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Best of the Web

Stephen Hawking’s new black hole theory

Stephen Hawking’s new black hole theory (Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

Our pick of the week from around the web, including event horizons reassessed, the drug revolution no-one can stop, and Stephen Fry on the Mac at 30.

The drug revolution nobody can stop
Mike Power | Matter | 29 January 2014

Designer drugs “concocted in labs by tweaking a few atoms here and there” are novel and legal. If sometimes lethal. Name your formula, order from a Chinese factory online, and pay in Bitcoins. “I phoned a contact with expertise in chemistry and asked if he could think of a simple molecular tweak that would produce a new version of phenmetrazine that would be totally legal. Yes, he said. The change would be trivial.”

Our quantum reality problem
Adrian Kent | Aeon | 28 January 2014

Quantum theory is “supposed to describe the behaviour of elementary particles, atoms, molecules and every other form of matter in the universe”. But it is still something of a black box. “While the mathematics of quantum theory works very well in telling us what to expect at the end of an experiment, it seems peculiarly conceptually confusing when we try to understand what was happening during the experiment.”

It’s a service world
Manu Rekhi | Pando Daily | 24 January 2014

Google’s acquisition of Nest stands astride two big trends: The rise of the “internet of things”, and the shift towards service contracts in place of ownership. By bundling Nest’s smart thermostats into service contracts priced at $1.99 per month or even free, Google can place Nest’s devices at the heart of “millions of homes”. It’s a business model for a future in which consumers will own nothing, lease everything.

The botmaker who sees through the internet
Leon Neyfakh | Boston Globe | 24 January 2014

Profile of Darius Kazemi, programmer who makes “poignant and disorienting” Twitter bots that imitate humans. His most popular, Two Headlines, crawls news stories on Google, picks two at random, switches keywords: “Could Pope Francis be on the verge of a megadrought?”. He may have invented “a new kind of public art” for our time – “changing, self-referential, and in its insistent randomness, oddly alive.”

Mac at 30
Stephen Fry | New Adventures | 24 January 2014

“If you compare computers to offices, the Mac was the equivalent of the most beautifully designed colourful space, with jazzy carpets on shiny oak floors, a pool table, wooden beams, a cappuccino machine, posters and great music playing. The rest of the world trudged into Microsoft’s operating system: a grey, soulless partitioned office, with nylon carpets, flickering fluorescent lamps and a faintly damp smell.”

Lessons from the world’s most tech-savvy government
Ben Horowitz & Sten Tamkivi | Atlantic | 24 January 2014

Estonia re-engineers society and government for the digital age. General elections are held online; tax collection is near-frictionless. Key elements in the transformation are a “simple, unique ID methodology” across all systems, and universal acceptance of secure digital signatures. Putting government in the cloud raises the cost of successful cyber attack against the government, but lowers the cost of a physical attack.

Stephen Hawking: There are no black holes
Zeeya Merali | Nature | 23 January 2014

Sketch of a new theory reconciling quantum mechanics and general relativity. Matter entering a black hole would not get squashed to nothing, nor fried. It would get “highly scrambled so that, as it is released through Hawking radiation, it would be in a vastly different form, making it almost impossible to work out what the swallowed objects once were … It would be worse than trying to reconstruct a book that you burned from its ashes.”

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