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Video: The Autumn Train

YouTube | Kuga's Travel

Footage from the Eizan Railway in Kyoto. When the maple leaves turn, they are illuminated so that passengers can see the golden tunnel outside (1m 48s)


Beautiful Lies

Nicholas Carr | Los Angeles Review Of Books | 6th December 2021 | U

Commentary on the art of the "deepfake". The impulse to doctor photographs and fabricate text predates the machine learning technology that now enables it, but most interesting here is the central case study of a photographer who faked a whole book about the fake news industry in Macedonia to raise awareness of the disinformation problem. Trouble is, nobody could tell it was fake (2,575 words)


The Ancient Potato Of The Future

James Dinneen | The Counter | 23rd November 2021 | U

On the Four Corners potato, or Solanum jamesii. An eccentric cousin of the common potato — they are related "in somewhat the same way coyotes are related to dogs" — it now appears that it was domesticated by indigenous peoples in the deserts of the southwestern US long before white settlers arrived. Crucially for future hybrids, it keeps for up to eight years at cold temperatures (5,481 words)


Queen Of Clean

Maddy Crowell | Afar | 18th November 2021 | U

Interview with a hotel housekeeper who estimates that she has cleaned over 60,000 rooms. She is on her feet for eight hours a day and the goal is to be indispensable but invisible. The anonymity of the job appeals to her; she loves a perfectly arranged room. She aims to leave rooms "as untouched as when she last cleaned them, as if she had never even been there at all" (2,556 words)


Measuring The Earth

Thony Christie | Renaissance Mathematicus | 4th November 2021 | U

A history of land surveying since Egyptian times. But don't go away. Interesting throughout, featuring lots of ingenious mechanical devices, and fertile entwinings with the origins of geometry and astronomy as Renaissance surveyors launch their advance beyond the ideas of Euclid, developing the techniques of triangulation and trigonometry perfected and published in the mid-16th century (2,800 words)  


?: Andrew Hunter Murray On Dystopias

Sylvia Bishop | The Browser | 17th November 2021 | U

The Browser's Sylvia Bishop talks to Andrew Hunter Murray about his book The Last Day, a dystopian world in which the earth’s orbit had been disrupted and the planet moves in lock-step with the sun. "Really it’s a story about human nature in a world which is starting to change dramatically, and where nations have retreated to look after only their own citizens rather than looking outwards" (1,866 words)


Talk With The Hand!

Richard Hughes Gibson | Hedgehog Review | 15th November 2021 | U

Communicating effectively with part of the face obscured by a mask is a more physical undertaking. The best speakers throw "their hands up to signify exaltation and despair; they thrust their hands forward in supplication; they threw their hands down at their sides in grief and resignation; they cut their hands across the air in defiance." It's time to return to the ancient art of "chirology" (1,733 words)


The Story Of My Tattoo

Patrick Freyne | Irish Times | 14th November 2021 | U

Series of short interviews with people about why they got their tattoos. What emerges is a litany of trauma marked upon the body, as each subject describes the emotional turmoil that led to the ink on their skin. Common themes emerge — bereavement, abuse, estrangement — but the images chosen to represent those feelings are utterly individual. Surprisingly moving (3,257 words)


In Defense Of King George

Andrew Roberts | Smithsonian | 10th November 2021 | U

Americans should look more kindly on their final king, George III. The Founding Fathers were right to break away from the British Empire; they were ready to form a nation-state of their own; but they were not "escaping tyranny". The American colonies in 1776 were "among the freest societies in the world". George III was "the epitome of a constitutional monarch". He was not "mad", but bipolar (933 words)


?: Elizabeth Minkel On Fanfiction

Uri Bram | The Browser | 10th November 2021 | U

"When we talk about novelists, we play up the solo element — it's our romantic vision of what a 'writer' is. But huge portions of art that gets written in the world," including much TV, "is in fact written communally." In modern fanfiction, authors "prompt each other into writing specific things, exchange works as gifts, and comment on works-in-progress in real time as the author is posting" (3,292 words)


Spinners, Weavers And Embroiders

Amanda Lanzillo and Arun Kumar | The Wire | 9th November 2021 | U

Instalment about the value placed on women's work from a multi-part history of labour in India. Colonial and patriarchal structures meshed together to demean work that was predominantly done by women, especially in the textile industry. Emerging narratives around female education added to this, with sewing seen as a mere "handicraft" rather than an economically productive activity (1,710 words)


