November 12, 2015
[tech] The Room Where the Internet Was Born … A visit to the place where the first messages over the internet were sent from … ‘In a strikingly accurate replica of the original IMP log (crafted by UCLA’s Fowler Museum of Cultural History) on one of the room’s period desks is a note taken at 10:30 p.m., 29 October, 1969—“talked to SRI, host to host.” In the note, there is no sense of wonder at this event—which marks the first message sent across the ARPANET, and the primary reason the room is now deemed hallowed ground.’
November 3, 2015
[tech] A Spreadsheet Way of Knowledge … a fascinating historical article from the early days of Spreadsheets by Steven Levy‘The computer spreadsheet, like the transcontinental railroad, is more than a means to an end. The spreadsheet embodies, embraces, that end, and ultimately serves to reinforce it. As Marshall McLuhan observed, “We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.” The spreadsheet is a tool, and it is also a world view — reality by the numbers. If the perceptions of those who play a large part in shaping our world are shaped by spreadsheets, it is important that all of us understand what this tool can and cannot do.’
September 2, 2015
[iphone] Every iOS Setting You Should Check When You Get a New Phone … How to turn off the Connect social network: ‘Apple introduced a new social network in the Music app called Connect. It’s stupid, and if you don’t plan on using it, it just takes up space. You can get rid of it, but it requires a few steps. Tap on Settings > General > Restrictions and set restrictions to on. Then scroll down to Apple Music Connect and set the toggle to off. Once you’ve done that, the Connect icon in Music gets swapped out with an icon for playlists.’
July 25, 2015
[web] Google Photos and the unguessable URL … a look at how the “Open URLs” in Google Photos work … ‘Why is that public URL more secure than it looks? The short answer is that the URL is working as a password. Photos URLs are typically around 40 characters long, so if you wanted to scan all the possible combinations, you’d have to work through 10^70 different combinations to get the right one, a problem on an astronomical scale. “There are enough combinations that it’s considered unguessable,” says Aravind Krishnaswamy, an engineering lead on Google Photos. “It’s much harder to guess than your password.” Because web traffic for Photos is encrypted with SSL, it’s also kept secret from anyone on the network who might be listening in.’
July 24, 2015
[google] A Fortnight With Google Photos. … Paul Mison reviews Google Photos‘It took a while, because I have something like a terabyte of photos going back over twelve years, but now I’ve uploaded them all, I can access them on every device. I know there are other services that promise to do that, but Google’s was free even for such a large library (at the cost of resizing some of the images down and converting RAW to JPG). Unlike Apple Photos, the library is available via native apps on Android devices as well as iOS ones, and perhaps unsurprisingly the web version works well too.’
July 16, 2015
[apple] The Anxious Ease of Apple Music… a look at Apple and the unease around new technology and music … ‘We never cease to be mesmerized by the vessel in which music is contained, whether it’s the piano, the phonograph, the MP3, or the Cloud. We think that machines are saving music or destroying it. Their impact is undoubtedly profound, but we seldom see the complexity of the transformation amid the hysteria of surface change. At the same time, the anxiety around music and technology is deep-seated, however excessive it may seem a century or two down the road. It is rooted in the elemental fear of life slipping away in half-experienced moments.’
June 14, 2015
[web] A Complete Taxonomy of Internet Chum … some analysis of those grids of advertisements you see on web pages… ‘Like everything else on the internet, traffic flowing through chumboxes must be tracked in order for everyone to be paid. Each box in the grid’s performance can be tracked both individually and in context of its neighbors. This allows them to be highly optimized; some chum is clearly better than others. As a byproduct of this optimization, an aesthetic has arisen. An effective chumbox clearly plays on reflex and the subconscious. The chumbox aesthetic broadcasts our most basic, libidinal, electrical desires back at us. And gets us to click. Clicking on a chumlink—even one on the site of a relatively high-class chummer, like—is a guaranteed way to find more, weirder, grosser chum. The boxes are daisy-chained together in an increasingly cynical, gross funnel; quickly, the open ocean becomes a sewer of chum.’
June 11, 2015
[music] How the compact disc lost its shine … A look at the rise and fall of the CD … ‘The CD was introduced to the British public in a 1981 episode of the BBC’s Tomorrow’s World, in which Kieran Prendeville mauled a test disc of the Bee Gees’ Living Eyes to demonstrate the format’s alleged indestructibility. It caught the public imagination, but Immink found the claim puzzling and embarrassing because it was clearly untrue. “We should not put emphasis on the fact it will last for ever because it will not last for ever,” he says. “We should put emphasis on the quality of sound and ease of handling.” (Paul McCartney recently recalled the first time George Martin showed him a CD. “George said, ‘This will change the world.’ He told us it was indestructible, you can’t smash it. Look! And – whack – it broke in half.”)’
June 1, 2015
[tech] Someone Tried to Mine Bitcoin on a 1960s Punchcard Computer … Unsurprisingly, retro-computing and Bitcoins don’t mix … ‘He wrote out code for running the algorithm on 85 executable assembly punch cards, put the cards into the computer (manually), and fired her up. It started solving an old hash from a successfully mined block of Bitcoin—very, very slowly. “To mine a block at current difficulty, the IBM 1401 would take about 5×10^14 years (about 40,000 times the current age of the universe). The electricity would cost about 10^18 dollars. And you’d get 25 bitcoins worth about $6000,” he wrote.’
