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Entries for June 2024

I Will Fucking Piledrive You If You Mention AI Again. “…spending half of the planet’s engineering efforts to add chatbot support to every application under the sun when half of the industry hasn’t worked out how to test database backups regularly.”

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“I Shrink 10x Every 21s Until I’m an Atom”

In this video, Epic Spaceman takes us on a journey to the micro universe, shrinking himself by 10 times every 20 seconds or so until he’s the size of an atom, a journey that only took 10 steps. At each stage, he compares his size with a familiar object — quarter, blood cell, DNA helix — to keep us oriented.

It’s worth sticking around until the end of the video for an explanation of how exponential scales are always used to represent things like this and what it would look like if we used a linear scale instead. There is an unbelievable amount of empty space in matter.

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Paramount has taken offline the entire MTV News archive as well as Comedy Central, CMT, and TV Land websites, including 20 years of material from The Daily Show, Colbert Report, and South Park.

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The Biden administration’s successes (clean energy, infrastructure investment, workers’ rights, making gov’t work better) amount to a Quiet New Deal. And that quietness is helping conservatives.

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Diary Comics, January 2024

Hi, it’s Edith again! It turns out I can’t quite keep up with the blogging schedule here the way I thought I could (as well as keep up with home stuff and work on a project for my own newsletter), but I’m hopefully going to continue sharing comics until Jason gets sick of me and/or we catch up to the present. Here are a few more snippets from January!


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Asking AI to generate a video of the Tour de France. 1. This is hilarious (the explosion!) 2. This illustrates how/where LLM image generators fail. Like, this has the vibe of biking but the details & physics are totally wrong. An uncanny Grand Canyon.

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15 Years of Plant Time Lapse Videos

This is a compilation of dozens of time lapses of plant growth, from seed to fruit in many cases. The plants featured include strawberry, avocado, tobacco, ginger, oak tree, cauliflower, potato, kiwi, and several types of mushroom (not a plant). The climbers (kiwi, peas) are so cool — their vines whipping around trying to find purchase. The thai basil was one of my favorites…watching all the delicate little flowers popping out in sequence up the branches is really lovely.

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One Million Checkboxes. I love these sorts of minimal collaborative thingies. (Are there bots on here now though? Every time I uncheck a bunch of boxes, they are checked pretty quickly after that again…)

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Calm Down — Your Phone Isn’t Listening to Your Conversations. It’s Just Tracking Everything You Type, Every App You Use, Every Website You Visit, and Everywhere You Go in the Physical World. “So don’t even worry about it.”

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The White Death

John Green recently teamed up with Kurzgesagt for a video on one of the world’s deadliest diseases: tuberculosis.

The white death has haunted humanity like no other disease following us for thousands, maybe millions of years. In the last 200 years it killed a billion people — way more than all wars and natural disasters combined. Even today it’s the infectious disease with the highest kill count.

The maddening bit is that tuberculosis is curable…it’s just that the cure is not equally distributed around the world.

4,000 people died of tuberculosis yesterday, and we simply don’t have to accept a world where so many of us still die of a disease we know how to cure. The White Death has been with us for millions of years. It is time to continue our journey without it.

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Loved Caity Weaver’s Letter of Recommendation for the only reality show I’ve ever really loved: PBS’s Frontier House. “Next to the unflappable Glenns, the Clunes are revealed to be feckless, flighty, highfalutin’ crybabies.”

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llama.ttf is a font that includes an LLM and an inference engine for that model. “This also means that you can use your font to chat with your font.”

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Some Obvious Travel Advice

From Dynomight, some common sense and straight-forward advice about travel. Some favorites:

1. Mindset matters more than where you go.

12. Clothes dry much faster with body heat.

22. If you spend a ton of money and stay in very expensive hotels and whatever, you can eliminate almost all of the frustration and uncertainty of travel. But it also feels like you never leave the global capitalist monoculture.

41. Many of the people who seem “best” at travel seem to be really good at having sensory experiences — at shutting down the internal dialog and letting the sights and sounds and smells wash over them. I am by nature horrendous at having sensory experiences, but if I make a conscious choice, then it’s pretty easy and often quite profound.

(via sippey)

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Updated advice about lightning safety when you’re outdoors, including “hiding in a cave is a bad idea”, “lying down puts you in even more danger than standing up”, and “the lightning position is useless”.

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New Order’s Iconic Blue Monday Played on Vintage Casio Instruments

First of all, I didn’t know Casio made some any different kinds of electronic instruments back in the day — he used more than 15 of them to record this. I laughed out loud when the guitar part came in.

What you see me playing in the video are the actual instruments I used to make this multi-track recording. I layered different keyboards for most parts. I didn’t do anything to significantly change the sound of the instruments. I only used basic effects, such as equalization, reverb, delay, chorus, compression, etc.

And also, this is just fun…Blue Monday is an all-time favorite song of mine; here’s the original:

(via @johnnydecimal)

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Pros And Cons Of Displaying The 10 Commandments In Every Classroom. “PRO: Distracts from how weird the Pledge of Allegiance is. CON: Use of woke ‘Thou/Thy’ pronouns.”

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Former Tennessee Abortion Clinic Workers & Volunteers Speak Out Against the State’s Abortion Ban

Contractions is a powerful short film by Lynne Sachs about a former abortion clinic in Tennessee, a state where abortion is almost completely banned.

If I can’t make the same medical decisions about my body with autonomy, I’m a second-class citizen. And you basically, as a physician, had to start counseling your patients from a legal perspective and not a medical perspective.

In the film, we hear from an anonymous woman who is a volunteer driver for patients; she drives them nine hours RT to get abortion care in Illinois:

I had on patient, a young woman of color, and she said to me, “You know, this is really crazy. I kind of feel like I’m on the new Underground Railroad.”

This makes me so fucking angry. If you’d like, you can join me in rage-donating to CHOICES Center for Reproductive Health (the clinic featured in the film, now located in Illinois), ARC Southeast (providing practical support for Southerns seeking abortions), and Midwest Access Coalition (a practical abortion fund that helps people traveling to, from, and within the Midwest to access a safe, legal abortion).

Unhoused participants in the Denver Basic Income Project used their $1000/mo to find jobs & housing, spent less time in ERs, and reported improved mental health. “A year later, nearly half of participants had housing.”

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Flying With My Dad

Me Dad Flying

Growing up, I had a pretty conventional childhood. In the northern Wisconsin of the 70s and 80s, that meant living in the country, dogs and cats, making ramps for our bikes in the driveway, Oscar Meyer bologna sandwiches for lunch, and a nuclear family of four that split into two soon after Ronald Reagan took office. But conventional childhoods are a myth. Every kid has some weird thing that distinguished their experience from everyone else’s. My weird thing is that I spent a lot of time in and around airplanes when I was young.

My dad joined the Navy after high school but couldn’t fly because of his eyesight. But sometime later, he got his private pilot’s license. In the 1970s, after bouncing around between two dozen different jobs and business ideas, he took a small rented airplane and turned it into a thriving freight and commuter airline called Blue Line Air Express.1 At its height, his company had 8 planes, a small fleet of cars and trucks,2 more than a dozen employees, and hangars at several different airports around northern WI. He and his employees delivered packages and people3 all over the tri-state area, from Chicago and Milwaukee to Minneapolis and Duluth.

Blue Line Air Express Logo

And every once in awhile, I got to tag along. I remember one time in particular, we got up early on a Saturday, drove to a nearby town, hopped in the plane, and made it to Minneapolis, usually a two-hour drive, in time for breakfast. I’d go with him on deliveries sometimes; we’d drive a small piece-of-shit truck4 up to this huge FedEx hub in Minneapolis, load it full of boxes, and drive an hour to some small factory in a Wisconsin town and unload it. Once he had to deliver something to a cheese factory and my sister and I got a short tour out of it.

For family vacations, we would jump in the plane to visit relatives in the Twin Cities or in St. Louis. We flew down with some family friends to Oshkosh to attend the huge airshow. When I was in college, my dad would sometimes pick me up for school breaks in his plane. It was just a normal thing for our family, like anyone else would take a car trip. The only time it seems weird to me is when people’s eyes go wide after I casually mention that we had a runway out behind the house growing up.5

Backyard Runway

One of the last times I went flying with my dad, before it finally became too expensive for him to keep up his plane,6 we were flying into a small airport where he still kept a hangar. It was a fine day when we set out but as we neared our destination, the weather turned dark.7 You could see the storm coming from miles away and we raced it to the airport. The wind had really picked up as we made our first approach to land; I don’t know what the windspeed was, but it was buffeting us around pretty good. About 50 feet off the ground, the wind slammed the plane downwards, dropping a dozen feet in half a second. In a calm voice, my dad said, “we’d better go around and try this again”.8

The storm was nearly on top of us as we looped around to try a second time. It was around this time he announced, even more calmly, that we were “running a little low” on fuel. Nothing serious, you understand. Just “a little low”. There was a heavy crosswind, blowing perpendicular to the runway. Landing in a crosswind requires the pilot to point the airplane into the wind a little.9 Or more than a little…my memory probably exaggerates after all these years, but I swear we were at least 30 degrees off axis on that second approach. Just before touching down, he oriented the plane with the runway and the squawk of the tires let us know we were down. I don’t think it was much more than a minute or two after landing that the rain, thunder, and lightning started.10

But the thing was, I was never scared. I should have been probably…it was an alarming situation. I’d been flying with my dad my whole life and he’d kept me safe that whole time, so why should I start worrying now? That’s what fathers are supposed to do, right? Protect their children from harm while revealing the limits of the world?

