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Full-Day Rotation of the Earth Around a Stationary Sky

posted by Jason Kottke   May 27, 2020

Last year I posted a pair of videos showing a sky-stabilized rotation of the Earth around the starry sky. Because the Earth is our vantage point, we’re not used to seeing this view and it’s pretty trippy.

Now Bartosz Wojczyński has created a video showing full-day rotation of the Earth with footage shot in Namibia. The rotation is sped up to take only 24 seconds and is repeated 60 times to simulate about 2 months of rotation. I find this very relaxing to watch, like I’m riding in a very slow clothes dryer.

See also The Entire Plane of the Milky Way Captured in a Single Photo.

The Earth Day 2020 Awards, Presented by Ze Frank

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 22, 2020

In partnership with PBS Nature, Ze Frank (narrating as the Earth) presents The Earth Day 2020 Awards to a deserving group of fascinating animals, including the decorator crab (Best Dressed) and the salmon (Best Travel Story). I am upset on behalf of the planet’s plants though. WHERE ARE THE PLANTS ZE? Did a dandelion bully you as a kid or something?

See also The Atlantic’s photo essay on the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.

The “Mile an Hour” Marathon

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 28, 2020

Over the course of 24 hours, Beau Miles ran around his mile-long block once every hour (plus a few more at the beginning) to complete a marathon in a day. But he also did a bunch of other stuff along the way: cooked dinner, made a table, fixed things, picked up trash, played Scrabble, got a bit of sleep, and made the short film above.

A different kind of marathon; running one lap an hour, for 24hrs, around my perfectly mile long block. The rest of the time I do as much as possible; making things, odd jobs, fixing stuff. It’s about running, doing, and thinking.

Prince and the Revolution Live Show from 1985 Will Be Shown on YouTube for a Limited Time

posted by Jason Kottke   May 13, 2020

As part of a benefit for Covid-19 relief, The Prince Estate will be broadcasting a classic concert by Prince & the Revolution from 1985’s Purple Rain tour on YouTube. The stream (embedded above) will begin on Thursday, May 14 at 8pm ET and will only be available through Sunday, May 17.

The concert was recorded in Syracuse, NY on March 30, 1985 and is considered a classic, a show that found Prince at the crest of his pop culture stardom. Laurie Gwen Shapiro recounted going to the show in college — a friend of hers camped out in the ticket line to get front row seats.

In the past decade it has been very difficult to find this legendary concert film in the United States that was later released in the 1991 as “Prince and the Revolution Live!” on VHS only. If you watch the film — and I swear this is true — I am the person the cameras flashes on first in a venue that holds 40,000 plus, and I am making a rather ridiculous orgiastic face for the ages. To understand how I was the beneficiary of such dumb luck, and the greatness of Prince’s performance, let’s go back to 1985 when the internet was yet to come.

The setlist includes many of his most popular songs — Let’s Go Crazy, When Doves Cry, 1999, Little Red Corvette — and the show ended with a 20-minute rendition of Purple Rain (10 minutes of which is a Prince guitar solo).

By the time they finished a towering 20 minute rendition of “Purple Rain,” featuring what is probably the best single guitar solo I’ve ever witnessed in the flesh, most of the crowd would have let Prince do anything with them that he wished. What Prince did to us, and for us, was the best gift of all.

The show is also available on DVD as part of this remastered edition of Purple Rain. The remastered audio from the concert will also be released to streaming services on Friday.

Update: The live album is now available on streaming music platforms: Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon, Pandora.

The Purple Rain closer clocks in at 19 minutes 26 seconds.

Update: Prince superfan Anil Dash wrote up some notes about this show.

Finally, we come to Prince’s scorching final guitar coda to “Let’s Go Crazy” where he brings out his entire palette of Guitar Face expressions, from playful smirk to full Mustachioed Telecaster Orgasm.

The Plan Is to Have No Plan

posted by Jason Kottke   May 05, 2020

This short description by Jay Rosen accurately describes the Trump administration’s plan for dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic.

The plan is to have no plan, to let daily deaths between one and three thousand become a normal thing, and then to create massive confusion about who is responsible — by telling the governors they’re in charge without doing what only the federal government can do, by fighting with the press when it shows up to be briefed, by fixing blame for the virus on China or some other foreign element, and by “flooding the zone with shit,” Steve Bannon’s phrase for overwhelming the system with disinformation, distraction, and denial, which boosts what economists call “search costs” for reliable intelligence.

Stated another way, the plan is to default on public problem solving, and then prevent the public from understanding the consequences of that default. To succeed this will require one of the biggest propaganda and freedom of information fights in U.S. history, the execution of which will, I think, consume the president’s re-election campaign.

While his actions often have complex effects, Trump has never been a complicated person. This “plan” fits with what we know about Trump’s personality & behavior, plays to his strengths by relying on reactions & tactics and not strategy, is consistent with Occam’s razor, allows his administration to continue pursuing his aggressive agenda (restricting immigration, strengthening big business, weakening public institutions, enriching himself, consolidating power, getting re-elected), and whips his base into a frenzy. As Dave Eggers put it in a satirical opinion piece for the NY Times:

Having no plan is the plan! Haven’t you been listening? Plans are for commies and the Danish. Here we do it fast and loose and dumb and wrong, and occasionally we have a man who manufactures pillows come to the White House to show the president encouraging texts. It all works! Eighteen months, 800,000 deaths, no plan, states bidding against states for medicine and equipment, you’re on your own, plans are lame.

There’s no galaxy brain here, only a twitchy muscle attached to a frayed nerve.

The Joy of Werner Herzog

posted by Jason Kottke   May 14, 2020

I missed this David Marchese interview of Werner Herzog back in March but was happy to run across it today — it is the perfect lunchtime read.

When you pulled Joaquin Phoenix from a car accident, did you know it was him? Yes, although he was upside down in this car, squished between airbags that had deployed and wildly trying to light a cigarette.

That could be an image from one of your films. I knew he must not light his cigarette, because there was gasoline dripping and he would have perished in a fireball. So I tried to be clearly commandeering to him and tell him not to. But I was worried that if you gave him a command, he would strike his lighter even harder. So I managed to snatch the cigarette lighter from his hand. Then it became completely clear that it was Joaquin. But I didn’t want to speak to him after. I saw he wanted to come over and thank me. I just drove off.

Herzog talking about his time making The Mandalorian:

What about baby Yoda? Did you think baby Yoda was cute? No, not cute. It was a phenomenal achievement of sculpting mechanically. When I saw this, it was so convincing, it was so unique. And then the producers talked about, Shouldn’t we have a fallback version with green screen and have it be completely digitally created? I said to them: It would be cowardly. You are the trailblazers. Show the world what you can do.

See also 24 Pieces of Life Advice from Werner Herzog, including “Take revenge if need be” and “Carry bolt cutters everywhere”.

Tonight’s Classic Radiohead Concert Is From 1994

posted by Jason Kottke   May 28, 2020

Since early April, Radiohead has been putting video of one classic concert a week up on YouTube (playlist here). Tonight’s show, which starts streaming at 5pm ET, is from a really interesting point in the band’s evolution. In May 1994, Radiohead had released only one album (Pablo Honey) and no one knew whether they were going to be anything more than a one-hit wonder. At the time, the group was in the midst of recording The Bends and the setlist contains several songs from that album, including Fake Plastic Trees, The Bends, My Iron Lungs, and Just.

The release of The Bends and the reception to it established Radiohead as a group to be taken seriously and set the stage for OK Computer launching them into the critical stratosphere. As Jonny Greenwood later recounted: “That’s when it started to feel like we made the right choice about being a band”. Really excited to watch this one.

The Rijksmuseum Has Released a 44.8 Gigapixel Image of Rembrandt’s The Night Watch

posted by Jason Kottke   May 12, 2020

Night Watch

One of Rembrandt van Rijn’s most iconic paintings The Night Watch is currently undergoing restoration at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. As part of the effort, the team took hundreds of photographs of the Dutch master’s painting and stitched them together into a massive 44.8 gigapixel image, which they have released online in a zoomable interface. The level of detail available here is incredible. Here’s the max zoom level on the right eye of the gentleman in the middle, the captain of the company that paid Rembrandt to do the painting:

Night Watch

Crazy right? You can see the brushstrokes better than if you were standing in front of the actual painting in the museum.

The Rijksmuseum’s imaging team led by datascientist Robert Erdmann made this photograph of The Night Watch from a total of 528 exposures. The 24 rows of 22 pictures were stitched together digitally with the aid of neural networks. The final image is made up of 44.8 gigapixels (44,804,687,500 pixels), and the distance between each pixel is 20 micrometres (0.02 mm). This enables the scientists to study the painting in detail remotely. The image will also be used to accurately track any future ageing processes taking place in the painting.

Ok, I told you a little fib just now. Actually, this is his eye at the true maximum zoom level:

Night Watch

Each pixel is 0.02mm across — and keep in mind that this painting is almost 12 feet high and more than 14 feet across. An astounding level of detail and a gigantic image.

Ava DuVernay’s When They See Us Available to Watch Online for Free

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 22, 2020

Netflix has put When They See Us, Ava DuVernay’s 4-episode mini-series about the Central Park Five, in front of their paywall for free viewing. Here’s the trailer:

The 2013 Ken Burns documentary The Central Park Five is available to watch on the PBS site and also on Amazon.

As previously noted, DuVernay’s 13th and Selma are also both available to watch online for free.

The 1850s Map that Made Modern Epidemiology

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 18, 2020

In 1854, Dr. John Snow produced a map of a London cholera outbreak which showed deaths from the disease concentrated around a water pump on Broad Street. The prevailing view at the time was that cholera spread through dirty air, but Snow hypothesized that it was actually spread through water and constructed this early medical data visualization to help prove it.

John Snow Cholera Map

Through a mix of personal interviews, clever detective work, and data analysis that included tables and a famous map, Snow managed to stop the outbreak and convince local public health officials, eventually, that cholera could be transmitted through water, not a miasma. Since his breakthrough study, the map has become an iconic piece of epidemiological history, as an illustration of keen detective work, analysis, and visual representation with a map that, even today, tells a story.

