What it was like to fly the baddest airplane the world has ever known
> The X-15 was not the first rocket-powered aircraft, but it is probably the best one ever built and flown. Before the first X-15 took flight in the late 1950s, the fastest speed airplanes had reached was Mach 3. The X-15 doubled that. And, remarkably, it also went on to fly into space more than a dozen times.
The Internet's Old Guard
> So we gathered around a circle of old timers and listened to them reminisce. The man who’d called the gathering guided the conversation. It slowly dawned on me that he was Lee Felsenstein, who’d set up the first public-access computer in Berkeley and helped start the Homebrew Computer Club, which incubated Apple and the personal computer. He was managing this conversation with the skills he’d learned from moderating the HCC meetings for years. I’d read about his story in Steven Levy’s book Hackers. Sometimes you’re reminded that history isn’t something that happened elsewhere, it’s an ongoing story we’re still living in.
Plus some other characters.
Moxie Marlinspike on encryption bans
> Host Molly Wood spoke with Moxie Marlinspike, founder and CEO of the private chat app Signal Messenger, about what a ban on encryption — or giving law enforcement a back door to messages — might mean. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.
Interview with Bill Joy
> The following interview is taken from the August 1984 issue of Unix Review magazine.
A lot of text editor history here, featuring of course, vi.
> I think it killed the performance on a lot of the systems in the Labs for years because everyone had their own copy of it, but it wasn’t being shared, and so they wasted huge amounts of memory back when memory was expensive. With 92 people in the Labs maintaining vi independently, I think they ultimately wasted incredible amounts of money. I was surprised about vi going in, though, I didn’t know it was in System V. I learned about it being in System V quite a while after it had come out.
Plus some commentary on other topics.
> The point is that you want to have a system that is responsive. You don’t want a car that talks to you. I’ll never buy a car that says, “Good morning.” The neat thing about UNIX is that it is very responsive. You just say, “A pipe to B” - it doesn’t blather at you that “execution begins,” or “execution terminated, IEFBR14.”
> The trouble is that UNIX is not accessible, not transparent in the way that Interleaf is, where you sit down and start poking around in the menu and explore the whole system. Someone I know sat down with a Macintosh and a Lisa and was disappointed because, in a half hour, he explored the whole system and there wasn’t as much as he thought. That’s true, but the point is in half an hour, almost without a manual you can know which button to push and you can find nearly everything. Things don’t get lost. I think that’s the key.
The Resulting Fallacy Is Ruining Your Decisions
> In it, Duke parlays her experience with cards into general lessons about decision making that are relevant for all of us. If a well-reasoned decision leads to a negative outcome, was it the wrong decision? How do we distinguish between luck and skill? And how do we move beyond our cognitive biases?
The Model Estonian Soldier Who Spied for Russia
> I spoke to Metsavas under the auspices of KAPO, which gave The Atlantic virtually unrestricted access to him, but not to his friends or family. Notably, I was not allowed to speak with his wife, his mother, or his father, the last of whom played an integral role in his son’s ordeal. The rules of engagement were simple: I could ask my subject anything I liked, but he had been instructed beforehand not to divulge information that might compromise KAPO’s counterintelligence investigation, particularly any details that would telegraph to the Russians what the Estonians knew about their tradecraft and the secrets they had stolen. “They don’t deserve it,” Toots said.
> For KAPO, the interview was an opportunity to publicize its already legendary reputation of catching Russian spies. For me, it was an unmissable chance to speak to a contemporary spy and raise the curtain on the inner workings of a Russian intelligence agency whose century-long history of skulduggery—from election tampering to dirty wars, from attempted coups to assassination plots—shows no sign of abating. And for Metsavas, it was a chance to atone for his high crimes against his country, his comrades in the army, his friends and family. I believe he had little apparent incentive to lie: Everything he said would be within earshot of at least one KAPO case officer, tasked with ensuring that he didn’t speak out of turn, or embellish or misrepresent his autobiography. I got the impression that Metsavas, as much as the men who had unmasked him, took such matters earnestly. In general, there was a strange camaraderie between Metsavas and the KAPO case officers who flitted in and out of the interrogation room as our interview wore on. All interacted with him not as an enemy of the state, but as an old acquaintance, with an intimacy born of close proximity and repetition. I asked Metsavas whether he felt compelled in any way to talk to me. He said he didn’t and insisted that this whole thing was his idea in the first place. I eventually saw why.
Privacy Rights and Data Collection in a Digital Economy (Senate hearing)
> As someone who earns his living through data collection, I am acutely aware of the power the tools we are building give us over our fellow citizens’ private lives, and the danger they pose to our liberty. I am grateful to Chairman Crapo, ranking member Brown, and the committee for the opportunity to testify on this vital matter.
Emily Wilson on Translations and Language
> In a recent Twitter thread, Emily Wilson listed some of the difficulties of translating Homer into English. Among them: “There aren’t enough onomatopoeic words for very loud chaotic noises” (#2 on the list), “It’s very hard to come up with enough ways to describe intense desire to act that don’t connote modern psychology” (#5), and “There is no common English word of four syllables or fewer connoting ‘person particularly favored by Zeus due to high social status, and by the way this is a very normal ordinary word which is not drawing any special attention to itself whatsoever, beyond generic heroizing.’” (#7).
> Using Twitter this way is part of her effort to explain literary translation. What do translators do all day? Why can the same sentence turn out so differently depending on the translator? Why did she get stuck translating the Iliad immediately after producing a beloved translation of the Odyssey?
