This is a gem. The hidden language of bars. Completely beautiful nonsense. Intriguing little microclimates of language — some which seem to exist between bars, and some within.
A specially prepared drink that is sealed (say, with plastic wrap or a rubber glove) and dispatched as a gift to a nearby bar. Of dubious legality, BOOMERANGS are a way of ‘having a drink’ with industry friends during work. BOOMERANGS are often shuttled from bar to bar by regulars, who are thereby identified as guests of quality.
[I] One who sneaks out, leaving his friends to pay.  A cool and composed drinker.
Wealthy client, not spending.
I don’t usually link to this kind of stuff. As it is related to energy and physical infrastructure — and is a different type of failure than we’re used to — I think it is worth some thought. The story was originally covered by the WSJ and Foreign Policy; both of those articles are behind paywalls.
The strike against the power plant sounds surgical. The WSJ outlined the timeline of events:
At 12:58 a.m., AT&T fiber-optic telecommunications cables were cut—in a way that made them hard to repair—in an underground vault near the substation, not far from U.S. Highway 101 just outside south San Jose. It would have taken more than one person to lift the metal vault cover, said people who visited the site.
Nine minutes later, some customers of Level 3 Communications, an Internet service provider, lost service. Cables in its vault near the Metcalf substation were also cut.
At 1:31 a.m., a surveillance camera pointed along a chain-link fence around the substation recorded a streak of light that investigators from the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s office think was a signal from a waved flashlight. It was followed by the muzzle flash of rifles and sparks from bullets hitting the fence.
The substation’s cameras weren’t aimed outside its perimeter, where the attackers were. They shooters appear to have aimed at the transformers’ oil-filled cooling systems. These began to bleed oil, but didn’t explode, as the transformers probably would have done if hit in other areas.
About six minutes after the shooting started, PG&E confirms, it got an alarm from motion sensors at the substation, possibly from bullets grazing the fence, which is shown on video.
Four minutes later, at 1:41 a.m., the sheriff’s department received a 911 call about gunfire, sent by an engineer at a nearby power plant that still had phone service.
Riddled with bullet holes, the transformers leaked 52,000 gallons of oil, then overheated. The first bank of them crashed at 1:45 a.m., at which time PG&E’s control center about 90 miles north received an equipment-failure alarm.
Five minutes later, another apparent flashlight signal, caught on film, marked the end of the attack. More than 100 shell casings of the sort ejected by AK-47s were later found at the site.
I’ve got some fundamental issues with this recent article in the NYT, starting with its absurd title: Beijing’s Bad Air Would Be Step Up for Smoggy Delhi. The difference between levels in Beijing and Delhi are nigh indistinguishable shades of the same grey - we’re seeing similar and important trends playing out in large urban centers. We know the levels are health damaging and we know that the exposure-response relationships for a number of health impacts are not linear - a decrease from 400 to 300 ug/m3 doesn’t incur the same benefit in a population as the decrease from, say, 150 to 50 ug/m3. The latter decrease seems to have a far more profound and substantial positive impact on health. That, of course, is not to say we shouldn’t applaud any and all decreases in ambient air pollution — but instead to emphasize that we have a long way to go to fully protect public health.
No doubt, these issues need to become more prominent in Indian discourse, as the author acknowledges:
… [For] the first three weeks of this year, New Delhi’s average daily peak reading of fine particulate matter from Punjabi Bagh, a monitor whose readings are often below those of other city and independent monitors, was 473, more than twice as high as the average of 227 in Beijing. By the time pollution breached 500 in Beijing for the first time on the night of Jan. 15, Delhi had already had eight such days. Indeed, only once in three weeks did New Delhi’s daily peak value of fine particles fall below 300, a level more than 12 times the exposure limit recommended by the World Health Organization.
“It’s always puzzled me that the focus is always on China and not India,” said Dr. Angel Hsu, director of the environmental performance measurement program at the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy. “China has realized that it can’t hide behind its usual opacity, whereas India gets no pressure to release better data. So there simply isn’t good public data on India like there is for China.”
