Why is it that coffee produced by a barista at a cafe always tastes different than the same beans brewed at home?
It may be down to their years of training, but more likely it’s their ability to harness the principles of chemistry and physics. I am a materials chemist by day, and many of the physical considerations I apply to other solids apply here. The variables of temperature, water chemistry, particle size distribution, ratio of water to coffee, time and, perhaps most importantly, the quality of the green coffee all play crucial roles in producing a tasty cup. It’s how we control these variables that allows for that cup to be reproducible.
How Strong A Cup Of Joe?
Besides the psychological and environmental contributions to why a barista-prepared cup of coffee tastes so good in the cafe, we need to consider the brew method itself.
There are many ways, though, to achieve a drink containing 1.2 to 1.5 percent coffee. A pour-over, Turkish, Arabic, Aeropress, French press, siphon or batch brew (that is, regular drip) apparatus – each produces coffee that tastes good around these concentrations. These brew methods also boast an advantage over their espresso counterpart: They are cheap. An espresso machine can produce a beverage of this concentration: the Americano, which is just an espresso shot diluted with water to the concentration of filter coffee.We humans seem to like drinks that contain coffee constituents (organic acids, Maillard products, esters and heterocycles, to name a few) at 1.2 to 1.5 percent by mass (as in filter coffee), and also favor drinks containing 8 to 10 percent by mass (as in espresso). Concentrations outside of these ranges are challenging to execute. There are a limited number of technologies that achieve 8 to 10 percent concentrations, the espresso machine being the most familiar.
All of these methods result in roughly the same amount of coffee in the cup. So why can they taste so different?
When Coffee Meets Water
There are two families of brewing device within the low-concentration methods – those that fully immerse the coffee in the brew water and those that flow the water through the coffee bed.
From a physical perspective, the major difference is that the temperature of the coffee particulates is higher in the full immersion system. The slowest part of coffee extraction is not the rate at which compounds dissolve from the particulate surface. Rather, it’s the speed at which coffee flavor moves through the solid particle to the water-coffee interface, and this speed is increased with temperature.
A higher particulate temperature means that more of the tasty compounds trapped within the coffee particulates will be extracted. But higher temperature also lets more of the unwanted compounds dissolve in the water, too. The Specialty Coffee Association presents a flavor wheel to help us talk about these flavors – from green/vegetative or papery/musty through to brown sugar or dried fruit.
Pour-overs and other flow-through systems are more complex. Unlike full immersion methods where time is controlled, flow-through brew times depend on the grind size since the grounds control the flow rate.
The water-to-coffee ratio matters, too, in the brew time. Simply grinding more fine
Other Variables To Try To Control
Even if you can optimize your brew method and apparatus to precisely mimic your favorite barista, there is still a near-certain chance that your home brew will taste different from the cafe’s. There are three subtleties that have a tremendous impact on the coffee quality: water chemistry, particle size distribution produced by the grinder and coffee freshness.
First, water chemistry: Given coffee is an acidic beverage, the acidity of your brew water can have a big effect. Brew water containing low levels of both calcium ions and bicarbonate (HCO₃⁻) – that is, soft water – will result in a highly acidic cup, sometimes described as sour. Brew water containing high levels of HCO₃⁻ – typically, hard water – will produce a chalky cup, as the bicarbonate has neutralized most of the flavorsome acids in the coffee.
Ideally we want to brew coffee with water containing chemistry somewhere in the middle. But there’s a good chance you don’t know the bicarbonate concentration in your own tap water, and a small change makes a big difference. To taste the impact, try brewing coffee with Evian – one of the highest bicarbonate concentration bottled waters, at 360 mg/L.
The particle size distribution your grinder produces is critical, too.
Every coffee enthusiast will rightly tell you that blade grinders are disfavored because they produce a seemingly random particle size distribution; there can be both powder and essentially whole coffee beans coexisting. The alternative, a burr grinder, features two pieces of metal with teeth that cut the coffee into progressively smaller pieces. They allow ground particulates through an aperture only once they are small enough.
There is contention over how to optimize grind settings when using a burr grinder, though. One school of thought supports grinding the coffee as fine as possible to maximize the surface area, which lets you extract the most delicious flavors in higher concentrations. The rival school advocates grinding as coarse as possible to minimize the production of fine particles that impart negative flavors. Perhaps the most useful advice here is to determine what you like best based on your taste preference.
Most cafes will not serve coffee more than four weeks out from the roast date, emphasizing the importance of using freshly roasted beans.
One can mitigate the rate of staling by cooling the coffee (as described by the Arrhenius equation). While you shouldn’t chill your coffee in an open vessel (unless you want fish finger brews), storing coffee in an airtight container in the freezer will significantly prolong freshness.
So don’t feel bad that your carefully brewed cup of coffee at home never stacks up to what you buy at the café. There are a lot of variables – scientific and otherwise – that must be wrangled to produce a single superlative cup. Take comfort that most of these variables are not optimized by some mathematical algorithm, but rather by somebody’s tongue. What’s most important is that your coffee tastes good to you… brew after brew.
