Reader's Corner for October 2014

October 27, 2014

'Teachers work hard, but I now think that conscientious students work harder. '

I think every educator needs to read this.

October 24, 2014

A helium-filled balloon lifted Alan Eustace, a Google executive, to more than 25 miles above the earth. Fifteen minutes after he cut himself loose, he was on the ground.

"Mr. Eustace cut himself loose from the balloon with the aid of a small explosive device and plummeted toward the earth at speeds that peaked at 822 miles per hour, setting off a small sonic boom heard by observers on the ground."

That is one way to do it...

Michael Friberg John Kane was on a hell of a winning streak. On July 3, 2009, he walked alone into the high-limit room at the Silverton Casino in Las Vegas and sat down at a video poker machine called the Game King. Six minutes later the purple light on the top of the machine flashed,…

"The defense attorneys pushed for dismissal of the computer hacking charge, on the grounds that anything the Game King allowed players to do through its interface was “authorized access” by definition: The whole point of playing slots is to beat the machine, and it's up to the computer to set and enforce limits. “All these guys did is simply push a sequence of buttons that they were legally entitled to push,” says Leavitt, Kane's attorney."

The annual Interactive Fiction awards are taking place right now, showcasing the very best new works. By Leigh Alexander

"This degree of accessibility means that in many ways, text-based games lead among other kinds of computer games in terms of creative democracy, sophisticated subject matter, and even political themes – while plenty of the competition games are traditional or humorous, modern text games bring new perspectives to bear from creators who might have been restricted from access to the traditional, privileged computer-education background, whose tone still dominates mainstream gaming."

October 23, 2014

Inside the soul-crushing world of content moderation, where low-wage laborers soak up the worst of humanity, and keep it off your Facebook feed.

"Constant exposure to videos like this has turned some of [Alice]’s coworkers intensely paranoid. Every day they see proof of the infinite variety of human depravity. They begin to suspect the worst of people they meet in real life, wondering what secrets their hard drives might hold. Two of [Alice]’s female coworkers have become so suspicious that they no longer leave their children with babysitters. They sometimes miss work because they can’t find someone they trust to take care of their kids."

The rise and fall and rise of

"I kept my day job at the financial company until the day it was acquired. My resignation meeting with my boss was surreal:

“So… Yahoo bought my website.”
“I don’t think I can counteroffer that.”"

October 22, 2014

'We are not just numbers. We're persons.'

A well written piece that describes the problematic housing situation in the area.

Chris Kluwe played in the NFL for eight years, but he’s been a gamer for 26 — and he’s tired of the misogyny in today’s …

This is definitely worth reading.

A report finds that classes requiring no attendance and little work were common knowledge among academic counselors and football coaches.

Yay for academic fraud.

"In the meeting, two members of the football counseling staff explained to the assembled coaches that the classes “had played a large role in keeping underprepared and/or unmotivated players eligible to play.” To emphasize this point, they presented a PowerPoint demonstration in which one of the slides asked and then answered the question, “What was part of the solution in the past?”

“We put them in classes that met degree requirements in which … they didn’t go to class … they didn’t have to take notes, have to stay awake … they didn’t have to meet with professors … they didn’t have to pay attention or necessarily engage with the material,” the slide said. “THESE NO LONGER EXIST!”

Indeed, the report said, “the fall 2009 semester — the first in over a decade without Ms. Crowder and her paper classes — resulted in the lowest football team G.P.A. in 10 years, 2.121.” Forty-eight players, it went on, earned semester G.P.A.'s of less than 2.0."

Meet the donors, patients, doctors and scientists involved in the complex global network of rare – and very rare – blood. By Penny Bailey.

"And Thomas’ different blood has given him the odd unexpected perk. When he was due for conscription, the doctor who first told him about his blood – Dr [Alice]-José Stelling – wrote to the army saying it was too dangerous for him to do military service, so he was exempted."

October 21, 2014

I am a cofounder of RethinkDB — an open-source distributed database designed to help developers and operations teams work with unstructured data to build real-time applications. We're hiring.

"Don’t judge too quickly; you’re right less often than you think. Even if you’re sure you’re right in any given case, wait until everyone’s opinion is heard."

"If you find yourself blaming someone, you’re probably wrong. Nobody wakes up and tries to do a bad job. 95% of the time you can resolve your feelings by just talking to people."

"Most conflict happens because people don’t feel heard. Sit down with each person and ask them how they feel. Listen carefully. Then ask again. And again. Then summarize what they said back to them. Most of the time that will solve the problem."

I interviewed at Handybook in July 2013. My temp job had just ended and I was desperate for a steady job, and was relieved and excited when I got an email from Handy scheduling me for a phone interview.

How do companies like this even manage to get funding?


Contribute to luakernel development by creating an account on GitHub.

"This is Lua + SQLite + musl running on bare metal x86."


Firebase is a realtime backend as a service that allows you to create incredible apps. Save, Store and Update Data in realtime directly from the browser or mobile client using only javascript or native iOS or Android code.

I didn't see this coming.

