An incredible map

Seth Stevenson writes on “the greatest paper map of the United States you’ll ever see.” It’s David Imus’s work of art and it really is beautiful. Here’s Pennsylvania:

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What separates a great map from a terrible one is choosing which data to use and how best to present it. How will you signify elevation and forestation? How will you imply the hierarchy of city sizes? How big must a town (or an airport, or a body of water) be to warrant inclusion? And how will you convey all of this with a visual scheme that’s clean and attractive? …

David Imus worked alone on his map seven days a week for two full years. Nearly 6,000 hours in total. … Your standard wall map will often paint the U.S. states different colors so their shapes are easily grasped. But Imus’ map uses thick lines to indicate state borders and reserves the color for more important purposes—green for denser forestation, yellow for population centers.

“Yellow for population centers” is one of the keys for grasping both the utility and beauty of this map. Looking at the entire nation with this map gives you an immediate sense of just how big the big cities are, and where the population splays itself out across the terrain. It turns raw facts like “325 million Americans” into something as practically useful as it is visually impressive. And seeing how little concentrated yellow there is on the thing reminds us of how much room we have to grow.

A better public square

Tony Judt:

Democracies corrode quite fast; they corrode linguistically, or rhetorically if you like— that’s the Orwellian point about language. They corrode because most people don’t care about them. Notice that the European Union, whose first parliamentary elections were held in 1979 and had an average turnout of over 62 percent, is now looking at turnout of less than 30 percent, even though the European Parliament matters more now and has more power. The difficulty of sustaining voluntary interest in the business of choosing the people who will rule over you is well attested. And the reason why we need intellectuals, as well as all the good journalists we can find, is to fill the space that grows between the two parts of democracy: the governed and the governors.

Tony’s final point on the role of intellectuals and journalists is particularly worth thinking over. The intellectual and journalistic class are fluid; they’re not castes. The people in these classes come and go. But both classes seem to have forgotten that as much as they serve as role as critics and investigators and skeptics they have an even greater role to serve as boosters for public spirit, for the empowerment of regular people to achieve a good life for themselves, and for the public square to be a space worth entering in the first place.

It’s Memorial Day; a day we commemorate those who’ve served and died to protect the nation. We can honor them and live up to their sacrifice if we figure out how to strength the nation in the public square, from the largest to the smallest towns.

What does a better public square look like in your community? Practically speaking.


Charlie Munger on talent

…you have to figure out what your own aptitudes are. If you play games where other people have the aptitudes and you don’t, you’re going to lose. And that’s as close to certain as any prediction that you can make. You have to figure out where you’ve got an edge. And you’ve got to play within your own circle of competence. – Charlie Munger

To win, you’ve got to play a game you’re able to win.

“What are my talents? Where do I have an edge?”

Crunchy, brittle, crackly words

Roy Williams writes with a clarity and spunk that I wished the entire ad industry could channel. The Wizard of Ads was something of a revelation to me when I read it a decade or so ago. (But writing that arrests the reader, that transports him, shouldn’t be limited to ads. Roy is worth reading if you want to be a great writer, because he has this talent for conveying the spirit of a thing.)

His Monday Morning Memo is usually good, and one of my all time favorites is this one:

We won’t take the time to talk about Robert Pirosh as a writer for The Waltons, Hawaii Five-O, Mannix, Bonanza, My Three Sons, Family Affair, Combat! and The Fugitive. Our interest is directed at the letter that started it all, a letter blindly sent by 24 year-old Robert Pirosh to every producer, director and studio executive in Hollywood:

Dear Sir:

I like words. I like fat buttery words, such as ooze, turpitude, glutinous, toady. I like solemn, angular, creaky words, such as straitlaced, cantankerous, pecunious, valedictory. I like spurious, black-is-white words, such as mortician, liquidate, tonsorial, demi-monde. I like suave “V” words, such as Svengali, svelte, bravura, verve. I like crunchy, brittle, crackly words, such as splinter, grapple, jostle, crusty. I like sullen, crabbed, scowling words, such as skulk, glower, scabby, churl. I like Oh-Heavens, my-gracious, land’s-sake words, such as tricksy, tucker, genteel, horrid. I like elegant, flowery words, such as estivate, peregrinate, elysium, halcyon. I like wormy, squirmy, mealy words, such as crawl, blubber, squeal, drip. I like sniggly, chuckling words, such as cowlick, gurgle, bubble and burp.

