Andrew McGill is chronicling the devices and apps he’s creating this summer and invites readers to join him. Are you an inventor and want to share a project? Please drop him a note: email@example.com.
If you live in the Washington, D.C., area, you’re probably familiar with Capital Bikeshare. And if you don’t, I bet the nearest American city might have something like it: A system of public bicycles available for rent, strategically placed throughout town for point-to-point trips. If you have a membership or a credit card, you can check out a bike at a kiosk, ride it to your destination and re-dock it at the nearest Bikeshare station. It’s one of my favorite things about the D.C. area.
But! There are few things more annoying than wrapping up a satisfying ride and pulling into bikeshare dock ... that is completely full.
There are phone apps out there, like Spotcycle, that publish bike station statuses. But pulling out a smartphone in the middle of a ride doesn’t sound particularly safe. This is a perfect app for a smartwatch, however—a quick glance at your wrist could tell you if you’re headed for an empty station or a wall of docked bicycles.
Using data from Capital Bikeshare, I put together a quick app that pulls the user’s location, finds nearby bike stations and lists how many open slots they have. (Technical explanation here, code here.)
Here’s a GIF of the app in action:
I haven’t yet published the app to the Pebble store, but I’ll do that once I add a few more improvements. Nothing in the works for Apple Watches or Android products at this point, but who knows!
It’s never been easier to be a mad scientist. Back in the day, it took so much work: You had to rent a dungeon, fashion your own Tesla coils, and spend half your life reading cracked leather tomes written your equally deprived predecessors.
Not so anymore. Computers are small, fast and cheap, allowing a D.I.Y. types to slap a microprocessor on pretty much anything, and for less than $50. The internet can deliver a tutorial in an instant and any electronic component within a few days. And easy-to-program platforms have made controlling physical objects with code not only possible, but practical.
All this is great for a would-be inventor. Unless, like me, your drive to work on a project (which seemed so strong in the morning!) somehow gives way to an evening of Alias reruns night after night. Life gets in the way.
So here’s my resolution: Following the lead of WNYC journalist James Keefe, I’m resolving to buckle down and make a new thing every week this summer. It’ll ideally be a real thing—something you can see and could hold, not just ephemeral code powering an app. (Though I’m still keeping the ephemeral code door open if I hit a rough patch.) I’ll document what I’m doing through this thread, as well as more technical write-ups on my own blog. So far, I’ve built a smartwatch app that searches for nearby public bicycles and a silent doorbell for when my coworkers get locked out of the office.
Are you a time-crunched tinkerer? Please join me this summer by sharing your projects: firstname.lastname@example.org. What have you built in the past? What are you working on now? And what should I build next?
The former California governor called President Trump’s attacks on the late Arizona senator “absolutely unacceptable.”
Arnold Schwarzenegger and John McCain saw in each other a willingness to buck the Republican Party and became fast friends and political allies. Mindful of McCain’s legacy, the former California governor said on Wednesday that he couldn’t stay silent in the face of President Donald Trump’s recent spate of attacks on the late senator.
He told me that Trump’s swipes at McCain are both disgraceful and destructive. “He was just an unbelievable person,” Schwarzenegger said. “So an attack on him is absolutely unacceptable if he’s alive or dead—but even twice as unacceptable since he passed away a few months ago. It doesn’t make any sense whatsoever to do that. I just think it’s a shame that the president lets himself down to that kind of level. We will be lucky if everyone in Washington followed McCain’s example, because he represented courage.”
The surprisingly short life of new electronic devices
Two years ago, Desmond Hughes heard so many of his favorite podcasters extolling AirPods, Apple’s tiny, futuristic $170 wireless headphones, that he decided they were worth the splurge. He quickly became a convert.
Hughes is still listening to podcasters talk about their AirPods, but now they’re complaining. The battery can no longer hold a charge, they say, rendering them functionally useless. Apple bloggers agree: “AirPods are starting to show their age for early adopters,” Zac Hall, an editor at 9to5Mac, wrote in a post in January, detailing how he frequently hears a low-battery warning in his AirPods now. Earlier this month, Apple Insider tested a pair of AirPods purchased in 2016 against a pair from 2018, and found that the older pair died after two hours and 16 minutes. “That’s less than half the stated battery life for a new pair,” the writer William Gallagher concluded.
A plant virus distributes its genes into eight separate segments that can all reproduce, even if they infect different cells.
It is a truth universally acknowledged among virologists that a single virus, carrying a full set of genes, must be in want of a cell. A virus is just a collection of genes packaged into a capsule. It infiltrates and hijacks a living cell to make extra copies of itself. Those daughter viruses then bust out of their ailing host, and each finds a new cell to infect. Rinse, and repeat. This is how all viruses, from Ebola to influenza, are meant to work.
But Stéphane Blanc and his colleagues at the University of Montpellier have shown that one virus breaks all the rules.
Faba bean necrotic stunt virus, or FBNSV for short, infects legumes, and is spread through the bites of aphids. Its genes are split among eight segments, each of which is packaged into its own capsule. And, as Blanc’s team has now shown, these eight segments can reproduce themselves, even if they infect different cells. FBNSV needs all of its components, but it doesn’t need them in the same place. Indeed, this virus never seems to fully come together. It is always distributed, its existence spread between capsules and split among different host cells.
