoms (cough & shortness of breath) and several additional symptoms (fever, chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, new loss of taste or smell). They also note that “this list is not all inclusive”. Compare that with their list from mid-February.

In addition, there’s evidence that children might have different symptoms (including stomach issues or diarrhea), doctors are reporting seeing “COVID toes” on some patients, and you might want to look at earlier data from these three studies about symptoms observed in Wuhan and greater China.

The reason I’m interested in this shift in presenting symptoms is that on the last day or two of my trip to Asia, I got sick β€” and I’ve been wondering if it was Covid-19.

Here’s the timeline: starting on Jan 21, I was in Saigon, Vietnam for two weeks, then in Singapore for 4 days, and then Doha, Qatar for 48 hours. The day I landed in Doha, Feb 9, I started to feel a little off, and definitely felt sick the next day. I had a sore throat, headache, and congestion (stuffy nose) for the first few days. There was also some fatigue/tiredness but I was jetlagged too so… All the symptoms were mild and it felt like a normal cold to me. Here’s how I wrote about it in my travelogue:

I got sick on the last day of the trip, which turned into a full-blown cold when I got home. I dutifully wore my mask on the plane and in telling friends & family about how I was feeling, I felt obliged to text “***NOT*** coronavirus, completely different symptoms!!”

I flew back to the US on Feb 11 (I wore a mask the entire time in the Doha airport, on the plane, and even in the Boston airport, which no one else was doing). I lost my sense of taste and smell for about 2 days, which was a little unnerving but has happened to me with past colds. At no point did I have even the tiniest bit of fever or shortness of breath. The illness did drag on though β€” I felt run-down for a few weeks and a very slight cough that developed about a week and a half after I got sick lingered for weeks.

According to guidance from the WHO, CDC, and public health officials at the time, none of my initial symptoms were a match for Covid-19. I thought about getting a test or going to the doctor, but in the US in mid-February, and especially in Vermont, there were no tests available for someone with a mild cold and no fever. But looking at the CDC’s current list of symptoms β€” which include headache, sore throat, and new loss of taste or smell β€” and considering that I’d been in Vietnam and Singapore when cases were reported in both places, it seems plausible to me that my illness could have been a mild case of Covid-19. Hopefully it wasn’t, but I’ll be getting an antibody test once they are (hopefully) more widely available, even though the results won’t be super reliable.

Update: More on the changing profile of Covid-19 symptoms from a sample size of more than 30,000 tests.

Covid-19 presenting symptoms

Fever is waaay down on the list.

While not as common as other symptoms, loss of smell was the most highly correlated with testing positive, as shown with odds ratios below, after adjusting for age and gender. Those with loss of smell were more likely to test positive for COVID-19 than those with a high fever.

Seeing this makes me think more than ever that I had it. I had three of the top five symptoms, plus an eventual cough (the most common symptom) and a loss of smell & taste (the most highly correlated symptom). The timing of the onset of my symptoms (my first day in Qatar) indicates that I probably got infected on my last day in Vietnam, in transit from Vietnam to Singapore (1 2-hr plane ride, 2 airports, 1 taxi, 1 train ride), or on my first day in Singapore. But I went to so many busy places during that time that it’s impossible to know where I might have gotten infected (or who I then went on to unwittingly infect).

Update: A few weeks ago, I noticed some horizontal lines on several of my toenails, a phenomenon I’d never seen before. When I finally googled it, I discovered they’re called Beau’s lines and they can show up when the body has been stressed by illness or disease. Hmm. From the Wikipedia page:

Some other reasons for these lines include trauma, coronary occlusion, hypocalcaemia, and skin disease. They may be a sign of systemic disease, or may also be caused by an illness of the body, as well as drugs used in chemotherapy, or malnutrition. Beau’s lines can also be seen one to two months after the onset of fever in children with Kawasaki disease.

From the Mayo Clinic:

Conditions associated with Beau’s lines include uncontrolled diabetes and peripheral vascular disease, as well as illnesses associated with a high fever, such as scarlet fever, measles, mumps and pneumonia.

From the estimated growth of my nails, it seems as though whatever disruption that caused the Beau’s lines happened 5-6 months ago, which lines up with my early February illness that I believe was Covid-19. Covid-19 can definitely affect the vascular systems of infected persons. Kawasaki disease is a vascular disease and a similar syndrome in children resulting from SARS-CoV-2 exposure is currently under investigation. And here’s a paper from December 1971 that tracked the development of Beau’s lines in several people who were ill during the 1968 flu pandemic (an H3N2 strain of the influenza A virus) β€” coronaviruses and influenza viruses are different but this is still an indicator that viruses can result in Beau’s lines. “Covid toe” has been observed in many Covid-19 patients. Harvard dermatologist and epidemiologist Dr. Esther Freeman reports that people may be experiencing hair loss due to Covid-19.

I couldn’t find any scientific literature about the possible correlation of Covid-19 and Beau’s lines, but I did find some suggestive anecdotal information. I found several people on Twitter who noticed lines in their nails (both fingers and toes) and who also have confirmed or suspected cases of Covid-19. And if you go to Google’s search bar and type “Beau’s lines c”, 3 of the 10 autocomplete suggestions are related to Covid-19, which indicates that people are searching for it (but not enough to register on Google Trends).

