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Archive for February, 2014

Where It Began, I Can’t Begin to Knowin’.

“‘This is the oldest fortified settlement in the present United States,’ said historian and Florida State University alumnus Fletcher Crowe. ‘This fort is older than St. Augustine, considered to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in America. It’s older than the Lost Colony of Virginia by 21 years; older than the 1607 fort of Jamestown by 45 years; and predates the landing of the Pilgrims in Massachusetts in 1620 by 56 years.'”

Two Florida professors announce they have found the site of Fort Caroline, a French outpost ravaged by the Spanish in 1565, near Darien, Georgia — not near Jacksonville where it was thought to be. ‘The frustrating and often acrimonious quest to find the fort has become a sort of American quest for the Holy Grail by archaeologists, historians and other scholars,’ he noted. ‘The inability to find the fort has made some wonder if it ever existed.'”

But other researchers are saying hold up. “‘It’s not conceivable that the soldiers could have made it to the Altamaha River from St. Augustine in two days…If they are correct, then the Spanish would have moved the St. Augustine settlement 70 miles south, to its present location. There is simply no evidence for this,’ said Meide. ‘This new theory doesn’t stand up to the archaeological and historical information that has been amassed by scholars over the past fifty years.'”

Thus far, archaeologists have yet to scope the newly proposed site. So, with all due respect to fellow historians, I’d probably wait to see what they find first.

Great Strides in Nonsense.

“According to Nature News, Cyril Labbé, a French computer scientist, recently informed Springer and the IEEE, two major scientific publishers, that between them, they had published more than 120 algorithmically-generated articles. In 2012, Labbé had told the IEEE of another batch of 85 fake articles. He’s been playing with SCIgen for a few years—in 2010 a fake researcher he created, Ike Antkare, briefly became the 21st most highly cited scientist in Google Scholar’s database.”

“Sarcasm detector…now that’s a really useful invention.” In Slate, Konstantin Kakaes explains how academic science journals have been routinely snookered by algorithmically-generated nonsense. “First, academic publishing became an enormously lucrative business. And second, because administrators erroneously believed it to be a means of objective measurement, the advancement of academic careers became conditional on contributions to the business of academic publishing.”

Time is a Flat Circle, Filled with Milk.


The True Detective credit sequence, now reimagined with kittehs. Because the Internet. As I said on Twitter, this is cute and all, but Watership Down remains my go-to for cute and depressing existential animals.

Jurassic World.

“The earth is about to become a lot less ‘natural.’ Biologists have already created new forms of bacteria in the lab, modified the genetic code of countless living species and cloned dogs, cats, wolves and water buffalo, but the engineering of novel vertebrates — of breathing, flying, defecating pigeons — will represent a milestone for synthetic biology. This is the fact that will overwhelm all arguments against de-extinction.”

By way of Follow Me Here, the NYT’s Nathaniel Rich examines the promise, challenges, and ethics of reviving extinct species, and beyond:

“What is coming will go well beyond the resurrection of extinct species. For millenniums, we have customized our environment, our vegetables and our animals, through breeding, fertilization and pollination. Synthetic biology offers far more sophisticated tools. The creation of novel organisms, like new animals, plants and bacteria, will transform human medicine, agriculture, energy production and much else. De-extinction ‘is the most conservative, earliest application of this technology,’ says Danny Hillis, a Long Now board member and a prolific inventor who pioneered the technology that is the basis for most supercomputers.”

Revolving Doormen.

“One afternoon in San Francisco, Lehane explained his operating principle this way: ‘Everyone has a game plan until you punch them in the mouth. So let’s punch them in the mouth…In most situations,’ Lehane continued, ‘there are people who either have dirty hands or their own agendas. Whenever somebody complains that this stuff has happened to them, I say, “There’s a long line of people behind you.”‘”

Ever feel like maybe part of the problem with both our Party and our politics is that they tend to reward amoral, money- and power-driven, self-aggrandizing douchebags? Hey, you’re right! Exhibit A: Chris Lehane, previously Al Gore’s flak in 2000 (he also had a small part to play in Dean’s demise in 2004), who’s given the soft-focus treatment in this week’s New York Magazine. “‘You are only seeing 10 percent of what I do,’ Lehane said. The private clients have included Goldman Sachs, Michael Moore, the Weinstein Company and Boeing.”

