Vol. 2 | #2 | 01.11.19


Of Ben-Hur and Galley Slaves

Few characters are more synonymous with the golden age of the Hollywood epic than the two played by Charlton Heston: Moses in The Ten Commandments and Judah Ben-Hur in Ben-Hur. Although the chariot race scene in Ben-Hur is the one that most captured the storytelling and grand scale of production in that classic film, the imagery of Judah chained to an oar in the hull of a Roman warship is the most poignant. This writer takes a deep historical dive into the details of the “galley slave” and their use (or they mythical use) in Roman imperial ships of war.


2If Judah Ben-Hur Had a Corporate Job

Performance art isn’t my thing, usually. However, every once in awhile, through the magic of the internet, I come across an artist whose work I not only “get,” but which gets me. This work by Jefferson Pinder is just such a work. The imagery of watching six African-American men in business attire silently row themselves to exhaustion is a powerful commentary on the issues of both race and labor.

3The Spark That Survived Igniting the Arab Spring

Eight years ago, the flames of the Arab Spring were in full burn mode. Sparked by a pair of self-immolations made in protest in Tunisia, the organic resistance movement used the internet to unexpectedly jump over country borders and quickly spread across the Mediterranean. In the space of two short months, the countries of Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen were all pulled into chaos … chaos that continues to burn through blood and treasure to this day.

Only one of those two Tunisian men actually died from their self-set ordeals. This is the compelling story of the one who survived.

4The Art of Marketing Genes

Sooyun Choi is a senior product designer at the consumer genetic sequencing company 23andMe. More interestingly, she is the artist behind 23andMe’s visual brand. Choi designed the bright, colorful chromosome graphics that wrap around the company’s home DNA collection kits as well as the company’s web presence. On her personal site, Choi explains the thought processes that went into the design work, as well as how all the different graphical elements tie together to form a coherent voice for 23andMe’s brand.

Her collection of non-work-related artwork is worth viewing as well. As the father of a daughter/aspiring artist, I love seeing examples of how people’s passion for making art can be a fruitful career in ways beyond the traditional one of selling art as art.


5China Leading the Way to 5G

There are so many areas all around us where change is happening on an exponential curve, making it nearly impossible to envision what is coming in even the near term. For example, the amount of information that gets transmitted wireless-ly across the cellular radio spectrum is about to get freaky fast with the advent of 5th Generation mobile internet technology. Confusion about 5G abounds thanks to the marketing spin by US mobile carriers, all fighting to find ways to “claim” the title of first to roll out 5G services. Profit-driven storytelling efforts aside, though, this article by MIT Technology Review explains how China is racing ahead to do the real, infrastructure-building work needed to support a 5G data ecosystem. It’s truly hard to overestimate how radically different our world is about to become when everything is connected and constantly communicating with everything else.


Vol. 2 | #1 | 01.04.19


How Integrated Circuits Are Made

While researching for a presentation this week, I found myself enjoyably falling down an informational rabbit hole on the technicals of how the computer you’re reading this on works. Along the way I came to this fantastic explainer on the integrated circuit — its history, its design, and its manufacturing process. More so than the invention of the “computer” more generally, the invention of the integrated circuit makes possible nearly every technological innovation you are enjoying right now — and the mind-blowing future just around the bend.


2The Deadly Wages of Failed Leadership

Not all the things that are “interesting” are fun to read.

This investigation into the horrific shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last Valentines Day by the South Florida SunSentinel is worthy of a Pulitzer Prize, in my opinion. Combining an exhaustive amount of evidence in a variety of formats, the SunSentinel presents the facts of what happened that day with brutal clarity. Through maps, audio, video, and animation delivered in an interactive website, the SunSentinel lays out the facts in a minute-by-minute narrative that makes plain the shameful failure of leadership on behalf of the command staff of the Broward County Sheriff’s Office, and the utterly preventable number of deaths that resulted from it. And, to be sure, the failures weren’t just limited to the command staff.

(Worth noting: while the read is a heavy one, it’s not a gory one. You can view this piece without being exposed to any images of the deadly result of the shootings.)

3Bringing Euclid to Life

If the name draws a blank, go back into your memory banks and recall your high school days learning about things like polygons, obtuse angles, and isosceles triangles. If any of those ring a bell at all, then what you once learned (and possibly have forgotten!) are some of the fundamental concepts of Euclidean Geometry.

Over two millennia ago, Euclid (a Greek mathematician from the Egyptian city of Alexandria) recorded his geometric system in a series of 13 books called The Elements.  In 1847, Oliver Byrne reproduced Euclid’s first six books, with the addition of colorful diagrams and illustrations that made Euclid’s work simple(r) to understand. Now, Byrne’s work has been reproduced as an interactive website that is a gorgeous homage to both Euclid and Byrne, and a vivid example of the value and artistry of digital data viz tech.

