Every weekday as part of my commute, I ride across the old Montopolis Bridge, which is closed to motor traffic but still open to bikes and pedestrians. The city is restoring the bridge, and have built this tunnel to shield passersby from the work going on above.
When I ride through it in the morning, heading east into the sun, with my sunglasses on, I can’t see anything immediately around me and I feel as if I’m floating.
The following are some of the best stories, articles, essays, blog posts, etc, that I read during 2013. They weren’t necessarily written in 2013. I’m including them in roughly the order I encountered them.
- Power and the Internet
Bruce Schneier, awesome as always
- THE FIFTY-NINE-STORY CRISIS
The story of how an architectural disaster was averted with Citicorp Center. Seriously, everyone should read this
- The Machiavelli series at Ex Urbe
This is a 4-ish part series of blog posts. I’m just linking to the first here, but read them all. Fantastic writing about history.
- The American Metropolis at Century’s End: Past and Future Influences
Past and future influences on American cities
- Triumph of the Cyborg Composer
What if emotionally moving music can just be reduced to algorithms? What does that say about us?
- Russell Brand on Margaret Thatcher: ‘I always felt sorry for her children’
A condemnation of conservatism in the 80s in general.
- Secrets of the Magus
A portrait of Ricky Jay
- Overheard: Steven Soderbergh
Steven Soderbergh on the film industry. Introduced me to the useful phrase “mayhem porn.”
- A Rocket To Nowhere
Why the Space Shuttle was broken as designed. Everything on this website is worth reading, really. It doesn’t belong on my 2013 list, but as long as I’m linking to Idle Words, I recommend Scott and Scurvy too.
- Why Americans are the weirdest people in the world
American social scientists assume their worldview is universal. It ain’t.
- Eyal Ophir on the Science of Multitasking
TL;DR: It doesn’t work.
- Kudzu and the California Marriage Amendment
How the variety of intersex conditions make it literally impossible to ban same-sex marriage.
- How Does Our Language Shape the Way We Think?
That old Sapir-Worf hypothesis
- Wildcatting: A Stripperâ€™s Guide to the Modern American Boomtown
A slice of life that is completely foreign to me.
- William Gibson, The Art of Fiction No. 211
Long interview. Lots of interesting observations
- The Brain on Trial
The limits of rationality and free will as it relates to the law.
The abuse of “civil forfeiture,” especially in small Texas towns
- The Ecuadorian Library
Chairman Bruce on the clay-footed heroes of modern-day whistleblowing
- Why two spaces after a period isn’t wrong (or, the lies typographers tell about history)
Exhaustive treatment of this controversial issue
- Administrators ate my tuition
I’ve been wondering for a while why college tuition has gotten so outrageously expensive. Apparently rampant administrative overhead has something to do with it.
- Physics: What We Do and Donâ€™t Know
A very dense wrap-up of the state of subatomic particles and cosmology.
- Imagining the Post-Antibiotics Future
The most sobering thing I’ve read in a long, long time.
- The shadow genome: why DNA isn’t destiny
Epigenetics is changing the way scientists look at genetic inheritance
- The Welfare Queen
Welfare fraud was the least of her crimes. Just an insane story.
Gwen’s parents brought her a book from a library sale in their small town, The Circle of Useful Knowledge, published in 1888. It’s filled with bizarre recipes for cocktails mixed in 10-gallon quantities, tips on animal husbandry, etc.
I’m posting extracts from it in a separate blog, titled Circle of Useful Knowledge. I’m going to try to post a couple of entries a day. Enjoy.
This morning while Gwen was puttering in the back yard, a juvenile bluejay landed on the ground, near our back door. He looked like he had his flight feathers, but the feathers on his head were still downy. He wouldn’t or more likely couldn’t fly away; he could hop, but mostly stayed put.
Not knowing what else to do, we set out a shallow pan of water for him. He made no effort to get away from us, but did hop into the pan of water.
