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Climate change is the most horrific threat our species has ever known: No matter how powerful you are or how much money you have, our transforming planet is a reckoning for every one of us. But there are degrees to this misery. If you’re perched in a Manhattan penthouse, the effects might not be immediately apparent (because you don’t care or aren’t paying attention, or both). If you’re a subsistence farmer in Kenya, the situation is already much more dire.
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Conventional wisdom holds that science fiction was written almost exclusively by men until the advent of feminism in the 1960s and ’70s. But when Lisa Yaszek, who teaches science fiction studies at Georgia Tech, went digging through old magazines, she discovered a very different story.
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To help cure the planet’s ailments, Zhen Dai suggests antacid. In powdered form, calcium carbonate—often used to relieve upset stomachs—can reflect light; by peppering the sky with the shiny white particles, the Harvard researcher thinks it might be possible to block just enough sunlight to achieve some temperature control here on Earth. Dai’s work calls for a custom-­designed test balloon that, pending an independent committee’s green light, is set to release up to a kilogram of calcium carbonate 12 miles above the US, in what will be the first solar geoengineering experiment in the lower atmosphere. Small onboard propellers will stir the payload into the air.
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Paul Seibert spent much of 2018 hovering thousands of feet over New York City. He was taking photographs for the social media accounts of the helicopter tour company FlyNYON, and over the course of the year Seibert shot the city from almost every imaginable angle. But even though he shared multiple vantage points, the images that always performed best on social media were those taken from a single spot: high over Harlem, looking south over Central Park, the skyscrapers of Midtown, and Downtown Manhattan, with the East and Hudson Rivers converging at the top of the frame.
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The first meme of 2018 was Mariah Carey publicly complaining that, prior to her New Year’s Eve performance, no one had brought her “hot tea.” It was funny and in keeping with Carey’s legendary diva antics, but it was also a GIF-able summation of the year’s desperate need for soothing. President Trump had closed out a horribly tense first year in the White House; Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria left devastation in their wakes; a man opened fire on a Las Vegas music festival, killing dozens; North Korea was testing nuclear weapons; we learned that Hollywood (and especially Harvey Weinstein) was a sexist hotbed of sexual coercion. We all needed that hot tea. The first memes of 2019 (Chrissy Teigen getting poked in the eye with an umbrella notwithstanding) strike a markedly different tone, often displaying a desperate kind of self-actualized intention.
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In Nihonbashi, a business district of Tokyo named for an old, beautiful bridge that has been obscured by an expressway, it is very difficult for a foreigner to get cash. When I was in Tokyo last week to give a talk, the first two ATM machines I tried refused to cooperate with my American debit cards. The third one worked, giving me large, beautifully designed ¥10,000 bills featuring a dot portrait of a somewhat glum Yukichi Fukuzawa, scholar and founder of Keio University.
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The Future Book was meant to be interactive, moving, alive. Its pages were supposed to be lush with whirling doodads, responsive, hands-on. The old paperback Zork choose-your-own-adventures were just the start. The Future Book would change depending on where you were, how you were feeling. It would incorporate your very environment into its story—the name of the coffee shop you were sitting at, your best friend’s birthday. It would be sly, maybe a little creepy. Definitely programmable. Ulysses would extend indefinitely in any direction you wanted to explore; just tap and some unique, mega-mind-blowing sui generis path of Joycean machine-learned words would wend itself out before your very eyes.
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Yesterday, Vladimir Putin presented his country with a belated Christmas present: the Avangard hypersonic missile. According to Russian media, it's capable of reaching Mach 20. And if its ability to conduct evasive maneuvers at high velocity is as good as the Russian president boasted back in March, it would render missile defense systems effectively useless.
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Antarctica is the driest, highest, windiest, and, of course, coldest continent. Since it’s nearly uninhabitable for humans, it’s also the cleanest. That makes it the perfect place to launch an odyssey aimed at persuading people to curb their plastic-pitching habits.
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First algorithms figured out how to decipher images. That’s why you can unlock an iPhone with your face. More recently, machine learning has become capable of generating and altering images and video.
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I’d ridden the motorcycle part of the way up a small dirt hill, and was trying to simply reverse my way back down when I fell off the machine. As I went down, I tightened my grip, inadvertently pinning the throttle. I soon found myself underneath a pirouetting motorcycle.
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For the first time since the US retired the Space Shuttle in 2011, humans have taken off from American soil and gone into space. This morning, Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic rocketed two test pilots beyond Earth's boundaries and brought them back safely, in a giant leap toward finally making commercial space tourism a reality.
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On a recent weeknight at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art, the celebrated German designer Dieter Rams ambled up to a podium in his uniform of a black shirt, thinning silver bowl cut, and cane. He was there to introduce a movie, of which he is begrudgingly but indisputably the star.
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In 2015, the U.S. Naval Academy decided that its graduates needed to return to the past and learn how to navigate using the stars. Nine years prior, it had dropped celestial navigation from its requirements because GPS was so accurate and simple to use.
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The videogames of Tetsuya Mizuguchi have chased a singular, mystical effect—one the celebrated designer first experienced 30 years ago, in 1988, when he wandered into an arcade in Tokyo. A young college student at the time, Mizuguchi enjoyed the shooters and racing games but was mesmerized by a colorful, musical waterfall of 2-D blocks. “I put many coins into that machine,” Mizuguchi remembers. “It was such elegant perfection.”
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Polytetrafluoroethylene will not dissolve in acetone or ether or concentrated sulfuric acid. When Roy Plunkett first found it coating some storage canisters in 1938, he tried to destroy the substance with just about every technique known to science. A young employee at DuPont, Plunkett had been hired to develop a new refrigerant. But when he cooled and compressed a gas he was testing, a waxy white powder unexpectedly formed—that stuff he couldn’t eradicate. The material was brought to the attention of US Army general Leslie Groves, director of the Manhattan Project, who commissioned DuPont to design a plant that used polytetrafluoroethylene seals and gaskets. (The noxious chemicals needed to produce weapons-grade uranium corroded virtually every other material.) When Plunkett’s invention was eventually declassified after the war, DuPont gave it the consumer-friendly name Teflon and found a use more compatible with Cold War capitalism: coating pots and pans. The reason your omelet doesn’t stick to Teflon is related to the material’s imperviousness to those A-bomb ingredients. PTFE is a polymer—a long chainlike molecule—made of carbon and fluorine atoms. The fluorine bonds so strongly to the carbon backbone that other atoms can’t break in, so they simply slide across the surface. In fact, the biggest challenge is getting Teflon to adhere to the pan itself. The details of that process are held as closely as the nuclear codes.
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I spent the summer and beyond using Bing instead of Google for search. It's a whole new world, but not always for the better.

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In 2013, a young computational biologist named Yaniv Erlich shocked the research world by showing it was possible to unmask the identities of people listed in anonymous genetic databases using only an Internet connection. Policymakers responded by restricting access to pools of anonymized biomedical genetic data. An NIH official said at the time, “The chances of this happening for most people are small, but they’re not zero.”
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