Tom Friedman At Davos, King Salman, Mental Arithmetic, Prime Numbers, Egypt, Neuroscience

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How Stupid Is A Davos Audience?

Felix Salmon | Fusion | 27th January 2015

The definitive piece about the public programme at Davos. "A Davos panel discussion is an opportunity for CEOs to feel important, and for the audience to feel as though they’re learning from top-level thought leaders. The main purpose of the panel is generally simply to exist. The message is: these people are talking about this important issue, and they take it seriously. The actual substance of what is said? Not particularly important" (740 words)

The Dangers Of Saudi Succession

Simon Henderson | Atlantic | 27th January 2015

"National leaders do, on occasion, lose the plot when in office. But seldom do they gain top positions when their minds have already gone. The elevation of Crown Prince Salman to the Saudi throne, following the death of King Abdullah on Thursday, could prove a live experiment in whether such a scenario is viable ... Still, as a survivor of the world’s first rectal suicide bomb, he at least has luck" (1,200 words)

The Art Of Mental Arithmetic

A.C. Aitken | 1st November 1954

A.C. Aitken was the most gifted "mental calculator" of the 20C. In this talk he demonstrates and explains his genius: "At the end when all is done, the numbers come into focus. But mostly it is as if they were hidden under some medium, though being moved about with decisive exactness in regard to order and ranging. It is neither seeing nor hearing; it is a compound faculty of which I have nowhere seen an adequate description" (8,100 words)

The Pursuit Of Beauty

Alec Wilkinson | New Yorker | 26th January 2015 | Metered paywall

Yitang Zhang kept the accounts for a Subway franchise in Kentucky, taught calculus in New Hampshire — and then, at the age of 55, solved a fundamental problem in prime-number theory which had been troubling mathematicians since Euclid. Euclid proved that the sequence of prime numbers was infinite; Zhang showed that there were rules governing the distribution of them. Now he has "some other visions" (6,070 words)

Press Freedom In Egypt

Leslie Chang | Guardian | 27th January 2015

Idealistic Egyptian journalists set up a new online newspaper, Mada Masr. Three days later, the army overthrows President Morsi. Cairo is in turmoil and the future of the country is at stake. It is the best of times and the worst of times to be in the news business: “I ask people to evacuate when there’s live ammunition”. Against the odds, Mada survives. Its writers learn to push back against the new régime, but not too much (6,330 words)

The 30,000 Futures Of The Brain

Adam Calhoun | Medium | 17th December 2014

"If you would like see things straight out of a science fiction movie, visit a neuroscience laboratory. Technology has advanced so quickly that I am not sure the public understands how advanced we are. Creating new transgenic animals — where you slip new genetic material into an organism — starts at ‘pathetically easy’. There were days I would create the DNA for five or ten new transgenics in one go" (2,700 words)

Video of the day: John Locke On Identity

What to expect: Cartoon explaining John Locke's theory that memory is the seat of human identity (1'47")

Thought for the day

Work in such a way that an official reward for your labour cannot be envisaged by anyone
Jean Cocteau

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