Briefly Noted

Shorter than a post. Longer than a Tweet.

Fifty years later, Charles Shulz’ brief letter to a 10-year-old boy still resonates. Unfortunately.

For background on the letter and its discovery, see KQED and the Charles M. Schulz Museum.

A brain implant that transmits video directory to the visual cortex is allowing some formerly blind patients to see.

Via The Daily Mail:

“Previously all attempts to create a bionic eye focused on implanting into the eye itself. It required you to have a working eye, a working optic nerve,” Shortt told the Daily Mail.

“By bypassing the eye completely you open the potential up to many, many more people.

“This is a complete paradigm shift for treating people with complete blindness. It is a real message of hope.”

The six participants in trials of the Orion Visual Cortical Prosthesis System had a 60-electrode panel implanted in the visual cortex at the back of their brains. Doctors then spent months with them using computers to map their visual fields. Basically, they were reteaching the visual cortex how to process images.

Once the mapping was complete, the participants were given eyeglasses with small video cameras on the front.

“It was an incredible moment,” said one participant who saw his wife and children for the first time. “It was very humbling.”

More: A Cure for Blindness

As Los Angeles ponders a green, electric future, it might consider times past. The city is targeting the 2028 Olympics to drastically expand its public transportation system with a $28 billion infrastructure project.

Seems, though, something of its type once existed. LA had a light rail system over a hundred years ago. It looked something like this.

Created by Jake Berman, the map shows the Pacific Electric Railway system as it existed before World War I.

As LA Magazine notes:

L.A.’s transit history is chock-full of depressing and hilarious (but mostly depressing) missteps, encounters with myopia, and instances of sabotage, none more notable than the destruction of the Pacific Electric Railway System. The 1,000-plus-mile network of streetcar lines, which stretched from the ocean all the way to Redlands, was gradually dismantled, either by a nefarious cabal of pro-automobile interests or because of Americans’ changing transportation preferences, or some combination of the two.

Something to consider next time you’re stuck bumper to bumper on the 405.

And now for something beautiful: the International Space Station crosses the sun

The International Space Station crosses in front of the sun. By NASA/Rainee Colacurcio.

If you haven’t spent time with it, check out NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day. It’s a throwback, old-timey site holding an archive of amazing.

Welcome to the current state of deepfake videos where you could ask yourself how much more screwed could we be? And the answer would be, none, none more screwed.

Via Drew Harwell, The Washington Post

Top artificial-intelligence researchers across the country are racing to defuse an extraordinary political weapon: computer-generated fake videos that could undermine candidates and mislead voters during the 2020 presidential campaign.

And they have a message: We’re not ready.

The researchers have designed automatic systems that can analyze videos for the telltale indicators of a fake, assessing light, shadows, blinking patterns — and, in one potentially groundbreaking method, even how a candidate’s real-world facial movements — such as the angle they tilt their head when they smile — relate to one another.

But for all that progress, the researchers say they remain vastly overwhelmed by a technology they fear could herald a damaging new wave of disinformation campaigns, much in the same way fake news stories and deceptive Facebook groups were deployed to influence public opinion during the 2016 election.

More: Top AI researchers race to detect “deepfake” videos: “We are outgunned”

Those food shots you see on Instagram aren’t about eating what’s in the photo. Instead, they showcase the privilege of being somewhere where such food exists to begin with.

Via Charlotte Druckman, Eater

Food thrives on social networks because of its easy, graphic appeal and pan-demographic interest — we all have to eat, right? But while Facebook has become a repository of time-lapse recipe videos for quick weeknight dinners that often prominently feature, for some reason, canned biscuit in dough, and Pinterest traffics largely in mason jars, do-it-yourself projects and the protein-packed simplicity of an egg baked inside half an avocado, Instagram has thrown its lot in with spectacle.

Over-the-top, intensely trend-driven, and visually arresting, Instagram food is almost always something to be obtained, rather than cooked or created. It’s elusive and aspirational, something instantly recognizable yet only minimally available, the product of a long line (a ramen burger or matcha croissant) or a trans-continental flight (going all the way to Tokyo for a Gudetama waffle). Its appearance in your timeline signals status: You went to the place. You got the thing. You’re the kind of person who lives that kind of life. 

This is why Instagram stunt food works: It transforms an indulgent meal or snack from a physical activity to a status performance. In the most successful of Instagram food operations, the posting of a particular item signals both affluence and leisure. Lines can stretch for hours for rainbow bagels with birthday cake cream cheese, or milkshakes bedecked with an entire movie theater snack counter’s worth of candy, so if you’ve obtained one, not only did you spend $15 on a pile of novelty sugar, but you can afford to spend two hours on a Tuesday waiting for it, not to mention the time required to lovingly photograph it in natural light. 

The most notable thing about these feats of digital culinary showmanship, though, is what they don’t signal at all: the actual eating of food.

More: Instagram Food Is a Sad, Sparkly Lie