Reader's Corner for September 2014

September 29, 2014

A lithograph of the massive 1883 eruption of KrakatoaThe eruption of Krakatoa, and subsequent phenomena, 1888; Parker & Coward;…

This is fascinating.

September 28, 2014

There are two ways to teach quantum mechanics. The first way -- which for most physicists today is still the only way -- follows the historical order in which the ideas were discovered. So, you start with classical mechanics and electrodynamics, solving lots of grueling differential equations at eve…

"The second way to teach quantum mechanics leaves a blow-by-blow account of its discovery to the historians, and instead starts directly from the conceptual core -- namely, a certain generalization of probability theory to allow minus signs. Once you know what the theory is actually about, you can then sprinkle in physics to taste, and calculate the spectrum of whatever atom you want. This second approach is the one I'll be following here."

September 27, 2014

Twenty-three Alaskan tribesmen broke the law when they overfished king salmon, but they claim their faith gave them no other choice.

" But now the seasons are out of balance, and the Yup’ik can't stop hold the sea back. According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, an estimated 86 percent of indigenous villages in Alaska will need to move within the next 50 years, at a cost of $200 to $500 million per village. Newtok is preparing to move to a new site, across the water to Nelson Island, but a struggle against the village leadership has recently stalled the relocation effort."

More than 600 small earthquakes have rattled the Mammoth Lakes region in less than 36 hours as ripple effects continued across one of the most seismically active volcanic regions in California, according to the U.S. Geological Survey .

Uh oh. I'm wondering whether I should be scared.

September 26, 2014

A story about the time I became obsessed with a mobile game that requires you to meet strangers

This is really well written and really interesting.

Introduction 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 He's spent decades dodging the law. He's escaped from jail twice by helicopter. He's given millions to the poor. This is the story of how Greece’s most wanted man became a folk hero. The robberies started again on a Wednesday. A masked man drove a stolen van through the qu…

Really interesting read.

"He's spent decades dodging the law. He's escaped from jail twice by helicopter. He's given millions to the poor. This is the story of how Greece’s most wanted man became a folk hero."

September 25, 2014

The Phoebus cartel engineered a shorter-lived lightbulb and gave birth to planned obsolescence

"How exactly did the cartel pull off this engineering feat? It wasn’t just a matter of making an inferior or sloppy product; anybody could have done that. But to create one that reliably failed after an agreed-upon 1,000 hours took some doing over a number of years. The household lightbulb in 1924 was already technologically sophisticated: The light yield was considerable; the burning time was easily 2,500 hours or more. By striving for something less, the cartel would systematically reverse decades of progress."

And it's out - there go my next few days.

DHCP bash shellshock POC: 1) Just about any DHCP string value should work for the exploit. Value 114 is URL, which is a string and should be reliable for use 2) start a DHCP server on the network And set the string value for 114 to: () { ignored;}; echo ‘foo’ Replace the portion...»Read the full art…

Damnit, it's out already and it's this easy.

Hello, everyone! Clasp github repository Today I am happy to make the first release of the Common Lisp implementation “Clasp”. Clasp uses LLVM as its back-end and generates native code. Clasp is a ...

This seems really cool. A lisp on LLVM.

Some travelers take very long flights on low-priced tickets to earn frequent-flier miles and elite status.


Remember Heartbleed? If you believe the hype today, Shellshock is in that league and with an equally awesome name albeit bereft of a cool logo (someone in the marketing department of these vulns needs to get on that). But in all seriousness, it does have the potential to be a biggie and as I did wit…

This is a good, detailed analysis.

Thousands of US Citizens abroad are giving up their citizenship as a new tax law holds foreign banks and its expatriates ransom.

"To avoid breaking any laws, Welch will have to renounce his US citizenship and file five years’ worth of tax returns as well as possibly thousands of dollars to the US government in taxes on income he earned in Canada. He will have to foot bills for airplane flights and miss out on wages – and that’s not counting the $2,350 fee to renounce a citizenship he never assumed in the first place."

