African Maps, Gmail, Birdsville, Elon Musk, London Fog, Coal

Hic sunt camelopardus: this historical edition of The Browser is presented for archaeological purposes; links and formatting may be broken.

The Real Map Of Africa

Pierre Englebert | Foreign Affairs | 8th November 2015 | | Read with 1Pass

Maps of Africa are fictions. They depict a stability that does not exist on the ground. Great swathes of African land are beyond the reach of the states that ostensibly govern them. A realistic map would show that one-third of the continent, mostly in the north, is outside anybody's control. "A person can travel from Mauritania to Egypt (provided one survives the journey) without encountering any effective state authority" (1,260 words)

Computer, Respond To This Email

Greg Corrado | Google Research Blog | 4th November 2015

Google scientist discusses the building of Smart Reply, a tool for answering email automatically and intelligently using "a pair of recurrent neural networks", one to encode incoming email and one to predict possible responses. The encoding network "captures the gist of what is being said without getting hung up on diction". The second network "synthesizes a grammatically correct reply one word at a time" (1,106 words)

The Cop At The End Of The World

Andrew McMillen | Buzzfeed | 6th November 2015

Rural notes from the town of Birdsville in the Australian Outback, where Senior Police Constable Neal McShane patrols single-handed a territory the size of Great Britain with 80 residents and one shop. Crime is "virtually nil". When spring floods cut the town off in 2010, "the supermarket ran out of supplies, but the hotel was well-stocked in beer, and the town’s last pack of cigarettes was auctioned off for $200" (6,024 words)

Elon Musk’s Secret Sauce

Tim Urban | Wait But Why | 6th November 2015

Last of a book-sized four-part series about Elon Musk. Earlier posts looked at why Musk is disrupting the industrialised world on at least three fronts. This part looks at how he manages to do it all. The answer: He isn't human. "When Musk looks at his five kids, he sees five of his favorite computers. When he looks at you, he sees a computer. And when he looks in the mirror, he sees a computer — his computer" (21,000 words)

Christine Corton On London Fog

Beatrice Wilford | Five Books | 6th November 2015

Interview. Until the 1950s, when dirty fuels were banned, London was a city of fogs and smogs, especially in the winter. Dickens, James and other novelists romanticised coal fires and the fogs that they caused; period fiction paid less attention to the thousands who died of suffocation. "November became traditionally the month for suicides because of people feeling depressed by the weather, especially by the foggy weather" (5,040 words)

The Last Days Of Big K

Martin Fletcher | New Statesman | 4th November 2015

Britain's last deep coal-mine, at Kellingley in Yorkshire, will close by Christmas. Its customers, big power-stations, have switched to biomass and imported coal. British coal never recovered from the miners' strike of 1984-85. The National Union of Miners is down from half-a-million to 800 members. "Thirty years ago there were collieries all over South Yorkshire. Today scarcely a trace of them remains" (3,050 words)

Video of the day: The Man Who Speaks In Anagrams

What to expect: From Monty Python. Or, in this case, Tymon Thypon

Thought for the day

Life is a competition to be the criminal rather than the victim
Bertrand Russell (

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