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This is an archived newsletter from Robin Sloan. You, too, can receive these! They go out every Sunday.

Week 40, very glue-y

Textile sample

Gustav Klimt, textile sample, ca. 1920

I live down by the railroad tracks, and there’s a new train that has come through a few times—well, it’s new to me—with a horn that’s positively musical.

I heard it the other morning: like a set of titanic trumpets playing a very clear chord. Redacted from the recording linked above is the scuffle of me clambering up the ladder to our little lookout so I could get a clearer recording; just as I reached the top, the trumpets stopped. Listening to what I captured, I’m not sure the clamber was necessary; we’re half a mile from the tracks, but the horns carry clearly through the streets, this one most of all.

I love this neighborhood.


Writing camp is going well! I am nourishing myself with rice and dal and baked chicken, the latter a recommendation from my lab-mate Alexis who insists that a sheet-pan covered with high-quality chicken parts, well-seasoned and bathed in olive oil, comes out somehow always surprisingly great. I obtained the chicken parts at the Local Butcher Shop in Berkeley, possibly the best butcher shop on the West Coast; added salt and pepper; doused them with olive oil; baked at 425 degrees for, you know, an amount of time; and, for several days now, they have been… surprisingly great!

P.S. I like cold chicken better than warm chicken. There, I said it.


A new book arrived this week, hot off the presses. I pulled it out of its bag and it smelled EXTRA fresh. Like… very glue-y.

(“The smell of books” is mainly the smell of glue. You know that, right? We’re all very erudite glue-sniffers.)

Mmm glue

The book is A *New* Program for Graphic Design by David Reinfurt, and its origin is pretty great: the distillation of a series of college courses that the author has taught for many years, delivered in compressed form in Los Angeles last year—this was real pedagogy, with slides, the whole deal. That presentation became a transcript which was edited and massaged and… that’s the book!

So, it has this structure that’s simultaneously very streamlined, owing I think to the material’s evolution over many years in the classroom, and very loose, with sections that read 100% like nerdy digressions because that’s what they are.

(A nerdy digression: the book made me think of Nicholson Baker’s novel The Anthologist, which he composed by getting into character as his narrator—a poetry professor—and delivering a series of lectures—about poetry—to a video camera. [He was alone at home when he did this.] Then, he transcribed the audio, and it became the first draft of the novel. I mean… how cool is that!)

A *New* Program for Graphic Design has a lot of design history in it, a lot of foundation, and Reinfurt does this interesting thing where, at basically every point where it would be natural to introduce you to Famous Design Thing X, he swerves and shows you Slightly Less Famous But Still Very Relevant Design Thing Y. I’ve read a bit (a lot?) about design history, and there was so much here that was new to me!

Muriel Cooper is my new hero

The book is a a paperback original (perfect), short (blesséd), packed with images (brilliant): it’s hugely inviting.

And, if its last section on digital interfaces is a little diffuse, then that feels appropriate: because we’ve reached the present, and if a design book claimed to understand the present, that would be reason to distrust it. I won’t spoil anything, but Reinfurt ends the book in the best and most honest way.

More than anything else, the A *New* Program for Graphic Design just feels alive, and that’s my favorite thing for a book to be.

If you’re interested, I strongly recommend picking it up directly from Inventory Press. They ship fast!


YouTube’s role as cultural archive is hugely underrated—especially, I think, by YouTube itself. Here’s George Harrison on the Dick Cavett Show in 1971. Wonderful.

And here’s a video, somewhat more contemporary, but still with a strong whiff of the archive to it, of a skilled projectionist starting a movie on an IMAX projector. It’s a little bit hypnotic. (That’s from The Prepared!)


Following last week’s newsletter, a few more thoughts on publishing.

All publishing is, I think, a combination of social and material processes.

