He just found out he has months to live. Here are his thoughts

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Jack Thomas writes: “I’ve been a journalist for more than 60 years. So after doctors delivered the news, I sat down to do what came naturally, if painfully: Write this story.” As a teenager, Thomas says he often wondered how his life would change if he knew that he would die soon. “How does a person live with the knowledge that the end is coming? How would I tell family and friends? Would I be depressed? Is there an afterlife? How do you get ready for death, anyhow? I was raised Episcopalian, though I didn’t turn out to be a very good one. Unlike Roman Catholics, Jews, and atheists, we Episcopalians are very good at fence-sitting. We embrace all viewpoints, and as a result, we are as confused as the Unitarians.”

Meet the meteorite hunters who rush in when space rocks crash to Earth

It’s around 8 a.m. on April 27, 2022. A woman outside of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, is relaxing in her hot tub, lulled into a quiet calm as her horses neigh in the distance. Suddenly, a blinding red-yellow light shoots across the sky. In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, a man stuck in traffic sees the same light ignite the heavens—“like a welder’s torch,” he’d later write in an eyewitness account. Moments later, a series of sonic booms thunder across southwestern Mississippi so loudly that NASA would equate the event to the detonation of three tons of TNT. In Tucson, Arizona, Ashley Humphries starts making travel plans with her friend Mark Lyon. In Eureka Springs, Arkansas, Steve Arnold contemplates hopping in his pickup truck. In Connecticut, Roberto Vargas looks into flights. If there really are meteorites on the ground, hundreds of thousands of dollars could be on the line. But these hunters will need to act fast if they want a piece of it—literally.

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Alone at the edge of the world

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Susie Goodall wanted to circumnavigate the globe in her sailboat without stopping. She didn’t bargain for what everyone else wanted. In the heaving seas of the Southern Ocean, a small, red-hulled sailboat tossed and rolled, at the mercy of the tail end of a tempest. The boat’s mast was sheared away, its yellow sails sunk deep in the sea. Amid the wreckage of the cabin, Susie Goodall sloshed through water seeping in from the deck, which had cracked when a great wave somersaulted the boat end over end. She was freezing, having been lashed by ocean, rain, and wind. Her hands were raw and bloody. Except for the boat, her companion and home for the 15,000 miles she’d sailed over the past five months, Goodall was alone. The 29-year-old British woman had spent three years readying for this voyage. It demanded more from her than she could have imagined. She loved the planning of it, rigging her boat for a journey that might mean not stepping on land for nearly a year. But she was unprepared for the attention it drew—for the fact that everyone wanted a piece of her story.

Baldwin Lee’s extraordinary pictures from the American South

A new book—the first-ever collection of Baldwin Lee’s work—and a solo exhibition in New York make the case that he is one of the great overlooked luminaries of American picture-making. Selections from his archive of nearly ten thousand pictures, taken in poor Black communities in the American South between 1983 and 1989, have been exhibited sporadically. “I showed enough to get tenure and raises,” he said recently from his home near the University of Tennessee, where he has been teaching for four decades. Lee was never meant to be a photographer. Born and raised in New York, he was the eldest son of a reluctant Chinatown “noodle king,” who had emigrated from Hong Kong, fought in the U.S. Army on D Day, and had his aspirations to become an architect dashed when he inherited his uncle’s thriving business supplying noodles to Chinese restaurants up and down the East Coast.

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The CIA has just invested in the woolly mammoth resurrection business

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The Dallas-based biotechnology company Colossal Biosciences has a vision: “To see the Woolly Mammoth thunder upon the tundra once again.” Founders George Church and Ben Lamm have already racked up an impressive list of high-profile funders and investors, including Peter Thiel, Tony Robbins, Paris Hilton, Winklevoss Capital — and, according to the public portfolio its venture capital arm released this month, the CIA. Colossal says it hopes to use advanced genetic sequencing to resurrect two extinct mammals — not just the giant, ice age mammoth, but also a mid-sized marsupial known as the thylacine, or Tasmanian tiger, that died out less than a century ago. On its website, the company vows: “Combining the science of genetics with the business of discovery, we endeavor to jumpstart nature’s ancestral heartbeat.”

Otters are art history’s unsung muses

Though seals are probably the gateway to aquatic mammal fandom, connoisseurs of the genre all agree that otters are best in class. These furry powerhouses are not only capable of tender intimacy and novel tool usage, they often just seem to be having the best time ever. So it’s no wonder that they have been a recurring motif throughout art history. “The pose of raised paws signifies the otter’s adoration of the sun god when he rises in the morning,” reads the label on this Ancient Egyptian bronze statuette, dating to between 664 and 30 BCE. “In myth otters were attached to the goddess Wadjet of Lower Egypt, whose cult was centered in Buto, in the northern Delta.”