May 24, 2015
[tech] Executor 2.0 for MS-DOS … Check out this Mac Emulator running on MS-DOS within a Javascript Emulator.
May 22, 2015
[wikipedia] Death means a lot of bureaucracy on Wikipedia‘When someone dies, on their Wikipedia article a diligent editor is supposed to update the following things…’
May 8, 2015
[tech] Conversation With a Tech Support Scammer … fascinating transcripts of how a tech support scam happens … ‘“Take a look down here. See where it says processes?” he prompted. “That’s the problem. That’s why you’re getting the message popping-up. You see right here at the bottom?” “46 processes? So that’s 6 more than normal?” I asked. “Yes, right. What this means is, your computer is doing 46 different things at the moment,” he explained.’
May 2, 2015
[web] Inventing Favicon.ico… the story of how the Favicon was created at Microsoft … ‘I still remember telling my friend Michael Radwin at Yahoo about favicon.ico. He was looking at Yapache logs for fun as he does, and he had noticed an unusual spike in HTTP requests for He said, what the hell is favicon.ico? And I explained it to him. He was so excited that he slammed a favicon.ico onto the server, which might have been one of the first official favicons in existence.’
April 22, 2015
[google] What does Google need on mobile? … a look at Google’s mobile strategy from Benedict Evans… ‘Google has gone from a world of almost perfect clarity – a text search box, a web-link index, a middle-class family’s home – to one of perfect complexity – every possible kind of user, device, access and data type. It’s gone from a firehose to a rain storm. But on the other hand, no-one knows water like Google. No-one else has the same lead in building understanding of how to deal with this. Hence, I think, one should think of every app, service, drive and platform from Google not so much as channels that might conflict but as varying end-points to a unified underlying strategy, which one might characterize as ‘know a lot about how to know a lot’.’
April 2, 2015
[mac] Plugging a 1986 Mac Plus into the modern Web … It’s surprisingly difficult to plug a vintage computer into the modern web … ‘So, with the Raspberry Pi, MacTCP, and MacWeb all in place, it was time to surf the Web! Right? Right?! No. No surfing yet. The MacWeb developers apparently took a look at the HTTP 1.0 spec, decided, “Who would ever need name-based virtual hosting?” and left out the feature that 99 percent of the sites on the modern Web relied on. No support for virtual hostnames meant you got whatever you saw when you used the server’s IP address alone in the HTTP request, and for most sites, that was jack squat. Oh, and HTTPS, cookies, and CSS hadn’t been invented yet. AAARGH!!!’
March 14, 2015
[email] Emkei’s Instant Mailer … When you absolutely have to send fake email from a tooth fairy I recommend Emkei’s Instant Mailer. Accept no substitutes.
March 8, 2015
[tech] This guy’s light bulb performed a DoS attack on his entire smart house … the downside to smart-houses: more technology in your life means more tech support problems … ‘He realized that his light fixture had burned out, and was trying to tell the hub that it needed attention. To do so, it was sending continuous requests that had overloaded the network and caused it to freeze. “It was a classic denial of service attack,” says Rojas. The light was performing a DoS attack on the smart home to say, ‘Change me.’” Rojas changed the bulb, which fixed the problem.’
March 1, 2015
[tech] How To: Some Basic (And Not-So-Basic) Photo Management … a useful guide to dealing with a large messy collection of digital photos … ‘I recently consolidated and organized my photo library. At the start of the project, I had 13,000 photos dispersed between a number of locations: DVDs, an external drive, an android phone (and Google plus/android instant backup), a Macbook Air, a Windows desktop’s hard drive, another internal hard drive, and Dropbox. It was what anyone would call a “cluster.” Also, it was more than a little daunting since photos were duplicated across several locations with various names, states of Exif data (present, corrupted, or not present). This is the evolving story of how I got it together…’
February 21, 2015
[tech] How “omnipotent” hackers tied to NSA hid for 14 years—and were found at last … a fascinating look at the NSA’s collection of malware … ‘Beyond the technical similarities to the Stuxnet and Flame developers, Equation Group boasted the type of extraordinary engineering skill people have come to expect from a spy organization sponsored by the world’s wealthiest nation. One of the Equation Group’s malware platforms, for instance, rewrote the hard-drive firmware of infected computers—a never-before-seen engineering marvel that worked on 12 drive categories from manufacturers including Western Digital, Maxtor, Samsung, IBM, Micron, Toshiba, and Seagate. The malicious firmware created a secret storage vault that survived military-grade disk wiping and reformatting, making sensitive data stolen from victims available even after reformatting the drive and reinstalling the operating system. The firmware also provided programming interfaces that other code in Equation Group’s sprawling malware library could access. Once a hard drive was compromised, the infection was impossible to detect or remove.’
February 12, 2015
[tech] $10,000 Ethernet cable promises BONKERS MP3 audio experience … does anybody actually believe this audiophile nonsense?‘Pay close attention to how you plug in the “ultra-performance RJ45 connector made from silver”, because these are directional Ethernet cables (apparently in ignorance that in the digital sphere, frames travel both way on the cables).’
January 28, 2015
[games] The Untold Story Of The Invention Of The Game Cartridge … the little-known history of an huge innovation in video gaming technology …

