Animated Maps Reveal the True Size of Countries (and Show How Traditional Maps Distort Our World)

The world maps we know all misrepresent the world itself: we've all heard it many times before, but how well do we understand the nature of that misrepresentation? "For many people, the Earth as they know it is heavily informed by the Mercator projection – a tool used for nautical navigation that eventually became the world’s most widely recognized map," writes Visual Capitalist's Nick Routley. But the Mercator projection dates to 1569, and "the vast majority of us aren’t using paper maps to chart our course across the ocean anymore, so critics of the Mercator projection argue that the continued use of this style of map gives users a warped sense of the true size of countries."

Some of the geographical misconceptions Gerardus Mercator inadvertently instilled in humanity to this day include exaggerations of the size of Europe and North America. "Visually speaking, Canada and Russia appear to take up approximately 25% of the Earth’s surface" on a Mercator map, "when in reality they occupy a mere 5%."

Figures are one thing, but a fair few 21st century cartography enthusiasts have also used technology unavailable and indeed unimaginable in Mercator's day to show us in a more immediately legible way exactly how his projection distorts land masses. Recently, a climate data scientist named Neil Kaye has used the form of the animated GIF to show what happens when countries shrink to their actual size on a Mercator map, and when Mexico and Greenland trade places.

As soon as Mexico goes north and Greenland goes south, it becomes obvious that both are really of a similar size, though we might have assumed the latter to be much larger than the former. And in fact, Mercator projection makes all countries farther from the equator look larger in relation to all countries nearer to the equator. We've pointed out the impossibility of making a perfectly faithful two-dimensional world map before here before on Open Culture, an impossibility that hasn't stopped cartographers from trying to come up with more and more accurate projections. But even they can't substitute for an acute awareness of how even the most popular maps can be wrong, an awareness you can develop even more intensively by viewing the many other cartographic creations Kaye has posted to the "Map Porn" subreddit — another technological development Mercator surely couldn't have foreseen.

via Visual Capitalist

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The Ten Greatest Films of All Time According to 358 Filmmakers

Every ten years, film journal Sight and Sound conducts a worldwide survey of film critics to decide which films are considered the best ever made. Started in 1952, the poll is now widely regarded as the most important and respected out there.

And the critical consensus for a long time was that the masterpiece Citizen Kane by Orson Welles is the best of the best. The film topped the list for five decades from 1962 until 2002. Then in 2012, perhaps out of Kane fatigue, Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo muscled its way to the top.

That’s what the critics think. But what about the filmmakers?

Beginning in 1992, Sight and Sound started to poll famed directors about their opinions. People like Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Mike Leigh and Michael Mann. So what is the best movie ever made according to 358 directors polled in 2012? Kane? Vertigo? Perhaps Jean Renoir’s brilliant Rules of the Game, the only movie to appear in the top ten for all seven critics polls? No.


Instead, the top prize goes to Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story.

It’s a surprising, an enlightened, choice. Ozu’s work is miles away from the flash of Kane and the psychosexual weirdness of Vertigo. Tokyo Story is a gentle, nuanced portrait of a family whose bonds are slowly, inexorably being frayed by the demands of modernization. The movie’s emotional power is restrained and cumulative; by the final credits you’ll be overwhelmed both with a Buddhist sense of the impermanence of all things and a strong urge to call your mother.

But perhaps the reason filmmakers picked Tokyo Story of all the other cinematic masterpieces out there is because of Ozu’s unique approach to film. Since the days of D. W. Griffith, almost every filmmaker under the sun, even cinematic rebels like Jean-Luc Godard, followed some basic conventions of the form like continuity editing, the 180-degree rule and matching eyelines. Ozu discarded all of that. Instead, he constructed a highly idiosyncratic cinematic language revolving around match cuts and rigorously composed shots. His film form was radical but his stories were universal. That is the paradox of Ozu. You can see the trailer of the movie above.

Citizen Kane does make number two on the list but the film is tied with another formally rigorous masterpiece – Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Next on the list is perhaps the best movie ever about making a movie – Federico Fellini’s 8 ½. And Ozu’s film might be number one, but Francis Ford Coppola is the only filmmaker to have two movies on the list – The Godfather and Apocalypse Now. And that’s no mean feat.

