The 1959 Project

If you like jazz at all, The 1959 Project is a day by day recounting of the jazz scene in 1959. That year jazz was at the height of popularity, before rock and roll took over. Put it in your RSS reader and get a new article every day.

Interview with Donald Knuth

Donald Knuth is one of the legends of the computer science community. Unlike most others in the computer science community, his contributions are recognized as meaningful to all of science. He doesn’t give interviews that often, but the NY Times got one and it’s great.

For the last 50 years, Knuth has been working on 7 volume work, “The Art of Computer Programming”. So far he has published the first three volumes, and part of the fourth.

Mass Expiration of Copyright

Glenn Fleishman writing in Smithsonian Magazine:

At midnight on New Year’s Eve, all works first published in the United States in 1923 will enter the public domain. It has been 21 years since the last mass expiration of copyright in the U.S.

We can blame Mickey Mouse for the long wait. In 1998, Disney was one of the loudest in a choir of corporate voices advocating for longer copyright protections. At the time, all works published before January 1, 1978, were entitled to copyright protection for 75 years; all author’s works published on or after that date were under copyright for the lifetime of the creator, plus 50 years. Steamboat Willie, featuring Mickey Mouse’s first appearance on screen, in 1928, was set to enter the public domain in 2004. At the urging of Disney and others, Congress passed the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, named for the late singer, songwriter and California representative, adding 20 years to the copyright term. Mickey would be protected until 2024—and no copyrighted work would enter the public domain again until 2019, creating a bizarre 20-year hiatus between the release of works from 1922 and those from 1923.

That’s My Boy, Lin

Shirley Wang writes about her dad:

When Charles Barkley’s mother, Charcey Glenn, passed away in June 2015, Barkley’s hometown of Leeds, Alabama, came to the funeral to pay respects. But there was also an unexpected guest.

Barkley’s friends couldn’t quite place him. He wasn’t a basketball player, he wasn’t a sports figure, and he wasn’t from Barkley’s hometown. Here’s what I can tell you about him: He wore striped, red polo shirts tucked into khaki shorts and got really excited about two-for-one deals. He was a commuter. He worked as a cat litter scientist in Muscatine, Iowa. In short, he was everyone’s suburban dad. More specifically, he was my dad.

“You know, it was obviously a very difficult time,” Barkley told me recently. “And the next thing I know, he shows up. Everybody’s like, ‘Who’s the Asian dude over there?’ I just started laughing. I said, ‘That’s my boy, Lin.’ They’re, like, ‘How do you know him?’ I said, ‘It’s a long story.’ “

Ion Drive Airplane

Researchers at MIT have created a small airplane with no moving parts. It works via electroaerodynamic propulsion, which is fancy science talk for an ion drive (yes, the same ion drive from Star Trek).

Using very high voltages—in the plane’s case, 40,000 volts—the thruster generates ions in the air around two electrodes. The electric field created between these throws the ions from a smaller electrode over to a larger one. These ions collide with normal air molecules while traveling, creating the ionic wind and pushing the plane forward. Since the ions are moving between two stationary electrodes, no moving parts are required to power the plane.

Saturation Divers

Jen Banbury gives and in-depth description of the life of saturation divers at Atlas Obscura:

When it’s time to enter the chamber (Hovey calls it the “house”), the divers pass through a tight, circular hatch at one end, like one might see on an old submarine, that closes with a “tunk.” The hatch is sealed, and even though they’re on a boat, just feet from support crew and fresh air, the divers might as well be on the International Space Station. Even farther actually: It takes about 3.5 hours for an astronaut to make it back from space. Saturation divers have to decompress for days at minimum. On a dive early in his career, when Hovey was on a job at a depth of 700 feet, he learned that his wife had miscarried. It would have taken him 11 days of decompression to exit the chamber. They needed his salary (not surprisingly, saturation divers are well-compensated, up to $1,400 per day), so his wife told him to finish the job.

Getting the iPad to Pro

Craig Mod writes a brilliant assessment of the iPad: Getting the iPad to Pro

These new iPads may be gorgeous pieces of kit, but the iPad Pros of 2017 were also beautiful machines — svelte and overpowered. In fact, the iPad Pro hardware, engineering, and silicon teams are probably the most impressive units at Apple of recent years. The problem is, almost none of the usability or productivity issues with iPads are hardware issues.

On a gut level, today’s iPad hardware feels about two or three years ahead of its software. Which is unfortunate, but not unfixable.

At the recent October 2018 Apple Event where the new iPad Pro’s launched, the iPad Pro was repeatedly described as a “real computer”. The hardware is, but iOS is not. Extensions are brilliant, but you can’t open two documents with the same app. Split-screen is awkward at its best, and usually not worth the hassle. IOS is fundamentally application centric, Any workflow which requires multiple apps to complete is frustrating and inefficient, especially one which requires you to process multiple documents. There are dozens of small nits which you can’t work around because there aren’t tools like Keyboard Maestro or Hammerspoon. The emoji key on the Smart Keyboard is in maybe the worst possible location. My beloved ⌘-D to forward delete doesn’t work in iOS, even though ⌘-A, ⌘-E, ⌘-F, and ⌘-B all do.

Third party iPad software is slowly making progress, and there are some real standouts. I think OmniFocus 3 is better on iPad than it is on macOS. Fantastical, Outlook, GoodNotes, Drafts, and iA Writer are compelling and robust. PowerPoint on iPad is a mess, and not ready for serious work. Downloading files in Safari almost never works.

The major iPad focused enhancements in iOS 11 were a real turning point for my usage of the iPad. The Files app, the Dock, and the improvements to Split Screen were a major leap forward. I’m anxiously awaiting iOS 13 and hope it closes the gap between the software and the hardware.

Voices of Reason and Unreason

Peggy Noonan writes about the circus of the Kavanaugh confirmation. It’s mostly a tribute to Senator Susan Collins, who is worthy of tribute in this horrid affair.

She was one of two mostly reasonable voices in the Senate, the other being Jeff Flake, who tried to be somewhat objective. She even took the risk to explain her thinking when she announced her vote. After reviewing Judge Kavanaugh’s many legal opinions, and speaking with him at length, she judged him a well-qualified centrist. When speaking about the accusations of sexual misconduct, she had the clarity to say:

We must always remember that it is when passions are most inflamed that fairness is most in jeopardy.

I haven’t read any of Judge Kavanaugh’s legal opinions. I am in no position to make a judgement about whether he is qualified to serve on the Supreme Court. I intentionally avoided listening to the testimony of Ms. Ford and the other women who accused Judge Kavanaugh of sexual assault. In my view this was a political circus on both sides of the aisle, and I had neither the stomach nor the emotional energy to engage.

But amid the anger, rancor, accusations, and brawling over the confirmation, I am reassured that there was one brave Senator who tried her best to be fair, no matter the personal political cost. Which is more than I can say for her other colleagues in the Senate.

The Soccer Ball That Went to Space, Twice

Tonya Malinowsky, at ESPN

In 1986, the space shuttle Challenger stunned the nation when it broke apart 73 seconds into flight. This is the story of the soccer ball that survived — and the family that sent it into space, twice.

Soccer ball in space

As a middle school kid, I sat in the cafeteria at my school and watched the country’s first national tragedy to be broadcast on live television. This story gave me all the feels.