Internet Hunting and Gathering – May 12

moody golden gate

I spent my weekend in San Francisco, Sacramento, and a a bit in Stockton, mostly working (with a bit of Mother’s Days festivities thrown in there for good measure). These are the times when I’m awfully grateful that I have access to a car.

The weather in the Bay Area has turned from obnoxiously chilly to sweaty and hot over the course of the last two days, a development I am utterly, completely OK with. I am a tropical creature, best suited for sweltering days and monsoon rains. Keep your grey, malignant drizzle and your buckets of snow far away from me. I’ll take the Chikungunya Fever.

I do note that the weather around here has a perverse tendency to turn really, really windy whenever I want to fly my Phantom.

As for the Internet: yes, we’re still arguing about Boko Haram and hashtags. We will probably continue to do so for a while. You may as well settle down with it. There is no escape.

Live Footage from the International Space Station – NASA

It turns out that it’s pretty soothing to watch the blue curvature of the earth while you diddle away furiously on your latest Google Doc or Spreadsheet. What’s the point of it all? Have another drink! We’re all specks, specks!

Well, that’s probably not the intended message of this lovely livestream, but it’s what I’m getting out of it.

China’s Growing Gender Gap – Guardian

Shockingly enough, sweeping economic change and growing prosperity does not trickle down equally to women. On that topic:  read Little Tenement on the Volga, you won’t regret it. It is a very detailed account of the miserable post-USSR years in Russia, and the particular impact of a collapsing economy and rampant, desperate drunkenness on women.

The Reason Every Book in Africa Has The Same Cover – Quartz

I would imagine it’s the same reason every book at Southeast Asia needs to feature an image of a inscrutable Buddha, some bamboo, and perhaps a gecko if everyone’s feeling wild and crazy.

The Mathematics of Murder: Should a Robot Sacrifice Your Life to Save Two? – Popular Science

Fascinating look at the philosophical implications of self-driving cars equipped with super human intellect. We may not be very keen on the results. (And as a Volvo driver, I find this information especially disturbing).

Creating hexaflexagons with Mexican Food – Wimp

I didn’t know what a hexaflexagon was until I watched this, but now I realized it’s simply a template for creating the God King of quesadillas.

Nationalist Monks Call NGOs ‘Traitors’ for Opposing Interfaith Marriage Bill – Irrawaddy

I’m not sure if you were aware of this, but Buddhists can be awful too — as Myanmar’s increasingly aggressive nationalists are proving.

The Lives of Social Spiders – New York Times

Spiders have distinct personalities and choose their careers accordingly. I’m adding this to my life-long PR campaign in favor of spiders. (Well, except for the one that lives in my car. Remind me to tell you about that sometime).

The Space Shuttle Flew Over My Head, It Was Pretty Sweet


Sacramentans await the space shuttle.

I wrote this GlobalPost piece about the space shuttle flying over my head. I knew it was happening on Friday morning, but I can’t say I thought too much of it – figured I’d stand outside in the backyard and hope I got lucky, or something.

My mom and I concluded about 10 minutes before its projected 9:30 AM arrival time that it might behoove us to hop in the car and approach the State Capitol, where the shuttle was slated to arrive. So we did.

Much to our surprise, there were people everywhere: standing on the overpasses, packing the kids into the car, gathering in parks. Everyone was looking up. It reminded me of one of those touchingly-creepy scenes from World is Ending Due to Terrible Space Things movies, like Armageddon, where everyone looks at the sky in an anticipatory fashion.

Except instead of anticipating HORROR FROM ABOVE, everyone was anticipating the final hurrah of one of mankind’s most seminal technological achievements. Which we’re retiring for lack of funding.

The Capitol itself was jam-packed with people, who had streamed out of their office buildings in work clothes, driven there with their kids in vans, or arrived via their very shiny motorcycles. It was a rather festive atmosphere. We couldn’t park, so I took photos out of a moving car like a dork. Thankfully, one of them was usable.

See what I mean about my lens. But that is definitely the space shuttle.

As we were driving a bit away from the Capitol and looping back around, we heard a huge roar in the air: that was it. The Space Shuttle, riding on the back of a modified Boeing 747.

My telephoto lens isn’t exactly great, but it was very much recognizable as the Space Shuttle my generation has been seeing on television and in informative classroom videos from early childhood: an iconic image. It was nice to see it in the sky, in tangible form.

This is kinda what I think about the shuttle carrier.

As we drove back, there were still legions of people hanging around, wondering if it would make another pass. It was a touching thing to see. The usual busy activity of the Capitol, school days, lingering over the paper: for a remarkable number of people, that took a backseat to tumbling out into the (admittedly lovely) morning and straining to catch a glimpse of one of the final remnants of a majestic, ending era.

Rumors of the death of popular interest in space may be greatly exaggerated…if the hubbub over the Mars Rover wasn’t proof enough.

The Space Shuttle Endeavour will be stuck in a Los Angeles science museum, where it will doubtless enchant legions of small and impressionable children. But it is awfully sad no equivalent will replace it.

We generally as an aspirational species and as an aspirational nation prefer to move backwards and not forwards when it comes to technology. The end of the space shuttle program is one of those bleak moments when we have moved backwards.

But I am glad so many of us turned up to see it off.