Alexis Madrigal is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Technology channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More
The New York Observer calls Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.
He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).
Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.
Those proton accelerators aren't just good for particle physics anymore.All of the computer technology everywhere is built on chips. These chips are made of silicon that has been manufactured into the purest material on earth. And then that silicon is cut into wafers with a saw. A really nice saw, but a saw.
Oh Psy! The Korean rapper who is responsible for inciting a global dance craze that is 2012's Macarena has entered elite territory. His 'Gangnam Style' video is now the third most-watched YouTube video of all time. Since it launched in July, the video has received 531 million views. More than half a billion views!
Who -- or what -- could have more views than that? Well, two other music videos. Sitting at number two, we find the indie sensation Jennifer Lopez on a club banger featuring noted Bud Light endorser, Pitbull. Since March 2011, this video has been watched 611 million times.
And now we come to the most-watched video on YouTube of all time. This Bieber-Ludacris bowling alley bildungsroman is a pop gem, but holy moly, 791 million views for this?
If you're old, you may not understand why these music videos have such obscenely high view counts. But the kids these days -- by which I mean everyone in their 20s and below -- seem to use YouTube like a jukebox. A jukebox that's free and shows motion pictures! (Even if it is low-fidelity and seemingly the worst possible way of listening to music on a computer.)
If I remember my (rapidly fading) tween years, I could listen to the same song ("Smells Like Teen Spirit," "Ruby Soho," anything from Punk in Drublic, and the disco classic "Ring My Bell") hundreds of times. I mean, the Repeat 1 setting was practically invented for the adolescent brain. So, maybe, a mere 10 million kids could be responsible for pushing Bieber to the top of the tubes. That is still a lot of Beliebers.
Author's note: Especially considering the amazingly awkward pool table dance roll he pulls at about 1:30 of this video. I mean, has everyone forgotten Michael Jackson? Bieber is an OK dancer, but that move is like watching Will Ferrell slide over the roof of a car or David Spade jump into a convertible's driver's seat.
The new Google FieldTrip app probes the question: What digital information do you want to see overlaid on the physical world?
It is The Future. You wake up at dawn and fumble on the bedstand for your (Google) Glass. Peering out at the world through transparent screens, what do you see?
If you pick up a book, do you see a biography of its author, an analysis of the chemical composition of its paper, or the share price for its publisher? Do you see a list of your friends who've read it or a selection of its best passages or a map of its locations or its resale price or nothing? The problem for Google's brains, as it is for all brains, is choosing where to focus attention and computational power. As a Google-structured augmented reality comes closer to becoming a product-service combination you can buy, the particulars of how it will actually merge the offline and online are starting to matter.
To me, the hardware (transparent screens, cameras, batteries, etc) and software (machine vision, language recognition) are starting to look like the difficult but predictable parts. The wildcard is going to be the content. No one publishes a city, they publish a magazine or a book or a news site. If we've thought about our readers reading, we've imagined them at the breakfast table or curled up on the couch (always curled up! always on the couch!) or in office cubicles running out the clock. No one knows how to create words and pictures that are meant to be consumed out there in the world.
This is not a small problem.
* * *
I'm sitting with Google's former maps chief John Hanke in the company's San Francisco offices looking out at the Bay's islands and bridges, which feel close enough to touch. We're talking about Field Trip, the new Android app his 'internal startup' built, when he says something that I realize will be a major theme of my life for the next five or 10 years. Yours too, probably.
But first, let me explain what Field Trip is. Field Trip is a geo-publishing tool that gently pushes information to you that its algorithms think you might be interested in. In the ideal use case, it works like this: I go down to the Apple Store on Fourth Street in Berkeley and as I get back to my car, I hear a ding. Looking at my phone, I see an entry from Atlas Obscura, which informs me that the East Bay Vivarium -- a reptilian wonderland that's part store, part zoo -- is a couple of blocks away. That sounds neat, so I walk over and stare at pythons and horned dragons for the next hour. Voila. "Seamless discovery," as Hanke calls it.
