kottke.org posts about Nicola Twilley
Then something happens. By the three hundredth game, the A.I. has stopped missing the ball.
The New Yorker's Nicola Twilley on the computer program that learned how to play Breakout and other Atari games. All on its own. Artificial Intelligence Goes to the Arcade.
Gastropod is a new podcast about about food "through the lens of science and history" from radio journalist Cynthia Graber and Edible Geography's Nicola Twilley. Episode 1, embedded below, is about the history of cutlery.
Chances are, you've spent more time thinking about the specs on your smartphone than about the gadgets that you use to put food in your mouth.
But the shape and material properties of forks, spoons, and knives turn out to matter-a lot. Changes in the design of cutlery have not only affected how and what we eat, but also what our food tastes like. There's even evidence that the adoption of the table knife transformed the shape of European faces.
Paul Bogard recently published a book on darkness called The End of Night. Nicola Twilley and Geoff Manaugh interviewed Bogard about the book, the night sky, astronomy, security, cities, and prisons, among other things. The interview is interesting throughout but one of my favorite things is this illustration of the Bortle scale.
Twilley: It's astonishing to read the description of a Bortle Class 1, where the Milky Way is actually capable of casting shadows!
Bogard: It is. There's a statistic that I quote, which is that eight of every ten kids born in the United States today will never experience a sky dark enough to see the Milky Way. The Milky Way becomes visible at 3 or 4 on the Bortle scale. That's not even down to a 1. One is pretty stringent. I've been in some really dark places that might not have qualified as a 1, just because there was a glow of a city way off in the distance, on the horizon. You can't have any signs of artificial light to qualify as a Bortle Class 1.
A Bortle Class 1 is so dark that it's bright. That's the great thing-the darker it gets, if it's clear, the brighter the night is. That's something we never see either, because it's so artificially bright in all the places we live. We never see the natural light of the night sky.
I can also recommend reading David Owen's 2007 NYer piece on light pollution.
On Edible Geography, Nicola Twilley looks at what used to be a common process in Japan but is now only done on a boutique basis: apple tattooing.
As they are finally exposed to the elements for the final few weeks before harvest, the most perfect of these already perfect apples are then decorated with a sticker that blocks sunlight to stencil an image onto the fruit. This "fruit mark" might be the Japanese kanji for "good health," as Susan Brown mentioned. Others have brand logos (most notably that of Apple, the company), and some, according to Stevens, are "negatives with pictures. One Japanese pop star put his picture on apples to give his entourage for presents."
The marked fruit of the Montreuillois first won renown at the 1894 Saint Petersburg exhibition, where they presented the czar of Russia with an apple stenciled with his own portrait. King Leopold of Belgium, Edward VII of England, and Teddy Roosevelt received similar fruits.
Writing for Cabinet, Nicola Twilley explores the coldscape, the collective artifically refrigerated space humans dedicate to preserving food.
More than three-quarters of the food consumed in the United States today is processed, packaged, shipped, stored, and sold under artificial refrigeration. The shiny, humming stainless steel box in your kitchen is just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak -- a tiny fragment of the vast global network of temperature-controlled storage and distribution warehouses cumulatively capable of hosting uncounted billions of cubic feet of chilled flesh, fish, or fruit. Add to that an equally vast and immeasurable volume of thermally controlled space in the form of shipping containers, wine cellars, floating fish factories, international seed banks, meat-aging lockers, and livestock semen storage, and it becomes clear that the evolving architecture of coldspace is as ubiquitous as it is varied, as essential as it is overlooked.
Nicola Twilley of Edible Geography interviews Laura Shapiro and Rebecca Federman, curators of the NYPL's Lunch Hour NYC exhibition, about how lunch became a meal and what the city had to do with it.
Sliced wrapped bread first appeared in 1930, and that became the sandwich standard right away. They had the slicing technology before then, but they didn't have the wrapping technology and the two had to go together.
Before sliced bread, the lunch literature is full of advice on social distinctions and the thickness of bread in sandwiches. You slice it very thick and you leave the crusts on if you're giving them to workers, but for ladies, it should be extremely, extremely thin. Women's magazines actually published directions on how to get your bread slices thin enough for a ladies lunch. You butter the cut side of the loaf first, and then slice as close to the butter as you possibly can.