And here’s Exhibit B: Peter Orszag, who’s currently trying to shield his big Citibank payday from public scrutiny. “Typically, documents in a civil-court proceeding are accessible to the public, but Orszag succeeded last year in quietly convincing a judge to seal financial records submitted in the case, including the salary he makes as a Citigroup vice president, from public view. In that request, Orszag worried that disclosure of his income might harm his career and ‘damage any eventual return to Federal Government service or other public office.'”

Yeah, because everybody’s clamoring for that. Sigh, This Town. Lehane’s right about one thing, tho’. Everywhere you look in DC, there are people who don’t know anything about anything strenuously clambering up the ranks, their only two skills of note shameless self-promotion and a brazen flexibility with regard to what should be basic Democratic principles. Or, as I put it more charitably a few years ago:

“That’s my rub too, and it dovetails with larger problems I have with DC political culture. More often than not, the people who tend to succeed here are the ones who keep their head down, play the DC game, stay resolutely non-ideological and unobtrusive in their opinions. never go out on a limb, never say or do anything that could hurt their bid to be a Big (or Bigger) Shot down the road. (Hence, the whole phenomenon of The Village.)The problem is, these plodding, risk-averse careerist types are exactly the type of people you don’t want making decisions in the end, because they will invariably lead to the plodding, risk-averse and too-often rudderless politics of the lowest common denominator.”

But I guess, as the The Wire made clear years ago, that’s pretty much the rule in any institution or industry, so there’s not much use in complaining about the way things are and have always been. Game’s the same, just got more fierce.

A World of Worlds.

“‘This is the largest windfall of planets — not exoplanet candidates, mind you, but actually validated exoplanets — that’s ever been announced at one time,’ Douglas Hudgins, exoplanet exploration program scientist at NASA’s Astrophysics Division in Washington, told reporters today.”

NASA announces 715 new planets found by the Kepler telescope, and that’s only from the first two years of data. “About 94 percent of the new alien worlds are smaller than Neptune, researchers said, further bolstering earlier Kepler observations that suggested the Milky Way galaxy abounds with rocky planets like Earth…four of the worlds are less than 2.5 times the size of Earth and reside in the ‘habitable zone,’ that just-right range of distances that could allow liquid water to exist on their surfaces.”

Across the Face of Arda.

“After taking 150,000 photos over the course of three months, photographer Shawn Reeder ultimately whittled the number down to 8,640 in order to complete this incredible visual expedition.” Via The Atlantic and “timelapse cinematographer” Shawn Reeder, a lusciously-shot time-lapse journey through New Zealand.

Darth Sackler?

There’ve been a lot of casting rumors floating around, but this one does have the imprimatur of Variety: Has Adam Driver been cast as the next Star Wars villain? “Exact details are unknown, but the character is said to be in the vein of iconic ‘Star Wars’ villain Darth Vader.”

Er…Driver seems like a solid actor, actually — he’s probably the most likable aspect of Girls. But I’m not sure he has the presence to be the Big Bad. And I expected someone older if they’re going the Grand Admiral Thrawn route.

To Explore Strange New Worlds.


“It’s still one of the greatest magazines about science fiction of all time.” iO9’s Charlie Jane Anders points the way to a fully-searchable online archive of Starlog Magazine. The “internet before the internet,” as one of the commenters well put it, Starlog was one of the staples of my childhood (and the magazine that, since I was living overseas when it came out, spoiled Return of the Jedi and several other movies rotten for me.)

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