August 9, 2020

"The Bureau" — Season 5

This French series centering on the DGSE, France's equivalent of the CIA and MI6, just keeps getting better and better.

The current season of eight episodes features the strong, deep cast of previous seasons.

I've watched the first three episodes, set in Amman, Cairo, the Sinai Peninsula, Saudi Arabia, Phnom Penh, Moscow, and Paris: superb cinematography, spectacular settings.

Highest possible recommendation.

On Sundance Now.

August 9, 2020 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Katie Ledecky demonstrates what it means to be World Class

So impeccable is her form and balance that she can swim a lap with a glass of chocolate milk on her head.

No — you can't too.

August 9, 2020 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Best Tortilla Chip Rankings

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The Washington Post's Emily Heil, steadily working her way through the many junk foods American runs on, turned her critical eye and palate to tortilla chips, ranking 14 popular brands for the Washington Post.

The winner: Santitas


The winner's description: 

Maybe we're all just a bunch of closet cornballs? Santitas came out on top, boosted by rave reviews of its "very pronounced corn flavor." A more visceral take? "A corn bomb has been detonated here," enthused one taster.

It earned the tasting's other perfect score from a judge who raved about the chip's "great crunch!" It hit marks for crispiness, ability to convey salsa from bowl to maw, and decent salt levels, all of which earned it plaudits like "well balanced" and the prescient "all-around winner."

A nice bonus: With a price point typically in the $2 range per 11-ounce bag, these might be the best bargain on this list, too.

From the article:

Tortilla chips are the quintessential party food.

And they definitely love a crowd: A big bag pairs perfectly with store-bought salsas or hummus, or even more elaborate concoctions, on a buffet.

But these days, we're reminded that they make a great pantry staple, too.

As a midday snack, obviously, for when you need to take a few steps away from your desk/dining room table to the kitchen.

They're a fine lunch (don't judge) with a hearty dip of whatever's around.

Now that I'm minimizing trips to the grocery store and trying to use up every morsel in the pantry, I'm finding even more uses for them: The last crumbly bits in the bottom of a bag make a crunchy mix-in for a salad, and a slightly stale stash is great in chilaquiles.

Grocery shelves are crowded with a head-spinning array of options.

So we collected 14 varieties, including the top-selling brands in the United States and popular grocery store private labels, to determine which was the superior chip. (In the interest of keeping things simple and uniform, we omitted any flavored varieties.)

We ranked them on texture (how crunchy are they? are they sturdy enough to stand up to your famous seven-layer dip?), salt balance (too much? too faint?), and overall flavor, for a combined score of 20 possible points. With seven  the best possible overall score was 140.

Complete rankings here.

I can't speak for you but me, I was amused when I saw this post was juxtaposed to the previous one.

August 9, 2020 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Jai Ho"

This song became a smash hit once it appeared in the fantastic 2008 movie "Slumdog Millionaire."

I still remember the joy I felt sitting in the theater when I heard it while watching the end credits (above).

August 9, 2020 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Minim Playing Cards

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From the website:

Minim is a deck of regulation playing cards that considers how much design you can take away while still maintaining a playable deck.

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Simple geometric symbols are reductive versions of hearts, clubs, diamonds, and spades.

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While it is necessary to mark the backs of regulation cards, we’ve done so with minimal diagonal lines instead of the typical ornamental graphics.

Designed by Joe Doucet.

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August 9, 2020 at 08:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 8, 2020

Louis Vuitton F/W 2020 — Es Devlin





August 8, 2020 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Good Bad Books" — George Orwell


His 1945 essay follows.

Good Bad Books

Not long ago a publisher commissioned me to write an introduction for a reprint of a novel by Leonard Merrick. This publishing house, it appears, is going to reissue a long series of minor and partly-forgotten novels of the twentieth century. It is a valuable service in these bookless days, and I rather envy the person whose job it will be to scout round the threepenny boxes, hunting down copies of his boyhood favourites.

