Contemplations – Now

An appetizer:

I have approximate answers and possible beliefs and different degrees of certainty about different things. But I'm not absolutely sure of anything, and there are many things I don't know anything about, such as whether it means anything to ask why we're here, and what the question might mean. I might think about it a little bit; if I can't figure it out, then I go onto something else. But I don't have to know an answer. I don't feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in the mysterious universe without having any purpose, which is the way it really is, as far as I can tell—possibly. It doesn't frighten me.
– Richard Feynman. BBC interview with Feynman.

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Until the End of the World

Cover of the new Criterion Collection release of Until the End of the World by Wim Wenders

This is fun!

Until the End of the World, the 1991 film by Wim Wenders, is my all-time favorite. Beautiful cinematography and an incredible soundtrack (U2, Talking Heads, Elvis Presley, Lou Reed, Peter Gabriel, Elvis Costello, Patti Smith, Jane Siberry with k.d. lang, and on and on) frame an awesome story starring an amazing cast including the enthralling Solveig Dommartin (who also co-authored the story with Wenders) as Claire Tourneur, William Hurt, Jeanne Moreau, Sam Neill, Max von Sydow, Ernie Dingo, Rüdiger Volgler, and many others.

Taking place in the near future (now the past!) in exotic locations across the world, the film opens in the French countryside, travels to Paris, Berlin, Moscow, then along the Trans-Siberian Railway through China, followed by visits to Japan and San Francisco, before landing in the Central Australian Outback, and even finally launching to the International Space Station. Even as its depiction of cutting edge sci-fi tech has aged, I've still been enthralled every time I have watched it.

Years ago, I heard a rumor that a Criterion Collection release was in the works. Ever since then, I've been checking their website periodically to see if there was any update, and was at last rewarded to find information about the upcoming release of the restored 4K, 287-minute director's cut (by comparison, the U.S. version currently available on iTunes is 157 minutes). I can't wait to experience what the additional two hours will reveal. Pre-order placed!

Until the End of the World⩘ , a Wim Wenders Film, 1991, The Criterion Collection, December 10, 2019 release.

Saturn, June 2019

Hubble Space Telescope view of Saturn, June 20, 2019

These glimpses into the beyond provided by the Hubble Space Telescope often leave me feeling a deep sense of awe.

Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3 observed Saturn on June 20, 2019, as the planet made its closest approach to Earth, at about 845 million miles away.

Saturn's Rings Shine in Hubble's Latest Portrait⩘ 
Credits: NASA, ESA, A. Simon (GSFC), M.H. Wong (University of California, Berkeley) and the OPAL Team

The Story of Us

Illustration by Tim Urban from The Story of Us of a pile of cartoon faces, one of which is waving
Illustration by Tim Urban

The Story of Us⩘  is a fascinating long read from Tim Urban—the brilliant and entertaining storyteller and illustrator behind the Wait But What blog. As I'm slowly reading through this in-depth exploration, I'm finding that I'm growing to understand our world, which so often seems entirely insane to me, a bit better.

The Story of Us
Chapter 0: Introduction⩘ 
Part 1: The Power Games
Chapter 1: The Great Battle of Fire and Light⩘ 
Chapter 2: A Game of Giants⩘ 
Chapter 3: A Story of Stories⩘ 
Part 2: The Value Games
Chapter 4: The Enlightenment Kids⩘ 
Chapter 5: The Mute Button⩘ 
Chapter 6: The American Brain⩘ 
Part 3: Thinking, In 3D
Chapter 7: The Thinking Ladder⩘ 
Chapter 8: Idea Labs and Echo Chambers⩘ 

A few years ago, Tim gave what turned out to be one of the all-time favorite TED Talks: Inside the mind of a master procrastinator⩘ , during which he introduced the Instant Gratification Monkey, who exerts a large influence on many, if not all of us, and who went on to become an endearing plush toy.

The Instant Gratification Monkey plush toy

Not being a TED Talk junkie, I hadn't previously seen this talk, so it a was delight to be introduced to the ideas Tim shares through it.

