----- 4 stars -----
Virgin Galactic's Rocket Man / New Yorker
At 5 a.m. on April 5th, Mark Stucky drove to an airstrip in Mojave, California, and gazed at SpaceShipTwo, a sixty-foot-long craft that is owned by Virgin Galactic, a part of the Virgin Group. Painted white and bathed in floodlight, it resembled a sleek fighter plane, but its mission was to ferry thousands of tourists to and from space. Stucky had piloted SpaceShipTwo on two dozen previous test flights, including three of the four times that it had fired its rocket booster, which was necessary to propel it into space. On October 31, 2014, he watched the fourth such flight from mission control; it crashed in the desert, killing his best friend. On this morning, Stucky would be piloting the fifth rocket-powered flight, on a new iteration of the spaceship. A successful test would restore the program’s lustre. Stucky walked into Virgin Galactic’s large beige hangar. He is fifty-nine and has a loose-legged stroll, tousled salt-and-pepper hair, and sunken, suntanned cheeks. In other settings, he could pass for a retired beachcomber. He wears the smirk of someone who feels certain that he’s having more fun than you are.
----- 3 stars -----
The Nastiest Feud in Science / The Atlantic
Death was not something I’d considered as a possible consequence of traveling with Keller, a 73-year-old paleontology and geology professor at Princeton University. She looked harmless enough: thin, with a blunt bob, wearing gray nylon pants and hiking boots, and carrying an insulated ShopRite supermarket bag by way of a purse. I quickly learned that Keller felt such reassurances were necessary because, appropriately for someone who studies mass extinctions, she has a tendency to attract disaster. [...] Where I looked out our van’s window at a landscape of skeletal cows and chartreuse rice paddies, Keller saw a prehistoric crime scene. She was searching for fresh evidence that would help prove her hypothesis about what killed the dinosaurs—and invalidate the asteroid-impact theory that many of us learned in school as uncontested fact. According to this well-established fire-and-brimstone scenario, the dinosaurs were exterminated when a six-mile-wide asteroid, larger than Mount Everest is tall, slammed into our planet with the force of 10 billion atomic bombs. The impact unleashed giant fireballs, crushing tsunamis, continent-shaking earthquakes, and suffocating darkness that transformed the Earth into what one poetic scientist described as “an Old Testament version of hell.” Before the asteroid hypothesis took hold, researchers had proposed other, similarly bizarre explanations for the dinosaurs’ demise: gluttony, protracted food poisoning, terminal chastity, acute stupidity, even Paleo-weltschmerz—death by boredom. These theories fell by the wayside when, in 1980, the Nobel Prize–winning physicist Luis Alvarez and three colleagues from UC Berkeley announced a discovery in the journal Science. They had found iridium—a hard, silver-gray element that lurks in the bowels of planets, including ours—deposited all over the world at approximately the same time that, according to the fossil record, creatures were dying en masse. Mystery solved: An asteroid had crashed into the Earth, spewing iridium and pulverized rock dust around the globe and wiping out most life forms. [...] But Keller doesn’t buy any of it. “It’s like a fairy tale: ‘Big rock from sky hits the dinosaurs, and boom they go.’ And it has all the aspects of a really nice story,” she said. “It’s just not true.” While the majority of her peers embraced the Chicxulub asteroid as the cause of the extinction, Keller remained a maligned and, until recently, lonely voice contesting it. She argues that the mass extinction was caused not by a wrong-place-wrong-time asteroid collision but by a series of colossal volcanic eruptions in a part of western India known as the Deccan Traps—a theory that was first proposed in 1978 and then abandoned by all but a small number of scientists.
Broken Time / The Believer
It was supposed to be the best day of Richard “Blue” Mitchell’s life, but June 30, 1958, turned out to be one of the worst. The trumpeter had been summoned to New York City from Miami for a recording session with Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, an old friend who was being hailed as the hottest alto sax player since Charlie Parker. But things started going wrong even before Mitchell arrived at Reeves Sound Studios on East Forty-Fourth Street. First, his luggage went astray en route from Florida. Then there was a surprise waiting for him in the control room: Miles Davis, one of his musical heroes, who had taken the extraordinary step of composing a new melody as a gift to Cannonball. Mitchell was supposed to play Miles’s part. That wasn’t going to be easy, because the tune, called “Nardis,” was anything but a standard workout on blues-based changes. The melody had a haunting, angular, exotic quality, like the “Gypsy jazz” that guitarist Django Reinhardt played with the Hot Club de France in the 1930s. And it didn’t exactly swing, but unfurled at its own pace, like liturgical music for some arcane ritual. For three takes, the band diligently tried to make it work, but Mitchell couldn’t wrap his head around it, particularly under Miles’s intimidating gaze. The producer of the session, legendary Riverside Records founder Orrin Keepnews, ended up scrapping the night’s performances entirely. The next night was more productive. After capturing tight renditions of “Blue Funk” and “Minority,” the quintet took two more passes through “Nardis,” yielding a master take for release, plus a credible alternate. But the arrangement still sounded stiff, and the horns had a pinched, sour tone. Only one man on the session, Miles would say later, played the tune “the way it was meant to be played.” It was the shy, unassuming piano player, who was just shy of twenty-eight years old. His name was Bill Evans.
----- 2 stars -----
Hatebook: Why Facebook is losing the war on hate speech in Myanmar / Reuters
Reuters found more than 1,000 examples of posts, comments and pornographic images attacking the Rohingya and other Muslims on Facebook. A secretive operation set up by the social media giant to combat the hate speech is failing to end the problem.
