Archive for November, 2018

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The poison chronicles

November 29, 2018

“The lack of regulation meant that companies could pretty much put whatever they wanted into food with no fear of being held accountable. “[Food] wasn’t safety tested, because there were no rules requiring that,” says Blum. “It wasn’t labeled because there were no rules requiring that anyone tell you what was in your food. And it wasn’t illegal even if you killed someone.”

Companies were adding copper to vegetables to make them look greener and 20 Mule Team Borax to butter as a preservative—assuming it was butter and not beef tallow or ground-up cow stomach dyed to look like butter. Spices contained things like ground coconut shells, charred rope, brick dust, even floor sweepings. Honey was often little more than dyed corn syrup. The phrase “a muddy cup of coffee” might date back to this era, when ground coffee typically contained dyed sawdust, tree bark, or charred bone, and fake coffee beans were made out of wax and dirt. “I’m especially bitter about this, because I love coffee,” says Blum.

Dairy suppliers were among the worst offenders, adding pureed calf brains to milk to make it look more like rich cream, thinning the milk with water and gelatin, and then adding dyes, chalk, or plaster dust to correct the color. Worst of all, they added formaldehyde—then widely used as an embalming fluid to slow the decomposition of corpses—to milk as a preservative. (The additives were given innocuous names like Rosaline and Preservaline.) Hundreds of children were sickened, and many died, from the tainted milk. Formaldehyde was also used as a preservative in meat.

That was the driving force behind Wiley’s radical “Poison Squad” project. (He actually referred to it as “hygienic table trials”; journalists gave it the more colorful moniker.)  He recruited several young men to be his guinea pigs—all of whom signed waivers—and provided them with three healthy square meals a day. The catch: half of them also were given capsules containing borax, salicylic acid, or formaldehyde. Wiley started with the borax, thinking it would be the safest additive, and was alarmed at how quickly his squad members sickened.

The results convinced Wiley that federal regulation was necessary to protect American citizens from the dangerous and fraudulent practices of food suppliers. Naturally, industry leaders pushed back against Wiley’s proposed legislation. The National Association of Food Manufacturers formed around this time, along with chemical industry manufacturing associations, as companies pooled their resources to oppose the ominous specter of government regulation. They even instituted a smear campaign against Wiley. One trade journal called him “the man who is doing all he can to destroy American business.”

With Roosevelt’s support, Congress finally passed the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906.”

— excerpt from this great article at arstechinca

It’s amazing to me that this was just over a hundred years ago.  That until then you had to spend time and effort and worry to check every thing and even with that work could never know for sure if what you were getting was what you thought you were getting and you or others could easily be sickened or maimed or die.

It’s also a great story about the scientific method, of curiosity, of rigour, of courage in the face of opposition, and a commitment to your fellow human beings.

Definitively makes me want to read the book about Dr Wiley.

 

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Wonder Wednesday

November 28, 2018

An amazing time-lapse video of a rocket launch as viewed from the International Space Station…

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Philosophy Tuesday

November 27, 2018

Competition. Crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their friends! Ace that test, make the cheerleading team, win the championship, land that big contract, bankrupt your peers, make the most money, get the most awards, and look the best on Facebook! Winning, yeah, competition is all about singular winning, with everyone else worthy of scorn and ridicule. Get yours or get nothing.

At least, right from the get-go, that’s how competition is presented to us.

Thing is, that wasn’t really the original meaning for the word. The Latin root from which we get compete, competere, instead means “strive in common; strive after something in company with or together.”

To compete does not require turning everything into a zero-sum equation.

As William McDonough put it: “It means the way Olympic athletes train with each other. They get fit together, and then they compete. The Williams sisters compete – one wins Wimbledon. So we’ve been looking at the idea of competition as a way of cooperating in order to get fit together.”

Inside this broader view of competition, we leave less destruction in our wake. We begin to truly play games – games that enliven us without all the extra layers of significance we’ve piled on. We empower ourselves and those around us, leading to even better games and better conclusions. We get to be supported and grow together. And we gain freedom from unnecessary stress, consternation, and mental duress*.

Best of all, we get to have way more fun.

 

* Which, amusingly, all work to hinder our performance in the game. We feel worse, do worse, and suffer more under the outcome!

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Architecture Monday

November 26, 2018

I love it when companies recognize good design makes for a better running enterprise, especially for building types that, over the past century or so, have been considered “utilitarian” and thus “unnecessary” or “wasteful” to spend any effort in making them places that treat their worker’s right.

And so, behold!  A fishing facility of docks and warehouses and processing and offices all high up in the rugged northern part of Norway.

It’s a fun mix of colour and forms and graphics that support both easy wayfinding as well as creating a great backdrop in the dark nights of winter.  Large windows let the surrounding landscape (or the northern lights) fill the employee areas.  The varied forms create an abundance of interesting places while hiding tonnes of little nautical hints throughout, all capped by the dramatic flying bar that houses the offices and other amenities.

