Friday, February 1, 2013

Stuff to read

I know, I know, there's a football game this Sunday (as my co-worker says, "it's the best day of the year to go shopping -- all the stores are empty!").

But if you're not sitting on a couch somewhere with potato chips within reach, you might find some of these links worth chasing. Or maybe not.

  • Google explain how Google Street View was able to show pictures inside the Grand Canyon: Trekking the Grand Canyon for Google Maps
    On its first official outing, the Street View team is using the Trekker—a wearable backpack with a camera system on top—to traverse the Grand Canyon and capture 360-degree images of one of the most breathtaking natural landscapes on the planet.
  • It's the 30th anniversary of Lotus 1-2-3. I was actually working in Cambridge during those days, just two blocks away from the Lotus headquarters, and I know many people who worked at Lotus during that time. Dan Bricklin reminisces
    It was written in tight assembly code, accepting the limitation of making porting to other computers more difficult (it couldn't run on Apple's 6502-based computers or many others) to get the speed needed on the soon-to-be-dominant IBM PC (which it helped make dominant).
  • From the Harvard Gazette, a nice short article about the 100th anniversary of Andrei Markov's lecture to the Imperial Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg: An idea that changed the world
    Markov added the idea of interdependence to probability, the notion that what happens next is linked to what is happening now. That creates what Hayes called a “chain of linked events,” and not just a series of independent acts. The world, Markov posited, is not just a series of random events. It is a complex thing, and mathematics can help reveal its hidden interconnectedness and likely probabilities. “Not everything,” Hayes told an audience of 100, “works the way coin flipping does.”
  • The Verge looks at the ongoing arms race between casinos and would-be casino cheats: Not in my house: how Vegas casinos wage a war on cheating
    When you’re playing a game where decisions matter (rather than pure games of chance), cheating is simply a matter of having better information than your opponent. "If I know your hole card, I’m gonna beat you. If I know the flop, I’m going to beat you. It’s all information transfer. And that’s all everything in this room does," he says, sweeping his arm to take in the acres of electronics surrounding him, "is move information from one place to another. Information management is all it is."
  • From Dr. Dobb's: Mobile as the Driver of Desktop Software Design
    Microsoft's error with Metro on the laptop and desktop is, in my view, simply a case of going too far too fast. It does not negate the fact that these platforms will eventually move to UIs driven by the mobile experience. A key part of that mobile experience is gesture recognition. As yet on business-style laptops and desktops, there is no gesture recognition capability, but that's beginning to change.
  • Speaking of Microsoft, it's time to start learning about the next release of Office: Ars Technica takes us on Office for Home: A visual tour
    While the functionality of Office has been pulled into the world of cloud services and "app" stores, the look and feel of Office has been recast to make it more functional on touch devices and traditional PCs. The new themes echo the flatter look of Windows 8.
  • I just studied spanning trees in Tim Roughgarden's class on Coursera, so I enjoyed: Computer Scientists Find New Shortcuts for Infamous Traveling Salesman Problem
    The shortest spanning tree was a natural starting point for efforts to build a short round-trip tour. But this approach also offered an opening for researchers trying to whittle down Christofides’ 50 percent guarantee. For although the shortest spanning tree seems effective at first, other trees may be better when it comes to the short-cutting process that converts the tree into a round-trip — for example, a tree that never branches needs only one added highway to become a round-trip.
  • The Mystery Hunt 2013 has just concluded; The Tech describes how the hunt went: A Hunt of Epic Proportions
    By Monday morning, the hunt had already been declared the longest hunt in history, surpassing the previous record, the 68 hour hunt created by the French Armada in 2004. On Sunday, HQ sent out an announcement that teams only needed to solve five of the six super metapuzzles to win. While many people had to leave starting Sunday night, there were still 25 teams that submitted answers sometime on Monday.
  • Ars Technica on the patent battle between NewEgg and Soverain: How Newegg crushed the “shopping cart” patent and saved online retail
    The main piece of prior art used at the appeals trial was the CompuServe Mall, and Newegg's lawyers, led on appeal by Ed Reines of Weil Gotshal, argued that system hit each and every patent claim in Soverain's patents.

    At district court, the judge hadn't even let those invalidity arguments go to the jury, stating there wasn't "sufficient testimony" on obviousness, and that it would be "very confusing" to them.

    Soverain argued that CompuServe's system didn't include a "product identifier" as they define it in their patent, and that CompuServe lacked a "shopping cart database." Soverain also argued that its system was new and superior because it was adapted to the Internet, whereas CompuServe's system was a pre-Internet network.

  • Datamation speaks the unspeakable: 9 Things That Are Never Admitted About Open Source
    Supporters like to claim that one of the advantages of FOSS is that it encourages diversity. Unlike Windows, FOSS is supposed to welcome new ideas and to be less vulnerable to viruses because most categories of software include several applications.

    The reality is somewhat different.

  • Speaking of speaking the unspeakable, Seth Godin just nails it: Eleven things organizations can learn from airports
    Of course, this post isn’t actually about airports
  • Amazon remains the most fascinating corporation in the world: Amazon Profits Fall 45 Percent, Still the Most Amazing Company in the World
    Amazon, as best I can tell, is a charitable organization being run by elements of the investment community for the benefit of consumers.
    Amazon, Apple, and the beauty of low margins
    Study disruption in most businesses and it almost always comes from the low end. Some competitor grabs a foothold on the bottom rung of the ladder and pulls itself upstream. But if you're already sitting on that lowest rung as the incumbent, it's tough for a disruptor to cling to anything to gain traction.
  • From Scientific American: How to Lose $3 Million in 1 Second
    There are models that do incorporate illiquidity, or market freezes. These do so by adding rare, but large, discontinuous jumps in the price of assets. These models, however, are of a different breed than the non-jump models.
    The Real, and Simple, Equation That Killed Wall Street
    there is an equation one can point to and blame. This equation, however, requires nothing more than middle school algebra to understand and is taught to every new Wall Street employee. It is leveraged return.
  • I think I've read about 25% of the entries in Conor Friedersdorf's 102 Spectacular Nonfiction Stories from 2012; I'm pleased to see Cory Doctorow's Lockdown in the list.
    These projects afford me the opportunity to read as much impressive nonfiction journalism as any single person possibly can. The result is my annual Best of Journalism List, now in its fifth year.
  • Lastly, I can still vividly remember an incident during my second year of college in Chicago: quite unexpectedly, my grandfather had died, and I needed to travel to Cleveland on almost no notice. After class, I waited my turn to talk to my professor to tell him I'd be missing Monday's mid-term. Just as I was about to speak to him, I was stunned to hear the person in front of me say: "Uhm, sir? I won't be at the mid-term, because my grand-mother has died."

    Professor Dongwon Lee of Penn State investigates this phenomenon: The Dead Grandmother/Exam Syndrome and the Potential Downfall Of American Society.

    For over twenty years I have collected data on this supposed relationship, and have not only confirmed what most faculty had suspected, but also found some additional aspects of this process that are of potential importance to the future of the country. The results presented in this report provide a chilling picture and should waken the profession and the general public to a serious health and sociological problem before it is too late.