This is nuts.

An examination of tech's favorite labor model.

This is a really good read. All this explosive startup growth doesn't come for free: there is often a human cost behind it.

One might wonder whether the resizing of hash tables is common enough to be worth optimizing. As it turns out, picking the correct size for a hash table is not easy; the kernel has many tables whose size is determined at system initialization time with a combination of heuristics and simple guesswor…

This is a really cool data structure.

"XSA-108 2014-10-01 12:00 none (yet) assigned (Prereleased, but embargoed)"

I wonder what it is this time, given that AWS is pre-emptively shutting instances down and telling users their instances will be rebooted.

September 24, 2014

Yay, another huge remote code execution vulnerability.

September 23, 2014

Last week I was sorting through several sets of Microsoft C 5.1 disks from 1988 (more about that later). While I was comparing the disk images to see whether the disks were the same or not, despite different labels and part numbers, I did a double take when I realized that a file with random e-mail…

"Random memory fragments such as those listed here can be found on many IBM and Microsoft disks, but usually they contain bits of directories or executables, not plain text of e-mails."

"and we're going to KILL HIM WITH HAMMERS. Hahahahahahahaha.
And THEN we're going to ..."

Ray Ozzie’s new app Talko hopes to give people their voices back

"No matter what happens to Talko, it is remarkable that a pioneer from the floppy disk days has created one of the year’s most innovative mobile apps. Back in 2000, Bill Gates noted that, of the early visionaries of personal computing, very few were still in the game. “Except for Jobs and myself and Ray Ozzie, it’s not very many people,” he told me. Fourteen years later, Jobs is dead and Gates is no longer a full-timer at Microsoft.

But Ray Ozzie is still building. And he wants to reinvent the phone call."

September 22, 2014

Once upon a time, researchers hoped to explore the promise of ecstasy for treating PTSD. Then the feds stepped in

"The drug that had been “mislabeled” as MDMA and proven so horribly toxic that it had stopped [Alice]’s study cold; the drug that was far more toxic than actual MDMA, methamphetamine, already was a prescription medicine."

In The Way of Kings, #1 New York Times bestselling author Brandon Sanderson introduces readers to the fascinating world of Roshar, a world of stone and storms. It has been centuries since the fall of the Knights Radiant, but their mystical swords and armor remain, transforming ordinary men i...

The way of kings is currently free for the Kindle if anyone's interested.

Clay Shirky's writings about the Internet, including Economics and Culture, Media and Community, Open Source

Long, and worth reading for anyone who works or is interested in ontologies and classification.

"They missed the end of this progression, which is that, if you've got enough links, you don't need the hierarchy anymore. There is no shelf. There is no file system. The links alone are enough."

"One of the biggest problems with categorizing things in advance is that it forces the categorizers to take on two jobs that have historically been quite hard: mind reading, and fortune telling. It forces categorizers to guess what their users are thinking, and to make predictions about the future."

On New Year's Eve 2007, a clot blocked one half of my brain from the other. My reality would never be the same again.

I didn't know buzzfeed actually had content worth reading. This is beautiful, moving, and scary.

"I wondered if I’d betrayed any secrets, but when I stopped to consider them, I couldn’t remember my secrets."

A population of 100,000 is no longer a guarantee that a city like Richmond, California can sustain a thriving daily paper. Readers have drifted from the tactile pleasures of print to the digital gratification of their smartphone screens, and

Native advertising and corporate-influenced media is kind of bad. The John Oliver video on this topic ( is also great.

September 21, 2014

As the American people got fatter, so did marmosets, vervet monkeys and mice. The problem may be bigger than any of us

"Today’s priests of obesity prevention proclaim with confidence and authority that they have the answer. So did Bruno Bettelheim in the 1950s, when he blamed autism on mothers with cold personalities. So, for that matter, did the clerics of 18th-century Lisbon, who blamed earthquakes on people’s sinful ways. History is not kind to authorities whose mistaken dogmas cause unnecessary suffering and pointless effort, while ignoring the real causes of trouble. And the history of the obesity era has yet to be written."

