Are Meltdown, Spectre and Krack inevitable phenomena of complexity out of control?

This week’s processor vulnerabilities, purported to affect nearly every device made in the past 20 years, and last year’s Krack vulnerability in wifi make me think of Vernor Vinge’s reluctantly posited explanation on why the Singularity may not happen.

Ilya



  • Don’t release the Zalgo! A zalgo is a function that is not predictable, for example returning synchronously in some cases but asynchronously in others.


  • If I used MySQL and wanted a native Mac client, I’d use Sequel Pro.

A highly subjective guide to prototyping tools

Nine prototyping tools compared. Because none are perfect but choosing the right one matters.

Ilya

  • Dyslexia may lie in the eyes.
    “In people with the condition, the cells were arranged in matching patterns in both eyes, which may be to blame for confusing the brain by producing ‘mirror’ images. […] In non-dyslexic people, the cells are arranged asymmetrically, allowing signals from the one eye to be overridden by the other to create a single image in the brain.”
  • Code reviews are not (primarily) for finding bugs.

  • Ask HN: What do you care about the most in a tech job post? Interesting points mentioned: salary, obviously. Being able to see a picture of the working environment or “your future desk”. How many meetings there typically are. What would the split between architecture and coding be. How long the working week is. Some suggested to make the application process as little effort as possible. But this is problematic from the hiring side, as a considerate commenter pointed out.
  • The unwritten ablaut reduplication rule. Oh, and there’s five more reduplications in English. No bish-bosh in that!


  • AtF Spark, a font to render sparklines with only text.
  • Fizzy is blockchain-based insurance against flight delays and a great example of how smart contracts can be used. The flight delay insurance is recorded in the Ethereum blockchain. This smart contract is connected to global air traffic databases, so as soon as a delay of more than two hours is observed, compensation is triggered automatically.

The discovery and loss of the cure to scurvy

I just re-read Maciej Cegłowski’s excellent essay on the discovery and loss of the remedy to scurvy.

Incidentally, I’ve seen scurvy used as a case study of how theory colours evidence (or directs the interpretation of it) before in Lukas Vermeer’s talk Creating data: a boat filled with sauerkraut.

There are loads of quotable passages, but rather than try to condense a great read into a few snippets, I’ll share a somewhat ancillary tidbit:

[T]echnological progress in one area can lead to surprising regressions. I mentioned how the advent of steam travel made it possible to accidentally replace an effective antiscorbutic with an ineffective one. An even starker example was the rash of cases of infantile scurvy that afflicted upper class families in the late 19th century. This outbreak was the direct result of another technological development, the pasteurization of cow’s milk. The procedure made milk vastly safer for infants to drink, but also destroyed vitamin C. For poorer children, who tended to be breast-fed and quickly weaned onto adult foods, this was not an issue, but the wealthy infants fed a special diet of cooked cereals and milk were at grave risk.

The essay contained two words new to me: antiscorbutic — having the effect of preventing or curing scurvy; and austral — of or coming from the south.

Ilya


  • There are seven primary odors: musky, minty, floral, ethereal, camphoraceous, pungent and putrid. Taking smelly things to a confined space, like a spaceship, could be dangerous, so NASA has a master sniffer.

  • Controversial new theory suggests life wasn’t a fluke of biology—it was physics.
    The biophysicist Jeremy England made waves in 2013 with a new theory that cast the origin of life as an inevitable outcome of thermodynamics. His equations suggested that under certain conditions, groups of atoms will naturally restructure themselves so as to burn more and more energy, facilitating the incessant dispersal of energy and the rise of “entropy” or disorder in the universe. England said this restructuring effect, which he calls dissipation-driven adaptation, fosters the growth of complex structures, including living things.









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