Article: Wait But What: The Story of Us by Tim Urban⩘ 
TED Talk: Inside the mind of a master procrastinator⩘ 

The 1619 Project

Header image and text from The 1619 Project, showing a dark ocean seen from shore

"A major initiative from The New York Times observing the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. It aims to reframe the country's history, understanding 1619 as our true founding, and placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are."
The 1619 Project⩘ , The New York Times Magazine, August, 2019

Astonishing. Educational. Devastating. Outrageous. Infuriating. Heartwrenching. A stark and also inspirational example of the power of resiliency.

I've been reading through this collection of essays, photo essays, short stories, and poetry slowly and carefully, leaving plenty of time in between each for contemplation and reflection. I've been deeply touched. My view of American history has been changed.

The only thing I didn't like was the overly fancy design of the online presentation, which I found difficult to navigate. So I created my own simple table of contents:
The 1619 Project – table of contents

Jupiter, June 2019

Hubble Space Telescope view of Jupiter, June 27, 2019

Hubble Space Telescope view of Jupiter, June 27, 2019⩘ 
Credits: NASA, ESA, A. Simon (Goddard Space Flight Center) and M.H. Wong (University of California, Berkeley)

Complete Milky Way perspective

Breaking time / Bending space by Maroun Habib

Breaking time / Bending space - Complete Milky Way perspective between Lebanon and Chile, separated by 6 months by Maroun Habib, Astrophotographer Astroscapes⩘ 

Design Principles webpage header,

Jeremy Keith, a web developer and author living and working in Brighton, England, has posted a nice compilation of design principles—organized into categories: People, Organisations, Formats, Software, and Hardware—on his website Adactio⩘ .

Design Principles compiled by Jeremy Keith⩘ 

A Very Brief History of Mathematics

Cover art for A Very Brief History of Mathematics episode of The Stephen Wolfram Podcast

One of the things that's really great about mathematics is that once something is true in mathematics, it's true forever, and so the things that were established—often with very messy notation, back in 2,000 B.C.—are still true today, and we still teach them to kids today: the platonic solids, the icosahedra that you find from ancient Egypt, still look very modern because icosahedra are still the same as they ever were. It's a nice feature that while so much has changed in human society and the development of human knowledge, one of the things that remains identical is anything that was established in mathematics, even a very long time ago. So that a pretty neat feature—and a unique feature— of that field.
– Stephen Wolfram

A Very Brief History of Mathematics⩘ , The Stephen Wolfram Podcast⩘ , Aug 7, 2019

Tokyo subway's duct-tape typographer

Duct tape sign by Shuetsu Sato
An example of a duct-tape sign at Nippori Station by Shuetsu Sato (image: Wikimedia / Mayuno)

I love this story! Chris Gaul shares this wonderful story on Medium about a Tokyo subway security guard, Shuetsu Sato, who creates beautiful signage out of duct tape in order to help the people he takes care of find their way more easily.

Sixty-five year old Sato san wears a crisp canary yellow uniform, reflective vest and polished white helmet. His job is to guide rush hour commuters through confusing and hazardous construction areas. When Sato san realised he needed more than his megaphone to perform this duty, he took it upon himself to make some temporary signage. With a few rolls of of duct tape and a craft knife, he has elevated the humble worksite sign to an art form.

"Shinjuku Station was my first post, and it was under construction at the time, so I had to guide passengers using a megaphone. But there were so many people. Guiding them all with just my voice was impossible. Most of the people couldn't even hear me. So I decided to make some signs to guide people that would really stand out."

Although he had no formal design training, he created an aesthetic grid system for his stylized lettering, which has become highly regarded by other designers, who have given it the name "Shuetsu Sans."

Chris Gaul, "Tokyo subway's humble duct-tape typographer⩘ ." Medium, Jul 24, 2019.

44 African Americans Who Shook Up the World

Stylized 44 from the article

Very interesting snapshots of the "44 Most Influential Black Americans in History." From the introduction:

This is a list of The Undefeated 44, a collection of dreamers and doers, noisy geniuses and quiet innovators, record-breakers and symbols of pride and aspiration.

