The trouble with Facebook

From a great piece by Dave Karpf on the problem with Facebook:

“The trouble with Facebook is, more broadly, the trouble with the entirety of Silicon Valley and its particular version of techno-capitalism. You could imagine a profitable company that does what Facebook is actually good for. Create a free social network with a newsfeed optimized for personal life updates and conversations within your extended social graph. Pare things back, revert it to the place where people keep in touch and organize dinner parties. Sell advertisements against the page views. There’s money in such a company.

But it’s not a trillion-dollar company. Its founder doesn’t buy a mansion and then buy all the houses on adjacent lots to ensure privacy. Its early investors don’t carve out entire career paths on the basis of having been an early-investor-in-Facebook. It’s ultimately a small-money company. And Silicon Valley doesn’t do small-money companies.”

Things get weird at the sub-atomic level

Okay, we live in a world. That world contains us and all the things we see. Of what are these things comprised? Matter! physicists say. Fantastic! And what is matter made of? Atoms, physicists say, but not as enthusiastic because they sense where this is heading. And what are atoms and their sub-atomic particles made of? the world asks. The actual stuff of life?

Here physicists are silent. Not because they don’t know—not exactly—but because the answer is too weird to be believed. At the sub-atomic level, particles become waves of energy and those waves of energy can sense when they’re trying to be measured. It’s true. Physicists talk about how the reading comes back all strange and mangled and just at spot of their attempted measurement.

Also: sub-atomic particles exist in two places at once. This is even weirder. This one particle is here, and also there, and at the same time. How can one thing be in two places at once? And what is the implication of that? Especially when that one thing is the literal building block of all life?

Paul Kix’s intro to this piece by Adam Frank, a physicist, in Aeon magazine

Love notes and doodles found in library books

In her 20 years as a librarian, Sharon McKellar has unearthed all kinds of left-behind personal items — from doodles to recipes to old photographs — nestled between the pages of returned library books. She carefully removes them and reads them, then she scans and uploads them to the library’s website after scrubbing any personal identifying information.

“Part of the magic is that they sort of just appear,” McKellar said. “Sometimes, they may have been in a book for a really long time before we notice them there.” McKellar — a librarian at the Oakland Public Library — marvels at each memento, no matter how mundane. She chronicles them all.

Mark Twain’s study

On the campus of Elmira College

Susan and Theodore Crane surprised their brother-in-law Samuel L. Clemens with this study in 1874. It was placed about 100 yards from the main house at Quarry Farm on a knoll overlooking the Chemung River Valley. In this octagonal building, Mark Twain wrote major portions of The Adventures of Tom SawyerAdventures of Huckleberry FinnLife on the MississippiA Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s CourtThe Prince and the PauperA Tramp Abroad, and many short pieces.

The prophetic movement in America

Talia Lavin is a journalist who writes a great newsletter called The Sword and the Sandwich that alternates between social and cultural analysis and reviews of famous sandwiches (I know that seems like an odd combination but it works). In a recent issue she looked at the rise of prophetic religious movements and attitudes in the US:

“Looking into the eyes of those struck by a prophet, you can perceive a ravenous hunger for connection: that the touch of the hand or the breath from the mouth of a charismatic preacher can fill you with the wind of God; that you are not alone in the universe; that you and the rest of the flock can shore up an island of sanctuary for yourselves, and watch in comfort as the world drowns. It is the hunger to be among the elect, and to be immortal, to be one with the Divine, and to welcome the end times. It is the hunger to turn Fortune’s Wheel with your own hands to your own ends, to guide its revolutions, to cast down the capricious goddess and lift up the prophet in his certainty and zeal.”

The unlikely survival of the humble avocado

Fascinating story here of how we got the avocado — something that was not a given by any means, as Maria Sharapova describes at The Marginalian (formerly Brain Pickings):

In the last week of April in 1685, English explorer and naturalist William Dampier — the first person to circumnavigate the globe three times — arrived on a small island in the Bay of Panama. Dampier made careful note of local tree species, but none fascinated him more than the tall “Avogato Pear-tree,” with its unusual fruit — “as big as a large Lemon,” green until ripe and then “a little yellowish,” with green flesh “as soft as Butter.” He described how the fruit were eaten — two or three days after picking, with the rind peeled — and their most common local preparation: with a pinch of salt and a roasted plantain, so that “a Man that’s hungry, may make a good meal of it.”

Continue reading “The unlikely survival of the humble avocado”

How COVID affected one person with a chronic illness

Hannah Soyer, who has a condition called Spinal Muscular Atrophy that affects her lungs, writes about trying to negotiate friendships and other relationships with people for whom COVID has been largely a nuisance:

“Before COVID, I’d never faced such blatant disregard for disabled and chronically ill life. I watched friends and family members — people who said they loved and cared about me — take part in activities clearly linked to spreading the virus, like eating in crowded restaurants and attending large parties. These choices felt like betrayals, and each new one stung.

I believe I have a right to exist safely in public spaces. Do others have an obligation to make that happen? What do we owe each other, as humans, as friends? Do we owe each other a chance at living, and how much should we change our lives to do that? Alternatively, do we owe each other forgiveness and the benefit of the doubt, and if so, to what extent?”