Josh Glenn, Consulting Semiotician


Cool Tools Show 232: Josh Glenn

Our guest this week is Josh Glenn. Josh is a consulting semiotician, publisher of the websites HILOBROW and SEMIOVOX, and co-author of such books as The Idler’s Glossary, Significant Objects, and the family activities guide UNBORED. Josh has also just signed on as Founding Editor of a forthcoming MIT Press series of reissued sci-fi novels from 1900 to 1935. The series is called Radium Age: The Emergence of Science Fiction.

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Show notes:

Vivere Double Cotton Hammock with 450lb capacity
Some years ago I wrote a book called Idler’s Glossary, and the underlying philosophical idea was that the point of life should not be working so that you can relax, the point of life should be idling, which can mean having very interesting projects, living a more varied life, not just doing just one thing all the time, and also taking it easy. But I’m a hypocrite idler, where even though I work for myself and I have plenty of leisure, theoretically I actually spend the most of my time sitting in front of my computer all day long. So, as soon as this shut down happened because of the pandemic, and my two college-aged sons came home to live with us, all of a sudden we were in tight quarters and we were all stuck in the house all day long, and suddenly it occurred to me we need a free standing hammock. I’ve never owned one, but I wanted a hammock with a steel frame that I could have inside in the cold weather, and I could have it outside in the nice weather. It could be a nice place for people to go and retreat from each other and read the newspaper or take a nap. So I did a lot of research and this company Vivere came really well recommended, the users all love their stuff, they have really good customer support, supposedly, the hammocks last forever. So I went out on a limb and bought one for $130 and I’ve been very, very happy with it, so far. The hammock itself is about nine feet long, I’m six foot two, so you need a couple extra feet on either end to be comfortable. They come in different sizes, I think I got the large. I got one that went up to 450 pounds, so that means that basically me and my wife and our dog could all be in the hammock if we wanted to. It’s super sturdy, the ropes at the end are nylon instead of cotton so I think that helps it last longer. They have a lot of different styles, colors, color patterns to choose from, so that’s really nice. And it’s really easy to assemble and it’s really easy to disassemble, and it’s portable, it comes with a bag, you can bring it with you to the beach or whatever.

Ex Libris Anonymous — journals made from old books
There’s a lot of books out there that are just going to waste, and they’re trashed and no one is going to buy them, and they’re just cluttering up thrift stores. So, there’s this service called Ex Libris Anonymous that buys up all these old books with charismatic covers, and cuts the spine off, and throws away half of the pages inside, and then spiral bounds the cover and some of the pages left over with some blank waste paper. And here’s the thing about journals. I know that you’re always talking about Moleskine on this show but I have a hard time writing in those things because they’re so nice. They’re precious, I get that blank page frozen fear. I don’t know what would be worth putting into this awesome journal that I got that’s going to live up to the cover. But these Ex Libris journals are just trashed. They’re all beaten up already, the insides are kind of junky, but there’s all these nice blank pages intermixed with pages from the book itself. And because they’re old Tom Swift novels, and medical textbooks and kids books, everything, it’s really an amazing assortment of book covers they have there, they look great on your desk, too, so I like to get 10 or 12 of them at a time and put them all around the house. So that whenever inspiration strikes I’ll have a journal I don’t really care about writing in and I don’t care when I use it up and throw it away because it felt like it was something that was going to be thrown away anyway. There’s something psychologically liberating, I think. You sort of feel it’s not exactly a blank journal where it’s your responsibility to fill every page. When I flip through these books, I only have to fill about half the pages. The other half are already done.

