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Cecily Cecily

Writing Worth Reading

Why It’s So Hard To Catch Your Own Typos

The logic is simple, obvious and comforting. “When we’re proof reading our own work, we know the meaning we want to convey. Because we expect that meaning to be there, it’s easier for us to miss when parts (or all) of it are absent. The reason we don’t see our own typos is because what we see on the screen is competing with the version that exists in our heads”. The remedy: Read it again, backwards (920 words)

Robot Cars With Adjustable Ethics Settings

An approach (though not a solution) to the problem of ethics for driverless cars, and potentially quite a useful intermediate step: Allow the user to select from a range of “ethics settings”. One person could instruct the car to value his life over all others; another might prefer the the car to value all lives the same and minimize harm overall; a third might want to minimize legal liability and costs for herself. (1,280 words)

The Next Siri

The trio that invented Siri voice-control software are pitching their next big thing, “Viv”, a Siri that is actually useful (though they don’t quite put it like that). Dag Kittlaus, one of the team, says they sold Siri to Apple because Steve Jobs talked them into it; that under Jobs everything was going well; but the post-Jobs regime at Apple stripped Siri of its functionality; which Viv will recreate. Interesting if true (3,000 words)

Edward Snowden: Most Wanted

The tone is a touch breathless; but the story of Snowden’s work for CIA and NSA, and his disillusion there, are worth the price of admission. He snapped after hearing James Clapper, director of national intelligence, testify that the NSA did “not wittingly” collect information on millions of Americans. “I was reading it in the paper the next day, talking to coworkers, saying, can you believe this shit?” (7,500 words)

Fasinatng History of Autocorrect

The early Microsoft Word had a feature called ‘glossary’ which allowed a writer to insert stock phrases using short-cuts. Soon a Microsoft scientist twigged that ‘glossary’ could also remedy common spelling mistakes, and that the space bar could trigger substitutions automatically. Autocorrect was born. Not everyone was happy: “Goldman Sachs was mad that Word was always turning it into Goddamn Sachs(3,030 words)

Nightmare On Connected Home Street

Satire; or futurology; you decide. “I wake up at four to some old-timey dubstep spewing from my pillows. My house has a virus again. Technically it’s malware. But there’s no patch yet, and pretty much everyone’s got it. Thankfully this one is fairly benign. It sets off the alarm with music I blacklisted decades ago on Pandora. It takes a picture of me as I get out of the shower every morning and uploads it to Facebook. No big deal” (770 words)

The Inside Story Of Oculus Rift

Founded by a Californian teenager, bought by Facebook for $2bn, Oculus seems to have cracked the 30-year-old challenge of virtual reality. Its Rift headsets use 360-degree visuals and stereoscopic 3D to “hack your visual cortex … As far as your brain is concerned, there’s no difference between experiencing something on the Rift and experiencing it in the real world”. A game-changing technology; perhaps life-changing (5,200 words)

One Startup’s Struggle To Survive

Gritty portrait of start-up culture in San Francisco, from the perspective of two struggling entrepreneurs. It’s relatively easy to raise a modest amount of money to model your idea; but then it’s a lot harder to raise serious money to launch your business. That’s when the terror creeps in. You work and worry like crazy. You lose weight, you age fast, you don’t sleep. “Too late for promise, too early for results” (10,600 words)

Why Quants Don’t Know Everything

The quants always win at first — in finance, in sports, in computer dating, in national security. They discover “numerical patterns or ingenious algorithms” that beat existing markets. But then their edge disappears, because the new markets that they create have new patterns and new behaviours that can be gamed in new ways — and often more easily, by targeting the quants’ own explicit metrics (2,110 words)

Two Hours Talking With The NSA

Notes from a meeting at the NSA with general counsel Rajesh De and others. “Looking at the world through their eyes, there is no privacy threat in collecting massive amounts of information — if access to that information is rigidly controlled and minimalized. The NSA feels that if people knew about these controls, they’d be OK with the collection”. Bonus fact: “They really hate Snowden” (1,400 words)

How The NSA Almost Killed The Internet

The Snowden/NSA saga as seen from the viewpoint of the tech giants — Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple — who found themselves in the unhappy role of useful idiots at best, government stooges at worst. “The tech world found itself ensnared in a fight far bigger than the ones involving oversharing on Facebook or ads on Gmail. Over the coming months, they would find themselves at war with their own government” (7,400 words)

