Wired Co-Founder Kevin Kelly Gives 36 Lectures on Our Future World: Education, Movies, Robots, Autonomous Cars & More

Given recent events, 2019 may now seem to us like the distant past. But to those who were thinking hard about the future the year before last, nothing that has happened since has been wholly unexpected — and especially not to those who’d already been thinking hard about the future for decades. Take Kevin Kelly, co-founder of Wired magazine and writer on technology as well as a host of other subjects. It was in 2019 that state telecommunications company China Mobile commissioned him to give a series of 36 short video lectures on the “Future of X”: not the future of the internet in China and the future of India in competition with China, but a range of topics that will surely affect us all, no matter our part of the world.

Self-driving cars, virtual reality, 5G, robots: Kelly has given consideration to all these much-discussed technologies and the roles they may come to play in our lives. But the important thing about them isn’t to know what form they’ll take in the future, since by definition no one can, but to develop habits of mind that allow you to grasp as wide a variety of their possibilities as you can right now.

The future, as Kelly frames it in his talk on uncertainties, consists of “known knowns,” “known unknowns,” and “unknown unknowns.” Those last, better known as “black swans,” are events “completely unexpected by anybody” that “change the world forever.” As examples of possible black swans to come he names World War Three, the discovery of cheap fusion energy, and, yes, a pandemic.

Societal preparation for the future, to Kelly’s mind, will involve developing “a very systematic way of collecting these unknown unknowns and turning them into known unknowns.” Personal preparation for the future, according to his talk on schools and learning, will involve ceaseless acquisition and refinement of knowledge and understanding.

If we want to thrive in an uncertain future, he argues, we should “adopt a method of learning called deliberate practice, falling forward or failing forward,” in which we keep pushing ourselves into unknown intellectual territory, always remaining “newbies” at something, assisted all the while by technology.

Just a couple of decades into the 21st century, we’ve already caught a glimpse of what technology can do to optimize our learning process — or simply to enable learning where it wouldn’t happen otherwise. “I don’t imagine that we’re going to go away from a classroom,” Kelly says, but we also “have the online video world, and more and more people today are learning how to do an amazing variety of things, that we wouldn’t have thought would work on video.”

Of course, since he spoke those words, one black swan in particular has pushed much of humanity away from the classroom, and we’ve found out a good deal more about what kind of learning works (and doesn’t) over the internet. The future, it seems, is now.

You can watch the full playlist of videos, all 36 of them, below. We also recommend his very insightful book, The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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 Open Syllabus Project Visualizes the 1,000,000+ Books Most Frequently Assigned in College Courses

The Prince, The Canterbury Tales, The Communist Manifesto, The Souls of Black FolkThe Elements of Style: we’ve read all these, of course. Or at least we’ve read most of them (one or two for sure), if our ever-dimmer memories of high school or college are to be trusted. But we can rest assured that students are reading — or in any case, being assigned — these very same works today, thanks to the Open Syllabus project, which as of this writing has assembled a database of 7,292,573 different college course syllabi. Greatly expanded since we previously featured it here on Open Culture, its “Galaxy” now visualizes the 1,138,841 most frequently assigned texts in that database, presenting them in a Google Maps-like interface for your intellectual exploration.

If you click on the search window in the upper-left corner of that interface, a scrollable ranking of the top 100 most frequently assigned texts opens immediately below. Number one, appearing on more than 15,000 of the syllabi collected so far, is Strunk and White’s classic writing-style guide.

Click on its title and you’ll find yourself in its corner of the map, and you’ll see highlighted other popular readings that tend to be assigned together with it: Diana Hacker’s A Writer’s Reference (at the moment the second-most assigned text), Aristotle’s Rhetoric, Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from the Birmingham Jail,” Jürgen Habermas’ The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere.

