2019 Week 34: Paris

Short version: Here are some observations about Paris.

Long Version:

Milk and Water

Growing up in Australia and now living in the United Kingdom, when I buy milk I usually look for refrigerated shelving. As it turns out, this is not where you find milk in French supermarkets, as Ultra-high Temperature (UHT) processing removes the need for refrigeration before opening. Table of UHT milk consumption by country here.

Paris is the first city in the world I’ve found sparkling water available on tap in an outdoor public space.

Queues at the Louvre

At the Louvre tourists queue for hours to see the Mona Lisa and take a photo of it. I’ve been thinking about this behaviour. The painting is aesthetically pleasing, historically significant, and widely discussed, but so are many paintings on display in galleries around the world. Particularly odd is that most people who get to it are unable to get particularly close to it, and use that brief encounter to look at it through their phone or camera. Given high resolution images of the Mona Lisa are easily available, I would almost go so far as to call this behaviour the “wrong” way to consume art, but on reflection I can’t justify why this is so. I would suggest that the experience of the scale of enormous historic paintings such as Oath of the Horatii or The Raft of the Medusa in person provides something difficult to gain from digital copies.

Segregation

Wandering the streets of Paris it is clearly a multicultural, multiethnic city. It was notable that those different groups tended to clump, both on the larger scale of multiple city blocks, but also on public transport. Race is a sensitive issue though, and as I lack experience writing about it I’m hesitant to address it hurriedly.

Photos from the Week

2019 Week 33: Holidays

Short version: I’m on holiday.

Long version:

Holidays

Amusingly while departing Oxford I came across this piece about vacations. It is noticeable here in Paris that the city has emptied out; plenty of stores and cafes have a note in the window mentioning a reopening later in the month.

I’ve enjoyed taking the time to read, think, and jot down some of these thoughts. Alas at the moment most of these thoughts are barely comprehensible to me on rereading, and will require a little more work before sharing.

Photos from the week come from some lovely runs around Oxford and Paris.

Photos from the Week

2019 Week 32: Unsympathetic Science

Short version: Tweets spark controversy, Google studies teamwork, New Zealand takes the record for largest parrot, hire bikes pile up around China, and you can now get berglabs in your inbox.

Long version:

Guns, Germs, and Neil deGrasse Tyson

Last weekend the US experienced another mass shooting. Sadly another is the correct word, as the US averages nearly one mass shooting a day. A series of charts compiled by vox make the correlation between prevalence of guns and deaths pretty clear. Neil deGrasse Tyson in the wake of the shooting on the weekend shared some statistics (listing other preventable causes of death that occur at higher rates). This resulted in outcry on social media. That tweet and the reaction is an example of why technocracy ultimately fails; people are emotional and those emotions are real and matter.

Re: Work

Google makes a lot of money, and can afford to spend it on developing its culture and staff. Most famously this is through perks like free on site cafes and restaurants, bean-bag rooms, and video game set ups. More useful to non-googlers is the research they conduct and share on improving workplace practices. This week I was shown Project Aristotle, particularly the actions for fostering psychological safety.

Big Birds

This week in Biology Letters an article was published describing New Zealand’s giant parrot, a bird estimated to weigh 7 kg and stand about waist height. This would be similar in size to a modern albatross, as well being twice as large as the largest known parrot, however at such size it likely could not fly. It adds to New Zealand’s collection of exceptionally large and extinct birds, such as the famous Moa.

Bicycle Business Blunders

This article from the Atlantic has some incredible photos of abandoned bicycles in China. The collapse of ofo, a bike sharing company that placed millions of bright yellow bikes in cities around the world, came up discussing Matt Levine’s piece on MoviePass. Rapid growth is alluring to investors, but clearly doesn’t always lead to success.

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Photos from the Week

2019 Week 31: Taboos

Short version: In a busy week I’ve been drafting some thoughts about topics that are considered awkward, impolite, or worthy of censorship.

Long version:

There are topics that are uncomfortable to discuss, that etiquette guides suggest one avoids at a dinner party. Topics such as sex, money, politics, physical and mental illness. These are also incredibly important topics to discuss. In general I feel that all topics should be open to discussion, and that we should shake off the idea that certain things are taboo. Some thoughts:

Sex:
It is highly likely that you exist because your parents had sexual intercourse. Sex is both important, and fun, but oddly it is often a topic people feel very uncomfortable talking about. Sexual repression, particularly by Abrahamic faiths, is likely a significant contributing factor. It is interesting to note from a perspective of censorship, that film and television guidelines tend to allow much more graphic violence than graphic sexual content in a given category, despite most individuals having much more lived experience with sex than violence. I do wonder if there is a positive to this apparent contradiction: is desensitisation to violence better that desensitisation to sex?

Stereotypes and discrimination:
In Australia the series “You Can’t Ask That” puts uncomfortable questions to marginalised Australians. In attempts to avoid seeming ignorant about minority identities, individuals may not engage with them for fear of revealing that ignorance, which further entrenches that ignorance. By asking “taboo” questions this show may help break down that barrier in the general public.

Some things are better left unsaid:
There are topics of discussion that, on balance, create harm. Spreading certain types of information, regardless of truth, can have damaging effects (e.g. how to develop biological weapons, graphic descriptions of torture, anti-vaccine conspiracy theories). However it is difficult to delineate when discussing topics becomes harmful (e.g. when does skepticism become fearmongering).

Blogging Note: I would like revisit this in more depth when I have read, thought, and discussed this a little more.

Photos from the Week