Navy Bean, the sentinel of Barton Springs
With a few weeks of distance from the catastrophe that was the Texas snowpocalypse, I can actually enjoy the images that came out of being the third person to set foot in Zilker park on the first morning of the snow.
Welcome back to your almost-every-Tuesday-barring-natural-disaster meander about the internet, Bird Mail. I don’t promise to have the answer to life, the universe, and everything but I do have a story about the snow, some photographs, and something to read and ponder.
I hope you didn’t miss Bird Mail too much last week. Like every other Texan except Ted Cruz, I was dealing with the sustained effects of the cold weather that gave us that beautiful view of downtown from Zilker Park. There are far better places to learn about what happened, so I won’t spend any more time other than to say that Bird, Navy Bean, and our families are all safe. Some are a bit worse for wear, but everyone made it through.
It is unusual for it to snow in Austin. It is even more unusual for it to snow twice in the span of thirty-something days. For once the forecasts are right and the snow is coming and someone in this household is kid-on-Chrismas-morning-excited for it. At 0200 I wake up to Bird sitting at the window marveling at the flurries. At 0630 I am rather rudely woken up by an alarm on my holiday Monday off.
“I’m too excited I’m already dressed I’m going outside!”
I’m trying to get the words out to say, “let me put my warm clothes on, I’ll be right behind you,” but before I finish my sentence, the door slams and she’s off.
I quickly throw on my warmest clothes, dig around for my gloves, grab my Leica and run out the door. At this point I am minutes behind and am so intent on catching up I miss the initial wonder of the fresh snow and the quiet of everything.
Crunching quickly toward Zilker Park, I pause to see the steam rising where the Barton Springs water—a normally bone-chilling 68ª year-round—meets Lady Bird Lake. click With gloves on and a still-new-to-me-camera, I completely miss focus on my first shot. I line up the rangerfinder correctly this time. click
There are only a few sets of footprints headed toward the park and in the distance I see a small person calf-deep in the snow. It is at this point I realize Bird and I are two of the first people in the park today. There is beautiful sculpted, unbroken snow all around, and the kind of quiet you only get when there’s a layer of snow a few inches thick soaking up all the sound.
We trudge toward the big rock in the center of the park. Normally, it is a reliable meeting place during the Austin City Limits Music Festival, and a welcome source of shade. Today, it is hard to tell where the elevation of the rock is among all the white. click
We get to the top of the rock, and turn around just as the sun crests the edges of the buildings on the East end of downtown. The blue shadows are immediately hit with the warm orange light and I throw the lens focus to infinity. The wide route we took to the rock pays off. Not a single footprint in the frame. click
My gloves are thin and my fingertips are numb, but I keep pausing to admire how the the little crests and troughs that I never notice in the land when I walk on it on a sunny Sunday have been replaced with ripples of white, sculpted into dunes by the wind. click
I like to think that in some ways, I curate my own, tiny corner of the internet, but not in the same, overused way that a gift guide is curated to give you the “seven perfect things you didn’t know you needed to give someone that will end up being donated to Goodwill within seven months.” My corner is mostly contained by the bounds of this newsletter, and what other writings you might find on my website, and I am thoughtful about what goes there.
I spent part of last week finishing a wonderful paper-copy—the power was out and I needed to conserve battery—book about the art world. I promise it is, and is not, as pretentious as it sounds. Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Curating*: *but Were Afraid to Ask is a series of interview snippets with the curator, and historian of curation, Hans Ulrich Obrist. There is much to be learned from this master of curation and interviewing—he runs twenty-four hour long interview marathons with artists, scientists, architects, futurists, and the like—but perhaps my favorite bit of wisdom is that curation, and art itself, is a daily protest against forgetting.
That is exactly what these photographs, and this story, and this newsletter is about. Bird Mail is a collection of words and images, all digital internet ephemera that could easily be lost in the mix, that might be worth remembering. Not everything in Bird Mail will be memorable to you, dear reader, but I sure hope a link here or there is. At this point, my thinking on the Bird Mail’s place in that protest against forgetting, and a few of Obrist’s other ideas are still developing. More on that to come.
I don’t track analytics on Bird Mail. I believe your privacy is more important than my knowing when you open Bird Mail and what links you click. I measure the success of this newsletter by your replies, or when you share Bird Mail with a friend in hopes they might find something worth remembering. I would love for you to share a little piece of internet ephemera that you cannot forget. I will add them to my ever-growing list of ideas and you just might see it in Bird Mail one day soon.