Michel Foucault holds by some measures the record for the greatest number of citations in the humanities. If you’ve read only one of his books, you’ve probably read Discipline and Punish, his 1975 study of the penal system — and current holder of sixteenth place on the Open Syllabus rankings. But zoom in on it and you’ll find plenty of relevant books and articles you might not have read: Alan Elsner’s Gates of Injustice, William Ian Miller’s The Anatomy of DisgustSoledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson. Similarly, an excursion in the neighborhood of Benedict Anderson‘s Imagined Communities brings encounters with other investigations of country and citizenship like Ernest Renan’s What Is a Nation? and Duncan S.A. Bell’s Mythscapes: Memory, Mythology, and National Identity.

In every sense, the results to be found in the Open Syllabus Galaxy are more interesting than those offered up by the standard you-may-also-like algorithms. Back in college you may have enjoyed, say, Edward Said’s Orientalism, but the range of texts that could accompany it would have been limited by the theme of the class and the intent of your instructor. Here you’ll find Noam Chomsky’s Failed States on one side, John R. Bowen’s Why the French Don’t Like Headscarves on another, Hans Wehr’s Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic on another, and even Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama bin Laden on another still. If we want to understand a subject, after all, we must read not just about it but around it. In college or elsewhere, you might well have heard that idea; here, you can see it. Enter the Open Syllabus Galaxy here.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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 “Academic Tarot”: 22 Major Arcana Cards Representing Life in the Academic Humanities Under COVID-19

“Speculations about the creators of Tarot cards include the Sufis, the Cathars, the Egyptians, Kabbalists, and more,” writes “expert cartomancer” Joshua Hehe. All of these suppositions are wrong, it seems. “The actual historical evidence points to northern Italy sometime in the early part of the 1400s,” when the so-called “major arcana” came into being. “Contrary to what many have claimed, there is absolutely no proof of the Tarot having originated in any other time or place.”

A bold claim, yet there are precedents much older than tarot: “A few decades before the Tarot was born, ordinary playing cards came to Europe by way of Arabs, arriving in many different cities between 1375 and 1378. These cards were an adaptation of the Islamic Mamluk cards,” with suits of cups, swords, coins, and polo sticks, “the latter of which were seen by Europeans as staves.”

Whether the playing cards invented by the Mamluks were used for divination may be a matter of controversy. The history and art of the Mamluk sultanate itself is a subject worthy of study for the tarot historian. Originally a slave army (“mamluk” means “slave” in Arabic) under the Ayyubid sultans in Egypt and Syria, the Mamluks overthrew their rulers and created “the greatest Islamic empire of the later Middle Ages.”

What does this have to do with tarot reading? These are academic concerns, perhaps, of little interest to the average tarot enthusiast. But then, the average tarot enthusiast is not the audience for the “Academic Tarot,” a project of the Visionary Futures Collective, or VFC, a group of 22 scholars “fighting for what higher education needs most,” Stephanie Malak writes at Hyperallergic, “a bringing together of thinkers who ‘believe in the transformational power and vital importance of the humanities.’”

To that end, the Academic Tarot features exactly the kinds of characters who love to chase down abstruse historical questions—characters like the lowly, confused Grad Student, standing in here for The Fool. It also features those who can make academic life, with its endless rounds of meetings and committees, so difficult: figures like The President (see here), doing duty here as the Magician, and pictured shredding “campus-wide COVID results.”

The VFC, founded in the time of COVID-19 pandemic and “in the midst of the long-overdue national reckoning led by the Black Lives Matter movement,” aims to “trace the contours of things that define our shared human condition,” says Collective member Dr. Brian DeGrazia. In the case of the Academic Tarot, the conditions represented are shared by a specific subset of humans, many of whom responded to “feelings surveys” put out by the VFC in a biweekly newsletter.

The surveys have been used to make art that reflects the experiences of the grad students, professors, and professional staff working the academic humanities at this time:

VFC artist-in-residence Claire Chenette, a Grammy-nominated Knoxville Symphony Orchestra musician furloughed due to COVID-19, brought the tarot cards to life. What began as a three-card project to complement the VFC newsletter grew in spirit and in number. 

