September 2012 Archives

YouTube: Bon Iver Live at Radio City Music Hall

Don’t miss this — Bon Iver’s recent concert at Radio City Music Hall, broadcast live and now on YouTube (for two days only). A great setlist (below) and an outstanding performance.

Setlist: Perth / Minnesota, WI / Creature Fear / Hinnom, TX / Wash. / Brackett, WI / Holocene / Blood Bank / Woods / Towers / Michicant / Calgary / Beth/Rest // Encore: Skinny Love / The Wolves (Act I & II) / For Emma

Update: The Bowery pulled down the full video. Check out eight songs here.

space shuttles, magic, wonder

Today, for all its myriad frustrations, saw a lifelong dream fulfilled.

I saw a real space shuttle, in flight, albeit atop an enormous, gargantuan flying machine.

We had a research group meeting in the morning. All of us who work with Dr. Smith gathered, discussed our progress and plans, and caught up with him on happenings from around the world (enlightening and humbling).

At the beginning, perhaps ten minutes in, Amanda noticed - through a window near the top of our building - that dozens of folks were standing on the roof of an adjacent building, keenly and obviously looking at something. “It must be the shuttle,” she remarked.

The shuttle?

Then Amod saw it - he spotted it! - and the whole room, ages 22-65, ran to the windows, eyes wide open.

The jet escorting the shuttle looked like a sparrow next to an albatross. The huge, lumbering plane floated through the sky. Perched atop it was Endeavor, glistening during her final trip. At one point, the plane passed directly in front of sun, casting a massive shadow on the ground.

Silence, interspersed with the restrained oohs and aahs of wonder.

Wonder amongst a group of people trained to control their outbursts. Wonder amongst a bunch of scientists, realizing a shared dream.

The last flight of Endeavor, and we saw it.

Operation Teapot: The Effect of Nuclear Explosions on Commercially Packaged Beverages (March 1956)

In 1956, amidst concerns of domestic nuclear fallout, the FDA and Federal Civil Defense Administration undertook a study and released a report covering the exposure of commercially packaged beverages — including soft drinks and beer — to nuclear explosion.

Mind blown. This is real. Packaged drinks, like beer and soda in cans and bottles, were placed at varying distances from a nuclear detonation. Following the mushroom cloud, their fitness for consumption and taste were evaluated.

Typical of sci-yunce, they evaluated a number of metal can types and glass bottles (all closed). The cans were either 12 or 16 ounces; glass bottles ranged from 6-28 ounces. Various combinations of bottles and cans were placed between 0.2 and 1 mile from ground zero. They were either buried, placed on the ground, or embedded loosely in earth.

So what happened?

Most of the bottles and cans lived through the blast overpressures. Most of the container failures were caused by “flying missiles” of debris, severe crushing due to structural collapse, and falling from shelves.

The ones closest to ground zero were marginally radioactive. Of course, marginal radioactivity is concerning, but the scientists state

Even the most [radioactive] beverages were well within the permissible limits for emergency use and could be consumed upon recovery…

The induced activity of the beverage container, whether metal or glass, did not carry over to the contents… Radioactivity of contents did not vary directly with radioactivity of the container. The beverages themselves showed mild induced [radioactivity]… Beer by reason of its higher natural salt content exhibiting a somewhat higher activity than soft drinks.

My favorite part, though, is when they evaluate the taste of the beverages.

Representative samples of the various exposed packaged beers, as well as unexposed control samples in both cans and bottles, were submitted to five qualified laboratories for carefully controlled taste testing. The cumulative opinions on the various beers indicated a range from “commercial quality” on through “aged” to “definitely off.” All agreed, however, that the beer could unquestionable be used as an emergency source of potable beverages.”

This story and study came to light by way of a blog post by Robert Krulwich that referenced a blog post entitled Beer and the Apocalypse by Alex Wellerstein. In that post, Wellerstein linked to the full report.

Wellerstein summed it up well, “For me, the takeaway here is that the next time you find yourself stocking up on beer, remember, it’s not just for the long weekend — it might be for the end of days.”

Rushdie on becoming Joseph Anton

update: NPR’s Morning Edition has a compelling interview and another excerpt from Joseph Anton. Read it and listen to the piece here.

The New Yorker recently featured an excerpt from the forthcoming Rushdie memoir Joseph Anton. Rushdie is typically eloquent and masterfully conveys a vast range of emotions about the period immediately after the fatwa was issued and he went into hiding.

