Here are natural wonders—the dazzling glowworm caves in New Zealand, or a baobob tree in South Africa that’s so large it has a pub inside where 15 people can drink comfortably. Architectural marvels, including the M.C. Escher-like stepwells in India. Mind-boggling events, like the Baby Jumping Festival in Spain, where men dressed as devils literally vault over rows of squirming infants. Not to mention the Great Stalacpipe Organ in Virginia, Turkmenistan’s 45-year hole of fire called the Gates of Hell, coffins hanging off a side of a cliff in the Philippines, eccentric bone museums in Italy, or a weather-forecasting invention that was powered by leeches, still on display in Devon, England.
Folks like Neil Gaiman and Guillermo del Toro have given this book their respective stamps of approval, so yeah: a no-brainer read, this one.
Johnson argues that learning to see the world afresh, like a child, shifts the way we think about nature: Instead of something distant and abstract, nature becomes real―all at once comical, annoying, and beautiful. This shift can add tremendous value to our lives, and it might just be the first step in saving the world. […]
Unseen City takes us on a journey that is part nature lesson and part love letter to the world’s urban jungles. With the right perspective, a walk to the subway can be every bit as entrancing as a walk through a national park.
Once you’ve read Unseen City, you’ll see the world around you in a whole new light, city dweller or no. It teaches you to notice things that never would’ve crossed your mind before, particularly in regards to pigeons, squirrels, ginko trees, ants, snails, crows, and turkey vultures.
At the core of A Burglar’s Guide to the City is an unexpected and thrilling insight: how any building transforms when seen through the eyes of someone hoping to break into it. Studying architecture the way a burglar would, Geoff Manaugh takes readers through walls, down elevator shafts, into panic rooms, up to the buried vaults of banks, and out across the rooftops of an unsuspecting city.
Manaugh interviewed people from both sides of the law while researching for this book, including FBI Special Agents, reformed bank robbers, architects, and more.
We looked into questions like what would happen if you swam out of a deep sea submarine, were swallowed by a whale (surprisingly possible), your elevator cable broke (don’t jump. It won’t help), if it’s even possible to die from magnetism (it is, yay!), if sticking your hand in the CERN particle accelerator is lethal (probably) and many more.
I mean, this book really answers all the important questions:
How long could you last if you stood on the surface of the sun? How far could you actually get in digging a hole to China?
Can you die by shaking someone’s hand? Answer: Yes. That’s because, due to atomic repulsion, you’ve never actually touched another person’s hand. If you could, the results would be as disastrous as a medium-sized hydrogen bomb.
Now for the disclaimer: And Then You’re Dead isn’t for the faint of heart. I wouldn’t hand it to a kid to read, even if they love weird facts; the descriptions are just a bit too gruesome for that.
Vulgar is a constructed language (conlang) generator for fantasy fiction writing that creates unique and usable constructed languages in the click of a button. Vulgar's output models the regularities, irregularities and quirks of real world languages; phonology, grammar, and a 2000 unique word vocabulary.
Vulgar is capable of generating 10 quadrillion unique and usable conlangs.
How does it achieve this? Using pseudo-randomness!
Vulgar begins with a random seed number between 0 and 1 to 15 decimal places (10 to the power of 15 = 1 quadrillion). This number is then run through a formula that generates many many thousands of other random numbers. ("Pseudo"-random because, although there is nothing truly random about them (i.e. they are determined by an exact mathematical formula), every decimal number between 0 and 1 is equally likely to be produced, and there is no obvious pattern to the human eye.)
These numbers are used to make tens of thousands of decisions about which phonemes to select to build words, and what grammar rules to generate based on pre-defined thresholds. The seed number of a language can also be used to retrieve its full version in the premium version.
Some of the best things ever seen or used on the web can’t be saved. They’re already gone. These are some of them, nominated by Kottke readers.
Google Reader. On the one hand, Google kind of ruined RSS, up until then the best distribution method for serial content, by turning it into a product. At the end, some of the best RSS readers weren’t even RSS readers, just frontends for Google Reader, which handled all the resource-intensive work.
On the other hand, Google Reader was a really wonderful community. It had a lightweight social graph component, but it was really oriented around news and stories and blog updates that people shared. Everything that people wanted online comments to be, Google Reader was. And when it ended, it took all of that away, leaving social media networks — which were really never designed to do content distribution — as the only game in town. I honestly don’t know if we’ve ever recovered.