But I am definitely intrigued. Are dermatologists and podiatrists seeing Beau’s lines on patients who have previously tested positive for Covid-19? Have people who have tested positive noticed them? Email me at [email protected] if you have any info about this; I’d love to get to the bottom of this.


My Trip to Vietnam, Singapore, and Qatar

The waterfall at Singapore's Changi airport

For three weeks in late January and early February, I travelled to Asia, spending two weeks in Saigon, a few days in Singapore, and about 48 hours in Doha, Qatar. Here are some of the things I saw and did and ate. Note: this is a long post, maybe the longest thing I’ve posted here in many years. But I think it’s a quick read β€” pack a snack, stay hydrated, and you’ll be alright.

Saigon, Vietnam

I flew to Saigon via Doha on Qatar Airways. On my seatback screen, I watched the flight map as we flew a precise path with several course correcting turns that you don’t find in a usual great circle route. We flew over Turkey and Iraq and then out over the Persian Gulf, being very careful not to cross into the airspace of Syria, Iran, Kuwait, or Saudi Arabia β€” an aerial expression of Middle East tensions & alliances.

On my first full day, I arranged to go on a street food tour via motorbike. My guide, a local college student, picked me up at my apartment and, along with another guide & fellow tourist, we ate some bun bo hue (beef noodle soup), banh mì (pork sandwich), bap xao (stir-fried corn), com tam (broken rice w/ pork), drank some tra rau bap (corn silk tea), visited the flower market, and enjoyed a leisurely and engaging chat at a coffee shop. I did a food tour to kick off my time in Mexico City as well and would recommend it as a great way to meet some locals and quickly get the lay of the culinary land, which you can use as a blueprint for the rest of your trip.

Bowl of noodles in Saigon, Vietnam

The food here is off the chain. Street food is generally safe to eat, where all the good stuff is, and a full meal is never more than a few bucks. Some of my favorites were banh mì, bun cha (pork w/ rice noodles), and bo la lot (beef wrapped in lolot leaves).

Before I went, I did a bunch of research on specific places to eat, which turned out to be not so useful because about half of the places I’d flagged had permanently closed. In some cases, not only was the restaurant or food cart gone, whole blocks had been razed to make way for an entirely new buildings. Some of these missing places had just been written about a year or two ago, but the pace of change in Saigon is unimaginably fast. Locals I talked to said it feels like an entirely new city every few years.

Founded by a pair of Japanese expats, Pizza 4P’s makes excellent pizza. The growing chain also makes their own burrata and mozzarella in-house.

Mr. Masuko said he leased an alley-side building in Ho Chi Minh City and invested about $100,000 of his savings into a renovation, kitchen gear and other start-up essentials. He and a Japanese employee, Keinosuke Konuki, taught themselves how to make mozzarella by watching a YouTube video.

I also had one of the best bowls of ramen I’ve ever had at Tomidaya in Little Toyko, a tiny place with only 8 seats at a counter. The shoyu was so good I went back a few days later for tsukemen (which was not quite as good but still very tasty).

Craft beer is growing in popularity in Vietnam and the cocktail scene is well established. The Vietnamese palete tends to run sweeter than in America, so go-to cocktails here used to lean towards the tiki end of the spectrum, but now is more varied. Thanks to my pal Brown, I got to visit the tiny speakeasy tucked away behind a hidden door in The Studio Saigon, where artist/bartender Richie Fawcett served up a couple of delicious drinks, including a barrel-aged whiskey cocktail that he smoked with some Irish peat right in front of us.

The official English name for Vietnam’s largest city is Ho Chi Minh City. But locals still call it Saigon (or SΓ i GΓ²n), particularly when referring to the central districts. It’s a bit like how New York or NYC refers just to Manhattan.

The War Remnants Museum (formerly known as the Exhibition House for US and Puppet Crimes) is a must-visit if you’re in Saigon. It’s an eye-opening look at how the American role in the Vietnam War (which in Vietnam was known as the Resistance War Against America or the American War) was perceived by the Vietnamese. The photographs showing the damage done by Agent Orange and the almost casual brutality against Vietnamese civilians (including women & children) by US soldiers were really hard (but necessary) to look at. John Lennon’s Imagine was playing on a continuous loop in the lobby of the museum.

I ended up being in Vietnam for Tet, the lunar New Year, which in terms of celebratory scale is like Christmas, Hanukkah, Thanksgiving, and New Year’s all rolled into one holiday that lasts for several days and reverberates for a few weeks. I hadn’t exactly planned on this timing, but having read about the Tet experience on Legal Nomads, I was prepared.

Families celebrating in Saigon on the first day of Tet

Most of the city was shut down for the holiday β€” the first day of Tet is a day for family and I saw people spilling out into the alleyways, eating and drinking and laughing β€” but it wasn’t that hard to find dinner or a place to stop for tea. The only time I really felt the Tet crunch was when I needed to buy a new phone (more on that in a bit) but couldn’t because all of the electronics stores were closed. Most of the time, though, I was thankful for the slightly slower pace and festive atmosphere.

Travel tip: find a rooftop bar in whatever city you’re in and pop in for a drink around sunset.

I’m always interested in cities where a particular mode of transportation sets the tone for everything else. In much of the US β€” particularly in places like LA, Dallas, or Raleigh β€” the car reigns. In Copenhagen and Amsterdam, it’s the bicycle. You could make the argument that in Manhattan, the dance of the streets revolves around the pedestrian. As a city, Saigon is defined by the motorbike. They overwhelm every other mode of transportation here β€” cars and pedestrians must tailor their movements to the motorbike swarm.

