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Entries for August 2021 (September 2021 »    Archives)

 

So, Long Summer.

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 25, 2021

two kids running from ocean waves on the beach

Hi folks. I am taking the rest of August off to spend some time with my family near the ocean. I might extend that through Labor Day weekend, who knows? After hitting it hard here during the first year of the pandemic1 — especially in the first several months — I’ve slowed up a bit this summer to give myself some space to recuperate and reconnect with other areas of my life. That’s been nice & necessary and I’m thankful to have a work situation that allows me to do that, but I plan to be back here in September with a renewed vigor. I hope you have a nice rest of your summer (or winter — I see you southern hemisphere) and I’ll see you back here soon. Stay safe, everyone.

  1. “The first year of the pandemic” — even just writing that tightens the chest.

Colorful Pencil Portraits

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 25, 2021

colorful portrait of a woman wearing glasses

colorful portrait of Steve Buscemi

Loving these portraits from Lui Ferreyra, particularly the top one, which is a little Impressionistic — the colors remind me particularly of van Gogh and Seurat. Ok fine, it’s not Impressionism but it’s not not Impressionism either. (via colossal)

In the Midst of Disaster

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 25, 2021

a man slipping in the shower

a man falling down the stairs

Control meets chaos in these carefully arranged images from Kerry Skarbakka’s series The Struggle to Right Oneself.

Even with Delta Variant, the Amazing Vaccines Are Saving Lives

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 25, 2021

It may seem like sometimes that with the pandemic, we’re back to square one. With the much more contagious Delta variant in play and an increasing number of breakthrough infections, the efficacy of these vaccines that we thought were amazing maybe aren’t? (Or maybe we just need to readjust our expectations?) But in terms of what these vaccines were specifically developed for — reducing & preventing severe disease and death — they are still very much doing their job. Just take a look at this graph from a White House Covid-19 press briefing yesterday:

a graph of Covid-19-associated hospitalizations among unvaccinated and fully vaccinated in the US

Even with Delta endemic in the country, the vaccines are providing extraordinary protection against infections severe enough to land folks in the hospital. In a recent CDC study of infections and hospitalizations in Los Angeles County, they report that on July 25, the hospitalization rate of unvaccinated people was 29.2 times that of fully vaccinated persons. 29 times the protection is astounding for a medical intervention. These vaccines work, we’re lucky to have them, and we need to get as many people worldwide as we can vaccinated as quickly as we can. Period.

Scanwiches

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 24, 2021

cross-sectional scan of a sandwich

cross-sectional scan of a sandwich

cross-sectional scan of a sandwich

cross-sectional scan of a sandwich

Remember Scanwiches? There was even a book version in 2011 and Helen Rosner wrote about the site for Saveur.

To create an image, he simply places half a sandwich on the glass of his Epson V700 scanner. “There’s not a lot of trickery,” says Chonko, who will release a book based on the site in November, with Powerhouse Books. “I try to stay true to the heart and soul of the sandwich. That’s a lofty way to think about it. But then I eat it for lunch.”

The site has stopped publishing new scans, but it’s still good, still delicious. And is a hot dog a scanwich? Apparently so.

A Restored Vermeer Painting, Now with Bonus Cupid

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 24, 2021

a restored version of Johannes Vermeer's painting Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window alongside the painting before restoration

Only 34 paintings by Dutch master Johannes Vermeer, art history’s foremost painter of Side Views of People Doing Things Near Windows, have been known to survive to the present day, so when one of them is restored, it’s a big deal. The Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister in Dresden shared the first image of the completed restoration of Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window — and you might notice a pretty big change on the wall behind the girl.

The painting has been in the museum’s collection for more than 250 years and the hidden Cupid had been known about since an x-ray in 1979 and infrared reflectography in 2009. It had been assumed that the artist himself had altered the composition by covering over the painting of Cupid.

But when a major restoration project began in May 2017, conservators discovered that the paint on the wall in the background of the painting, covering the naked Cupid, had in fact been added by another person. When layers of varnish from the 19th century began to be removed from the painting, the conservators discovered that the “solubility properties” of the paint in the central section of the wall were different to those elsewhere in the painting.

Following further investigations, including tests in an archaeometry laboratory, it was discovered that layers of binding agent and a layer of dirt existed between the image of Cupid and the overpainting. The conservators concluded that several decades would have passed between the completion of one layer and the addition of the next and therefore concluded that Vermeer could not have painted over the Cupid himself.

There is a certain aesthetic amenity to the bare wall in the altered version but maaaybe the original Cupid lends the painting some figurative meaning?

The Secret of Costa Rica’s Successful Health Care System

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 24, 2021

By making public health central to their health care system, Costa Rica has achieved a higher life expectancy than the US for a fraction of the cost. How did they do it? The New Yorker’s Atul Gawande investigates.

Life expectancy tends to track national income closely. Costa Rica has emerged as an exception. Searching a newer section of the cemetery that afternoon, I found only one grave for a child. Across all age cohorts, the country’s increase in health has far outpaced its increase in wealth. Although Costa Rica’s per-capita income is a sixth that of the United States — and its per-capita health-care costs are a fraction of ours — life expectancy there is approaching eighty-one years. In the United States, life expectancy peaked at just under seventy-nine years, in 2014, and has declined since.

People who have studied Costa Rica, including colleagues of mine at the research and innovation center Ariadne Labs, have identified what seems to be a key factor in its success: the country has made public health — measures to improve the health of the population as a whole — central to the delivery of medical care. Even in countries with robust universal health care, public health is usually an add-on; the vast majority of spending goes to treat the ailments of individuals. In Costa Rica, though, public health has been a priority for decades.

The Covid-19 pandemic has revealed the impoverished state of public health even in affluent countries — and the cost of our neglect. Costa Rica shows what an alternative looks like. I travelled with Álvaro Salas to his home town because he had witnessed the results of his country’s expanding commitment to public health, and also because he had helped build the systems that delivered on that commitment. He understood what the country has achieved and how it was done.

In the US, the pandemic has revealed a public health system that is underfunded, underutilized, undervalued, and disconnected from the largely private health care system. As with many other aspects of American life, private individuals who can afford it get access to better lives, at the expense of everyone else.

The concern with the U.S. health system has never been about what it is capable of achieving at its best. It is about the large disparities we tolerate. Higher income, in particular, is associated with much longer life. In a 2016 study, the Harvard economist Raj Chetty and his research team found that the difference in life expectancy between forty-year-olds in the top one per cent of American income distribution and in the bottom one per cent is fifteen years for men and ten years for women.

Crocheted Pasta!

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 24, 2021

pasta shapes made from crocheted fabric

Omg look at these adorable crocheted pasta shapes made by Normalynn Ablao. Her pattern for the pasta is available on Etsy, as are patterns for burritos & taco bowls, mozzarella sticks, and cinnamon rolls.

Dying in the Name of Vaccine Freedom

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 23, 2021

You might want to take a deep breath or do a couple of laps around the house before watching this video about a community in the Ozarks with a very low Covid-19 vaccination rate. Here’s a sample. An ICU patient wearing an oxygen mask on why he didn’t get vaccinated:

I’m more of a libertarian and I don’t like being told what I have to do. I’m still not completely 100% sold on the inoculation.

Video narrator:

It was eerie to hear Christopher insist on his individual freedoms even as he struggled to breathe.

Can you hear me screaming all the way from my desk to wherever you are? I don’t like being told what I have to do?! Fucking hell. And this:

There’s no better place to see the impact of this political rhetoric than in the hospital. Only about 50 percent of the staff are vaccinated. None of the unvaccinated staffers were willing to talk.

