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Current Topic: Technology

Privacy Requires Security, Not Abstinence
Topic: Technology 7:31 am EDT, Jun 23, 2009

Simson Garfinkel:

Privacy matters.

Until recently, people who wanted to preserve their privacy were urged to "opt out" or abstain from some aspects of modern society. Now, however, abstinence no longer guarantees privacy.

The story of privacy in America is the story of inventions and the story of fear; it is best told around certain moments of opportunity and danger.

It's comforting to know that U.S. law eventually gets things right with respect to privacy--that is the power of our republic, after all. But it's also troubling how long it sometimes takes.

Though a stronger identification system would undoubtedly harm some citizens through errors, I think the opposition is unfortunate.

We need to learn how to protect privacy by intention, not by accident.

Decius, in February 2009:

The ship has already sailed on the question of whether or not it's reasonable for the government to collect evidence about everyone all the time so that it can be used against them in court if someone accuses them of a crime or civil tort.

Noam Cohen's friend, in February 2009:

Privacy is serious. It is serious the moment the data gets collected, not the moment it is released.

See also:

“Given his role in REAL ID, Tom Davis would not be a good choice for privacy, which is something that President Obama specifically promised to protect in his remarks on the cyber security strategy,” says Jim Harper, the director of information policy studies at the libertarian Cato Institute. “Many cyber security planners refer obliquely to ‘authentication’ and ‘identity management’ programs that would devastate privacy, anonymity and civil liberties. Davis would probably work to roll past these issues rather than solve them.”

Privacy Requires Security, Not Abstinence

Fever° Red hot. Well read.
Topic: Technology 8:02 am EDT, Jun 19, 2009

Your current feed reader is full of unread items.

You’re hesitant to subscribe to any more feeds because you can't keep up with your existing subs.

Maybe you've even abandoned feeds altogether.

Fever takes the temperature of your slice of the web and shows you what's hot.

Fever° Red hot. Well read.

The One Fiber Optic Cable No One on the Dig for Tysons Rail Wants to Hit
Topic: Technology 8:18 am EDT, Jun  4, 2009

Amy Gardner:

This part happens all the time: A construction crew putting up an office building in the heart of Tysons Corner a few years ago hit a fiber optic cable no one knew was there.

This part doesn't: Within moments, three black sport-utility vehicles drove up, a half-dozen men in suits jumped out and one said, "You just hit our line."

Recently, on the other coast:

Police are hunting for vandals who chopped fiber-optic cables and killed landlines, cell phones and Internet service for tens of thousands of people in Santa Clara, Santa Cruz and San Benito counties on Thursday.

Ten fiber-optic cables carrying were cut at four locations in the predawn darkness.

On China Miéville's The City:

The place is drab, the people glum, the culture a faded pastiche of Ottoman, Slav, Byzantine and Austro-Hungarian Mitteleuropa. It's a decaying, depressed world reminiscent of the 1949 film "The Third Man," where shadows, paranoia, secrecy and unseen forces reign.

The One Fiber Optic Cable No One on the Dig for Tysons Rail Wants to Hit

How To Write Unmaintainable Code
Topic: Technology 8:18 am EDT, Jun  4, 2009

Roedy Green:

In the interests of creating employment opportunities in the Java programming field, I am passing on these tips from the masters on how to write code that is so difficult to maintain, that the people who come after you will take years to make even the simplest changes. Further, if you follow all these rules religiously, you will even guarantee yourself a lifetime of employment, since no one but you has a hope in hell of maintaining the code. Then again, if you followed all these rules religiously, even you wouldn't be able to maintain the code!

You don't want to overdo this. Your code should not look hopelessly unmaintainable, just be that way (*). Otherwise it stands the risk of being rewritten or refactored.

Neil Postman:

The computer is, in a sense, a magnificent toy that distracts us from facing what we most needed to confront -- spiritual emptiness, knowledge of ourselves, usable conceptions of the past and future. Does one blame the computer for this? Of course not. It is, after all, only a machine.

Have you seen Revolutionary Road?

Hopeless emptiness. Now you've said it. Plenty of people are onto the emptiness, but it takes real guts to see the hopelessness.

(*) Take note:

Underwear should be the normal type that people wear, not anything that shows you're a fundamentalist.

How To Write Unmaintainable Code

Beautiful Data: The Stories Behind Elegant Data Solutions
Topic: Technology 7:51 am EDT, May 11, 2009

Toby Segaran and Jeff Hammerbacher:

In this insightful book, you'll learn from the best data practitioners in the field just how wide-ranging -- and beautiful -- working with data can be. Join 39 contributors as they explain how they developed simple and elegant solutions on projects ranging from the Mars lander to a Radiohead video.