  1. The internet is amazing. I originally wrote this piece for Quarterly as part of a physical package of stuff that was sent out to subscribers. While doing some research for it, I found an image of an old Blue Line brochure, which I distinctly remember from when I was a kid. From there, I was able to figure out the font and recreate the logo. Two of the items in my Quarterly package featured the logo: a balsa-wood airplane and a leather luggage tag. Blue Line flies again! It was very satisfying to use my professional skills (internet sleuthing and design) to “resurrect” my dad’s old business.

  2. There was a car or two stashed at every airport Blue Line regularly flew in to. To simplify the logistics, the key to the ignition was usually left under the rear wheel well of the car. Which was occasionally a problem w/r/t disgruntled former employees.

  3. Living and dead…transporting cadavers was a particularly lucrative business.

  4. My dad’s fleet of cars and trucks were optimized for cost and performance…if you could load 1200 pounds of boxes into something without busting the springs and get it there at 80 MPH on the freeway, it didn’t matter if the fenders were rusted off.

  5. Oh, did I not mention that earlier? We lived on a farm and rented out all the land to nearby farmers…all except the runway that my dad had cut into the field behind the house so that he could commute by plane to whatever airport he needed to be at that day. As you do.

  6. Blue Line went out of business soon after my parents divorced, but my dad kept a plane and a hangar. Sometimes he transported freight for money but mostly just flew as a hobby and transportation. Private piloting was cheaper back then, especially when your plane was long since paid for, the price of gas was obscenely low by today’s standards, gear/radios were cheaper, and you were also a mechanic (as my dad was).

  7. The Midwest is like this in the summer. Radar shows nothing, then, boom, thunderstorm.

  8. That droningly relaxed pilot voice you hear while thumbing through the latest issue of the inflight magazine? My dad never talked like that outside of an airplane but every single thing he said inside one sounded unbelievably steady and serene.

  9. It is seriously weird that the runway you’re landing on is not directly in front of you. This video gives you a taste of what it’s like. Start at the 3:10 mark…that’s some crazy sideways flying.

  10. And this is far from the craziest thing that ever happened to my dad while flying. Once we had to go pick him up in a nearby corn field after an emergency landing.

    But my favorite story he tells is when he landed on a runway in winter in a twin-engine plane and discovered shortly afterwards that the entire surface was black ice. So the brakes didn’t work. And it was too late to throttle up again and take off. And there’s a lake at the end of the runway. Thinking quickly, he throttles up one of the engines, spins the plane around 180 ° on the ice, and then throttles up both engines to stop the plane. That sounds like total action movie BS, but my dad insists it really happened. Regardless, I love to hear him tell that story.

End Legal Slavery in the United States (i.e. forced prison labor). “It’s a different model from the chattel slavery over which the Civil War was fought, but by all norms of international law, it is a violation of fundamental human rights.”

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We Can and Should Address Racial Disparities. “Most of the programs that would be most beneficial to racial equality are actually universal policies.”

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Riding With the Street Demon

Photographer Ryan Weideman worked as a NYC taxi driver for 35 years (1981-2016) and photographed his passengers while on the job.

woman in the back on a taxi cab peeking through the window

a young woman with a mohawk sitting in the back of a taxi

a woman sitting in the back of a cab

Huck did a profile of Weideman and his work several years ago.

“I drove a Checker cab but I usually got the wrecks because I only drove three or four nights a week,” he remembers wistfully. “I spent the rest of the time in my darkroom, printing and developing film.”

The quintessential New York cabbie, with a wisecracking mouth and lead foot on the gas pedal, Weideman carefully covered the first three letters of his license so that only the letters ‘DEMAN’ were visible. When passengers entered the cab, he would proudly announce, “You’re riding with the Street Demon.”

“I was on the edge of my seat most of the time because I was caught up in the rush of the ride,” he recalls. Although the 12-hour shifts were grueling, he never drank coffee or took drugs.

“It was all the adrenalin that flowed from my driving style. I enjoyed the thrill of driving and the sense of competitiveness. Some people really loved it; others were scared and wanted out so I would have to drop them off. Once in a while I would have a passenger that really enjoyed it. One guy jumped out of the cab and said, ‘My God, that was a religious experience!’”

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AC Lamberty writes about how his tastes (and experience of masculinity) changed as he transitioned. “Before I started hormone replacement therapy — before I was ‘a guy’ — I never really cared about nuts (yes, you can laugh).”

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Super Mario Bros, the Typewriter Edition

screenshot of a version of Super Mario Bros with art done entirely by typewriter characters

Super Moxio Bros is a version of World 1-1 of the original Super Mario Bros done using typewriter characters. I didn’t check for sure, but there’s a good chance I got this link from

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The record industry is suing a pair of AI music-making companies over copyright issues. Listen to some of the songs that the record cos were able to generate from prompts…they are very close to the originals.

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Oreo Kintsugi

Kintsugi Oreo

Kintsugi is the Japanese practice of mending broken pottery repair with visible “scars”. A creative agency working for Oreos came up with the clever idea of selling tubes of Oreo frosting so that people could repair their broken Oreos in the same way.

Oreo’s ‘Kintsugi’ marketing campaign addresses the common issue of broken cookies by drawing inspiration from the ancient Japanese art. Kintsugi, which means “golden joinery,” is the practice of repairing broken pottery by mending the areas of breakage with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum. This technique not only restores the item but also adds beauty and value to the breakage.

Consumers often find broken Oreo cookies to be a disappointment, viewing them as imperfect and less enjoyable. However, the philosophy of Kintsugi teaches that there is beauty in imperfections and that items can become more valuable when repaired thoughtfully.

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US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy declares gun violence a public health crisis. “America should be a place where all of us can go to school, go to work, go to the supermarket, go to our house of worship” without putting our lives at risk.

“Since Texas’ ban on abortion went into effect, infant deaths in the state increased by nearly 13%.” These bans were never about saving lives; they’re about controlling women.

A Genealogy of Technology and Power Since 1500

This is kind of amazing: Calculating Empires is a project by Kate Crawford and Vladan Joler attempting to map how technology and human social structures have changed and evolved since 1500. This is just a tiny bit of the large genealogical map:

snippet of a map of the genealogy of technology and power since 1500

Calculating Empires is a large-scale research visualization exploring how technical and social structures co-evolved over five centuries. The aim is to view the contemporary period in a longer trajectory of ideas, devices, infrastructures, and systems of power. It traces technological patterns of colonialism, militarization, automation, and enclosure since 1500 to show how these forces still subjugate and how they might be unwound. By tracking these imperial pathways, Calculating Empires offers a means of seeing our technological present in a deeper historical context. And by investigating how past empires have calculated, we can see how they created the conditions of empire today.

See also Anatomy of an AI System. (via @kurtbandersen)

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I knew the western US had become drier, but I hadn’t realized how much wetter the northeast had become…25-50+% more precipitation in the summer compared to 75 years ago.

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The Art Book for Children

spread of a book featuring the art work of Hilma af Klint

spread of a book featuring the art work of Frida Kahlo

spread of a book featuring the art work of Andy Warhol

spread of a book featuring the art work of Sandro Botticelli

Phaidon has released a new version of their classic The Art Book for Children. Aimed at kids aged 7-12, the new version includes a selection of contemporary artists alongside familiar favorites.

This single volume features 60 artists through a wide range of large-scale, full-page reproductions of their artworks, including paintings, photographs, sculptures, video, prints, and installations from across time and space. Each page showcases defining artworks by the artists, combined with an interactive and informative conversation, giving relatable and memorable contexts for children, and inspiring a curiosity and appreciation for the Visual Arts that will continue into adulthood.

I’ve grown to love art as an adult but I don’t remember ever noticing or caring about any art when I was a kid. If this book had dropped into the lap of a young Jason, I wonder if it would have sparked anything?

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I am enjoying the empathetic trajectory of the Charli XCX and Lorde beef; cheers to working it out on the remix. “On what is titled The Girl, So Confusing Version With Lorde, the two singers trade verses with heart-wrenching candour.”

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Observers have reported a large red spot on Jupiter since the 1660s. But according to a new analysis, the old red spot may have disappeared and the current Great Red Spot formed sometime in the 19th century.

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How to Give Away a Fortune

Marlene Engelhorn inherited millions from her family and decided to give much of it away (€25 million). She formed an independent council called Guter Rat für Rückverteilung (“good council for redistribution”) made up of 50 randomly selected Austrians chosen to reflect the makeup of Austria’s population, and they decided where to direct the money. Engelhorn’s mission statement is worth a read:

Democracy is about cultivating relationships: a society works on doing well. And a society is doing well when the people in that society are doing well. At the moment, this does not apply to everyone: wealth, assets and property are distributed unequally and unfairly. And so is the power in our society.

In Austria, the richest one percent of the population hoards up to 50 percent of the net wealth. This means that one hundredth of society owns just under half of the wealth. And 99 percent of people have to make do with the other half. Almost four million households struggle to get by every day. And the one percent? Most of them have simply inherited.

We are talking about dynasties that amass wealth and power over generations. They then withdraw from our society as if it were none of their business. I also come from such a dynasty. My wealth was accumulated before I was even born. It was accumulated because other people did the work, but my family was able to inherit the ownership of an enterprise and thus all claims to the fruits of its labour.

