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Saturday, July 13, 2024

Extreme Heat Is Here to Stay

Summer isn’t even over in the northern hemisphere, but it’s already been a brutal few months. This year’s summer heat waves have been more frequent, intense, and longer than any we’ve seen before. We’ve suffered through extreme weather events caused by the heat waves. We’ve seen wildfires that have been made more intense by climate change. We’ve had failures in infrastructure, industry, and the food supply. And these problems are only getting worse. We’re looking at a future where extreme heat is just the new normal.

This week, we bring WIRED senior science writer Matt Simon on to the show to talk about where all the heat is coming from and what it’s doing to the environment. We also talk about how quickly the problem of excessive heat is accelerating and what—if anything—humans can do to slow it down, or at least lessen the damage it causes.

Show Notes

Read Matt’s stories about heat waves, the wildfires in Lahaina, Maui, and how the heat is affecting the ocean’s food chains. You can find all of Matt’s WIRED stories in one place. Also, listen to Matt’s appearances on two previous episodes referenced in this week’s talk, when we spoke about microplastics and the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022.

Recommendations

Matt recommends the 24 Hours in Ancient … history book series that looks at different societies. Lauren recommends the short film “How to Catch a TikTok Thief” from The New Yorker. Mike recommends Connections, the new daily game from The New York Times.

Matt Simon can be found on X, the website formerly known as Twitter, @mrMattSimon. Lauren Goode is @LaurenGoode. Michael Calore is @snackfight. Bling the main hotline at @GadgetLab. The show is produced by Boone Ashworth (@booneashworth). Our theme music is by Solar Keys.

How to Listen

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Transcript

Note: This is an automated transcript, which may contain errors.

Michael Calore: Lauren.

Lauren Goode: Mike.

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Michael Calore: Is it getting hot in here?

Lauren Goode: Is that a Nelly reference?

Michael Calore: Nelly?

Lauren Goode: Yeah, Nelly. To quote the great early two thousands poet Nelly, also known as Cornell Iral Haynes Jr, "It's getting hot in here, so take off all your clothes." Is that an HR violation?

Michael Calore: Almost certainly, but I'll let it slide.

Lauren Goode: OK.

Michael Calore: I think the problem is that it is perpetually getting hot in here on the earth. The summer right now is the coolest it's probably ever going to be.

Lauren Goode: Oh no. This is another doomsday episode, isn't it?

Michael Calore: Unfortunately, it is.

Lauren Goode: Yeah.

Michael Calore: But we're going to at least try to talk about what we can all do about extreme heat.

Lauren Goode: We have to try, so let's do it.

[Gadget Lab intro theme music plays]

Michael Calore: OK. Hi everyone. Welcome to Gadget Lab. I am Michael Calore. I'm a senior editor at WIRED.

Lauren Goode: And I'm Lauren Goode. I'm a senior writer at WIRED.

Michael Calore: We are also joined today by WIRED senior staff writer, Matt Simon. Welcome back to the show, Matt.

Matt Simon: Thanks as always for having me.

Michael Calore: Of course. You work on the science desk here at WIRED, where you cover biology and the environment. So whenever you come on the show, it's usually a huge bummer because you tell us about how the planet is dying, and you really only ever have bad news for us.

Lauren Goode: Mr. Doomsday, your nickname.

Matt Simon: Resident doomsday writer.

Lauren Goode: That's right.

Michael Calore: Unfortunately, we are going to have a little bit more of that today because we've brought you on to talk about extreme heat, but we want to make sure that we also spread some positivity and talk about things that we can do as a society and as individuals to combat this problem of extreme heat.

Matt Simon: Plenty of stuff to do, yes.

Michael Calore: Great, I'm glad to hear it. Yes. So summer isn't even over here in the northern hemisphere, but it has already been a brutal few months. This year, summer heat waves have been more frequent, more intense, and longer than we have ever seen before. We've had extreme weather events caused by those heat waves. We've had failures in infrastructure, industry, and the food supply. And of course, these problems are only getting worse. We're looking at a future where extreme heat is just the new normal. In the second half of today's show, we will talk about how quickly the problem of excessive heat is accelerating and what, if anything, humans can do to slow it down, or at least lessen the damage that it causes. But first, let's talk about where all of this heat is coming from and what it's doing to the environment. So Matt, how much of this year's extreme heat is natural, and how much of it is caused by human activity?

