Essays worth reading

Earthly delights: gardening in a time of crisis

Lost elysium of the Cambridge Backs: One of Britain’s most celebrated views will soon be dramatically changed It would seem the “wildflower meadow” gardening fad is going to replace the manicured lawns at Cambridge.

For the full life experience, put down all devices and walk

A review of Martha Nussbaum’s The Cosmopolitan Tradition

Belief is better: Robert Frost’s correspondence on teaching, writing and having fun

George Orwell and women

What Freud got right: We might do a better job of living together if we believed that we are meant to do so

The woman in black: The last judicial duel in France hinged on whether a woman could be believed

Shakespeare and Classical Antiquity

How China built a Twitter propaganda machine then let it loose on coronavirus – I don’t usually get into ProPublica pieces because they have such a mindless progressive bent now (the site was much more intellectually rigorous in the throes of the financial crisis), but this article is fascinating, if only for the topic. It would seem China is at the ready to hack thousands of Twitter accounts established by real citizens within western democracies and hijack them for their propagandist purposes. I think this year is going to get very interesting as we get closer to the election.

For the life of me, I do not understand why people get their news from Twitter (or the corporate media, which just prints the garbage they read on Twitter now rather than chasing actual stories). Foreign governments have troll armies. Political campaigns have troll armies. PACs have troll armies. If you read social media purely for political content, there is a 100% chance you are arguing with professional trolls and watching your life melt away. You are living in a literal version of Plato’s cave.

‘The ACLU would not take the Skokie case today’: Ira Glasser says the organisation he once led has retreated from the fight for free speech

Escape Route: How cars changed the lives of black Americans

Our read-aloud literature for 4th grade (homeschooling)

Continuing my series publishing our lessons plans so families that are considering homeschooling can see how we do it in detail.

Each morning, we start with reading a chapter or two from excellent children’s literature. This is a great way to prepare your child for learning while they wake up and eat breakfast. This year, we are reading books with some connection to American history.

Here’s my list:

Elisa Carbone, Blood on the River: James Town 1607

Jean Lee Latham, Carry On, Mr. Bowditch

Elizabeth George Speare, The Witch of Blackbird Pond

Lois Lenski, Indian Captive: The Story of Mary Jemison

Esther Forbes, Johnny Tremain: A Story of Boston in Revolt

James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier, My Brother Sam is Dead

Elizabeth Yates, Amos Fortune Free Man

Harold Keith, Rifles for Watie

Patricia MacLachlan, Sarah, Plain and Tall

Lois Lenski, Prairie School

Marden Dahlstedt, The Terrible Wave

Carol Ryrie Brink, Caddie Woodlawn

Wilson Rawls, Where the Red Fern Grows

Doris Gates, Blue Willow

Scott O’Dell, Island of the Blue Dolphins

Sydney Taylor, All-of-a-Kind Family

Virginia Sorensen, Plain Girl

Pruning and weeding as frames of mind

I love to think of nature as an unlimited broadcasting station through which God speaks to us every hour, if we will only tune in.

George Washington Carver

Adam was a gardener, and God, who made him, sees that half of all good gardening is done upon the knees.

Rudyard Kipling

For behold, the kingdom of God is within you.

Luke 17:21

Pathology is a relatively easy thing to discuss, health is very difficult.  This, of course, is one of the reasons why there is such a thing as the sacred, and why the sacred is difficult to talk about, because the sacred is peculiarly related to the healthy.

Gregory Bateson, Ecology of Mind

Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes –
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

I have started reading Robert Pogue Harrison’s most incredible book, Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition. I don’t know how to describe it except to say that the book is an inquiry into the influence of the idea of a garden and the activity of gardening on our souls. If some particularly important figure in western civilization has mentioned a garden, it is explored thoughtfully and in ways you might not have anticipated in this book. I’m not finished with it, but it is already one of my absolute favorite tomes. I’m not too modest to suggest that’s saying a lot.

