Recommendations for October 4, 2013

I’ve definitely been a bit delinquent with the recommendations up of late. We’ve been traveling, and, you know, stuff happens. Hopefully this week’s will be a return to a regular schedule.

Article: “In Sync” by Marcus Wohlson

Not that long ago, we took it for granted that people we knew were likely to be out of reach of a phone for fairly significant periods of time: driving to work, say, or travelng, or going out for a walk. Now that cell phones are ubiquitous, doing any of those things without bringing your cell phone seems kind of irresponsible, or at least impolite. Dropbox is kind of like that for me; just a few years years ago the service didn’t exist, but now I depend on it utterly. I have come to take it for granted that I can hit “save” on a document on my home computer, go to work, and start up again right where I left off when I get there; and if somebody tells me they don’t use it I kind of think they are crazy (or, at least, that their life must be dramatically different from mine).

This piece describes the plan that the people at Dropbox have for the creation of a “pervasive data layer,” which is an utterly opaque description of a situation in which, in essence, anything you are doing on any computer or connected device will be sunchronized, so that you can, say, continue playing a game or reading a web page on one device right where you left off on another. There are ways to do some of this already, in bits and pieces, but Dropbox is proposing to put it all in one place, using common standards and protocols. While I don’t love the idea of a single company being in control of all that, I don’t actually think that is likely— if they can get it to work, others will follow— and the overall picture is one I find incredibly compelling. Since Dropbox, I find the idea of having to remember a flash drive full of documents intolerably inconvenient, archaic even, and I look forward to a time when all the data I need is similarly available.

 

Article: “Machine Language: How Siri Found its Voice” by Lessley Anderson

This is a totally fascinating article (and video) about Text-to-Speech and voice recognition technologies and the ways they are improving, with a focus on how the voices for devices and systems like Siri are built from real human voices. Rather than recording a fixed set of phrases for predefined situations (as on, for example, transit systems that annouce the name of a stop) or synthesizing speech entirely (as in Stephen Hawking’s speech device), the increase in processing power has made it possible to break recorded speech down into indivdual phonemes and then have systems like Siri reassmble them, phoneme by phoneme, to say (more or less) anything, in the voice of a real human being.

 

Images: “Alien Frontier: See the Haunting, Beautiful Weirdness of Mars” by Jacob Kastrenakes; images from NASA

The title here pretty much says it all. Mars looks weird, and beautiful, and we have more and better images of it than ever before. Here is one of my favorites, but you should look at all of them:

 

Article/Images: “The Social Behavior Of Bacteria, Trippily Explored In Art” by John Brownlee; images by Eshel Ben-Jacob

The word “trippy” really annoys me, for reasons that are neither entirely rational nor of any interest to anyone who might be reading this. I point this out only to make it clear that I think this is worth taking a look at despite the use of that word. By adjusting the colors in patterns formed naturally by colonies of bacteria, researcher Eshel Ben-Jacob both creates beautiful images and demonstrates behavior in bacteria that will surprise most people (me included).

Via Lost at E Minor

 

Article: “Say Hello to Rick Ross” by Mike Sager

Rick Ross is not a rapper. He has T-shirts that say so, and he will sell you one. He will also give you some to sell on your own, because Rick Ross is a businessman. The problem is that his first business, the one at which he had the greatest success, was selling crack. And Ross was pretty much the crack dealer, the one who made the drug into the epidemic it became, the one who served as the connection between corner dealers and Central American cocaine producers.Between 1980 and 1989, he had revenues of 900 million dollars, and a profit of 300 million— in 1980 dollars. Adjust that for inflation, and Ross is in the league of a few of the developing nations. Obviously, he got caught, and he went to jail, and now that he is out he is trying to do something else. His story is pretty incredible— almost as incredible as the fact that before I read this I had not heard of a guy who can credibly claim to be the single most important figure in the development of the War on Drugs. Ross’s story includes everything that is wrong with the use and sale of drugs like crack, as well as everything that is wrong with our response to that problem.

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