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Matt Simon: So it's probably a combination of both. What scientists can do is something called an attribution study, where they see some sort of extreme weather event, a hurricane, heat wave, even wildfires. And they can go through, do some modeling, and show what contribution was from climate change versus natural variability. So what we're seeing this summer at the very base of this is that temperatures have been rapidly rising around the world because of climate change. That's the base layer of around 1.1 degrees C of warming since preindustrial times. So what we might also be seeing this summer is some natural variability layered on top of that. What climate change does is it's like a stepping stool where these temperatures can reach much higher. So when we're talking about extreme heat, really, we're talking about heat waves. It's a fancier way of, these days, having to describe what we are seeing because we are seeing unprecedented heat around the world. And that is exacerbated by climate change. We will see in the coming months a lot of these attribution studies coming from scientists picking apart, how much can we blame on climate change, and how much was on natural variability? What they can say is that climate change makes certain events more probable. So a heat wave was 10 times more probable on this warming planet than in preindustrial times. That sort of thing. But in the coming weeks and months, we'll see much better clarity as to what contribution climate change had versus natural variability. But the base layer is climate change through and through.

Lauren Goode: So climate change 101. You've mentioned preindustrial times. When was that? What happened in the post-industrial world? How did those carbon emissions actually get into the air? What happens after that?

Matt Simon: Yes, the industrial revolution happened. So we humans had actually been burning fossil fuels for thousands of years on a very small scale. Britain was burning coal in centuries before the industrial revolution, again, on a smaller scale. But once that revolution kicked off, it really got out of control, burning coal, switching these days more to burning natural gas in the United States, at least in gas-fired power plants versus coal-fired power plants. So what we've done is we've added just a truly extraordinary amount of carbon to the atmosphere, much faster than you would get with natural variability in millennia past. So you would have … There have been some volcanic events that cook off a bunch of coal, for example, and fire that into the atmosphere. But what we have done is a truly accelerated expulsion of this fossil fuel from the earth into the atmosphere. So we have been seeing temperatures steadily rise. When scientists talk about preindustrial, they can actually chart it because measurements have been taken since then, what those temperatures have been these days versus what it was previously, because science was kicking off in the 18th century, before all this happened. So yes, they could say definitively, we have put a lot of carbon in the atmosphere. We know exactly the physics of why that leads to warming. It is a greenhouse gas. And then what is happening now this summer is fully in line with what the models were telling us decades ago, that we are to expect this sort of extreme heat in more extreme ways going forward. What is considered an extreme heat day today? So Phoenix for example, a couple months ago, or a month ago, went basically an entire month with degrees above 110. That is extreme, obviously. But what we're going to see in the coming years is those will then be considered normal days. So when you say that this is the coolest summer for the rest of our lives, these days in Phoenix and beyond during the summer are going to be, in a perverse way, considered normal, and we have to adapt to that. There's ways to do that, but we are in for an extraordinary amount of pain. This summer is a preview of that.

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Michael Calore: OK.

Matt Simon: Sorry, that's a dark way of putting it.

Lauren Goode: No, this is necessary information.

Michael Calore: What is a heat dome? We've been hearing a lot about heat domes this year and last year. What is that?

Matt Simon: Heat domes are kind of a fascinating atmospheric phenomenon, and again, kind of in a perverse way. So a heat dome is … Really, it's a cap. It's a dome of heat that forms over areas of the United States in particular. So we had one of these a while back around the southern US and western US. What happens is air sinks from high altitudes. And as it does so, it heats up. It's kind of just like a, really, blow dryer that you're holding over a landscape. What that does is then self-perpetuate. So those high temperatures evaporate away a lot of the moisture and the landscape, so temperatures just keep getting hotter and hotter. It also keeps clouds from forming. So what you get, like we were seeing in the western and southern US a couple of weeks ago, was this self-perpetuating cycle where it's just relentless heat. It is a cap of stagnation on top of these areas. There's actually one, as we speak, forming in the central US that is expected to accelerate in the coming days. So this is a particularly dangerous phenomenon because it is self-perpetuating. You get days upon days of really, really high temperatures. And especially at night, those temperatures will persist. That's dangerous because it doesn't allow the human body to recover from those high temperatures during the day, especially if you don't have air conditioning. It's hard to say whether these are becoming more common with climate change, but climate change is certainly exacerbating them. Because as temperatures go up in general, you have less moisture in the landscape. In general, that allows the heat dumps to take a much stronger hold on these parts of the United States.

Lauren Goode: And what's happening in the oceans, since the oceans are such a central character in all of this?

