‘How Many Microcovids Would You Spend on a Burrito?’

Wired [c]:

Olsson thinks about risk for a living—she works for a Silicon Valley foundation on projects that seek to mitigate the potentially catastrophic effects of advanced AI—and is in the habit of assessing her daily life with data and models. A few years ago, after a close friend told her about a scare she’d had while cycling, Olsson decided to reevaluate her own bike commute. Was her life span more likely to be cut short by a fatal crash biking to work or by the increased chance of heart disease from sitting idly on the train? She was happier riding her bike than squeezing in with fellow passengers, but sometimes feelings need a fact check. She did the math and was pleased that it validated her choice to cycle.

Olsson had begun applying this approach to living with the new coronavirus. The task was far more comprehensive. Unlike the risk of a bike accident, the risks posed by the virus radiated off of everything, turning the littlest things—a burrito!—into a gamble. At first, managing those risks was easy, if unpleasant. When the pandemic arrived in March, lockdowns constrained life and therefore made decisions simple. It was all of us together, in the interest of keeping hospitals from becoming overrun. But then, gradually, the world reopened, and life got more confusing.

So she and her friends created microCOVID. It’s an amazing site. You enter a bunch of variables about the activity you want to do, and it will tell you how risky it is. I love stuff like this.

And be sure to read the whole Wired piece. It’s certainly my favourite article of the week.

The Man Who Invited the World Over for Dinner

BBC News [c]:

Jim Haynes was both an icon and a relic of the Swinging Sixties, an American in Paris who was famous for inviting hundreds of thousands of strangers to dinner at his home. He died this month.

[…] During the 1990s, the crowds started to dwindle at the Paris dinners, as the original hippy crowd aged. But then a new wave of younger visitors started to get in touch. The bloggers had discovered him.

[…] He explained that, in the late 1980s, he had founded a guidebook series for countries behind the Iron Curtain. Instead of the standard descriptions of sights and hotel listings, the format was like an address book, including the contact details for hundreds of in-country hosts. The idea was that if people could not easily see the Western world themselves, he would bring it to them via travellers. It was “couchsurfing”, but offline.

Interesting guy. Though he sounds like the total opposite to myself. I couldn’t imagine anything worse than having a dozen strangers over to my house for dinner every week. You can listen to a five minute audio interview with him here [c]. And here’s his Wikipedia.

‘Their Noses Paid the Bills. Then COVID Took Their Sense of Smell’

Wired UK [c]:

Anxiety about this ailment [loss of smell] is creeping into wine and fine dining. In the wine industry, losing your sense of smell is so taboo that several sommeliers interviewed for this piece did not want to be identified. One sommelier at a top London restaurant likened the symptoms to a star athlete injuring their anterior cruciate ligament – a knee injury used to routinely put an end to professional athletes’ careers. They warned that those with a compromised sense of smell could be branded as “damaged goods” or unfit for work in the eyes of the profession. Others have questioned whether it could be a factor in future hiring decisions. One well-known former wine buyer for high-end restaurants, who is still suffering from parosmia six months on, said they aren’t able to function correctly in the business because they have “lost the way to detect nuance in wine”. They have stopped buying expensive wines for their own enjoyment as a result.

[…] Researchers and medics now think smell loss happens due to the virus damaging what they call the supporting cells of the olfactory epithelium – the area high in the nose where we detect odours. This area contains both the nerve cells, and supporting cells that make the nose work. If damaged by a virus, these have to regenerate and forge new connections to the brain. Some think that parosmia is an indication of nerve cells healing and making new connections to the brain.

Losing your smell is pretty awful. I haven’t checked, but I’m guessing COVID-19 doesn’t actually affect your taste in any way, despite reports. It’s just that scent is such a vital part of taste that it actually feels like you’ve lost your taste.

Here’s a quick fun game for you to try. Get someone to open a random flavour of crisps for you. Close your eyes, pinch your nose and then eat a crisp and try to guess what flavour it is. It’s close to impossible. Your nose is so important for taste.


The Barbican Estate

In the Financial Times the other day, ‘Beauty and the Brutalists: why the most maligned style in history should be preserved‘ [c]:

But one of his [Donald Trump’s] last acts in office was to issue an executive order that new federal buildings must be built in a classical style. What they should not be, it specified, is Brutalist. This is how it was defined:

“Brutalist means the style of architecture that grew out of the early 20th-century Modernist movement that is characterised by a massive and block-like appearance with a rigid geometric style and large-scale use of exposed poured concrete.”

Brutalism is probably my favourite architectural style. And I’ll be honest, I don’t really know why.

I think a big reason is that it’s just drastic and different. Stark, and well… brutal. It has a cyberpunk and sci-fi look which I find beautiful and endearing. Would I want every building to be built in the brutalist style? No. But I love it all the same.

