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This is the Large Binocular Telescope on Mt. Graham in Arizona. Did a few articles on it, and also on Kitt Peak National Observatory. Funny story about the Kitt Peak experience. Got a room for the night on their viewing program, when most visitors are banned from the mountain due to light pollution from cars. It was bitter cold and windy that night. They knew I was there for an article, and gave me a key in addition to my room key…the wrong key. When I met an astronomer I showed him the key, and he told me it was a universal key: opens all buildings. So I figured I had access to all astronomers on the mountain, and told the one who informed me about the key that I’d come visit him later, after dinner in the cafeteria used by astronomers and overnight guests. When in the cafe, I met two other grad assistants who told me they were working at the main 4 meter telescope, the largest on the mountain. I told them I hoped to interview them as well, and see them later. So after dinner I went to the first observatory and let myself in with the key. The astronomer and his student help showed me what they were working on, and I took notes to questions. After that I went to the 4 meter scope, and used the key to get in there, too. No one was inside, so I went to the elevator, thinking they were upstairs in the control room. The elevator door opened, and two security men were there. They asked me who I was, why I was there, and how I’d gotten in! I showed them the key, which they seized. Then we went up in the elevator to the control room, where the grad assistants confirmed they had talked to me. They called the head of security, who cussed me out on the phone, saying I was supposed to stay with the night viewing (tourist) group. He said he would now escort me off the mountain. I told him I had paid to stay there overnight, was a journalist, and if he wanted to do that there would be no article. So I was escorted to the tourist group viewing, instead. They were using a amateur telescope and talking basic astronomy, which I already knew. So I went to my room and left in the morning. Later, the LBT director drove me personally from the University of Arizona to Mt. Graham for a tour and interview. We were alone in the car for three hours, and when I mentioned the Kitt Peak incident, he chuckled and said, “I heard about that.” He used to be the director of Kitt Peak. He also was on the Hubble Space telescope development panel. Small world, big universe.


What Facebook Won’t Show You


In December 2009, Google began customizing its search results for each user. Instead of giving you the most broadly popular result, Google now tries to predict what you are most likely to click on. According to MoveOn.org board president Eli Pariser, Google’s change in policy is symptomatic of the most significant shift to take place on the Web in recent years-the rise of personalization. In The Filter Bubble, Pariser uncovers how this growing trend threatens to control how we consume and share information as a society–and reveals what we can do about it. Personalized filters are sweeping the Web, creating individual universes of information for each of us. Facebook–the primary news source for an increasing number of Americans–prioritizes the links it believes will appeal to you so that if you are a liberal or conservative, you can expect to see different links. Even an old-media bastion like The Washington Post devotes the top of its home page to a news feed with the links your Facebook friends are sharing. Behind the scenes, a burgeoning industry of data companies is tracking your personal information to sell to advertisers, from your political leanings to the color you painted your living room to the hiking boots you just browsed on Zappos. In a personalized world, we will increasingly be typed and fed only news that is pleasant, familiar, and confirms our beliefs-and because these filters are invisible, we won’t know what is being hidden from us. Our past interests will determine what we are exposed to in the future, leaving less room for the unexpected encounters that spark creativity, innovation, and the democratic exchange of ideas. While we all worry that the Internet is eroding privacy or shrinking our attention spans, Pariser uncovers a more pernicious and far-reaching trend and shows how we can-and must-change course. With vivid detail and remarkable scope, The Filter Bubble reveals how personalization undermines the Internet’s original purpose as an open platform for the spread of ideas and could leave us all in an isolated, echoing world.


the GeneFrom the Pulitzer Prize–winning, bestselling author of The Emperor of All MaladiesTHE GENE is a magnificent history of the gene and a response to the defining question of the future: What becomes of being human when we learn to “read” and “write” our own genetic information?

The extraordinary Siddhartha Mukherjee has a written a biography of the gene as deft, brilliant, and illuminating as his extraordinarily successful biography of cancer. Weaving science, social history, and personal narrative to tell us the story of one of the most important conceptual breakthroughs of modern times, Mukherjee animates the quest to understand human heredity and its surprising influence on our lives, personalities, identities, fates, and choices.

Throughout the narrative, the story of Mukherjee’s own family—with its tragic and bewildering history of mental illness—cuts like a bright, red line, reminding us of the many questions that hang over our ability to translate the science of genetics from the laboratory to the real world. In superb prose and with an instinct for the dramatic scene, he describes the centuries of research and experimentation—from Aristotle and Pythagoras to Mendel and Darwin, from Boveri and Morgan to Crick, Watson and Franklin, all the way through the revolutionary twenty-first century innovators who mapped the human genome.

As The New Yorker said of The Emperor of All Maladies, “It’s hard to think of many books for a general audience that have rendered any area of modern science and technology with such intelligence, accessibility, and compassion…An extraordinary achievement.” Riveting, revelatory, and magisterial history of a scientific idea coming to life, and an essential preparation for the moral complexity introduced by our ability to create or “write” the human genome, The Gene is a must-read for everyone concerned about the definition and future of humanity. This is the most crucial science of our time, intimately explained by a master.

Quote of the Day

Quote of the Day.

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Can you name these science fiction authors?