September 19, 2014

The Python creator and Dropbox engineer reflects on his early days in programming

This is some pretty good stuff.

A proposal aims to address the problem of studies that go unpublished even though their findings can be important.

Worth considering.

September 17, 2014

New features you can use today.

C++11, and now C++14, have made developing in C++ a pretty pleasant experience.

September 16, 2014

Last year I mentioned a paper that described the well-known drug tramadol as a natural product, isolated from a species of tree in Cameroon. Rather high concentrations were found in the root bark, and the evidence looked solid that the compound was indeed being made biochemically.

"That's because, as it turns out, tramadol is given extensively to cattle (!) in the region, so much of it that the parent drug and its metabolites have soaked into the soil enough for the African peach/pincushion tree to have taken it up into its roots. I didn't see that one coming."

September 15, 2014

On the night of September 7, 2014, Joe Vennix of Rapid7's Metasploit Products team wrote, "I did not believe this at first, but after some testing it seems true: in AOSP browser before Android 4.4, you can load javascript into any arbitrary frame or window [...]" and provided a Metasploit module to…

So much for using Android's default browser.

Two things you probably need to know about me: I am a trans woman and I work at a tech startup as a QA engineer. This means having to deal with a lot of…

This is a great piece. I think all the [insert word here]s of the world, not just in tech, should read it. In fact, everyone should. And make the world a better place.

The home of Notch

"As soon as this deal is finalized, I will leave Mojang and go back to doing Ludum Dares and small web experiments. If I ever accidentally make something that seems to gain traction, I’ll probably abandon it immediately."

This is kind of sad, but I'm happy for the guy.

Yes, the deal is real. Mojang is being bought by Microsoft. It was reassuring to see how many of your opinions mirrored those of the Mojangstas when we heard the news. Change is scary, and this is a big change […]

2.5 billion. 'nuff said.

September 12, 2014

The Haskell language provides the following guarantee (with caveats): if two programs are equal according to equational reasoning then they will behave the same. On the other hand, Haskell does not guarantee that equal programs will generate identical performance. Consequently, Haskell library write…

I understand some of these words...

"Now suppose there were a hypothetical language with a stronger guarantee: if two programs are equal then they generate identical executables. Such a language would be immune to abstraction: no matter how many layers of indirection you might add the binary size and runtime performance would be unaffected."

Scientists have taken a major step forward in the production of hydrogen from water which could lead to a new era of cheap, clean and renewable energy.

Hydrogen production from water - now if only Agha [Alice] could have done something like this for his water powered car...

This is cool.

Introduction There are a lot of startup ideas we've been waiting for people to apply with, sometimes for years. In an effort to be more direct, we're introducing the RFS (Requests for Startups). Basically, we'd like to fund more breakthrough technology companies--companies that solve an important pr…

I love this list.

September 11, 2014

The steadfast rotating fan has been employed to keep people cool since the eighteenth century, and it remains highly effective, requiring much less energy and providing more comfort than air-conditioning. Cooling people by increasing local airflow is at least ten times more energy efficient than ref…

Yay for fans.

During harvest last year, banana farmers in Jordan and Mozambique made a chilling discovery. Their plants were no longer bearing the soft, creamy fruits they'd been growing for decades. When they cut open the roots of their banana plants, they saw something that looked like this: Scientists first di…

"But the GMO lightning rod distracts from the larger cautionary tale: Our reliance on monoculture to feed surging global populations is catching up with us. International agricultural organizations are already scrambling to find new scourge-resistant substitutes for things like rice and potatoes. In fact, so dire are other global agricultural problems that Tropical Race 4’s onslaught doesn’t even get bananas near the top of priority list. “Getting support to develop new resistant bananas is really tough—there are already so many demands on the international agricultural community,” says Ploetz. “There’s a lot of hunger in the world and bananas just have to get in line behind all those other big problems.”"

