Mike Ashley


2022 End of Year Booklist

There was a little less reading this year. I was busy with work and especially family after ending my commute to Miami in May. I did read good books. I recommend all of thse except The Comfort Crisis. It played too much on the pop trend of discomfort and friction in life to overcome the boredom and depression that so many people feel.

I did reread some fiction books this year, but since they weren’t new, I didn’t list them.

I started tracking the books I abandoned: six of them this year and a mix of fiction and nonfiction. I’ve lost patience with books that are difficult to read without reward.

I should read The Big Picture again. It’s a big book, and I skimmed the latter 2/3 of it. It starts with basic principles of the universe and builds up to how the world works at a human level. It tries to connect them, e.g., that human behavior is an emergent property of the complex system that is life. In turn, life is a complex system that is built from fundamental physics. To me, it was an attempt to explain how God’s hand has worked. Next on the list is to try once again to get through A New Kind of Science.


Posted 2021-12-30 • permalink

2021 End of Year Booklist

I sampled a lot this year with mixed results. Einstein’s Fridge was the most surprising in that I was completely unaware of the connection between thermodynamics and information theory. How Innovation Works also validated a lot of my own experience with what it takes to go from an idea, or even a proof of concept, to a product that solves a problem for customers. Superpower Interrupted and The Ascent of Money were probably the most useful in understanding what’s happening in international politics and economics today. Other books like The Bomber Mafia and The Code Breaker were entertaining but didn’t leave me with much more than trivia.

Kazuo Ishiguro never disappoints.



Posted 2021-12-30 • permalink


Fundraising and Deal Structure
Silicon Valley believes you start a crypto company with traditional capital investment and then transition to community ownership after product-market fit is achieved. There is a parallel to co-ops here.
Cryto Business Models
More from a16z. Blockchain-based platforms depend on network effects to capture value at each of layers 1 and 2.
Why Decentralization?
Somewhat related, and also from an a16z person. Blockchain has the ability to break the dysfunction of Web 2.0 multi-sided platforms where the platform owner eventually, always will screw their users.
Commercial site for IOHK’s digital ID solution built on Cardano. This is a prerequisite for blockchains to get real-world traction.
Using zero-knowledge proofs to audit a blockchain ledger without revealing private information. This will be another prerequisite for widescale blockchain adoption.
Djed: Implementing Algorithmic Stablecoins for Proven Price Stability
Includes a very useful diagram that takes the magic out of this and shows how it works.

Posted 2021-12-25 • permalink


The Triumph and Terror of Wang Huning
Huning’s assessment of the United States is not wrong, and while I don’t think any westerner thinks China’s approach to the same problem will work, at least they’re trying something different.
How to Write Usefully
Getting specific about writing to clarify thinking. Useful writing is correct writing that is strong as it can be without being false.
The Hard Truth about Innovation Cultures
Innovation takes discipline and also talent: both from individual contributors and managers.
The Extended UTXO Model
EUTXO is an alternative to account-based ledgers like Ethereum that allows for contracts that are easier to reason about given concurrency on the blockchain.
Smart Contracts and DApps
Lecture from 2018 MIT course on cryptocurrency with Larry Lessig addressing how contract law views programmed contracts. Blockchain designs will have to allow contract (and property) law to be applied.
Language Workbenches: The Killer App for Domain-Specific Languages?
Useful framing of language-oriented programming. The distinction between external and internal DSLs is useful. How far can you get with a language workbench in 2021 using VS Code with language server extensions?
Programming Bottom Up
This is a reason why internal DSLs are so powerful.

Posted 2021-12-11 • permalink

2020 End of Year Booklist

My 2020 goal was to read some harder books, but this didn’t really happen. I read Meditations, which was a tough but worthwhile read. It made The Obstacle is the Way feel cheap. Instead this year I spent a lot of time on work, and when I wasn’t working, I was thinking about bicycling. In the year of Covid, indoor workouts on the trainer and a focus on improving fitness kept me going. Several books are about cycling.

At the end of Q3 my job role changed, and I took over R&D for the flow cytometry business at Beckman Coulter Life Sciences. I had a crash course in immunology and flow cytometry with a few books to guide me.

Fiction was limited to just All the Pretty Horses, which is a beautiful book and well worth the time. For the most part, I felt much too busy to enjoy fiction this year.



Posted 2020-12-30 • permalink

2019 End of Year Booklist

2019 was a good year for reading. I largely abandoned reading online, and my linklog shows it. In a patterns similar to 2018, work was abundant, and I didn’t spend much time on hobbies. Reading filled the buffer of free time as it came and went.

I limited management reading this year, trying to consolidate what I had learned last year and get grounded with the Miami development center. I relocated to Miami in the fourth quarter and picked up books on appreciation and feedback, examining some gaps in my leadership style exposed by the site change. Neither book is strong, but I found the practical direction a useful starting point.

My goal for 2020 is to read harder books with meatier themes. I reread On Grand Strategy late this year and got more out of it, but it’s still tough. That led me to Adler’s How to Read a Book, and I wish I had read this when starting college. Now I have a reading list built from the great books.

Fiction this year was a mixed bag. I read The Lord of the Rings for the first time since high school. There is more depth and nuance to the book than I remembered and reading it helped purge the movies as my recollection of the story. The other books were fun pulp.



Posted 2019-12-27 • permalink


How the Boeing 737 MAX Disaster Looks to a Software Developer
Good description of hardware limitations that led to the software design. Judgmental, though, and no insight on FMEA or other analyses that led to Boeing going with the design they did. No insight to any testing of the implementation. Overall I’m surprised IEEE Spectrum chose to publish this.
Goodbye Joe
Lost a hero.
The New Wilderness
Maciej Cegłowski introduces the notion of ambient privacy.
Apollo 11 in Real Time

Posted 2019-06-23 • permalink


Lessons from Six Software Rewrite Stories
Interesting examples of how to evolve your platform within constraints of business models.
The Play Defecit
An argument against parent supervision. I wonder what the Chinese would say about this given long school days and an extra day on the weekend.
How to Apologize
Sometimes you need reminded of the fundamentals.
Running a Bakery on Emacs and PostgreSQL
15 Months of Fresh Hell Inside Facebook
This story surprised me in two ways. First, I didn’t realize the degree to which Facebook controlled journalism through advertising. Second, if the factual recounting is true, I can’t imagine working for a company with executive management that behaves like this.

Posted 2019-04-21 • permalink


Why Jupyter is Data Scientists’ Computational Notebook of Choice
Overview of how Jupyter is being used in 2018. It’s come a long way, fast. Would be interesting to understand the difference between Mathematica and Jupyter users.
Electron and the Decline of Native Apps
Could not agree more with the damage that Electron is doing to desktop applications. The bigger problem that Gruber doesn’t identify is that _nobody_ uses a single platform anymore. Web apps broke it, and mobile operating systems have accelerated the decline.
How are Housing Choices Make Adult Friendships More Difficult
Baugruppen is an interesting idea. I’d settle for in who I see day-to-day and year-to-year. I’ve lived in my neighborhood 20 years. Only one other family is still with us. Some houses have turned over as many as four times in that span.
How to Be Successful
Interesting and a little unusual. Risk/reward pops up again here.
Nethack Ascension in Record Time
Pretty fun hack based on finding the RNG seed.

Posted 2019-02-10 • permalink

2018 End of Year Booklist

2018 was my biggest year reading in several years because I made time for it. Judging by linklog posts, I spent about the same about of time as 2017 in reading online. I spent less time on hobbies. I used reading as buffer that I could dial up or down depending on workload and family commitments, both of which I rightly figured would be unpredictable this year. As usual, I’m only including the books I read that I recommend. I dropped just a few; it was a fortunate year reading.

