Links 2018-03-04

Here’s How Cornell Scientist Brian Wansink Turned Shoddy Data Into Viral Studies About How We Eat – BuzzFeed

When even BuzzFeed is getting in on the p-hacking, you know you have a problem. The incentives here (media coverage, research grants, etc.) so clearly rewards this sort of behaviour it’s difficult to know what to do about it, but at least we’re on the verge of admitting we have a problem.

How Tiny Red Dots Took Over Your Life – The New York Times

Trying to understand the addictive corrosiveness of modern technology, starting with the red alert badge that appears on your app icons. Bonus points for quoting Human Interface Guidelines (I wish more people whose job it is to design apps would).

Monica Lewinsky: Emerging from “the House of Gaslight” in the Age of #MeToo – Vanity Fair

An interview with a wise person, who has a lot to say about misogyny and celebrity worship, because she’s been living with its effects for 20 years.

Six Degrees of Wikipedia

Find out the shortest link distance between any two Wikipedia articles. This got me for hours.

Links 2018-02-25

The Unchecked Influence of NRA Lobbyist Marion Hammer – The Trace

A sober account of how efficient lobbying works to horrific ends.

Inside the OED: can the world’s biggest dictionary survive the internet? – The Guardian

I’ve always had a weakness for dictionaries, and this is an interesting account of the most comprehensive. I hope the OED has a brighter future than Encyclopaedia Britannica: whatever about general knowledge, I think that analysis of language benefits from opinion, preferably weakly held.

The Tyranny of Convenience – The New York Times

You could read this as an anthology of First World Problems but privileged or not, we must face our ennui nonetheless, and this article feels like a good place to start.

Links 2018-02-18

The diabolical genius of the baby advice industry – The Guardian

I’m not (and won’t be) a parent myself but as many of my friends start to raise families I’m struck at how awfully difficult parenting can be for some, and how easy it can be for others. And how, if you’re having a difficult time parenting, everybody else judges you incessantly.

Email is your electronic memory – Fastmail

I’ve been a happy customer of Fastmail for a few years now. Leaving all your email to Google may be easy, and cheap, but it’s not a good place for memories.

The Good Room – Frank Chimero

A lovely article about libraries, train stations, the commons, the Amish, design, spiritual technology, and a whole lot more.

Goodnight Chrome Podcast

I never, ever sleep during the day. But this glorious podcast, which starts by reading out incredibly boring technical specs before injecting them with nonsense, had me dropping off after 5 minutes. If you’re an insomniac then you need this.

Links 2018-02-11

No one’s coming. It’s up to us. – Dan Hon

Making the case for humane technology. The photos of old Usborne futuristic books brought back a lot of memories. I particularly liked the phrase “inadvertent algorithmic cruelty”.

Don’t Be Evil – Fred Turner on Utopias, Frontiers, and Brogrammers – Logic

An interview with a Stanford professor about techno-utopianism (and there was I thinking I coined that phrase) and the ethical frameworks used by software engineers. Full of deep wisdom and throwaway wisdom.

The tech industry needs a moral compass – Rachel Coldicutt – Medium

Another new phrase (to me): Tech Humanism. While I’m not sure I 100% agree with all of the proposed solutions in this article, I’m absolutely in agreement that we need to start the conversation. It’s becoming increasingly clear to me that as technologists we are gaining increasing power, and we’re long overdue a conversation about the responsibility side of that equation.

Advice to the newish programmer – Tom MacWright

A wise article that also offers a pretty good explanation of programming for non-programmers (spoiler alert: everything is pretty much broken).

Has Anyone Seen the President? – Michael Lewis – Bloomberg

Michael Lewis has a really lovely writing style, and this article, ostensibly about President Trump but really about Steve Bannon and the politics of anger, offers some insight into how US politics arrived at its current state.

Links 2018-02-04

The Sierra Network – The Digital Antiquarian

Jimmy Maher runs a wonderful site where he posts deep dives into computer history. This post is about an online pre- (or rather proto-) internet network run by a games company, Sierra.

If You’re So Successful, Why Are You Still Working 70 Hours a Week? – Harvard Business Review

This research into over-work talks about “insecure overachievers”. Whatever about overachievement, I know that professional insecurity has been a cause of overwork for me in the past.

The punk rock internet – how DIY ​​rebels ​are working to ​replace the tech giants – The Guardian

Thanks to Georgia for sending this in! I think, or at least hope, that the indie/corporate tension will always exist on the internet, with both sides vying for dominance and succeeding for brief periods without completely destroying the other.

Sriracha is for Closers – Esquire

This profile of WeWork may be laden with snark but it’s still an entertaining read about what a boom feels like.

The Dirty War Over Diversity Inside Google – Wired

Why diversity is hard, and oh so vulnerable to attack.

