The Curious About Everything Newsletter #23
Some links, and a likely hiatus.
Welcome back to the Curious About Everything Newsletter. CAE 22, last month’s newsletter, is here if you missed it.
Happy year of the rabbit (or the cat, if you’re in Vietnam!) to those celebrating Lunar New Year this month.
If you follow me or Legal Nomads on social media, you likely saw that I had a setback with my spinal CSF leak when I slid on winter slush. A week later, I sneezed and felt an “pop”, like someone shot a BB gun pellet at my lumbar spine. This feeling, including the pop, is what happened in 2018 when my leak re-opened after being sealed for 8 months.
All of my symptoms have returned; years of slow progress gone. For more information I recently shared a Patreon post I wrote with my thumbs about next steps. I hope to share more here when I can.
For now, though, I’m back in bed, fully. I have help, but it’s so deflating at how I need it for the basics again (making food, cleaning dishes, changing socks), like I did back when my leak began. It took around 2 years to start getting upright last time. I hope it’s quicker this time around. I’m heartbroken.
(For new CAE readers, the background to my condition is here.)
As a result, this CAE is going to be a bit shorter than usual—I compiled this before my leak fully reopened. I sadly am likely going to need to take a hiatus until I’m well enough to use my laptop again.
Other updates from before my slip and slide:
I updated my article about the experience of taking a 10-day Vipassana meditation course with a FAQ, as well as further reading and a note about how it helped me with chronic pain.
I updated my alternative careers for lawyers page with new case studies and a section on the future of the legal profession as the demand for remote work grows.
All of my celiac guides have been updated for 2023, with added new gluten free restaurants and removing the spots that closed during the pandemic. I also added a Standard Modern Arabic card, and Khmer is almost complete.
I was productive at the start of January, at least?
The Best Things I Read This Month
Reads about society and politics
🇻🇳Why Vietnam celebrates the year of the cat instead of the rabbit this year. It hasn’t always been the case, and it is unclear when the country switched over from using the rabbit in its zodiac. Mentions of the rabbit in the zodiac appear in many older Vietnamese texts, and this piece delves into the different theories for its origins. NPR
👨🏻A good list of techniques for evaluating someone’s character (and ultimately see how they may treat you, down the line), including how they treat service workers, can they listen, do they cheat at small things, etc. The Honest Broker
💫A fun, thoughtful interview with Elizabeth Gilbert, who joined Kate Bowler’s podcast to talk about why creativity matters and how purpose anxiety (and the pressure that comes with it) actually prevents us from living our lives well. Kate Bowler
⚕️A summary of where we are on abortion rights at each level of government, 50 years after Roe, and seven months after Dobbs. Wake Up to Politics
🎬In 2022, many of the world’s cinemas reopened after a pandemic hiatus (though the pandemis is not over). This article examines the trend in title sequences for the year, and what they say about society. Related: the best movie posters of 2022. Art of the Title; Kottke
🇺🇦Why the world needs a Ukrainian victory Timothy Snyder’s Thinking About
💔“Grief reigns in the kingdom of loss. I refer to not only the loss of a loved one but also the loss of a hope, a dream, or love itself. It seems we don’t finish grieving, but merely finish for now; we process it in layers.” Monica Lewinsky, 25 years on. Vanity Fair
🇭🇹Haiti, a country long beset by catastrophe and political turmoil, is now completely lacking any democratically elected officials amid gang violence and a cholera outbreak. The country has had no president since its last one, Jovenel Moïse, was assassinated in 2021. NPR
⚰️The world of indie romance was upended by allegations that author Susan Meachen faked her own suicide, then returned to pretend nothing happened. Her family seems to have also been in on the ruse. Daily Beast
🪓A thorough behind the scenes from the movie The Shining. I.D.
Reads about food
🍄Everything you think you know about truffles is a lie. “What is sold as truffle flavor is 2,4-dithiapentane, extracted from oil. Liters of this petroleum-derived product are sourced for a few euros from Italy, Germany, or China, and then they end on your plates.” Taste Atlas
🍕The standard pizza box is the worst way to deliver pizza: it’s bad at surviving delivery and makes pizza mushy — but it’s so cheap that no one wants to change things up. The Atlantic
🌱Quebec has reached 50% self-sufficiency for fruits and vegetables produced in greenhouses, helpful at a time when food costs are skyrocketing. When I lived in Quebec, I subscribed to a weekly basket from a large greenhouse and small farm marketplace vendor, Lufa. They were great. CBC
🏴Worcestershire sauce, now found all over the world, is “one of the great food enigmas of the past two centuries,” writes Matthew Zuras. It’s sweet, it’s salty, it’s fishy, it’s peppery—and its recipe has been a secret since it was first sold in Worcester, England, in the mid-19th century. Epicurious
🍽️An ode to Kraft Dinner (what we call Kraft Mac and Cheese here in Canada), by Ivana Rihter, who weaves in her family’s history and muses that economists ought to use a “KD index” to track recessions. Lovely read. Catapult
Reads about the natural world
🌊Angel Fitor, a Spanish wildlife photographer who has a degree in marine biology has spent the bulk of his career taking pictures of aquatic creatures from seahorses to sharks, usually while snorkeling or scuba diving. A few years ago, he grew curious about the organisms he couldn’t see, like plankton that float with the ocean currents. Many are too small to photograph with standard lenses, but copepods squeezed under the wire; at 0.2mm-1.7mm long, they’re just long enough to capture with a lot of effort. “I imagined each water droplet as an aquarium”, Fitor says. It took him 3 years of work to get the stunning images in this article, like the one below. Smithsonian Magazine
💕How donkeys changed the course of history, helping carry copper during the Bronze Age, carrying provisions into battle during wars, and much more. Turns out they were more of a companion to humans than horses. To trace how donkeys have played their part through human history, an international team of 49 scientists from 37 laboratories sequenced the genomes of 31 ancient and 207 modern donkeys from all over the world, tracing the changes in donkeyness over time. BBC Future
📸One of my favourite photography competitions, the Close Up Photographer of the Year awards, has announced its winners. See also, the Big Picture photo competition award winners, also released. CUPOTY; Big Picture
🦫“Part bear, part bird, part monkey, part lizard, humanoid hands, an aquatic tail.” Beavers are “deeply weird” and yet incredibly intelligent. Loved this Leila Philip excerpt from her book, Beaverland. No one really knows when they started building dams, and the animals remain an evolutionary puzzle.
🐜It seems that ants can sniff out cancer, and moreover that they are pretty damn good at it. Scientific American
Reads about health
🦓There’s a medical adage that goes, “when you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras”. As in, think of the more common diagnostic scenarios before moving to rare conditions. A very interesting read about a historian with a very rare genetic mutation, and the search for treatments that work. “That fall, after seeing the alarming immunology results, my doctors ordered a round of genetic testing, which revealed my one-of-a-kind mutation. This was when we discovered that I was not only a zebra but one with polka dots.” My genetic conditions are “zebra” conditions as well—yet likely less rare than the medical establishment believes, at least according to specialists who focus on them. New Yorker; archive link here.
👨⚕️“Now that I was so anxious and unhappy, feeling abandoned, I realized how anxious and unhappy so many of my patients must have been.” Does it take coming down with a serious illness for a doctor to understand the trials and dismissiveness that patients have to shoulder in the medical system? It seems that way for some practitioners, including this British neurosurgeon who wrote about his experience with advanced prostate cancer and how it made him see the “lack of humanity” in advanced Western medicine. Washington Post
🧠 A new Cedars-Sinai study also finds spinal CSF leaks can cause dementia, and recommends that leaks ought to be ruled out with behavioral-variant frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD) patients. Alzheimer’s & Dementia: Translational Research and Clinical Interventions Journal
🧬The remains of three people who died on a riverbank in the Kamchatka Peninsula in northeastern Siberia some 500 years ago have yielded a surprising secret: their DNA shows they had some North American ancestry. It turns out that Northeastern Siberians experienced a prolonged Native American-related geneflow, where people crossing from Alaska back into Siberia mixed with populations there 5000 years ago, and again about 1500 years ago. Science
🍷Can even a little bit of alcohol harm your health? Apparently so, according to new research.
More recent research has found that even low levels of drinking slightly increase the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease, and the risk goes up dramatically for people who drink excessively.
The article notes that the idea that a low dose of alcohol was heart healthy likely came about because people who drink less also seem to have other healthy habits, which were erroneously attributed to alcohol itself. Scientists think that the main way alcohol causes health problems is by damaging DNA, since alcohol is metabolized into acetaldehyde, which is toxic to cells. Acetaldehyde damages your DNA, and prevents your body from repairing the damage. This leaves the door open to a cell growing out of control and creating a cancerous tumour, per the experts in the piece. New York Times
🧪The FDA Modernization Act 2.0, signed by Biden at the end of December with widespread bipartisan support, ends a 1938 federal mandate that experimental drugs must be tested on animals before they are used in human clinical trials. The new law doesn't ban animal testing, but it finally allows drugmakers to use other methods, like microfluidic chips and miniature tissue models to mimic certain organ functions and structures. WIRED Magazine
🔗 Quick links 🔗
Scientists steer lightning bolts with lasers for the first time. WHAT COULD GO WRONG?
Times New Roman is being phased out at the State Department, replaced by Calibri. Bonus post for this article’s title, “Who shot the serif?”.
A list of detailed Chat GPT prompts.
33 rules for writers, very crisp and helpful. Among them, to remember that “language is magic”, to choose elegance over “agonized clarity”, throw away the thesaurus, and my favourite, that “writer who disdains the semicolon is a fool”. (Via The Browser)
Pigeon wearing a backpack of crystal meth caught inside an Abbotsford, British Columbia prison yard.
The top 10 advertising and marketing law issues to watch for 2023. (Note: I used to work at this law firm before quitting my job in 2008 for that “one year sabbatical” that turned into a new career.)
Fascinating read about a world-renowned “violin doctor”.
Another fun Neal build: this time an endless rabbit hole of weird and quirky Google Street View images.
Horrible Therapist: a NSFW comic generator by The Oatmeal’s Matthew Inman.
That’s it for this shorter link newsletter month.
Before I go, though, I also wanted to share the obituary of my friend and colleague Amanda Pickard, who passed away on Tuesday. She was brilliant, humble, and utterly hilarious even though her spinal CSF leak journey took her through mountains of pain. The world is worse without her in it. Her family’s obituary here, and a memorial post from the spinal CSF leak foundation here.
I hope your January started off better than mine!
Much love from Ottawa,
I was very sad to learn about your very significant CSF leak setback. Your situation makes me feel ashamed about my "woe is me" myeloma moments (days). My word for this year is "persevere". I'm trying. Sending best wishes and gentle hugs from Philly.