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Current Topic: Technology

The Retrospectively Marvelous Part
Topic: Technology 6:58 am EDT, Jun 16, 2010

Paul Graham:

I'm not saying we should stop, but I think we should at least examine which lies we tell and why.

David Foster Wallace:

Good old traditional audio-only phone conversations allowed you to presume that the person on the other end was paying complete attention to you while also permitting you not to have to pay anything even close to complete attention to her. A traditional aural-only conversation [...] let you enter a kind of highway-hypnotic semi-attentive fugue: while conversing, you could look around the room, doodle, fine-groom, peel tiny bits of dead skin away from your cuticles, compose phone-pad haiku, stir things on the stove; you could even carry on a whole separate additional sign-language-and-exaggerated-facial-expression type of conversation with people right there in the room with you, all while seeming to be right there attending closely to the voice on the phone. And yet -- and this was the retrospectively marvelous part -- even as you were dividing your attention between the phone call and all sorts of other idle little fuguelike activities, you were somehow never haunted by the suspicion that the person on the other end's attention might be similarly divided.

Video telephony rendered the fantasy insupportable.

Caterina Fake:

All those people looking for connection, that perennial human desire. It's just insatiable.

David Foster Wallace:

One thing TV does is help us deny that we're lonely. The interesting thing is why we're so desperate for this anesthetic against loneliness.

Adam Shand:

It's possible to get accustomed to anything. Make bloody sure you are aware of what you've become accustomed to.

Linda Stone:

Continuous partial attention is neither good nor bad, it just is.

David Meyer:

People aren't aware what's happening to their mental processes, in the same way that people years ago couldn't look into their lungs and see the residual deposits.

The damage will take decades to understand, let alone fix.

Neil Howe:

If you think that things couldn't get any worse, wait till the 2020s.

The Shallows
Topic: Technology 7:30 am EDT, May 24, 2010

Nicholas Carr has a new book.

What are the consequences of new habits of mind that abandon sustained immersion and concentration for darting about, snagging bits of information? What is gained and what is lost?

Matthew B. Crawford, author of Shop Class As Soulcraft:

The core of education is this: developing the capacity to concentrate. The fruits of this capacity we call civilization. But all that is finished, perhaps. Welcome to the shallows, where the un-educating of homo sapiens begins. Nicholas Carr does a wonderful job synthesizing the recent cognitive research. In doing so, he gently refutes the ideologists of progress, and shows what is really at stake in the daily habits of our wired lives: the re-constitution of our minds. What emerges for the reader, inexorably, is the suspicion that we have well and truly screwed ourselves.

Winifred Gallagher:

You can't be happy all the time, but you can pretty much focus all the time. That's about as good as it gets.

Neal Stephenson:

There's a gap emerging between the kind of thinking that requires long, uninterrupted, serious concentration on something and superficial surfing behaviour.

Russel Arben Fox:

In becoming jugglers of information we are actually making it -- neurologically, psychologically, structurally -- harder and harder for our own brains to do anything otherwise.

Samantha Power:

There are great benefits to connectedness, but we haven't wrapped our minds around the costs.

Dave Eggers:

It's just sort of like: 'Why does everything have to be on the screen?'

David Lynch:

Some things we forget. But many things we remember on the mental screen, which is the biggest screen of all.

Daniel Dennett:

We have a population explosion of ideas, but not enough brains to cover them.

The Shallows

Points of View: a tribute to Alan Kay
Topic: Technology 7:30 am EDT, May 24, 2010

A new book.

Points of View is a collection of previously-unpublished essays written to celebrate Alan Kay's 70th birthday. Twenty-nine luminaries from diverse disciplines contributed original material for this book.

Contributors include Ivan Sutherland, Leonard Kleinrock, John Sculley, Nicholas Negroponte, David Reed, Butler Lampson, Doug Lenat, Vint Cert, Mitchel Resnick, Bran Ferren, Bob Lucky, Gordon Bell, and Danny Hillis, and more.

Who is Alan Kay?

Alan Kay is one of the most influential computer scientists of the modern era. His contributions, among many others, include the concept of the personal computer.

From the archive, Alan Kay:

We can't learn to see until we realize we are blind.

I once asked Ivan [Sutherland], 'How is it possible for you to have invented computer graphics, done the first object oriented software system and the first real time constraint solver all by yourself in one year?" And he said "I didn't know it was hard."

At PARC we had a slogan: "Point of view is worth 80 IQ points."

If the children are being instructed in the pink plane, can we teach them to think in the blue plane and live in a pink-plane society?

Points of View: a tribute to Alan Kay

Letting Things Die
Topic: Technology 7:23 am EDT, Apr  7, 2010

Paul Scrivens:

Why is it really that hard to let go? For me it's hard because I know what is needed to get the project to where I would be happy with it and all I need to do is go on and do that stuff. However, I find something else to do, but tell myself that I can still make the project a success. If I really wanted to make it a success then I would have stuck with it. There is a huge difference between wanting something and wanting something. Just because you tell yourself you want it doesn't prove anything. Just like relationships, it's your actions that need to do the talking.