“In tarot, the cards read us,” the VFC writes, “telling a story about ourselves that can provide clarity, guidance and hope.” What story do the 22 Major Arcana cards in the Academic Tarot tell? That depends on who’s asking, as always, but one gets the sense that unless the querent is familiar with life in a higher-ed humanities department, these cards may not reveal much. For those who have seen themselves in the cards, however, “the images made them laugh out loud,” says Chenette, or “they hit hard. Or… they even made them cry, but… it needed to happen.”

Struggling through yet another pandemic semester of attempting to teach, research, write, and generally stay afloat? The Academic Tarot cards are currently sold out, but you can pre-order now for the second run.

via Hyperallergic

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

How Martin Luther King Jr. Got C’s in Public Speaking–Before Becoming a Straight-A Student & a World Class Orator

How many Americans have never heard the name of Martin Luther King Jr.? And indeed, gone more than half a century though he may be, how many Americans have never heard his voice, or can’t quote his words? Long though King will doubtless stand as an example of the English language’s greatest 20th-century orators, he once showed scant academic promise in that department. Tweeting out an image of his transcript from Crozer Theological Seminary, where King earned his Bachelor of Divinity, Harvard’s Sarah Elizabeth Lewis notes that King “received two Cs in public speaking,” and “actually went from a C+ to a C the next term.”

Still, that beat the marks King had previously received at Morehouse College. In an article for The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, Stanford’s Clayborne Carson quotes religion professor George D. Kelsey as describing King’s record there as “short of what may be called ‘good,'” but also adding that King came “to realize the value of scholarship late in his college career.” This early underachievement may have been a consequence of King’s entrance into college at the young age of fifteen, which was made possible by Morehouse’s offering its entrance exam to junior high schoolers, its student body having been depleted by enlistment in the Second World War.

But King “probably realized that he would have to become more diligent in his studies if he were to succeed at the small Baptist institution in Chester, Pennsylvania, a small town southwest of Philadelphia,” writes Carson. “Evidently wishing to break with the relaxed attitude he had had toward his Morehouse studies,” he “quickly immersed himself in Crozer’s intellectual environment” and adopted a mien of high seriousness. “If I were a minute late to class, I was almost morbidly conscious of it,” King later recalled. “I had a tendency to overdress, to keep my room spotless, my shoes perfectly shined, and my clothes immaculately pressed.”

The young King eventually rose to the role in which he’d cast himself, thanks in part to the rigor of certain professors who knew what to expect from him. Apart from the sole minus blemishing his grade in “Christianity and Society,”  his transcript for 1950-51 shows straight As. “By the time of his graduation,” Carson writes, “King’s intellectual confidence was reinforced by the experience of having successfully competed with white students during his Crozer years.” Named student body president and class valedictorian, “he was also accepted for doctoral study at Boston University’s School of Theology, where he would be able to work directly with the personalist theologians he had come to admire.” Even then, one suspects, King knew the real work lay ahead of him — and well outside the academy, at that.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Coursera Offers $100 Off of Coursera Plus, Giving You Unlimited Access to Courses & Certificates

FYI: Between now and January 20, Coursera is offering a $100 discount on its annual subscription plan called “Coursera Plus.” Normally priced at $399, Coursera Plus (now available for $299) gives you access to 90% of Coursera’s courses, Guided Projects, Specializations, and Professional Certificates, all of which are taught by top instructors from leading universities and companies (e.g. Yale, Duke, Google, Facebook, and more). The $299 annual fee–which translates to 81 cents per day–could be a good investment for anyone interested in learning new subjects and skills in 2021, or earning certificates that can be added to your resume. Just as Netflix’s streaming service gives you access to unlimited movies, Coursera Plus gives you access to unlimited courses and certificates. It’s basically an all-you-can-eat deal.