Because of the motorbikes, the process for crossing the street on foot in Saigon is different than in a lot of other places. You basically just wait for any buses (which will absolutely not stop for pedestrians) or cars to go by and then slowly wade out into traffic. Do not make any sudden movements and for god sake don’t run. The motorbike swarm will magically flow around you. It’s suuuuuper unnerving the first few times you do it, but you soon get used to it because the alternative is never ever getting across the street.

The motorbikes make walking around Saigon absolutely exhausting.1 It’s not just crossing the street. You literally have to be on the lookout for them everywhere. They drive up on the sidewalks. They drive into and out of houses and buildings, turning every doorway into a potential intersection. Having to look both ways every few seconds when you’re walking 6 or 8 miles a day around the city really drains the ol’ attention reserves.

Things I saw carried on motorbikes in Saigon, a non-exhaustive list: trees, dogs, tiny babies, ice (for delivery to a drinks cart, the ice block was not even strapped down), a family of five, a dessert cart, an entire toy store, a dried squid shop, and 8 huge bags of clams.

I spent a worthwhile morning exploring the antique shops on Le Cong Kieu street. Many of the shops carried the same sorts of items, so it got a little repetitive after awhile, but the shops with the more unique items were worth the effort.

The hip coffee shops in Saigon look much the same as those in Portland, Brooklyn, Berlin, or Mexico City.

Office in the basement bunker of the Independence Palace in Saigon

Designed by architect NgΓ΄ ViαΊΏt Thα»₯, the Independence Palace was the home and office of the South Vietnamese President during the Vietnam War. After the North Vietnamese capture of the building effectively ended the war in 1975, the palace was preserved as a historical site, a time capsule of 60s and 70s architecture and interior design. I spent half a day wandering the palace taking photos like crazy. Lots of Accidentally Wes Anderson material there.

The oranges in Asia are green?

An American expat I met in Saigon said that American veterans who fought in Vietnam are now retiring here, a fact which I found to be a) true and b) deeply weird for a number of reasons. Here’s a recent LA Times article on the phenomenon.

Rapid growth in Vietnam and its Southeast Asian neighbors has created a situation that would have been unthinkable in the past: Aging American boomers are living a lifestyle reminiscent of Florida, Nevada and Arizona, but in Vietnam. Monthly expenses here rarely exceed $2,000, even to live in a large unit like Rockhold’s, including the help of a cook and a cleaner. The neighbors are friendly: A majority of Vietnamese were born well after the war ended in 1975, and Rockhold says he has rarely encountered resentment, even when he talks about his service as a combat veteran.

The vast majority of the owners in his apartment building are members of Vietnam’s burgeoning urban middle class; many work in government or in education, and can afford to take vacations abroad. He estimates that no more than 1 in 5 residents in the 25-floor complex are foreigners.

“The Vietnamese were extremely nice to me, especially compared to my own country after I came back from the war,” Rockhold said at a coffee shop recently inside a polished, air-conditioned office tower that also houses a restaurant and cinema.

Small truck full of flowers, Saigon

And last and certainly least, my phone was stolen while I was in Saigon. I’d really hoped that 2020 was going to be the year that I’d avoid making a blunder that would cost me thousands of dollars, but I’d neglected to pay sufficient attention to this bit in the Legal Nomads piece about Tet:

Unfortunately, the city also enters into what is locally known as “stealing season” β€” a proliferation of petty crimes like phone and purse theft, with the money used toward paying for these Tet gifts. In the weeks leading up to Tet and shortly thereafter, locals would come up to me on the street mimicking someone making off with my bag, a warning to keep an eye on belongings. Several friends found their phones snatched out of their hands in mid-conversation during this time, though no one had any more significant issues (e.g. there were no violence or armed muggings) to report.

It was the second day of Tet and I had just gotten off a motorbike taxi in front of a cafe in a tony part of town. I pulled out my phone to check on something quickly and was about 2 seconds away from putting it in my pocket and going into the cafe when a guy on a motorbike rode up onto the sidewalk β€” a totally normal thing here, so I didn’t think anything of it β€” and snatched my phone right out of my hand. I swore at the guy and ran after him for about two steps before I realized a) he was already halfway down the block and b) no one within earshot spoke English well enough to help me quickly enough to chase the guy down or flag down a police officer. The phone was gone.

Luckily, I had my iPad in my backpack, so I went into the cafe and deactivated the phone with Find My. For about an hour, I stewed and felt violated & pissed that I had been careless. I’ve had mixed experiences with solo travel β€” it’s hard sometimes! β€” so some despondency along those lines crept in too. I posted an Instagram Story about the theft (w/ my iPad) and some kind and wise words from my pals Craig and Stewart got me back on the right track. Stewart in particular reminded me that events like this are “the tax we pay on traveling” and that “maybe we don’t pay it every trip, but it comes around eventually”.

So yeah anyway, that shitbird didn’t ruin my trip β€” although being without a phone (no maps, no rideshare apps, no texting to coordinate meetups, no translation app) for a couple of days definitely restricted my movements for a couple of days until the electronics stores opened after Tet. That dude’s year may have gotten off to an unlucky start by stealing from someone, but I’ll be damned if I’m gonna let losing some property set the tone for my year or change my affection for this city and its people.

