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$1B of TSA Nude Body Scanners Made Worthless By Blog tsaoutofourpants.wordpress.com
1609 points by zotz  7 days ago   328 comments top 56
jballanc 7 days ago  replies      
While it's encouraging to see such a thorough debunking of the latest security theater technology, it's always been security theater... Allow me a few quick anecdotes:

My family is friends with a gentleman who was a green beret medic during Viet Nam, and later worked for the CIA. Once, when I was younger (and metal detectors were the norm), we had the opportunity to fly with him. He entered the metal detector before me, and was waved along. Once we were past the detectors, he turned to me and said, "Guess how many blades I have on me?" He then proceded to produce seven blades. They were a combination of ceramic blades (undetectable by the metal detector and sharper than most metal as well) and traditional blades held or placed on him so that they would not set off the detector. It was part of his CIA training to be able to do that.

I went to college at Stevens Institute of Technology. The Chemical Engineering department there has a lab known as the Highly Filled Materials Institute. When I was an undergraduate, I got a tour of the lab. They informed me that they had been working on an extruder that they were selling simultaneously to Picatinny Arsenal and Hersey. It turns out that C4 and Chocolate are both colloidal suspensions with nearly identical properties. A consequence of this is that in the X-ray machines used in airports, plastic explosives are indistinguishable from chocolate.

Shortly after 9/11 my father, a very frequent traveler, had forgotten his nail clippers in his carry-on luggage. Predictably, they were confiscated. When I greeted him at the airport, he remarked on how ridiculous that was, as he produced his fountain pen from his jacket pocket. "They let me on with this," he said. "I could have stabbed anyone in the eye with this and they'd be dead. What was I going to do with nail clippers?"

...I could go on, but why?

geuis 7 days ago 2 replies      
The supposition here is that since magnetic scanners are being removed and replaced with xray scanners, which do not have the feature of detecting metal with magnetic fields, the new machines are more ineffective than the old magnetic scanners. This therefore single-handedly invalidates the xray machines and they should be removed.

The entire video is produced in such a way as to say this is a major discovery and that it will single-handedly trigger Congress and the TSA to backpedal on what they've been for the last 10+ years.

I disagree.

To state, I do not like the TSA. I do not like Congress very much. I have very little respect for the people that are commonly elected to government
because of the long history of ineffectiveness, ignorance, and stupidity that continually seeps out when they talk and make "decisions". The best I can say about our government is that it mostly keeps the really bad people out of power. The kind that become Caesars and Napoleons and Hitlers and Pol Pots.

My issues with this video are that its too filled with a political tilt. There is a clear play on emotions and rhetoric with less emphasis on the purported vulnerability being shown.

Further, the actual nut of the video, i.e. the demonstration of the vulnerability, is so underwhelming that its impossible to take the video in its entirety seriously. First, the most important part where the speaker is actually going through security is sped up past the point of being intelligible. That's the part that might actually get some interest.

If the speaker just showed that clip in its entirety, demonstrating how to attach the pocket and further how easy it is for him to get through the scanners, and providing pure technical notes as to the background color and such, it would be easier to take seriously.

As it stands, any reasonably competent person's first thought should be "So we just put a magnetic scanner before or after the x-ray scanner. Ok, problem solved." Other thoughts might be, ok so make people stand sideways, change the background color, etc. Obvious tweaks to the system to patch over this problem.

The video doesn't address this simple point and goes on to argue that no metal detectors invalidates the entire concept of xray scanners. Its a very bad premise to base such an argument on.

The argument against xray scanners needs to be based around the already-proven points:

    *Violates people's privacy
*Security theater (which the Pocket Problem falls into)
*Possible negative health consequences for passengers and workers
*Over-reaching government bureaucracy

So in summary, I don't like this video because it shows nothing really new, makes a large claim on very little foundation, focuses attention on the wrong things, and is counter-productive to the task of convincing enough "policy makers" to start doing the right thing.

rogerbinns 7 days ago  replies      
Just more security theatre and corrupt politicians (guess who runs the companies the scanners are bought from).

The reality is that they can't keep weapons and drugs out of prisons where there are no freedoms, and there is plenty of time to be as invasive as you want to visitors and residents.

Additionally the security system has failed if the point you pick up the bad guys is by some low paid grunt at the airport staring at a screen. The point of airport security should be to catch occasional idiots and that is about it - something any metal detector can do.

The reality is that anyone determined can get through any security system and wreak terror. The response is to not be terrorised. It is to live well and not in fear. It is to have made their actions completely pointless.

ck2 7 days ago  replies      
You have to be crazy brave or crazy ignorant to do this kind of analysis and share it in the USA.

At a minimum his name will now show up on the no-fly list for the rest of his life. If he realized this, I am in awe.

tsaoutourpants 7 days ago 5 replies      
Hi Guys, Jon here, the creator of the TSA video you're discussing. Thanks for picking this story up. As a tech guy myself, I'll be happy to answer any questions you have.


TamDenholm 7 days ago 6 replies      
Rather than get rid of the body scanners, i think they'll simply just require you to stand sideways as well, or add a scanner on the side of the machine.
api 6 days ago 0 replies      
One word: lobbyists.

Nearly everything of this type is a giveaway to some private vendor with lobbyists in Washington. Whether it works or not is secondary to the primary purpose: handing money over.

ars 7 days ago 0 replies      
Summary: The background around the person is black in the scanner.

Place the object slightly distant from the person so it's also in the background (i.e. not silhouetted by the person), and the object and the background will look the same to the scanner.

mark_l_watson 7 days ago 1 reply      
A pretty good video, but it is not quite convincing enough for me to email to family and friends. Still, kudos to the guy who did it.

BTW, the first time I went through the backscatter scanner, I had a killer sinus headache within about 30 seconds. I went from feeling great to shitty almost instantly. Anyone else experience this? I have refused (opted out of) the scanner ever since. My many opt-out experiences have all been OK: a quick personal search and I am on my way. That is what I recommend to my friends and family to do.

BTW, part 2: the TSA corporation employees at the security checkpoints are not the problem, so be polite to them. The problem is the bribery and corruption that lead to the privatization of airport security.

GigabyteCoin 6 days ago 0 replies      
I once got "sharp weapons" (a manicure kit) through London's Heathrow airport.

I was connecting from Shanghai and had stupidly left a souvenir manicure kit in my bag... they found it, but after some pleading allowed me to keep it.

As per usual, I picked up a bottle of liquor at the duty free in Shanghai before I left...

Not sure if I was meant to inform them I was connecting, or they simply forgot to do their jobs... but apparently I was meant to have my liquor in a sealed "official duty free" bag when I landed at heathrow.

Long story short, I got the full attention of about 10 security officers when checking through security in Heathrow. They were entirely concerned with the liquor I had purchased in shanghai, and were so vocal about the whole thing that I personally witnessed the xray machine man turn around and see what the problem was.

Everybody was trying to be the next big hero, when the only problem was I didn't have the right security bag, and who knows what else I might have had in my carry on? (Hint: I had "weapons", I mean nailclippers).

russell_h 7 days ago 2 replies      
Does the scanner not pick the object up at all (I don't see why this would be true), or is this simply a matter of needing to change the background color?
lojack 7 days ago 2 replies      
Every time I've gone through the new scanners, I've had to go through a metal detectors first, which would pick up this object. Anyone know if there are actually airports that use only the new scanners without a metal detector?
nivertech 7 days ago 2 replies      
TSA should use MRI scanners - no radiation exposure and no metal objects are allowed.

As an added bonus they can use fMRI mode and ask following questions:

    1. Are you a member of a terrorist organization?
2. Where is the Weapons of Mass Destruction?

fab13n 6 days ago 0 replies      
Most people with critical thinking are hardly surprised by this; this needs to be shown to average Joes, not hackers.

Hence I suggest to vote this up on YouTube, rather than / in addition to HN.

yason 6 days ago 0 replies      
It has never been about real security. It's about the huge load of money that is funnelled through TSA who are set to spent it all, regardless of what they receive, on these magic wand devices or just angry personnel. Another reason is that security checks allow for arbitrary control of passengers. It's a powerful mechanism, just like a country with enough laws to make everyone guilty but where those laws are only enforced when "necessary", on a select few people. It's like legalized totalitarianism: all backed up by law and rules but the outcome is the same.
jQueryIsAwesome 7 days ago 1 reply      
To everyone saying that now they will make you turn sideways i have to tell you that there are many blind spots even with those two angles, think about "corners" of yourself.

An example: http://imgur.com/Q1DTp The rolled paper represents some sort of tube)

The point is that many angles are required (or another kind of "solution")

togasystems 7 days ago 1 reply      
I wonder if the color of the background is a simple variable or is based off physics rules? Does anybody know if they can change the color to something different?
tlrobinson 7 days ago 0 replies      
So now they'll just require two scans, one turned 90 degrees.

How hard would it be to construct a prosthetic fat suit that's invisible to scanners? I bet not very.

petenixey 6 days ago 0 replies      
I for one would just like to take a moment to welcome our new guests, the intelligence observers!

May you be inspired by the quality of debate and not may you not add any of the good HN folks to any lists.

alan_cx 6 days ago 0 replies      
I have a great solution to this. Its cheap and easy to set up. Just tell people that planes are a bit dangerous and might well be stacked with terrorists and bombs. Fly at own risk. Be grateful if you land. No? Oh well.

In all seriousness though, I do wonder given the above, how much passenger numbers would drop. Flying is known to be very safe, and there was a statistic that showed more people died after 9/11 than in 9/11 due to people taking to the roads through fear of flying. Plus, there are not that many planes blown out of the sky by terrorists. If they did nothing, planes would still be statistically safe. Its kinda like those stats that show people drive in a more reckless manner because they now have to wear seat belts and have air bags etc. Take that lot away and people tend to drive safer.

No, Im not suggesting and of this, just food for thought.

borski 7 days ago 0 replies      
Simple, yet brilliant; equivalent to a side channel attack on most systems. I can't believe nobody had noticed that before, including myself.
chrischen 6 days ago 1 reply      
His statement about no one boarding a plane in the US with explosives seems to be false: http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/story/2012-02-16/underwe....

Although he seems to be right that the detectors are useless since the guy who was pretty incompetent (set his underwear on fire) and still managed to get it on board a plane.

Sniffnoy 7 days ago 0 replies      
Not made worthless -- revealed as worthless.
pseingatl 2 days ago 0 replies      
Curiously, once upon a time the U.S. federal courts considered a police crotch grab offensive behavior:


georgieporgie 7 days ago 1 reply      
While I think the TSA is ridiculous, can't this be solved by having the people stand at 45 degrees to the left or right, chosen at random?
hippich 6 days ago 0 replies      
I can tell you what will happen next - instead of shutting down the whole nude-scanner program, more money will be fed into developing enhanced version of nude-scanner with built-in metal detector. All old scanner will be scraped, more billions will be pushed toward TSA to buy more nude-scanner upgrades.
bstpierre 6 days ago 0 replies      
It's interesting how so much is focused on airport security. Let's assume that we figured out how to make airline terminals 100% terrorist-safe and completely secure, no exceptions. (Yeah, it's a fantasy, but stay with me...)

At that point the terrorists will give up on the airports and pick something different. Remember that the first attack on the WTC, and the (domestic!) attack on OK City were TRUCK bombs. What's to stop someone from hijacking a tanker truck and detonating it? Trucker school must be easier than pilot school, right?

And if the terrorists are still hot and heavy for airplanes, they could bring down an airplane without actually going through airport security. At most airports I know of, the planes are vulnerable to ground-based attack on takeoff and landing. Not the same as crashing one into a building, but it seems unlikely that that attack is repeatable.

afterburner 7 days ago 2 replies      
So they should keep using the metal detectors then. I wonder if they'll make people go through both.
yaix 6 days ago 0 replies      
Just hope that somewone will be helt accountable for it. Anyway, the link to the relevant xkcd:


sushantsharma 7 days ago 2 replies      
I find it a little strange that, at present, more than 400 people have upvoted the link, but the linked youtube video has less than 400 views.

Edit: I am not trolling. It was just an observation that I found interesting even though it may not directly add much to the conversation.

bicknergseng 7 days ago 0 replies      
The introduction to <i>Thinking, Fast and Slow</i> by Daniel Khaneman immediately made me think of security theater. He starts by discussing how humans are generally rational, but intense emotions of fear, anger, etc. often cause us to act completely irrationally. While I imagine the book goes on to describe how the individual can stop emotion from perverting what should be a rational judgement, I wonder what defense we have as a society against making bad, emotional decisions on things that shouldn't involve emotions. I understand reactionary emotional decisions and opinions tending to snowball behind them, but why does it take so long, if at all, for rationality to take over?
charlieok 6 days ago 0 replies      
...so what if they get images from four sides instead of two. Doesn't that defeat the "side" method demonstrated in the video?
queensnake 7 days ago 1 reply      
It's even easier. I was carrying a metal external hard drive, put it through the belt with no problem. You could easily take out the HD and put some explosives in there instead.

edit Also, if combining fluids really is a threat, they're allowing liquid medicine bottles, now. It really /is/ theater.

astrofinch 7 days ago 0 replies      
It wouldn't be hard to get a profile view of airline passengers by having them spin or installing additional scanners. Not that I disagree with this guy.
thewisedude 7 days ago 0 replies      
My guess is in the future...you will have to walk through both metal detectors and body scanners! I am not sure, if they will dump the body scanners based on this video!
aaronharnly 7 days ago 0 replies      
Interesting video.

However, I would like to have seen a controlled experiment " i.e., with the same metallic case placed in a breast pocket. Trials with only that variable changed, and yielding a different result (presumably being pulled for patdown?) would more conclusively demonstrate the hypothesis that with the side-pocket technique "anyone can beat them with virtually no effort."

samspot 6 days ago 0 replies      
Seems like they should just combine Body Scanners + Metal Detectors + Pat Downs. A weakness in one tech doesn't make the whole stack worthless.

Please don't interpret this comment as approval of the body scanners or the pat downs. I'm just trying to express that the body scanners have not been "made worthless".

tuxguy 6 days ago 0 replies      
From Bruce Schneier's blog scheier.com

FBI Special Agent and Counterterrorism Expert Criticizes the TSA


nizm 7 days ago 1 reply      
In case some of you haven't seen this video.

Live on Germany TV man walks through body scanner and builds explosive with everything that passed on the scanner.


alinspired 5 days ago 0 replies      
it's amazing how all governments, and monopolies are alike, whether it's US or not

they will get away with it, until smacked really hard - which is almost impossible to do

downx3 6 days ago 0 replies      
Sadly I don't think the scans are their to protect lives, but rather to protect the machinery (and the industry.) Planes are expensive. It's trivial to kill people elsewhere. I just loathe the rhetoric.
dirkdk 7 days ago 0 replies      
good thing you are hosting your blog on wordpress.com. Hope they keep it available!
eta_carinae 6 days ago 0 replies      
All he did to prove his point was smuggle a small empty metallic case in his pocket and he expects all the airports to take down their scanners as a result... Makes total sense.
njtotten 6 days ago 0 replies      
I am a frequent flier and hate this stuff as much as the next guy, but doesn't this just argue (from the TSA point of view) that the TSA should be using BOTH the metal detector and the body scanners?
mikeklaas 7 days ago 0 replies      
Thanks. Now they'll just make us do both.
nimrodreader 4 days ago 0 replies      
so, if i face the scanner frontally, and the object is on my side, the object can be lost in my contour.
then the TSA guy says, "rotate to right". now that object hidden on my side might as well have been taped to my forehead - what was lost in contour is now nicely in silhouette.
or, i go through metal detector first, then get scanned.

no big deal?

poppysan 6 days ago 0 replies      
$1B saved by having them take a side profile shot...
cpursley 6 days ago 0 replies      
What really blows my mind is that Bin Laden pulled 911 off with about $400,000 - about the price of about two porno scanners.
Vixter 7 days ago 0 replies      
If the TSA has to investigate abnormalities with a pat down, you might as well opt for the groping to begin with.
mikejestes 6 days ago 0 replies      
What if the scanners actually take a 360 degree xray?
joshwprinceton 6 days ago 0 replies      
most ptz ever?
joezhou 6 days ago 0 replies      
epic fail indeed...
impunity 6 days ago 0 replies      
I always thought that the purpose of the scanners was to catch currency entering and leaving the country, not to catch terrorists.
gringomorcego 7 days ago 0 replies      
Nobody's gonna mention Snow Crash? Really? Come on guys...
robgibbons 7 days ago 0 replies      
All they have to do is make you turn sideways. This video is a well intended but weak attempt
antonej 7 days ago 5 replies      
What a bizarre obsession. The only reason this is at the top of HN is because the word "nude" is (misleadingly) in there.

Obviously airline security in the US is deeply flawed because look at how many planes are being hijacked or blown out of the sky by terrorists! I mean there have been -- wait, let me count -- ZERO on American soil since September 11, 2001. With about 28,000 commercial flights per day in the US alone, approximately 3,800 days after 9/11, that multiplies out to 106 million fights without a successful terrorist attack. Not a bad batting average if you ask me.

With apologies to Churchill, I guess this airline security regime is the worst system there is -- except for all the other systems.

Frighteningly Ambitious Startup Ideas paulgraham.com
1010 points by anateus  4 days ago   426 comments top 86
jballanc 3 days ago  replies      
Man finds a black kind of rock that burns; discovers that you can get a lot of this rock if you dig deeper, but deep mines have water. In order to successfully mine this rock, man devises a steam powered engine (neatly enough powered by this same rock) to pump out the water. No, not the steam engines you're familiar with. This is the Newcomen Steam Engine: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newcomen_engine

The Newcomen Engine has a fatal flaw: it cools the steam for the return stroke, losing energy to the latent heat of evaporation each time. James Watt discovers the latent heat of evaporation, and realizes that separating the condenser from the piston would improve efficiency. So let's go build some railroads, right? Not so fast. It would still be another 30 years (100 years from the invention of the Newcomen Engine) before railroads and ferry boats would be regularly powered by reciprocating steam engines.

What's the moral? For 100 years, vast leaps in technology came one after the other. In the process, the Laws of Thermodynamics were discovered and described. Many learned men stood around patting each other on the back at how successful, how inventive they were...at digging a black rock called "coal" from the ground.

But most people don't dig rock from the ground. Most people do travel from point A to point B on a fairly regular basis. The world changed when 100 years of technology left the mine shaft and the factory, and got people where they were going just a bit faster.

I'm convinced that computers are still at the Newcomen/Watt transition. We have a ways to go before the world truly changes.

waterside81 3 days ago 6 replies      
These ideas, and the idea that they are frighteningly ambitious, clearly come from the personal experience of living in northern California and dealing with tech startups most of your time.

These are largely first world problems. Here are some ambitious ideas:

- distributed power generation that's cheap enough and renewable enough so people in rural parts of sub-Saharan Africa don't have brown outs anymore.

- synthetic food generation a la star trek

- desalination that is cheap enough for a farmer in Mozambique to do himself

There are more, lots more. People outside the valley bubble have real problems.

Alex3917 4 days ago 8 replies      
The problem with search is that not only is Google getting worse, but I've also mostly outgrown it, in that it isn't sophisticated to answer pretty much any scientific question I would want to ask.

- No way to search for a scientific question and get a summary of the current scientific consensus or viewpoints on specific issues

- It's really hard to access academic journal articles online.

- Even when you can access journal articles, it's hard to know which ones to look in to answer your question. Sometimes it's hard to even know which field(s) your question falls under.

- Even if you vaguely know which field your question falls under, you don't necessarily know any of the vocabulary used by that field.

- No way to search by dependent and independent variables, confounding variables, etc.

- No way to sort articles by the quality of their methodology, the quality of the journal they were published in, the quality of the researchers, etc.

I know this isn't a product that more than 1% of the population would use, but if someone built it then maybe there are other things it could be used for.

run4yourlives 3 days ago  replies      
Does it bother anyone that "frightenly ambitious" begins with search and email? Seriously? This is the pinnacle of our contribution to mankind - building search engines and to-do lists?

Where's the lunar base? The flying car? The personal robot? The cyborg? Meh, maybe I'm just getting old and grumpy. (To be fair I did like the other ones).

einhverfr 3 days ago 2 replies      
As an amateur historian, I found the Colombus bit a bit interesting, and probably more on-point than Graham might have even known. Columbus, his backers, and his detractors all accepted that the world was round. What they disagreed about was how big it was, and how far it would be to Asia by sailing West. Everybody, pretty much, by that point knew that the world was literally round (and flat only in stories). This was especially true in monastic and church circles which had known this for longer.

In other words they all agreed it was a great idea and an ambitious project that might succeed. They disagreed about what it would take to get there, and whether there might be obstacles in the way.

Seems like a very fitting metaphor for an ambitious startup.

Edit: For sources, you can start with "Heaven and Earth in the Middle Ages: The Physical World Before Columbus" by Rudolf Simek, which is a book uncommon in its level of insight. His description of Marco Polo's purported encounter with a unicorn had me laughing in both humor and amazement.

Simek's basic thesis was that Columbus's expedition was important historically because it blew away an important piece of medieval ethnographic thought--- once it became clear that the areas he had reached were not India, but were inhabited anyway, it doomed the Augustinian argument against the existence of inhabited continents beyond Africa, Asia, and Europe. This then paved the way for questioning the religious and classical basis for some aspects of the physical world, and lead in many ways to the Renaissance (though I think the failure of the Crusades and the translation of Arabic writings into Latin had a strong hand there too). The importance of Columbus's voyage about changing the way we think about our place on the world was still important. Another good point about ambitious startups?

jonnathanson 3 days ago 2 replies      
In re #4, I'd suggest that your biggest hurdle isn't movie studios (as we often like to suggest here). It's Comcast. It's Time Warner Cable. It's AT&T. These companies exercise an oligopoly on most people's internet connectivity, TV UI and UX, DVR experience, etc. They also set the terms, with the networks and studios, for what you actually get to watch on demand. They pushed their crappy DVR onto the masses, effectively killing off the far more innovative and superior TiVo, because they offered their boxes at point-of-cable-hookup to consumers. They control so many strategic channels in the TV business, on both the B2B and B2C ends, that they're basically running the industry. (They were also the prime movers in the PIPA/SOPA legislation, and they'll be back with another attempt as surely as the sun rises in the East.)

Netflix, Apple, and Amazon look like compelling alternatives to the cable oligopoly. Unfortunately, studios are deathly afraid of handing over monopolistic control of their distribution to a single player like Netflix, so they're fighting with Netflix and trying to push their own alternative onto consumers (Ultraviolet). Meanwhile, they remain relatively oblivious to the real snakes in the grass (Comcast, et al.) -- an obliviousness that's going to get even worse, now that Comcast owns a major player in the production system.

To beat Hollywood isn't to beat the studios. To beat Hollywood is to beat cable. This isn't a war over content; this is a war over distribution. Technology vs. technology. Content producers will go wherever there's distribution to be found, and money to be made.

6ren 3 days ago 2 replies      

  6. Bring Back Moore's Law

hmmm, maybe developer cycles are more valuable than machine cycles really is getting out of sync with current conditions?

I didn't connect stalled clock-speeds to the web being slow til reading this. One reason is that web-serving is usually embarrassingly parallel, as each client is independent. Some other causes are increased client-side JS; assembling many services (eg. amazon); increased usage with resources not keeping pace. But pg's point is surely a factor too.

Bloated frameworks, and software with many layers (some quite unnecessary) were facilitated by increasing clock-speeds - but at least it's possible to get rid of them. Also, work has been done on JS JIT compilation. Server languages are getting faster too.

This may seem like a tangent, but bear with me: Clayton Christensen (who coined disruption) makes an interesting point about "integrated" (closely-coupled, interdependent) vs. "modular" (clean interfaces enabling mix-and-match) architecture.

The advantage of integration is you can make it perform fast - you can optimize "performance" according to a variety of definitions (e.g. smaller, lighter, more memory, less battery power etc). This wins when customers value increased performance - Christensen describes this willing to pay more for performance as it "not being good enough" because once it's good enough, they won't pay for more of it.

The economic advantage of modularity is you can develop fast, you can create and customize more quickly. Part of this is reusing components (e.g. buy off-the-shelf or open source, or reuse internally) - this wins when customers value that over performance. This usually doesn't happen until performance is "good enough": if it's too slow to use, who cares how configurable it is?

An example is iPhone/iPad (integrated) vs. Android (modular). The iPhone/iPad is fast, light, slim, long battery-life, better resolution, smoother animation etc. In contrast, there are many different Android devices, with different prices, displays, shapes etc, and many have customized UIs.

Christensen's fascinating point is not that one approach is better than the other, but that they change over time, cycling back and forth. It depends on what the market wants at the moment: what will customers pay for more of?

Following the example, once smart-phones become "good enough" in performance, customers will start to buy on other factors, such as price. This seems to be starting to happen for smart-phones; but not yet for tablets.

In relation to pg's observation of server slowness, it seems that formerly, performance was good enough, and so the developers that were most successful favoured mix-and-match layers, because they were faster to develop and easier to customize. But now, performance is a problem... which may mean that developers who favour integration will be most successful. It's not black and white, but an interesting perspective.

erichocean 4 days ago 6 replies      
In my experience, Sand Hill Road does not want "frighteningly ambitious" startup ideas if substantial capital expenditure is involved. (In fairness, they are willing to hear those pitches " I guess that's something.)

> Now Steve is gone there's a vacuum we can all feel.

Pixar got funded only because Steve Jobs (Steve Jobs!) paid for it of pocket to the tune of $50 million total. It's Pixar that made him a billionaire (not Apple, as most people assume). How often does Steve Jobs invest in companies? Virtually never. But he knew (correctly) that Pixar was on to something.

I'm dealing with the Pixar bootstrap-problem at my own company, Fohr. Fohr is the live-action version of Pixar (photography, not animation, is what gets computerized), and requires $32 million in capital to do the process today on a feature film (well over half of that is for hardware - $2 million alone for electricity!).

Fohr is only constrained by capital " the R&D has already been done (it took nearly 13 years to develop the tech) " so you'd think Fohr would be ripe for funding. And you'd be dead wrong. There are no Steve Jobs left to pay for it.

The startup world today seems to only want tech innovation on the cheap, and that includes Paul Graham and all the rest.

diego 4 days ago 8 replies      
"GMail is slow because Google can't afford to spend a lot on it. But people will pay for this. I'd have no problem paying $50 a month."

Ok. Number of Paul Grahams in the world times $600/year = ?

Most people on the web are ridiculously stingy. "I would pay for this" is a terrible way to think for an entrepreneur. Believing that what we think represents the masses is a rookie mistake.

ericd 3 days ago 3 replies      
I think personal health monitoring is probably the most important thing on that list. The thing that excited me the most when smartphones started becoming popular was the prospect that they could coordinate data collection from a number of sensors always collecting data - basic ones like Nike+, but perhaps also sensors measuring sleep, taking periodic bloodwork, etc. At the same time, perhaps you could automatically monitor personal behavior such as foods eaten.

Personal diagnostics would be an important use of that, but I think more importantly, with a very large public dataset of basic biometric data correlated with behavior data and medical results across a significant portion of the population, we could stop treating human health studies as bespoke one-offs put on at great expense and start treating them as data mining problems. You could begin to spot correlations between behaviors and results that are unintuitive given conventional wisdom. I think that the resulting burst of discoveries would be on par with any of history's great scientific revolutions.

aptwebapps 4 days ago 4 replies      
The last graph of #6 is great.

I hate to stray into politics but my scary ideas revolve around public policy and the various actions people undertake in the public sphere that affect it. More specifically: Is it possible, by providing better tools for publishing and accessing information, to substantially improve public policy debates? Can we reduce the very large rewards for dishonesty and the use of disinformation?

This is the crux of the problem with our current political system, I think. It's not campaign finance, it's not religion, it's not disagreements about economics, foreign policy, security vs liberty (a lovely false dichotomy) or what have you. It is simply the fact that lies win and truth loses. Or, if that statement is not necessarily true, it is true in the current practice.

So, if you buy my premise, how can technology help? Isn't it a problem of human nature? You can't force people to be honest. You also can't force people to learn how to recognize dishonesty in spheres where they have not much competence. You can't impose good sense or decency.

But human nature is varied, and so maybe the seeming ascendancy of its more unfortunate aspects is situational. Maybe by improving the context and presentation of information they can be mitigated. Maybe technology can be used to recognize and reward honesty and to point out and discourage dishonesty. It hurts to think about, doesn't it? It does for me, because it is so hard, and that's what I took from pg essay. Granted, I may not be talking about problems to solve which would make you the next Google.

As an aside, I think that the utility of greater transparency of public actions (governmental or corporate) is already well-understood by many and much work is already being done in this direction so I am leaving out. But that doesn't mean there isn't room for new solutions there, as well.

hkarthik 3 days ago 4 replies      
There's a definite opportunity to build a competitor to Apple and reach the hackers first: building a better PC for hackers to create new software built on Open Source and Web technologies.

The cracks are starting to show with using Mac OSX as a primary machine for hacking. It's got unix under the hood, but every successive release has become more consumer focused and less hacker friendly. The proprietary nature of developing native apps also turns off a lot of the great OSS hackers.

If you could get an all star team together with someone like Rahul Sood to design the hardware and someone like Miguel De Icaza to design the OS and developer APIs, you'd be well on your way to tackling this problem and building the next Apple. And this time, it could be a lot more open source friendly.

sawyer 4 days ago 2 replies      
If Microsoft : Google :: Google : Facebook, I'm not sure that the frightening startup idea here is to replace Google. Don't get me wrong, I've also started to see some cracks in the G edifice; and Facebook has definitely begun to set their agenda, but doesn't that mean search in general is already waning and that the next big thing will be whatever replaces Facebook?

Great essay though, lots to think about. I really like the anecdote about bolting an iMac to the wall as well. I still have a TV, but it's only purpose is to act as a large dumb monitor for my laptop, and I've been seeing a lot of this type of thing happening even among my non-hacker friends and family. I'd like to see an 'app-store' translation for drama as well, but it seems like tv / movies are not as amateur friendly to create as games. One person can develop a fun indie game, but it's nigh on impossible to create drama with a similarly small budget.

What aspiring drama writers / directors need are tools equivalent to game level editors to create their scenes without actors, cameras or studios. Packaged believable human CG characters may not be possible, but cartoon, animal, alien, etc. characters might be able to bridge the gap the way they do in video games and still tell a compelling story.

underwater 3 days ago 0 replies      
I've found myself nostalgic for the old days, when Google was true to its own slightly aspy self.

Can we please stop using that word? It trivializes the disorder and encourages the stereotype that engineers should be socially awkward.

HSO 3 days ago 0 replies      
"A New Search Engine": You don't need to compete head-on with the biggie(s) even if you want better search. You can vastly improve search by specializing, i.e. getting data that the biggie(s) don't yet have. Find something that is "universal" but where the necessary data is hard to obtain. Then innovate on how to obtain that data, rather than focus on how to search or match etc. Find a business model where you provide value for both those who generate/grant access to the data as well as those who use/search it. When you have that data, either build on it or sell it to one of the biggies.

"The Next Steve Jobs": Watching the TED talk by Cynthia Breazeal (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eAnHjuTQF3M&t=09m25s), it recently struck me that the next Apple will come from the robotics side. The engagement level and seamlessness you can achieve with the physical medium is on a completely different level from "devices". Even smartphones/apps require (at best) minimal cognitive facilities for interaction. Being able to I/O on a "reptilian brain" basis with body language, tone of voice, etc. could literally "change everything" by weaving intelligence into even the dumbest activity. People will not be able to do without such robots if they are well done.

mmphosis 3 days ago 4 replies      
0. free internet

   - as in beer and as in liberty

1. a new search engine


2. replace email - with a todo list?

   - as I look at that old Palm IIIxe sitting in the cradle on my desk,

my mind swims in the ideas of all the databases on all of the devices everywhere all being in sync

3. replace universities

   - yup, and recreate the free university of olde

4. internet drama

   - indie drama titles (movies/shows/etc) on netflix / apple
- or just read the comments ;)

5. the next steve jobs - but I am still impressed by the iPad3 rollout and it's screen

   - raspberry pi

6. bring back moore's law

   - easy parallelism in software
- it's a compiler -- that's the hard part
- a compiler on the web as a web "service"
- an optimization marketplace: people in the machine doling out smart answers

7. ongoing diagnosis

   - how about ongoing prevention? because cancer is a symptom too
- why limit yourself to 1000 years of ?barbaric? western medicine?
- why not look at all of humanity's history of medicine from all cultures?

8. tactics

   - remember that columbus was a tyrant, and he didn't "discover" anything.
- start small

yup, the best plan is not to have one, and never make one, when it's a fait accompli then you announce the plan

akrymski 3 days ago 3 replies      
We're a YC company (www.post.fm) working on one of those ideas - email. We've encountered lots of headwinds as PG mentions, and we've managed to stay strong to our beliefs by keeping the team small and focused, and using our product ourselves to constantly remind us that what we're working on is better than Gmail.

It's not been easy admittedly, we didn't come up with some small idea that could grow into an email replacement over time, or some add-on to gmail to give us early traction, etc. We focused on replacing Gmail from day one. And that's no small feat, cause who wants to use a minimum viable email service?

We also realize it's a huge bet, and we may be wrong. But at least we're building something for ourselves, so we can't be too wrong, and that thought keeps us going.

Can't say I agree with "Email was not designed to be used the way we use it now. Email is not a messaging protocol. It's a todo list."

Email was designed to be the electronic version of a letter - an async messaging channel. Not some to-do list protocol. But with increased volumes managing all that mail became difficult (I'm sure celebrities still struggle to catch up with physical mail). That's the problem we want to solve, by letting algorithms and better user interfaces help you manage your mail.

A to-do list is something different in my view, but naturally closely related (and should be part of the same application). A piece of mail often prompts you to create an associated to-do item, but today this functionality isn't integrated so we rarely bother.

Sure IM, Twitter, and To-Do list apps chip away at some of email's use cases, just like instagram is doing with facebook, but we're confident that email can be just as good if done right.

Now I just have to finish it and avoid thinking about my idea for the google-search-killer that would be oh-so-easy to try out ;)

rdl 3 days ago 2 replies      
There's a clear search engine improvement which I'd love, and my friends would love, but I think it's not yet technically possible. (the tech to do it exists, but it's a big engineering challenge to actually build it in an economically viable way).

A way to search (public, private) documents without leaking ANY information (beyond possibly "I did a search") to the operator. DDG's "trust us" security policy doesn't really go far enough. A mix-net anonymizing your query is the best option now, but it's insufficient. Just knowing someone in the world is searching for a specific piece of information is itself highly actionable in some contexts.

USG and other highly security conscious entities accomplish this by having the full search corpus onsite and running the searches on their own hardware. There's Google Enterprise (which was the most red-headed stepchild product I've ever seen from Google) too, and there are commercial ways to buy the crawl and run an engine on top of it, but this isn't really something even Fortune 500 companies do.

Basically, either a permanent "personal google appliance", potentially hosted in the cloud using some tricks, or a way to spontaneously instantiate a google each time you want to do a search.

Probably the way to do this is to write some interesting sci fi novel featuring the dangers of public search leaking, and also wait for some interesting prosecutions which use search data as evidence.

You could actually still do advertising this way, too; just requires some tricks.

lukev 3 days ago 0 replies      
The example of email as an "irresistible force vs an immovable object" really resonates with me. There are many things in that class:

- The way we communicate (pg gave a good example of this one)

- The way we write software (text files? really?)

- The Operating Systems we use (All the major design decisions were made in the 80's.)

- Computer input systems (are keyboards really a global maxima for efficient control?)

Eventually, these will definitely be replaced. Why not make "eventually" now? We won't be running Windows or Linux in 2050. Why not be the person who invents what we ARE using?

asnyder 3 days ago 0 replies      
Intel has pretty good automatic parallelization (https://www.google.com/search?client=opera&rls=en&q=...) in their latest C++ compiler, but it's $1000+. I remember at a php conference they simply compiled php with their compiler versus gcc, and everything ran significantly faster in various benchmarks.

For a while I was working on automatic parallelization, and wrote plans, white papers, etc. but at some point was introduced to the current methods of automatic parallelization and saw that there are some pretty good solutions out there right now such as Intel's C++ compiler.

Ideally, everything would be compiled with something along those lines at which point the baseline for everything else would take advantage of multiple cores, at least in the simple to advanced cases without additional direction from the programmer.

After all, so long as you're not eval'ing you know the entire scope of the program and you can link things up as parallel independent queues. It requires more storage during compilation, and likely longer compilation times, but the performance result can be dramatic.

