----- 4 stars -----
Deliverance From 27,000 Feet / New York Times
Mount Everest occupies a rare spot in the collective imagination — a misty mix of wonder, reverence and trepidation. Hundreds of people successfully and safely reach the summit most years and return home with inspirational tales of conquest and perseverance. Other stories detail the occasional tragedies that leave a few people dead in a typical year. Those disaster stories are now their own genre in books and film. Where most of those stories end is where this one begins, long after hope is gone — the quiet, desperate and dangerous pursuit, usually at the insistence of a distraught family far away, to bring the dead home. The only search is for some semblance of closure. That was why the Sherpas with their oxygen masks and ice axes had come this far, this high, more than a year later. The four Indian climbers, from a vibrant climbing culture in West Bengal, were like so many others attempting Everest. They saw the mountain as the ultimate conquest, a bucket-list item that would bring personal satisfaction and prestige. They dreamed of it for years and made it the focus of their training. As motivation, they surrounded themselves with photographs of the mountain, from their Facebook pages to the walls of their homes. In other ways, however, they were different. Climbing Everest is an expensive endeavor, something to be both bought and earned. Many climbers are middle-aged Westerners — doctors, lawyers and other professionals — with the kind of wealth that the group from India could not fathom. Some spend $100,000 to ensure the best guides, service and safety. These four climbers measured monthly salaries in the hundreds of dollars. They borrowed money and sold off possessions simply for a chance. They cut costs and corners, because otherwise Everest was completely out of reach.
Riding the Rays / Douglas Adams
I'm currently reading Douglas Adams's posthumously-published Salmon of Doubt, and one of the essays was delightful enough that I felt obliged to find it online and share it with you. It's not easy to find a summarising excerpt for it, so I'll just tell you how it starts -- and I hope the four-star rating and Douglas Adams's reputation are enough to compel you to read it:
Every country is like a particular type of person. America is like a belligerent, adolescent boy, Canada is like an intelligent, 35 year old woman. Australia is like Jack Nicholson. It comes right up to you and laughs very hard in your face in a highly threatening and engaging manner. In fact it's not so much a country as such, more a sort of thin crust of semi-demented civilisation caked around the edge of a vast, raw wilderness, full of heat and dust and hopping things. Tell most Australians that you like their country and they will give a dry laugh and say 'Well, it's the last place left now isn't it?', which is the sort of worrying thing that Australians say. You don't quite know what they mean but it worries you in case they're right.
----- 3 stars -----
Google Maps's Moat / Justin O'Beirne
From the internet's reigning Google Maps expert is yet another fascinating piece on Maps technology (filled with nice graphics); Google is terribly impressive:
Similar to what we saw earlier this year at Patricia’s Green in San Francisco, Apple’s parks are missing their green shapes. But perhaps the biggest difference is the building footprints: Google seems to have them all, while Apple doesn’t have any. But it’s not just Apple—no one else seems to have them either. [...] But while Google has buildings in my home state’s smallest towns, Apple doesn’t have them in the majority of U.S. state capitals. [...] But these buildings are more than just a pretty detail—they appear to be the foundation for one of Google Maps’s newest features... [...] Annechino and Cheng spent months researching one city. But not only did Google capture all of their commercial corridors (and several more), it somehow came up with them for thousands of cities across the world. (Even my tiny hometown got a few.) [...] Google has repeatedly told journalists that it started extracting data from Street View imagery in 2008, as part of its “Ground Truth” project. So this suggests that Google may have a 6+ year lead over Apple in data collection. And as we saw with AOIs, Google has gathered so much data, in so many areas, that it’s now crunching it together and creating features that Apple can’t make—surrounding Google Maps with a moat of time. It makes you wonder how long back Google was planning all of this—and what it’s planning next...
How Tough Is It to Change a Culture of Harassment? Ask Women at Ford / New York Times
In August, the federal agency that combats workplace discrimination, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, reached a $10 million settlement with Ford for sexual and racial harassment at the two Chicago plants. A lawsuit is still making its way through the courts. This, too, happened before: In the 1990s, a string of lawsuits and an E.E.O.C. investigation resulted in a $22 million settlement and a commitment by Ford to crack down. For Sharon Dunn, who sued Ford back then, the new lawsuit was a fresh blow. “For all the good that was supposed to come out of what happened to us, it seems like Ford did nothing,” she said. “If I had that choice today, I wouldn’t say a damn word.” In recent months, as women have spoken out about harassment — at media companies and technology start-ups, in the entertainment industry and on Capitol Hill — they have spurred quick action, with accused men toppling from lofty positions, corporations pledging change and lawmakers promising new protections. But much less attention has been focused on the plight of blue-collar workers, like those on Ford’s factory floors. After the #MeToo movement opened a global floodgate of accounts of mistreatment, a former Chicago worker proposed a new campaign: “#WhatAboutUs.”
