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The Death of Rice

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 23, 2020

Oh god, I needed this video in my life this morning. Watch as Uncle Roger (a character created by comedian Nigel Ng) hilariously critiques a BBC Food video about how to cook fried rice. Spoiler alert: the cook drains the rice in a colander and then rinses it with water. Oh, and no MSG.

If you sad in life, use MSG. If you happy in life, use MSG. Put MSG in everything, it’ll turn it better. You just get a baby? Put MSG on baby, it’ll be better baby, smarter.

On Instagram, Uncle Roger shared how to cook rice properly.

Uncle Roger have many white friend tell me they use saucepan. Saucepan? Haiyaaa. World War II is over, use technology. Proper Asian use rice cooker.

(via @jennyyangtv <— this thread is an entertaining read as well)

Update: Uncle Roger meets up with the woman who cooked the egg fried rice in the BBC video:

How to Read a Scientific Paper

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 03, 2020

With the Covid-19 pandemic and the reams of research scientists are producing in trying to understand it, many people are reading scientific research papers for the first time. Long-time science writer Carl Zimmer, who estimates he’s read tens of thousands of them in his career, provides some useful guidance in how to read them.

When you read through a scientific paper, it’s important to maintain a healthy skepticism. The ongoing flood of papers that have yet to be peer-reviewed — known as preprints — includes a lot of weak research and misleading claims. Some are withdrawn by the authors. Many will never make it into a journal. But some of them are earning sensational headlines before burning out in obscurity.

In April, for example, a team of Stanford researchers published a preprint in which they asserted that the fatality rate of Covid-19 was far lower than other experts estimated. When Andrew Gelman, a Columbia University statistician, read their preprint, he was so angry he publicly demanded an apology.

“We wasted time and effort discussing this paper whose main selling point was some numbers that were essentially the product of a statistical error,” he wrote on his blog.

Developing research-reading skills can also be helpful for activists attempting to drive change using data about policing & racism in America. (Just be aware that recent scientific studies have shown the limitations of facts in changing human minds.)

Dad, How Do I…?

posted by Jason Kottke   May 20, 2020

When he was a kid, Rob Kenney had a rough family life and grew up without stable parents around to teach him how to do common household chores. He and his wife successfully raised two children and Kenney decided to use his parenting experience to help those who may be lacking parental guidance. He’s started a YouTube channel called “Dad, how do I?” that offers “practical ‘dadvice’ for every day tasks” like how to fix a running toilet, how to check the oil in your car, and how to shave your face.

My god, the dad joke he tells at the beginning of the running toilet video is just *chef’s kiss* perfect.

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.

Build Your Own Magically Floating Lego Tensegrity Sculpture

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 23, 2020

Ok, take a look at this short video of a Lego structure. Whaaaaat kind of sorcery is this?!

The top part of the structure appears to be floating, held aloft by plastic chains seemingly incapable of supporting the load. This is an example of a tensegrity sculpture, in which tension (and not compression) is used to carry weight.

If you want to build your own, the instructions and parts list are available and you can watch this tutorial as well:

(via colossal)

Boots & Cats: A World Champ Explains the 13 Levels of Beatboxing Complexity

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 06, 2020

This is fantastic: former beatboxing world champion Butterscotch explains the 13 levels of complexity involved in beatboxing, from the simple “bass drum” to how to breathe while beatboxing to singing to emulating real instruments.

Expert beatboxers go so fast that it’s amazing to see someone with Butterscotch’s skill level break this down — like watching a water balloon bursting in slow motion. Her short explanation & demonstration of “breathing within the beat” bleeeewww my tiny little mind. Also, she is soooo good — what a treat to watch.

See also Robert Lang on the 11 Levels of Complexity of Origami, Tony Hawk on the 21 Levels of Complexity of Skateboard Tricks, and A Demonstration of 16 Levels of Piano Playing Complexity.

Update: Phil Guillory is a speech-language pathologist and he wrote up a technical analysis of Butterscotch’s explanation of beatboxing. It is gloriously nerdy and I love it.