Wealth is never an individual achievement. Wealth is always created by society. A few people get rich because they buy other people’s time and profit from it. Because they have a patent on a product that others urgently need. Because they buy a piece of land that increases in value and because society builds infrastructure around it. In the process, they destroy the environment to harvest the resources.

Fascinating idea. (via ny times)

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How do actors memorize their lines? “Actors engage in elaborative rehearsal, focusing their attention on the meaning of the material and associating it with information they already know.”

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Anxiety in Inside Out 2 Is Too Real

NY Times critic Maya Phillips wrote about seeing her anxiety reflected in Pixar’s Inside Out 2.

When an emotion takes over in the “Inside Out” movies, a control board in Riley’s mind changes to that feeling’s color; Anxiety’s takeover, however, is more absolute. She creates a stronghold in Riley’s imagination, where she forces mind workers to illustrate negative hypothetical scenarios for Riley’s future. Soon, Riley’s chief inner belief is of her inadequacy; the emotions hear “I’m not good enough” as a low, rumbling refrain in her mind.

I’m familiar with anxiety’s hold on the imagination; my mind is always writing the script to the next worst day of my life. It’s already embraced all possibilities of failure. And my anxiety’s ruthless demands for perfection often turn my thoughts into an unrelenting roll-call of self-criticisms and insecurities.

And yet — Anxiety isn’t the villain of this movie.

A cursory spin around social media reveals many other people who identified with that aspect of the film.

I really enjoyed this movie and loved that they didn’t make Anxiety the villain. It would have been so easy to do so — Hollywood has a habit of really dumbing things down, especially in movies aimed at kids. The filmmakers seemed to understand that anxiety is the flip-side of a coin that includes some mixture of watchfulness, anticipation, and exhilaration. That emotion can be useful to people, until it spins out of the control as in the movie and then it wreaks havoc.

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Explore present and future climate zones for dozens of global cities. “With climate change, your city isn’t just getting hotter: it will resemble the distinctive climate of completely different places.”

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Great news about HIV protection: “Results from a large clinical trial in Africa showed that a twice-yearly injection of a new antiviral drug gave young women total protection from the virus.”

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The USPS Honors Alex Trebek With a Stamp

a sheet of USPS stamps honoring Alex Trebek

The USPS is honoring longtime Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek with a stamp that cleverly mimics a blue Jeopardy! answer — and the whole sheet of stamps looks like the game board. The text of the answer reads:

This naturalized U.S. citizen hosted the quiz show “Jeopardy!” for 37 seasons

And the question is, of course: “Who is Alex Trebek?” You can buy your Forever 73¢ Trebek stamps from the USPS website.

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Reggie Jackson’s Brutal Honesty About Playing Baseball in Alabama in the 60s

As part of the effort to incorporate the Negro Leagues into MLB history, MLB held a pair of games at Birmingham, Alabama’s Rickwood Field, “the oldest professional ballpark in the United States and former home of the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro Leagues”. During the pregame show Fox Sports invited Reggie Jackson, who played on a minor league team at the ballpark, to offer his perspective on the event. (Content note: Jackson says the n-word twice during his remarks.)

About halfway through this clip (the 4:35 mark), Alex Rodriguez asks him a softball question designed to elicit some fond memories about baseball and some gauzy reflections on the impact of the Negro Leagues:

How emotional is it for you to come back to a [place] that you played with one of the greatest teams around?

Jackson, as he did so many times during his career, knocked it out of the park with the brutal truth about what it was like to play baseball in the South as a Black man in the 60s (transcript):

Coming back here is not easy. The racism when I played here, the difficulty of going through different places where we traveled. Fortunately, I had a manager and I had players on the team that helped me get through it. But I wouldn’t wish it on anybody. People said to me today, I spoke and they said, ‘Do you think you’re a better person, do you think you won when you played here and conquered?’ I said ‘You know, I would never want to do it again.’

“I walked into restaurants and they would point at me and say, ‘The n***** can’t eat here.’ I would go to a hotel and they would say, ‘The n***** can’t stay here.’ We went to [Oakland Athletics owner] Charlie Finley’s country club for a welcome home dinner and they pointed me out with the n-word, ‘He can’t come in here.’ Finley marched the whole team out. Finally, they let me in there. He said ‘We’re going to go the diner and eat hamburgers. We’ll go where we’re wanted.’”

“Fortunately, I had a manager in Johnny McNamara that, if I couldn’t eat in the place, nobody would eat. We’d get food to travel. If I couldn’t stay in a hotel, they’d drive to the next hotel and find a place where I could stay. Joe and Sharon Rudi, I slept on their couch three, four nights a week for a month and a half. Finally, they were threatened that they would burn our apartment complex down unless I got out.

The year I came here, Bull Connor was the sheriff the year before, and they took minor league baseball out of here because in 1963, the Klan murdered four Black girls - children 11, 12, 14 years old - at a church here and never got indicted. The Klan, Life Magazine did a story on them like they were being honored.

“I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. At the same time, had it not been for my white friends, had it not been for a white manager, and Rudi, Fingers and Duncan, and Lee Meyers, I would never have made it. I was too physically violent. I was ready to physically fight some - I would have got killed here because I would have beat someone’s ass and you would have saw me in an oak tree somewhere.”

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Hockley Clarke on his relationship with a blackbird who lived in his garden. “There was perfect trust between us, a source of joy to me, and it must have been a comfort to him. Perhaps birds understand more than we think.”

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The Message by Ta-Nehisi Coates

book cover of The Message by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates is coming out with a new book this fall (Oct 1, 2024) called The Message and it sounds really interesting:

Ta-Nehisi Coates originally set out to write a book about writing, in the tradition of Orwell’s classic “Politics and the English Language,” but found himself grappling with deeper questions about how our stories — our reporting and imaginative narratives and mythmaking — expose and distort our realities.

In the first of the book’s three intertwining essays, Coates, on his first trip to Africa, finds himself in two places at once: in Dakar, a modern city in Senegal, and in a mythic kingdom in his mind. Then he takes readers along with him to Columbia, South Carolina, where he reports on his own book’s banning, but also explores the larger backlash to the nation’s recent reckoning with history and the deeply rooted American mythology so visible in that city — a capital of the Confederacy with statues of segregationists looming over its public squares. Finally, in the book’s longest section, Coates travels to Palestine, where he sees with devastating clarity how easily we are misled by nationalist narratives, and the tragedy that lies in the clash between the stories we tell and the reality of life on the ground.

Coates was recently a guest on the Longform podcast and he talked about one of the central themes of the book (“how the stories we tell — and the ones we don’t — shape our realities”):

There’s a certain sector of politics on the right that really correctly understands that cultural issues are very, very powerful, actually. That books and movies and TV shows and monuments and statues and art, all that stuff actually really does matter and has a huge effect on what we consider actual politics, which is to say voting, legislation, etcetera. Because our whole notions of humanity are derived from these things. They’re derived from, you know, stories. They’re derived from the news. They’re derived from, you know, art. They derive from statues. That’s how we decide, you know, who is what.

And the reason, you know it’s powerful is because in previous eras — for instance, when during the era of redemption, it became extremely important to destroy the multiracial democracies that have been raised in the South. They went after the history. They went after the stories. That’s where all those monuments come from. Those monuments are not just raised out of nothing. It’s not a mistake that it wasn’t until the early 1960s the Southern states started putting up the Confederate battle flag. They understood the power of the symbol. They know. They know. And now they find themselves in an era where there is a very real cultural war, by which I mean: the hegemony that they once enjoyed over the culture is actually actively being challenged, and that is a long term threat to the politics that they represent.

So, I mean, a lot of people say, oh, this is a distraction. I actually think it’s quite intelligent. While it’s not the response I would have, I don’t think it’s a deluded response or delusional response, rather.

It sounds fascinating — I definitely preordered.

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Walmart is switching to electronic price tags that “allow employees to change prices as often as every ten seconds”. No one wants this!! No one wants surge pricing on ice cream and price increases on items already in your cart.

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We Deserve a Better Work Life

After four years, Roxane Gay signs off from her Work Friend column.

I am not an idealist or much of an optimist, but being your Work Friend pushed me in that direction. I want, too. I want a world where we can all live our best professional lives. I want everyone to make a living wage and have excellent health care and the means to retire at a reasonable age. I want all of us to want this very simple thing for one another.

And, frankly, a fulfilling and equitable professional life should not be the stuff of utopia. This should be our reality. It is astonishing to see how many people are so deeply unhappy at work, so trapped by circumstances beyond their control, so vulnerable to toxic workplaces and toxic cultural expectations around work. As I read your letters I mostly thought: “It shouldn’t be this way. It shouldn’t be this hard.”

We shouldn’t have to suffer or work several jobs or tolerate intolerable conditions just to eke out a living, but a great many of us do just that. We feel trapped and helpless and sometimes desperate. We tolerate the intolerable because there is no choice. We ask questions for which we already know the answers because change is terrifying and we can’t really afford to risk the loss of income when rent is due and health insurance is tied to employment and someday we will have to stop working and will still have financial obligations.

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How do we know how many people died of Covid-19? “After four years and dozens of studies, we know everything we’re going to know about the death toll of the Covid pandemic.”

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50 Years Ago in Photos: A Look Back at 1974. Gas shortages, Hank Aaron, streakers, Skylab, Vietnam, Nixon’s resignation, desegregating schools, gay pride, the Troubles, and the Rumble in the Jungle.

