The Curious About Everything Newsletter #29
The many interesting things I read in July 2023.
Welcome back to the Curious About Everything Newsletter! CAE 28, last month’s newsletter, is here if you missed it. The most popular link from last month was “I was Russell Crowe’s Stooge”, a piece I thoroughly enjoyed as well. (I’ll be sharing the most popular link each month now!)
Thank you for all the notes and well-wishes. My spinal CSF leak is still in a rough place, which is why this is a shorter CAE than usual (it’s all relative, I know). For those interested, I made public a post about how I’ve managed living alone while being more incapacitated; it includes accommodations to the apartment itself, as well as hiring home care help.
I also got messages suggesting I set up a paid option for this newsletter. For now, my Patreon and the celiac cards support my needs, so I plan to keep this newsletter free for as long as possible. I do hear you on wanting a way to support me (thank you!) without subscribing to the Patreon, so I’ve set out a few ways here for those who do.
I published a gluten free guide to Ottawa, specific for celiacs like me who need to not only eat GF but also avoid cross-contact (eg. shared fryers) with gluten. It’s long, and I slowly put it together over my year in town. I plan to add to it as I try more places.
The Most Interesting Things I Read This Month
This section’s links here are once again formatted thanks to the help of my friend Mike, since the Substack app still doesn’t allow people to add hyperlinks.
🦯 Braille Is Alive, Well, and Ever-Evolving. Fascinating piece. Braille is not just compatible with the technological world—it’s “often on the cutting edge of it.” The Millions
🛏️ Fatigue Can Shatter A Person. Ed Yong’s latest—and last for The Atlantic as he is moving on—about how fatigue is so much more than being tired. “Between long COVID, ME/CFS, and other energy-limiting chronic illnesses, millions of people in the U.S. alone experience debilitating fatigue. But American society tends to equate inactivity with immorality, and productivity with worth. Faced with a condition that simply doesn’t allow people to move—even one whose deficits can be measured and explained—many doctors and loved ones default to disbelief. When Soares tells others about her illness, they usually say, ‘Oh yeah, I’m tired too.’ When she was bedbound for days, people told her, “I need a weekend like that.” Soares’s problems are very real, and although researchers have started to figure out why so many people like her are suffering, they don’t yet know how to stop it.” As Ed says in his newsletter announcing the piece, it's critical that people realize the type of fatigue long haulers experience is driven by neurological and metabolic dysfunction, and completely different to what healthy people experience. The Atlantic; archive link here.
💔You know I couldn't last. Morrissey on Sinead O’Connor: “she had proud vulnerability … and there is a certain music industry hatred for singers who don’t ‘fit in’ (this I know only too well), and they are never praised until death - when, finally, they can’t answer back.” Rest in peace, courageous lady. Morrissey Central
🕹️ They lost their kids to Fortnite. A group of Canadian parents say their kids are so addicted to the video game Fortnite that they’ve stopped eating, sleeping and showering. Now there's a class action lawsuit claiming that Epic Games knew it was addictive, and did nothing. Maclean's
⚰️ Who killed Google Reader? I loved Google Reader, and I miss Google Reader. This excellent piece, 10 years after it was deprecated, is a worthy read if you miss it too. The Verge
💫 Some of Earth's Most Famous Art Started with Stardust. Lovely read about where our artists' favourite colour pigments come from. It turns out that cobalt, named for the German word kobelt, signifying kobolds—gnomes and goblins that were thought to haunt mines, actually comes from stellar death. From thermonuclear supernovae and core-collapse supernovae, to be specific. Scientific American; NASA
😵💫 Overload, Dizziness, Vertigo, Trance. Review of Mieko Kanai’s “Mild Vertigo”, a book about “the dizzying reality of being unable to locate oneself in the endless stream of minutiae that forms a lonely life,” via someone who gets it. Relatable and very well-written. N+1 Magazine
🎾 Bitter rivals. Beloved friends. Survivors. After 50 years, Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova understand each other like no one else can. When cancer came, they knew where to turn. Though their friendship started in competition, this heartwarming piece showcases their mutual support through life's ups and downs. Washington Post
🌌 The Nebra Sky Disc: decoding a prehistoric vision of the cosmos. The Nebra Sky Disc was a Jeopardy answer this month, and I had never seen or heard of it. It's gorgeous! I wanted to share it all with you, too, in all its “portable Stonehenge” glory. It turns out, though, that there is more to it than an important artifact; it was first looted, then chased down, and a prosecutorial twist resulted. (See the “discovery” section of its Wikipedia entry for the latter.) The Past.