Some highlights below — but read the whole thing.

On February 22nd, the day the novel was published in America, there was a full-page advertisement in the Times, paid for by the Association of American Publishers, the American Booksellers Association, and the American Library Association. “Free People Write Books,” it said. “Free People Publish Books, Free People Sell Books, Free People Buy Books, Free People Read Books. In the spirit of America’s commitment to free expression we inform the public that this book will be available to readers at bookshops and libraries throughout the country.” The PEN American Center, passionately led by his beloved friend Susan Sontag, held readings from the novel. Sontag, Don DeLillo, Norman Mailer, Claire Bloom, and Larry McMurtry were among the readers. He was sent a tape of the event. It brought a lump to his throat. Long afterward, he was told that some senior American writers had initially ducked for cover. Even Arthur Miller had made an excuse—that his Jewishness might be a counterproductive factor. But within days, whipped into line by Susan, almost all of them had found their better selves and stood up to be counted.

When the book was in its third consecutive week as No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list, John Irving, who found himself stuck at No. 2, quipped that, if that was what it took to get to the top spot, he was content to be runner-up. He himself well knew, as did Irving, that scandal, not literary merit, was driving the sales. He also knew, and much appreciated, the fact that many people bought copies of “The Satanic Verses” to demonstrate their solidarity.

While all this and much more was happening, the author of “The Satanic Verses” was crouching in shame behind a kitchen counter to avoid being seen by a sheep farmer.

And…

He had spent his life naming fictional characters. Now, by naming himself, he had turned himself into a sort of fictional character as well. Conrad Chekhov wouldn’t have worked. But Joseph Anton was someone who might exist. Who now did exist. Conrad, the translingual creator of wanderers, of voyagers into the heart of darkness, of secret agents in a world of killers and bombs, and of at least one immortal coward, hiding from his shame; and Chekhov, the master of loneliness and of melancholy, of the beauty of an old world destroyed, like the trees in a cherry orchard, by the brutality of the new, Chekhov, whose “Three Sisters” believed that real life was elsewhere and yearned eternally for a Moscow to which they could not return: these were his godfathers now. It was Conrad who gave him the motto to which he clung, as if to a lifeline, in the long years that followed. In the now unacceptably titled “The Nigger of the Narcissus,” the hero, a sailor named James Wait, stricken with tuberculosis on a long sea voyage, is asked by a fellow-sailor why he came aboard, knowing that he was unwell. “I must live till I die—mustn’t I?” Wait replies.

In his present circumstances, the question felt like a command. “Joseph Anton,” he told himself, “you must live till you die.”

Perhaps in light of the memoir coming out, there’s recent news of Iran’s Ayatollah Hassan Sanei resurrection and increase of the reward for the killing of Rushdie to 3.3 million USD.

Madness, utter and foolish.

Obama Profiled in Vanity Fair by Michael Lewis

Michael Lewis has crafted a masterful profile of Obama. Compelling, personal, and deferent, Lewis covers everything from Obama’s favorite place in the White House to a basketball game at the FBI to his decision-making process. Some of my favorite bits follow.

On the basketball game:

Obama was 20 or more years older than most of them, and probably not as physically gifted, though it was hard to say because of the age differences. No one held back, no one deferred. Guys on his team dribbled past him and ignored the fact he was wide open. When he drives through the streets, crowds part, but when he drives to the basket large, hostile men slide over to cut him off. It’s revealing that he would seek out a game like this but even more that others would give it to him: no one watching would have been able to guess which guy was president. As a player on the other team, who must have outweighed Obama by a hundred pounds, backed the president of the United States down and knocked the crap out of him, all for the sake of a single layup, I leaned over to the former Florida State point guard.

“No one seems to be taking it easy on him,” I said.

“If you take it easy on him, you’re not invited back,” he explained.

On what he would tell Lewis if their roles were instantly reversed (and also on focus):

“You have to exercise,” he said, for instance. “Or at some point you’ll just break down.” You also need to remove from your life the day-to-day problems that absorb most people for meaningful parts of their day. “You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits,” he said. “I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.” He mentioned research that shows the simple act of making decisions degrades one’s ability to make further decisions. It’s why shopping is so exhausting. “You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.” The self-discipline he believes is required to do the job well comes at a high price. “You can’t wander around,” he said. “It’s much harder to be surprised. You don’t have those moments of serendipity. You don’t bump into a friend in a restaurant you haven’t seen in years. The loss of anonymity and the loss of surprise is an unnatural state. You adapt to it, but you don’t get used to it—at least I don’t.”