I talk a lot about the durability and ongoing “discoverability” (slightly gross word, sorry) of the physical book, but what good would a physical book be sitting unsorted on a shelf in a vast warehouse, Raiders of the Lost Ark-style? The system of physical books works because of precisely everything besides the book, everything that surrounds and supports the physical object, which includes (but is not limited to) publishing companies, book distributors, sleek independent bookstores, funky used bookstores, public university libraries, categorization schemes, databases. There might even be a card catalog or two out there still.

So, my question from last week—what does it mean to publish something in the 21st century?—comes at least in part from a sense that the new systems are a little thin. Making a new form of media isn’t the challenge, really (what a thing to say!); the challenge is everything else: helping people find it; having a rich conversation about it; getting PAID; storing a copy; showing it, years later, to a person who might be interested.

Come to think of, almost no system of distribution and discovery, for any medium, is as organic and resilient and rich as the one that supports physical books. So maybe I’ve just been spoiled.


Textile sample

Gustav Klimt, textile sample, ca. 1920

Often overlooked but easily a top-ten important thing about all the digital devices that people read on today, chief among them the iPhone and the Kindle: you can bump up the font size.

How many times have I peeked over someone’s shoulder, only to see them reading text set in (what appears to me) a garishly large font size? Ah, but: they are reading. One time, memorably, a woman was reading her Kindle with the font set so big there couldn’t have been more than a dozen words on the page. She was reading.

That simple feature might be the single biggest win for media accessibility… ever?


I have mentioned the anime Dr. Stone before. This is the one in which *deep breath* an unexplained phenomenon turns every human on earth to stone, after which 3,700 years pass—all signs of us washed away, grown over—before a handful of humans come back to life (an event that, like the initial calcification, is unexplained), one of whom is a brilliant young scientist who resolves to restart high-tech civilization from scratch. *faints*

So, the show becomes an extended course in physics, engineering, and, most of all, chemistry.

Two ways in which Dr. Stone’s storytelling is extremely unconventional:

  1. It is shockingly, gloriously didactic. Whole sections are allocated to the patient explanation of, e.g., how glass is made. (It turns out nerdy explanations are really fun to watch when enlivened by anime’s trademark stylizations.) “Show, don’t tell” is fine as far as it goes, but in the right circumstances, which are more plentiful than most \~storytellers\~ realize, simply telling can be a real delight.

  2. The show routinely allows its characters to SUCCEED. There’s this thing in \~storytelling\~ in which a plan is made, partially executed, and then frustrated at the last moment, forcing a grand improvisation. Very often, as a reader of books and (especially) a viewer of movies, I’ve found this frustrating. Sometimes, it’s entirely pleasing—cue the A-Team theme—to see a plan come together.

So far in Dr. Stone, which is up to episode 13, the young scientist’s priority items for booting up civilization have been:

  • electricity
  • antibiotics
  • ramen

…which seems like a reasonable list to me!

Each item has been recreated from absolute scratch: we see the process of making the tools required to make the tools required to make the etc. etc.

There was seriously a minutes-long segment that began with wild wheatgrass and ended in alkaline noodles. It was wonderful.

Dr. Stone


Words we don’t have. What a lovely collection; I like the patient accumulation evident in the date stamps.

The keeper of that list also makes Serota’s Underarm Balm, which I use as my deodorant!!

One of my favorite parts of Neo Cab is a fictional technology called the Feelgrid, which functions as an inventive chunk of worldbuilding and a plot engine and a core gameplay element. Video games!!

Surely, you are familiar with the musical genre known as Black MIDI. (Warning: link triggers intense A/V experience that starts immediately.)


Textile sample

Gustav Klimt, textile sample, ca. 1920

☄️R

September 2019, Oakland

Here, at the bottom of the page, I shall say again: the newsletter is the best way to keep up with new offerings.

This website uses the typeface Albertus Nova, an update by Toshi Omagari of Berthold Wolpe’s classic, and GT America, designed by Noël Leu with Seb McLauchlan.

Have a question? Spot a typo? Your story didn’t arrive? Email robin@robinsloan.com

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