News 04.22.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets


News 04.22.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
News 04.22.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
News 04.22.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

“What would life be without coffee?” King Louis XV of France is said to have asked. “But, then, what is life even with coffee?” he added. Truer, or more apt, words for the present moment were never spoken, now usable as a kind of daily catechism. At a time when coffee remains one of the few things that the anxious sleeper can look forward to in the morning (What is life without it?), giving as it does at least an illusion of recharge and a fresh start, the charge has invariably slipped away by the time the latest grim briefing comes (What is life even with it?). Imagining life without coffee right now is, for many of us, almost impossible, even though the culture of the café that arose in America over the past couple of decades has, for some indefinite period, been shut down.

Read the rest of this article at: The New Yorker

News 04.22.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 04.22.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

A day off when the local school was bombed. Being so bored that waiting for fruit to fall off a gingko tree becomes a source of entertainment. Dead bodies in the street. A pilot, presumed dead, walking into a crowded restaurant to greet his astounded partner and friends.

These are all memories from people who lived through capital-B Big historical events: World War II, the Vietnam War, the Cultural Revolution in China; the scenes and experiences that stuck in their minds decades later.

As we experience a global pandemic, it’s odd to realize that we’re currently living through a new Big historical event. We’ll be telling our children about it, documenting it in history textbooks, and swapping our shared experiences for years to come.

Moments of each day feel unforgettable, because of how strange or tragic they are: the death count updates, the 7 pm applause for healthcare workers, watching press conferences with governors and infectious disease experts, grocery store lines around the block, and working from home day after day (for some of us) as the streets of the busiest cities in the world stand still and empty.

But what exactly will we remember years from now? The unnerving truth is that we may not remember much, because we never do—that’s not the way memory works. We don’t remember each minute, or each day or week. We forget people, places, moods, and events.

In 1890, psychologist William James wrote that emotional events have such a huge effect on our minds they “almost leave a scar upon the cerebral tissues.” But for many of us—especially those isolating at home—memory researchers say it’s more likely it will become a blur.

Read the rest of this article at: Vice

Brian Chesky is no stranger to big lifts. The 38-year-old former bodybuilder and Airbnb CEO has, in the space of 11 years, hauled his property rental dream from a single air mattress to a multi-billion dollar startup success story. But as hosts rage and debt piles up, the huge weight of the coronavirus pandemic might be too much for Chesky to bear.

The numbers are devastating. According to AirDNA, an online rental analytics firm, new bookings on Airbnb are down 85 per cent; cancellation rates are close to 90 per cent. Revenue generated by Airbnb’s platform in March was down 25 per cent year-on-year, wiping out $1 billion in bookings. With much of the world still on lockdown, those numbers are unlikely to pick up anytime soon. For some, Airbnb’s folly is a potential fortune. In Prague, officials are using the pandemic to try and regain control over the burgeoning short-term rental market that has decimated the supply of housing available to local residents. Other cities may soon follow suit.

Hosts are calling it the Airbnb apocalypse. But it’s more akin to an enema. Airbnb maintains that it’s “powered by local hosts”, but the reality is quite different. Yes, there are many hosts on Airbnb who live in the properties they list on the platform. But, in many markets, including the entire of the United States, the number of “professional” hosts seemingly outnumbers those listing on Airbnb to earn a bit of extra cash from their cosy spare room. According GlobalData, an analytics firm, Airbnb could lose a “significant portion” of its host community as a result of the pandemic. These “professional” hosts, the scourge of local residents and housing officials, could soon be flushed out of Airbnb in their thousands.

Read the rest of this article at: Wired

News 04.22.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 04.22.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

SOME YEARS AGO, Val Kilmer began selling his original artwork on the Internet. Kilmer has been making art for a long time. He takes photographs and creates scrapbook-style media collages with atmospheric abstract paintings resembling blooms of underwater lava. His neon sculpture of a dyspeptic-looking Mahatma Gandhi hung for a while in the restaurant of a fancy hotel in South Beach, and he once cast a tumbleweed in 22-karat gold.

But the project he’s become most famous for is an ongoing series of quasi-self-portraits—Warholian pop-art images of Kilmer in character as Batman or Doc Holliday or Jim Morrison, rendered using stencils and brightly colored enamel paint on 12-inch-by-12-inch squares of reclaimed steel. Sometimes he’ll superimpose a stenciled word like love on the image, or a variation of a quote from one of his movies, such as chicks dig the car. His website didn’t have any Doc Holliday paintings at press time, but for a fan-friendly $150, you could still acquire a portrait of Kilmer as Tom “Iceman” Kazansky—Tom Cruise’s nemesis and beach-volleyball rival in Top Gun—in a range of colors, from neon green to red and blue to eerie red-on-black.

