Links I liked (edition #5)

January 12, 2014

Hello. Here are some things on the Internet you might enjoy reading.

Shanghai. Jesse Vincent makes keyboards. By hand. Which is clearly a niche thing to do, but that’s cool. Jesse went to Shanghai recently and wrote up a travelogue of his experiences trying to buy electronics components, consuming tasty yet unidentifiable foodstuffs with the local Linux user group, and generally being an observant westerner in the PRC. “Some of the drive from PuDong to Shanghai felt like driving through a megalopolis. Some of it felt like driving through a post-apocalyptic wasteland.”

Customs. If you’ve ever wondered whether astronauts technically leave their country of departure, the answer back in 1969 was an unequivocal yes. No idea whether it’s still true. But anyway, you can see the customs declaration form that the Apollo 11 crew filled in when they arrived in Honolulu after their multi-stop itinerary: Cape Canaveral – Moon – Honolulu.

Space. This is an engaging little piece about driving round the largest man-made scale model of the Solar System. (It’s about 100 miles as the crow flies from Eris to the Sun.)

The Second Law of Thermodynamics. Finally, here’s a heartfelt posting on the New Yorker books blog celebrating the 20th anniversary of Tom Stoppard’s sublime play ‘Arcadia’. “The play’s ingredients include sexual jealousy and poetasters and the gothic school of landscape gardening and duelling and chaos theory and botany and the perennial war between Classical and Romantic aesthetics and the maturing of mathematical prodigies.” Not to mention the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Arcadia is one of the most compelling, intellectually stimulating and slyly entertaining plays that I’ve ever seen, and this piece sums it up beautifully.

That’s all for now. Happy New Year!

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Links I liked (edition #4)

June 23, 2013

Been quiet on the blog since, oh, March 02013. So these links are mostly very old in Internet years. But still worth a look.

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/culture/2013/03/mila-kunis-oz-bbc-interview.html – now that’s how to do a movie interview. Shades of Hugh Grant’s faux Horse and Hound gig in Four Weddings, without the excessive politesse.

http://www.verticalveg.org.uk/what-to-do-in-june/ – got a tiny (probably urban) garden-like space and an urge to grow salad? This one’s for you.

http://www.badscience.net/2013/03/heres-my-paper-on-evidence-and-teaching-for-the-education-minister/ – there’s not nearly enough evidence-finding in education. Here’s an idea or two from Ben Goldacre on how to change that. Hopefully this will become just “what we do” within a generation or so.

http://phenomena.nationalgeographic.com/2013/03/04/everything-everywhere-english-channel/ – if your plans for world domination involve wiping out a specific type of rare, ocean-dwelling bacteria, you might want to find another plan. Otherwise, just read this and enjoy a cool application of massive sampling and data processing.

http://www.fastcodesign.com/1672099/automatic-a-visionary-gadget-that-makes-any-driver-more-fuel-efficient – simple combination of existing components with a mobile app as the bridge to make it part of everyday life. Lovely.

Links I liked (edition #3)

March 24, 2013

Hello again.

This edition of “Links I liked” includes a talk from 2008 by Zadie Smith, a cool demo of GOV.UK at the Design Museum, and an electric car that seems perfect for the everyday commuter (at last!). If you’ve got any suggestions for things I should link to in future blog posts then please email me with “Links I liked” in the subject line. Thanks!

Here’s an outstanding talk given by Zadie Smith in December 2008 (53 minutes duration, 25MB mp3 download). It’s a sophisticated, nuanced discussion of race, identity, authenticity and language at the dawn of the age of Obama, with examples from William Shakespeare, Barack Obama, Eliza Doolittle and her little brother. Download and enjoy at your leisure.

From the world of Canadian economics blogging (yes, really) comes this brief summary of the macro-economic impact on Middle Earth of Smaug the dragon. “Unfortunately, the lack of a central bank, or indeed any but the most rudimentary monetary institutions, was a major obstacle to currency reform.”

How big is the Internet? An anonymous security researcher built a botnet on the back of a few million insecure systems and scanned the whole of the Internet several times over. While the insights are fascinating, the ease with which he/she built the botnet suggests that device manufacturers need to work harder on securing their devices, to put it mildly.

GOV.UK was nominated for the 2013 Designs of the Year Awards at the Design Museum (go and visit – the exhibition closes on 7 July 02013). The GOV.UK exhibit is a combination of mobile, tablet and “desktop” browsers running literally side-by-side – you can browse the site on a laptop and the same pages appear on the other two devices at the same time. Elegant and understated – it’s a very GOV.UK demo. And talking of cool demos, if you ever played SimCity you might want to keep an eye on VizCities.