Dozens of publishers are tagging their posts with geocodes that Field Trip can hoover up and send to users now. Hanke's team works on finding the right moment to insert that digital information into your physical situation.
And when it works well, damn does it work well.
It's only a slight exaggeration to say that Field Trip is invigorating. That is to say: It makes life more interesting. And since I switched back to my iPhone after a one-week Android/Field Trip test, it's the one thing that I really miss.
At first, I was tempted to write off this effort as a gimmick, to say that Field Trip was a deconstructed guide book. But the app is Google's probe into the soft side of augmented reality. What the team behind it creates and discovers may become the basis of your daily reality in five or 10 years. And that brings me back to Hanke's comment, the one you could devote a career to.
"You've got things like Google Glass coming. And one of the things with Field Trip was, if you had [Google Glass], what would it be good for?" Hanke said. "Part of the inspiration behind Field Trip was that we'd like to have that Terminator or Iron Man-style annotation in front of you, but what would you annotate?"
There's so much lurking in that word, "annotate." In essence, Hanke is saying: What parts of the digital world do you want to see appear in the physical world?
If a Field Trip notification popped up about John Hanke, it might tell you to look for the East Bay hipster with floppy hair almost falling over his eyes. He looks like a start-up guy, and admits to being one despite his eight years at Google. He refers to its cofounders like old college friends. ("Sergey was always big on, 'You should be able to blow stuff up' [in Google Earth].") Not a kid anymore, Hanke sold an early massively multiplayer online gaming company to the legendary Trip Hawkins in the '90s, then co-founded Keyhole, which became the seed from which Google's multi-thousand person map division grew.
When maps got too big for Hanke's taste, he "ultimately talked with Larry" [Page], and figured out how to create an "autonomous unit" to play with the company's geodata to create novel, native mobile experiences. This is Google's Page-blessed skunkworks for working on this very specific problem. They are Google but they have license to be unGoogle.
"You don't want to show everything from Google Maps. You don't want to show every dry cleaner and 7-Eleven in a floating bubble," Hanke said. "I want to show that incremental information that you don't know. What would a really knowledgeable neighborhood friend tell you about the neighborhood you're moving through? He wouldn't say, 'That's a 7-Eleven. That's a fire hydrant.' He would say, 'Michael Mina is opening this new place here and they are going to do this crazy barbecue thing.' "
Some companies, like Junaio, are working on augmented-reality apps that crowdsource location intelligence through Facebook Places and FourSquare checkins. Hold up your phone to the world and it can tell you where your friends have been. It's a cool app, and certainly worth trying out, but there isn't much value in each piece of information that you see. The information density of of that augmented reality is low, even if it is socially relevant. If you're opting into 24/7 AR through something like Glass, that cannot be the model.
* * *
Google had previously offered up a vision of how Glass might be used in a video they released earlier this year to pretty much universal interest.
But consider the cramped view of augmented reality you see here. What information is actually overlaid on the world?
You can see why Google would put this particular vision out there. It's basically all the stuff they've already done repackaged into this new UI. Sure, there's a believable(ish) voice interface and a cute narrative and all that. But of all the information that could possibly be seamlessly transmitted to you from/about your environment, that's all we get?
I'm willing to bet that people are going to demand a lot more from their augmented reality systems, and Hanke's team is a sign that Google might think so, too. His internal startup at Google is called Niantic Labs, and if you get that reference, you are a very particular kind of San Francisco nerd. The Niantic was a ship that came to California in 1849, got converted into a store, burned in a fire, and was buried in the city. Over the next hundred and twenty-five years, the ship kept getting rediscovered as buildings were built and rebuilt at its burial site. Artifacts from the ship now sit in museums, but a piece of the bow remains under a parking lot near the intersection of Clay and Sansome in downtown San Francisco.