👶 The Doll Mommies Are Fighting. I honestly have so many thoughts about this piece that I don’t even know where to begin. There was some very careful writing, but nonetheless people do not come off as reasonable in this piece about the backlash to Reborn, a community of expensive life-like dolls. Questions about “whose hobbies really pass the purity test” sidestep the issue of how many of these doll owners need more intensive therapy and are coping with pregnancy loss in fairly unhealthy ways. If you’re debating which medical ethics standards apply to a silicone doll, there are deeper issues than hobbies at play, no? It’s a wild read, and I want to give these people a hug. Cosmopolitan
🥩 Cases of alpha-gal syndrome caused by tick bites on the rise, CDC reports. The lone-star tick, initially found in south-central, southeastern and eastern coastal states, is moving north due to climate change. It’s not common in Canada yet, but it’s only a matter of time. This tick is known for giving some people ehrlichiosis, but less known is alpha-gal syndrome (AGS), an allergy to alpha-gal, the sugar galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose. Alpha-gal is found in non-poultry meat like beef, venison, pork, and dairy, as well as in gelatin, which is used in many foods, supplements, and medications. If someone is bit by a lone-star tick, their immune system can produce an IgE antibody that recognizes alpha-gal, “ready to alert the immune system to future alpha-gal intruders, including any alpha-gal from food we eat.” Unlike other food allergies, AGS reactions are delayed, usually occurring 2-6 hours after exposure. Unfortunately, there are no cures or treatments for the condition. A new study showed that Alpha Gal Syndrome is underdiagnosed, as only 42% of surveyed doctors had heard of it. I have gotten emails from readers who got AGS from tick bites in the last few years and it has been really hard for them so I wanted to flag this in the “start here” section as anyone visiting or living in North America ought to know it’s on the rise. STAT News; CDC
The rest of the most interesting things I read this month:
⚙️ Spinning the wheels. I had no idea Pat Sajak's pleasant WoF persona was seemingly a fabrication. “It kind of says it all that Sajak—who has spent decades directing people to spin a wheel and has recently been making a reported $15 million a year for the privilege—took the bittersweet moment of his retirement as an opportunity to air a bit of grievance.” Very entertaining read. Slate
🔥 The invisible consequences of heat on the body and mind. Relevant to today’s world. It may feel like it happened fast, all these floods and wildfires and smoky orange skies, but it’s been creeping toward us for decades. Climate records keep getting surpassed, leaving Earth in uncharted territory. Vox; BBC News.
🌊 Start-ups are adding antacids to the ocean to slow down global warming. Will it work? Can we use giant amounts of antacids to help the ocean “digest” C02? Experiments are underway. Nature
🚏A beautiful, broken America. What Joanna Pocock learned on a 2,800 mile Greyhound bus trip from Detroit to LA. The Guardian
💻 “VC qanon” and the radicalization of the tech tycoons. “The rising power of movements meant to counter their influence has catalyzed a vicious, and frankly very weird, backlash where they want to put everyone else in their place. And, due to the insularity of their lifestyles, they very seldom have any corrective voices pointing out when they've clearly lost the plot.” Short but interesting, especially coming from someone in tech himself. Anil Dash
😶🌫️ The Vanishing Family. If you knew you had a 50/50 chance of carrying a genetic mutation that would lead to frontotemporal dementia, which means disappearing into dementia in middle age—would you want to know? For this family, the hypothetical is very real. New York Times. (Archive link here.)