Having spent almost four years doing grunt work on numerous VC and private equity deals, I was overjoyed to read this pithy summary of contract law from Charles Stross buried in a speculative blog post on things publishers can’t do (yet): ‘Contract law is essentially a defensive scorched-earth battleground where the constant question is, “if my business partner was possessed by a brain-eating monster from beyond spacetime tomorrow, what is the worst thing they could do to me?”‘

And finally, this review of the Renault Zoe electric car almost makes me wish I had to drive to work every day. (Almost.)

Links I liked (edition #2)

January 3, 2013

Hello again.

This is the second edition of Links I liked. You can find the first one here.

There’s a great blog called Not Exactly Rocket Science which has been around for a while and is now hosted by National Geographic. It covers a wide range of topics at a level of complexity that’s one step up from the popular science books of Gladwell et al, but still very accessible to non-experts.  That’s a trick statement, of course, since even experts in one specialism are basically interested and vaguely-educated observers in just about every other area of science. Anyway, here’s a fun article on how concepts are mapped in the human brain.

Basketball is fun to watch, perhaps because it happens in very short bursts of crazy activity. Good for those with short attention spans.  The NYT recently did a long profile of the Oklahoma City team, focusing on how darn nice they all are. Ironically, therefore perhaps not so good for those with short attention spans.

My friend and colleague Tom has a thing about sailing. He does it a lot, when he’s not writing the UK Government’s digital strategy, and he’s pretty good at it. Now he’s written a lovely, short piece about Malcolm Barnsley, the designer of the fastest sailboat in the world. As Tom says, “the brutal fact of the matter is that ideas are cheap. Malcolm spent a decade making a potentially great idea work.”

Okay, another piece about the US presidential election of 02012.  Nate Silver runs the numbers and explains what changed between 2008 and 2012 state by state.

Remember the Large Hadron Collider? The big tunnel under the Swiss-French border where they recently detected something that’s almost certainly a Higgs Boson. (There seems to be some uncertainty about whether it’s “the” Higgs boson, but we’ll save that for another day.)  Anyway, now that the excitement has died down it’s worth going back to January 2010 and re-reading this Vanity Fair piece about the origins of the LHC, the disaster of September 19th 02008 and the process of rebuilding that led to a press conference of beaming particle physicists on 4th July 02012. (Sorry about the pun.)

Finally, a long posting about the “three kinds of platforms you meet on the Internet” (an example of each type being Flickr, Facebook and Heroku). It was originally written by Marc Andreessen, who was a co-founder of Netscape and is now a successful venture capital investor. For some reason his blog went offline a few years ago, but fortunately someone put a mostly-complete copy of his back catalogue on the Internet.  And if you liked that one you should also read (or re-read) Steve Yegge’s rant about why Google doesn’t build platforms like Amazon builds platforms.

That’s all for today. Sorry again for the lack of attribution (also known as the “hat tip“).

Links I liked (edition #1)

January 2, 2013

Hello.

I read a few hundred blogs. Mostly it’s pretty ephemeral stuff, but sometimes it’s worth sharing with a wider audience.  So in the style of Chris Blattman’s “Links I liked” and O’Reilly Radar’s “Four short links”, here are some things on the Internet that are worth reading.

Lots of people have written about how the Obama campaign used technology.  Very little of it is worth reading, apart from this interview with Daniel Ryan and this profile of Harper Reed and the Obama for America tech team.

Remember letter writing?  People wrote letters, this guy typed them in, and now you can read them on his website. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, etc.

The Indigo Trust is unusual among grant-giving charitable trusts.  They blog about what they fund and why they fund it.  More foundations and trusts should do this.

Steve Blank writes a lovely blog about his experiences starting and growing technology businesses in the USA – but it has plenty of wise words for non-US, non-tech entrepreneurs too. (Why read this guy and not the other 5,000,000 people who blog about entrepreneurship? Partly because he did it 7 or 8 times and made his investors and colleagues lots of money, and partly because he writes pretty well.) It’s well worth reading through the entire blog if you have a couple of hours to spare. Put very simply, he advises entrepreneurs to spend time with potential customers to work out what they actually need and what they will actually buy.  Then, and only then, invest significant amounts of time and/or money to develop the product and scale up the business. See also https://www.gov.uk/starting-up-a-business – a succinct, common sense approach in line with Steve Blank’s advice, and some UK-specific information on starting a company, registering your intellectual property, etc.

[Warning: This next link is very geeky!] My friend Adam works on web security at Google.  He gave a talk recently about a new way for website owners to reliably know about all the SSL certificates that have been issued by certificate authorities for a given Internet domain name (including certs that shouldn’t have been issued). If you understood any of that, read the transcript of the talk.

And finally, a slightly unfocused, meandering but nonetheless enjoyable article about the New Yorker magazine’s fact-checking process, and a chat with the editor, David Remnick.

(I’ll do another list in a few days, but this one is already getting quite long. Also, I didn’t note down where I first saw these links, so I can’t give the correct attribution. Sorry about that.)