Posts Tagged ‘blog: worth it’.

Three (More) Podcasts Well Worth Your Time

Three (More) Podcasts Well Worth Your Time

Here are three more individual podcast episodes from my recent listening that I really enjoyed, and thought you might too!

(For those who don’t listen to podcasts, I have linked to transcripts where available.)

99% Invisible: “Breaking Bad News” (Overcast / Website, including a text version) 

When a doctor reveals a terminal diagnosis to a patient — that process is as delicate a procedure as any surgery, with potentially serious consequences if things go wrong. If the patient doesn’t understand their prognosis, for example, they could end up making uninformed decisions about their treatment.

That’s why many medical schools now offer training for students on how to break bad news, bringing in actors to help them learn how to navigate this critically important and very high-stakes moment.

And that’s not the only connection between acting and this particular facet of medicine. It turns out that one of the first doctors to recognize the challenges of this particular kind of doctor-patient communication wasn’t just a physician — he was also a comedian. And he drew on that experience to transform the way that doctors break bad news.

99PI (as it’s known) is a show about the design choices that we overlook in daily life. This episode talks about the deliberate design of a typical, but fraught, human interaction — and how, for example, none other than John Cleese tried to help it go more smoothly.

Hidden Brain: “When Everything Clicks” (Website / Overcast / Transcript)

There can be a lot of psychological noise involved in teaching. But what if we replaced all that mental chit chat….with a click?

This week, we explore an innovative idea about how we learn. It will take us from a dolphin exhibit in Hawaii to a top teaching hospital in New York.

It’s about a method to quiet the noise. The sort of clutter that can turn learning into a minefield of misery.

Hidden Brain is an NPR show that (like 80% of all public radio podcasts) is about sociology and the what we can learn about the strange ways people think.

It’s always interesting, but this particular episode I found particularly fascinating for its description of an unusual way that humans can teach and learn new things: using a dog training clicker.

Listen to find out how this sort of teaching might help learners of a new skill bypass various psychological blocks.

Waking Up with Sam Harris: “The Kindness of Strangers” (Website / Overcast)

In this episode of the Waking Up podcast, Sam Harris speaks with Tristan Harris about the arms race for human attention, the ethics of persuasion, the consequences of having an ad-based economy, the dynamics of regret, and other topics.

I’m not a regular listener to this podcast (and I listened to another episode I didn’t particularly enjoy), but I read an interview with Tristan Harris about his particular area of expertise, and went looking for other interviews to learn more. (Here’s yet another.)

His area of expertise is distraction, or more precisely, attention control – how apps and websites are increasingly designed to play our neurology like a fiddle to capture as much of our time and attention as possible. Tristan has also done a couple of TED talks on the subject.

While it’s a bit obvious in the broad strokes, it’s disturbing to learn about the details — but like my read of The Righteous Mind a few years ago, I found it was the sort of idea that sat in the back of my mind to help contextualize other things I saw and did (like Facebook, Netflix, and YouTube’s specific and purposeful decisions to autoload new videos after you finish watching one).

Related to that, I have since installed Chrome extensions to block the autoloading of new Facebook posts on scrolling (Social Fixer) and block YouTube’s recommendations from ever appearing (Remove Recommendations). The destructive power of YouTube’s recommendation engine is another, wholly different topic, but it’s no less dire.

I have a new podcast too!

It’s on Patreon. Here’s a teaser. I’ll talk about it more very soon!

[ Previous things well worth your time. ]

Three podcast episodes well worth your time

Three podcast episodes well worth your time

I listen to a lot of podcasts, on a variety of topics. Here are three individual episodes from recent shows that I found particularly compelling, and thought you might too!

Futility Closet: “The Long Way Home” (Website / Overcast)

When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, the crew of an American seaplane were caught off guard near New Zealand. Unable to return across the Pacific, they were forced to fly home “the long way” — all the way around the world. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow the adventures of the Pacific Clipper on its 30,000-mile journey through a world engulfed in war.

Futility Closet is a relatively new add to my playlist, but I’ve already come to enjoy it quite a bit.

Hosts Greg and Sharon Ross share weird tidbits from history, as well as try to stump each other with “lateral thinking puzzles”.

I’m a sucker for aviation stories, and this was one I hadn’t heard before.