Humming adds a really interesting layer to this. The act of humming itself is a natural nasal sound. The soft palate, or velum, is relaxed, allowing airflow into the nasal passages. Humming requires glottic closure in order to vibrate vocal folds, and those vibrations resonate up the oropharynx and, because the lips are closed, the air then has to travel into the nasopharynx to be released. When Butterscotch adds percussive beats on top of the hum, if there truly is nasal airflow, that would mean that her velum isn’t fully contacting the pharyngeal wall, and there would be a combination of nasal and pharyngeal air flow. Obviously, a video like this won’t allow us to visualize, so we’ll have to make a couple of assumptions here: a combination of oral and nasal airflow would (1) reduce the loudness of the beats while (2) also reducing the loudness of the hum itself. This is because air would be traveling in two directions, so there would be less pressure for both, and thus, less loudness and resonance. Given that the hum sounds pretty consistent, I think it’s safe to guess that Butterscotch is able to relax her velum to allow for nasal airflow voluntarily, which is indeed a very challenging thing to do given that velar movement is largely automatic. Super cool.

How to Shop Safely in a Pandemic

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 26, 2020

Note: Please check the updates below for some important corrections to some of the information in this video.

From Dr. Jeffrey VanWingen MD, a video on how to ensure that your grocery shopping experience is as safe as possible and to avoid potential COVID-19 infection from plastic and metal surfaces. I’m going to be honest with you: a lot of this seems like overkill (as it should — see the Paradox of Preparation). However, this is also pretty much what I’ve been doing after grocery shopping for the past 2 weeks because I am a fastidious motherfucker1 with plenty of time to wipe down groceries. If it comes down to a choice between watching 7 more minutes of The Mandalorian or wiping down my groceries before putting them in the fridge, I’m gonna wipe them groceries. Baby Yoda can wait.

See also this PDF from Crumpton Group about how to keep your household free of the outside effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Household members should understand that their principal effort should be directed towards isolating the inside of the home from the pandemic effects outside. All physical thresholds of the home will serve as a cordon sanitaire. Strive to decontaminate everyone and everything to the best practical degree before entering.

Many of Dr. VanWingen’s recommendations mirror those in the PDF. See also expert guidance on COVID-19 and food safety. (thx, meg)

Update: I have not had a chance to read it yet (was attending to some other things this evening — family, trying to have some normalcy), but I’ve been told that this thread is a good response to the video above. I’ll have a closer look at it tomorrow.

Update: Ok, I’ve read Don Schaffner’s thread criticizing this video. At least I think this is the video he’s referring to because he never says it outright — which I’ll get to in a minute. (Schaffner is a professor in the food science department at Rutgers who I linked to the other day in my post on COVID-19 and food safety.) As he notes, there are a couple of factual errors and VanWingen does offer some dubious advice, particularly about washing food with soap (which I didn’t take seriously). I do not believe, however, that VanWingen was suggesting that people leave frozen items and perishables in a warm garage for 3 days and that the normal rules of food safety are somehow countermanded by potential coronavirus contamination. If you want to leave that box of Cheerios that you don’t need in the car for 3 days, go right ahead. He definitely should have been clearer on that point though.

But the bulk of VanWingen’s video was about how to handle your groceries and takeout food coming into your house to minimize the chance of infection. (And as I mentioned, much of it mirrors the advice in this document and in Dr. Michael Lin’s document from a couple of weeks ago — this isn’t just his opinon or my opinion.) If we are to take seriously a) the assumption that anyone could have COVID-19 (including yourself & grocery workers) that we are operating under w/r/t to handwashing & keeping a 6-foot distance, b) the preliminary results that suggest that SARS-CoV-2 can last on some surfaces for days, and c) that person-to-surface-to-person transfer of SARS-CoV-2 might result in infection (i.e. the reason we are doing all this handwashing and face not-touching), then we should be disinfecting surfaces that other people have been touching recently. Right? We should assume that all surfaces are contaminated. This doesn’t seem outlandish, especially when grocery stores are restocking shelves continuously — that bag of chips that you put into your cart may have been placed on the shelf only 30 minutes before. How is disinfecting your Oreos package when you get home from the store a bad idea? Sure, wash your hands before you eat, but if you have kids, you know how futile that can be sometimes, especially when Oreos are involved. So why not just clean the package? Ditto with transferring takeout food to new containers and giving it a blast in the microwave to warm it up.

