Human-Dolphin Translation

And four other intriguing things: scandal, the inflexibility of databases, black aviators, and the new face of virtual reality.
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Reuters

1. An important update on human-dolphin communication

"It was late August 2013 and Denise Herzing was swimming in the Caribbean. The dolphin pod she had been tracking for the past 25 years was playing around her boat. Suddenly, she heard one of them say, "Sargassum".

'I was like whoa! We have a match. I was stunned,' says Herzing, who is the director of the Wild Dolphin Project. She was wearing a prototype dolphin translator called Cetacean Hearing and Telemetry (CHAT) and it had justtranslated a live dolphin whistle for the first time. It detected a whistle for sargassum, or seaweed, which she and her team had invented to use when playing with the dolphin pod."

 

2. The latest San Francisco political scandal is like American Hustle come to life, but with more gun running

"If you thought the charges against Leland Yee would be bad, you had no idea. As in, he offered to set up an arms deal with Islamic rebels for $2 million in cash. As in, he has ties to a gangster named Shrimp Boy. As in, he makes corrupt state senator Clay Davis from The Wire look like George Washington. You can read the whole affidavit here, but it's really, really long, so we've gone ahead and pulled out the highlights. The allegations (and for now they are only that—allegations) are cinematic, staggering, and remarkable in their scope. "

 

3. Tamerlan Tsarnaev slipped through JFK airport because his name was spelled 'Tsarnayev' in an FBI system.

"In one instance, according to the report prepared by investigators for the House Homeland Security Committee and copies of documents reviewed by NBC News, Tsarnaev was supposed to be pulled aside for questioning at JFK airport because he was considered potentially armed and dangerous, but he slipped through undetected because someone had misspelled his last name in a security database."

 

4. Black Wings: a Smithsonian exhibit about African-American aviators.

"The invention of the airplane sparked a revolution in modern technology. In the popular mind, the new air age became associated with adventure and heroism. African Americans shared the widespread enthusiasm for flying, but they found themselves routinely denied access to training as pilots and mechanics. Beginning in the 1920s, a small number of determined black air enthusiasts challenged racial discrimination. With great effort — and against formidable odds — they realized their dream to fly."

 

5. Meet the 21-year-old founder of Oculus Rift, which Facebook acquired for $2 billion this week.

"The list of virtual-reality products that launched and then died of neglect is long. Luckey owns most of them. He probably has the world’s most complete collection of VR headsets anywhere, more than 40 of them at last count. He bought them because he was among the very few people anywhere who still thought virtual reality was cool. Unfortunately, none of the headsets worked very well. 'I didn’t start out trying to build something,' he says. 'I started out trying to buy something that would do what I wanted. And it became apparent that there wasn’t anything like it.' So he started building it himself."

 

Today's 1957 American English Usage Tip

background. The extended fig. use of background (the social, historical, or logical antecedents that explain something; the sum of person's training, education, experience) is comparatively recent and probably of US origin. Its popularity suggests that it has become an easy escape from precise thinking and expression: The background of the present tension; He has no background for the job; &c. See VOGUE WORDS.

 

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com, where he also oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called 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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