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In case you missed it, a half-dozen of you wrote me to say that last week's 4-star article about Antarctic trekking was incredible. (Which it was.)
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The Final, Terrible Voyage of the Nautilus / Wired
Kim Wall went for a ride on a submarine, hoping to write a story about a maker of "extreme machines." She never did. I needed to know what happened. [...] Madsen christened the vessel the UC3 Nautilus, after the fictional submarine in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Jules Verne’s antihero Captain Nemo was a figure who lived outside social laws, sailing the seven seas in search of total freedom. Unlike Nemo, Madsen had stayed close to home in Denmark, but he had devoted his life to building audacious vehicles of his own design, ones that might venture high above the atmosphere or down into the depths of the ocean. [...] By most public accounts, Madsen was a charismatic rebel. He had a weathered face with the prominent features of a toy troll. His habitual uniform was coveralls and hiking boots. Fox, the filmmaker, calls him a “modern-day Clumsy Hans,” for the seemingly dimwitted suitor in the Hans Christian Andersen fairy-tale who wins the princess’s favor over his more intelligent brothers. Wall was in the early stages of her reporting, and she would not have known much more about Madsen than what had already been published. It was only later, after everything that happened, that the details of his private life would become important.
Nominees in the 2018 World Press Photo Contest / The Atlantic
The top images being considered to win awards in the 61st annual World Press Photo Contest have just been released, with the final announcement of the winners coming on April 12. Jury members selected the nominees in eight categories, including the new environment category, from submissions made by 42 photographers hailing from 22 countries. World Press Photo has been kind enough to allow us to share some of this year’s nominees here with you. A warning: some viewers may find some of the images disturbing.
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The Tyranny of Convenience / New York Times
In the developed nations of the 21st century, convenience — that is, more efficient and easier ways of doing personal tasks — has emerged as perhaps the most powerful force shaping our individual lives and our economies. This is particularly true in America, where, despite all the paeans to freedom and individuality, one sometimes wonders whether convenience is in fact the supreme value. [...] We are willing to pay a premium for convenience, of course — more than we often realize we are willing to pay. During the late 1990s, for example, technologies of music distribution like Napster made it possible to get music online at no cost, and lots of people availed themselves of the option. But though it remains easy to get music free, no one really does it anymore. Why? Because the introduction of the iTunes store in 2003 made buying music even more convenient than illegally downloading it. Convenient beat out free. [...] An unwelcome consequence of living in a world where everything is “easy” is that the only skill that matters is the ability to multitask. At the extreme, we don’t actually do anything; we only arrange what will be done, which is a flimsy basis for a life. [...] Embracing inconvenience may sound odd, but we already do it without thinking of it as such. As if to mask the issue, we give other names to our inconvenient choices: We call them hobbies, avocations, callings, passions. These are the noninstrumental activities that help to define us. They reward us with character because they involve an encounter with meaningful resistance — with nature’s laws, with the limits of our own bodies — as in carving wood, melding raw ingredients, fixing a broken appliance, writing code, timing waves or facing the point when the runner’s legs and lungs begin to rebel against him.