A type of book which we hardly seem to produce in these days, but which flowered with great richness in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, is what Chesterton called the "good bad book": that is, the kind of book that has no literary pretensions but which remains readable when more serious productions have perished. Obviously outstanding books in this line are RAFFLES and the Sherlock Holmes stories, which have kept their place when innumerable "problem novels", "human documents" and "terrible indictments" of this or that have fallen into deserved oblivion. (Who has worn better, Conan Doyle or Meredith?) Almost in the same class as these I, put R. Austin Freeman's earlier stories — "The Singing Bone" "The Eye of Osiris" and others — Ernest Bramah's MAX CARRADOS, and, dropping the standard a bit, Guy Boothby's Tibetan thriller, DR NIKOLA, a sort of schoolboy version of Hue's TRAVELS IN TARTARY, which would probably make a real visit to Central Asia seem a dismal anticlimax.

But apart from thrillers, there were the minor humorous writers of the period. For example, Pett Ridge — but I admit his full-length books no longer seem readable — E. Nesbit (THE TREASURE SEEKERS), George Birmingham, who was good so long as he kept off politics, the pornographic Binstead ("Pitcher" of the PINK 'UN), and, if American books can be included, Booth Tarkington's Penrod stories. A cut above most of these was Barry Pain. Some of Pain's humorous writings are, I suppose, still in print, but to anyone who comes across it I recommend what must now be a very rare book--THE OCTAVE OF CLAUDIUS, a brilliant exercise in the macabre. Somewhat later in time there was Peter Blundell, who wrote in the W.W. Jacobs vein about Far Eastern seaport towns, and who seems to be rather unaccountably forgotten, in spite of having been praised in print by H.G. Wells.

However, all the books I have been speaking of are frankly "escape" literature. They form pleasant patches in one's memory, quiet corners where the mind can browse at odd moments, but they hardly pretend to have anything to do with real life. There is another kind of good bad book which is more seriously intended, and which tells us, I think, something about the nature of the novel and the reasons for its present decadence. During the last fifty years there has been a whole series of writers — some of them are still writing — whom it is quite impossible to call "good" by any strictly literary standard, but who are natural novelists and who seem to attain sincerity partly because they are not inhibited by good taste. In this class I put Leonard Merrick himself, W.L. George, J.D. Beresford, Ernest Raymond, May Sinclair, and — at a lower level than the others but still essentially similar — A.S.M. Hutchinson.

Most of these have been prolific writers, and their output has naturally varied in quality. I am thinking in each case of one or two outstanding books: for example, Merrick's CYNTHIA, J.D. Beresford's A CANDIDATE FOR TRUTH, W.L. George's CALIBAN, May Sinclair's THE COMBINED MAZE and Ernest Raymond's WE, THE ACCUSED. In each of these books the author has been able to identify himself with his imagined characters, to feel with them and invite sympathy on their behalf. with a kind of abandonment that cleverer people would find it difficult to achieve. They bring out the fact that intellectual refinement can be a disadvantage to a story-teller, as it would be to a music-hall comedian.

Take, for example, Ernest Raymond's WE, THE ACCUSED — a peculiarly sordid and convincing murder story, probably based on the Crippen case. I think it gains a great deal from the fact that the author only partly grasps the pathetic vulgarity of the people he is writing about, and therefore does not despise them. Perhaps it even — like Theodore Dreiser's An AMERICAN TRAGEDY — gains something from the clumsy long-winded manner in which it is written; detail is piled on detail, with almost no attempt at selection, and in the process an effect of terrible, grinding cruelty is slowly built up. So also with A CANDIDATE FOR TRUTH. Here there is not the same clumsiness, but there is the same ability to take seriously the problems of commonplace people. So also with CYNTHIA and at any rate the earlier part of Caliban. The greater part of what W.L. George wrote was shoddy rubbish, but in this particular book, based on the career of Northcliffe, he achieved some memorable and truthful pictures of lower-middle-class London life. Parts of this book are probably autobiographical, and one of the advantages of good bad writers is their lack of shame in writing autobiography. Exhibitionism and self-pity are the bane of the novelist, and yet if he is too frightened of them his creative gift may suffer.

