- Another item to file under “obsolete or unfashionable technologies I hold on to”: Is the Relational Database Doomed? Here I am teaching the gospel of SQL when all the cool kids swear by NoSQL.
- Speaking of being a grumpy old guy, why is it that when I look at the amazing images taken by Opportunity’s 12 years on Mars, all I see are track marks and litter on a once pristine planet? This reminds me strongly of Mariner 9 by Kelly Richardson, which I’ve seen displayed at the National Gallery last year.
- My friend Xavier sent me the coolest belated Christmas gift ever, a tablecloth printed with the beautiful 1:50,000 swisstopo map of Western Switzerland. He used a service called Spoonflower to custom-print the fabric. Of course I immediately started thinking of all the cool things I could do, notably a wallpaper with contour lines, e.g. of the Niagara escarpement…
- This is our 4th winter in Toronto and so far it’s been much milder than the previous years. It snowed again last night, but nothing like the snows of yesteryear.
- Keeping on the arctic theme, negatives from Shackleton’s second Antarctica expedition have been found and were finally developed after more than a century. Instagram, 1914 style.
- Is the age of the hydroelectric dam over? Fist this fascinating 99% invisible episode about fish cannons is full of offhand comments that dams are being routinely dismantled in the US and how it’s a good thing for salmon and humans. Then I learn in the New Yorker about crumbling African dams that could soon become “the dam industry’s Chernobyl.” I do hope we have good alternatives for replacing all the lost power generation and off-peak storage. The answer to the latter could lay in part a few kilometers from me in Lake Ontario, where energy storage using underwater compressed air is being tested as I write this.
- On this topic, I keep going back to the superb What can a technologist do about climate science piece published by Bret Victor last November. He lists a few alternative solutions for energy storage, including the slightly crazy idea of using surplus energy to drive a train uphill, then letting it roll back downhill to harvest that energy back.
- Keepalive is a piratebox hidden in a boulder in northern Germany. Lighting a fire on its side with generate enough power to bring the server to life and share PDF survival guides over WiFi. I just hope there is a USB port on the boulder to power up the lost wanderers’ devices (and that they remembered how to start a fire without needing a survival guide)…
- Ever wondered why businesses ask you how likely you’d recommend a product of service to a friend? It informs the Net Promoter Score, a metric that is used to measure customer satisfaction. Publishers are using it too!
- This nice visualisation tool for place names motivated me to start playing with geo data again. The Overpass API allows bulk download of OSM nodes, and Overpass Turbo has a nice interface to try out Overpass queries.
While I keep working on the draft of my first actual blog posts, let’s see if I can also use this space to keep track of what I recently enjoyed reading:
- The Tale of Two Modernist Libraries (Architect Magazine, Dec. 16, 2015) on the ongoing transformation of Philip Johnson’s Boston Public Library and Mies van der Rohe’s MLK library in Washington DC. Not convinced about the metal cladding on the BPL building. Mecanoo’s intervention on MLK looks better, although losing that midcentury lobby will be a shame (somebody save those chairs!). They’re repeating the rooftop garden trick that seemed to have worked well in Birmingham, why not, although the rounded curves of the roof extension are out of character in a Mies building.
- Huh. Kodak unveiled a new Super-8 camera. Also its CEO has pretty cool looking business cards. They seem to be doing everything they can to save colour film, but I’m not sure it will be worth the hassle.
- iOS apps for coding, transmitting, displaying and dashboarding your work (Finer Things in Tech).
- Tor.com has a fascinating post about the process of fiction publishing, taking the latest George R.R. Martin title as an example. This infographic sums it up nicely.
- The End of the Dark Ages of Podcasting. Just because everyone knows about Serial (whose second season is kind of disappointing I must say) doesn’t mean podcasts are mainstream yet, at least not until discovery has been improved.
This week, I also learned that most of American English spelling can be traced to Noah Webster. He axed the extra u’s in colour and neighbour, changed offence to offense and cheque to businesslike check. He’s the one who insisted the letter “z” be pronounced “zee” instead of “zed” (he also wanted “y” to be called “yi” and “w” to become “we”). All this, and much more, from the first chapter of Mary Norris‘ Between You & Me, which is a true delight to read1.
- Nonrestrictive clause ↩