Snowden’s Chronicler Reveals Her Own Life Under Surveillance

Laura Poitras, surveilllance, USA, Art, tor

In the end, Poitras has not only escaped the arrest or indictment she feared, but has become a kind of privacy folk hero: Her work has helped to noticeably shift the world’s view of government spying, led to legislation, and won both a Pulitzer and an Academy Award. But if her ultimate fear was to “become the story,” her latest revelations show that’s a fate she can no longer escape–and one she’s come to accept.

David Fathi - Wolfgang

Photography, Wolfgang Pauli, David Fathi, physics, Cern, history

Science isn’t fiction, science is weirder than fiction. Teleportation, ubiquity, levitation, spontaneous appearance. Inconceivable on a human scale, but totally logical on the scale of elementary particles. Working in the field of quantum mechanics is a wild ride, and even though the mythical Pauli Effect was a private joke among highly scientific minds, some of them were nonetheless superstitious enough to ban Wolfgang Pauli from even entering their lab. In quantum physics as well as in photography, the act of observing is not a neutral act. It participates in the outcome of a scene. These photos are sometimes real, sometimes completely fabricated. The observer is actor in fixing what is science and what is myth.

Bucket-wheel excavators run on tracks at the Tagebau Hambach open-pit mine in Niederzier and Elsdorf, Germany. These massive…


Bucket-wheel excavators run on tracks at the Tagebau Hambach open-pit mine in Niederzier and Elsdorf, Germany. These massive machines (up to 315 feet tall and 730 feet long) continuously scoop materials from the surface in order to extract lignite. Lignite, often referred to as “brown coal”, is a soft combustible sedimentary rock that is formed from naturally compressed peat and is used as a fuel for steam-electric power generation.

50°54′39″N 6°30′10″E

Has the Internet Made Air Travel Irrelevant?

The New Yorker, Nathan Heller, Airlines, air travel, history, interconnection, commerce, nostalgia

Writers and travellers alike do their best work when they don’t know what they’re looking for; disorientation requires problem-solving, and a new landscape holds secrets still. These days, I never totally unpack my suitcase. I buy only folding toothbrushes. I leave, often, on short notice—my record is three and a half hours before takeoff, for a transatlantic trip—and I like my mind best when it’s on the move. To land somewhere unfamiliar is to force yourself into alertness, to redraw whatever maps you have, to set the stage for creativity more than mere pattern-matching productivity.

Kansai International Airport is located on an artificial island in the middle of Osaka Bay, Japan. To create the island, a 30…


Kansai International Airport is located on an artificial island in the middle of Osaka Bay, Japan. To create the island, a 30 meter (98-foot) layer of earth was created on top of the seafloor with 21 million cubic meters of landfill. The material was excavated from three separate mountains. As of 2008, the total cost of Kansai Airport was $20 billion USD, including land reclamation that has been necessary to prevent its continued sinkage (7.1 centimeters per year as of 2008) into the bay.

4·433168°, 135·239150°

THE DAILY PIC (#1479): My normal rule for this column is that I have to have seen each day’s artwork with my own eyes before…


THE DAILY PIC (#1479): My normal rule for this column is that I have to have seen each day’s artwork with my own eyes before writing, but I’m breaking it today because I have it on good authority that, in the flesh, this 1956 Rothko is really very gorgeous and profound. After all, the great connoisseur Ernst Beyeler once called it “sublime,” while a seasoned collector, Domenico De Sole, saw and admired it at the late, great Knoedler Gallery in New York and then actually shelled out more than $8 million for it – something he’d hardly have done if he didn’t think it was pretty fine. So what if, in a Manhattan courtroom on Wednesday, he demanded that Knoedler pay him $25 million in damages because the painting has now proven to be a very recent fake? – that doesn’t cancel out his earlier admiration. If anything, the scale of the damages De Sole is seeking somehow seems to argue for the gap between how he once felt about the piece and how he now does, calling it “worthless”. If the Rothko hadn’t seemed a wonderful thing when he first bought it, I doubt he’d price his later disappointment in the millions.

What De Sole’s lawsuit really proves is that the art market, and most of our culture, doesn’t care about works of art for any inherent virtues they have, or for the creative minds they bear witness to; it cares about them as sacred relics of a sainted maker, touched by his or her hand and only valuable because they have been.