Singapore

Singapore felt like the future, full stop. And it’s not just the incredible waterfall & tropical forest in the airport or the mid-building gardens in the skyscrapers. Energy-saving escalators ran slowly or not at all until human motion was detected. Infrared temperature scanners like this one were set up at the airport to automatically screen disembarking passengers for coronavirus-related fevers. Public transportation was fast, cheap, and ubiquitous β€” my train ride from the airport to downtown was ~$1.50. I exited the country via Automated Immigration β€” a machine scans your passport & thumb and you’re good to go. A vending machine made me a cup of fresh-squeezed orange juice, sealed with a thin plastic lid. A Buddhist temple I went to had self-serve offering kiosks. Everything was incredibly clean and just worked the way you thought it should β€” you could sense the organization and infrastructure behind every little thing. And did I mention the waterfall at the airport?!

Gardens spilling over from a Singapore hi-rise

Coming from Vietnam, the food in Singapore was going to have to clear a high bar. And it did. Unlike in Saigon, where street food sellers filled any and every possible nook and cranny of the streets, sidewalks, and alleyways, always-on-brand Singapore has organized their street food vendors into communal hawker centers. In these centers, you can get the most delicious food from all around the world β€” Malay, Indian, Chinese, and Singaporean cuisines are among the most popular. I ended up eating almost all my meals at food centers β€” I visited Maxwell Food Centre, Chinatown Complex Food Centre, Hong Lim Food Centre, and Tekka Centre.

At the Chinatown Complex Food Centre, I waited in line for about 10-15 minutes to try the soya sauce chicken rice dish (just US$2!) at Hawker Chan, the first hawker stall ever to be awarded a Michelin star. This. Dish. Was. Amazing. I have never had chicken that tender & juicy. A revelation.

The Asian Civilizations Museum and the Singapore National Gallery were both great β€” definitely worth visiting if you’re in town for more than a day or two.

The Singapore Botanic Gardens, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a marvelous place to spend an afternoon wandering around. I particularly enjoyed the rainforest and the specialty gardens: the Evolution Garden, the Fragrant Garden, and the Healing Garden (full of plants with medicinal uses). (While looking at the website just now, I’m irritated to learn that I missed the Bonsai Garden. Dammit!) The National Orchid Garden was spectacularly beautiful β€” there’s an entry fee of $5 that’s well worth paying.1

The Atlas Bar is notable for its huge Art Deco space and extensive gin library. You can get a gin martini with gin made in the 1910s (~US$180) or have a G&T using one of their 1300 gins from around the world. Bar Stories was much more minimal and intimate with no cocktail menu at all β€” you just tell the bartender the flavors and spirits you’re into and they whip something up for you. You can check out some of their creations on Instagram.

For my first two nights, I stayed in a pod hotel. I opted for a private room and it was perfect. I had just enough space in my room to sleep and change β€” I was barely there for more than that as I spent most of my time exploring the city. The bathrooms were clean and private β€” and the showers were great, better than in many American hotels I’ve stayed in. They could do more to dampen the door noise, but other than that, it was really quiet.

The infinity pool on the 58th floor of the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore

For my last night, I splurged on a room at the Marina Bay Sands, aka the hotel with the infinity pool on the 58th floor overlooking the city. Was it worth the price? I don’t know, but the views from the roof were incredible and I did spend a lot of time relaxing by that pool.

Doha, Qatar

Main atrium of the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar

On my way home from Singapore, I spent about 48 hours in Doha, Qatar. In retrospect, I maybe should have opted for 2 more days in Singapore. Nothing against Doha, but I just didn’t have the energy to fully explore a third different place/culture in 3 weeks. (Still exploring my limitations…) I did have some great food there β€” including kofte at a Turkish restaurant and a simple fried halloumi sandwich I’m still thinking about more than a week later. The Museum of Islamic Art was fantastic and deepened my already significant appreciation of Islamic art.

Some miscellaneous thoughts and reflections

I met up with some kottke.org readers in both Saigon and Singapore. Thanks to Brown, Bryan, Joel, Corrie, and the Singapore meetup crew for taking me to some local spots with excellent food & drink, helping me understand a little bit more about Vietnamese & Singaporean culture, and making this solo traveller feel a little less solo. A special thanks to Brown for welcoming me into his home and introducing me to his family. After 20+ years of writing this site, it still blows me away how quickly complete strangers who read kottke.org seem like old friends. β™₯

I posted several photos to my Instagram and also compiled Stories from Saigon and Singapore.

I got sick on the last day of the trip, which turned into a full-blown cold when I got home. I dutifully wore my mask on the plane and in telling friends & family about how I was feeling, I felt obliged to text “***NOT*** coronavirus, completely different symptoms!!”

Being in Asia during the early days of the coronavirus outbreak was an interesting experience. I wasn’t worried about contracting the virus β€” I kept my hands clean & sanitized, wasn’t interacting with anyone who had been to China recently, and wore my mask in the airport and on the airplane. By my last few days in Vietnam, the growing epidemic had the government worried, so people who normally wore masks only while riding motorbikes now wore them all the time in public. I observed that foreign tourists were more likely to wear masks than locals. Many businesses adopted a mandatory mask policy in their offices. Buddhist temples posted signs urging visitors to wear masks.