Now, not everyone is going to want to know the story of the Niantic, at least not as many people as who want to know about the weather. And the number of people who care about a story like that -- or one about a new restaurant -- will be strongly influenced by the telling. The content determines how engaging Field Trip is. But content is a game that Google, very explicitly, does not like to play. Not even when the future prospects of its augmented reality business may be at stake.
The truth is, most of the alerts that Field Trip sent me weren't right for the moment. I'd get a Thrillist story that felt way too boostery outside its email-list context. Or I'd get a historical marker from an Arcadia Publishing book that would have been interesting, but wasn't designed to be consumed on my phone. They often felt stilted, or not nearly as interesting as you'd expect (especially for a history nerd like me). You can handtune the sorts of publications that you receive, but of the updates I got, only Atlas Obscura (and Curbed and Eater to a lesser extent) seemed designed for this kind of consumption. No one else seemed to want to explain what might be interesting about a given block to someone walking through it; that's just not anyone's business. And yet stuff that you read on a computer screen at home has got to be different from stuff that you read in situ.
What happens when the main distribution medium for your work is that it's pushed to people as they stumble through the Mission or around Carroll Gardens? What possibilities does that open up? What others does it foreclose?
"Most of the people that are publishing now into Field Trip are publishing it as a secondary feed," Hanke told me. "But some folks like Atlas Obscura. They are not a daily site that you go to. They are information on a map. They are an ideal publishing partner."
They are information on a map. That's not how most people think of their publications. What a terrifying vision for those who grew up with various media bundles or as web writers. But it's thrilling, too. You could build a publication with a heatmap of a city, working out from the most heavily traveled blocks to the ones where people rarely stroll.
Imagine you've got a real-time, spatial distribution platform. Imagine everyone reading about the place you're writing about is standing right in front of it. All that talk about search engine and social optimization? We're talking geo-optimization, each story banking on the shared experience of bodies co-located in space.
* * *
What role will Google play in all this? Enabler and distributor, at least according to their current thinking. And on that score, there are a few kinks to work out.
One, in an augmented-reality world, you need really good sound mixers. Too often, Field Trip would chime in and my music would cut as I walked through streets. This is a tough request, but I want to be informed without being interrupted. It's a small thing, but the kind of thing that makes you bestow that most hallowed of compliments, "It just works." Take this also as an example of how important all kinds of "mixes" are going to be. An augmented-reality annotation will be a live event for the reader; the production has to be correct.
Second, there is a reason that the Google Glass video above was parodied with a remix that put ads all over the place:
No one believes that Google will make products that don't create a revenue stream. Hanke's got at least a partial answer to this one. Certain types of cool services like Vayable, a kind of Airbnb for travel experiences, will be a part of the service. And that's good, even if I do expect that a real Google Glass would look as much like the bottom video as the top.
Even if you don't mind the ads, Google would have to master the process of showing them to you. That's something that Niantic is putting a lot of thought into. Hanke frames it as a search for the right way to do and show things automatically on the phone. We're used to punching at our screens, but in this hypothetical future, you'd really need a little more help.
Hanke's not the only person at Google thinking about these things, even if he is one of the most interesting. Google Now, the personal-assistant app unveiled in June, is traveling over a little bit of the same territory. Their challenge is to automatically show you the pedestrian things you might want to know.
"Google Now is probably the first example of a new generation of intelligent software," Hugo Barra, director of product management for Android, told me. "I think there will be a lot more products that are similarly intelligent and not as demand-based."
So, if you search for a flight, it'll stick a little card in your Google Now that tracks when the flight is due to leave. It'll show you sports scores based on the city you're in. It can tell you when you need to leave for appointments based on current traffic conditions. And it can tell you the weather. "We've unified all these backends. Things you've done in [search] history, the place where you are, the time of the day, your calendar. And in the future, more things, more signals, the people you're with. Google can now offer you information before you ask for it," Barra continued. "It's something the founders have wanted to do for a long time."