Schaffner’s stance is that most surfaces aren’t contaminated to a high degree, which is undoubtably true. Having watched the video & read Schaffner’s advice (and other advice by other experts), where your personal comfort level with making sure the surfaces you and your family come into contact to are disinfected is up to you. Ultimately, advice from experts is still advice and you have to figure out whether it works for you. It’s easy to believe you should wash your hands frequently because that’s universal advice. But “you should disinfect surfaces you touch” and “you don’t have to worry too much about disinfecting your grocery packages” are genuinely conflicting bits of advice from well-meaning experts! You’ve gotta use your noggin and make up your own mind, based on your personal idea of risk and safety. It’s gonna land differently with different people.

Finally, I’m going to get a little cranky here, but I found Schaffner’s overall tone in the first few tweets of that thread mocking, ungenerous, and unhelpful. Instead of gently offering alternative authoritative advice, he subtweeted (by refusing to link to the video and calling Dr. VanWingen not by his name but referring to him as “the video MD”) and made fun of VanWingen’s outfit. I know it must be frustrating to see what you perceive as misinformation out there, but we do not need Doctor vs Doctor battles here. Everyone’s just going to get defensive and dig their heels in. </cranky>

Update: From Joseph Allen of Harvard’s School of Public Health, Don’t panic about shopping, getting delivery or accepting packages.

Yes, the virus can be detected on some surfaces for up to a day, but the reality is that the levels drop off quickly. For example, the article shows that the virus’s half-life on stainless steel and plastic was 5.6 hours and 6.8 hours, respectively. (Half-life is how long it takes the viral concentration to decrease by half, then half of that half, and so on until it’s gone.)

And here’s how to take reasonable precautions when getting a package delivery or going to the grocery store:

You can leave that cardboard package at your door for a few hours - or bring it inside and leave it right inside your door, then wash your hands again. If you’re still concerned there was any virus on the package, you could wipe down the exterior with a disinfectant, or open it outdoors and put the packaging in the recycling can. (Then wash your hands again.)

What about going to the grocery store? The same approach applies.

Shop when you need to (keeping six feet from other customers) and load items into your cart or basket. Keep your hands away from your face while shopping, and wash them as soon as you’re home. Put away your groceries, and then wash your hands again. If you wait even a few hours before using anything you just purchased, most of the virus that was on any package will be significantly reduced. If you need to use something immediately, and want to take extra precautions, wipe the package down with a disinfectant. Last, wash all fruits and vegetables as you normally would.

Important caveat: the coronavirus half-life times are for room temperature. For colder temperatures (like in the fridge or especially the freezer), the virus will last longer. So maybe wipe down that bag of frozen peas even if you’re not going to use them for a couple of days.

  1. Hey, if you don’t know what you should be doing in a certain situation w/r/t to coronavirus, just ask your most detail-oriented friend. You know, the one who shows up to things on time and is usually a fussy pain in your ass. They’ll have a plan all ready to go and will be happy to share it with you because they’ve been waiting YEARS for some shit like this to happen. NOW IS OUR TIME TO SHINE!

How to Wash Your Hands Properly

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 13, 2020

Most humans have been washing their hands since childhood, but I bet very few of us have been doing it correctly. Because of the effectiveness of hand-washing with soap in preventing the spread of COVID-19, the CDC and the WHO (and health professionals everywhere) both make it their top recommendation and provide guidance on how to do it properly: CDC hand-washing instructions, WHO hand-washing instructions.

Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Be sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.

Here’s a video from the WHO on proper hand-washing technique (and a similar one from Johns Hopkins that has subtitles):

And a graphic from the WHO:

Wash Hands Instructions

And if you’re getting sick of singing Happy Birthday while washing your hands, a site called Wash Your Lyrics can help you make a hand-washing infographic with your favorite song’s lyrics.

Recipe for Making Your Own Hand Sanitizer

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 12, 2020

Many stores have long since sold out of hand sanitizer in the US and washing your hands is a better move anyway, but if you’d like to have some sanitizer on hand for when you can’t get to a sink, the World Health Organization has you covered. The WHO recipe is for making 10-liter batchs, so Popular Science helpfully scaled it down to a more reasonable size:

1 cup 99% isopropyl alcohol
1 tablespoon 3% hydrogen peroxide
1 teaspoon 98% glycerin/glycerol
1/4 cup, 1 tablespoon, and 1 teaspoon sterile distilled or boiled cold water

To the alcohol, add the hydrogen peroxide & glycerin and stir or shake if you’re mixing in a container with a lid. Then add the water.

