👓 Where is the remotest spot in the United States? | BBC

Where is the remotest spot in the United States? (BBC News)
One couple - and their eight-year-old daughter - are visiting the remotest spot in every state.

What a fun and generally uplifting story. Makes me want to travel.

I do wonder what the statistical drop off is from the largest distance to the second largest and so on…

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Reply to Colin Walker on the idea of a required reading page

I've been thinking some more about the idea of a required reading page. by Colin Walker (Social Thoughts)
Could the things held here be placed on an About page? Possibly - it depends what they are. If they are links to your own posts then almost certainly. External links? Maybe, maybe not. So, why have a required page and what does it give the reader?

In classical studies in the Renaissance the number of texts which were popular and considered expected/required reading for a “learned” person were a relatively set number and generally completely consumable and completely known by those with an education. Thus a writer could make a reference to the old testament or to Cato and the vast majority of the audience would get that reference (without footnotes or explicit references) having read these same texts.

Sadly the depth and breadth of available literature has exploded since Gutenberg making it nearly impossible for anyone in a modern audience to have read and know what the author may presume them to know. As an example, in Shakespeare’s day many of his side references would be known by even the uneducated, while most modern students have to rely on Cliff’s Notes or annotated editions to understand those cultural references. The modern day equivalent is that most avid fans of the Simpsons television show are also generally well educated on popular film since the 1940s, otherwise they’re missing 90% of the jokes.

Things become much more stilted within the blogging arena, particularly when a writer may cover a dozen areas or more in which they may have significant experience, but which will likely be completely unknown to some of their regular readers, much less new readers who aren’t specialists in these fields themselves. This may turn away readers at worst, but will destroy the conversation at best. (Though I will admit it doesn’t seem deter some of the lookie-loos from taking at shot at interacting on the lowest levels at Terry Tao’s blog.)

In some sense, in knowing their audience, writers have to have some grasp of what they do or don’t know, otherwise it becomes difficult to communicate those progressively more expanding thoughts. Having hyperlinks certainly helps within a piece, much the way academics footnote journal articles, but it can be just as painful for the writer to constantly be referring back to the same handful of articles constantly. In this sense, having a recommended/required reading section may be useful, particularly if it were ubiquitous, but I suspect that the casual drive-by reader may not notice or care very much. However, for that rare <5% it may be just the primer they’re looking for to better understand you and what you’re writing about.

One of the most difficult things to do in a new job or when entering a new field is to become aware of the understood culture and history of the company or the field itself. One must learn the jargon and history to contextualize the overarching conversation. Jumping into Dave Winer’s blog without knowing his background and history is certainly a more painful thing than starting to read someone whose blog is less than a year old and could thus be consumed in a short time versus thousands upon thousands of posts since the literal start of blogging on the internet. It’s somewhat reminiscent of David Shanske’s problem of distilling down a bio for an h-card from the rest of his site and his resume. What do you want someone you’ve just met to know about you to more quickly put you into a broader context, especially when you want them to get to know you better?

I think we’re all in the same boat as David in figuring out the painful path of distilling all this down in a sensible and straightforward manner. I’m curious to see what you come up with and how it evolves over time.

👓 If SoundCloud Disappears, What Happens to Its Music Culture? | New York Times

If SoundCloud Disappears, What Happens to Its Music Culture? by Jenna Wortham (New York Times)
The platform offered a public space with monetization as an afterthought. Now it could simply be deleted.
Jace Clayton, musician and the author of Uproot: Travels in 21st-Century Music and Digital Culture
in If SoundCloud Disappears, What Happens to Its Music Culture? in the New York Times

 

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👓 When Black Hair Violates The Dress Code | NPR

When Black Hair Violates The Dress Code (NPR)
Raising teenage girls can be a tough job. Raising black teenage girls as white parents can be even tougher. Aaron and Colleen Cook knew that when they adopted their twin daughters, Mya and Deanna. As spring came around this year, the girls, who just turned 16, told their parents they wanted to get braided hair extensions. Their parents happily obliged, wanting Mya and Deanna to feel closer to their black heritage. But when the girls got to school, they were asked to step out of class. Both were given several infractions for violating the dress code. Mystic Valley Regional Charter School, north of Boston, bans hair extensions in its dress code, deeming them "distracting."

School administrators’ and, in general, other peoples’, inability to be inclusive, understanding, and generally human really bothers me. It’s these small injustices which add up to a tremendous amount of hatred in the world.

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🎧 Seeing White, episode 36: That’s Not Us, So We’re Clean | Scene on Radio

Seeing White, episode 36: That's Not Us, So We're Clean from Scene On Radio
When it comes to America’s racial sins, past and present, a lot of us see people in one region of the country as guiltier than the rest. Host John Biewen spoke with some white Southern friends about that tendency. Part Six of our ongoing series, Seeing White. With recurring guest, Chenjerai Kumanyika.

