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Entries for May 2024

“Long before people develop dementia, they often begin falling behind on mortgage payments, credit card bills and other financial obligations, new research shows.”

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Miguel Atwood-Ferguson’s Les Jardins Mystiques

“Each of the tracks is supposed to be a different mystical garden.”

I almost didn’t read this Q&A with jazz musician Miguel Atwood-Ferguson in the latest issue of Tricycle Magazine, but I’m glad I did. His debut album, Les Jardins Mystiques, came out last year — after 14 years in the making — and is streaming in full on Bandcamp. I like the music, but this was my favorite bit from the interview:

Since I’m not trying to be popular, I’m not trying to win awards, I’m not trying to do anything other than be sincere and share what is most authentically me, the worst thing I could do is be fake or do anything disingenuous. That’s why I didn’t make a short, easy-to-digest album. I wanted to attract my tribe and scare away the people that don’t have the ability to focus or that would be annoyed.

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The Canine Rainbow and How Dogs See the World

How do we know how dogs see? Are they colorblind? Nearsighted? How do they perceive movement? Does their excellent sense of smell help dogs see? The first episode of Howtown from Adam Cole & Joss Fong is all about dog vision and is predictably fascinating.

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Diary Comics, Dec. 30 & 31

A mini Friday Afternoon With Edith, this time! Also, sorry the color is disappearing from these, the additional child kind of brought it back to black and white. (Previously.)


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The trailer for Butterfly in the Sky, a documentary film about Reading Rainbow and its host, LeVar Burton. “Reading Rainbow was not about learning to read, it was about loving to read.” Now streaming on Netflix.

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Arisa Trew Nails a 900

14-year-old Arisa Trew just became the first female skater to land a 900. She calls it “a dream come true” on Instagram.

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Fabric & Letterforms

patterns for cross stitched letters

patterns for cross stitched letters

patterns for cross stitched letters

patterns for cross stitched letters

I loved looking at some of the items from the Letterform Archive related to the representation of letters with fabric (knitting, cross-stitch, weaving, etc.) Also, I did not know this re: the word “text”:

The word “text” originated from the Latin word “textus,” which means “a weaving” or “a fabric.” In ancient times, textus referred specifically to the process of weaving fabric. Over time, the meaning of the word expanded to include written or printed material, reflecting the idea of words being woven together to create a coherent written work. This metaphorical extension continues today with words and phrases such as seamless, threadbare, unraveled, looming, frayed, tangled, and spinning a yarn, highlighting the connection between the physical act of weaving fabric and the intellectual act of composing written language, both of which involve the interlacing of individual elements to create a unified whole. In this installment of For Your Reference, we revisit the Archive’s stacks for books and other items that build a tangible connection between threads and letterforms.

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The JWST has imaged the most distant known galaxy, seeing it as it was 290m years after the Big Bang. “An emerging theme is that galaxies and black holes appear to have grown much more rapidly than was expected.”

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“Donald Trump has been found guilty of all 34 counts of falsifying business records in a criminal hush-money scheme to influence the outcome of the 2016 election.” First former president to become a felon. Congrats.

The Green-Energy Revolution Shows What Real Innovation Looks Like. “Fossil fuel power is on its way out, replaced by renewable energy so cheap that it’s catalyzing spectacular innovations in all manner of long-established industries.”

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The trailer for Wolfs, an action-comedy flick starring George Clooney and Brad Pitt as rival fixers. “We are not secret partners.”

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The Talking Piano

Ok, this is super freaky: this is a regular analog piano being played by a computer-controlled mechanical machine and it sounds like a person speaking. If you hadn’t seen this before, (it’s from 2009) take a listen:

Deus Cantando is the work of artist Peter Ablinger. He recorded a German school student reciting some text and then composed a tune for the mechanical player to sound like the recitation. I cannot improve upon Jason Noble’s description of the work:

This is not digital manipulation, nor a digitally programmed piano like a Disklavier. This is a normal, acoustic piano, any old piano. The mechanism performing it consists of 88 electronically controlled, mechanical “fingers,” synchronized with superhuman speed and accuracy to replicate the spectral content of a child’s voice. Watching the above-linked video, it may seem that the speech is completely intelligible, but this is partially an illusion. The visual prompt of the words on the screen are an essential cue: take them away, and it becomes much harder to understand the words. But it is still remarkable that the auditory system is able to group discrete notes from a piano into such a close approximation of a continuous human voice, and that Ablinger was able to do this so convincingly using a conventional instrument (albeit, played robotically).

This is so cool, I can’t believe I’d never seen it before. (via @roberthodgin)

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AI Is a False God. “The idea that AI will lead us to some grand utopia is deeply flawed. Technology does, in fact, turn over new ground, but what was there in soil doesn’t merely go away.”

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The Purpose of a System Is What It Does. “Driving change requires us to make the machine want something else. If the purpose of a system is what it does, and we don’t like what it does, then we have to change the system.”

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“Planet of the Apes” Goes to a 70s Mall

an actor from Planet of the Apes dressed in an ape suit and wearing glasses

From Life magazine and photographer Ralph Crane, a gallery of outtakes from the filming of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes in 1972.

The Century City mall, selected for its futuristic appearance, was a primary battleground in the plot. LIFE staff photographer Ralph Crane came to the set and took pictures of the costumed actors in the mall, trying on shoes and making eyes at the lingerie store display, as well as eating in the mess hall with their masks half off. The pictures make for easy laughs, capturing the kind of shenanigans that help liven up a fourth Apes film in as many years.

(via daniel benneworth–gray)

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Here’s a behind-the-scenes of Ayo Edebiri doing the voice for the Envy character in Pixar’s Inside Out 2. She is so awesome.

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Bill McKibben reviews an exhibition with “images of climate change that cannot be missed”. “We’re still early enough in this battle that, if we act decisively, we can limit the number of people who will have to bear this kind of trauma.”

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Trailer for Season Three of The Bear

I have to admit, The Bear is a little up and down for me. But the highs (Forks, Fishes, Honeydew) are so high that it’s well worth the effort. Anyway, the trailer for season three dropped yesterday and, no surprise, it looks intense.

So. Much. Unaddressed. Trauma. That these people are inflicting upon one another. (Men will literally open a Michelin-starred restaurant instead of going to therapy.) It seems like Carmy, not the restaurant, is the titular Bear. (via laura olin)

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“My Bike Is Everything to Me”

a pair of photos of Bill Walton with his bike

Former NBA player and TV sportscaster Bill Walton died on Monday at the age of 71. He was a quirky dude and as someone who’s been known to veer off onto seemingly unrelated tangents, I appreciated his oddball broadcasting style. Basketball was good for Walton but it also ruined his body. In response, he turned to biking to keep active and to get around.

I am the luckiest guy in the world because I am alive and I can ride my bike. It is the ultimate celebration of life when you go out there and are able to do what you can do. I have not been able to play basketball for 34 years. I have not been able to walk for enjoyment or pleasure or exercise in 41 years, but I can ride my bike.

In a brief clip of a talk Walton gave (at the University of Arizona, I believe, the custodian of Biosphere 2), he elaborated on how important his bicycle was to him:

I love my bike. My bike is everything to me. My bike is my gym, my church, and my wheelchair. My bike is everything that I believe in going on in the Biosphere. It’s science, it’s technology, it’s the future, engineering, metallurgy - you name it, it’s right there in my bike. My bike is the most important and valuable thing that I have.

Walton knew: the bicycle is low-key one of humankind’s greatest inventions:

By contrast, a person on a bicycle can go three or four times faster than a pedestrian, but uses five times less energy in the process. He carries one gram of his weight over a kilometer of flat road at an expense of only 0.15 calories. The bicycle is the perfect transducer to match man’s metabolic energy to the impedance of locomotion. Equipped with this tool, a person outstrips the efficiency of not only all machines but all other animals as well.

As one of the commenters on this post said, “Tailwinds and smooth asphalt forever, buddy.”

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How planes fly: “Air, very important magic.” See also: No One Can Explain Why Planes Stay in the Air and how airfoils work.

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404 Media explains the antitrust lawsuit against Live Nation/Ticketmaster. “It is about a systematic vertical integration of the entire live music business”: ticket sales, live music venues, artists’ tour booking, and concert promotion.

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Drawing Media, an Interview With Rex Parker


Edith here. For the latest installment of my newish illustrated column, I spoke with Rex Parker, a.k.a. Michael Sharp, of the beloved crossword puzzle blog Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle. (I started following relatively recently but now read it daily, leaving it perpetually open on my phone.) Sharp also teaches English Literature at Binghamton University, runs a vintage paperback blog called Pop Sensation, and tweets about The Lamps of Film Noir at The Lamps of Film Noir.

Rex, have you read (watched, listened to, or otherwise experienced) anything good recently?
Sure. Lots of stuff. My best friend and I decided to read all of Proust this year. We’re way behind already, but I have read Swann’s Way, the first of the seven volumes, and it’s exquisite. And hilarious. I did not expect Proust to be hilarious.


What’s something you’ve read or seen that changed your life, even in a small way?
I was buying something at my college bookstore in ’90 or ’91 and there was this amazing point-of-purchase display for a a new line of crime fiction from Vintage called “Black Lizard.” The display was a cardboard standee with this set of amazing-looking novels housed inside, covers facing out — black-and-white stills (evoking midcentury B movies) with bright slashes of color across them that featured the authors and titles. I’d never heard of any of them, but there were blurbs from people like Stanley Kubrick on them. They were so beautiful, so striking … they struck some chord in me that I didn’t know was there. I would later recognized this chord as “Noir.” I bought two of those books on the spot: Pop. 1280 by Jim Thompson and The Burnt Orange Heresy by Charles Willeford. I read them both immediately, in two gulps, faster than I’d ever read anything (I’m a slow reader).


Five years later, the Robert Polito biography of Jim Thompson, Savage Art, came out and was a big splash. *That* book changed my life — it featured a photo spread of all Thompson’s paperback originals, the 25-cent pocket books with lurid covers and taglines. I was mesmerized. I knew I couldn’t afford Thompson originals, but at some point, I thought, “Well, there must be lots of other paperbacks out there from this same era, with this same look, that I *can* afford.” And I marched right into downtown Ann Arbor, to the first used bookstore I came to, and started my vintage paperback collection right then and there (a collection that’s at about 3,000 books at the moment). The first one ever bought was called Louisville Saturday, which I wrote about here.


Do you subscribe to anything you don’t read?
Of course. Mostly Substacks I *want* to read but just don’t seem to get around to. Maybe this summer? (Maybe not.)

Read anything you don’t subscribe to? Like, are there paywalls you’re always skirting?
I don’t skirt paywalls. As someone who relies on his own readers for a good part of his income, I believe in paying for the media you consume.

Do you have a favorite newsletter?
Vince Keenan, former editor-in-chief of Noir City, has a noir-themed newsletter I like.


Scott Hines’s Action Cookbook Newsletter is fun. Those are both newsletters with regular cocktail content, which keeps me coming back.


Have you ever lied about reading or watching something? Or felt tempted to lie about it?
The great thing about getting old is that I do not give a fuck about whether anyone thinks I’m well read or up on current shows. So no, no lying, as a rule.

Are there any cultural moments you currently think about unusually often? A song lyric, a moment from a TV show, or anything like that?
There are thousands. I don’t know how to pick one. If I can call the first decade of “The Simpsons” one cultural moment, yes. That show rewired my brain. It was the best thing on the air by light years. I still can’t believe it was real, let alone (somehow) still on the air thirty+ years later. So much about the way I write, think, teach, etc, comes from being immersed in that show for years and years. Not just direct quotes, but my whole sense of humor, my sense of timing. So many great, great, funny writers and performers were at the core of that show, from Conan to Albert Brooks to Phil fucking Hartman. And it was a show that didn’t treat women horribly. You could feel the affection that show had for Marge, and especially Lisa, who is an icon. My personal hero. That first decade was truly miraculous to me. The only thing that compares in live-action shows, for me, is “Freaks & Geeks,” which lasted just one glorious season. Again, I can’t believe something so perfect ever even made it to air.


What were you really into when you were 12?
Sadness. Donkey Kong. And The Motels — I listened to the album “All Four One” over and over and over and over. Martha Davis was my first celebrity crush. No, second. Olivia Newton-John was first.