Good stuff.  A well-crafted complex that improves operations while/by honouring its employees.  A delight nestled into a rugged landscape. Well done.

Holmen Industrial Area designed by the great team at Snøhetta.

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Wreckin’ It Twice

November 25, 2018

Wreck it Ralph was director Rich Moore’s first film for Disney.  It was a fun and inventive movie, full of great potential and lots of heart, yet marred by lackluster storytelling, extraneous jokes, and veering away at the last minute from actually engaging with the very strong contexts (ostracization and bullying) it had been heading towards.  My opinion has shifted gears over the years to where I now find it a solid movie, if one that still feels like it could have reached higher.

So, for me it was a great delight when Rich’s next film (along with Byron Howard and Jared Bush) came along to find that these weaknesses had all been addressed – the storytelling was buttery smooth, the humour well integrated, the puns turbocharged, and in absolutely. no. way. did the movie avoid the profound and difficult inquiries it was grappling with.  It was moving, it was beautiful, and it was, of course, Zootopia, a film I may have written a thing or two about

Now, two and a half years after Zootopia and six years later from the original comes the sequel to Ralph (directed again by Rich along with Phil Johnston).  As was the tradition, I avoided as many spoilers as possible, watched the original to get ready, and headed to the theatre opening weekend to catch a showing.  Would Ralph Wreck the Day (in a good way) again?

(Spoilers Ahead!) Read the rest of this entry ?

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Will the king rise again?

November 23, 2018

Without much fanfare or warning, Disney dropped a teaser trailer for the “live action” remake of The Lion King…

… and I won’t lie, I got chills from watching it.

In no small part this is unsurprisingly due to the gorgeous visuals on display in this new teaser – the “realistic” rendering on display is quite stunning.  Mainly, though, the chills arise because this trailer shows only beat-for-beat remakes of scenes from the original*, and the original, especially coupled with the great score by Hans Zimmer, will almost always give me the chills.

As for the enterprise as a whole I still have massive concerns about what will result from this remake.  The remake of Beauty and the Beast left me cold in more ways than one** and I do wonder what the intent of this is (besides making a tonne of money, of course).  There are only a pawful of narrative (or other) weaknesses that I’d say would need ameliorating; will they address those or miss them, will they try to shoehorn in unnecessary stuff, will they go for some radical reworking, or will they just leave it as a pure visual overhaul?***  Some of those paths could lead to something amazing.  The others… not so much.

The 1994 release of TLK really landed for me in ways I may never be able to fully understand why.  It had a monumental impact on my life, both in terms of how it spoke to me, what I took from it, the many friendships I developed around it, and the life-directing choices that emerged from it.  I’m not concerned that the remake will ruin my time or memories of that time – I would never give anyone or anything that power – but this movie is something special to me.  I already think it is a great movie, with good storytelling.

Again I won’t lie:  they are clearing doing this, and I so want, and hope, that whatever gets released next year remains equally great, moving, wonderous, and powerful.

Paws crossed.

 

* Which makes me wonder why they didn’t actually pull a page from the original and release the entire Circle of Life sequence as the trailer…

** And Lindsay Ellis unraveled it even further here, enumerating a number of things that point to why my view of the remake had been souring further since I’d written my review…

*** Perhaps strangely I could get behind this direction.  It does leave open a big question of “why bother?” but at the same time, so long as they’re being honest about what they’re doing, there’s an appeal to making something purely for aesthetic delight.

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Philosophy Tuesday

November 20, 2018

“From time to time we receive letters from readers who wonder why there’s so much moralizing in our mags. They take great pains to point out that comics are supposed to be escapist reading and nothing more. But somehow, I can’t see it that way. It seems to me that a story without a message, however subliminal, is like a man without a soul. In fact, even the most escapist literature of all – old time fairy tales and heroic legends – contained moral and philosophical points of view. At every college campus where I may speak, there’s as much discussion of war and peace, civil rights, and the so-called youth rebellion as there is of our Marvel mags per se. None of us lives in a vacuum – none of us is untouched by the everyday events around us – events which shape our stories just as they shape our lives. Sure our tales can be called escapist – but just because something’s for fun, doesn’t mean we have to blanket our brains as we read it!

Excelsior!”

— Stan Lee

 

Storytelling is one of the, if not the, thing that makes us human.  It is one of our greatest gifts.  A good story can excite us, can move us, can inspire us, can make us feel all manner of feels.  Stories can touch us deeply.  And, most importantly, it is through stories, both heard and our own, that we come to know ourselves and our world.  Our very identity and relation to the world is codified through story.  This conflux of narratives is what gives us our experience of life.

Storytelling is something that is to be honoured, cherished, nurtured, supported.  The stories we tell are just as important as the equations and knowledge and skills we teach.  Entertainment is fabulous!  And entertainment is never in opposition to great and intentful storytelling.