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The Closed, Unfriendly World of Wikipedia daggle.com
425 points by InfinityX0  5 days ago   329 comments top 50
tptacek 5 days ago  replies      
You can tell someone hasn't spent much time at AfD, the section of Wikipedia where people (anyone in the world, really) discuss whether articles should be deleted, by the outrage they express at the "arbitrariness" of Wikipedia's notability rules. Have you spent any time at AfD? Let me help you out: here's the AfD log for the week they killed "Jessie_Stricchiola":


Deletions include:

* The "vice editor in chief" of a Japanese anime magazine

* A list of episodes for a TV show that never aired

* Articles about a no-name iPhone game, and also a no-name video editing tool, presumably both written by the authors of the programs

* A promo for a not-yet-released book

* An article about "Rickstar", a musical artist who had apparently self-released one song

* A strategy guide for The Sims 3

* A bio of a junior league hockey player (albeit one with an awesome name)

* An article about a youth football team

... and it just keeps going on like that.

This particular article was motivated by the deletion of "Jessie_Stricchiola". Let's look at her AfD:


Where we learn:

* This is an article about an SEO consultant.

* It contained a promotional link to the SEO consultant's book.

* That SEO consultant had been quoted in a number of stories, but never written about in any of those stories; the only reliable information to be gleaned from any source about her was "once gave a quote about click fraud to a trade press journalist" (or in one case a reporter at WaPo).

It took two weeks for Wikipedia to determine that this article should be deleted. During that entire time, her article stood with a very prominent notice saying it was going to be deleted, with a prominent link allowing people to argue in favor of keeping or, better yet, locate a real reliable source backing up any claim to her notability. Two weeks. Read the AfD. Read DGG's exegesis of the sources cited in this article --- the guy found out how many libraries carried her book.

Now, think about this: Jessie's article wasn't a marquee deletion event. Nobody gave a shit. It was just one of many pages up for AfD that week, alongside the founder of a political party nobody has ever heard of and 3 members of non-professional football clubs. In every one of those retarded articles, someone had to marshall real arguments, chase down real sources, and in many cases defend those arguments against both bona fide Wikipedia contributors and also sockpuppets of the subjects of the article. Every time.

Anyone who can snark that Wikipedia is a knee-jerk or arbitrary culture is betraying a deep ignorance of how the most successful Internet reference project in the history of the Internet actually works.

Something I don't get about people on HN and their attitude towards Wikipedia. None of you, not a one, expects Linus Torvalds to accept arbitrary contributions to the Linux kernel simply because that code could be disabled by default and wasn't going to bother anyone (unlike a bogus Wikipedia article, which taints the encyclopedia and also Google search results). People with experimental or long-shot Linux contributions (at least, people besides ESR) tend to set up Github pages instead of writing long-winded rants about the "deletionism" rampant in the world's most successful open source project. But Wikipedia kills an article about an SEO consultant, and you're up in arms.

Mostly, this comment I'm writing is just bitching. So, to repay you the kindness of reading my own windbag rant, I offer you this gift: THE VERY FEW SIMPLE RULES OF THUMB YOU WILL EVER NEED TO AVOID FRUSTRATION OVER THE "Deletionism" OF WIKIPEDIA:



They should just put those two rules on the edit box on the site, I agree; would make everyone's life easier.

wpietri 5 days ago 2 replies      
For those wondering about the backstory, I went and looked at the history of the deleted page.

The article for Jessie Stricchiola was created by account "Stricchiola" in November 2009. The commit message: "Added article for search industry pioneer Jessie Stricchiola". That account made only one other significant edit, which was to link the Jessie Stricchiola article into the first paragraph of "Search Engine Marketing".

Within 15 minutes, Wikipedians marked the article as insufficiently referenced, a probable conflict of interest, and possibly lacking notability. Stricchiola edited the article for the next few days, ignored the warnings, and eventually stopped editing. Other than minor fixes from Wikipedians, the article was basically untouched until September 2009, when user Cantaloupe2 nominated it for deletion discussion.

So as far as I can tell, a search engine marketing person wrote a self-promotional article about herself. Wikipedians immediately warned that the article had a number of issues, all of which she (and everybody else in the world) ignored for nearly 2 years. Somebody eventually noticed; Wikipedians discussed it and decided the article was unsalvageable.

wpietri 5 days ago 2 replies      
There's a lot of Wikipedia I think should be more transparent or more approachable. But deletion discussions aren't really one of them.

Deciding what really fits in an encyclopedia isn't simple. Wikipedia has spent literally a decade working out a set of rules that balances utility, fairness, quality, and maintainability. Those rules will inevitably seem bureaucratic and opaque to people who haven't worked on a number of articles and then really considered the problem.

Deletion discussions are perennial magnets for non-participants who believe that they or their (friend|band|ancestor|website) belong in Wikipedia. They are inevitably upset. Worse, in Pauli's phrase, they aren't even wrong: they start with the premise the article should be kept and then say whatever they think will let them win.

In this case, the bloggy ranter doesn't get basic Wikipedia fundamentals. E.g. that Wikipedia isn't about what's true, it's about what's verifiable[1]. Suppose he thinks that his pal is the most important person ever. He might be right, but what matters is what can be proven from reliable sources[2].

Making deletion review more approachable to the personally outraged would certainly increase the number of reviews, but it wouldn't materially change the number of articles kept. What it would do is waste a lot of valuable editor and admin time.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:V
[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:RS

javert 5 days ago  replies      
First of all, the author is wrong. Someone saying "Hey, I know that person, they're an expert on X," does not mean they belong in an encyclopedia. Furthermore, a sizeable group of people already had a discussion on whether the person meets Wikipedia's standards and decided that they do not.

Now, the author feels entitled to barge in without learning anything about how Wikipedia actually works, and complain that it's too hard to find the right place to go and complain. The author even managed to complain when someone helpfully pointed out that he went to the wrong place to revise a pointless and already settled argument.

Seriously, this is a Wikipedia success story. If this person had been allowed to just barge in and trample Wikipedia's policies on who is notable, despite having zero knowledge of how Wikipedia works, that would have been a Wikipedia failure.

If the author had just been willing to spend half an hour learning about Wikipedia's policies instead of bitching on a blog, and figured out how to revive an already-settled issue, he could have successfully managed to waste people's time on this. But no. "I demand to be listened to NOW, and if I'm not, Wikipedia is Closed and Unfriendly."

pessimizer 5 days ago 2 replies      
His case for the notability of his friend doesn't seem to add anything that hadn't already been considered by the Wikipedians already, and his attitude was monstrously shitty. Especially his reaction to the guy/girl that removed his comments on the page that said not to leave comments on it, saving them on his "user page" with a helpful message about the process to get the debate, which was already over, reopened.

I hate the tone of this. He knows what should be in Wikipedia, and what they should consider notable under their standards, yet feels put upon by having to know what a "talk page" or "deletion review" is, and assaulted by being informed of a talk page being created for him. In turn, he assaults the random person who tried to help him with his goal by saving his work and giving him directions with more than a half dozen paragraphs of angry, condescending tl;dr like he was reading his list of grievances to the King of Wikipedia.

aeontech 5 days ago 3 replies      
Just the latest victim of the deletionist forces. This is the reason I, and many many other people have given up on contributing to Wikipedia altogether.

Jason Scott has a very eloquent description of the problem [1],[2], and Wikipedia's failure in addressing it several years ago; nothing has changed since then, and I doubt it will any time soon, since the Wikipedia administration sees no problem with the status quo. It's sad.

[1] http://ascii.textfiles.com/archives/808

[2] http://www.cow.net/transcript.txt

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deletionism_and_inclusionism_in...

billpatrianakos 5 days ago 1 reply      
Sounds like a lot of whining to me. The author's reaction to this made him lose all credibility with me.

First off, you think you're an expert? Maybe you are, maybe not but even experts aren't always right and just because you think in your infinite expert wisdom that so and so should have a Wikipedia page, the majority of us obviously don't.

Secondly, so sorry the appeals process was so inconvenient for you. So far Wikipedia is doing just fine and your rant doesn't seem to be hurting them much. With all the garbage that people attempt to post on Wikipedia, there's a good reason for all the walls.

In the end this comes off like a know-it-all's childish hissy fit for not getting his way. The world doesn't have to accept your point of view. Your response to this whole thing probably played a large role in you not getting what you wanted.

Next time try to up think about why some of these things are in place, know that you can't jump ahead of someone else in charge just because you think you're better qualified (it's first volunteer, first served on Wikipedia) and just approach the issue with a lot more tact and less childish kicking and screaming next time.

Some people love to talk about ideals like freedom, democracy, fairness, and all that but as soon as it inconveniences them they take the position that somehow those rules are for everyone else and they're somehow special. This guy doesn't fall in with the ideals thing I was talking about but he somehow managed to convince himself that everyone should just see thing his way.

How dare a free, worldwide, not for profit, website with a 99% democratic submission and editing process not bend to your will! The audacity!

Welcome to Wikipedia on the WWW where majority rules (even if you think they're all stupid-heads). I hope Jimmy Wales sends you a personal apology. Now let's all go edit the Wikipedia pages for "Cry Baby", "Brat", and "Temper Tantrum" and cite the author as a living example.

kstenerud 5 days ago 5 replies      
What Wikipedia really needs is for a UI expert to step in and fix what is essentially a broken UI.

Requesting a reinstatement of a deleted page in a properly designed UI should take no more than a couple of clicks and 1 minute of reading, tops. Navigating a twisted web of broken or confusing or incorrect links with walls of text at every step does not a good UI make.

All of the UI frustrations the op experiences snowball into a frustrated response, which only aggravates and frustrates the editors who receive such responses. This, in turn, further snowballs things until everyone is aggravated, nobody wants to contribute, and Wikipedia stagnates.

So, fix Wikipedia's UI. It's in everyone's long term interests to do so.

jaylevitt 5 days ago 1 reply      
While this is the typical story about online "cabals", this is also the story of how Wikipedia's alleged success as a platform - no meta-functionality, everything is accomplished through the Wiki itself - is also its failure.

MediaWiki is great software for collaboratively editing documents. It is lousy software for workflow management. All the Kafkaesque dead-ends he describes are wiki pages that try to use other wiki pages as a medium for controlling the process of creating wiki pages.

daenz 5 days ago 1 reply      
"Here is what to do if you want to get a lift from a Vogon: forget it. They are one of the most unpleasant races in the Galaxy. Not actually evil, but bad-tempered, bureaucratic, officious and callous. They wouldn't even lift a finger to save their own grandmothers from the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal without orders signed in triplicate, sent in, sent back, queried, lost, found, subjected to public inquiry, lost again, and finally buried in soft peat for three months and recycled as firelighters."

-The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

IsaacL 4 days ago 0 replies      
From the action deletion discussion:

"The result was delete. As far as I can tell, the numbers are split about 7-6 in favour of delete. That's not normally going to lead to a consensus to delete unless there are unusual circumstances, such as one side having significantly stronger arguments than the other, so much as that can be ascertained objectively. In this case, the final three unchallenged delete !votes"DGG, ItsZippy and Metropolitan90"demonstrate such strength.

DGG and Metropolitan90 highlight a number of fundamental misconceptions behind a number of the keep !votes, such as the inaccuracy of the assertions that the subject's work was covered significantly in The Google story and that The Google story is a Pulitzer prize-winning book. DGG also demonstrates with clear evidence that the subject's own book is not as prominent as asserted, without any evidence, by some on the keep side. ItsZippy is the only editor in the debate, on either side, to comprehensively discuss the sources on offer as opposed to making generalised assertions about the sufficiency of the sourcing.

That those delete !votes have stood for between 7 and 13 days without any challenge leads me to conclude that there is a consensus to delete"

More here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Articles_for_deletion....

Two thoughts: yes, the back pages of Wikipedia are tricky to navigate for non-experts, it took me a while to find that link. No, Wikipedians are not all unfriendly deletionists.

ciscoriordan 5 days ago 1 reply      
A more extreme example is the Amanda Knox article on Wikipedia. For years it was kept deleted by a cabal of British English speaking administrators and editors (Knox's murdered roommate was British). A deletion review finally overturned the deletion a couple weeks after Knox's conviction was overturned.


suivix 5 days ago 2 replies      
I changed 'tyre' to 'tire' in an article and got a vandalism notice on my talk page. That's when I stopped contributing.
HnNoPassMailer 5 days ago 0 replies      
Everyone should have a wikipedia page. Notability and value of information however should be clear: Turing's page should clearly be different then the page of my teacher in kindergarten. How? I don't know. We can go much finer in granularity. To be successfully usable, developments are needed to cope with the finer grained information (like having ~10M pages of teachers of kindergartens).
BasDirks 5 days ago 0 replies      
"I'm a notable person on Wikipedia, as well as an expert in search marketing. So for what it's worth, you're seriously questioning whether Jessie should have her own page? That's just crazy.

The page should be restored, and immediately. She's clearly notable."

These lines make it clear enough what kind of clown we're dealing with.

nethsix 5 days ago 1 reply      
Perhaps nothing can be truly 'open' to contribution given that everybody has a different opinion and everybody often believes that they are right. Probably a huge number of newbies who tried posting something on Hacker News, will also feel that HN is closed and unfriendly as well. Is it really unfriendly or just a resource-management issue; it may be better not be perfect but can satisfy a large audience.
rospaya 5 days ago 1 reply      
The bigger issue with Wikipedia is the bad UI and tons of bureaucracy that make everybody except hardcore users beware of editing.
mmahemoff 5 days ago 2 replies      
Slight tangent, but I can't understand why MediaWiki/Wikipedia is so resistant to a standard commenting/discussion system. Discussion pages are still just flat text anyone can edit.

I get the "simple is better" approach, but by now, there should be enough conventions, and there's certainly enough complexity, to warrant at least a basic structured forum.

csmt 5 days ago 1 reply      
I had similar experiences with Wikipedia. First time, I added some references and definitions related to a theoretical computer science concept and it was deleted for no reason.

Since then I stopped making edits unless something is incorrect.

true_religion 5 days ago 1 reply      
The thrust of his arguement is that since he believes Jessica is more notable than he is, and wikipedia has an existing article about him then his opinion should count.

However, an alternative conclusion could be that he isn't notable by wikipedia's standards and his article should also be deleted.

trotsky 5 days ago 0 replies      
If this guy had discovered the Internet in the early 90's I have confidence that he would have been single handedly responsible for inventing top posting.
spullara 5 days ago 1 reply      
Looks like Danny's article on wikipedia has now come under scrutiny:


"The topic of this article may not meet Wikipedia's general notability guideline. Please help to establish notability by adding reliable, secondary sources about the topic. If notability cannot be established, the article is likely to be merged, redirected, or deleted. (November 2011)"

Personally, I think the notability guidelines are pretty outrageous and wildly out of date. I mean, how long before there aren't any "legitimate publications" by their standard?

chalst 5 days ago 0 replies      
The reason why Wikipedia has these pages is because people push fringe science theories, jingoist distortions of history, and inflated product claims if you do not.

Even so, Wikipedia is effectively used to promote just these things. For example, the editor FT2 got promoted to ArbCom while underming efforts to eliminate pseudoscience. His philsophy he summed up "Writing for an encyclopedia is not the same as writing for an academic paper. It's more like writing the bibliography for an academic paper. We aren't trying to decide what is "true" and what isn't. To be honest, we don't care what "the truth" is, in that sense, because it's not what an encyclopedia is. An encyclopedia is a collation of multiple perspectives and views. It's more like the bibliography of a paper (listing all kinds of sources so long as they bear on the topic) than the paper and its conclusion itself. Every view of note is in there, represented neutrally. Theres no decision to make, few opinions to form, other than to observe which views seem to be more or less common views of note, and to understand each (and its sources) well enough to document. We care that we document each view fully and with understanding. That is the "truth" we work to here. "


If making WP more unfriendly would combat this kind of anti-scientific bullshit, I would be in favour of it. I don't, though. A decent external infrastructure for criticising Wikiedpia articles and groups of articles might be more effective, which is why I have hopes for http://hypothes.is/index.html

HnNoPassMailer 5 days ago 2 replies      
From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Introduction

> Wikipedia is a free encyclopedia, written collaboratively by the people who use it.

There's the problem. Wikipedia should stop being an encyclopedia and start being Wikipedia.

greenyoda 5 days ago 1 reply      
"About two weeks ago, Jessie Stricchiola let me know that her Wikipedia page had been deleted. Apparently, she wasn't notable enough."

Apparently, every fictional character from every forgotten TV show seems to merit their own page (see, for example, the amount of space that Wikipedia devotes to "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" and its cast of characters). It's hard to imagine why any real person wouldn't be "notable enough" by these standards.

ioquatix 5 days ago 0 replies      
Yeah, I've had similar experiences with Wikipedia. In the end I just gave up trying to contribute. Some user even has a bot that now chases me around when I make edits...
nilchameleons 5 days ago 2 replies      
It blows my mind that anything has to meet some arbitrary standard of notability in order to have a Wikipedia page. This is the Internet. Encyclopedia Britannica can't have a brief overview on every topic imaginable, because it's got to fit in a bound cover. The freedom to have information about absolutely every subject in existence seems to me the biggest benefit of putting an encyclopedia online, not the fact that "anyone can edit" Wikipedia - obviously, this is not true. Anyone can hypothetically write for Britannica, but only those that pass a certain muster actually do.
whazzmaster 5 days ago 3 replies      
I personally find Wikipedia semi-useful as an ultra-high level view of topics I want to refresh myself on or get interest in. I wouldn't cite it in any remotely academic or meaningful forum, but it's an amazingly broad repository of information.

I hold this view mainly because a great friend of mine, a college associate professor, got sick of students explicitly violating his directive to avoid Wikipedia as a primary source and started randomly changing entries.

His first (and in my mind best) work was when another friend who is very into music mentioned a jazz musician that he really liked. The professor friend said, "Oh yeah, he's the one that composed the background track to I Wanna Sex You Up". Then he rushed off to update that artist's wikipedia page to reflect that statement. My musically-inclined friend called back the next day and said, "Wow, I never would have guessed that!"

Is this a good thing? Absolutely not. However, seeing the unquestioned acceptance of Wikipedia content has opened my eyes to the way that the system can be gamed or used to support lies or propaganda. Because a musician was wronged? No, its the principle. I now take everything I read on wikipedia with a colossal grain of salt. You should too.

viraptor 5 days ago 1 reply      
I wonder if the same thing will happen to stackoverflow? They have a number of levels of access, reviewing, meta-reviewing, administrators, etc. What level do you get to before becoming a bureaucratic place where everything is designed and decided by comitee?
Chirael 5 days ago 0 replies      
I can't agree with this post strongly enough. It's an amazing small insular community of bureaucracy.

I've tried to make a few minor edits and had my edits undone and squashed in a pretty unfriendly way, and encountered the same things that the author of this article did.

Bravo for calling it out and posting about it.

SeanLuke 5 days ago 0 replies      
Don't get me started about the time I engaged in a revision war with the crazies over the Serial (Oxford) Comma. The Wikipedia page still has an "example" of where the Serial Comma "leads to ambiguity", but which is grammatically incorrect. All I was asking for was a single grammatically proper example to back up the extraordinary claim that the anti-serial-comma folks were making. They couldn't provide it but why does that matter when the revert button is so easy to press?
njharman 5 days ago 1 reply      
Wikipedia is a clique. But, the author is kind of a "clueless as to how to work with strangers, esp voluntary strangers" idiot.

The key to getting your way (in anything) is to work the system. Learn it's idiosyncrasies, etc. Complaining that it doesn't work the way you want it to is fail.

zotz 5 days ago 2 replies      
Someone at Wikipedia recently requested speedy deletion for the article on Ilya Zhitomirskiy, two days AFTER he died. The vote was to keep:


I was an early user and editor of Wikipedia. I greatly dislike cliquishness and clannishness so I didn't last. The above treatment of a dead young coder only solidifies my decision to cease my association with the place.

kondro 5 days ago 1 reply      
Who's with me for providing a version of Wikipedia (there data is open right) that contains all pages that were ever deleted for notability reasons.

I fail to see how whether something is notable makes it more or less a fact that should be categorized.

therandomguy 5 days ago 1 reply      
I'm sorry about your case and the frustration that you had to face. However, they must be doing something right since Wikipedia has millions of user contributed pages? Also it might not be easy to administer a website of that size where anyone is free to go ahead and edit any of the hundreds of thousands of pages. Maybe they are settling for 99% satisfaction? That said, they do need our donations.
lincolnwebs 5 days ago 0 replies      
My experiences are identical. Their notion of community is tragic.
bdrocco 5 days ago 2 replies      
I would suggest Wikipedia needs a 'second page' site to host these types of 'less than notable pages' and they be eligible to be promoted to the main site.

But really I would just classify this as a #FirstWorldProblem

Flibbler 4 days ago 0 replies      
I love Wikipedia, both the idea behind it and the site it's self, and have contributed plenty of time and cash over the years. However I have to agree that the processes have become far too labyrinthine and unfriendly for the uninitiated.

We (the existing Wikipedia community) need to have a rethink of how we lay out our rules and guides and the process for navigating them, we also need to start being a smidge more consistent about how we enforce the rules.

Mostly though, we need to be a little more tolerant of the N00Bs. I get it's tricky, you're busy, hundred things at once and some muppet comes in asking the same question we've been asked 16million times before; it's easy to be a bit terse, but if we want Wikipedia to continue to succeed we need to take a deep breath in those moments and remember to that person, at that moment, we are Wikipedia. A bad impression that turns them away from the site means they're unlikely to ever come back and that's the last thing we want.

I get why everyone's being defensive, and yes, the article was written in a very combative style, but we also need to face up to it landing a few fair points, lets take those and get working on that instead of wasting time rowing about who's in the right.

How can we clarify the deletion process for someone looking from the outside in? How can we make it clearer who to contact in those sort of circumstances? Is there any way we can make talking to people easier?

pithic 5 days ago 0 replies      
I made this site awhile back, partly to address some of Wikipedia's conceptual peccadillos (notability, navigability, less than full openness). It didn't get traction, and I found it hard to market a knowledge-sharing site, in part because almost nobody is actively searching for knowledge-sharing solutions.

The core idea was a bidirectionally weighted graph where users could set the weightings using slider controls. I've since moved on to another project. Anyhoo, the site is mobwa.com. Sooner or later I'll get around to taking it down.

mrbill 5 days ago 0 replies      
Can be summed up pretty easily:


richardw 5 days ago 0 replies      
A few years back, the list page for "gtd software" was deleted, the data was lifted, moved to a private web page, the "gtd" page was pointed at the latter as a reference! I (strongly) suspected the private company of arranging it via a wiki-fu but couldn't prove it. Perfect example of gaming the system.
nachteilig 4 days ago 0 replies      
It seems like one of the biggest problems with Wikipedia is the admin class. They often adopt this "us vs them" bunker mentality like one discovers with a few bad police apples. This especially true with new and unregistered users.
budley 5 days ago 0 replies      
What most amuses me about all this is that it is the most famous Jessie Stricchiola has ever been.
Aramgutang 4 days ago 0 replies      
I'm unable to view the article; on Firefox, it never loads, and on Chrome, there are two scrollbars, but none of them actually scroll, so I can't get past the first page. Anyone care to provide a working copy?
SaltwaterC 5 days ago 0 replies      
The Wikipedia's definition of "notable" is a heap of crap. Maybe somebody should donate Jimmy a dictionary, besides the cash he's looking for.
test5625 4 days ago 0 replies      
vacri 5 days ago 0 replies      
Reading a lot of these and previous comments on HN, it seems:

Steve Jobs, harsh policies, shiny product: Good!

Jim Wales, harsh policies, shiny product: Bad!

giddas 5 days ago 0 replies      
First they came for "the woman who was the pioneer in fighting click fraud"

Then they came for me

polemic 5 days ago 1 reply      
bitter blogger is bitter.
nomdeplume 5 days ago 0 replies      
... and they want $20 million for our work that they don't want. poor Wikipedia
Fliers Must Turn Off Devices, but It's Not Clear Why nytimes.com
375 points by taylorbuley  1 day ago   281 comments top 47
Bud 1 day ago  replies      
There is actually a very logical, sensible reason to have everyone power off and stow their devices during takeoff and landing, and this story disappointingly failed to cover it:

By far the most likely time for any accidents or incidents to occur is during takeoffs and landings. If everyone has 15 objects out and is busily typing away, it's going to be tht much more difficult for flight attendants to get everyone's attention to give instructions, and crucially, much much more difficult to evacuate the plane as quickly as possible.

This isn't controversial, complex or even hard to figure out. It's the same reason they aren't serving food and drinks at those times, and the same reason you have to stow your carry-ons and put your tray tables up at these times.

