Newsletter 1026

Hic sunt camelopardus: this historical edition of The Browser is presented for archaeological purposes; links and formatting may be broken.

Best of the Moment

After Thatcher

Fedinand Mount | Times Literary Supplement | 5th June 2013

Review of recent books about Mrs Thatcher, by her former policy adviser. On Robin Harris's Not For Turning: "He spares us nothing: her heavy drinking, her shouting matches with Denis, her wild suspicions of his infidelity, the cruel effects on her short-term memory of her succession of strokes, until she could no longer string a sentence together. As compelling in its unrelievedly black and venomous fashion as the novels of Céline"

There Was A Time Before Mathematica…

Stephen Wolfram | 6th June 2013

Wolfram tells how he came to build Mathematica, computational software for science and maths, released 25 years ago. "It was November 1979. I was 20. I’d just gotten my PhD in physics. I was spending a few weeks at CERN, planning my future in (as I believed) physics. I concluded that, to do physics well, I’d need something better than Macsyma. I decided the only way I’d have a chance to get what I wanted was if I built it myself"

Government Phone Surveillance For Dummies

Megan Garber | The Atlantic | 6th June 2013

If you're not already immersed in the wire- and phone-tapping story, here's a catch-up in the form of an FAQ. "The order itself directs that the records be provided to the NSA. Then again, there seems to be nothing in the document that would explicitly prohibit the NSA from sharing the data with other agencies. There's also nothing in the order specifying limitations on who can access the data within the NSA itself"

Costco: The Cheapest, Happiest Company In The World

Brad Stone | Business Week | 6th June 2013

Workers well paid, most have health insurance, good retirement plans, secure jobs. Company thrives — even in retail. Sales up 40% since 2009, stock price has doubled. CEO talks plain good sense: “This isn’t Harvard grad stuff. We sell quality stuff at the best possible price. If you treat consumers with respect and treat employees with respect, good things are going to happen to you.” Why don't more companies do business this way?

How Likely Is The NSA PRISM Program To Catch A Terrorist?

Corey Chivers | Bayesian Biologist | 6th June 2013

Not very, even on the most implausibly favourable assumptions. Say that NSA's algorithms can distinguish terrorist communications from pizza orders with 99% accuracy, and, furthermore, that they can get the false positives down to less than one in 100. Even so: "For every positive there is only a 1 in 10,102 chance that they’ve found a real bad guy. Big brother is always watching, but he’s still got a needle in a haystack problem"

Modern Life is Rubbish: Tao Lin’s “Taipei”

Lydia Kiesling | The Millions | 5th June 2013

From the opening: "When I began to read Taipei on my morning commute, I wondered if I had been lobotomized in the night. On the way back home, I wondered why someone who hates words would take the trouble to arrange so many of them in a row." And from the close: "It is my opinion that this novel is awful." Plenty more in between. So much for Clive James's claim that America has no tradition of hostile book reviews

Video of the day: Gin No Sarah Sushi

Thought for the day:

"Believe nothing until it has been officially denied"— Claud Cockburn

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