I was busy in fourth quarter with work-related reading. I began managing a second development center at work, and I need to scale up my management. The book High Output Management was easily the most relevant book I read this year. I came to it after reading Measure What Matters and then, on a whim, rereading the The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz. I first read Horowitz’s book in 2014. I was surprised to see I was down on it, but a couple of years experience in higher management has changed my perspective. Both books pointed me at High Output Management, and I highly recommend it to senior managers.

Also related to work, I recommend The Phoenix Project to any technical manager who is trying to sell cloud-based services in an organization whose business model is based on designing, building, and shipping physical things. The book is grounded in lean production principles (from which we all know Agile is derived), so it will give you vocabulary and metaphors which are meaningful to your colleagues.

The rest of my nonfiction list is all over the place. Click on a few links and see what you like. On Grand Strategy is academic and a difficult read but worth the energy at least for the first half of the book.

For fiction, Cloud Atlas was also a difficult read but worth the effort. The Remains of the Day is beautiful and poetic. I’m in awe of the mood that Ishiguro can evoke between the sentences and paragraphs of his writing. It is writing at the opposite extreme of Grove. Where Grove teaches KPIs and MBOs and management discipline, Ishiguro teaches humanity in a life of compounding mistakes and individual discipline. I do not think I could have appreciated this book at 30 years old or even 40 years old.



Posted 2018-12-25 • permalink


IBM to Buy Red Hat
This fortifies IBM’s cloud business. There’s been no doubt for a while all my customers are going to private/public clouds, and on-premise deployments will continue to diminish.
How to Consistently Hire Remarkable Data Scientists
Interesting hiring process. Looks like it would work well if you have specialized roles and there are good ideas in this regardless.
15 Surprising Things Productive People Do Differently
Not using a todo list was one of the more interesting ones. I don’t really buy that but think instead it’s making a todo list only to selectively ignore it. I have no idea how I would theme my days given my company’s culture, but it’s worth considering.
Pinion Bicycle Gearboxes
Some ex-Bosch engineers decided to make a bicycle transmission. Very cool, very high-end.

Posted 2018-11-04 • permalink


Zuck’s Empire of Oily Rags
Cory Doctorow piece. "The problem is that we’re confusing automated persuasion with automated targeting." This is a must-read.
How to Write a Great Research Paper
Good tips for any kind of technical communication.
We Were Not Born Talented, Brave, and Fearless
An article about the mindset of those who tour on bicycle. It explains the cultutral difference between carpet land and the factory. The challenge is to get this mindset into product development, where the problems are more abstract.
How to Train for Long-Distance Cyle Touring
It’s tongue-in-cheek and a fun read. The problem-solving stance doesn’t come up though!

Posted 2018-07-29 • permalink


Adventure Cycling Organization
Premier North America bicycle travel organization. Want to travel by bicycle in the U.S.? This is the place to start.
Online gaming applied to cycling. It’s a hoot. For indoor training also check out TrainerRoad.
Who is Joe Davis?
Find the Lisp but stay and listen to what he says about the nature of work and of intellectual curiosity.
NoCAN: the wired IoT platform for makers
Wireless is complicated and takes power. This is a nice project to see funded.

Posted 2018-07-08 • permalink


Explaining the Mystery of Numbers Stations
Nice introduction to numbers stations and a couple of sites that follow them.
Wide-Band SDR in the Netherlands
You don’t need a shortwave radio to listen to high-frequency (HF) stations. Web-based, wide-band software-defined radios let multiple users listen to different parts of the band concurrently. The site sdr.hu has a global list of stations running kiwisdr.
One-Time Pads
Great introduction to one-time pads for encrypted communication and their history. You can get good random number generators if you want to make your own.
Buoys, implemented. Observation network not distributed storage. Uses Iridium for its network.
Freewheelin’ Community Bikes
Decent bike co-op in Indianapolis. Well, technically not a co-op but seems to very much have a co-op culture. Volunteer opportunities to get started.

Posted 2018-06-10 • permalink


A Rubicon
Dan Geer essay on software and AI risk.
Richard Stallman on Privacy, Data, and Free Software
Classic Stallman. The problem with today’s plutocratic, neoliberal ideology goes way beyond software, however.
Supply-Chain Security
Very scary. Traditional supply chain infrastructure doesn’t manage software change well at all, despite the technology being available to do it. It doesn’t adequately address malware injection at inception, either.
Details on a New PGP Vulnerability
Initial report from Bruce Schneier. Some followup in the comments. This isn’t a vulnerability in PGP. It’s the way it interacts with modern email programs. It’s a good example of unintended consequences in system integration.
EFF’s New Wordlists for Random Passphrases
From 2016, but this is a good reference. You are using passphrases for your important passwords, right?

Posted 2018-05-20 • permalink


Falcon Heavy and the era of post-scarcity heavy lift launch
Changing the economics of getting payload into orbit changes program design in two dimensions: modular design of orbiting platforms, and risk profile.
Some thoughts on Spectre and Meltdown
Colin Percival’s taken on the most recent speculative execution flaws including a good explanation of the problems. I like how the BSD team thinks.
What really happened with Vista: an insider’s perspective
An engineer’s response to an engineer’s response to popular press articles on Microsoft’s "lost decade." Great perspective on operating system design, large system design, and the consequences of poor execution in large development programs.

Posted 2018-02-11 • permalink

2017 End of Year Booklist

2017 was light on reading compared to the last couple of years. This year I tried beekeeping. I also tried HAM radio and small electronics projects. I spent a lot of time reading about these topics online. You can see my linklog for references.

Outside of beekeeping references, nonfiction didn’t have a big impact on my day-to-day life this year. I read Hamilton’s biography, and the lesson I’m learning as I read more biographies of great people is that persistence, hard work, and “showing up” has as much to do with success as intelligence. Antifragile was a letdown: a lot of theory and what good looks like, but not much on how to build antifragile systems. Antifragile people organizations certainly interest me though.

Fiction choices wandered straight into science fiction and fantasy. They were entertaining stories and had their messages. The Forever War is commentary on America’s war in Viet Nam. The Broken Earth Trilogy deals with race, family, and community. Both are sending me in other directions. Hue 1968 and The Remains of the Day are at the top of the list. I’m still looking at other Hugo winners to see if I can find something really great.



Posted 2018-01-01 • permalink


The Long Goodbye to C
Interesting post from Eric Raymond. He thinks Go, Rust, and Cx are finally serious competitors to C for new systems programming projects.
Life Hacking Considered Harmful
Cory Doctorow on the long-term effects of Getting Things Done. This reflects my own personal experience as well.
Motherboard Digital Security Guide
Pointers to a few different security guides. I like all of these, but I always work continuously to minimize surface area, i.e., the online services I have to use.
The Future of Forgeries
Consider this in the context of fake news and willful disinformation campaigns.

Posted 2017-11-18 • permalink


Randy Oliver Workshop
3-part workshop with Randy Oliver. Great overview of bee colony management based on what the bees are telling you. Reinforces the idea of the colony as a superorganism and that what a beekeeper is practicing is animal husbandry.
Slow Reading: the Affirmation of Authorial Intent
Read first to understand, without judgment, what the author’s intent was. Slow reading is an exercise in humility and acknowledging you might have something to learn. This is part of what it means to be literate.
The Lo-Fi Manifesto
Use production technology that is stable and free.
Every Cut of Meat Explained
Watch this butcher break down a side of beef and explain all the cuts as he goes.

Posted 2017-10-01 • permalink


Learning from the Core Engine Architecture of Destiny
Great software engineering lessons from the evolution of Bungie’s engine from blam! to Tiger. Well worth reading. The presentation is on YouTube as well.
When Safety and Security Become One
Post from Ross Anderson plugging a recent paper he co-authored. Puts in relief that software engineering practices we use today for implementing security are not going to work with IoT where safety is critical, e.g., automobiles. No recommendations on what to change with software engineering pratices.
Five Questions about Language Design
Prescient essay from Paul Graham back in 2001 on programming language design motivations and problems.
How I Finally Learned Git
Less about git and more about how he went about learning it. I like the ignorance.md technique.
The Innovator’s Method
Pretty good book that combines elements of The Lean Startup, What Customer’s Want, and Business Model Generation into a structure that makes it easier to introduce these principles into an existing (large) organization. I’m pushing this at work.

