G.K. Chesterton on fairy tales, actually

Robin Rendle quoting Neil Gaiman, who is quoting G.K. Chesterton: Fairy tales, as G.K. Chesterton once said, are more than true. Not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be defeated. I read somewhere that he based the Gilbert character from The Sandman on Chesterton, so it’s no surprise to find Gaiman quoting Chesterton in Smoke and Mirrors. Wanting to find the work in which the quote first appeared, I did a little research only to discover that G. »

An account of the mother of all demos

As part of his captivating Hidden Heroes series, Steven Johnson publishes an account of the mother of all demos. More than 50 years ago, Douglas Engelbart gave the “mother of all demos” that transformed software forever. The computer world has been catching up with his vision ever since. More here Subscribe to the newsletter, the RSS feed, or follow @nicolaiarocci on Twitter »

A stunning visualization of John Coltrane's 'Giant Steps' solo

Open Culture shared a “jaw-dropping visualization of John Coltrane’s ‘Giant Steps’ solo.” Indeed, it is stunning, beautiful and valuable. A visualization like this makes music much more accessible. Quoting Open Culture: Coltrane’s complexity is daunting for the most accomplished musicians. How much more so for non-musicians? It can seem like “you need a doctorate of music to go anywhere near his recordings,” Nicholson writes. But “nothing could be further from the truth. »

The indictment against Sparta

Bret Devereaux has long been my go-to source for all things ancient and military history. One thing I somehow missed reading from his incredibly resourceful website is the This Isn’t Sparta series. He recently published a three-year-anniversary series retrospective which promptly surfaced on my RSS feed, giving me a chance to catch up over the holidays. The whole thing is a very long read, with some installments more engaging than others but overall very enjoyable, eye-opening, and information dense. »

Becoming the Emperor

Today, probably not just by coincidence, I came across Becoming the Emperor, an excellent New Yorker piece from 2005 on Memoirs of Hadrian, Yourcenar’s other works, and her peculiar career and life trajectory. Having just read the Memoirs, I was glad to see several of my reading impressions confirmed. I found the New Yorker article to be spot-on on Yourcenar’s prose and theme: Actually, some of Yourcenar’s prose is marmoreal, but not so that you can’t get through it. »

Stripe releases MarkDoc and that's a good thing

Stripe docs are a marvel, and every developer who’s had to deal with them knows it. After years of painful PayPal interactions, I remember the amazement and the feverish grin on my face the first time I landed on their API reference. Stripe API is beautifully designed, but it’s the combination of good design and excellent documentation that paved Stripe’s fulgid success. A few days ago, they unexpectedly released MarkDoc, the “powerful, flexible, Markdown-based authoring framework” they use internally to build their documentation. »

If you know your user is asking for help show them the damn help

One of my pet peeves has always been the many different, sometimes very original ways in which CLI tools handle help requests. POSIX sets the canon: -h or --help is how we ask for help. But no, some tools1 want to be original at the worst moment: when their users are struggling, looking for guidance. It’s somewhat consolatory to learn that I’m not alone in this fight. The other day I landed on Clayton Craft’s blog. »

Neuromancer and the birth of Cyberpunk

I went back to my library to check the year of my original Neuromancer edition. It’s 1993. For some context, I was 23 back then, with my software company founded only a couple of years earlier. The World Wide Web was at its very early stages. I distinctly remember getting out of that book dazed and confused. Characters were two-dimensional at best. There was a certain lack of exposition. The recurring streams of consciousness were complex for me to follow1. »

The Sun in high resolution

The Sun as seen by Solar Orbiter in extreme ultraviolet light from a distance of roughly 75 million kilometres. The image is a mosaic of 25 individual images taken on 7 March by the high resolution telescope of the Extreme Ultraviolet Imager (EUI) instrument. Taken at a wavelength of 17 nanometers, in the extreme ultraviolet region of the electromagnetic spectrum, this image reveals the Sun’s upper atmosphere, the corona, which has a temperature of around a million degrees Celsius. »

How multifactor authentication is breached

Dan Goodin at Ars Tecnica, on multifactor authentication (2FA/MFA): Multifactor authentication (MFA) is a core defense that is among the most effective at preventing account takeovers. In addition to requiring that users provide a username and password, MFA ensures they must also use an additional factor—be it a fingerprint, physical security key, or one-time password—before they can access an account. Nothing in this article should be construed as saying MFA isn’t anything other than essential. »