It’s full of all the drama you’d expect from a high-stakes globe-trotting adventure. (And here’s another recent aviation-themed Futility Closet episode.)

How I Built This: “James Dyson” (Overcast)

In 1979, James Dyson had an idea for a new vacuum cleaner — one that didn’t use bags. It took him five years to perfect the design, building more than 5,000 prototypes in his backyard shed. He then tried to convince the big vacuum brands to license his invention, but most wouldn’t even take his calls. Eventually, he started his own company. Today, Dyson is one of the best-selling vacuum brands in the world, and James Dyson is a billionaire. 

On How I Built This, host Guy Raz interviews founders and entrepreneurs behind some of the world’s most successful companies.

In this particular episode, with vacuum cleaner innovator James Dyson, I really enjoyed hearing about Dyson’s engineering struggles, and how he approached the process of relentlessly perfecting his inventions.

How I Built This has a show website on NPR.org, but someone tell them to give each episode a permalink, I couldn’t find one (besides the transcript).

The Moth Radio Hour: “The Kindness of Strangers” (Website / Overcast)

In this hour we delve into the goodness of humanity through acts both small and large. A tourist has a major setback while on vacation; a holiday gift exchange is botched; and a nurse in a fertility clinic secretly blesses hopeful couples.

The stories told on The Moth are always interesting, but sometimes they can be melancholy or obscure.

This particular episode is all about kindness, in unusual situations and against all odds. It worked wonders for my mood on the day I heard it.

 

9 More Articles Well Worth Your Time

Here’s another short list of nonfiction articles I’ve read recently that I think are Well Worth Your Time. (Previous lists in this series.)

I read most articles using Instapaper, which is probably one of my top 5 most used apps. (Overcast, by the same guy, is also way up there.) I “Save later” whenever I see someone post an interesting link on Twitter or wherever, and then catch up with the reading before bed at night.

I am usually much farther behind in reading than I am excitedly saving!

And to be honest, it’s easy to drown in the talky-talky morass of endless discourse, especially in the category of news and current events.

So I do think you could NOT read any of these articles and still live a perfectly functional life… But I found these 9 pieces particularly interesting of late, and thought perhaps you might too. And only a couple of them relate to politics.

An update: I think the “Wondermark Q+A”  post will go up next week, so if you have any burning questions for me that you want to add to the list, get them in now!

How We Think About the Deficit is Mostly Wrong, Stephanie Kelton (NYT Op-Ed)

Suppose the government spends $100 into the economy but collects just $90 in taxes, leaving behind an extra $10 for someone to hold. That extra $10 gets recorded as a surplus on someone else’s books. That means that the government’s -$10 is always matched by +$10 in some other part of the economy. There is no mismatch and no problem with things adding up. Balance sheets must balance, after all. The government’s deficit is always mirrored by an equivalent surplus in another part of the economy.

The problem is that policy makers are looking at this picture with one eye shut. They see the budget deficit, but they’re missing the matching surplus on the other side. And since many Americans are missing it, too, they end up applauding efforts to balance the budget, even though it would mean erasing the surplus in the private sector.

Meet the Font Detectives who Ferret Out Fakery, Glenn Fleishman (Wired)

When Nawaz Sharif and his family came under scrutiny earlier this year thanks to revelations in the Panama Papers, the smoking gun in the case was a font. The prime minister’s daughter, Maryam Sharif, provided an exculpatory document that had been typeset in Calibri—a Microsoft font that was only released for general distribution nearly a year after the document had allegedly been signed and dated.

A “Fontgate” raged. While Sharif’s supporters waged a Wikipedia war over the Calibri entry, type designer Thomas Phinney quietly dropped some history lessons about the typeface on Quora, and found himself caught in a maelstrom of global reporting. Phinney said that because Calibri has been in use for several years, people have forgotten that it’s a relatively new font. This has made Calibri a hot topic in document forgery as fakers fail to realize that this default Microsoft Word typeface will give itself away.

How Liberals Fell in Love With The West Wing, Luke Savage (Current Affairs)

What is the actual ideology of The West Wing? Just like the real American liberalism it represents, the show proved to be something of a political weather vane throughout its seven seasons on the air…

Insofar as there is an identifiable ideology, it isn’t one definitively wedded to a particular program of reform, but instead to a particular aesthetic of political institutions. The business of leveraging democracy for any specific purpose comes second to how its institutional liturgy and processes look and, more importantly, how they make us feel—virtue being attached more to posture and affect than to any particular goal. Echoing Sorkin’s 1995 film The American President (in many ways the progenitor of The West Wing) it delights in invoking “seriousness” and the supposedly hard-headed pragmatism of grownups.

