Interesting Finds: Issue #18

Each week, I curate and spotlight the most curious content I find. Like last week, this is coming out a few days later than I planned for, but had some amazing family time this weekend which took priority 😀.

This week is about glitter bombs, a record setting photograph, inspirational philanthropy and Beethoven’s birthday.

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Glitter bomb 3.0

Mark Rober is a former NASA engineer and achieved social media fame a few years ago with his past project to punish (and film) package thieves during the holidays.

He’s done it again with the third version which he published a video of last week. It’s inspiring to see the level of thoughtfulness that goes into the engineering of these things (and absolutely hilarious to see the results):

If you liked that video (which you’re crazy if you don’t), check these out:

Longest Exposure Photograph Ever Taken

Over the years, I’ve dabbled in long exposure photography with digital and film cameras, including homemade pinhole cameras. The longest exposure I’ve ever taken was 24 hours, and the resulting photo was horrible to say the least.

Earlier this month, Regina Valkenborgh, took an 8 year long exposure photograph using a pinhole camera made from a beer can which was initially setup in 2012 for a project in her MA Fine Arts program. From the University of Hertfordshire:

The image was taken by Regina Valkenborgh, who began capturing it towards the end of her MA Fine Art degree at the University of Hertfordshire in 2012. It shows 2,953 arced trails of the sun, as it rose and fell between summer and winter over a period of eight years and one month. The dome of Bayfordbury’s oldest telescope is visible to the left of the photograph and the atmospheric gantry, built halfway through the exposure, can be seen from the centre to the right.

Regina was interested in capturing images without the use of modern technology; in this case using a beer can lined with photographic paper as a pinhole camera. She placed a can on one of the Observatory’s telescopes, which had been forgotten about until September this year when it was finally removed by the Observatory’s Principal Technical officer, David Campbell.

If you have no idea what a pinhole camera is, the Khan Academy has you covered with their 3 minute “What is a pinhole camera” video.

Happy Birthday Beethoven!

It’s Beethoven’s birthday this month! While no one knows the exact day he was born, historians know he was baptised on December 17, 1770.

To celebrate the master composer and pianist, here is an amazing video of a flashmob from 2012 where they partake in playing their part of Ode an die Feude (Ode to Joy):

The Mysterious Death of Edgar Allen Poe

Aside from being a legendary writer, poet and one of the first pioneers of the short story format, Edgar Allen Poe has quite possibly the strangest circumstances surrounding his death of any American writer.

Poe was missing for six days and was founding initially alive, but wearing someone else’s clothes and completely incoherent. He was on the way to his own wedding and unable to recount had happened to him before he died.

On September 27, 1849, Poe left Richmond, supposedly bound for Philadelphia. The details of his actions and whereabouts over the next few days remain uncertain, but on October 3, a passerby noticed Poe slumped near an Irish pub in Baltimore, Maryland. When Poe’s friend Dr. Joseph Snodgrass arrived, he found the 40-year-old writer in what he assumed was a highly drunken state, wearing cheap, ill-fitting clothes very different from his usual mode of dress. Taken to Washington College Hospital, Poe slipped in and out of consciousness; he died early on the morning of October 7, reportedly uttering the last words “Lord help my poor soul.”

Inspirational Philanthropy

MacKenzie Scott is an author and philanthropist and is the third richest woman in the world with a net worth of $55 billion.

Last week, she revealed that she has given away more than $4 billion in the last four months ❤️ focusing her efforts on “hope”. In her words:

After my post in July, I asked a team of advisors to help me accelerate my 2020 giving through immediate support to people suffering the economic effects of the crisis. They took a data-driven approach to identifying organizations with strong leadership teams and results, with special attention to those operating in communities facing high projected food insecurity, high measures of racial inequity, high local poverty rates, and low access to philanthropic capital.

The result over the last four months has been $4,158,500,000 in gifts to 384 organizations across all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and Washington D.C. Some are filling basic needs: food banks, emergency relief funds, and support services for those most vulnerable. Others are addressing long-term systemic inequities that have been deepened by the crisis: debt relief, employment training, credit and financial services for under-resourced communities, education for historically marginalized and underserved people, civil rights advocacy groups, and legal defense funds that take on institutional discrimination.

What I found particularly interesting, was how the 384 organizations were chosen:

To select these 384, the team sought suggestions and perspective from hundreds of field experts, funders, and non-profit leaders and volunteers with decades of experience. We leveraged this collective knowledge base in a collaboration that included hundreds of emails and phone interviews, and thousands of pages of data analysis on community needs, program outcomes, and each non-profit’s capacity to absorb and make effective use of funding. We looked at 6,490 organizations, and undertook deeper research into 822. We put 438 of these on hold for now due to insufficient evidence of impact, unproven management teams, or to allow for further inquiry about specific issues such as treatment of community members or employees. We won’t always learn about a concern inside an organization, but when we do, we’ll take extra time to evaluate. We’ll never eliminate every risk through our analysis, but we’ll eliminate many. Then we can select organizations to assist — and get out of their way.

It’s also worth emphasizing that many organizations that were chosen, didn’t even apply. They were proactively sought out by Scott’s team:

Scott King, the executive director for Meals on Wheels of Tampa, said he didn’t even apply for the grant they received. Instead, her team contacted the nonprofit, which delivers food to about 850 homes and makes about 2,600 meals each day.

It’s tough not to not compare her focus on philanthropy in comparison to her ex-husband, Amazon Founder Jeff Bezos who’s widely criticized for his lack of focus on it:

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos may be the world’s richest person, but he isn’t well-known for his billion-dollar donations and philanthropic efforts the way Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg are.

Additional criticism has recently been heaped on Bezos’ charitable ways – or at lack of – particularly after Amazon committed just US$690,000 to relief efforts for the Australian bush fires last year. In 2019, Bezos’ ex-wife, MacKenzie Bezos, opted in 2019 to sign the Giving Pledge, in which participants promise to give away more than half of their wealth during their lifetimes or in their wills.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who has a net worth of more than US$117 billion, is the only one who has not signed on to the philanthropic Giving Pledge commitment.

However, among the five richest people in America, Jeff Bezos – who has a net worth of more than US$117 billion – is the only one who has not signed on to the philanthropic commitment. 

It’s not clear why Bezos has avoided joining the Giving Pledge, an initiative started by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett almost a decade ago. His charitable history has “remained largely a mystery”, The New York Times wrote in 2017 after Bezos posted a “request for ideas” for philanthropy on Twitter.

A non-profit bearing Bezos’ last name, the Bezos Family Foundation, has given millions of dollars to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. However, the fund is run entirely by the Amazon CEO’s parents and has not received contributions from Bezos himself, according to Inside Philanthropy.