For COVID-19 prevention, the CDC recommends a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol; this recipe will end up being about 75% alcohol. The Popular Science piece also includes another recipe for a hand sanitizing gel that’s much closer to store-bought gels that involves mixing isopropyl alcohol, aloe vera gel, and tea tree oil. They also note that vodka does not contain enough alcohol to meet the CDC’s recommendation, especially when mixed with the other ingredients.

How to Make Aleppo Soap Using Traditional Methods

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 24, 2020

Since 1945, Syrian company Pearl Soap has been using traditional centuries-old methods of making “Aleppo soap” from olive oil and laurel oil. Here’s how they do it (I love the contraption they use to cut the soap):

After cutting, the soap is stacked and aged:

The cubes of soap are then stacked in staggered cylinders to allow maximum air exposure. Once they have dried sufficiently, they are put into a special subterranean chamber to be aged for one year.

You can’t buy Pearl’s soap directly from their website and I couldn’t find it anywhere else, but Aleppo soap from other makers is widely available on Amazon and Etsy. (via huit denim)

Russian Multiplication: A Different Way to Multiply

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 24, 2020

I’ve loved math since I was a kid. One of the big reasons for this is that there’s always more than one way to solve a particular problem and in discovering those solutions, you learn something about mathematics and the nature of numbers.1

In this video, math fan Johnny Ball shows us a different method of multiplication. In Russian multiplication (also called Ethiopian multiplication and related to ancient Egyptian multiplication), you can multiply any two numbers together through simple addition and doubling & halving numbers. The technique works by converting the numbers to binary and turning it into an addition problem.

I loved learning about this so much that I scribbled an explanation out on a napkin at brunch yesterday to show a friend how it worked. We’re friends because she was just as excited as I was about it. (via the kid should see this)

  1. I’ve probably told this story here before, but for an assignment in a quantum mechanics class in college, we had to derive an equation using two different techniques. After much struggle at the whiteboard on a Saturday morning, a friend and I got the results of these two approaches to converge on the same answer and it felt like we had unlocked a deep secret to the universe.

How to Make a Kurzgesagt Video (in Just 1200 Hours)

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 19, 2020

In this video, Kurzgesagt shares their process of making their unique brand of explainer video.

They estimate it takes about 1200 hours of time for each video. I love Kurzgesagt’s videos and am happy to support them on Patreon.

Map of Areas Most Often Missing During Handwashing

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 17, 2020

With news of more than 70,000 confirmed cases and 1700 deaths from the COVID-19 virus, the importance of handwashing is once again front and center. Using data from a 1978 study on the hygiene of health professionals, this is a map of the most missed areas when washing hands.

Hand Washing Map

This more recent paper contains a short review of various studies of missed areas, most of which conclude that people often forget to wash their fingertips:

In 2008, the WHO designed a handwashing leaflet, making reference to Taylor, who indicated that the fingertips, interdigital areas, thumbs, and wrists are the most commonly missed areas in handwashing. Pan et al. also found that the tips of the nails and the fingertips had the largest amount of residual florescent stains left after handwashing among healthcare workers in Taiwan. The commonly missed areas among medical students in the study conducted by Vanyolos et al. was the first metacarpal, the proximal part of the palm (lateral), the distal phalanges, and the nail beds. In healthcare workers in Škodová et al.’s study, the thumbs and fingertips were the most commonly missed areas. In this study, the most frequently missed area was also the fingertips. However, the medial aspect and back of the hand were the second and third most missed areas, respectively. Moreover, the interdigital area and the front and back of the fingers were the least missed areas, which is in contrast to Taylor’s study.

So wash those fingertips! Here’s the CDC-recommended guide to washing your hands properly.

  1. Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.
  2. Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
  4. Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
  5. Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.

See also this TED Talk on how to properly dry your hands with a paper towel. (via a map a day)

Advice from Medieval Monks on Avoiding Digital Distraction

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 10, 2020

For Aeon, historian Jamie Kreiner writes about what advice medieval monks might have for us on avoiding the distractions of our phones, social media, and Netflix.

