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Winners of the Environmental Photographer of the Year 2021

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 27, 2022

a boy wearing a gas mask connected to a potted plant

a room full of high-tech blue tubes

an overhead view of a house surrounded by flood waters

The winning entries in the Environmental Photographer of the Year for 2021 highlight the ways in which our planet’s climate is changing and how humans are (and are not) adapting to those changes. From top to bottom, photos by Kevin Ochieng Onyango, Simone Tramonte, and Michele Lapini. (via dense discovery)

A preview of the Whitney Biennial, which opens in April in NYC.

The release of two cookbooks, Dinner in One by Melissa Clark and Turkey and the Wolf by Mason Hereford, has been delayed for months because all the copies might be at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean (container ship accident).

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. As the events of that horrific period in human history slip from living memory, it becomes more important to not forgot what happened and why.

"A new study suggests that regular cash payments to parents can speed up brain activity in infants."

Seven technologies to watch in 2022. They're almost all biological/genetic: targeted genetic therapies, precise genome manipulation, CRISPR-based diagnostics, etc.

CityLab: How the Dutch Delivered a Traffic Safety Revolution. The safety of Dutch and US streets in the 70s was roughly the same but "by 2019, the fatality rate in the Netherlands had plummeted to 34 per million, 70% lower than that in the U.S."

Research reveals four factors that may increase chances of Long Covid: the level of coronavirus RNA in the blood early in the infection, presence of autoantibodies, reactivation of Epstein-Barr virus, and Type 2 diabetes.

A school board in Tennessee has banned Maus, a Pulitzer prize-winning graphic novel about the Holocaust, because of some curse words and a naked cartoon mouse.

Quick Links Archive

Can a Human Really Be Friends with an Octopus?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 27, 2022

Using My Octopus Teacher as a jumping-off point, Ferris Jabr writes about what we know of octopus intelligence and social habits and wonders if humans and octopuses can actually form friendships.

On first viewing, it’s easy to perceive these interactions as a form of genuine companionship — an impression encouraged by lingering close-ups and swelling music. The apparent emotional connection between Foster and the octopus is precisely the aspect of the film that provoked such a strong response from audiences and critics. Upon further reflection, however, the true nature of their relationship becomes more ambiguous. Only one member of the pair speaks directly to the camera. Any conclusions about the octopus’s subjective experience are based entirely on interpretations of her often-enigmatic behavior. Maybe what looks to us like tenderness is mere curiosity or bemusement. Perhaps an ostensible embrace is actually a deflection. No doubt some people are extremely fond of octopuses, but can an octopus really be friends with a human?

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Dave Eggers: We Finally Have Jetpacks and No One Cares

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 27, 2022

In a recent piece for The Guardian, Dave Eggers observes that we now have actual jetpacks that actually fly, an invention that was supposed to alert humanity that The Future had finally arrived,1 and no one really cares too much about them.

We have jetpacks and we do not care. An Australian named David Mayman has invented a functioning jetpack and has flown it all over the world — once in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty — yet few people know his name. His jetpacks can be bought but no one is clamouring for one. For decades, humans have said they want jetpacks, and for thousands of years we have said we want to fly, but do we really? Look up. The sky is empty.

Eggers, an avid flyer but not pilot, decided to take a jetpack flying lesson, just to see what none of the fuss is about.

When he returns and begins pouring the fuel into the jetpack, only then does it register just how dicey this seems, and why jetpacks have been slow to be developed and adopted. Though every day we fill our cars’ tanks with highly flammable gasoline, there is — or we pretend there is — a comfortable distance between our frail flesh and this explosive fuel. But carrying this fuel on your back, in a glorified backpack of tubes and turbines, brings the reality of the internal combustion engine home. Just watching the kerosene getting poured into the pack, inches from Wesson’s face, is unsettling.

