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2019-03-08T20:15:00Z
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My Favorite Secret Social Network

peach emoji.png

If, for some reason, you join Peach, and you find my handle there, and you add me as a friend — maybe we’re IRL friends, or friends from other social network, or we used to work together, or you know me from here or someplace else — don’t be surprised if I don’t reciprocate your friendship right away.

Being Peach friends is a very special thing, and it doesn’t map neatly onto other kinds of friendship, digital or otherwise. The only way to know if someone is a good Peach friend is if they’ve been a good friend on Peach, which above all means one is supportive, discreet, and chill. The only other way to know if someone is a good Peach friend is if they’re not one of the people you go to Peach to talk about with your discreet, supportive, supremely chill Peach friends.

Confused? Yeah, it’s confusing to me too. The best effort at sorting it out in public so far is by Navneet Alang, who in “Notes on Peach” writes about why a small handful of us love this buggy, unreliable, deeply unpopular social network so much:

Most of all, there is no central feed. Instead, you have to click on each friend’s individual profile, which, first, limits the number of people you want to have on it, and second, makes things weirdly intimate, confessional, like you’re really writing to yourself and other people just happen to read. Of the odd mix that makes up my friend list of about fifteen—a couple of IRL friends, a few pals from Twitter, and a few complete strangers in another country—most use it as a sort of ongoing diary for the things you can’t say elsewhere, a release valve from the glare of Twitter. It is the sort of app where you talk about having a headache, the fact that you’re horny, a memory you have of your father that still fucks you up, and of course, pictures of your dog, mostly to a cobbled-together group of people you’ve never even met who, for some unknown reason, have all agreed not to judge.

I am the sort of person who has posted the following tweets in public, under my government name:

Writing is like sex because there are so many different ways to do it for the wrong reasons and with the wrong people

— Tim Carmody (@tcarmody) August 26, 2017

Writing is like sex in that people say I'm really good at it, but eventually they all decide I'm not worth the trouble

— Tim Carmody (@tcarmody) August 26, 2017

I’m posting them here again because frankly, I don’t think they got enough attention the first time. That’s who I am and what I’m about.

I blush to think at my Peach posts ever being made public. Or even private in a different context.

That’s what Peach is for. It is a place to be real with people who’ve chosen to be real with you. It’s friendly, it’s therapeutic, it’s cathartic. It’s necessary. When it’s not around, those of us who use it go a little bit mad.

We’ve come to lean on confessing out loud. And there are no priests left who can be trusted any more. The only thing we can trust is benign neglect.

Is that the next phase of the web? The web that hardly works, where no one’s paying attention because no one really cares? (Except your friends, including strangers, who somehow care so much?)1

As Bill Callahan wrote, “Everyone’s got their own thing that they yell into a well.”

Tags: social media

2019-03-08T20:15:00Z


Remaking the Servant Economy

Artus_Wolffort_-_The_Scullery_Maid.jpg

Alexis Madrigal looks at the vast body of “Uber-for-X” sharing economy companies and sees something that’s historically new, but very familiar:

The haves and the have-nots might be given new names: the demanding and the on-demand. These apps concretize the wild differences that the global economy currently assigns to the value of different kinds of labor. Some people’s time and effort are worth hundreds of times less than other people’s. The widening gap between the new American aristocracy and everyone else is what drives both the supply and demand of Uber-for-X companies.

The inequalities of capitalist economies are not exactly news. As my colleague Esther Bloom pointed out, “For centuries, a woman’s social status was clear-cut: either she had a maid or she was one.” Domestic servants—to walk the dog, do the laundry, clean the house, get groceries—were a fixture of life in America well into the 20th century. In the short-lived narrowing of economic fortunes wrapped around the Second World War that created what Americans think of as “the middle class,” servants became far less common, even as dual-income families became more the norm and the hours Americans worked lengthened.

What the combined efforts of the Uber-for-X companies created is a new form of servant, one distributed through complex markets to thousands of different people. It was Uber, after all, that launched with the idea of becoming “everyone’s private driver,” a chauffeur for all.

An unkind summary, then, of the past half decade of the consumer internet: Venture capitalists have subsidized the creation of platforms for low-paying work that deliver on-demand servant services to rich people, while subjecting all parties to increased surveillance.

What else is there to say?

2019-03-08T19:30:00Z


Stacey Abrams, Star Trek Superfan

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Georgia politician, almost-Governor, and Democratic superstar Stacey Abrams has a secret to her success: she loves Star Trek. In particular, she loves my favorite Trek series, Star Trek: The Next Generation.

In explaining her approach to politics as a black Democratic woman in a state controlled by white Republican men, she devotes several pages to a pivotal scene from “Peak Performance,” an episode from “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”

In the episode, Data, the preternaturally pale android with a greenish cast to his skin, is playing Strategema, a game that appears to be some incredibly complicated form of 3-D holographic chess, against a humanoid grandmaster named Kolrami. Data cannot defeat Kolrami, he discovers, but he can outlast him, drive him into a rage and force him to quit the game, which is itself a kind of victory.

Ms. Abrams writes that this has helped her focus her own thinking. “Data reframed his objective — not to win outright but to stay alive, passing up opportunities for immediate victory in favor of a strategy of survival,” she says in the book. “My lesson is simpler: change the rules of engagement.”

Stacey Abrams.png

This sparked some predictably joyous reactions among Star Trek fans:

Stacey Abrams is a STAR TREK FAN?! Please insert that viral "Unfollow me now, this is the only thing I'm going to talk about all day" gif…

(And she loves Queen Nichelle? And this article came out just in time for #TrekThursday, with more DSC tonight?)

@EbWatchesTrek

— Ebony Elizabeth (@Ebonyteach) March 7, 2019

And the following thoughtful thread from Manu Saadia (@trekonomics) on the history of progressive politics, as modeled in the Star Trek universe:

First off, that piece by historian @robgreeneII should convince @staceyabrams to take a second L ok at Deep Space 9.https://t.co/nlcpDm0svC

— manu saadia (@trekonomics) March 8, 2019

Next, that long and detailed piece of Trek fandom. A special piece for me, as we had drinks with @mollitudo at the Convention in Vegas while she was reporting it. The Utopia is the fandom. https://t.co/FodCf34kXU

— manu saadia (@trekonomics) March 8, 2019

A look at 10 episodes:https://t.co/bmmWGzdbs2

— manu saadia (@trekonomics) March 8, 2019

I am always embarrassed to mention myself, especially in such great company, but here we are. https://t.co/g1gbNqr1Yi

— manu saadia (@trekonomics) March 8, 2019

Politics is also about gender roles.https://t.co/HxEs3AoZjS

— manu saadia (@trekonomics) March 8, 2019

And guess what, MLK was a fan - and convinced Nichelle Nichols to stay on that silly space show after the first season.https://t.co/hhPFJEBWUr

— manu saadia (@trekonomics) March 8, 2019

The sexual politics of Trek became more and intriguing as the show matured. Jadzia Dax, DS9's science officer and "old man" (eh!), was particularly adventurous - (and deftly incarnated by) @4TerryFarrell https://t.co/ZwQrHnL3r3

— manu saadia (@trekonomics) March 8, 2019

Star Trek is a powerful source for political imagination. It is the Utopia of our times.

— manu saadia (@trekonomics) March 8, 2019

Star Trek is a thought experiment on how humans would behave under terminally improved conditions. This is why it matters. There's very little sci-fi that takes on that big question.

— manu saadia (@trekonomics) March 8, 2019

Live long and prosper! And no, it doesn't mean "make money!" pic.twitter.com/U4NTO1vd4z

— manu saadia (@trekonomics) March 8, 2019

It actually is possible to overthink this. All of this about politics and the imagination and utopian possibilities is true. But at the same time, ultimately, it’s just a really cool show. It’s one we grew up with. And as politicians get younger, it’s one we’ve always had with us, framing our background on entertainment, war, morality, politics, economics — everything.

The world the original Star Trek entered was one where space was only beginning to open, as a direct consequence of the nuclear and geopolitical crisis than enveloping the planet. Now, we have all new geopolitical crises to deal with. Star Trek offers a surprisingly resilient fictional framework for understanding most if not all of them. That’s a powerful tool. It’s foolish to pass it up.

Oh, and Ms. Abrams — keep bustin’ ‘em up.

Tags: movies   politics   space   Stacey Abrams   Star Trek   TV

2019-03-08T16:00:00Z


100-Year-Old Holocaust Survivor Helen Fagin on How Books Save Lives

Starting when she was 21, Helen Fagin was imprisoned in the Radomsko and Warsaw ghettos in Poland. Her parents were sent to Treblinka and murdered there, but Fagin and her sister eventually managed to escape and, after a long journey around Europe, made it to the United States. Fagin has offered lengthy testimony about her experience of the Holocaust (for the USC Shoah Foundation and US Holocaust Memorial Museum), but in this short video, she reads a letter she wrote about how reading and stories gave a spark of hope to those under the Nazi boot in Warsaw.

Could you imagine a world without access to reading, to learning, to books?

At twenty-one, I was forced into Poland’s WWII ghetto, where being caught reading anything forbidden by the Nazis meant, at best, hard labor; at worst, death.

There, I conducted a clandestine school offering Jewish children a chance at the essential education denied them by their captors. But I soon came to feel that teaching these sensitive young souls Latin and mathematics was cheating them of something far more essential — what they needed wasn’t dry information but hope, the kind that comes from being transported into a dream-world of possibility.

