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This Tiny Country Feeds the World / National Geographic
Very, very cool -- a glimpse into the future:
In a potato field near the Netherlands’ border with Belgium, Dutch farmer Jacob van den Borne is seated in the cabin of an immense harvester before an instrument panel worthy of the starship Enterprise. From his perch 10 feet above the ground, he’s monitoring two drones—a driverless tractor roaming the fields and a quadcopter in the air—that provide detailed readings on soil chemistry, water content, nutrients, and growth, measuring the progress of every plant down to the individual potato. Van den Borne’s production numbers testify to the power of this “precision farming,” as it’s known. The global average yield of potatoes per acre is about nine tons. Van den Borne’s fields reliably produce more than 20. That copious output is made all the more remarkable by the other side of the balance sheet: inputs. Almost two decades ago, the Dutch made a national commitment to sustainable agriculture under the rallying cry “Twice as much food using half as many resources.” Since 2000, van den Borne and many of his fellow farmers have reduced dependence on water for key crops by as much as 90 percent. They’ve almost completely eliminated the use of chemical pesticides on plants in greenhouses, and since 2009 Dutch poultry and livestock producers have cut their use of antibiotics by as much as 60 percent. One more reason to marvel: The Netherlands is a small, densely populated country, with more than 1,300 inhabitants per square mile. It’s bereft of almost every resource long thought to be necessary for large-scale agriculture. Yet it’s the globe’s number two exporter of food as measured by value, second only to the United States, which has 270 times its landmass. How on Earth have the Dutch done it?
Why Happy People Cheat / The Atlantic
Adultery has existed since marriage was invented, yet this extremely common act remains poorly understood. Around the globe, the responses I get when I mention infidelity range from bitter condemnation to resigned acceptance to cautious compassion to outright enthusiasm. In Paris, the topic brings an immediate frisson to a dinner conversation, and I note how many people have been on both sides of the story. In Bulgaria, a group of women I met seem to view their husbands’ philandering as unfortunate but inevitable. In Mexico, women I spoke with proudly see the rise of female affairs as a form of social rebellion against a chauvinistic culture that has long made room for men to have “two homes,” la casa grande y la casa chica—one for the family, and one for the mistress. Infidelity may be ubiquitous, but the way we make meaning of it—how we define it, experience it, and talk about it—is ultimately linked to the particular time and place where the drama unfolds. [...] Infidelity happens in bad marriages and in good marriages. It happens even in open relationships where extramarital sex is carefully negotiated beforehand. The freedom to leave or divorce has not made cheating obsolete. So why do people cheat? And why do happy people cheat? [...] Sometimes when we seek the gaze of another, it’s not our partner we are turning away from, but the person we have become. We are not looking for another lover so much as another version of ourselves. The Mexican essayist Octavio Paz described eroticism as a “thirst for otherness.” So often, the most intoxicating “other” that people discover in an affair is not a new partner; it’s a new self.
The College Try / California Sunday Magazine
Liz Waite and Kersheral Jessup couldn’t afford a higher education, let alone rent. But they worked and scrounged and slept on couches to put themselves through school. Will their degrees be worth it? [...] California has long been at the forefront of trying to open higher education to students like Liz — students who, in past generations, might have been priced out of a degree. [...] No type of school has been more successful at lifting the poor up to the middle class and beyond than midtier public universities like the Cal States. In a ranking published this year of colleges that helped the highest percentage of students claw their way out of poverty, four Cal State campuses made the top 10. Cal State Long Beach clinched the last spot, vaulting 78 percent of its students from the bottom of the economic ladder, where household incomes top out around $25,000 a year. But for all the good Cal State does for its alumni, most students there struggle to get their degrees. Only one in five finishes in four years, and a little more than half graduate in six, their progress slowed, in part, by soaring living costs in one of the nation’s most expensive states.
How Do Families Around The World Spend Their Vacations? / New York Times
Snapshots from Estonia, Japan, China, Ukraine, Guinea, Italy, Iran, and Columbia:
In the deciduous forests of southern Estonia, small cabins made of logs layered with moss dot the countryside. These are the smoke saunas — places to bathe bodies and cleanse spirits. The aromas of alder wood and stripped birch, burning below hot stones, waft through the air. Once the stones reach peak heat, the smoke is vented out with the help, it’s said, of a mythical “smoke eater.” Inside the cabin, a caretaker whisks visitors’ skin, delivering gentle beatings with a bouquet of leaves gathered, as at the sauna in Vorumaa at left, from the surrounding woods as the hot air alleviates the anxiety that comes with living in one of the world’s most technologically savvy populations.