The portraits by Robert Ball that illustrate the snapshots are amazing. The following image combines two of the portraits: Ida B. Wells⩘ , 1862 - 1931, a fearless journalist known as the "Sword Among Lions," and co-founder of the NAACP; and Frederick Douglass⩘ , 1818 - 1895, a leader of the abolitionist movement, fiery orator, writer, and statesman.

Portraits of Ida B. Wells and Frederick Doulgass by Robert Ball

"44 African Americans Who Shook Up the World⩘ ."⩘ . Intro by Kevin Merida / Portraits by Robert Ball

Warming Stripes for Colorado from 1895-2018


The Show Your Stripes website provides an interactive tool that creates temperature stripes for different areas of the world. The one for Colorado, the state where I live, confirms my experience of the change that is occurring.

Excerpts from their FAQ:

These 'warming stripe' graphics are visual representations of the change in temperature as measured in each country over the past 100+ years. Each stripe represents the temperature in that country averaged over a year. For most countries, the stripes start in the year 1901 and finish in 2018. For the UK, USA, Switzerland & Germany, the data starts in the late 19th century.

For virtually every country or region, the stripes turn from mainly blue to mainly red in more recent years, illustrating the rise in average temperatures in that country.

For most countries, the data comes from the Berkeley Earth temperature dataset, updated to the end of 2018. For some countries (USA, UK, Switzerland & Germany) the data comes from the relevant national meteorological agency. For each country, the average temperature in 1971 - 2000 is set as the boundary between blue and red colours, and the colour scale varies from +/- 2.6 standard deviations of the annual average temperatures between 1901-2000.

Website: Show Your Stripes⩘ 
Graphics and lead scientist: Ed Hawkins
Data: Berkeley Earth, NOAA, UK Met Office, MeteoSwiss, DWD.

How language shapes the way we think

How language shapes the way we think by Lera Boroditsky, TEDWomen 2017

Lera Boroditsky, Associate professor of cognitive science at University of California San Diego, gave this interesting talk at TEDWomen 2017. I've watched it multiple times and have gotten more out of it each time.

Three ideas stand out for me. First, haw language can shape the way we organize time. English-speaking westerners tend to organize events on a time scale from left to right. But for the Kuuk Thaayorre people in Australia who speak Paman, a language rooted in cardinal directions, time is viewed as moving towards a person who is facing east, and away from a person who is facing west.

The second is how differently we may view events depending on our language, which is really worth keeping in mind as we attempt to communicate across cultures.

People who speak different languages pay attention to different things depending of what their language usually requires them to do. So we show the same accident to English speakers and Spanish speakers, English speakers will remember who did it because English requires you to say, "He did it; he broke the vase." Whereas Spanish speakers might be less likely to remember who did it, if it's an accident, but they're more likely to remember that it was an accident. They're more likely to remember the intention. So, two people watch the same event, witness the same crime, but end up remembering different things about that event. This has implications, of course, for eyewitness testimony. It also has implications for blame and punishment. So if you take English speakers and I just show you someone breaking a vase, and I say, "He broke the vase," as opposed to "The vase broke," even though you can witness it yourself, you can watch the video, you can watch the crime against the vase, you will punish someone more, you will blame someone more if I just said, "He broke it," as opposed to, "It broke." The language guides our reasoning about events.

Finally, there is this glimpse into the incredible gift of cognition.

Now, the beauty of linguistic diversity is that it reveals to us just how ingenious and how flexible the human mind is. Human minds have invented not one cognitive universe, but 7,000—there are 7,000 languages spoken around the world.

How language shapes the way we think⩘ , Lera Boroditsky, TEDWomen 2017

Photographing fungi

When I got a decent camera, I discovered that it helped me to see the world around me in a much more immersive manner; I began noticing things I might have walked right past previously, including fungi like this happy cluster that I noticed alongside the Buchanan Pass Trail.

Beautifully pattered mushrooms alongside the Buchanan Pass Trail

Understanding this gift that photography gives me makes me even more deeply appreciate a set of photographs of fungi by Alison Pollack that I came across. She is fortunate to be in Northern California, which typically receives much more rainfall than we do here. The variety of fungi she has photographed, some of which are incredibly tiny and unlike anything I've seen before, is astonishing.

