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Archive for the ‘Technology’

The problem of Wernher von Braun

May 08, 2013 By: jessicazafra Category: History, Science, Technology 3 Comments →

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Von Braun, the Nazi who built the space program, with US President John F. Kennedy. Photo from space.com.

On Thursday, September 20, 1945, Wernher von Braun arrived at Fort Strong. The small military site on the northern tip of Boston Harbour’s Long Island was the processing point for Project Paperclip, the government programme under which hundreds of German scientists were brought into America. Von Braun filled out his paperwork that day as the inventor of the Nazi V-2 rocket, a member of the Nazi party, and a member of the SS who could be linked to the deaths of thousands of concentration camp prisoners. Two and a half decades later on Wednesday, July 16, 1969, von Braun stood in the firing room at Kennedy Spaceflight Centre and watched another of his rockets, the Saturn V, take the Apollo 11 crew to the Moon.

That he was responsible for both the deadly Nazi V-2 and NASA’s majestic Saturn V makes Wernher von Braun a controversial historical figure. Some hold that his participation in the Nazi war effort necessitates classifying him as a villain. But while his actions during the Second World War were monstrous, he wasn’t motivated by some inherent evil or personal belief in Nazi ideology. Von Braun was motivated by his childhood obsession with spaceflight, a somewhat uncritical patriotism, and a naive grasp of the ramifications of his actions in creating one of the War’s deadliest weapons. How can we treat someone who brought technological triumph to two nations, in one case as a purveyor of death and destruction and in the other a bringer of wonder and inspiration?

Read Wernher von Braun: History’s most controversial figure? by Amy Shira Teitel.

“Liking” is not doing

May 03, 2013 By: jessicazafra Category: Current Events, Technology No Comments →

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Read Facebook ‘likes’ don’t save lives at Dangerous Minds.

The Hive Mind and the Outsourced Manhunt

April 21, 2013 By: jessicazafra Category: Current Events, Places, Technology No Comments →

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In an earlier era, law enforcement might not have identified the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing so rapidly.

When the smoke literally cleared on Monday, investigators had a huge problem and nearly no leads. No individual or organization claimed responsibility for the bombings that killed three and wounded more than 180. So they took a big leap: They copped to how little they knew, and embraced the wisdom of The Crowd.

Hiding in plain sight was an ocean of data, from torrents of photography to cell-tower information to locals’ memories, waiting to be exploited. Police, FBI, and the other investigators opted to let spectator surveillance supplement and augment their own. When they called for that imagery, locals flooded it in. They spoke to the public frequently, both in person and especially on Twitter. All that represented a modern twist on the age-old law enforcement maxim that the public’s eyes and ears are crucial investigative assets, as the Internet rapidly compressed the time it took for tips to arrive and get analyzed.

Read This Is the Modern Manhunt: The FBI, the Hive Mind and the Boston Bombers, at Danger Room in Wired.

House of Cards and the very near future of content

April 02, 2013 By: jessicazafra Category: Technology, Television 2 Comments →

House of Cards remake

We’re addicted to House of Cards starring Kevin Spacey as a scheming United States Congressman. Quick pegs: Evil West Wing, Game of Thrones in DC, Richard III (a Spacey specialty). Never play nice people again, Kevin, we don’t buy it. Robin Wright is terrific; every time we see her we want to punch Sean Penn in the face.

Yeah it’s a remake of a British series and the Brit original is better blah blah blah. But House of Cards is more than an addictive series. It didn’t originate on TV or cable; it’s produced by Netflix. The delivery system now produces its own content. We’re seeing the beginning of a great shift here.

Read House of Cards and the Decline of Cable in the New Yorker.

The case of the dead CDs

February 08, 2013 By: jessicazafra Category: Music, Technology 1 Comment →

CD rot

We’ve been reading a lot of late 19th-century literature so we thought we’d listen to music from the period. So off we went to Jackie’s to raid her music library (and dine on Yaya Andresa’s ostrich burgers, which are intense). We borrowed some Mahler, Brahms, Faure, Grieg and a double-CD recording of Verdi’s Otello starring Mario del Monaco (sounds like a bold star) and Renata Tebaldi.

When we opened the CD case we found that the foam liner had disintegrated and stuck to the discs. Ayyy! So we removed the bits of foam very carefully, then wiped the discs with alcohol. The discs had become translucent. They wouldn’t play, even if we tried them on different players. Otello was dead, a victim of CD rot.

“This problem was spotted in the early days of optical discs,” explains Juan the audiophile snob. (We are not allowed to use shoddy headphones in his presence.) “It happened to laser discs first. Apparently the seal on the two sides of the disc was not perfect, allowing air to seep in. Over time the substrate would disintegrate.”

(Digression: The first CDs Juan ever owned were the Chariots of Fire soundtrack and a Spandau Ballet album he bought in Tokyo in 1984. He also bought the newly-released Sony Discman. The battery back contained four D cells and was almost four times thicker and heavier than the player. Playing time was four hours or less.)

“The disc makers probably didn’t anticipate the chemical effect of the adhesive used on the reflective layer, and the manufacturing process was not perfect. The Japanese imprints were probably better than the American and European ones (Juan’s two oldest CDs still; some of his laser discs have gone kaput). Juan recalls a class action suit in the 80s against Pioneer, inventor of the laser disc. The CD was invented by Philips and Sony. The problem of CD rot was first reported in the west (The Otello CD was made in West Germany. There were two Germanies then).”

For more information: CDs are not forever. If you have any CDs from the 80s, time to check if they still play.

Add to to-do list: Attend the Wagner festival at Bayreuth. You line up for years and years to get tickets.

If wireless fidelity is Wi-Fi, then the infidelity phone is In-Fi.

January 14, 2013 By: jessicazafra Category: Re-lay-shun-ships, Technology 1 Comment →

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TOKYO—Over the past few years, as many people rushed to trade in their old phones for smartphones, Japan’s philanderers have remained faithful to one particular brand: Fujitsu Ltd.’s older “F-Series” phones, which feature some attractive stealth privacy features.

The aging flip-phone—nicknamed the “uwaki keitai” or “infidelity phone”—owes its enduring popularity to customers who don’t believe newer smartphones are as discreet at hiding their illicit romances.

Read Japan’s Philanderers Stay Faithful to Their “Infidelity Phones” in WSJ

Here comes your Wi-Fe! If we spot someone with this flip-phone we’ll just assume he’s a cheater.