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The Paradox of an Infinite Universe

Is the universe finite or infinite? If finite, what shape is it and how does that shape influence its overall size and properties? If it’s infinite, what meaning of “expanding” can be applied to it? I don’t know if this video provides any satisfying answers, but even being able to ponder these questions is thrilling.

Infinity gets much weirder though. As you travel with your spaceship in a straight line, you find new galaxies, stars and planets, new wonders, new weird stuff, probably new aliens and new lifeforms stranger than you could ever imagine. But after a long time, you might find the most special thing in the universe: Yourself. An exact copy of you watching this video right now.

How can that be? Well, everything in existence is made of a finite amount of different particles. And a finite number of different particles can only be combined in a finite number of ways. That number may be so large that it feels like infinity to our brains — but it is not really. If you have finite options to build things, but infinite space that is full of things in all directions forever, then it makes sense that by pure chance, there will likely be repetition.

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How the Dutch Solved Street Design

Adam Yates travelled to Amsterdam to see how the Dutch have transformed the city and made it safer for people to get where they’re going more quickly. The phrase that grabbed me is:

Pedestrians, cyclists, and vehicles can all coexist without conflict, but only if they’re all going the same slow speed. This advances the principles of shared streets.

This is related to the Downs-Thomson paradox:

In simple terms, the Downs-Thomson paradox claims that traffic will increase without limit until the option of public transport (or any other form of transport) becomes faster than the equivalent trip by car. It draws the conclusion that people do not care whether they drive, walk, bike, or take the bus to any location — they just want to get from A to B in the fastest and most convenient way possible.

(via @marcprecipice)

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A Mastodon client for the Apple II. Yes, you read that right. It supports 2-factor auth!

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“France on Monday enshrined the right to abortion in its constitution, a world first welcomed by women’s rights groups as historic.” The vote was 780 votes for and 72 against.

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On the Reverse

some stickers and tape on the back of an old painting

some faint overlapping drawings on the back of an old painting

a view of a show at the Prado museum called 'On the Reverse'

Madrid’s Museo Nacional del Prado recently put on an exhibition called On the Reverse that featured the backs of notable works of art.

This exhibition goes beyond the simple action of turning paintings around. Rather, the Museo del Prado is undertaking a complete reassessment of the backs of works in its collections while also identifying relevant examples in other major museums which reveal how appreciation of works of art is enhanced when we do more than just look at the front. The exhibition addresses issues that have never previously been brought together and in which there is also space for imaginative interpretations: the emergence of the reverse as a pictorial motif in two sub-genres: the self-portrait of the artist behind the canvas and the depiction of the picture back in trompe l’oeil; the poetic reading of the stretcher as a cross; two-sided paintings; the back as a field for experimentation and subjective expression; aesthetic appreciation of the material nature of the works, and the issue of the viewer seen from behind, which makes us aware of the particular spatial relationships that are generated by human interaction with art.

I once went with an artist friend to an art museum where they hung some of the paintings so you could see both sides of them at once, and she was often more interested in seeing the backs, where you could maybe see who owned the painting previously, etc.

Sadly, the show ended on March 3, but Hyperallergic has a good writeup.

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New puzzle game from the NY Times: Strands. It’s a theme-based word search. I like the wrinkle that finding non-theme words earns you hints.

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An amazing analysis of “title drops” (when a movie character says the name of a movie in the movie.) “There’s an average of 10.3 title drops per movie that title drops. If they do it, they really go for it.” (See: Barbie.)

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This essay on arranged marriage makes me wonder who my parents might have chosen for me & how that might’ve worked out.

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How Jane Austen Changed Fiction Forever

Right from the start of her first book, Sense and Sensibility, Austen used an innovative narration technique called free indirect speech:

To understand why Austen’s narration is so distinct, the method and style of narration in which she wrote must be understood. Austen wrote in a little-known and not-often-used method of third-person narration called free indirect speech. Free Indirect Speech (FIS) is a distinct kind of third-person narration which seamlessly slips in and out of a character’s consciousness while still being presented by the third-person narrator.

In the video above, Evan Puschak explains, with examples, what free indirect speech is and why it was so revolutionary & influential when wielded by Austen.