You can try out Coursera Plus for 14 days, and if it doesn’t work for you, you can get your money back. Explore the offer (before January 20, 2021) here.

Note: Open Culture has a partnership with Coursera. If readers enroll in certain Coursera courses and programs, it helps support Open Culture.

Study Less, Study Smart: A Longtime Psych Professor Explains How to Study (or Do Any Intellectual Work) Effectively

If you’ve left formal education, you no doubt retain a few good memories from your years as a student. None of them, safe to say, involve studying — assuming you managed to get any studying done in the first place. The unfortunate fact is that few of us ever really come to grips with what it means to study, apart from sitting by oneself with a textbook for hours on end. Despite its obvious inefficiency as a learning method, we’ve all found ourselves doing that kind of “studying” at one time or another. Having taught psychology classes for 40 years, Pierce College professor Marty Lobdell has seen thousands of students laboring, indeed suffering, under similar studying-related assumptions, and in his 8.7-million-times-viewed talk “Study Less, Study Smart,” he sets out to correct them. He has also dispensed his wisdom in a book by the same title.

Not many of us can get much out of a textbook after a few hours with it, or indeed, after more than about thirty minutes. It’s thus at such an interval that Lobdell suggests taking a regular five-minute break to listen to music, play a game, talk to a friend, meditate — to do anything but study — in order to recharge your ability to focus and head off these diminishing returns of absorption. At the end of each entire study session, you’d do well to schedule a bigger reward in order to reinforce the behavior of engaging in study sessions in the first place. Ideally, you’ll enjoy this reward in a different place than you do your studying, which itself shouldn’t be a room that comes with its own distracting primary use, like the bedroom, kitchen, or living room.

Even if you have a dedicated study area (and better yet, a dedicated study lamp that you turn on only while hitting the books), you won’t get much accomplished there if you rely on simply reading texts over and over again in hopes of eventually memorizing their contents. Lobdell recommends focusing primarily on not facts but the broader concepts that organize those facts. An effective means of checking whether you understand a concept is to try explaining it in your own words: Richard Feynman premised his “notebook technique” for learning, previously featured here on Open Culture, on just such a process. You’ll also want to make use of the notes you take in class, but only if you take them in a useful way, which necessitates a process of expansion and revision immediately after each class.

Lobdell has much more advice to offer throughout the full, hourlong talk. In it he also covers the value of study groups; the more questionable value of highlighting; genuine remembering versus simple recognition; the necessity of a good night’s sleep; the “survey, question, read, recite, review” approach to textbooks; and the usefulness of mnemonics (even, or perhaps especially, silly ones). If you’re a student, you can make use of Lobdell’s techniques right away, and if you once were a student, you may find yourself wishing you’d known about them back then. But properly adapted, they can benefit the intellectual work you do at any stage of life. Never, after all, does concentration become less valuable, and never can we claim to have learned something unless we can first make it understood to others – or indeed, to ourselves.

If you want the cliff notes version of the Study Less, Study Smart lecture, watch the video below:

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

The Uncanny Children’s Book Illustrations of Sigmund’s Freud’s Niece, Tom Seidmann-Freud

In 1919, Sigmund Freud published “The ‘Uncanny,’” his rare attempt as a psychoanalyst “to investigate the subject of aesthetics.” The essay arrived in the midst of a modernist revolution Freud himself unwittingly inspired in the work of Surrealists like Salvador Dali, Andre Breton, and many others. He also had an influence on another artist of the period: his niece Martha-Gertrud Freud, who started going by the name “Tom” after the age of 15, and who became known as children’s book author and illustrator Tom Seidmann-Freud after she married Jakob Seidmann and the two established their own publishing house in 1921.