Probability & Decision-making:

“Nothing comes to my desk that is perfectly solvable,” Obama said at one point. “Otherwise, someone else would have solved it. So you wind up dealing with probabilities. Any given decision you make you’ll wind up with a 30 to 40 percent chance that it isn’t going to work. You have to own that and feel comfortable with the way you made the decision. You can’t be paralyzed by the fact that it might not work out.” On top of all of this, after you have made your decision, you need to feign total certainty about it. People being led do not want to think probabilistically.

Oh, f-it. The point here is that you need to read this article.

Wired: The Perfect Bagel Is Engineered in California

Bagels from Beauty’s Bagel Shop

In July, Wired released an article entitled “The Perfect Bagel is Engineered in California.” The URL slug includes “bagel-blasphemy.” I tend to agree. That said, the article was enlightening — lots of suggestions for bagels to try in the Bay Area.

The article focuses on Dan Graf, who runs Baron Baking. On making bagels:

“There’s a whole wealth of technology and applied science out there that is not being used in the culinary field,” Graf says.”It’s slowly working its way in… As people start to realize that you don’t need to be rooted as deeply in tradition, that there are other ways of doing things, there will be more people who are trying to kind of push the boundaries of what a specific food product is — that change it and tweak it.”

Graf knows this all too well: He’s competing locally with a raft of fellow bagel insurgents like Beauty’s Bagel Shop (“Montreal style”), Authentic Bagel Co. (a California-New York hybrid), and, perhaps Graf’s most respected competitor, Brooklyn-style Schmendricks. Like Graf and Baron Baking, Schmendricks uses a two-stage fermentation involving a slower “retardation” stage inside the refrigerator. Or at least that’s what Graf believes, based on his well-informed tasting of the competition.

Had a delicious bagel sandwich this morning at Beauty’s Bagels in Oakland (and bought six to eat for the rest of the week). Best bagel I’ve had in the Bay Area. Can’t speak to the others, but the bar has been set.

Zadie Smith & Jay-Z

A beautifully written piece from Zadie Smith for the NYT:

But asking why rappers always talk about their stuff is like asking why Milton is forever listing the attributes of heavenly armies. Because boasting is a formal condition of the epic form. And those taught that they deserve nothing rightly enjoy it when they succeed in terms the culture understands. Then something changed: “As I started getting life experiences, I realized my power was in conveying emotions that people felt.” He compared himself to a comedian whose jokes trigger this reaction: “Yo, that’s so true.” He started storytelling — people were mesmerized. “Friend or Foe” (1996), which concerns a confrontation between two hustlers, is rap in its masterful, full-blown, narrative form. Not just a monologue, but a story, complete with dialogue, scene setting, characterization. Within its comic flow and light touch — free from the relentless sincerity of Tupac — you can hear the seeds of 50, Lil Wayne, Eminem, so many others. “That was the first one where it was so obvious,” Jay noted. He said the song represented an important turning point, the moment when he “realized I was doing it.”

At times he restricts himself formally, like the Oulipo, that experimental French literary group of the 1960s. In the song “22 Two’s,” from 1996, we get 22 delicious plays on the words “too” and “two.”

Ten years later, the sequel, “44 Fours,” has the same conceit, stepped up a gear. “Like, you know, close the walls in a bit smaller.” Can he explain why? “I think the reason I still make music is because of the challenge.” He doesn’t believe in relying solely on one’s natural gifts. And when it comes to talent, “You just never know — there is no gauge. You don’t see when it’s empty.”

It's getting hot in here: Shifting Distribution of Northern Hemisphere Summer Temperature Anomalies, 1951-2011

From Goddard Space Flight Center:

This bell curve graph shows how the distribution of Northern Hemisphere summer temperature anomalies has shifted toward an increase in hot summers. The seasonal mean temperature for the entire base period of 1951-1980 is plotted at the top of the bell curve. Decreasing in frequency to the right are what are defined as “hot” anomalies (between 1 and 2 standard deviations from the norm), “very hot” anomalies (between 2 and 3 standard deviations) and “extremely hot” anomalies (greater than 3 standard deviations). The anomalies fall off to the left in mirror-image categories of “cold, “very cold” and “extremely cold.” The range between the .43 and -.43 standard deviation marks represent “normal” temperatures.

