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Basketry Gone Wild

Kris De Decker | Low←Tech Magazine | 4th November 2021

To meet the challenges of rising sea levels, the world should look to the Dutch, who "built their country partly at the bottom of the sea". Fascine mattresses — vast hand woven platforms braided from flexible willow boughs or reeds — were in use there from at least the 17C and the modern equivalent is still "basically everywhere" in the country. It's the perfect sustainable sea defence (2,431 words)

📖: Electrify, by Saul Griffith

via Five Books | Best Climate Books of 2021

An optimistic take on combating climate change: the technical solutions are already here, we just need to get on with it. Every home will need 100% adoption of electric vehicles, heat pumps and rooftop solar; the cost ($70,000 per home) will be prohibitive, so the US government should step in. “The free market needs an invisible foot to give it a swift kick in the ass now and then” (288 pages)

You coud get not just two but five recommendations for outstanding pieces of writing every day, enough to nourish even the most curious mind. Yesterday's edition included recommended reading on a pavement Picasso who paints on bubble gum, the sad decline of cemeteries, and the residents of the Mesopotamian marshes. Why not join us?

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Caroline Crampton, Editor-In-Chief; Robert Cottrell, Founding Editor; Jodi Ettenberg, Associate Editor; Raymond Douglas, Associate Editor; Uri Bram, CEO & Publisher; Al Breach, Founding Director

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How The Maestro Got His Hands Back

Gabriella Paiella | GQ | 28th October 2021

Renowned pianist João Carlos Martins lost the ability to play altogether in 2000, when a failed surgery on one hand and a tumour in the other ended his career. Nine years later, an industrial designer had an idea for a solution: an ingenious pair of gloves that enables Martins to hit the keys accurately again. He can play once more. "It's like designing a paintbrush for Pablo Picasso" (4,298 words)

Particularly Keen On Shepherding

Musonius Rufus | Lapham's Quarterly | 3rd November 2021

Stoic philosopher of Nero's day explains why farming is an ideal complementary occupation for philosophy. It occupies the body while leaving the mind largely free to reflect. It promotes hard work, self-sufficiency, and closeness to nature, all of which are virtues in themselves. Teachers can readily accommodate pupils who may share in the farm work as well as the philosophical instruction (1,275 words)

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Caroline Crampton, Editor-In-Chief; Robert Cottrell, Founding Editor; Jodi Ettenberg, Associate Editor; Raymond Douglas, Associate Editor; Uri Bram, CEO & Publisher; Al Breach, Founding Director

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Self-Integrity And The Drowning Child

Eliezer Yudkowsky | LessWrong | 24th October 2021

Peter Singer asked whether we are bound to save a child drowning in shallow water close by. For 50 years, everybody confronted with that question replied: "Yes". The argument here is not quite for "No", but it leads to a slippery slope — "Let me think about that". If you, the observer, are wearing costly new clothes, can you take 15 seconds to strip them off before jumping in? A minute? (1,400 words)

The Autograph Collector

Ulli Lust | Popula | 17th February 2019

I don't think we have recommended a comic strip on The Browser before, but more out of habit than principle. This one held and rewarded my attention just as much as an equivalent short story might have done, so I thought, why not? See what you think. The story tells of an autograph-hunter who may or may not be a scammer. Set in Germany, and translated from a German original (70 frames)

Whither The Plain Female Protagonist?

Lucinda Rosenfeld | LitHub | 1st November 2021

The leading ladies of literature are almost universally attractive; one must look long and hard to find a plain woman in a starring role. Balzac's 1846 novel Cousin Bette might be the only 19C novel about an ugly woman. Beauty is, as Toni Morrison put it, one of the "most destructive ideas in the history of human thought", yet even present day fiction so rarely interrogates it (1,828 words)

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Did you know that the NIH awards 7 times more funding to scientists >65, than to those 35 and younger? New Science is a 501c3 nonprofit building new, well-functioning institutions of basic science. Learn more about our plans, positions & the 2022 fellowship for young scientists.

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Podcast: I Can’t Believe It’s Pink Margarine | 99% Invisible. Margarine is yellow now, like butter; but in some parts of the US and Canada it had to be dyed white or pink well into the 20th century, owing to lawsuits and lobbying by a dairy industry determined to spoil margarine's appeal as a cheap butter substitute (26m 32s)

Video: Eye Of The Tiger | YouTube | Harvard Thud. An undergraduate society dedicated to percussion plays the classic Survivor number on tuned lengths of hollow plastic tubing (2m 06s)

"To have a right to do a thing is not at all the same as to be right in doing it"
G. K. Chesterton

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Simón Bolívar: Theorist of Empire?

Peter Morgan | JHI Blog | 20th October 2021

At the same time that Bolívar was leading a campaign to expel the Spanish from his homeland, he was imagining how the British Empire might assist in the creation of an independent South America. As such, he counterintuitively "belongs with Thomas Hakluyt, Edmund Burke, and James Mill as a British imperial thinker". He was not against empire itself, merely "despotism" (1,684 words)

The Uselessness Of Useful Knowledge

Robbert Dijkgraaf | Quanta | 20th October 2021

Artificial intelligence is a development in the history of science comparable to alchemy, and that's not a bad thing. The latest self-learning algorithms are created with "the same wishful thinking and misunderstanding that the ancient alchemists had when mixing their magic potions". But this is a "necessary adolescent phase" of overconfidence that the past suggests will bear fruit in time (1,208 words)

Tongue Stuck

Irina Dumitrescu | Rumpus | 12th October 2021

On the sensation of linguistic impediment. "When I try to write in Romanian, my tongue does not feel injured. No. It feels as though my tongue were cleaving to the roof of my mouth, as if I had unthinkingly eaten two large spoonfuls of peanut butter and lost both the power to speak and the air from my lungs." The author wrote this piece in Romanian first and then translated it (2,685 words)

