Reader's Corner for November 2014

November 30, 2014

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I wonder if the Fire Phone is worth it at $200

November 27, 2014

This may very well be RadioShack's final holiday season. Jon, a former employee, looks back on a strange, craven, five thousand-fingered strip-mall monster from a forgotten age.

A once great corporation comes to its demise.

November 15, 2014

The more than 1.35 billion people who use Facebook on an ongoing basis rely on a seamless, “always on” site performance. On the back end, we have many advanced sub-systems and infrastructures in place that make such a real-time experience possible, and our scalable, high-performance network is one o…

Yay for really cool networking tech.

A little logic game by Q42.

Here's another fun logic game.

Y'all can hate me for wasting all your time again.

November 14, 2014

Liu Cixin’s “The Three-Body Problem,” a science-fiction trilogy whose first book comes out Tuesday in the United States, has attracted a diverse Chinese audience.

Maybe I should give this a read...

November 13, 2014

The Oscar-nominated "Memento" writer says "everyone would benefit from reading" the sci-fi trilogy

I absolutely can't wait for this.

November 12, 2014

From 2003 to 2010, the famously skeptical magician duo Penn & Teller hosted a Showtime series called Penn & Teller: Bullshit. During each 30-minute episode, the two magicians sought to “hun...

"The duo took their experiment to a trendy Southern California restaurant, where they enlisted a (fake) water sommelier. The sommelier brought guests a water tasting menu, listing luxury bottled waters such as “L’Eau de Robinet” and “Agua de Culo.” After sampling them, most patrons were wow-ed by how good the water tasted:

“Definitely better than tap water [...] It’s got a flavor that, it almost feels like a beverage other than water, but without sugar or any additives.”
“Seems smoother than tap water.”
“Better than LA County water!”

In actuality, all this luxury water was sourced from a garden hose out back behind the restaurant. And L’Eau de Robinet and Agua de Culo weren’t real designer waters: one is the French word for “tap water” and the other the Spanish for “ass water.”"


"The company is your public life. Have an issue with your landlord? The company will handle it, in those cases where the company is not your landlord. (“So let me get this straight: we’re going to pay our employees, and then they’re going to immediately hand 25% of their salary over to an apartment? Doesn’t this suggest an obvious inefficiency? We could just buy a building and house dozens of employees there — lower transaction costs plus economies of scale.” Many Japanese companies have done this math already, and company dorms are quite common, particularly for young, single employees.)"

Mars One claims that 200,000 people have signed up for a one-way mission to the red planet. But is any of it actually re…

“You would probably end up living like we did in the 18th century. With much simpler equipment, much simpler kitchen tools, much simpler things in all respects. It might be a lot like going back in time.”

Last year I worked with various databases at Square. I did: ¶ Investigating and resolving database performance issues. …

Yay for databases.

The examination to become a London cabbie is possibly the most difficult test in the world — demanding years of study to memorize the labyrinthine city’s 25,000 streets and any business or landmark on them. As GPS and Uber imperil this tradition, is there an argument for learning as an end in itself…

"You could also call the Knowledge the greatest tribute a city has ever paid to itself, a love letter more ardent than “I ❤ N.Y.” or anything else a Chamber of Commerce might cook up. The Knowledge says that London is Holy Writ, a great mystery to be pored over, and that a corps of municipal Talmudists must be delegated to that task. To the extent that the mystifying clichés hold — that taxi drivers are London’s singers of songlines and fonts of folk wisdom, carrying not just the secrets of London navigation but the deep history of the city and its streets — the disappearance of the Knowledge would be an assault on civic memory, a blow, if you will, to historic preservation. Smartphone apps and Google Maps may ensure that Londoners will never again be lost in their own city, but if the Knowledge disappears, will something of London itself be lost — will some essence of the place vanish along with all those guys on mopeds, learning the town’s roads and plumbing its depths?"

For most founders, selling a company is a life changing event that they have had no training for. At Y Combinator, one big thing we help our startups with is navigating questions around the acquisition process. Originally, I wrote this guide for... | Justin Kan | YC Partner and I started some compan…

Worth a read.

November 11, 2014

Ruby web server up to 4x faster than Unicorn, up to 2x faster than Puma and Torquebox.

This is some really cool stuff, low level optimization is always interesting.

South San Francisco Bay, CA by @justinmix @justinmix Copr. 2014. All Rights Reserved.

This seems pretty accurate.

November 5, 2014

Facebook hosted a data faculty summit on September 16, 2014. Top database faculty from around the country joined Facebook researchers at their headquarters in Menlo Park, California, to discuss the key open challenges around data storage and access. The focus was on three broad topics: small data, b…

A really interesting set of problems that pop up when working at extreme scale.

At first, the ability to check email, read ESPN, or browse Zappos while on the job may feel like a luxury. But in time, many crave more meaningful—and more demanding—responsibilities.

"The gap between image and substance is also a recurring theme in the comic Dilbert, whose creator, Scott Adams, was inspired by his uninspiring stints in the working world. Again and again, Adams questions not only the link between work and rationality, but also the relation between work and productivity: “Work can be defined as ‘anything you’d rather not be doing,’” he says. “Productivity is a different matter.”"

November 2, 2014

Navigating Los Angeles night life with Uber and other smartphone apps for ride-sharing services.

"And Uber can only change Los Angeles’s car culture so much. In a nod to the city’s continued obsession with the status ride, the company recently implemented, in Los Angeles and Orange County only, UberPlus, with a fleet of BMWs and other luxury vehicles. Even with ride shares, what you pull up in matters.

“If you’re going to the airport, you use UberX, who cares,” said Mr. Heitzler, the Venice artist. “But if you have to go to a party at the Chateau” — the see-and-be-seen celebrity-magnet Chateau Marmont — “you at least go black car. Or even a giant S.U.V. There’s nothing better than getting out of a giant S.U.V. at the Chateau by yourself.”"

Passports for Sale Atossa Araxia Abrahamian ▪ Fall 2014 (Daisuke Matsumura / Flickr) Last March, Malta began accepting citizenship applications from wealthy foreigners willing to invest $1.5 million in the country in exchange for Maltese citizenship (and with it, all the benefits that come wi…

Almost a year ago, Creigh Deeds’s mentally ill son attacked him with a knife before committing suicide. Now the Virginia state senator struggles with unending what-ifs.

This is a really moving story about mental illness.

"“I’ll have these questions for the rest of my life,” he says, and begins asking them again. Did Gus want to kill him? Did he know his father loved him? Did he hear him? Is that why he stopped? The questions keep coming, even though by now he has realized the inescapable answer.

“I’m never really going to know,” he says, and once more he is driving, music on, window down, and winding through the woods."

When I was a young and impressionable graduate student at Princeton, we scared each other with the story of a Final Public Oral, where Jack Milnor was dragged in against his will to sit on a commit...

These are hilarious.

"A graduate student (let's call him [Alice]) is in the airport standing in a security line. He is coming back from a conference, where he presented some exciting results of his Ph.D. thesis in Algebraic Geometry. One of the people whom he met at his presentation (let's call him Vikram) is also in the line, and they start talking excitedly about the results, and in particular the clever solution to problem X via blowing up eight points on a plane.

They don't notice other travelers slowly backing away from them.

Less than a minute later, the TSA officers descend on the two mathematicians, and take them away. They are thoroughly and intimately searched, and separated for interrogation. For an hour, the interrogation gets nowhere: the mathematicians simply don't know what the interrogators are talking about. What bombs? What plot? What terrorism?

The student finally realizes the problem, pulls out a pre-print of his paper, and proceeds to explain to the interrogators exactly what "blowing up points on a plane" means in Algebraic Geometry.""