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Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
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Apple Tries to Be the Arbiter of Good Taste

Question: What do you think of Apple?

Larry Wall: Well, Apple has always been, tried to be, at least, the arbiter of good taste and we need some of those.  I think that the world would be a much poorer place without Apple as part of the cultural ecosystem.  But we also need the other people who keep that from being the only way to do things, because when good taste becomes mandatory, then it's not really good taste any more, it's just manners. In the 20th century, we came out from the 19th century that was very mannered, and there are many novels about how you can have all these good manners on the top and, you know, culturally smooth, but, you know, underneath there's this ferment that doesn't get answered if it can't come out.

So I think going to a more evolutionary approach where Apple has their particular ecological niche that they fill, and others are trying to optimize for different things than just the coolest fashion statement.  I think that's healthy to have that kind of diversity and that's really, I guess, my post-modernism poking out again.

Question: How do you feel about software patents?

Larry Wall: I am very much against the notion of software patents because I do not believe they provide equal protection under the law to the little guy.  I consider myself to be one of the little guys.  I cannot afford to spend my time researching patents and trying to steer clear of them.  And if I did, I would be more liable.  So all the creative stuff that I do, I have to completely ignore the patent system and just put it out there and just hope for the best.  There's no way, I, as an individual, who's contributing free software to the world, can afford the patent system on that level.

And so I think that there's lots of different arguments you can make about the software patent system. There have been a lot of ridiculous patents on what we would consider to be trivial inventions, and I just can't afford to spend time worrying about it.  So I wish software patents, as a technology, would just die and go away.

Now, that's not say hardware patents haven't been useful.  I think that they're a little different and putting together a gadget or a machine is the old fashioned kind of invention.  But computer programming is more like writing down math formulas, and we don't patent math; we probably shouldn't patent the human genome.  Things that are sort of naturally the way the world works, they should just be sort of what everyone has to work with as a fair playing field and I just don't think software patents are a fair playing field right now.

Question: What’s the most overrated language?

Larry Wall: Pretty much every language is overrated by its practitioners and underrated by everyone else; it tends to be fairly tribal. Either a language matches the way you think or it doesn't.  So I tend to think that perhaps languages that are pushed for reasons other than the technical merits of the language would tend to fall in that category.  Some would label Java with that—though Java is a good language for what it does do—but it's not the be-all and end-all, and no language really is.  I've seen people try to do things in Perl that I wouldn't try to do myself and in that sense, in their mind, Perl is more than what they, than what I would rate it as.

So really, any language outside of its realm can be considered overrated, just like, you know, any expert outside of their field starts talking hogwash.  So don't listen to me on any subject other than linguistics and computers, I guess. Well, maybe theology.

"But when good taste becomes mandatory, then it's not really good taste any more—it's just manners," says Wall.

The “new normal” paradox: What COVID-19 has revealed about higher education

Higher education faces challenges that are unlike any other industry. What path will ASU, and universities like ASU, take in a post-COVID world?

Photo: Luis Robayo/AFP via Getty Images
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Everywhere you turn, the idea that coronavirus has brought on a "new normal" is present and true. But for higher education, COVID-19 exposes a long list of pernicious old problems more than it presents new problems.
  • It was widely known, yet ignored, that digital instruction must be embraced. When combined with traditional, in-person teaching, it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale.
  • COVID-19 has forced institutions to understand that far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income, and in the context of COVID-19 this means that lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color will be disproportionately afflicted.
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Creativity: The science behind the madness

Human brains evolved for creativity. We just have to learn how to access it.

Videos
  • An all-star cast of Big Thinkers—actors Rainn Wilson and Ethan Hawke; composer Anthony Brandt; neuroscientists David Eagleman, Wendy Suzuki, and Beau Lotto; and psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman—share how they define creativity and explain how our brains uniquely evolved for the phenomenon.
  • According to Eagleman, during evolution there was an increase in space between our brain's input and output that allows information more time to percolate. We also grew a larger prefrontal cortex which "allows us to simulate what ifs, to separate ourselves from our location in space and time and think about possibilities."
  • Scott Barry Kaufman details 3 brain networks involved in creative thinking, and Wendy Suzuki busts the famous left-brain, right-brain myth.

New study explores how to navigate 'desire discrepancies' in long term relationships

With the most common form of female sexual dysfunction impacting 1 in 10 women, this important study dives into how to keep a relationship going despite having different needs and wants in the bedroom.

NDAB Creativity / Shutterstock
Sex & Relationships
  • A new study highlights the difficulties faced by women who struggle with decreased sexual desire, and explains how to navigate desire discrepancies in long-term relationships.
  • Hypoactive sexual desire disorder is one of the most common forms of female sexual dysfunction, impacting an estimated 1 in 10 women.
  • Finding other ways to promote intimacy in your relationship is one of the keys to ensuring happiness on both sides.
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What if Middle-earth was in Pakistan?

Iranian Tolkien scholar finds intriguing parallels between subcontinental geography and famous map of Middle-earth.

Image: Mohammad Reza Kamali, reproduced with kind permission
Strange Maps
  • J.R.R. Tolkien hinted that his stories are set in a really ancient version of Europe.
  • But a fantasy realm can be inspired by a variety of places; and perhaps so is Tolkien's world.
  • These intriguing similarities with Asian topography show that it may be time to 'decolonise' Middle-earth.
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Dinosaur bone? Meteorite? These men's wedding bands are a real break from boredom.

Manly Bands wanted to improve on mens' wedding bands. Mission accomplished.

Sex & Relationships
  • Manly Bands was founded in 2016 to provide better options and customer service in men's wedding bands.
  • Unique materials include antler, dinosaur bones, meteorite, tungsten, and whiskey barrels.
  • The company donates a portion of profits to charity every month.
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