Ramblings & ephemera

The Pareto Principle & Temperament Dimensions

From David Brooks’ “More Tools For Thinking” (The New York Times: 29 March 2011): Clay Shirkey nominates the Pareto Principle. We have the idea in our heads that most distributions fall along a bell curve (most people are in the middle). But this is not how the world is organized in sphere after sphere. The […]

Richard Ford on how to deal with mythical narratives

From Bonnie Lyons’s interview of Richard Ford in “The Art of Fiction No. 147” (The Paris Review: Fall 1996, No. 140): …when you start manipulating mythical narratives, whether you blunder into them or you do it by calculation, you’d better—to be in control of your book—reckon with their true potency and wide reference. They haven’t […]

Dan Ariely on irrational decision making

From Dan Ariely’s “Dan Ariely asks, Are we in control of our own decisions?” (TED: 24 June 2009): I’ll give you a couple of more examples on irrational decision making. Imagine I give you a choice. Do you want to go for a weekend to Rome? All expenses paid, hotel, transportation, food, breakfast, a continental […]

Looking at others’ lives for clues to what might have been

From Tim Kreider’s “The Referendum” (The New York Times: 17 September 2009): The Referendum is a phenomenon typical of (but not limited to) midlife, whereby people, increasingly aware of the finiteness of their time in the world, the limitations placed on them by their choices so far, and the narrowing options remaining to them, start […]

Apple’s role in technology

Image via CrunchBase From Doc Searls’s “The Most Personal Device” (Linux Journal: 1 March 2009): My friend Keith Hopper made an interesting observation recently. He said one of Apple’s roles in the world is finding categories where progress is logjammed, and opening things up by coming out with a single solution that takes care of […]

What Google’s book settlement means

Image via Wikipedia From Robert Darnton’s “Google & the Future of Books” (The New York Review of Books: 12 February 2009): As the Enlightenment faded in the early nineteenth century, professionalization set in. You can follow the process by comparing the Encyclopédie of Diderot, which organized knowledge into an organic whole dominated by the faculty […]

RFID security problems

photo credit: sleepymyf 2005 From Brian Krebs’ “Leaving Las Vegas: So Long DefCon and Blackhat” (The Washington Post: 1 August 2005): DefCon 13 also was notable for being the location where two new world records were set — both involved shooting certain electronic signals unprecedented distances. Los Angeles-based Flexilis set the world record for transmitting […]

How security experts defended against Conficker

From Jim Giles’ “The inside story of the Conficker worm” (New Scientist: 12 June 2009): 23 October 2008 … The dry, technical language of Microsoft’s October update did not indicate anything particularly untoward. A security flaw in a port that Windows-based PCs use to send and receive network signals, it said, might be used to […]

David Foster Wallace on the importance of writing within formal constraints

From Larry McCaffery’s “Conversation with David Foster Wallace” (Dalkey Archive Press at the University of Illinois: Summer 1993): You’re probably right about appreciating limits. The sixties’ movement in poetry to radical free verse, in fiction to radically experimental recursive forms—their legacy to my generation of would-be artists is at least an incentive to ask very […]

All about freezing to death

photo credit: State Library of New South Wales collection From Peter Stark’s “As Freezing Persons Recollect the Snow–First Chill–Then Stupor–Then the Letting Go” (Outside: January 1997): There is no precise core temperature at which the human body perishes from cold. At Dachau’s cold-water immersion baths, Nazi doctors calculated death to arrive at around 77 degrees […]

Green Dam is easily exploitable

From Scott Wolchok, Randy Yao, and J. Alex Halderman’s “Analysis of the Green Dam Censorware System” (The University of Michigan: 11 June 2009): We have discovered remotely-exploitable vulnerabilities in Green Dam, the censorship software reportedly mandated by the Chinese government. Any web site a Green Dam user visits can take control of the PC. According […]

The watchclock knows where your night watchman is

photo credit: 917press From Christopher Fahey’s “Who Watches the Watchman?” (GraphPaper: 2 May 2009): The Detex Newman watchclock was first introduced in 1927 and is still in wide use today. &hellip What could you possibly do in 1900 to be absolutely sure a night watchman was making his full patrol? An elegant solution, designed and […]

Another huge botnet

From Kelly Jackson Higgins’ “Researchers Find Massive Botnet On Nearly 2 Million Infected Consumer, Business, Government PCs” (Dark Reading: 22 April 2009): Researchers have discovered a major botnet operating out of the Ukraine that has infected 1.9 million machines, including large corporate and government PCs mainly in the U.S. The botnet, which appears to be […]

Social software: 5 properties & 3 dynamics

From danah boyd’s “Social Media is Here to Stay… Now What?” at the Microsoft Research Tech Fest, Redmond, Washington (danah: 26 February 2009): Certain properties are core to social media in a combination that alters how people engage with one another. I want to discuss five properties of social media and three dynamics. These are […]

How the fundamentalist thinks

From ScienceDaily’s “Brain Differences Found Between Believers In God And Non-believers” (5 March 2009): In two studies led by Assistant Psychology Professor Michael Inzlicht, participants performed a Stroop task – a well-known test of cognitive control – while hooked up to electrodes that measured their brain activity. Compared to non-believers, the religious participants showed significantly […]

Why cons work on us

From Damien Carrick’s interview with Nicholas Johnson, “The psychology of conmen” (The Law Report: 30 September 2008): Nicholas Johnson: I think what I love most about con artists and the world of scammers is that they’re criminals who manage to get their victims to hand over their possessions freely. Most thieves and robbers and the […]

Chemically remove bad memories

From Nicholas Carr’s “Remembering to forget” (Rough Type: 22 October 2008): Slowly but surely, scientists are getting closer to developing a drug that will allow people to eliminate unpleasant memories. The new issue of Neuron features a report from a group of Chinese scientists who were able to use a chemical – the protein alpha-CaM […]

Conficker creating a new gargantuan botneth

From Asavin Wattanajantra’s “Windows worm could create the ‘world’s biggest botnet’” (IT PRO: 19 January 2009): The Downadup or “Conficker” worm has increased to over nine million infections over the weekend – increasing from 2.4 million in a four-day period, according to F-Secure. … The worm has password cracking capabilities, which is often successful because […]

US government makes unsafe RFID-laden passports even less safe through business practices

From Bill Gertz’s “Outsourced passports netting govt. profits, risking national security” (The Washington Times: 26 March 2008): The United States has outsourced the manufacturing of its electronic passports to overseas companies — including one in Thailand that was victimized by Chinese espionage — raising concerns that cost savings are being put ahead of national security, […]

The end of Storm

From Brian Krebs’ “Atrivo Shutdown Hastened Demise of Storm Worm” (The Washington Post: 17 October 2008): The infamous Storm worm, which powered a network of thousands of compromised PCs once responsible for sending more than 20 percent of all spam, appears to have died off. Security experts say Storm’s death knell was sounded by the […]