Quick Links for December 2021

The legendary Betty White has died just a few weeks short of her 100th birthday.
The FDA is set to approve third doses of Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine for 12- to 15-year-olds.
Reminder: after 20 years of work, the James Webb Space Telescope is set to launch into orbit today. Liftoff is at about 7:20 AM ET; watch live here.
The tragedy of Johnson & Johnson's Covid vaccine. "The company was bested by one of the central facts of drug development: Biology is unfair, and, besides, you can't be smart enough to beat bad luck."
"Inclusive Design is a methodology, born out of digital environments, that enables and draws on the full range of human diversity. Most importantly, this means including and learning from people with a range of perspectives."
The Cooper Hewitt Design Museum has been collecting items related to the pandemic, climate crisis, and fight for social justice, including Naomi Osaka's face mask and a gerrymandered font.
The Top Twenty-five New Yorker Stories of 2021, including pieces on Britney Spears, UFOs, and the terrorist attack on Congress.
The FDA has authorized the use of Pfizer's Covid pill (Paxlovid) for high-risk patients 12 and older.
Today's Omicron update from @dr_kkjetelina. Some interesting info and guesses as to why cases in South Africa peaked so quickly. And: "Not nearly enough people have their boosters in the United States."
Been listening to Can You Feel It by The Jacksons recently. Even among a family of talented singers, this 1981 song really highlights just how amazing Michael Jackson's voice was; you'll need 0 guesses as to when he starts singing.
An unusual holiday-surge Covid indicator: a sharp increase in reviews of Yankee Candles complaining that they have no smell. This happened in 2020 too.
Cultural and architectural critics @langealexandra & @marklamster review of the best and worst in architecture and design for 2021.
An analysis of political amplification on Twitter shows that "the political right enjoys higher amplification compared to the political left".
Walter Reed researchers say they're working on a pan-coronavirus vaccine that will protect against all Covid and SARS variants. Only at Phase 1 trials and very little detail here, but something to watch.
Blueprints of the James Webb Space Telescope. Not the full plans but cool nonetheless.
The very first Wikipedia page put online by Jimmy Wales (along with associated scripts, database, and NFT) was recently sold at auction for $750,000.
"1. The GOP is authoritarian, and intends to end our democracy. 2. Once our democracy is dead, there's no legal way to bring it back."
Hard drive defrag simulator. (Time Machine was backing up my drive when I clicked on this link which made me wonder about the simulation bit for a second there.)
Good list from @tedgioia of The Best Articles and Essays of 2021 (heavy on music & culture).
A demo of recreated scenes from the original Matrix movie rendered in real-time by Epic's Unreal Engine 5. It's stunning how good this looks – the actor closeups are almost unbelievably believable.
The Life of a Cherry Drying Pilot. TIL that cherry growers use helicopters to dry their cherries (to protect them from rot & splitting). via @dunstan
A thorough scholarly review of the different types of Covid-19 diagnostic tests and when to use them.
Patrick Radden Keefe: The Metropolitan Museum of Art will remove the Sackler name from seven of their exhibition spaces. A group of artists (Nan Goldin, Kara Walker, Ai Weiwei, etc.) finally forced their hand.
Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine trial failed for kids aged 2-5 (but not for 6mo to under-2). Here's why and what happens now.
"Omicron is now the dominant strain of coronavirus in the US, according to the CDC." 73% of new cases only 20 days after it was first detected here. Jesus.
Video I thoroughly enjoyed watching the other day: Lionel Messi At Absolute Peak Of His Powers. He is the GOAT.
Finally! A millipede with 1000 actual legs has been discovered. "Eumillipes persephone, discovered deep underground in Australia, is the first millipede ever identified with more than 1,000 legs. The count actually comes to a whopping 1,306."
A CPU built entirely in Minecraft that's capable of running games like Tetris & Breakout and performing graph & fractal calculations. I love the aesthetics of the computer and its display. via @waxy
My Parents Collect Cans for a Living. "It represents my family's strong values and their dreams for me of getting the opportunity to go to college and lead a stable life."
Why the US Is a Failed Democratic State by @lessig. "The self-governing republic works only if it expresses the will of the majority. But one party is now committed to minoritarian rule by any means."
In 1952, US Naval officer Jimmy Carter (future POTUS) was exposed to a huge amount of radiation after being lowered into a damaged nuclear reactor to help clean it up.
The current consensus on speed limits in America: "Enforce the speed limit. But not on me, please. Because while it would be nice to save 10,000 lives a year, it sure is fun to drive fast."
Ezra Klein: We Will Look Back on This Age of Cruelty to Animals in Horror. "How we treat farm animals today will be seen, I believe, as a defining moral failing of our age."
Lifting restrictions, the FDA will allow patients to receive abortion medication by mail.
When an ice cream man dies, all the other ice cream trucks turn out for the funeral procession, jingles blaring.