In an interview with Nicola Twilley and Geoff Manaugh, photographer Edward Burtynsky talks about his use of film and drones, his current big project photographing water, and the challenges of finding ways to photograph the ubiquitous.
I'd say, actually, that I've been careful not to frame the work in an activist or political kind of way. That would be too restrictive in terms of how the work can be used in society and how it can be interpreted. I see the work as being a bit like a Rorschach test. If you see an oil field and you see industrial heroism, then perhaps you're some kind of entrepreneur in the oil business and you're thinking, "That's great! That's money being made there!" But, if you're somebody from Greenpeace or whatever, you're going to see it very differently. Humans can really reveal themselves through what they choose to see as the most important or meaningful detail in an image.
Burtynsky is a favorite around these parts.
Over at Edible Geography, Nicola Twilley documents the banana ripening process at a facility in the Bronx.
During our visit, Paul Rosenblatt told us that he aims to ripen fruit in five days at 62 degrees, but, to schedule fruit readiness in accordance with supply and demand, he can push a room in four days at 64 degrees, or extend the process to seven days at 58 degrees.
"The energy coming off a box of ripening bananas could heat a small apartment," Rosenblatt explains, which means that heavy-duty refrigeration is required to keep each room temperature-controlled to within a half a degree. In the past, Banana Distributors of New York has even experimented with heating parts of the building on captured heat from the ripening process.
To add to the complexity, customers can choose from different degrees of ripeness, ranging from 1 (all green) to 7 (all yellow with brown sugar spots). Banana Distributors of New York proudly promise that they have "Every Color, Every Day," although Rosenblatt gets nervous if he has more than 2000 boxes of any particular shade.
Over at Edible Geography, Nicola Twilley has a fascinating interview with Alan Stillman, the founder of TGI Friday's and Smith & Wollensky. Stillman started Friday's because, essentially, he was interested in meeting girls.
I wanted T.G.I. Friday's to feel like a neighbourhood, corner bar, where you could get a good hamburger, good french fries, and feel comfortable. At the time, it was a sophisticated hamburger and french fry place -- apparently, I invented the idea of serving burgers on a toasted English muffin -- but the principle involved was to make people feel that they were going to someone's apartment for a cocktail party.
The food eventually played a larger role than I imagined it would, because a lot of the girls didn't have enough money to stretch from one paycheque to the other, so I became the purveyor of free hamburgers at the end of the month.
I don't think there was anything else like it at the time. Before T.G.I. Friday's, four single twenty-five year-old girls were not going out on Friday nights, in public and with each other, to have a good time. They went to people's apartments for cocktail parties or they might go to a real restaurant for a date or for somebody's birthday, but they weren't going out with each other to a bar for a casual dinner and drinks because there was no such place for them to go.
Over at Edible Geography, Nicola Twilley collects some information about wine and beer recovered from shipwrecks, some of which has been sold for thousands of dollars per bottle.
It appears the ocean floor, if treated as a single entity, might actually be the world's largest wine cellar -- a sunken treasure trove of lost vintages awaiting rediscovery. Like squirrels digging up acorns, wreck-divers and salvage companies stumble upon another forgotten cache every few years.
New Scientist reports that Czech beer tastes worse than it used to due to climate change.
Climatologist Martin Mozny of the Czech Hydrometeorological Institute and colleagues say that the quality of Saaz hops -- the delicate variety used to make pilsner lager -- has been decreasing in recent years. They say the culprit is climate change in the form of increased air temperature.
Winemaking regions are shifting due to climate change as well.
Nicola Twilley proposes a Climate Change Tasting Menu that highlights food and drink demonstrating the effects of human activities on climate.
The starter would feature new products that have only recently been cultivated locally, thanks to climate change -- Devon olive oil perhaps, accompanied by a nice glass of Kent rosé. The main course might be controversial: test-tube grown imitation meats and vegetables that recreate the flavour and mouthfeel of species that are already lost or threatened with extinction by climate change.