The British Once Built a 1,100-Mile Hedge Through the Middle of India This quixotic colonial barrier was meant to enforce taxes. Map of India, c. 1875. Photo from the Public Domain. In 1878, W.S. Halsey, Commissioner of Inland Customs, reported on the state of British India’s giant hedge. The hedge had grown to more than 1,100 miles long, he wrote, long enough to stretch from Berlin to Moscow. More than half of the barrier, Halsey reported, was made up of “perfect and good green hedge” or “combined green and dry hedge.” In parts, it was 12 feet tall and 14 feet across. The British Empire had been working on this giant hedge for at least 30 years. It had, at long last, reached “its greatest extent and perfection,” wrote Roy Moxham in The Great Hedge of India. It was an impressive monument to British power and doggedness. One British official […]

Meet the Mad Scientist Who Wrote the Book on How to Hunt Hackers Thirty years ago, Cliff Stoll published The Cuckoo’s Egg, a book about his cat-and-mouse game with a KGB-sponsored hacker. Today, the internet is a far darker place—and Stoll has become a cybersecurity icon. In 1986, Cliff Stoll’s boss at Lawrence Berkeley National Labs tasked him with getting to the bottom of a 75-cent accounting discrepancy in the lab’s computer network, which was rented out to remote users by the minute. Stoll, 36, investigated the source of that minuscule anomaly, pulling on it like a loose thread until it led to a shocking culprit: a hacker in the system. Stoll then spent the next year of his life following that hacker’s footprints across the lab’s network and the nascent internet. In doing so, he revealed a vast web of similar intrusions into military and government agencies carried out […]

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Comments Off on The Secret Travel Club That’s Been Everywhere

The Secret Travel Club That’s Been Everywhere New York’s Explorers Club has inspired adventurers, aquanauts, and astronauts for more than a century. But it’s now evolving to inspire everyone to make the world a better place. The Explorers Club’s New York headquarters houses around 1,000 artefacts collected by its members. Amid the neon-lit diners and coffee shops of New York’s Upper East Side sits a townhouse that’s a world away from the fast-paced drama of Manhattan. In sight of Central Park, but not as far north as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, it is just one of many such houses on a street full of elite mansions and enviable residences. No sightseeing map would direct you to East 70th Street, and it’s routinely bypassed by cab drivers, commuters and pedestrians, all of whom have somewhere else more important to be. But beyond the townhouse’s wrought iron doors, under a keystone […]

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Comments Off on The End of Owning Music: How CDs and Downloads Died

The End of Owning Music: How CDs and Downloads Died Physical formats are cratering, but vinyl’s niche is growing. Jack White and other experts explain the future of listening. “I definitely believe the next decade is going to be streaming plus vinyl,” says Jack White. “Streaming in the car and kitchen, vinyl in the living room and the den. Those will be the two formats. And I feel really good about that.” If you visited Austin’s Waterloo Records recently, you might have noticed a construction project that was unthinkable not so long ago: The 36-year-old Austin music staple was replacing 24 feet of CD racks with space for more vinyl. “After 30 years of CDs, a lot of people are moving on from that format,” says Waterloo owner John Kunz. “Whether they’re going back to vinyl, or streaming, people are selling off those CDs.” As streaming gives the music industry […]

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Comments Off on How to Fly the Best First-Class Seats, Cheaper Than Economy

How to Fly the Best First-Class Seats, Cheaper Than Economy The tools you need to secure a private suite in the sky—at almost zero cost—may already be inside your wallet. Photo from Emirates. Airline industry experts have been proclaiming the death of first class for years. While some airlines have done away with it altogether, others are doubling down with palatial suite-style seats, lavish amenities, and services that pamper, both on the ground and in the air. What’s ensued is a golden age of flying … for those who can afford it. In November, Singapore Airlines Ltd. and Emirates Airline both unveiled all-new first-class suites, tricked-out with such extravagant amenities as in-suite minibars and Mercedes Benz-inspired interiors. A round-trip ticket from Dubai to Geneva in Emirates’ new suites can cost upward of $8,000—and that’s on the affordable end of the spectrum. These airlines aren’t alone: Quieter, gradual enhancements on such airlines as Cathay Pacific Airways […]

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Comments Off on What Unites Republicans May Be Changing. Same With Democrats.

