A Buddhist Funeral Service for Robot Dogs

James Burch for NatGeo:

Hiroshi Funabashi, A-Fun’s repairs supervisor, observes that the company’s clients describe their pets’ complaints in such terms as “aching joints.” Funabashi realized that they were not seeing a piece of electronic equipment, but a family member.

And [former Sony employee] Nobuyuki Norimatsu came to regard the broken AIBOs his company received as “organ donors.” Out of respect for the owners’ emotional connection to the “deceased” devices, Norimatsu and his colleagues decided to hold funerals.

We haven’t found red (long read)

The Quest for the Next Billion Dollar Color:

Mas Subramanian, the biggest celebrity in the uncelebrated world of pigment research, glances at a cluster of widemouthed jars containing powders in every color of the rainbow, save one.

During his nine-year sojourn into the strange, finicky realm of color, Subramanian, a materials science professor at Oregon State University at Corvallis, has grown infatuated with a form of chemistry that he, like many of his peers, once considered decidedly low-tech. His renown derives from his accidental creation, in 2009, of a new pigment, a substance capable of imparting color onto another material. YInMn was the first blue pigment discovered in more than 200 years.

It isn’t only the exotic blueness that has excited the color industry, but also the other hues the pigment can generate. Subramanian soon realized that by adding copper, he could make a green. With iron, he got orange. Zinc and titanium, a muted purple.

Scanning these creations, scattered across his workbench like evidence of a Willy Wonka bender, he frowns. “We’ve made other colors,” he says. “But we haven’t found red.”


Listen to the story here.


More long reads here.

700 Sharks In The Dark

A single shark is too clumsy to catch even a somnolent grouper. A pack of them is more likely to flush the fish from its hiding place and encircle it. Then they tear it apart. Seen live, the attack is a frenzy that explodes before us. Only later, thanks to a special camera that captures a thousand images a second, are we able to watch the sharks in slow motion and appreciate their efficiency and precision.

Incredible pictures and story from Laurent Ballesta and his team.

Watch Dogs 2 – A Tale Told Before Its Time

David Rayfield:

But let’s turn the clock back to 8th November 2016 again. Trump is elected as US President because of three things: 25% of America votes for him, 25% of America votes for Hillary and 50% of America chose not to vote at all. The world’s jaw drops to the floor. Everyone underestimated this gibbering, damaged man-child and now he’s got his finger on the button. Nobody is in a state to comprehend everyday life because nobody is talking about anything else.

Every conversation inevitably turned to Trump and how this could have happened. What do we do now? What could we have done differently? How badly will this affect everyone outside of America even though the rest of the world had no say in this catastrophe? What we took as normal is thrown out the window and we begin to contemplate just how crazy everything will become. The entire world has changed.

One week later, Watch Dogs 2 is released.

I loved Watch Dogs 2. Loved it. It’s fascinating to revisit it as a piece of art, and examine the themes and narrative in the context of today’s techno-political climate.

PS, Ubisoft, please give this game the 4K update for Xbox that it so obviously deserves. y u no

Citizen scientists discovered a new aurora. They called it “Steve”.

Steve, left. (Krista Trinder)

The Atlantic:

This new feature differs from the long-studied “classical” aurora in several ways. It can be seen from much closer to the equator than its more famous twin, and it emanates from a spot twice as high in the sky. It was also first described and studied not by cultivated researchers—like those who coined the moniker aurora borealis—but by devoted amateurs. They were among the first to photograph the ethereal streak of purple light, and they were the first to give it a name.

That name is Steve.

Using only the Pixel 2 XL to photograph the Geneva Motor Show

Vlad Savov left his DSLR at home and relied solely on his Pixel for the entire show.

I literally flew in to Geneva with a Google Pixel 2 XL, my laptop, and the hope that my high esteem for Google’s camera wasn’t misguided. After taking more than 2,000 shots, publishing 303 of them (so far), and then collecting compliments rather than complaints about my photos, I can say that this experiment has been a resounding success.

Amazing results.

Photo: Vlad Savov / The Verge

Steve Francis: I Got a Story to Tell

Steve Francis writing for The Players’ Tribune:

I still live in Houston to this day, and I can walk around this city and no matter what, people got my back. Even when I was going through some dark times the past few years, and I got locked up, everybody in Houston still had my back. How many guys who only played in a city for five years, and only made the playoffs once, get that much love?

