You might have noticed that I’ve moved this newsletter to Substack. This was done for a few reasons: cleaner interface, easier-to-read archives, and better customer/technical support access. On your end, nothing will change, so don’t worry at all.
I've long been intrigued by Iridium flares: when the antennas from a constellation of satellites periodically catch the sun and create a brilliant flash in the night sky. What makes them particularly exciting is that they are predictable, so I recently used WayScript (note: Lux Capital, where I am Scientist in Residence, is an investor) to build a small program to notify me when to expect one. I wrote a bit about this:
So, I made a very simple WayScript program: one that extracts the information on the Iridium flare webpage of Heavens-Above, parses the resulting page using a tiny Python script, and if there is going to be a flare in the next day or two, emails me the link to remind me to observe it.
And recently, I went outside, courtesy of my WayScript reminder email, and got to see an Iridium flare.
Read the whole short essay here.
Also, in a previous issue of the newsletter, I included a film from AT&T on how to dial. One reader pointed me to the story of the invention of the first automatic telephone switch, the Strowger switch, which eliminated the need for operators:
Strowger, an undertaker, was motivated to invent an automatic telephone exchange after having difficulties with the local telephone operators, one of whom was the wife of a competitor. He was said to be convinced that she, as one of the manual telephone exchange operators, was sending calls "to the undertaker" to her husband.
Apparently, bizarre funeral home competition is the mother of invention.
As someone passionate about promoting generalists in an age of specialization, I was super-excited to read my friend David Epstein's new book Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World. This book is a deeply researched and thoughtful analysis of how to think about generalists. It is the book I've long wanted to exist and I'm so glad it that David has knocked it out of the park. I highly recommend you all check out Range.
Some things worth taking a look at:
An article on building a cathedral, which points to the idea of accretive buildings, which gain value as they are constructed: “Cathedrals are distinct from typical megaprojects in a very important way: an unfinished Cathedral is by no means a failure.” Pairs nicely with a conversation with Alexander Rose, the executive director of the Long Now Foundation (I am affiliated as a Research Fellow)
Here's a mind-blowing video on how Mercury is actually our closest planetary neighbor
An interactive viewer for a huge number of polyhedra
And a supercomputer inside an old church (I found this one while working on my still very-much-in-progress novel)
Ben Reinhardt is exploring how to best catalyze ideas in science and technology through his podcast Idea Machines. He recently had me on as a guest and I had a blast chatting about research labs, complexity, long-term thinking, and more.
Until next time.
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