Ten Reasons You Will Read This Medium Post

Why we love — or, at least, read — listicles. They pander to our heuristic biases. “Maybe you hated this list. Maybe you disagreed with every proposition and found it painful to continue. You could have walked away at any point between 1 and 10. But you didn’t. As you progressed you became increasingly committed to seeing this through to completion — you succumbed to the sunk cost fallacy(1,980 words)

Upvoting The News

How Reddit handles breaking news. Case study of an earthquake in California. “There is a threshold for how quickly a breaking news post can make it to the default front page, as it needs to gain traction through many votes to reach the proper level of visibility via Reddit’s algorithms. So Reddit ends up being much slower to present the breaking news topic than, say, Twitter, where breaking news can appear directly in tweets” (2,580 words)

Crafting Link Underlines

Underlining a word ought to be pretty simple; and on the page, it is. But on the screen, when you are aiming for perfection, and when your purpose is not to emphasise, but rather to signal unobtrusively that something is clickable, and you want the effect to look identical across a range of web browsers — then you have a job on your hands. Here’s how Medium‘s designer and coders spent a month getting tiny lines right (2,120 words)

To Russia With Love Pick of the day

Beguiling, rose-tinted reminiscence of the twenty-plus years spanning late Gorbachev to early Putin during which Russia was a relatively open and Western-friendly country — a period now seemingly at an end. This was a wonderful interlude especially for returning emigrés who could find in Russia, briefly, the best of their East and their West. My highest praise: I could have wished this piece were twice as long (3,670 words)

A Hundred Thousand Hourglasses

In praise of Purkinje cells, the neurons in our brain that collect the flurry of ambient chatter from our hundred-billion nerve fibres and extract from it the urgent messages that require the immediate attention of body and mind. “If you’re a cranky pessimist, the Purkinje cells might seem like autocrats, but if you’re an easygoing optimist, they’re like a good set of parents: strict, but always looking out for your best interests” (1,420 words)

How Much Electricity Does Bitcoin Use?

One recent claim that miners consume 39.85 terawatt-hours of power per year — more than all Bangladesh — is out of the ballpark. A reasonable high-end estimate would be 731.8 gigawatt-hours per year, or roughly the output of a single hydro-electric plant. A reasonable low-end estimate would be 7.31 gigawatt-hours per year, equivalent to the yearly consumption of 674.5 average American households (1,750 words)

Dear Presenter, Please Don’t Drive Me To Suicide

“There are plenty of gurus and about.com articles and TED talks that may show you how to create amazing presentations, but these people don’t actually sit through your said presentation. So, as someone who has had hours shaved off my life by presentations, let me tell you what the hell you should be doing … If you use Powerpoint, so help me god, you’d better only have three goddamn words on each slide” (1,120 words)

How Much My Novel Cost Me

Essay on the writing life, which broadens into an essay on life in general. Lyrical and touching throughout. Young New York writer gets big advance for memoir that tanks; fails to become Lena Dunham; ends up broke and borrowing from boyfriend; sheds illusions; but (happy-ish ending) completes first novel. “I don’t know if I will ever have any of the things I once considered necessary and automatic parts of a complete adult life” (5,550 words)

We Don’t Sell Saddles Here

Co-founder of Slack, a real-time business messaging service, discusses how to build a market for a new product. “Just as much as our job is to build something genuinely useful, something which really does make people’s working lives simpler, more pleasant and more productive, our job is also to understand what people think they want and then translate the value of Slack into their terms” (2,890 words)

Your Oral Surgeon Loves You

Trigger alert: There’s a lot of dentistry in here. But if you don’t mind the scraping and sewing, a nice little story. “An implant seemed like the best option for long-term dental happiness. It would be expensive, yes. Also, very painful. And it was a nine-month process. But on the plus side, I’d have the implant for 20 years, and my jawbone would stay healthy. I decided to be brave, suck up the expense, and count my blessings” (1,230 words)

42 Reflections On The Meaning Of Life

Notes from “a newly minted 42 year old” about life, the universe and everything. Much wisdom in a small space. “The closer you get to the boundaries of social acceptability in any conversation with a new acquaintance, the more interesting that conversation will be. This is a great rule to bear in mind if you want more interesting conversations. But never, ever seek to apply this rule when drunk” (1,800 words)

Baxter And The Second Machine Age

Extract from The Second Machine Age. It’s easy enough to programme robots to do repetitive identical jobs; the problem comes in teaching them to deal with irregularities and uncertainties; that’s why you tend to need a few humans around on even the most automated factory floor. But what if a full range of human skills could be transferred directly from shopfloor workers to robots? That’s where Baxter comes in (1,230 words)