Aside from the cluster of deaths around the pump (which could be argued were the result of a miasma cloud and not contaminated water), stories of nearby people who didn’t get sick (brewers who drank the beer they produced rather than well water, people in buildings with their own wells) and far away people who died because they had drunk water from the well were also essential in proving his theory:

I was informed by this lady’s son that she had not been in the neighbourhood of Broad Street for many months. A cart went from broad Street to West End every day and it was the custom to take out a large bottle of the water from the pump in Broad Street, as she preferred it. The water was taken on Thursday 31st August., and she drank of it in the evening, and also on Friday. She was seized with cholera on the evening of the latter day, and died on Saturday

You can read more about John Snow and how his map changed science and medicine in Steven Johnson’s excellent Ghost Map.

Ella Fitzgerald Masterfully Butchers “Mack the Knife”

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 22, 2020

If you listen to more than 20 seconds of any song by Ella Fitzgerald, you can instinctively tell how amazing a singer she was. But taking a closer look reveals just how special. In this episode of NPR’s Jazz Night in America, they took a look at Fitzgerald’s 1960 performance of Mack the Knife (where she forgot half the words and improvised the rest) and her talent for referencing other songs while improvising, creating live “mix tapes” of popular songs using just her voice.

By 1960, Fitzgerald had become a global sensation. That February she gave an unforgettable performance in West Berlin for an audience of thousands. On the set list was “Mack The Knife,” a huge hit first made popular by Bobby Darin and Louis Armstrong. Fitzgerald sang the song flawlessly until about halfway through, when she forgot the lyrics. But she didn’t stumble — instead, she playfully freestyled her way to the end with nonsense syllables and improvised words — the singular jazz style called scatting. This unforgettable and Grammy Award-winning performance demonstrated her masterful grace under pressure.

You can listen to her Grammy-winning version of Mack the Knife on Spotify:

I love how confidently she sings “Oh, what’s the next chorus…” — Fitzgerald belts it out like those are the right lyrics. Her self-assurance sells it. (via the kid should see this)

Iran’s Qajar Dynasty, Modernized

posted by Jason Kottke   May 28, 2020

Qajar, Shadi Ghadirian

Qajar, Shadi Ghadirian

For her photo series Qajar, Iranian photographer Shadi Ghadirian styled her subjects and their backgrounds as they would have appeared in portraits taken during Iran’s Qajar Dynasty in the 19th century. But each subject is also posed with a contemporary object like a boombox, bicycle, soda can, or vacuum cleaner. Ghadirian says of her work: “My pictures became a mirror reflecting how I felt: we are stuck between tradition and modernity.”

Jim Henson Demonstrates How to Make Your Own Puppets

posted by Jason Kottke   May 01, 2020

In this charming video from 1969, right before Sesame Street premiered on PBS, Jim Henson spends about 15 minutes showing how to make simple puppets out of materials you might have handy at home: cardboard, plastic cups, fabric, wooden spoons, potatoes, etc. Joining him was the designer of the Muppets, Don Sahlin.

He is “the inventor” of the Muppet look, from a design point of view. As discussed in the book Jim Henson’s Designs and Doodles, many of the Muppets began as Henson’s rough sketches, which Sahlin then built and modified as needed… Sahlin was known to refer to himself as the “guardian of the essence” of the Muppets.

Henson’s Kermit-y voice is super soothing. What a great find by the indispensable Kid Should See This.

Social Distancing As Demonstrated in Wes Anderson Films

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 28, 2020

Characters in Wes Anderson’s films are often misfits, outcasts, or are estranged from one another for various reasons. That apartness is often depicted cinematically using physical distance between individuals onscreen, with the aesthetic side effect of using all of that gorgeous 1.85:1 or even 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Luis Azevedo made a short supercut of moments in Anderson’s movies where the characters are practicing good social distancing techniques.

Copy & Paste Your Surroundings into Photoshop with a Magical AR App

posted by Jason Kottke   May 07, 2020

Designer Cyril Diagne has developed a prototype of an augmented reality app that can copy objects from the real world and paste them into a Photoshop document. Here’s how it works: you point your phone at a book sitting on your desk, the software produces an image of just the book on your phone screen, you point the phone at your computer, and the book image gets pasted into the Photoshop document. It looks like straight-up magic (or at least like a scene from Minority Report or something):

Diagne wrote a thread on Twitter with more technical details. The code is available on Github if you’d like to give it a try. (via colossal)

Dr. Seuss Reimagined for the Pandemic

posted by Jason Kottke   May 19, 2020

Dr Seuss Covid

Dr Seuss Covid

Dr Seuss Covid

Dr Seuss Covid

Designer Jim Malloy has reimagined the books of Dr. Seuss for the coronavirus age by altering the titles & cover illustrations and changing the author to “Dr. Fauci”. You can check out the results on Instagram and in this Instagram Story. (via print)

Blade Runner - The Lost Cut

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 23, 2020

Of the various cuts of Blade Runner done over the years, Blade Runner - The Lost Cut is perhaps the oddest. Billed by creator Leon Chase as “a radical re-envisioning of Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi classic”, this cut boldly includes footage from other films like The French Connection, Star Wars, The Jerk, and The Blues Brothers. A few of the films whose footage was used, including the Coen brothers’ Fargo, were released well after Blade Runner came out.

Daring! But does this cut go too far? Or not too far enough?

Cities Are Meant to Stop Traffic

posted by Jason Kottke   May 15, 2020

I recently came across this quote from Kirkpatrick Sale’s 1980 book Human Scale and it succinctly relates a fundamental truth about the purpose of cities.

Cities are meant to stop traffic. That is their point. That is why they are there. That is why traders put outposts there, merchants put shops there, hoteliers erected inns there. That is why factories locate there, why warehouses, assembly plants and distribution centers are established there. That is why people settle and cultural institutions grow there. No one wants to operate in a place that people are just passing through; everyone wants to settle where people will stop, and rest, and look around, and talk, and buy, and share.

Cities, in short, should be an end, not a means. Rationally one wants to have traffic stop there, not go through, one wants movement within it to be slow, not fast.

Sale goes on to list four ways in which cities should think about slowing traffic down:

  1. Cities should not try to move people to facilities but provide facilities where the people are.
  2. Cities should be small enough so that inter-community trips, when necessary, could be managed either on foot, by bike, or with some simple subway or trolley system.
  3. Cities should attempt to slow down the flow of traffic, particularly with plenty of squares and plazas and parks, places where wheeled vehicles are forced to halt, endpoints that invite stopping and resting.
  4. Cities should try to bring home and workplace back together.

You can read the entire excerpt on Google Books. (via @grescoe)

Update: Some alert readers let me know that Kirkpatrick Sale is a left-wing secessionist, which has brought him and his various organizations into contact & cooperation with racist hate groups and white supremacist organizations. I’m not going to link to it, but he’s written some stuff recently about how the Confederacy and slavery weren’t so bad (with tired arguments like white slave owners treating their slaves well) for an organization dedicated to exploring the “Southern tradition”. The white Southern tradition, mind you — there are no black voices or faces represented on their site as far as I can tell. I will leave it as an exercise for the reader as to whether that changes how you feel about his views on how to fix cities.1 (thx, edward & @paulbeard)

  1. For me, it does. It’s fine to advocate for more bike transportation & workplaces close to home, but cities can accomplish that in a way that takes into account lower income communities (which in American cities are often made up of PoC and immigrants) or not. Everyone who lives in the West Village working close to their house and being able to walk to the store is fine — and perhaps if you’re Sale, you’d say “mission accomplished” — but if the restaurant busboys, teachers, shop clerks, dry cleaners, store owners, plumbers, firefighters, and all the other people that make that neighborhood actually function can’t afford to live anywhere close to the neighborhood and are still spending hours every day commuting on the subway to & from Queens, the Bronx, or Brooklyn, I would argue you really haven’t solved, or even begun to solve, the problem of moving home and workplace closer together.

The Top 50 Sports Documentaries

posted by Jason Kottke   May 20, 2020

On the occasion of ESPN’s hit documentary The Last Dance finishing up, Axios’ Kendall Baker shared his list of the top 50 sports documentaries of all time.

It’s unsurprising that Hoop Dreams comes out on top — I need to make some time to watch that again. OJ: Made in America comes in at #2 and is indeed excellent, one of the best things I’ve seen on TV in recent years. But is it actually a sports documentary? It’s about a guy who used to play sports… The Last Dance finishes in third place; I haven’t seen it yet1 but my guess is that’s too high, especially considering Jordan had a lot of control over the finished product.

Loved seeing some of my other favorites on there too: Senna, When We Were Kings, Pumping Iron, The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, Dogtown and Z-Boys, and Minding the Gap (which should have been way higher on the list). (via @mikeindustries)

  1. I don’t know if this is happening to you during all of this, but I have limited energy at the end of the day for any form of televisual entertainment that’s supposed to be “good”. So even though I was a massive Michael Jordan and Chicago Bulls fan in the 90s, I haven’t worked up the energy to tackle this yet. I guess part of me is also anxious about how invested I was in that story back then and what it might dredge up for me, feelings-wise.

Questlove is DJing Up a Storm During Quarantine

posted by Jason Kottke   May 15, 2020

Most nights since mid-March, The Roots’ Questlove has been doing lengthy DJ sets for fans, kind of like a series of distributed house parties. The shows range in length from 2.5 hours to more than 6 hours — most are in the 3-4 hour range. The past shows have been collected in this playlist. The most recent show, from Tuesday, celebrated the 70th birthday of Stevie Wonder:

He did a 3-hour set made up of audience requests:

And of course there were sets focused on particular artists and bands — the Beastie Boys, James Brown, and Prince:

From a Fast Company piece about how The Roots have adapted their approach to entertainment during the pandemic:

“My whole narrative is that I’m this musical griot or this musical expert with 170,000 pieces of vinyl that you can Google, but now that I’m thrown in the pool, I realized, yeah, I have 170,000 records, but at the end of the day, I know maybe 400.”

Questlove has digital access to about 30% of that massive collection and decided to get to know more of his songs in front of a live audience. It’s different when that audience is the internet, but Questlove gets it now. He can reach more people. He’s having fun with his selections, and his diverse and meticulous approach to music shows up in his nightly playlists.