Drizzly November In My Soul

Ed Simon | The Millions | 5th November 2021 | U

Wonderfully indulgent introduction to Robert Burton's Anatomy Of Melancholy, a "vast study of depression" treasured by a "dedicated rather than a widespread readership" since publication in 1621. The book is "encyclopedic but open-ended, expansive but granular, poignant but funny; never judgmental, never orthodox, but gleefully self-referential even while contemplating sadness" (3,890 words)


Browser Interview: L.M. Sacasas On Instant Messenger

Uri Bram | The Browser | 3rd November 2021 | U

Interviewed here over instant messenger, philosopher L.M. Sacasas reflects on the ways that that technology shapes the conversations that are had on it. In writing, "we can't quite lose ourselves in conversation the way we might in person because writing forces us to not only speak but also think about speaking." The natural rhythm and cues of speech are replaced by three fluctuating dots (2,328 words)


How The Maestro Got His Hands Back

Gabriella Paiella | GQ | 28th October 2021 | U

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)


I Call It A Bittersweet Symphony

Michael Andor Brodeur | Washington Post | 30th October | BMP 1/m

A classical music critic lyrically describes how he endured months of painful dental treatments: by finding the harmonies in the toe-curling noises the dentist's tools caused in his skull. "The piercing frequencies of the drill coiled in a helix around those of my existing tinnitus. Barred access to my nerves by anesthetics, the scrape of the scaler found acoustic paths up the sides of my head" (2,619 words)


The Autograph Collector

Ulli Lust | Popula | 17th February 2019 | U

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)


Cognition Without Computation

Rodney Brooks | IEEE Spectrum | 26th October 2021 | U

In our efforts to understand what might be going on inside the human mind we have long turned to more exact sciences for analogies and metaphors. But since the advent of computing in the 1940s we have collapsed our metaphorical claims into literal claims: We contend that the mind just is a computer, and that cognition just  is a product of computation. Computationalism is the new phlogiston (776 words)


Liberty And Limitation

Katherine Lucky | The Point | 30th September 2021 | BMP 3/m

Debates about declining fertility rates in the US miss a crucial point: that even with the best support and no economic impediments, a woman's life is "irrevocably changed" by having a child. Being a parent brings a certain "freedom from complexity" at the expense of other liberties. "An uncomfortable acknowledgment had to be made: motherhood would always cost something" (2,903 words)


Save The Scribe

Mary Wellesley | Lapham's Quarterly | 13th October 2021 | U

The popular image of the medieval scribe as a man, probably a monk, is not entirely accurate. To assume so is "patriachalism infused with prejudice". Many of the hands that copied and illuminated manuscripts belonged to women, often nuns. Their presence can be detected in the feminine endings they used on Latin words and in their surviving correspondence with readers (1,934 words)


Interview: QNTM on memes, anti-memes, and knowledge that doesn't want to be shared

QNTM is a software engineer and the author of There Is No Antimemetics Division. Here, QNTM speaks to the Browser's Uri Bram about collaborative fiction, why people with deep and very specific expertise are often great storytellers, and the surprising subjectivity of finding right answers in software development.


Podcast: Out Of Time | Ministry Of Ideas.

At what point in history did time cease to be a divine gift and become a commodity that could be traded for profit? This is an able explanation of this crucial shift (29m 00s)


The Viewer

Our sister site. Five weekly videos to surprise and delight you.


All You Have To Do Is Die

Rowan Hisayo Buchanan | Paris Review | 16th September 2021 | U

Do you expect to become a ghost after you die? If so, here are some of the things you might want to think about ahead of time, with a view to haunting the Earth effectively. Do you want to terrify the living in general, wreak vengeance on someone in particular, or comfort your descendants? Will you want an exit strategy from ghosthood? If so, do you have an exorcist in mind?  (3,200 words)


A Hitchhiker's Guide To The Number 42

Jean-Paul Delahaye | Scientific American | 21st September 2020 | U

When Douglas Adams declared the meaning of life to be 42, he did so arbitrarily, intending no allusions to Egyptian mythology or to Tibetan mysticism. But, for the mathematician, 42 is still full of quirks. It is, inter alia, a Catalan number and a practical number. It is the sum of the first two nonzero integer powers of six. And it played a starring role in the "sum of three cubes" problem  (2,800 words)


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)


Podcast: 13 Ways Of Looking At A Cormorant | Ideas

Defenders of the cormorant, including the poet laureate of South Carolina and an expert on John Milton, explain why this bird deserves more attention (54m 07s)


Can We Move Our Forests In Time?

