Friday, April 5, 2013

Reading list for an April weekend

The rainy season came late this year, it seems like it's been raining for the entire month of April.

If you're stuck indoors, and looking for something to read, try some of these:

  • As long as Google continue to take actions like this, they still merit the "Do No Evil" brand in my book: Google Takes on Rare Fight Against National Security Letters
    NSLs, which have been in use for to decades but were greatly expanded under the Patriot Act, are written demands from the FBI that compel internet service providers, credit companies, financial institutions and others to hand over confidential records about their customers, such as subscriber information, phone numbers and e-mail addresses, websites visited and more.

    NSLs are a powerful tool because they do not require court approval. Until now, most came with a built-in gag order, preventing recipients from disclosing to anyone that they had received an NSL. An FBI agent looking into a possible anti-terrorism case could self-issue an NSL to a credit bureau, ISP or phone company with only the sign-off of the Special Agent in Charge of their office. The FBI had to merely assert that the information was “relevant” to an investigation into international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities.

  • I love this New York City art project: Jay Shells Drops “Rap Quotes,” His Most Site-Specific Street Art Project Yet
    For this ongoing project, Shells created official-looking street signs quoting famous rap lyrics that shout out specific street corners and locations. He then installed them at those specific street corners and locations.
  • A beautiful article at the Smithsonian website about the evolution of the design of chess pieces: How the Chess Set Got Its Look and Feel
    According to the most widely told origin story, the Staunton set was designed by architect Nathan Cook, who looked at a variety of popular chess sets and distilled their common traits while also, more importantly, looking at the city around him. Victorian London’s Neoclassical architecture had been influenced by a renewed interest in the ruins of ancient Greece and Rome, which captured the popular imagination after the rediscovery of Pompeii in the 18th century.
    The DesignWeek article about Daniel Weil's new set design is also quite nice: Daniel Weil redesigns the chess set
    Weil says, ‘The purity of the pieces’ shape is reflected in the way they are held.’ He developed the idea of a ‘north hold’, where the piece is held between the index finger and thumb, and a ‘south hold’, where it is cupped in the hand – Weil says this hold has more ‘theatrical disdain’.
  • It's springtime, so it's time to get this year's update on Colony Collapse Disorder (it's still a mystery): Mystery Malady Kills More Bees, Heightening Worry on Farms
    In the valley, where 1.6 million hives of bees just finished pollinating an endless expanse of almond groves, commercial beekeepers who only recently were losing a third of their bees to the disorder say the past year has brought far greater losses.
  • Wow; this year's XKCD April Fool's Prank just totally went over my head. If you were in the same boat, the community over at StackOverflow try to explain it, or you can read this nice article from PiCloud: XKCD Hash Breaking
    How many f2 cores running in parallel would it take, on expectation, to generate a better hash within the next 6 hours? It turns out that it would take over 66,200 f2 cores running in parallel over 6 hours before we can expect to find a better hash. Unfortunately, we can’t get you 60 thousand f2 cores and the cost would be nearly $87,500 on PiCloud.
  • A little flurry of patent articles:
    • Google Number One: Taking a Stand on Open Source and Patents
      We hope the OPN Pledge will serve as a model for the industry, and we’re encouraging other patent holders to adopt the pledge or a similar initiative.
    • Google Number Two: It’s time to take action against patent trolls and patent privateering
      Privateering lets a company split its patent portfolio into smaller sub-portfolios “stacked” on each other, increasing the number of entities a firm must negotiate with and multiplying licensing costs. This behavior unfairly raises competitors’ costs, ultimately driving up prices for consumers.
    • My co-worker Don Marti writes about prior art: The America Invents Act: Fighting Patent Trolls With "Prior Art"
      The AIA has a lot of changes, starting with the expansion of what counts as prior art. Prior art is any public information that shows the patented invention was not original. Patent examiners were always supposed to take prior into account when granting a patent in the first place. However, especially in the software field, the understaffed and overworked patent office misses a lot of details.
    • And a lively short article from Joel Spolsky: The Patent Protection Racket
      It is organized crime, plain and simple. It is an abuse of the legal system, an abuse of the patent system, and a moral affront.

      In the face of organized crime, civilized people don’t pay up. When you pay up, you’re funding the criminals, which makes you complicit in their next attacks.

  • Felix Salmon pokes his head closer to my part of the world: The Bitcoin Bubble and the Future of Currency
    Still, for the time being, bitcoin is in many ways the best and cleanest payments mechanism the world has ever seen. So if we’re ever going to create something better, we’re going to have to learn from what bitcoin does right – as well as what it does wrong.
  • Geeking out, part one: Join-Idle-Queue: A Novel Load Balancing Algorithm for Dynamically Scalable Web Services
    Unlike algorithms such as Power-of-Two, the JIQ algorithm incurs no communication overhead between the dispatchers and processors at job arrivals. We analyze the JIQ algorithm in the large system limit and find that it effectively results in a reduced system load, which produces 30-fold reduction in queueing overhead compared to Power-of-Two at medium to high load.
  • Geeking out, part two: Cap'n Proto
    The encoding is defined byte-for-byte independent of any platform. However, it is designed to be efficiently manipulated on common modern CPUs. Data is arranged like a compiler would arrange a struct – with fixed widths, fixed offsets, and proper alignment. Variable-sized elements are embedded as pointers. Pointers are offset-based rather than absolute so that messages are position-independent. Integers use little-endian byte order because most CPUs are little-endian, and even big-endian CPUs usually have instructions for reading little-endian data.
  • Geeking out, part 3: Routing and Web Performance on Heroku: a FAQ
    The Heroku router favors availability, stateless horizontal scaling, and low latency through individual routing nodes. Per-app global request queues require a sacrifice on one or more of these fronts. See Kyle Kingsbury’s post on the CAP theorem implications for global request queueing.

    After extensive research and experimentation, we have yet to find either a theoretical model or a practical implementation that beats the simplicity and robustness of random routing to web backends that can support multiple concurrent connections.

    (The Register sniffs in disgust)

  • Fast Company explains some of the implications of culture on the way you approach a business model: What American Startups Can Learn From The Cutthroat Chinese Software Industry
    “In China, it’s like this from day one,” he says. “Companies don’t wait until later to figure out who their competitors are, since they have a business model from the start.” The benefit is never having to burn a bridge with a partner which has somehow morphed into a competitor, short-changing your users in the process.
  • And lastly, whatever you might think about everything else on this list, here is proof that a boring machine is not a boring machine: World's largest tunnel boring machine lands in Seattle
    Known affectionately as Bertha, this tunnel boring machine has the widest diameter of any boring machine ever built; 57.5 feet. It's being used to dig a highway tunnel under downtown Seattle and it just arrived there today after being shipped from Japan.

No comments:

Post a Comment