A paralysed man becomes the first in the world to walk again following a pioneering therapy which involved transplanting cells from his nose into his severed spinal cord.

This is really really exciting and promising research.

October 20, 2014

On the game’s 25th birthday, a devotee talks with creator Will Wright

This is cool.

As the sun was setting on a stormy Georgia day, Brooke Melton was 30 miles outside of Atlanta in her Chevy Cobalt. It was March 10, 2010, her birthday, and the 29-year-old pediatric nurse was on he...

"Brooke Melton needn’t have died that night. She was killed by a corporation’s callous disregard for the safety of its customers, made worse by a regulatory agency reluctant to regulate. At least 26 others perished, and scores more were injured, and these numbers will almost certainly grow. Reuters, after sifting through government accident data, estimated that 74 people have died in crashes that reflect “key similarities.” Thus far, General Motor’s victim fund has received 1,330 filings seeking compensation, including 165 from families of people killed in GM cars."

October 19, 2014

A mother discovers that her autistic son, Gus, has become inseparable from the voice emanating from her iPhone.

This is heart warming.

October 17, 2014

I just set up SSLTLS on my web site. Everything can be had via, and things appear to work. However the process of transitioning even a simple web site to SSL is so clownshoes bad that it's amazing anyone ever does it. So here's an incomplete list of things that can go wrong whe…

ffs indeed. seems to be a PITA

The web's most modern interface for playing Diplomacy online, compatible with all modern smart phones and tablets.

Online version of Diplomacy.

Rust is improving quite a lot lately and it makes it very exciting to play with the language and see how good API design could look like. There are areas in it however that are a bit frustrating still. For me one area is error handling. But some improvements might be coming up which I find quite exc…

Why I need to learn Rust pt 2. Really loving the ? operator idea.

Way back in October 2008, my now husband and I went on our first date. On our one year anniversary, his gift to me was a Word doc of all of our text messages since our first date (what he likes to ...

This is some really cool data. And, from the top HN comment:

"> more recently I seem to have decided to no longer greet my husband

This is the most interesting part. When you're dating someone, there are defined parts of the day where you start-and-then-stop interacting with them, so there are greetings exchanged, etc. When you're married (or in a very steady relationship), it's more like one continuous conversation; since it never ends, it never has to begin again."

The epic inside story of long-term criminal fraud at Ranbaxy, the Indian drug company that makes generic Lipitor for millions of Americans.

How the hell are these guys still in business and printing money instead of being in jail?

"Thakur knew the drugs weren’t good. They had high impurities, degraded easily, and would be useless at best in hot, humid conditions. They would be taken by the world’s poorest patients in sub-Saharan Africa, who had almost no medical infrastructure and no recourse for complaints. The injustice made him livid.

Ranbaxy executives didn’t care, says Kathy Spreen, and made little effort to conceal it. In a conference call with a dozen company executives, one brushed aside her fears about the quality of the AIDS medicine Ranbaxy was supplying for Africa. “Who cares?” he said, according to Spreen. “It’s just blacks dying.”"

October 16, 2014

Can women’s colleges survive the transgender movement?

Really long, really engrossing read.

"“It’s this very bizarre reversal of what happens in the real world,” Kaden said. “In the real world, it’s women who get fetishized, catcalled, sexually harassed, grabbed. At Wellesley, it’s trans men who do. If I were to go up to someone I just met and touch her body, I’d get grief from the entire Wellesley community, because they’d say it’s assault — and it is. But for some reason, when it’s done to trans men here, it doesn’t get read the same way. It’s like a free pass, that suddenly it’s O.K. to talk about or touch someone’s body as long as they’re not a woman.”"

Why have copyright protections grown and grown? Louis Menand on what the intellectual-property battles really mean.

"Cultural consumers are not organized at all. They can speak only through their elected representatives, but most of those people will be listening to the money—to the lobbyists for the content industries, new and old, as those industries search for more reliable ways to squeeze profits from the awesome stuff that human beings have created."

Bill Gates reviews Thomas Piketty’s book “Capital in the Twenty-First Century”

This is a great analysis.

"The debate over wealth and inequality has generated a lot of partisan heat. I don’t have a magic solution for that. But I do know that, even with its flaws, Piketty’s work contributes at least as much light as heat. And now I’m eager to see research that brings more light to this important topic."

A potent theory has emerged explaining a mysterious statistical law that arises throughout physics and mathematics.

This is really really interesting; a new distribution that seems to be appearing everywhere.

Haskell is fast, easy to parallelize and to optimize. In this post we explain how we increased a game's speed by 700% and reduced memory consumption to 3MB.

Kinda disappointing that it's just a breakout clone, but it's impressive that they managed to get it working and performant in Haskell.

October 14, 2014

Lauren Hilgers on employment agencies that can get Chinese immigrants kitchen jobs across the country in a few hours.

