March 4, 2016

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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Photo: Pablo Garcia SaldañaImage used merely for symbolic purposes.

Photo: Pablo Garcia Saldaña

Image used merely for symbolic purposes.

“The Old Normal is Gone”: February (2016) Shatters Global Temperature Records »

Eric Holthaus of Slate, on the disheartening news that we have already breached the dreaded “2°C above normal” mark for the first time in recorded history, and much sooner than anticipated:

It also means that for many parts of the planet, there basically wasn’t a winter. Parts of the Arctic were more than 16 degrees Celsius (29 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than “normal” for the month of February, bringing them a few degrees above freezing, on par with typical June levels, in what is typically the coldest month of the year. In the United States, the winter was record-warm in cities coast to coast. In Europe and Asia, dozens of countries set or tied their all-time temperature records for February. In the tropics, the record-warmth is prolonging the longest-lasting coral bleaching episode ever seen.

That line — “there basically wasn’t a winter” — rang so true for me, and I imagine it’s only going to get worse.

Not actual footage, obviously.

Not actual footage, obviously.

After the Big One »

Remember Kathryn Schulz’s crazy New Yorker article last summer about the earthquake that will devastate Seattle (and the followup article on staying safe during that quake)?

Well, the folks at Motherboard, inspired by that piece, have put together an intense five-part “future fiction” reporting saga about what, precisely, may happen after the Big One. In the series’ introductory post, Adam Rothstein lays out the basic story:

The story begins like this, with an entirely feasible earthquake scenario, and continues through what would happen as a result, drawn from all the science, records, and emergency response materials available:

On a Thursday in April, at 11:44AM, there is a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake, epicentered fifty miles off the coast of Newport, Oregon. The quake has a magnitude of 9.0 Mw, is felt as far south as Northern California, and as far north as British Columbia. In the Portland Metro area, this is felt as a “Strong” VI intensity quake, on the Modified Mercalli Intensity scale. Over the course of five minutes, one piece of the earth’s armor grinds underneath another, and the reverberation of this tectonic motion project outwards for hundreds of miles through the core of a human culture living above it.

May we escape this nightmare together, in one way or another.

Here’s an excerpt from part one (bold emphasis mine):

At 11:46AM, two minutes into the earthquake, the soil on the steep eastern slope of the West Hills, wet and heavy after a recent week of spring rain, comes loose and flows downhill. What was once solid ground becomes liquid, creating a wave of mud and debris, folding buildings over like dominos between West Burnside and SW Jefferson. Nearly everything west of W. 18th Avenue is destroyed as the city right off the mountainside. This single massive landslide is responsible for the vast majority of immediate deaths.


After what seems to be an eternity for those living it, the earth finally stills at 11:49 AM.

By the time that the five minutes have elapsed, Portlanders find themselves transported to an entirely different city. The roads that they know, the buses and trains, the bridges and freeways, and even the buildings in which they spend their days may still exist, but they also might not. The only way to begin to navigate this new city is to explore its dangerous, groaning, smoking terrain.

It’s cliché to call this series terrifying (although I do commend them for their excellent work putting this together), but man. I do not want to be anywhere near the Pacific NW when this earthquake hits.

Hell and High Water »

I guess this week’s column is full of potential horrors. Here’s an interactive one by Neena Satija and Kiah Collier of The Texas Tribune, along with Al Shaw and Jeff Larson of ProPublica, about how Houston, TX — the fourth-largest city in the US — is overdue to be hit by a massive hurricane. The effects will be devastating:

Still, scientists say, Houston’s perfect storm is coming — and it’s not a matter of if but when. The city has dodged it for decades, but the likelihood it will happen in any given year is nothing to scoff at; it’s much higher than your chance of dying in a car crash or in a firearm assault, and 2,400 times as high as your chance of being struck by lightning.

If a storm hits the region in the right spot, “it’s going to kill America’s economy,” said Pete Olson, a Republican congressman from Sugar Land, a Houston suburb.


