Scientific research has two roads: curiosity-driven and problem-solving.
In the first, you get to ask: “Gee, what would happen if?” In the second, you’re asking: “How can we invent a COVID vaccine?”
What’s amazing is how so much curiosity-driven research ends up solving all kinds of problems.
So I urge you to exercise your curiosity here.
1. How to slander someone. Revenge Porn used to be an embittered partner posting compromising photos of their ex on a website. But it now embraces the huge and growing world of ruining peoples’ reputations online, and its symbiotic world of reputation-scrubbers who will, for a fee, remove all those posts about your bankruptcy, prison record, adultery, job dismissal and so on.
Last week the New York Times delved into both worlds in a highly creative way.
Aaron Krolik decided to ruin the reputation of himself, to see where it would all lead. As he wrote: “To get slander removed, many people hire a “reputation management” company. In my case, it was going to cost roughly $20,000.”
“We soon discovered a secret, hidden behind a smokescreen of fake companies and false identities. The people facilitating slander and the self-proclaimed good guys who help remove it are often one and the same.”
2. A new way to see a very old Paris. We’ve all seen video tours of Paris by bicycle. Strap your GoPro on to your helmet and go. But this is an entirely different kind of tour to a Paris you’ve not seen.
3. Can’t we just mind our own knitting and not change the world? Just as there’s a countervailing movement against Wokeism, so too are companies, exhausted from having to be social enterprises and debating clubs, starting to fight back. Surprisingly, one of the first to say “Enough!” is not in a retrograde business like mining or groceries or policing. Basecamp produces on-line toolkits for working remotely.
Last week its founder, Jason Fried, wrote to the company’s staff to say there would be no more societal and political discussions. “It's become too much. It's a major distraction. It saps our energy, and redirects our dialog towards dark places. It's not healthy, it hasn't served us well. And we're done with it on our company Basecamp account where the work happens.”
4. COVID-detecting dogs. They can sniff out drugs, criminals and cancers. Now, it seems, dogs are great at finding COVID, even days before the most advanced medical tests can spot it.
5. How to discover where any picture was taken. Any picture. I’ve written about Bellingcat before. It’s the international collective of researchers, investigators and citizen journalists who use open sources to find what only government intelligence services used to be able to. Here’s how they can work with a blurry photo of some anonymous place somewhere in the world, and pinpoint it – and find the child sex ring. Worth reading.
6. How can something mean one thing when you read it from top to bottom, and the very opposite when you read it bottom to top? Learn how when you read this poem, They Have No Need of Our Help, from Britain’s Poet Laureate of Twitter, Brian Bilston.
7. MI5 just joined Instagram. Why would Britain’s domestic intelligence agency join the site where we post vacation shots, Thanksgiving dinners and running dogs? Said MI5’s director general, Ken McCallum: “We must get past whatever martini-drinking stereotypes may be lingering.” MI5 is much newer to social media than the CIA whose first tweet in 2014 said: “We can neither confirm nor deny that this is our first tweet.” Here’s also the Twitter feed for Canada’s spy agency, CSIS.
8. Meanwhile, over at GCHQ, dyslexia is a job skill. The UK’s surveillance agency is looking for applicants with dyslexia as part of its neurodiverse hiring program. People with dyslexia can spot patterns others miss. “We’re looking for people who can see something that’s out of place in a bigger picture, who have good visual awareness and can spot anomalies,” said Jo Cavan, the director of strategy at GCHQ.
9. Take another look at Hemingway. If he’s a fading memory from high school English, or you can’t remember the story of his four wives, I urge you to update your view on the most celebrated novelist of the 20th Century. Ken Burns has done a wonderful three-part PBS series on his rise and long tragic fall. We can’t get PBS streaming here in Canada, but you can download it on iTunes.
10. An update on virtual choirs. Last week, I wrote how new tech enables choirs to sing without that awkward 300-millisecond pause via Zoom. It seems there’s a Canadian site -- syncspace.live -- that not only lets you enjoy concerts of musicians playing together from all over the world, but lets you perform together online, too.
11. Let’s end on music and a smile. Check out this gum commercial for the best rendition of our first hour after lockdown ends.