Japanese professor wins Ig Nobel prize for study on knob turning

It is one of life’s overlooked arts: the optimal way to turn a knob. Now an investigation into this neglected question has been recognised with one of science’s most coveted accolades: an Ig Nobel prize. After a series of lab-based trials, a team of Japanese industrial designers arrived at the central conclusion that the bigger the knob, the more fingers required to turn it. The team is one of 10 to be recognised at this year’s Ig Nobel awards for research that “first makes you laugh, then makes you think.” Other awards at the virtual ceremony on Thursday evening include the physics prize for showing why ducklings swim in a line formation, and the economics prize for explaining, mathematically, why success most often goes not to the most talented people, but instead to the luckiest.

On language, overuse, and hyperbole

From Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza in LitHub (via Why Is This Interesting?) comes a phenomenon known as “semantic bleaching”: To attract attention, we submit to the “maxim of extravagance.” You really want people to see the taxidermied pig you just bought, so you tell your friend, “Man, this thing is incredible. It’s wearing a lederhosen and everything.” Your friend goes to see the pig and he too is surprised by the thing. He starts telling his friends, “that thing is incredible.” This is called “conformity.” Word gets around the neighborhood and then the whole block is talking about the incredible taxidermied pig. This is called “frequency.” You’re out for a walk one day, and you flag down a Door Dasher on a bicycle. “Have you seen the—” “The incredible taxidermied pig? Yeah man, whatever.” This is called “predictability.”

Riding with one of the world’s last whaling tribes

The shore of Lamalera Bay is too rocky and parched to grow crops, but the newcomers soon discovered that even one of the sperm whales schooling just offshore would provide enough meat to feed everyone for weeks. To survive this harsh environment and the dangerous work, the Lamalerans evolved a unique culture that has been rated by anthropologists as one of the world’s most cooperative and generous. Today, the Lamalerans are among the small and ever-dwindling number of hunter-gatherer societies in existence, and the only one to survive by whaling. Although they will harpoon anything from porpoises to orcas, their main prey are sperm whales, the largest carnivore in history.

What happened when my entire family came out

There’s a photo of my family from November 1981, when we are still living in Greenville, S.C. I remember that I lost my first tooth while we were sitting in the studio’s waiting area at Sears. If there were an instruction manual for the modern American family of the 20th century, this photo could have been on its cover. Dad, the son of a minister, had gone to law school and was working in-house at a Fortune 500 company. Mom cared for us at home full-time. But these identities obscured secrets, hidden shames so pervasive and toxic that although they went unnamed, they couldn’t be entirely concealed. As a child, Dad had nurtured crushes on boys. As a teen, Mom had been romantically involved with a young man who turned out to be an alleged murderer. Then, in the space of five years, everything changed. We all came out.

The youngest scientist on the Manhattan Project was also a spy

Always wanted to live in a cave? This house is for you

Zillow Gone Wild — one of my favourite Twitter accounts — posts some pretty amazing (and weird) homes, but this one really takes the cake: it is built into the side of a mountain, and is connected to a chain of caverns that the ad refers to as the “Cave of Chimes,” which appears to be part of Iron Mountain, near Glenwood Springs, Colorado. Most of the house is built into a wide opening in the rock face that looks out over a canyon.

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The secret microscope that sparked a scientific revolution

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On September 7, 1674, Antonie Van Leeuwenhoek sent a letter to London’s Royal Society detailing an astonishing discovery. While he was examining algae from a nearby lake through his homemade microscope, a creature “with green and very glittering little scales,” which he estimated to be a thousand times smaller than a mite, had darted across his vision. Two years later, he followed up with another report so extraordinary that microbiologists today refer to it simply as “Letter 18”: Van Leeuwenhoek had looked everywhere and found what he called animalcules (Latin for “little animals”) in everything. This monumental discovery was not made by one of the 17th century’s great scientific minds such as Galileo or Isaac Newton, but by a secretive, self-taught Dutchman, who did it by handcrafting a lens 10 times more powerful than anything built before it.