Also, I didn’t know that Twain was such an Austen hater:

She also sparked dislike in such an extreme that Mark Twain once famously wrote that, when reading Pride & Prejudice, he wanted to dig up Austen and beat her with her own shin bone.

Team Austen over here.

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A remembrance of legendary film scholar David Bordwell, who died recently at the age of 76. “Bordwell proved that the best way to be a cinephile is to be open to everything.” His blog (co-authored w/ his wife Kristin Thompson) was excellent.

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Denisovan humans were first discovered in 2010 but DNA gathered since then “offers a picture of remarkable humans”, showing that “from a behavioral perspective, they were much more like modern humans”.

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The Supreme Court Must Be Stopped. “I think of the Supreme Court the way Batman thinks of Superman: an extremely powerful being who is untethered from the laws of physics and therefore must always be considered a threat to free society.”

Vogue: Fashion icon Iris Apfel has died at the age of 102. “I’m a total workaholic, but never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be a cover girl in my nineties.”

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My Favorite Thing Is Monsters, Book Two

book cover for My Favorite Thing Is Monsters Book Two by Emil Ferris

Publishers Weekly gave Emil Ferris’s eagerly anticipated graphic novel My Favorite Thing Is Monsters, Book Two a starred review, calling it “a triumph.” Yay! The book is due out May 28, but there’s a (wonderful) excerpt in the New Yorker, where the whole thing is called “well worth the wait.”

I’ll probably reread Book One to prepare, in case anyone wants to join me. I loved this book. (I also drew about it in my newsletter once!)

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What movies have you most enjoyed in the past year? Pretentious Atomic Amadeus? Gently Insightful Immigration Throuple? Extreme Home Makeover: Fascism? Bright-Pink Masterpiece?

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Do The Work: A guide to understanding power and creating change is a forthcoming book from Roxane Gay & Megan Pillow. “Challenge your biases and broaden your understanding of power and how we wield it with this essential guide.”

Reply · 1 Redesigns With 2024 Vibes

a screenshot of the new redesign for 2024

Well. Finally. I’m unbelievably pleased, relieved, and exhausted to launch the long-awaited (by me) redesign of today. Let’s dive right into what has changed and why.

{ Important: If the “logo” on the left/top is not circles and is squares/diamonds instead, you can update your browser to the latest version to see it how I intended. (Will be looking for a fix for this…) }

(Justified and) Ancient. The last time I redesigned the site, a guy named Barack Obama was still President. Since then, I’ve launched the membership program, integrated the Quick Links more fully into the mix, (more recently) opened comments for members, and tweaked about a million different things about how the site works and looks. But it was overdue for a full overhaul to better accommodate all of those incremental changes and, more importantly, to provide a solid design platform for where the site is headed. Also, I was just getting tired of the old design.

Back to the Future. In my post introducing the new comments system, I wrote about the potential for smaller sites like mine to connect people and ideas in a different way:

The timing feels right. Twitter has imploded and social sites/services like Threads, Bluesky, and Mastodon are jockeying to replace it (for various definitions of “replace”). People are re-thinking what they want out of social media on the internet and I believe there’s an opportunity for sites like to provide a different and perhaps even better experience for sharing and discussing information. Shit, maybe I’m wrong but it’s definitely worth a try.

Before Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat came along and centralized social activity & output on the web, blogs (along with online diaries, message boards, and online forums) were social media. Those sites borrowed heavily from blogging — in the early years, there wasn’t much that those sites added in terms of features that blogs hadn’t done first. With the comments and now this redesign, I’m borrowing some shit back from the behemoths.

A social media design language has evolved, intelligible to anyone who’s used Twitter or Facebook in the past decade. Literally billions of people can draw what a social media post looks like on a napkin, show it to someone else from the other side of the world, and they’d say, “oh, that’s a post”. In thinking about how I wanted to look and, more importantly, feel going forward, I wanted more social media energy than blog energy — one could also say “more old school blog energy than contemporary blog energy”. Blogs now either look like Substack/Medium or Snow Fall and I didn’t want to pattern after either of those things. I don’t want to write articles — I want to blog.

Practically speaking, “social media energy” means the design is more compact, the type is smaller,1 the addition of preview cards for Quick Links, and the reply/share/???? buttons at the bottom of each post. But, it also still looks like a personal (old school) blog rather than a full-blown Twitter clone (I hope). I think this emphasis will become clearer as time goes on.

