Ramblings & ephemera

Philip Larkin on modernism

From Robert Phillips’s interview of Philip Larkin in “The Art of Poetry No. 30” (The Paris Review: Summer 1982, No. 84): It seems to me undeniable that up to this century literature used language in the way we all use it, painting represented what anyone with normal vision sees, and music was an affair of […]

The origin of the word “munge”, “hack”, & others

From Steven Levy’s Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution (Penguin Books: 2001): 23: The core members hung out at [MIT’s Tech Model Railroad Club in the late 1950s] for hours; constantly improving The System, arguing about what could be done next, developing a jargon of their own that seemed incomprehensible to outsiders who might chance […]

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 […]

Steve Jobs on mediocrity & market share

From Steven Levy’s “OK, Mac, Make a Wish: Apple’s ‘computer for the rest of us’ is, insanely, 20” (Newsweek: 2 February 2004): If that’s so, then why is the Mac market share, even after Apple’s recent revival, sputtering at a measly 5 percent? Jobs has a theory about that, too. Once a company devises a […]

Why everyone wants a computer: socializing

From Paul Graham’s “Why TV Lost” (Paul Graham: March 2009): The somewhat more surprising force was one specific type of innovation: social applications. The average teenage kid has a pretty much infinite capacity for talking to their friends. But they can’t physically be with them all the time. When I was in high school the […]

An analysis of Google’s technology, 2005

From Stephen E. Arnold’s The Google Legacy: How Google’s Internet Search is Transforming Application Software (Infonortics: September 2005): The figure Google’s Fusion: Hardware and Software Engineering shows that Google’s technology framework has two areas of activity. There is the software engineering effort that focuses on PageRank and other applications. Software engineering, as used here, means […]

Lots of good info about the FBI’s far-reaching wiretapping of US phone systems

From Ryan Singel’s “Point, Click … Eavesdrop: How the FBI Wiretap Net Operates” (Wired News: 29 August 2007): The FBI has quietly built a sophisticated, point-and-click surveillance system that performs instant wiretaps on almost any communications device, according to nearly a thousand pages of restricted documents newly released under the Freedom of Information Act. The […]

6 reasons why “content” has been devalued

From Jonathan Handel’s “Is Content Worthless?” (The Huffington Post: 11 April 2008): Everyone focuses on piracy, but there are actually six related reasons for the devaluation of content. The first is supply and demand. Demand — the number of consumers and their available leisure time – is relatively constant, but supply — online content — […]

Examples of tweaking old technologies to add social aspects

From Clay Shirky’s “Group as User: Flaming and the Design of Social Software” (Clay Shirky’s Writings About the Internet: 5 November 2004): This possibility of adding novel social components to old tools presents an enormous opportunity. To take the most famous example, the Slashdot moderation system puts the ability to rate comments into the hands […]

Word of the day: creative destruction

From Wikipedia’s “Creative destruction” (13 July 2006): Creative destruction, introduced by the economist Joseph Schumpeter, describes the process of industrial transformation that accompanies radical innovation. In Schumpeter’s vision of capitalism, innovative entry by entrepreneurs was the force that sustained long-term economic growth, even as it destroyed the value of established companies that enjoyed some degree […]

Prescription drug spending has vastly increased in 25 years

From Clifton Leaf’s “The Law of Unintended Consequences” (Fortune: 19 September 2005): Whatever the answer, it’s clear who pays for it. You do. You pay in the form of vastly higher drug prices and health-care insurance. Americans spent $179 billion on prescription drugs in 2003. That’s up from … wait for it … $12 billion […]

What patents on life has wrought

From Clifton Leaf’s “The Law of Unintended Consequences” (Fortune: 19 September 2005): The Supreme Court’s decision in 1980 to allow for the patenting of living organisms opened the spigots to individual claims of ownership over everything from genes and protein receptors to biochemical pathways and processes. Soon, research scientists were swooping into patent offices around […]

1980 Bayh-Dole Act created the biotech industry … & turned universities into businesses

From Clifton Leaf’s “The Law of Unintended Consequences” (Fortune: 19 September 2005): For a century or more, the white-hot core of American innovation has been basic science. And the foundation of basic science has been the fluid exchange of ideas at the nation’s research universities. It has always been a surprisingly simple equation: Let scientists […]

Antitrust suits led to vertical integration & the IT revolution

From Barry C. Lynn’s “The Case for Breaking Up Wal-Mart” (Harper’s: 24 July 2006): As the industrial scholar Alfred D. Chandler has noted, the vertically integrated firm — which dominated the American economy for most of the last century — was to a great degree the product of antitrust enforcement. When Theodore Roosevelt began to […]

AACS, next-gen encryption for DVDs

From Nate Anderson’s “Hacking Digital Rights Management” (Ars Technica: 18 July 2006): AACS relies on the well-established AES (with 128-bit keys) to safeguard the disc data. Just like DVD players, HD DVD and Blu-ray drives will come with a set of Device Keys handed out to the manufacturers by AACS LA. Unlike the CSS encryption […]

To combat phishing, change browser design philosophy

From Federico Biancuzzi’s “Phishing with Rachna Dhamija” (SecurityFocus: 19 June 2006): We discovered that existing security cues are ineffective, for three reasons: 1. The indicators are ignored (23% of participants in our study did not look at the address bar, status bar, or any SSL indicators). 2. The indicators are misunderstood. For example, one regular […]

Business, work, and good ideas

From Paul Graham’s “Why Smart People Have Bad Ideas” (April 2005): This summer, as an experiment, some friends and I are giving seed funding to a bunch of new startups. It’s an experiment because we’re prepared to fund younger founders than most investors would. That’s why we’re doing it during the summer– so even college […]

Patenting is hurting scientific research & progress

From American Association for the Advancement of Science’s “The Effects of Patenting in the AAAS Scientific Community” [250 kb PDF] (2006): Forty percent of respondents who had acquired patented technologies since January 2001 reported difficulties in obtaining those technologies. Industry bioscience respondents reported the most problems, with 76 percent reporting that their research had been […]

Why big co’s are bad are creating new products

From Paul Graham’s “Hiring is Obsolete” (May 2005): Buying startups also solves another problem afflicting big companies: they can’t do product development. Big companies are good at extracting the value from existing products, but bad at creating new ones. Why? It’s worth studying this phenomenon in detail, because this is the raison d’etre of startups. […]

Jobs are unnecessary – just build something valuable

From Paul Graham’s “Hiring is Obsolete” (May 2005): I think most undergrads don’t realize yet that the economic cage is open. A lot have been told by their parents that the route to success is to get a good job. This was true when their parents were in college, but it’s less true now. The […]