Townscaper is a relaxing city-builder

Townscaper is a charming and beautiful toy by Oskar Stålberg (previously at BB), available now for Windows and MacOS. It approaches the city-builing genre, but subtracts all the things that make such games distressing and frustrating, leaving you to create the waterside town of your dreams without worrying about resources, enemies, natural disasters or other limitations.

Yet I don't want to trivialize it as less than a game, because it has such a wealth of creative possibility and polish, all aided by the author's marvelous sense of design and the world's inexorable and elegant detailing of the player's every crude click. It has the same lego-set pleasure of Minecraft's creative mode, but everything you do is perfected automatically with a pop—so long as you're content building Scandinavian Mont-Saint-Michels that would be utterly indefensible in Bad North.

On the sea is implied a gently-warped grid. Clicking once raises blocks of land from the water, which first form paved quaysides but might turn into bridges, courtyards or gardens depending on context. Click again on the same spot, and a house appears. Make the house taller by clicking up, or wider by clicking in adjacent places. Obliterate work with a right-click, and struts and pillars appear to support what remains above. You can pick different colors, whirl the scene around, zoom up close, and that's more or less it.

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Review / Logitech MX Keys

Logitech’s MX Keys [Amazon] is what it finally took to lure me away from mechanical keyboards. It’s a slim yet solidly-constructed full-size model that's similar to and superior to Apple's Magic Keyboard.

It’s flat, minimalist, heavy, solid and low-profile, with large backlit keys typeset in something similar to Futura Light. The keys are square with subtle circular depressions and no give—a big improvement over the wobbly chicklet keys infesting modern non-mechanical keyboards, not least Logitech’s own cheaper models.

It works with USB-C, Bluetooth or the included unifying receiver. (A tiny dongle; I use it instead of Bluetooth as it works in BIOS and I dual-boot). The function keys are on a shift layer, as is now standard. Modifier keys are labeled for both Windows and MacOS, a nice if slightly cluttering touch. Keys are hard to remove; spudge them from the top. The backlighting works even in wireless mode, but will run down the battery quicker. Recharging is via USB-C; there is no removable battery. It's lasted about 10 days so far on the charge it came with. A Logitech app lets a single keyboard and mouse pair be used with any computer on the network, so long as it's installed on both machines.

The MX Keys is essentially the $200 MX Craft [Amazon] without the dial or the bulky rear panel that accomodates it. At $100, the MX Keys is not cheap, but is also no more expensive than similar models such as Apple's or Microsoft's Designer Desktop.

The extra heft and weight is nice, but it's the extra travel and tactility that puts it in a league of its own. Read the rest

Review / Among Trees

FJRD Interactive's Among Trees offers a gorgeous early-access trip to the woods.

Bernband: explore a looming yet intimate alien city

My first moments in Tom van den Boogaart's Bernband (Free Download), a goalless exploration game set in the mazelike city of Pff, led me to expect an empty low-fi walking sim. A drab apartment in a looming building. A window view of city lights in darkness. A spartan hallway leading to an elevator. Then something happened: the elevator's doors spilled me out into a dense crowd of sprites, dozens of people right up in my face, jostling and stumbling around the forecourt. Covid-brain kicked in and I yelped, lurched from the screen, then laughed, amazed that a game had done that to me.

Simple, stark and clear about what it wants to be, Bernband is small in absolute terms but packed with implication. It's experienced in the first person and heady in the way pixelated 3D walking sims often are. All you can do is look around and get lost in the sprawl and its weird connections. There's pubs, a subway station, a schoolroom, a child's recital, a courtyard garden, a chapel, and more, fragments of something vast.

There's a sense of the city's secret boundaries, too, places sealed off by architecture yet full of strangers coming and going (perhaps on the subway trains whose doors never open). As charming as it is, with its cute aliens and flying cars zipping by at hyperspeed, the vibe reminds me of The Bridge and Unthank. Bernband toys with a grim but playful tradition of surreal possibility hidden in impassive urban forms, where ducts and serviceways are the fairy portals offering glimpses of the labyrinth, the places waiting to be remembered. Read the rest

Ta-Nehisi Coates's "Black Panther and the Crew" is a powerfully relevant superhero story about Black lives, police brutality, and US history

I have been frequently awed by Ta-Nehisi Coates's thoughtful observations on politics and race in America. But I'll be honest: I was somewhat disappointed by his first run of Black Panther comics. It felt, to me, more like a Coates essay accompanied by some action sequences. The ideas were there, and the art by Brian Stelfreeze was spectacular, but it just didn't grip me as a dramatic narrative. (His Captain America, illustrated by Leinil Francis Yu and others, has left me similarly cold.)

Fortunately, Coates is a certified MacArthur genius, and a deft enough writer that he learned on the job with an impressive swiftness. I read the first eighteen issues of Coates and Daniel Acuña's epic Black Panther space opera The Intergalactic Empire of Wakanda in just two days, and am eager to devour the rest once it's available (I read most of my comics on Marvel Unlimited).