This was a long one (<— that was the one-thousandth word in this issue) but thank you if you made it this far. I promise they won’t all be like this. I think. Who knows really? This one was fun to write in a different way than previous issues.
If, for whatever reason you made it this far and you don’t want to hear another word from me, you may exit this way.
Until the next Tuesday,
If you enjoyed this issue and aren’t already getting Bird Mail every other Tuesday, you can join the small, but growing, group of birders here to get more—but not too many—emails about design, bicycles, art, technology, and anything else on the internet I find worth adding to my collection. If you want to share Bird Mail with someone you know, simply forward this email to them.
Bird Mail 040
I have been thinking a lot about this excellent article…thing by Robin Rendle about the unusual position writers on the internet are in when trying to share their work, and how newsletters fit into that space. Robin mentions the fact that newsletters, unlike blogs, let readers know that there is something new to be read. I feel so fortunate that you have given me this small space in your inbox each Tuesday.
Question for you readers: if there were to be a blog component, something updated more frequently, but that wouldn’t tell you that there was new writing for you, would you seek that out to read it?
Oh, hi. I’m Bruce and this is Bird Mail, a collection of delightful links from around the internet delivered to you sometime on Tuesday, just in case you were wondering why this email landed this week.
I’m not sure if any of you have ever wondered how I make Bird Mail each week, but as you might have expected, it is inspired and populated by many things that I find from other newsletters. I love newsletters. My favorites are those that give me a peek into the thoughts and interests of someone far different from me, but with some overlap to my own thoughts or interests, no matter how small that overlap.
This fortieth(!) issue, I wanted to do something a bit different. Inspired by this issue of Snakes and Ladders by the writer Alan Jacobs, I too have made “a newsletter of newsletters.”
Snakes and Ladders is a great place to start actually. Like so many of the newsletters that land in my inbox, I can no longer remember where I found it, and on the surface it does not immediately seem like a newsletter that I would be interested in. Jacobs often writes about religion and prayer, two subjects I know virtually nothing about, but his writing about the history of books and reading and all the other various topics keeps me reading each week.
Another roughly weekly, but more like whenever-he-has-something-to-share newsletter that I have loved of late, is photographer Noah Kalina’s newsletter (you might remember that name from a few issues back when I highlighted his wonderful book of chicken portraits Tiny Flock). Noah takes a creative approach to ranking car washes or bagels, or new points of view. With no exact schedule, his newsletter is always a surprise I enjoy reading.
Newsletters that arrive out of the blue are some of my favorites. They are a reminder that someone neat is still making and sharing something, and today, this moment, they have something to share with you. One of the missives I most look forward to reading each time I see it in my inbox is Edith Zimmerman’s Drawing Links. With her loose sketching style Zimmerman chronicles her journeys into running, sobriety, nature, and so many other topics. She’s a writer with fantastic voice, yet her drawings capture something different: a glance, the shape of a flower, the colors of the sky.
Some of my other newsletters are more structured in both their content and/or their delivery schedule.
The Prepared is a beautifully structured newsletter with content that is so far from any of the activities of my daily life, and yet, I always find at least three interesting links to click in it. The authors rotate for the issues, but the content is always ostensibly about the machinations of manufacturing. “Manufacturing what?” you might ask me. To that I would say, “well, anything.” If this sounds remotely interesting I recommend poking around their archives as you will likely find something that intrigues you.
Bird is often surprised and will ask me how I know about some weird meme or pop culture reference, given we watch the same quarantine steaming material and spend the workdays on the opposite ends of a too-small dining table pecking away at our keyboards. I’m going to reveal a key source here. The Public Announcement newsletter, a condensed version of their early-web-styled-website linked above, is one of the main reasons I am able to keep up with what is going on in the “cool” parts of the internet. A Monday through Friday newsletter that is made up mostly of politics, pop culture, and other plights of millennials on the internet is broken up by “Wednesday Stills” which are a lightly curated set of images from a different person each week. I spend time each week roaming about the internet looking for links and things that interest me, and yet, I cannot begin to imagine where the weekly curator finds the strange and wonderful combinations of images that make up “Wednesday Stills”.