In the airport on my way to Singapore (and on the flight), every single person was wearing a mask, except for one guy who had no mask and a personal fan blowing air (and all the germs in the vicinity) right into his face. When I got to Singapore, way fewer people were wearing masks in the airport β€” probably only 50% β€” even though there were more coronavirus cases in Singapore than in Saigon. As I mentioned above, they had infrared scanners set up checking people for fever. At the Marina Bay Sands, all customers checking in had to have a temperature check with a hand-held thermometer β€” same if you wanted to use the hotel gym. I also got temp-scanned at one of the museums I went to.

This was my 7th long trip in the past two years and my longest one by more than a week. Despite the benefits of solo travel that I really enjoy, I’ve struggled at times with loneliness and getting a bit overwhelmed by having to figure everything out on my own in unfamiliar places. This trip, aside from a couple hours of stolen phone despair, was struggle-free β€” or rather the struggle was expected, manageable, and even welcome. Part of it is just practice β€” I feel like I’ve got the solo travel thing mostly down now. I’ve also had a couple of significant mindset shifts in recent months (like this one about winter weather) that have helped my general outlook. Working full time for two out of the three weeks I was gone helped anchor me to something familiar and provided some structure. And as I mentioned, meeting up with some friendly folks helped too.

And finally to finish up… Whenever I travel abroad, of course I have thoughts about the overall character of the places I go, but they’re based on such an incomplete experience of those places that I’m hesitant to share them. The Saigon metro area has a population of ~13.5 million and I was there for 2 weeks as a tourist, so what the hell could I possibly know about it beyond the superficial? What I mainly tend to come away with is how those places compare to the United States. What freedoms exist in a place like Vietnam vs Singapore vs Qatar vs the United States? How are those freedoms distributed and who do they benefit? And from what authority are those freedoms derived? The more places I go, the less obviously free the US feels to me in many ways, even though our country’s baseline freedom remains high (for some at least).

But the main observation I came home with after this trip is this: America is a rich country that feels like a poor country. If you look at the investment in and the care put into infrastructure, common areas, and the experience of being in public in places like Singapore, Amsterdam, Paris, and Berlin and compare it to American cities, the difference is quite stark. Individual wealth in America is valued over collective wealth and it shows.

I know that’s a bit of a downer to end on, but despite what you see on Instagram, travel is not always fun & games and often provides some potentially tough lessons and perspectives. You might get your phone stolen and come back feeling a little bit less great about your home country. Them’s the breaks, kid β€” welcome to the world. Thanks for following along as always.

  1. The awful state of repair of many of the city’s sidewalks didn’t help either.↩

  2. Soon after entering the orchid garden, I got stopped for a short survey and the woman gave me $10 for my time, so I actually ended up making money.↩


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

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 β€” as of today β€” 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 β€” 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 β€” like signed books, software, signed photo prints, a free SXSW ticket β€” 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 β€” 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 β€” 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 β€” thank you!! β€” 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…


The Secret to Enjoying a Long Winter

VT Winter Wonderland

I grew up in Wisconsin, and have lived in Iowa, Minnesota, and New York. Except for a two-year stint in the Bay Area, I’ve experienced winter β€” real winter, with lots of snow, below-freezing temperatures, and little daylight β€” every year of my life and never had a problem with it. So I was surprised when my last two Vermont winters put me on my ass. In winter 2017-18, I was depressed, anxious, wasn’t getting out of bed in the morning, spent endless time on my phone doing nothing, and had trouble focusing on my work. And I didn’t realize what it was until the first nice spring day came, 70 and sunny, and it hit me: “holy shit, I’ve been depressed because of winter” and felt wonderful for the next 5 months, like a completely different person. Then last year I was so anxious that it would happen again that all that stuff was worse and started basically a week into fall.

Nothing helped: I tried getting outside more, spent more time with friends, got out to meet new people, travelled to warm places, took photos of VT’s beautiful winter landscapes, spent time in cities, cut back on alcohol, and prioritized sleep. Last year I skied more than ever before and enjoyed it more than I’d ever had. Didn’t matter. This stuff worked during the spring and summer but my winter malaise was seemingly impenetrable. The plan for this fall was to try a SAD lamp, therapy, maybe drugs, and lots more warm travel. But then something interesting happened.

Sometime this fall β€” using a combination of Stoicism, stubbornness, and a sort of magical thinking that Jason-in-his-30s would have dismissed as woo-woo bullshit β€” I decided that because I live in Vermont, there is nothing I can do about it being winter, so it was unhelpful for me to be upset about it. I stopped complaining about it getting cold and dark, I stopped dreading the arrival of snow. I told myself that I just wasn’t going to feel like I felt in the summer and that’s ok β€” winter is a time for different feelings. As Matt Thomas wrote, I stopped fighting the winter vibe and tried to go with it:

Fall is a time to write for me as well, but it also means welcoming β€” rather than fighting against β€” the shorter days, the football games, the decorative gourds. Productivity writer Nicholas Bate’s seven fall basics are more sleep, more reading, more hiking, more reflection, more soup, more movies, and more night sky. I like those too. The winter will bring with it new things, new adjustments. Hygge not hay rides. Ditto the spring. Come summer, I’ll feel less stress about stopping work early to go to a barbecue or movie because I know, come autumn, I’ll be hunkering down. More and more, I try to live in harmony with the seasons, not the clock.