There’s a line in the movie The Da Vinci Code where Tom Hank’s character is asked by a police officer what he thinks of the Louvre Pyramid in Paris. He says “it’s magnificent.” But the policeman replies, “a scar on the face of Paris.” That phrase often pops into my head when I’m in London and stumble on a piece of brutalism. It is in many ways a scar. But it’s a cool scar. One that adds character in my opinion.

Me at the Barbican Estate

The average person however does seem to think of brutalism as just a straight up ugly scar. And only a certain sort of person seems to be actually willing to live in such buildings. The FT continues:

There is a lot of truth in the long-running joke that Brutalism’s loudest champions — and many of the residents of London’s most famous Brutalist estates, including the Barbican and Keeling House — are all architects themselves.

It’s certainly not for everyone. And I do admit that goverment buildings built in the brutalist style certainly take on a dystopian quality. But I kind of like that. I feel like they’re not trying to hide anything from me. They’re not built to some ancient Greek ideal with white marble and curved columns. Instead they’re admiting they’re often broken and brutal institutions. It’s ugly architecture for an ugly world.

Interested in more brutalism? Check out /r/brutalism or buy “This Brutal World” published by Phaidon.

‘Woman Is Sentenced to 43 Years for Criticizing Thai Monarchy’

The New York Times [c]:

The onetime civil servant’s crime was to share audio clips on social media that were deemed critical of Thailand’s monarchy. The sentence, handed down on Tuesday by a criminal court in Bangkok, was more than 43 years in prison.

It was the longest sentence yet for violating Thailand’s notoriously tough lèse-majesté law, which makes it a crime to defame senior members of the royal family, according to the group Thai Lawyers for Human Rights. The former civil servant, Anchan Preelert, was sentenced to 87 years, but her prison term was cut in half because she agreed to plead guilty.

[…] Section 112 of the criminal code makes insulting or defaming the king or his close relatives an offense punishable by three to 15 years in prison. Each charge is counted separately, which partly explains why Ms. Anchan’s prison sentence is so long.

What century is it?

The Parler U.S. Capitol Riot Video Archive

Before Parler was closed down (for now anyway) some hackers downloaded almost the entirety of the site. Vice has the story [c]:

Donk_enby had originally intended to grab data only from the day of the Capitol takeover, but found that the poor construction and security of Parler allowed her to capture, essentially, the entire website. That ended up being 56.7 terabytes of data, which included every public post on Parler, 412 million files in all—including 150 million photos and more than 1 million videos. Each of these had embedded metadata like date, time and GPS coordinates—unlike most social media sites, Parler does not strip metadata from media its users upload, which, crucially, could be useful for law enforcement and open source investigators. 

I’m no SysAdmin but surely one of the first things you do if you run a web service which lets users upload media is to make sure that you strip the EXIF data. It’s hilarious that Parler didn’t do this.

Anyway all this data is useful in identifying crimes that were done during the recent riot in the U.S. capitol [c] as many of the rioters were Parler users.

But the vast majority of video on Parler had nothing to do with the riot. So ProPublica have done the legwork [c] and released an archive of around 500 videos from the riot itself. All neatly organised too (unlike the rioters).

You can view them all here. It’s fascinating stuff.

I’ve also extracted the videos and put them into a .zip file. Download it (8.89 GB).

Dr Martens To Go Public

British boot manufacturer Dr Martens is going to be listed on the London Stock Exchange. Financial Times [c]:

While Dr Martens has returned to profitability under Permira’s ownership, the period has not been without problems. In recent years, the brand has suffered complaints that the quality of its shoes is not what it used to be.

Mr Wilson dismissed “rumours” about the quality of Dr Martens boots, saying that the company has been using the same leather supplier for the past 20 years. But it has no plans to reintroduce its life-long warranty range, which it ditched three years ago citing low demand for the more expensive boot.

Outside the fashion community Dr Martens has entirely lost its reputation. No boot enthusiast is buying them any more. Docs were never work boots, but they were always exteremly well made and long lasting. Those days are over.

Instead I’d reccomend buying some Solovair’s instead. They use the same machinery that older Dr Martens were made with. And I’ve been very happy with mine.

‘Inside Twitter’s Decision to Cut Off Trump’

The New York Times [c]:

But Mr. Dorsey was not sold on a permanent ban of Mr. Trump. He emailed employees the next day, saying it was important for the company to remain consistent with its policies, including letting a user return after a suspension.

Many workers, fearing that history would not look kindly upon them, were dissatisfied. Several invoked IBM’s collaboration with the Nazis, said current and former Twitter employees, and started a petition to immediately remove Mr. Trump’s account.

[…] Some Twitter employees, fearing the wrath of Mr. Trump’s supporters, have now set their Twitter accounts to private and removed mentions of their employer from online biographies, four people said. Several executives were assigned personal security.

I still don’t know how I feel about Trump being banned from Twitter. I personally think a two week ban might of been the better option.

Also it’s worth revisiting this article by the New York Times again: How Trump Reshaped the Presidency in Over 11,000 Tweets.