Okay, we’ve covered writing, photographs, drawings, pop culture :checking things off list here: ah, yes, music! I have always been one to work, or even read, with a soundtrack. I still remember putting CDs or even individual songs on repeat while in the back seat of our Honda Odyssey to drown out the road noise (and the geology lectures, sorry Dad) so I could plow through whatever book I was reading—likely something by Rowling, Cussler, or Clancy. Now, as I sit down to work, I pop my IEMs in and often fire up something ambient and free of lyrics. The Flow State newsletter has kept me from wearing out Brian Eno’s Music for Airports and the Monument Valley soundtrack. Each weekday they deliver roughly two hours of ambient listening by a new artist I have never heard of. Lately I have been enjoying Grandbrothers and Domenique Dumont. I recommend subscribing, but also going back through the archives because there is so much wonderful music to be found for working, cooking dinner, or just lounging about on a Sunday morning.
I hope there is a newsletter here that strikes your fancy, but if not, please let me know. I subscribe to a likely-ridiculous number of newsletters and probably have something I can pass along that will interest you.
If you, dear friend, have a newsletter you enjoy and would like to pass on to the Bird Mail Club, send it my way. I would love to have a section at the bottom of the next issue dedicated to all the reader submissions.
Until next time, I hope you find some joy in your inbox, and spread that out into the real world.
If you enjoyed this issue and aren’t already getting Bird Mail every-ish Tuesday, you can join the small, but growing, group of birders here to get more—but not too many—emails about design, bicycles, art, technology, and anything else on the internet I find worth adding to my collection. If you want to share Bird Mail with someone you know, simply forward this email to them.
Welcome back to Bird Mail, your Tuesday newsletter of links from around the internet that keeps changing forms because I am currently having fun trying to figure out what this space is supposed to be.
This week, it’s short list: 4 things to watch, and a place for collecting the other things to watch. Next week, expect something totally different.
If for some reason, Bird Mail isn’t your jam anymore, no worries, you can leave the nest at any time.
I hope you enjoyed this week’s Bird Mail. Let me know if there’s one form or another you prefer, or if you’ve found anything in your own little corner of the internet you’d like to share. I look forward to hearing from you.
If you want to share Bird Mail with someone you know, simply forward this email to them.
If you aren’t already getting Bird Mail every other Tuesday, you can join the small, but growing, club here to get more—but not too many—emails about design, bicycles, art, technology, and anything else on the internet I find worth adding to my collection.
January is almost done. This year is already moving at a rapid clip and though we are far from out of the woods yet, the days feel…lighter. Not just in that there is more of that precious daylight at the end of each day, but the tenor of the days is lighter too.
I think they might have something to do with the marquee at the top of this image. Bird Mail is not the place to find politics, there are plenty of other places on the internet for that. But, I simply cannot ignore the momentous step that took place in American politics last Wednesday as a woman was finally, finally sworn in as Vice President of the United States of America. It’s about damn time. There is still more work to do, but this feels like progress.
Or maybe that lightness had something to do with the awe I felt as I watched Amanda Gorman take the podium in her brilliant yellow coat and proceed to prove that she was the best speaker on that stage. If you have not watched, ’The Hill We Climb’ do that now, and if you’ve already seen it, might as well go watch it again.
Longtime readers will know that I love displays of people at the absolute height of their craft—if that isn’t obvious from the above links dig through the Bird Mail archives. The Girls of Guanabara is an amazing film about longboarders in Brazil that has far too few views for the quality of riding. I am thrilled to see amazing women being documented in places that have been so overly filled with (predominantly white) male faces: the pages of GQ, the world of high end watches, and in the new documentary Sisters with Transistors which I cannot wait to watch.
Last but not least this week, an up close look at an incredible woman. Make sure you open this on your computer and don’t forget to click 3D—this will make sense when you see it.
Until next week, stay safe out there y’all.
If you’re new, or if you’ve simply forgotten why Bird Mail has alighted in your inbox today, it is because you once said, “yes I do want a bit of surprise and delight from about the internet in my inbox on most-but-not-every-Tuesday.” If you’ve been forwarded this, you have a wonderful friend who wants to share with you. It would be lovely, if you, dear reader, could send this to one person who might like to join the club of Bird Mail readers.
Opened the new year on a ranch out in Wimberley, Texas. Wandered around with a ruck, my Leica, my partner Cayla, and our small dog. The skies were big, the nights cold and quiet, and the farm store well-stocked. With the new year always comes reflecting.
The files out of the Leica M240 are just amazing. I didn’t realize how much I’d missed shooting a full frame camera.
Lost Maples, TX on a new-to-me Leica M240. At first I wasn’t happy with the random walkers in this photo, but I came to enjoy the balance of her red jacket among the trees in the distance.