Matt Simon: In addition to the very high land surface temperatures we have seen this summer, we have seen a truly extraordinary heating of the oceans since about March. I wrote about this when it started kicking off, and in March and April. These are known as temperature anomalies. So you can take the temperature of the surface of the ocean by way of buoys and ships and things like that, and plot it against previous years. Again since … Because ships were doing this back in the 1800s, so you have a long data set. We have been seeing, in the North Atlantic in particular, just extraordinarily high temperatures. That's very strange in the ocean because it takes a lot of energy to heat up a body of water like the North Atlantic. It's very deep. It's very big. It takes a lot of energy to do so. This is particularly acute around Florida. We've heard about in the past couple of months, where you'd had temperatures of 101 degrees in the ocean.

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Lauren Goode: In the ocean.

Matt Simon: That is not appropriate to have in the ocean. So because of that, you get mass bleaching of corals that stress out and release their symbiotic algae that help them produce energy, and they die off that way. I wrote a story a while back about elsewhere in these ocean ecosystems. We have to worry about, really, the base of the oceanic food web, so things like plankton. Plankton are these little organisms that float on the surface of the ocean. These organisms all have thermal tolerances. They can only deal with so much heat. But I think more importantly in the near term is that when these oceans are heating up, especially during the summer, it does something weird. It creates a cap of warm water on the surface, and lower … As you go farther down the water column, it gets cooler, but that cap keeps nutrients from cycling up toward the surface. Those nutrients feed phytoplankton, which in turn feed zooplankton, which are these little animals. So this is having ripple effects through the ecosystem that I don't think a lot of people understand beyond corals, which is the obvious and very concerning one. But these temperatures are … I've been talking to scientists about this, and they're floored by what they're seeing in the oceans right now. And it is, again, a preview of what's to come. The oceans have absorbed something like 90 percent of the additional heat that humans have pumped into the atmosphere, and it is showing very clearly.

Lauren Goode: And all of this affects the food chain?

Matt Simon: Yeah. Yeah. So when we talk about thermal tolerances of these organisms, it's not just phytoplankton and zooplankton, it's fishes. There's only so much heat that these animals can withstand. It's especially problematic for creatures like coral. They're stuck in a place. They cannot migrate to other parts of the ocean that are cooler. But what you are seeing is the organisms like fishes that are able to move, they're shifting northward. So where the Arctic is warming more than four and a half times faster than the rest of the planet, it's still cooler in those oceans than it is in the Atlantic. You are seeing a mass migration of species north, and it's very much shaking up these food webs in ways that we just don't fully understand yet, and with potential knock-on effects for the fisheries that feed humanity as well.

Michael Calore: Can you explain the relationship between humidity and heat as it pertains to the extreme heat we're feeling right now?

Matt Simon: It's a tricky one that I don't think a lot of people consider. So we think of high temperatures obviously being very dangerous for the human body. When you start overheating, when your sweating isn't working particularly well, it puts a lot of strain on your heart. So this is particularly problematic for people with cardiovascular diseases. You see a lot of hospital emissions during heat waves for those folks. In particular, the elderly and the young are also … There's not as good at getting rid of heat from their bodies as other people are. So this becomes especially dangerous when you bring humidity into account. We know that heat waves are getting more intense all over the world, but there are also places where these heat waves are getting more humid. So in particular in Southern California, largely where you are surrounded by water, as the atmosphere heats up, you evaporate more water away, that becomes humidity in the air. And that's extra dangerous because it keeps our body from getting rid of heat. If the air is more moist, less of the moisture that's coming up on your sweat is able to get off of your body. The atmosphere just can't accept as much moisture as it could if it were dry conditions. So if you're less able to sweat to cool your body, that lands many more people in the hospital. So when you hear about 95 degrees in Miami, that is very dangerous. Even though it's 110 degrees in Phoenix, also dangerous, it's a drier heat in Phoenix. But if it's really, really humid and 95 degrees in Miami, that is going to land a lot of people in the hospital. And this is becoming a greater problem around the world that I don't think is talked about enough. It's not just high temperatures. It's also higher levels of humidity.

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Michael Calore: OK. Well, let's take a break. And when we come back, we'll talk about how we actually are adapting to the new normal.

Matt Simon: Great. Positivity.

