Text Rendering Hates You
> Rendering text, how hard could it be? As it turns out, incredibly hard! To my knowledge, literally no system renders text “perfectly”. It’s all best-effort, although some efforts are more important than others.
I lost it at multicolored ligatures.
The Shaw Family Admission Plan
Mostly about buying college admissions through donations, but also how he runs his house.
> The 68-year-old Shaw made his estimated $7.3 billion fortune by bringing the computing revolution to finance. D.E. Shaw & Co., the legendary hedge fund that bears his name, pairs proprietary trading algorithms with obsessive risk management. Less well publicized, however, are the various ways in which Shaw has applied his fund’s risk-averse, quantitative approach to nearly every aspect of his life. Employees tell stories about Shaw wanting Chinese food or a comfortable mattress, and Shaw staff exhaustively researching and testing the options in advance. It was company lore that before Shaw traveled, an assistant would take the exact same trip — same car service, same airport, same seat on the plane — to eliminate any inefficiencies. Shaw has been said to purchase tickets for several different flights on the same day in case his plans change.
"Stubs" in the .NET Runtime
> ‘Stubs’, as they’re known in the runtime (sometimes ‘Thunks’), provide a level of indirection throughout the source code, there’s almost 500 mentions of them!
> This post will explore what they are, how they work and why they’re needed.
Visual Information Theory
> Information theory gives us precise language for describing a lot of things. How uncertain am I? How much does knowing the answer to question A tell me about the answer to question B? How similar is one set of beliefs to another? I’ve had informal versions of these ideas since I was a young child, but information theory crystallizes them into precise, powerful ideas. These ideas have an enormous variety of applications, from the compression of data, to quantum physics, to machine learning, and vast fields in between.
> Unfortunately, information theory can seem kind of intimidating. I don’t think there’s any reason it should be. In fact, many core ideas can be explained completely visually!
The (Mostly) True Story of Helvetica and the New York City Subway
> There is a commonly held belief that Helvetica is the signage typeface of the New York City subway system, a belief reinforced by Helvetica, Gary Hustwit’s popular 2007 documentary about the typeface. But it is not true—or rather, it is only somewhat true. Helvetica is the official typeface of the MTA today, but it was not the typeface specified by Unimark International when it created a new signage system at the end of the 1960s. Why was Helvetica not chosen originally? What was chosen in its place? Why is Helvetica used now, and when did the changeover occur? To answer those questions this essay explores several important histories: of the New York City subway system, transportation signage in the 1960s, Unimark International and, of course, Helvetica. These four strands are woven together, over nine pages, to tell a story that ultimately transcends the simple issue of Helvetica and the subway.
The Invention of Recombinant DNA Technology
> In the early 1970s, a momentous series of events in the history of science unfolded at points around the San Francisco Bay. Lines of inquiry pursued at the Stanford University School of Medicine and the University of California, San Francisco converged on a set of discoveries that vastly expanded the productive capabilities of molecular genetics, disrupted the customary rhythms and routines of the scientific community, sparked bitter disputes about risks and responsibilities in scientific experimentation, and generated a tsunami of technological change that spread rapidly across multiple domains of productive activity and all around the globe.
> The first recombinant molecule containing DNA from different organisms was assembled late in 1971, in Paul Berg’s laboratory at Stanford. Berg hoped to transduce bacterial and mammalian cells with a recombinant virus in order to study gene expression systems, but subsequently chose not to carry out the planned experiments. He was persuaded by scientific colleagues to consider potential biohazard risks before moving ahead.
> The technology for propagating and expressing recombinant genes was invented by Stanley Cohen and Herbert Boyer in 1973. It enabled the transformation of bacterial cells into living factories for the directed manufacture of select proteins. The technology was immediately recognized as a tool without parallel in genetics research, and was soon applied to practical ends in a wide variety of fields including medicine, pharmaceuticals, agriculture, chemicals, and energy. It has since transformed the world in which we live.
> The history is complicated.
Where oil rigs go to die
> When a drilling platform is scheduled for destruction, it must go on a thousand-mile final journey to the breaker’s yard. As one rig proved when it crashed on to the rocks of a remote Scottish island, this is always a risky business
> The goal of Explanations is to try to allow people to play with fun parts of computers. Graphics, compression, audio. The tagline is my biggest inspiration: “Play, don’t show”, riffing off the typical “Show, don’t tell” rule of writers and authors everywhere. Why bother giving a diagram when I give you an inspector and let you poke at things yourself!