Lauren Markham | Mother Jones | 4th October 2021 | U

Scientists are helping trees to migrate as habitats are altered by climate change. Forests do this anyway unaided as conditions alter, with new specimens growing in more hospitable directions and older ones dying out. Now, they are being assisted to flee more quickly. But this is a controversial intervention, mired in doubt and bureaucracy. Should we just be letting nature take its course? (5,231 words)


Podcast: Laundry Done Right | Revisionist History

Are you a top-loader or a front-loader? Do you separate darks and lights? Is there a right way to do your laundry? Malcolm Gladwell investigates (31m 21s)


The Act Of Smelling

Jude Stewart | Believer | 1st October 2021 | U

Smell is still a riddle, surely the most enigmatic of human senses. Although much of the olfactory process is now understood, scientists don't know why molecules smell as they do. There is no discernible pattern. It has also so far been impossible to transmit a smell digitally, making scent a solely analogue experience. "You are the smeller, and you can smell things only in person" (3,283 words)


The Artist Paints Herself

Jennifer Higgie | Lapham's Quarterly | 5th October 2021 | U

On the self-portraiture of three artists — Elisabetta Sirani, Sofonisba Anguissola, and Rosalba Carriera — who were successful in their own times but are less well known now. Sirani inserted her own features into her classical paintings too; pleasingly, she gave her own face to Timoclea at the moment that sturdy matron tipped a "Captain of Alexander the Great" head first into a well (2,178 words)


The Gradual Discovery Of Glasses

Stefana Sabin | Lapham's Quarterly | 29th September 2021 | U

Notes on the prehistory of spectacles. They were not invented as such, but emerged gradually as a by-product of related scientific and technical discoveries. The basic principles were known in antiquity; Ibn al-Haytham set out the theory in his 1021 Book Of Optics; but it took 200 years for this Arabic text to enter the Western tradition, and centuries more before lenses were widely produced (1,280 words)


A Piano Down A Mine

Hugh Morris | Van | 23rd September 2021 | U

It is easier to say what makes classical music humour bad than what makes it good. Low hanging fruit like viola jokes and Bach puns aside, care is needed to make this art form funny. The problem arises because classical music is "fundamentally a bit silly" — "people dress up in old-fashioned outfits to play music from ages ago for a group of people sitting in complete silence" (1,806 words)


The Cactus That Came Back From The Dead

Amir Aziz | Walrus | 27th September 2021 | U

In the wild, many cacti are highly endangered. But it's difficult to talk of extinction when the same plants can be found in garden centres and on office window ledges around the world. Is the genome's survival enough, or should the hyperlocal conditions that originally fostered it also be preserved? "A cactus in a pot could be considered as 'alive' as a butterfly pinned inside a glass case" (1,760 words)


No More Daily Bread

Bee Wilson | London Essays | 21st June 2016 | U

Nineteenth-century Londoners, rich and poor, were united at least in the food that they ate. Bread was the same everywhere — a four-pound loaf made with boiled potatoes. Almost half-a-million sandwiches were sold on the London streets in 1851 and “all of them were ham”. Londoners were also "fish-mad". Billingsgate market sold ten million eels and eight million herrings per year (2,100 words)


The Missions Of Astronomy

Steven Weinberg | New York Review Of Books | 22nd October 2009 | TU

A physicist evaluates the place of astronomy in the history of science. The intrinsic and practical value of astronomy was overestimated in antiquity, because it was confounded with astrology. But planetary observations became "crucial" to  discovering the laws of nature in Newton's time. In our own day astronomy has merged into the almost entirely theoretical discipline of cosmology (3,070 words)


Field Notes Of A Sentence Watcher

Richard Hughes Gibson | Hedgehog Review | 14th September 2021 | U

In praise of very close reading. Books about writing are worthy of study in the same way that a guide to birdwatching can help the reader identify the plumage and song of an unfamiliar species when encountered in the wild. It is not possible to pay too much attention to the shape and configuration of carefully chosen words. You will know a good sentence when you see one (2,524 words)


