Friday, August 31, 2012

Stuff I'm reading this weekend

Labor Day weekend, traditionally the last weekend of summer ...

It's a real grab-bag of stuff on my weekend reading list; grab a lawn chair and your favorite beverage and dig in ...

  • My good friend Andrew has a great piece up on a literacy campaign with a public transit theme: Wolves on BART. Beautiful!
  • In The Verge, Sean Hollister spins an insider's tale of the collapse of the gaming startup On Live: OnLive lost: how the paradise of streaming games was undone by one man's ego
    Steve Perlman convinced many players that OnLive was worth investing in, up to and including some employees who gambled their money knowing that the company wasn't making a dime. Everyone we spoke to believed in the power of the cloud. Everyone expected a savior around the corner, but when it came to realizing that vision, only Steve was holding the cards. In hindsight, said one employee, management didn't do such a bad job: "They managed to carry this thing four years longer than anyone thought they would."
  • Mark Bernstein's series of essays on NeoVictorian Computing are completely fascinating. He skewers the software industry for stagnation:
    Today, your software is my software. Some details might change: maybe you use Mellel and I use Word, or you use Excel and I use Numbers. Small differences matter. But it's all pretty much the same. People expect that they won't need to read a manual, that everything is just like it's always been and that nothing ever changes much.

    Bernstein proposes that, to return to a world where software innovated and revolutionized and changed our perspective, we must be willing to experience some discomfort:

    I want this to change. I want a software world where we might again enjoy new software that does things we couldn't do before. I want software that fits specific needs. I'm a software professional; why should I be using the same tools as a sixth grader, or a professional photographer, or an interior decorator?

    Why do we have so little variety in our software? One reason is that we ask it to do what it cannot, and we expect to do too little.

    We should expect to learn. Sophisticated tools require study and effort, and they repay that effort by letting us do things we could not do otherwise. Calculus is a lot of work, but you can't understand physics or the stock market until you understand derivatives. Learning to draw the figure is a lot of work; once you do the work, you can draw.

  • You'll recall that I quite enjoyed Ernest Cline's Ready Player One, so it was fun to see that the Easter Egg Contest hidden in the physical paperback book itself is now complete.

    Congratulations Craig Queen!

  • It's a year old now, but I thoroughly enjoyed Ryan Anderson's trip report from a geologists's field trip to the Kidd Creek mine in Canada: 9800 Feet
    The mine has two shafts because there is a physical limit to how long elevator cables can be. After a certain length, the cable is so heavy that it can barely hold itself up, let alone a car full of passengers or tons of ore. The lifts are designed to be several times stronger than necessary, so that limits the length of the shaft.
    The official site notes quietly that
    The No. 4 shaft extends to 9,889 feet (3,015 metres) below surface and with the completion of the Mine D project, the Kidd mine is the deepest mine below sea level in the world.
  • How do you know when software is worth paying attention to? When its users just flat out love it, which you can sometimes tell by stumbling across paeans like the one written by Calvin French-Owen on MongoDB: What 10gen nailed with MongoDB
    If you’re looking for lessons in building a developer-focused product, you should look no further than 10gen’s decisions with MongoDB. They demonstrate some of the best ways to build a community around a product and make developers love it.
  • Summer is over, the Olympics are done, and the two greatest football teams on the planet have resumed their epic battle: Modric and Song arrivals indicate Barcelona and Real are thinking about each other’s style
    Both sides were playing without their most expensive signing of the summer – Luka Modric for Real, Alex Song for Barcelona. The precise role of each player is uncertain, but both are more naturally suited to the other side – Modric is a short passer that Barca would probably buy if they didn’t already have so many players in that mould, Song is a physical defensive midfielder that more suits a combative Real midfield.
  • I know, I know, I'm just obsessing about this whole Apple-Samsung thing, but really, it's actually pretty important. So here's more to keep you thinking about it, too:
    • Florian Mueller: The biggest issue with the Apple-Samsung jury verdict: are all those patents really valid as granted?
      we must separate the question of what has happened from the one of what will happen next. None of those interviews changes the fact that juries enjoy a whole lot of discretion in terms of how they arrive at their decisions. There are some rules they must respect, but not as many rules as some people may think.
    • Jacques Mattheij: Tim Cook Memo Line by Line
      this is of course all about money, control and market dominance, as well as fighting Android with every tool available. Some time ago it was a Microsoft computer on every desk, now it is an apple phone or tablet in every pocket and on every table. This is all about keeping critical mass because these walled off eco-systems do not thrive in the light of any meaningful competition.
    • Richard Posner: Why There Are Too Many Patents in America
      patent plaintiffs tend to request trial by jury because they believe that jurors tend to favor patentees, believing that they must be worthy inventors defending the fruits of their invention against copycats -- even though, unlike the rule in copyright law, a patentee need not, in order to prevail in an infringement suit, show that the defendant knew he was infringing.
    • Thom Holwerda: A device with a touchscreen and few buttons was obvious
      where does this sudden disregard for history come from? Why are PDAs suddenly that weird uncle you never talk about and only see at birthdays? During the heydays of the PDA, every nerd and geek I knew seemed to have one or more of these things
    • Jeff John Roberts: 3 reasons juries have no place in the patent system
      Patents are not primarily about stopping copycats (that’s why we have trademarks) but are instead a form of industrial policy based on 20-year monopolies. If the policy is effective, it produces more innovation. If the patent policy is not effective, it creates monopolies that harm competitors and consumers.
    • Francisco Ryan Tolmasky: Patents and Juries
      These have the potential to be some of the most important decisions of our lifetime, and they are for the most part completely out of our control. This is why people are so frustrated by these patent trials – it is a feeling of helplessness. The granting of a patent can be as influential on our careers or our lives as the passing of a law, and yet it’s hard to feel like anything other than a mere spectator in the process.
  • The SpiderLabs team have an intriguing article on hashes: Stamping Out Hash Corruption, Like a Boss
    The corruption problem has been around since the late 90’s


    We discovered the source of this problem to be a logic flaw in how the registry information was being processed.

    It's quite hard to tell whether there is an actual bug in the underlying operating system, or whether the extraction and analysis tools are flawed. Either way, if you think you're trying to extract and process Windows password hashes, pay attention!
  • I don't know quite what to make of this article in Linux Weekly News: OpenIndiana lead Alasdair Lumsden resigns
    Instead we got the Illumian farce from Nexenta, along with their senior staff claiming OI is an existential threat to their continued existence. And when I asked for help back in November, we got Bryan Cantrill telling us all "when you want to do something, just do it" - rich coming from someone paid to work on all this whilst the OI devs volunteer their personal time, often at considerable personal sacrifice, to work on this stuff.
  • Lastly, don't miss this fascinating essay by Johannes Ernst: Why Decentralized Software Is 10x Harder
    If you build a decentralized application, you actually need to ship software. You need to package, test, create installers, test on a variety of platforms, write defensive code to work around misconfigurations your customers are likely to create, etc. For a centralized website, you can often edit files in place on the production server.
    Some call it hacking, others call it keeping the site up.

Well, this should be enough to keep you for an hour or two.

Got more to read? Let me know!

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