So to tide myself over, I decided to check out Coates's brief run on Black Panther and the Crew with illustrator Butch Guice. A nod to or revival of Christopher Priest's similarly Panther-inspired 2003 series, The Crew, the comic brings T'Challa to Harlem, in a loose team-up with some other Harlem-affiliated superheroes, including Luke Cage, Misty Knight, and Storm from the X-Men. It's an intergenerational story about Black liberation and revolution, that begins with the death of an elderly Black activist in police custody during a series of ongoing protests against racist police brutality. The conspiracy at the heart of the murder mystery organically weaves in gentrification, astroturfed agitators undermining protests, and algorithmic policing that's never as unbiased as it claims. Read the rest

Send Pics: ripping, brutal, amazing novel about teens, sextortion, revenge and justice

Over the past decade or so, Lauren McLaughin (previously) has written a handful of outstanding YA novels, each dealing with difficult issues of gender, personal autonomy and the casual cruelty of teens, starting with Cycler (and its sequel, Re-Cycler) (a teenaged girl who turned into a boy for four days every month); Scored (a class-conscious surveillance dystopia); The Free (a desperate novel about a teen car-thief in juvie) and now, her best book yet: Send Pics, a gripping thriller about sextortion, high school, revenge and justice.

Comparing a $9 knife sharpener with a $900 version

The host of Project Farm compared the results of using a bunch of different knife sharpeners ranging in cost from nine dollars to $900. It turned out that the $9 sharpener was pretty good. His favorite was the Lansky sharpener, which costs about $45.

From the YouTube description:

Knife sharpeners tested: Lansky, Wicked Edge Gen 3 Pro, Spyderco, Fiskars, Rada, Chef's Choice Trizor Edge, Model 15XV, Edge Pro Apex, and a Whetstone. Knives used for testing: Mercer Culinary Millennia 8-Inch Chef's Knife, which were dulled, then sharpened using each knife sharpener. Stropping leather used on knives sharpened with Lansky, Wicked Edge, Spyderco, Edge Pro Apex and Whetstone. Once sharp, knives were tested using a knife sharpness tester.

Image: YouTube Read the rest

Two fun Little Archie comic book stories

Love and Rockets' creators Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez have mentioned in interviews that they loved Little Archie comic books when they were growing up. Little Archie was started in the 1950s and stars the characters from Archie comics as little kids. The earlier stories were written and drawn by Bob Bolling, and they're regarded by people who know and love comic books as some of the best stories in comic book history.

The Big Blog of Kids' Comics has two excellent Little Archie stories. Mykal Banta, who runs the blog, says:

Bob Bolling has that rare gift few cartoonists have -- his character design is just funny on sight. Howie Post (of Harvey fame) and Milt Gross had it, as does modern animation master, John Kricfalusi. It's a quality that can't be taught. Throw great scripting and wonderful layouts into the bargain, and you have classic stuff. Last time I checked, Mr. Bolling was still turning out high-caliber Little Archie stories for Archie Comics! These two Bolling stories come from Little Archie No. 3 (Summer 1957).

Read the stories here.

If you like these stories and want more, I recommend The Adventures Of Little Archie Volume 1 and Volume 2 Read the rest

How does a $40 Yeti bucket stand up against a $2 hardware store version?

A white plastic bucket manufactured by Yeti cost $40. If you want a lid you will pay an additional $30. That $70 for a bucket and a lid if my math is correct. On the other hand, you can buy a standard white plastic bucket with lid at a hardware store for a couple of dollars. This video compares the functionality of the two buckets. Which one do you think will turn out to be the better bucket? Read the rest

Abolish Silicon Valley: memoir of a driven startup founder who became an anti-capitalist activist

Wendy Liu grew up deeply enmeshed in technology, writing code for free/open source projects and devouring books by tech luminaries extolling the virtues of running tech startups; after turning down a job offer from Google, Liu helped found an ad-tech company and moved from Montreal to New York City to take her startup to an incubator. As she worked herself into exhaustion to build her product, she had a conversion experience, realizing that she was devoting her life to using tech to extract wealth and agency from others, rather than empowering them. This kicked off a journey that Liu documents in her new book, Abolish Silicon Valley: How to Liberate Technology from Capitalism, a memoir manifesto that's not just charming -- it's inspiring.

How to draw robots - excellent instructional book

I frequently refer to my copy of Robots! Draw Your Own Androids, Cyborgs & Fighting Bots, by well known animation designer and comic book cartoonist Jay Stephens. It's only 64 pages, but it's packed with tips and examples of whimsical robots, with lots of examples of limbs, bodies, heads, control panels, sensors, etc.

Stephens has two similar books: Monsters!: Draw Your Own Mutants, Freaks & Creeps and Heroes!: Draw Your Own Superheroes, Gadget Geeks & Other Do-Gooders. I have all three. Read the rest

Recommended reading: The Forgery of Venus, by Michael Gruber

Michael Gruber's The Forgery of Venus combines art history, criminal mischief, and the sleaziness of the contemporary art gallery business to deliver a terrifically fun thriller-esque novel.

