Mac and video game geek living in Japan.
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That time I was on Halt and Catch Fire

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Kottke Halt

*record scratch*

*freeze frame*

Yep, that’s me. You’re probably wondering how I ended up back in the 1970s with such a sweet jacket and bitchin’ mustac— Ok all jokey tropes aside, I got to appear on AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire last night as a background extra. (Mild spoilers follow.) This season of the show is set in the 90s, but this episode flashes back to the 70s soon after Gordon and Donna get together. My scene takes place during this flashback and is pretty short. Gordon is at a gas station, waiting to use the pay phone. A man (that’s me!) exits the station with a 6-pack of beer, gets into his car, and drives off after Gordon crosses the pavement to the phone. And that was it! But as a big fan of the show — and I refuse to have any chill about this — it was one of the coolest experiences I’ve had in forever.

I’ve been watching the show since the first season, when the action focused on a small company trying to build one of the first IBM-compatible PCs on the market. (You may have read about this show on once or twice. Or a dozen times. I have an unauthorized Cardiff Electric t-shirt I bought from some sketchy site online. Did I mention I was a big fan?) At some point during the next two seasons of the show, when the action moved from PCs in Texas to online services & anti-virus software in Silicon Valley, I followed the two creators of the show, Christopher Cantwell and Christopher Rodgers on Twitter. And at some later point, they followed me back and we tweeted at each other a handful of times.

Meanwhile, the show got renewed for a fourth and final season. At the end of season three, the characters started talking about this new thing called the World Wide Web and it was clear that season four was going to focus on early 90s web startups. Now, I don’t know if you know this about me or not, but I love the web. (Oh, you could tell? I let that slip at some point?) And I am so very nostalgic for the early days of the web in the 90s — the Mosaic days, the Altavista days, the Bobaweb days, the Entropy8 days, the Suck days, the CSotD days, the alt.culture.days, the 0sil8 days, the Yahoo on the akebono server at Stanford days. The days when I was young and dumb and decided to quit grad school in a promising field without talking to a single other person about it because I just knew I needed to do whatever I could to get a job working on the web, a job that didn’t even exist at the beginning of my junior year in college. Season four was going to be about those days?! Holy shit.

In June, Chris Cantwell, who was down in Atlanta to direct an episode of the fourth season, tweeted that he was in the hospital, on dilaudid waiting for a kidney stone to pass and was available to answer any questions his followers had about the show. After a crap-can month of May, I’d been focusing on being more direct with what I want, so fuck it, yolo, totally trying to take advantage of this poor guy being hopped up on goofballs, I tweeted back:

Do you need extras for s04? Will do retro web design on screen for zero pay. I still can code circa-1994/5 HTML by hand.

Which was like 30% joking and 70% serious. A few minutes later, he replied:

Dude if you can fly out here I’ll put you in a long wig and put you at a gas station.

I had no idea what the hell he was talking about — remember, he was super fucking high — but we followed up via DM and I bought a plane ticket for Atlanta and booked a hotel the next morning. Sometimes, just sometimes, you get what you want, even if it’s not exactly what you asked for.

Kottke Halt

Kottke Halt

Less than a week later, I’m in Atlanta. They put me through wardrobe, where I tried on two sets of 70s clothes (they ended up using a mix of clothes from the two looks). I got a tour of the storeroom where they keep all of the clothes for the series; it was massive…I kept thinking I was going to uncover the Ark of the Covenant in there. I went from there to hair & makeup, where they fit me with a wig and mustache for Cantwell to approve. My scene wouldn’t shoot until the next evening, so they had to take it off that afternoon and put it all back on the next day:

Kottke Halt

I got to meet the actors that played Gordon, Donna, and Joe…they were super nice. Hell, everyone was super nice and professional and seemed to be having fun…a good crew. I was there to be an extra, but since I knew Cantwell, I was also “a friend of the show”. (Everyone kept saying, “oh, you’re the blogger!”) So they took me out to a couple of the sets, and I got to see Mackenzie Davis do her thing (<3!). They showed me how everything on-set worked and gave me a headset so I could listen in on what was happening. I met the show’s producers, one of whom told me that with my hair and mustache, I looked just like his friend Bill Paxton from 20 years ago, in Tombstone…to the point where it freaked him out a little to see his recently deceased friend standing before him. I saw a stuntman jump off a cliff into a quarry. They gave me a chair to sit in so I could watch the action on the monitors in real-time. I ate so much food at the end-of-day meal. I got to drive a big-ass Chevy from the 70s. I read a call-sheet for the next day’s shoot that totally spoiled the season’s biggest reveal and I didn’t even care that much.