Disappointing that the Times did not bother to learn this or to write a more informative story.

gchucky 1 day ago 3 replies      
MythBusters covered this awhile back, and busted the myth: "The final explanation is that, even though the airplanes appear to be well-shielded against cellphone interference, there are so many different electronics in a cockpit, as well as so many different cellphones constantly coming out, the FAA doesn't want to do the necessary testing."[1]

[1] http://kwc.org/mythbusters/2006/04/episode_49_cellphones_on_...

noonespecial 1 day ago 2 replies      
The last time I flew, most of the people around me didn't know the difference between "airplane mode", "standby", and "off". I'd bet that at least 80% of the phones on that flight were full on despite the efforts of the crew and the device's owners.

Everyone turning off everything successfully before takeoff is pure fiction.

ghshephard 1 day ago 2 replies      
Easily the most annoying part of flying for me, particularly when doing a quick flight from SFO to LAX is the insistence that I turn off my Kindle while we are lining up for the runway.

* People reading newspapers, and books - both of which are larger, heavier, and just as distracting, and in the case of newspapers, a greater obstacle - are not told to put away their reading material - so the argument that "people need to pay attention on takeoff/landing" is not consistent.

* RF engineers haven't been able to prove that a kindle in airplane mode has a negligible likelihood of impacting the flight systems of an airplane. Really?

One solution, albeit a slightly annoying one, is to have a distinctively colored LED or indicator that is visible from the walkway of the airplane to a stewardess, but not annoying to the reader, which indicates whether a device has been placed in airplane mode.

The new motto then would be "Everyone please place their FAA certified equipment into airplane safety mode. All other electronics, iPads, kindles, laptops, gameboys, iPhones, iPods, must now be put away"

People, being people, would likely start putting the fake LEDs on their electronics to simulate the FAA approved one, unfortunately, not sure what to do about that.

trout 1 day ago 2 replies      
The wikipedia article is more interesting:

This sums it up pretty well:
"The regulatory agencies and aviation industry take the position that any increased risk is unacceptable if it is avoidable."

There's some technical channel sharing problems where phones have access to more towers than designed on land. The FCC can't predict what would happen if phones were allowed to stay on in regards to cell roaming. They also don't know the effects on the avionics.

It looks like they're developing 'picocells' to have an on-board tower, but there are struggles with the different cellular bands. Though, there are some European carriers that have been successful with just letting people keep their phones on.

That said - I think if your device doesn't have a radio on it, it should be allowed to stay on. Which probably won't fly given the 'if it's avoidable' rationale.

brk 1 day ago 4 replies      
Yes, absolutely turn off all devices. We know with certainty that ANY transmitter can cause terrible havoc with the plane's electronics.

Unless you're paying the ripoff $10 fee for in-flight Wifi, then the dangers are magically avoided.

ShabbyDoo 1 day ago 1 reply      
Let's presume for a moment that some sort of interference which could be generated by a box the size of a laptop might have a non-trivial risk to passenger safety. Now, think as a terrorist might. How about sending your minions onto planes with devices which look like standard consumer electronics devices but are capable of generating high levels of interference? Around the holidays in the US, someone checking or carrying on what appears to be an A/V receiver in a box would not raise suspicion -- just a gift for a relative. Now, inside that "receiver" is a battery and a transmitter (I'm not an electrical engineering sort of guy, so substitute the appropriate components) which emits what signals the terrorists hope will interfere with onboard avionics. Via a remote switch, the terrorist turns on the device during take-off and landing. If the plane crashes, is forced to make multiple attempts at a landing, etc., then the terrorists know they're onto something. They will refine their techniques until they can make plans fall out of the sky. If not, they try other experiments -- different frequencies, etc. Could such experiments even be carried out through transmitters on vans which could be temporarily parked on highways near airports? What if the terrorists could purchase airplane components with which to conduct their own testing and refine their "weapons"? Surely such an avenue of attack, if feasible, would be less effort than training your minions to fly an airplane, even if learning to land was not required? That no known terrorist attacks via this vector have been reported suggests it implausible. A problem with most terrorism "experiments" is that, if the experiment fails, the experimenter ends up imprisoned and thus incapable of further experimentation. Given the obvious recruiting issues the likely outcomes of either imprisonment or death present, terrorists ought to take like ducks to water toward techniques which allow repeated experimentation and refinement. That no incidents have been reported due to avionics malfunction suggests the near impossibility of actual passenger risk. QED?
arn 1 day ago 2 replies      
Here's what I don't understand, and admittedly I have very little knowledge of the industry.

There seems to be some sort of approval process for electronics to be vetted during takeoff and landing. Several in-chair entertainment systems seem to have this rating/designation and are allowed during takeoff/landing.

So, is there no dollar amount that could be paid to properly test a particular product? Let's say the Kindle or iPod. It may be millions of dollars, but wouldn't there be a huge word-of-mouth and marketing upside if you could get approved for such a thing?

mmaunder 1 day ago 1 reply      
There were 769.6 Million passengers carried in 2009 in the USA (domestic and international). If each loses 30 mins of productive time on a plane because they can't use e-books or devices below 10,000 ft, that's 384,800,000 hours per year lost. Not everyone is working or learning something on a plane, but it puts things into perspective.


zeteo 1 day ago 1 reply      
If airplanes were vulnerable to radio frequencies, then terrorists have no need to acquire SAMs. A nice powerful amateur radio should do much better.
mgkimsal 1 day ago 0 replies      
How do you actually "turn off" a kindle (e-ink)? AFAICT, it's always "on", although you can turn off the radio part (which I rarely have on anyway).
mhb 1 day ago 1 reply      
IEEE - Unsafe At Any Airspeed: Cellphones and other electronics are more of a risk than you think:


dfox 1 day ago 0 replies      
There are two sides to this:

EMC is black magic and airplane safety is another and thus nobody is willing to say that using random RF devices onboard of plane is safe - for one reason it's almost impossible to test. By the way owner's manual for my new car contains paragraph that explicitly disallows usage of any RF transmitter inside the car that does not have external antenna (and I would assume that most car manufacturers include similar paragraph in their manuals and also that everybody ignores them).

Cellular networks and cell phones are not designed for relative speeds and RF propagation modes of high flying commercial aircraft. Most access methods of digital wireless networks depend on precise timing where propagation delays are significant and thus need to compensate for relative movement of phone and base station and there are pretty low limits of how fast movement can be compensated (it's almost practical to drive car faster than speed limit of GSM1800). Also higher levels of cellular protocol stacks are not exactly prepared for situation when phone sees large number of accessible cells with quite strong signal and this set changes very quickly.

dev_jim 1 day ago 4 replies      
I haven't turned off a cell phone while flying for almost ten years now. I refuse to be part of any safety or security charade.
1010011010 1 day ago 0 replies      
I think part of it is that the flight staff want you to pay attention during takeoff and landing. Having your headphones on/in means you're not listening to them.

Another part is that the flight staff wants fewer things potentially flying around the cabin if there's trouble. of course, they don't usually ask you to put away books...

Cell phone companies want you to turn off your phones because they mess with the ground towers. Flying past towers rapidly puts load on the cell network to transfer your phone's connection between towers rapidly. Your phone can also see more towers than usual, causing it to possibly flap between them in unexpected ways.

The bit about it being unsafe due to messing with the plane's avionics is total bunk, though. I never turn off electronics on flights, except to save battery.

tlrobinson 1 day ago 1 reply      
I was on a flight a few months ago where we stopped on the runway for a few minutes and the flight attendants told us we couldn't take off because "too many" devices were still powered on.

They also told us they had to "reboot Windows".

I'm pretty sure they were full of shit.

orthecreedence 1 day ago 0 replies      
For me it's great. The last thing I want is to hear someone's boisterous 4 hour conversation with an excited family member while I'm sandwiched between said conversationalist and some 300-pound whale who keeps leaning on me as (s)he repeatedly drifts in and out of consciousness.

Everyone's phone plays movies now anyway. Isn't that good enough? Do we really have to be plugged in every second of the day? Americans are too spoiled. OMG I can't jabber on my phone while flying? waa waaa ='[

knightgj 1 day ago 0 replies      
I recall years ago sitting in the LAX UA red carpet club listening to a portable cd player (yup, long ago). My music cut out, and thru my cd player, that didn't even have a radio as I recall, I was listening to the pilot pulling into the gate outside the window communicating with the ground crews over his headset.

Now, as I understand it, that lovely FCC stamp on the back of our electronics means the device must accept any interference received since it's a consumer product... but I'd also hate for my pilots to unexpectedly get my co-passenger's latest dubstep mix opposed to the air traffic controller during takeoff.

For the record: I'm the guy that intentionally leaves his phone on, in airplane mode, idling. I think this is good enough.

swdunlop 1 day ago 0 replies      
There is zero risk to a regulator in maintaining a pointless yet harmless regulation. There is nonzero risk to a regulator in revoking a regulation that may be blamed in the future by a crash investigator.

Even if the risk is absolutely 0.0001% -- fear and CYA wins. Our system of regulation and collective transfer of responsibility to regulators ensures that like a federal subsidy, nonsensical regulations are forever.

Goladus 1 day ago 0 replies      
While I don't think the title and point of the article is exactly wrong, it doesn't fairly consider the potential difference between one or two people failing to power down their devices and several hundred people using multiple devices.

Walking across a floor that is a cluttered mess, you might have a small chance of tripping. Cleaning up most of the mess might reduce the risk to negligible, even if you don't get everything.

That's the angle I would have liked to understand better.

estevez 1 day ago 3 replies      
What are the consequences for simply refusing to obey a crew member's instruction to power down your Kindle? Sort of like willfully ignoring the distinction between the first-class and economy security lines---something I wish more people would do.
wazoox 1 day ago 0 replies      
I remember an article I've read around 1983 when this regulation was first introduced. Some plane taking off suffered from instrument interferences at take off, and trouble ceased when they asked some guy to turn off his "Game & Watch". Though they tried hard to reproduce the problem, they couldn't, but the rule nonetheless applies "just in case".
stef25 1 day ago 0 replies      
A good friend of mine pilots commercial airlines and I asked her we're forced to turn off devices, she says it's cause cell phones can interfere in the same way as they do with music equipment. If one rings close to a loud speaker you get that tell-tale electronic ticking sound and she says that can make pilots not understand what air traffic control is saying … Not sure if this is true or if she'd actually experienced it before.
inopinatus 1 day ago 0 replies      
It was pointed out to me, years ago, that this is an FCC regulation not an FAA regulation, the reason given being that cellphones in the air can/do lock onto many more towers than on the ground (due to the inverse square law), and the network control protocols & software are (or were) not robust against this.
packetwerks 1 day ago 0 replies      
In 1999 I was on a flight and sat next to an EE who worked for Boeing on commercial airliners. He said that there was virtually no chance that a cell phone would cause any interference. He said that as far as he could tell the FAA rules stemmed from the FCC that stemmed from the cell carries pressuring the FCC not to allow it. The reason he suggested was that cell phones at altitude have line-of-sight to dozens of cell towers. As airplanes full of cell phones fly through the air they associate and disassociate with cell towers very quickly. The towers have to switch the handsets from tower to tower more quickly than usual causing a lot of network traffic signaling overhead between cell sites. Here's a wikipedia article on this http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mobile_phones_on_aircraft#Cell_...

Edit: added URL

rms 1 day ago 0 replies      
It's also only in the USA that airlines are so insistent about the lack of electronics. On Asian domestic airlines, you get the same speech to turn them off, but then the flight attendants will just ignore you while you listen to your MP3 player during take-off. Asian domestic airlines don't fall out of the sky that much more often than American ones.
adrinavarro 1 day ago 0 replies      
If someone has flown on a light plane with analog instruments they've noticed that there's no reason to turn off your mobile (but keep it in your pocket when we're taking off please).

Yet, a B737 or an A320 is a much more complex plane. For instance, it has a lot of different electronic systems, ranging from the displays to the multiple, backed-up computers that enable flight controls (manual flight) and manage auto-pilot inputs.

I've seen a CRJ-200's first officer's (copilot) flight PFD and ND gone black and reboot because someone in the back was trying to call home, without much success.

The thing is, that never happened to my friend pilot before even with passengers trying to call. And the power output of a phone trying to call without much coverage isn't the same as the power needed in the center of a big city (and at 8000ft, inside a huge metal tube, the cell reception isn't great).

That's one of the main reasons. Granted it shouldn't happen and plane manufacturers do test against these kind of things. And really important systems, like backup instruments (standby) or flight computers are hardly going to be affected by any kind of interference, so, no, the plane isn't just going to drop from the sky. Yet an automatic A/P disconnection on long final on the PF's (pilot flying) PFD and ND displays going nuts is something serious.

And on the side of that, you don't want people having unknown electronic devices sending signals when pilots have to be more focused (take off and landing) and you better have them keeping an eye outside (or at their newspaper, but you can't help that). That's pretty much the same reason why they ask you to have everything stowed and leave your window 'opened' (you can see if there's something wrong outside, like fire, and report it) during takeoff and landing.

delinka 1 day ago 0 replies      

Put your cellphone near your FM radio. Listen in amazement as the digital chatter between your phone and some remote tower causes interference in your radio reception and affects your listening pleasure. Now imagine that same thing happening to the digital signals in the airplane's electronics while attempting to operate the craft. Catastrophe, chaos, etc. ad nauseum.

Realistic? Doubtful for many reasons. But that's the fear the bureaucrats, pilots, and passengers possess.

devs1010 23 hours ago 1 reply      
The flight I was on last week mentioned they had some sort of sensor that picked up 8 devices that were still on, and they waited for everyone to turn them off before taking off, so I think they do know if people "forget" to turn them off.
law_of_poe 1 day ago 1 reply      
> 712 million passengers flew within the United States in 2010. Let's assume that just 0.01 percent of those passengers...

> That would mean seven million people on 11 million flights endangered the lives of their fellow passengers.

0.01% of 712M is 71200. </pedantic>

lbrdn 1 day ago 0 replies      
Relying on passengers to turn off their phones seems like the most ineffective approach no matter your desired outcome. Isn't it possible to insulate the cabin to prevent RF from exiting? This feels simplistic, but other than that is there a reason this wouldn't work?
joshfraser 1 day ago 0 replies      
This is one of those rules that I feel completely fine breaking. I just wish I didn't have over-zealous flight attendants yelling at me all the time.
rabidonrails 1 day ago 0 replies      
Surprised the author doesn't bring up http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crossair_Flight_498.
dennisgorelik 1 day ago 1 reply      
Airlines should encourage passengers to keep their mobile devices on.

That would allow pilots to test their equipment and make sure there is no dangerous interference with passengers' mobile devices.

wavephorm 1 day ago 0 replies      
The luddites win sometimes.
keithg 1 day ago 0 replies      
My college roommate was a pilot, and his explanation was that on occasion some devices can cause static or interference on the pilot's headsets. Since communication with the tower is critical during takeoff & landing, the policy of power-off is in effect. I guess it's not as critical during taxi, since that is allowed.
zimbatm 1 day ago 0 replies      
If shutting down the devices where so critical the crew would have portable scanners.
Tichy 1 day ago 0 replies      
Next up in the app store: "Terror" - the app that crashes your jumbo jet. This app creates a magic pattern of radio waves that has a 84% chance of crashing the plane you are currently on.

If you plan to use this app for actual terror, be advised to buy an Android phone and not an iPhone, because there is no way this app will be accepted into the Apple app store.

Mordor 1 day ago 0 replies      
That there's no recorded incidents relating to everyone switching on/off simultaneously highlights the lack of risk.
BCounsell 1 day ago 0 replies      
Even on the slightest chance that a consumer device would cause interference, do you think having to put them away is so bad? On take off and landing you are also near other planes, populated areas.

Also don't forget with the 3.5 oz limitation someone did use that kind(Liquid) as an explosive to try and take down a airplane. poor electronics getting jolted from a peaceful sleep with a bullhorn.....

1point2 1 day ago 1 reply      
1. When so much is at stake to err on the side of caution seems reasonable. 2. I have not been in a plane for a while - so can't quite visualize what it looks like - but in the event of an emergency abort on take off, or a landing that goes wrong - having all loose items stored is a head start in ensuring ones iPad does not become an iGuillotine. Just a thought.
FForbes400 1 day ago 0 replies      
So, when you fly private what do they ask of you?
ambertch 1 day ago 0 replies      
that's why I just don't turn off my devices
baby 1 day ago 0 replies      
I actually never turned off my phone/gameboy/mp3 player and that since ages.
acheron 1 day ago 0 replies      
It's because everyone hates each other while flying anyway, and if people had to fly 5 hours with some dumbass yelling on his cell phone the entire time there would be a lot more incidents of "air rage".
Craiggybear 1 day ago 4 replies      
I think its because that if there were an accident involving the spill of aviation fuel (even in an aborted takeoff situation, I can see that happening) then the danger of ignition would be that much greater if everyone's phones, tablets, laptops, etc were all in a powered-on or RF transmit mode.

It makes good sense to minimise that risk.

I recall years ago you were not permitted to use a cellphone on the forecourt of a gas station. No one seems to remember or bother about that now.

tomkinstinch 1 day ago 0 replies      
I wish that the FAA would admit that this is the reason, if it is true. It certainly makes sense.

Personally, I don't mind the switch-off since it keeps obnoxious people from yakking on their phones (now, if only the airlines would offer infant-free flights...).

"Invisible Electrostatic Wall" at 3M adhesive tape plant (1996) amasci.com
270 points by alvivar  5 days ago   46 comments top 15
ChuckMcM 4 days ago 1 reply      
We did this experiment in physics back in college. If you get sufficient charge you repelled by charge of the same polarity. I would speculate that the charge on people was the same as the charge being created in the spooling area (it is a giant Van DeGraff generator type apparatus after all). That would also correlate with the humidity component as the humid air would have a lower dielectric effect and you would get a lower max charge due to leakage into the surrounding environment.

The edge of that electric field would feel to you exactly like you were a magnet of the same pole trying to move into it.

Per some other comments here the biggest risk would no doubt be creating a conductive path for the charge to dissipate. At those levels it can and does ionize air and create lightning.

Would be great to get a picture of the factory setup. I bet you could trace the charge sources. In physics 101 we had to compute how much charge you would have to have on your body to levitate off the ground. It was a lot less then you might imagine, the challenge of course was keeping it on your body and not zapping things nearby in the occasional ionizing discharge. I was busily thinking up high K clothing concepts for a while to try to solve that issue but alas, nothing came of it.

yread 5 days ago 1 reply      
There is some more info from David Swenson:


key quote:

> I think the best explanation has to do with the film being at or vaery near the theoretical charge density limit and just the right combination of resistance between the person and floor. With the electric field at its maximum at the center of the tent formed by the film, the conductive body (person) approaching the center was actually pinned to the floor. Had the floor been more conductive, the person would have been closer to ground and probably would have received a massive shock from a propagating brush discharge. But being isolated from ground, no charge separation occured resulting in the electrostatic "pinning" effect.

seats 5 days ago 2 replies      
15 year old discussion, unfortunately. Makes it pretty likely this didn't stand up to scrutiny.
viraptor 4 days ago 1 reply      
It's time to look for MythBusters suggestions email, I guess... If anyone has a budget to replicate that setup as a one-time funny activity, it's going to be them ;)
jakeonthemove 5 days ago 2 replies      
Isn't this "invisible wall" basically a force field like they show on various Sci-Fi shows? Can it be replicated and used on a spacecraft to protect it from radiation and more importantly, small meteorites? That would be really cool...
cfontes 5 days ago 2 replies      
Ah Ok, why isn't anybody trying to replicate and sell this ? it would be worth more than gold, and it's sitting there in an old maillist ? come on...
tectonic 5 days ago 0 replies      
I remember http://amasci.com/ from over 10 years ago. A fun website. The hand-drawn holograms, for example, are great.
Hacktivist 4 days ago 2 replies      
Here is some more information on the phenomenon that causes this


The most interesting section is how UCLA researchers created such powerful results that they were able to x-ray fingers.


There are also a couple of videos on Youtube that show the effect in action.

jeggers5 4 days ago 0 replies      
This happens because of this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coulomb%27s_law.

Mythbusters should definitely try this!

unabridged 4 days ago 0 replies      
If this actually happened, don't you think 3M engineers would be aware of the effect before it was making a wall the size of a room that could stop a human? They didn't notice small parts and dust being repelled? And they couldn't capitalize on it even just by making a small public display of hovering objects?
goombastic 4 days ago 2 replies      
If this effect were real, this would be ideal for scramjets and re-entry vehicles to reduce friction related heat.
cantbecool 4 days ago 0 replies      
I wish smart phones were prevalent back in 96'. It would have been fascinating to view a video of the phenomenon described in this story, but I probably would have been skeptical thinking it was simply special effects.
astangl 4 days ago 1 reply      
This is one of a couple tantalizing stories I've seen on that site over the years, something that sounds really promising but then leads nowhere, calling the whole story into question. The other one is the lawnmower engine retrofitted with a magnetron in place of the spark plug, turning the engine into a type of steam engine running on water. Poster acted like it was no big deal, and apparently moved on to more interesting things.
tawm 5 days ago 3 replies      
So this is the kind of thing that's going to make our hovercars hover?
ifewalter 5 days ago 0 replies      
selling tickets might be nice....how i love product managers (even better sales managers) :)
Equations True Computer Science Geeks Should (at Least Pretend to) Know elegantcoding.com
271 points by gmoes  23 hours ago   90 comments top 23
king_magic 20 hours ago  replies      
Well, after 6 years of professional software engineering after finishing my BS in CS, the only things on that list that I've came anywhere close to using are the natural join and Demorgan's laws.

I think this is a pretty silly post, to be honest. CS covers so much, and everytime I see a list of "things you should know", I have to resist the urge to roll my eyes and ignore it. But then I read it, and inevitably roll my eyes anyway.

henning 22 hours ago 1 reply      
Since it seems like the multicore thing is here to stay, may I suggest that if you are doing anything parallel you should know about Amdahl's law: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parallel_computing#Amdahl.27s_l...
robinhouston 23 hours ago 1 reply      
I would take issue with the pumping lemma for regular languages here. The formal statement of the lemma is outrageously complicated, which makes it really difficult to understand and use. The only good justification I've heard for including this result in a CS curriculum is that it's a good warm-up for the pumping lemma for context-free languages, which is more useful.

If you actually ever find yourself needing to show that a particular language is non-regular, it's almost always clearer to use an ad hoc argument or appeal to the Myhill-Nerode theorem. Actually the latter is much better, because Myhill-Nerode completely characterises the regular languages, whereas there are non-regular languages that pass the pumping lemma test.[1]

1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pumping_lemma_for_regular_langu...

tomstuart 20 hours ago 0 replies      
Although they're not really "equations", I'd have liked to see some results from computation theory in this list, because they're often deep and beautiful without necessarily being difficult to formulate or understand. They also tend to be informative in a useful way rather than feeling too abstract to be relevant.

For example: the halting problem. Isn't it interesting that you can't write a computer program which can decide (in general) whether another program terminates? The proof is simple and it gives you a real tool to help you avoid trying to solve impossible problems. It's good to know the limits of your craft.

psykotic 22 hours ago 1 reply      
More fundamental than Bayes's theorem is the probabilistic counterpart of modus ponens: P(A/\B) = P(B|A) P(A). This corresponds to the logical rule of inference A, A->B |- A/\B. Note that modus ponens is usually stated in the form A, A->B |- B. But this throws away useful information, namely that proposition A is true, so it's a weaker form.

