Welcome to the bloggy home of Noah Brier. I'm the co-founder of Percolate and general internet tinkerer. This site is about media, culture, technology, and randomness. It's been around since 2004 (I'm pretty sure). Feel free to get in touch. Get in touch.

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Remainders: From Parking Garages to Political Contributions

It’s been awhile since I did a Remainders posts so I figured I’d throw one together. In theory it’s all the other stuff I didn’t get a chance to blog about. In reality, it’s pretty much everything I’ve been reading that isn’t about mental models/frameworks (and even some of that). You can find previous versions filed under Remainders and, as always, if you enjoy the writing, please subscribe by email and pass around.

Let’s start with some books. Here’s what I’ve read in the last three months (in order of when they were read):

Okay, onto some other reading, etc. …

This Wired piece about the possibility of a coming “AI cold war” has two particularly interesting strings in it: One is a fundamental question about the nature of technology and its relationship with democracy (put simply: is the internet better structured to support or defeat democratic ideals) and the other is about how China (and the US) will use 5G as a power play (“If you are a poor country that lacks the capacity to build your own data network, you’re going to feel loyalty to whoever helps lay the pipes at low cost. It will all seem uncomfortably close to the arms and security pacts that defined the Cold War.”)

I’ve been fascinated by the mysterious attacks against Americans in Cuba since I read about them (probably over a year ago now). I was excited to see the New Yorker finally dig in.

We’ve been having lots of trouble convincing our three-year-old to wear a coat in the cold. Turns out its pretty normal.

The Chronicle of Higher Education asked a bunch of academics for their most influential academic book of the last twenty years. Lots of interesting things to read here.

This is from earlier in the year, but it’s worth re-reading Bruce Schneier’s piece on securing elections. More recently he had a good one on mobile phone security.

TILs:

  • Benoît Mandelbrot (of fractal fame) is apparently responsible (at least in part) for the introduction of passwords at IBM. From When Einstein Walked with Gödel (which I’m reading now), “When his son’s high school teacher sought help for a computer class, Mandelbrot obliged, only to find that soon students all over Westchester County were tapping into IBM’s computers by using his name. ‘At that point, the computing center staff had to assign passwords,’ he says. ‘So I can boast-if that’s the right term-of having been at the origin of the police intrusion that this change represented.'”
  • Also from the same book, the low numerals are meant to be representative of the number of things they are. Since that makes no sense, here’s the quote from the book: “Even Arabic numerals follow this logic: 1 is a single vertical bar; 2 and 3 began as two and three horizontal bars tied together for ease of writing.”
  • When you get helium super cold very strange stuff starts happening.
  • A Rochester garbage plate “is your choice of cheeseburger, hamburger, Italian sausages, steak, chicken, white or red hots*, served on top of any combination of home fries, french fries, baked beans, and/or macaroni salad.”
  • There’s a taxonomy of parking garage design (image below).

Barkley Marathons sound awful.

This hit close to home:

It took 200 years for them to start making brown point shoes for non-white ballet dancers

There’s apparently a big conversation going on in the machine learning community about whether ML is alchemy:

Rahimi believes contemporary machine learning models’ successes — which are mostly based on empirical methods — are plagued with the same issues as alchemy. The inner mechanisms of machine learning models are so complex and opaque that researchers often don’t understand why a machine learning model can output a particular response from a set of data inputs, aka the black box problem. Rahimi believes the lack of theoretical understanding or technical interpretability of machine learning models is cause for concern, especially if AI takes responsibility for critical decision-making.

This is a park covered in spiderwebs:

Tangentially related, here’s how corporate America contributes to politics by industry:

The Article Group email list is worth subscribing to. Back issues here.

I loved this quote from philosopher Daniel Dennet’s talk on what he calls intelligent design (don’t worry, it’s not the same):

Stochastic terrorism is one of those ideas you read once and think about from then on

I don’t know where I fall on this, but I found Douglas Rushkoff’s argument that universal basic income is a scam being put forward by technology companies fascinating:

Uber’s business plan, like that of so many other digital unicorns, is based on extracting all the value from the markets it enters. This ultimately means squeezing employees, customers, and suppliers alike in the name of continued growth. When people eventually become too poor to continue working as drivers or paying for rides, UBI supplies the required cash infusion for the business to keep operating.