And then there’s the noise:

Jarry asks if I’m ready. I tell him I’m ready. The jets ignite. The sound is like a category 5 hurricane passing through a drainpipe. Jarry turns an invisible throttle, and I mimic his movements with the real throttle. The sound grows louder. He turns his invisible throttle more, and I turn mine. Now the sound hits a fever pitch, and I feel the thrust down the back of my calves. I step ever so slightly forward, and lock my legs together. (This is why jetpack wearers have their legs stiff like toy soldiers - any deviation is quickly punished by 800-degree jet exhaust.) Jarry mimes more throttle, I give it more throttle, and slowly I leave the earth. It is nothing like weightlessness. Instead, I feel my every pound, feel just how much thrust it takes to get me and this machine to levitate.

Jarry tells me to go higher. One foot, then two, then three. As the jets howl and the kerosene burns, I hover, thinking that this is an astounding amount of noise and trouble to float 36in off the ground. Unlike the purest kinds of flight, which harness wind and master soaring, this is just brute force. This is busting through space with heat and noise. And it’s really difficult, too.

(via clive thompson)

  1. I have had one of these t-shirts in my rotation for more than 20 years now: “they lied to us / this was supposed to be the future / where is my jetpack, where is my robotic companion, where is my dinner in pill form, where is my hydrogen fueled automobile, where is my nuclear-powered levitating house, where is my cure for this disease”.

The Marcel Duchamp Research Portal

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 27, 2022

Nude Descending a Staircase by Marcel Duchamp

a portable chess set designed by Marcel Duchamp

Bicycle Wheel by Marcel Duchamp

A partnership of three institutions — the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Association Marcel Duchamp, and the Centre Pompidou — has just launched the Marcel Duchamp Research Portal, which houses almost 50,000 images and 13,000 documents related to the life and work of Marcel Duchamp.

Nadia Boulanger, the Most Influential Music Teacher of the 20th Century

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 26, 2022

At one point or another, legendary music teacher Nadia Boulanger taught Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, Philip Glass, Quincy Jones, and many many more. In the video above, Oscar Osicki of Inside the Score tells us about this remarkable woman and how she came to be “arguably the most renowned music teacher in the world”.

Later in his life, Aaron Copeland wrote to Boulanger about the influence she’d had on him:

It’s almost 30 years (hard to believe) since we met — and I still count our meeting the most important event of my musical life. What you did for me — at exactly the period I most needed it — is unforgettable. Whatever I have accomplished is intimately associated in my mind with those early years and with what you have since been as inspiration and example. All my gratitude and thanks go to you, dear Nadia.

Quincy Jones:

Nadia Boulanger used to tell me all the time, “Quincy, your music can never be more or less than you are as a human being.” It’s okay to play fast and all that other stuff, but unless you have a life experience, and have something to say that you’ve lived, you have nothing to contribute at all. So I decided to live my life, and I did.

See also The greatest music teacher who ever lived and She Was Music’s Greatest Teacher. And Much More. (via open culture)

Think About the Donuts of Your Day!

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 26, 2022

Twitter user @EPrecipice was a little nervous for a meeting at work so her 5-year-old shared some advice with her — “Mama, I am nervous all the time. I know what to do.”

1. “You gotta say your affirmations in your mouth and your heart. You say, ‘I am brave of this meeting!’ , ‘I am loved!’, ‘I smell good!’ And you can say five or three or ten until you know it.”

2. “You gotta walk big. You gotta mean it. Like Dolly on a dinosaur. Because you got it.”

And my absolute favorite:

4. “Think about the donuts of your day! Even if you cry a little, you can think about potato chips!”

Five-year-old or not, this is some of the best actionable advice I’ve ever heard.

What Will Pandemic Life Be Like in a Month?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 26, 2022

Bob Wachter is the chair of the Department of Medicine at the USCF medical center and last week he posted a pair of threads about what the Covid rates might look like in a month and how we might behave if that comes to pass (and if we don’t get another variant mucking things up). I’m going to quote extensively from Wachter’s threads because I think they contain some things that people need to hear right now.

