Align Center is back after an unplanned extra week break that life needed. In this edition, we have a variety of interestingness including a beautiful use of data, a skateboarding businessman, a feat in rock climbing, the return of a popular podcast, a highly recommended graphic novel, and two long-ish reads on masculinity and wellness that are sure to stir up conversation.
◦ selected words
Though the subject matter isn’t world-changing, there is much to like about this visual narrative, with techniques that could be used to tell a convincing story with data. The author masterly applies visualizations and animations by mining 55 years of Billboard’s Top 100 data, weaving a surprisingly engaging demo on data compression with a relatable topic to put a fun spotlight on repetition in modern music. 15,000 songs were analyzed to discover which artists have the least and most repetitive songs. Hint: what rhymes with “umbrella”? -ella -ella- ella…
pudding.cool (10min visual read)
Last month, a video on Instagram went viral of a larger man dressed in a corporate suit borrowing a skateboard and out of nowhere, nailing a trick called a street plant, to the cheers of young onlookers. Normally, that’s all you’d see, but the writers were intrigued. Who was this man? What’s his story? They tracked him down in the Bay Area for a candid interview, discovering a dark past and a story with more depth than the assignment first entailed. I think someone should start a “Behind the Viral Video” series…
jenkemmag.com (8min read)
If you’ve dabbled in self-improvement, particularly in the west coast, you might know of Danielle LaPorte’s fine work. The popular speaker and author has grown a loyal following, primarily through her “Desire Map” approach to creating life goals. In her new book, “White Hot Truth”, LaPorte describes the unhealthy practices that can obstruct the pursuit of self-improvement, where some people are “replacing one kind of addiction or problem for a better-looking one.” Here’s a tidy list of four common traps seekers fall into.
latimes.com (4min read)
Running a for-purpose company doesn’t mean profits have to come secondary. Often the traditional venture capital model is in direct conflict with the values of organizations trying to make an impact, but consumers are increasingly leaning towards companies that reflect their values. Yes, doing good can also be good for the bottom line.
fastcompany.com (6min read)
The climbing season has begun for us North-ers, and the boyish king of the dirtbags has secretly accomplished a historic feat — free soloing the most famous big wall — that is, climbing without a rope, harness, pre-placed gear or any safety equipment. The fearless Alex Honnald took a hair less than four hours to climb the 900m face, choosing the Free Rider route, rated a 5.13a. And if that’s not enough to get your palms sweaty, try following the annotated topo up the route’s 33 pitches.
www.nationalgeographic.com (12min read)
A few years ago, in order to keep up power needs, India announced it would triple coal production by 2020. As its economy grows, the country of 1.3 billion is also projected to add 216 million more people by 2030. But in a major reversal, India has canceled all plans for new coal plants, made possible by a drop in the price of renewable energy. Technological progress in is accelerating, and those holding on to old industries will be left behind.
nytimes.com (8min read)
◦ listen in
The most anticipated podcast is back for the third season with a two-part episode — so they can be forgiven for the long wait (ten months feels like an eternity in podcast-land). Invisibilia has consistently shone a light on “the invisible forces — thoughts, feelings, expectations, assumptions, cultural norms — that shape our lives”, with expert research and high production values. They’re calling this season a “concept album” — kicking off with a debut episode that digs into psychology, neuroscience, and anthropology — to challenge everything we thought we knew about emotions. Yes, those innate, hard-wired monkey brain reactions meant to keep us safe, fed and procreating. Well, forget all that. We’ll also learn what’s “interoception” and why it plays a critical role in emotions. The rest of the season will focus on reality, race and the self. I’m excited to see where they’ll take us and eager to learn (and unlearn) along the way.
Invisibilia on npr.org (55min + 37min podcast)
◦ eat well
I found this gem searching for a green side to accompany a huge batch of veggie chili I was slowly making my way through. Fool-proof, healthy, and everyone-friendly, needing only lemon, oil, salt and pepper, this dish can be served hot or cold in a salad or on its own.
◦ read slow
Have you ever asked yourself, why the worst people in the world are often men? In the U.S., men account for 98% of convicted rapes, 80% of all violent crimes, and are 14 times more likely to be incarcerated than women. In Canada, the story is similar, where men commit 85% of all legal offenses. They’re also much more likely to commit suicide and suffer from conditions such as depression and alcoholism, yet are far less likely to seek professional help. Triggered by a dispiriting interview with Pablo Escobar’s brother, popular blogger and author Mark Manson takes a historical look at the role masculinity plays in the world’s problems through a story of a man who seems to have lost his way long ago.
markmanson.net (20min read)
Who buys 2.2oz jars of “Brain Dust” for $55? Apparently, thousands of people. What started as a store called Moon Juice in Venice Beach, LA (where else?) has gone viral after a May 2015 feature in Elle on her daily diet of vanilla mushroom protein, cordyceps, Shilajit resin, bee pollen, reishi, maca, three shots of quinton and of course, a dose of Brain Dust. Soon, her products gained a celebrity following including another lifestyle guru, Gwyneth Paltrow. The NY Times shadows the Californian to dig a little deeper. A frustrating read for those who want to hurl when they hear the term “lifestyle guru”.
nytimes.com (21min read)
◦ current read
An autobiographical tale of two brothers growing up in snowy Wisconsin with devout Christian parents and an over-masculine father, Blankets plays out like a diary in the graphic novel 592 simple, elegantly drawn pages. The story begins with the heavier side of sibling relationships and then follows Craig into young adulthood where he falls in love at Church camp. He’s drawn into his girlfriend’s family, broken by her parent’s divorce, and a teenager caring for two mentally disabled siblings. Released in 2003, Blankets was awarded the Best Graphic Novel at the Eisner’s, the Comic industry’s equivalent of the Oscars, and Time Magazine ranked Blankets the 8th best comic of the decade.
Blankets by Craig Thompson (592p graphic novel)
◦ dig this
What I’m digging lately:
- Patreon: The Wondersmith – Imagine going for a stroll in the forest only to find an invitation hidden in the bush, leading to an experience of art and a meal of foraged goodies. I love what she’s doing, and she’s not asking for a lot.
- Portland’s Thief-Proof Bike Racks – Thieves are finding it easier to cut the racks instead of the locks. PDX does something about it.
- 80,000 Hours – A deep library of timely, curated, evidence-based advice on being your best self.
- Sneakers Made of Algae – Harvesting harmful algal blooms and injecting them into footwear.
- Twitter Science Bots – NY Times curated list of six science-themed bots tweeting about planets, maps, and daily growth of a fiddle-leaf fig.
◦ humble thought
“We’ll never solve the feminization of power until we solve the masculinity of wealth.” – Gloria Steinem
I’m addicted to podcasts. I happily queue up my latest Freakonomics and On Being episodes for offline listening on those long drives where reading would normally leave me car sick. Whether I’m listening in on the fantastic narratives by Story Corps, a calming moment from Tara Brach, the occasional interview by Tim Ferriss or thought-provoking debate by Sam Harris (the latter two in small doses), podcasts are second only to reading as my leading sources of media consumption. And I haven’t even started the much heralded S-Town, which I’m saving for an upcoming road trip to Gaspésie.
Invented in 2004, podcasts, named after Apple’s iPod music player, have never escaped their obscure state, trumped by the immediacy of photo-based social platforms and viral videos. It’s like going to the library versus watching Netflix — both can be education and engaging, but the audio-only format brings an intimacy and an added opportunity for critical thinking that is often missing from television.
I’ll boldly call 2017 the year the podcast became mainstream. It’s still in its infancy, but with apps like Breaker, Overcast (iOS) and Pocket Casts (Android) leading the way, I can see the friction around podcast discovery and sharing overtaken by the intimacy of the format.
Yes, podcasts are great and I wish more people would listen to them. Apparently so does the NYTimes, since they’ve started a podcast club. But last week while having dinner alone, I had a moment of self-realization with my ear buds plugged in, listening to the story of TOMS shoes on NPR’s How I Built This. I was at an Asian noodle bar in Richmond, so the chance for conversation was slim, but I couldn’t help but feel like I was in the near-future L.A. metro scene in Spike Jonze’s Her where Joaquin Phoenix and the other transit riders are interacting solely with their smartphone.
In The Atlantic’s piece, Podcast is the New Talk Radio (4min read), it’s argued that “technologically-enhanced journalism” was supposed to create a more enlightened public, yet we find ourselves in a world of fake news and trolls winning the Internet (8min read). Are podcasts part of the answer? I don’t know, but I have found myself tuning out far too often, so I need to be careful not to allow this medium replace others as a distraction that becomes a habit. It’s too easy to fill up downtime with consumption, whatever form it comes in since the ocean of great content is endless and only getting bigger. It’s not easy to sit in stillness, but doing things that are easy rarely gets you anywhere but the couch.
A special thanks to Anaïs for her contributions and Genevieve for trusting us with her copy of Blankets!