- As we celebrate the successful New Horizons “fly-by” mission, a look back on the work of Clyde Tombaugh, the man who first “discovered” Pluto back in 1930. Like most scientific breakthroughs, Tombaugh’s discovery of Pluto was not a eureka moment, but the end product of a long and laborious research process. Using a “blink comparator” to flip between thousands of images taken with his telescope, Tombaugh had to pick out evidence of planetary motion among the masses of stars, asteroids, and space junk littering the photographs. Check out a simulation of Tombaugh’s research process here.
- Erich Weidenhammer, curator of the University of Toronto Scientific Instruments Collection, used a 3D printer to recreate a 19th century psychological instrument designed to test color perception. An interesting reflection on what history can gain from the use of new technologies to study material culture, especially those instruments that do not survive in modern collections.
- This week, Ernő Rubik turned seventy-one. On Wednesday, his eponymous cube turns forty-one.
- How not to remediate oil spills: lessons from Deepwater Horizon and the Exxon Valdez.
- Diagnosing and addressing structural racism in the tech industry.
- There’s a good chance that sometime in the next fifty years, an enormous earthquake and tsunami are likely to destroy the Pacific Northwest. Thanks to Kathryn Schulz, you can’t say you weren’t warned.
- New York Review of Books has a great overview of the latest theories about microbes and the origins of life (paywall).
- There’s been a lot of talk recently about the Ecomodernist Manifesto, a document authored by some big names in the environmental sciences (including Stewart Brand — see above for his take on extinction) that essentially argues for technofixes for climate change. In the past, the Ecomodernist group has been linked to Bruno Latour’s work, but Latour clarified his position in a talk last month, calling the manifesto a “well packaged product of some PR.”
The verdict might still be out on the utility of big data, but it the meantime it can provide us with a little entertainment. Check out some of the highlights from Google’s recently released aggregate search data (down to the minute). In the morning, searches for peak for “news” and “weather”; in the evening, it’s all “Kardashians” and “how to roll a joint.” Thanks Google!
Read a short history of St. Anthony’s Fire, the mysterious medieval affliction that would, without warning, would cause searing pain and gangrene in your limbs (until they fell off). To be ahistorical, St. Anthony’s Fire was most likely caused by ergot, a fungus that grows on bad wheat.
Gives eating gluten-free a whole new meaning.
Autobiographical notes on life as a famous librarian.
Right next to MIT, and near huge new complexes by Novartis, Google, Microsoft, and Twitter, is Area Four: the poorest neighborhood in Cambridge, Mass.
- Mike Konczal, aka Rortybomb, does a superb job of demolishing the myths and errors of the robotic “post-work” future.