Absolutely maddening. I want off this ride.

The Parents Are Not Alright

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 23, 2021

Dan Sinker writes for The Atlantic about how navigating Covid risks, politically motivated bullshit, and America’s failing infrastructure has broken parents during the pandemic: Parents Are Not Okay.

Instead it was a year in limbo: school on stuttering Zoom, school in person and then back home again for quarantine, school all the time and none of the time. No part of it was good, for kids or parents, but most parts of it were safe, and somehow, impossibly, we made it through a full year. It was hell, but we did it. We did it.

Time collapsed and it was summer again, and, briefly, things looked better. We began to dream of normalcy, of trips and jobs and school. But 2021’s hot vax summer only truly delivered on the hot part, as vaccination rates slowed and the Delta variant cut through some states with the brutal efficiency of the wildfires that decimated others. It happened in a flash: It was good, then it was bad, then we were right back in the same nightmare we’d been living in for 18 months.

And suddenly now it’s back to school while cases are rising, back to school while masks are a battleground, back to school while everyone under 12 is still unvaccinated. Parents are living a repeat of the worst year of their lives-except this time, no matter what, kids are going back.

Almost every parent I know is struggling with exactly this: trying to keep their kids (and family and friends) safe from Covid-19 while balancing the social & emotional wellbeing of everyone concerned and not getting a lot of help from their governments or communities. Remote school is no longer an option, few infrastructure upgrades have been made to improve ventilation in schools, no vaccine mandates for teachers or staff, parents fighting administrators about vaccine & mask mandates, and everyone is trying to do complex risk calculations about sending their can’t-yet-be-vaccinated kids into buildings with other kids whose parents, you suspect, are not vaccinated and aren’t taking any precautions in states where Delta is endemic. All while trying to work and remain sane somehow? And most of the parents I know have resources — they have steady income & savings, live in safe communities, and have friends & family to fall back on when times get tough. Those who don’t? I truly do not know how they are doing any of this without incurring significant, long-term trauma for parents and kids. We, inasmuch as we’re still a “we” in America, are failing them all.

1800s Astronomical Drawings vs. Modern NASA Images

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 23, 2021

I love this post from the NYPL comparing astronomical drawings by E.L. Trouvelot done in the 1870s to contemporary NASA images.

Trouvelot was a French immigrant to the US in the 1800s, and his job was to create sketches of astronomical observations at Harvard College’s observatory. Building off of this sketch work, Trouvelot decided to do large pastel drawings of “the celestial phenomena as they appear…through the great modern telescopes.”

He made drawings of Saturn, Jupiter, aurora borealis, the Milky Way, and more. Here’s his incredible drawing of sun spots compared to a recent image of the Sun’s surface:

a drawing of sun spots

the sun

And his drawing of a solar eclipse compared to a recent image:

a drawing of a total solar eclipse

modern photo of a solar eclipse

Check out the post for more examples of Trouvelot’s work.

Household Surrealism by Helga Stentzel

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 23, 2021

an orange blanket and a book arranged on a sofa to look like a fox

two windows and some hanging laundry that look like a face

two washing machines and socks hanging on a laundry basket that look like a face

Often using the phenomenon of pareidolia, Helga Stentzel arranges common household items to resemble faces, animals, and other fun characters. You can find prints of some of her creations on her website.

Finding a Way Back

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 19, 2021

For the New Yorker, the novelist Donald Antrim wrote about wanting to die by suicide and being saved by electroconvulsive therapy: Finding a Way Back from Suicide.

I had survived, or thought that I’d survived, my parents’ drinking and shouting, our constant moving, the losses of places and friends, annihilation after annihilation. I’d played in the yard, and smashed tennis balls against walls for hours, and built model airplanes, and listened to my records at night in my room. I’d slept with cats for company, and ridden my bike, and struggled in school, and, later in life, gone to bars, and then quit going to bars, and smoked cigarettes and pot, and fallen in love, and argued and made up, and refused to speak to my father, and suffered my mother. None of this had stopped my dying. Writing had not stopped my dying. The Twelve Steps had not stopped my dying. Therapy hadn’t stopped it, and my old friends couldn’t stop it; nor could Regan. No one could.

Evergreen Architecture

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 19, 2021

large building atrium with a bunch of trees and plants

a building with plants and trees all over it

a building with a green roof

a residential building with plants and trees on every balcony

I’ve been a bit obsessed recently with urban architecture that incorporates nature & greenery into the mix, especially since seeing the technique employed so creatively in Singapore last year, so this new book called Evergreen Architecture is tickling that fancy right now.

As more of the earth’s surface is swallowed up by the built environment, architects are increasingly advised to integrate urban flora and fauna into their designs. Whether developing green roofs, living walls, abundant indoor courtyards, or balconies that connect interior and exterior spaces, the urge to intertwine nature and architecture has never been more apparent.

Embracing this ubiquitous trend, Evergreen Architecture surveys a broad spectrum of residential, institutional, urban, and rural spaces. But as change occurs and solutions to the climate crisis are being integrated on the ground, many new questions are posed. How do residents keep moss-covered walls alive? How can a skyscraper uphold the weight of hundreds of trees?

You can order the book from Bookshop. (via colossal)

Miniature Life

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 19, 2021

tiny chefs preparing food on domino 'stoves'

two tiny men swimming in ramen noodles

a group of tiny people looking at a sushi roll pie chart

tiny people shooting at mahjong 'targets'

a tiny Neo (from The Matrix) dodges spaghetti 'bullets'

Since 2011, Tatsuya Tanaka has been creating daily images of miniature people in the midst of everyday items that resemble bigger things (think broccoli as trees, rows of staples as countertops, floating leaves as boats). Here’s a short video of Tanaka at work on his miniatures:

You can follow his work on his website or on Instagram. (thx, porter)

Animated Embroidery

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 19, 2021

I love these little stop motion videos by Huw Messie (using Processing, I think) that use embroidery for the animation.

You can check out more of Messie’s work on Vimeo, Instagram, and NFT repository hic et nunc.

99 Portraits of Americans in Debt

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 18, 2021

a woman sitting in her living room

a man sitting on a sofa

a woman sitting at a small table

Americans are collectively almost $15 trillion in debt, most of it related to housing (i.e. mortgage debt). For the New Yorker, Margaret Talbot shares some images from Brittany Powell’s The Debt Project, a series of 99 portraits of Americans in debt.

Powell set about photographing ninety-nine Americans who owe money (she ended up with a few more, including herself, but started with that figure as a reference to the slogan “We are the ninety-nine per cent”) and asked them to handwrite accompanying text about how much they owe, and to whom. The litany of reasons gets repetitive, because that’s how it goes — difficulty finding a job in one’s field after graduating during the recession, a bad marriage, a bad divorce, vertiginous rents in expensive cities, medical crises, many, many student loans. Occasionally, there are epic and awful variations: one woman’s mother took out credit cards in her name and, in a ten-year period, racked up “a mortgage worth of debt” to fund her “compulsive shopping and hoarding habits.”

The Debt Project is also available in book form.

Robots Doing Parkour

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 18, 2021

Well. The robots sure are getting good at moving around — running, jumping, doing flips, casually vaulting over railings like an eighth grader trying to impress friends. It is eerie and weird and uncanny and all other such adjectives watching these machines smoothly caper around like humans. Even in the blooper reel they seem really toddler-esque.

