Baseball classic

That was something.

Shi Davidi on the World Baseball Classic:

Even before the dream final pitting Japan against the United States and the dream ending of Shohei Ohtani versus Mike Trout with two out in the ninth, this was already the best World Baseball Classic ever.

High drama at nearly every turn. Pandemonium in the stands. Passion and patriotism from many of the sport’s best players. Epic moments like Trea Turner’s eighth-inning grand slam against Venezuela. Like Mexico’s three-run rally in the seventh inning to best Puerto Rico. And like Munetaka Murakami’s two-run, walk-off double to carry Japan past Mexico.

Then, as if all that wasn’t good enough, came the two best players of this generation, Los Angeles Angels teammates, squaring off for the title, Ohtani throwing two challenge fastballs at 100 m.p.h. down the heart of the plate before pulling a string to get a third swinging strike from Trout, in as classic a confrontation as any sport can generate.


Reading list: March 20th

Xerox Alto
Xerox PARC

“The reason it is so uncannily familiar today is simple: We are now living in a world of computing that the Alto created.” David C. Brock examines the legacy of the Xerox Alto 50 years later for IEEE Spectrum.

“In 1932, a sideshow magician known only as Mr. Electrico disappeared into the American heartland,” writes Erik Ofgang in Smithsonian Magazine, “The only evidence of the performer’s existence was a memory shared by the acclaimed science fiction writer Ray Bradbury, who credited a strange, seemingly mystical encounter with Mr. Electrico with changing his life.”

“25 years is more than half of my life, spanning four decades (the 90s, 00s, 10s, and 20s) and around 40,000 posts — almost cartoonishly long for a medium optimized for impermanence.” Jason Kottke marks 25 years of (See also: Chase McCoy on how blogs shaped the web.)

“I’m learning to trust that progress looks like different things at different times, and a big, fat word count is not necessarily proof of progress.” Nita Prose talks about her writing process with CrimeReads

“The 18 key conclusions in this report provide an impressively comprehensive yet succinct description of our situation—the ultimate TL;DR of Earth’s climate.” Ars Technica covers the IPCC’s latest Synthesis Report on the state of climate change.


The long game of space exploration

Volcano on Venus

NASA announced this week that scientists have found the first direct evidence of recent volcanic activity on Venus. It’s another example of a new discovery based on old data—in this case, radar images collected by the Magellan spacecraft in the early 90s—something that’s only set to increase as future missions collect exponentially more data.

That includes NASA’s next mission to Venus, which will involve getting as many eyes (and machines) as possible to examine the data:

VERITAS will use state-of-the-art synthetic aperture radar to create 3D global maps and a near-infrared spectrometer to figure out what the surface is made of. The spacecraft will also measure the planet’s gravitational field to determine the structure of Venus’ interior. Together, the instruments will offer clues about the planet’s past and present geologic processes.

And whereas Magellan’s data was originally cumbersome to study – Herrick said that in the 1990s they relied on boxes of CDs of Venus data that were compiled by NASA and delivered in the mail – VERITAS’ data will be available online to the science community. That will enable researchers to apply cutting-edge techniques, such as machine learning, to analyze the planet and help reveal its innermost secrets.


The Next Day at Ten

Last week marked the tenth anniversary of The Next Day, a Bowie album that was unexpected when it arrived—and which has inevitably been overshadowed by the one that followed, Blackstar. I’m really fond of it.

Chris O’Leary’s blog, Pushing Ahead of the Dame, has long been the first place I turn to for writing on Bowie. His retrospective on the album doesn’t disappoint:

As time spools on, the scaffolding drops away. It always does. There was a context that we no longer have for Young Americans—how a diehard Ziggy Stardust fan felt when he heard Bowie doing “soul.” How the soul Bowie fan felt when she first put on Low. How someone who loved Low felt when she first heard “Let’s Dance” on the radio, knowing Bowie was no longer hers. How a kid who only knew Bowie through “Let’s Dance” felt when he saw Bowie sing “The Hearts Filthy Lesson” on Letterman.

The privilege of a point in time is to experience something in a way that everyone who comes later can only approximate. The mistake is to think this will matter. Like a gambling house, the future always wins.


Reading list: March 10th

Heavy Squall off the Start Lighthouse. John Brett, A.R.A., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

“Since its creation, the coin had possessed a curious quality, a weight greater than its mass, and a worth beyond its face value. It had a way of changing lives.” Alexander Huls tells the tale of the big coin heist in Hazlitt.

“‘There’s a worldwide inventory of disks that were manufactured 10 or 20 or 30 years ago,’ Persky says. ‘That inventory is fixed. We’re just blowing through it day by day.'” Wired’s Jacopo Prisco looks at the persistence of the floppy disk.

“It’s pretty nice out there. It’s quiet, the view is spectacular. The storms are incredible, but you have to consider, you know, we’ve maintained a light station there since 1832. So they really got it down pat.” Grand Manan’s Ken Ingersoll talks to the CBC about landing one of the few remaining lighthouse keeper jobs.

“He could not worldbuild his way into a workable story; he had to muddle and discover and revise, just like the rest of us.” Robin Sloan reads Christopher Tolkein’s History of the Lord of the Rings and realizes just how much of the magic of J.R.R. Tolkein’s books arose from the revision.

“We’re losing a Hubble-telescope-type capability that we had for five decades.” An ocean-drilling ship that’s driven landmark research will be retired next year, Nature reports


Building a writer-focused collaboration tool

Collaborative tools like Google Docs are inescapable for writers, and often invaluable. But they also create problems you don’t have to contend with when you’re working alone in a simple word processor. Upwelling is a new project that aims to address some of those issues (finally), and make online collaboration more writer-focused. It’s developed by Ink & Switch, an independent research lab that says one of the problems they’re trying to solve is the “fishbowl effect” inherent in so much real-time collaboration:

Several writers we talked to wanted a tool that would allow them to work in private, with no other collaborators reading their work in progress. Intermediate drafts aren’t always suitable to share, even with collaborators, and feedback on those drafts can be unwelcome or even embarrassing. In addition, some writers are troubled by the idea that their senior co-workers and management may be monitoring them – an unintended negative side effect of real-time collaboration.

Real-time collaboration becomes even more intrusive when others not only watch what a writer is typing but even start editing or commenting on the writer’s work before it is complete. Some of our interviewees reported asking collaborators to close the document and not make edits or comments while they were working. Others reported copying and pasting the entire document into a new file, working there in private, and then pasting the edited text back into the original editor window when finished.

The last bit is what I usually end up doing—especially if I’m working on a lengthy draft with lots of changes—but there are clearly better ways to do things if the tools would allow it.

There’s a demo of Upwelling available, but Ink & Switch seems to be hoping it will spark the development of other tools, rather than evolve into a finished product itself. Tantalizingly, they say “an ideal implementation would offer a file format or exchange protocol that makes it possible for writers to use the writing software of their choice to create documents while offering support for Upwelling features.”


Marcin Wichary’s typewriter simulator

Marcin Wichary is the author of a forthcoming book about the history of keyboards, Shift Happens, and he’s now put together a great little typewriter simulator as part of the project. If you can get one, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as hammering out a few words on a real typewriter—especially after you’ve found yourself staring at a blank page on a computer screen for a little too long—but this is about as close a substitute as you’ll find.