Homebrew Computer Club

Steve Jobs’s biographer shares more of his work in progress about the birth of American computer culture. The 19-year-old Bill Gates encounters the Bay Area hacking community in 1975 and finds much to complain about: “As the majority of hobbyists must be aware, most of you steal your software. Hardware must be paid for, but software is something to share. Who cares if the people who worked on it get paid? Is this fair?” (3,450 words)

How To Lie With Bad Data

A few easy ways to mess up data collection, even before you get to the analysis. Selection bias: A skewed sample is mistaken for a representative one. Publication bias: Positive results get published; negative results get ignored. Survivorship bias: Winners stick around to be measured; losers have already fallen out. Healthy user bias and Recall bias: Different ways of confusing causation and correlation (2,150 words)

The Culture That Gave Birth To The Personal Computer

Steve Jobs’s biographer offers for comment what he calls “a rough draft” of part of his next book on “the innovators of the digital age”. The section is largely about Stewart Brand, “a countercultural entrepreneur in a deeply technocratic mold”, founder of the Whole Earth Catalog, who bridged the hippie and hacker worlds in the Bay Area of the late 1960s, and foresaw personal computers as “tools of liberation” (2,920 words)

The Economics Of Uber’s Surge Pricing

Interesting theory. The purpose of Uber’s “surge pricing” — when prices may go up three- or six-fold during periods of exceptional demand — is not to match supply with demand, but to ensure that supply stays ahead of demand. Very few people will call Uber cars, but when they do, the cars are available. The integrity of the product is protected, but the effect is probably damaging to Uber’s revenues and to its popularity with many users (1,800 words)

A Pledge To My Readers

“Getting fresh, organic verbs used to pose a challenge, because of the unusual way they propagate. Yet once I began searching out indigenous varieties of words, I was surprised to find all sorts that aren’t known outside the local area. There’s a small, family-run verb operation that conjugates them in small batches, the old-fashioned way. I also stumbled across a number of hard-to-find heirloom verbs” (820 words)

Thoughts On A Fourth Child

“The father of four has something in common with the childless man: people’s thoughts turn toward his genitals. When you have no children, they wonder if you are capable of having any; when you have four children, they wonder why you can’t keep it in your pants. Those with one, two, or three children don’t have this problem. They are genitally normative. Those who wants lots of children or none are tyrannised by the two-or-three-child norm” (2,140 words)

Y Combinator Applicant Advice

Primer on how to make your start-up attractive to venture-capital investors — in this case, Paul Graham, but the advice holds good for others. “Your business idea needs to have a huge potential to succeed. If you are a new analytics tool, you need to be so much better than existing solutions that you could possibly be running on all the software in the world in just a few years. This doesn’t actually need to happen, but it must be possible” (2,840 words)

Your Crack Is In The Mail

Why did the FBI take so long to shut down Silk Road, the drug-dealing web-site? Because the Tor software used by Silk Road — and developed by the US Navy — makes users very hard to identify, unless they make mistakes, as Silk Road’s founder eventually did. The risky part was delivery: “One dealer would deliver you an empty box or envelope for a small charge, just to get the mailman used to delivering packages from overseas” (1,900 words)

How A Nobel Prize Gets Won

Book extract, recalling the day last year that CERN in Switzerland announce the discovery of the Higgs Boson. Peter Higgs was there, as was his Nobel co-laureate-to-be, Francois Englert — the first time the two had met. “After 20 years of research, billions of dollars, and the effort of thousands of people, the hunt for the Higgs Boson was compressed down to about 100 slides. One by one, the audience was taken through them” (1,350 words)

The Death Of Urdu Script

Kudos to Microsoft for introducing an authentic Urdu font in Windows 8, derived from the ornate Perso-Arabic script called nastaliq used in Urdu manuscript. But it may be too little too late. Most platforms render Urdu in naskh, an angular script that comes from Arabic, because naskh is much easier to code. Which is painful enough; but the contrast with nastaliq is so jarring that many users have turned to Romanisation instead (2,580 words)

Vicious Circle

Review of David Eggers’s latest novel. “The Circle is meant as a political fable along the lines of Animal Farm or Cat’s Cradle. But the Internet landscape Eggers describes is wildly distorted. Americans have grown aware of the threat to our constitutional rights through corporate and governmental snooping, so Eggers’s pro-privacy, anti-Big Data message is off base, hackneyed, his story raising questions that were asked and answered long ago” (1,400 words)

We Will Never Know What’s Inside Our Bodies

You can look inside an iPhone; you can’t look inside yourself. “I feel like my body is an inside joke and I’m on the outside. We have pieces that were ugly when we were born and will keep getting uglier. Pieces that were beautiful when we were born that we will never see — the lattice of blood on the back of your hand or the bottom of your foot. Parts that, if someone were to unscrew us and pop off our backs, we wouldn’t claim” (750 words)

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