The Curious About Everything Newsletter #19
The best things I read this month about society, culture, and technology.
Welcome back to Curious About Everything. CAE 18, last month’s newsletter, is here if you missed it.
✨ The American Spinal CSF Leak Foundation has asked me to join their board of directors, and I have accepted. Both the US and Canadian Foundations have been very helpful since I sustained a CSF leak from a lumbar puncture that then became chronic. I’m excited to help serve the patient community, and hopefully continue to raise awareness for this debilitating condition.
✨ I’ve enabled annual memberships on my Patreon, and we’re about to have a group Zoom call to chat about life, food, and everything in between. Join us! Memberships start as little as $5 a month.
✨ I’m fully settled in my Ottawa apartment, the first time I’ve decorated an unfurnished place since 2003 when I moved to New York to begin working as a lawyer. It’s been an interesting (sometimes frustrating) challenge to find the tools that can accommodate my disabilities. The two that gave me the most freedom:
An AutoSlide, which I had to get permission for as it drills into the patio door. It is a motor that allows me to open the patio door with a button press, since the 20lbs of drag weight are not possible with a spinal leak; and
Electric blinds, since the blinds the apartment came with are too heavy for me to pull up in the morning. I will be writing a longer post on my site about these and other changes I made to make the apartment my own.
I’m really enjoying getting to know Ottawa, and have thus far found that people are kind and considerate about my limitations. The city has a lot of green spaces, which I can’t wait to see as we roll into autumn.
✨ I’ve updated my gluten free guides to Japan, Spain, and France with new restaurants that are safe for celiacs, and removed some closures from the pandemic. In the works are translation cards for South Korea, Sweden, Finland, and more, which go slowly as I can only work as my health allows. South Korea is in beta and out in the wild being tested by a reader.
The Best Things I Read This Month
I’ve had a lot of links in the “Society, Culture and Technology” category, so that’s the big bucket we’re going with for this month’s recommendations.
💾 A wonderful interview with the “last man standing” in the floppy disk business. Floppy disks are still enduring despite having disappeared from most of our day-to-day lives. (The interview was originally published in a new book, Floppy Disk Fever: The Curious Afterlives of a Flexible Medium). He’s a former lawyer, too!
People send us the disks that they’ve rediscovered in their drawers. They can no longer use them, but they still want to get to their old address book, PhD thesis, or photographs that are on there. So, somebody might send us five disks with Kodak photographs on them, and we get them off. If we’re running behind, I sometimes transfer the data at home while watching American football. You would not believe some of the letters we get back. People see their late grandmother or their baby pictures again and that’s very important to them. We’re happy to bring these things back. We’re not being charitable and we don’t need to be congratulated for it, but it is nice to know that we’re getting people stuff they really need.
⌚ Adam Mastroianni on the “productivity pablum” that only tells us how lazy we are. He used to buy into it, and become extra productive—only to then feel “pretty bummed” all the time. Once he stopped measuring his worth by productivity and started doing work he enjoyed, he stopped self-flagellating. “If I wanted to maximize human misery, I would 100% try to convince people to spend more time doing things they hate.” Not everyone has the privilege to try work that they love, but his message seems to be: if you do have that privilege, and you’re not trying work you enjoy, you’re only going to stay unhappy no matter how productive you are. Experimental History
🫂 An introvert’s guide to getting ahead of social fatigue: a reading list for those of you who are introverted (me!) and want to “maximize your social battery” if you are starting to socialize again (not me!). Pocket
♿ Fourteen years ago, Ian Mackay crashed his bike, lost all feeling below his chest, lost the ability to breathe on his own, and lost all hope. In June, he hit the open road, reclaimed an old love and set a world record: he wheeled 184 miles in 24 hours, by mouth-controlled power. Sports Illustrated
🎙️ A deep dive into each of the number one singles in the history of the Billboard Hot 100, starting with 1958 (when the chart began) and working up to present day. Stereogum
🎼 And, also on the music front: a series of mixes meant to focus the brain and inspire the mind. The site says that they’ve found the most compelling music for sustained concentration, which is a mixture of different noises, arpeggios, texture, and meditative tracks. That music can “provide just the right amount of cognitive load to engage the parts of your mind that would otherwise be left free to wander and lead to distraction”. The goal of the site isn’t to offer background noise, but to share music that can be appreciated or enhanced by that peripheral attention while working. Music for Programming
🌝 The enduring wisdom of what was my favourite book as a child: “Goodnight Moon”. It is a whimsical story of a rabbit getting ready for bed, who methodically (and rhymingly) says goodnight to the items around him. Apparently the story is 75 years old! New York Times
#️⃣ How can we change our engagement with social media and make ourselves happier? The Marginalian’s Maria Popova has a solution: to share more about others than you’re currently doing. (I guess this newsletter qualifies!). Unselfing Social.