Google Now, in other words, is the base layer of the Glass video, or of any Google AR future. It's the servant that trains itself. It's the bot that keeps you from having to use your big clumsy thumbs.
In my week of testing, I liked Google Now, but I didn't love it. Very few "automagic" things happened, even after a week of very heavy use. I rarely felt as if it was saving me all that much time. (Anyone have this experience with Siri, too? I sure have.) And while the traffic alerts tied to my calendar were legitimately awesome, if Google Now's info was all that was embedded in my heads-up display, I'd be seriously disappointed.
Again, as with FieldTrip (not to mention Junaio), the problem is content. Google's great with structured data -- flight times, baseball box scores -- but it's not good with the soft, squishy, wordy stuff.
* * *
Perhaps a writer's task has always been to translate what is most interesting about the world into a format that people can understand and process quickly. We perform a kind of aggregation and compression, zipping up whole industries' fortunes in a few short sentences. But if an augmented-reality future comes to pass, and I think it will in one form or another, this task will really be laid bare. Given a city block, the challenge will be to excavate and present that information which the most people are curious about at the precise moment they walk through it. Information on a map at a time.
Some of what legacy (print and digital) media organizations produce might work nicely: Newspapers publish (small amounts of) local news about a city. Patch could provide some relevant updates about local events. Some city weeklies (OC Weekly!) do a fantastic job covering shows and scenes and openings (while muckraking along the way). But everyone is still fundamentally writing for an audience made up of people who they expect are at their computers or curled up on the couch. The core enterprise is not to create a database of geo- and time-tagged pieces of text designed to complement a walk (or drive) through a place.
What you need are awesome "digital notes" out there in the physical world. That's what Caterina Fake's Findery (née Pinwheel) is trying to create. People can leave geocoded posts wherever they want and then other people can discover them. It, like Junaio, is very cool. But the posts lack the kind of polish that I'd voluntarily opt into having pushed to my AR screen. I wouldn't want to have to sift through them to find the good stuff.
To me, in the extremely attention-limited environment of augmented reality, you need a new kind of media. You probably need a new noun to describe the writing. Newspapers have stories. Blogs have posts. Facebook has updates. And AR apps have X. You need people who train and get better at and have the time to create perfect digital annotations in the physical world.
Fascinatingly, such a scenario would require the kind of local knowledge newspaper reporters used to accumulate, and pair it with the unerring sense of raw interestingness that the best short-form magazine writers, bloggers, tweeters, and Finderyers cultivate.
Back to the future.
An old energy debate gets a new solar shine.
Let's start with a basic correlation: Rich countries use a lot more energy than poor countries on a per capita basis. Is this an accident? What kind of causal relationship exists between wealth and energy, if any? Does a strong economy require massive amounts of per-capita energy consumption? Many green tech advocates have taken the view that this is not the case. They think that energy use and economic output can be decoupled.
All kinds of studies have been done trying to prove that this is (im)possible. Take this one from Korea, for example, which showed no causal relationship at short time scales and the arrow of that causation running from higher GDP to more energy consumption at longer ones. Other studies have looked at the G-7 and China and found a very complex relationship between a country's economy and energy consumption. In some countries or time periods, there appears to be a causal relationship running one way, the other way, or in both directions. And sometimes that is not the case. The list of studies and counterstudies could go on and on. It's complicated.
But most energy people I've met tend to have a hunch one way or the other. CEO Siva Sivaram of Twin Creeks Technologies is on the team that has the arrow running from energy to GDP. "Don't make power to meet the need," Sivaram tells me in the video above. "Make power available and then the needs will come."
In many ways, this is an older notion of the relationship between power and "progress" (I use the term carefully). Proponents of large power plants -- nuclear and coal alike -- used a similar set of arguments to enshrine their priorities on the American energy agenda throughout the 20th century. What makes Sivaram fascinating is that he's a solar guy with the same fundamental premise. He's saying, "Don't make [solar] power to meet the need. Make [solar] power available and then the needs will come." That's an uncommon combination. For some historical (and analytical) reasons, solar-power promoters tend to want to curb overall power usage. In the past, that was in part because solar-power production was such a tiny slice of the country's energy picture that any conceivable world running on solar would have to use a teensy fraction of the power Americans did in 1980.
