What is Kottke.org?

 

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Question: What is Kottke.org?

 

Jason Kottke: Well what became Kottke.org started in 1998 when I decided I needed to have sort of an online diary to . . . to put things . . . a place to put my thoughts.  I was doing this other project called 0Sil8, which is spelled 0-S-i-l and the number 8.  And I was doing that project, and that was sort of an episodic kind of Web project.  I would do an episode every three or four weeks where it would be something about design, or writing, or some little thing.  But I decided that I would . . . I wanted to start writing more, and so I began this little Web journal thing on 0Sil8.  And eventually was spending more time on that than 0Sil8 itself, so I kind of spun it off and put it at a different domain, which was Kottke.org.  And it was very much modeled after sort of the online diaries of like the early ‘90s . . . not the early ‘90s, but the mid to late ‘90s.  And weblogs that were just sort of coming out at the time . . .  There was a general awareness among a group of people that there were these things called weblogs that were slightly different than a journal because they were more about links and more . . .  They had a slightly different format.  They were reverse chronological.  It was very much . . .  The point was to link to people and things.  And you know Bill found this link, and Mary commented on it here and things like that.  And eventually Kottke.org sort of morphed into that.  It didn’t . . . it wasn’t a straight up journal for too long.  Maybe a couple . . . you know two or three months.  And it started to be more “linky” and then developed into, you know, using . . . using links more frequently.  And eventually . . .  I mean now what it is is it’s a . . .  Basically you can follow . . . follow me as I explore, you know, the Internet and find interesting things to read on it.  And it’s sort of me, you know, riffing on whatever’s out there, I guess, that day. I just feel really lucky to be doing what I’m doing and where I’m doing it.  And you know I don’t have a boss.  I don’t have to . . .  I don’t have clients; I have readers.  But they’re sort of a massive collective, so they don’t really have any way to . . . to tell me to do anything . . . You know except weeks, and months and years I get little bits of feedback here and there.  And they can tell me, “You know you need to move this in another direction because this is getting a bit stale,” or what have you.  You know and it’s . . . it’s very lucky that I get to do that.  And as far as a personal philosophy, I don’t know.  I’m just not . . . I’m not introspective in that way to sit down and say, “Here’s what I’ve learned” or whatever.  Like I said before I just sort of . . . I’m always like feeling my way along experimenting and things like that, and not . . .  You know I’m not that conceptual I guess.  I don’t . . .  I don’t have a concept by which my life is ruled.  I mean I tend towards simplification – things that are simple.  I . . .  You know when I read an . . .  Let’s say I read an article.  It’s, you know, a 2,000 word article.  It’s huge.  I’ll try and put that into three sentences to explain it to somebody.  And I feel like I do that with . . . with other areas of my life as well.  My design is very streamlined, simple.  You know my wardrobe, my approach to . . . I don’t have a lot of possessions.  I try and keep my . . . the number of my possessions to a minimum.  I’m not a shopaholic.  I don’t like shopping.  I don’t like accruing things.  I like getting rid of things.  I like keeping around only what I need.  So I mean I guess that’s . . . that’s the closest I can get to a personal philosophy. I don’t like imparting things to my readership.  I purposefully don’t do that.  I don’t say, “You should think this, or you should think that.”  I think people should be able to . . .  You know there are a few things I am, you know, overtly sort of biased on and it shows.  But for the most part I think I     . . . I think I do a pretty good job of being neutral and just sort of, “Here’s this thing.  You should think what you want about it.  I’ve . . .  I’ve . . .  I’ve told you enough about it.  If you’re interested, you know you can go read it.  If you’re not, you don’t have to.”  I don’t tell people they should donate to, you know, certain charities or, you know, endorse certain candidates or anything like that.  I’m just not comfortable with that.  I don’t . . . I don’t like using my soapbox in that way I guess.  I feel like I use it to inform, not to motivate or to, you know, steer people in a certain direction.

 

Recorded on: 10/9/07

 

 

 

Kottke.org is the long evolution of a blog.

To boost your self-esteem, write about chapters of your life

If you're lacking confidence and feel like you could benefit from an ego boost, try writing your life story.

Personal Growth

In truth, so much of what happens to us in life is random – we are pawns at the mercy of Lady Luck. To take ownership of our experiences and exert a feeling of control over our future, we tell stories about ourselves that weave meaning and continuity into our personal identity.

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Yale scientists restore brain function to 32 clinically dead pigs

Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.

Still from John Stephenson's 1999 rendition of Animal Farm.
Surprising Science
  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
  • They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
  • The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.

The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.

Ashes of cat named Pikachu to be launched into space

A space memorial company plans to launch the ashes of "Pikachu," a well-loved Tabby, into space.

GoFundMe/Steve Munt
Culture & Religion
  • Steve Munt, Pikachu's owner, created a GoFundMe page to raise money for the mission.
  • If all goes according to plan, Pikachu will be the second cat to enter space, the first being a French feline named Felicette.
  • It might seem frivolous, but the cat-lovers commenting on Munt's GoFundMe page would likely disagree.
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