Inserting and removing socketed electronic assemblies had, until then, been an activity reserved for trained technicians, engineers, and military personnel. Taking a sensitive circuit board and putting it into the hands of a consumer—who might be prone to stepping on it, dunking it in the toilet, or leaving it baking in the sun—posed a considerable design challenge. Obviously, the board needed a protective shell of some kind.

Talesfore zeroed in immediately on the familiar form of the 8-track tape cartridge, an audio recording format which gained significant traction in the 1970s through its use in car audio systems. Relatively rugged, easy to insert and remove with one hand, and vibration-resistant, the 8-track tape proliferated where the comparatively delicate vinyl record feared to tread. He chose a shape and size for his new game cartridge enclosure that closely matched the 8-track tape standard. Then he added ribbing around the edges for improved grip, and selected a bright yellow plastic color to make a statement. Cartridges were the true star of the show, he figured, so they deserved to stand out.

January 3, 2015
[fails] 11 Spectacular 3D Printer Failures‘Just because you have a 3D printer doesn’t mean you’re going to make anything remarkable. It doesn’t even mean you’re going to wind up with what you set out to produce. Believe it or not, 3D printing requires some skill. And when you don’t have it, things go delightfully askew.’
December 2, 2014
[religion] God’s Lonely Programmer … fascinating story of a man who has crafted his own computer operating system inspired by God‘ The words pour out on, a torrent of verified random numbers, news links, YouTube videos, and scriptural exegesis. It’s the dense work of a single, restless mind writing ceaselessly without an audience. After two months of emails and phone conversations, I know more than when I began; specifically, I’ve accumulated more raw data, more facts about his life and experience. But I suspect I’ve only sketched a shadow. The full reality remains unreachable, an irreducible mystery.’
November 27, 2014
[war] A new report shows nuclear weapons almost detonated in North Carolina in 1961 … Eric Schlosser discusses various nuclear weapon accidents …

The Goldsboro bomb that almost detonated was known as Weapon No. 1. As the plane was spinning and breaking apart, the centrifugal forces pulled a lanyard in the cockpit–and that lanyard was what a crew member would manually pull during wartime to release the bomb. This hydrogen bomb was a machine, a dumb object. It had no idea whether the lanyard was being pulled by a person or by a centrifugal force. Once the lanyard was pulled, the weapon just behaved like it was designed to.

The bomb went through all of its arming steps except for one, and a single switch prevented a full-scale nuclear detonation. That type of switch was later found to be defective. It had failed in dozens of other cases, allowing weapons to be inadvertently armed. And that safety switch could have very easily been circumvented by stray electricity in the B-52 as it was breaking apart. As Secretary of Defense McNamara said, “By the slightest margin of chance, literally the failure of two wires to cross, a nuclear explosion was averted.” That’s literally correct, a short circuit could’ve fully armed the bomb.

November 1, 2014
[tech] 100 Technical Things Non-Technical People Can Learn To Make Their Lives Easier‘PDFs are Portable Documents. They are made by Adobe and work pretty much everywhere. This is a good format for Resumes. You can often Save As your document and create a PDF. Also, note that PDFs are almost always considered read-only. Word has doc files and newer docx files. When working with a group, select a format that is common to everyone’s version of Word. Some folks may have old versions!’
October 19, 2014