Now, though, you've got 3.5 gigawatts of solar PV on the grid, according to new Energy Information Administration numbers. You've got the global south, where solar makes a ton of sense, growing quickly. You've got a whole industry that wants to grow.
It's not hard to see why the old-school solar evangelists now share their industry with people whose worldviews have more in common with 1950s utility executives than 1970s back-to-landers.
When Martians attack, who you gonna call? Actually, just the operator.
On October 30, 1938, Orson Welles (somewhat intentionally) created one of the great hoaxes in American history, broadcasting a too-real seeming Martian invasion of New Jersey. While you've undoubtedly heard this story, AT&T just posted a 1988 video of their telephone operators recalling (nostalgically!) the night they thought aliens had invaded. People, scared out of their minds, made the logical decision to pick up the phone to get more information, quickly overwhelming the telephone staff.
"Every light on that board lit. Now that board was, I would say, almost half a block long," one operator says. "Our board lit up when they announced that the martians were coming across the George Washington Bridge," another recalls.
Lorene Fechner of Missoula, Montana delivered the most haunting recollection.
"People believed it. They really believed that night," Fechner says. "I think of the people who were begging us to get connections to their families, to their husbands, to mothers and fathers, before the world came to an end, so they could just tell them they loved them."
Aside from the sheer weirdness of this perspective on the Welles-induced frenzy, the video also highlights an easy-to-forget fact about the telephone system at that time. Operators were, in themselves, important information nodes. These people didn't just want to be connected to friends and family; they wanted to know what the human operators themselves knew and thought.
(If you want to skip the intro, it lasts 1:25.)
Despite all our robots, humans really are the best at certain tasks, like hiking the Grand Canyon.
We're all familiar with the Google Street View cars at this point (and their Nokia cousins). They go buzzing around cities capturing data from the physical world. But there are places they cannot go, places that Google would really like to have imagery of, for example, say, the Grand Canyon.
And so, Google being Google, they hacked together a solution: a backpack topped with the camera orb we know from the company's cars. The Trekker, as they call this new gear, is controlled via an (Android, obviously) phone and captures imagery automatically.
The company showed off the Trekker in a June video and the Grand Canyon trip is its first official outing. Google stitches together these still images into the panoramas that you see on its maps site.
The really exciting thing, though, is that you might someday see a guy outfitted like this walking through your local mall. Google, and all the other map companies, are hot to create indoor maps that are as good as their outdoor ones. The Trekker is one way they could do that. (Although certainly not the only way.)
"The dolphins are there to program the computer acoustically with ultrasonic sound waves from their sophisticated sonar systems."
A new study shores up the idea that 'yawn contagion' can leap the species barrier, but the science remains unsettled.
Every corner of science has its own set of small, but significant proxy wars. A tiny thing -- one measurement, one behavior, one fossil reconstruction -- becomes the factor that could prove or disprove a theory that competing scientists may have spent their whole career working on. And sometimes that mini-debate, so crucial to the workings of our research apparatus, takes this form: Can dogs catch yawns from humans?
This may seem silly, but contagious yawning is an oft-studied phenomenon. It's become an important way to study empathy both because children on the autism spectrum don't "catch" other people's yawns and because there appears to be a correlation between people's scores on empathy tests and their susceptibility to catching yawns. In short: more yawning equals more empathy.
Now we can add cute animals back into the equation. If dogs can catch our yawns, perhaps that is an indication that they are experiencing something like empathy for humans. Yawns that could hop the species barrier would be a surefire clue that something was going on between humans and dogs that was special in the realm of cross-species communication. It would make dogs a little more human in a quantifiable way, you might say.