It's disconcerting that something like Intel's apparently wonderful automatic parallelization C++ compiler isn't more popular, even though it's demonstrably better performance-wise than anything else I've seen.

ajju 4 days ago 2 replies      
If you want to take on a problem as big as the ones I've discussed, don't make a direct frontal attack on it. Don't say, for example, that you're going to replace email. If you do that you raise too many expectations. Your employees and investors will constantly be asking "are we there yet?"

This is critical. I have tried it the other way, and struggled for these very reasons.

I think the way to use these big ideas is not to try to identify a precise point in the future and then ask yourself how to get from here to there, like the popular image of a visionary. You'll be better off if you operate like Columbus and just head in a general westerly direction. Don't try to construct the future like a building, because your current blueprint is almost certainly mistaken. Start with something you know works, and when you expand, expand westward.

Eat small morsels, chew well!

robot 3 days ago 1 reply      
So if Apple's not going to make the next iPad, who is? None of the existing players. None of them are run by product visionaries, and empirically you can't seem to get those by hiring them. Empirically the way you get a product visionary as CEO is for him to found the company and not get fired. So the company that creates the next wave of hardware is probably going to have to be a startup.

I realize it sounds preposterously ambitious for a startup to try to become as big as Apple. But no more ambitious than it was for Apple to become as big as Apple, and they did it.

I thought about this before, and I think building a hardware startup like Apple, or a systems software company like Microsoft is an order of magnitude harder than when they were founded. Let us take Apple. When Apple was founded, there was an ocean of people that did not have a PC in their homes. Big, uncharted market. When you hear Don Valentine (Apple's investor from Seqoia) talk about it, you can see how they did not care about anything but the market. Do we have that kind of market today? Maybe. At the moment everyone is occupied with their ipads, phones, and PCs.

Technology. Today the hardware is so complex, that it can be only competed with by largest companies in the world. It is not a coincidence that it is only Samsung that can compete with Apple in mobile devices. Take a Texas Instruments or Qualcomm chipset, you will face a complexity barrier at every corner. We won't hear you saying things like, my co-founder designed a chip so efficient, it will be a game changer. Anyone remember the JoJo Pad before the ipad was released?

So what could be done? I think it comes down to playing on the above two variables. For a new hardware/systems startup, it must target uncharted territory, i.e. introduce (mobile) computers to an area of use where it has never been tried before, and make sure everyone in the world needs it. (Like that thermometer startup, except find a wider use case) Use existing cutting edge technology, and build your new technology upon them (e.g. I would probably start with a top notch chipset + android + add new, hard-to-replicate technology.)

yurylifshits 3 days ago 1 reply      
Let's add one more

    8. Replace prisons

Prisons do not make criminals back into normal people. Prisons are expensive. Prisons are a big market. Prisons stay the same for the last few centuries. What is a better way to punish and a better way to bring criminals back to civil life?

Donald 4 days ago 3 replies      
"Google used to give me a page of the right answers, fast, with no clutter. ... And the pages don't have the clean, sparse feel they used to."

If you disable Javascript and cookies for *.google.(tld), you'll be greeted with Google circa a few years ago: http://imgur.com/LDBLk .

rmassie 4 days ago 1 reply      
The thing about replacing e-mail is that is isn't just a todo list, for many people it's just a receipt box - the thing I keep all my notifications that I bought stuff from amazon. For others, it's still the primary means of business communication.

My work e-mail is largely about communications, with a todo element to it and unfortunately some file storage too. My "home" e-mail is completely different. It's where I get my monthly statements for banks and investments and where my notifications go. When replacing e-mail you would need to service all these components of what e-mail is.

The thing that originally made e-mail so important was it's identity factor. That seems to have withered away as other services have replaced some components of what e-mail was for.

I would argue that e-mail needs to not be replaced, just reclaimed. My e-mail client (web or otherwise) should know that an e-mail in this case is actually just a twitter DM notification and be smart about how it presents that to me. It should know that something from Bank of America is probably something I want to keep, but something else from Bank of America is just marketing junk.

I haven't seen anything that is smart enough to do that on it's own. I don't want to have to deal with creating filters - it should just know. I would totally switch from gmail if this were out there.

codex 3 days ago 0 replies      
It's not ideas which make billionaires, and it's not a lack of ambition which keeps these ideas from being reality. It's that it takes killer execution with a huge amount of luck. People think that they can predict the future, but they can't. Capitalism triumphs because it lets a million monkeys do a million zany things, and when a few become mega hits those particular monkeys are hailed as visionaries.
nikcub 3 days ago 1 reply      
Replace email and replace search are two signs that Google is failing at its core strengths, and I agree with this. They have made many mistakes in the past few years and there is a definite opportunity in taking them head on in both of these markets.

with number 6, if you are going to break it up for cores you may as well break it up for computers and put it on the network. Hence MapReduce, etc.

with #7, our bodies are very good at telling us when something is wrong with warning signs. we can't afford health care as it is today, let alone with the system being clogged up with healthy people paranoid about possibly being ill.

ilaksh 3 days ago 2 replies      
I think that the hard part of tackling these ambitious projects is (often) not the actual engineering but rather making the ideas popular and fighting against the status quo. Another hard part is how difficult is the transition from how we do things now to the new way.

So most of these things he mentions, people are working on them, or something similar, or even have functional software. That software just isn't popular. Not because it isn't useful, but because it didn't catch on.

And a lot of these ideas aren't really useful until they reach a critical mass of users, which makes it even harder.

The big ambitious thing I wanted to mention was DONA (data-oriented networking or http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Content-centric_networking). You might be able to combine that with some type of semantic knowledge storage and engineering along with a type of e-democracy. People have working examples of these things, its just hard for people to pick them up and start actually using them and then mention them to others for them to become trends.

Before (or instead of) human-controlled knowledge engineering we may see Google (http://mashable.com/2012/02/13/google-knowledge-graph-change...) (or possibly some start up) come out with a Watsonish system that builds huge knowledge graphs by actually comprehending the semantics of web pages it spiders and then lets you query them more naturally. (Which I guess that type of system does exist, just didn't catch on, maybe because it wasn't quite up to human level comprehension or didn't become popular for whatever reason.)

allenbrunson 3 days ago 0 replies      
Oh man! Replacing email is my personal Holy Grail. The ongoing escalation between spammers and spam fighters is proof enough that it is a system that has lived beyond its time.

I first became aware of PG when he was working on Bayesian spam-fighting techniques, circa 2002. Email already seemed absurd to me. I was thinking of writing my own email client, but I would have preferred to get on whatever email-killing bandwagon there might be on the horizon, so I sent him an email asking if he knew of such a successor. He wrote back and said no, he was not aware of such a thing.

That we are still using SMTP in this day and age just boggles my mind.

tomwalsham 4 days ago 0 replies      
There are very few successful futurists in the literal sense.

The long bets are not on the current startup ideas which will still mould the world 5 years from now. YC's view of investing in those with the wherewithal to effect change - not those who necessarily have the answers to hand - bleeds through the ambiguous edges of this essay.

pg's reticence to put his full belief behind a specific idea due to the evanescent nature of the current concept-du-jour is good guidance - tackle the extant problems and retain half an eye on the bigger picture.

wolframarnold 3 days ago 0 replies      
This all assumes conditions as usual. Which I think is a painfully mistaken notion. In an era of depleting fossil fuels, inferior ore quality of iron, copper and all the rare earth metals required to make modern electronics, water shortages and overpopulation, I doubt people will be worried about email overload in even 20 years. What's missing from this list are the real big issues of our time, such as quitting our reliance on fossil fuels, building a sustainable economy for the planet's resources, and creating a currency not solely based on debt expansion. In an economy with less energy surplus our problems will be more primitive than worrying about heart disease or faster computation or better search. Solving the shrinking energy surplus..., now that would be a really scary big startup of planet-wide implication.
repos 4 days ago 3 replies      
Preventative Diagnostics as Paul describes in #7 will really be the future - it's barbaric that we can only make a diagnosis when the disease has already manifested (in most cases). There are a few players in this space (Scanadu comes to mind), but it's seems like nano biosensors and the like are still very new technologies. Correct me if I'm wrong.
sayrer 4 days ago 1 reply      
I wonder if it bothered pg that two consecutive paragraphs in the Tactics section started with "Empirically,".

I wouldn't let that slide, because it triggers pattern matching not relevant to the subject at hand.

chanux 4 days ago 0 replies      
Now if I accidentally put the cursor in the wrong place, anything might happen.

This has been my experience with Google search and Gmail (the Google products I use most). It's really frustrating that sometimes I'm handling them the way I'd handle a Samurai sword. That's not how it should be.

js2 3 days ago 0 replies      
[3] Roger Bannister is famous as the first person to run a mile in under 4 minutes. But his world record only lasted 46 days. Once he showed it could be done, lots of others followed. Ten years later Jim Ryun ran a 3:59 mile as a high school junior.

One of the great stories of the last 100 years. There are many recountings of it, but "The Perfect Mile" is as good as any. Supposedly it was claimed to be impossible, and that any person to break the 4 minute mile would likely die from the effort. Bannister also wrote his own book about it.

rblion 4 days ago 0 replies      
"The popular image of the visionary is someone with a clear view of the future, but empirically it may be better to have a blurry one."

The future is uncertain, because each person is a variable and chaos is inherent in nature. However, with the sun as my witness and the earth as my ally, there is nothing that will stop my effort to liberate all beings from suffering through my startup. It's all I got left in the world, there is nothing else that matters to me. I am 22 and there is no job I want in the world, so I will create one through my ideals of universal compassion and scientific method. I will post on HN soon, I hope people understand my vision of leading Homo sapiens to become Homo universalis, that may be the only way we can actually have a type 1 or 2 civilization.

tobiasSoftware 4 days ago 2 replies      
I have my own to add which I'll tackle if I ever get smart enough. Code is horrible right now. The problem is that code is written linearly, when in our minds it is a graph. It's usually a bad sign when our minds see things differently than our computers do. I think if we could properly abstract the concepts, and change both our linear list of functions and our unsorted list of files to a single graph structure, we could understand our software so much better. I guess I'm thinking of UML diagrams with code, but in a way that feels natural to code in the first place, even for a beginner, not as a commented afterthought.
vacri 3 days ago 0 replies      
the 'Automatic medical diagnosis' suffers from a common misconception - that people want to 'go to the doctor'. It's pretty rare that people do, and in most cases they avoid doing anything medical unless they absolutely have to.

How would you gather the information to make the 'ongoing diagnosis' if the people aren't going to come to you to do it? And that's just getting the symptoms - what do you do for tests for more info, which people like doing even less?

I also think there are some seriously fundamental technical issues, but I'll leave those off due to 'ambitious'.

stcredzero 3 days ago 0 replies      
The CEO of that company, the "next Steve Jobs," might not measure up to Steve Jobs. But he wouldn't have to. He'd just have to do a better job than Samsung and HP and Nokia, and that seems pretty doable.

Some might say that Amazon is already doing better than Samsung, HP, and Nokia.

mmaunder 3 days ago 0 replies      
The conclusion on Tactics and starting small and achievable is pure gold and something I took a decade to learn. I'd simply emphasize that it's important to fulfill a real need on a small scale. e.g. Harvard students really wanted to stalk each other, a basic interpreter really was needed, Columbus sailed west to find faster trade routes.
charlieok 3 days ago 0 replies      
“GMail has become painfully slow. [2]”

“[2] This sentence originally read "GMail is painfully slow." Thanks to Paul Buchheit for the correction.”

heh :)

lunarscape 4 days ago 2 replies      
"2. Replace Email"

Google tried this with Wave and they failed. I wish they had succeeded. I think they should have spun it was "Email 2.0" and made the transition easier.

elizabethiorns 1 day ago 0 replies      
I totally agree regarding the decline of universities. In particular I think the research side will be the first to shift away from universities; at least with education you are essentially paying for a brand name which has inherent value. With research, the principle investigator writes the grant to pay their own salary, the salaries of their graduate students and postdocs, and their equipment. The university then takes almost all the scientists IP and charges "indirect costs" equivalent to more than 50% of the grant to supply "Facilities and Administration" - which is what exactly? Lights, building space, and a whole lot of bureaucracy.

Already, some really innovative initiatives are getting around this problem. The Pasadena Bioscience Collaborative offers lab space and equipment for ~$1,000 per month (no contract required!) and the EMBARK program administers scientists grants and encourages them to outsource experiments to core facility specialists (while providing access to a basic shared lab for those experiments that can't be easily outsourced). Both initiatives offer ways for scientists to avoid high indirect costs and burdensome admin - and importantly the scientists retain 100% of their IP!

These initiatives are the way of the future - it's hard to see how big, inefficient universities will be able to attract the top talent for much longer.

shingen 4 days ago 0 replies      
I'm working on #2, but the solution I've found is not exactly what Paul suggests. I ran into a need while working on my latest startup.

I'm in bed with a large tech investor for my current company, and I'm working on this tech on the side. My term sheet is such that my company owns whatever I create right now, so I'm hoping said large investor isn't too annoyed with me allocating some time on the side; my plan is to ask forgiveness instead of permission.

Aiming to kick it out to the public in a month optimistically.

r7000 3 days ago 0 replies      
For a peak into a future with 'ongoing diagnosis' see the very cool Greg Egan short story Yeyuka:


"So why did you go into medicine?"

"Family expectations. It was either that or the law. Medicine seemed less arbitrary; nothing in the body can be overturned by an appeal to the High Court. What about you?"

I said, "I wanted to be in on the revolution. The one that was going to banish all disease."

"Ah, that one."

"I picked the wrong job, of course. I should have been a molecular biologist."

"Or a software engineer."

jacoblyles 3 days ago 2 replies      
It would be great to have a todo list with a similar interface to today's email-integrated calendar apps. Someone could send me a todo item, and I could accept or reject it. If I accept it, it gets synced across both of our todo lists. That would be a huge step up over putting todo items in email.
pbj 4 days ago 0 replies      
I saw a neat Kickstarter a while back that seems like it was trying to tackle redesigning email from the ground up. Looks like they hit their goal too!


aaronf 2 days ago 1 reply      
How do you "just say you're building todo-list software" and not get laughed out of the room? Investors say the space is too crowded, and engineers joke about it being one of their first classroom assignments. And even if you're making traction on the vision to replace the inbox, Y-Combinator's partners will turn you down.
nazgulnarsil 3 days ago 1 reply      
why can't I configure a bayesian filter on my inbox to do more than just filter crap I don't want? Can't I have another filter that builds a model of the things I click on first given any set of new emails and generate a likely list of things I will want to see first?

Is anyone doing this?

EGreg 3 days ago 0 replies      
I started off reading this essay a bit carelessly -- it seemed that pg was saying that these ideas are too nuts, and YCombinator would never back something like that. I was about to write a post completely disagreeing.

Our company for example is building a new type of social search engine, will in many cases replace email for messaging, AND long term have a third party platform that will enable websites to take advantage of our single sign-on and be instantly social, while safeguarding privacy. We have a patent application on this (yeah, I know...)

Is it too much to bite off? Maybe. But look at our usage already, after a year. http://qbix.com

And lastly, I am very much hoping to build value, and not just sell quickly. I haven't read Steve Jobs' biography yet, but I have heard he refers to such ambitious people as "real entrepreneurs". I don't know... all I know is, I am driven to accomplish this. And so far we've got some positive results.

Stwerner 3 days ago 0 replies      
A recent blog post that didn't get enough love here: (http://www.ribbonfarm.com/2012/03/08/halls-law-the-nineteent...) seems to suggest that we are probably at a point where the new "Moore's Law" (or new new Hall's Law) is soon to be discovered.
dwerew45234sdf 3 days ago 0 replies      
I think Paul Graham and Ycombinator have done some great things for the world. However I do disagree with some of the things that Paul Graham says, and this article is one of points that I disagree with him on.

5. The next Steve Jobs
Why does PG seem to think that there has to be the "next" Steve Jobs? Is there some sort of pattern to be recognized from the Apple story, that a startup can emulate and be successful.

Wasn't Apple a large company already, even before Steve Jobs came back to it. Though Apple at that time was in a dire conditions, it wasn't exactly a start up. How come some hardware startup during the 90's, 00's, and this decade, do what Apple has done.

I know people think Apple is constantly inventing something "new" and always needs something "new" for it to survive, but I don't think that is the case. I bet the iPhone wasn't really created in just 2 years, I am sure Apple had been working on it for a long time. A feet that is much more difficult for a start up, to do R&D for a long sustained period and pay the bills with some other product. PG had the following quote.

"well, and I asked him if the people now running the company would be able to keep creating new things the way Apple had under Steve Jobs."

I think Steve Jobs had a particular vision for his products for a long long time. He might have thought about functions of the current iPhone and iPad during the Newton days. Steve might have had 3-4 products that he wanted to create, and thats it. We don't have enough data to interpret, that Steve would of kept pumping out "new" products if he was alive, like the iCar.

Allot of Apples success have been through luck and timing and making the right gamble. Jobs couldn't have put Apple back, without the help of numerous people, and the above mentioned.

I think if PG seriously wants to find the Apple formula in a start up; he may as well start playing the lottery. Eventually with enough time he will find one. But the odds don't look so good.

I am a fan of his writing, but I found this article to be disingenuous at best. Allot the things we use today aren't just formed by start ups, they formed by sole inventors, governments, large corporations, and random hobbyist.

You can change the view of your world to include more items than startups.

chmike 3 days ago 0 replies      
This is now my favorite essay of Paul Graham because it shares my thoughts.

The only thing I feel less comfortable with is that it emphasis financial value over a useful contribution to mankind. In my view the later is more relevant than a goal to become the richest person of the cemetery.

I guess this is a kind of perception distortion one gets when the main variables considered on a day to day basis are ROI, wealth, influence power, etc.

I'm aware that wealth provides a significant leverage to contribute to mankind's good, but it is easy to forget about this relevant next step by solely focusing on increasing one's wealth.

Open source is one example showing the difference and it also proves that we don't need to be a billionaire to significantly contribute to mankind's good.

netcan 2 days ago 0 replies      
Maybe how frightening these ideas seem is a measure of your ambition. I have no fear at all of these because they're all so much bigger than what I can tackle that they become fun theoretical "how will the future be" ideas.
aptwebapps 4 days ago 1 reply      
I don't get the Augustus reference.
dgregd 3 days ago 1 reply      
Guys, please do something which will replace Word and Excel. These tools were good in the '80 and '90.

One of the main reasons I do not like to work for corporations is Word doc attachments hell.

meta-coder 2 days ago 0 replies      
7. Ongoing Diagnosis

I always thought of creating a wearable device that can report the body's condition in real time. A device that can test the blood to find out amount of haemoglobin, essential minerals, sugar, cholesterol, urea, water etc. The device could be made safe enough to be inserted just below the skin, it could be made to transmit the information via radio waves to a receiver outside the body where you can read the information. We could write a program for the receiver which will process all the information and compare it to healthy values and based on it provide real time advice to the person. Eg. When you are dehydrating the receiver will say "Hey dude, drink some water quickly, or else you'll faint in 30 minutes!" "Hey dude, you should get some Vitamin B/C/D/E/K." If the circulation of blood slows down it could say "Hey you've not exercised in ages. It is time to exercise." It will redefine how we take care of ourselves. Caring in real time!

dojomouse 3 days ago 1 reply      
Also frighteningly ambitious is the prospect of any meaningful startup driven disruption in the energy industry. Which is a worry considering how desperately disruption is needed.
cstefanovici 3 days ago 0 replies      
For big ideas that others clearly understand to be problems and of which investors are afraid to get in on there always is... crowdfunding! I wrote about the pros and cons of raising money through crowdfunding to pay for your startup here: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3687835
un1xl0ser 3 days ago 0 replies      
E-mail isn't perfect, however as a transport system is is not meant to solve the problem you described in "Replace e-mail".

If someone wants to have a meeting with me, they might send me an .ics attachment[1] that will work with almost ANY software that I have my computer. Since most meetings are in fact in-person and something that we have been doing as a civilization for some time, the semantics are well defined and easy to model.

A task list will always be harder to model, but not impossible and there is certainly a lot of ideas on the topic. As long as it is an open standard this sounds great, but I wouldn't like to see my tasks locked into either a proprietary format or the cloud[2].

If you are going to replace something that is standards based, it should be with a new standard of some sort. Not code, that's an implementation detail, but standard.

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

2. I'm too old for this shit, and not everyone lives in the cloud.

brianmac 3 days ago 0 replies      
In regards to email, google wave took a stab at attempting to change the dynamic of communications but that project has now been shelved.

The difficulty in a new "email" replacement is overcoming the hurdles of engrained habits - see http://zenhabits.net/ for more on that psychology or even www.iwillteachyoutoberich.com (people see the inbox as a to do, that they grind through in mechanical fashion).

Think to tackle the problem of email is to put a new UI layer that wraps messaging into context while piggybacking off the traditional email protocol. For example, with my own work email we tag are subjects with TASK, FYI, MEETING, FOLLOWUP, FEEDBACK, etc. indicating what action we need done, helps with searching and labels now in gmail, however take that "context" element and combine with say www.trello.com UI concept of boards/cards in a visual dashboard type of style would be stellar.

I just imagine something like this on an ipad i am just swipping/slidding through my different buckets of communication (sort of like flipboard). KILL THE INBOX :)

krosaen 3 days ago 0 replies      
I like this article, but am I the only one for whom gmail is still seemingly as fast as ever? I don't doubt that it is painfully slow for PG, would be interesting to see the distribution of performance and what impacts it.
mahyarm 3 days ago 0 replies      
I think all of those things are being worked on right now. Khan Academy and co on replacing universities. The whole 'quantified self' set of gadgets, like the basis band, the zeo sleep tracker, the withing's scale, etc. DuckDuckGo for a search engine startup, etc.
momoro 3 days ago 2 replies      
Re: "5. The Next Steve Jobs" / "None of the existing players. None of them are run by product visionaries, and empirically you can't seem to get those by hiring them."

Jack Dorsey.

OneBytePerGreen 3 days ago 1 reply      
Many startup ideas are about extracting a few more dollars from the end user - what kind of annoyance can we solve today? - but I think it's important to think beyond the scope of consumer products to get to the real game changers.

A lot of the value being created in the digital sphere right now revolves around collecting information about people and providing it to third parties, who in turn use it to solve problems (and collect even more data). I believe these services will change our lives the most.

For example, major innovations in the near future might revolve around creating 100% safe neighborhoods through smart surveillance. People are rapidly becoming accustomed to being tracked all the time, anyway.

Technological progress and major societal changes go hand-in-hand. I think whoever can best envision what those changes will be - and how to profit from them - will become the next Steve Jobs.

ktizo 3 days ago 0 replies      
Is all about primary dependencies when it comes to large disruptions, so any ideas that target the primary technologies, hierarchies or costs associated with the agriculture, energy, manufacturing, telecoms, trading and transport sectors.

And the really ambitious ideas are the ones that simultaneously target as many of them as possible.

ubasu 4 days ago 1 reply      
Small nitpick: what does it mean to say "...search queries to be Turing complete"? I didn't think that the SERP defined a set of rules. ;-
ra 3 days ago 0 replies      
I love this:

"There's a scene in Being John Malkovich where the nerdy hero encounters a very attractive, sophisticated woman. She says to him:

Here's the thing: If you ever got me, you wouldn't have a clue what to do with me.

That's what these ideas say to us..."

xavi 3 days ago 0 replies      
I enjoyed this essay very much, but I think that presenting Apple as a hardware company ("the company that creates the next wave of hardware...", "If a new company led boldly into the future of hardware...") won't help to find the next Steve Jobs. Apple products success is based on the perfect combination of well-designed hardware and software. I think the next Steve Jobs will need the same holistic approach to product design.
nchuhoai 3 days ago 1 reply      
Takeaway for me: Great ideas will change the world, but you never start with them in the first place
chj 2 days ago 0 replies      
is there anything like cloud funding? the most ambitious start up should kill the jobs of VCs for good.
antidaily 3 days ago 0 replies      
I want a pause button. For my life.
sidwyn 2 days ago 0 replies      
Is there a reason why Paul Graham's essay titles are images?
tcarnell 1 day ago 0 replies      
An obvious but scarey startup idea to me a a Skype competitor!
revorad 3 days ago 1 reply      
I wonder if PG would create more value by doing one of these ambitious startups than he is by running Ycombinator.
Mjux 3 days ago 0 replies      
pg, reports like these http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2012/Search-Engine-Use-2012/M...
gains the confidence over ambitious.

Relevance dictates the shift.

opining 2 days ago 0 replies      
jseims 3 days ago 0 replies      
I'd add micropayments to this list. If someone built a system (and -- the hard part -- it got widespread adoption) to charge a few cents with low friction, it could disrupt advertising.
mishkovski 3 days ago 0 replies      
"The most ambitious is to try to do it automatically: to write a compiler that will parallelize our code for us."


zerostar07 3 days ago 0 replies      
We don't need to replace email. Just add an NLP engine and the ability for 3rd party apps on it.
hastur 3 days ago 0 replies      
PG is back. :)
RachelF 3 days ago 0 replies      
The medicine comments are spot-on, right now we only fix our bodies when we feel pain, when it is often too late!
oob 2 days ago 0 replies      
Of the 7, only Replace Universities (already happening) and Ongoing Diagnosis is frightening and ambitious, imo.

I would have included:

1. Alternative Energy
2. Fix the Government

rainboiboi 4 days ago 0 replies      
Change all the "Replace" with "Displace" and you are on your way to IPO.
jamesrcole 3 days ago 1 reply      
Great post, but minor quibble:

The CEO of that company, the "next Steve Jobs," might not measure up to Steve Jobs. But he wouldn't have to. He'd just have to do a better job than Samsung and HP and Nokia, and that seems pretty doable.

That really should be:

The CEO of that company, the "next Steve Jobs," might not measure up to Steve Jobs. But they wouldn't have to. They'd just have to do a better job than Samsung and HP and Nokia, and that seems pretty doable.

zackattack 4 days ago 0 replies      
Not at all surprised that aapl has taken a dip in after hours trading. Wouldn't be surprised to see it fall monday either. The last time PG publicly endorsed amzn we saw it briefly spike before returning to ~183. Almost reminds me of what 50cent did with hnhi.

Not sure whether it's a clearly causal thing or that PG simply has his finger on the tip of investor consciousness.

TSA Pressures Mainstream Media Not To Cover Story tsaoutofourpants.wordpress.com
723 points by ddelphin  5 days ago   149 comments top 28
tylermenezes 5 days ago  replies      
The term "security theater" has been tossed around a lot, but I think it's pretty clearly coming to that. Asking the mainstream media not to cover something like this is completely indefensible from a security standpoint - what, terrorists only learn about security flaws from TV?. It's pretty patently only about keeping their budget.

Also, just going to throw this out there, but it is fairly possible that the email is totally fake.

danso 5 days ago 4 replies      
Just want to point this out: "strongly caution" is what the TSA flak told the reporter (according to the reporter). That doesn't necessarily mean "don't report this or we'll send you to Gitmo". It most likely was expressed in the context of "you're going to look stupid/spread misinformation if you do."

I'm not saying the TSA flak won't be vindictive if a reporter covers the story. I'm just saying, there's not an immediate reason to jump to this conclusion. You don't get to be TSA flak by writing thinly-veiled threats that are easily retrieved through public records requests.

zotz 5 days ago 1 reply      
"Totalitarian democracy is a term made famous by Israeli historian J. L. Talmon to refer to a system of government in which lawfully elected representatives maintain the integrity of a nation state whose citizens, while granted the right to vote, have little or no participation in the decision-making process of the government."


tomkin 5 days ago 0 replies      
So, the US collectively pays for the TSA. The TSA takes your money, buys into the accountability of body scanners - somehow miss (then deny) the vulnerability " one a terrorist could successfully overcome - and they're asking, what? That no one know about it? Are you serious? Like the TSA is a newb database admin that accidentally dropped the users table or something? The TSA is literally fucking with your lives and you pay for it and seriously being told to shut up about it in no uncertain terms. Yikes.

What gets me is that the person who pointed out this flaw actually demonstrated it. I shutter to think what would have happened to this information had he only provided anecdotal hypothesis.

mrb 5 days ago 3 replies      
The government supporting the TSA, despite its People pushing against it, is a prime example of failure of democracy in the United States. The People elected a government who does not what they want!

Some countries hold referendums to vote on controversial topics. It would be a great solution to hold one in the U.S. at the federal level asking a very simple question: "Should the TSA be shut down? Yes/No". Direct democracy at its best. Unfortunately the U.S. constitution does not provide for referendums at the federal level... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Referendum#United_States

milesf 5 days ago 0 replies      
grandalf 5 days ago 1 reply      
The TSA probably views its own mission as largely a propaganda mission. It's just creepy when we realize that it is trying to silence public debate.

The biggest oddity to me is that it's been over 10 years and this debate hasn't actually happened in the mainstream media.

I think one aspect of most orgs that have entrenched power is that they are always very deferent toward government. NPR is a great example... there is lots of coverage of various wall street schemes, mention of greed as a problem in the private sector, etc., but the underlying message in most of the stories is that government is beyond reproach.

georgemcbay 5 days ago 1 reply      
FTA: "For obvious security reasons, we can't discuss our technology's detection capability in detail"

The only situation that would make this "obvious" is if the technology is inadequate. Basically by saying that, they're admitting to a large amount of security through obscurity.

Imagine a bank's website saying "For obvious security reasons, we can't discuss how our passwords are store in detail". Wait, why not? If the technology is adequate to the task you should be able to explain exactly how it works without compromising anything!

tptacek 5 days ago 2 replies      
They're allowed to say that. The media is allowed (encouraged; morally obliged, perhaps) to ignore them. Whether he's right or wrong (and I'm sure he's right), the bureaucracy would prefer to continue working towards their quarterly MBOs than to address another controversy. This is a non-story.
cs702 5 days ago 1 reply      
So the TSA is "securing" airports by trying to keep vulnerabilities secret. Their thinking seems to be, "if no one knows where the open door is, no one will get in." Surely that will work out well. Not!

Bruce Schneier must be getting a kick out of this.

epaga 5 days ago 3 replies      
Though both the email and the blog response from TSA are incredibly unprofessional, the email is NOT intimidation or a "veiled threat", and exaggerating by claiming it is is not going to help a sane discussion about this issue. What do you think the TSA is "threatening" to do? They have no power over the media.

All the TSA are saying is "exercise caution with reporting on bloggers that make random statements because you can end up looking stupid". They're wrong in this case, of course, and most likely know they're wrong, but that doesn't make their statement be intimidation (nor should it be read as such). Let's stay reasoned and calm, people.

bpd1069 5 days ago 4 replies      
Overlay a thin layer of material over the metal plate (the dark/black region in the images) that has a regular repeating pattern (think checkerboard) that shows objects suspended beyond the body's silhouette.

Problem solved.

reinhardt 5 days ago 0 replies      
Eagerly waiting for the Streisand effect
reidmain 5 days ago 1 reply      
Security through obscurity.

Doesn't work on the Internet. Doesn't work in real-life.

reader5000 5 days ago 0 replies      
I think the problem is just that the TSA is run by unprofessional people who clearly have no idea what they're doing.
jrockway 5 days ago 3 replies      
They're not really threatening anything, they're just asking "please don't cover this story". That's their right and it's not censorship unless the journalist faces consequences for covering the story (no future interviews, harassment by the legal system, etc.) It doesn't seem like any consequences are mentioned or implied, so this doesn't bother me. Of course the TSA doesn't want negative press. Would you?
chao- 5 days ago 0 replies      
What really has my interest is not the TSA's request/threat. That part is unsurprising. Instead, my mind ran through a few ideas about what a news story on this topic would entail. From the last time I bothered to watch CNN, I recall they've acquired a penchant for saying "And a viral video of [topic] is hot on the Twitters today!", showing the video, getting someone in-house to do surface analysis, reading off some Facebook posts, and cutting to commercial. Ideally, a reporter does their own investigation on the topic, either by contacting the TSA and arranging to film while testing the scenario depicted here, or by doing a more undercover verification ala the video itself.

I don't wish to be specifically judgmental of CNN, and I don't wish to over-analyze my mock-scenario. Instead I'm using the thought experiment of a news report on this topic to express frustrations with journalistic practices I have already seen elsewhere. It seems to me there isn't as much motivation on behalf of larger news organizations to put together a verified report, when you can replay something from YouTube and people will believe it much the same.

But maybe there are positive aspects? Crowdsourcing the genesis of news topics allows for a better breadth of topics, clearly. And I recognize there is a need for it in situations such as the Syrian unrest, Tibet, or any place that foreign journalists can't easily access. I get the feeling though, when I go to 'old' media, that I expect old media standards and practices. When I go to 'old' media and get a replay of internet videos followed by an equally-long segment of internet comments, I wonder why I'm not just browsing the internet for myself.

skanga 5 days ago 2 replies      
This is insanity. I try to avoid flying as much as possible.

However, the whole controversy also seems to lack common sense. An easy "solution" to this whole problem is to ask people to go into the machine and do a 360 degree rotation before emerging on the other side. I'll call this the "Airport Dance" :-)

What? It's not like we aren't made to dance already!

jlujan 4 days ago 0 replies      
Apperently Sari Koshetz doesn't deny anything


rickdale 5 days ago 0 replies      
I remember before they were rolling out the scanners seeing a story run by the mainstream media about how congress had invested large amounts of money in the scanners before they realized how useless they were and now they were going to push really push hard for them to become the norm. I guess they succeeded. It sucks how in America a logical argument bumps heads with a touchy subject.
alanh 5 days ago 0 replies      
Journalism has been called the fourth pillar of the government.

Its job is not to prop up the establishment, but rather to keep it responsible.

DamnYuppie 5 days ago 2 replies      
I hope the email is fake. Yet I would not be surprised if it wasn't. Most government employees I have met are not really that intelligent. Add that to a bit of power and little to no accountability and you have an instant recipe for disaster.
todd3834 5 days ago 1 reply      
For someone who clearly values security, I am surprised to see him running Internet Explorer :-/
ktizo 5 days ago 0 replies      
The TSA might as well just move into Barbara Streisand's beachfront property if they are using these kind of tactics.
twiceaday 5 days ago 0 replies      
Security by obscurity.
lightyrs 5 days ago 0 replies      
I am outraged.
ramses 5 days ago 2 replies      
Harassment and directly attacking Free Speech? ... but somehow I suspect that this was an employee independently acting stupid, and not an institutional policy.
runn1ng 5 days ago 2 replies      
To play devil's advocate - he clearly has an agenda and his video is more long and boring political ramblings than something really substantial.
Font Awesome, the pictographic font designed for use with Twitter Bootstrap fortaweso.me
706 points by fortawesome  7 days ago   91 comments top 29
hornbaker 6 days ago 4 replies      
Brilliant. I absolutely love this, and will absolutely use Font Awesome in my next project.

While the name Font Awesome is catchy, it doesn't say much about the product, and won't carry seo juice or meaning for your main selling point: better icons. A name like "fonticons" (pronounced like "emoticons") might be stronger, and you could own that term which may go generic (like "kleenex") if the technique is widely adopted.

In fact, you could literally own it. After making sure a google search was relatively clean, and a USPTO.gov trademark search was clear, I just registered the domain fonticons.com, and would be happy to give it to you if you want it as a token of appreciation for your project.

ccollins 7 days ago 1 reply      
First, this is great. The Bootstrap Sprites definitely need some love and this is a solid forward step.

I am close to dropping in Font Awesome, but the small font sizes really need work. Here is a comparison screenshot of the standard bootstrap sprites vs font awesome sprites in Chrome on Mac: https://s3.amazonaws.com/gusta/sprites-less-vs-font-awesome-...

Again, awesome work. Font Awesome is on my short list to use once it's cleaned up a bit.

headbiznatch 7 days ago 1 reply      
I love font icons and these are great. Thanks for sharing.

Two notes:

1) When I first started using font icons, I encountered an issue that might be worth sharing - you need to make sure your web server properly handles the more esoteric file types that are included in the @font-face declaration.

2) Paperclip icon!!!! I'm sad when these icon sets are missing this very useful metaphor for "attachment": not "my dog just died" sad, more like "I wish I could fly" sad. I am just throwing that out there.

ot 6 days ago 1 reply      
The icons look great! The font rendering engine is still the cheapest and most convenient way for having small scalable graphics.

