NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day feed is a treasure trove of amazing photos.
Today I was in the backyard playing tag with our freshly minted 5 year old. He likes when I zig-zag around while he tries to catch me, something he indicated he couldn’t do himself thusly:
“I can only do the zig, not the zag.”
It’s a great line, but it also make me think of another similar iconic quote:
Nick Wolterstorff on the purpose of art (via Alan Jacobs):
What then is art for? What purpose underlies this human universal?
One of my fundamental theses is that this question, so often posed, must be rejected rather than answered. The question assumes that there is such a thing as the purpose of art. That assumption is false. There is no purpose which art serves, nor any which it is intended to serve. Art plays and is meant to play an enormous diversity of roles in human life. Works of art are instruments by which we perform such diverse actions as praising our great men and expressing our grief, evoking emotion and communicating knowledge. Works of art are objects of such actions as contemplation for the sake of delight. Works of art are accompaniments for such actions as hoeing cotton and rocking infants. Works of art are background for such actions as eating meals and walking through airports.
Works of art equip us for action. And the range of actions for which they equip us is very nearly as broad as the range of human action itself. The purposes of art are the purposes of life.
The 4 year old and I were drawing shapes on our whiteboard, and he told me to draw a beehive. I guess it wasn’t up to his standards because he said “this is not art” and drew a red circle and slash over it:
I agree it wasn’t my best work but still… harsh.
A spinoff of an ongoing series
Raffi. His greatest hits have been on heavy rotation as it seems to be the only music that calms down our 8 month old when he’s upset, which is often.
Hamster maze videos on YouTube. The 4 year old is delighted by these. Random but could be a lot worse.
Who Smarted? A fun and educational podcast for kids about all kinds of topics.
Toniebox. As audio players for kids go, we’ve hitherto been a hardcore Yoto family. But several characters the 4 year old loves are only available as Tonies (Wild Kratts among them), so he got several for Christmas. It’s nice to have more variety for listening, even if the overall experience is less ideal than Yoto.
Mr. Men and Little Miss. The 4 year old has been on a kick with this book series. We own an old copy of Little Miss Scatterbrain but we got more of them from the library and he just loves them. He especially loves looking at the grid of characters on the back covers and asking us what each of their names are.
I read 15 books in 2023, which is the lowest number since I started keeping track in 2010. A few factors contributed to this, including having a second baby in May and opting more often to watch movies in my free time.
So it goes. I’ll get back on the reading train in 2024. Until then, here are the books I did manage to read and enjoy last year.
- Blankets by Craig Thompson
- The Art and Science of Arrival by Tanya Lapointe
- Opposable Thumbs: How Siskel & Ebert Changed Movies by Matt Singer
- MCU: The Reign of Marvel Studios by Joanna Robinson, Dave Gonzales, Gavin Edwards (including an interview with the authors)
- The Wager: A Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny and Murder by David Grann
- The President Is A Sick Man by Matthew Algeo
- The Church of Baseball: The Making of Bull Durham by Ron Shelton (including an interview with Shelton)
- Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands by Kate Beaton
- Oscar Wars: A History of Hollywood in Gold, Sweat, and Tears by Michael Schulman (including an interview with Michael)
- Priestdaddy: A Memoir by Patricia Lockwood
You might have heard of sisu, the Finnish concept of grittiness and perseverance in the midst of struggle. I was pleased to learn of its own etymological history:
The history of the concept may help us understand its continuing resonance in Finnish culture today. The word originates from ‘sisus’, which literally means ‘guts’ or ‘the intestines’ in Finnish. In 1745, Daniel Juslenius, a Finnish bishop, defined ‘sisucunda’ in his dictionary as the location in the human body where strong emotions come from.
“With Lutheran philosophy this word came to denote more of a bad quality, that you are somebody really bad at taking orders, a misfit,” says Lahti. But the idea of sisu came to be embraced by Finnish intellectuals as a particularly Finnish quality during the period the new nation was built. Finland became independent from Russia in 1917, and sisu can be seen as a ‘social glue’ that helped define the nation.
Sisu certainly came in handy for the Finns during the Winter War. And you gotta love when people just make up their own words (in their own dictionary!) that then inspire more words of their own.
Giles Turnbull on the future of the indie web beyond WordPress:
If we want the future web we’re all clamouring for, we need to give people more options for self-hosted independence. If we seriously, truly want the independent, non-enshittified personal web to flourish, we need to make it easier for people to join in.
