In this technology leaning edition of Align Center, we look at small town business, a poem about trees, and an analysis of gender roles in fiction. Then we have an insightful observation from Google Design and a story from Canada’s dark history for the long read. Listen to a confession from an accidental voyeur, and then find out what I’m digging of late.
◦ selected words
Saving Small Town Businesses When Owners Retire
In 1985, Doug Funk purchased a pharmacy in Concordia, Kansas, a town of 5,000. And for 30 years, business was good, with the business employing a dozen people at it’s peak. But as retirement approached, Funk struggled to get get a fair offer on the business. Not only would it be unsatisfying financially for him, but the community would lose out on a vital business. Then Funk heard about RedTire, a non-traditional business broker offering a free service to help match businesses with prospective owners willing to move to small towns. It could be a model for rural areas everywhere.
yesmagazine.org (5min read)
An Elegy for Trees
The way trees “slowly and quietly cycle through the seasons ‘as though nothing had happened’ while our individual and collective lives whirl madly around them.” As Spring settles in, enjoy this short post worthy of contemplation, followed by a poem from Pulitzer winning poet W.S. Merwin
onbeing.org (2min read)
The Superfood Gold Rush
New health foods boasting “sweetened with monk fruit” or “enhanced with moringa” are being released so often, it’s causing a visceral reaction in me at every mention of “superfood”. Yes, many foods considered “super” have crept their way into my pantry, but one I’m surprised has been slower to catch on in the bigger world is the açai berry. Brazilians and Hawaiian’s have been enjoying açai bowls for much longer than that new poke shop downtown has been open, so why hasn’t this blueberry-like crop caught fire the way other South American exports like quinoa and maca have? It turns out it has to do with supply chain and a former football captain from Colorado.
nytimes.com (6min read)
Gender Roles and Verbs Across 100,000 Stories
Using a Wikipedia dataset of 100,000 plot summaries, a data scientist analyzed the verbs immediately after “he” and “she” to examine gender roles in fictional works. Though not meant to be a rigorous survey (plot descriptions were most likely written by males — 90% in fact according to Wikipedia’s own page on gender bias), the analysis reveals gender roles in aggressor-victim relationships and investigates whether the saying “poison is a woman’s weapon” has any weight in fiction.
varianceexplained.org (6min read)
No Such Thing As Offline
When I first installed SnapChat, I didn’t “get it”. The app didn’t even last a month before I deleted, so you’d be correct to say I never “got it”. Now I’ve added SnapChat, along with vampire movies and One Direction, to my growing list of “things young people like”. Leave it to Google to educate me about the difference between once passive apps like Facebook that treat your finger like a computer mouse, and the new breed of interactive apps like SnapChat and VSCO built entirely around gestures and direct manipulation. An eye-opening read from Google Design for non-digital natives.
design.google.com (8min read)
Fake News, Fake Wildlife Photos
Photography game farms, where captive animals are staged in natural settings at an hourly rate, have been around longer than we’d like to think. They’ve fooled magazine editors and even judges for the London Natural History Museum’s Photography of the Year award. This troubling exposé bounced around the Internet echo chambers last week. A tough read because you just don’t want it to be true.
Drawing Elaborate Cityscapes From A Brief Glance
Diagnosed with autism at age three, Stephen Wiltshire landed his first commission after his eight birthday — from the British Prime Minister. Featured in several documentaries on savants, Wiltshire has become one of Britain’s most well-known artists with a four to eight month waiting list for commissioned work. His latest project took him on a 40-minute helicopter ride over Mexico City to live sketch a panoramic view of the metropolis on a 13-foot wide canvas.
nationalgeographic.com (4min read + 1min video)
◦ listen in
Love + Radio – The Living Room Voyeur
For fifteen years, a bright, inconsequential window across the street looked into a living room obscured by curtains. But when two young, beautiful, new tenants moved in, the curtains didn’t stay, and the room was suddenly repurposed as a bedroom. With their bed pushed up against the window, the couple unknowingly shared their life and death with an accidental voyeur. See what emotions bubble up as you listen to this award-winning episode from Love + Radio.
loveandradio.org (25min podcast)
◦ eat well
Sauteed Swiss Chard (Don’t Be Afraid!!!)
The title of this recipe caught my eye — it sums up my fear every time I stroll past the tall, purple, leafy green stalks next to the kale at the market. This recipe is so simple — I’ve made swiss chard to be more difficult in my head — and it’s right up there with kale for nutrition value, as the CDC ranked the beet relative third overall in nutrition density. Fact: chard comes in three main varieties: green (Swiss), red and rainbow. All you need is garlic, lemon, crushed red peppers, salt, and one minute of prep.
◦ read slow
Birth of a Family
“I could never be white, but it seemed I wasn’t really Indian, either. Who was I?”. At the the age of three, Betty Ann Adams was taken from her mother and ushered on a plane to be raised by a new, white family in what’s now called the “Sixties Scoop” — a dark period in Canada’s history where an estimated 20,000 Indigenous children were removed from their families and placed with adoptive families adhering to “Euro-Canadian or Christian values”.
Trying to fit into a white world while being shamed for her heritage, Betty would discover she had a sister. Seeking to reunite with her mother, grandfather and siblings would lead her on a long journey back to Uranium City, her birth town and the place she could best learn about herself. Her struggle as an outsider makes you pause the next time you hear the inadequate word, “tolerance”.
Produced by The National Film Board of Canada, the documentary movie Birth of a Family is showing this week and is available for screenings.
thestarphoenix.com (19min read)
◦ current read
Stories of Your Life and Others
I first discovered Ted Chiang after seeing “The Arrival”, the captivating film directed by Quebec native Denis Villeneuve, director of this fall’s Blade Runner 2049 (trailer released yesterday) and Dune (yes, THAT Dune!). Chiang’s exquisitely crafted stories combine science, language, math, technology, religion and dystopian futurism to create genre-crossing stories reminiscent of Black Mirror. With eight profoundly human stories that elicit philosophical questions, the technical writer for Microsoft (yes, he has a day job) has gifted us the best short story collection in recent memory. And don’t just take my word for it, the collection’s recognitions include three Nebula awards and a Hugo Award for best science fiction or fantasy.
Stories of Your Life and Others (281p book)
◦ dig this
What I’m digging lately:
- Dr. Bronner’s $5M Donation to Psychedelic Research – The donation to MAPS by the family-run U.S. soap maker (and Burning Man regulars) is intended to push MDMA towards legalization for PTSD treatment.
- 100&Change – The MacArthur Foundation’s eight finalists for a $100 million grant to solve the world’s biggest social problems.
- Tonight Show-botics – Watch Jimmy Fallon interact with a snake-bot, a humanoid named Sophia, and biomimicry butterflies (8min). Fascinating, weird, disturbing.
- The Great Language Game – How well can you recognize the world’s languages?
- Fidget Spinner: A Timeline – How the latest toy craze came to be.
- PostSecret Saves 1-800-SUICIDE – Ten years ago, one of the Internet’s simplest, most human sites, saved a national resource.
◦ humble thought
“I think the value of beauty and inspiration is very much underrated, no question. But I want to be clear: I’m not trying to be anyone’s savior… I’m just trying to think about the future and not be sad.” — Elon Musk at TED2017
Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Leonardo Da Vinci. Could you imagine being alive in the times of the greatest inventors in history?
Well you are, so pay attention.
Elon Musk, the South African-Canadian with a bachelor’s degree in physics and economics, left a PhD program at Stanford after two days to begin his entrepreneurial life with his brother. He (and many smart people he hired) would go on to challenge the most entrenched, regulated industries.
In chronological order:
- Financial industry (PayPal)
- Space (SpaceX) – May 15 launch next!
- Automotive industry (Tesla)
- Renewable energy (SolarCity)
- High-Speed Transportation (Hyperloop and The Boring Company)
Oh, and Musk created OpenAI, a non-profit artificial intelligence company. Then last month he announced Neuralink, a neurotechnology startup with the modest goal to integrate the human brain with said AI. (There’s a great explanation over at WaitButWhy), a worthy 2 hour read).
In a live interview at last week’s TED2017 in Vancouver, we get a better understand on the WHY. Inter-planetary travel is a controversial topic — why spend time, money and effort going to Mars when there is so much suffering in the world (which this week’s dig, 100&Change, takes on in a different way). And this is what Chris Anderson, TED’s head curator, confronts Elon with in this excerpt from the end of the interview:
Chris: “People want to position this as an either or, that there are so many desperate things happening on the planet now from climate to poverty to, you know, you pick your issue. And this feels like a distraction. You shouldn’t be thinking about this. You should be solving what’s here and now. And to be fair, you’ve done a fair old bit to actually do that with your work on sustainable energy. But why not just do that?”
Elon Musk: “I look at the future from the standpoint of probabilities. It’s like a branching stream of probabilities, and there are actions that we can take that affect those probabilities or that accelerate one thing or slow down another thing. I may introduce something new to the probability stream. Sustainable energy will happen no matter what. If there was no Tesla, if Tesla never existed, it would have to happen out of necessity. It’s tautological. If you don’t have sustainable energy, it means you have unsustainable energy. Eventually you will run out, and the laws of economics will drive civilization towards sustainable energy, inevitably. The fundamental value of a company like Tesla is the degree to which it accelerates the advent of sustainable energy, faster than it would otherwise occur.” See the full interview on TED.com (40min)
But how does he do it? Or better, how does he KEEP doing it? Musk is a self-taught engineer with no aerospace background, and is taking some of the biggest risks in the business world. Asking a SpaceX Founding Member how does one even begin, and he responds: “What I found from working with Elon is that he starts by defining a goal and he puts a lot of effort into understanding what that goal is and why it is a good and valid goal… Once he has a goal, his next step is to learn as much about the topic at hand as possible from as many sources as possible.” (via Jim Cantrell on Quora)
Yes, those pesky goals again. Time to revisit my annual goal planning. What are your most recent goals? I’d love to hear them!