----- 2 stars -----
How extensive editing rescued Star Wars / Kottke
The first version of Star Wars that George Lucas showed publicly (to Steven Spielberg and Brian De Palma) was, as Spielberg later related, a mess. This video from RocketJump shows how Lucas and the film’s team of editors, particularly George’s then-wife Marcia Lucas, recut the film into the classic it is today. The beginning of the film was extensively reworked — some scenes were cut and others moved around to give the story more clarity. In other spots, small cutaway scenes were added to improve the flow, to explain plot details without expositional dialogue, and to smooth over rough transitions. And the drama of the end of the film was totally constructed in the editing phase by using off-screen dialogue and spliced-in scenes from earlier in the film. There are greater examples of editing in other films, but Star Wars is such a known entity that this is a particularly persuasive take on just how important editing is in filmmaking.
Political Incorrect Paper of the Day: Food Deserts / Marginal Revolution
This is a good paper with a credible research design and impressive data from some 35,000 supermarkets covering 40% of the United States. Moreover, because of the widespread attention given to “food deserts” this paper probably had to be written. But color me un-surprised. The results are obvious. Indeed, I feel that in recent years I am reading a lot of papers that aim massive firepower on weak hypotheses. As an explanation for obesity and poor eating habits, the idea of “food deserts” was absurd. The reasons are manifold. Even in food deserts it’s actually not that difficult to get healthy food and, contrary to popular belief, healthy food is not especially expensive.
I Spent 80 Days Trying to Get Abs and It Ruined My Life / Vice
I Tried to Make My Home Energy Efficient and It's Ruining My Life / Vice
Vice actually puts out some decent writing, so it's unfortunate that its editors insist on such unoriginal, clickbait-y headlines. But yes, please do read on to see how lives were ruined...
After months of deliberation, I finally decided that I was going to attempt a body transformation. I decided on the gimmick of abs in eighty days. I wanted to get noticeable results in a time period that seemed difficult but possible. Over the course of eleven and a half weeks, I managed to get in the best shape of my life. I also managed to alienate the people closest to me, cause major damage in my relationship, and shit myself. Twice. The following is documentation of my eighty-day attempt to get abs.
Leonard McBean had been told for months that his south Los Angeles home was a firetrap. Decades-old wiring had never been replaced, a common situation in his low-income neighborhood. One Tuesday morning, McBean asked a friend about the electrical contractor working on their house. By Wednesday night, the same contractor—a man who gave his name as Yogi—had approved the Jamaican immigrant for $18,000 in energy-efficient improvements. “I said, ‘I don’t have that money,” McBean, a 67-year-old retired medical shuttle driver, told me. “He said, ‘Mr. McBean, don’t worry, you’re not going to pay a lot, just $100 a month.’ He said it was an Obama program.” When McBean electronically signed the contract two years ago, he didn’t realize he was consenting to have a lien placed on his house, meaning the county could take the home away for lack of payment. He didn’t know the escrow payment attached to his mortgage would jump $400 a month. He didn’t know the lien would make the home difficult to sell.
Silicon Valley Is Turning Into Its Own Worst Fear / Buzzfeed
Ted Chiang, who wrote the short story that was turned into Arrival, comments on Silicon Valley capitalism:
Speaking to Maureen Dowd for a Vanity Fair article published in April, Musk gave an example of an artificial intelligence that’s given the task of picking strawberries. It seems harmless enough, but as the AI redesigns itself to be more effective, it might decide that the best way to maximize its output would be to destroy civilization and convert the entire surface of the Earth into strawberry fields. Thus, in its pursuit of a seemingly innocuous goal, an AI could bring about the extinction of humanity purely as an unintended side effect. This scenario sounds absurd to most people, yet there are a surprising number of technologists who think it illustrates a real danger. Why? Perhaps it’s because they’re already accustomed to entities that operate this way: Silicon Valley tech companies. Consider: Who pursues their goals with monomaniacal focus, oblivious to the possibility of negative consequences? Who adopts a scorched-earth approach to increasing market share? This hypothetical strawberry-picking AI does what every tech startup wishes it could do — grows at an exponential rate and destroys its competitors until it’s achieved an absolute monopoly. The idea of superintelligence is such a poorly defined notion that one could envision it taking almost any form with equal justification: a benevolent genie that solves all the world’s problems, or a mathematician that spends all its time proving theorems so abstract that humans can’t even understand them. But when Silicon Valley tries to imagine superintelligence, what it comes up with is no-holds-barred capitalism. [...] Insight is precisely what Musk’s strawberry-picking AI lacks, as do all the other AIs that destroy humanity in similar doomsday scenarios. I used to find it odd that these hypothetical AIs were supposed to be smart enough to solve problems that no human could, yet they were incapable of doing something most every adult has done: taking a step back and asking whether their current course of action is really a good idea. Then I realized that we are already surrounded by machines that demonstrate a complete lack of insight, we just call them corporations. Corporations don’t operate autonomously, of course, and the humans in charge of them are presumably capable of insight, but capitalism doesn’t reward them for using it. On the contrary, capitalism actively erodes this capacity in people by demanding that they replace their own judgment of what “good” means with “whatever the market decides.”