You can see the full list below:

1. Tokyo Story - Yasujiro Ozu (1953)
= 2. 2001: A Space Odyssey – Stanley Kubrick (1968)
= 2. Citizen Kane – Orson Welles (1941)
4. 8 ½ - Federico Fellini (1963)
5. Taxi Driver – Martin Scorsese (1976)
6. Apocalypse Now – Francis Ford Coppola (1979)
= 7. The Godfather – Francis Ford Coppola (1972)
= 7. Vertigo – Alfred Hitchcock (1958)
9. Mirror – Andrei Tarkovsky (1974)
10. Bicycle Thieves – Vittorio De Sica (1949)

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in 2015.

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Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring lots of pictures of badgers and even more pictures of vice presidents with octopuses on their heads.  The Veeptopus store is here.

An Animated Introduction to H.P. Lovecraft and How He Invented a New Gothic Horror

Howard Phillips Lovecraft died in obscurity at the age of 46, but he left behind a body of work formidable enough that even today's readers approach it only with great trepidation. They do so not so much because of its size, though Lovecraft did manage to write a fair bit, but because of what it dares to contemplate — or rather, because of its deep roots in the things mere humans dare not contemplate. Born in 1890, Lovecraft grew up on horror of the Gothic variety. But by the time he began writing his own in the year 1919, "World War I had cast a long shadow over the arts. People had seen real horrors, and were no longer frightened of fantastical folklore. Lovecraft sought to invent a new kind of terror, one that responded to the rapid scientific progress of the era."

Those words come from the TED-Ed lesson above, "Titan of Terror: the Dark Imagination of H.P. Lovecraft." Written and narrated by Silvia Moreno-García, a writer of science fiction and editor of several books on Lovecraft's work, the video offers a four-minute primer on how this "weird fiction" permanently upped the ante for all writers who sought to instill fear and dread into the hearts of their readers.

"Like then-recent discoveries of subatomic particles or X-rays," Moreno-García says, "the forces in Lovecraft's fiction were powerful, yet often invisible and indescribable. Rather than recognizable monsters, graphic violence, or startling shocks, the terror or 'Lovecraftian' horror lies in what's not directly portrayed — but instead left to the dark depths of our imagination."

Hence the cast of unspeakable "dark masters" beneath the placid New England surface of Lovecraft's stories. Yog-Sothoth, "who froths as primal slime in nuclear chaos beyond the nethermost outposts of space and time"; "the blind, idiot god Azathoth, whose destructive impulses are stalled only by the 'maddening beating of vile drums and the thin monotonous whine of accursed flutes'"; and of course Lovecraft's "infamous blend of dragon and octopus, Cthulhu": even those who have never read Lovecraft may well have heard of them. And as anyone who has read Lovecraft knows, we who have only heard of them, these beings "who exist beyond our conceptions of reality, their true forms as inscrutable as their motives," should count themselves lucky — far luckier, certainly, than the humans Lovecraft puts face-to-face with them.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

A Short Animated Film Explores the Fluidity of Gender in the Thought of Simone de Beauvoir and Judith Butler

In hindsight, it seems like a very different world when I first read Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble in college in the 90s. (Mash together all your stereotypes about college campuses in the 90s and you’ve pretty much got the picture.) For one thing, columnists in major national newspapers and magazines weren’t writing controversial, or simply explanatory, articles about gender fluidity. The concept did not exist in the mainstream press. It seemed both hip and rarified, confined to theory discussion groups, academic seminars, and punk zines.

As radical as Butler’s ideas about gender seemed, she acknowledged that she did not originate the critique. She found it first articulated in Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, in which the French existentialist feminist wrote, “one is not born a woman, but rather becomes one.”

In the short film above, Devenir (To Become), by French filmmaker Géraldine Charpentier-Basille, Butler describes her reaction to reading the passage. “I wrote something about this problem of becoming. And I wanted to know: does one ever become one? Or is that to be a woman is a mode of becoming… that has no goal…. You could say the same of gender more generally.”

As the images illustrating this extract from a 2006 interview with Butler show, the goalposts of feminine and masculine identities move all the time, from year to year, from culture to culture. Gender is a pastiche of representations we inhabit. It is produced, performative, Butler thought, but we can never get it “right” because there is no true referent. The idea descends from the existentialist insights of de Beauvoir, who wrote about and dramatized similar problems of the personal and social self.

De Beauvoir extended Sartre’s claim that “existence precedes essence” in her pioneering feminist work—we come into the world, then acquire identities through acculturation, social conditioning, and coercion. Butler extended the argument further. “For her, writes Aeon’s Will Fraker, “gender wasn’t predetermined by nature or biology, nor was it simply ‘made up’ by culture. Rather, Butler insisted that gender resides in repeated words and actions, words and actions that both shape and are shaped by the bodies of real, flesh-and-blood human beings. And crucially, such repetitions are rarely performed freely.”

