May 25, 2016

Aeon - The empty brain 5-15min

The human brain isn’t really empty, of course. But it does not contain most of the things people think it does – not even simple things such as ‘memories’. ... Forgive me for this introduction to computing, but I need to be clear: computers really do operate on symbolic representations of the world. They really store and retrieve. They really process. They really have physical memories. They really are guided in everything they do, without exception, by algorithms. ... Humans, on the other hand, do not – never did, never will. Given this reality, why do so many scientists talk about our mental life as if we were computers? ... A wealth of brain studies tells us, in fact, that multiple and sometimes large areas of the brain are often involved in even the most mundane memory tasks. When strong emotions are involved, millions of neurons can become more active.

Bloomberg - Kelly Slater Built the Perfect Wave. Can He Sell It to the World? 5-15min

Plenty of surf blog commenters fretted over the potential that a machine-generated swell down the road from an Indian casino could ruin the mystique of a sport that depends entirely on the whims of nature and that requires its best athletes to chase waves in beautiful and exotic places. Others welcomed the idea of a realistic artificial wave that could bring surfing to landlocked states and countries, allow surfers to refine their skills without waiting for nature to provide a swell, enable resorts to focus activity around surf pools instead of golf courses, and even, perhaps, provide a way for surfing to achieve full medal status by the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. ... Recreational man-made waves have been around since the 1970s. If you’ve been on a cruise ship, you may have seen a FlowRider, on which a rider on a special board attempts to surf in place while water rushes past. But the quest to develop an authentic simulacrum of what pros ride at the world’s top breaks has proved elusive. Every so often, a concept emerges, then washes out. ... From talking to surfers, Fincham learned that the best waves in nature were typically associated with a swell that could be described mathematically as a “solitary wave” or “soliton.” This is a wave that covers immense distances while maintaining its shape and velocity until something disrupts it—for instance, a reef or the shore. That became his target in the warehouse pool.

The New Yorker - What Would Happen If G.P.S. Failed? < 5min

The United States Air Force, which runs the G.P.S. Master Control Station, in Colorado, calls G.P.S. “the world’s only global utility.” Wholly owned by the U.S. government, the system is available free to everyone, everywhere; an ISIS terrorist glancing at his phone for a position fix benefits from the Pentagon’s largesse as much as a commuter on I-95. Since the first G.P.S. satellite was launched, in 1978, the system has steadily become the most powerful of its kind. (Other countries have navigation satellite networks, but none are as dependable or as widely available.) There are now around seven G.P.S. receivers on this planet for every ten people. Estimates of the system’s economic value often run into the trillions of dollars. ... The Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency recently determined that, within thirty seconds of a catastrophic G.P.S. shutdown, a position reading would have a margin of error the size of Washington, D.C. After an hour, it would be Montana-sized. Drivers might miss their freeway exits, but planes would also be grounded, ships would drift off course, commuter-rail systems would be tied up, and millions of freight-train cars with G.P.S. beacons would disappear from the map. ... Fortunately, a worldwide G.P.S. failure is unlikely. A hacker or terrorist would require either a weapon powerful enough to destroy the satellites or a way to infiltrate the heavily fortified Master Control Station. The bigger worry is spoofing, the transmission of a bogus G.P.S. signal that nearby receivers mistake for the real thing.

Smithsonian - The Inside Story of Christo's Floating Piers 5-15min

“Floating Piers will be three kilometers long. And will use 220,000 polyethylene cubes. Fifty centimeters by 50 centimeters. Two hundred twenty thousand screws. Interlocking.” ... He explains the financing—he pays for every project by selling his art, no donations, no sponsorships—and suggests she read the 2006 Harvard Business School case study to learn the details of how they do it. ... In the months and years leading up to every installation, he produces hundreds of smaller pieces of art: preparatory sketches, studies, models, paintings, collages. This he does alone. Today the New York studio is filled with scores of canvases in every size and shade of blue; lakes and piers in every medium from pen to pencil to pastel, crayon to paint to charcoal; islands and towers and abbeys mapped as if by satellite, or sketched in a few quick strokes; simple as a color block, or complex and precise as an architectural elevation. Some of the multipanel pieces are several meters wide by a meter or more high and sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars to a loyal circle of collectors.