Never Write a Novel With an En-dash in the Title, Nicole Dieker (The Awl)

Never write a novel with an en-dash in the title. You’ll finally learn the alt code, after months of searching “en-dash” in another tab and copying the result every time you type your own novel’s name, but the real issue is that you’re going to be filling out a lot of forms, on Kirkus and Indiebound and Amazon, and half the forms will automatically convert your en-dash into a hyphen, and you’ll wonder if everyone who reads your title on one of those websites with one of those forms will assume you don’t know how to appropriately punctuate a date range.

You probably shouldn’t have a title with two sets of colons, either. You hadn’t planned to have to type The Biographies of Ordinary People: Volume 1: 1989–2000 into all of those forms, because you always visualized it the way it would look on your novel’s cover. Only one colon, and a hard return. (Some of the forms let you submit the post-hard-return half of your title as a subtitle, and you wonder if splitting the title in some instances but not others will mess up your SEO.)

My Lousy Children Are Both Fake Geeks, Robert Jackson Bennett (Tor.com)

We all know that there is really only one reason we have kids. I mean, yeah, there’s the whole “walking bag of donateable organs and blood” part. But the real reason one has children, the true reason, is so that you can fill up their bizarre little brains with your own pet affections, vigilantly programming them to love the things you love, and also to love you, I guess. It’s like having a parrot, but instead of teaching them to say the things you want, it’s to have the emotional bonds to the pop culture that you want.

Friends, I am going to straight up say this right here—I have miserably failed in my efforts to indoctrinate my children with the appropriate pop culture references. Well, I say that have failed, but I feel like at least 70% of the burden of failure rests on my two very bad garbage sons, who have both proven to be just dogshit at liking the right things.

‘London Bridge is Down’: The Secret Plan for the Days After the Queen’s Death, Sam Knight (The Guardian)

For a time, she will be gone without our knowing it. The information will travel like the compressional wave ahead of an earthquake, detectable only by special equipment. Governors general, ambassadors and prime ministers will learn first. Cupboards will be opened in search of black armbands, three-and-a-quarter inches wide, to be worn on the left arm.

The rest of us will find out more quickly than before. On 6 February 1952, George VI was found by his valet at Sandringham at 7.30am. The BBC did not broadcast the news until 11.15am, almost four hours later. When Princess Diana died at 4am local time at the Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital in Paris on 31 August 1997, journalists accompanying the former foreign secretary, Robin Cook, on a visit to the Philippines knew within 15 minutes. For many years the BBC was told about royal deaths first, but its monopoly on broadcasting to the empire has gone now. When the Queen dies, the announcement will go out as a newsflash to the Press Association and the rest of the world’s media simultaneously. At the same instant, a footman in mourning clothes will emerge from a door at Buckingham Palace, cross the dull pink gravel and pin a black-edged notice to the gates.

The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction, Ursula K. Leguin

Many theorizers feel that the earliest cultural inventions must have been a container to hold gathered products and some kind of sling or net carrier…

Before — once you think about it, surely long before — the weapon, a late, luxurious, superfluous tool; long before the useful knife and ax; right along with the indispensable whacker, grinder, and digger — for what’s the use of digging up a lot of potatoes if you have nothing to lug ones you can’t eat home in — with or before the tool that forces energy outward, we made the tool that brings energy home. It makes sense to me. I am an adherent of what Fisher calls the Carrier Bag Theory of human evolution.

This theory not only explains large areas of theoretical obscurity and avoids large areas of theoretical nonsense (inhabited largely by tigers, foxes, other highly territorial mammals); it also grounds me, personally, in human culture in a way I never felt grounded before. So long as culture was explained as originating from and elaborating upon the use of long, hard objects for sticking, bashing, and killing, I never thought that I had, or wanted, any particular share in it. (“What Freud mistook for her lack of civilization is woman’s lack of loyalty to civilization,” Lillian Smith observed.)