Is there a book/movie/whatever you’d like to experience again for the first time?
Not really. Maybe The Long Goodbye, which is my favorite novel, but I actually enjoy rereading it every year. I enjoy knowing it so well. I enjoy meeting sentences and paragraphs again like they’re old friends. You can’t get that on a first reading, obviously.


Is there something you wish your phone could do that it doesn’t?
Go away.


Please tell me something silly that you love.
My cats. They have such weird habits. Like, Alfie hates when you make the bed. He will not let you. Clean sheets are his enemy. No one knows why. Both cats have figured out that if you sit at the bottom of the stairs, you can look in the mirror on the closet door there and see the sliding glass door in the kitchen that opens onto the back deck (and vice versa). Sometimes I find the cats in these completely different parts of the house, one in the kitchen, the other at the bottom of the stairs, just staring at each other in that mirror. I’m like “buddy, you can just go in the next room and see Ida in person,” but no. Mirror staring. Cats are ridiculous, which is why they’re great.


Thanks, Rex! Rex’s crossword blog can be found here. And past Drawing Media installments can be found here.

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Poll results show that “America’s best decade” isn’t the 80s or the 50s…it’s “whatever decade you were 11, your parents knew the correct answer to any question, and you’d never heard of war crimes tribunals…”

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Wherever You Go, There You Are

a very dorky blonde kid in 1984

Noah Kalina on viewing old photos or videos of yourself:

I think that’s why it’s so uncomfortable for some people to watch old videos of themselves. It exposes the core of who you really are.

No matter what you try to do, no matter where you end up going, no matter how much you might try to change, you are who you are, and that very particular and unique type of personality you have stays with you forever.

It’s fascinating, painful, revelatory, and embarrassing.

The photo above is my 6th grade school picture from 1984. I loved that velour vest for reasons I cannot presently fathom. When I think about who that kid was and who I am now, I hope that I’ve retained the best parts and let go of the things that didn’t serve him so well. It’s a process…

Counterpoint (or perhaps complementary point): I think often of this old post from The Sartorialist about a woman who reinvented herself upon moving to New York:

Actually the line that I think was the most telling but that she said like a throw-away qualifier was “I didn’t know anyone in New York when I moved here….”

I think that is such a huge factor. To move to a city where you are not afraid to try something new because all the people that labeled who THEY think you are (parents, childhood friends) are not their to say “that’s not you” or “you’ve changed”. Well, maybe that person didn’t change but finally became who they really are. I totally relate to this as a fellow Midwesterner even though my changes were not as quick or as dramatic.

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Scientists have figured out why killer whales are smashing up luxury yachts: it’s a new fad among teen orcas. “A combination of free time, curiosity and natural playfulness has led to young orcas adopting this ‘trend’ of boat-bumping.”

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Good god, the temperature in Delhi hit 50.5°C (122.9°F) today, an all-time record. “Years of scientific research have found the climate crisis is causing heatwaves to become longer, more frequent and more intense.”

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A Documentary Film About Jim Henson

Two of my biggest childhood touchstones were Sesame Street and the Muppet Show. The creative spark behind both shows was Jim Henson, the subject of a forthcoming documentary directed by Ron Howard. From the press release:

Produced with the full participation and cooperation of the Henson family, “Jim Henson Idea Man” is an unprecedented, intimate look at Henson’s illustrious, revolutionary career and complex personal life. Using never-before-seen personal archival home movies, photographs, sketches, and Henson’s personal diaries, as well as interviews with those who knew him best, the film is the definitive portrait of one of the world’s most inspiring and iconoclastic creators.

Jim Henson Idea Man will be available to stream on Disney+ on Friday. (via the kid should see this)

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The trailer for Best of Five, a documentary series about the 2014 Classic Tetris World Championship. “This five-episode documentary series tells the story of the tournament, the players, and what it means to be the champion of an unwinnable game.”

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An Instagram account full of the amazing, slightly deranged, and (I’d assume) designed-for-hiding-stains fabric patterns for public transportation seating. Collectively beautiful.

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Whales Have an Alphabet. “Carl Zimmer, a science reporter, explains why it’s possible that the whales are communicating in a complex language.”

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tinyPod turns a strapless Apple Watch into a wee iPod with a click-wheel. “Is it brilliant? Is it bizarre? Maybe a bit of both.”

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Parents Just Called To Make Sure You Thought Of Every Possible Thing That Could Go Wrong In Life. “Oh, and before I forget, the risk of nuclear annihilation is higher than the Cold War. Love you!”

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Okay, I Did Reread ‘My Favorite Thing Is Monsters’ Part One

Maybe I can piggyback this on the Hot Frank Summer we’re all about to have/are currently having (I’m doing it!), but I did reread Emil Ferris’s fantastic graphic novel in advance of Part Two coming out TODAY, and it only gets better on a second reading. Plus there’s a Frankenstein tie-in, too, so…

There are also cool new features on Ferris in Vulture and WaPo, as well as some sweet Part Two micro teasers on Desert Island Comics’ Instagram.

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Last Week’s Reads: Scrabble, Emoji, Quilts

Hey, I took the week off last week! But I missed it here and am glad to be back. Here are a few things I enjoyed while I was gone:

1. Emily Gould’s ranking of 15 recent children’s books written by celebrities, in The Cut. For instance, No. 15 (lowest):

Finally, it’s here, the book everyone has been clamoring for: woke retellings of Aesop’s fables, by Oscar-winning actress Natalie Portman! In Portman’s version of “The Three Little Pigs,” the first two pigs unwisely build their houses out of fast-food leftovers and plastic drinking straws. The wolf blows their houses down to warn them that only sustainable, environmentally friendly building practices are acceptable.


2. This little half factoid, teased on the Iowa Quilt Museum’s Instagram: “The Double Wedding Ring is one of the most unfinished patterns in American history.” But why? Broken engagements? Is the design too ambitious? I can confirm that it was difficult even to draw.

3. The Most Misunderstood Emojis of 2024, in Axios. The revolving hearts don’t make the list, but maybe we cracked the code on those. 💞

4. “As was the case with alcohol, my first and last thoughts of the day are usually Scrabble related.” Brad Phillips’ essay in the Paris Review about swapping one addiction for another. “Editing this essay today, on six different occasions I’ve stopped to open ISC.RO [and play Scrabble]. Each time, I’ve played more games than I’d intended.” Also: “A common obsession is a powerful unifier, one that renders all other biographical information meaningless.”

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A Pickpocket’s Story

Until his recent incarceration, Wilfred Rose was a very successful pickpocket operating on the streets of NYC.

Some of the thieves have a shtick. There is Francisco Hita, who when caught touching someone’s wallet, pretends to be deaf, the police say, responding with gesticulations of incomprehension. There is an older man who pretends to be stricken by palsy while on a bus, and then uses a behind-the-back maneuver to infiltrate the pocket of the passenger next to him.

There are flashy dressers, like the 5-foot-3 Duval Simmons, whose reputation is so well known among the police that he says he sometimes sits on his hands while riding the subway, so he cannot be accused of stealing. Mr. Simmons, an occasional partner of Mr. Rose’s, said he honed his skills on a jacket that hung in his closet, tying bells to it to measure how heavy his hand was.

Mr. Rose’s notoriety stems from how infrequently he has been arrested, and how, at least in the last 15 years, he has never been caught in the act by plainclothes officers.

See also Adam Green’s fascinating piece on Apollo Robbins from The New Yorker. Especially the bit about surfing attention:

But physical technique, Robbins pointed out, is merely a tool. “It’s all about the choreography of people’s attention,” he said. “Attention is like water. It flows. It’s liquid. You create channels to divert it, and you hope that it flows the right way.”

Robbins uses various metaphors to describe how he works with attention, talking about “surfing attention,” “carving up the attentional pie,” and “framing.” “I use framing the way a movie director or a cinematographer would,” he said. “If I lean my face close in to someone’s, like this” — he demonstrated — “it’s like a closeup. All their attention is on my face, and their pockets, especially the ones on their lower body, are out of the frame. Or if I want to move their attention off their jacket pocket, I can say, ‘You had a wallet in your back pocket — is it still there?’ Now their focus is on their back pocket, or their brain just short-circuits for a second, and I’m free to steal from their jacket.”

Listening to Sand: The Sound Design of Dune

From the SoundWorks Collection, this is a 30-minute featurette on the sound design of Dune, in which the film’s sound teams talks about how they created the sounds of the Arrakis desert, the sandworm, ornithopters, spice, and the voice of the Bene Gesserit.

That’s something which - I learned a trick from Lee Scratch Perry, who I worked with in Switzerland about 10 years ago. He’s the pioneer of dub reggae, which must be the genre of music with the most bass. And one of the tricks that he used was to record a bass line and then to play it back through a huge speaker in a room that’s resonant…and record that. So it enhances the resonance of the bass. You also hear something of the shaking of the room. So that was one of the tricks that we used to give a sort of a very tactile sense to this spiritual adventure that Paul’s going on.

There are several other videos on this topic should you desire to rabbit-hole: The Sounds of Dune, How The Sounds of Dune Were Made, Dune Sound Design Explained, Director Denis Villeneuve and Sound Team on Dune, and Dune: Part Two | Deeper into the Desert: The Sounds of the Dune:

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Lol, tiny bumper stickers for your phone, including “My other phone is a burner”, “Caution: Extremely Online”, and “I brake for Notes app apologies”.

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How could you not be interested in a post with a headline like this: Hear the Song Written on a Sinner’s Buttock in Hieronymus Bosch’s Painting The Garden of Earthly Delights.

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This is absolutely mesmerizing: a crowd of people jumping, dancing, chanting, and pulsing in Pamplona, Spain during the San Fermin festival.

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Data Visualization of the Most Common PIN Numbers

Based on an analysis of leaked PIN numbers by Nick Berry, Information is Beautiful made this visualization of the most common PINs.

Data Visualization of the Most Common PIN Numbers

According to the analysis, just 20 4-digit numbers account for 27% of all PINs: 1234, 0000, 7777, 2000, 2222, 9999, 5555, 1122, 8888, 2001, 1111, 1212, 1004, 4444, 6969 (nice), 3333, 6666, 1313, 4321, 1010. The diagonal line is people using repeated pairs of digits (e.g. 2727 or 8888) while the horizontal line near the bottom is people who are presumably using their (19xx) birth year as a PIN. (You can see the beginning of a 20xx line on the left side.)

The best causally unguessable PINs would seem to be unrepeated pairs of numbers greater than 50 — so 8957, 7064, 9653, etc. Choose wisely.

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Two dairy workers have caught the H5N1 virus from cows, “the first known instance globally of a person catching this version of bird flu from a mammal”. We are just playing with fire with this stuff, aren’t we? 🫣

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Slow Publishing With Arion Press

San Francisco’s Arion Press still uses decades-old machines to make beautiful books by hand. They’re one of the few remaining presses in the world that do everything from start to finish — they even cast their own type.

Arion dwells in an almost extinct corner of the book world: Call it Slow Publishing. It produces only three books a year, each a unique art object reproduced in editions of less than 300. Art is so important, in fact, that the illustrators-art-world luminaries-drive the title selection process.

“We learned that the projects went a lot more smoothly when we said to the artist, ‘What do you want to do?’” Blythe said.

Anthony Bourdain visited Arion in 2015 for a online series called Raw Craft — it’s a great look at how and why they produce books this way:

Business Insider’s Still Standing series recently profiled Arion as well:

(thx, stephen)

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If I were in NYC this July, I’d go see this Uptown Shakespeare in the Park production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (by way of the Harlem Renaissance).

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The editors of Scientific American: There Is Too Much Trash in Space. “It’s time for nations — and the billionaires commoditizing space — to clean up Earth’s near orbit.”

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The Budapest Children’s Railway

The Gyermekvasút (Children’s Railway) is a 7-mile-long rail line in Budapest that’s operated by children aged 10-14 (aside from the train’s driver).

Children’s Railway, Budapest is one of Budapest’s most unique attractions. Like any other railway, it has ticket offices, diesel locomotives, signals, switches and a timetable. Unlike other railways though, this one is run by children. The line stretches among the Buda hills from Széchenyihegy to Hűvösvölgy, crossing the Cogwheel Railway and serving Normafa as well as the highest point of Budapest: Jánoshegy.