🦺 Vibrating haptic suits give deaf people a new way to hear live music. “When you wear the suit, it's surprising how much texture the sensations have. It can feel like raindrops on your shoulders, a tickle across the ribs, a thump against the lower back. It doesn't replicate the music — it's not as simple as regular taps to the beat. It plays waves of sensation on your skin in a way that's complementary to the music.” Very cool! NPR
🦟 How I Survived a Wedding in a Jungle That Tried to Eat Me Alive What's a small blood sacrifice to creepy crawlies between friends? (Not for the squeamish). Outside
💰They Lost Their Legs. Doctors and Health Care Giants Profited. Disgusting. Giant medical device companies are bankrolling doctors who push lucrative procedures that can cost some patients their limbs—and their livelihoods. New York Times, as syndicated to Yahoo
📖 The 50 best book covers of 2022, according to AIGA. Love! AIGA, a professional association for design, announced the winners of its annual book and book cover competition. This contest has been running since its inception in 1923, and it’s always a fun review. It's Nice That
🧠 Neurons involved in chronic stress uncovered. The neurons linked to aversion also have a receptor for estrogen, making them sensitive to estrogen levels. In the study, female mice developed a much more lasting stress response than the males. “It has long been known that anxiety and depression are more common in women than in men, but there hasn’t been any biological mechanism to explain it.” This may be what scientists have been looking for. GEN News
☀️ How Popping Open a Can Became the Sound of Summer. More than 60 years ago, a picnic mishap set Ohioan Ermal C. Fraze on a path to inventing the first pop-top tab opener for canned beverages. Smithsonian Magazine
🔮 Revisiting the Long Boom. Fun short read looking back on WIRED Mag's 1997 “spoilers” for the future. What came true, and what didn’t? Kottke
🤖 Medical A.I. is on a tear (and Part 2 of the same piece). Mid-July, Science Magazine's edition was dedicated to AI, and Eric Topol breaks down the ways that it is affecting medicine. Good overview. Ground Truths
👨🏾💻 The workers at the frontlines of the A.I. revolution. Meanwhile, however, global labor force of outsourced and contract workers are the early adopters of generative AI—and the most at risk. Rest of World
🛰️ Starlink satellites flooding sky with radiation, which could be hurting radio astronomy: study. Researchers turned a radio telescope towards 68 of SpaceX’s Starlink broadband satellites and found that 47 of them were emitting radio waves at frequencies in a protected band allocated to radio astronomy. astronomers. CTV News
🪨 Kidney stones are rising among children and teens, especially girls, research shows. I've seen this in friends with teenagers. I can't recall anyone in my friend group who had kidney stones growing up, but it's on the rise in that age range now—especially in young women. NBC News
🇺🇦 The Ukrainian Group Archiving Russian Soldiers' Graffiti. Since the liberation of the Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Kherson regions, the Ukrainian nonprofit Mizhvukhamy has collected over 500 (many infuriating) inscriptions left by Russian soldiers. Hyperallergic
🇨🇳 On technological momentum. Dan Wang on China and technology in 2023. Dan Wang
💕 Barbie Answers Oppenheimer. Interesting analysis of Barbie, “a film with swagger like a male-oriented blockbuster”, as contrasted with the Oppenheimer movie itself. “If Oppenheimer asks: Why and how do men seek dominion over one another? What can the (male) mind imagine? Why does (male) genius corrode? Then the answer of Barbie is: Great questions. But what if we asked some different ones?” Always enjoy an Ann Helen take! Culture Study
🐦 How to Blow Up a Timeline. Eugene Wei on how Twitter lost its vitality as a social network. “Twitter will persist in a deteriorated state, perhaps indefinitely. However, it's already a pale shadow of what it was at its peak.” There’s no replacement just yet; threads is too shiny and less-news oriented than I’d like; BlueSky is still closed to most people. But Twitter isn’t what it was, clearly by EM’s design. Remains Of The Day
📱Threads and the Social/Communications Map. This take is that Twitter's best defense against Threads would be to refocus on news and reactions from people you follow, leaving growth via algorithmic feeds to Threads. If Threads is just for *vibes* then pulling Instagram into a Twitter-type app isn't going to replace Twitter. Stratechery