How the worst apple took over the United States, and continues to spread

"As genes for beauty were favored over those for taste, the skins grew tough and bitter around mushy, sugar-soaked flesh."

September 10, 2014

In mid-August, couples and lonely hearts packed a Brooklyn basement to hear scientists make sense of something the crowd could not: love. It was the 11th meeting of the Empiricist League, a kind of...

"But if submitting to Big Data is what’s required, are we interested in telling it? Rudder started writing the book in a pre-Edward Snowden era, when the conversation about data was largely about its possibilities, not its perils. There’s a telling passage early in the book when Rudder writes, “If Big Data’s two running stories have been surveillance and money, for the last three years I’ve been working on a third: the human story.” But that doesn’t go quite far enough. These days, isn’t the human story a combination of surveillance and money?"

ngrok is a tunneling, reverse proxy that establishes secure tunnels from a public endpoint to a locally running network service while capturing all traffic for inspection and replay. It is an open-source project on GitHub.

This is a really good read on UX design.

Why are we doing so much to try to help seniors when they’re already the wealthiest generation in history?

"The battle over how cash-strapped governments should divvy up their limited resources between young and old is only likely to heat up as the biggest wave of Baby Boomers enters retirement over the next decade. But it’s a battle worth waging—unless we want today’s seniors to be the last generation of Canadians living in retirement bliss."

Thousands of people use 23andMe to seek out long-lost family members. They're not always prepared for what they find. And new changes to the service's settings could lead to even more of these revelations.

"As the market grows and more and more people log in, services like 23andMe may well become the Google of our personal genetics. Except instead of acting as the gatekeeper for a search query on how to cook a steak, they will be the guardians of our collective DNA. With quiet changes to their privacy settings, the company is already determining whether and how we have family secrets revealed and how we learn about our histories. It's already controlling the narrative of our genes"

One biologist's story of how genetic testing broke his family apart.

"At first, I was thinking this is the coolest genetics story, my own personal genetics story. I wasn't particularly upset about it initially, until the rest of the family found out. Their reaction was different. Years of repressed memories and emotions uncorked and resulted in tumultuous times that have torn my nuclear family apart. My parents divorced. No one is talking to my dad. We're not anywhere close to being healed yet and I don't know how long it will take to put the pieces back together. "

Microsoft is in serious discussions to buy Mojang, the Swedish company behind the popular "Minecraft" videogame, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.

Color me surprised.

September 9, 2014

Somehow, it ended up widely reported that Steve Ballmer wrote the blue screen of death. And all of those articles cited my article titled "Who wrote the text for the Ctrl+Alt+Del dialog in Windows 3.1?" Somehow, everybody decided to ignore that I wrote "Ctrl+Alt+Del dialog" and replace it with what…

The amount of mis-reporting in news can be quite scary.

This takes the lazy/cheap software engineer thing to a whole next level.

September 8, 2014

Welcome to All About Circuits This site provides a series of online textbooks covering electricity and electronics. The information provided is great for both students and hobbyists who are looking to expand their knowledge in this field. These textbooks were written by Tony R. Kuphaldt and released…

For all the electrical engineers out there.

Creddle helps you make beautiful, modern, paper-friendly web résumés.

This seems really cool.

September 7, 2014

Just over the crest of the highest point on Sand Hill Road, amid a cluster of relaxed buildings that could easily pass a…

The quotes in the middle are absolute gold.

Why does bending a pizza slice help you eat it? How does a mantis shrimp's punch use a Pringles chip? A surprising geometrical link between curvature and strength.

Yay for really useful math.

Should one of the world’s richest men get to dictate the future of how we learn about our past?

"‘Most kids experience school as one damn course after another; there’s nothing to build connections between the courses that they take.’"