The Potato Photographer of the Year 2021

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 18, 2021

a girl wearing a necklace made out of potatoes

a potatoes with shoots sprouting out of it

men sorting potatoes

giving a potato a fake haircut

I am a little embarrassed (and surprised!) at how up my alley this is, but behold: the winners of the Potato Photographer of the Year competition for 2021. (via @jackisnotabird)

The Story of Jumbo the Elephant

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 18, 2021

Jumbo the Elephant was one of the most famous animals in the world. Bought as a calf in Sudan by a European animal dealer in 1860, Jumbo found fame first at the London Zoo and later as the centerpiece of the Barnum & Bailey Circus in the US. Jumbo was so beloved in London that news of his sale to P.T. Barnum prompted 100,000 children to write to Queen Victoria, urging her to nix the deal. In the video above, Andrew McClellan recounts Jumbo’s too-short (and probably unhappy) life and the impact he had on society.

The word “jumbo” hadn’t been known or used in the English language before he came along and has since become the byword for anything humongous or supersized. So every time we use the word “jumbo jet” or “jumbotron”, we’re actually referring back to Jumbo the elephant.

(thx, ben)

The Otherworldly Images of Mikko Lagerstedt

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 18, 2021

partially sunked boat under a colorful night sky

a man standing on a reflective surface under a brilliant blue night sky

Finnish photographer Mikko Lagerstedt creates striking, ethereal, and atmospheric photographs — check out his work on his website and Instagram.

Everyday Paparazzi

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 17, 2021

a man dressed in a wide brimmed hat, vest, and black boots walks down the street

two women walk arm in arm down the street

a man and a woman walk arm in arm down the street

Johnny Cirillo photographs people on the streets of New York in the style of paparazzi (half a block away with a long lens) and posts them, with permission, to his Instagram account. From an interview with Cirillo in Vogue:

I decided early-on that if I was going to shoot candids of New Yorkers, I didn’t want it to be with a wide lens, up-close in their faces. I started using a 200mm lens so that I could be half a city block away from the subject. It’s similar to the way paparazzi shoot, and all my subjects are celebrities to me, so it’s fitting in that respect.

(via life is so beautiful)

How Iceland Draws Geothermal Energy from the Earth

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 17, 2021

In this short video from TED-Ed, we learn how Iceland extracts nearly emissions-free geothermal energy from the Earth (hint: volcanoes) but also how harnessing geothermal energy with heat pumps is something that can be done around the world. (via the kid should see this)

A Tribute to American Landscape Photographer Bob Wick

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 16, 2021

hill full of colorful wildflowers

a road with rugged moutains in the background

dense green forest covered in moss

Over at In Focus, Alan Taylor is highlighting the work of Bob Wick, a photographer for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management who recently retired after 33 years of service.

In a recent interview, Bob reflected on his career. “It has been extremely fulfilling to see my photos used in BLM, across the Department, and non-profits and getting to showcase the beauty of public lands and the resources we see,” he said. “When you see things on paper in words, it’s one thing, but when you see the image of the lands that you’re affecting with that resource decision, it’s a more powerful way to communicate the message.”

Bob added, “I like bringing joy to people with photos. A lot of people are armchair travelers and can’t go to remote places, but they get the satisfaction of seeing the beauty through my photos. I’m always happy to be able to share that beauty. I also think that images help build pride among employees as reminders of the vast and irreplaceable places that BLM manages.”

You can follow Wick’s continuing photo adventures on Instagram.

Benedict Cumberbatch Reads a Letter from Kurt Vonnegut with Advice for the Future

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 16, 2021

For a Volkswagen ad campaign in 1988, Kurt Vonnegut wrote a letter of advice to people living in 2088. In the video above from 2019, Benedict Cumberbatch reads Vonnegut’s prescient letter. His main message is an environmental one: that if we don’t get our shit together, Nature will have its way with us.

The sort of leaders we need now are not those who promise ultimate victory over Nature through perseverance in living as we do right now, but those with the courage and intelligence to present to the world what appears to be Nature’s stern but reasonable surrender terms:

1. Reduce and stabilize your population.
2. Stop poisoning the air, the water, and the topsoil.
3. Stop preparing for war and start dealing with your real problems.
4. Teach your kids, and yourselves, too, while you’re at it, how to inhabit a small planet without helping to kill it.
5. Stop thinking science can fix anything if you give it a trillion dollars.
6. Stop thinking your grandchildren will be OK no matter how wasteful or destructive you may be, since they can go to a nice new planet on a spaceship. That is really mean, and stupid.
7. And so on. Or else.

Vonnegut: definitely a prophet. (via open culture)

The Taliban’s Return Is Catastrophic for Women in Afghanistan

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 16, 2021

Afghan Hazara students attend the Marefat School on the outskirts of Kabul, April 10, 2010

Pulitzer prize-winning photojournalist Lynsey Addario has covered Afghanistan for the past 20 years. In the Atlantic, she writes about the effect of the return to power of the oppressive Islamic-fundamentalist Taliban will have on the country’s citizens, particularly women and girls. Here she describes life under the Taliban in 2000 and 2001:

Perhaps the silence of life under the Taliban sits with me more than anything. There were very few cars, no music, no television, no telephones, and no idle conversation on the sidewalks. The dusty streets were crowded with widows who had lost their husbands in the protracted war; banned from working, their only means of survival was to beg. People were scared, indoors and out. Those who were brave enough to venture out spoke in hushed voices, for fear of provoking a Taliban beating for anything as simple as not having a long-enough beard (for a man) or a long-enough burka (for a woman), or sometimes for nothing at all. Shiny brown cassette tape fluttered from the trees and wires and signs and poles everywhere-a warning to those who dared to play music in private. Matches in Kabul’s Ghazi Stadium had been replaced with public executions on Fridays after prayer. Taliban officials used bulldozers or tanks to topple walls onto men accused of being gay. People who stole had their hand sliced off; accused adulterers were stoned to death.

After the Taliban fell in 2001, Addario observed women returning to public life:

I photographed the defeat of the Taliban in Kandahar in late 2001, and returned to the country with my camera at least a dozen times in the subsequent two decades. From Kabul to Kandahar to Herat to Badakhshan, I photographed women attending schools, graduating from universities, training as surgeons, delivering babies, working as midwives, running for Parliament and serving in government, driving, training to be police officers, acting in films, working — as journalists, translators, television presenters, for international organizations. Many of them were dealing with the impossible balancing act of working outside the home while raising children; of being a wife, a mother, a sister, or a daughter in a place where women were cracking glass ceilings daily, and often at great peril.

Now those women, especially those involved in politics or activism, are in danger now that the Taliban have seized power in Afghanistan again.

The Music of Subway Train Door Chimes

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 16, 2021

In The Hidden Melodies of Subways Around the World, the NY Times takes a look at an often overlooked aspect of transit design: the door closing sounds on the subway. My favorite door jingle is from the Paris Metro — I never knew where it came from:

In Paris, a simple “A” note plays as the doors shut. This is also a throwback, a sound that mimics the vibrations of a mechanical part that is no longer in use on any of the system’s trains. “But for a half century Parisians and visitors alike became used to that sound, so we decided to keep it, and recorded a synthesized version,” said Song Phanekham, a communications manager for the Paris transit system. “It’s a tribute to the heritage of the Paris Metro.”