> Previously, this series was known as “Xplain” and was more focused on the X11 window system and protocol, but I’ve been slowly moving towards anything that interests me, and I’m hijacking this project for it since I really like the format and style I’ve developed. The code for every single one of these demos is available in the GitHub repo, and I do try to comment heavily and go into even more depth there! Play with the code! Use it for one of your own projects! It’s all MIT/X11 licensed. I very much appreciate followup questions and any sort of feedback through the links mentioned above.
> You might have noticed that when you ran your mouse over the stipple, your cursor changed. That’s because this isn’t just any old stipple image, that stipple is actually the background of a full X server session running in your browser using HTML5 canvas. All of the interactive demos will use this framework to explain what’s going on under the hood.
Author comment: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21041340
> It’s Not Wrong that “🤦🏼♂️”.length == 7 But It’s Better that “🤦🏼♂️”.len() == 17 and Rather Useless that len(“🤦🏼♂️“) == 5
> The string that contains one graphical unit consists of 5 Unicode scalar values. First, there’s a base character that means a person face palming. By default, the person would have a cartoonish yellow color. The next character is an emoji skintone modifier the changes the color of the person’s skin (and, in practice, also the color of the person’s hair). By default, the gender of the person is undefined, and e.g. Apple defaults to what they consider a male appearance and e.g. Google defaults to what they consider a female appearance. The next two scalar values pick a male-typical appearance specifically regardless of font and vendor. Instead of being an emoji-specific modifier like the skin tone, the gender specification uses an emoji-predating gender symbol (MALE SIGN) explicitly ligated using the ZERO WIDTH JOINER with the (skin-toned) face-palming person. (Whether it is a good or a bad idea that the skin tone and gender specifications use different mechanisms is out of the scope of this post.) Finally, VARIATION SELECTOR-16 makes it explicit that we want a multicolor emoji rendering instead of a monochrome dingbat rendering.
And then we move on from there, in quite some depth.
The Commuting Principle That Shaped Urban History
> In 1994, Cesare Marchetti, an Italian physicist, described an idea that has come to be known as the Marchetti Constant. In general, he declared, people have always been willing to commute for about a half-hour, one way, from their homes each day. This principle has profound implications for urban life. The value of land is governed by its accessibility—which is to say, by the reasonable speed of transport to reach it.
> But the endurance of the Marchetti Constant has profound implications for urban life. It means that the average speed of our transportation technologies does more than anything to shape the physical structure of our cities. To see how, let’s travel back in time by more than 2,000 years, and move towards the present.
Understanding modern UEFI-based platform boot
> To many, the (UEFI-based) boot process is like voodoo; interesting in that it’s something that most of us use extensively but is - in a technical-understanding sense - generally avoided by all but those that work in this space. In this article, I hope to present a technical overview of how modern PCs boot using UEFI (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface).
Quite the overview.
Rashomon of disclosure
> In a world of changing technology, there are few constants - but if there is one constant in security, it is the rhythmic flare-up of discussions about disclosure on the social-media-du-jour (mailing lists in the past, now mostly Twitter and Facebook).
> In this blog post, I would like to highlight a few aspects of the discussion that are important to me personally - aspects which influenced my thinking, and which are underappreciated in my view.
Spacewar - Fanatic Life and Symbolic Death Among the Computer Bums
> 7 December 1972
An account of the first computer game tournament.
> The trend owes its health to an odd array of influences: The youthful fervor and firm dis-Establishmentarianism of the freaks who design computer science; an astonishingly enlightened research program from the very top of the Defense Department; an unexpected market-Banking movement by the manufacturers of small calculating machines, and an irrepressible midnight phenomenon known as Spacewar.
> Reliably, at any nighttime moment (i.e. non-business hours) in North America hundreds of computer technicians are effectively out of their bodies, locked in life-or-death space combat computer-projected onto cathode ray tube display screens, for hours at a time, ruining their eyes, numbing their fingers in frenzied mashing of control buttons, joyously slaying their friend and wasting their employers’ valuable computer time. Something basic is going on.
Plus the beginnings of Xerox PARC.
> “You get just a few more agates in that group and you’ll have all the marbles.”
> The chief marble collector is - well, well - Bob Taylor. When he left the newly restricted ARPA he spent a year at Utah decompressing from the Pentagon and then went to Xerox and there continued his practice of finding and rewarding good men for doing pretty much whatever they considered important work. Freedom to explore in the company of talent is an irresistible lure. In two years Xerox had twenty of the best men around working. Toward what? Well, whatever.