[Break]

Michael Calore: Matt, one thing I see in the climate stories that you've written for WIRED is the idea that the extreme heat got here much faster than most scientists had predicted. Some of the climate researchers you talk to in your stories have said that when they were running these models 20 years ago, they were thinking that maybe 2050 or 2060 was going to be the year that we would be dealing with the heat on the levels that we're seeing today. And it turns out that those predictions ended up arriving about 30 or 35 years early.

Matt Simon: So models are very useful tools for scientists to use. What they can do, for example, is for ocean temperatures, they can, as best as they're able, represent all these really complex dynamics in the ocean. So if you add a certain amount of heat, what does that do to ocean currents? That sort of thing. But because scientists are human and they only have so much computing power, they can only represent a certain amount of detail in these systems. So when they say that they're caught off guard by how quickly these oceans have been warming, that is through no fault of their own. These models are just … They're extremely useful for determining how these things are going to unfold, but they're limited. And with weather events that we're seeing this summer … Modeling five years ago could not tell you that a heat dome would have formed on this particular week, this summer, in the southern and western United States. What scientists can say is that these heat domes are becoming more intense because of, again, that stepping stool of climate change at the base layer. These models, I think is important to note, are getting better. So as scientists gather more and more data on land temperatures and surface temperatures, that's just extra detail to add to these models. Computing power is also getting much better. So these scientists have access to supercomputers now that can crunch ever greater amounts of data. But we can say for a certainty that the earth has warmed. We are in for a good amount of pain going forward. It's just very difficult to … I guess it's important to disentangle weather from climate, right? So the temperatures are going up consistently. It's difficult to predict with a lot of the time ahead, that a heat wave is going to unfold in the southern US.

Lauren Goode: And we should talk about Lahaina, and Maui, Hawaii, as well. What happened there? I think this is a place that most people would never have anticipated would have burned to the extent that it has. It's horrific what's happening. What were the factors that caused that?

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Matt Simon: Like with fires everywhere around the world, it's never just one thing that has made them go so out of control. We can talk about California. California has a problem with fuel, so dried vegetation. We have, for decades, had this policy of stamping out wildfires as quickly as possible to protect lives and homes, which is perfectly rational. Unfortunately, the side effect of that has been the buildup of a lot of these fuels. So when we had the Paradise fire several years ago, that was driven in large part by built-up fuels, but also by really high winds. These are seasonal typical winds that you get in California. It just so happened to align, in the case of Paradise, with an ignition from electrical equipment, and that destroyed the town of Paradise. It is eerily similar what has happened in Maui. So their issue has been that when Europeans colonized these islands, they set up plantations, but they also brought with them invasive grasses. So these grasses have grown out of control. I talked to a scientist in one of these stories who said that a quarter of these islands are now covered in this grass that, first of all, grows like crazy when the rains come, but dries out very, very quickly. And that seems to have been the case here in this truly catastrophic wildfire. The other issue here, as with Paradise in California, is that a lot more people are living in what scientists call the wildland urban interface. This is where human cities butt up against the wilderness. In Paradise's case, it was not only butted up against forest, it was intertwined in the forest. There were so many pine needles and other leaves in that town that it acted as an accelerant, and it just pushed the flames through that town extraordinarily quickly. It's probably the case in Lahaina that it was the grasses, even in the town itself, that were accelerating the flames, but it was these winds, the gusts of 80 miles per hour. This is a uniting factor in these worsening wildfires around the world, is that with climate change, the landscape is drier. That means much drier brush. If these winds come through and they happen to be dry … So that was the case in Paradise, but also in Maui, 80-mile-per-hour gusts that were very, very dry. This can … Even if there's a little bit of moisture left in the vegetation, in a matter of hours these winds can actually suck the remaining moisture out of that fuel and turn it into tinder. So when people say climate change is a factor in these fires, it most certainly is. It's not the only one. So we have to consider land use. I talked to a scientist in a story this week who's calling these feral landscapes. We have altered them through human activities, in this case, in Maui, with invasive grasses. In the case of California, we've not been letting fires burn naturally to clear out these vegetation. So it's a combination of factors, which means it's a very difficult problem to solve, because climate change is progressing. We can reduce our emissions as much as we can, but we're locked into a certain amount of climate change, given the amount of carbon that's in the atmosphere already. But it's largely about land use. A lot of these towns in the wildland urban interface can really protect themselves by doing better at clearing out this sort of brush. It's expensive. It's very difficult to do controlled burns because sometimes people complain about the smoke coming from those, but it's much better than a giant wildfire tearing through your town uncontrolled.

