A Generation Lost in the Bazaar

programming computing software design review libtool unix posix bazaar ESR bsd cathedral configure

At the bottom of the food chain, so to speak, is libtool, which tries to hide the fact that there is no standardized way to build a shared library in Unix. Instead of standardizing how to do that across all Unixen—something that would take just a single flag to the ld(1) command […] the source code for devel/libtool weighs in at 414,740 lines. Half that line count is test cases, which in principle is commendable […] the tests elaborately explore the functionality of the complex solution for a problem that should not exist in the first place. Even more maddening is that 31,085 of those lines are in a single unreadably ugly shell script called configure. The idea is that the configure script performs approximately 200 automated tests, so that the user is not burdened with configuring libtool manually. This is a horribly bad idea […] It is a travesty that the configure idea survived.


The death of Kosmograd

There has always been an air of decay around Baikonour, the terrain littered with abandoned launch facilities. The Soviet Union was not known for sensitive land use, with a territory so large, the overriding mentality always seemed to be to build new rather than reuse or adapt. (I’ll be considering the topography of Cape Kennedy in a later post). Baikonour could be considered an experiment in distributed urbanism, a space city sprawled out over 1000s of square kilometres, connected by few roads but an extensive network of railways.


Dynamics of Conflicts in Wikipedia

conflict, Wikipedia, PLoS, Editwars

In this work we study the dynamical features of editorial wars in Wikipedia (WP). Based on our previously established algorithm, we build up samples of controversial and peaceful articles and analyze the temporal characteristics of the activity in these samples. On short time scales, we show that there is a clear correspondence between conflict and burstiness of activity patterns, and that memory effects play an important role in controversies. On long time scales, we identify three distinct developmental patterns for the overall behavior of the articles. We are able to distinguish cases eventually leading to consensus from those cases where a compromise is far from achievable. Finally, we analyze discussion networks and conclude that edit wars are mainly fought by few editors only.


In Praise of Leisure

Keynes, 15 hour week, employment, greed, desire, paleofuture, history, economics, work, leisure

Imagine a world in which most people worked only 15 hours a week. They would be paid as much as, or even more than, they now are, because the fruits of their labor would be distributed more evenly across society. Leisure would occupy far more of their waking hours than work. It was exactly this prospect that John Maynard Keynes conjured up in a little essay published in 1930 called “Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren.” Its thesis was simple. As technological progress made possible an increase in the output of goods per hour worked, people would have to work less and less to satisfy their needs, until in the end they would have to work hardly at all.


Why Aren’t We Reading Turing?

humanities, culture, Alan Turing, Furtherfield, Technology, Turing

Perhaps we should ask whether the Turing Centenary will actually convince the humanities and the sciences to attentively read Turing’s work? Forgive the disingenuous patronising structure of the question; I clearly realise that people have read Turing’s work, especially his most famous and readable article, Computing Machinery and Intelligence published in 1950. But think back, have you actually read it?


“The Power of Fear in Networked Publics”

design, technology, control, culture of fear, socialmedia, privacy, networks, danahboyd, attention

When it comes to talking about social media, it’s easy to get trapped in utopian and dystopian rhetorics.  My goal is not to go down one of these rabbit holes, but rather, to critically interrogate our participation in the culture of fear.  Many of you are technologists, designers, pundits, and users. How are we contributing to or combating the culture of fear?  What are our responsibilities with regard to the culture of fear?  What kinds of things can and should we do?


Seminar on David Graeber’s Debt: The First 5000 Years

review, economic history, hist, david graeber, economics, debt, finance

David Graeber’s Debt: The First 5000 Years begins with a conversation in a London churchyard about debt and morality and takes us all the way from ancient Sumeria, through Roman slavery, the vast empires of the “Axial age”, medieval monasteries, New World conquest and slavery to the 2008 financial collapse. The breadth of material Graeber covers is extraordinarily impressive and, though anchored in the perspective of social anthropology, he also draws on economics and finance, law, history, classics, sociology and the history of ideas. I’m guessing that most of us can’t keep up and that we lack, to some degree, his erudition and multidisciplinary competence. Anyway, I do. But I hope that a Crooked Timber symposium can draw on experts and scholars from enough of these different disciplines to provide some critical perspective