I’ve argued all this before, in a much longer essay in praise of forgery, and the art historian Alexander Nagel has done a nice job fleshing out the link to sacred relics. The current lawsuit does add one interesting note to the discussion, however, because it is all about a painting where the presence of the artist’s hand, slathering on his emotions in paint, is central to the work’s original justification – Abstract Expressionism was built around the live, unrepeatable actions of its artists. Even though the forgery from Knoedler has clearly captured and reproduced the look of those actions, almost as though Rothko had had his hand wrapped around the forger’s fist as he painted, it still doesn’t seem to satisfy. Could it be that AbEx itself, born at a moment of vast growth in New York’s gallery scene, was meant to foster the market-friendly mania for authenticity we are witnessing in that Manhattan courtroom this week?

The Daily Pic also appears at Artnet News. For a full survey of past Daily Pics visit

4 people are living in an isolated habitat for 30 days. Why? Science!


This 30 day mission will help our researchers learn how isolation and close quarters affect individual and group behavior. This study at our Johnson Space Center prepares us for long duration space missions, like a trip to an asteroid or even to Mars.


The Human Research Exploration Analog (HERA) that the crew members will be living in is one compact, science-making house. But unlike in a normal house, these inhabitants won’t go outside for 30 days. Their communication with the rest of planet Earth will also be very limited, and they won’t have any access to internet. So no checking social media kids!

The only people they will talk with regularly are mission control and each other.


The crew member selection process is based on a number of criteria, including the same criteria for astronaut selection.

What will they be doing?

Because this mission simulates a 715-day journey to a Near-Earth asteroid, the four crew members will complete activities similar to what would happen during an outbound transit, on location at the asteroid, and the return transit phases of a mission (just in a bit of an accelerated timeframe). This simulation means that even when communicating with mission control, there will be a delay on all communications ranging from 1 to 10 minutes each way. The crew will also perform virtual spacewalk missions once they reach their destination, where they will inspect the asteroid and collect samples from it. 

A few other details:

  • The crew follows a timeline that is similar to one used for the ISS crew.
  • They work 16 hours a day, Monday through Friday. This includes time for daily planning, conferences, meals and exercises.  
  • They will be growing and taking care of plants and brine shrimp, which they will analyze and document.

But beware! While we do all we can to avoid crises during missions, crews need to be able to respond in the event of an emergency. The HERA crew will conduct a couple of emergency scenario simulations, including one that will require them to maneuver through a debris field during the Earth-bound phase of the mission. 


Throughout the mission, researchers will gather information about cohabitation, teamwork, team cohesion, mood, performance and overall well-being. The crew members will be tracked by numerous devices that each capture different types of data.


Past HERA crew members wore a sensor that recorded heart rate, distance, motion and sound intensity. When crew members were working together, the sensor would also record their proximity as well, helping investigators learn about team cohesion.

Researchers also learned about how crew members react to stress by recording and analyzing verbal interactions and by analyzing “markers” in blood and saliva samples.


In total, this mission will include 19 individual investigations across key human research elements. From psychological to physiological experiments, the crew members will help prepare us for future missions.

Want a full, 360 look at HERA? You can check out the inside of the habitat in our new Facebook display: [LINK TBD]

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space:

Last year a church from the 16th century that had been buried underwater for the last 50 years made an unexpected appearance due…

Last year a church from the 16th century that had been buried underwater for the last 50 years made an unexpected appearance due to a drought. Sadly the waters have risen close to their original level, and only a tiny piece of the church is currently visible. It is expected to soon return to its underwater sleep for the foreseeable future. Found and photographed by @todseelie. #submergedchurch #atlasobscura #urbex #hidden #curiousity #explore #adventure #amazing #wanderlust #neverstopexploring #photooftheday #picoftheday #travel #wonder by atlasobscura (via

It’s easy to forget that all of us have built-in tools for chemical analysis. Before biting into a filet of fish, your nose…


It’s easy to forget that all of us have built-in tools for chemical analysis. Before biting into a filet of fish, your nose tells you if it is rotten with microbes that will make you sick. And if your nose fails, hopefully your taste buds warn you before swallowing. Today we use our senses of smell and taste for eating, but before the invention of pH meters and microscopes, physicians relied on their noses and mouths to diagnose diseases.