Note that this trick is as old as Windows 3.1, as Raymond Chen points out in his blog:


(The blog name "Old New Thing" is spot-on as always :) )

jazzdev 6 days ago 3 replies      
Yes, very awesome. Makes implementation much easier. But having just removed a font from our web app to improve performance (download time and rendering time) I can't help but wonder if sprites aren't lighter weight than using a whole font when you only need a few icons.
cobychapple 7 days ago 1 reply      
You have licensed this under the CC-BY 3.0 license (which requires attribution 'in the manner specified by the author'), but I can't see anywhere that you've specified how it needs to be attributed if used.

Is this something you can elaborate on?

tnorthcutt 6 days ago 0 replies      
I don't know if it would make sense for your plans, but have you considered looking into getting fontawesome added to Google's Webfonts collection? That could help drive mass adoption. Here's their submit form: https://services.google.com/fb/forms/submitafont/
rplnt 6 days ago 1 reply      
I have web fonts disabled (because of abuse by many developers) and this looks like rubbish. Perhaps there is way to fall back to image icons if font is not available?
fortawesome 7 days ago 0 replies      
It's been moved to a proper location:
remi 7 days ago 1 reply      
It says “Wide @font-face support means Font Awesome even works in IE4” but not as the way it is implemented on the demo page.

That technique is not compatible with browsers that do not support the :before pseudo-class (eg. IE7). The icons could be used though, but not that way.

ivobos 7 days ago 1 reply      
Looks good. Having a set of geo-location icons would make it even better. In particular:

1) Request geo-location - this icon can be used on buttons that request the device/browser to activate geo-location.

2) Location on map - this icon can be used on buttons that display locations on map.

chrisacky 7 days ago 1 reply      
What application did you use to make these fonts in the first instance?
I would quite like to have a go at making my own font icons. Could be quite useful in replacement of spritesheets.
jogloran 7 days ago 0 replies      
I wondered how these would look as iOS tab bar icons " I added a script to generate them using ImageMagick: https://github.com/jogloran/Font-Awesome
thekungfuman 7 days ago 1 reply      
Does using the <i> tag have any negative effect on the semantic markup of a page? I see that it doesn't impact screen-readers but what about if someone is trying to parse your HTML?
wiradikusuma 6 days ago 1 reply      
Just wondering, is it possible to combine this with the font we use in the website so we don't need to download two separate fonts? Maybe some command line tool?
ars 7 days ago 0 replies      
So, are fonts the way to get scalable graphics on websites?
logical42 6 days ago 0 replies      
This is terrific! I've ported your fonts into my variant of the many twitter bootstrap rails gems out there (https://github.com/logical42/Bootstrapped-Rails). Thanks a bunch for this great work! This is going to make my life, and many others, much easier! :)
lostsock 7 days ago 1 reply      
Looks great,

I've just tried to implement them into a Bootstrap site (without LESS) and I seem to get a double up of icons.

It looks like both the default bootstrap icons and the Font Awesome icons are being shown. The instructions don't mention the need to download a custom version of Bootstrap, am I doing something wrong?

vailripper 7 days ago 0 replies      
This looks excellent, nice work.
clarkmoody 7 days ago 1 reply      
This is a great idea!

Wanting to use this font offline, I was trying to install the .ttf to my Windows fonts, but I was unable to do so. Windows claims that it is not a valid font file.

Any suggestions on why this is the case?

praxeologist 7 days ago 1 reply      
Request: an empty/reverse/outline icon-tint or droplet

Nice stuff, going to try to use it sometime!

patman81 7 days ago 0 replies      
Now if we just had a tablet computer with a super high resolution display, this would be perfect for it...
Void_ 7 days ago 1 reply      
The website seems to be down.
cwsaylor 7 days ago 1 reply      
This is fantastic. I'm going to try to use this in a Phonegap iPhone app right now.
TomatoTomato 7 days ago 1 reply      
Font Awesome or Fort Awesome... I'm confused.
pagehub 7 days ago 0 replies      
Wow, this is awesome... thanks for sharing!
RollAHardSix 7 days ago 0 replies      
Maybe it's been a long day, but this actually hurt my eyes. Too Perfect!! O_O

Did anyone else have eyesore issues when they first saw it?

zshapiro 6 days ago 0 replies      
This is seriously great. Thanks!
jasimq 7 days ago 0 replies      
Looks really sharp.
Time.is time.is
647 points by ddw  2 days ago   105 comments top 35
mwexler 2 days ago 6 replies      
I like Time.gov, personally; it was the first site I ever found around this concept and so it has a soft spot.

I keep finding all my physical atomic clock synced clocks (yes, I have more than one, they are cheap these days) disagreeing, sometimes by 2 seconds or more, which makes me laugh (great ideas ruined by poor implementation). I find many of the web sites (listed in comments or the original post) to also differ, perhaps for similar reasons of implementation choices.

I would presume all the sites work off various implementations of NTP, http://www.ntp.org/ plus some trusted source.

I guess my question is: has anyone found a site which is really, really accurate by reducing all the latency and lag, so what you see on the screen really is, to whatever precision, accurate? And would said person have access to a really good source for the comparison point? I don't seem to have one. Yes, I should have stopped at 3 so that I could pick the 2 closest ones (like the old saying: 1 clock is unsure, 2 clocks are worse, but 3 at least lets you make a decision)

I wonder, would you need to have NTP on the client side synced to a trusted source (say, in java, flash, or javascript) to get a good reading? Any server serving over HTTP induces lag, I would think, and NTP is supposed to account for transmission delays, or so I recall.

Thanks for sharing, another interesting time site to add to the collection.

dfc 2 days ago 0 replies      
A lot of people are making disparaging comments about the acccuracy of the site's time estimation with little or no explanation/data. All things considered (three samples to estimate clock deltas and network delay) the time estimation is fairly accurate.

time.is reports my clock is:

  -0.004 seconds (±0.021 seconds).

I have a stratum one time source on the local network (gps+pps) and my ntptime agrees with the time.is estimation:

  dfc@bushido:~$ ntptime 
ntp_gettime() returns code 0 (OK)
time d3077752.4160a634 Sun, Mar 11 2012 15:11:14.255, (.255381196),
maximum error 260579 us, estimated error 3294 us, TAI offset 34
ntp_adjtime() returns code 0 (OK)
modes 0x0 (),
offset -4842.630 us, frequency 8.446 ppm, interval 1 s,
maximum error 260579 us, estimated error 3294 us,
status 0x6001 (PLL,NANO,MODE),
time constant 10, precision 0.001 us, tolerance 500 ppm,

NB: this is my laptop. so powersaving, heat fluctuations are adding a decent amount of uncertainty from a metrological standpoint.

roryokane 2 days ago 3 replies      
I'm wondering how atomic clocks in general get set in the first place. Did, at some point, scientists calculate when the sun was exactly overhead Greenwich and call that noon? Because I would think that that calculation would have a multi-second error, so setting your clock to the second would be pointless.

Or maybe there is no such thing as "actual physical time" and there is only what people have agreed to call the standard. But in that case why do time sources, such as time.gov and time.windows.com, still give different times? I would think Microsoft would have fixed any bugs in their NTP implementation by now, so it's not that. If it's just politics about nobody wanting to move to someone else's time, then there's no way to tell which source is the real standard, so your most practical choice is to synchronize your clock to the times you deal with. That is, set your clock to your clock at work, or an average of your friends clocks, or whatever source they get their time from. I don't mind the existence of central time sources, because they are better than having to go out and find someone else's clock, but they shouldn't call themselves official if they aren't actually official.

So, does anybody know how the starting time for central time sources is chosen, and if any source is worthy of being called "the real time"?

bbx 2 days ago 3 replies      
Exactly what I needed.

For the last few weeks, I've been trying to increase my productivity by getting rid of time tracking. So I decided to hide my computer's clock.

Sometimes, like when I have an appointment, I still need to check what time it is. Googling "time" doesn't always work (I don't know why exactly). So I bookmarked this site [1] but the information density is so high that I need to scan the page in order to get the time.

Time.is works quite well, with useful customization options, though it still carries bits of useless information (like the time zones at the bottom). But the time's font size is big enough to trigger instant focus.

UPDATE: as guptaneil pointed out, clicking the time (or navigating to http://time.is/just) removes all the clutter. Thanks for the tip.

[1] http://www.timeanddate.com/worldclock/city.html?n=328

libria 2 days ago 2 replies      
OP, what does this line do?

    if (wn == 1) pwn = '1-'' '''''';

It looked like something related to week number; looks interesting.

aeden 2 days ago 0 replies      
Nice job on this. I usually use http://everytimezone.com but I like how I can configure this with the zones that matter to me. It would be nice if I could easily use my favorites when doing the Here -> There comparison.
mtr 2 days ago 2 replies      
Shows incorrect time for Chile. DST isn't until April 28th.
guylhem 2 days ago 1 reply      
I like it a lot. Easy to remember URL. However the services offered are not so good.

At least there is no RFC 867 and RFC 868 date on port 37 and port 13.

This is deprecated, I know, but rdate is still the easiest way to fix the date on a system which do not require precision. I did run my own minimal daemon on my DSL modem for the various gizmos I have that include busybox (thus rdate) and where recompiling to get a ntp would be overkill. (the right day and the right hour are more than enough)

time.nist.gov removed RFC 867 (port 13) and 868 (port 27) support. time-nw.nist.gov kept it a bit longer, then I used by DSL modem, which went in RMA and so guylhem.org is also down.

I'll try to email the author and offer to give a hand.

moe 2 days ago 0 replies      
Reminds me of the radio clock that I have in the bathroom.

It is labeled "DCF signal - precision time", yet is off by hours most of the time (jumps randomly).

I keep it for the entertainment value. Guests always have a good chuckle when they enter the bathroom at 16:41 and leave it at 23:41.

mrud 2 days ago 1 reply      
I really like http://worldtimebuddy.com/ as it allows you to see time zone differences without the need to calculate it yourself.
riobard 2 days ago 0 replies      
I still like this one instead: http://everytimezone.com/
tibbon 2 days ago 0 replies      
Simple, but awesome. About two years ago I had the idea (but never implemented) to try and re-make various since use web tools and calculators using modern web technology. Things like interest/mortgage calculators, voltage drop calculators, difference between two dates, etc.

So many of them like Time.gov rely on stuff like Flash or Java, or 1998 style Javascript, which I don't really dig. Definitely a nice little hole there for making something cool.

gwern 2 days ago 1 reply      

    Your clock is 0.2 seconds slow.
Accuracy of synchronization was ±0.625 seconds

If the result is within the margin of error, wouldn't it be better to just not tell me at all?

hrktb 2 days ago 0 replies      
The handling of internationalization is surprisingly good. Texts, including town names, are almost all shown in the preferred language, and the size variations introduced by the translations are well handled.
7952 2 days ago 0 replies      
It would be good if you could make the title of the tab show the time.
mdda 2 days ago 2 replies      
For those alarmed at the offset...

# yum install ntpdate

# ntpdate -u ntp-1.vt.edu

# hwclock -w

"Your time is exact!"

chanux 1 day ago 0 replies      
Simple and amazing.

I used a simple shell script to query timezone info to find world time in CLI https://gist.github.com/2020097

cynwoody 1 day ago 0 replies      
Very nice!

My little Ubuntu machine is -0.018 seconds (±0.009 seconds).

My MBP is -0.012 seconds (±0.021 seconds).

I recommend you add a percentile score of exactness, along with breakdowns based on platform, and suggestions about what to do if the percentile is disappointing.

MattRogish 2 days ago 1 reply      
Cool site! QR code on the "About" page is a head-scratcher, though.. http://time.is/about
iag 2 days ago 0 replies      
I am seeing roughly +/- 0.1s accuracy range on my browser. Can someone please enlighten me on why we cannot reduce this further? I assume this page has <100ms response time, can't they get to a better accuracy range?
zarroba 2 days ago 2 replies      
I would still prefer to have the option to select the timezone. Sometimes I want to attend some workshops that announce the time in one of the US timezones and its always difficult to do the conversion.
ideaoverload 1 day ago 0 replies      
The clock display is nice but not a killer for me. Here&There time comparison in different time zones is the best I have seen. Full page calendar with multiple months is very simple but works great for me.
This is becomes my favorite site for time/date related stuff.
samt 2 days ago 0 replies      
Tell me I'm not the first to see the irony of a page full of comments debating ntp, GPS and atomic clocks, while there are two interesting front page stories about the value of ambitious goals.
ilaksh 2 days ago 1 reply      
Wow.. that's a new one. Now I have to buy an .is domain.
sylvinus 2 days ago 0 replies      
Nice, however on my Chrome Mac there's a flash each second with the re-render.
acerimmer 2 days ago 0 replies      
Another very nice web for timezones is http://tmzns.com.
pbhjpbhj 2 days ago 0 replies      
that reminds me - todo: http://whatsthetime.in/
Steveism 2 days ago 0 replies      
I've always been fond of the official navy.mil time site. It's an ascii lovers paradise: http://tycho.usno.navy.mil/cgi-bin/timer.pl
drewjoh 2 days ago 0 replies      
Reminded me of this (Daylight Savings Time explained): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=84aWtseb2-4 Madness!
treelovinhippie 1 day ago 0 replies      
Any idea what geolocation method they're using here? It got my city spot-on when usual IP geolocators put me elsewhere.
ynniv 2 days ago 0 replies      
When clicking the time in FF 10.0.2, everything disappears expect the Google +1.
aravindc 2 days ago 1 reply      
This is exactly what I wanted. I used to google everytime to find time. Not anymore, and it looks cool too.
Shtirlic 2 days ago 1 reply      
White on black is perfect.
sabatier 2 days ago 0 replies      
This is gorgeous.
silentscope 2 days ago 1 reply      
clever url folks.
How I helped destroy Star Wars Galaxies mediumdifficulty.com
642 points by mziulu  6 days ago   119 comments top 22
tobtoh 6 days ago 6 replies      
I really loved playing SWG - not so much for the game, but for the ‘business' aspects of it. Whilst not as successful as the OP, I made thousands of $US from the game by being part of a oligopoly.

One of the game mechanics was the concept of ‘buffs' - basically chemical stimulants your character could consume to temporarily boost critical stats which aided in combat. They were an essential item in PvP (player vs player) combat if you wanted to have that edge and so were in high demand. Buffs could only be made by the ‘doctor' class and only by the top level doctors. Another critical game mechanic was that the quality of the buff affected how much of a boost you could receive to your stats, and the quality of the buffs was affected by the quality of the raw materials you sourced to make the buff (every resource had a variety of stats - this game was a real minmax-ers delight). The highest quality buffs were the only one that people were interested in buying.

Most of the resources required for the buffs were reasonably easy to find - but there was one which was rare - avian meat. The highest quality avian meat, harvested by killing particular birds, only appeared (real-time) once a month for a few days. Without this avian meat, you could not produce the highest quality buffs.

The first time I made buffs - I happened to time it during the HQ (high quality) avian meat period. I spent hours killing the birds to collect meat. I made my buffs, had a shop near Coronet (the main trading city in the game) and sold out within a few days. And I noticed that all the doctors sold out within days too - and that the last few that had some stock could request extortion prices for their stock. That gave me an idea …

The next month when the avian meat spawned, I parked my character in the main spaceport and keyed up a macro (the game had an in-game macro system). All my macro did was cause my character to shout out every minute “Buying avian meat @ Z credits/piece - sell to my vendor at coords X,Y”. I basically bankrupted myself buying up as much avian meat as I could whilst it was available.

I made up a batch of buffs and started selling them - I ran out after 20 days - but I was now substantially more wealthy! I figured - heck I'm on a good thing - let's do that the next month. Of course, no good thing goes unnoticed …

The next month, there were three other doctors in the spaceport shouting out that they were buying avian meat. Well this simply would not do! So I basically upped the price I was offering to purchase avian meat above theirs - heck - I was flush with funds from last month so I figured I could out buy them. It turns out I was right - I was able to purchase even more avian meat than the last month and I was able to produce enough HQ buffs to just last the month. Then the third month - this is when the market dynamics got interesting …

By now, several people had noticed that avian meat was in hot demand once a month. In the third month, there were several ‘shouters' when the HQ avian meat started spawning. Like last month, I upped the price I was willing to offer to price them out of the market - a bidding war erupted, but with my bankroll, I could outbid anyone (although I was cringing how fast I was going through my credits). Like any market, with the prices rising so quick, it changed behaviours - suddenly many of the ‘hunters' in the game were out killing birds to collect meat. I effectively had my own contractor workforce out hunting avian meat!

By the end of the third HQ avian meat season, I had more meat than I ever had before. I realised I almost had complete control of the buff market on my server so I changed my selling tactics. I made my batch of buffs and started selling them, but I jacked the price up (100% increase) - this time I wanted to be able to continuously sell my buffs to last the full month. Other buff sellers kept selling them at the going rate … so I did the rounds of the cities each night and bought up any HQ buffs which were under my price and added them to my stockpile. By the end of the first week, I was bankrupt although I had a huge stockpile of HQ buffs - but most importantly, virtually every buff vendor was empty … except mine. I jacked my price up even further and did a roaring trade.

Over the next few cycles I cemented my reputation as one of the few reliable buff vendors who could consistently offer the highest quality buffs month-round. With the constant trade and monopoly prices, I was able to further entrench my dominant position each month by continuing to out bid any other doctor who tried to purchase avian meat. There were two other doctors on the server who managed to offer buffs for most of the month, and whilst I never talked to them, I noticed that they never went below whatever price I set. Our little oligopoly had a total lock on the buff market - it was a golden age!

When I quit the game a couple of months later, I had millions in credits which I sold for a few thousand $US. SWG let me play out my monopolistic capitalistic fantasies - how I loved that game :D

Skywing 6 days ago 2 replies      
I was 14 years old when Galaxies was first announced, two years prior to its release. Like the author of this article, I too was crazy excited about this game when I first heard about it. My friends and I did all the same things that the author said he did, such as fantasizing about being a bounty hunter, or chillin' with Luke, etc. The idea of the game excited me more than actually wanting to play it, though. I've never been much of a gamer but games were how I learned to program. So, my approach to Galaxies took me to similar places as the author, but I got there a different way.

When Galaxies was announced, I was in my peak of reverse engineering Blizzard games. I had been reverse engineering the Battle.net client protocol since Diablo 1 and StarCraft. Battle.net had a community full of people who reverse engineered the Blizzard games and there was somewhat of a competition as to who could write the coolest bots, as we called them. Bots were apps that emulated the official clients and could completely sign into Battle.net without using the actual game. Most of mine were just console apps, because I enjoyed the reverse engineering more than the coding.

So, when Galaxies finally came out in beta, a friend of mine luckily got a copy. The computer that I used at that time, which was a shared family computer, was terrible so I didn't expect to play the game, but I did ask him for a copy of the game's directory so that I could start writing Galaxies bots. I focused all of my time on reverse engineering the Galaxies client protocol. I would stay up until the sun came up, staring at the game in a debugger. When a family member need to computer or I had to go to school, I'd hit print on IDA and print out an entire dll - tons of paper. I'd basically annotate the printed out assembly with what I thought was happening and then I'd get home and confirm or deny it with the debugger at run-time. I'd borrow my friends account so that I could see the sign in process in real-time and get packet dumps. I did this for months straight and it never got old.

The end result was a console application that could emulate the official client and sign in to Galaxies, select your character and respond to various events. My friends would level up new character's professions and I'd run them on my terrible computer while we were at school, and over night. I could run many at once with no problem.

While we did not have the in-game success with making tons of money, I did save a lot of money up front on a lot of new computers and tons of copies of Galaxies. :)

justjimmy 6 days ago 0 replies      
I used to make some money selling pixels as well, mainly from UO ('real estate' mainly since land in that game was very limited), City of Heroes, SWG and WoW. If you got in at the start (when selling on eBay was still 'legal') you made a pretty penny.

But it was unsustainable due to new MMOs, new tech and the rise of professional farmers. You had to constantly adapt, see where the game is going, and jump ship before the game collapses. I remember getting calls in the middle of the night from the west coast, asking about my auctions and how it all works and if there was more. And getting interrogated by my mum since I'm getting all these calls from strangers.

Farming by hand, or playing the auction house no longer is the optimal way to go. Now people offer full blown services to play your toon for you, using VM, to mask/hide your IP incase you/they get caught (so you can claim you got hacked), with really good players charging up to thousands of dollars to play your character.

Good times.

EDIT: Now that I thought about it some more, I noticed my pattern at the beginning was doing everything myself, whether is scouring for bargains, farming gold, flipping properties " then I moved on to hiring people within the game and paying them in-game gold for them to farm for me (in SWG, I would provide locations of mineral fields to my 'employee's and set a price ahead of time how much I'd pay per unit, and I'd buy all they have) " then I moved on to automatic botting/scripting in WoW. Interestingly, this aligns somewhat closely to real life industries and how they improve output.

Then I also realized first there was the emergence of sellers (the farmers), then came the companies that has its own farming team in addition to buying pixels from farmers and flipping them for profit. And finally, the arrival of platforms " connecting direct buyers with direct sellers while taking a cut (similar to eBay) " and it's these guys are making the real money " taking zero risks (not worrying about getting caught), providing minimal support and very scalable.

And now the gaming companies wants to keep everything to themselves and take a cut. Blizzard's D3 will be paid close attention to how its Auction House system works out " it will be very, very interesting to see where it all leads.

nihilocrat 6 days ago  replies      
I work at a company that makes MMOs. If this guy's statements are true, then he was making significantly more money exploiting an MMO than I do by programming one.

The irony is staggering.

trotsky 6 days ago 1 reply      
Did I miss something in the article? I clicked on a title promising the ruination of SWG and all I found was a guy contributing significant revenue to Sony while providing their players with a service they obviously desired. I understand there is an argument that virtual currency sales may decrease buyers' CLV but in the absence of an argument or evidence along those lines all I read was a story about an MMO players inflated self image and his tragic love affair with his game.
AnthonBerg 6 days ago 1 reply      
An interesting insight into how bits of the modern world actually work.

The most significant thing for me was the romanticization. How the guy ascribes emotional significance to a shitty MMO. He's gaming the shitty MMO, just like he is being gamed by the shitty MMO's designers. And it has all this importance to him. Sad, poignant, alarming, eerie.

dangrossman 6 days ago 0 replies      
I was buying and selling virtual weapons in text MUDs almost 20 years ago. This offline market for virtual game items predates the MMORPG genre itself.

http://realmsofdespair.org/ was my MUD of choice as a kid.

Tarks 6 days ago 3 replies      
If you enjoyed this article you might like to give "For the Win" by Cory Doctorow a read, it's a pretty fun book that asks questions with regards to game economies and how they might affect the real world.
robododo 6 days ago 1 reply      
Was anyone else reminded of Catch-22?


"At the beginning of the novel, it [Milo's syndicate] is merely a system that gets fresh eggs to his mess hall by buying them in Sicily for one cent, selling them to Malta for four and a half cents, buying them back for seven cents, and finally selling them to the mess halls for five cents."

cyanbane 6 days ago 0 replies      
Good interview from a couple of years ago along the same lines: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PWvHcoqru7I&feature=play...

+1 for Julian Dibbel's book Play Money also. Great read if your into virtual economies, along with Castronova's Synthetic Worlds.

cdmoyer 6 days ago 3 replies      
I really enjoyed this article, but the interesting thing to me is the need to rationalize why things like MMOs fade away. It seems like they have a natural life cycle. This guy didn't bring Star Wars Galaxies down. The developers adding New Game Experience (NGE) or the Combat Update (CU) didn't destroy the game. The world went on.

The game was released in 2001. In 2003 it had 400,000 subscribers. They released the controversial NGE/CU changes in 2005. It wasn't until 2009 that they shut down about half the servers. And they didn't shut down the game until a new Star Wars MMO was imminent.*

I can't image that most of the market for a Star Wars MMO hadn't tried it, maybe played it quite a bit, and then moved on in the space of 10 years. I understand the desire for things to last forever, but I don't know that most things will.

* Numbers to be taken with a grain of salt, they were culled from wikipedia.

sek 6 days ago 2 replies      
The big question is: Do game economies make sense at all, do they benefit the game enjoyment for all users?

This story sounds very common today, i tried similar things in WoW but never to earn real money. Common players don't care much about game money, that makes it so easy to exploit the system. In the end it is was fun for myself, but the common player was forced to grind a little more because of people like me.

kenrikm 6 days ago 0 replies      
I was a Master Armorsmith on Lowca I would bring in 20mil credits/week that had a value of around $200 on Ebay. I made thousands selling credits from SWG on eBay which was great for a teenager (I was 17 - now I'm 27) They killed the game in 2005 trying to make it "assessable" and that's the last time I played SWG or any MMO. I have fond memories of the economy and learned a lot that has helped me in the real business world (taking care of customers etc..) I actually had been thinking about writing something similar to this about SWG for a while now glad someone took the time to write it.
robryan 6 days ago 2 replies      
This sounds similar to what happened with WoW, at first things are really hard to obtain, going after the real hardcore gamers and those that want to spend the time to know the economy well, work together well and master professions.

As the game goes on they try more and more to appeal to the casual gamer which either doesn't have the skills or the time to master the game in the same way. Meaning it becomes hard to really differentiate yourself from others playing the game as most of everyone has pretty good items and didn't have to work hard to acquire them.

Even though I have nowhere near enough time to be a hardcore gamer at anything these days, I still don't think I'd really enjoy playing something causally and having it all handed to me.

withad 6 days ago 1 reply      
I've never really played a lot of MMOs (though I had friends who were very into SWG and still lament its changes and eventual demise) but the crazy stuff that goes on in virtual economies like this has always interested me.

Reminds me of Julian Dibbell's "Play Money" [1], where he spends a year trying to make Ultima Online his main source of income.


euccastro 2 days ago 0 replies      
[In summer 2001] We talked constantly, speculated, made suggestions, argued about how Jedi should work; we were two years from ever even playing and we already had deep and powerful opinions about a game that didn't exist yet. It was unprecedented.

It was at least a year late for being unprecedented :). I was doing exactly the same in mid-late 2000 with Eve Online.

spoiledtechie 6 days ago 2 replies      
I love the last paragraph in his post.

"Because it wasn't the game I loved. That game died in 2005 with the NGE/CU. It died when developers turned their backs on the gamers who had spent the effort and instead listened to the lazy, whining voices who wanted it all given to them."

Sounds a lot like the government of today.

Evernoob 6 days ago 2 replies      
Exploiting computer games for temporary cash seems like an incredibly pathetic way to earn a living. Surely those with the intelligence to accomplish such things could contribute their time to something more productive?
blahblahhhhhh 5 days ago 0 replies      
Good for the OP to have made money doing something he loved, however time spent gaming (or writing useless SAAS apps or mobile applications for that matter) is a waste of good brain cells. Unless something helps our future generations either by providing an example for how to love and care for each other or by furthering humanity's development, it is waste of time.
MRonney 5 days ago 0 replies      
I played Star Wars Galaxies for 7 years and met a lot of cool people. At times it didn't feel like a Star Wars game but I made the most of it. I didn't agree with some of the changes (both major and minor) but now I appreciate that I was part something great. I miss it from time to time and regret 0 time I spent playing Star Wars Galaxies.
silentscope 5 days ago 0 replies      
This is terrifying on so many levels.
throwaway99999 6 days ago 1 reply      
Sounds like our beloved banking system tbh. Say you take a loan out. You give it to someone to buy a house. They put it into a bank. Then another guy takes a loan out from that bank, and gets twice loaned money to buy a house of his own. The guy he buys it from puts it into a bank. That bank then loans out the money to another guy who gets thrice loaned money for his house. All the while the banks are placing interest on the money they lend out (which BTW was widely considered illegal/immoral until ~1600) which ends up with the modern banking system literally creating money.

A hypothetical economy has $10,000 in total currency, a bank has all $10,000 in cash reserves to begin with. There are 40 members of society, each of them with a different occupation but together they form a basic economy.

Pete is loaned $9,000 from the bank.

Pete pays Bill that money for an old car.

Bill puts $9,000 in the bank.

The banking system has $10,000 cash.

Jane is loaned $9,000 from the bank.

Jane pays Matt that money for renovations to her house.

Matt puts $9,000 in the bank.

The bank has $10,000 cash.

The bank charges interest on these loans.

The bank is owed $10,000 from Pete

The bank is owed $10,000 from Jane

The bank owes $9,000 to Bill

The bank owes $9,000 to Matt

Pete and Jane pay back $10,000 each, $20,000 collectively, but wait, that can't happen, because there is only $10,000 in the entire economy and Bill and Matt each have a net worth of $9,000, accounting for 90% of the wealth of the economy (as far as they think, anyways). Lets step back.

The bank has $10,000 cash

The bank owes Matt $9,000

The bank owes Bill $9,000

Jane owes the bank $10,000

Pete owes the bank $10,000

## The Bank's Assets

Pete $10,000

Jane $10,000

Cash $10,000


Total $30,000

## Liabilities

Bill $9,000

Matt $9,000


Total $18,000

The Bank's Net worth $12,000

Pete's net worth -$10,000

Jane's net worth -$10,000

Bill's net worth $9,000

Matt's net worth $9,000

Total currency in the system $10,000

The total currency in the system is still $10,000, but the bank's accountant says it is worth $12,000. What? Not only that, but if the bank were to be found in the wrong, it would not just crumble the bank, but the entire economic system -- because everyone is involved and has a stake in what the bank is doing here.

Now, there are plenty of businesses in the world that, more or less, have a license to "print money" so to speak. People who offer their time for money have this to a certain extent, if I give you 10 hours of my day and you have to pay $1000 for it, I have basically created a debt in the system for $1000, without having first put $1000 of actual currency into the system.

The banking system is remarkable in this context however, because it uses money itself to create more money, while simultaneously making everyone a stakeholder in their being right -- increasing the danger to the system far more than any other existing entity. Bank's also vest rich people into their system by making them little lender's themselves (when our money makes interest by way of our banks investing/loaning it to others)

If I dont get paid my $1000 that I say you owe then too bad for me and I may sue you. But if the bank doesn't get paid it's $18,000 in the scenario above the whole economy is coming down with them. The banking system of borrowing and lending money that is not backed by anything tangible is a house of cards. It is a similar system to the OP's article that feeds itself. The guy who wrote this article I think got a first-hand perspective in how extraordinary it is when you see all of the working parts at once.

So, what happens when the bank does get found in the wrong in the above scenario? Let's walk through that.

Pete and Jane can't find the money to pay back their debt. They may have thought they had it in their sights, but for some reason they just can't seem to get enough money to pay back the bank (obviously, the money necessary just doesn't exist unless they can find a way to print money faster than the bank, but more on that later...) and so they both decide the bank is a sham and take up legal claims, suing the bank in their society's courts for usury and fraud.

The bank is (quite hypothetically) found guilty of both usury and fraud, since the extent of the economy is easily defined in this society it is easily reasoned that the bank is corrupting the system. A single entity cannot claim to have more currency than is in existence. It's loans are voided ab initio.

## The Bank's Assets

Cash $10,000


Total $10,000

## Liabilities

Bill $9,000

Matt $9,000


Total $18,000

Pete's net worth $0

Jane's net worth $0

Bill's net worth $9,000

Matt's net worth $9,000

The Bank's Net worth -$8,000

Total currency in the system $10,000

Bill and Matt hear of this debacle, and quickly go to the bank to withdraw their money. But it's a race to the counter, the bank only has $10,000 and they are both owed $9,000. It is worth noting at this point that the bank has literally no legal measures to take to prevent it from being liable for it's debts to Bill and Matt.

Bill gets to the counter first and withdraws all of his $9,000. The bank is legally obligated to pay Bill his $9,000 and does so. Matt gets to the counter but there is only $1,000 left, he withdraws the $1,000 that he can.

Matt sues the bank for not paying him back his money (he gave them his cold hard earned cash, afterall). The courts find Matt in the right and the bank owes him $9,000 that they do not have. The bank goes bankrupt, the economy goes bankrupt (funny that word) -- Matt and everyone else in the society refuse to use money as currency because it is not reliable.

But was it the currency that made the system collapse? No. It was the failed predictions of those in the banking system, who have more stakeholders than any other business ever has or should have. It is indeed true that once a stakeholder was made out of the richest few (themselves and those who produced the most in this scenario), every single person who relies on money subsequently became stakeholders, which is everyone in society.

System's that are similar to that described in the OP's article quickly fail, unless accurate predictions can be made about what the "economy" can "absorb" or rather, what can be skimmed off the top while not bringing the house of cards down. In OP's case there was little pre-planned organization and he had no insight into too many other things affecting his process so it was not really possible.

Eight years today paulbuchheit.blogspot.com
629 points by paul  4 days ago   60 comments top 32
paul 4 days ago 12 replies      
I know this isn't obviously startup related, but it is. Please read.
SkyMarshal 4 days ago 0 replies      
> Sometimes, when I write about startups or other interests of mine, I worry that perhaps I'm communicating the wrong priorities. Investing money, creating new products, and all the other things we do are wonderful games and can be a lot of fun, but it's important to remember that it's all just a game.

It's also a means to an essential end - real wealth creation - that in turn enables us to fund advanced medical research and other long-term bluesky projects that improve the human condition.

There are only a few ways of creating real wealth. You can harvest raw materials from the ground, be they animal, vegetable, or mineral, and apply labor + capital + innovation + time to turn them into products worth more than total cost of their inputs.

That delta in input->output value we call profit, or net revenue, but what it really represents is wealth that was created out of thin air that didn't previously exist. This is perhaps the greatest magic trick humanity has ever invented, and makes all else possible.

You can also provide specialized products or services that reduce the cost of labor, capital, innovation, or time in that equation, which also creates wealth. Much of the software-based startup scene is about both reducing the time and cost of innovation and labor and increasing the value of the computer hardware produced by the first method.

So just keep in mind that those of us fortunate enough to be working in this field are not just competing in a game, we're creating real wealth that can then be used to improve the entire human condition, be it medical, social, governmental, etc. Being good to ourselves and each other is not orthogonal or mutually exclusive to our day jobs, but an ultimate outcome of them.

Paul, whether you realized it or not, you were and are working to save your brother's life, and that of everyone else struck by the whim of nature. It just didn't happen quickly enough, but it's a hard task. One day we'll get there.

diogenescynic 4 days ago 0 replies      
This was incredibly sad, but one of the most deeply relatable stories I've read for anyone who has lost a loved one or struggled with grieving. Thank you for submitting, it brought back a lot of memories (good and bad). This part is the must read: I keep looking for meaning, but all I've found so far is that in order to be at peace with the present, we must be at peace with the past, because the present is a product of the past. Accept.
alaskamiller 4 days ago 0 replies      
You first learn to accept, accept, accept, then you learn to cope, cope, cope.

You must also learn when to fight, when to submit, and most importantly the balance in between.

For humanity didn't progress by simply accepting, simply coping, nor can it survive further by always fighting.

Take care.

cellularmitosis 4 days ago 1 reply      
those whom enjoyed the zen sentiment of this post ("accept, accept, accept") will also enjoy's Paul's "I am nothing". http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2908015
mbreese 3 days ago 0 replies      
I drove by the same tracks earlier today and I had a very similar initial reaction... I was driving my kids to daycare and couldn't figure out why Menlo Park traffic was so busy that time of day. Drivers in front of me were acting odd and I was starting to get a bit angry. I was in a hurry and people were driving like idiots.

Then I drove by the accident. And my mood shifted immediately. I didn't need to see anything more than the police car blocking the tracks. I knew that it was a tragic situation and saving a couple of minutes on the way to drop my kids off were trivial in comparison.

It's a sad what it takes to snap us back to reality.

szany 3 days ago 0 replies      
A purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved.

- Kurt Vonnegut

joedev 4 days ago 0 replies      
Well done. Thank you for sharing this intimate part of you. Please, please everyone: take heed: "Those who push only for the sake of some future reward, or to avoid failure, very often burn out, sometimes tragically. Please don't do that."

To those not taking heed: Being and Internet Celebrity today will provide you no comfort in that not-to-distant tomorrow when your spouse, children, family, and friends have realized that they are not the most important ingredients of your life.

tmsh 4 days ago 0 replies      
I know Paul has caveated advice before in a Startup School talk ('advice = over-generalizations + limited life experience...', I think..). But this seems like such useful advice at all timelines (in work and personal life):

I keep looking for meaning, but all I've found so far is that in order to be at peace with the present, we must be at peace with the past, because the present is a product of the past.