“I challenged myself to do a dancehall set that didn’t require me to play ‘Murder She Wrote.’ I’m gonna try and do the salsa set that doesn’t require me to play like ‘Suavemente,’ all the Captain Obvious stuff,” he explains. “So, I mean just as a music lover and a musician, it’s challenging me to find exciting ways to present music.”

Teacher Tells Off Neil Armstrong for Faking the Moon Landing

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 18, 2020

In a letter recently published in a new book, A Reluctant Icon: Letters to Neil Armstrong, a teacher wrote a letter to the first human to set foot on the Moon accusing him of making the whole thing up.

Armstrong Letter Hoax

To which Armstrong replied:

Armstrong Letter Hoax

(via the excellent Letters of Note)

A Practical Guide to Covid-19 Risks and How to Avoid Them

posted by Jason Kottke   May 11, 2020

As some places in the United States and other countries are opening back up (some very prematurely), immunologist and biologist Dr. Erin Bromage has written a practical guide to the known Covid-19 risks and how to avoid them that’s based on recent scientific research. He begins:

It seems many people are breathing some relief, and I’m not sure why. An epidemic curve has a relatively predictable upslope and once the peak is reached, the back slope can also be predicted. We have robust data from the outbreaks in China and Italy, that shows the backside of the mortality curve declines slowly, with deaths persisting for months. Assuming we have just crested in deaths at 70k, it is possible that we lose another 70,000 people over the next 6 weeks as we come off that peak. That’s what’s going to happen with a lockdown.

As states reopen, and we give the virus more fuel, all bets are off. I understand the reasons for reopening the economy, but I’ve said before, if you don’t solve the biology, the economy won’t recover.

But since things are opening up anyway (whether epidemiologists like it or not), Bromage goes through a number of scenarios you might potentially find yourself in over the next few months and what the associated risks might be. His guiding principle is that infection is caused by exposure to the virus over time — increase the time or the exposure and your risk goes up. For example, public bathrooms might give you a ton of exposure to the virus over a relatively short period of time:

Bathrooms have a lot of high touch surfaces, door handles, faucets, stall doors. So fomite transfer risk in this environment can be high. We still do not know whether a person releases infectious material in feces or just fragmented virus, but we do know that toilet flushing does aerosolize many droplets. Treat public bathrooms with extra caution (surface and air), until we know more about the risk.

But being in the same room with another person simply breathing may not carry a large risk if you limit the time.

A single breath releases 50-5000 droplets. Most of these droplets are low velocity and fall to the ground quickly. There are even fewer droplets released through nose-breathing. Importantly, due to the lack of exhalation force with a breath, viral particles from the lower respiratory areas are not expelled.

But that time would drop sharply if the person is speaking:

Speaking increases the release of respiratory droplets about 10 fold; ~200 copies of virus per minute. Again, assuming every virus is inhaled, it would take ~5 minutes of speaking face-to-face to receive the required dose.

Again, this is all indoors. Being in enclosed spaces with other humans, particularly if they are poorly ventilated, is going to hold higher risks for the foreseeable future.

The reason to highlight these different outbreaks is to show you the commonality of outbreaks of COVID-19. All these infection events were indoors, with people closely-spaced, with lots of talking, singing, or yelling. The main sources for infection are home, workplace, public transport, social gatherings, and restaurants. This accounts for 90% of all transmission events. In contrast, outbreaks spread from shopping appear to be responsible for a small percentage of traced infections. (Ref)

Importantly, of the countries performing contact tracing properly, only a single outbreak has been reported from an outdoor environment (less than 0.3% of traced infections). (ref)

The Michael Pollan version of advice for socializing during the pandemic might be: Spend time with people, not too much, mostly masked and outdoors.

Postmastectomy Tattooing Helps Women with Breast Cancer Heal

posted by Jason Kottke   May 27, 2020

Postmastectomy Tattoos

Postmastectomy Tattoos

David Allen is a tattoo artist who does postmastectomy tattooing. He works with women who survive breast cancer to design and implement tattoos that cover scarring from mastectomies, transforming what might be seen as a destructive disfigurement into something creative and beautiful. Here’s Allen writing for The Journal of the American Medical Association (abstract):

I am a tattoo artist who works with women after they’ve had mastectomies to transform their sense of disfigurement and loss of control into feelings of beauty and agency. On a good day, I can heal with my art.

The women with breast cancer with whom I work share a feeling that they’ve been acted upon — by cancer, the health industrial complex and its agents, the sequelae of their treatments. Their physical and psychological points of reference are destabilized, having changed so quickly. A successful tattooing experience establishes a new point of reference, a marker that’s intimately theirs that replaces their sense of rupture and damage with an act of creation and, in my work, images of natural life.

Allen even does “solidarity tattoos” for his clients’ partners and friends. You can see more of his postmastectomy work on Instagram.

Nile Rodgers Tells the Story of the Iconic Riff on Bowie’s Let’s Dance

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 23, 2020

In this video from Fender, the legendary producer/composer/guitarist Nile Rodgers sits down with his iconic Stratocaster and talks about how he took a folky tune that David Bowie came up with and turned it into the jazzy backbone of the pop song Let’s Dance, arguably Bowie’s biggest hit. Listening to where the song started off before Rodgers started tweaking, it’s hard for this musical simpleton to recognize that it’s even the same tune.

Update: Rodgers told a variation of this story in 2015.

Map of Pangaea with Modern-Day Borders

posted by Jason Kottke   May 19, 2020

Pangaea Country Map

Pangaea is a supercontinent that formed on Earth about 335 million years ago and began to break up about 175 million years ago, eventually forming the familiar continents of today. Massimo Pietrobon made a map that shows where our modern country borders would appear on Pangaea. Check out the full-size version here.

See also Locate Modern Addresses on Earth 240 Million Years Ago. (via @owacle)

This Is What I Know About Art by Kimberly Drew

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 03, 2020

This Is What I Know about Art by Kimberly Drew

Author, curator, and activist Kimberly Drew has published This Is What I Know About Art, a book aimed at young adults about her experience studying art history in school and then working in the art world. In a piece for Teen Vogue, Drew outlined why she wrote the book.

For far too long, people across the globe have suffered due to the direct effects of colonialism, patriarchy, state violence, and so much more, but it is our art and creativity that have helped us to communicate our collective rage. Art has helped us build bridges intergenerational so that we do not feel alone — and so we can make sure that we do not forget our own history.

And from the introduction to the book:

I am not your typical art historian. I am not your typical activist. I am still learning what art and protest mean to me. And so, this book is more about my journey through art toward activism. This book is about discovery, confusion, and progress.

I love how she ties “discovery, confusion, and progress” together here — a powerfully messy combination for growth.

Pandemic Creativity: Edible Versions of Famous Artworks

posted by Jason Kottke   May 08, 2020

Claire Salvo Food Portraits

Claire Salvo Food Portraits

Claire Salvo Food Portraits

In yet another example of how the constraints of the pandemic are fostering creativity, LA-based artist Claire Salvo is creating edible versions of notable artworks and posting the results to Instagram. Says Salvo of her new pursuit:

i make art using a bunch of media, but one sleepless night a few weeks ago, i thought i’d try playing with food. these pieces make me laugh while i’m creating them, and i’m really enjoying the response from everyone watching the process. thanks for all the kind feedback.

i’ve spent nearly 30 years honing my drawing skills, and approximately 1 week pushing banana peels and lentils around a canvas. but i’m learning to #trusttheprocess because #art.

I think the Dali portrait is my favorite, closely followed by the Lichtenstein. And you know I love this: Girl with a Pea Earring.

See also Famous Art Recreated at Home During the Pandemic. (via jenni leder)

The Official Recipe for Ikea Meatballs

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 30, 2020

Ikea Meatballs Recipe

On Twitter the other day, Ikea UK shared the official recipe for their iconic meatballs and cream sauce,— in the form of Ikea instructions naturally. As a midwesterner of partial Swedish heritage, this sort of thing is right up my alley.

It’s kind of amazing that society has collectively decided to give up all its secrets and control in the face of the pandemic — museums putting their collections online, filmmakers streaming their movies for free, people indiscriminately sending each other nudes, bands putting live performances on YouTube for free, and now this Ikea meatballs thing. The world has turned upside down. (via why is this interesting?)

Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Go Back Into the Water…

posted by Jason Kottke   May 21, 2020

As summer ramps up in North America, people are looking to get out to enjoy the weather while also trying to keep safe from Covid-19 infection. Here in Vermont, I am very much looking forward to swim hole season and have been wondering if swimming is a safe activity during the pandemic. The Atlantic’s Olga Khazan wrote about the difficulty of opening pools back up this summer:

The coronavirus can’t remain infectious in pool water, multiple experts assured me, but people who come to pools do not stay in the water the entire time. They get out, sit under the sun, and, if they’re like my neighbors, form a circle and drink a few illicit White Claws. Social-distancing guidelines are quickly forgotten.

“If someone is swimming laps, that would be pretty safe as long as they’re not spitting water everywhere,” says Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at Columbia University. “But a Las Vegas-type pool party, that would be less safe, because people are just hanging out and breathing on each other.”

This story by Christopher Reynolds in the LA Times focuses more on transmission via water (pool water, salt water, river/lake water).

“There is no data that somebody got infected this way [with coronavirus],” said professor Karin B. Michels, chair of UCLA’s Department of Epidemiology, in a recent interview.

“I can’t say it’s absolutely 100% zero risk, but I can tell you that it would never cross my mind to get COVID-19 from a swimming pool or the ocean,” said Paula Cannon, a professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at USC’s Keck School of Medicine. “It’s just extraordinarily unlikely that this would happen.”

As long as you keep your distance of course:

Rather than worry about coronavirus in water, UCLA’s Michels and USC’s Cannon said, swimmers should stay well separated and take care before and after entering the pool, lake, river or sea.

“I would be more concerned about touching the same lockers or surfaces in the changing room or on the benches outside the pool. Those are higher risk than the water itself,” Michels said. “The other thing is you have to maintain distance. … More distance is always better.”

Sorta related but not really: ten meters is definitely more distance.

