July 08, 2014

5 Intriguing Things

1. Food and memory, food and Mars, food and pretending to be on Mars

"Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) is a four-year project: a series of missions meant to simulate and study the challenges of long-term space travel, in anticipation of mankind’s eventual trip to Mars. This first mission’s focus was food.... I asked Kate who the mission was harder on and she says it was harder on her wife. 'When a soldier is deployed, there’s a narrative that goes along with that. When an astronaut goes to space, there’s a freaking narrative that goes with that. When someone leaves to pretend to go to space, there’s no narrative that goes along with that. You’re making it up. You’re like, ‘Why is this important again? Why is this something that needs to be done?’ In some ways it doesn’t. It’s not the hero sort of role of a soldier or an astronaut. From many points of view, it’s kind of ridiculous.'"


2. Ed Felten on the ethics of A/B testing.

"Let’s start with an obvious point: Some uses of A/B testing are clearly ethical. For example, if a company wants to know which shade of blue to use in their user interface, they might use A/B testing to try a few shades and measure user’s responses. This is ethical because no user is harmed, especially if the only result is that the service better serves users. Here’s another point that should be obvious: Some uses of A/B testing are clearly unethical. Consider a study where a service falsely tells teens that their parents are dead, or a study that tries to see if a service can incite ethnic violence in a war-torn region. Both studies are unethical because they cause significant harm or risk of harm. So the question is not whether A/B testing is ethical, but rather where we should draw the line between ethical and unethical uses. A consequence of this is that any argument that implies that A/B testing is always ethical or always unethical must be wrong."


3. Writing advice from the CIA.

  • Keep the language crisp and pungent; prefer the forthright to the pompous and ornate.
  • Do not stray from the subject; omit the extraneous, no matter how brilliant it may seem or even be.
  • Favor the active voice and shun streams of polysyllables and prepositional phrases.
  • Keep sentences and paragraphs short, and vary the structure of both.
  • Be frugal in the use of adjectives and adverbs; let nouns and verbs show their own power.


4. Sara Angelucci's phantasmagorical, faux-Victorian portraits.

"The large-scale photographs in Aviary combine many themes in nineteenth century society. Angelucci has breathed a curious new life in the Victorian cartes-de-viste, where she has melded heads of endangered or extinct birds to human bodies. Why birds? The photographer notes that her photographs are 'hybrid crossovers of faith in science with a belief in otherworldly beings.' All of these birds were once plentiful during the late nineteenth century, and Angelucci’s humanizing of these delicate creatures is as much about respecting the earth and its creatures as it is about art."


5. A tour of the physical Internet infrastructure of New York.

"Is it a bad idea to locate data centers in Lower Manhattan? No, it's a good one, as long as you are careful about the design of your data center and its emergency processes. Let's say you put a data center well inland in New Jersey or even farther into the hinterlands. The first hop for all that Manhattan based traffic is going to be the same facility at 60 Hudson or 111 Eighth Avenue that you were trying to avoid relying on in the first place. Besides, Tuckerton NJ and the surrounding area include the landing sites for a number of cables to Europe, the Caribbean, and South America."


Today's 1957 American English Language Tip

camera. A chamber; spec. a judge's chamber. In camera, in the judge's private room, not in open court; hence privately. The photographic instrument, orig. camera obscura, Lat. 'dark chamber,' i.e. dark box.


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Someone Leaves to Pretend to Go to Space