There's a lot of stuff out there on the internet. This is what I've found so far.

Friday, March 16, 2018 

Hamilton, Hands and Happiness

No Complaints #143

Thanks very much for bearing with me while I switch my podcast emails onto a new system. If you aren’t receiving them but would like to, sign up here and email me if you have any problems.

Things to read

“While it’s fresh in my mind now, I cannot imagine forgetting any detail of sitting with Elizabeth while we watched Hamilton. But I will forget. I will forget the details of this difficult but hopeful year. I will forget the size of eyes as she stared at the stage and tried to memorise it. I will forget because the years pile on, and memories cloud as they bump into each other, and I barely remember where I was yesterday. But she will remember. That’s the thing. She will remember every detail.”

I challenge you not to cry during this piece about a father who took his daughter to see Hamilton. Email to Pocket.

“When asked if a female climber needed to be tougher than a man, she said: ‘I think that women in general have to work harder in a man’s world to achieve recognition.’ She recalled an exchange in which she was diminished by a colleague. ‘I was at a climbing dinner once when a very well-known climber came up to me and said: ‘Are you a roadie?’” she said. ‘For me, that was the worst thing he could have said.’”

I’m enjoying the New York Times’ belated attempts to fix the huge bias against women in their obituaries section. Even in the last two years, only one in five of their obituaries were of women. It’s really a remarkable omission when you start to dig into it: they didn’t run an obituary for Charlotte Bronte, or Ida B Wells, or Sylvia Plath. They are now going back and publishing long overdue obits to correct this — more details about the project here — and this one of the climber Alison Hargreaves is particularly good. Email to Pocket.

“It doesn’t have to just be material from books. Movies, speeches, videos, conversations work too. Whatever. Anything good. Actually writing the stuff down is crucial. I know it’s easier to keep a Google Doc or an Evernote project of your favourite quotes. . . but easy has got nothing to do with this. As Raymond Chandler put it, ‘When you have to use your energy to put those words down, you are more apt to make them count.’”

Why you should keep a commonplace book. Email to Pocket.

+Related: My friend Sarah, who also does her own excellent newsletter, explains how to keep a reading journal.

“As difficult a time as Lisa Simpson has on The Simpsons, Smith points out that there’s also something inspiring about the character’s dogged determination in the face of that hardship. ‘I think my favourite thing about Lisa Simpson is her resilience. Oh, that I could be that resilient! And I will say, if I’ve learned anything from her, I’ve learned that.’”

A dual profile of Lisa Simpson and the woman who voices her. Email to Pocket.

“America fell in love with sniglets; their popularity went way beyond HBO subscribers. Merchandise included a board game, a word-a-day calendar, mugs imprinted with especially popular sniglets, a syndicated daily comic panel, and six sniglets books, three of which were New York Times best-sellers and were often found in the very best bathroom reading racks of the mid to late 80s, which is how I first learned about sniglets as a word-loving fourth grader.”

A “sniglet” is a word which isn’t in the dictionary but ought to be. Very interesting piece. Email to Pocket.

Things to listen to

The “Five Women” episode of This American Life is remarkable for a lot of reasons, including its subject matter (a #MeToo adjacent discussion of a specific man’s abusive behaviour, told from the point of view of five different women) and the way the story is told. I also recommend reading the section in Ann Friedman’s newsletter about her time working for Don Hazen, the man in question.

+A reminder: you can get a podcast playlist from me in your inbox every Sunday if you become a paying subscriber.

Things to watch

If you thought you couldn’t be compelled by a film about hand gestures, you are wrong.

Of course I want to know all about Oprah’s bath tub.

A beautiful Gaelic film about wild swimming in Scotland.

Compulsory medieval thingamabob

I got new glasses, what do you think?

The guest gif

We’re done here.

Friday, March 9, 2018 

Pancakes, Pity and Potter

No Complaints #142

Welcome back.

Things to read

“And now his artistic ability has become my burden. When he isn’t home, our daughter sits at the kitchen table, glares at me and says, ‘I want a pancake. Peppa Pig.’ She doesn’t even know that pancakes are round. I try to sell her on a bowl of oatmeal. I tell her it’s Wonder Woman food. She doesn’t buy it. She demands the edible art she is accustomed to. I cave and nervously promise her a pancake. ‘I’ll make you a “brown ball”!’ She looks at me with confusion, followed by pity and then disgust. A tantrum follows.”

