Open Syllabus Project, Visualized

“A new interactive visualization from Open Syllabus turns this trove of data into a color-coded stippling of different-sized dots, each one representing a particular text. Float over each dot and a box appears in the corner of the screen, showing the number of syllabi that have assigned the text, and a link to a profile page with more detailed analysis. Called the “Co-Assignment Galaxy,” the infographic does what a list cannot: draws connections between all these works and their respective fields of study.

-Josh Jones, “A New Interactive Visualization of the 165,000 Most-Frequently Assigned Texts in College Courses.” July 22, 2019.

A list of the top 50 works is available from the Open Syllabus Project website.

I Don’t Want This Party to End

“In Senegal, the polite expression for saying someone died is to say his or her library has burned. When I first heard the phrase, I didn’t understand it, but over time I came to realize it was perfect. Our minds and souls contain volumes inscribed by our experiences and emotions; each individual’s consciousness is a collection of memories we’ve cataloged and stored inside us, a private library of a life lived.”

—Susan Orlean, “Library Book.” New York: Simon & Schuster, 2018 quoted in Joanne McNeil. “I Don’t Want This Party to End.” All My Stars. July 9, 2019.

Joanne McNeil’s discussion of her secret library is lovely.

The Story of Khantivadin, The Teacher of Patience

Note: khanti = patience, and vadin = teacher

The king of Kausala was a very rich king… [with] five hundred wives. One day the king decided he we wanted to go on a picnic and he let his wives know this. The cooks were alerted to prepare the food, the servants to get the elephants ready with seats and decorations and the soldiers to get ready in their best uniforms.

The next morning the whole palace, the royal servants and the royal wives, set out. They came to the forest and found a beautiful meadow for their picnic. The king ate and drank too much. Immediately after lunch he fell asleep and the wives said to each other, ‘Now’s our chance. We don’t often get to go out of the palace. Let’s look around.’ They all trooped off and looked at the butterflies, the greenery and the trees and enjoyed the beauty of the forest.

Very soon they came to a little bark hut in front of which sat a vert famous old sage whom they recognized as Khantivadin. All the women sat down in front of him, paid their respects and asked him to preach a sermon to them. He very willingly obliged and spoke about moral conduct, loving-kindness, and generosity.

Meanwhile the king woke up and their wasn’t a single wife to be seen anywhere. He was furious. He called the soldiers and said ‘Go! Get my wives back immediately.’ They obediently ran off into the forest and found the wives sitting in front of Khandivadin’s hut listening to a sermon.’ But the king was still under the influence of all that food and drink and couldn’t listen to reason. He told the soldiers to chase all the wives back to the meadow and then tie Khantivadin to the nearest tree. Since they were in the employ of the king, they could not do otherwise. They chased all the wives back to the meadow and tied up Khantivadin.

Then the king took a huge knife, ran up to Khantivadin in a great rage and said, ‘You old scoundrel, you. You’ve been trying to take my wives away from me.’ And he cut off one foot and said, ‘And where is your patience now?’ Khantivadin replied, ‘Not in my foot, your Majesty.” Then the king proceeded to cut the old sage to pieces while repeating the same question and each time getting the same answer, which increased his fury.

When Khantivadin was on the point of dying, the soliders who had witness the spectacle, said to Khantivadin, ‘Sir, please do not curse the whole kingdom. Just curse the king.’ And Khantivadin said, “I do not curse anyone. May the king live long and happily.’ And then he died. The story says that the earth then swallowed up the king.

The next day the Buddha was informed of this happening whereupon he said, ‘Who does not act in this way has not understood my teaching.’

-Ayya Khema, “Being Nobody, Going Nowhere.” London: Wisdom Publications, 1987. pgs. 66-68.

Book: Bicycle Day by Brian Blomerth

“Illustrator, musician and self-described ‘comic stripper’ Brian Blomerth has spent years combining classic underground art styles with his bitingly irreverent visual wit in zines, comics, and album covers. With Brian Blomerth’s Bicycle Day, the artist has produced his most ambitious work to date: a historical account of the events of April 19, 1943, when Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann ingested an experimental dose of a new compound known as lysergic acid diethylamide and embarked on the world’s first acid trip. Combining an extraordinary true story told in journalistic detail with the artist’s gritty, timelessly Technicolor comix style, Brian Blomerth’s Bicycle Day is a testament to mind expansion and a stunningly original visual history.”

—Description by the publisher, Anthology

A Great Sorting

“…we are witnessing a Great Sorting within the library, a matching of different kinds of scholarly uses with the right media, formats, and locations. Books that are in high demand; or that benefit from physical manifestations, such as art books and musical scores; or that are rare or require careful, full engagement, might be better off in centralized places on campus. But multiple copies of common books, those that can be consulted quickly online or are needed only once a decade, or that are now largely replaced by digital forms, can be stored off site and made available quickly on demand, which reduces costs for libraries and also allows them to more easily share books among institutions in a network. Importantly, this also closes the gap between elite institutions such as Yale and the much larger number of colleges with more modest collections.”

-Dan Cohen, “The Books of College Libraries Are Turning Into Wallpaper.” The Atlantic. May 26, 2019.

Knife Missiles

“Designated the Hellfire R9X, the missile has no explosive warhead—instead, its payload is more than 100 pounds of metal, including long blades that deploy from the body of the missile just before impact.

‘To the targeted person, it is as if a speeding anvil fell from the sky,’ according to the WSJ. Some officials referred to the weapon as ‘the flying Ginsu,’ because the blades can cut through concrete, sheet metal, and other materials surrounding a target.”

—Sean Gallagher, “Drones used missiles with knife warhead to take out single terrorist targets.” Ars Technica. May 9, 2019.

Coming soon to a law enforcement department near you. Thanks, Iain M. Banks (no. 6); I feel safer already!

Found: A Quadrillion Ways for String Theory to Make Our Universe

“According to string theory, all particles and fundamental forces arise from the vibrational states of tiny strings. For mathematical consistency, these strings vibrate in 10-dimensional spacetime. And for consistency with our familiar everyday experience of the universe, with three spatial dimensions and the dimension of time, the additional six dimensions are ‘compacted’ so as to be undetectable.

Different compactifications lead to different solutions. In string theory, a “solution” implies a vacuum of spacetime that is governed by Einstein’s theory of gravity coupled to a quantum field theory. Each solution describes a unique universe, with its own set of particles, fundamental forces and other such defining properties.”

—Anil Ananthaswamy, “Found: A Quadrillion Ways for String Theory to Make Our Universe.” Scientific American. March 28, 2018.

Note to self: read Brian Greene’s Elegant Universe.