Bayes's theorem is a direct consequence of this axiom and the commutativity of conjunction.

numeromancer 22 hours ago 0 replies      
rcfox 23 hours ago 1 reply      
It'd be nice if the author actually stated why these algorithms are important to know. Give a use case, rather than "this comes up sometimes."
methodin 22 hours ago 5 replies      
I really wish my brain didn't gloss over the first time I see a math symbol. All of this stuff seems intriguing but it's almost as if I'm hardwired to translate all those symbols into mush. I'd be much more interested in seeing the equivalent code snippets these ideas express.
pork 23 hours ago 1 reply      
The Y Combinator and the pumping lemma seem a bit contrived on that list, especially the former. I would add the maximum margin separation equation, which underlies many modern machine learning methods like SVMs and MMMF, and the P=NP equality question.
StavrosK 22 hours ago 1 reply      
I'm sorry for being somewhat off topic, but is it too hard to try and write coherently? The author's run-on, stream-of-consciousness style, together with the random use of punctuation marks, was tiring to read.
joezydeco 22 hours ago 0 replies      
I was hoping Fitts's Law would make the list, considering a lot of people here are doing UI/UX whether they realize it or not.
cheez 20 hours ago 0 replies      
P(Poster is less than 30 years old) = .9999999999999
krupan 19 hours ago 2 replies      
Shannon's Information Theory, Eigenvector, DeMorgan's Laws, etc. None of those names are meaningful or descriptive. And then the greek letters and made up symbols. Math could learn something from Computer Science:


zerostar07 6 hours ago 0 replies      
Amusing how the original wired article calls the greek lambda "the triangle thing with no bottom"
jergosh 17 hours ago 0 replies      
Oddly enough I never really used any of these while studying CS. Now that I'm in bioinformatics, some of the stuff is commonly used, particularly Bayes' theorem and information theory.
peterwwillis 21 hours ago 8 replies      
So, I take it I shouldn't even consider getting a CS degree since I really suck at math?
hexagonc 13 hours ago 2 replies      
Here's a real simple and practical equation:
1+2+3+4 . . . N = N(N+1)/2

This equation represents the number of edges on a complete graph with N+1 vertices or the number of possible pairings given N+1 objects. Useful when estimating O(N) for certain algorithms that involve comparing an item to every other item in a set.

mcshaner1 14 hours ago 0 replies      
Little's Law is probably CS folks should know too. It is relatively simple, but useful


lell 20 hours ago 0 replies      
There's a small error in the formula for O(N): the way he's written it it looks like for all n, there is a k such that kg(n) >= f(n), ie k depends on n so take k = f(n)/g(n) and all nonzero functions trivially satisfy it. It should be there exists a k such that for all n kg(n) >= f(n). Pedantic I know, but on the other hand I wouldn't call these "beautiful equations" associated with O(N), I'd instead call them the definition of O(N).

There's also o(f(n)), g(n) is a member of o(f(n)) if the limit as n goes to infinity of g(n)/f(n) is zero. Finally, there is asymptotic equality: f(n) ~ g(n) if the limit as n goes to infinite of g(n)/f(n) = 1. O,o and ~ are all subtly different, but if you're just trying to prove upper bounds then O(f(n)) is the one that comes up most frequently, which is why it's probably the only sort of asymptotic analysis most CS grads know.

kevinalexbrown 21 hours ago 1 reply      
Bayes Theorem isn't totally at the heart of Bayesian v non-Bayesian statistics. Bayes Theorem can still be true if you're in a strictly frequentist framework.
k4st 17 hours ago 0 replies      
I would prefer to see the Cook-Levin theorem in place of the pumping lemma.
orenmazor 20 hours ago 0 replies      
I know all those. ish. thanks for morning ego boost!
raffi 17 hours ago 0 replies      
For Thanksgiving, give your parents a treat: upgrade their browser arstechnica.com
274 points by evo_9  4 days ago   104 comments top 26
charleso 4 days ago  replies      
"Well, everything worked fine until you installed that [Chrome | Firefox | Opera] thing on my computer."

Doing free tech support for non-technical people is a wonderful thought, but it can also provide a harsh lesson in the dangers of unlimited liability for open-ended, no-fee, no-contract work.

jgroome 4 days ago 7 replies      
I hope nobody minds but I'd like to share what happened to me recently:

My father called me a few months ago to ask if I could go on our bank's online banking site and tell him if I noticed anything unusual. At the time, HSBC's online banking had the following flow: Enter your user ID as the first step, enter your DOB as the second, and finally enter three specified digits from your 6-figure security PIN.

It all seemed OK to me, nothing out of the ordinary, but he was telling me that when he was prompted to enter his security PIN, the site asked for the full number. This was a big no-no.

"So I thought I'd better call you before I do that, because it doesn't sound right and you know about this stuff."

I went to their house the next weekend to check it out. He fired up the ol' IE7, went to the HSBC page, completed the first step of logging in, and there it was, clear as day. A mysterious third box prompting the user to enter their full PIN.

I don't know exactly what put that input box there, and successive Googling has yielded nothing specific. I assumed the damn thing had picked up some nasty spyware, or some other malicious code with the potential to cost a lot of people an awful lot of money. I installed Chrome, deleted the "Internet" icon from the desktop, imported old bookmarks and the like, and let him have a go on his new browser.

I really think we, as the more technically-minded people in our families, have an obligation to do this for the people we care about, in a way that extends far beyond those clever CSS animations or native video support. I'm lucky enough that my folks know to keep their eyes open to anything fishy online, but I had no idea he was still using IE7. The idea of him (or indeed anyone) inadvertently giving their complete bank details to some cyber-criminals out of completely innocent ignorance terrifies me.

w1ntermute 4 days ago 1 reply      
My parents are running Linux now, but when they were on Windows, I just changed the Firefox shortcut's icon to be the IE icon. I didn't change anything else (not even the text below the icon from "Mozilla Firefox" to "Internet Explorer"), but my parents of course didn't notice.
pacomerh 4 days ago 6 replies      
I tried doing that a couple of times and they end up looking for the blue "e". Somehow that's their symbol for "the internet".
So what I did next was not uninstall but hide the icon and leave the chrome & FF visible. Now my dad uses Firefox and he calls it "the mozilla" hehe. And my mom somehow figured out a way to find IE, I guess she couldn't live without it.

That was my case at least.

algoshift 4 days ago 0 replies      
Every visit:

1- Bring the system drive you cloned last year after doing a clean install

2- Swap system drives

3- Data is on separate drive, no issues there

4- Install updates/upgrades as needed

5- Create new system drive image

6- Clone to the old drive

7- Swap system drives again so you always keep the drive with the least run time as backup

8- Create and save new data drive image if desired

10- Ensure that user account has no administrative privileges

11- Let them know that some of the cheese moved, for the better.

Do this on an yearly basis.

It's easy.

Everyone will get used to it.

You'll sleep well at night.

pgbovine 4 days ago 0 replies      
good idea, but must be done tactfully, or else you run the risk of being labeled as that geeky kid who always insists on disrupting the status quo. remember, for a lot of people, web browsers are interchangeable, so if they're happy with X and you switch them to Y, then they'll be strictly more mad. however, if they're fed up with how X is too slow or buggy and you show them Y, then they're more likely to be appreciative.
code_duck 4 days ago 0 replies      
Browser? Why stop there! I just installed Ubuntu 11.10 on my mother's netbook. It runs about 5 times as fast as Windows 7 was going on that machine and provides 100% of the software she wants to use and 0% of what she doesn't (stable OS, choice of the latest Opera/FF/Chrome, photo management... and no malware).
davedx 4 days ago 0 replies      
How about 'give your corporation's internal IT devs a treat' and upgrade from IE6? Individual users aren't the problem... :)
vaksel 4 days ago 0 replies      
with all the virus makers out there and pure hate for IE, you'd think by now, someone would devise one that would automatically upgrade all browsers on the infected machine.
crudx 4 days ago 3 replies      
Also, delete all those toolbars.
dhughes 4 days ago 0 replies      
Forget my parents want my workplace to get rid of IE6!
squidsoup 4 days ago 0 replies      
Or better yet, buy them an iPad.
Tichy 4 days ago 0 replies      
It's also a great lesson in humility. Every developer should support some noobs from time to time. It's surprising how difficult some computer tasks really are.
citricsquid 4 days ago 1 reply      
The idea is cute, but seems unlikely to happen. If someone's parents are the sort to let their children upgrade their browser, they're also the sort that probably had their computer set up by their children which means it's probably already updated. If they're the sort that are in control of their own computer usage they probably aren't comfortable with their children changing the way their computer works.
suivix 4 days ago 0 replies      
I've had my parents running Google Chrome inside of Sandboxie for over half a year. No issues so far.
fasouto 4 days ago 3 replies      
Pro tip: dont insist, 99% of them will never change the browser, instead install Chrome Frame
davidcuddeback 4 days ago 0 replies      
How'd they know I was going to be reading this from my mom's laptop? Actually, I was pleasantly surprised today to find out that my mom is already using Chrome. No browser upgrade needed.
x0ner 4 days ago 1 reply      
Funny seeing this just after I got done spending 2 hours waiting for Windows to apply all the updates.

Windows, check.
Adobe, check.
Java, check.
All browsers (with Chrome default), check.


corroded 4 days ago 0 replies      
I remember the day I bought my mom and dad a PC. I only taught my mom how to check her email and a few weeks later, she's already installed a dozen Yahoo! and Popcap games in it.

A few more weeks later and as expected, the PC succumbed to a bunch of viruses and I had to "fix" them. To cut the story short, I installed FIrefox, hid the IE icon and told them to use it as it's "just the same, they only look different". I then left and never had to fix any virus problem whatsoever.

Now, they're doing great with Firefox(I think my dad even uses Chrome now).

Lesson learned:
1. Let them suffer from virus infections caused by old browsers cough IE6
2. "Cure" said virus and introduce antibody - new browsers
3. ???

arkitaip 4 days ago 1 reply      
This should be a non-issue but on Windows XP [1] silent application upgrades often fail because they require admin privileges.

[1] Win XP still has a third of the OS market share http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Usage_share_of_operating_system...

algoshift 4 days ago 0 replies      
If you install Chrome on your parent's computer and make it the default browser you are making a serious mistake:

All of their logins and passwords are now available in plain text with a few button clicks. If they ever ask someone else for help or take the computer to a store their entire lives can be up-ended in an instant.

I use Chrome almost exclusively. I can deal with this issue. My guess is that 99% of the public has no clue.

I don't understand why Google refuses to fix this.

billboebel 4 days ago 0 replies      
I did one better 3 yrs ago and replaced my mom's virus ridden Windows w/ Ubuntu. Best move ever, because it drastically reduced the amount of tech support I do for her. Shit just works. Today I upgraded her to Oneiric Ocelot (Ubuntu 11.10), doubled her RAM and moved her 10,000+ photos to an ext4 partition. Now she'll be good for another 3 years as a Linux mom.
gebloom39 4 days ago 1 reply      
Least my son could do, after all those years of editing the ROM BIOS serial port interrupts so he could play Warcraft against his friends; editing config.sys files so he could play Final Fantasy VII or FPS Football Pro '95. He's now got a CS degree and is a web app developer -- and he's usually an OS version or two behind me.
mcarrano 3 days ago 0 replies      
I upgraded my parents browser but only after I upgraded them to Windows 7. Bye bye XP and all of your issues you have given us over the years.
samuel1604 4 days ago 0 replies      
at least that's one advantage being an orphan, not having to do tech support!
SonicSoul 4 days ago 1 reply      
everything has been just toasty since i got them off IE.. 6 years ago..
Man-made super flu could kill half of humanity rt.com
270 points by munin  3 days ago   148 comments top 28
jballanc 3 days ago  replies      
Reading some of the comments, I am reminded of the Greek concept of hubris...

In particular, it is funny how programmers, who make their living by controlling complicated systems, jump to the conclusion that every complicated system is trivially subject to human control. I had a professor once put it this way: disease is just that -- a dis-ease.

The first thing you have to understand is that no organism lives in a biological vacuum. Every organisms interacts with other organisms. When first two organisms meet, the interaction is usually rather messy. One or the other or both die in great numbers. Gradually, they make adjustments and the deaths decrease. One becomes a disease or parasite of the other. Eventually, the two organisms will reach a détente and begin living as symbionts. Given enough time, the distinction between the two may even vanish (see: endosymbiont hypothesis).

The flu virus is, in particular, a rather striking study of this process. Consider the vast majority of fowl who carry the virus asymptomatically. For them, flu is not a disease, but rather a simple hitch-hiker. For humans, you can predict the severity of a flu outbreak based on how well adjusted the virus is to humans. The more avian characteristics it has, the worse the symptoms and mortality are likely to be. At the same time, an ill adjusted virus is much less likely to spread.

One other thing to consider is that the flu virus itself does not exist in isolation from itself. The Spanish flu of 1918 is an interesting case in this respect. It was, as I alluded to before, ill adjusted to human hosts. At the same time, it was particularly communicable; something of an oddity for a flu with so many avian characteristics. It did kill a large number of people, but within a year or two the major damage had been done and the pandemic was over.

Why? Well, certainly a large portion of the human population that had become exposed but had not died were now immune. More importantly, though, the strain mutated and became better adjusted to human hosts. This strain, H1N1, then became the predominant form of the "seasonal flu". It is likely that you have become infected by a descendent of this very strain, probably many times over.

I would not fear this virus for the same reason that I do not fear Ebola or Marburg virus. Viruses that kill quickly and efficiently do not spread as well as those that cause some disease but allow their host to continue functioning more or less normally (all the while exposing many more to the virus). Of course, this is little comfort to the dead, and there will always be those who die from any outbreak (just go look at the annual death toll from "seasonal flu"). It is far, far from a reason to start predicting the end of humanity.

One final note on the bioweapon/bioterror angle: if you follow the thinking of the people that actually contemplate the use of bioweapons, you'll find that bioweapons are only ever considered as denial-of-area or knock-down agents. That is, you can use a bioweapon to prevent your enemy from gaining or holding a strategic position. What you don't find is anyone proposing to use a bioweapon as a coup de grace. Those that study these things understand that any biological agent has an in-built time limit on its effectiveness.

Edit: I just realized I should mention that while I don't appreciate the sensationalism espoused by the scientific press, H5N1 is a very real, very troubling threat. It won't wipe out the human race, but it does have a good chance of setting humanity back a decade or two (not from disease, but primarily from the knock-on effects of people reacting to the disease, halting productive work and worldwide travel). In my mind, though, this is all the more reason to publish this research and, while we're at it, pour some more money into the worldwide flu monitoring network.

erikstarck 3 days ago 3 replies      
Before 20th century: man can destroy man.

20th century: mankind can destroy mankind.

21st century: man can destroy mankind.

Edit: let me just add that I'm extremely positive about the future, it's just that there are certain challenges that we as a society must deal with.

The ability for one man or a small group of men to more or less wipe out the human race will be in our reach within perhaps just a few years.

We can deal with this by different control mechanisms in our society. I'm a firm believer in the transparent society but the way things are going right now we seem to be moving towards a government controlled big brother society.

Is that the way we want it? Now is the time to discuss these issues if we want to change route.

oasisbob 3 days ago 1 reply      
I found this article on the same topic more informative and less sensational:
billpatrianakos 3 days ago 2 replies      
First off, way to sensationalize. Due to the writing style and title I don't think this should be e number one story right now.

But anyway, published or not "bio terrorists" are not the kind of people the article wants you to picture. The only likely way such an attack could be carried out would be with massive support of some unfriendly government.

There's no bio-weapon Al Quaeda working group or anything like that and if there were the worst they could do is try to infect us by releasing some infected animal loose somewhere in the hopes it would infect someone.

I wish this post didn't have "fluff piece" written all over it and focused in a far more detailed way about the merits of publishing scientific studies that could be used for nefarious purposes. Unfortunately, the post gives us so little facts on that subject that none of us could really build a good argument for or against it without doing a fair amount of research first or resorting to uneducated guesses and opinions. It's too bad, really.

prophetjohn 3 days ago 2 replies      
I think there's more to gain than lose by publishing these results. First of all, the research states that ~50% of people infected with the virus would die, not that humanity would be reduced by 50%, necessarily. It's unclear if this is an implication and I think, as a result, it's a bit of a misleading title.

Also, say the title is not misleading and they publish the results and some crazy dictator gets his hands on it. First, he has to be crazy enough to want to develop a virus that has a 50% chance of killing him. Then he has to find scientists that are willing to develop the virus that has a 50% chance of killing them and their family and friends, etc. The likelihood of all these things transpiring seems relatively low.

On the other hand, this research seems to indicate that it's not wholly unlikely that this kind of virus mutation could transpire organically, in which case this "recipe" being public knowledge would be instrumental in fighting the disease. Even if it doesn't arise organically (crazy terrorist convinces crazy scientists) the public knowledge of it would still reduce the 50% death rate.

And I also feel that the kind of sentiments that lead people to claim that this research should never have been performed in the first place are misguided. This kind of tinkering and hacking around is likely what would lead to the next big cure, etc. Never stop scientists from learning new things.

mootothemax 2 days ago 1 reply      
After 10 generations, the virus had mutated to become airborne

Can someone more qualified than me comment on this? I was under the impression that this is as ridiculous as saying that you started out with dogs and ended up with cats 10 generations later. That viruses belong to specific families, and those families include how they're transmitted.

My knowledge of this field is extremely limited; can someone please clear up my confusion? :)

tokenadult 3 days ago 0 replies      
Thanks to the commenters who pointed to more balanced news stories about this line of research. Some of the other comments here mention the difficulty in developing strain-specific flu vaccines. That difficulty is why research on universal flu vaccines



is going on in multiple countries, with some major funding support. Antiviral medicines that treat cases of the flu tend to be in short supply in every flu season, but some governments have taken care to stockpile those in ways that ensure that essential services would go on in those countries even during a severe flu pandemic. Further research on broad-spectrum flu vaccines, including a possible universal vaccine, is warranted to prevent natural strains of the flu and is ongoing. Further research, development, and production of antiviral medicines to treat people who catch the flu is also warranted and ongoing.

A new pandemic, from whatever source, would be extremely disruptive, but as an astute previous comment pointed out, people can do things like self-quarantine, and such simple forms of self-protection were very effective in stopping the SARS epidemic in 2003. Predicting the death of half of humankind based the preliminary finding reported in the rather sensational story submitted here is not a prediction I believe or worry about.

frisco 2 days ago 0 replies      
According to Wikipedia, Erasmus Medical Center (or, for that matter, all of Rotterdam) only has labs rated up to Biosafety Level 3. This sounds like it should be the definition of BSL4. I wonder whether the research was conducted elsewhere, Wikipedia is wrong, or if they're really doing this in a BSL2 or BSL3 lab.
Apocryphon 3 days ago 0 replies      
This story is from RT, or Russia Today. It's a news network that's been known to run sensationalist stories.
jarin 2 days ago 0 replies      
To me, the scariest thing (which seems to be overlooked) is that this particular strain of Avian Flu is only 5 mutations away from the Avian Flu in the wild.

While we're fretting about whether this will get out of a lab, it's not entirely unlikely that a similar strain will evolve in the wild (now you know why they burned all those chickens in China).

Edit: "A genetic study showed that the new, dangerous strain had only five mutations compared to the original one, and all of them were earlier seen in the natural environment " just not all at once."

OoTheNigerian 3 days ago 1 reply      
Unfortunately, if the virus has already been created, the antidote has to be found ASAP. For this to happen, a large number of scientists have to know how to make it first before knowing how to destroy it.

How you decide who should have access to this information is now the problem. If they are not careful, the censoring could piss of some crazy scientist who would now announce such discoveries with a blogpost and allow anyone have access to it than through a sort of regulated process that would at least give the 'right people' a lead on the info; so they can start working on an anti-dote before is gets to the mass market.

As to what kind of research should be allowed, I have no comment.

dools 2 days ago 0 replies      
The ethical dilemma is interesting and, I think, parallels the "security through obscurity" approach to software security. If the findings are published, the scientific community at large can work to fight a pandemic which may happen anyway, but at the same time may decrease the time until a pandemic occurs by giving information to those who would willingly produce it for their personal gain.
vl 2 days ago 0 replies      
Is it time to stockpile Tamiflu again?

But, seriously, isn't it obvious that publication of the fact that this research is blocked is already enough for terrorists? From the preliminary report they already have an outline of what needs to be done, they know where to go and who to ask or what to steal if they can't do it themselves.

markazevedo 3 days ago 3 replies      
Any reason why we can't cripple the virus and start testing vaccines now? Publish it and immunize against it.
skrebbel 3 days ago 1 reply      
I don't get how a US body has to decide whether Dutch and Japanese research papers are allowed to be published.
kunle 2 days ago 1 reply      
Just seems like playing with fire. I get the whole idea of helping humanity cope with an epidemic, but not clear why they didnt just do THAT research instead.
papa_bear 3 days ago 0 replies      
Maybe a requisite for researching and developing dangerous diseases should be that you make the vaccine immediately after (or before, if possible).
httpitis 2 days ago 0 replies      
Why would anyone even begin to think about developing this sort of thing?
marze 2 days ago 0 replies      
How stupid.
Zash 3 days ago 0 replies      
What could possibly go wrong?
corroded 3 days ago 0 replies      
Let's all hope Umbrella Corporation doesn't get a hold of this...
bitwize 3 days ago 0 replies      
But can it spread to Madagascar?
DaveChild 3 days ago 1 reply      
Captain Trips.
cr4zy 3 days ago 0 replies      
It seems like the United States should invest in a dream team, atom bomb, go to the moon type of operation to deal with this. It's hard to see why this information even got out in the first place.
nussbi 3 days ago 0 replies      
whether or not the they publish this information - if it exists indeed - will it really matter?

I mean; why bother with a future that does not exist yet? If it gets out and holds to be genuine information then some fascist group (sect, terrorists, whoever) develops it and releases it into the wild... What will happen? WE DON'T KNOW. It could kill half of humanity but also only a few people, we can't say.

All we know for sure is that there may be hugely harmful virus data in some lab. That's all there is to say, future will tell what's gonna happen. Why bother with a future we can't predict?

heelhook 3 days ago 2 replies      
Maybe I'm being naive, but this sounds a lot like critical software that, if compromised, could be a danger for our society. You would definitely want that piece of software to remain as secure as possible: open source is definitely the way to go!
nickpinkston 3 days ago 0 replies      
I feel like this is the ultimate "money where your mouth is" question for the "pre-publish-the-exploit" hackers. Would they release this? I'm not sure we shouldn't, but it's pretty crazy that we've made this.

Hell, I'm not so sure that any virologist or two worth their salt might not be able to do the same. Modified-Nature you scary!

ck2 3 days ago 0 replies      
Yeah let's keep spending money on the TSA groping everyone, terrorists would never just spread a super-flu instead.

Ironically the TSA could be the ones to spread a virus from person to person because I am sure they do not change gloves on every grope?

Please let this not be the future of reading on the web elezea.com
269 points by pascal07  6 days ago   119 comments top 28
edw519 6 days ago 5 replies      
edw519's simple rules for reading on the internet:

That's a Back Button

(to the cadence of "That's a Paddlin'" from "The Simpsons")


  Login button below the fold? That's a back button.
Animated ads? That's a back button.
Shifting content? That's a back button.
More than 2 pages? That's a back button.
Need to be logged in to Facebook. That's a back button.
Unexpected video? That's a back button.
Unexpected sound? That's a back button.
Overlapping ads & text in my browser? That's a back button.
Overlapping ads & text at 800 x 600? That's a back button.
No horizontal scroll bar to get beyond right fold? That's a back button.
Flash? That's a back button.
pdf? That's a back button.
Slideshow? Oooh, you better believe that's a back button.
Freezes my computer? That's a battery removal.

It's a wonder I find anything readable any more.

ChuckMcM 5 days ago 2 replies      
"... as well as the growing number of sites that offer memberships (like The Loop and Daring Fireball)."

So there is a concept, that you can't tell people about, they have to experience it, then they "get it."

Small anecdote, when I left Sun in 1995 I went to a startup called "GolfWeb" which was publishing an online magazine about Golf. I saw the web as the new world of publishing (I was waaaaaaaaay early :-)) and had plans for a micropayments type Java wallet applet that would allow you read articles and consume content like you did with a regular magazine only better since you only paid for the articles you read, and you didn't have to store back issues they were always online. There were three problems with this vision:

1) Technical users of the time were chanting "information wants to be free" and were rabidly opposed to paying for content.

2) Nearly nobody had Java in their browser yet, so supporting this meant a very small market to work from.

3) DigiCash and David Chaum had a bunch of patents on electronic versions of cash transactions and they didn't have a clue about 'reasonable' licensing.

[Trust me, in 2015 after all that crap expires, we're going to have some really useful tools available.]

So Golfweb, like others, turned to putting banner ads on the pages and using that to pay the bills.

Information has value. This may seem obvious but for a number of people it is not. The question is how do you convert 'demand' type value into something fungible like cash.

The easiest way has been selling people who want to contact people who would want to consume this particular information, an opportunity to make their case. Sort of like giving lions a seat at the watering hole where gazelles come to drink. The lions pay more for seats near a good quality watering hole. But the nature of watering holes is that the gazelles, despite their thirst, will not frequent watering holes that are saturated with lions. No gazelles, and the lions lose interest. That is the value transaction of most web sites, selling your 'demographic' to advertisers for a spot on the page. And like our eponymous watering hole, you can screw it up by over doing it. So at the tipping point, the value of the information is higher to the reader, than having access to the reader is to the advertiser. So you switch from selling access to lions to selling gazelles access to a fenced watering hole where there are no lions.

To date however that switch has been limited by our gazelles ability to express a preference. Some sites are experimenting with memberships, others like Kachingle are providing a way to pay authors of good sites (less reliable income that advertising). What is needed will be something which is part payment system, part rights clearinghouse, and part web framework.

