Reader's Corner for December 2015

December 31, 2015

Mass, warrantless surveillance is inherently abusive and unjustified, and one shouldn't need a report that this was done to the Benjamin Netanyahus and Pete Hoekstras of the world to realize that.

This is so funny it's sad

"But all that, of course, was before Hoekstra knew that he and his Israeli friends were swept up in the spying of which he was so fond. Now that he knows that it is his privacy and those of his comrades that has been invaded, he is no longer cavalier about it. In fact, he’s so furious that this long-time NSA cheerleader is actually calling for the criminal prosecution of the NSA and Obama officials for the crime of spying on him and his friends."

Great journalism depends on a great business model, which is what BuzzFeed seems to have. And "The Dress" was no accident.

Interesting read discovered after the last article.

"This – like the post about The Dress – is not simply a happy coincidence. The world needs great journalism, but great journalism needs a great business model. That’s exactly what BuzzFeed seems to have, and it’s for that reason the company is the most important news organization in the world."

The H-2 guest worker program, which brought in 150,000 legal foreign workers last year, isn't supposed to deprive any American of a job. But many businesses go to extraordinary lengths to deny jobs...

A really well researched piece of investigative journalism, from ... Buzzfeed.

"For years, Linda [Alice] ran a business in Livingston, Louisiana, securing H-2 visas for hundreds of employers. Late last month, she was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison for creating phony receipts in an attempt to convince regulators she had placed newspaper ads for dozens of clients, when in fact she had not. During a three-year period reviewed by the Labor Department, her clients were approved for more than 8,000 visas, federal data shows.

In an interview, [Alice] called the matter “a mistake,” adding that “nobody was going to call for these jobs over dumb newspaper ads anyhow. When clients come to me, what they want is their Mexicans.”"

The "chad bug". The Hangouts Dialer on Android absolutely REFUSES to find 2 of my contacts. I have 132 of them in the group "My Contacts" and all of them… - Marc Bevand - Google+

Hangouts apparently doesn't like Chad

Have you ever mentioned something that seems totally normal to you only to be greeted by surprise? Happens to me all the time, when I describe …

This is one of the best things I've read in a long time, hands down. Everyone should read it.

"The data are clear that humans are really bad at taking the time to do things that are well understood to incontrovertibly reduce the risk of rare but catastrophic events. We will rationalize that taking shortcuts is the right, reasonable thing to do. There’s a term for this: the normalization of deviance. It’s well studied in a number of other contexts including healthcare, aviation, mechanical engineering, aerospace engineering, and civil engineering, but we rarely see it discussed in the context of software."

The motivation for collecting log data in a modern log management platform usually falls into 2 distinct categories — on…

Another great read

On the trail of a mysterious online company that has cracked the secret to making products people want.

Interesting approach

A nice note with respect to the NYT expose

The only way we can become a truly great company is if we open ourselves to the possibility that we might not be.

This is a pretty good read

The very richest are able to quietly shape tax policy that will allow them to shield billions in income.

"For the ultra-wealthy, “our tax code is like a leaky barrel,” said J. Todd Metcalf, the Democrats’ chief tax counsel on the Senate Finance Committee. ”Unless you plug every hole or get a new barrel, it’s going to leak out.”"

December 30, 2015

In a recent paper, we showed that coding style is present in source code and can be used to de-anonymize programmers. But what if only compiled binaries are available, rather than source code? Today we are releasing a new paper showing that coding style can survive compilation. Consequently, we can…

Wondering if this can be used for people cheating on assignments

Pseudo-random ramblings from Fogus.

I don't know how this guy comes up with such great lists every single year. Need to go over all of them.

It is alive but empty, with a cavernous fluid-filled space where the brain should be. A thin layer of brain tissue lines that cavity like an amniotic sac. The image hails from a 1980 review article in Science: Roger Lewin, the author, reports that the patient in question had “virtually no brain”. Bu…

"What scared me was the fact that this virtually brain-free patient had an IQ of 126."

This is an extremely interesting article. It seems most of the brain might be redundant, and simplifying it still keeps the IQ around.