Last night, I read this Fast Company piece on some research done by Kari Leibowitz about how people in near-polar climates avoid seasonal depression and it really resonated with this approach that I’d stumbled upon.

At first, she was asking “Why aren’t people here more depressed?” and if there were lessons that could be taken elsewhere. But once she was there, “I sort of realized that that was the wrong question to be asking,” she says. When she asked people “Why don’t you have seasonal depression?” the answer was “Why would we?”

It turns out that in northern Norway, “people view winter as something to be enjoyed, not something to be endured,” says Leibowitz, and that makes all the difference.

The people in the Norwegian communities Leibowitz studied, they got outside as much as they could β€” “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing” β€” spent their time indoors being cozy, came together in groups, and marveled at winter’s beauty. I’d tried all that stuff my previous two winters but what seems to have moved the needle for me this year is a shift in mindset.

As I experienced firsthand TromsΓΈ residents’ unique relationship to winter, a serendipitous conversation with Alia Crum, assistant professor of psychology at Stanford University, inspired me to consider mindset as a factor that might influence TromsΓΈ residents’ sunny perspective of the sunless winter. Crum defines mindsets as the “lenses through which information is perceived, organized and interpreted.” Mindsets serve as an overarching framework for our everyday experiences β€” and they can profoundly influence how we react in a variety of situations.

Crum’s work has shown that mindsets significantly influence both our physical and mental health in areas as diverse as exercise, stress and diet. For example, according to Crum’s research, individuals can hold the mindset that stress is either debilitating (bad for your health and performance) or enhancing (motivating and performance-boosting). The truth is that stress is both; it can cause athletes to crumble under pressure and lead CEOs to have heart attacks, but it can also sharpen focus and critical thinking, giving athletes, CEOs and the rest of us the attention and adrenaline to succeed in high-pressure situations. According to Crum’s work, instead of the mere presence of stress, it is our mindset about stress β€” whether or not we perceive it as a help or a hindrance β€” that contributes most to health, performance and psychological outcomes.

This is the woo-woo bullshit I referred to earlier, the sort of thing that always brings to my mind the advice of self-help gurus embodied by The Simpsons’ Troy McClure urging his viewers to “get confident, stupid!” Is the secret to feeling happy really just to feel happy? It sounds ridiculous, right? This is the bit of the Fast Company piece that resonated with me like a massive gong:

But overall, mindset research is increasingly finding that it doesn’t take much to shift one’s thinking. “It doesn’t have to be this huge complicated thing,” says Leibowitz. “You can just consciously try to have a positive wintertime mindset and that might be enough to induce it.”

So how has this tiny shift in mindset been working for me so far? It’s only mid-November β€” albeit a mid-November where it’s already been 5Β°F, has been mostly below freezing for the past week, and with a good 6 inches of snow on the ground β€” but I have been feeling not only not bad, but actually good. My early fall had some seasonally-unrelated tough moments, but I’ve experienced none of last year’s pre-winter despondency. I’m looking forward to the start of skiing, especially since my kids are so jazzed up about it. I don’t currently have any trips planned (just got back from warm & sunny Mexico and am glad to be home even though the trip was great), but I’m definitely eager to start prepping for something in January. I’ve had more time for reading, watching some interesting TV, eating rich foods, making apple pie, and working. I went for a 6-mile walk in the freezing cold with a friend and it was delightful. And I’m already looking forward to spring and summer as well. It’s comforting to know that warmer weather and longer days are waiting for me in the distance, when I can do more of what I want to do and feel more like my true self. But in the meantime, pass the cocoa and I’ll see you on the slopes.


My 2019 Roadtrip Along the Pacific Coast of the US

2019 Roadtrip

In late July after visiting my kids at camp, I flew into LA, rented a car, and spent two weeks driving up the coast from there to Portland, OR. Along the way, I visited old friends and made some new ones, got to see how some of my favorite movie magic is performed, ate very well, spent some time in an old neighborhood, drove 1700 miles, communed with the tallest trees on Earth, and watched the ocean churn and swell and crash and froth for a very very long time. Here are some reflections and observations from the trip, from my vantage point a month later.

To start off the trip I spent a little less than three days in LA, essentially my first trip to the second largest city in the US (aside from 24 hours spent there in 2005). It was…fine? The food was good, beach was good, museums were good, but I guess I didn’t feel a whole lot of natural affinity for the place. Then again, three days isn’t a lot of time and I will go back to explore more for sure. I somehow didn’t even get tacos, an oversight I rectified once I got to Santa Barbara. But I was able to see a few friends, which trumped any possible attractions or sights I could have seen instead.

Aside from visiting friends, like 75% of the reason I wanted to go to LA was to see Chris Burden’s Metropolis II at LACMA. I timed my visit for the weekend so it’d actually be running, and it did not disappoint. Could have watched it for hours:

Electric scooters (I used the ones from Lime and Lyft) made getting around LA a breeze. Cities need to figure out how to work these into their transportation infrastructure without clogging their sidewalks, keeping riders & pedestrians safe, theft/breakage, and not undermining other more accessible forms of public transportation.

2019 Roadtrip

Not much to say about Big Sur other than it’s gorgeous but crowded. Around each curve was a seemingly better view than the last.

