Big Think Edge


PURPOSE: Set Goals, with John Amaechi

In this lesson from Big Think Edge, NBA basketball player John Amaechi shares with you the plan he created as a child to help him accomplish his dreams.

INNOVATION: Engage Your Team Through Gaming, with Jane McGonigal

In this lesson from Big Think Edge, game designer Jane McGonigal walks you through the ways in which gaming can lead to positive outcomes in the workplace.

LEADERSHIP: Overcome Obstacles, with Edward Norton

In this lesson from Big Think Edge, Oscar-nominated actor Edward Norton offers a mental strategy for pushing past anxiety and fear when taking on a new venture.

TALENT: Master Your Craft, with Malcolm Gladwell

If your goal is to become masterful at what you do, the formula is simple: stay focused and do your time. In this lesson from Big Think Edge, best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell teaches you how.

Understand and Address Unconscious Bias, with Jennifer Brown

In this lesson from Big Think Edge, management expert Jennifer Brown, a diversity training consultant who works with leading companies, explores pitfalls and strategies for dealing with unconscious bias.

RISK MITIGATION: Risk Management Fundamentals, with Timothy Geithner

In this lesson from Big Think Edge, former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner teaches the fundamentals of risk management, based on lessons learned during the 2008 Financial Crisis.

MILLENNIALS: Embrace Millennials' Values, with Jon Iwata

In this lesson from Big Think Edge, Jon Iwata, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Communications at IBM, explores key millennial values and what every company can do to embrace them.

MASTERCLASS: What Does A Leader Do?, with Robert Kaplan

In this lesson from Big Think Edge, Harvard professor and former Goldman Sachs executive Robert S. Kaplan explores three strategic key questions that leaders need to ask themselves.

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  • Millions of people around the world are taking to the streets to demand more urgent action on climate change.
  • The protests come just days ahead of the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit.
  • Although it's unclear exactly how many people are participating, it's likely to be the largest climate protest ever.


The global climate strikes kicked off in full force on Friday, September 20. Millions of people — many of whom are students skipping school, some are employees walking off their jobs — are gathering in more than 160 countries on all seven continents to call for more urgent action on climate change and an end to the age of fossil fuels. Although it's still unclear exactly how many people are protesting, it's likely to be the largest coordinated climate protest in history.

In New Delhi, India, protesters were chanting, "Eco, not ego!" and "I want to breathe clean!" Outside of the Houses of Parliament, in London, protesters chanted, "Save our planet!" In Washington, D.C., crowds chanted, "This is what democracy looks like!"

New York City has allowed more than 1 million public school students to miss classes in order to protest, while a handful of U.S. companies — among them, Ben & Jerry's, Patagonia, Burton, Lush, and SodaStream — are closing down or going offline for at least some part of Friday.

"We're going to disrupt our 'business as usual' on Sept 20 to demonstrate our solidarity with global climate strikers," Ben & Jerry's higher-ups said in a statement. "We believe we all must change the way we live, and the way we do business."

The global protests come days ahead of the 2019 UN Climate Action summit, in which world leaders from dozens of countries will meet in New York to discuss progress on past climate pledges and plans for the future. "Bring plans, not speeches," United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres reportedly told heads of state before the summit.

It's unclear what effect the protests will have on the world's policymakers. The organizers of the global climate strike are demanding broad changes: the transition away from fossil fuels to 100 percent renewable energy, "climate justice" for everyone and, more curiously, "reparations," presumably from developed countries whose policies and consumption have accelerated climate change in other countries. But in the short term, the organizers say:

"Our greatest hope is simply to show that those working on this crisis have the backing of millions of human beings who have a growing dread about the climate emergency but who have so far stayed mostly on the sidelines. It will take all of our efforts to get millions of us in the streets worldwide. So join us. Our window for effective climate action is closing fast."

Here's a look at some of the global climate strike protests happening today around the world.

Chicago

Washington, D.C.

New York City

Pacific Press / Contributor

Los Angeles

San Francisco

Boston

Galway, Ireland

Lahore, Pakistan

Nairobi, Kenya

Freigburg, Germany

Islamabad, Pakistan

London, England

Sydney, Australia

Berlin, Germany

  • The tiny home movement has been popular on social media sites, often portraying an idyllic lifestyle that's cheaper and better for the environment without sacrificing aesthetics.
  • But tiny homes may become the answer to a growing population and growing inequality.
  • As the movement continues to build up steam, one has to wonder whether it's a housing crisis solution with a new coat of paint.