When Cassandra J. Perry was 13, a physical disability prevented her from going to school.
She had a genetic connective tissue disorder called Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, which means that her joints are unstable, her connective tissue is weak, she’s more prone to injuries, and she has chronic pain.
When she began living alone as an adult after splitting up with her spouse, she worried about how she’d be able to grocery shop.
“Grocery shopping and food prep have become impossible on my own,” says Perry. “I can’t always get to a store, and when I can, I can’t carry my own groceries due to limitations on how much weight I’m allowed to hold and carry.”
Perry had to rely on the generosity of friends to get enough to eat.
With Supplemental Security Income (SSI) being her only source of financial support, she crowdfunded six times to have enough money to buy groceries.
She had a Patreon account for eight months. Two of her friends regularly helped her cook meals, and others invited her over for meals.
“To survive, I kept a strict budget, which I would share publicly each time I needed to crowdfund,” Perry explains. “I had to get over my pride and my fear of asking for help.”
She supplemented the crowdfunding and SSI income with money she made selling her belongings, such as clothing and books.
Perry knew this method of survival wasn’t sustainable, so she joined the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in the spring of 2015.
Often known as “food stamps,” this benefit gives her $192 each month, which covers half of her overall food costs.
“Without [it], I would only be able to meet my food needs by relying on the generosity of my social network, food pantries, and food kitchens,” she says.
“Most days, I can’t physically walk around a store, even if someone is doing the carrying for me,” she says. Her friends and family help by going to the store with her, and they do the shopping while she waits in the car. She then joins them in the checkout line to pay using her benefits.
And thanks to local farmers markets, that $192 a month extends even farther.
These local markets match up to an extra $30 for healthy items, allowing her to bring home more fresh produce.
Because she’s on food stamps, Perry also qualifies for community support agriculture, where subscribers receive a regular supply of produce and other farm goods, such as in-season fruits and vegetables, eggs, meat and milk.
Since unprocessed, fresh foods tend to be more costly, her benefits and the additional incentives to buy fruits and vegetables make a significant difference.
Perry says that food pantries and kitchens tend not to have the specific kinds of healthy foods her doctor recommends as part of her treatment. This makes the fact that her food stamps give her access to more fresh produce particularly invaluable. Perry can also use her benefits to buy prepackaged and prepared (cut, chopped, diced, or peeled) produce, which she can’t get at food pantries and is easier for her since she has limited use of her hands.
Perry is grateful that she never has to make the choice between eating or paying rent.
“This provides me with a guarantee that I’ll have food to eat because I won’t have to choose between eating and paying bills,” she says. “Every last dollar I can muster is put to very good use.”
Because she is physically unable to work and lives on a limited budget, her benefits are a lifeline.
According to the 2015 National Health Interview Survey, 1 in 4 participants on food stamps have a disability that prevents them from working — just like Perry. That’s more than 11 million people. These benefits ensure they never have to make an impossible decision between going hungry or having a roof over their heads.
You can’t put a price on that kind of support.
Before we moved abroad, we did some marriage counseling. What I mean is, we sat in an old guy’s office for fifteen hours and cried. It was amazing.
He told us our marriage could be a safe-haven on the field. Or not.
He said we could strengthen and encourage each other on the field. Or not.
He said that our marriage could bring peace and stamina and even joy to the mission field. Or not.
He was right.
If you and I were chatting at a local coffee shop and I asked you, “Hey, I’m curious, how would you describe marriage?” In general, what words would you use?
Would you say, “Marriage is…
&#^$? [that could mean good things or bad things, I suppose]
How do you describe your own marriage? Often, the first word I hear people say is “hard.” And after they say “hard,” they quickly follow up with, “but it’s good.”
Now, think about your relationship with your best friend. How would you describe that relationship?
Would you say, “Our friendship is…
Would you call it “hard, but good”? Honestly, what would you think of someone who spoke of their closest friendship, first and foremost, as hard? Um, weird.
What about your relationship with God? Is it, first and foremost, hard?
Is that really what we’re going for? Is our chief end to endure the hard, with God and our spouses?
On a gut level, I think we know there’s more. There has to be more.
A Dangerous Idea
“The purpose of marriage is to make us holy.”
“Marriage is hard, but it’s ok, because it makes us holy.”
“My marriage is really difficult. But that’s good, because marriage is supposed to make me holy.”
Have you ever heard a variation on this theme? Often, people don’t say it so explicitly, but I’ve heard this a bunch, and I think it’s dangerous. It’s almost like we looked around and said, “Well, marriage is really difficult, and a lot of folks never experience intimacy or joy or happiness in their marriages, so let’s just tell them marriage is supposed to make them holy instead.”
We sound so spiritual when we talk like this, and we think we’re elevating the institution of marriage, when in fact, we’re simplifying it and cheapening it. We’re robbing it of beauty. And, we’re insulting people.