One day, as if guessing my thoughts, one girl beseeched me: “Could you please tell us a book, please?”

I had spent the previous night reading Gone with the Wind — one of a few smuggled books circulated among trustworthy people via an underground channel, on their word of honor to read only at night, in secret. No one was allowed to keep a book longer than one night — that way, if reported, the book would have already changed hands by the time the searchers came.

The full text of the letter is here and is also collected in the book The Velocity of Being. (via open culture)

Tags: books   Helen Fagin   Holocaust   The Velocity of Being   video   war   World War II

2019-03-08T14:30:34Z


The Partisan States of America

The Atlantic recently teamed up with polling and analytics company PredictWise to build a county-by-county map of political open-mindedness in America.

US Map of Political Prejudice

In general, the most politically intolerant Americans, according to the analysis, tend to be whiter, more highly educated, older, more urban, and more partisan themselves. This finding aligns in some ways with previous research by the University of Pennsylvania professor Diana Mutz, who has found that white, highly educated people are relatively isolated from political diversity. They don’t routinely talk with people who disagree with them; this isolation makes it easier for them to caricature their ideological opponents. (In fact, people who went to graduate school have the least amount of political disagreement in their lives, as Mutz describes in her book Hearing the Other Side.) By contrast, many nonwhite Americans routinely encounter political disagreement. They have more diverse social networks, politically speaking, and therefore tend to have more complicated views of the other side, whatever side that may be.

We see this dynamic in the heat map. In some parts of the country, including swaths of North Carolina and upstate New York, people still seem to give their fellow Americans the benefit of the doubt, even when they disagree. In other places, including much of Massachusetts and Florida, people appear to have far less tolerance for political difference. They may be quicker to assume the worst about their political counterparts, on average.

If you click through to the article, the interactive map will let you see how prejudiced your county is. There are also maps for Republican on Democratic prejudice and Democratic on Republican prejudice.

This map is a little bit bonkers…I can’t wrap my head around some of the results. Why are Florida and South Carolina so polarized while the states surrounding them are not? And look at New York…aside from NYC, there’s relatively little polarization right up against a very polarized New England and Pennsylvania. Utah sticks out among western states but you can probably chalk that up to Mormonism. Is this a methodology problem or is it due to something fundamentally different about the states and/or their governments?

Tags: maps   politics   USA

2019-03-08T00:29:25Z


Fred Rogers Was Attracted to Both Men and Women

Like many people my age, Mister Rogers had a large influence on me in terms of how to act as a man. As Maxwell King wrote in The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers, he was not perceived at the time to be traditionally masculine:

Rogers himself was often labeled “a sissy,” or gay, in a derogatory sense. But as his longtime associate Eliot Daley put it: “Fred is one of the strongest people I have ever met in my life. So if they are saying he’s gay because… that’s a surrogate for saying he’s weak, that’s not right, because he’s incredibly strong.” He adds: “He wasn’t a very masculine person, he wasn’t a very feminine person; he was androgynous.”

In a 1975 interview for the New York Times, Rogers noted drolly: “I’m not John Wayne, so consequently, for some people I’m not the model for the man in the house.”

When I was little, Mister Rogers was the man of the house. My dad worked a lot and I sometimes only saw him for a few hours on weekends. Instead, my male role models were Captain Kangaroo, the men of Sesame Street (Mr. Hooper, Bob, Gordon, and Luis), and, most of all, Fred Rogers.

Now, some in the LGBTQ+ community are finding Fred Rogers to be a posthumous bisexual role model. Directly after the passage above, King continues:

In conversation with one of his friends, the openly gay Dr. William Hirsch, Fred Rogers himself concluded that if sexuality was measured on a scale of one to ten: “Well, you know, I must be right smack in the middle. Because I have found women attractive, and I have found men attractive.”

As Out’s Mikelle Street notes, it’s tough to tell what Rogers meant by that in terms of his sexuality. We do know he was married to his wife Joanne for more than 50 years until his death in 2003. Rogers also advised François Clemmons, who played Officer Clemmons and came out as gay during his time on the program (though not on air), to not go to gay bars while working on the show and encouraged him to marry a woman.

Clemmons did but then divorced his wife to live as an openly gay man, piercing his ear as a sign of his sexuality. He was not allowed to wear earrings while filming though — for years Clemmons masked his own sexuality, under the advice of Rogers, in an effort to be successful.

Could it be that the actor was less forthcoming about his sexuality because he understood what Hollywood then required for success?

If Street is right, perhaps Rogers didn’t come out publicly about his sexuality for the same reason he advised Clemmons to mask being gay and the same reason millions of other people didn’t in the 70s and 80s: fear of social stigma. As King repeatedly writes in the book, Rogers always put the needs of the small children who watched his program above all other concerns. Perhaps he felt that a potential scandal about his sexuality, even a small one, was not worth jeopardizing his relationship with his television neighbors.

For Clemmons though, there was little doubt that Rogers accepted him for who he was:

He says he’ll never forget the day Rogers wrapped up the program, as he always did, by hanging up his sweater and saying, “You make every day a special day just by being you, and I like you just the way you are.” This time in particular, Rogers had been looking right at Clemmons, and after they wrapped, he walked over.

Clemmons asked him, “Fred, were you talking to me?”

“Yes, I have been talking to you for years,” Rogers said, as Clemmons recalls. “But you heard me today.”

“It was like telling me I’m OK as a human being,” Clemmons says. “That was one of the most meaningful experiences I’d ever had.”

Update: Clemmons spoke at length in this Vanity Fair interview about his relationship with Rogers, his sexuality, and appearing on the show. One excerpt:

And [during the show], I could not handle people having an open discussion about the fact that François Clemmons is living with his lover. I did feel like I was risking [something], because people knew who I was. I had a full conversation with Fred about what it could possibly do to the program and to my role on the program, and I didn’t feel I wanted to risk it. You know, the articles that have talked about me, I don’t think they’ve taken into full account that societal norms were vastly different than what they are right now.

Tags: books   Francois Clemmons   Fred Rogers   LGBT   Maxwell King   Mikelle Street   The Good Neighbor   TV

2019-03-07T21:25:04Z


Van Gogh’s The Night Café Was Among His “Ugliest Pictures”

In a letter to his brother Theo, Vincent van Gogh called his 1888 oil painting The Night Café “one of the ugliest pictures I have done”.

Van Gogh Night Cafe

In this video, Evan Puschak looks at what van Gogh meant by that and how he used discordant colors together to suggest a mood.

van Gogh wrote of his intentions for the painting to his brother:

I have tried to express the terrible passions of humanity by means of red and green. The room is blood red and dark yellow with a green billiard table in the middle; there are four lemon-yellow lamps with a glow of orange and green. Everywhere there is a clash and contrast of the most alien reds and greens, in the figures of little sleeping hooligans, in the empty dreary room, in violet and blue. The blood-red and the yellow-green of the billiard table, for instance, contrast with the soft tender Louis XV green of the counter, on which there is a rose nosegay. The white clothes of the landlord, watchful in a corner of that furnace, turn lemon-yellow, or pale luminous green.

Tags: art   color   Evan Puschak   video   Vincent van Gogh

2019-03-07T15:29:42Z


Let’s Talk About Hagfish and Their Wondrously Soft Slime

Hagfish are an eel-like sea creatures with the ability to excrete a teaspoon of slime that almost instantly expands to 10,000 times the volume. The slime, a combination of mucous and protein threads, is magical, too! Surprise, it’s not sticky, and it’s actually incredibly soft. Think about the softest thing you can think of. WRONG, this is softer. Hagfish slime is so soft, scientists had to create new ways to measure it when traditional instruments couldn’t hack it.

The proteins threads that give the slime cohesion are incredible in their own right. Each is one-100th the width of a human hair, but can stretch for four to six inches. And within the slime glands, each thread is coiled like a ball of yarn within its own tiny cell — a feat akin to stuffing a kilometer of Christmas lights into a shoebox without a single knot or tangle. No one knows how the hagfish achieves this miracle of packaging, but Fudge just got a grant to test one idea. He thinks that the thread cells use their nuclei — the DNA-containing structures at their core — like a spindle, turning them to wind the growing protein threads into a single continuous loop.

But that’s not all! Hagfish don’t have a jawbone, they’ve got kind of a sandpaper on their face, which is not the scientific way to describe it at all. They eat by burrowing into carcasses and rub their face around to get their fill. The skin of a hagfish is more efficient at processing nutrients than their intestines, so needless to say the burrowing really works for them. While hagfish use their slime to defend against attacks — the excreted slime clogs the gills of attackers — they also use their ridiculously squishy bodies as a defense. If a shark bites them, the important bits squish out of the way like one of those water wiggly toys. (Do you know how hard it is is to google the name of a toy you’ve played with your entire life without ever having known the name of? “Squishy squiggly water snake” is what worked for me.) Lastly, hagfish tie themselves in knots to rid themselves of slime AND to help them eat when they’re inside the dead bodies of recently passed sea friends. Now you know.

As a hagfish cleanser, sea otters hold hands while they’re sleeping so they don’t drift apart.

(Allow me an aside. The last time I wrote about the wacky world of sea creatures on Kottke.org, it was a post about the first known case of the sperm of cooked squid implanting in someone’s mouth. (At the time, of course, everyone knew the sperm of raw squid could implant, but this first case of cooked squid doing the same was big news).)

