No two snowflakes are alike, they say. And yet: We rarely get proof of that. Our eyes perceive snow not as individual, idiosyncratic crystals … but rather as uniformly fluffy flakes. And! When we try to get a better look at the true intricacy of snow by capturing one of the flakes … the thing melts. Snow is a cold and fickle thing.
Unless, that is, you are a photographer in the tradition of Wilson Bentley—one of the photographers who specializes in the highly technical art of snowflake imagery. The photographer Alexey Kljatov is one of those. And his Flickr page is full of close-up, highly magnified shots of snow flakes—dainty structures whose variety hints at the mind-boggling range of the humble, ephemeral flake.
And: You could take similar shots! If, that is, you have a fancy camera, some household tools, and a DIY attitude. You need, first of all, a glass surface, lighted by either an LED flashlight or natural light. (In the latter case, you need a dark background that will maximize the visibility of the flakes: Kljatov likes dark, woolen fabrics.)
A really important thing happened last month to New York City and the rest of the mid-Atlantic. This event will change the daily lives of millions of people, especially during the coldest months of winter. And, despite some protesters, it all went down with less fanfare than Jay Z and Beyonce going vegan for a month.
An $856-million pipeline expansion began ramping up service, allowing more natural gas to get to New York City consumers. The New York-New Jersey expansion project moves more gas the last few miles from Jersey, which is the terminus for much of the Marcellus Shale gas flowing out of Pennsylvania, into Manhattan. The Energy Information Administration called it “one of the biggest… expansions in the Northeast during the past two decades.” It will bring an additional 800 billion British thermal units (BTU) of gas to the area per day.
Two billion dollars. That’s how much online dating companies are expected to make in 2013 by helping lonely hearts find love on the Internet. The industry has been growing steadily for half a decade, so it’s no wonder that older digital yentas like Match.com and eHarmony.com are seeing competition from app startups like the enthusiastic Let’s Date, the gay and bisexual service Grindr, and the somewhat-forward Down (if you must ask the question “to do what?”, maybe you’re better off sticking with eHarmony). A number of these kinds of apps have earned the reputation of being meant for hook-ups rather than dating, whereas eHarmony and Match.com emphasize just the opposite: Both sites often crow about the number of marriages that started on their sites.
Hinge wants to be somewhere in the middle. It’s a “social app” that helps people find and rate friends of people they know on Facebook, which they say is better than the free-for-all on sites like OkCupid. ”Our goal is to create more high-potential first dates,” said the company’s founder, Justin McLeod, at The Atlantic's forum on small business on Wednesday.
Read more. [Image: Reuters]
German police are considering creating software that would allow them to identify right-wing music being played online or in public.
"The new software would let police quickly identify neo-Nazi rock music, which officials regard as a ‘gateway drug’ into the far-right youth scene," Der Spiegel reports. “The regional police office in the eastern state of Saxony has developed a prototype system of registering audio fingerprints from neo-Nazi rock.”
Germany has a regulatory infrastructure for dealing with media that it deems harmful to youth. The Federal Review Board for Media Harmful to Minors can place restrictions on music, making it harder for people under 18 to get access to it.
Read more. [Image: Shotspotter]
After Amazon’s Jeff Bezos announced that his company wanted to deliver packages with small unmanned aerial vehicles, many people have questioned the viability and wisdom of the idea.
Yesterday, we got one optimistic perspective from Andreas Raptopoulos, an entrepreneur who founded Matternet, which is developing drone-delivery technology.
But there are many other ways to answer the questions that I posed to Raptopoulos. So, today, we bring you an interview with the University of Washington’s Ryan Calo, who has become a leading authority on the ethical and policy implications of emerging technologies. Specifically, he’s focused on the problems at the nexus of drones and privacy in recent months.
To offer the most intriguing parallels, I tried to keep my questions to Calo as similar to the ones as I posed to Raptopoulos as possible.
The National Library of Norway is planning to digitize all the books by the mid 2020s.
Yes. All. The. Books. In Norwegian, at least. Hundreds of thousands of them. Every book in the library’s holdings.