We’re insulting the people who aren’t married. How are they made holy? Are they doomed to a life of less holiness due to their marital status? Are they holiness-deficient? Are we implying that our single brothers and sisters, widows and widowers, or folks who’ve dealt with the trauma of divorce, don’t have access to the thing that can make them holy? Namely, a spouse?
Can marriage make you holy? Sure. Any relationship with another human has the potential to wear off rough edges, point out selfishness, expose our sin, and through the work of the Holy Spirit and the sacrifice of Jesus, make us holy. (See: Parenthood.) But saying “marriage can make you holy” is very different than saying “the purpose of marriage is to make you holy.”
The real-life implications of this belief are what scare me the most. If marriage is to make me holy, and if what I really mean by that is that the hard parts of marriage make me holy, then I’m actually completely justified in staying in the hard parts, without any hope of or desire to change. There is no impetus to seek deeper intimacy with the one I’ve promised to be with forever.
You know, sometimes marriage is hard because we’ve got issues that need to be worked on. But instead of acknowledging the emotional pain, or the fear of intimacy, or the past offenses, we deflect and avoid, consoling ourselves, “Well, at least it’s making me holy.”
This is not God’s plan for marriage.
Instead of hitting conflict or hardships and deflecting to “holy,” we need to start asking the tough questions, like “Why are we having this conflict?” or “Is there deeper emotional pain that’s making this so hard?” Can we stop using the idea of holiness as an excuse to avoid the hard questions?
And more to the theological core, I think we believe marriage can’t be pleasurable and enjoyable, because then it wouldn’t be as spiritual. This is an ancient discussion. Pause and analyze for a second if any of these fallacies have crept into your thoughts on marriage:
Marriage can’t feel good.
Marriage can’t be good unless it’s purely spiritual.
Spiritual intimacy is the most important part of marriage.
Physical and emotional intimacy in marriage is inherently “less than” spiritual intimacy.
Again, we don’t really talk like this, but it is often our meta-message.
Marriages are not meant to be endured.
Marriage is for intimacy.
The sharing of souls and dreams and flesh.
The first taste of summer.
Marriage, the joining together of two unique persons, predates sin and exists beyond it. Marriage satisfied Adam. It excites Jesus.
The first marriage was designed by a loving Father, for joy and companionship. Closeness. It was good. The last marriage, a proclamation of Love’s victory that echoes in eternal joy and companionship and glory. A celebration such as the cosmos has never seen.
Marriage is the mysterious coming together of two people; the blending of heart and vessel and marrow. The tearing of the veil. Intimate. At least, that’s what it’s supposed to be.
But intimacy can be a scary thing. It’s vulnerable and exposed and leaves us naked. It’s also amazing.
The opposite of intimacy is withdrawal. Distance. Disconnection. Ask yourself, ask your spouse, “Are we close? Are our hearts even in the same room, communicating easily? Have we settled for a dull disconnect?” It’s worth talking about. And for the record, if one spouse feels like there’s distance and disconnection but the other spouse thinks everything’s great, the first one’s right, and the marriage needs help. If you’re the spouse that’s denying distance, I beg you to stop. Now. Listen to the heart-cry of your husband or wife.
Every relationship will have seasons. Seasons of grandeur and awe and warmth, and seasons of darkness and winter. But there’s a big difference between a season of winter and an ice age. If you’re living in an ice age, please get help. It doesn’t have to be that way.
A Blessed Arrangement
Intimacy with your spouse is a gift, a fountain of youth. Treasure it, protect it, and fight for it. Here are some ideas:
Say no to good stuff so you can say yes to better stuff. Do not embrace your mission so much that you lose your marriage. Keep porn far, far away. Porn will destroy intimacy faster than you can click “delete browser history.”
Read good books about marriage. Trade babysitting. If at all possible, when someone comes to visit you on the field, let them get over jet lag and then leave the kids with them so you and your spouse can get away overnight. When you’ve got little munchkins at home, even 26 hours away (our last getaway) can be awesome. (And someone please tell me I’m not the only one who counts those getaways in hours!)
You may be in a place where getting away is impossible, or unsafe, or just really stupid. So, change your definition of “a date.” Putting the kids to bed early and catching up with your spouse over coffee (or tea, I guess) can be romantic, if you want it to be.
Regarding Sex [a word for my brothers]
Sex and intimacy are not synonyms. But still, a marriage characterized by emotional intimacy will include some form of healthy physical intimacy.
Men, we think we know a whole lot more about sex than we actually know. And that’s a problem, because we think we don’t need to learn, or even worse, we think that we’ve learned about sex already, you know, because we watched some porn once or listened to guys in the locker room. Yikes. Our wives deserve better than that.
Having sex doesn’t take much skill or special knowledge, but really making love to your wife’s heart and body, now that takes some practice. And research.