If you are finding that all the weights and exercise equipment is still sold out, but you want to get your workout in, while improving your winter wood-cutting form, might I recommend Chopfit. Yes, this is real. And yes, you, too, could spend $140 on a FOUR POUND fake axe to swing in the comfort of your home. At $35 per-pound, this may be one of the most ridiculous pieces of “exercise” equipment you could purchase.
I will watch the video—at least twice—any time Danny Macaskill goes back home to Scotland. In his newest video he takes an e-bike to uninhabited Inchkeith Island for some electrified trials riding. Macaskill is used to doing these tricks on bikes that weigh 20 - 30 pounds, so to watch him throw 50(!) pounds of bike around with the same apparent level of ease is truly impressive.
Quarantine is the first time in probably 7 years that I’ve truly missed having a video game console beyond my iPhone. Reader Chelsea told me all about the unbelievable cuteness of Animal Crossing and I wished for a Switch so I could play along. I’ve revisited a few of the more meditative iOS games I love: Alto’s Odyssey, Mini Metro, and my absolute favorite Threes. What iOS games lack in complex animations, they often make up for in intuitive controls or beautiful, simple visuals.
I’ve been thinking about limitations a lot lately. What we are allowed, or in many cases limited from doing in order to #flattenthecurve. I do not know if it helped me entirely, but reframing those limitations as constraints and working to live within them and do what I can within them has helped some.
Working within constraints led to some of the most important video games of all time. Robin Sloan—who you might remember from previous issues of Bird Mail—is currently making his own video game, the primary constraint being his skill, or lack thereof. You can follow along here. This bit from his “reasons” for making a video game resonated deeply with me (emphasis mine).
Just like books, video games have been formative aesthetic experiences for me, particularly in my youth. For me, media-making has always proceeded like this: I encounter something meaningful; I decide I want to produce my own version of that something; I learn how to do it. So it’s all reverb, really: impulse reflected back from material, transformed but recognizable. The material is me.
That reverb Sloan writes about is the same reason I write Bird Mail for all of you. I believe whole-heartedly in the power of the newsletter: to deliver something more than just marketing drivel to your inbox, to deliver valuable knowledge, joyous information that teaches you about something or someone new, or simply something that makes you laugh. After years of reading newsletters, I wanted to try my hand at my own newsletter. Thus, Bird Mail. The constraints of email are well known at this point, and that’s exactly what I love about it. There is only so much that can be done in this space with words and links and the occasional image, but I want Bird Mail to continue to be a bright spot in your inbox each time you see it.
I was reading Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds from James Clear’s newsletter today and I wanted to apply some of his thoughts to our current situation.
However, truth and accuracy are not the only things that matter to the human mind. Humans also seem to have a deep desire to belong.
For so many people in this time of too much COVID news and misinformation from an orange buffoon with too much power, there is more concern in remaining with a tribe than there is with knowing the truth or accurate information.
Collectively, from the beginning of this outbreak, we (the rest of the world) have been starved for accurate information. Most—at least I hope most—people are looking for the true numbers of infected, what best can be done to prevent the spread, and how to help. Accuracy is up in the air because so many things are being covered up by China and the POTUS.
This desire to belong, to one political party or another, is unquestionably clouding so many people’s ability to care about truth and accuracy. More concerned with being part of the “right” tribe has been such a big focus in politics for the past 3.5 years for one party in particular, and it has divided the country, and no doubt, will cost a number of people their lives.
Understanding the truth of a situation is important, but so is remaining part of a tribe. While these two desires often work well together, they occasionally come into conflict.
In many circumstances, social connection is actually more helpful to your daily life than understanding the truth of a particular fact or idea.
Right now, understanding the truth, or perhaps the Truth, of the situation is of utmost importance. Our daily lives and the social connections that are bound to them have changes dramatically, and in this case, knowing the truth of what we can to do #flattenthecurve is key to making sure we still have a tribe left at the end of (waves hands about wildly) all this.
We don’t always believe things because they are correct. Sometimes we believe things because they make us look good to the people we care about.
I have thought about this a lot recently in relation to COVID and our current political predicament. I remember hearing a long time ago, in the early days of the Trump presidency (and maybe even during his candidacy) that Trump uses the ad hominem attack “Loser” often. The worst thing you can be in his eyes, and the eyes of those who follow him, is a loser. A loser is someone who asks for the facts, who trusts the media, who cares about others beyond those who look like themselves, the list goes on. A loser is anyone who isn’t Trump or his cronies or the people blindly following the jingoistic hate that he so wildly spews. There are so many people out there who desperately do not want to be losers. They will hang on to their pride, resisting the programs that will give them food or healthcare—because welfare is for losers—or continue putting the lives of those around them in very-real-danger—because Corona is a liberal media hoax—all for the sake of not being a loser.