What Unites Republicans May Be Changing. Same With Democrats. In a book released on the eve of the 2016 election called “Asymmetric Politics,” political scientists Matthew Grossmann and David Hopkins argued that America’s political parties don’t just have different ideologies, but are really different kinds of organizations. “Republicans are organized around broad symbolic principles, whereas Democrats are a coalition of social groups with particular policy concerns,” the authors concluded. I don’t want to treat that book as gospel, but it speaks to a certain understanding that has existed throughout my 17 years covering national politics. Democrats have been considered the party of Asian, black, gay, Jewish and Latino people, along with atheists, teachers, union members, etc. — in short, a coalition organized around a bunch of different identity groups. Meanwhile, Republicans have been thought of as the party of small government, low taxes, a strong national defense and “traditional” moral […]

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Comments Off on How Misinformation From Social Security Can Cost You Tens of Thousands of Dollars

We’ll put you on the right path to maximize your benefits. Photo from iStock. Social Security will pay out nearly $1 trillion in benefits this year. For more than half of all recipients, the payments are more than 50% of their retirement income. But for the eighth year in a row, this critical pay-as-you-go program will take in less in taxes than it pays out in benefits. If nothing is done to change the system and the economy behaves as expected, a financial catastrophe demanding across-the-board benefit cuts will arrive in 18 years. You’ve heard this lament before, of course, along with assurances that, sooner or later, members of Congress will get around to doing something to shore up the system. But focusing on the long-term crisis masks a much more immediate threat, one that can explode long before 2035—perhaps when you, or someone you know, walks into a local […]

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Comments Off on Chasing Escobar

Chasing Escobar Javier Peña, as a character, was popularized through the Netflix series ’Narcos.’ But the story of the real Peña—who lives in San Antonio—and his quest to end the reign of Pablo Escobar, is bigger than a screen. A mug shot of Pablo Escobar taken in Colombia in 1981. Inside a church in Medellín, Colombia, Drug Enforcement Agency agent Javier Peña listened as the fourteen-year-old boy in front of him admitted to murdering ten policemen. The boy was one of Pablo Escobar’s sicarios—the hitmen, often teenage boys, hired to kill anyone in Escobar’s way. The teenager didn’t feel any remorse. If he was given an order, he would kill again in a second. He would do anything for Escobar. It’s been decades since that day: Peña’s charcoal black mustache is now a crisp white, and the brown gradient aviators he often sported have been replaced by a small pair […]

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Comments Off on How Overexcited Neurons Might Affect How You Age

How Overexcited Neurons Might Affect How You Age New research makes a molecular connection between the brain and aging—and shows that overactive neurons can shorten life span. A thousand seemingly insignificant things change as an organism ages. Beyond the obvious signs like graying hair and memory problems are myriad shifts both subtler and more consequential: Metabolic processes run less smoothly; neurons respond less swiftly; the replication of DNA grows faultier. Original story reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine, an editorially independent publication of the Simons Foundation whose mission is to enhance public understanding of science by covering research develop­ments and trends in mathe­matics and the physical and life sciences. But while bodies may seem to just gradually wear out, many researchers believe instead that aging is controlled at the cellular and biochemical level. They find evidence for this in the throng of biological mechanisms that are linked to aging but also […]

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Comments Off on The Sugar Conspiracy

The Sugar Conspiracy In 1972, a British scientist sounded the alarm that sugar – and not fat – was the greatest danger to our health. But his findings were ridiculed and his reputation ruined. How did the world’s top nutrition scientists get it so wrong for so long? Robert Lustig is a paediatric endocrinologist at the University of California who specialises in the treatment of childhood obesity. A 90-minute talk he gave in 2009, titled Sugar: The Bitter Truth, has now been viewed more than six million times on YouTube. In it, Lustig argues forcefully that fructose, a form of sugar ubiquitous in modern diets, is a “poison” culpable for America’s obesity epidemic. A year or so before the video was posted, Lustig gave a similar talk to a conference of biochemists in Adelaide, Australia. Afterwards, a scientist in the audience approached him. Surely, the man said, you’ve read Yudkin. […]

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Comments Off on When Twins Take Over the Town

When Twins Take Over the Town For one weekend each year, Twinsburg, Ohio, becomes the world capital of seeing double. Photo collage by Elizabeth Renstrom with photos courtesy Donald Hayes. Moses and Aaron Wilcox purchased the town now known as Twinsburg, Ohio, in the early 1800s. According to historical records, the identical twins, who were born on May 11, 1770, in Killingworth, Connecticut, were so alike in “feature, voice and manner” that even their closest friends couldn’t tell them apart. To receive the naming rights to their new plot of land, the Wilcox brothers donated six acres at the center of town for the public square, as well as twenty dollars for the foundation of a schoolhouse. They christened the town Twinsburg in 1819. The Wilcox brothers were inseparable. They attended the same school, worked as business partners and married sisters, Mabel and Huldah Lord, who were not twins. They each […]

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Comments Off on How to Find Time

How to Find Time Start by asking yourself if time is really the issue. There’s never enough time. You want to exercise, eat well and be healthy. But the day slips by and you don’t go to the gym. You eat that muffin for lunch, instead of the salad you thought you would. You want to do great work, advance your career, produce something meaningful. But your email inbox is overflowing. A coworker drops by to, “ask a quick question.” Soon the working day is done, and you’re exactly where you were the day before. You want to learn a language, guitar, to paint or martial arts. If you could just put time in consistently, you could make it happen. But it stops more than it starts, and years go by while it remains just a notion. Where to Find Time The first thing to realize is that time is […]

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Comments Off on Wisława Szymborska on How Our Certitudes Keep Us Small and the Generative Power of Not-Knowing

Wisława Szymborska on How Our Certitudes Keep Us Small and the Generative Power of Not-Knowing “Whatever inspiration is, it’s born from a continuous ‘I don’t know.’” “Attempt what is not certain. Certainty may or may not come later. It may then be a valuable delusion,” the great painter Richard Diebenkorn counseled in his ten rules for beginning creative projects. “One doesn’t arrive — in words or in art — by necessarily knowing where one is going,” the artist Ann Hamilton wrote a generation later in her magnificent meditation on the generative power of not-knowing. “In every work of art something appears that does not previously exist, and so, by default, you work from what you know to what you don’t know.” What is true of art is even truer of life, for a human life is the greatest work of art there is. (In my own life, looking back on […]

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Comments Off on In Search of Life’s Smoking Gun

A journey to the underwater volcanoes where life may have erupted. A black smoker spews hot, mineral-laden fluid. The containers on the right collect samples of the hydrothermal fluid and any microbes present. Photograph from http://www.whoi.edu. It was nearly midnight aboard the research vessel Atlantis. The ship was about a thousand miles west of Costa Rica, where she’d sailed from, hovering over a hydrothermal vent field in the eastern Pacific. Rutgers microbiologist Costantino Vetriani, seated a few feet away from me in the dark control room, radiated energy despite the hour. He peered intently through his glasses at dozens of monitors, occasionally running a hand over his shaved head. On the live video feed from the remotely operated submersible on the bottom, we watched thick black smoke with a scorching temperature of over 350 degrees Celsius billow from a rocky tower a mile beneath us. It was a stunning sight, […]

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Comments Off on A pivot from tech to empowerment at bra startup ThirdLove

How a woke brand is made. Convincing 100 women to show up at a warehouse and take photos of their chests is no easy feat. Convincing them through a Craigslist ad is nearly impossible. But that’s what lingerie company ThirdLove did in 2013 while developing a proprietary app that was designed to predict better bra sizes. “The app was problematic, to say the least,” said a former engineer we’ll call Ben. “It basically only worked if the photos were good.” When people tried out the at-home instructions exactly — take two pictures in front of a full-length mirror in good lighting while wearing a tight tank top, making sure the phone is at waist-height — the results were reliably accurate. But getting people to do that was difficult. “The app was problematic, to say the least” Then there was the matter of data security. Co-CEO David Spector told Inc the […]