News 27.07.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets


News 27.07.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
News 27.07.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
News 27.07.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

James Howells’ life changed when he threw out a hard drive about the size of an iPhone 6.

Howells, from the city of Newport in southern Wales, had two identical laptop hard drives squirreled away in a drawer in 2013. One was blank; he says the other contained 8,000 bitcoins — now worth about $181 million, even after the recent crypto crash.

He’d meant to throw out the blank one, but instead the drive containing the cryptocurrency ended up going to the local dump in a garbage bag.

Nine years later, he’s determined to get back his stash, which he mined in 2009.

Howells, 36, is hoping local authorities will let him stage a high-tech treasure hunt for the buried bitcoins. His problem is that he can’t get into the dump.

For almost a decade, Newport’s city council has denied his requests to dig for his hard drive, saying it would be expensive and environmentally damaging, but Howells is not deterred.

He gave Insider a first look at his new $11 million proposal — backed by venture-capital funding — to search up to 110,000 tons of garbage. He hopes presenting it to the council in the coming weeks will persuade it to let him finally try to recover the hard drive.
Looking for a hard drive among thousands of tons of garbage might seem like a Herculean task.

But Howells, a former IT worker, says he believes it’s achievable through a combination of human sorters, robot dogs, and an artificial-intelligence-powered machine trained to look for hard drives on a conveyor belt.

His plan has two versions, based on how much of the landfill the council would allow him to search.

By his estimates, the most extensive option would take three years and involve scouring 100,000 metric tons — or about 110,000 tons — of garbage at a cost of $11 million. A scaled-down version would cost $6 million and take 18 months.

Read the rest of this article at: Business Insider

News 27.07.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 27.07.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Right now, it is impossible to imagine capitalism functioning without the century-and-a-half-old industry of advertising. It is not just a part of the so-called superstructure but deeply nested, close to capitalism’s beating heart. Despite tech companies’ frequent claims to innovation and disruption — and their scrambling attempts to find different revenue streams — many still depend on it or find themselves having to adopt it as a business model.

To understand what is at stake for tech companies, it is key to bear that in mind. Elon Musk’s recent disputes with Twitter about bots and whatnot don’t so much reflect some novel concern specific to how social media work but an age-old concern about advertising: When he asked in a tweet, “So how do advertisers know what they’re getting for their money?” he was rehashing the famous complaint, often attributed to department store magnate John Wanamaker, that half of any advertising budget is wasted, but the problem is knowing which half.

The underlying concern in that question seems to be how, or even whether, advertising performance can be measured. But a larger question is to think of what media companies like Twitter make and sell — that is, to think of them not as information circulators but as commodity producers. In a 1977 article, “Communications: Blindspot of Western Marxism” — which eventually developed into “The Audience Commodity and Its Work” (1981) — communications scholar Dallas Smythe offered the idea of the “audience commodity” as a corrective to media studies that focused on content analysis rather than media as means of production. From Smythe’s perspective, the content media companies transmit is epiphenomenal to their primary business, which is to manufacture audiences (of human viewers) to deliver to advertisers. What matters to understanding the media and advertising industries is not so much whether ads “work” or have some other particular social effect in themselves (the focus of much 20th century critical theory about advertising) but how those audiences are made and sold: What are the means for packaging, measuring, and valuing them for exchange?

Read the rest of this article at: Real Life

Once upon a time, not a blade of grass could be found on this planet we call home. There were no verdant meadows, no golden prairies, no sunbaked savannas, and certainly no lawns. Only in the past 80 million years—long after the appearance of mosses, trees, and flowers—did the first shoots of grass emerge. We know this in part because a dinosaur ate some, and its fossilized poop forever memorialized the plant’s arrival.

Grass then was still an odd little weed, vying for a spot on the forest floor. It took ages for grasses to grow in numbers that might constitute a grassland. And grasslands only started to occupy serious real estate in the past 10 million years—basically yesterday. They now cover roughly one-third of Earth’s land area.

We humans arrived in the midst of grass’s heyday, and it is doubtful we would exist otherwise. Homo sapiens evolved in and around the savannas of Africa, then spread around the world, often following grassy corridors. With the invention of agriculture, many societies fed themselves on domesticated grasses like wheat and corn, and on livestock that turned wild grasses into edible protein. We are, many of us, grass people.

But for all grass has done for us, we haven’t done much for grass lately. Grasslands rank among the most imperiled and least protected biomes on Earth. They are disappearing even faster than forests, and much of what remains has suffered varying degrees of damage. Their decline threatens a huge chunk of the planet’s biodiversity, the livelihoods of roughly 1 billion people, and countless ecological services such as carbon and water storage. Yet these losses don’t register with the same force as deforestation. Perhaps because we do not notice, or perhaps because we do not care.

Read the rest of this article at: The Atlantic

News 27.07.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets


Family lore has it that my grandfather, having spent some time doing business in England and about to return to the United States, received an invitation to seek additional sales opportunities in Scotland. At the last minute, he cancelled the passage he had booked on the Titanic. If the story is true, then, but for a chance communication from a Scottish businessman, I would never have come into existence. And what led to that businessman learning about my grandfather? Perhaps it was a mere afterthought as someone was leaving a meeting in the purchasing office of a Glasgow manufacturer. Surely somewhere along the line there was something – many things – equally happenstance, without which the invitation to my grandfather would never have been made – without which, that is to say, I would never have been born.

