Joined September 2020

Not so long ago, at the start of 2007, the world’s population lived with a vivid technological divide. Half had a mobile phone: three billion people. Not quite a quarter used the internet. The phones were for talking. The internet required a computer. Wheelers and dealers—lawyers, agents, politicos—had BlackBerrys for emails, which they pecked on Lilliputian keyboards. But otherwise being online was a physically static condition. One surfed sitting still. The internet of the 2000s was an indoor child, happiest on the couch or behind a desk.

Read More

This month marks the 200th anniversary of Charles Baudelaire’s birth, the French poet famous for his descriptions of the flâneur: a man of the crowd, who thrived in the metropolis’ multitude. Following Baudelaire through 19th-century Paris, Matthew Beaumont discovers a parallel archetype — the convalescent hero of modernity — who emerges from the sickbed into city streets with a feverish curiosity.

In October of 1973, Bruce Severy — a 26-year-old English teacher at Drake High School, North Dakota — decided to use Kurt Vonnegut‘s novel, Slaughterhouse-Five, as a teaching aid in his classroom. The next month, on November 7th, the head of the school board, Charles McCarthy, demanded that all 32 copies be burned in the school’s furnace as a result of its “obscene language.” Other books soon met with the same fate. On the 16th of November, Kurt Vonnegut sent McCarthy the following letter. He didn’t receive a reply.

Read More

Shortly after 335 B.C., within a newly built library tucked just east of Athens’ limestone city walls, a free-thinking Greek polymath by the name of Aristotle gathered up an armful of old theater scripts. As he pored over their delicate papyrus in the amber flicker of a sesame lamp, he was struck by a revolutionary idea: What if literature was an invention for making us happier and healthier? The idea made intuitive sense; when people felt bored, or unhappy, or at a loss for meaning, they frequently turned to plays or poetry. And afterwards, they often reported feeling better. But what could be the secret to literature’s feel-better power? What hidden nuts-and-bolts conveyed its psychological benefits?

Read More

In the video game Howling Dogs, released in 2012, players wake up in a prison with few options: a shower, a nutrient dispenser, a garbage chute, and a recreation room with a virtual reality headset. For the first few clicks, all you can do is navigate the prison: getting your nutrient bar, cleaning up, examining a photograph by your bed. Then you put on the headset, and you’re thrown into a world of strange, vivid imagery. You live out a strange snapshot life before being thrown back to the same tiny room. You click through the same motions again and again, each time visiting a different world, as sparklingly strange as the prison is dull.

Read More

Every year, a new growth layer is added to the narwhal’s spiraled tusk. The individual layers act as an archive of data that reveals what and where the animal has eaten, providing a glimpse of how the ice and environmental conditions have changed over its long life span (up to 50 years).

Same as rings in a tree trunk, every year a new growth layer is added to the narwhal’s tusk, which grows longer and thicker throughout the animal’s life. Because the tusk is connected to the rest of body through blood, each new growth layer records aspects of animal physiology during the year it was formed.

An international team of researchers has now studied each individual growth layer of the tusks from ten narwhals from North-West Greenland. They specifically analyzed mercury and stable isotopes of carbon and nitrogen to give information on what the whales have eaten in each year of their life and how the ice cover and the impact of potentially toxic compounds such as mercury have changed over time.

Read More

For the first time, physicists have captured an enigmatic state of matter on video.

Using a scanning transmission X-ray microscope, the research team has recorded the oscillations of a time crystal made out of magnons at room temperature. This, they said, is a significant breakthrough in the study of time crystals.

DUTCH NOVELIST CONNIE PALMEN’S 2015 novel Jij zegt het, available now in a superb English translation by Eileen J. Stevens and Anna Asbury titled Your Story, My Story, tells Sylvia Plath’s story from the point of view of Ted Hughes. Palmen drew on Hughes’s 1998 collection of poems Birthday Letters to compose his side of the tumultuous relationship. While one of the aims of the novel is to portray Ted in a more sympathetic light, Palmen still depicts his extramarital affairs and violent tendencies. Yet its main goal is to undo his villainous reputation, to question the blame he has often been assigned for his wife’s suicide.

Palmen’s novel in translation has been released at approximately the same time as Heather Clark’s new biography, Red Comet: The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath (2020). Clark details the minutiae of Plath’s life, including when she took her first steps and what she ate, in order to portray her as heartbreakingly human. We also learn about Ted: more often than not, the details are endearing, such as the way he watches their children while she writes, though Clark does bring us face to face with his philandering.

Read More

In a new project that mixes science and art, artistic duo Shinseungback Kimyonghun has created a series of images that have pixels removed until an AI program can no longer recognize the subject — in this case mountains. Impressively, much of the image can be deleted before this happens.

One of my favourite programming languages in the last few years has been Crystal. While the language has not yet reached its 1.0 version, it has been widely used in production and has a growing ecosystem. Crystal provides an easy setup and allows you to jump straight into developing your own Crystal programs. I’m going to walk you through getting it setup and how you can get started!

Hands on the wheel, eyes squinting against the winter sun, Lauren Miehe eases his Land Rover down the main drag and tells me how he used to spot promising sites to build a bitcoin mine, back in 2013, when he was a freshly arrived techie from Seattle and had just discovered this sleepy rural community.

The attraction then, as now, was the Columbia River, which we can glimpse a few blocks to our left. Bitcoin mining — the complex process in which computers solve a complicated math puzzle to win a stack of virtual currency — uses an inordinate amount of electricity, and thanks to five hydroelectric dams that straddle this stretch of the river, about three hours east of Seattle, miners could buy that power more cheaply here than anywhere else in the nation. Long before locals had even heard the words “cryptocurrency” or “blockchain,” Miehe and his peers realized that this semi-arid agricultural region known as the Mid-Columbia Basin was the best place to mine bitcoin in America — and maybe the world.

Read More

Yet another calm weekend after months of lockdowns and I sit down to enjoy a book. After turning a couple of pages, I’m no longer able to keep going. In-between, I’ve managed to look at my phone four times and I’ve had my thoughts wander away. Why does something so simple feel suddenly so difficult?

@bluebeard shared their post to @food

Physical principles are involved in almost any aspect of cooking. Here we analyze the specific process of baking pizzas, deriving in simple terms the baking times for two different situations: For a brick oven in a pizzeria and a modern metallic oven at home. Our study is based on basic thermodynamic principles relevant to the cooking process and is accessible to undergraduate students. We start with a historical overview of the development and art of pizza baking, illustrate the underlying physics by some simple common examples, and then apply them in detail to the example of baking pizza.

Read More
@bluebeard shared their post to @health

Evolutionary biologist Daniel E. Lieberman caused an international stir nearly a decade ago when he published a paper showing that running in cushioned sneakers encourages people to hit the ground harder than running barefoot.

Lieberman, a professor of biological sciences at Harvard University, also started running barefoot himself as an experiment and kept doing it because he enjoyed it. Every spring, after running the Boston Marathon, he would trade his traditional sneakers for a pair of minimal shoes or no footwear at all. The more he ran barefoot, the more callused and protected his feet became. “But I could still feel the ground just as well as when my calluses were really thin,” Lieberman says. From an evolutionary standpoint, it made sense that callused feet would still feel: they are the body’s only contact with the ground, and ancient people could not afford to lose that sensation, he thought.

Read More