Unheard Martin Luther King, Jr. Audio Found in Attic

Stephon Tull was looking through dusty old boxes in his father’s attic in Chattanooga a few months ago when he stumbled onto something startling: an audio reel labeled, “Dr. King interview, Dec. 21, 1960.” The interview was made four years before the Civil Rights Act became law, three years before King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, and eight years before King’s assassination. The AP reports on the significance of the finding:

Many recordings of King are known to exist among hundreds of thousands of documents related to his life that have been catalogued and archived. But one historian said the newly discovered interview is unusual because there’s little audio of King discussing his activities in Africa, while two of King’s contemporaries said it’s exciting to hear a little-known recording of their friend for the first time.

In the interview, King says:

I am convinced that when the history books are written in future years, historians will have to record this movement as one of the greatest epochs of our heritage…I had the opportunity to talk with most of the major leaders of the new independent countries of Africa, and also leaders in countries that are moving toward independence,” he said. “And I think all of them agree that in the United States we must solve this problem of racial injustice if we expect to maintain our leadership in the world.

Video of the interview below:


In 3,000 Years, Someone Alive Today Will Be the Common Ancestor of All Humanity

Dr. Yan Wong explains why everyone alive in the Holy Land at the time of Jesus would have been able to claim David for an ancestor. He provides a simple mathematical explanation (exponential growth) and makes a couple of assumptions (that any two people in any one country probably won’t need to go back many generations before finding a common ancestor due to inbreeding), and then he extrapolates to the future:

What about the wider ramifications? A single immigrant who breeds into a population has roughly 80% chance of becoming a common ancestor. A single interbreeding event in the distant past will probably, therefore, graft the immigrant’s family tree onto that of the native population. That makes it very likely that King David is the direct ancestor of the populations of many other countries too.

How far do we have to go back to find the most recent common ancestor of all humans alive today? Again, estimates are remarkably short. Even taking account of distant isolation and local inbreeding, the quoted figures are 100 or so generations in the past: a mere 3,000 years ago.

And one can, of course, project this model into the future, too. The maths tells us that in 3,000 years someone alive today will be the common ancestor of all humanity.

A few thousand years after that, 80% of us (those who leave children who in turn leave children, and so on) will be ancestors of all humanity. What an inheritance!

Have you ever traced your family genealogy?

Beloit College Mindset List for Class of 2016

Each year since 1998, Beloit College has released the Beloit College Mindset List, providing a look at the cultural touchstones that shape the lives of students entering college this fall. Here are some cultural milestones for the class of 2016, who were born in 1994 (the year of the professional baseball strike and the last year for NFL football in Los Angeles):

  1. They should keep their eyes open for Justin Bieber or Dakota Fanning at freshman orientation.
  2. They have always lived in cyberspace, addicted to a new generation of “electronic narcotics.”
  3. The Biblical sources of terms such as “Forbidden Fruit,” “The writing on the wall,” “Good Samaritan,” and “The Promised Land” are unknown to most of them.
  4. Michael Jackson’s family, not the Kennedys, constitutes “American Royalty.”
  5. If they miss The Daily Show, they can always get their news on YouTube.
  6. Their lives have been measured in the fundamental particles of life: bits, bytes, and bauds.
  7. Robert De Niro is thought of as Greg Focker’s long-suffering father-in-law, not as Vito Corleone or Jimmy Conway.
  8. Bill Clinton is a senior statesman of whose presidency they have little knowledge.
  9. They have never seen an airplane “ticket.”
  10. On TV and in films, the ditzy dumb blonde female generally has been replaced by a couple of Dumb and Dumber males. 
  11. The paradox “too big to fail” has been, for their generation, what “we had to destroy the village in order to save it” was for their grandparents’.
  12. For most of their lives, maintaining relations between the U.S. and the rest of the world has been a woman’s job in the State Department.
  13. They can’t picture people actually carrying luggage through airports rather than rolling it.
  14. There has always been football in Jacksonville but never in Los Angeles.
  15. Having grown up with MP3s and iPods, they never listen to music on the car radio and really have no use for radio at all.
  16. Since they’ve been born, the United States has measured progress by a 2 percent jump in unemployment and a 16 cent rise in the price of a first class postage stamp.
  17. Benjamin Braddock, having given up both a career in plastics and a relationship with Mrs. Robinson, could be their grandfather.
  18. Their folks have never gazed with pride on a new set of bound encyclopedias on the bookshelf.
  19. The Green Bay Packers have always celebrated with the Lambeau Leap.
  20. Exposed bra straps have always been a fashion statement, not a wardrobe malfunction to be corrected quietly by well-meaning friends.
  21. A significant percentage of them will enter college already displaying some hearing loss.
  22. The Real World has always stopped being polite and started getting real on MTV.
  23. Women have always piloted war planes and space shuttles.
  24. White House security has never felt it necessary to wear rubber gloves when gay groups have visited.
  25. They have lived in an era of instant stardom and self-proclaimed celebrities, famous for being famous.
  26. Having made the acquaintance of Furby at an early age, they have expected their toy friends to do ever more unpredictable things.
  27. Outdated icons with images of floppy discs for “save,” a telephone for “phone,” and a snail mail envelope for “mail” have oddly decorated their tablets and smart phone screens.
  28. Star Wars has always been just a film, not a defense strategy.
  29. They have had to incessantly remind their parents not to refer to their CDs and DVDs as “tapes.”
  30. There have always been blue M&Ms, but no tan ones.

See the complete list here. It’s quite fascinating. For comparison purposes, here is Mindset List when I was entering college.


(via Carpe Diem)

On Buying Apple Products vs. Apple Stock

With Apple hitting an all-time high of $665/share yesterday, I thought it was worth looking again at the table I encountered comparing buying an Apple product or spending the equivalent amount buying Apple stock.

Kyle Conroy had the table updated on April 1, 2012. I pulled the raw data myself and have updated the numbers. I’ve added an extra column: closing share price of Apple on the release date of the product.

The table is found after the jump. Two quick stats: 1) if you spent $1,300 or more buying Apple stock after 2002, you’d have over $100,000 today and 2) There are only five products (out of 430+ listed in the table!) that you could have bought in the last 15 years which would have not made a bigger return had you chosen to instead spend that money by buying Apple stock.

Continue reading

Breaking Bad Going Scarface

If you aren’t watching Breaking Bad, the hit series on AMC, you are truly missing out. It’s my favourite show on television at the moment, and my third most favourite show all-time, after LOST and The Wire.

I wanted to highlight this piece by Emily Nussbaum (SPOILER ALERT!), who argues that the central character (Walt) is going Scarface on us. It’s a brilliant analogy, and for the non-spoiler version, see a quote below:

And yet, for all the show’s pleasures, its themes can be irredeemably grim, particularly now that the crutch of our sympathy for Walt has been yanked away. Each new episode arrives fraught with foreshadowing, with betrayal on the way—we know what has to happen, but not how. The show has shed its original skin, that of the antihero drama, in which we root for a bad boy in spite of ourselves. Instead, it’s more like the late seasons of “The Sopranos,” the first show that dared to punish its audience for loving a monster. This makes “Breaking Bad” a radical type of television, and also a very strange kind of must-watch: a show that you dread and crave at the same time.

The best one liner from Emily’s piece:

…[Breaking Bad] turns some viewers into not merely fans but enablers.

I can’t wait to see how the show unfolds!

Apple Becomes Most Valuable Company in History

Earlier today, shares of Apple stock reached a high of $664.75/share. With 937.41M shares oustanding, this gave the company, briefly, a market capitalization of $623.14 billion. According to Bloomberg, that compares with Microsoft’s $620.6 billion, the record intraday value reached by the company on December 30, 1999 during the Internet heyday.

More $AAPL related articles I’ve read this morning:

1) Should Apple buy Sprint?

2) “Japan’s Dimwitted Smartphones” (or how the iPhone conquered Japan)

Algorithms Invading Our Lives

From this Wall Street Journal piece, we learn about the proliferation of algorithms. I am not convinced about algorithms picking out creative works (music hits and potential blockbuster movies), but I found this bit interesting:

Algorithms also have invaded areas of our lives that might seem too personal for mere automation. We are all familiar with the words “this call may be recorded for quality or training purposes.” Though that message may sometimes mean just what it says, it often means that an algorithm has been invited in for a listen.

Using only the words you say in a three-minute conversation, more than five million eavesdropping algorithms, created by a company called Mattersight, determine your personality type, what you want and how you might be most easily and quickly satisfied by the customer-service agent. The electronic psychological analysis divides people into six sorts of personalities. Steve Jobs, for instance, was a “reactions-based” person, someone who responds strongly to things: “I hate that!”

The next time you call, the algorithms, recognizing your phone number, will route you to an agent with a personality similar to your own, which results in calls that are half as long and reach happy resolutions 92% of the time, compared with 47% otherwise, according to an assessment of 1,500 customer service calls at Vodafone, the European telecom company.

What have algorithms done for you lately?

“Nobody Wants to Read Your Shit”

Published almost three years ago, Steven Pressfield’s (he of The War of Art fame) classic post, about the most important writing lesson he’s ever learned, still resonates more than ever:

Nobody wants to read your shit.

There’s a phenomenon in advertising called Client’s Disease. Every client is in love with his own product. The mistake he makes is believing that, because he loves it, everyone else will too.

They won’t. The market doesn’t know what you’re selling and doesn’t care. Your potential customers are so busy dealing with the rest of their lives, they haven’t got a spare second to give to your product/work of art/business, no matter how worthy or how much you love it.

But it’s not all bad news. Steven suggests three steps to help people care about your product/writing/whatever:

1) Reduce your message to its simplest, clearest, easiest-to-understand form.

2) Make it fun. Or sexy or interesting or informative.

3) Apply that to all forms of writing or art or commerce.

When you understand that nobody wants to read your shit, your mind becomes powerfully concentrated. You begin to understand that writing/reading is, above all, a transaction. The reader donates his time and attention, which are supremely valuable commodities. In return, you the writer, must give him something worthy of his gift to you.

Needless to say, I am still a beginner when it comes to selling myself. But I am learning every day. What about you?

The Mathematics of a Swimsuit

The New Yorker is currently presenting its Swimsuit issue, and one of the more interesting pieces comes from Gregory Buck, a mathematician. In the piece “A Mathematician Goes to the Beach,” Buck considers the mathematics of the swimsuit, breaking out terms such as visual volatility and singularity:

The job of a swimsuit is to uphold decency while you hang out in places where people might, conceivably, swim. We can think of this decency, this modesty, as a load or strain the suit must bear. Different suit designs solve this problem in different ways, though each must take into account the regions which must be covered (RMBCs). There has, it’s well known, been a considerable decline in the percentage of skin area covered by swimsuits over the last hundred years (which has increased visual volatility—dramatic swings to both ends of the attraction/repulsion spectrum). As the suit becomes smaller and smaller, each square inch takes on more and more of the weight of propriety.

The equation here is pretty straightforward. For example, let DL represent the total decency load. DL has been declining with time, but can be considered fixed during any given beach season. Let SA be the surface area of the suit, and SK the surface area of the skin. Then if VV is the visual volatility, we have:


The proper mathematical way to look at this is to say that since, as the suit shrinks, a finite decency mass is concentrated into an ever smaller region, the decency density grows larger and larger—growing toward infinity. This point of infinite density is called a singularity. So we have that each RMBC has an associated singularity. And each beach-goer, on each beach, has an associated decency surface, with some number of singularities. The first thing a mathematician does, when faced with a surface or space with singularities, is, naturally enough, count them. A most unusual aspect of this particular singularity problem is that the count is culturally dependent—in fact there are countries where the sum is less than it is in the United States. I have heard that there are beaches where a bather’s decency surface might have no singularities at all, a prospect I have not the courage to consider.

Hilarious and enlightening.

Wayne Hale’s Space Exploration Blog

Wayne Hale is retired from NASA after 32 years. In his career he was the Space Shuttle Program Manager or Deputy for 5 years and a Space Shuttle Flight Director for 40 missions. On his blog, he writes that he will start posting more about his time at NASA:

Look for installments at irregular intervals over the next several months.  Comment, critique, and question all you want.  The facts should not be new, they were widely disseminated.  My conclusions are my own.

In a previous must-read entry, “How We Nearly Lost Discovery,” Wayne writes about how NASA dodged a huge bullet. He describes the worst call of his life:

John Muratore, my good friend, fellow flight director, and then the head of the shuttle program Systems Engineering and Integration office informed me in very flat terms that he was in the JSC video lab with head photo interpreter Cindy Evans who had uncovered evidence of a large foam liberation during the critical mach number regime which appeared to have impacted the left wing of Discovery.  Just like Columbia.

I was numb.

I made an illegal U-turn in the middle of NASA Road 1 and definitely exceeded the posted speed limit heading back to JSC and the photo lab.  Here is one still frame from the video they showed me:  A very large piece of foam coming off the tank heading for the wing.

It’s always interesting to get a unique perspective of historical events (i.e., rather than reading Wikipedia entries, for example). So I’ve put Wayne’s blog on my to-read list.