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MiB: Andrew Lo of MIT

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This week on our Masters in Business radio podcast, we sit down for the second time with Professor Andrew Lo of MIT’s Sloan School of Management, where he serves as the director of the MIT Laboratory for Financial Engineering. He is the author of multiple books, including A Non-Random Walk Down Wall Street; his most recent book is…

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A Look Back at Internet Firsts

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In October 1969, UCLA student Charley Kline was attempting to send the word “login” over to the Stanford Research Institute using the internet’s precursor: ARPANET.

At first, the system crashed, only managing to send the letters “i” and “o”. But an hour or so later, the full message was successfully sent and history was made:

internet arpanet 1969 sri ucla

Today, the internet permeates every facet of modern life. Billions of people around the world communicate through messaging apps, email, and social media platforms. By 2020, an estimated 20.8 billion “things” will be connected to the internet (including 13 billion household items like TVs, smoke detectors, and appliances).

It all starts somewhere

Though YouTube, Facebook, and email are ubiquitous now, they all started out with a single post, profile, or message, and that first action is not always what you’d expect.

As today’s infographic from Academized demonstrates, “firsts” on the internet are typically unpolished, unique snapshots of the people involved in creating the platform. From elephants at the zoo to live-streaming a coffee pot, we hope you enjoy this trip down memory lane.

Internet Firsts

Links to Notable Internet Firsts

Everything posted to the web now lives in perpetuity.

Here are some notable internet firsts that can still be viewed, replicated, or experienced:

The First Search Engine

The first search engine was created to connect the McGill University’s School of Computer Science to the Internet. The engine, called Archie, was up-and-running in 1990, a full eight years before Google was created. The University of Warsaw still hosts a functioning version of Archie for historical purposes.

The First Amazon Order

Today, Amazon processes billions of orders per year, but the very first order was placed in July 1995. The grandiosely named book, Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: Computer Models Of The Fundamental Mechanisms Of Thought, was ordered by computer scientist John Wainwright, who was beta-testing Amazon.com.

The First YouTube Video

The very first YouTube video was uploaded by YouTube’s co-founder, Jawad Karim. The 19-second video is no Gangnam Style. Jawad, who is standing in front of an elephant enclosure, deadpans, “Uh. The cool thing about these guys is that, is that they have really, really, really long, um, trunks, and that’s, that’s cool.” Cool, indeed.

The First Tweet

Internet firsts are rarely flashy, as this tweet from Twitter co-founder, Jack Dorsey, demonstrates. That said, as startups grow from rag-tag teams of determined founders into global behemoths, it’s nice to look back at those authentic, spontaneous first pieces of content.

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This is what happened to the scientist who stuck his head inside a particle accelerator

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worker and proton accelerator

What would happen if you stuck your body inside a particle accelerator? The scenario seems like the start of a bad Marvel comic, but it happens to shed light on our intuitions about radiation, the vulnerability of the human body, and the very nature of matter. Particle accelerators allow physicists to study subatomic particles by speeding them up in powerful magnetic fields and then tracing the interactions that result from collisions. By delving into the mysteries of the universe, colliders have entered the zeitgeist and tapped the wonders and fears of our age.

As far back as 2008, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), operated by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), was charged with creating microscopic black holes that would allow physicists to detect extra dimensions. To many, this sounds like the plot of a disastrous science-fiction movie. It came as no surprise when two people filed a lawsuit to stop the LHC from operating, lest it produce a black hole powerful enough to destroy the world. But physicists argued that the idea was absurd and the lawsuit was rejected.

Then, in 2012, the LHC detected the long-sought Higgs boson, a particle needed to explain how particles acquire mass. With that major accomplishment, the LHC entered popular culture; it was featured on the album cover of Super Collider (2013) by the heavy metal band Megadeth, and was a plot point in the US television series The Flash (2014-).

Yet, despite its accomplishments and glamour, the world of particle physics is so abstract that few understand its implications, meaning or use. Unlike a NASA probe sent to Mars, CERN’s research doesn’t produce stunning, tangible images. Instead, the study of particle physics is best described by chalkboard equations and squiggly lines called Feynman diagrams. Aage Bohr, the Nobel laureate whose father Niels invented the Bohr model of the atom, and his colleague Ole Ulfbeck have even gone as far as to deny the physical existence of subatomic particles as anything more than mathematical models.