Medieval monks had a terrible time concentrating. And concentration was their lifelong work! Their tech was obviously different from ours. But their anxiety about distraction was not. They complained about being overloaded with information, and about how, even once you finally settled on something to read, it was easy to get bored and turn to something else. They were frustrated by their desire to stare out of the window, or to constantly check on the time (in their case, with the Sun as their clock), or to think about food or sex when they were supposed to be thinking about God. They even worried about getting distracted in their dreams.

John Cassian, an influential figure in early Christian monasticism, wrote about how to fortify yourself against these sorts of distractions.

Some of these strategies were tough. Renunciation, for instance. Monks and nuns were supposed to give up the things that most people loved — families, properties, businesses, day-to-day drama — not only to erode their sense of individual entitlement but also to ensure that they wouldn’t be preoccupied by that stuff in their professional lives of prayer. When the mind wanders, the monastic theorists observed, it usually veers off into recent events. Cut back your commitments to serious stuff, and you’ll have fewer thoughts competing for your attention.

Restraint had to work on a physiological level, too. There were many theories in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages about the connection between the mind and body. Most Christians agreed that the body was a needy creature whose bottomless appetite for food, sex and comfort held back the mind from what mattered most. That didn’t mean that the body must be rejected, only that it needed tough love. For all monks and nuns, since the very start of monasticism in the 4th century, this meant a moderate diet and no sex. Many of them also added regular manual labour to the regimen. They found it easier to concentrate when their bodies were moving, whether they were baking or farming or weaving.

Abstract Photographs of the Colorful Insides of Golf Balls

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 16, 2020

James Friedman Golf Balls

James Friedman Golf Balls

James Friedman Golf Balls

James Friedman is primarily a documentary and street photographer, but for his Interior Design project, he went abstract and captured the insides of golf balls.

For some viewers, my photographs from this series, titled Interior Design, allude to celestial bodies and the sublime. For me, their serendipitous structural exquisiteness and their subtle and passionate arrays of colors have inspired new exploration in my photography; I am particularly delighted to see the diminutive golf balls transformed into 36” x 36” prints.

Incidentally, I do not play golf.

Here’s a 1966 British Pathé film about how golf balls are made (compare w/ a more modern process):

See also Friedman’s short account (w/ photos) about photographing Andy Warhol at a 1978 art opening. (via dense discovery)

An Introvert’s Guide to Cancelling Plans (Without Losing Your Friends)

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 20, 2019

Olga Khazan writes about How to Flake Gracefully:

I am the queen of cancellation.”Heyyyyy guyyyyyyyssss-” begins a typical email from me backing out of plans, yet again. (The Ys multiply the guiltier I feel, and the more recently I’ve no-showed.) A book thing came up, and it has to be done by Monday, so I can’t use that non-transferable ticket you got me after all. Or I’m sick, again. But actually sick this time — not pretending to be sick so I can run errands without making anyone mad. To make time to copyedit something, I canceled on a work party of my boyfriend’s, then canceled on my own work party for good measure. I’ve started feebly sending this same boyfriend to social engagements in my stead, like a sad foreign minister from Flake Nation.

Part of the secret is not to overbook yourself in the first place. I’m a long-time practitioner of this technique — I say a straightforward no to lots of things, and if I say yes to something, I almost never cancel. And lately I’ve been saying yes more often, because as Khazan writes, getting out and doing stuff, even if it’s potentially uncomfortable and maybe not even your cup of tea, is part of caring for yourself. Human souls are not meant to be left on shelves; they need to run and play with others in the real world. Still though, as an introvert, I have to admit that nothing feels better than when someone cancels plans with me. The pure luxury of unanticipated JOMO knows no equal.

Primitive Technology, the Book!

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 03, 2019

We haven’t checked in on the Primitive Technology guy in awhile and — whoa, he has umasked himself! After more than four years of anonymity, the man building all of the tools, huts, weapons, and other Stone Age technologies in the wilds of Australia has revealed himself as John Plant. And in this video compilation from October, he announces that he has a book out: Primitive Technology: A Survivalist’s Guide to Building Tools, Shelters, and More in the Wild. Looks like a step-by-step guide to building all the things in his videos, accompanied by illustrations and photos:

Primitive Technology Book

Primitive Technology Book

This is an instant purchase for me, if only to support what he’s been doing for the past 4+ years. Plant says:

This video compilation, as well as the book, outlines all the skills and achievements I’ve attained in this time period using research, hard work and trial and error. Writing this book is something I wanted to do even before making videos and launching this channel. I wanted to offer something tangible that benefited those who had the same keen interest in primitive technology as I do. With that, I thank each and every one of you for your continued support throughout the years, and I really hope you enjoy the book.

