Marginally Useful

Ingenious essay on possible uses for Bitcoin and other crypto-currencies. “Imagine an online advertising campaign where people who clicked on an advertisement would be given the virtual coins. Small amounts of money might be distributed without friction. The entire web of advertising would suddenly become a more interesting place. Before, the ads seemed to hunt you, but now you would have reason to hunt for ads” (1,611 words)

The Hidden Technology That Makes Twitter Huge

Twitter thrives for two main reasons. First, it’s cunningly engineered: The visible Tweet contains up to 140 characters, but each message also has 31 hidden data fields which allow Twitter to analyse and monetise network activity. Second, it has uncovered hidden value in “a latent aspect of human life”, something that humans produce freely and plentifully, but which was previously seen as worthless: trivial chatter (2,100 words)

Obamacare Website Fiasco: Next Time, Opensource It

“The US federal government should make all taxpayer-funded software development open-sourced by default. In the short run, this would help to prevent the recurrence of problems like those that plague Longer term, it will lead to better, more secure software and could allow the government to deliver a range of services more effectively. And it would enrich democracy to boot” (2,400 words)

Do You Know Where Your Children Are?

A successful in vitro fertilisation leads to twins — and two spare fertilised embryos, frozen in the clinic fridge. What to do with them? As a parent, you could leave them there indefinitely, at $100 a month; or have them destroyed; you could try for more children; donate the embryos for scientific research; or ask the clinic to give them to another would-be parent. “The embryos are our responsibility, but not our possessions” (2,400 words)

A Shit Writing Day

“Today was a shit writing day. Here’s why: (1) An essay for a good magazine is in the weeds, and is going to take a beating (and the editors are right — it is in the weeds); (2) I feel uncertain about the larger arc of my career; and (3), most importantly, I’m at 18,000 words on my book and need to be at 30,000 words. This is not written for your pity. It’s written to solve a problem: How do I get back to work?” (2,600 words)


“When I speak to groups using a deck I feel safer. It’s not that I won’t know what to say without my deck. I am concerned that I’ll just keep going, that some great unpleasant bundle of gristly self will spill out. The deck is like a cognitive bustle that stops mental leakage. Another reason we use slides is so that people in the audience will have something to focus upon to take their mind off of the fact that you are speaking, and not them” (940 words)

Bitcoin: The Global Economy’s Safe Haven

Backgrounder on “the Internet’s favorite, media-friendly, anarchist crypto-currency”. Invented four years by a pseudonymous hacker using a Japanese name. Has soared in value from three cents to almost $80. Bitcoins are strings of digits which anyone can generate with enough computing power and time — the virtual equivalent of mining for gold. Transfers are made peer-to-peer, as with PayPal, but with no regulation and no banks in the background. “It feels like a hoax”. But the technology is impeccable and robust (1,445 words)

Google No Longer Needs The Media

On the closure of Google Reader. “This is the downside to apps: Your ability to labour along in familiar ways is contingent upon money coming to the app provider. This works when we remain consumers. But when we work inside these systems we increase our levels of risk. Users of free services get what they pay for” (Metered paywall) (900 words)

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