Tags: video

2019-03-07T00:33:00Z


Clouds in Unexpected Places

Cloud Sculpture

Cloud Sculpture

Dutch artist Berndnaut Smilde creates ephemeral water vapor sculptures (you know, clouds!) in places you normally wouldn’t find them, like inside churches & museums. He shared some of his process with National Geographic:

The ingredients for Smilde’s clouds: just smoke and water vapor. He requires a cold and damp space with no air circulation, lest the clouds never form or fall straight to the ground. He mists an area with a spray bottle to put water vapor into the air. Then he turns on fog machines that spout tiny particles, and the vapor condenses around them.

Smilde runs around the forming cloud, coaxing it into a shape about 10 feet across and six feet tall. Then he steps back long enough for a photographer to snap several images. Once the air clears, he’ll start over, repeating the process dozens of times until he’s happy with the results. Later, he’ll retouch the photos to remove his tools.

(via moss & fog)

Tags: art   Berndnaut Smilde   clouds

2019-03-06T21:20:31Z


Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World

As a hardcore generalist, David Epstein’s forthcoming book is intriguing to me: Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World.

David Epstein, author of the New York Times bestseller The Sports Gene, studied the world’s most successful athletes, artists, musicians, inventors, forecasters and scientists. He discovered that in most fields — especially those that are complex and unpredictable — generalists, not specialists, are primed to excel. Generalists often find their path late, and they juggle many interests rather than focusing on one. They’re also more creative, more agile, and able to make connections their more specialized peers can’t spy from deep in their hyperfocused trenches. As experts silo themselves further while computers master more of the skills once reserved for highly focused humans, people who think broadly and embrace diverse experiences and perspectives will increasingly thrive.

They will also somehow not be that much better at trivia and will be unable to talk authoritatively about a single topic with a genuine enthusiast or expert for more than 2-3 minutes before starting in on the “I don’t knows”. Wait, just me?

Tags: books   David Epstein   Range

2019-03-06T19:07:35Z


A Light Installation in a Scottish Coastal Town Vividly Shows Future Sea Level Rise

Lines Sea Level

Lines Sea Level

Lines (57° 59´N, 7° 16´W) is a light installation in Lochmaddy, Scotland that visualizes how much the sea level will rise if our climate keeps changing at its current pace. Co-collaborators Timo Aho and Pekka Niittyvirta installed sensors to detect high tide, which then illuminates lights showing what the high tide will look like in the future.

The installation explores the catastrophic impact of our relationship with nature and its long-term effects. The work provokes a dialogue on how the rising sea levels will affect coastal areas, its inhabitants and land usage in the future.

This is specifically relevant in the low lying island archipelago of Uist in the Outer Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland, and in particular to Taigh Chearsabhagh Museum & Arts Centre in Lochmaddy where the installation is situated. The Centre cannot develop on its existing site due to predicted storm surge sea levels.

(via colossal)

Tags: art   global warming   Pekka Niittyvirta   Timo Aho

2019-03-06T17:02:34Z


Regarding the Thoughtful Cultivation of the Archived Internet

Kurzgesagt is one of my favorite YouTube channels. Their videos are entertaining & thoroughly researched, and the subject matter is right in the kottke.org wheelhouse. (This one on the physical limitations of humanity when it comes to space exploration is a particular recent favorite.)

So I appreciated their latest video called Can You Trust Kurzgesagt Videos?

In it, they detail the process of making their videos, which has gotten more extensive as the channel matures. The second half is about a pair of videos that didn’t meet their current standard: one about addiction (which I posted about here) and another about the European migrant crisis of 2015. The addiction video represented only one side of a controversial issue within the scientific community while the migrant video was hastily produced and poorly researched. As a result, they deleted both videos, even though they were among the channel’s most popular and plan to publish a future video about addiction that will look more broadly at its causes.

With 20+ years of kottke.org archives, I’ve been thinking about this issue as well. There are many posts in the archive that I am not proud of. I’ve changed my mind in some cases and no longer hold the views attributed to me in my own words. I was too frequently a young and impatient asshole, full of himself and knowing it all. I was unaware of my privilege and too frequently assumed things of other people and groups that were incorrect and insensitive. I’ve amplified people and ideas in the past that I wouldn’t today.

My process today is more rigorous (but not as rigorous as Kurzgesagt b/c we have different aims) and I’ve gained some wisdom (I hope!) about when vigor or sensitivity are called for. I still place a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of the reader — you are a smart bunch and I expect you to read and view everything here with a critical eye — but I am also more aware of my (small but not insignificant) responsibility as an informational gatekeeper.

But so anyway, I don’t know what to do about those old problematic posts. Tim Berners-Lee’s idea that cool URIs don’t change is almost part of my DNA at this point, so deleting them seems wrong. Approximately no one ever reads any post on this site that’s more than a few years old, but is that an argument for or against deleting them? (If a tree falls in the woods, etc…) Should I delete but leave a note they were deleted? Should I leave the original posts but append updates citing my current displeasure? Or like Mister Rogers used to do, should I rewrite the posts to bring them more into line with my current thinking? Is the kottke.org archive trapped in amber, a record of what I’ve written when I wrote it, or is it a living, breathing thing that thrives on activity? Is it more like a book or a performance? In my mind it’s both, which is why the site is compelling (IMO) but also makes this issue so thorny for me. The web is weird that way…but how do I embrace the weirdness re: this issue?

Tags: kottke.org   Kurzgesagt   weblogs

2019-03-06T15:04:59Z


The Case of the 500-Mile Email

I’ve shared this here before, but one of my favorite Old Weird Internet stories is Trey HarrisThe case of the 500-mile email. If you’ve ever worked in tech support or system administration (or have been on the receiving end of stories by people doing that work), a common trope features someone (usually a boss of some sort) thinking they’ve stumbled across a bug when in fact it’s user error. That’s not where this story goes…

I was working in a job running the campus email system some years ago when I got a call from the chairman of the statistics department.

“We’re having a problem sending email out of the department.”

“What’s the problem?” I asked.

“We can’t send mail more than 500 miles,” the chairman explained.

I choked on my latte. “Come again?”

“We can’t send mail farther than 500 miles from here,” he repeated. “A little bit more, actually. Call it 520 miles. But no farther.”

“Um… Email really doesn’t work that way, generally,” I said, trying to keep panic out of my voice. One doesn’t display panic when speaking to a department chairman, even of a relatively impoverished department like statistics. “What makes you think you can’t send mail more than 500 miles?”

“It’s not what I *think*,” the chairman replied testily. “You see, when we first noticed this happening, a few days ago—”

“You waited a few DAYS?” I interrupted, a tremor tinging my voice. “And you couldn’t send email this whole time?”

“We could send email. Just not more than—”

“—500 miles, yes,” I finished for him, “I got that. But why didn’t you call earlier?”

Read the whole thing if you’ve never had the pleasure.

Tags: email   Trey Harris

2019-03-05T21:44:47Z


Crack Pie, Girly Drinks, and Problematic Food Language

Soleil Ho is the new restaurant critic for the San Francisco Chronicle. In a recent article, Ho shared a thoughtful list of the words that she isn’t going to use in her restaurant reviews. One of the words is “crack”:

In addition to being overly dramatic, it seems really callous to write that a bowl of bean dip is “like crack.” No matter how delicious something might be, its effect on me is nothing close to what crack does to people and their families. It’s supposed to be funny and edgy to compare a gourmet cupcake to crack because of how far the chi-chi bakery I’m standing in is from the kind of community that has historically been devastated by the crack epidemic. The ignorance is the joke.

One interesting example of its persistence is in the way we talk about Momofuku Milk Bar’s “Crack Pie.” Writers have called its creator, chef Christina Tosi, a “crack dealer” and used the language of addiction to describe the dish. Honestly, the company should have done the right thing and changed it by now.

Language is power and words are meaningful beyond their simple or intended definitions. For any given problematic word, there are so many other words you can use.

See also New Language for Slavery and the Civil War.

Tags: food   language   Soleil Ho

2019-03-05T19:26:09Z


Video of a Japanese Space Probe Touching Down on an Asteroid

In this video released by JAXA, the Japanese space agency, you can see an on-board view of the Hayabusa2 probe touching down on an asteroid called Ryugu.

The blast you see is the probe firing a bullet made of tantalum at the surface in order to collect a sample. Here’s a photo of the landing site. From Wikipedia:

When the sampler horn attached to Hayabusa2’s underside touched the surface, a projectile (5-gram tantalum bullet) was fired at 300 m/s into the surface. The resulting ejecta particles were collected by a catcher at the top of the horn, which the ejecta reaches under their own momentum under microgravity conditions.

This is the first of three samples that are scheduled to be collected by Hayabusa2. The third sampling will try to collect material located under the surface of the asteroid. To achieve this, a separate gun will detach from the probe and fire a copper bullet at the surface, blasting a hole in the surface and exposing “pristine material”. Meanwhile, the probe itself will deploy a separate camera to watch the bullet’s impact, scoot out of the way to avoid debris, and then come back in a couple of weeks to collect a sample from the resulting crater, which will then be returned to Earth along with the other two samples. Ingenious! I love it when a plan comes together!

Tags: astronomy   Hayabusa2   JAXA   science   space   video

2019-03-05T17:19:24Z


Some Observations on Leaving Neverland

I watched Leaving Neverland last night in one four-hour sitting…as in I literally didn’t leave the sofa. Completely riveting. Here are some thoughts I have about it.