Sex, Pong, And Pioneers: What Atari Was Really Like, According To Women Who Were There / Kotaku
Back in 1973, Steve Miller Band’s “The Joker” was blaring from the PA in a California warehouse as two dozen women in flared jeans assembled Pong circuit boards. The smell of corned beef and marijuana wafted down the manufacturing line. Orders for Atari’s landmark table tennis video game were still pouring in on the crisp October day when Elaine Shirley first giddily entered the warehouse to join the all-woman crew of Pong cabinet-stuffers. A woman in a muumuu had hired Shirley, 18 years old and fresh out of high school, on the spot after Shirley confirmed she could play the guitar. “She wanted to make sure I was good with my fingers,” Shirley, now 62, told me. The pay was $2.25 an hour, sixty cents above minimum wage. By Thanksgiving she was making $2.75. Shirley had grown up in poverty in Austin, Texas, and moved out to Silicon Valley when she heard through her cousin that a new company called Atari had lots of job openings. I’m a joker. I’m a smoker. I’m a midnight toker. The job was good, and work moved quickly when rock n’ roll was pumping through the speakers. Even faster on days when the top brass needed 100 Pong boards ASAP. “One girl had something called White Cross—I think they were caffeine pills,” Shirley said. (White Cross was the street name for pure ephedrine.) “Everyone on the line took it.” They were done by noon. You’re the cutest thing I ever did see. Really love your peaches, want to shake your tree. In 1973, Shirley met a man with ringlets of hair flowing down his back who worked in Atari’s model shop. Later, they got married. [...] Over the last week, Kotaku interviewed 12 of Atari’s earliest female employees, in the hopes of hearing their stories—good or bad—about working at Atari in the ’70s and early ’80s. The culture they told us about was certainly, as Playboy described it, one of “sex, drugs, and video games,” but one in which all 12 employees say they freely participated, if they participated at all. Many interviewees said it was the best job they ever had, adding that news of Bushnell’s rescinded award struck them as shocking or unfair. [...] Today, stories of hot tub parties, of romantic gestures from a company founder and of lusted-after secretaries would inspire flooded HR email inboxes. After decades of wisdom about systemic inequalities in the tech industry, Atari’s culture sounds like a bubbling-over beaker of fiery, explosive substances, an experiment that laid some groundwork but, also, took risks. Whether it deserves to be honored today, at the height of the #MeToo movement, looks starkly different depending on where you’re standing. Former Atari employees who spoke to me say their time there was deeply empowering; today’s women in games might argue that personal boundaries are what make the industry safer for them.
Too Clever By Half / Epsilon Theory
The smartest animals on my farm aren’t my bees (although they possess the genius of the algorithm). It’s not the horses or the goats or even the dogs. The barn cat is pretty smart, but only in fairly limited circumstances, and the house cats are useless. Obviously it’s not the sheep or the chickens. Nope, the smartest animals on my farm aren’t really on my farm at all. They’re the coyotes who live in the woods. [...] Unfortunately, coyotes are too smart for their own good. They are, to use the wonderful Brit phrase, too clever by half. They are, to use a post-modern, TV reality show lingo, not good in the meta-game. And the meta-game has turned against the coyotes with a vengeance. [...] Okay, Ben, entertaining as ever, but where are you going with all this? Almost there. Before I pull this charming discussion of too clever by half coyotes back into the real world of markets, there’s one other (supposedly) clever, non-domesticated animal I need to introduce into this story. That’s the raccoon. Coyotes have a roguish charm and bring something interesting to the world with their independence and scheming. Raccoons are simply criminals. [...] Financial innovation is no exception. And this is Reason #1 why financial innovation ALWAYS ends in tears, because coyotes are too clever by half. They figure out a brilliant way to win at the mini-game that they’re immersed in, and they ignore the meta-game. Eventually the meta-game blows up on them, and they’re toast. Reason #2? Financial innovation, more than any other sort of innovation, attracts the raccoons — con men and hucksters at best, outright thieves at worst. They infest financial innovation. And they can’t control themselves, so they always push it too far. They’re never content with stealing a little. Or even a lot. No, raccoons want it ALL. Example, please. Financial innovation is always and in all ways one of two things — a new way of securitizing something or a new way of leveraging something. [...] The formula doesn’t look like much, does it? But this little equation made billions of dollars in profits for Wall Street through hundreds of clever coyote schemes. More than a few raccoons got involved along the way. And then it broke the world in 2008. [...] Many of the coyotes involved with this classic example of financial innovation gone awry are (professionally) dead. [...] Surprisingly few of the raccoons involved are (professionally) dead.