In Tokyo, each station has its own custom jingle to signal departures. In Rio de Janeiro, the subway’s door chime pays homage to bossa nova. In Vancouver, the doors still close to a three-note sound that was recorded in the 1980s on a Yamaha DX7. (“The hallmark of any mid-80s pop song,” said Ian Fisher, manager of operations planning at British Columbia Rapid Transit Company.)

You can listen to more sounds of subway doors closing in these three videos recorded by Ted Green.

Update: Composer Minoru Mukaiya has made distinct door-closing jingles for each subway station in Tokyo.

(via waxy)

What’s the Proper Metaphor for the Covid Vaccine?

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 13, 2021

For The Atlantic, Katherine Wu writes about the difficulty of communicating how vaccines work and how they protect individuals and communities from disease: Vaccines Are Like Sunscreen… No, Wait, Airbags… No, Wait…

Unfortunately, communal benefit is harder to define, harder to quantify, and harder to describe than individual protection, because “it’s not the way Americans are used to thinking about things,” Neil Lewis, a behavioral scientist and communications expert at Cornell, told me. That’s in part because communal risk isn’t characteristic of the health perils people in wealthy countries are accustomed to facing: heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer. Maybe that’s part of why we gravitate toward individual-focused comparisons. Slipping into a pandemic-compatible, population-based frame of mind is a big shift. In the age of COVID-19, “there’s been a lot of focus on the individual,” Lewis told me. That’s pretty at odds “with how infection works.”

As someone who has struggled with analogizing the virus & vaccines, I was nodding my head a lot while reading this. Something I’ve noticed in recent years that Wu didn’t get into is that readers desire precision in metaphors and analogies, even though metaphor is — by definition! — not supposed to be taken literally. People seem much more interested in taking analogies apart, identifying what doesn’t work, and discarding them rather than — more generously and constructively IMO — using them as the author intended to better understand the subject matter. The perfect metaphor doesn’t exist because then it wouldn’t be a metaphor.

41 Questions We Should Ask Ourselves About the Technology We Use

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 13, 2021

In an issue of his newsletter, The Convivial Society, L.M. Sacasas posed 41 questions that we should ask ourselves about technologies to help us “draw out the moral or ethical implications of our tools”. Here are a few of the questions:

3. How will the use of this technology affect my experience of time?
12. What was required of other creatures so that I might be able to use this technology?
16. How does this technology empower me? At whose expense?
22. What desires does the use of this technology generate?
35. Does my use of this technology encourage me to view others as a means to an end?

Sacasas recently joined Ezra Klein on his podcast to talk through some of the answers to these questions for certain technologies.

EZRA KLEIN: I’m gonna group the next set together. So what was required of other human beings, of other creatures, of the earth, so that I might be able to use this technology? When you ask that, when you think of that, what comes to mind?

MICHAEL SACASAS: So I recently wrote a piece, and its premise was that sometimes we think of the internet, of digital life, as being immaterial, existing somewhere out in the ether, in the cloud, with these metaphors that kind of suggest that it doesn’t really have a material footprint. But the reality of course — I think as most of us are becoming very aware — is that it very much has a material reality that may begin in a mine where rare earth metals are being extracted in inhumane working conditions at great cost to the local environment.

But that’s very far removed from my comfortable experience of the tablet on my couch in the living room. And so with regards to the earth, the digital realm depends upon material resources that need to be collected. It depends on the energy grid. It leaves a footprint on the environment.

And so we tend not to think about that by the time that it gets to us and looks so shiny and clean and new, and connects us to this world that isn’t physically necessarily located anywhere in our experience. And so I think it is important for us to think about the labor, the extraction cost on the environment, that go into providing us with the kind of world that we find so amusing and interesting and comfortable.

Animals Are Getting Smaller as the Planet Warms

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 13, 2021

One of the many effects of human-driven climate change is that, on average, the bodies of animals are getting smaller — birds, fish, deer, frogs, rodents, insects. And these changes could have large and unpredictable consequences.

“That’s the problem with human-driven climate change. It’s the rate of change that’s just orders of magnitude faster than what the natural world has had to deal with in the past. Size is really important to survival, and you can’t just change that indefinitely without consequence. For one thing, I don’t think it’s feasible that species are going to be able to continue to get smaller and maintain things like a migration from one hemisphere to another.”

And since smaller bodies can hold fewer eggs, they result in fewer offspring, and a lower population size in the long run. For amphibians who need to keep their skin wet in order to breathe, shrinking can mean higher chances of drying out in a drought because their bodies absorb and hold smaller quantities of water.

But the more concerning consequences have to do with how this could destabilize relationships between species. Because shrinking plays out at different rates for different species, predators might have to eat more and more of shrinking prey, for example, throwing a finely-tuned ecosystem off balance.

Floating Micro-Origami that Magically Unfolds in Water

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 13, 2021

Watch as these tiny folded structures slowly unfold while floating on the water. It’s all about surface tension and capillary action. The shadows are cool to watch as well. (via the kid should see this)

Mesmerizing Matchstick Stop Motion Video

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 12, 2021

Usually when I post these sorts of non-narrative videos — in this case, a series of creative stop motion vignettes featuring matchsticks made by Tomohiro Okazaki — I say something to the effect of “I could have watched this all day” or “I wish this video were longer” because they’re often quite short. Well, this one is seven and a half minutes long and I still wish it had gone on for longer. Ok sure, you get the point after awhile, but each successive animation is just as inventive than the last that it kept me hooked.

How One Family Grieves Their Son, 20 Years After 9/11

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 12, 2021

This is an extraordinary story by Jennifer Senior about the various ways in which members of a family grieved the death of a beloved son who died in NYC on 9/11: What Bobby McIlvaine Left Behind.

Early on, the McIlvaines spoke to a therapist who warned them that each member of their family would grieve differently. Imagine that you’re all at the top of a mountain, she told them, but you all have broken bones, so you can’t help each other. You each have to find your own way down.

It was a helpful metaphor, one that may have saved the McIlvaines’ marriage. But when I mentioned it to Roxane Cohen Silver, a psychology professor at UC Irvine who’s spent a lifetime studying the effects of sudden, traumatic loss, she immediately spotted a problem with it: “That suggests everyone will make it down,” she told me. “Some people never get down the mountain at all.”

This is one of the many things you learn about mourning when examining it at close range: It’s idiosyncratic, anarchic, polychrome. A lot of the theories you read about grief are great, beautiful even, but they have a way of erasing individual experiences. Every mourner has a very different story to tell.

That therapist was certainly right, however, in the most crucial sense: After September 11, those who had been close to Bobby all spun off in very different directions. Helen stifled her grief, avoiding the same supermarket she’d shopped in for years so that no one would ask how she was. Jeff, Bobby’s lone sibling, had to force his way through the perdition of survivor’s guilt. Bob Sr. treated his son’s death as if it were an unsolved murder, a cover-up to be exposed. Something was fishy about 9/11.

I read parts of this with tears in my eyes because I have grief in my life right now. Many of us do, I think. Because of the pandemic — a big, mixed-up ball of emotional energy that can’t dissipate until, well, I don’t know when — because of past trauma kicking up dirt, because of the way we’ve treated others and ourselves, because we want to help others, especially our children, deal with their grief and big feelings more effectively. This piece was an urgent reminder of just how long grief can last and how many ways it can manifest in different people.

Getting into the Delta Variant Mindset

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 12, 2021

I’m just going to go ahead and say it right up front here: if you had certain expectations in May/June about how the pandemic was going to end in the US (or was even thinking it was over), you need to throw much of that mindset in the trash and start again because the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 has changed the game. I know this sucks to hear,1 but Delta is sufficiently different that we need to reset and stop assuming we can solely rely on the vaccines to stop Covid-19 from spreading. Ed Yong’s typically excellent piece on how delta has changed the pandemic’s endgame is helping me wrap my head around this.

But something is different now — the virus. “The models in late spring were pretty consistent that we were going to have a ‘normal’ summer,” Samuel Scarpino of the Rockefeller Foundation, who studies infectious-disease dynamics, told me. “Obviously, that’s not where we are.” In part, he says, people underestimated how transmissible Delta is, or what that would mean. The original SARS-CoV-2 virus had a basic reproduction number, or R0, of 2 to 3, meaning that each infected person spreads it to two or three people. Those are average figures: In practice, the virus spread in uneven bursts, with relatively few people infecting large clusters in super-spreading events. But the CDC estimates that Delta’s R0 lies between 5 and 9, which “is shockingly high,” Eleanor Murray, an epidemiologist at Boston University, told me. At that level, “its reliance on super-spreading events basically goes away,” Scarpino said.

In simple terms, many people who caught the original virus didn’t pass it to anyone, but most people who catch Delta create clusters of infection. That partly explains why cases have risen so explosively. It also means that the virus will almost certainly be a permanent part of our lives, even as vaccines blunt its ability to cause death and severe disease.

And a reminder, as we “argue over small measures” here in the US, that most of the world is in a much worse place:

Pandemics end. But this one is not yet over, and especially not globally. Just 16 percent of the world’s population is fully vaccinated. Many countries, where barely 1 percent of people have received a single dose, are “in for a tough year of either lockdowns or catastrophic epidemics,” Adam Kucharski, the infectious-disease modeler, told me. The U.S. and the U.K. are further along the path to endemicity, “but they’re not there yet, and that last slog is often the toughest,” he added. “I have limited sympathy for people who are arguing over small measures in rich countries when we have uncontrolled epidemics in large parts of the world.”

Where I think Yong’s piece stumbles a little is in its emphasis of the current vaccines’ protection against infection from Delta. As David Wallace-Wells explains in his piece Don’t Panic, But Breakthrough Cases May Be a Bigger Problem Than You’ve Been Told, vaccines still offer excellent protection against severe infection, hospitalization, and death, but there is evidence that breakthrough infections are more common than many public health officials are saying. The problem lies with the use of statistics from before vaccines and Delta were prevalent:

Almost all of these calculations about the share of breakthrough cases have been made using year-to-date 2021 data, which include several months before mass vaccination (when by definition vanishingly few breakthrough cases could have occurred) during which time the vast majority of the year’s total cases and deaths took place (during the winter surge). This is a corollary to the reassuring principle you might’ve heard, over the last few weeks, that as vaccination levels grow we would expect the percentage of vaccinated cases will, too — the implication being that we shouldn’t worry too much over panicked headlines about the relative share of vaccinated cases in a state or ICU but instead focus on the absolute number of those cases in making a judgment about vaccine protection across a population. This is true. But it also means that when vaccination levels were very low, there were inevitably very few breakthrough cases, too. That means that to calculate a prevalence ratio for cases or deaths using the full year’s data requires you to effectively divide a numerator of four months of data by a denominator of seven months of data. And because those first few brutal months of the year were exceptional ones that do not reflect anything like the present state of vaccination or the disease, they throw off the ratios even further. Two-thirds of 2021 cases and 80 percent of deaths came before April 1, when only 15 percent of the country was fully vaccinated, which means calculating year-to-date ratios means possibly underestimating the prevalence of breakthrough cases by a factor of three and breakthrough deaths by a factor of five. And if the ratios are calculated using data sets that end before the Delta surge, as many have been, that adds an additional distortion, since both breakthrough cases and severe illness among the vaccinated appear to be significantly more common with this variant than with previous ones.

Vaccines are still the best way to protect yourself and your community from Covid-19. The vaccines are still really good, better than we could have hoped for. But they’re not magic and with the rise of Delta (and potentially worse variants on the horizon if the virus is allowed to continue to spread unchecked and mutate), we need to keep doing the other things (masking, distancing, ventilation, etc.) in order to keep the virus in check and avoid lockdowns, school closings, outbreaks, and mass death. We’ve got the tools; we just need to summon the will and be in the right mindset.

  1. In a tweet introducing his piece, Yong says “Many folks are upset & confused by the last month” and that’s right where I am with this. Maybe you are too. I’m expecting to get angry email about this post, calling it alarmist. But Covid is different now and thinking our same March 2021 thoughts about it isn’t going to help ourselves, our families, or our communities. The sooner we can regroup, the better.

One Woman’s Mission to Get Vaccines to Her Rural Alabama Town

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 12, 2021

The Panola Project is a short film by Rachael DeCruz and Jeremy Levine that follows the efforts of local convenience store owner Dorothy Oliver to get the people in her small Alabama community vaccinated against Covid-19. A trusted member of her community, Oliver teams up with county commissioner Drucilla Russ-Jackson to call & go door-to-door, talking with people one-on-one, cajoling and telling personal stories of loss to get folks signed up for a mobile vaccination clinic.

In the film, Oliver and Russ-Jackson arrange for a hospital to set up a pop-up site in Panola, but the site will only be established if they get at least forty people to sign up to take the vaccine. We follow Oliver as she goes door to door, talking people into signing up, lightly cajoling them about their fears and concerns. When I asked her how she does it, her answer was disarmingly simple: “I just be nice to them,” she said. “I don’t go at them saying, ‘You gotta do that.’” DeCruz, too, was struck by the way Oliver and Jackson talked to people who were on the fence about the vaccine, an issue more often discussed with stridency of various types. “There’s this very warm and kind of loving and caring way that Dorothy and Ms. Jackson approached those conversations, even when people aren’t in agreement. And it wasn’t done in a way that’s, like, ‘I know better than you.’ “

Oliver’s charm with the skeptics is remarkable, but so is her determination to bring the vaccine to her underserved town. Most of the women and men Oliver talked to leaped at the opportunity to sign up for the vaccine. On vaccine day, they rolled down their car windows to thank her. “We appreciate y’all giving it to us, because a lot of people don’t really know where to go to take these vaccines,” one woman tells her. Vaccine hesitancy in Black communities has been harped on in the media, but those conversations can gloss over questions of availability. Levine told me that they were struck by how many people had put off vaccination for logistical rather than ideological reasons. In Panola, he says, they regularly heard people say, “I want the shot. How do I get this? I don’t have a car; how am I going to get forty miles to the closest hospital and back?”

The result? In a state with one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country, 94% of adults in Panola have been vaccinated, due in part to Oliver’s and Russ-Jackson’s efforts.

Magnificent Cumulonimbus Mammatus Clouds

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 11, 2021

cumulonimbus mammatus clouds

Back in 2012, Michael F. Johnston captured a particularly spectacular mammatus cloud over Regina, Saskatchewan. I don’t know how much of a cloud enthusiast Johnston is, but I got pretty excited when I captured these mammatus clouds at sunset a couple of years ago.

The Five Dimensions of Curiosity and the Four Types of Curious People

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 11, 2021

In a paper published in 2017, Todd Kashdan and his colleagues identified five distinct dimensions of curiosity. Here are the first three:

1. Joyous Exploration. This is the prototype of curiosity — the recognition and desire to seek out new knowledge and information, and the subsequent joy of learning and growing.

