Words and Pictures - December


  • Professor, You’re Dividing My Nation - Sophie Hardach (Chronicle Review). The political complexities in defining a national language (in this case, Kurdish). If you enjoyed the Urdu piece last month, you’ll enjoy this too.
  • Pursuing the Platypus - Maciej Cegłowski. A funny and entertaining narrative that introduces you to Australia’s native fauna as the author has a holiday in Queensland.
  • Stuxnet’s Secret Twin - Ralph Langner (Foreign Policy). A very readable technical explanation of how Stuxnet damaged the Iranian nuclear program. (Reading in Instapaper bypasses the free registration requirement)
  • How the Bitcoin protocol actually works - Michael Nielsen. Informative and easy to follow. It’s technical, but if you understand public key cryptography and cryptographic hashing, you’ll be fine.
  • Threat Vector - Tom Clancy with Mark Greaney. I read this on holidays and had low expectations after seeing Tom Clancy’s quality decline in the last decade, but I was pleasantly surprised. The combat sections are top-notch, as usual, but in this case the plot was quite reasonable and not wrecked by unnecessary sex.


Google, it’s over between us

Google, it’s over between us. We were close a while back, when search wasn’t overrun with sponsored content, when Reader was under active development and you were a good-natured participant in the internet community, but you’ve changed. I feel like you’re stalking me now and taking note of everything that I do, however innocuous, and you’re wielding your influence at the expense of those who trusted you with their data, and with technical standards. And that’s not OK.

So, I’m leaving you.

Which means I’m walking away from Search and Maps, from Translate and YouTube. You’ll still see me on Groups, but only from behind the safety of my email client and not through the nice web interface. As you know, Gmail and Google+ were never my thing but don’t expect to see my family photos on Facebook - I’m not there either… they gave me the creeps before you did. I realise this is going to hurt me too, you really are the best in all of the areas where you still saw me, but I’m happy to take a step back if it means we don’t need to associate.

You’ve still got some great people like Steve Souders and Ilya Grigorik, and you do some brilliant work with your data centres, software and hardware, so I still hold out a glimmer of hope, but the onus is on you to demonstrate that you’re serious about our relationship - perhaps you should chat with your investors about how the nice dividends are coming at the expense of reputation and trust. It doesn’t have to be like this.

And for you, Dear Reader

Here’s my plan on the off-chance that you feel the same way:

  • Search: I’ll use DuckDuckGo, and I expect to get slightly poorer results, and I’m OK with that. I’m using the Safari Keyword Search extension to set the default search engine on my Mac, and I use Atomic Web as my browser on iOS, which allows me to set DuckDuckGo as the default search.
  • Maps: Yep, It’ll be Apple Maps even though it might route me via Timbuktu from time to time. (Alfred v2 has a sparkly new Apple Maps shortcut which helps)
  • Translate: I’ll use Microsoft (Bing) Translator on the few occasions that I need it.
  • YouTube: Stuff often appears on Vimeo too, and if I can’t find it anywhere else something tells me that life will go on if I go without watching it.
  • My mail is hosted on FastMail under my own domain - I’ve never used Gmail because I don’t like vendor lock-in, particularly on email.
  • Say no to Google+ and Facebook. My replacement is point-to-point messaging and a self-hosted blog… but I’m an introvert.

I think the change will work out just fine.

Words and Pictures - November

I saw a movie in November. A whole movie with only a few interruptions from the kids. Amazing! I hope to do the same in 2014.


  • Designing Offline-First Web Apps - Alex Feyerke (A List Apart). As a daily commuter with spotty mobile coverage, I appreciate when application developers take the time to consider “offline” as a valid state and not an error.
  • More And Better Nuclear Power - Nicholas Valéry (The Economist). I’m pro-nuclear, and would love to see old, unsafe light-water reactors replaced with newer models, particularly Thorium-fuelled thermal breeder reactors, that can make this a safe and effective power source.
  • The art of stealing - Lex Boon (NRC). The story of a major art heist in Rotterdam. Beautifully formatted - read this on the site instead of in Instapaper.
  • The Great Discontent: Merlin Mann - Tina Essmaker (TGD). I really like Merlin Mann. He’s honest, funny and he’s well read in more areas than one might expect given his exposure in the tech/productivity world. This is a great interview.


Words and Pictures - October

The best reading for the month:

  • Bad Blood: The Life and Death of Alexander Litvinenko - Will Storr (Medium). Interesting background on Alexander Litvinenko, explaining why he was considered a target for assassination, and the pharmacological workings of polonium-210.
  • The Death of the Urdu Script - Ali Eteraz (Medium). New technological considerations in language preservation - what would happen if your pen only wrote words with American English spelling?
  • The White Spider - Heinrich Harrer. A classic mountaineering text about climbing the North Face of the Eiger. The first half was very interesting, but the second half was too slow to keep my attention.
  • Why would I donate my body to science? - Brooke Borel (Aeon Magazine). I’m already an organ donor, but this makes me consider going beyond organ donation.
  • The Slow Winter [PDF] - James Mickens. Brilliant and hilarious commentary on the evolution of CPUs. Best of the month. Seriously… it’s that funny.

Words and Pictures - September

After work provided the most hectic half-year of my career, I’m finally reclaiming my headspace and posting some old links that I’d compiled previously but hadn’t shared. They’re too good to discard. September seemed to have an inadvertent linguistic and cultural focus.


  • The Weirdest Languages (http://idibon.com/the-weirdest-languages/) - Tyler Schnoebelen. Mining the World Atlas of Language Structures (WALS) for common linguistic structures and behaviours. Kudos to the database maintainers, and to the author for some great storytelling.
  • In Chișinău - James Meek (London Review of Books). Perceptive analysis of a few cultural traits brought about by a lost passport in Romania.
  • What Is the Icelandic Word for “Four” - Daniel Tammet (Slate) - Language never ceases to amaze, and frustrate!
  • How to Write About the Balkans - Lily Lynch (The Balkanist). You’ll recognise the format - very funny.
  • The Lady, or the Tire Iron? - Susan Schorn (McSweeny’s). MythBusting the locked-in-the-boot (trunk) kidnapping scenario. Hilarious.
  • A Cartoonist’s Advice - Bill Watterson (Zen Pencils). A beautifully illustrated, refreshing and liberating look at the flaws in modern corporate culture. Your work is not your life, or your meaning.