Seidmann-Freud’s work cannot help but remind students of her uncle’s work of the unheimlich—that which is both frightening and familiar at once. Uncanniness is a feeling of traumatic dislocation: something is where it does not belong and yet it seems to have always been there. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the Seidmann-Freud’s named their publishing company Peregrin, which comes from “the Latin, Peregrinos,” notes an exhibition catalogue, “meaning ‘foreigner,’ or ‘from abroad’—a title used during the Roman Empire to identify individuals who were not Roman citizens.”

Uncanny dislocation was a theme explored by many an artist—many of them Jewish—who would later be labeled “decadent” by the Nazis and killed or forced into exile. Seidmann-Freud herself had migrated often in her young life, from Vienna to London, where she studied art, then to Munich to finish her studies, and finally to Berlin with her husband. She became familiar with the Jewish philosopher and mystic Gershom Scholem, who interested her in illustrating a Hebrew alphabet book. The project fell through, but she continued to write and publish her own children’s books in Hebrew.

In Berlin, the couple established themselves in the Charlottenburg neighborhood, the center of the Hebrew publishing industry. Seidmann-Freud’s books were part of a larger effort to establish a specifically Jewish modernism. Tom “was a typical example of the busy dawn of the 1920s,” Christine Brinck writes at Der Tagesspiegel. Scholem called the chain-smoking artist an “authentic Bohèmienne” and an “illustrator… bordering on genius.” Her work shows evidence of a “close familiarity with the world of dreams and the subconscious,” writes Hadar Ben-Yehuda, and a fascination with the fear and wonder of childhood.

In her 1923 The Fish’s Journey, Seidmann-Freud draws on a personal trauma, “the first real tragedy to have struck her young life when her beloved brother Theodor died by drowning.” Other works illustrate texts—chosen by Jakob and the couple’s business partner, poet Hayim Nahman Bialik—by Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm, “with drawings adapted to the landscapes of a Mediterranean community,” “a Jewish, socialist notion… added to the texts,” “and the difference between boys and girls made indecipherable,” the Seidmann-Freud exhibition catalogue points out.

These books were part of a larger mission to “introduce Hebrew-speaking children to world literature, as part of establishing a modern Hebrew society in Palestine.” Tragically, the publishing venture failed, and Jakob hung himself, the event that precipitated Tom’s own tragic end, as Ben-Yehuda tells it:

The delicate, sensitive illustrator never recovered from her husband’s death. She fell into depression and stopped eating. She was hospitalized, but no one from her family and friends, not even her uncle Sigmund Freud who came to visit and to care for her was able to lift her spirits. After a few months, she died of anorexia at the age of thirty-eight.

Seidmann-Freud passed away in 1930, “the same year that the liberal democracy in Germany, the Weimar Republic, started it frenzied downward descent,” a biography written by her family points out. Her work was burned by the Nazis, but copies of her books survived in the hands of the couple’s only daughter, Angela, who changed her name to Aviva and “emigrated to Israel just before the outbreak of World War II.”

The “whimsically apocalyptic” illustrations in books like Buch Der Hasengeschichten, or The Book of Rabbit Stories from 1924, may seem more ominous in hindsight. But we can also say that Tom, like her uncle and like so many contemporary avant-garde artists, drew from a general sense of uncanniness that permeated the 1920s and often seemed to anticipate more full-blown horror. See more Seidmann-Freud illustrations at 50 Watts, the Freud Museum London, KulturPort, and at her family-maintained site, where you can also purchase prints of her many weird and wonderful scenes.

via 50 Watts

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

The Gruesome Dollhouse Death Scenes That Reinvented Murder Investigations

Who can resist miniatures?

Wee food, painstakingly rendered in felted wool

Matchbook-sized books you can actually read…

Classic record albums shrunk down for mice…

The late Frances Glessner Lee (1878-1962) definitely loved miniatures, and excelled at their creation, knitting socks on pins, hand rolling real tobacco into tiny cigarettes, and making sure the victims in her realistic murder scene dioramas exhibited the proper degree of rigor mortis and lividity.

