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In the News 05.10.17 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

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In the News 05.10.17 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
In the News 05.10.17 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
In the News 05.10.17 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

The World According to Dan Brown

RYE BEACH, N.H. — Anyone who has read Dan Brown’s work — and with 200 million copies of his books in print, you know who you are — is familiar with his signature technique of inserting little chunks of expository information into the narrative. Among the topics addressed in his latest thriller, “Origin”: the wide-ranging talents of Winston Churchill, the elusive appeal of abstract art, the exciting peculiarities of Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia cathedral and the latest insane developments in the world of artificial intelligence.

This is central to the Brown approach, because he himself prefers literature that is instructive and, ideally, not wholly invented. “I feel like if I’m going to take time reading, I better be learning,” he said recently. He was sitting in his large and cunningly designed house here in the New Hampshire countryside. Of his novels, he said: “This is the kind of fiction I would read if I read fiction.”

“Origin” is Mr. Brown’s eighth novel. It finds his familiar protagonist, the brilliant Harvard professor of symbology and religious iconography Robert Langdon, embroiled once more in an intellectually challenging, life-threatening adventure involving murderous zealots, shadowy fringe organizations, paradigm-shifting secrets with implications for the future of humanity, symbols within puzzles and puzzles within symbols and a female companion who is super-smart and super-hot.

As do all of Mr. Brown’s works, the new novel does not shy away from the big questions, but rather rushes headlong into them. Here the question is: Can science make religion obsolete?

Read the rest of this article at: The New York Times

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How Deep Is Your Love?

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No cars are permitted to drive the path that winds up the mountain. In fair weather, as now in late April, buses and horse-drawn carriages convey visitors up the slopes, but conditions of ice and snow close the road to all except foot traffic. Even after the shuttle drop-off point, travelers must walk the final, steepest leg of the journey through a forest of knotty-rooted firs, ferns, mosses, and toadstools. The silence is broken only by birdsong, the rustling of chaffinch or black squirrel through the underbrush, and the tramp of hikers. Like the fool Parsifal, who wanders into the mountains of the Grail knights, I marvel, “I scarcely tread, yet seem already to have come far!”

At last I see the castle, Neuschwanstein, turreted and crenellated, shining white as a swan, perched on the edge of the cliff against the backdrop of the Bavarian Alps. The building appears as though the product of centuries of reconstruction and renovation, right down to the architectural irregularities of the asymmetrical foundation and a red sandstone gatehouse that jars against the white. But Neuschwanstein, the unfinished masterpiece of Ludwig II, king of Bavaria from 1864 to 1886, was a thoroughly modern project, belonging not to medieval history but to neomedieval fairy-tale fantasy, and was built to serve a modern purpose: to manifest, relieve, and exalt Ludwig’s obsession with the works of the composer Richard Wagner. The king was perhaps the world’s greatest opera fan; his Neuschwanstein remains perhaps the world’s greatest work of fan art.

Music is our myth of the inner life.

 

Read the rest of this article at: Lapham’s Quarterly

What Happens When We Give up Control of Our Cars?

The first automobiles, in the early 1900s, were a headache. The tool kit of the 1907 Pierce Arrow included, ominously, an extra set of intake and exhaust valves. Cars needed weekly oil changes. One manual of the period suggested that drivers have on hand, among other things, a small pipe wrench, a pair of gas pipe pliers, large and small screwdrivers, a pair of flat-nosed pliers, a small hammer, a pair of wire cutters, a large jackknife, half-round and three-cornered files, a roll of sticky tape, a chisel, a coil of soft iron, a monkey wrench, a few links of extra chain, a piece of asbestos for making gaskets, cans of oil and grease, and extra plugs. In response, owners adapted the model they had been using for years with their horses and carriages. The coachman—the man responsible for managing the army of stablehands and grooms who kept horses fed and shod and carriages clean and functional—was transformed into the chauffeur. Responsibility for the new technology was outsourced.

“Most wealthy motorists simply wanted to enjoy the exhilaration of speed and the freedom of long-distance travel without rails, which automobiles offered,” historian Kevin Borg writes in his wonderful essay, “The ‘Chauffeur Problem’ in the Early Auto Era.” “More than that, [owners] wanted to share these experiences with their social peers. These motorists viewed the automobile trip as a social setting within which the mechanical demands became a distraction, a nuisance, and possibly even an embarrassment.” The car was to its first owners an instrument of convenience.

Read the rest of this article at: Car and Driver

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The Last Invention of Man

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The Omega Team was the soul of the company. Whereas the rest of the enterprise brought in the money to keep things going, by various commercial applications of narrow AI, the Omega Team pushed ahead in their quest for what had always been the CEO’s dream: building general artificial intelligence. Most other employees viewed “the Omegas,” as they affectionately called them, as a bunch of pie-in-the-sky dreamers, perpetually decades away from their goal. They happily indulged them, however, because they liked the prestige that the cutting-edge work of the Omegas gave their company, and they also appreciated the improved algorithms that the Omegas occasionally gave them.

What they didn’t realize was that the Omegas had carefully crafted their image to hide a secret: They were extremely close to pulling off the most audacious plan in human history. Their charismatic CEO had handpicked them not only for being brilliant researchers, but also for ambition, idealism, and a strong commitment to helping humanity. He reminded them that their plan was extremely dangerous, and that if powerful governments found out, they would do virtually anything—including kidnapping—to shut them down or, preferably, to steal their code. But they were all in, 100 percent, for much the same reason that many of the world’s top physicists joined the Manhattan Project to develop nuclear weapons: They were convinced that if they didn’t do it first, someone less idealistic would.

Read the rest of this article at: Nautilus

A Visit to Italian Villages That Inspired the Term ‘Riviera’

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Finale Ligure, a sun-baked town at the edge of the Ligurian Sea, has no symphony orchestra or opera house. But it has a maestro of its own: Franco Morasca, the manager of Bagni Est Finale, a no-frills, private club on the beach that pulls in generations of Italians each summer for a reminder of what it means to be Italian.

The term “Riviera” was born on this region, on this crescent-shaped stretch of coast known as Liguria, which runs from the ancient town of Ventimiglia, just over the border from France, through better-known destinations such as San Remo, as well as casual beach spots like Imperia and Finale Ligure. And just inland are some tremendously appealing mountain towns like Borgomaro and Apricale.

What unifies each of these destinations is the unpretentious collection of bons vivants who descend on them annually, many of them from Milan, who embrace traditions and a family-centered way of life that still predominates here.

That is where Mr. Morasca comes in.
Bagni Est Finale, the spot he runs, is just one of dozens of mini clubs that line the beaches along the Ligurian coast, each with its own collection of beach chairs, a small restaurant, espresso bar, family changing rooms and lockers, among other decidedly simple accommodations.

There is a magic at Bagni Est Finale, held together by Mr. Morasca and his sister, who work out of a shoe-boxed sized office overlooking the beach club, a perch from which they have watched young children turn into teenagers, then adults, then parents themselves, as they bring their own children back to be part of the extended family that comes back here each year. I found myself remembering that now-ancient Garry Marshall film (starring Matt Dillon), named “The Flamingo Kid,” about a Brooklyn beach club in the 1960s. Except the clock stopped at Bagni Est Finale and stands still today.

After an afternoon on the beach, wading in the azure waters of the Mediterranean, lunch in the patio tables, families move en masse for a nap under their umbrellas. The children often awaken before their parents, playing tag, football or random other games in the sand. Mr. Moresca, ever the maestro, has a large table in his cramped office with a floor plan that looks like seating for an orchestra, though the names penciled in next to each seat are family assignments for chaise longues.

Much about traveling is about finding places like this: spots of unvarnished beauty where you can vacation amid locals who are embracing their own way of life, which is different from yours. This beauty inspires you, months later and back at work, to stare blankly in the distance, past your monitor and into your memories.

Read the rest of this article at: The New York Times

P.S. previous articles & more by P.F.M. // Top images: @lucywilliams02; @karishashasha @janicejoostemaa

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