Our pick of the week’s science and tech stories, including all-electric cars, a fiendish maths problem solved and extreme cancer blogging.
Unheralded mathematician bridges prime gap
Erica Klarreich | Simons Foundation | 19 May 2013
Fundamental problem solved by little-known researcher “whose talents had been so overlooked after he earned his doctorate that he found it difficult to get an academic job, working for several years as an accountant and in a Subway sandwich shop.” Yitang Zhang’s paper proves that “there is some number N smaller than 70 million such that there are infinitely many pairs of primes that differ by N.” Here’s how he did it.
Innovation lessons from Tesla Motors
Tim Kastelle | Innovation For Growth | 15 May 2013
Remember when Toyota’s Prius hybrid was launched? It was “too expensive”, “elitist”, “only for greenies”. Now it’s the third best-selling car in the world. Looks like the same story for Tesla’s all-electric cars. Remember: new ideas take time to spread. Skeptics laugh, rivals get complacent. Then the idea finds its business model, breaks out of its niche, demand soars. It’s an S-curve, and Tesla has hit the first bend.
We are all princes and paupers
Veronique Greenwood | Nautilus | 17 May 2013
Thrilling piece on the maths of genealogy. Every sentence an eye-opener for the non-adept. “Anyone who was alive 2,000-3,000 years ago is either the ancestor of everyone who’s now alive, or no one at all.” “Everyone of European heritage alive today is a descendant of Charlemagne. Past a certain number of generations back, your number of ancestors stops growing exponentially, because they start being the same people.”
Paul Otellini’s Intel: Can the company that built the future survive it?
Alexis Madrigal | The Atlantic | 16 May 2013
Intel boss retires, looks back, he did OK, but missed the deal of his lifetime: the iPhone contract. “There was a chip that they were interested in that they wanted to pay a certain price for and not a nickel more and that price was below our forecasted cost. I couldn’t see it. It wasn’t one of these things you can make up on volume. And in hindsight, the forecasted cost was wrong and the volume was 100x what anyone thought.”
John Lanchester | London Review of Books | 16 May 2013
Introduction to Glass for non-tech readers. It’s likely to be a monster hit, because it’s full of useful and attractive features. But it comes with big downsides. It turns users in on themselves even more than cellphones already do; and it makes covert recording too easy. “Technology and privacy have had many skirmishes in the past, but the coming generation of wearable computing has the potential to escalate the conflict to all-out war.”
Pet dogs and longevity preferences
Worthwhile Canadian Initiative | 21 May 2013
More on life, death and longevity. Humans find it hard to distinguish between quality of life and length of life, at least when it comes to their own. They may have a view on highly invasive end-of-life care, other than which, they tend to conflate quantity of life with quality. In which case, how about a proxy? What does your choice of pet say about you? Do you want a poodle, or a miniature poodle?
James Gleick | New York Review of Books | 22 May 2013
Review of Time Reborn, by physicist Lee Smolin. “His argument from science and history is as provocative, original, and unsettling as any I’ve read in years. It turns upside-down the now standard view of Wells, Minkowski, and Einstein. It contravenes our intellectual inheritance from Newton and, for that matter, Plato, and it will ring false to many of Smolin’s contemporaries in theoretical physics.” Sounds promising, no?
A colon resection
Luke Allnutt | One Eyed Dog | 20 May 2013
Extreme cancer blogging. No detail spared. I muted the title, which refers more directly to ileostomy. Take daily before food. “At first, the emptying was done by the nurses, but after watching them doing it enough, I finally managed to sit down on the toilet. I wiped my new plastic anus and then folded the little pouch shut – no more unhygienic than going the normal way really.”