Lee began work on her Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death at the age of 65, as part of a lifelong interest in homicide investigation.

Her preoccupation began with the Sherlock Holmes stories she read as a girl.

In the 1930s, the wealthy divorcee used part of a sizable inheritance to endow Harvard University with enough money for the creation of its Department of Legal Medicine.

Its first chairman was her friend, George Burgess Magrath, a medical examiner who had shared his distress that criminals were literally getting away with murder because coroners and police investigators lacked appropriate training for forensic analysis.

The library to which Lee donated a thousand books on the topic was named in his honor.

The homemade dioramas offered a more vivid experience than could be found in any book.

Each Nutshell Study required almost half a year’s work, and cost about the same as a house would have at the time. ($6000 in the 1940s.)

“Luckily, I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth,” Lee remarked. “It gives me the time and money to follow my hobby of scientific crime detection.”

Although Lee had been brought up in a luxurious 13 bedroom home (8 were for servants’ use), the domestic settings of the Nutshell Studies are more modest, reflective of the victims’ circumstances.

She drew inspiration from actual crimes, but had no interest in replicating their actual scenes. The crimes she authored for her little rooms were composites of the ones she had studied, with invented victims and in rooms decorated according to her imagination.

Her intent was to provide investigators with virgin crime scenes to meticulously examine, culling indirect evidence from the painstakingly detailed props she was a stickler for getting right.

Students were provided with a flashlight, a magnifying glass, and witness statements. Her attention to detail ensured that they would use the full ninety minutes they had been allotted analyzing the scene. Their goal was not to crack the case but to carefully document observations on which a case could be built.

The flawlessness of her 1:12 scale renderings also speaks to her determination to be taken seriously in what was then an exclusively male world. (Women now dominate the field of forensic science.)

Nothing was overlooked.

As she wrote to Dr. Alan Moritz, the Department of Legal Medicine’s second chair, in a letter reviewing proposed changes to some early scenes:

I found myself constantly tempted to add more clues and details and am afraid I may get them “gadgety” in the process. I hope you will watch over this and stop me when I go too far. Since you and I have perpetrated these crimes ourselves we are in the unique position of being able to give complete descriptions of them even if there were no witnesses—very much in the manner of the novelist who is able to tell the inmost thoughts of his characters.

It’s no accident that many of the Nutshell Studies’ little corpses are female.

Lee did not want officers to treat victims dismissively because of gender-related assumptions, whether the scenario involved a prostitute whose throat has been cut, or a housewife dead on the floor of her kitchen, the burners of her stove all switched to the on position.

Would you like to test your powers of observation?

Above are the remains of Maggie Wilson, discovered in the Dark Bathroom‘s tub by a fellow boarder, Lizzie Miller, who gave the following statement:

I roomed in the same house as Maggie Wilson, but knew her only from we met in the hall. I think she had ‘fits’ [seizures]. A couple of male friends came to see her fairly regularly. On Sunday night, the men were there and there was a lot of drinking going on. Some time after the men left, I heard the water running in the bathroom. I opened the door and found her as you see her.

Grim, eh?

Not nearly as grim as what you’ll find in the Parsonage or the Three-Room Dwelling belonging to shoe factory foreman Robert Judson, his wife, Kate, and their baby, Linda Mae.

The period-accurate mini furnishings and fashions may create a false impression that the Mother of Forensic Science’s Nutshell Studies should be relegated to a museum.

In truth, their abundance of detail remains so effective that the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Baltimore continues to use 18 of them in training seminars to help homicide investigators “convict the guilty, clear the innocent, and find the truth in a nutshell.”

Explore 5 Nutshell Studies—Woodman’s Shack, Attic, Living Room, Garage, and Parsonage Parlor—in 360º compliments of The Smithsonian American Art Museum Renwick Gallery’s exhibit Murder Is Her Hobby: Frances Glessner Lee and The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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