Posted 2017-06-25 • permalink


The Sustinable Apiary by Michael Palmer
Michael Palmer of Vermont has been keeping bees for 45 years. He’s an old-timer now. This is the first of two talks on how to maintain a self-sustaining apiary with the second talk being about queen rearing. Inspirational.
Bush Farms Beekeeping
Michael Bush’s site. He’s a well-respected, old-timer beekeeper in Illinois focusing on practical beekeeping.
Scientific Beekeeping
Randy Oliver’s site. He’s another well-respected beekeeper focusing on pest control, especially varroa and nosema. He does not advocate treatment-free beekeeping, but if most people trying to do it are incompetent, there’s something to be said for that advice. He’s a biologist and therefore brings some analytical discipline to the work.
University of Guelph Honey Bee Research Centre
University of Guelph video series. This is a great collection of high-quality videos focusing on the fundamental mechanics of working with hives and bees. A must-watch for any new beekeeper.
An Interview with Mike Palmer
Back to Mike Palmer, this is a neat interview where you can get a sense of his personality and his opinions on commercial beekeeping. More evidence that the top 1% in all fields have many of the same personality traits.

Posted 2017-06-11 • permalink


Tectonic Typesetting System
An attempt at making TeX easier to use.
New Economic School 2017 Talk on Software Startups
Notes from Phil Greenspun’s talk on software startups. Great read!
Flashcards and Spaced Reptition for org-mode
An add-on for org-mode to drill using spaced reptition. I scored 95% on the technician and general HAM license exams with minimal effort using this.
Org Tutorials
A nice collection of org-mode tutorials. The section on tables and spreadsheets is especially helpful.
Exporting org-mode to Jupyter Notebooks
A win for open formats.

Posted 2017-06-04 • permalink


Sustainable Authorship in Plain Text using Pandoc and Markdown
Good introduction to Pandoc and its Markdown extensions.
Money, Blockchains, and Social Scalability
Institutional and technology innovations allow groups to scale group participation. Fiat currency and contract law are two examples. Blockchains are another. What innovations allow cooperatives to scale past the Dunbar number?
How to Build a Better Block
Praise the doers.
The Maker’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse
Looks fun.

Posted 2017-02-20 • permalink

2016 End of Year Booklist

2016 was a pretty good year for reading. I had long hours at work but found the time to read edited books by reducing the online reading. (You can see this reflected in my linklog this year.) As in 2014 and 2015, I’ll force-rank my lists, and I omitted the stinkers.

I ranked the nonfiction by impact on my day-to-day life. Books that helped me be a better R&D manager topped the list. Skunk Works surprised me by reinforcing some of the management practices I use already but in a different industry and context. I read Private Empire in response to Trump’s nomination of Rex Tillerson for Secretary of State and afterwards found myself agreeing that Tillerson is a good choice. The Buzz About Bees is worth reading for the science and especially the photography. The pictures convey the behavior and the beauty of bees in a way I’ve never seen before. All of the books in this list are quite good.

I surprised myself ranking The Marriage Plot ahead of the The Sun Also Rises. I have college-aged daughters, and Eugenides captures that phase of life where school is ending and the next, unclear steps are ahead of you. I discovered that the movie Fight Club reflects the style of the book, but the book has a few more twists and details. You will like the book if you liked the movie.



Posted 2017-01-02 • permalink


SQLite Query Language: WITH clause
Recursive SQL queries. Cool.
How to Write a Git Commit Message
Must read. Teams need agreement on how to write commit logs.
2016 Interactive Fiction competition winners
Still seeing some nice diversity in development and runtime environments. It’s not just Inform anymore.
Social Media is Killing Discourse Because It’s Too Much Like TV
Skunk Works
Interesting history of innovation at Lockheed’s advanced product development center. Not a management book but a good read for any experienced engineering manager who wants to innovate in a lean environment.

Posted 2016-12-07 • permalink


You Suck at Excel, with Joel Spolsky
Worth an hour if you spend a lot of time in Excel. Good tips on how to create readable and thus debuggable workbooks. Notes are on a Trello board if you are pressed for time.
Someone is Learning How to Take Down the Internet
The military/industrial complex continues its transition to “cyberwar.” I’m learning first-hand with Sovereign just how hard it is to articulate what a secure system means. Look forward to more tax dollars going into "cyberwar defense."
Why Obama Should Pardon Edward Snowden
Good read for the politics, but it’s also a reminder not just that “culture eats strategy for lunch,” but that culture dominates almost everything in an organization.
How to Get Your Change Into the Linux Kernel
Sane and reasonable. Sections 2-3 ought to apply to every single project. Consider what Sections 11 and 13 mean for your own project. The whole document is well worth reading. I also recommend browsing Linux kernel commits to see good examples.

Posted 2016-09-18 • permalink


The Dawn of Trustworthy Computing
Good essay from Nick Szabo motivating blockchain computers and their role in secure computing. It explains why Ethereum was developed.
Two-Speed IT - The More I Look the Worse It Gets
How platforms should evolve versus how companies want them to evolve.
An Introduction to Wardley Mapping
This is an mapping/diagramming tool for technology roadmaps. It’s worth reading this article for context and then this article for a little more structure and a cheat sheet.
How to Run an Effective Meeting
I’m a big fan of the book. The second edition has some nice improvements.

Posted 2016-07-31 • permalink


A platform for learning bioinformatics and Python programming through problem solving. Neat!
Fedora Analysis Framework
First collect the data, then figure out what to do with it.
MetaPost for Beginners
A system for drawing pictures inspired by MetaFont. Uses systems of linear equations for constraint satisfaction. Interesting to contrast with functional postscript.
How China Took Center Stage in Bitcoin’s Civil War
Even virtual currency has to bottom out in the real world. Bitcoin is controlled by the mining pools, and that depends on finding cheap power, a real-world problem. Also, again, we see the problem of hardware people not understanding the whole system when software is on the stack.
Dead reckoning, maps, and errors
Fascinating historical look at navigation.

Posted 2016-07-10 • permalink


Core development team from OwnCloud parts ways with the company and forks the project.
2016 Internet Trends Report
A marketing perspective.
Decentralized Web Summit: Locking the Web Open
Interesting, but the problems to address are in the application stack, not the OS and filesystem layers.
On the Impending Crypto Monoculture
A retreat from the open-source culture of unfocused design and its resulting complexity.
Hand-Crafted Containers
Lower-level introduction to containers. Much better if you really want to know what’s happening.

Posted 2016-06-12 • permalink


Bill Gross Investment Outlook May 2016
Automation will accelerate adoption of universal basic income (UBI). Implications on monetary policy and investment returns.
Apple and Didi is about Foreign Cash and the Future of Motoring
Makes Apple’s investment in Didi look brilliant. A good example of 1) how US Federal tax law is blocking capital investment in the United States, 2) how US culture biases how many think about technology adoption, and 3) a smart business strategy for accelerating entry into a huge market. Is it in Apple’s DNA to leverage this move fully?
ZFS lands in Debian unstable. I’m ok waiting another year for it to get into stable. You want to trust your filesystem 100%.
The official Let’s Encrypt client has moved to the EFF and changed names. This has been a great effort, personally saving me a couple hundred dollars a year for SSL certificates.