One of those things that's so obvious that it's easy to overlook its importance.

dos1 4 days ago 0 replies      
I love posts like this. It's always great to get a healthy dose of perspective. I save articles like this to reread for when I'm getting terribly stressed at work. I think it's tremendously important to recenter priorities every so often. This was well written and I'm glad I read it.
2pasc 4 days ago 0 replies      
I can relate so much, unfortunately. Reading this post, and all the details that you provide about that day - I can remember so well the day that I learned my sister had an accident... and the night that she passed.

I found out it took a lot more effort to get back to normal life afterwards and I feel encouraged that you have been able to.

The worst part is the need for meaning - in what happened and in what you want to happen for your life - and the high burden it can impose on someone.
Two years in, I feel that acceptance is indeed the only way to be able to fly again.

Thank you for this post paul... and good luck handling that day and remember your beloved brother.

devs1010 4 days ago 0 replies      
I lost my brother a year ago tomorrow, he's also named steve so I found this a bit eerie.. In his case it was self inflicted after a long struggle with bipolar disorder. Thanks for sharing, its good sometimes to hear from others who have gone through an abrupt loss of a loved one too young. Its given me a new perspective on things, at least I hope. It can be hard to find meaning in a career after something like this but I feel one day I will hopefully do something to impact this world in a positive way
rokhayakebe 4 days ago 1 reply      
Make it a point to talk to your parents, and siblings every other day. The absolute minimum should be once a week. Even just a quick "I am busy, but I just wanted to see how you guys doing". Just do it.
raju 3 days ago 0 replies      
"What happened, happened. It's difficult to understand the big picture when our lives are mere brush strokes on the canvas of reality. Trusting that it all fits together to form something beautiful is the purest form of faith. Anything else is a dangerous distraction. No contracts with God, no expectations of reward, just trust."

It has been a principle of mine for the longest time - "Dust to dust, ashes to ashes. There is no reason to vie for a better unknown. Act for here, act for NOW. I can, maybe hope to leave behind a memory for my loved ones to cherish, and if I am fortunate, maybe a legacy for others to look up to."

Thank you for the sentiment, and for sharing. I have not lost anyone close but your words struck a chord with me.

RIP Stephen.

darksaga 3 days ago 0 replies      
Thanks for a great post Paul.

I had a similar experience when I was in college. I was close to finishing school, partied a lot and generally went through life without a care. One night, we were at a bar, and the trains ran right through town and right behind the bar we were at. I was waiting for a friend. When he finally got there after work, he walked up to our table like a zombie, he was completely pale, like a ghost. We asked what was wrong, and he said he just saw a guy kill himself by walking on the train tracks as the train was coming. He was just getting out of his car and saw the whole thing but was powerless to stop it. He said he didn't feel like drinking tonight and turned to walk out of the bar. My group of friends all looked at each other and we all had the same reaction. Time to go. The rest of the night we talked about the fragility of life, and to make sure you tell your family you love them everyday and to enjoy the time you've been given.

Needless to say, that night was a wakeup call. Ever since then, I try and keep a good perspective on what's really important. It's always nice to get a gentle reminder though, so thank you.

mrkmcknz 4 days ago 0 replies      
Thank you for sharing this Paul.

It puts 'our world' into perspective and makes you think hard about what really matters to you deep down.

When you're young out of college you don't often think about family and your personal future.

I think we should all do that a bit more.

octotoad 4 days ago 0 replies      
"Ultimately, the people who learn to love what they do who will be the ones who accomplish the most anyway. Those who push only for the sake of some future reward, or to avoid failure, very often burn out, sometimes tragically."

This is one of the best pieces of advice I've read in a long time. Worthy of being framed and hung on the wall above my workspace.

JDulin 4 days ago 0 replies      
First of all, thanks a lot for sharing this Paul. I have just entered college and have only just started to see the importance of these lessons you illustrate: Accepting the past and being good to ourselves and each other.

Unfortunately, they are learned too late in life by too many people. I myself have spent too much time working for the sake of some future reward instead of the love of my work. The problem with this is that it can create unhealthy feedback loops. You keep working, certain that sooner or later this work you hate will pay off. And when it doesn't, you think you either didn't work hard enough and try again, or you finally decide to find work you love. But when you've spent the past working for a reward that never came, it's really hard to accept the past. That's where some of the most painful burnouts come from.

run4yourlives 4 days ago 1 reply      
Fuck Cancer.
leeskye 4 days ago 0 replies      
I have never lost anyone in my immediate family but this made me choke up,

"He was gone, but his belongings were still there... It does not feel good to pack up the remains of your brother's life."

RIP Stephen

bootload 4 days ago 0 replies      
"... What's most important is that we are good too each other, and ourselves. If we "win", but have failed to do that, then we have lost. Winning is nothing....
Please be good to each other, and your self. ..."

Hard won perspective. I'm sorry for your loss Paul.

mc 4 days ago 0 replies      
Thanks for writing this paul. From time to time, it's important to recognize the things that truly matter.
eps 3 days ago 0 replies      
There are people who lost their loved ones and those who haven't yet. This is something one has to live through to understand and it is life-altering. In other words, former don't need the "be good to each other" advice and latter can't really appreciate it.

It's a good piece though, Paul.

lutorm 4 days ago 0 replies      
Having just now had a conversation about whether we should trade quality of life for an opportunity to work on something cool and make more money, this felt eerily relevant. Thanks for sharing.
rdamico 4 days ago 0 replies      
Paul, thanks so much for sharing this. It's very touching and really underscores how easy it is to loose sight of the big picture in life. Very appropriate especially for those caught up in all the craziness that comes with a startup.
koningrobot 2 days ago 0 replies      
You can tell yourself some story that whatever happens is "beautiful" in the end, or that accepting the present moment is somehow "virtuous". Or you can acknowledge the truth, which is that reality sucks, that we weren't made for it, that it wasn't made for us, and that nothing is accomplished by us simply remaining to exist in the face of that. That's right, there's more we can do than just be nice to each other: we can refrain from creating the next generation of sufferers.

Life is unfair, you say. Let's recognize that and act accordingly.

gsharm 3 days ago 1 reply      
This reminds me of Paul Graham's recent list:


Except there is no mention of cancer. Is a solution really so much out of reach?

I feel like there's an identity issue here to blame, something along the lines of "we're programmers, we're not about making medical breakthroughs".

Yet I can't shake off the notion that everything, absolutely everything, is interlinked, and we're in a better position, perhaps the only position, to understand and exploit this concept fully, in order to solve such problems.

pagehub 4 days ago 0 replies      
Thanks for sharing your story, it's good to remember the truly valuable things in life.
Todd 3 days ago 0 replies      
Thanks for sharing your story, Paul. I lost my young brother to a cycling accident last year. Best wishes.
cjstewart88 4 days ago 0 replies      
Thanks for sharing that Paul, really... thanks.
pasbesoin 3 days ago 0 replies      
Hey, Paul. Nicely put. Thanks for sharing it.
Posterous acquired by Twitter blog.posterous.com
582 points by michaelfairley  1 day ago   158 comments top 32
callmeed 1 day ago  replies      
In a small way, every talent acquisition poisons the well for future, bootstrapped startups.

It erodes the confidence of users and potential customers. People put their company blog on Posterous, they add their business to GoWalla, they gave AdGrok a few hours of their time, etcetera, etcetera.

I'm not saying I would turn down the offer. But I fear the long-term effect of all these acqui-hires is my potential customers saying "No thanks. I doubt you geeks will be around in 18 months" when I market to them.

mikebo 1 day ago 2 replies      
From their acquisition FAQ: "We'll give you ample notice before any changes to the service and we'll share clear instructions about how to move your content to other services. In the meantime, your Spaces will remain up and running without disruption."

Sounds like posterous is not long for this world. This is a bummer, I really like posterous.

shingen 1 day ago 3 replies      
Amazing, a top 500 global site (roughly), that appears likely to just close up shop. What the hell is that?

Hey Twitter, how about you give me the platform, we'll split 50/50 anything I make with it, I'll assume all the downside liability.

Posterous can go a lot further. This is a failure of imagination.

citricsquid 1 day ago 3 replies      
Seems strange for a company this "developed" to go as part of a talent acquisition, does this imply that the company doesn't see a way to grow beyond what it is now and believes that what it is now isn't good enough to warrant continuing on with the option to join Twitter? Although I guess 4 years isn't that old in the grand scheme of things.
dredmorbius 1 day ago 1 reply      
This would mean that prior to this acquisition, Twitter was preposterous.


kmfrk 1 day ago 1 reply      
Looks like it was your time to move on, Posterous!


If I worked at Tumblr, I'd put the blog post in my link in a glass frame.

hopeless 1 day ago 1 reply      
Does anyone else see this as a YC/VC-success but a business-failure? I'd be far more impressed if they grew Posterous into a profitable company. And so this team is moving from one unprofitable company to another. Disappointing :(
skrebbel 15 hours ago 0 replies      
Horrible. Do founders not care about their own products anymore? Or is this just forced-by-the-VCs?

I don't generally mind when this happens with a services firm, or a tool with very few users, but Posterous? We all moved our Wordpresses there. True enough, we all got it for free so we can't complain, but I can't help feel that the Posterous owners let something lovely fly. Ahwell, no 10x ROI eh?

chrisacky 1 day ago 2 replies      
The FAQ was reallly difficult to gauge the overall direction that Posterous is headed.

I use Posterous for my personal and startup blogs.

Reading the Posterous FAQ, they barely use any "exciting" colloquialisms. Everything is cast in a shadow of uncertainty. In fact, I would probably go far as saying this is one of the worst acquisition FAQ's I've read.
I'm very pleased for the Posterous team, but you haven't truely given any insight as to where you plan to be in 6 months from now.

Some startups are just "aqhirisations", and from a cynical reading this sounds all too familiar.

I could be wrong, and perhaps the author of that article just never read Shakespeare, because right now I can see the clouds overhead.

VonLipwig 17 hours ago 1 reply      
This makes you wonder about the current supply of talented developers. Where has that supply gone?

I see no reason why Twitter would aquire Posterous for any reason other than the experience that the staff have. As far as I am aware Posterous doesn't hold any valued patents. It doesn't appear to be leading the way in pioneering technology. I don't really see how the site itself fits in with Twitter's strategy.

It looks like a smash and grab to get more staff. Is this a statement about the typically applicant Twitter recieves when looking to hire? Its also a shame as aquisition's like this are happening more and more often killing off fairly popular websites in the process.

Steveism 1 day ago 0 replies      
This reminds me of a blog post from Maciej, the creator of Pinboard, regarding why sometimes free services aren't all they're cracked up to be: http://blog.pinboard.in/2011/12/don_t_be_a_free_user/
bryanh 1 day ago 1 reply      
Begin countdown until shutdown...
charlieok 1 day ago 0 replies      
Score one more for people and organizations who invested in running their own site on their own servers (or vm instances).
iag 1 day ago 2 replies      
This is a bit odd to me as an acquisition. It's unlikely to be a talent acquisition given the userbase/brand of posterous, but the two product doesn't seem to mesh at all IMO. Does anyone have a theory as to what's the synergy behind these two companies that could justify an acquisition?
webwanderings 1 day ago 1 reply      
This simply means that Twitter will fill its own void of 140 characters and above space. I think it's a win-win for everyone. Without more-than-140-characters, the Twitter remains simply the link sharing platform. With a blogging service attached to its hip, they (Twitter) can compete with FB and Google Plus.
sachinag 1 day ago 0 replies      
Congrats to Good/Real Sachin, Garry, and all the rest of the team!
sunnysideup 1 day ago 1 reply      
Is Twitter profitable? It seems one company without a business model acquires another company without business model?
siculars 1 day ago 2 replies      
I would have paid for their service. What happens to my blog now? Will all those links get /dev/nulled? Or are we gonna get to set up some 301's?
jerrya 1 day ago 0 replies      
So what would the right approach be, and who would be best to approach Twitter, to convince Twitter to open source the Posterous code?
startupEmployee 1 day ago 1 reply      
As a startup employee, I'm curious to know how much do employees stand to gain from such talent acquisitions?
johnnyn 1 day ago 0 replies      
Congrats Posterous! IMO, this is one of the best teams around and Twitter will be lucky to have them on board.
pnathan 1 day ago 1 reply      
I am bummed, I liked the Posterous interface pretty nicely.
chubs 1 day ago 1 reply      
Can anyone suggest a way to port your posterous blog to tumblr, retaining the url's and the comments (i believe tumblr uses disqus for comments) ?
robertp 1 day ago 0 replies      
I was an early user of Posterous and got our whole company to setup multiple sub-domains when each of us tweeted out photos. At the time it was the best because you didn't have any ads showing up alongside a photo (like twitpic). Im sad to see posterous otherwise give up and just move to twitter. I feel like if they would have kept innovating 2-3 or so years ago then they would be at a much better place. What are their goals before they got bought? It wasnt clear to me.
pnayak 11 hours ago 0 replies      
Apart from the employees from posterous, does posterous as a business/brand make sense for twitter? Quite frankly, i don't see any synergies.. Any thoughts..
kevinwdavid 1 day ago 0 replies      
This was very much expected.Posterous was apparently not doing well. Compared to tumblr, it was to hard to post content. With not much an engaging user base compared to tumblr or wordpress, posterous acquistion by someother company was expected.
majani 22 hours ago 0 replies      
Is acquihire just a Silicon Valley concept? Where I'm from, a big company is probably gonna offer you a massive salary rather than buy out a product with no potential.
netmau5 1 day ago 0 replies      
I guess it's too late to apply.
usablebytes 22 hours ago 0 replies      
Great. I feel happy for the Posterous guys. Many congratulations!
sidcool 1 day ago 0 replies      
This is indeed big news.
nwenzel 1 day ago 0 replies      
So now when I tweet, will it push that tweet to Twitter so all my Twitter followers will know that I tweeted?
revorad 20 hours ago 0 replies      
Congrats Sachin and team.


Defining Property paulgraham.com
524 points by anateus  1 day ago   294 comments top 62
tc 1 day ago  replies      
PG is articulating the philosophy of natural law applied to present circumstances. Natural law is one of those tenured ideas that we always rediscover or reinvent when our statute laws start going too far astray. Many bright thinkers have explored the idea, and you'd do well to explore it yourself if you haven't yet:


The basic idea is that good laws are things we discover rather than create. Their form is dictated by the form of our being and intellect and the shape of our world. Any enforced law that contradicts this natural law will create the sort of friction and injustice that we would have seen with SOPA.


Edit #1.1: As others have pointed out on this thread, the idea of owning non-scarce and easily-spread things is unnatural. So if technology makes a previously containable and scarce thing non-containable and non-scarce, then our ideas about what exactly can be property will change without having to believe that natural law itself had to change. This is the essence of Paul's argument, and why it fits with natural law theory. Technology changes the shape of our world.

Edit #2: All modern natural law thinkers I know of would assert that slavery always violated natural law in perhaps the worst way possible, so I don't see how Paul's concurrence that ending slavery was a good change in property law distances his position from natural law theory. It was always unnatural, and eventually we discovered and corrected that in our statute laws, prompted largely by the growing friction our divergence from natural law was creating.

Edit #3: There are various schools of natural law. My definition of it goes along the lines of, "the rules that humans living in a particular environment, starting with no preconceived notions, would voluntarily and near-universally adopt for their mutual benefit." If you're from a school that believes natural law exists without any reference to our environment, then you may disagree with my premise and everything that extends from it.

grellas 1 day ago 7 replies      
I watched some really lousy movie the other day while doing the treadmill (without the sound on, of course) and, as I went through my boring routine, the movie ended and the credits scrolled through for what seemed like an interminable period. As I did so, it struck me what a very large number of people are involved in the production of a movie. Not just actors, not just the director, but literally thousands of people who contribute in one way or the other to the effort and (I assume) all get paid something for their contributions. One or the other of them, or perhaps most, may be getting taken advantage of by the studio that produced the thing, but they are all making some aspect of their living in being part of the process. What would happen to these people, then, if copyright were abolished and the studio incurring the expense of that production could no longer claim exclusive rights to the creative product on the grounds that there is a no-cost distribution system intact for generating as many digital copies of that product as anyone cares to make? Well, the studio could no longer use the traditional model for producing such movies because it could not "own" the resulting product. The result: any consumer could download the product without having to pay anything for it; any person could freely distribute the product for free or for a charge, as circumstances permitted, without any obligation whatever to the originating studio; any person could take the characters in that production and use them freely in any independent production without obligation to the originating studio. What is more, the studio itself could take the latest blockbuster novel and could create a movie about it without any obligation to the author. And any other author could take the conceptions of the original author and borrow them freely to create derivative characters based on the originals without obligation to the original author. And so on and so on. One can argue, of course, that all this would lead to a better society but no one can deny that it would radically change the way creative works are produced and financed. Perhaps we would see a renaissance of creativity once everything is open to be instantly shared. Perhaps we would see the opposite. One thing is sure: that large group of people whose names scrolled by on the credits would no longer be able to be paid for their work on movie productions as we have known them.

PG essentially answers, "it depends" to the question whether producers should be able to charge for content but seems to argue that the existence of no-cost distribution mechanisms is a strong factor tilting the argument toward the "possibly no" direction.

I would say that the no-cost distribution mechanism is only one factor and perhaps not even among the most important.

Protecting creative effort is to me the most important factor favoring continued copyright protection (see http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3479959 for my elaboration of this theme). And this is no small point. There are literally countless scenarios apart from movie studio production where people invest creative effort into a product that is protected by copyright. My wife recently attended a conference teaching the "Gottman method" for marriage/family therapists. She received a thick workbook explaining the techniques used by the originators of that method. That material took years to develop. Yet, without copyright, my wife could take the materials, reproduce them as much as she likes, sell them for her own profit, and even modify them as she likes and distribute them as her own, all without obligation to the creators of that material. Should the law be, no, she can't do that because she received hard copies only of the materials but, had the creators distributed the materials digitally, then she could? That would be the result if the only relevant factor were the ease of distribution. But of course it is not. Nor do I think PG is arguing that it is. Insofar as his argument might be interpreted that way, I think it would be wrong.

So, yes, the legal definition of property continually changes. And the ease of distribution is a relevant factor in how those definitions should be shaped. But it can and should be outweighed by other factors such as society's stake in protecting creative effort within proper bounds (i.e., for limited times and in limited ways). Our copyright laws suck today because they were largely fashioned in 1976, well before the mass digital age. They urgently need updating. They do not need updating in the SOPA manner, with the use of oppressive and overreaching legal remedies that would in their own way be "warping society" in order to achieve enforcement goals. They need to be updated in a way that strikes a balance between protecting creative effort and not having the heavy hand of the law fall on relatively trivial transgressions. This seems to be what PG is arguing. I would only take issue with placing an over-emphasis on limiting or abrogating the protections based on the distribution mechanism.

ankeshk 1 day ago 2 replies      
So PG doesn't finish the story of Ooka Tadasuke and how he solves the case of the cook asking the student to pay for enjoying the smell of good food.

The judge asks the student to take a few coins. But instead of paying tangible coins for intangible smell, he asked for the coins to be put in a handkerchief and shook hard. And the payment to be made with the sound the coins made.

(I had heard this story as an Indian story - not a Japanese story. And Ooka Tadasuke was replaced by Birbal - the prime minister of the Mughal Emperor Akbar. "Akbar Birbal" stories are full of such awesomeness.)

nirvana 1 day ago  replies      
The thing that always worries me when I see software people talking about songs not being property is then what does that make software?

I see the act of creating software and creating a song or a movie as being very analogous.

It takes a lot of work on the front end to create the master copy, but then that master copy can be digitally reproduced at no marginal cost.

Movies and songs grew up in an old style situation where distributors and producers put up the money and in exchange for the risk take a lot of the back end.

Software came later, and so we have, for instance, the open source movement. There's not a lot of open source movies.

If we don't respect songs as property, but we do think of our own software creations as property, is that not hypocrisy?

I can hate the RIAA and MPAA and all their evil actions, and still think of these products as property... many movies cost a hundred million dollars to make.

I think it might be more productive to point out that the RIAA and MPAA are doing bad things... than to try and throw out the idea that easily reproducible goods can be property.

Cushman 1 day ago 2 replies      
The major meta-issue at hand here is the problem of thinking that property has a definition in the first place. We intuitively think of property in the sense of personal possessions, which works some of the time, but is quite inaccurate for the majority of properties:

The way in which I own my business is different from the way I own my house, which is different from the way I own my car, which is different from the way I own my dog, which is different from the way I own my computer, which is different from the way I own the information contained on my computer. All of these forms entail restrictions on the rights of others beside me as regards the property, but what these restrictions are vary. Thinking that any of the rights entailed by any of these forms of property necessarily has an analogue in any of the other forms will likely get me into trouble-- save perhaps the fact that any form of property must be able to be transferred to another entity by my sole consent.

Confounding this is the fact that there exists another class of things which are not property nor possessions, but which are nonetheless mine; for example, I neither own nor possess my apartment, but it remains my apartment in a real, legal sense.

So I feel addressing these issues as a question of "is this/should this be property" is putting the cart before the horse. The real, implicit question is, do the rights entailed (or rather restricted) by the relevant statutes pose a benefit, or a harm to our society?

That is the only way to have a productive conversation about intellectual property as adults interested in advancing the arts and sciences rather than as elementary schoolchildren arguing about who "stole" whose idea.

dustingetz 1 day ago 5 replies      
To PG:

many of your essays have an air of someone who already gets it circle jerking[1] with the other people who already get it. You do it when you talk about Lisp, and when you talk about big companies, and you're now doing it by comparing copyright infringement to "stealing smells". Its unfortunate because it builds a cult or clique of people who "get it" rather than helps to spread an idea to the masses. It's also unfortunate because you outright dismisses other people's opinions, which is arrogant, and dangerous.

The "in crowd" understands your metaphor, but to the people who matter, those who don't already understand the issue, your metaphor is worse than useless - its actually harming our credibility. Quite easy to imagine a RIAA lawyer tearing your analogy to pieces, you know, by DH6: refuting your central point. You're arguing against an opponent without demonstrating that you even understand their argument. that's, like, what, DH3? I wish you would strive to use the incredible influence you've built up more effectively, and refocus away from the startup crowd, and towards the wider audience of people who could stand to learn something from you.

[*] DH3: http://www.paulgraham.com/disagree.html
[1] "circle jerk" - i paused on this metaphor for a few moments, but i can't think of a better one!

csallen 1 day ago 2 replies      
The history of copyright law is quite interesting, especially its origins. This quote from Thomas Jefferson is particularly interesting:

    If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive
property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an
individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the
moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of every one, and
the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it.
That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the
moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to
have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them,
like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any
point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being,
incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation. Inventions then cannot, in
nature, be a subject of property.

That said, Jefferson was one of the framers of the Constitution, which gave Congress the power to create copyright and patent laws in the first place. It's important to note the language used in the Constitution, though: "To promote the progress of the arts and sciences..."

It wasn't about giving property rights to creators -- it was about incentivizing them. The framers saw this as a tradeoff. The public would endure the "evil" of letting creators monopolize profits on their ideas. But in return, there would be more ideas created, and these ideas would become public property after a short time, anyway. Jefferson continued:

    Society may give an exclusive right to the profits arising from them, as an
encouragement to men to pursue ideas which may produce utility, but this may or
may not be done, according to the will and convenience of the society, without
claim or complaint from anybody. Accordingly, it is a fact, as far as I am
informed, that England was, until we copied her, the only country on earth
which ever, by a general law, gave a legal right to the exclusive use of an
idea. In some other countries it is sometimes done, in a great case, and by a
special and personal act, but, generally speaking, other nations have thought
that these monopolies produce more embarrassment than advantage to society; and
it may be observed that the nations which refuse monopolies of invention, are
as fruitful as England in new and useful devices.

citricsquid 1 day ago 9 replies      
I hope that one day all this talk of property and whether piracy is stealing or not isn't needed any more because people have RESPECT for each other and their work, enough respect that if someone wants to sell their work they can without worry it will be taken by people who didn't pay. If an artist, musician, game developer, programmer etc creates something and wants to sell it for $100 nobody will take it without paying, if they want to give it away for free instead of charging that should be their choice.

Piracy shouldn't be a crime like murder or pyshical theft, but it should still not be something that is accepted by society, it's disrespectful to the creator of something. It should be the creators choice and consumers should respect that.

jonnathanson 1 day ago 2 replies      
To me, the most important distinction here is the "smell" analogy. Whether or not we agree with content piracy, our assent or dissent is largely moot. It's happening, and it will continue to happen. In this sense, moralistic arguments are somewhat pointless. And legislative attempts -- even if successful -- will succeed only in plugging today's leaks. Innovators will figure out new ones tomorrow. Those in the content business need to make peace with this fundamental reality.

But the fact remains: people who invest a nonzero sum of money in the creation of content would probably like some way to recoup their investment. Or else they need to have deep enough pockets, or deep-pocketed patrons, to be able to abide simply giving it away outright.

I suggest that there's a middle ground between giving all content away (no IP ownership, as some advocate for) and trying to stanch the tide of digital distribution altogether. That middle ground involves differentiating content and price based on audience segments. Those willing to pay can pay for the things they want to pay for. Those unwilling to pay aren't going to pay. It's the job of the content creators to figure out three things: 1) what people are willing to pay for, 2) how to optimize that product to that willing-to-pay segment, and 3) how to convert unwilling-to-pay into willing-to-pay.

This strategy involves carrots, not sticks.

At the risk of getting all self-promotey, I wrote a piece on this topic recently, based on some case studies from the music and publishing worlds:


gfodor 1 day ago 2 replies      
One aspect of the RIAA/MPAA mess missing here is the fact that they are middlemen. It's much easier to "steal" from them when you realize they are largely screwing the people who create the content. Its hard to say how much of the copyright infringement we see now would be happening if there was a distribution channel for media where people felt like they were rewarding the artist more directly.
jacquesm 1 day ago 0 replies      
A pretty harsh stopgap solution to this would require a large number of artists to be wiling to get of the gravy train and into a different frame of mind: Art is worth a lot of money until the day it is released, at which point the value rapidly diminishes.

This suggests that the ransom model might work for artists that have achieved a certain measure of success. You could set up a marketplace for art that has already been created but not released or you could use a mechanism like kickstarter to fund artists to create something.

The ransom model has been successfully used in open source (Blender for instance) and I see no reason why it could not work for other forms of creative output.

That way it is no longer a matter of redefining property, we simply recognize that certain demands by the artists should be met or there will be no more content. Smart artists will price themselves within reach of their collective audience.

cynicalkane 1 day ago 1 reply      
The terrifying thing about the thesis that people charging for content 'when they can' is that they will find ways to arrange the content so they can charge for it.

So we get App Stores, Xbox/PS3/Wii stores, and ever-creeping, ever-more-hard-to-crack, ever-more-restrictive DRM solutions. It's theoretically possible to make uncrackable DRM, which means someone will do it. It's just a matter of time finding an economically viable solution that won't annoy users excessively. There's demand for expensive information--expensive in the economic sense, in that making this information takes lots of work from lots of experts. People want the latest movies, TV, software, video games, music.

And then there's the ultimate DRM, PG's favorite thing to invest in: the webapp. What better way to make users pay then to demand they do all their work on a server you have, not their own computer? To demand users sign over their financial information to Mint, their private email to GMail? When they don't pay in money, they pay in loss of privacy. Sometimes they pay in both.

I want free information, free not in the GNU sense--though that's always an option--but free by the social norms of fair and legitimate use. I want software, media, and so on to be my own; I want to be able to use it without some corporation knowing. I want to be able to back it up and mash it up and lend the original copy to friends.

But content creation representative groups such as the MPAA and RIAA have conducted themselves in ways that threaten our very democracy. In an ideal world, society recognizes that commercial information can't be both free as in speech and free as in beer, industry and the Internet community find a reasonable way to punish the worst pirates without infringing our general freedoms, and the MPAA/RIAA's justification for its horrible lobbying vanishes in a puff of logic. (That's another thing; I don't think the technology community understands how sympathetic people are to the stance that information must not be stolen.)

No idea if or how this will happen, so I guess that makes everything I said kind of a rant, but one can dream... and I do think people need to realize that the market isn't some magic thing that does what you want. Half the market is people trying to earn money. The increasing trend is that the content creators are finding technical solutions giving users no choice but to pay them. I don't understand why this is a good thing. The world of Richard Stallman's 'The Right to Read' is a famous hacker nightmare, except now hackers seem to be endorsing it. What the hell?

orbitingpluto 1 day ago 2 replies      
I'm surprised that no one has commented on the validity of (moonbase) air as a commodity. If you have to decide to let one of your children die because you can't pay the air bill, something is fundamentally wrong with the definition of property.

Sure you can pay for air today, but it's always for non-standard purposes. SCUBA, industrial, CO2 cartridges for flats, etc.

We've already gone down this road with respect to water. The cost of manufacturing bottled water far exceeds the cost of having clean water on tap. Corporations (Bechtel) have even tried to make rainwater collection off of roofs illegal.

My point being that if you are going to define property, you should make an effort to define between (what should be) non-divisible communal property and private property.

nextparadigms 1 day ago 1 reply      
The main reason why I think "Intellectual Property" is a misnomer, and it's not actually property, is because creative ideas can not be owned by anyone 100%. So it's not fair for you to benefit from other people's ideas, improve on them, and get get to "own" the new idea for life. Society could give some some limited time monopoly over an idea, if they think the improvement you bring is worth a few years of protection from the Government. But that should be about it.

It's also why it wasn't originally called property, but copyright. The society only allows you to benefit from your idea only for a while, because then it must return to the public domain so others can further improve on it, or at least that's how it used to be. Now copyright protection is virtually indefinite, so that's unfortunate, and it's now how it should be.

seeingfurther 1 day ago 1 reply      
We used to treat people as property too. Things change... for the better most of the time, hopefully.
csomar 1 day ago 0 replies      
When the odor of the food quits
the food shop and entered the land property (public or private) it might not became the property of the new land owner, but it's not his fault.

Piracy is not that. Piracy is sniffing the smell from the food shop with a tube and taking it to your land (cracking the product) and then diffusing the smell to your neighbors (sharing).

chernevik 1 day ago 0 replies      
IANAL. But it seems to me that property right in copyright is built more on freedom contract -- you can buy song X or movie Y, subject to the condition that you won't republish it. The "freedom of information" occurs after someone violates such licenses. Copyright law then looks to me like an enforcement of those agreements.

You want want a copy of the song? Great, here are the terms. You don't like those terms? Okay, don't enter the agreement. You can live without that song, you're free to walk away. You want a copy of the song on some other terms? If you can get the artist to renegotiate, that's great. But it isn't really a negotiation if you just take what you want on the terms you dictate. Okay, but you're negotiating with some studio. Well, the artist had a right to contract with the studio such that the studio now has the artist's interest in the song.

I don't see any argument against copyright that doesn't involve abrogation of an artist's ability to set the terms by which their work will be available. And as I want my own ability to set my own terms for my own work and product, I don't see how I can properly deny that ability to anyone else. I don't know if that notion of property "works", but it does seem right to me, it's the one I choose to live by. And I don't understand how I could live by any other and expect people to respect my rights.

shingen 1 day ago 0 replies      
We already treat smells as extremely valuable on earth.

The fragrance industry is worth tens of billions for that reason.

scarmig 1 day ago 0 replies      
It's interesting to look at the history of patents to get a sense of perspective on the fluidity of property rights. Before the reign of James I, for instance, all kinds of things received patents, not just inventions. Even commodities as common as salt or pepper were patented. The king would grant these patents, implicitly getting the political support and backing from the recipient. It took an act of Parliament (itself a power grab) to end this practice, which is where a new version of patents--applicable only to a new discovery or invention--was legislated.

These patents of yore were pretty alien to us--they represent something more like a government appointment to a role than anything else.

pak 1 day ago 0 replies      
I like this essay for using a brilliant analogy to illustrate a hard problem. Despite painting such a pretty picture, though, it winds up not really addressing any of the issues it brings up.

What the essay proposes is the replacement of one nebulous standard ("property") with a few others: "not warping society," "when it works," and "common sense".

From the point of view of PG or anybody else in the Valley, what the AA's are doing may feel like forcing everybody to breathe through tubes. And this essay will easily appeal to anybody else that has grown up with the internet, simply for eliciting such a colorful depiction of our emotions when confronted with end-user-hostile DRM and bills like SOPA.

From the point of view of a media conglomerate, "warping" society is sort of their M.O., although they might more comfortably describe this as "advertising" and "developing consumer loyalty". It isn't common sense that a media company shouldn't change society to make money, because they've been doing this since radio and movies and television were invented. This goes double for new media and the internet. For instance, isn't Facebook undeniably trying to change people's expectations on what personal information they should be sharing with the world?

So all that's left is the essay telling us what we already know: that technology is making certain kinds of property irrelevant, and society needs to adapt to this change. How, and when, and what we should actually be doing, are all left as an exercise for the reader.

drucken 1 day ago 0 replies      
Excellent article.

I do slightly disagree with his point about evolution of property rights.

This issue comes up often in the context of the Great Divergence - a topic of economic history that describes and seeks to explain why there was such a rapid difference in development between the West (modern powers) and the East (classic powers).

It can be easily shown that private property rights in the West at the very beginning of this divergence were not only critical but also preceeded even the widespread use of the technology of parchment let alone the introduction of paper by some 200 years!

Another one is, of course, slavery.

That said, technology is undoubtedly the commonly fastest means to change the definitions of property. At least, it is faster and often more equitable than having a monopoly on violence (which is what the state and it's laws at any given time essentially represent).

martythemaniak 1 day ago 0 replies      
There is an Arabic folk tale version of that story:

A poor person gets hungry, so he sits down outside a kebab house, and starts eating his bread and smelling the kebabs. The owner sees him, gets angry and tells him "You can't just sit here and smell for free, you gotta pay!". The poor person looks at him and says "Oh, I'm sorry, I'll pay.". He then takes out his change purse and shakes it until the coins make some noise, then goes back to eating and smelling.

TheCapn 1 day ago 2 replies      
I think of things differently: regardless of the definition of property the entire issue generated between the piracy side and the content generator side is that of ownership and possession.

From the Pirate's point of view they see the situation as "You have not lost anything by me copying this software." Which is a legit mindset to subscribe to.

From the other side they see it as "You've obtained something that you did not pay for." Which is also a legit mindset.

Whatever end you subscribe to you can hopefully still understand where the divide comes in. One person is interested in obtaining something while seemingly not hurting the other. The other side is bent on maintaining and controlling their content distribution.

dkrich 1 day ago 0 replies      
I don't like the analogy because bringing the concept of smells from the moon (where air is expensive) to Earth, (where air is essentially free) is not exactly the same as moving copy written material from a controlled medium to one without rules.

Nobody is arguing that a musician who wants to independently distribute music over the internet royalty free, or for any fee that he or she sees fit has the right to do so. The labels are arguing that distributing THEIR music outside their own channels is illegal.

In the case of the smells example, a proper analogy would be if the company selling smells on the moon wanted to control the distribution of its OWN SMELLS on Earth and fought against people distributing them without consent. I was opposed to SOPA as written, as most rational people were, but I don't think because you suddenly have tools at your disposal to distribute somebody else's property widely and cheaply, that alone gives you license to do so.

If there were no value in the content that the RIAA wants to protect, nobody would care if they wanted to prevent people from illegally distributing it. If there is value, then the smells analogy doesn't hold.

alex_h 1 day ago 2 replies      
minor nitpick: a cubic liter is not a thing. Liters are already measures of volume.
phil 1 day ago 0 replies      
This is less of a hard line than http://everythingisaremix.info

PG's argument is that the world is changing and the definition of property should change to match. But Everything is a Remix argues that ownership of ideas has always been problematic, because it's never been possible to cleanly separate an idea from its antecedents.

akharris 1 day ago 1 reply      
One of the points to remember wrt to property rights is what, in fact, you are purchasing when buying a piece of data - be it a song, movie, program, what have you. Many times, we think we are buying something wholly ownable, we assume that, since we paid money for an item, we own it to do with it as we may.

The legal truth is a bit trickier. Often, we are simply buying the rights to use an item for a stated purpose for a stated time. It's a tricky ground, and one that is sometimes counter-intuitive. For instance, when I bought my iPhone, I believe that I purchased a piece of hardware divorced from the OS on it, therefore letting me do anything I want to it. That may hold true at the moment (despite Apple's claims otherwise), but that scenario could easily be changed. Think of the scope of modifications one can and cannot make to a car to keep it "street legal" - there are always limits within law to what one can do with property, and much of that relies on what you purchase at the time of purchase.