The Case for Making Cities Out of Wood / Nautilus
Last month, Dan Doctoroff, the C.E.O. of Sidewalk Labs, Google’s sibling company under Alphabet, answered a question about what his company “actually does” during a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” session, replying, “The short answer is: We want to build the first truly 21st-century city.” Quayside, a Toronto neighborhood the company is developing in partnership with a Canadian tri-government agency, is the first step toward Doctoroff’s goal. It has been in the news recently because it could inspire a Black Mirror plot: It will be built from “the Internet up,” according to a project document, a merger of “physical and digital realms.” Fittingly, according to the New York Times, “No obvious way to opt out of Quayside’s surveillance systems exists, except by staying out of the area.” But Quayside’s newsworthy for another, more encouraging reason: The plan is to build the place, not out of concrete and steel, but wood—and wood is looking good. A recent advance in wood technology, announced this month, should interest the neighborhood’s developers: Teng Li, a University of Maryland mechanical engineer, created with his colleagues wood that’s as “strong as steel, but six times lighter,” he said. Liangbing Hu, Li’s co-author on the study, added, “This kind of wood could be used in cars, airplanes, buildings—any application where steel is used.” Making it is just a two-step process. The scientists first boiled natural wood in a mixture of sodium hydroxide and sodium sulfite, to remove some of the lignin and hemicellulose, substances contained in the walls of wood cells (the former retard parasite and bacterial attacks, the latter cover and bind fibers). Then they put the wood in a hot press, which leads, as they say in the paper, “to the total collapse of cell walls and the complete densification of the natural wood with highly aligned cellulose nanofibres.” The result, they conclude, is a “low-cost, high-performance, lightweight alternative” to “most structural metals and alloys.”
What has really been going on with Markelle Fultz? / Philly Voice
On a blustery winter night in the middle of January, Markelle Fultz is working. Sixteen miles from Philadelphia’s gorgeous, state-of-the-art practice facility in Camden, the No. 1 overall pick is in a high school gym, putting in extra work away from the team. He is in sweatpants and flanked by a couple confidants, one of whom holds three different sized balls for Fultz to use while going through various shooting motions. There is something about this scene that an average bystander would not comprehend: The Sixers have no knowledge this workout is taking place, or that one of the men involved in the intimate session was working with Fultz when his shot went off the rails in the first place. This story, perhaps more than any other, is representative of the tornado of voices around Fultz, internally and externally, all thinking they know how to fix what ails the only top basketball prospect who ever forgot how to shoot.
This company may have solved one of the hardest problems in clean energy / Vox
Reads somewhat like an advertorial, and I'm sceptical -- but it's interesting nonetheless:
HyTech Power, based in Redmond, Washington, intends to introduce three products over the next year or two. The first will use hydrogen to clean up existing diesel engines, increasing their fuel efficiency by a third and eliminating over half their air pollution, with an average nine-month payback, the company says. That’s a potentially enormous market with plenty of existing demand, which HyTech hopes will capitalize its second product, a retrofit that will transform any internal combustion vehicle into a zero-emissions vehicle (ZEV) by enabling it to run on pure hydrogen. That will primarily be targeted at large fleets. And that will tee up the third product — the one Johnson’s had his eye on from the beginning, the one that could revolutionize and decentralize the energy system — a stationary energy-storage product meant to compete with, and eventually outcompete, big batteries like Tesla’s Powerwall. [...] None of the hydrogen experts I talked to found any particular red flags in HyTech’s technical claims, but they all evinced a hard-won show-don’t-tell skepticism.
Guyenet on Motivation / Slate Star Codex
How does the lamprey decide what to do? Within the lamprey basal ganglia lies a key structure called the striatum, which is the portion of the basal ganglia that receives most of the incoming signals from other parts of the brain. The striatum receives “bids” from other brain regions, each of which represents a specific action. A little piece of the lamprey’s brain is whispering “mate” to the striatum, while another piece is shouting “flee the predator” and so on. It would be a very bad idea for these movements to occur simultaneously – because a lamprey can’t do all of them at the same time – so to prevent simultaneous activation of many different movements, all these regions are held in check by powerful inhibitory connections from the basal ganglia. This means that the basal ganglia keep all behaviors in “off” mode by default. Only once a specific action’s bid has been selected do the basal ganglia turn off this inhibitory control, allowing the behavior to occur. You can think of the basal ganglia as a bouncer that chooses which behavior gets access to the muscles and turns away the rest.