I think it’s because of the energy in the city when me and Yao were together. That was my guy. When he came to Houston, we were some Odd Couple motherfuckers, man. A dude from China and a dude from D.C., and it wasn’t even language that was the problem. That was just a part of it. I’m partially deaf in my left ear, and Yao is partially deaf in his right ear, and we’re trying to speak to one another in basic English.

He’s turning his head, Huh?

I’m turning my head, What? Huh?

A genuinely entertaining and well written short-form memoir by Steve Francis covering what amounts to his whole life – from the death of his mother and step father, dealing drugs and visiting prisons, to Hakeem, Yao, Gary Payton and Shawn Marion.

A must read for any NBA fan.

Ends and means

Google’s handling of HTTPS and AMP is fascinating to watch. It seems that really smart people are worried about how this will all end up.

I find myself identifying strongly with this piece from Jeremy Keith:

I remember feeling very heartened to see WikiPedia, Google and others take a stand on January 18th, 2012. But I also remember feeling uneasy. In this particular case, companies were lobbying for a cause I agreed with. But what if they were lobbying for a cause I didn’t agree with? Large corporations using their power to influence politics seems like a very bad idea. Isn’t it still a bad idea, even if I happen to agree with the cause?

There’s an uncomfortable tension here. When do the ends justify the means? Isn’t the whole point of having principles that they hold true even in the direst circumstances? Why even claim that corporations shouldn’t influence politics if you’re going to make an exception for net neutrality? Why even claim that free speech is sacrosanct if you make an exception for nazi scum?

Those two examples are pretty extreme and I can easily justify the exceptions to myself. Net neutrality is too important. Stopping fascism is too important. But where do I draw the line? At what point does something become “too important?”

There are more subtle examples of corporations wielding their power. Google are constantly using their monopoly position in search and browser marketshare to exert influence over website-builders. In theory, that’s bad. But in practice, I find myself agreeing with specific instances. Prioritising mobile-friendly sites? Sounds good to me. Penalising intrusive ads? Again, that seems okey-dokey to me. But surely that’s not the point. So what if I happen to agree with the ends being pursued? The fact that a company the size and power of Google is using their monopoly for any influence is worrying, regardless of whether I agree with the specific instances.

Torching the Modern-Day Library of Alexandria (long read)

James Somers writing for The Atlantic:

Google’s secret effort to scan every book in the world, codenamed “Project Ocean,” began in earnest in 2002 when Larry Page and Marissa Mayer sat down in the office together with a 300-page book and a metronome. Page wanted to know how long it would take to scan more than a hundred-million books, so he started with one that was lying around. Using the metronome to keep a steady pace, he and Mayer paged through the book cover-to-cover. It took them 40 minutes.

With that 40-minute number in mind, Page approached the University of Michigan, his alma mater and a world leader in book scanning, to find out what the state of the art in mass digitization looked like. Michigan told him that at the current pace, digitizing their entire collection—7 million volumes—was going to take about a thousand years. Page, who’d by now given the problem some thought, replied that he thought Google could do it in six.

An absolutely fascinating dive into the history of Project Ocean, covering how it started at Google, how Google scanned the books (camera arrays, clever algorithms and human page turners), and the years-long legal wrangle between Google, the Authors Guild and the DOJ.

It’s there. The books are there. People have been trying to build a library like this for ages—to do so, they’ve said, would be to erect one of the great humanitarian artifacts of all time—and here we’ve done the work to make it real and we were about to give it to the world and now, instead, it’s 50 or 60 petabytes on disk, and the only people who can see it are half a dozen engineers on the project who happen to have access because they’re the ones responsible for locking it up.

Interestingly Page later opined during a Q&A that maybe it would be a good idea to “set aside a part of the world” to try out some “exciting things you could do that are illegal or not allowed by regulation.” He was roundly criticised for being an annoying, out-of-touch billionaire at the time, but perhaps he was just being wistful.

A Researcher Just Found A 9,000-Video Network Of YouTube Conspiracy Videos

Buzzfeed:

Albright said the results suggest that the conspiracy genre is embedded so deeply into YouTube’s video culture that it could be nearly impossible to eradicate.

“It’s already tipped in favor of the conspiracists, I think,” Albright told BuzzFeed News. “There are a handful of debunking videos in the data. They can’t make up for the thousands of videos with false claims and rumors.”

Albright also suggested that the proliferation of these videos makes it more attractive for others to create this content.

To anyone who dabbles in occasional conspiracy-theory deep dives on YouTube, this rings true. There is an absolute avalanche of dipshit conspiracies on YouTube, and most people lack the mental dexterity to tell that a video is playing loose with the facts – especially if it meshes nicely with their existing worldview.