“The Coronavirus Was an Emergency Until Trump Found Out Who Was Dying”

posted by Jason Kottke   May 11, 2020

There are a lot of different lenses you can use to look at how the United States and its government have confronted the Covid-19 pandemic. Race is a particularly useful one. As a reminder, here’s America’s current operating racial contract (from an Atlantic piece by Adam Serwer):

The implied terms of the racial contract are visible everywhere for those willing to see them. A 12-year-old with a toy gun is a dangerous threat who must be met with lethal force; armed militias drawing beads on federal agents are heroes of liberty. Struggling white farmers in Iowa taking billions in federal assistance are hardworking Americans down on their luck; struggling single parents in cities using food stamps are welfare queens. Black Americans struggling in the cocaine epidemic are a “bio-underclass” created by a pathological culture; white Americans struggling with opioid addiction are a national tragedy. Poor European immigrants who flocked to an America with virtually no immigration restrictions came “the right way”; poor Central American immigrants evading a baroque and unforgiving system are gang members and terrorists.

Serwer goes on to argue that the recently shifting American response to the pandemic, primarily in conservative circles, is due to an increasing awareness of which groups are bearing the brunt of the crisis: black and Latino Americans.

That more and more Americans were dying was less important than who was dying.

The disease is now “infecting people who cannot afford to miss work or telecommute-grocery store employees, delivery drivers and construction workers,” The Washington Post reported. Air travel has largely shut down, and many of the new clusters are in nursing homes, jails and prisons, and factories tied to essential industries. Containing the outbreak was no longer a question of social responsibility, but of personal responsibility. From the White House podium, Surgeon General Jerome Adams told “communities of color” that “we need you to step up and help stop the spread.”

This is a response that America is quite comfortable with because it fits with our racial contract, under which Jim Crow never actually ended. The US isn’t the only place this is happening btw. Early on, Singapore was praised for its response to the pandemic, but their reliance on and mistreatment of an underclass of migrant workers caused a secondary surge in cases.

Singapore is a small city-state with a population of just under 6 million inhabitants. On a per capita basis, it’s the second-richest country in Asia.

But its economy relies heavily on young men from Bangladesh, India and other countries who work jobs in construction and manufacturing. Singapore has no minimum wage for foreign or domestic employees. The foreign workers’ salaries can be as low as US$250 per month, but a typical salary is $500 to $600 a month.

The Best Book Design of 2019

posted by Jason Kottke   May 19, 2020

The Best Book Design of 2019

The Best Book Design of 2019

The Best Book Design of 2019

The Best Book Design of 2019

The Best Book Design of 2019

The AIGA has announced the winners of its annual 50 Books / 50 Covers competition for books published in 2019. The competition recognizes excellence in both book design and book cover design — some of the winners placed in both categories. You’ll notice there are not a lot of books here that you’d find on the front table of the bookstore — the winners tend to be from smaller publishers and/or academic in nature and/or about art or design. For lists containing more mainstream books, check out the lists from the NY Times, Buzzfeed, and Lithub.

The books pictured above (from top to bottom) are Rusty Brown by Chris Ware, When Brooklyn Was Queer by Hugh Ryan, Love Drones by Noam Dorr, Signal. Image. Architecture. by John May, and False Bingo by Jac Jemc.

SARS-CoV-2, An Emerging Portrait

posted by Jason Kottke   May 06, 2020

From Nature’s David Cyranoski, a piece that takes a look at what the latest research says about SARS-CoV-2, where it came from, and how it is able to infect the human body. I’m going to highlight a few things from the article I thought were particularly interesting. As Cyranoski has done throughout, I’d like to stress that because this virus is so new to us and the situation is moving so quickly, many of these results are based on preliminary research, have been published in pre-print papers, and haven’t been peer-reviewed.

The first is about the detective work being done to trace where SARS-CoV-2 came from and how long it’s been in existence (possibly decades).

SARS-CoV-2 genetic origin

But studies released over the past few months, which have yet to be peer-reviewed, suggest that SARS-CoV-2 — or a very similar ancestor — has been hiding in some animal for decades. According to a paper posted online in March, the coronavirus lineage leading to SARS-CoV-2 split more than 140 years ago from the closely related one seen today in pangolins. Then, sometime in the past 40-70 years, the ancestors of SARS-CoV-2 separated from the bat version, which subsequently lost the effective receptor binding domain that was present in its ancestors (and remains in SARS-CoV-2). A study published on 21 April came up with very similar findings using a different dating method.

The section on how the virus acts in the body is particularly interesting because it attempts to explain the unusual and varying behaviors SARS-CoV-2 exhibits and causes in different parts of the human body. For example, SARS-CoV-2, unusually, can initially infect two places in the body: the throat and lungs.

Having these two infection points means that SARS-CoV-2 can mix the transmissibility of the common cold coronaviruses with the lethality of MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV. “It is an unfortunate and dangerous combination of this coronavirus strain,” he says.

The virus’s ability to infect and actively reproduce in the upper respiratory tract was something of a surprise, given that its close genetic relative, SARS-CoV, lacks that ability. Last month, Wendtner published results of experiments in which his team was able to culture virus from the throats of nine people with COVID-19, showing that the virus is actively reproducing and infectious there. That explains a crucial difference between the close relatives. SARS-CoV-2 can shed viral particles from the throat into saliva even before symptoms start, and these can then pass easily from person to person. SARS-CoV was much less effective at making that jump, passing only when symptoms were full-blown, making it easier to contain.

These differences have led to some confusion about the lethality of SARS-CoV-2. Some experts and media reports describe it as less deadly than SARS-CoV because it kills about 1% of the people it infects, whereas SARS-CoV killed at roughly ten times that rate. But Perlman says that’s the wrong way to look at it. SARS-CoV-2 is much better at infecting people, but many of the infections don’t progress to the lungs. “Once it gets down in the lungs, it’s probably just as deadly,” he says.

And this is a somewhat hopeful speculation on one of the many possible ways the Covid-19 pandemic could go:

“By far the most likely scenario is that the virus will continue to spread and infect most of the world population in a relatively short period of time,” says Stöhr, meaning one to two years. “Afterwards, the virus will continue to spread in the human population, likely forever.” Like the four generally mild human coronaviruses, SARS-CoV-2 would then circulate constantly and cause mainly mild upper respiratory tract infections, says Stöhr. For that reason, he adds, vaccines won’t be necessary.

Some previous studies support this argument. One showed that when people were inoculated with the common-cold coronavirus 229E, their antibody levels peaked two weeks later and were only slightly raised after a year. That did not prevent infections a year later, but subsequent infections led to few, if any, symptoms and a shorter period of viral shedding.

The OC43 coronavirus offers a model for where this pandemic might go. That virus also gives humans common colds, but genetic research from the University of Leuven in Belgium suggests that OC43 might have been a killer in the past.

But then, from a few paragraphs down:

People like to think that “the other coronaviruses were terrible and became mild”, says Perlman. “That’s an optimistic way to think about what’s going on now, but we don’t have evidence.”

For now, it’s just another thing we don’t know about this virus we learned about only 5 months ago. It’s a long road ahead, but I’m thankful that so many scientists are bent on making sense of it all.

The Incalculable Loss of Black Lives to Police Violence

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 09, 2020

Incalculable Loss

On Sunday May 24, the NY Times gave over their entire front page to listing the names of hundreds of victims of Covid-19 in the US. It was an iconic gesture that focused people’s attention on both the overall death toll and the stories & lives of the individual people who had been killed by the disease.

The Incalculable Loss Project has repurposed this design to honor some of the 7,000 Black Americans killed by police since 2000 and to ask why media outlets like the Times haven’t given “the same attention to this epidemic as they did Covid-19”. Each person’s name is accompanied by the name of the officer’s police department and the current status of the investigation into the killing (overwhelmingly “pending investigation”).

Incalculable Loss

Children’s Story Time with Michelle Obama and PBS Kids

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 21, 2020

For the next several Mondays, Michelle Obama will read a favorite children’s book in partnership with PBS Kids. The first reading (of The Gruffalo) is already in the can and archived on YouTube:

(via barry)

The Pandemic’s Epidemic of Loneliness

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 22, 2020

In The Price of Isolation for Rolling Stone, Alex Morris writes about how trends toward increasing social isolation in America left us ill-prepared to face weeks and months of time by ourselves during the pandemic. Studies have shown that humans in isolation are less healthy and less able to fight off disease than when other humans are around. This part in particular really really resonated with me:

Sometimes, though, the body can be tricked. When Cole and his colleagues started looking for ways to combat the physical effects of loneliness, they didn’t find that positive emotions made a difference at all. But one thing did: “It was something called eudaimonic well-being, which is a sense of purpose and meaning, a sense of a commitment to some kind of self-transcendent goal greater than your own immediate self-gratification. People who have a lot of connection to some life purpose? Their biology looked great.” Even when researchers compared lonely people with purpose to social butterflies without it, purpose came out on top. In other words, it’s possible when we’re doing things to better our society, the body assumes there’s a society there to better. We’re technically alone, but it doesn’t feel that way.

Which has profound implications in the moment in which we currently find ourselves, a moment when the physical isolation and disconnection the virus has inflicted is now layered over the clear divisions and systemic inequities that have always plagued our country. In the midst of our solitude, we’ve been confronted with the terrible knowledge that people of color are dying of the virus at the highest rates and that 40 percent of families making less than $40,000 a year have lost their livelihoods. We’ve been confronted with the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. We’ve been confronted with the lie that the virus is a great equalizer. We’ve witnessed the many ways it isn’t.

See also We’re All Lonely Together and An Epidemic of Middle-aged Male Loneliness.

Chris Ware’s NYC Still Life

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 27, 2020

Chris Ware's Still Life of NYC

For the cover of this week’s New Yorker, Chris Ware drew several vignettes of NYC arranged in his trademark grid as a companion to this incredible piece about a single day of the Covid-19 crisis in the city. About the cover, Ware wrote:

Teeming with unpredictable people and unimaginable places and unforeseeable moments, life there is measured not in hours but in densely packed minutes that can fill up a day with a year’s worth of life. Lately, however, closed up in our homes against a worldwide terror, time everywhere has seemed to slur, to become almost Groundhog Day-ish, forced into a sort of present-perfect tense — or, as my fellow New Yorker contributor Masha Gessen more precisely put it, ‘loopy, dotted, and sometimes perpendicular to itself.’ But disaster can also have a recalibrating quality. It reminds us that the real things of life (breakfast, grass, spouse) can, in normal times, become clotted over by anxieties and nonsense. We’re at low tide, but, as my wife, a biology teacher, said to me this morning, “For a while, we get to just step back and look.” And really, when you do, it is pretty marvellous.

