The Travels of Great White Sharks

And four other intriguing things: a new type of computing, unintended consequences, a poem about Boyz II Men, and defending 'nucular.'
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1. A physicist suggests ditching the transistor for a new type of computing.

"Joshua Turner, a physicist at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory... has proposed using the orbits of electrons around the nucleus of an atom as a new means to generate the binary states (the charge or lack of a charge that transistors use today to generate zeros and ones) we use in computing. He calls this idea orbital computing and the big takeaway for engineers is that one can switch the state of an electron’s orbit 10,000 times faster than you can switch the state of a transistor used in computing today."

 

2. When you scale up a resource extraction system—like what's happening now with fracking—there will be a lot of unintended consequences.

"One hydraulic fracturing operation requires about 600 to 1,100 one-way, heavy truck trips to bring equipment, materials, and sometimes water to and from a well site. This activity damages state and local roads that do not normally experience such high volumes of heavy truck traffic. Each pass of a heavy truck 'consumes' a little of a roadway’s service life. And the weight is important: a fully loaded tractor-trailer inflicts 1,000 times or more road damage than a passenger car. Interstate highways are built to withstand heavy truck traffic, but many of the smaller roads in drilling areas are not; they require reconstruction sooner than similar roadways with less truck traffic... We estimated the portion of roadway reconstruction costs associated with drilling a horizontal well to be between $13,000 and $23,000 per well."

 

3. A great white tagged near Jacksonville, Florida in March 2013 has traveled almost 20,000 miles in the last year.

"Dr Skomal said he was 'surprised' at the shark's behaviour, adding: 'White sharks may well have been crossing the Atlantic forever, but this is the first time we're actually able to observe it.'"

+ Link via Codify, a weekly philosophy of technology newsletter.

 

4. An essay on a poem about Boyz II Men by Aracelis Girmay.

"For me, it happens most with early 90s R&B. It carries with it the beginning of my cusp years, the years of change when, subtly or blatantly, I came into contact with peers and faculty who did not know how to value my cultural references or center(s). Blindsided by this, it was the first time that I began to think I had come from nowhere (of great value), really. I eventually grew against and out of this feeling, but it was not without struggle and a sense of humiliation I could not name then. Part of the poem seeks to engage with Cooleyhighharmony, the Boyz II Men album, as a vehicle by which to fly into the memory."

 

5. In defense of the pronunciation, "nucular."

"Wasp used to be waps, bird used to be brid, and horse used to be hros. Remember this the next time you hear someone complaining about aks for ask or nucular for nuclear, or even perscription. It's called metathesis, and it's a very common, perfectly natural process."

 

Today's 1957 American English Usage Tip

atom, particle, corpuscle, molecule. All these words have at one time or other stood for the smallest unit of matter—whence have been derived more general usages. (Cf. He hasn't an tom [or particleof sense.) Democritus is believed to have been the first to call the units of matter atomsatomos meaning indivisible. In the 20th c., physicists divided the 'indivisible' into a number of smaller particles, such as electrons protons, neutrons, and so on. Atom continues to mean the smallest physical unit of matter of a specific kind—as an atom of hydrogen, oxygen, iron, uranium, &c. A molecule is the smallest chemical unit of a substance—the familiar matter with which everyone deals outside the physicists' laboratories (e.g. a molecule of hydrogen, the smallest unit that behaves like hydrogen in chemical reactions, has two atoms of hydrogen). While atom and molecule have acquired specific meanings, particle remains a general term, applied to the ultimate units of matter, such as electrons, and also, even in scientific usage, to any particular object—dust particlevirus particle, &c. Corpuscle is now an old-fashioned word seldom heard. A generation ago people still commonly talked of the red corpuscles of the blood, but now we speak of red cells.

This is my favorite usage tip in a long while. That last line: A generation ago. History is so close.

 

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I still say, 'hros,' but I'm a purist.

 
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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. 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 website 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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