And let me be clear about my bias here: I want dogs to catch yawns, as any good animal lover would.
In 2008, a paper declared, "Dogs catch human yawns." But since then, things haven't been looking good for the Contagious Yawners (i.e. the good guys). A 2009 study found no evidence of dogs catching yawns from people yawning on video. And a 2011 study found no evidence of dogs catching yawns from their owners or strangers.
"Our results provide no support for empathy-based, emotionally connected yawning contagion in dogs and casts doubt on the recently documented phenomenon of cross-species contagious yawning," the researchers in the latter study concluded. "We interpret our findings as showing that if dogs are seen yawning contagiously then the contagion must be explained on less cognitively stringent grounds than empathy."
To be honest, I had pretty much given up hope that dogs were the empathic beasts I want them to be, finely tuned to humans' every emotional quiver. But today, good news arrived!
A newly released study suggests that as dogs mature, they do, in fact, start to catch yawns from humans. Cute little puppies can't do the trick, but Old Yeller can. The authors of the new research, a Swedish team from Lund University, acknowledge the controversy over contagious yawning and draw out its import to empathy research at length. They tried to correct for the various sources of error in previous studies and then tested 35 dogs to see if they'd yawn when a human did. Mostly, this test involves variations on having a human do nothing, yawn, or make a mouth opening motion they call a 'gape,' which won't make other humans yawn.
They found two key things. One, that it didn't matter if the dog knew the person yawning. And two, the age of the dog did matter. They hypothesize that some kind of mental machinery comes into play somewhere around seven months old, and after that, the dogs were much more likely to catch yawns from humans. (You can check out the whole paper here.)
I bring this paper to your attention for two reasons. One, hooray, perhaps our dogs really do sense our emotional states! And two, science does not progress along a straight line. Any time I look into any crevice of science, you find disputes that take years and years to get resolved. Individual experiments and measurable quantities (like yawns per dog) become tied up in larger ideas about how the world does or should work. It's messy and if you follow anything for long enough, you'll see the field meandering like the Mississippi flowing down to the Gulf. The editors of one journal might publish several papers supporting a contention, while a rival group publishes takedowns. At the ground level, that's how knowledge gets made.
We'd like the story to be tidy. Hell, me personally, I would like the story to be settled: Dogs either catch our yawns and are custom-bred empaths or they don't and aren't. But the world is messier than that, even when you strip away as much complexity as possible. A model experiment, as long as it includes living beings, can be too complex a system to understand easily.
Parrots are good mimics, but a whale might actually have something to say.
This recording appears to be a beluga whale named NOC trying to imitate human speech. NOC was captured in 1977 and became a part of the Navy's Marine Mammal Program in San Diego. After seven years, NOC started to make noises that humans in the water mistook for human speech. Shortly thereafter, NOC was identified as the source of the sounds and the researchers began to run experiments to figure out how he was doing it. Four years later, NOC stopped "talking," and almost 25 years later, Sam Ridgeway and colleagues published a paper on his vocalizations in the journal Current Biology.
As you can hear yourself, the white whale was not very good at talking. Then again, the whales, like dolphins, don't have a larynx. That meant that the whale had to come up with a way to use his existing mechanism to imitate the rhythms of human speech. In fact, the researchers found that these vocalizations were not much like his normal whaletalk. For starters, they were several octaves lower, and they displayed a cadence that matches human speech.
I have one thought about this aside from the obvious (1. Whoa! 2. Sounds like a kazoo!). We care about a whale trying to talk a lot more than we care about a parrot trying to talk. And we should because a whale might actually have something to say. Perhaps, "Put me back in the ocean." Or even, "So long, and thanks for all the fish."
