----- 4 stars -----
My Friend Mister Rogers / The Atlantic
I wouldn't call this Tom Junod's finest writing (though that's a high bar); it's a bit raw, a bit all over the place. Yet as an emotion-laden reckoning with what it means that Fred Rogers befriended him over two decades ago, it just works. It's a wonderful, beautiful piece -- and because of that, many of you may have already seen it. In case you saw it shared somewhere and hadn't bothered reading it yet, I'll chime in and recommend it as well:
A long time ago, a man of resourceful and relentless kindness saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. He trusted me when I thought I was untrustworthy, and took an interest in me that went beyond my initial interest in him. He was the first person I ever wrote about who became my friend, and our friendship endured until he died. Now a movie has been made from the story I wrote about him, which is to say “inspired by” the story I wrote about him, which is to say that in the movie my name is Lloyd Vogel and I get into a fistfight with my father at my sister’s wedding. I did not get into a fistfight with my father at my sister’s wedding. My sister didn’t have a wedding. And yet the movie, called A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, seems like a culmination of the gifts that Fred Rogers gave me and all of us, gifts that fit the definition of grace because they feel, at least in my case, undeserved. I still don’t know what he saw in me, why he decided to trust me, or what, to this day, he wanted from me, if anything at all. He puzzles me now as much as he did when I first met him at the door of the apartment he kept in New York City, dressed, as he’d warned me when we spoke on the phone and he invited me over, in a shabby blue bathrobe and a pair of slippers. Fred was, let’s not forget, a rather peculiar man, and it is not just his goodness but rather the peculiarity of his goodness that has made him, 16 years after his death, triumphant as a symbol of human possibility, although just about everything he stood for has been lost.
----- 3 stars -----
The Strange Life and Mysterious Death of a Virtuoso Coder / Wired
A few feet deeper into the forest, the crime scene unit found two black sneakers, a dark shirt, and a pair of black pants with a vine threaded through its belt loops. The clothes' tattered condition suggested that they, like the skull and loose bones, had been removed from the body by scavengers. Inside a pants pocket was a wallet containing a wad of waterlogged cash, rewards cards from Subway and a chain of erotic boutiques, and an Ohio state ID for Jerold Christoper Haas, born September 30, 1975. By running the name through an Ohio law-enforcement database, the investigators learned that Haas had been reported missing seven weeks earlier. Haas had lived in Columbus, 80 miles from where his remains were discovered, but he'd last been seen at a gas station one county over from O'Bryan's sprawling property. He'd disappeared along with a black backpack in which he carried the tools of his career as a computer programmer: three smartphones, two Dell laptops, an Amazon tablet, and an array of USB sticks and cables. He never let the backpack out of his sight; even on trips to the office bathroom, the bag stayed glued to his shoulder. But the backpack was nowhere to be found in the woods. Haas had vanished only months after he'd been on the verge of a life-altering triumph. He was a cofounder of Tessr, a buzzed-about Columbus startup that aimed to use blockchain technology to streamline data sharing in higher education. The company had created a blockchain-based token, known as TSRX, that it had started selling to insiders in the late spring and early summer of 2018; the sale's lofty goal had been to raise $30 million from investors. Haas, who'd received 1.5 million tokens as part of his compensation package, believed he could make a fortune if Tessr panned out, and he'd been pushing himself to finish the code needed to launch the startup's platform in the fall. Much of the critical software he'd written was stored on the hard drives he'd been toting in his backpack. He had neglected to make any copies of his work.
----- 2 stars -----
This Is How You Train As a Spy in the CIA’s Most Elite Covert Unit / Washingtonian
Source meetings at Panera. Dead drops all over DC. How to develop a cover identity. Former spy Amaryllis Fox tells all in this excerpt from her book, Life Undercover. [...] I pull into a spot in the Panera parking lot in Northern Virginia. I’m driving a training car, a rented Dodge Stratus, designed to safeguard my cover from any real-world surveillants sent by the Russians or Chinese to get a jump on identifying the CIA’s next cohort of spies. Fair enough—my rust-bucket Jeep is pretty identifiable. I glance in the rearview mirror. This is going to be our first graded exercise. My reflection doesn’t inspire confidence. I assess myself as a stranger might: blotchy skin, nervous eyes, the puppy chub of childhood still in her cheeks. Every movie I’ve ever watched suggests this is not what spies look like. But then I guess spies who look like spies don’t get very far. Inside Panera, a line of Sunday brunchers snakes toward the door. I scan the room over the top of a menu, feeling vaguely ridiculous. The weekend yuppie crowd sprawls across tables and chairs. No sign of a cranky case officer posing as a Kazakh informant, pretending not to know I’m there. For a minute, I wonder if I’ve dreamed the whole thing, the way crazy people always think they’re surrounded by the CIA. Then I see him. Sitting in the back at the coffee bar, shoulders hunched, as if nursing a finger of whiskey.