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The Models for American Gothic

In 1930, Iowa artist Grant Wood painted American Gothic. The models he used for the painting were his sister Nan Wood Graham and his dentist, Byron McKeeby. Here they are next to the painting:

American Gothic Models

Wood made the painting after spotting a small house in Eldon, Iowa:

American Gothic House

80 Iconic Piano Intros, Played Back-to-Back From Memory

In this video, pianist David Bennett plays 80 of the best piano intros from the past 120 years, back-to-back and all from memory. This was lovely to listen to while I was eating my lunch.

Some of the intros I particularly enjoyed were Scott Joplin’s The Entertainer, Nina Simone’s My Baby Just Cares For Me, Let It Be by The Beatles, Don’t Stop Believin’ by Journey, Children by Robert Miles, Clocks by Coldplay, A Thousand Miles by Vanessa Carlton, and Breathe Me by Sia. a song I still cannot listen to without tearing up because of the series finale of Six Feet Under.

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A photographer entered a real photo of a flamingo in an AI image contest and was disqualified after winning the People’s Vote Award. “I wanted to show that nature can still beat the machine.”

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A Few Lessons from Roger Federer’s Dartmouth Commencement Speech

Two weeks ago, Roger Federer gave the commencement speech at Dartmouth. After asserting that he’d graduated (and not retired) from professional tennis, Federer shared what he learned from his years on the pro circuit. Some excerpts from the transcript:

“Effortless”… is a myth.

I mean it.

I say that as someone who has heard that word a lot. “Effortless.”

People would say my play was effortless. Most of the time, they meant it as a compliment… But it used to frustrate me when they would say, “He barely broke a sweat!”

Or “Is he even trying?”

The truth is, I had to work very hard… to make it look easy.

I spent years whining… swearing… throwing my racket… before I learned to keep my cool.

The wakeup call came early in my career, when an opponent at the Italian Open publicly questioned my mental discipline. He said, “Roger will be the favorite for the first two hours, and then I’ll be the favorite after that.”

I was puzzled at first. But eventually, I realized what he was trying to say. Everybody can play well the first two hours. You’re fit, you’re fast, you’re clear… and after two hours, your legs get wobbly, your mind starts wandering, and your discipline starts to fade.

It made me understand… I have so much work ahead of me, and I’m ready to go on this journey now. I get it.

On talent:

Yes, talent matters. I’m not going to stand here and tell you it doesn’t.

But talent has a broad definition.

Most of the time, it’s not about having a gift. It’s about having grit.

In tennis, a great forehand with sick racquet head speed can be called a talent.

But in tennis… like in life… discipline is also a talent. And so is patience.

Trusting yourself is a talent. Embracing the process, loving the process, is a talent.

Managing your life, managing yourself… these can be talents, too.

Some people are born with them. Everybody has to work at them.

On “it’s only a point”:

In tennis, perfection is impossible… In the 1,526 singles matches I played in my career, I won almost 80% of those matches… Now, I have a question for all of you… what percentage of the POINTS do you think I won in those matches?

Only 54%.

In other words, even top-ranked tennis players win barely more than half of the points they play.

When you lose every second point, on average, you learn not to dwell on every shot.

You teach yourself to think: OK, I double-faulted. It’s only a point.

OK, I came to the net and I got passed again. It’s only a point.

Even a great shot, an overhead backhand smash that ends up on ESPN’s Top Ten Plays: that, too, is just a point.

Here’s why I am telling you this.

When you’re playing a point, it is the most important thing in the world.

But when it’s behind you, it’s behind you… This mindset is really crucial, because it frees you to fully commit to the next point… and the next one after that… with intensity, clarity and focus.

The truth is, whatever game you play in life… sometimes you’re going to lose. A point, a match, a season, a job… it’s a roller coaster, with many ups and downs.

And it’s natural, when you’re down, to doubt yourself. To feel sorry for yourself.

And by the way, your opponents have self-doubt, too. Don’t ever forget that.

But negative energy is wasted energy.

And “life is bigger than the court”:

I worked a lot, learned a lot, and ran a lot of miles in that small space… But the world is a whole lot bigger than that… Even when I was just starting out, I knew that tennis could show me the world… but tennis could never be the world.

I knew that if I was lucky, maybe I could play competitively until my late 30s. Maybe even… 41!

But even when I was in the top five… it was important to me to have a life… a rewarding life, full of travel, culture, friendships, and especially family… I never abandoned my roots, and I never forgot where I came from… but I also never lost my appetite to see this very big world.

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The Coming Birth-Control Revolution. “Researchers have taken massive steps toward developing simple, convenient, and effective contraceptive options for men with virtually zero side effects.” And it could “transform women’s contraception too”.

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Trolley Problem Variations for Dads. “As he begins to think it over, he keeps saying, ‘This is exactly like the Kobayashi Maru!’ He then spends so much time explaining how Captain Kirk cheated to win the scenario that he never pulls the lever.”

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Photographer Sue Kwon Captured the New York Hip Hop Scene in Its Infancy. Biggie Smalls, Jay Z, Eminem, Method Man, De La Soul, Nas, Pusha T, and more.

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How a Bicycle Is Made

From British Council film, a short film from 1945 that shows how a bicycle is designed and manufactured.

(via stellar)

“Historical fanfiction” and the dangerous intellectual dishonesty of originalism. “If you want to know what rights you have, originalism commands you to consult a time capsule.”

Mel Brooks is producing a sequel to Spaceballs with Josh Gad starring. Please say they are getting Rick Moranis to come back for this…

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A Massive Trove of Aerial Photos of Glaciers

Over at Beautiful Public Data, Jon Keegan shares some details about two huge collections of aerial photos of glaciers.

aerial b&w photo of a glacier

aerial color photo of a glacier

As scientists study the effects of global warming, one of the most visible and alarming indicators is the rapid shrinking of glaciers. Government scientists have been documenting the size, shape, and movement of glaciers since the 1950s employing techniques ranging from direct field observations to aerial photography.

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) has one of the largest collections of aerial glacier photographs. Over 40 years, the USGS’ North American Glacier Aerial Photography (NAGAP) project captured thousands of striking high-resolution photos of glaciers and their surroundings.

From 1960 to 1983, self-taught glaciologist Austin Post used a 63-pound World War II-era Fairchild K-17 aerial reconnaissance camera to shoot over 100,000 glacier photos in the western US and Alaska. One of the bush pilots Post teamed up with was William R. Fairchild, who flew a Beech 18 twin engine airplane equipped with five K-17 cameras-one mounted on the nose, two in the belly of the plane, and one on each side.

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How heat affects our brains: it makes us dumber, irritable, impulsive, and aggressive (i.e. don’t blame me if the site sucks today, it feels like 97° here and I don’t have A/C).

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It’s always worth reading Timothy Snyder on fascism: The Shamans (SCOTUS) and the Chieftain (Trump). “To contemplate ‘presidential immunity,’ as the shamans are now doing, is to cast aside the rule of law and summon up the ghost of revenge culture.”

The Science of Having a Great Conversation. “The art of conversation is the art of hearing as well as of being heard. Some of the best talkers are, on this account, the worst company.” (Excerpted from David Robson’s The Laws of Connection.)

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Excellent news: according to David Simon, Homicide: Life on the Street will finally be available on streaming soon. I loved this show as a kid and am looking forward to watching it again.

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Are the “World’s 50 Best Restaurants” Even Restaurants?

Pete Wells wonders if the immersive experiences, theatrical spectacles, and endurance tests on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list are even restaurants.

Gaggan, in Bangkok, was named not just the ninth-best restaurant in the world but the single best restaurant in Asia. The chef, Gaggan Anand, greets diners at his 14-seat table facing the kitchen with “Welcome to my …” completing the sentence with a term, meaning a chaotic situation, that will not be appearing in The New York Times. [The word is shitshow. Or clusterfuck. Or shitstorm. Any of which should be printed in The New York Times because it’s a fact relevant to a story. This writing around swearing has gotten as ridiculous as these restaurants. -ed]

What follows are about two dozen dishes organized in two acts (with intermission). The menu is written in emojis. Each bite is accompanied by a long story from Mr. Anand that may or may not be true. The furrowed white orb splotched with what appears to be blood, he claims, is the brain of a rat raised in a basement feedlot.

Brains are big in other restaurants on the list. Rasmus Munk, chef of the eighth-best restaurant in the world, Alchemist, in Copenhagen, pipes a mousse of lamb brains and foie gras into a bleached lamb skull, then garnishes it with ants and roasted mealworms. Another of the 50 or so courses — the restaurant calls them “impressions” — lurks inside the cavity of a realistic, life-size model of a man’s head with the top of the cranium removed.

I love going to restaurants and putting myself in their talented hands1 but just reading about some of these high-wire acts dressed up as restaurants leaves me cold. (thx, yen)

  1. I’m not just talking about tasting menus here… In many places, you can ask your server what their favorites are, if there are dishes that the chef is particularly proud of, or which special is 🔥🔥🔥 tonight, and order those. If you’re a regular, you can just ask the kitchen to surprise you.
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American English “invisible letters” include the t in pizza, the r in colonel, and the extra b in cummerbund. Maybe this is a Midwestern thing, but I recently noticed that I add an l to both: bolth. (My daughter does it too but not my son.)