The Gun Industry’s Lucrative Relationship With Hollywood, Gary Baum & Scott Johnson (Hollywood Reporter)

A class of artisans sit at the crossroads where the gun meets Hollywood. They’re called armorers, and they have one foot firmly planted in each world. “Until they stop making films and outlaw weapons altogether, we’re going to keep doing what we’ve been doing,” says Gregg Bilson Jr., president of the American Entertainment Armorers Association and head of the Independent Studio Services, one of Hollywood’s biggest prop houses…

And then there’s the Gatling’s descendent, the sixbarreled M134 Minigun, which fires 6,000 rounds a minute and initially was brought to market by General Electric as a helicopter-mounted weapon during the Vietnam War. Larry Zanoff — who periodically is called upon by law enforcement agencies and military branches to teach trainees about weaponry they might encounter in action — observes that more blanked shots likely were discharged in the service of filming 2001’s Black Hawk Down than there were real ones in the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu incident that inspired it.

Every Story I Have Read About Trump Supporters in the Past Week, Alexandra Petri (Washington Post Op-Ed)

In the shadow of the old flag factory, Craig Slabornik sits whittling away on a rusty nail, his only hobby since the plant shut down. He is an American like millions of Americans, and he has no regrets about pulling the lever for Donald Trump in November — twice, in fact, which Craig says is just more evidence of the voter fraud plaguing the country. Craig is a contradiction, but he does not know it.

Each morning he arrives at the Blue Plate Diner and tries to make sense of it all. The regulars are already there. Lydia Borkle lives in an old shoe in the tiny town of Tempe Work Only, Ariz., where the factory has just rusted away into a pile of gears and dust…

In the corner, under a picture of George Washington that is cracked and broken and stained with tobacco juice, lies Herm Slabornik. Herm is encased in a cryogenic tube which will be unplugged if Trump gets his way. According to a note on his cryotube, he knows what Trump said about unplugging tubes but he does not think Trump would unplug him personally. He will vote for Trump again in 2020, provided he is not unplugged. Also, he hates Obamacare.

(Previous lists in this series.)

10 More Articles Well Worth Your Time

Here’s another roundup post of things I’ve read recently and found interesting! (Previous lists, all chock full of good readin’, are here, here, and here.)

The last time I posted a list like this, back in March, I promised that the next one would be “ALL POLITICS, ALL THE TIME.”

Now, if you’re like me, you vacillate between being grotesquely fascinated with our current political theater-fire and completely disgusted by the entire catastrophe. A lot of the articles I’ve saved in my own Instapaper queue over the intervening months have been related to Trump, or the Trump phenomenon, or an examination of some facet of the whole Trump thing…

A GOOD TIME TO NOTE: I was asked, and was pleased, to contribute to a little book called
The Ghastlytrump Tinies, spearheaded by Mike Selinker of Lone Shark Games. It’s an Edward Gorey parody book, printed in limited edition, which can be yours for either regular cash money or a donation to help defeat Trump at the polls:

ghastly indeed

AND SO. For this list in particular, I decided that articles expounding at length on The Trump Thing are pretty easy to find, and if you’re interested you’ve probably already read your fill. Here are a few good ones if you really would like more perspectives on Trump.

The list below is populated with articles I found interesting about politics, but by design, none of them are elaborate meditations on Trump per se. You’re welcome.

The Day We Discovered Our Parents Were Russian Spies (The Guardian)

Alex presumed there had been some mistake –- the wrong house, or a mix-up over his father’s consultancy work. Donald travelled frequently for his job; perhaps this had been confused with espionage. At worst, perhaps he had been tricked by an international client. Even when the brothers heard on the radio a few days later that 10 Russian spies had been rounded up across the US, in an FBI operation dubbed Ghost Stories, they remained sure there had been a terrible mistake.

But the FBI had not made a mistake, and the truth was so outlandish, it defied comprehension. Not only were their parents indeed Russian spies, they were Russians. The man and woman the boys knew as Mom and Dad really were their parents, but their names were not Donald Heathfield and Tracey Foley. Those were Canadians who had died long ago, as children; their identities had been stolen and adopted by the boys’ parents.