The main character, Chaz Wilmot, is an extremely talented but frustrated and depressed magazine illustrator. For no special reason, he volunteers as a human guinea pig in a medical research study to test the effects of Salvia divinorum, a powerful, short-duration psychedelic drug that causes him to imagine he's living the life of Velásquez, the famous 17th century Spanish painter. These episodes cause all sorts of problems in his real life, and when he wakes up one morning in a strange apartment and discovers that he is actually a successful gallery artist, he flips out and lands in a mental ward.

When he's released (and learns that he's back to being the hack illustrator he started out as) Wilmot is eager to clear his head by taking on a lucrative commission to restore the fresco on the ceiling of an Italian mobster's palazzo. Here, he meets a sleazy German art dealer who specializes in paintings plundered by the Nazis in World War II. The dealer gives him an offer he can't refuse: to forge an "undiscovered" Velásquez painting. When he accepts, the strange events that have been happening to him intensify, and he finds himself wonder whether he's completely crazy or if powerful characters behind the curtain are pulling strings.

This is the kind of book that could easily become ludicrous and boring if it had been written by an author less talented than Gruber. Read the rest

The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe

We've covered Theodore Gray on Boing Boing a lot, and for good reason -- he's amazing. His Mad Science book was filled with spectacularly fun science experiments, he built a Periodic Table table with little compartments to hold samples of elements, and now he has a new coffee table photo book called The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe.

Each element is treated to a gorgeous two page spread, with photos and a fascinating short history.

Did you know:

... if you keep your household smoke detector around for a couple of thousand years, most of the americium will have decayed into neptunium (wait another 30 million years or so and it will become thallium, which the CIA can use to make Castro's beard fall out, if he's still alive)

... if you touch tellurium you will smell like rotten garlic for a few weeks?

... arsenic is commonly added to chicken feed (to promote their growth)?

... a chunk of gallium will melt in your hand (you can buy a sample here)?

... a speck of scandium ("the first of the elements you've never heard of") added to aluminum creates a very strong alloy (like the kind used in the Louisville Slugger that was involved in a lawsuit)?

Books that reveal how truly weird our world is are always welcome in my home. This one's a gem. Read the rest

Snowden's Box: the incredible, illuminating story of the journey of Snowden's hard drive

Dale Maharidge is a journalist and J-school professor who is dear old friends with the muckracking, outstanding political documentarian Laura Poitras. Jessica Bruder (previously) is a a writer and J-school prof who's best friends with Maharidge. When Laura Poitras was contacted by an NSA whistleblower who wanted to send her the leak of the century, she asked Maharidge for help finding a safe address for a postal delivery, and Maharidge gave her Bruder's Brooklyn apartment address. A few weeks later, Bruder came home from a work-trip to discover a box on her doormat with the return address of "B. Manning, 94-1054 Eleu St, Waipau, HI 96797." In it was a hard-drive. The story of what happened next is documented in a beautifully written, gripping new book: Snowden's Box: Trust in the Age of Surveillance.

Gorilla Rack shelving units are awesome

10 years ago we decluttered our garage and Carla bought several Gorilla Rack shelving units from Amazon. They are awesome. I've assembled shelving units before, and they required either nuts and bolts or little brackets, but the Gorilla Rack units have parts that fit together without extra hardware. I built the first shelving unit in about 30 minutes. The second one took me 15 minutes, and the third one was done in 10 minutes. The pieces fit together without any fussing and the unit is free of sharp edges. It's very sturdy, too. Read the rest

Exhaustive reviews of ceiling fans

I'm considering buying the Oxygen Solis [Amazon], a tactical EDC ceiling fan, and chanced across the YouTube channel Vintage Fans and More looking for opinions. It's a large collection of surprisingly informative reviews of ceiling fans, visits to fan manufacturers and ceiling fan trade shows, etc., and the creator is up-front about his connections to the trade.

He even has the perfect hairstyle for illustrating turbulent air vortices.

Vintage Fans & More is a unique place where past and present meet, and where the future is awaited with great anticipation. What began on YouTube as a preservation of yesteryear’s electric fans has grown to encompass not only fans from every era, but also other areas of lighting design and home decor. Expect an unexpected variety; this is a new expansion for VF&M in the greater world of design, spanning decades and bringing them together in one place.

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A good solar powered LED illuminated street address sign

I bought this solar powered LED illuminated street address sign earlier this month and am really happy with it. The light is is bright and makes it easy for people to find our house. It comes with several sheets of adhesive numbers that you stick onto a white plastic panel. It also comes with mounting screws, but I attached it to the side of a metal mailbox so I used outdoor mounting tape instead. My address has five numbers and I had no problem fitting them on the panel, using the included cardboard placement template.

I paid full price for it, but the seller has a code 5UZYEDUV to let you buy it at a good discount. Read the rest

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