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Best of the Web

Why reports of paper's death are premature

(Thinkstock)

(Thinkstock)

Our picks of the week from around the web, including robot servants at home, the continuing lure of the printed page and visualising centuries of chess games.

London’s buried diggers
Ed Smith | New Statesman | 5 June 2014

When archaeologists excavate the foundations of present-day central London, they will find 1,000 mechanical diggers entombed in concrete. Note to the future: These are not sacrifices to some mechanical god, but the by-product of a fashion among the rich for adding basement swimming pools and media rooms. When the digging is done, the digger is stuck. You’d need a crane to get it out. Cheaper to wall it up and write it off.

A theory of jerks
Eric Schwitzgebel | Aeon | 4 June 2014

“We need a theory of jerks. We need such a theory because, first, it can help us achieve a calm, clinical understanding when confronting such a creature in the wild.” And we need a theory, second, because it may help us to see when we are jerks ourselves. “As one climbs the social hierarchy it is easier to become a jerk. Thinking yourself important is a self-gratifying excuse for disregarding the interests of others.”

What happens when the Booster-Maxx breaks?
Alejandro Tauber | Motherboard | 30 May 2014

How far will you be flung if the bolts break on your super-terrifying Booster Maxx fairground ride, throwing you off at a speed of 40.3m per second and an angle of 45 degrees to the ground? “The grand total is around 204 metres before you die a bloody and painful death”. If you’re on the Booster Maxx in Dam Square, Amsterdam, you would have a 50/50 chance of hitting the spires of Nieuwe Kerk.

So, where are my robot servants?
Erico Guizzo | IEEE Spectrum | 29 May 2014

They may not be far away. Components are getting better and cheaper. Research and investment is booming. “The robots that will really change things will perform multiple tasks. They won’t do everything right out of the box. They’ll come equipped with attachment points for new accessories and standard interfaces that allow new third-party software to add functions, much like apps on phones.”

You’re right, I didn’t eat that
Alana Massey | New Inquiry | 29 May 2014

On the sexual economy of staying thin. “There are a number of euphemisms for female thinness that do not require a man to make the impolite admission of his exclusive attraction to women with very little body fat. Though ‘active’ and ‘full of energy’ make respectable showings, they are a distance second and third from ‘a woman who takes care of herself’. When he says ‘herself’, he means, ‘her body’.”

Will regulators hold back self-driving cars?
Joshua Gans | Digitopoly | 29 May 2014

By pitching their first driverless cars towards the elderly and disabled, for short trips on slow local roads, Google is internalising the safety concerns that would probably block the immediate introduction of driverless cars for general highway use. It’s a win for Google, and for regulation. “It would not surprise me if regulators and politicians turn out to be Google’s friend in the driverless car business.”

The eunuch’s children
Nicholas Carr | Rough Type | 25 May 2014

Paper survives and thrives despite the digital revolution. “To the human mind, a sequence of pages bound together into a physical object is very different from a flat screen that displays only a single ‘page’ at a time. The physical presence of the printed pages, and the ability to flip back and forth through them, turns out to be important to the mind’s ability to navigate written works, particularly lengthy and complicated ones.”

Chess tournament games and Elo ratings
Randal S Olson | 24 May 2014

Exercises in data visualisation using results from 675,000 chess tournament games dating back to the 15th Century. Elo ratings reliably predict which player will win: “I’d imagine the only reason this trend levels out at ~90% is because this data set contains games where a talented new player hasn’t quite reached their proper Elo rating yet.” Playing white confers a strong advantage to an expert, less so to a rookie.

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