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NASA’s Voyager 1 probe is fully online again after months of spouting gibberish. “The spacecraft has resumed gathering information about interstellar space.”

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An Apple Watch reimagined in the style of a Newton. Love the app icons for Bluesky, BBEdit, and Marathon.

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57 Sandwiches That Define New York City. Never mind if you don’t live in or near NYC…this list is chock full of sandwich inspiration. My mouth was legit watering as I scrolled.

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I have zero interest in invite-only restaurants, but I love this sentence: “What made Frog Club great is what made it awful is what made it irresistibly fascinating: its exclusivity, its gleeful snobbishness, its ostentatious secrecy.”

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Report: Every Place On Earth Has Wrong Amount Of Water. “In every case, there is either too much or too little water, with zero exceptions.”

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Yes, everyone really is sick a lot more often after COVID. “At least 13 communicable diseases, from the common cold to measles and tuberculosis, are surging past their pre-pandemic levels in many regions, and often by significant margins.”

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Abstract Swirls

black and white painting with thick swirls of paint

black and white painting with thick swirls of paint

black and white painting with thick swirls of paint

Cat Spilman’s swirly abstracts caught my eye the other day on Instagram.

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A Brief History of Time Travel. “Today, of course, time travel is a normal part of everyday life. Teachers take their students to witness the Gettysburg Address firsthand, while teens flock to the sparse settlements of Ancient Mesopotamia to hook up.”

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Adam Conover interviewed Zoë Schlanger for his podcast: Your Houseplants Can Think. “Plants can store information, solve problems, and develop complex social networks.”

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Colorful DIY Lego Millennium Falcon

a Lego Millennium Falcon made out of all sorts of different color bricks

Using the official instructions and bricks from their own collection, a father & son team built a colorful DIY version of Lego’s massive Millennium Falcon (7541 pieces, $830 MSRP, kitty for scale).

I love this — much better than that dingy gray. I know it’s not quite the same, but the colorful Falcon harkens back to when Lego was more about throwing together whatever kaleidoscopic Franken-creations you could from your pile of bricks instead of completing just-so kits. (via @migurski)

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A modern approach to habitat restoration: Leave It To Beavers. “At their very most basic, beavers store water. They build dams; think of them sort of as speed bumps in the stream. The pools and eddies they create are entire new spawning areas for fish.”

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The Worst Dads in All of Literature, including Abraham (the Bible), Pretty Much Any Dad in Shakespeare, and Pap Finn from Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

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Wallace & Gromit: Vengeance Most Fowl

Wallace & Gromit are returning for a feature-length film later this year — and so is Feathers McGraw, the scofflaw penguin that made off with the wrong trousers in, um, The Wrong Trousers. Here’s the premise of Vengeance Most Fowl:

In this next installment, Gromit’s concern that Wallace is becoming too dependent on his inventions proves justified, when Wallace invents a “smart” gnome that seems to develop a mind of its own. When it emerges that a vengeful figure from the past might be masterminding things, it falls to Gromit to battle sinister forces and save his master … or Wallace may never be able to invent again!

Timely! Vengeance Most Fowl will debut on BBC in the UK in late December and at some later date on Netflix in the US and elsewhere.

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Auriea Harvey’s pioneering site Entropy8 has been restored as part of a retrospective of her work at the Museum of the Moving Image. Harvey’s work was a huge inspiration for me — like, you can do that on the web?!

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From Palestinian-American Mo Husseini, a list of 50 Completely True Things, including “You can advocate for Palestine without being a racist, antisemitic piece of shit” and “You can advocate for Israel without being a racist, anti-Arab piece of shit.”

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The kids who were 1st graders when 20 of their classmates were murdered in Newtown, CT are graduating from high school. “There is a whole chunk of our class missing.” More than 4200 mass shootings in the US since then, several of them at schools.

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Seven Samurai’s 4K Restoration

A 4K restoration of Akira Kurosawa’s epic Seven Samurai is heading to theaters this summer. The film screened at Cannes in May and screenings in the US start in July:

Janus will open the restoration on Friday, July 5 in New York at Film Forum after which a Los Angeles premiere will take place at the American Cinematheque’s Egyptian Theatre on Sunday, July 7. The film will open wide on Friday, July 12 in Los Angeles at Laemmle Royal.

Here’s the official poster for the restoration:

poster for the 4K restoration of Seven Samurai

On a personal note, I’m pretty disheartened there’s a 99% chance this won’t be playing anywhere near me in Vermont. Run Lola Run was rereleased in theaters last week and I couldn’t find it anywhere within a reasonable drive. And the nearest IMAX is 2h15m away. I’m thankful that I can get all sorts of culture pumped into my house at gigabit speeds, but per contemporary wisdom, “we’ve got Seven Samurai’s 4K restoration at home” is just not the same.

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Boston Should Rename Its Airport for Bill Russell. “He was Boston’s greatest sports champion, and as a brave and steadfast civil-rights leader across half a century, an even greater man.”

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Gone Swimming, With Tara Booth

who else is ready to get beat tf up by the ocean?

“who else is ready to get beat tf up by the ocean?” asks artist Tara Booth on Instagram. (If you click through, it’s a whole mini-story.)

More of Booth’s awesome work can also be found on her website. Is this the day I buy her art on a tote bag? Or a hoodie? Or a pillowcase?

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Paul Theroux: “In the short run, criticism seems to have merit; in the end, criticism is useless—a good book has a long life in spite of anything said about it.” I’m not sure I agree, but I did find this idea somewhat thrilling.

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Is everyone really taking steroids? Rosecrans Baldwin says yes: “Someone in your life is using performance-enhancing drugs. I feel comfortable making that bet because I recently discovered how many people in my life are using performance-enhancing drugs.”

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What Does ‘Havering’ Mean?

“If I haver, well I know I’m gonna be — I’m gonna be the man who’s haverin’ to you.”

It’s only the 9,000th time I’ve heard this perfect song, but for whatever reason today was the day I looked it up. (Apologies to everyone who already knows.) Per Wikipedia:

In Scottish English, haver (from the Scots havers (oats)) means “to maunder; to talk foolishly; to chatter,” as heard in the song “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” by The Proclaimers

This song rules so much. It came on the other day while my daughter and I were goofing around — sorry, while we were havering (?) — and it was such a joy to watch her get into it.

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Pretty dark but also fascinating: “ancient DNA extracted from 64 of the children is offering new insights into the religious rituals of the ancient Maya and their ties to modern descendants.

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Diary Comics, Jan. 2 & 11

Hello, and welcome to another Thursday Afternoon With Edith! I was off for a while in part because everyone in my family got Hand Foot and Mouth Disease, which was horrible. I’m also going through some crises of purpose and trying to figure out what to do with my life. 🤔 Solution forthcoming. But here are a couple comics from earlier this year; I’m skipping around a bit because the journal itself became pretty disjointed. (Previously.)


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An analysis of the easiest & hardest puzzles from the NY Times’ Spelling Bee. (The highest-possible Spelling Bee score is 2061 with 26 pangrams! WAT?!)

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“How the Fridge Changed Flavor”

In an adaptation from her forthcoming book, Frostbite: How Refrigeration Changed Our Food, Our Planet, and Ourselves, Nicola Twilley shares how refrigeration changed the food we eat and even how it tastes (you tomato and strawberry lovers know what I’m talking about):

The opportunity to consume frosty drinks and desserts opened up an entirely new vocabulary of sensation. Some found the cold shocking at first. “Lord! How I have seen the people splutter when they’ve tasted them for the first time,” a London ice-cream vender recalled in 1851. One customer — “a young Irish fellow” — took a spoonful, stood statue still, and then “roared out, ‘Jasus! I am kilt. The coald shivers is on to me.’” The earliest recorded description of brain freeze seems to have been published by Patrick Brydone, a Scotsman travelling in Sicily in the seventeen-seventies. The victim was a British naval officer who took a big bite of ice cream at a formal dinner. “At first he only looked grave, and blew up his cheeks to give it more room,” Brydone wrote. “The violence of the cold soon getting the better of his patience, he began to tumble it about from side to side in his mouth, his eyes rushing out of water.” Shortly thereafter, he spat it out “with a horrid oath” and, in his outrage, had to be restrained from beating the nearest servant.

And I wasn’t aware of this:

Leaving aside its suggestion that one serve “Molded Lamb with Fruit,” Kelvinator wasn’t wrong to claim that refrigeration could make leftovers taste better. After all, chemical reactions continue in the cold, albeit slowly, and some of them improve flavor. Several years ago, Cook’s Illustrated investigated this process by serving fresh bowls of beef chili, in addition to French onion, creamy tomato, and black-bean soups, alongside portions that had been made two days earlier. Testers preferred the fridge-aged versions, describing them as “sweeter,” “more robust-tasting,” and “well-rounded.”

Twilley also recently shared a preview on the podcast she co-hosts, Gastropod: The Birth of Cool: How Refrigeration Changed Everything. Frostbite is out on June 25 and is available for preorder on Amazon or Bookshop.

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A short oral history of pioneering Chicago house anthem Move Your Body. “It was cooked up in just 30 minutes by four postal workers after a tough shift on the letter-sorting machine.”

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How Tennis Balls Became Yellow, Feat. David Attenborough

Somehow, I didn’t know that until quite recently, tennis balls were white instead of yellow (Wimbledon used white balls until 1985). Here’s a British Pathé film from 1961 that shows how tennis balls were made, along with Wimbledon ball boy training:

I also didn’t know that many people think tennis balls are green when they are actually a color called “optic yellow”. Oh and that David Attenborough had a hand in the switch from white to yellow.