Links 2018-01-28

The Follower Factory – New York Times

I’ve been aware of these “pay money for followers” schemes for a while now, but this was a really interesting deep dive into the companies who will sell you social media followers. Also it’s the first time in a while I’ve seen a page with JavaScript fanciness that didn’t completely suck.

How to Win Founders and Influence Everybody – Wired

In some ways this is just a profile of a PR hack but what I found interesting about this profile was that, amidst all the hype of new communications channels, good PR is about relationships.

A Conspiracy of Hogs: The McRib as Arbitrage – The Awl

Given that The Awl is shutting down this month, I’m reminded to post one of my favourite articles from that site. I just love this flight of fancy based around an everyday commodity.

Links 2018-01-21

A Learning Secret: Don’t Take Notes with a Laptop – Scientific American

A listener to Worst Case Scenario (thanks Jane!) listened to our latest episode where I was talking about trying to systematically use a paper notebook. I’m a relatively quick typist so the quoted researchers’ conclusions that writing forces you to summarise and therefore think differently rings true to me.

How statistics lost their power – and why we should fear what comes next – The Guardian

A timely article on how and why people are more suspicious of statistics post-Trump and Brexit

BuzzFeed Style Guide

I have a weakness for style guides, and this one is surprisingly comprehensive. Like pun-laden tabloid headlines you may not admire the content of BuzzFeed’s listicle-driven posts, but it’s difficult not to ignore the craft.

The 29 Stages Of A Twitterstorm In 2018 – BuzzFeed

While we’re on the subject of BuzzFeed, this is an amusing summary of most Twitter drama (with an odd number in the headline, natch).

The Invasion of the German Board Games – The Atlantic

I need to write a German board games blog post some day. A good summary if you’re new to the genre.

Links 2018-01-14

Legends of the Ancient Web – Maciej Cegłowski

Maciej, more commonly known as Pinboard on Twitter (the name of his bookmarking service that I use for these weekly links), is my internet hero. His talk on the history of radio, from anarchic beginnings as a peer-to-peer medium, through to centralisation and exploitation by astute political propagandists, offers relevant lessons for the future of today’s internet.

In less than four decades, radio had completed the journey from fledgeling technology, to nerdy hobby, to big business, to potent political weapon.

This trajectory must have come as a shock to its pioneers.

At its birth, it seemed like radio would only be a force for good. How could something that connects people together be anything but beneficial?

But radio waves are just oscillating electromagnetic fields. They really don’t care how we use them. All they want is to go places at the speed of light.

It is hard to accept that good people, working on technology that benefits so many, with nothing but good intentions, could end up building a powerful tool for the wicked.

But we can’t afford to re-learn this lesson every time.

Good Luck Spending Your KodakCoins – Matt Levine – Bloomberg

A friend sent this on – if you’re feeling weary about the incessant hype around the blockchain, this will depress you even further but at least the great writing will cheer you up. Levine starts with the whole silly KodakCoin business but makes a wider point that maybe nobody really believes in this stuff: like other pump-and-dump scams everyone knows it’s a scam, people just think they can make a quick buck before selling on to a greater fool.

The Good War – Mike Dawson and Chris Hayes – The Nib

I don’t know what to call this – a ‘graphic essay’? It’s a ‘graphic novel’ treatment by Mike Dawson of an essay by Chris Hayes identifying some of the origins of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars in the sugary nostalgia for World War II that broke out in the US in the late 1990s. Both are well worth a read.


A useful and very comprehensive collection of resources for naming things. Lovely typography too.

Birdcage Liners – Joel on Software

The article I wish I wrote about quitting social media. Joel Spolsky muses on why Twitter and Facebook make us unhappy, and how “when you design software, you create the future”.

I’m deleting my Facebook account tomorrow- Thomas Bibby

Yours truly with a much less eloquent ragequit of Facebook.

Softwear: How an Underground Fashion Label for Nerds Got Cool – Wired

I love articles about industries I know nothing about, like this one on mens fashion. Some interesting insights into the state of the modern fashion industry.

The Strange Brands in Your Instagram Feed – The Atlantic

Another article that starts with mens fashion, but takes a fascinating diversion into the world of generic brands, drop shipping and Instagram. Also starring a 17 year-old YouTube star from Ratoath, Co. Meath (Ratoath!) who is a leading light in this business, posting his video updates to his thousands of followers on how to get rich quick.

The Making of Apple’s Emoji: How designing these tiny icons changed my life – Angela Guzman

A sweet story on the design of the iPhone’s first emoji, from an intern who worked at Apple. Don’t read if you’re particularly fond of the ice cream emoji ;-]

Links 2018-01-07

The surprising thing Google learned about its employees — and what it means for today’s students – Washington Post

I’m not sure about the implications for education mentioned in this article but this is a great summary of Google’s Oxygen and Aristotle projects – where they found that the skills that most highly correlated with successful software engineers were soft interpersonal skills (e.g. being a good coach; listening) and not hard skills like algorithms or data structures. The stereotype of the socially toxic yet brilliant programmer needs to die.