The existence of good bad literature — the fact that one can be amused or excited or even moved by a book that one's intellect simply refuses to take seriously — is a reminder that art is not the same thing as cerebration. I imagine that by any test that could be devised, Carlyle would be found to be a more intelligent man than Trollope. Yet Trollope has remained readable and Carlyle has not: with all his cleverness he had not even the wit to write in plain straightforward English. In novelists, almost as much as in poets, the connection between intelligence and creative power is hard to establish. A good novelist may be a prodigy of self-discipline like Flaubert, or he may be an intellectual sprawl like Dickens. Enough talent to set up dozens of ordinary writers has been poured into Wyndham Lewis's so-called novels, such as TARR or SNOOTY BARONET. Yet it would be a very heavy labour to read one of these books right through. Some indefinable quality, a sort of literary vitamin, which exists even in a book like IF WINTER COMES, is absent from them.

Perhaps the supreme example of the "good bad" book is UNCLE TOM'S CABIN. It is an unintentionally ludicrous book, full of preposterous melodramatic incidents; it is also deeply moving and essentially true; it is hard to say which quality outweighs the other. But UNCLE TOM'S CABIN, after all, is trying to be serious and to deal with the real world. How about the frankly escapist writers, the purveyors of thrills and "light" humour? How about SHERLOCK HOLMES, VICE VERSA, DRACULA, HELEN'S BABIES or KING SOLOMON'S MINES? All of these are definitely absurd books, books which one is more inclined to laugh AT than WITH, and which were hardly taken seriously even by their authors; yet they have survived, and will probably continue to do so. All one can say is that, while civilisation remains such that one needs distraction from time to time, "light" literature has its appointed place; also that there is such a thing as sheer skill, or native grace, which may have more survival value than erudition or intellectual power. There are music-hall songs which are better poems than three-quarters of the stuff that gets into the anthologies:

Come where the booze is cheaper,
Come where the pots hold more,
Come where the boss is a bit of a sport,
Come to the pub next door!

Or again:

Two lovely black eyes
Oh, what a surprise!
Only for calling another man wrong,
Two lovely black eyes!

I would far rather have written either of those than, say, "The Blessed Damozel" or "Love in the Valley". And by the same token I would back UNCLE TOM'S CABIN to outlive the complete works of Virginia Woolf or George Moore, though I know of no strictly literary test which would show where the superiority lies.


August 8, 2020 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

BehindTheMedspeak: COVIDWISE

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This week Virginia became the first state to go live with COVIDWISE, a tracking and tracing app for Covid-19 exposure.

I signed up within a femtosecond of it becoming available.

Up top, my phone's home screen at this moment.

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Check out the ratings in the App Store: didn't take long for it to shoot to #1 in Health & Fitness, with a 4.9/5 rating.

Free, the way we like it.

August 8, 2020 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Brightest known fluorescent materials in existence created


From Phys.Org:

Chemists create the brightest-ever fluorescent materials

By formulating positively charged fluorescent dyes into a new class of materials called small-molecule ionic isolation lattices (SMILES), a compound's brilliant glow can be seamlessly transferred to a solid, crystalline state, researchers reported August 6 in the journal Chem.

The advance overcomes a long-standing barrier to developing fluorescent solids, resulting in the brightest known materials in existence.


"These materials have potential applications in any technology that needs bright fluorescence or calls for designing optical properties, including solar energy harvesting, bioimaging, and lasers," says Amar Flood, a chemist at Indiana University and co-senior author on the study along with Bo Laursen of the University of Copenhagen.

"Beyond these, there are interesting applications that include upconverting light to capture more of the solar spectrum in solar cells, light-switchable materials used for information storage and photochromic glass, and circularly polarized luminescence that may be used in 3-D display technology," Flood says.

While there are currently more than 100,000 different fluorescent dyes available, almost none of these can be mixed and matched in predictable ways to create solid optical materials.


Dyes tend to undergo "quenching" when they enter a solid state due to how they behave when packed close together, decreasing the intensity of their fluorescence to produce a more subdued glow.

"The problem of quenching and inter-dye coupling emerges when the dyes stand shoulder-to-shoulder inside solids," says Flood. "They cannot help but 'touch' each other. Like young children sitting at story time, they interfere with each other and stop behaving as individuals."

To overcome this problem, Flood and colleagues mixed a colored dye with a colorless solution of cyanostar, a star-shaped macrocycle molecule that prevents the fluorescent molecules from interacting as the mixture solidified, keeping their optical properties intact.
As the mixture became a solid, SMILES formed, which the researchers then grew into crystals, precipitated into dry powders, and finally spun into a thin film or incorporated directly into polymers.
Since the cyanostar macrocycles form building blocks that generate a lattice-like checkerboard, the researchers could simply plug a dye into the lattice and, without any further adjustments, the structure would take on its color and appearance.
While previous research had already developed an approach to spacing the dyes apart using macrocycle molecules, it relied on colored macrocycles to do the job.
Flood and colleagues found that colorless macrocycles were key.