As I am aggressively uninterested in the nonsense that is dominating current events at present, I have spent days tending my gardens. The tasks for today were planting fruit trees and pruning all of the dead growth that goes along with whatever passes for “winter” in Florida. The act of pruning gave me ample time to consider how perfectly gardens serve as metaphors for “the human condition,” as Harrison would say.

I loathe pruning, so it’s a good thing one only has to engage in the practice a couple times a year. Have you ever tried to prune bougainvilleas or rose bushes or fruit trees with thorns? My bougainvilleas in particular – though not very old – have thorns the size of sewing needles. You can pick whatever tool you choose to cut them down to size, but they will still inflict some pain. These plants fight back and it’s heroic.

Pruning is an essential activity, however. Gardeners prune for several reasons. One, to get rid of dead or damaged branches. Two, to create room for new growth. Three, to make the plant beautiful and pleasing to behold. And four, to have the plant grow on your own terms – to not damage your house, impede a pathway, and so on.

You can probably see where I am going with this. “Pruning” as a behavior is also essential to a healthy human existence. Like plants, human beings cannot flourish when constrained by dead ends.

I recently stumbled upon my neighbor out weeding her flower beds. Her yard is mostly a matter of professional landscaping and not flowers or vegetables that mean anything to her. I am helping her change that, however. It had not occurred to me until she complained that all she does is weed her yard that her idea of maintaining a garden is entirely limited to eliminating weeds. That’s unpleasant indeed.

She asked me how it is that I do not spend all my time in the gardens weeding. Do I have some secret? Are my beds lined with that plastic sheeting they sell in garden centers? Do I know of some awesome chemical?

I told her that her main problem is organic – that she doesn’t plant enough of what she likes. Have you ever thought about why you weed a garden? It’s the same logic as pruning – you are eliminating that which competes with positive growth for resources. The best way to eliminate weeds is to suffocate them with plants that you do like. Plants that fight back. I don’t have a lot of weeds because I have been known to plant 300 impatiens in a single afternoon. Weeds can’t compete with hundreds of flowers that derive their name from their impatience to spread and reproduce.

It actually requires less effort to be surrounded by beauty than it does to be surrounded by negativity.

I have adopted this practice in my life as well. I have become shameless in cutting off social relationships that fill me with anxiety, anger, or other toxic emotions. I don’t do social media anymore. I don’t hate-follow people or the news. As far as my life is concerned, all of these are just weeds and crossed branches that need to be eliminated.

Instead, I try to fill as much of my daily life as possible with things that are beautiful and good. I devote time to reading good books, going hiking or kayaking, sitting outside with a cup of coffee and listening to the birds, teaching Elise how to play soccer. Just sitting outside soaking up the sun. It’s not that difficult to smother the bad stuff with good stuff.

The garden is an excellent metaphor for living because the Garden is the primeval classroom for human activity. It’s our holy education on how to exist well in this world and enter into a positive relationship to what is transcendent, beautiful, and good. It is the space, physical and intellectual, that routinely brings us back to first things – to “paradise,” which literally means and enclosed park.

Red Canna, Georgia O’Keeffe

Voltaire in the garden

There are a lot of great books about historical personalities who loved gardening. One of my favorites is Andrea Wulf’s Founding Gardeners: The Revolutionary Generation, Nature, and the Shaping of the American Nation. Another great one is Voltaire’s Vine and Other Philosophies: How Gardens Inspired Great Writers. (See Brains with green fingers.)

This morning, I referred ent to this delightful piece from 2005 in the New Yorker: Voltaire’s Garden. I figured it might be worth bookmarking.

