• The Perfect Milk Machine
    This article is about how Big Data has transformed the dairy industry in a short 50 years. Using a couple of simple metrics (not even genome sequencing) across a large number of bulls and cows, dairy farmers are able to unequivocally determine which bulls can father the best milk-bearing cows.

    No matter how you apportion the praise or blame, the net effect is the same. Thousands of years of qualitative breeding on family-run farms begat cows producing a few thousand pounds of milk in their lifetimes; a mere 70 years of quantitative breeding optimized to suit corporate imperatives quadrupled what all previous civilization had accomplished. And the crazy thing is, we’re at the cusp of a new era in which genomic data starts to compress the cycle of trait improvement, accelerating our path towards the perfect milk-production machine, also known as the Holstein dairy cow.

  • With Friends Like These
    Excerpts from a new book about how Friends came to be. Not sure if it’s entirely true or whether those that are involved are just painting a picture that makes the show look good.

    LORI OPENDEN: Jennifer Aniston and Matthew Perry were technically not available. We had second position [on both]—we were taking a gamble that the show in first position wasn’t going forward.

    We auditioned other actors for Jennifer’s part, but nobody else was good enough. It was a pretty big risk. Her show was a comedy for CBS. They’d shot 10 episodes and had them on the shelf for six months. They still had the rights to air it.

    JAMIE TARSES: Then we had Jennifer Aniston crying to Les Moonves [then president of Warner Bros. Television, which produced Friends] to let her out of the CBS show she was on.

    WARREN LITTLEFIELD: I remember watching Muddling Through, Jennifer’s show. It was bad. I thought, They won’t pick up this horrible show just to fuck us, will they?

    PRESTON BECKMAN (former executive vice president of program planning, NBC): I put Danielle Steele movies on opposite the Jennifer Aniston show on CBS. I killed it.

  • Oh My God — We’re In Bed With The Vampire Squid!
    The tale of how Goldman Sachs lost the lead position on the Facebook IPO
  • How The Chicken Conquered The World
    More about farm animals, this time the chicken. This article’s a look at how the chicken became the common denominator of meat in the world.

    Chickens arrived in Egypt some 250 years later, as fighting birds and additions to exotic menageries. Artistic depictions of the bird adorned royal tombs. Yet it would be another 1,000 years before the bird became a popular commodity among ordinary Egyptians. It was in that era that Egyptians mastered the technique of artificial incubation, which freed hens to put their time to better use by laying more eggs. This was no easy matter. Most chicken eggs will hatch in three weeks, but only if the temperature is kept constant at around 99 to 105 degrees Fahrenheit and the relative humidity stays close to 55 percent, increasing in the last few days of incubation. The eggs must also be turned three to five times a day, lest physical deformities result.

    The Egyptians constructed vast incubation complexes made up of hundreds of “ovens.” Each oven was a large chamber, which was connected to a series of corridors and vents that allowed attendants to regulate the heat from fires fueled by straw and camel dung. The egg attendants kept their methods a secret from outsiders for centuries.

  • The Devils in the Details
    I posted a quick Whitney Houston article shortly after when she died, but that was from an old magazine issue that someone dug up. Here’s a more complete and researched look at Whitney.

    He met her in her home in Alpharetta, in the final days of her marriage. Her image was shot, her career was in the toilet, and Gary and Pat Houston, her brother and sister-in-law, were hovering around like nurses in an emergency ward. “My voice is stuck in my throat,” Whitney told Catona. “I try to sing, and nothing comes out.”

    “She looked thin. Her hair was a little messy,” he says. “She looked like someone who had gone through some kind of emotional trauma.”

    Yet, there was a spark. Singing was in her bloodline. The great Aretha had told her, “I’m passing the baton on to you.” Catona continues: “Everyone was relying on her to make a comeback, not just for financial reasons but for her well-being.”

    Catona demanded her full commitment, and she agreed. “She wasn’t a crooner,” he explains. “She had to sing at the very top of the capacity of the human voice. She was also an alpha female, domineering, commanding, and people were scared of her.”

    After a few months of Catona’s daily exercises, Whitney rented a house in Orange County, California, determined to live with her daughter and without her husband. “She blossomed,” says Catona. “She was the most devoted student I ever had.”

    She focused on her health and tried her best to quit smoking. “Once, I forgot my keyboard, and she thought I had left,” says Catona. “I went back in, and she started coming to the door with a cigarette in her hand. She hugged me, and I saw her flick the cigarette over her shoulder.”