False Alarm, Meteorites, Musical Cheesegrater, Conceptual Art, Pit Bull Terriers, Human Nature

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

What It’s Like To Get Almost Executed

Kevin Cooper | Marshall Project | 31st March 2016

“I was supposed to be executed one minute after midnight on February 10, 2004. In the lead up to that day, I was moved to a new cell where prison guards could check in on me every hour to ‘make sure I was all right’. The prison also started sending a psychiatrist — it was clear that they wanted to make sure I was not going to commit suicide … The doctor took my blood pressure. It was high.” (1,100 words)

Works Of Art From Outer Space

James Hyslop | Christies | 1st April 2016

Since the Chicxulub asteroid wiped out the dinosaurs, heavenly bodies have dealt gently with the Earth. The documented death toll from meteorites in modern times consists of one cow. “On the evening of 15 October 1972, farmhands in Trujillo, Venezuela were startled by an inexplicable sonic boom. The next day an exotic rock was found alongside a cow’s carcass whose neck and clavicle had been pulverized” (1,400 words)

Musical Cheesegrater

Anna-Lise Santella | OUP Blog | 1st April 2016

The grattugia musicale, or musical cheesegrater, was popular with the Italian futurists, but has been little heard since. “In the Hornbostel-Sachs classification the instrument is reckoned as a friction idiophone. Of metal construction, it typically has four sides, each with raised perforations of a particular size. The player strokes one or more of the sides with a metal implement, producing a distinctive rasping sound” (1,850 words)

Understanding Conceptual Art

Isaac Kaplan | Artsy | 31st March 2016

Reasonable attempt to explain why conceptual art is not an exercise in high-priced fool-making, but a respectable branch of fine art. The starting-point is Sol LeWitt’s classic definition from 1967: “In conceptual art the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work. When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair” (1,600 words)

Dogs Of Character

Bronwen Dickey | VQR | 30th March 2016

A joy. Nodded straight through to the Best American Essays of 2016. Portrait of a dog-lover and her dogs; the dogs are American pit bull terriers. “Diane Jessup’s carport looked like a hastily abandoned military training camp. Growling hellhounds on rusted metal signs warned trespassers in multiple languages: “BEWARE! ¡CUIDADO! ACHTUNG! and, finally, WARNING: MY PIT BULL WILL F*CKING KILL YOU” (8,500 words)

Human-Complete Problems

Venkatesh Rao | Ribbonthread | 31st March 2016

Brilliant fugue about human intelligence versus machine intelligence. We fixate on obvious meetings between humans and machines — chess, go, self-driving cars; we map them from the machine’s point of view; we exclude human nature as ineffable. But what if we eff human nature by positing a class of “human-complete problems”, which are the most difficult problems in human life? At a stroke, AI looks fundamentally different (5,300 words)

Video of the day: Fisheye Fifth

What to expect:

Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, first movement, with animated graphical score (7’36”)

Thought for the day

We think in generalities, but we live in detail
A.N. Whitehead

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