Algorithm Nation

It turns out that the Computer History Museum in Mountain View was once The Computer Museum in Boston, next to the Children’s Museum on Fort Point Channel (an area I know pretty well from my days at Thomson just down Congress Street). Now it’s just a server’s throw away from Google headquarters, which might explain the almost complete absence of admittedly minor players in the development of computing and digital like, say, Microsoft and America Online.

While light on the ‘whys’ of the development of the industry in general and Silicon Valley in particular (such as the intersection of the defense/aerospace engineering industries with the 1960s counterculture so wonderfully chronicled in “What the Dormouse Said“), there’s lots of great gadgets and a reasonably thorough coverage of the development of machine computing. And of course, towards, the end, some misty-eyed moments of 1980s Christmas morning nostalgia (is that you, VIC-20, old friend?).

San Francisco’s Old Chinese Cemetery

Just south of the city, but, oddly, not in the necropolis of Colma itself, sits a hidden bit of San Francisco history: the Chinese Cemetery in Daly City.

During the Gold Rush and after, family associations (the legendary “Six Companies”) would arrange for remains to be transported back to China–those too poor to afford this would end up in one of the city cemeteries dotted around San Francisco. When the City made the decision to no longer allow burials in the municipal boundaries and moved the cemeteries to Colma, so too did a unique Chinese cemetery begin to develop on a dry hill above the Serramonte neighborhood. And, fittingly enough, you may look up directly overheard, and see the Cathay Pacific flight to Hong Kong just after takeoff from SFO, testifying to the centuries of links between the two regions.

Today, twice a year, hundreds of Chinese families come to burn incense, light fireworks, and honor their predecessors. But how many come by the two small potters’ fields at the opposite corners of the cemetery?

Shhhh! It’s OK to be German (Again).

History is rarely this tidy. Exactly one hundred years after Kaiser Wilhelm gave Austria his famous ‘blank check’ in 1914, Mario Götze kicks the decisive goal to win the 2014 World Cup for Germany. The media on both sides of the Atlantic respond: a century of tarnished national identity, absolved in an instant! Or is it even more surprising that we still think in terms of nineteenth-century ‘national identities’?

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An Ireland Odyssey

Here is the secret to visiting Ireland: go West, young traveler. While Dublin is the almost unavoidable gateway to the country (a role it’s been playing since the Vikings first set up camp on the River Liffey), it’s only when you’re safely past Heuston Station that you begin to feel you might indeed be in a very different land.

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Is AutoCorrect Destroying the English Language?

You’ve seen them. Typos and strange words in the New York Times, in the Wall Street Journal, and Politico. These are all publications that should know better. Yet nonetheless, sprouting like weeds, they’re there. Sentences that have an odd ring, Word choices that don’t fit. What’s going on here?

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Strange Bedfellows: Social Media And the National Security State

Perhaps the last two trends we’d ever imagine converging are the decades-long path to individual self-expression via technology with the rise of mass surveillance via the national security state. But, on this auspicious fifth of November, we do well to remember how all this came to be.

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International Tipping Guide for Space Aliens

Two space aliens depart the planet Zoltar for different locations on Earth (but each earning exactly 67,345,871,243 Star Alliance miles in the process).

One lands in San Francisco. The other lands in Berlin. Both are, understandably, quite hungry, and each one goes a restaurant to consume mass quantities of local (but non-sentient) animals. Then what?
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