Adam Davidson had a good Twitter thread about “both-sidism” in political reporting.

Wired on “it’s not a bug, it’s a feature”.

The changing landscape of business expenses:

It seems like one out of 100 Player’s Tribune articles are amazing. This one from former Clipper Darius Miles fits the bill.

I’ve been really enjoying John Horgan’s Scientific American blog “Cross-Check”.

David Grann, who is probably my favorite author, snuck a book out without me knowing. Called White Darkness, it appears to be an expanded version of his New Yorker article about Antarctic explorers from earlier this year (one of my favorites).

Alright, I’m going to cut this here … I’m only caught up to late October, so look out for a part two. Thanks for reading.

November 12, 2018 // This post is about: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Is Apple Maps Suceeding?

Matthew Yglesias makes a decent argument that Apple Maps, while a terrible product, is succeeding at its intended goal:

To get out of that bind, Apple has never needed to make a product that’s actually superior to Google Maps. What they’ve needed to do is produce an application that clears two bars. One is that it has to be good enough that your typcial doesn’t-care-too-much phone consumer doesn’t reject iOS out of hand. The other is that it has to be good enough such that if Google doesn’t want to lose the entire iOS customer base it has to scramble and release a great Google Maps app for iOS and not just for Android. Apple’s Maps app easily clears both of those bars. Before the release of iOS 6, the inferiority of Apple’s Google-powered iOS Maps app to Android’s Google maps was a real reason to prefer an Android phone. Today, there is no such reason. Not because Apple Maps is as good at Google Maps, but because Google Maps for iOS is as good as Google Maps for Android.

This was actually part of the original Chrome strategy as well. While Google released the product because long-term they couldn’t afford to have their biggest competitor (at the time) controlling the majority of their usage, they also did it to push Internet Explorer to innovate so that Google could deliver a better and faster experience for its customers. By entering the browser market Google was able to light a fire under Microsoft that a company like Firefox never could and the versions of IE that followed were a thousand times better than what had existed before.

July 20, 2013 // This post is about: , , , , , ,

Surface versus iPad

The most interesting part of this interview with Horace of Asymco about the Surface is his take on the difference between how Apple and Microsoft view tablets:

I have some guesses but I don’t think it’s something that is defensible. Too many things can change. Fundamentally I believe Microsoft sees the tablet as a PC and intends to migrate a substantial portion of would-be PC customers to tablet forms. If they are successful then they preserve the existing PC user base and allow it to grow a bit.

In contrast Apple sees the iPad as a new type of device that is used for things not directly related to PC style computing. In that sense the iPad competes with PC non-consumption. It means people may own both a PC and an iPad and some will own only an iPad. The iPad will expand the market while taking share from the PC. Windows tablets will try to hold the Windows share steady.

September 3, 2012 // This post is about: , , ,

New Surface

I’m assuming you’ve heard this, but Microsoft announced a new tablet they’ve developed the other day and it has lots of people talking. Anyway, I had one thought I wanted to share, which is roughly based around this quote from The Verge:

There is a gray area that exists for me with the iPad. I love using it to read, to browse the web, to share content, to occasionally create content. But there is a moment when I have to put the iPad down and grab my laptop. I travel with both. I keep both nearby when I’m at home. And I think this is true for a lot of people (it’s certainly true for a lot of people I know in the tech press).

Basically what I find most interesting about Surface is that it seems to be a nothing-to-lost move and exactly the sort of thing Apple wouldn’t do. By that I mean Apple created a new computing category with the iPad: It put a computer in a place (bed or couch) that it never really existed before. This wasn’t a replacement device, it was additive. I, like many I know, use both an iPad and a laptop and Apple’s laptop business is doing pretty well for them. Surface tries to imagine a future where there is just one. It’s not to say it will happen, but it feels like something Apple wouldn’t do and for that I applaud them.

June 20, 2012 // This post is about: , , , , , ,