This week's staff picks
Every week, the ASBMB staff shares what we’ve been reading, listening to, watching and doing. As we all weather the COVID-19 pandemic and our new normal of social distancing, we look for ways to cope and connect — and a bit of entertainment to take our minds elsewhere.
9x30 Staff Spins (9:30 Club, Spotify)
The 9:30 Club is a legendary venue in Washington, D.C. I have some amazing memories of seeing my favorite artists perform there. This is an awesome playlist compiled by 9:30 Club staff. I enjoy the mix and introduction to new artists. Music helps me through so much of life’s ups and downs. Enjoy these tunes!
— Ally Frick, multimedia and social media content manager
Merlin Bird ID app (Cornell Lab of Ornithology)
When I was in elementary school, my very first science fair project involved observing the feeding preferences of songbirds in our backyard. Before then, my family didn’t think too much about whether it was a white-breasted nuthatch or a black-capped chickadee in one of our trees, but ever since, we have been a family of casual birdwatchers. Back then, I used a field guide to help me identify species, but this app surely would have sped the process along. Now, when I see new avian visitor in our yard, I can quickly pull up a list of potential species based on size, prominent colors and where I am. Once a bird is identified, the app provides information on that bird’s behavior, typical geography and even recordings of their calls or songs. I’m fortunate that the desk in my home office overlooks old-growth trees and marshes, which means a number of songbirds and the occasional raptor stop by for a visit and brighten my day. Being able to identify them, first by sight and now by song, has been a fun distraction. It also makes for a good conversation to compare bird sightings from the Washington, D.C., region, where I live now, with those in the Southeast, where my brother lives, and the Midwest, which my mother calls home. We may not be able to see each other in person, but the birds will bring us together.
— Kirsten Block, director of education, professional development, and outreach
Cocoa brownies (Alton Brown, Food Network)
This is by far the most chocolate-y and comforting brownie recipe I've used, and it's really easy. It's been a favorite during COVID-19 when I relax while baking and listening to food podcasts.
— Sarina Neote, science policy manager
A good friend of mine has been telling me to listen to Short Wave for several weeks now, and I’m so glad I finally did. The first entry I listened to was this 13-minute diversion that provides not only soothing strategies for sitting out your stay-at-home order but also surprising facts about how snails eat and hang onto walls. Trust me, you will end up searching for images of snail teeth. Spoiler: They are weird.
— Catherine Goodman, scientific editor, Journal of Biological Chemistry
The Magic Mountain (Thomas Mann, translated by John E. Woods, Vintage International)
Given the setting of this novel, an early-20th century lung sanatorium for tuberculosis patients in the Swiss mountains, I confess that I’m somewhat apprehensive about recommending it during a global pandemic. However, it’s a classic coming-of-age story that lends itself to reading during times when one is cooped up or perhaps feeling a little lost. The author skillfully takes the reader by the hand, which may feel sometimes a little patronizing but can be reassuring given the subject matter. I’ve read it three times so far and recently watched a (German) film adaption, but I still feel I only barely grasped it.
The book is partially based on the author’s own experience staying at a sanatorium with his wife, who had come down with a lung disease. He meticulously describes the daily routines of the inhabitants — largely upper-middle class people from countries all across Europe and Asia — and the medical treatments available at a time before antibiotics. World War I, and the societal forces that precipitated it, however, were what mainly prompted Mann to tell this rich and still very relevant tale of living and dying, reason and dogma, love and loss, and the elusiveness of time.
Financial implications and planning (Ronald J. Daniels, president, Johns Hopkins University)
This is not a typical staff pick, but I think it will interest those who work in communications or are thinking about going into the business, particularly at universities. In this lengthy missive to the Johns Hopkins University community, the president’s office lays out how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting the school’s finances and what measures the administration is planning to take to mitigate and adapt to shortfalls. I’m no expert on university finances, and I presume that Hopkins is one of the most well-funded schools out there. I’m not sharing this because I’m concerned about Hopkins surviving. But I was impressed with the level of detail the president’s office was willing to provide. More often than not, communications from the top of an organization, in good times and bad, are vague and unhelpful. Lack of transparency during times of trouble (rightfully) sows distrust. Daniels’ message notes that “(u)niversities place an understandable premium on shared governance.” As with all things, it comes down to power and whether a leader is willing to part with some of it.
— Angela Hopp, director of communications
Art at a time like this (curated by Barbara Pollack and Anne Verhallen)
For most of my life, I have read “Goings on about town” in The New Yorker at a wistful distance. I don’t get to New York very often, and when I do, my time is often spoken for. I never get enough of the plays, music and art galleries. Now, with the cultural venues of the city shuttered to help spread the slow of the coronavirus, the magazine is sharing online offerings. It’s terrible to think of a closed-down New York, but I’m grateful to experience what I formerly only read about. This online exhibition addresses the question “How can we think of art at a time like this?” with new works daily from all over the world, along with comments from the artists. I don’t love them all — in fact, I really dislike some of them, and I’m irritated that I can’t see each item full screen — but I’m grateful to have a visceral reaction to anything in these days of vague and numbing dread. And how often do you get to hear an earnest pufferfish lecture you gently about global warming?
— Comfort Dorn, ASBMB Today managing editor
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Having weathered the devastating COVID-19 outbreak in Italy, biochemistry professor Maurizio Crestani proposes a worldwide investment in basic research.