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My Drowning (And Other Inconveniences) / Outside
After a legendary career in adventure writing, Tim Cahill thought his story was over. Thrown from a raft in the Grand Canyon’s Lava Falls, he was trapped underwater and out of air. When he finally reached land, his heart stopped for several minutes. Then he came back—and decided to risk Lava again.
A Weird MIT Dorm Dies, and a Crisis at Colleges / Wired
Senior House was the gravitational center of alternative culture at MIT, characterized by extremes. For example, since 1963 its courtyard was the site for an annual Dionysian festival that began with a whole steer being hauled atop a pit and roasted on an open flame. The bacchanal ended three days later when there was no more mud left to wrestle in or drinks to gulp. By the time the third dawn came, friendships had been forged, tire swings had been swung, meat had been devoured, some drugs had probably been snorted or smoked, jobs had been offered, and lives had been changed. [...] MIT’s dismantling of Senior House is part of a nationwide trend on college campuses, a shift that places a premium on safety, orderliness, and minimal bad publicity above all. Experts trace the roots of this shift to the 1980s. Since then, college tuition has skyrocketed and with it the competition for students who can afford it. Parents footing the bill are paying a lot more attention. The world has become more litigious and more corporate. All of this has led to an atmosphere in which university administrations have little margin for error when it comes to student safety or even bad publicity. And in this risk-averse atmosphere, places like Senior House, Eclectic, and Ricketts are increasingly viewed as unacceptable liabilities.
The Mysterious Madame Giselle / The Washington Post
The irresistibly charming woman in Apartment 713 can hold forth for hours with tales of her luxe life among the intercontinental elite, neighbors say. Madame Giselle, as some call her, is forever boasting of being the secret wife of Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, even saying she facilitated the first phone call between the Middle Eastern leader and President Trump, according to two of her neighbors in an upscale high-rise building just beyond the D.C. border in Chevy Chase, Md. Over homemade Turkish coffee in her lavishly appointed apartment or across the table at pricey restaurants, the neighbors say, she has shared in a confiding tone that she occupies a prime White House office next to Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump. “I’m kind of a mom figure to her,” Madame Giselle says, according to those who live in her building. In this gilded age of Washington excess, Madame Giselle’s casual references to her private jet and to her collection of glitzy residences in the tony D.C. neighborhood of Foxhall, as well as in Spain and Manhattan, seemed entirely plausible to some of the friends she accumulated in the hallways and elevators of a building occupied by a sophisticated array of capital insiders. For a time, the elegant woman in Apartment 713 appeared to be just another fascinating curio in a city thick with the creme de la creme of foreign dignitaries and financiers, an only-in-Washington sort of apparition. Then she started promising to make her neighbors a lot of money. That’s when things got messy.
You Really Don’t Need To Work So Much / New Yorker
If we assume that there is, to a certain degree, a fixed amount of work necessary for society to function, how can we at once be more productive, have more workers, and yet still be working more hours? Something else must be going on. The question has proved a source of fascination for economists and writers. [...] What counts as work, in the skilled trades, has some intrinsic limits; once a house or bridge is built, that’s the end of it. But in white-collar jobs, the amount of work can expand infinitely through the generation of false necessities—that is, reasons for driving people as hard as possible that have nothing to do with real social or economic needs. Consider the litigation system, in which the hours worked by lawyers at large law firms are a common complaint. If dispute resolution is the social function of the law, what we have is far from the most efficient way to reach fair or reasonable resolutions. Instead, modern litigation can be understood as a massive, socially unnecessary arms race, wherein lawyers subject each other to torturous amounts of labor just because they can. In older times, the limits of technology and a kind of professionalism created a natural limit to such arms races, but today neither side can stand down, lest it put itself at a competitive disadvantage.