On the day of the shoot, the scene took place at night, so my call time was 6pm. Did the hair and makeup thing again, ate, sat around, got dressed, and then was shuttled out to the set at around 10pm. I watched them set up and then it was go time. I did my scene probably 8 or 10 times. They shot it with two different camera setups and had me change little things here and there…like the first time I walked out of the store, I didn’t have the beer in my hand:

Kottke Halt

And then, right around midnight, it was done. I filled out my sheet to get paid ($51.64 after taxes) and somehow stayed awake on the 90 minute drive back to Atlanta.

That last-minute, three-day trip totally blew my travel budget for the summer. Was it worth it? When I was a kid, there was nothing I was more interested in than computers. My dad bought one of the first available IBM PC-compatibles on the market. I’ve read and watched a ton about the PC revolution. I used online services like Prodigy. And the web, well, I’ve gotten to experience that up close and personal. One of the reasons I love Halt and Catch Fire so much is that it so lovingly and accurately depicts this world that I’ve been keenly interested in for the past 35 years of my life. Someone made a TV show about my thing and it was great, a successor to Mad Men great. Getting to be a microscopically tiny part of that? Hell yeah, it was worth it.

Tags: Christopher Cantwell   Christopher Rodgers   Halt and Catch Fire   Jason Kottke   TV   WWW
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7 days ago
This warmed my heart. Good for him.
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A Secret Work Studio Suspended Below a Highway Overpass by Fernando Abellanas


All images by Jose Manuel Pedrajas, courtesy Lebrel

Spanish furniture designer Fernando Abellanas has carved out a new creative home in a section of Valencia that isn’t the typical artist neighborhood: he’s built a studio affixed to a highway underpass. The workspace is complete with a desk and chair, as well as shelves stocked with homey framed artworks and potted succulents―all attached to the highway’s cement framework. The floor and walls function as a self-operated horizontal elevator. Using mechanics adapted from a metal dolly, Abellanas hand-cranks his way to his studio, completing the picture of a cozy four-walled workspace.

As he described in an interview with le cool Valencia, Abellanas has a lifelong interest in refuges―locating peace and solitude in unexpected places, like under the dinner table as as a child, and now, hidden underneath the whir of traffic. The designer is also inspired by the way people with very limited resources use neglected spaces to create homes.

The studio hasn’t been sanctioned by the city of Valencia, so its exact location is a secret, and it will remain intact for as long as Abellanas is able to keep it there. You can follow more of Abellanas’ work  for his brand Lebrel via Instagram and Facebook, and the video below (in Spanish) offers a closer look. (via FastCo)

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52 days ago
The ultimate treehouse!
57 days ago
San Luis Obispo, CA
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“I am at war with the obvious.”

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From The Democratic Forest, by William Eggleston.
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56 days ago
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Craft beer names, invented by neural network

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With over 4,000 craft breweries in the United States alone, people are having trouble finding unique names for their beers. That’s a problem, because when two breweries accidentally use the same name, it results in potential confusion at best and at worst, a legal battle. Litigation over craft beer trademarks is noticeably on the rise.

I decided to find out whether a neural network can help.

A neural network is a type of computer program that, among its many talents, can learn to imitate datasets just by looking at enough examples. I’ve used them to name kittens, metal bands, Pokemon, paint colors, and more.

I knew I wanted to train the neural network separately for different kinds of beers. Different categories of beers have their own distinct naming conventions; in theory, you should roughly be able to tell a stout from an IPA from a double IPA by the name alone. 