So What’s Different? I mean, you can probably tell for yourself what’s changed, but I’ll direct your eye to a few things. 1. Member login + easy account access for members on the top of every page. has always been very much my site…but now it’s just a little bit more our site. 2. No more top bar (on desktop), so the content starts much higher on the page. 3. Most Quick Links have a preview card (also called an unfurl) that shows the title, a short description, and often an image from the link in question — the same as you’d get if someone sent you a link via text or on WhatsApp. 4. We’ve bid a fond farewell to the Whitney typeface and welcomed Neue Haas Unica into the fold. 5. IMO, the design is cleaner but also more information dense, reflecting the type of blogging I’d like to do more of. 6. Dark mode! There’s no toggle but it’ll follow your OS settings.

Billions and Billions. has (famously?) never had a logo. I’ve never wanted one thing to represent the site — in part because the site itself is all over the place and also because it’s fun to switch things up every once in awhile. Instead, I’ve always gone for a distinctive color or gradient that lets readers know where they are. This time, I’ve opted for a series of circles — a friend calls them “the planets” — but with a twist. There are 32 images, each with 4 different hues and 8 different rotations, that can slot into the 4 available spaces…and no repeats. By my calculations (corrections welcome!), there are over 900 billion different permutations that can be generated, making it extremely unlikely that you’ll ever see the same exact combo twice. Even if, like last time, this design lasts for almost eight years.

Gimme the Goods. The tiny collection of t-shirts has its own page on the site now. The Hypertext Tee based on the previous design will be offered only for another few weeks and then probably be retired forever. To be replaced with…TBD. 😉

Winnowing Down. Last time I redesigned, I went back and modified the template of every page on the site, even stuff from the late 90s and early 00s that no one actually remembers. This time around, I’m focusing only on the core site: blog posts from 1998-present, tag pages, membership, and the few pages you can get to from the right sidebar. The rest of the site, mostly pages deep in the archive that see very little (if any) traffic, are going to stick with the old design, effectively archived, frozen in digital amber. We wish those old pages well in their retirement.

So yeah, that’s kind of it for now. There is so much left to do though! The comments need some lovin’, some social media things need tightening up, the about page could use some tuning, the newsletter needs a visual refresh, a few other small things need doing — and then it’s on to the next project (which I haven’t actually decided on, but there are several options).

I’m happy to hear what you think in the comments, on social media, or via email — feedback, critique, and bug reports are welcome. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have not taken a full day off from the site since late December (including weekends), so I’m going to go collapse into a little puddle and sleep for about a week.

  1. If you’d like the text bigger, you can adjust the size using your browser’s zoom controls (cmd + & cmd -). This is what I do for viewing Instagram on my desktop web browser — 150% is the way to go…the photos are teensy otherwise. (I adjust Daring Fireball and Threads too.) The browser even remembers your settings for a site between visits…you only have to adjust it once.
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Refreshing to read about IVF from a male point of view: Zach Baron in GQ on “My IVF Years.”

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Music Interlude: Johnny Cash and Linda Ronstadt, “I Never Will Marry”

A recently resurfaced 2019 New Yorker story on Linda Ronstadt reminded me of this captivating video from her 1969 appearance on the Johnny Cash Show. Her 1977 version of the song, with Dolly Parton, is also great.

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Quilts Turned Into Clothes


Emory Goods is a project run by Erin Emory, a Virginia-based seamstress/artist who, among other things, finds old, damaged, or unfinished quilts and turns them into clothing. As she put it to me in an email (I reached out to make sure I had my facts right), “I like to repurpose cutter quilts, or ones who need a little love, into new, wearable pieces so that we can keep enjoying their beauty, just in a new way!”

Emory sells her pieces primarily through Instagram, and although I haven’t yet tried to buy one, I love knowing they exist. (Emory Goods is also on Facebook, and will be reappearing on Etsy in the next few weeks.)