And for good measure, here’s his latest video from a few days ago, which shows him building a kiln for firing bricks:

(via the kid should see this)

Robert Lang on the 11 Levels of Complexity of Origami

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 29, 2019

In this video for Wired, physicist and origami master Robert J. Lang demonstrates the 11 increasingly complex levels of origami. How all the legs and antennae and other small features are designed at the more complex levels is fascinating.

See also Susan Orlean’s 2007 piece about Lang in the New Yorker and Lang’s TED Talk on the mathematics of origami.

How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 25, 2019

The Grist has compiled a list of articles written by Coby Beck “containing responses to the most common skeptical arguments on global warming”. Here are some snippets from a few of the articles.

The temperature record is unreliable:

There is actually some truth to the part about the difficulties; scientists have overcome many of them in turning the hundreds of thousands of measurements taken in many different ways and over a span of more than a dozen decades into a single globally averaged trend.

But this is the nature of science — no one said it was easy. It’s taken the scientific community a long time to finally come out and say that what we have been observing for 100 years is in fact exactly what it looks like. All other possible explanations (for example, the Urban Heat Island effect) have been investigated, the data has been examined and re-examined, reviewed and re-reviewed, and the conclusion has become unassailable.

Global warming has been going on for the last 20,000 years:

If you have look at this graph of temperature, starting at a point when we were finishing the climb out of deep glaciation, you can clearly see that rapid warming ceased around 10,000 years ago (rapid relative to natural fluctuations, but not compared to the warming today, which is an order of magnitude faster). After a final little lift 8,000 years ago, temperature trended downward for the entire period of the Holocene. So the post-industrial revolution warming is the reversal of a many-thousand-year trend.

It’s the sun, stupid:

There has been work done reconstructing the solar irradiance record over the last century, before satellites were available. According to the Max Planck Institute, where this work is being done, there has been no increase in solar irradiance since around 1940.

It’s cold today in Wagga Wagga:

The chaotic nature of weather means that no conclusion about climate can ever be drawn from a single data point, hot or cold. The temperature of one place at one time is just weather, and says nothing about climate, much less climate change, much less global climate change.

Go forth and spread the truth as you travel to dine at various holidays tables around the country. (P.S. I first posted a link to this series in 2006. That it’s almost more necessary now than it was then is beyond depressing.)

How to Buy Drugs

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 12, 2019

The London Review of Books is not normally where one turns for advice on how to cop, but Misha Glenny (author of DarkMarket: How Hackers Became the New Mafia and Callum Lang recently wrote a piece for them called How to Buy Drugs that summarizes how the the customer-facing segment of the global drug market presently functions, with a special emphasis on distribution via the dark web. The improvement in customer service driven by dark web markets is fascinating:

The internet has dramatically improved the experience of drug buyers. The market share of a dark web outlet depends almost entirely on its online reputation. Just as on Amazon or eBay, customer reviews will describe the quality of purchased products as well as reporting on shipping time and the responsiveness of vendors to queries or complaints. If drugs that a buyer has paid for don’t turn up — as once happened to Liam, the Manchester student — a savvy vendor will reship the items without asking for further payment, in the hope of securing the five-star customer reviews they depend on.

As a consequence, the drugs available to the informed buyer are of a higher quality than ever before. They are also safer. The administrators of DNStars.vip — a site on the open web which you don’t need Tor to visit — pose as ordinary users in order to buy samples of popular drugs from major vendors. They then have the drugs chemically tested to see whether they match the seller’s description.

The dark web demonstrates the promise and peril of technology (and capitalism tbh) in a nutshell: lower prices & better quality goods for some (or even many) people but all sorts of hidden nastiness behind the scenes doing real and often unacknowledged harm to society.

How To Talk To Kids About Climate Change

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 28, 2019

NPR’s Anya Kamenetz shares six tips on how to talk to your kids about the climate crisis. Step 1 is to break the silence:

He says, despite the fact that the climate crisis literally affects everyone on earth, too many of us are sitting alone with our worries, our faces lit by our phone screens in the middle of the night. “We seem to be more scared of upsetting the conversation than we are scared about climate change.”