The project, then called the Pioneer’s Railway, was started in 1947 as a part of a three-year Communist plan. This video shows how the railway operates and includes interviews with current workers as well as former workers from the Communist era:

Seems like all the kids are big train nerds…adorable.

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An Open Letter to Wyna Liu, the New York Times’ Connections Editor. “But on those days when I don’t solve it… well, let’s just say those are dark days. I don’t sleep properly anymore. I can’t eat.”

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Do We Live in an Infinite Nesting Doll of Black Hole Universes?

Kurzgesagt is back with another video about black holes; it has the innocuous-seeming title of The Easiest Way To Build a Black Hole. But the main topic of the video is the speculation that universes (like ours!) might exist within black holes.

Black holes might create infinite universes while destroying time and space. Everything in existence could be black holes, all the way down. We might live inside a black hole that is inside a black hole, that is inside a black hole. But let’s start at the beginning and build a black hole out of air.

This one is a bit of a brain-bender. From the show notes:

The first part of the script is based on the empirical fact that, somewhat intriguingly, the observable universe seems to have the exact size and mass that would be required to make a black hole as big as the observable universe itself.

The second, completely independent proposal we explore is the idea that our Universe could be born from the singularity of a black hole, and that in turn the universe that contains that black hole could be born from a black hole itself. If so, universes in later generations of this process could be better fitted to produce an abundance of black holes, in a sort of “natural selection” towards efficient black hole production.

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Joss Fong and Adam Cole introduce their new YouTube channel Howtown, where they will “dig into the evidence behind commonly held facts and claims in the news”. I am excited for this one!

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From Becca Rothfeld’s All Things Are Too Small, an amazing quote on consumer brands’ solution to mass production: “The ideal product was therefore something that a person would go on wanting even when she had it.”

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How Not to Get Screwed Buying a Used Car

This video about how not to get screwed buying a used car crams an astounding amount of good information into three minutes.

Update: Bold claim by Robin Sloan on Twitter:

The calm density of this video is way more “future of visual communication” than 99% of claimants to that title

I agree. That video contained more information than a 44-minute episode of Mythbusters but the pace and energy were more relaxed.

Every Sample from Paul’s Boutique by the Beastie Boys. Plus playlists and downloadable files of all the sampled songs.

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Jon Stewart on Cancel Culture

Jon Stewart is back on The Daily Show on a regular basis and the other day he took on the manufactured outrage that is cancel culture.

Nothing about the right wing reaction is surprising because the idea that there is an all pervasive, all powerful threat to free speech called cancel culture has become a central tenet of modern conservatism. They celebrate their being silenced at conferences. They celebrate their being silenced on podcasts and streaming outlets. They celebrate their being silenced with over 700 book titles about being canceled. Why are there so many of these fucking books?

Conservatives have an entire industry devoted to complaining about not being allowed to say the things they say all the time. Their victimhood is the entire brand.


We are not censored or silenced. We are surrounded by and inundated with more speech than has ever existed in the history of communication.

Love this: an old mid-century TV cabinet from Zenith, retrofitted with a contemporary smart TV.

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A Massachusetts “millionaire’s tax” (extra 4% tax on $1M+ incomes) has earned the state more than $1.8 billion in income for fiscal 2023. That’s about double the estimates and the funds will be spent on education and transportation.

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The true story behind the kid who went 1940s viral for his week at the cinemas in San Francisco. “Richard said he had spent $20 on 16 movies, 15 comic books, six games, 150 candy bars, and a large number of hot dogs.”

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The wind phone is an unconnected telephone booth in Japan where people can hold conversations with deceased loved ones. It was built by Itaru Sasaki to help him feel connected to his recently deceased cousin.

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The Lost Typeface Recovered From the Thames River

This is such a wild story. Two men, Thomas James Cobden-Sanderson & Emery Walker, founded the Doves Press in London in 1900. They made a typeface called Doves Roman:

During its short life early last century, the Doves Press printed and bound some of the finest books ever produced in England and its approach to typography and printing subsequently exerted a major influence over book design in Europe and the United States. Many of Cobden-Sanderson’s ideas would, decades later, find expression or adaptation in both Traditionalist and Modernist circles respectively.

The partnership busted up and Cobden-Sanderson eventually took all of the lead type and dumped it in the Thames River. No more typeface.

The thought of ‘his’ typeface being used by anyone else, and in a manner beyond his control, prompted Cobden-Sanderson’s now infamous course of action. Only the Doves Press, run exclusively by him, could be bestowed the honour of printing his type. And so the mission to destroy it, beginning with the punches and matrices on Good Friday 1913, began. On an almost nightly basis from August 1916 the ailing septuagenarian dumped the type into the Thames, wrapped in paper parcels and tied with string; “bequeathed to the river” as he put it in his personal diary. Every piece of this beautiful typeface, more than a ton of metal, was destroyed in a prolonged ritual sacrifice.

Type designer Robert Green, working from printed materials, made a digital facsimile font of Doves Roman. In a bid to improve the font, he set out to find the lead type dumped in the river, aided by Cobden-Sanderson’s diary entries of the type-destroying mission. He found a few of the metal sorts (i.e. pieces of lead type) and with assistance from the Port of London Authority’s diving team, ended up retrieving 151 metal sorts in all, “out of a possible 500,000”.

a collection of metal sorts from a typeface that's been at the bottom of a river for over a century

Here’s a short film about the recovery of the type:

You can testdrive and buy the text and headline typefaces that Green created using the recovered sorts. (via colossal)

a letter printed in Doves Type

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Registration for the 2024 XOXO Festival is now open! I will be there, performing some sort of indie media circus act. (I do what the Andys tell me.)

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Three Pieces That Prove Bach’s Genius

In this video, pianist David Bennett explains three pieces composed by Johann Sebastian Bach that show how much of a musical genius he was. Two of the compositions are puzzle canons, “a piece of music where the performer has to decode what the composer wants in order to perform the music”.

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“Given the lack of decency they have shown, Genocide Inc. has decided it will not be making job offers to any of these protesters when they graduate.” Gotta have decency to weaponize the Torment Nexus.

The Earth’s rotation rate is changing, in part due to global warming. Melting ice flows away from high latitudes: “a transfer of mass away from the poles towards the equator, which slows down the Earth’s rotation rate”.

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John Green on the tradeoffs of sharing your personal life with strangers. “The thing about selling something of yourself is that that you can’t buy it back.” (I used to share much more of myself online; these days I’m more careful.)

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Contenting Ourselves With Stories

I just started a rewatch of Chernobyl and was struck by the opening lines of the first episode spoken by Jared Harris, who plays Soviet nuclear physicist Valery Legasov:

What is the cost of lies? It’s not that we’ll mistake them for the truth. The real danger is that if we hear enough lies, then we no longer recognize the truth at all. What can we do then? What else is left but to abandon even the hope of truth and content ourselves instead with stories? In these stories, it doesn’t matter who the heroes are. All we want to know is: Who is to blame?

Which reminds me of what historian and philosopher Hannah Arendt said in a 1974 interview:

The moment we no longer have a free press, anything can happen. What makes it possible for a totalitarian or any other dictatorship to rule is that people are not informed; how can you have an opinion if you are not informed? If everybody always lies to you, the consequence is not that you believe the lies, but rather that nobody believes anything any longer. This is because lies, by their very nature, have to be changed, and a lying government has constantly to rewrite its own history. On the receiving end you get not only one lie-a lie which you could go on for the rest of your days-but you get a great number of lies, depending on how the political wind blows. And a people that no longer can believe anything cannot make up its mind. It is deprived not only of its capacity to act but also of its capacity to think and to judge. And with such a people you can then do what you please.

And also what On Tyranny author Timothy Snyder wrote a few days after the January 6th attack on Congress:

Post-truth is pre-fascism, and Trump has been our post-truth president. When we give up on truth, we concede power to those with the wealth and charisma to create spectacle in its place. Without agreement about some basic facts, citizens cannot form the civil society that would allow them to defend themselves. If we lose the institutions that produce facts that are pertinent to us, then we tend to wallow in attractive abstractions and fictions. Truth defends itself particularly poorly when there is not very much of it around, and the era of Trump — like the era of Vladimir Putin in Russia — is one of the decline of local news. Social media is no substitute: It supercharges the mental habits by which we seek emotional stimulation and comfort, which means losing the distinction between what feels true and what actually is true.

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Have You Seen A Cybertruck Yet? I saw one yesterday driving through the small town I live in and just burst out laughing. It is a ridiculous vehicle.

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David Marchese interviews Marlon Wayans about grief & comedy. “I miss my parents dearly, but I’m a different human with my parents gone than I was when they were here. Now I’m a man. I don’t have parents anymore, so I live differently.”

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Today’s music to work to: the solo piano version of Philip Glass’s Tales from the Loop score.

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Ayo Edebiri Settles Your Petty Disputes

Well this is delightful: Vanity Fair set up Ayo Edebiri with a selection of personal beefs and several gavels (and maybe there’s a meat tenderizer in there, I don’t know), she listened to both sides of each argument, and then passed judgment. Listen until at least the second case before you pass judgment on watching the whole thing (verdict: you should)…it involves someone stealing a french fry from a room service tray.

I don’t know how to tell you this…but your father has murdered people before. There are bodies in the ground. ‘I don’t know what she’s so upset about. It’s a victimless crime. Nobody’s gonna miss that fry. Nobody’s gonna miss THAT KID!’

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The benefits of cycling: increased longevity and less likely to have osteoarthritis and experience knee pain. “I was surprised to see how very strong the benefit was.”

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The Evolution of Hokusai’s Great Wave

The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai is one of the world’s most iconic pieces of art. Hokusai created the woodblock print in 1831 at the age of 71 as part of his series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji. But in some sense, he’d been working on it all of his life.

In 1797, at the age of 37, Hokusai made what could be interpreted as his first wave print, Spring at Enoshima (Enoshima shunbô):

a woodblock print of a wave by Hokusai

Hokusai made his next attempt in 1803 (age 43) with View of Honmoku off Kanagawa (Kanagawa-oki Honmoku no zu):

a woodblock print of a wave by Hokusai

Two years later in 1805 (age 45) came Express Delivery Boats Rowing through Waves (Oshiokuri hatô tsûsen no zu) and it’s starting to look familiar:

a woodblock print of a wave by Hokusai

A few waves show up in Hokusai’s three-volume Quick Lessons in Simplified Drawing (1812).

In 1831 at the age of 71, Hokusai returned to waves with The Great Wave off Kanagawa (Kanagawa-oki Nami Ura):

a woodblock print of a wave by Hokusai

As others have noted, this version is fantastically impressionistic — it evokes a feeling just as much as it depicts a scene. The others are nice works of art, but this is the work of a master at the peak of his expressive powers.1

But that wasn’t the end of the story. Here’s Fuji at Sea (Kaijo no Fuji) from circa 1834, made at age 74 — it looks great in color:

a woodblock print of a wave by Hokusai

Right around the same period, Hokusai made Kajikazawa in Kai Province (Kōshū Kajikazawa) and Fishing Boats at Choshi in Shimosa (Soshu Choshi). Later on, Hokusai allegedly made a pair of paintings referred to as Feminine Wave and Masculine Wave, but I can’t find any information about them online outside of sites selling prints. [Edit: the Feminine & Masculine Waves are featured in Hokusai: Beyond the Great Wave, based on an exhibition in the British Museum. (thx, jody)]

What did Hokusai make of this progression over his career? In a colophon to his series One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji (Fugaku hyakkei), he wrote:

From the age of six I had a penchant for copying the form of things, and from about fifty, my pictures were frequently published; but until the age of seventy, nothing that I drew was worthy of notice. At seventy-three years, I was somewhat able to fathom the growth of plants and trees, and the structure of birds, animals, insects, and fish. Thus, when I reach eighty years, I hope to have made increasing progress, and at ninety to see further into the underlying principles of things, so that at one hundred years I will have achieved a divine state in my art, and at one hundred and ten, every dot and every stroke will be as though alive. Those of you who live long enough, bear witness that these words of mine prove not false.

Note: Screenshots of a viral tweet from 2018 about this series of prints are going around again. I’m sure it will shock you to learn that some of the math and dates haven’t been fact-checked as well as they could have been. I’ve documented the names of the artworks shown here and relied on primary sources for their dates where possible. I’ve used 1760 as the year of Hokusai’s birth and the dates of works are when they were made, not when they were first published. Please let me know if I’ve made any errors…I’d love for this post to be as correct as possible.