From our earliest years, we are trained how to behave as a gender, just as we are taught to perform other identities—trained by the expectations of parents, teachers, religious leaders, advertisers, and the bullying and social pressure of our peers. Hear Butler explain further how gender, in her theory, functions as “a phenomenon that is produced and is being reproduced all the time…. Nobody really is a gender from the start. I know it’s controversial,” she says. “But that’s my claim.” It is one that poses complicated questions more broadly, notes Aeon, about “the pursuit of the ‘authentic’ self” as a meaningful idea—questions Western philosophers have been asking for well over half a century.

via Aeon

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Stream Free Online 200 Films from Tribeca Film Festivals

FYI: The Tribeca Film Festival is getting underway today. And to mark the occasion, Kanopy is showcasing a lineup of 200 titles from past festivals and letting you stream them free online. Kanopy writes:

Kanopy’s selection of Tribeca Film Festival titles includes recent festival favorites The Lovers, starring Debra Winger (An Officer and a Gentleman) & Tracy Letts (Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?), and Back Roads starring Alex Pettyfer (Stormbreaker) and  Jennifer Morrison (House). A selection of dynamic documentaries such as Dior and I and Planet of Snail is available alongside films with unforgettable female performances including Woman Walks Ahead, starring Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty) and Oscar-award winning short film The Phone Call, starring Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water). Several Tribeca-winning films including the 2015 Best Director winner About Elly and the 2017 Audience Award for Best Narrative Film, The Divine Order are also available.

You can find a complete list of Tribeca films here. As you may know, Kanopy offers a large collection of award-winning films and documentaries that are free to members of participating libraries. To see if your library is a participating member, visit this page on the Kanopy website.

Beyond the 200 films featured in the Tribeca collection, there are currently 30,000 films on the Kanopy service. Enjoy the shows.

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

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Freddie Mercury Reimagined as Comic Book Heroes

Pop culture thrives on superheroes, both fictional and real. This isn’t unique in human history. Read most any collection of ancient myth and literature and you’ll find the same. The demigods and chieftains beating their chests and talking trash in the Iliad, for example, remind me of macho professional wrestlers or characters in the Marvel and DC universes, cultural artifacts indebted in their various ways to classical legends. One thread runs through all of the epic tales of heroes and heroines: a seeming need to immortalize people who embody the qualities we most desire. Heroes may suffer for their tragic flaws, but that's the price they pay for universal acclaim or an iron throne.

The traits ascribed to late modernity’s fictional heroes haven’t changed overmuch from the distant past—power, wit, agility, persistence, anger issues, spicy, complicated love lives…. But when it comes to the real people we admire—the celebrities who get the superhero treatment—creativity, style, and musical talent top the list. Why not?

David Bowie’s larger-than-life personas surely deserve to live on, transmitted not only via his music but by way of his posthumous transformation into a series of pulp and comic heroes as imagined by screenwriter and designer Todd Alcott, who has given the same treatment to beloved musical characters like Prince and Bob Dylan.

Performing a similar service for Freddie Mercury, Brazilian artist Butcher Billy satisfies the cultural craving for demigods in his immortalization of Freddie Mercury as various heroes like The Hulk, Superman, and Shazam (or “Flash”); a contender for the Iron Throne; and himself: riding on Darth Vader’s shoulders, breaking free in housewife drag, and sporting Bowie’s Aladdin Sane lightning bolt. What are the superpowers of these super-Freddies? The usual smashing, punching, and flying, it seems, but also the essentials of his real-life power—an impossibly big personality, huge stage presence, personal magnetism, and a godlike force of a voice.

Add to these characteristics a unique talent for writing  lyrics punchier than your favorite Twitter feed, and we have the makings of a modern epic giant with abilities that seemed to surpass those of mere mortals, with the swagger and ego to match. This tribute to Mercury is unabashed hero worship, turning the singer into an archetype. In the simple, bold, colorful lines of comic cover art we might just see that there’s a Freddie Mercury in all of us, wanting to break free, pump a fist in the air, and belt out our biggest feelings in capital letters and giant exclamation marks.