Video: Everybody Loves Somebody | Podenco | Vimeo | 2m 47s

Utterly charming animated collage complementing the music of Dean Martin


Walking Trees And Parasitic Flowers

Francis Hallé | MIT Press Reader | 15th September 2021 | U

Wonders of the rainforest, captured in the illustrated notebooks of French botanist Francis Hallé. "One finds two kinds of mangrove in a forest. There are those with a trunk that rises up from the soil; these specimens are sprung from a seed and don’t move. Then there are mangroves whose trunk flattens out at the base; these trees stem from a branch at a low elevation — and they walk!" (3,200  words)


Revolt Of The Delivery Workers

Josh Dzieza | Verge | 13th September 2021 | U

Action-packed account of the difficult lives of food-delivery workers in New York. "Delivery workers now move faster than just about anything else in the city. They keep pace with cars and weave between them when traffic slows, ever vigilant for opening taxi doors and merging trucks. They know they go too fast, but it’s a calculated risk. Slowing down means being punished by the apps" (7,800 words)


The Journey To Define Dimension

David S. Richeson | Quanta | 13th September 2021 | U

Lucid account, with diagrams, of the current state of mathematical thinking about dimensions. Finding an adequate definition of dimension has been a preoccupation of the field for centuries and is "exceptionally difficult". Yet it's also a pleasant problem upon which to work. "Luckily, dimensions don’t need to be fully understood to be enjoyed, by bird and mathematician alike" (2,143 words)


Food Wars

Amos Zeeberg | Aeon | 6th September 2021 | U

For most of history, humans have been focused on having enough to eat. Today, in places where food is abundant, it is no longer mere sustenance. We want to eat healthily; our meals must now also solve our problems. The problem is that science has no definitive recommendation as to the best way to eat. Food is now a vehicle for ideology and morality; it imparts meaning as well as nutrition (6,200 words)


Nothing But Sheer Racket

Susan Tomes | Lapham's Quarterly | 1st September 2021 | U

Notes on Franz Liszt as pianist and composer. He was "handsome and charismatic, played magnificently, and performed his own pieces so theatrically that some listeners would faint with emotion". His "personality cult and bravura style of performance", inspired by Paganini, left rival 19C virtuosi in the shade. He "invented the model of a concert played by a single performer" (1,900 words)


System Error


Browser Publisher Uri Bram talks to three Stanford professors –  philosopher Rob Reich, political scientist Jeremy Weinstein and computer scientist Mehran Sahami – about their brand new book System Error: Where Big Tech Went Wrong and How We Can Reboot, discussing sensible regulation, democratic values and the future of technology in under ten words each (video: 26m 39s, podcast: 26m 34s, transcript: 4,136 words)


On The Faces Of Strangers

John Vincler | Paris Review | 30th July 2021 | U

Artist's account of seeing a portrait up close now that he has become accustomed to strangers' faces being obscured by masks. Study for Bird by Michaël Borreman was painted during the pandemic but draws on the "early Netherlandish" tradition that bridged the late medieval and early modern eras. Arresting. "Isn’t this a paradox, to be made to remember the faces of strangers?"


The Top 5 Films Set Almost Entirely On A Train | The Golden Goats

Chatty film podcast. On each episode the hosts pick their top five films in an obscure or niche category of their choosing (58m 38s)


On Milk

Pointed polemic that busts myths that cow's milk was always the "default" milk in Western diets. "Almond milk dates back to at least 1226, when it was mentioned in A Baghdad Cookery Book. Soy milk came onto the documented scene in 1365, and almond milk had made it to Europe by 1390, when it became popular during Lent. The first written mention in English of soy milk was in 1704" (1,252 words)


Why am I not rich and famous?

On moral luck, financial markets, and timing. Person A was born in 1930. Person B was born in 2000. Both apply the Graham value-investing strategy at age 15. Person A becomes Warren Buffett, one of the richest people on earth. Person B loses half of their money because value stocks are out of favor in the 2010s. "Same strategy, same actions, different times, different outcomes" (1,100 words)


Sylvia Bishop interview

Have you seen our interview with children’s author Sylvia Bishop (@sylvialining) yet? Find out why you should always kill the parents, and how to tap into the mind of a child...

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