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Best of the Web

Could an app help you read a novel in 90 minutes?

Speed-read a novel in 90 minutes? (Thinkstock)

Speed-read a novel in 90 minutes? (Thinkstock)

Our picks of the week from around the web, including the tech claiming to quadruple reading speed and what living longer means for life-sentenced criminals.

Hell on Earth
Ross Andersen | Aeon | 13 March 2014

Life-extension technologies could keep bad people alive as well as good ones, allowing prolonged punishment for unusually wicked criminals – an idea with many moral complications: “If you put someone in prison for a crime they committed at 40, they might, strictly speaking, be an entirely different person at 940. And that means you are effectively punishing one person for a crime committed by someone else.”

Satoshi: Why Newsweek isn’t Convincing
Felix Salmon | Reuters | 10 March 2014

Post-mortem on Newsweek‘s cover story claiming to have identified the inventor of Bitcoin. The writer, Leah McGrath Goodman, did a “huge amount of work” amassing circumstantial evidence. But she was wrong to frame her story as a revelation of fact. She would have done better to frame it as a quest, sharing the evidence and ending with a tentative identification of the most-plausible candidate.

The infinite lives of BitTorrent
Sarah Kessler | Fast Company | 10 March 2014

BitTorrent is famous for a piece of software that accounts for 10% of all internet traffic and is closely associated with digital piracy. “Its greatest business success, however, is arguably an income stream that BitTorrent doesn’t like to talk about”; namely, stiffing unsuspecting internet users with spammy toolbars that change their default search settings. Small wonder that the company is permanently chasing a makeover.

Why does Test cricket run in families?
David Papineau | More Important Than That | 9 March 2014

Cricketing countries are “replete with Test dynasties” – the Mohammads, Khans, Manjrekars, Roys, Hadlees, Headleys, Chappells, Pollocks. Genetics at work? Perhaps, but more probably environment. “Even in sports that don’t require extreme physical attributes, family patterns will be favoured to the extent that (a) the necessary skills are hard to learn and (b) youngsters aren’t all exposed to the necessary training.”

Am I reading this right?
John Henderson | 7 March 2014

The makers of Spritz claim their app can quadruple the user’s reading speed. Spritz uses a technique called “rapid serial visual presentation”: each word is flashed individually on screen for a brief period of time. And you do indeed read faster; but you might as well not bother: “Comprehension and memory for text falls as speeds increase, and the problem gets worse for paragraphs compared to single sentences.”

A brief history of databases
Stephen Fortune | VVVNT | 5 March 2014

From punch cards to NoSQL by way of file systems, database management systems, and relational databases, “the history of databases is a tale of experts at different times attempting to make sense of complexity”. The data-processing industry was kickstarted by the 1880 US Census, when human tabulators needed eight years to compute the results. Relational databases have dominated data storage since 1979.

The invention of the AeroPress
Zachary Crockett | Priceonomics | 4 March 2014

In the 1970s and 1980s a Stanford engineering professor called Alan Adler made fundamental improvements to the aerodynamics of the frisbee. His variant, the Aerobie, sold millions. In 2004 he turned to coffee: he wanted a better way to make a single cup, and came up with a pump action device called the AeroPress. Another hit. The AeroPress is cheap, hackable, and makes the best cup of coffee in the world.

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