August 20, 2020
The word narrative is bandied about a lot today, so that it's almost become a cliché. But cliches are born from insight. In this case, it is about the power of the stories that we tell about ourselves, each other, and the world to cohere us in a common purpose.
August 17, 2020
The Twitter feed of Eric Topol, with nearly 300,000 followers, has become one of the go-to places for reliable updates on the COVID-19 pandemic. Topol is the founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, professor of molecular medicine, and executive vice president of Scripps Research.
August 17, 2020
It was a balmy week in September, and in gleaming office buildings in Beijing's Central Business District, startup employees hunched over their computers putting in the long hours customary in Chinese tech culture. Nearby, I was hunkered down with eight Chinese entrepreneurs, also working 12-hour days. But we weren't working on a startup, we were working on ourselves.
August 13, 2020
Four months ago, employees at many U.S. companies went home and did something incredible: They got their work done, seemingly without missing a beat. Executives were amazed at how well their workers performed remotely, even while juggling child care and the distractions of home.
August 4, 2020
On May 4, a slick, 26-minute video was released, alleging that the coronavirus was actually a laboratory-manipulated virus deployed to wreak havoc so that a resulting vaccine could be used for profit. None of that was true, and Plandemic’s claims were thoroughly, repeatedly debunked. Still, it went viral, getting liked on Facebook 2.5 million times.
August 1, 2020
I envy voracious book readers. They seem worldly and wise. Also, whatever is happening in their lives, they’re never completely on their own – they always have their books. My mother is one of these life-long devourers of literature, for whom books are a constant companion.
July 29, 2020
Serendipity, the accidental solution to a problem the problem-solver isn’t consciously trying to solve, is credited with some of science’s most important discoveries, from penicillin to super glue. One classic example occurred when Swiss engineer George de Mestral noticed that the microscopic teeth by which burs became attached to his dog’s fur when they were walking in the woods could be adapted to hold other things together, too—in the form of Velcro.
July 11, 2020
Happy endings are common in the movies, but rare in real life. Sometimes they do happen. And sometimes they happen because of the movies. That’s the only way to describe Carl Reiner’s final curtain call.
June 14, 2020
I met that elderly monkey in a small Japanese-style inn in a hot-springs town in Gunma Prefecture, some five years ago. It was a rustic or, more precisely, decrepit inn, barely hanging on, where I just happened to spend a night.
June 10, 2020
I want to spend an essay talking about tacit knowledge, and why I think it is the most interesting topic in the domain of skill acquisition. If you are a longtime Commonplace reader, you’ll likely have come across this idea before, because I’ve written about it numerous times in the past.
June 10, 2020
Now is not the time to go to the grocery store, to restock the pantry, to get fresh milk and eggs. Yet I need to replenish my food supplies. Well then, I should go. Wait, is everyone else thinking this same way? Then everyone would go. I shouldn’t go.
June 9, 2020
Chris Anderson opens his 2012 book, Makers, with a story about his maternal grandfather, Fred Hauser. Anderson recalls a childhood experience spending a summer with his grandfather at his bungalow in the Westwood neighborhood of Los Angeles. “He announced that we would be making a four-stroke gasoline engine and that he had ordered a kit we could build together,” Anderson writes.
June 9, 2020
I find questions about writers’ tools both fascinating and repulsive: fascinating because learning about the habits and techniques of people whose work you admire is endlessly interesting, and occasionally even imparts useful knowledge. (If John McPhee swears by index cards as a method for determining a story’s structure, you ought to at least give it a try.)
June 7, 2020
A new paper on the Fermi paradox only adds to the mystery: are we alone? Okay, Keith B. Wiley's new paper does have a somewhat daunting title: The Fermi Paradox, Self-Replicating Probes, and the Interstellar Transportation Bandwidth. But it's a pretty easy read and hugely well worth it—because in this paper Wiley provides what may be the clearest discussion yet of the core puzzle Fermi first proposed sixty-two years ago: if alien technological civilization is even possible, then they should be here; at the very least, such civilizations should be visible to us.
June 5, 2020
Do you ever scroll through your social media feeds and feel gross? If so, you’re not alone. It’s a common response. And yet we go back, day after day, over and over and over, endlessly scrolling, like addicts hooked on a drug that we once loved but now kind of hate and cannot or will not even try to escape.
May 30, 2020
Most websites today are built like commercial products by professionals and marketers, optimised to draw the largest audience, generate engagement and 'convert'. But there is also a smaller, less-visible web designed by regular people to simply to share their interests and hobbies with the world.
May 28, 2020
We're quietly replacing an open web that connects and empowers with one that restricts and commoditizes people. We need to stop it. Despite its undeniable value, I think Facebook is at odds with the open web that I love and defend.
May 28, 2020
In Alex Garland’s recent sci-fi TV series Devs, Silicon Valley engineers have built a quantum computer that they think proves determinism. It allows them to know the position of all the particles in the universe at any given point, and from there, project backwards and forwards in time, seeing into the past and making pinpoint-accurate forecasts about the future.
May 23, 2020
This has not been a scientist's war; it has been a war in which all have had a part. The scientists, burying their old professional competition in the demand of a common cause, have shared greatly and learned much. It has been exhilarating to work in effective partnership.
May 17, 2020
A lot of people who were on the internet in the early 2000’s remember something called RSS. It stands for Really Simple Syndication, and it allowed content creators to publish updates to the world in a well-understood format. The idea—which seems strange to type out—is that millions of people in the world could create and publish ideas, thoughts, and content…and then people who enjoyed that content would collect sources into a reader, which was called, well, an RSS Reader.