See more "Planet Mercury Comics" below and at Butcher Billy's Behance site.

via Laughing Squid

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Hear J.R.R. Tolkien Read from The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit in Vintage Recordings from the Early 1950s

J.R.R. Tolkien was not a big fan of his fandom. He had serious doubts about whether any of the millions of readers who adored The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy understood anything about what he was trying to do. But none of them can be blamed, since he didn’t at first set out to write fiction at all—at least not when it came to The Lord of the Rings. The books, he said, were “an attempt to create a world in which a form of language agreeable to my personal aesthetic might seem real.”

The most famous fantasy series of all time began its life as a linguistic experiment, in other words. “The invention of languages is the foundation,” said Tolkien. “The ‘stories’ were made rather to provide a world for the languages than the reverse.” Of course, Tolkien fans know quite a bit about how personal his stories became, even as they incorporated more and more mythical elements. How could we possibly understand these stories the way Tolkien did?

Authors do not get to choose their readers, nor can they direct the interpretations of their work. Still Tolkien may have been more misunderstood than others, and maybe more entitled to complain. The scholarly work of philologists like himself—academics who studied the roots of languages and mythologies—had been mangled and misused by the Nazis. The fact caused Tolkien to confess to his son “a burning private grudge against that ruddy little ignoramus Adolf Hitler” for “ruining, perverting, misapplying, and making for ever accursed” the history Tolkien had made his life’s work. (He also penned a scathing reply to a German publisher who asked him for proof of his "Aryan" descent.)

He would also have been appalled that not long after his death, Middle Earth became a “merchandising juggernaut,” as one student of his effect on popular culture puts it. Tolkien had strenuously resisted efforts by Disney to buy the rights to his fiction, objecting to what he saw as vulgar, mercenary commercialism. The hundreds of millions of dollars poured into the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings films, and the empire of games, action figures, t-shirts, etc., might have seemed to him the very image of power-mad wizard Saruman’s designs for world domination.

This isn’t to say we should hear Tolkien scolding us as we pick up our box set of special edition books, Blu-Rays, and LOTR tchotchkes. He was no stranger to marketing. And he produced the inspiration for some of the most beloved adaptations with his own cover art designs and over a hundred drawings and paintings of Middle Earth and its English referents. But perhaps it would repay fans of the many LOTR-themed consumables to attend to the creator of the now-self-existent world of Middle Earth every now and then—to get closer, if not to Tolkien’s intentions, then at least to his mind and voice, both recorded in his letters and his own readings from his work.

In the clips here, you can listen to Tolkien himself read from The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, including a recording at the top of him reading one of the fantasy languages he invented, then created an entire world around, the Elvish tongue Quenya in the poem "Namarie." Some of these YouTube clips have received their own cinematic treatment, in a YouTube sort of way, like the video below with a montage of Tolkien-inspired media and a dramatic score. This may or may not be to your liking, but the origin story of the recording deserves a mention.

Shown a tape recorder by a friend, whom Tolkien had visited to pick up a manuscript of The Lord of the Rings, the author decided to sit down and record himself. Delighted with the results, he agreed to read from The Hobbit. He liked the technology enough that he continued to record himself reading from his own work. Tolkien may not have desired to see his books turned into spectacles, but as we listen to him read, it's hard to see how anyone could resist the temptation to put his magnificent descriptions on the big screen. Hear the second part of that Hobbit reading here, and more Tolkien readings in the many links below.

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Hear J.R.R. Tolkien Read From The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Hear Pink Floyd’s “Great Gig in the Sky” Played on the Theremin

Pink Floyd is surely the most quotable of psych-rock and progressive bands. Everyone, no matter their musical tastes, knows lines like “we don’t need no education, we don’t need no thought control,” “I have become comfortably numb,” and “we’re just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl, year after year.”

The band’s first album with Syd Barrett was full of wordplay and whimsy. Later songwriting cut right to the heart of things, with razor-sharp observations, heartbreaking statements, sneering jibes, and strident pronouncements. In their finest iterations, they were a band with something to say.

These qualities make it all the more striking that one of their most moving compositions is a song without any words, unless we count the vocal samples at the beginning from writer Malcolm Muggeridge. Smack in the middle of Dark Side of the Moon, “The Great Gig in the Sky” showcases a soulful improvisation by guest vocalist Clare Torry (who finally, rightfully, received a writing credit in 2004). Her voice provides all the dramatic tension the song needs, communicating more, in purely emotional terms, than any lyric the band might have written.