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What To Do After You Finish the NY Times Crossword Puzzle


I love playing the NYT crossword, but I only recently discovered Rex Parker Does the NY Times Crossword Puzzle, a blog of daily puzzle reviews, full of spirit and bile. And although like Jason I’m a little put off by how negative the reviews can be — I don’t want the thing I’m so proud to have just finished be considered “toothless” or “dead in the water”!! — they’re also funny. So maybe it’s fine, or actually better. For instance, from his review of Tuesday’s puzzle:

The [theme answers] seemed listless (except [REDACTED], which just seemed bizarre), and the overall fill ran weak (and heavily, drearily name-y; more on that below), and then [REDACTED], ugh, I would’ve shut my computer right there if I weren’t contractually obligated to go on. […] As for the rest of the puzzle, it was gunked up with names to an unusual, and possibly dangerous degree.

Lol. Meanwhile, there’s also XWordInfo (NY Times crossword “answers and insights” — useful for puzzle constructors, too), Diary of a Crossword Fiend (“reviewing the best crosswords in print and on the web”), and Daily Crossword Links (“all the day’s crosswords in one place”), as well as the NY Times’ own Daily Wordplay Column, an adjoining column riffing on each day’s puzzle, often with a mini-interview of that day’s puzzle constructor. (From today’s constructor: “This puzzle was partly inspired by my children, who love to put on one red oven mitt and run around the kitchen exclaiming, ‘Look, I’m an (18A)!’”) The comments section here is also a goldmine for community-minded puzzlers. What else is out there?

But really the main thing to do after finishing the puzzle is to open the Spelling Bee back up… Am I right???

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Just a little couples therapy joke that made me laugh out loud…

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“It’s funny because I’ll bring my flute, and it’s all these young kids … out in the alley with me between bands, and they’re like, ‘Oh, that flute is fire.’” Fun André 3000 profile in Highsnobiety, by Rosecrans Baldwin. Makes me want to wear overalls.

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Diary Comics, Nov. 24

It’s Thursday Afternoons With Edith again! I’ll probably stop saying that after today. Here’s another installment of comics from my journal, from back around Thanksgiving. Jury is still out on whether this is a winning feature, but in the meantime I do enjoy sharing them.

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I haven’t written anything about the upcoming total solar eclipse on April 8, 2024, but I will soon because 1) my house is in the path of totality (!!) and 2) seeing the 2017 eclipse was one of the most incredible experiences I’ve ever had.

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The Perelandra Bookshop in Colorado has a reader-in-residence position. “The reader gets a small stipend for their three-month stint — $50 per month for books, and another $50 per month for coffee.” (thx, tom)

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Francis Ford Coppola shares some audition clips from The Outsiders, featuring the impossibly young Matt Dillon, Patrick Swayze, Diane Lane, Tom Cruise, and Anthony Michael Hall.

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McDonald’s Locations vs. Golf Courses

When I linked to a recent NY Times article about rewilding golf courses, I pulled out this startling fact: “The United States has more golf courses than McDonald’s locations.” Nathan Yau of FlowingData found that that is indeed true but wondered where all of the golf courses were actually located. (A: typically not in cities where the McDonald’s are concentrated).

a map of the distribution of golf courses and McDonald's in the US

This makes more sense now. You can have a golf course in an area where there aren’t that many people, because people will travel to play golf. Few people are going to travel specifically for McDonald’s.

If we compare the two, you see the McDonald’s city concentrations, and golf fills the in-between spaces.

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Super interesting short interview with Johnnie Burn, the sound designer for The Zone of Interest. They filmed the house scenes simultaneously with hidden mics and cameras and then cut the film and made the sound mix from that.

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Minnesota sushi is made by rolling deli ham, cream cheese, and a pickle together and then cutting it into slices. It’s also known as “midwest sushi, pickle wrap, pickle roll-up, frog eyes, pickle dawg, Iowa sushi, Lutheran sushi…” Yum!

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Studies have shown that people who ride e-bikes get more exercise than those who ride pedal bikes. “Researchers have discovered that when riders find it less grueling, they tend to go on longer rides.”

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Dr. Becky on the Huberman Lab Podcast

Here’s some parenting content on which I clicked quickly: neuroscientist Andrew Huberman interviewing parenting author and psychologist Becky Kennedy (a.k.a. DrBeckyatGoodInside). In the three-hour episode, they…

explain how to respond to emotional outbursts, rudeness, [and] entitlement, and how to repair fractured relationships, build self-confidence, and improve interpersonal connections with empathy, while also maintaining healthy boundaries.