"Some people think that colorless macrocycles are unattractive, but they allowed the isolation lattice to fully express the bright fluorescence of the dyes unencumbered by the colors of the macrocycles," says Flood.

Next, the researchers plan to explore the properties of fluorescent materials formed using this novel technique, enabling them to work with dye makers in the future to realize the materials' full potential in a variety of different applications.

"These materials are totally new, so we do not know which of their innate properties are actually going to offer superior functionality," says Flood. "We also do not know the materials' limits. So, we will develop a fundamental understanding of how they work, providing a robust set of design rules for making new properties. This is critical for putting these materials into the hands of others — we want to pursue crowd sourcing and to work with others in this effort."

August 8, 2020 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

World's thinnest mechanical watch (2mm) that can actually be used


From CNA Luxury:

When Piaget first unveiled the Altiplano Ultimate Concept in 2018, the watch community was wowed and competitors suitably intimidated — but only for a while.

The 2mm-thick watch, which immediately claimed the world record for the thinnest mechanical watch ever, was after all just a concept.

Collectors quickly went back to lusting after slim tickers they could actually wear.

But the Altiplano Ultimate Concept isn't just a concept anymore.

Despite its unchanged name, the watch is now finally in regular (but surely limited) production following an announcement at recent Watches & Wonders online fair.

Its alarming thinness is certainly the main highlight, but just as impressive as its profile (or almost lack of one) is the amount of time and imagination that went into it.

It took two years to engineer the watch, but four years before that just to figure out how.

One of the solutions was borrowed from an older Piaget model, the 900P, launched at the end of 2013.

Thanks to the ingenious idea of integrating the movement directly into the case, the 900P was, for a time, the thinnest mechanical watch in the world.

Other strategies included eliminating the need for bridges by using wheels rotating on ball bearings, replacing the hour hand with a revolving indicator disc, and completely reengineering the crown to be telescopic and flush with the case.

The entire thing, comprising 167 parts, was so delicate that no one was allowed to handle the concept watch when it was launched at SIHH two years ago.


For it to reasonably handle the rigors of daily wear was inconceivable.

But in those two years, Piaget worked hard to make it happen.

A high-tech cobalt alloy was chosen for the case material as it is said to be 2.3 times stronger than gold.

Even the strap needed to be made from a combination of leather and Kevlar and shaved down to the case's dimensions.

It's not as convenient as its fellow record-breaker, the Altiplano Ultimate Automatic 910P (3.65mm) from 2018, but it does have a respectable power reserve of 40 hours.

And while it may not have the satisfying heft of a solid gold or platinum watch (or the weight of anything at all, really), just knowing that a 0.2mm thick piece of sapphire crystal, which is 80% thinner than the norm, and 0.12mm of cobalt are all that's protecting the movement from the elements and your own skin is a unique kind of privilege.

Now that Piaget intends for people to wear it, the Altiplano Ultimate Concept will also offer a customisation service.

Customers will be able to choose the colors for the sub-dial, movement plate, and strap, and even the finish of the hands.

According to the brand, there are over 10,000 possible permutations, ensuring that an already rare timepiece will be practically one-of-a-kind.

Granted, a watch this slight isn't for everyone, nor can it be just from a production standpoint.

But it could inspire more comfortable watches overall.

Those chunky diving watches, chronographs, and —q dare we imagine it — grand complications could finally fit under all manner of cuffs, have less of a chance of knocking into things, and not feel like you've strapped a small boulder onto your wrist.


Price available upon request.

August 8, 2020 at 08:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

August 7, 2020

"The End" — Heather Phillipson

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Now playing in London's Trafalgar Square, this 31-foot-high statue of a cherry-topped dollop of whipped cream with a fly on it was unveiled eight days ago on July 30, 2020.

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The statue includes a working drone (below), which films the square below.

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Viewers can tune in to a feed of the video.

Fair warning: there goes the day.

