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Saturday, April 30, 2016

Can We Banish The Phantom Traffic Jam?, by David K Gibson, BBC

A traffic jam, by definition, is caused by all of us. The root cause may be an accident, or construction, or the crush of mid-sized SUVs leaving a Billy Joel concert, but if you’re part of the traffic flow, you’re part of the problem.

But for some kinds of traffic jams — those that appear for no obvious reason — there’s a not-obvious solution. A single driver, armed with a rudimentary knowledge of fluid dynamics, can dissipate or prevent a miles-long jam. With the same methods, drivers working cooperatively (and aided by some here-and-now technology) could significantly and continuously reduce traffic backups on highways. And we don’t have to wait for self-driving cars to do it.

Human Extinction Isn't That Unlikely, by Robinson Meyer, The Atlantic

Nuclear war. Climate change. Pandemics that kill tens of millions.

These are the most viable threats to globally organized civilization. They’re the stuff of nightmares and blockbusters—but unlike sea monsters or zombie viruses, they’re real, part of the calculus that political leaders consider everyday. And according to a new report from the U.K.-based Global Challenges Foundation, they’re much more likely than we might think.

Dead Man’s Sperm, by Jenny Morber, Mosaic

What drives the partners of men who have died to try and have their babies?

More Than Magic Mushrooms: Playing With Food In Video Games, by Chris Mohney, Serious Eats

There are a million reasons food appears in video games, which is to say, there is only one reason: Everybody eats. Consider Pac-Man, a game only about eating. Pac-Man eats dots, just by moving through a maze. He cannot avoid eating. At first, the only other thing in the maze besides Pac-Man and his dots are the ghosts, which kill him (until he can eat them, too, by first ingesting a "power pellet").

To encourage the player to truly engage with the game—to take chances rather than merely avoid the ghosts—Pac-Man dangles special bonus-point items in the maze. But, in a crudely rendered game, it's crucial to communicate that these items are not only harmless but highly desirable, and worth risking Pac-Man's life to acquire. The game's designers were faced with a challenge: how to make these bonus items automatically enticing to a human player? The answer was simple. You design them as food.