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HLG Notebook | February 2015

1. Malaysia Airlines Flight 370: Case Cracked?

So you don’t believe in conspiracy theories? Prepare to be converted. Jeff Wise, who spent months on CNN debating what happened to the plane that disappeared over the South China Sea, never gave up his investigation. Now, with an essay in New York magazine and a speculative narrative on his blog, Wise offers a breathtaking dissent from conventional wisdom. His theory: the plane landed in Kazakhstan as part of Putin’s early moves on the Ukraine. Crazy? Paranoid? Perhaps. But we dare you to read this thrilling account – filled with maps, satellite photos, and even seating charts – without thinking that Wise may have finally connected the dots:

For a long time, I resisted even considering the possibility that someone might have tampered with the [flight] data. That would require an almost inconceivably sophisticated hijack operation, one so complicated and technically demanding that it would almost certainly need state-level backing. This was true conspiracy-theory material. And yet, once I started looking for evidence, I found it.

A masterpiece of investigative journalism, even as it leaves the biggest questions unanswered.

2. Letter to Aspiring Journalists: Don’t

Felix Salmon, the globe-trotting financial opinionator, is often asked by young people about how to get started in journalism. His answer: find another career. Tough love, but memorable advice:

I think this is probably the greatest era for journalism that the world has ever seen. I also think that some of today’s fast-growing digital companies are going to become the media behemoths of tomorrow, making their owners extremely rich in the process. But that doesn’t mean that life is good for journalists. In fact, life is not good for journalists. And while a couple of years ago I harbored hopes that things might improve, those hopes have now pretty much evaporated. Things are not only bad; they’re going to get worse.

3. Economics 102

Andy Haldane, chief economist at the Bank of England, knows how to give a speech. Two years ago, his talk at the Jackson Hole conference, The Dog and the Frisbee, offered the best explanation for decision-making in the face of risk. This month, he offers a lucid economic history of growth, and he concludes with some hand-wringing about short-termism:

The tenure of jobs and relationships is declining. The average tenure of Premiership football managers has fallen by one month per year since 1994. On those trends, it will fall below one season by 2020. And what is true of football is true of finance. Average holding periods of assets have fallen tenfold since 1950. The rising incidence of attention deficit disorders, and the rising prominence of Twitter, may be further evidence of shortening attention spans.

4. Dylan on Dylan

 

For 50 years, every Bob Dylan interview has been marked by half-answers, ambiguity, and evasiveness. Then, suddenly, at age 73, in lieu of standard Grammy acceptance remarks, Dylan delivers one of the best autobiographical speeches ever by a celebrity. He explains the origins of his songwriting gift – and, more pointedly, he responds to his critics:

Critics say I can’t sing. I croak. Sound like a frog. Why don’t critics say that same thing about Tom Waits? Critics say my voice is shot. That I have no voice. What don’t they say those things about Leonard Cohen? Why do I get special treatment? Critics say I can’t carry a tune and I talk my way through a song. Really? I’ve never heard that said about Lou Reed. Why does he get to go scot-free?

5. Maps to the Future

“Modern maps are the way they are because of the scale of Google’s investment and ambition,” writes Liz Gannes in this excellent tech history in Re/Code. Her article reveals how few tech insiders really understood how important “location” would become to the internet:

Before it debuted the iPhone in 2007, Apple let Google in on the secret. Apple wanted the iPhone to come preloaded with a mobile mapping application, so it needed Google’s help. But it didn’t trust Google to design the user interface, only to contribute data and smarts. So, under strictest code of secrecy, maps for the iPhone were built in collaboration between a group from Apple and the former Zipdash team…In hindsight, the Google-Apple mapping relationship showed that even Steve Jobs, for all his storied foresight, had no idea how big maps or apps were going to be.

6. Cold Facts

The age-old debate is settled: Fahrenheit is superior to Celsius. The blog Isomorphism offers this triumph of the imperial tradition over European standardization. The charts make the case irrefutable:

Celsians brag that 0°C and 100°C make it easy to remember where water boils and freezes. So what? Fahrenheit makes it easy to remember the temperature of the human body and icy seawater…With Celsius, most of the relevant temperature variation – the vast differences throughout all of spring, summer, and fall – are restricted to only 23 integers…Celsius may be better for chemistry. Fahrenheit is better for real life.

The article appeared first on the High Lantern Group.