Curious About Everything Newsletter #18
Best reads from the prior month! This month's picks are about food, health, and the natural world.
Welcome back to Curious About Everything. CAE 17, last month’s chicken-heavy newsletter, is here if you missed it.
👰🏻 🤵🏻♂️ My baby brother got married! Many of you know that my brother and I are very close, and he’s why I moved to the Ottawa area. So it was an incredible thing to see him marry the woman of his dreams. Here’s my Instagram post with a long caption about the day, and how I made it work with a spinal CSF leak:
Yes, I cried like a baby during the ceremony. (A more detailed caption on FB, here.)
🎂 I made it to 43! My birthday was a few days after the wedding, so I’m still recovering from the "standing up time” and had a quiet day. When life changes so dramatically, in a moment, every birthday is a reminder that it’s a feat to just be here—even if things aren’t as I hoped they would be. August 23rd is the “anniversary” of that lumbar puncture that changed my life. Maybe one day I’ll be able to celebrate an August sealed and healed again. One can hope.
The Best Things I Read This Month
A smorgasbord of many things.
Links about food 🍲
Om nom nom.
🍲 Doug Mack on rise and fall of Jell-O pudding pops, the 1980s snack that melted away. Snack Stack
🍲 Chance, choice, and the avocado: the “strange evolutionary and creative history” of one of our favourite things to eat. Or, in Maria Popova’s words: “how a confused romancer that survived the Ice Age became a tropical sensation and took over the world.” The Marginalian
🍲 New York, like every other city that’s “running dangerously low on ideas” is full of “grotesque commercial experiences”. Now, you can add a Fancy Feast cat cafe to the list, described in punny detail by Choire Sicha. Grub Street
🍲 “Bobafication is saying yes, I will add slippery jelly and chewy balls to my milk tea, and yes, why not, I’ll put hunks of pudding in my passionfruit juice, and, oh, my god, of course I want salty foam to lick the tip of my nose as I sip, as if I’m out on a date with myself.” Serena Dai on the “bobafication” of big chain cafes and their wholesale adoption of boba culture. Bobafication is “choosing delight over cynicism”, she writes, but it has its issues: these chains take credit / pretend to innovate—without crediting the Asian origins of their “creative” drinks. Bon Appetit
🍲 A guide to the herbs and spices used in Vietnamese cuisine, including my absolute favourite, rice paddy herb, which was the reason I went to Vietnam in the first place (having tried it in canh chua 🍜). Vietnam Coracle
🍲 In remote Alaska, meal planning is critically important, since most ingredients need to be grown or carefully flown in. Everyone plans food strategies together, and rarely eats alone. Interesting read about “food as survival”, as a matter of course. Eater
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Links about the natural world 🌱
So much beauty to behold.
🌱 In his Microsculpture collection, British photographer Levon Biss reveals the minute details of insects in a resolution and scale that boggles the mind. Levon Biss Studio
🌱 The etymology of the word “giraffe” is as fascinating as the animal itself. Penn Language Log, via The Browser
🌱 Surfing dogs? I’ll bite. SF Gate
🌱 How it feels to chase a tornado across three states: Matthew Cappucci’s first person diary of extreme weather enthusiasm. LitHub
🌱 NASA’s photographers of the year for 2022. Wow. PetaPixel
🌱 And 18 of the “otherworldly finalists” from the 2022 Astronomy Photographer of the Year Contest. Winners will be announced here, in September! My Modern Met, Royal Museums Greenwich
🌱 Antlers defy science by doing what no other bones can, writes Katherine J. Wu, who tells us how deer almost break their bodies to make them. The Atlantic
No other mammals regularly discard and regenerate bits of bony skeleton like this. And scientists are still working to understand why deer annually jettison these “improbable appendages,” the objects of our envy and one of the greatest energetic investments the animals make. Antlers are a proclamation, majestic enough to attract the attention of deer and humans alike—enough that we may be reshaping the appendages before our knowledge is complete.”
🌱 From the UK: your favourite “sustainable” clothing brand may not be so green after all. Gear Patrol
🌱 “The ultimate goal is not just to lower the ambient temperature of the community but to see how it impacts the livelihoods of people in the community.” Can covering pavement with solar-reflecting paint reduce temperatures? With 1 million square feet already covered in Los Angeles, we’re starting to find out. Fast Company
🌱 Mysterious holes on the sea floor remain mysterious. NOAA Ocean Exploration
Links about health ⚕️
Reads that help us navigate complex problems.
⚕️ The afterlife of a brain trauma survivor: Sophia Papp emerged from an accident with her personality transformed, grappling with what it now meant to be her. I can relate to the lines about how catastrophe, when it cleaves our lives apart, requires us to stitch our stories back together somehow with a “new through line” in order to restore cohesion. Fascinating, humbling read, an excerpt from Mike Mariani’s book “What Doesn't Kill Us Makes Us”. I enjoyed his writing so much that I just pre-ordered his book. WIRED Mag
Sophie’s continuity of self had been ruptured forever. Her new reality forced her to reckon with an identity crisis writ large as she began her afterlife living under the skin of somebody who’d been born in the crash.
Here, she felt, was the truth about identity: It was fluid, subject to change at any time, less the product of some imperishable internal self than the endless array of natural forces convulsing around it.
⚕️ We’re making the same mistakes with Monkeypox that we made with Covid-19, says Miranda Dixon-Luinenburg. We need more transparency, quicker access to data, and more open discussions of risks. Vox News
⚕️ Why is it that women go through menopause when they still have “a few decades of healthy life ahead of them”, whereas men keep producing sperm into their 80s or 90s? The “grandmother hypothesis” is one theory, positing that people evolved toward menopause to have a wiser, “non-breeding” set of grandmas to nurture the young. Nautilus
⚕️ What goes viral? Disability dongles, those “seductive yet generally silly objects” that feel promising in concept but in practice do very little for the disabled. Laura Mauldin on how creativity and collaboration actually work, oftentimes better than shiny new tech toys lauded in the press—that were usually developed without actual input from the disabled. The Baffler
Disabled people develop and share hacks—which often don’t require high-tech anything—to MacGyver their way through daily life. I’m talking about ingenious practices […] such as using a mortar and pestle to crush pills for a feeding tube that a plastic pill grinder couldn’t handle, or cutting a ring out of the opening of a sock and sliding it up to just below a knee to prevent skin irritation from a leg brace. In contrast to what gets churned out in glossy promotional materials for corporations and tech start-ups, disabled people find creative ways to make their worlds accessible every day.
⚕️ Context switching eats up our cognitive bandwidth, and makes it harder to be productive and mentally healthy. Interesting newsletter about what it does to our brains, and how we can do things differently. Async
⚕️ A summary of an important new study about the blood abnormalities in Long Covid patients, including low cortisol, exhausted T-cells, herpesvirus reactivation (Epstein Barr Virus, Varicella-zoster virus, and more.) Many of these abnormalities are also found in ME/CFS patients. See even shorter summary of the key findings here. Science.org
⚕️ A new review summarizing findings from 1732 studies on masking and Covid-19, and shows once again that masking does work. A plain language summary from Alex Howard as well, with 2022 evidence, here. Medrxiv, Fast.ai
Quick links 🔗
Shorter reads to explore this month.
🔗 Making new emoji by combining two existing ones together. Very fun. Emoji Kitchen
🔗 A site that warns you of emotional spoilers in films, TV shows, books and more. Does the Dog Die
🔗 Interesting questions about society, from the CEO and co-founder of Stripe. Examples: why is everything so expensive, how do people decide to make major life changes, what does religion cause, etc. Patrick Collison
🔗 And another, “things to think about” post, about the questions you should ask yourself before you launch. Seth Godin
🔗 Dave Pell on the radicalization of the American right, and how it ties into the attack on Salman Rushdie. NextDraft
🔗 Interactive, 3D map of Mount Everest Everest3d
🔗 An exhibit of the things people found inside of library books. Love it! Oakland Library
🔗 A Walrus named Freya hit celebrity status in Norway—until the decision was made to kill her. A short read by Ted Stansfield on why Freya the Walrus is the perfect metaphor for our times: she lived, she laughed, she was cruelly euthanised. Dazed Digital
🔗 Seal breaks into New Zealand home, traumatises the household cat, and hangs out on the couch. The Guardian
🔗 When Americans got angry about higher gas prices, friends and readers in across the pond were confused, because “the most expensive US state pays far less than the UK” when it comes to gas. In Quebec and Ontario, too, gas is more expensive than in the USA. Why? Primarily taxes. The Hustle.
Book of the month 📖
Ella Frances Sanders is an artist I’ve been working with for years. She illustrates the food maps I designed, and also drew my Legal Nomads and CAE logos, as well as my mascot Arthur the Raven.
Her new book, Everything Beautiful, is an illustrated and interactive exploration of what beauty looks like in a difficult world, with some great questions to ask yourself along the way. She hasn’t asked me to share this, I’m just really proud of her and the book is lovely.
You can get it on Amazon here (not an affiliate link), or via Penguin here. It’s out on Aug 23rd in North America, and Sept 23rd in the UK (pre-order here). I’d recommend a hard copy as the workbook-like nature of the experience matters.
That’s it for August! Until next month…