The Year in Review (2015)

"The World is a lot Poorer without You": a tribute to the great the great minds we lost in 2015...

  • Israeli physicist Jacob Bekenstein, who discovered the connection between black hole surface, entropy and information, and contributed to found modern information-based physics
  • Jazz musician Ornette Coleman
  • German writer Guenter Grass
  • Portuguese filmmaker Manoel de Oliveira
  • Rock musician Daevid Allen
  • Blues musician B.B. King
  • Singapore's founding father Lee Kuan Yew, one of the two greatest politicians of the second half of the 20th century (Deng Xiao Ping being the other one)
  • Opera tenor Jon Vickers
  • John Holland, inventor of genetic algorithms
  • Finnish philosopher Jaakko Hintikka
(Musicians | Writers | Filmmakers | Science)

Most important inventions/discoveries of 2015:
  • Kim Lewis developed a new method to create antibiotics, the first major progress in the field since 1987
  • The Umbral Moonshine Conjecture
  • Carbon3D, founded in 2013 in North Carolina by scientists of the University of North Carolina (Joseph DeSimone, Edward Samulski, Alex Ermoshkin) and later relocated to Redwood City, unveiled a 3D printing process named Continuous Liquid Interface Production (CLIP) that improved printing speed by an order of magnitude.
  • Judah Schiller's water bicycle
  • Samsung's mirror and transparent OLED display
  • The discovery of planet Kepler-438b (located 470 light-years from us), the closest cousin of the Earth that we found so far
  • Steven Benner's team at the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution in Florida synthesized two nucleotides, P and Z, and added them to DNA (i.e., added two new characters for the four-character alphabet of DNA)
  • Clare Grey's team at Cambridge University has created a lithium-oxygen battery that uses graphene electrodes to offer high-density, more than 90% efficiency, and can be recharged for up to 2,000 times.
See also: A timeline of modern science and technology
Recommended books of 2015:
  • Nisid Hajari: "Midnight's Furies: The Deadly Legacy of India's Partition"
  • Karen Dawisha: "Putin's Kleptocracy" - The chronicle of Putin's ascent to power from St Petersburg's mafia to the oligarchs who now control 35% of Russia's wealth. Note: the book is banned in Europe under Russian pressure.
  • Benjamin Schwartz: "Right of Boom" and (older) Andrew Krepinevich: "7 Deadly Scenarios" - what the USA could and should do if (when?) terrorists strike with nuclear weapons.
  • Tom Burgis: "The Looting Machine" - How Africa's mineral abundance enriches the few at the expense of the rest
  • Harris Irfan: "Heaven's Bankers" - A history of Islamic finance (Islam does not allow money to be made from money), which was invented in Egypt in the 1960s and now controls vast capitals around the world and will revolutionize the world economy (If you still think that Jewish bankers control the financial world, you must be very old).
  • Ayaan Hirsi Ali: "Heretic" - A powerful indictment of Islam. The root of Islamist violence is embedded in Islam itself. Muslims must renege on Mohammed and admit that he was neither sent by a god nor infallible. Muslims must stop reading the Quran (at least literally) and nullify "Shariah, the body of legislation derived from the Quran, the Hadith and the rest of Islamic jurisprudence." Quote: "Islam is not a religion of peace."
  • Dominic Lieven: "Towards the Flame - Empire, War and the End of Tsarist Russia". A social history of how Tsarist Russia entered World War I against the backdrop of hysterical nationalism rising everywhere in Europe (with a coda that draws an eerie parallel with today's East Asia)
  • Paul Falkowski: "Life's Engines". A chemical history of life on Earth shows that bacteria invented life and still rule the planet.
  • Benjamin Wittes & Gabriella Blum: "The Future of Violence - Robots and Germs, Hackers and Drones". We are approaching the age when each of us will be able to own weapons of mass destruction that can be fired by clicking on our smartphone. The number of mass killers that we need to fear will keep increasing exponentially: first the Nazis or the Soviet Union with a clear border, now a constellation of Islamic terrorists spread in many regions, tomorrow a vast population of high-tech terrorists scattered in ordinary neighborhoods.
  • Andrew Cockburn: "Kill Chain - The Rise of the High-Tech Assassins." About the past and future of military drones, with chilly reminders of massacres committed by US drones that the media and the public ignored.
  • Jessica Stern: "ISIS - The State of Terror". A reconstruction of how ISIS got started during the US invasion of Iraq by a psycho called Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and how it took advantage of the civil war in Syria to conquer territory and establish a state.
  • James Secord: "Visions of Science - Books and Readers at the Dawn of the Victorian Age"
  • Liel Leibovitz: "God in the Machine - Video Games As Spiritual Pursuit".
  • David Graeber: "The Utopia of Rules - On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy". We live in the "age of total bureaucratisation," both at the private level and at the public level.
  • Ted Koppel: "Lights Out" (Crown, 2015). The chances of a massive cyberattack that would leave the country without electricity, communications and even water for weeks are very high.
  • Rob Chapman: "Psychedelia and Other Colours". An encyclopedic history of the counterculture of the 1960s.
  • Mary Beard: "SPQR - A History of Ancient Rome".
  • Sven Beckert: "Empire of Cotton - A Global History".
  • Lee McIntyre: "Respecting Truth - Willful Ignorance in the Internet Age". Quote: "The real enemy of truth is not ignorance, doubt, or even disbelief. It is false knowledge."
  • Pablo Servigne and Raphael Stevens: "How Everything Can Collapse". People will have to adapt to a lower standard of life. A multitude of disciplines indicate that some kind of collapse is inevitable.
(Reviews of Scientific Books | Reviews of Non-scientific Books)

Recommended articles:
Best films of 2015:
Best jazz albums of 2015:
Hero of the year:
  • Salimata Lam, leader of SOS Esclaves, an organization that fights slavery in Mauritania. Slavery is still practiced in parts of the Islamic world, and Mauritania alone has about 150,000 slaves.
  • Jia Haixia, a blind man, and his armless friend Jia Wenqi have spent more than 10 years planting 10,000 trees
  • Siti Zainab, a mentally ill Indonesian maid who was beheaded by the government of Saudi Arabia
  • All the women enslaved, raped, stoned to death, buried alive, set on fire, etc in the name of Allah (in particular Farkhunda, who was beaten, tramped on, driven over, and her body dragged by a car before being set on fire for daring to burn a copy of a silly book)
  • The "climate warriors" of the Marshall Islands and of all the other places in the world that risk disappearing because the oceans are rising.
( Current events)

Centennials to celebrate in 2016:
  • Dada
  • Francis Crick
  • Herbert Simon

Last year
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