Autism’s First Child

If you like longreads, here’s the story of Donald Gray Triplett, now 79 years old, and the first person ever diagnosed with autism. John Donvan and Caren Zucker write for The Atlantic:

The question that haunts every parent of a child with autism is What will happen when I die? This reflects a chronological inevitability: children with autism will grow up to become adults with autism, in most cases ultimately outliving the parents who provided their primary support. Then what?

The Next Three Months

Bill Mears, CNN:

With the public debate now complete, the justices will likely gather as a group in a closed-door conference over the next few days and actually decide on the four health care appeals. Going one-by-one in order of seniority, they will all be thinking of the number five, which is how many votes it will take to achieve a majority.

Once the tallies are sorted out, opinions will be assigned to individuals to craft over the next three months. What the court says in these written opinions, how it interprets the Constitution, will be far more important than what was said in the oral arguments this week.

Also interesting: This makes six years of silence for Justice Clarence Thomas

A Camera that Can See Around Walls

Ramesh Raskar and Andreas Velten of the M.I.T. Media Lab have developed a camera that uses high-speed laser blasts to see around solid impediments. In the video below, a computer reconstructs a 3D model of a wooden miniature positioned behind a solid wall.

The laser pulse bounces off a wall, then into an area obscured from view. Some of the laser’s photons enter this area and then bounce back, eventually returning to the camera. Because of the incredibly short duration of the laser pulse, the camera can precisely calculate how long it would take the light to travel through the scene if it were empty. It then compares this with the actual laser “echoes”—the photons that return to the camera after hitting the figure within the hidden area, taking fractions of a second longer—to reconstruct the detailed 3-D model of the obscured room.

See also Scientists Move Closer to Creating an Invisibility Cloak.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Reply All

Episode #10 of The Impromptu:

The Impromptu turns 10! On this latest and greatest edition, we touch a bit more on Mass Effect 3, then move onto the Retina conundrum in web design, Apple’s naming conventions (or lack thereof), the embarrassment known as Google+, and Apple’s super-duper stock buyback/dividend announcement.

New Hope for Pancreatic Cancer Treatment

A new procedure called irreversible electroporation (IRE) has proved successful in treating primary and metastatic liver cancer and is now being implemented as a treatment for patients with inoperable locally advanced pancreatic cancer (LAPC).

Pancreatic tumors are notoriously difficult to treat because any method that uses heat or cold to remove the cancer comes with too much risk of collateral damage to important blood vessels in and around the organ. IRE involves guiding electrode needles into the tumor, which gives cancer cells a series of jolts of localized high-voltage electricity that break open the cell membranes, effectively killing the cancerous tissues around these blood vessels.

Self-Healing Plastic

Professor Marek W. Urban, Ph.D. presented research to the American Chemical Society on a new type of plastic that mimics the human skin’s ability to visibly signal damage and repair scratches or cuts.

Urban’s group developed plastics with small molecular links or “bridges” that span the long chains of chemicals that compose plastic. When plastic is scratched or cracked, these links break and change shape. Urban tweaked them so that changes in shape produce a visible color change — a red splotch that forms around the defect. In the presence of ordinary sunlight or visible light from a light bulb, pH changes or temperature, the bridges reform, healing the damage and erasing the red mark.

Unlike other self-healing plastics that can only self-repair once, Urban’s design can heal itself over and over again. Think new possibilities for laptops and cellphones.

Thinking About Rules

Jason Kottke sends his guest editors an email with rules for posting to his blog. Apparently, one of these rules is, “Don’t embed any videos of ants trying to mate with their queen as their queen gets bit in the head by a spider,” which is sort of funny, but it got me thinking: What are my rules?

In David Allen’s Getting Things Done he proposes an exercise for defining your priorities in a project. Ask yourself, “What would someone else have to do in order for me to feel comfortable handing it over to him?” (my words, not his). In doing so, you establish a non-abstract set of honest and concrete guidelines. You elucidate what it is that you truly find important. The results may surprise you.

The Man Who Broke Atlantic City

In just one night, Don Johnson won nearly $6 million playing blackjack at Atlantic City’s Tropicana casino. How’d he do it? Surprisingly enough, he wasn’t counting cards. Mark Bowden writes for The Atlantic:

Sophisticated gamblers won’t play by the standard rules. They negotiate. Because the casino values high rollers more than the average customer, it is willing to lessen its edge for them. It does this primarily by offering discounts, or “loss rebates.” When a casino offers a discount of, say, 10 percent, that means if the player loses $100,000 at the blackjack table, he has to pay only $90,000. Beyond the usual high-roller perks, the casino might also sweeten the deal by staking the player a significant amount up front, offering thousands of dollars in free chips, just to get the ball rolling. But even in that scenario, Johnson won’t play.

Johnson doesn’t get out of bed for less than a 20 percent discount. Through negotiation, he was able to whittle down the house advantage to one-fourth of one percent.

You’re Working too Hard to Make an Impact

Cal Newport asks, “Are you busy or valuable?”

When the weather turns nice, as it has been recently down here in DC, I remember this Cambridge ritual. It reminds me of an important point: creating value is unrelated to busyness. When you find yourself — as I sometimes do — working long hours, day after day, reacting and e-mailing and hatching schemes, it’s useful to remember that you’re working more than some of the world’s most respected and impactful thinkers.

If you’re not reading Cal’s blog, Study Hacks, I recommend starting now.

Word for Word

Lapham’s Quarterly adapts an insightful essay by Ben Zimmer on the controversial history of Roget’s Thesaurus and its place in writing:

Roget’s thesaurus was crucially a conceptual undertaking, and, according to Roget’s deeply held religious beliefs, a tribute to God’s work. His efforts to create order out of linguistic chaos harks back to the story of Adam in the Garden of Eden, who was charged with naming all that was around him, thereby creating a perfectly transparent language. It was, according to the theology of St. Augustine, a language that would lose its perfection with the Fall of Man, and then irreparably shatter following construction of the Tower of Babel. By Roget’s time, Enlightenment ideals had taken hold, suggesting that scientific pursuits and rational inquiry could discover antidotes to Babel, if not a return to the perfect language of Adam.