  1. See also an old post (in the old design!) about Old Masters and Young Geniuses.
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La Maison du Pastel

From Business Insider’s series Still Standing, a look at La Maison du Pastel, a 300-year-old French company that makes pastels for artists by hand. Back in its golden age, the company supplied the likes of Monet & Degas but fell into neglect near the end of the 20th century. The newest generation of ownership has restored the company and they now offer over 1,900 different pastel colors.

Seriously, take a look at their online shop…there’s all sorts of amazing stuff in there. Like this antique watercolors set — get a load of these color names: Violet Lake, Burnt Lake, Carmine, Venice Red, Vermilion, Orange Chrome, Gamboge, Zinc White, Yellow Ochre, Burnt Umber, Van Dyck Brown, Lamp Black, Payne’s Gray, Indigo, Celestial Blue, Blue Ash, Prussian. You can even order a full set of their pastels for only €29,450.00 (the set comes with a custom-made chest of drawers).

I am not at all an artist but these colors all look so amazing that I’m eyeing one of the smaller sets for myself… (thx, caroline)

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Can shame help us become better people? “In Confucianism, shame is a crucial tool that leads you toward your best self, and you have more power over it than you know.”

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Queendom is a documentary film by Agniia Galdanova about queer Russian activist and performance artist Jenna Marvin and her unusual form of protest against the war in Ukraine and Russia’s treatment of LGBTQ+ people. From a short review in the Guardian:

When Russia invaded Ukraine in February last year, some brave souls took to the streets of Moscow to voice their horror at the war, and were met with batons and police brutality. Radical queer performance artist Gena Marvin took a different approach. Wearing platform boots, body paint and wrapped in barbed wire, she walked the streets of Moscow in a stark, silent statement against the war. To call Gena a drag artist fails to capture just how subversive and courageous are her public “performances”. Her otherworldly costumes, created from junk and tape, show the influence of Leigh Bowery; her fearlessness evokes the punk provocation of Pussy Riot.

Marvin’s performances can be intense — check out this video from Paris in 2022. France had just advanced into the semifinals of the World Cup and she went out on the streets dressed in an all-black costume straight out of Alien or Pan’s Labyrinth:

Queendom opens in theaters and will available on streaming on June 14.

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Ahead of the Paris Olympics, France has released a scratch-and Sniff baguette stamps. “The baguette, the bread of our daily lives, the symbol of our gastronomy, the jewel of our culture.”

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Interesting hypothesis: the aesthetic of Incan stone work was inspired by corn. “The layout of Machu Picchu mirrors the shape of a corn cob, with its terraces resembling the kernels of corn.”

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Future 2024 Bestsellers

book covers for Long Island Compromise, Frostbite, and Hip-Hop Is History

Kirkus’s list of 20 Books That Should Be Bestsellers reminds me that Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s new book, Long Island Compromise, is due out this summer, so yay to that. Yay also to pal Nicola Twilley for making the list with her book Frostbite. And there’s a new-to-me title on there that I’m intrigued by: Hip-Hop Is History by Questlove (with Ben Greenman).

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A recent study estimates that a human pregnancy demands 50,000 calories, “significantly more than the researchers expected.” The fetus only needs 4% of the energy — “the other 96% is extra fuel required by a woman’s own body.”

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How to get Google search results without the AI garbage. “It’s essentially Google, minus the crap. No parsing of the information in the results. No surfacing metadata like address or link info. No knowledge panels, but also, no ads.”

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The History of Tetris World Records

I know a lot of you probably aren’t going to take me up on this, but I recommend watching Summoning Salt’s feature-length documentary on the history of Tetris world records. I started watching in the other night and once I got going, I couldn’t stop. Some of plot points were familiar — Why Are Humans Suddenly Getting Better at Tetris?, A Revolutionary NES Tetris Technique Gaining Steam, The Greatest Classic Tetris Game of All Time, 13-Year-Old Becomes First to Beat NES Tetris, Another Tetris World Record Completely Demolished! What Is Going On?! — but seeing it all put together in one engaging & informative narrative was really compelling.

Watching these videos about Tetris (and also Super Mario Bros), what strikes me most is how clearly you can see, over and over again, how innovation works:

This is a great illustration of innovation in action. There’s a clearly new invention, based on prior effort (standing on the shoulders of giants), that allows for greater capabilities and, though it’s still too early to tell in this case, seems likely to shift power to people who utilize it. And it all takes place inside a small and contained world where we can easily observe the effects.

And it’s a credit to Summoning Salt and other video producers that this process is so clear to the viewer:

In the video analysis of this speedrun, if you forget the video game part of it and all the negative connotations you might have about that, you get to see the collective effort of thousands of people over more than three decades who have studied a thing right down to the bare metal so that one person, standing on the shoulders of giants in a near-perfect performance, can do something no one has ever done before. Progress and understanding by groups of people happens exactly like this in manufacturing, art, science, engineering, design, social science, literature, and every other collective human endeavor…it’s what humans do. But since playing sports and video games is such a universal experience and you get to see it all happening right on the screen in front of you, it’s perhaps easier to grok SMB speedrun innovations more quickly than, say, how assembly line manufacturing has improved since 2000, recent innovations in art, how we got from the flip phone to iPhone X in only 10 years, or how CRISPR happened.

I was talking to my son about this video yesterday and of course he’d already seen it — “I love Summoning Salt’s videos” — and I loved his take on the way in which the NES version of Tetris was unwittingly challenging these players beyond what the game’s makers had ever envisioned. Where the designers may have just kept increasing the speed of the game as the levels got higher (boring!), the game glitches and throws all these interesting challenges at players: tile colors you can barely see, game-ending kill screens that you can pick your way around, a level with 810 lines, and the game resetting after hundreds of levels. So instead of players just having to get faster (which they have definitely done), they’ve had to navigate all of these other obstacles as well. (thx, nathan)

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“A [2022] report adds to a growing line of research showing that police departments don’t solve serious or violent crimes with any regularity, and in fact, spend very little time on crime control.” Instead: “conducting racially biased stops”.

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Here’s something that I believe without any evidence to back it up: chocolate chip cookies taste better without chocolate chips in them. (I do prefer CCCs with sparse chips though.)

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Whoa, classic console emulators work on Apple TV now? (In other words, you can play old school NES/SNES/N64 games on your Apple TV.) You can even connect a controller.

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Danny MacAskill Goes Mountain Biking With Friends in Scotland

Danny MacAskill is known ‘round these parts for his jaw-dropping trials riding (I first posted about him 15 years ago) but this ride is a little bit different. MacAskill and four friends take to the local mountain bike trails around Inverness, Scotland on ebikes and have a grand old time. For me, listening to the banter was just as entertaining as watching the riding — it’s obvious they’re just out there having a blast.

P.S. I was also trying to calculate how fast I would die if I tried riding some of that stuff and the answer is “almost immediately”. Yiiiikes.

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This week in crossword history (1924): Cross-Word Puzzlers to Hold [10-Letter Word Meaning Meet]. “Enthusiastic followers of tiddley-winks, jackstraws, parchesi […] have not yet announced the dates of their respective conventions.”

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In case anyone else is on a bedside lamp acquisition journey, I got some ideas out of this Strategist post, as well as from this Architectural Digest roundup.

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One Strange Side Effect of Parenting

The other day while singing to my daughter, I realized that I can, in fact, sing better than I used to. I think the sheer amount of “Wheels on the Bus” and “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” did the trick: I enjoy it more now and feel like I’m hitting more of the right notes. I’m still not “good,” but I’m not bad, and I’m less embarrassed to be caught singing in front of other people. It reminds me of the Terry Gross detail that she took voice lessons not to become a better singer but simply so she could sing along more pleasurably to music she loved.

Has anyone else been singing anything fun lately? For their kids, or in any other situation? I’ve been singing a lot of Carrie Anne, by The Hollies.

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Addicted to Exercise?

If you don’t like exercise or are getting sick of your workout routine, a few recent essays will keep you in good company. Last fall, Aja Frost wrote I Was (Am?) Addicted to Exercise for the newsletter Platonic Love:

I never deviated from or relaxed my exercise routine; it was sacred. As long as I exercised, my body wouldn’t slip back into its old state. I’d be safe.

And last week, Rod Gilchrist wrote I Was a Running Addict for The Guardian:

The trouble is, once you’ve got the running bug, it’s hard to scale back, even when your body demands it.

And a few days after that, The Guardian also ran I Thought Fitness Was My Superpower. Then I Realized It Was a Ball and Chain, by Sam Pyrah:

I tried to push through it – until, suddenly, neither my body nor my brain could find a reason to carry on. I slowed to a walk. I stopped my watch. I sat down and had a little cry, the sweat drying on my back. Then I walked home.

The essays remind me of a concept called Positive Addiction (and a 1985 book of the same name) — the idea that it’s possible to be truly addicted to things that are good for you. I’m an almost-daily runner, and I do understand how it could be described as addiction, although for now I just love it. Maybe a key is that I don’t run especially long distances. And it’s a relatively new habit. But I guess there’s (hopefully) still plenty of time for it to sour.

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The 40-hour workweek isn’t “a biological necessity,” per a recent episode of History Unplugged. “In fact, for much of human history, 15 hours … was the standard.” I haven’t listened yet, but 15 hours sounds pleasant.

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Diary Comics, Dec. 26-28

It’s another Thursday Afternoon With Edith! In these comics from last winter, our baby was just born. (Previously.)


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Cicadas and Prime Numbers

You may have heard that this year, for the first time since 1803, two different broods of cicadas will emerge at the same time.

This year, though, will be a rare event. Two groups, or “broods,” are waking up during the same season. There will likely be billions, if not trillions, of the insects.

There’s the 17-year-group called Brood XIII, which is concentrated in northern Illinois (brown on the map below), and the 13-year clutch, Brood XIX, which will emerge in southern Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, and throughout the Southeast.

You may have noticed the lengths of both periodicities (13, 17) are prime numbers — and that does not appear to be a coincidence. Scientists haven’t nailed down an exact cause, but one hypothesis has to do with predator cycles:

According to the paleontologist Stephen J. Gould, in his essay “Of Bamboo, Cicadas, and the Economy of Adam Smith,” these kind of boom-and-bust population cycles can be devastating to creatures with a long development phase. Since most predators have a two-to-ten-year population cycle, the twelve-year cicadas would be a feast for any predator with a two-, three-, four-, or six-year cycle. By this reasoning, any cicada with a development span that is easily divisible by the smaller numbers of a predator’s population cycle is vulnerable.

Prime numbers, however, can only be divided by themselves and one; they cannot be evenly divided into smaller integers. Cicadas that emerge at prime-numbered year intervals, like the seventeen-year Brood II set to swarm the East Coast, would find themselves relatively immune to predator population cycles, since it is mathematically unlikely for a short-cycled predator to exist on the same cycle. In Gould’s example, a cicada that emerges every seventeen years and has a predator with a five-year life cycle will only face a peak predator population once every eighty-five (5 x 17) years, giving it an enormous advantage over less well-adapted cicadas.

See also Long-lived insects raise prime riddle.

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The movies that influenced Star Wars, from Flash Gordon & Buck Rogers to The Hidden Fortress by Akira Kurosawa to The Searchers & Metropolis.

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Trailer for Season Two of The Rings of Power

I am apparently one of the few people who really liked the first season of the Lord of the Rings prequel series, The Rings of Power. I mean, it had its rough spots and maybe there was a little too much table-setting, but in general it left me wanting to see what was going to happen next. The trailer for season two just dropped and it looks pretty action-packed and stocked with characters & events that would be familiar to those who have read the main book series. Here’s the synopsis:

Sauron has returned. Cast out by Galadriel, without army or ally, the rising Dark Lord must now rely on his own cunning to rebuild his strength and oversee the creation of the Rings of Power, which will allow him to bind all the peoples of Middle-earth to his sinister will. Building on Season One’s epic scope and ambition, the new season plunges even its most beloved and vulnerable characters into a rising tide of darkness, challenging each to find their place in a world that is increasingly on the brink of calamity. Elves and dwarves, orcs and men, wizards and Harfoots… as friendships are strained and kingdoms begin to fracture, the forces of good will struggle ever more valiantly to hold on to what matters to them most of all… each other.