About an hour later, I looked in on him. He was still in roughly the same spot. I refilled the pan of water and set it next to him. He looked at me and opened and closed his beak a few times as if silently chirping or begging for food. He flapped his wings for a moment and flipped over on his back. The nictitating membranes blinked across his eyes and he died.
When we looked at his corpse, we saw a spot on his back where he had been attacked.
New technology creates new social phenomena, etiquette problems being one of them. Caller ID is not a new technology, but at some point in the past few years, its ubiquityâ€”especially with cellphones, which have better text displays than landline phonesâ€”has created one of these etiquette problems.
Traditionally (where by “traditionally,” I mean “ten years ago”), when Alice calls Bob and gets Bob’s voicemail, Alice leaves a message at least saying “it’s Alice, call me back.” But over the last few years, we’ve seen a different approach. Charlie calls Bob, gets Bob’s voicemail, and just hangs up. Charlie knows that Bob has caller ID and will be able to see that Charlie calledâ€”Charlie figures that’s all the information Bob needs to return the call.
Bob may have the same approach as Charlie, in which case this is fine. But Bob may figure that if Charlie had anything that needed a response, then Charlie would have left a message. Bob doesn’t return the call and eventually hears again from Charlie, who indignantly asks “why didn’t you call me back?” There’s a mismatch in expectations. Neither one is right or wrong, necessarily, but the mismatch can create friction.
I’m reminded of the distinction between ask culture and guess culture, although in this context, it might be more accurate to say it’s a difference between tell culture and guess culture.
Or perhaps it’s just a matter of etiquette that we as a society haven’t quite sorted out yet. I was talking about this at dinner with some friends who are all around my ageâ€”we all agreed that people should leave messages. There might be an age component to this.
I had a strange experience when I went out and about visiting studios on the East Austin Studio Tour. When I looked at the map, I was gratified to see quite a few artists in my immediate neighborhood, and one studio only a block away, so I decided to make that my first stop.
As I’m slowly riding my bike down the driveway to the garage studio in back, one of the two residents says “Are you Adam Rice?”. Taken aback, I confirm that I am, and ask “â€¦How do you know?” Despite their proximity, I’m sure I’ve never seen either of these people before, and it’s not like I’m famous.
She explains that she has seen me pop up as a “recommended friend” on Facebook because we apparently have a lot of friends in common.
Still, that doesn’t explain how she knows that Gwen has a letterpress, or that it came with our house.
When Gwen and I got our iPhones, I commented that I suddenly felt like I was living in the future.
When I saw this copy of New You magazine on a newsstand, I suddenly felt like I had entered a science-fiction movie.
Today, this site (and some others that I manage on the same server) was hacked by world-secure-channel.com, or more likely a piece-of-shit script-kiddie they contracted with, making me an unwilling part of a link-farm. World Secure Channel supposedly offers VPN services for anonymous browsing, but considering the respect they show for the integrity of my website, I can only wonder what they do with the data you would route through their servers.
Gwen has invented a new adult beverage. We call it the Porch Swing. It’s very tasty. Here’s how to make it.
First, infuse some vodka with tea. Get some vodka and put in in a mason jar with a couple bags of earl grey tea (Gwen found some earl grey with lavender, which was actually very good). Let it go overnight. Remove tea bags and chill afterwards.
Second, make up a strong batch of lemonade. The lemon-to-sugar ratio should be normal (whatever “normal” means to you), but use just barely enough water to dissolve the sugarâ€”heat it up to help it dissolve. You don’t want to water down the drink unnecessarily.
Third, mix 3 parts vodka with 2 parts lemonade. Shake with ice. Pour through a strainer into a martini glass and garnish with a lemon slice. Make plenty, because you’ll be drinking a lot. Experiment a little with the ratios, as there’s a fine line between just right and a little not-right.
I don’t think that came out the way you meant it, Citibank.