The change in color happened due to the demands of television transmissions. In 1972 television was already in color all over the world (although in Spain it was not generalized until five or six years later). At the end of the 1960s, the person in charge of the BBC broadcasts (which, of course, was in charge of Wimbledon) was the renowned documentary filmmaker David Attenborough. And he noticed that the visibility of the traditional white ball was not perfect, especially if it approached the lines of the rectangle of play.

In that year of 1972, tennis was in full growth: the professional and amateur circuits had unified and women’s professional tennis was also growing. Tennis was becoming a great world spectacle and in this context television was fundamental. The International Tennis Federation, in charge of the rules, commissioned a study which showed that the yellow ball was more visible and therefore easier for viewers to follow. The courts, moreover, began to be multicolored once the use of synthetic materials in official tournaments was approved.

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The Day After Tomorrow turns 20. “Twenty years after its release, it remains a unique specimen: a climate disaster blockbuster that adheres to all the tenets of the genre, while also explicitly attributing its carnage to the greenhouse effect.”

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The Birth of Breaking News

The completion of the US transcontinental railroad in 1869 in Utah was also the birthplace of the newsflash. The news was delivered via telegraph through a clever scheme: the famous golden spike and a silver hammer were each wired to the telegraph so that when hammer struck nail, the circuit completed and the news raced out along telegraph wires to the rest of the nation.1

Where were you when you heard the news of the completion of the transcontinental railroad?

  1. At least, that was the plan. It is said the hammer swingers missed the spike and so the telegraph operator had to message “DONE” instead.

Are You an NPC? (Or Do You Have Free Will?)

Kurzgesagt attempts to answer the question (from the perspective of physics): Do we have free will? Here’s the deterministic perspective (from the show notes):

Now imagine that if right after the Big Bang, a supersmart supercomputer looked at every single particle in the universe and noted all their properties. Just by applying the deterministic laws of physics, it should be able to predict what all the particles in existence would be doing until the end of time.

But if you are made of particles and it’s technically possible to calculate what particles will do forever, then you never decided anything. Your past, present and future were already predetermined and decided at the Big Bang. This would mean there is a kind of fate and you are not free to decide anything.

You may feel like you make decisions, but you are on autopilot. The motions of the particles that make up your brain cells that made you watch this video were decided 14 billion years ago. You are just in the room when it happens. You are only witnessing how the universe inside you unfolds in real time.

And the other side of the argument (in favor of free will):

We know that we can reduce everything that exists to its basic particles and the laws that guide them. While this makes physics feel like the only scientific discipline that actually matters, there is a problem: You can’t explain everything in our universe only from particles.

One key fact about reality that we can’t explain by looking just at electrons and quantum stuff is emergence. Emergence is when many small things together create new fundamental traits that didn’t exist before.

Emergence occurs at all levels of reality, and reality seems to be organized in layers: atoms, molecules, cells, tissues, organs, you, society. Put many things in one layer together and they’ll create the next layer up. Every time they do, entirely new properties emerge.

Having thought about this for all of 20 minutes (or, practically all of my life), the emergence argument against determinism makes a lot of sense to me. Then again, James Gleick’s Chaos and Steven Johnson’s Emergence both made a huge impression on me when I read it more than 20 years ago.

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Some people with insomnia think they are awake but they’re actually asleep. But scientists are discovering that their sleep is not as rejuvenating as normal sleep.

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What’s the Rarest Move in Chess?

YouTuber Paralogical downloaded data from over 5 billion chess games to find the rarest move in chess. Slight spoiler: there are many possible moves that weren’t played in any of the games analyzed. The data and analysis programs used are available on Github:

This is a lil’ code to analyze chess .pgn files, with the goal of finding the “rarest” move in chess.

That is, the rarest move notation (standard algebraic notation) given a large number of input games (e.g. every rated game from lichess) in pgn format.

However, since there are many moves that never happen, this is moreso counting and categorizing moves of various types rather than finding one specific rare move.

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David Pierce reports on the Excel World Championship from Las Vegas. “There is one inescapably weird thing about competitive Excel: spreadsheets are not fun.”

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Ask a Manager update about a guy who told his interviewer during a job interview that “maybe she made mistakes as a developer but since I actually went to school for it, I didn’t have that problem.”

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Lots of good responses to this thread: “What is something someone who has never been poor wouldn’t understand?” E.g. how expensive it is to be poor, like paying more for daily subway tickets bc you don’t have the cash on hand for a monthly.

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Of course Kenji López-Alt had a friend come up with a computer model that determined the ideal way to chop an onion. How can you resist reading an article with the phrase “exactly .557 onion radiuses” in it?

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Chaka Khan’s Tiny Desk Concert

NPR recently welcomed Chaka Khan into the office for a Tiny Desk Concert.

When the “Queen of Funk,” Chaka Khan, began to sing her hit “Sweet Thing” at the Tiny Desk, she seemed surprised at how the audience enthusiastically joined in. It’s just one example of how ingrained her work is in the fabric of music history. Since she emerged in the 1970s with the funk band Rufus, Khan has crafted a legacy that includes 22 albums, 10 Grammys, forays into jazz and theater and collaborations with Prince, Stevie Wonder, Joni Mitchell and Quincy Jones. Her 50 years in the music industry recently culminated in a long overdue 2023 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

This was great right from the jump…one of my favorite Tiny Desks for sure.

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Care to play a game of Probabilistic Tic-Tac-Toe? “What gives us the right to claim responsibility for our victories? Do we ever truly win? Or do we just get lucky sometimes?”

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The myth about cars that’s hurting cities. “In study after study in city after city around the world, researchers have found that merchants exaggerate the share of patrons who arrive by car and undercount those who walk, bike, or ride transit.”

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According to a new report from the FBI, murders, rapes, assaults, robberies, burglaries, and vehicle theft all dropped by double-digit percentages in the US during the first three months of 2024 (compared to Q1 2023).

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The 2024 Drone Photos Awards

The nominees for the 2024 Drone Photos Awards have been announced; here are a few that caught my eye:

drone photo of a highway crossing a frozen lake

drone photo of a crowded bull ring in Mexico

drone photo of a flock of white birds flying across a green expanse

drone photo of a small town in the snow

Photos by (from top to bottom) Sheng Jiang, Roberto Hernandez, Silke Hullmann, and Hüseyin Karahan.

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Sacha Greif recently made the decision to pause his excellent design site/newsletter Sidebar. “Design content seems to have either dried up, or else been driven to platforms like Medium and Substack.”

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Neutrinos “hold the keys to new physics” but are “driving scientists crazy”. “Somehow, neutrinos went from just another random particle to becoming tiny monsters that require multi-billion-dollar facilities to understand.”

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Backcountry biker Laura Killingbeck thoughtfully weighs in on the “man or bear?” debate. “I’m literally a woman who left mankind behind to live in nature with bears. This is my actual life.”

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The Cookie Monster Alphabet

In case you or someone you know needs a little levity or pick-me-up today, might I suggest what might be the cutest thing that’s ever aired on television: a little girl named Joey and Kermit the Frog saying the alphabet.

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An in-depth look at the Etak Navigator, the first practical vehicle navigation system from 1985. GPS wasn’t available then, so the Etak used something called “augmented dead reckoning” to determine the vehicle’s location.

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The View From Earth of Different Planets Replacing the Moon

What if Mars orbited the Earth at the same distance as the Moon…what would that look like? How about Neptune? Or Jupiter? Like this:

See also what the Earth would look like with Saturn’s rings. (via @stevenstrogatz)

The “Coming to Apple TV+” reel shown at WWDC contains some tantalizing first-look clips from the second seasons of Severance and Silo.

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Three Bags Full, about a flock of whodunit-solving sheep, has been adapted into a movie written by Craig Mazin (Chernobyl) and starring Hugh Jackman & Emma Thompson. The 2005 book went tiny-viral on Bluesky last year.

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A scientific investigation into bears, the cuddly apex predator: If Not Friend, Why Friend-Shaped? “Some of bears’ features-especially their chubby, rounded face-might also remind us of our own babies.”

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Cotino is a “Storyliving by Disney™ community” in the greater Palm Springs area. “Parks, pathways and a promenade will reflect the imagination of Disney Imagineering.”

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AI Can Ruin Movies Now, Too

YouTuber Nerrel takes James Cameron to task for releasing 4K remasters of Aliens and True Lies that have been, well, ruined by using AI to clean them up.

The best 4k releases tend to follow a pretty simple template: clean and scan the negative, repair any obvious signs of damage, and restore the colors to match the original grading, with as little meddling beyond that as possible. The process should not be about modernizing the style or forcing film to look like digital video. 35mm film was capable of incredible picture quality, and 4k is the first home format capable of delivering most of that detail — that should be enough. A well done 4k is like having a pristine copy of the original negative to watch in your own home, with the full data from that celluloid — grain and detail alike — digitally preserved forever. And that’s the problem with deep learning algorithms — they can’t preserve details. They make their best guess about what an object is supposed to be, then pull new details out of their digital assholes and smear them across the screen.

If Hollywood and one of its best directors don’t care enough about their movies to do them right, how are they supposed to convince us to care about their movies?

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The Verge: the 13 biggest announcements from Apple’s developer conference, including their AI plans and new OS features.