Posted 2016-05-15 • permalink


Bento Lab
Portable Sanger sequencing. Very cool although not sure where you get the primers.
Worth keeping an eye on.
Brian Kernighan on the Typesetting of the "The Go Programming Language" Book
XML, troff, make, and lots of scripts.
Off the Grid
Appealing but ultimately misguided. Millenials want to change the world, or at least their country, and it’s foolish to think that they’ll abandon networking tools. Better to think about what the moral and ethical use of the tools looks like.
Dirty Hands
Cheating in bridge. Fascinating from an information theory point of view. How much can you cheat without letting on to observers that you are doing so? Why not just admit it as part of the game?

Posted 2016-05-01 • permalink


Write Code that is Easy to Delete, not Easy to Extend
Feels like a work in progress but definitely some good ideas.
Qubes OS
A reasonably secure operating system based on the Xen hypervisor. It’s an interesting design but not ready for primetime. Hardware support is still pretty limited.
LXC 1.0 Blog Post Series
A good introduction to how to use Linux containers. Cut past the Docker hype and learn the basic tool.
The Setup / Jana Kinsman
Can’t believe I missed this one.

Posted 2016-03-06 • permalink


Marvin Minsky, 1927-2016
The Sad State of Web Development
To paraphrase Dave Winer, if don’t keep your users in mind, then all you will see is a bunch of code, and the only improvement you can see is to the code itself. This madness with stacks must stop, but I don’t see yet where we’ll land.
Principles of Early Drug Discovery
Nice introduction to the domain.
The Assay Guidance Manual
Started at Lilly and now curated by the NIH. It’s a wealth of information on assays to evaluate how drugs modulate biochemical activity.

Posted 2016-02-07 • permalink


The New China Syndrome
In the name of free trade, the US abandoned the trade policy that protected our interests as a democracy. We’re starting to pay for the consequences of this mistake in China. Good read.
Predictions for 2016
Phil Greenspun pessimistic.
Communications Security at Riseup.net
Great overview of practical techniques for improving security and deterring surveillance.
The Website Obesity Crisis
Touches on design, engineering, and malevolent advertising.
Main Linux Problems on the Desktop, 2016 Edition
Great lists. Why can’t we be so critical of OS X and Windows?

Posted 2016-01-17 • permalink

2015 End of Year Booklist

Here is a recap of the reading I did in 2015.

The big read this year was Infinite Jest. Most of the online reviews are correct: you have to get a few hundred pages into it before it starts to make sense. There are long passages of writing that just make no sense, and then there are long passages that are just some of the best prose I’ve ever read. I can say now I’m one of the few who have both started and finished the book.

Seveneves and The Martian are interesting to contrast with Red Mars. Red Mars is epic, mostly politics with some science thrown in. Seveneves and the Martian are almost entirely focused on the science but at different scales. Both were a pleasure to read and come at a time when I want to believe as a civilization we are starting to hunt for the next big problems to tackle. Similar books on dealing with energy consumption would be welcome.

I left several stinkers off the nonfiction list, but I guess I had to wade through them to find a couple of gems: Innovation and Entrepreneurship and The Open Organization. Drucker’s book is a good contrast to The Lean Startup. Innovation and Entrepreneurship puts these topics in the context of business overall much better than The Lean Startup and probably has just as many practical take-aways. I would read both together. The Open Organization was a good read on company culture and should have the biggest influence on how I try to affect engagement at work. I read it early in the year but need to read it again.

Here are my lists, force-ranked.



Posted 2015-12-27 • permalink


What Can a Technologist Do About Climate Change?
Bret Victor with concrete suggestions on how to attack the climate change problem. Great read on many levels including presentation, systems thinking, tools for scientists and engineers (with a plug for domain-specific programming languages), and better models for the literate.
Radical Candor
Care personally, challenge directly. It’s written for managers, but it applies to anybody who needs to give feedback including individual contributors and technical leaders.
The Coddling of the American Mind
Emotional reasoning is overwhelming schools. Cognitive behavioral therapy could be an effective tool for restoring more rational thinking. How do we return to free-range parenting to avoid the problem in the first place?
If You Want to Say Thank You, Don’t Say Sorry
Good to put on the bathroom mirror for a couple of weeks.

Posted 2015-12-20 • permalink


Haunted By Data
Another speech by Maciej Ceglowski in which he compares Big Data to nuclear power. He touches on, but does not fully explore, the idea that Big Data is not a miracle technology and that it can lead to models to complex to use productively. Possibly interesting ramifications in Genomics as it moves to clinical use.
European Court Rules "Safe Harbor" Invalid
I am not surprised. This is a complication though for companies genuinely trying to help their customers across international boundaries.
Generation Wuss
Great reading for performance review season!
Linus’s Rant Rewritten
And the original. It’s funny at first blush, but it also highlights how important a good code review culture is.
Faster Optimization
Neat result in general-purpose solvers.

Posted 2015-11-22 • permalink


What Happens Next Will Amaze You
The whole speech is great, but the best part is the riff on venture capitalists as central planners. The Indianapolis startup culture is dysfunctional in the same ways, and it even infects how Indiana measures the success of startups.
The Bourne Aesthetic
Design should consider the whole lifecyle and reconsider how we are expected to engage with technology.
The InterPlanetary File System (IPFS)

Posted 2015-10-11 • permalink


I Have One of the Best Jobs in Academia
…here’s why I’m walking away. Universities are broken, but it’s been a long, slow decline since the 1970s and is into the second generation of students. The debt part of the equation is the most alarming.
How and Why We Designed Ludida
Nice review of the thinking that went into the design and how it was expressed. Great read for those of us who know a little bit about type design but aren’t fluent in it.
Using org-mode as a Day Planner
An example of a mature task-handling workflow using org-mode. I don’t care for prioritizing tasks because I think it makes the system too fiddly, but hey, whatever works for you.
A lot of overlap with The Lean Startup, and Eric Ries has definitely gotten the press, but there is pragmatic advice here also on how to do better design in the fuzzy front end of product definition.
Crosseyed and Painless
The history of Phish’s cover of Talking Heads’s Crosseyed and Painless. Good performance videos from both bands embedded.

Posted 2015-09-20 • permalink


ACM Classic Book Series
Good list although seems short on distributed systems and databases.
Top 10 Worst C# Features
This is Erik Lippert’s list. Interesting mix of both syntactic and semantic issues and highlights tradeoffs in language design.
Bitcoin XT
Bitcoin is forking, because the community is divided on how to handle limits in the current protocol. Bitcoin XT is the proposed solution. Pretty neat that the vote will be in the blockchain.
Sidechain Elements
Interesting approach for extending Bitcoin’s capabilities in a backwards-compatible way.
Hackers Post Ashley Madison Data
Huge privacy breach, possibly more disruptive than the larger breaches at Target, etc. The data includes credit card transactions and personally identifiable information. What role could Bitcoin have played in anonymity and security?

Posted 2015-08-23 • permalink


Autonomous Weapons: an Open Letter from AI & Robotics Researchers
Read and abstract. A weapon is a machine for delivering energy to a target. In the vein of "software is eating the world," expect weapon platforms to continue to simplify in hardware and complicate in software. AI is just one component of this.
How I Gave Up Alternating Current
An interesting idea poorly executed but nonetheless inspiring.
Too Long, Read Anyway
Verbal communication is not a substitute for reading and writing.
Highland Bees
I met Tim at the Boulder Farmers Market while on vacation. Amazing honey compared to the clover honey we get in Indiana.
Natural Project Planning with org-mode
A way to execute GTD’s natural planning using org mode to envision success, brainstorm, and organize.
The Singular Mind of Terry Tao
Good bio of a mathematician.