Having lived in many parts of the country growing up (Dahlonega, GA; Burlington, CT; Calhoun, GA; Baltimore, MD; Charlotte, NC; etc.), I can attest that the generalities described here do dovetail with many of my experiences. The cultures with respect to racism are very different depending on town, region, state, and histories.

A lynching on Clarkson Street, New York City, during the Draft Riots of 1863. Credit: Greenwich Village Society of Historical Preservation.

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I love Eat This Podcast

Food as a vehicle to explore the byways of taste, economics and trade, culture, science, history, archaeology, geography and just about anything else.

Many who follow my blog recently will know that I’ve been binge listening to Jeremy Cherfas‘ wonderful podcast series: Eat This Podcast.

I’m now so many wonderful episodes in, that it was far past time to give something back to Jeremy for the hours of work he’s put in to give me so much entertainment, enjoyment, and even knowledge. So I just made a pledge to support him on Patreon.

If you haven’t been paying attention, Eat This Podcast is a fantastic series on food, but it it uses the “foods we eat to examine and shed light on the lives we lead, from authenticity to zoology”. Food becomes his “vehicle to explore the byways of taste, economics and trade, culture, science, history, archaeology, geography and just about anything else.”

It’s unlike much of anything I’ve seen or followed in the food space for some time. As someone who is a fan of the science of food and fantastic writers like Harold McGee, Herve This, Alton Brown, Tom Standage, Michael Pollan, Nathan Myhrvold, Maxime Bilet, Matt Gross, and Michael Ruhlman (to name only a few), Eat This Podcast is now a must listen for me.

Not only are the episodes always interesting and unique, they’re phenomenally well researched and produced. You’d think he had a massive staff and production support at the level of a news organization like NPR. By way of mentioning NPR, I wanted to highlight the thought, care, and skill he puts into not only the stunning audio quality, but into the selection of underlying photos, musical bumpers, and the links to additional resources he finds along the way.

And if my recommendation isn’t enough, then perhaps knowing that this one person effort has been nominated for the James Beard Award in both 2015 and 2016 may tip the scales?

If you haven’t listened to any of them yet, I highly recommend you take a peek at what he has to offer. You can subscribe, download, and listen to them all for free. If you’re so inclined, I hope you’ll follow my lead and make a pledge to support his work on Patreon as well.

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🔖 Want to read: From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds by Daniel C. Dennett

From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds (W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition, 496 pages (February 7, 2017))
One of America’s foremost philosophers offers a major new account of the origins of the conscious mind.

How did we come to have minds?

For centuries, this question has intrigued psychologists, physicists, poets, and philosophers, who have wondered how the human mind developed its unrivaled ability to create, imagine, and explain. Disciples of Darwin have long aspired to explain how consciousness, language, and culture could have appeared through natural selection, blazing promising trails that tend, however, to end in confusion and controversy. Even though our understanding of the inner workings of proteins, neurons, and DNA is deeper than ever before, the matter of how our minds came to be has largely remained a mystery.

That is now changing, says Daniel C. Dennett. In From Bacteria to Bach and Back, his most comprehensive exploration of evolutionary thinking yet, he builds on ideas from computer science and biology to show how a comprehending mind could in fact have arisen from a mindless process of natural selection. Part philosophical whodunit, part bold scientific conjecture, this landmark work enlarges themes that have sustained Dennett’s legendary career at the forefront of philosophical thought.

In his inimitable style―laced with wit and arresting thought experiments―Dennett explains that a crucial shift occurred when humans developed the ability to share memes, or ways of doing things not based in genetic instinct. Language, itself composed of memes, turbocharged this interplay. Competition among memes―a form of natural selection―produced thinking tools so well-designed that they gave us the power to design our own memes. The result, a mind that not only perceives and controls but can create and comprehend, was thus largely shaped by the process of cultural evolution.

An agenda-setting book for a new generation of philosophers, scientists, and thinkers, From Bacteria to Bach and Back will delight and entertain anyone eager to make sense of how the mind works and how it came about.

4 color, 18 black-and-white illustrations

🔖 Want to read: From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds by Daniel C. Dennett

 

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🎞 My review of The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (United Artists, 1974)

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (United Artists, 1974) from imdb.com
Directed by Joseph Sargent. With Walter Matthau, Robert Shaw, Martin Balsam, Hector Elizondo. In New York, armed men hijack a subway car and demand a ransom for the passengers. Even if it's paid, how could they get away?

A great classic film starring Walter Matthau, Robert Shaw, Hector Elizondo, and Jerry Stiller. The plot and story (as well as some great 70’s cinematography) holds up incredibly well and far better than most of its contemporaries. The score of the film does have the definite tone of the 70’s, but isn’t so overbearingly stereotypical as movies which came later in the decade.