Less common is the conspiracy parody. The Outline absolutely nailed it with this gem:

I’ve often thought a conspiracy channel would be an easy way to make some quick beer money, but it seems I’m much too late to the game.

Or am I?

Yes, I am.

Where the ‘Crisis Actor’ Conspiracy Theory Comes From

Jason Koebler, Motherboard:

The term ‘crisis actor’ has been in the news a lot lately, because conspiracy theorists have accused survivors of the Douglas High School mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, of being actors—people paid to pretend they witnessed a horrible tragedy that actually never happened and was instead staged by the government in order to garner the political will necessary to ban guns.

To be clear, there is no evidence this is actually the case. Conspiracy theorists have questioned the legitimacy of people who lived through a horrific shooting—watched their friends and classmates slaughtered—in an attempt to harass and silence their political activism.

It wasn’t until relatively recently that conspiracy theorists were audacious enough to suggest that terrorist attacks and mass shootings actually didn’t happen at all.

A good backgrounder on the origins of the horseshit “Crisis Actor” conspiracies.

Semi-regular reminder that false-flaggers are scum.

Reading List

A collection of #longreads from the last week.


800

New York Above 800 Feet

We are currently in the midst of another clambering epoch. The city has 21 buildings with roof heights above 800 feet; seven of them have been completed in the past 15 years (and three of those the past 36 months). In this special New York Issue, we explore the high-altitude archipelago that spreads among the top floors of these 21 giants.


dogs

A New Origin Story for Dogs

Some say wolves were domesticated around 10,000 years ago, while others say 30,000. Some claim it happened in Europe, others in the Middle East, or East Asia. Some think early human hunter-gatherers actively tamed and bred wolves. Others say wolves domesticated themselves, by scavenging the carcasses left by human hunters, or loitering around campfires, growing tamer with each generation until they became permanent companions.

It still blows my mind that all breeds of modern domesticated dogs came from wolves.


iceland

Iceland’s Ghost Fleet

Ironically, the same Icelandic search team that was dispatched more than four decades ago to try and rescue the crew at the crash site is now being dispatched every single day to rescue tourists trying to find the crash site.

But even as viral images and music videos are luring crowds to come find this dead plane, the story behind its final descent has remained a mystery. No one seems to know why this thing crashed, why it was abandoned, and why it’s still lying on the beach.

UK Artists Make More Money from Vinyl than YouTube

Vinyl | punyweakling.com

“The fact that sales revenues dipped in a record year for British music shows clearly that something is fundamentally broken in the music market,” BPI chief executive Geoff Taylor told the Guardian. So who’s responsible? Taylor places the blame on “dominant tech platforms like YouTube,” which he says are “dictating terms so they can grab the value from music for themselves, at the expense of artists.”

Recorded music as a consumer item is less than 100 years old as an industry, and the tech behind it has changed rapidly. Taking a long view historically, there’s been very little stability in the music industry as a commercial undertaking at all. The Internet has redefined an industry that’s already been completely redefined multiple times since records became popular. We’re still at the very start of this adjustment period, and the entrenched entities are flailing about a bit while the dust is starting to settle.

Blaming dominant tech platforms for year-on-year discrepancies is myopic, but the music industry as a whole – and record companies in particular – have never been particularly visionary beyond the hunt for profits. “…dictating terms so they can grab the value from music for themselves, at the expense of artists” – yeah, that sounds familiar.

Read: Music artists are still making more money from vinyl than YouTube (qz.com)


Related:

Subscription-based music streaming, on the other hand, has yet to prove itself to be a viable model, even after hundreds of millions of investment dollars raised and spent. For our part, we are committed to offering an alternative that we know works. As long as there are fans who care about the welfare of their favorite artists and want to help them keep making music, we will continue to provide that direct connection. And as long as there are fans who want to own, not rent, their music, that is a service we will continue to provide, and that is a model whose benefits we will continue to champion.? – Bandcamp

Blerging About I/O

Chris Lacy kindly asked me to join him on The Blerg, re-treading some ground from his first I/O Keynote breakdown with Koush Dutta.

Chris had more thoughts on the keynote in the days since, and wanted to get me on the horn to sound out a few ideas and hear my impressions of the presentation. Have a listen here:

The Blerg #26: Google I/O Keynote followup with Karl Smith

…and be sure to subscribe to The Blerg on your favourite podcasting app.


Links: