Interesting Articles: The Dickens/Dostoevsky Hoax, the Mars Rover, Jason Collins, Janet Malcolm, Einstein’s Hoagies

  • If you haven’t read Eric Naiman’s fascinating article about the hoax of Dostoevsky meeting Dickens yet, you should. (It’s a long but fun read; give yourself time to enjoy it.)
  • A great New Yorker article on NASA’s Curiosity rover to Mars, by Burkhard Bilger. A few questions:

    (1) There’s a high failure rate in these expeditions; the engineers wait with baited breath to see if the rover will land successfully. Why not make multiple versions of each rover, to reduce the odds of failure? Presumably most of the cost of the project comes from the design and not the material and actual fabrication of the craft. If so, then the marginal cost of making a second and third identical copy of the craft would be—relatively not absolutely—small. So long as most of the probability of failure comes from chance, rather than inherent failures of the specific design, sending multiple rovers would greatly increase probability of success. If doing this cost a bit more but greatly reduced the likelihood of failure, wouldn’t it be worth it? (And this could even save money, if doing this allows Rovers to be designed less stringently.)

    (2) Much of the interest in the Mars rover is in discovering life on Mars. As I read the article, I couldn’t help but be paranoid that bacteria from earth on the rover would contaminate Mars, and then years later we will discover bacteria on Mars that are actually from earth.  How implausible is this?  Are the type of bacteria that would be likely to survive in the rover unlikely to be compatible with Mars’s harsh atmosphere?

    (3) Why, in general, is there such an obsession with finding life on Mars? Isn’t that extremely unlikely? Should that be the driving force of the mission (rather than other worthy scientific reasons for exploring Mars)?

  • An interesting take by Dave Zirin in the Nation: Why Jason Collins is More Roger Bannister Than Jackie Robinson

  • Alice Gregory on Janet Malcolm in Slate. Malcolm is definitely on my list to read. A good quote:

    To point out, laugh at, and refuse to indulge conventions are the hallmarks of adolescence. But self-awareness, as most people over 17 know, is not the same thing as absolution. There is almost nothing worse than self-referential prose from writers enchanted by their own cleverness.

  • Aside for people from Princeton, apropos of this xkcd: I suppose this is because Hoagie Haven hadn’t opened yet? (For those who don’t know, Haven, topic of one of my college admissions essays (sic!), temptress of homesick dreams whenever I was out of New Jersey as a teenager, and source of a pre-freshman fifteen that I proceeded to lose once finally at college, is a sandwich shop in Princeton.)