I’m excited to share some fantastic writing and art in this edition of Align Center. Read selections on sci-fi dystopias, tech, design, and building a better world, and learn about the fascinating and corrupt world of science journals that has all the makings of a documentary feature. But if you can only read one article this month, slowly take in the long read, a masterfully illustrated reflection on travel, tea and making a home.
◦ selected words
Science Fiction Visionaries Working Towards A Better Future
With eerie parallels to our times, dystopian classics have returned to best-seller lists, and some like The Handmaid’s Tale even inspiring protests around the world. 64 top sci-fi writers and film-makers were chosen for an ambitious new project to advise XPRIZE, the non-profit known for their $10M competition to spur development of manned spacecraft, in the “creation of digital ‘futures’ roadmaps across a variety of domains [and] identify the ideal catalysts, drivers and mechanisms—including potential XPRIZE competitions—to overcome grand challenges and achieve a preferred future state.” Members of the group, including Margaret Atwood, Darren Aronofsky, and Neil Gaiman, will focus on positive change in the real world. You don’t have to be a sci-fi fan to appreciate that. slate.com (12min read)
To Create Community, Create Discomfort
Marketing guru Seth Godin’s brief take on what it takes to create positive change in your community. You’re going to run into resistance, no matter how good-hearted the idea is because change is uncomfortable. sethgodin.typepad.com (1min read)
The Unintended Consequences of Tech
“I wake up in cold sweats every so often thinking, what did we bring to the world?” regrets Tony Fadell, one of the inventors of the iPod, iPhone, and founder of Nest, speaking at The Design Museum in London. Most of the devices we use daily were designed by young males in Silicon Valley for individuals, rather than the community. As technologists grow older, some are witnessing the influence of these design choices on their children, having them rethink their priorities as the rate of technological progress accelerates. fastcodesign.com (4min read)
The Nike Designer Starting a Sustainable Revolution
The footwear industry has been slow to grasp the sustainability movement, but as consumers demand products that align with their values (just look at the success of TOMS), the pressure is mounting for companies to have a lower environmental impact. 40% of a shoe’s carbon footprint is from shipping, which Arthur Huang, CEO of design firm Miniwiz, is looking to change. His goal is to start a packaging revolution through “anti-disposability”, one shoebox at a time. esquire.com (5min read)
$100M Study on Alcohol’s Benefits Begins, With A Catch
We’ve all seen the headlines, and heard sayings like “a glass a day keeps the doctor away”. One week it’s great for you, then another news article will claim a recent study finds the opposite. Now the National Institutes of Health is starting the largest ever clinical trial, with a $100M budget to recruit 8,000 volunteers in an attempt to end the debate. But it’s not so simple, as the majority of the funds are from big names in the alcohol industry. A piece of excellent journalism that shines a light on the conflicts of interest behind the headlines, and ties into this edition’s superb long read. nytimes.com (10min read)
◦ listen in
The Highly Profitable, Crooked World of Scientific Publishing
Despite total global revenues greater than the recording industry’s, the big business of scientific publishing has so far managed to keep a low profile outside of academia and survived after being forecasted as “The Internet’s First Victim”. The Guardian dug deep into the past to uncover the one company dominating the industry, it’s oversized influence on science, and the key people that got us here. A global story about lavish parties, monopolies, broken incentives, and a prediction for the future. Long form journalism at its best.
theguardian.com (31min read) or (44min spoken podcast)
How I Built This: Whole Foods Market
This past May, NPR sat down with the last remaining founder of Whole Foods to tell the story of the natural foods grocer. An activist and vegan, John Mackey talks about the beginnings of the first store in Austin, named “SaferWay”, growing a purpose-driven company, and foreshadows the recent sale. With quotes like “venture capitalists are like hitchhikers with credit cards”, this is a fascinating peek into the mind behind the largest seller of organic foods in the United States. (Note: I meant to post this last week with the Amazon news, but it got lost in my Pocket app.)
NPR’s How I Built This (47min podcast)
◦ eat well
The Ultimate Road Trip Cracker
After two weeks living out of a van, I kept going back to one staple for nourishment — the versatile Wasa cracker. At home, I often top it with slices of tomato, avocado and salt and pepper, but it’s a blank slate! Add anything you like — hummus, cheese, peanut butter and apples — you can turn this into a meal with ease. It has 60 calories per cracker, costs $3 a box and keeps well even in a hot car (or backpack) for hours. Fancier ideas in the link. thekitchn.com’s 10 Easy Ways to Turn a Wasa Cracker Into Lunch
◦ read slow
Home is a Cup of Tea
Sometimes a piece of art comes along that strikes a chord with it’s beauty and knowingness that you want everyone to read it, now. With journeys to India, a remote yurt in Western Canada, and Lake Atitlan in Guatemala (one of my favorite places), sketch artist and storyteller Candace Rose Rardon has done just that with this Longreads.com reader-funded illustrated story that asks, what makes a place a home? For backpackers, travelers, or anyone who has called more than one place home, take this one slow, with a pot of tea.
longreads.com (25min illustrated read)
◦ current read
The Course of Love
“Love is something that we need to learn.” says Alain de Botton, creator of The School of Life. Taking us from the excitement and infatuations of early relationships to the muddled cohabitating stage, and finally onto the freedom and insights of maturity, his most recent book explores the realities of long-term relationships and what is required to maintain them. Told through the relationship between a young couple, de Botton’s sprinkles anecdotes and observations throughout the story are filled with wisdom and lessons we can all learn from if we are to love.
The Course of Love by Alain de Botton (240p book)
◦ dig this
What I’m digging lately:
- Moment Catchers – From our long read, a sketch artist connecting to the world through art. Full of creative resources!
- What Do 50 Million Drawings Look Like? – 15 million people contributed to Google’s open source drawing project.
- Extraordinary Routines – Finding the extraordinary in the ordinary, an interview project illuminating the everyday lives of creatives.
- The Healthy Behavior Data Challenge – Prize competition to better understand public health via open data. Entries due July 31.
- Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color – A blues rock rediscovery, and Grammy’s Best Alternative Album of 2016. Full album on YouTube.
◦ humble thought
“Art is an act of resistance.” – Chuck Wendig on staying motivated in a shitshow world (5min read)
After soaking up the Gaspé Peninsula with my partner in our new/old van, I can happily report we’ve only mosquito bites and a run-down battery to complain about. During the trip, we made good use of the Parks Canada Discovery Pass (free this year for Canada’s 150th), visiting multiple parks like the stunning Forillon National Park. Located at the base of the Saint Lawrence River at the easternmost point of the Gaspé Peninsula, the cape is a steep landscape of red rocks jutting out of the ocean and is home to moose, a nesting area for thousands of northern gannets (white seabirds), and little penguins! Yes, my first time seeing penguins in the wild!
While hiking in Forillon, I learned we were on part of the 3058km (1900mi) International Appalachian Trail called the GR-A1, the first Grande Randonnée (GR, or “Great Hike”) in America (A-1). GR is a standard of long-distance trails in Western Europe, the most famous being GR-65, the Camino de Santiago. It’s funny to look back ten years when I wasn’t eager in the least to go on a hike — I’d actually think, “What’s the point? You can bike or run faster!” But a lot has changed since then (topic for a future essay), and now I find myself invigorated by the challenge, rejuvenated by the views, and restored by the calm that can be found in the long walks amidst trees and mountain air in these remote places.And I’m already looking forward to my next Grande Randonnée, after I stretch out these tight IT bands. Suggestions, anyone?