Thursday, February 7, 2013

Rainy day reading

It was supposed to be a rainy day in the Bay Area today. Since it hasn't rained since 2012, that would actually be a good thing. But it barely sprinkled, in the end, so I don't think we can really call this a rainy day.

Still, if you were planning to spend a nice rainy day reading (or if you're somewhere else, and it's rainy where you are), you might find some of these articles interesting...

  • On our normal morning commute together, my wife and I pass by the local Google Busstop. These are increasingly common here in the Bay Area, where giant high-tech companies nowadays provide not just employment, but food (company cafes), lodging (company-sponsored apartments, condos), services (on-campus child care, on-campus dental care, on-campus fitness), etc., and are now moving into the sphere of corporate-provided transit. Rebecca Solnit writes about the Google Bus in her Diary
    Silicon Valley has long been famous for its endless work hours, for sucking in the young for decades of sixty or seventy-hour weeks, and the much celebrated perks on many jobsites – nap rooms, chefs, gyms, laundry – are meant to make spending most of your life at work less hideous. The biotech industry is following the same game plan. There are hundreds of luxury buses serving mega-corporations down the peninsula, but we refer to them in the singular, as the Google Bus, and we – by which I mean people I know, people who’ve lived here a while, and mostly people who don’t work in the industry – talk about them a lot. Parisians probably talked about the Prussian army a lot too, in the day.
  • James Hamilton reflects on the Super Bowl Power Outage of 2013: The Power Failure Seen Around the World
    Modern switchgear have many sensors monitored by firmware running on a programmable logic controller. The advantage of these software systems is they are incredibly flexible and can be configured uniquely for each installation. The disadvantage of software systems is the wide variety of configurations they can support can be complex and the default configurations are used perhaps more often than they should. The default configurations in a country where legal settlements can be substantial tend towards the conservative side. We don’t know if that was a factor in this event but we do know that no fault was found and the power was stable for the remainder of the game.
  • I can't wait for The Performance of Open Source Applications to come out; I thought The Architecture of Open Source Applications was one of the better computer books I've read in the last 5 years. An early teaser is Ilya Gregorik's High Performance Networking in Google Chrome
    To most users and even web-developers, the DNS, TCP, and SSL delays are entirely transparent and are negotiated at network layers to which few of us descend or think about. And yet, each of these steps is critical to the overall user experience, since each extra network request can add tens or hundreds of milliseconds of latency. This is the reason why Chrome's network stack is much, much more than a simple socket handler.
  • Dan Lyons on the latest Dell financial news: Michael Dell Goes To Hell
    Deals like this are where big companies go to die. Michael Dell has gone to hell. He's now in bed with a bunch of ruthless private equity guys whose role in this world is not to build things, but to take them apart and sell the pieces. They're corporate chop shops.
  • Ross Anderson writes about quantum cryptography: Hard questions about quantum crypto and quantum computing
    We argue that quantum entanglement may be modelled by coupled oscillators (as it already is in the study of Josephson junctions) and this could explain why it’s hard to get more than about three qubits
  • Speaking of Ross Anderson, did you realize that the entire second edition of Security Engineering is available online? Security Engineering — The Book
    When I wrote the first edition, we put the chapters online free after four years and found that this boosted sales of the paper edition. People would find a useful chapter online and then buy the book to have it as a reference. Wiley and I agreed to do the same with the second edition, and now, four years after publication, I am putting all the chapters online for free. Enjoy them – and I hope you'll buy the paper version to have as a conveient shelf reference
  • As long as we're talking about computer security, see if you can make heads or tails out of this confusing article about Silent Circle: The Threat of Silence
    The technology uses a sophisticated peer-to-peer encryption technique that allows users to send encrypted files of up to 60 megabytes through a “Silent Text” app. The sender of the file can set it on a timer so that it will automatically “burn”—deleting it from both devices after a set period of, say, seven minutes.
  • Returning to online textbooks, I've been taking Introduction to Electrical Engineering on Coursera, taught by Professor Don Johnson of Rice University (no, he wasn't on Miami Vice!). It's a superb course, but even more amazing is that he's made his entire textbook available online: Fundamentals of Electrical Engineering I
    Whether analog or digital, information is represented by the fundamental quantity in electrical engineering: the signal. Stated in mathematical terms, a signal is merely a function. Analog signals are continuous-valued; digital signals are discrete-valued. The independent variable of the signal could be time (speech, for example), space (images), or the integers (denoting the sequencing of letters and numbers in the football score).
  • I continue to try to understand Software Defined Networking. Brad Hedlund tries to explain it to me: Network Virtualization: a next generation modular platform for the data center virtual network
    In a network virtualization platform, the fabric is the physical network – which itself could be constructed with modular chassis switches, or perhaps a distributed architecture of fixed switches. Either way, the physical network provides forwarding bandwidth between all of the virtual Edge linecards. And the fabric for network virtualization can be supplied by any switching vendor – similar to how hardware for server virtualization can be supplied by any server vendor.
  • I love this follow-up journalism done by USA Today, looking back on the great "Arsenic-based life" incident of 3 years ago: Glowing reviews on 'arseniclife' spurred NASA's embrace
    Basically, the reviewers took at face value the fundamental claim by the study authors that the GFAJ-1 bug was growing without any phosphorus, says microbial ecologist Norman Pace of the University of Colorado. "Once you accept that, everything else follows," Pace says. "You just have to have a certain expertise to know that is nearly impossible; removing phosphorus is just very hard."
  • Finally, if you, like me, are finding that your copy of Mozilla Thunderbird has become more and more sluggish and more and more frustrating to use as time passes, here's a suggestion. A colleague suggested that I go into the Thunderbird preferences and uncheck the "Enable Global Search and Indexer" checkbox. I did so, and it does indeed seem to have dramatically improved things. A search for this feature indicates I'm not the only one who benefited from the advice.
    This is a new feature, and large inboxes and mail folders take a while to index. My understanding was that Tb 3.1.x was supposed to fine tune the feature to turn off while you were doing something, so it didn't get in the way. It appears in your case, that fine tuning didn't happen.

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