I, Glasshole: My Year With Google Glass

The hardware is clunky. You get a lot of angry reactions. But as a proof of concept Glass has already succeeded. “The future is on its way, and it is going to be on your face. We need to think about it and be ready for it in a way we weren’t with smartphones. Because while you (and I) may make fun of glassholes today, come tomorrow we’re all going to be right there with them. Wearables are where we’re going” (1,840 words)

Bill Gates Thinks You Should Read This Man

Interview with Vaclav Smil, geographer and polymath with a gift for plain talk. Main theme: Innovation. It comes from manufacturing, so countries with strong manufacturing bases, such as China and Germany, are pulling ahead, while America falls behind. Bonus tips: If you want to save energy, add more insulation to your house and drive a Honda Civic. If you eat meat, eat it as Asians do — chopped up with rice. It goes much further (1,890 words)

The American Who Remade Sony

Portrait of Mark Cerny, “one of the world’s most storied game designers”, hired by Sony to oversee PlayStation 4. “Sony needed someone who could serve as a voice for the game makers and game players of the world. It needed someone who could bring a more egalitarian ethos to the development of the new PlayStation. It needed someone who could right the wrongs of the PS3. And Cerny offered all those things” (4,450 words)

Inside Digg’s Race To Build The New Google Reader

As a near-full-time user of Google Reader, I may be prone to overestimate the general interest of this story. But it strikes me as an excellent account of how a project gets conceived and executed; and also a good insight into Betaworks, which sees to have the gift — denied to Google — of breathing life and warmth into its platforms, such as Digg and, and making them play together intelligently (4,700 words)

The Secret War

Profile of NSA boss General Keith Alexander. “Never before has anyone in America’s intelligence sphere come close to his degree of power. He is director of the world’s largest intelligence service, the National Security Agency; chief of the Central Security Service; and commander of the US Cyber Command. He has his own secret military, presiding over the Navy’s 10th Fleet, the 24th Air Force, and the Second Army” (7,900 words)

New Autistic Way Of Thinking Powers Silicon Valley

Book extract. Argues that we have three modes of thinking — in pictures, in words, in patterns. In tech, you need all three, and you need a balance between them, but above all you need the pattern thinking. That’s what chess players have. What Steve Jobs had. What the best coders have. And also what people with autism often have. Seeing patterns helps you to grasp structures and spot mistakes quickly (1,580 words)

Closing Remarks At SXSW 2013

As we have said before in this space, if you know Bruce Sterling you know what to expect: a torrent of words, a flotsam of ideas, all of it smart and tremendous fun. Main themes in this mélange: the cultural history of Austin, the ascension of Sergey Brin, the transience of all technology: “It’s always the electronic frontier. Nobody ever goes back to look at the electronic forests that were cut down with chainsaws and tossed into the rivers” (7,721 words)

We Should Be Allowed To Unlock Everything We Own

“We really don’t own our stuff anymore (at least not fully); the manufacturers do. Because modifying modern objects requires access to information: code, service manuals, error codes, and diagnostic tools. Modern cars are part horsepower, part high-powered computer. Silicon permeates and powers almost everything”

The End Of The Web, Search, And Computer As We Know It

I come a bit late to this, for which my apologies, but it’s a big idea that is not going to date in a hurry. The world wide web functions as a stock of data, a spatial construct. The next web will function as a flow of data, organised chronologically. “All the information on the internet will soon be a time-based structure”

Clayton Christensen Wants to Transform Capitalism

Fine interview. Best part: Christensen’s account of meeting with Andy Grove. Who takes two minutes to grasp Christensen’s argument about disruption from below, and turn it into a business plan: “What you’re telling me, Clay, is that we have to go down and kill them, set up our own business unit, and launch our own low-end competitor.”

Inside The Battle of Hoth

Reconstructing the decisive battle at the beginning of The Empire Strikes Back. It should have been a total debacle for the Rebel Alliance. But Vader and the Empire forgot two rules: “Don’t place unaccountable religious fanatics in wartime command, and never underestimate a hegemonic power’s ability to miscalculate against an insurgency”

The End Of The Web, Search, And Computer As We Know It

I come a bit late to this, for which my apologies, but it’s a big idea that is not going to date in a hurry. The world wide web functions as a stock of data, a spatial construct. The next web will function as a flow of data, organised chronologically. “All the information on the internet will soon be a time-based structure”

Google’s Larry Page On Why Moon Shots Matter

Exhilarating interview with Google boss, on the need to think differently and plan big. “I feel like there are all these opportunities in the world to use technology to make people’s lives better. At Google we’re attacking maybe 0.1 percent of that space. And all the tech companies combined are only at like 1 percent”

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