The Long Con (The Baffler)

Via the battery of promotional appeals that overran my email inbox, I mainlined a right-wing id that was invisible to readers who encounter conservative opinion at face value. […]

Back in our great-grandparents’ day, the peddlers of such miracle cures and get-rich-quick schemes were known as snake-oil salesmen. You don’t see stuff like this much in mainstream culture any more; it hardly seems possible such déclassé effronteries could get anywhere in a society with a high school completion rate of 90 percent. But tenders of a 23-Cent Heart Miracle seem to work just fine on the readers of the magazine where Ann Coulter began her journalistic ascent in the late nineties by pimping the notion that liberals are all gullible rubes. […]

The strategic alliance of snake-oil vendors and conservative true believers points up evidence of another successful long march, of tactics designed to corral fleeceable multitudes all in one place –and the formation of a cast of mind that makes it hard for either them or us to discern where the ideological con ended and the money con began.

This is how the CIA botched Iraq post-9/11: Bob Gates, careerist sycophancy, and the real history of the Deep State (Salon)

Two days later, after a decent interval, we say, “Mr. President, we have to tell you, with all respect to your blue-suited generals, the Ho Chi Minh trail doesn’t look anything like I-66 or I-95. You can’t see most of it from the air, with the [jungle] canopy and stuff, and besides it’s not one, it’s about 161 trails. No matter how many big bombs, you’re not going to be able to interdict the flow of men and supplies. And No. 2, we know Ho Chi Minh. Sam here literally took him into Hanoi after the war [World War II] on his shoulders. He’s a nationalist before he’s a communist. He’s not going to give up. As a matter of fact, Mr. President, No. 3, nobody ever gives up just on the bombing.”

So what’s the lesson from that? The lesson from that is, man, we did our job! But the president? Well, the president had other considerations. He didn’t want to be the first president to lose a war. So he disregarded our advice and became the first president to lose a war. […]

From my perspective as an intelligence officer, undue weight is given to political considerations of a domestic variety. That’s why we didn’t end Vietnam when we should have. That’s why we did a lot of things that we shouldn’t have. Domestic considerations prevail. The system is such that that’s the way it should be. So what’s the answer? We have to elect presidents with integrity and with some kind of feel for who their advisers should be.

God and Country (MTV)

You probably haven’t heard of the Constitution Party. They have no seats in the House or the Senate, and probably never will. They don’t have any spokespeople telegenic enough for Fox News. They’ve only been around since 1991, and they’ve only been called the Constitution Party since 1999. (They were the Taxpayers’ Party before that.) Basically, it’s a party for conservatives who think Republicans are too secular. […]

Constitution Party candidates don’t win anything, and they don’t make a big show out of losing anything. I hadn’t heard of them, either, until about two weeks before the convention. And about all I knew walking in was that their current chairman is named Frank Fluckiger and their vice-chairman is named Randy Stufflebeam. These cannot be real names. These can only be rival magicians in a World War II–era English children’s novel.

Trump, the University of Chicago, and the Collapse of Public Language (The New Yorker)

…I couldn’t see where ideological disputes actually arose. Protesters painted themselves as grass-roots liberals, speaking up for poor, creative, or countercultural outsiders. The techies involved also considered themselves grass-roots liberals, creating apps to fight the Man, effect philanthropic efficacy, and support the same outsiders.

I stayed in the Bay Area awhile, interviewed forty or fifty people, watched protests, attended tech events and community meetings, and flew to New York City to tear out my hair. Writing long articles always involves muscle strain, but the parturition of this piece (which ran in the summer of 2014) was excruciating, because the material seemed to lack any conceptual edges. The ferment had been billed in the press as a “culture war.” And yet the two sides of the conflict — in terms of beliefs, ideological lineage, and language — were almost entirely the same.

I’m With The Banned (Welcome to the Scream Room)

Milo Yiannopoulos is a charming devil and one of the worst people I know. I have seen the death of political discourse reflected in his designer sunglasses. It chills me. We met four years ago, before he was the self-styled “most fabulous supervillain on the internet,” when he was just another floppy-haired right-wing pundit and we were guests on opposing sides of a panel show whose topic I don’t remember and can’t be bothered to look up. Afterwards we got hammered in the green room and ran around the BBC talking about boys. It was fun.

Since that day, there is absolutely nothing I have been able to say to Milo to persuade him that we are not friends. The more famous he gets off the back of extravagantly abusing women and minorities, the more I tell him I hate him and everything he stands for, the more he laughs and asks when we’re drinking. I’m a radical queer feminist leftist writer burdened with actual principles. He thinks that’s funny and invites me to his parties.

