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Weekly round-up

“Back in January, the young tech entrepreneur Aaron Swartz killed himself. His body was found in his Brooklyn apartment. He was facing prison for downloading a mass of copyright-protected academic journals belonging to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It was hardly the crime of the century, and he’d probably have got not much more than a warning had federal prosecutors not intervened. But they did. They announced their intention to send him to jail for up to 35 years…

After his death, I became aware of lots of other Aaron Swartzes out there – hackers and pirates and activists facing prison for their ideology of internet freedom. It felt like a concerted worldwide prosecutorial effort to subdue a movement. So I began approaching them. I decided to contact only those people facing imminent imprisonment or trial. What in their lives had led them to that moment? How were they dealing with it?

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“A chain-smoking former statistics professor named Vinny Bruzzese — ‘the reigning mad scientist of Hollywood,’ in the words of one studio customer — has started to aggressively pitch a service he calls script evaluation. For as much as $20,000 per script, Mr. Bruzzese and a team of analysts compare the story structure and genre of a draft script with those of released movies, looking for clues to box-office success

Bowling scenes tend to pop up in films that fizzle, Mr. Bruzzese, 39, continued. Therefore it is statistically unwise to include one in your script. ‘A cursed superhero never sells as well as a guardian superhero,’ one like Superman who acts as a protector, he added.”

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“Wilson is a bumptious, telegenic twenty-five-year-old who calls himself a crypto-anarchist; he and his collaborators hope that new technologies like bitcoin and 3-D printing will do nothing less than abrogate government, returning power to individuals and small sovereign communities. To him, 3-D printing presents ‘a world where you can have a firearm if you want. This is a world of equality.’”

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“Every year, the online magazine Edge… asks top scientists, technologists, writers, and academics to weigh in on a single question. This year, that query was ’What Should We Be Worried About?’, and the idea was to identify new problems arising in science, tech, and culture that haven’t yet been widely recognized.

This year’s respondents include former presidents of the Royal Society, Nobel prize-winners, famous sci-fi authors, Nassem Nicholas Taleb, Brian Eno, and a bunch of top theoretical physicists, psychologists, and biologists.”

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“The speed improvement from using a golf ball instead of a baseball would probably not be very large, but it seems plausible that a professional pitcher with some time to practice could throw a golf ball faster than a baseball.

If so, based on aerodynamic calculations, Aroldis Chapman could probably throw a golf ball about sixteen giraffes high.

This is probably about the maximum possible altitude for a thrown object.”