Houston’s perfect storm would virtually wipe out the Clear Lake area, home to some of the fastest-growing communities in the United States and to the Johnson Space Center, the headquarters for NASA’s human spaceflight operation. Hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses there would be severely flooded.

You’d think measures have been taken to minimize losses to life and everything else at risk, but as it turns out, nope:

“We’re sitting ducks. We’ve done nothing.” said Phil Bedient, an engineering professor at Rice University and co-director of the Storm Surge Prediction, Education, and Evacuation from Disasters (SSPEED) Center. “We’ve done nothing to shore up the coastline, to add resiliency … to do anything.”

A Guide to Being a Podcast Guest »

Whew, let’s shift our attention away from the apocalyptic for a moment, shall we?

On a much lighter note, Antony Johnston of the Unjustly Maligned podcast put together this cool little guide to something many folks never think about ahead of time: being a guest on other peoples’ podcasts:

There are many guides and how-tos out there for people who want to make podcasts. But what if someone’s invited you to be on a podcast, and you don’t know what you’re supposed to do?

Don’t worry. This page is designed to help guests like you, and that’s why the show host has sent you here. We’ll make sure you’re ready for your appearance, and show you how to record your “end” of the conversation so that you sound great.

The guide is available for download in PDF form if you need it.



Boys Could Enjoy Stories About Girls, and Vice Versa — If Only We’d Let Them »

Robin Stevens, author of the A Murder Most Unladylike series, writing for The Guardian about the importance of letting children read books with lead characters of the opposite gender:

Ever since my first book was published, adults have been asking me whether my books can be read by boys, or whether they are exclusively for girls. On the face of it, this question is simply bewildering. Why should the gender of my detectives affect who can read them? It’s like suggesting that men shouldn’t read Miss Marple or women shouldn’t read Sherlock Holmes. About isn’t the same as for — we should never limit readers to books featuring characters identical to themselves. Part of the greatest joy of reading is in stepping into the mind of someone entirely other, and experiencing the world through their eyes. As a child, I was Dennis the Menace or Just William as often as I was Matilda or Sophie, and I think I’m a more compassionate, more imaginative adult because of it.

Couldn’t agree more. With our 4yo son, my wife and I never treat anything — TV shows, toys, etc — as “for boys” or “for girls”. Some days he wants to play with trucks and Transformers, and other days he likes pretending to cook or being “daddy” to a doll.

Likewise, when we pick out books from the library, we never choose based on the gender of the main character. It’s not even remotely a factor. A book is either good/entertaining or it isn’t; there’s no need to arbitrarily limit a kid’s imagination to experiences and viewpoints similar to his own, and in fact we feel it’s our job as parents to expose him to those sorts of things.

Too Sensitive »

Sara Wachter-Boettcher, author of Content Everywhere and co-author of Design for Real Life, writes about the ways UX designers can better include people (other than straight white men) in their interfaces:

Comments like these come up whenever I talk about making interfaces kinder to users, and the details never change. It’s always men, they’re always white, and their complaint is always the same: that caring about how our interfaces make someone feel is a waste of time. That we should have more important things to worry about.

I wonder, how many of those men — men who call themselves designers, developers, web strategists, whathaveyou — have also spent endless hours moving little boxes around just so in CSS. Shaving a few KB off a page to speed up load time. Obsessing over type, or color, or database structure, or any of the thousand details in order to make interfaces that work better.

But somehow, you make it about people who aren’t like them, people who have feelings, and suddenly, it’s all a waste of time.

Wintergatan’s Marble Machine »

This hand-cranked music instrument, which uses 2000 marbles (and a lot of interaction from whoever’s playing it) to play a song consisting of multiple instrument parts — including vibraphone, drums, cymbals, and even bass guitar — is part Dr. Seuss, part Rube Goldberg, and all awesome.

It was built by Martin Molin of the Swedish band Wintergatan over the course of 14 months, and is honestly one of the coolest examples of musical engineering I’ve ever seen.

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