We are living through a pandemic of selfing — rampant self-celebration that mistakes applause for connection, likes for love. Social media companies are capitalizing on our native need for affirmation, exploiting our compromised immunity to manipulation at every turn: algorithms prioritizing selfies over sunflowers, algorithms amplifying the word I, algorithms doping us on the dopamine of being noticed, seducing us into forgetting the art and joy of noticing — that crowning glory of consciousness. And somewhere, in the quiet core of our being, this frantic hunt for likes is making us like ourselves less.
Related: “Reject the Algorithm”, via Of Dollars and Data.
📚 Summary of the book banning happening in the United States, which is growing. Related: the Brooklyn Library, about the book burning that happened during the Nazi regime in Germany. Also related: a list of the many banned books in Texas. PEN, The Brooklyn Library, Texas Monthly
📖 A lighter read: Ed Simon rounds up the many big-impact gaffes in books over the years, from the Bible to the US constitution to contemporary copy errors in books. The Millions
The King James Version of the Bible has exactly 783,137 words, but unfortunately for the London print shop of Robert Barker and Martin Lucas, official purveyors to King Charles I, their 1631 edition left out three crucial letters, one crucial word—”not.” As such, their version of Exodus 20:14 read, “Thou shalt commit adultery.” Their royal patron was not amused. This edition was later deemed the “Wicked Bible.”
⚕️ A profile of the Longevity House, Toronto’s anti-aging exclusive club where Michael Nguyen helps his wealthy clients biohack their way to living longer, with the help of technology. I have spent the last years tracking my own progress with my conditions, and have also experimented with some of what Nguyen discusses (red light therapy, peptides, wearables, etc) in an aim to move the needle on my leak healing. Even without an exclusive club like this one, it’s expensive to be this sick, and there’s still privilege in being able to try these modalities in the first place. Toronto Life
⚾ If you attend a US sporting event and order a ballpark nacho, there’s a good chance they came from a “molten-cheese empire in San Antonio, Texas.” Apparently they are sold in staggering numbers, 13 million per year, and originated from Frank Liberto, who took Mexican ingredients and turned them into processed popularity. (Can we really call it ‘cheese’?) Hustle
🎾 How Serena Williams reshaped tennis during her long, accomplished career. The Ringer
Yung Pueblo on how introspection (or, looking inward, as he calls it) takes courage. “When you are building self-awareness and intentionally trying to break out of old patterns, the past has a way of thundering into the forefront of your mind.” A good short read for people in the middle of the work, who feel like they’re sliding. Yung Pueblo’s Notes
🦠 Despite what some may be telling us, Covid is most definitely not over. In Ontario, Canada, where I am, deaths are higher this year than they were last year at this time. Long covid cases are going up. And given reduced testing, how can we stay informed? Wastewater is one of the few tools we have. Interesting read on how scientists traced a new SARS-CoV-2 variant to one specific office building using wastewater testing. Nature
❤️🩹 Speaking of Long Covid, Ed Yong has been the most consistent science writer of the pandemic, and as I’ve mentioned previously he actually listens to patients and incorporates their perspectives into his pieces. Here’s his latest, on how we can learn much from the ME/CFS community. The similarities with long Covid are striking. The Atlantic
🪨 On the “lost art” of stone skipping, via a profile of its living evangelist Kurt Steiner, who found that it brought him respite from depression and other forms of mental illness. He’s since dedicated his adult life to skipping stones, producing world-record throws that “defy the laws of physics” in the process. Outside Magazine