Organic cotton cheesecloth “Nut Milk” bag by Things & Thoughts
My college-aged sons, who moved home with me during the epidemic, are both vegan, and militantly vegan, they don’t even want me and Susan to be eating meat or drinking milk while they’re in the house. So, I’ve been trying to find some middle ground with them in some ways that we can enjoy this together, by the way, we’ve had amazing vegan meals every night of the epidemic, that’s been one of the best things about this, is the vegan cooking we’ve been doing. Max and I are both big fans of tea, but of course he can’t have milk in his tea. So he’s experimented with all the different kinds of milk substitutes and he’s finally settled on oat milk, which of course wasn’t available. Oat milk is one of the more recent milk substitutes, you couldn’t get it in Boston until about a year ago. So, we would go to New York and you could get it, then we’d come back here and it wasn’t available on the shelves. So I thought it’s actually really easy to make oat milk, it really is just soaking oats overnight in water, and then blending them up with some more water and straining them through a cheese cloth bag. You have free oat milk because oats are so cheap. I thought that would be a fun thing for us to do together, so we have started doing that but we didn’t have a good bag for the straining part. That was the one thing we were missing. So, I did a lot of research again and I bought a bag from a company with the terrible name of Things and Thoughts, which is just a crappy brand name. But they have this bag called the Amazing 100 percent Organic Nut Milk Bag and it’s really great for the following reasons. One, it’s really strong, organic cheese cloth. I don’t know if you guys have done this before, when you’re squeezing the oat milk through the bag, you’re trying to keep all the particulate matter out of your final product, so you have these tiny little holes, but you have to put a lot of pressure on the bag to get the liquid out. It’s really easy to pop the seams and destroy these things. So you want a double stitched, really strong cloth bag. That’s what this is so far. The other thing I like about it that’s really clever is that the seam is on the outside of the bag, they just basically sewed the bag and then instead of flipping it inside out, they just left it that way. And what’s cool about that is you don’t get the particulate matter into the seams, so it’s easier to clean.

Dominion game 2nd edition + online version
Dominion is a deck building game, so you have 500 cards in a box or something. It looks really frightening when you first get it, and it’s kind of off putting. But you divide into these 25 decks of types of cards, things you can buy. These actions and things that you can do, then you also have gold, silver, and copper coins, and you have estates that you’re trying to buy. It’s like a medieval estate competition, where you are monarchs of your own little kingdom, and you’re trying to build the biggest kingdom before certain resources run out. And whoever has the most estates at the end wins. The nice thing about it is that unlike Magic the Gathering or something, you can’t buy your way to success in that game. With Magic you can just buy really awesome cards and then beat everybody who plays against you. In this game everybody starts with the same thing every time. You all start with a few copper coins and a couple of estates, and when each turn comes around, you decide whether you want to buy cards that give you actions that you can do, or do you want to buy estates. It’s a fun game, it’s not as complex as it sounds, even though there’s 500 cards, it’s actually pretty easy to learn and pretty quick to play. My wife who is our epidemic quarter master, in that she’s really, really good about thinking about what supplies you need and how we’re going to get them in a safe way, and how we’re going to use our food so it doesn’t get rotten. She has this unbelievable skill that sprung forward during the epidemic, she is incredible at this game. So, for people who have that kind of ability to think about resources and the smartest way to hoard them and use them at the right time, this is your game. What’s fun about their online version, is it’s slightly clunky but what’s cool about it is you can experiment with all the different expansion packs without having to buy them yourself. So you’re playing the exact game. You can play against bots, up to four bots, or you can play against real people, or you can sign up and create your own table and invite your friends to play.

About Unbored Road Trip
Back in 2012 I published with some friends a book called UNBORED, which was Family Activities. Activities for kids aged eight to 13 that you could do with your parents, which there aren’t a lot of books out there like that. There are books for kids to do on their own and there’s books for parenting books, but there weren’t a lot of books for family things to do. So that was the idea of the book, and we did a couple sequels, and then MindWare games which is out in Minnesota, asked if wanted to develop a franchise of activity kits through MindWare. We’ve done five now and the new one that just came out is weirdly timely because of the epidemic people aren’t going to be doing foreign travel as much, there’s going to be a lot of road trips this year. We weren’t expecting that when we developed the kit, but basically it’s ideas and things that you can do on a long car trip. There’s a bingo pad and a drawing pad with three different games on it, and there’s a big fold out map of America with things that you can find and then stickers you can put on it, and there’s a white board to do hangman and there’s conversation starting cards, et cetera, et cetera. And then the whole thing is shaped like a suitcase and then we designed a bunch of fun stickers that you can stick on the outside of the suitcase, like an old fashioned suitcase. And there’s an activity book inside, as well that has a lot of my favorite card games from growing up, as well as ones that we’ve discovered since then.


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