Archive for October, 2023

Ghost Rivers of Baltimore

Photo by Frank Hamilton

It’s easy to miss the fact that our cities often cover up existing streams and rivers, often diverting them underground or into existing storm drain systems. Back in 2009, Spacing posted a wonderful map of Montréal’s hidden rivers.

Ghost rivers is a street-level art project tracking a submerged river in Baltimore:

Ghost Rivers is a new 1.5-mile-long public art installation and walking tour by artist Bruce Willen that visualizes a lost stream buried below the streets of Baltimore.

This project explores the hidden history and path of Sumwalt Run, which now flows through underground culverts beneath the Remington and Charles Village neighborhoods.

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Soviet Space Dogs

When on vacation in a new city I always make sure to drop into a used book store (if it has books in a language I can read). While visiting Portland, Maine in late summer, I visited a narrow shop with books piled high to ceiling. While in line to purchase a book, I stumbled on this little book about dogs going to space as part of the Soviet space program. Of course I had to buy it, and was not disappointed.

The Russian space dogs were all strays taken from the streets of Moscow, which they believed made them hardier than house dogs. They were chosen for health and size (they had to fit into a small suitcase-size habitat), but also for looks, as the USSR would end up putting them on all sorts of propaganda. See below, for example, Laika-branded cigarettes, or the matchbox label on the right.

Laika was the most famous of the soviet cosmonaut animals, but close behind her were the pair of Belka and Strelka, who grace the cover of the book. While Laika met a rather horrible end when the cooling system of her Sputnik capsule failed, the two cover dogs landed safely back on earth and were heroes in the USSR.

Amazing Starling Photos by Kathryn Cooper

A simple idea, beautifully executed. The England-based photographer takes sequences of bird flight and combines them into composite images that track the motion of the entire flock. Above, a predator makes a brief chase of this massive murmuration.

The artist writes about the way these birds avoid predators by moving together:

By diluting the risk as the group size increases, the chance of any one individual suffering predation decreases and many eyes means that vigilance increases with the number of individuals.

Most aerial predators (sparrowhawk, peregrine falcon for example) hunt by targeting a single bird. The confusion caused by the constant movement may hinder their ability to lock onto an individual.

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Podcast: Learn Real Good

This is a great science podcast made by the charming pair of Katie (trained biologist), and Vinny (trained in physics). Using their combined science backgrounds, speaking skills honed via improv theatre, and natural chemistry, they’re excellent hosts and interviewers of scientists working on all sorts of subjects. They just launched a new season, and it continues to be a very informative and fun listen.

Each episode consists of general science banter centred around recent science news or fact, followed by a more in-depth interview with a research student about their current work.

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Why The Internet Isn't Fun Anymore

Illustration by Nicholas Konrad

The New Yorker has a piece about how much worse the internet has gotten. It’s not exactly a secret, but this article sums up a lot of the current state of things online:

Elsewhere online, things are similarly bleak. Instagram’s feed pushes months-old posts and product ads instead of photos from friends. Google search is cluttered with junky results, and S.E.O. hackers have ruined the trick of adding “Reddit” to searches to find human-generated answers.

Later it hits on what I think is one of the key issues at play:

According to Eleanor Stern, a TikTok video essayist with nearly a hundred thousand followers, part of the problem is that social media is more hierarchical than it used to be. “There’s this divide that wasn’t there before, between audiences and creators,” Stern said. The platforms that have the most traction with young users today—YouTube, TikTok, and Twitch—function like broadcast stations, with one creator posting a video for her millions of followers; what the followers have to say to one another doesn’t matter the way it did on the old Facebook or Twitter.

Read the Article →

Thanks Rafa

The Whole Earth Catalog Goes Online

Stewart Brand’s classic Whole Earth Catalog, a sort of 70’s proto-blog in paper about building, the environment, crafts, and more, has made all their issues available online for free. This is something I’ve heard referenced in books and articles many, many times, but only now can I actually read them all.

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Film: Biosphere

This is a lighthearted buddy movie about best friends. It’s also a movie about surviving the apocalypse and what it’s like coming to grips with being one of the last humans on earth. This movie starring Sterling K. Brown and Mark Duplass was a complete delightful surprise that straddles some difficult topics and goes unexpected places.

One of the best movies I’ve seen in the past month or two. I don’t want to write any more about it, as the less you know about the plot the better. Don’t read a plot synopsis. Just watch.

Free Expression if I've Ever Seen It

Bee at Work

The Incredible Tension-Based Sculptures of Kenneth Snelson

Photo Via, but in all honesty good photos were hard to find, and credits are iffy.

Snelson’s sculptures feel like they should almost not stand up, but work via an intriguing mix of tension and compression (Which Buckminster Fuller would later term ‘Tensegrity’).

Take, for example, this beautiful 60 foot piece, ‘The Needle Tower’, from 1968: