How birds and babies learn to talk
Gary Marcus | New Yorker | 29 May 2013

An experiment in teaching different songs to young birds inspires a closer scrutiny of the way babies learn to babble in their first year of life. And yes, the babies learn to babble in much the same way that the birds learn to sing: incrementally, struggling to make one connection after another. “Nobody had ever really explained why babbling [in babies] took so many months; our birdsong data has finally yielded a first clue.”   

Explainer: The law in space
Glenn Fleishman | The Economist | 22 May 2013

You loved Chris Hadfield’s Space Oddity. But should he have been arrested for intellectual piracy when he landed? How does the law work in space? Low orbit is easy. But: “If an astronaut were to travel to the Moon, an asteroid or Mars on a privately funded spacecraft, the situation would become knottier still, because the United Nations Outer Space Treaty of 1967 applies to countries, not companies or private individuals”   

Elusive entropy
Tom Murphy | Do The Math | 28 May 2013

We may think we understand entropy. But the chances are we don’t, not least if we confuse thermodynamic entropy with informational entropy. “A deck of cards has the same thermodynamic properties (including thermodynamic entropy) no matter how the cards are sequenced. A shuffled deck has increased informational entropy, but is thermodynamically identical to the ordered deck”.

Future shlock
Evgeny Morozov | New Republic | 27 May 2013

Review of The New Digital Age, by Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen. An ill-researched exercise in crude futurology asserting that Google can safely be left in control of technologies, the real-world implications of which it scarcely understands. “One day Google will fall. [But] thanks in part to this superficial and megalomaniacal book, the company’s mammoth intellectual ambitions will be preserved for posterity to study in a cautionary way.”

Anatomy of a hack
Dan Goodin | Ars Technica | 28 May 2013

How to crack passwords. Interesting and useful. “Lots of passwords for a particular site are remarkably similar, despite being generated by users who have never met each other. After cracking a large percentage of hashes, the next step was to analyse the plains and mimic the patterns to guess the remaining passwords with statistically generated brute-force attacks based on Markov chains.”

How a new autistic way of thinking powers Silicon Valley
Temple Grandin | Wired | 23 May 2013

Book extract. Argues that we have three modes of thinking – in pictures, in words, in patterns. In tech, you need all three, and you need a balance between them, but above all you need the pattern thinking. That’s what chess players have. What Steve Jobs had. What the best coders have. And also what people with autism often have. Seeing patterns helps you to grasp structures and spot mistakes quickly.

Memorable first lines of journal articles
Eric Schliesser | New Apps | 24 May 2013

Recommended not so much for the post itself, which is a call for nominations, but for the comments thread, in which many more memorable first lines are duly aggregated. I particularly liked this one, from a paper called The Logical Form of Action Sentences: “Strange goings on! Jones did it slowly, deliberately, in the bathroom, with a knife, at midnight. What he did was butter a piece of toast.”

We’re the uber of organ transplants
Mike Lacher | McSweeney's | 28 May 2013

Laugh. But ironically. Because you know some day this will happen. “Just open up our app and tell us your age, blood type, and what kind of organ you want. Then we’ll show you nearby transplanters who have the organs you need. Worried our transplanters aren’t totally qualified? Just check their star ratings. When transplanters give great service, our users will give them great ratings.”

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