Month: June 2016

Jason Kottke: Master of the Set Up

Photo by swirlspice

I’ve only met Jason Kottke once. A few years ago at SXSW, I said hi, we chatted for a few seconds, and that was that. Although I’m occasionally in his sidebar and he links to Mike Industries every so often, I can’t say I’m a “friend”. In fact, while I’m on the subject, am I the only one who hates when people on the web say “our friends at ____” or “my good friend ____” when they’ve never even spoken to the person(s)?


Jason Kottke is known as one of the most interesting bloggers around and a particularly good “linkblogger”. But what does it mean to be a good linkblogger? For your standard “prolific linkblogger”, it’s simply about unearthing interesting new links on the web. Simple enough, right? Just follow other linkbloggers and regurgitate the good stuff.

What separates good linkbloggers from great linkbloggers is a little more subtle though: it’s all about the setup. And this is where Kottke excels. Take for example this entry from yesterday:

This timelapse video of man trapped in an elevator for 41 hours is difficult to watch. The video accompanies an article in the New Yorker about elevators.

White has the security-camera videotape of his time in the McGraw-Hill elevator. He has watched it twice-it was recorded at forty times regular speed, which makes him look like a bug in a box. The most striking thing to him about the tape is that it includes split-screen footage from three other elevators, on which you can see men intermittently performing maintenance work. Apparently, they never wondered about the one he was in. (Eight McGraw-Hill security guards came and went while he was stranded there; nobody seems to have noticed him on the monitor.)

The end of White’s story is heartbreaking. On the plus side, the article also discusses a favorite social phenomenon of mine, how strangers space themselves in elevators.

If you draw a tight oval around this figure, with a little bit of slack to account for body sway, clothing, and squeamishness, you get an area of 2.3 square feet, the body space that was used to determine the capacity of New York City subway cars and U.S. Army vehicles. Fruin defines an area of three square feet or less as the “touch zone”; seven square feet as the “no-touch zone”; and ten square feet as the “personal-comfort zone.” Edward Hall, who pioneered the study of proxemics, called the smallest range — less than eighteen inches between people — “intimate distance,” the point at which you can sense another person’s odor and temperature. As Fruin wrote, “Involuntary confrontation and contact at this distance is psychologically disturbing for many persons.”

(via waxy)

Let’s look at what makes this a great item:

1. Read the first sentence. This is the first hook. Timelapse videos are generally entertaining, and the “difficult to watch” part is a cue that, yes, you should probably at least try to watch it because it’s dramatic.

2. The setup also mentions the full article in the New Yorker, which is very important, since it provides a lot more information than the video. A straight link to the video is not nearly as interesting as video plus full background story.

3. The first quote from the article is well-selected. It only serves to increase the reader’s curiosity about the incident.

4. “The end of White’s story is heartbreaking.”. This is probably the most genius part of the link. It makes watching the video alone almost pointless. It *requires* the reader to click over to the New Yorker article to find out what actually happened. And this bit of motivation turns out to be quite important because the New Yorker article is written in a very strange style whereby White’s story is sprinkled into the overall piece a few paragraphs at a time. It’s quite a bizarre format, but since Kottke has given me motivation to find out what happened to White, I end up reading a lot more of the New Yorker article than I normally would have.

5. Kottke also parenthetically mentions how the article talks about the social phenomenon of “elevator spacing”, an extra added bonus for those of us who have always had an unnatural interest in such things.

6. And finally, Kottke credits Andy Baio for exposing him to the link… and upon visiting Waxy, Andy in turn credits Nelson Minar… and upon visiting Nelson’s delicious page, Nelson credits Metafilter. The “via chain”. So nice. Yet so often neglected by people (self included).

So in the end, we have a a story/video that most people probably would have either skimmed or missed entirely, but because of the thoughtful setup, both were consumed in their entirety with nervous anticipation. In fact, two other people sent me links over IM to the elevator video this morning and when I asked each if they had read the accompanying New Yorker article, they both answered “Nope… too long”.

Linkbloggers remember: The setup is everything.

Video of the Eating of a 50 Year Old Pine Bros Cough Drop

Several months ago, I wrote a post longing for the unending tastiness that is the now discontinued Pine Bros cough drop. Then, my girlfriend found me an auction on eBay for a box of them (that I proceeded to win triumphantly), but they were from the 1950s. So I asked Mike Industries readers if it was ok to eat them, despite a mysterious white film that coated them.

As luck would have it, Mike Industries reader Steve L. (a fellow Pine Bros fanatic) volunteered to eat one on camera if I shipped a couple to him in Georgia. Here is the video footage of the incident:

Way to go Steve. Thousands of Pine Bros. fans around the world bow down to your greatness.

The Mojo Channel is Super Nice

If you live in the U.S. and have high-definition cable service, there’s a good chance you have a channel way up in the nosebleed section of your dial called “Mojo”. If you haven’t checked it out already, you should. It’s full of all high-definition programming and includes three great weekly shows I have now set Tivo Season’s Passes for:

Startup Junkies — A documentary about a fledgling startup called “EarthClassMail” and the ups and downs of its everyday operations. Having just gone through the entire startup experience with Newsvine, this show hits home for me in many ways. Number one, it’s set in Seattle. Number two, it nicely covers the highs and lows of startup life, from the stress of procuring your financing, to the thrill of launching your service, to the interpersonal issues that often crop up around the office. Someone asked me a few days ago if I would have ever let cameras into Newsvine for this sort of thing, and my response was “hellllllllll no”. I wouldn’t recommend most startups do it either, but watching someone else expose themselves like that sure is fun!

Wall Street Warriors — A documentary about several people with various jobs on or around Wall Street. The cast here is extremely diverse. There’s the 28 year old superstar manager of a hundred million dollar investment fund who probably has five times the energy of any normal human being. The guy is nails. Awe-inspiring to watch at times, although not someone I’d trade places with due to his non-stop, high-stress lifestyle. There is a recent NYU graduate just getting into currency trading. There are two commodities traders who do the yelling in the pits that you always see in stock market stock footage. And finally, there are two schmucks who work at a downtown investment brokerage who take pride in getting rich people to hand over their money to them. These two jerks then pay back their clients by putting all of their eggs in one basket (in this case SanDisk) and losing most of their money. Good times. Makes for healthy skepticism towards all investment brokers. Update: Entire series available online at Hulu… nice!

Bobby G: Adventure Capitalist — Bobby Genovese is a venture capitalist/entrepreneur who lives the high life and invests in such interesting businesses as the Neptune Society; a service which cremates your remains, mixes them with cement, forms the mix into statues, and then sinks the statues to the ocean floor so divers can swim around the underwater memorial. Bobby is also in the process of reviving the Clearly Canadian brand of sparkling water which has fallen out of favor in the last several years. I hope he succeeds. I loved that stuff. Update: Entire series *also* available online at Hulu… nice again!

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