Starters and MaintainersDecember 29, 2015Journal Entry, 12/18/2015 - “It’s late Friday night, my wife is already asleep, and I finally found time to go through those pull requests on that old project I put up on github last year. My daughter is getting up at 7:30 though, so I better not stay up too…

"Here’s to all the maintainers out there. To all the people putting in tireless, thankless work behind-the-scenes to keep code alive, to write documentation, to cut releases, to register domain names, and everything else. "

More people than ever are attending college. But for millions of poor Americans, getting into college isn't the hard part.

"A couple of years ago, Mfume dug into the data and was astonished to find that many of the stopped-out students were painfully close to meeting their financial obligations. Just this semester, according to associate provost Kara Turner, 293 students have not been financially cleared to stay in class. About 10 percent of those students owe less than $1,000."

I was shocked to hear, several weeks ago, that a fellow journalist, who recently started as a research editor at a national magazine, had been asked to pee

"In other words, the drug testing of employees isn’t so much a thoughtful labor policy as a compulsive habit. It’s something that we do because we’ve always done it, and we don’t know how to stop. Testing has become a national addiction, and it may be time to taper off."

Springer have made a bunch of books available for free, here are the direct links

Huge list of free books for both math and physics

I’ve always wanted to make a lot of money, have people pay a lot of attention to me and do a lot of exciting things. I just never knew how. Many of my..

"We got substantial VC funding from great firms who believed in us and, finally, a great office space that impressed everyone except my father — who kept asking me why I wasn’t a doctor yet."

December 29, 2015

A couple of years ago, both The Guardian and BBC published reports accusing Amazon of treating their staff like shit.

"What became apparent over my time there was that, whatever the dramatisation of previous investigations, working at Amazon is just shit – but no more shit than any other mundane, badly-paid job.

Since there have been bosses and profits there have always been shit jobs, and until we're replaced by more efficient robots, they'll still be there for us to complain about."

What Hillary Clinton gets wrong with her pledge not to raise taxes.

Why was that even middle class to begin with?

Robert and Addie Harte had to spend $25,000 to find out why a SWAT team mistakenly raided their home.

"of course, we can’t have the media looking into critical public safety initiatives like “Operation Constant Gardener.” If such scrutiny revealed that cops consider merely shopping at a garden supply store to be suspicious behavior, that drug testing field kits are more about circumventing the Fourth Amendment than accurate results or that a sheriff’s boast of having shut down a drug operation run by an “average family” in a “good neighborhood” was actually a terrifying raid in which SWAT cops held two kids at gunpoint because their mother enjoyed drinking tea … well, some people might begin to question the wisdom of the drug war."

December 28, 2015

Electronics engineers design and develop electronic equipment, such as music players and GPS systems, and many work in areas closely associated with computer hardware, according to the government's descriptions.

Hmm. Backed by IEEE too

It began with a test-fixing scandal so massive that it led to 2,000 arrests, including top politicians, academics and doctors. Then suspects started turning up dead. What is the truth behind the Vyapam scam that has gripped India?

"All this suggests that it is unlikely that the truth behind the Vyapam deaths will ever be established. Rather than a simple scam, Vyapam appears to be a vast societal swindle – one that reveals the hollowness at the heart of practically every Indian state institution: inadequate schools, a crushing shortage of meaningful jobs, a corrupt government, a cynical middle class happy to cheat the system to aid their own children, a compromised and inept police force and a judiciary incapable of enforcing its laws."

Your remaining face time with any person depends largely on where that person falls on your list of life priorities.

"It turns out that when I graduated from high school, I had already used up 93% of my in-person parent time. I’m now enjoying the last 5% of that time. We’re in the tail end." :(

Secrets of the world’s best businesspeople

Gujratis taking over the world. Also has a shout out to memons.

The most important thing I learnt from this, though, was that Freddie Mercury is of Gujrati descent

Intel's iconic Tick-Tock clock has begun to skip a beat now and then. Every Tick is a shrinking of the transistor size, and every Tock is an improvement of the microarchitecture. The current processor generation called Skylake is a Tock with a 14 nanometer process. The next in sequence would logical…

"The biggest potential for improved performance is now, as I see it, on the software side. "

APT's performance in applying the Pdiffs files, which are the diff format used for Packages, Sources, and other files in the archive has been slow. Improving performance for uncompressed files The ...