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Browser Interview: Byrne Hobart On Finance. Interesting throughout. For high earners, the opportunity cost of reading newsletters is higher than the financial cost of a subscription; this puts a premium on novelty, decision-relevance and concision. "Moby-Dick has a scene where Ishmael is negotiating his equity comp package (he gets 33 bps)." Meme stocks represent both earnestness and nihilism about efforts to get rich (3,960 words)

Podcast: Episode 1 | Blind Landing. Investigative series about one of the biggest controversies to date in women's gymnastics: how the vault at the 2000 Olympic Games came to be set two inches too low (25m 00s)

Video: The Drunken Boat | Shihan Ma. Contemplative short documentary about a man who sits on the South Bank in London as a "poet for hire". He types out an original poem for passersby while they wait (16m 46s)

"The true secret of happiness lies in taking a genuine interest in all details of daily life"
William Morris

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Dear reader,

I hope you've been enjoying your weekly free instalments of The Browser. Every day our editors, Robert Cottrell and Caroline Crampton, comb through hundreds of articles, podcasts, and videos in search of pieces which they believe our readers might not otherwise encounter.

In 2020 they recommended writing from 533 different publications; the majority were recommended only once. In a world of narrow ideas and echo chambers, The Browser helps our ten thousand paying readers stay interested (and interesting) every single day.

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I Collect Cashflows

Josh Brown | Reformed Broker | 5th October 2021

A way to explain the stock market to crypto and meme investors. "I collect shares of businesses. I use a certain type of non-fungible token called a stock certificate for this. It’s in digital form, living somewhere in the multiverse. People say: You’re crazy, why would you want to buy a fraction of a company you will never touch and hold in your hands? And I’m like: You just don’t understand” (1,050 words)

A Very Big Little Country

Katherine LaGrave | Afar | 13th October 2021

The micronation of Westarctica has an aristocracy, a currency (ice marks) and 2,300 citizens, none of whom are based in western Antarctica. Its ruler, His Royal Highness Travis I, Grand Duke, has worked as both a US Navy antiterrorism intelligence specialist and a recruiter for psychics. In 2015, he pivoted Westarctica from a wacky internet joke into a serious climate change non-profit (3,827 words)

Futurists Have Their Heads In The Clouds

Erik Hoel | Substack | 25th August 2021

Futurists "trend toward being sci-fi writers without the plot" and as a result tend to make bad predictions, this writer argues. "If you want to predict the future accurately, you should be an incrementalist and accept that human nature doesn’t change along most axes. Meaning that the future will look a lot like the past." There will, however, be a Martian colony by 2050, he says (4,238 words)

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Podcast: Get Some Houseplants | Just One Thing. Efficient overview of the research on whether being surrounded by indoor foliage can have health benefits, especially in relation to air quality (13m 58s)

Browser Interview: A Literal Banana on the problems with social science. Even beyond fraud and the replication crisis, the problem in social science is "using abstractions poorly." Neither surveys nor "reductive laboratory protocols" are actually capable of meaningfully measuring abstractions like trust or happiness. Study results are often seen as high status, when in fact "stories from yourself and trusted people are almost the only kind of evidence that’s real" (2,218 words)

Video: A Crewneck For Pete | Brad Howe | Vimeo | 9m 15s

So meta that it almost disappears up its own Bruce Hornsby. But if you love L.L. Bean, plaid shirts, James Taylor, New England, and men named Dad ... proceed.

"Believe nothing until it has been officially denied"
Claud Cockburn

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Castaway Cuisine

Christine Baumgarthuber | Austerity Kitchen | 3rd October 2021

Remembering Alain Bombard, a French doctor who believed that shipwrecked sailors could survive by drinking seawater so long as they did so in moderation. He tested his thesis in 1952 by sailing from Monaco to Barbados living mostly on fish, plankton and seawater. "He calculated that fish juice alone carried him through 43 days of his voyage; seawater alone through fourteen" (1,550 words)

Yesterday’s Mythologies

Ryan Ruby | New Left Review | 5th October 2021

Jonathan Franzen, hailed as the Great American Novelist, has become "the inescapable literary figure of the world’s inescapable nation". Guilty of regularly producing "prose of a very deep shade of purple", his work cannot now be separated from the publicity machine that promotes it. His latest novel is not one that America needs, but it is "exactly the one it deserves" (2,895 words)

Primate Memory

Tetsuro Matsuzawa | Inference Review | 11th October 2021

Primatologist reflects on a long career. The 1.2% DNA difference between humans and chimpanzees is most evident in our diverging capacities for memory and communication. Chimpanzees have extraordinary recall and can quickly absorb all details of a new situation, whereas humans rather evolved the ability to focus on one aspect, give it a label and share that information with a group (4,329 words)

Podcast: Corpse, Corps, Horse And Worse | 99% Invisible. Arika Okrent explains why English spelling and pronunciation lurches from the inconsistent to the incomprehensible. (30m 29s)

Video: Libertarian James Bond | Reason | YouTube | 5m 23s

"Bond is back in an explosive new film filled with action, intrigue, and a lengthy discussion of Federal Reserve monetary policy"

Interview: Chris Williamson Talks To Baiqu Gonkar

Baiqu sits down with Chris Williamson to discuss finding meaning in life, figuring out masculinity for a working-class northern man, having an existential crisis on Love Island, and cooling mattress pads. (33m16s, or read the transcript here)

"In the name of God, stop a moment, cease your work, look around you"
Leo Tolstoy

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