A followup from 2016: https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-news/stewart-brand-recalls-first-spacewar-video-game-tournament-187669/
The Stranding of the MV Shokalskiy
> Mawson’s experience distills the Victorian age of Antarctic exploration to its essence, combining an unbelievable personal fortitude with the overall pointlessness of the endeavor. Even by Antarctic standards, George V Land was unexciting. The best thing you can say about it today is that sometimes a meteorite lands there.
> But Mawson left behind a hut, and by the iron laws of Antarctic nostalgia that apply to any human structure below the 70th parallel, that hut is now an object of veneration, and must be visited.
> In 2011, the Australian climate scientist Chris Turney heard the call of the Antarctic. As readers of this blog know, that can be an expensive call to hear. But the approaching centenary of Mawson’s expedition gave Turney a unique fundraising hook.
And then things went a bit sideways.
Living with a starchitect’s early work
> Young, ambitious architects are known for cost overruns, impractical layouts — and the occasional work of genius
A catalog of complaints, and some advice:
> Le Corbusier, never the most self-deprecating of architects, returned to the site and, looking around, is reported to have said: “You know, it is always life that is right and the architect who is wrong.” That was not an admission of error: Le Corbusier meant that his designs were able to accommodate change.
On colonialism, imperialism, and ignoring medieval history
> We have a lot of fun, don’t we, when we talk about how people argue that the medieval period was the Dark Ages based on the fact that the feel some type of way about it? Now, can I call people who think this ridiculously incredulous and basic? Yes. And I do. Thanks for asking. Having said that, the general ignorance of the medieval period is not from nothing.
I feel like every mention of the dark ages comes with the disclaimer that they weren’t that dark so I’m not sure how widespread the misperception still is. But there’s also some neat historical facts here.
> This ended up completely changing fashion in England. Anne is the girl who introduced those sweet horned headdresses you think of when you think of medieval ladies, riding side-saddle, and the word “coach” to England, (from the Hungairan Kocs, where the cart she arrived at court the first time came from). Sweetening her transition to English life was the fact that she didn’t have to pay a dowry to get married. Instead, the English were allowed to trade freely with Bohemia and the Holy Roman Empire and allowed to be around a Czech lady. That was reward enough as far as the Empire was concerned. That’s how much England was not a thing.
> Transparency may not seem particularly exciting. The GIF image format which allowed some pixels to show through the background was published over 30 years ago. Almost every graphic design application released in the last two decades has supported the creation of semi-transparent content. The novelty of these concepts is long gone.
> With this article I’m hoping to show you that transparency in digital imaging is actually much more interesting than it seems – there is a lot of invisible depth and beauty in something that we often take for granted.
Models of Generics and Metaprogramming: Go, Rust, Swift, D and More
> In some domains of programming it’s common to want to write a data structure or algorithm that can work with elements of many different types, such as a generic list or a sorting algorithm that only needs a comparison function. Different programming languages have come up with all sorts of solutions to this problem: From just pointing people to existing general features that can be useful for the purpose (e.g C, Go) to generics systems so powerful they become Turing-complete (e.g. Rust, C++). In this post I’m going to take you on a tour of the generics systems in many different languages and how they are implemented. I’ll start from how languages without a special generics system like C solve the problem and then I’ll show how gradually adding extensions in different directions leads to the systems found in other languages.
Reach for the Moon: Four Lives, the Space Race and a Chaotic Decade
> Alan Contessa (left) worked on the lunar module. Frances ‘Poppy’ Northcutt was a ‘computress’ for TRW Systems. Morgan Watson was a NASA engineer, John Wolfram (right) a Navy SEAL.
> Over the next eight years, success depended upon people like Morgan Watson, a black man from the segregated schoolhouses of rural Louisiana; Frances “Poppy” Northcutt, a high-school valedictorian and onetime beauty contestant from the Texas oil patch; Alan Contessa, a working-class kid from New York City’s outer boroughs; and John Wolfram, a rebel with a patriotic streak from the Wisconsin countryside.
Why did we wait so long for the bicycle?
> The bicycle, as we know it today, was not invented until the late 1800s. Yet it was a simple mechanical invention. It would seem to require no brilliant inventive insight, and certainly no scientific background.
Well, not exactly.