And they also released a behind-the-scenes look at the production of season two:

The second season of The Rings of Power premieres on August 29 on Amazon Prime.

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I Was Shot in Vermont. What if It Had Been in the West Bank? “Why did reporters…interview our mothers and take our portraits when young men my age have been shot at by snipers, detained indefinitely without trial and treated as a statistic?”

Scope of Work is holding a contest around the idea of “umarelling”, the act of pausing to observe construction work in progress.

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Pulitzer Prize in Fiction juror Michael Chabon recommended three non-winning books that he “deeply dug”: The Ice Harp (Norman Lock), After World (Debbie Urbanski), and Dearborn (Ghassan Zeinnedine).

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On Sports Parenting

I am a sports parent but have never been the type that lived through the achievements of their kids, but even so, there are parts of Rich Cohen’s The Sad Fate of the Sports Parent I identified with.

The end began like this: One evening, after the last game of the high-school season, I asked my son if he’d be trying out for spring league. For a youth-hockey kid, playing spring league is the equivalent of a minor-league pitcher playing winter ball in Mexico — so necessary as a statement of intent and means of improvement that forgoing it is like giving up “the path.” Rather than a simple affirmative nod, as I’d expected, I got these words: “I’m going to think about it.” Think about it? For me, this was the same as a girlfriend saying, “We need to talk.”

Only later did I realize that those words were the first move in a careful choreography. My son wanted to quit, but in a way that would not break my heart. He also didn’t want me to rant and rave and try to talk him out of it.

We had reversed roles. He was the adult. I was the child.

I find the life-long child/parent role-reversal dynamic endlessly fascinating. And also this bit:

He had no inherent genius for the game, but he loved it, and that love, which was his talent, and the corresponding desire to spend every free moment at the facility — the life of a rink rat — jumping onto the ice whenever an extra player was needed, shooting tape balls in the lobby, made him an asset. A kid can have all the skills, speed, size, and shot, but if he doesn’t want to be there, if he doesn’t love the game, it’s not going to work.

It was passion that got him onto the top teams (this was tier-two and tier-three hockey in Fairfield County, Connecticut) and thus sowed the seed that eventually became, for me, a bitter plant. His love for the game elevated him to the hypercompetitive, goal-fixated ranks, where it’s always about the next tryout and the next season, who will make it and, more important, who will be left behind. Irony: His love for the game had carried him to a level where no love is possible.

Both of my kids are skiers competing on a national level and they are definitely struggling with this — how do you balance the genuine love of a sport and competition with the fixation on goals & judging? When is it no longer worth it?

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Tracing the history of emoji, surprisingly, back to the 80s. “Once you accept that emoji existed in the 1980s, more things come to light.”

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Delia Brown’s Portraits


Thanks to the Instagram account New American Paintings, I recently came across the work of Los Angeles-based artist Delia Brown, including the above portrait, “Jai Maa! (Justine II),” which I love. A feature on Brown in Independent Art Fair magazine also includes an awesome painting of hers from 2000 called “What, Are You Jealous?” (probably NSFW).

Someday — someday! — I want to turn down an invitation to something because “I can’t, I’m sitting for my portrait at that time.”

Elsewhere in portraits: King Charles’s, by Jonathan Yeo. “In his interview with the BBC,” the NYT’s Vanessa Friedman writes, “Mr. Yeo noted that when the king first saw the painting, he was ‘initially mildly surprised by the strong color,’ which may be an understatement.”

Many more of Brown’s paintings can be found on her website and Instagram.

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Paul Ford writing about AI is a treat. “AI is, very simply, a totally shameless technology. It does everything badly and confidently. And I want to be it.”

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“My love of farm-fresh frozen confections does not outweigh my distaste for food poisoning — or bird flu.” Interesting look at the interstate raw milk trade.

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The Trailer for Francis Ford Coppola’s Megalopolis

Francis Ford Coppola has been making Megalopolis since 1983 and has self funded it “in part by the sale of a significant portion of the director’s wine empire”. But the trailer is finally here and it premieres at Cannes in two days’ time. Here’s a synopsis shared by Coppola himself:

A man balances precariously on a ledge high above a once-grand city in the opening scene of Francis Ford Coppola’s MEGALOPOLIS, and the movie that follows is — at least in part — about an entire civilization teetering on a similarly precarious ledge, devouring itself in a whirl of unchecked greed, self-absorption, and political propaganda, while a few bold dreamers push against the tide, striving to usher in a new dawn. The man is called Caesar (Adam Driver), like the Roman general who gave rise to the Roman Empire, Cesar the labor leader who organized California’s farm workers in the 1960s, and a few other notably great men of history. But he is also clearly an avatar of Coppola himself — a grand visionary witnessing a once-great thing (call it cinema if you must) withering before his very eyes and determined to revivify it. And, after decades of planning, MEGALOPOLIS the movie is the powerful elixir he has produced: a sweeping, big-canvas movie of provocative ideas and relentless cinematic invention that belies its maker’s 84 years of age.

Coppola seems to have been born-again by a strike of filmic lightning, and the movie — no, the experience (complete with in-theater “live cinema”) — that has emerged feels at once the work of a film-school wunderkind unbowed by notions of convention, but also the work of a wizened master who knows much about life and the ways of the world. To paraphrase Coppola himself speaking decades ago about his APOCALYPSE NOW, MEGALOPOLIS isn’t a movie about the end of the world as we know it, it is the end of the world as we know it. Only, where APOCALYPSE left us in a napalm-bombed fever-dream haze, MEGALOPOLIS, surprisingly and movingly, bestows on us a final image glowing with hope for the future.

You should also watch this clip of the film shared by Coppola, which reveals another aspect of the story:

This is either going to be amazing or a beautiful disaster, but either way I’m excited to see it…if they can find someone to distribute the film.

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TIL that some tiny bits of bitcoins are more valuable than others. “Those produced in the year bitcoin was created are considered vintage, like a fine wine. Other coveted sats were part of transactions made by bitcoin’s inventor.”

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Whoa, a 5500-piece Lego set of the tower of Barad-dûr from LoTR. According to The Verge, the eye lights up, there’s a Shelob inside, and you can stack multiple sets to make your tower taller.

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Google is replacing their search results with AI answers. There’s a very simple explanation for this: it’s better/cheaper to provide potentially wrong answers to keep you clicking within Google than it is to send you away for the right answers.

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Hot Frank Summer Starts Now!

cover of Frankenstein

Hey folks. I’ve posted a couple of times about Hot Frank Summer, the group read of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1831 edition) that some folks are doing on Bluesky. Well, it kicks off today. To participate, all you need to do is follow the reading schedule. If you don’t have a copy of the book yet, check out this free ebook version by Standard Ebooks — they even have a web version you can read on your phone or tablet (or Vision Pro, I guess?).

If you’d also like to discuss the book (and/or follow along with others discussing the book), there’s this feed on Bluesky. I found this little tidbit on the feed:

Frankenstein takes place in the mid-1790s and Moby Dick may take place as early as 1830, so it’s possible Captain Walton sailed with a young Ahab.

Someone needs to write that little crossover prequel.

Anyway, you can also use this comment thread as a place to discuss the book. I’m not sure how well it will work, but we can give it a try? I’d suggest not discussing anything ahead of the day’s reading, but other than that, let ‘er rip!

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Love this phrase: decanting groceries. “Do you really want to spend your one wild and precious life putting marshmallows in jars?”

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Hey, if you’re looking for a well-designed (and free!) ebook of Frankenstein for Hot Frank Summer (starting tomorrow!), check out this Standard Ebooks edition.

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Out Sick Today

sign that says 'it's been 0 days since I've taken a sick day'

Hey folks. I’ve been battling a wicked sore throat since Saturday; it keeps knocking me down and I keep getting back up but this morning it hissed STAY DOWN and I’m just going to listen to it. Hopefully I will be back with you tomorrow, but for now, I’m going to find some soup, read my book, watch the Spurs/Man City match, and not ride my bike, which is the thing I most want to do today. *sigh*

See you tomorrow, I hope!

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This is a good piece about third places (“settings a person frequents beyond their home & work”), their benefits, how to find/make your own, and the challenges people face in finding them. Do you have a third place?

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“Just 27% of civilian workers in the U.S. get paid family leave. Workers who can least afford to take unpaid time off are also the least likely to have access to paid leave.” Happy Mother’s Day! 🥴

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The Kids Are Right (and Alright)

Osita Nwanevu on the recent US campus protests:

The student left is the most reliably correct constituency in America. Over the past 60 years, it has passed every great moral test American foreign policy has forced upon the public, including the Vietnam war, the question of relations with apartheid South Africa, and the Iraq war. Student activists were at the heart of the black civil rights movement from the very beginning. To much derision and abuse, they pushed for more rights, protections and respect for women and queer people on their campuses than the wider world was long willing to provide. And over the past 20 years in particular, policymakers have arrived belatedly to stances on economic inequality, climate change, drug policy and criminal justice that putative radicals on campus took up long before them.

They have not always been right; even when right, their prescriptions for the problems they’ve identified and their means of directing attention to them have not always been prudent. But time and time and time again, the student left in America has squarely faced and expressed truths our politicians and all the eminent and eloquent voices of moderation in the press, in all of their supposed wisdom and good sense, have been unable or unwilling to see. Straining against an ancient and immortal prejudice against youth, it has made a habit of telling the American people, in tones that discomfit, what they need to hear before they are ready to hear it.


Lauren Groff has opened a bookstore called The Lynx. “As book bans surged across Florida, they decided that their town needed an independent bookstore where titles that had been purged from libraries and classrooms would be on prominent display.”

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Currently listening to Atavista, a “new” album from Childish Gambino (which he says is the “finished version” of an album he released in 2020 called 3.15.20).

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Incredible fact: none of the Big Three US automakers makes a sedan anymore. “That decision is bad news for road users, the environment, and budget-conscious consumers — and it may ultimately come around to bite Detroit.”

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The Demon of Unrest by Erik Larson

Demon Of Unrest

Oh man, I screwed up big-time you guys and owe you an apology. The great Erik Larson (The Devil in the White City, The Splendid and the Vile, In the Garden of Beasts) came out with a new book two weeks ago and I somehow missed it! I almost shrieked when I saw it on the bookstore front table yesterday.

Anyway, the book is called The Demon of Unrest: A Saga of Hubris, Heartbreak, and Heroism at the Dawn of the Civil War ( Here’s the synopsis:

On November 6, 1860, Abraham Lincoln became the fluky victor in a tight race for president. The country was bitterly at odds; Southern extremists were moving ever closer to destroying the Union, with one state after another seceding and Lincoln powerless to stop them. Slavery fueled the conflict, but somehow the passions of North and South came to focus on a lonely federal fortress in Charleston Harbor: Fort Sumter.

Master storyteller Erik Larson offers a gripping account of the chaotic months between Lincoln’s election and the Confederacy’s shelling of Sumter — a period marked by tragic errors and miscommunications, enflamed egos and craven ambitions, personal tragedies and betrayals. Lincoln himself wrote that the trials of these five months were “so great that, could I have anticipated them, I would not have believed it possible to survive them.”

With a movie out in theaters called Civil War and southern states once again agitating for “”“state’s rights”“” (I really can’t put enough exaggerated air-quotes around that phrase) in order to control bodily freedoms, The Demon of Unrest is really timely; Larson himself connects the events of the book with January 6th in a reader’s note:

I was well into my research on the saga of Fort Sumter and the advent of the American Civil War when the events of January 6, 2021, took place. As I watched the Capitol assault unfold on camera, I had the eerie feeling that present and past had merged. It is unsettling that in 1861 two of the greatest moments of national dread centered on the certification of the Electoral College vote and the presidential inauguration.

I was appalled by the attack, but also riveted. I realized that the anxiety, anger, and astonishment that I felt would certainly have been experienced in 1860-1861 by vast numbers of Americans. With this in mind, I set out to try to capture the real suspense of those long-ago months when the country lurched toward catastrophe, propelled by hubris, duplicity, false honor, and an unsatisfiable craving on the part of certain key actors for personal attention and affirmation. Many voices at the time of Sumter warned of civil war, but few had an inkling of what that might truly mean, and certainly none would have believed that any such war could take the lives of 750,000 Americans.