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“There have been more gun suicides than gun homicides in the United States every year for the past 25 years. Yet the harm inflicted on communities by suicides rarely registers in the national debate over guns.”

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“Elephants call each other by name and respond when they hear others call their name, according to new research.”

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1982 DC Comics Style Guide

color palettes of DC superheroes

Wonder Woman from three different angles

Batman from three different angles

Standards Manual is gearing up for a new release: a reproduction of the DC Comics Style Guide from 1982.

Reproduced from a rare original copy, the book features over 165 highly-detailed scans of the legendary art by José Luis García-López, with an introduction by Paul Levitz, former president of DC Comics.

First issued in 1982, the Style Guide aimed to assist licensees in delivering a consistent look for DC’s Super Heroes. The reissue is based on the original copy held by Standards Manual, containing an amalgam of pages added by the owners of the original from ‘82 to ‘85.

Comics nerds, get in there.

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Tapping the sign: the important differences between patriotism & nationalism. “Patriotism: pride in who you are. Nationalism: pride in who you aren’t.”

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Guy Who Sucks At Being A Person Sees Huge Potential In AI. “Deep down [he] has absolutely zero understanding of what makes things good, enjoyable, or rewarding.”

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Maris Kreizman argues for adding full credit pages to books acknowledging everyone who worked on them. “How lovely it is to be seen and appreciated.”

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Wake Up Dead Man will be the third film in the Knives Out series, starring Daniel Craig as Benoit “CSI: KFC” Blanc.

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Surprise! These Cardboard & Scotch Tape Vases Are Actually Ceramic Pots.

ceramic teapot that looks like it's made out of cardboard

ceramic pitcher that looks like it's made out of cardboard

ceramic vase that looks like it's made out of cardboard

French potter Jacques Monneraud makes ceramic pots that look like teapots, vases, and pitchers made from cardboard and scotch tape. He offers these pots for sale, but they’re unsurprisingly sold out right now. More about Monneraud & his work on his website and Instagram. (via @presentandcorrect)

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Every Kind of Bridge Explained in 15 Minutes

From Practical Engineering, this is a video explaining every type of bridge in just 15 minutes…or at least attempts to.

Without listing every bridge, there’s no true way to list every type of bridge. There’s too much nuance, creativity, and mixing and matching designs. But that’s part of the joy of paying attention to bridges. Once you understand the basics, you can start to puzzle out the more interesting details.

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The trailer for When We Were Wizards: An Oral History of Dungeons & Dragons, a podcast series about the groundbreaking game, its creators, and what sounds like a shitshow of corporate activity. Avail. on Apple and Spotify.

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A Shaded Relief Map of Manhattan

a Lidar map of Manhattan; low areas are lighter and taller areas are darker

Using LiDAR data from the US Geological Survey and a site called ReliefViz, a Reddit user created this lovely blue and greyscale shaded relief map of Manhattan (and the surrounding area). It’s worth clicking through to explore the full-size image.

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A UK research team has discovered that the more CO2 air contains, the longer viruses can stay alive in that air. This is a tranmission double-whammy: poorly ventilated spaces with lots of people in them increases potential viral load and longevity.

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New album from Jamie xx, In Waves, is coming out on September 20th. “I wanted to make something fun, joyful and introspective all at once.”

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Download Free Coloring Books From Museums and Libraries

a halfway colored-in illustration of a man with long curly hair

an illustration of a man in old timey clothes getting on a bicycle

various black and white illustrations of how a ship's rigging works

A Child's Map of the Ancient World

Hosted by the New York Academy of Medicine, #ColorOurCollections is a yearly assemblage of coloring books sourced from the collections of museums and libraries. You can download this year’s coloring books (as well as those from past years) for free from the website. (via open culture)

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Every Conversation Between Every Parent and Their Child After One Year of College. “PARENT: Welcome home! CHILD: Manipulative! PARENT: Wait. What? CHILD: Toxic! PARENT: Who? Me? CHILD: Narcissist! PARENT: You keep saying words, but without verbs.”

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Starring the Computer: a catalog of computers used in movies and TV shows. For instance: “The first episode of Andor has a heavily modified Tandy TRS-80 Model III.”

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Duck Amuck is one of my all-time favorite Looney Tunes cartoons. Some classic fourth wall breaking.

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Genderswap[dot]fm is a catalog of gender-swapped song covers — think Beyoncé covering The Beatles, Miley Cyrus covering The Talking Heads, or The Flaming Lips covering Kylie Minoque. There’s also a less comprehensive Spotify playlist.

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A Long Surfing Life

I really enjoyed this profile by William Finnegan of 75-year-old Jock Sutherland, who was one of the best surfers in the world in the late 60s and who still cherishes a good wave.

A surfer as famous as he was could have made enough money for an easy retirement, I thought, but Sutherland hadn’t cashed in. Surfing was never, to his mind, a job. Even when he was at the apex of the surfing world, he was unimpressed, stubborn. There was no pro tour in those days. “You could work for a board manufacturer, maybe have your own signature-model board,” he told me. “But that meant sell, sell, sell. That was…crass. I mean, the banality. It was antithetical to being able to enjoy being out in the water.”

Sutherland’s mom, Audrey, sounds like an amazing person:

Audrey drew up a list of things that every child should be able to do by age sixteen and stuck it on the wall. It read, in part:

- Clean a fish and dress a chicken

- Write a business letter

- Splice or put a fixture on an electric cord

- Operate a sewing machine and mend your own clothes

- Handle a boat safely and competently

- Save someone drowning using available equipment

- Read at a tenth grade level

- Listen to an adult talk with interest and empathy

- Dance with any age

This list changed with the times, adding computers and contraception, and nobody really kept score, but everybody got the idea.

Finnegan wrote Barbarian Days, a memoir of his life as a surfer — I loved it.

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David Robson on what science says about overcoming shyness. “One of the best things you can do to overcome your shyness is to treat yourself with greater compassion.” Adapted from his new book, The Laws of Connection.

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The Trailer for Black Barbie

The first Black Barbie doll was created and sold in 1980. Black Barbie, a documentary streaming on Netflix later this month, tells the story of how the doll came to be and the impact it had on a generation of young people who were able to see themselves in a doll with the same color skin, perhaps for the first time.

The trailer opens with this line: “If you’ve gone your whole life and you’ve never seen anything made in your own image, there is damage done.” Which is then echoed later in the trailer when a little girl is describing her Barbie: “Really pretty, and has lochs, just like me”.

Shonda Rhimes produced the film and was recently on the Today show talking about the importance of representation. And here’s a tour of Sonya Larson’s collection of 1000+ Black Barbie dolls.

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In the last 10 years, Paris has closed 100 streets to cars, removed 50,000 parking spots, tripled parking fees for SUVs, and built more than 800 miles of bike lanes. “Those changes have contributed to a 40% decline in air pollution.”

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Intermezzo by Sally Rooney

the cover of Sally Rooney's Intermezzo, featuring a yellow and brown chessboard and chess pieces whose shadows are people

Oh, there’s a new Sally Rooney novel coming out just a few days before my birthday? Now you all know what to get meeeee. It’s called Intermezzo and here’s the synopsis:

Aside from the fact that they are brothers, Peter and Ivan Koubek seem to have little in common.

Peter is a Dublin lawyer in his thirties — successful, competent, and apparently unassailable. But in the wake of their father’s death, he’s medicating himself to sleep and struggling to manage his relationships with two very different women — his enduring first love, Sylvia, and Naomi, a college student for whom life is one long joke.

Ivan is a twenty-two-year-old competitive chess player. He has always seen himself as socially awkward, a loner, the antithesis of his glib elder brother. Now, in the early weeks of his bereavement, Ivan meets Margaret, an older woman emerging from her own turbulent past, and their lives become rapidly and intensely intertwined.

For two grieving brothers and the people they love, this is a new interlude — a period of desire, despair, and possibility; a chance to find out how much one life might hold inside itself without breaking.

According to her UK publisher, here are the novel’s opening lines:

Didn’t seem fair on the young lad. That suit at the funeral. With the braces on his teeth, the supreme discomfort of the adolescent.

Already hooked. You can preorder Intermezzo at Amazon or Bookshop.

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This is *excellent*: The Musical History Lesson Buried Beneath the Song of the Summer. “Sabrina Carpenter’s ‘Espresso’ is one of several recent hits bringing back the genre that never got a name.” (See also Dua Lipa’s Dance the Night.)

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*whispers quietly* I’m not enjoying Frankenstein that much. I am also behind on the reading for Hot Frank Summer. If you’re reading it right now, how are you finding it?

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“How do you study mind-altering drugs when every clinical-trial participant knows they’re tripping?” Randomized controlled clinical trials are the gold standard for medical research, but perhaps a different approach is needed with psychoactive drugs.

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Great rec from Youngna Park: “Part of my life strategy for eating leftovers at home all the time is you have to have a sauces rotation” — e.g. hot sauce, chili crisp, a garlicky yogurt sauce, etc.

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“The 25 Photos That Defined the Modern Age”

photos of Earthrise taken from Apollo 8, a woman and a child underneath a sign reading 'colored entrance', and Tank Man in Tiananmen Square

A group of photographers, editors, and curators recently convened to choose a list of “the 25 most significant photographs since 1955”. Choosing just 25 photos to represent 70 years of the richest visual era in human history is just an impossible task, so there’s bound to be some grousing about individual choices. (I love Beyoncé but really?) But the selection is fascinating, includes a few images I’d never seen before, and the accompanying discussion is worth reading.