This $20 Million Startup Was on the Road to Riches. Then Its Leader Started Talking to God / Inc.
Aeron Sullivan and his girlfriend, Alana Bennett, were waiting for the LSD to kick in. It was February 2016, and they were in a remote part of Alaska, watching the skies, eager for the shimmering colors of aurora borealis to start dancing. Once the acid hit and their pupils went wide, an urgent question occurred to Sullivan: Who is leading the human race? [...] The tech boom has given us tales of companies that got huge despite poor management. (Mark Zuckerberg once famously described Twitter as a "clown car that drove into a gold mine.") Tradiv's story, colorful as it may be, shows why the vast majority of companies find it hard to overcome bad decisions and setbacks. "Tradiv was the darling of the industry, with a leader"--Sullivan--"investors loved to love," says a still-stunned Emily Paxhia, the co-founder of Poseidon Asset Management, which has spent $25 million funding cannabis companies, including Tradiv. "Losing is part of investing, but this was bad. It was crazy."
Were U.S. nuclear tests more harmful than we had thought? / Marginal Revolution
Basically he combines mortality estimates with measures of Iodine-131 concentrations in locally produced milk, “to provide a more precise estimate of human exposure to fallout than previous studies.” The most significant effects are in the Great Plains and Central Northwest of America, and “Back-of-the-envelope estimates suggest that fallout from nuclear testing contributed between 340,000 to 460,000 excess deaths from 1951 to 1973.”
----- 1 star -----
The rates of traffic flow on different kinds of 4-way intersections / Kottke
This is an animation of traffic flows simulated on 30 different kinds of four-way junctions, from two roads intersecting with no traffic lights or signs to complex stacked interchanges that feature very few interactions between individual cars.
What Do You Call a World That Can’t Learn From Itself? / Eudaimonia & Co.
This piece tries to be serious, but it's a bit silly; that said, as an aspiring European, it's always nice to read something that I think is true reinforces my biases:
Why Don’t Americans Understand How Poor Their Lives Are? [...] Everything I consume in the States is of a vastly, abysmally lower quality. Every single thing. The food, the media, little things like fashion, art, public spaces, the emotional context, the work environment, and life in general make me less sane, happy, alive. I feel a little depressed, insecure, precarious, anxious, worried, angry — just like most Americans do these day. So my quality of life — despite all my privileges — is much worse in America than it is anywhere else in the rich world. Do you feel that I exaggerate unfairly? It’s not just an anecdote, of course. Americans enjoy lower qualities of life on every single indicator that you can possibly think of. Life expectancy in France and Spain is 83 years, but in America it’s only 78 years — that’s half a decade of life, folks. The same is true for things like maternal mortality, stress, work and leisure, press freedom, quality of democracy — every single thing you can think of that impacts how well, happily, meaningfully, and sanely you live is worse in America, by a very long way. These are forms of impoverishment, of deprivation — as is every form of not realizing potential that could be. [...] There is a myth of exceptionalism in America that prevents it from looking outward, and learning from the world. It is made up of littler myths about greed being good, the weak deserving nothing, society being an arena, not a lever, for the survival of the fittest — and America is busy recounting those myths, not learning from the world.
From C-3PO’s perspective, ‘Star Wars’ is a prolonged nightmare / Washington Post
We know that C-3PO, everyone’s favorite useless golden robot butler, is going to be in the new movie. (You can see him in a shot from it, above, sporting a swanky new arm.) In honor of this fact, I would like to take the liberty of pointing out something that has been nagging at my mind for some time: namely, if you are C-3PO, the story of “Star Wars” is COMPLETELY DIFFERENT. To be blunt, it is a protracted nightmare.
A Watch Expert Describes The Differences Between A $5,000 Watch And An $85,000 Watch / Digg
A Patek Philippe 5170P costs a boatload more than a (still very expensive!) Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch. Does it justify the difference?
This is an incredibly satisfying video / Kottke
Watching This 12,000 Domino Rainbow Spiral Topple Is Deeply Satisfying / Digg
"Satisfying" is also popular on the internet...
A wheel comes off of a car during a race and behaves in an amazingly tidy way until…well, I won’t spoil it for you but watch until the wheel stops.
This masterpiece took two full days to build and only seconds to come crashing down.