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“The Interstate’s Forgotten Code”

Feeling lost? Don’t know which way is up? Needing some direction in your life?

Here are all the answers for you road warriors out there who unthinkingly head out on America’s interstates and highways, never questioning who numbered them and why.

Of course there’s a plan. And of course it makes sense—until it doesn’t. So maybe don’t toss your GPS just yet…

“A True Symbol of Uncompromising Craftsmanship”

With nothing but a steady hand and a squirrel-hair brush, Mark Court does what no one else can. And when you consider that he’s doing it on cars that start at more than $300,000, his one-of-a-kind skill is even more remarkable.

So there really IS a difference…

Big surprise: Deviations in word prevalence scores between men and women “tend to follow gender differences in interests (games, weapons, and technical matters for males; food, clothing, and flowers for females).” And the gaps are significant.

But when I actually look at the table itself, it’s…a little unsettling. I was familiar with 16 of the 20 words known better by males; 14 of the 20 known better by females.

There can be only two explanations for this. Either I’m not as manly as I’ve been led to believe, or my superhuman brain has given me powers well beyond those of normal men.

Pretty sure we all know what the answer is.

Quote of the Day

Werner Herzog: “Mankind’s problems started the moment humans abandoned a nomadic existence, became sedentary, and began building permanent settlements.”

Note: If you’ve already seen all of Herzog’s films—and even if you haven’t—do yourself a favor and get a copy of his book Of Walking in Ice.

Note on the previous note: If you’re wondering who’s behind the sublime music in those films, it’s Popol Vuh. Start with In den Gärten Pharaos (1971).

Miscellany

Ever wanted to hear The Canterbury Tales in the original Middle English? Today’s your lucky day.

Wikitrivia! My best streak is 20. Beat that—no cheating—and I’ll write something nice about you on this very blog.

The “graveyard of ideas” that is TED.

Wondering what to get that special someone for Valentine’s Day? How’s about a horny teddy bear?

And finally, what I’ve been reading lately.

Billionaires Gonna Billionaire

Cause…and effect.

That’s it. That’s the post. I was gonna write something snarky about how you can’t even get free two-day shipping with Prime anymore,* but really—what’s the point? The more things change, the more they stay the same.

*Seriously, I complained about this recently, and the customer service hack told me that the time it takes for the robot to pick my order and get it ready for shipping doesn’t count.

“Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your words…”

Behold the World Loanword Database!

Coming to us from the fine folks at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, WOLD “provides vocabularies…of 41 languages from around the world, with comprehensive information about the loanword status of each word. It allows users to find loanwords, source words and donor languages in each of the 41 languages, but also makes it easy to compare loanwords across languages.”

Guess I’ve got my evening sorted, then.

Poetry Break

THE OCEAN
Nathaniel Hawthorne

The Ocean has its silent caves,
Deep, quiet, and alone;
Though there be fury on the waves,
Beneath them there is none.

The awful spirits of the deep
Hold their communion there;
And there are those for whom we weep,
The young, the bright, the fair.

Calmly the wearied seamen rest
Beneath their own blue sea.
The ocean solitudes are blest,
For there is purity.

The earth has guilt, the earth has care,
Unquiet are its graves;
But peaceful sleep is ever there,
Beneath the dark blue waves.

Never Forget

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, chosen to commemorate the date—January 27, 1945—that the Red Army liberated Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Coincidentally, I started Claude Lanzmann’s monumental Shoah last weekend. I’m not gonna lie: The nine-hour documentary, released in 1985, is hard to watch. But since the reward is participating in “one of the most important cinematic works of all time,” it’s well worth the emotional effort.

I can’t recommended this film highly enough. Purchase it on Blu-Ray or DVD here; streaming and renting options are available on Amazon, YouTube, Apple TV, et al.

At the Grave of Art Bell

Before my life of fame and fortune—a period I refer to on my rĂ©sumĂ© as “the wilderness years”—I did a lot of odd jobs. Like castrating bulls, for instance. Designing floral arrangements. Driving a Zamboni for a minor-league hockey team.

Then there was that time I worked the night shift as a janitor at a luxury department store: 10 hours of scrubbing toilets, mopping floors, cleaning mirrors, and…vacuuming. So. Much. Vacuuming.

That’s when I discovered Art Bell, “apostle of the paranormal” (New York Times) and “mysterious narrator of the American nightscape” (Washington Post). It was Bell who, through his late-night radio show, introduced me to the chupacabra and the Florida swamp ape; reported on the discovery of ancient ruins on the moon’s surface, evidence for which remains elusive because we never landed there in the first place; revealed how Jesus visited North America 2,000 years ago to “spread a secret message and hide an ancient device” (a dimensional gateway, obviously).

In other words, while I navigated a darkened 100-year-old six-story mannequin-filled building in the middle of the night with only a couple of other misfits for company, Art Bell was there for me. So when the missus and I found ourselves in Pahrump, Nevada last November, we decided to pay our respects.

And yes, I know there’s a typo on his tombstone. Seems fitting, somehow.

Down to a Gnat’s Arse

May I interest you in a 717-gigapixel scan of Rembrandt’s The Night Watch?

Before you say “No,” I should point out that it’s not only the largest, but also the most detailed photo of a work of art ever taken. How detailed? The distance between pixels is 5 micrometers. That’s 5 thousandths of a millimeter. Know what’s bigger than that? A human red blood cell.

The folks at Rijks Museum took 8,439 individual photos of the 1642 painting—each photo measuring 5.5 cm x 4.1 cm—using a 100-megapixel Hasselblad H6D-400c MS camera. Then they stitched everything together with some sort of AI voodoo. The file size of the final image is a whopping 5.6 terabytes.

Now are you interested? I thought you might be. Read more about the project here.

Timewaster

“The act of writing has always been an art,” claim the good folks behind Typatone. “Now it can also be an act of music.”

Color me dubious.

This is what Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 116” sounds like; and here is this very blog post rendered in music. You make the call.

After You

“Another flaw in the human character,” wrote Kurt Vonnegut (Hocus Pocus), “is that everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance.”

There’s a lot of truth to that. I mean, the “explosion in the growth of student leadership programs on college campuses” lately is clearly a response to growing demand, right?

But is the demand coming from those who want to be leaders, or from the credentialed class simply perpetuating—and protecting—itself? I’m hoping it’s the latter, if only because the idea of so many people actually wanting to be in charge is just too damn depressing.

Just remember: The world needs followers, too.

Weekend Miscellany

“Japan has around 300 brands of short-grain japonica rice that go by names like Yume Shizuku (Dream Droplet), Seiten no Hekireki (Bolt from the Blue), Tsuyahime (Shiny Princess), and Mirukii Kuiin (Milky Queen),” writes Kenji Hall over at Taste. But there’s a clear favorite: Koshihikari, which accounts for a third of the rice that’s planted annually and has outsold every other brand for years. “If there is an ideal style of rice for oyakodon or matsutake gohan, or to eat plain with only a side of pickles, Koshihikari comes close. In surveys, consumers say they prefer its ultrawhite kernels, sticky-soft chewiness, and mild sweetness.”

Swearing is good for you. “No one can tell me that there’s a better word than the F-word for relieving pain after stubbing your bare toe on the leg of your bed. There just isn’t. I’ve tried using, ‘Blast!’ and, ‘Confound it all!’—but they just don’t cut it.” (While we’re at it, so is drinking.)

When art runs out of ways to shock: “The assumption had been that artists were entrusted with the sacred task of ‘pushing the envelope,’ as [Edward] Albee insouciantly put it, but they were finding that the culture had gotten way ahead of them. And at the same time—and this was really unnerving to a certain type of artist—the culture revealed itself to be shameless, tawdry, and grotesque in ways that were supposed to be reserved for the avant-garde.”

“A…god who walked among us.”

Today’s the 15th anniversary of Michael Brecker’s death, and Ted Gioia has some thoughts:

Almost every saxophonist I met in the closing decades of the 20th century treated Brecker as a superstar at the pinnacle of the jazz craft. This was especially true of students at college jazz programs, where Brecker was a revered name, not far below John Coltrane in the hierarchy of jazz saxophony. And Coltrane, even back then, was a distant historical figure none of these jazz students had ever seen perform live. Brecker, in contrast, was a horn-playing god who walked among us.

I studied music at EWU back in the late 80s—and worked the occasional shift as a late-night DJ at the college jazz station—so I can confirm that Brecker definitely loomed large among my fellow band nerds and me. His 1988 album Don’t Try This at Home was a holy relic; when he and his rhythm section came to Spokane for a gig at Casa Blanca that year, we treated it more like a pilgrimage than a night out with drinks. He was, in a sense, our Coltrane.

Which makes this all the more interesting:

But, as Gioia suggests, the saxophonist’s appeal was far broader than any one genre. “Brecker had completely assimilated a populist attitude into his personal style,” he writes. “When he played over a rock or funk groove, he wasn’t trying to cross over, he was just being himself.” Take a gander yourself at this discography. (Keep scrolling—the list does eventually come to an end.)

Let’s close with a video played at Michael Brecker’s memorial service, held February 20, 2007 at Town Hall in Manhattan:

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