2. Deprivation Sensitivity. This dimension has a distinct emotional tone, with anxiety and tension being more prominent than joy — pondering abstract or complex ideas, trying to solve problems, and seeking to reduce gaps in knowledge.

3. Stress Tolerance. This dimension is about the willingness to embrace the doubt, confusion, anxiety, and other forms of distress that arise from exploring new, unexpected, complex, mysterious, or obscure events.

They also identified four types of curious people: The Fascinated, Problem Solvers, Empathizers, and Avoiders. (via the art of noticing)

How Directors Shoot Films at Three Different Budget Levels

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 11, 2021

The YouTube channel In Depth Cine has been looking at how directors like Spike Lee, Alfonso Cuarón, Martin Scorsese, and Wes Anderson shoot films at three different budget levels, from the on-a-shoestring films early in their careers to later blockbusters, to see the similarities and differences in their approaches. For instance, Wes Anderson made Bottle Rocket for $5 million, Rushmore for $10 million, and Grand Budapest Hotel for $25 million:

Steven Spielberg shot Duel for $450,000, Raiders of the Lost Ark for $20 million, and Saving Private Ryan for $70 million:

Christopher Nolan did Following for $6,000, Memento for $9 million, and Inception for $160 million:

You can find the full playlist of 3 Budget Levels videos here. (This list really needs some female directors — Ava DuVernay, Sofia Coppola, and Kathryn Bigelow would be easy to do, for starters. And Chloé Zhao, after The Eternals gets released.)

Voice Above Water

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 11, 2021

90-year-old Wayan Nyo has been fishing in Indonesian waters for 80 years but now pulls mostly plastic and trash out of the water. This short film follows him during his daily routine as he talks about what the formerly clean & bountiful ocean has meant to him and his family. (via colossal)

Caffeine, the World’s Most Popular Psychoactive Drug

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 10, 2021

In an excerpt from his new book This Is Your Mind on Plants, Michael Pollan writes about caffeine, a performance enhancing drug that humans seemingly cannot get enough of.

Cognitive psychologists sometimes talk in terms of two distinct types of consciousness: spotlight consciousness, which illuminates a single focal point of attention, making it very good for reasoning, and lantern consciousness, in which attention is less focused yet illuminates a broader field of attention. Young children tend to exhibit lantern consciousness; so do many people on psychedelics. This more diffuse form of attention lends itself to mind wandering, free association, and the making of novel connections — all of which can nourish creativity. By comparison, caffeine’s big contribution to human progress has been to intensify spotlight consciousness — the focused, linear, abstract and efficient cognitive processing more closely associated with mental work than play. This, more than anything else, is what made caffeine the perfect drug not only for the age of reason and the Enlightenment, but for the rise of capitalism, too.

The power of caffeine to keep us awake and alert, to stem the natural tide of exhaustion, freed us from the circadian rhythms of our biology and so, along with the advent of artificial light, opened the frontier of night to the possibilities of work.

I particularly enjoyed — and by enjoyed I mean “found uncomfortably true” — this line:

Daily, caffeine proposes itself as the optimal solution to the problem caffeine creates.

For more information on how caffeine enabled the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution, check out Tom Standage’s A History of the World in 6 Glasses.

Ideas Behind Their Time

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 10, 2021

For the FT, Tim Harford writes about things that could have been invented far sooner than they actually were.

Consider the bicycle. It was not produced in even the most primitive form until the early 1800s, and a practical version with chain drive was not widespread until the 1880s — just in time to compete with the motor car.

Anton Howes, author of Arts and Minds, points to the flying shuttle, invented in 1733. “It radically increased the productivity of weaving,” he writes. “It involved no new materials…and required no special skill or science.” The craft that it transformed has been around long enough to be mentioned in the Old Testament.

Steven Johnson, in his book Extra Life, suggests that evidence-based medicine is an idea behind its time. The idea of running experiments is centuries old, but the first properly randomised controlled trial in medicine took place in 1948. It could easily have been routine before da Vinci’s time, but instead clinical trials lagged far behind anaesthetic, antibiotics, antiseptic, pasteurisation and vaccines.

How the Human Immune System Works

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 10, 2021

In the first part of a multi-video series on how the human immune system works, Kurzgesagt describes how the system’s first lines of defense work when your body is invaded by microorganisms.

The human immune system is the most complex biological system we know, after the human brain, and yet, most of us never learn how it works. Or what it is. Your immune System consists of hundreds of tiny and two large organs, it has its own transport network spread throughout your body. Every day it makes hundreds of billions of fresh cells.

It is not some sort of abstract entity. Your immune system is YOU. Your biology protecting you from the billions of microorganisms that want to consume you and from your own perverted cells that turn into cancer.

Kurzgesagt founder Philipp Dettmer is publishing a companion book to the series, Immune: A Journey Into the Mysterious System That Keeps You Alive; it’s out in late September.

I have read a lot about the human immune system over the past 18 months, but this video was still helpful in understanding how it all fits together. For more information, consult their extensive list of sources or watch their earlier video on what the SARS-CoV-2 virus does to a human body.

Global Warming Over a Lifetime

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 10, 2021

a hand drawn chart of global temperature change over the past 40 years

From XKCD’s Randall Munroe, a chart of the global average temperature over his lifetime. If you’re curious, you can check how much hotter your hometown is now than when you were born.

Meet Lizzie Armanto, Olympic Skateboarder

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 09, 2021

The 2020 Summer Olympics are over, but it’s never too late to find inspiration in the athletes who competed. For the New Yorker, Nathan Fitch made a short film about professional skateboarder Lizzie Armanto, who was then preparing to represent Finland in the first ever skateboarding competition at the Olympics.

“There [are] no masters,” Armanto says. “And even the people that we call masters — they haven’t done every trick. No one can do everything on a skateboard at all times without failing. Everyone falls, and everyone will have something that they can work on.”

Armanto didn’t medal at these Games — she broke several bones and underwent surgery after a skating accident in late 2020 and was perhaps still recovering from that. But she represented Finland and her sport in fine style; she helped design the uniforms she wore:

Those distinctive squiggles were actually an homage to Finland, the country Armanto was competing for. Specifically, she was inspired by architect and designer Alvar Aalto. “In 1939, he designed a kidney-shaped swimming pool which became synonymous with pool skateboarding much later in the ’70s,” Armanto says. “The various patterns on the jumpsuits are modeled after empty swimming pools around the world.”

(thx, pete)

The Pink Salt Ponds of Camargue, France

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 09, 2021

pink salt marsh from overhead

pink salt marsh from overhead

pink salt marsh from overhead

Check out Italian photographer Paolo Pettigiani’s photos of the evaporation ponds of Camargue, France. While these ponds are industrially harvested for their salt, the pink color of the water is naturally occurring in the salt marshes of the area, caused by halophile dunaliella salina algae. The area is also an important bird habitat and is one of the few places in Europe that flamingos live, which might seem like a coincidence until you learn that flamingos gain their pink color from eating the algae and shrimp that also feed on the algae. (via moss & fog)

The Era of Rapid Climate Change

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 09, 2021

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has released their summary report on the climate emergency, which warns that our climate is now changing rapidly almost everywhere and immediate & massive action is necessary. The press release starts:

Scientists are observing changes in the Earth’s climate in every region and across the whole climate system, according to the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report, released today. Many of the changes observed in the climate are unprecedented in thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of years, and some of the changes already set in motion — such as continued sea level rise — are irreversible over hundreds to thousands of years.

