The man who forgot everything
Steven Shapin | New Yorker | 15 October 2013

Review of "Permanent Present Tense" by Suzanne Corkin. Henry Molaison became “the single most important patient ever studied in neuropsychology” after a surgeon tried to cure his epilepsy with a drastic lobotomy. The epilepsy vanished, but so did Molaison’s capacity to form memories. “Molaison gave scientists a way to map cognitive functions onto brain structure. It became possible to subdivide memory into different types.”

Embracing the void
Ross Andersen | Aeon | 15 October 2013

A visit to Star Axis, a monumental work of land art in the New Mexico desert, 40 years in the making, still not finished, already awe-inspiring. Sculptor Charles Ross has dug an artificial canyon crowned with a stone cap through which rises a long staircase aligned with the earth’s axis and pointing towards the North Star. It is a new Great Pyramid, a work of “celestial geometry”. Look up, and “tremble before the sky.”

Healthy at 100
Elizabeth Murphy | Fast Company | 14 October 2013

Genetics firm 23andMe reaches out to the mass market, dropping the price of DNA analysis to $99. It aims to grow from a testing business into a data business – the “Google of personalized health care” – able to spot population groups most at risk for serious diseases. “You can target them with preventative messages, make sure they’re examined more frequently, and in the end live healthier lives.”

Sex and the single organism
David Barash | Chronicle Review | 14 October 2013

Discussion of recent books on evolution and reproduction, including Grazyna Jasienska’s "The Fragile Wisdom", which “explains why it has been so difficult to prevent certain aspects of disease in women”. Women are victims of competing evolutionary pressures between their lifetime reproductive success and their lifelong health. Their physiology has evolved to maximize successful reproduction, not health or happiness.

Debugging a live Saturn V rocket
Brennan Moore | 13 October 2013

From the diary of a Nasa engineer working on the Apollo 4 mission in 1967. A circuit failed during countdown. There were two choices: abort the launch, or go into the live rocket and fix the circuit. They went in. “We were told that one of the prototype S11 rocket stages had been exploded out in the desert. The results showed that all buildings better be at least three miles from the launch pads. We were now within 25 feet.”

Why Microsoft Word must die
Charlie Stross | Charlie's Diary | 12 October 2013

Rant. “I hate Microsoft Word. I want Microsoft Word to die. I hate Microsoft Word with a burning, fiery passion. I hate Microsoft Word the way Winston Smith hated Big Brother. Our reasons are, alarmingly, not dissimilar. Microsoft Word is a tyrant of the imagination, a petty, unimaginative, inconsistent dictator that is ill-suited to any creative writer’s use … The reason I want Word to die is that until it does, it is unavoidable.”

The mother of all disruptions
Venkatesh Rao | Ribbonfarm | 11 October 2013

Humans have relied on natural language for communication and thinking since the dawn of the species. But now there is a rival soft technology: computing. “The difference is that computing can as yet only handle the simpler cases covered by natural language. But it serves those cases much better than natural language.” Is this the biggest technological disruption in world history? Only electricity, as a replacement for fire, comes close.

Inside the Apple store: Product launch
JK Appleseed | McSweeney's | 10 October 2013

Apple weaponised product launch with the 1984 Super Bowl commercial for the Mac. Now its capacity to arouse and manage expectations means that enthusiasts will queue for a week in the street just to get their hands on an updated iPhone. Here’s what it’s like to be working in the store when a launch day comes around. “I’m walking past the line. Deja Vu. There are folding chairs, sleeping bags, coolers, and interesting smells.”

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