How Israel Went Nuclear / Tablet
The father of Israel’s nuclear deterrent reveals how it was built. An exclusive excerpt from No Room For Small Dreams, Shimon Peres’ posthumous autobiography. [...] Ben-Gurion had decided it would not be enough for me to raise the issue with the French. I had to make an explicit request: to sell Israel a nuclear reactor for peaceful purposes. It was a request without precedent, and one I expected my friends to decline. They were already taking a great risk violating the Western arms embargo to sell us weapons in secret. But something of this magnitude, if discovered, was far more dangerous, with the potential to damage French relations with both its Arab partners and its Western allies. Still, I felt that if such an agreement were possible between any countries, it was possible between France and Israel. And so I set out to try. [...] While we had the unanimous support of the French senior leadership, we arrived back in Jerusalem to find near-unanimous dissent. Golda Meir insisted that such a project would hurt Israel’s relationship with the United States, while Isser Harel, the Mossad chief, raised fears of a Soviet response. Some predicted an invasion by ground forces, while others envisioned an attack from the air. [...] He took a piece of stationery from a desk that was no longer his and drafted a letter to the chairman of the French Atomic Energy Commission. The French government had approved the deal, he confirmed, and the chairman should fully cooperate in its execution. He signed it as France’s prime minister. At the top of the page, he wrote the previous day’s date. I asked no questions. I said nothing at all. What was there to say? Bourgès-Maunoury could see the relief in my eyes. He could feel the depth of my appreciation. In that moment, what he had done for Israel—what he had done for me—was the most generous display of friendship I had ever known. The following month, the French established a $10 million line of credit for Israel. At last, it was time to break ground.
If I'd Known What We Were Starting / LinkedIn blog post
In November of 2008, I did a code review and security audit for the block chain portion of the Bitcoin source code. The late Hal Finney did code review and audit for the scripting language, and we both looked at the accounting code. Satoshi Nakamoto, the pseudonymous architect and author of the code, alternated between answering questions and asking them. [...] But I reviewed Bitcoin the same way my professor had reviewed my academic paper, without any genuine expectation that it was going to mean anything to any large number of people but in the hopes that it would incrementally advance knowledge and awareness of the issues involved. A few weeks later Satoshi, with Hal's help, actually launched it, and they set about recruiting more people for long-term support of the project, and I stepped aside. [...] And the Trustless nature of Bitcoin was the main thing that convinced me Satoshi wasn't scamming. He built a highway with no toll bridge. People could use Bitcoin without creating any obligation to pay him anything ever. He wasn't selling coins, he was giving them away for solving hashes. He reserved nothing for himself.
Don’t Be Scared About The End Of Capitalism—Be Excited To Build What Comes Next / Fast Company
Soviet Russia was an unmitigated social and economic disaster; that’s easy to dispel. But, of course, not all experiments with socialist principles have gone so horribly wrong. Take the social democracies of Sweden and Finland, for example, or even post-war Britain and the New Deal in the U.S. There are many systems that have effectively harnessed the economy to deliver shared prosperity. [...] The socialism that exists in the world today, on its own, has nothing much to say about this. Just like capitalism, it relies on endless, indeed exponential GDP growth, ever-increasing levels of extraction and production and consumption. The two systems may disagree about how best to distribute the yields of a plundered earth, but they do not question the process of plunder itself. Fortunately, there is already a wealth of language and ideas out there that stretch well beyond these dusty old binaries. They are driven by a hugely diverse community of thinkers, innovators, and practitioners. There are organizations like the P2P (Peer to Peer) Foundation, Evonomics, The Next System Project, and the Institute for New Economic Thinking reimagining the global economy. The proposed models are even more varied: from complexity, to post-growth, de-growth, land-based, regenerative, circular, and even the deliciously named donut economics.
