“Hunger makes me a modern girl”

I know Carrie Brownstein through “Portlandia,” a quirky sketch show she’s been doing with Fred Armisen for the last couple of years. I’m a huge fan of how accurately “Portlandia” pokes fun at alternative-culture so commonly associated with Pacific Northwest.1 What I learned later, only after doing some research on Fred and Carrie, is that they were both well-known before the show even started. Fred, to a perhaps lesser extent, through SNL, and Carrie, probably to a much greater extent, through Sleater-Kinney.

SNL is obviously not very popular in Europe, but the fact that during my teenage years I have never heard about Sleater-Kinney was always a bit surprising to me. Sure, alternative-scene rock bands from Seattle like Nirvana, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam made its way to (even Eastern) European radio stations, but the much larger phenomenon of what’s known as the “Pacific Northwest scene” remained rather unknown, or at least not commonly known. This way one could, as it turns out, live one’s life all through the crazy 90s and only discover Sleater-Kinney in 2012. Oh, and what a fantastic discovery that was. Continue reading ““Hunger makes me a modern girl””

How are zlib, gzip and Zip related?

Abhishek Jain asks Stack Overflow about the differences between zlib, gzip and Zip, and gets a fascinating and very insightful response from none other than Mark Adler. I particularly like the comment Adler made when the OP asked about referenecs for his answer.

I am the reference, having been part of all of that. This post could be cited in Wikipedia as an original source.

This, to me, is a perfect example of the enormous impact of open source and free software libraries developed in the 80s and 90s have on modern-day computing. All these small components of Linux or *BSD systems that were developed over the years now play such crucial parts in so many complex systems we rely on every day.

Free/open source software developers are the heroes of the internet era, and as such should have monuments built to their glory and schools named after them.

AlphaGo wins with Lee Sedol

Google Deep Mind‘s AlphaGo won two games against the world go champion, Lee Sedol. This is a ginormous triumph of statistical methods in general and machine learning in particular over “symbolic AI.”

I remember writing an essay for a class in philosophy some years ago about the progress of AI game engines and the somewhat unimpressive achievements of Deep Blue. It was of course exciting to see a computer beat a reigning chess world champion, but underneath all the heuristics IBM implemented for chess, it was all “brute force.” Chess has a game tree complexity of 10123, which is huge, but still “traversable” by modern computers using good heuristic functions. Go, on the other hand, was deemed unsolvable by any “brute force” methods, because its game tree complexity is 10360—far too big. I don’t think anyone in 2006 expected that within ten years a computer program will beat the best Go player (I know I didn’t), yet it just happened. Continue reading “AlphaGo wins with Lee Sedol”

Apple’s letter about the San Bernardino case


There are basically two groups of large software companies around right now: those which make their business by collecting data, and those which make their business by licensing software. The first group has an overwhelming incentive to not support privacy too strongly. The second group has an overwhelming incentive to not allow too much openness. Until a better business model (or zero-knowledge machine learning) is found, no large for profit company can support both goals to their final conclusion. So we are left choosing one evil or the other.

Apple published a “message to customers” today, and while there’s a lot of questions this letter raises,1 the above HN comment (full thread, definitely worth reading) captures the essence of the issue at hand when it comes to computing these days. You either sell software/hardware/licenses and create incentive for the general public to pay you more money by selling things, or you give stuff away for free, and your users become the product. It appears that the situation didn’t really change much for the last couple of years, and in the end we choose what we are willing to tolerate.

update, Feb 22: Apple published some more details about the case today.

  1. What kind of backdoor does Tim Cook have in mind exactly? If it could be implemented, then how? Are other companies complying with such requests from the FBI or other agencies (wikileaks and Edward clearly point to some evidence that they do)?