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Best of the Web

How much better has the internet made us?

How much better off has the internet made us?

(Copyright: Thinkstock)

Our pick of the week’s science and technology stories, including an attempt to measure the way the web has changed people’s lives, and Pixar’s guide to using maths in movies.

There is only awe
Rachel Aviv | n+1 | 11 March 2013

Reflections on the work of Julian Jaynes, Princeton psychologist who strove to explain how man learned to think. His book, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, drew on archaeology, art history, theology, and Greek poetry. "Critics described it as a bizarre and reckless masterpiece ... As startling as Freud." 

The lock pickers
Tom Vanderbilt | Slate | 11 March 2013

Victorian England made the strongest locks in the world – until an American showed up and picked them. He was Alfred Hobbs, a travelling salesman for New York locksmiths Day and Newell, also the greatest lock-picker of the 19th century. When he beat the best that Britain had to offer, even the Bank of England switched to American locks. 

To save everything, click here
Tom Slee | Whimsley | 10 March 2013

Discussion of Evgeny Morozov's writings: "A valuable and intellectually adventurous assault on what is becoming an increasingly obvious problem: the appropriation of democratic and bottom-up visions by those who seek to impose their own top-down networks on the rest of us, and who reduce us to simplistic nodes in the process." 

Net benefits
Anonymous | Economist | 9 March 2013
How much better off does the internet make us? "Measuring the economic impact of all the ways the internet has changed people’s lives is difficult because so much of it has no price. It is easier to quantify the losses Wikipedia has inflicted on publishers than the benefits it has generated for users." But, at a guess, $2,600 per person per year.

Big data
Kenneth Cukier and Viktor Mayer-Schonberger | NPR | 7 March 2013

Book extract. "Big data challenges the way we live and interact with the world. Society will need to shed some of its obsession for causality in exchange for simple correlations: not knowing why but only what. This overturns centuries of established practices and challenges our basic understanding of how to make decisions and comprehend reality." 

Pixar scientist explains how maths makes movies
Tim Carmody | Verge | 7 March 2013

Notes on a talk given by Tony DeRose, Pixar's senior scientist. Basic challenge for computer animation is to find better algorithms which can intelligently approximate scale without sacrificing detail. Merida's red hair in Brave was composed of 100,000 individual elements that could collide in 10 billion different ways. 

Upgrade or die
George Packer | New Yorker | 6 March 2013

"Obsessive upgrading and chronic stagnation are intimately related, in the way that erotic fantasies are related to sexual repression. The fetish that surrounds Google Glass grows ever more hysterical as the economic status of the majority of Americans remains flat. When things don’t work in the realm of stuff, people turn to the realm of bits."

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