I would love to see a process that asks for nominations across a
larger & broader range of folks and then whittle it down through ranked choice voting or pairwise ranking. Paging The Pudding

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How the invention of dynamite, anarchists, library science, and J. Edgar Hoover all came together to spur the creation of the modern surveillance state. Adapted from Steven Johnson’s The Infernal Machine.

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Apple Music’s 100 Best Albums

Chosen by members of the Apple Music teams and a panel of experts (including Pharrell & Charli XCX), this is their list of the 100 Best Albums of all time (see also a text listing on Wikipedia). It’s an interesting list, worthy of argument and comparison to Rolling Stone’s list. Here’s the top 10:

1. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill by Lauryn Hill
2. Thriller by Michael Jackson
3. Abbey Road by The Beatles
4. Purple Rain by Prince & The Revolution
5. Blonde by Frank Ocean
6. Songs in the Key of Life by Stevie Wonder
7. Good Kid, M.A.A.D City by Kendrick Lamar
8. Back to Black by Amy Winehouse
9. Nevermind by Nirvana
10. Lemonade by Beyoncé

You can stream all 100 albums on Apple Music and (unofficially, cheekily) on Spotify.

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Virologist Dr. Rick Bright: Why the New Human Case of Bird Flu Is So Alarming. “This H5N1 outbreak is a warning. The report of respiratory symptoms is not a good sign, and this is not a good way to prevent a pandemic.”

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At some point, you have to wonder what’s actually in the $1.50 Costco hot dog + drink combo to be able to offer it at that same price since 1984. (Costco sells more hot dogs annually than every MLB stadium combined.)

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World-first tooth-regrowing drug will be given to humans in September. “If successful, this therapy could be available to patients with any permanently missing teeth within six years.”

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Tintin-Inspired Kits for the Belgian National Football Team

a Belgian football player standing next to a cartoon version of Tintin, each with a blue top and brown short pants

Prior to the men’s UEFA European Championship (aka the 2024 Euros), Belgium announced new kits for their national teams and the away kit is an homage to Tintin and his creator, Belgian cartoonist Hergé. Fantastic! (thx, matt)

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Things the guys who stole my phone have texted me to try to get me to unlock it. “As the texts escalated in complexity and rage, I sympathized with their plight. I mean, not enough to unlock my phone.”

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The Best Podcasts of 2024 So Far, including 99% Invisible’s series on The Power Broker, Normal Gossip, and WikiHole.

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What cars would the Founding Fathers have driven? “thomas jefferson would have preordered a cybertruck. ben franklin would have made fun of him for it, but would himself own a rapidly depreciating model 3.”

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Bubble Wrap Impressionist Paintings

Bradley Hart creates pointillist paintings by painstakingly injecting acrylic paint into the individual bubbles in bubble wrap. The paint leaks out of the bubbles and onto a canvas backing, which also becomes part of the creative output (which he calls the “impression”). Here’s Hart’s version of Picasso’s Le Rêve, bubble wrap and impression:

A pair of artworks after Picasso's Le Rêve

And here’s Georges Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte:

a bubble wrap version of Georges Seurat's A Sunday on La Grande Jatte

And the impression:

an impression of the bubble wrap version of Georges Seurat's A Sunday on La Grande Jatte

From Hart’s artist’s statement:

The bare bubbles in the bubble wrap reference dots or pixels, echoing various movements in art history and other media, including pointillism, screen-printing, TVs and LCD monitors. In today’s world people do not print their pictures for an album. Their albums are on Facebook, Flickr and Instagram, all exotic rote, yet combinations of 1’s and 0’s. The process of injecting paint into bubble wrap directly references pixilation (and those 1’s and 0’s) and at the same time harkens back to the time of family portrait painting, when a family’s personal “photo” album consisted of paintings hanging on its walls.

It’s such a genius idea to use the backing canvas as a separate artwork — I love that. (via clive thompson)

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It’s interesting (but unsurprising) to see the no-kneeling-during-the-nation-anthem, anti-flag-burning “patriots” flying Confederate flags, defacing US flags w/ blue lines, and flying them upside-down. It’s all just self-interested bigotry.

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TIL that the theme song for PBS’s The Star Hustler (starring Jack Horkheimer) is a reworked version of Claude Debussy’s Arabesque No. 1 by legendary Japanese composer Isao Tomita.

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Should Employees Be Paid? Why People Think It’s Time. “Others feel the concept of ‘getting compensated for your labor’ is a dangerous gateway right that could lead to workers wanting other things like ‘paid time off’…”

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Our Unpleasant Privatized Reality

Hamilton Nolan, Everyone Into The Grinder:

Rich kids should go to public schools. The mayor should ride the subway to work. When wealthy people get sick, they should be sent to public hospitals. Business executives should have to stand in the same airport security lines as everyone else. The very fact that people want to buy their way out of all of these experiences points to the reason why they shouldn’t be able to. Private schools and private limos and private doctors and private security are all pressure release valves that eliminate the friction that would cause powerful people to call for all of these bad things to get better. The degree to which we allow the rich to insulate themselves from the unpleasant reality that others are forced to experience is directly related to how long that reality is allowed to stay unpleasant. When they are left with no other option, rich people will force improvement in public systems. Their public spirit will be infinitely less urgent when they are contemplating these things from afar than when they are sitting in a hot ER waiting room for six hours themselves.

See also Ranjan Roy’s The Sweetgreen-ification of Society and Tom Junod’s The Water-Park Scandal and Two Americas in the Raw: Are We a Nation of Line-Cutters, or Are We the Line? about the introduction of a cut-the-line pass at a waterpark:

It wouldn’t be so bad, if the line still moved. But it doesn’t. It stops, every time a group of people with Flash Passes cut to the front. You used to be able to go on, say, three or four rides an hour, even on the most crowded days. Now you go on one or two. After four hours at Whitewater the other day, my daughter and I had gone on five. And so it’s not just that some people can afford to pay for an enhanced experience. It’s that your experience - what you’ve paid full price for - has been devalued. The experience of the line becomes an infernal humiliation; and the experience of avoiding the line becomes the only way to enjoy the water park.

And this quote from the former mayor of Bogotá, Enrique Peñalosa:

An advanced city is not one where even the poor use cars, but rather one where even the rich use public transport.

“It’s not your imagination: a disproportionate number of women really do play bass guitar in rock bands.” Research shows there are a few reasons for this, one of which is that bass players are typically in short supply.

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One of the great modern mysteries, finally solved: How many cans of ABC SpaghettiOs would it take to write the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy?

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There’s now a Bechdel Test for climate change in movies. “The Climate Reality Check asks whether, in a given story: 1. Climate change exists, and 2. A character knows it.”

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Announcing the Tiny Awards 2024, a competition to find and celebrate the “small, personal, whimsical, weird and poetic things people are making on what is left of the web”. I’m a judge this year! Pls submit your projects!

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Brats, a Documentary Film About the 80s Hollywood Brat Pack

I was a little too young (and culturally sheltered — like I’d never heard of New York magazine) in 1985 to really understand what the heck the Brat Pack was (not to mention what the name was referencing), but as a child of the 80s, I obviously grew up watching movies and TV shows that featured these actors. According to Wikipedia (which is a good read if you’re unfamiliar with the whole thing), here are some of the actors that were in the Brat Pack (or Brat Pack-adjacent): Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, Rob Lowe, Andrew McCarthy, Demi Moore, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy, Tom Cruise, Charlie Sheen, James Spader, Robert Downey Jr., John Cusack, and Matthew Broderick.

The Brat Pack moniker was coined in a 1985 New York magazine article and it stuck. And according to some of the members, it ruined lives, careers, and friendships. Now one of the group members, Andrew McCarthy, has directed a documentary about the group: Brats. From Deadline:

Brats looks at the iconic films of the 1980s that shaped a generation and the narrative that took hold when their young stars were branded the “Brat Pack.” McCarthy reunites with his fellow Brat Packers — friends, colleagues and former foes, including Rob Lowe, Demi Moore, Ally Sheedy, Emilio Estevez, Jon Cryer, Lea Thompson and Timothy Hutton, many of whom he had not seen for over 30 years — to answer the question: What did it mean to be part of the Brat Pack? The actor-filmmaker also sits down for a first-time conversation with writer David Blum, who fatefully coined the term Brat Pack in a 1985 New York Magazine cover story.

That trailer definitely hooked me in. Brats will be available on Hulu on June 13.

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A list of the highest known prices paid for paintings. Some private sales aren’t on here and there are dozens (hundreds?) of paintings held by museums that are basically priceless (the Mona Lisa, etc).

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Amazing: thousands of patients in England are being given personalized cancer vaccines that are intended “to hunt and kill any cancer cells and prevent the disease from coming back”.

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The Colorful Fire Hydrant Directory

a grid of colorful fire hydrants

The Hydrant Directory is a collection of colorful fire hydrants where “each hydrant has been processed into color palettes for free use by artists and designers”. I love stuff like this. (via @presentandcorrect)

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A first in the nation, Vermont’s Climate Superfund Act “directs the state to charge major fossil fuel companies potentially billions of dollars to pay for climate impacts to which their emissions have contributed”.

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Always worth checking out the finalists of the 2024 Apple Design Award.

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Archives · May 2024