A savoury media diet for a cold and somewhat dreary Winter (2018)
One of my favourite reads is Kottke.org, a blog by Jason Kottke. Calling it a blog is a bit of a slight: it’s more of a magazine, like a proto-New Yorker. It’s thoughtful and relevant, weaving current events, artsy things, various interesting edges of tech, and topics about general humanity.
Kottke has been killing it since ’98, about as long as WarpedVisions has been around (though Kottke is better in every way). One of his regular columns is his Media Diet, a post I look forward to reading whenever it appears. There is something great about seeing someone else’s obsessions and indulgences: there’s a bunch to learn and inspiration to be had. So I’m in, here is the best of my media diet from this dank Vancouver Winter.
Books and other things in print. I don’t read as many real books and magazines as I used to. Much of the good stuff has moved online, though there is a bit of a void for great fiction and ridiculously deep reference on the web. When I do sit down with a great book, it’s an event, with headphones, a glass of wine, and is one of those things that makes the muse happy.
I spent a weekend re-reading The Short Stories of Ray Bradbury, while buried in my back catalog of Zeppelin, Queen, and other 70s greats. I read most of these stories as a child, as there were so many Bradbury collections at the time. His writing evokes memories of the early days of home computing and popular science, even though they were mostly written a generation before my childhood. The book is a meaty 1100+ pages and beautifully bound. While my original hardcover is pretty worn, it’s one of the coolest things in my collection.
I bought myself The Flavour Bible over the Winter break. This book was perfect for where I’m at in the kitchen: it fits somewhere between an encyclopedia and thesaurus for how food pairs, relates, and what it all means to various cuisines and cultures. It’s exhaustive and somewhat exhausting to read, but one of the most important references I’ve seen for food, ever. It’s also full of tidbits and quotes from chefs from around the world, including Vancouver’s own Vikram Vij.
Lucky Peach ceased publication with their Fall double issue. The magazine was a collaborative effort between chefs David Chang and Peter Meehan (initially published by the great McSweeney’s, later going solo). It was a sort of Wired Magazine for food: weird, wondrous, and fantastically laid out. I re-read my last few years of the magazine on a snowy Saturday with some mixed beverages.
Essays and long reads. Most of my media diet these days can be found online. Until recently, I wasn’t sure what I thought about the shift. I’ve made peace with it, even though publishing and typography in the browser are still in their early evolutions. The writing is there, and the rest is improving steadily.
The Wire, 10 years on plays on the nostalgia for one of the best shows in history. It succeeds, too, as I want to re-watch The Wire again.
The Lottery Hackers is one of those Huffington Post essays that gives me hope for long form writing on the web. It covers the incredible story of Jerry and Marge and their epic lotto hack, in a way that feels like the writing in Wired Magazine from the 90s. It’s worth the time to read, and (I hope) is a sign of how great magazines can exist on the web.
Does Recovery Kill Great Writing? is a story of addiction and creativity. I have a soft spot for stories about addicts and their struggle, and the question of how it affects the creative process is crucial to helping people out from under their monsters. The NYT is another example of how great writing and publishing can exist on the web. There is hope.
Speaking of Wired Magazine from the 90s … The Curse of Xanadu is one of the great essays of their print magazine. It follows the story of Ted Nelson (who is also interviewed in Lo and Behold below), a pioneer in computing as well as a sort of philosopher of tech. The essay follows the frustrating path of his vision for better ways to structure information, and how even a brilliant vision isn’t enough to ship working software. And to think that it’s another 20 years later should be enough to break any software developer’s heart (if they have one).
One of the things the web brings us that didn’t exist much in print is the whole teardown phenomena. Ken Rockwell (the somewhat cantankerous photography pundit) does a thorough analysis of the new Apple Lightning Adapter Audio Quality. I can’t vouch for the accuracy here, but the analysis made me smile, as I love to see people dive into the details and talk about it.
For a more complete list of (most of) the essays I read, you can follow my Instapaper feed.
Streaming movies and series. I don’t see many new movies these days, or at least when I do it’s from the comfort of my living room. It’s not that I don’t like the theatre, rather I think that a great movie deserves to be savoured and repeated (and why pay for it more than once?). Streaming is an amazing shift in consumption, as great media can be binged and repeated as often as desired. This is mostly good, I think.
Blade Runner 2049 was a beautiful film. It stitched together dreamy visuals with a relaxed story that was interesting enough. I’ve only seen it once, so I won’t rate the story further, except to say that I think it’s worth a watch for the visuals alone.
Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver was a clockwork movie, pushing the art of heist movies to a new level. I have to admit the music wasn’t quite my jam, but the movie is so well constructed that it didn’t really matter. I saw it twice, hoping I’d enjoy the story a bit more, but in the end the details, the beats, and the timing are enough to make this well worth watching.
Burnt is a slightly slower paced Chef, telling the story of an obsessive chef’s quest for his third Michelin star. The movie is much better than its ratings, though it lacks some of the quirk and redemption of Favreau’s Chef. The photography is superb, showing the exacting beauty that is possible in a well run kitchen. There’s inspiration to be found in Burnt, so I strongly recommend it for a quiet Sunday afternoon.
Shameless is a dark comedy based on Paul Abbott’s Shameless (originally on Channel 4). Shameless (US) is directed by John Wells, famous for his work on ER, The West Wing, Trinity, and more recently Burnt (see above). I found Shameless the best dark drama comedy since Californication and Weeds. Shut up and watch it already.
Queer Eye is a surprisingly adorable “reality” show. It will make you smile and is best watched with a glass of wine and your SO. You’ll learn something, you’ll smile, and you may even
no-I’m-not-crying-shut-up-there’s-something-in-my-eye enjoy it.
The best thing I’ve seen in years appeared on Netflix last month: Ugly Delicious. It’s David Chang’s new docu-series, a sort of Lucky Peach meets Mind of a Chef. It is the perfect way to get excited about food, travel, and film. And while I’ve seen a few critical reviews complaining about the underlying agenda of the series (that Asian food is awesome), I felt it was more about Chang’s journey of realizing that truth for himself. The series has inspired me more than Lucky Peach, to both eat and cook more, as well as to travel and look at film as an important path to inspiration.
Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World (Netflix). Werner Herzog tells a story in a series of interviews with technology and philosophy greats of the 20th century, covering topics around the impact of the huge leaps of the last several decades: things like the internet (and ridiculous IoT), AI, robotics, and where they intersect with humanity. It’s an important exploration intended to make us pause and to think a bit more about what and why we’re creating these things.
It’s interesting to me that WarpedVisions started as a very raw link log in the 90s, and that it’s really part of what it should have been all along. Sometimes it takes those persistent and successful peers to remind us of that.