All that is to say, however, that current definitions and understandings of property rights do not match up, either in the public sphere, or in the apparent practice of many companies. The systems being used to enforce copyright and property rules are clearly broken, and beg for new paradigms.

brudgers 1 day ago 0 replies      
As I read about the moon and air and charging for smells, I couldn't help but think TANSTAAFL or rather TANSTAAFSOL. The music industry like the Moon is a harsh mistress and what makes a mistress a mistress is that it costs you to keep her.

There's plenty of free music, one can even make it one's self or have a friend make it for you. Ownership of a musical performance is no different from ownership of a book, except in so far as it is easier to share.

Nobody is pillorying Simon and Schuster because they charge for ebooks. Nor are they declaring Amazon to be an impediment to progress because they sell such books for far more than the cost of delivery. Come to think of it, nobody is holding Apple accountable for profiting as the principle conduit for the music industry's model.

That's not to say that the legislation put forward recently is good or that the draconian punishments of downloaders are appropriate.

But creative works should be controlled by their authors, and musicians and filmakers are not flocking en masse to copyleft schemes.

dantheman 1 day ago 0 replies      
I think that perhaps the most important part about intellectual property is that it restricts what you can do with your real property - you can't write a story using someone else's characters (derivative work), and more obviously you can't write down you favorite story on your own paper, or copy a cd, etc... It restricts what you can do with your own property even if you never entered into an agreement with anyone else. This is clearly shown with submarine patents.
astrofinch 1 day ago 0 replies      
>Private property is an extremely useful idea"arguably one of our greatest inventions. So far, each new definition of it has brought us increasing material wealth. [4] It seems reasonable to suppose the newest one will too.

This seems like a somewhat weak argument from extrapolation, since there aren't very many data points and they're so heterogenous.

It seems reasonable to assume that people will respond to lack of incentives in content production by producing less content (if only because they now need full-time jobs outside content creation to support themselves). In a new world without copyright, then, we'll start out with a large "endowment" of movies and music from the "copyright era", but the endowment will grow at a slower pace than it did, and additions to the endowment will be less polished than those from the copyright era. Doesn't obviously seem better or worse to me.

It may be that there just isn't a neat solution to this problem.

shasta 1 day ago 1 reply      
Here's an idea I've been kicking around lately that I'm sure I'm not the first to consider, so maybe someone can predict the ways in which it will fail: what if, instead of imposing artificial scarcity and attempting to require before-use licensing on intellectual "property", we allowed free use of all IP and attempted to reward valuable contributions after use?

So a certain percentage of tax revenue could be distributed as awards for the creation of successful software, inventions, music, etc. There are a number of free variables in such a scheme: percentage of economy dedicated to such awards, measurement methods (observed use vs. voting) and weighting of importance (do you get more award for making music that rich people like?). I wonder if some choice of parameters wouldn't make this scheme an improvement over what we have now.

(I'm assuming capitalism remains for scarce goods)

zby 6 hours ago 0 replies      
There is one more twist about that. Copyright supporters like to call it property - but they sell it as a license to consumers.
J3L2404 17 hours ago 0 replies      
The contortions necessary to justify violating copyright should give some indication of its viability. People are going to copy things. It is only when people make money from violating copyright that there is any chance of any type of enforcement. PG is now aligned with clowns like Kim Dotcom and others that believe they have a moral obligation to download copyrighted material. A good deal of the Internet is essentially under frontier law, the cowboys have wide latitude but so does the sheriff. This attitude that "all movies should be free" kumbaya bullshit should be left to script kiddies and pimply faced teens.
drcube 1 day ago 1 reply      
Exacerbating the problem is the fact that the publishers are not only trying to keep the old definition, but to constrain it even more. They're reactionaries rather than conservatives.

An example would be books. In the past, a book I owned could be resold or given away. With digital documents however, my copy is only a "license" which forbids any and all transfers. In the past, if I owned a document, I owned it forever. But now, I must pay for a new "license" each time I upgrade the format. Such as buying an mp3 when I already own the CD, or paying extra for the "digital" version of a DVD or book I already own.

vacri 17 hours ago 0 replies      
A poor student who could afford only rice was eating his rice while enjoying the delicious cooking smells coming from the food shop.

The judge should have fined the food shop for littering, as it was carelessly letting its smells scatter through the street.

tantalor 1 day ago 1 reply      
He leaps to "moon base" to make "smells as property" work, totally skipping over fragrance or perfume (which can in theory be copyrightable) as property.
js2 1 day ago 0 replies      
[1] If you want to learn more about hunter gatherers I strongly recommend Elizabeth Marshall Thomas's The Harmless People and The Old Way.

For an intersting philosphical treatment of hunter gatherers vs agricultural societies, see Ishmael by Daniel Quinn.

zyfo 1 day ago 0 replies      
This reminds me of Cory Doctorows excellent talk at 28C3, The coming war on general computation:


Basically, Cory is saying that the fight againt RIAA/MPAA is just the first battle of a long war.

EREFUNDO 1 day ago 0 replies      
Another thing I would like to add is that as much as I would like to, "private property" can never be absolute. I had a few friendly exchanges with some of my libertarian friends who argue that "private property" is sacred. While I do believe that in principle no other group of people should force individuals to give up their property, it is a principle that would be difficult to fully implement because of the simple fact that we live in a small planet with limited resources. The atmosphere is a communal property,so are the riches of the world's oceans. Suppose for example I am the shrewdest businessman on the planet and managed to own 70% of the world's grain output, in theory it is my property, should I be allowed to burn them all to ashes (assuming I figured out a way to burn it without polluting the atmosphere) since those are mine anyways? Capitalism brought the greatest explosion of wealth in human history because it "chose" those who can manage resources more effectively through the market system (instead of an appointed bureaucrat). Bill Gates will never consume $60B worth of grain and he can only wear 1 pair of shoes at a time. But because he took the chance countless millions benefited from his endeavor. I also don't mind wealthy people buying $5M diamond rings while "millions live on $2 a day", considering how many people were employed and paid to sell them that piece of rock with little practical use. But the "illusion" of absolute ownership is powerful enough for people to take chances. The trick now is trying to figure out when the rest of society can say to an individual that "you cannot do that!" when it comes to his property. I am not sure we'll ever figure that out.
benohear 1 day ago 0 replies      
I find the ownership of the right to produce food by eg Monsanto way more terrifying.
prbuckley 1 day ago 0 replies      
There is a multi-billion dollar industry based around making smells property, perfume.
jrs235 1 day ago 0 replies      
Can we fine the chef for not containing his smells and polluting the air? Maybe the boy doesn't want or like the smells? Similar questions can be asked of Monsanto polluting fields with "their" "intellectual property" corn DNA.

You can (ought to be able to) charge someone for ordering the service of adding smell, but if they didn't ask for the service then you can't charge them for it. "I made this chicken dinner for you. You owe me $20. I don't care if you wanted it or not."

This would be like demanding people who hear your music pay for it, even if hearing it is against their will or unintentional.

The issue/problem is with contracts, not property. The record label is licensing an individual (via contract) the right and okay to reproduce a work for personal/private use. The labels should go after those that break the contract by allowing people unauthorized access to reproduce the work, not those that obtain (download) the work. The downloader never signed a contract nor necessarily knows one exists. Upon being told they obtained "unauthorized goods" then they should immediately delete and destroy them. If the label can prove the downloader knew or ought to have known their copy was unauthorized then the downloader is guilty of knowingly harming another party and should pay a fine as well.

If you'll are mad at the labels, stop downloading or viewing works produced by the labels! It's called voting with your actions. If artists see that the people won't purchase or listen to their works with certain labels, then the artists that care will stop using those labels! No this isn't easy. Yes the artists will also feel some pain through this process too. But seriously, grow up and stand by your principles unless your only principle is "Me now for free". If you think it isn't possible then please just admit that you don't believe in democratic movements and that we require elitist intellectual overlords to govern us.

joseakle 21 hours ago 0 replies      
I think the debate is much more complicated.
I would start by analyzing the various dimensions that property can have.

Let's list some:

- Non property vs property. Religion vs. patents.

- Public property vs Private property. Rain vs. bottled water.

- Intellectual property vs Physical property. A song vs. a gong.

Any other dimensions you can think of?

pizza_boy 1 day ago 0 replies      
In economics a cost or benefit that is difficult to charge for is known as an externality. The pleasant smell of food might be a positive externality; second hand smoke a negative.

Ronald Coase (who also produced The Nature of the Firm) did the seminal work here. It turns out that in cases where it is difficult to assign property rights government intervention is often the best way to address externalities.

Readers of the essay may benefit from a footnote mentioning these basic economic principles.

lkbrunswick 1 day ago 0 replies      
The concept of copyright made sense under the old technologies because it was practical to outlaw counterfeiting. Suppose, for instance, you decided to counterfeit a best-selling novel. You would need to spend many thousands of dollars to set the printing plates, plus have a printing factory to produce the thousands of copies needed to repay your investment, plus a big distribution network. If the police were at all interested in enforcing the law, it would be only a few days before someone discovered that the book was being counterfeited, and easy to trace it back to the printing factory, and the whole operation would be shut down (and the fellow running it thrown in jail), long before a profit could be made.

With computers and the internet, all that changes. The capital investment to pirate IP property becomes effectively zero, and it is difficult or impossible to trace the source. So copyright laws are simply not practical. It is similar to what happened with Prohibition in the US, it turned out to be just not workable.

tnorthcutt 1 day ago 2 replies      
So what does this mean? Should people not be able to charge for content? There's not a single yes or no answer to that question. People should be able to charge for content when it works to charge for content.

But by "works" I mean something more subtle than "when they can get away with it." I mean when people can charge for content without warping society in order to do it.

pg, I'd be really interested in hearing more about what (you think) this should look like.

chj 1 day ago 1 reply      
Come on, I thought PG was better than this.

Comparing full version movies and musics to SMELLS is very unfair to say the least. Even trailers are better than that.

hager 1 day ago 0 replies      
The purpose of property rights is to efficiently utilize scarce resources.

Scarce resources include: air on the moon, land, time, physical goods. For example if there is only one potato chip left in the bag me eating it prevents you from eating it.

Data and information are not scarce resources. A copy of software on my computer in no way diminishes the usefulness of the very same software on your computer. In fact both of us having the software may increase the efficiency of scarce resources like our computers or our time!

That's why property rights for data/information/movies/music/software do not improve economic efficiency and make us all worse off.

charlieok 1 day ago 0 replies      
Another example: bitcoin/namecoin are arguably a technology innovation arising partly from novel thinking about what constitutes property and ownership.
Porter_423 14 hours ago 0 replies      
what profit of giving the definition of property so well.We all know what is property.The thing that you can discuss that the distribution of property equally to all and the possible way to utilize it.
jacktoole1 23 hours ago 0 replies      
For others curious, this story is also told of King Solomon. This isn't where I first heard the story, but here's a reference:

The [short] story as a whole is also worth a read, in my opinion.

jenius 1 day ago 0 replies      
Absolutely brilliant - I have been mulling over this problem in a very abstract way for a long time, knowing what it was but not how to express it, and wishing I could come out with a comparison as accurate and eloquent as this, and here it is. Well done pg, well done.
hrrld 1 day ago 0 replies      
An apt, but tragically late, entry into an important discussion.

I mean, downhillbattle.org closed up shop years ago.

Gibson (http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/13.07/gibson.html) recognized it at that time too.

gryphon65 1 day ago 0 replies      
The term Intellectual Property is bad and I really wish it could get removed from common usage. Property is not a term that should be applied to something that is infinitely copyable without cost. You steal my my car and I can't use it anymore. You use my idea and I can still act on my idea.

However that does not mean that there should be no protections. If we go back to the US constitution where its patent and copy write law comes from:

"To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries"

It was felt that innovators would be discouraged taking on a lot of up front cost developing an idea if it could copied before they could recover that cost. If we were to stop thinking in terms of property and start thinking in terms of a limited time exclusive right to attempt to recover upfront cost then I think things become a lot clearer. The value of an idea is a nebulous concept however the cost to develop that idea is not.

facundo_olano 1 day ago 0 replies      
The question shouldn't be this or that kind of property, but property or not property at all. The free software movement is a perfect example on how property (copyrights in this case) can be more of an obstacle than a catalyst for progress.
spravin 1 day ago 0 replies      
Imagine a florist who sells roses along with a air-tight cardboard box, and stipulates that the buyer sit inside this box every time he wants to smell this rose (so that others who haven't paid for the rose cannot not "steal" the smell).

That would be a good analogy for DRM (at least the way it is implemented today).

hdt 1 day ago 0 replies      
Lawrence Lessig has a very interesting plan that would potentially have large effects on these types of situations. What if politicians were incentivized to be for the people instead of for the lobbyists? http://theanticorruptionpledge.org/
wissler 10 hours ago 0 replies      
"Imagine we were living on a moon base where we had to buy air by the liter. I could imagine air suppliers adding scents at an extra charge."

But you'd be able to choose whether or not you wanted the smell at a given price. The poor student had no choice but to have the smells waft into his room. If the cook told the student "I'll open my window and let the smells waft into your room, if you pay me a fee", then a just judge would have no problem ruling in favor of the cook.

username3 1 day ago 1 reply      
Smells dissipate.
llambda 1 day ago 0 replies      
Does anateus have a monopoly on paulgraham.com updates?
sans-serif 23 hours ago 0 replies      
I thought the idea behind the United States was that there wasn't supposed to be a single point of authority big enough to be effectively lobbied by whoever wants to twist the law for their own gains badly enough. If one state failed people could just flock to another one. You'd get redundancy and also competition between governments to keep things sane and efficient.

How did you guys manage to ruin that.

graphnical 21 hours ago 1 reply      
Hear hear... comes down to reputation.

One does not simply steal the software running the service, one must steal the entire service.

How does one profit from music? By creating fans which in turn builds a brand which can be leveraged in creative ways... concerts, endorsements etc...

How does one profit from movies? Exclusive access to high quality versions first. Avatar cost anywhere from $250m - $500m, it has grossed $760m. Theaters sign up, pay money and get the best shit first... sure it will be copied... eventually (maybe within hours) a pirate theater may get a hold of it... but will it always be in a few hours? Or will it be a day or three? Avatar made ~90% of its money by week 10... obviously the theaters don't want it out for as long as possible... same goes for the studios... so if all efforts were focused on inside leaks instead of consumption, a stronger business model and secured profits would be had.

In fact... when you look at it... the Gov is subsidizing the industry through law/enforcement due to the inability of the industry to manage its own business. 'HALP! I can't keep my fucking people in line'... the only real Gov. response should be... GET YOUR SHIT TOGETHER BITCH.

How does one profit from books? Similar to movies and music... brands & exclusive distribution.

How does one profit from games? Exclusive and _secure_ distribution.

How does one profit from an idea? Building the infrastructure (the business) for that idea to execute.

Not to mention the kick started method... I threw down on Double Fine Adventure... some of you did too... its about to hit $3m.

If some thing is good... one does not simply steal that thing and inhibit its profit... one must steal the entire world in which that thing exists in order to really harm the thing stolen. Otherwise the harm done is marginal... and if that harms kills your thing, your thing was marginal as well. Better luck next time....

I guess what I am trying to really say is... GET YOUR SHIT TOGETHER... and http://youtu.be/zypjjdX-hvQ?t=40s


Paypal Does it Again regretsy.com
473 points by cwan  1 day ago   146 comments top 25
huggyface 1 day ago  replies      
There are always those subtle little details that get missed in these discussion.

For instance the site is, right now, taking pre-orders, not orders. There is no published timeframe when they'll actually ship the books that I can see. Paypal only allows you to accept pre-orders up to 20 days in advance of shipping the product to buyers, and even then they can demand significant additional proof.

Because, unfortunately, pre-orders are the classic setup of too many scams (which some random agent probably won't easily be able to eliminate), and it's the domain where PayPal ends up holding the bag. 5000 people pre-ordered some cool internet controller and then maker disappears, etc.

We've been hearing these sorts of "horror" stories for years (wow do people not understand how hard and exclusive the payment process used to be!), yet despite PayPal still being relatively small -- especially compared to the banks and credit card companies -- no one is credibly doing what they do. Maybe because they're doing something rather hard?

nirvana 1 day ago 1 reply      
I did business with paypal about 10 years ago. I had a similar bad experience with them. Despite me doing nothing wrong, and my customers being quite happy with what I was delivering to them, paypal decided to get involved and screw things up.

Attempting to resolve the issue with them resulted in an unending series of demands, many of which were asinine (e.g.: show the original manufacturer invoice for this used piece of clothing you sold on ebay, or show us a contract with the creator of the software you're selling proving you have the right to sell it-- I was the creator, and obviously, of course, a contract from me, signed by me would not be acceptable to them.)

I sent them endless amounts of documentation, but they demanded more, and they lost half of it. Their CSR reps are complete and total assholes-- after all, according to them, I was committing fraud otherwise I wouldn't be dealing with the fraud department, right? (this despite not a single chargeback or dispute on paypal from customers.)

The sad thing was, I did many tens of thousands in business thru them, payed them thousands in fees, had very few customer complaints (and issued refunds when I did or otherwise resolved it)... but they don't care.

I think that my experience and others experience has been out there for over a decade. I'm shocked that people actually use this company-- they are not trustworthy. As far as I'm concerned, they are straight up thieves. (and I'd LOVE them to sue me for saying so-- I'd love to go to court on that issue.)

You do business with paypal, you do it at your own risk. They are not a reputable business.

I don't like Amazon (for a variety of reasons) but at least they are a reputable business. I have my beefs with other companies, but they aren't criminals.

Paypal is a criminal organization, as far as I'm concerned.

In the end, they managed to steal about $600 from me. (I was lucky it wasn't more.)

robomartin 11 hours ago 1 reply      
Many have commented on my suggestion that something as powerful as US Congressional action might be required to fix some of the totalitarian behavior of the internet giants.

I do realize that this is sort of thing often comes with collateral damage. I for one don't want to see government in my life. Their function is to do a few things, do them well and stay as invisible as possible. This is far from what we have today.

Yet I wrestle with this issue of monopolies, particularly when they behave as badly as PayPal, Google, eBay and others seem to be doing with some frequency. Because they are monopolies they don't encounter any force that might compel them to fix some of these issues. Under a normal competitive environment participants would improve their offerings at many levels in order to gain points here and there. This would include improvements in customer service because this is most-definitely one item that could sway customers to use one service over the other. Examples of this effect abound.

However, once a monopoly takes root the leverage disappears. The company who owns the market can then focus its attention on activities and policies that benefit them the most. Customer service is hard and it is expensive. Internet companies would much rather have algorithms make decisions. These are cheap and you don't have to feed them. Here the decision is simple: If the collateral damage caused by the brutality of a system without any semblance of customer service is but a rounding error in our revenue: Go forth and prosper. And that's how you end-up with what we are seeing happen with alarming regularity today.

The fact that your business might go down in flames because of their algorithmic decisions is a rounding error in their revenue stream. Devoid of competition there is no incentive to expend any effort chasing after rounding errors.

And so I search for solutions and can't seem to find any. A startup to compete with PayPal? Google? eBay? Not likely. Huge barrier to entry. They are in-effect, monopolies. It could happen, but I would not bet on this approach.

How about a united front of users, bloggers, etc., making a lot of noise in very public ways? Hmmm. Well. If you are in good standing with PayPal and Google, do you want to risk the wrath of the machine and get banned for life? Because that is exactly what will happen in one way or another?

How about suing them? Same issue. You almost can't exist on the internet without using services from these giants. Who wants to risk their wrath? For example, I'd sue eBay and Paypal in a second if I had the financial support and had a reasonable good certainty of a positive outcome. They have both caused me damage in the past with unfair unilateral/totalitarian actions. The problem is that when you look around you can't find a solid way to replace them. I'm willing to bet that thousands upon thousands of people just take it on the chin and move on precisely because of this effect.

And so, that leads me to where I really didn't want to go: Governmental action. The only way to kick these giants in the nuts seems to be to meet force with force. As consumers of the services of monopolistic companies we have no leverage whatsoever. None. However, we do have the ability to get our government/s to take note and take action with overwhelming force. This is just about the only kind of fight that monopolies are afraid of. Everything else might very well be an exercise in futility.

So, how does one get the ball rolling on something like this? While I have not been affected at the level that some of these stories relate I've had enough of a taste of how these machines work to be very concerned that one day I could incur tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars of damage because of these unfair practices. I would prefer to see them corrected before that happens.

What's the consensus among HN users? Is this something worth pursuing?

Uchikoma 1 day ago 1 reply      
"I told her that the money generated by the pre-orders taken through the web site effectively pays for the production and distribution of the book [...]".

Same post as most of the time. Someone takes money through Paypal for a product that does not (yet) exist, without reading Paypals terms, then money gets frozen, then people start to cry.

PayPal Acceptable Use Policy:
"(d) are for the sale of certain items before the seller has control or possession of the item [...] collecting donations as a charity or non-profit organization"

Paypal terms (and here my English might not be good enough):
"Initiation of transactions considered to be cash advances or assisting in cash advances; [...] and listing items for sale that have a delayed delivery date of 20 days or more after the transaction list."

I also found that interesting: "Use of an anonymizing proxy;"

glimcat 1 day ago 3 replies      
A big part of the problem is that fraud prevention is HARD.

Worse, it's prone to expensive scaling laws, and more so if you want to catch edge cases, and much more so if avoiding false positives is critical.

Any PayPal successor which is successful enough to become an interesting target for fraud will have to deal with exactly the same problems, possibly causing service to break down in similar (or equally problematic) ways.

tibbon 1 day ago 2 replies      
You know how they call the founder of Paypal the "Paypal Mafia"? It makes me wonder if that wasn't just an endearing term, but somewhat hinted at the culture of shady business practices that is still prevalent in the organization.

I had Paypal instate a 21-day holding period on all money coming into my account for a while, making buying/selling of things (I sell X, and I buy Y as an upgrade) nearly impossible. I'd never had any refund problems on my account- ever. Emailing support got canned responses about how this is for my safety, and partially because I don't do regular business that they can pattern out on my account.

Then about 8 months later, they removed it. No reason why I was suddenly more safe than before. I've had the account over 10 years. Zero problems. Yet, they seemed to think there was a problem for a while.

ig1 1 day ago 1 reply      
Simple Rule: You can't take pre-orders (be it for physical products or events) via any kind of credit-card payment system without pre-agreement with your credit card processors.

If you fail to deliver the product then whoever processed the credit card orders is going to be on the hook for payments when the consumers run chargebacks. Obviously they don't want this risk.

So if you want to do this you need to come to an arrangement with your credit card company before-hand (for example letting them hold onto all the cash until you've delivered the goods).

mrb 20 hours ago 1 reply      
Bitcoin is generally misunderstood by the HN crowd, but this is precisely one of the problem it solves. If this guy had collected donations in bitcoins, nobody would have the technical ability to shut down his "Bitcoin account" because it "suspiciously received too much too quickly".

Don't downvote me. This is a true design principle about Bitcoin.

jakejake 18 hours ago 0 replies      
If some unusual activity triggers a warning, I don't mind PayPal putting an account up for review in order to keep the system safe. But they should do it quickly and provide some way for the account owner to see what's going on instead of just freezing the funds and going radio silent.

I'm sure one reason they move so slowly is to give everybody involved enough time to notice if money is missing and fraud has occurred. In which case PayPal will still have the money to issue a refund. I do appreciate that as a buyer. But as a seller, the way they're handing it can be disastrous for a business that is relying on their service.

Inane_Chatter 23 hours ago 1 reply      
This comment will no doubt drift out of sight, however:

Whenever this perennial "PayPal screwed us out of X monies" comes up (and I've seen it about 7 times in the last 3 years), no-one seems willing, or able, to actually understand why it happens.

It's this simple:

PayPal is an American company, and so has to obey US law, and in particular, financial regulations over money laundering.

[i]Section 351: Amendments Relating to Reporting of Suspicious Activities

This Section expands immunity from liability for reporting suspicious activities and expands prohibition against notification to individuals of SAR filing. No officer or employee of federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial governments within the U.S., having knowledge that such report was made may disclose to any person involved in the transaction that it has been reported except as necessary to fulfill the official duties of such officer or employee.

Section 352: Anti-Money Laundering Programs

Requires financial institutions to establish anti-money laundering programs, which at a minimum must include: the development of internal policies, procedures and controls; designation of a compliance officer; an ongoing employee training program; and an independent audit function to test programs.

Section 356: Reporting of Suspicious Activities by Securities Brokers and Dealers; Investment Company Study

Required the Secretary to consult with the Securities Exchange Commission and the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve to publish proposed regulations in the Federal Register before January 1, 2002, requiring brokers and dealers registered with the Securities Exchange Commission to submit suspicious activity reports under the Bank Secrecy Act.

Section 359: Reporting of Suspicious Activities by Underground Banking Systems

This amends the BSA definition of money transmitter to ensure that informal/underground banking systems are defined as financial institutions and are thus subject to the BSA.[/i]


PayPal is legally required to both freeze accounts for review under the Patriot act when large sums of money quickly flow into accounts from non-US sources, [b]and[/b] legally required not to disclose the reasons for freezing said funds.

There's plenty more regulations for companies out there, however it amuses me no end to see the short-sighted band-wagon get going.

If you're ignorant of the way these companies work, and even worse, ignorant about what the [i]law of your own country[/i] demands of companies, then please: do the world a favour, and step out of the discussion.

Or, you know, protest against the people who wrote the Patriot Act.

/looking on with amazement

jasonlotito 1 day ago 0 replies      
For some reason (maybe it's the fact that I'm currently reading 11/22/63), a picture of a battered wife staying with her abusive husband comes to mind.
zrgiu_ 23 hours ago 0 replies      
Paypal once froze my account too (it had about $3000 in it then). I got it solved over the phone in about a week, but the customer service was really really hard to work with. And here's an anecdote:

When I called the customer service for the first time, gave them a few details, up until the point I was from Romania.. their (clearly shocked) reaction: "Aaah, you're from Romania ? Let me redirect you to our India office". WHAT ?!? Are you kidding me ? Romania was in the European Union back then already, and I was already assigned to the Ireland branch of Paypal (an email about that was sent).

mrkmcknz 1 day ago 2 replies      
This is why I can't wait for a Square or Stripe in the UK. At the moment you have PayPal as your only option to take payments rapidly for say a quick idea you have had and want to hack up.
spurgu 1 day ago 4 replies      
Are there any decent alternatives to Paypal btw?
conradfr 1 day ago 2 replies      
"you are now at the mercy of the customer service representative, who is asked to make “a judgment call.”

Wrong, the CSR never makes judgment. This is for services like Account Review. So you can yell at or sweet talk to the guy on the phone, it won't change much.

Anyway it's sad that PayPal shows almost no progress year after year to handle legitimate "small" business, especially when they cancel transactions of goods already delivered. But people need to READ THE TOS. We're talking about MONEY, being on a shiny Internet website does not change that fact.

damian2000 23 hours ago 0 replies      
We all accept that Paypal probably have a hard job to weed out frauds etc, but they could improve things immensley by just making sure their phone support people do not patronise and talk down to customers when they freeze their funds. I had a frozen payment once and the needless beauracracy and petty attitude coming out of those Paypal phone operators is truly mind blowing. If you ever have to deal with this sort of situation it just turns you right off PayPal altogether.
danbmil99 18 hours ago 0 replies      
If Paypal was taking, say, 0.2% commissions, I could understand this attitude. At close to 4%, they need to man up and pay for experienced CS reps with discretion to put things right when their systems slam down on someone who isn't actually running a Nigerian ponzi scheme.
MRonney 11 hours ago 0 replies      
PayPal is what happens when you have a completely unregulated financial industry. They act like a bank, but they have no responsibilities like a bank. Somebody needs to find out what PayPal 'is' and slot it under some existing regulatory agency.
EREFUNDO 1 day ago 0 replies      
Fraud is hard especially for a small eCommerce store because of chargebacks. Unlike a brick and mortar store who can show the credit card association physical receipts with signatures, a video recording of a customer purchasing an item from a store, or ask a customer for an ID, online merchants can only show shipping receipts. These are often not enough. Chargeback policies are skewed towards buyers. The funny part is that this is only mostly true in the US, Canada, and Europe. If you're a credit card owner from another country (especially in Asia) it is very difficult to file for a chargeback.
Porter_423 1 day ago 0 replies      
I have also faced this type of problem with pay pal before.I don't know why they are repeatedly doing this with their costumers.Its totally injustice.
wilfra 1 day ago 2 replies      
Pay for a domain name or web development with PayPal and the person flat out scams you and PayPal will do nothing about it. Nor punish the person who stole your money. They'll just quote you the section of their terms that says virtual goods are not covered and close your case.

Unfortunately they are a necessary evil until somebody disrupts them.

bhb916 1 day ago 1 reply      
I believe that Paypal (and judging by the comments above: banking institutions and credit card companies) are going to these customer-service-destroying efforts at fraud prevention because the regulatory environment forces them to do so.

If so, lets put aside the question of whether it is "right" to put the responsibility of service abuse on the service provider, but instead ask the question: is any of this really in our best interests? It seems to me that a consumer population would be better served by not being artificially protected and thus completely off-guard when they do get caught in a scam. Any payment processed online should be done with the same amount of wariness and forethought that a purchase at a brick-and-mortar retailer would be.

Now, it's possible that I'm wrong here and Paypal is actually doing all of this as some sort of verification service to provide a fraud-free environment for payers (i.e. paying with paypal will never be a scam). If that's the case , then this is a really ineffective way of going about it. It seems like a great deal more upfront investigation and analysis would be appropriate. I would take some of the peer-to-peer lending services as a model.

jackreichert 1 day ago 0 replies      
it seems that the second top google suggestion for the words "is there an alternative" continues "to paypal" #justsayin
sadris 1 day ago 3 replies      
Why is it everyone assumes that making a pity post on the internet will fix their issues with PayPal? File a suit in a small claims court if you want some relief.
epikur 1 day ago 0 replies      
It seems like the guy writing the book should try Kickstarter instead.
Here is why vim uses the hjkl keys as arrow keys catonmat.net
464 points by freestyler  4 days ago   97 comments top 21
jgrahamc 4 days ago 5 replies      
Doesn't this go way back though?

The reason that keyboard had those arrows keys on it was because those keys correspond to CTRL-H, J, K, L and the CTRL key back then worked by killing bit 6 (and bit 5) of the characters being typed.

The effect was that H which is ASCII 0x48 would become 0x08 which is backspace. If you look at an ASCII table (e.g. http://www.asciitable.com/) you will notice how the uppercase ASCII letters line up nicely with the control characters so that just dropping bit 6 will get you there. Same thing with the lowercase (drop bits 5 and 6) and you are on the control characters.

The CTRL-H, J, K, L therefore correspond to BS, LF, VT, FF. BS is backspace (i.e. left), LF (down), VT is vertical tab (so up) and FF is form feed (which in this case takes you up). I'm not sure why FF was used for up.

This is also why CTRL-I is tab, CTRL-D ends a communication. All of that goes back to teletype days. Also for telnet users out there you'll see that CTRL-[ lines up nicely with ESC. And when you see a ^@ being printed on the terminal you can see why it corresponds to a null byte.

One other interesting thing about ASCII: uppercasing and downcasing can be done by twiddling a single bit.

If you look at this picture of an ASR-33 Teletype you'll see that come of the control characters on the keyboard correspond to those in the ASCII set. This is because ASCII evolved from the earlier teletype character sets: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/0b/ASR-33_2....

rauljara 4 days ago  replies      
Most of the answers I've seen as to why hjkl have fallen into the "so your fingers stay on the home row / it's actually quite fast once you get used to it" realm. But those answers were never completely satisfactory to me. Once you get used to it, it's fine. But I feel like it would have been fine as adsw, or jkl; (so that your hand really is on the home keys) or some other 4 key combination near the home row, too.

This explanation of the origin hjkl is the first one to satisfy me. Now I can see the others, not as explanations as to why it is, but explanations as to why it stuck.

ajays 4 days ago 2 replies      
Oh lord! I remember these unibody terminals. I had to use the Volker-Craig VC4404 . That thing was built like a tank. You had to hammer at the keys with great force. Soon one got into the habit of hammering on the keys all the time.

And then one day I walked into the lab with shiny new VT-100 terminals with their soft keys; but started hammering on them by habit. And everybody turned around and looked at me as if I was possessed..... :-D

wavetossed 4 days ago 2 replies      
ADM3a was a terminal, not a computer. I used to use these two in around 1976 or so. And the hjkl pattern has nothing to do with this or any other terminal. The ASCII control codes for Ctrl-H, Ctrl-J, Ctrl-K and Ctrl-L were used to make the Teletype's printing carriage move left, down, up or right. Bill Joy's innovation was "modes" so that Ctrl-H did not delete the character when it moved left, etc...
robtoo 4 days ago 2 replies      
It would have been a lot more useful if the link had said how/why the ADM-3A used hjkl as cursor keys.
jff 4 days ago 0 replies      
I've got one of those sitting in my spare room... I'd be using it right now were it not for a busted flyback, which emits a whine capable of giving me a headache within 15 minutes. It's really a rather nice terminal, with an oddly attractive screen font and a keyboard that is well-suited to UNIX.

The coolest part is that there is no microprocessor, just a bunch of 7400 series ICs and some DIP switches to configure things.

ldh 4 days ago 1 reply      
I worry that the tone of the article seems dismissive of the choice that went into mapping those keys to arrow directions in vi ("That's the whole story"). As if to say it was mere happenstance that vi uses hjkl, and any other outcome was equally likely.

It seems more the case that the designers of that computer chose those particular keys on the basis of a desire for efficiency that vi also followed, so there was no need to create a new convention.

ehsanu1 4 days ago 2 replies      
If anyone is apprehensive about vim's hjkl keys, and you like the arrow keys better, you can use ijkl instead and get all the benefits of the muscle memory you have built up for arrow keys, while still keeping your hands on the home row. Use this mapping:

    " remap h to i and use ijkl for inverse T cursor movement
map k g<Down>
map i g<Up>
map j <Left>
noremap h i

Then the 'i' key will be replaced by 'h'. So press 'h' to insert, or for inner selections, instead of 'i'. Also note the 'g' for up/down motions, which means it won't skip the wrapped part of lines - just remove the 'g' if you don't like that.

If you're worried this breaks anything else, I've had this interfere with just one other thing: a plugin that let me select text based on indentation of the line the cursor was on, but I made a few minor changes to the vimfile for the plugin and fixed that pretty easily. The other thing is that random servers won't have these mapped, but just copy the config over if you'll be doing a lot of text editing on that server. Otherwise, you can just fall back to using hjkl awkwardly.

pigs 4 days ago 1 reply      
Perhaps just as enlightening is the location of the Esc key (to the left of Q):
ajross 4 days ago 1 reply      
The ADM-3A was a dumb terminal (well, it had to have had some level of screen addressibility, but was definitely not ANSI-compatible), not a computer. They were sold as kits, and about 1/3 the price of a VT-100. I remember reading somewhere that they were the first glass teletypes available to the BSD folks, and Bill Joy wrote vi purely because it allowed him to monopolize one for his own use.
ef4 4 days ago 0 replies      
You will find similar reasons for why Emacs chose many of its common keys if you examine the [Space Cadet keyboard](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space-cadet_keyboard) for which it was designed.

All those awkward Control reaches originally laid comfortably under the thumbs.

danso 4 days ago 0 replies      
I wonder if being right-handed also affected that choice...either the vim implementation or the hjkl keys as arrow keys.
pacoverdi 4 days ago 1 reply      
Another reason to use HJKL is that over a 1200bauds line, it is faster to send a single byte than the 3 bytes generated by the arrow keys (^[[D^[[A^[[B^[[C)
afterburner 4 days ago 0 replies      
So, since the vast majority of users didn't start out on that keyboard, the reason to keep doing it that way now is: tradition.
saddino 4 days ago 0 replies      
Wait, I thought Rogue popularized hjkl? ;-)
SkyMarshal 4 days ago 1 reply      
I'm actually glad it worked out that way, I hate using the regular, out-of-the-way arrow keys. They're even more annoying than the mouse.
phzbOx 4 days ago 0 replies      
Wow, thanks for sharing this. I really thought it was for efficiency. (Well, it is also, obviously).
rabidsnail 4 days ago 0 replies      
That is the coolest looking thing with a keyboard I've ever seen. I want one.
hallnoates 4 days ago 3 replies      
This feature of vi/vim along with not being able to save and quit as quickly as I can in emacs (ctrl-s ctrl-x, baby, none of that :q! shite) is the reason I use emacs. I totally respect those that use vim, but I'm not a freaking machine.
truncate 3 days ago 0 replies      
I'm used to H, J, K, L now. But when I wasn't aware of the history of vi, I always wondered why on earth he didn't use J, I, K, L!
artursapek 4 days ago 0 replies      
That's a pretty sexy terminal.
A Dad's Plea To Developers Of iPad Apps For Children smashingmagazine.com
454 points by pascal07  1 day ago   187 comments top 34
veidr 1 day ago  replies      
I'm curious: don't any other people here think 2-year-old kids shouldn't be playing iPad games at all?