With Beautiful Data, you will:

* Explore the opportunities and challenges involved in working with the vast number of datasets made available by the Web
* Learn how to visualize trends in urban crime, using maps and data mashups
* Discover the challenges of designing a data processing system that works within the constraints of space travel
* Learn how crowdsourcing and transparency have combined to advance the state of drug research
* Understand how new data can automatically trigger alerts when it matches or overlaps pre-existing data
* Learn about the massive infrastructure required to create, capture, and process DNA data

That's only small sample of what you'll find in Beautiful Data. For anyone who handles data, this is a truly fascinating book.

Consider the chapter, Beautiful Political Data.

From the recent archive, Peter Norvig:

Invariably, simple models and a lot of data trump more elaborate models based on less data.

So, follow the data.

Beautiful Data: The Stories Behind Elegant Data Solutions

Decoding the Heavens: A 2,000-Year-Old Computer -- and the Century-Long Search to Discover Its Secrets
Topic: Technology 7:51 am EDT, May 11, 2009

Publishers Weekly Starred Review:

Jo Marchant, editor of New Science, relates the century-long struggle of competing amateurs and scientists to understand the secrets of a 2000-year-old clock-like mechanism found in 1901 by Greek divers off the coast of Antikythera, a small island near Tunisia.

With new research and interviews, Marchant goes behind the scenes of the National Museum in Athens, which zealously guarded the treasure while overlooking its importance; examines the significant contributions of a London Science Museum assistant curator who spent more than 30 years building models of the device; and the 2006 discoveries made by a group of modern researchers using state-of-the-art X-ray. Beneath its ancient, calcified surfaces they found "delicate cogwheels of all sizes" with perfectly formed triangular teeth, astronomical inscriptions "crammed onto every surviving surface," and a 223-tooth manually-operated turntable that guides the device.

Variously described as a calendar computer, a planetarium and an eclipse predictor, Marchant gives clear explanations of the questions and topics involved, including Greek astronomy and clockwork mechanisms. For all they've learned, however, the Antikythera mechanism still retains secrets that may reveal unknown connections between modern and ancient technology; this globe-trotting, era-spanning mystery should absorb armchair scientists of all kinds.

Decoding the Heavens: A 2,000-Year-Old Computer -- and the Century-Long Search to Discover Its Secrets

Racing the Beam: The Atari Video Computer System
Topic: Technology 7:51 am EDT, May 11, 2009

Nick Montfort and Ian Bogost:

The Atari Video Computer System dominated the home videogame market so completely that "Atari" became the generic term for a videogame console. The Atari VCS was affordable and offered the flexibility of changeable cartridges. Nearly a thousand of these were created, the most significant of which established new techniques, mechanics, and even entire genres. This book offers a detailed and accessible study of this influential videogame console from both computational and cultural perspectives.

Studies of digital media have rarely investigated platforms—the systems underlying computing. This book (the first in a series of Platform Studies) does so, developing a critical approach that examines the relationship between platforms and creative expression. Nick Montfort and Ian Bogost discuss the Atari VCS itself and examine in detail six game cartridges: Combat, Adventure, Pac-Man, Yars' Revenge, Pitfall!, and Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. They describe the technical constraints and affordances of the system and track developments in programming, gameplay, interface, and aesthetics. Adventure, for example, was the first game to represent a virtual space larger than the screen (anticipating the boundless virtual spaces of such later games as World of Warcraft and Grand Theft Auto), by allowing the player to walk off one side into another space; and Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back was an early instance of interaction between media properties and video games.

Montfort and Bogost show that the Atari VCS—often considered merely a retro fetish object—is an essential part of the history of video games.

Racing the Beam: The Atari Video Computer System

Topic: Technology 8:09 am EDT, May  7, 2009

Kevin Kelly:

Upcreation is my term for the peculiar, profound, and still mysterious way by which complex structures appear in the universe. By complex structures I mean galaxies, stars, planets, life, DNA, termite mounds, rain forests, human minds, and the internet. We would like to upcreate artificial minds and artificial life. However, much to our dismay, upcreation turns out to be something very hard to imitate. For some goals, like making a human-like artificial intelligence in computers, bumping a system up to the next level of complexity has so far been a total failure. A large part of the difficulty lies in our lack of a good understanding of what happens during emergence. What does it mean to make a new level, how do we recognize one, and what are its preconditions?


Some Notes on Distributed Key Stores
Topic: Technology 7:00 am EDT, Apr 24, 2009

Last week I ended up building a distributed keystore for a client.

Some Notes on Distributed Key Stores

Google News Timeline
Topic: Technology 8:15 pm EDT, Apr 20, 2009

Google News Timeline is a web application that organizes search results chronologically. It allows users to view news and other data sources on a browsable, graphical timeline. Available data sources include recent and historical news, scanned newspapers and magazines, blog posts, sports scores, and information about various types of media, like music albums and movies.

I observe the absence of "century" and "millennium" modes. It sadly informs me that "0 is not a valid date." Apparently nothing newsworthy happened in 1401. Ditto for 1425.

It would be nice if they could present the Google Books data with this interface.

Google News Timeline

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