Author Archives: Clive

About Clive

Journalist (NYT mag, Wired, Smithsonian, Mother Jones), musician. Author of "Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing our Lives for the Better".


A Beijing bathroom-paper-towel machine that scans your face before dispensing, to make sure you’re not trying to take paper towels too often. Some listener sent @jessebrown a spreadsheet detailing, with timecode, every time he said “um” during a radio interview. How “The Apprentice” made Donald Trump’s presidency possible. The advent of computational psychiatry. Is writing style predictive of scientific fraud?. Some giant deep-sea worms may be 1,000 years old. Homeless planets.

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Black and white archival photo of an automat in New York City

Automats were invented partly because turn-of-the-20th-century diners hated waiters. Speaking of automation, this piece ponders the effects of Venmo on friendships. There are 17 kinds of ice? Now you can register a domain with an emoji in its URL. (Several services exist, in fact.) Wikipedia as a text adventure. Firefox 55 is now fast enough that it can reopen 1,691 tabs in 15 seconds. An interactive map of The Odyssey. The Washington Post has been really owning the goat beat lately. (Previously.) Salvador Dali’s mustache, nearly 30 years after he was embalmed, is still in perfect shape.

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Photo of a transparent swintec typewriter
A terrific story on how inmates use transparent-plastic typewriters made by Swintec; here’s where you can get one yourself. The CIA’s guide to clear writing. A gorgeous and moving one-minute sci-fi film. A neural network that translates pictures of food into recipes. A command-line app for Slack. Talk about geo-engineering is getting more serious. NASA puts up a trove of video of experimental test flights.

(Pic above from this Etsy listing of a Swintec!)

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Animated charts showing how the age of marriage has changed over time

Animated charts showing how the age of marriage has changed in the US over the last century. The myth of drug expiration dates. The obituary for the inventor of the first — and only — “self-cleaning house”. (Her patent is here.) Data considered as a gift. From 1908: “School is largely concerned with the transformation of a playing child into a working man with some of the play still left in him.” The long history of mocking Thoreau. Experiments, some successful, to evoke emotions in psychopaths. A video showing the patient, lovely restoration of an old two-person saw.

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A screenshot of an art project showing what windows 93 would look like if it had been released

What Windows 93 would have looked like, had it been released. (Interactive! Double click on the programs!) I got that link from this piece in the New York Times about the vogue for retro-90s digital design aesthetics. The third-leading cause of death in the US is now “medical error” (via @boingboing). After 10 years of analyzing the Enron email corpus, linguists have found some pretty cool stuff: Tons of baseball metaphors, and the mundane language of “deception theory”. The “Al Capone theory of sexual harassment.” A terrific appreciation of Maryam Mirzakhani’s mathematical genius. NASA’s “advanced concepts” program is currently funding experiment designs for the airships of Mars, soft robots to disassemble asteroids, and a probe that would explore Pluto by bouncing around.

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Screenshot of ebook made from Jack Kerouac's novel rendered as turn-by-turn driving instructions

The route that Jack Kerouac drove in On the Road, rendered as Google-Maps turn-by-turn driving instructions, and published as an ebook. “Strange Signals from the Nearby Red Dwarf Star Ross 128”. (A note from the astronomers: “In case you are wondering, the recurrent aliens hypothesis is at the bottom of many other better explanations.”) A chilling gif that shows Mosul before and after its devastation by war. How to make Martian concrete. Oh, and ravens? They plan.

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page of poetry that J.M. Coetzee algorithmically generated using the Atlas 2 computer in 1962

Nobel-prize-winning novelist J.M. Coetzee was a programmer on the 1962 Atlas 2 computer; at night, he used it to algorithmically generate poetry. The total eclipse of 1878 created a stampede of US scientists out west to behold it. To tamp down on bots — in politics, social media, and product reviews — Tim Wu proposes a “Blade Runner” law. Goethe’s 1797 poem “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” is a tale for our software-enabled time; here’s a 2013 English translation. A fun retrospective on the “Netflix Prize” of a decade ago. (Back then, I wrote a story for the New York Times Magazine on the contest, where I learned about “the Napoleon Dynamite problem”.) Two AIs, tasked with talking to each other, invented their own language.

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People taking smartphone pictures of van gogh's "Starry Night"

A study finds that snapping pictures of art in a gallery slightly improves your recall of it. (Previous work has found precisely the opposite.) An overturned truck spilled 7,500 pounds of “slime eels” onto a highway. Facebook’s “Mom problem”: If she’s the first one ‘like’ a post, the algorithms assume it’s family-related. A study of 147 cases where praying mantises slaughtered birds. (Yi, the photos are creepy.) “Our young moon’s supersonic winds made waves in its magma ocean.” The joy of typing. A cool new Javascript library for writing bots: Botui.org. If you read only one paper about the asymmetric metaphoric mapping of polysemous words, make it this one. A Kickstarter campaign for Sonnet, long-range-radio hotspots that connect mobile phones off the grid (and mesh!) You’ve heard of the “last mile” problem; here’s the “middle mile” problem. How to keep the romantic flame alive? View your partner’s face amidst a stream of pictures of puppies and bunnies.

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Picture of Mcdonald's Pikachu McFlurry

“Would You Eat A Pokemon McFlurry That Looks Like Pikachu’s Swirled Corpse?” Why we need to reboot the web culture of “view source”: My latest Wired column. (And here’s Sam Arbesman reflecting on the same thing from the Commodore-64 80s — including some lovely BASIC programs his father wrote for him.) How to attach a camera to a humpback whale. The EFF ranks online services by how well they protect your privacy. If you spent tons of time on social media, you’re exposed to an ideological wider array of news sources. The advent of easily-faked video. I am a sucker for all scientific research that suggests you should DRINK MOAR COFFEE

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