The essay discusses how Voltaire’s exile turned him into an avid gardener, and the change in values and demeanor that comes with that:

He quickly turned his exile into a desirable condition—a version of the ancient Horatian ideal of escape from the corrupting city into a small enclosed country house. Pope had done the same thing when he built his grotto at his little house in Twickenham, and wrote about it as enthusiastically. Yet Pope’s grotto is playful, an obvious mock hermitage. Voltaire’s ideas were far more bourgeois; he wanted to play host to as many people as he could, and to build the sweetest garden he could, and, after renting the villa, he started shopping like Martha Stewart newly freed from prison.

There are few more premonitory or touching documents than Voltaire’s shopping lists. He demanded green olive oil, eight wing armchairs, rosewood commodes, and furniture covers in red morocco. He hired two master gardeners, twenty workmen, and twelve servants. He ordered the best coffee and crate after crate of wine (though, odd reminder of another time, he drank his Burgundies and laid down his Beaujolais). He decided to paint the trellises green, the tiles red, and the doors either white or “a fine yellow.” He wrote to his agent asking for “artichoke bulbs and as much as possible of lavender, thyme, rosemary, mint, basil, rue strawberry bushes, pinks, thadicee, balm, tarragon, sariette, burnet, sage and hyssop to cleanse our sins, etc.” When he wrote that it was our duty to cultivate our garden, he really knew what it meant to cultivate a garden.

It was a garden with a principle. It represented what he saw as a new, French ideal of domestic happiness, windows wide and doors open, “simplicity” itself. “We have finally come to enjoy luxury only in taste and convenience,” he wrote in those years, in his history “The Age of Louis XIV”: “The crowd of pages and liveried servants has disappeared.” All that counted now was “affable manners, simple living and the culture of the mind.” Of course, it was a very Petit Trianon simplicity. As Davidson shows, though, it was deeply, emotionally rich: “He was enjoying real happiness, for the first time in his life.”

It was at this moment of delight and apparent retreat, of affable manners and simple living, that he began the series of crusades that eventually blossomed into the human-rights campaigns that came to dominate the rest of his life. It would be nice to say that Voltaire was a courageous man whom no amount of comfort could seduce. The truth is that, as his friend Condorcet wrote sadly, he was easily terrified, and often a coward: “He was often seen to expose himself to the storm, almost with temerity, but seldom to stand up to it with firmness.” And, of course, no man of fewer sublime feelings has ever lived; he was baffled by religion and spirituality, materialist and carnal to the core.

What motivated him, then, to start up? Partly it must have been that he so much enjoyed vexing stupid powerful people that he kept forgetting that stupid people who had gained power were never stupid about threats to their power. Each time he poked the silly tiger and the tiger clawed back, he was genuinely shocked. And then there is a kind of egotism so vast and so pleased with itself that it includes other people as an extension of itself. Voltaire felt so much for other people because he felt so much for himself; everything happened to him because he was the only reasonable subject of everything that happened. By inflating his ego to immense proportions, he made it a shelter for the helpless.

But there was something else, too. His exile moved him away from court practices and court values, with their hypersensitivity toward status, toward family practices and family values, with their hypersensitivity toward security. (In these Délices years, he took in and later adopted a teen-age daughter, and began to sigh that he had never had children of his own.) As Tocqueville saw half a century later, home-making, which ought to make people more selfish, makes them less so; it gives them a stake in other people’s houses. It is not so much the establishment of a garden but the ownership of a gate that moves people from liking a society based on favors to one based on rights. Enclosing his garden broadened Voltaire’s circle of compassion. When people were dragged from their gardens to be tortured and killed in the name of faith, he began to take it, as they say, personally.

