Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A random collection of random stuff

Wandering the Internet, reading all sorts of things...

  • A delightful examination of last week's Rotterdam art theft from the perspective of art history: The Art of the Art Heist
    Hilton Kramer called de Haan's “Self-Portrait” — the painting that was recently stolen — "one of his most beautifully painted pictures," and complimented de Haan's "remarkably successful attempts to paint in a Gauguinesque style." The thieves of Rotterdam seem to agree. Yet the look on the face of Meyer de Haan in his self-portrait is more than just Gauguinesque. De Haan is just barely meeting our gaze. He is troubled and self-assured at the same time. Or you could say that he is both absent and present. He is just about to look away, to have another thought. Behind him are painted splotches of red and yellow, a kind of dreamscape. It is so very Symbolist.
  • Wired Magazine brings us up to date on the life and times of the incredibly talented Peter Molyneux, the creator of Populous, perhaps my favorite computer game ever: How a Videogame God Inspired a Twitter Doppelgänger — and Resurrected His Career. Perhaps the most interesting part of the story involves how Molyneux reacted when one of his more passionate fans created a fake alter-identity on Twitter:
    Journalists like Gamasutra’s Leigh Alexander and GiantBomb’s Alex Navarro began retweeting some of his posts. Sites like Kotaku and GameSetWatch also ran coverage of the mysterious online figure, who maintained his anonymity in the press. The exposure helped @PeterMolydeux hit 23,000 followers by the end of 2011. And gamer cognoscenti weren’t reading it just as a cruel joke at Molyneux’s expense; @PeterMolydeux was becoming an outlet for the widespread dissatisfaction within the industry, a voice for the thousands of developers who had grown tired of the limitations of mainstream gaming. If anything, the Twitter feed gave some followers more respect for Molyneux.
  • Surely by now everyone has read the New York Post article about the tremendous power of a simple set of master keys: Key set available for $150 on eBay provides an all-access pass to NYC, shrieking headline and all. For a more nuanced take, try Bruce Schneier: Master Keys
    The current bit of sensationalism aside, this is fundamentally a hard problem. Master keys are only useful if they're widely applicable -- and if they're widely applicable, they need to be distributed widely. This means that 1) they can't be kept secret, and 2) they're very expensive to update.
    Or, for a view just slightly farther into the future, consider Geoff Manaugh's essay: Keys to the City
    This cinematographic duo would thus pose there looking at each other, under the control of hackers huddling in a van somewhere wearing Stadium Pals, long enough that they could 3D-map the keys from the ensuing image feed and then have accurate copies produced. Thus would your house be robbed by robot.
  • Going back to Wired Magazin, do not miss this epic article about reliability engineering, and the emerging discipline of failure analysis: Why Things Fail: From Tires to Helicopter Blades, Everything Breaks Eventually.
    Product failure is deceptively difficult to understand. It depends not just on how customers use a product but on the intrinsic properties of each part—what it’s made of and how those materials respond to wildly varying conditions. Estimating a product’s lifespan is an art that even the most sophisticated manufacturers still struggle with. And it’s getting harder. In our Moore’s law-driven age, we expect devices to continuously be getting smaller, lighter, more powerful, and more efficient. This thinking has seeped into our expectations about lots of product categories: Cars must get better gas mileage. Bicycles must get lighter. Washing machines need to get clothes cleaner with less water. Almost every industry is expected to make major advances every year. To do this they are constantly reaching for new materials and design techniques. All this is great for innovation, but it’s terrible for reliability.

    This article is so good, it's hard not to quote every bit of it. If you think you ever might want to be an engineer, or if you are an engineer and you want to learn how to be a great engineer, stop what you are doing and read this article, and then read it again, and again.

    Part of the revolution in reliability engineering comes from better tools, such as this tool from Vextec:

    The result is essentially an image of the component’s microstructure. Vextec’s algorithms then assess this microstructure: What are the grain sizes and orientations? How often do voids appear and in what shape? How frequently do particles of dust or other contaminants appear? The algorithms create a set of rules for the material—a statistical model of every aspect of the microstructure. The rules are used to create multiple virtual versions of the material whose microstructures vary within the rough range that the client could expect to see in manufacturing.

    But it's interesting that another part of the field comes from a side-effect of some of the government regulations put into effect after Enron famously collapsed:

    In the wake of the scandal that took down the energy juggernaut, the Financial Accounting Standards Board made changes to the Generally Accepted Accounting Principals—the rules that, among other things, govern how companies write financial statements. As of November 2002, companies were required to provide a detailed reckoning of their guarantees, including their warranty reserves and payments, in quarterly and yearly filings. The result was that, for the first time in history, someone could look at, and compare, how US public companies handle claims—how much they pay out, how much they hold aside for future payments.
    It's all there in the article: expect failure, design for failure, plan for failure, test to expose failure, test to evaluate the handling of failure, test your tests. Yes, this article is all about the building of cars and trucks and door hinges, but it really about what makes things reliable.

    My, perhaps it's time for me to go read the book again? I'm feeling like it's been too long...

  • Out of the ashes of Newsweek Magazine's collapse, one possible phoenix is the return from oblivion of Dan Lyons.
    We have a platform where we can do some of the things we did on Fake Steve, like create a sense of community and add a touch of irreverence to the world of tech. Now more than ever the Valley is in need of a bracing, no-bullshit shot of truth, and we are the ones to deliver it.
    Read more about Lyons's hope for the e-zine once known as ReadWriteWeb in his first editorial on the new site
    We want to turn our writers loose and let them write from the heart, in ways that are more personal, passionate, provocative and fun than ever before. We want ReadWrite to be a lively place filled with wit and energy, a place where you find great stories told in a convincing, engaging way, with brains and a point of view.
    I've always enjoyed Lyons's work, and I hope he does somehow find a way to at least partly return to the zing and verve he brought to Fake Steve.

  • Had enough of all of this? Practice arming your cubicle for the coming armageddon

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