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The Untold Story of the World’s Biggest Diamond Heist

In February 2003, Leonardo Notarbartolo, was arrested in connection with a break-in to a vault two floors beneath the Antwerp Diamond Center. The thieves were thought to have made off with an estimated $100 million worth of diamonds, gold, jewelry, and other spoils.

Wired News shares the incredible story:

The vault was thought to be impenetrable. It was protected by 10 layers of security, including infrared heat detectors, Doppler radar, a magnetic field, a seismic sensor, and a lock with 100 million possible combinations. The robbery was called the heist of the century, and even now the police can’t explain exactly how it was done.

The loot was never found, but based on circumstantial evidence, Notarbartolo was sentenced to 10 years. He has always denied having anything to do with the crime and has refused to discuss his case with journalists, preferring to remain silent for the past six years.

Until now.

The video is great, but the article delves into the captivating details.

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Late Bloomers

Malcolm Gladwell’s new article Late Bloomers is up at the New Yorker.

Genius, in the popular conception, is inextricably tied up with precocity—doing something truly creative, we’re inclined to think, requires the freshness and exuberance and energy of youth. Orson Welles made his masterpiece, “Citizen Kane,” at twenty-five. Herman Melville wrote a book a year through his late twenties, culminating, at age thirty-two, with “Moby-Dick.” Mozart wrote his breakthrough Piano Concerto No. 9 in E-Flat-Major at the age of twenty-one. In some creative forms, like lyric poetry, the importance of precocity has hardened into an iron law.

Are you still a genius if it’s only later in life that you do anything truly brilliant?

Gladwell discusses the article in a podcast and will be answering reader questions about it later in the week.

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Why I and not i?

The New York Times on why we capitalize the word “I”?

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Thank Goodness

Thank Goodness” is quality essay about being thankful from the perspective of philosopher and atheist Dan Dennet after he suffered a “dissection of the aorta”—the lining of the main output vessel carrying blood from his heart had been torn up.

[W]hereas religions may serve a benign purpose by letting many people feel comfortable with the level of morality they themselves can attain, no religion holds its members to the high standards of moral responsibility that the secular world of science and medicine does! And I’m not just talking about the standards ‘at the top’—among the surgeons and doctors who make life or death decisions every day. I’m talking about the standards of conscientiousness endorsed by the lab technicians and meal preparers, too. This tradition puts its faith in the unlimited application of reason and empirical inquiry, checking and re-checking, and getting in the habit of asking “What if I’m wrong?” Appeals to faith or membership are never tolerated. Imagine the reception a scientist would get if he tried to suggest that others couldn’t replicate his results because they just didn’t share the faith of the people in his lab! And, to return to my main point, it is the goodness of this tradition of reason and open inquiry that I thank for my being alive today.

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An Ex-Pirate’s Life For Me

Captain Jack SparrowNo flirting, no facial hair, and no mention of alcohol: a former Disney cast member shares life on the ocean blue as the famous Jack Sparrow working in Disneyland’s New Orleans Square.

Captain Jack Sparrow Uploaded by ankneyd on 27 Apr 07, 8.19PM PDT. CC Some rights reserved.

Disney wanted us to tone Jack down, so they put us through an acting class to discover reasons why Jack walks and talks the way he does. Obviously he is based on Keith Richards, who’s always messed up, which is why they came up with the class. “Don’t be flirtatious,” they told us. “See women as trouble.” And they said as far as alcohol goes, don’t even mention drinking. But the Pirates of the Caribbean song is all about drinking, and they’re drinking all along the ride. So I eventually broke that rule, because it would have taken me out of character. When parents took pictures, I’d say, “Everyone say ‘rum,’” and the parents loved it. The kids would just ask, “What’s rum?”

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Art article biology

MoMA Kills Art

One of the senior curators at the MoMA had to end the life of a tiny coat built out of living mouse stem cells after it grew so fast that the cells began to clog the incubator.

From the New York Times article:

One of the strangest exhibits at the opening of “Design and the Elastic Mind,” the very strange show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York that explores the territory where design meets science, was a teeny coat made out of living mouse stem cells. The “victimless leather” was kept alive in an incubator with nutrients, unsettlingly alive. Until recently, that is.

Paola Antonelli, a senior curator at the museum, had to kill the coat. “It was growing too much,” she said in an interview from a conference in Belgrade. The cells were multiplying so fast that the incubator was beginning to clog. Also, a sleeve was falling off. So after checking with the coat’s creators, a group known as SymbioticA, at the School of Anatomy & Human Biology at the University of Western Australia in Perth, she had the nutrients to the cells stopped.

This is just a taste of the interesting kinds of developments we’re going to see from biological science in the near future.

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Jonathan Lebed the 15 year old stock trader

I came across this great article about Jonathan Lebed, and how he become one of the youngest stock traders to bring in a million. It also relates how the S.E.C. took $285,000 of it away—and that was after they tried to get more.

“Can you explain to me what he did?”

He looked at me long and hard. I could see that this must be his meaningful stare. His eyes were light blue bottomless pits. “He’d go into these chat rooms and use 20 fictitious names and post messages. . . . ”

“By fictitious names, do you mean e-mail addresses?”

“I don’t know the details.”

Don’t know the details? He’d been all over the airwaves decrying the behavior of Jonathan Lebed.

“Put it this way,” he said. “He’d buy, lie and sell high.” The chairman’s voice had deepened unnaturally. He hadn’t spoken the line; he had acted it. It was exactly the same line he had spoken on “60 Minutes” when his interviewer, Steve Kroft, asked him to explain Jonathan Lebed’s crime. He must have caught me gaping in wonder because, once again, he looked at me long and hard. I glanced away.

It’s a few years old now, but it’s still compelling reading: Jonathan Lebed’s Extracurricular Activities.

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Gladwell on Innovation

A new Malcolm Gladwell article up at the New Yorker illustrates that inventions, scientific discovery, and ideas aren’t locked down in the minds of a few genius, rather they’re simply waiting for the initiated: In the Air: Who says big ideas are rare?

In 1999, when Nathan Myhrvold left Microsoft and struck out on his own, he set himself an unusual goal. He wanted to see whether the kind of insight that leads to invention could be engineered. He formed a company called Intellectual Ventures. He raised hundreds of millions of dollars. He hired the smartest people he knew. It was not a venture-capital firm. Venture capitalists fund insights—that is, they let the magical process that generates new ideas take its course, and then they jump in. Myhrvold wanted to make insights—to come up with ideas, patent them, and then license them to interested companies. He thought that if he brought lots of very clever people together he could reconstruct that moment by the Grand River.

The article focuses on a theme that his new book is going to cover (coming November 18, 2008), the difference in results between an individual genius working on a project and collaborative brainstorming by many intelligent people. It turns out, you don’t have to be a genius to come up with something brilliant, you just need to get in a room with a lot of other smart people and bounce the ideas around.

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Trapped for 41 Hours

Can you imagine being trapped in an elevator for 41 hours? The New Yorker just published a brilliant article, Up and then Down: the lives of elevators which features the story of Nick White, a man trapped for 41 hours in a New York City elevator. Their site includes a must-see time-lapse security cam video of the ordeal that changed Nick forever.

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Stairway to Heaven – History

Andrew Goodwin, a professor of media studies at the University of San Francisco, wrote a nice article on Led Zeppelin’s most famous song, Stairway to Heaven, that fans will find worthwhile reading:

Stairway to Stardom