How Iceland Beat Covid-19 (So Far)

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 10, 2020

One of the countries with the best response to Covid-19 has been Iceland. The country didn’t lockdown nor do many people wear masks, but they have virtually eliminated the virus through a vigorous program of test, trace, and isolate that was coordinated by public-health authorities. Iceland’s numbers were high in the beginning (the virus was carried into the country from people returning from vacation) but they acted quickly and aggressively — Elizabeth Kolbert has the story for the New Yorker.

Möller pulled up a series of graphs and charts on her laptop. These showed that, per capita, Iceland had had more COVID-19 cases than any other Scandinavian country, and more than even Italy or Britain. There was an outbreak in a nursing home in the town of Bolungarvík, in northwestern Iceland, and one in the Westman Islands, an archipelago off the southern coast, which seemed to have started at a handball game. (In Europe, handball is a team sport that’s sort of a cross between basketball and soccer.)

“The numbers in the beginning were terrible,” Möller said. She attributed the country’s success in bringing the caseload down in part to having got an early start. The “trio,” along with officials from Iceland’s university hospital, had begun meeting back in January. “We saw what was going on in China,” she recalled. “We saw the pictures of people lying dead in emergency departments, even on the street. So it was obvious that something terrible was happening. And, of course, we didn’t know if it would spread to other countries. But we didn’t dare take the chance. So we started preparing.” For example, it was discovered that the country didn’t have enough protective gear for its health-care workers, so hospital officials immediately set about buying more.

A Doctor Calls Patients to Tell Them Their Covid-19 Tests Were Positive

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 24, 2020

In early March, Dr. Caroline Schulman was responsible for calling patients at her hospital to tell them they had tested positive for Covid-19. She shared some of her experiences in a piece for Stat.

Erik lives with his entire family in a one-room rental house with eight other occupants. He didn’t understand the precautions for preventing the spread of Covid-19 and had regularly been socializing in the apartment. He kept asking how to file for unemployment and how to isolate the household when the house itself could barely hold those living in it.

Jeff lives alone. He has a chronic blood condition and is struggling to get by. A few hours before we talked, he had resumed his job as a ride share driver because he needed to make ends meet.

Angela is 40 years old and has one of the preexisting conditions that put people at high risk for serious complications of Covid-19. When we spoke, she told me that she was feeling better, but that her home life was difficult. Her children had returned home after Mayor Muriel Bowser issued a stay-at-home order for the District of Columbia. She asked her kids to take precautions, but they continued to leave the house often. One son brought home his girlfriend, who had a cough, and displaced Angela from her room. She was unable to make an appointment with her primary doctor and couldn’t afford her medical supplies because of insurance issues. When I spoke with her, she sounded well and had no classic symptoms, but something didn’t sound right. I arranged a televisit that afternoon to have her evaluated more closely. By the time she got the call two hours later, she was so short of breath she could barely speak. When an ambulance arrived to take her to the hospital, her oxygen levels were dangerously low.

Reading through these stories, I just kept thinking about the measures that are going to be necessary if we’re going to safely restart public life in America — hygiene, mask wearing, some social distancing, and eventually a vaccine — and how our collective safety is going to depend on individuals doing the right thing. And most people will. But it’s clear that, especially without coherent national leadership & economic support, some people will be unable to take the necessary precautions for economic reasons and others won’t because they don’t understand why these measures are necessary, don’t trust science, or a dozen other reasons.

Racism Is Death

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 12, 2020

In yesterday’s post about police abolition, I linked to a two-part podcast conversation between Chenjerai Kumanyika and Ruth Wilson Gilmore. I listened to the first part yesterday afternoon after posting and it was excellent, full of serious knowledge and deep context about a massive and complex American problem. But I wanted to focus here on something from the closing moments of the episode that I had never heard before: Gilmore’s definition of racism. Acknowledging that it’s a “mouthful”, she defined racism in her book Golden Gulag as “the state-sanctioned and/or extra-legal production and exploitation of group-differentiated vulnerability to premature death”.

I do not have the expertise or desire to wade into the often-contentious debate about what racism is or is not (see here for instance), but what I like about Gilmore’s take is how it explicitly includes the consequence of racism as an integral part of the definition. Racism is death — there’s a sense of moral urgency when you describe it like that, a clarity that’s absent if you’re just talking about a belief in the superiority of one race over another or even the systemic application or sanction of such prejudice.

Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in Three Minutes

posted by Jason Kottke   May 06, 2020

The Pacific Crest Trail runs 2650 miles from the border of Mexico to the border of Canada through California, Oregon, and Washington. Hiking the whole thing usually takes months, but this video by Mac of Halfway Anywhere compresses the entire experience down to just three minutes presented in 1-second snippets.

I was skeptical about this going in — I thought it was going to be like watching one of those impossible-to-follow “my life in one-second increments” videos — but the consistent presence of the path tied all the disparate moments into a cohesive journey. You can check out a much longer cut of the same journey and a similar edit of the Continental Divide Trail in four minutes.

The scenery in both of these videos are spectacular and remind me of my roadtrips from the past two years. (via @stewartbrand)

A Short History of Housing Segregation in America

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 09, 2020

In this video for NPR, Gene Demby summarizes the history of housing segregation in America and how it’s a factor for current differences in health (poorer), wealth (much less), education (underfunded), and policing (much more aggressive) for Black communities in US cities.

If you look at the way housing segregation works in America, you can see how things ended up this way. Once you see it, you won’t be able to unsee it.

When you’re talking about housing policy in America, Kimberly Jones’ Monopoly analogy starts to sound a lot less metaphorical and more literal: if Black people cannot buy houses or can only buy houses on certain streets, they will not be able to build wealth like others can.

For more on housing segregation, check out historian Richard Rothstein’s The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America. From a 2017 interview with Rothstein:

The federal government pursued two important policies in the mid-20th century that segregated metropolitan areas. One was the first civilian public housing program which frequently demolished integrated neighborhoods in order to create segregated public housing.

The second program that the federal government pursued was to subsidize the development of suburbs on a condition that they be only sold to white families and that the homes in those suburbs had deeds that prohibited resale to African-Americans. These two policies worked together to segregate metropolitan areas in ways that they otherwise would never have been segregated.

Rothstein talked about the book with Ta-Nehisi Coates during a conversation at Politics and Prose Bookstore.

Update: This is excellent: you can explore the maps created by the federal government’s Home Owners’ Loan Corporation at Mapping Inequality by the University of Richmond’s Digital Scholarship Lab.

These grades were a tool for redlining: making it difficult or impossible for people in certain areas to access mortgage financing and thus become homeowners. Redlining directed both public and private capital to native-born white families and away from African American and immigrant families. As homeownership was arguably the most significant means of intergenerational wealth building in the United States in the twentieth century, these redlining practices from eight decades ago had long-term effects in creating wealth inequalities that we still see today.

(via @masonadams)

Which Country Has the World’s Best Health Care?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 16, 2020

In a his book out today, Which Country Has the World’s Best Health Care?, oncologist & bioethicist Ezekiel Emanuel compares the outcomes of several countries’ health care systems.

The US spends more than any other nation, nearly $4 trillion, on healthcare. Yet, for all that expense, the US is not ranked #1 — not even close.

In Which Country Has the World’s Best Healthcare? Ezekiel Emanuel profiles 11 of the world’s healthcare systems in pursuit of the best or at least where excellence can be found. Using a unique comparative structure, the book allows healthcare professionals, patients, and policymakers alike to know which systems perform well, and why, and which face endemic problems. From Taiwan to Germany, Australia to Switzerland, the most inventive healthcare providers tackle a global set of challenges — in pursuit of the best healthcare in the world.

In his ranking of 11 countries profiled, China and the United States are, respectively, dead last and second-to-last in providing health care for their citizens. In the case of the United States at least, that failure is on display with our response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Inside the Epicenter of the Pandemic Baking Boom at King Arthur Flour

posted by Jason Kottke   May 20, 2020

King Arthur Flour

Marker’s David Freedman has a great look at how Vermont’s own King Arthur Flour has dealt with a massive increase in demand for their best-in-class flour and other challenges during the pandemic. The piece is a textbook example of what Tim Carmody calls the systemic sublime.

The company knew something weird was going on when they noticed a 600% sales jump almost overnight and started seeing different kinds of questions coming into their consumer call center.

So tricky and specific are some of the bread-baking questions that even though Ely is one of the bread specialists working the hotline, she sometimes puts callers on hold and yells over the cubicle walls to colleagues for second opinions.

But in early March, Ely noticed a change in the questions. Partly it was an increase in the sheer number of calls, a jump that seemed more sudden and pronounced than the normal mild pre-Easter build-up. But even stranger was how many of the callers seemed, well, clueless. How do you tell if bread is done? Do I really need yeast? And strangest of all: What can I use instead of flour?

In a matter of weeks, the employee-owned company transformed several aspects of their business and tripled their flour output in order to keep up with the demand.

As a first step to ramping up the flow of flour to consumers, King Arthur added one to two shifts at all its facilities and contracted with an additional fulfillment center. It shifted most of its long-distance product transportation from rail to trucks, which are more expensive per bag but add speed and flexibility. It stopped international sales to divert all incoming inventory to U.S. customers. To make shipping operations more efficient and get orders out the door faster, the company switched to all “ship-complete” shipping — that is, if one item in a multi-item order was temporarily out of stock, the entire order was held until the item was back in stock.

The company also managed to find a new partner that could mill and bag more flour. The wrinkle was that the partner was only set up to fill three-pound plastic bags, not King Arthur’s five- and 10-pound paper bags. So King Arthur quickly whipped up a new three-pound plastic bag and threw it up on the website as a new product. That move alone would add up to a half-million new units a month to the company’s shipments.

