Tuesday, 22 April, 2014
John Dvorak, Slate
Once, seismologists correctly predicted a major quake. They were only 12 years off on the timing.
Frank Swain, BBC
As director of the Laboratory of Survival and Longevity at the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Rostock, Germany, Vaupel studies longevity and survival in human and animal populations. He tells me that the pattern of improvements to mortality has shifted greatly in the past 100 years. Before 1950, most of the gains in life expectancy were made by combating the high infant mortality that Huseland noted. Since then, however, it’s been the over-60s and most recently the over-80s who’ve seen the greatest decreases in mortality.
In other words, we are not just surviving childhood in greater numbers, we’re living longer – a lot longer.
Amir Alexander, New York Times
The idea of parallel universes, in which events diverge from those in our own reality, is usually the domain of science fiction. But Dr. Tegmark is a scientist, not a novelist, and he makes a powerful case, leading us step by logical step from well-established mainstream science into ever stranger territory.
Graciela Mochkofsky, The Paris Review
Seven years ago, a stolen first edition of Borges’s early poems was returned to Argentina’s National Library. But was it the right copy?
Monday, 21 April, 2014
Donald Low, The Kent Ridge Common
The myths matter for public policy because they shroud almost every discussion of inequality and of how our social security system should be organised in a thick and unquestioned set of assumptions. They act as an ideological blinker, and cause the policymaker to respond reflexively to any suggestion to redistribute incomes and reduce inequality with the argument that doing so will compromise the efficient working of markets. The myths matter because they reduce the ability of the Singapore government to pursue pragmatic and creative solutions to the challenge of inequality. And like many other myths and ideologies, they prevent a comprehensive and objective assessment of the policy alternatives successfully pursued by governments elsewhere.
Justin Fox, The Atlantic
The reason some of these moneymaking ideas seem fresh or strange or maybe even a little dodgy now is that we’ve just been through roughly half a century during which news organizations could fund themselves more than adequately with straightforward advertising, supplemented with a bit of subscription revenue. But it didn’t always work that way. And the immediate future of news media may end up looking a lot more like the pre-1950s landscape than what we’ve become accustomed to since.
Louis Menand, New Yorker
Updike spent almost his entire life writing; he had very few professional tribulations; and whatever personal adventures he had, no matter how private, he turned into fiction. Adam Begley decided to meet the difficulty head on by treating Updike’s life and Updike’s writing as mutually informing. His “Updike” (Harper) is essentially an extended essay in biographical criticism, an insight into the man through the work and the work through the man.
Shirley Jackson, New Yorker
Henry Hitchings, Wall Street Journal
From Dickens we get 'butterfingers,' from Lewis Carroll 'chortle.' Shakespeare's word for a half-smile—'smilet'—never caught on.
Sunday, 20 April, 2014
Olivia Sorrel-Dejerine, BBC
This is the era of hyper-tech espionage, encrypted emails and mindboggling cryptography. But you can hear a very old-fashioned form of espionage on shortwave radio.
Hugh Schofield, BBC
Hard to believe for a country supposedly devoted to the cult of coffee, but today French blends are the toast of tea cognoscenti from Nanjing to New York.
Robert H. Frank, New York Times
Renowned art originals will always be scarce, and so will high-quality mined diamonds, at least while De Beers holds sway. But what will happen to the lofty prices of such goods if there is an inexhaustible supply of inexpensive perfect copies? Economic reasoning can help answer this question. It can also shed light on how new technologies might alter traditional ways in which people demonstrate their wealth to others, or might change what society embraces as tokens of commitment and other gifts.
David Auerbach, n+1
Microsoft and AOL were both, obviously, giant companies, and soon the press got hold of the story. On July 24, the New York Times put it on the front page: “In Cyberspace, Rivals Skirmish Over Messaging.” It was like reading about a boxing match that you yourself were in. AOL kept blocking us, wrote the paper of record. “But Microsoft refused to roll over. Late Friday, the software giant said it had revised its MSN Messenger program to circumvent America Online’s roadblock. Within hours, America Online answered that challenge with a new block.”
I framed the article. My name wasn’t in it, but it didn’t matter. That was me!