Posted 2015-08-09 • permalink


The End of Men
What are the four kinds of paternal authority? Moral, emotional, social, and physical. "But you ain’t none of those in that house. All you are is a paycheck, and now you ain’t even that."
Who Has the Right to a Dignified Death?
Euthanasia in Belgium. Interesting for the anti-Catholic sentiment and the ethics. What is the meaning of life when there is no God, when you are not successful in society?
Severine von Tscharner Fleming
Organizer and cultural worker in the young farmers movement. She reminds me of activists from college. Some fun writing: "And so, due to my own sloth, I remain tethered to monopoly and main-lined to the dreaded total-surveillance of Google Docs and Dropbox."

Posted 2015-07-05 • permalink


Don’t Forget All the Parts Move"
Good lessons from RIM on how you have to respond to a platform transition.
Information Letter 14
John Walker’s famous memo calling to action AutoDesk’s management. Worth noting that AutoDesk’s problems were in every part of the business, not just product development.
Surveillance Self-Defense
Tips, tools, and how-tos for safer online communication. A large set of articles with playlists that cover specific topics depending on what you do.
The 10 Most Important Things to Simplify in Your Life
Entry point to the Minimalism movement. Another prominent blog here.
Happy Mothers Day from the NYT: Fathers are Useless
The reader comments Greenspun chooses to quote are priceless.

Posted 2015-06-07 • permalink


Playtesting Mobile Games at the DMV
Invisible Boyfriend
Again, brilliant. My daughter was all over this.
GPG and Me
Legitimate perspective on the state of GPG, but he doesn’t propose an alternative because there isn’t one. Until then, it’s what we’ve got.
Flow Hive
A new frame design that lets you harvest honey without opening the hive’s boxes. Wax is not harvested. It is clever and a great idea if you are aiming to be efficient, but when do technology advances compromise the experience?
The Unfinished
New Yorker article on David Foster Wallace not long after his death. Helpful for putting [Infinite Jest]{.underline} in context.

Posted 2015-03-22 • permalink


The Great SIM Heist
NSA and GCHQ accmplish bulk theft of SIM encryption keys by exploiting weak supply chain security.
The FBI Doesn’t Want Anyone to Know About "Stingray" Use
Local US law enforcement uses the FBI as a speedbump when citizens try to get information about Stingray use.
Automated Drug Screening
This system uses machine learning techniques to iterate screening assays to automatically find the compounds that react best agains a target.
The Rundown
How to eliminate smalltalk, forever. “If you can think it, you can ask it.”

Posted 2015-02-22 • permalink


Interesting twist on the CRO model for people who want total control over their screens.
One Minute Sculpture
The Indianapolis Museum of Art has a series of One Minute Sculptures by Erwin Wurm. Lots of fun on a busy weekend.
A Career in Science Will Cost You Your Firstborn
More like "a career in science in academia," which has already become a joke as universities continue to lose oxygen and suffer from the crush of mammoth physical plants built in the post-war generation.
What Was Pete Carroll Thinking?
Good analysis of the end of the 2015 Super Bowl. This commentary was also enjoyable.

Posted 2015-02-08 • permalink


What Every High School Junior Should Know About Going to College
Perhaps the most straightforward and practical advice I’ve seen for what to expect from college. The macro-economic view is also interesting.
The Son Also Rises
Adding this to my reading list. Clark shows that social mobility is slower than we think, and every family’s socio-economic status will eventually regress to the mean. Genetics dominates whether or not children will be successful and not the wealth of their parents.
SSL Pulse
Survey of SSL implementations of popular web sites. You can submit your own site for immediate scoring.
Git-based wiki that uses Pandoc for markup processing and supports plugins written in Haskell for dynamic page rendering.
Smells Like Teen Spirit
Arresting music video of Patti Smith’s cover.

Posted 2015-01-18 • permalink

2014 End of Year Booklist

This summer I decided to read more and higher-quality writing. I reduced the time I spent reading on the Internet to maybe twenty minutes a day and set aside time to read books instead. Looking back, I am happy I did it.

I think the biggest disappointment were the business books (Horowitz, Catmull, and Brooks). They are fun stories, but the lessons that can be applied to my own work are few and far between. Contrast those books with Truman, for example, which inspired leadership and courage when making difficult decisions. I hope to read one or two more biographies in 2015.

The fiction I read was delightful. Almost all the authors on the list were new to me, and I managed to cover some diverse ground, everything from struggling marriages to fly fishing to post-apocalyptic communes. Far from being an escape, these books encouraged more creative thinking and gave me some badly-needed decompression from work.

Here are my lists force-ranked from really great to just ok. I omitted a few stinkers.



Posted 2014-12-30 • permalink


Linux Hater’s Blog
This seems to have gone inactive, but there are many really funny posts.
What is Docker?
Docker has gotten popular this year. It seems to be a practical approach to the configuration management problem for distributed systems. If it works, this helps free engineering time to focus on system design and fault tolerance, where the truly hard work is.
Mean People Fail
It’s no surprise that Internet startup founders are nice. The more interesting question is when do you _have_ to be mean to succeed so that you can avoid getting into that trap.
The Pentagon Details Its Weapons-for-Cops Giveaway
My local police department got a $692,000 "mine-resistant vehicle." Ridiculous.

Posted 2014-12-07 • permalink


What’s New in GnuPG 2.1
GnuPG 2.1 is out. Support for elliptic curve cryptography and improved local key management infrastructure.
ISPs Removing Their Customers’ Email Encryption
STARTTLS downgrade attacks primarily against server-to-server email communication. A good example of complexity in the whole application infrastructure that makes it hard to guarantee privacy at any layer. The user is the last backstop; use your own encryption like GnuPG if privacy is important.
IAB Statement on Internet Confidentiality
Meanwhile, the IAB encourages designers to take a "you can’t trust anybody else and you have to to trust everybody else" position, which is no help at all.
Let’s Encrypt
At least the EFF, Mozilla, Cisco, and a few others are trying to make transport-layer security ubiquitous by supporting a no-charge certificate authority.
Lef’Jab, commercialized.

Posted 2014-11-23 • permalink


Public NetHack Server
NetHack lives on. The 2014 tournament is underway.
OpenTrons is a Kickstarter project for automating basic genomic sample prep.
Secure Messaging Scorecard
The EFF rates many mobile messaging applications as part of their campaign for secure and usable crypto software.
No Deadlines for You!
The methodology is sound, but it skirts a number of real-life problems: business issues are rarely so crisp. It can be hard to map the problem to a solution, much less something actionable against product design. Still, my highest-performing teams practice this effectively. A must-read.

Posted 2014-11-09 • permalink


Is Weak Typing Strong Enough
Practical assessment of statically-typed vs. dynamically-typed languages. He uses Java and Perl as examples from the day, but the reasoning applies to C# and Scheme just as well now.
Why Inequality Matters
Great review of Captial in the Twenty-First Century by Bill Gates. This book has been on my reading list for a while. I’ll get to it some day if I can ever get through Truman.
Autumn is tilde.club
Advertising-based social networks are evil, but I haven’t seen a viable, alternative revenue model yet. Ello won’t last (but I like it’s ‘zine feel). As for tilde.club, I won’t participate, but it sure makes me nostalgic.
Ghost History
History of one of my favorite Phish tunes. Although not listed, the 2009 Festival 8 performance is one of my personal favorites because of Trey’s guitar setup that night for the band’s musical costume (The Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street).

Posted 2014-10-26 • permalink


The Pros and Cons of Outsourcing Your Life
Thought-provoking. I know a few small-business owners who outsource regularly because 1) there is almost no difference between life and work, and 2) there is simply no way you can have the skill to do everything yourself. "Wealthy households" in the 18th and 19th centuries were also small businesses. On the other side, you can see the cons all around us in this generation.
Why I Just Asked My Students to Put Their Laptops Away
Clay Shirky on dismissing electronic devices from his classroom. Interesting point: distractions have grown when the only variable is the devices being brought to class. Strong points on the impact of distractions on cognitive development as well.
The 2014 Sinqfield Cup
Nice read to catch up on the state of international chess with lots of good links. There are hints of the impact of Internet-based chess play in preparation for competitions, something that would be interesting to know more about.

