Written by

Chris Gonzales


Yuri Beletsky

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: Liam Young, Unknown Fields

Photo: Liam Young, Unknown Fields

The Dystopian Lake Filled by the World’s Tech Lust »

While visiting the city of Baotou in Mongolia, Tim Maughan of BBC Future discovered the existence of a toxic, nightmarish lake (note the article’s URL slug) created by our thirst for smartphones, consumer gadgets and even “green” tech:

We reached the shore, and looked across the lake. I’d seen some photos before I left for Inner Mongolia, but nothing prepared me for the sight. It’s a truly alien environment, dystopian and horrifying. The thought that it is man-made depressed and terrified me, as did the realisation that this was the byproduct not just of the consumer electronics in my pocket, but also green technologies like wind turbines and electric cars that we get so smugly excited about in the West. Unsure of quite how to react, I take photos and shoot video on my cerium polished iPhone.

I’ve been on vacation this week and haven’t taken the time to watch yesterday’s Apple keynote or read up on whatever was announced there. After reading this BBC piece from April, I’m not sure I even want to.

Photo: Richard du Toit/Minden Pictures/Corbis

Photo: Richard du Toit/Minden Pictures/Corbis

The 1,300 Bird Species Facing Extinction Signal Threats to Human Health »

Alanna Mitchell, National Geographic:

Birds are the planet’s superheroes, built for survival.

The ice of Antarctica doesn’t faze them. Nor does the heat of the tropics. They thrive in the desert, in swamps, on the open ocean, on sheer rock faces, on treeless tundra, atop airless mountaintops, and burrowed into barren soil.

Some fly nonstop for days on end. With just the feathers on their backs, they crisscross the hemisphere, dodging hurricanes and predators along the way, arriving unerringly at a precise spot, year after year.

They have penetrated nearly every ecosystem on Earth and then tailored their own size, habits, and colors to each one, pollinating, dispersing seeds, controlling bugs, cleaning up carrion, and fertilizing plants.

But for all their superhero powers, birds are in trouble.

Man, today’s linkage column is a bummer so far. But, in my view, these are things people should know about. All the environmental disasters we’re creating will come back to bite us; it’s not a question of if, but when. I do not look forward to the day when I have to explain to my son what my generation is doing to the planet, which his generation and the following one will feel the full brunt of.

And yet, I still hold out hope that we will find achievable solutions to such problems. If by sharing these stories with a wider audience leads to some small but positive action being taken, then I am satisfied. What can you do in your life that could help? Do some research this weekend, and a healthy amount of soul-searching for good measure.

[Not upgrading your devices every year (or even two) would be a fine place to start. Not enough to effect the sort of change needed, but we all have to start somewhere. —Ed.]

Photo: Damon Winter, The New York Times

Photo: Damon Winter, The New York Times

Stephen Colbert, the Late Night Hope »

Let’s change gears to something a little…sunnier. Dave Itzkoff of The New York Times recently profiled Stephen Colbert in the days leading up to the premier of the new Late Show

But once that curtain goes up, Mr. Colbert will be tested on every talent he has developed in a performing career of more than 25 years: not only a singular ability to deflate oversized personalities — including, when necessary, his own — but also a parallel skill set he has been developing behind the scenes, to take command of his work and assert his tastes confidently and unapologetically.

Since this article’s publication, clips from the new show have been put up on YouTube and they’re great so far:

The Strange and Beautiful World of Soviet Bus Stops »

The Guardian rounds up several of photographer Christopher Herwig’s shots of strange and fascinating Russian bus stop architecture.

Photo: New Horizons / NASA

Photo: New Horizons / NASA

New Pluto Images from NASA’s New Horizons: It’s Complicated »

From a NASA statement Thursday:

New close-up images of Pluto from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft reveal a bewildering variety of surface features that have scientists reeling because of their range and complexity.

“Pluto is showing us a diversity of landforms and complexity of processes that rival anything we’ve seen in the solar system,” said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), Boulder, Colorado. “If an artist had painted this Pluto before our flyby, I probably would have called it over the top — but that’s what is actually there.”

Stunning imagery.

Illustration: Robert Krulwich

Illustration: Robert Krulwich

Why Elephants Don’t Expode: How Nature Solves Bigness »

I never thought about it before, but thanks to this Noticing piece, I now know why large animals like elephants don’t simply self-combust from sheer metabolism:

Well, looking at an elephant and a vole, they don’t seem that different.

Both are mammals. Both are made of cells. Both live on land, eat, poop, breathe oxygen, and move about. In a gross sort of way, you might think that elephants are just really, really, really giant voles, differently shaped of course, and with bigger bones to support their massive weight, but operating on similar principles nonetheless.

But the “Lunch Puzzle” gives us pause. If a chunk of an elephant can survive on a sixteenth as much food as the same-sized chunk of a vole, something’s got to be different on the inside — deep down. But what?

Now I can’t stop thinking about exploding elephants.

@AlanWattsDaily: “Tell Us Something That Will Save Us From Ourselves” »

I’m a longtime fan of the @AlanWattsDaily Twitter account, which exists in tribute to the late writer and philosopher. This particular stream of tweets (of which I’ve linked the last one so they can be viewed on a single page) seemed worth sharing. Should give you ample writing inspiration for the weekend.

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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.