The company has also done right by their employee-owners:

Altogether, three-quarters of the company’s employees were sent home. In many cases, the work went with them, as was the case with the Baker’s Hotline, and with most managers. Many of those whose jobs couldn’t be performed at home were trained to help out with tasks that could. So far, not a single employee has been furloughed; everyone is being paid — including 12 employees who stay busy sewing masks for other employees.

They’ve helped out companies they supply as well:

While home baking was taking off, bakeries were being closed down, sharply reducing demand for the big bags of flour. (To help keep some of them afloat, the company has spent $30,000 so far during the pandemic paying some of its bakery customers around the country — including Empire Baking — to bake bread and donate it to local good causes. Its own bakers have been doing the same for essential workers and those in need in Norwich.)

And I love the photos that accompany the article by Stephanie Gonot — that must have been a fun & messy photoshoot to do at home. (via @robinsloan)

Last Person to Receive a Civil War Pension Dies

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 05, 2020

Irene Triplett died last week at the age of 90. She was the last person in America to collect a pension from the Civil War, $73.13 each month from the Department of Veterans Affairs right up until she passed away. Her father Mose Triplett was both a Confederate and US soldier (a North Carolinian, he defected from the Confederacy halfway through the war) and Irene was eligible to receive his pension after he died because of disability.

After Mary died in the 1920s, Mose married Elida Hall. He was 78. She was 27. Their 1924 marriage, according to the Journal, was rough. They lost three babies. Then Irene was born on Jan. 9, 1930, but had mental disabilities, according to the newspaper. She was 8 when her father died on July 18, 1938, at the age of 92. His headstone reads: “He was a Civil War soldier.”

This is a great example of the Great Span, the link across large periods of history by individual humans. But it’s also a reminder that, as William Faulkner wrote: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Until this week, US taxpayers were literally and directly paying for the Civil War, a conflict whose origins stretch back to the earliest days of the American colonies and continues today on the streets of our cities and towns. (thx, m)

Confessions of a Former Bastard Cop

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 10, 2020

Confessions of a Former Bastard Cop is an essay allegedly written by a former police officer with ten years of experience in “a major metropolitan area in California with a predominantly poor, non-white population”. In it, he attempts to explain the system under which cops are trained and operate, “not to excuse their behavior, but to explain it and to indict the structures that perpetuate it.” At the very least, this essay corroborates what activists have been saying about the police for decades.

I could write an entire book of the awful things I’ve done, seen done, and heard others bragging about doing. But, to me, the bigger question is “How did it get this way?”. While I was a police officer in a city 30 miles from where I lived, many of my fellow officers were from the community and treated their neighbors just as badly as I did. While every cop’s individual biases come into play, it’s the profession itself that is toxic, and it starts from day 1 of training.

Every police academy is different but all of them share certain features: taught by old cops, run like a paramilitary bootcamp, strong emphasis on protecting yourself more than anyone else. The majority of my time in the academy was spent doing aggressive physical training and watching video after video after video of police officers being murdered on duty.

I want to highlight this: nearly everyone coming into law enforcement is bombarded with dash cam footage of police officers being ambushed and killed. Over and over and over. Colorless VHS mortality plays, cops screaming for help over their radios, their bodies going limp as a pair of tail lights speed away into a grainy black horizon. In my case, with commentary from an old racist cop who used to brag about assaulting Black Panthers.

And this, uh, training doesn’t prepare officers for what their actual job ends up being:

And consider this: my job as a police officer required me to be a marriage counselor, a mental health crisis professional, a conflict negotiator, a social worker, a child advocate, a traffic safety expert, a sexual assault specialist, and, every once in awhile, a public safety officer authorized to use force, all after only a 1000 hours of training at a police academy. Does the person we send to catch a robber also need to be the person we send to interview a rape victim or document a fender bender? Should one profession be expected to do all that important community care (with very little training) all at the same time?

To put this another way: I made double the salary most social workers made to do a fraction of what they could do to mitigate the causes of crimes and desperation. I can count very few times my monopoly on state violence actually made our citizens safer, and even then, it’s hard to say better-funded social safety nets and dozens of other community care specialists wouldn’t have prevented a problem before it started.

Armed, indoctrinated (and dare I say, traumatized) cops do not make you safer; community mutual aid networks who can unite other people with the resources they need to stay fed, clothed, and housed make you safer. I really want to hammer this home: every cop in your neighborhood is damaged by their training, emboldened by their immunity, and they have a gun and the ability to take your life with near-impunity. This does not make you safer, even if you’re white.

His conclusion: “consider abolishing the police” and “creating a society focused on reconciliation and restorative justice instead of punishment, pain, and suffering — a system that sees people in crisis as humans, not monsters”.

As someone who did it for nearly a decade, I need you to understand that by and large, police protection is marginal, incidental. It’s an illusion created by decades of copaganda designed to fool you into thinking these brave men and women are holding back the barbarians at the gates.

For Some, the Effects of Covid-19 Last for Months

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 04, 2020

The Atlantic’s Ed Yong interviewed several people who, like thousands of others around the world, have been experiencing symptoms of Covid-19 for months now, indicating that the disease is chronic for some. Thousands Who Got COVID-19 in March Are Still Sick:

I interviewed nine of them for this story, all of whom share commonalities. Most have never been admitted to an ICU or gone on a ventilator, so their cases technically count as “mild.” But their lives have nonetheless been flattened by relentless and rolling waves of symptoms that make it hard to concentrate, exercise, or perform simple physical tasks. Most are young. Most were previously fit and healthy. “It is mild relative to dying in a hospital, but this virus has ruined my life,” LeClerc said. “Even reading a book is challenging and exhausting. What small joys other people are experiencing in lockdown-yoga, bread baking-are beyond the realms of possibility for me.”

One of those who has been sick for months is Paul Garner, a professor of infectious diseases:

It “has been like nothing else on Earth,” said Paul Garner, who has previously endured dengue fever and malaria, and is currently on day 77 of COVID-19. Garner, an infectious-diseases professor at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, leads a renowned organization that reviews scientific evidence on preventing and treating infections. He tested negative on day 63. He had waited to get a COVID-19 test partly to preserve them for health-care workers, and partly because, at one point, he thought he was going to die. “I knew I had the disease; it couldn’t have been anything else,” he told me. I asked him why he thought his symptoms had persisted. “I honestly don’t know,” he said. “I don’t understand what’s happening in my body.”

Garner wrote about his experience for BMJ.

The illness went on and on. The symptoms changed, it was like an advent calendar, every day there was a surprise, something new. A muggy head; acutely painful calf; upset stomach; tinnitus; pins and needles; aching all over; breathlessness; dizziness; arthritis in my hands; weird sensation in the skin with synthetic materials. Gentle exercise or walking made me worse — I would feel absolutely dreadful the next day. I started talking to others. I found a marathon runner who had tried 8 km in her second week, which caused her to collapse with rigors and sleep for 24 hours. I spoke to others experiencing weird symptoms, which were often discounted by those around them as anxiety, making them doubt themselves.

We still have no idea what the long-term effects of this disease are going to be. But it is definitely not the flu. And I remain unwilling to risk myself or my family getting it.

A Very Short Guide to Union Glacier Camp in Antarctica

posted by Jason Kottke   May 18, 2020

In this charming little film (that feels very Wes Andersonian), we get to visit the Union Glacier Camp in West Antarctica, see what life is like there, and meet the people who run it. The camp is situated next to a blue-ice runway (which makes the area accessible to large aircraft) and serves as the jumping-off point for many kinds of activities, projects, and expeditions.

Union Glacier Camp is the only facility of its kind in Antarctica. Our full-service private camp operates during the Antarctic summer (November through January) and is dismantled at the end of each season. Our camp not only provides accommodations to guests on guided experiences but also serves as a logistics hub, supporting private expeditions and National Antarctic Programs.

I love the grid of tents for guests.

We can house up to 70 guests in our dual occupancy Clam Tents. These double-walled sleeping tents are designed to withstand Antarctic conditions with a high-tech nylon covering and durable aluminum frame that opens up like a clam shell. They are also incredibly comfortable to live in with large doors and a tall interior that allows you to stand upright and move around easily (16 ft x 8 ft or 5 m x 2.4 m). Tents are naturally heated by the 24-hour sunlight up to 60^0-70^0F (15^0-21^0C) but also have a wooden floor underneath to provide insulation from the snow and solid footing. Each guest is provided with a cot, mattress, pillow, linens, towels, and wash basin.

Tourist trips to Union Glacier start at $26,000 for six days.

“New” Philip Glass Music, Rediscovered After 50 Years

posted by Jason Kottke   May 26, 2020

Philip Glass: Music In Eight Parts

In 1970, right in the middle of his minimalist period, Philip Glass composed a work called Music in Eight Parts. It was performed a few times and then lost to the sands of time.

It’s theorized that after Glass’s 1975 opera Einstein on the Beach landed the composer in a fair amount of debt, Glass was forced to sell a number of scores. In Glass’s archive, only fragmentary sketches of MUSIC IN EIGHT PARTS remained as evidence of the piece’s existence. Glass “never intended this early music to last” and yet these pieces have ended up being some of his most appreciated. MUSIC IN EIGHT PARTS is immediately recognizable as being of Glass’s minimalist musical language in full stride and it is played with absolute mastery by the specialists of this repertoire.

The manuscript was rediscovered in 2017 and plans were made to perform the work in a series of European concerts. The pandemic intervened, so several members of the Philip Glass Ensemble each recorded their parts at home and they’ve released a recording online (Spotify, Apple Music).

You can see some of the individual recordings in the middle part of this video:

The cover art is by Sol LeWitt, who used to send Glass random $1000 checks. See also a writeup of the music in the NY Times, listen to a snippet of an archival performance of the piece from the 70s, and the manuscript itself, which sold at auction in 2017 for $43,750.

Philip Glass: Music In Eight Parts score

Audio Deepfakes Result in Some Pretty Convincing Mashup Performances

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 30, 2020

Have you ever wanted to hear Jay Z rap the “To Be, Or Not To Be” soliloquy from Hamlet? You are in luck:

What about Bob Dylan singing Britney Spears’ “…Baby One More Time”? Here you go:

Bill Clinton reciting “Baby Got Back” by Sir Mix-A-Lot? Yep:

And I know you’re always wanted to hear six US Presidents rap NWA’s “Fuck Tha Police”. Voila:

This version with the backing track is even better. These audio deepfakes were created using AI:

The voices in this video were entirely computer-generated using a text-to-speech model trained on the speech patterns of Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan, John F. Kennedy, Franklin Roosevelt, Bill Clinton, and Donald Trump.

