Solomon Golomb, Tree Law, Stevie Smith, Soldiering, Popes, David Astor

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

Solomon Golomb (1932–2016)

Stephen Wolfram | 25th May 2016

Solomon Golomb conceived the most-used mathematical algorithm in history, the “maximum-length linear-feedback shift register sequence”, which encodes signals so that they don’t interfere with one another when sharing a wavelength, and has run at least a billion billion billion times in cellphones around the world. He also wrote a paper for the Air Force entitled A Short Primer for Extraterrestrial Linguistics, and invented polyominoes, from which we derive Tetris (8,500 words)

Natasha Geiling | Atlas Obscura | 20th May 2016

If a tree trunk rises on your land, you own the tree. But roots and branches are no respecters of property lines, and your liability extends wherever they do. Tree litigation is usually urban, usually between neighbours, and especially between neighbours who don’t much like each other. If your tree overhangs your neighbour’s property, your neighbour can lop the branches. But does your neighbour have to take the welfare of the tree into account? That’s a question for tree court (1,360 words)

A Poet Unlike Any Other

Hermione Lee | New York Review of Books | 25th May 2016

Stevie Smith is a “major English poet of the twentieth century”, all too frequently misread as “an amateur folk artist, a hit-or-miss ingenue”, or boxed away as a “quaint suburban English lady writer”. Philip Larkin complained that she affected naiveté; and something of that sort has consistently frustrated her acceptance into the canon. Yet she stands comparison with Samuel Beckett and Virginia Woolf: “There is a huge stratum of world literature bedded down under her singular style” (3,500 words)

Citizen Soldier

Phil Klay | Brookings | 25th May 2016

Honest and challenging essay about the morality and psychology of soldiering. The government and people send the army to war; but the government and people stand well clear of any guilt for what ensues. “How many American presidents or members of Congress have suffered from PTSD or taken their own lives rather than live any longer with the burden of having declared a war?” Soldiering is a moral risk as well as a physical risk. Whatever happens, the soldier gets most of the blame (9,400 words)

Pope Felix The Whatever

Jonn Elledge | New Statesman | 19th May 2016

The trouble with counting Popes is accounting for antipopes — those on the losing side during a schism. The Vatican erases them, without (usually) resetting the count. So the official list has a Boniface VI and VIII but not a Boniface VII. When the Vatican does reset the numbering, the confusion increases. Felix II was an antipope; Felix III goes down in the church record as Papa Felix Tertius (Secundus); Felix IV goes by Felix III. To complete the Möbius strip, Felix V is an antipope (1,080 words)

The Best Stuff

Ian Jack | London Review Of Books | 25th May 2016

Highly entertaining review of A Life In Print, Jeremy Lewis’s biography of Observer editor David Astor, who inspired the line, “The editor’s indecision is final”. Astor had “too much money and too much mother”. He hired and promoted Terence Kilmartin, Kenneth Tynan, Eric Newby, Katharine Whitehorn, Michael Frayn, Gavin Young, Neal Ascherson. His aim was a newspaper “written by amateurs”, with Fleet Street hacks downstairs as sub-editors. “It was a frightfully emotional paper” (8,400 words)

Video of the day: Homer Does IKEA

What to expect:

The opening sequence of the Simpsons, bringing the family to the sofa, recast in the manner of an IKEA instruction sheet (1’21”)

Thought for the day

Love is blind. Friendship closes its eyes
Friedrich Nietzsche

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