👩🔬 What happens when a scientist's findings conflict with prevailing narratives? Katherine Flegal reflects on her long career as a CDC epidemiologist and the firestorm over her obesity research. She helped develop the body mass index (BMI), a ratio of weight and height. Yet public perception of her work different from the data. Interesting interview. Knowable Magazine
🧠 When you reflect back on something that happened, do you see the scene through your own eyes (first person), or do you see yourself in it separately, as if you’re a watching a movie scene (third person)? Thoughtful discussion about how memory works differently in different people. The Atlantic
⌛ Researchers hypothesize that pain feels worse at night due to the body clock / pain’s circadian rhythm. Limited study of 12 men; would be interested if it’s replicable with a less narrow group. WIRED Mag
💩 “To his shock, his account had several hundred dollars in it — all from plays of ‘Poopy Stupid Butt.’” When kids yell 💩 at Alexa, artists profit. Buzzfeed News
🇪🇷 A powerful piece on the despotism of Eritrea’s dictator, Isaias Afewerki, as he makes his move on Tigray, in Ethiopia. His latest efforts, writes Alex de Waal, are to see Ethiopia weakened, and “Tigray so badly mauled that he can eliminate it as a viable political entity, once and for all.” To do so, he has been working to contrive a war between the Ethiopian government and anti-government activists in Tigray. The Baffler.
🌳 How did caring about “a drowned or dessicated future” and wanting to fight climate change become a partisan issue, asks Elizabeth Kolbert:
Perhaps the simplest answer is money. A report put out two years ago by the Senate Democrats’ Special Committee on the Climate Crisis noted, “In the 2000s, several bipartisan climate bills were circulating in the Senate.” Then, in 2010, the Supreme Court, in the Citizens United decision, ruled that corporations and wealthy donors could, effectively, pour unlimited amounts of cash into electioneering. Fossil-fuel companies quickly figured out how to funnel money through front groups, which used it to reward the industry’s friends and to punish its enemies. After Citizens United, according to the report, “bipartisan activity on comprehensive climate legislation collapsed.”
Quick links 🔗
🔗 I share this yearly: the fall foliage map Smoky Mountains
🔗 Why are there so many “wet putty” matte painted cars these days? It’s a trend. Blackbird Spyplane
🔗 None of world’s best airlines are US owned and none of them are allowed to operate domestically in the United States. Marginal Revolution
🔗 Confused by the laundry symbols on your clothing? There’s an app for that. Laundry Lens (iOS)
🔗 And, on the airline front: a mysterious voice is haunting American Airlines’ in-flight announcements, and nobody knows what’s happening. Round up of the theories and updates, via Waxy.org
🔗 After 10 months flying around in space, NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test,called DART), successfully smashed into an asteroid at 14,000 miles per hour, to move it off its course. More (including still images and video) here. NASA, CBC
🔗 Woman who accurately smelled Parkinson’s disease on her husband helps scientists develop a swab test that may help diagnose it. BBC News
Artist of the month 🎨
Jon Ching’s colourful, intricate art speaks to the interconnectedness of nature, and the wonder it inspires in each of us. It’s beautiful. The featured photo for this newsletter is his piece, Vatic Symbiosis. Another favourite of mine is Roost, below. It’s no surprise I’m drawn to the artwork that features birds! I know, I’m predictable.
Jon is self-trained, and originally from Kaneohe, Hawaii, and his site says that his work is “a surreal imagining of what limitless wonders and combinations nature can produce.” He regularly works to bring awareness to endangered species and environmental disaster/climate change.
That’s it for this month! Hope to see you back for CAE #20 in late October.
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