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What’s really in your can of cola?

What’s really in your can of cola?

(Copyright: Thinkstock)

Our pick of the week’s science and technology stories, including the global resources needed to make a soft drink, the Google Glass feature nobody is talking about, and molecular gastronomy for lazy cooks.

Seeing at the speed of sound
Rachel Kolb | Stanford Magazine | 6 March 2013

On the limitations of lip reading. "Even the most skilled lip readers can discern an average of 30% of what is being said. How does one have a meaningful conversation at 30%? It is like functioning at 30% of normal oxygen, or eating 30% of recommended calories – possible to subsist, but difficult to feel at your best and all but impossible to excel." 

Wrong in public: The 4-colour theorem edition
Evelyn Lamb | Scientific American | 5 March 2013

Notes on, and corollaries to, the four-colour theorem, which holds that you need only four colours in order to colour a map such that no adjacent countries share the same colour. "We know that the map as a whole, including the ocean, is 4-colourable, so we also know that we can colour everything that touches the ocean with the remaining 3 colours." 

Age your canned goods
Harold McGee | Slate | 4 March 2013

Molecular gastronomy for lazy cooks. Even the humblest canned foods may improve with storage. And why wait? Heating the can will speed the ageing process. "At 120 degrees, you get a year's worth of change in six weeks." Sardines and cheese mature well. "Can-braised Spam takes on a softness that’s especially nice when you fry the surface to a crunchy crust." 

Algorithmic rape jokes in the Library of Babel
Tim Maly | Quiet Babylon | 3 March 2013

Thoughts on the current controversy surrounding the Keep Calm t-shirts, object spam, Amazon as Borgesian retailer, and algorithms as alibis. "Part of what tips the algorithmic rape joke t-shirts over from very offensive to shockingly offensive is that they are ostensibly physical products. Intuitions are not yet tuned for spambot clothes sellers. Better tune those intuitions fast." 

Was Wittgenstein right?
Paul Horwich | New York Times | 3 March 2013

Useful primer for those (like me) who enjoy paddling in the shallows of Wittgenstein's thought, but fear to go deeper. "A decent approach to philosophy must avoid theory-construction, and instead be confined to exposing the irrational assumptions on which theory-oriented investigations are based and the irrational conclusions to which they lead." 

The Google Glass feature that nobody is talking about
Mark Hurst | Creative Good | 28 February 2013

All those Google Glasses will be reporting back to Google servers. The more popular Glasses become, the closer we get to a surveillance society in which we are all recording one another privately and secretly, with no control over what happens to the data. "The experience of being a citizen, in public, is about to change." 

What Coke contains
Kevin Ashton | Medium | 27 February 2013

Tracing the supply chain and the division of labour required to deliver a can of Coca-Cola. Aluminium from Australia, formed in California. Flavourings from Mexico, Sri Lanka and South America. "The number of individuals who know how to make a can of Coke is zero. The number of individual nations that could produce a can of Coke is zero." 

Could the ancient Romans have built a digital computer?
Hunter Scott | Hunter Scott | 27 February 2013

Yes, though the power supply would have posed a problem. They knew how to make wire, and how to work iron. They knew how to work glass, though not how to make vacuum tubes. They could have built relays, to judge from their jewellery. Lead sulphide would make a good natural semiconductor. Regular iron would do for core memory.

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