History may not repeat itself, but it sure does rhyme. So anyway, I’m 60+ pages in and can already recommend it — you can get The Demon of Unrest at Amazon or

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Geologist finds setting for Leonardo’s Mona Lisa. “Art historians said Leonardo always used his imagination, but you can give this picture to any geologist in the world and they’ll say what I’m saying about Lecco.”

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A new LoTR movie is coming: Andy Serkis is starring and directing in Lord of the Rings: The Hunt for Gollum. Peter Jackson is producing and Fran Walsh & Philippa Boyens are writing the script.

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The Sky Was Purple and Red and Yellow and On Fire

a photo of the aurora borealis above windmills

a photo of the aurora borealis above some mountains

There was a big solar storm this weekend and photos of the aurora borealis took over social media; it was delightful. For round-ups, check out the NY Times, the Guardian, @itsjackcohen, PBS NewsHour,, Forbes, and MSN.

The photos above are by Albert Dros and Sean O’ Riordan (prints here). O’ Riordan took his shot in Tasmania and actually had to tone it down for publication:

When the clouds are glowing red you know something is off the charts, I tried my best to desaturate this and make it look some bit like a photo and not a science fiction scene!

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Patriarchy According to The Barbie Movie

Using the Barbie movie and other media (movies, TV shows) as a guide, Pop Culture Detective delves into what “patriarchy” actually means (mirrors: Patreon &

We’re going to use the movie as a sort of primer to help explain what patriarchy actually is, what it isn’t, and how it ends up harming everyone, including men. To have any kind of productive conversation, we have to get over that defensiveness that so many men feel whenever they they come across the word “patriarchy”. Contrary to popular belief, patriarchy is not a synonym for men, nor is it a code word for masculinity, and it certainly has nothing to do with hating men.

The bibliography in the description of the video lists three books if you’d like to do some reading on the topic:

(via waxy)

P.S. While I was watching this video, YouTube removed it after Warner Brothers “blocked it on copyright grounds”. The channel is challenging the takedown and has uploaded it to Patreon and in the meantime. (I’m leaving the embed in case it comes back to life.) This bullshit is so irritating — Google just totally letting massive media corporations decide what’s copyright infringing without recourse. And Warner (and Gerwig & Robbie too to some lesser extent)…you made the fucking movie to get a message across and to get people talking and someone posts a thoughtful video essay about the central issue of the film and you fucking take it down?

We Will Teach You How to Read | We Will Teach You How to Read. “This is our story, simplified: Life. Loss. Transformation. Love. Death. Iteration.”

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A lovely essay: Variations on the Theme of Silence. “I’ve begun to realize that you can listen to silence and learn from it. It has a quality and a dimension all its own.”

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Seabike is an “underwater mobility device” that can propel you through the water at “superhuman speed”. You pedal with your feet, driving a small propellor.

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NASA Visualization of Flying Into a Supermassive Black Hole

NASA used one of their supercomputers to model what it would look like if you flew into a supermassive black hole. (You can watch the simulation in a 360° view on YouTube. I bet it looks great on a VR rig like Apple Vision Pro.)

The movies begin with the camera located nearly 400 million miles (640 million kilometers) away, with the black hole quickly filling the view. Along the way, the black hole’s disk, photon rings, and the night sky become increasingly distorted — and even form multiple images as their light traverses the increasingly warped space-time.

In real time, the camera takes about 3 hours to fall to the event horizon, executing almost two complete 30-minute orbits along the way. But to anyone observing from afar, it would never quite get there. As space-time becomes ever more distorted closer to the horizon, the image of the camera would slow and then seem to freeze just shy of it. This is why astronomers originally referred to black holes as “frozen stars.”

At the event horizon, even space-time itself flows inward at the speed of light, the cosmic speed limit. Once inside it, both the camera and the space-time in which it’s moving rush toward the black hole’s center — a one-dimensional point called a singularity, where the laws of physics as we know them cease to operate.

“Once the camera crosses the horizon, its destruction by spaghettification is just 12.8 seconds away,” Schnittman said. From there, it’s only 79,500 miles (128,000 kilometers) to the singularity. This final leg of the voyage is over in the blink of an eye.

Black holes: so cool. (via the kid should see this)

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A neat technique to rebuild roads using a movable temporary bridge — traffic goes over and the work happens in the shade.

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A love letter to bicycle maintenance and repair. “Learning to fix bicycles has changed my outlook on manual labor, on the nature of work, and ultimately on life itself.”

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Miranda Lambert’s “Wranglers” & Chappell Roan’s “Good Luck, Babe!”

Here are a couple newish lyric videos that share a nice spirit of “Good riddance!!!”-ness. I learned of the Chappell Roan video from a comment in a post from earlier this week (comment of the week?? by my standards, anyway), and I love it. (Here’s Roan’s awesome Tiny Desk Concert, by the way.) And the Miranda Lambert reminds me of a specific situation in my own life and makes me smile. 🔥👖

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AI Copilots Are Changing How Coding Is Taught; they can “free up time for us to teach higher-level thinking — for example, how to design software, what is the right problem to solve, and what are the solutions.”

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Some tips for long walks. “We’re prone to lean forward when we walk. Over long distances, this wreaks havoc on one’s lower back and hips. As such, ‘head over hips’ is something to be conscious of.”

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The Lowest Possible Score in Super Mario Bros

If you play carefully by not stomping enemies, not collecting coins, not eating mushrooms or flowers, and hopping on the flagpole at the very last second, you can rescue the princess in Super Mario Bros with only 500 points.

One bit is surprisingly tricky:

How tough is that jump in 8-1? Well, the timing of the liftoff, the duration of holding the jump button, and the timing of the wall jump are all frame perfect. NES games run at 60 frames per second, which means all the necessary inputs need to be timed within 1/60 of a second. In addition, the starting position before running I used not only has to be on the right pixel, but also the x sub-pixel has to fall within a certain range (technical stuff blah blah blah). In short, it’s a pretty annoying jump.

When I was a kid, I left my NES on for three straight days to flip the score in SMB, using the 1UP trick and another spot in the game to get many lives and points. Scoring lower would have been a lot quicker.

I missed this from last year: the original “on the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog” New Yorker cartoon sold for $175,000 at auction.

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Spring and Summer Skies by Amy Jean Porter


Just some lovely painted skies to end the day. (Above, below.)


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Romanian Singer Maria Coman

“Was the human voice the very first musical instrument? I don’t know, but I expect it will end up as the very last one.” Tyler Cowen shared an eclectic choral music playlist the other day, with the preceding lines as an intro, and the idea of a “last instrument” was pleasingly creepy to me. It also reminded me of the above video, of artist Maria Coman singing the “Love is patient, love is kind” lines from the First Epistle to the Corinthians, from the Bible. (1 Corinthians 13: 1-8.) More of Coman’s music can be found on her website. And what is that church she’s in?

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Take Two Trips

A couple years ago, the NYT columnist David Brooks published a story called “The Greatest Life Hacks in the World (For Now).” It was mostly a tribute to Kevin Kelly’s famous life advice posts, but Brooks added one of his own, and I’ve thought of at least once a week since:

…over the last few years I have embraced, almost as a religious mantra, the idea that if you’re not sure you can carry it all, take two trips.

Take two trips. Nothing serious, but of all the “life advice” posts I’ve read, this is the one that’s changed my own life the most. Anyone else have something from an advice list that really made it into their brains/lives?

The closest thing to a life advice aphorism I’ve ever come up with is maybe too gross to write down. And it’s running-themed, so it could be too specific. But maybe if I share it here, I will exorcise it from my brain: Sometimes you’re so worried about pooping your pants that you don’t realize you’ve already pooped your pants.

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This is the first I’m learning of the spookily named Decline at 9 phenomenon, in which kids apparently lose interest in reading around age nine. (Per the article, 57% of 8-year-olds claim to read for fun daily, vs. only 35% of 9-year-olds.) ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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Diary Comics, Dec. 21-25

It’s another Thursday Afternoon With Edith, and here are a bunch more comics from my journal! I’m publishing everything through my new baby’s birth, because it seemed silly to draw it out any longer than I have! She’s now four months old. 👶 (Previously.)

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“I maintain that the trash compactor onboard the Death Star in Star Wars is implausible, unworkable, and, moreover, inefficient.”

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Wes Anderson’s Montblanc Commercial

Rupert Friend, Jason Schwartzman, and Wes Anderson star in an Anderson-directed commercial for Montblanc pens. You know the drill: it’s twee, it’s charming, it’s art-directed to within an inch of its life. Me personally? I love it.

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It’s Time to Tax the Billionaires. In 2018, “for the first time in the history of the United States, billionaires had a lower effective tax rate than working-class Americans”.

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The Gentle Librarian

Boox Palma

As someone who reads almost exclusively on an ereader (a Kindle Paperwhite), I have been intrigued by Craig Mod’s recent evangelism of the BOOX Palma, a pocket-sized e-ink device that he’s been using as an ereader. In the latest issue of his Roden newsletter, he explains why he likes it so much:

Once you hold a Palma, you realize that for most situations it’s an ideal reading container. On the train? In line? In the waiting room at the doctor’s office? I’ve carried my Palma with me every day for the past three or so months with the goal of reaching for it rather than my iPhone. I call it the Gentle Librarian. Soft screen, clean interface, no SIM card and so mostly no internet (it loads up with new articles while at home on Wi-Fi; I can always tether to my phone to update or add something new to read on the go), a refresh rate that is plausible enough on which to watch movies (!! hypnotizing, actually, like watching a magic trick, like what Victorians may have imagined “computer screens” to look like) but not really responsive enough to seduce you into installing social media apps. There’s a lot of friction in this little bugger, and it turns out a bit of friction is a good friend of the kind of reading we love.

Hmm. Hmm! Like Mod, I’m frustrated with Amazon’s lack of vision and activity on the ereader front and lament the time I spend on my Casino Rectangle / Dingdong Casino of Hell. Maybe I’ll try the Palma out…

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Hackers can reprogram NES Tetris *from within the game*, which may lead to new high scores. The hack involves “reading the game’s high score tables as machine code instructions”.

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After launching last month, the Delta game emulator has been one of the most popular apps in Apple’s App Store. It allows you to play NES, GB, SNES, N64, and DS games on your iPhone or Mac.

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Attempting to thwart ticket scalpers, Billie Eilish is selling supposedly “untransferable” tickets for her new tour. 404 Media has the details on how these tickets can actually be transferred.

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Fantastical Portraits of Cate Blanchett

photo of Cate Blanchett

I love these (haunting? are they haunting?) photos of Cate Blanchett taken by Jack Davison for this 2022 profile in the NY Times Magazine.

When the magazine asked the photographer Jack Davison to create the art for this story, he took inspiration from Cate Blanchett’s legendary gift at transforming herself on film. Over the course of a four-hour shoot, across nine different setups, Davison made the fantastical, perspective-bending portraits that appear here.

(via @gray)

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I’d missed that Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend now has a graphic novel adaptation.

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Parents Micro-Targeted by Their Kids’ Hand-Drawn Ads on Facebook

In 2019, artist and engineer Tega Brain gave some kids the opportunity to create targeted advertising relevant to their particular interests: Bushwick Analytica.

Politicians and marketers now use data and targeted advertising to try to change our behaviors and influence our worldviews. But why should these tools only be available to people in places like Washington DC, Manhattan and London?

Some of the kids’ ads targeted their parents:

a hand-drawn advertisement that reads 'I should have a dog. Get your kids a dog!'

a hand-drawn advertisement that reads 'No school on Mondays'

While others were aimed at people who could help with causes the kids were interested in:

a hand-drawn advertisement that reads 'Protect the Homeless. Justice for everyone.'

(via dens)

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The Cheese-Making Magic of Alka-Seltzer, Explained. You can make a creamy nacho cheese sauce at home using Alka-Seltzer — its ingredients react to form an emulsifying agent. Plop, plop, Cheez Whiz, oh what a trick this is…

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A short essay on freediving. “In the mindful state of freediving, I don’t panic. I find stillness. Centeredness. Calm. I am belonging in the moment. I’ve retrained my mind to be underwater.” I love mind vs. body stuff like this.

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“For the first time ever, more online news sites produced Pulitzer finalists than newspapers did.“

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How Rope Was Made the Old Fashioned Way

This is a clip from the BBC series Edwardian Farm that shows how rope was made in the olden days.

The entire series is available to watch online.

