Recently read longform content

Living and Dying on Airbnb

It’s only a matter of time until something terrible happens,” The New York Times’s Ron Lieber wrote in a 2012 piece examining Airbnb’s liability issues. My family’s story — a private matter until now — is that terrible something.

Mothers of ISIS

Their children abandoned them to join the worst terror organization on earth. Now all they have is each other.

The doomsday invention

Bostrom does not find the lack of obvious existential threats comforting. Because it is impossible to endure extinction twice, he argues, we cannot rely on history to calculate the probability that it will occur. The most worrying dangers are those that Earth has never encountered before. “It is hard to cause human extinction with seventeenth-century technology,” Bostrom told me.

Memories of a future

French photographer Laurent Kronental has been documenting the typical post-war modernist and optimistic housing estates peppered around Paris. There’s a definite old-school sci-fi vibe emanating from them. You may recognise the filming location for Terry Gilliam’s Brazil in the series,

Souvenir d'un futur

A little more reading

If You’re Not Paranoid, You’re Crazy

As government agencies and tech companies develop more and more intrusive means of watching and influencing people, how can we live free lives?

The Suburb That Tried To Kill the Car

It takes, in fact, a few extra minutes in the neighborhood to realize what’s different—and what’s missing. Downtown Evanston—a sturdy, tree-lined Victorian city wedged neatly between Lake Michigan and Chicago’s northern border—is missing cars.

Long-form reading

Did an Abused Monkey Pick Your Coconut?

It is, in a word, slavery. And as human nature and history demonstrate again and again–where there is a profit to be made on the backs of non-humans, those backs are strained and often broken. By all accounts, the increasing popularity of coconuts, coconut oil and its various derivatives means that things are only going to get worse for these animals.

American Horror Story: The Cecil Hotel

It started out as a routine missing persons case. But by the time the internet was done with her, Elisa Lam had become a macabre celebrity, a conspiracy magnet—and the inspiration for a TV series.

Week-end long-form

How a criminal ring defeated the secure chip-and-PIN credit cards

Four years ago, about a dozen credit cards equipped with chip-and-PIN technology were stolen in France. In May 2011, a banking group noticed that those stolen cards were being used in Belgium, something that should have been impossible without the card holders inputting their PINs. That’s when the police got involved.

The Zero-Armed Bandit

It was a metallic gray box about the size of a desk, with a smaller box attached on top near the rear right corner. The front face of the smaller box was an incomprehensible control panel occupied by 28 metal toggle switches in five neat rows, each labeled with a numbered sticker. All of these switches were situated in the down position except for #23, which was toggled up—an oddly ominous asymmetry.

The Lonely Death of George Bell

Each year around 50,000 people die in New York, some alone and unseen. Yet death even in such forlorn form can cause a surprising amount of activity. Sometimes, along the way, a life’s secrets are revealed.

There’s a Mystery Machine That Sculpts the Human Genome

Geneticists can’t see this machine, but they can see its works—and they say it might be the key to reshaping the genome.

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My name is Colin O'Brien, I live in Brussels, Belgium. This blog has been compiling my random thoughts and links since 1998.

One day there may be a more interesting bio here…

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