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Steven Levy, Editor at Large at WIRED

Our guest this week is Steven Levy. Steven writes about technology. He’s editor at large at Wired and his books include Hackers, Crypto, Artificial Life and In the Plex.

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Show notes:

Big Green Egg and
Weber iGrill Thermometer
“The grill that I find that is the best is a thing called The Big Green Egg. It’s the variety of grill that’s called the Kamado grill. It’s a ceramic thing. It’s unlike the Weber things, which are made of metal and basically just cook things over the coals. It has the convection angle as well. When you close the big ceramic thing, the temperature as well as the charcoal and the grill cooks it up there. So you can kind of control the temperature within the egg. The thing’s shaped like a big green egg, as the name implies. There’s a cult of The Big Green Egg. There are Big Green Egg nerds that, you know, share secrets and endless accessories you can buy. And so I find that The Big Green Egg is best used when you have a way not only to monitor the temperature inside the egg, which it comes with a thermometer that enables you to do that, but to monitor the internal temperature of whatever you’re cooking. ..I use this thing called iGrill. It’s made by Weber. And basically it’s a device that sits outside the grill with a bunch of probes that would go on the meat. You close the cover over it and you can monitor up to four different pieces of meat or fish or whatever you’re measuring there. … it’s USB, so it goes to your phone or even to your watch, so you’re walking around and your watch might buzz and tell you it’s got five minutes to go.
You can monitor there. It’s foul proof, especially with something like fish were you don’t want to overcook. It’s really great to monitor it. So I’ve never really screwed anything up with this combination.”

“This is an app that I’ve been using the past few months. I think that e-books cost too much. The value proposition isn’t any where near what you can get for a hardback book that you keep for life and you can read it without a light source, and there’s the physical pleasure of it. Though e-books certainly have their virtues, it’s great to have and I love traveling with my Kindle or my iPad, I use both, full of books. So I’m never worried about not having something to read. A BookBub sort of plugs into that idea, maybe a model where books are so cheap, you’ll buy one on impulse and just have it around whether you read it or not, turns out to everyone’s benefit there. As it turns out, every so often, even the books you want to read, get on sale at Amazon and other e-book purveyors, and I’m talking about costing $2 instead of $12 or $10. So BookBub keeps track of all this stuff and first, you fill out some forms or say what kind of books you like, and it figures out the kinds of books you might be interested in and it reports to you when books are on sale. So everyday you get an email with about five books that you may want to read that cost between one and three dollars. And I find maybe once a week, I’ll buy a book. I’ll say ‘Oh, that’s cheap. I’ve always wanted to read that.’ Or here’s a great version of Don Quixote or here’s a thriller by an author I really like or here’s Joan Didion’s ‘Slouching Towards Bethlehem.’ Wow, I have that on my book shelf, but I’d love to carry it around with me in case I want to read her essay about Jim Morrison on a plane ride. So I use this and I have probably 50 books now, some of which I’ll probably read, some of which I won’t read, but I’m happy just to have them. So I think that it’s a great model. Some of my books have been on sale for a couple of bucks, and I’ve bought them on there too.”

AeroPress Coffee and Espresso Maker
“I actually met the inventor and his name’s Alan Adler, and he’s a guy up in years. …He got interested in coffee and tried to figure out what the best way to do a cup of coffee is, and he invented this thing, this vacuum tube. It looks like something you might give an enema with really, and you put some ground coffee into one end and it comes with this little round filter, you get like a thousand for $7, and you heat it up. Adler is very specific in saying, don’t do it to boiling, 175 is the perfect temperature. But I find, you don’t have to be that precise. You pour in the water, you give it a little stir, and then just push the tube down there, push the plunger in, and it gives you an amazing cup of coffee. And as it turns out, the Coffee Geeks have rated this on a level with $4,000 espresso machines, and some boutique coffee shops actually have rows of AeroPresses. That’s the way they make your coffee. They have annual AeroPress contests. For me, it’s just a great cup of coffee and it’s super portable. I have AeroPresses in three different locations … My personal advice is three full scoops, don’t skimp on the coffee. And it’s fantastic. …The other great thing about the AeroPress is it’s self-cleaning. When you push the plunger down, it cleans itself. All you have to do is give it a quick one-second rinse, and pow, there it is. You don’t have to worry about scrubbing it out.”