Terminal commands are easy for you, but they’re a huge hurdle for most people to overcome. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen a link to a static website generator, which claims to be simple, and then the instructions start with something like:
It’s easy! Just gem install blah
then blah setup mywebsite
then cd mywebsite
then use nano or your favourite editor to write Markdown files! So easy!
This is not easy.
Heartily agree with this. I’m a longtime blogger with a self-hosted website using a WordPress installation, and I’m generally satisfied with that configuration because I’m tech savvy enough to be able to manage and tinker with it to my liking.
That said, I’d be very open to a static website generator along the lines of what Giles is describing if they weren’t so technically cumbersome compared to WordPress—not to mention lacking a user-friendly mobile app.
So bring on those easy indie publishers!
Sometimes when we’re driving, our 4 year old will provide turn-by-turn directions in a robotic voice as they do in Bluey as the “sat nav” (i.e. GPS). Which is always funny because he doesn’t understand directions. But it was especially funny the last time he did it because his directions were not only wrong but hilariously indifferent.
Go in a straight line, he droned, then go whichever way you want. It’s up to you, whatever makes sense.
It went on like this for a bit. My wife and I were trying not to laugh, but it felt like an SNL skit waiting to happen.
Tiles and toes:
Always the bright spot on rainy walks:
The puddle jumper approaches:
Sunday morning clips and coffee:
The backyard bubbles are back:
Some dramatic lighting at a local library:
See previous year in review posts.
My view from the end of all things 2023:
Here’s what this year looked like for me:
- The overwhelming and overarching fact of my life this year was welcoming a second child in May. We’ve been living in the wake of that event ever since, for better (cuteness, brother silliness) or worse (his reflux and terrible sleep).
- On the professional front:
- In January my job got reduced to half time with a day’s notice, so…
- I had to pick up a second, full-time job to stay afloat. Worked not-great hours between both jobs for about two months, until…
- My original job went back to full time. However…
- After that experience I started looking hard for different job, and…
- Finally got one, which I started in June and am very happy at.
- Enjoyed hangout times with friends and family
- Saw a shooting star at one of said hangout times
- Saw the Okee Dokee Brothers at Ravinia, and were first in line to get a vinyl signed and picture with the Bros
- Lots of fun stuff with the 4 year old, including:
- Raised butterflies
- Played Super Mario
- Pondered bathtime
- Spotted bugs
- Fostered curiosity
- Took him mini golfing for the first time
- Many visits to the children’s museum and local pools
- Went to a carnival and did a spinny ride for the first time
- Took him to his first minor league baseball game and on the way out one of the parking attendants gave him a foul ball that had been hit out of the stadium
- Lots of fun stuff with Cinema Sugar:
- Went to Groundhog Days in Woodstock, IL, for all things Groundhog Day
- Shared my Back to the Future memorabilia
- Wrote about when I started to love musicals
- Pondered why I love movies so much
- Interviewed composer James Newton Howard and The Family Stone writer/director Thomas Bezucha, among others
- Was a guest on a podcast for the first time
- Celebrated 17 years blogging, which included:
- Did Halloween trick-or-treating in the snow with a fussy infant in tow but still managed to have a good time
- Got an electronic adjustable desk for my home office so I can work standing up or sitting down
- Read 15 books and watched 102 new movies
- Watched some good TV (Quarterback and Emergency NYC on Netflix) and great TV (The Bear)
- Added more quality discs to my collection, including the Back to the Future trilogy on Blu-ray, a Babylon SteelBook, and Criterion Blu-rays of Malcolm X, Summer Hours, Inside Llewyn Davis, and Sound of Metal
Well, not exactly, but Christopher Nolan’s recent appearance on the Scriptnotes podcast was excellent and inspired me to check out Greta Gerwig’s 2020 appearance (transcript, podcast) for Little Women too. Both have really thoughtful things to say about the craft of writing and how it relates to moviemaking.
Here’s Gerwig on the ache of absence in Little Women:
I realized that once they’re all in their separate lives—like once Amy is in Europe, once Meg is married, once Beth is living at home but sick, and Jo is in New York trying to sell stories—they are never all together again. The thing that we think of as Little Women has already passed. And I think that ache and that absence of the togetherness and that absence of the sisterhood as being the way that we contextualize these cozy scenes brought out something in me that felt was inherent in the text.
And then beyond that this relationship of Louisa to the text and me to the text, I think that what artists do is you write it down because you can’t save anyone’s life. I think that’s part of what the impulse is. I can’t save your life, but I can write it down. And I can’t get that moment back, but I can write it down.
