News 03.29.19 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets


News 03.29.19 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
News 03.29.19 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
News 03.29.19 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Proof Finds That All Change Is a Mix of Order and Randomness

Imagine a garden filled with every variety of flower in the world — delicate orchids, towering sunflowers, the waxy blossoms of the saguaro cactus and the corpse flower’s putrid eruptions. Now imagine that all that floral diversity reduced to just two varieties, and that by crossbreeding those two you could produce all the rest.

That is the nature of one of the most sweeping results in mathematics in recent years. It’s a proof by Tim Austin, a mathematician at the University of California, Los Angeles. Instead of flowers, Austin’s work has to do with some of the most-studied objects in mathematics: the mathematical descriptions of change.

These descriptions, known as dynamical systems, apply to everything from the motion of the planets to fluctuations of the stock market. Wherever dynamical systems occur, mathematicians want to understand basic facts about them. And one of the most basic facts of all is whether dynamical systems, no matter how complex, can be broken up into random and deterministic elements.

Read the rest of this article at: Quanta Magazine

News 03.29.19 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

The Day the Dinosaurs Died

News 03.29.19 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

If, on a certain evening about sixty-­six million years ago, you had stood somewhere in North America and looked up at the sky, you would have soon made out what appeared to be a star. If you watched for an hour or two, the star would have seemed to grow in brightness, although it barely moved. That’s because it was not a star but an asteroid, and it was headed directly for Earth at about forty-five thousand miles an hour. Sixty hours later, the asteroid hit. The air in front was compressed and violently heated, and it blasted a hole through the atmosphere, generating a supersonic shock wave. The asteroid struck a shallow sea where the Yucatán peninsula is today. In that moment, the Cretaceous period ended and the Paleogene period began.

A few years ago, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory used what was then one of the world’s most powerful computers, the so-called Q Machine, to model the effects of the impact. The result was a slow-motion, second-by-second false-color video of the event. Within two minutes of slamming into Earth, the asteroid, which was at least six miles wide, had gouged a crater about eighteen miles deep and lofted twenty-five trillion metric tons of debris into the atmosphere. Picture the splash of a pebble falling into pond water, but on a planetary scale. When Earth’s crust rebounded, a peak higher than Mt. Everest briefly rose up. The energy released was more than that of a billion Hiroshima bombs, but the blast looked nothing like a nuclear explosion, with its signature mushroom cloud. Instead, the initial blowout formed a “rooster tail,” a gigantic jet of molten material, which exited the atmosphere, some of it fanning out over North America. Much of the material was several times hotter than the surface of the sun, and it set fire to everything within a thousand miles. In addition, an inverted cone of liquefied, superheated rock rose, spread outward as countless red-hot blobs of glass, called tektites, and blanketed the Western Hemisphere.

Read the rest of this article at: The New Yorker

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In Search of Generation Z

Once, not so long ago, I spent an afternoon emailing a few dozen evolutionary biologists. This was for my job, or one of my jobs—you know how millennials are (they’re broke, just like everyone else). My editor had assigned me to ask these people, who almost certainly had better things to do with their time, what the “newest animal” was. Most respondents hedged. They spoke of speciation as a “gradual process,” and mused on the difficulty of distinguishing between, say, an adaptively tricked-out Anolis lizard and an entirely new kind of reptile.

One, though—an evolutionary biologist, famous for his work with tropical fruit flies—wrote back to inform me that this was a “meaningless question” and that “even posing the question bespeaks an ignorance of how evolution works.” I assured him that I was, in fact, totally ignorant about how evolution works, and tried to rephrase my question. “That’s actually more or less the same question,” he replied, barely a minute later. “Pretty meaningless, and not of any interest to anyone.”

Read the rest of this article at: New Republic

News 03.29.19 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Heaven Can Wait: The Hidden Genius of Elaine May

News 03.29.19 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Eight years ago, at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan, something previously unthinkable happened: A theater full of people shelled out $30 a ticket to see the director’s cut of Ishtar, one of the most notorious flops in movie history. Or maybe they were shelling out to see the director herself, Elaine May, who makes roughly as many public appearances as Bigfoot and who is so notoriously press-averse that once, in the late ’60s, to promote a film she was appearing in, she asked The New York Times if rather than sitting for an interview she could just profile herself under a pseudonym. (They obliged; see: “Elaine May: Do You Mind Interviewing Me in the Kitchen?” by one Kevin M. Johnson.) Peering out into the sizable and rapturously applauding crowd that had gathered that night at the Y for a screening and Q&A, May—one of America’s sharpest living wits—quipped, “Either you like the movie or I’m very sick.”

Hatred of Ishtar is by now ubiquitous. In fact, it began before the film even came out. The 1987 farce starred Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman as two hapless nightclub singers who accidentally become swept up in a revolution in the Middle East; May modeled it on the old Bob Hope–Bing Crosby road movies, after musing to herself during the Iran-Contra affair that those benign buddy flicks were probably “the only movies [President Reagan] had ever seen about the Middle East.” (“I met him. He’s an amazingly naive person,” May said of Reagan years later. “A charming guy who really cared about show business.”) But the rest of the country was not exactly in on the joke. Ishtar made just $14 million on a budget that some have estimated as high as $55 million, and it became an instant punch line, whether you’d seen it or not. A Far Side comic strip captioned “Hell’s video store” depicted shelves and shelves of nothing but Ishtar on VHS. At the turn of the millennium, Time included the movie on its list of “The 100 Worst Ideas of the Century,” alongside telemarketing, Dan Quayle, and asbestos. Rumors swirled about May’s chaotic indecisiveness on set (a New York magazine story relayed an oft-repeated anecdote about May asking her crew to flatten the sand dunes on location in Morocco), and delays in the production schedule made the public wary. Still, there was a sense that the movie was preordained to fail. It became the final nail in the coffin of May’s already ailing directing career, leading to years of anonymous work as a script doctor and a kind of Hollywood exile in plain sight. “If all of the people who hate Ishtar had seen it,” May remarked to her one-time comedy partner Mike Nichols in a 2006 conversation, “I would be a rich woman today.”

Read the rest of this article at: The Ringer

The Underground Railroad of North Korea

News 03.29.19 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

1. The Impossible Journey
Any North Korean knows that escaping their nation is nearly impossible.

First, the woman called “Faith” would have to evade the soldiers and surveillance cameras on the border. But even once she’d sneaked into China, the danger would only have just begun. To reach a South Korean embassy, where she could receive asylum, she would still have to clandestinely journey thousands of miles across China and then several Southeast Asian countries. If she was discovered anywhere along that trek, she would likely be repatriated to one of her nation’s infamous gulags, where prisoners slave with so little food they capture rats to eat. But after more than 30 years of never daring to criticize the dictatorship out loud, even after enduring a famine, she was willing to risk anything to free herself.

By late 2017, thanks to the help of a secret network of activists who serve as an underground railroad of sorts for North Koreans seeking asylum, Faith had managed to make it over 2,500 miles from her home. As she approached China’s border with Vietnam, where many refugees have been arrested—she recognized that she was facing one of the most hazardous passages of her odyssey. Faith, her two preschool-age kids, and five other North Koreans hiked on a mud path through farmland and jungle, following a Vietnamese man in silence, for speaking Korean would blow their cover to anyone they passed. At the end of the trail, a soldier appeared, guarding a bridge over a river, and their guide hailed him. Safety lay just beyond the soldier. She waited for him to respond. In this moment, she would discover if her bravery had won a better life for her and her children—or if she had doomed them all.

2. Faith
Faith was born in the People’s Paradise of North Korea in the late 1970s. There her easy life was envied by the rest of the world—or at least that was what she was taught. At home, she and her mother were supposed to polish their household portrait of the smiling Great Leader each day, though they only cleaned it in advance of inspections, since they could be punished if it wasn’t shiny enough. A giant version of that portrait, with its you-will-be-happy smile, greeted her at every school, factory, and railroad station. And after turning 16, like all adults, she pinned a button with the portrait over her heart each morning. Of course, Faith’s actual life was nothing like what the dictatorship’s propaganda depicted. In the mid-1990s, as a teenager, she survived a famine that reduced the population to scavenging pine bark, insects, and frogs, and killed hundreds of thousands of people. But if the ever-present secret police caught anyone complaining, the whiners could end up in the gulags, so Faith sang patriotic songs and echoed the slogan that North Koreans had “nothing to envy” about the lives of foreigners. But because Faith lived just a few miles from the heavily guarded Chinese border, sometimes people from her hometown sneaked across the river snaking through the mountains to search for food, and by the mid-2000s she had become exposed to goods smuggled in from outside—especially DVDs of South Korean soap operas. North Koreans are taught that South Koreans are an impoverished people ground beneath the heels of American “imperialist wolves,” so images of South Korea’s futuristic megalopolises amazed her, especially when she compared them with the dreary Soviet-style farming town where she grew up. But what really kept her binge-watching all night, while keeping an ear out for police, were the love stories. In North Korean cinema, heroines fall for the Great Leader and the Party, so she was amazed by glimpses of a world where personal romance came first.

Read the rest of this article at: GQ

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