"Fully vaccinated" = 3 shots. Get that third shot if you haven't and you're eligible. It's your best protection against Omicron.
This morning's Omicron update. 1 million US cases/day by 1st week of Jan (exceeding testing capacity). "If we continue this rate of spread...there is no modern day virus that has spread this fast and this far ever before."
88MPH: The Story of the DeLorean Time Machine, a feature-length documentary about the Back to the Future and the DeLorean used in the movie. The full documentary is available for free on YouTube.
A collection of the most-watched short films from @colossal for 2021.
An interesting list from Vogue of the 78 best documentaries of all time. Heavy focus on celebrity and culture but all solid picks. via @gboy
A report from the 2021 National Funeral Directors Association International Convention & Expo. "Funeral directors, we're not the most popular kids at the party."
bell hooks, Pathbreaking Black Feminist, Dies at 69. "I believe wholeheartedly that the only way out of domination is love."
This is quite an obituary. "She also told us she came up with the name for Sunoco, and I choose to believe this, too. Yes, Renay lied a lot. But on the plus side, Renay didn't cook, she didn't clean, and she was lousy with money."
You know, after the McConaissance comes the Indunstrial Revolution. cc: @rachsyme
This is clever: Emoji to Scale, a collection of emoji presented from smallest (mosquito) to largest (the Sun) with much (camera, blowfish, car, T-rex, International Space Station) in-between. via @waxy
It appears (from lab studies) that the T cell response to the Omicron variant is preserved, meaning protection from severe illness & death.
Burger Joint, a burger place with a dive bar vibe hidden behind a curtain in a fancy NYC hotel, has reopened. It had been closed due to the pandemic and the new owners of the hotel decided to keep it just the way it was.
Nature magazine's list of ten people who helped shape science in 2021.
A literary clock: each minute of the day is represented by a quote from a book. "...after that it was always ten minutes to five in the castle." Like a text version of Christian Marclay's The Clock.
Hockey sticks have curves. The visual signature of the Omicron variant is more like a bookend – straight up.
Cultures Where Men and Women Don't Speak the Same Language.
The 50 Best Books of Literary Journalism of the 21st Century includes many of my favorites like The Warmth of Other Suns, Killers of the Flower Moon, Moneyball, and The Sixth Extinction.
From @longreads, a selection of the best investigative reporting of 2021.
The Labor Shortage Hits Scrooge & Marley.
For 2021, the National Film Registry has added 25 films to its archive, including WALL-E, Fellowship of the Ring, Return of the Jedi, Selena, and A Nightmare on Elm Street.
"South and North Korea, China and the US have agreed 'in principle' to declare a formal end to the Korean war, almost 70 years after the conflict ended in a shaky truce."
Interesting thread from @trvrb about whether the Omicron variant will displace Delta, co-circulate with it, or be displaced by it after an initial surge.
2021 Hubble Space Telescope Advent Calendar – one new Hubble image every day until Dec 25.
Continued great news about Pfizer's Covid pill (Paxlovid): "[it] retained its 89% efficacy at preventing hospitalization and death in the full results of a study of 2,246 high-risk patients". Pfizer is also confident about its effectiveness vs Omicron.
Omicron variant update from @erictopol, who has been an essential source of information for me throughout the pandemic. The third shot is looking essential & and the doubling rate seems quite high.
Fun holiday children's book: Hookers and Blow Save Christmas. "It's up to Hookers the tow truck and Blow the snowblower to make their way through the snow to save the day..."
Be My Eyes is an app for visually impaired people that "instantly connects them with a sighted volunteer who can tell them what's in front of them via screen sharing".
Over 800,000 people have died from Covid-19 in the US. More than 450,000 of those deaths have occurred in 2021.
I am reading epidemiologist Katelyn Jetelina's Omicron roundup every morning. She's sharing & contextualizing the latest scientific findings related to this significant variant.
Mayfield, Kentucky is reeling from the aftermath of an incredibly destructive tornado. Jim Finch drove 1.5 hours w/ his grill & a bunch of food to feed hungry folks. "Just figured I'd do what I could do."
We're Sorry, You Can't Join Our Street Gang Because You Don't Know Ballet. "If you can't do a toe touch, you're putting us all at risk." via @joannagoddard
Ok you've done your Spotify Wrapped for 2021 but do you have the guts to do @puddingviz's How Bad Is Your Streaming Music? "Our sophisticated A.I. judges your awful taste in music."
I did not know that Anne Carson wrote a graphic novel this year (an adaptation of Euripides's play Trojan Women, with artist Rosana Bruno)
I love Emmett Otter's Jug-Band Christmas.