Ski mountaineer Hilaree Nelson disappears while descending Manaslu

On Monday, American ski mountaineer Hilaree Nelson and her partner Jim Morrison reached the summit of 26,781-foot Manaslu, the eighth-highest mountain in the world. Soon after the 49-year-old explorer began her descent on skis, she disappeared. On Wednesday, searchers recovered her body. Nelson, a National Geographic Explorer, had a distinctive sense of wanderlust that propelled her through more than 40 expeditions to 16 countries. Along the way, she explored some of the tallest mountains on the planet, often carrying her skis along with her for the ride down. In 2012, she became the first woman to summit two 8,000-meter peaks, Mount Everest and Lhotse, in a single 24-hour push. Six years later, Nelson returned to Lhotse to become the first to ski from its summit.

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NASA is going to slam a spacecraft into an asteroid

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A golf cart-sized spacecraft will intentionally smash into a tiny asteroid at about 14,000 miles per hour on September 26. It’s humanity’s first test of our ability to deflect dangerous incoming space rocks. NASA currently knows the location and orbit of roughly 28,000 nearby asteroids. Experts say that it’s a matter of when — not if — Earth finds itself on track to be hit by one. The Double Asteroid Redirection Test launched atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 in November 2021, to see whether a spacecraft could one day divert a rogue space rock headed for Earth. The $308 million spacecraft traveled 6.8 million miles from Earth to Dimorphos, a small asteroid orbiting the asteroid Didymos.

The Chicago heiress who created lifelike crime-scene miniatures

The tiny diorama shows a miniature husband and wife, lying in their bedroom, their baby in her crib in the adjacent nursery. A typical family on a typical morning, minus the red bloodstains on the beige bedroom carpet. All three family members have been shot to death. The diorama, called “Three-Room Dwelling,” was built in about 1944 by a 60-something Chicago heiress named Frances Glessner Lee. It was made to train police officers in the handling and processing of evidence. The blood behind the baby’s crib allows officers to study blood spatter patterns. In the 1940s and 1950s, when Lee created what came to be known as The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death, her dioramas were seen as a revolutionary way to study crime scene investigation.

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The triumph of hope over experience

This is from a great piece by the always excellent Helena Fitzgerald, from her newsletter “Griefbacon”:

Somebody said second marriages represent “the triumph of hope over experience,” but everything is that, isn’t it? Every day any of us get up in the morning is the triumph of hope over experience, choosing not to know better, choosing to ignore the warnings, to do it anyway, despite the likelihoods, against the odds. “The triumph of hope over experience” figures love as willful stupidity, which is true, but it also says—also correctly—that there is no greater human miracle than second chances. A belief in change is stupid in a mathematical sense, but it is also a ladder to climb back up into the world. Here in this unlikely room the door is never closed. Love is impossible, but that means it is a place where there are no borders between worthy and unworthy, where there is no notion of worthiness at all. The harsh lines do not hold; they blur out into the green haze beyond the legible view.

Your humble and obedient servant

When the writing of handwritten physical letters was popular, it was not uncommon to end a letter with a valediction similar to “Your humble servant,” etc. More recently, people often ended letters with “Yours truly,” or “Sincerely yours.” But according to this article, both of those are actually abbreviations. It explains:

While one may think that the word “Yours” is a type of possessive form, it doesn’t mean that at all. It actually is an abbreviation of “Your Servant” — typically written: yours and abbreviated today as “yours”. So both “Sincerely Yours” and “Yours Truly” actually mean “Sincerely your servant” and “Your servant truly”, respectively.

Alzheimer’s is an immune system disorder, doctor says

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For years, scientists have been focused on trying to come up with new treatments for Alzheimer’s by preventing the formation of brain-damaging clumps of a mysterious protein called beta-amyloid. But is that really the key to the disease? In July 2022, Science magazine reported that a key 2006 research paper, which identified beta-amyloid as the cause of Alzheimer’s, may have been based on fabricated data. Other scientists believe there may be other causes: Donald Weaver, who runs the Krembil Brain Institute in Toronto, says his research shows that Alzheimer’s may be an immune system disorder. “We believe that beta-amyloid is not an abnormally produced protein, but rather is a normally occurring molecule that is part of the brain’s immune system,” he writes.

Satellite images show the unprecedented flooding that has left Pakistan underwater

Reuters has a feature that compares satellite images of Pakistan before and after the massive flooding that has hit the country. In one area in Sindh province, which has been especially badly hit, locals say even two-storey houses are barely visible over the surface of the water. Floods from record monsoon rains and glacial melt in the mountainous north have affected 33 million people and killed over 1,500, washing away homes, roads, railways, bridges, livestock and crops in damage estimated at $30 billion, Reuters says. The news service used imagery from the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-2 satellite.

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