In those days, unspeakably cruel tortures were still routine in the French penal system. Condemned criminals were tortured by being broken on the wheel—that is, being bound on a scaffold to a wheel and then having their bones broken, one by one, with an iron bar. Davidson suggests (shrewdly and originally) that Voltaire’s sense of outrage may have been galvanized by the hideous execution in Paris of the would-be assassin of Louis XV, the mad Damiens, in 1757. Damiens was pulled apart alive, his limbs attached to four horses and the horses driven in different directions, for public instruction in the center of Paris. Voltaire was no fan of regicide. It was because he was for the execution that the public torture frightened him: it was a sign of how quickly civilities could disintegrate under threat. (“Enlightened times will only enlighten a small number of honest men,” he wrote. “The common people will always be fanatical.”) He coined his most famous phrase, écrasez l’infâme—“Crush the horror”—and began to use it, in jauntily (and evasively) abbreviated form. Historians have fussed for centuries about exactly what Voltaire meant by it—the Catholic Church? the Court?—but it’s clear. The horror was the alliance of religious fanaticism with the instruments of the state, and the two combined for torture and official murder.

It is against this background, of a garden built and the encroaching fanatics, that Voltaire wrote “Candide,” in 1759. 

Two more fantastic audio books

I wrote earlier about how I have been listening to audio books while on the treadmill each morning. This has been an interesting development in my world, believe it or not.

I have been somewhat surprised by (1) how quickly I move through books consuming them this way, and (2) the difference in the books I choose to listen to versus read.

I have been an enthusiastic reader all of my life. Our house is filled with thousands of books. But I’ve noticed that when I buy a physical book, either online or in a store, I pick a book that I want to keep and revisit. So my shelves are loaded with history, philosophy, languages, science, mathematics, all that. But when I buy books in electronic form, for my Kindle or on Audible, I am more willing to consume bestsellers and even content that I would consider treacle. It oddly does feel more like consuming something – like watching television or going to a theater – rather than reading. I’m not sure what to think about that. But listening to things that are more treacly than what I normally read does make my time on the treadmill more enjoyable, so there’s that. I definitely look forward to my workouts more than I did listening to Pitbull for the millionth time.

Someone recommended that I listen to a specific audio version of Anna Karenina next, so we’ll see if audio books still feel more like content than literature after listening to actual literature. (I haven’t revisited that book since high school. Certainly not proud of that.)

I have noticed that audio books have pretty much taken over homeschooling circles, as they are a seemingly effortless way to expose children to a large amount of great literature. Just yesterday, I saw a homeschooling mother brag about how her six-year-old had listened to the entirety of The Chronicles of Narnia and was walking around saying adorably pretentious things like “I have a queer feeling.” I honestly think this is a big mistake, at least for children (who are not adults with a long commute to elevate with great literature). Kids are still developing grammar, spelling, and vocabulary skills. They don’t only need to be exposed to brilliant language… They need to see how it is accomplished. Your kid is not going to come across as literate if they can’t spell all of the big words they regularly use, even if they use them correctly. And that, sadly, takes a hell of a lot of work.

Anyway, I thought I would pass along recommendations for two new audio books, and the above was perhaps more of a prelude than is useful.

The first is Malcolm Gladwell’s Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know. I confess I have not read much of Gladwell’s work, beyond what he wrote in The New Yorker. (And I haven’t read The New Yorker in a very long time, as most of what it has printed in recent years is garbage leftist politics that any random troll on Twitter could produce.) After listening to this book, however, I will probably go back and try to listen to his podcasts.

This book is about the various ways we judge whether someone is credible and how people can be duped or driven to the wrong conclusions in high-stakes events. It’s a book about how people who are considered authorities can be anything but. What makes it absolutely marvelous to listen to, however, are the stories Gladwell tells about history and current events, where people got some fraud or bad actor wrong. He talks about how Fidel Castro successfully planted spies in the highest levels of American government, how Neville Chamberlain misread Hitler, how pedophiles manipulate children, their parents, and entire institutions, the Amanda Knox case. He talks about how judges are more likely to grant bail after they’ve had lunch. He talks about forces that create unnecessarily violent cops. And this all comes down to our biases and defense mechanisms related to gauging credibility.

If you are like me and you started off with a negative view of the mainstream media, the intelligence community, and the justice system, this book is going to make you want to break things. He gets into a lot of details which simply were not covered by the media that totally sway the way you would have looked at a situation. How the construction of a narrative from certain prejudices can cause massive chaos and human cost that is hard and even impossible to correct.