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Michael Calore: Is it time to start thinking about where we put the cities of the future? And can moving around on the land help us?

Matt Simon: We're up against difficult social issues here, right? So in California, the case is that because our coastal cities are so expensive, we are pushing a lot of people into these danger zones. They might not fully understand just how much danger they're in in these mountain towns because of the buildup of this vegetation. It's an economic inequality problem in California and elsewhere. So we can get better at reinforcing our cities in the wildland urban interface against these fires, clearing brush around the towns, doing more controlled burns. But yeah, I've talked to some scientists who say that it's time to reconsider putting towns here. It's just very difficult when you have the cost-of-living crisis in California to tell people, "I'm sorry. No, you can't live where it's actually more affordable for you." But with good building codes and clearing brush around towns to create defensible space, I think it's a fixable problem with the cities that we already have. I certainly don't think we should build more in the wildland urban interface, but where we can, there's ways to treat the landscape to better protect against wildfires.

Lauren Goode: We talk about climate change a lot on my other podcast, my second podcast, Mike, since this is … You're the first.

Michael Calore: Thank you. I appreciate that.

Lauren Goode: Have A Nice Future. Either because the guests we bring on are working directly on climate-related challenges or because at the end of almost every interview, we ask the guest, "What keeps you up at night?" And I would say 80 percent of them say something climate-related. It's a real concern for everyone. And one of the things that I often take away from those conversations is I'm still not certain how much of this should fall onto the individual in terms of making change, and how impactful it would be if Mike is vegan, and I drive an EV and you took the bus here today instead of driving a car, or whatever it might be, or we all compost because the city of San Francisco makes us, how impactful that ultimately is. But at the same time, it seems like we need some kind of groundswell or collective movement in order to force corporations and governments to make the kinds of policy changes that we need at a bigger scale. How much can we, as individuals, actually do to change all of this?

Matt Simon: It was a very tricky subject in climate change. So I'm a big proponent of people buying EVs, or being vegan, or taking the bus.

Michael Calore: Or riding a bike.

Matt Simon: Or riding a bike, yes. But there's only so much, as you said, that we can do as individuals. It's important to note that the carbon footprint was invented by BP.

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Lauren Goode: Say that once more. The carbon footprint?

Matt Simon: The carbon footprint, the idea of a carbon footprint was invented by BP …

Lauren Goode: British Petroleum.

Matt Simon: Yes. … to make us feel crappy about what we've done to the planet. You should be responsible for flying too much or driving a car too much, which is a truly insane framing. So we, at the end of the day, need to massively cut emissions, and companies like BP are obviously taking us in the other direction. I actually really am optimistic about the direction the United States has gone in the last year. So it's actually today or tomorrow, the anniversary of the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, which really juiced the green economy by giving not only people subsidies for adding solar panels to their homes, switching to EVs, that sort of thing, it is juice…

Lauren Goode: And I'll make a small plug here. We had you on the show last year around this time to talk about the IRA, and we kind of broke it down. So everyone should go back and listen to that episode after this one.

Matt Simon: Yes.

Lauren Goode: Please continue.

Matt Simon: Please. Yes. Yeah, so that is pushing the United States in a very significant way toward decarbonization. This weird thing is like it's a market force in a lot of ways, and it's the market that got us into this catastrophe in the first place, which is a little sticky. But yes, the personal responsibility, I don't want people to feel bad about their contributions to climate change. But what I think we can do as individuals is start electing politicians that give a damn about this, that really understand the crisis that we're in. That's where we get the most movement. That's where … You put somebody like Joe Biden in office. He puts the IRA in place. That's huge for us. I don't imagine the Republican party is going to do the same. And the fact that they're scheming about if they're taking back the White House to roll back as much of this as possible, which is a truly insane existential crisis for the United States and humanity. So yes, please maybe just be aware of your impact, but don't feel bad about it. And just think about ways that you can upscale that personal responsibility. And it's something that's I think much more meaningful and impactful, which is helping elect politicians. I hate to put so much weight on politicians since it's hard to trust them, but that is actually where we're going to get the most movement.

Michael Calore: Yeah, I feel like these industries are not ones that we can trust to self-regulate out of the climate crisis.

Matt Simon: No. Given the opportunity, BP and any number of other fossil fuel companies are going to burn as much carbon as they possibly can. And we have talked before on this podcast about the length of plastic here, so not content with destroying the world of climate change, these petrochemical companies are switching to investing much more heavily in plastics, and we be very careful about that, that as we decarbonize, these companies want to still make money, and they're going to drown the world in plastic and destroy the planet a second time. Just be mindful of that.