New Pompeii excavations reveal frescoes & mosaics about the Trojan War. “The flickering light of the lamps had the effect of making the images appear to move, especially after a few glasses of good Campanian wine.”

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The Light Eaters and Plant Intelligence

Zoë Schlanger’s new book (out today) sounds really interesting: The Light Eaters: How the Unseen World of Plant Intelligence Offers a New Understanding of Life on Earth (

It takes tremendous biological creativity to be a plant. To survive and thrive while rooted in a single spot, plants have adapted ingenious methods of survival. In recent years, scientists have learned about their ability to communicate, recognize their kin and behave socially, hear sounds, morph their bodies to blend into their surroundings, store useful memories that inform their life cycle, and trick animals into behaving to their benefit, to name just a few remarkable talents.

I heard about it from NPR’s Fresh Air — check out this completely metal behavior:

Schlanger notes that some tomato plants, when being eaten by caterpillars, fill their leaves with a chemical that makes them so unappetizing that the caterpillars start eating each other instead. Corn plants have been known to sample the saliva of predator caterpillars — and then use that information to emit a chemical to attract a parasitic wasp that will attack the caterpillar.

Schlanger acknowledges that our understanding of plants is still developing — as are the definitions of “intelligence” and “consciousness.” “Science is there [for] observation and to experiment, but it can’t answer questions about this ineffable, squishy concept of intelligence and consciousness,” she says.

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I’ve known Anil Dash for 20+ years and I still keep finding out all sorts of crazy things about him. “Fun fact: Prince bought the house used in the filming of Purple Rain right after I tweeted at him that it was on sale.”

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Did you know that “Broccolini” is actually a registered trademark of Del Monte? That they haven’t enforced for decades? “That, generally speaking, is how marks lose their distinctive nature and become generic.”

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An Update on the Beloved Broccoli Tree

photo of a tree that resembles a broccoli floret

Do you remember the Broccoli Tree? Photographer Patrik Svedberg photographed a Swedish tree that resembled a broccoli floret over a number of years, posted the results to Instagram, and made the tree internet famous. Then some asshole vandal sawed through the branches of the tree and it had to be chopped down. John Green eulogized the Broccoli Tree in a video:

To share something is to risk losing it, especially in a world where sharing occurs at tremendous scale and where everyone seems to want to be noticed, even if only for cutting down a beloved tree.

Well, the stump of the tree was left in the hopes that it would grow again and I’m pleased to say that it has — here’s a photo from three years ago:

photo of a group of people gathered in front of a tree that looks like a bush

You can even see it on Google Maps. I’m glad the tree is growing again but wish the destruction hadn’t happened in the first place.

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Thanks to a newly deciphered Herculaneum scroll, researchers have pinpointed the location of Plato’s grave in Athens and know what he did on his final day.

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This is the goofiest, dorkiest advertising/marketing I’ve ever seen from Apple — and also really fun. See if you can find all of the Star Wars Easter eggs.

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A North Yorkshire county authority banned apostrophes on street signs because they cause problems with poorly designed computer systems. “I walk past the sign every day and it riles my blood to see inappropriate grammar or punctuation.”

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The Shardlake Series


In honor of novelist C.J. Sansom’s passing, I wanted to recommend his marvelous Matthew Shardlake historical crime thrillers, for anyone who isn’t already familiar. I definitely learned and remembered more about Thomas Cromwell-era England from Dissolution than I did from any textbooks (not that I’ve read any of those in a while, but still). It was all very visceral in a damp-stone-monastery, heavy cloaks, burning candles, teeth-being-pulled-in-the-Tower-of-London kind of way. Also his novels are just super fun, and the Matthew Shardlake character — a sort of proto-detective lawyer — is especially memorable.

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Hi, I am Needs to Read About A Rap Beef in the NY Times to Understand What’s Going On With Drake and Kendrick Lamar years old.

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Zadie Smith: “To send the police in to arrest young people peacefully insisting upon a ceasefire represents a moral injury to us all. To do it with violence is a scandal. How could they do less than protest, in this moment?”

Squaring the Reality of What We See

Gareth Fearn writing for the London Review of Books about the student protests on US campuses: Liberalism without Accountability.

This is a toxic combination: universities reliant on investment portfolios in a system where mega-profits are made by companies that threaten and destroy human life, influenced by an increasingly radicalised class of billionaires, teaching students whose degrees won’t earn them enough to pay off their loans, managed by supine administrators threatened by (or willingly collaborating with) a reactionary right, who have decided that young people’s minds are being turned against capitalism not by their own lived experience of austerity and racialised police violence but by ‘woke Marxist professors’. This situation has now met with a live-streamed genocide which is supported, and brazenly lied about, by political leaders and commentators who claim to stand for truth and justice. Students, like much of the public, cannot square the reality of what they see with the world as constructed by politicians and the media.

Under such circumstances, pitching tents, raising placards and demanding divestment are really quite mild-mannered responses. That they have been met, in many US universities, with militarised policing reflects the fragility of liberalism — in the face of the growing hegemony of the conservative right as well as its own inability to offer a future even to Ivy League college students, let alone the less privileged.

Hey everyone, it’s Hot Frank Summer! Aka we’re all reading Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein this summer. Just a few pages a day from May 15 to June 12 — check out the schedule and put it in your calendar. #HotFrankSummer

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Booting up an Apple IIc to play Lode Runner. Oh maaaaaan, this takes me back. I played so much Lode Runner as a kid. And made probably 50 of my own levels with the built-in level editor.

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These folks wrote an autopilot in Javascript that can control planes in Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 (via the API). “To allay any concerns: this is not about running JavaScript software to control an actual aircraft. That would kill people.”

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Skating the Contours of Nature

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a skate video like this before: a group of riders skating the smooth, flowing rocks on the Maltese island of Gozo (site of Calypso’s cave in the Odyssey). Skateboarding has always been such an urban-coded sport — surfing on concrete, reliant on the human-made infrastructure against which it rebels — that it’s a little bit of a mindbend to see it out in nature like this.

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Oh cool, spiders can swim now. “The diving bell spider is the only one known to survive almost entirely underwater, using bubbles of air it brings down from the surface.” And have you met the underwater bees?

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Wondering why “people invent false conspiracies when there are so many real ones to worry about”, George Monbiot interviews a conspiracy theorist. “Conspiracy fantasists may get the facts wrong, ‘but often get the feelings right.’”

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Jason Polan: I Want to Know All of You

drawings of some things found on the streets of NYC

Recently, some of the items from the personal collection of the late artist Jason Polan were auctioned off. The NY Times wrote about the effort to preserve his legacy.

Jen Bekman, the founder of the online gallery 20x200, reflected on Mr. Polan’s legacy while she sat beside his sketches.

“These are not doodles,” Ms. Bekman said. “That word is diminishing. People remember him as an illustrator, but Jason was a great artist, and his practice was his life.”

I “lost” a bunch of time browsing through the collection this morning, which includes both work by Polan and things he collected & received from other artists.

drawing of a woman holding balloons

drawing of some of the art in the Museum of Modern Art

drawing of Greta Gerwig walking down the street

two drawings of people on the NYC subway

It’s great to see Polan’s legacy being preserved and his art being spread around the world. And to be reminded of that time he went to a fashion show.

I sort of stood still because I was a little confused as to what just happened. Kim walked right by me. Puff Daddy took a picture with someone right in front of me. I then saw Beyoncé walking toward me and I said, “Hi Beyoncé,” and she said, “Heeey,” and smiled and it was kind of like having a Bar Mitzvah. Then Jay Z walked by and I said, “Hi Jay,” and in the second I said that I thought, am I supposed to add a Z? but didn’t and he said hey but not as beautifully as Beyoncé. I love her so much. I drew a couple more people and then went outside and forgot where I was and then walked to the train and went home.

Reminder: you can buy prints and things of Polan’s work at 20x200. I have several of these, including the Zoo Baggu, which I get compliments on almost every time I use it for grocery shopping.

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The trailer for Senna, a Netflix limited series about Brazilian F1 driver Ayrton Senna. Kinda skeptical about this, considering how great the documentary Senna (2010) is.

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Road Snacks #2 — Jack Van Cleaf

The second issue of Road Snacks is out featuring an interview with Nashville-based singer/songwriter Jack Van Cleaf. I like his song Rattlesnake, maybe you will, too. Road Snacks is semi-regular interview series between an ice cream shop and a touring musician talking exclusively about food on tour. I have made it my mission to find out which snacky treats touring musicians live for.

Jack Van Cleaf: That’s the thing, when I get to the gas station, they only have the small bags. The price per pound ratio doesn’t appeal to me as much, but when I get those big bags from Costco, I don’t know, something about the endlessness of it. It really, really drives me.

Gracie’s: You get lost in the bottom of bag.

Jack Van Cleaf: I do, I do. Probably at the gas station I’m gonna go with a Reese’s Cup or a Take Five.

Gracie’s: Tell me anything else about food while touring?

Jack Van Cleaf: The gas station question has me thinking about Twist of Lime Hot Cheetos. Are you familiar with those?

You can read the full interview here.

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Looking to relax or fall asleep? Try Sleep Baseball (aka “baseball radio ASMR”). “Northwoods Baseball Sleep Radio is a full-length fake baseball game. There is no yelling, no loud commercials, no weird volume spikes.”

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A Calming Visit to Claude Monet’s Famed Gardens in Giverny

The Water Lilies paintings that French impressionist Claude Monet is most known for were all painted in the garden of his house in Giverny. Pay a relaxing visit to the set of the MBU (Monet Botanical Universe) with this leisurely video. Here’s another tour of the gardens with music.

See also Monet painting in his gardens, Claude Monet’s War Paintings, and Monet’s Ultraviolet Vision. (via the kid should see this)

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From designer Frank Chimero, a list of stuff he learned in his 30s. “Knowing when to stop is a form of talent.” Happy birthday, Frank! 🎉

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Jack Kerouac’s 30-item list of Belief and Technique for Modern Prose, including “Write in recollection and amazement for yourself” and “Submissive to everything, open, listening”.

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The Flashlight Gun Is Peak WTF America

An officer “accidentally” fired his weapon during an NYPD raid on a student-occupied building at Columbia University on Tuesday. Apparently, he mistook his gun for a flashlight. You may be wondering: how could this happen? Well, like this. From a 2014 article in the Denver Post:

an illustration of a gun with a flashlight mounted on it, showing a second trigger for the light right under the first trigger

Ronny Flanagan took pride in his record as a police officer in Plano, Texas. He had an incident-free career. He took safety training regularly. He was known at the range as a very good shot.

Yet he killed a man when he was simply trying to press a flashlight switch mounted beneath the trigger on his pistol.

In a deposition, Flanagan expressed his remorse and made a prediction.

“I don’t want anyone to ever sit in a chair I’m in right now,” he said. “Think about the officers that aren’t as well trained, officers that don’t take it as seriously, and you put them in a pressure situation, another accident will happen. Not if, but will.”

Jeeeeesus Christ this is the most American shit ever. First of all: guns, guns, guns!! We love ‘em! Don’t forget the complete militarization of the police (they’ve got tanks!), which happens in tinpot countries where leaders fear the citizenry. Those gun flashlights were initially developed for the Navy SEALs and now city cops wield them around students.

And then. And then! There’s the completely genius idea of PUTTING A SECOND TRIGGER ON A GUN — I wish I had letters more uppercase than uppercase for this next part — RIGHT BELOW THE FIRST TRIGGER!!!!!!! 1
You know, the one that propels a projectile out of the weapon at deadly speeds!?

You’re familiar with those doors where the handle makes it seem like a pull but you actually have to push it? They’re called Norman doors, the canonical example of bad design. These flashlight guns are like Norman doors that kill people. W T Actual Fuck. (via

  1. I know I’m gonna get email about this so I’ll stop you right there Johnny Gmail: I am sure “not all guns” 🥴 with flashlights are designed like this. I am positive that putting yet another switch on a firearm that’s designed to be used when the gun is pointed at something or someone is a Bad Idea. And anyway, this whole thing about being an “accident” is BS anyway…there is nothing accidental about where that officer was with the gear that he had, doing what he was doing. It is all perfectly predictable that guns are fired by militarized police in Gun Land USA.

From 1912 to 1952, the Olympics gave out medals for the arts in events like graphic works, compositions for orchestra, epic works (literature), statues, and drawings & watercolors.