As other social networks wage a very public war against misinformation, it’s thriving on Instagram.
When Alex, now a high-school senior, saw an Instagram account he followed post about something called QAnon back in 2017, he’d never heard of the viral conspiracy theory before. But the post piqued his interest, and he wanted to know more. So he did what your average teenager would do: He followed several accounts related to it on Instagram, searched for information on YouTube, and read up on it on forums.
A year and a half later, Alex, who asked to use a pseudonym, runs his own Gen Z–focused QAnon Instagram account, through which he educates his generation about the secret plot by the “deep state” to take down Donald Trump. “I was just noticing a lack in younger people being interested in QAnon, so I figured I would put it out there that there was at least one young person in the movement,” he told me via Instagram direct message. He hopes to “expose the truth about everything corrupt governments and organizations have lied about.” Among those truths: that certain cosmetics and foods contain aborted fetal cells, that the recent Ethiopian Airlines crash was a hoax, and that the Christchurch, New Zealand mosque shootings were staged.
The strangest part of an ocean sunfish, at least to Natasha Phillips, is its shape. Phillips, who studies the creatures at Queen’s University Belfast, called them a “giant pancake of a fish,” as they can grow to over 5,000 pounds. Essentially, ocean sunfish look as if somebody began building a fish, added enormous vertical fins just behind its head, and then started laughing too hard to continue. And for scientists, these fish, with their unusual shape and inscrutable lives, remain a “big bag of mysteries,” Phillips says.
Just because some people allegedly cheated the system doesn’t mean the system is defensible.
Like most other college presidents, R. Gerald Turner, the head of Southern Methodist University, where my son is a student, sends correspondence only when something goes terribly wrong. When I received a mass email from his office this week, I assumed the school had gotten caught up in the fallout of Operation Varsity Blues, the college-admissions cheating and bribery scandal that came to light last week.
But Turner’s missive turned out to be preemptive instead of apologetic. The scandal offered SMU “an opportunity to add to the ongoing review of our process,” he wrote. The university, he explained, must rely on the accuracy of materials submitted by students, including SAT scores. Turner announced that the university intended to review the records of any students associated with “The Key,” the college-counseling firm run by William Singer, the alleged fixer who is accused of paying bribes, facilitating cheats, and creating fraudulent materials to help wealthy parents get their kids into elite schools such as Stanford, Yale, and the University of Southern California.
Donald Cline must have thought no one would ever know. Then DNA testing came along.
Updated at 5:23 p.m. ET on March 18, 2019.
The first Facebookmessage arrived when Heather Woock was packing for vacation, in August 2017. It was from a stranger claiming to be her half sibling. She assumed the message was some kind of scam; her parents had never told her she might have siblings. But the message contained one detail that spooked her. The sender mentioned a doctor, Donald Cline. Woock knew that name; her mother had gone to Cline for fertility treatments before she was born. Had this person somehow gotten her mother’s medical history?
Her mom said not to worry. So Woock, who is 33 and lives just outside Indianapolis, flew to the West Coast for her vacation. She got a couple more messages from other supposed half siblings while she was away. Their persistence was strange. But then her phone broke, and she spent the next week and a half outdoors in Seattle and Vancouver, blissfully disconnected.
The president’s much-anticipated directive doesn’t do much.
President Donald Trump had not yet been in office for one month when he took to Twitter to scold a college. “If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view,” he wrote, “NO FEDERAL FUNDS?” The tweet was in response to protests at the institution, and it worried college leaders—not least because as a candidate, Trump was rather reserved in higher-education-policy specifics.
On Thursday, Trump took action along the lines he set out in that early tweet, signing an executive order directing federal agencies to “take appropriate steps” to make sure that colleges receiving research funding from the federal government are promoting “free inquiry.” But the order essentially asks colleges to do what they’re already required by law to do, and it is still unclear whether there will be any enhanced policing of colleges by federal agencies as a result of it. The order does not have any impact on federal student-aid programs.
Year after year, Stuyvesant High has abysmal enrollment rates for black and Latino students. But the debate over admissions reform is brimming with misunderstandings.
On Monday, another admissions scandal injected a new dose of disillusionment into the already disillusioned world of elite education. This time the revelations concern not higher education, but Stuyvesant High and New York City’s other elite public high schools. Of the 895 current eighth graders who secured a spot in next year's Stuyvesant freshman class, just seven identify as African American.
Every year, reports show abysmally low numbers of black or Latino students at all eight of the city’s elite specialized high schools whose admissions rely solely on a standardized exam. City officials including Mayor Bill de Blasio have led an ongoing, multifaceted effort to solve the problem through recruitment initiatives and a summer enrichment program designed to shepherd low-income youth into the rigorous institutions, but enrollment numbers remain disappointing.
When the two strangers accosted Chelsea Clinton, she was attending an NYU vigil for the Muslims murdered by a terrorist in Christchurch, New Zealand. “This right here is the result of a massacre stoked by people like you and the words that you put out into the world,” one declared as the other recorded the encounter. “I want you to know that, and I want you to feel that deep down inside. Forty-nine people died because of the rhetoric you put out there.”
The accuser’s blend of callous indignation and extravagant nonsense brought to mind charges that Chelsea’s parents murdered Vince Foster or that her mother committed treason when the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was attacked. But these critics weren’t right-wingers parroting talk radio. They were leftist NYU students.