> She and Tyler discuss these questions and more, including why Silicon Valley loves Stoicism, whether Plato made Socrates sound smarter than he was, the future of classics education, the effect of AI on translation, how to make academia more friendly to women, whether she’d choose to ‘overlive’, and the importance of having a big Ikea desk and a huge orange cat.
To make 1997’s Blade Runner, Westwood first had to create the universe
> Castle’s team faced a considerable number of challenges in bringing the cinematic world of Blade Runner to life using the technologies of the day, most of which stemmed from having to invent, from whole cloth, a way to seamlessly mesh their pre-rendered world with animated voxel characters (it turned out to be vastly more complicated than simply sticking a sprite in front of the background). Tackling this issue introduced an entire interconnected tapestry of difficult problems to solve, very few of which are faced by modern developers who can pick from ready-made game engines to license and use.
An artist on creating the retro art for a new edition of Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers
> The Folio Society is responsible for a number of beautiful editions of classic works of science fiction. Earlier this fall, it began offering another fan-favorite edition: Robert L. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers.
> In addition to the additional commentary, the Folio Society commissions original art for each book, beautiful illustrations that complement the scenes are you read them. The Verge spoke with artist Hickman about his approach to illustrating Heinlein’s classic novel.
Eric Schmidt on the Life-Changing Magic of Systematizing, Scaling, and Saying “Thanks”
> Tyler questioned Schmidt about underused management strategies, what Google learned after interviewing one job candidate sixteen times, his opinion on early vs. late Picasso, the best reform in corporate governance, why we might see a bifurcation of the Internet, what technology will explode in the the next 10 years, the most underrated media source, and more.
> Well, turns out there were a few extra credit cards in the company floating around, and random things were showing up. This is how I ran things. But it’s important not to go to the person who bought the telephone booth and say, “You’re fired.” The important thing to do is take their credit card away.
> As a general rule, I try to blame the Internet for everything because everyone else does, and I think some of this is true and some of it’s false. That was a joke by the way. And you can’t joke anymore in the age of Twitter.
An Oral History of ‘GoldenEye 007’ on the N64
> Slapping, Klobbs, speedrunning, cheating Oddjobs and more: Everything you ever wanted to know about the creation of the iconic, game-changing FPS
> Why is it taking so long for Detroit to figure out how to make a car as good as the Japanese? Well, there’s some very interesting answers to that question, and all of them can be found right here-- at a car plant in Fremont, California, called NUMMI. NUMMI stands for New United Motor Manufacturing Incorporated.
Describing previous GM plants:
> All those mistakes added up at a GM plant, and the results were littered around the lots outside-- hundreds of misassembled cars. Cars that came off the line missing parts. Cars that needed to be fixed before they could be shipped out to the dealers. In a Toyota plant, there was nothing like this. Why did a GM plant produce so many screwed up cars? One cardinal rule that everybody in the company knew.
> The line could never stop. Never stop the line.
> Because the theory was, they’ll stop it all the time. They don’t want to work, you know, they want to sit and play cards or whatever. You know, that was a free break for them, if the line stops, so you wouldn’t give them the ability to stop the line.
> What got me was the fact that they had a cross bolt, and they stopped the line to repair it. Ream the hole, put the bolt back in, instead of sending it on and putting all the other junk on top of it, so you have to take it off and repair it. And whoever puts it back isn’t skilled in putting trim back, so they’re going to mess that up.
> That impressed me. Said, gee, that makes sense, fix it now so you don’t have to go through all this stuff.
Vitalik Buterin on Cryptoeconomics and Markets in Everything
> At the intersection of programming, economics, cryptography, distributed systems, information theory, and math, you will find Vitalik Buterin, who has managed to synthesize insights across those fields into successful, real-world applications like Ethereum, which aims to decentralize the Internet.
> Tyler sat down with Vitalik to discuss the many things he’s thinking about and working on, including the nascent field of cryptoeconomics, the best analogy for understanding the blockchain, his desire for more social science fiction, why belief in progress is our most useful delusion, best places to visit in time and space, how he picks up languages, why centralization’s not all bad, the best ways to value crypto assets, whether P = NP, and much more.
Hop Sing Laundromat Owner: No Fan of Bad Tippers, Cheesesteaks or (Ugh) “Mixologists”
> The man known simply as Lê has a lot of f-ing things to say in this f-ing interview.
The Last Days of Time Inc.
> We reached out to more than two dozen editors and writers who worked at Time Inc., asking them to reflect on the heyday of this former epicenter of power and influence, as well as its decline. These interviews have been condensed and edited.
An Oral History of the L0pht
A sweeping new bill targets California’s housing crisis
> As long as supply is artificially constrained and demand continues growing, affordable housing subsidies will never be able to keep up. As long as localities can’t or won’t build dense housing near train stations and bus stops, transit investments won’t pay off like they could.
I Love My Job: Wanamaker Organ Master Peter Conte
> Here, an interview with principal organist Peter Conte, who has been playing the iconic instrument there for 30 years.
Andy Weir on the Economics of Sci-Fi and Space
> In addition to these important questions of lunar economics, Andy and Tyler talk about the technophobic trend in science fiction, private space efforts, seasteading, cryptocurrencies, the value of a human life, the outdated Outer Space Treaty, stories based on rebellion vs. cooperation, Heinlein, Asimov, Weir’s favorite episode of Star Trek, and the formula for finding someone else when stranded on a lonely planet.