I of course bowed out of this particular game until 2015 :-) but its going to come to pass. I pay $12/yr to get a magazine, why not $1/month to a web site to access the new content there? Especially if it means the ad farms are tapered down to something less egregious than the examples given in OP's article. Because it isn't that advertisements are bad 'per se' (I used to get BYTE magazine in part for the advertisements), it is the egregious nature in which publishers try to force them into your face which changes the value proposition negative for the reader. So some content publisher growth, some additional understanding in the advertising world what to expect, and voila we'll have moved off paper for this kind of stuff.

citricsquid 6 days ago 2 replies      
"...Ad networks like The Deck come to mind..." everytime someone says this I just switch off. The Deck and other hipster brand ad networks are not a workable solution for 99.99% of bloggers, please stop using them as an example of how advertising can be "good"; they're an example of why it can't.
EwanToo 6 days ago 4 replies      
The future of reading on the web is easy to change, all we need to do is pay some money for each article we want to read without adverts...

Unfortunately, the primary impact of putting up a paywall for premium content seems to be to raise huge arguments about why "information wants to be free", not the reality of what happens without one.

qjz 6 days ago 0 replies      
I dislike the trend towards light grey text on a white background. Unfortunately, the article itself is guilty of this. It's fine for timestamps and other page noise, but why dim a blockquote?
DanielBMarkham 5 days ago 1 reply      
This is driving me crazy. I feel the author's pain.

It's gotten so bad I've created a web site that gives me plain headlines of all the tech, science, world, sports, and political stories I might want to read. Phase 2 is walking the links and using something like Readability to make those readable as well. http://newspaper23.com

I didn't do this as a for-profit startup kind of thing -- it's for my own sanity. Everywhere you go folks are screwing with you instead of just giving you content. I wanted a place I could go to just catch up quickly on the opinion of the day. No bullshit.

I also feel like it is a mistake to blame this on SEO. SEO has nothing to do with it. I have a few sites optimized for SEO myself, and the only thing I want to do is present plain, simple, easy-to-understand text. How else would people easily consume it and recommend it to others?

Nope, the problem is stickiness. Everybody wants their site to be sticky and entertaining -- to the point of popping up email sign-ups, ads, social crap, you name it. SEO just means getting people to visit. Believe me, the last thing you want to do is annoy them. It's the folks who already have large audiences that are crapping all over the net. And they're not doing that for new eyeballs, they're doing that to keep the eyeballs they already have -- it's called engagement. Content providers make a clear and decisive design statement when they decide to screw over readability for stickiness. (Yes, some small-traffic sites do this, but only because they could care less about the audience in the first place. Any visitor for them is a mark. These are the guys who are never going to grow and stay big and simply don't care.)

jimbobimbo 6 days ago 0 replies      
My "favorite" "feature" is when you arrive on the web page for the first time in your life and you are being prompted with a popup to take a survey on the web site you never seen before...
tallanvor 6 days ago 4 replies      
Well, which would we prefer? Seeing the ads, or having to pay for access to each site?

Personally, as annoying as ads are, I still prefer them being there to the content not being available at all.

jrabone 6 days ago 0 replies      
This has been the future of reading on the web for about the last 10 years. It's now so bad that my default browser setup (the one I use for sites I've never visited before / known offenders, as opposed to my online bank) is Firefox + AdBlock + RequestPolicy + NoScript + FlashBlock. Yes, I know some of these overlap. Yes, I probably want to look at Ghostery too. I also run a fairly aggressive filtering proxy on another server on the LAN and all LAN HTTP/HTTPS traffic goes through that by default (with exemptions for some sites that fail to cope). I don't care about your ad dollars. The chances are I don't actually care about your content either, but it's something to do to pass the time. If you want to throw up a paywall, knock yourself out - if the content is good enough, I will pay.

Around this time of year, every dickhead with a WordPress install seems to discover the same crappy JavaScript snow plugin, so that gets a special regexp all to itself in my filtering proxy. I didn't pay for a fast quad core CPU so you can animate snowflakes / leaves / puppies in the most inefficient way possible.

Amusingly the mobile experience is actually better in some ways - a double tap to zoom often fits the actual content postage-stamp-sized region to the screen, and I don't see the rest of the page...

CodeMage 6 days ago 2 replies      
I find it ironic that I had to disable AdBlock Plus to see the images in the post.
InfinityX0 5 days ago 0 replies      

"The question for reddit isn't whether or not people enjoy it and want to spend time on it, but whether or not the owners can make money selling those people's attention. The traffic to reddit - while admirably large - is relatively unattractive to most advertisers.

"Reach" (impressions/eyeballs) are only important insofar as you're talking to someone who might buy what you're selling (see "relevancy"). The sub-reddit system could theoretically segment the audience in interesting ways, but other than r/gaming, there aren't many natural industry fits amongst popular sub-reddits.

Anecdotally, the audience would also seem to be advertisement-averse. An advertiser should be willing to pay network prices for the audience (i.e. pennies CPM), which makes it a nice living for a small group of folks living off their passion, but pretty useless to a Condé Nast trying to run a media empire.

I think the business model in a reddit-like site could be selling curated content in other media, e.g. a meme-series of coffee table books. Think Harry Potter, not Oprah.
If you're in the content game, your business's value is in having the attention of a group of people. Your first attempt to monetize that asset needn't be to sell your audience's attention to someone else, in this case undermining your ability to keep their attention. Instead, you should focus on bringing things your audience wants - and would pay for - to them. Sometimes that means you need to make the things they want to buy instead of shilling them for someone else, because no one sells what your people want.

Condé Nast isn't built to do this."

Via - http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2966628

franze 6 days ago 2 replies      
the biggest thread for reading on the web is - in my humble opinion - the swipeware deployed on multiple small and big sites (i.e.: all *.wordpress.com blogs) for mobile devices like the iPad. swipeware has a horrific user experience, adds nothing of value to the page or the article and makes it impossible to read an article from start to finish.

out of curiosity: is there anybody out-there who thinks swipeware on blogs is a great idea/experience?

AndrewDucker 6 days ago 0 replies      
This is why I use Adblock on my desktop, and ReadItLater to extract the text on mobile. Without these the web would be pretty unusable.
wavephorm 5 days ago 0 replies      
Q: Do you want to pay for reading content on the web?

A: No.

Q: Do you want to see ads while reading content on the web?

A: No.

Q: Do you want everything to be free all the time but maintain a capitalistic society?

A: Yes.

jvdh 6 days ago 0 replies      
I don't think that Daring Fireball is a good example for a membership based blog. Gruber made all feeds freely available in August 2007. The membership button is still there, but besides a T-shirt, it doesn't provide you with anything new.

AFAIK he gets a lot more from the weekly feed-sponsorships, The Deck ads, and Amazon referrals.

nicksergeant 6 days ago 1 reply      
Why don't we start by trying to raise the quality and therefore effectiveness of ads on the Internet? A fundamental shift in how ads work and what they're trying to do needs to be done.

The ads you see on websites right now are remnants from the newspaper, nearly identical to their print counterparts.

Creating a "prettier ad network" or "other way to be profitable" is only patchwork. We need to completely rework the execution of "I have something to sell and I'd like to tell your readers / customers about it".

Solving this requires something larger.

jiggy2011 6 days ago 0 replies      
I think I have mentioned this in the past on other articles about advertising. The overall game of creating aggressive advertising has not changed, they just now have more tools to do it.

If your going to force me to have a fullscreen ad before reading your content then at least allow me to dismiss it easily with a single click on the ad and not having to hunt for a close button (if there even is one).
The amount of times I've had a fullscreen ad completely block a page with no way to remove it..

Regards content, I think this is partly just a function of so many people now reading stuff online.
With more people reading things on smartphones/tablets on their way to work on the bus etc there is a market for more "tabloid" style writing that can be consumed quickly.

There are still plenty of people writing high quality content and lots of it gets linked to here on HN.

People will just be more discerning about the content portals they use.

ivanzhao 5 days ago 0 replies      
The problem is not the poor state of the reading experience -- that's the symptom -- the problem is the per-page-view model of the online advertising, which breaks an article into pages, sharing buttons in your face... etc.

A better paradigm has to come.

efsavage 6 days ago 0 replies      
I use, (and pay for), Readability, and I don't really see this as a extra work or a hack or a a necessary evil on my part.

Even if these interstitials weren't there, I'd much rather hit tilde without even thinking, than have to read a page that's even 90% as nice as Readability is with my consistent settings. I do it all the time on blogs without ads or pages that are already very readable like bostonglobe.com.

It's like an office coffee pot, nobody complains that the coffee isn't already sweetened or creamed, they're fine doing the little extra step so that everyone has it the way they want it.

(The one-click send-to-kindle is a time/productivity saver that offsets the cost of that extra click, as it isn't even an option on most sites, and certainly not without hoops to jump through.)

funkah 6 days ago 2 replies      
Readable sweeps all that shit away and puts the plain text on a plain background. Use it and you'll stop caring what lightboxes and other crap web sites festoon their pages with. Safari's reader is nice as well, it even auto fetches all the pages in a multi page article.
jetz 6 days ago 0 replies      
This is just the beginning guys! Big web properties are becoming more like a TV Network. They interrupt you with an ad because they think that if their name is not some power of 10 then they have to use this TV-like experience. Maybe they're right but if this "platformization" thing catches on then you will _not_ have option to block them out!

I don't know the solution but I'm (we're) trying with our startup.

scriptproof 6 days ago 2 replies      
There was a statement of Matt Cutts at PubCon saying Google will penalyze pages with too much ads above the fold. Expect to see that.
rythie 6 days ago 0 replies      
Publishers are clearly struggling to make money from their sites and decline in the quality and increase in annoyance of the adverts is the result. I wrote this a while ago (though not much has changed):


monkeypizza 5 days ago 0 replies      
AutoPager is a great browser add-on that preloads the next page of nytimes, reddit, tumblr etc. It takes care of a lot of the annoying pagination.

It took a long time before I was convinced to try it - but it's sweet.

paulnelligan 6 days ago 1 reply      
I would argue that once you dismiss ads and scroll down the page that content is entirely readable. The internet has given us an expectation that everything should be free and immediate, and we can't tolerate anything less.

In the old days you paid for a newspaper or magazine with money, now you pay for it with advertising (or you pay money to remove the advertising) - nothing new there, nothing surprising, good content is still good content, and the shit is still there in abundance also ...

ClintonWu 6 days ago 0 replies      
This is exactly the problem we're trying to solve at Skim.Me (http://skim.me), except we're not focused solely on article text reading. Even reading my bank account info on the web is terrible.
zobzu 5 days ago 0 replies      
Use ghostery. :-)
deepakgupta1 6 days ago 1 reply      
Evernote Clearly, anyone?
Twine: Listen to your world, talk to the Internet kickstarter.com
265 points by potomak  4 days ago   42 comments top 10
pavlov 4 days ago 9 replies      
The copy highlights something that I don't understand about Twitter. It reads:

Maybe you want to get a tweet when your laundry's done [...]

Who would actually do this? Why would I use Twitter to send a private notification like that? It's pretty much the worst system imaginable. Twitter works great for broadcasting to people, but it's nonsense for one-to-one messages.

Is this really how I want to set up my washing machine:

1) Create a Twitter account for the machine. Let's call it @pavlovs_2011_electrolux.

2) Subscribe my public Twitter account to @pavlovs_2011_electrolux. (Alternatively, maybe the washing machine can be configured with my public Twitter account so it can send messages to me.)

3) Keep an eye for my washing machine's notifications amongst a sea of disorganized tweets about public topics.

lwhi 4 days ago 2 replies      
I love the idea, but conceptual and economically, I find the idea of using one sensor in a multisensor device on a long term basis problematic. I'd prefer a modular system where I can provide a wifi base module with specific sensors as required through plugin parts.

Lovely project in any case.

postscapes1 4 days ago 4 replies      
If you guys like this project, Green Goose is another sensor based system coming out: http://greengoose.com/

Overall sensors + connectivity will be getting very cheap soon and it is cool to see a project like this see beyond this to include ifttt type functionality integrating other existing systems and actions.

The move to become the platform for all of data being generated by devices like this is getting heated as well (not sure if the Twine guys are thinking this route or not with the Spool web app) With Pachube, Thingworx, and a whole host of others attempting to become this centralized hub. It will be interesting to see if we end up with specialized platforms for different segments of our lives (i.e: one for health, one for your home, etc) or if a 'Facebook' for your things will emerge.

Self Plug: We are tracking this "Internet of Things" on http://postscapes.com if you are interested in the topic at all.

quizbiz 4 days ago 0 replies      
I think the idea is ingenius. Best of luck to them.

I can't wait until the price point falls down for products like these. At a price point like $10-$20, I would be buying a six pack.

Fargren 4 days ago 1 reply      
This could work great with ifttt
cloudwalking 3 days ago 1 reply      
I've seen a lot of people talking about Twine today (HN, Twitter, TC), but I haven't yet heard any use cases that are actually useful. I am certain there are plenty of great uses for this, but I haven't seen any yet.

I don't want a tweet when my laundry is done. It's pretty unlikely my basement will flood. How could this add value to my life, say once a week?

gtufano 4 days ago 0 replies      
Sun SPOTs (Sun Small Programmable Object Technology) was a similar project of Sun Microsystems. Now open source: http://java.net/projects/spots/pages/Home
delosfuegos 4 days ago 0 replies      
Great idea. This is obviously not the final step for this product. It is a great concept with a great deal of potential (basically any domotics application) and it will probably have a large potential user base. Think of all the DIYers, techies, semi-techies and others who want to create their own way of domotics.

I love it.

antninja 4 days ago 0 replies      
So it hopes to become an alarm system for everything, not just robbery and fire. The smartphones are replacing specialized devices like cameras and music players, so maybe there's an opportunity for a generalized alarm system. People want to listen their babies, prevent kids from going to the pool alone, and this anti-flooding alarm seems quite unique too. Certainly the pods should alert us when the batteries are empty, and it should be an install-and-forget type of thing.

We'll see if it's the iPhone or the Newton of alarms systems.

paulgailey 4 days ago 0 replies      
the sensorial web for the pleb
Solving Instagram's Unshredder with Mechanical Turk and $0.50 recollect.com
262 points by bertrandom  2 days ago   34 comments top 15
mikeknoop 2 days ago 4 replies      
Another possible way to do this is present the Turker with two vertical pieces already placed together. Ask them a yes/no question: do these two images match?

Iterate intelligently over your favorite sorting algorithm until you've placed all the images!

Note: requires more Turkers but each answer could be worth much less, maybe around $0.01

cellis 2 days ago 0 replies      
The next step: turn it into a game and get it done for free. Even better, put a skinnerian ux around it and charge for the pleasure of solving picture puzzles ;)
rhizome 2 days ago 0 replies      
Am I the only person who doesn't see this as Instagram's unshredding project as much as a DARPA one?


Omnipresent 2 days ago 0 replies      
This is a really neat hack but How does the script know whether or not the solution was correct? Have they shared a real solution that solves this problem completley algorithmically, without human involvement? I could not find it.
jarin 2 days ago 2 replies      
I can imagine it now, this is the first step in human evolutionary divergence between the Eloi (programmers) and the Morlocks (Mechanical Turkers).
lachyg 2 days ago 0 replies      
The jQuery sorter thingy is incredibly buggy / slow. I would have been done in 1/3rd of the time if it wasn't!
nitrogen 1 day ago 0 replies      
OT: For some reason the Recollect bar that slides in from the top when I scroll down the page is very distracting. It seems to violate the expectation that, when scrolling downward, page content should only be moving upward. It also feels like it's robbing me of readable screen area. I suspect I'd be much less bothered by a position: fixed header that was always present.
seanp2k2 2 days ago 2 replies      
This is probably the first time I've ever cares about "crowdsourcing" or his ugly brother-in-law, "cloudsourcing". However, I can't help but imagine why they want a solution for this. Seems like Cold Wat-era spook stuff.
burgerbrain 2 days ago 0 replies      
If more turk tasks were like this one, I'd probably consider putting some free time into it. That was actually sort of fun.
natch 2 days ago 2 replies      
Very cool. I'd love to see the jQuery you used for this. Is that posted anywhere?
iag 2 days ago 0 replies      
Love it. This is an excellent use of mechanical turk solving real world problems.
arkitaip 2 days ago 0 replies      
This is just brilliantly simple and effective. The fact that you created a fully functional prototype is just gravy.
jpadilla_ 2 days ago 0 replies      
Very clever sir! I've used the Mechanical Turk for a couple of interesting tasks, lowering prices to $0.01 and having Turkers complete those tasks in less than 2 minutes which is pretty awesome! It's very interesting how we've started to create some kind of relationship with Turkers, since we've sent over 1M HITs since we started using it.
deepkut 2 days ago 0 replies      
Wow. That is truly amazing. Creative work my friend.
jeffbarr 2 days ago 0 replies      
This is a very cool way to use the Amazon Mechanical Turk!

I am 99% sure that the image (at least the one that I saw) on the page is of Tokyo's Shibuya station. And the tall white and black building on the right 1/3 of the picture? That's the Cross Tower building, housing Amazon's Tokyo office.

This photo had to have been taken from one of the upper floors of the Cerulean Tower hotel.

Why do humans procrastinate? reddit.com
258 points by ankeshk  4 days ago   82 comments top 25
ramanujan 4 days ago  replies      
There was a recent highly cited paper describing the concept of willpower as a measurable, physiological, depletable quantity, strongly affected by glucose levels:


And there was a very interesting Metafilter thread from a few years ago that found that a small amount of alcohol overcame procrastination:


It's probably time to start studying these kinds of things as genuinely biological phenomena.

erikb 4 days ago 3 replies      
Hm. I never saw this as a bad attribute nor can I accept it as the reason for procrastination. Yes, sure. People work more for goals that are closer in time then for goals that are further away. But that is not irrational, nor is it the reason for procastination. First let me explain how I see the procastination thing and then let me say a word or two about why I think that temporal discounting is something rational and useful.

Procrastination often has no reward at all. If it has a reward, why call it procrastionation? You actually do something useful, if it has a reward. The thing is, that "not procrastinating" is considered work, thus related with stress, concentration and energydepletion. So "not procrastinating" has a cost, which humans overestimate. There is some research (that I can't quote right now, but psychological material here on HN often cites some good sources about that) that people value a cost of an objective value X around 2 or 3 times higher then a reward of the same objective value (so losing $100 might feel as bad, as winning $200 might feel good). So most humans prefer instinctively to avoid or minimize costs before they maximize the (stochastic) expected value of an action. Doesn't avoiding cost (stress, "work") seem much more reasonable then missevaluating the reward for procastination? Well, what the truth is can nobody know, because the science also doesn't know yet. But for me it sounds way more reasonable, especially because I know how much I like to not work and to have no stress compared to getting anything done.

So, now why do I think that temporal discounting even is a good thing? Time can change the reward we gain from an object. An object might increase or decrease in value over time. With money we can even be sure that it decreases over time. Also our preferences might change according to our changing situation. Whatever we do now, we can be sure that our situation will be very different one year in the future. And last but not least, the risk increases drastically, that we don't get any reward at all. Dying in a car accident is a very unlikely thing if you sit at home in front of your comuter now. But if you think about that risk again for this point in time + one year it is not that unlikely anymore. All risks increase with a bigger time frame. All this leads to a situation in which gaining something now makes it much more rewarding then gaining it somewhere far in the future.

I think the big problem about that article is that it mixes truth with false assumptions. For example saying humans act irrational is true. It is also true that humans discount rewards over time. But both doesn't mean time discounting is something irrational. This article shows clearly that having some right arguments doesn't make your assumption correct. (this might also be correct to say about my arguments)

stdbrouw 4 days ago 2 replies      
What that comment doesn't get is the anguish that sometimes accompanies procrastination. I don't want to start real work, often for a reason I can't quite fathom, so I go play Skyrim, and while I'm playing it I feel really really bad for not working even though I can't quite force myself to quit playing either. There's no joy in this particular kind of procrastination, and so it can't be explained by the lure of immediate gratification.

It is or should be any hacker's goal in life to do something that you love, not to accept drudgery for some supposed long-term benefit. Which means that any procrastination that remains is likely to be of the kind that I describe here, which must have different origins. I like the "procrastination as a function of faith in a decision" theory.

arketyp 4 days ago 2 replies      
How does cases of workaholism suit into this? That is, specifically, persons focusing too much on their career for big parts of their lives and then later regretting never having spent time with their family, enjoying a slow day etc. Isn't this almost reverse procrastination? Somehow you have deluded yourself that the future reward is worth the short term costs. And I guess in the end the habit would be so hard to break that it is indeed a sort of short-term procrastination kind of deal once again. You keep working all days because it is the easiest choice to deal with. Stepping down is such a drastic choice and a big commitment and scary and so on.

I guess I also want to point out that these things are really complicated dynamics. How do I know how much I should deny myself the instant rewards? What do I really know about the worth of this task I have setup for myself and its benefits? Why do we procrastinate? Well, because we don't know, because we're uncertain, because we doubt.

fauigerzigerk 4 days ago 1 reply      
This theory makes very little sense to me. First of all, I don't believe that it is rational to ignore time or impact on your life.

Would you take 1 dollar today or 10 in a year? I think what matters more than the actual answer is that the choice has zero impact on your life either way. Would you take 1 billion today or 10 billion in a year? Is that even the same question? In terms of supposedly "rational" financial accounting it is, but I think it would be totally irrational for an average person not to think about these choices in completely different terms.

At some point a quantitative difference becomes a qualitative difference and it would not be rational to act as if this leap didn't exist just because the original quantitative model is unsuitable to account for it. I believe nonlinearity in things like these is the core of what we call intelligence and calling it irrational is nonsense. (Not sure if that theory does that, but it sounds like it might)

The other example they give, studying for an exam earlier or keep playing a game is a different matter altogether. It's a multi factor optimization and there is no way to transform it to a single factor problem (unlike the financial example). Is the pleasure gained from playing the game worth more or less than reducing stress and risk ahead of the exam? On what scale should that be determined?

ggwicz 4 days ago 2 replies      
"Procrastination is the soul rebelling against entrapment." - Nassim Taleb

People procrastinate because they're doing something they don't like.

I procrastinate when I'm doing homework. But wouldn't you know, I always get motivated when hacking on an open source project or when working on a freelance project.

funkah 4 days ago 1 reply      
Simple, scorn of the abstract. The hour spent watching tv is valued more highly, right now, than the consequences that come some point in the future. The tv-watching hour presses the brain's reward buttons harder than the abstract notion of having your work done ahead of time.

Taleb's "The Black Swan" has a nice discussion of scorn of the abstract, though not in the context of procrastination.

DenisM 4 days ago 1 reply      
I think this simplistic explanation does not do justice to the complex subject which is procrastination. If it were that simple, we wouldn't be having those problems, would we?

For a more rounded perspective on the subject of procrastination I suggest reading someone who observed a few hundreds of cases and helped in fixing most of them:


rkalla 4 days ago 0 replies      
In addition to the temporal aspect of decision making given in the top reply, there was a study recently (posted on HN maybe 8 months ago) that found procrastination was a function of confidence in a decision.

I think the temporal aspect of decision making is a red herring and the real issue is the confidence in the decision; which is harder to gauge the farther out it is.

Some people have a great sense of confidence in their decisions and subsequently may procrastination less as their lack of faith in their decisions are not impacted by temporal locality.

This explanation happened to fit my tendency to procrastination to a T, as opposed to decisions simply being farther out on a timeline.

andre3k1 4 days ago 2 replies      
It is worth noting that Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky are the fathers of modern-day behavioral economics. Their biggest contribution is called Prospect Theory. It goes against everything they teach you in Econ 101 -- the expected utility theory is wrong.

Kahneman won a noble prize in Economics for his work. Sadly, Tversky passed away in 1996 before he could be awarded.

Prospect Theory: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prospect_theory

lightcatcher 4 days ago 0 replies      
Before reading the content behind this link, I thought for a few minutes about why people procrastinate. I came up with a few reasons:

1. Fewer context switches. A true procrastinator only works on the single next thing they have to get done, so they don't have to switch between tasks as often. Imagine the simplicity of popping tasks off of a priority queue compared to some sort of coroutine setup.

2. Saves work. Occasionally, the things that people have to do get cancelled. The procrastinator never has to do these things that got cancelled at the last minute, while the person who works ahead does.

3. Some kinds of work are easier later. Particularly in collaborative environments, getting things done is much easier when other people have already done some/most of the hard works. Examples of this include my problem sets for school. However, there is less reward for doing things after others. For instance, there is less intrinsic reward for being aided by others than for just doing everything myself on my problem sets, and it is much easier (and much less valuable) to do something like building a light bulb now than it was 100 years ago.

ma2rten 4 days ago 0 replies      
For those who, didn't see it three month back. There was a great threat about procrastination:


jakeonthemove 4 days ago 0 replies      
I find that generalizing in anything related to human intelligence is a mistake - there's just too many variables.

