Assorted Links & Commentary #4
Coding Games in Scratch, The Bear, Nintendo Labo Cardboard Robot, The Flavor Bible, Greenlights, Craig Mod on Adult Summer Camps, and an interview with David Holz (Midjourney founder)
Hello! As I’m still working on a new post, here is another set of links and commentary for the week!
Coding Games in Scratch (Book): I finally found a coding book that I like to use with my 7 year old! This book takes you step by step through making games in Scratch (free online from MIT) an excellent coding playground for kids. As you walk through the book making new games, it teaches programming basics while also making fun games to play. I’m really impressed by the power of the Scratch platform… it has tons of flexibility and you can make really complex games within. (Here is an example of the code from the maze game we were making.)
The Bear (show on Hulu): Wow. This show is a story of a world-class chef as he comes back home to his family’s restaurant in Chicago after his brother’s death and tries to turn it around. It’s a darker restaurant-riff on “The Mighty Duck” theme: take a set of disparate personalities and come together to persevere and excel through difficult circumstances. The acting is superb, the editing and music are next level, the characters are compelling and the plot is captivating. Recommend!
The Flavor Bible (Book): This book was a recommendation from Kevin Beach’s newsletter. This cookbook is very special: instead of listing recipes like normal cookbooks, it’s instead organized by ingredient. Each ingredient lists what it combines well with, what great combinations are, and a few tips from world-class chefs. It takes a few minutes to figure out how to use the book but once you figure it out, I’ve already found myself pushing boundaries and thinking of foods a bit differently. E.g., if you find an interesting ingredient in a store, this book gives the tips to quickly combine into a tasty dish! (Here is an example of what that looks like for Honeydew, Blueberry Honey, Chestnut Honey and Horseradish; the bolded words and capitalized words are extra good pairings)
Craig Mod on adult summer camp (newsletter): Craig Mod is one of my favorite online writers - he routinely does long walks in Japan and writes about his experiences through his multiple newsletters. His latest newsletter was about “Adult Summer camps” where he does long walks with a group of people in a structured way
“I spent October walking and photographing and note-taking 300+ kilometers of the Kii Peninsula. In part, a last spat of research for my next book, and in part leading / walking with a group of walk-n-talk folks. […] I feel transformed by these walk-n-talks. Truly. It’s strange, only because I think this kind of “sense of transformation” should be more baked into contemporary adult life. Yes, I’m advocating for more and better adult camps. Let me explain.” (more here)
Podcast by Ben Thompson with Midjourney Founder, David Holz (paywalled podcast): This podcast was excellent for those interested in generative AI. David Holz walks through how he iterated on Midjourney, how he figured out the user experience, and the challenges in building the product. He also talks about his experience building Leap Motion. The contrasting experiences were a great example of “Why Greatness Can’t be Planned” - the power of not having a real plan but rather iterating after listening to user feedback and then combining insights into a wonderful experiences (while dealing with really challenging technical hurdles that arise). One interesting quote (bold is Ben Thompson, DH is David Holz):
“DH: Yeah, I think [chatting in Discord with other users and the bot is] really cool. I think one of the things I also really was surprised about was how it helps a regular person who wouldn’t understand the product, actually understand the product better.
Yeah. And you don’t have to ask to feel stupid and say, “How do I do this?” You literally just sit and observe, which is how humans learn, generally.
DH: Well, but also, I mean, we find that when I did user testing, it was kind of unbelievable. It’s like, “Don’t you want a person to discover the product by themselves?” We would do this and we’d be like, “Okay, here’s a machine. It’ll let you do a picture of anything you want, anything you can imagine, what do you want?” And they just go, “Dog.”
And it’ll show them a photo of a dog and they go, “Okay.” And it’s like, “Well no, come on..” Because you’re there at first. “What do you want? Come on a little bit more than that.” And they go, “Big dog.” And then I keep questioning and they go, “Big fluffy dog.” And at the end of it they’re so uninterested, it’s like, “This isn’t interesting, why would I care about this?” But then you throw these people into the same environment all of a sudden, with complete strangers, they go, “Dog.” And someone else goes, “Space dog”, “Space dog with lasers”, “Space dog with lasers and angel wings”. And all of a sudden this person’s like, “Oh my god.”
Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey (Book): I finally finished this autobiography and it was a great read. I’ve always enjoyed McConaughey’s movies and this book makes it clear that one main reason why is because he lives his life with such true joie de vivre. The book is full of crazy stories - the ones that most impacted me were those where he decides to go to the Amazon and to rural Mali after a few very vivid dreams, and he then proceeds to have some life transforming experiences. He really is a special guy and if you’re at all a fan, it’s worth reading.
Nintendo Labo Robot (Nintendo Switch): At the beginning of the pandemic I decided on a whim to buy a Nintendo Labo cardboard robot kit so my kids could build it. They were way too young at the time and there wasn’t a good opportunity to dig into it… A few years later, we finally put in the many hours required to build it and now have a functioning carboard robot backpack & visor that the kids can use to control a robot video game. The kids suit up and then punch things using the cardboard hands/legs to destroy buildings and UFOs (it’s a bit violent but I comfort myself that it’s not that different than what they pretend to do with their Lego minifigs). Anyway, it’s actually really fun to use and I’m glad we did the project. If you’re at all into this, recommend!
And that’s it. If you have anything you’re enjoying, let me know in the comments or reply to this email!
Have a wonderful week!
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Such fresh breeze. Vibrant and diverse! What a balanced BlogI Thank you for sharing your thoughts and discoveries within and without!