5 Intriguing Things: Monday, 2/3

Spies in Copenhagen, generative art, can-do American attitudes, streaming data, and The Showmen's League of America.
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1. The NSA was working the Copenhagen climate talks, says yet another Snowden document.

"It remains unclear precisely when the NSA began to target the summit specifically. However, the NSA document about the agency’s COP15 efforts reveals that, ahead of the summit, the agency was already collecting information about other countries’ preparation for the Copenhagen negotiations. The document refers to a report from the end of November in which the intelligence agency 'detailed China's efforts to coordinate its position with India and ensure that the two leaders of the developing world are working towards the same outcome.'

The document then goes on: 'Another report provided advance details of the Danish proposal and their efforts to launch a 'rescue plan' to save COP-15.'

In other words, it appears that the Danish COP15 chair was one of the NSA targets before the climate summit."

 

2. Artist Sonia Sheridan put together a cool looking forthcoming book, Art at the Dawning of the Electronic Era

"Generative Systems, 1970s visionary art program, is revealed through colorful images showing how youthful, imaginative artists created images and sounds with electronic equipment originally intended for business. Four insightful articles set the context.

'Sonia Sheridan broadened our vision to include 3M’s Color-in-Color use as a new art medium.'—Douglas Dybvig, 3M developer of the world’s first color copier"

+ Sheridan's portfolio of generative art

 

3. The can-do American attitude versus the Sacramento River.

"We will observe the people of the Valley, therefore, making mistake after mistake, and yet continuing to make decisions about the river for all the world as if they knew what they were doing. In truth, given their nature, given the inner state of American political culture-which had now been transported bodily across thousands of miles and planted firmly in California-nothing else was actually possible. Mid-nineteenth century Americans were shaped in their most basic outlooks by the ebullient, burstingly expansive years from the 1820s through the 1840s, the already mythical Age of Jackson, which they had just passed through. They were confident, impatient, entrepreneurial, defiant of life's limitations, and determined actively to possess and develop the enormous continental expanse that had now opened before them.

Those who had arrived in California were people who had been sufficiently courageous and risk-taking abruptly to leave their homes in the Eastern states and stream westward through a host of dangers to reach their goal. Their instinctively activist impulse was to solve (as they believed they were doing) such difficulties as they now faced in the flood-endangered city of Sacramento by some simple practical step that would force nature to behave as they wished it to. Rather than making an adjustment to the environment and its realities, they resolved to transform it by pushing the river back, hardly entertaining the thought that they might fail."

 

4. A streaming platform for open-data projects of all kinds

"Plotly provides a free platform for makers to stream data to the cloud, where they can graph and analyze their data, discover other makers, and share and comment on these data streams. The data is always owned by you, the maker, so you can download, share, or remove it as you like... 

Plotly keeps track of the data from all of our projects and devices in the cloud, where it can be analyzed, discovered, and re-shared collaboratively. Owners of this data can then connect to other Plotly users by location and similar interests. Since the data, graphs, and code is all in one place, Plotly users can easily build on each other’s work, help each other understand their data, and collaborate on projects at any scale — from a two-person laboratory to an international, crowd-sourced, data bonanza."

 

5. The industry association founded by Buffalo Bill Cody lives on.

"Rich in history and founded in camaraderie, The Showmen’s League of America is a community of showpeople - both men and women - dedicated to service and fellowship. By providing scholarships, financial aid and memorial services, we promote the mutual welfare of our members and all showpeople, in good times and bad. By maintaining our traditions, we honor the legacy of those who have come before us. By welcoming new members from all areas of the amusement industry, we build a strong future. We invite you to our website and to join us, to share our mission, and join in friendship with some of the greatest men and women in the world.

The Showmen's League of America was founded in 1913, by a group of outdoor showmen meeting at the Saratoga Hotel in Chicago. Buffalo Bill Cody, the Wild West performer, was elected the Club's first President. The Showmen's League of America is the oldest organization of its type in North America."

 

I'm traveling this week, so our daily words will be temporarily suspended. 

I'm working on a story about California's State Water Project, which (primarily) moves water from the north to millions of people in the south. These last couple days, I've traveled from the Delta through the Banks Pumping Plant and along the California Aqueduct to Lake Perris, the southernmost point of the system. 

One of my favorite parts of the trip was discovering the last stretch of the aqueduct. For most of its length, the waters flows in an open canal 30-feet deep. But near the Perris reservoir, it runs in a tunnel through a hill. 

The last time you can see the water moving is through a sewer grate next to an anonymous shed just off side the road. 

As I approached, the sound of the water rose out of the hole. The ground vibrated ever so slightly from the power of the water. Looking down, I could see a ladder descending into black water.

The desert surrounded me. 

 

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Alexis C. Madrigal

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.

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