Weekend Reads: Oregon's Exploding Whale, Alex Trebek, Sci-Fi Tropes, Sufjan Stevens, Optical Illusions

Recommended weekend reading material for November 14, 2020.

Every week, I compile a list of interesting, thought-provoking, and enjoyable articles to give you some good weekend reading material.

This week marked the 50th anniversary of one of the internet’s first great viral videos: Oregon’s exploding whale.

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the infamous beached whale incident that took place in Florence, Oregon on November 12th 1970, the Oregon Historical Society arranged for a 4K transfer of the original raw film footage from their archive. KATU has re-edited the package from the new high resolution video. Enjoy!

More on this amazing event here, including statements from the news crew that covered it. I first saw this video back in college, and it’s still just as awesome and hilarious as ever. Via Kottke.


Alex Trebek, the legendary and iconic host of Jeopardy!, has died at the age of 80.

Over 37 seasons, Trebek hosted more than 8,200 episodes of “Jeopardy!,” the most by a presenter of any single TV game show, according to a statement from Sony Pictures.

No cause of death has been announced yet, but in 2019, Trebek was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. As a nerd, of course, I’ll always remember him as one of the “men in black” in the classic X-Files episode, “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space.”


Payal Dhar argues that it’s time for fantasy fiction to shed its racist and colonialist roots.

Perceptions of racism in fantasy go back to the origins of the genre. Is it a coincidence that D&D’s dishonourable, dark-skinned elves come from a matriarchal society, or that its savage orcs bear uncanny resemblance to a traditionally white, western conceptualisation of barbaric peoples from the “uncivilised” world? Although fantasy affords us every freedom to imagine new worlds and cultures, for the last 200-odd years, humans have mostly managed derivative facsimiles of our own.


Like all genres, science fiction has its tropes, some of them good and some of them not so much. Take technobabble, for instance:

We laugh at the hilarious jargon and nonsensical explanations in Star Trek and other sci-fi programs, but the truth is we need technobabble in order for these shows to make sense. We’re dealing in worlds and stories that would otherwise be beyond our comprehension. Including technobabble based in our “technospeech” not only makes them relatable to our own experiences, but also provides an excuse for the things that would otherwise be downright confusing.


By now, it’s clear that Sufjan Stevens is never going to the complete his fabled “50 States” project that began with Michigan and Illinois. But an enterprising comedian figured out how to complete it — with the help of a few hundred friends.

The resulting stockpile of music — which Clift dubbed “Our Fifty States Project” — lives on a mountainous SoundCloud page. The songs skew silly and parodic: for Florida, a sordid ode to the mythical “Florida Man”; for Louisiana, a ripping metal song sung by an alligator; for Vermont, a novelty rap performed by a Bernie Sanders impersonator. But there are also glimpses of vulnerability, earnest regional pride, and an overarching sense of community, all filtered through DIY aesthetics.

Also, should anyone be surprised that Sufjan Stevens released an exploding whale-inspired song back in 2015?


The unlikely friendship — and friendly competition — that’s developed between The Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl and young Nandi Bushell is one of 2020’s true feel-good stories. And proof that rock n’ roll ain’t dead yet.

Part of the appeal is the way their bond transcends generation and geography. Grohl has been musically active since the 1980s, whereas Bushell started drumming when she was 5, in 2015. There’s also something fundamentally charming about a 51-year-old white, male, longtime Angeleno bonding with a 10-year-old multiracial Brit through the power of social media, over a style of music that supposedly matters less than ever.


One of the common refrains you’ll hear from me is that music streaming services like Spotify are great for the services themselves and terrible for actual musicians.

Concerns around streaming economies have been simmering for some time, but it took the pandemic to bring them to the forefront. Previously profitable musicians have been hit hard with an abrupt halt to touring and the associated income. And with little hope of live music as we knew it returning until a vaccine, attention has turned to streaming, with many asking how it got so bad. Is it true that to earn USD$15 per hour a month, you would need to have around 700,000 streams monthly? Do major labels really sign catalogue deals with streaming platforms in secrecy? Are the bulk of user paid subscriptions fees on streaming platforms really going to popular musicians who a user might never listen to? The answer is to all of this is yes.

I’ll keep saying it for as long as necessary: if you really want to support your favorite musicians, buy their music (and maybe a t-shirt or two while you’re at it).


If you’d like have your noodle baked a little bit, then spend some perusing over 100 of the best optical illusions.

Optical illusions don’t “trick the eye” nor “fool the brain”, nor reveal that “our brain sucks”, … but are fascinating! They also teach us about our visual perception, and its limitations. My selection [emphasizes] beauty and interactive experiments; I also attempt explanations of the underlying visual mechanisms where possible.

Via 1440.


Speaking of tricky visuals, it’s become even more important in our post-truth era of “alternative facts” to be able to identify misleading or false information, including fake photos that might be circulating on social media.

Research suggests that regardless of what you might think about your own abilities to spot a hoax, most of us are pretty bad at it. Farid, however, looks at photographs in a different way to most people. As a leading expert in digital forensics and image analysis, he scrutinises them for the almost imperceptible signs that suggest an image has been manipulated.


David French writes about the ongoing campaign to cast doubt and aspersion on the results of the recent election.

The effects of intimidation, misinformation, and equivocation are profound. Friends, neighbors, and family members — good, salt-of-the-earth American folks — have listened for years to the very personalities who deceive them today. They’ve grown to admire them, to trust them, and to view other sources of media and information with deep suspicion and mistrust. And now they believe these same personalities when they tell them an American presidential election was corrupt to its core.


From the Blog

Though it came out in 2017, I’ve only recently discovered Demen’s amazing debut album, Nektyr. Maybe it’s because the days are getting shorter and darker sooner, but in any case, I can’t stop listening to it.

All of this shadowy enigma surrounding Demen’s music might easily come off as pretentious and overblown if it weren’t for the fact that the music itself is so effectively haunting and all-encompassing in its gloomily gorgeous vision. Therefore, I say we don’t really need to learn anything more about Irma Orm (if that is, indeed, her real name). Let her continue to release music in semi-anonymity. Nektyr is so well-realized, so singular and powerful in its execution, its sense of atmosphere so bleakly beautiful, that it stands entirely on its own merits.

If I’d heard this back in 2017, it definitely would’ve appeared on my “favorite songs of 2017” year-end mix.


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