What substance could doctors use that contained information about the health of a patient’s entire body? It would have to be the dumping ground for chemicals in the digestive system, blood stream, and endocrine system. That’s right; doctors once tasted urine to diagnose their patients’ sicknesses. They used charts like this one from 1506 to match illnesses with the colors, tastes, and smells of different types of urine. In fact, physicians didn’t even have to meet their patients to diagnose them as long as they had a sample of their pee and a “urine wheel.”

Urine could be salty, sticky, thick like molasses, or cloudy and white, which possibly indicated pregnancy. One disease that was easy to distinguish was diabetes. Because diabetes prevents the body from absorbing sugar, all of that sweetness ends up filtered out of the bloodstream and into the urine. However appetizing that sounds, I wouldn’t recommend trying uroscopy at home.

In the latest issue of Distillations magazine, we wrote about the painful history of diabetes and why CHF has a wooden box containing slides of a dead dog’s pancreas.

Image: A urine wheel from the 1506 book Epiphanie Medicorum by Ullrich Pinder. (The Royal Library, Copenhagen)

Equation shows that large-scale conspiracies would quickly reveal themselves



blockquote> Dr Grimes then looked at four alleged plots, estimating the maximum number of people required to be in on the conspiracy, in order to see how viable these conspiracies could be. These include: the theory that the US moon landings were a hoax (411,000 people); that Climate Change is a fraud (405,000 people); that unsafe vaccinations are being covered up (22,000 people assuming that only the World Health Organisation and the US Centers for Disease Control are conspirators and that others involved in advocating, producing, distributing and using vaccines are dupes. 736,000 people if, as would be more likely, pharmaceutical companies were included); that the cure for Cancer is being supressed by the world’s leading pharmaceutical firms (714,000 people).

Using the equation, Dr Grimes calculated that hoax moon landings would have been revealed in 3 years 8 months, a climate change fraud in 3 years 9 months, a vaccination conspiracy in 3 years 2 months, and a suppressed Cancer cure in 3 years 3 months. In simple terms, any one of the four conspiracies would have been exposed long before now.

He then looked at the maximum number of people who could take part in an intrigue in order to maintain it. For a plot to last five years, the maximum was 2521 people. To keep a scheme operating undetected for more than a decade, fewer than 1000 people can be involved. A century-long deception should ideally include fewer than 125 collaborators. Even a straightforward cover-up of a single event, requiring no more complex machinations than everyone keeping their mouth shut, is likely to be blown if more than 650 people are accomplices.



Equation shows that large-scale conspiracies would quickly reveal themselves

Chasing Storms at 17,500mph


Flying 250 miles above the Earth aboard the International Space Station has given me the unique vantage point from which to view our planet. Spending a year in space has given me the unique opportunity to see a wide range of spectacular storm systems in space and on Earth. 

The recent blizzard was remarkably visible from space. I took several photos of the first big storm system on Earth of year 2016 as it moved across the East Coast, Chicago and Washington D.C. Since my time here on the space station began in March 2015, I’ve been able to capture an array of storms on Earth and in space, ranging from hurricanes and dust storms to solar storms and most recently a rare thunder snowstorm.

Blizzard 2016

Hurricane Patricia 2015

Hurricane Joaquin 2015

Dust Storm in the Red Sea 2015

Dust Storm of Gobi Desert 2015

Aurora Solar Storm 2015

Aurora Solar Storm 2016

Thunderstorm over Italy 2015

Lightning and Aurora 2016

Rare Thunder Snowstorm 2016

Follow my Year In Space on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

There are, by weight, more ships in the ocean than fish

xkcd, what if, physics, mass, weight, shipping, fish, oceans, marine conservation

Current fish wet biomass is about 2 billion tons, so removing them won’t make a dent either. (Marine fish biomass dropped by 80% over the last century, which—taking into consideration the growth rate of the world’s shipping fleet—leads to an odd conclusion: Sometime in the last few years, we reached a point where there are, by weight, more ships in the ocean than fish.)

