EASYCHAIR - CIA covert listening devices
> EASYCHAIR – also written as Easy Chair or EC – was the codename of a super secret research project, initiated by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), aiming to develop covert listening devices (bugs) based on the principle of the Resonant Cavity Microphone – also known as The Great Seal Bug or The Thing – that had been found in 1952 in the study of the US ambassador’s residency in Moscow, hidden in a donated wooden carving of the Great Seal of the United States.
> Upon discovery of The Thing, many US agencies – including the CIA – investigated the possibility of using the new – hitherto unknown – technology to its own advantage. The secret research took place in the Netherlands at the Dutch Radar Laboratory (NRP) in Noordwijk.
Work Is Work
> Every time I’ve written or spoken about organizational design, I’ve regretted it. There’s something about staking out a position on it which manages to prove me wrong a few years later. But I’ve been having some long thinks about it again, and here’s what I’ve got. Strap the fuck in.
Little Bay Islands relocation
> The strains on Little Bay Islands — emigration, resource collapse, aging populations — are familiar to small towns around the world. Local leaders have tried to revive dying villages with offers of $1 homes or promises to pay would-be residents to move in. Newfoundland and Labrador takes a different approach: It pays you to leave.
Towards a unified theory of reactive UI
> In trying to figure out the best reactive structure for druid, as well as how to communicate that to the world, I’ve been studying a wide range of reactive UI systems. I’ve found an incredible diversity, even though they have fairly consistent goals. This post is an attempt to find common patterns, to characterize the design space as a whole. It will be rough, at some points almost a stream of consciousness. If I had the time and energy, I think it could be expanded into an academic paper. But, for now, perhaps these rough thoughts are interesting to some people working in the space.
Zombie Miles And Napa Weekends: How A Week With Chauffeurs Showed The Major Flaw In Our Self-Driving Car Future
> A few years ago, Mustapha Harb realized there was a problem in his field of research about how autonomous cars will change the way people travel. The solution to the problem he settled on was as simple as it was revealing.
> Using 13 volunteers (a very small sample size due to budgetary constraints) from the San Francisco Bay Area who owned cars, Harb and his team studied their travel patterns using GPS trackers on their cars and phones for one week, then gave them a chauffeur for a week who would drive the participants’ personal vehicles for them. Finally, the researchers observed the subjects for a final week to look for any changes returning to their chauffeur-less life.
The Unrepeatable Architectural Moment of Yugoslavia’s “Concrete Utopia”
> Monument to the Uprising of the People of Kordun and Banija, in Petrova Gora, Croatia. Abstract, boldly expressive memorials once dotted the Yugoslavian countryside by the thousands.
A sport of their own
> A high school wrestler from Kansas spent four years fighting to give girls the opportunity to compete in an official state sport.
The 3 A.M. Phone Call
> It went to a national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was awakened on 9 November 1979, to be told that the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), the combined U.S.–Canada military command–was reporting a Soviet missile attack. Just before Brzezinski was about to call President Carter, the NORAD warning turned out to be a false alarm. It was one of those moments in Cold War history when top officials believed they were facing the ultimate threat. The apparent cause? The routine testing of an overworked computer system.
Inside the Phone Company Secretly Run By Drug Traffickers
> All over the world, in Dutch clubs like the one Kok frequented, or Australian biker hangouts and Mexican drug safe houses, there is an underground trade of custom-engineered phones. These phones typically run software for sending encrypted emails or messages, and use their own server infrastructure for routing communications.
> For MPC, the process of setting up the devices was relatively simple: MPC would take a Google Nexus 5 or Nexus 5X Android phone, and then add its own security features and operating system, according to social media posts from MPC and a source with knowledge of the process. MPC then created the customer’s messaging accounts, added a data-only SIM card (which MPC paid about £20 a month for), and then sold the phone to the customer at £1,200. Six-month renewals cost £700, the source added. MPC only sold around 5,000 phones, the source said, but that still indicates the business netted the company some £6 million. At one point, a version of MPC’s phones also used code from an open-source, security-focused Android fork called CopperheadOS, three sources said.
How these American dishes evolved from foreign roots
> Gumbo. Chile con queso. California roll. Spaghetti and meatballs.
> The names are as familiar as household brands. Yet how much do you know about these dishes? Based on the names alone, with their roots in other languages and other cultures, each dish sounds like an import. In some ways, they are. But each dish also morphed and adapted to its new environment, transforming into something uniquely American.
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.