Google X, Hacking, Wagner, Soviet Cars, MH370, Childbirth


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

The Moonshot Factory Operating Manual

Astro Teller | Medium | 23rd July 2016

How Google X goes looking for new technologies big enough to change the world. “An X project must solve a problem that affects millions or billions of people; it has to have an audacious, sci-fi sounding technology; and there has to be at least a glimmer of hope that it’s achievable in the next 5–10 years … We successfully produced a carbon-neutral fuel from seawater but, heartbreakingly, we had to walk away because we couldn’t see a way to make it at a price competitive with gasoline” (2,300 words)

The Hack That Could Take Down NYC

Reeves Wiedeman | New York | 19th July 2016

Cautionary sci-fi tale set in the very near future. A few computer hackers exploiting existing vulnerabilities in networks and devices could reduce New York City to chaos. “For the hackers, getting access to the power grid was simple. They mailed USB sticks to engineers at companies operating generating facilities in the New York area, with a letter saying the stick included an explanation of their benefits package. Several engineers took the USB to work and opened it there” (3,800 words)

Wagner And Valhalla

Roger Scruton | Prospect | 16th July 2016

Wagner’s Ring Cycle is “a story of the gods for people who have no gods to believe in”. It dramatises “the eternal conflict between political power and human love”, and comes down in favour of political power. To be governed by the law is better than being governed by our emotions. “Even though law and love will always be in tension with each other, any revolutionary philosophy that tells us to replace the legal order by unmediated relations of love is bent on self-destruction” (Metered paywall) (3,100 words)

Buying A Car In The Soviet Union

Gabrielius Blazys | Jalopnik | 22nd July 2016

Ronald Reagan’s joke about waiting ten years for a car in the Soviet Union was funny but also true. A factory with 300 workers might get allocated five new cars a year for its workers to buy. Model workers and Communist Party members went to the front of the queue, as did those who paid a 20% bribe. “If you were an average worker, the chances that your car was going to arrive the year you ordered it was close to non-existent. The average waiting line for a car was seven to 10 years”. (1,830 words)

The Search For Malaysia Airlines Flight 370

The plane is still lost. What do we know? “The crucial factor was whether a pilot had been at the controls. If the cockpit was unmanned — if Zaharie had taken a suicide pill after turning toward the empty ocean, or the captain and first officer had killed one another in a struggle for control — then the end would have come quickly”. But a conscious pilot could have brought the plane down to the sea in a controlled glide, another 100 nautical miles beyond the assumed point of impact (1,700 words)

Nadia’s Story

Ana Todorović | Aeon | 21st July 2016

A mother tells of giving birth to a baby doomed to die. “The delivery turned out to be difficult. It ended with unfamiliar faces around the bed, talking rapidly to each other above my head while I tried to catch what they were saying about Nadia’s shoulders. Was everything all right with her little shoulders? I could still feel her kicking. There was a flash of sharp pain. It seemed as if the snip of the closing scissors reached my ears much later. I heard a scream before realising that it came from me” (6,500 words)

Video of the day: The Liar Paradox

What to expect:

Philosopher Graham Priest discusses the logic of contradictions with Nigel Warburton (5’47”)

Thought for the day

Prison continues, on those entrusted to it, a work begun elsewhere
Michel Foucault

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