Geocities. Geocities was a lot of people’s first experience making and reading home pages, putting their lives, personalities, contact information, getting email addresses, and anything else they wanted to share out on the web. The “cities” conceit made it sortable and browsable: they weren’t quite geographical and weren’t quite thematic, but a weird combination of the two. It got bought by Yahoo, back when Yahoo was buying and blending everything, and went the way of all such things.
Now Geocities exists only in Japan, but, like a lot of “first websites,” you can emulate it if you want using Glitch. As Anil Dash writes, “millions of people created their own websites in the era before today’s social networks took over. Learning to tweak HTML to create a GeoCities page, or to customize CSS to make a MySpace page look perfect, was a rite of passage for the first 10 or 15 years of the web.”
Think Secret was an early tech blog focused on Apple, back when Apple was very far from the biggest company in the world. Writing and reading about it, especially rumors about new products, was just a weird obsession for a handful of people. Anyways, Think Secret and its editor Nick “de Plume” Ciarelli got sued for violating trade secrets, and Think Secret was shut down as part of a settlement right as the iPhone was turning Apple into the company everybody was talking about all of the time. Things break another way, and that site’s worth millions of dollars today. Then again, that didn’t save Gawker — so who knows.
Television Without Pity practically invented the genre of TV episode recaps, starting with Dawson’s Creek. Now they’re everywhere! It got bought by NBC in 2007 and shut down in 2014, but supposedly it’s coming back. We’ll see. Nope, turns out it’s just the shell of the website; TWOP won’t running new material after all. But the founders of TWOP went on to start previously.tv. (Thanks, @adrienneLaF, @michelet.)
Nothing lasts forever on the World Wide Web. Even death.
Update: So many people, after this story went live, answered “what about Suck.com?” that I had to make an update.
Reading Suck is bizarre now, because on the one hand, its wry, teasing, sweetly cynical voice has shaped so much of what we know of the web, but its style is actually quite different. It’s like reading Don Quixote and realizing that Cervantes’s book somehow contains, in miniature, every novel that came after it, but that it is also somehow older and stranger and more imaginative than all of them. Also, that every tech or media hype or hustle is exactly the same as one that happened twenty-odd years before it. This is why reporters who’ve been covering Silicon Valley forever have such a twisted sense of humor.
Anyways, the archive still exists; the best way to get it, in my opinion, is the Suck Again email newsletter, which posts every instance of Suck twenty years after its original publication date. Suck is dead; long live Suck.
Imagine being the PM at Google realizing that you've just spent multiple years and millions of dollars on the latest failed attempt to build a social app which is more popular than the one you made by accident, neglected, and then killed to avoid it overshadowing a subsequent failure.
More than anything, a sense of joy, sweetness, and innocence pervaded his work.
So, like many other fans, I was shocked to see his series of blog posts two years ago about the evils of feminism, how it “raises a breed of self victimizing gold diggers,” a “camouflaged push for gender supremacy,” and “self-entitling social status posing as a humanitarian ideology.”
A second post, “Why We Should Envy Women,” argued that women get preferential treatment in society without accountability. “You have a lot more privileges than men, and you have a pass through life that us gents can only dream of.”
An accompanying video, “Why I Don’t Take Feminism Seriously,” is a four-minute elaboration on his post, opening with this salvo:
“I’ve always found that the more I treat a woman like a child, the stronger the relationship, the better the sex, and the more often it happens. Discipline, reprimand, and complete indifference. I think the feminine woman craves the attributes of a firm father in the man she enters a relationship with. The more I realize that women want to be manned around, the more I see modern feminism in a different light – it could well be little more than the collective feminine cry for drama and childlike retaliation.”
“Women crave drama. It comes with being an emotionally-driven creature. They need to stretch their emotions, to release and resolve. I look at feminism with all of its illogical arguments, self-defeating philosophies, and double-standards, and I’m hard-pressed to view it as anything more than a tantrum.”
Unsurprisingly, this led to a swift backlash from disappointed fans on social media, covered in depth by writer David Futrelle.
Bertke quickly deleted the blog post and video, and claimed it was all a social experiment gone wrong. “I mashed together the most radical views I could find about women and feminism on the internet, doing my best to present it as my humble opinion and honest observations.”
“I recently conducted somewhat of an experiment for myself that went with a much bigger bang than I expected. I’m awe struck by the enormous breed of hyenas out there taking gender equality and feminism hostage, and bending it into a social status to validate their feeling that the world owes them everything because of their gender.”
He deleted his Twitter “for good,” and promised to disable comments and ratings on his videos.
Four months later, he was back on Twitter, but I stopped following his work. After that series of tirades, like many others, I was no longer comfortable supporting or evangelizing him or his work.