Which returns us to our original question: What happens when a beam of subatomic particles traveling at nearly the speed of light meets the flesh of the human body? Perhaps because the realms of particle physics and biology are conceptually so far removed, it’s not only laypeople who lack the intuition to answer this question, but also some professional physicists. In a 2010 YouTube interview with members of the physics and astronomy faculty at the University of Nottingham, several academic experts admitted that they had little idea what would happen if one were to stick a hand inside the proton beam at the LHC. Professor Michael Merrifield put it succinctly: “That’s a good question. I don’t know is the answer. Probably be very bad for you.” Professor Laurence Eaves was also cautious about drawing conclusions. “[B]y the scales of energy we notice, it wouldn’t be that noticeable,” he said, likely with a bit of British understatement. “Would I put my hand in the beam? I’m not sure about that.”

Such thought experiments can be useful tools for exploring situations that can’t be studied in the laboratory. Occasionally, however, unfortunate accidents yield case studies: opportunities for researchers to study scenarios that can’t be experimentally induced for ethical reasons. Case studies have a sample size of one and no control group. But, as the neuroscientist V. S. Ramachandran has pointed out in Phantoms in the Brain (1998), it takes only one talking pig to prove that pigs can talk. On Sept. 13, 1848, for example, an iron rod pierced through the head of the US railway worker Phineas Gage and profoundly changed his personality, offering early evidence of a biological basis for personality.

And on July 13, 1978, a Soviet scientist named Anatoli Bugorski stuck his head in a particle accelerator. On that fateful day, Bugorski was checking malfunctioning equipment on the U-70 synchrotron—the largest particle accelerator in the Soviet Union—when a safety mechanism failed and a beam of protons traveling at nearly the speed of light passed straight through his head, Phineas Gage-style. It’s possible that, at that point in history, no other human being had ever experienced a focused beam of radiation at such high energy. Although proton therapy—a cancer treatment that uses proton beams to destroy tumors—was pioneered before Bugorski’s accident, the energy of these beams is generally not above 250 million electron volts (a unit of energy used for small particles). Bugorski might have experienced the full wrath of a beam with more than 300 times this much energy, 76 billion electron volts.

Proton radiation is a rare beast indeed. Protons from the solar wind and cosmic rays are stopped by Earth’s atmosphere, and proton radiation is so rare in radioactive decay that it was not observed until 1970. More familiar threats, such as ultraviolet photons and alpha particles, do not penetrate the body past skin unless a radioactive source is ingested. Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko, for instance, was killed by alpha particles that do not so much as penetrate paper when he unknowingly ingested radioactive polonium-210 delivered by an assassin. But when Apollo astronauts protected by spacesuits were exposed to cosmic rays containing protons and even more exotic forms of radiation, they reported flashes of visual light, a harbinger of what would welcome Bugorski on the fateful day of his accident. According to an interview in Wired magazine in 1997, Bugorski immediately saw an intense flash of light but felt no pain. The young scientist was taken to a clinic in Moscow with half his face swollen, and doctors expected the worst.

Ionizing radiation particles such as protons wreak havoc on the body by breaking chemical bonds in DNA. This assault on a cell’s genetic programming can kill the cell, stop it from dividing, or induce a cancerous mutation. Cells that divide quickly, such as stem cells in bone marrow, suffer the most. Because blood cells are produced in bone marrow, for instance, many cases of radiation poisoning result in infection and anemia from losses of white blood cells and red blood cells, respectively. But unique to Bugorski’s case, radiation was concentrated along a narrow beam through the head, rather than being broadly distributed from nuclear fallout, as was the case for many victims of the Chernobyl disaster or the bombing of Hiroshima. For Bugorski, particularly vulnerable tissues, such as bone marrow and the gastrointestinal track, might have been largely spared. But where the beam shot through Bugorski’s head, it deposited an obscene amount of radiation energy, hundreds of times greater than a lethal dose by some estimates.