[tech] The Internet Is Losing Interest in Computers … Alexis Madrigal analyses some stats from Google Trends and wonders if the internet is losing interest in technology… ‘So what’s really going on here? I have a couple thoughts: One, heavy users of technology used to have to search for ways to find software, to make software work, and the like. Now, especially on mobile platforms, the software is simpler and pretty much does what it’s supposed to. All the searches to discover software are happening in the App Store, and less troubleshooting in now required. One small bit of evidence for this theory is that searches for “Games” have declined. It’s not that people are playing less games, they’re just not looking to Google to find them.’
October 18, 2014
[ios] Schrödinger’s Shift Key … a look at why the shift key in iOS 7.1 and 8 is an appalling piece of design … ‘Since 7.1, this confusing shift key has been the subject of instructional articles, mockery, and even an entire web site: A whole OS release later, many of us boneheads still find ourselves wrestling an inscrutable toggle, trying to somehow, somehow type a lower-case letter.’
October 12, 2014
[www] The Secret History of Hypertext … interesting look at some pre-computer visions of the World Wide Web … ‘Paul Otlet, a Belgian bibliographer and entrepreneur who, in 1934, laid out a plan for a global network of “electric telescopes” that would allow anyone in the world to access to a vast library of books, articles, photographs, audio recordings, and films. Like Bush, Otlet explored the possibilities of storing data on microfilm and making it searchable, with a web of documents connected via a sophisticated linking system. Otlet also wrote about wireless networks, speech recognition, and social network-like features that would allow individuals to “participate, applaud, give ovations, sing in the chorus.” He even described a mechanism for transmitting taste and smell.’
October 2, 2014
[tech] Londoners Give Up Eldest Children In Public Wi-Fi Security Horror Show … seems like a reasonable deal to me! … ‘The experiment, which was backed by European law enforcement agency Europol, involved a group of security researchers setting up a Wi-Fi hotspot in June. When people connected to the hotspot, the terms and conditions they were asked to sign up to included a “Herod clause” promising free Wi-Fi but only if “the recipient agreed to assign their first born child to us for the duration of eternity”. Six people signed up.’
September 21, 2014
[tech] These Two Guys Tried to Rebuild a Cray Supercomputer … recreating a 1976 supercomputer as a small computer using modern hardware … ‘The thing that turned out to be tricky, actually, was the software. No one had preserved a copy of the Cray operating system. Not the Computer History Museum. Not the U.S. government. It was just gone. Fenton searched high and low, eventually finding an old disc pack that contained a later version of the Cray OS…’
September 8, 2014
[tech] Who wrote the text for the Ctrl+Alt+Del dialog in Windows 3.1? … another interesting titbit of Windows history from Raymond Chen.
September 4, 2014
[loremipsum] Lorem Ipsum: Of Good & Evil, Google & China … the strange story of finding hidden messages in Google Translate with Lorem Ipsum filler text as input … ‘It all started a few months back when I received a note from Lance James, head of cyber intelligence at Deloitte. James pinged me to share something discovered by FireEye researcher Michael Shoukry and another researcher who wished to be identified only as “Kraeh3n.” They noticed a bizarre pattern in Google Translate: When one typed “lorem ipsum” into Google Translate, the default results (with the system auto-detecting Latin as the language) returned a single word: “China.” Capitalizing the first letter of each word changed the output to “NATO”…’
August 22, 2014
[funny] A Very Personal Computer … by Boulet.