If I had to choose between 1 dollar now and 10 a year later, I'd choose $1 now. If the choice stood between $1 now and $10 a week later, I'd take the $10, since I wouldn't be waiting long and getting $1.40 for each day of waiting. I'm also one of those people who think days and weeks go by too damn fast (I know people who think time is flowing too slow and weeks are like ages to them).

Also, there are a lot of people who'll take Skyrim AND the ice cream NOW, simply because they can or because getting an A is not a priority (and any passing grade would do). I can't decide if that's a choice or just an impulsive action...

dusing 4 days ago 0 replies      
Sometimes (not often) procrastination saves me from making a bad decision because my during my delay something plays out that would have negated or been worsened by my planned action.
tryitnow 4 days ago 1 reply      
It is unsurprising that this gets so many upvotes since HN is where many go to procrastinate (myself included).
vanni 4 days ago 0 replies      
> (...) human motivation is heavily influenced by expectations of how imminent the reward is perceived to be.

Think to startup solopreneurs: their reward is far in time and uncertain. So they often and periodically have motivation drops.

This is why I'm working on a productivity-focused community for startup founders and would-be ones, full of mechanisms that will try to leverage human cognition weaknesses:


jconnop 4 days ago 0 replies      
"Why do humans procrastinate?"... with a link to reddit.com

How fitting :)

hvass 4 days ago 1 reply      
I'm surprised nobody has given this link from LessWrong: How to Beat Procrastination: http://lesswrong.com/lw/3w3/how_to_beat_procrastination/

I highly recommend it!

shawndrost 4 days ago 0 replies      
Another thing that gives you "high level executive functionality": meditation.
bjoernbu 4 days ago 0 replies      
Is the very first example really true? Would most people really take a dollar now over 10 dollars in a year? I wouldn't (except I need the money right now because otherwise I'd have to turn around, look for an ATM and come back later - which I don't thinks is implied here).

Apart form that I really like the post and the conclusion of the research. Still, I dislike the example and can't imagine this is true for a majority of people.

TGJ 4 days ago 0 replies      
I could die any minute. I should enjoy myself now.
mih 4 days ago 1 reply      
An interesting video on procrastination from a chapter of the book 'You are not so smart'


corroded 4 days ago 0 replies      
I could provide a one sentence answer to this that will enlighten you all, but I'll do it later after I finish reading all the articles in the front page.
captainaj 4 days ago 0 replies      
Lack of motivation to do what's important? or lack of priority list.
junto 4 days ago 0 replies      
Because I'm reading HN!
Joel Spolsky On Tech Hiring: Beware the Exploding Offer betabeat.com
252 points by kunle  3 days ago   133 comments top 30
cletus 3 days ago  replies      
A lot of people are viewing this from the employer, which I guess makes a certain amount of sense, but as a potential employee that's not your problem.

The simple fact is that as an employee you should be looking out for yourself. Period. That means pushing back on a hard deadline that will exclude you from trying to get your dream (or simply preferred) job.

If the company won't budge and you're unsure of your prospects then yes by all means accept it, go to the other interview and, if you get it, bail on the other one.

For those that object to this on ethical grounds, consider this scenario: the company has their preferred employee who passes on the job and then they offer it to you. If that first guy comes back and changes his mind, will the company say "oh sorry, we've offered it to someone else". They might. Or they might not (and I've had it happen where they haven't).

If your "safety employer" is a large company don't even give it a second thought. Microsoft or Yahoo will offer hundreds of jobs. Not everyone is going to show. It's factored in and the companies won't die if you don't show up.

Be more careful when it comes to small companies but, as others have noted, smaller companies may be in a situation between getting 0 employees and getting 1. That's a big difference from getting 199 or 200.

Ultimately though, the company's problems aren't your problems, particularly if they exploit your inexperience and relative lack of negotiating power to force you into making a premature decision. That company will have interviewed other people. It will simply extend an offer to the next person on the list.

If they can't get someone to join them they're either not offering enough compensation or they're simply not desirable employers. Neither of which is your problem.

Peroni 3 days ago 1 reply      
Campus recruiters count on student's high ethical standards.

This goes far beyond campus recruiters. Most companies, at least here in the UK apply the same mentality to job offers.

The key factor is absolute honesty & transparency. As Joel alludes to in the article, be open and tell them you are considering all of your options before making a decision. If pushed, turn the tables and ask them if they would offer a job to the first person they interviewed even if they were a good fit for the role? How do they know the next person they meet won't be a better fit. Pressure tactics are common place and this is an excellent example of one of the first times you will be faced with it and it will benefit you down the line when you start working for them and they press you for project deadlines and so on.

podperson 3 days ago 0 replies      
In general, one should be aware of the six principles of persuasion as outlined by Cialdini in Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion of which the "exploding" part is an example of "scarcity". These principles are just as relevant to buying a house or car as negotiating for a job.

For the record, the six principles are:

* reciprocity (hey, they flew you out there, right?)

* commitment and consistency (they get you to agree in principle to working for them before they make a concrete offer)

* social proof (look at the great people who already work here)

* authority

* liking

* scarcity (this offer is strictly limited)


funkah 3 days ago 3 replies      
So accept the initial offer, do the interview with the #1 choice anyway, and if it works out, drop the runner-up. They don't need to be on your resume. The first choice doesn't need to know about any of this, though you might have to get creative with the interview scheduling.

I have no doubt that the scenario Joel describes is real, but anyone who gets screwed this way needs a bit more of the "dog eat dog" mindset. It's unfortunate the world works this way sometimes, but it's all in the game. I sympathize with any young kid in this position though, the unemployment rate alone has to make the prospect of turning down an offer, any offer, seem insane.

brown9-2 3 days ago 3 replies      
This article is a word-for-word repost of an article Joel posted on his site in November 2008: http://www.joelonsoftware.com/items/2008/11/26.html

How does something like this work - does Betabeat ask Joel for permission to repost his content under their name/banner/ads? Do they work out a cut of ad revenue? Or do they just copy-and-paste the content without permission, figuring most writers won't complain?

jackowayed 3 days ago 1 reply      
Several people are looking at this from the employer side and claiming that this should be acceptable because it's hard when you have one position to fill and someone has a lock on it for a long time.

While that is valid, especially for smaller companies, many companies definitely use this when that reasoning doesn't hold. I'm about to receive an offer for the summer from [very big company] that employs ~1000 interns in the location where I'd be. I would guess that the team I'll be on has several other intern slots. Despite that, and despite the fact that I wouldn't start my internship for 7 months, from what I hear they will definitely give me a short deadline to decide.

This is purely a matter of them trying to get me to commit while my visit to them is fresh in my mind and before I can apply and consider too broadly.

And while, from an ethical standpoint, you can make the claim that it's "hard" for employers and they "need" this, hiring people is also hard for employers. You can try to shift your burdens on to potential employees, but that's going to hurt you in the competition for talent. Any time that you are less employee-friendly than other companies, even with legitimate reason, you might lose out.

alex_c 3 days ago 5 replies      
There's no mention of the flip side of this. I only have one position, and I interview multiple candidates, several of which are good. If I make you an offer, I can't afford to sit around waiting for weeks for you to make up your mind: if you turn it down, chances are my other candidates are already gone, and now I have to start the whole process again from scratch.

Edit: fair enough, I missed that Joel was talking about the specific context of internships.

DavidChouinard 3 days ago 6 replies      
> Thanksgiving marks the start of tech's most intense hiring season, as promising computer science students start looking for summer jobs and internships.

I'm a student. Legitimate question, is this true? Should I be starting to get my act together for summer internships?

rmc 3 days ago 1 reply      
“So, when can you let us know?”

“Well,” you tell them, “I have another interview coming up in January. So I'll let you know right after that.”

“Oh,” they say. “That might be a problem. We really have to know by December 31st. Can you let us know by December 31st?”

What you could do is answer the "When can you let us know?" question with another question "Well, when do you need to know?". Dec 31st might sound like they have some sensible end of year thing, but I predict scummy companies/recruiters will pick a date just before you said you had another interview. Try to see what they say first.

Swizec 3 days ago 2 replies      
Is it odd that the most surprising thing about this article, for me, was that people start looking for summer jobs in November?

Also, why aren't people accepting every offer they get, then at the start of summer[1] send an email about changing their minds to everyone who isn't the best offer? Or even play offers against each other?

[1] or rather a reasonable amount of time sooner

the_one_smiley 3 days ago 0 replies      

Offers with an acceptance deadline simplify life for the employer, so they do that. Refusing to accept the deadlines or reneging on acceptances simplifies life for the applicants, so they do that. Employers can respond by rescinding offers when someone better comes along, which applicants can counter by accepting and holding as many offers as possible. Employers then realize they must make multiple offers for each position with the intention of rescinding those made to applicants worse than the best one which accepted. Applicants likewise renege on every acceptance except the one from their most favored employer amongst the employers that extended them offers. The time scales on which this all happens compress until it is essentially one big chaotic race condition. When everyone is predictably acting in support of their own interests, the outcome is also somewhat predictable.

It's interesting to observe the tech intern labor market retrace the path that other candidate / organization matching processes, ranging from sorority rush to medical residency applications, have gone down. The amusing bit is that the apparent endgame, where both sides submit ranklists to a central clearinghouse that uses some form of the stable marriage algorithm, sounds like something a tech company came up with.

thurn 3 days ago 2 replies      
There ought to be a database of companies that give offers with very short expirations. Not necessarily condemning the practice, but it would be good to know. Yelp, for example, routinely gives offers with a 5-day acceptance window.
lionhearted 3 days ago 0 replies      
Very good article. 100% agree.

One thing to keep in mind also is that pushing back against this negotiation tactic is good, but sometimes people do just have to move fast. I had five interviews two Fridays ago, and I offered the second candidate the job - starting on Monday, 20% higher pay than she asked for in her resume, and interesting roles. But I had to know right away, because I had to know what to do with the next set of candidates.

Also worth noting is that she didn't have a job currently - her previous company pulled out of China, so there was no risk to her of joining. I was more careful when I recruited a woman who was working at the U.S. Embassy, which was a fantastic stable position with solid pay - I asked her to start here part time for a week or two to make sure there was a fit before quitting a very good job.

Anyways, point is, people want decisions fast for many reasons. Look to see if it's in your best interest to decide fast, and decide fast if so. If it's not, push back. Not all fast paces are petty bargaining moves though.

impendia 3 days ago 4 replies      
> Trust me on this one: there's not a single hiring manager in the world who wants to hire you but would get mad just because you're considering other offers.

Although Joel Spolsky certainly knows more than me, I'll ask anyway: Is that really true? Perhaps it is, but I would guess that this is a pretty big overstatement.

However, I think it can safely be said (and this is maybe not obvious to many prospective interns) that if the hiring manager does get mad, then that's a big red flag, and if you got rejected for this reason then you dodged a bullet.

codeslush 3 days ago 0 replies      
This seems a little short-sighted to me. It's noted that the company doesn't make the offer until they've had the candidate go through on-site interviews. It's not like they are making an offer on initial meeting. If both parties are interested, this should be acceptable.

Look at it from another perspective. The hiring manager has an open position to fill. They want to fill it with someone who wants to work with them. They can't leave a job offer on the table for a long period of time, just to have the candidate say no. Having that offer outstanding prevents them from making an offer to other potentially qualified (and more eager) candidates. An interested candidate should have no problem with a decision at this point in the interview process.

If the job offer is pulled because it is expired, and the candidate is really interested in the job, they should be able to get another offer if the position hasn't been filled by the time they got off the fence.

kd1221 3 days ago 0 replies      
I graduated right before the peak of the 2000 dotcom bust, and I got a two exploding offers that I didn't accept. The offer I ended up taking was the opposite of an exploding offer: the nebulous offer.

I was told I was being tendered an offer. Great! I was ecstatic because the company was a "leader" in the industry I wanted to work in. Ten days and several phone calls later, my offer was still being "worked on." At that point I got impatient and continued interviewing. I had two more offers come in during the formation of the nebulous offer: one of the exploding type and one without conditions. I informed my dream company of the exploding offer and magically the paperwork appeared for their offer the next day. I took it.

6 months later I got laid off along with 20% of the staff.

Lesson learned: a company that treats you poorly when you're in recruitment will treat you poorly when you're working for them.

jdietrich 2 days ago 0 replies      
General principle: Avoid doing business with people who use the same techniques as telemarketers.

An exploding offer is just as low and dirty as "Call within the next 20 minutes and you'll get a bonus set of steak knives, absolutely free!". It's an attempt to take advantage of a basic cognitive bias, loss aversion, in order to coerce you into acting irrationally.

If a company really does have a legitimate business reason to take on people in a hurry, they will negotiate. If I need a rush job from my printers, I pay extra. If I need a package sending next day, I pay extra. If I truly, desperately needed an extra employee to work on an urgent project, why on earth wouldn't I pay more to get the best possible candidate?

You have no ethical obligations to someone who is trying to deceive and exploit you.

jrockway 3 days ago 1 reply      
Does this ever work on anyone? I got an offer from Google that "expires in 5 days". I said, "I'm not going to decide that quickly, so I'll just re-apply when I'm sure I want to work there." Suddenly, the deadline was gone.
simulate 3 days ago 6 replies      
I'm surprised this is coming from Spolsky. Spolsky's companies must be getting big.

Small companies can often only hire one person at a time and therefore need short acceptance windows. Small companies (< 50 people) often have only one specific position open. It is unethical to make more than one offer if you hiring for a single position. Therefore small companies often need short acceptance windows so they can make an offer to someone else who might want the position and fill the job.

cookiecaper 2 days ago 0 replies      
I think the real answer to this is as simple as disclosure. If you accept the "exploding offer", you should be explicit and clear that you are still considering other positions, and your acceptance is tentative. The company is fully informed of the possibility that you may leave in the near future and it is then their choice if they decide to continue with you or not.

If you don't want to provide that level of disclosure, you should inform the recruiter that you won't have a decision by x date, only by y date, and they'll have to live with that. They may continue to pursue or they may forgo your candidacy, but either way you were honest. There are plenty of gigs out there that you can get legitimately, even if a would-be ill-gotten gig is presented first. You shouldn't give in.

I don't think it's acceptable to accept an offer with the intent to leave in short order without providing disclosure of that possibility. Justifications like "Microsoft will survive" don't make your actions any more correct or honorable and should not be used. Man up and be honest with your potential employers.

refurb 3 days ago 0 replies      
I would seriously disagree with verbally accepting an offer and then reneging. It's unprofessional and although unlikely when you're just coming out college, it can follow you through your career.

I've been in this situation before and what's worked for me is to play the same game they do. If they tell you that they need an answer by a certain date, you tell them you're very interested in their offer, but you have already setup other interviews that you want to see through, because it's the right thing to do. Leave it at that.

Don't try and get the date changed, just be non-committal, and tell them you'll do your best. Job offers are very rarely yanked because you didn't met the first deadline for an offer.

When they call you 2 days before the deadline and ask if you have an answer, tell them you need "X" amount of time and then you'll give them a decision. Don't say "Can I have two more weeks", say "If you can wait until Jan 15th, I will give you an answer then". Recruiters have been jerked around before and if you provide your own deadline (and hold yourself to it) they'll often go along with it.


rcfox 3 days ago 0 replies      
I've noticed several comments about small companies not hiring at colleges. In my experience, this is not the case. It could just be that I went to university in Waterloo, Ontario (AKA Silicon Valley North) but many of the companies recruiting were quite small. One company I interviewed with remarked on how their previous intern wrote their entire Bluetooth stack.

If anything, this is the perfect place for small companies to recruit. If the candidate turns out to be bad, you know their contract is up in a few months (it's probably possible to fire them early, but I imagine that that is a lot more effort). If the candidate is good, you can offer a full-time position. You skip the expensive hiring process and they can hit the ground running when they come back.

wavephorm 3 days ago 0 replies      
Whatever iPad mobile theme is being used here, please DO NOT use it on your own website.

It is not usable, the font is too small, and frequently crashes my iPad.

herf 3 days ago 1 reply      
This was a really common tactic at Microsoft back in the 90s, which is probably why Joel is familiar with it. It worked on me--I took an internship with MSFT instead of Apple, because Microsoft gave me under a week to respond, and the recruiting manager at Apple was on a week's vacation.
jakejake 2 days ago 0 replies      
This article seems very specific to cattle-call hiring of summer interns. The work doesn't begin for several months after the offer is made and this is a somewhat unique situation to students and internships at large companies.

When an offer is made for full-time, permanent employment a response is normally expected pretty quickly - within a few days. The interview process may take weeks or months but once the offer is made, it's expected that all parties are fairly serious and you are ready to turn in your 2-weeks notice if you are already employed, or possibly start right away if not.

The rules may be different for these two situations. In the latter, I definitely would not suggest accepting an offer and then backing out as a strategy. If you do, at least be aware that you may be burning bridges along the way.

josephcooney 3 days ago 0 replies      
I loved the phrase "with a crazy boss who couldn't program a twenty out of an ATM"
pace 3 days ago 0 replies      
"You're going to spend several years of your life in some cold dark cubicle with a crazy boss who couldn't program a twenty out of an ATM,"
alphamale3000 3 days ago 0 replies      
Old news. It's 3 years old. I love when the media digs out seasonal stuff. Sigh...
azth 3 days ago 1 reply      
They use the same tactics at Amazon. Joel is spot on in this case, Amazon is just another mediocre company -- had to find out the hard way unfortunately.
dsolomon 3 days ago 1 reply      
Now that Joel has covered how credible and ethical recruiters, and the companies they support, should behave - when can we expect to see them?
What's In A GIF matthewflickinger.com
244 points by ch0wn  5 days ago   35 comments top 8
ChuckMcM 4 days ago 0 replies      
This is an excellent document for visual thinkers. I wish there were more of them. It reminds me of my dog eared copy of TCP/IP Illustrated. Now that the patents have all lapsed on GIF images it would seem to be a candidate for coming back but of course the PNG standard has made great progress in the mean time.

For a long time, and perhaps today, GIF was the most reliable way to have a diagram in a web page that would display like you expected. I keep hoping that SVG support will rise to the level that GIF support had in its hey day then I can have a web page that goes from phone to 24" display and the drawings still look nice.

micheljansen 5 days ago 0 replies      
Good read. I just noted that Wikipedia also has quite an elaborate description of the GIF format:

as well as for PNG:

nudded 5 days ago 1 reply      
I have recently implemented a basic GIF parser and writer in Haskell for a school project. The code can be found here: https://bitbucket.org/nudded/gif-parser/src/

I think it shows how easy it is to write parsers in Haskell. Don't bother to look at the LZW decode and encode, it's rather dirty.

enneff 4 days ago 0 replies      
Related: Rob Pike's article on GIF decoding with Go: http://blog.golang.org/2011/05/gif-decoder-exercise-in-go-in...
rojabuck 5 days ago 2 replies      
A clear & approachable piece of documentation. What a fantastic resource a library of such documents, for numerous major data formats, would be.
wladimir 5 days ago 4 replies      
Nice and clear overview!

But GIF? Is that format even still used?

I'd love to see this for webp, I really don't get that format yet and AFAIK there is no overview of the format that is not a spec (i.e., horribly detailed).

antirez 4 days ago 0 replies      
generating GIF in pure Tcl (2004) https://github.com/antirez/gif-pure-tcl

I remember that when I was playing with this code I was pretty shocked by the elegance of LZW.

pkrumins 5 days ago 0 replies      
I once wrote node-gif (https://github.com/pkrumins/node-gif), a node.js library for creating animated gifs. (Note: it only works with the old node 0.2.x.)
How I Became a Programmer in ~12 Weeks mattdeboard.net
229 points by mattdeboard  5 days ago   173 comments top 34
spacemanaki 5 days ago  replies      
The amount of negativity in this thread is depressing. I think a lot of people either didn't read the article or just skimmed it. For those of you who are citing Peter Norvig's essay, I also thought of the essay when I read this; it's one of my favorites. I've read it several times because it is humbling and inspires me to rise to the challenge of really becoming a great programmer. If Matt reads it he might feel similarly (if he hasn't already).

But do you really think Norvig would suggest that someone at his level is not a programmer? By my count, he's done about half the things on Norvig's list already and could be within a tenth of the fabled 10,000 hours (12 wks * 7 days * 8-16 hrs = just over 1000 hrs).

I agree that the title might have been misleading given how much prior experience he had, but seriously, this is one of those "if you don't have anything nice to say" moments. If he received that many emails from some random comment on HN that means there are a lot of people reading this thread right now who are in the same boat as he was and as the people asking for help are. What kind of community are we (I mean we as programmers and we as HN) if we denigrate Matt's efforts and these kinds of blogposts?

There are going to be more and more programmers in the world as the pace of computing accelerates and people are exposed to gadgets and technologies that excite them enough to peek under the hood. We should be encouraging them and welcoming them and telling them "yes, programming is awesome!"

ricardobeat 5 days ago 4 replies      
> I was a computer geek from way back, had a few BBSes in the late 80s (yes, I'm a child of the 80s & 90s), learned QBasic & VisualBasic back in the day, and tinkered with Python for a few years off and on...

In every single one of the "how I learned to program in X days" stories, the author had some previous experience. I wouldn't count running a BBS and learning 3 programming languages as "no previous experience".

kreek 5 days ago 3 replies      
I envy that the author learnt programming and web development now as opposed to even a few years ago. Without devolving into "in my day I walked ten miles in the snow just to compile"; it's just so much more pleasant now. Stack Overflow, Heroku (and similar), GitHub, PDF Books. Obviously it takes time and effort to get better everyday but the learning curve is a bit flatter now.
adambyrtek 5 days ago 1 reply      
Congratulations, now do yourself a favor and read this:


oz 5 days ago 5 replies      
My mantra for the past 2 weeks has been that there's never been a better time to learn to code, simply because the resources are so abundant and available.

I'm self-learning web development right now. Between HTML Dog, W3 Schools and Google, I have more than enough information. I wanted to play around with WordPress-fired up a VirtualBox VM with Fedora, and an hour later had completed the 'famous 5-minute install.' When I begin to take on client work, most sites can be hosted on a cheap Linode or Bluehost.

Most of the information you need is free. Infrastructure (if you need it) costs peanuts. You have nothing to lose. Why not start now?

norvig 3 days ago 0 replies      
Let me say that in my opinion, Matt DeBoard has certainly earned the title of "programmer." Welcome to the club, Matt, and you have my appreciation for the hard work you put in. It sounds to me like you're going about it in the right way; I encourage you to keep it up, and I encourage others to do the same (that is: find a way that works for them, not necessarily copy your approach). Please pay no attention to the negativity. As spacemanaki and others have pointed out, Matt is not a complete programmer yet, and he has more to learn. But I think he knows that, and remains open to learning, which is the important point. I've got more than 12 weeks under my belt, but I still feel like I'm learning all the time. My thoughts are summed up by the character of chef Gusteau in the movie Ratatouille: "Anyone can cook." This very pointedly does not mean "everyone can cook" -- it takes a combination of interest, aptitude, and long study to become a chef, and most will not make it -- but it does mean that there is no one route to achieving competence, then expertise, then mastery.
cfarnell 5 days ago 1 reply      
From his blog a year ago:

"... have just started back to school for computer science. I've been poking clumsily at programming for a few years, but only in the past few months have I actually started to take ideas of my own and successfully bring them to life.

... While I don't think I can study an algorithm and announce its big Oh complexity, I'm getting there.

... going to school does take time away from my actually programming and self-learning about computer science in general."

Twelve weeks not exactly starting from scratch.

wallflower 5 days ago 2 replies      
Quoting a self-help talking head here:

"It's not important to get things right/perfect. It's important to get things going"

Congratulations and realize that the nth step in learning is realizing that you can always learn more.

crikli 5 days ago 2 replies      
I can play a few Megadeth riffs and I've written two very shitty songs. This does not make me a musician or a songwriter. It makes me a dude who can create noises that resemble music.

The OP groks the basics and has learned how to use Django. This does not make him a programmer. It makes him a dude who can create code that resembles a program.

rpeden 5 days ago 0 replies      
My experience is similar to his. I have a business degree and worked in accounting, but decided I'd like to get back into programming after dabbling in it when I was younger. I wrote some Rails apps as side projects and put them on Github, which ended up helping quite a bit.

What made the difference in the end was good social skills. I met the CTO of the company I work for at a Ruby meetup, and had a good conversation with him. I ended up applying for a position he was trying to fill, and after an interview and a review of my projects on Github, I ended up with a development job without having any formal experience. I've been at it for over a year now.

