Pretty cool map of all the highways of the contiguous United States. Makes me want to go on a road trip.
By designer Cameron Booth, more information here.
Now that’s a fascinating mutualism: geckos & treehoppers. Treehoppers eat tree sap, get the protein they need, and then poop out the leftovers (which is essentially sugar water, or honeydew). Geckos lap up the honeydew, and presumably make it worth the treehoppers while by protecting them from predators.
They communicate by vibrations! That’s insane.
I love that David Attenborough acts like its normal that the gecko is eating the insect’s poop.
My dear friend PRP is in Angola, Africa, and hearing her stories makes me remember how big it is and how it contains multitudes. I mean, all of humanity came from Africa!
I like these maps that help frame size through relative measurements. I had no idea that all of China, India, and the USA could comfortably fit within Africa’s boundaries.
This is an image of a MacBook completely disassembled with all its individual parts shown, arranged carefully by artist Todd McClellan.
This makes me think of the guy who tried to make a toaster and how hard he found it. And more generally, of how complicated supply chains are for the most simple of things in our life, as well documented by this entertaining and educational series on Planet Money about t-shirts.
It also makes me really appreciate, that even when I get the sense that I have made something (like one of my quilts, for example, or even when I assemble a small part of a lizard or plant genome), that I have only done so with machines both big and small whose complexity I cannot even begin to appreciate.
The Children Act by Ian McEwan contains some of the most beautiful writing that I have read in a while. Even though I was reading it in a subtropical sunshiny paradise, I felt like I was in this cold, London landscape with the main character. The short novel follows a woman judge who presides over family court, hearing trials about tricky familial situations. In this case, it follows a family of Jehovah Witnesses, in which the underage son is refusing a blood transfusion because it is against religious edict, even though it might save his life. At the same time, the judge’s long marriage is unraveling.
There is a lot of interesting bits about this book, but what I really appreciated was how complicated all the characters seemed, despite how few pages each got. The one weak point was an odd 10-20 page section where the judge’s colleague goes off on a tangent about the fairness of the justice system. Otherwise, this book made me think, and the end left me unsettled in the way that only truly great books can.
Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami was my attempt to relive the magic of Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimmage. This book actually contains a lot in common with that book — it is largely a simple story, centered around a love story, with a streak of the odd & slightly paranormal that makes it not just another book. Again, I appreciated the quiet certainty of the language, particularly when set against fantastical plot happenings.
What didn’t work about this novel was this: Murakami (rightly so, I think) has been criticized for not writing very good female characters. In this novel of three main actors, two are female. So, the character development lagged, and the plot wasn’t fantastical enough to help me ignore it. That said, this book was engrossing, and I am a closet romantic, so the theme that we are all lonely but that we can (if we try) reach out and find someone suited me well.
I read David Kirp’s Improbable Scholars because the new organization with which I am volunteering recommended a book, which my library didn’t have, but Amazon suggested that I read this one instead. The author is from Berkeley, and he has an interesting career path, and given that my Cal Pride can be insufferable, I thought why not.
Sadly, this book is quite disappointing. It follows one year in Union City, New Jersey, a school district that has improved educational outcomes by nurturing their teachers, creating strong school cultures, and adopting new approaches as necessary. Kirp is compelling in his argument that this school works in educating their largely immigrant, almost completely low-income students beyond what people might expect.
That said, although I agree with Kirp that education reform actually focused on education (and not tests or technology or whatever) is the right strategy, one school district is not sufficient to make an argument. As my old colleague MM would say “the plural of anecdote is not data”. This seemed very true here.
The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell follows a very similar composition as his most popular book, Cloud Atlas, in which seemingly unlinked stories are linked through common characters, settings, and objects. In this case, all six chapters of this book are linked through the main character, Holly Sykes, a woman with some paranormal powers. The first four sections of the book read pretty straight — the fantastical bits appear in brief flashes, which Mitchell very carefully casts to ensure the reader knows something odd is going on. Otherwise, however, these early chapters are pretty straightforward, and in particular, the first two sections are just so much fun to read.
Then we get to the fifth and sixth sections, which I won’t say too much about in case one of the four people who read this thing decide to read the book. But, Mitchell doesn’t pull it quite off, in my opinion, and his attempt to connect all the stories and give them deeper resonance just falls a bit short.
But, I had so much fun along the way and I give him major kudos for trying something so ambitious. I hope he tries again, because when he clicks, it is better and more fun and more heart wrenching writing than anyone else I like to read.