But people grow and change, and when the subject of Pogo came up yesterday in the XOXO Slack, I was curious to see if his positions evolved at all in the last two years.
Well, no. The only thing that apparently changed is that he’s grown more careful about expressing his views on his own social media channels, though strictly for financial reasons.
In February, Nick Bertke appeared on Tommy Sotomayor’s call-in show.
If you’re not familiar with his work, Tommy Sotomayor is a controversial Atlanta radio host, Trump supporter, men’s rights activist, and prolific YouTuber, with his accounts repeatedly banned from YouTube, GoFundMe, Instagram, Twitter, and Patreon for hate speech. Black women are a frequent target of his videos, as are transgender women, gay men, and feminists. (Take a quick look through his most popular videos to get an idea.)
This hour and forty minutes of Nick Bertke and Tommy Sotomayor covers a lot of ground, focused on the evils of feminism, women’s rights, Islam, transgender rights, and Black Lives Matter. They talk about the greatness of Trump and Milo, and argue that hate speech, hate crimes, and the wage gap don’t exist.
Choice quotes from Bertke:
“I don’t think feminists ever do what they preach. I think it’s always an ulterior motive. I think it’s a divisive cult that doesn’t achieve much more than a flock of self-entitled narcissists at the end of the day. I’ve never liked them. I’ve always thought that driving a wedge between the genders seems like a funny way to achieve equality.”
“I think the left is bringing about the destruction of Western civilization, personally.”
“I don’t want to make massive generalization or anything, but I think female accountability is a myth. I think under the banner of feminism, females will never be held accountable for anything. You should not critique a woman unless you are prepared for the consequences.”
So, whatever. I’m diametrically opposed to his red pill MRA nonsense, and it’s disappointing to hear from someone whose work I love. He’s free to talk about his views, and fans who disagree are free to no longer support his work once they’re aware of them.
The nature of independent art online means that we know more about the people who make the work we enjoy than ever. We’re following and interacting with them on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, reading their blog posts, YouTube, and SoundCloud comments, following appearances on podcasts and streaming videos.
Before the internet, it was easier to separate the art from the artist, simply because we knew so much less about them, unless they committed a crime or otherwise made headlines.
Publishers, publicists, and agents could create a wall around an artist and their personal lives, so they could focus on their art instead of managing their fans. Personal interaction was limited to autograph signings or fan club letters.
The internet opened up the floodgates for a massive new class of independent artist to make a living, with some tradeoffs. Many new artists could sustain themselves directly from fans without traditional gatekeepers like a record label or movie studio, but it required engaging with them, building relationships over time.
Being more approachable and more available also makes independent artists more vulnerable—to harassment and abuse, to complaints from entitled fans, or simply the weight of expectations from those who love their work the most.
Or, in the case of Nick Bertke, the consequences of expressing your unpopular opinions to a large group of people who don’t share them.
To his credit, Bertke seems very aware of how his views are received and its implications on his career as Pogo.
In a followup appearance with Tommy Sotomayor in February, Bertke talked about the backlash to his initial posts in 2015.
“I’ve got no patience for political correctness, no patience at all. I’ve mouthed off on Twitter before, I’ve mouthed off on Facebook before, way back when. And then I kind of realized, this was paying my bills, I’m getting a lot of work here. I guess I have to clean up my shit and I have to be careful of what I say. Because, who knows, I might say that the Ghostbusters movie sucked, with the all-female Ghostbusters movie, and then the next thing I know, I’m moving back in with my parents.”
He went on with a story about how it impacted his client work:
“I’m at a point where I don’t speak out about my political views anymore… I’ve used Twitter for voicing my political views in the past, and most of the time, it hasn’t worked out. Most of the time, the reaction has been very, very negative.
I was lining up a job with a university here, a massive job. I would’ve done five or six videos for them. When they found out I was anti-feminism—anti-modern third/fourth-wave feminism—they gave me a call and said the deal’s off. We can’t have you.”
Those two appearances on Sotomayor’s show led to an invite to appear on Louder with Crowder three weeks later, a talk show hosted by Steven Crowder, a conservative standup comedian and former Fox News commentator.
Again, Bertke talks about why he tries to keep his personal opinions out of his work and the financial implications, commenting on the Trump remix he released before the election.
“I tried to keep the Trumpular piece as neutral as I could, because I didn’t know if he was going to win or not, and I really didn’t want to lose any followers. Pogo does pay my bills. I want to be careful.
“I have to kind of walk a tightrope. One of the things I have found recently is that there’s a line between your art and your self, as a person. If you go on to my SoundCloud and like my stuff, retweet or post or comment on it, it’s got nothing to do with me really.”
“I’m actually very different from my music. If you listen to Alice and Wishery, you think of someone who’s light and fluffy and bubbly and optimistic. I’m actually kind of the opposite, in a lot of ways. At least, I have been since my balls dropped.”
If you’re a right-wing conservative who believes political correctness is killing social discourse, then this may seem like a tragedy to you. The words you say and the beliefs you have can have an impact on your career. But that’s not censorship, political correctness, and it’s not a violation of the right to free speech.
It’s just the inevitable reaction to an audience hearing someone whose work they admire say things they find personally repulsive.
Nick Bertke seems to understand this himself. In October, he released Data & Picard, a loving remix of Star Trek: The Next Generation. He told this anecdote to Tommy Sotomayor:
“I love Brent Spiner, he played Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation. I put up my Data and Picard video a few months ago, where I played him and got all the makeup he used in the series and did my best to look and act like him. And then, that week, he’s putting up tweets about how stupid Trump is and how wrong he is. And then, I was like, well, I kind of liked you for a while there, Brent. *sighs*
I still love Brent Spiner as an actor. And it’s interesting, because a lot of the time, I get tweets like, ‘Wow, never meet your heroes. Nick’s a total misogynist, Nick’s a total racist and fascist. He says this about Trump and Hillary Clinton. Never meet your heroes, guys.’
And, look, I guess that hurts, to some extent. But I can understand it, as well.”
I probably feel similarly about Pogo as he now does about Brent Spiner.
For me, the luster is gone. It’s hard to truly enjoy art made by someone you can’t respect.
There’s an Achewood comic that I love where Ray, one of the strip’s deeply flawed but endearing animal protagonists, frustrated with browsing eBay, types “WHAT’S THE BEST THING YOU GOT” into the search bar. This unlocks a special store called “eBay Platinum Reserve,” where Ray can buy items like “The Biggest Laser,” a real Airwolf helicopter, and Keith Moon’s head in a jar. Ray immediately buys Moon’s head and Airwolf, and the laser… well, eleven years later, like Chekhov’s proverbial pistol, it’s never been fired.
Sometimes I wish the internet worked like eBay Platinum Reserve, turning up the best stuff without us having to look for it. But for all that search engines, social media, and even artificial intelligence have given us over all these years, the closest thing we have to Platinum Reserve are still blogs like Kottke.org. Somebody still has to go out, concierge-style, to find the best stuff on the web and serve it up.
More than ever, what the web serves up on its own is the very worst things that have just happened. It’s an active shooter livestreaming a snuff film on Facebook — or something not as bad, but not much better.
And hey, focusing on very recent, very bad news makes a lot of sense. If there are awful things happening right now, I want to know about them. If some overpaid someone wrote something stupid and everyone I know is slamming it on Twitter, I want to get in on it. We’re only human.
But sometimes, I wonder, with all the abundance and ephemerality of the web, whether we indulge the opposite impulse enough. I don’t mean sharing more new things that are funny, or heartwarming, or relatable. I mean going out and finding or rediscovering the things that are The Very Best We Have to Offer, gathering them together, and saving them, forever.
This week, I am proposing an experiment. I am asking you — all of you: readers of Kottke.org, my friends, my colleagues, my strangers, my citizens of the World Wide Web, people who have known the grandeur of the best webcomics, the best YouTube videos, the best memes, the best stories and articles and entire blogs and games and nonsense with which we entertain and edify ourselves every day — I am asking you:
WHAT’S THE BEST THING YOU GOT
We’re going to find the best things in the history of the internet, and gather them here, together, forever. And never to part. Find me on Twitter at @kottke or at @tcarmody and tell me what you want to show your children and grandchildren; what you want to show the aliens when they arrive; what you showed your partner when you couldn’t believe they’d never seen it. Tell me what made your jaw drop open in awe like Ray’s when he saw Airwolf.
Imagine we’re making the world’s greatest time capsule, or the world’s greatest mixtape, of everything on the web. Tell me what’s worth saving. And then we will save them all. Here. Together.
From Rosthwaite the path up to Castle Crag, at least the way I went, gained elevation quickly. I was ready to rest for a while at the top.
The reward for the climb included this view of Upper Borrowdale and Rosthwaite. Ullscarf, Eagle Crag, High Raise and Rosthwaite Fell form the skyline.
It is a gem of a walk. I'm looking forward to returning