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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Extending Galactic Habitable Zone Modelling to Include the Emergence of Intelligent Life »

I found this scientific paper by Ian S. Morrison and Michael G. Gowanlock fascinating. In it, they hypothesize the likelihood of intelligent life arising between extinction events (such as supernovae) in various portions of the Milky Way Galaxy, particularly toward the center where the density of stars is higher.

Here is the paper’s abstract, which I’ve inserted line breaks into because wow, wall of text:

Previous studies of the Galactic Habitable Zone have been concerned with identifying those regions of the Galaxy that may favour the emergence of complex life. A planet is deemed habitable if it meets a set of assumed criteria for supporting the emergence of such complex life. In this work we extend the assessment of habitability to consider the potential for life to further evolve to the point of intelligence – termed the propensity for the emergence of intelligent life, φI.

We assume φI is strongly influenced by the time durations available for evolutionary processes to proceed undisturbed by the sterilising effects of nearby supernovae. The times between supernova events provide windows of opportunity for the evolution of intelligence. We develop a model that allows us to analyse these window times to generate a metric for φI, and we examine the spatial and temporal variation of this metric.

Even under the assumption that long time durations are required between sterilisations to allow for the emergence of intelligence, our model suggests the inner Galaxy provides the greatest number of opportunities for intelligence to arise. This is due to the substantially higher number density of habitable planets in this region, which outweighs the effects of a higher supernova rate in the region. Our model also shows that φI is increasing with time. Intelligent life emerged at approximately the present time at Earth’s galactocentric radius, but a similar level of evolutionary opportunity was available in the inner Galaxy more than 2 Gyr [gigayears] ago.

Our findings suggest that the inner Galaxy should logically be a prime target region for searches for extraterrestrial intelligence, and that any civilisations that may have emerged there are potentially much older than our own.

One interesting tidbit later on: Their models suggest that large numbers of potentially habitable planets may exist in our Galaxy, with 1.2% or more of all stars potentially hosting one. I like those odds.

If scientific papers make your eyes glaze over but you’re still fascinated by the idea of extraterrestrial life, go read Wait But Why‘s piece on the Fermi Paradox.

Why The Drudge Report is One of the Best Designed Sites on the Web »

Whether or not you agree with Matt Drudge’s politics (I certainly don’t), Jason Fried of Basecamp makes a good case for the guy’s site design:

Many news sites have lost their guts. They’re afraid to really call out one big story. They may have a leading headline, but it’s not all that obvious or different from the others. It may be a font size or two bigger, but it’s not confident. They hedge. Drudge, on the other hand, says “this is the story of the moment” with a huge headline. This is what’s important in the news right now and nothing else even comes close. Drudge isn’t afraid to be an opinionated editor and his site design perfectly emphasizes that. It’s bold, it’s risky, and it’s pure Drudge design.


Stories aren’t grouped or organized except probably more interesting ones up top. And that’s it. Your eye darts all over the place looking around for something that looks interesting. The design encourages wandering and random discovery.

The site feels like a chaotic newsroom with the cutting room floor exposed. I think that’s part of the excitement — and good design.

Pinboard is another example of “old school” design that I’ll take over fancy web wizardry any day.


The Man Who Got no Whammies »

Zachary Crockett of Priceonomics tells the story of Michael Larson, the man who in 1984 became a contestant on Press Your Luck and proceeded to exploit a flaw in the show’s game:

Larson had made a fool of CBS: He’d spun the show’s board 47 times. He’d won more than any other daytime game show contestant in history. And he’d done so by finding an inherent flaw in television’s most “technologically impressive” game board.


Despite this, [Darlene Lieblich Tipton] saw nothing illegal in Larson’s play: he wasn’t visibly breaking any rules, and she could do nothing but helplessly stand by and watch him dominate the show.

I know I’ve heard about this guy before, but for the life of me can’t remember where. Anyway, it’s an interesting read about someone putting their innate delinquency to… well, not good use, but at least amusing use.

The End of the NASA Window »

Over at kottke.org, Tim Carmody (taking over for Jason Kottke this week) mourns the decline of NASA and of our country’s overall disinterest in exploring the cosmos:

In retrospect, it was an unlikely set of conditions that came together to produce the Space Age. Not just the postwar blend of prosperity and paranoia, but a series of scientific breakthroughs, both pure and applied, that happened in such close succession that we nearly had a surplus, one that had to be invested in something.


I would like to think that that time isn’t over yet, that there is a way to reconcile what we know now with what we were willing to risk for the sake of knowledge then — that if not in outer space, then in medicine or genetics or some other field. But part of me wonders if the time for us to come together to do big things — that space age, that Marvel Age, that time of the Fantastic Four — is over. And all that’s left is how we manage our decline.

The fact that NASA has only enough plutonium for maybe four more missions is disconcerting, to say the least.



Beijing’s Skies Became Gloriously Clear When They Banned 2.5 Million Cars for Two Weeks »

Shen Lu and Wilfred Chan, CNN:

It worked. On the morning of the parade, the air quality index (AQI) — an international standard for measuring the severity of air pollution — dipped to a pristine 17 out of 500, signifying very healthy air.

Excited Beijingers coined the unusually blue skies “parade blue.”

But now the cars are back and the city is back to “Beijing gray.”


“The parade blue disappeared at one blow. It feels so miraculous — like magic. I have been used to beautiful blue skies, now I have this sudden feeling of uneasiness,” lamented one Weibo user.

I wish this story had ended with, “Though the celebration ended weeks ago, the streets continue to be lined with abandoned cars and the skies are bluer than ever.”



How a Negative Review of Legend Was Spun Into Movie Marketing Gold »

Benjamin Lee of The Guardian didn’t particularly like the new Tom Hardy film Legend, giving it two stars in his review. The movie’s marketing team took that and got clever with it:

There’s something maddeningly brilliant about this promotional sleight of hand. Technically, there’s nothing dishonest about the use of my rating. I gave it two stars and there are just two stars on display. I’ve been trolled and I’m totally alright with it.


I might still dislike Legend but I like its marketing team. If only they could have written the script.

The Underpants Myth »

Paul Jarvis sets the record straight on “passive income”:

I’ve never seen a single example of truly passive income — meaning someone made consistent revenue without doing anything. The myth is perpetuated online, mostly by people who haven’t made any products or are telling you about passive income because they want to sell you their product that teaches you how to make passive income.


All the people that I know who have a “passive income” from products also work harder than anyone else I know.

Photoillustration: Helen Rosner

Photoillustration: Helen Rosner

Meet the Hottest Restaurant of 2081 »

As part of Eater‘s Future Week series, Matt Buchanan delivers an exclusive (and fictional) interview with dystopian New York’s hottest chef, Paul Nova:

Are the rumors true? Is there meat afoot? And if so, how are you pulling it off?

Yeah, we’re going to be doing modern takes on classic Brooklyn-American food of our grandparents’ generation, and the only way to do that right is with real meat. So it’s another period restaurant like Toro!, same timeframe—a throwback to the late twentieth-century, early twenty-first century—but at a much higher level. Think roasted pig’s belly, lots of vegetables charred in cast iron dishes and seasoned with more pork, heirloom borecole salads, steak and beef tartare and tubers, of course, and in a couple of years, aged meats. Unfortunately, not poultry or oysters—which were key to that era’s style of dining—because they’re gone, obviously.

The brilliant illustration above was produced by Helen Rosner, who also shared some “outtake” artwork on Twitter.

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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.