The Remarkable Laziness of Woody Allen / The Atlantic
For years the evidence has accumulated: Allen is an astonishingly lazy director. Often this fact gets a positive spin, as when he is described as “an actor’s director”—code for the reality that he offers his performers little or no guidance and tries to complete every scene in as few takes as possible. Here, again, Allen is bluntly honest. “I’m lazy and an imperfectionist,” he explained in a 2015 NPR interview. “Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese will work on the details until midnight and sweat it out, whereas for me, come 6 o’clock, I want to go home, I want to have dinner, I want to watch the ballgame. Filmmaking is not [the] end-all be-all of my existence.” [...] The minimal commitment that appearing in an Allen film entails is a highly relevant consideration for a time-strapped actor. [...] Such shortcuts result in a feedback loop of cinematic prestige: Allen is considered an important director in part because so many big stars still want to work with him. Meanwhile, his perceived importance as a director draws those stars for the short period it will take to film a movie and acquire their Allen credential. The accumulated prestige also rubs off on his investors, some of whom have even gotten bit parts. And their risk of a financial loss is low. Allen’s films almost always recoup their modest budgets—here, the actors’ willingness to work at a deep discount is essential—and now and then one strikes gold. (Midnight in Paris made more than $150 million on a $17 million budget.) The fact that so few of them wind up being any good barely enters into the director-actor-investor equation.
Remembering Babi Yar / Tablet
The initial two-day operation was the largest single massacre of Jews during the Holocaust, and took place a year before the Germans initiated the systematic mass killing of Jews by stationary gas chambers at three death camps in Poland—Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka. The gas chambers were introduced in large part to overcome the psychological fallout suffered by German soldiers from carrying out mass killings of Jewish civilians at places like Babi Yar. The killings in Kiev were not achieved through train schedules, distant camps, and sealed death chambers attended to by other prisoners. Kiev was the stuff of crying children snatched from the arms of their mothers and having their skulls dashed against brick walls. It was the wounded climbing out from the piles of corpses and layers of soil pleading with their executioners to finish them off with another bullet lest they suffocate to death.
London's Uber Ban Is a Big Brexit Mistake / Bloomberg
Prime Minister Theresa May made a big speech Friday on Brexit negotiations, but the bigger news coming out of London may have been that the transit authority, Transport for London, decided not to renew the license of Uber Technologies Inc. to operate inside city limits. The decision is a clear statement that the future of both London and the U.K. are less bright than we might have thought even a few days ago. Banning Uber shows that a post-Brexit nation won’t be the libertarian paradise that many Brexit advocates have been predicting or at least clamoring for. The notion was that European Union regulation was horribly restrictive, and British business would blossom under a reign of newfound freedom, if only it could be left to its own devices. Although that was never very plausible to begin with, it was a common argument from Brexit supporters such as MP Daniel Hannan. It’s now hard to raise that point with any credibility. The new Britain appears to be a nationalistic, job-protecting, quasi-mercantilist entity, as evidenced by the desire to preserve the work and pay of London’s traditional cabbies. That’s hardly the right signal to send to a world considering new trade deals or possibly foreign investment in the U.K.
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Snowflake macro photography / Chaotic Mind (Blogspot)
I admit to not having read all the text. but the photos are stunning:
My main hobby is taking closeup snowflake pictures. Real snow crystals are amazing objects for macro photography, thanks to their beauty, uniqueness and unlimited diversity.
The physics of sushi / Kottke
Master sushi chefs in Japan spend years honing their skills in making rice, selecting and slicing fish, and other techniques. Expert chefs even form the sushi pieces in a different way than a novice does, resulting in a cohesive bite that doesn’t feel all mushed together. In this short video clip from a longer Japanology episode on sushi, they put pieces of sushi prepared by a novice and a master through a series of tests — a wind tunnel, a pressure test, and an MRI scan — to see just how different their techniques are. It sounds ridiculous and goofy (and it is!) but the results are actually interesting.
What Would Happen If You Never Stopped Doing Push-Ups? / Digg
Anyone who is moderately familiar with exercise, at some point, will think the same thing: What if we could just push past the pain? What might happen if we ignored the lizard part of our brains screaming at us to stop? Would we destroy our bodies or make them stronger? To answer this we spoke with Russell Tupling, a kinesiology professor at the University of Waterloo, and one of the foremost experts on muscle fatigue. As you might guess, you can try and do push-ups forever, but eventually your body will fail you. But, Tupling explains, this isn't because your muscles are small. It's all in the chemistry.
If you blow air through sand, it behaves like a liquid / Kottke
If you take a bin full of sand and blow air up through the bottom of it, the sand behaves like a liquid. The bubbles were freaky enough when I watched this for the first time, but when the guy reached in to submerge the ball and it buoyantly popped right to the surface, my brain broke a little bit. This video from The Royal Institution explains what’s going on.