Low hanging fruit

Some legal scholars are asking whether it is time to reconsider the “clear and present danger” standard for curbing the freedom of speech.

"His proposal would make it illegal to go onto websites that glorify the Islamic State or support its recruitment, or to distribute links to such sites. He would impose graduated penalties, starting with a warning letter, then fines or prison for repeat offenders, to convey that “looking at ISIS-related websites, like looking at websites that display child pornography, is strictly forbidden.”"

Cue the slippery slope that leads to 1984

The folks that build the NSIS Installer have released updates to mitigate a serious security bug related to DLL loading. (v2.5 and v3.0b3 include the fixes). To make a long and complicated story sh...


Elizabeth Holmes of Theranos has emphasized a variety of blood-testing strategies but often collided with technological problems.

The fraud seems to be unraveling and it seems to sound more and more horrible day by day. I'm still stumped that they raised so much money without having a working product at all, and even worse, without showing that their product is even possible

"The lab employee later told federal authorities that the results from the quality-control runs diverged from the known amount by more than two standard deviations, a red flag that suggested possible accuracy problems, according to a complaint filed by the employee.

When the Theranos employee alerted superiors, someone from research and development came to the lab and deleted quality-control data to make the Edison’s test runs look better, the former lab employee alleged in the complaint to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS."

December 26, 2015

It’s been 22 months since I stepped down as the CEO of Moz and turned over the role to my longtime Chief Operating Officer and close friend, Sarah Bird. Since then I’ve recovered from depression, traveled to and keynoted dozens of events, started (and now nearly completed) a new product with a small…

Pretty good read

In this tutorial, I will show you how to embed an executable into a corporate network via email, behind the firewall(s),…

December 25, 2015

We've reached the end of term again, and I'm taking a break from writing up papers over the holidays - a chance to replenish my backlog and start planning for 2016 too! I want to see what I can do ...

Still impressed at how this guy reads almost one paper a day over such a consistent period and then manages to write about them too

December 24, 2015

Verizon has spent a tremendous amount of money and other resources over the years lobbying against net neutrality. It should be no surprise then that the carrier will reportedly soon follow the lea...

How is this legal?!

Using Law Against Technology On Thursday, a Brazilian judge ordered the text messaging service WhatsApp shut down for 48 hours. It was a monumental action. WhatsApp is the most popular app in Brazil, used by about 100 million people. The Brazilian telecoms hate the service because it entices people…

"The fundamental problem is that technology and law are in conflict, and what's worked in the past is increasingly failing today."

Really important read

Today’s NYT article on how employees sometimes lose out is a great read. Employees who like that, might also like Hunter’s article from last week on (not) getting rich at startups. This is the follow...

"But for all that is good and holy, don’t join a startup for the fucking money."

Employees at Good Technology, once valued at $1.1 billion, found their shares made practically worthless by a sale to BlackBerry for $425 million.


Three years ago, a solitary mathematician released an impenetrable proof of the famous abc conjecture. At a recent conference dedicated to the work, optimism

Math and abc

The country's health ministry called it "an unprecedented situation, unprecedented in world scientific research."

The PPP chairman was visiting the hospital to inaugurate the newly built Benazir Bhutto Trauma Centre.

This is extremely ironic and all sorts of messed up

December 23, 2015

Old school spying at its best

It’s well known that SHA-1 is no longer considered a secure cryptographic hash function. Researchers now believe that finding a hash collision (two values that result in the same value when SHA-1 is applied) is inevitable and likely to...

Interesting read; but I don't like their proposal.

Popular Insights Intuitive Learning Arithmetic & Numbers

Where was this when I was a kid?

Some of these lessons are amazing; really insightful and easy to learn. For example, from HN comments:

a% of b == b% of a%. For example, computing 16% of 25 might be difficult but 25% of 16 is easy and they're the same thing. Not too surprising when you look into it, but just highlighting such tricks is great.