September 6, 2014

This page lists books that I have found to be highly relevant and useful for learning topics within computer security, digital forensics, incident response, malware analysis, and reverse engineering. These books range from introductory texts to advanced research works. While some of these books may…

This is a good list of security books.

Brain dump on spam filtering, gmail, and how it all works. really interesting.

Really interesting data.

September 5, 2014

We’ve all been there. The train is coming into the station, and you grab your MetroCard and quickly try and swipe it at a turnstile. "Please Swipe Again". "Please Swipe Again". "Insufficient...

This is crazy. WTF NY MTA?

Fecal transplants have been proven to successfully treat certain types of infection, but proponents of the treatment are still fighting what they say are unnecessarily strict regulations.

Score one for poop.

September 4, 2014

AST matchers and Clang refactoring tools July 29, 2014 at 20:22 Tags Compilation , LLVM & Clang Clang tooling sees lots of interest and development focus in the past few years. At last, we have a convenient, accurate, open-source and well supported framework for programmatically analyzing and refact…

This is really exciting.

A common problem in C++ occurs when you have an object of an unknown derived type and want to make a copy of it. Consider the following code: You can't just use new Vehicle in this situation becaus...

TIL about the curiously recurring template pattern.

"Effective GoF Patterns with C++11 and Boost".

A great set on design patterns and C++11

September 3, 2014 allows you to find salaries paid by many companies. Unlike other websites, does not rely on self-reported salary data but uses the salary data of foreign workers in the US. This salary data must be reported to the Department of Labor and is available on their website.

Whoever had this idea is a genius.

PG&E was hit with $1.4 billion in penalties by the California Public Utilities Commission Tuesday for safety violations related to the 2010 gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno.

You done goofed when you get a fine this large.

The startup scene today, and by ‘scene’ I’m sweeping a fairly catholic brush over a large swath of people – observers, critics, investors, entrepreneurs, ‘want’repreneurs, academics, techies, and the like – seems to be riven into two camps.

This is over a year old but this is amazing.

"But there are only so many suit customisation, makeup sampling, music streaming, social eating, discount shopping, experience curating companies that the market can bear. If you’re itching to start something new, why chase the nth iteration of a company already serving the young, privileged, liberal jetsetter? If you’re an investor, why revisit the same space as everyone else? There is life, believe me, outside of NY, Cambridge, Chicago, Atlanta, Austin, L.A. and San Fran."

September 2, 2014

Notes on the Celebrity Data Theft Tuesday, September 2, 2014 An interesting aspect of information security is how periodically it collides with other industries and subcultures. With more information than ever being stored and shared online and on connected devices hacking stories are frequent and a…

"There is no software that users will ever be able to install or upgrade that will make them secure. The responsibility is on both vendors and users. Users need to be aware of good password practices (unique passwords, long, passphrases) as well as the basics of anonymity and security."

Greets! I'm delighted to be able to announce the release of Pflua, a high-performance packet filtering toolkit written in Lua.

This seems really cool.

In a finding that upends long-held notions about a healthy diet, a major study shows that avoiding carbohydrates and eating more fat contributes to weight loss and fewer cardiovascular risks.

Now I feel guilty for having had a bunch of pizza

A study over decades of young Baltimoreans offers insight into who succeeds and why.

Quite the read.

September 1, 2014

David Goodfriend aims to terrify billionaires, end public subsidies for sports.

"“What’s really going on here is the NFL is terrified that someone is going to pull back the curtain and reveal all these public subsidies to the point where the public says, ‘no more,’” Goodfriend said. “‘We’re no longer going to subsidize your stadiums, your taxes, your business, we’re just not going to subsidize it anymore.’ That terrifies the billionaires.”"

Alana Saarinen is one of a few people who have DNA from three different people - the UK may soon allow a new process which could make this more common.


"The Advanced Cave Culling Algorithm™, or, making Minecraft faster"