My Internet Mea Culpa – Rick Webb

As a GenX tech worker, this piece struck close to home. Rick Webb says sorry for his tech utopianism (and by implication, the rest of we GenXers who thought that information wanted to be free) that resulted in the terrordrome of awfulness that is today’s web.

The Smart, the Stupid, and the Catastrophically Scary: An Interview with an Anonymous Data Scientist – Logic Magazine

A long anonymous interview with a data scientist, who maintains that data science, machine learning artificial intelligence fields are so full of stupid marketing that close to nobody actually knows what they’re talking about anymore.

China’s Selfie Obsession – New Yorker

An article about beauty, celebrity culture, photo filters and plastic surgery in China.

The Objective-C Runtime & Swift Dynamism – Roy Marmelstein – Realm

A transcript of a 2016 talk. I love deep dives like this into the Objective-C runtime – in particular how simple things like classes are implemented in Objective-C.

An epic treatise on scheduling, bug tracking, and triage – apenwarr

This is a gloriously meandering take on the state of modern software development. It should be required reading for programmers, project managers, and anyone who ever wondered why software is late.

SQL Keys in depth – Joe Nelson

I learnt loads from this article, not just about databases, but about uniqueness and the abstractions we use to represent the real world in our programs.

Links 2017-12-31

Note: this is a new experiment I’m running – posting a weekly list of links that I enjoyed. Feedback welcome – also if anyone would like these in their inbox, let me know and I’ll add a subscription option.

Computer latency: 1977-2017 – Dan Luu

A wonderful article detailing how our computing devices have been getting less responsive over the years, and how complexity makes it worse.  There are good reasons why a 34 year-old Apple IIe  is top of Dan’s responsiveness charts, but that doesn’t mean we should be proud of it.

From inboxing to thought showers: how business bullshit took over – The Guardian

A glorious rant against business speak, with a shout-out to one of my favourite TV series, W1A, which skewers this practice wonderfully.

Dozens of Companies Are Using Facebook to Exclude Older Workers From Job Ads – ProPublica

Discrimination of any kind is awful of course, but what’s baffling about this particular case is that companies are hurting themselves by excluding potentially brilliant employees. And this doesn’t just go for older people – the lack of diversity in tech is a directly result of tech companies using stupid hiring practices and then wondering why it’s so hard to get good people.

Decomposing Emoji –

An illustration of how Swift, Javascript, Ruby and Python all have different answers to the question of “how long is this string”, and how they’re all right. It feels like since Unicode, strings are the new dates – representations of real-world things that most programmers get wrong.

How Facebook’s Political Unit Enables the Dark Art of Digital Propaganda

It’s not shocking that Facebook are making money from rich people looking to change peoples’ minds, but it is shocking how blatant they are about it. I’m expecting Facebook ads paid for by people and organisations outside Ireland to play a big role in Ireland’s abortion referendum next year.

How to scam $200,000 per month and get 67,882 all 5 Star reviews on the app store – reddit

A nice bit of digging on fake reviews on the App Store. My biggest complaint about the App Store – it’s not the 30% cut, or the stringent review criteria, those things I’m happy to put up with. My complaint is that the scammers still win. If the scammers are vanquished and good apps will naturally rise to the top of the sales charts I’d be a much happier app developer. This article shows how much work Apple need to do to fix the App Store and remove the rubbish.

Rust in 2017: what we achieved –

I’ve not tried out Rust yet – but this is a pretty good example of how to grow a community round your project. I enjoy these “year in review” posts so much, I’m surprised that more people don’t do them (and just to show it’s not just for programmers, I enjoyed Candy Japan’s 2017 review post too)

On the front lines of the GOP’s civil war – Esquire

An interesting account of Republicans in the US trying to take their party back.

Chrome is Not the Standard – Chris Kycho

It still baffles me how Chrome managed to get such market share, especially amongst developers. I’ve only came across a few sites that were Chrome-only – mostly complicated web apps – and I hope that this trend doesn’t continue.

Ask HN: Is it too late to find a mentor after 30 for a software developer? – Hacker News

A Hacker News discussion thread that reminds me of a business idea I have – create a remote part-time version of Recurse Center – pair people up with a remote mentor, charge a subscription fee where most of the money goes to the mentor, to a maximum of x hours a month. Like most of my business ideas, I really just want this service to exist, because I’d definitely pay for it.

The Only McLaren F1 Technician in North America – Road And Track Magazine

I’m mostly bored about cars these days, but I still remember the excitement when the McLaren F1 came out, and this article is a lovely tribute to a truly ground-breaking machine.

To Serve Man, with Software – Jeff Atwood

An eloquent post on the need for software engineers to recognise the responsibility that comes with our increasing power.