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Exodus From Earth Pick of the day

Elon Musk talks about SpaceX, space exploration, the future of humanity and the need to settle other planets. “If we can establish a Mars colony, we can almost certainly colonise the whole Solar System, because we’ll have created a strong economic forcing function for the improvement of space travel”. But reaching the stars will be another order of difficulty: “You need generational ships. You need antimatter drives” (6,900 words)

Great Eastern Philosophers: Sen No Rikyu

Western philosophers write difficult books, use long words, and give lectures. Japanese philosophers write poems, rake gravel, and chant. Sen no Rikyū, “one of the very greatest Zen thinkers”, acquired his greatness in the 16th century by “teaching people how to drink tea in consoling and therapeutic ways”. He imbued the Japanese tea ceremony with “a solemnity and depth of meaning akin to a Catholic Mass” (940 words)

Bricklayer Bill’s Ultra-Marathon Of A Life

A great American life. Bricklayer Bill Kennedy was “the gutsiest journeyman athlete of the early twentieth century”. A prizefighter and a hobo in his teenage years, he settled on running after beating a horse in a ten-mile race in Arkansas in 1908. He survived typhoid, made his home in St Louis, built the Des Moines Coliseum, and won the 1917 Boston Marathon before joining the army and going to war (4,492 words)

What Nato Must Do To Counter Russia

Three American generals — Breedlove, Gorenc, Odierno — think aloud about the practicalities of possible conflict. One unusual problem is that Russia’s air defence systems, for shooting down planes and missiles, extend over Poland and the Baltic States. Nato would have to “earn air superiority” over its own territory. But that’s OK. “The young people today are far more lethal and far more capable than we were” (1,320 words)

Life In The Bakken Oil Fields

Journal of the fracking boom in North Dakota, as seen from behind the counter of a truck-stop, where the author finds job: “It was so hard to find and keep retail workers that they had to hire nearly everyone who walked in”. Animated by a cast of improbably-named truckers. “Blackneck had the height and build of a loan shark’s enforcer. Fish had screws in his ears and a topless image of his wife tattooed on his leg” (6,000 words)

The Weight Is Almost Over

The reference weight for the kilogram is a platinum block kept in Paris for the past 125 years. But for modern scientific purposes the block is no longer stable; it gains and sheds micrograms. A new standard is needed that defines the kilogram against a universal constant, as the metre is defined against the speed of light. When that happens, probably in 2018, nothing will ever be quite the same weight again (2,440 words)

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