However, strong and sustained reductions in emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases would limit climate change. While benefits for air quality would come quickly, it could take 20-30 years to see global temperatures stabilize, according to the IPCC Working Group I report, Climate Change 2021: the Physical Science Basis, approved on Friday by 195 member governments of the IPCC, through a virtual approval session that was held over two weeks starting on July 26.

This is a huge deal — all 195 member governments had to approve the findings and language in this report and the report is not ambiguous. From Eric Holthaus:

The report’s main takeaway, put in a single sentence directly quoted from the report’s press release: “Unless there are immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, limiting warming to close to 1.5°C or even 2°C will be beyond reach.”

That means “immediate, rapid, large-scale” change is what we MUST demand — there’s a vastly limited future for all of us if it doesn’t happen right away.

The most striking part of the report to me is its of use the word “rapid” prominently, which to me is a major change from past reports.

The era of rapid climate change has begun. Both a rapid escalation of consequences, and a rapid escalation of solutions. Time has run out for anything but radical change.

To me, the report is equal parts depressing and galvanizing.

It will take several years, even in the best possible scenario, to see the positive effects of rapidly reductions in emissions. But that’s not so different from every other worthwhile investment we make — from going to school, to going to therapy, to building bike lanes, to forming communities of mutual aid. Every worthwhile thing takes time. And, if we believe this report, the next 20-30 years is the most important time of our whole lives.

Reconstructed Portraits

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 05, 2021

artwork by Karen Navarro

artwork by Karen Navarro

artwork by Karen Navarro

artwork by Karen Navarro

These images are drawn from Argentinian-born artist Karen Navarro’s projects El Pertenecer en Tiempos Modernos (Belonging in Modern Times) and The Constructed Self. You can also find her on Instagram.

Bike Riding the Rails

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 05, 2021

File this under Things I Definitely Want to Do Sometime: riding electric-assist railbikes through a California redwood forest. Check out how fun this looks:

From the LA Times:

To pedal the rails at Fort Bragg, you book a trip, show up at the station, settle into a vehicle, don a helmet and seat belt, pedal through four downtown intersections (train signals halt traffic) and pass a cemetery.

Then suddenly you’re in the woods, hearing only birdsong and the gentle hum of wheels on tracks. There’s no need to exert yourself pedaling: The railbikes, which weigh about 250 pounds each, are outfitted like e-bikes with quiet electric motors that can push you along at 10 mph even if you don’t pedal.

(via the morning news)

Weezer Covers Metallica’s Enter Sandman

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 05, 2021

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of their 16x platinum Black Album, Metallica is releasing an album on Sept 10th called The Metallica Blacklist, which contains Black Album covers featuring 53 different artists. One of those covers is Enter Sandman by Weezer, which you can watch above. Some of the other songs on the album include:

St. Vincent — Sad but True
The Hu — Through the Never
Phoebe Bridgers — Nothing Else Matters
Miley Cyrus Feat. Watt, Elton John, Yo-yo ma, Robert Trujillo, Chad Smith — Nothing Else Matters
Darius Rucker — Nothing Else Matters
Rodrigo y Gabriela — The Struggle Within

All profits from the album will be donated to charity. You can listen to the songs that have already been posted on Spotify, pre-save or pre-order the album, or check out this album trailer to hear what you’re getting into:

I’ve been listening to the Black Album a little bit recently (it came out my freshman year in college and so hits me right between the eyes) so I’m looking forward to checking this out.

Track Star Races the NYC Subway

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 05, 2021

BuzzFeed enlisted NYU track athlete Jon Diaz to help answer a burning question: Can a fast runner beat an NYC subway train from one station to the next? I don’t want to spoil the answer, but they probably wouldn’t have made the video if he’d failed, right? (via clive thompson)

Update: See also subway races in other cities like London & Paris. (via @philipkennedy)

Time Lapse of the Changing Seasons of Denmark

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 04, 2021

In a series of four short time lapse films, Casper Rolsted captures the changing of the seasons in Denmark, from summer (top) all the way through to spring (bottom). I’ve gotta say, the springtime video in particular put a smile on my face — all those flowers emerging from the snowy ground, reaching out for the strengthening sunlight.

See also Four Seasons in the Life of a Finnish Island. (via colossal)

Update: See also David Hockney’s The Four Seasons, Woldgate Woods. (thx, phil)

Size Comparison: The Largest Black Hole in the Universe

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 04, 2021

Black holes are the largest single objects in the universe, many times larger than even the biggest stars, and have no upper limit to their size. But practically, how big is the biggest, heaviest black hole in the universe? (A: More massive than the entire Milky Way.)

The largest things in the universe are black holes. In contrast to things like planets or stars they have no physical size limit, and can literally grow endlessly. Although in reality specific things need to happen to create different kinds of black holes, from really tiny ones to the largest single things in the universe. So how do black holes grow and how large is the largest of them all?

Videos about space are where Kurzgesagt really shines. I’ve seen all their videos about black holes and related objects, and I always pick up something I never knew whenever a new one comes out. This time around, it was quasistars and the surprisingly small mass of supermassive black holes located at galactic centers compared to the galaxies themselves.

The Walking Dead: American Pedestrian Fatalities on the Rise

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 04, 2021

In the last decade, the number of pedestrians hit by cars in the United States has increased by almost 50%, even as that rate has decreased in Europe and other wealthy nations (“thanks primarily to new street and crosswalk designs, implemented in the belief that most road deaths are avoidable”). In a review of Angie Schmitt’s 2020 book Right of Way: Race, Class, and the Silent Epidemic of Pedestrian Deaths in America for the New York Review of Books, Peter Baker explores why America is increasingly hostile to pedestrians. Part of the reason is the rise of SUVs (and one would assume, trucks) in the US:

In the 1980s SUVs were a rarity. It was only in 2015 that they started outselling sedans. In 2018 they accounted for just under half of new vehicle sales, more than any other category of car. The height of American SUVs makes it harder for drivers to see pedestrians and means the hit comes higher on the body — and backed by extra mass — which makes organ damage and death two to three times more likely for adults, and four times more likely for children. More SUVs than ever are “overpowered” — that is, equipped with a high horsepower-to-weight ratio; this makes speeding more likely, which, like increased height and weight, increases the chances of pedestrians being hit and killed. More cars on the road, taller and heavier than ever before, going faster: each factor alone presents a serious problem. Together, they are a recipe for disaster.

And pedestrian deaths are also not equally distributed across population groups, both because of who owns cars but also shifts in where people are living:

Low-income pedestrians, Black and Hispanic pedestrians, elderly pedestrians, and disabled pedestrians are all disproportionately affected. Black and Hispanic men are twice as likely as white men to die while walking, and four times more likely than the average member of the population. Native American men are almost five times more likely.

The piece is interesting throughout, as is Schmitt’s book I’m sure.

This App Identifies Birds by Their Songs

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 04, 2021

a bird singing and the Merlin app identifying what kind of bird it is

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology recently added the ability to identify birds from hearing their birdsong to their Merlin Bird ID app — a “Shazam for bird songs” as Fast Company says. You just start recording with your phone and the app starts telling you the birds it’s hearing. Here’s how it works:

Automatic song ID has been a dream for decades, but analyzing sound has always been extremely difficult. The breakthrough came when researchers, including Merlin lead researcher Grant Van Horn, began treating the sounds as images and applying new and powerful image classification algorithms like the ones that power Merlin’s Photo ID feature.

“Each sound recording a user makes gets converted from a waveform to a spectrogram-a way to visualize the amplitude [volume], frequency [pitch], and duration of the sound,” Van Horn says. “So just like Merlin can identify a picture of a bird, it can now use this picture of a bird’s sound to make an ID,” Van Horn says.

This pioneering sound-identification technology is integrated into the existing Merlin Bird ID app, meaning Merlin now offers four ways to identify a bird: by a sound, by a photo, by answering five questions about a bird you saw, or by exploring a list of the birds expected where you are.

Margaret Renkl tried the app out and it seems to work pretty well:

I set my phone down on the table on my back deck, opened the Merlin app, chose “Sound ID” and hit the microphone button. Immediately a spectrogram of sound waves began to scroll across the screen. Every time a bird sings, the sound registers as a kind of picture of the song. By comparing that picture with others in its database, the app arrives at an ID.

I watched as Merlin rolled out the names of bird after bird — tufted titmouse, European starling, Carolina chickadee, northern cardinal, American crow, white-breasted nuthatch, eastern towhee, house wren, American goldfinch, blue jay, eastern bluebird, American robin, Carolina wren, house finch. It didn’t miss a single one.

What amazed me was not merely the accuracy of the ID but also the way the app untangled the layers of song, correctly identifying the birds that were singing in my yard, as well the birds that were singing next door and the birds that were singing across the street. If the same bird sang a second time, the app highlighted the name it had already listed. Watching those highlights play across the growing list of birds was almost like watching fingers fly across a piano keyboard.

See also this video review. You can download the app here. I’m going to give this a shot over my lunch hour today. I try to eat outside when the weather is nice and there are always birds out singing.

Then & Now Portraits of Centenarians

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 03, 2021

photo of a person as a young woman and as a centenarian

photo of a person as a young woman and as a centenarian

photo of a person as a young woman and as a centenarian

For his Faces of Century project, photographer Jan Langer made portraits of Czech people who are 100+ years old that mimic the style of photos of those same people 70 or 80 years before. If you click on the ⓘ below each pair of photographs, you can read a short biography of each person. All of these folks lived through two world wars, the Cold War, the space age, the computer age, and so much more. Incredible. (via life is so beautiful)

The Mistake that Toppled the Berlin Wall

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 03, 2021

I was 16 years old on the day the Berlin Wall fell. I remember coming home from school that day and watching the events unfold on television, completely shocked at how quickly it had all happened. Politics & protests had been pushing the Eastern Bloc countries toward more openness for years, but before watching this video, I’d never heard that the catalyst for that world-changing event was a short mistaken statement at the end of an otherwise boring press conference. From the BBC:

East German leaders had tried to calm mounting protests by loosening the borders, making travel easier for East Germans. They had not intended to open the border up completely.

The changes were meant to be fairly minor — but the way they were delivered had major consequences.

Notes about the new rules were handed to a spokesman, Günter Schabowski — who had no time to read them before his regular press conference. When he read the note aloud for the first time, reporters were stunned.

“Private travel outside the country can now be applied for without prerequisites,” he said. Surprised journalists clamoured for more details.

Shuffling through his notes, Mr Schabowski said that as far as he was aware, it was effective immediately.

In fact it had been planned to start the next day, with details on applying for a visa.

But the news was all over television — and East Germans flocked to the border in huge numbers.

How did the Berlin Wall fall? Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly.

Venice’s Massive Flood Defense System

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 03, 2021

In this video, Tomorrow’s Build takes a look at the $7 billion flood defense system that was built to protect Venice, Italy from increased flooding due to climate change. They detail how the system was built, how well it works, how it compares with other defense systems, the challenges associated with keeping it working, and how well this sort of defense system might work for other coastal cities (NYC, SF, Sydney).

American Freestyle Canoeing Is Like Dancing on Water

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 03, 2021

Here’s the thing about humans: they will danceify every possible activity — and canoeing is no exception.

American Freestyle canoeing is the art of paddling a canoe on flat water with perfect control of its movements. The canoe is usually leaned over to the side to help the boat turn sharply and efficiently and paddle strokes are taken on either side of the canoe depending on the individual move. Balance, paddle placement and turn initiation are a few keys to this control. Since the movements seem dance-like, some practice this art timed to music, which is the ultimate in control.

The vest & bow tie, the choice of music (The Lady in Red by Chris de Burgh), his control of the canoe — it’s all perfect.

See also It’s Reflective Fjord Season, Watch As a Master Woodworker Turns a Giant Log into an Elegant Dugout Canoe, and Kayaking Down a Drainage Ditch. (via life is so beautiful)

How Cast Iron Pans Are Made

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 02, 2021

For his video series for Eater, Daniel Geneen took a tour of the Lodge Cast Iron factory in South Pittsburg, Tennessee to see how cast iron skillets are made.

While all of this is happening, molds for pans are being made out of fine, pliable sand that’s compressed in massive machines. The ladles pour the molten metal into these molds. Once the metal is poured and cooled, the sand molds get placed into a shake-out machine that shakes the sand away from the pan, and then into an enormous drum to shake off the rest. The pans are finally put on a giant conveyor belt to be sorted and inspected. Any pans that are not up to muster get thrown back into the original scrap heap to be melted down again and remade into another pan.

In comparison, here’s how Borough Furnace makes their cast iron pans by hand in their much smaller workshop:

Very similar process, down to the sand molds, just on a much smaller and more hands-on scale.

Among Giants

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 02, 2021

Among Giants is a short documentary about a group of activists who lived in the trees of a Humboldt County redwood forest for four years in order to stop logging in the area.

Risking injury and incarceration, an environmental activist disrupts the clear-cutting of an ancient redwood grove by sitting on a tiny platform a hundred feet up in the tree canopy. Already three years into the tree-sit when filming begins, AMONG GIANTS blends vérité cinematography with intimate personal reflection to create a vivid picture of life in the trees and the unwavering dedication of the activists.

The activists’ tree-sit was successful — 1000 acres of the redwood forest were transferred to a public trust to create the McKay Community Forest. (via the morning news)

Lusia Harris, the Only Woman Drafted by an NBA Team

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 02, 2021

Before this morning, I had never heard of Lusia Harris and now she’s one of my favorite basketball players. Playing in the 1970s, before the enforcement of Title IX in athletics, the 6’3” Harris dominated in high school, led a small university to three consecutive national basketball championships in the first 5 years of the program (while averaging 25.9 points and 14.5 rebounds per game), scored the first basket in Olympics women’s basketball history, is the only woman ever officially drafted by an NBA team, and was inducted into the National Basketball Hall of Fame. And those aren’t even her proudest achievements — you’ll have to watch the video for that.

For an electrifying young basketball player on the national stage, success often comes with a lucrative professional contract and brand deals — but Harris’s moment came in the 1970s, decades before the W.N.B.A. was founded, when few opportunities were available to female athletes interested in pursuing a professional career. In Ben Proudfoot’s “The Queen of Basketball,” Harris tells the story of what happens when an unstoppable talent runs out of games to win.

This video is part of the NY Times’ Almost Famous series, which also includes stories about radio astronomer Jocelyn Bell Burnell and actress/singer Kim Hill.

The 2021 Astronomy Photographer of the Year Shortlist

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 02, 2021

solar flares shooting off the surface of the Sun

panorama of the aurora borealis in the winter

panorama of the Milky Way over a lavender field

The Royal Museums Greenwich has announced the shortlist for the 2021 Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition. I’ve included a few favorites above (by Andrew McCarthy, Larryn Rae, and Stefan Liebermann) but you can check out the rest on their site. (via curious about everything)

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