Links Links Links

Out of all the main social media channels the only one which really left me confused was Snapchat, the service that deletes the message 10 seconds after its been read. I didn’t buy the argument that its usage was a response to governmental or parental surveillance. The former because I don’t think teenagers worry about the government, even if they should, and the latter because its obscure enough to still fly under most parental radars and I think teens know that. Danah Boyd, who has recently published “It’s complicated” about how teens use social media (which is brilliant and needs to be widely read), explains the phenomena. It turns out that the attraction is one of scarcity in a world of persistence and abundance. The Snapchat message is cherished beyond others directly because of its ephemerality. In a world of message saturation, the one that disappears is consumed with the recipient’s full attention, even if that means waiting for a suitable moment.

Why Snapchat is valuable


Here’s a solid and thorough analysis that overturns a few of the ‘truths’ that are widely accepted by large portions of the publisher, agency and advertiser universes. If you work in any of those industries this should go straight into your reading list.

A widespread assumption is that the more content is liked or shared, the more engaging it must be, the more willing people are to devote their attention to it. However, the data doesn’t back that up. We looked at 10,000 socially-shared articles and found that there is no relationship whatsoever between the amount a piece of content is shared and the amount of attention an average reader will give that content.

What you think you know about the web is wrong


This is a fascinating read about Camden New Jersey, an American city which has had an interesting recent history. Camden is an economically depressed and dangerous place. In 2011 in response to huge reductions in their state subsidies they made 168 police officers redundant from a force of 368. It was pretty lawless before that happened, it got a lot worse afterwards. The move was calculated to break the union hold over the police department which had seen a buildup of unacceptable largesse which had been pushed through in light of the the acknowledged danger of the job. It was a successful gambit, and now the police are structured the way the Governor wants they have seen a resurgence of support from the state coffers and are taking control back almost street by street (it seems it was that bad). Camden is where the white suburbanite drug users from Philadelphia buy their heroin, with a daily and steady stream of buyers arriving to keep the Camden drug market vibrant. Its incidental to the main narrative but I found this small, but perverse, anecdote very interesting…

In fact, when Camden made the papers a few years back after a batch of Fentanyl-laced heroin caused a series of fatalities here, it attracted dope fiends from hundreds of miles away. “People were like, ‘Wow, I’ve gotta try that,'” says Adrian, a recovering addict from nearby Logan Township who used to come in from the suburbs to score every day and is now here to visit a nearby methadone clinic. “Yeah,” says her friend Adam, another suburban white methadone commuter. “If someone dies at a dope set, that’s where you want to get your dope.

Rolling Stone


Recently Microsoft used their reserved right to read their users’ Hotmail messages to get to the bottom of a criminal software leak. It was an action that was enabled by their terms of service, but did not need a warrant or the involvement of police or the legal profession. They caught a great deal of flak for it, largely because it would likely have been possible to gain the same access by following due process. They have recently announced that in similar circumstances in the future they will indeed resolve the issue through the police. Rather sadly, as the quote below makes plain, this really should not be a ‘concession’. The days of boilerplate terms of service that dismiss obvious standard behaviours needs to end.

Smith asks a seemingly rhetorical question: “What is the best way to strike the balance in other circumstances that involve, on the one hand, consumer privacy interests, and on the other hand, protecting people and the security of Internet services they use?” That is indeed a fascinating question, but in the specific case of Hotmail, I feel like it has a pretty obvious answer: change your terms of service so that you promise not to read your customers’ email without a court order. Then, if you think there’s a situation that warrants invading your customers’ privacy, get a court order. This is just basic rule-of-law stuff, and it’s the kind of thing you’d hope Microsoft’s General Counsel would find obvious.

Rule of law


Paul Graham is one of the co-founders of Y-Combinator one of silicon valley’s most prominent tech accelerators. In this interview he covers a lot of ground in a fairly short amount of time. He also makes one observation which backs up the thought that the new swathe of entrepreneurs are in fact the new labour class, not the management or owner class that perhaps they imagine themselves to be, or at least that they are working to achieve. Tales of founders being replaced at the whim of VC’s have never sat well with me. This quote from Graham, regarding the qualities they look for in a startup/idea certainly sounds like the words of an employer not an investor assessing a specific business.

Mostly, we look at the people. If they seem determined, flexible, and energetic, and their ideas are not just flamingly terrible, then we’ll fund them. We thought Airbnb was a bad idea.

Paul Graham interview

Push to Window – 3 links

James Fallon is a neuroscientist. Once day while working on a project into Alzheimer’s, using his own family’s brain scans as raw data, he discovered that his own brain was, in clinical terms, the brain of a psychopath. That is to say, he quite accidentally, discovered that he was to all intents and purposes a psychopath. So he wrote a book about it. This link is an interview with him. Fascinating.

Again, I was joking around, but it was a real danger. The next day, we walked into the Kitum Caves and you could see where rocks had been knocked over by the elephants.  There was also the smell of all of this animal dung—and that’s where the guy got the Marburg [a fatal virus]; scientists didn’t know whether it was the dung or the bats.