Mary DeMocker, an activist and artist in Eugene, Ore., is the author of The Parents’ Guide To Climate Revolution, a book focusing on simple actions families can take both personally and collectively. “The emotional aspect is actually, I think, one of the biggest aspects of climate work right now,” she says.

Asked what feelings parents tell her they are grappling with, she ticks off guilt, distraction, confusion. And the big one: fear.

See also 8 Ways To Teach Climate Change In Almost Any Classroom.

How Flu Vaccines Are Made

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 10, 2019

Ten years ago, in the midst of the 2009 swine flu pandemic, I wrote about the manufacturing process for the H1N1 flu vaccine. It involves billions of chicken eggs.

The most striking feature of the H1N1 flu vaccine manufacturing process is the 1,200,000,000 chicken eggs required to make the 3 billion doses of vaccine that may be required worldwide. There are entire chicken farms in the US and around the world dedicated to producing eggs for the purpose of incubating influenza viruses for use in vaccines. No wonder it takes six months from start to finish.

The post holds up pretty well because, according to the CDC, this is still the way most flu vaccines in America are manufactured. Here’s a look at pharmaceutical company GSK’s egg-based process:

Two other techniques for making flu vaccines were approved for use in the US in 2012 and 2013 respectively, cell-based flu vaccines:

‘Cell-based’ refers to how the flu vaccine is made. Most inactivated influenza vaccines are produced by growing influenza viruses in eggs. The influenza viruses used in the cell-based vaccine are grown in cultured cells of mammalian origin instead of in hens’ eggs.

A cell-based flu vaccine was developed as an alternative to the egg-based manufacturing process. Cell culture technology is potentially more flexible than the traditional technology, which relies upon adequate supply of eggs. In addition, the cell-based flu vaccine that uses cell-based candidate vaccine viruses (CVVs) has the potential to offer better protection than traditional, egg-based flu vaccines as a result of being more similar to flu viruses in circulation.

And recombinant flu vaccines:

NIAID and its industry partners have made progress in moving from both the egg-based and cell-based flu vaccine production methods toward recombinant DNA manufacturing for flu vaccines. This method does not require an egg-grown vaccine virus and does not use chicken eggs at all in the production process. Instead, manufacturers isolate a certain protein from a naturally occurring (“wild type”) recommended flu vaccine virus. These proteins are then combined with portions of another virus that grows well in insect cells. The resulting “recombinant” vaccine virus is then mixed with insect cells and allowed to replicate. The flu surface protein called hemagglutinin is then harvested from these cells and purified.

Both of these new techniques make production quicker, thereby resulting in more effective vaccines because they are more likely to match the strains of whatever’s “going around”.

As a reminder, you should get a flu shot every year in the fall. The CDC recommends that “everyone 6 months of age and older should get a flu vaccine every season with rare exception”, especially those “who are at high risk of serious complications from influenza”. Flu vaccines are covered by your health insurance without copay (thanks, Obama!) and are often available at drug stores without an appointment or a long wait. So go get one!

Advice from Cormac McCarthy on Writing Great Science Papers

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 30, 2019

Since the 1990s, Pulitzer prizewinning novelist Cormac McCarthy has been a fixture at the Santa Fe Institute, a transdisciplinary research institute in New Mexico. During that time, he’s helped edit scientific papers for many faculty and postdocs. A pair of biologists, Van Savage & Pamela Yeh, recently condensed McCarthy’s scientific writing advice into an article for Nature.

Use minimalism to achieve clarity. While you are writing, ask yourself: is it possible to preserve my original message without that punctuation mark, that word, that sentence, that paragraph or that section? Remove extra words or commas whenever you can.

Inject questions and less-formal language to break up tone and maintain a friendly feeling. Colloquial expressions can be good for this, but they shouldn’t be too narrowly tied to a region. Similarly, use a personal tone because it can help to engage a reader. Impersonal, passive text doesn’t fool anyone into thinking you’re being objective: “Earth is the centre of this Solar System” isn’t any more objective or factual than “We are at the centre of our Solar System.”

Finally, try to write the best version of your paper: the one that you like. You can’t please an anonymous reader, but you should be able to please yourself. Your paper — you hope — is for posterity. Remember how you first read the papers that inspired you while you enjoy the process of writing your own.