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The Art of Work in the Age of AI Production

I enjoyed Ezra Klein’s podcast conversation with Nilay Patel, the editor of The Verge. They talked about media and AI mostly.

(First of all, anyone who says they’re trying to “revolutionize the media through blog posts” is a-ok in my book.)

Anyway, here’s Patel on the limitations of AI and where humans shine:

But these models in their most reductive essence are just statistical representations of the past. They are not great at new ideas.

And I think that the power of human beings sort of having new ideas all the time, that’s the thing that the platforms won’t be able to find. That’s why the platforms feel old. Social platforms like enter a decay state where everyone’s making the same thing all the time. It’s because we’ve optimized for the distribution, and people get bored and that boredom actually drives much more of the culture than anyone will give that credit to, especially an A.I. developer who can only look backwards.

Later he talks more specifically about why curation will grow more important in a world inundated with aggressively mid AI content:

And the idea is, in my mind at least, that those people who curate the internet, who have a point of view, who have a beginning and middle, and an end to the story they’re trying to tell all the time about the culture we’re in or the politics we’re in or whatever. They will actually become the centers of attention and you cannot replace that with A.I. You cannot replace that curatorial function or that guiding function that we’ve always looked to other individuals to do.

And those are real relationships. I think those people can stand in for institutions and brands. I think the New York Times, you’re Ezra Klein, a New York Times journalist means something. It appends some value to your name, but the institution has to protect that value. I think that stuff is still really powerful, and I think as the flood of A.I. comes to our distribution networks, the value of having a powerful individual who curates things for people, combined with a powerful institution who protects their integrity actually will go up. I don’t think that’s going to go down.

Yeah, exactly. Individuals and groups of like-minded people making things for other people — that stuff is only going to grow more valuable as time goes on. The breadth and volume offered by contemporary AI cannot provide this necessary function right now (and IMO, for the foreseeable future).

And finally, I wanted to share this exchange:

EZRA KLEIN: You said something on your show that I thought was one of the wisest, single things I’ve heard on the whole last decade and a half of media, which is that places were building traffic thinking they were building an audience. And the traffic, at least in that era, was easy, but an audience is really hard. Talk a bit about that.

NILAY PATEL: Yeah first of all, I need to give credit to Casey Newton for that line. That is something — at The Verge, we used to say that to ourselves all the time just to keep ourselves from the temptations of getting cheap traffic. I think most media companies built relationships with the platforms, not with the people that were consuming their content.

I never focused on traffic all that much, mainly because for a small site like, there wasn’t a whole lot I could do, vis-à-vis Google or Facebook, to move the needle that much. But as I’ve written many times, switching to a reader-supported model in 2016 with the membership program has just worked so well for the site because it allows me to focus on making something for those readers — that’s you! — and not for platforms or algorithms or advertisers. I don’t have to “pivot to video”; instead I can do stuff like comments and [new thing coming “soon”] that directly benefit and engage readers, which has been really rewarding.

See also Kyle Chayka’s recent piece for the New Yorker: The Revenge of the Home Page.

Perhaps the platform era caused us to lose track of what a Web site was for. The good ones are places you might turn to several times per day or per week for a select batch of content that pointedly is not everything. Going there regularly is a signal of intention and loyalty: instead of passively waiting for social feeds to serve you what to read, you can seek out reading materials-or videos or audio-from sources you trust. If Twitter was once a sprawling Home Depot of content, going to specific sites is more like shopping from a series of specialized boutiques.

I’m going to get slightly petty here for a sec and say that these “back to the blog / back to the web” pieces almost always ignore the sites that never gave up the faith in favor of “media” folks inspired by the former. It’s nice to see the piece end with a mention of Arts & Letters Daily, still bloggily chugging along since 1998. /salty

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Designing a 3D-Printed Rollercoaster Clock. “I used to play tons of Rollercoaster Tycoon as a kid, and I spent a good portion of my life planning to be a rollercoaster designer.”

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Ancient-ish Woolen Dutch Hats


Nothing more exciting than knitted items! This isn’t news, but a relative sent it to me recently, and I see it also made the rounds on Reddit a few days ago. Here’s the gist, per the Rijksmuseum:

In 1980 archaeologists investigated the graves of 185 Dutchmen — whale hunters, and workers at whale oil refineries — who had died on or near Spitsbergen [an island in Norway’s Svalbard archipelago] in the 17th century. Many skeletons were still wearing their knitted woollen head coverings. These caps were highly personal. The men were bundled up against the severe cold and could only be recognized by the colours and patterns of their caps. Presumably this is the reason why the caps went with them into their graves.

The hats look remarkably modern, especially if you zoom in. And in fact here are some modern caps, called Deadman Hats, inspired by the old ones. (More info and context for the Dutch hats can be found in this 2016 post from the blog A Bluestocking Knits.)

And this is maybe tangential, but it reminds me of an 18th-century kerfuffle I read about once, in which the young poet Thomas Chatterton claimed to have discovered a 15th-century poem, until a reference within the poem — to knitting — gave it away as contemporary, and presumably as written by Chatterton himself. Or that’s how I remember it, anyway … Although it looks like subsequent research places the advent of knitting earlier than believed at the time.

Even more tangential, to the above tangent: The smoking-gun reference to knitting doesn’t seem to actually appear in the poem, at least not as I’m currently finding it. (??) (The reference: “She sayde as her whyte hondes whyte hosen was knyttinge, Whatte pleasure ytt ys to be married!”) … Actually, I think I’m in over my head. … The “history of knitting” Wikipedia page also generally confirms this impression (of being in over my head).

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Sorry to link to a paywall, but if you like my comics, you might really like Gabrielle Bell’s on Patreon, if you don’t already. Her latest post was especially excellent. (Or, for free from her Instagram: “New Patreon Tiers.”)

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Copy the Shrug Emoji. A website for copying the shrug emoji. Too cute? Ruins it? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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Reading About Listening to J.S. Bach

For the past couple months I’ve been enjoying CFO and real estate developer Evan Goldfine’s newsletter about listening to J.S. Bach. Called Year of Bach, it often includes more Bach than I can handle, but in a good way, and I like letting it wash over me.

Yesterday’s installment was more of a primer — I mean it was literally labeled “Where to start with Bach” and “a primer for new listeners” — which was especially up my alley.

Through this project, I’m attempting to write for the masses about a niche topic, which embeds the danger of writing for no one. So today I want to recognize my readers who are in earlier stages of their Bach journeys, and in this post I’ll be recommending some of the grassier pathways into this music.

Of the tracks and musicians he linked to, my favorite is the Yo-Yo Ma, Chris Thile, and Edgar Meyer rendition of Bach’s Trio Sonata No. 6 in G Major (above), from their Bach Trios album of 2017. I also loved Brad Mehldau’s Prelude No. 3 in C Major from The Well-Tempered Clavier Book I, which Goldfine describes as “damned perfect, a one track playlist on repeat forever.”

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Can’t resist an I Called Off My Wedding essay! (“On another plane ride, I watch Pride and Prejudice. Despite my tendency to be gay, Mr. Darcy makes my heart leap.”)

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Diary Comics, Dec. 19 & 20

It’s another Thursday Afternoon With Edith! Here are some more comics from my journal, from last fall. (Previously.)


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The Native Youth Olympics

Since the early 70s, the Native Youth Olympics have showcased the traditional games of the Alaska Native people:

Our Alaska Native ancestors developed traditional games in order to test and prove crucial abilities that governed everyday life. Competition was created with each other to hone their ability to hunt and fish for daily survival in the traditional way of life. The creators of the NYO Games wanted an opportunity to demonstrate their favorite traditional Native contests of their forefathers.

I found out about this via a highlight reel on Instagram — here’s last year’s competition highlights:

You can check out a list of the competitive events; they include:

  • One-foot High Kick: “In many cultures, the One-Foot High Kick was used for signaling a successful hunt.”
  • Indian Stick Pull: “The Indian Stick Pull represents grabbing a slippery salmon, and was used traditionally to develop hand and arm strength.”
  • Kneel Jump: “Historically, the Kneel Jump was a game used to strengthen the leg muscles for jumping from ice floe to ice floe, and for lifting prey after a successful hunt.”
  • Seal Hop: “The Seal Hop is a variation of the Inuit Knuckle Hop, and used traditionally as a game of endurance and stamina, and for sneaking up on a seal, mimicking the mammal’s movement on the ice.”
  • Two-foot High Kick: “The Two-Foot High Kick was historically used to communicate the success of a spring hunt.”

I love these events. I think my favorite is a reintroduced event for the 2024 games (just concluded): the Toe Kick, which returned after a 10-year hiatus. Here’s how you do it:

Here’s a short documentary about the NYO and athlete Autumn Ridley from 2013 — her event is the Alaskan High Kick, perhaps the most impressively athletic event:

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An FAQ About Your New Birth Control: The Music of Rush. “Imagine taking the most annoying parts of science fiction and Libertarianism, isolating them, and then somehow blending them up into a cursed musical slurry.”

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Video of a tornado in Nebraska going right over a train, filmed by the conductor. “The tornado blew over and derailed 31 cars. The engineer and I were unharmed.”

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Rock stars that sound like… (Kurt Cobain as a coffee grinder, Ozzy Osborne as windshield wipers). Genuine LOL at Henry Rollins.

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This Sliding Door Sounds Like a Screaming R2-D2

My therapist and I have yet to figure out why, but I have a soft spot for objects that do unexpected impressions of other things and people. Like this sliding door that sounds like R2-D2 screaming. Or the falling shovel that plays Smells Like Teen Spirit. Or the door that can do a wicked Miles Davis impression. Or the nightstand door that sounds like Chewbacca. I even found one of my own a few months ago: the elevator door at the old Buzzfeed office sounded like Chewbacca as well. (via @williamlubelski)

Update: Here’s a video full of things that sound like Chewbacca.

The World Central Kitchen Cookbook by José Andrés was just announced as a finalist for a James Beard Award. WCK resumed their work in Gaza yesterday, serving 200,000 meals to displaced Palestinians.

Bubblegum Aliens

These bubblegum sculptures created and photographed by artist Suzanne Saroff are delightfully disgusting.

half-popped bubblegum that looks like mangled flesh

bubblegum scultpure that looks like an alien

unpopped bubblegum bubble that has saliva all over it, gross

I found this via Grace Ebert at Colossal, who writes:

Conjuring memories of childhood competitions and absent-minded chomping, the photos zoom in on chewed wads of pink, blue, and green that appear almost corporeal, their pudgy folds and pockets evoking the beauty and repulsion of the human body.

I love these but grrrrossssss. (And I don’t know why, but these remind me of Roe Ethridge’s photo of Andrew W.K.)

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Great piece on the existential threat faced by TV & film writers. It’s a familiar story: low interest rates, private equity, execs squeezing workers. “The general sense is that you’re an absolutely fungible widget… It is fucking broken.”

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What they are afraid of grows even as they starve it, which is why these people, with all their power, are always so insecure. They know how bad it would be for them to be seen clearly; they are fucking terrified of being treated as they treat others.”

PLEASE STOP EMAILING US HARRIET. The internet is still good, people are still good.

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Love this: a grid-based CSS solution for displaying sheet music (staffs, notes, clefs, time signatures, etc.)

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Electronic Plastic

football and baseball handheld electronic games from the 70s

football and Q*bert handheld electronic games from the 70s

Oh wow, this takes me right back to my childhood: Electronic Plastic, a museum of portable, old-school electronic toys. We didn’t have a gaming system in my house growing up — I had to settle going over to my friend Steve’s house for Atari 2600 and my big city cousins’ Intellivision — but we did have a couple of these handheld games. Specifically: Baseball (upper right), Football 2 (lower left), and Q*bert (lower right). The football game was my favorite. I played it for hours and hours — so many touchdowns. (And look at these Soviet handhelds!)

Friends at school had other games: I particularly remember the watches, some of the mini arcade cabinets from Coleco, and these pre-Game Boy Nintendo handhelds. The teachers hated them…I think they probably got banned at some point.

I know that my dad still has these games stashed somewhere in the house I grew up in…I’d love to play Football 2 again. 🤖🏈 (via present and correct)

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Gen X and millennials who have been posting selfies on social media for more than a decade are “watching [their] identities shift in real time in a way no previous generation has experienced en masse”.

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What if owls had flags?” wonders artist Alex Tomlinson.

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Archives · April 2024