So, this is definitely doable as long as you're committed to learning a lot, and are able to sell yourself well enough to convince someone to give you a chance.

jwblackwell 5 days ago 1 reply      
I think this shows just how much can be achieved if you work hard and give something your absolute focus.

Call him a programmer or not, it seems he has learnt enough to program professionally and by most definitions, that makes him a programmer.

fduran 5 days ago 1 reply      
Oh John, I wouldn't call him a pilot, you know, he flies people in his small airplane and gets paid for it but he doesn't know how to fly helicopters or jets and he didn't study fluid dynamics, so he's a "Cessna pilot".
devs1010 5 days ago 0 replies      
I did something similar when I got started and yeah it got me a job but that was just the beginning, now, about 2 years later, I'm still learning and pushing myself to learn lower and lower level things about software development (as I started with high-level, dynamic languages) as well as more about design patterns, etc. Its definitely true that there's always more to learn so never be complacent. Its definitely possible to learn and apply the basics of CRUD development in a few months but IMO this is only the tip of the iceberg to having a fulfilling career in software development.
neilk 5 days ago 0 replies      
As far as I'm concerned, you can become a programmer in 12 hours. That's easily enough time to learn enough Python so you could start writing programs that satisfy your own needs, if they were simple enough.

Of course, there is no upper limit to how good a programmer you can become. We can only (maybe) set lower limits.

cantbecool 5 days ago 1 reply      
I don't understand it. Some of the people posting comments on this topic are acting extremely pompous. The word 'programmer' on a resume does not mean you're in a elite club or society. It means what the job title implies: a programmer is someone who writes computer programs. There are all different variations of skill level though, just like in any profession.
keithnoizu 5 days ago 1 reply      
Hmm, I started programming over a decade and a half ago, writing my own little game engines in dos, and a nice little x-mode GUI. I've worked as the software architect for a moderately popular (top 2000 alexa) social networking websites, I've worked at fortune 500s, I've been on the dev side, the test side, the pm side, and worked as an IC and as a lead/manager. I still don't really consider myself as being anywhere near being complete in the task of becoming a "programmer."

But kudos on taking your first few steps. Its not a bad vocation.

sheeps 5 days ago 0 replies      
Nice post, very inspiring.

I have been dabbling with Ruby and other languages for a year, but have never had this sort of discipline. For a couple years I have wanted a programming job but have always had serious doubts about whether I can really "hack it" as a professional. I don't know any programmers personally (well, one friend on the other side of the country in SF, heh), and I look at job openings and their requirements / desired experience all seem so intimidating. :-/

creativityhurts 5 days ago 1 reply      
The article shows us that nowadays anyone can easily start learning a programming language or even a framework, that the internet is an incredibly useful library for those who seek knowledge and that tabloid headlines like "How I became a programmer in 12 weeks" still get our attention.
latchkey 5 days ago 1 reply      
I absolutely admire you.

There are so many people in this world who pretend that something is preventing them from learning or doing something and you went out just did it.

You may (or may not) be the best engineer in the world, but I'd hire you in a hot second just because you have the tenacity to make it your mission to figure something out. Sometimes, 90% of writing code is just sticking with a problem until you get it.

I've given 100's of interviews to people who are either fresh out of school or have been programming for a while now. The vast majority of these people have no gumption to actually create a github account or do any sort of experiments outside of what tasks they are given at work. It is very sad to me that most of these people just want to collect a paycheck.

The learning never stops, keep it up.

jaetldev 5 days ago 0 replies      
I fundamentally agree with Norvig's idea about how long it takes toward being a programmer. But this approach sort of makes sense - or just maybe I am reading too much into the software-commodity angle.

Either way - I cautiously approve this. This is similar to how modern warfare utilizes recruitment-training-deployment to weed out the unworthy from the able. Adapt or perish. Nothing wrong with that. The worst thing that can happen is that the developer in question may realize that he is just not that capable and venture into some other areas.

I realize I am reading HN but sometimes programming is treated as too much of a sacred cow.

salem 5 days ago 2 replies      
I'm sure the work ethic gained from 10 years in the USMC helped
hotelinspector 5 days ago 1 reply      
Snarky comments making me think people just got annoyed by the title and didn't read the post.

A lot of good advice for people who would like to program rather than be programmed but aren't in a place to take a cs degree.

nhoss2 5 days ago 1 reply      
The hardest part to that for me is the "get to know people" part. He already had a mentor before he started learning. How would one get a mentor in the first place? How do you get to know other people?
kamaal 5 days ago 3 replies      
You can certainly be a programmer in 12 weeks, but you will be different programmer than what we are expecting here.

You can also learn programming by reading 'Learn programming in 30 days'. But that is a very different kind of programming than what most people are expecting in this thread. You can learn enough programming to begin to understand how to work with software. It gives you a start. It also works if your job is extremely trivial. And I think the target audience for the book is those kind of people.

Coming to programming as a profession, in that case there are a lot of aspects that influence your full time profession, among that is giving your full learning every detail of programming and related ecosystem. Other aspects are productivity, management, analytical skills, UI design, requirements gathering, people skills. Also there are many other things required to win in practical software environments like working under tough deadlines, learning to deal with frequent stress and burnout. Keeping in touch with rapidly changing tech scenario, tools and languages. The list goes endless. I haven't covered even a percent of what I wanted to write.

Your regular data structure and algorithm sauce is probably 1% of what is required to win in practical software development today. There are 99% of other things which are not taught in books, colleges and universities. You have to learn them through experience, by working.

So just in case you think you have spent 10 years learning all the secret recipes in computer science books but are not good in other areas. You are no better than the 'Learn programming in 30 days guy'. Because if has problems in a set of areas, you have equal number of problem with another equivalent set.

This is something I have seen among so many bright, people with great academics, who don't make it big in the industry. They just don't understand so many practical aspects of the industry. Just like how 12 weeks programming guy doesn't understand all aspects of practical programming.

itmag 5 days ago 0 replies      
While some here would probably see you as just a glue coder who lacks true understanding, I at least want to applaud you.

You've established a beach head in the realm of coding; all the fancy understanding of eg recursive combinators, malloc() optimization, JOIN semantics, inheritance vs composition, etc, will come later.

Come on, we all started in PHP or QBasic. It took most of us years to become sweet ass code ninjas. What this guy has done is impressive.

ralphos 5 days ago 0 replies      
Credit to you for sticking with it for 12 weeks and being successful.

I had been attempting to learn how to program (Ruby) for the past 6 months (from a ZERO programming background) and in the beginning I honestly could not do more than one week learning 'intensively' before I had to take a break to let all the new concepts and information settle in.

Perhaps it's just my style but I've found learning a little bit everyday is more effective in the long run than cramming it into a condensed period of time. It's surprising how you can take a break from a piece of code and have everything come together when you look at it again.

That said, learning how to program in 'X weeks' sounds great and I wish I could have done it!

kunley 5 days ago 2 replies      
Then he didn't become a programmer. He became Django programmer.
1point2 5 days ago 1 reply      
I am so envious (when I read stuff like that) - I have been plodding along for 30 years now and am still learning how to program :(
scottschulthess 5 days ago 2 replies      
Learn a language, not a web framework for god's sake.

Learning frameworks is harder than learning programming languages, IMO, especially after you lean one language. You should learn both.

johnobrien102 5 days ago 0 replies      
I highly recommend the O'Reilly School of Technology courses on Python if you are looking to learn Python. They are self-paced, reasonably priced, and provide some great tips on best practices. And the ability to have someone actual give you feedback and test you I find helps me keep moving forward learning to program.
hfthrowaway 5 days ago 0 replies      
I'll share my story here. I graduated with a non-CS degree and zero programming experience. It took me about 3 months to land my first programming gig (freelance), then an internship a few months later, and now I'm a junior developer at a great hedge fund.

I'll point out that I optimized for getting a full-time job as fast as I could. I have college loans to pay off, so I couldn't afford to spend months learning CS thoroughly. I learned enough to get past interviews, and focused the rest of my time on other high ROI things like networking/coding projects. Critically, I now have the luxury of having an income, and have both my day job and side projects to fuel my learning of the finer details.

giis 5 days ago 0 replies      
>I put myself in a position where I had no room to be lazy or complacent. I think above all else that made me work 10x harder. I didn't play video games, I didn't watch TV, I didn't sleep all day. All I did all day every day was code, hack, program and develop.

That's the great thing to do. Just shutdown the door to outside world and focus on things in hand.I have done that once.Would love to do it again.(Past experience http://giis.co.in/LFY.png )

juddlyon 5 days ago 1 reply      
Excellent story and impressive discipline. What was your prior experience with computers or technology in general?
rorrr 5 days ago 7 replies      
Algorithms are not even mentioned.

Data structures are not there either.

Sorry, you're a django coder, not a programmer.

Image Ad Blending Works Really, Really Well kalzumeus.com
229 points by tghw  5 days ago   199 comments top 43
teej 5 days ago  replies      
I'm going to come out in defense of patio11 here. Not because the ad isn't deceptive - it undoubtedly is. But because he fell into the dark side of a grey area and it's worth discussing HOW good people end up there.

From a rationalist perspecive, the ad is justified. He is effectively capturing the majority of the market possible through adwords. So what's next? It makes sense to take your know-how in one market and apply it to another. The problem is that the other markets are filled with sharks. Sharks that will stop at nothing to generate leads for scammy, high-value businesses (for-profit ed, weight loss, etc)

As a moralist, one would turn their nose up at these shark-filled waters at the start. If scammy people advertise through it, why should I?

Personally, I think it's really important to dive in deep to the grey area. Not because you can make more money, but to better understand the inner-workings of the "dark" side of the business. Most of the successful players there use a slathering of evil techniques combined with a wealth of direct marketing experience that whitehat marketers use every day.

It's important to test -everything-, learn as much as you can from empirical data, and then move forward with both your knowledge and moral compass in mind.

I often say I have the full Zynga playbook at my disposal and the judgement to know when not to use it.

blahedo 5 days ago 2 replies      
This reminds me of those newspaper ads that are crafted to look exactly like a newspaper article (columns of copy, headline, etc) but only set out with an "Advertisement" in very small print at the top of their enclosing box. I usually can pick them out because the font isn't a perfect match, but once in a while I don't notice until like a third of the way through the "article" when I'm going, "wtf? What was the editor thinking?"

And that's the real problem here, and the reason I complain to the editor about those newspaper ads: when they are made to look like a regular article (or in this case, organic results), then they implicitly carry the imprimatur of editorial approval. Someone at this newspaper (/website) has vetted this factually, edited it, and I can put the same trust in this item that I put in any other thing I read here (which might not be 100% but is often reasonably high for edited content on a paper/site I'm familiar with).

Ads that are faking their way in violate this assumption and this trust. As a user of that site I'd be annoyed; as an editor of that site I would be furious.

richcollins 5 days ago 5 replies      
Is This Evil Or Just Evil Genius?

Once upon a time I was an engineer totally scornful of effective marketing, but I have gradually gotten over it. After thinking it over, this is aggressive but within my comfort envelope. The ad is honest about being an ad, makes a straightforward commercial proposition (“Sign up for a free trial”) to an audience that I think will respond well to that, and is pretty true by the standards of marketing copy. It is designed to catch clicks only from people interested in signing up for a free trial of Bingo Card Creator, and sends them straight to a landing page where they can do just that.

I wish there was a way to dynamically generate the image such that I could provide a more exact star valuation, but in the context of a sponsored placement, “Rated 5 starts by lots” is both non-specific and true. Lots of people have used BCC, and when I ask for star ratings in internal surveys I get something like 4.8 on a volume of hundreds or thousands. I think this compares favorably with “9 out of 10 dentists agree” and other pretty banal marketing copy.

Your ad is obviously designed to deceive the user into thinking that it is an organic listing. Evil.

ErrantX 5 days ago 1 reply      
I think where the ad "crosses the line" here is the faux star rating; the other (unpaid) listings have been user rated/ranked and Patrick's ad is misusing the trust that users of the site potentially put into the ratings.

I think that if the stars were removed, or, say, greyed out with the "Rated by lots" on top that would be absolutely fine.

ig1 5 days ago 2 replies      
Warning: This type of behaviour may be illegal.

For the US see the FTC guidance:


(the FTC has bought prosecutions on this topic recently)

It's also illegal in the UK and presumably a lot of Europe.

You can't make an ad look like an legitimate endorsement, it's as simple as that. In this case the small "sponsored placement" text could easily be taken to be about the following ad which looks like an ad.

chaosmachine 5 days ago 1 reply      
I watched that Mixergy video too, and was inspired to try something similar :)

BSA is great, but if you need more inventory, you can get this strategy working on Google AdWords, too. You just need to create a new ad group, and use "managed placements" to specify the sites you want to target.

Since you probably don't want 100 ad groups, you have to get a bit more generic with your ads, but there are plenty of ways to do that and still get the "this is useful information, not some off-topic ad" effect.

Here's another tip: Once you have an ad that exceeds about 0.2% CTR, you'll often get much lower cost-per-click by switching the campaign to CPM bidding.

For example, if you're bidding $1 CPM, and getting a 2% CTR, your effective CPC is only $0.05! In CPC mode, you'd often have to bid $0.30 CPC just to show up.

TylerE 5 days ago 3 replies      
Look, I'm normally pretty easy going, but it's just like to say it's people like YOU that are ruining the internet. I really wish all the SEO-cretins would just go find something else to do with their time.
alexhawket 5 days ago 1 reply      
Patrick is falling into what, I call, the marketing trap. I like some of Patrick's advice, but I wouldn't follow this... ever.

Patrick has a nice little niche business but that's all it is, a niche. Niches, by definition are really small, focused and low in demand.

In a niche, the stream of new customers eventually dries up and the temptation is to move further and further over to the marketing dark side to keep the ship afloat.

Deceptive marketing tactics work, but they shouldn't be necessary. If that's where this is headed, then just go full darkside into scamming and call it a day.

Grey and black hat techniques are a bad as crappy products, terrible service, bad systems and stolen ideas. If you wouldn't think of using any of those, then don't use scammy marketing.

If you find yourself pursuing deceptive tricks, it's a sign your niche is not big enough and your product is not high enough in demand.

This is the most common trap analytic/scientific minded business owners fall into.

Many people on HN have voiced concerns that the current crop of startups are increasingly using deceptive practices to boost their businesses.

A well planned business should not have to do this.

It's one thing to decide to be purposefully evil, but rationalizing it as necessary is amoral and possibly illegal.

CodeMage 5 days ago 0 replies      
As a user, I really, really dislike this sort of deceptive advertising. I'd like to explain why.

The defense I've seen so far starts by "Well, Google does that too, so by your definition they're also evil." Here's the first problem with that defense: appeal to authority. Do you really expect anyone to say, "Oh, Google does it too? Shucks, then, I retract what I said, because we all know Google isn't evil."

Second, there are significant differences between how Google "blends" their ads and Patrick's example. The background color distinguishes the ad from the rest of the search results. You might argue that some users have crappy screens or poor vision, but the fact is that the background color is different. The intent was to distinguish the ad clearly. In Patrick's example, there is no such intent.

Another thing that has been downplayed is the "Ad - Why this ad?" text. On its own, it probably would have been less noticeable. But when you spot the different background, you automatically look for other differences. The "Why this ad" text is one of those differences and it's prominent not by virtue of its size, but position: it's separated from the rest of the information in the ad.

But really, it's not just about the background and the "Ad - Why this ad?" text. It's also about the fact that Google always puts this stuff as the first result, whereas in Patrick's example the ad was snuck into the results.

The fake rating is another problem. People try to defend it by saying "It's not fake, it was based on real data." Nobody said the data was fake. The rating is fake, because for every other result the rating was computed by the site, based on the data the site has, while here it was supplied by the advertiser. By the way, if I'm wrong about this, if it is also generated by the site, please let me know.

Finally, I'm perfectly happy to adapt to the way Google presents their ads: they're sort of my "doorway" to the rest of the Internet. I'm not as happy to have to research and adapt to every site's unique way of "blending" ads. But this is really a minor point for me. The most important point remains the fact that Google has made at least some effort to distinguish their ads from the content, whereas in Patrick's example the effort was invested in doing the opposite.

badclient 5 days ago 2 replies      
Another trick that works: break your website.

When I ran a somewhat large music site(100K uniques/day), we'd make significantly more money from adsense when our streaming server went down.

Why? Because when hitting the play button on the player didn't work, people start clicking on the ads.

lhnn 5 days ago 1 reply      
Typically, when a site pulls that kind of thing, I cease to use the site. I'm not interested in buying anything, and by distracting my eyes from legitimate content with your "get a foot in the door" ads, you earn a big red X from me.
jfager 5 days ago 1 reply      
I think the most jarring part of this ad is something that isn't patio11's fault: it's juxtaposed against an ad that completely stands out as an ad, which makes the 'blending' that much more 'blendy'. Without that other ad in the adjoining slot, I think the visual difference between patio11's ad and regular site content would be more stark, putting it at about the same shade of moral gray as a Google search ad.
Timothee 5 days ago 0 replies      
Have you thought about trying the yellow background as well based on your comment about how some people think it's the best result?

I have to admit I'm split on the ad. On one hand, I feel that it's deceptive, because I expect ads to look like ads. When they start to blend too much, I feel it's "cheating". Similar in a way to how I feel when a crafted-to-become-viral video ends up being an ad for something.

On the other hand, I'm thinking "why not?". The site allowed you to have such an ad and people are looking for a product similar to yours, so…

It's definitely skirting the line…

mrcharles 5 days ago 2 replies      
Irony of ironies... all the images on his page are blocked by adblock.
iamjustlooking 5 days ago 0 replies      
Love the fake 5 stars. All that's missing is mimicking the scammy copy those ads always have: "See this weird trick a mom learned about bingo cards"
mikeklaas 5 days ago 1 reply      
There is a clear distinction between what Google is doing and what Patrick is doing. Respect diminished.
extension 5 days ago 3 replies      
I thought about where exactly patio11 crossed the line into evil territory, and I realized that there is no line.

All ads are deceptive, because they are all trying to steal your attention by showing up when you are looking for something else. That we've developed the ability to ignore most of them doesn't change the basic principle. But the degree of deception can certainly vary.

By running ads, you are pawning off the user value of your site. The more effective the ads, the more value they are losing. It's a zero-sum game.

dendory 5 days ago 1 reply      
This is the kind of attitude that's bad for the Internet overall. Take someone like me, I probably spend more online than most 'casual' users. Yet I use noscript and adblock, so I don't see any ads or SEO crap. I spend money wisely on sites that deserve it by providing good content. The SEO people lose out on the bigger share of the pie, and instead they all go 'dark side' over trying to get as much of the tiny slice as they can.
xd 5 days ago 0 replies      
Tactics like this are utterly immoral. I hope browser plugins like adblocker become massively mainstream and people start to learn to actively oppose this kind of rubbish. People that spend their "careers" advertising; contribute FUCK ALL to humanity.
patio11 5 days ago 0 replies      
1) I'm uncertain as to their thought process. Typically, when people sell me stuff at a particular price, my mentally model is "Hmm, they couldn't sell that same stuff to somebody else for more money." Just for a comparable, I generally advertise on remnant inventory at CPCs below a dime, not at a quarter, so I think it is possible that BusyTeacher understands their unit economics a bit better than your guesstimate does.

2) Ask a simple question, get a simple answer: Alexa is clearly wrong.

philjackson 5 days ago 1 reply      
Is this just a ruse to get us all to disable AdBlock for his site? :)
kakuri 5 days ago 0 replies      
In related news, AdBlock Works Really, Really Well.
csomar 5 days ago 0 replies      
He is comparing to Google, but I think there is a huge difference. It's not an Ad blended like a content. It's an Ad faked in a content style. He is copying the exact same style, the same kind of content (title, description, category, photo, rating) and not even mentioning it. There is no way to find out if it's an ad or a real post.
nicpottier 5 days ago 0 replies      
My vote is evil, not evil genius.

There's a million ways of tricking customers, and a million ways to rationalize it. But if you have ethics you won't go down that path.

If you care about money more than your character, then by all means though.

jongraehl 5 days ago 0 replies      
Scammy. This could fool me if I were in a rush and adblock didn't filter it.

Since it works, I'd consider using it (in venues where users aren't as likely to be outraged+vindicitive about being tricked, or even notice being tricked).

Thanks for sharing.

storborg 5 days ago 0 replies      
Do you have any solutions for dealing with slight browser rendering differences? E.g. antialiasing on one browser but not another, slight font size / padding differences, etc. What browser are you "targeting" with the image?
FJB 5 days ago 0 replies      
Ads that look like content work well.

FB's sponsored stories, Twitter's sponsored tweets, Adwords, brand sponsored content on demand media's properties -- it's all the same shit.

Let's not jump on our high horse here.

tagawa 5 days ago 0 replies      
I always appreciate Patrick's willingness to share information, but won't be using this deceptive tactic. Sad to see it voted to the top of HN.
three14 5 days ago 0 replies      
Funny. I didn't realize that I had Adblock Plus installed until the I noticed the images in the blog post were missing.

(Apparently, Chrome syncing will actually install Adblock for you when you switch computers(!), but will leave the default lists set. I had it on without any lists, and just blocked the egregious stuff... except now I suddenly blocked everything.)

md1515 5 days ago 0 replies      
No wrong done here in my opinion.

The content of your post has brought up a topic I have been thinking about recently, which is intensely devoted sponsorship advertising. For example, if you (Patrick) want to write this piece about your positive experience with BuySellAds, then you could write the entire blog post with heavy mention of the product that YOU TRULY LIKE AND PROMOTE.

The trust factor will go a long way in helping you. I have watched "This Week In Startups" on Youtube and noticed they use a similar approach. They stop the broadcast so that Mark Suster could talk about how X product has helped him.

Most of that is off-topic, but your blog post got me thinking...which it is supposed to do, right? :)

cool-RR 5 days ago 2 replies      
Images don't load in this post.
revorad 5 days ago 0 replies      
So why does image blending for ads work better than contrasting ads, but contrasting (usually red) sign up buttons convert better than blending buttons?
chrisduesing 5 days ago 0 replies      
I think a fairly important point is that BuySellAds requires the site owner to approve the advertiser. So in effect, the person providing content on the site has agreed that Bingo Card Creator is not so reprehensible that they cannot accept money for what is then essentially a paid/guest listing on their site.

OTOH were this Google adwords instead, and there was no human approval, I have to say it would be pretty sketchy.

raghavsethi 5 days ago 0 replies      
No it doesn't. It's an awful, deceptive move.

You know why? It's because Google makes it easy to spot the sponsored link if you spend more than half a second on it before clicking. A yellow background and text that says 'Sponsored Link' is way less deceiving than the lack of a 'like' button.

The devil is in the details. And the significant amount of justification you do in your post shows that you're trying to convince yourself as much as us that it's OK.

viveksec 5 days ago 0 replies      
How else can you pull this off unless you design to image to be as close to organic results as possible ? But I wonder what happens if the site owner decides to change the styles, the image would then foolishly look fake.

The rating stars however are a different story and are definitely in the dark gray area (say at #333). The "rated by lots" will make users draw a comparison with the other unpaid listings without realizing it is fake, atleast in the sense the other stars arent fake.

tycho77 5 days ago 1 reply      
It's actually kinda crazy that I looked at this image


for about thirty seconds and literally did not see the ad, at all. I am now impressed/scared of my mind's ability to completely disregard probably unimportant information.

bambax 5 days ago 5 replies      
I don't understand who still sees ads. It's apparently a huge majority of Internet users, but I don't understand where they come from.

I often set up computers for family and friends and installing AdBlock is one of the first things I do.

Who is computer-savvy enough to buy and install their own computer, and yet not computer-savvy enough to get AdBlock?

Or do (most) people actually like ads?

jacquesm 5 days ago 0 replies      
If you want to see the ad 'in real life' you can find it here:


epaga 5 days ago 0 replies      
Definitely a darker shade of grey IMHO. Reminds me of the SourceForge ads shown on the download pages that have a big green "download" button. The ads usually display before the actual download button appears, and more than once I have accidentally clicked on it.

I end up angry and remembering NOT to deal with whoever was responsible for the ad.

However the difference I see to patio11's tactic is that in his case, people are searching for something educationally related and he gives them something related. That's different than me expecting to download a Java library and getting an anti-virus software page. So, still deception and therefore dark-grey, but not as blatant of deception as the ads on SourceForge.

7952 5 days ago 0 replies      
just try looking at the subtle colouring on a slightly tilted laptop display. It just looks white!
asmosoinio 5 days ago 0 replies      
Random note: AdBlock blocked the images in the blog post. Screenshots of ads.
AndyJPartridge 5 days ago 0 replies      
Head link looks slightly bolder, and a couple of pixels to the left of where it should be.

