Friday Reading #20

Don’t watch the news read some things that will make you smarter and less despondant. Lots of things caught my eye this week and here I share them with you to see if you enjoy them as much as I did.


Inside Google’s Secret Lab

Thrun always thought of corporate labs as playgrounds for lifetime employees who were overly absorbed by the abstractions of pure research. He wanted to focus on research that was at least commercially plausible and let talent come and go as projects evolved. Thrun says he seriously considered calling the new group the Google Research Institute, but that carried exactly the kind of sleepy connotations he was trying to avoid. Google X, he says, was a placeholder, a variable to be filled in later.


‘Trading can take over your life – but only if you let it’

“When I was working as a derivatives trader in a small European country my routine went like this: I’d come into the office just before 8am and switch on my seven screens. There are many programs to log into. I sort each data feed to update me preferentially on news in the underlying names I trade and on macro developments. I ensure my connections to all relevant exchanges are functioning. I calculate hedge limits and input them into the order book. I make sure all this is done before 8.45am, as the market opens at 9am.”


Look on the dark side

Darkness is powerful. It is powerful in destruction. It has the ability to make us feel wretched and alone, tear down our confidence, sabotage our progress through life. But darkness is also powerful in creation. It has the ability to transform itself from a destructive force into something that can unleash the most essential, most indispensable element of your person.


 The truth about being ‘done versus being ‘perfect’

Whenever I spend time in boardrooms across the world, I can’t help but notice that courage seems to be a limited currency. No matter how the company presents itself, it seems CEOs rarely have the power one would imagine. The fact of the matter is that companies of this magnitude tend to be run by committees that make the tough decisions and take the risks. The problem is that committees rarely have courage–only people do.


The Perceptive Radio: a project for BBC R&D

The design challenge was to demonstrate how a networked object could deliver tailored media experiences that are sympathetic to domestic environments, without being disruptive or jarring.


Roof Bug-fixing

You see, when we find a bug in our software, we try and recreate it. Then we know when we’ve fixed it. And something I was starting to notice here was that this wasn’t happening. It was as if I had noticed the timeout, and made a configuration change in the general area, then marked the story as done and walked away. We don’t do that, with software. And yet this situation that was making my life pretty inconvenient – three months in, my flat was covered in mould, smelt of damp and all my furniture was in one room while I waited for the leak to be be fixed – was being dealt with by people who seemed to be making general stabs in the direction of the problem, without any kind of theory or analysis.


Why getting new things makes us feel so good: Novelty and the brain

Having just moved to a new country, I’m currently surrounded by novel sights, sounds and experiences. It’s an overload of new for my brain. However, after only being here a week, I’m surprised how ordinary my house and my street seem. After walking the same route to the train station three or four times, it quickly became boring.


You are your data: The scary future of the quantified self movement

As we document and share more of where we go, what we do, who we spend time with, what we eat, what we buy, how hard we exert ourselves, and so on, we create more data that companies can and will use to evaluate our worthiness – or lack thereof – for their products, services, and opportunities. For those of us who don’t measure up compared to the rest of the population, the outcome won’t be pretty.


Microinteractions (Sample chapter from the upcoming book by Dan Saffer)

A 56-year-old man punched his fist through the glass and into the electronics of the machine. “Yes, I broke the machine and I’d do it again,” he told the security guards. (He was sentenced to 90 days in jail.) Another man, 59-year-old Douglas Batiste, was also arrested for assaulting a machine—by urinating on it. A woman caused $1,800 in damages to another machine by slapping it three times. And 67-year-old Albert Lee Clark, after complaining to an employee and getting no satisfaction, went to his car and got his gun. He came back inside and shot the machine several times. What device is causing so much rage? Slot machines.


The humble hero

Containerisation is a testament to the power of process innovation. In the 1950s the world’s ports still did business much as they had for centuries. When ships moored, hordes of longshoremen unloaded “break bulk” cargo crammed into the hold. They then squeezed outbound cargo in as efficiently as possible in a game of maritime Tetris. The process was expensive and slow; most ships spent much more time tied up than plying the seas. And theft was rampant: a dock worker was said to earn “$20 a day and all the Scotch you could carry home.”


How social media improved writing

A woman I know says only after the internet arrived did she realise her mother was semi-literate. Previously they’d always communicated by phone, but now Mom was suddenly sending her emails full of “!!!!”s and “……”s. Email kicked off an unprecedented expansion in writing. We’re now in the most literate age in history.


 Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing by Melissa Mohr – review

(unsurpisingly this features lots of swear words)

Swearing doesn’t just mean what we now understand by “dirty words”. It is entwined, in social and linguistic history, with the other sort of swearing: vows and oaths. Consider for a moment the origins of almost any word we have for bad language – “profanity”, “curses”, “oaths” and “swearing” itself.


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