What I Read This Week: 2021-05
BTW, for folks new in tech - it’s amazing how influential that wave of programs were, even though they largely failed in the marketplace. Napster founder Sean Parker later became the first investor and first president of Facebook. Also involved in the wave (in a tangential way) was Mark Zuckerburg, whose Synapse Media Player got a $M+ buyout offer from Microsoft while he was still in high school. Uber founder Travis Kalanick’s first two projects were Scour (a P2P filesharing app) and Red Swoosh (a P2P CDN). I met the AudioGalaxy founder while working on Google Search - he later went on to become one of the early Waymo engineers. The Kazaa founders later went on to found Skype, and we know where that went. Chord (an academic research project in distributed hash tables) was led by Robert Tappan Morris (originally famous for creating the Internet Worm of 1988), who then went on to co-found YCombinator, which owns the website you’re reading this on. The gossip protocol invented & refined by Gnutella forms the basis for many cryptocurrency P2P protocols like Bitcoin & Ethereum.
When we talk about successful founders now, we’re rarely talking about the people who have built long term businesses, and made the successful transition from being a startup, to being an established, healthy and thriving company. For the most part, we’re talking about pump and dump high growth, media and VC darlings. The ideal is no longer the driven creator, whose dedication to her craft enabled her to design and sell a product. It’s the founder as a personality who has sold their product, their company, and ultimately themselves.
Iran’s blogfather: Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are killing the web (2015)
Even before I went to jail, though, the power of hyperlinks was being curbed. Its biggest enemy was a philosophy that combined two of the most dominant, and most overrated, values of our times: newness and popularity. (Isn’t this embodied these days by the real-world dominance of young celebrities?) That philosophy is the stream. The stream now dominates the way people receive information on the web. Fewer users are directly checking dedicated webpages, instead getting fed by a never-ending flow of information that’s picked for them by complex and secretive algorithms.
The Unexpected Find That Freed 20GB of Unused Index Space
A concise story of practical value about maintaining a Postgres database.
Coming from Oracle, I was always taught that NULLs are not indexed, but in PostgreSQL they are! This “Aha” moment led us to the realization that we were indexing a lot of unnecessary values for no reason.
Dark Patterns at Scale: Findings from a Crawl of 11K Shopping Websites
This ACM CSCW 2019 submission comes with an easy to digest summary of dark pattern categories with examples & screenshots on its website.
Dark patterns are user interface design choices that benefit an online service by coercing, steering, or deceiving users into making unintended and potentially harmful decisions. […] We discovered 1,818 instances of dark patterns on shopping websites, which together represent 15 types of dark patterns. These 1,818 dark patterns were present on 1,254 of the ∼11K shopping websites (∼11.1%) in our data set. Shopping websites that were more popular, according to Alexa rankings, were more likely to feature dark patterns.
RISC-V isn’t as interesting as you think
RISC-V intentionally defines a small ISA with extensions. While most larger implementations will implement a common set of extensions, having basic functionality in extensions could make software compatibility for binary distributions harder. This is made worse by RISC-V explicitly encouraging custom instructions for task-specific tweaks on vendor silicon – great for embedded, not so hot for general purpose computers and operating systems supporting them.
Beyond Platforms: Private Censorship, Parler, and the Stack
Infrastructure providers’ (such as Amazon Web Services) denial of service to Parler sets a dangerous precedent in (1) encouraging hybrid, and authoritarian regimes to censor social media, and (2) putting the onus on the intermediates of a tech stack.
Decisions made by companies at this layer of the stack to remove content or users raise greater concerns for free expression, especially when there are few if any competitors. For example, it would be very concerning if the only broadband provider in your area cut you off because they didn’t like what you said online—or what someone else whose name is on the account said. The adage “if you don’t like the rules, go elsewhere” doesn’t work when there is nowhere else to go.
The article is not as cohesive as I would like it to be but its incohesive bits are quite stimulating to read nonetheless.
While the mythology of founders centers around a tortured genius solving a problem for themselves and only then discovering product-market fit, Bezos started with the solution and then looked for a problem. That solution, broadly considered was the Internet, and more specifically “the everything store”, a concept that crystallized in discussions Bezos had with David Shaw, the founder of the eponymous hedge fund where he worked. The problem was how to start, and Bezos settled on books; he explained in a speech at Lake Forest College in 1998: