After twelve years of diligently avoiding any sort of technological change (out of inertia rather than Luddism, I'd like to think), I've finally decided to stop sending these e-mails via bcc: in GMail. So this is the first issue via TinyLetter, a mailing list service.

This will make it easier for people to subscribe / unsubscribe, and as a bonus, all e-mails will now be archived online at All replies will still make it to me.

Happy reading!

----- 3 stars -----

The Drug Runners / Texas Monthly
"The Tarahumara of northern Mexico became famous for their ability to run incredibly long distances. In recent years, cartels have exploited their talents by forcing them to ferry drugs into the U.S. Now, with their land ravaged by violence, they’re running for their lives."

Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation? / The Atlantic
The headline is sensationalist, but this is actually a well-researched piece; check out the graphs two-thirds through the article: "I’ve been researching generational differences for 25 years, starting when I was a 22-year-old doctoral student in psychology. Typically, the characteristics that come to define a generation appear gradually, and along a continuum. Beliefs and behaviors that were already rising simply continue to do so. Millennials, for instance, are a highly individualistic generation, but individualism had been increasing since the Baby Boomers turned on, tuned in, and dropped out. I had grown accustomed to line graphs of trends that looked like modest hills and valleys. Then I began studying Athena’s generation. Around 2012, I noticed abrupt shifts in teen behaviors and emotional states. The gentle slopes of the line graphs became steep mountains and sheer cliffs, and many of the distinctive characteristics of the Millennial generation began to disappear. In all my analyses of generational data—some reaching back to the 1930s—I had never seen anything like it. [...] But the allure of independence, so powerful to previous generations, holds less sway over today’s teens, who are less likely to leave the house without their parents. The shift is stunning: 12th-graders in 2015 were going out less often than eighth-graders did as recently as 2009. [..] The number of teens who get together with their friends nearly every day dropped by more than 40 percent from 2000 to 2015; the decline has been especially steep recently. It’s not only a matter of fewer kids partying; fewer kids are spending time simply hanging out. [...] The results could not be clearer: Teens who spend more time than average on screen activities are more likely to be unhappy, and those who spend more time than average on nonscreen activities are more likely to be happy. [...] This trend has been especially steep among girls. Forty-eight percent more girls said they often felt left out in 2015 than in 2010, compared with 27 percent more boys. Girls use social media more often, giving them additional opportunities to feel excluded and lonely when they see their friends or classmates getting together without them. Social media levy a psychic tax on the teen doing the posting as well, as she anxiously awaits the affirmation of comments and likes."

Inside Kim Jong-un's Bloody Scramble to Kill Off His Family / Esquire
"But mythology alone wasn't enough to keep order. For decades, the Kims have purged, exiled, and executed their enemies, often with scant or no proof of wrongdoing. People disappear all the time from North Korea, even at the highest levels of leadership. Assassinations are carried out in secret, and rarely acknowledged publicly. For North Koreans and foreigners alike, the best way to figure out who's in power and who's been purged is to keep an eye on state-media coverage of formal events. The names of officials are listed in order of seniority and importance; omissions often indicate that a person has been removed from power, or even executed. [...] Ri's death spooked his sister, Ri Nam Ok, who'd fled North Korea in 1992. Before she left, she'd written a note for her uncle Kim Jong Il, whom she considered a father figure, begging him not to find her. Now with her brother dead, she sued to halt publication of her own memoir, The Golden Cage; the book was never released. 'I was terrified of being found and taken back to North Korea, of being taken home in a bag,' she wrote of her defection, according to a copy of the manuscript obtained by Esquire. 'I would have preferred to be killed on the spot rather than suffer a life in the mines or the countryside.' "

----- 2 stars -----

How Driscoll’s Reinvented the Strawberry / New Yorker
"Strawberries can be orange or white, the size of a pinkie tip, oblong, conjoined or bloblike, ecstatic, defiant, ungainly, unique. But you don’t think of them that way. What you picture is a Driscoll’s berry: glossy, red, and heart-shaped, and firm enough to ship to the East Coast or to the Middle East and eat two weeks past the harvest date. Driscoll’s berries tend to lack the sugar rush and perfumed oomph of a tiny sun-warmed heirloom discovered on a country lane. Since the company’s inception, it has placed an emphasis on appearance. 'We have helped shape what a strawberry looks like with our relentless focus,' Soren Bjorn, the company’s president, said. Its cultivars—the genetically distinct new varieties it creates through breeding—and the germplasm, the genetic library of plants its breeders can draw on as parents for future cultivars, constitute the company’s intellectual property. Speaking with a legal newspaper, Driscoll’s senior vice-president and general counsel compared the company to its neighbors in Silicon Valley. 'Growers are sort of like our manufacturing plants,' he said. 'We make the inventions, they assemble it, and then we market it, so it’s not that dissimilar from Apple using someone else to do the manufacturing but they’ve made the invention and marketed the end product.' Like Apple, Driscoll’s guards its I.P. jealously."

The sea was never blue / Aeon
A fascinating piece: "Yellow, too, seems strangely absent from the Greek lexicon. The simple word xanthos covers the most various shades of yellow, from the shining blond hair of the gods, to amber, to the reddish blaze of fire. Chloros, since it’s related to chloe (grass), suggests the colour green but can also itself convey a vivid yellow, like honey. The ancient Greek experience of colour does not seem to match our own. [...] This model is helpful for describing the different ways in which a chromatic culture can segment the huge range of possible combinations of the three dimensions by privileging one or the other. A culture might emphasise hue or chroma or value, each with varying intensity. And so the Munsell model is useful in that it helps to demonstrate the remarkable Greek predilection for brightness, and the fact that the Greeks experienced colours in degrees of lightness and darkness rather than in terms of hue. [...] Plato’s list of primary colours includes white, black, red and, most remarkably, the ‘brilliant and shining’, which to us is not a colour at all."

When Britain and France Almost Merged Into One Country / The Atlantic
"The scheme was born of crisis. On May 10, 1940, Germany had begun a relentless Blitzkrieg assault on France, and within a month, French resistance had largely collapsed. Defeatism was rife in France, and a dramatic step was needed to encourage the country to keep fighting from its colonies, and to stop the French fleet from falling into German hands. [...] At a stroke, hundreds of years of constitutional history would be swept away. There would be joint control of defense, foreign policy, finance, and economic policy. The two parliaments would be united, presumably with French representatives sitting in the House of Commons in London. Churchill’s private secretary said, 'We had before us the bridge to a new world, the first elements of European or even World Federation.' Events moved fast. On June 16, Churchill was personally skeptical but presented the idea to the all-party British Cabinet. He was swept along by a wave of enthusiasm. [...] Charles de Gaulle, who had arrived that morning in London, also had qualms about ending the country of France as he knew it. But de Gaulle embraced the plan as a grand move to change the course of history: 'The gesture must be immediate.' At 4:30 pm, de Gaulle telephoned Paul Reynaud, the French prime minister, who had fled the advancing Germans, going from Paris to Tours and then Bordeaux. [...] Reynaud suddenly interrupted de Gaulle. 'Does he agree to this? Did Churchill give you this personally?' De Gaulle handed the receiver to Churchill, who assured Reynaud that he approved. Reynaud was 'transfigured with joy.' "

Nobody Knows What Lies Beneath New York City / Bloomberg Businessweek
"Underneath the 6,000 miles of asphalt and concrete road lie thousands of miles of water, sewer, gas, telecommunications, and electrical infrastructure. And let’s not forget the 500 miles of underground subway tracks or Con Edison’s 100-mile steam delivery system. In its entirety, it’s known to no one. The individual details of the vast underground are hoarded and guarded by the various stakeholders. Con Edison has its electrical map; the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) keeps track of water and sewer pipes; the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) could tell you where the transit tunnels are; and so on. Imagine the city as a living organism, a body consisting of various systems—respiratory, nervous, skeletal—that share the same space and even intertwine. Now imagine surgery performed on that body by a surgeon who knows the location of only one system, who looks at the body and sees only blood vessels or bones. This is the odd condition of New York—a body subject to what, viewed through a wide lens, looks like perpetual triage. Each year, for repairs or to facilitate construction, the streets are sliced open 200,000 times—an average of almost 550 cuts per day, or 30 per street mile every year. [...] Strikes on underground infrastructure cost the city an estimated $300 million every year. Leidner’s map would let a user zoom through the city’s layers of pipes and wire, asphalt and tunnels, streams and granite to pinpoint a leaking sewer line or corroding gas line as easily as someone in Boise, Idaho, can now swoop down to check out a street view of a real estate listing in the Virgin Islands. To understand his obsession, you have to understand the pull for him of the technology that could make it possible."

The DocX Games: Three Days at the Microsoft Office World Championship / The Verge
"On a Sunday night two weeks back, in the Rose Court Garden of the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim, California, 150 antsy competitors between the ages of 13 and 22 milled around eating miniature whoopie pies by the light of the Moon, sizing up their global rivals in the efficient use of Excel, PowerPoint, and Word. It was as if the Olympics opening ceremony was replaced by a networking event: teens were decked out in national T-shirts, while others handed out business cards specially made for the event. At one table off by the bar, two chaperones nudged their folding chairs closer together and taught each other how to say hello ('Yassas,' 'Ciao') in their respective mother tongues. In the distance, through the palms, the tiki torches of Trader Sam's, the hotel's poolside lounge, were flickering into the black sky. This marked the first night of the 16th Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) World Championship, in which teens and young 20-somethings compete for the title of World Champion in their chosen professional application."