Trametes versicolor by Alison Pollack
Trametes versicolor at Mount Tamalpais
by Alison Pollack

It's well worth it to take some time to slowly peruse her fascinating collection.

marin_mushrooms⩘  by Alison Pollack

One Breath Around The World

Still shot from One Breath Around The World by Guillaume Néry

I'm at a loss for words except to say this is one of the most beautiful videos I've ever experienced. Featuring Guillaume Néry. Filmed by Julie Gautier (on breath hold!). Use headphones or good speakers so you can hear the subtle sounds.

YouTube: One Breath Around The World⩘ 
Wikipedia: Guillaume Néry⩘ 

Is The Great Wave off Kanagawa a realistic depiction?

The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai
Katsushika Hokusai [Public domain]

The Great Wave off Kanagawa, a well-known woodblock print by Katsushika Hokusai, was first published sometime around 1830. The first print in his series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji, it depicts a giant wave breaking over three fishing boats off the coast near the town of Kanagawa.

Recently, a team of researchers at the Universities of Oxford and Edinburgh have been studying how these unexpected so-called "freak" or "rogue" waves can form. They have discovered that, under the right conditions, two sets of smaller waves intersecting at 120 degrees can result in these gigantic waves forming. Running tests in their wave pool, they even created a rogue wave very similar to Hokusai's Great Wave.

The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai
Still shot from the video Freak wave created in lab mirrors Hokusai's 'Great Wave'⩘ 

Like many people, I have been enjoying Hokusai's woodblock print for most of my life. But I had always presumed it was a highly stylized interpretation. How amazing it is to now learn that it is likely a realistic rendition of an actual, if incredible. natural phenomenon! My appreciation of the print has deepened.

From an article by Daniel Oberhaus in Motherboard⩘ , Jan 22 2019:

On New Year's day, 1995, the Draupner oil rig off the coast of Norway was experiencing some rough weather. According to a wave log kept at the station, the rig was pounded by 40-foot waves for most of the day, but shortly after 3 PM a single 80-foot wave appeared out of nowhere and slammed into the rig at 45 miles per hour.

YouTube: Freak wave created in lab mirrors Hokusai's 'Great Wave'⩘ 
Wikipedia: The Great Wave off Kanagawa⩘ 
Motherboard: Scientists Recreate 25-Year Old Freak Wave in a Laboratory for the First Time⩘ 

Why forgetting may make your mind more efficient

Fascinating article about what recent research is revealing about the way the brain processes information.

Forgetfulness is not necessarily a sign of a faulty memory. "In fact," Wimber says, "it's been shown over and over in computational models and also in animal work that an intelligent memory system needs forgetting."


Forgetting is essential, some researchers now argue, because the biological goal of the brain's memory apparatus is not preserving information, but rather helping the brain make sound decisions.

Tom Siegfried. "Why forgetting may make your mind more efficient⩘ ." Knowable Magazine, Jan 14, 2019.

The HU: Mongolian New Hunnu Rock

Still shot from The HU - Wolf Totem music video

This is one of the most interesting new sounds in music I've heard in a long time! Combining traditional Mongolian instruments, throat singing, and deep bass rock.

When we do this, we try to spiritually express this beautiful thing about Mongolian music. We think we will talk to everyone's soul though our music. – Temka, band member

The HU: Wolf Totem⩘  | Yuve Yuve Yu⩘  | Shoog Shoog⩘ 
Sep 2019: Their new album is available for purchase: The Gereg⩘ 

The HU - Gereg album cover

The album's title, The Gereg, takes its name from the term used for the first diplomatic "passport" issued by the Mongol Empire during the time of Genghis Khan. The band's logo and image on The Gereg album cover is of a snow leopard. In Mongolia, the snow leopard is very crucial to Mongol Tribes, worship Tengri (Heaven), Moon and Sun and embodies the image of the Snow Leopard. The singular horn represents the band's uniqueness, there is only one The HU.

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