Saturday, 19 April, 2014
Lisa Guenther, Aeon
We know solitary confinement annihilates the minds of its victims — but what does it do to the rest of us?
Sam Kean, Wall Street Journal
By every fair reckoning viruses, bacteria and other one-celled organisms dominate life on earth. Bacteria outnumber all plants and animals by several orders of magnitude, and viruses outnumber even bacteria. Microbes also outweigh us. Just the bacteria found in the ocean weigh more than all the elephants on earth—millions of times more. Yet we haven't even been able to grow the vast majority of microbes in the lab in order to study them. That fact often surprises people—what are petri dishes for, after all? Two new books force us to look more closely—much more closely—at the living world. The view isn't always comfortable or affirming.
George Johnson, New York Times
What was it like to be uprooted from your home in your first years of marriage and plunked down at a remote outpost in a far-off mountain land?
In her first novel, “The Wives of Los Alamos,” TaraShea Nesbit conjures forth that lost time. Thousands of civilians, including young couples just out of the university, lived behind the secret project’s checkpoints. While their husbands worked a few miles away in the Tech Areas, the wives, some with advanced degrees of their own, lived in a makeshift suburb plagued, like any construction site, with blowing dust and mud.
Anthony Gottlieb, New York Times
In Rebecca Newberger Goldstein’s new book, “Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won’t Go Away,” Plato turns up not only at the search engine’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., but also with the obstreperous host of a cable news talk show, as a consultant to an advice columnist, and in several other places a long way from ancient Athens.
Mat Honan, Wired
How Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are rushing to cash in on cannabis.
Friday, 18 April, 2014
Blake Morrison, The Guardian
Adam Begley's fine biography reveals a writer enthralled by the detail of his own experience.
Pete Wells, New York Times
Now, instead of worrying that Mr. Chang’s menu will disappear overnight, his admirers play a different kind of shell game. On any given day he will probably be cooking in a Peter Chang restaurant, but which one?
Daniel Smith, New York Times
“I had a lot of friends who were writing about climate change and doing a lot of good work on it,” he told me during a break from his festival duties. “I was just listening and looking at the facts and thinking: Wow, we are really screwed here. We are not going to stop this from happening.”
Alex Clark, New Statesman
Wayne Curtis, The Smart Set
They might have the appropriate Bistro Collection Café Chairs. But everything else is slightly awry and amiss, as if designed by someone whose understanding of European café culture arose from having once, long ago, seen the Disney film The Aristocats.
Rebecca Brown, The Stranger
But it isn't like that for everyone.
Maybe, really, it isn't like that at all.
Thursday, 17 April, 2014
Michael Dirda, Washington Post
There’s no subtitle to this biography of writer John Updike (1932-2009), perhaps because the only logical one is a rather old-fashioned phrase: “His Life and Works.” Recognizing how relentlessly Updike’s fiction draws on its author’s own experiences, Adam Begley structures his book as a kind of double helix with two interlaced narrative strands. In one, he provides the facts of Updike’s 76 years in the world, in the other he shows how this most writerly of writers used his work to probe and reflect on nearly every aspect of his life.
Jon Gertner, Fast Company
Astro Teller is sharing a story about something bad. Or maybe it's something good. At Google X, it's sometimes hard to know the difference.
Francine Douwes Whitney, The Smart Set
When Barbie appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated, all the usual Barbie hate ensued. For me, it feels so 30 years ago.
Wednesday, 16 April, 2014
Amanda Lee Koe, Asymptote
Daid Vognar, The Huffington Post
In his new book Trying Not to Try, the University of British Columbia Asian Studies and Embodied Cognition professor Edward Slingerland treats us to a work of seminal importance. Yet never was there such an important book that takes itself so lightly. Slingerland explains the correspondence between ancient Chinese philosophical ideas about wu-wei, or doing by not doing, and modern neuroscience. In doing so in erudite fashion, he also manages to discuss Woody Allen, magic mushrooms, his daughter's storybooks, Luke Skywalker and how hard it is to get a date when you're desperate.
John Gribbin, Wall Street Journal
Does the neutrino, the 'outlaw' particle that weighs less than one millionth of the weight of an electron, hold the secret to the universe?
Chris Beckett, The Atlantic
Why do so many readers still look down on the genre of Orwell and Atwood?