The redwoods. Where do I even start? They were my absolute favorite part of the trip. I spent the better part of three days exploring Big Basin Redwoods State Park, Humboldt Redwoods State Park, and Redwood National and State Parks and even at the end of the third day, I was looking up at these 300-foot monsters and saying “wow!” It was like going to church. I can’t wait for my kids to spend some time exploring the redwood forests.

When I lived in SF from 2000-2002, my favorite place to visit was Muir Woods and I was really looking forward to seeing it again. When I swung by to visit on this trip, I was frustrated to learn from the friendly park ranger at the entrance that parking now requires advance reservations. So no Muir Woods for me this trip. Luckily there were many more redwoods to be had elsewhere…

Along almost the entire route of my trip (I stuck mostly to Highway 1 and the 101), I passed people working in fields. They were everywhere, toiling away to earn a hard living so their families could eat, so that they could pay their taxes, so that they could make a good life for their children. The news of ICE raids and the continued separation of children from their parents by the most inhumane administration in recent American history were never far from my mind.

Every summer when I was a kid, my dad, my sister, and I would take a roadtrip to a different part of the country: Florida, Virginia, Texas. Sometimes we took a car and camped along the way (with occasional motel stays) and other times we drove in a used motorhome my dad bought one year (approximately one of these). But the ocean was always a constant as a destination. My sister and I had grown up in Wisconsin but had never seen the ocean before, and after our first trip to the Gulf Coast of Texas, we were hooked. One year we drove out to California and up the coast to Oregon. I remember vividly the freezing cold ocean and the winding coastal roads β€” we almost got our camper stuck in a particularly tight hairpin curve. I loved those roadtrips…they are my absolute happiest memories from childhood. Driving some of those same curves in northern California this time around, I waved to pretty much any RV I saw, as if I were saying hello to my past teenaged self, who was getting a taste of what awaited him in this whole wide world.

2019 Roadtrip

When I was in the Bay Area, I got to fulfill a long-time dream of mine: visiting the Pixar campus in Emeryville. I gotta say, stepping into the main building, designed by Steve Jobs to foster collaboration among the company’s employees, gave me goosebumps. I could have spent hours looking at all of the sketches, storyboards, and ephemera from Incredibles II that they had hanging on the walls. I visited the recording studios, the screening rooms, the secret speakeasy, and saw a few of the animators’ wildly decorated cubicles. They told me how the process of making a movie at Pixar has changed from “laying down the track in front of a moving train” to “laying down the track in front of a moving train while also building the train”…it sounds like they’ve really worked hard on making their development process as asynchronous as possible. I was told that Pixar has an entire team just for making crowds now.

My tour guides showed me some of the company’s favorite misrendered scenes culled from an internal mailing list, including an amazing rain tornado around a car in Toy Story 4. I saw in action the AI spiders that were designed to weave the cobwebs in TS4.

Typically, cobwebs must be made by hand, but, because of the number of cobwebs which the crew wanted to include, Hosuk Chang (Sets Extensions Technical Director) wrote a program to create a group of artificial intelligence spiders to weave the cobwebs just like a real spider would.

We actually saw the AI spiders in action and it was jaw-dropping to see something so simple, yet so technically amazing to create realistic backgrounds elements like cobwebs. The spiders appeared as red dots that would weave their way between two wood elements just like a real spider would.

They showed me a scene from TS4 and how it was made β€” the different layers of shading and lighting, storyboards, effects, the different cameras and lenses that were available for the director’s use. One cool tidbit: the virtual cameras used in the Toy Story movies are human-scale and shot from human height so that the toys actually look like toys. Ok, another cool tidbit: the virtual cameras & lenses are based on actual cameras and actual lenses so the directors know what sort of depth of field, angle, and views they’re going to get with a given setup. The software is incredible β€” they showed me a screen with like 30 different camera/angle/lens/focus combinations so that a director can simultaneously watch a single scene “filmed” all those different ways and choose which shot they want to go with. I mean…

To get the motion just right for the baby carriage scene in the antique store for TS4, they took an actual baby carriage, strapped a camera to it, plopped a Woody doll in it, and took it for a spin around campus. They took the video from that, motion-captured the bounce and sway of the carriage, and made it available as a setting in the software that they could apply to the virtual camera. I MEAN…

I also heard a few Steve Jobs stories that I’m going to keep to myself for now…they are not mine to tell. Thanks to Tom, Ralph, and Bob for showing me around and being so generous with their time. Ok,

I had forgotten that driving though the groves of eucalyptus just north of San Francisco was so wonderfully fragrant. Way better than one of those Muji aroma diffusers. But I’ll tell you: I do not miss living in SF. I spent a lovely afternoon walking around my old neighborhood, wandering in Golden Gate Park, and stopping in to check out the Dahlia Garden (my favorite place in SF), but that was enough for another few years.

While driving, I listened to To Kill a Mockingbird on audiobook; I’d never read or listened to it before. A favorite line: “Delete the adjectives and you’ll find the facts.” I’m not sure I’ve been successful in curbing my adjective use in this post.

2019 Roadtrip

At dinner one night, I asked an LA pal about work and she said she’d quit her bartending job to deliver weed β€” better schedule and pay. There were cannabis dispensaries everywhere in California and Oregon. The one I visited in central CA had a security guard outside checking for IDs and weapons, a double door system in the reception area, and once you got into the retail space, you could find out more about a product by placing it on a sensor and the info would appear on a nearby touchscreen. But at other dispensaries, like the one I walked past in Arcata, the door was wide open and you could just mosey on in. Let’s just say I slept pretty well on this trip.