A bit later, my brother read an article in The New Yorker about Marburg, which inspired the movie Outbreak. He asked me if I knew about it. I said, “Yeah. Wasn’t it exciting? Nobody gets to do this trip.” And he called me names and said, “Not exciting enough. We could’ve gotten Marburg; we could have gotten killed every two seconds.” All of my brothers have a lot of machismo and brio; you’ve got to be a tough guy in our family. But deep inside, I don’t think that my brother fundamentally trusts me after that. And why should he, right? To me, it was nothing.


This is the text of Maciej Ceglowski’s talk at this year’s Webstock. Under the guise of exploring the moments when the future makes itself known to us he treats us to the story of Lev Sergeyevich Termen. And it really is a treat. Termen was a soviet scientist, first under Lenin, then under Stalin. He also invented the Theremin, technology that was a distant precursor to the touch screens we all carry around today.

There’s a very important rant about 2/3rds of the way through about the centralisation of power, as a result of the current internet architecture. Its long but also very entertaining.

Why make such a big deal of electrification?

Well, Lenin had just led a Great Proletarian Revolution in a country without a proletariat, which is like making an omelette without any eggs. You can do it, but it raises questions. It’s awkward.

Lenin needed a proletariat in a hurry, and the fastest way to do that was to electrify and industrialize the country.

But there was another, unstated reason for the campaign. Over the centuries, Russian peasants had become experts at passively resisting central authority. They relied on the villages of their enormous country being backward, dispersed, and very hard to get to.

Lenin knew that if he could get the peasants on the grid, it would consolidate his power. The process of electrifying the countryside would create cities, factories, and concentrate people around large construction projects. And once the peasantry was dependent on electric power, there would be no going back.


This last link is also a small trip back into recent history, telling the broad story of former congressman Otis Pike who died earlier this year. Pike was the unfortunate soul who in 1975 led the house committee investigating the American security apparatus, both the NSA and CIA, in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal. He was an earnest man and he tried to do the job properly, not that it did him any favours. If you have found yourself wondering why no American politicians are putting their neck on the line with regard to the problem’s with the NSA as revealed by Snowden, this piece may help explain why. Parts of the rhetoric read as if they are written about 2013 not 1972.

Meanwhile, an even more radical subcommittee on privacy in the House, headed by Bella Abzug, targeted the NSA’s domestic spying program, subpoenaing government officials and the heads of the major telecoms and cable telex firms—AT&T, ITT, Western Union and RCA. The more the House dug into the NSA’s foundations, the more they discovered about the murky extralegal arrangements and deals made between private telecom firms and the National Security State apparatus. In the late 1940s, as the NSA was being formed out of the Army Security Agency and other military signal intelligence branches, Truman’s top defense officials cajoled the major US cable telex firms to agree to let the nascent NSA tap into all international communications. Some of the firms were more reluctant than others; all asked for written legal assurances and legislative action, but were given less than they were promised

There was a price to pay, and Pike paid it.

American public opinion proved to be fickle and shallow, and the reactionaries in the intelligence community took advantage of this fickleness to destroy Pike and others like him. When in January 1976 the Pike Committee approved its draft report slamming the intelligence community as a dangerous boondoggle, calling for radical budget reductions, the abolition of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and other radical structural reforms, the special counsel to CIA director George H. W. Bush called Pike’s office and warned that if the report was approved, “we’ll destroy him for this.”…..And so they did

Push To Window

It is something of a letdown to realize that while the Enlightenment’s goal was dethroning God, our post-Enlightenment technologists and philosophers are satisfied merely to get us to loosen our grips on that Big Mac.

Christine Rosen



That’s why we’re seeing a rise of treaties and international bodies attempting to create rules governing these systems, because regulating the web in the U.S. is like trying to solve a cockroach infestation by fogging a single apartment in a multitenant building.

Stacey Higginbotham


Another reason that people like to hear black-or-white predictions about the future is that it makes them feel better. Uncertainty is uncomfortable.

Eric Sink



It’s the gadget equivalent of the solution to the “don’t think of an elephant” problem (the answer is “think of a giraffe instead”)

Venkat Rao



I want the secret of the Coca-Cola company not to be kept in a tiny file of 1KB, which can be exfiltrated easily by an APT,” Shamir said.”I want that file to be 1TB, which can not be exfiltrated. I want many other ideas to be exploited to prevent an APT from operating efficiently. It’s a totally different way of thinking about the problem.”

John Leyden

Push to Window

Q: About three-quarters the way through the Illustrated Hitchhikers Guide there is a strange illustration of 42 multi-coloured balls lined up in columns 6×7. I can only assume this is the famed “42 Puzzle”. My question is, how do you play? What’s the puzzle?

