The Browser
Cecily Cecily

Writing Worth Reading

How To Be Polite

Politeness pays off over time. It’s not difficult to master, there are plenty of books to teach you the basics, and it makes life more productive. You learn how to make conversation, usually by showing sympathy; and how to deal with difficult situations, usually by exercising restraint. “A whole class of problems goes away from my life because I see people as having around them a two or three foot invisible buffer” (2,260 words)

For The Love Of Content Management …

… Paul Ford resolves to learn to use Kinja, Gawker’s new discussion platform. It does not go well. “it’s like that movie with kristin dunst where the world is upside down and two people fall in love and no one can reach out to each other between a code block and a blockquote there can be only a void so code paste (hardly a use case for gawker media, but still)(define (fib n) (if (<= n 2) 1 (+ (fib (- n 1)) (fib (- n 2)))))” (3,630 words)

Great Works Of Software

“Is it possible to propose a software canon? To enumerate great works of software that are deeply influential — that changed the nature of the code that followed? I set myself the task of picking five great works of software. The criteria were simple: How long had it been around? Did people directly interact with it every day? Did people use it to do something meaningful?” The list: Office, Photoshop, Pac-Man, Unix, Emacs (3,480 words)

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)

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)

Sight For Signal

Short, sweet reflection on Christmas lights. “A few bits of plastic in red, green, and blue. A single strand on the balcony, a wave from shore as you sail on. We’re honestly not much for God, but we’re really big on bits of light”

Authentocracy In America

We live in a branded world. But we crave authentic products and experiences. So branders study what we consider authentic, put it into their branding, and recycle it back to us via social media. Confused? Then the process is working

Rotary Dial

Remembering the Bell telephone system. “I am going to tell it like it is, right from the heart, and I am going to tell it about telephone dials, because a man has to live by a code, and my code is unary loop disconnect dialing”

Facebook And Instagram

This is the piece to read. Even if you’re not a priori interested in Facebook or Instagram. You will be. “If Facebook is a sprawling, intertextual garden of forking pokes, Instagram is no more complex than a chapbook of poetry”

Then Again, Maybe I Will

Two zygotes and a dilemma. You’ve got your two happy babies, thanks to the fertility clinic. You’ve got two more fertilised eggs sitting in frozen storage at the clinic as spares. Should you give them away, or throw them away?

Facebook And The Epiphanator

There are two ways of consuming the world. The Facebook mode, in which we accept life as a randomised torrent of human relationships; and the “Epiphinator” mode, in which we demand stories with beginnings, ends, themes, lessons

The Age Of Mechanical Reproduction

Would-be father’s excruciatingly detailed account of IVF. “I filled the syringe with human chorionic gonadotropin and flicked at it. A nurse had drawn a circle on my wife’s ass to help me aim. The shot would ripen the eggs”


Rant. Random, wonkish, funny. Centred on Google-Facebook rivalry, and on Google+. “They give you a list of friends and you stuff them in the hole, like ‘Silence of the Lambs’, except you are sending them images and text messages”

Nanolaw With Daughter

Dystopian fable. “My daughter was first sued in the womb. It was all very new then. I posted scans online. The ultrasounds had no clear rights story. We faced unspecified penalties for copyright violation and theft of trade secrets”


“Why must we cram our interactions into 75 minutes sometime between 12:30 and 2pm, which usually involves something drizzled over something else and then a light garnish, followed by an ape-dominance demonstration of who can pay?”

The Web Is A Customer Service Medium

Another high-concept, whither-the-internet piece. But a good one. Web isn’t for publishing, it’s for conversation, consultation, community. “Turn your readers into members. Give them tools to consult amongst themselves”

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