The Secret Justice System That Lets Executives Escape Their Crimes (BuzzFeed)

Say a nation tries to prosecute a corrupt CEO or ban dangerous pollution. Imagine that a company could turn to this super court and sue the whole country for daring to interfere with its profits, demanding hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars as retribution.

Imagine that this court is so powerful that nations often must heed its rulings as if they came from their own supreme courts, with no meaningful way to appeal. That it operates unconstrained by precedent or any significant public oversight, often keeping its proceedings and sometimes even its decisions secret. That the people who decide its cases are largely elite Western corporate attorneys who have a vested interest in expanding the court’s authority because they profit from it directly, arguing cases one day and then sitting in judgment another. That some of them half-jokingly refer to themselves as “The Club” or “The Mafia.”

And imagine that the penalties this court has imposed have been so crushing — and its decisions so unpredictable — that some nations dare not risk a trial, responding to the mere threat of a lawsuit by offering vast concessions, such as rolling back their own laws or even wiping away the punishments of convicted criminals.

This system is already in place, operating behind closed doors in office buildings and conference rooms in cities around the world.

None Dare Call It Treason (The Nation)

The Court majority, after knowingly transforming the votes of 50 million Americans into nothing and throwing out all of the Florida undervotes (around 60,000), actually wrote that their ruling [in Bush v. Gore] was intended to preserve “the fundamental right” to vote. This elevates audacity to symphonic and operatic levels. The Court went on to say, after stealing the election from the American people, “None are more conscious of the vital limits on its judicial authority than are the members of this Court, and none stand more in admiration of the Constitution’s design to leave the selection of the President to the people.” Can you imagine that? As they say, “It’s enough to drive you to drink.” […]

Varying methods to cast and count votes have been going on in every state of the union for the past two centuries, and the Supreme Court has been as silent as a church mouse on the matter, never even hinting that there might be a right under the equal protection clause that was being violated. Georgetown University law professor David Cole said, “[The Court] created a new right out of whole cloth and made sure it ultimately protected only one person — George Bush.”

All right. Lots of those were kind of depressing.

We’ll end with this last one, which is no less honest about the political realities we face, but which, rather than leave me despondent and floundering in a whirlpool beyond my control or comprehension, left me reeling — but in a useful way, in a way that reordered my thinking on a lot of issues, in a similar way to Jonathan Haidt’s book The Righteous Mind (discussed here).

I Can Tolerate Anything Except The Outgroup (SlateStarCodex)

If I had to define “tolerance” it would be something like “respect and kindness toward members of an outgroup”.

And today we have an almost unprecedented situation.

We have a lot of people…boasting of being able to tolerate everyone from every outgroup they can imagine, loving the outgroup, writing long paeans to how great the outgroup is, staying up at night fretting that somebody else might not like the outgroup enough.

This is really surprising. It’s a total reversal of everything we know about human psychology up to this point. No one did any genetic engineering. No one passed out weird glowing pills in the public schools. And yet suddenly we get an entire group of people who conspicuously promote and defend their outgroups, the outer the better.

What is going on here?

Enjoy the reads!

11 More Articles Well Worth Your Time

Here is (what I believe is) another Extensive List Of Articles (Arguably) Well Worth Your Time!

When I read something interesting that I think you might like to see as well, I leave it open in my Instapaper queue. It’s been a while since I made a post like this, so now there’s a huge bramble-bush of links in there, growing and multiplying.

Below, find a few afternoons’ worth of reading for you, of a variety of things on a variety of topics. The only quality they share is that I found reading them worth the time it took to do so.

Oh, and I’ll also say, none of these articles are about presidential politics, I promise. I’ll save those for a whole separate list.

(Previous reading lists here and here.)

Your Letters Helped Challenger Shuttle Engineer Shed 30 Years Of Guilt (NPR) Note: this story has a version in audio format, as well. Listening is recommended, if you can.

When NPR reported Bob Ebeling’s story on the 30th anniversary of the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, hundreds of listeners and readers expressed distress and sympathy in letters and emails…

“It’s going to blow up,” a distraught and defeated Ebeling told his wife, Darlene, when he arrived home that night.

And it did, 73 seconds after liftoff. Seven astronauts died. Cold weather and an O-ring failure were blamed, and Ebeling carried three decades of guilt.