The idea of communication with marine mammals has long excited humans, even if most of us never went so far as our favorite art and architecture collective, Ant Farm, which planned a dolphin embassy (!) in the 1970s. The embassy was to be a place to commune with "delphic" civilization in groovy repose. See:
Sadly, despite an article in Esquire (!!), a Rockefeller Foundation grant (!!!), and a show at SFMOMA, the embassy was never built. A member of the collective, Doug Michels, explained what went wrong to Connie Lewallen for a 2004 retrospective catalogue:
MICHELS: Putting it in historical context, we were feeling pretty confident about accomplishing things. The House of the Century had been built, Media Burn had been done, The Eternal Frame--these large-scale productions. Cracking the dolphin communication code, well, how hard could that be?! (Laughs.)
LEWALLEN: Why didn't the Dolphin Embassy get built?
MICHELS: Eventually, it became clear that it was a gigantic project beyond the scale we could accomplish with the funds we had raised. While we didn't solve cetacean communication during our mission in Australia, the Dolphin Embassy experience provided a deeper view into the mysteries of Delphic civilization.
And let it be said that the mysteries of Delphic civilization (if that includes whales) are many. Like why did NOC stop talking after four years? Did he just give up in frustration after the humans couldn't understand his accent? Or was it all just a game that got boring?
It was not uncommon to drink the equivalent of *50* cans in a day. And yet society rolled along.
But some drink none, others little; a man is scarcely reckoned with real beer-drinkers until he drinks six masses, twenty-four of our common tumblers; ten masses are not uncommon; twenty to thirty masses -- eighty to one hundred and twenty of our dinner-glasses -- are drunk by some, and on a wager even much more.
To translate this into numbers that you might be familiar with, here's a concordance:
These numbers put any Raiders game or Princeton reunion to shame. Not even the most dedicated beer pong playing frat boy could drink 50 beers. Most people in the town, from the highest to the lowest classes, were drunk.
And yet, Munich society seemed to function quite well, despite what must have been the most unbelievable hangovers known to man. Our correspondent concludes that really, German drunknenness isn't half as bad as the American variety, mostly on account of the weakness of the beer relative to spirits:
I should, indeed, fear fatal effects from drinking half the quantity of water which some of them take of beer. The drunkenness produced by beer is at least a very different thing from that produced by distilled spirits. The one may be a stupor, the other is a brief and sudden insanity. Beer holds no one captive by such spell as that which seizes some natures on the first taste of ardent spirits, throwing them beyond their own control until their week's frolic is ended. The cases are rare, if they ever occur, in which the beer-drinker is enticed from the prosecution of his business, if he has one, and beer furnishes the main substitute for business to those who have no other employment. If it causes men to pursue their avocations lazily or stupidly, it does not cause the irregularities and neglects of American inebriation. Cases of pawning clothes and impoverishing families from the appetite for beer may occur, just as from laziness, but not as from the bewitching appetite for ardent spirits.
In any case, it's kind of nuts that the people who brought you on-time trains also managed to crack 30 beers a night.
Update: I had a couple questions about the strength of the German beer at the time. I can't say precisely what the average ABV of a German beer was in 1864, but several texts, like this one from 1909, seem to indicate it was pretty much what you'd expect: somewhere around 4 percent, or between a light and regular Bud. And even if the beers were "light" at say 2.5 percent alcohol, that'd still be a hell of a lot of beer.
This is not your average Tumblr full of cute animal pics. Prepare for the sublime.
There are animal photos and there are animal photos. While I'm a fan of Instagrams of cats and dogs, the images in the Veolia Environment Wildlife Photographer of the Year show at the Natural History Museum in London are no mere social-media fodder.
Here we see a Japanese macaques in repose. A Dutch photographer, Jasper Doest, visited the hot springs of Jigokudani Valley in central Japan, and found about 30 monkeys soaking in the warm water. This one fell asleep right in front of him.
'The warm water has a very relaxing effect on the monkeys, and most of them were asleep.' He watched with delight as this youngster became increasingly drowsy and eventually closed its eyes.
The eyelashes! The bridge of the nose! I know that we have to be careful about projecting human emotions onto non-humans, but... who doesn't recognize this as Hot Tub Face? Doerst named the photograph, "Relaxation."