While headed by Walter Matthau, this film is far more serious in tone and there are few, if any, bits of humor stemming from his Lt. Garber character (or they just don’t play as well now). The final freeze frame of Matthau’s which closes the film (in an early American studio feature nod to the French New Wave) does have a fantastic feel of sardonic comedy though. Matthau’s function in the film reminded me more of his turn in Charade (1963) than his extensive body of comedic work.

Robert Shaw in The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (United Artists, 1974)
Robert Shaw in The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (United Artists, 1974)

The film does fit well into the crime/drama/thriller progression of the modern blockbuster which includes its classic predecessors: Bonnie and Clyde (Warner Bros., 1967), Bullitt (Warner Bros., 1968), The Italian Job (Paramount, 1969), The French Connection (20th Century Fox, 1971), Shaft (MGM, 1971), Dirty Harry (Warner Bros., 1971), and Magnum Force (Warner Bros., 1973).

The movie is set in a time period after the prison riot at Attica which is mentioned in passing by the mayor’s staff, but before the film Dog Day Afternoon (Warner Bros., 1975). It’s also obviously set in a time period when people expect airplane hijacks, but think it’s laughable that anyone would consider a subway hijack. (This likely played into the high-concept idea of the studio consider making it originally). However, none of the train passengers takes the hijacking very seriously or seems very scared by the four rough looking characters carrying high powered and automatic weapons. This may be because the terrorism of the late 70’s, early 80’s, or even early 2000s had not yet happened; it was also set prior to John Frankenheimer’s Black Sunday (Paramount, 1979). I find it interesting that the hijackers in the piece actually verbally explain the capacity and killing power of their weapons as if none of the everyday people on the train would understand their automatic capabilities. (This assuredly wouldn’t happen in a modern-day version.) I have to imagine that more modern actor portrayals would have been much more fearful early on. Here no one seems very upset until Mr. Blue shoots the subway car driver in the back. Until then they just seem like they’re a bit “put out”. As an aside, the perpetrators’ going by the names Blue, Green, Grey, and Brown was most assuredly the inspiration for Quentin Tarantino’s use of similar names for the characters in Resevoir Dogs (Miramax, 1992) which also included the quote “let’s do it by the books”.

pelham-123-subway The film includes a fantastic (though possibly stereotypical) portrayal of 70’s culture through the characters of multiple ethnicities and cultural types. These are borne out in the credit sequence with character “names” which actually include: The Maid, The Mother, The Homosexual, The Secretary, The Delivery Boy, The Salesman, The Hooker, The Old Man, The Older Son, The Spanish Woman, The Alcoholic, The Pimp, Coed #1, The Younger Son, Coed #2, The Hippie, and The W.A.S.P. One of my favorite stereotypes (which the film may have first immortalized) was the hippie woman calmly chanting “Om” and then later “Om stop” on the runaway subway hoping it wouldn’t crash.

As an indicator of racial change, there’s an odd exchange (that may have been funny at the time), but to a more modern viewer is now just awkward:

Lt. Garber: [looking for the inspector] Inspector Daniels?
Inspector Daniels: [identifying himself] Daniels.
Lt. Garber: [realizing DCI Daniels is African-American] Oh, I, uh, thought you were, uh, like a shorter guy or – I don’t know what I thought.

There’s also a nice indicator of the growth of stature in women in society as the lead character posits (several times) that a plain clothes police officer might in fact be a woman, a fact that one of Garber’s colleagues failed to contemplate. This is offset by a zany statement by an old, gruff (and somewhat marginalized) subway supervisor (following a prior litany of profanity, by almost everyone in the room):

Caz Dolowicz, subway supervisor played by Tom Pedi
in The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (United Artists, 1974)

 

I’ll have to go back and rewatch the remake again to further compare the portrayal of the two time periods. I will note that the mayor’s deputy comes in at one point in this incarnation and says to him, “Pull your pants up Al, we’re going downtown.” I can’t help but sadly imagine that in a remake, the mayor wouldn’t be laying sick in bed getting a shot in the ass, but would more likely be sitting behind his desk with a woman in a compromising position to get the cheap laugh.

The film also includes some great, but short character actor turns by Tony Roberts as the Mayor’s assistant, Doris Roberts (almost unrecognizable to modern day Everybody Loves Raymond fans) as the mayor’s wife, Kenneth McMillan, and a middle-aged Joe Seneca.

I also noticed an obscure, early production office coordinator credit for Barbara DaFina, better known as Barbara De Fina, much later a well-known and prolific producer and production manager, known for Goodfellas (1990), Casino (1995) and Hugo (2011). She was married to Martin Scorsese from 1985 – 1991, though she had a nice body of work even prior to that.

Another quote that I can’t help but mention not only for its sheer joy but because it’s also one of the first lines of spoken dialogue of the film:

The Pimp played by George Lee Miles, referring to his clothing, confidence, and swagger on the dark, dank subway platform
in The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (United Artists, 1974)

 

In the pantheon of first lines of poetry, this captures the tone of its time incredibly well.

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