“That was one of the mistakes God made,” Ebeling, now 89, told me three weeks ago at his home in Brigham City, Utah. “He shouldn’t have picked me for that job. But next time I talk to him, I’m gonna ask him, ‘Why me? You picked a loser.’ ”

Jim Sides listened to the NPR story in his car in Jacksonville, N.C.

“When I heard he carried a burden of guilt for 30 years, it broke my heart,” Sides, an engineer, says. “And I just sat there in the car in the parking lot and cried.”

Stop Trying To Be Creative (FiveThirtyEight)

In one experiment a bipedal robot programmed to walk farther and farther actually ended up walking less far than one that simply was programmed to do something novel again and again, Stanley writes.

Falling on the ground and flailing your legs doesn’t look much like walking, but it’s a good way to learn to oscillate, and oscillation is the most effective motion for walking. If you lock your objectives strictly on walking, you won’t hit that oscillation stepping stone.

Stanley calls this the “objective paradox” — as soon as you create an objective, you ruin your ability to reach it.

She Wanted to Do Her Research. He Wanted to Talk ‘Feelings.’ (NY Times)

Since I started writing about women and science, my female colleagues have been moved to share their stories with me; my inbox is an inadvertent clearinghouse for unsolicited love notes. Sexual harassment in science generally starts like this: A woman (she is a student, a technician, a professor) gets an email and notices that the subject line is a bit off: “I need to tell you,” or “my feelings.” The opening lines refer to the altered physical and mental state of the author: “It’s late and I can’t sleep” is a favorite, though “Maybe it’s the three glasses of cognac” is popular as well.

The author goes on to tell her that she is special in some way, that his passion is an unfamiliar feeling that she has awakened in him, the important suggestion being that she has brought this upon herself. He will speak of her as an object with “shiny hair” or “sparkling eyes” — testing the waters before commenting upon the more private parts of her body. Surprisingly, he often acknowledges that he is doing something inappropriate.

How David Beats Goliath (The New Yorker)

Ranadivé was puzzled by the way Americans played basketball. He is from Mumbai. He grew up with cricket and soccer. He would never forget the first time he saw a basketball game. He thought it was mindless…

It was as if there were a kind of conspiracy in the basketball world about the way the game ought to be played, and Ranadivé thought that that conspiracy had the effect of widening the gap between good teams and weak teams. Good teams, after all, had players who were tall and could dribble and shoot well; they could crisply execute their carefully prepared plays in their opponent’s end. Why, then, did weak teams play in a way that made it easy for good teams to do the very things that made them so good?…

The Turks simply did not think that their opponent would be mad enough to come at them from the desert. This was Lawrence’s great insight. David can beat Goliath by substituting effort for ability—and substituting effort for ability turns out to be a winning formula for underdogs in all walks of life, including little blond-haired girls on the basketball court.

Bang Bang Sanity (Stonekettle Station)

Laws against theft and murder don’t stop theft and murder, they give society legal options when theft and murder occur.

Saying new gun laws won’t end gun violence is a non sequitur. Of course gun laws won’t end gun violence.

Laws don’t stop crime, however, what well written laws do is to put responsibility where it belongs – on the criminal.

Well written laws are about pragmatism.

For example, we all know that laws against drinking and driving won’t stop drunk driving, but they weren’t intended to. We know it’s going to happen. People are going to drink and drive and kill themselves and each other. We know we can’t eliminate it completely. That’s the pragmatism part.

Instead, drunk driving laws were intended to do two things, 1) give us legal recourse as a society, 2) make us responsible for our antisocial behavior – which in turn leads over time to a change in culture…

We need gun laws that give society legal recourse by making each gun owner/user personally accountable for their own actions.

For Love and Honor: Hollis Frampton to Donald Richie (Letters of Note)

In December of 1972, Donald Richie, then film curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, wrote to artist Hollis Frampton and suggested that they organise a retrospective of his work at this most prestigious of museums.

To an artist of any standing, this would be a tempting offer; however, Frampton took issue with one particular line in the proposal, a single detail of Richie’s which rendered the suggestion entirely unattractive: “It is all for love and honor and no money is included at all…”

Unwilling to work without financial reward, Frampton responded at length with a rousing letter, reprinted below in full, that has since become legendary in the art world for reasons which are plain to see.

Lawyering Is About Service, Not Self-Actualization (Popehat)

People traditionally recognized as being in need of social justice are also the people in most dire need of competent legal representation.

When they have a few days to contest an eviction or they’ve been arrested and may lose their job, they don’t need someone who is exquisitely prepared to explain and denounce the racist and oppressive structures that led to their unfortunate predicament.

They need someone who knows what he or she is doing. They need someone who knows all of the petty substantive and procedural rules of landlord-tenant law and how the local court actually operates.

They need someone who can swiftly assess whether an arrest or interrogation was unlawful and formulate a plausible and effective plan for dealing with it.

They need someone who knows how to get things into evidence in court even under pressure on their feet when the judge is being difficult and the opposing counsel is making nonsensical objections. They need a grubby little practitioner.

When U.S. air force discovered the flaw of averages (Toronto Star)

Before he crunched his numbers, the consensus among his fellow air force researchers was that the vast majority of pilots would be within the average range on most dimensions. After all, these pilots had already been pre-selected because they appeared to be average sized. (If you were, say, six foot seven, you would never have been recruited in the first place.) The scientists also expected that a sizable number of pilots would be within the average range on all 10 dimensions. But even Daniels was stunned when he tabulated the actual number.

Zero.

Out of 4,063 pilots, not a single airman fit within the average range on all 10 dimensions. One pilot might have a longer-than-average arm length, but a shorter-than-average leg length. Another pilot might have a big chest but small hips. Even more astonishing, Daniels discovered that if you picked out just three of the ten dimensions of size — say, neck circumference, thigh circumference and wrist circumference — less than 3.5 per cent of pilots would be average sized on all three dimensions. Daniels’s findings were clear and incontrovertible. There was no such thing as an average pilot. If you’ve designed a cockpit to fit the average pilot, you’ve actually designed it to fit no one.

My Wife and I Are (Both) Pregnant (New York Magazine)

Emily: Exactly three weeks after we found out I was pregnant Kate called me at work and was like, “Guess what?” I fell off my chair. I was sitting on the floor, alternating between laughing hysterically and hyperventilating and crying. It was so overwhelming.

Kate: We were like, “Oh my God, we just overshot this. We can’t live in a one-bedroom apartment with two babies!”…

Emily: I really loved being pregnant. It was very easy for me. I felt good, I was very happy. I didn’t have any issues at all besides the fact that my feet grew so much that I had no shoes. Everything has been very easy for me and nothing has been easy for her. I’ve really had to try to not feel bad about that because I don’t want to feel sorry for her. It’s not that I don’t have sympathy, of course I feel deeply for her, but I didn’t want that emotion to be a part of either of our pregnancies. And I didn’t want to not have a great pregnancy because I felt bad about it.

Kate: The pro and con of having your wife, another woman, go through pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood in tandem with you is that you can’t help but compare.

Star Wars Is a Postmodern Masterpiece (Slate)

Star Wars is a Western. Star Wars is a samurai movie. Star Wars is a space opera. Star Wars is a war film. Star Wars is a fairy tale.

A Jedi craves not such narrow interpretations. In fact, Star Wars­­­—the original 1977 film that started it all—is all these things. It’s a pastiche, as mashed-up and hyper-referential as any movie from Quentin Tarantino. It takes the blasters of Flash Gordon and puts them in the low-slung holsters of John Ford’s gunslingers. It takes Kurosawa’s samurai masters and sends them to Rick’s Café Américain from Casablanca. It takes the plot of The Hidden Fortress, pours it into Joseph Campbell’s mythological mold, and tops it all off with the climax from The Dam Busters. Blending the high with the low, all while wearing its influences on its sleeve, Star Wars is pretty much the epitome of a postmodernist film.

Best of Luck: A brief introduction to death (The Awl)

The last thing I remember before the cardioversion was the anesthesiologist saying, “This is only going to take a second, but you do not want to be awake to feel it.” When I came to, my heart was back to a normal rhythm and there was an electrode burn on my sternum about the size and shape of a deck of cards. It lingered for weeks, scabbing over and itching and reminding me of the time they powered me down.

Lots of stuff for you here! Some creativity, some inspiration, some death, some life.

Next roundup post, some time in the future: ALL POLITICS, ALL THE TIME. Go ahead and delete your bookmark now, I guess, or else pour yourself a fifth and have it ready.