June 19, 2015

Written by

Chris Gonzales



Welcome to this week’s edition of our Friday Quality Linkage column. Please enjoy this week’s collection of interesting and entertaining links. Brew a fresh cup of coffee, find a comfortable place, and relax.

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Illustration: Francesco Izzo

Illustration: Francesco Izzo

How Math’s Most Famous Proof Nearly Broke »

Peter Brown of Nautilus Magazine writes the story of how Princeton professor Andrew Wiles made the dubious claim of solving an unproven theorem we’ve all seen in algebra class — aka an + bn = cn — originally proposed 350 years prior by Pierre de Fermat:

For two months, [Princeton mathematician Nick Katz] and a French colleague, Luc Illusie, scrutinized every logical step in Katz’s section of the proof. From time to time, they would come across a line of reasoning they couldn’t follow. Katz would email Wiles, who would provide a fix. But in late August, Wiles offered an explanation that didn’t satisfy the two reviewers. And when Wiles took a closer look, he saw that Katz had found a crack in the mathematical scaffolding. At first, a repair seemed straightforward. But as Wiles picked at the crack, pieces of the structure began falling away.

The final two paragraphs of this piece sure are something.

Perpetual Ocean »

From the YouTube channel of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, 2012:

This visualization shows ocean surface currents around the world during the period from June 2005 through December 2007. The visualization does not include a narration or annotations; the goal was to use ocean flow data to create a simple, visceral experience.


Photo: Ellie Davies

Photo: Ellie Davies

Stars, 2014 – 2015 »

Photographer Ellie Davies created this cool series of images interposing images of ancient forests with various celestial bodies captured by the Hubble Telescope. Examples include the Milky Way Galaxy, Omega Centauri, the Norma Galaxy, and Embryonic stars in the Nebula NGC 346.

She explains the project beautifully here:

Stars, 2014 [draws] the viewer right into the heart of a forest which still holds mystery, and offers the potential for discovery and exploration. The series considers the fragility of our relationship with the natural world, and the temporal and finite nature of landscape as a human construct.

[…] Each image links forest landscapes with the intangible and unknown universe creating a juxtaposition that reflects my personal experiences of the forest; its physicality and tactility set against a profound and fundamental otherness, an alienation that separates us from a truly immersive relationship with the natural world.

Here are a couple more of my favorites:

Photo: Ellie Davies

Photo: Ellie Davies

Photo: Ellie Davies

Photo: Ellie Davies

Photo: Meridith Kohut, The New York Times

Photo: Meridith Kohut, The New York Times

Black Hole Hunters »

Dennis Overbye of The New York Times writes about astronomers’ efforts to capture the first picture of the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way Galaxy:

Known as the Event Horizon Telescope, named after the point of no return in a black hole, its job was to see what has been until now unseeable: an exquisitely small, dark circle of nothing, a tiny shadow in the glow of radiation at the center of the Milky Way galaxy. It is there that astronomers think lurks a supermassive black hole, a trap door into which the equivalent of four million suns has evidently disappeared.


If [Dr. Sheperd Doeleman] and his colleagues succeed, the images they capture will be in textbooks forever, as definitive evidence of Einstein’s weirdest prediction: that spacetime could curl up like a magician’s cloak around massive objects and vanish them from the universe. In short, that black holes — objects so dense that not even light can escape their maws — are real. That space and time as we know them can come to an end right under our noses.

I loved this bit later on:

Dr. Narayanan took apart the receiver and traced the troublesome noise to mechanical vibrations, which he treated with duct tape. After all, he said, duct tape had helped save Apollo 13.

Naturally, that was when things started working.

Wonderfully-written story all around. My only quibble is that the author at one point refers to Antarctica as “the bottom of the world.” As astronomers well know, in space direction is relative. (Who knows, maybe he already knows this and the idea just freaks him out.)

Photo: Craig Mod

Photo: Craig Mod

Let’s Fly »

Bringing our attention from the depths of space back down to our own friendly skies, Craig Mod has some awesome advice on how to survive air travel:

You look insane — your white mask, your monkey bra, your noise-canceling headphones, but it doesn’t matter. You are satiated, filled with nourishing food; you have gotten your work done, and now you float in a personal outer space. An outer space that sounds like the summer in Wisconsin and feels just as humid within the nose and mouth thanks to your microclimate. You are on a plane but are not. You could be anywhere. You are untouchable. You are possibly the most insufferable traveler ever. You float and smile because you are the Dalai Lama.