Why Everyone Is Hating on IBM Watson—Including the People Who Helped Make It / Gizmodo
"In the commercial, which advertises what is essentially a smart tax prep service, Watson is portrayed as a glowing sci-fi cube that holds the key to humankind’s greatest problems. But it’s not a wizard. And lately, several experts from Silicon Valley and Wall Street have spoken up, criticizing the people behind the curtain—asking if Watson is a joke or a savior for IBM. So why is everyone being so tough on Big Blue and its golden child? [...] IBM seems to believe the Watson brand can breathe new life into their company. And it sure could use some resuscitation right about now. IBM’s revenue has fallen for 22 consecutive quarters. In May, Warren Buffett dumped about a third of his IBM stock, citing 'some pretty tough competitors.' Two weeks later, the Wall Street Journal reported IBM gave its remote employees the option to either move to a regional office or quit. (Since the decision affects more than 40 percent of its 380,000 employees, the article suggests it’s a way of cutting employees without official layoffs.) Then in July, investment bank Jefferies published a report cautioning IBM investors, suggesting the company won’t return value to shareholders because it can’t compete with other tech giants investing in AI. [...] Etzioni, who helps research and develop new AI that is similar to some Watson APIs, said he respects the technology and people who work at Watson, 'But their marketing and PR has run amok—to everyone’s detriment.' Former employees who worked on Watson Health agree and think the way that IBM overhypes Watson for Oncology is especially detrimental."

A pilot explains what it really means when there's turbulence during a flight / Business Insider
A lot of this is rather basic, but some is pretty interesting: "I remember one night, headed to Europe, hitting some unusually rough air about halfway across the Atlantic. It was the kind of turbulence people tell their friends about. Fewer than forty feet of altitude change, either way, is what I saw. Ten or twenty feet, if that, most of the time. Any change in heading—the direction our nose was pointed—was all but undetectable. I imagine some passengers saw it differently, overestimating the roughness by orders of magnitude. [...] While it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference, the smoothest place to sit is over the wings, nearest to the plane’s centers of lift and gravity. The roughest spot is usually the far aft. In the rearmost rows, closest to the tail, the knocking and swaying is more pronounced."

----- 1 star -----

A tour of our solar system’s eclipses / Kottke
What do flat Earthers think about Monday's solar eclipse? / Philly Voice
We’ve been predicting eclipses for over 2000 years. Here’s how. / Popular Science
A trio of interesting eclipse links:
"In a meditative video for the NY Times, Dennis Overbye takes us on a tour of eclipses that happen in our solar system and beyond."
"This is why it’s so important to listen to feedback from your readers, folks. I hadn’t thought about doing a piece on what flat Earthers think about the eclipse until HeckPhilly suggested it. He’s right. Our coverage has been thorough (see here, here, here and here for a refresher course.) I reached out to sources within, and skeptical of, the flat Earth community to gauge their opinions about the solar eclipse that will be visible (to various degrees) across America on Monday afternoon."
"With records stretching back to about 700 BC, Mesopotamians were able to determine the length of a Saros Cycle—the interval between when the Moon, Earth, and Sun line up for an eclipse. A cycle happens once every 18 years, 10 days (11 days on leap years), and eight hours, tracing a shadow on the Earth. That extra eight hours means that the position of the eclipse shifts over time as the Earth rotates."

The Cult of the Costco Surfboard / New Yorker
"The Wavestorm, a high-volume, low-profit-margin play, was priced at a third of what most starter surfboards cost. By 2015, Bloomberg Businessweek reported that over half a million Wavestorms had been sold, and Costco was on pace to sell a hundred thousand that year alone. [...] Though pro surfers like Jamie O’Brien have taken Wavestorms on some of the world’s most dangerous breaks—such as Oahu’s Pipeline—as a kind of humblebrag, the board is not perfect. Surfers note that it soaks up seawater with time. At high speed, its plastic fins chatter. Its leash is tangle-prone. Compared to the carbon-fibre-wrapped shortboards currently championed by surf shops and ridden in high-level competitions—boards that slash up and down a wave’s face, building speed like a Scuderia Ferrari—the Wavestorm moves more like a school bus. But it is very good at catching waves. Maybe too good."

'Skunk in the outfield': How the most epic trick play in history broke baseball / ESPN
"But high school baseball, and maybe only high school baseball, is built for trick plays. At levels lower than high school, everybody is just trying to have fun, trying to learn, and it seems cruel to try too hard to humiliate your opponent. At higher levels, a play like that would never work. High school is the intersection between childhood and adulthood: The young men on the field are good enough to throw in the high-80s, strong enough to play on full-sized fields in front of major league scouts, polished enough to speak in clichés. They're also young enough to fall for a trick play straight out of 'Little Big League.' "

25 Knives, 47 Knife Skills | Bon Appetit / YouTube
"A master chef with impeccable knife skills is presented with a series of knives and shows us what each one is and how to use it. Everything from the traditional chef's knife to the Japanese Santoku to a butter knife."