Ramblings & ephemera

Computer security people try to solve problems with technology

From Bruce Schneier in The Evolution of a Cryptographer: Computer security folks are always trying to solve problems with technology, which explains why so many computer solutions fail so miserably.

Clay Shirky on the changes to publishing & media

From Parul Sehgal’s “Here Comes Clay Shirky” (Publisher’s Weekly: 21 June 2010): PW: In April of this year, Wired‘s Kevin Kelly turned a Shirky quote—“Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution”—into “the Shirky Principle,” in deference to the simple, yet powerful observation. … Kelly explained, “The Shirky Principle declares […]

Jeff Bezos on the differences between gifts and choices

From Jeff Bezos’s “We are What We Choose: Remarks by Jeff Bezos, as delivered to the Class of 2010 Baccalaureate” (Princeton University: 30 May 2010): What I want to talk to you about today is the difference between gifts and choices. Cleverness is a gift, kindness is a choice. Gifts are easy — they’re given […]

Nicholas Carr’s cloud koan

From Nicholas Carr’s “Cloud koan” (Rough Type: 1 October 2009): Not everything will move into the cloud, but the cloud will move into everything.

How to tell if someone is a good writer

Image by Esther_G via Flickr From Josh Olson’s “I Will Not Read Your Fucking Script” (The Village Voice: 9 September 2009): It rarely takes more than a page to recognize that you’re in the presence of someone who can write, but it only takes a sentence to know you’re dealing with someone who can’t.

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 […]

Clarke’s three laws of prediction

From Wikipedia’s “Clarke’s three laws” (2 November 2006): Arthur C. Clarke formulated the following three “laws” of prediction: 1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong. 2. The only way of discovering the limits […]

More on memory

Memories are passive fragments. — Scott Granneman

How to start a startup

From Paul Graham’s “Why Smart People Have Bad Ideas” (April 2005): Trevor Blackwell presents the following recipe for a startup: “Watch people who have money to spend, see what they’re wasting their time on, cook up a solution, and try selling it to them. It’s surprising how small a problem can be and still provide […]

Which is better: products or services?

From Paul Graham’s “Why Smart People Have Bad Ideas” (April 2005): It’s much easier to sell services than a product, just as it’s easier to make a living playing at weddings than by selling recordings. But the margins are greater on products.

Protective incompetence

From Paul Graham’s “How to Start a Startup” (March 2005): People who don’t want to get dragged into some kind of work often develop a protective incompetence at it.

What successful startups need

From Paul Graham’s “How to Start a Startup” (March 2005): You need three things to create a successful startup: to start with good people, to make something customers actually want, and to spend as little money as possible. Most startups that fail do it because they fail at one of these. A startup that does […]

Beauty and software

From “Beauty Is Our Business: A Birthday Salute to Edsger W. Dijkstra“: David Gelernter said in “Machine Beauty – Elegance and the Heart of Technology“: Beauty is more important in computing than anywhere else in technology because software is so complicated. Beauty is the ultimate defense against complexity.

Hacking principles

From Nicholas Thompson’s “Who Needs Keys?” (Legal Affairs: November/December 2004): … the main principles of hacking, which state that information should circulate as widely as possible, and that breaking into systems is acceptable if you cause no harm.

Why so many Google projects & betas?

From “Fuzzy maths” (The Economist: 11 May 2006): Google seems to use betas as dogs sprinkle trees – so that rivals know where it is.

Failure every 30 years produces better design

From The New York Times‘ “Form Follows Function. Now Go Out and Cut the Grass.“: Failure, [Henry] Petroski shows, works. Or rather, engineers only learn from things that fail: bridges that collapse, software that crashes, spacecraft that explode. Everything that is designed fails, and everything that fails leads to better design. Next time at least […]

The most volatile compound known to man

From The New Yorker‘s “The Disappearing Poet” (4 July 2005): There is no more volatile compound known to man than that of decorum and despair. — Anthony Lane, on Weldon Kees

Why infosec is so hard

From Noam Eppel’s “Security Absurdity: The Complete, Unquestionable, And Total Failure of Information Security“: A cyber-criminal only needs to identify a single vulnerability in a system’s defenses in order to breach its security. However, information security professionals need to identify every single vulnerability and potential risk and come up with suitable and practical fix or […]

Paul Graham’s lessons for startups

From Paul Graham’s “The Hardest Lessons for Startups to Learn“: 1. Release Early. The thing I probably repeat most is this recipe for a startup: get a version 1 out fast, then improve it based on users’ reactions. By “release early” I don’t mean you should release something full of bugs, but that you should […]

Human life & wasted time

From Paul Graham’s “The Hardest Lessons for Startups to Learn“: We take it for granted most of the time, but human life is fairly miraculous. It is also palpably short. You’re given this marvellous thing, and then poof, it’s taken away. You can see why people invent gods to explain it. But even to people […]