1. At its heart, this is not actually a movie about Michael Jackson. It’s about two men, James Safechuck and Wade Robson, whose lives were utterly ruined by a man they idolized & trusted. Their childhood innocence ripped away. Their families torn apart. Their current families left wondering if they can be trusted with their own children. As the movie progresses, Jackson almost fades into the background and the viewer is just left with these men, feeling and empathizing with them and their families.

2. One of the things I was most struck by, especially in the early part of the film, was the way the two men and their families described Jackson in almost a tender, loving way. There was little on-camera anger and lashing out (although there undoubtably was during their still-ongoing recovery process). I was left with a feeling of unease that in a deep and complicated way, these two men still care for Jackson. That feeling’s gonna stay with me for a loooong time.

3. As I’m writing this post, one of Jackson’s songs echoes in my head: “Heal the world / Make it a better place / For you and for me.” I have no idea what to make of this or how to process it.

4. It is pretty simple. Unless you’re willing to perform complicated mental gymnastics to bamboozle yourself into conspiracy theory land, the plain truth is that Michael Jackson was a pedophile. You can feel however you want about that — he was a monster, he was a man broken by his own abusive childhood & twisted by the vortex of fame — but you cannot simply dismiss it. Maureen Orth covered previous accusations about Jackson for Vanity Fair; her recent article is a good short summary of the facts.

5. If you’re a famous actor who spent lots of one-on-one time with Jackson when you were a child, why would you ever in a million years tell anyone that he sexually abused you?

6. A statement released by the Jackson estate said that Leaving Neverland is “the kind of tabloid character assassination Michael Jackson endured in life, and now in death”. Who knows if they actually watched the film because it is the opposite of a sensationalistic hit piece. This isn’t Michael Moore bombast. The film is careful, methodical, and, aside from some slightly ominous music at times, quite respectful towards Jackson given the circumstances. As Wesley Morris writes, “‘LEAVING NEVERLAND’ is long but delicately, patiently done — and so quiet; you can practically hear yourself listening.”

7. No One Deserves As Much Power As Michael Jackson Had by Craig Jenkins:

If you don’t believe that Jackson touched anyone inappropriately, you have to reckon with the fact that he knowingly coerced families into allowing their children into his orbit while incrementally driving their parents away; that he nudged them out of the picture as they got a little older, only remembering to call when he needed someone to testify in a court of law. You have to listen to the Robson family explain how Jackson’s machinations pried the young boy’s parents apart, how the singer convinced them to move to Los Angeles from Australia, how Robson’s father committed suicide because they left him.

You come away from the film with the sense that Jackson was, at a minimum, a troubled and deeply manipulative person, more so than we’d ever imagined.

8. In Michael Jackson Cast a Spell. ‘Leaving Neverland’ Breaks It., Wesley Morris grapples with his fandom of Jackson (just as he did with Bill Cosby last year).

The story was that Jackson never molested anybody. And we stuck to it, and it stuck to him. And the question now, of course, is what do we do? It’s the question of our #MeToo times: If we believe the accusers (and I believe Wade and James), what do we do with the art? With Jackson, what can we do? Wade became a successful choreographer who’s made a career out of teaching his version of Jackson’s hydraulic bounces, whips, and stutters to Britney Spears, ‘N Sync, Cirque du Soleil and rooms full of aspiring dancers. “Look Back at It,” the big single from A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie’s No. 1 album from January, is built out of two Jackson hits. Michael Jackson’s music isn’t a meal. It’s more elemental than that. It’s the salt, pepper, olive oil and butter. His music is how you start. And the music made from that — that music is everywhere, too. Where would the cancellation begin?

9. Where does the cancellation begin? I have no idea about the music; I love so many of his songs (my kids are fans too, which is a whole other thing I don’t know how to deal with) but “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” now has a second sinister meaning that I will never be able to shake. I will say this though: I’ve posted a number of things about Jackson on kottke.org over the years that are unrelated to the sexual abuse allegations. Not anymore. It’s time to hear other stories.

Tags: Craig Jenkins   HBO   James Safechuck   Leaving Neverland   Maureen Orth   Michael Jackson   movies   music   TV   Wade Robson   Wesley Morris

2019-03-05T14:57:59Z


Clam Gardens, an Ancient Sea Farming Technique

Despite much recent evidence to the contrary (see Charles Mann’s 1491 for example), the view persists that a pristine wilderness awaited European conquerors upon their arrival to the Americas because the existing population didn’t really do a whole lot to alter the landscape.1 Take clam gardens for instance. In the Pacific Northwest, indigenous people constructed these coastal structures to deliberately encourage the production of shellfish.

These features are made by constructing rock walls at the low tide line along the edges of bays and inlets, transforming naturally sloping beaches or rocky shorelines into productive, level beach terraces. While clam garden morphology, character, and setting can vary greatly, they generally consist of a well-sorted boulder wall built at the lowest tide line and a terrace on the landward side of the wall. By building the walls at particular heights in relationship to the tides (“tidal heights”), these features expand the zone of the beach where clams thrive. According to local knowledge, clamming beaches, including those associated with clam gardens, were kept clear of large rocks as another means to increase clam habitat. The flattened terrace created by garden walls can range in size from a few square meters on small beaches to well over a kilometer in length. These larger beaches are more like vast fields than ‘gardens’ in size.

Clam Gardens

Researchers believe thousands of these gardens and fields were built and have found clam gardens dating back at least 2000 years. The garden’s construction may also have encouraged the growth and development of other animals as well.

While much of the Network’s focus so far has been on clams in the clam garden terraces (mainly butter clam, littleneck, horse clam, and cockles), our observations and that of our First Nations collaborators suggest that the boulder walls themselves create productive rocky reef habitat for octopus, sea cucumber, whelks, chiton, red turban snails and other critters. Many of these are valued foods for coastal First Nations.

Update: A clam garden is called K’yuu ḴudhlḴ’aat’iija in the Haida language and lux̌ʷxiwēy in the Kwakʼwala language. Both languages are endangered, with relatively few speakers and little transmission to the youth in those communities. (via @lilsheba)

  1. This is a prime example of what Sam Arbesman calls a “mesofact”.I’m guessing most people reading this learned in school that the Americas were sparsely populated and almost pristine before Columbus showed up, but subsequent research over the past 20 years has shown that this is very much not the case.

Tags: food

2019-03-04T22:15:13Z


Stone Age Cave Symbols May All Be Part of a Single Prehistoric Proto-Writing System

While studying some of the oldest art in the world found in caves and engraved on animal bones or shells, paleoanthropologist Genevieve von Petzinger has found evidence of a proto-writing system that perhaps developed in Africa and then spread throughout the world.

Consistent Doodles

The research also reveals that modern humans were using two-thirds of these signs when they first settled in Europe, which creates another intriguing possibility. “This does not look like the start-up phase of a brand-new invention,” von Petzinger writes in her recently published book, The First Signs: Unlocking the mysteries of the world’s oldest symbols (Simon and Schuster). In other words, when modern humans first started moving into Europe from Africa, they must have brought a mental dictionary of symbols with them.

That fits well with the discovery of a 70,000-year-old block of ochre etched with cross-hatching in Blombos cave in South Africa. And when von Petzinger looked through archaeology papers for mentions or illustrations of symbols in cave art outside Europe, she found that many of her 32 signs were used around the world. There is even tantalising evidence that an earlier human, Homo erectus, deliberately etched a zigzag on a shell on Java some 500,000 years ago. “The ability of humans to produce a system of signs is clearly not something that starts 40,000 years ago. This capacity goes back at least 100,000 years,” says Francesco d’Errico from the University of Bordeaux, France.

Nonetheless, something quite special seems to have happened in ice age Europe. In various caves, von Petzinger frequently found certain symbols used together. For instance, starting 40,000 years ago, hand stencils are often found alongside dots. Later, between 28,000 and 22,000 years ago, they are joined by thumb stencils and finger fluting — parallel lines created by dragging fingers through soft cave deposits.

Von Petzinger lays out the results of her work in a 2016 book called The First Signs: Unlocking the Mysteries of the World’s Oldest Symbols and in a TED Talk from 2015:

It’s not writing (because the symbols don’t appear to be capable of representing the full range of spoken language) and it’s not an alphabet, but it’s definitely an intriguing something. (via open culture)

Tags: books   Genevieve von Petzinger   humans   language   The First Signs   video

2019-03-04T20:04:05Z


When They See Us, a Series on the Central Park Five by Ava DuVernay

Ava DuVerney has written and directed a four-part TV series called When They See Us that “chronicles the notorious case of five teenagers of color, labeled the Central Park Five, who were convicted of a rape they did not commit”. Here’s a teaser trailer:

The series starts airing on Netflix on May 31.

And if you haven’t seen it, the documentary The Central Park Five (directed by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, and David McMahon) is excellent.

Tags: Ava DuVernay   Ava DuVerney   crime   legal   The Central Park Five   trailers   TV   video

2019-03-04T18:09:05Z


Fox News: Unfair and Unbalanced Propaganda

Jane Mayer, author of the very well-reviewed Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, has a big piece in the New Yorker today on the close relationship between the Trump administration and Fox News.

