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Gweek podcast 137: The Horrors of Ancient Medicine

In each episode of Gweek, I invite a guest or two to join me in a discussion about recommended media, apps, and gadgets. This time my guests were:

Janelle Hessig, a bay Area cartoonist and writer and the marketing director at Last Gasp Publishing.

A.J. Jacobs, a writer, a human guinea pig, and the author of four New York Times Bestsellers, including the Year of Living Biblically, for which he followed the hundreds of rules of the Bible as literally as possible, from the 10 commandments to growing a huge beard.

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Show Notes:

Janelle's picks:

Prisoner art & inventions. I used to receive a lot of unwanted mail from prisoners in the 90s. An exhibit of prisoner inventions assembled by the Chicago artist collective Temporary Services collaborating with an incarcerated artist named Angelo changed my outlook and, in time, the quality of my prisoner mail. From bedsheet murals to paper mache chess sets, I’m fascinated with the ways that artists adapt with limited resources and compromised humanity while incarcerated.

"This Moment in Last Gasp History" is a video series I’m launching next week. Ron Turner regularly stops by my desk at Last Gasp and tells me crazy stories about Last Gasp history (smuggling comics into the Hanoi Hilton, smuggling comics to Fidel Castro, Last Gasp sponsoring a Formula 1 race car, goats in taxi cabs, weird 70s sex parties, you name it). I don’t have the means to write Ron’s biography so I’m turning some of these stories into short videos. Read The Origins of Last Gasp.


A.J.'s picks

There's lots of new stuff to report about the Global Family Reunion The crowdsourced genealogy movement is fascinating. I wrote a piece about it for the NYT. I'm a big fan of the World Family Tree (which is now up to 75 MILLION people) but it's very controversial, because of invasion of privacy concerns and also accuracy concerns.

The Horrors of Ancient Medicine. I'm writing a piece for Mental Floss about the horrors of ancient doctors. My favorite: the smoke enema. Where you literally blow smoke up the ass. That's where the phrase comes from. It was supposed to cure all sorts of things, like stomach ailments.


Mark's picks:

Wink is a new website from Kevin Kelly, Carla Sinclair (my wife), and me. It’s about remarkable books that belong on paper and wouldn’t be good as an ebook. We review one new paper book each weekday.

Figurines of Fletcher Hanks’ comic book characters from Golden Age Figurines

David gave me this CD: Devo: Hardcore: 4-track Demo tapes made in Akron from 1974 to 1977. Fantastic early work. The members of Devo were peaceful hippies until the Kent State massacre (Amazing interview with Jerry Casale).

And much more!

Are you A.J. Jacob's Cousin?

A.J. Jacobs, author of a number of excellent books about self-experimentation, is planning on hosting the world's largest family reunion. (The current record is held by by the Porteau-Boileve family in France: 4,514 relatives.) He's inviting as many relatives as he can, including former New York mayor Michael R. Bloomberg who is A.J.'s wife’s great-uncle’s wife’s first cousin once removed’s husband’s uncle’s wife’s son’s wife’s first cousin once removed’s husband’s brother’s wife’s nephew.

He announced his plans on an episode of the Gweek podcast a few weeks ago, and he just shared the news with the readers of the New York Times, too:

My journey started a few months ago. I got an email from a stranger named Jules Feldman who lives on a kibbutz in Israel. He had read one of my books. He wrote: “We have in our database about 80,000 relatives of yours. You are an eighth cousin of my wife who, in my opinion, is a fine lady.” I’m also, he said, related to Karl Marx and several European aristocrats.

The email had a bit of a creepy National Security Agency privacy-invasion vibe. But it was also, in a strange way, profoundly comforting. There I was, alone in my office, connected to 80,000 other humans. In a world where extended families lose touch as they spread across time zones, this seemed remarkable.

But why stop at 80,000? I discovered websites like WikiTree, WeRelate and Geni (which was recently acquired by MyHeritage) that allow you to expand your tree into million-tentacled monsters.

A.J.'s going to host the reunion in 2015 at the New York Hall of Science in Queens, NY. I plan to be there to meet my nth cousins nth removed!

Are You My Cousin?

Gweek 100: A.J. Jacobs, extreme self-experimenter


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In this episode, I talked to A.J. Jacobs, the author of some of my favorite books. In his 2005 book, The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World, A.J. committed himself to read the entire print edition of Encyclopedia Britannica. In 2007 he wrote The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible, he lived by the rules of the Bible, and ended up wearing a white robe and a very full beard. And in Drop Dead Healthy: One Man's Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection, A.J. followed a bunch of extreme self-improvement techniques, including a raw food diet, the paleo diet, libido boosting techniques, and unusual exercise regimens.


Here's what we talked about:

A.J.'s new advice column for Esquire. "I post a quandary from a reader on my Facebook page, and then my 100,000 followers weigh in with advice, rants, wisdom, encouragement, condemnations, etc. Then I curate the best/most interesting/funniest advice and put it in a column, along with my own take on the topic. So it's like a stadium-full of Ann Landerses and Dan Savages."


A.J.'s latest article for Esquire. "It was called The Overly Documented Life, and it was about the delights and hazards of video-recording your life 24 hours a day for three months. It’s a peek at what life will be like in the Google Glass era. When I had an argument with my wife, and she said, 'You never told me that!' I could say, 'Well, let’s go to the videotape.'"


My other advice column for mental_floss, Modern Problems. This one is about putting your problems in perspective. Modern life is filled with annoyances and hurt, but compared to yesteryear, most of us live in earthly paradise. Nostalgia can suck it. The past was A mind-bogglingly dirty, painful, fetid, smelly, sickly and boring place. So if my reader complains about the dentist, I very gently tell him/her about what it was like to go to the dentist in the 1700s.


Update on A.J.'s treadmill desking and other health habits from Drop Dead Healthy.


Mark's experience using a $100 Samsung Galaxy Pocket and a local SIM card when he went to Japan instead of buying AT&T's expensive international data plan.


And a whole lot more!

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