A Very Personal Computer

August 17, 2014
[tech] Browsing speeds may slow as net hardware bug bites… BBC News on the 512K routing bug … ‘This may come as a surprise to non-specialists who view the internet as a high-tech affair comparable to the bridge of the USS Enterprise of Star Trek fame, in actuality, the internet is more akin to an 18th century Royal Navy frigate, with a lot of running about, climbing, shouting, and tugging on ropes required to maintain the desired course and speed.’
August 2, 2014
[tech] Why does Outlook map Ctrl+F to Forward instead of Find, like all right-thinking programs?‘And then a bug report came in from a beta tester who wanted Ctrl+F to forward rather than find, because he had become accustomed to that keyboard shortcut from the email program he used before Exchange. That beta tester was…’
June 22, 2014
[war] America’s Nuclear Arsenal Still Runs Off Floppy Disks‘The control room was not what Stahl—or I—expected: There’s no “big button,” but there are floppy disks. Like the old, big 8-inch floppy disks. Like the kind, […] that are often featured in a computer history museum or found in your attic, beneath old DOS manuals. Like, not even the newer, 3.5-inch model of floppy disk. That’s how they control our nuclear missiles. At 23 years old, the deputy missileer said she had never even seen a floppy disk before finding one that can help wreak untold carnage on planet Earth.’
May 8, 2014
[tech] Wat HiFi? … amusing collection of reviews for high-end HiFI equipment … ‘This [$600] USB cable is simply revelatory in its combination of ease and refinement on one hand, and resolution and transparency on the other. Although capable of resolving the finest detail, Diamond USB has a relaxed quality that fosters deep musical involvement.’
May 7, 2014
[tech] How Steve Wozniak Wrote BASIC for the Original Apple From Scratch‘The problem was that I had no knowledge of BASIC, just a bare memory that it had line numbers from that 3-day high-school experience. So I picked up a BASIC manual late one night at HP and started reading it and making notes about the commands of this language. Mind that I had never taken a course in compiler (or interpreter) writing in my life. But my friend Allen Baum had sent me xerox copies of pages of his texts at MIT about the subject so I could claim that I had an MIT education in it, ha ha. In my second year of college I had sat in a math analysis class trying to teach myself how to start writing a FORTRAN compiler, knowing nothing about the science of compiler writing.’
May 2, 2014
[security] 4 Simple Changes to Stop Online Tracking … some great tips from the Electronic Frontier Foundation … ‘Get Adblock Plus. After it is installed, be sure to change your filter preferences to add EasyPrivacy.’
April 26, 2014
[tech] Previously Unknown Andy Warhol Works Discovered on Floppy Disks from 1985 … another story of digital archeology … ‘It was not known in advance whether any of Warhol’s imagery existed on the floppy disks—nearly all of which were system and application diskettes onto which, the team later discovered, Warhol had saved his own data. Reviewing the disks’ directory listings, the team’s initial excitement on seeing promising filenames like “campbells.pic” and “marilyn1.pic” quickly turned to dismay, when it emerged that the files were stored in a completely unknown file format, unrecognized by any utility. Soon afterwards, however, the Club’s forensics experts had reverse-engineered the unfamiliar format, unveiling 28 never-before-seen digital images that were judged to be in Warhol’s style by the AWM’s experts. At least eleven of these images featured Warhol’s signature.’
April 25, 2014
[tech] The Hackers Who Recovered NASA’s Lost Lunar Photos … a wonderful story of digital archeology …

