Languages, Nuclear Energy, Bitcoin, Walter Becker, Henry George

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Languages, Worlds, And Selves

Daniel Tammet | TLS | 5th September 2017

Polyglot savant and autistic synaesthete Daniel Tammet on the pleasures of speaking many languages. “It was in German that I first learned the various intricate niceties of conversation: taking turns, say, and the use of politeness markers. The length of many a German sentence, the way it often withholds a crucial verb until the end of a phrase, made a careful listener of me. Its courtliness improved my bearing. I blush more frequently in German. I smile more broadly and nod more too” (1,200 words)

Atomic City

Justin Nobel | Longreads | 5th September 2017

The only recorded nuclear fatalities on US soil occurred when a nuclear reactor “the size of a small grain silo” exploded in the Idaho desert in 1961. There was nothing wrong with the reactor. The explosion was caused deliberately by one engineer revenging himself on another. “We are mercurial creatures, and Byrnes was known to be especially volatile. That a man with a heavy heart could pull a one-hundred-pound control rod out of a reactor core seems perfectly plausible” (3,040 words)

Bitcoin’s Academic Pedigree

Arvind Narayanan & Jeremy Clark | acmqueue | 29th August 2017

The pseudonymous creator of Bitcoin, Satoshi Nakamoto, was clearly a genius; and it detracts nothing from his achievement to point out that other thinkers had modelled digital currencies, before Satoshi made the one that worked. “By tracing the origins of the ideas in bitcoin, we can zero in on Nakamoto’s true leap of insight — the specific, complex way in which the underlying components are put together. This helps explain why bitcoin took so long to be invented” (6,900 words)

Return Of The Dark Brothers

Alec Wilkinson | Rolling Stone | 30th March 2000

Notes from a night out in New York with Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, discussing Steely Dan twenty years after the band’s heyday. “In the manner of the Beatles, they decided only to make records, and to hope that there would be an audience sufficiently large to sustain them. They began hiring studio musicians to record parts more complicated than anyone in the band could easily manage. When it was time to tour, the musicians in the band learned the parts and performed them” (6,900 words)

Better Than Ayn Rand

Michael Kinsley | Vanity Fair | 3rd September 2017

In praise of Henry George, the American economist and pamphleteer who was lionised in the late nineteenth century — “the Thomas Piketty or John Kenneth Galbraith of his time” — but who has since been largely forgotten, and deserves better. He made the best-ever short defense of free trade: “You wouldn’t fill your harbor with rocks to keep out goods your citizens want to buy, would you? Well, that’s what you’re doing when you slap tariffs on imports” (1,300 words)

Video of the day: What If We Throw an Elephant From a Skyscraper?

What to expect:

Kutzgesagt explains why size is the most under-appreciated regulator of living things (6’39”)

Thought for the day

A mother is a story with no beginning
Meghan O'Rourke

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