Rain’s cousin had worked in restaurants when he arrived in the U.S., but he got out of the business as soon as he could. “It’s too hard!” he said, pantomiming a cook’s frantic routine: shaking a wok, grabbing things off shelves, tossing them in. “All day, for twelve hours, you’re like this!” Rain sat at the table, grinning. He sympathized with his cousin’s restaurant fatigue. “Americans, when they want to rest and enjoy themselves, they rest and they enjoy themselves,” he told me. “Chinese people—it all depends on your boss.”

With Disney as the owner of Pixar & thus RenderMan, it may surprise some to know that Disney Animation has developed a completely new production renderer: Hyperion - with some very cool tech & clocking a million render hours a day on Big Hero 6.

This is a really cool article on state of the art rendering.

October 13, 2014

In the Netherlands, a system rests on the idea that each generation should pay its own costs — and that those costs must be measured accurately.

"But something else happened: Dutch young people found their voice. No matter their employment sector, they could see that their pension money was commingled with retirees’ money, then invested that way by the outside asset management firms. In the wake of the financial crisis, they realized that they and the retirees had fundamentally opposing interests. The young people were eager to keep taking investment risk, to take advantage of their long time horizon. But the retirees now wanted absolute safety, which meant investing in risk-free, cashlike assets. If all the money remained pooled, young people said, the aggressive investment returns they wanted would be diluted by the pittance that cashlike assets pay."

Peter Menzel and Faith D'Aluisio traveled the world documenting that most basic of human behaviors -- what we eat. Their project, "Hungry Planet," depicts everything…

And this makes me even hungrier.

What do kids around the world eat for breakfast? It’s as likely to be coffee or kimchi as it is a sugary cereal.

Reading this makes me hungry.

07 Oct 2014 Rust Means Never Having to Close a Socket One of the coolest features of Rust is how it automatically manages resources for you, while still guaranteeing both safety (no segfaults) and high performance. Because Rust is a different kind of programming language, it might be difficult to un…

I should learn Rust.

The Cox–Zucker machine is an algorithm created by David A. Cox and Steven Zucker. This algorithm determines if a given set of sections provides a basis (up to torsion) for the Mordell–Weil group of an elliptic surface E → S where S is isomorphic to the projective line.

I'm not sure why these two people decided to work together...

October 12, 2014

Can an aging corporation’s adventures in fundamental physics research open a new era of unimaginably powerful computers?

I didn't know Microsoft had a QM/physics lab.

Researchers found that oral capsules containing human feces may be an effective and safer alternative to fecal transplants for patients with Clostridium difficile infections.

Poop, now available in pill form.

Harvard stem cell researchers announced a giant leap forward in the quest to find a truly effective treatment for type 1 diabetes, a disease that affects an estimated 3 million Americans.

This is a massive breakthrough in the fight against diabetes.

06 October 2014 Life of a HTTP request, as seen by my toy web server When learning a new programming language, I tend to write two things with it: a language interpreter (usually a FORTH-like language or Brainfuck if I’m feeling lazy), and a HTTP server. Sometimes, just as a challenge or a way to qu…

This is a really good blog on C.

For some months, Amtrak was my home. It began simply somewhat unintentionally. A friend was getting married in Spokane, Washington, I was in New York, and the 45 day Amtrak pass was cheaper than rent. And so, I was on a train stopped in Washington DC. The station there is really magnificent, marbled…

Hands down one of the best pieces I've read in a really long time. It has a little bit of everything and is quite interesting.

(Apparently I had a facebook tab open with this text a week ago, but forgot to post)

Writings, screencasts, and talks by Zach Holman. Zach works at GitHub and enjoys consuming cherry pies.

This is a great talk on software development practices.

Zach Barth October 5th, 2014 Background I don't know why, but I've always gotten a kick out of reverse engineering data files for computer games. Although decompiling a game's code is a challenging task, data files are often much easier to figure out (as they contain lots of hig…

This is a really cool read on reverse engineering data formats.

October 4, 2014

Imagine -- maybe you don’t have to -- you’re Canadian. You’re at a dinner party, and the host has put out a bowl of the best snack you’ve ever had. Love at first bite, and it’s going fast. Soon enough, your fingers graze the bottom of the bowl and you realize that the end is nigh. You master your pa…

October 3, 2014

I was a wayward kid who grew up on the literary side of life, treating math and science as if they were pustules from the plague.…

Worth reading.

October 2, 2014

James Bamford literally wrote the book on the National Security Agency, spending 30 years obsessively documenting the secretive agency in print. Today, for the first time, he tells the story of his brief turn as an NSA whistleblower.

"Despite the threats, I refused to alter my manuscript or return the documents. Instead, we argued that according to Executive Order 12065, “classification may not be restored to documents already declassified and released to the public” under the Freedom of Information Act. That prompted the drama to move all the way up to the [Alice] House. On April 2, 1982, President Reagan signed a new executive order on secrecy that overturned the earlier one and granted him the authority to “reclassify information previously declassified and disclosed.”"

October 1, 2014

Search and perform data mining operations against academic publications, using social network analysis to identify connections between researchers, conferences, and publications.

I find it interesting how a lot of the best paper award winning papers end up becoming false positives, and the really great papers are not recognized immediately.