One Day

I guess the reason people keep coming back to being inspired by Vannevar Bush’s Memex, Alan Kay’s Dynabook and what have you is that the internet as it currently exists falls so far short of the dream of what a global information network could have been. Thank goodness that dreams like this keep popping up:

[This is going to be…] a very rough sketch of an idea about what a future computing system might look like. I don’t know how to get from here to there, or even if ‘there’ is entirely satisfactory. But I feel that a ‘there’ roughly in this vicinity is somewhere we should be heading towards.

Let’s start with what the ‘here’ is that is less satisfactory.

We currently have an Internet made of vast layers of complexity layered on each other; software layers going back to the 1960s at the very latest, built on traditions and workflows originated in the 1950s. Our current model of deploying computing services, ‘the cloud’, thinks nothing of **simulating entire computers* – with gigabytes of RAM and hundreds of gigabytes of disk – on other computers, just to get one service that listens on one TCP/IP port and sends a few bytes in response to a few other bytes. [Emphasis added]

The operating system inside these simulated computers-on-computers then consists of, essentially, an entire simulated computing department from the 1950s: a bank of clerks operating card punches (text editors and Interactive Development Environments), other clerks translating these punchcards from high-level to low-level languages (compiler toolchains), machine operators who load the right sets of cards into the machine (operating systems, schedulers, job control systems), banks of tape drives (filesystems and databases), printers (web servers, UIs )… and a whole bunch of prewritten software card stacks (libraries, component object systems, open source projects).

This seems a bit less than optimal. […]

Just a bit, yes.

The point isn’t that this essay points to an obvious right answer: it’s that the current solutions fall so far short of what could be done. Building ever-taller stacks of old technology on top of stacks of even older technology might be good for maintaining the market share of the market leaders, but it’s probably not the best way to get to where we’d like to be one day.

Anyway, the point is the essay I’ve linked to offers plenty of food for thought.

[Via Extenuating Circumstances]

PYMK

Having caught up with Kashmir Hill‘s Gizmodo piece ‘People You May Know:’ A Controversial Facebook Feature’s 10-Year History, I’m both supremely glad that I’m not on Facebook 1 and creeped out by how little difference that makes to Facebook’s determination to shadow profile me whether I like it or not.

In other words, People You May Know is an invaluable product because it helps connect Facebook users, whether they want to be connected or not. It seems clear that for some users, People You May Know is a problem. It’s not a feature they want and not a feature they want to be part of. When the feature debuted in 2008, Facebook said that if you didn’t like it, you could “x” out the people who appeared there repeatedly and eventually it would disappear. (If you don’t see the feature on your own Facebook page, that may be the reason why.) But that wouldn’t stop you from continuing to be recommended to other users.

Facebook needs to give people a hard out for the feature, because scourging phone address books and email inboxes to connect you with other Facebook users, while welcome to some people, is offensive and harmful to others. Through its aggressive data-mining this huge corporation is gaining unwanted insight into our medical privacy, past heartaches, family dramas, sensitive work associations, and random one-time encounters.

[Via Pixel Envy]

Alien(s)

I knew that there was a long-standing strain of fandom built around the core concepts of Alien vs. Predator, but I had no idea it was set in stone like this:

I do love this response from @tafkao:

In 800 yrs time, architectural historians will be locked in furious debate over whether the sculpture is Alien school or Predator school.

11:30 am · 10 Jun 2018

(Further reading: see, for example, this.)

[Via Sentiers #43]

Best iPad Ad Ever?

A few months ago I bookmarked Serenity Caldwell’s iPad video and somehow never got round to posting about it here.

It’s a very nice piece of work, but somehow I’m not persuaded that I need to rush out and upgrade to an iPad capable of working with an Apple Pen. In principle I understand that all sorts of people with actual artistic ability can do amazing things with an Apple Pen and an iPad/iPad Pro, but that’s not me. Tragically1, one of the best features of my iPad Mini 4 is that it’s small enough to be genuinely portable in a way that a 10.5″ or 12.9″ iPad never can. I’ll take portability over an Apple Pen any day.2

[Via Memex 1.1]

Frenemies Forever

Novelist John Lanchester ponders whether economists and humanists can ever be friends?

[Hanson and Simler’s…] emphasis on signalling and unconscious motives suggests that the most important part of our actions is the motives themselves, rather than the things we achieve, such as writing symphonies, curing diseases, building cathedrals, searching into the deepest mysteries of time and space, and so on. The last sentence of the book makes the point that “we may be competitive social animals, self-interested and self-deceived, but we cooperated our way to the god-damned moon.” With that one observation, acknowledging that the consequences of our actions are more important than our motives, the argument of the book implodes.

The issue here is one of overreach: taking an argument that has worthwhile applications and extending it further than it usefully goes. Our motives are often not what they seem: true. This explains everything: not true. After all, it’s not as if the idea that we send signals about ourselves were news; you could argue that there is an entire social science, sociology, dedicated to the subject.

Apparently not.1

LinkedIn: The Game

Beating LinkedIn: The Game is tricky, but not impossible. If you can believe this guy:

The general goal of LinkedIn (the game) is to find and connect with as many people on LinkedIn (the website) as possible, in order to secure vaguely defined social capital and potentially further one’s career, which allows the player to purchase consumer goods of gradually increasing quality. Like many games, it has dubious real-life utility. The site’s popularity and success, like that of many social networks, depends heavily on obfuscating this fact. This illusion of importance creates a sense of naive trust among its users. This makes it easy to exploit.

To novices, the game appears to be open-ended, and impossible to “beat” in any clearly defined sense. But it is, in fact, possible to win at LinkedIn. I have done so, and you can too, by following this short strategy guide. […]

This would be even funnier if I could just shake the premonition that a few years from now some high-flying junior minister in the DWP will announce that in the interests of reassuring hard-working taxpayers that their hard-earned money was being used to fund the most agile, modern and thoroughly digital solution to the problem of unemployment available, all claimants of Universal Credit would be required to provide evidence that they had registered with Microsoft’s LinkedIn service and that they had pursued at least 10 job opportunities a week. Even more importantly, Microsoft had kindly agreed to take up a contract to police this target and consequently a portion of existing DWP staff in Jobcentres would be transferring to the private sector to work in the new MSDWP service, which would also be taking over the contract to run the Universal Credit system.

Magically, this move would both allow the DWP to wash their hands of all responsibility for administrative cock-ups in Jobcentres, but also bring to an end all those boring National Audit Office reports that kept on rating the Universal Credit programme as risky and over budget.1 You might laugh, but give it a few years and some Ayn Rand-reading acolyte a decade or so out of university and a couple of years into his or her tenure as a Conservative member of Parliament will think this the best way to distance the government from the embarrassment of Universal Credit. The main problem will be finding someone within Microsoft both senior enough to agree a deal of that size and dumb enough to not recognise this for the hospital pass that it would be.

[Via The Tao of Mac]