Written by

Chris Gonzales

Welcome to this week’s edition of our Friday Quality Linkage column. Please enjoy this week’s collection of interesting and entertaining links. Brew a fresh cup of coffee, find a comfortable place, and relax.

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Photos (foreground and background): Charles Ross; Mashup and tweaks by yours truly.

Photos (foreground and background): Charles Ross; Mashup and tweaks by yours truly.

Star Axis is a Profound Meditation on the Sky »

In 2013, Ross Andersen of Aeon Magazine visited and wrote about Star Axis, a (literally) monumental work of land art in the New Mexico desert. The artist behind the massive project, a 77-year-old sculptor named Charles Ross, calls it a “naked eye observatory”.

All I can say is: My goodness, this piece. This piece. I highlighted so many passages from it in Instapaper, I hardly know which ones to quote. I’ll restrict myself to two, and then you really must go read the rest of the 8,200-word article in full.

This one describes the nature of the observatory directly:

The staircase at Star Axis takes you on a perceptual journey through the skies of the great year. Each of its 163 steps gives you a vision of Polaris that corresponds to a specific point in the cycle of precession. As you ascend, you see the star framed in an increasingly larger circle of sky, a circle that represents its widening orbit around Earth’s extended axis. The circle is smallest near the bottom steps, the steps that represent the present, because the star’s current orbit stays tight around the celestial pole. But as you move up and out of the present, it grows, showing you Polaris’s larger paths around the sky’s stationary centre. On the top stair, you come right to the edge of the tunnel’s opening, where you have a huge, round view of the northern heavens. Trace that big circle of sky with your eye, and you see the orbit of Polaris at its furthest remove from the celestial pole. You see it as it looked in 11,000BC, when North America’s glaciers were melting, and how it will look again, some 13,000 years from now.

And this one is one of many excellent passages throughout the piece offering a nugget of existenialism for you to digest:

To look at the sky is to be reminded that oceans of space and time lie beyond the reach of our minds. Who can help but feel small under it? By showing us the true scope of the unknown, the sky forces us to confront the mysterious nature of human experience. It puts us face to face with the most basic of truths — that we are all, in some sense, existentially adrift.

This is the sort of thing I love contemplating, as my close friends and family will know. Apologies if I’m gushing about the article too much, but Andersen was truly speaking my language when he wrote it.

Photos: Sebastian Kim

Photos: Sebastian Kim

Stephen Colbert on Making The Late Show His Own »

In this GQ cover story by Joel Lovell, Stephen Colbert proves that he is one of the most thoughtful minds in broadcasting today:

The question that has been hanging over the entire Late Show staff since last December, when Colbert put to rest the righteous blowhard he’d played for the past nine years, was: Who will he be now that he’s no longer in character? How will his style change—and his opinions be expressed—if he’s not delivering his jokes through an imbecile’s mouth? When you’re speaking to a huge swath of America each night, can you still carry a knife?


The central tension in his life, he said, is between being a “reasonably friendly, good-at-a-cocktail-party guy” and walking around the world feeling like he’s not quite a part of it. “I’m a very uncomfortable person,” he said. “I really like people, and I also don’t always know what to do with them.… I have always had an eclectic roster of friends, but there’s something about my work that speaks to a deep discomfort with being in society.”

The Late Show is in good hands.

The Scientific Guide to Napping »

Joseph Stromberg of Vox lays out the methods and benefits of napping in today’s productivity-obsessed world. I of course was drawn to this tidbit about so-called “coffee naps”:

5) Optional: Drink some coffee first. It sounds crazy, but the coffee nap is very much a real thing. Quickly downing a cup of coffee (or other caffeinated beverage) and then napping for 20 minutes or less can have some surprising benefits.

The reason is that it takes around 20 minutes for caffeine to move through your gastrointestinal tract and your bloodstream, to enter your brain. What’s more, caffeine makes you feel more energetic by displacing a chemical called adenosine, which produces a feeling of tiredness — and sleep naturally clears adenosine from your brain.