Endurance: Shackleton's lost ship found in Antarctic

A few months ago I started my review of Lansing’s Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage with these words: Of all the stories of maritime adventures I’ve read, that of the Endurance, masterfully told by Alfred Lansing in this book, is the most incredible and shocking. And I meant that. As the book’s title suggests, that story is simply unbelievable, yet true. Imagine my astonishment this morning at the news that the Endurance was found in the depths of the Antarctic. »

Trusting third-party services with your data, a cautionary tale

Quoting Nelson’s weblog: Goodreads lost my entire account last week. Nine years as a user, some 600 books and 250 carefully written reviews all deleted and unrecoverable. Their support has not been helpful. In 35 years of being online I’ve never encountered a company with such callous disregard for their users’ data. Ouch. A lesson learned the hard way: My plan now is to host my own blog-like collection of all my reading notes like Tom does. »

You're probably using the wrong dictionary

In 2014, James Somers sat down to write a beautiful, entertaining lament about the state of today’s dictionaries and an argument in favor of the adoption of Noah Webster’s 1913 edition. I don’t want you to conclude that it’s just a matter of aesthetics. Yes, Webster’s definitions are prettier. But they are also better. They’re so much better that to use another dictionary is to keep yourself forever at arm’s length from the actual language. »

Jonny Greenwood pretended to play the keyboard when he first joined Radiohead

Kottke reports this juicy excerpt from Jonny Greenwood’s interview at npr: Thom [Yorke]’s band had a keyboard player — [whom] I think they didn’t get on with because he played his keyboard so loud. And so when I got the chance to play with them, the first thing I did was make sure my keyboard was turned off … I must have done months of rehearsals with them with this keyboard, and they didn’t know that I’d already turned it off. »

How recycling pee could help save the world

Chelsea Wald in Nature: Scientists say that urine diversion would have huge environmental and public-health benefits if deployed on a large scale around the world. That’s in part because urine is rich in nutrients that, instead of polluting water bodies, could go towards fertilizing crops or feed into industrial processes. According to Simha’s estimates, humans produce enough urine to replace about one-quarter of current nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizers worldwide; it also contains potassium and many micronutrients (see ‘What’s in urine’). »

Google Search is Dying

Reddit is currently the most popular search engine. The only people who don’t know that are the team at Reddit, who can’t be bothered to build a decent search interface. So instead we resort to using Google, and appending the word “reddit” to the end of our queries. […] Why are people searching Reddit specifically? The short answer is that Google search results are clearly dying. The long answer is that most of the web has become too inauthentic to trust. »

A historian perspective on blockchain technology

One of my recent discoveries is A Collection of Unmitigated Pedantry by Bret Devereaux, an historian who’s been posting great content over the years. His Fireside Fridays, for example, provide intriguing musings on varied topics. In this week instalment, professor Devereaux takes on the different applications of blockchain technology as seen from a historian’s perspective. Really, this is less about the technologies themselves and more about the nature of states. »

A Passage To Parenthood

A very touching Akhil Sharma in The New Yorker: Not long after we began dating, my now wife, Christine, and I started making up stories about the child we might have. We named the child—or, in the stories we told about him, he named himself—Suzuki Noguchi. Among the things we liked about him was that he was cheerfully indifferent to us. He did not wish to be either Irish (like Christine) or Indian (like me). »

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Is Old Music Killing New Music?

I had a hunch that old songs were taking over music streaming platforms—but even I was shocked when I saw the most recent numbers. According to MRC Data, old songs now represent 70% of the US music market. Those who make a living from new music—especially that endangered species known as the working musician—have to look at these figures with fear and trembling. But the news gets worse. I can’t say I can relate as my kids of ages 21, 18, and 16 do their best to stay clear from the music I like, but anyways, Ted Gioia’s latest piece on recent music trends is super-interesting. »

Go James Webb

It’s now old news that the James Webb Telescope was successfully launched on Christmas Day. But last Saturday marked another historic moment for this incredible human artifact: After a quarter-century of effort by tens of thousands of people, more than $10 billion in taxpayer funding, and some 350 deployment mechanisms that had to go just so, the James Webb Space Telescope fully unfurled its wings. The massive spacecraft completed its final deployments, and, by God, the process went smoothly. »