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Etcetera #42: Tunnels, Animals, Plants

Matthew Culnane
Matthew Culnane
Hello. A few links this week about the engineering and building challenges facing those in charge of constructing underground railways. Elsewhere, more on the intersection of food, language, socialism and animal rights, plus a couple of quite different album recs.
See you next time.

How Crossrail was affected by the curvature of the earth
See also: While subterranean London is now a complex maze of interweaving tunnels, with an ever-expanding and iconic map, no-one had ever tunnelled under a major river before Marc Brunel began a shaft below the Thames in the 1820s. Here’s Mike Dash describing the project for the Smithsonian:
No engineers had tunneled under a major river, and the Thames was an especially tricky river. To the north, London was built on a solid bed of clay, ideal tunneling material. To the south and east, however, lay deeper strata of water-bearing sand, gravel and oozing quicksand, all broken up by layers of gravel, silt, petrified trees and the debris of ancient oyster beds. The ground was semi-liquid, and at depth it became highly pressurized, threatening to burst into any construction site.
Away from London, this profile view of the Channel Tunnel connecting England and France demonstrates the challenges of navigating long distances through geological strata:
A profile view of the Channel Tunnel connecting England and France
A profile view of the Channel Tunnel connecting England and France
Further afield, Admiralty is a mass transit station in Hong Kong. Increased usage means greater demand for services, which in turn necessitates vertical expansion due to the skyscrapers that surround it having such deep foundations. Click through to this tweet for some great replies too:
Jane Manchun Wong
It still blows my mind how they’re able to expand Admiralty Station *downward* to serve two additional lines, totaling in four lines on top of one another vertically, while the station is surrounded by skyscrapers 🤯

The construction must’ve been so delicate
On a slightly related note: “It has become a popular pastime among Chinese railfans to get really excited at around the end of December, as that is the period of a slew of metro openings across the country. And being China, that means dozens of extensions and lines opening.”
Our Animals, Ourselves
On ‘Plant-Based’
  • The person that features most in these newsletter is probably Bee Wilson. Here she discusses the role of food in how she coped with the breakdown of her marriage. “Comfort food should really be called trauma food. It’s what you cook and eat to remind you you’re alive when you are not entirely sure this is true.”
  • After years of environmental negligence, wasabi is in danger of vanishing from our plates. (A reminder that most of the wasabi you consume is likely >50% horseradish with some wasabi and some, well, ‘green’.)
  • “YouTube brain, from the perspective of the YouTuber as opposed to the viewer, is what happens when you are both creatively and financially subject to the whims of other people’s attention spans for years at a time, weighed down by neverending demand for more content for dwindling returns.” Why prominent YouTubers keep quitting the platform (and then coming back).
  • “While lawyers debate obscurities of law, the Hebrew University continues to profit from Einstein’s name, likeness – even his silhouette. Last year the British government paid an undisclosed sum to use Einstein to front a nationwide TV and online advertising campaign for smart energy meters. The university is currently embroiled in a case it has brought against 100 alleged infringers of its Einstein trademarks in the state of Illinois, where a statute protects everything from a celebrity’s likeness to their ‘gestures and mannerisms’ for 100 years.” On the publicity rights of dead celebrities.
  • How the European writers, directors, actors, visual artists, architects and musicians who helped to define modernism in the 1920s and 30s escaped fascism and settled in different parts of the US.
  • The story of Jason Epstein and Anchor Books, the 1950s range of inexpensive, well-design, high-quality paperbacks that took the US by storm. Clear and obvious parallels with the 1930s launch of the Penguin and Pelican brands in the UK.
  • Speaking of Penguin: How Romek Marber created The Marber Grid, the grid-based design framework for the cover of each Penguin book.
  • Here Before A Million: “a curated streaming site that features the best music videos with less than one million views on YouTube”. 
  • Solutions Explorer is a searchable database of climate-related projects. (I made something similar nearly a decade ago for participatory democracy projects which I’m sad to see has now been abandoned by its owners.)
  • I’d never previously considered ‘save file ethics’ from the era of video game rentals.
The dreaded Tweets
Rachel Mans McKenny
8yo: I have some advice.
Me: oh yeah?
8: Don’t waste your diamonds on a hoe.
Me: what do you mean?
8: well you can’t even attack with them and they can only be used to garden and reach blocks. Get a sword instead.
Me: Is this a Minecraft thing?
8: What else would it be?
In rotation
🎵 There are a lot of extremely mediocre, talky, deadpan British post-punk bands in ascendency at the moment. Time for something different! Cola, formed from the ashes of Montreal’s beloved Ought, have released their debut album Deep In View. The components—sardonic lyrics, sparse and clean-ish guitars, a propulsive rhythm section—are familiar but the results are a cut above. RIYL: Television, Wire, The Strokes, earlyish New Order.
🎵 On another note entirely is Hert by Belgian bassist Lara Rosseel. Atmospheric, melodic jazz with splashes of guitar, trumpet, violin and percussion. I really like this.
📖 Empireland by Sathnam Sangera is, so far, both compelling and disturbing. It tells the story of how the empire shaped modern Britain. The early chapters contain harrowing accounts of violent events, such as the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, that I wasn’t familiar with.
🎮 I finally started Ori and the Blind Forest. I’m not sure why it took me so long—I’ve had the game for ages—and to no-one’s surprise it’s absolutely brilliant.
Ori and the Blind Forest: Definitive Edition Trailer
Ori and the Blind Forest: Definitive Edition Trailer
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Matthew Culnane
Matthew Culnane @coldbrain

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