I'm convinced that watching TV is harmful to a child's intellectual development. (And there's an established body of evidence to support that.)

As a kid, I hated my hippie Montessori teacher mom for allowing me only one hour of TV per week as a kid in the late 70s and early 80s (elementary school; I usually chose the Duke boys, and later Knight Rider). But, as an adult, I cite it often as one of the things I admire most about the way she raised me (no limits on books, nor daytime outdoor play after school, nor building things), especially after coming to understand how much easier it is to set a precocious and hyper wild little monkey in front of the boob tube so the parents can get a couple hours of peace.

I do think video games (especially good ones) are probably much less harmful than TV, and that they do even have some net positives for the user, in terms of developing various human abilities (cognitive and otherwise). But isn't two years old too young? Shouldn't kids of that age, instead of learning in-game physics, be learning real physics? Like with balls, marbles, and blocks, running and falling down, and not with animated honeypots and flying unicorns?

My own kid won't be here for a few more months, so I'm not preaching; just honestly asking. I know little kids love iPad games... but they love eating sugar cubes, too.

adriand 1 day ago 5 replies      
I actually had to get a refund from Apple for an in-app purchase my son made while using Talking Tom Cat (I since deleted that app and turned off in-app purchases).

I've got two kids and what I would add to the observations listed in this article are as follows (these apply to any app that is intended for kids, but also apps where a significant section of the userbase might be kids - for example, my four-year-old is quite adept at Plants vs. Zombies, and given the depth of strategy utilized in that game I don't feel bad when he plays it):

1. No part of the application should require that you can read in order to use it or navigate it.

2. Don't pop up dialogs that a child cannot understand. For example, I watched as my child, while using an app intended for children, pressed "OK" on a dialog that asked if he wanted to turn on push notifications. That's just ridiculous! He'll press "OK" on any dialog because he just wants it to go away.

3. This really applies to all applications, but it becomes very apparent when watching a child use an app: the most desirable menu items should be larger and/or differently coloured than the least desirable ones. I.e. "Play" should be a big, brightly coloured button, while "Settings" should be small and tucked away.

4. Don't make it easy to do destructive things like delete accounts. This might seem obvious, but I have more than once opened an app only to find that my progress in it had vanished because my child had deleted my account (Plants vs. Zombies makes this too easy, for example).

5. On any app that has the potential to be enjoyed by both kids and adults, consider providing a kid-friendly mode that makes the game easier.

6. I don't know how difficult this is from a development perspective, but if possible, make the app resistant to having non-active fingers touching the screen while active fingers are attempting to use it. Kids will often grasp devices, especially phones, in such a way that fingers from (say) their left hand are touching the screen, and on some apps this causes them to cease responding to touch events from their other (right) hand.

7. If your app produces revenue through advertising, it probably shouldn't be marketed at young kids. Kids will press on the advertising and will just get frustrated when they arrive on a webpage somewhere, and adults will eventually delete the app because we don't want our kids feeling frustrated.

aculver 1 day ago 2 replies      
When we developed Aeir Talk, an speech pathology app for children with Autism, we locked the setup screen (where parents can customize the cards, pictures, and audio) behind a nondescript "Setup" button in the title bar. When tapped, it does practically nothing: It changes to describe to parents how they can unlock the setup screen: "Press While Holding 'Please'", referring to a button on the other side of the screen that is part of the apps regular function. Compared to other touchable elements in the app, the button provides very little feedback, so kids largely ignore it. The gesture requires two hands, tapping two parts of the screen at the same time, so it's unlikely for children to end up in there by accident. You can see a video of this workflow at http://aeirtalk.com/ .
S_A_P 1 day ago 2 replies      
I think in app purchases for apps targeting users under 13 is a really bad idea. Even if there isn't some dark premise behind it, I feel like an asshole every time I tell my son "no" I wont buy you extra {whatever} for your game at just 2.99. Kids games should be reasonably priced(0-5 dollars) and not monetize with ads or upsells.
pessimist 1 day ago 1 reply      
My 5 year old has been using his iPad since he was 4, and we've encountered all these problems and more. The funny thing though is that he learnt to work around all of them! Accidentally presses menu, after a couple of times he learns what to do.

I think these obstacles of bad design are just more little puzzles for children. As parents we shouldnt obsess about having a perfect environment for our kids.

On the other hand, what really bugs me is when educational apps can be easily gamed. The math bingo app was completely useless once my son figured out he could solve it by randomly banging on cells and would eventually win. A lot more effort should go in to designing apps so that the child learns something real, as opposed to just learning to play the game.

huhtenberg 1 day ago 2 replies      
Spot on regarding the in-app purchases.

I have a rule of giving 1 star rating to any kid's game that has them regardless of how well it's done and if my kids actually enjoy the non-gimmicky part. Milking parents by making their kids beg and nag them is an unethical way to earn money.

coob 1 day ago 0 replies      
On in-app purchases:

We have an app that is targeted at kids aged 3-5 (I don't work directly on it). It is currently in the top 10 free education apps and regularly holds a spot in the top 5 grossing education apps in the UK (we currently only have UK audio). It has an average rating of 4.5 stars, with over 100 genuine 5 star reviews from satisfied parents.

The app is split into 10 topics, with the first free. The rest can be unlocked for $13.99.

It uses in-app purchasing as providing the app for free with the first section available to all is the best way we can show off our product. It isn't targeted at the kid, it is aimed at the parent of the child. In no way do we try and trick anyone into a purchase.

This approach has been overwhelmingly successful.

I honestly think the app would've got nowhere if we'd stuck it up there as a paid app for $13.99. We could have gone for separate apps, but that's much harder to maintain and market (trust me - the product I work on has over 100 versions on the app store, we're migrating to 1 with iAP).

ctdonath 1 day ago 0 replies      
Make it easy for a kid to do what s/he wants, and hard to do what s/he doesn't. Anything which disrupts the play is bad, and the worst is transitions to the App Store (kid has no idea what is going on, just that something wonderful went away for no apparent reason).

I'll pay for toddler versions which go all out to avoid anything but core simple fun play. If anything short of pressing Home means the kid has to hand me the tablet to "fix it", I want my money back.

seclorum 1 day ago 8 replies      
I really, really, really wish there was some way to disable the Home button on my iPad.

My 19-month old and 4-year old kids, who absolutely love to sit with me and play with the iPad, simply find it irresistible to press that button. And when we're watching a movie, its a sure-fire way to ruin the whole experience. If it were lockable so that it didn't do anything, they wouldn't press it.

Come to think of it, the sliding-lock switch could be used for so much more. I just don't get why I can't lock the touch-screen so that it doesn't react to things - okay I understand why Apple want to keep touch enabled at all times, but why can't this be an option? (Is it an option and I'm just clueless to know? No jailbreak-solutions, please..)

Anyway, that one issue is an almost definite deal-breaker for us when it comes time to have some iPad time. It doesn't take long before the kids lose interest, because they press that button, the app dies, and then they're in the home-screen game, where not much exciting stuff happens (unless they make the icons jiggle and press the little X's, then Daddy gets very excited..)

That said, I like this article - because I'm working on a game for kids too, and the point about the bottom area of the screen being a no-no for navigation buttons is a really good point. My kids have learned to press anything and everything they can, and the kids game I'm working on is essentially a plethora of weird and fun things to press and interact with, but there will have to be some sort of trick for navigation that makes equal sense in the mind of a 4 year (and 2 year) old, as it does for a 40 year old. Talk about your tricky software problem!! :)

jessegavin 1 day ago 0 replies      
I LOVE the points made in this post. I would two other observations:

1) Make sure your app has lightening fast response for touch events.
Kids are smart, they expect that when they click a button, something should happen. If it takes over 250ms, my kid thinks it's broke and will start clicking it repeatedly.

2) Always use "onTouchDown" instead of "onTouchUp" when handling simple presses.
My kid doesn't always release his finger after touching a button and when nothing happens, he thinks he needs to touch the button repeatedly. If the developers targeted the "Touch Down" event instead of "Touch Up" my kid wouldn't have learned this behavior.

vibrunazo 1 day ago 1 reply      
I find interesting his insistence that we should avoid buttons and menus on the bottom of the screen. This is extremely important, not only for kids apps. But I find that problem specially disturbing on the Android OS.

Pretty much everyone I hand my Android Tablet to, when they're not used it. Will instantly hit the home or back button by accident after 5 seconds of holding. Then hand it back to me with a negative impression "I think I hit something bad". After I explain where the menus are, and how to avoid them. They'll often still repeat the mistake a few more times before either getting used to it, or just getting bored.

So for our apps. I'd advise to avoid any page switching buttons in the bottom like it was the plague. Even if it's not a kids app.

marcusf 1 day ago 1 reply      
One company that does this exceedingly well, me thinks, is Toca Boca. In a sense, they don't make iPad games, they make iPad toys. But kids respond to the toys, and enjoy them.

Slightly unrelated, their CEO has a good talk on the way to figuring out that they should make kids toys: http://vimeo.com/30743193

celticninja 1 day ago 2 replies      
If your app for children includes in-app purchases I will delete it as soon as I realise. At present this is just a frustration for my 2 year old as he doesnt understand why the game is no longer on the screen, but as he gets older he is more likely to try and pester me into buying. Not Going To Happen, plus I will leave a 1 star review of your app based on in app purchases alone.

iPads and iPhones are not bought by children, they are ocassionally givent o children to use for a while, as such apps should not seek to bill parents because their kids pushed the worng button or I gave them the iPad too soon after downloading a new app (and thus entering the password).

orbitingpluto 1 day ago 0 replies      
I've worked on a children's app for Android where the client wanted advertisements moved from the main screen (where parents would see it) to the content screen (accidental clicks only from children). That change in design made the client "dead to me" especially when they next wanted me to work on another child app where the business model was:

Fooling children into initiating SMS charges against the phone.

ja27 1 day ago 4 replies      
Generally good advice. Play-testing with young kids is a big help.

I also don't like an app that has the kid shake the iPad (or iPhone) a lot.

I'm torn on the "Don't trick my kids into buying stuff" one. I've seen a lot of crappy apps (and even well-built Smurfy-Smurf ones) that are just funnels to in-app purchases. But I've also seen parents leave outraged reviews because a developer dares to have in-app purchases for additional content in his free app. Or they turn their nose up at paying $1.99 for an iPad app. The world doesn't owe you free high-quality kids' apps. Go ahead and funnel your kid's allowance into iTunes credit now and use it to get them to clean their room.

tvon 1 day ago 1 reply      
I get irked enough when a non-kids app keeps prodding me towards in-app purchases, I'd be pretty livid if I found out a for-kids app was doing it.
justinchen 1 day ago 0 replies      
Also, don't pop up iOS notifications. 2 year olds can't read them and they're hard to dismiss.
mwidarto 1 day ago 1 reply      
I develop an educational app geared for kids and just like some of the people here. I dislike ads, in app purchase, external link etc so I made sure that my app doesn't have any of those and price it at $0.99. I keep updating it based on user feedback to make the app better.

It's good to read that there are a lot of parent here that say they won't purchase any app with ads and/or inapp purchases for their kids but I think majority of the people don't care.

Most of the top 15 apps in my app category/subject are free with ads and/or in app purchases. They can afford to make it free because they make money from ads/in-app purchases and because they're free they get a lot more download that keeps their ranking higher burying app like mine.

It's hard to compete in that kind of condition but I for now, I can't see my self using ads/in-app purchases in any of my app. I will try to compete by bringing better qualities apps.

Dove 1 day ago 1 reply      
I disagree slightly with the Affordance Is King point. You should identify the hot spots on the screen, but you should also reward childish exploration. I think most of the screen should be hot. Pretty much everything should be a target, and they should all be big. "Animals For Toddlers" (Eiswuxe) does this well (and is just plan excellent all around, by the way).

I also disagree with the advice that arrows are best for pagination; I think he's overgeneralizing. My toddler is great at swipes, and still doesn't use arrows well. Broader testing may be a good idea here, and implementing multiple paradigms might be the answer.

The bit about not putting the menu on the bottom of the screen is good, though. The kids apps I have on my (Android) tablet often disable the soft button menu and implement their own elsewhere. Of particular note is the pull-down-from-a-collapsed-bar-at-the-top pattern, which my son seems to know how to not get into. Or at least get out of.

And that bit about ads and in-app payments is right on the money. I've bought a few apps for him after seeing he likes the free version, but the ones that result in him launching dating sites get uninstalled fast.

jjcm 1 day ago 0 replies      
This is great feedback. Right now I'm trying to finish our first book for http://non.io site isn't complete yet, but it will still give you an idea of the core concept), and one of my considerations was ensuring that the app was child friendly. At the end of the day, there will be options and components that are for parents only. Ensuring that a.) they're still prominent enough for parents to see at some point, and b.) that they're out of reach of children is a difficult balancing act. Does anyone know of or have any suggestions of apps who have done this correctly? I only have two components that are for parents - a donation form and an email signup form on the last page. Right now they're disabled until you select a checkbox that says "I'm an adult". Would love to get more feedback on this though.
thesis 23 hours ago 0 replies      
The in app purchasing on Androids needs to be stopped or at the very least prompt a password entry. I downloaded Bug Village (Glu Mobile) on my Android for my 4 year old son, and about 2 hours later I noticed around $320 on 3 purchases (I think 2 149.99 and 1 19.99 or something around that). I contacted Glu immediately asking for it to be voided/refunded. They told me to contact my bank and charge them back.

I hope they enjoyed the chargeback fees. Now nothing gets downloaded with in app purchasing in it.

mpstx 1 day ago 1 reply      
A plea to parents purchasing iPad Apps for children:

Stop buying apps that do stuff like this.

If you see that an app has a $99 in-app berry purchase, don't download or buy it.

If you see that an app encourages children to poke and sling animals and destroy things, don't buy it.

Do a small bit of research to see if the app was designed with your child's age in mind. Buy apps from trusted sources like http://tocaboca.com/ , http://piikeastreet.com (disclosure:that's me), http://www.duckduckmoosedesign.com/ , etc.

If you buy more of the good stuff, there will be more good stuff to buy!

jljacques 14 hours ago 0 replies      
To all those who are claiming that the use of iPads will be detrimental to the health of their children. Please read this article: http://techland.time.com/2012/02/22/new-study-finds-ipads-in...
tocomment 1 day ago 1 reply      
I would add that kids hold the side of the iPad. So don't count that as a touch.

In fact my daughter hasn't figured out to use one finger so if you can hack the touch interface to ignore stray fingers or hands that would be great.

Also if you ate presenting some kind of activity that two people could conceivabley do at once eg building blocks, moving shapes around allow two fingers to mover separate objects at once. The same thing with drawing.

mathattack 17 hours ago 0 replies      
Great post! The comments about persuasive ads hits home. Another frustration is sales messages on the startup screen. Once a game requires too much parental interaction to back out purchase requests I delete it.
terrapinbear 1 day ago 0 replies      
I think this applies to any tablet app. Smart phone apps need to avoid having buttons near my thumb that I can accidentally push.
stusmith1977 1 day ago 0 replies      
Reminds me of a friend who used to run IT for a school, telling me the feature he looked for in educational software was greying out the 'print' button for 30 seconds after it had been clicked. Otherwise, the scenario was: kid clicks 'print', looks at printer, sees nothing coming out (maybe the printer is out of paper, or warming up, or whatever). So kid just keeps clicking 'print'. Result: when printer finally comes online, it wastes reams of paper printing dozens of copies of the document in the queue.
antonyh 1 day ago 1 reply      
Is there a way of stopping accidental taps on the lower part of the screen? Android is bad for this, with back/home buttons in the corner.

Perhaps some sort of elasticated non-capacitive fabric barrier wrapped around the device that can be moved when it's needed?

antonyh 1 day ago 0 replies      
The other aspect of design that needs to be taken into account is the size of the tap area - you don't have to make the buttons huge, but the responsive area should be larger for younger audiences and with more spacing between controls.
dwinston 1 day ago 0 replies      
The idea that "nagging works" is widely used to craft advertising for children's television (source: The Corporation (film)). Is the march toward such advertising in this nascent children's entertainment medium inexorable?
Kilimanjaro 1 day ago 0 replies      
I always asked myself why there isn't a KIDS category in the AppStore.
antonyh 1 day ago 1 reply      
Also, which is better for kids - landscape or portrait? Has anyone seen a preference, or are all the apps landscape?
loftwyr 1 day ago 1 reply      
My only addition is to ask for a band on scroll bars in a kids app, especially on the bottom of the page.
xxiao 1 day ago 1 reply      
ipad kills kids' eyes.
i buy real books instead.
Viral Video About Body Scanners tsa.gov
443 points by maverhick  5 days ago   198 comments top 65
pg 5 days ago  replies      
There is something chillingly unconvincing about their attempts at informality.

Big Brother jokey is a lot more frightening than Big Brother bureaucratic or Big Brother bombastic. Too bad this insight wasn't available to Orwell or he could have made 1984 even scarier.

philk 5 days ago 4 replies      
If their security is as good as their blogging it's time to consider travelling by bus.

Also their "20 layers of security" chart[1] is an unintentionally hilarious masterpiece. Note the arrow they've drawn circumventing every layer of security apart from passengers. So really, we can't say they didn't warn us.

[1] http://www.tsa.gov/what_we_do/layers/index.shtm

suprgeek 5 days ago 1 reply      
This has got to be one of the stupidest and (unintentionally) scary responses ever to a serious attempt to question security.

- Ad-Hominem attacks on the person raising the questions

- No direct refutatio of the specific points raised in the Video

- Co-relation and causation confusion (we have found x hence we are effective against the things in the video)

- Pathetic attempt at informal tone of voice

- Appeal to Stats and big impressive numbers when none is justified

In short - Americans need to be really upset that their security is handled by these buffoons.

famousactress 5 days ago 8 replies      
Wow. This blog post makes me WAY more afraid of the TSA than the original video did. I can't wrap my head around the language used. "Things that go BOOM" ???!?!?! Are you fucking kidding me? These are the people that are supposedly acting in the interests of our safety? Disgusted.

Whoever wrote or approved this post ought to be fired. Fast.

rogerbinns 5 days ago 1 reply      
Guess how many of the people who work on the ground airside are scanned?

In any event the TSA is not taking enough credit here. Did you know their scanners have prevented meteorites? They have also prevented tiger attacks. Since installing them there has not been a single instance of meteorites hitting planes or tiger attacks on planes. I think the US government should borrow even more money so we can get them to also prevent giraffe attacks.

AgentConundrum 5 days ago 0 replies      
I can't believe that this is the official TSA blog. I can understand trying to take steps to avoid the usual ridiculously dry press release style articles that governments and big businesses normally have, but.. this was just unprofessional.

You have "Blogger Bob" telling us to ignore the video "some guy" made and that everything's fine because this is just one of the way they protect you from "things that go BOOM".

Also, the blog never disputes the video. There is no text that tries to say that the video was faked or anything, or provides any indication that the video and the vulnerabilities contained therein aren't exactly as they appear.

Finally, just because I'm feeling particularly nitpicky tonight: they're using Blogger's favicon and are hosted on Google's servers (DNS resolves to ghs.l.GOOGLE.COM). Maybe it's just me, but that strikes me as a touch unprofessional as well.

mrmaddog 5 days ago 1 reply      
2 days ago, from a BusinessWeek article about the author of the blog post:

“I call it the corny dad approach. I'm basically the Bob Saget of blogging,” the 41-year-old tells Bloomberg Businessweek. “This isn't really the most exciting subject, so I thought I should inject some personality into it.” Three years removed from working the security lines himself"he used to train TSA officers at the Cincinnati airport"Blogger Bob has clearly gained some perspective on the experience. [1]

Whether or not entertainment has a place in government blogging is an argument for another day, but I think we can all agree that under no circumstances should this type of blog post ever be allowed as an official government response.

[1] http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2012-03-05/why-cant-the...

thaumaturgy 5 days ago 3 replies      
I've never felt more like I was living in a prequel to Idiocracy than I did while reading that.
DevX101 5 days ago 1 reply      
I'm almost impressed by the linguistic gymnastics taken here to avoid saying outright that they got caught with their pants down.

The post concludes on an entirely unrelated point to the premise of the post

|Anybody can opt out of the body scanner for a pat-down.

Sure, I'm carrying in a gun in my shirt pocket I'd like to get on the plane. Let me just request the patdown to make sure I get caught.

aprescott 5 days ago 0 replies      
Astonishing blog post.

Imaging technology has been extremely effective in the field and has found things artfully concealed on passengers as large as a gun or nonmetallic weapons, on down to a tiny pill or tiny baggies of drugs.

This reminded me of part of the recent TSA Fail post by a former FBI agent.

Civil libertarians on both sides of the aisle should be appalled at an unauthorized use to which TSA is putting their screening: Identifying petty criminals--using one search method to achieve a secret goal. This is strictly forbidden in other government branches. In the FBI, if I had a warrant to wiretap an individual on a terrorism matter and picked-up evidence of a non-terrorism-related crime, I could not, without FBI Headquarters and a judge's approval, use that as evidence in a criminal case. But TSA is using its screening devices to carve out a niche business. According to congress, TSA began to seek out petty criminals without congressional approval. TSA have arrested more than 1,000 people on drug charges and other non-airline security-related offenses to date.


mcantelon 5 days ago 1 reply      
"Body scanners don't work, but we do other stuff too." Jesus.
mattdeboard 5 days ago 0 replies      
Beyond disturbing. Equivalent of, "u mad?" Rebuttal with no refutation. Embarrassing and useless, but just enough to placate the placid and ignorant.
stewbrew 5 days ago 2 replies      
It seems they don't watch German television shows: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nrKvweNugnQ
shingen 5 days ago 0 replies      
That last paragraph is a doozy.

Completely addresses privacy concerns; is completely safe; oh and hey, it's completely optional, assuming you don't prefer molestation and possibly randomly missing your flight.

maverhick 5 days ago 1 reply      
"around the interwebs" "baggies of drugs" "things that go BOOM"

Seems legit.

wpietri 5 days ago 0 replies      
Shorter TSA: We're not going to deny that this guy can bring whatever he wants through, but having screened 600m passengers in the last year, we did once find a gun and some drugs. So you're safe! And if you don't think a dose of radiation is a good trade for pretend security, you can always wait another 15 minutes for a grumpy person to grope you.
ghshephard 4 days ago 0 replies      
" down to a tiny pill or tiny baggies of drugs. "

Is this for real? When did the TSA start doing drug searches? Can they effect arrests?

I'll be honest - I'm a little shocked that a supposedly "official" blogging site is writing like a half-tweaked 13 year old and is bragging about doing drug searches at a supposed check for weapons.

It's also pretty irresponsible to make claims about the scanning system like, " It is completely safe " - I suspect that "Blogger Bob Burns" neither has the background, nor the authority to make such claims (let alone the knowledge). About all he(?) should be doing is suggesting which certifying authority has provided a clean-bill-of-health on their scanners.

All in all the most disturbing thing I've read in a couple weeks.

drivebyacct2 5 days ago 2 replies      
>It is completely safe and the vast majority use a generic image that completely addresses privacy concerns.

Well that makes me feel great. Guess they decided they been caught blatantly lying on that point before so they decided to reiterate it, just with sufficiently vague qualifiers.

toyg 5 days ago 0 replies      
Their "20 layers of security" reminds me of your usual "7 proxies" and "over 9000": meaningless over-the-top numbers with no relationship with reality.
eplanit 5 days ago 0 replies      
"tiny pill or tiny baggies of drugs" go BOOM?? I can't help but notice the glossing over of the mission creep.

[quote from article]
Imaging technology has been extremely effective in the field and has found things artfully concealed on passengers as large as a gun or nonmetallic weapons, on down to a tiny pill or tiny baggies of drugs. It's one of the best tools available to detect metallic and non-metallic items, such as… you know… things that go BOOM.

InclinedPlane 5 days ago 0 replies      
Number of terrorist attacks detected and thwarted by TSA measures since 2001: Zero

Number of terrorist attacks attempted since 2001 over US airspace: MORE THAN ZERO

newman314 5 days ago 0 replies      
The flippant behavior exhibited makes me both alarmed and angry.

Here's an interview with Blogger Bob that Google returned:

Apparently, being snarky on the government dime pays quite well. Dude appears to be rocking a Rolex.

tuxguy 5 days ago 0 replies      
As an Indian, i am always envious & jealous of how govt agencies & systems work so much better in the US than in India.
So i was really shocked to see this blog post, after the said govt agency's credibility has been seriously damaged (by the viral video)

"... things that go BOOM"

Are you f*ing kidding me ? Is that how a govt official is supposed to communicate ?
Leave alone the content, but the tone of the post is very crass, insensitive & insulting.

Unfortunately, this is becoming increasingly common, even in some of the most liberal cities in the US & the world.. San Francisco bay area.

Check out http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2890052 & http://bit.ly/bartisevil on the high-handedness of BART PD (Bay Area Rapid Transit)

jroseattle 5 days ago 0 replies      
Well, Bob (original author) -- as if the situation couldn't be more magnified, your post has simply added to the impression that the TSA is mostly public hand-waving in the place of real security.

"Crude" attempt? "you know… things that go BOOM"? I sincerely hope you take anyone's claim seriously, public or otherwise, that they can circumvent any security measure put in place by the TSA. The tone of your blog post smacks of disregard; if you thought it would invoke confidence on the part of the reader, you thought wrong.

The biggest defense put forth: well, we have other security detection methods so, hah!

Don't you get that the point about the body scanners is that they can be beaten? That they're superfluous to the security regimen? That if you can't defend them directly, they serve no real purpose? That's the point of the video, and it's completely lost on you (and obviously others for whom you speak.)

As is the impression among so many travelers, the TSA confuses "feeling safe" with "being safe" and it appears your post simply reinforces that view.

Visions of the SNL parody skit from years ago come to mind.

jcromartie 5 days ago 0 replies      
This is even worse than I thought the scanners were. THIS is what the operator sees? http://www.tsa.gov/approach/tech/ait/privacy.shtm

That means that it's a complete black-box and if you just beat the scanner's algorithms, you beat the scanner operators too.

What a complete and utter joke.

tsigo 5 days ago 2 replies      
If this weren't on a .gov site I'd think this was satire. As it is, it's just scary and sad.
RealAmerican 5 days ago 0 replies      
The really funny thing is that this guy is probably making between $93,00 - $142,000 (paid by us). Look at this job listing for a TSA program analyst: http://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/311287200

...with tasks like "You will develop and approve solutions to current and anticipated problems"

I think Blogger Bob is writing some of these job descriptions, too.

Makes me sick.

Here are the benefits Blogger Bob gets:
DHS offers competitive salaries and an attractive benefits package, including: health, dental, vision, life, and long-term care insurance; retirement plan; Thrift Savings Plan [similar to a 401(k)]; Flexible Spending Account; Employee Assistance Program; personal leave days; and paid federal holidays. Other benefits may include: flexible work schedules; telework; tuition reimbursement; transportation subsidies; uniform allowance; health and wellness programs; and fitness centers. DHS is committed to employee development and offers a variety of employee training and developmental opportunities. For more information, go to www.dhs.gov/careers and select "benefits."

tsaoutourpants 5 days ago 1 reply      
Blogger Bob is just another part of the TSA's layered approach to bullshitology. I'm glad it's transparent to all, and thank you again for covering this issue.
reader5000 5 days ago 1 reply      
Just astounding. As soon as I read "interwebs" I had to check to make sure this was an official communications channel of a Federal agency. Mind is blown. Is this the same level of people running the CIA/FBI? What is going on?
einhverfr 5 days ago 0 replies      
The blog article is extremely funny.

I keep thinking, "If this were a post by Microsoft about a security vulnerability report, I'd be in business doing Linux migrations for the rest of my life."

stretchwithme 5 days ago 0 replies      
yeah, get all your info about the government FROM the government. No conflict of interest there.

So, why did they defer those safety studies anyway? Just a scheduling conflict? Too busy with an election?

The things that we have to be subjected to just to satisfy campaign contributors.

otterley 5 days ago 0 replies      
... and nowhere do they deny that the method presented actually works.
shingen 5 days ago 0 replies      
The fascinating thing about their claimed 20 layers of security, is also that a failure by any single layer can result in a terrorist attack succeeding.

They surprisingly don't point that out. (har har)

ard0r 5 days ago 0 replies      
This is a non-serious response. I think I'm going to talk to my congressperson about this.
nagrom 5 days ago 0 replies      
The pie-chart on the delete-o-meter on that blog sidebar doesn't reflect the numbers underneath it. At present, there are 50k accepted comments and 17k deleted, but the deleted slice is much less than 25%.
reidmain 4 days ago 0 replies      
"For obvious security reasons, we can't discuss our technology's detection capability in detail"

Security through obscurity.

Are they afraid that if they disclose information people would somehow be able to find holes? If this is the case then why is this technology used? Why have gapping holes already been pointing out by numerous people?

Thinking that "the terrorists" don't have the ability to break this system without understanding the intricate details of it is just downright stupid.

presto8 5 days ago 0 replies      
I was at the airport last week and got randomly selected for the backscatter x-ray machine. I was told to remove everything from my pockets, including things that I would normally keep for going through a metal detector (passport, papers, wallet, etc.).

The scan went fine, but on the other side, the TSA agent noticed that due to the fold of my jeans, it looked like I had something in my pocket. He said he had to pat me down to make sure I didn't have anything in there.

Which made me seriously doubt the efficacy of the backscatter machines. What's the point of the machine if something could slip through that would still necessitate a physical body search?

Animus7 5 days ago 1 reply      
> For obvious security reasons, we can't discuss our technology's detection capability in detail...

The way I read it:

For obvious job security reasons, we can't discuss our technology's detection capability in detail...

Anyway, I sure feel safe knowing that the security of my life is entrusted to obscurity, and I'm thankful for the trolling TSA blog posts that remind me of this.

Uchikoma 5 days ago 0 replies      
The most interesting thing in that post was on what they focus. One would have that it was terrorism, but no, they spread their attention by looking for drugs with those body scanners. Feeling safe now.
methoddk 5 days ago 0 replies      
What an ignorantly worded blog post. By the TSA?! Come on.

If anything, this post does nothing but give the impression that the flaw in the scanners IS true.

ojosilva 5 days ago 0 replies      
To me the bad thing about the TSA, and counterterrorism in general, is that every day that goes by without an attack reinforces whatever methods and expenses they might incur.

But the worse is that only a terrible event could prove them wrong and stop the nonsense.

ryguytilidie 5 days ago 0 replies      
"We're actually safe, I'm not going to give any evidence of this, just trust me".

Seems fair.

gaius 5 days ago 1 reply      
Stand back people, TSA Blog Team is on the case!

More seriously, these jokers let terrorists waltz on board planes (e.g. The Shoebomber) and only the passengers, treated like criminals by TSA, stop them.

Time to send the rentacops back to the mall.

GBond 5 days ago 0 replies      
Tone is baffling... only explanation is the official blog is trying to spoof their spoof?

https://twitter.com/#!/tsagov (TSA satire)

mangoman 4 days ago 0 replies      
The post mentioned that the scanners are one of 20 layers of security and mentions Behavioral detection, Explosive Detection Canines, Federal Air Marshall etc as some of the other "layers" of security. I wanted to see what these 20 layers were, and I really didn't see anything that would "protect" against someone exploiting the scanners like the video demonstrated. In fact one of the "layers" of security was "Intelligence". How comforting. If you want to see some serious security theater, check out http://www.tsa.gov/what_we_do/layers/index.shtm.

This blog post is just feels forced, and makes me a little quesy...

xster 5 days ago 0 replies      
I have a feeling this response is doing them far more harm than good. It's just a simple admission that everything stated was true and I'm going to make it into a high school argument and call you some guy with some crude video that's irrelevant.
guynamedloren 5 days ago 1 reply      
Today, I am not proud to be an American. Thanks TSA.
marcamillion 5 days ago 1 reply      
This definitely looks like the beginning of the end for at least the body scanners.

If that video brought on so much heat that they had to respond like this and drop the ball so much, queue more public outrage and major back-pedalling in 3.....2.....1....

tnuc 5 days ago 0 replies      
I for one feel a lot safer thanks to this blog post from the TSA.

Keep up the great work TSA and thank you for putting my worries to rest.

Do I need to put sarcasm tags?

rythie 5 days ago 2 replies      
In any case, surely the weakest link is airports in less developed countries, which always seem to be much less secure to me.
grepherder 5 days ago 2 replies      
OK, I will play the devil's advocate.

Yes, he does not deny or dispute whether the method works as claimed.

The otherwise hip language is not helping nor does it sound sincere, I agree.

But, if we want to stay objective:

1) He describes the demonstration in the video as a "crude attempt", which is in certain ways true. Neither is the attempt too sophisticated, nor the documentation of it, or should I say especially the documentation. The video itself is lacking in scientific argumentation, and makes up for the lack thereof with unnecessary political rhetoric that I don't need to be fed to see the simple "flaw" he claims to have discovered - more about that now...

2) The person in the video may or may not be sincere about his claims, but he definitely is not the first person to point out this "flaw". It was known publicly for a very long time, and it is reasonable to assume people who developed and approved the system were well aware of it.

3) Everyone is pointing out that there is no attempt at a "scientific" refutation in the blog post. Well, he is right in stating that their claim never was that they can catch any single concealed object with the body scanner. I don't see what it is exactly that he needs to refute. It is indeed part of a layered system, and I can't see how anyone can disagree with this concept. I'm not saying the scanner is a reasonable layer or that it should stay - but if your argument is "it has to work 100% or it has to go", it is pretty weak. He doesn't really evade any serious accusation here - he simply points out the obvious and reinstates their claim: what was shown in the video is uninteresting, because the body scanner was never about catching metal boxes sewn to the side of a shirt with 98.5% confidence.

You can argue the body scanner is an economical disaster, dispute it on the basis of privacy or bring up health concerns, but I like to stay objective. There is nothing wrong with this post, as a response to the demonstration in the video, beyond the silly language.

functionoid 5 days ago 0 replies      
Tax payers money...billions...not sure what testing they did before buying or they knew it and still bought them because they got their cut.
plf 5 days ago 0 replies      
If there was any doubt as to whether the original technique described in the original video worked, this blog post has just confirmed it.
rbanffy 4 days ago 0 replies      
What shocks me most is the abundance of anonymous comments, probably fearful of how the TSA can make life miserable for them.
adrianwaj 5 days ago 0 replies      
Confidence Trickster Bob should go through a con artist scanner. It'd explode.
mattezell 5 days ago 0 replies      
It would appear that Wired came to the same conclusion as the blogger - http://www.reddit.com/r/politics/comments/qn0su/wiredcom_con...
warren-g 5 days ago 2 replies      
Not that I'm condoning the machines, and perhaps I'm missing something, but...

Couldn't this "vulnerability" be fixed if they took two scans? Take one of front/back (current approach) and then ask the person to turn 90 degrees and take another scan? to see the sides?

quink 5 days ago 0 replies      
Tagged this in delicious.

Wondering if it'll show up with my tags... http://delicious.com/quink

Can someone else tag it too with my tags and it might show up on their page...?

whalesalad 5 days ago 0 replies      
Uhh am I the only one here who isn't planning on reading too deeply into this? Seems like TSA got pwnt by lulzsec or anonymous?
justanotheratom 5 days ago 2 replies      
Can someone post a link to the viral video they are referring to? I can't seem to find it (I live in a cave).
brevityness 5 days ago 0 replies      
So, this is where our tax payers' money is going? Sigh.
CF_riseAbove 5 days ago 0 replies      
Methinks thou dost protest too much TSA
erode 5 days ago 0 replies      
I've never believed something less than the words in this blog post.
neilmiddleton 5 days ago 0 replies      
"things that go BOOM"
hgasdasdgdj 5 days ago 0 replies      
All the comments here sucks ass

"It's one of the best tools available to detect metallic and non-metallic items, such as… you know… things that go BOOM. "

If you shat out an emotion frmo that sentence, you too much of a baby to use the internet, LEAVE.