Hannity was treated in Texas like a member of the Administration because he virtually is one. The same can be said of Fox’s chairman, Rupert Murdoch. Fox has long been a bane of liberals, but in the past two years many people who watch the network closely, including some Fox alumni, say that it has evolved into something that hasn’t existed before in the United States. Nicole Hemmer, an assistant professor of Presidential studies at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center and the author of “Messengers of the Right,” a history of the conservative media’s impact on American politics, says of Fox, “It’s the closest we’ve come to having state TV.”

Hemmer argues that Fox-which, as the most watched cable news network, generates about $2.7 billion a year for its parent company, 21st Century Fox — acts as a force multiplier for Trump, solidifying his hold over the Republican Party and intensifying his support. “Fox is not just taking the temperature of the base — it’s raising the temperature,” she says. “It’s a radicalization model.” For both Trump and Fox, “fear is a business strategy — it keeps people watching.” As the President has been beset by scandals, congressional hearings, and even talk of impeachment, Fox has been both his shield and his sword. The White House and Fox interact so seamlessly that it can be hard to determine, during a particular news cycle, which one is following the other’s lead. All day long, Trump retweets claims made on the network; his press secretary, Sarah Sanders, has largely stopped holding press conferences, but she has made some thirty appearances on such shows as “Fox & Friends” and “Hannity.” Trump, Hemmer says, has “almost become a programmer.”

The subhead of the piece is: “Fox News has always been partisan. But has it become propaganda?” If you’ve been paying attention here over the past couple of years, you know I believe the answer to that question is “yes”. See also Blame Fox News for Fake News, Not Facebook, Study: Watching Fox News Has Big Effect on Voting Patterns, Fox News Is Poisoning America. Rupert Murdoch and His Heirs Should Be Shunned., and Fox News Isn’t A Normal Media Company. We Have To Stop Treating It Like One.

Tags: books   Dark Money   Donald Trump   Fox News   Jane Mayer   journalism

2019-03-04T15:49:29Z


Contemporary Pop Stars on 80s-Style Album Covers

2080s

2080s

More retro goodness here (including The Weeknd, Skrillex, Taylor Swift, and Cardi B).

Tags: design   music   remix

2019-03-04T14:24:22Z


De La Soul’s Fight with Tommy Boy Over Copyright and Streaming Revenues

De La Soul.jpg

This week, music fans were rejoicing. The legendary hip-hop group De La Soul’s catalog was finally coming to music streaming services. Three Feet High and Rising on Spotify!

Alas, it was too good to be true. It turned out that De La Soul themselves would only be getting 10 percent of the streaming revenue after costs, with label Tommy Boy taking 90 percent.

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Don’t feed the Vultures, support and respect the culture #30years If you wanna support De La Soul, cop the #grinddate and #anonymousnobody albums , Coming soon: #delasoul @realpeterock and @djpremier 2019!!!

A post shared by De La Soul (@wearedelasoul) on

Now, everyone had speculated that De La Soul’s catalog wasn’t available on streaming because the label had never resolved the legal issues attendant to De La’s innovative use of sampling. The band and label had been sued by The Turtles for their use of a sample in a landmark case that forever changed hip-hop. In 2014, De La Soul gave away free digital copies of their albums to try to get their music to the fans. But now that the albums were to be made available via streaming, everything must have been sorted, right?

Wrong:

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We are being placed in the line of fire. @discogs @spotify @applemusic @tidal @googleplay @deezer @vinylmeplease @amazonmusic We understand respect and appreciate your support and business. We regret that you and fans have been place in the middle of this mess. De La Soul cannot afford negligent hurried business. We are fighting for our livelihood. Imagine trying to settle a #phantom2millionddollardebt and now possible lawsuits lurking??? There goes that 10% Thank you @tommyboyrecords #respectourlegacy #dorightbytheculture #tommyboycott #4080 #delasoul #30years

A post shared by De La Soul (@wearedelasoul) on

This sparked a boycott movement from artists/De La Soul fans like Nas, Pete Rock, and Questlove. Better to avoid Tommy Boy and the new streaming music entirely than put De La Soul in the jackpot for little reward. Tidal also announced that it wouldn’t stream the new album, in respect of the band’s wishes.

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I hate that it has come to this. Seriously. But there is no “if I have to choose a side?” #DeLaSoul means everything to me. @WeAreDeLaSoul gave me and millions of music lovers LIFE. I been hoping and wishing and praying for their back catalogue to be made available on digital media FOREVER—-but not like this @tommyboyrecords. This narrative has been going on since the blues, since jazz, since rock n roll, since disco, since soul——-I’m proud of De La for using their voice. Let’s fix this. For the greater good. Let’s be respectful and fair. 90% to the label & 10% to the artist is not fair. Normal protocol is just to accept that’s how it is nowadays. We can change that. Change starts now. As much as it pains me to not cop 10 of those issues each and share all their timeless work of genius to a generation that has no clue—-join me in standing w De La Soul in this #TommyBOYCOTT. Do y’all understand I been waiting DECADES to finally listen to their awe inspiring work in the car, on lunch break, in the gym, just chillin? I can’t do that to them. Until you do right by the soul? There is no convo.

A post shared by Questlove Gomez (@questlove) on

On Thursday, Tommy Boy announced that it was delaying the release of the albums on streaming services, likely missing the window for the 30th anniversary of Three Feet High and Rising, but preserving the possibility of a more equitable agreement.

“Because Tommy Boy has not had the opportunity to sit down together with De La Soul and finalize our negotiations — something we’ve wanted to do for months — we have decided to postpone the digital release of their catalog scheduled for tomorrow,” the statement reads. “We know fans are eager to hear these amazing recordings and we are hopeful for a quick resolution.”

A rep for the group did not immediately respond to Variety’s requests for comment.

While a rep for Tommy Boy stressed to Variety that sampling was not a central issue of the disagreement and “negotiating points are still to be finalized,” the group’s catalog with the label has been plagued by legal issues over uncleared samples since shortly after the release of their first album, “3 Feet High and Rising,” some 30 years ago. That album — widely considered to be one of the best and most influential hip-hop albums ever released — and several other titles from the group never have been legally available on streaming services, as the catalog has moved from Tommy Boy to Warner Bros. and back again without the sampling issues being resolved.

On Friday, De La Soul gave a lengthy interview to Billboard where they spoke on these issues, and their hope that they might be resolved:

“It’s a victory,” Pos, of De La Soul, tells Billboard. “It’s great that people who supported and understood what we mean to the culture, whether it’s someone who’s so dear and close to us like a Q-Tip, or someone who could admire the moves we’ve made creatively, but we ain’t necessarily been in the room with each other nothing but maybe three times together, like a Jay-Z. You can have people just feel like, ‘Culturally, I support and understand where they are coming from.’” …

“He [Tommy Boy’s Tom Silverman] can legally do what he wants, but the issues that I raised [was that] in all that you’re doing with what you’re able to do, did you clear it? Did you clear those samples? When he got the catalog back, is it cleared? What he said on the phone was, ‘If anything comes up, we will deal with it the way we’ve dealt with it in the past.’ And what I know that to be is that if a lawsuit comes up, we’re gonna settle because we’re in the wrong. I say we because we do suffer from that.”

As De La Soul’s Mase told Variety, the band has never earned money from its recorded catalog because of the levies the original copyright owners have placed on the band’s samples. “Let’s be straight up: We don’t really financially benefit — there’s so many infractions around this whole thing that we’ll probably never see no money from it or any project that has these infractions.”

It’s a shame, because De La Soul created some of the most exciting—and original music of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Let’s hope that the band and label can come to an agreement, the samples can be properly cleared, and we can hear these albums on whatever service we want (with the band finally getting their fair share) soon.

Tags: copyright   De La Soul   hip-hop   music

2019-03-02T16:25:00Z


The European Parenthesis

Byzantium Map

There’s an idea in media history and media theory called “The Gutenberg Parenthesis.” The basic idea of it is simple: the dominance of fixed, printed text is a historical blip in a broader history of much more mutable, orally-driven media forms. You find versions of this idea in Walter Ong and Marshall McLuhan, but it’s being re-thought for digital technology by folks like L.O. Sauerberg and Thomas Pettit. And one of the implications is that if you want to understand media today, you have to understand media before Gutenberg and print. The future is medieval, is one formulation of this.

A similar idea can be applied to world history, and it has been by J.C. Sharman in his book Empires of the Weak: The Real Story of European Expansion and the Creation of the New World Order. Here the focus isn’t print technology, which Europe borrowed and adapted from Asia 500 years ago, but European domination of the rest of the world, which, Sharman contends, really only got going a little more than 200 years ago and is questionable today.

This is from a review of Sharman’s book by Alan Mikhail, titled “When Asia Ruled the World”:

In Sharman’s account, the dominance of the West (note Europe’s easy baton-pass to the United States), roughly from the Enlightenment to World War II, represents a historical blip in the last millennium. And, perhaps more important, today we seem to be on the cusp of a return to a more regular state of affairs, where the large states of Asia will again be the globe’s hegemons.

To make this provocative argument, Sharman finds the early modern period, conventionally dated from 1500 to 1800, the most fruitful for thinking about where we are headed. In those centuries, the enormous empires of the East — the Qing, the Ottomans and the Mughals — were the most formidable states on earth. Territory equaled power, and those states held the most land…

Asia’s enormous land-based empires didn’t much care about their coastlines and tolerated — more than they succumbed to — the Europeans nibbling on their shores in what were desperate, highly risky and ultimately temporary ventures. Until approximately 1750, Europeans — even in Europe, thanks to the Ottomans — held no military advantage over other powers.

