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Best of the Web

Ebola: The most perfect killing machine in nature?

(Science Photo Library)

(Science Photo Library)

Our picks of the week from around the web, including the continuing threat of the deadly Ebola virus, the gridlock capital of the world, and life beyond Earth.

Pinboard turns five
Maciej Cegłowski | Pinboard | 9 July 2014

Founder of “anti-social bookmarking” site Pinboard reflects on lessons learned from five years running an online service. “My job is to project an aura of calm, solvency, and permanence in an industry where none of those adjectives applies. People are justifiably risk-averse when it comes to their bookmarks, and they are looking for stability… The money part turns out to be easy. People will pay for a decent service.”

Nature’s perfect killing machine
Leigh Cowart | Hazlitt | 7 July 2014

The Ebola virus announced itself to the modern world with two outbreaks in 1976. It carries a fatality rate of 50-90% – “the platonic ideal of a doomsday slate-wiper”. In almost 40 years science has found no predictable pattern to epidemics, no standard treatment, no vaccine. The best that doctors can do is to assuage panic, persuade sufferers to stay in bed, scatter bleach, and warn strangers away.

Facebook: A golden age for research
Duncan Watts | Guardian | 7 July 2014

Media and marketers try to shape our moods and behaviour all the time. The difference with the Facebook furore was that Facebook told us about it – and Facebook was making a serious effort to understand how manipulation works. We need more of this, not less. “If anything, we should insist that companies like Facebook – and governments – perform and publish research on the effects of the decisions they’re already making on our behalf.”

Fireside chat with Larry Page and Sergey Brin
Vinod Khosla | Khosla Ventures | 3 July 2014

Interesting and accessible throughout. Larry Page: “We feel like right now, computers are still pretty bad. You’re just messing around. You’re scrolling on your touchscreen phone, and trying to find stuff. The actual amount of knowledge you get out of your computer versus the amount of time you spend with it is still pretty bad. So I think our job is to solve that, and most of the things we’re doing make sense in that context.”

Gridlock capital of the world
Michael Hobbes | New Republic | 2 July 2014

Welcome to Dhaka in Bangladesh, the world’s fastest-growing and densest city, with 15 million people and only 60 traffic lights. There is no planned road network, no subway, and 60 separate bus networks. At peak times cars and buses move at twenty feet an hour. The burden in terms of social and economic costs is crippling. “Alleviating traffic congestion is one of the defining development challenges of our time.”

How are apps made?
Craig Mod | Medium | 2 July 2014

“Enumerate the unknowns. Make a list. Making known the unknowns you now know will surface the other unknowns, the important unknowns, the truly devastating unknowns  –  you can’t scrape our content! you can’t monkey park here! a tiny antennae is not for rent! You want to unearth answers as quickly as possible. Nothing else matters if your question marks irrecoverably break you. Do not procrastinate in their excavation.”

Life beyond Earth
Michael Lemonick | National Geographic | 1 July 2014

In the past 20 years astronomers have found two thousand planets orbiting Sun-like stars outside our solar system. The question is not so much whether other life is out there, but what kind of life it might be. If it is not even carbon-based, for example, how can we hope to recognise it? Astrobiologists are studying the most extreme life-forms on Earth, from Antarctic ice sheets to Mexican caves, looking for clues.

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