Thursday, December 21, 2017

Stuff I'm reading, holiday 2017 edition

This was a busy year, and I didn't get to blog as much.

Sorry about that.

  • Just watch this
    It’s a good, no, great talk about principles of leadership by Bryan Cantrill. At turns hilarious, angry, and poignant, it is quite simply one of the best talks I have ever seen about what we’re building in tech and why and how to do better. We need to move forward, take responsibility and begin to tear down a culture in which "always be hustlin'" is a leadership principle. A frank, harsh look at Amazon, Uber, and techbro thinking, with some eulogy to Sun baked in. It’s a great talk. Please watch it.
  • Google Maps's Moat
    But "buildings" is the wrong word to describe what Google’s been adding; it’s more like "structures". Because not only has Google been adding houses, it’s been adding garages and tool sheds
  • We Are Running Out of Time to Make Algorithms Fair
    It’s tempting to presume that technology changes more quickly than society and that software can reinforce social progress by rapidly encoding new norms and insulating them from regressive or malicious actors. A sentencing algorithm can do less harm than a blatantly bigoted judge. But it can also obscure the history and context of bias and hinder, or even preclude, progress. Infrastructure is sticky and the window of opportunity is narrowing: Technology can improve in the future, but we’re making decisions about what tradeoffs to make now. It’s not clear how often, or even whether, we’ll get the opportunity to revisit those tradeoffs.
  • Dozens of Companies Are Using Facebook to Exclude Older Workers From Job Ads
    The ability of advertisers to deliver their message to the precise audience most likely to respond is the cornerstone of Facebook’s business model. But using the system to expose job opportunities only to certain age groups has raised concerns about fairness to older workers.
  • The 2017 Stratechery Year in Review
    the most popular and most important posts of the year: tech and society figure prominently.
    It turns out that a common trick when displaying an x86/x64 call stack is to subtract one from return addresses before looking them up in the symbol tables. The return address is the instruction after the function call which could be from an arbitrarily different line of code (thanks to optimizers), but subtracting one from the return address gets an address that is guaranteed to be inside the call instruction, and therefore will let the debugger show the line number of the call instead of the return. This is such a clever and seamless trick that we normally don’t even notice it is happening - until it fails.
  • Secret Link Uncovered Between Pure Math and Physics
    Over the past decade Kim has described a very new way of looking for patterns in the seemingly patternless world of rational numbers. He’s described this method in papers and conference talks and passed it along to students who now carry on the work themselves. Yet he has always held something back. He has a vision that animates his ideas, one based not in the pure world of numbers, but in concepts borrowed from physics. To Kim, rational solutions are somehow like the trajectory of light.
  • When You Can’t Afford Not to Have Power Redundancy
    It seems sensible for the operators of the biggest airport in the world and the airlines that fly through that facility to collectively pay $21M for 10 years of protection and have power redundancy. Considering this from a regulatory perspective and looking at the value of keeping the largest of the nation’s airports operating, a good argument can be made that it shouldn’t be possible for a single power event to take out such a facility and it should be a requirement to have reasonable redundancy through all the infrastructure of any airport of medium or larger size.
  • Only Verify State-Changing Method Calls
    Instead of verifying that they are called, use non-state-changing methods to simulate different conditions in tests
  • Motel Living and Slowly Dying
    The particular rhythms of what I do - track the pig in its journey beneath the prairies, hand off the job to my counterpart on the other shift, find a hotel near where I’ll rejoin the line, sleep, lather, rinse, repeat - have made me something of an unintentional expert on hotel living and on the America nobody dreams about seeing on vacation.

    I travel by secondary and tertiary roads, skulking around the pipeline on 12-hour shifts, either midnight to noon or noon to midnight. I work alone, mostly. And when the shift is done, I catch my rest in places like Harrisonville, Missouri, and Iola, Kansas. Lapeer, Michigan, and Amherst, New York. Toledo, Ohio, and Thief River Falls, Minnesota.

  • How AlphaZero Wins
    To evaluate a position, it simply plays hundreds of random games from that position. To you or me this may seem like a crazy idea, but actually it makes a certain amount of sense. In some positions there may be only one "correct" way for White to win - but often in these positions Black is visibly in trouble anyway. If you give the position to two grandmasters, they might play the correct line and White would win. If you give it to two 2200 players, they may play almost correctly and White will still win. If you give the position to two 1400 players, they will make mistakes right and left - but White will still win. So the point is that even incorrect play will still give you a sense of who is winning, as long as the mistakes are equally distributed on both sides.
  • Truth From Zero?
    The Dec. 5 paper is sketchy and only 10 of the 100 games against Stockfish have been released, all hand-picked wins. I share some general scientific caveats voiced by AI researcher and chess master Jose Camacho-Collados. I agree that two moves by AlphaZero (21. Bg5!! and 30.Bxg6!! followed by 32.f5!! as featured here) were ethereal. There are, however, several other possible ways to tell how close AlphaZero comes to perfection.
  • From Automata to Zelda, These Are the Best Games of 2017
    2017 was an incredible year for videogames-a mixed bag of genre, style, and mood. The best titles ranged from sweeping adventures to tense shooters to meditations on the existential burden of life. Some of the games released this year will go on to be lauded as the most important, profound videogames of this generation. If you don't know how to dive into videogames in the coming days, here is where to start.
  • The Best Games You Might Have Missed in 2017
    More than 400 videogames were released this year. Four. Hundred. With a firehose like that, it's all too easy to miss some of the gems that become available, so we pored through our played list to pull together our favorite under-the-radar titles.
  • 16 Best Gifts for Gamers, According to Gamers
    For our latest installment, we found ten gamers to tell us what they want for the holidays, from wireless earbuds to vintage-ish Tamagotchis.
  • Table-top generals
    A board-game café sounds like the sort of niche business that appeals only to hip millennials with a fondness for ironic nostalgia. But, on a Friday afternoon, the crowd is more diverse than that, with families and 50-somethings alongside the youngsters. Draughts is doing so well that its owners are now pondering opening another branch. It is just one beneficiary of a new golden age in board games.
  • The Best Jazz Albums of 2017
    Even as the world goes up in smoke, artists still make art, and this very much includes jazz musicians, whose best work this year (at least the best that I managed to hear amid the noise) plumbed old and new, tradition and innovation, structure and freedom, with - under the circumstances - heroic strivings.
  • Chicago's underground city that’s becoming a design star
    Mazing for five miles under 40 blocks of The Loop (Chicago’s business district), this network of tunnels connects some of the city’s most famous buildings, including Macy’s, City Hall and the Chicago Cultural Center.

    Construction began in 1951 to provide safe, weatherproof passage between the buildings, and the hotchpotch of corridors has been built piecemeal ever since. Each section is independently owned and maintained by the corresponding building above, so each section has different lights, even different air temperatures.

  • The Most 2017 Photos Ever
    Not necessarily the top photos of the year, nor the most heart-wrenching or emotional images, but a collection of photographs that are just so 2017.

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