But how then to explain the undeniable fact that Europeans dominated the globe from the turn of the 19th century to World War I? Sharman reasons that it was a combination of internal fractures within the Qing and Ottoman Empires, as well as the inclination of Europeans to think that empire building was the route to national sovereignty: in other words, almost a kind of vanity project.

The future, contends Sharman, is medieval; one in which Asia dominates the planet, and Europe and the West are at the periphery of global power and influence. There’s a lot that’s going to change over the next century; global climate change is certainly going to shift the balance of power and the fight for survival worldwide. But the idea that we’re coming out of a historical aberration rather than a necessary outcome is well worth thinking about.

Tags: Asia   Europe   history

2019-03-01T19:30:00Z


Tupac Shakur’s Break-Up Letter to Madonna

Tupac's Apology to Madonna.png

Tupac Shakur and Madonna dated briefly in 1994. According to Tupac’s brother Mopreme, the relationship began when Madonna passed Tupac a note during a press day for Above the Rim. The two of them broke up sometime before Tupac was shot on November 30, 1994 as part of a robbery at the Quad Recording Studios in Manhattan. Shortly after he was shot, Tupac was convicted of three counts of molestation as part of a sexual abuse case brought against him in 1993.

While in jail, Tupac wrote a letter to Madonna. This letter appears to have been sold at auction by Madonna’s former friend, art dealer Darlene Lutz, in 2018, after Madonna lost a legal fight to have it returned to her and keep it from being sold. Exactly what became of the letter is unknown.

It’s a remarkable letter, although parts of it have been blurred out by the auction house. The Independent focuses on the fact that Tupac was concerned about being seen publicly dating a white woman:

Can u understand that? For you to be seen with a black man wouldn’t in any way jeopardise your career. If anything it would make you seem that much more open & exciting. But for me at least in my previous perception, I felt due to my ‘image’ I would be letting down half of the people who made me what I thought I was. I never meant to hurt you.

Tupac was also upset by an interview that Madonna gave where she said, “I’m off to rehabilitate all the rappers and basketball players.”

“Those words cut me deep seeing how I had never known you to be with any rappers besides myself,” Tupac writes in the letter. “It was at this moment out of hurt & a natural instinct to strike back and defend my heart & ego that I said a lot of things.”

In her note on the letter, “Please Do Say Forgive Me,” Chandra Steele focuses instead on the nature and quality of Tupac’s apology.

Celebrities are separated from us by our perception of their godlike attainment of what we’re supposed to want: fame and money and sex. But when Tupac refers to their relationship, he uses words of humanity and humility. “I haven’t been the kind of friend I know I am capable of being” is how he frames the apology. It’s an empathy that some never access within themselves, no matter how many classes they take in unlocking their chakras. Later he tells Madonna, “I offer my friendship once again, this time much stronger and focused.” …

What’s more remarkable than what’s written is what isn’t. Tupac does not overstep the bounds of being an ex-lover. He does not push a selfish agenda. He has the wisdom to balance what he wants with what is warranted after leaving sans explanation. He does not burden her by asking for her forgiveness.

And then there are Tupac’s closing words:

I Don’t Know How you feel
About visiting me But if you
could find it in your Heart
I would love to speak face to face
with you. It’s funny but this experience has taught me
to Not take time 4 granted. [heart]

Tags: apologies   celebrities   letters   Madonna   movies   music   Tupac Shakur

2019-03-01T18:45:00Z


The Heart of the Grand Canyon Map

Over a period of 8 years, explorer and photographer Bradford Washburn worked with a small team and National Geographic to produce a map called The Heart of the Grand Canyon. Published in 1978, it is “still considered by many to be the most beautiful map of the area ever created”.

Natgeo Grand Canyon Map

Here’s a closeup view of part of the map, which shows just how much detail is there:

Natgeo Grand Canyon Map

Often Washburn was dropped off on top of a pinnacle or small butte along with surveying equipment, such as a state-of-the-art laser range-finder device still under development, on loan from the company that made it. Using a built-in telescope, Washburn would aim the helium-neon laser at a reflecting prism positioned on another point miles away. The laser beam would be reflected back to the range finder, which measured how long the beam’s round-trip took and translated that into distances that were accurate to within 6/100 of an inch per mile. Washburn used a 40-pound surveying instrument called a theodolite to measure the angles between each of the control points, providing him with the relative position and height of each set of points.

After a few weeks in the canyon, Washburn was convinced of the potential for “a map of really superlative beauty as well as topographic quality.” Knowing exactly where to find the expertise, and the funds, needed to realize that potential, he asked the National Geographic Society to join the project.

The surveying took years and then came the data analysis & production phases…it took over 1000 hours just to paint the relief shading onto the map. If you want to compare Washburn’s map to earlier efforts, check out this post at Codex 99. This 1903 USGS map was the best map into the 1960s:

Natgeo Grand Canyon Map

Even in the age of crisp satellite views in Google Maps, The Heart of the Grand Canyon is a beautiful and useful map. You can purchase a copy of the 1978 map (and a refreshed 1999 version) from the National Geographic store.

Tags: Bradford Washburn   Grand Canyon   maps   National Geographic

2019-03-01T18:16:56Z


Mapping the Odyssey Isn’t Easy

Odyssey - Abraham Ortelius.png

We’ve looked before at maps of Odysseus’s travels in The Odyssey (as Jason wrote in 2018, “that dude was LOST”). But it turns out — and maybe this shouldn’t be surprising — that it’s not easy to figure out exactly where Odysseus was in the Mediterranean Sea for all that time.

Scholars have pored over the text for clues for centuries, argued about their findings, and tried to interpret ambiguous language. We don’t even know for certain where Odysseus’s home island of Ithaca was.

Ithaca is one of a group of four islands, with smaller islands nearby, but it faces west while the others face east. (What does it mean for an island to face a direction?) It has forests and at least one mountain, and it is a good place for raising children. That isn’t much to go on.

Then there’s the whole question of what we gain from mapping The Odyssey in detail anyways. Some of it is plugging a gap in our imagination; we’ve gotten used to fantasy worlds supplying us with maps, and The Odyssey is a fantasy world that coexists with our own. But the level of detail is obsessive.

Attempts to map the Odyssey seem different from other attempts to locate the sites of famous myths and legends. Atlantis was the site of a wondrous civilization, Troy the landscape for an epic battle; finding them in the real world would mean discovering rich sources of evidence about past cultures. El Dorado’s location seems to have been coveted mainly for the lost city’s purported riches, Bimini for its rumored fountain of youth. But what do we gain by knowing where Helios kept his cows? Or which rocky, uninhabitable cave a kidnapping nymph called home?

Nevertheless, there’s a long history of scholars, artists, kings, and more attempting to write themselves into the myth of The Odyssey. The Aeneid, which simultaneously reimagines the founding of Rome as part of the story of the Iliad and Odyssey and elevates Virgil’s Latin poetry to the epic heights of Homer, is the most famous attempt to shore up a claim to legitimacy by appealing to the reality of the Odyssey’s ancient past.

But where exactly was Odysseus? Was he mostly in the Aegean and Italy, as Abraham Ortelius believed in 1597? Or was he scattered into the western Mediterranean, Spain, Corsica, North Africa, as Peter Struck thinks? We’ll probably never know. That dude was LOST.

Tags: books   geography   Homer   maps   Odyssey

2019-03-01T15:10:00Z


What Is a Vegetable? Do They Even Exist?

Last night at dinner, we were talking about our favorite vegetables1 and when my daughter said tomatoes might be her pick, my 11-year-old son, who is at that annoying know-it-all stage of his life and loves to shut down his sister on any minor quibble, said “tomatoes are a fruit”. I argued back that while a tomato might technically be a fruit, it is culturally considered a vegetable and that he was just being a pedantic dick in order to dunk on his sister (but not in those exact words).

This morning, I ran across this piece by Lynne Peskoe-Yang called Vegetables Don’t Exist, in which the author goes quite a bit deeper into what a vegetable is now (and has been in the past).

Botanically speaking, it’s still clear: eggplants, tomatoes, bell peppers, and squash are all fruits. It’s equally clear that mushrooms and truffles are fungi, more closely related to humans than they are to plants. But these are all, also, in common usage, “vegetables.” Yet when an authority like the Oxford English Dictionary should provide clarity on what a vegetable actually is, it instead defines vegetables as a specific set of certain cultivated plant parts, “such as a cabbage, potato, turnip, or bean.” And since carrots and turnips are roots, potatoes are tubers, broccoli is a flower, cabbage is a leaf, and celery is a stem, we find that “vegetable” rarely applies to the entire plant (or to the same parts of the plant), while it also has a way of applying to things that aren’t actually vegetables. It is a category both broader and more specific that the thing it’s supposed to describe.

The piece also references my favorite thing about the English language (which I first learned about in Bill Bryson’s The Mother Tongue) about why the food that results from pigs & cows are called pork & beef:

During Norman and early Plantagenet rule, the farm-to-table divide was less of a foodie buzzword than a class distinction: the upper class were served in French while serfs and servants planted, harvested, raised, butchered, and cooked in Anglo-Saxon. The French word for the served food lived alongside the Germanic word for its source. When Anglo-Saxon chickens were slaughtered, they became poultry for the Normans to eat. Food and animal were class-divided döppelgangers: Anglo-Saxon sheep, cows, swine, and doves were transformed into French mouton (mutton), boeuf (beef), porc (pork), and pigeons (pigeons).

