Vol. 2.30 | 07.26.19

Vol. 2 | #30 | 07.26.19

In Defense of Libraries

There’s a way of looking at the world based upon an often unspoken assumption: that most people will screw you if given the chance. Through these goggles of pessimism, something as innocuous and wholesome as a public library becomes a potential threat. How, you ask? Ask book publishers like Macmillan, who has decided to expand an “embargo” scheme that limits public libraries from buying more than one copy of new release e-books, under the misguided belief that making books available to readers through libraries leads to fewer books purchases, thereby costing publishers and authors revenue. Yes, while this theory may appear to make sense on paper, it doesn’t prove true in reality. Libraries stimulate in the people publishers are selling to (READERS) interest in the very things publishers are selling (BOOKS).

Who Wants to Become a Cyborg?

Elon Musk and his company, Neuralink, say they’re may be ready for human trials for their brain implant/AI interface as soon as next year. Using a custom-designed implanting robot, they’ve successfully implanted super-thin wires (about 1/3 width of human hair) into the brains of rats, and downloaded their brain activity via “a USB-C port in its head.” Any volunteers? 

Tech Trying to Match Your Brain’s Horsepower

Speaking of the collision between brain science and tech development, read this to truly appreciate how remarkable and mystifying … magical, even … the human brain is. Yes, our brains can still grossly outperform even the most power computers when it comes to processing information, but when you factor in the difference in energy spent doing so, it’s not even a contest. 

It’s Like Uber, for Ear Piercing

In the future, every single one of life’s moments will itself be an event, and there will be an app that will deliver what you need for a celebration worthy of posting to Instagram. Note that the brain behind this startup idea has already convinced investors to part with $4 MILLION (!!!) in venture capital funding. 

External Airbags That Deploy BEFORE Impact

Think about this for a second: not in the milliseconds between detecting an impact but before *you* feel the impact, but before the impact actually happens. The German company developing this capability calls it “predictive crash sensing.”

Vol 2.28 | 07.12.19

Vol. 2 | #28 | 07.12.19

The Career-Limiting Move That Took Apollo to the Moon

Read my latest article for Forbes about the story of Dr. John Houbolt, one of my favorite stories from the incredible history of the Apollo program. How many middle-aged middle-managers in large organizations with families and mortgages and the like would be willing to risk career suicide in order to make sure the leadership at the top knew that you believed the whole organization was going about its mission all wrong? That’s what Houbolt actually did in 1961, and it was the reason Apollo 11 successfully answered Kennedy’s call to land men on the moon and return them safely to Earth before the end of the decade.

Restoring Mission Control

It took 3 years, $5 million, but the important thing is it’s done and done in time for next week’s #Apollo50th anniversary. Just looking at the photo of the frozen-in-time Mission Control Center with all the tiny vintage details in place gives me the feels. After our family road trip next week to be at Kennedy Space Center for the July 20th celebration, making the trek out to Houston is now officially on the “must do that” list.

Should Moonshot 2.0 Be An International Effort?

That’s the case the editors of Scientific American make in this month’s issue: that for geopolitical reasons, 2019 is not 1969. Nearly everyone is familiar with the Cold War origins of the Apollo program’s raison d’être — to beat the Russians. Interestingly enough, the same JFK who responded to the Soviet’s achievement in launching Yuri Gagarin into orbit by laying down the lunar mission gauntlet would later propose that the first lunar landing mission should be a joint American-Soviet effort. Kennedy didn’t just float this idea privately; he announced it from the speaker’s podium before the United Nations General Assembly, during his final speech before that body on September 20, 1963.

You Only Thought You Owned That Book

If you bought an e-book from Microsoft over the last two years since their digital content store opened, then you’re about to get a full refund whether you want it not. The catch? — Microsoft is going to delete your book … whether you want it to or not. While many point to this as a sign that digital media — whether books, movies, or music — is less permanent a product than its physical media sibling, that isn’t the case. The problem is the use of DRM (Digital Rights Managament) software, and if you don’t know what that is, read this … because you’re gonna want to know.

Where Growth Mindset Went Wrong

If you’re a fan of Carol Dweck’s book Mindset and the “growth mindset” movement that has come from it, you should read this. Dweck herself says many are missing the point of her work, and she is out to try to correct the record.

Vol. 2.27 | 07.05.19

Vol. 2 | #27 | 07.05.19

Below is the complete text of the Declaration of Independence, taken from the National Archives at archives.gov. Everyone should read it at least once to know why the American colonies were unanimously willing to commit treason by publicly repudiating their allegiance to the King of England and declaring their independence as a free land of liberty.