Convincing someone to change their mind is really the process of convincing them to change their tribe. If they abandon their beliefs, they run the risk of losing social ties.
Nobody wants their worldview torn apart if loneliness is the outcome.
The way to change people’s minds is to become friends with them, to integrate them into your tribe, to bring them into your circle. Now, they can change their beliefs without the risk of being abandoned socially.
Here Clear offers us some hope. And in this time of quarantine, social distance, and distant socializing, I think there might be some opportunity for this. I do have some fear that we all might have become too insular for us to step outside of our bubbles and work to change the minds of someone who thinks differently, especially during this time when tensions are so high. No doubt, changing someone’s mind, even by inviting them in and giving them a new tribe, is a lot of work, socially and emotionally.
This is perhaps where our newly-forced forms of connection might be able to help us. Sometimes the physical awkwardness of meeting and talking about these hard topics can make you feel trapped because your only out is walking out. Now, if things get too tense, drop the Google Hangout and blame it on your bad internet connection. Give everyone a minute to cool off and jump back in.
In conversation, people have to carefully consider their status and appearance. They want to save face and avoid looking stupid.
Bring some levity to this insane situation we’re all in and work toward bringing someone into your fold. It’s a lot harder to feel like you need to preserve your status when you’re sitting, trapped, on your living room floor with a quarantine cocktail and your pajamas on.
One day in the future, when we are all mercifully freed from the confines of our shelters-in-place, we can do the work of physically bringing them into our tribes and cement that changed mind for the better.
File under things worth believing in: Plain Text.
Jeff Huang uses a single, plain text file for all of his productivity.
I’ve tried adopting this, with the slight modification to Taskpaper format—mostly for the cool tagging features—and this gives me exactly what I need in a digital productivity system. I still use paper for capturing and brain dumps and even short lists of what must be done today, but having this single text file as a running record is incredibly helpful.
I’ve broken mine into sections (Projects in Taskpaper parlance) with an Inbox at the top, month projects with nested day projects under each, and an archive at the bottom. Taskpaper’s ability to collapse and search or filter for specifc tags is just enough to show me only what I need to see at a given time without being too fiddly and getting into things like Omnifocus’s perspectives (which while great, cost me a lot of time in the past).
The beauty of plain text is its ability to be exactly what you need it to be. As your needs change, your file changes.
…there’s a difference between hearing about it and experiencing it.
There’s no excuse for being uninformed when it matters, there’s also no good reason for being inexperienced.
There’s often a piece of glass between us and the world as it’s delivered to us. That glass magnifies the awareness, but it doesn’t have the same impact as experience does. It can’t.
Our awareness has been stretched wider than ever in history, but often at the cost of taking away a lifetime of experiences.
— Seth Godin
Like so many people on the internet, I am trying to figure out ways to limit the power this little brick of glass, metal, and light in my pocket has over my life. As someone who enjoys collecting and sharing knowledge, I sometimes struggle with drawing the line between where I should focus my attention—on the real world or the digital one—at any given time.
I’ve largely left social media, though I still feel the tug of Instagram more than I’d like. I am deleting apps from my phone left and right. In some cases I found ways to do the same actions from my computer when I’m home, or better yet, not do them at all.
While all of this helps in one way or another, it is still easy to become overwhelmed and drown in the infinite river of the internet, thinking that I’m doing yourself a favor by learning—AKA becoming aware—of all these new things. They’re shiny and exciting and they can maybe be used in conversation to teach someone else something, or make me sound more interesting.
The infinite internet is a constant pull, a tidal wave of overwhelming information, and distraction. Seth Godin offers simple advice, “Find your footing and do your work. It’s a choice.” That work he’s talking about, is making sure that your life is filled with experiences and not merely awareness.
It is hard enough turning away from the allure of the ever-growing internet and all the things I can learn from it, but/and now I must attempt to find the experiences I should be devoting my life to having. As with the internet, there are an infinite number of paths, and so many of them seem grand.
I want to have an answer for you, dear reader (and more importantly, for myself). But I do not. At least not right now. I have a list of experiences I want to have, and some experiences that I’ve ruled out, but how to choose the rest of them while avoiding getting sucked down the rabbit holes of merely being aware is something I must figure out. Perhaps learning out in the open, showing my work if you will, can help someone else struggling with this too.