If the pol­i­tics of many of these algo­rithms is com­monly located on a spec­trum between autoc­racy and delib­er­a­tive…

If the pol­i­tics of many of these algo­rithms is com­monly located on a spec­trum between autoc­racy and delib­er­a­tive democ­racy, I think we could start to dis­cuss the lim­i­ta­tions of those approaches. In Mouffe’s words, “when we accept that every con­sen­sus exists as a tem­po­rary result of a pro­vi­sional hege­mony as a sta­bi­liza­tion of power that always entails some form of exclu­sion, we can begin to envis­age the nature of a demo­c­ra­tic pub­lic sphere in a dif­fer­ent way.”

And so I think we reach her strongest argu­ment for why think­ing about ago­nism is impor­tant. This is why a plu­ral­ist democ­racy, she writes, “needs to make room for dis­sent, and for the insti­tu­tions through which it can be man­i­fested. It’s sur­vival depends on col­lec­tive iden­ti­ties form­ing around clearly dif­fer­en­ti­ated posi­tions, as well as on the pos­si­bil­ity of choos­ing between real alter­na­tives.” And I think that’s a fairly key con­cept here.

So this is why it mat­ters whether algo­rithms can be ago­nist, given their roles in gov­er­nance. When the logic of algo­rithms is under­stood as auto­cratic, we’re going to feel pow­er­less and pan­icked because we can’t pos­si­bly inter­vene. If we assume that they’re delib­er­ately demo­c­ra­tic, we’ll assume an Internet of equal agents, ratio­nal debate, and emerg­ing con­sen­sus posi­tions, which prob­a­bly doesn’t sound like the Internet that many of us actu­ally rec­og­nize.

So instead, per­haps if we started to think about this idea of ago­nis­tic plu­ral­ism, we might start to think about the way in which algo­rithms are choos­ing from coun­ter­posed per­spec­tives within a field where ratio­nal­ity and emo­tion are given. As an ethos, it assumes per­pet­ual con­flict and con­stant con­tes­ta­tion. It would ide­ally offer the path to choose, I think, away from these dis­ap­point­ingly lim­ited calls for “trans­parency” in algo­rithms, which are ulti­mately kind of doomed to fail, given that com­pa­nies like Facebook and Twitter are not going to give their algo­rithms away, for a whole host of com­pet­i­tive rea­sons, and also because they’re afraid of users gam­ing the sys­tem.

Instead, I think to rec­og­nize value of dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives and oppos­ing inter­ests involves an accep­tance of what Howarth calls “the rules of the game” and an under­stand­ing that algo­rithms are par­tic­i­pants in wider insti­tu­tional and cap­i­tal­ist log­ics.

Can an Algorithm Be Agonistic? Ten Scenes about Living in Calculated Publics - Kate Crawford - Open Transcripts (vianataliekane)

Spot freight rates on the world’s busiest trade route have halved since the start of the year after falling 26 percent to $545…

Spot freight rates on the world’s busiest trade route have halved since the start of the year after falling 26 percent to $545 per 20-foot container (TEU) this week—a level not considered to be commercially viable for most vessels.

Container rates usuaally rise ahead of the Chinese New Year, which this year begins on Feb. 8, as companies try to ship goods to Europe before factories close and millions of workers travel home to celebrate for at least a week.

Last year, considered to be a bad one for shipping, average freight rates were $1,098 per TEU ahead of the Chinese New Year and $1,659 per TEU the year before. Rates this year for Asia to Europe have averaged $739.

Container shipping rates drop, Chinese New Year gives no relief (viaiamdanw)

Recent ways I’ve watched my friends (and myself) measure time:


