The FBI and the CIA are being criticized for not keeping better track of
Tamerlan Tsarnaev in the months before the Boston Marathon bombings. How could
they have ignored such a dangerous person? …
Rather than thinking of intelligence as a simple connect-the-dots picture, think
of it as a million unnumbered pictures superimposed on top of each other. Or a
random-dot stereogram. Is it a sailboat, a puppy, two guys with pressure-cooker
bombs, or just an unintelligible mess of dots? You try to figure it out. …
We have to accept that there always will be a risk of terrorism, and that when
the occasional plot succeeds, it’s not necessarily because our law enforcement
systems have failed.
-Bruce Schneier, Intelligence Analysis and the Connect-the-Dots Metaphor
We like people. No, scratch that; we love people. They’re the most important
thing in the world, at least in our eyes. We think they can do anything they put
their mind to. We idolize Gandhi and Steve Jobs, vilify Hitler and Steve
Ballmer, and perpetuate the cult of personality that insists that every single
one of us has the potential for limitless good – or evil! – if we only muster
our courage, push as far as we can, and grab that golden ring.
I’m not so sure. I see that potential, but I’m not convinced that the primary
catalyst is inside us, whether you call it passion or drive or willpower or
anything else. Instead, the evidence seems to be mounting that environment plays
a much larger role, even more than the most nurture-biased, “His childhood made
him do it!” social progressive might think. The traditional
nature vs. nurture debate
may focus on developmental psychology and biology, but I’m thinking about how we
live our lives as adults. We trumpet role models and self improvement and
achievement, but I wonder if instead, we should think a bit more about
environments and systems and incentives.
If you know me, you probably already know that I’m not a fan of rain. Yes, we
need it, and plants do too, but that’s why God invented irrigation, I figure. I
used to joke that some enterprising mayor should build a huge transparent dome
over their entire city so the residents would never be rained on again. I’d move
there in a heartbeat.
It may not be a rain screen, but the sub-arctic mining town of
Fermont, Canada has the next best thing:
a windscreen. The temperature there routinely drops to below -20°F in the
winter, and that’s before you include wind chill. The myth is true: you can
literally toss a pot of boiling water into the air, and it will freeze before it
hits the ground.
The town was centrally planned and built by the
Mining Company (now ArcelorMittal)
in the early 1970s to service the
Mont Wright iron mine. Faced
with brutal cold and punishing storms, the town’s designers conceived of a
massive, 1.3km long building that would shield the residents from the prevailing
winds out of the northwest. During the worst part of winter, 7 months per year
on average, the entire town can hole up in the Mur-Écran (windscreen) building
and never have to leave. So cool!
I first heard about Fermont and the Mur-Écran from one of the podcasts I
listen to, CBC‘s radio show
Ideas. Check out their
for more pictures and the hour-long show.
It’s tax season! At least, for those of us in the US. If you’re reading this,
you probably have to pay taxes. You don’t have a choice; it’s required by law.
Beyond taxes though, how you manage your money is up to you. You can invest in
the stock market, for example, but you could also buy bonds, or real estate or
pork belly futures or Bitcoin. Stocks are strictly
Required and optional may seem to cover all the bases, but there’s actually a
third class of activities. Take credit cards. They’re not required by any law,
natural or man-made. You can survive without them – I’ve done it – but it’s a
pretty limited life. Modern society takes them for granted more and more every
day. Ever tried to buy a plane ticket with cash? It’s not easy. Travelling in
general is difficult, as is building a credit rating. Participating in the
Internet is basically impossible. Even I couldn’t truly escape credit cards; I
just used disposable ones that didn’t
need any of my personal information. Credit cards aren’t explicitly required
these days, but they might as well be.
Don’t worry, this isn’t yet another
rant or fake credit card
scheme. Instead, I’d like to talk about this illusion of choice, these de
facto requirements that are optional in theory but not in practice. This
problem is known as the No Network Effect, a term
Moxie Marlinspike popularized in his
talk at Defcon 18.
Discrimination has been in the news recently. The
Fisher v. UT
Supreme Court case over affirmative action,
over sexual harassment in the tech community, and the evergreen fear of
Chinese workers stealing our jobs.
Don’t worry, this post isn’t about race, or gender politics, or globalization.
They’re just examples of something I’ve been thinking about for a while:
the term for our innate tendency to think of the world as us vs. them.
From GitHub’s create new repo page:
Great repository names are short and memorable. Need inspiration? How about yolo-hipster.
This is a big deal.
I can’t wait to see how it plays out in the higher courts.