Experts have long known that India’s air is among the worst in the world. A recent analysis by Yale researchers found that seven of the 10 countries with the worst air pollution exposures are in South Asia. And evidence is mounting that Indians pay a higher price for air pollution than almost anyone. A recent study showed that Indians have the world’s weakest lungs, with far less capacity than Chinese lungs. Researchers are beginning to suspect that India’s unusual mix of polluted air, poor sanitation and contaminated water may make the country among the most dangerous in the world for lungs.
But even this doesn’t tell the whole story. Rural India is fraught with air pollution concerns of a different type — that arising from solid fuel combustion for household cooking. This ‘household air pollution’ results in approximately 900,000 annual deaths in India - 10% of national mortality. It disproportionately affects the rural poor, who, for the most part, don’t have access to modern fuels for cooking, heating, or lighting. It’s estimated that approximately 700 million people - more than twice the US population - in India rely on solid fuel use for household energy needs.
I applaud the NYT for covering air pollution in Delhi and across India. That said, neither of the above articles consider air pollution out of urban centers - and neither address the fact that these types of pollution events were commonplace in now-developed countries (see Donora, PA; London Smog; Thanksgiving Day Smog, NYC, 1966 ) as they stumbled in search of progress.
Powerful opinion piece by Michael E. Mann in the NYT:
If scientists choose not to engage in the public debate, we leave a vacuum that will be filled by those whose agenda is one of short-term self-interest. There is a great cost to society if scientists fail to participate in the larger conversation — if we do not do all we can to ensure that the policy debate is informed by an honest assessment of the risks. In fact, it would be an abrogation of our responsibility to society if we remained quiet in the face of such a grave threat.
This is hardly a radical position. Our Department of Homeland Security has urged citizens to report anything dangerous they witness: “If you see something, say something.” We scientists are citizens, too, and, in climate change, we see a clear and present danger. The public is beginning to see the danger, too — Midwestern farmers struggling with drought, more damaging wildfires out West, and withering record summer heat across the country — while wondering about possible linkages between rapid Arctic warming and strange weather patterns, like the recent outbreak of Arctic air across much of the United States.
How will history judge us if we watch the threat unfold before our eyes, but fail to communicate the urgency of acting to avert potential disaster? How would I explain to the future children of my 8-year-old daughter that their grandfather saw the threat, but didn’t speak up in time?
Those are the stakes.
Walker Percy wrote that “bourbon does for me what the piece of cake did for Proust.” Distillers have been appealing to this feeling—something visceral and personal that transcends price points or mash bills—for years. It connects to the collective cultural consciousness: the myths of tax rebels sticking it to Alexander Hamilton; or outlaws at their stills, deep in the hollers of Kentucky; or Junior Johnson outrunning the law on the back roads of North Carolina, packing illegal hooch in the trunk. It is the stuff of cowboy saloons and city dive bars and a thousand country songs. This narrative, of course, is told in the codes of (largely white) masculinity—and aimed at and perpetuated by the kinds of drinkers, mostly men, I suspect, who hope that their poison of choice tells a story about them, and who are worried that it might not be the right one. Bourbon seems like a sturdy marker of a freedom-loving American identity, but that narrative is mostly a pleasant fiction. The truth of the tale lies in mergers and holding companies and transnational distribution rights. George Jones never sang about any of that. The real story of the modern whiskey industry is less romantic but no less American. The country’s “native spirit,” as bourbon is often called, is one of capitalization and consolidation.
As with all things Bill Murray, this is a gem. My favorite question and answer is the top one in the thread (for now):
Q. If you could go back in time and have a conversation with one person, who would it be and why? (from anniedog03)
A. That’s a grand question, golly.
I kind of like scientists, in a funny way. Albert Einstein was a pretty cool guy. The thing about Einstein was that he was a theoretical physicist, so they were all theories. He was just a smart guy. I’m kind of interested in genetics though. I think I would have liked to have met Gregor Mendel.
Because he was a monk who just sort of figured this stuff out on his own. That’s a higher mind, that’s a mind that’s connected. They have a vision, and they just sort of see it because they are so connected intellectually and mechanically and spiritually, they can access a higher mind. Mendel was a guy so long ago that I don’t necessarily know very much about him, but I know that Einstein did his work in the mountains in Switzerland. I think the altitude had an effect on the way they spoke and thought.