And yet, Bugorski is still alive today. Half his face is paralyzed, giving one hemisphere of his head a strangely young appearance. He is reported to be deaf in one ear. He suffered at least six generalized tonic-clonic seizures. Commonly known as grand mal seizures, these are the seizures most frequently depicted in film and television, involving convulsions and loss of consciousness. Bugorski’s epilepsy is likely a result of brain tissue-scarring left by the proton beam. It has also left him with petit mal or absence seizures, far less dramatic staring spells during which consciousness is briefly interrupted. There are no reports that Bugorski has ever been diagnosed with cancer, though that is often a long-term consequence of radiation exposure.

Despite having nothing less than a particle accelerator beam pass through his brain, Bugorski’s intellect remained intact, and he successfully completed his doctorate after the accident. Bugorski survived his accident. And as frightening and awesome as the inside of a particle accelerator might be, humanity has thus far survived the nuclear age.Aeon counter – do not remove

This piece originally appeared at Aeon. Learn how to write for Quartz Ideas. We welcome your comments at ideas@qz.com.





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For $3 a pop, freelancers who have been stiffed can hire this fake law firm to send a threatening letter

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Incessant follow-up emails have their time and place, but when it comes to freelancers collecting pay from clients who have stiffed them, a clever new service offers what it hopes will be a more effective option.

Called “Williams&Harricks,” the service charges $3 to send a paper letter, complete with an official-looking letterhead, to the delinquent client.

Though “Williams&Harricks” sounds like the name of a law firm, it is no such thing. The brand was created by And Co, a company that sells software freelancers use to manage tasks like invoicing, expense tracking, and contracts (incidentally, signing up for Williams&Harricks automatically signs freelancers up for a free And Co account). “We were thinking of, what is an easy way for people to get paid? “And Co co-founder Leif Abraham says about the new letter-writing service. “Most freelancers don’t have a lawyer to talk to.”

Freelancers who use Williams&Harricks have the option to send letters ranging from “a friendly reminder,” in which Williams&Harricks writes to a delinquent client, “We would ask for your prompt attention to this matter, and request that the Total amount is paid immediately,” to a “breach of contract” letter, in whichWilliams&Harricks writes:

Neglecting to pay this sum represents a breach of the initial arrangement established. Should legal action be required to resolve your current nonpayment, this letter will be offered as evidence of your unwillingness to meet your legal obligations. You will additionally be held liable for any legal costs in the course of advancing proceedings to court.

Williams&Harricks sends alerts to freelancers when their clients receive the letters by certified mail.

The service’s website is careful to point out that it’s not actually a law firm, and if you look closely, on the bottom of each letter, a small gray footnote explains that “Williams&Harricks is not a law firm and does not provide legal counsil [sic] of any kind.”

“We are not going to go out and enforce payment,” Abraham says. “But there is an idea that there is a brand separate from you as a freelancer, that the letter you are sending is coming from a third party, so it doesn’t damage your relationship with the client.”

Abraham said Williams&Harricks just launched this week, so there are no significant stats just yet, but said And Co “has tens of thousands of members.”

In a survey conducted by the Freelancer’s Union, which has successfully lobbied for a law that helps protect New York City freelancers from being stiffed, 71% of freelancers reported losing money because some of their clients never pay.

Perhaps strongly implying that you’ve hired a law firm, even if the fine print says otherwise, isn’t the most noble approach to this problem. But when aimed at companies that have hired freelancers to do work and then failed to pay them, it’s hard to fault Williams&Harricks for introducing the tactic as an easy option.





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Overbooked, the game: Can you scheme with fellow passengers to make the airline pay?

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United’s violent deplaning of a passenger in Chicago has put the airline industry’s business practices under a harsh spotlight—especially the common tactic of overselling seats on a given flight, on the expectation that some passengers won’t show up.

Each airline has its own procedures for resolving the inevitable situation of too many people and not enough seats. In the wake of United’s debacle, some are raising the amount they are willing to pay to inconvenienced passengers.

But what happens if passengers band together to maximize their pay-outs? Play our interactive game to find out:



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Why momentum works

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Gabriel Goh models momentum over at the new machine learning journal Distill. The visualization is not the focus, but it’s a nice supplement to help explain more complex concepts to a wider audience. More generally, if you haven’t checked out Distill yet, it’s worth your time.

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