In his book The View from Nowhere (1986), the American philosopher Thomas Nagel captures well the reaction that these sorts of reflections can generate:

We are here by luck, not by right or by necessity.
Rudimentary biology reveals how extreme the situation is. My existence depends on the birth of a particular organism that could have developed only from a particular sperm and egg, which in turn could have been produced only by the particular organisms that produced them, and so forth. In view of the typical sperm count, there was very little chance of my being born given the situation that obtained an hour before I was conceived, let alone a million years before …
If you concentrate hard on the thought that you might never have been born – the distinct possibility of your eternal and complete absence from this world – I believe you too will find that this perfectly clear and straightforward truth produces a positively uncanny sensation.
If an uncanny sensation indeed results from such reflections, it’s something that just happens, like a shiver or a shudder. It can’t be evaluated as reasonable or unreasonable. But emotions can be assessed in that way: hope may be misplaced, anger may be an overreaction, fear may be unwarranted. I want to focus, not on any sensation such as Nagel speaks of, but on the emotion of astonishment. I believe that, when one reflects on all the things that had to have happened exactly as they did in fact happen in order for one to be born, astonishment is a reasonable and appropriate emotion.

As with emotions like hope, anger and fear, the emotion of astonishment can be unreasonable if the associated beliefs or expectations are unjustified or unreasonable. One can be unreasonably astonished at flunking an exam, having taken too high an opinion of one’s abilities and readiness.

Sometimes, of course, astonishment is warranted. Consider then what we should say about a young person who is told about the facts of reproduction Nagel refers to, or who learns about the chance events that led to her parents meeting, and realises that, but for those events, which could so easily have gone another way, she would not now, and never would, exist. For such a person, the emotion of deep astonishment at the very fact of her existence is, I would argue, the appropriate reaction.

But some might demur. A roll call of those who don’t think their existence is very astonishing:

The weary parent: There’s nothing astonishing about your being born. You came into existence in the ordinary way, for ordinary reasons, and in the ordinary course of events. I won’t go into the details, but I can vouch for it. Calm down and finish your oatmeal.

The no-nonsense naturalist: The posterior probability of your having come into existence is one. The chain of events leading to your conception followed the laws of physics, chemistry and biology. If determinism is true, your existence was fully determined by prior conditions. Even if determinism is false, there was nothing extraordinary about the course of events leading to your conception and birth. Sorry, but no choir of angels announced your coming.

The theist: God has a plan for everyone. He created you for a reason, perhaps to be revealed in the course of your life. And, actually, there might have been a choir of angels singing in celebration of your coming to be. But that would be true for every person God chose to bring into this world. The naturalist is right that there’s nothing cosmically special about you that wouldn’t apply to everyone else created by God. But your existence is the result of the loving deliberation of God, not the indifferent forces of nature.

The Leibnizian: My theist confrere does not have it quite right. God, in his infinite powers and infinite goodness, created the best of all possible worlds. His failure to do so would have diminished the perfection of his creation. Since sentient life is a good, God has created such life to the maximum extent possible. All the possible people that could exist (consistent with this being the best of all possible worlds) actually do exist, or did exist, or will exist. So there is nothing astonishing about you coming to be, for this is only to say that there’s nothing inherent in your nature incompatible with being part of God’s creation.

Read the rest of this article at: Aeon

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News 27.07.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

What word might describe losing your home while staying in one place?

From above, an open-cut coal mine looks like some geological aberration, a sort of man-made desert, a recent volcanic eruption, or a kind of terra forming. When the Australian philosopher Glenn Albrecht first gazed at a series of such mines while driving through his home region in southeast Australia, he stopped and got out of his car, overcome “at the desolation of this once beautiful place,” he wrote in his book, Earth Emotions.

As a scholar, Albrecht was drawn to pondering language about and human relationships to the natural world. As a person, he also cared deeply for this place, which had been his home since 1982—Australia’s Hunter Region, a sublime area of dairy farms, wineries, and wallabies. The valley here offers a stopover along a flyway that runs from Alaska and Siberia all the way to New Zealand, and Albrecht’s enthusiasm for bird conservation led him to understand how coal mining was threatening the well-being of the valley’s feathered and human residents. From 1981 to 2012, the amount of land occupied by open-cut mines in the Hunter, akin to the mountaintop-removal mining that has devastated Appalachian landscapes, had increased almost twentyfold. The process leaves a permanent and raw scar, devoid of topsoil. Such mines can also discharge toxic metals into water supplies.

Albrecht understood all of this in the abstract, but witnessing it directly was more visceral—“an acute traumatic event of environmental destruction,” he wrote, air “thick with dust” and the smell of coal, a “dull roar” from a mine detonation, a “cloud of orange smoke.”

The coal industry, Albrecht felt, was wrecking his home. His observations marked the beginning of his relentless inquiry into what it means when the places we call home are remade or altered, sometimes violently.

Over a period of decades, Albrecht has devoted himself to searching for language that might describe a type of sadness, shock, and loss that now seems more and more common—grief of displacement, unease with our surroundings, a sense that damage and disaster might lie just down the road. He would feel the same rush of grief and concern in 2009 when he moved to the Perth metropolitan area in Western Australia, where he had grown up. There, thanks partly to the early impacts of climate change, regional rainfall had dropped by about 15 to 20 percent since the 1970s, and the jarrah trees he had loved since he was a child—eucalypts with lustrous wood—were dying en masse.

As he studied his own and others’ emotional responses to such damages, he was on the cusp of something, a sentiment that now might easily define our time: We live in an era of radical change, when it feels like everything is being remade and altered. What do we call this unprecedented moment of home instability?

Read the rest of this article at: The Atlantic

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