😩 Lessons From The Catastrophic Failure Of The Metaverse. Meta is no doubt hoping Threads goes better than their Metaverse foray. I had no idea just how bad it went for them there: 38 users, and $470. “To say that the Metaverse is dead is an understatement. It was never alive.” The Nation
✈️ Thunderstorm 'waves' and jet streams: why flights are getting bumpier. Over the past four decades clear-air turbulence has increased by up to 55 percent in various regions around the world. Models predict another 100 to 200 percent increase over the next 30 to 60 years. Note: Sitting in the middle of the aircraft over the wings increases your chances of a smoother flight (the back end of the cabin provides the worst bumps). The Sydney Morning Herald; Scientific American
📈 Eight out of ten millennials know demographics are horseshit. Millennials are no more similar to each other than they are to Gen X or Gen Z, so, says this piece, it’s time to leave “this lazy approach to segmentation behind.” MarketingWeek
🦉 How Do Wildfires in Canada’s Boreal Forest Affect Birds Across the Continent? As badly as you would suspect. Audubon
🤡 Twitter Blue accounts fuel Ukraine War misinformation. Some of the most viral misinformation on Twitter is posted by Twitter blue subscribers who pay for their content to be promoted to other users. BBC News
🧫 Does the microbiome hold the key to chronic fatigue syndrome? Relatedly, Simon Spichak’s piece about what happens when you have a chronic illness that isn't being researched seriously. In this case, patient-led groups like Remission Biome are designing their own research to address the needs of those with ME/CFS and long Covid. The Guardian
🩺 The danger of treating doctors like saints. “We also need to recognise that some doctors are bad at their jobs, no matter how much time and money they’re given — just as some teachers and civil servants are also no good. But the medical profession’s glowing reputation makes it hard to confront this fact.” There are downsides for both patients and doctors, argues Agnes Arnold-Forster. UnHerd
🍄 Meet the Psychedelic Boom's First Responders. A different take on the psychedelic articles I’ve shared in prior CAEs, this Chris Colin feature addresses the resources that can help people when their trips—often undertaken alone, with no general guidance—go to deep, dark places. He profiles the Fireside Project, a “psychedelic peer support line” that is reachable by phone or text, as well as other organizations aiming to support people on trips that scare them. “With her help, his angst metabolized into a searing peek under the hood. Where before he'd felt abject terror, he now saw an invitation to make real changes in his life.” WIRED
🍔 You're Stress Eating Because Your Brain Literally Thinks It Isn't Full Yet. Study findings suggest that stress delivers a kind of one-two punch to the brain: It quiets the brain’s natural response to satiety, leading to non-stop reward signals that make it more enjoyable to eat highly palatable foods (those typically high in sugar, fat, and calorie), and also creates a preference for those foods in the longer term. Bon Appetit
🍕 Melted, pounded, extruded: Why many ultra-processed foods are unhealthy. Related, regarding obesity and metabolic disease: “A growing body of research suggests that the extent of industrial processing that your food undergoes can alter its effects on your body, determining its impact on your appetite, hormones, weight gain, and likelihood of developing obesity and chronic diseases.” Ultra-processed foods are also less satiating than minimally processed foods, and they have a more potent effect on blood sugar levels. Washington Post
🇱🇹 The most dangerous place on earth. In a showdown between Russia and NATO, this piece argues that “a narrow notch of strategic territory known as the Suwałki Gap” would likely be the first point of contact. Politico EU (via Chris)
🐍 How did snakes lose their limbs? Mass genome effort provides clues. TL:DR: snakes are missing DNA from three parts of a gene that helps to control limb development, which is probably the cause of their leglessness. Also in snake news: rattlesnakes can calm down their friends, a new study shows. So if you’ve got a rattlesnake around, maybe try to make sure it has friends? (Yeah right). Science; Mongabay News
🥖 Competition Bureau makes recommendations to promote competition in Canada's grocery industry. YES WE WANT ALDI HERE PLEASE. Government of Canada
💡 How Light Sensitivity Influences Alzheimer’s Progression. New Alzheimer’s research from UVA Health suggests that enhanced light sensitivity may contribute to “sundowning”—the worsening of symptoms late in the day—and spur sleep disruptions thought to contribute to the disease’s progression. Light therapy may be one way to combat this common phenomenon.
