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.
A week and a half ago, just days before the end of his presidency, Barack Obama was interviewed by New York Times book critic Michiko Kakutani about his reading habits, and how books not only shaped his worldview, but provided companionship in what can be a terribly isolating job:
Mr. Obama’s long view of history and the optimism (combined with a stirring reminder of the hard work required by democracy) that he articulated in his farewell speech last week are part of a hard-won faith, grounded in his reading, in his knowledge of history (and its unexpected zigs and zags), and his embrace of artists like Shakespeare who saw the human situation entire: its follies, cruelties and mad blunders, but also its resilience, decencies and acts of grace. The playwright’s tragedies, he says, have been “foundational for me in understanding how certain patterns repeat themselves and play themselves out between human beings.”
- On the topic of Obama’s reading habits, Entertainment Weekly compiled a list of every book he recommended during his presidency.
- And speaking of interviews with Obama, the last one he gave as a president happened on this episode [Overcast link] of the Pod Save America podcast, which is hosted by four of Obama’s former aides.
[I would’ve put this in last week’s linkage column, but it all happened a day after the fact. —Ed.]
Last Saturday, the Women’s March was held in worldwide protest of Donald Trump’s inauguration and in support of women’s rights. It was likely the largest demonstration in US history and certainly drew a lot of participation around the globe, with an estimated 4.8 million people joining the movement that day, even in Antarctica. Incredible.
In this gallery, The New York Times share an astounding collection of photos taken on every continent during the march. Humanity can be pretty awesome.
I know I’m linking to NYT a lot in today’s linkage column, but I can’t help myself. I discovered this next one — which is about the art of intentionally burning food — via their “Cooking” newsletter; here’s Sam Sifton from that dispatch with a better description than I could write (although I did take some editing liberties):
Good morning. Tejal Rao has a thrilling new article in The Times today about the pleasures of burning your food (up to a point, anyway) to reveal new and exciting flavors that you might otherwise never taste. It is accompanied by a fascinating recipe for toast soup that is built on bread that is, in Tejal’s words, “so diligently carbonized that your average toast prude might be tempted to carry it to the sink and scrape it clean with a knife. (Resist, please.)”
Growing up, my dad was always the one who’d claim the burnt garlic bread whenever we made spaghetti. I thought it was super gross at the time, but as I get older, I’ve somewhat started to see the appeal.
Still, don’t ever hand me a well-done, charred-to-a-crisp steak. That’s a crime against food.
If I could get into the routine of setting aside my laptop and phone for nugget of time each day to slow down, focus on just one thing and read, that would be success in my book (see what I did there?). No more just turning the phone screen on just to see if I happened to have missed a push notification or important email.
Reading forces you to go one step further and not even let your mind wander a bit. If it does, you’re punished by having to read the paragraph or page over again to understand what’s happening.
In just the last few weeks of reading regularly, I’ve seen how every reading session calms me down; a feeling similar to that after a short meditation session (another habit I wasn’t good at keeping). Calm and relaxed.
At the end he lists books he’s finished and ones he intends to read/finish next. There are some good ones on the list, some of which I’ve been intending to read myself.
Kate Sierzputowski of Colossal shares a few paintings by artist Josh Keyes, which depict layers of graffiti being tagged on unusual objects like a space shuttle, a whale’s tail, and a melting iceberg:
“Are there things and places that graffiti should not be?” asked Keyes to Colossal. “Who is to say what surface is to be kept graffiti clean? My personal concern is that this will be a reality some day and speaks to a larger issue of our relationship with the natural world. The satellite and space graffiti hints that even if we colonize other worlds, what mark will we leave? No matter where we go there is evidence of our presence.”
Interesting to think about.
Let’s end this week’s linkage with a bit of math nerdery. Above is an interesting gif I saw on Reddit the other day — taken from 17:57 of this video — which shows Michael “Vsauce” Stevens and Adam Savage of Mythbusters testing the brachistochrone curve, i.e. the curve of quickest descent.
Notice how the object on the curved line in the center travels way faster than the one on the straight line above. Weird, huh?
Interestingly, the Brachistochrone curve (curve of quickest descent) is also the Tautochrone curve (curve of same descent). A ball placed anywhere along this curve (regardless of its distance to the bottom) will take the exact same amount of time to reach the bottom. I always found this to be awesome when i learned about it in differential equations. Plus the whole story about how Newton anonymously published the answer to this problem is kinda romantic.
On Easter, the challenge period had expired. All together, Johann had received five solutions. There was his own and the one from Leibniz. His brother Jakob came through (perhaps to Johann’s dismay) with a third, and the Marquis de l’Hospital added a fourth. Finally, there was a submission bearing an English postmark. Opening it, Johann found the solution correct, although anonymous. He clearly had met his match in the person of Isaac Newton. Although unsigned, the solution bore the unmistakable signs of supreme genius.
There is a legend — probably of dubious authenticity but nonetheless of great charm — that Johann, partially chastened, partially in awe, put down the unsigned document and knowingly remarked, “I recognize the lion by his [claw].”
And here’s a gif of the tautochrone curve effect:
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.