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Saturday, May 30, 2020
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Suggestions for your senses,
every Saturday at 9 a.m.
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Good morning.

This week, we speak with fellow newsletter-er Kai Brach about his media intake, order Ikea’s new air-purifying curtains, plant heirloom varietals from Kitazawa Seed Company, tune in to Radiooooo, and geek out on roses with former New York Botanical Garden curator Peter Kukielski.

On our At a Distance podcast, we talk with economist and Nobel laureate Eric Maskin, writers (and quarantine experts) Geoff Manaugh and Nicola Twilley, and International Arts + Mind Lab executive director Susan Magsamen.

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See
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Discovery Channels
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Courtesy Offscreen Magazine
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Melbourne-based Kai Brach, a former web designer and the publisher/editor of Offscreen, an independent print magazine about technology, and Dense Discovery, a weekly newsletter about productivity and inspiration, shares his current media diet with us—and why he firmly believes print has a place in 2020 and beyond. 

Describe your morning routine.

Right now, due to the lockdown, I’m moving mostly within a ten-meter [thirty-two-foot] radius in my tiny apartment—from bed to desk to kitchen to bathroom. I usually go for a run in the first half of the day. I’m looking forward to riding my bike to the office, a co-working space I share with some really lovely people, not far from where I live here in Melbourne.

What are some of your go-to, indispensable daily reads and/or listens?

I’m foolish enough to check the news a few times every day: BBC, ABC Australia, and ARD and Der Spiegel (both German)—always on the web, no apps. I subscribe to a lot of newsletters, most of which are somewhere between tech, design, and culture. Over breakfast, I also usually read a couple of articles queued up in my Pocket app.

Any favorite podcasts at the moment?

I think because I don't commute in a car or train, I never really got into the habit of listening to podcasts. Very rarely I put on an episode when I do “non-thinking” work. It’s whatever people recommend in newsletters or on Twitter, but nothing design-related. I really dislike ninety-nine percent of design-related podcasts.

Which outlets do you still prefer to read in print?

I occasionally read some of my—mostly fiction—books in print. Most often, though, I use my Kobo reader. In print, I like cookbooks and coffee-table books. I also enjoy browsing through different magazines, but I don’t read any regularly.

What are some of the best-designed publications, in your mind?

Difficult to pick just a few. Maybe I go with three M’s: MacGuffin, Migrant Journal, and Monocle—though I’m not a fan of Monocle’s content, the editorial design is great.

In an era of social distancing and online everything, what’s the place of print media?

The pandemic will pass, so this question is more about print versus digital. I think every medium has its place. We read different media in different ways. A quote comes to mind (that I can’t find the source of, unfortunately): “It’s time to start thinking about paper versus screens not as old versus new, but as different and complementary devices, each stimulating particular modes of thinking for particular times of our day.” [Editor’s note: We found the referenced text, in this Wired story by Brandon Keim, from 2014.] Printed publications have unique qualities that screens can’t match—and vice versa. It’s nice to have the option to pick which ones we prefer.

Any guilty pleasures when it comes to your media intake?

I really enjoy watching videos about modest architecture, like tiny houses or mini apartments, on YouTube.

Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Tik-Tok?

Twitter—with the fact-checking turned on, please.

Okay, maybe enough news talk for now. What are you watching or reading for pleasure?

I read almost only fiction for pleasure. Current book is All the Light We Cannot See.

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Touch
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Fresh Air
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Courtesy Ikea
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When it released its air-purifying Gunrid curtains earlier this year, the Swedish big-box furniture giant Ikea made a compelling argument for dressing up your windows: “Air is a precondition for life.” While clean air has long been an issue of global concern, as we soon enter the fourth month of this pandemic, that quippy selling point couldn’t have felt more eerily prescient or urgently spot-on. The floor-length curtains, while ordinary in appearance, are coated with an innovative mineral that Ikea first teased last year, noting that it has been years in the making. Activated by both outdoor and indoor light, harnessing a process similar to the way plants photosynthesize in nature, this engineered photo-catalyst coating works to break down common air pollutants and odors. It’s a high-tech breakthrough for a pleasantly low-tech solution, and one that is made entirely of recycled materials, requires no electricity, takes up little to no floor space—and, best of all, is even touted as self-cleaning. Add this to your army of indoor plants to keep the air quality of your home pure and fresh.

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Taste
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Good Seed
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Photo: Andrew Zuckerman
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With Memorial Day weekend behind us, summer has officially begun, and for many home-growers, this signifies the busiest few weeks yet of planting seeds for the harvest ahead. If you’re growing an edible garden, opt for heirloom seeds, which will yield more nutritious vegetables and fruits that are bound to taste better than the average, genetically modified grocery-store standard. The Oakland, California–based Kitazawa Seed Company, founded in 1917 by a Japanese American family, sells some of the best, and offers more than 500 seed varieties of dento yasai, traditional heirloom varieties of a diverse array of Asian vegetables used in Japanese, Korean, and Chinese cuisines, to name just a few. Browse the extensive catalog to learn about all the delicious varieties, and pick up some recipes for dishes such as sunomono, a simple and refreshing cucumber salad, and kinpira gobo, a savory side of burdock root sautéed in sweet soy sauce.

