Plutonium, MAD, Giants, Opiates, Unicode

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Plutonium Collection

Mark Dominus | Universe Of Discourse | 16th January 2018

Could you collect enough radioactive isotopes from plutonium-fueled heart pacemakers to build a nuclear bomb? It appears to be impractical. But not impossible. “I calculated (I hope correctly) that a pacemaker had around 0.165 mg of plutonium, and learned online that one needs 4–6 kg to make a plutonium bomb. With skill and experience one can supposedly get this down to 2 kg, but let’s take 25,000 pacemakers as the number George would need. How could he get this?” (1,232 words)

Excerpts From ‘The Doomsday Machine’

Luke Muehlhauser | 14th January 2018

Jaw-dropping extracts from Daniel Ellsberg’s book about the management of America’s nuclear weapons during the Cold War. The “two-key” rule was a fiction. “The requirement for having two qualified officers sitting around in every station at every moment were just too stringent to be met. Each, in reality, had the combinations to both safes, or some arrangement for acquiring them. If there was only one safe, each officer would, in reality, know the full combination to it” (1,800 words)

The Harder They Fall

Martha Crawford | What A Shrink Thinks | 15th January 2018

The giants of myth — Goliath, Cyclops — are slow-witted, lumbering, easily fooled, always defeated. What purpose do such myths serve? “We are overpowered by giants, as we are by natural disasters. In our inner lives, we also have storms and tantrums and moods which can sweep through us like tidal waves. Perhaps we tell stories of battling and subduing giants as a means of gaining control over our uncontrollable, illogical, thick-headed, reactive, and irritable emotional lives” (5,800 words)

The Making Of An Epidemic

Toni Martin | Threepenny Review | 15th January 2018

A doctor’s eye-view of the American opiate crisis driven by OxyContin. “The clinic where I worked instituted mandatory urine testing for everyone who took any opioid for longer than three months. ‘But what about our little old ladies with bad arthritis?’ we doctors moaned. ‘Do we really have to test them?” The answer was yes, because their urine was often clean. They weren’t taking the Vicodin themselves, but selling it to supplement their fixed incomes” (2,370 words)

Texting In Ancient Mayan Hieroglyphs

Erica Machulak | Humanities | 16th January 2018

“If King Tut were around today, could he send a text in Egyptian hieroglyphics? Yes, because the writing system of the pharaohs has already been included in the Unicode Standard. The Eye of Horus character has the code point 13080.” Unicode has encoded 139 of the writing systems ever to have existed. Given that alphabets can span many languages Unicode makes communication possible in almost a thousand languages. Still, there are more than a hundred writing systems to go (2,265 words)

Video of the day Richard Williams – Animating Movement

What to expect:

At work with Richard Williams, classic animator, creator of Roger Rabbit and the Pink Panther (8’25”)

Thought for the day

Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity

Podcast of the day The Fourteenth Century | History Of Philosophy

Peter Adamson introduces the big ideas of 14th-century philosophy, nominalism and voluntarism

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