Garrison Keillor, quoting you:

I could have done that. I could have done that while doing all the other things that I do. Why didn't I?

Viktor Chernomyrdin:

We wanted the best, but it turned out as always.

David Gelernter:

Instead of letting the Internet solve the easy problems, it's time we got it to solve the important ones.

Theodore Roosevelt:

Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.

On John McCain:

In all his speeches, John McCain urges Americans to make sacrifices for a country that is both "an idea and a cause".

He is not asking them to suffer anything he would not suffer himself.

But many voters would rather not suffer at all.

Letting Things Die

The Design of Design: Essays from a Computer Scientist
Topic: Technology 7:23 am EDT, Apr  7, 2010

Fred Brooks has a new book.

Effective design is at the heart of everything from software development to engineering to architecture. But what do we really know about the design process? What leads to effective, elegant designs? The Design of Design addresses these questions.

These new essays by Fred Brooks contain extraordinary insights for designers in every discipline. Brooks pinpoints constants inherent in all design projects and uncovers processes and patterns likely to lead to excellence. Drawing on conversations with dozens of exceptional designers, as well as his own experiences in several design domains, Brooks observes that bold design decisions lead to better outcomes.

The author tracks the evolution of the design process, treats collaborative and distributed design, and illuminates what makes a truly great designer. He examines the nuts and bolts of design processes, including budget constraints of many kinds, aesthetics, design empiricism, and tools, and grounds this discussion in his own real-world examples-case studies ranging from home construction to IBM's Operating System/360. Throughout, Brooks reveals keys to success that every designer, design project manager, and design researcher should know.

Christopher Alexander:

A building or town will only be alive to the extent that it is governed by the timeless way.

The search which we make for this quality, in our own lives, is the central search of any person ... It is the search for those moments and situations when we are most alive.

Virginie Tisseau:

I ride the tram because every day it takes me to a place less familiar.

Richard Haass:

Let's not kid ourselves. We're not going to find some wonderful thing that's going to deliver large positive results at modest costs. It's not going to happen.


I don't have a solution for the problem of bad taste.

Ira Glass:

Not enough gets said about the importance of abandoning crap.


All the time you spend tryin to get back what's been took from you there's more goin out the door. After a while you just try and get a tourniquet on it.

Brad Lemley:

It is a clock, but it is designed to do something no clock has ever been conceived to do -- run with perfect accuracy for 10,000 years.

Fake Steve:

The truth is, this is all about spiritual emptiness. That is why you're standing in line. Except for Scoble, who is an attention whore and just doing it to get attention.

Paul Carr:

If we all started thinking a bit more like friends, and a bit less like attention whores, the privacy problem would be solved at a stroke.

An exchange with Rory Stewart:

"We're beating the cat."

"Why are you beating the cat?"

"It's a cat-tiger strategy."

The Design of Design: Essays from a Computer Scientist

Living Data
Topic: Technology 10:20 am EDT, Mar 20, 2010

Phil Agre, 1994:

Despite all the hype about faster and better and cheaper and friendlier, it's amazing how little the foundations of computing have changed. From the 1940s to today, the raw material of computation has been something called "data." Data is made of bits. But data isn't just numbers -- it's also a way of thinking about the relationship between the abstract territory inside computers and the concrete territory outside them. Data has meaning -- it represents the world.

We're so accustomed to data that hardly anyone questions it.

But data is obsolete. The problem with data is that it's dead.

Managers everywhere mostly use computers to justify the actions they've already decided on, and dead data can't call them on their games.

Vannevar Bush, 1945:

Presumably man's spirit should be elevated if he can better review his shady past and analyze more completely and objectively his present problems. He has built a civilization so complex that he needs to mechanize his records more fully if he is to push his experiment to its logical conclusion and not merely become bogged down part way there by overtaxing his limited memory. His excursions may be more enjoyable if he can reacquire the privilege of forgetting the manifold things he does not need to have immediately at hand, with some assurance that he can find them again if they prove important.


Money for me, databases for you.

"Leonard Nimoy":

It's all lies. But they're entertaining lies. And in the end, isn't that the real truth?

The answer ... is No.

William Deresiewicz:

For too long we have been training leaders who only know how to keep the routine going. Who can answer questions, but don't know how to ask them. Who can fulfill goals, but don't know how to set them. Who think about how to get things done, but not whether they're worth doing in the first place. What we have now are the greatest technocrats the world has ever seen, people who have been trained to be incredibly good at one specific thing, but who have no interest in anything beyond their area of expertise. What we don't have are leaders.


It isn't Congress that must change -- it is us.

Benjamin Franklin:

It was about this time I conceived the bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection.