After seeing the 45-minute-long line for lunch at the Tillamook Creamery (and a 20-minute-long line just for cheese samples), I decamped to a local Burger King to try the Impossible Whopper for the first time. All the people saying that the Impossible patty tastes just like a real burger have either never tasted meat before or don’t pay a whole lot of attention when they eat. It’s the best veggie burger patty I’ve ever had, but it sure ain’t beef.

2019 Roadtrip

A few small towns caught my attention. Cambria, CA was a cool little place I would gladly spend more time in β€” Moonstone Beach was beautiful. Los Alamos, CA is possibly the quaintest town I have ever seen β€” ate a great breakfast at Bob’s Well Bread Bakery. I breezed through Arcata, CA and explored the downtown a bit, but it had such a cool vibe that I’d definitely go back for another look.

Sometimes the problem with going on vacation is that you have to take yourself along with you. No matter how astounding the sights, how engaging the catchups with friends, how relaxing it is, and how far away the rest of the world seems, your thoughts and anxieties and hang-ups come with you everywhere you go. Near the end of my trip, I splurged on a nice hotel room for two nights in Yachats, OR and mainly sat on the rocks and watched the waves crash. It was perfect. The ocean remains my ultimate happy place and I need to find a way to spend more (or perhaps all) of my time closer to it.

2019 Roadtrip

And then it was time to head home. You can check out a bunch of my photos from the trip on Instagram and in this Instagram Story. Thanks to my friends Alex, Michael, and Matt for the accommodations & fellowship along the way. This trip was not the once-in-a-lifetime experience that last year’s western roadtrip was, but I did feel similarly at its conclusion:

Doing this roadtrip reminded me of many great things about this country & the people who live in it and gave me the time & space to ponder how I fit into the puzzle, without the din of the news and social media. If you can manage it, I encourage you all to do the same, even if it’s just visiting someplace close that you’ve never been to: get out there and see the world and visit with its people. This world is all we have, and the more we see of it, the better we can make it.

Thanks for following along with my journey.


Building Belonging at Summer Camp

Ollie Running

My kids are lucky enough to be at sleep-away summer camp this year. It’s their fourth year, and I was a little skeptical about this at first. Sleep-away camps weren’t really a thing in Wisconsin when I was a kid and schlepping out to the East Coast was not going to happen, financially speaking. But their mom went to camp and it had a big impact on her life and the kids wanted to go, so I went along.

I’m really glad I did. I miss them while they’re gone, but they have such an amazing time there, away from their parents, figuring out what kind of humans they are going to be. The staff at Ollie’s camp (an all-boys camp for grades 3-8 β€” Minna goes to an affiliated camp for girls) sent the parents a letter about some of the principles they use in supporting their campers by building “a feeling of profound belonging”. They are super thoughtful in their approach and none of it is mere lip-service. I thought a few of their principles were worth sharing with you. From a section that starts “We shape our program and culture to build belonging by…”:

…embodying our belief that there are many ways to be a man. We give boys a diverse array of role models β€” men and women in whom campers can see aspects of the selves they seek to develop. When the people around us model the same humility, humor, talent, and compassion that we seek to develop in ourselves, they help us to recognize the sturdy roots of those same virtues within us. In such moments, we know that we are in a place where we belong.

…focusing on what is personal, real, and lasting. Too often children learn to gauge belonging through external signals: the music they listen to, the brands they wear, the devices they own. The result can be toxic, especially for boys, who learn to measure themselves against dangerously narrow standards of masculinity. By embracing simplicity β€” in the uniforms we wear, the music we make, the technology we leave at home β€” we foster deeper connections with each other and even with ourselves.

…emphasizing honesty as the most direct path towards a life of substance and meaning. Ultimately, belonging is not an external validation, but an authentic way of being. Honesty β€” and its companion, vulnerability β€” are signs of strength and signals of openness. Honesty elevates relationships beyond the superficial, and invites us towards friendships in which we have the courage to be imperfect and the compassion to accept ourselves anyway. At camp, as in life, there is no more powerful belonging than to each other.

I don’t mind telling you that I teared up reading through these. That there are many ways to be a man, that masculinity can be toxic, that vulnerability is strength…hearing these ideas more often would have benefited an adolescent Jason, a shy and sometimes bullied small-town kid who didn’t feel like he belonged, truly belonged, anywhere until he went off to college and discovered that the world was full of weirdos just like, and also very unlike, himself. I still feel that little kid’s pain, and it makes me very happy that my kids are lucky enough to spend significant time in a place where those ideas take center stage.

Excerpts above are from Building Belonging from the staff at Camp Lanakila.


Vintage Photos of NYC’s High Line

Gothamist recently posted some vintage photos of NYC’s High Line taken by Jake Dobkin back when it was still an abandoned rail line and not an immaculately designed space surrounded by luxury condos. Meg & I snuck up there in Feb 2004 and walked all the way down from 33rd St to the Meatpacking and back again. Here are a few photos I snapped that day:

High Line

High Line

High Line

High Line

High Line

A couple of these were kindly included in Phaidon’s book about the making-of the High Line park.