NASA Is Trying To Save Us From The Sun / FiveThirtyEight
A violent solar flare exploded from the surface of the sun, flinging X-rays and a gargantuan cloud of high-energy material in all directions. Eight minutes after the eruption, the X-rays slammed into the Earth’s upper atmosphere, knocking out emergency radio communications in the Caribbean. Radio signals bounce off the Earth’s upper atmosphere, called the ionosphere, which allows the radio waves to travel great distances. But when the atmosphere is energized by solar activity, the radio signals are drowned out in a crackle of static. The blackout lasted into the afternoon, knocking out high-frequency radio waves used by airplanes, ships, emergency crews and ham operators. In all, the sun lashed out a dozen times that week, producing flares that impeded radio communications in the battered islands of the Caribbean. There was pretty much nothing anyone could do, and authorities barely saw this solar storm coming. But scientists may soon know more about how to predict space weather. Sometime after Aug. 11, NASA will launch the Parker Solar Probe, which will fly into the sun’s outer atmosphere to sample the star’s exhalations. The probe could answer some of the most burning questions in solar science — and help scientists protect human communication systems and electric grids before they get fried.
John Brennan: President Trump’s Claims of No Collusion Are Hogwash / New York Times
In case you missed it, from the former CIA Director:
Mr. Trump clearly has become more desperate to protect himself and those close to him, which is why he made the politically motivated decision to revoke my security clearance in an attempt to scare into silence others who might dare to challenge him. Now more than ever, it is critically important that the special counsel, Robert Mueller, and his team of investigators be allowed to complete their work without interference — from Mr. Trump or anyone else — so that all Americans can get the answers they so rightly deserve.
Poker Players Replay Their Most Memorable Hands | The New Yorker / YouTube
Paying the stereotype tax in poker / Kottke
Well-executed storytelling from The New Yorker:
Poker professionals and champions discuss their most regrettable, most shocking, and most stressful plays and moves of all time.
Might as well drop this here:
When you see someone looking a certain way, you assume they play a certain way. So once I figure out how they view women, I can figure out how to play against them. They’re not seeing me as a poker player, they’re seeing me as a female poker player.
'Millennia of human activity': heatwave reveals lost UK archaeological sites / The Guardian
The scorching weeks of the summer of 2018 left crops shrivelled and gardens scorched. It has also revealed the lines of scores of archaeological sites across the UK landscape, tracing millennia of human activity, from neolithic cursus monuments laid out more than 5,000 years ago to the outline of a long-demolished Tudor hall and its intended replacement. Lost sites have been turning up all over Britain and Ireland, ploughed flat at ground level but showing up as parch marks from the air, in areas where grass and crops grow at different heights, or show in different colours, over buried foundations and ditches. A treasure trove of discoveries, including ancient field boundaries, lost villages, burial mounds and military structures, was revealed on Wednesday, recorded during the summer by aerial archaeologists flying over the landscape for Historic England.
The Woman Behind the New York Campaign to Take Down Trump / Politico
Progressive favorite Zephyr Teachout promises to retool the powerful New York prosecutor’s office to go straight after Donald Trump. She’s not the only one. Is this the road Democrats want to go down?
The Stock Market Is Shrinking. That’s a Problem for Everyone. / New York Times
The American stock market has been shrinking. It’s been happening in slow motion — so slow you may not even have noticed. But by now the change is unmistakable: The market is half the size of its mid-1990s peak, and 25 percent smaller than it was in 1976. “This is troubling for the economy, for innovation and for transparence,” said René Stulz, an Ohio State finance professor who has written a new report on these issues for the National Bureau of Economic Research. When I say “shrinking,” I’m using a specific definition: the reduction in the number of publicly traded companies on exchanges in the United States. In the mid-1990s, there were more than 8,000 of them. By 2016, there were only 3,627, according to data from the Center for Research in Security Prices at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.
----- 1 star -----
We Use Sports Terms All the Time. But Where Do They Come From? / New York Times
We’re talking about sports idioms, those everyday phrases ingrained in our lexicon, handed down from generation to generation. We use these terms all the time, without really knowing where they came from. Some of their origins are pretty clear: front-runner, on the ropes, the ball is in your court. But there are many others whose provenances are not so apparent. [...] Here are some you may have used recently without knowing where they came from, or even that they had any sports connection at all.
The World's 50 Largest Urban Areas, Visualized / Digg
In 2009, the number of people living in urban areas surpassed the number of people living in rural areas, and the world is not looking back. As more and more of the world's population has packed into and around cities, some staggeringly populous urban areas have arisen. A new data visualization from Redditor Dadapp94 shows the world's 50 biggest urban areas by population, each illustrated with a to-scale outline of the geographic area that all those people fit into.
Does my sweaty T-shirt turn you on? At a pheromone party, singles try to match using only their noses. / Washington Post
New study: People tend to aspire to date someone ‘out of their league’ / Boston Globe
As I walked into a party on a recent Thursday night, I was self-conscious in a way I’d never been before: What if no one likes the way I smell? It’s summer in Washington, so no one smells all that great. But this night was different from your average gathering of sweaty bodies. I was about to enter a pheromone party, where strangers would be inhaling my scent via a T-shirt I’d been wearing. It’s a fun if strange experiment. Singles are meeting in lots of odd ways these days. Perhaps sampling each other’s DNA the way you might go wine-tasting makes more sense than swiping through photos on a dating app.
This will surprise no one:
Online daters tend to pursue people who are “out of their league,” according to a new study that used a unique method to analyze a large online dating website in Boston and three other major US cities. The study determined people’s “desirability” by using the PageRank algorithm, which was created by the founders of Google to rank Web pages.
Ranking Every Kind of Pet by How Capable It Is of Loving You / MEL Magazine
Unscientific but fun:
Cat owners, you may just want to hit caps lock and skip to the comments right now