It may come as no surprise that my research trip to the high arctic I mentioned in my last edit has been canceled. Like billions of other people around the world, my daily life has been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic and I am in the process of making alternative plans for everything from how I buy groceries to what my life might look like in the coming months and years.
The hyper accelerated news cycle of 2020 has become saturated with coronavirus pandemic news and opinions; I am having trouble trying to figure out what is healthy news consumption and what is masochistic in the age of endless scrolling newsfeeds. I oscillate between focusing on the pandemic, indulging in escapism, and imagining what might come next. Whether you have been forced to stay home or have to work on the front lines, stay safe.
The most clicked link from last week's issue (~9% of opens) was a really fantastic Twitter thread on all the hacks in the human vision system.
Objects of my isolation.
- The Atlas of Everyday Objects is a project archiving our societal lockdown by collecting photos of objects that have taken on new meaning in isolation. I am fixated on my houseplants and the garden snails I’m keeping in a terrarium, along with some of the following things.
- The Ashley Book of Knots calls knotting “an adventure in unlimited space” which I’ve found to be an adventure well suited to the quite limited space of my apartment. This truly comprehensive guide, a favorite from The Prepared's Tool Guide, largely consists of knots collected from sailors who spent months of isolation honing their craft. I sit and try to work through the complicated diagrams with lengths of old climbing rope, and find comfort in the fact that knots cannot be partially right. You either have tied it correctly, or the whole thing fails; the lack of ambiguity is satisfying. You can access the full text from the Internet Archive or try your hand at an ocean plait mat through an animated tutorial.
- Wearing a mask to limit the spread of COVID-19 is now accepted as best practice but getting access to safe face coverings has challenges beyond getting a hold of one. Demand for Sharp’s face masks crashed their website and, subsequently, also IoT devices that appear to share the same server.
- The CDC released a video on making DIY masks that is more dystopian than informative (the naloxone t-shirt as a mask just serves as a reminder that public health emergencies are stacking on top of one another). I have spent a lot of time sewing and distributing cloth masks in Toronto, using a more informative resource for DIY masks.
- Establishing credibility from a distance can be challenging, and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is nailing it through his exhaustive PowerPoint presentations. Not everyone is doing as well, I am obsessed with this Twitter account that rates the credibility of talking head types by their bookcases.
- When I feel stressed that there are few things I can control in life, I like to kick back and watch people destroy things in controlled settings. There is the much-beloved hydraulic press channel, the simple and elegant destruction of Red Hot Nickel Ball, and Cut in Half, where things are cut in half by a waterjet. I also enjoyed this video of a very heavy tungsten cube being dropped from great heights. The future may be unclear, but gravity still seems to do its thing.
- Jan Hakon Erichsen’s Destruction Diaries are something else entirely: completely straight-faced, he destroys everyday objects in bizarre and methodical ways. Never has a single person found so many ways to destroy balloons with knives.
Slouching toward a green economy.
- I’ve been reading New York 2140, Kim Stanley Robinson’s novel about a future flooded NYC. I’ve really enjoyed his analysis of how market instruments could be repurposed to serve the greatest good and the planet, ideas he is also applying to how we might come out of quarantine into the early days of a green economy.
- The supply chains for the metals and minerals we need to transition our economy continue to have far-reaching environmental and socio-economic problems. I was surprised to learn that the UN recently put in place a new underwater mining code that opens up much of the seabed for extraction, metals needed to produce batteries can be mined. We know less about the deepest depths of the oceans than we do outer space.
- One way to mitigate the impacts of mineral extraction is limiting the need for growth, and there are interesting lessons to be learned from Edo Japan. I’ve definitely been struck by how little I miss buying new things when that option is severely limited.
Imaginary Road Trip.
In my isolation, I dream about the places I might one day travel to. I dream of crisscrossing the deserts of America searching for megaprojects that represent the ambition (and folly) of the built world with my friends. Join me on an imaginary trip.
- We would fly into Las Vegas, rent a car, and drive Roden Crater in Arizona, a monumentally massive art environment built by James Turrell that engages with celestial events in the tradition of the Chichén Itzá or Jantar Mantar. The site has been under construction since 1977, and while it is rumored to open in the next few years, construction continues.
- Onward through Arizona, we would drive to Biosphere 2, the environmental sciences research facility that was home to controversial research in the 1990s. Eight people were to be locked inside for two years to test Biosphere 2’s capacity to support life, and if you haven’t had enough cabin fever the experiment is featuring in an upcoming documentary as well as the endearingly awful 1996 Pauly Shore movie, Biodome (rated a whopping 4% on Rotten Tomatoes). Moving beyond the controversies of the past, the facility does cutting edge climate research in collaboration with the University of Arizona.
- In New Mexico, we’ll travel to Spaceport America, a commercial space station that sits in limbo as the frontier of the West aims for that final frontier.
- While the construction site is not open to the public, somewhere in the deserts of Texas, the Long Now Foundation’s 10,000 year clock is being built. A vast, complex structure built into a mountain, the clock is supposed to be a human endeavor in conversation with geologic time.
- For visceral descriptions of what might go along with chasing down utopian projects in the desert, turn to Jay Owen’s account of searching for the ghost grid of California City. And remember road trips will be a possibility again, one day.
Remembering the dead is an important part of moving through this pandemic, and today I am including a note on a couple of people who’ve lost their lives to COVID-19, and the fascinating work they contributed to this world.
- The architect Michael Sorkin passed away on March 26, 2020 from complications from COVID-19. He was known for his work to create architecture and urban environments that center justice and resist privatization. I love his 250 Things an Architect Should Know because it’s a list that explores the breadth and depth that is needed to do something well, full of whimsy and politics (Roman Mars reads his favorites, here). Another entry point to Sorkin’s work is Gary Hustwit’s documentary Urbanized.
- Conway’s Game of Life, the famous zero-player game where complex behaviours evolve from a simple set of rules, was one piece of the great life’s work of mathematician John Horton Conway, who passed away recently from COVID-19. Some other highlights include defining surreal numbers while researching the Go endgame and helping analyze the behavior of Penrose tiling.
- 98.css is a CSS library for building interfaces that look like Windows 98.
- The last time oil prices dipped into negative, this reporter tried to buy a barrel of oil to partake in (very) small time arbitrage, which proved challenging.
- An excellent overview of hand powered drilling.
- My friend Andrew Lovett-Baron is a curious designer, and I’m a big fan of his new newsletter Diverge Weekly. I also recommend his series of essays, Decay of Digital Things, which ironically can only be accessed through the Wayback Machine.
p.s. - Whenever possible, we work to encourage inclusivity. Here's how.