There’s a reason why so few scientists will examine the evidence for cold fusion – but it’s sociological, not scientific

I am not an expert in Physics, but the reputation trap is definitely real

"It would be easy to overstate the analogy between mainstream institutions and the Inquisition, but it isn’t entirely empty. If we refuse to acknowledge the possibility that existing scientific institutions are not working as well as they might, we do something to reinforce it. If the reputation trap makes it impossible to question the role of the reputation trap, then the Cardinals are winning."

Good UX has great customer service at its base. Restaurants provide many instructive examples for designers.

Some great principles, others not so great.

"Explain terms that may be new to your users without any hint of condescension"

"Don't rush people who want to take their time, and don’t slow down those who are in a hurry."

"Treat everyone with courtesy and respect, especially when they are angry."

"The problem with cryptographic backdoors is not that they're the only way that an attacker can break intro our cryptographic systems. It's merely that they're one of the best. They take care of the hard work, the laying of plumbing and electrical wiring, so attackers can simply walk in and change the drapes."

Smugness and happy talk about sustainability aren’t working any more.

A pretty detailed, piercing piece

December 21, 2015

Disney is making a fortune and safeguarding its future by buying childhood, piece by piece

All your childhood are belong to us

December 20, 2015

Noise-control companies are endeavoring to make life a little quieter in a very loud city.

I wonder how horrified they'd be to see our place in Karachi (a dozen or so feet from a railway track)

If a theory can’t be tested, is it still science?

After the press, people wouldn’t come in with the same open-minded attitude, or just to enjoy a meal out with their friends. It seemed like they came in just to write a shitty review about us on Yelp.

(Yahoo Storm Team in alphabetical order) Sanket Chintapalli, Derek Dagit, Bobby Evans, Reza Farivar, Tom Graves, Mark Holderbaugh, Zhuo Liu, Kyle Nusbaum, Kishorkumar Patil, Boyang Jerry Peng and Paul Polouski. Executive Summary -  Due to a lack of real-world streaming benchmarks, we developed one t…

A set of three encrypted notes from the nineteenth century purportedly describe the location of hidden treasure in Virginia.

Really interesting note on crypto, puzzles and hidden treasures

Today's teens are on a grim racecourse trying to beat nearly impossible odds.

"Our kids might feel that life is worth living if they know that they matter to us, just by virtue of being who they are."

Applies to Pakistan too. Written in the context of the high teen suicide rate in the bay area

Possibly because your boss is an idiot.

Pretty great analysis

December 19, 2015

Suspicious code found in Juniper's firewall software underscores why governments shouldn't be allowed to install their own backdoors in software.

An editor’s note acknowledged the problems, but worries remain.

"Even before the editors’ note appeared, readers were writing to me with their concerns. Nancy Cadet, who described herself as a longtime subscriber, wanted to know how this happened: “Were these reporters relying on tips from a non-credible source?” And she observed, quite correctly, that harm is done when The Times gets it wrong: “The falsehoods and their repercussions live on long after the stories have been corrected or disputed.”"

December 18, 2015

There’s a meme that’s been going around for a while now: you should join a startup because the money is better and the work is more technically …

This is a pretty good read

December 17, 2015

The New York favorite comes closer to the heart of LA

Damnit, we went to Long Beach too early.

Sources at multiple financial institutions say they are tracking a pattern of fraud indicating that thieves have somehow compromised the credit card terminals at checkout lanes within multiple Safeway stores in California and Colorado. Safeway confirmed it is investigating skimming incidents at seve…

"In California, banks there strongly suspect Safeway locations in Castro Valley and Menlo Park may also have been hit. Those sources say ATM fraud has been linked to customers using their debit cards at those locations since early September 2015."


32-year-old suspected of plundering Retrophin to pay debts

The Federal Reserve raised interest rates for the first time in almost a decade in a widely telegraphed move while signaling that the pace of subsequent increases will be “gradual” and in line with previous projections.

December 16, 2015

Computer scientists are abuzz over a fast new algorithm for solving one of the central problems in the field.

Exciting times

December 14, 2015

Stockfighter is a series of programming challenges, playable in your browser, involving automated trading, low-level software and hardware security, and Wall Street hijinks. Free, forever.