4Speaking of Gorgeous Data Viz…

Evidently there is an annual set of awards given out for the most beautiful, creative and informative examples of data visualization. They are known as the Kantar Information Is Beautiful Awards, and this year’s recipients are worth a look.

My favorite:

5China’s Mission to the Dark Side

Pink Floyd notwithstanding, the far side of the moon is not actually dark. It is, however, now home to a soft-landed spacecraft from Earth for the first time in human history. China not only pulled off this feat this week, but once landed, they dropped a ramp down and deployed a 6-wheeled rover to do some sight seeing.

Even more interesting is the support mission and systems put in place to insure continued communication with their rover and lander. Earlier this summer, China launched Queqiao, a communications relay satellite designed to park in a “halo orbit” around the L2 point that is about 60,000 km past the far side of the moon’s surface. Once on station, Queqiao deployed a pair of microsatellites — Longjang 1 & 2) to complete the communications coverage. Only Longjang 2 entered lunar orbit as designed, putting it in position to be the first to capture a photo of Earthrise from the lunar far side by something other than an Apollo astronaut.

Vol. 1 | #30 | 12.21.18


The Rise and Fall of the Iconic American Corporation

Born out of the inventions of America’s greatest inventor, Thomas Edison, the General Electric Company has been a staple of the blue chip American corporate landscape since the Dow Jones Industrial Average was born. As documented by this extensively researched piece by the journalists at the Wall Street Journal, bad leadership ultimately was responsible for doing what the Depression, two world wars, and a century’s worth of global history couldn’t: bring America’s largest and longest lived conglomerate to its knees.

2Bumblebee Drones

In the world of bees, drones are the males of the hive that serve one function: to mate with the queen on her mating flight, and then promptly die. Up at the University of Washington, engineers have built an electronic backpack that turns regular worker bumblebees into drones of a different sort: the kind that can fly for hours and collect environmental data that gets uploaded upon return to the hive. No batteries or FAA license required.

3“It’s Like a Rock Eavesdropping on a Bird.” 

There are things in the natural world that are freakier than science-fiction. For example, Princeton biologist Bonnie Bassler has spent the last two decades or more studying the way bacteria coordinate their infection behaviors through the use of molecular “quorum sensing.” (Bassler’s TED talk from 2009 explaining how this works has been viewed almost 2.4 million times.)

And that’s not even the freaky deaky part.

Recently, one of Bassler’s students discovered something truly weird: that viruses — which are not “living” organisms, mind you — can detect the bacteria’s molecular communication and interpret it accordingly. In other words, when bacteria send out the signals that tell each other their numbers are sufficiently large to commence their infectionary attack, the viruses in the area get the same message and know the time is right for them to attack the bacteria.

4Untangling the Brain

The mapping of the human genome is one of those technological achievements that will be seen as opening the doors on an entire new world of insight and discovery. Understanding just how our brain works — and how a person’s genetic code programs certain mental illnesses and disorders into some of those brains — is one of the mysteries that lay beyond that proverbial door.

Just think of the complex research and science that went into building this map of the genetic connections among the various genes and chromosomes of a single brain cell. The mind reels at the complexity of it…

After reading that article, I immediately added the new book of one of the quoted experts to my ever-growing / hardly-shrinking stack of “to be read” books. Let me know if you do the same. I’m always up for a reading partner when diving into an interesting book…


5The Origins of Blue Origin

Honest confession time: I genuinely had no idea that Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin rocket company was a legit trailblazer in the modern age of privately funded, reusable booster rockety. For all the interest I have in following the well-documented journey of Elon Musk’s SpaceX, I’ve yet to come across even a 10th of the media coverage for what Blue Origin has done and is doing compared to SpaceX. Here’s just one example: I was not aware that it was Blue Origin, and not SpaceX, that first demonstrated the ability to program a rocket to guide itself back down into a vertical landing after being launched. (That happened on November 24, 2015, although there was plenty of debate and disagreement as to how much the efforts of these two companies can be compared to each other.)

Regardless, it’s a fascinating read on how Bezos built Blue Origin, and why.

Vol. 1 | #29 | 12.14.18


It’s Not Quite the Delta Quadrant, but Still…

On August 20, 1977, the counter-intuitively named Voyager 2 was the first of the twin Voyager probes to launch (Voyager 1 launched 16 days later). This week, after 41+ years and over 11 billion miles traveled, Voyager 2 joins its sister beyond the reaches of our sun’s solar wind in interstellar space.

Voyager 2 took the scenic route out of town, visiting all four of our solar system’s gas giants, and racking up an impressive list of mission accomplishments in the process. Now, it’s final mission is to send back data about the forces of interstellar wind — something Voyager 1 couldn’t do after its plasma-measuring instruments failed way back in 1980.