By law, “all published content, in all media, [must] be deposited with the National Library of Norway,” so when the library is finished scanning, the entire record of a people’s language and literature will be machine-readable and sitting in whatever we call the cloud in 15 years.
If you happen to be in Norway, as measured by your IP address, you will be able to access all 20th-century works, even those still under copyright. Non-copyrighted works from all time periods will be available for download.
Read more. [Image: Reuters]
Without technology, the human body is a pretty proscribed instrument. We cannot write without a pen or pencil, nor eat hot soup without a bowl and, perhaps, a spoon.
And yet, only certain technologies are labeled “assistive technologies”: hearing aids, prostheses, wheelchairs. But surely our pens and pencils, bowls and spoons assist us as well. The human body is not very able all on its own.
My curiosity about how we think about these camps of “normal” and “assistive” technologies brought me to Sara Hendren, a leading thinker and writer on adaptive technologies and prosthetics. Her wonderful site, Abler, was recently syndicated by Gizmodo. I talked to her about why crutches don’t look cool, where the idea of “normal” comes from, and whether the 21st century might bring greater understanding of human diversity.
Want to read books on a screen?
Up to now, two large companies would make that easy for you.
Option #1: Apple’s iBooks system. Chipper and colorful, iBooks is easy to use if you own an iPhone or iPad. In its zeal to convince you that, yes, you are reading a book!, though, it can cartoonishly oversell the reading experience. (Case in point: Apple has patented its page-turning animation.)
Option #2: Amazon’s Kindle devices. The retail giant has both its own line of gray, hardy e-readers and also makes reading software for other platforms, including Apple and Android phones/tablets. It has lots of books to read, but, once purchased, you can only read them on Kindles. Some of its software, too, suffers for its extensibility. At its worst, the Kindle system can feel like Windows 95: closed, hard to leave, and a bit stodgy.
As of this week, though, readers have a new option. Starting immediately, Penguin UK will sell its ebooks on the Readmill system. You can now read the works of best-selling authors—including George Orwell, John LeCarré, and Zadie Smith—on the lesser-known but elegant reading system, Readmill.
Read more. [Image: Garry Knight/Flickr]
Two and a half years ago, Andreas Raptopoulos founded Matternet, a company devoted to creating a network of drones that could deliver lightweight packages. It’s starting with medical applications, with plans to extend from there to “bring to the world its next-generation transportation system.” To hear Raptopoulous tell it, when the histories are written in a few decades, people will think: electric grid, road infrastructure, telephone lines, Internet, mobile phones, and … tiny flying drones.
“We think about it not just as a point-to-point delivery, but as a network. What can you do if you have many stations of these flying drones?” Raptopoulous said. “What can you do with a system like this in the developing world, in our cities, in our megacities? We’re convinced that it’s going to be the next big paradigm in transportation.”
Of course, last night, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos revealed Amazon Prime Air, his company’s plans to use drones at some point in the future to deliver packages to customers.
It all sounds a little crazy. And we can all think of many objections to drone delivery networks. They won’t have enough range! People will shoot them down! What if they crash! They can’t operate in places where you can’t get a steady GPS signal!
Given that Amazon seems unlikely to give real answers to these questions, I contacted Raptopoulos, who has spent the last several years deeply engaged with these problems since working on a project at Singularity University in 2011.
Read more. [Image: Amazon]
iPhones, staplers, aluminum foil. Humans are surrounded and defined by their technologies. We might even say: Technology makes us human.
But that’s not quite true, because we know that other animals employ and deploy tools, too. Primates use twiggy Roto-Rooters to search for bugs. All sorts of creatures make homes for themselves; bowerbirds sculpt fantastical ones.
And now we know it’s not quite true either, historically. New archeological evidence indicates that our ancestors used a certain kind of tool—a “complex tool,” in the parlance of anthropologists—when they were still our ancestors.
That is: They threw spear-tipped javelins, to catch and kill animals.
Read more. [Image: José-Manuel Benito Álvarez]