These are not the most technically complex or conceptually weighty paintings. They are not even technically complex or conceptually weighty by the standards of other paintings by Val Kilmer. But there’s an additional layer of meaning to them, because they’re portraits of Val Kilmer by Val Kilmer.

The pictures feel like a sincere effort on his part to use the tools at his disposal

to make sense of his own relationship to a postmodern character called “Val Kilmer,” who is less a person than a collection of symbolic echoes, and who casts a long shadow over the real Val Kilmer’s life despite existing solely in the media landscape and the public’s mind. There is nothing inherently interesting about a piece of steel with a stenciled image of Val Kilmer as Batman on it, but a piece of steel on which Val Kilmer himself has painted a stenciled image of Val Kilmer as Batman as part of a project involving the painting of dozens of Val Kilmer-as-Batman images becomes an act of introspection, a commentary, a reflection on reflections and the indelibility of iconicity.

One afternoon in early March, I discussed all of this with Val Kilmer over the phone. “Yes,” he said. “By repainting the exact same thing using a stencil, it was a way of contemplating the subject while being very strict with what I was inviting myself to do.”

Read the rest of this article at: Men’sHealth

News 04.22.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Aschism is emerging in the scientific enterprise. On the one side is the human mind, the source of every story, theory and explanation that our species holds dear. On the other stand the machines, whose algorithms possess astonishing predictive power but whose inner workings remain radically opaque to human observers. As we humans strive to understand the fundamental nature of the world, our machines churn out measurable, practical predictions that seem to extend beyond the limits of thought. While understanding might satisfy our curiosity, with its narratives about cause and effect, prediction satisfies our desires, mapping these mechanisms on to reality. We now face a choice about which kind of knowledge matters more – as well as the question of whether one stands in the way of scientific progress.

Until recently, understanding and prediction were allies against ignorance. Francis Bacon was among the first to bring them together in the early days of the scientific revolution, when he argued that scientists should be out and about in the world, tinkering with their instruments. This approach, he said, would avoid the painful stasis and circularity that characterised scholastic attempts to get to grips with reality. In his Novum Organum (1620), he wrote:

Our new method of discovering the sciences is such as to leave little to the acuteness and strength of wit, and indeed rather to level wit and intellect. For as in the drawing of a straight line, or accurate circle by the hand, much depends on its steadiness and practice, but if a ruler or compass be employed there is little occasion for either; so it is with our method.

Bacon proposed – perfectly reasonably – that human perception and reason should be augmented by tools, and by these means would escape the labyrinth of reflection.

Isaac Newton enthusiastically adopted Bacon’s empirical philosophy. He spent a career developing tools: physical lenses and telescopes, as well as mental aids and mathematical descriptions (known as formalisms), all of which accelerated the pace of scientific discovery. But hidden away in this growing dependence on instruments were the seeds of a disconcerting divergence: between what the human mind could discern about the world’s underlying mechanisms, and what our tools were capable of measuring and modelling.

Today, this gap threatens to blow the whole scientific project wide open. We appear to have reached a limit at which understanding and prediction – mechanisms and models – are falling out of alignment. In Bacon and Newton’s era, world accounts that were tractable to a human mind, and predictions that could be tested, were joined in a virtuous circle. Compelling theories, backed by real-world observations, have advanced humanity’s understanding of everything from celestial mechanics to electromagnetism and Mendelian genetics. Scientists have grown accustomed to intuitive understandings expressed in terms of dynamical rules and laws – such as Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection, or Gregor Mendel’s principle of independent assortment, to describe how an organism’s genome is propagated via the separation and recombination of its parents’ chromosomes.

But in an age of ‘big data’, the link between understanding and prediction no longer holds true. Modern science has made startling progress in explaining the low-hanging fruit of atoms, light and forces. We are now trying to come to terms with the more complex world – from cells to tissues, brains to cognitive biases, markets to climates. Novel algorithms allow us to forecast some features of the behaviour of these adaptive systems that learn and evolve, while instruments gather unprecedented amounts of information about them. And while these statistical models and predictions often get things right, it’s nearly impossible for us to reconstruct how they did it. Instrumental intelligence, typically a machine intelligence, is not only resistant but sometimes actively hostile to reason. Studies of genomic data, for example, can capture hundreds of parameters – patient, cell-type, condition, gene, gene location and more – and link the origin of diseases to thousands of potentially important factors. But these ‘high-dimensional’ data-sets and the predictions they provide defy our best ability to interpret them.

Read the rest of this article at: aeon

P.S. previous articles & more by P.F.M.

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