“I had a period where my transcriber was gone, I needed to get transcription. … Temi is done by AI and it’s 10 cents a minute and it turns it around within a minute … they give you the transcript, and then you edit the transcript, you’re encouraged to edit the transcript to fix it online and they’re watching what you do. So they’re getting better and better and better. So over the past few months, the thing has gone to virtually unusable to pretty good, like about 70 percent, I’d say, of normal transcribers. More than enough to figure out what in the interview you want to use, and then you can click on that part of it online, and play it back right there and just get that one part of it perfect there. So I’m finding it better and better and better, and it is so incredibly cheap and fast that I’m pretty much taping now, just to get a raw transcript … Like an hour interview is 60 cents.”

We have hired professional editors to help create our weekly podcasts and video reviews. So far, Cool Tools listeners have pledged $381 a month. Please consider supporting us on Patreon. We have great rewards for people who contribute! – MF


Discovery of vibrant deep-sea life prompts new worries over seabed mining

Discovery of vibrant deep-sea life prompts new worries over seabed mining

Discovery of vibrant deep-sea life prompts new worries over seabed mining, Published online: 21 September 2018; doi:10.1038/d41586-018-06771-w

“Gummy squirrels,” single-celled organisms the size of softballs and strange worms thrive in a Pacific Ocean zone some considered an underwater desert. via

Time Saver

Ogden Nash invented a streamlined limerick he called the “limick”:

An old person of Troy
In the bath is so coy
That it doesn’t know yet
If it’s a girl or a boy.

Two nudists of Dover,
When purple all over,
Were munched by a cow,
When mistaken for clover.

A cook called McMurray
Got a raise in a hurry
From his Hindu employer,
By flavouring curry.

A young flirt of Ceylon,
Who led the boys on,
Playing “Follow the Leda,”
Succumbed to a swan.

The post Time Saver appeared first on Futility Closet.

from Futility Closet

For What It’s Worth

Based on an ancient Hindu game, Snakes and Ladders (Chutes and Ladders in ophidiophobic America) is at heart a morality lesson: As you progress by die roll from square 1 to square 100 and spiritual enlightenment, your way is complicated by virtues and vices. Landing on a snake (or chute) will send you back to an earlier square, and landing on a ladder will send you ahead to a later one. Each of these shortcuts is associated with a precept — “Carelessness” leads to “Injury,” “Study” leads to “Knowledge,” and so on.

In 1993 University of Michigan mathematician S.C. Althoen and his colleagues considered the game as a 101-state absorbing Markov chain. The shortest possible game lasts seven moves, the longest is infinite, and according to their calculations the expected number of moves in the Milton Bradley version of Chutes and Ladders is

\displaystyle  \frac{225837582538403273407117496273279920181931269186581786048583}{5757472998140039232950575874628786131130999406013041613400},

which is about 39.2.

Troublingly, the average length of a game without snakes or ladders (just the 100-square board) is almost exactly 33 moves: “Apparently the snakes lengthen the game more than the ladders shorten it.” And, while adding a ladder will generally shorten the game and adding a snake will lengthen it, this isn’t always the case: In the original game, adding a ladder from square 79 to square 81 lengthens the expected playing time by more than two moves (to about 41.9), since it increases the chance of missing the important ladder leading from square 80 to square 100. And adding a snake from square 29 to square 27 shortens the game by more than a move (to about 38.0), since it offers a second chance at the long ladder from 28 to 84.

So, arguably, we might advance more quickly through life with more vice and less virtue.

(S.C. Althoen, L. King, and K. Schilling, “How Long Is a Game of Snakes and Ladders?”, Mathematical Gazette 77:478 [March 1993], 71-76.)