But I would like to know about Mendel, because i remember going to the Philippines and thinking “this is like Mendel’s garden” because it had been invaded by so many different countries over the years, and you could see the children shared the genetic traits of all their invaders over the years, and it made for this beautiful varietal garden.
It’s been a long time, blog. Blame India and Nepal. Both of which are seemingly under-represented in the below map. The embed code’s not great — click on a region or pull the map around a bit to see their assessment. Or, better yet, view the map in your full browser window here.
For the past three years, the Global Health program at the Council on Foreign Relations has been tracking relevant reports to produce an interactive map plotting global outbreaks of diseases that are easily prevented by inexpensive and effective vaccines. The diseases include measles, mumps, whooping cough, polio, and rubella.
“These outbreaks illustrate a worrying trend and raise the sense of alarm regarding failures in and public resistance to vaccine efforts,” says CFR senior fellow for global health Laurie Garrett. “Small decreases in vaccine coverage are known to lead to dramatic increases in outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases,” she explains.
Nelson Mandela, the revered statesman who emerged from prison after 27 years to lead South Africa out of decades of apartheid, passed away on December 5, 2013. Few men in the history of mankind have had more impact on a nation and inspired the world like the former president.
Shortly before he retreated from public life in 2011, Mandela participated in photographer Adrian Steirn’s 21 Icons project — a photographic and short-film series profiling the men and women who shaped modern South Africa.
And don’t miss this one.
Planet Money recently tracked the creation of a t-shirt — from the farms of Mississippi and the yarn factories of Indonesia to garment factories in Bangladesh and in Columbia. They wrapped up with a meta-political piece about how trade deals allowed the creation of the garment industry in Bangladesh and opened the doors of the US to imported garments. The entire series is fantastic — well reported, compelling, fun, and insightful.
Household energy and cooking got a mention in the piece on Bangladesh. The story follows two sisters — Minu and Shumi — who move from a village to a city to work in a garment factory. Minu and Shumi cook on a gas stove that they share with neighbors near their modest one room apartment. The story then follows them to their parents’ home in a village a few hours away.
Their mom cooks in the back room. The difference between her life and her daughters’ lives is very clear. No gas burners here — its a fire pit, made from mud. There are holes underneath to stick branches into and the room fills with smoke when she cooks. Minu and Shumi grew up cooking like this, with sticks instead of gas…
Shumi and Minu send money back to the village… And you can see how that’s changed things right here in the kitchen. The stove is the same as what they had growing up — but what’s inside the pot is different. It’s chicken… Factory money has paid for a new house for Shumi and Minu’s parents. The house they grew up in was made of bamboo — it leaked — this house is made of brick. It’s water-tight.
Telling - and a little surprising - that Planet Money used a gas stove as an indicator of modernity and as a way to draw contrasts between city and village life. The flow of money back to the village paid for household improvements and chicken and fish, still cooked on the traditional stove. It would be interesting to track the point at which the transition to a more efficient cooking technology occurred, if ever. What other needs are perceived as priorities over replacing the stove? How much of the issue is related to supply of liquid fuels and their costs? How much is related to the perception that wood and biomass are free? You can see a niche for clean cookstoves in there — meeting the requirements of using a ‘free’ fuel, but also using it more efficiently and more cleanly. The endless challenge will remain - finding a clean stove that people want to use - and use often.
see a whole load of stories here
This is relatively old news in the world of the internet... but it's still a pretty awesome visualization. The story's full of interesting facts. For instance:
The distillery in Lawrenceburg, Indiana is known colloquially as LDI, but is now part of MGP, a food conglomerate that specializes in bioplastics, industrial proteins, and starches for use in salad dressings,energy bars, imitation cheese, and fruit fillings. One of the products made in the Indiana facility is a rye whiskey with a mash bill of 95 percent rye, 5 percent malt barley. Most rye whiskeys are no more than 70 percent rye. According to author Chuck Cowdery, this particular whiskey was developed by Seagram's as a flavoring agent for blended whiskeys like Seagram's 7. When Seagram's disintegrated due to mismanagement in the 1990s, the whiskey, then in the process of aging, was sold to other distilleries in the fire sale of assets, as one salvage company after the next tried to determine what to do with the distillery and its excess inventory. This is how one generic whiskey became known by more than a dozen names, including Templeton Rye, Redemption Rye, Bulleit Rye, Willet, Smooth Ambler, and George Dickel Rye, among others. The companies that own each of these brands have purchased LDI rye whiskey and now bottle it under their own labels, adjusting the proof and length of aging in order to create their own differentiations.