Ryan Mandelbaum of Gizmodo sparked this project by putting me in touch with Andy Haraldson, who very generously provided me with a huge dataset of hundreds of thousands of beer names that he extracted from There were over 90 types of beer in the full dataset (for example, black ales, belgian dark ales, euro dark lagers, schwarzbier, dark wheat ales, and english mild dark ales). To make the task manageable (and to combine a few datasets that only had a few hundred unique names) Eva Gulotty sorted them into broader groups. And then I set the neural network to work on each category.

It worked. The neural network produced unique names that were plausible, or weirdly awesome, or so outlandish that they sounded like the sort of beer you could only buy after a multi-day scavenger hunt involving hang gliding, codebreaking, and Fairbanks, Alaska.

I give you: craft beer names, invented by neural network.


Dang River
Earth Dock IPA
Bigly Bomb Session IPA
Binglezard Flack
Jain Is The Dog
Earth 2 Sanebus
Tower Of Ergelon
Toe Deal
Juicy Dripple IPA
Flying Rocks IPA
Yall In Wool
Earth Pump
Heaven Cat
Heart Compost
Wicked Geee
Text 5 Of The IPA
Cockamarin Hard IPA
Test Tha IPA
Widee Banger Fripper IPA
Oarahe Momnila Day Revenge Bass Cornationn Yerve Of Aterid Ale

Strong Pale Ales (Doubles, Triples, etc)

The Great Rebelgion
Trippel Lock
Thick Back
The Fraggerbar
Third Maus
Sip’s The Stunks Belgian Tripel
Third Danger
Track Of The Wind
Devil’s Chard
Spore Of Gold
The Actoompe
Brother Panty Tripel
The Oldumbrett’s Ring
The Vunker The Finger
Gunder Of Traz
Cherry Boof Cornester
Strange Fast
Humple La Bobstore Barrel Aged
Thrennt Rem Wine Barrel Aged Monkay Tripel

Amber Ales

Snarging Red
Warmel Halce’s Comput Ale
Fire Pipe
La Cat Tas Oo Ma Ale
Ole Blood Whisk
Frog Trail Ale
Ricias Donkey Brain
Sacky Rover
Gate Rooster
O'Busty Irish Red
Helusto’s Humpin’ Red
The Hunty
Rickin Organic Red Deaath
River Smush Hoppy Amber Ale
Rivernillion Amber
Special North Wish Leifstic Imperial Red
Ambre O Woo’s Omella Imperial Red Ale


I The Moon
The Bopberry Stout
Cherry Coconut Mint Chocolate Stout
Black Morning
Sir Coffee
Shock State
Take Bean
Single Horde
Whata Stout
Shany Lace
Black Sink Stout
Barrel Aged Chocolate Milksmoke
Morning Dave - Vanilla Coffee Stout
Dark Thomblan
Jrankers Java Stout
Spulgican’s Chocolate Coconut Pamper
Cherry Trout Stout
Bold Oot Stout
Pimperdiginistic The Blacksmith W/ Cherry Stout

Want more beer names? Want worse beer names? I had so many names that I couldn’t fit them all in this post. Sign up here and I’ll email you a pdf of about 100 more beer names. For these names I turned the neural network’s creativity variable higher and got results that can be described mainly as … interesting. And of course, there’s the inevitable beer named Fart. (It’s a stout. Of course it’s a stout.) 

(Beer label templates from

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64 days ago
Pint of Oldumbrett’s Ring and a shot of paint thinner, please.
56 days ago
63 days ago
Washington, DC
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63 days ago
It's like I'm programmed to drink IPA and like IPA names.
Test Thai... Dang River ... I need these.

Concert Review: Bryan Ferry at the Palace Theatre in Saint Paul

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Bryan Ferry on stage at the Palace Theatre, Saint Paul, August 5, 2017. (Photo by Pondie.)

Marquee of the Palace Theatre in Saint Paul. (Photo by Mark C. Taylor)
Last night I saw one of my favorite musicians live at the Palace Theatre in Saint Paul: Bryan Ferry. I’ve been a fan of Ferry’s music, both solo and with Roxy Music, for several years, and he’s been at the top of my list of artists that I hadn’t seen in concert yet. Ferry didn’t disappoint, bringing a set list full of gems from his formidable back catalogue. At age 71, Ferry still looks dapper, stylish and handsome as ever. He didn’t say much during the concert, and the closest he got to telling any stories was saying, “These songs are from here, there, and everywhere.” Ferry’s nine member band did a terrific job of re-creating tricky Roxy Music songs like “Ladytron” and “If There is Something.” Kudos to all of the band members, especially Jorja Chalmers, who handled saxophone duties, a job essential to capturing the sound of Roxy Music songs. 