🦠 The Burden of Long Covid. We know thanks to a recent study that Omicron is not milder than the ancestral Covid-19 strain (it has lower severity only due to widespread vaccination), and in a new hamster study is able to invade the brain (likely via the olfactory nerves and inflammation in the nervous tissue), even in mild cases. As such, it's continually important to share pieces about long covid to highlight the consequences of ignoring this vascular virus. Wastewater in the US has been rising over the last month, and every week someone writes to tell me that they've never been the same again after a Covid infection. It happened to me in 2013 from a different virus—and you all know how that went. Years from now, historians will likely write about how a horror of this era was pretending that mass disability wasn't going to result from pretending a virus very different from the common cold would be treated as if it were the same. RNZ
⚕️How Often Do Health Insurers Say No To Patients? No One Knows. Another important ProPublica investigation. This time, they set out to find information on insurers’ denial rates, but were thrown a series of roadblocks. Also see their earlier investigation, specifically about Cigna: How Cigna Saves Millions by Having Its Doctors Reject Claims Without Reading Them. ProPublica
Thanks for reading ♥ Subscribe to receive next month’s Curious About Everything—it’s free!
🔗 Quick links 🔗
An extremely overdue book has been returned to a Massachusetts library 119 years later.
The Astronomy Photographer of the Year, the world’s largest astrophotography competition, is now in its 15th year. They just shared the shortlist of finalists and wow are they something. The winner will be announced in September.
After experiments to find the best way to store tomatoes, the winner is: put a piece of tape on the stem. Runner up: put them upside down.
How playing the perpetual hero got us to forget about Tom Cruise’s Scientology ties.
American father-son duo take a 2-day road trip to stock up on Canadian ketchup chips.
A DPReview interview with photographer Andrew Marttila, featuring my favourite gremlin cloud cat, ChouChou. Due to overbreeding, Chou has been through many procedures in his young life, and it took a lot of care (medical and home care) for him to survive. Come for Marttila’s cat photography techniques; stay for Chou experiencing catnip for the first time:
American father and son duo go on a 9-hour road trip to stock up on ketchup chips in Canada.
Crows and magpies are using anti-bird spikes to ward away predators on their own bird bests, research finds.
Ulko-Tammio, an island on the Eastern Gulf of Finland, has declared itself a mobile phone-free zone for the summer.
Finalists for this year’s Pwnie Awards, about the achievements (and failures) of security researchers and the security community.
Emoji are all fun and games until you lose a lawsuit based on them. Canadian farmer fined $61,000 for using thumbs-up emoji “as” consent. And, ongoing: Bed Bath & Beyond investor Ryan Cohen must face an emoji-inspired shareholder lawsuit. The judge decided that emoji are just like words, expressing ideas and context. To the moo—oh, never mind.
Gen Z has replaced “zaddy” with calling older men of “beekeeping age”, a Rick and Morty reference.
Since July 1st in Australia, approved psychiatrists can prescribe psychedelics for use in guided psychotherapy. (Some articles have claimed Australia legalized the substances entirely but that is not the case.)
Can we turn offices into vertical farms?
The ruins of Nero’s theatre have been unearthed in Rome.
A step by step guide to finding a therapist, by NPR.
Today in “Florida as dystopia”: radioactive roads.
The Password Game. Be prepared to get angry.
This month’s featured artist is not a person. The image below is from the James Webb Telescope, showing us an awe-inspiring close up of the birth of sun-stars.
Says NASA: “The subject is the Rho Ophiuchi cloud complex, the closest star-forming region to Earth. It is a relatively small, quiet stellar nursery, but you’d never know it from Webb’s chaotic close-up. Jets bursting from young stars crisscross the image, impacting the surrounding interstellar gas and lighting up molecular hydrogen, shown in red. Some stars display the telltale shadow of a circumstellar disk, the makings of future planetary systems.” For more 2023 JWT images, see NASA’s Flickr gallery here.
That’s it for July reads! Hope to see you next month.