Pinterest, We Have a Problem whatblag.com
439 points by CMartucci  6 days ago   151 comments top 28
billpatrianakos 6 days ago 4 replies      
What we have here is manufactured outrage. Total non-story. I hope others don't start piling on now that this has been written.

The real deal is that Pinterest is screwed either way. These terms sound scary but so long as they are enforced sanely there should be no problem. What do you expect them to do? Assume liability for users posting content they should not be posting? They might as well not exist. A lot of startups these days may as well not even try to get traction as long as bloggers keep getting their panties in a twist over every TOS they see.

Pinterest provides a service for free that people seem to love. So long as no one is paying them and they haven't gone public they're damn smart to have these terms. If I ran Pinterest I wouldn't want to assume liability for some asshole who leaks a top secret photo on my site that I let him use for free and as long as I'm giving that service for free I'm going to make some cash out of my users. This is nowhere near evil. It's business. If someone doesn't like it they don't have to use it.

Question: How do you get over writer's block?
Answer: Start reading some terms of service or privacy policy docs from any popular online startup and manufacture some outrage over it. Truth is, if you read any TOS or privacy policy you're going to find something you can turn into a big deal most of the time. I've had it with the TOS/privacy policy outrage blogs.

jfarmer 6 days ago 3 replies      
I have one direct comment and one meta-comment about the issue of Pinteret and copyright.

First, I see no issue with their Terms of Service. That language is 100% cover-your-ass boilerplate, and any site that allows people to upload content will have a similar clause in their ToS. Facebook, YouTube, SoundCloud, etc. all do.

See, e.g., section 6.C of YouTube's ToS: http://www.youtube.com/static?gl=US&template=terms

If you find people are sharing your copyrighted material on Pinterest you should file a DMCA claim with them. That's how the mechanism is designed to work, for better or worse.

Second, when you react viscerally to what Pinterest is doing or enabling, think carefully about your opinion of YouTube. With respect to content, is there a substantive difference between these early days of Pinterest and the early days of YouTube?

The MPAA is probably saying, "See? You don't like it when it happens to you, either."

OneBytePerGreen 6 days ago 6 replies      
Pinterest has a market valuation of > 200 million dollars...

30%+ of its images are flickr images...

... 99%+ of which are "All Rights Reserved".

How many

... page views,

... new subscribers,

... and $$$

have the most-pinned flickr images generated for pinterest, with the author not seeing a single cent... not even having the satisfaction of seeing their popularity on pinterest reflect in their flickr stats?

And: Pinterest does not even have the decency to display the author name and license info next to the image.

Pinterest's business model is flawed; it is based on systematic violation of copyright. At some point, someone will start a class-action lawsuit and invite flickr photographers whose works got "pinned" to sign up, to reclaim part of that >$200 million pie.

In fact, this seems like a valid startup idea to me: Create a one-page website explaining to flickr users what has been going on. Do a systematic reverse image search to find out which authors have been affected and invite them to join.
Arrange with an interested lawfirm to get a % of their fee in exchange for delivering the list of potential plaintiffs.

yuvadam 6 days ago 10 replies      
Oh please, not again.

Absolutely any and every product you use has ridiculous Terms of Service.

These documents are drafted up by lawyers. Their job is not to please the end users who care to read through the legalese. Their job is to create a document that will protect the product vendor in court, if and when the time comes.

Lets put an end to finding eccentricities in ToSs/EULAs, it's getting kind of redundant. If this is some sort of game to see who can find the most absurd clauses in these documents, we're all losing.

aiscott 6 days ago 3 replies      
I'm an amateur photographer, and I wasn't too concerned about this until I read that by Pinning something, their TOS says I am granting them rights to sell my work.

I don't like that very much.

  By making available any Member Content through the Site,
Application or Services, you hereby grant to Cold Brew Labs
a worldwide, irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive,
transferable, royalty-free license, with the right to
sublicense, to use, copy, adapt, modify, distribute, license,
sell, transfer, publicly display, publicly perform,
transmit, stream, broadcast, access, view, and otherwise
exploit such Member Content only on, through or by means of
the Site, Application or Services.

The rest just seems like standard CYA stuff.

chrisacky 6 days ago 2 replies      
There was a similar HN post/Google+ post last week. I can't remember where I read it.

Something along the lines of an avid lawyer decided to kill her account because she read the ToS and drew exactly the same conclusions as what you had just wrote.

While it's quite easy to regard this as been a ticking timebomb, a few things to probably note.

If you are a photographer or someone who holds copyright in a work you would most likely just issue a DMCA.

Now, lets assume that you aren't content with that. You might argue that you have incurred losses and want some form of damages. You are first going to have to contact Pinterest to get the information of the user who has listed this said work. Are Pinterest goijng to give up this information so willingly? Probably not...

Alex3917 6 days ago 2 replies      
So you're claiming that pinterest should pay your legal bills for you? That's ridiculous. If you upload a photo that's copyrighted by someone else and get sued, why should pinterest foot the bill for that? There is no way the service would ever be viable under those conditions, because it would create an enormous moral hazard.
otterley 5 days ago 2 replies      
I am an attorney (and as far as I can tell, the author is not one, so take his "analysis" with a pillar of salt). This is not legal advice though.

With respect to the following paragraph:

"So, if you snap an awesome photograph, upload it to your blog, and someone pins it, that person is either (1) claiming exclusive ownership of it; or (2) giving Pinterest your consent to reproduce it (and you just thought you were being flattered)."

Actually, no. You can't transfer a right you don't have. All rights to a work are vested in the author of a protected work; only the author can consent to any of the activities protected by copyright.

It's just like selling a house you don't own. First, you're committing fraud if you falsely represent that you have the right to sell it; and second, the actual owner isn't bound by anything you have done (the deed doesn't go to the putative buyer).

fotoblur 5 days ago 0 replies      
Pinterest and Tumblr are by far the worse offenders when it comes to sharing content from other providers as its not 100% clear, or sometimes elusive, on how visitor can view the original content. Its as if these sites are cutting content providers out of the loop which is like throwing out the baby with the bathwater. They are essentially going to injure the entire ecosystem of sharing if they keep up with these practices (http://www.sv411.com/index.php/2012/02/pinterest-gets-caught...).

What's worse is that these shady sharing practices have begun to support a broader ecosystem of image finding scavengers such as http://www.whattopin.com (see below).

Here is a support ticket we received today at Fotoblur which illustrates the problems we are seeing (a bit of broken English but you get the picture):

"I am user the http://www.fotoblur.com/portfolio/agnieszkabalut?p=1&id=...
Another user Elinka used my photo art- senza titolo2 by Agnieszka Balut.......
(via Elinka) in the web-site http://www.whattopin.com/topic/photography/?id=283634 - Printerest (commercial use)

and in the
http://elinka.tumblr.com/post/18734723798/senza-titolo2-by-a... without my permission.

All my images are protected by Copyright (reproduction and printing). All images on these are the exclusive property of Agnieszka Balut and protected by the Copyright . Therefore prohibited the publication and reproduction without written permission from Agnieszka Balut. Any violation will be prosecuted."

As you can see, this type of sharing confuses people. We usually explain "fair use" to them but they really don't care. They feel they have rights and they want action taken. I can fully understand why Flickr blocked Pinterest if they have been getting the complaints such as we've seen. In the end the burden falls on the image owner and what ends up happening is they have to chase down every site owner whose members improperly post their content. They then lose faith in participating at all because of their inability to control their content.

zaroth 6 days ago 1 reply      
Speaking of the DMCA Safe Harbor...

Images on Pinterest, in some cases, were not even uploaded from a user's hard drive; they were pulled in via a the 'Pin It' button (http://pinterest.com/about/goodies/)

In this case, Pinterest even acknowledges that the images are not the property of the user, "When you pin from a website, we automatically grab the source link so we can credit the original creator."

I'll bet the 'Pin It' button ultimately gets them in hot water, because it's hard to argue the content is 'user generated' when they know, via their 'Pin It' code, exactly where the content is actually coming from.

§ 512(c) [DMCA Safe Harbor] also requires that the OSP: 1) not receive a financial benefit directly attributable to the infringing activity, 2) not be aware of the presence of infringing material or know any facts or circumstances that would make infringing material apparent,

I wonder if 'the original source URL' of a image may be construed as a fact that would make infringing material apparent. IANAL.

maqr 6 days ago 2 replies      
Maybe all the buzz about Pinterest is because so many people think that finding an image online makes it publicly redistributable. "Pinning" is just another way of sharing.

I get the impression that there's much wider public acceptance of sharing (pirating?) pictures than music, movies, or software. I don't have a good answer as to why this might be, but I'd be curious what HN thinks.

mtgentry 6 days ago 1 reply      
'The “pin” button remains inactive until the user types something. Anything. Might this count as “criticizing” or “commenting”?'

Interesting. I'd like to see a court case further define what constitutes a "comment" on the web. Other sites do this too, for example Buzzfeed.com's entire business model is based on taking content from bloggers and then hosting it on their own site, without providing any kind of insightful comment.


mikeknoop 6 days ago 0 replies      
So here is a thought. I presume the article is mostly critical of the terms based on comments here. But consider a service without any "ownership" terms, etc. Two scenarios:

1. When a user "pins" an image elsewhere online, the image is downloaded by Pinterest to their server. When other users browse Pinterest, it is served directly by Pinterest's servers.

2. When a user "pins" an image elsewhere online, the image URL is saved by Pinterest to their server. When other users browse Pinterest, they are downloading the image directly from the original source.

Scenario (1) I see legal issues with. But scenario (2)? Isn't Pinterest simply providing a link (ala a search engine)? Moreover, isn't this just how the internet works?

Surely this has come up before yet I am having trouble finding a similar case.

brador 6 days ago 1 reply      
Could this argument also apply to sites like Readability? Since it removes advertising (hence income for the writers) from articles.
edwinnathaniel 6 days ago 2 replies      
Watermark the pictures in your blog?

By the way, I found out that you can watermark all of your images that you're about to upload to Picasa Web via Picasa Desktop (there's an option to do that before you Sync to Web). I found that feature very useful if you organize your pictures using Picasa (and show them on your blog).

EGreg 5 days ago 0 replies      
This is the problem with importing PUBLIC CONTENT YOU FIND ON THE INTERNET into a website. Not uploading from your computer, or importing from your own account somewhere on another site. If the website actually makes a copy of the media (picture, etc.) and stores it on their servers, they should hope that the DMCA still considers them a safe harbor.

I think their best bet is to store the images only as a cache, and not as a permanent import. If the site owner decides to take down the original, then the cache should disappear soon thereafter.

zaroth 6 days ago 2 replies      
If I'm a copyright holder who feels like my work is being misappropriated by Pinterest, I'm going to sue Pinterest, not the user. Their Terms of Service won't stop them from getting sued, and the indemnity clause won't magically make money appear in their pockets to pay for their defense. If they decide to start suing their users for recovery, that would be pretty amusing.

"I trusted the person who gave me the image" is not a legal defense for copyright infringement. Their only chance is to stay within the DMCA safe harbor or else they will eventually be shut down.

veverkap 6 days ago 1 reply      
Didn't Pinterest address this to a certain degree? At least from the content creators - http://blog.pinterest.com/post/17949261591/growing-up says that you can add a meta tag marking your content as not pinnable.
danboarder 5 days ago 0 replies      
Pinterest is more like a visual social bookmarking service than a blog. When people save bookmarks or share links on delicious or reddit or even twitter, of course they don't claim ownership of that content, it's just a bookmark. Similarly, with Pintrest people are saving a visual bookmark of something they saw that was interesting out on the web or on other social streams, tumblr, etc. I think a lot of people are missing the point here.
xn 6 days ago 1 reply      
If posting an image with a comment is fair use, then arguably the combination of the image and the comment constitute the Member Content for which the poster is claiming ownership.

If I publish a review of a work of art, including a reproduction of the work, in a magazine, my copyright would cover the entire article including the reproduction. I wouldn't be claiming copyright on the original work.

npsimons 5 days ago 0 replies      
I think many are dismissing this as "standard TOS/EULA legalese" and missing the point. Let's consider a scenario: let's say you post some photos online, and license them under the CC-By-SA license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/). Then someone pins the photos you took to Pinterest. Next, Pinterest sells the photos you took, then catches someone copying or modifying the photos you took and sues them for copyright. To top it all off, Pinterest doesn't even give you attribution.

This is exactly the sort of thing that CC and GPL were created to combat: ruining someone's life through the legal system based on abuse of the copyright system. You want to sue someone over copyright violations of information you have copyright on? Fine. You want to sell something licensed under CC-By-SA? Fine. But you better be ready to comply to the license and allow whoever you give those works to the right to copy, sell and modify those works. I highly doubt Pinterest is prepared for this, and their TOS is overreaching.

villagefool 6 days ago 0 replies      
Funny thing is that Pinterest in their terms of service are asking people to follow rules they are breaking for other services...
treelovinhippie 5 days ago 0 replies      
I was under the assumption that all social-based sites/companies follow the same policy, not so they can resell user content, but so they can eventually go through an acquisition without facing a class action lawsuit from its users who would demand a % of the sale. e.g. Geocities.
yonasb 6 days ago 0 replies      
One phrase comes to mind after reading this: "so what." It's not about what the terms say, it's about how they're enforced. I don't see any users getting sued, just a bunch of stories on how you could potentially get sued.
kfcm 6 days ago 0 replies      
Just opening the door for business casual G-men [video]:


cmiles74 6 days ago 1 reply      
Pinterest is caching these images on their servers, not their customers who are only pasting in links. I find it hard to believe that these end-users will be held liable for an implementation detail on Pinterest's end. And linking, I believe is legal.

These are images that are publicly available on the internet and have been made available, in most cases, by the owner. Is there really a case that copying these images off the internet is illegal?

rjurney 6 days ago 1 reply      
I am SO fucking sick of douchebag angst driven attacks by sniveling failure-driven wannabees on legalese in terms of service that are essential to make any and every successful consumer Internet site, application or platform work.

If you don't like it, don't use it. Go back to the pre-social web with your mom and grandmother. If you are going to criticize it or upvote it, think for a moment about the reasoning behind it. Yesterday Path. Today Pinterest. Let's hope someone else makes something great for you to kick in the teeth tomorrow.

Shut the fuck up already.

Advice From An Old Programmer learnpythonthehardway.org
419 points by bemmu  5 days ago   122 comments top 34
edw519 5 days ago  replies      
Thoughts from an Older Programmer...

I've been programming for a very long time.

Me too.

So long that it's incredibly boring to me.

Actually, it's more interesting to me than ever.

...I knew about 20 programming languages and could learn new ones in about a day to a week depending on how weird they were.

I have a cursory knowledge of quite a few myself. But I know one really, really well.

Eventually though this just became boring and couldn't hold my interest anymore.

That may be because you're too focused inwardly and not toward your users.

This doesn't mean I think programming is boring, or that you will think it's boring, only that I find it uninteresting at this point in my journey.

Not me, and I'll tell you why shortly...

What I discovered after this journey of learning is that it's not the languages that matter but what you do with them.


Actually, I always knew that, but I'd get distracted by the languages and forget it periodically. Now I never forget it, and neither should you.

Yes fellow programmers, this is a trap! Even after 33 years of building stuff for my users, I'll have a day when I realize that it's already dinner time and I haven't done a damn productive thing all day long. Just played around for the fun of it. (This is not a bad idea every once in a while, just as long as you know its a trap, and eventually you have to get back to work. Do this for months and you can really lose your way.)

Which programming language you learn and use doesn't matter. Do not get sucked into the religion surrounding programming languages as that will only blind you to their true purpose of being your tool for doing interesting things.

Yes. I've made about 4,500 Hacker News comments, but I don't think I've ever participated in a language war. Fortunately, I instinctively knew that this was pretty much a waste of time for me.

Programming as an intellectual activity is the only art form that allows you to create interactive art. You can create projects that other people can play with, and you can talk to them indirectly. No other art form is quite this interactive. Movies flow to the audience in one direction. Paintings do not move. Code goes both ways.

What about stand-up comedy? By definition, the audience is part of the act. Anyone can tell jokes to their cats, but killing a room is an entirely different story. (I found this out the hard way.)

Oddly, with the users I've had lately, I often forget whether I'm doing comedy or programming. I have to check to see if I'm sitting or standing to be able to tell the difference.

Programming as a profession is only moderately interesting.

Take out the words "as a profession" and re-read that sentence. It shouldn't make any difference. If you love programming, you can easily love it as a profession (in the right conditions, of course). If you don't love programming, do the world a favor and do something else as a profession.

It can be a good job, but you could make about the same money and be happier running a fast food joint.

Money really shouldn't have anything to do with it. You can earn a living many different ways. Do what you love.

You're much better off using code as your secret weapon in another profession.

I disagree. I've met a lot of non-programmers who knew a little programming. They were more dangerous than effective.

People who can code in the world of technology companies are a dime a dozen and get no respect.

This was a nice post from OP until this sentence. This is just stupid. There may be lots of mediocre and poor practioners in any vocation, but good programmers and not a dime a dozen. Also, respect is relative. If you're worried about getting respect, you're worried about the wrong thing.

People who can code in biology, medicine, government, sociology, physics, history, and mathematics are respected and can do amazing things to advance those disciplines.

People have often asked me how I've used my programming skill to help the world. I always answer immediately, "With everything I've ever done." Sure, the disciplines OP mentions are sexy, cool, and important, but so is manufacturing stuff, distributing it, accounting for the money exchanged, and a million other "boring" things. Programming to keep the world working is just as important as all that sexy stuff too. (Maybe even more important, what were all those "sexy programmers" doing for food, shelter, and essentials when they were busy changing the world? You better believe that a "boring programmer" built something to help bring those things to them.)

Of course, all of this advice is pointless.

Not really. Even though I've disagree with OP on a lot of stuff, his advice is not pointless. There's something to be learned from everyone else, especially those with lots of experience.

If you liked learning to write software with this book, you should try to use it to improve your life any way you can. Go out and explore this weird wonderful new intellectual pursuit that barely anyone in the last 50 years has been able to explore. Might as well enjoy it while you can.

Great advice. I did it and I'm so glad I did. Many others should, too.

Finally, I'll say that learning to create software changes you and makes you different. Not better or worse, just different.

This is true of just about anything. And most definitely true of programming. I can't imagine what my life would have been like otherwise. (In another century, I probably would have been a cook or something. I probably would have been happy, but I'm so glad things worked out the way they did.)

You may find that people treat you harshly because you can create software, maybe using words like "nerd". Maybe you'll find that because you can dissect their logic that they hate arguing with you. You may even find that simply knowing how a computer works makes you annoying and weird to them.

Another hard lesson: others' opinions of you should not matter. If it does, slow down and think about this again. You should be focused on your work and your users. Don't worry about the naysayers.

To this I have just one piece of advice: they can go to hell.

My feelings exactly, but I'd like to think I'd use different words. Be nice.

The world needs more weird people who know how things work and who love to figure it all out. When they treat you like this, just remember that this is your journey, not theirs. Being different is not a crime, and people who tell you it is are just jealous that you've picked up a skill they never in their wildest dreams could acquire.

It took me a long time to realize that I was an "outlier". Once I understood that, lot of other things came into perspective. That's probably true for lots of other programmers, too.

You can code. They cannot. That is pretty damn cool.

Please remove the sentence "They cannot." That's bad attitude and doesn't matter. The resulting paragraph, "You can code. That is pretty damn cool." pretty much sums up exactly how I've always felt about it. Thank you, OP!

DanielBMarkham 5 days ago 4 replies      
Edw's comment aside, I can understand being bored with programming. After you learn your way around a dozen or so different platforms, if you're not getting bored you might want to check to see if you don't have a bit of Asperger's.

But he nails it when he points out that all of this programming talk is bullshit. It's just stuff to chat mindlessly about while you're not helping people. Programming is making computers help people. Never forget that. The more you focus on the computers part, the unhappier you are going to be.

I will extend my analogy. If after the 50th article you read on HN about some upcoming technology you haven't figured out that something is wrong with your focus you should seek help. If you want theory, computer science is a great field to study. For the vast majority of us, it is not an end to itself.

It's all very easy to get good at critiquing Judy arrays and suck at making something people want. You can carry on like this for the rest of your life. Don't do that. You provide a bridge to the future for millions of people. Please, the rest of us need your help.

api 5 days ago 1 reply      
"People who can code in the world of technology companies are a dime a dozen and get no respect. People who can code in biology, medicine, government, sociology, physics, history, and mathematics are respected and can do amazing things to advance those disciplines."

That is the best thing in his advice column.

It's hard to pull off though. I started programming at 5 and am at a skill level comparable to this poster, but I studied biology in college with an eye to doing exactly this sort of thing. Then I discovered that bio is a Ph.D's only club and that you cannot get any kind of job in the industry if you don't at least have a Masters'. I didn't want to do this for various reasons (money, not liking school), so I found myself back in IT/programming where the pay was 3X higher than what I could get in the bio world with a BS only.

nadam 5 days ago 9 replies      
"People who can code in the world of technology companies are a dime a dozen and get no respect"
Generally in business, those people whose job title is 'programmer' or 'developer' or 'software engineer' get relatively little respect even with lots of experience. (I am 37 years old and programming since 12) Previously I thought the only way out of this is to become a 'manager', which I never really wanted to do... Recently I have discovered 'quantitative finance' which is a quite respected and interesting geek profession (with lots of math, which i like), and I am planning to transition into that in the long term. (Theoretically a relatively smooth transition is possible because there are 'quant developer' jobs out there.
amirmc 5 days ago 2 replies      
> "People who can code in biology, medicine, government, sociology, physics, history, and mathematics are respected and can do amazing things to advance those disciplines"

True. I have a theoretical physics friend who's now applying a ton of machine-learning techniques to biophysics stuff (in an academic setting).

I've no idea exactly what he's doing other than he's always snowed under and people keep coming back to him for more.

padobson 5 days ago 0 replies      
When I read pieces like this, it reminds me there are many reasons for learning to code. Some learn just because the technology is interesting. This is a fine reason, but what's interesting today will not continue to be interesting tomorrow.

Some have learned to code because they want a steady job. This is an ok reason, but being an accountant, plumber, carpenter, or "running a fast food joint" has the same benefits.

The best reason to learn to code, and the reason I did, is because your head is full of..... stuff. Stuff that is always there, choking out simple thoughts like "I'm hungry" or "I'm tired". And the supply of stuff never runs dry, it constantly increases and overwhelms other thought and builds up immense pressure on the sides of your cranium until your head feels like it'll burst.

And the only way to relieve the pressure is to turn that stuff into code.

That's why you should be a programmer.

ferids 5 days ago 1 reply      
Also a part of this problem is that many programmers are assholes. Going out to the world while thinking "im to smart for the rest of the world, tha hell with them" is just a big social failure in general. One need to be able to see things out of different perspectives, a bit more open minded. Just because a person like to do other things in life then CS-stuff, does not mean they are automatically stupid.

Programming is not everything in life as many would like to think. Handling different kinds of people in different kinds environments for example is much, much harder then learning how to code.

Connecting this all together has made up a history of non sympathetic people doing "the coding stuff" at the office where everyone else just stop caring about these guys cause you can't really talk to them. Now im just talking about the stereotype thats has been biting us in the ass for ages. Portrayed in media etc etc

This has been covered well in the beginning of the social network where Mark get lectured up by his girlfriend at the bar....

So really from experience, a good way out of this is not going to management, but just to "listen" to other people and open up your mind a bit...

/coder since age of 13, 29 years now, startup, the whole 9 yards

phatbyte 5 days ago 0 replies      
"Finally, I'll say that learning to create software changes you and makes you different. Not better or worse, just different. You may find that people treat you harshly because you can create software, maybe using words like "nerd". Maybe you'll find that because you can dissect their logic that they hate arguing with you. You may even find that simply knowing how a computer works makes you annoying and weird to them."

This is very true, unfortunately being a programmer requires dedication, non-stop learning to keep up. And this can lead to a very lonely life in a way that you don't socialize too much by favoring what we love to do. If you live with a tech-oriented city you should be fine, but for the rest of us it sucks a little, knowing that most of your friend/relatives don't understand what you do, and why do we spent so much time in front of a screen.

vacri 5 days ago 1 reply      
"Programming as an intellectual activity is the only art form that allows you to create interactive art." (his emphasis)

Kinetic sculptures? Fashion? Hell, go to a science museum and you'll find endless halls of interactive art, little of which involves programming.

loup-vaillant 5 days ago 1 reply      
> Which programming language you learn and use doesn't matter. Do not get sucked into the religion surrounding programming languages as that will only blind you to their true purpose of being your tool for doing interesting things.

That, is a dangerously double-edged wording. I see two ways of interpreting this, which are almost opposite.

(1) "Languages don't matter, in the sense that whichever you chose doesn't change the end result." Which is flatly, provably false. Different languages have different strengths and weaknesses, which makes them suited for different sets of problems. Use the wrong tool for your particular job, and you will find that your program took too long to write, or has too many errors, or is too slow to execute. Just thinking about C, Python, video encoding, and quick sysadmin work should make it obvious to about anyone here.

(2) "Languages don't matter, in the sense that they are a mean, not the end." Which is true for exactly the same reason the first interpretation is false: what should control your choice of language is your end goal. Personal preferences only matter to the extent you expect to have more fun. Given that your choice of language will change the end result, you'd be wise not to give it too much weight.

I think the author meant the second interpretation. The key words are "their true purpose [is] being your tool for doing interesting things.". A tool is only good to the extent it serves its purpose. For any given purpose, some tools are better suited than others. If no such tool suit some purpose of yours, consider crafting a custom one. In this regard, programming languages are no different.

zerostar07 5 days ago 2 replies      
I think this piece keeps coming up every so many days. It's a great piece of advice, and i think most developers come to the same conclusion after a few years. I think a useful corrolary from this is "Do not reinvent the wheel all the time by changing programming styles, instead try to extend the frontiers of technology" (I 'm looking at you, web frameworks).
opining 5 days ago 0 replies      
Would have been a great article except for the last 3 paragraphs.

Instead, I like the letter from _why in this post:

It goes:

I do not write tests for my code. I do not write very many comments. I change styles very frequently. And most of all, I shun the predominant styles of coding, because that would go against the very essence of experimentation. In short: all I do is muck around.

So, my way of measuring a great programmer is different from some prevailing thought on the subject. I would like to hear what Matz would say about this. You should ask him, seriously.

I admire programmers who take risks. They aren't afraid to write dangerous or “crappy” code. If you worry too much about being clean and tidy, you can't push the boundaries (I don't think!). I also admire programmers who refuse to stick with one idea about the “way the world is.” These programmers ignore protocol and procedure. I really like Autrijus Tang because he embraces all languages and all procedures. There is no wrong way in his world.

Anyway, you say you want to become better. I mean that's really all you need. You feel driven, so stick with it. I would also start writing short scripts to share with people on the Web. Little Ruby scripts or Rails programs or MouseHole scripts to show off. Twenty lines here and there, and soon people will be beating you up and you'll be scrambling to build on those scripts and figure out your style and newer innovations and so on.

" _why

msluyter 5 days ago 0 replies      
I'm also pretty old, relatively speaking, but I think of myself as young programmer because I started somewhat later in life. Early in my career I made the mistake (for me) of going into software testing and I found myself pretty bored and unmotivated. But now that I'm a dev, I've found that my passion and dedication to the craft has only grown over time. All that stops me from coding all night when I get home from work are the physical barriers (hands/back).

Well, that and my girlfriend. So my advice is that if you want to stay in it for the long haul, play a long game: be passionate and consumed with what you're doing but don't burn out. Have friends, hobbies, and a life outside of work.

narag 5 days ago 1 reply      
Maybe you'll find that because you can dissect their logic that they hate arguing with you.

I'm glad I don't need to argue with "them" in my current position, but I've seen this effect a lot: the most manipulative people in a company are against any logical processes.

oconnor0 5 days ago 1 reply      
This ("the language you use doesn't matter") has never made sense to me. I get that what we produce is of value to others while the tools we use isn't of value & doesn't - directly - matter.

But, I know that certain languages are closer to how I want to think & how I want to be able to solve problems while other languages inhibit that or restrict the ways I think about & am able to express problems.

I only have about a half dozen years of professional experience so perhaps I am simply naive here.

revorad 5 days ago 0 replies      
You're much better off using code as your secret weapon in another profession.

That's why Bezos is my hero.

juliendsv-mbm 5 days ago 3 replies      
"People who can code in the world of technology companies are a dime a dozen and get no respect" , I disagree with that, I think you got a lot of respect in a company that is focused on technology. But If you are working into a marketing company in the development team, then yes you will not get much respect..
j45 5 days ago 1 reply      
This is brilliant advice.

"What I discovered after this journey of learning is that it's not the languages that matter but what you do with them."

For those developers who have only discovered the nirvana with one, or two languages, and love their rails, djangos, closures to death, just know that if one exists, there's always the possibility that there's more.

Just because you aren't aware of them doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Get building. Customers simply don't care what you code in, and very few languages give an overall edge to developing, most languages have very capable frameworks that all have their pros and cons that even out.

The question is, can developers stop foaming at the mouth and seeing the world just one way? Seems a little fanatical.

demallien 5 days ago 1 reply      
"Programming as an intellectual activity is the only art form that allows you to create interactive art"

Well, except for architecture. And industrial design. And pretty much most art that requires someone to interpret it (it depends on who you think you are making your art for - the person interpreting it, or the person watching the interpretation...)

exor 5 days ago 1 reply      
The meta-topic is about disillusionment, which in this profession comes from having to learn new libraries and knowledge that you know will soon become obsolete. Reduce the risk by focusing on learning what interests you (language & industry), and accept only interesting work if possible (or create your own fascinating projects, if you're the entrepreneurial type) -- or work as a contractor, where you pick your projects, focusing on your favorite language.

Don't let yourself become a cog in the machine, learning one company's proprietary library after another; to me, this is what leads to programmer burnout.

One of the challenges of a programmer (among other professions) is leading a balanced life; do not let your work define you too strongly.

JVIDEL 5 days ago 0 replies      
People who can code in the world of technology companies are a dime a dozen and get no respect

Last time I went to a startup meetup the people who could code were a very small minority, and they were always surrounded by others trying to poach them for their startups.

bicknergseng 5 days ago 0 replies      
"You're much better off using code as your secret weapon in another profession."

Exactly. So many students and young people see programming as an end, rather than a means. They might take a class in Java or Python or somethign, hoping to learn how to write code. What needs to be impressed on people is that you don't write code to write code, you write code as part of creating an online network connecting a billion people around the world or write code to create an immersive world that tells a unique story every time someone enters it. Despite the rise of DIY blogs and webpages, people still talk about programming as if they were an artist talking about learning how to paint in order to use a paintbrush.

leeoniya 5 days ago 0 replies      
"Maybe you'll find that because you can dissect their logic that they hate arguing with you."


redthrowaway 5 days ago 1 reply      
>People who can code in the world of technology companies are a dime a dozen and get no respect.

I guess it just wouldn't be a Zed post without a little light trolling.

commieneko 5 days ago 1 reply      
I would disagree that programming is the only interactive art form. Drawing and painting are quite interactive when you take into consideration the interpretation that the audience must perform, and, more importantly, the back and forth of artists as they see and react to each other's work with their own work.

In that sense programming is very much like the visual arts.

For what it's worth, I've been visual artist for around 40 years and a programmer for around 35.

_k 5 days ago 0 replies      
I worked for a company where they had a student (internship) set up the LAN, among other things. He got the job done, they liked to boss him around and pretty much everyone agreed the guy was lazy and there was no way they were going to hire him, blah blah.
Truth be told, you could see he didn't like it there.
But they couldn't have been more wrong about that guy.
And I've seen this over and over again: it has nothing to do with technology.
It has everything to do with the people you work for and how big of an influence your job has on whatever it is a company is trying to sell.
It's very discouraging to a lot of people when they're in a situation like that guy was.
Fortunately, he only stayed there for like 6 - 9 months (too long, imo, but he had no choice), so when his time was up I asked him where he was going.
He was going to work for a company that offered network solutions, he figured that was a better choice than to go work for a company similar to the one he just interned for.
And he was right.
I happened to know the company and the owner, so I assured him he made the right choice.
I checked up on him a few months in and all I can say is: time to move on when you're in a situation like he was.
stretchwithme 4 days ago 0 replies      
"Programming as an intellectual activity is the only art form that allows you to create interactive art."

I will have to let the car designers know that. And the great chefs of the world. And probably dozens of other artists.

cleaver 5 days ago 0 replies      
"The world needs more weird people who know how things work and who love to figure it all out."

At your best you can become antibodies in the global cultural organism.

demian 4 days ago 0 replies      
I would like to think that the sentiment of this piece is to move programmers to go and explore more disciplines.

Or to make the point that computer programming is such a powerfull tool that it's a shame to see that a lot of competent programmers are "just programmers" who think of code as an end to itself. Higher levels of manipulation and appreciation are available. Like a car mechanic, stuck with the beauty of the engine and the physics involved, but not the freedom and happiness and excitement of the car runing .

thewisedude 4 days ago 0 replies      
The author suggests to not get caught up on a programming language and use that as just a tool. I think I agree. I also want to add that people get caught up on using some other tools like vi or emacs or things like that. I think they should not be taken too seriously either. Creativity and building a useful product are the most important things of all.
blahblahhhhhh 5 days ago 0 replies      
> You can code. They cannot. That is pretty damn cool.

If it weren't for the last 3 paragraphs, I'd agree completely. But seriously- who makes fun of developers anymore?

MRonney 5 days ago 0 replies      
You may find that people treat you harshly because you can create software, maybe using words like "nerd". Maybe you will find that because you can dissect their logic that they hate arguing with you. You may even find that simply knowing how a computer works makes you annoying and weird to them.
To this I have one just piece of advice: they can go to hell.
:D It was worth it for that alone.
rtisticrahul 5 days ago 0 replies      
Loved this article. 100 % agree with the point that the technology doesn't matter, what matters is what you do with it. Simple and evergreen advice :)
ankurdhama 5 days ago 1 reply      
Which programming language you learn and use doesn't matter?

Really ?? It doesn't matter for most people because they only know C/C++/C#/Java/JavaScript/Python and other similar language as they all provide same kind of "thinking technique" and you have been programming using same techniques your whole life.

Try to learn languages like Lisp and Haskell and over a period of time they will change the way you think about programming and if something can change the way you think about solving problem, it does matter.

Solar panel made with ion cannon is cheap enough to challenge fossil fuels extremetech.com
414 points by mrsebastian  15 hours ago   136 comments top 23
ck2 14 hours ago  replies      
That is some amazing technology right there, almost fun to read because it sounds like science fiction but it's real.

And privately designed/built/owned particle accelerators? It's definitely a new era.

What if one day the other side of the globe getting sunlight powered the grid for the other half? Of course this would require very peaceful nations on each continent, so even if we had the cost-effective technology now, it would take hundreds if not thousands of years to happen politically.

TeMPOraL 12 hours ago 0 replies      
I highly recommend reading "Sustainable Energy - without the hot air"[1] to anyone interested in topic of energy sources and use. It covers lots of things mentioned in comments, like storing energy in pump storages or car batteries in order to make solar/wind plants able to provide a big contribution to power grid without breaking it.

What is important, this books talks about those ideas using real data and carefully estimates what's really feasible to do (like, how many pumped storages you'd need if you'd like to switch 50% of your energy sources to solar).

[1] - http://www.inference.phy.cam.ac.uk/withouthotair/

nextparadigms 13 hours ago 3 replies      
This is why I welcomed the backlash and even some of the sensationalism regarding the nuclear explosion in Japan. Even if I realize that nuclear energy could be safe and it's good to have an alternative that is cheap enough to compete with coal, I'd still wish we'd spend all those billions switching from nuclear and putting most of them into renewable energy technologies, which should be the future.

The arguments against solar were that the tech is "not there yet", so then it's better to just focus on nuclear. I disagree with that. I believe that if the energy industry changed focus to solar panels and other renewable energy technologies, we would get there a lot faster. We would have a lot more companies exploring different ideas that make them more efficient and cheaper.

Nuclear technology will probably never be gone, or at least not within the next century. But I just don't want it to be the holy grail of the energy industry and see the vast majority of investments go into that. I want renewable energy technologies to be that.

kragen 2 hours ago 1 reply      
The thing I'm puzzled about here is why saving silicon makes your solar cells cheaper. I mean, silicon is really cheap, right? Metallurgical-grade silicon is 77 cents a pound: http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/silicon/sil... " and that works out to around a penny a watt.

