In the end, illustrated by Roz Chast

Tuesday, 11 March, 2014

Morbid, yet still somehow fascinating… US cartoonist Roz Chast’s comic book style depiction of her parent’s final years.

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Might we achieve immortality through our possessions? Possibly…

Wednesday, 12 February, 2014

Might we attain a degree of immortality through the possessions we leave behind after we die?

It’s one of the questions US photographer Andrea Tese poses through her INHERITANCE collection, being images of her late grandfather’s belongings, such as shoes, books, tools, gardening equipment, and kitchenware.

It’s not an idea I entirely subscribe to, living as I do out of carry-on luggage seemingly, but it’s a thought provoking notion nonetheless.

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Is it easier for New Zealanders to fake their own deaths?

Wednesday, 8 January, 2014

A new year, a new start… by faking your death? Don’t get your hopes up though. Very few people succeed in starting a new life by ceasing to be one person, and assuming the identity of someone else that they’ve created.

Apparently though New Zealand citizens, who can reside legally in Australia for, I believe, indefinite periods of time, have an edge in this regard however, thanks to a combination of privacy laws, and the fact they – seemingly – don’t have to pay taxes here:

For Verzi, fake-dying professionally means having a new, hard-to-trace identity ready. “It seems like the US has half the privacy laws we have so it’s much harder to disappear there. Actually, the hardest people to track are New Zealanders because they come here [to Australia], and they don’t vote or pay taxes and then they go home. It really helps if you’re a Kiwi.”

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I doubt that our lives are merely the sums of our possessions

Thursday, 12 December, 2013

This piece I read on Kottke last week had me wondering about the way we… measure someone’s achievements, success, or net worth, upon their death.

In October US comedian and author David Sedaris wrote about the suicide of his youngest sister, Tiffany, earlier this year. Judging from her will, Tiffany appeared to have become estranged, to some degree, from her family, but it was Sedaris’ reference to his late sister’s possessions, or lack thereof, that caught my eye:

Compared with most forty-nine-year-olds, or even most forty-nine-month-olds, Tiffany didn’t have much. She did leave a will, though. In it, she decreed that we, her family, could not have her body or attend her memorial service. “So put that in your pipe and smoke it,” our mother would have said. A few days after getting the news, my sister Amy drove to Somerville with a friend and collected two boxes of things from Tiffany’s room: family photographs, many of which had been ripped into pieces, comment cards from a neighborhood grocery store, notebooks, receipts.

In response, Michael Knoblach, a friend of Tiffany’s, chastised Sedaris in an article he wrote for the Wicked Local Somerville. Among other points, Knoblach wished to make clear that Tiffany’s estate amounted to more that just two boxes of belongings:

I found David Sedaris’ article, “Now we are five,” in the Oct. 28 New Yorker to be obviously self-serving, often grossly inaccurate, almost completely unresearched and, at times, outright callous. Some of her family had been more than decent, loving and kind to her. “Two lousy boxes” is not Tiffany’s legacy. After her sister left with that meager lot, her house was still full of treasures. More than two vanloads of possession were pulled from there and other locations by friends.

Tiffany may have been troubled, but it is clear her life had value far beyond her possessions, regardless of their quantity.

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A crowd sourced funeral for a World War II veteran

Tuesday, 19 November, 2013

Harold Percival was a British World War II veteran who lived a solitary, though happy, life. He’d neither married, had children, nor any close friends, but thanks to social media and newspaper advertising campaigns, following his death recently at age 99, more than five hundred people attended his funeral, held on Remembrance Day, in Lancashire.

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On the gravity of perishing swiftly in open space

Monday, 14 October, 2013

Alfonso Cuarón’s latest sci-fi feature Gravity sees the lives of a group of US astronauts, working in Earth orbit, threatened after a satellite explodes. Faced with their dire predicament, a dwindling oxygen supply, and next to no prospect of rescue, what might you do?

While it’s hardly any consolation, death in a vacuum, from a lack of air, doesn’t sound all that painful, should it come to that:

Jonathan Clark of the Center for Space Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine thought over the dilemma for us, and, assuming there is no chance of rescue, he’d go for the exposure option. “In a vacuum you take a few breaths and you’re unconscious within probably 10 seconds,” explained Clark, who has served as a Space Shuttle Crew surgeon and is the Red Bull Stratos medical director. “You’re totally out. It’s not like you’re suffering.”

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One day my tweets may be coming to you from the great beyond

Wednesday, 9 October, 2013

Another reason to be mindful of the way you conduct yourself over social media channels… one day, in the not to distant future, all that you were online may be used to create a digital avatar that will mimic you in as many ways possible, after your, shall we say, analogue self, shuffles off this mortal coil.

First, you upload your photo to Lifenaut, and it uses this image to create an animated avatar – complete with blinking eyes and moving lips. Then you teach the service about yourself, answering a long list of questions and taking a few personality tests. And, yes, you connect the service with your Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts, creating a time capsule of your social media data that the Foundation hopes will further mold the personality of your avatar.

Potentially descendents, that could include family members who come along decades, or longer even, after your demise, would be able to interact with… you in real time. Now there’s a thought to behold.

That aforementioned phrase “in the not to distant future” would likely be something my avatar, if I ever create one, will utter frequently. That, likewise, is a thought to behold.

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Makes sense, turning to a search engine in the quest for longer life

Wednesday, 25 September, 2013

Next on on the agenda for search engine giant Google, yes, that’s right, you guessed it correctly, looking at ways of extending our lifespans. One way they may be able to make a contribution is by analysing the vast amounts of medical data they have access to… and whose to know what might turn up by taking such an approach?

That approach may yield unlikely conclusions. “Are people really focused on the right things? One of the things I thought was amazing is that if you solve cancer, you’d add about three years to people’s average life expectancy,” Page said. “We think of solving cancer as this huge thing that’ll totally change the world. But when you really take a step back and look at it, yeah, there are many, many tragic cases of cancer, and it’s very, very sad, but in the aggregate, it’s not as big an advance as you might think.”

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What could a funeral director could tell you about life? A lot

Tuesday, 17 September, 2013

When you think about it, there’s probably a lot that a funeral director could tell you about life, death, life, and things of that nature… and there’s not a morbid thought here either:

When I was a child, I’d lay in bed and imagine myself dying at a young age. I imagined Death as a Monster. That fear, though, has dissipated as I’ve both worked around Death and I’ve grown to be comfortable with my own mortality and the mortality of those I love. Perhaps there’s no greater freedom than to live life with a healthy relationship with Death. That healthy relationship allows you embracing each moment, realizing that we are not promised tomorrow. This good relationship with Death has been given to me by the funeral profession.

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In our minds only, what is seen during near death experiences?

Wednesday, 21 August, 2013

Could this be the basis of a scientific explanation for so-called near death experiences, situations where people whose hearts stop beating, feel that they are drifting through what appears to be a tunnel towards a distant point of light, among other sensations?

It’s called a near-death experience, but the emphasis is on “near.” The heart stops, you feel yourself float up and out of your body. You glide toward the entrance of a tunnel, and a searing bright light envelops your field of vision. It could be the afterlife, as many people who have come close to dying have asserted. But a new study says it might well be a show created by the brain, which is still very much alive. When the heart stops, neurons in the brain appeared to communicate at an even higher level than normal, perhaps setting off the last picture show, packed with special effects.

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