  • Letting a head cold run its course
  • Counting how many times one song played on repeat from her walk to the bodega and back again
  • Rationing the last pages of a book over the course of a week
  • Letting her eyebrows grow out
  • Increasing her stamina
  • Anticipating leather jacket season
  • The time it takes for rice to cook perfect
  • Noticing a new wrinkle near her eye when she laughs for real
  • Noticing a thread on a skirt hem unravel more and more
  • Remembering the last time she wore a skirt
  • Seeing the skin sag on her father’s neck when they facetime
  • Noting the way he seems more tired 
  • Watching a gel manicure grow out
  • Waiting for his couch to arrive in the mail
  • Days left on antibiotics
  • Days left until rehearsals start
  • Estimating her time of arrival
  • Remembering the last time she saw a play, and with whom
  • Counting the hours since her last meal
  • Watching a scar heal
  • Watching a gold ring’s band start to thin
  • How long it’s been since she’s had sex
  • Bottle blonde hair growing out
  • Watching a polaroid develop
  • How many days she’s been sober
  • How many months she’s been sober
  • Hours spent on a layover
  • Time it took to finish that can of Altoids
  • Noting a year passing in the length of someone’s hair
  • Split ends
  • The last time she saw the ocean
  • Calculating how much time it’ll take to cab vs. subway
  • Perceiving afternoon shadows on her living room wall
  • How many pirouettes she can achieve in how many seconds
  • Time ticking on a YouTube ad before I press “Skip”
  • Frustratingly noting how quick this expensive candle melts into nothing
  • Seeing how fast it takes to finish leftover birthday cake
  • Remembering the last time a birthday felt like a new year
  • Finding last year’s Kleenex in a winter coat pocket
  • Finding a movie stub from a movie you hated but that you saw with someone you loved, and now too, hate a little
  • Finding a postcard in a book
  • Timestamp on a text
  • Years since you’ve worn yellow
  • Waiting for Pisces season to start
  • Waiting for mercury to no longer be in retrograde
  • Weeks pregnant
  • The moon
  • Watching the sole of her heeled boot wear out
  • Disbelief in recalling something that occurred more than a decade ago 
  • How many minutes until the Uber arrives
  • Days it’s been since you wished you’d exchanged numbers
  • Waiting for the pizza to arrive
  • For the soup to cool
  • For the storm to pass
  • For my nerves to settle
  • For the fresh smell of paint to hopefully never, completely fade
  • How many days since you dropped off your dry-cleaning
  • Your favorite waitress is no longer at your favorite place
  • How many months it’s been since he’s last seen her
  • The way she stands different in the summer
  • The way she looks happiest in October
  • The way she seemed happier last year
  • A plant, once small, now spider-legging across a window sill 
  • A baby cousin, now big enough to say your name
  • A bottle of Advil, suddenly empty
  • A deadline, suddenly imminent 
  • The last page of a notebook
  • Remembering a grudge
  • Christmas, again
  • 30, real soon
  • A year since he died
  • Wondering how many tasks you can accomplish while on hold
  • If when you surface from the subway, the sun will have already set
  • How long she can stay out based on what time she has to wake up
  • Counting the days it’s been since her last period
  • How many books he’s already read in the new year
  • The time it takes to drive somewhere in a snowstorm
  • Minutes spent in line at CVS while hungover
  • Experiencing estrangement from someone
  • Running out of olive oil
  • The days already feeling longer

“Science and engineering today, however, is focused on things like synthetic biology or artificial intelligence, where the…


“Science and engineering today, however, is focused on things like synthetic biology or artificial intelligence, where the problems are massively complex. These problems exceed our ability to stay within the domain of the artificial, and make it nearly impossible for us to divide them into existing disciplines. We are finding that we are more and more able to design and deploy directly into the domain of “nature” and in many ways “design” nature. Synthetic biology is obviously completely embedded in nature and is about our ability to “edit nature.” However, even artificial intelligence, which is in the digital versus natural realm, is developing its relationship to the study of the brain beyond merely a metaphorical one. We find that we must increasingly depend on nature to guide us through the complexity and the unknowability (with our current tools) that is our modern scientific world.”

What Happened After Zappos Got Rid of Workplace Hierarchy

The Atlantic, holocracy, heirarchy, work, organisation, research, psychology

recent research seems to indicate that flattening workplace hierarchy is not only much more complicated than it seems, but that people prefer a pecking order. One Stanford study found that egalitarian work structures were disorienting. Workers found hierarchical companies were more predictable, and therefore preferable, because it was easy to figure out who did what and how compensation should be doled out. Another Stanford paper, which looked at why hierarchical structures in the workplace have such staying power, concluded perhaps the obvious: Hierarchies work. They are practical and psychologically comforting.