What the what.
NASA and JPL continue to release some incredible images. Click the image to see a large version in a new window; click here to see huge ones over at NASA.
Humbling and magical.
On July 19, 2013, in an event celebrated the world over, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft slipped into Saturn’s shadow and turned to image the planet, seven of its moons, its inner rings — and, in the background, our home planet, Earth.
With the sun’s powerful and potentially damaging rays eclipsed by Saturn itself, Cassini’s onboard cameras were able to take advantage of this unique viewing geometry. They acquired a panoramic mosaic of the Saturn system that allows scientists to see details in the rings and throughout the system as they are backlit by the sun. This mosaic is special as it marks the third time our home planet was imaged from the outer solar system; the second time it was imaged by Cassini from Saturn’s orbit; and the first time ever that inhabitants of Earth were made aware in advance that their photo would be taken from such a great distance.
With both Cassini’s wide-angle and narrow-angle cameras aimed at Saturn, Cassini was able to capture 323 images in just over four hours. This final mosaic uses 141 of those wide-angle images. Images taken using the red, green and blue spectral filters of the wide-angle camera were combined and mosaicked together to create this natural-color view. A brightened version with contrast and color enhanced (Figure 1), a version with just the planets annotated (Figure 2), and an annotated version (Figure 3) are shown above.
This image spans about 404,880 miles (651,591 kilometers) across.
Christmas in early November. Enjoy!
Pretty awesome little video from a French video production and graphic design firm. Not entirely sure about the veracity of the math or the visualizations… but that’s perhaps missing the forest for the trees.
Best viewed fullscreen.
This beautiful tome arrived today. The New Yorker summarizes it best:
Were it only for the text of his introductory essays and extended interviews with Wes Anderson, Matt Zoller Seitz’s book “The Wes Anderson Collection,” which discusses all seven of Anderson’s feature films in copious detail, would be an indispensable resource, as well as a delight….
But the text isn’t all there is to it: the book is entirely in the Andersonian spirit—it’s a beautiful object, not a coffee-table book (except in size) but one that’s designed and thought out to its slightest detail, with its amazingly wide and deep offering of visual documentation. (Far be it from me to diminish the images and artifacts by calling them “illustrations.”) Still photographs from the set, frame enlargements, storyboards, influences (from “Peanuts” to Holbein to Welles), references (record covers, school insignias), and memorabilia (newspaper clippings, casting snapshots) are matched with informative and discursive captions that play like stage whispers, and all are brought together with taste, insight, and joyful celebration.
The introduction by Michael Chabon praises Anderson as much as it reflects on aging and growth:
The world is so big, so complicated, so replete with marvels and surprises that it takes years for most people to begin to notice that it is, also, irretrievably broken. We call this period of research “childhood.”
There follows a program of renewed inquiry, often involuntary, into the nature and effects of mortality, entropy, heartbreak, violence, failure, cowardice, duplicity, cruelty, and grief; the researcher learns their histories, and their bitter lessons, by heart. Along the way, he or she discovers that the world has been broken for as long as anyone can remember, and struggles to reconcile this fact with the ache of cosmic nostalgia that arises, from time to time, in the researcher’s heart: an intimation of vanished glory, of lost wholeness, a memory of the world unbroken. We call the moment at which this ache first arises “adolescence.” The feeling haunts people all their lives.
Everyone, sooner or later, gets a thorough schooling in brokenness. The question becomes: What to do with the pieces? Some people hunker down atop the local pile of ruins and make do, Bedouin tending their goats in the shade of shattered giants. Others set about breaking what remains of the world into bits ever smaller and more jagged, kicking through the rubble like kids running through piles of leaves. And some people, passing among the scattered pieces of that great overturned jigsaw puzzle, start to pick up a piece here, a piece there, with a vague yet irresistible notion that perhaps something might be done about putting the thing back together again.