This idea is reflected in the exchange near the end of the movie:
JO: Who will be interested in a story of domestic struggles and joys? It doesn’t have any real importance.
AMY: Maybe we don’t see those things as important because people don’t write about them.
JO: No, writing doesn’t confer importance, it reflects it.
AMY: Perhaps writing will make them more important.
I’m winnowing down my typewriter collection a bit in a bid to maximize our minimal storage space and send my lesser used models off to greener typing pastures.
One of those deaccessioned machines is this 1962 Kmart Brother 100, whom my wife affectionately nicknamed Leonard:
This was one of the early acquisitions in my initial collecting frenzy inspired by reading The Typewriter Revolution in December 2015. I got it from an antique shop for $20 and sold it for a pretty profit.
The buyer said his twin 7 year olds had asked for a typewriter for Christmas, which warmed my heart because it’s the perfect starter machine for budding typists and is going to what sounds like a loving home. It’s in mint condition and types like a charm, so it’ll be ready for whatever those kids have coming its way.
Farewell, Leonard. May your typings be as tight and bright as your compact yellow form!
Along with moving my photo documentary project, I’ve been doing some more pruning and weeding and landscaping work ‘round this here digital garden of mine:
- Picked a new theme for a visual refresh—another one from Anders Noren’s excellent collection of free WordPress themes
- Revamped the archive page to allow for easier browsing of the most common tags and themes I’ve written about since 2006, along with some fun miscellaneous series and projects of yore
- Added a link on that page for jumping to a random post, just for fun (try it)
- Converted the ~20 post categories into tags to simplify things for me on the backend and better organize posts
- Cleaned up the list of tags, some of which were either redundant or unused after 17 years of blogging (there’s still 1,719 of them, with books in the lead at 252 posts)
- Updated some posts that were missing relevant tags
It’s been very satisfying to make all these changes, if only for my pedantic urge for a clean and consistent website experience—for me and its visitors.
Back in early 2011 I produced a photo documentary of the student-directed stage musical production of The Wedding Singer at North Central College, where I’d graduated the year before.
I set up shop on Tumblr and documented the behind-the-scenes process over the 10-week period. It was fun to watch the show come together from the first rehearsal to the final bow, and I ended up with a nice audiovisual project for my portfolio.
But when I saw the news that Tumblr was being left out to pasture, I wanted to find a new home for this project. Eventually I realized: where better than my own turf? So I created a fresh WordPress subdomain on this site, transferred the posts and photos from Tumblr, cleaned them up a bit, and voilà:
It was fun to relive this journey as I set up this new digital home. I’m really proud of the shots I was able to get and the journalistic storytelling as a whole, which included cast/crew interviews alongside the day-to-day dispatches.
Read it for yourself. I set up the posts chronologically, so you can start at the homepage and go from there.
It’s been over two years since my last podcast lineup check-in, and as usual some things have changed while some things remain.
Changes: Many of the shows in my last update have either stopped publishing or lost my interest, and I’ve stepped away from the political ones. I’m also thrilled I was finally able to ditch Spotify once Armchair Expert went back to being non-exclusive, so I’m back in Apple Podcasts full time (along with Google Podcasts when listening on desktop).
The Same: I still listen at 1.5x speed. And I still greatly enjoy the parasocial pleasures and intellectual stimulation of podcast listening, even if it does severely reduce my audiobook reading.
My Current Lineup
- Armchair Expert
- The Big Picture
- Judge John Hodgman
- Office Ladies
- Conan O’Brien Needs A Friend
- The Town with Matthew Belloni
Depends on the Subject/Guest
- The Rewatchables
- Pod Meets World
- The Letterboxd Show
Robin Rendle preaching the truth:
Here’s one way to improve the thing you’re writing: cut the intro.
Writing about the symbiosis between trees and mushrooms? Don’t start talking about how humanity has depended on trees since the blah blah blah. Just jump right in! Talking about new features in your app? Don’t start with the fluffy stuff about how excited you are to announce yada yada ya – just tell me what improved.
Boom! The text is lighter, faster, less wasteful.
I get why folks feel the need to add a fluffy intro though. There’s real pressure to make a big deal out of whatever it is and turn everything we write into a thundering manifesto because we have to set up all this context and history, right? Well – no! We absolutely do not and often when we do our writing will mostly suffer for it.
Couldn’t agree more. And no disclaimers!