In the first thread, he explains why an individual’s risk of catching Covid will likely be quite low a month from now:

The virus is the same, your immunity is the same, the chances of getting infected from a given encounter much the same. Yet I predict that I — and most of us — who are trying our best to dodge Omicron now will be more “open” next month. Does that make sense?

Yes! It’s all about community prevalence — basically the chances that the person next to you at the restaurant, the movie, or the store is infectious w/ Covid. It they’re not, your encounter is 100% safe. If they are, your encounter is as risky as it is today.

Today, near the Omicron peak, the odds an asymptomatic person has Covid is ~10% in most of U.S. At 10% prevalence, when you enter a room w/ 20 people, there’s an 88% chance that one of them has Covid. Do that enough times without masks and you’re going to get infected.

In a month — if cases fall to prior non-surge #’s — the prevalence among asymptomatic people may be more like 0.2% — even in less vaxxed regions, which’ll have more people whose immunity came from infection. (They should still get vaxxed for better & longer protection.)

0.2% means that the odds of an asymptomatic person having Covid=1-in-500. That room of 20 people: now a 4% chance (1-in-25) that someone’s infected. Not zero — you’ll still want to be careful if you’re at very high risk. But for most, % is low enough to feel pretty safe.

And because overall rates would be much lower, the chances of survival for those who do get Covid will increase because hospitals won’t be overwhelmed, testing will be more available, and antiviral medicines will be more available. Caveats:

Yes, the specter of Long Covid (for some, mild; others disabling) continues — maybe a ~5% chance in a vaxxed person. Some will look at those odds as being concerning enough that they’ll continue to act very cautiously. I probably won’t, but it’s an understandable choice.

And others who have lots of contact w/ very vulnerable people — unvaxxed who didn’t get Omicron, for example, or immunosuppressed - may also make different choices. That’s entirely reasonable.

And there’s also this…he’s fairly confident rates will be low this spring but perhaps not later in the year (because under-vaccinated people’s immunity from catching Omicron in the past 2 months will have waned):

As for me, this is why the community prevalence (cases, test pos %) will dominate my decisions. If they don’t plummet, I’ll keep my guard up until they do. And while I’m reasonably confident about the Spring, my confidence level falls as we move to later in the year.

In the second thread, Wachter talks about how we’ll know when the risk is low and shares how his behavior will change once that happens:

Add it all up & it’s clear that this Spring — w/ a milder virus & nearly 100% population immunity — may be about as safe as it gets… perhaps for many years. Thus I see this Spring as a time when everyone (especially those who have been extra careful for two years) needs to figure out how to navigate a far less risky landscape. (Cue the usual caveat: a new variant could easily screw things up, yet again.)

The bottom line is this: in a few weeks — when this surge ends — things are going to be as good as they’re likely to get for the foreseeable future.

Here’s how he’s going to know when his personal risk level is low enough to do some things differently:

What will my trigger be for switching to less cautious mode? It’s a bit arbitrary - there’s no bright line separating “too risky” & “not risky.” This means that others may come up w/ different thresholds.

Mine will be case rates <10/100K/day (recognizing that reported cases now underestimate case #’s due to home testing). I’d also like to see test positivity rates of <1%. (The math: when we reach a 1% overall rate in SF, that would translate to a ~0.5% asymptomatic positivity rate; or 1/200 asymptomatic people having Covid. At that prevalence, in a room of 15 folks, there’s a 7% chance that at least 1 has Covid.)

So what does that mean in terms of shifting behavior? Here’s Wachter’s personal plan w/ his acceptable level of risk:

The main questions center on indoor spaces crowded with unmasked people of uncertain vaccination status. Small indoor groups, visiting friends & family, indoor dining: all fine, without masks.

If I had school-aged kids who were fully vaccinated, I’d be comfortable without masks in school, particularly if there were a school-wide vaccine requirement and good ventilation.