As Gladwell suggests, “The right way to talk to strangers is with caution and humility.”

The second book is Bill Bryson’s The Body: A Guide for Occupants. I love Bryson and have read several of his books. I share his joie de vivre and look for the same sort of obscure details about the world as he does. But I can’t say I have ever heard his voice before. It took some getting used to, because he has such a professorial or grandfatherly voice, especially after listening to Gladwell, who at times sounds like he might be standing on the table as he’s speaking.

This is a beautiful book that dwells in microscopic detail (literally) about what a miracle life is. This is a book that will make you want to pray at points. Here are some samples:

The most remarkable part of all is your DNA. You have a metre of it packed into every cell, and so many cells that if you formed all the DNA in your body into a single fine strand it would stretch ten billion miles, to beyond Pluto. Think of it: there is enough of you to leave the solar system. You are in the most literal sense cosmic.

Just sitting quietly, doing nothing at all, your brain churns through more information in thirty seconds than the Hubble Space Telescope has processed in thirty years. A morsel of cortex one cubic millimeter in size—about the size of a grain of sand—could hold two thousand terabytes of information, enough to store all the movies ever made, trailers included, or about 1.2 billion copies of this book

For each visual input, it takes a tiny but perceptible amount of time—about two hundred milliseconds, one-fifth of a second—for the information to travel along the optic nerves and into the brain to be processed and interpreted. One-fifth of a second is not a trivial span of time when a rapid response is required—to step back from an oncoming car, say, or to avoid a blow to the head. To help us deal better with this fractional lag, the brain does a truly extraordinary thing: it continuously forecasts what the world will be like a fifth of a second from now, and that is what it gives us as the present. That means that we never see the world as it is at this very instant, but rather as it will be a fraction of a moment in the future. We spend our whole lives, in other words, living in a world that doesn’t quite exist yet.

In breathing, as in everything in life, the numbers are staggering – indeed fantastical. Every time you breathe, you exhale some 25 sextillion (that’s 2.5 × 1022) molecules of oxygen – so many that with a day’s breathing you will in all likelihood inhale at least one molecule from the breaths of every person who has ever lived.1 And every person who lives from now until the sun burns out will from time to time breathe in a bit of you. At the atomic level, we are in a sense eternal.

Every day, it has been estimated, between one and five of your cells turn cancerous, and your immune system captures and kills them.

But there is also a lot of discussion that is plain weird, in a fascinating way:

Almost three-quarters of the forty million antibiotic prescriptions written each year in the United States are for conditions that cannot be cured with antibiotics.

The history of epilepsy can be summarised as 4,000 years of ignorance, superstition and stigma followed by 100 years of knowledge, superstition and stigma.

The greatest choking authority of all time was almost certainly a dour American doctor with the luxuriant name of Chevalier Quixote Jackson, who lived from 1865 to 1958. Jackson has been called (by the Society of Thoracic Surgeons) “the father of American bronchoesophagoscopy,” and he was most assuredly that, though it must also be said there were not a lot of other contenders. His specialty—his obsession—was with foreign objects that had been swallowed or inhaled. Over a career that lasted almost seventy-five years, Jackson specialized in designing instruments and refining methods for retrieving such objects, and in the process he built up an extraordinary collection of 2,374 imprudently ingested items. Today the Chevalier Jackson Foreign Body Collection is housed in a cabinet in the basement of the Mütter Museum of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Each object is fastidiously cataloged by age and sex of the swallower; type of object; whether it lodged in the trachea, larynx, esophagus, bronchus, stomach, pleural cavity, or elsewhere; whether it proved fatal or not; and by what means it was removed. It is presumed to be the world’s largest assemblage of the extraordinary things people have put down their throats, whether by accident or bizarre design. Among the objects Jackson retrieved from the gullets of the living or dead were a wristwatch, a crucifix with rosary beads, miniature binoculars, a small padlock, a toy trumpet, a full-sized meat skewer, a radiator key, several spoons, a poker chip, and a medallion that said (perhaps just a touch ironically) “Carry Me for Good Luck.”