A: The point of the puzzle was this: Everybody was looking for hidden meanings and puzzles and significances in what I had written (like ‘is it significant that 6 * 9 is 42 in base 13?’. As if.) So I thought that just for a change I would actually construct a puzzle and see how many people solved. Of course, nobody paid it any attention. I think that’s terribly significant.    –    Douglas Adams

Reality is frequently inaccurate    –    Douglas Adams

“Because if they didn’t vote for a lizard,” said Ford, “the wrong lizard might get in. Got any gin?”  –   Ford Prefect

The answer to this is very simple. It was a joke. It had to be a number, an ordinary, smallish number, and I chose that one. Binary representations, base thirteen, Tibetan monks are all complete nonsense. I sat at my desk, stared into the garden and thought ’42 will do’ I typed it out. End of story.   –   Douglas Adams

“The best advice I think was given by Douglas Adams: “Don’t panic.””    –    Arthur C Clarke

Push to Window

The only way I know to predict the future of science is to look at the choices of beginning graduate students   –   Daniel Kahneman

And propaganda thrust into a community looks way more dodgy than propaganda in a paid ad on TV. We’re more sensitive to it here. The big worry? the implications of ad-funding as THE model. If all our actions are made possible by that, we’re complicit or parasitic… We either ‘pay our way’ by buying the shit that gets advertised, or we are happy to let someone else’s untrammeled consumption pay for us   –    Steve Lawson

It is important to discuss the emerging power of algorithms as new gatekeepers. Not as bad as old media, sure, but still powerful  –  Zaynep Tufecki

The most important reasons have to do with the snowballing replicability of the iPhone framework. The App Store model has boomeranged back to the PC. There’s now an App Store for the Mac to match that of the iPhone and iPad, and it carries the same battery of restriction  –  Jonathan Zittrain

Get ready, too, because AI bias is going to start replacing human cognitive bias more and more regularly  –  Alexis Madrigal

Push to window

I have technology fantasies from time to time, a moment of two when I “invent” the latest new tool that will revolutionise how we organise our thinking and our data. It’s always short lived of course. My ideas are usually hopelessly specific and therefore have a narrow appeal, often just me, and then, even if they are good ideas this is hardly the stuff of revolution.

Sometimes I’m pretty sure it’s all already out there, the required technology that is, and I just need to assemble my version of it. That is to move from thinking about it, to actually doing it, building it.

So, here’s what I’m thinking I want today.

It’s a mixture of software and hardware, a browsing aid. A tool that helps me to extract certain key bits of data, quotations, webpages, forum posts or just snippets from any digital source, transfer them to a separate location (both in terms of storage and presentation), annotate them automatically with relevant metadata such as authorship and source, prompt me and aid me with setting up a tagging folksonomy, provide randomisation through visual presentation and lastly, as if all that wasn’t enough, I’d like a highly versatile analysis interface designed to help me yield interactions and relationships between all the information I will have gathered.

Imagine a browsing session. Maybe single topic, maybe not. And you come across a short paragraph that encapsulates a certain point, a viewpoint a position. You snap the words with your fingers, as you currently do to select text on a smartphone, and issue a voice command

“Push to window”

And in an instant the quote, author, source are stored in what I guess only needs to be a fairly rudimentary database. Immediately I return my mental energy to the thread of my session, the full depth of the single source I was reading. This may well happen many times an hour.

Visually meanwhile, the data is being randomly built onto a massive digital whiteboard that covers the whole of one wall to my left. When I issue the command “Push….” I see in my mind’s eye the quotation being flung across the room and landing on my whiteboard.

On a regular basis, which will be customisable but maybe every 45 minutes, I will be prompted by the system to assign a purely subjective tagging folksonomy to each data point. Why subjective? Because I want to use it to drip thoughts into developing streams of inter-related ideas.

The tagging lets me come back to the data at later times, and using a variety of combinations facilitated by the tagging, use the whiteboard to push the data back to me in ways designed to help me see otherwise missed connections and value.

Today’s “Push to window” quotes:

My great-grandfather was born into a world where there was no recorded music. It’s very, very difficult to conceive of a world in which there is no possibility of audio recording at all. Some people were extremely upset by the first Edison recordings. It nauseated them, terrified them. It sounded like the devil, they said, this evil unnatural technology that offered the potential of hearing the dead speak

William Gibson

We know that something happened then. We know that broadcast television did something—did everything—to us, and that now we aren’t the same, though broadcast television, in that sense, is already almost over. I can remember seeing the emergence of broadcast television, but I can’t tell what it did to us because I became that which watched broadcast television

William Gibson

Conversation is not the same thing as correspondence

Bruce Schneier

Just as we look back at the beginning of the previous century and shake our heads at how people could ignore the pollution they caused, future generations will look back at us — living in the early decades of the information age — and judge our solutions to the proliferation of data

Bruce Schneier

So why is reading books any better than reading tweets or wall posts? Well, sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes, you need to put down your book, if only to think about what you’re reading, what you think about what you’re reading. But a book has two advantages over a tweet. First, the person who wrote it thought about it a lot more carefully. The book is the result of his solitude, his attempt to think for himself

William Deresiewicz

So solitude can mean introspection, it can mean the concentration of focused work, and it can mean sustained reading. All of these help you to know yourself better. But there’s one more thing I’m going to include as a form of solitude, and it will seem counterintuitive: friendship

William Deresiewicz

Links for the original source material

William GibsonBruce Schneier, William Deresiewicz