The program listens to a bunch of speech spoken by someone and then, in theory, you can provide any text you want and the virtual Obama or Jay Z can speak it. Some of these are more convincing than others — with a bit of manual tinkering, I bet you could clean these up enough to make them convincing.

Two of the videos featuring Jay Z’s synthesized voice were forced offline by a copyright claim from his record company but were reinstated. As Andy Baio notes, these deepfakes are legally interesting:

With these takedowns, Roc Nation is making two claims:

1. These videos are an infringing use of Jay-Z’s copyright.
2. The videos “unlawfully uses an AI to impersonate our client’s voice.”

But are either of these true? With a technology this new, we’re in untested legal waters.

The Vocal Synthesis audio clips were created by training a model with a large corpus of audio samples and text transcriptions. In this case, he fed Jay-Z songs and lyrics into Tacotron 2, a neural network architecture developed by Google.

It seems reasonable to assume that a model and audio generated from copyrighted audio recordings would be considered derivative works.

But is it copyright infringement? Like virtually everything in the world of copyright, it depends-on how it was used, and for what purpose.

Celebrity impressions by people are allowed, why not ones by machines? It’ll be interesting to see where this goes as the tech gets better.

Polling Indicates Americans Overwhelmingly Agree on Covid-19 Countermeasures

posted by Jason Kottke   May 12, 2020

Recent polling compiled by Randall Munroe indicates that Americans agree on what to do about the Covid-19 pandemic to a greater extent than they “feel positively about kittens” or even “enjoy apple pie”.

XKCD Coronavirus Polling

Here’s a list of his sources.

No Man Is an Island

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 23, 2020

From director Robert Bingaman, a video interpretation of a timely passage from John Donne’s Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, which was written by Donne in 1623 while recovering from a serious illness. The passage is from Meditation XVII and is paired in the video with images of businesses and public places emptied out by the pandemic.

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

White Noise, a Film About “the Seductive Power of Extremism”

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 12, 2020

The Atlantic is releasing their first feature-length documentary later this month.1 The film is called White Noise and it’s about the white nationalist movement in the US. Director Daniel Lombroso spent four years embedded in the “alt-right” movement to figure out how it works.

Progressives like to believe that racism is an opiate of the ignorant. But the alt-right’s leaders are educated and wealthy, groomed at some of America’s most prestigious institutions. The more time I spent documenting the movement, the more ubiquitous I realized it was. I bumped into one subject dancing in Bushwick with his Asian girlfriend, and another walking around DuPont Circle hitting a vape. Their racism is woven into the fabric of New York, Washington, D.C., and Paris, just as much as Birmingham, Alabama, or Little Rock, Arkansas.

During a visit to Richard Spencer’s apartment in Alexandria, Virginia, I began to understand how the alt-right works. Evan McLaren, a lawyer, wrote master plans on a whiteboard. A band of college kids poured whiskey for Spencer, adjusted his gold-framed Napoleon painting, and discussed the coming “Identitarian” revolution. Spencer offered a sense of historical purpose to his bored, middle-class followers. In his telling, they weren’t just “white Americans,” but descendants of the Greeks and Romans. “Myths are more powerful than rationality,” Spencer told me. “We make life worth living.”

White Noise is about the seductive power of extremism. Hatred feels good. But the fix is fleeting. As the film progresses, the subjects reveal the contradictions at the heart of their world. Southern advocates for traditional gender roles, but resents the misogyny and sexism of her peers. Cernovich warns that “diversity is code for white genocide,” but has an Iranian wife and biracial kids. Spencer swears he’ll lead the white-nationalist revolution — until it’s more comfortable for him to move home to live with his wealthy mother in Montana. For so many who feel lost or alone, these avatars of hate offer a promise: Follow us, and life will be better.

I mean, I’d roll my eyes if these assholes weren’t so effective and dangerous.

The film is premiering online at AFI on June 20. There doesn’t seem to be a trailer or any clips available (which seems odd) but I’ll update this post if one materializes.

  1. And probably last? The Atlantic laid off their entire video staff in mid-May, including the director and producer of this film.

Stolen: Unfinished Portraits of Black People Killed By Police Officers

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 08, 2020

Adrian Brandon’s Stolen is a series of portraits of Black people who have been killed by police officers. He colors each portrait in for as long as the person was alive: 1 minute of coloring for each year of their life. (From top to bottom: Breonna Taylor, Tamir Rice, and Michael Brown.)

Adrian Brandon Stolen

Adrian Brandon Stolen

Adrian Brandon Stolen

Tamir Rice was 12 when he was murdered, so I colored his portrait for 12 minutes. As a person of color, I know that my future can be stolen from me if I’m driving with a broken taillight, or playing my music too loud, or reaching for my phone at the wrong time. So for each of these portraits I played with the harsh relationship between time and death. I want the viewer to see how much empty space is left in these lives, stories that will never be told, space that can never be filled. This emptiness represents holes in their families and our community, who will be forever stuck with the question, “who were they becoming?”

Brandon is revisiting this series on Instagram with portraits of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others. Here’s a time lapse video of the creation of Taylor’s portrait.

Meander Maps for Imaginary Rivers

posted by Jason Kottke   May 18, 2020

Robert Hodgin Meander Maps

Robert Hodgin Meander Maps

Robert Hodgin Meander Maps

I have written previously about cartographer Harold Fisk’s wonderful meander maps of the Mississippi River produced for the Army Corps of Engineers. Borrowing the aesthetic of these maps, interactive artist & engineer Robert Hodgin wrote some software called Meander to generate meander maps for fictional rivers.

From an input curve, the terrain, land plots, side roads, highways, marsh land and mountain peaks are generated and prominent features are named. The map is then weathered and rendered in the style of old US Army Corp of Engineers maps from the 1930s and 40s.

You can check some of the generated maps out on Twitter or on Instagram, including some prototypes and animations (this one is my favorite). Hodgin has promised a full write-up of the project; I’ll link to it when he publishes it.

Coincidentally, while I was writing this post I got an email from a reader about an audiovisual installation called Meandering River that displayed “real-time visuals generated by an algorithm and music composed by an A.I.”

Synchronicity!

Update: Hodgin wrote about the Meander project on his website and included several more gorgeous examples of his output.

Palo Alto, a Previously Unreleased Thelonious Monk Live Album

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 22, 2020

A Thelonious Monk live album that was recorded in 1968 is set to be released for the first time on July 31, 2020. You can hear the first single from the album on YouTube, Spotify, or several other places. (The song is now unavailable — see the update below.)

The story behind the performance is a little nutty — a student hired Monk to play at his high school and many folks didn’t buy tickets until the jazz great actually pulled into the parking lot.

After the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968, racial tensions across the country rose. Palo Alto, a largely white college town in California, was not immune to the events of the day. Danny Scher, a rising junior at Palo Alto High School, had a dream to bring Thelonious Monk to Palo Alto to perform and help bring about racial unity in his community as well as raise funds for his school’s International Committee. After somehow securing Monk’s services to perform on Sunday, October 27, Scher initially had trouble selling tickets and convincing people that Monk was even going to show up. With many twists and turns along the way and several hundred people waiting in the school’s parking lot to await Monk’s arrival before purchasing tickets, the concert eventually happened and was a triumph in more ways that Monk or Scher could have imagined. This is a recording of that historic concert.

(via, who else?, @tedgioia)

Update: One of the high school’s custodians took charge of tuning Monk’s piano and recording the session. A crowdsourced effort is underway to identify and recognize his efforts.

Update: The album’s release has been “indefinitely delayed”.

“I received word that there was a dispute between the estate and Monk’s previous label,” Scher said during a phone conversation on Monday, July 27. So the release has been taken off of the schedule indefinitely “due to circumstances beyond the label’s control,” according to a statement by Impulse! Records. Co-producer Feldman was unable to provide any further information at this time.

The album’s first single has been scrubbed from all the streaming services as well.

Daniel Radcliffe Reads the First Chapter of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

posted by Jason Kottke   May 05, 2020

As part of the Wizarding World’s Harry Potter at Home initiative, they’re having an all-star cast read the first book in the series aloud on video. The first chapter was just released and it’s read by none other than Daniel Radcliffe himself. You can also listen on Spotify:

A new chapter with a different reader will be released each week — readers of future chapters include Stephen Fry, Dakota Fanning, and Eddie Redmayne.

Update: The next few chapters have been released: Noma Dumezweni’s chapter 2, Eddie Redmayne reads chapter 3, and Stephen Fry does chapter 4. The kids and I have been listening to this on Spotify in the car and we’re loving it. I liked Redmayne’s narration the best so far and Fry does an uncanny impression of Robbie Coltrane’s Hagrid voice.

If NYC Were 100 People…

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 15, 2020

Using census data (which she acknowledges can be imperfect in capturing the full range of people’s identities), data scientist/artist Mona Chalabi created a drawing of 100 people who are representative of NYC’s population for a NY Times opinion piece on inequality and coronavirus.

100 New Yorkers

Chalabi writes on Instagram:

When you think about who is most affected by Covid-19, you need to consider inequalities in housing, in access to healthcare, in wealth. And so much of that ends up consistently affecting people of color. You could think of it as overlapping circles in a Venn diagram. Or, you could look at these 100 people.

She’s selling prints of this on her website (pink background, black background), with all profits going towards a Covid-19 rent relief fund for families organized by The Conscious Kid.

See also If Only 100 People Lived on Earth…

The Country with the Best Covid-19 Response? Mongolia.

posted by Jason Kottke   May 26, 2020

Mongolia Covid-19 response

Several countries have had solid responses to the Covid-19 pandemic: Taiwan, South Korea, New Zealand, and Hong Kong. But Indi Samarajiva thinks we should be paying much more attention to Mongolia, a country of 3.17 million people where no one has died and no locally transmitted cases have been reported.1 Let’s have that again: 3.17 million people, 0 local cases, 0 deaths. How did they do it? They saw what was happening in Wuhan, coordinated with the WHO, and acted swiftly & decisively in January.