Sign me up! There’s nothing I need more right now. Here’s a snippet on Instagram, about confidence.

Pairs well with a new Atlantic article investigating whether Montessori teaching is as much of a “prescription for idyllic family life” as social media can make it out to be. (Short answer: Not necessarily, but it offers a pretty good set of tools.) I also learned that the reason so many kids’ toys on Amazon are labeled as “Montessori” is in part because the name was never trademarked.

Meanwhile, The Marginalian resurfaced an old post featuring some of Mr. Rogers’ parenting advice, and while it’s not exactly actionable, it’s still comforting (“we always cared and always tried to do our best”). Can you tell I have a toddler at home?

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The soothing ASMR experience of a multi-layered grilled cheese sandwich made with extremely thin slices of bread. Now my mouth is watering and I’m nearly asleep.

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Should Newspapers Publish Poetry? An essay argues yes. (From last August.) I’ve always thought that certain kinds of blog posts can be if not poetry then at least poetry-esque, with their brevity and surprising-ness.

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USPS to Release Ansel Adams Stamps

a sheet of stamps from the US Postal Service featuring Ansel Adams photographs

The US Postal Service is set to release a sheet of 16 stamps featuring the legendary photography of Ansel Adams.

Ansel Adams made a career of crafting photographs in exquisitely sharp focus and nearly infinite tonality and detail. His ability to consistently visualize a subject — not how it looked in reality but how it felt to him emotionally — led to some of the most famous images of America’s natural treasures including Half Dome in California’s Yosemite Valley, the Grand Tetons in Wyoming, and Denali in Alaska, the highest peak in the United States.

No pre-order links yet, but the stamps will be available on May 15. (via @anseladams)

P.S. I was just poking around the official Ansel Adams site and ran across this photo I’d never seen before of a woman behind a screen door. Really wonderful.

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Why don’t we just ban fossil fuels? “In the last four decades, the United States has outlawed lead paint, phased out asbestos and curtailed tobacco marketing and sales. Similar policies can be used for fossil fuels.”

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Bookstores should ditch the short-term thinking of efficiency & bring back big, comfy reading chairs (which help make life-long readers). “Reading made me a reader, but so did having a place that allowed that experience to be pure, self-directed…”

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To mark the 20th anniversary of Napoleon Dynamite, stars Jon Heder (Napoleon), Efren Ramirez (Pedro), and Jon Gries (Uncle Rico) travelled to the Sundance Film Festival and recorded this charmingly hilarious video.

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Tech has shifted from the Star Trek era (smartphones, voice computing, virtual reality) to the Douglas Adams age (hallucinating LLMs, wayward robo cars, AI girlfriends). “When technology becomes absurd, we must respond with absurd inventions.”

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Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas: “Today and today only, I’m offering half off on tilting any jurisprudence in your favor — all principles must go!”

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Lego Letterpress Lobster

a letterpress print of a lobster

Check out this letterpress print of a lobster made by Eunice Chiong with Lego pieces as the stamps (watch a short video of her printing process). Chiong has been working with Legos and letterpress for many months now…check out more of her creations on Instagram and in her portfolio.

See also Letterpress Prints of Birds Printed Using Lego Bricks.

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The seafloor animals who live in Antarctica’s Southern Ocean are generally “squishy” — they lack armor “because there’s nothing around to crush them”. Climate change is bringing king crabs into the area, which could disrupt the unique ecosystem.

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All of U.S. History Has Taken Place in One Plutonian Year

Back in 2015, as the New Horizons probe was approaching Pluto, NASA posted an illustration of the dwarf planet’s orbital timeline:

an orbital timeline of Pluto's orbit around the Sun

A short piece on Vox then noted:

The entire history of the United States has unfolded in the time it’s taken Pluto to orbit the Sun once.

And that’s still true! But just barely. Pluto takes 247.94 Earth years to orbit the Sun. According to my calculations, the Plutonian year that started on July 4, 1776 will end this year on June 12, 2024 (give or take a few hours).

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Denis Villeneuve: “Frankly, I hate dialogue. Dialogue is for theatre and television. I don’t remember movies because of a good line, I remember movies because of a strong image. … Movies have been corrupted by television.”

