Prices, Urdu, Cards, Metal, Freud

The Algorithms Are Out To Get You

Tim Harford | Undercover Economist | 22nd March 2019

Who should be prosecuted for online price-fixing, when the prices are being set by automated algorithms that are mirroring one another without being told to do so and without communicating directly? In the United States, where the Federal Trade Commission has been pondering the prospect, the answer seems to be “no one”, because only explicit collusive agreements are illegal. “The bots would be abetting a crime only if they started scheming together. Tacit collusion, apparently, is fine” (840 words)


Coming Home

Sharanya Deepak | Longreads | 22nd March 2019

The Urdu and Hindi languages became the “divided children of a bad divorce” when India was partitioned in 1947 to create Pakistan. Urdu, written in Nastaliq, a script derived from Arabic Nasq, was assigned to Pakistan. Hindi, scripted from Devanagari and derived from Sanskrit, was claimed by India. But for Indians who grew up with Urdu, Hindi has never quite been enough. “While Urdu and Hindi have similar grammar and structure, Urdu has a specialised vocabulary that resounds somewhere deep, in the stomach or even the soul. The word for best friend, igra, means ‘a piece of your own heart’.” (3,360 words)


For My Next Trick …

Erica Klarreich | Quanta Magazine | 14th April 2015

Let’s say you shuffle a pack of playing cards the way a toddler might — or, indeed, as a baccarat dealer would in the casino at Monte Carlo — by spreading them out on a table and messing them around for a while. The term of art for this is “smooshing”. But how effective is it? Does it randomise the deck? We may never know. Nobody has yet managed to model this act of child’s play. There are as many possible shuffles in a deck of cards as there are atoms in the Milky Way. “Any time you shuffle a deck to the point of randomness, you have probably created an arrangement that has never existed before” (2,390 words)


Black Metal’s Murderous Past

Alex Godfrey | Guardian | 22nd March 2019

Tales from the Norwegian music industry. “Hearing that Mayhem needed a singer, Pelle Ohlin sent a cassette along with a dead mouse attached to a cross. Obsessed with death, he buried his stage clothes for days, allowing them to rot before wearing them; he brought a dead crow to rehearsal; he wore face paint, which he called corpse-paint. Aarseth followed suit with the paint. In April 1991 Ohlin killed himself in his bedroom. He slit his wrists and shot himself. Aarseth found him, then took photos of him” (1,970 words)


Sitting Targets

Alan Hollinghurst | Apollo | 21st March 2019

Gorgeous account of Lucian Freud’s evolution. “If Freud had died aged 23 you would have said his work was that of an evidently gay artist, fixated on a particular kind of full-lipped young male beauty. Then the pictures of women begin, and Kitty Garman, his first wife, becomes the subject of a sequence of oil portraits in which the eyes are rendered hugely out of scale, but with the same mesmerising minuteness of description. An exuberant freedom of brushwork is matched by the adoption of what would become Freud’s inescapable colours — the oatmeal, beige, cream, brown of a naked ‘white’ body” (1,230 words)


Video: What Do Flat-Earthers Believe? Ars Technica’s John Timmer looks at the revival of the Flat Earth movement, which seems to be a mixture of the satirical and the sincere (6m 04s)

Audio: The Weatherman | Invisibilia. How to proceed in conditions of uncertainty. Lessons from law enforcement and weather forecasting (43m 47s)

Afterthought:
“Everything has been thought of before. The problem is to think of it again”
— J.W. von Goethe