A frustrated woman blows off steam about her husband’s artistic pancake abilities. I know this is mostly meant to be funny, but I feel like there’s something darker lurking behind it too: why does he get to be fun Peppa Pig pancake guy? Why can’t he be fun “fold all the laundry at 11pm” guy? Hmmm. Email to Pocket.

“The tattoo artist lines up tiny pots of ink, 16 in all, blacks and browns and reds, a metallic gold, a lurid pink. She has studied the image, taking apart its planes and colors, rewinding Copley’s brushstrokes. To watch her build it up again, from outline to underlayer to surface, working in pigment and blood, is as close as I will ever come to watching Copley’s hand and seeing through his eyes. The work is painstaking, paint-staking. I worry that her eyes must someday fail her, as those of miniaturists often do, as Copley’s eventually did. Tiny facets of the picture that I’ve never noticed before — the squirrel’s eyebrow, the pink tip of its nose, the peak of its ears, the faint stripes of black that mottle its back — come clear as they needle into my arm.”

A writer explains why she let writing her book mark her in the form of a tattoo. Email to Pocket.

“Harju maintains a lively correspondence on YouTube with Johnson, a rising grip superstar who is a decade younger, and the pair frequently compare notes on Captains of Crush grippers versus rival products. ‘It’s all pretty ridiculous on the surface, I know,’ Pankoff once told me. ‘But I wouldn’t dream of using a Gillingham High Performance Gripper. It’s like how in cycling, you don’t wear silly gloves, and you would only wear a hat specific to the sport. I see the GHP as a kind of faux pas. It’s too easy, I think — a gripper for amateurs. I’m a Captains of Crush guy all the way'.’”

Inside the strange world of competitive gripping. Yes, as in holding things tightly. Email to Pocket.

“And when Claudia married her social-media star boyfriend Ben Soffer, also known as ‘Boy With No Job,’ in 2017, the two tightly controlled which photos and videos of the event were released. Despite inviting several well-known Instagrammers, Claudia refused to let any of her 275 guests bring phones to the wedding or take photos of their own. Although they vacation with Geller, regularly spend time with her, and reference their ‘mom’ on social media, none of the Oshry sisters follow the far-right agitator on social media or interact with her content.”

When you’re a viral Instagrammer, you have to keep your alt right mum under wraps. Email to Pocket.

“This is when people do tune-ups, like race cars going in for pit stops. You won’t be doing anything this major this close in. Some will do vegan stem cell facials, and a few might do a last-minute procedure called Microthreading to define and texturize. Think of it like 1,000-thread fancy cotton sheets — the microthreads are like Egyptian cotton threads, and the procedure leaves virtually no bruising. It dissolves in six to eight months, and is finer and doesn’t have the same amount of lift as the threads used in the Silhouette Instalift. We would use these if someone has dented skin from old acne scars, and for more smoothing and texture enhancement. Just yesterday, we did a little bit of threading on the lip for someone up for an award. It gives a little bit of definition, without augmentation, and looks very natural so you have a more defined line for lipliner and lipstick.”

As Hollywood awards season comes to a close, boggle your mind at this perspective on what’s involved from a dermatologist to the stars. Email to Pocket.

Things to listen to

I’m really enjoying Ctrl Alt Delete at the moment, an interview podcast with a focus on how and why people work as they do. Recent episodes I’ve liked: Dawn O’Porter on knowing when to give things up, Greta Gerwig on standing out and fitting in, Lucy Sheridan on social media comparison, and Anne Boden on how to start a bank.

—And if you’d like to receive more podcast recommendations, sign up for a paid subscription (just $7 a month or $70 a year) and you’ll get weekly extra emails from me containing excellent themed podcast playlists.

Things to watch

Jamia Wilson is brilliant.

This is the kind of books TV I would like to see.

A spooky short film starring Toby Jones? Yes please.

Compulsory medieval thingamabob

If women ran the internet.

The guest gif

Sometimes, we are all tiny Potter.

Friday, March 2, 2018 

Stanley, Sounds and the Squirrel

No Complaints #141

Here we go again.

Things to read

“It’s 4:00 A.M., and Kabul is dark and still. Shabana Noori wills herself out of bed to drink a cup of hot tea. The 22-year-old news anchor and fledgling star of ZAN TV has to get to work by 6:00 for her Friday-morning shift. ZAN, whose name means ‘woman’ in Dari, is the first and only TV station in Afghanistan for women, made up of an all-female team of journalists, most of them in their early twenties. Launched in the Afghan capital in May, the station sheds light on everything from cosmetics (once banned under the Taliban) to women in sports (also previously banned) to domestic violence (tragically still commonplace). Until now there has never been a show—let alone an entire station—focused on women's issues. The fact that the women of ZAN are openly talking about them on national television is revolutionary.”

Inside the first all-female television news station in Afghanistan. Email to Pocket.

“I first heard ‘Winter’ in 1985, when I was 4. A snow-laced mountain fog had settled over the Potomac Highlands of West Virginia. I sat alone in the living room, watching a cartoon movie called ‘Sarah and the Squirrel’. It was not the lighthearted fare suggested by its title. Sarah’s village is invaded by Nazis, and her family members are captured and taken to a concentration camp. She escapes the slaughter by hiding in a nearby forest. It is under these circumstances of genocide, starvation and exposure to the elements that she befriends (or perhaps hallucinates) a squirrel. In the cartoon’s final frames, Sarah wanders alone and barefoot through the snow. All of these events are set to Vivaldi’s ‘Winter’.”

A great piece of writing about a timeless piece of music. Also, I am now intrigued enough to try and track down Sarah and the Squirrel. Email to Pocket.

“For archivists, 1870 is the year everything begins to turn to dust. That was the year American newspaper mills began phasing out rag-based paper with wood pulp, ensuring that newspapers printed after would be known to future generations as delicate things, brittle at the edges, yellowing with the slightest exposure to air. In the late 1920s, the Kodak company suggested microfilm was the solution, neatly compacting an entire newspaper onto a few inches of thin, flexible film. In the second half of the century, entire libraries were transferred to microform, spun on microfilm reels, or served on tiny microfiche platters, while the crumbling originals were thrown away or pulped. To save newspapers, we first had to destroy them. Then came digital media, which is even more compact than microfilm, giving way, initially at least, to fantasies of whole libraries preserved on the head of a pin. In the event, the new digital records degraded even more quickly than did newsprint. Information’s most consistent quality is its evanescence. Information is fugitive in its very nature.”

Enjoy it while you can, future generations probably won’t be able to read this. Email to Pocket.

“Just to pile on Stanley Kubrick (ah, he can take it): Stephen King notoriously hates his adaptation of The Shining. I don’t even know how King even has time to watch all of his adaptations, let along have opinions about them, but that’s really neither here nor there. King thought Kubrick’s version was ‘Too cold. No sense of emotional investment in the family whatsoever on his part,’ as he told The Paris Review.”

An excellent round up of novelists bitching about the (in some cases, extremely lucrative and popular) screen adaptations of their work. Email to Pocket.

“Speaking of passive-aggressive emails, another upside of home-working is liberating yourself from all the petty bureaucracy that fills the average office. When we say we want to work from home, don’t we really mean we want to work without Jenny from Policy piping up in your inbox to complain that somebody has stolen her Müller Crunch Corner again? Or at least, being able to enjoy the drama from afar. Because your only tense interactions are with the postman, and there’s no risk of him giving you a bad appraisal.”

You probably wouldn’t know it from social media, but it’s been quite cold and snowy in the UK this week, and a lot of people who don’t normally work from home have been doing just that. As someone who now works from home a lot, I rather enjoyed this starry-eyed take on the whole thing. Email to Pocket.

Things to listen to

Now I know you come here for podcast/radio recommendations, but this week I want to tell you about Noisli, a little browser plugin that lets you make your own custom background noise to work to from all their various presets. If you find it difficult to concentrate without the sound of a train going through a rainy forest where lightning occasionally strikes, this is for you. The only danger is that you get so involved in making a soothing soundscape that you don’t actually do any work.

Paying subscribers now receive a themed podcast playlist in their inbox every Sunday. Sign up here if you want in. I am also taking requests, so if you have a genre/niche you love but don’t know of enough good shows in it, this is your opportunity to fix that.

Things to watch

Well done Einstein.

A great video series about food and eating — see the rest of it here.

I am unclear what this is.

Compulsory medieval thingamabob

“I don’t understand why I am carrying the man while you get to toot the horn.”

The guest gif

It is, really.

Friday, February 23, 2018 

Buster, Ballet and Balls

No Complaints #140

A warm welcome to all the new subscribers! Thank you for joining me on this regular tour of the best things I find on the internet. If you end up liking it enough that you want to receive more emails from me, you can make that happen here.

