Essays worth reading

Long Shielded From Lawsuits, Prosecutors Face Scrutiny After Fake Subpoenas – As a civil libertarian, I have to say, I found this piece absolutely maddening. It would seem that the New Orleans district attorney’s office has had a long-standing practice of raiding people’s homes with expertly counterfeited subpoenas. They present folks with the subpoena, and because it looks legitimate and a legitimate officer of the law is presenting it, people let them in. How do they get away with this? They are relying on generic statutes on official immunity. Well, that’s finally getting meaningfully challenged.

China Sacrifices a Province to Save the World From Coronavirus – On the horrors of living (and dying) in the region where the epidemic erupted.

The Lost Pianos of Siberia by Sophy Roberts review – a journey to the ‘End of Everything

In the summer of 2015, travel journalist Sophy Roberts found herself in a tent in Mongolia deep in conversation with a talented young local pianist who lamented the lack of a proper instrument on which to play her beloved Bach and Beethoven. The pianist’s family had roots in the region of Lake Baikal, in neighbouring Siberia. So began for Roberts a form of “selfish madness”, an obsession not only with sourcing a piano for her friend, but searching for pianos “washed up and abandoned” in Siberia, and for the stories of how they came to be there, and how they survived.

The result is a richly absorbing account of Siberia over the last 250 years, as Roberts zigzags her way from the Ural Mountains in the west to the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia’s far east. Along the way, she takes in how pianos entered Russian culture under Catherine the Great, the later rock star-like tours of the Hungarian Lizst, as well as the enduring influence of the Polish “subversive” Chopin and Russian musical giants Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov and Shostakovich.

Waterlines: On Writing and Sailing

One July day, I embarked on a small sailing boat with some high-school friends. We set out from Lorient, in southern Brittany, and sailed up to the western tip, below the Bay of Brest. We moored in the middle of the Glénan Islands, slept at Concarneau, and cruised past the Eckmühl lighthouse. As we racked up the miles, I tried to make this universe—so well described in my bedside books—my own. The spray, the swell, and the tides. The coast sharply delineated and perilous. The mesmerizing open sea with its shifting moods. And, of course, the boat. Its hull, its rigging, and its sails that took us everywhere—providing there was a breeze.

I came back changed, passionate, obsessed. In the following years, I took every opportunity to go sailing. One boat after another, each bigger, faster, more sophisticated. I hired yachts to sail along Brittany’s Emerald Coast, explore the Channel Islands of Guernsey and Jersey, and discover the Mediterranean. As I became more experienced, I pushed farther and farther. The voyages grew longer, the Earth disappeared. I crossed the English Channel and the Bay of Biscay, sailed to the Canary Islands from Portugal, and navigated the Atlantic, reaching the West Indies. And the more captivated I was by the sea, the more fascinated I became with the boats that enabled me to move over it.

At the age of twenty-two, I enrolled for a master’s degree in naval architecture at the University of Southampton, in England. My passion had become my vocation. Armed with my degree, I started working for a shipyard in the south of France. There was only a wooden door between the design office where I sat and the workshops where some thirty craftsmen were building huge, powerful catamarans. I simply had to walk a few yards to see our calculations and drawings coming to life in the sheds. I spent hours and hours gazing at the fiberglass hulls, their streamlined beauty, and their reinforced structure capable of withstanding the constant onslaught of the powerful swell.

Where Computing Is Headed—Beyond Quantum

Engineers working at a startup near touristy Faneuil Hall Marketplace are building chips that use laser beams instead of electrical signals to run artificial-intelligence applications 10 times faster than today’s most advanced AI computer chips, using one-tenth of the energy.

Founded in 2017 and backed by $33 million in venture-capital funding, Lightmatter Inc. is among dozens of companies gaining interest from investors and corporations because of their novel approaches to computing. They are using light, quantum physics, molecular biology and new design methods to build chips and create data-storage techniques for future computing demands.

Quantum computing is the best-known of these new methods. Startups as well as tech giants including Alphabet Inc.’s Google and International Business Machines Corp. are developing quantum computers, which harness the properties of quantum physics to sort through a vast number of possibilities in nearly real time. The advent of quantum computing has paved the way for other experimental techniques, startup executives say.

The market for new computing technology comes as advancements in traditional chip making are hitting a physical limit under Moore’s Law, the idea that every two years or so, the number of transistors in a chip doubles.

At the same time, advances in artificial intelligence, easier access to huge troves of data and the continuing digitization of business processes are putting new demands on corporate and scientific computing.

To address the challenge, some startups are making chips focused on specific software tasks. Others are pushing further, finding processing and storage solutions in new materials, including synthetic DNA.

Three miles northwest of Lightmatter’s headquarters, another Boston startup, Catalog Technologies Inc., is developing a unique way of storing large amounts of data. The company recently showed it could store 14 gigabytes of data from Wikipedia.org in DNA molecules, which look like a few drops of water in a test tube.

At Catalog, machines typically found at a molecular-biology laboratory are used to “print” sequences of synthetic molecules that store and represent digital information as bits of DNA. The information is read back by using DNA-sequencing machines and a computer with proprietary software that translates those molecules into the original text, photo or video.

DNA storage doesn’t require cooling the way data centers do, meaning the method holds promise for storing huge amounts of data more efficiently.

The First Fleet: Australia begins – This is a long and fascinating piece on the first colonists in Australia, including the logistics of their voyages to get there.

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