In Congress, July 4, 1776

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
 He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Samuel Adams
John Adams
Robert Treat Paine
Elbridge Gerry
John Hancock

Rhode Island
Stephen Hopkins
William Ellery

Roger Sherman
Samuel Huntington
William Williams
Oliver Wolcott

New Hampshire
Matthew Thornton
Josiah Bartlett
William Whipple

New York
William Floyd
Philip Livingston
Francis Lewis
Lewis Morris

New Jersey
Richard Stockton
John Witherspoon
Francis Hopkinson
John Hart
Abraham Clark

Caesar Rodney
George Read
Thomas McKean

Robert Morris
Benjamin Rush
Benjamin Franklin
John Morton
George Clymer
James Smith
George Taylor
James Wilson
George Ross

Samuel Chase
William Paca
Thomas Stone
Charles Carroll of Carrollton

George Wythe
Richard Henry Lee
Thomas Jefferson
Benjamin Harrison
Thomas Nelson, Jr.
Francis Lightfoot Lee
Carter Braxton

North Carolina
William Hooper
Joseph Hewes
John Penn

South Carolina
Edward Rutledge
Thomas Heyward, Jr.
Thomas Lynch, Jr.
Arthur Middleton

Button Gwinnett
Lyman Hall
George Walton
Vol 2.26 | 06.28.19

Vol. 2 | #26 | 06.28.19

The World’s Dumbest Idea

Every time there’s a news story about some big megacorp’s latest share buyback plan, or a leading politician proposes new legislative rules to regulate them (they come from both the left and the right), I’m reminded of the fundamental debate about the proper purpose of a company. Is it, as has been the oft-repeated mantra for the past 50 years, to “maximize shareholder value?” Or, is that really the “dumbest idea in the world” as former GE CEO Jack Welch once put it? This Forbes article from 2 years ago neatly summarizes the arguments for and against, and the history behind their development, with a nod to a book I’ve mentioned before by the recently departed Professor Lynn Stout.

The Exciting News of Martian Methane

When you hear about methane hear on Earth, you may think about things like bovine flatulence and its effect on climate change. In reality, it’s not the cow that’s to blame for the methane, but the microbes living in the cow’s many guts. Methane and other natural gases are an organic byproduct of microbes doing their microbial thing, which is why the detection of a huge spike in methane on Mars by NASA’s Curiosity rover is such a big deal. While there are geological processes that can also produce a rise in methane, the prospect of finding evidence of even microbial life on Mars has scientists buzzing. 

Heartbeat Identification

All the raging about facial recognition technology could end up becoming quite moot if this tech that uses lasers to measure a person’s identifiable heartbeat pattern from up to 200 meters away becomes a thing. I’ve heard of other unique biological markers besides fingerprints before like irises, but this one is a new one for me.

The Rhythm of Good Writing

Just a magnificently succinct example of how rhythm in writing works and why it matters.

The Art of Mapping the Sky

Having the work of Eleanor Lutz cross my scopes truly is one of those moments of networking serendipity that makes the Internet so special. Eleanor is a Ph.D. student in biology and a dataviz artist on the side who announced in June that she would be releasing 10 maps of the heavens that she’s designed using open source data found on the web, Python programming and Photoshop/Illustrator skills, and 18 months of her free time. Here’s just one of the stunning pieces of art that she has published to her blog so far, with more coming each week:

IMAGE: Eleanor Lutz, Tabletopwhale.com

Equally impressive is her effort to truly share her art beyond just the map/images themselves. Eleanor posts all of the data and coding she used to GitHub along with an in-depth tutorial on how she did it, which is worth scanning just to gain an appreciation for the work that goes into making such stunning displays of excellence.

Check out these others that she’s released so far as well:

Vol. 2.25 | 06.21.19

Vol. 2 | #25 | 06.21.19

Smart Phones Are Making People Horny

Australian researchers studying thousands of x-ray images have discovered a disturbing trend: bone spurs developing on the base of the back of people’s skulls, creating a horn-like protrusion. The cause? — years spent in a posture with the head tilted downward, staring at a smartphone screen, putting extra load on the tiny muscles in the back of the neck, to which the body responds by generating new bone growth to compensate. This is, quite literally, an image of how environmental factors trigger biological adaptions. In other words, this is a snapshot of human evolution in process.

(And no, I’m clearly not above a click-bait headline myself, especially when it essentially writes itself. But they say public confession is good for the soul, so…)

IMAGE: Washington Post

A Watched Clock Never Varies

When you set up a physics experiment to closely monitor 12 atomic clocks for even the slightest variation over the course of 14 years, then this is big news. Why? Because the lack of variation in the way these clocks measure time — by measuring light particle wave emissions from an atom that oscillate at a constant rate of several billion times per second — over an extended period of time proves a fundamental principle of physics: that the rules of physics don’t change over time and place. Read this to find out how watching clocks proved this, and why it matters.

GE’s Comically Complicated “Smart” Bulb Procedure

Watch this and just try to avoid thinking “This has to be a spoof.” This is literally more complicated than the famous unlimited lives cheat code for Contra back in the day. Say it with me, Nintendo generation: up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, Start …

RoboCop Now On Duty

While it looks more like a rolling trashcan than even an R2 unit, let alone the muscular law enforcing machinery of the original RoboCop, the HP RoboCop unit has two things working for it that the others don’t: it’s an actual, real thing, and it sports an impressive 360 degree field of vision HD surveillance camera and recording capability.

I’m sure nothing can go wrong with this idea…

The Continuing Mystery of Flight MH370

It’s been over five years since the Boeing 777 operating as Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 disappeared from radar after leaving Malaysian airspace en route to Beijing, China. Like a bad network drama, the most advanced airliner in the world just disappeared without a trace, with nearly 300 souls aboard. It would nearly a year and a half before a single piece of wreckage was found: a piece of a wing that washed ashore a tiny French island in the western Indian Ocean. This is a long but fascinating read on the mysterious tragedy, and why what little evidentiary signs there are all point to a suicidal pilot as the cause.