Our pick of the week’s science and tech stories, including male contraception and whether we could create an interstellar starship using available science.

Don’t ever take anything from Goldman
Michael Lewis | Vanity Fair | 1 August 2013

Sergei Aleynikov was arrested in 2009 and sentenced to eight years in jail for stealing computer code from his former employer, Goldman Sachs. He’d been in charge of maintaining their high-frequency trading platform. He was foolish and naive, but he didn’t deserve jail time, and wouldn’t have got it without Goldman’s over-reaction. First of two parts. (Note also the comments, which call Lewis out on his comp-sci and math.)

Where’s the male Pill?
Jalees Rehman | Aeon | 31 July 2013

Male contraceptive pills and implants have been developed; none has come to market. Why so? Side-effects. Contraceptives for women have side-effects too, but “the risk of contraceptive side effects can be offset by the benefit of avoiding an unintended pregnancy.” Since men don’t get pregnant, there’s not the same risk calculus. “It becomes more difficult, ethically, to justify the side effects of hormonal contraceptives in men.”

WarGames: Google vs. Apple
Farhad Manjoo & Matthew Yglesias | Slate | 29 July 2013

Recommendation goes to the entire series: ten episodes. What would happen if Google and Apple went to war — first commercially, but then for real? Slate at its slightly crazy best. Worthy of an Orson Welles radio broadcast. Jumps the shark in episode seven, when Apple starts issuing iPistols to loyalists queueing outside Apple stores, but comes to a stirring finish.

Confessions of a Google Glass explorer
Gary Shteyngart | New Yorker | 28 July 2013

Around and about New York wearing Google Glass. “Before I leave, Aray and I have a Google hangout. We essentially swap identities. I see what she sees through her Glass, which is me. She sees what I see through my Glass, which is her. We bring our faces closer, as if approaching a mirror, but the feeling is more akin to being trapped in an early Spike Jonze movie or thrust into an unholy Vulcan mind meld.”

NSA: The decision problem
George Dyson | Edge | 27 July 2013

Why police states are necessarily stupid. “It will never be entirely possible to systematically distinguish truly dangerous ideas from good ones that appear suspicious, without trying them out. Any formal system that is granted (or assumes) the absolute power to protect itself against dangerous ideas will also be defensive against original and creative thoughts. For human beings individually and for society, that will be our loss.”

The science of winning at poker
Christopher Chabris | Wall Street Journal | 26 July 2013

The relevant science used to be psychology. Then it was probability. Now it’s game theory. “The right way to analyse a poker decision is to consider your opponent’s range — that is, the full set of different hands that he could plausibly have, given all the actions that he has thus far taken.” Which is too difficult to do while playing a real game; you have to train your instincts using poker apps.

Cyberwar fears pose dangers of unnecessary escalation
Martin C. Libicki | Rand Corporation | 25 July 2013

Very sensible policy note. Cyberwar isn’t real war. Don’t overreact if attacked, and don’t assume you know what’s going on. “The odds that an attack in cyberspace arises from miscalculation, inadvertence, unintended consequences, or rogue actors are nontrivial.” “Even if cyberwar can be used to disrupt life on a mass scale, it cannot be used to occupy another nation’s capital. It cannot force regime change. No one has yet died from it.”

They know much more than you think
James Bamford | New York Review Of Books | 25 July 2013

How the NSA hacks the internet. All of it. “Fibre-optic cables containing millions of communications go into what’s known as a beam-splitter. This is a prism-type device that produces a duplicate, mirror image of the original communications. The original beams continue on to wherever they were originally destined. The duplicate beam goes into the NSA’s secret room one floor below.”

Roadmap to Alpha Centauri
George Musser | Nautilus | 25 July 2013

Could we send a spaceship to the nearest star, using available science? An ion drive would take tens of thousands of years; a light-powered solar sail perhaps a thousand years; a solar sail with a microwave booster might do it within a human lifetime. The best option would be nuclear pulse propulsion. “Load the starship with 300,000 nuclear bombs, detonate one every three seconds, and ride the blast waves.”              

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