Stars are 1/4th-1/5th of a star to the left.

Text seems slightly lighter.

Have to admire the concept!

danielhodgins 5 days ago 1 reply      
So let me get this straight. Critics of this tactic want to get rich doing their own startup, while using the very techniques they just renounced to generate traffic and conversions? Seems a bit hypocritical to me. Wake up folks - business success can be 'seedy' sometimes. As long as your product creates more value than customers are charged, then it's a win-win for everyone.

What if these so-called 'seedy' techniques represented the difference between success and failure for your own startup? I'll bet your position on the white/grey/black hat continuum would shift quite promptly.

Well done Patrick, and thanks for sharing the details about another valuable marketing tactic that people can try.

I regularly hire women for 65% to 75% of what males make reddit.com
223 points by amirmc  6 hours ago   126 comments top 21
patio11 3 hours ago  replies      
Having been a male engineer for a couple of years now, it is very disquieting to learn that there is any population of people anywhere who are getting ROFLstomped by male engineers in negotiating savvy. A potted plant could handle a salary negotiation better than many people (myself included at one point) -- at least the potted plant wouldn't divulge a salary history when asked.
Peroni 4 hours ago 2 replies      
In the UK the pay difference between males & females under the age of 40 in Tech roles is nominal. There is a difference but it's not even remotely close to the disparity you would find 20 years ago.

That being said, over the past twelve months, female candidates consisted of approximately 5% of the people I represented. There are very few women in the industry and I've rarely come across any who are afraid to argue their worth. On the contrary in fact. Occasionally I have come across one or two women who were demanding a salary that was simply far beyond their worth and I imparted the same advice to them as I would to a male candidate and both women were incredibly offended by my feedback and refused to budge whereas almost every single male that I challenged actually listened to my advice and adjusted their rate to suit.

The idea of negotiating salary offers still appears to be a relatively unknown phenomenon here in the UK. You'd be surprised how few candidates stand their ground and push for more than 5% of the original offer regardless of gender.

danielrm26 1 minute ago 0 replies      
Ok, I'll be that guy.

Testosterone promotes risk-taking. Risk-taking often results in better outcomes. Salary negotiation is a risk game.

Men are naturally better at this because risk-taking is something that men are naturally best at.

Now for the important part: this doesn't mean it's right. That would be the naturalistic fallacy, i.e. that because something is natural it must be o.k..

So, yes, combat this. Learn techniques to overcome this disparity. But do not, in a forum full of smart people, wonder WHY this is happening.

pedoh 2 minutes ago 0 replies      
I wonder what would happen if you tried to make the negotion process as transparent as possible; something along the lines of:

"Look, I've read all of the negotiation strategy books, and clearly your an expert in your field, so let's agree on the value that I bring to your company and find the right compensation package."

bravura 4 hours ago 2 replies      
This phenomenon was studied in a book called Women Don't Ask.


'When Linda Babcock asked why so many male graduate students were teaching their own courses and most female students were assigned as assistants, her dean said: "More men ask. The women just don't ask."'

Incidentally, for a while, the authors would give a free copy of this book to women who would ask for one.

Duff 2 hours ago 2 replies      
Sounds like one of the upsides of working at a place where I work now, where there is a salary scale.

Places that play these kinds of games with salary really annoy me. For my first post-college job, as a DBA, I was offered $29,000/year (this was in 2000). I knew they had just lost key people and had a bad reputation for compensation, so I laughed and walked out of the room.

In the parking lot, we agreed to $65k + stock. Most of my colleagues didn't bother, and got stuck with lousy pay for a couple of years.

joshfraser 3 hours ago 3 replies      
I've coached several of my female friends in how to ask for a raise. Often they'll complain that they're not making enough but are scared to ask for more. I'll tell them "your boss might say no, but they're not going to fire you". Of course, if your boss does say "no", it's a good opportunity to ask what progress you need to make to get the raise you want. You then have a concrete roadmap for getting where you want to be. For the guys on here, encourage the women in your life to speak up. Often they just need someone to tell them it's okay and that they're worth it.
mootothemax 3 hours ago 0 replies      
When I was offered my current job, I replied that I thought the pay was on the low side, and asked if they could improve their offer. Two hours later, I received an email with a 15% improvement!

I'm really not very good at negotiation, but getting a 15% raise just by asking? I'll be doing that again :)

officemonkey 4 hours ago 1 reply      
I think this goes beyond just salary negotiations.

My wife typically comes to me when she has "business politics questions" (despite that she's been working longer and more successfully than me.)

Most of things we talk about involve how to get something (usually work or money) from a client without seeming like they're bothering them.

I'm definitely in the "just matter-of-factly send them an email." She's more in the "I don't want them to get irritated by me contacting them" camp.

This isn't universal though. I've had two experiences where it's been reversed. One male I recently hired accepted a position when he knew money would be a problem and didn't bring it up even though it's a bit of a hardship for him right now. A female I'm in discussions to hire has told me flat out what her salary requirements are. I actually appreciate this kind of discussion.

iwwr 4 hours ago 3 replies      
Strictly on economic terms, how much of a discount would you get on a developer if he/she is likely to take 1-2 year off at some point? During that time, you have to hire another person, train them and then tell them to leave.
MarkMc 3 hours ago 0 replies      
Sheryl Sandberg (COO at Facebook) gives an excellent talk about different attitudes that women have in careers:
berntb 3 hours ago 2 replies      
Is it really smart for a company to press down salaries so far that they underpay?

My experience is that if someone is underpaid, they won't be around for long. It is expensive with high churn rates.

cq 18 minutes ago 1 reply      
This is bullshit: it is passing the buck. This is strictly blaming women for their problems, without acknowledging the structural sexism that exists in virtually all tech fields.
michaeldhopkins 48 minutes ago 0 replies      
This article is behind the times. By the time most professional women have learned to ask for raises like some men do in 2011, those men will have moved on to a more advanced strategy to make more. It's similar to how an expensive university degree is becoming less useful just as women are earning more than 50% of them.

My point is that these men are competitive and they have momentum and the current salary-negotiation-education strategy won't result in parity. I don't see any reason it has to be that way, of course.

ahoyhere 2 hours ago 4 replies      
I'm so tired of the double standard.

If men are raised and "socialized" that they are the rightful leader of the family, and it's not only okay but right to hit their wives, we hold them personally responsible for their actions.

If women are raised and "socialized" not to negotiate, we blame society. Because… women aren't smart enough, or whole humans enough, to do anything but what they're told?

Ladies, take control of your own destiny, or be a victim of your own making. It's your choice.

dan00 3 hours ago 1 reply      
I'm just sick of stuff like this.

An employer is expecting that an employee is loyal,
but nevertheless he's trying to noble the potential
employee from the beginning.

But you would be dumb doing it the other way, right?
Sorry, but this kind of smartness harms the whole

So all the humble and self-doubting people are getting
less than the loud and playing ones. Sure, the loud
ones are the better, more loyal employees, right?

But you have to learn to be louder! No I don't have to
and I don't want, because I like it the way I am.

vaksel 53 minutes ago 1 reply      
I think a large part of the problem is that there is no way to figure out how much each person is actually worth.

Sure we have sites like indeed and salary.com that can give you estimates for the position and you also have glass door that gives you some salaries in your area...but they aren't solid numbers.software developer" makes, is pointless since there are so many alternatives, a VB developer is going to be making less than a Python developer.

Same goes for glassdoor...sure the numbers help, but you don't know if the number you are looking at is current...or if it was added 10 years ago when the site launched.

So here is a startup idea...create a site like salary.com but one designed solely for programmers/developers. Then create an interface, where someone can build out a job description/location to get a good feel of what a fair salary would be for that specific position.

creativityhurts 4 hours ago 1 reply      
But that's not a rule, it's because women don't negotiate well.
This title can create a bit of unnecessary controversy, imho.
budley 3 hours ago 1 reply      
I also hire people for as little money as I can.
ramblerman 4 hours ago 1 reply      
if you read the actual text it ends with

the one person who got the most out of us was a highly aggressive, very smart, very confident woman

I guess they wanted to point out women, in general, aren't as aggressive in demanding higher salaries. Which whilst being an interesting observation seems kind of a non issue, there is no discrimination here.

stfu 2 hours ago 0 replies      
I think the same statement could be made about introverts. Not quite sure if this is a gender issue or just a personality/mentality issue.
In Response to SOPA, Reddit Meshnet Project picks up steam forbes.com
230 points by Wohlf  5 days ago   76 comments top 21
blhack 5 days ago 6 replies      
No offense to the "reddit meshnet project", but the last I checked (this could have changed) what they're proposing isn't possible with the team that they have right now.

There are a couple of problems:

1) They don't have a solid hardware platform to work on, and the feeling I've gotten from talking to some of the people on /r/darknetplan is that they really don't have the proper understanding of wireless tech to make something like this happen. People are proposing cheap commodity wifi gear for this.

While it's certainly possible to do a very high density area with that, it's certainly not feasible to cover an area like a city, at least not without a considerable investment, and an understanding that network performance is going to be abysmal. (And at that point, just use ham radio...)

(Something like what they're proposing might work in an office, not so much in a neighborhood).

So is a problem, but hypothetically you could just toss hardware at it until it went away.

2) It's the addressing, stupid. http://www.reddit.com/r/darknetplan/comments/m2nd5/its_the_a...

I am definitely the last person to discourage people from "doing it wrong" (http://thingist.com/t/item/4372/ - http://thingist.com/t/item/19766/ - http://thingist.com/t/item/21434/), but people running this, prepare yourselves for the reality that you could fail.

trotsky 5 days ago 1 reply      
It's too bad that the people who perennially propose adaptive mesh radios as some sort of decentralized alternative to public wired networks never consult anyone that has actually worked with mesh on any scale. If they did they'd quickly look for some other solution. I thought Greenberg was a real journalist, what's happened to fact checking?
CamperBob 5 days ago 4 replies      
There may be ways to overcome the limitations of mesh networking, as outlined by many people here, but you will need to think outside the mesh, so to speak. It is probably best to think of the mesh as the "last mile" component rather than the backbone.

One idea: a $5 laser pointer can be modulated at well over 100 Mbit/s. Everyone in an urban area who can see one side of a building can bounce laser beams off of it. (Data recovery and collision resolution are left as exercises...)

ap22213 4 days ago 3 replies      
These meshnet projects are interesting, and I wish them well.

But... we (democratic republic countries) already have governmental structures that allow for changing laws. Let's just organize and change the laws.

Aside from the industry-paid demagogues' rhetoric of 'STEALING' on the internet, we have to objectively think about this problem. We, the public, define the laws. We define what 'stealing' is. If a majority of the population is violating the so-called law, and it's hard to identify the specific victims of the law or even particular damages, then it's probably not a useful law anymore. Instead of jumping into a subversive massive campaign to overthrow the existing system, let's just use the tools that have been created to deal with these types of situations.

The simple fact is that the Internet and digital content has dramatically changed the way that intellectual property works, and the laws haven't kept up.

nextparadigms 5 days ago 1 reply      
Can the Phantom protocol be combined with this somehow?


agentultra 5 days ago 2 replies      
Not only is the idea itself not unique; other hackers have been working on this for at least a decade with little practical success. It's hard enough covering a city with wifi let alone connecting a mesh network over the air.

Rushkoff and others think it's just a matter of time... I remain skeptical.

How many of the groups members have worked in telecommunications and understand how antennae work, how signal broadcasting and processing works, how OTA protocols are implemented, etc?

You can't build the kind of robustness that we enjoy today out of commodity hardware. If you want a decentralized darknet, you'll probably have to dust off that 56k modem and get used to using fidonet again.

4dr144n 5 days ago 3 replies      
The problem has already been fixed. In South Africa, there is a mature, established private Wireless network spanning huge urban areas AND interconnecting them. It's based on cheap 5GHz hardware and directional antennae (mostly yagi). Details here http://www.ptawug.co.za/
wmf 5 days ago 0 replies      
The Occupiers are ahead of the Redditors, having actually bought and deployed some hardware, although that isn't saying much since both groups are writing manifestos instead of code. http://freenetworkfoundation.org/ http://mashable.com/2011/11/14/how-occupy-wall-street-is-bui...
samarudge 5 days ago 0 replies      
Forgive my ineptitude, but how does this differ from 'The Deep Web' available on Tor minus the cable coming out of your house?

While I agree SOPA is a terrible idea, internet censorship and having a central controlling organization (Or group of organizations) isn't such a bad thing. Look at Deep Web, it seems, to me, to be primarily used for illegal operations (drugs trade, child pornography and other nastys). The way I see it, this effort would be much better applied to resolving the issues we have with the current internet, reducing centralization and reliance on ISPs rather than "to shit with the working system lets start again".

And that's not even touching the technical aspects, the internet as we know it still isn't anywhere near perfect (IPV4 as an example). Are they expecting this to happen overnight? Some of the greatest minds of the last few generations have worked to make the internet what it is now, if university's are "experimenting" with this stuff it's clearly a long way from a realistic option.

That being said, wireless technologies are always improving. I'm sure the military already have some similar mesh based network (all be it on a smaller scale) far more advanced than anything we've seen (Assuming this since the majority of technological advances in communication originated from or were improved by the military). It's by no means a worthless project but I think the idea that in 6/12 months you can buy a box that gives you access to an un-modorated, unfiltered, private internet is a little ridiculous

wladimir 5 days ago 0 replies      
I haven't completely read the OP, But why isn't Openmesh ( http://www.open-mesh.org/ previously B.A.T.M.A.N. ) mentioned anywhere in this thread yet? I like the fact that this is getting a lot of energy behind it, but the idea itself is not new. Please don't re-invent any wheels, time is too short for that.
darknetplan 5 days ago 0 replies      
charlieok 4 days ago 0 replies      
I think what you want here is a device you can just plug in, and if it finds any neighbors it's in business. Home WiFi plus whatever kind of additional radio is best suited to join a "city mesh".

So yeah, random people on reddit probably aren't going to come up with this anywhere close to as fast as a small team with just the right skills.

Making and selling a great piece of idiot-proof hardware that does this sounds like a decent startup idea. And now that I've thought about it this much, I'm guessing there must already be some startups selling such a thing (anyone have firsthand knowledge?).

What reddit brings to the table is a large number of interested participants. If a couple of those people live within range of me, the idea suddenly becomes one I might consider buying and plugging in now, today.

So for that reason, I like this reddit group.

Pobe 5 days ago 3 replies      
HN commentators, dreaming start-up, crushing starters.
int3rnaut 5 days ago 0 replies      
I'm against crazy government control as much as the next guy, but is creating a decentralized system in this manner really the answer to this problem? I'm not agreeing or disagreeing, I am just really curious.

There seems to be a big decentralization movement in recent times (bitcoins!) but even as a person against the extremes of SOPA, I can at least appreciate the securities and benefits of a "traditional" governing body, no matter how ridiculous some members of government are--I'm just speaking as a not so tech savvy person, but to me one of the biggest psychological hurdles for a project like this is giving control to a group of people I am unfamiliar with--there is some sense of a rapport (even if there is some lack of trust) with the traditional government (just like with banks as I allude to bitcoins) that to me is a big obstacle for the meshnet growing to a degree where it becomes a true meshnet.

Either way, I love the hustle, and admire the project immensely.

bobsoap 5 days ago 0 replies      
Even if this project isn't backed or supported by the "right" technically qualified people right now, I have no doubt that that will change as soon as the government-controlled internet becomes a noticeable reality. This is only the beginning. It will grow.
maeon3 4 days ago 0 replies      
Eben moglen already has plans for freeing the internet from the tyranny of the few:


1010101111001 5 days ago 2 replies      
I think it comes down to what the goals are.

If the goal is to connect peer to peer with a small group of people you know in person and can trust, I see great potential. People congregate in small groups. Facebook friends, Skype contacts, etc. The advantage here is that third parties like Facebook, Microsoft and a gazillion advertisers are not involved. If it's small like that, it's doable as an overlay without using wireless as long as at least one person has a reachable IP and can act as the keeper of everyone else's address info.

If the goal is to create some sort of www replacement that must scale to global internet sizes, where any stranger can connect, and where kids are allowed to do all the things they're not allowed to do legally on the www, I see big problems.

jebari 5 days ago 0 replies      
Enthusiastic people with out technical knowledge are needed. First off a good idea with leadership can succeed in this area. The way to make mesh work which has not been tried has nothing to do with technology or any other comment issue found here. It has to do with how people get the internet right now. If you set up consumer sales side of your mesh project to look like any other ISP from the consumer perspective, i.e. you call up a number and a few hours or days later you have internet then it can work. Issues specific to mesh are you need to focus on islands, so you can only offer service in an ever growing area. As the mesh grows sales can grow until the islands merge. In the meantime, before islands merge you need to have access to old fashioned wire as well as after they merge. Ultimately its just another business model. It can work if deployed well.
wcchandler 4 days ago 0 replies      
This might not be a popular opinion, but as an individual who's capable of designing and implementing this, I'd rather vote in a politician who projects my ideals.
Wohlf 5 days ago 1 reply      
At this point, we're considering all contributions equally.
VigUi7vv8G2 5 days ago 2 replies      
Wow, I was just in the IRC channel and people there are saying they don't want exit nodes because of "liability". Completely ridiculous.
Firefox " tons of tools for web developers mozilla.org
222 points by Garbage  1 day ago   63 comments top 13
jroseattle 1 day ago 4 replies      
Our team has basically abandoned Firefox in favor of Chrome. Our team consists of front-end, HTML/JS/CSS types as well as server-side devs. I'm surprised, but every member of the team independently has punted on Firefox. For some, it was the extensions. For others, it was the RAM consumption.

With the new release schedule, it seems every time I would open FF with a new version to pull, some extension no longer works. It's purely anecdotal, but it was enough to annoy the bejeezus out of us that we simply switched over to Chrome.

elisee 1 day ago 4 replies      
I have found the Chrome dev tools to be much better usability-wise than anything Firebug had to offer. I also find it suspicious that Firebug is so heavy in terms of performance & memory, compared to the always-enabled chrome dev tools.

Anyway it's good to see Mozilla is investing in this area by integrating tools right in the browser. Keep it up!

mhartl 20 hours ago 2 replies      
It's a shame there's no good in-browser HTML validator (for any browser, so far as I can tell). HTML Validator used to be perfect, but Firefox started changing too rapidly for it to work consistently, and the current version only works on Windows (!).

Does anyone know of a browser/plugin combination that validates pages automatically (preferably configurable to run only on localhost)? The original HTML Validator was perfect, with a small icon in the bottom right of the screen indicating valid or invalid. Total Validator is OK, but it's not in-page, so that (for example) it's very difficult to validate pages behind a login wall.

jarofgreen 1 day ago 3 replies      
Interesting/worrying comment at the end about the future of Firebug alleging there is only one developer working on it and Mozilla have all but abandoned it. Anyone able to confirm/deny/comment on the matter?
Jasber 1 day ago 0 replies      
Somewhat related, LiveReload (http://livereload.com/) has made the biggest impact in the way I develop recently.

It feels a lot like the way notch developed with hot swapping during Lundum Dare.

rch 21 hours ago 1 reply      
Using Dragonfly in Opera makes my life pretty darn easy. It would be very difficult to convince me to switch to either FF or Chrome at this point.
c4urself 1 day ago 3 replies      
A bunch of these simply don't work in later releases of Firefox
brianbreslin 1 day ago 1 reply      
if you were to install all of those plugins/add-ons simultaneously your computer would grind to a halt from RAM usage.
czervik 15 hours ago 0 replies      
The only thing I open Firefox for anymore is SQLite Manager. What really made me fall in love with Chrome developer tools is using them to write Chrome extensions.
mweibel 1 day ago 1 reply      
So will the new Dev. Tools replace the functionality of Firebug or not?
sleighboy 21 hours ago 0 replies      
It's not Firefox-specific, but if inspecting and modifying HTTP requests/responses is what you want to do you should try Charles ( http://www.charlesproxy.com/ ).
prez 1 day ago 2 replies      
Wow, the CSS Reloader add-on is awesome! This could've save me a couple of hours if I had it earlier.


nestlequ1k 23 hours ago 0 replies      
For fun I messed around with Firefox 8 with Firebug. Crashed in less than 5 min. Lot of work is still ahead...

Chrome has Firefox beat

Scroogled (2007) scroogle.org
224 points by infocaptor  1 day ago   53 comments top 12
simonw 1 day ago 3 replies      
You can tell this is from 2007 because Google employees are obsessing about what Yahoo! are doing. Today, it would be Facebook.
jcr 1 day ago 1 reply      
Of course, the potential (but improbable) implications of up-voting this story should not be lost on anyone.
notaddicted 19 hours ago 1 reply      
I guess this is minor, but why does it say 1997 in the title? I can't find the year anywhere in the story or in these comments.
user24 1 day ago 1 reply      
reminds me of the nine billion names of God: http://365tomorrows.com/09/12/the-nine-billion-names-of-god/
arethuza 1 day ago 0 replies      
This story is also included in the excellent "With a Little Help" collection:


The free audio versions of the stories are particularly good.

rmccue 1 day ago 0 replies      
I like the reference to China, considering Google recently backing out of there due to these sorts of reasons. Makes me wonder if they'd ever consider doing the same in one of their key markets, such as the US.
icebraining 1 day ago 0 replies      
Of course, the irony of this being hosted on that site is that using Scroogle primarily would result on a suspiciously light Google profile, which would most definitively get yourself marked for further investigation. After all, that's the corollary to "if you have done nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide".
chrislomax 1 day ago 0 replies      
I didn't read the short story line at the top there, I actually thought this was a real account then. Coming from the UK none of this applies to the UK so I wouldn't have heard about this initiative if any of it was true.

Good story and could quite easily be true

brokentone 1 day ago  replies      
If 1984 were written today, I believe it would read a lot like this. However this one reads remarkably like reality. Good story Mr. Doctorow.
pothibo 4 hours ago 0 replies      
I couldn't help myself from drawing subtile comparison with 1984. And I loved it.
kevinalexbrown 20 hours ago 0 replies      
Particularly the bit about probable cause from statistical anomalies. Oh, we don't indiscriminately go through your records, unless you use TOR, in which case what are you hiding?
gwern 21 hours ago 0 replies      
The suicide bit is cute. Indeed.
Python Facts learnpython.org
220 points by ronreiter  4 days ago   103 comments top 18
michaelschade 3 days ago 1 reply      
Neat project. One critique: I don't like having only five lines of the snippet visible at any given time, it makes it harder to easily understand what's going on in some of your longer snippets.

I suspect that the five line limitation was done so that the "Give me another one!" button was always in relatively the same place and easily clickable (I appreciate that), but perhaps there could be a small, duplicate text link up above the snippet for this purpose too, thereby also letting you make the snippets longer.

pace 4 days ago  replies      
Can it be true that the Python coverage on HN is overproportional compared to its real world usage?

If I look around the world is full of Ruby and Rails. Sites, libs, meetups, developers, everything is on Ruby or Ruby on Rails. Python and Django devs are so damn rare in real world -- I just know two of 100.

Not that I don't like Python but I am really wondering why Python gets such a strong coverage on HN. Every second day there's some Python thing on HN. BTW with Clojure it's the same but Clojure is something new, so I understand the visibility there.

Please don't downvote -- it's nothing against Python, I just want to see if the Python base increased or something happend I've missed. Thanks

How can it be?

EDIT: Thanks to all for the replies. What's interesting about this thread: I got tons of downvotes (besides upvotes) for the first comment. So, I assume this Python vs Ruby discussion seems to be a very emotional topic. Thanks to the replies I have now a better understanding that Python is older and dominant in a many non-web environments. My impression is still that especially in web environments we have much more pace and development in Rails than Django (just compare what DHH put in 3.1, Coffee, Sass, etc. -- no flame war just a questions dear downvoters, don't freak out again)--Rails feels just more vibrant regarding web dev. But Rails is not Ruby ;-) It's just that I see all the Python stuff on HN -- which is slightly focussed on online/web/Internet -- and I really considered learning Python for web dev until I checked http://www.google.de/trends?q=python+django%2C+ruby+rails...

EDIT2: but there's a new rising star:

mapleoin 4 days ago 1 reply      
It would be nice if all these "facts" could be downloadable under a CC license.
antirez 3 days ago 1 reply      
"While passing a single value to string formatting works, it's dangerous and can fail in subtle ways". AKA Python design errors.
kisielk 3 days ago 3 replies      
A bit of a nitpick, but it would be nice if the facts were PEP8 compliant so they encouraged good code style as well as showing off Python features.
cschmidt 4 days ago 5 replies      
If whoever created this stops by, I got an error message on this snippet:

    import itertools
name_generator = itertools.imap("name-{}".format,itertools.count())
# to get the next name:
new_name = next(name_generator)

rhdoenges 3 days ago 2 replies      
> How can addition be more easier than this?

    print eval('+'.join(map(str, [1, 1])))


c4urself 4 days ago 0 replies      
cool initative! seems like snippet numbers are random: 1 works but 2, 3, 4 don't. it would be nice to have categories or tags and a place to let others contribute snippets. i like the fact that the snippets are small and communicate one thing, otherwise it's comparable to the ActiveState website. It would be nice to make it downloadable in a pdf.