I was an astrologer – here's how it really works, and why I had to stop / The Guardian
We charged A$50 an hour, a significant sum at the time, and I wanted to offer value. No fishing for clues from me – I printed a horoscope or laid the cards and started interpreting immediately, intending to dazzle the customer with my insights. Half the time, though, I couldn’t get a word in. It turned out what most people want is the chance to unload for an hour. The range of problems faced by people who can afford $50 for fortune telling turned out to be limited: troubles with romance, troubles at work, trouble mustering the courage for a much-needed change. I heard these stories so often I could often guess what the problem was the moment someone walked in. Heartbroken young men, for example, talk about it to psychics, because it’s less risky than telling their friends. Sometimes I’d mischievously say, “Let her go. She’s not worth it,” as soon as one arrived. Once I heard, “Oh my God, oh my GOD!” as an amazed guy fell backwards down the stairs. I also learned that intelligence and education do not protect against superstition. [...] Shortly afterwards, I packed my astrology books and Tarot cards away for good. I can still make the odd forecast, though. Here’s one: the venture capital pouring into astrology apps will create a fortune telling system that works, because humans are predictable. As people follow the advice, the apps’ predictive powers will increase, creating an ever-tighter electronic leash. But they’ll be hugely popular – because if you sprinkle magic on top, you can sell people anything.
Ten Years Ago, I Called Out David Letterman. This Month, We Sat Down to Talk. / Vanity Fair
It’s not often that you speak truth to power and power responds, “Oops, sorry,” writes former Letterman writer Nell Scovell. [...] Dave wasn’t just a product of our culture; he helped create our culture. In the generation and a half that Dave reigned on TV, comedy could have made a giant leap toward greater representation. Instead, he fronted an institution that systematically amplified the voices of guys who looked like him. On camera, the show favored male standups over females by an overwhelming margin. Only one female comic was booked in 2011. This denial of equal opportunity is part of Dave’s legacy. Self-reflection can save a marriage, but it can’t change history. Whoa, you’re thinking. Dave apologized. Why are you still so angry, Nell? Dave still carries around his guilt and I still carry around my anger. Despite this, we can have a productive and even pleasant talk.
Poetry and Prophecy, Dust and Ashes / Plough
In the early 1990s, W. W. Norton, that indefatigable supplier of textbooks, invited the literary scholar Robert Alter to assemble a critical edition of Genesis. Alter countered that he’d have to do his own translation, the existing ones being inadequate. Norton agreed. But, Alter tells us in his new treatise The Art of Bible Translation, “I had not gotten halfway through the first chapter of Genesis before I discovered that there were all sorts of things going on in the Hebrew, many having to do with its literary shaping, that had not been discussed in the conventional commentaries and that I wanted to take up.” The scholar-turned-translator thus found himself launched on a third parallel career, as commentator. Alter’s Genesis appeared in 1996 to rapturous reviews, followed by The David Story (both Samuels and a smattering of Kings) a few years later, then the Pentateuch a few years after that. Those of us who came to love Alter soon found ourselves in a position akin to that of Robert Caro’s or George R.R. Martin’s fans. Would he keep going? What if he lost interest, perhaps taking up a less exacting hobby upon his retirement? What if – morbid thought – he died? But twenty-three years after Genesis, Alter has completed his work: a finished Hebrew Bible, three volumes lovingly footnoted; an altogether worthier object of contemplation than some fantasy series, or Lyndon Johnson. And I, who am but dust and ashes, review it.