Some delightful Middle Eastern cookbooks and food blogs

We’ve gone out to eat at Lebanese restaurants in Jacksonville so often recently and enjoyed it so much that I ordered several cookbooks in an attempt to replicate the experience. I love the history of all of the civilizations surrounding the Mediterranean, and their food is a living history of sorts. It has also been a great excuse to order a litany of new spices.

As far as cookbooks go, however, these are especially wonderful. They have very thorough discussions of the history and culture of the region – and in many cases, they take the time to explain the origin of particular dishes, spices, and techniques. Much like the Caribbean, the Mediterranean is an on-going collision of people from wildly different backgrounds, so dishes can have very interesting origins and fusions.

This is my favorite of all of the cookbooks I found. Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi have written a sort of love letter to the city of Jerusalem. The book is filled with pictures of people from all different backgrounds going about their daily life there. It includes recipes from across the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian communities. I plan to work my way through most of the recipes in this book.

Another great cookbook is Claudia Roden’s The New Book of Middle Eastern Food: The Classic Cookbook, Expanded and Updated, with New Recipes and Contemporary Variations on Old Themes. This book also contains a lot of history, but has fewer pictures.

I have also enjoyed this book, Taste of Beirut, from which I learned how to make many of the mezzes we love to eat when we are up in Jacksonville.

This is not a true Middle Eastern cookbook, but Bobby Flay’s cookbook Fit also has a lot of great recipes inspired by the region. He uses a lot of Middle Eastern flavors to make western food taste a lot more interesting.

One of my next projects is going to be to start making preserved lemons. It seems a little funny to do this when one lives in a place where citrus is so abundant, but it really does seem to create an irreplaceable flavor. I’m also not sure how we’ve lived so long without knowing about pomegranate molasses.

Lastly, if you love Middle Eastern cooking, I would highly recommend a couple blogs for you. The first is my pal, A Jeanne in the Kitchen, who posts a wide variety of absolutely amazing recipes (including a lot of Middle Eastern food). The second is Orange Blossoms and Rose Water.

Essays worth reading

Long Shielded From Lawsuits, Prosecutors Face Scrutiny After Fake Subpoenas – As a civil libertarian, I have to say, I found this piece absolutely maddening. It would seem that the New Orleans district attorney’s office has had a long-standing practice of raiding people’s homes with expertly counterfeited subpoenas. They present folks with the subpoena, and because it looks legitimate and a legitimate officer of the law is presenting it, people let them in. How do they get away with this? They are relying on generic statutes on official immunity. Well, that’s finally getting meaningfully challenged.

China Sacrifices a Province to Save the World From Coronavirus – On the horrors of living (and dying) in the region where the epidemic erupted.

The Lost Pianos of Siberia by Sophy Roberts review – a journey to the ‘End of Everything

In the summer of 2015, travel journalist Sophy Roberts found herself in a tent in Mongolia deep in conversation with a talented young local pianist who lamented the lack of a proper instrument on which to play her beloved Bach and Beethoven. The pianist’s family had roots in the region of Lake Baikal, in neighbouring Siberia. So began for Roberts a form of “selfish madness”, an obsession not only with sourcing a piano for her friend, but searching for pianos “washed up and abandoned” in Siberia, and for the stories of how they came to be there, and how they survived.

The result is a richly absorbing account of Siberia over the last 250 years, as Roberts zigzags her way from the Ural Mountains in the west to the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia’s far east. Along the way, she takes in how pianos entered Russian culture under Catherine the Great, the later rock star-like tours of the Hungarian Lizst, as well as the enduring influence of the Polish “subversive” Chopin and Russian musical giants Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov and Shostakovich.

