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".

Map showing a nuclear strike on NYC and how much damage it would cause

“Nukemap”: Pick the yield of the bomb, the target … then behold the death and destruction it’ll cause. “Should I beome a radiologist, or will AI take over that job?” A fascinating thread emerges after AI expert Andrew Ng posts this and asks for responses. Duolingo is now offering courses in the language High Valyrian from Game of Thrones. “Bleedwood”, “Clay Cow”, “Barkying White”: AI is still pretty bad at naming paint colors. “Umbrella-sharing startup loses nearly all of its 300,000 umbrellas in a matter of weeks.” Man, making robots is hard. Behold JANUS, a protocol for communicating with and between undersea drones, using acoustically-transmitted data. Meet the humans making (teensy) money to help train self-driving car AI. The most popular words Americans are looking up at Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary? “Collusion, treason, collude, quid pro quo, kakistocracy.”


Graphics from the Washington Post calculating how many jobs goats will steal from humans
Forget robots: Goats are coming for our jobs — in landscaping! But how many jobs? The Washington Post tries to calculate this. The multimillion-dollar sound-engineering quest to produce the perfect golf-club “thwack”. Inside Winston Churchill’s quest to build an aircraft carrier out of ice. People like straightforward braggarts better than humblebraggers. Rooftop solar is under attack by utilities, who complain it’s reducing demand for coal/gas-fired power. How to make natural-language AI less sexist and racist. “Please buy some greenfish:” A 400-year-old shopping list is found under floorboards in a house.


Locating the narrator of “Hey There Delilah”


The other day I was working in a cafe when “Hey There Delilah”, the cute little love song by the Plain White T’s, came on. I’ve probably heard that tune — with its earwormy chorus (Oh it’s what you do to me-eeee-eeee) — a bazillion times.

But this time, for some reason, I was struck by the first verse:

Hey there Delilah
What’s it like in New York City?
I’m a thousand miles away
But girl, tonight you look so pretty

There are two interesting data points here: a) Delilah is in New York City, and b) the singer is precisely 1,000 miles away. You don’t typically find that level of geographic specificity in a pop song!

So I started thinking, hmmm, with those two pieces of info you could actually generate a good — and exact — list of the singer’s possible locations. After all, there are a finite number of towns/cities that are exactly 1,000 miles away from New York City. As @can pointed out to me, the real location is a google-search away, but hey: It’s more fun to try and figure this out for myself.

If I had any skills in GIS, I could create a nice table of all those cities, but I don’t, so I can’t. The next best thing, I figured, would be to do a brute-force visual inspection. So I took Google Maps and wrote a little script to draw a circle around the lat-long for NYC, with a radius of 1,000 miles.

Le voila:

If we stick to the USA, a quick glimpse reveals that there are only eight possible states in which the singer resides: Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. If you zoom in closely and drag the map around a bit, you can follow the circumference and find some possible towns where he lives. (It’s best to use the plus and minus keys on your keyboard for zooming; Codepen puts a “rerun” button right over the map’s “-” icon, so it’s hard to mouse-click.)

So here’s one likely area he lives — the outskirts of Minneapolis!

Closeup of map showing the outskirts of the twin cities

Though if you zoom in really close, you can spot some much smaller possible towns, like … New Franklin, Missouri (population 1,089):

Map showing New Franklin, Missouri

Actually, if you zoom in really closely and follow the circumference, you can actually spot individual houses that the line intersects, which is kind of nuts. I’m not screenshotting any because it feels weirdly invasive to speculate at that level of granularity, but it’s sort of mesmerizing to zoom down really far.

Of course, it’s also possible he’s not in the US at all. The circle goes way up into Canada, so maybe he’s in a shack on the shore of Lobstick Lake in Northern Quebec?

Map of Lobstick lake in Northern Quebec

Or in the Bahamas?

Map of two of the Bahamas islands

Or maybe he’s off in the middle of the Atlantic, on some inflatable libertarian seasteading bitcoin-acquired pseudocountry?

Closeup of empty area in Atlantic ocean



A photograph of the moon using a game boy camera

Photographing the moon using a Game Boy Camera. The “third thumb”, a kooky experimental prosthetic. “A daughter discovers her a cache of her dead grandfather’s Read It Later bookmarks and wonders about his regrets”: @hondanhon composes brilliant tweet-length story-plots that explore grief and digital memory in the future. A grim chart showing how the US spends more on health care for worse results. Why you shouldn’t interrupt programmers. Find a quiet half-hour to read/behold 17776, an astonishing online story about space, time, and the future of football. (Make sure to see it on a screen bigger than a phone. And thanks to @debcha for pointing it out!)


Art created by a Generative Adversarial Network

Newish styles of art, created by a generative adversarial network. “Is it unethical for me to not tell my employer I’ve automated my job?” Amelia Earhart’s hilariously unsentimental prenuptial letter to her fiance. Scientists created an elevator to help eels pass by a dam; they call it the “eelevator”. Roman concrete that has been submerged for 2,000 years is stronger than when it was first made; unpacking its secrets could be useful for climate adaptation. “Grid defection”: As battery tech gets cheaper, McKinsey predicts many households will instal solar arrays and go partially off-grid within a few years. An ancient cuneiform tablet in which a priestess upbraids her brother for not chipping for groceries. A study finds that texting makes you walk funny.


Cover of fake O'Reilly book I generated, called "Incomprehensible Javascript"

Generate your own O’Reilly book cover. Picking up guys on Tinder using lines generated by a neural net. Palm cockatoos play the drums much like …. humans. (The study; video of a bird drumming right here!) The child of “Tay”: A new Microsoft chatbot says the Qur’an is “very violent”. A hidden underwater forest, 10,000 years old, is discovered! “Jaywalking while black.” Behold the booze requirements for 16th-century performers of mystery plays. What exactly is consciousness good for? Gorgeous library artwork made of bookends.


A man assembles his CV by using phrases autocompleted in Google search
@TechnicallyRon wrote a resume by using whatever Google-search autocomplete suggested. An HBR study finds that male and female founders are asked very different questions — his are aimed at “promotion” (what cool things will you be able to do?) and hers are focused on “prevention” (how will you keep from screwing up?) “Obituary Notices of Astronomers”, a comprehensive list of how 18th-century ones died. (M. Delaunay perished in “the upsetting of a pleasure-boat near Cherbourg”.) Volvo’s self-driving car is defeated by kangaroos. “How Maps Changed The World,” my latest column for Smithsonian.


A projector that runs an Android interface on any surface. An anonymous programmer automates her/his job, and wonders: Should I tell my boss? The science of how to smile without looking like a creep. People with better memory appear to get bored more quickly. Why Intel’s updates to its chips increasingly involve new layers of complex microcode, or … “Why Hardware Is The New Software”. When you change your behavior because you’re worried about getting good ratings/likes/approval online, that’s “Social Cooling”. (Last two links via @gnat’s excellent “Four Short Links”.)


Artists rendering of Macrauchenia patachonica by museum of natural history
Scientists finally figure out the genetic tree of a “very weird mammal” that vanished 10,000 years ago: It’s part of the horse family. “Those whose past is legible will be exhorted to repeat it.” Behold the “Encounter Editor”, Chris Crawford’s tool — 25 years in the making — for scripting interactive stories. “Quibits” are quantum bits that can represent two states, 1 and 0, at the same time; but now we have “qudits”, which can represent ten. How to replace yourself with a very small shell script. Behold “Brogrammer”, a theme for the Sublime text editor.