The post For What It’s Worth appeared first on Futility Closet.

from Futility Closet

University says prominent food researcher committed academic misconduct

University says prominent food researcher committed academic misconduct

University says prominent food researcher committed academic misconduct, Published online: 21 September 2018; doi:10.1038/d41586-018-06802-6

Brian Wansink will retire at the end of the academic year, according to Cornell University. via

Daily briefing: The cruel and futile war on obesity

Daily briefing: The cruel and futile war on obesity

Daily briefing: The cruel and futile war on obesity, Published online: 21 September 2018; doi:10.1038/d41586-018-06810-6

The human cost of science’s inability to understand obesity, Galileo’s long-lost heretical letter, and our pick of the best images, features and culture from the week in science. via

Japan’s asteroid mission drops first rovers onto ‘dumpling’ space rock

Japan’s asteroid mission drops first rovers onto ‘dumpling’ space rock

Japan’s asteroid mission drops first rovers onto ‘dumpling’ space rock, Published online: 21 September 2018; doi:10.1038/d41586-018-06808-0

The two landers will hop around Ryugu to take pictures and measure temperatures. via

Beasts of India: Stunning Illustrations of Indigenous Animals Depicted in Various Tribal Art Traditions

A vibrant menagerie at the nexus of nature and culture.

Beasts of India: Stunning Illustrations of Indigenous Animals Depicted in Various Tribal Art Traditions

In his insightful inquiry into why we look at animals, John Berger lauded non-human creatures as “the objects of our ever-extending knowledge.” They have animated our earliest cave drawings and populated our finest poetry. As the science historians Lorraine Daston and Gregg Mitman have observed, “we are animals; we think with animals.”

It is hardly surprising, then, that animals have figured into our cosmogonies and mythologies since the human mind first inclined toward understanding its own existence. That ancient, abiding relationship comes alive with uncommon splendor in Beasts of India (public library) — an extraordinary illustrated menagerie of indigenous animals, painted by indigenous artists in a variety of tribal art traditions and screen-printed by hand with traditional Indian dyes onto handmade paper. The result is another stunning handmade masterpiece from Tara Books — the terrestrial counterpart to their beautiful Waterlife, depicting marine creatures from the Indian fauna — printed in a limited edition of 3000 numbered copies, each including a framable screen-print of one animal from the book.

Deer (Gond tradition)

Tiger, lion, deer, snake, bull, boar, ant-eater, buffalo, monkey, elephant, crocodile, and dog leap from the pages in wildly different representations in India’s major tribal art styles, the vibrancy of which no screen can adequately convey — some drawn in pen and ink, some traditionally painted onto palm leaves with natural earth colors, others onto cotton fabric using sharp bamboo socks padded with hair or cotton. What emerges is a portrait of the millennia-old dialogue between nature and culture, emanating Oliver Sacks’s conviction that nature is our gateway into deep time.

Tiger (Patachitra tradition)
Tiger (Pithora tradition)
Tigers (Gond tradition)
Tiger (Sohrai tradition)

Elephant (Kalmakari tradition)
Elephant (Madhubani tradition)

Lion (Madhubani tradition)

Deer (Gond tradition)

Bulls (Gond tradition)
Crocodiles (Gond tradition)

Complement the breathtaking Beasts of India with other treasures from Tara Books — an illustrated celebration of water based on Indian folklore, The Night Life of Trees, indigenous representations of celestial myths, and an illustrated cosmogony of Indian mythology — then revisit artist JooHee Yoon’s wonderful Beastly Verse.

Illustrations courtesy of Tara Books; photographs by Maria Popova

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from Brain Pickings

Physicist Alan Lightman on the Illusion of Absolute Rest

The beautiful and disorienting science of why we are mostly restlessness and empty space.

Physicist Alan Lightman on the Illusion of Absolute Rest

In his timeless elegy for time, T.S. Eliot wrote of “the still point of the turning world” — one of the most beautiful and arresting phrases ever composed in the English language. “Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is, / But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity, / Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards, / Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point, / There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.”

We are woven of contradictions, few more sundering than the polar pull of this dance — our longing for stillness in a universe of unceasing motion, which the painter Joan Miró captured in the notion he placed at the center of his creative ethos: “motionless movement.”

The paradoxical nature of this dance is what the physicist Alan Lightman, one of the most poetic science writers our civilization has produced, explores in a few passages from Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine (public library) — his lyrical inquiry into why we long for absolutes in a relative world and what gives meaning to our existence.