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Michael Calore: Plastic sucks, people.

Matt Simon: Yeah.

Lauren Goode: We did another episode on that too, microplastics. If you haven't had enough doomsday after listening to this one, go back and listen to that one. Thanks, Matt.

Matt Simon: Sure. Yeah, always happy to bring things down a little bit.

Michael Calore: Of course. Well, we do have to wrap up. But Lauren, is there one more thing you want to ask?

Lauren Goode: Yeah. Actually, I was wondering what you think, Matt, about the to kid or not to kid debate and how that relates to climate change?

Matt Simon: That plays into the personal responsibility thing. Objectively and quantitatively, having a kid adds a good amount of emissions to the atmosphere, but I don't think that that should stop people from having children. I am child-free by choice, not because I report on this constantly, but because I just don't have that drive in me. Whatever the opposite is of people really, really wanting to have children, that's me. And it's not because of climate change. And I fear that that is distracting from the real problem here, which is just the burning of fossil fuels. It's these planetary criminal companies that are destroying our civilization. I think people should have children. It's not for me. I'm going to make fun of you for having children because I don't understand them.

Lauren Goode: Matt's not going to go to your one-year birthday party for your kid?

Matt Simon: No, probably not, but thanks for the invite. I think people should be free to have children if they want to have children. What we should not allow is for these fossil fuel companies to keep pumping as much emissions into the atmosphere as they possibly can. So please don't not have children on a planet account.

Lauren Goode: Matt's recommendation this week, please feel free to procreate.

Matt Simon: Please. Don't ask me about your children. I don't care.

Michael Calore: OK. Well, thank you for that proto recommendation. So let's actually take a break now and come back with our real recommendations.

[Break]

Michael Calore: OK. Welcome back. This is the third part of the show, where we go around the table and everybody offers a recommendation of something that our listeners might enjoy. Matt, as our guest, you get to go first. What is your recommendation?

Matt Simon: Yeah. Since I'm approaching middle age, I just read history books now.

Michael Calore: Nice.

Matt Simon: That's the thing that I do.

Michael Calore: Wait, World War II history?

Matt Simon: No, so this is actually a really interesting series of books called 24 Hours in Ancient blank. So there's 24 hours in Ancient Egypt, or Ancient Greece or Ancient Rome, and it follows a person who probably didn't exist, but they use historical documentation to talk about how a baker operated in Ancient Rome. It's really fascinating because it's like you get into the nitty gritty of a person's life. It sucked back then, by the way. It wasn't fun for anybody, even … Royalty had it much better, but you stub your toe and you die the next day because you don't have medical care. But it's very … I highly recommend it, I think at least three of them, ancient Rome, Ancient Greece, Ancient Egypt.

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Lauren Goode: How long is each book?

Matt Simon: I reckon medium, 300 pages, something like … They're quick.

Lauren Goode: They sound like they'd be good visual features too.

Matt Simon: Yeah.

Lauren Goode: I could picture a docuseries based on that.

Matt Simon: Yeah. Again, not a fun time back then for anybody.

Michael Calore: Yeah. We have dentists now. A lot of people forget.

Matt Simon: Clean water.

Lauren Goode: Ibuprofen as we approach middle age.

Matt Simon: Yes. Electric bikes. That's right.

Lauren Goode: Who's the author?

Matt Simon: It's a different author for each one. So they pick an expert in each time period.

Lauren Goode: Oh, cool.

Matt Simon: And they just say, “Hey, imagine these people based on historical documents.”

Lauren Goode: And how did you stumble upon this?

Matt Simon: I don't know. I think it was recommended to me through Apple Books or something. That's what I do when I'm falling asleep.

Lauren Goode: Oh, you're the person?

Matt Simon: I read on my iPad.

Lauren Goode: You're the person who uses Apple Books.

Matt Simon: Yes. I love it. I turn off the lights, turn down the light on my iPad, and I basically pass out.

Michael Calore: Nice.

Matt Simon: Again, I'm middle-aged basically now, so this is my life.

Lauren Goode: I feel you.

Michael Calore: That's great. I like that it's an algorithmic recommendation that has transformed into a personal recommendation.

Lauren Goode: Yeah.

Matt Simon: Yeah, I've read a lot of history books about Ancient Rome and Egypt and stuff like that.

Michael Calore: They know you so well.

Matt Simon: They do. And they know that I'm middle-aged.

