Browser Daily Newsletter 1286


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

The Remarkable Self-Organization Of Ants

Emily Singer | Quanta | 9th April 2014

Put a few thousand ants on to a pile of dirt and in a week they will have built a labyrinthine city inside it. If a flood hits the colony they can mesh their own bodies together into a raft the size of a dinner plate and ship themselves to safety. All done without blueprint or leader. How? Not because ants are smart. But because they know to follow simple rules. Three, to be exact. (And if ants can do this, so can robots) (2,291 words)

How Zebras Got Their Stripes

Michael Lemonick | New Yorker | 11th April 2014

An obvious question, for students of evolution; but hard to answer — not because there were no plausible conjectures, but because there were too many. Perhaps the stripes were camouflage; perhaps they attracted mates; perhaps they helped herd recognition. But the best answer seems to be: Stripes discourage flies. Flies hate to land on striped surfaces. Next question: Why do flies hate stripes? (785 words)

Irrational Treasure

Alex Pappademas | Grantland | 11th April 2014

In genuine appreciation of Nicholas Cage: "There are moments in which Cage seems to be gunning for some as-yet-nonexistent Academy Award presented to 'Most Actor' ... He’s successfully taken us away from an obsession with naturalism into a kind of presentation style of acting that I imagine was popular with the old troubadours". (The first quarter of this piece, the introduction, is great; for the rest, your mileage may vary) (5,409 words)

Parliament And Defence Policy

Rory Stewart | Conservative Home | 11th April 2014

Short, sharp essay about civilian control of the military in Britain. Soldiers don't like to be second-guessed by politicians. Politicians never criticise the military when operations are under way. But after horribly misconceived interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, something is broken in the way that defence policy is set. Parliament needs to be more critical, more analytical, less prone to side with the Generals (930 words)

Citizen Walmart

Dan Halpern | Harper's | 1st July 2012

From the archives. The world's biggest supermarket chain reaches out to small American farmers and helps turn them into consistent suppliers. "Walmart gave me three dollars over the price of the market last year,” says a strawberry farmer. It may be a public-relations play, in which case this piece is the return; and/or it may be capitalism at its far-sighted best — co-opting the locavores instead of fighting them (6,480 words)

Why No One Goes To Naples

Beppe Severgnini | New York Times | 11th April 2014

The Amalfi Coast is "a magnet for wealthy Russians and romantic Americans", but Naples itself is "a tourist wasteland" and the rest of southern Italy is "largely vacationer-free". Why? Poor marketing is part of the problem. The Italian Tourist Board spends 98% of its budget on salaries, leaving "basically nothing" for tourism promotion. "Across the country, tourism is going from being a given to being a missed opportunity" (Metered) (880 words)

Video of the day:  Bears On Stairs

What to expect: From sketch, to 3D-printed model, to stop-motion film; in less than a minute

Thought for the day:

"Information isn’t what’s scarce; it’s the willingness to do something with it" — Tyler Cowen

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