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Books

'Screen Time' is a Good Start to Curbing Our Smartphone Addiction, but Apple Needs to Do More

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Screen Time, part of the operating system that iPhone owners began downloading last week, represents the biggest move yet by a technology company to encourage less use of a device, not more. That’s a good thing: According to data from a time-tracking app called Moment, Americans spend on average four hours a day — a quarter of our waking lives — staring at their smartphones.

Screen Time, which is new with Apple’s iOS 12, automatically tracks how often you pick up your phone and how much time you spend on each app. It also allows you to set daily limits for time-sucks like social media, games, or streaming video. It’s a good start, but Apple could do more. A huge number of people need help creating better digital boundaries.

Read on in the LA Times

Scurvy!

Yale Center For British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

Yale Center For British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

If you think that scurvy is just about loose teeth, think again. For Distillations (the magazine of the Chemical Heritage Foundation), I tell the crazy story of a disease that killed more than two million sailors between the time of Columbus’s transatlantic voyage and the rise of steam engines in the mid-19th century—and explain how a lot of what you think you know about it is probably wrong.

Did You Know That America Used To Be Obsessed With Eating Yeast?

I did not—at least until I went way, way, way down a yeast rabbit hole for Vitamania, and ended up learning a lot more about America's yeast craze than, well, I'm going to guess nearly anyone. Some of the best stuff got cut from the book, but thankfully was revamped for this feature piece in Distillations Magazine. Grab a yeast cake and check it out!

101 Places Not To See Before You Die

My travel book is out!:

Now out from HarperPaperbacks, 101 Places Not To See Before You Die is a guide to some of the least appealing destinations and experiences in the world. From the armpit of New Jersey to the Beijing Museum of Tap Water to, of course, Euro Disney, it includes some of the most boring museums,stupidest historical attractions, and worst Superfund sites you’ll ever have the pleasure of not visiting. But the book goes much further.Jupiter’s Worst Moon, an Outdoor Wedding During the 2021 Reemergence of the Great Eastern Cicada Brood, Fan Hours at the Las Vegas Porn Convention —101 Places Not To See Before You Die travels through time and space to provide a welcome — and unusual — reprieve from the glut of “inspirational” travel books currently on the market.

Far from being just an encyclopedic list of crappy travel statistics, 101 Places Not To See Before You Die is also a backhanded tribute to what makes traveling so great: its tendency to put us in situations that we otherwise never would have experienced. With guest entries from writers like Nick Kristof and A.J. Jacobs, 101 Places Not To See Before You Die is filled with stories and anecdotes of misadventure to which any seasoned traveler can relate. These are the experiences we tell to friends afterwards, the stories that earn us bragging rights, the reason why we’re willing to put up with the bed bugs and the food poisoning and set out to explore to the world.

101 Places Not To See Before You Die: Because Bad Places Make Good Stories.

 

The Big Sur Bakery Cookbook

Big Sur Bakery CookbookThe Big Sur Bakery is tucked next to a gas station right off of Highway 1 and is, if I might say so myself, a damned fine restaurant. (Don't trust me? Read this article from the New York Times Magazine.) I helped them write a cookbook, now out from HarperCollins. Sara Remington did the photographs, and Hatch is designing it. Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation, wrote the foreword. Click here to buy multiple copies for friends and family -- and check out these mentions in the New York Times and The New Yorker.

Co-op Confessional

You know what I hate? The Park Slope Food Co-op. Sure, it has great organic food at incredibly low prices. But  something about the two-and-three-quarter-hour workshifts, self-righteous squad leaders, "work alerts" and widespread indignation against "the man" pushed me to the dark side. My resulting essay was featured in an anthology called Before the Mortgage (Simon and Schuster). 

It is Halloween. This month I am working at the front door, swiping membership cards. Halfway through the shift, sick of announcing to people that they are on “work alert” for missed shifts, I switch roles with my co-worker, Elga. Now I am head trick-or-treat coordinator, responsible for giving rewards to a costumed parade of pesticide-free children. Other shops, aware of the urban wives’ tale of razor blades being embedded in unwrapped treats, are handing out tootsie rolls and mini-Snickers bars. We are handing out apples. 

A small, androgynous fireman/bear walks up to me and extends its jack-o-lantern bucket. 

            “He’s adorable,” I say to the fireman bear’s mother, just as her child picks my apple out of the bucket and puts it back on the counter.

             “I want chocolate,” it says.

            “We’re not giving out chocolate.”

            “I want chocolate,” s/he repeats.

            “We only have apples.”

            “Chocolate!”

            “I don’t understand,” says the mother. “She’s been organic since birth.”

 

The Anonymity Experiment

In 2006, David Holtzman decided to do an experiment. Holtzman, a security consultant and former intelligence analyst, was working on a book about privacy, and he wanted to see how much he could find out about himself from sources available to any tenacious stalker. So he did background checks. He pulled his credit file. He looked at Amazon.com transactions and his credit-card and telephone bills. He got his DNA analyzed and kept a log of all the people he called and e-mailed, along with the Web sites he visited. When he put the information together, he was able to discover so much about himself—from detailed financial information to the fact that he was circumcised—that his publisher, concerned about his privacy, didn’t let him include it all in the book.

I spent a week trying to live as anonymously as possible and reported on the results in Popular Science. The experiment was hell, but it was worth it: the piece was recently selected for The Best American Science Writing 2009 (HarperCollins). 

I was also invited to participate in a podcast on the topic.