Waterlines: On Writing and Sailing

One July day, I embarked on a small sailing boat with some high-school friends. We set out from Lorient, in southern Brittany, and sailed up to the western tip, below the Bay of Brest. We moored in the middle of the Glénan Islands, slept at Concarneau, and cruised past the Eckmühl lighthouse. As we racked up the miles, I tried to make this universe—so well described in my bedside books—my own. The spray, the swell, and the tides. The coast sharply delineated and perilous. The mesmerizing open sea with its shifting moods. And, of course, the boat. Its hull, its rigging, and its sails that took us everywhere—providing there was a breeze.

I came back changed, passionate, obsessed. In the following years, I took every opportunity to go sailing. One boat after another, each bigger, faster, more sophisticated. I hired yachts to sail along Brittany’s Emerald Coast, explore the Channel Islands of Guernsey and Jersey, and discover the Mediterranean. As I became more experienced, I pushed farther and farther. The voyages grew longer, the Earth disappeared. I crossed the English Channel and the Bay of Biscay, sailed to the Canary Islands from Portugal, and navigated the Atlantic, reaching the West Indies. And the more captivated I was by the sea, the more fascinated I became with the boats that enabled me to move over it.

At the age of twenty-two, I enrolled for a master’s degree in naval architecture at the University of Southampton, in England. My passion had become my vocation. Armed with my degree, I started working for a shipyard in the south of France. There was only a wooden door between the design office where I sat and the workshops where some thirty craftsmen were building huge, powerful catamarans. I simply had to walk a few yards to see our calculations and drawings coming to life in the sheds. I spent hours and hours gazing at the fiberglass hulls, their streamlined beauty, and their reinforced structure capable of withstanding the constant onslaught of the powerful swell.

Where Computing Is Headed—Beyond Quantum

Engineers working at a startup near touristy Faneuil Hall Marketplace are building chips that use laser beams instead of electrical signals to run artificial-intelligence applications 10 times faster than today’s most advanced AI computer chips, using one-tenth of the energy.

Founded in 2017 and backed by $33 million in venture-capital funding, Lightmatter Inc. is among dozens of companies gaining interest from investors and corporations because of their novel approaches to computing. They are using light, quantum physics, molecular biology and new design methods to build chips and create data-storage techniques for future computing demands.

Quantum computing is the best-known of these new methods. Startups as well as tech giants including Alphabet Inc.’s Google and International Business Machines Corp. are developing quantum computers, which harness the properties of quantum physics to sort through a vast number of possibilities in nearly real time. The advent of quantum computing has paved the way for other experimental techniques, startup executives say.

The market for new computing technology comes as advancements in traditional chip making are hitting a physical limit under Moore’s Law, the idea that every two years or so, the number of transistors in a chip doubles.

At the same time, advances in artificial intelligence, easier access to huge troves of data and the continuing digitization of business processes are putting new demands on corporate and scientific computing.

To address the challenge, some startups are making chips focused on specific software tasks. Others are pushing further, finding processing and storage solutions in new materials, including synthetic DNA.

Three miles northwest of Lightmatter’s headquarters, another Boston startup, Catalog Technologies Inc., is developing a unique way of storing large amounts of data. The company recently showed it could store 14 gigabytes of data from Wikipedia.org in DNA molecules, which look like a few drops of water in a test tube.

At Catalog, machines typically found at a molecular-biology laboratory are used to “print” sequences of synthetic molecules that store and represent digital information as bits of DNA. The information is read back by using DNA-sequencing machines and a computer with proprietary software that translates those molecules into the original text, photo or video.

DNA storage doesn’t require cooling the way data centers do, meaning the method holds promise for storing huge amounts of data more efficiently.

The First Fleet: Australia begins – This is a long and fascinating piece on the first colonists in Australia, including the logistics of their voyages to get there.