I think you should research sex. I know you think about it a lot, so why not study it from a healthy source? Have your wife do some research, and read whatever she thinks you need to read. And if she thinks you need to read something, then you need to read it. However, if she doesn’t want you reading about sex, she’s probably got a very good reason, and you should look into that before you start calling her names. For example, if you’ve violated her trust, or pressured her in the past, she’s probably not going to be too excited about this paragraph. And she’s probably right.
That being said, a pretty basic book that might be a good place to start your research is A Celebration of Sex, by Dr. Douglas Rosenau.
A longtime missionary and medical doctor once told me something interesting about sex. (And I always listen when someone tells me something interesting about sex.) He said, “Often, the sex life of a missionary couple is a barometer for the health of their marriage in general.”
Sex doesn’t create intimacy, and you can’t fix an unhealthy marriage by having more sex. That wasn’t his point. He was just saying that emotional distance, or a lack of emotional intimacy, will show up early in a couples’ sex life. It’s a warning sign. And if the emotional intimacy between a husband and wife begins to diminish, it should be addressed sooner rather than later.
It should be noted here that a healthy sexual relationship has nothing to do with frequency. It has to do with intimacy. Do you, as husband and wife, regularly connect with each other both physically and emotionally?
Husbands and wives, enjoying each other physically and emotionally, is very pleasing to God.
When One Partner Doesn’t Care
Maybe you hate this article. Maybe you’re already gearing up for the comments section. Please, hear me out.
For most of this article, I’m assuming that both husband and wife want to grow closer. I’m assuming you both want a healthy marriage characterized by deepening intimacy.
However, I realize that many people live in marriages that aren’t like that. Maybe that’s you. Maybe you’re in a marriage that’s missing something and you already know it and it’s breaking you. Maybe you wish things would change, but they haven’t, and you don’t think they ever will. If that’s you, I want you to know that I totally believe you. I see you, and I’m so very sorry.
It is not good to be alone. But being married to someone and still alone, now that might be worse still.
If that’s you, you may find yourself in a valley of grief, and that might be right where you need to be for a time. Grieving the loss of dreams. Grieving for the broken places, and the broken things.
If you’re in that hurting place, may the Lord of Peace surround you with his love. May you find friends and confidants who will walk beside you, encourage you, and strengthen you. May you find the Church to be a welcome and warm place, full of people who care about you, about seeing you. Not you, the part of the “bad marriage” or the “failed marriage,” but you, the child of the King, who is worth so much. May you know intimacy, with your God and with his people. And may he bring you safely home.
Marriage is a great gift, and we honor the Giver when we accept the gift with joy and excitement. We honor him when we treasure each other, respect each other, know each other.
We miss the Father’s heart when we think he gave us marriage “to make us holy.”
Yes, marriage is sometimes hard, and life is not all peaches and cream, but if your default description of marriage is “hard,” I’m telling you, there’s more. Look for that. Pray for that.
A Marriage Blessing
May your marriage be beautiful. May it remind you often that God gives good gifts. Very good gifts.
May people look at your love and see that there is a God and he is awesome.
May you show the world — and the Church — that it’s not about submission or obedience or “who’s in charge.” That in your love and mutual submission, you will race each other to the bottom. And when you get to the bottom, may you find love, wholeness, joy, peace, and life. In other words, Jesus.
May you laugh often. At each other, with each other, because of each other. And if and when God fills your home with children, may you sit around the table and laugh and laugh and laugh.
May you taste heaven when you taste each other.
And when you walk through the shadowlands, and you will walk through the shadowlands, may the One who led you together continue to lead you together. He is the Creator of the soaring mountaintops and the scary valleys. May he sustain you and remind you.
May 2018 be the best year of your marriage. Until 2019. And may 2019 be the best year of your marriage. Until 2020. May you experience the intense joy of being known, deeply, and the great honor of knowing another.
May your love, promised and given, echo into eternity.
May people hear your stories, witness your love, and say from now until forever, “Look at what the Lord has done!”
Editor’s Note: The internet has changed how kids learn about sex, but sex ed in the classroom still sucks. In Sex Ed 2.0, Mashable explores the state of sex ed and imagines a future where digital innovations are used to teach consent, sex positivity, respect, and responsibility.
There are few things more mortifying than being a preteen and needing to ask someone about good old Aunt Flo.
Thanks to The Care and Keeping of You: The Body Book for Girls, millions of young women didn’t have to. American Girl’s seminal book about getting our periods, dealing with acne, and finding healthy friendships provided answers to questions we were all too embarrassed to ask. Packed with informative, anatomical illustrations and simple, matter-of-fact details, the book was a staple for prepubescent girls before we all started googling. Instead of offering cringeworthy euphemisms like “sacred flower” or “first moon,” it got straight to the point: You have a vagina, and here are the changes you might experience.
If maxi pads and salicylic acid made up our armor for the battle against puberty, The Care and Keeping of You was our sacred text that led the way.
The book turned 20 years old this month. Since its publication in 1998, it has been updated and divided to include a second book specifically for older girls. How did it come about, and what made it so popular — and powerful? We caught up with Valorie Schaefer, who wrote the original book, to find out.
You mention in a piece in the Atlantic that the book was inspired by nationwide discussions about how puberty was happening earlier and earlier. Can you tell me a little more about how it came to be?
Pleasant Rowland was the founder and CEO of American Girl, and she’d been on some airplane and there was an article in the Times on the early onset of puberty. And she ripped the page out, and she put a sticky note on it for Michelle [Watkins, the editor of the book], and she wrote, “WE NEED TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT THIS NOW.”
They decided that one of the things they did best was education. I was a copywriter, writing for the catalogs about all the cute doll accessories, and somehow Pleasant was just determined that I was the best person to write this book. They wanted to talk to girls with a particular voice.
There were girls who were 9, 10 … who were getting their periods, and they were so confused and scared. When you’re a 9- or 10-year-old girl you don’t want the whole discussion about reproduction and sexuality — even if your mom is awesome. So a book just seemed like the way to go.
How would you describe the tone of the book?
Well, we always said, “This is the voice of your cool aunt.” Someone you could view as older and trustworthy, but not your mom and dad. Just a little younger, and maybe she’s a little cooler, but you trust her. She’s not the crazy wingnut, haha.
So she’s not the vodka aunt.
She’s the cool aunt! That’s sort of exactly how we wanted to talk to girls, because we wanted them to feel heard. We wanted to speak to them in a way that is respectful and kind and warm. Here’s just the information you need. We’re not going to give you stuff you’re not ready for. It’s just like, “What’s going on with my breasts??” “Am I going to get any?” “Will it hurt?”
These are the questions you have at that age. It’s hard for you to think of yourself as a 10-year-old, knowing what you know now, and say, “Wow, how could I not know that?”
And not only did you not know it, but you didn’t want to ask anybody, you know?
Yes! What was your research process like when writing this? How did you come up with that cool aunt persona, while also being informative?
Pleasant, Michelle, and I have all been 10-year-old girls. We started by asking ourselves the question, “What did we want to know?”
“Ten-year-old girls are like truth-seeking missiles.”
We just talked to people. We talked to girls, we talked to moms, I think we had a lot of confidence that fits “who” she was. I think the information — to us as adults — is not tricky, but when you’re 10 … 10-year-old girls are like truth-seeking missiles. It’s not that they distrust adults, but they’re not babies. They don’t buy everything hook, line, and sinker, so you have to talk to them in a way that’s very truthful. But you also can’t overwhelm them with information they can’t possibly digest yet.
So going back to your question, we talked to pediatricians, but more importantly, we talked to 10-year-old girls.
There’s a stigma about any discussion of a reproductive body part being inherently sexual. How do you think The Care and Keeping of You dispelled that myth?
I don’t think the book dispelled the myth, but the book steered a course right down the middle of that discussion. And I think if you want to talk to a girl about getting her period, you really have to talk about reproductive organs. You have to answer the question, “Why do I get a period?”
In the past 20 years, the book has become a staple for girls of my generation. When I mentioned it, everyone was like, “Oh my god! I remember that!” Why do you think there’s so much nostalgia surrounding The Care and Keeping of You?
I’m just gonna guess that it has much to do with who you were at that time, and a real affection for that girl. You can look back and go, “Man, I was a sweet-ass 10-year-old!”
You miss some things about being that age. You’re smart, you’re super-curious, you’re not completely frightened, you’re not overwhelmed by the concerns of the world like an 18- or 19-year-old. My daughters are 18 and 20, and they get, like, choked up about being that girl.
It arrived at a time in that girl’s life when they’re realizing they’re transitioning to the next stage.
In this internet age, you can pretty much Google anything. Why do you think that, in this flood of information, the book is still so relevant?
When you Google things, you don’t have a lot of control over what you receive. Even a 10-year-old knows not to trust everything that’s out there. You might Google something about getting your period and be like “Whoa! Too much information!”
“You might Google something about getting your period and be like ‘Whoa! Too much information!'”
I also think there’s something about the format of the book that’s so private and personal, it’s like the person is talking just to you. This book arrives at a time in your life when you really like to hang out in your bedroom, on your bed, with your friends. There’s something really great about being in a quiet place that’s private with a book that’s talking just to you.
And I think in an age when everything can be handed to you with a mouse, there’s something really nice about that experience.
Yeah, I totally get that! Do you think it’s dangerous for little kids to be flooded with information that they don’t have context for?
I don’t know if it’s dangerous, but it’s overwhelming, and way confusing! Even as well-meaning adults, we want to treat young people respectfully, and we think treating them respectfully is giving them as much information as possible. But it’s really important to be age appropriate. Not because we’re trying to hide anything, or we’re trying to be dishonest, but because a 10-year-old doesn’t have the same concerns that a 16-year-old does.
There are definitely times you can be scarred, your memory becomes seared by something you see that you definitely did not hope to see, but I think it’s mostly just overwhelming.
A few years ago the book was split up and modified, and the second book includes chapters about tampons and mental health … Can you talk about that process and why there was a decision to divide the books?
When we first wrote The Care and Keeping of You, we were really thinking about a 10-year-old girl. And we said on the back of the book, for girls eight and up. That’s really a readership level, and what we found was that younger and younger girls were reading it. Young girls are super-aspirational. If your older sister’s reading it, then you want to read it too.
And some of the contents of the book — maybe body image and eating disorders and stuff like that — are really not so appropriate for that younger girl. American Girl thought, we can just make the split and keep The Care and Keeping of You 1 more appropriate for the younger girl, and then in the second book be able to provide more information for that older girl who is asking harder questions.
The second book was written by an absolutely wonderful Harvard pediatrician named Cara Natterson. She has really built a reputation for knowing how to talk to preteens.
It’s 2018 now, and updates have been made, but some people have pointed out that the book is still very straight, very cisgender, and very able-bodied. Do you see it being modified to be more inclusive?
You know, I’ve been thinking about that.
I remember when I read the book years ago, there were parts like, “Sometimes you might feel this way about a boy!”
Right, totally! I don’t know if the publisher right now is thinking about revisiting that. As a parent myself, what I would do is explain to my child, “Every book isn’t written, sadly, for every single person. So we’re gonna take what serves us, and take what we can find.”
My 18-year-old is gay; she’s been out since she was 12, and she considers herself a female-bodied gay person. My conversation with her is, “Look, you’re female-bodied. The information in this book mostly applies to you. Sorry about the area of interest.”
In my circle of young people I care about, I would buy them The Care and Keeping of You, I would buy them The Body Book for Boys. I would put them both on the shelf and say, “There is fantastic information in both of these books; you should know about them no matter what gender you embody and no matter what kind of person you might be attracted to.”
I wish we didn’t create such a hard division between what each gendered child should know and understand. But without the references to who you might be interested in, I think the rest of the books really stand.
If you are a male-bodied child, but you identify as female, most of the information is still going to be useful to you. You’re not gonna get breasts, you’re not gonna bleed, but all the other information about skincare and exercise and how to feel about stuff is going to be the same. If you’re a parent of a child who is not strictly binary, you’re be putting together a custom program for them no matter what.
In the past 20 years, you’ve raised two girls. Did you read them the books?
Ha! I wrote the book when I was pregnant with my daughter, so she never knew a world without that book sitting on the bookshelf. But it’s really funny because it doesn’t matter who you are — you could be the person who wrote the book, and your kid does not want to talk to you about it.
It was on our shelves, and I was like, “Hey gals! Do you want to talk about anything in the book? Do you have any questions?” And they were like, “No, Mom. Thanks. No.”
My high school sex ed class was pretty comprehensive, but it was really matter-of-fact. It was like, “Here’s a cucumber. Here’s a condom. That’s it. Go. Be free.” But there’s so much nuance involved in sex education that just isn’t discussed, in schools or in general, you know?
I think we do a really poor job of recognizing transitions. There are a lot of cultures where there are specific and beautiful rituals about going from becoming a young girl to becoming a woman. In the U.S., we just do a shitty job, honestly. One of the things we tried to do with the book without getting into like, rites of passage ceremonies — and I know girls whose mothers would have first moon parties which was mostly mortifying —
I was mortified just getting a pack of pads and The Care and Keeping of You.
Right, right! One of the things we tried to do with the book is to say, “Hey. Girl. This is a moment for you when you are making a transition. You’re going from being a person who relied on your parents to take care of you physically and emotionally, and you are stepping into this new space where you are responsible for you.”
And I hope we did that in a way that is reassuring and empowering, without getting into anything spiritual or cultural. We wanted to say, “We see you! You got this, girl!”
When Sudan the white rhino was put down by his carers earlier this year, it confirmed the extinction of one of the savannah’s most iconic subspecies. Despite decades of effort from conservationists, including a fake Tinder profile for the animal dubbed “the most eligible bachelor in the world”, Sudan proved an unwilling mate and died – the last male of his kind. His daughter and granddaughter remain – but, barring some miraculously successful IVF, it is only a matter of time.
The northern white rhino will surely be mourned, as would other stalwarts of picture books, documentaries and soft toy collections. But what about species of which of which we are less fond – or perhaps even entirely unaware? Would we grieve for obscure frogs, bothersome beetles or unsightly fungi? Extinction is, after all, inevitable in the natural world – some have even called it the “engine of evolution”. So should extinction matter to us?
First of all, there are strong practical arguments against biodiversity loss. Variation, from individual genes to species, gives ecosystems resilience in the face of change. Ecosystems, in turn, hold the planet steady and provide services essential to human welfare. Forests and wetlands prevent pollutants entering our water supplies, mangroves provide coastal defence by reducing storm surges, and green spaces in urban areas lower city-dwellers’ rates of mental illness. A continued loss of biodiversity will disrupt these services even further.
Seen in this light, the environmental damage caused by resource extraction and the vast changes that humans have wrought on the landscape seem extremely high risk. The world has never before experienced these disturbances all at the same time, and it is quite a gamble to assume that we can so damage our planet while at the same time maintaining the seven billion humans that live on it.
Although the unregulated plundering of the Earth’s natural resources should certainly worry those brave enough to examine the evidence, it is worth specifying that extinction is an issue in its own right. Some environmental damage can be reversed, some failing ecosystems can be revived. Extinction is irrevocably final.
Studies of threatened species indicate that, by looking at their characteristics, we can predict how likely a species is to become extinct. Animals with larger bodies, for example, are more extinction-prone than those of smaller stature – and the same holds true for species at the top of the food chain. For plants, growing epiphytically (on another plant but not as a parasite) leaves them at greater risk, as does being late blooming.
This means that extinction does not occur randomly across an ecosystem, but disproportionately effects similar species that perform similar functions. Given that ecosystems rely on particular groups of organisms for particular roles, such as pollination or seed dispersal, the loss of one such group could cause considerable disruption. Imagine a disease that only killed medical professionals – it would be far more devastating for society than one which killed similar numbers of people at random.
This non-random pattern extends to the evolutionary “tree-of-life”. Some closely related groups of species are restricted to the same threatened locations (such as lemurs in Madagscar) or share vulnerable characteristics (such as carnivores), meaning that the evolutionary tree could lose entire branches rather than an even scattering of leaves. Some species with few close relatives, such as the aye-aye or tuatara, are also at higher risk. Their loss would disproportionately affect the shape of the tree, not to mention erasing their weird and wonderful natural history stories.
The most regular counter argument contends that we should not worry about extinction, because it is a “natural process”. First of all, so is death, but it does not follow that we meekly surrender to it (especially not prematurely or at the hands of another).
But secondly, fossil records show that current extinction levels are around 1,000 times the natural background rate. They are exacerbated by habitat loss, hunting, climate change and the introduction of invasive species and diseases. Amphibians seem particularly sensitive to environmental change, with estimated extinction rates up to 45,000 times their natural speed. Most of these extinctions are unrecorded, so we do not even know what species we are losing.
An incalculable cost
But does it really matter that the world contains fewer types of frog? Let’s take a hypothetical small, brown African frog that becomes extinct because toxic waste pollutes its stream. The frog has never been described by science, so no one is the wiser about its loss. Putting aside disaster movie-level ecosystem collapse as a result of ongoing mass extinction, the frog’s intrinsic value is a matter of opinion. It evolved over millions of years to be adapted for its particular niche – to us, the authors, the loss of that perfectly balanced individuality makes the world a lesser place.
But it is easy to moralize about biodiversity when you don’t have to live alongside it. One person’s marvel of nature might be another person’s torment – an orangutan raiding a poor farmer’s crops, or a leopard snatching a shepherd’s livestock. Pathogens are also part of life’s rich tapestry, but how many of us mourn the eradication of smallpox?
So how far should our aversion to extinction extend? We cannot answer this question – but like all good philosophical conundrums, it belongs to everyone, to be debated in schools, cafes, bars and market places across the world. We may not all agree, but extinction is broadening its reach, so consensus and urgent action are needed if we hope to control it.
“I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library.” So said the famed novelist Jorge Luis Borges, and if you love those musty old buildings packed with study carrels and knowledge, you probably share his heavenly sentiment.
Today, the library is as essential as ever. I mean physical libraries, the same brick-and-mortar buildings that have been lending books since the dawn of America. However, how does a place full of hardbacks and CDs keep pace with the digital universe? By adapting to its logic and evolving with the times.
Armed with a simple library card, you can put your tax money to good use and support one of the noblest institutions there is – all the while enjoying a near-limitless supply of literature, periodicals, music, movies, and even free office space. Here are just a few of the perks your local library has to offer.
1. eBooks and Audiobooks
When you think “library,” you think books. But books come in many varieties, including picture books for kids, paperbacks for the beach, and large-print books for people with visual challenges.
The explosion of media has birthed multiple new formats as well: libraries today also boast an impressive number of eBooks and audiobooks, all for free with a library card. All you need is your eReader (such as the super-cheap Kindle) and/or an audiobook app that supports your library’s file types (such as Overdrive), and you can binge on books the way you binge TV shows.
Just keep in mind eBooks and audiobooks from the library come with due dates, just like the print books do – you’ll be able to keep your copy for generally about two weeks, then you’ll have to renew your reading material, or let it be available again to other library cardholders.
Specific titles, especially beloved bestsellers, may not always be available either. However, you can place hold requests, just like with print books, and get the link to download your copy as soon as it’s available.
2. DVDs and CDs
Long before streaming, libraries made a go of competing with video and music stores with one big exception – the tapes, DVDs and CDs would be free to check out with a library card.