Over the last couple of months I’ve started reading more books and fewer Internet posts. The reason is time. Work has been intense and will continue to be so for the forseeable future. The quality of books is also very high compared to almost everything on the ‘Net. There just isn’t time to browse anymore, and this has shown in the frequency of my linklog posts in 2014. I’ll continue to post links, but I am also going to try posting comments on books I’m reading. This may or may not grow into full reviews but hopefully will give you some ideas for your own reading list.

Posted 2014-10-05 • permalink


The Feynman Lectures on Physics
Complete text available for online reading. If you’ve heard recordings of Feynman lecturing, the text will read almost exactly as you would imagine him delivering the material.
Marian Rejewski and the First Break into Enigma
Monthly essay from the American Mathematical Society explaining some of the mathematics used in the cryptanalysis of the German Engima cipher before World War II.
A Watch Guy’s Thoughts on the Apple Watch
Great first impressions of the watch from a serious watch afficianado.

Posted 2014-09-14 • permalink


Pinboard Turns Five
Witty reflection on Pinboard’s first years from its developer. Remarkably mature perspective.
A Candid Look at Unread’s First Year
And an interesting contrast with running a business based on a paid iOS application.
Invisible Corporations, Part Two
Some insight into development cultures at Google and Amazon, useful for helping to frame your own company’s culture.
How to be Polite
Extremely well written. Another pathway to systematizing human interaction. Sign me up.
Second Variety
The origin of the Terminator franchise. This short story by PK Dick is free on the Kindle bookstore if you happen to use a Kindle.

Posted 2014-08-24 • permalink


Use of Formal Methods at Amazon Web Services
Practice report of how Amazon has used TLA+ to eliminate design bugs in their distributed systems.
Corporate OpenSource Anti-Patterns
Bryan Cantrill’s talk on how companies can avoid mistakes in sponsoring open source projects.
The Developer’s Dystopian Future
Sentiments also shared by others.
Robots Will Pave the Way to Mars
Outlines some of the problems with and possible solutions to getting around Earth’s gravity well in order to start building real infrastructure in space.
What Problems to Solve
Letter from Richard Feynman to a former student.

Posted 2014-07-20 • permalink


The TeX Tuneup of 2014
Knuth’s periodic look at bug reports and resulting changes to TeX, Metafont, and Computer Modern. Typical Knuth humor and precision.
Twenty Questions for Don Knuth
Written Q&A with Knuth and a number of legendary figures in Computer Science (Tarjan, Steele, Bentley, etc). Many of the questions are as interesting as the answers.
Introducing the WebKit FTL JIT
They’ve integrated LLVM as the fourth tier of their Javascript JIT compiler. How they handle garbage collection and their notion of hot loop transfers are especially interesting.
Please Put OpenSSL Out of its Misery
Scathing opion in ACM Queue but no real solution offered. Surely rewriting from scratch is not the answer. The LibreSSL project is probably not the answer. Investing some money to get design continuity and support some developers full-time is a better answer.
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
An exploration of quality. Pirsig pushes into both epistimology and metaphysics while exploring the concept. There is some overlap with Dewey’s "Art as Experience." Highly recommended for anybody trying to design for experience and grappling with both the "romantic" and "rational" aspects of design quality.
Ex Libris Anonymous
I gave these notbooks a try, and they make great gifts for anybody who draws or writes or keeps notes.

Posted 2014-05-25 • permalink


Thinking for Programmers
Talk at Microsoft’s Build 2014 conference by Turing Award-winner Leslie Lamport. His thesis is that writing specifications, in varying degrees of formality, is critical to getting software design right. Introduces a little TLA+ as a way of verifying distributed systems.
Expectations, Outcomes, and Challenges of Modern Code Review
The authors find that developers peer review code mostly to find better solutions to problems and to learn from one another. Removing bugs isn’t the primary reason. Suggests where to take code review and analysis tools. Also indirectly supports Lamport’s thesis in the above-linked talk.
Agile is Dead (Long Live Agility)
Agile is an arena for consultants and vendors to hawk services and products, but the four core values still hold.

Posted 2014-04-20 • permalink


Critical TLS/SSL Flaw in Apple Operating Systems
A simple coding error; probably a cut-and-paste mistake. I would love to know what the root cause analysis of the mistake looked like inside Apple. Also, you have to assume that US, Chinese, and other intelligence agencies have automated attacks on every operating system release and knew about the mistake as soon as it got into the wild.
Mt. Gox Files U.S. Bankruptcy
Supposedly, Mt. Gox was run by a Magic the Gathering site, so now I’m surprised Mt. Gox held up this long.
John McAfee’s Setup
Hilarious, especially some of the linked YouTube videos. As an aside, I like that usesthis.com has expanded to interview people who use technology to actually get something done besides write code, build web sites, etc. It helps to put the latest Web bubble in better perspective.

Posted 2014-03-15 • permalink


William Faulkner’s Nobel Banquet Speech
A writer’s job is to find and document the human condition despite the emptiness of our everyday lives. Given in 1950, in the middle of the cold war, the threat of our destruction today may not be so great, but the threat to our spirit has never been more real.
The Passion Gospel
More nails in the coffin of technology startup culture. A must read, especially if you have a family.
Our Love Affair with the Tablet is Over
I mostly agree with this assessment after using an iPad Mini as my only iOS device for the last year. I won’t get another tablet.

Posted 2014-02-22 • permalink


Software in 2014
Tim Bray on the state of software development in 2014. Nothing surprising and nice to have a frustrating client-side landscape validated. It’s sad that all the energy is in creating less capable interfaces in mobile and browser-based environments. UI design is taking a big step backward because of technology change.
Meanwhile at code.org
A reminder that Seymour Papert was trying to teach children to reason about mathematical ideas and that programming was a means to an end, not the end itself. This is a reaction to code.org’s mission to bring programming to secondary schools.
Bitcoin - The Internet of Money
This author is optimistic about the opportunity to disrupt the financial sector, but he is still not very clear on what problems need to be solved...
Can Do vs Can’t Do Cultures
...And related to that, Andreesen Horowitz has invested in Bitcoin, and Ben Horowitz suggests that people stop hating on Bitcoin just because we don’t know what to do with it yet.
How Netflix Reinvented HR
This is a recent version of Netflix’s culture deck. There is an interview with Netflix’s CEO, but you will have to pay for a copy of it if not already subscribing to HBR. Caution: you have to consider what Netflix is doing in the context of your own industry to evaluate if all they do makes sense.
Trey Anastasio Band 2014 Winter Tour
TAB started their winter tour last week which will end in Indianapolis on February 15. Set lists and torrents of audience tapes are here. Scott Schneider’s recordings of the Denver shows are pretty good.

Posted 2014-02-01 • permalink


Bitcoin, Magical Thinking, and Political Ideology
Essay from Alex Payne using the Bitcoin experiment as an example of how pioneering technologists want to ignore the social and economic ramifications of their work. Lots of interesting links. I’m still looking for a serious and comprehensive analysis of Bitcoin and the economic assumtions it challenges.
How the Bitcoin Protocol Actually Works
Construction of the bitcoin protocol from the ground up focusing on the double-spend problem.
Indiana State Police Tracking Cellphones
It’s not news that domestic law enforcement collects cellphone data, but it’s alarming that a warrant isn’t required, and furthermore there are no clear data retention and access policies.
Designing for Exponential Trends of 2014
Must read if you are a software or system designer. Many of the suggestions apply more broadly than the consumer product space.
Lessons from Org Structures
It’s reorg time of year in the United States.