Living Data

What are suspicious VoIP delays?
Topic: Technology 7:11 am EST, Mar  1, 2010

Wojciech Mazurczyk, Krzysztof Cabaj, Krzysztof Szczypiorski:

Voice over IP (VoIP) is unquestionably the most popular real-time service in IP networks today. Recent studies have shown that it is also a suitable carrier for information hiding. Hidden communication may pose security concerns as it can lead to confidential information leakage. In VoIP, RTP (Real-time Transport Protocol) in particular, which provides the means for the successful transport of voice packets through IP networks, is suitable for steganographic purposes. It is characterised by a high packet rate compared to other protocols used in IP telephony, resulting in a potentially high steganographic bandwidth. The modification of an RTP packet stream provides many opportunities for hidden communication as the packets may be delayed, reordered or intentionally lost. In this paper, to enable the detection of steganographic exchanges in VoIP, we examined real RTP traffic traces to answer the questions, what do the "normal" delays in RTP packet streams look like? and, is it possible to detect the use of known RTP steganographic methods based on this knowledge?

Druid, from the archive, circa 2007:

Real-time Transfer Protocol (RTP) is used by nearly all Voice-over-IP systems to provide the audio channel for calls. As such, it provides ample opportunity for the creation of a covert communication channel due to its very nature. While use of steganographic techniques with various audio cover-medium has been extensively researched, most applications of such have been limited to audio cover-medium of a static nature such as WAV or MP3 file audio data. This paper details a common technique for the use of steganography with audio data cover-medium, outlines the problem issues that arise when attempting to use such techniques to establish a full-duplex communications channel within audio data transmitted via an unreliable streaming protocol, and documents solutions to these problems. An implementation of the ideas discussed entitled SteganRTP is included in the reference materials.

Matt Blaze:

Reliable network interception may not be as simple as previously thought.


Paranoia about the conspiracy is always justified. It's just usually misplaced.

What are suspicious VoIP delays?

Computer Mediated Transactions
Topic: Technology 7:11 am EST, Mar  1, 2010

Hal Varian:

Every now and then a set of technologies becomes available that sets off a period of "combinatorial innovation." The component parts of these technologies can be combined and recombined by innovators to create new devices and applications.

It is hardly novel to suggest that contractual form depends on what is observable. What is interesting, I think, is the way that progress in information technology enables new contractual forms.


These days nearly every economic transaction involves a computer in some form or other. What does this mean for economics? I argue that the ubiquity of computers enables new and more efficient contractual forms, better alignment of incentives, more sophisticated data extraction and analysis, creates an environment for controlled experimentation, and allows for personalization and customization. I review some of the long and rich history of these phenomena and describe some of their implications for current and future practices.

Ross Anderson:

Many of the problems [of information insecurity] can be explained more clearly and convincingly using the language of microeconomics: network externalities, asymmetric information, moral hazard, adverse selection, liability dumping and the tragedy of the commons.

Dee Hock:

Inherent in Visa is the archetype of the organization of the 21st century.


The tempting answer is to try to wriggle free from the dilemma with a compromise that would permit innovation but exert just enough control to squeeze out financial failure.

It is a nice idea; but it is a fantasy.

Financial progress is about learning to deal with strangers in more complex ways.

Computer Mediated Transactions

Chip and PIN is Broken
Topic: Technology 1:08 pm EST, Feb 15, 2010

Steven J. Murdoch, Saar Drimer, Ross Anderson, and Mike Bond:

EMV is the dominant protocol used for smart card payments worldwide, with over 730 million cards in circulation. Known to bank customers as "Chip and PIN", it is used in Europe; it is being introduced in Canada; and there is pressure from banks to introduce it in the USA too. EMV secures credit and debit card transactions by authenticating both the card and the customer presenting it through a combination of cryptographic authentication codes, digital signatures, and the entry of a PIN.

In this paper we describe and demonstrate a protocol flaw which allows criminals to use a genuine card to make a payment without knowing the card's PIN, and to remain undetected even when the merchant has an online connection to the banking network. The fraudster performs a man-in-the-middle attack to trick the terminal into believing the PIN verified correctly, while telling the issuing bank that no PIN was entered at all. The paper considers how the flaws arose, why they remained unknown despite EMV's wide deployment for the best part of a decade, and how they might be fixed. Because we have found and validated a practical attack against the core functionality of EMV, we conclude that the protocol is broken.

This failure is significant in the field of protocol design, and also has important public policy implications, in light of growing reports of fraud on stolen EMV cards. Frequently, banks deny such fraud victims a refund, asserting that a card cannot be used without the correct PIN, and concluding that the customer must be grossly negligent or lying. Our attack can explain a number of these cases, and exposes the need for further research to bridge the gap between the theoretical and practical security of bank payment systems.

Steve Bellovin et al:

Architecture matters a lot, and in subtle ways.

Joe Klein:

Blackboard, now acting like a financial network, is not using secure communications.

John Schwartz:

The critical issue is no longer getting information, but getting the right information to the right people at the right time. And that turns out to be one of the hardest tasks around.

Chip and PIN is Broken

How To Safely Store A Password
Topic: Technology 7:53 am EST, Feb  1, 2010

Coda Hale:

Use bcrypt. Use bcrypt. Use bcrypt. Use bcrypt. Use bcrypt. Use bcrypt. Use bcrypt. Use bcrypt. Use bcrypt.

How To Safely Store A Password

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