Autism and intelligence: much more than you wanted to know / Slate Star Codex
Several studies have shown a genetic link between autism and intelligence; genes that contribute to autism risk also contribute to high IQ. But studies show autistic people generally have lower intelligence than neurotypical controls, often much lower. What is going on? [...] But even adjusting for these factors, the autism – low intelligence correlation seems too strong to dismiss. For one thing, the same studies that found that relatives of autistic patients had higher IQs find that the autistic patients themselves have much lower ones. The existence of a well-defined subset of low IQ people whose relatives have higher-than-predicted IQs is a surprising finding that cuts through the measurement difficulties and suggests that this is a real phenomenon. [...] Most cases of autism involve all three of these factors; that is, your overall autisticness is a combination of your familial genes, mutations, and environmental risk factors. One way of resolving the autism-intelligence paradox is to say that familial genes for autism increase IQ, but de novo mutations and environmental insults decrease IQ.
If alien life exists in our solar system, it may look like this / National Geographic
Pictures of deep-sea vents hidden below ice offer some of our first looks at creatures thriving in conditions akin to those on watery moons.
The Reason Anxious People Often Have Allergies / The Atlantic
In 2016, Nanda and her colleagues published a study that found that among 7-year-olds, allergies were indeed associated with depression, anxiety, and symptoms such as being withdrawn. Kids with hay fever had a threefold risk of depression and anxiety. Recently, more evidence has supported this link—and not just in children. A study of German adults that came out in April also found that generalized anxiety was associated with seasonal allergies. If further research bolsters this relationship between allergies and mental health, it could provide a fascinating glimpse into how our bodies might influence our minds, and possibly vice versa. Two seemingly unconnected diseases, each affecting millions of Americans, could turn out to be not so different after all.
----- 1 star -----
Handel and the Bank of England / Bank Underground
George Frideric Handel was a master musician — an internationally renowned composer, virtuoso performer, and music director of London’s Royal Academy of Music, one of Europe’s most prestigious opera houses. For musicologists, studying his life and works typically means engaging with his compositional manuscripts at The British Library, as well as the documents, letters, and newspapers that describe his interaction with royalty, relationships to others, and contemporary reaction to his music. But when I began to explore Handel’s personal accounts at the Bank of England twenty years ago, I was often asked why. For me the answer was always ‘follow the money’. Handel’s financial records provide a unique window on his career, musical environments, income, and even his health.
LeBron Is Great At Everything — Even Point Guard / FiveThirtyEight
But James has proved once again that he is not bound by the constraints of ordinary basketball greatness. Just when it seemed like he might trend toward the paint, LeBron instead has veered further to the “guard” end of the playing-style spectrum — and thrived. First, he established himself as a master of the super-deep 3-point bomb, knocking down 33.6 percent of shots from 28 or more feet since 2017-18 (which ranks fifth among all NBA players1 over that span). And this year, when he was asked by head coach Frank Vogel to play point guard for a Los Angeles Lakers team without many other options, James has instantly become one of the league’s best at the position. As always, there doesn’t seem to be much that LeBron can’t do on the court when he sets his mind to it.
Painting with Pure CSS / Waxy
Last year, I fell in love with Diana Smith’s stunning CSS paintings: Francine, Vignes, and Zigario. (I loved them so much, I asked her to speak at XOXO’s Art+Code event last year.) Incredibly, Diana types these out by hand, layering HTML elements and CSS properties with only a text editor and Chrome Developer Tools. In this post, she talks about the CSS properties she relies on most, with links to what her work would look like without each. She just released her latest illustration, Lace, inspired by Flemish/baroque art and coded in two weekends, and it’s my favorite so far.
Neutrinos Lead to Unexpected Discovery in Basic Math / Quanta
Three physicists wanted to calculate how neutrinos change. They ended up discovering an unexpected relationship between some of the most ubiquitous objects in math.
This researcher created an algorithm that removes the water from underwater images / YouTube [Scientific American]
Why do all the pictures you take underwater look blandly blue-green? The answer has to do with how light travels through water. Derya Akkaynak, an oceangoing engineer, has figured out a way to recover the colorful brilliance of the deep.
Scientists may have just worked out why we hiccup / CNN
Although hiccups seem a nuisance, scientists have discovered they may play a crucial role in our development -- by helping babies to regulate their breathing.
Incredible Low-Angle Satellite Photo of NYC / Kottke
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