My practice will be to always carry a KN95, and to don it in very crowded, poorly ventilated spaces with lots of unmasked people, particularly in parts of the U.S. or world with low vax or high case rates. I can’t tell you how crowded or how poorly ventilated, any more than I can say how likely rain needs to be in forecast before I grab an umbrella. I’ll just trust my Spidey Sense: how long I’ll be in space, how awkward wearing a mask will be, whether folks are speaking, yelling, singing, or just standing around. Does it feel scary?

At least at first, I’ll still mask on public transit (trains, planes) & shopping — crowded public spaces w/ lots of unmasked people. Once masks are no longer mandated, I don’t think I’ll mask at the hospital unless I’m seeing a patient with respiratory symptoms.

Both threads are worth a careful read to catch all the caveats and to get a full picture of his reasoning regarding risk and behavior. Hopefully reading them will give you a similar sense of empowerment and hope that they gave me.

Screaming Baby Dolls

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 26, 2022

a creepy looking screaming doll

a creepy looking screaming doll

a creepy looking screaming doll

I am sorry for posting this nightmare fuel first thing in the morning, but there’s something about the aesthetics of these crying dolls that is really compelling/disturbing. I am far enough removed from my kids being infants that looking at these doesn’t give me an instant stress response, but 10 years ago this probably would have had my heart racing. (via @john_overholt)

Temperature Textiles

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 25, 2022

a blanket with a pattern of CO2 emissions trends on it

a scarf with a pattern of global temperature trends on it

socks with a pattern of sea level rise indicators on them

Temperature Textiles are knitted textiles like blankets, scarves, and socks with patterns drawn from climate crisis indicators like temperature, sea level rise, and CO2 emissions. See also Global Warming Blankets. (via colossal)

The Green Planet

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 25, 2022

The Green Planet is a new 5-part nature series from the BBC and David Attenborough that focuses on the Earth’s plant life.

Using specialist cameras, this spectacular series allows us to travel beyond the power of the human eye, to look closer at the interconnected world of plants, showcasing over two decades of new discoveries. From deserts, tropical jungles and underwater worlds to seasonal lands and our own urban environment, each episode introduces a set of plants, reveals the battles they face, and the ingenious ways they’ve found to survive.

The trailer is above and here are some clips and behind-the-scenes looks at what it takes to capture some of these incredible scenes.

The Green Planet has already started airing in Britain on BBC, but we won’t be able to see it here in the US until July on PBS.

The Psychology of Misinformation

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 25, 2022

In this 15-minute presentation, MIT’s David Rand summarizes what recent research says about psychological factors related to belief in information, both true and false. Repetition, alignment with prior beliefs, and hearing from trusted sources are factors that correlate with more belief in information, regardless of its truth. Those who are more likely to believe specifically in falsehoods in general lack critical thinking skills and digital & media literacy. To combat misinformation, Rand recommends corrections & fact-checks (including crowdsourced efforts) and getting people to think about accuracy before sharing information.

An AI Makes Breakfast

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 25, 2022

Janelle Shane trained an AI on a few breakfast cereal names and it came up with some cool new cereal concepts on its own.

Ai Cereals

I mean, I would go to town on some Orb Crumpets. And don’t these sound delicious?!

Original Cool Ranch Cheese and Dried Cranberry Oatmeal — all the wholesome, cheesy oatmeal with a choice of mild, sweet or salty!

Ingredis Fiberwaste Cream Cheese Cheerios — kids grab a box and put them in their mouths, making fun flavors taste even better !!! !!! !!! !!!

Fibrewaste is probably an element in many American grocery items, so kudos for this brave truth in advertising on the part of our robot friend. (via waxy)

Tree Root System Drawings

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 24, 2022

drawing of a plant's root system

drawing of a plant's root system

drawing of a plant's root system

drawing of a plant's root system

The Wageningen University & Research houses a collection of almost 1200 drawings of the root systems of trees, grasses, crops, shrubs, weeds, flowers, and other plants. These drawings were done of plants in Europe, mostly in Austria, over a period of 40 years and are a wonderful combination of scientifically valuable and aesthetically pleasing.