(via @legalnomads)

  1. The whole thing came up because I remembered how amazing Momofuku’s brussels sprouts are and told the kids its one of my all-time favorite veggie dishes. Other favorites include corn on the cob (from a particular farm in Massachusetts), a perfectly ripe tomato (in caprese salad or on a BLT), asparagus, the snap peas I get from the local farmers’ market in the summer, hen of the woods mushrooms, and beets.

Tags: Bill Bryson   books   food   language   Lynne Peskoe-Yang   The Mother Tongue

2019-02-28T18:59:19Z


Rembrandtness and the Art of Art Authentication

Russell Shorto has a piece in this weekend’s NY Times Magazine about two previously undiscovered Rembrandt paintings, the man who found them both, and the art-world controversy that followed. Here’s one of the newly claimed Rembrandts, bought for $173,000 at auction:

Portrait Gentleman Rembrandt

The article is interesting throughout — it’s a neat little bow of a story by the author of the fantastic Island at the Center of the World — but I wanted to highlight this bit on “Rembrandtness” (what a term!) and the fuzziness of authenticating a painting like this:

Six next lined up prominent scholars to support his attribution of the painting to Rembrandt. It’s worth noting that some were unwilling to do so — not because they definitively believed otherwise, but as part of a shift toward acknowledging the gray areas in art history. For such a painting, which seemingly came out of nowhere, there is no way to achieve absolute certainty about its provenance. “When Jan came to me with his painting, I had to admit I couldn’t contest his arguments,” said Gary Schwartz, an American Rembrandt biographer and an authority on 17th-century Dutch art. “And I told him I wouldn’t express doubts about Rembrandt’s authorship. But it doesn’t make me happy” to be so definitive. He went on to elaborate the particular difficulties that Rembrandt poses for authenticators: the variety of styles he painted in, his many pupils, the likelihood that in his studio more than one person worked on a given painting. A painting that is determined to be, say, by “the studio of Rembrandt,” rather than by Rembrandt himself, would be of lesser value. Schwartz is one of a number of art historians who, when it comes to questions of the authenticity of works by famous painters, would like people to focus less on the artist and the monetary worth of the painting than on the work itself. He uses the term “Rembrandtness” and argues for assigning shades of likelihood that a painting is by the artist himself. Regarding the Rembrandtness of this particular portrait, he said, “The attribution to Rembrandt is the hypothesis to beat, but it may not be unbeatable.”

Museums try to respect “Rembrandtness.” The National Gallery of Art in London, for instance, labels “An Old Man in an Armchair” as “probably by Rembrandt,” and the Mauritshuis museum recently announced that it is mounting an exhaustive study of two of its supposed Rembrandts to try to determine the likelihood of their being by the master. “I think ‘Rembrandtness’ is a smart idea,” said Ronni Baer, senior curator of European paintings at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. “But people aren’t going to be content with it because there’s so much money involved in attribution.”

I wonder what the true Rembrandtness is of all the paintings in museums or expensive collections that are currently attributed to only his hand? Or the da Vinciness of Salvator Mundi?

Speaking of Rembrandt, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam is currently displaying all of their extensive collection of works by the artist in an exhibition called All the Rembrandts.1

In addition, the most important painting in the collection, Night Watch, will be restored in place over the next several years so that museum visitors can observe the process.

  1. To paraphrase the classic Onion article about razors: “Fuck everything, we’re doing all the Rembrandts!”

Tags: Amsterdam   art   language   museums   Rembrandt   Rijksmuseum   Russell Shorto

2019-02-28T16:58:12Z


Our World Is Built for Men

In her new book, Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, Caroline Criado Perez argues that the data that scientists, economists, public policy makers, and healthcare providers rely on is skewed, unfairly and dangerously, towards men.

…because so much data fails to take into account gender, because it treats men as the default and women as atypical, bias and discrimination are baked into our systems. And women pay tremendous costs for this bias, in time, money, and often with their lives.

The Guardian has a lengthy excerpt of the book, including a discussion of crash test dummies:

Crash-test dummies were first introduced in the 1950s, and for decades they were based around the 50th-percentile male. The most commonly used dummy is 1.77m tall and weighs 76kg (significantly taller and heavier than an average woman); the dummy also has male muscle-mass proportions and a male spinal column. In the early 1980s, researchers based at Michigan University argued for the inclusion of a 50th-percentile female in regulatory tests, but this advice was ignored by manufacturers and regulators. It wasn’t until 2011 that the US started using a female crash-test dummy — although, as we’ll see, just how “female” these dummies are is questionable.

Designing cars around the typical male body type means women are more likely to be injured or killed:

Men are more likely than women to be involved in a car crash, which means they dominate the numbers of those seriously injured in them. But when a woman is involved in a car crash, she is 47% more likely to be seriously injured, and 71% more likely to be moderately injured, even when researchers control for factors such as height, weight, seatbelt usage, and crash intensity. She is also 17% more likely to die. And it’s all to do with how the car is designed — and for whom.

Another example Criado Perez cites involves women’s healthcare:

When Viagra — sildenafil citrate — was tested initially as heart medication, its well-known properties for men were discovered. “Hallelujah,” said Big Pharma, and research ceased. However, in subsequent tests the same drug was found to offer total relief for serious period pain over four hours. This didn’t impress the male review panel, who refused further funding, remarking that cramps were not a public health priority.

Tags: books   Caroline Criado Perez   cars   Invisible Women   medicine   sexism   Viagra

2019-02-27T22:50:05Z


Freddie Mercury’s Vocal Doppelganger

Whatever your opinion of the Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody,1 you gotta admit the music was pretty great. After all, Mercury and Queen were pretty great. But some of the credit also goes to Marc Martel, who sounds remarkably like Mercury and did some of the vocals for the film.

Rami Malek embodies Mercury onscreen, but as he told The New York Times last year, “No one wants to hear me sing.” During the performance sequences in “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the movie sometimes employs Mercury’s actual vocals from the Queen archives, but that wasn’t always practical — some scenes demanded a stunt vocal-cord performer.

The film’s creators have conceded that the sung vocals in the movie are largely by Mercury and Martel, although they haven’t broken down the specifics of who contributed what; doing so might distract from Malek’s performance.

Here’s Martel singing We Are The Champions:

He even looks a little bit like Mercury, don’t you think? Perhaps more impressively, here’s Martel doing Bohemian Rhapsody:

Vocal coach Carl Franz was impressed.

Martel is currently touring with a Queen cover band and released an album of Queen covers last year.

Bonus: Polyphonic explains why Mercury was such an incredible singer:

(via open culture)

  1. My 2 cents is that Rami Malik deserved the hell out of that Oscar and BH was really fun to see in the midst of a sea of Queen fans on opening night. But a Best Picture nominee it was not.

Tags: Bohemian Rhapsody   Freddie Mercury   Marc Martel   movies   music   Queen   video

2019-02-27T21:25:46Z


A Camera Lens Made from an Iceberg

Mathieu Stern had an idea. He thought that if you could sculpt a piece of ultra-clear ice into the correct shape, it would function as a camera lens. To find that quality of ice, he traveled to Iceland to scavenge a chunk of an iceberg washed ashore on a black sandy beach. After some trial and error, he succeeded in making his iceberg lens and using it to shoot some photos and video. The lens lasted for about a minute before melting.

Here are some of the photos he took:

Iceberg Lens

Iceberg Lens

It’s a little impractical to go all the way to Iceland for iceberg ice when you can make your own clear ice at home, but Stern had this to say:

Now if people asks me “Are you happy with the result? it’s a bunch of blurry photos!?”, my response would be: “this project is a scientific, artistic and poetic project, I never imagined the result would look like the photos that comes from an ultra modern lens, but I was amazed by the strange beauty of the images I made with the first ever 10 000 year old lens.”

This is not a project for everyday photography, it was an adventure and a bet that when you have a crazy hypothesis, you should do everything to experiment it in the field.

I also wondered whether iceberg ice was actually more clear or pure than ice you could make at home. I didn’t find anything definitive but I did read this piece by Michelle Iwen about drinking single-malt scotch cooled by iceberg ice.

Our expedition leader, an Irish biologist studying southern birds, fished small chunks of clear-bubbled ice directly from the water as he worked to dislodge a sharp edged growler from beneath the propeller. He encouraged us to taste the ice, licking off the overlying salt water to find the pure, flavorless cold underneath.

“If you hold it in your bare hand long enough to speed the melting, you’ll hear it fizzle,” he told us. The fizzy pop of bergy seltzer is a familiar, yet unexpected sound. It sounds like a freshly opened can of soda, as the bubbles newly freed from the ice travel up toward the surface of the water. Yet the mundane sound of bergy seltzer belies the sinister power of melt against the bottom of the iceberg. Each bubble released scores the surface of the ice, compromising its structural integrity. We held the ice shards in our hands to make it fizz, let our skin burn against the freeze, as our expedition guide hoisted the free-floating remnants of a tiny growler into the zodiac to be chipped apart and consumed in cocktails that evening.

(via @peteashton)

Tags: Iceland   Mathieu Stern   Michelle Iwen   photography   video   water

2019-02-27T19:38:09Z


How the KGB Weaponized Fake News (and How It’s Still Hurting Us Today)

The US government created HIV. The CIA killed Kennedy. The KGB deliberately spread disinformation designed to hurt the US and its allies for decades. In this excellent three-part video series from the NY Times, they show how this KBG program worked and how, under Vladimir Putin, it continues to affect world politics.