Posted 2013-12-22 • permalink


Don’t be a Petraeus: A Tutorial on Anonymous Email Accounts
Practical advice on how to create and maintain an anonymous webmail identity without linking it to your real identity.
Online Anonymity Is Not Only for Trolls and Political Dissidents
Which of course begs the question, "Why would you want online anonymity?" Here’s why.
Secure Property Titles with Owner Authority
Takes away the need for a centralized (and corruptable) clearing house for transactions. Lessens the power of central government. Leans the administrative overhead of an off-world colony. Bitcoin is a specialization of this protocol.
An Evening with Ray Bradbury
A one-hour talk by Ray Bradbury late in his life with stories about his love of reading and writing. Great motivation to find high-quality writing to read. Starts to ramble a bit after the first half-hour.
Ira Glass on Storytelling, part 2 of 4
One of my favorite interviews of all time. The best quote from this segment: "Not enough gets said about the importance of abandoning crap."

Posted 2013-12-08 • permalink


The Internet Ideology: Why We are Allowed to Hate Silicon Valley
The "digital debate," as Silicon Valley wants to frame it, accomplishes nothing without understanding the political, social, and economic systems that technology amplifies or dampens. Without changing the debate, we will continue to get rolled by the military-industrial complex and out-of-control banking and advertising industries. Money quote: "Letting Google organize all the world’s information makes as much sense as letting Halliburton organize all of the world’s oil."
Bill Gates: Here’s My Plan to Improve Our World
And here’s an example of how Bill Gates’s “catalytic philanthropy” backs technology bets evaluated in the context of political and social change for the better.
Our Seven Privacies: The Many Important Facets of Privacy
A way to structure the complex idea of "privacy" in order to evaluate how the tools and technology we use affect it.
The Ethics of Unpaid Labor and the OSS Community
Requiring OSS contributions for a job is unethical and unnecessary.
Microsoft Warns Customers Away from RC4 and SHA-1
Recommends switching to TLS 1.2 for email. If you are running Dovecot and openssh 1.0.1 then you are set. As for GnuPG, you will need to check your signing key and modify the preferences to get away from SHA-1. An example of how to do this is shown here.
Realities of Performance Appraisal
Pretty good recommendations for how to work a complex and tricky process in large organizations. Recommended for managers.

Posted 2013-11-24 • permalink


Unreliable Research: Trouble in the Lab
Explains some of the pitfalls in null hypothesis testing and more when applying statistics to experimental results. Becoming convinced that basic statistics and probability is as important as Calculus for an educated generation.
United States Department of Defense Open Source Software FAQ
There’s no excuse for any company to not embrace OSS. The FAQ and linked memos and reports represent a more thoughtful analysis than any single company is likely to do.
iOS 7 and the Iconography of ‘Alien’
Function over form in iOS 7 icon design.
Thoughts on Reviewing Tech Products
Software tools for intellectual work are complex because they do complex things. You can’t review them in a few hours or even a few days. Interesting to consider when redesigning old products for new use cases and new users.
Devil’s Dictionary of Programming
I especially like the definitions of "DSL" and "disrupt."

Posted 2013-11-10 • permalink


Who Does That Server Really Serve?
Essay by Richard Stallman on services as software substitutes and how they can take away your freedom.
The Dead Drops Manifesto
Dead Drops is an anonymous, offline, peer-to-peer file sharing network in public spaces. This started as a media art project in NYC in 2010. The quintessential art as experience.
Silk Road Founder Arrested
The US FBI seized 144,000 bitcoins after the arrest. Bitcoin is now trading about 35% higher than before his arrest.
A set of Ansible playbooks to build and maintain a private cloud. It’s a neat concept for documenting a configuration setup. Portions of it are based on this post describing how to set up a modern email stack.
Why Microsoft Word Must Die
Interesting bit of history on why MS Word evolved the way it did. I still favor (La)TeX despite the steep learning curve. Nothing else I know will scale and stay professional.
Giving Testers Less to do
Echos the test stategy I like: most automated testing done by the development team and only light automated testing done by the test team. Let the test team focus on creative, deeper testing that may only be partially automated.
On the Exploitation of APIs
Interesting take on the definition and evolution of system APIs.

Posted 2013-10-27 • permalink


How Your Free Labor Lets Tech Giants Grow the Wealth Gap
Flawed. Web 2.0 is a replacement for television, and the money in that market is coming from traditional advertising. It’s a mistake to call the time people spend on these websites "labor" any more than sitting on the couch watching TV is "labor." There is no new wealth being created, and it’s dangerous to think there is.
Metadata Equals Surveillance
Metadata can be used for 1) traffic analysis, and 2) coalescing multiple online identities into one actual profile. It’s all NSA needs to tell the UK’s GCHQ to tell the FBI where to raid.
Usability in Free Software
How to conduct usability testing on the cheap and with distributed teams. Love the tip of doing testing at shopping malls.
Factoring RSA Keys from Certified Smart Cards
There are weak keys being using with SSH, mostly because of problems in random-number generators. Also provides a service to check your own SSH public keys.
Decyphering the Business Card Raytracer
Complete raytracer that fits on the back of a business card.
8 Steps for Engineering Leaders to Keep the Peace
Dealing with the reality of resource and time constraints in product development.

Posted 2013-09-29 • permalink


N.S.A. Able to Foil Basic Safeguards of Privacy on Web
We should assume SSL and TLS traffic can be broken by organizations with power.
Our Newfound Fear of Risk
Here’s the dilemma: individuals are terrible at assessing risk because we are human. On the other hand, organizations can’t assess risks well either but for sociological reasons.
Open Wide
Private capital damages open commons, and online, it destroys the communities enabled by Web 2.0 platforms. If we are going to take back the Internet, is a Web 3.0 with decentralized communities a part of that?
A decentralized store resistant to compromised nodes. It leaves the privacy to the application layer, and there is no story for anonymous read/write.
The Infrastructure Engineers Guide to Entrepreneurship
The premise is that infrastructure engineers can build companies offering platform infrastructure, but this presupposes that customers will know they need it before they’ve build a pile of code on top of quicksand. Still interesting for some of the advice.

Posted 2013-09-22 • permalink


Institutions versus Collaboration
Bitcoin is going to do to finance what blogging did to journalism. Shirky’s talk explains the pattern. This might be the pacifist version of Fight Club.
Looking inside the (Drop)box
The client is the enemy.
My favorite RSS reader, Feedbin.me, goes open source!
I switched to feedbin.me about six weeks ago and didn’t look back. So much better than Feedly.
Inventing on Principle
A talk by Bret Victor with two themes. One is user interface design based on immediate connection to data and computation. It’s not a new concept (and he knows it). The second is about principles and using them to guide your career choices. Reminds me of Simon Sinek’s excellent TED talk about starting with "why?".
Beyond the ‘Boards: The Taping Tradition Lives On
Phish’s 2013 summer tour is over with several great shows and great recordings being distributed by bittorrent at etree.org.

Posted 2013-09-08 • permalink


A Personalized Companion for Older People
Very cool prototype from a European consortium working on multiple approaches to embedding sensors and actuators into the home environment of the elderly.
Kivo: Making Powerpoint Collaboration Painless
Uses git for the back end. I’m going to kill myself trying to collaborate with marketing using Sharepoint. Brilliant to start with slides since the granularity of edits is so much coarser than spreadsheets and documents.
Butterick’s Practical Typography
Full of practical advice on how to get decent-looking documents out of standard word processors. Think of it as a practical version of the Elements of Typographic Style. Note: LaTeX gets most of this correct out of the box.
Tech Industry Slips into Surprising Slump
People aren’t buying the crap the tech industry is making. Big surprise.
A Cypherpunk’s Manifesto
Seems like a good time to revisit this. The cypherpunks failed, and we’re all paying for it now. There should be another try at this with more focus on practical operational security needs.
FTL: Faster Than Light
A rouge-like space simulation game. Lots of fun and very much like Rogue in the core game mechanics. Downside is that it lacks the charm and humor that has made Nethack endure for 20+ years. (Well, 20+ years for me.)
Tahoe Tweezer
With only Dick’s left in Phish’s 2013 summer tour, this Tweezer has emerged as the best jam of the year, and some are saying it’s the best in Phish’s history. Clocks in at 36 minutes but worth listening to every minute of it.