Michael Calore: You keep saying that.

Lauren Goode: Yeah, I was going to say.

Matt Simon: Well, I'm 39. I'm almost there.

Lauren Goode: That isn't … you're a baby!

Matt Simon: What is middle-aged? 40?

Lauren Goode: I think it depends on … Well, it's state of mind, first of all, and it depends on expectancy too. So sorry guys, but I'm statistically likely to outlive you, and so my middle age is probably a little bit later than yours if we're just going by half of life, halfway through life.

Michael Calore: And I have committed to a lifestyle of perpetual adolescence.

Matt Simon: Perfect.

Lauren Goode: This is true. I went and saw his band this weekend.

Matt Simon: Is that the name of the band, Perpetual Adolescence?

Lauren Goode: That would be such a good name, wouldn't it?

Michael Calore: I don't know if that would fly with my bandmates. I would think it was funny.

Matt Simon: I don't want to live past 80.

Lauren Goode: OK.

Matt Simon: So I'm basically middle-aged.

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Lauren Goode: Yeah.

Matt Simon: I just don't want to deal with it.

Michael Calore: We'll talk to you in 40 years and see how you feel about that.

Lauren Goode: When's your 40th birthday?

Matt Simon: June.

Lauren Goode: Next June?

Matt Simon: Next June.

Lauren Goode: OK, so you have time. I was going to say, we have to throw you a party.

Matt Simon: Sure. Yeah.

Michael Calore: Provided …

Matt Simon: Cookies. I want cookies.

Michael Calore: I'll bring the air conditioning.

Lauren Goode: Yeah, I'll bring the air conditioning. Yes.

Michael Calore: Lauren, what is your recommendation?

Lauren Goode: My recommendation is a short documentary made by a filmmaker named Hugh Clegg that was published either this week or last week, maybe last week, by our partners, the New Yorker. Also a Condé Nast publication. It's under 15 minutes long, and it's Hugh's story about how he and a friend, who happens to be a Boris Johnson lookalike, made a video a while back of his friend pretending to be Boris Johnson and chasing people down the street, running up to them and screaming at them in cars and that sort of thing, and freaking people out. And that video didn't get a lot of traction. But then randomly some time period later, a creator on TikTok picked up the video clip and used part of it, part of Hugh's clip, and it went absolutely viral. And then that thing happened that happens on TikTok where people start using … They just borrow the audio and use it for their own video. And so this is millions and millions of collective views or uses of Hugh Clegg's original video that he's getting absolutely no credit for. So he goes on a journey to try to find who this TikTok creator is. And along the way, he ends up going in person to try to meet people, but also into the virtual world, like a Roblox chatting with people and talking to meme creators and saying, "Why do you do what you do?" And exploring what it's like to make something and put it out there in the world and have other people steal it. And is that actually illegal? But what is the upside of putting art into the world and having other people clearly be affected by it? And then there's kind of this plot twist at the end, so I love a good plot twist, where he finally is able to connect with the person who made the thing go viral on TikTok. And it's quite endearing. It is very human, and I really enjoyed it. So I recommend taking 15 minutes to watch Hugh Clegg's little short documentary.

Matt Simon: Very cool.

Lauren Goode: It's called How to Catch a TikTok Thief from The New Yorker.

Matt Simon: Very cool. Can I just say how impressive it is to be a Boris Johnson lookalike? That is a unique-looking man.

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Lauren Goode: Yeah.

Matt Simon: You got to go out of your way to look like Boris Johnson.

Lauren Goode: Yeah. There's a scene in which his friend, his Boris Johnson lookalike friend, kind of talks him down off the ledge. And it feels a little bit scripted at that point, but it's quite funny to hear this Boris Johnson lookalike person say really thoughtful things.

Michael Calore: Not rambling. Yeah.

Lauren Goode: Yeah. Mike, what's your recommendation?

Michael Calore: I'm also going to recommend a piece of content from a New York media publication.

Lauren Goode: Hashtag Content.

Michael Calore: It's a new game from the New York Times Games Division, which as you may know has brought us such hits as Wordle and Spelling Bee and Tiles. This is a new game. It's called Connections. It is in beta now. So if you have the New York Times app, you can find it in there. If you have the games app, you can find it in there. You can also find it on the web, which I think is how most people are playing it. So it's a word game. And every day, you get to play one game. So like Wordle, you can only play one at a time, and you have to wait until tomorrow to play the next one. It shows you 16 words, and those 16 words can be grouped together into four groups that all have something in common, right? We're recording this on Wednesday, so people aren't going to hear this until Thursday, so I can tell you that today, the groups were breakfast foods, painters, units of time, and things that show up in a dozen.

