Written by

Chris Gonzales


Greg Rakozy

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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The Cook and the Chef: Musk’s Secret Sauce »

Tim Urban of Wait But Why has ~finally~ published the grand finale to his four-part series on Elon Musk (the first three of which I linked and excerpted here if you want a sampler of the series). Whereas the first three articles focused on why Musk is doing what he’s doing, part four covers why Musk is able to do what he’s doing.

I’m fascinated by those rare people in history who manage to dramatically change the world during their short time here, and I’ve always liked to study those people and read their biographies. Those people know something the rest of us don’t, and we can learn something valuable from them. Getting access to Elon Musk gave me what I decided was an unusual chance to get my hands on one of those people and examine them up close. If it were just Musk’s money or intelligence or ambition or good intentions that made him so capable, there would be more Elon Musks out there. No, it’s something else—what TED curator Chris Anderson called Musk’s “secret sauce”—and for me, this series became a mission to figure it out.

The good news is, after a lot of time thinking about this, reading about this, and talking to him and his staff, I think I’ve got it. What for a while was a large pile of facts, observations, and sound bites eventually began to congeal into a common theme—a trait in Musk that I believe he shares with many of the most dynamic icons in history and that separates him from almost everybody else.

You’ll want to set some time aside and really sink sink your teeth into this one, as well as the others if you haven’t already read them.

Photo: Yuki Murata

Photo: Yuki Murata

Is Sustainability Sold at Supermarkets or Farmer’s Markets? »

Louise O Fresco, President of Wageningen University and Research Centre in The Netherlands, argues for Aeon Magazine that “local and organic” is a romantic myth whose place in the world is — and maybe should — be on the decline:

Urban consumers in the US and other affluent countries might always respond to the humanity of small‑scale, traditional farming. But we must reckon with the realities of current and future food production. The belief that only small-scale, non-mechanised agriculture without the use of chemicals respects biodiversity, and that tradition is key to the future, is illusory. In reality, small-scale unfertilised farming of annual crops or unregulated grazing in the tropics are major causes of destruction of soils and forests. In reality: an ever-declining number of farmers will need to feed rapidly growing megacities.

I’m interested in this theory, though a part of me (probably the irrational part if I’m being honest) wishes it not to be true. What are your thoughts?

From Concept to Product Launch »

Jeff Sheldon of Ugmonk shares a detailed look at what it took to design, manufacture, and launch his company’s 7th Anniversary Set:

Launching a product is not a simple task. It takes months (sometimes years) of prep to turn a concept into a tangible reality. But despite all of the headaches, stress, and work behind the scenes the end result is always worth it.

In the end, this is not the one “right” way to launch a product, but I wanted to give you a detailed look at my process and share some of what I learned during this launch and over the past seven years. I’m constantly learning and looking for ways to improve each step of my process. The journey is all part of the fun.

Lots of great product mockups and photos here. Also be sure to watch his behind-the-scenes-video, Letterpress.

Play is a Thing of the Spirit »

Bernard De Koven, shares a necessary reminder on his DeepFUN blog:

Playfulness is a practice that shapes our souls. It connects us. It is an act of belief in ourselves, the vehicle whose wheels are powered by our faith in life, bringing us to places of wonder, moments of joy. It is almost the last thing to leave us before we leave all together forever.

Illustration: Randall Munroe

Illustration: Randall Munroe

The Space Doctor’s Big Idea »

Randall Munroe (of xkcd fame) explains Einstein’s (aka “the space doctor’s”) theory of special relativity using only the 1,000 most common English words:

It was the space doctor who figured out the answer. He said that if our ideas about light were right, then our ideas about distance and seconds must be wrong. He said that time doesn’t pass the same for everyone. When you go fast, he said, the world around you changes shape, and time outside starts moving slower.

The doctor came up with some numbers for how time and space must change to make the numbers for light work. With his idea, everyone would see light moving the right distance every second. This idea is what we call his special idea.

So, so good. For more like this, preorder Munroe’s upcoming book, Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words, which drops next Tuesday (November 24th, 2015).

Concept art: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Concept art: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Stanford Astronomers Observe the Birth of an Alien Planet »

Bjorn Carey, Deputy Director of Science Communications and Special Projects at Stanford University, writes about the discovery and subsequent photographing of a star system named LkCa 15 where a Jupiter-like exoplanet (dubbed “LkCa 15 b”) may be forming right now:

The planet is forming in a transition disk, a doughnut-like ring of dust and rocky debris orbiting its parent star, LkCa 15. The central clearings within transition disks are believed to be created by the formation of planets, which sweep up dust and gas from the disk as they orbit the star. Astronomers have long speculated that investigating these gaps could lead to the discovery of protoplanets, but getting a good look at these infant worlds has been challenging.

[Kate Follette, a postdoctoral researcher at Stanford] and her colleagues took a new tack, and designed an imaging instrument to look for a characteristic planet formation signature. The process by which a planet grows from a rocky or icy core to a full-fledged gas giant is incredibly energetic. As hydrogen gas falls from the disk onto the core of the protoplanet, it heats up and glows like a fluorescent light bulb, emitting a characteristic wavelength of visible light called “Hydrogen-alpha,” or H-alpha.

This video shows the satellite imagery that led to the discovery:

A Eulogy for Rdio »

Earlier this week, music-streaming service Rdio announced that it would be filing for bankruptcy and selling the scraps to Pandora. In turn, Robinson Meyer of The Atlantic mourned its death and described what made it so wonderful:

At its best, Rdio had perhaps the kindest community in online music. People left comments on albums, and, lo and behold, the writing was good and interesting. Strangers constructed playlists that pulled from artists and albums you’d never heard of, but without the performative high/low-ness that afflicts so much online music talk. […]

So of course it could not last.

Casey Newton of The Verge wrote something similar about how Rdio fell apart:

In interviews with current and former employees, a picture emerges of a company that developed an excellent product but faltered when it came to marketing and distributing it. Early as it was to the United States, Rdio was born in the shadow of Spotify, a cunning and well-financed competitor that excelled at generating buzz — and using that buzz to acquire paid subscribers. As streaming music became a playground for giants, Rdio turned to a terrestrial radio company in a last-ditch effort to grow the user base. Ultimately, executives decided that Rdio’s only future lay in becoming part of an internet-based platform — even if it meant disassembling the service they had been building for more than five years.

As someone who got into music streaming with Spotify and later switched to Beats Music (now Apple Music), I am exactly one of those whose heart Rdio never quite captured. Still, it’s sad to hear about such a great company dying.

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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.