Things to read

“It was two more months before we could meet in person. I sat on her faded carpet for the first time and heard about life as a live-in servant at the age of 14 (there was little hope of anything better after her dad died when Edna was four). ‘You see, I didn’t like being in service. I was owned, really.’ I thought of my own childhood in the 70s and 80s. My mother, arms akimbo, standing on the landing, staring down at her defiant daughter and telling me: ‘Darling, the world is your oyster. You can do whatever you like!’ I grew up energised by the rash of possibilities that were finally available to young women. Edna shook her head: such bravado and self-belief were unimaginable.”

There are so many heartbreaking, apparently throwaway, sentences in this short piece. Email to Pocket.

“One of the assumptions that goes along with our culture’s continued, if souring, mythologising of powerful men is that to be uncompromising is a show of strength which inevitably requires others to conform to their will. The other, of course, is that it’s up to the people who want to be with those men to comply to the romantic terms they set out, or be replaced, because he has earned the right to do as he wants. Reynolds and Christian are revered as singular, essential figures, but their lovers get treated as anything but. Replaceability haunts both stories in the suggestion of the (mostly unseen) women who've come and gone before. The women we do see are hurt and unhappy because they want more — the distraught former submissive who turns up with a gun in Fifty Shades Darker, the soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend at the start of Phantom Thread who asks Reynolds ‘There’s nothing I can say to get your attention aimed back at me, is there?’”

A fascinating piece comparing the central male roles in the Fifty Shades films and Phantom Thread. Email to Pocket.

“And yet. . . it’s important to understand that it was Linton’s fantastical idea of what a political wife should act like that got her into this mess to begin with. Like so many dozens of people circling the president of the United States, Linton is a show-person who’s constructed her understanding of political behavior from a Hollywood fantasy. ‘When I look at the photograph of her stepping off the government plane, that image definitely looks like something out of a movie. It looks like a set piece,’ says Robin Givhan, longtime fashion critic and writer at the Washington Post. ‘For a lot of people coming into Washington, their understanding of this world is based on Hollywood and television, and that’s the only touchstone they have.’”

You will read this whole piece between your fingers, it’s like a horror film you can’t stop watching. Email to Pocket.

“Spotify goes a step further than its competitors in attempting to soundtrack not just general human experiences but the specific cultural zeitgeist. Its playlist descriptions are littered with Twitter catchphrases like ‘reclaiming my time’ (for a Black History Month collection) and ‘Yas, queens’ (for a playlist simply called ‘Fierce’). A playlist called ‘NYC Strong’ was assembled in response to the October terrorist attack in Manhattan. A collection of lists called ‘Be the Change’ urges listeners to ‘shake up the status quo to these revolutionary sounds’. There’s something a little rapacious about the whole endeavor, though it’s hard to pinpoint exactly why it makes me cringe.”

I am not kidding, there is an actual playlist genre just called “Woke”. If you ever see anyone on public transport selecting it, get off at the next stop and just walk away, you can’t take any chances. Email to Pocket.

“This is where my investigation ends, and I turn the question to you, dear reader. What color is a tennis ball? We’ve reported, now you decide. I must warn you that pondering this may lead you, as it did us, toward an existential cliff where we were reminded, once more, though we all live in the same world, it can look completely different to different people.”

This is basically The Dress all over again, and I wasn’t prepared for how strongly I would feel about it. (Tennis balls are yellow, for the record.) Email to Pocket.

Things to listen to

I never manage to keep up with Desert Island Discs on a weekly basis, but I do like to check the recent archive periodically and see what I’ve missed. Recently, I’ve enjoyed listening to Chi-chi Nwanoku, Christina Lamb and Bruno Tonioli. Also, don’t forget you can get decades of past interviews as podcasts here.

—Related: as of this week, paying subscribers will be receiving a themed podcast playlist in their inbox every Sunday. Sign up here if you want in. I am also taking requests, so if you have a genre/niche you love but don’t know of enough good shows in it, this is your opportunity to fix that.

Things to watch

If they still had this, I might actually want to watch the Winter Olympics.

My heart.

I’m finished.

Compulsory medieval thingamabob

Queer Eye, but in the Middle Ages.

The guest gif

Me vs my deadlines.

Sunday, February 18, 2018 

Wax, Winter and Work

No Complaints #139

This is meant to be a Friday newsletter, I know, and yet it is Sunday. I had a very busy few days and got a bit disorganised. Hopefully these links can still help ease your end-of-week malaise.