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Hear
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Radio Active
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Courtesy Radiooooo
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In an era where music streaming algorithms and data-driven suggestions can throw you for a loop, somehow leading you to listen to the same five songs on repeat, it can feel like we’ve swapped serendipitous discovery for convenience. Artist Benjamin Moreau and his friend Raphaël Hamburger, a music producer with a sizable record collection, started Radiooooo—spelled with, count ’em, five O’s—around the idea of creating a crowdsourced time machine of music. While popular platforms like Spotify and Pandora allow you to browse songs by genre or title, Radiooooo shares a set of staff-curated playlists that are instead organized by decade and geography: two factors that open up a whole new way of exploring music digitally. And the visual interface, navigated by clicking different countries on a world map, and choosing any decade from 1900 to the present, takes on the air of an old-timey jukebox. Each of the songs has been uploaded by a worldwide network of more than 30,000 music nerds and obsessives, many who’ve digitized rare or hard-to-find vinyl treasures and deep cuts that you’d be hard-pressed to stumble across elsewhere, online or off. (If you’d like to go even deeper into internet radioland, we also recommend Radio Garden, which lets you tune into more than 8,000 radio stations from all over the world, each plotted onto a Google Earth–like interface.) Until the days of crate-digging at our favorite record stores return, we’re finding a satisfying standby in these transporting tunes.

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Smell
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Roses on Parade
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Photo: Peter Kukielski
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Rose expert Peter Kukielski, the author of Roses Without Chemicals: 150 Disease-Free Varieties That Will Change the Way You Grow Roses and former curator of the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden at the New York Botanical Garden, tells us about the rose-blooming season upon us.

“Rose season definitely depends on where you are. Roses are sensitive to heat, and as soon as it starts getting warm, they start leaping out and growing pretty consistently. It’s always ridiculously hard to predict when your roses are going to be in peak season, because the weather is so variable. I always tell people that when you have three consecutive eighty-degree days, that will bring the roses into bloom. 

When I was working at the Botanical Garden, I think the earliest start we saw to rose season was maybe the second week of May, and that’s just because we had really warm days that year. And the latest they started coming into bloom was, like, the third week of June. That’s a five-week swing. It’s a big deal. Here in Maine, where I live now, our roses have just barely started growing, the buds are forming—so we’re looking at around July for our first bloom.

Certain roses only bloom once: There are many old garden roses, or antique roses, which are generally once-blooming roses. They’re the species roses. And when the whole rose garden comes into bloom at that time, they will be magnificent and very fragrant and very [sigh] just filled with joy, really just giving it to you. But then when they’re done blooming, they’re done until the next year. 

Now, the modern roses, the modern genetics, generally come after 1867, when roses were determined modern: The first hybrid tea rose was cultivated by Baptiste André Guillot, who named it La France. There’s a dividing line: The antique or heirloom roses are generally once-blooming roses, and the modern roses are generally repeat-blooming roses that can last through early fall. And I say ‘generally,’ because there are always exceptions. 

Some of my favorites, in terms of scent? I would say the David Austin roses (he’s a British hybridizer who just recently passed away) because they’ve worked so hard at fragrance. They don’t disappoint at all. Some of the new Kordes roses (they’re branded as a Parfuma, just as a marketing thing). Earth Angel and Dark Desire. First Kiss. They’re all really nice, fragrant roses. If you go back to the older roses, Autumn Damask is probably one of my favorites. There’s a perfumer in England that I quote in my book, who says of this rose, ‘If sunshine had a fragrance, this would be it.’ I just love that.

Despite what’s said about roses, they aren’t difficult to grow. They’ve existed for thirty-five million years. Just think about that: They’ve outlived the dinosaurs. Don’t you think it’s a tough plant? It’s really our modern manipulation of roses—to get the latest fad in color or shape—that have kind of messed up their genetics, and what often gets lost along the way is fragrance and disease-resistance. Because of that, some roses are better than others, and quite often, a lot of roses are not very good at all and will be difficult to manage. 

I don’t know that anyone has done the count on how many varieties of roses exist, but there’s a botanical garden in Sangerhausen, Germany, that is one of the biggest repositories for a lot of old roses and genetics. I think they have between seventy to eighty thousand varieties.

If I could choose one rose for this year, it might be a rose I just planted, called the Bliss Parfuma. We’re certainly not living in a blissful time; 2020 would be considered the ‘Year of the Virus.’ But if we can have an escape from all of the news and worry, the opposite of that might be joy and bliss. A great name on a rose is a perfect thing; I’m lucky to have a rose named after me, called Peter’s Joy. It just makes me smile, and the idea of the word bliss can provide a brief reprieve from all that worry.”

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Until next week...

Today’s email was written by Aileen Kwun.

Editor: Spencer Bailey
Creative Director: Andrew Zuckerman
Producer: Mike Lala
Copy Editor: Mimi Hannon

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