Direct Instruction: A Half Century of Research Shows Superior Results / Marginal Revolution
What if I told you that there is a method of education which significantly raises achievement, has been shown to work for students of a wide range of abilities, races, and socio-economic levels and has been shown to be superior to other methods of instruction in hundreds of tests? [...] Even though Direct Instruction has been shown to work in hundreds of tests it is not widely used. It’s almost as if education is not about educating. Some people object that DI is like mass-production. This is a feature not a bug. Mass-production is one of the few ways yet discovered to produce quality on a mass scale. Any method will probably work if a heroic teacher puts in enough blood, sweat and tears but those methods don’t scale. DI scales when used by mortals which is why it consistently beats other methods in large scale tests. Many teachers don’t like DI when first exposed to it because it requires teacher training and discipline. Teachers are not free to make up their own lesson plans. But why should they be?
I Learned the Nerdy Cooking Secrets of Modernist Chefs—And You Can Too / Gizmodo
You can cook food worthy of five-star restaurants, even if you’re the most inexperienced cook. You just need to throw a bit of money at your kitchen. It will be wasteful. It will be expensive as hell. But it will taste incredible. I know this because I tried it. I lived the Modernist Cuisine lifestyle.
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The wonderful sounds of black ice skating / Kottke
Recently frozen lake ice has some interesting properties: it looks completely black and makes some interesting sounds when you skate over it. Swedish mathematician Mårten Ajne is a black ice skating enthusiast and he demonstrates his technique in this National Geographic video. You’ll want to turn up the sound or use headphones…the ice sounds like a cross between sci-fi phaser fire and getting pinged by sonar in a submarine.
No, opposites do not attract / The Conversation
The clear winner is homogamy. Since the 1950s, social scientists have conducted over 240 studies to determine whether similarity in terms of attitudes, personality traits, outside interests, values and other characteristics leads to attraction. In 2013, psychologists Matthew Montoya and Robert Horton examined the combined results of these studies in what’s called a meta-analysis. They found an irrefutable association between being similar to and being interested in the other person. [...] None of this necessarily means that opposites don’t attract. Both the homogamy hypothesis and the complementarity hypothesis could be true. So is there scientific support that opposites might attract at least some of the time? [...] As it turns out, it’s pure fiction. There is essentially no research evidence that differences in personality, interests, education, politics, upbringing, religion or other traits lead to greater attraction.
The evolution of Eurish / Marginal Revolution
One feature is the European uncountable noun — singular in native-speaker English but plural in Eurish: “he received feedbacks”, “we have a lot of informations” and “we are producing online contents”. There are other Eurish differences. I have heard both Germans and Italians say “we discussed about” rather than “we discussed”. “I will answer to your question” is common in many European discussions. Writing in the World Englishes journal, Mr Modiano adds others: “I am coming from Spain” rather than “I come from Spain” and “We were five people at the party” rather than “There were five people at the party”. Continental Europeans are increasingly unworried about what Brits think of their developing English.
The Gender-Equality Paradox in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Education / Marginal Revolution
Using an international database on adolescent achievement in science, mathematics, and reading (N = 472,242), we showed that girls performed similarly to or better than boys in science in two of every three countries, and in nearly all countries, more girls appeared capable of college-level STEM study than had enrolled. Paradoxically, the sex differences in the magnitude of relative academic strengths and pursuit of STEM degrees rose with increases in national gender equality.
23 tweets from @TEN_GOP, one Russian-run Twitter account mentioned in Mueller’s new indictment / Vox
“Tennessee GOP,” or @TEN_GOP, was a popular Twitter account claiming to be run by, well, Republicans in Tennessee. Tweeting out a mix of pro-Trump cheerleading, ordinary partisan content, Islamophobia, racism, and conspiracy theories, the account amassed at least 136,000 followers. Its tweets often racked up thousands of retweets, sometimes even from top Trump campaign staffers. And it turns out a Russian organization was running it all along.
What Color Is a Tennis Ball? / The Atlantic
If the same effect is true for our perception of tennis balls, then the people who see the dress as white and gold, because they are predisposed to discounting cool colors, should see the ball as yellow. Meanwhile, those who see the dress and blue and black, because they discount warm colors, should see the ball as green. And that’s exactly the effect we found, according to a quick, very informal survey of my Slack team. Aside from one or two outliers, those who believe a tennis ball is yellow saw the dress as gold and white, while those who believe a tennis ball is green saw the dress as black and blue. Minds blown.