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Best of the Web

The man who reinvented the sanitary pad

(Jayaashree Industries)

(Jayaashree Industries)

Our pick of the week from around the web, including the school dropout transforming women’s lives, the first computer dating idea and the benefits of kids.

How will the 2014 World Cup ball swerve?
Simon Choppin | The Conversation | 5 March 2014

On the aerodynamics of footballs. The traditional ball has 32 panels stitched by hand; the Teamgeist developed by Adidas for 2006 World Cup had 14 heat-bonded panels; the Jabulani, for the 2010 World Cup, eight panels; the new ball for 2014, the Brazuca, has six. The Teamgeist and Jabulani were both notorious for swerving unpredictably; the Brazuca should be more stable in flight thanks to very deep seams.

Project Flame
Ted Sutton | Slate | 4 March 2014

College freshman has brainwave: Start a computer dating service. But it is 1966, four decades before OKCupid, and computers are hard to come by. “I had borrowed the IBM cards from the registrar’s office, and I had no intention of finding a computer to feed them into. Instead, I took the cards belonging to men and those belonging to women, shuffled them all up together, and made matches by chance.” It did not go well.

What good are children?
Angus Deaton & Arthur Stone | Vox | 4 March 2014

You’d have to be an economist to ask that question; and here is an economist’s answer. “Study after study has shown that those who live with children are less satisfied with their lives than those who do not.” Should governments issue happiness warnings to prospective parents? That depends on your perspective. “Perhaps the attractions of children are a deception necessary to keep in motion the continuation of mankind.”

The $19bn poker game
Parmy Olson | Forbes | 4 March 2014

Up-close story of Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp. Founder Jan Koum arrived at his price for WhatsApp my measuring it against Twitter’s market cap; then negotiated the final terms with Mark Zuckerberg in Zuckerberg’s kitchen. “Finally, on Saturday night Koum and Zuckerberg went from talking in the kitchen to the living room couch.” Which is where Zuckerberg offered $19bn, and pulled out a bottle of Scotch to seal the deal.

The Indian sanitary pad revolutionary 
Vibeke Venema | BBC | 4 March 2014

Heroic tale of an unschooled Indian entrepreneur who has “revolutionised menstrual health for rural women” by “inventing a simple machine they can use to make cheap sanitary pads”. He tested prototypes using goat’s blood from a friendly butcher; “everyone thought he’d gone mad”; family and friends shunned him; even his wife left him, for a time. The secret of his resilience: “Being uneducated, you have no fear of the future.”

What did not happen at Mt. Gox
Emin Gün Sirer | Hacking Distributed | 1 March 2014

None of the explanations so far advanced for the collapse of Mt Gox make much sense – including the version of events put forward by Mt Gox itself. But given the sloppy way the exchange was run, and the emergent state of Bitcoin governance, this was a disaster waiting to happen. “Even if the Bitcoin protocol were perfect, and it isn’t, our computing infrastructure is not up to the task of handling high-value transactions.”

The mammoth cometh
Nathaniel Rich | New York Times | 27 February 2014

Stewart Brand and Harvard biologist George Church back a project to revive the extinct Passenger Pigeon though genetic engineering. The first step, now under way, is to reconstruct the Passenger Pigeon genome using decayed DNA taken from dead museum specimens; then inscribe the DNA into living cells; and the cells into a living embryo. And if it works for pigeons, why not for mammoths? (Metered paywall)

Searching for the elephant’s genius
Ferris Jabr | Scientific American | 26 February 2014

Elephants have huge brains, and show every sign of being correspondingly intelligent. They love and grieve. “To look an elephant in the face is to gaze upon genius. Here is a creature who experiences emotional intimacy, who seems to understand death; who can recognise itself in the mirror, fashion twigs into tools, formulate and implement plans, and remember someone’s face for decades.”

The future of the news business
Marc Andreessen | Andreessen Horowitz | 25 February 2014

Venture capitalist foresees a boom: “I am more bullish about the future of the news industry over the next 20 years than almost anyone I know.” The price of content may fall ten-fold, but the size of the market will increase a-hundred-fold or more, thanks mainly to the growth of mobile internet. “Maybe we are entering into a new golden age of journalism, and we just haven’t recognised it yet.”

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