This looks pretty exciting

I get this question way too often. My answer isn’t going to be helpful for anyone: it was a black swan, but here is my s…

"So how can you start in security? Security of %thing% is basically finding logical flaws in implementations of %thing%. Hence to find flaws you need to learn everything about %thing% you want to exploit first."

December 13, 2015

just bullshit

Startup BS

A US town has rejected a proposal for a solar farm following public concerns. Members of the public in Woodland, North Carolina, expressed their fear and mistrust at the proposal to allow Strata Solar Company to build a solar farm off Highway 258.

Now this is just depressing.

"[redacted], a retired science teacher, said she was concerned the panels would prevent plants in the area from photosynthesizing, stopping them from growing."

Short-sightedness is reaching epidemic proportions. Some scientists think they have found a reason why.

"More than a century ago, Henry Edward Juler, a renowned British eye surgeon, offered similar advice. In 1904, he wrote in A Handbook of Ophthalmic Science and Practice that when “the myopia had become stationary, change of air — a sea voyage if possible — should be prescribed”. As Wildsoet points out: “We've taken a hundred years to go back to what people were intuitively thinking was the case.”"

I haven’t used a desktop email client in years. None of them could handle the volume of email I get without at least occasionally corrupting my …

Computers are scary

pybind11 - Seamless operability between C++11 and Python

This looks pretty exciting and useful

December 12, 2015

A fire Friday at a mosque appears to have been intentionally set, authorities say, and has prompted condemnations and alarm in this Riverside County community and beyond.


OpenAI is a non-profit artificial intelligence group.

Exciting times.

"AI systems today have impressive but narrow capabilities. It seems that we'll keep whittling away at their constraints, and in the extreme case they will reach human performance on virtually every intellectual task. It's hard to fathom how much human-level AI could benefit society, and it's equally hard to imagine how much it could damage society if built or used incorrectly."

December 11, 2015

Volkwagen and the Blame The Engineer Game December 10, 2015 Volkwagen is a house in deep trouble. The dieselgate scandal just doesn’t seem to go away and even though the company is now under new management it seems that things are getting worse and worse as time goes by. What I really don’t get is t…

"Until the moment VW admits to either gross incompetence or managerial involvement I’m not going to believe another word they say on this whole affair, they’ve lost each and every bit of credibility they had."


"It should be possible, these days, to collect all knowledge you need from the internet. Problem then is, there is so much junk on the internet. Is it possible to weed out those very rare pages that may really be of use?"

Looks to be a pretty great list at first glance

December 8, 2015

Turkish Delight, or lokum, is a popular dessert sweet throughout Europe, especially in Greece, the Balkans, and of course Turkey. But most Americans, if they...

Wondering whether this just means I read Narnia too late in life

Bill Gates shares his list of best books he read in 2015: “Eradication” by Nancy Leys Stepan, “Thing Explainer” by Randall Munroe, “Sustainable Materials With Both Eyes Open” by Julian Allwood and Jonathan Cullen, “Mindset” by Carol Dweck, “Being Nixon” by Evan Thomas, and “The Road to Character” by…

Amazonian wilderness buzzed with human activity until 500 years ago, when Europeans turned up with weapons and diseases, says radical rethink of rainforest history

I can’t stand Elmo, just can’t deal with this damn Muppet anymore. He’s cute, he’s shrill, and he has made Sesame Street worse.

Companies disagree significantly about the types of programmers they want to hire. After 6 months doing technical interv…

"There’s more demand for product-focused programmers than there is for programmers focused on hard technical problems."

A pretty great read on recruiting and hiring, with data

December 1, 2015

Despite coming up with a unique custom production process and outstanding jeans, we didn’t achieve much success. Several months later, I figured out why.

A great set of lessons

Here's where the open office is going, for better or worse.

"They don't even occupy the best office real estate, such as near the soaring windows with stunning views of nearby salt marshes."

I wouldn't call the view stunning ...

The story of how a teacher ended up $410,000 in debt reveals the deep contradictions in the federal government’s approach to student loans.