Most of this is good advice for the writing in general.

Tony Hawk on the 21 Levels of Complexity of Skateboard Tricks

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 26, 2019

Legendary skater Tony Hawk breaks down 21 increasingly complex skateboarding tricks, from a standard ollie to a kickflip to a McTwist to a 1080 to a couple of tricks that have never been done. As someone who has always been in awe of what skaters can do but hasn’t logged much on-board time myself, I learned a lot from this.

See also a beginning skater learning how to do a kickflip in under 6 hours.

How Pencils Are Made

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 18, 2019

Even on my busiest day, I will drop everything to watch a video of pencils being made. (I am a particular sucker for sharpening pencils by belt sander.) Blame Mister Rogers and Sesame Street probably, even though they focused on crayons. Here’s a look at how Faber-Castell makes their pencils.

For a more comprehensive and less slickly produced look at how pencils are made, check out this tour of the Derwent Pencil Factory, which opened a new, more efficient facility a few years back but is still located quite near where the first graphite pencil was invented.

A detail that jumped out at me from this video is that Derwent pencils are tested for color and consistency against a group of over 1000 standard pencils, some of which date back to 1937 and are nothing more than tiny nubs now.

In going back through the archive, I realized that pencils are a bit of a thing on the site. And so, a new tag is born: check out all the kottke.org posts about pencils. (thx, jamie)

How to Mail a Package (From Space)

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 04, 2019

Randall Munroe’s new book, How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems, just came out and Wired has a lengthy excerpt: How to Mail a Package (From Space).

How to Mail a Package (From Space)

Getting an object down to Earth from the International Space Station is easy: you can just toss it out the door and wait. Eventually, it will fall to Earth.

There’s a very small amount of atmosphere at the ISS’s altitude. It’s not much, but it’s enough to produce a tiny but measurable amount of drag. This drag sooner or later causes objects to slow down, fall into a lower and lower orbit, and eventually hit the atmosphere and (usually) burn up. The ISS also feels this drag; it uses thrusters to compensate, periodically boosting itself up into a higher orbit to make up for lost altitude. If it didn’t, its orbit would gradually decay until it fell back to Earth.

This shipping method has two big problems: First, your package will burn up in the atmosphere before it ever reaches the ground. And second, if it does survive, you’ll have no way to know where it will land. To deliver your package, you’ll have to solve both these problems.

Fun fact: a piece of paper drifting down from orbit might move slowly enough not to burn up on reentry.

Mister Rogers Cuts a Record

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 23, 2019

From a 1972 episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Mister Rogers demonstrates how to make a record using a machine called a record cutter (also referred to as a “record lathe”). Says Rogers, apparently living his best life: “When I was a little boy, I thought the greatest thing in the world would be to be able to make records.” (via open culture)

Lovely and Relaxing Videos of Traditional Countryside Life in China

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 20, 2019

Li Ziqi is a woman who lives in Sichuan province in China with her grandmother, preparing food and making clothing from scratch without the use of modern technology (mostly). Her YouTube channel has more than 5.7 million subscribers. In this video, she makes a purple wool cloak for the winter:

Her practice of shooting the videos herself, her reliance on traditional techniques, and her editing style is strongly reminiscent of the Primitive Technology channel — her videos are meditative in the same way. I watched this video of her making jam this morning and was left both hungry and relaxed, an unusual combination:

(via @juririm)

The Return of Grumpy Cloud

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 20, 2019

Andy Bailey is a stop-motion animator at Laika who worked on Kubo and The Boxtrolls. In this video, he shares his process while making a 658-page flipbook called The Return of Grumpy Cloud that took him 35 work-days over three months to complete. The end result (skip ahead to ~14:25) is pretty impressive given the lo-fi medium. Bailey sells kits for making your own flipbooks, but the store was down for maintenance when I checked.

The Rock Skipping Robot

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 01, 2019

Mark Rober built a rock skipping robot and by adjusting a bunch of different parameters, he figured out the best way to skip rocks. And no, I completely did not get out a notepad and start jotting down notes while watching this video and there’s no way I’m heading out to one of my favorite rock skipping places tomorrow morning to try out some new techniques. Nope. Not gonna happen. (thx, tom)