Our pick of the week’s science and tech stories, including why bots always outbid you on the internet and the father of fracking.
Too much information
Ian Leslie | Aeon | 7 August 2013
If we have an instinct for privacy, then how are we so easily fooled online? Perhaps because, at some primal level, “we don’t really believe in the internet”, and we are still getting used to it. “Just as many people mistakenly think that driving is safer than flying because they feel they have more control over it, so giving people more privacy settings to fiddle with makes them worry less about what they actually divulge.”
How to convince tech investors
Paul Graham | 8 August 2013
“The foundation of convincing investors is to seem formidable, and since this isn’t a word most people use in conversation much, I should explain what it means. A formidable person is one who seems like they’ll get what they want, regardless of whatever obstacles are in the way. Formidable is close to confident, except that someone could be confident and mistaken. Formidable is, roughly, justifiably confident.”
How athletes get great
David Epstein & Jeremy Repanich | Outside | 6 August 2013
There is a big genetic component. Practice isn’t enough, not even the “10,000 hours” popularised by Malcolm Gladwell in "Outliers", which mis-states underlying research — it’s an average, not a benchmark. In chess: “It takes 11,053 hours on average to achieve international master status. But the range there is what’s important. One guy takes 3,000 hours to become a master and another takes 25,000 and he’s still not there.”
Why you can never buy concert tickets online
Cal Flyn | New Statesman | 6 August 2013
Bots own the internet. They’re bidding for restaurant reservations, buying up concert tickets, mining virtual gold, even writing poetry. “In the US, bots are thought to account for 90 per cent of traffic to the Ticketmaster website, and 60 per cent of ticket sales to some of the most desirable events”. You can’t beat them, so why not join them? Buy your own bot designed to jump Ticketmaster’s queue for £645.
Father of fracking
Adrian Wooldridge | Economist | 2 August 2013
Appreciation of George Mitchell, a “one-man refutation of the declinist hypothesis” in America. When the domestic energy industry was going into decline in the 1970s, he argued for the potential of immense reserves of oil and gas trapped deep within rock formations; spent decades perfecting techniques for unlocking them; and when he succeeded — with government help — he changed global energy fundamentals.
How the Snowden saga will end
Emin Gün Sirer | Hacking Distributed | 1 August 2013
“The numbers suggest that the US will emerge out of the Snowden debacle with a set of processes that prohibit the kind of domestic surveillance that Snowden exposed. But the forces are fairly close, and the victory will be a highly qualified one. We’ll get the minimal set of changes such that a figurehead can say ‘we do not perform domestic surveillance’ with a straight face, for a specific definition of every word in that sentence.”
Science is not your enemy
Steven Pinker | The New Republic | 6 August 2013
The triumph of science, the disarray of the humanities. “The worldview that guides the moral and spiritual values of an educated person today is given by science. Though scientific facts do not by themselves dictate values, they hem in the possibilities. The facts of science, by exposing the absence of purpose in the laws governing the universe, force us to take responsibility for the welfare of ourselves, our species, and our planet.”