Posted 2013-08-25 • permalink


The Art of Lisp and Writing
Reprint of the forward to "Successful Lisp: How to Understand and Use Common Lisp." Two ideas: engineering precedes science in most cases, and programming is both discovery and refinement at the same time. Gabriel draws parallels to writing to make the latter point.
Why Founders Fail: The Product CEO Paradox
Advice not just for founders but anybody who started out but is no longer directly responsible for product. This is also more grist for the definition of product-oriented leaders versus bean counters.
Licensing in a Post Copyright World
The current state of open source software licensing. Frankly, I had not realized that the GPL was in such a mess. Worth a read if using open source components in commercial work.
Eisenhower, Snowden and the military industrial complex
Cyberwarfare is the new frontier for the military industrial complex. It’ll consume trillions in funding over the rest of my life. I’m still trying to figure out what good will come of it for computer science and software engineering.
20 Years Later: Remembering the Murat
2003 was a breakout year for Phish with the evolution of the Type 2 jam. The August 13 show at the Murat Theater in Indianapolis was a highlight from that tour. Bathtub Gin gets all the comments, but the whole show is great.
Mating Habits of the North American Hipster
Just perfect. Poor audio, so read along during the performance.

Posted 2013-08-08 • permalink


Letter to a Young Programmer Considering a Startup
Perspective on startups as just another class of company with pros and a lot of cons. A good reminder that a startup is a means to an end and that with the end in mind, there are many ways to get there.
Are Coders Worth It?
Another take on the startup environment for web-based software development. The bottom line? Web developers are today’s high-tech ditch diggers.
The Pixar Way
Recent interview with Ed Catmull, one of my personal role models, talking about how Pixar works to make films. Touches a lot on team dynamics and how to manage creative teams.
A Week with Elixir
Joe Armstrong’s notes on Elixir, a ruby-inspired syntax for a language that targets the Erlang VM. Generally positive.
Is Phish a Great Band?
Free-ranging article that finally makes a good point about the future of the business. Regardless, a must-link because it’s about Phish.

Posted 2013-06-09 • permalink


On Thingpunk
We’re not fleeing from digital design. We’re fleeing from postmodernism, which we all knew wasn’t going to last anyway. Better integration of technology is the next big design movement.
The Vo96
Extremely cool acoustic synthesizer for guitars. Works by inducing the guitar’s strings to produce the desired waveforms.
Stop Drawing Dead Fish
Lecture by Bret Victor on interactive art as what a computer makes possible. High potential. With sufficient simulation and control, can computers enable a high-tech performance exceeding a marionette performance? Is this what Pixar aims for, only residualizing their final performance to film? What if the capability existed for any group of high school students to do their own performance of Toy Story?
David Foster Wallace Commencement Speech
Commencement speech given at Kenyon in 2005. The power of knowing how to think is choosing what to think about and the perspective from which to think about it. The genesis of most great ideas is rooted in the ability to do this fluently.
Innovation Starvation
Old but worth a relink. We’re not executing on the big stuff.

Posted 2013-05-19 • permalink


Red and green callbacks
Boils down, to its essence, exactly why we’re using Erlang’s concurrency model where I work.
Concurrent revisions
Deterministic concurrency model that I like a lot better than software transactional memory.
Surviving legacy code
Good essay on how to think about legacy code bases and approach changing them.
Mozilla and Samsung collaborate on next generation web browser engine
Mostly interested in how Rust develops, and building a rendering engine with it is a great way to find out.
Blink: a rendering engine for the Chromium project
Meanwhile Google announces their fork of WebKit to push their own multi-process architecture for rendering. It’s a design competition now.
How to survive in design (and a zombie apocolypse)
Motivation to pick up tools like Quartz Composer for interaction designs with animation, even if they have a steep learning curve.
Photography’s third act
Using photos for communication.

Posted 2013-04-21 • permalink


What’s actually wrong with Yahoo’s purchase of Summly
Blistering critique of bolt-on engineering.
Logic programming is overrated
In Q4 2012 a vibe on my Internet was "hardware is cool again." Lately a vibe has been, "why don’t you startup kids come back when you’ve accomplished something technically significant."
Being a leader, not a micromanaging editor
This is an incredibly fine line. Sometimes teaching is done by editing side-by-side. Sometimes it is very difficult to articulate what "good" looks like. I’m certainly not perfect, and there is some good advice here.
Checkboxes that kill your product
I’m still proud to this day that we shipped SAMI EX without a preferences dialog, and DxLab had just a few options.
Computer science in Vietnam
Start kids early and give them a lot of headroom. Fraser reiterates that in the US we think there is no time for teaching programming. What does the rest of the Vietnamese curriculum look like?
Charlie Miller turns his transferring sights on Phish
I keep seeing Charlie Miller’s name on Grateful Dead and Phish transfers at etree. There are two crowds: they guys doing the taping and the guys doing the transfers.
Music for programming
Electronica with no vocals. Works well for me. Available as MP3s and also published via podcast in iTunes.

Posted 2013-03-31 • permalink


Beyond consumption versus creation
Considering computing devices based on task complexity and task duration. Useful when thinking about what portion of an application to put on a mobile device, if any.
OAuth 2.0 and the road to hell
Design by committee war story with bits of the cultural differences between Enterprise IT and the rest of the world.
Jony Ive on Blue Peter
You can find something positive to say about any design.
About Hacker School
What if you had a residence program for a high-tech startup incubator? What if you had a development co-op that borrowed this idea?
The GitHub Generation
Big implications for software design: where does top-down and bottom-up design meet? How do you reason about properties that don’t compose like performance and memory usage? Now think through how we’ll fix these problems when "open" is applied to other domains like legal code and school curriculum design.
The Art of Improvisation
Phish keyboardist Page McConnell’s senior study while he was at Godard

Posted 2013-03-10 • permalink


Balancing tradeoffs across different customers
Designing for two very different groups of people: end users and IT professionals.
What your culture really says
Calling out stereotypical startup culture. Is this perspective because the author is a woman or an adult?
Role models
Bob Cringely’s history of PARC including the roots of Dealer.
The process myth
Healthy process defends itself. I see a lot that doesn’t.
Vim after 11 years
Interesting perspective and list of extensions from someone who came to vim late. I don’t agree that lack of refactoring and smart completion is a liability.
Tumblr is not what you think
Dead-on correct assessment based on what I’m seeing in my own household.
Phish 9/1/2012 Light
This is being called the best jam of Phish’s 2012 summer tour. Truly epic.

Posted 2013-02-24 • permalink


Your massively offline college is broken
Clay Shirky continuing the debate on what software and the Internet will do to higher education. It’s a crazy time to be putting kids into college.
The exceptional beauty of Doom 3’s source code
Two words: minimal templates.
Functional programming in C++
John Carmack gives some practical reasons for why and how to use functional programming in C++.
Focus on work, not the methodology
Good ideas, but you have to remember that in any real company, funding and governance are as important as actually building the software.
Hey extraverts, enough is enough
Please leave us alone so we can get some work done.

(Format inspired by Trivium.)

Posted 2013-02-10 • permalink


Mars Code
Talk covering techniques they used for developing the Curiosity’s software. Some good war stories and practical advice for building high-quality software.
Why and How People Use R
Not a very technical talk but some good points for anybody designing domain-specific languages they want people to use.
Trey Anastasio’s Guitar Rig
Two parts; Part two is here.

Posted 2013-01-17 • permalink