There are dozens of other delightful images of animals of all kinds. I'll include just two more here, but the microsite at the Natural History Museum is full of them (albeit with some janky gallery navigation).
The first is dark, nearly sinister, almost ruin porn. Finnish photographer Kai Fagerström captured a squirrel in an abandoned cottage in Finland. Check out that reflection. Ghostly! (Also: memeable.)
And finally, I leave you with pure delight. A fox in Yellowstone leaping high to pounce on unsuspecting earthbound prey.
Down with the Idea Men!
The Onion's take on the genre of the TED Talk is as wickedly funny as you'd expect. Featuring a spiky-haired, self-proclaimed "visionary," it's as much an indictment of a certain kind of entrepreneur as a skewering of the ubiquitous conference brand.
I don't want to explain the joke, but this is its rhetorical core:
We're looking in the eyes of two horrible birds. And we just need a rock that is big enough, efficient enough, and innovative enough to bludgeon them. That rock is an idea. My idea to create a car that runs on compost. So how does it work? Well, it's quite simple. Instead of using gas, it uses compost. [applause]
In short: Down with the Idea Men!
And really, who could complain?If you've been following this special report on energy entrepreneurs, you might remember Makani Windpower, a company we profiled a couple of months ago that's making flying wind turbines. One of its co-founders, Saul Griffith, is an inventor and thinker of considerable acclaim, netting MacArthur genius award and a New Yorker profile. He left the company a few years back and has been working on many other projects since.
This day in 1899 was the key date in the life of our country's most celebrated rocket scientist.
"I imagined how wonderful it would be to make some device which had even the possibility of ascending to Mars, and how it would look on a small scale, if sent up from the meadow at my feet," one of his biographers, Milton Lehman, recorded. "I was a different boy when I descended the tree from when I ascended, for existence at last seemed very purposive."
Apparently, Goddard celebrated October 19 for the rest of his life.
To me, this is a story not unlike the one Becca Rosen told yesterday about a man who witnessed Abraham Lincoln's assassination turning up on a 1950s TV show, which then showed up on YouTube. In the scheme of technological development, a human life is a long time. 70 years before we landed on the moon, it was the 19th century.
A rare misstep combined with worse-than-expected quarterly numbers to send investors into a panic.
For probably 40 years, energy analysts have pointed out a key problem for solar power relative to its fossil fuel counterparts: you pay for the whole system up front and all at once. The upfront costs are high.
With an internal combustion engine, say, you get to amortize the total cost of the power produced over the many years that you buy fuel for that engine. It's almost like a layaway plan for the power. Imagine if every time you bought a car, you had to buy all the gasoline that would run the car for its lifetime. That'd be an expensive automobile.
Solar finds itself in an analogous situation. The cost of the energy produced over the 20 years you've got the system all comes at the beginning. You are prepaying, essentially, for decades of electricity production when you buy the system. That means only people with substantial cash on hand are likely to put panels on their homes. Who has an extra ten or twenty grand lying around?
And that's where SunRun comes in. Lynn Jurich explains in the video above that her company gets money from banks -- hundreds of millions of dollars -- and then uses that money to finance the installation of solar systems on homes. Homeowners pay on a monthly basis, not up front, at rates that are comparable to or cheaper than the grid (SunRun says).
We still don't know how much money SunRun makes on each home, but we do know that the company's model has exploded. Most new solar is now being installed with the leasing model and other companies like SolarCity and Sungevity are trying to horn in on SunRun's business (even if SunRun remains the largest solar leasing company).
The takeaway from SunRun is simple, though: sometimes the innovations that matter aren't technical but financial (or even social). Of course, developing more efficient, less expensive solar cells helps, but the technology development alone cannot guarantee successful market deployments.
Missile. Missile. Missile.
A new look at how Henry Kissinger's State Department dealt with the energy crises of the 1970s.
Sign up to receive our free newsletters