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The Grand Illusion

A short history of time in science and philosophy. Einstein showed that time was subjective, even illusory. The best you could say was that things did or did not happen at the same time — and this judgement would vary with the position of the observer. In effect, Einstein rehabilitated the belief held by pre-Socratic and later religious philosophers, that time belonged to the realm of appearances, not of reality (2,575 words)

The Wikipedia Story

Jimmy Wales was struggling to create an online encyclopaedia written by experts, which he called Nupedia. Ward Cunningham had built an application called WardsWiki, based on Apple’s Hypercard, for quick collaborative writing and editing. With Cunningham’s blessing, Wales switched to WardsWiki as the basis for an open-sourced encyclopaedia. “The result has been the greatest collaborative knowledge project in history” (4,680 words)

Larry Summers On China: Regression Ahead

Larry Summers and Lant Pritchett argue in a new academic paper that China’s 36-year record of “super-rapid” economic growth is probably unique in world history; and that reversion to more a modest rate of long-term growth is both inevitable and imminent. Tyler Cowen calls this “One of the best and most important economics papers I have seen all year”. An ungated PDF draft of the original paper is here (930 words)

Billy Joel: Thirty-Three Hit Wonder

Billy Joel plays Madison Square Garden: “Close your eyes and it’s 1982″. His last new album was 20 years ago, but the old songs are what the audience wants, the shows sell out, and Joel is enjoying late middle age perhaps even a little more than he should. “I’m with the Jack Nicholson school, that it’s this flat-belly shit that’s ruining America. I don’t think there’s anything more pathetic than a man on a diet” (10,400 words)

Ada Lovelace, Tech Innovator

Some innovators are so far ahead of their time that they seem to possess a separate category of genius. As with Ada Lovelace, daughter of Lord Byron, who wrote “the first examples of working software ever published” in 1842-43. These were “instruction sets” to control the intricate counting machines built by her friend Charles Babbage. It was another century before the true value of her work was understood (2,387 words)

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