Tiny homes. They're the watchword of the Home & Garden network, at once an Instagrammable, envy-inducing lifestyle and an unfortunate necessity for a generation struck by a recession, historically high inequality, and loans taken out for an ostensibly necessary education that's failed to really net any benefits.

But the question is, which are they? A symbol of a smarter, more environmentally-conscious, humbler generation — or a symbol of one that's had to make do with less than its predecessors? (See: "Millennials buy the things their parents did — but they're much poorer.")

Downsizing housing and hubris

Image source: Mike Morgan / For The Washington Post via Getty Images

Will tiny homes look like this in the future -- smaller and more efficient but still beautiful?

In the U.S., things are just bigger, and houses are no exception. The median size of a single-family home in the U.S. peaked in 2015 at 2,467 square feet. Compared to other parts of the world — particularly Europe — this is a massive figure. There's a variety of reasons for this; one, for example, is that Americans began driving early and often, which transformed the design of their cities and suburbs. Developers could build outside of urban centers where the land was cheaper and more plentiful, enabling bigger houses to be bought.

In addition, the idea of having a lot of space seems to be an appealing one to the former European colonies — where Europeans have often lived in more cramped, repurposed older buildings, Australians, Canadians, and Americans had the opportunity to seize land (despite it already being occupied) and build new, sprawling settlements throughout it. The prosperity that the America saw in the 20th century didn't hurt, either; why not build big if you've got the money to spare?

But a considerable amount of this space is wasted. A UCLA study found that the majority of people spend their time in the kitchen or around the television and very rarely use the living room or porch. As a result of these extra, unused spaces, more resources are wasted on construction, and energy consumption is double what a family would need if their house only had the rooms that they actually use.

Smaller, more energy-efficient houses are appealing to a growing population of minimalists and resource-conscious individuals. In 2017 alone, the sales of tiny homes increased by 67 percent. Coming in at under 400 square feet on average, these houses are also understandably cheap — for tiny homes on wheels, the average cost is $46,300, while those with a foundation cost on average $119,000. As a result, 68 percent of tiny homeowners don't even have a mortgage.

Downsizing out of necessity

Tiny homes

Image source: George Rose/Getty Images

A community of tiny homes for homeless people known as "Nickelsville" in Seattle.

On the other hand, the group of people drawn to tiny homes isn't just homogenously composed of wealthy minimalists looking to reduce their consumption while still appearing trendy. In 70 percent of the U.S., the average worker can't afford a home, one-third of adults are a $400 bill away from financial difficulty, and a quarter have no retirement savings whatsoever.

Under these conditions, downsizing may be the only viable method to survive. Consider, for instance, how cities such as Seattle, Detroit, and Denver are constructing tiny homes as emergency shelters or transitional housing for the homeless. There are also the many retirees that had their savings wiped out by the Great Recession who now live nomadically in RVs and modified vans. This tiny-living trend also has its Instagram cheerleaders, but the reality of it is less idyllic. Journalist Jessica Bruder and author of Nomadland related an anecdote to MarketWatch illustrating the nature of nomadic tiny living:

"I talked to one couple, Barb and Chuck. He had been head of product development at McDonald's before he retired. He lost his nest egg in the 2008 crash and Barb did, too. One time, Barb and Chuck were standing at the gas station to get $175 worth of gas and the horror hit them that their account had $6 in it. The gas station gentleman said 'Give me your name and driver's license and if you write a check, I will wait to cash it.' He waited two whole weeks before he deposited it."

This might become a reality for more people in the future as well. Inequality widens when the rate at which wealth grows — say, your stocks or the price of your house — grows faster than the rate at which wages do. Research suggests that wealth is growing at a breakneck pace, keeping in line with economist Thomas Picketty's prediction of a dramatically inequal future.

Solutions for this will need to be found, and many municipalities or private individuals may find such a solution in constructing tiny homes. Homelessness is a powerful, self-perpetuating force, and having shelter is an obviously necessary step to escape poverty.

Regrettably, if tiny homes are being driven primarily by resource-conscious but fundamentally economically secure individuals, we can expect the trend to remain just that; a trend. In a few years, fewer and fewer tiny houses will be constructed and sold, and eventually there will just be a small contingent of diehard proponents of the lifestyle. If, however, the tiny home trend is being driven primarily by economic inequality, then we can expect it to stick around for a while.


  • Normal geological evidence isn't precise enough to confirm paleontologists' suspicions.
  • The new fossils find is covered by a fine veneer of red sand deposited in a single season.
  • Scientists can infer whose eggs they were.

Paleontologists suspected that some dinosaurs nested in colonies, but it was impossible to know for sure. Yes, they'd often found what appeared to be groups of fossilized eggs. But did these egg "clutches" date from the same time, or had they gradually accumulated in a popular nesting area?

An unusual layer of sediment recently found in the Gobi desert appears to finally answer this question: At least one group of dinosaurs definitely nested and protected their clutches as a colony. A report of the find was published Jul 15 in Geology.

Why paleontologist have been wondering

Crocodiles lay eggs together in nests that they guard and protect as a colony. There are also a variety of modern birds that do this: seabirds such as auks and albatrosses, wetland birds like herons, and even some blackbirds and swallows. As descendants of dinosaurs, experts have wondered how far back this goes. Since the first dinosaur eggs were unearthed in France in 1859, paleontologists have been finding them in hundreds of locations around the world, and in 1978, the first evidence of a nesting colony was discovered in western Montana. Such clutches contain anywhere from 3 to 30 eggs.

Dating of such fossils is typically imprecise, however. A layer of rock covering a find may take millions of years to lay down, and can only suggest approximate ages of individual fossils. Though radiocarbon dating using Carbon-12 isotopes has a margin of error of just decades, that's still not quite close enough to establish that the eggs were actually contemporaneous.

The thin red line

Image source: Galyna Andrushko / Shutterstock

The Gobi desert is the site of countless dinosaur fossils

It took some extraordinary good luck to finally solve the riddle. In 2015, a group of paleontologist including some from Canada's Royal Tyrrell Museum and the University of Calgary came across a large deposit of dinosaur eggs in China's southeast Gobi Desert, in the Javkhlant formation. There were 15 nests and over 50 eggs about 80 million years old in a 286 square-meter formation.

What made the find so unusual, and ultimately dispositive, was the thin veneer of red rock, likely deposited in a single breeding season, that covered all of the eggs. It's believed to be sand deposited by flooding from a nearby river. "Because everything is relatively undisturbed, it likely wasn't a massive flood," says François Therrien. Adds Darla Zelenitsky, another co-author, "Geologically, I don't think we could've asked for a better site." Equally compelling, some 60 percent of the eggs had already hatched and had the red sand inside them.

This "was a demonstration that all of these clutches were actually a true dinosaur colony and that all those dinosaurs built their nests in the same area at the same time," asserts Therrien.

Whose eggs were they?

Image source: Jaroslav Moravcik/Shutterstock

A mock-up, not real hatchlings.

The find also offered up some insights into who these eggs belonged to. The texture and thickness of the eggs suggests their parents were non-avian theropods, a group that includes velociraptors. Not that these particular theropods were necessarily so fleet of foot.

"These animals were relatively big," Therrien tells CBC News, "They were around seven to nine meters in length, so way too big to fly. And they would have been covered with feathers, but very primitive types of feathers … hairy and light. They would not have had wings and would have been unable to fly." Such dinosaurs had, he adds, "a long neck, small head, but they have very, very large hands and very, very long claws on their four limbs," likely for defense.

The scientists were also able to infer something about the dinosaurs' parental behavior by comparing the rate of successful hatches to modern animals such as crocodiles and birds that guard their eggs. The survival rate strongly suggests that the colony protected their eggs after hatching, rather than abandoning them. Says Therrien, "If we compare that to modern animals, we see a very high hatching success like that around 60 per cent among species where one or several parents guard in their colony. Basically, if the adults leave — abandoned the nest — we have a much lower hatching success because the eggs either get trampled or get predated upon."

"Sometimes you can extract a fascinating and detailed story about the ecology and behavior of these animals simply by looking at the rocks themselves," he notes.

  • The media often exaggerate and overhype the latest discoveries in artificial intelligence.
  • It's important to add context to new findings by asking questions: Is there a demo available? How narrow was the task the computer performed?
  • A more robust approach to artificial intelligence involves solving problems in generalized situations rather than just laboratory demonstrations.
  • Why does Brasilia, built in the 1950s, pop up on a 1920s map of South America?
  • We put the question out there, and the answers — some more credible than others — came flooding back.
  • Thank you, internet hive mind: you've solved a cartographic mystery!

Cartographic mystery

1920s map of South America, showing Brasilia, which was built only in the 1950s.

Image source: Rob Cornelissen

1920s map of South America, showing Brasilia, which was built only in the 1950s.

Last week, we reported on a cartographic mystery that had us baffled: a map of South America, dateable to the 1920s, showing Brasilia — even though work on Brazil's planned capital only started in 1956. Short of plausible answers, we asked you. And fortunately, you're cleverer than us.

The answers fall into two categories:
  • The map dates from the 1950s (or thereafter), which explains why Brasilia is on the map. But there are good reasons why the map appears much older.
  • The map does date from the 1920s (or thereabouts), but there are good reasons for Brasilia to already be on the map.

Outdated borders

Neuer Sammel-Atlas, published by the Berliner Morgenpost in 1957, showing Germany's pre-1938 borders.

Image source: Norbert Adam

Neuer Sammel-Atlas, published by the Berliner Morgenpost in 1957, showing Germany's pre-1938 borders.

Let's explore option one first. For starters, the inclusion of Weimar Germany (as a size comparison) in itself is not enough to conclusively link the map to the 1920s. West Germany didn't formally accept the Oder-Neisse border (i.e. the eastern border of East Germany with Poland) until 1990, so many West German maps continued to show the 1919–37 border well into the 1980s.

So, if we imagine that the map is post 1956, that would explain why Brasilia is on it. But why the outdated borders throughout South America?

Theory one: the map is meant as a contemporary map, hence the inclusion of Brasilia, but it uses a much older base map, hence the older borders. Reasons? The publisher was lazy or dishonest; newer material was not available or too expensive. Here is a well-crafted story that merits inclusion in its entirety:

"The map was produced after 1960, as a partial update or re-release of an atlas from the 1920s. Perhaps the 'nostalgia' of an older map was a feature, for instance for a coffee-table book. When the intern tasked with preparing the map did a quick skim for major changes or errors, they simply checked for the presence of all the capital cities. Seeing that Brazil's capital was missing, they added it to the map, and sent it off for printing."

Suspicious curves

Excerpt of South America map showing Brasilia and Rio de Janeiro

Image source: Rob Cornelissen

Is there something 'off' about the curvature and typeface of 'Brasilia'?

I can smell the ink and hear the roar of the presses, can't you? Some convincing-sounding clues for this theory:

  • Rio is written in the heavy sans-serif typeface as the other capital cities, suggesting it is indeed still the capital of Brazil.
  • The curvature of "Brasilia" is suspicious: it looks like it was added later.
  • Compared to other names on the map, the typeface of both "Brasilia" and "Bundesdistr" is a bit off.

Theory two: the map was an experiment, for scholarly or artistic reasons, to recreate a map of South America as it was in the 1920s — but the mapmakers forgot to erase Brasilia. Thus unwittingly leaving a temporal anomaly on the map for us to wonder over.

Beach Capital

A view of Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro in the 1940s, when Rio de Janeiro was still Brazil's capital.

Image source: Werner Haberkorn / public domain

A view of Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro in the 1940s, when Rio de Janeiro was still Brazil's capital.

However, the majority of opinion — and the weight of historical evidence — points to the second option: the map does date from the 1920s, and there are good reasons for Brasilia to be where it is. Even though at that time Rio was still the nation's capital, and the area now occupied by Brasilia nothing but wilderness.

Many countries throughout history have planned and constructed new capitals for themselves — from ancient Egypt (Akhetaten, 1346 BCE) to, most recently, the Pacific island nation of Palau (Ngerulmud, 2006). Brazil might be unique in the time it took the nation to build the darn thing. More than a century elapsed between the first mention of Brasilia and its inauguration as the country's new capital. Here's a thumbnail overview:

  • In 1763, Rio de Janeiro became the capital of Brazil, then still a Portuguese colony. But already then, tentative suggestions were made to move the capital inland, as a safeguard against seaborne invasion (the British and Dutch being the most likely candidates).

Bosco's vision

Image source: Claudio Ruiz; CC BY-SA 2.0

Don Bosco had a vision of a city where Brasilia is now. Here, the Don Bosco Sanctuary in Brasilia.

  • In 1813, Hipólito José da Costa — the '"Father of the Brazilian Press" — wrote a number of articles suggesting the capital be moved inland, "next to the river rapids that flow north, south and northeast."
  • In the 1823, José Bonifácio, one of the "patriarchs" of Brazilian independence, first proposed "Brasilia" as the name for the planned inland city. His other suggestion was "Petropolis," after Emperor Pedro I of the newly-independent country. Bonifácio's proposal to the General Assembly came to nothing when the emperor dissolved parliament.
  • In 1883, according to legend, Don Bosco — the founder of the Salesian order and later sanctified — had a dream in which he foresaw a futuristic city at a location corresponding to that of Brasilia. The legend was eagerly adopted by promotors of the inland capital project. There are references to Bosco throughout Brasilia, and a city parish bears his name.

