The Sockdolager

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Why Not Mars ◼︎

Maciej Cegłowski has made a persuasive case against human boots on Mars in the foreseeable future. Not only am I convinced that he's right in specific case, but ever since reading Kim Stanley Robinson's Aurora a few years ago, I've largely divorced myself from the romantic falsehood of galactic manifest destiny. Let's just build more telescopes and robots while we work on fixing up where we are always, always, always going to live.


The (lonely, discouraging) Journey to Nanite ◼︎

While acknowledging that not everybody finds deeply technical discussions of things they only faintly understand to be compelling viewing, I found Brian Karis's 90-minute keynote address totally engrossing. He discusses his year-long intellectual journey towards what became Unreal Engine 5's virtualized geometry technology not in terms of the technical triumph that it ultimately was but rather the messy process of dead-ends, hunches, and lonely groping in the dark that it took to get there.

In his relating of the experience of working on a problem where a solution was far from guaranteed, Karis's humility and curiosity are genuinely inspirational.


The Flying Train ◼︎

Shot in 1902, “The Flying Train” takes viewers on an uncommonly crisp journey aboard a suspended railcar. Throughout the two-minute video, riders see Wuppertal residents walking across pedestrian bridges and down dirt roadways more than a century ago. The city is known still today for its schwebebahn, which is a style of hanging railway that’s unique to Germany.

This led me to look up the Wikipedia article for Wuppertal Schwebebahn, which in addition to being a still-functioning hanging rail system over a century old, is—if I don't miss my guess—a double dactyl.


My Heart Will Go On, in Baseball Names ◼︎

Some things just really don't need much explanation.


The Mysterious Life of Birds who Never Come Down ◼︎

They still seem to me the closest things to aliens on Earth. I’ve seen them up close now, held a live grounded adult in my hands before letting it fall back into the sky. You know those deep-sea fish dragged by nets from fathoms of blackness, how obvious it is that they aren’t supposed to exist where we are? The adult swift was like that in reverse. Its frame was tough and spare, and its feathers were bleached by the sun. Its eyes seemed unable to focus on me, as if it were an entity from an alternate universe whose senses couldn’t quite map onto our phenomenal world. Time ran differently for this creature.

This essay by Helen Macdonald has some of the most exquisite prose I have read in months and months.


Japanese-to-English Translation Basics ◼︎

Once upon a time, when I was an undergraduate, I had the opportunity to take a translation seminar with one of the finest translators of Japanese literature into English. The course texts she selected for the seminar presented all manner of interesting translation challenges, and she brought in a number of fantastic speakers from the Kyoto-based Society of Writers, Editors, and Translators to discuss these challenges with our class. Unfortunately, I was not able to take full advantage of this seminar; it was as if these professional translators were teaching us translation calculus, and I still didn’t grasp basic translation algebra.

I'm a Japanese-to-English translator by trade—primarily of comics and genre fiction. If I'd read this essay sometime in the first five years or so of my career, I think it would have saved me the next five years of learning lessons the hard way. As it is, it still crystallized principles I've spent a decade internalizing. An absolute must-read for anyone interested in the exigencies of translation.


Ghost of Tsushima and the Political Myth of the Samurai ◼︎

This is an absolutely fantastic piece by Kazuma Hashimoto on the ways in which the developers of the recent open-world RPG Ghost of Tsushima used an aesthetically evocative but politically and historically naive portrayal of samurai in their game:

The preservation of the Bushido code that was highly popularized and utilized by Imperial Japan lives on through promotion by history revisionists, who elevate samurai to a status similar to that of the chivalric knight seen in Western media. They are portrayed as an honor-bound and noble group of people that cared deeply for the peasantry, when that was often not the case.


Minidiscs ◼︎

My favorite obsolete audio format is the Minidisc. My favorite kind of web site is an obsessively complete catalogue of obscure knowledge. (I had to set my browser's text encoding to "Cyrillic (Windows)" to make the text here render correctly, but the text is, to put it mildly, not the main event.)


Perseverance & Ingenuity ◼︎

Amid all the—well, everything—I'd lost track of the fact that we're launching a new Mars rover this year. I thought Curiosity was badass (nuclear-powered, dropped from a sky crane), but this one has a fucking helicopter.


A Salmon Farm in Florida ◼︎

Atlantic Sapphire’s big advantage over its competitors in the protein world will be efficiency; it’s on track to use just 1.05 pounds of feed for every pound of salmon filet, while cows devour more than six pounds of feed for every pound of beef. And while conventional salmon farms are nearly as efficient at converting fish feed into human food, their supply chains are far more complex. ... Atlantic Sapphire will do it all at the Bluehouse, then put the final product on trucks to be delivered fresh anywhere in the U.S. within a day.

This was the first big article in a while that's made me feel something like genuine optimism about the world.