Two difficulties with this latter scheme at once present themselves. First of all, we have only ever glimpsed, as if through half-closed lids, the picture on the lid of the jigsaw puzzle box. Second, no matter how diligent we have been about picking up pieces along the way, we will never have anywhere near enough of them to finish the job. The most we can hope to accomplish with our handful of salvaged bits—the bittersweet harvest of observation and experience—is to build a little world of our own. A scale model of that mysterious original, unbroken, half—remembered. Of course the worlds we build out of our store of fragments can be only approximations, partial and inaccurate. As representations of the vanished whole that haunts us, they must be accounted failures. And yet in that very failure, in their gaps and inaccuracies, they may yet be faithful maps, accurate scale models, of this beautiful and broken world. We call these scale models “works of art.”
“The ache of cosmic nostalgia.” “The bittersweet harvest of observation and experience.”
A bunch of folks across the internet have been doing some great stuff with the air quality data coming out of China via official channels and the US Embassy twitter feeds. My advisor asked for some graphs of available data. They are posted below (all were created in R using ggplot2). If time ever permits, I’ll post some interactive visualizations.
Elliott Smith died ten years ago yesterday (Oct 21, 2003). I hadn’t listened to his music in quite a while, though played through a number of his tracks last night. They hold up — and pretty promptly sent me back a decade. Pitchfork has created a well-designed, well-written, thorough ‘oral history’ of his music.
What follows is not an oral history of his life, but of his music; specifically, his solo career. The lines between life and music are tangled, of course, in ways that aren’t neatly prizable, and darker stories eventually creep into the frame at the edges. But the arc traced here begins with the emergence of That Voice: the flowering of his talent, the development of the intimate, inscrutable folk-pop he would mine for the rest of his career. That discovery dovetails with the dissolution of his first band, the loud-rocking Heatmiser. In some ways the development of the former triggered the latter. The story told here begins at this hinge point, as Smith begins exploring the possibilities of his fiercely intimate four-track solo recordings that would pull him away from Heatmiser and, eventually, into the national spotlight.
For those who knew him personally, the task of speaking for Elliott Smith wavers between privilege and burden. Many of the 18 people who spoke to me—bandmates, producers, managers, friends—emerged hesitantly, stepping gingerly over their own profound misgivings, issuing grave caveats. They’d been burned before, they warned me. They swore they’d never speak again. The story of their self-imposed silence, and their individual choices to break it or hold it, runs in powerful counterpoint to Smith’s own story. Some of the singer’s closest associates have simply declined to go on record: Having been prodded multiple times, they have understandably snapped shut. Some are speaking now for the first time. The combination of profound ambivalence and fierce conviction in their voices, as they opened themselves up, was chastening.
The Atlantic’s got a nice list of remembrances, some of which are new or new to the internet.
The first trailer for Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel was released today. Looks positively Wes Anderson-errific. Can’t wait.
RAW is a really impressive and easy-to-use data visualization tool created by Density Design. I created the following plot in about five minutes from existing GBD data (of DALYs in India for women of all ages).
The first column contains risk categories as defined by the comparative risk assessment of the 2010 Global Burden of Disease. The second column contains individual risk factors (each of which fits into an aforementioned risk category). The final column shows attributable DALYs by cause. Some color would help differentiate the different risks and causes, but the basic picture is clear if you spend a few minutes with the graph. Women in India, according to the 2010 GBD, predominantly lose healthy life years from CVD, chronic respiratory diseases, nutritional deficiencies, and infectious disease. A fair amount of this is attributable to air pollution.
To make this plot, I opened a CSV, copied its contents, pasted into a text field at RAW, and then used its simple, elegant GUI to generate the code for the plot. The options are a little limited now (would like to add some color, shift label positions around, etc). If I really wanted to make those changes, I could edit the code and do it manually. A really impressive showcase of what can be done in the browser and definitely worth checking out and keeping an eye on.