Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Stuff I'm reading, midweek edition

The weather's great; the snowpack isn't. Meanwhile, I read.

  • Leslie Lamport Receives Turing Award
    “Leslie’s schemes for dealing with faults was a major area of investigation in distributed computing,” Levin says. “His work was fundamental there. Then it led to work on agreement protocols, a key part of the notion of getting processes to converge on a common answer. This is what has come to be known as Paxos.”

    Incidently, that work was independently invented at about the same time by Barbara Liskov, Turing Award winner in 2008, and her student Brian Oki.

    “Lamport’s paper [The Part-Time Parliament],” Levin adds, “explained things through the use of a mythical Greek island and its legislative body. Partly because he chose this metaphor, it was not appreciated for quite some time what was really going on there.”

    Lamport has a less diplomatic assessment.

    “With the success of Byzantine Generals, I thought, ‘We need a story.’ I created a story, and that was an utter disaster.

  • Surprise! Science!
    Chao-Lin Kuo surprises Andrei Linde and his wife with the news that gravitational waves were detected, proving Linde's theory of an inflationary universe.
  • Ernest Cline is the luckiest geek alive
    Cline spent eight years writing Ready Player One before it hit the presses in August 2011. Set in 2044, Cline’s book prophesied a future where everybody’s always plugged in to The Oasis, a virtual world hosting the Earth’s jobs, education, and secrets. Each Oasis user hooks in using a variety of haptic and visual inputs to simulate and stimulate the senses in a virtual world. Ready Player One is indebted to hundreds of other books, games, and films like The Matrix, and it wears them on its shirt-sleeve. Cline’s most original creation yet moved away from Star Wars into a world of his own, a world made out of his favorite things.
  • Why Dorian Nakamoto Probably Isn’t Satoshi
    To me, one of the weakest points in Newsweek’s argument is their assertion that Dorian had the skills and background to create Bitcoin. All they really have as evidence is that Dorian trained as a physicist, worked as an engineer, and is reputed to be very intelligent. But none of that indicates that Dorian understood cryptography or distributed algorithms well enough to devise Bitcoin and write the original Bitcoin paper.
  • Missed Alarms and 40 Million Stolen Credit Card Numbers: How Target Blew It
    On Saturday, Nov. 30, the hackers had set their traps and had just one thing to do before starting the attack: plan the data’s escape route. As they uploaded exfiltration malware to move stolen credit card numbers—first to staging points spread around the U.S. to cover their tracks, then into their computers in Russia—FireEye spotted them. Bangalore got an alert and flagged the security team in Minneapolis. And then …

    Nothing happened.

    For some reason, Minneapolis didn’t react to the sirens.

  • Worse
    This isn’t just an Amazon problem. In the last few years, Google, Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Twitter have all made huge attempts to move into major parts of each others’ businesses, usually at the detriment of their customers or users.
  • managers are awesome / managers are cool when they’re part of your team
    This bothered me a bit when I heard it last summer, and it’s gotten increasingly more uncomfortable since. I’ve been paraphrasing this part of the talk as “management is a form of workplace violence,” and the still-evolving story of Julie Ann Horvath suggests that the removal of one form of workplace violence has resulted in the reintroduction of another, much worse form.
  • What Your Culture Really Says
    Culture is not about the furniture in your office. It is not about how much time you have to spend on feel-good projects. It is not about catered food, expensive social outings, internal chat tools, your ability to travel all over the world, or your never-ending self-congratulation.

    Culture is about power dynamics, unspoken priorities and beliefs, mythologies, conflicts, enforcement of social norms, creation of in/out groups and distribution of wealth and control inside companies. Culture is usually ugly. It is as much about the inevitable brokenness and dysfunction of teams as it is about their accomplishments. Culture is exceedingly difficult to talk about honestly. The critique of startup culture that came in large part from the agile movement has been replaced by sanitized, pompous, dishonest slogans.

  • Welcome to the Thirsty West
    Don’t get me wrong: This has always been an extreme environment. But over the thousands of years of human civilization in this corner of the world, people have adapted to little water. Problem is: The water supply/demand calculus has never changed this quickly before. About 100 years ago, the balance started to tip. Groundwater was invested for agricultural purposes. Massive civil engineering projects pulled more water from rivers. The human presence in the desert blossomed.

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