Podcast: Digital failures are inevitable, but we need them to be graceful

Here's a reading of my latest Guardian column, Digital failures are inevitable, but we need them to be graceful, about the social and political factors that make all the difference when choosing technologies.

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How Twitter's back-end stays up


Raffi Krikorian is a smart engineer and technical manager; I've know him for decades, but didn't realize that he was currently Vice President for Platform Engineering at Twitter. This interview with him at InfoQ gives a really fascinating flavor for how Twitter's reliability engineering is baked in at the systems level:

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Bipartisan budget deals require sacrifices. Here's one.

Yay, Congress passed a budget bill! Boo, it gutted energy efficiency standards for lightbulbs!

How to have a healthy relationship with technology

My latest Guardian column, "Digital failures are inevitable, but we need them to be graceful," talks about evaluating technology based on more than its features -- rather, on how you relate to it, and how it relates to you. In particular, I try to make the case for giving especial care to what happens when your technology fails:

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India's street typists: a vanishing breed


India's street typists -- skilled professionals who type documents for passersby who need formal paperwork for official purposes -- are in great financial difficulty. Their trade has been largely supplanted by computers with word-processors. Even the love-sick young men who would come to them to type out love letters have moved on. The BBC profiles the street typists of Calcutta, in a piece steeped with melancholy at a world that has moved on.

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A tour of online shopping in 1984

In an NPR report from 1984, a revelation: There are people who do not like to go shopping and some of them might enjoy buying things from the comfort of their own home with the help of a computer. I know. It's crazy. Bonuses: Description of a kludged-together, TV-based system that "will eventually be replaced by a home computer" and an early version of the audio editing and production style now famous from its use on Radiolab.

Patent mess goes to the Supreme Court

Two more high-profile patent cases are headed to the US Supreme Court, which has already agreed to hear a patent case this year. The patent system is in chaos, with ever-more-trivial patents being granted, and ever-broader theories of patent infringement being created by the Federal Circuit, the court that oversees the patent system.

A Supreme Court ruling that restored some sanity to patents would be very welcome indeed -- but if they went the other way, it would be dreadful. The only solution at that point would be for Congress -- whose campaigns depend on revenue from patent abusers -- to pass a new law (don't hold your breath).

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Senior execs are the biggest risk to IT security

Stroz Friedberg, a risk-management consultancy, commissioned a survey [PDF] of information handling practices in businesses that concluded that senior managers are the greatest risk to information security within companies.

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New Disruptors 57: Through a Glass Brightly with Abhi Lokesh

Take a picture and put it under glass, but not quite the way you think. The folks at Fracture have a built a business that connects several different technologies into one new way to make large-format photos printed on glass suitable for hanging. Today I talk to Abhi Lokesh, one of Fracture's founders, about the journey from a small village in Africa to a whizz-bang printing and distribution company.

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North of Philly, a museum of dead tech

In Doylestown, Pennsylvania, there is a poured-in-place castle made of concrete and filled with archaic technology — a museum of tools that people no longer use because they've all been replaced by industrialization. You can visit.

Hop a high-speed train

Here's a fascinating idea for how people could board a high speed train without it ever having to slow down.

The coming era of Glass

Theodore Ross on Google Glass: "Glass will free your hands, but your eyes, let alone your ass or mind, may not follow. If it gains wide acceptance, however, it could necessitate the creation of new rules of decorum..." [Medium]

Robot cheetah demonstrates efficient new motors

MIT researchers built a 70-pound robot "cheetah" meant to demonstrate the high efficiency of a new electric motor design. Among other improvements, the design enables the impact energy of the robot's leg hitting the ground to be captured and fed into the robot's battery. Soon, they expect the motors to enable the cheetah-bot to gallop at 35 mph which, of course, is still just half the speed of a real cheetah. However, it will hit those speeds much more efficiently than other running robots.

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Illustrated timeline of anti-fun moral panics


(Click to embiggen)

Tor.com has republished a great chart from Bad for You: Exposing the War on Fun!, forthcoming in on January 7. The chart details the central thesis of the book: that "the long-standing campaign against fun" is a recurring story in which anxious, killjoy grownups make up stupid explanations for why the stuff their kids like is terrible and should be banned, and the golden era of their own childhoods (and the amusements that reigned then) should be restored.

The chart starts with Trithemius's 1494 rant against printing presses ("The word written on parchment will last a thousand years. The printed word is on paper. How long will it last?") and moves smartly through books, steam engines, newspapers, photos, telegraphs, movies, phones, phonographs, radio, TV, computers, and (of course), the Internet.

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Designing "technology for women": a flowchart


Ars Technica's Casey Johnson has designed a handy checklist for people hoping to develop a "woman's" tech product without being sexist jerks. The first step is ensuring that there is, indeed, some need that is unique to women (an important step -- women don't need their own pens, Bic). And obviously, you can't just make a pink version or a version that has fewer features and declare it to be chick-ready. Johnson then counsels against avoiding merely making things more "design-y" and declaring it to be woman-friendly (guys like things that look good too).

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