So great.

Also worth reading: Cennydd (pronounced like “Kenneth”) Bowles wrote his own list of flying tips that, as he describes, is “Like Craig Mod’s post, but with a shade more neurosis.”

Read this too: Rian van der Merwe followed up on both articles with his travel tips, which is “all about minimizing the pain.”


Flying With My Dad »

Speaking of flight, the other day Jason Kottke shared this wonderful story about growing up with a pilot for a dad:

When I was in college, my dad would sometimes pick me up for school breaks in his plane. It was just a normal thing for our family, like anyone else would take a car trip. The only time it seems weird to me is when people’s eyes go wide after I casually mention that we had a runway out behind the house growing up.

Be sure to read the footnotes as you go along. (They’re not visibly listed at the end of the article, except in RSS.)

Why We Explore »

In this video posted back in January, Jason Silva spends two and a half minutes exploring the transcendence of travel and what compels us to do it. It’s highly possible he was chemically altered at the time of recording, but the man sure knows how to make an impassioned statement.

Here’s a transcript of 1:03 to 1:49:

Because familiarity, because routines, because traditional modes of thought, blind us from the ecstasy of the present moment. They blind us from the hardly-bearable ecstasy of direct energy exploding in our nerve endings when we dissolve boundaries, when we are here, in the now, inspired, experiencing revelatory ecstasy…y’know, making time dilate because of the poetry of this moment…

We want that, we seek that illumination, that catharsis, y’know, that moment of letting go, of losing ourselves and finding ourselves, y’know, and being inspired, being moved to tears by this exquisite italization [sic] of the moment.

Photo: Kevin Kuynh

Photo: Kevin Kuynh

How I Packed for a Three-Month World Trip »

Kevin Huynh (pronounced “hwin” (that’s two name pronunciations in one Quality Linkage column, do I win Blogger Bingo?)) shares…erm, exactly what the article title says.

When I stopped by the Soho Patagonia store, a friendly fellow named Kyle greeted me. Kyle worked on a boat and spent the off-season working retail as well as doling out welcome advice to newbies like me. When I asked him if he had any packing tips, he paused and chose his next three words very carefully, “moisture wicking underwear.”

Tim Ferriss (you’ll know him primarily as the author of The 4-Hour Workweek) shared similar advice back in 2007.

On Simplifying: Pizza & Complications »

Paul Jarvis argues that simplicity is often better than complexity:

When we make or build things for a living (see: entrepreneurs and creative freelancers), our minds are great wheelhouses of ideas, constantly churning. Our creativity is what makes us, us. It’s brainstorming. But too often we don’t then scale it back to its essence, to its minimum viable product (in startup terms) or its “here’s the idea with everything removed except what’s necessary to make it work.”


It’s tempting to make it more complicated and add more products (or toppings!) to the mix, but I always come back to the idea that it’s easier to focus and get work done more quickly (and with greater quality) when there are fewer moving parts.

Illustration: Brad Colbow

Illustration: Brad Colbow

The Homepage Exception »

Johanna Bates, writing for A List Apart about designing homepage back-ends for humans:

After having this conversation about 242 times, I’ve realized that the homepage is almost always a giant exception to the rest of the ordered system for a reason. It’s the most human page on the site, where the potential helpfulness of computer robots collides with the messy reality of humans.


The homepage exception is just one example of the many kinds of accommodations that human beings need in the coded, structured systems we build for them. It’s our job to adapt computer systems to their needs, not the other way around. If we don’t, then our robot overlords have won. If we expect, plan for, and even celebrate these messy, human exceptions to our logical systems, we get closer to making a web that works for both people and machines.

Graphic: Apple

Graphic: Apple

UI Design Dos & Don’ts »

I don’t remember who I saw link this on Twitter earlier this week — if they’re reading this, sorry — but I like this one-page resource for iPhone UI design Apple put together a while back. More app developers should heed the simple advice within.

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Got any suggestions for articles, videos, stories, photographs, and any other links you think we should be posting in our weekly Quality Linkage? Please do let us know on Twitter.