I like the word screenwriter better than copywriter, so I decided to quit my job in a New York advertising agency and try my luck in Hollywood, but before taking the plunge I went to Europe for a year of study, contemplation and horsing around.

I have just returned and I still like words.

May I have a few with you?

Robert Pirosh
385 Madison Avenue
Room 610
New York
Eldorado 5-6024

I think this is a contender for inclusion in Letters of Note.

Wrigley Field, Cubs v. Brewers

I’m at Wrigley Field this afternoon for Cubs v. Milwaukee Brewers. Milwaukee is about 90 minutes north, and we drove into Chicago the other day. Basically the equivalent of New York/Philadelphia. It felt like a neighborhood game, and was nearly a thrashing except for the Brewers late-effort to bring it from 13-1 to 13-6 in the 9th inning. Beautiful but somewhat chilly day. Lakeview immediately around Wrigley is changing quite a bit.

Jobs v. careers

What’s the difference between a job and a career? A job pays, but a career fulfills. That’s how I think about it.

We talk a lot about the “job market,” but why not think about the “career market”? Ben Casnocha has written about the value of being in “permanent beta.” And Anya Kamenetz wrote on “The Four-Year Career” a few years ago:

Shorter job tenure is associated with a new era of insecurity, volatility, and risk. It’s part of the same employment picture as the increase in part-time, freelance, and contract work; mass layoffs and buyouts; and “creative destruction” within industries. All these changes put more pressure on the individual–to provide our own health care, bridge gaps in income with savings, manage our own retirement planning, and invest in our own education to keep skills marketable and up to date. …

[Adam Hasler’s] interests are transdisciplinary–he’s what might be called a “T-shaped person,” with both depth in one subject and breadth in others. He demonstrates cross-cultural competency (speaking fluent Spanish, living abroad) and computational thinking (learning programming and applying data to real-world problems). The intellectual voracity that drove him to write 50,000 words on Western cultural history while running a coffee shop is a sign of sense making (drawing deeper meaning from facts) and excellent cognitive load management (continuous learning and managing attention challenges). Above all, Hasler’s desire to synthesize his knowledge and apply it to helping people, and his ability to collaborate with those who have different skills, shows a high degree of social intelligence. In the future, says Gorbis, “everything that can be routinized, codified, and dissected will eventually be done by machines. Social and emotional intelligence is what humans are uniquely good at–at least for the next decade or two.”

A career with “transdisciplinary” experience—”both depth in one subject and breadth in others”—seems like the key for the future.

Contrasts not quite so sharp

Ever since discovering Aaron Jasinski more than a decade ago I’ve followed his work. I think he’s got a remarkable style, and probably my favorite piece of his is A Prayer to Memory:


I ordered a print of this recently and had it framed. It’s not hanging anywhere yet, but it will eventually. This is “far out” compared to most of the other stuff I’ve thought enough of to frame.

It captured my attention because I think it captures a bit of the wonder of childhood, when the wide universe was still mysterious and indeterminate. (Of course, the nature of reality remains mysterious and indeterminate even as we grow and our confidence in our scientific knowledge grows. We still lack insight into the essential nature of reality—into the reason for nature.) I want to more consciously rekindle the wonder that makes our youth so remarkable, and this piece has that effect on me.

This also reminded me of C.S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy novels that I read a few years ago. Specifically, it reminded me of a passage from Chapter 13 in the final book in the series, “That Hideous Strength: A Modern Fairy-Tale for Grown-ups:”

“Have you ever noticed,” said Dimble, “that the universe, and every little bit of the universe, is always hardening and narrowing and coming to a point?” …

“If you dip into any college, or school, or parish, or family—anything you like—at a given point in its history, you always find that there was a time before that point when there was more elbow room and contrasts weren’t quite so sharp; and that there’s going to be a time after that point when there is even less room for indecision and choices are even more momentous. Good is always getting better and bad is always getting worse: the possibilities of even apparent neutrality are always diminishing. The whole thing is sorting itself out all the time, coming to a point, getting sharper and harder…”

“Everything is getting more itself and more different from everything else all the time…”

Aaron Jasinski captures what I imagine was that point that lingers someplace in our memories when everything was a bit softer. When there was more elbow room. When the contrasts weren’t quite so sharp. When everything was a little less itself, yet even in memory’s fog of our vanishing years inexplicably still feels a little closer to reality.