The first installment is an introduction to how the KGB wielded disinformation as well as a profile of one of their most successful operations: convincing the world that the US government created the AIDS epidemic. It took almost 4 years, but an article planted by the KGB in an Indian newspaper was eventually reported by Dan Rather on the CBS evening news, embraced by anti-AIDS activists, and believed by many foreign governments.

In the words of a KGB agent that defected to the US, the goal of Soviet disinformation was “to change the perception of reality of every American to such an extent that despite the abundance of information, no one is able to come to sensible conclusions in the interests of defending themselves, their families, their community, and their country.” It was a denial of service attack on the truth.

Fast forward through the end of the Cold War and to the rise of former KGB agent Vladimir Putin. Now Russia is creating fake news stories like Pizzagate which now form the basis of US domestic and foreign policy because our President watches Fox News every morning. In the second segment, the Seven Commandments of Fake News are introduced:

The commandments are:

1. Find the cracks in the fabric of society, the social, demographic, economic, and ethnic divisions.
2. Create a big lie, something that would be very damaging if you could get people to believe it.
3. Wrap the lie in a kernel of truth.
4. Conceal your hand, make it seem like the story came from somewhere else.
5. Find yourself a useful idiot.
6. Deny everything, even if the truth is obvious.
7. Play the long game.

In the third video, they look at what can be done to combat Russia and other players in this war of disinformation, and how ineffective the response has been on the part of the US government (including the Obama administration) and social media companies:

There are certainly no shortage of useful idiots for Putin to exploit. Fox News and Trump top the list along with the alt-right media charlatans, but YouTube’s algorithms, Facebook’s business model, and the everyday American citizens like you and me are also to blame. Add into the mix that Trump is also waging his own disinformation campaign against the American public, and there’s a lot to ponder and despair.

See also Putin’s Playbook for Discrediting America and Destabilizing the West.

Tags: Donald Trump   politics   Russia   video   Vladimir Putin

2019-02-27T17:17:03Z


What’s the Weather Like on Mars Right Now?

Now that the InSight lander is up and running on Mars, NASA is using the probe’s weather instrumentation to provide a daily weather report from the red planet.

Mars Insight Weather

The report is delayed by a day or so (communications delay? non-essential data delay?), but it’s still really cool to see what the temperature, wind speed, and barometric pressure is at Elysium Planitia.

I’d just like to note for the record that at some point on Monday, it was actually warmer on Mars than it is right now in Vermont. ♫ Gotta get up, gotta get out, gotta get out into the Martian sun… ♫

Tags: InSight   Mars   NASA   space   weather

2019-02-27T14:31:51Z


A Mega-Trailer for the Whole 10-Film Star Wars Franchise

In 2012, actor and budding film editor Topher Grace took all three Star Wars prequels and condensed them into an 85-minute movie called Star Wars: Episode III.5: The Editor Strikes Back.

Earlier today, Grace and trailer editor Jeff Yorkes uploaded a trailer they created for all 10 movies in the Star Wars franchise: the originals, the prequels, the two new ones, and the Star Wars Stories (Solo and Rogue One). As a trailer, it leaves a lot out, but the pair still make a few connections explicit that the casual fan may have overlooked in the midst of all the light saber & fighter duels.

Tags: Jeff Yorkes   movies   remix   Star Wars   Topher Grace   trailers   video

2019-02-26T21:39:21Z


Movie Color Palettes

A site called The Colors of Motion makes single image timelines of the use of colors in movies. They sample frames at regular intervals, choose the average color of each frame, and stack them up. Here’s their representation of Blade Runner 2049:

Color Motion Br 2049

If you click through on specific films, you can see the actual screencaps used for sampling and buy prints.

The Moviebarcode Tumblr pre-dates The Colors of Motion, although they appear to use a slightly different technique: each scene is smooshed into a single vertical line. Here’s Mad Max: Fury Road:

Movie Bar Codes Mad Max

Prints are available from Moviebarcode as well.

See also Brendan Dawes’ Cinema Redux and Wes Anderson Palettes.

Tags: color   infoviz   movies   remix

2019-02-26T20:49:41Z


Wind Speeds Hit 171 MPH Atop Mount Washington Yesterday

As you can see on the US wind map, it’s been blustery in New England for the past couple of days. Yesterday the observatory atop Mount Washington in New Hampshire recorded a wind gust of 171 mph, the fastest gust ever recorded there in the month of February. This is what yesterday’s “Hays Chart” looked like:

Mt Washington Wind Chart

While it’s more that 50 mph slower than the 1934 record of 231 mph (!!), a look at the historical record shows that it’s one of the strongest winds ever recorded there and the strongest one since 1985.

While the observatory building itself is rated for winds up to 300 mph, humans venturing out at that speed might blow away. Here’s what a person battling 70-100 mph winds looks like:

On Instagram, someone at the observatory said of last night’s winds:

We could absolutely hear the winds yesterday! Sounded like a constant rumble similar to an earthquake. At the height of the storm our coffee mugs were shaking across the table and our bullet proof windows were constantly flexing back and forth.

(thx, meg)

Tags: infoviz   Mount Washington   video   weather

2019-02-26T18:09:31Z


The Celebrity Name Spelling Test

Last month, I wrote about Colin Morris’ flow diagrams that show how people most frequently misspell difficult words. The crew over at The Pudding turned this into an interactive feature where you can test your spelling of the names of celebrities like football player & activist Colin K., actor & comedian Zach G., and musician Alanis M. As you type, you get a flow diagram of your letter choices compared to everyone else’s. Here’s my diagram for Zach G., which only 15% of people got correct (with the correct spelling blocked out):

Zach Misspell

I only got 8 right…how did you do?

Tags: infoviz   language

2019-02-26T17:20:34Z


Flat-Earther Proves in Simple Experiment that the Earth Is Round

Behind the Curve, now available on Netflix, is a 2018 documentary about the global community of people who believe that the Earth is flat. In this scene at the end of the film (um, spoilers?), a Flat-Earther named Jeran Campanella devises a simple experiment that he claims will prove that the Earth is flat…but very quickly proves the opposite:

Campanella’s reaction: “Interesting. Interesting. That’s interesting.” This is one of two straightforward experiments shown in the film that are devised by Flat-Earthers to prove the planet’s flatness that end up affirming that the Earth is indeed round (or, more accurately, an oblate spheroid).

One of the more jaw-dropping segments of the documentary comes when Bob Knodel, one of the hosts on a popular Flat Earth YouTube channel, walks viewers through an experiment involving a laser gyroscope. As the Earth rotates, the gyroscope appears to lean off-axis, staying in its original position as the Earth’s curvature changes in relation. “What we found is, is when we turned on that gyroscope we found that we were picking up a drift. A 15 degree per hour drift,” Knodel says, acknowledging that the gyroscope’s behavior confirmed to exactly what you’d expect from a gyroscope on a rotating globe.

“Now, obviously we were taken aback by that. ‘Wow, that’s kind of a problem,’” Knodel says. “We obviously were not willing to accept that, and so we started looking for ways to disprove it was actually registering the motion of the Earth.”

Knodel & Campanella are the co-hosts of a YouTube channel called Globebusters (I’m not going to link to it…YouTube’s conspiracy-minded algorithms don’t need any help) where they claim to debunk the Earth’s curvature and heliocentrism as well as discussing how NASA fakes space activities. Their failed experiments don’t seem to have diminished their Flat Earth zeal. One of their recent videos, nearly 4 hours long, is an attempt to “[debunk] the bogus claim that Globebusters proved a 15 degree per hour rotation of the Earth” and another, also almost 4 hours long, is a rebuttal to the “misrepresentation” of their views and experiments in Behind the Curve.

Tags: Behind the Curve   Earth   movies   pseudoscience   science   video

2019-02-26T16:13:21Z


Where the $&%@# Did Grawlixes Come From?

A grawlix is a string of typographic characters that represent obscene language, often found in comics. In this video Phil Edwards traces the history of the grawlix back to the early 20th century, right around when the comic form was invented.

Known as the “grawlix” — a term invented by Beetle Bailey cartoonist Mort Walker — this string of symbols is almost as old as comics, extending back to the early 1900s. Comics like The Katzenjammer Kids and Lady Bountiful were truly inventing the art form and, in the process, had to figure out a way to show obscenities to kids. Enter #*@!$ like this. The grawlix performs a censorship function while, at the same time, revealing that something naughty is going on.

Tags: comics   language   Phil Edwards   video

2019-02-25T21:05:32Z


Earth’s Atmosphere Stretches Out Past the Moon

Earth Atmosphere Bigger

A recent analysis of data collected by the ESA/NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory shows that the Earth’s atmosphere is a lot larger than previously known.

A recent discovery based on observations by the ESA/NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, SOHO, shows that the gaseous layer that wraps around Earth reaches up to 630 000 km away, or 50 times the diameter of our planet.

“The Moon flies through Earth’s atmosphere,” says Igor Baliukin of Russia’s Space Research Institute, lead author of the paper presenting the results.

“We were not aware of it until we dusted off observations made over two decades ago by the SOHO spacecraft.”

As you might imagine, the atmosphere gets preeeeetty thin farther from the surface of the Earth — at the Moon’s distance, the density of hydrogen atoms is 0.2 atoms per cubic centimeter.

Tags: Earth   space

2019-02-25T19:00:45Z


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