Lauren Goode: Potatoes.

Matt Simon: Boris Johnson lookalike.

Michael Calore: No. So it shows you the words. You don't guess the words. It shows you the words, but you have to guess the correlation between all the words. So for example, like bacon is in there and egg is in there, but neither of those things go into breakfast foods. Bacon goes into painters and egg goes into things that come in a dozen, and munch is in there.

Lauren Goode: So you have to assign them to the proper category?

Michael Calore: Yeah. And you don't know what the categories are, but you have to figure out how those things might relate to each other if they were not taken as the actual meaning of the word in the relation to all the other words on the board. So it's very tricky.

Lauren Goode: How many total words do you get?

Michael Calore: There's 16.

Lauren Goode: 16.

Michael Calore: So it's four groups of four, so you have to group them together. And you're grouping them together and it's telling you you're wrong, and you're like, "WTF NYT. I'm not wrong. Those four things definitely go together." But then once you see the answers, you're like, oh. So it takes a couple of times playing it to realize what the game is and how it works. I want more. It's totally addictive. I love it. It's the new Wordle for me. Connections.

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Lauren Goode: Connections.

Michael Calore: Connections.

Lauren Goode: It sounds really fun. I have a question. Where is our WIRED games division?

Michael Calore: I think you got to put that question in the comments box for the next editorial all-hands.

Lauren Goode: I'm going to ask our new editor in chief that.

Michael Calore: You can ask our new editor in chief that question.

Lauren Goode: Or probably just email Anna.

Michael Calore: Although our new editor in chief is probably listening, so you can just ask her right now.

Lauren Goode: Katie, let's talk about WIRED games. We also, Mike and I have plans for WIRED. I just came up with a great idea for a WIRED TikTok filter, but I'm not going to share that here.

Michael Calore: Thanks.

Matt Simon: Putting everything into black and white checkers, like our logo?

Lauren Goode: Oh, no.

Matt Simon: Or vans slip-ons, depending on how you look at it.

Lauren Goode: It's much nerdier than that.

Michael Calore: All right. I look forward to more ….

Lauren Goode: Would you like a dry-fit WIRED running T-shirt?

Matt Simon: What were those words? What do you mean dry? What does that mean?

Lauren Goode: Dry-fit, the type of material that's better for running than running in cotton, for example.

Michael Calore: It's synthetic. It's petroleum-based. It's made of plastic.

Lauren Goode: Oh, sorry Matt.

Matt Simon: I've been running in cotton. Is that bad?

Michael Calore: Yes.

Matt Simon: Am I dying?

Lauren Goode: Well, if you were in a really, really hot climate, you wouldn't want to wear that cotton.

Matt Simon: I run at 7:30 in the morning in San Francisco.

Michael Calore: Oh yeah, you're fine.

Lauren Goode: OK for now.

Matt Simon: Yeah. For now, right?

Lauren Goode: For now.

Matt Simon: Who knows?

Michael Calore: Well, thank you for coming on the show, Matt.

Lauren Goode: Thanks, Matt.

Michael Calore: Thanks as always.

Lauren Goode: Thanks for the cookies too.

Matt Simon: You're welcome.

Michael Calore: Yes, they're very good cookies. They're climate cookies.

Lauren Goode: Accept all cookies.

Michael Calore: Thank you all for listening. If you have feedback, you can find all of us on social media. Just check the show notes. Our producer is Boone Ashworth. We will be back next week. And until then, goodbye.

Lauren Goode: Leave us a review.

Michael Calore: Leave us a review.

Lauren Goode: Five stars.

Michael Calore: And stay cool.

[Gadget Lab outro theme music plays]

Matt Simon: We did it cookie time.

Michael Calore: Thank you.

Lauren Goode: Cookie time.

Michael Calore: Thank you for that.

Matt Simon: Could you tell which was which?

Lauren Goode: I think I picked the one that was chocolate, and I didn't even …

Matt Simon: This one's corn.

Lauren Goode: I didn't even end up getting chocolate.

Michael Calore: Corn?

Matt Simon: Corn cinnamon toast.

Michael Calore: I think that's the one …

Lauren Goode: Corn cinnamon toast.

Michael Calore: Yeah, that's the one I grabbed.

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