Imagine that you could go back in time to January 23rd with the horse race results and, I dunno, the new iPhone. People believe you. China has just shut down Hubei Province, the largest cordon sanitaire in human history. What would you scream to your leaders? What would you tell them to do?

You’d tell them that this was serious and that it’s coming for sure. You’d tell them to restrict the borders now, to socially distance now, and to get medical supplies ready, also now. You’d tell them to react right now, in January itself. That’s 20/20 hindsight.

That’s exactly what Mongolia did, and they don’t have a time machine. They just saw what was happening in Hubei, they coordinated with China and the WHO, and they got their shit together fast. That’s their secret, not the elevation. They just weren’t dumb.

When you go to World In Data’s Coronavirus Data Explorer and click on “Mongolia” to add their data to the graph, nothing happens because they have zero reported cases and zero deaths. They looked at the paradox of preparation — the idea that “when the best way to save lives is to prevent a disease rather than treat it, success often looks like an overreaction” — and said “sign us up for the overreacting!”

Throughout February, Mongolia was furiously getting ready - procuring face masks, test kits, and PPE; examining hospitals, food markets, and cleaning up the city. Still no reported cases. Still no let-up in readiness. No one was like “it’s not real!” or “burn the 5G towers!”

The country also suspended their New Year celebrations, which are a big deal in Asia. They deployed hundreds of people and restricted intercity travel to make sure, though the public seemed to broadly support the move.

Again — and I’ll keep saying this until March — there were still NO CASES. If you want to know how Mongolia ended up with no local cases, it’s because they reacted when there were no local cases. And they kept acting.

For example, when they heard of a case across the border (ie, not in Mongolia) South Gobi declared an emergency and put everyone in masks. The center also shut down coal exports — a huge economic hit, which they took proactively.

As you can see, at every turn they’re reacting like other countries only did when it was too late. This looked like an over-reaction, but in fact, Mongolia was always on time.

I have to tell you true: I got really upset reading this. Like crying and furious. The United States could have done this. Italy could have done this. Brazil could have done this. Sweden could have done this. England could have done this. Spain could have done this. Mongolia listened to the experts, acted quickly, and kept their people safe. Much of the rest of the world, especially the western world — the so-called first-world countries — failed to act quickly enough and hundreds of thousands of people have needlessly died and countless others have been left with chronic health issues, grief, and economic chaos.

  1. If you look at the list of cases at the bottom of this article (translated by Google), you can see that every reported case is from people coming into the country who were tested and quarantined.

A Microscopic Chemical Reaction Goes Supernova

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 24, 2020

This short film by Roman Hill shows a chemical reaction at microscopically close range, all filmed in a single shot over an area of a third of an inch square. The result looks like a tour of a vast colorful cosmos, a reminder of how similar the different scales of our universe can appear sometimes. (thx, cs)

The Changing Profile of Covid-19’s Presenting Symptoms

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 29, 2020

As Ed Yong notes in his helpful overview of the pandemic, this is such a huge and quickly moving event that it’s difficult to know what’s happening. Lately, I’ve been seeking information on Covid-19’s presenting symptoms after seeing a bunch of anecdotal data from various sources.

In the early days of the epidemic (January, February, and into March), people were told by the CDC and other public health officials to watch out for three specific symptoms: fever, a dry cough, and shortness of breath. In many areas, testing was restricted to people who exhibited only those symptoms. Slowly, as more data is gathered, the profile of the presenting symptoms has started to shift. From a New York magazine piece by David Wallace-Wells on Monday:

While the CDC does list fever as the top symptom of COVID-19, so confidently that for weeks patients were turned away from testing sites if they didn’t have an elevated temperature, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association, as many as 70 percent of patients sick enough to be admitted to New York State’s largest hospital system did not have a fever.

Over the past few months, Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital has been compiling and revising, in real time, treatment guidelines for COVID-19 which have become a trusted clearinghouse of best-practices information for doctors throughout the country. According to those guidelines, as few as 44 percent of coronavirus patients presented with a fever (though, in their meta-analysis, the uncertainty is quite high, with a range of 44 to 94 percent). Cough is more common, according to Brigham and Women’s, with between 68 percent and 83 percent of patients presenting with some cough — though that means as many as three in ten sick enough to be hospitalized won’t be coughing. As for shortness of breath, the Brigham and Women’s estimate runs as low as 11 percent. The high end is only 40 percent, which would still mean that more patients hospitalized for COVID-19 do not have shortness of breath than do. At the low end of that range, shortness of breath would be roughly as common among COVID-19 patients as confusion (9 percent), headache (8 to 14 percent), and nausea and diarrhea (3 to 17 percent).

Recently, as noted by the Washington Post, the CDC has changed their list of Covid-19 symptoms to watch out for. They now list two main symptoms (cough & shortness of breath) and several additional symptoms (fever, chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, new loss of taste or smell). They also note that “this list is not all inclusive”. Compare that with their list from mid-February.

In addition, there’s evidence that children might have different symptoms (including stomach issues or diarrhea), doctors are reporting seeing “COVID toes” on some patients, and you might want to look at earlier data from these three studies about symptoms observed in Wuhan and greater China.

The reason I’m interested in this shift in presenting symptoms is that on the last day or two of my trip to Asia, I got sick — and I’m been wondering if it was Covid-19.

Here’s the timeline: starting on Jan 21, I was in Saigon, Vietnam for two weeks, then in Singapore for 4 days, and then Doha, Qatar for 48 hours. The day I landed in Doha, Feb 9, I started to feel a little off, and definitely felt sick the next day. I had a sore throat, headache, and congestion (stuffy nose) for the first few days. There was also some fatigue/tiredness but I was jetlagged too so… All the symptoms were mild and it felt like a normal cold to me. Here’s how I wrote about it in my travelogue:

I got sick on the last day of the trip, which turned into a full-blown cold when I got home. I dutifully wore my mask on the plane and in telling friends & family about how I was feeling, I felt obliged to text “***NOT*** coronavirus, completely different symptoms!!”

I flew back to the US on Feb 11 (I wore a mask the entire time in the Doha airport, on the plane, and even in the Boston airport, which no one else was doing). I lost my sense of taste and smell for about 2 days, which was a little unnerving but has happened to me with past colds. At no point did I have even the tiniest bit of fever or shortness of breath. The illness did drag on though — I felt run-down for a few weeks and a very slight cough that developed about a week and a half after I got sick lingered for weeks.

According to guidance from the WHO, CDC, and public health officials at the time, none of my initial symptoms were a match for Covid-19. I thought about getting a test or going to the doctor, but in the US in mid-February, and especially in Vermont, there were no tests available for someone with a mild cold and no fever. But looking at the CDC’s current list of symptoms — which include headache, sore throat, and new loss of taste or smell — and considering that I’d been in Vietnam and Singapore when cases were reported in both places, it seems plausible to me that my illness could have been a mild case of Covid-19. Hopefully it wasn’t, but I’ll be getting an antibody test once they are (hopefully) more widely available, even though the results won’t be super reliable.

Update: More on the changing profile of Covid-19 symptoms from a sample size of more than 30,000 tests.

Covid-19 presenting symptoms

Fever is waaay down on the list.

While not as common as other symptoms, loss of smell was the most highly correlated with testing positive, as shown with odds ratios below, after adjusting for age and gender. Those with loss of smell were more likely to test positive for COVID-19 than those with a high fever.

Seeing this makes me think more than ever that I had it. I had three of the top five symptoms, plus an eventual cough (the most common symptom) and a loss of smell & taste (the most highly correlated symptom). The timing of the onset of my symptoms (my first day in Qatar) indicates that I probably got infected on my last day in Vietnam, in transit from Vietnam to Singapore (1 2-hr plane ride, 2 airports, 1 taxi, 1 train ride), or on my first day in Singapore. But I went to so many busy places during that time that it’s impossible to know where I might have gotten infected (or who I then went on to unwittingly infect).

Update: A few weeks ago, I noticed some horizontal lines on several of my toenails, a phenomenon I’d never seen before. When I finally googled it, I discovered they’re called Beau’s lines and they can show up when the body has been stressed by illness or disease. Hmm. From the Wikipedia page:

Some other reasons for these lines include trauma, coronary occlusion, hypocalcaemia, and skin disease. They may be a sign of systemic disease, or may also be caused by an illness of the body, as well as drugs used in chemotherapy, or malnutrition. Beau’s lines can also be seen one to two months after the onset of fever in children with Kawasaki disease.

From the Mayo Clinic:

Conditions associated with Beau’s lines include uncontrolled diabetes and peripheral vascular disease, as well as illnesses associated with a high fever, such as scarlet fever, measles, mumps and pneumonia.

From the estimated growth of my nails, it seems as though whatever disruption that caused the Beau’s lines happened 5-6 months ago, which lines up with my early February illness that I believe was Covid-19. Covid-19 can definitely affect the vascular systems of infected persons. Kawasaki disease is a vascular disease and a similar syndrome in children resulting from SARS-CoV-2 exposure is currently under investigation. And here’s a paper from December 1971 that tracked the development of Beau’s lines in several people who were ill during the 1968 flu pandemic (an H3N2 strain of the influenza A virus) — coronaviruses and influenza viruses are different but this is still an indicator that viruses can result in Beau’s lines. “Covid toe” has been observed in many Covid-19 patients. Harvard dermatologist and epidemiologist Dr. Esther Freeman reports that people may be experiencing hair loss due to Covid-19.

I couldn’t find any scientific literature about the possible correlation of Covid-19 and Beau’s lines, but I did find some suggestive anecdotal information. I found several people on Twitter who noticed lines in their nails (both fingers and toes) and who also have confirmed or suspected cases of Covid-19. And if you go to Google’s search bar and type “Beau’s lines c”, 3 of the 10 autocomplete suggestions are related to Covid-19, which indicates that people are searching for it (but not enough to register on Google Trends).

But I am definitely intrigued. Are dermatologists and podiatrists seeing Beau’s lines on patients who have previously tested positive for Covid-19? Have people who have tested positive noticed them? Email me at jason@kottke.org if you have any info about this; I’d love to get to the bottom of this.