Alternative Printing: A Conspectus

printing, process, photography, darkroom, chemistry, alternative

The full gamut of photographic printing processes may be little-known to contemporary photographers, who have been educated largely within the mainstream of the silver-gelatine tradition. My intention here is to help restore some of the ‘lost’ options by providing you with a handy reference list of the better-known alternative processes and an outline of their characteristics and working methods, without any detailed formulae or procedures. This should enable you to decide if 'there might be anything in it for you’. If so, then the texts listed in my bibliography should provide you with an entry into the practice


The Unbearable Stasis of “Accelerating Change”

stasis, futurism, transhumanism, extremism, robot cult, critique, tech bloom, singularity, Future-Sh

This is something that has struck me time and time again: The transhumanoids and singularitarians and online futurists love to congratulate themselves over their unflappability at the prospects of shatteringly onrushing changed futures. They literally have a whole “shock level” calculator, which is kinda sorta like a Cosmo sex quiz for pasty futurological males who think diddling themselves over cartoons of space elevators or descriptions of traversable wormholes demonstrates the awesomeness of their humanity-plus brains as compared to mehum (mere human) sheeple types.


Vandana Shiva on Resource Descent and Permaculture Politics

resource decent, soil association, Agriculture, Vandana Shiva, growold, politics, permaculture

Earlier in 2007 the Soil Association organized an amazing conference, “One Planet Agriculture: Preparing for a Post Peak-Oil Food and Farming Future.” Many talks from this conference are recorded and transcribed here, and I daresay if these are issues with which you are unfamiliar (or issues on which you are worse than unfamiliar because you have settled for mainstream mediated vacuities), devoting a lazy holiday afternoon to these marvelous talks might be a positively life-changing experience for you.


Extended Senses & Invisible Fences

machine perception, AI, machine readable, humanities, Cities, cities, technolgy, urbanism, urban, An

Amidst the swirling maelstrom of technological progress so often heralded as the imminent salvation to all our ills, it can be necessary to remind ourselves that humanity sits at the center, not technology. And yet, we extrude these tools so effortlessly as if secreted by some glandular Technos expressed from deep within our genetic code. It’s difficult to separate us from our creations but it’s imperative that we examine this odd relationship as we engineer more autonomy, sensitivity, and cognition into the machines we bring into this world. The social environment, typified by the contemporary urban landscape, is evolving to include non-human actors that routinely engage with us, examining our behaviors, mediating our relationships, and assigning or revoking our rights. It is this evolving human-machine socialization that I wish to consider.


The LIBOR scandal: The rotten heart of finance

crime, scandal, finance, globalism, UK, barclays, GFC, banking, theft, economic collapse, libor

What may still seem to many to be a parochial affair involving Barclays, a 300-year-old British bank, rigging an obscure number, is beginning to assume global significance. The number that the traders were toying with determines the prices that people and corporations around the world pay for loans or receive for their savings. It is used as a benchmark to set payments on about $800 trillion-worth of financial instruments, ranging from complex interest-rate derivatives to simple mortgages. The number determines the global flow of billions of dollars each year. Yet it turns out to have been flawed.


Evidence of a US judicial vendetta against WikiLeaks activists mounts

surveillance, 10GJ3793, USA, iceland, wikileaks, Birgitta Jónsdóttir

Most of us who expose an inconvenient truth know that we will be attacked for it and ridiculed. And every trick in the book of maintaining power will be applied to silence us. It’s no big deal. The beauty of it is that, usually, these attempts gives us a chance to see the actual face of power and to understand, with real-time examples, how healthy or unhealthy our democracies have become.


Pallets: The single most important object in the global economy

transport logistics pallets shipping containers globalization economics

Pallets, of course, are merely one cog in the global machine for moving things. But while shipping containers, for instance, have had their due, in Marc Levinson’s surprisingly illustrative book The Box (“the container made shipping cheap, and by doing so changed the shape of the world economy”), pallets rest outside of our imagination, regarded as scrap wood sitting outside grocery stores or holding massive jars of olives at Costco. As one German article, translated via Google, put it: “How exciting can such a pile of boards be?”


On-chip quantum phonodynamics

arxiv quantum computing phonons phononic QED phonodynamics

Sound can be just as quantum as light. But our toolbox for single quanta of sound, i.e. phonons, is currently insufficient. Here we describe a new component that enables a chip-based, solid-state analogue of cavity-QED utilizing acoustic phonons instead of photons, phonitons instead of polaritons. We show how long-lived and tunable acceptor (hole) impurity states in silicon nanomechanical cavities can play the role of a matter non-linearity for coherent phonons just as, for example, the Josephson qubit plays in circuit-QED. This system enables the control of single phonons and phonon-phonon interactions, dispersive phonon readout of the acceptor qubit, and compatibility with other nano/optomechanical components such as phonon-photon translators. Phonons, due to their unique properties, enable new opportunities for quantum devices and physics.


The Bodélé depression: a single spot in the Sahara that provides most of the mineral dust to the Amazon forest

dust sahara amazon environment fertilizer

About 40 million tons of dust are transported annually from the Sahara to the Amazon basin. Saharan dust has been proposed to be the main mineral source that fertilizes the Amazon basin, generating a dependence of the health and productivity of the rain forest on dust supply from the Sahara. Here we show that about half of the annual dust supply to the Amazon basin is emitted from a single source: the Bodélé depression located northeast of Lake Chad, approximately 0.5% of the size of the Amazon or 0.2% of the Sahara. Placed in a narrow path between two mountain chains that direct and accelerate the surface winds over the depression, the Bodélé emits dust on 40% of the winter days, averaging more than 0.7 million tons of dust per day.



spime, programmable matter, IoT, blogject, blobject, data, network, neologism

Kirkyan is a currently-theoretical “Thing” (PDF) related to both blogject (early example here by originator of the kirkyan concept) and spime. At the core, the concept revolves around the idea that the same data used to create a physical spime can be used to also create a virtual spime, and that the two can then be connected via the same ubiquitous computing network. Where spimes have a number of predefined limitations (e.g. “Cradle-to-cradle” life-spans), a kirkyan is inherently redundant and thus has additional capabilities. Furthermore, while the physical and the virtual are related and in constant networked contact, they are, to a significant degree, autonomous.


“We shall not go any further into the nature of this oracle apart from saying that it cannot be a machine,” Turing explained (or…

““We shall not go any further into the nature of this oracle apart from saying that it cannot be a machine,” Turing explained (or did not explain). “With the help of the oracle we could form a new kind of machine (call them O-machines).” Turing showed that undecidable statements, resistant to the assistance of an external oracle, could still be constructed, and the Entscheidungsproblem would remain unsolved. The Universal Turing Machine of 1936 gets all the attention, but Turing’s O-machines of 1939 may be closer to the way intelligence (real and artificial) works: logical sequences are followed for a certain number of steps, with intuition bridging the intervening gaps.”

Dyson, George. Turing’s Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe. New York: Pantheon Books, 2012. (viacarvalhais)

Beyond Meat

food science food-science fake-meat meat-substitute

Brown got into fake meat after working in the clean-energy business. He says he loves the taste of meat, but his childhood on a family farm convinced him to refrain from killing animals, and he’s been vegan for many years. In 2009, he met Fu-Hung Hsieh and Harold Huff, food scientists at the University of Missouri who’d been working to create a meat substitute for more than a decade. The three formed a company, and they’ve been working to build the perfect fake meat ever since.


“The ENIAC itself, strangely, was a very personal computer,” remembers mathematician Harry Reed, who arrived at Aberdeen in…

“The ENIAC itself, strangely, was a very personal computer,” remembers mathematician Harry Reed, who arrived at Aberdeen in 1950. “Now we think of a personal computer as one which you carry around with you. The ENIAC was actually one that you kind of lived inside.”

Dyson, George. Turing’s Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe. New York: Pantheon Books, 2012. (viacarvalhais)

Why Crunch Modes Doesn’t Work: Six Lessons

work, 40 hour week, 35 hour week, 60 hour week, crunch, productivity, ford, overtime, 4 hour

More than a century of studies show that long-term useful worker output is maximized near a five-day, 40-hour workweek. Productivity drops immediately upon starting overtime and continues to drop until, at approximately eight 60-hour weeks, the total work done is the same as what would have been done in eight 40-hour weeks. In the short term, working over 21 hours continuously is equivalent to being legally drunk. Longer periods of continuous work drastically reduce cognitive function and increase the chance of catastrophic error. In both the short- and long-term, reducing sleep hours as little as one hour nightly can result in a severe decrease in cognitive ability, sometimes without workers perceiving the decrease.