Opening for Ferry was the British singer/songwriter Judith Owen, who played a half hour of songs that reminded me of Carole King’s work from the 1970’s. Owen was playing with bassist Leland Sklar, who has played on over 2,000 recordings, according to Wikipedia. Sklar has played on many of James Taylor’s albums, as well as albums by Leonard Cohen, Phil Collins, Neil Diamond, Neil Sedaka, Rod Stewart, and Barbra Streisand. Owen also featured a percussionist, cello, and violin, which lent her songs an engaging sound. Fun fact: Judith Owen is married to Harry Shearer, well known for playing bassist Derek Smalls in This is Spinal Tap and for voicing numerous characters on The Simpsons.

Ferry played keyboards on quite a few songs, and also blew some nice harmonica solos on a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Simple Twist of Fate,” and the old chestnut “Let’s Stick Together.” As a vocalist, Ferry still smolders effectively, even if he’s lost some of his top range-the high notes on “More than This” just aren’t quite there anymore. But Ferry’s voice still has great emotion in it, and his voice now adds a melancholy vulnerability to his songs. 

My only disappointment from the set list is that Ferry didn’t sing any of the songs from his most recent solo album, 2014’s excellent “Avonmore.” (Which I reviewed back in 2014 here.) Well, and if I’m being honest, there are some Roxy Music songs like “Over You,” “Dance Away,” and “Same Old Scene” that I would have loved to hear as well. But that’s a small quibble when you’re seeing a rock legend up close. I was a little surprised that Ferry sang “In Every Dream Home a Heartache,” which has to be the weirdest Roxy Music song. It’s a good song, but it is weird-it’s a critique of capitalism as Ferry gets a little too attached to a blow-up doll. The lyrics aren’t sung, but spoken like a prose poem. 

The Palace Theatre was a superb venue for Bryan Ferry, as its style of decaying glamor fits his own aesthetics quite well. The open seating on the floor meant that my wife and I were very close to Ferry, and it was fun to watch his facial expressions throughout the show. It’s very evident, for all of his British reserve, that he really enjoys what he does. Ferry seemed quite touched by the huge audience reaction at the end of the show, which he fully deserved. 

Set list:
The Main Thing
Slave to Love
Out of the Blue
Simple Twist of Fate
A Waste Land
Bête Noire
Stronger Through the Years
Can’t Let Go
In Every Dream Home a Heartache
If There is Something
More than This
Love is the Drug
Virginia Plain
Let’s Stick Together
What Goes On
Jealous Guy
Editions of You
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73 days ago
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Dov Charney’s 2.0: Los Angeles Apparel

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Matthew Townsend, reporting for Bloomberg:

But American Apparel’s 2015 bankruptcy wiped out most of his net worth, so where would he get the money? Didn’t his tawdry past of sexual harassment allegations make him radioactive? And shouldn’t American Apparel’s collapse prove that making clothes in the U.S. is a fool’s errand?

Yet here he is, at 48, overseeing a startup with seamstresses and fabric cutters and boxes of T-shirts waiting to be shipped across the country. He’s on, he’s riffing, he’s explaining the benefits of immigration, he’s envisioning a company that will someday hit $1 billion in revenue. (American Apparel topped out at $634 million in 2013.) “We’re building, grooving, growing,” Charney says.

His new company, Los Angeles Apparel, was launched late last year as a wholesale business — just like American Apparel’s origins in 1989 — selling blank basics such as T-shirts and sweatshirts.

Very similar brand aesthetic to American Apparel, too, but with Microgramma subbed in for Helvetica Neue as the company typeface.

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91 days ago
Highly recommend the Gimlet Media podcast StartUp's series they did on Charney. The guy has serious issues, that's for sure.
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