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All the Ways Mt. Everest Can Kill You

A doctor trained in wilderness emergencies (and who has summited Everest three times) explains all the different ways Mt. Everest can kill you — in a refreshingly no-nonsense way.

Mt. Everest is a famously inhospitable environment for humans — if someone from sea level was dropped at the very top they’d be unconscious within minutes. Many dangers await those brave enough to make an attempt at the summit, and Dr. Emily Johnston visits WIRED to break down each and every way Mt. Everest can prove fatal.

Avalanches, ice axes on the loose, high-altitude edemas, “this is what people call ‘the death zone’” — sounds fun, let’s go! 🫠 (via @thenoodleator)

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With online ordering now, people have a lot of options when it comes to Girl Scout Cookies, but it’s particularly worth supporting Troop 6000 with your order — “the troop serves families living in temporary housing in the NYC shelter system”.

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I dropped the ball on not featuring this gorgeous letterpress version of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island sooner — the Kickstarter campaign only has 70 minutes to go!

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Join or Die

Join or Die is a documentary about the life, work, and ideas of Robert Putnam, popularizer of the concept of social capital and author of the prescient Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community.

How many times last year did you go to church? How many times did you go to a dinner party? How many times last year did you go to club meeting? In barely a couple of decades, half of all the civic infrastructure in America has simply vanished. It’s equivalent to say half of all the roads in America just disappeared.

(via colossal)

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I remember watching this scene in Se7en, where the sun shines brightly through car windows in the pouring rain, and it jolted me out of the movie — fake rain! Fincher called the take “priceless”, a happy accident.

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Michael Sippey made an absolutely unhinged “electoral college” version of Pong Wars. This is somehow worse than the NY Times’ twitchy election needle.

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The Tricycle Haiku Contest

In every issue, the quarterly Buddhist magazine Tricycle publishes a winning haiku from its ongoing monthly haiku contest. The poem appears alongside a column written by the contest’s judge, poet and author Clark Strand. This season’s haiku-adjacent column includes the following bit, about one theory on the nature of haiku:

The Japanese haiku critic Kenkichi Yamamoto (1907–1988) believed that the best haiku strike a balance between humor and existential isolation. “Loneliness in life and the comical elements of life are two sides of the same coin,” he wrote. As a genre of literature, haiku thrives on the flip of that coin — the small element of uncertainty that challenges our ordinary understanding of the world.

I hadn’t realized there were such things as haiku critics (!). I also like the idea of loneliness and humor being related somehow.

Read the Spring 2024 winning haiku here. And enter the monthly contest here. (The next round must include the word “turnip.”)


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I laughed: Gilbert & Sullivan’s Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula, by Mitch Benn.

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The Problem With Loving the Unborn

This Facebook post from June 2018 by Dave Barnhart, a Methodist pastor, is worth quoting in full:

“The unborn” are a convenient group of people to advocate for. They never make demands of you; they are morally uncomplicated, unlike the incarcerated, addicted, or the chronically poor; they don’t resent your condescension or complain that you are not politically correct; unlike widows, they don’t ask you to question patriarchy; unlike orphans, they don’t need money, education, or childcare; unlike aliens, they don’t bring all that racial, cultural, and religious baggage that you dislike; they allow you to feel good about yourself without any work at creating or maintaining relationships; and when they are born, you can forget about them, because they cease to be unborn. It’s almost as if, by being born, they have died to you. You can love the unborn and advocate for them without substantially challenging your own wealth, power, or privilege, without re-imagining social structures, apologizing, or making reparations to anyone. They are, in short, the perfect people to love if you want to claim you love Jesus but actually dislike people who breathe.

Prisoners? Immigrants? The sick? The poor? Widows? Orphans? All the groups that are specifically mentioned in the Bible? They all get thrown under the bus for the unborn.

(thx, caroline)

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If a “helen” is an amount of beauty, then “1 millihelen is the amount of beauty needed to launch a single ship”. See also the list of humorous units of measurement (e.g. “1 kilowarhol – famous for 15,000 minutes, or 10.42 days”).

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The new MLB uniforms make players look as if they’re wearing diapers. Although the uniforms are supposed to help keep players cool and enable mobility, “everyone hates them,” per Phillies shortstop Trea Turner.

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