Robert Edwin Peary (self-portrait, 1909)

Reading through the journals of the pioneering Arctic explorer Robert Edwin Peary, who retired on a neighboring island off the coast of Maine in the early twentieth century after discovering the North Pole, or at least what was then believed to be the North Pole — “so simple + common place,” Peary wrote in elated astonishment upon arriving at “the prize of 3 countries, my dream + ambition for 23 years” — Lightman reflects:

I try to imagine the “common place” experience of standing exactly at the pole of the earth (even if Peary was not quite there). I see myself perched on a glistening ball in space spinning about an imaginary axis through its center, and I am standing at the precise point where that axis emerges from the interior and punctures the ice. All other points on this ball, except at the opposite pole, are in motion. But I am still. You could say I am locally at rest. I am at rest relative to the center of the earth. But that center is itself in motion. As I stand here, that center hurtles around its central star at a speed of 65,000 miles per hour, and that central star, in turn, revolves around the center of the galaxy, the Milky Way, at a speed of 500,000 miles per hour. Do I know too much, or too little? I look up into space, as the cave dwellers did, and am transfixed by the infinite. Although I cannot touch it, I feel that I’m there. This resting yet unresting pole is quite a spot for viewing the universe.

Art by Derek Dominic D’souza from Song of Two Worlds by Alan Lightman

This illusion of absolute rest plays out as much on the largest scale as it does on the smallest. Millennia after the ancient Greeks first hypothesized the atom as a perfect and indivisible entity — atomos, Greek for uncuttable — a cascade of discoveries unveiled the true nature of matter, and of us: The atom is not a unit of stuff, but a tiny center of matter swarmed by nearly weightless electrons orbiting at a great distance and a great speed. We are mostly restlessness and empty space.

Lightman frames the ancient conception of matter as a vessel for the illusion of the absolute:

Atoms were the ultimate Oneness of the material world. Perfect in their indivisibility, perfect in their wholeness and indestructibility. Atoms were the embodiment of absolute truth. Atoms, along with stars, were the material icons of the Absolutes.


Atoms prevent us from falling forever into smaller and smaller rooms of reality. When we reach atoms — so the thinking went — the falling stops. We are caught. We are safe. And from there, we begin our journey back up, building the rest of the world.

Illustration from Our Friend the Atom, a 1956 Disney primer on nuclear physics.

He contrasts this with the modern understanding of material reality, accelerated by the discovery of the electron in 1897 (the year of the disastrous expedition to the North Pole by air balloon):

The hard nut at the center of each atom, the “atomic nucleus,” is a hundred thousand times smaller than the atom as a whole. To use an analogy, if an atom were the size of Fenway Park, the home stadium of the Boston Red Sox, its dense central nucleus would be the size of a mustard seed, with the electrons gracefully orbiting in the outer bleachers. In fact, 99.9999999999999 percent of the volume of an atom is empty space, except for the haze of nearly weightless electrons. Since we and everything else are made of atoms, we are mostly empty space. That vast emptiness is perhaps the most unsettling consequence of dividing the indivisible.

With an eye to the menagerie of subatomic particles discovered in the century-some since — quarks, pions, kaons, rhos, sigmas, xis — Lightman adds:

Are we falling and falling without end? Are there unlimited infinities on all sides of us, both bigger and smaller?

This question, and its myriad fractal implications reaching into every nook and cranny of existence, is what Lightman explores in the remainder of the wholly fascinating and enchanting Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine. Complement this particular portion with Pico Iyer on stillness and the art of presence, then revisit Lightman on our yearning for permanence in a universe of constant change, the psychology of creative breakthrough in art and science, and his poetic ode to the unknown, illustrated by a self-taught teenage artist in Bangalore.

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Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes me hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner.


Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s most unmissable reads. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.

from Brain Pickings

Rösle Garlic Press

Out of the dozen or more different garlic presses I’ve used, the Rösle is the absolute best ($39). The Germanic precision of manufacture is very high. It has a built-in mechanical lever that presses the garlic significantly harder than you press the handle. Hence, it takes less physical strength and strain, which is especially helpful when you’re pressing a lot of garlic. The press is also much easier to clean because the screen where the clove is pressed can be removed. No more digging down into the “pit” to scrape out the fiber remains with your finger or a separate cleaning bristle. When I mentioned “the world’s best garlic press” in the office, two folks immediately knew I was talking about the Rösle.

[This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2003]