Solving a Rubik’s Cube in under half a second

Hardware hackers Ben Katz and Jared Di Carlo have smashed the previous record for solving the Rubik’s cube robotically. Their machine solved the puzzle in 0.38 seconds—a 40-percent improvement over the previous record of 0.637.

Source: Robot smashes Rubik’s Cube record with 0.38-second solve | Ars Technica

Tangentially related: “Rubik Kubrick II”, produced from 300 Rubik’s Cubes mounted on a wood panel:

Elif Shafak on public intellectuals

[In the UK] Freedom of speech prevails, democracy is strong. Novelists are not sued for tackling controversial issues, academics are not expelled in their thousands, journalists are not put in jail en masse. Compared with their Turkish, Russian, Venezuelan, Pakistani or Chinese counterparts, British intellectuals have so much freedom. One would expect them to be aware of this privilege, and speak up not only for themselves but also for those who can’t. So why don’t we have more public intellectuals in this country? The answer lies in the words of a British academic who once told me: “Well, we think it’s a bit arrogant to call yourself intellectual. And to do that publicly is twice as arrogant.”

Source: Elif Shafak: ‘It is time we stopped denigrating the public intellectual’

I’m finding Fonts In Use to be useful not just for identifying which typefaces are used and where, but how they combine with each other. Lots of font pairings that sharply contradict the advice and guidelines I’d previously read, but that look absolutely great together.

Dingoes came to Australia 5,000 years ago, driving indigenous predators to extinction. Huge fences keep them away from livestock, but the ecosystems on either side of the fence have changed in unexpected ways, affecting vegetation, foxes, kangaroos, marsupials and reptiles.

I’m quite fond of this distinction by Ethan Hein:

  • Realist recording: the sound of humans playing live in the same location at the same time.
  • Hyperrealist: like reality, but better.
  • Surrealist: music that can’t be played live in real time.

The Beatles’ career spanned the lot.

WWI soldiers expressed emotion by not swearing

From Bee Wilson’s review of The Littlehampton Libels by Christopher Hilliard:

The Littlehampton Libels by Christopher Hilliard is a short but dazzling work of microhistory. It uses the story of some poison pen letters in a small town to illuminate wider questions of social life in Britain between the wars, from ordinary people’s experience of the legal system to the way people washed their sheets, and is a far more exciting book than either the title or the rather dull cover would suggest. For a short period, the mystery of these letters became a national news story that generated four separate trials and, as Hilliard writes, ‘demanded more from the police and the lawyers than most murders’.

This is a book about morality and class, about the uses and abuses of literacy and about the tremendous dislocations in British society after the First World War, which extended far beyond those who had suffered the direct trauma of battle. Hilliard uses these poison pen letters – written in language that was as eccentric as it was obscene – to ‘catch the accents of the past’. The Littlehampton Libels is about a battle between two women who were members of only the second generation in Britain to benefit from compulsory elementary education, women for whom the written word was a new and exhilarating weapon.

Hilliard asks what it was like to live in a society where ‘nice’ women had to pretend that they were ignorant of all profanity. Melissa Mohr claims in her excellent book Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing (2013) that the British started to swear more during and after the First World War, because strong language – like strong drink – is a way to alleviate despair. In 1930, John Brophy and Eric Partridge published a collection of British songs and slang from the war. They claimed that soldiers used the word ‘fucking’ so often that it was merely a warning ‘that a noun is coming’. In a normal situation, swear words are used for emphasis, but Brophy and Partridge found that obscenity was so over-used among the military in the Great War that if a soldier wanted to express emotion he wouldn’t swear. ‘Thus if a sergeant said, “Get your —ing rifles!” it was understood as a matter of routine. But if he said, “Get your rifles!” there was an immediate implication of urgency and danger.’


What to read on a subway commute

Adam Sternbergh on subway novels:

So I want thrilling plots, yes — but also thrilling language. I want sentences I’ll stop to read twice. This is why standard throwaway airport thrillers don’t migrate well beneath ground. The writing may be “muscular” and “spare,” but if it’s not also “inventive” and “excellent” there’s a good chance the book will wind up abandoned on a platform bench. With a long day behind me and a wearying commute ahead of me, I don’t want to settle for distraction; I want to look forward to reading my book with the palpitating excitement of a second date with someone I’ve already fallen for. I want to miss my stop. Ideally, I’ll miss a few.