That means when you wake up after 20 minutes and the caffeine arrives, it has less adenosine to compete with, amplifying the effect of the caffeine. A few different studies have shown that people who take coffee naps are more alert and perform better on memory tests than people who drink coffee or take a nap alone.

Studies on the benefits of napping are nothing new of course, but we adults tend to forget how awesome they can be. Some countries are way ahead of the curve compared to the US. We should fix that.

I’ve long said that some enterprising company should open up “rent-a-nap stores” that offer something like short-term hotel rooms. You’d pay a small fee, go into a nice quiet room with a comfy bed, get an afternoon nap, then head out to finish your day with gusto. Turns out, this is a thing in Japan.

Edit: I just discovered a service/app called Breather that lets you do the very thing I suggested above, right here in the US. They don’t operate in my hometown of Oklahoma City, but it’s nice knowing someone out there is running with the idea.

The Ethics of Modern Ad-Blocking »

I know, I know, I’m late (in internet terms) linking to this. Last week I got caught up in a little climate change doom-and-gloom, so it got saved for today’s Quality Linkage instead.

Anyway. Marco Arment took a look at the issue of ad-blocking vs. publishers’ needs (or rather, their advertising behavior), and found the latter wanting:

People often argue that running ad-blocking software is violating an implied contract between the reader and the publisher: the publisher offers the page content to the reader for free, in exchange for the reader seeing the publisher’s ads. And that’s a nice, simple theory, but it’s a blurry line in reality.

I figured Marco would get a lot of pushback for this one. The fact he received almost none is a clear sign things need to change in the world of web ads. Something is eventually going to give.

In a World Without Money and Advertising, Where Do the Artists Go? »

A few day’s before Marco’s piece, James Thomson — developer of the popular PCalc app for Mac and iOS — published an article on iMore arguing that publishers are in a tough spot when it comes to advertising:

As somebody who makes a living from selling his own intellectual property in the form of apps, these sort of wild fever dreams keep me up at night. I live in fear of the streaming model being applied to software and only making a few pennies every time my apps are launched, or of rogue app stores “selling” my software to unsuspecting consumers, and me making nothing at all. For now, I do still make a good living developing apps, but it’s getting harder every year. I am constantly aware that I live in a bubble of good fortune that could burst at any minute as the market shifts direction.

It bears repeating: There’s no easy solution to this problem, other than readers finally deciding that keeping quality publishers in business is worth handing over their hard-earned money.

Photo: Leah Nash, The New York Times

Photo: Leah Nash, The New York Times

A Design Guru’s Work Lair »

Steven Kurutz of The New York Times did a short interview with designer Aaron Draplin about his workspace. As usual, the guy is a treasure trove of quotes:

What do you love about this space? There are no rules. My pants were off before you got here. It’s about if you want to be comfortable, be comfortable. Really, it’s a clubhouse. This is not an office that you go to because you’re just trying to get a paycheck. This is where I get to get away with it. That’s the truth.

Be sure to view the photo slideshow. Also, go back and watch the Aaron Draplin Designs a Logo video from last December. Still great.

Photo: Lin Yi

Photo: Lin Yi

Ladder of Fire »

As covered by Jeff Hamada of Booooooom (what a website name) and later by Christopher Jobson at Colossal, Chinese artist Cai Guo­-Qiang’s recently used a huge balloon to lift a 500-meter long ladder covered in fireworks into the air, which was then ignited to awesome effect. It looks like the fiery ladder is actually building itself into the sky.

Watch the video:

Guo­-Qiang has pursued this idea for 21 years, finally getting it right on the third attempt and just in time for his grandmother’s 100th birthday. How sweet is that?

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Got any suggestions for articles, videos, stories, photographs, and any other links you think we should be posting in our weekly Quality Linkage? Please do let us know on Twitter.