(No idea what the Delta Quadrant is? I have some sci-fi for you to watch…)

2The App Will See You Now

Anemia is a blood disorder afflicting roughly 30% of the people on Earth. Diagnosing the condition that leaves its sufferers perpetually weakened due to an insufficient supply of oxygen-carrying red blood cells requires a visit to a doctor and a confirmatory blood test.

No longer. We now live in a time where a camera phone and attendant app can diagnose this condition in seconds, at higher rates of accuracy than your doctor.



3A New Recipe for Batteries

What do Honda, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory at CalTech and toothpaste have in common? — fluoride. (Obvious, right?) Besides being a killer Tribond answer, fluoride may be the answer to lighter, more stable, cooler-running and longer-lasting battery technology than the current standard of Lithium-Ion.

4The Golden Spider’s Web

Did you know that spider’s silk is “as strong as steel and light as a feather”? I must confess that I did not until coming across this JSTOR “Cabinet of Curiosities” piece about everyone’s least favorite weaver. (Honestly, I thought such references were just the product of the Spider-Man comic book lore.) If you aren’t wigged out by the prospect of working closely with 1.2 million large spiders, have 79 friends willing to help, and 8 years to spend on the project, you too can turn out a museum-quality garment like this cape here:

5Tips on Generating Creative Ideas

Cloud-based file-sharing company WeTransfer asked their over 10,000 users a handful of questions about how their new ideas get found. The results yield four insights, displayed in a really slick, visual way.

Vol. 1 | #28 | 12.07.18


Another Week, Another Data Hack

This past week we found out the personal identifying information of a half-billion people was stolen from the guest record database of Starwood Hotels, now owned by Marriott. While the Yahoo! hack in 2013 involved the records of more users — 3 BILLION! — Yahoo! didn’t cough up people’s passport numbers in their data breach.

I think the push to make user data more secure and harder to steal is a fool’s errand. With each new breach of this nature, the need to get off that treadmill of failure and shift the paradigm to a system of authenticity instead of security is more and more evident. Forget trying to prevent personal identifying data theft, and instead build a system where it’s impossible to use the data of someone that isn’t actually you.

2Is Breaching Someone’s Privacy “Art”?

Online art platform Artsy has a thought-provoking article about how bending the rules of civility in the name of “art” works when other people’s privacy and dignity are at issue. (NOTE: there’s a NSFW photo in this piece.) Consider the work of Arne Svenson: surreptitiously photographing unsuspecting people who have no idea their private moments are being presented to a mass audience. Is that really all that different from live-tweeting the conversation of an unsuspecting couple in the row in front of you on a flight? Is the publicly distributed voyeurism of Rosey Blair really different from Svenson’s merely because her’s went viral using Twitter and wasn’t packaged as collection-quality “art”?

3CRISPR Babies

Speaking of breaking the conventions of modern society because one is pursuing a believed higher, nobler pursuit …  Last week the world was stunned by the news that Chinese geneticist Dr. He Jiankui had used the CRISPR gene editing technology to genetically engineer twin babies who were born recently. The ostensible purpose of this use of the CRISPR gene editing technology was to enable a couple to reproduce while insuring the children were genetically innoculated from their father’s HIV.

In classic 2018 fashion, Dr. He announced his historic, groundbreaking and extremely controversial breakthrough via a video posted to YouTube:

After appearing at a summit on human genome editing in Hong Kong to face the criticism and defend his work last week, Dr. He has now been missing for over a week.

4New Life Form Found

This just may be one of the most surprising things I’ve read in quite awhile. This isn’t the discovery of a new species, but instead an entirely new kingdom of life here on Earth. Two quotes from the CBC article illustrate why:

  1. “A genetic analysis shows they’re more different from other organisms than animals and fungi (which are in different kingdoms) are from each other, representing a completely new part of the tree of life.” — think about that: as different as cats are from mushrooms, these organisms are *more different* from either cats or mushrooms.
  2. “Two species of the microscopic organisms, called hemimastigotes, were found in dirt collected on a whim during a hike in Nova Scotia by Dalhousie University graduate student Yana Eglit.” — this historical discovery was made by a student on a walk in the woods.

“on a whim” = serendipity at work

5Elon’s Big Cyborg Idea

Admittedly, it’s a bit unsettling to hear Elon Musk talk nonchalantly about designing a “electrode to neuron interface at a micro level” that is implanted surgically into people’s brains. His purpose? — “to achieve a symbiosis with artificial intelligence [in order] to achieve a sort of democratization of intelligence.”

Sounds looney tunes crazy, right?

Now, pull out your smartphone, open up Google, and pull up your search history. With the world’s combined historical knowledge literally at your fingertips now being a perfectly unremarkable thing, understand that you’re already a good deal down the road toward Borg Town. Your intelligence, memory capacity, information processing capability, spatial awareness across distances, and a host of other abilities have already been enhanced through the omniscience of the internet, the omnipresence of our phones, and the omnipotence of cloud computing.

Elon and Neuralink just want to get your thumbs out of the equation.