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The work was originally set to premiere in March but on the day that installation was scheduled to begin, Britain went into lockdown.

Below, preparation for the unveiling (the sculptor is pictured above and below).

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New York Times story here.

August 7, 2020 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Overdosing on Choices


Some years ago Jim Sollisch, a writer in Cleveland, wrote a superb Op–Ed page essay for the Washington Post.

He cut to the heart of one of the things that creates an illusion of plenty but actually does the very opposite — the abundance of possibilities open to those in the First World.

In fact, as he pointed out very eloquently and succinctly, we usually lose when we choose.

We lose time, we lose patience, we lose interest.

Time, patience, and interest are prerequisites for a life that has value to its possessor.

Here's the piece.

Overdosing on Choices

I know this has happened to you.

You're (a) madly in love or (b) madly confused about love when a song comes on the radio with words that seem to be written not just about you but to you.

Suddenly the world makes sense.

You are not alone.

In the minutes that follow, you find yourself using words like Fate and Karma.

You have just experienced the random kindness of the universe, a phenomenon that's getting tougher to come by in this world of iPods and TiVo.

Take my teenage kids.

They love the word "random," possibly because so little in their lives is actually random.

Every song in their iPods, for example, was selected from their playlist.

Each song represents a choice.

They never listen to the radio — too random.

And it's not just kids.

Technology asks us to make countless trivial choices.

Pick your desktop background.

Program media sources to send you only the news you want.

Design the options packages on your car.

Click here to vote for your favorite (fill in the blank).

I want someone else to choose the options packages for my car. I want my news unfiltered.

I like to wander through bookstores.

Frankly, I'm insulted when Amazon thinks they know the next book I'll buy.

I don't even want to know the next book I'll buy until I find it.

I want less control over my life.

I am not the best person to design clothing or furniture.

Let someone else make the choices.

I'll do the buying.

There must be some other purpose for technology.

When did progress and success become tied to how many choices you get to make?

A few of my successful friends have recently built custom houses.

Which basically means they have made more than 400,000 relatively useless choices.

They have spent a year of their lives deciding which cupboard pull is the right one.

My house, built in 1922, came complete with cupboard pulls.

And the best part is someone else chose them.

Let's put this discussion into philosophical terms.

Let's assume that the number of choices a human being can reasonably make in a day is finite.

Then every trivial choice reduces your capacity or inclination to work on other choices, more important choices such as whom to vote for or which charity to donate money to or what to do with your life.

Don't get me wrong.

I'm no Luddite.

I just fear that technology is keeping us so busy controlling the minutiae of our lives that we have no time left over to devote to the things that really matter.

And that doesn't seem much like progress to me.

It has occurred to me that one of the reasons people like boj is precisely because of its seemingly random choice of subjects.

August 7, 2020 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)


This excellent 2016 film starts out as a typical action thriller, then quickly adds nuance and complexity.

Filmed in the French Alps, it's worth watching just for the spectacular scenery.

August 7, 2020 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)


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You can visit this sign by going to Southwark, London: it's near Great Guildford Street.

According to locals, it's synonymous with "don't micturate here."

August 7, 2020 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Lotte High Blood Pressure Gum — "Everyday use blood pressure control chewing gum"


From the website:

Expecting a chewing gum to help lower your blood pressure might sound like a lot but Lotte High Blood Pressure Gum promises to help fight this health condition.

Through the use of an ingredient called monoglucosyl hesperidin, which is glucose added to fruit polyphenols, this gum can help build up a defense mechanism against hypertension and the problems that go with it.

With ingredients coming from fruit extracts (and flower extracts for coloring) and a pleasant mint taste, Lotte High Blood Pressure Gum can become your everyday companion.

Each 5-ounce bottle lasts for quite some time, too!

Of course, you need to make more changes to your lifestyle — and your doctor will help you determine which ones* — but a few pieces of this gum every day will also help!


Features and Details:

• No allergens

• Energy per piece: 2.6 kcal

• Ingredients: monoglucosyl hesperidin, xylitol, natural colorings (gardenia and safflower)

• Instructions: Japanese (but easy to understand**)



*Vexed I hadn't come across this product before I recently shipped specialized medical instrumentation to a reader in Atlanta's southern suburbs

**If you're named Luke

August 7, 2020 at 08:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

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