The photos were stored with remarkably high fidelity on the tapes, but at the time had to be copied from projection screens onto paper, sometimes at sizes so large that warehouses and even old churches were rented out to hang them up. The results were pretty grainy, but clear enough to identify landing sites and potential hazards. After the low-fi printing, the tapes were shoved into boxes and forgotten.

They changed hands several times over the years, almost getting tossed out before landing in storage in Moorpark, California. Several abortive attempts were made to recover data from the tapes, which were well kept, but it wasn’t until 2005 that NASA engineer Keith Cowing and space entrepreneur Dennis Wingo were able to bring the materials and the technical know how together.

When they learned through a Usenet group that former NASA employee Nancy Evans might have both the tapes and the super-rare Ampex FR-900 drives needed to read them, they jumped into action.

March 22, 2014
[tech] Spring Cleaning Who Has Access to Your Social Media Data … useful tips for managing Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn … ‘Just like the spring cleaning rule that says, “If you haven’t worn it in six months, throw it out,” you should use the same edict with your online data: “If you haven’t logged in to an app or site in six months, revoke its access.”’
March 14, 2014
[tech] Good advice from a Fortune Cookie‘You will never get back the years of your life you spent pointlessly rolling your own CMS.’
February 21, 2014
[power] U.K. National Grid status … Statistics about the UK’s electicity supply in near real time … ‘Gridwatch was born, first of all to scrape the data off the BMreports site every 5 minutes and inject it into an SQL database where it would be easy to perform specific searches and do statistical analysis. Then, in a rather retro and humorous way, to display the data in terms of analogue instruments and moving graphs. This is pure personal amusement, I like dials and graphs.’ [via As Above]
January 19, 2014
[web] Have I Been Pwned? … a service that allows you to check if any of your usernames or passwords been compromised in recent website security breaches.
January 13, 2014
[tech] Source Code in TV and Films … an amusing look at where the Source Code displayed in TV and movies is really from … ‘In the film Terminator, the HUD shows a listing of 6502 assembly language which appears to have been taken from an Apple II.’
December 20, 2013
[tech] 11 parental IT support issues you can expect if you go home this Christmas‘No, change the screen resolution back, please. I prefer all my windows to be blurry and weirdly elongated.’
December 9, 2013
[mobiles] The Second Operating System Hiding in Every Mobile Phone … all your worst fears about computer/phone security are true … ‘So, we have a complete operating system, running on an ARM processor, without any exploit mitigation (or only very little of it), which automatically trusts every instruction, piece of code, or data it receives from the base station you’re connected to. What could possibly go wrong? ‘
November 14, 2013
[work] Hyperemployment, or the Exhausting Work of the Technology User … Whatever happened to Keynes idea of a Leisure Society? ‘The economic impact of hyperemployment is obviously different from that of underemployment, but some of the same emotional toll imbues both: a sense of inundation, of being trounced by demands whose completion yields only their continuance, and a feeling of resignation that any other scenario is likely or even possible. The only difference between the despair of hyperemployment and that of un- or under-employment is that the latter at least acknowledges itself as an substandard condition, while the former celebrates the hyperemployed’s purported freedom to “share” and “connect,” to do business more easily and effectively by doing jobs once left for others competence and compensation, from the convenience of your car or toilet.’
November 13, 2013
[retro-computing] Google BBS Terminal … How Google search would behave if it had been created in the 1980’s.

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