As the graph moves forward in time, the bell curve shifts to the right, representing an increase in the frequency of the various hot anomalies. It also gets wider and shorter, representing a wider range of temperature extremes. As the graph moves beyond 1980, the temperatures are still compared to the seasonal mean of the 1951-1980 base period, so that as it reaches the 21st century, there is a far greater frequency of temperatures that once fell 3 standard deviations beyond the mean.

There’s another telling animation showing extreme heat events across the Northern Hemisphere. This one, like the above, was created by Goddard using Hansen’s data. It is available here.

Cooking practices, air quality, and the acceptability of advanced cookstoves in Haryana, India: an exploratory study to inform large-scale interventions.

Mukhopadhyay R, Sambandam S, Pillarisetti A, Jack D, Mukhopadhyay K, Balakrishnan K, Vaswani M, Bates MN, Kinney PL, Arora NK, Smith KR. Cooking practices, air quality, and the acceptability of advanced cookstoves in Haryana, India: an exploratory study to inform large-scale interventions. Glob Health Action. 2012 Sep.5; 5(0).

David Byrne + St. Vincent Interviews / Dreamboats, Unite!

Photo by Andreas Laszlo Konrath

Impossibly good looking super-musicians David Byrne and Annie Clark have been making small rounds discussing their collaborative effort Love this Giant.

From Pitchfork

There is very little eye contact made in a room with David Byrne and Annie Clark in it. Seated a healthy distance apart from each other on a SoHo studio couch, the pair genially trade compliments and jokes, but their restless eyeballs seldom, if ever, light on each other’s, as if the energy exchange involved in a head-on glance might scorch their fragile nerve endings. Byrne’s legs joggle constantly, his hands clutching absently at the green fabric of his pants when he is lost for words, while Clark, carefully sipping water with her legs arranged neatly beneath her, gives thoughtful answers from beneath the partial shade of an artful hat.

On what they admire in each other’s work:

DB: I know I’m not the first to remark on this, but I hear an acceptance of melody without any fear in Annie’s work, which isn’t totally common in up-and-coming musicians. But these beautiful melodies are often undercut by very creepy or disturbing subject matter. When I met Annie, I complimented her on how disturbing her video was.

AC: David is capable of so many shades and moods, and one of them is a rare combination of paranoid mania and ecstatic joy. It’s a really unmistakable, singular tone. He also has an ability, lyrically and musically, to talk about or address big subjects in a way that never feels pretentious or lofty. David never seems to be suffering from a dearth of creative energy. It takes many forms, but he doesn’t seem to be a nostalgic person. He always wants to be moving forward. That’s inspiring.

David Byrne on being David Byrne:

I feel like I’m a fairly boring, almost well-adjusted person. But I am fascinated by extreme mental states. I love outsider art from people who are making up their own worlds, exposing some part of human life that would be really uncomfortable for most of us. Or they do something that touches some part of you and you go, “I recognize this person is probably out of their fucking mind, but I recognize that part in myself, too.”

There are other interviews out there, as well. See The Stool Pigeon, Cheat Sheet, and Vulture.

And, of course, stream the whole album at NPR.

White House Homebrew

From NPR:

Now comes news that Obama’s homebrew is packed aboard his campaign bus. At the end of his coffeehouse chat, the president had a bottle brought in for his new beer buddy. Watching this, the press corps who travel with the president were thunderstruck. And they wanted answers from White House Press Secretary Jay Carney.

Carney took flurries of questions about the beer. One reporter asked about transporting the homemade brew across state lines, in a line that drew laughter from the press pool: “Does the Treasury Department know about this?”

Carney was also asked, “Any other distilleries in the White House we don’t know about?”

“There’s a lot going on behind the trees on the South Lawn,” he said.

… Asked if he’d tried the White House beer, Carney said he had — calling it “superb” — and added that he thinks there are both light and dark style beers. But he wasn’t sure who is in charge of the brewing.

“Usually, when somebody hands me a beer I don’t ask how it was made. I just drink it,” he said.

See also this amazing picture of the President.

update: The White House has released the recipes for the two homebrews in rotation!

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