Sure, the selection might be somewhat more limited, and new releases wouldn’t get there as quickly, and sometimes the DVDs or CDs would be scratched and difficult to play. The movies would be free, and still are free at your local library right now.
The best approach to a library’s selection is to treat it like a thrift store: you never know what’s been donated over the years, so you can browse the eclectic collection for old favorites or bygone blockbusters you never got around to.
3. Wi-Fi and places to work
The “virtual office” usually means one of two things: your house, or a cafe. Coffee drinks add up, and sometimes leaving the house is a boon for productivity. The solution: an open table or padded chair, courtesy of your local book-lender. Every major library has free Wi-Fi, outlets, and designated places to work, and your only limitations are the hours of operation. (And don’t make any phone calls, obviously).
Libraries often have secluded workspaces and conference rooms you can reserve.
Need a computer too? Virtually all libraries have desktops available, and some even have laptops you can rent on site. These devices come with time limits on their use, but they’re still handy for many situations, and they often have printers available for use as well. So libraries make excellent work locations.
5. Free images
Need great stock images that are more historical or natural, or need to look at famous works of art, or some local maps? Libraries can help with all of that. The New York Public Library has 200,000 free images you can use for any purpose, and you can download them from your home right now. It also has a collection of 180,000 works of art, literature, and performance, many of which are in the public domain, as well as 672,000 items in its digital collection in general.
Peruse any of the items in your home right now, and use the public domain ones for any purposes you can think of. Then perhaps enjoy a collection of coloring pages from world-class libraries and museums, which you can print out and use whenever also made available through the digitizing efforts of libraries.
Also, don’t forget to see what similar services your local library has—you may get to see some great old maps of your town or portraits done by local artists of yore.
6. Classes on Technology
As an inexpensive alternative to more formal continuing education classes, libraries often host classes and workshops on various subjects. These classes might be on technology, accounting, or studio art. In the case of the D.C. library system, there might even be a class on how to avoid NSA spying. Classes are often divided by age, offering courses to teens and adults to better account for their relative learning levels, and some libraries even offer courses aimed at young children to encourage literacy and necessary math skills.
Libraries also frequently offer ESL programs to help those less familiar with English gain fluency. Since these classes are free, they’re aimed at a large audience, so typically they’re designed for serious beginners. If you already know a bit about Excel, taking a class on it at your local library will likely cover what you already know.
7. Activities for children
Libraries are heavily geared toward children, from individual sections (organized by age groups and reading ability) to kid-friendly programming, like storytelling and play sessions.
Kids may also access computers with pre-installed games and learning programs. (Full Internet access may be restricted as well).
8. Employment help
As mentioned, libraries offer free classes that can give you the skills to put on a resume. On top of that, many local libraries have job listings on their website, particularly with local companies that hire often, and some libraries offer programs to provide some basic resume and cover letter critique to those seeking it out.
If you’re looking for work, your local library can be a fantastic resource for you. Check out your local library’s site, and ask about it next time you go in for any of its other amazing services and resources.
9. 3-D printers
Some of the most tech-savvy libraries, including college libraries, offer 3-D printers for use. It’s all part of what’s called the Maker Culture, providing spaces for people to create things that they use or sell.
Check with your library for availability, any associated costs (some libraries offer printing for free but charge for the plastic that is used) and policies. You don’t want to get caught printing something that could get you in trouble.
While Wi-Fi is almost always available in libraries, more are offering hotspots for checkout. This gives internet access to people that otherwise don’t have it, ensuring that libraries are doing their part to close the digital divide.
Schools sometimes borrow the hotspots for their students, or families will get the devices so the kids can get some homework done. Check with your library before you go get a hotspot, as the devices can have long waiting lists.
11. All Kinds of Devices
In well-endowed libraries, you can borrow an arsenal of digital equipment by the hour. If you only need a camcorder to record a short meeting, or you just need a laptop for long enough to edit a few dozen photos, this is the perfect arrangement.
Most such lending occurs at colleges and universities, where students must use their student IDs to check out expensive electronics. But some technology is only available at your library, or at least would be hard to find anywhere else: librarians may provide easy access to microfiche readers, transparency projectors, laser disc devices, cassette players and vinyl record turntables. Such old-school devices may reopen while archives of lost material.
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In the latest edition of things no one asked robots to do for us, creative agency Redpepper created a device that takes all the fun out of the beloved “Where’s Waldo?” children’s puzzle books.
The machine, called There’s Waldo, finds the candy-cane-striped gentleman in just seconds using Google’s Cloud AutoML and AI image recognition technology. But what possible applications could this lead to, besides stopping humanity from being able to hide in crowds?
“Maybe a fun use would be seeing what cartoon character the AI thinks you look closest to? Maybe could detect comic book forgeries?” Redpepper’s chief technologist, Matt Reed, told The Verge.
All right, robots, so you found Waldo, but do you have any idea who Waldo is or why he’s here?