Quadrilatero Cruls

Carta da via\u00e7\u00e3o ferrea do Brazil em 1913

Image source: Library of Congress

The Future Federal District, as shown on a 1913 railway map of Brazil.

  • In 1891, Article 3 of Brazil's first republican constitution stated that "an area of 14,400 square km in the Central Plateau of the Republic is reserved for the Union, and will be demarcated at another opportunity, in order to establish a Future Federal Capital."
  • In 1892–3, an expedition led by the Belgian-born astronomer Louis Cruls demarcated an area as prescribed by the constitution, in a perfect rectangle. The "Quadrilátero Cruls" became synonymous with the "Future Federal District" and appeared on maps under either name.

Foundation stone

Pedra Fundamental de Bras\u00edlia, capital do Brasil, no morro do centen\u00e1rio em Planaltina - DF.

Image: Nevinho, CC BY-SA 3.0

The foundation stone for Brazil's future capital was inaugurated in 1922.

  • On 18 January 1922, President Epitácio Pessoa of Brazil issued Decree 4494, setting aside an area in the east of the state of Goiás for the future federal capital of Brazil.
  • At noon on 7 September 1922 — exactly 100 years after Brazil's independence — a foundation stone ("Pedra Fundamental") for the new capital was inaugurated at what is now known as Morro do Centenario, ("Centennial Hill") on the Serra da Independência, nine km from the town of Planaltina.
  • The memorial obelisk is engraved as "the Foundation Stone of the Future Capital of the United States of Brazil," but doesn't mention any name for the city. After decades of planning, it was the first actual construction on the site. However, the project stalled for another 34 years.

Made in Brazil

Image: Agência Brasil, CC BY-SA 3.0

Brasilia today: a metropolis of four million.

  • In January 1956, straight after his election as president, Juscelino Kubitschek, started with the construction of the capital. He was not only finally fulfilling Article 3 from the 1891 constitution, but also one of his campaign promises. Brasilia would be built about 30 km from the Pedra Fundamental. The remarkable speed in which it was finished is due in no small part to all the planning that had gone before.
  • On 21 April 1960, Brasilia was officially proclaimed a city, and the nation's capital. Government officials and foreign ambassadors visiting the city created its first traffic jam. At the time of its inauguration, Brasilia had around 100,000 inhabitants. Today, the agglomeration counts over 4 million inhabitants.
It is very likely that the map dates from 1922 or shortly thereafter, when it seemed — for a short while — that the project for Brasilia would finally be taking off. A further indication of this is that the Federal District included on the map is the perfect quadrangle measured by Cruls (and still current at the time), and not the smaller, asymmetric FD as was delineated in the 1950s.
Including the new capital may have been a way to "future-proof" the map — but it ultimately goes to show that mapmakers should stick to the facts on the ground. As a result of their miscalculation, Brasilia on the 1920s map turned out to be, as one reader suggested, "the biggest paper town ever."

Many thanks to all who have contributed to this article: Vinicius Alvim, Mark Binder, Jack Bolivar, Renke Brausse, Eduardo Cabral, Silvana Camboim, Gregory J. Casteel, Antinia Constantin, Estevao Correa, Pierre des Courties, Tony Cox, Logan Ferree, Peter Forster, Ariel Gadia, Paolo Gangemi, Pedro Garcia, Kiko Gatto, James Gillespie, Andrew Guthrie, Heinrich Hall, Harrison Jr., Graham Haynes, Robin Hood, Iwaninho, Sabine J., PJ Jaudouin, Yuri Lacerda, Pedro Leite, Sam Ley, Pablo Lia Fook, Lorenzo Luisi, Daniel Lundberg, Terry McBride, Gabriela Miller, Karoline Muller Reis, Ramiro Miranda, Moonleaf, Simon Newby, Alessandro Nicoli de Mattos, Carlos Pheysey, John Reinert Nash, José Luis Orizales, Tim Robinson, Filipe Santiago, Kári Tulinius, Gary Vellenzer, Maarten Vidal, Joseph West, Rick Westera, Thomas Wigley and Karl Friedrich Winter. My apologies if I've forgotten anyone.

Strange Maps #990

Got a strange map? Let me know at strangemaps@gmail.com.