EDIT: Never mind I see there is an "Add" button.

gcr 3 days ago 1 reply      
Nice project, but you NEED some sandboxing.

  import os
print os.listdir('.')
print open('turtle.py').read()

Edit: It seems like you're doing some; i can't inspect any directories outside the "jail", but being able to list the source code of your scripts is a security risk.

Rexxar 3 days ago 1 reply      
Bug at the third try: http://facts.learnpython.org/7006

Traceback (most recent call last):
File "/base/data/home/apps/s~learnpythonjail/1.350338289496947596/main.py", line 99, in post
exec(cmd, safe_globals)
File "<string>", line 2, in <module>
TypeError: 'start' is an invalid keyword argument for this function

hardik988 3 days ago 0 replies      
A small bug: Go on any random fact, eg: http://facts.learnpython.org/3007
Click on "Add your own", and then click go Back in your browser.
The snippet is blank.
This is Chrome 15 on Windows 7.
bnegreve 3 days ago 2 replies      
When I click play it says "Error!"

running debian linux with ff 3.5

gren 4 days ago 2 replies      
Not convinced by this one: http://facts.learnpython.org/1004
veyron 4 days ago 2 replies      
Is this approach (sending the commands to a backend) preferable to a javascript-based repl (using something like emscripten)?
brown9-2 4 days ago 0 replies      
Love this idea, I think one small way to look some snippets look nicer would be to remove the absolute width/height on the snippet text box (to prevent the need for scrollbars).
msinghai 3 days ago 0 replies      
Works fine, except that scrolling doesn't work on an iPad.
domlebo70 3 days ago 0 replies      
Would anyone be interested in something like this for Scala?
codecaine 3 days ago 0 replies      
added this to my start tabs
Startups Are Hard. So Work More, Cry Less, And Quit All The Whining uncrunched.com
210 points by aaronbrethorst  1 day ago   127 comments top 33
neilk 1 day ago 4 replies      
This is insane. You realize that all the quotes are from a post called the author describes as a 'cautionary tale'? (http://www.jwz.org/gruntle/nscpdorm.html)

I think jwz sums it up best in another post, where he talks about the best case scenario: becoming rich from your startup:

I've known dozens of instant-millionaires so far (from Netscape as well as other companies), and basically, I don't speak to any of them any more, because the money changed them and turned them into fairly creepy people. People who spend $10k on a wristwatch and then brag about it (while trying to aloofly sound like they're not bragging about it.) People whose sense of self-worth has gone nonlinear, because when they look at their brokerage statement, they forget that, while skill was certainly a component of why they got to where they did, luck was also a huge component. Most of these people have never worked for a company that built a good product and failed anyway. They don't have any understanding of the fact that skill is often necessary, but always insufficient. They believe their hype.

-- http://www.jwz.org/gruntle/corleone.html

keiferski 1 day ago 7 replies      
Work hard. Cry less. And realize you're part of history

No, sorry, but you probably aren't. Zynga isn't changing the world and neither are 99.9% of the startups coming out of SV.

The over-working culture is exactly that - a culture. It has nothing to do with actual reality, and everything to do with perceived reality. Great, long-term companies aren't built by entrepreneurs who sleep 2 hours a night.

P.S.: not getting enough sleep decreases productivity. The 37Signals guys have covered this a few hundred times at this point. I also seem to recall Richard Branson saying that he "needs his 8 hours."

9oliYQjP 1 day ago 2 replies      
There's work. Then there's productive work. What pisses me off is having to pull an all-nighter doing ultimately meaningless work. In startups there can be a lot of meaningless work unless you have all your ducks lined up both strategically and tactically. The older I get, the more I realize that having your ducks lined up requires presence of mind, clarity, and focus, all characteristics that are fleeting when you're sleep-deprived and being powered by Red Bulls and coffee.

In startups, marathon work sessions should be kept to a minimum. They're valuable and they're a useful tool. But they come at a massive cost. The more you rely on them, the less effective they become and the harder it is for the person who participates in them to reach their original productivity without massive amounts of downtime in between sessions. If you're going to commit to some crazy over-working session, you better have a damn good reason. Most startups who push this culture don't.

DanielBMarkham 1 day ago 2 replies      
My favorite numbers for startups are that they have a 1-in-20 chance of succeeding.

I don't know where I got those numbers from -- seems like I've heard PG use a 1-in-10 chance, but you get the general feel for the situation. You should work in such a way as to acknowledge those numbers. I'm not saying don't work hard -- far from it. Just work as if this is stage 1 of a 20-stage process, each stage lasting a year or two. If you're not working in such a fashion that you can go a decade or two, logic says you have mis-configured your work habits.

I had this same attitude when I moved from the commercial world into startups, get your ass in gear and buck up! That was a few years ago, and I've moderated my views quite a bit due to brutal reality. I think part of the problem for me was that I was trying to compare the startup world to either the academic world or to the commercial software world. In both of those scenarios you worked as hard as hell for a limited period of time and then you delivered. You took the test, you released the product, you passed the class.

Startups aren't like that because the work is never done. There is no huge finish line you sprint through. It just keeps going and going. The cutesy way of saying this is "it's a marathon, not a sprint" but I'm not sure that even covers it adequately. It's not a race at all. It's just a long, hard slog. Yeah sure, if you've got traction it is a hell of a roller-coaster ride, but I'd worry about then if-and-only-if that day actually arrives. Work like Facebook did to get their first million users when you actually start attracting hundreds of thousands of users and you're looking that potential in the face, not before.

kingofspain 1 day ago 2 replies      
I'm so glad I was pushing 30 before I really became aware of this startup scene. The general impression that comes off, to me at least, is work hard, stop moaning, accept pennies and one day you'll be rich - assuming that unlikely outcome happens and we don't use of the thousand ways possible to screw you out of any riches.

To me at least, and as an outsider, I'd say things like this may hold up for founders, but as a non-founder you better be young and have very little in the way of commitments. Get the experience and use what you've learned to found something yourself.

As a caveat, I am obviously not well in on the startup scene, but from what I've seen & heard over the years, there's very little to tempt me as an employee.

benwerd 1 day ago 1 reply      
The more I think about this post, the more conflicted I am about it.

On the surface, there are some obvious truths. Startups are hard; they're definitely not 9-to-5, 5-days-a-week jobs. There are also way too many people who think they're like a normal job but with added rockstar status and the potential to suddenly become fabulously wealthy, as if by random.

But. As Arrington says, it's a mindset thing. It obviously does take huge amounts of effort to get something off the ground, and the people you work with should be selected for their motivation to do that when it's required. The danger is that people will interpret his article to mean that everyone should work long hours all the time; that's simply not right. They should work the hours it takes to reach the goal, assuming the goal is reachable. Machismo is not productive.

While it's true that there's a lot of hard work involved and a lot of people are simply not cut out for it, here are some other truths. Balance leads to creative thinking. Lack of sleep leads to loss in productivity. Burn-out leads to no productivity. A business where you ask your employees to give their lives to the product is fundamentally unsustainable. A company is a community of people, and you have to understand their human needs to keep them motivated.

It's also true that if your employees aren't motivated to reach the goal, something is wrong - either the employee isn't right, or your goal isn't right. It comes down to hiring the right people, having a killer idea that motivates people, and being a good leader.

I also bristle at his comment about unionization. I don't think unions are a bad thing - but any unionization would have to be context-specific for Silicon Valley. There's nothing wrong with collectively bargaining for rights, but it can't be a cookie-cutter solution. I'm pretty sure smart tech people are capable of creating a 21st-century union that supports their rights while keeping the creative flame of their industry alive.

bane 1 day ago 0 replies      
My day job is just hitting 5 years. Of the original team hired under the founders only about 30% of us are left (we've hired some replacements), and the founders were part of the group that was cut.

Watching the founders leave was the hardest because you could watch them slowly come to terms over the first couple of years that:

a) this actually is harder work than what we left

b) it's not just somebody tossing money at you to go work on your pet projects and screw around, treating the expense account like a personal luxury account

c) there is a reasonable expectation by the investors at the end of all of this
that they will make their money back off of your work

Surprisingly, making the transition to a professional management team was easier than working with the original founders. During the tenure with the founders they made all of the mistakes above, plus acted like petulant children when they ran into each of these problems. Whining, foot stomping (literally), crying, flying cross-country to be away from the team and showing up unannounced at a satellite office. Bizarre behavior.

I guess what I'm saying is that it's not just the work that's hard. It's the intestinal fortitude to deal with technology, business and people, day in and day out -- especially when all three of those things are often acting at odds with each other that makes startup life hard, and being small, with startups those things can be magnified out of all proportion. Minor office quibbles turn into nuclear explosions, a broken technology stack a looming iceberg, lack of sales ability into a waiting sink hole.

People often remark about the perks of working at a startup, but it's those perks that make the often miserable part of the work tolerable. Or at least act as transparent incentives to work more, cry less and quit all the whining -- because at least you get three free meals a day!

icandoitbetter 1 day ago 1 reply      
Your startup is not part of history. You couldn't find better evidence that SV is an intellectual bubble than this post.
agentultra 1 day ago 1 reply      
Work more, cry less, and quite all the whining... is this SV or Full Metal Jacket?

That's not advice. It's ignorance.

If you cannot get your work done in eight hours a day there is probably something that's off. Maybe you're underestimating the work. Maybe you're being optimistic about your deadlines. Maybe you're not being honest with yourself about how efficiently you're using your time in the day.

After eight hours of working on one thing I'm done. If I've used every hour of that day to it's full potential I don't have the will or inclination to keep working. I usually feel pretty good about going home. Tomorrow's another day at the dream factory. I'll decompress, read a book, hack on something fun, hang out with my wife, get my sleep and tomorrow I'll wake up fresh and ready for the new set of challenges.

Whenever a manager or project lead tells me something along the lines of, "just do what you have to do and get it done," I just want to instinctively tackle them and slap them hard across the face. Not because I hate working but because they're standing on the tracks and there's a big freight train coming that they're not seeing. Managers who do that are lazy and are just passing the buck. If they don't want to hear why they're about to get hit by a giant freight train you owe it to the team to do something about it.

You don't do that by keeping your mouth shut and your nose to the grind stone.

Edit: Fixed some spelling issues.

csomar 1 day ago 0 replies      
No. You don't need to work harder. Work smarter. I was able to work for $15/hour two years ago. I did actually work for such rates, but I ended up increasing my productivity. Learning new tools, techniques, patterns, two monitors, better working conditions, reading blogs and books...

Now I work less and make more money. I'm still brushing my skills, and the more I do the more I realize that I can go further. Before you start a Start-up, make sure you have the necessary skills and that you have mastered them quite well.

Make a plan. Put 8-10/hours of work per day. Take at least 7 hours of sleep. Practice sport. Meet with your friends (but don't let them distract you). If you plan the time required for your startup to get up and running (coding, testing, papers, marketing, capital...), then you'll be able to work in healthy conditions and meet deadlines.

And doing that you'll be called a HARD WORKING person. Because no one else (or few) is doing it. If you are doing what the author suggests then you might possibly end up destroying your startup, health, relations and life.

pygorex 1 day ago 0 replies      
> Work hard

Yes - a strong work ethic is needed to build a company. But hard work won't save a mediocre idea or flawed business model. Don't work hard, work smart - which means working long hours and pushing a deadline when needed. It also means being skeptical and ruthless with your business model, validating your ideas and pivoting when needed.

> Cry less

No. Cry more. Vent and complain. Give yourself emotional release. Your brain needs it. And how can you code optimally or run a company properly when your brain is working at partial capacity?

If you are smiling, happy and confident all the time when building a startup you are probably a deluded idiot. That being said - always exude confidence to your customers and strategic business partnerships. (insert witty remark here about sausage being made) However ALWAYS be brutally honest with yourself and your team. If you are honestly challenging and validating your idea and business model you will lose faith from time to time and may even slip into a funk. THIS IS NORMAL. If you're honest with your team they will find a way to help you through.

> And realize you're part of history.

This is true in the sense that you are living and breathing and working during the early 21st century - you are a part of history (by this definition every dog is also a part a history, so don't get too excited). But it's highly unlikely that you will make history. Like most people (and most dogs) your startup will toil and die in obscurity. It's absurd to concern yourself with your legacy before you've built something of value. Build a great company and let history make up it's own mind.

harryh 1 day ago 2 replies      
It's worth quoting pg here:

"Economically, you can think of a startup as a way to compress your whole working life into a few years. Instead of working at a low intensity for forty years, you work as hard as you possibly can for four. This pays especially well in technology, where you earn a premium for working fast."


I don't really understand all the backlash in this thread against hard work in pursuit of a big goal.

freshhawk 1 day ago 0 replies      
Ugh. Silly VC propaganda is now making the front page?

Honestly this is a great attitude to instill in your employees, they will kill themselves for the company and when they burn out you can hire some more. You really can get a lot done when you can convince people to sacrifice their lives. Just make sure you and your technical advisers get enough sleep and downtime to think clearly and stay motivated and sharp.

If you are a developer then hopefully you've read enough about your profession to know how real work gets done.

Maybe you are too naive to know that there are people who are more than happy to sell you a dream so you'll work yourself stupid, selling a chunk of your life for a lottery ticket (but hey, some of them do pay off).

That naiveté won't last long in this business, so don't worry, you'll learn one way or another.

fragsworth 1 day ago 0 replies      
I don't see a problem here. If people are working too hard, let them vent. What's it to you? Especially if they haven't struck it rich yet. It's not like you are forced to read their complaints, unless you are their boss, but then I would question your motives.
moocow01 1 day ago 1 reply      
Meh - honestly working insane hours becomes unproductive and is foolishly glorified by many around SV. Getting 2 hours of sleep on a regular basis is just going to make you non-functional after a while and will lead to shooting yourself in the foot. This culture seems to be manufactured by VC-backed startups with limited runways and some of the more tyranical managers who hear about the greats like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates that drove people incredibly hard and achieved enormous success. I think the better path is to work toward a certain direction that you enjoy, focus on enjoying your work and not trying to hit some "level", and treat yourself well so you can produce well. Your enjoyment and health should be your top priority and in return I'd bet your efforts will be much more effective.
artursapek 1 day ago 0 replies      
Tim Ferriss described very much the opposite mentality of that of the 22-hour-work-day SV startup scene in his book "The 4 Hour Work Week." A takeaway that I've always held close is you have to be aware of whether you are working effectively vs. working efficiently. While Netscape reached their deadline (I assume) and enjoyed a successful launch, I have to wonder if they could have made the same amount of progress by equalizing their hours of sleep/hours of work, which would have made their work hours more effective. Just speaking from school experience, on 2 hours of sleep personally I know if I continue to try working much I start making mistakes that cost me a lot of time, and my pace just slows in general.
kayoone 1 day ago 1 reply      
Some time ago go i read an article about an ex CEO of some biotech firm who wanted to complete a very hard multiple days bike race and trained for over a year.
He knew he couldnt keep up with the pros who didnt sleep at all and were nearly killing themselves, instead he tried to get good sleep everyday while the pros raced on. In the morning he ended up overtaking many of the guys that didnt sleep at all and genereally felt very fit throughout the whole race.
Of course he didnt win, but as far as i remember had a very respectable finish.
It was an excerpt from a book but i cant remember the name nor any details about the race :/
nagnatron 1 day ago 0 replies      
Fuck this investment banking bullshit.
jowiar 1 day ago 0 replies      
The overworking has nothing to do with changing the world - rather, it runs contrary to it. If perpetual overworking is necessary for a startup, it's not pushing anything revolutionary enough to be considered changing the world, as the overworking serves entirely to get a product to market faster than someone else, given that someone else can produce an equivalent or superior product.
nanospider 1 day ago 1 reply      
The quality of posts that make it to #1 on ycombinator lately leave me unmotivated to check the site as frequently as I used to. As a result I work more, cry less and quit whining.
jrubinovitz 1 day ago 0 replies      
This post is disappointing to see after all the talk about people working in start ups being depressed last week. If you are hurting at a start up, you should definitely take a good look at your life and figure out what you can change to make it better. I am glad the article says "if you work at a startup and you think you're working too hard and sacrificing too much, find a job somewhere else that will cater to your needs", but I think working with your start up to try to arrange a job that is more compatible with you is an option as well. Please do not just suck it up, if you're feeling bad, start making a plan that will make you feel better.
MortenK 13 hours ago 0 replies      
There has been done large amounts of research on heavy overtime's effect on the productivity of software developers.

It doesn't take very much overtime for productivity to absolutely plummet. We're not talking just a small time drop here. Rather it's a free fall of 80% or so. This means that even if an engineer works 120 hours every week, he will still not be as productive as if he worked the standard 40-50!

More goofing-off time, running errands during work, an extreme increases in defect rates etc, are just some of the reasons.

Steve McConnel discusses this at length in his 1996 book "Rapid development", citing large amounts of case studies, books and other research.

The irony is that these guys who give the bravado laden "quit the whining, put in the hours" speech, are actually reducing their time-to-market, while simultaneously destroying their developers!

brown9-2 1 day ago 0 replies      
It is a logical fallacy to believe that in order to mimic someone else's success you must also mimic all of the steps they took to get there.

Just because Microsoft, Facebook, or Netscape had long and crazy hours in the startup days doesn't mean you need to do the same thing to build the next Microsoft, Facebook, or Microsoft.

It's rather immature thinking to assume there is only one way to do something like this, or even that "this is just the way things work" when your company is based in a certain area of the country (Silicon Valley, California).

michellegreer1 1 day ago 0 replies      
Sometimes, it seems like a lot of startups end up working this hard because they aren't being realistic about their chances of survival. It feels like there are a disproportionate amount of chiefs but not enough Indians.

Lacy cites companies like Twitter and Zynga as success stories. Neither of these were created by newbies. Evan Williams spent five years at Blogger. Marc Pincus had already sold one company and has a Wharton MBA. I've seen startups created by people who haven't even seen functional companies exist. That doesn't exactly inspire confidence in VCs, employees, or customers.

If you don't have experience and connections, partner with someone who does, whether it be an incubator, a co-founder, or an angel investor. Suck it up and give them a cut disproportionate to their efforts on your project. Just make sure they have valid advice and connections, and that they actually answer your emails. This is the model YC companies take as well as what fueled Facebook (Zuck/Parker).

If there is no decision maker in or closely tied to your company with relevant experience, you will most likely have to work this hard to get anything off the ground. You will cry. You will suffer exhaustion. Why? Because you are competing against experienced people who have a vested interest in your failure. Even if you are in a different space entirely, you still compete with them for funding, mindshare and talent.

You can work yourself to death. If your model is flawed because you've never actually seen a functional company work, much of the work you do is spent simply spinning your wheels to find traction.

billpatrianakos 1 day ago 0 replies      
It's natural for people to whine. I do it all the time but in the end I'm far happier with my life than I was when I didn't work for myself.

Some whining is not justified and done by people who are in it solely for the money. Founders are a tough bunch but even we have to vent at times.

At the same time I'd submit that if you're working all night and day you're not doing it right. There are times we must put in a 16 hour day but constantly killing yourself over work hurts you in the long run. The more punishment you dole out to yourself the less productive you are and the longer you have to work to catch up.

A lot of whining would cease if people stopped trying to keep up with the other guy for the sale of keeping up. Become what you're meant to become and fuck expectations and what other people are doing. Grow to the size you need to be. Too many startups start taking money too soon and are run as if they're a huge company when all they need is a single server and a guy to write code. Premature scaling can probably account for a large portion of the whining and failure out there.

I see way too many startups trying to be something they're not and shouldn't be which leads to burn out and failure. This business is tough and a little whining is to be expected but if we quit making the mistakes I mentioned then the whining will cease to come from cry babies and will only be heard from hard working people who truly need to and should be allowed to vent.

jph 1 day ago 1 reply      
> And realize you're part of history.

You're a part of history whatever you do. Spend time with your friends and family, volunteer to help others, get outdoors and enjoy the world. Take some college classes if you like, and drop out if you like. Learn something beautiful and utterly useless like calligraphy. Travel to India. Explore ideas, meditation, and Zen. I daresay your startup will be better, stronger, faster, and make a bigger dent in the universe.

thom 1 day ago 0 replies      
This is crazy. If you took this attitude to its logical conclusion, you'd end up with a culture in which human need is almost entirely subsumed by corporate need. Oh, no, wait...
samirageb 1 day ago 0 replies      
As someone that's bootstrapped for 3 years, I can say that working hard is imperative, but can also be incredibly detrimental to your business. I believe in the spirit of the blog post, as long as you don't get caught up in absolutes, because obviously burnout is counter-productive.

Most startups I see are weekend projects, or 3-6 month endeavors that really don't qualify as being a part of history and are dominated by goal of making money. However, considering the author it's safe to say that Arrington is assuming that you're actually trying to MAKE A DIFFERENCE, instead of building the next coupon loyalty program with game theory and achievements. It's probably also safe to say that someone with his universally accepted work ethic is probably seeing alot more 'whining' in his current role than previously exposed to.

schrijver 1 day ago 0 replies      
Caterina Fake, working hard is overrated

> Much more important than working hard is knowing how to find the right thing to work on. Paying attention to what is going on in the world. Seeing patterns. Seeing things as they are rather than how you want them to be. Being able to read what people want. Putting yourself in the right place where information is flowing freely and interesting new juxtapositions can be seen. But you can save yourself a lot of time by working on the right thing. Working hard, even, if that's what you like to do.

Apocryphon 1 day ago 0 replies      
This article seems like a strawman. When was the last time you read people complaining about startup work ethic?
keeran 1 day ago 0 replies      
"If it does, all the really necessary people will just leave and do their thing somewhere else."

Uh yeah, the developers, who are reading this and thinking "what a dick."

Maybe he should go somewhere else.

itmag 1 day ago 0 replies      
Either I am way under-estimating the difficulty of executing a startup, or I am some kind of superman able to tolerate way more of life's shit sandwiches (without crying myself to sleep every night).

Which one is it? I kinda need to know before I start a startup :p

Feel free to downwote for hubris (reverse psychology, hah).

xarien 1 day ago 4 replies      
And that's why my hiring criteria has always hinged on the level of compulsion said candidate exhibits. Sleep needs to be a secondary concern when stacked against a deadline.

Although, I will be the first to admit that every now and then I fully rest up and swear I'm going to get more sleep because I can actually see the productivity increase. That thought is often a quickly fleeting thought however....

EU Court of Justice: Censorship in Name of Copyright Violates Fundamental Rights laquadrature.net
212 points by yogsototh  5 days ago   49 comments top 5
asmala 5 days ago 1 reply      
This is, for once, an amazingly common sense decision, striking a good balance between IP protection, sensible business environment for the ISP, and personal freedom.

From the official press release[1]:

"The Court finds that, in adopting the injunction requiring Scarlet to install such a filtering system, the national court would not be respecting the requirement that a fair balance be struck between the right to intellectual property, on the one hand, and the freedom to conduct business, the right to protection of personal data and the right to receive or impart information, on the other."

I understand this isn't exactly revolutionary but amidst ACTA, SOPA, bailouts, and similar lunacy, this is a breath of fresh air and a glimmer of hope.

[1]: http://curia.europa.eu/jcms/upload/docs/application/pdf/2011...

EDIT: Formatting.

marquis 5 days ago 0 replies      
>the war on culture sharing

What a powerful concept as an anti-dote to 'war on file-sharing'.

arnoooooo 5 days ago 1 reply      
I wonder what consequences this will have on three strike laws.
smickie 5 days ago 2 replies      
How will if effect decisions like this:


...where BT (big British isp) was told to block sites?

pilif 5 days ago 3 replies      
The cynic in me tells me that this is more about providing a huge competitive advantage over countries with SOPA like laws than it is about protecting human rights.

But as they say, one should not look a gift horse in the mouth.

What happens with a decision like this is that countries with SOPA like laws will be where you want to be as part of the publishing industry whereas the EU now is the place where you want to be (or at least where you want your hardware to be) if you are a content hoster like youtube.

That's fine.

Of course this might end up with content only being available in countries with SOPA like laws, but looking at what is available for purchase here in Switzerland, I'd say that this is already the case.

As such, I'm really happy about this decision and I have in fact printed it out with the intention to hang it on the office wall.

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