August 12, 2019

» Douglas Hofstadter on “Number Numbness” (1982). He is the author of “Goedel, Escher, Bach”, and also coined “Hofstadter’s law”:

Hofstadter’s Law: It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law.

The article makes a great point of people not being able to grasp very large numbers:

I once taught a small beginning physics class on the thirteenth floor of Hunter College in New York City. From the window we had a magnificent view of the skyscrapers of midtown Manhattan. In one of the opening sessions, I wanted to teach my students about estimates and significant figures, so I asked them to estimate the height of the Empire State Building. In a class of ten students, not one came within a factor of two of the correct answer (1,472 feet with the television antenna, 1,250 without). Most of the estimates were between 300 and 500 feet. One person thought 50 feet was right-a truly amazing underestimate; another thought it was a mile.

Though the rest of the article focusses more on truly large numbers, like the difference between a million, a billion and a trillion, this quote shows that people have already difficulties with numbers which aren’t that big.

» Someone has surfed the web on a budget of 50 MB per day:

I’m going to limit my browsing today to 50 MB, which in Zimbabwe would cost around $3.67 on a mobile data tariff. That may not sound like much, but teachers in Zimbabwe were striking this year because their salaries had fallen to just $2.50 a day.

For comparison, $3.67 is around half the $7.25 minimum wage in the USA. As a Zimbabwean, I’d have to work for around a day and a half to earn the money to buy this 50MB data, compared to just half an hour in the USA. It’s not easy to compare cost of living between countries, but on wages alone the $3.67 cost of 50 MB of data in Zimbabwe would feel like $52 to an American on minimum wage.

The article comes with hands-on tips on how websites could improve and shows impressively just how unethical poor web performance is.

It’s ironic, though, that the page where he posts his results is also guilty of transferring a lot of data - I measured a whooping 10 MB when accessing the page.

August 7, 2019

» The New York Times thinks a blockchain could help stamp out fake news

In a new blog post, project lead Sasha Koren explains that by using a blockchain, “we might in theory provide audiences with a way to determine the source of a photo, or whether it had been edited after it was published.”

Looking past the “Use the blockchain, save the world” rhetoric - the main issue is not the fake news in itself, but the virality of it, and it is well known that corrections of articles don’t make it as far as the originals. We already have problems with Fake News which can be debunked without Blockchain.

August 6, 2019

» How YouTube killed IE6:

We somehow got away with our plan to kill IE6 without facing any meaningful corrective action. Few people even knew we were involved at all and those that did, did not want to bring attention to it or risk encouraging similar behavior. At a beer garden in San Francisco, our boss, winking his hardest, made us swear to never do anything like this again. We agreed, toasted IE6 falling into single digit percentages, and never snuck anything into production again.

Not that I particularily miss IE6, but imagine the outcry if the situation had been reversed, and it would have been Microsoft employees killing off some other piece of software!

» How a JIRA misconfiguration leaks data of NASA and hundreds of Fortune 500 companies.

Thousands of companies filters, dashboards and staff data were publically exposed. It occurs because of the wrong permissions scheme set to filters and dashboards hence providing their access even to non-logged in users and hence leading to leaking of sensitive data. […] Some of the companies were from Alexa and Fortune top list including big giants like NASA, Google, Yahoo, etc and government sites as well.

This is not a misconfiguration, though, it’s extremely poor UI/UX by JIRA. Creating a filter gives you the option to share it with “Everyone”, which sounds like “Everyone in the Company”, but means “public”. “Everyone in the company” is actually called “Open” - and not even part of the Share Filter UI.

Shipped with Amazon

When I recently bought an item on Amazon, I was surprised to see that it has been shipped with Amazon - as in, Amazon does the delivery, and not DHL, Hermes or any other well-known logistics company.

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