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Reading List, September 2017

  1. Joel Kotkin, Trump damaged democracy, Silicon Valley will finish it off, in The Daily Beast, 27 August 2017. [Online]: http://www.thedailybeast.com/trump-damaged-democracy-silicon-valley-will-finish-it-off

    Kotkin writes about the lack of competition in Silicon Valley, a problem that has led to a lack of technical innovation along with decreasing the economic mobility in America. While I think that it is easy to blame Silicon Valley for all the problems in the world today (hacking the election, gentrification, exploiting workers in the gig economy, & c.), I think that this falls into the American trap of thinking of the world in terms of a ‘single actor’.

  2. Kashmir Hill, Yes, Google uses its power to quash ideas it doesn’t like – I know because it happened to me, in Gizmodo, 31 August 2017. [Online]: https://gizmodo.com/yes-google-uses-its-power-to-quash-ideas-it-doesn-t-li-1798646437

    Something we knew already, that Big Business will crush any criticism of itself. In this case, the Big Business in question has a motto, ‘Don’t be evil’.

  3. Scott Alexander, My IRB nightmare, in Slate Star Codex, 29 August 2017. [Online]: http://slatestarcodex.com/2017/08/29/my-irb-nightmare/

    A Kafkaesque walk down the nightmare that is getting approval from the bureaucracy in the institutional review board. Read it, it is funny in an incredibly dark way. Within this, you may find some insights into why medical research sucks.

  4. Arnab Ray, RaGa and leaked transcript of AI speech, 5 September 2017. [Online]: http://greatbong.net/2017/09/05/raga-and-ai-leaked-transcript/

    Making fun of Rahul Gandhi at this point feels like punching down.

  5. Tanya Gupta, The great saucer invasion: The day six ‘spaceships’ landed in England, in BBC News, 3 September 2017. [Online]: http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-41110193

    A trip down memory lane when pranking people was fun, and wouldn’t land you in jail for wasting the time of the police force.

  6. Ron Barry, How to decode the images on the Voyager Golden Record, in BoingBoing, 5 September 2017. [Online]: https://boingboing.net/2017/09/05/how-to-decode-the-images-on-th.html

    The Voyager space probes have been in space for forty years as of this month (September 2017). Barry walks us through how to decode the golden records that the probes carry with them as the sum total of all information that humanity would want aliens to experience, probably long after we’re all dead and gone. The thought of a lonely probe travelling through the universe carrying all of our experiences, hopes, and thoughts on a single gold disk makes me feel a mix of sadness and wonder.

  7. Oliver Roeder, How to win a nuclear standoff, in Five Thirty Eight, 6 September 2017. [Online]: https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/how-to-win-a-nuclear-standoff/

    A game-theoretic view of the nuclear brinkmanship going on between the USA and North Korea. Spoiler alert, Trump’s actually playing the game right.

  8. John Lanchester, You are the product, in London Review of Books, 17 August 2017. [Online]: https://www.lrb.co.uk/v39/n16/john-lanchester/you-are-the-product

    A look at Facebook and how it has fucked up the world. You’ll walk away from this article feeling dirty for just being online, at the amount of data you’ve leaked about yourself, and how much online companies know about you.

  9. Daniel Lemire, On Melissa O’Neill’s PCG random number generator, in Daniel Lemire’s blog, 15 August 2017. [Online]: https://lemire.me/blog/2017/08/15/on-melissa-oneills-pcg-random-number-generator/

    Melissa O’Neill wrote a better random number generator that was quickly adopted by engineers all over the world. She tried to get this work published, but failed multiple times. What’s ridiculous is that this makes her work less reliable in the eyes of academics. Which makes me wonder – is the academic model broken? I would love to write a blog post about this in more details, maybe once I graduate and leave the world of academia for good. Until then, I play my roles, stay quiet below the radar, and try to not rock the boat too much.

  10. Greg Kumparak, Tesla flips a switch to increase the range of some cars in Florida to help people evacuate, in TechCrunch, 9 September 2017. [Online]: https://techcrunch.com/2017/09/09/tesla-flips-a-switch-to-increase-the-range-of-some-cars-in-florida-to-help-people-evacuate/

    Tesla makes cars with two battery ‘capacities’, except that they are the same car, with one car crippled using software. This is protected by software that is illegal to crack because of laws like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). So, what does Tesla do when a hurricane strikes Florida? It sends an over-the-air update so that people don’t remain stuck in hurricane land waiting for their electric cars to charge. While I like the fact that Tesla did not screw over their customers, I still think that it is a shade of evil to create a good product, then intentionally cripple it. Clearly, the car costs only as much as the cheaper model, otherwise Tesla would not turn a profit. Why then charge more to remove a stupid software lock?

  11. Ariel Levy, The perfect wife, How Edith Windsor fell in love, got married, and won a landmark case for gay marriage, in The New Yorker, 30 September 2013. [Online]: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/09/30/the-perfect-wife

    Edith Windsor passed away earlier this month. This article talks about the case she brought against the federal government of the USA in the landmark case that brought recognition for same-sex marriages.

  12. Eric S. Raymond, Unlearning history, in Armed and Dangerous, 22 September 2017. [Online]: http://esr.ibiblio.org/?p=7660

    I don’t agree with parts of ESR’s analysis, nevertheless it makes it to my list for providing an illuminating alternative perspective. In fact, as an Indian, I rarely understand American politics, much less the complicated and charged relationship between the north and the south. ESR’s premise here is that statues of confederate soldiers were built as a part of the reconciliation between the north and the south after the civil war, as a form of soft, romanticised airbrushing of the Lost Cause. Therefore, ESR concludes, smashing the statues re-opens wounds that have not yet healed. This is funny (and wrong), because the statues in question were installed, not during or after the civil war, but much later as a Fuck You to the people who said that the colour of a person’s skin should not decide their position in society.

  13. Scott Manley, The computer hack that saved Apollo 14, on YouTube, 31 August 2017. [Online]: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wSSmNUl9Snw

    The story of how an engineer had astronauts reprogram some data on their control computer to ignore a malfunctioning abort switch.

  14. Alex White, Bad timing, in The Cooper Square Review of Science, Medicine and Technology, 22 September 2017. [Online]: http://coopersquarereview.org/post/bad-timing/

    Alex talks about the time when he discovered a bug in his code after running experiments and getting a good set of data. This is something that could easily happen to any PhD student, and is the stuff of our nightmares. Alex’s initial reactions on discovering the bug explain how some forms of scientific misconduct could occur through bad choices after discovering an honest mistake. He, of course, went back and fixed his error without any significant harm, so there’s a happy ending to this story.

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Brian Merchant, How email open tracking quietly took over the world, in Wired, 11 December 2017. [Online]: https://www.wired.com/story/how-email-open-tracking-quietly-took-over-the-web/It is no longer a secret that every website you visit silently tracks you in an effort to maximise ad revenue. What is less known is that emails also track you, through the use of tracking pixels and redirect links. These techniques were used by spammers and legitimate companies alike when creating newsletters or other mass email, in order to figure out their reach. What’s happening now is that private people are also using these techniques in order to create invisible and intrusive read receipts for email, which is incredibly frustrating from a privacy point of view.My solution to the tracking woes? I only open the plain-text component of email, which gets rid of tracking pixels entirely. Redirect links are harder to beat, and I don’t have a good solution for this.Dan Luu, Computer latency 1977–2017. D…