Does the effect come through when her performance is replayed on a Theremin? You be the judge. The song made famous by its wordless intensity meets an instrument played without any touch—it’s a poetic kind of mashup, and a well-executed cover. Theremin player Charlie Draper doesn’t only play Torry’s vocal, but also David Gilmour’s pedal steel guitar parts, which are probably better suited to the instrument. As an added bonus, he plays over one of the earlier instrumental demos of the song with samples from Apollo 17 astronauts, adding a few more words that serve only as more atmosphere behind the melody.

The Theremin is often pegged as a novelty instrument, defining the sound of B-movie sci-fi, but it has a long and distinguished history. First called the Etherphone by Russian inventor Leon Theremin, it became the passionate instrument of choice for classical player Clara Rockmore in the early 20th century. A sort of mini-Theremin revival has brought it back into prominence as a serious interpreter of classical and modern music. On his YouTube channel, Draper demonstrates his appreciation for the Theremin’s range, playing Mozart, Grieg, Gershwin, and the theme from the film First Man. Just above, Hank Green tells us all about the physics of the Theremin, in a SciShow crash course that could answer many of the questions you might have had while watching Draper play Pink Floyd on one.

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Hear How Clare Torry’s Vocals on Pink Floyd’s “The Great Gig in the Sky” Made the Song Go from Pretty Good to Downright Great

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Meet Clara Rockmore, the Pioneering Electronic Musician Who First Rocked the Theremin in the Early 1920s

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him

The Medieval City Plan Generator: A Fun Way to Create Your Own Imaginary Medieval Cities

The Medieval City Plan Generator. It's the free online tool you've always wanted. It doesn't create maps of actual medieval cities--only nice looking maps of imaginary cities, with the ability to add plazas, castles, rivers, city walls, and even shanty towns. Enter the Medieval City Plan Generator here.

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

Also consider following Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and sharing intelligent media with your friends. Or sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

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Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

Also consider following Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and sharing intelligent media with your friends. Or sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

The Daily Rituals of 143 Famous Female Creators: Octavia Butler, Edith Wharton, Coco Chanel & More

Certain kinds of content have flowered on the internet that we can't seem to get enough of, and if you frequent Open Culture, you may well have a weakness for one kind in particular: the daily schedules of notable creators. When we know and respect someone's work, we can't help but wonder how they spend their finite time on this Earth in such a way that allows them to create that work in the first place. Mason Currey, creator of the blog Daily Rituals, knows this well: not only did all his posting about "how writers, artists, and other interesting people organize their days" lead to a book, Daily Rituals: How Great Minds Make Time, Find Inspiration, and Get to Work, it just last month produced a sequel, Daily Rituals: Women at Work.

"In the first Daily Rituals, I featured far more men than women," writes Currey. "In this second volume, I correct the imbalance with profiles of the day-to-day working lives of 143 women writers, artists, and performers," including Octavia Butler, "who wrote every day no matter what," Isak Dinesen, "who subsisted on oysters and champagne but also amphetamines, which gave her the overdrive she required, Martha Graham, "who eschewed socializing in favor of long hours alone in her studio," and Lillian Hellman, "who chain-smoked three packs of cigarettes and drank twenty cups of coffee a day (after milking the cow and cleaning the barn on her Hardscrabble Farm)."

You can read a few excerpts of the book at the publisher's web site. Coco Chanel, we learn, usually arrived late to the office but "stayed until late in the evening, compelling her employees to hang around with her even after work had ceased, pouring wine and talking nonstop, avoiding for as long as possible the return to her room at the Ritz and to the boredom and loneliness that awaited her there." Edith Wharton, by contrast, "always worked in the morning, and houseguests who stayed at the Mount — the 113-acre estate in Lenox, Massachusetts, where Wharton penned several novels, including The House of Mirth and Ethan Frome — were expected to entertain themselves until 11:00 a.m. or noon, when their hostess would emerge from her private quarters, ready to go for a walk or work in the garden."

The other subjects of Daily Rituals: Women at Work, a full list of which you can read here, include everyone from Maya Angelou to Diane Arbus, Joan Didion to Marlene Dietrich, Dorothy Parker to Emily Post, and Agnès Varda to Alice Walker. Not only do no two of these creators have the same routines, their strategies for how best to use their time often conflict. "Screw inspiration," said Octavia Butler, but her colleague in writing Zadie Smith takes quite a different tack: "I think you need to feel an urgency about the acts,” Currey quotes her as saying in an interview, "otherwise when you read it, you feel no urgency either. So, I don’t write unless I really feel I need to." For all tips as you might pick up from these 143 women, as well as from the creators of both sexes in the previous book, the most important one might be a meta-tip: develop the set of daily rituals that suits your personality and no one else's.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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