Things to read

“On one of my last days in Copenhagen, I returned to Refshaleøen. I stopped by a restaurant to ask directions to the building where Kim and Ole had lived. The line cook didn’t know the building, so I asked if he knew where the reporter who had died had lived. He cut me off midsentence as I was explaining how I knew Kim and asked, ‘Why are you doing this?’. I didn’t have a ready answer. I said something about how I wanted to know what had happened. But saying this out loud, to this stranger, I knew I could never really know, could never measure the precise weight of her suffering. Trying to find out what happened to Kim, in hopes of finding meaning in the senselessness of her death, is a selfish act, designed to serve the living. It feels like an act of betrayal.”

This account, written by a friend and fellow reporter, of Kim Wall’s death completely horrified me. I’m still deciding if interest (both mine and other people’s) in it is sensationalist or justified. Email to Pocket.

“It took at least two hours to get all of our Christmas lights plugged into smart plugs from WeMo and Sonoff, and then to get those plugs online with their apps, and then to get those apps to talk to the Alexa app. The first night I said, ‘Alexa, turn on the Christmas lights,’ they all turned on in sparkly synchronicity and it was magical. But one day, Alexa stopped recognising ‘Christmas lights’ as a group, and I could not figure out how to fix it, so I had to ask Alexa each night to turn off the lights one-by-one. (‘Turn off kitchen Christmas lights.’ ‘Turn off living room Christmas lights.’ ‘Turn off bookcase lights.’) This was way more annoying than turning them off manually. The fantasy of the smart home is that it will save us time and effort, but the friction involved in getting various devices from different companies to work together meant that many things took longer to do.”

Surprise, surprise, making everything in your home internet-enabled is a bit of a living nightmare. Email to Pocket.

“I used to think that Jeremy Paxman’s interviewing credo — ‘Why is this lying bastard lying to me?’ — was needlessly unfair to politicians, most of whom work long hours, put up with a lot of grief, and are motivated by a genuine desire to serve the public. But right now they are lying, almost all of them, almost all the time. And they’re doing it because they are frightened: of the press, of their own party members, of killing their own ambitions, of a rising tide of thoughtless populism.”

This plea for politicians to take responsibility for the current mess is well worth reading (it will make you angry though). Email to Pocket.

“Nystad, 47, oversees a group of 30 wax techs, as they’re known. Their job is to divine the right combination of wax, skis and snow at a given race — a puzzle with thousands of possible solutions. Get it right and a carbon fiber ski becomes a killer mode of nonmotorized, Alpine transportation. Athletes glide faster down hills and cover ground more efficiently through the rest of the course. Get it wrong and the same athletes will feel like they are trekking through mud. The failure will not go unnoticed. ‘If we screw up, we’re on the front page of every newspaper in Norway,’ he said. ‘We become idiots, overnight.’”

I have yet to watch a single second of televised Winter Olympics coverage, but I have spent a lot of time reading the background pieces. I can’t get enough of the sport tech stories, for some reason. Email to Pocket.

“Later on in this unseasonably mild August night, on Lolla's towering Grant Park stage, Chance the Rapper will pause during his anti-record-label anthem ‘No Problem’ and let the audience finish his signature line: ‘Countin' Benjis while we meetin', make 'em shake my other hand.’ At that precise moment, though, Maxey's hands will be signing the phrases ‘counting money’ and ‘meeting’, then miming a left-handed handshake followed by an emphatic middle finger. Maxey's ASL interpretation is an explosive, code-switching mishmash of textbook American Sign Language, pantomime, and makeshift signs he's cobbled together for slang words native to hip-hop (‘molly’, for example, combines gestures for ‘pill’ and ‘sex’); the way he signs is as worldly and wry and improvisational as he is.”

A great piece about how signing for a musician can become a performance all of its own. Email to Pocket.

Things to listen to

I highly recommend that you listen to This is Love, a new spin off podcast series from the team behind Criminal. I wrote about the show in more detail in my Tuesday podcast letter, where you’ll also find my interview with host Phoebe Judge about her shifting technique for getting subjects to tell their best stories on air.

To get more podcast-specific writing from me, sign up for a subscription now.

Things to watch



Worth every frame.

Compulsory medieval thingamabob

This cat has doubts about you.

The guest gif

Better late than never, right?

There's a lot of stuff out there on the internet. This is what I've found so far.