Terence Malick's documentary Voyage of Time is coming to digital streaming in 4K next week:
Masayuki Uemura, lead architect of the Famicom and Super Famicom systems (in the US, the Nintendo and Super Nintendo) has passed away, age 78
Starbucks workers in Buffalo have voted to unionize, a first for the coffee franchise
Bloomberg Businessweek has posted its annual "jealousy list" of the editors' favorite articles that weren't published by Bloomberg or BW. Always a treat
"Omicron is spreading in highly immune populations as quickly as the original virus did in populations with no immunity at all" — a sobering analysis by @sarahzhang
A parodic Gen Z-fueled conspiracy theory "posits that birds don't exist and are really drone replicas installed by the U.S. government to spy on Americans"
Pitchfork's 50 best albums of 2021, featuring [spoilers] Jazmine Sullivan's Heaux Tales at number one
Music critic Greg Tate has died
Mel Brooks talks to Terry Gross about being 95: "I'm so grateful to be able to eat scrambled eggs and toast for breakfast and sometimes a roast beef sandwich for dinner… I'm having trouble sleeping. That's a problem."
The New York Times critics AO Scott and Manohla Dargis offer their lists of the ten best movies of 2021:
"Very few major technologies emerge suddenly… They're usually the product of gradual tinkering and experimentation. Things get slowly refined… The new tech starts being used in real-world circumstances, but mostly in niche areas." Then boom! Mainstream:
"It is a history of pre-Columbian Peru, the Spanish conquest, and the subsequent colonial regime" — and an argument (in Spanish, Quechua, and Aymara) that Spain had no right to colonize and abuse the Inca peoples
While the official global death toll from COVID-19 is about 5.2 million, the excess deaths (including unreported cases, other illnesses that couldn't be treated, etc.) is now estimated at 17.6 million, according to The Economist
I Was Adopted. I Know the Trauma It Can Inflict. @espiers on Justice Amy Coney Barrett's too-casual assertion that adoption is "an accessible and desirable alternative for women who find themselves unexpectedly pregnant".
Felix Klieser is an internationally recognized French horn player who was born without arms and plays his instrument with his toes. via @iancul
David R Chan has eaten at more than 8000 Chinese restaurants across the US. "My interest in the history of Chinese in the US led me to eat Chinese food and see what it was like to be Chinese in different parts of the country."
The escalating costs of being single in America. "We don't seem to like or respect single people and their choices."
A collection of 30 maps made in 30 days.
Just sent out the latest issue of the @kottke newsletter. There's been so much interesting stuff on the site lately that it was hard to keep this short. A good way to catch up on things if you've been busy.
This is hilarious but can we just marvel for a moment at the camera work here. There's panning and zooming and the reindeer stayed bang in the middle of the frame the entire time. Respect.
Square has changed its name to Block. In a few years, they can go up another dimension with Tesseract.
How Gollum's performance was created for the LOTR movies. "That the end result is so believable, so deeply felt and human, is miraculous given the complicated, piecemeal nature of its construction."
One of Virgil Abloh's final projects was this delightfully odd off-road Maybach coupe for Mercedes. via @mossandfog1
The US finally has a plan for providing cheap, at-home rapid tests for Covid (yay!) and it involves people finding & buying their own tests and then getting reimbursed via their health insurance (whaaat a fucking joke).
It will be nearly impossible to shift people's thinking at this point, but the Covid vaccine is really a 3-dose series, not 2 shots + booster. 3 shots = fully vaccinated.
How to make your own Die Hard Christmas tree ornament of John McClane crawling through an air duct.
An analysis of the most frequently used emoji in 2021. "Tears of Joy accounts for over 5% of all emoji use."
An AI generates photos of rock-hard abs using phrases like "killer abs to die for in 30 days".
If you want me, I'll just be playing around with this web demo of Townscaper for a few hours.
Here's Why Movie Dialogue Has Gotten More Difficult To Understand (And Three Ways To Fix It).
Click for a new alien landscape. via @waxy
A man shoplifting ~$200-950 in goods from Walgreens got much more media coverage than Walgreens stealing $12 million in wages from their employees. Shoplifting is mostly a moral panic but corporate wage theft is an actual problem.
In the Western US, forests are being replaced by brush and dense grasses. Wildfires are burning the trees down and warming temperatures driven by climate change are preventing new trees from growing.
Man Just 3 More Failed Goals Away From Becoming Crypto Guy.
The majority-conservative Supreme Court is open to overturning Roe v. Wade (either in part or as a whole). "Should Roe be overturned, at least 20 states will immediately or in short order make almost all abortions unlawful." Fuck. This.
TIL that the number of people born in Antarctica (11) is fewer than the number of people who have walked on the Moon (12).
Ibram X. Kendi: One of the basic mantras of white-supremacist ideology is that anti-racist = anti-white. "White supremacists are mobilizing against an anti-white army that isn't mobilizing, that isn't coming, that isn't there."
This is an absolutely fascinating interview with Microsoft Excel influencer Kat Norton, who blew up on TikTok & Instagram and is now making hundreds of thousands of dollars a month selling software training courses.
November 2021 Archives »