I tried to dig into this a few years ago. Evergreen Solar's 10-K for 2007 http://edgar.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/947397/000095013508... has some information. Evergreen's competitive advantage is supposedly that they use less silicon than other manufacturers because they don't saw their wafers " they grow them. They say they use about 5g of silicon per watt (in 2007, planning to reduce it to 2½g per watt by 2012), and it sounds like they get paid about US$3.87 per watt on average (US$58M revenue in 2007, maxed-out manufacturing capacity of 15MW/year, 276 full-time employees in manufacturing). Their "cost of revenue" (i.e. manufacturing cost) was US$53M, or US$3.53/W. But 5g of metallurgical-grade silicon at the price above is US$0.008. If each employee costs US$120k per year (including health benefits, and remembering that a bunch of them are Ph.D.s) then that would be US$2.20/W in labor costs, which already accounts for the majority of that cost of revenue.

But they're not buying metallurgical-grade silicon; they're buying "polysilicon", short for "polycrystalline silicon", which is perhaps a bit of a misnomer, since how many crystals are in each piece of silicon supplied by their suppliers is somewhat immaterial, since Evergreen melts the silicon down and crystallizes it in polycrystalline silicon ribbons in their "String Ribbon" furnaces. Maybe that costs a lot more than metallurgical-grade silicon?

It used to be hard to find that information! But it's much better now; http://pvinsights.com/ lists current PV-grade polysilicon prices at US$29 to US$35 per kilogram, and http://www.pv-tech.org/news/polysilicon_prices_declines_will... explains that this is a major drop from previous prices of US$80/kg. 5 g at US$35 per kilogram is US$0.175. But "Silicon PV Module Price Per Watt" ranges from US$0.75 to US$1.40. Dropping 17½¢ off that price still isn't going to get you to 40¢. And if Evergreen has really made it to 2½g/W, silicon cost is even less of the total cost.

http://www.futurepundit.com/archives/008483.html mentions that in 2008 polysilicon prices peaked at US$400/kg.

Anyway. I'm obviously no expert, but I'm skeptical that peeling silicon with a particle accelerator is going to decrease the cost of photovoltaic cells.

tlb 11 hours ago 0 replies      
Any claim of something being cheaper, with a picture of some shiny stainless-steel small-scale lab equipment, is suspect. It's not demonstrated to be cheaper until you're producing at scale.
brlewis 14 hours ago 2 replies      
The article says we still need better battery technology, and there's truth to that. But even without batteries, just providing power on days when air conditioners run continuously, solar could make a huge difference in the energy picture.
siculars 12 hours ago 0 replies      
And this is a beautiful example of manufacturing innovation and advancement, evolution and revolution, coming from those that actually make things. When you make things you find a way to make them better. This is why I believe we in the USA need to maintain a strong industrial/manufacturing culture. Not simply to employ people but rather to be at the epicenter of where innovation happens.
hinathan 9 hours ago 0 replies      
For traditional wafer processes, you consume a great deal more feedstock than goes into the active portion of a wafer, and even then you may end up grinding away much of the material such as in the case of backlit imaging sensors.

This 'exfoliation' approach in some ways plays into the concept Elon Musk floated about SpaceX - the actual atoms in a booster are relatively simple, they just need to be arranged in the right way.

invalidOrTaken 10 hours ago 4 replies      
I think I may have misunderstood the manufacturing process. To my reading, it looks like they have 3mm-thick wafers, accumulate a 20mm-thick layer of hydrogen, which then shears off in a furnace, leaving...a 3mm-thick wafer. Which they started with. Thanks in advance to whoever explains how I've misunderstood this.

EDIT: Oh, I neglected to pay attention to units. The above should be 3mm, 20-micrometer, and 2.98mm, respectively, which means the sheet shearing off is 0.002mm thick. This is seriously cool. Thanks for everyone's patience.

ginko 14 hours ago 0 replies      
Could this method also be used to create ultra-thin wafers for microprocessors?
jstalin 10 hours ago 1 reply      
From the literature I've seen, the realistic maximum amount of solar energy that can be produced through photovoltaic cells is about 40-50 watts per square meter. Although solar is exciting, there's just no way it can be used to replace fossil fuels, no matter how cheap it gets to manufacture. It'll have to be a combination of renewables (why not more hydroelectric power) and greater efficiency (like LED's).
ryanisinallofus 9 hours ago 0 replies      
A case in which building your hammer to build your desk does actually add value.
gaius 8 hours ago 1 reply      
And the ion cannon is powered by...? And the raw materials were extracted by machines powered by...?
sovande 11 hours ago 0 replies      
[..] cost of around 40 cents per watt, about half the cost of panels currently coming out of China (where the vast majority of solar panels are made)

To me, this is the second cool part of the story. It shows that we can still do industrial enterprises in the west by applying technology. Sooner or later the production and assembly industry will have no more cheap labor forces to "exploit" on the globe and production, assembly and automaton technology may (again) be an industrial game changer for the west as it was with "spinning jenny".

drucken 12 hours ago 1 reply      
It is not clear if glass as a protective cover is still used or required for final production of solar cells made with this process.

Does anyone know?

wavephorm 11 hours ago 0 replies      
WARNING: it's another one of those OnSwipe mobile sites that crash your browser.

I wish there was some way to opt out of OnSwipe and just load the desktop version of a website on my iPad.

thefool 13 hours ago 0 replies      
Similar idea (solar cell would be much cheaper if they were much thinner), different process: http://www.naanovo.com/home
skittles 12 hours ago 2 replies      
Is there a mistake in the 40 cents per watt cost reported in the article? I work for an energy company and our wind-farm energy is around 4.5 cents per kilowatt.
evolvd 14 hours ago 1 reply      
Seems like something they could scale up and mass produce.
bnolsen 3 hours ago 0 replies      
"fossil fuel" is likely a misnomer. Read to your heart's content here: http://trilogymedia.com.au/Thomas_Gold/usgs.html
pkulak 8 hours ago 0 replies      
And as an aside, companies are already pretty good at storing energy with things like molten salt.
aaxp 2 hours ago 0 replies      
Waiting for shills to block this technology using peer review to save petro-dollar empire.
marshray 8 hours ago 0 replies      
And if the solar panels don't work out, they can take four of those ion cannons and use them as blinged-out wheels on their Escalade.
Why I Left Google msdn.com
416 points by cangencer  7 hours ago   116 comments top 33
ChuckMcM 3 hours ago 1 reply      

Not enough people think about year 10. You know, that's when you're 10 years old as a company and you've got a lot of huge successes behind you. Kind of like teenagers when they realize that finding a job is suddenly not an 'optional' thing in their lives.

James' rant here reminded me of a similar rant I read (internally) at Sun on its 10 year anniversary. They had published a book all about Sun's first decade, and somehow excised the fact that Sun had built a workstation called the 386i. It emphasized the successes, and papered over the mistakes. The rant was about how Sun, who had kicked DEC in the nuts and had them retreating to the data center, was walking right into that same data center because Microsoft was starting to make PC's as useful as workstations. (there used to be a real distinction there.)

I remember thinking that somehow Sun had gone from bringing technology to the folks who could use it, to being all about being a more impressive Sun Microsystems. Sun's "Google+" moment was the day they announced they were going to merge System V and SunOS.

In my brief time at Google I was exposed to the folks who had become more about 'The Google' and less about doing cool stuff. I saw many of the same things James did, and I hear Marissa's 'call to arms' about Social and said to myself "If she can't say what it is, how can she expect the troops to achieve it?"

If you read the stuff about Mark and Facebook (and I have to believe that at least some of it is true.) the man is on a mission. And his mission was to make a new place in the universe that didn't exist before, he left it to others to figure out how to monetize it. Google did the same with search, make it real, then monetize.

But I think at some point the operating committee at Google looked at monetization of all the things Google has done and if you included search advertising the in the bar graph everything else looked like zero. And you ask yourself "We've got all these smart people doing all these projects and not a single one even comes CLOSE to the income that search advertising does? Give me one good reason I shouldn't just fire all of them?"

The sad thing is that I saw multimillion dollar a year businesses get tossed under the bus because they just didn't move the needle.

Ten years on, ask yourself, "What value do you bring to the table?" if you don't know, that is a big problem.

arkitaip 5 hours ago 2 replies      
I think people here are being ungenerous towards the author. Too me this story sounds genuine and not like a pr move dictated by Microsoft. It strikes me to be a personal account by someone who's trying to make sense of the past and actually mourning what he believe is the death of old Google. This deserves our respect as professionals because inevitably we are all going to find ourselves in a similar situation, trying to learn from the past and seeking understanding by our peers.
paul 4 hours ago 2 replies      
I also miss the old Google.

I think it's a mistake to blame this on ads though. I don't believe that the G+ crusade is being driving by advertising (though I'm sure it looks that way to people who assume that everything is about ads).

davemel37 5 hours ago 4 replies      
I think Google+ 's mistake, like the author, has to do with a changing doctrine, but i think it has more to do with a branding issue than an innovation or technology issue. (it could be both, but i would argue perception comes before reality when it comes to success)

I think "Google+ is a dud," has less to do with whether social is broken, but rather with human perception and branding.
Much the way Google owned the category search in peoples minds, Facebook owns the category social in peoples minds.

Google made two fundamental mistakes.
1. Using their brand that stands for Search on something else. The human mind is like wet cement, once a brand owns a category, that impressions is almost impossible to change. (Ever try to change someones mind from his political philosophies? almost impossible).

2. Building a product in a category that is already owned by another brand without positioning themselves opposite it.

This is classic... Burger King will never take over Mcdonalds market share because they are trying to convince people that they are better. Since the category is owned already, they need to claim, "We are different"

When it comes to branding, its all about human perception. Like the authors daughter said, "Facebook is where the people are." Even if that statement weren't true, the perception is ingrained in peoples minds.

A good example of competing with an established brand is Coke vs. Pepsi... coke was the real thing, original coca cola, so pepsi came out and said were for the new generation. Why be old when you can be young and fresh.

Avis didnt say we are better than hertz, they said, sine we are number 2, we try harder.

Dominoes didn't say we have better pizza than pizza hut, they said, we will get it to you faster.

Listerine didnt say we taste better than scope, they said, "the taste you hate twice a day."

This is branding 101.
A brand can only stand for One Thing. (a brand that stands for everything, stands for nothing.)

If google wants to compete in the social game... They either need to create a niche of social like twitter, foursquare, and pinterest did, or they need to use a new brand name, and position themselves opposite facebook, not claim they are better...

Big executives always talk about convergence, but the Human perception just doesn't work that way. When you combine two things, people assume you are compromising on quality on both sides.
When you separate things, people assume you do that one thing much better than everyone else...

Google owned the search brand because that was all they did, Search. The new ways of trying to get into other businesses like Paul Graham said," is a chink in their armor."

Just my two cents.

CurtHagenlocher 4 hours ago 1 reply      
As a Microsoft employee, I wish this hadn't been posted to a Microsoft-branded website. Other than that, I thought it was an interesting perspective and I loved the money quote:

"I couldn't even get my own teenage daughter to look at Google+ twice, “social isn't a product,” she told me after I gave her a demo, “social is people and the people are on Facebook.”"

pradocchia 5 hours ago 0 replies      
I do miss the old Google. They had some good products. Search was search, and it was clearly designed to provide the very best search possible. Unadulterated and honest. Same story with Gmail, despite the ads. No lock in, no rent-seeking.

Too bad, really. The new Google is obnoxious in a "why-are-you-doing-this?", Facebook kind of way.

antirez 5 hours ago 2 replies      
IMHO what's sad is that Google+ is not better than Facebook for average people. Better is, for them, more warm, where you may express more about you in a simpler way, and so forth. Google+ is clearly designed by people not exactly in touch (mentally speaking) with the average person using Facebook, that's why nobody of the non tech guys want to switch to it.

p.s. IMHO Google is going to lose in the email space soon as well, times are mature to beat it in simple ways, only protection they have in this space is that there is a big "optimization" part in email that is anti-spam and they are good at it.

taylorbuley 7 hours ago 2 replies      
> App Engine fees were raised. APIs that had been free for years were deprecated or provided for a fee.

From where I'm sitting Google has been pretty rough on independent developers recently.

I think their lack of caring (or understanding?) indy devs is best summed up by the Google+ API. Read-only is understandable as they get off their feet, but you can't even get a user's profile stream (you can only fetch profiles one by one).

Now that the Buzz API is shut down I have yet to find a way to "share" anything programmatically on Google. How can you be social without a share API?

AmericanOP 5 hours ago 5 replies      
Google should focus on their product- the search bar.

Google Plus Me should mean I can find anything of mine via the search bar. If I want to find a file on my computer, I should be able to search for it using google.com instead of spotlight. I should be able to do this even if I'm not on my normal machine.

It's not just desktop files. If I want to show my dad pictures of my trip to Cabo, I shouldn't have to log into Facebook, find the always moving Photos app button, find the album, find the picture.

I should be able to search 'My cabo pictures' in Google.

The omnibar should really become omnipotent. That would be compelling, cool, futuristic must-have UX. That's what Google Plus Me means to me.

cromwellian 2 hours ago 2 replies      
pessimist 5 hours ago 7 replies      
Valid reasons to quit Google, but then he joins Microsoft?
jroseattle 31 minutes ago 0 replies      
Google has really taken it on the chops these last few years. I remember back in 2006 or whenever the time was when they were the shiznit, and were easily the most admired company in tech. And I remember thinking, let's see how well it goes when everyone is NOT cheering you on and you have a tailwind in your sails. Google is definitely in that situation now.
cromwellian 3 hours ago 0 replies      
Why does he even bother bringing Wave into this? As a Googler he should know that Wave was never meant to be a social network. It didn't even have the subscribe of 'friends', it was an attempt to create a new kind of Email.

He worked at Google but didn't realize that all that innovation, be it GMail, Android, Chrome, Search, Maps, Google Car, etc was paid for by ads?

Steko 3 hours ago 1 reply      
G+'s problem at it's root is that it's a FB clone. They copied the core functionality and tacked on a few specs that make it, literally, FB+1. The problem is no one is going to move their whole social network for FB+1 or FB+2. Google needed to build a product an order of magnitude better to win social.

There are plenty of colas that are +1 better then Coke but to take away Coke's base you'd need to be Coke+100.

The obvious solution is to stop trying to make a FB clone and do something else to get your ad demographics. I think they should stick with their core advantages and innovate in the vein of their own Adsense product:

(1) Users sign up with Google and volunteer their demographics.

(2) While signed in, Google tailors searches to them.

(3) Google gives the user a tiny percentage of the increased ad revenue. It's peanuts for most people so make it Google Play credit.

(4) If you're not signed in everything is anonymous.

Test run the whole thing on a smaller scale with Android users that already have Google accounts and (for many) credit card info on file.

Nielson families give up a lot of personal data about their viewing habits. This is rewarded with free cable, internet and cell phone service, heck they may even be paid. Even people that just take an hourlong phone survey about tv or radio are rewarded with $50+ checks. The reason market research companies pay this is because the data is extremely valuable to them and their clients. Obviously every web company wants to get that data "for free" like they do now but the giant tracking databases and all the personnel behind that certainly aren't free and create an adversarial relationship that can dilute your brand.

pasbesoin 57 minutes ago 0 replies      
An observation from the inside of what I've been seeing/feeling from the outside.

When Google started killing the "cool" stuff, I perceived (rightly or wrongly) the writing on the wall as far as attracting and retaining top talent. And they lost my semi-hesitant... "devotion". I wanted to believe they really did care about e.g. next generation energy sources, at a time when even our lame-ass federal government can't get its act together on that front. And Earth, Maps, various API's (Translate, for example), and the like produced fundamental changes in various environments and endeavors, both professional and hobbyist.

Now, sliding into "corporate", lame-ass Google. So sad. Perhaps inevitable; nonetheless, if so, then "just another".

P.S. As I reflect a bit more, I still have more respect for them than e.g. Facebook (manipulation) or Microsoft (domineering, monopolistic, and (perhaps resultantly) now fumbling senior management). But I fear the arrow is pointing in the wrong direction.

And yeah, this is just one random guy's observation. I guess I've added it because in the past Googlers (and "Google") seem to have occasionally observed and perhaps absorbed some of the collection sentiment expressed on HN.

defen 1 hour ago 0 replies      
If life were a movie, all the "advice" Steve Jobs gave to Larry Page toward the end of Jobs' life was completely bogus, and part of a long con aimed at destroying Google in retaliation for Android being a "stolen product" (http://www.appleinsider.com/articles/11/10/20/steve_jobs_vow...)

We all know Jobs was enough of a mastermind to pull it off; but was he that malicious?

whiletruefork 3 hours ago 1 reply      
The author states that in his time at Google he realizes it was always a company funded by ads, but that he did not have to personally feel the need for Ads in all products. That's a fair point. Where I lost him is his connection of Google+ with Ads.

I disagree that G+ is an Ads play. It's a play for staying relevant on the internet. When you think about it, Facebook is a closed system. They want CNN to post articles into the CNN FB stream. They want people to read those articles on the CNN page (yes, this currently links to outside FB... that will change). They want to do this so that you never have to leave FB, and in fact if you look at the user behavior of 13-17 year olds you will see disturbing trends that this is the case.

Facebook is a danger to a free and open internet by becoming the de-facto internet. I concede that this is a stretch, but it is within their power to do so and from my understanding is how their strategy is lined up.

TL;DR: G+ is only about Ads in the way that Google needs users to serve Ads to and there is a threat that all users of the internet only go to Facebook and nowhere else.

kprobst 6 hours ago 0 replies      
Social seems to be to Google what mobile is to Microsoft... they might have good stuff here and there, but nobody's ringing the bell.
yanw 6 hours ago 1 reply      
Between attack ads and blog posts it seems like Google is all that Microsoft have to discuss lately. Not sure if Google is flattered by this obsession.

Wonder why the author chose not to post on his personal blog, a Microsoft employee bashing Google on an official Microsoft blog rings hollow, specially with the use of the same generic talking points.

And using engineers as PR people isn't the most sepathetic thing either.

MatthewPhillips 2 hours ago 1 reply      
Larry Page is killing his company to chase after a market that is less profitable that the one he currently owns.
crag 2 hours ago 0 replies      
Every company grows up. I'm old enough to remember when Microsoft was cool. I remember my first copy of Windows 286; all 12 floppy disks worth. I was excited. Now I fight with the MS sales team over MSDN prices. :)

My point; it's part of the process. Google's grown up. Do I like it? No.

gruseom 3 hours ago 0 replies      
I wish Google had focused on being the champions of the open, pluralistic web, instead of on Google+, which ironically seems like Bing.
beatle 6 hours ago 0 replies      
Google's Focus On Beating Facebook Is Wrecking The Company, Says This Former Engineer. Google's Focus On Beating Apple will seal the company's fate. Google's Motorola acquisition is going to be a disaster for Google.
talmand 5 hours ago 1 reply      
Is it me or does several of his complaints about the overly-aggressive targeted marketing apply to Facebook as well? He must really hate Facebook then. Personally, I think all this targeted stuff is not as good as stated by the people selling it.

I can understand that he felt the need to leave because something changed for him and his attitude towards his employer. But I seem to remember the big statement someone made not too long ago that Google+ was the future of the company and if you didn't like it you were welcome to leave. I suppose he took their advice.

As for any meaning or message one could get out of this about the future of Google, Facebook or even Microsoft; I see very little substance. It's one guy explaining to anyone who wishes to know why he left Google. That's it, let's not make more of this than what it is.

vineet 5 hours ago 1 reply      
I am not a Google Employee - but I do want to defend Google here. Yes, Google used to be a technology company that empowered its employees to innovate. However, in the process they built a huge amount of UX Debt.

Bad UX was forgivable a few years ago, but that is no longer the case. Google has not figured it out yet, but with the web maturing, I am glad that they are trying to evolve to be a more UX focused company.

damian2000 3 hours ago 0 replies      
There is a ring of truth to this blog post. Especially in Google's seemingly blind, dogged attempts to beat Facebook at their own game, in the social space. It reminds me of how MS went after AOL with MSN - and we all know how that ended up.
Tichy 6 hours ago 1 reply      
Weird choice to post such an article on msdn.com, of all places.
cinquemb 3 hours ago 0 replies      
I thought google used to be a company of innovation (and still had potential to become better) and now that they find themselves competing with Facebook just brings them down from where they started.


A company with so much money, and still no idea what to do with it. Here's a hint, use all that brainpower you waste optimizing advertising machines and make something that solves a problem that many people face using technology? maybe seek to reach out to a new audience? maybe quit sucking on the corporate tit that thinks advertising works in its current form? It's barely working for fb and thats because they dont care about user privacy (facebook actually sounds like a legal phishing company for advertisers, and i rather be shot than to put any of their API's on any site i create). Whatever, sheeps will be sheeps. And google isn't immune it seems.

chj 1 hour ago 0 replies      
when the best a company can do is copying, no wonder people are leaving.
wilfra 4 hours ago 0 replies      
On the bright side, now all Google has to do to defend against antitrust claims is link to that post.
brindle 3 hours ago 0 replies      
So you quit Google and headed over to M$. Hacker News, this should be Wanker News.
ssn 3 hours ago 0 replies      
Google is at trouble. They are following Facebook on the web/search front, and following Apple on the mobile/media front. What are they leading?
iamgilesbowkett 5 hours ago 2 replies      
I think it's problematic to find this kind of story on Hacker News. The biggest problem I have with it is that it's very difficult to write an automated filter which rejects stories for being excessively corporate and insufficiently entrepreneurial, at least within the limits of my current skills. I can understand why people debate the strategies of very large corporations, it's kind of like discussing football teams, but it's not what I come here to read at all.
A 1-star, unfiltered user review of Yelp sfgate.com
387 points by hardtke  6 days ago   193 comments top 34
cletus 6 days ago 7 replies      
Yelp is fundamentally flawed.

Firstly, they have a clear conflict of interest, which has been discussed many times, when it comes to selling advertising. Buying advertising (anecdotally) seems to make bad reviews magically disappear.

Secondly, and this has always been the problem with "local", is you need a certain critical mass for it to be usable. You can argue that Yelp has reached this point in many cases (although see the next two points) but there are many businesses with <5 reviews.

Third, there is too much friction in asking people to review (and even rate things). Most people simply don't and probably never will. This exacerbates the "critical mass" problem but also introduces a selection bias. The people who comment and rate aren't necessarily representative of general opinions or you (the personalization problem).

I've gone to eat at some places in NYC that are 3.5+ stars that have varied from average to terrible. In some cases I've gone with someone who shared this positive review but--and I realize the counterargument to this is that it's subjective--they're just wrong.

Fourth, there is a clear fraud problem with reviews and ratings. People are clearly paid to give positive reviews (eg you see someone rate a given car dealership in the Bay area on one day and then another in Maine the next day and so on). Of any of the companies in "local", IMHO Google is in the best position to deal with this particular problem (disclaimer: I work for Google).

Lastly, as such reviews become increasingly important, there is the issue of extortion. If this hasn't happened already it will. Criminals already target websites with DDoS attacks that go away if the site in question pays what amounts to "protection money". There's nothing really to stop such criminal enterprises shaking down businesses with the threat of a bad slew of reviews.

It's worth making extra mention of personalization. Many (Google included) seem to view "social search" and "social recommendations" as some kind of panacea to some or even all of these problems. I disagree. I know a couple of people who, say, like Adam Sandler movies. I do not. Not even remotely. Their movie recommendations are so diametrically opposed to mine that I can pretty much take the opposite of what they recommend.

The way forward with this will be something like the Netflix model (IMHO) where these great data mining systems will attempt to find people who are like me and have similar tastes whose recommendations will likely coincide with mine.

unoti 6 days ago  replies      
Yelp has really let me down. I'm new to San Francisco, and initially used Yelp to help me figure out where to eat and hang out. Over time I learned that some of its 4.5 star places are dirty Taquerias that really suck, and some of my favorite places to be are poorly rated. (Note: I've got nothing against dirty taquerias, but the food better be good if it's a dirty run down taqueria with 5 stars.) I'm not sure what services are better than Yelp.

I've heard people say in casual conversation that Yelp is "over" and all the people in the know have gone elsewhere. What services should I be using to know where the best places to eat are in San Francisco and Marin?

Sol Food in Marin county, for example, is just worshiped on Yelp with 5 star reviews. But I go there, I wait in line for 30 minutes, get crammed in on a bench with 5 strangers, and get served a steak sandwich that's too tough to chew. What's up with that? I feel like I'm better off using Google Maps and just guessing than looking to Yelp for advice. Anyway, are there better services than Yelp to help me figure out what's actually worth going to?

jeremymims 6 days ago 1 reply      
This issue comes up quite a bit. Since OwnLocal works with a number of small businesses, we've heard many so-called "horror" stories.

What it boils down to is Yelp filters positive reviews for effusiveness (and ALL CAPS), personal connections with the business owner or employees, rapid review acceleration from first-time Yelp users, or users from the same IP address.

What this article doesn't mention is that many small business owners understand how important Yelp is and actively try to game the system in blatant and unsophisticated ways. Their friends write five star reviews about how wonderful the owner is and how they always have their anniversary dinner there. They create multiple fake accounts and complain loudly that their positive reviews have been filtered.

We've also noticed a certain tone businesses and their friends use. They don't typically describe a particular experience, they describe a business in generalities and will often refer back to what other reviewers are saying. They also appear to take what other people think very personally.

The very first four-star filtered review this business has mentions the waitress and host by first name (she goes on to sign it). Many of the other reviews for this business are similar and come across as fake or by people who mean well, but go overboard on behalf of their friends.

A common looking filtered review (notice effusiveness, caps wording, and referencing other reviews):

"This is a NICE restaurant - one that you go to when you want a quiet meal away from the kids - it's definitely not family-oriented, but then again, not every restaurant needs to be. If you're used to Olive Garden as your Italian "go-to place", then you will probably be disappointed in Fior d'Italia. If you want REAL Italian food, then ignore the naysayers and come here."

Yelp itself has rough stats for the breakdown of reviews:

5 stars: 38%
4 stars: 29%
3 stars: 14%
2 stars: 8%
1 star: 11%

Yelp's little secret is actually that the star ratings don't provide very much granularity for the casual review reader to make a decision and that most restaurants average out to ~3.75 or in Yelp parlance ~3.5 - 4 stars.

danso 6 days ago 1 reply      
I've been a Yelp user for years, and I was even an "Elite User" for awhile...and I had never heard of "filtered reviews" until now. In fact, if you go to the page of the OP's business, once you actually find the "Filtered Reviews" link (which is in very light gray), clicking on it brings a CAPTCHA...


What the hell??

Even as a user determined to see what the fuss is about, I don't even jump through this hoop. So I'm guessing nobody actually clicks through to the filtered reviews, whatever they actually are.

I love that Yelp helps me find interesting places in a dense area like NYC, but their business model is appalling.

parfe 6 days ago 1 reply      
A single helpful Yelp review lays out what happened with this establishment: It ain't what is used to be. They've moved from North Beach to a new location closer to Fisherman Wharf. They probably get alot of tourists. The food is okay...but not as delicious as it was when the other "Italian" owners had it. Where are the Italian waiters who brought so much harm and courtesy to their customers.

Instead of acknowledging these changes as the source of discontent, he blames customers and the review site for pointing issues out. Instead of penning op-eds he should be training his staff, buying higher quality ingredients, and listening to customer complaints.

Owners who hate Yelp ignore the near real time feedback they would never get in person. Complaints posted Fri - Sun more often than Mon - Thur: maybe it you need to look at who works what shifts? Calamari rubbery: Did someone properly train the line cooks? Food called bland, mediocre, bad, or unremarkable: Maybe you should go back to the higher quality ingredients you decided to skimp on to "make more money"?

Yelp looks to be a great way to avoid the death spiral restaurants commonly find themselves in.

Not making enough money? Buy lower quality ingredients. Still not making enough money? Raise prices. Repeat until you lose all regular business and rely on unsuspecting first timers who begrudgingly pay and never return. Eventually close it down.

sedev 6 days ago 7 replies      
I wish the article headline had said that the piece was by a restauranteur. Most of what they have to say about Yelp falls under the heading of "more of the same."

I think that restaurant and venue owners are wrong to hate Yelp - but it's understandable that they do. The reasons that they do are interesting. My take on it is that Yelp is disruptive to a lot of the traditional restaurant practices. Restaurant owners resent Yelp because it feels like they're adding more work to what is already a job that requires 80-hour weeks. Previously, restaurant owners had more message control about their venue's location, because social information like "is the Foo Pizzeria any good?" had more friction, it spread more slowly, and it degraded over time.

A Yelp review has low friction because it gets automatically ingested into Yelp's data set, it spreads quickly, and it doesn't degrade over time - it stays around on the site. If you're a business with a small number of reviews, it doesn't take many one-stars to make you look unappealing, and Yelp's attempts to be user-friendly mean that you're presented among a crowd of your competitors unless you earn a clickthrough. Like being on a crowded shelf at the supermarket, you're at the mercy of the visitor.

One interpretation of this would be to say that restauranteurs' reaction is "Hey! Shouldn't my success be tied to what I do, not to what a stranger on the Internet inflicts on me?" That's a reasonable objection - and that's why Yelp has invested a shit-ton of engineer-hours into filtering reviews. Filtering reviews is something that benefits both restauranteurs and users - it's just that the former tend to be ungrateful pricks about it because "filtering" includes "removing algorithmically detectable friends-and-family five-star reviews." Which leads to the other big interpretation - that restauranteurs are reacting badly to their customers' newfound ability to hold them accountable. We humans are dumb monkeys with a truckload of cognitive biases: we hate being held accountable. I look at articles like this one and I see big parallels to other whiny people who suddenly are brought into accountability and are resisting it.

The thing is that the restauranteurs, like the MPAA or the newspaper industry, cannot win this one in the long term (at least not on the terms that they now use to define "winning"). There's no way to keep people from talking about your business. There's no way to keep people from talking about the things they enjoy. There's no way to keep people from taking the easy way - "I feel like pizza, I'll look it up on Yelp" - instead of a harder way - "I feel like pizza, let's see which of my friends knows where the pizzerias are around here, which of them are available, what their phone numbers and/or locations are, or I know, I could go get the huge inconvenient yellow pages and make a choice based on how much they spent on advertising!" Computing devices will get more convenient to use, not less, knowledge will get easier to share, not less, and the cost of querying the Internet's collective opinion will be cheaper, not more expensive. The restaurant and venue owners are never, ever going to win this the way they want to - again like the MPAA and newspapers, the cat is entirely out of the bag.

Basically what I think they should do about it is

* Stop whining

* Read Seth Godin

* Compete instead of sue

As an aside, I've found Yelp very useful over time with the addition of a few mental filters.

* Judge places by the review histogram, not by individual reviews

* Trust the collective opinion far more than individual reviews, especially for places with 100+ reviews

* Assume that anything at 3.5 stars or above is Good Enough, and use other sources when you want to have rarefied tastes catered to (Yelp started out as being mostly for foodies - I think it's moved out of that, and that if you are or desire to become a serious foodie, you should release yourself from caring about Yelp)

jpdoctor 6 days ago 1 reply      
Consumer Reports was way ahead of their time.

Any site that accepts advertising is automatically tainted. (CR never takes advertising.) Yelp wants its reviews to be believed and for establishments to pay for advertising.

Maybe they're good at balancing the two, but when it comes time to close the quarterly report, you know which one is going to win out.

jambo 6 days ago 1 reply      
One of the problems with Yelp in my city is the "Yelp elite". To bootstrap in my city, Yelp hired a community manager (part of their job is also writing reviews), and enlisted a bunch of people to become "Yelp Elite", earning access to parties in exchange for posting (it seems) daily reviews.

The result has been a high quantity of lengthy, some-times entertaining, low-information reviews posted by people whose advice I wouldn't likely take if I met them in person.


jrockway 6 days ago 1 reply      
I disagree with all of his points. You shouldn't be able to opt out; if I want to post a review of your business on the Internet, that's my decision to make, not yours. (What's next, politicians opting out of news coverage? Yeah right.)

Review filtering is similar; Yelp is allowed to express editorial oversight over their website. Specifically, they try to reduce fraud. Your credit card company doesn't discuss their fraud detection algorithms, so why should Yelp?

All I see here is, "I like my own restaurant, but other people don't. Shut down the review site so nobody can tell anyone else!"

dminor 6 days ago 1 reply      
I think his worry for the investors is misplaced - the BBB has been running a similar racket for years and seems to be doing just fine.
ericd 6 days ago 2 replies      
Interesting view from the restauranteur. I don't think Yelp would be wise to use his advice directly, though. Allowing businesses to opt out of Yelp would be a terrible idea, because Yelp is much more useful when it has everything. Also, there is doubtless a substantial amount of attempted gaming with the reviews, so attempting to catch this and filtering it out is very important if Yelp is to maintain a reputation of being a trustworthy source of reviews. They should try to reduce false positives, but saying they shouldn't filter anything is silly.

The implications of only being able to help the restauranteur with his bad reviews for money are really terrible, though. I wonder if they still do this after all the bad press surrounding that a while back.

crikli 6 days ago 0 replies      
Nobody gives a crap that the restaurant has been there 125 years, but that's what the owner leads with in defense of his enterprise. Looking at the reviews for Fior d' Italia, it looks like service leaves quite a bit to be desired and the food isn't that good.

Maybe Yelp is polluted and biased...or maybe Fior d' Italia just sucks. Occam's razor says it's the latter.

My wife and I travel all over the country on business, often finding ourselves in cities where we've never been. Yelp finds us a great place to eat every single time.

tatsuke95 6 days ago 0 replies      
I've never used Yelp, beyond stumbling on the site when looking for restaurant reviews through Google. But as a follower of technology news, I have read much about it and its controversies. Add this one to the pile. It definitely calls into question their slogan, "Real People. Real Reviews."

But even if the controversies are unfounded...$1.5BB blows my &!%#ing mind. My personal perception is that I'm not even sure I trust the reviews.

arscan 6 days ago 2 replies      
The lack of transparency isn't surprising to me, as that's basically industry practice when it comes to the "special sauce" algorithms that power these recommendation engines (google, tripadvisor, whoever).

But the extortion part does surprise (horrify?) me. I'd love to see some more concrete proof that advertising on yelp results in a friendlier filter function for that business. I assume that there is enough publicly available information (just by scraping their site) to establish some kind of correlation between advertising and filter-friendliness, if one exists. Any of you up for the challenge?

I'd settle for seeing those communications w/the sales team referenced in the article, though.

msg 6 days ago 0 replies      
I found this response elsewhere in the thread so interesting that I had to say something.

PS - The best taqueria IMO is in the outer mission, most the menu is in spanish, and I'm trying to keep it a secret, but yelpers seem to be catching on :(

If you're trying to keep a taqueria to yourself, do you have incentive to leave a bad review? After all, your interests are not aligned with the rest of Yelp's customers. Or even, necessarily aligned with the taqueria's success. Maybe it's to your codependent advantage that they always stay small and delicious and hidden and yours...


This is the problem Yelp hasn't solved yet: how to align the interests of Yelp, Yelp reviewers, Yelp readers, and restaurants. Yelp succeeds if reviewers leave bad reviews because they are upselling bad review protection (they say they aren't several times in the FAQ, but they protesteth too much for me), or if restaurants buy ads. Yelp readers succeed if reviewers are honest and they can use reviews to optimize their personal quality/dollar equation. Restaurants succeed if Yelp drives Yelp readers to them, if reviewers leave good reviews.

Reviewers have many incentives to game reviews. One of the Yelp FAQs is about payola. If they review enough they gain community prominence through badges/titles. If they review too much, their reviews look suspicious (because they could be making them up instead of actually attending). If they become untrustworthy due to a secret Yelp algorithm, their reviews are obscured from prominent view. If they have a bad experience at a place everyone thinks is great, they run a risk writing a contrarian review and being labeled untrustworthy. And on and on.

localhost3000 6 days ago 0 replies      
I have a product in the local restaurant space. As a result I talk to lots of restaurant people - staff, primarily. It is overwhelming the vitriol I hear from them toward Yelp. Many people downright despise it.
mLewisLogic 6 days ago 0 replies      
So... I might be a bit biased (co-founder at Fondu http://fondu.com), but this really is a major problem.

Most restaurant owners we've talked to are afraid of Yelp and the power that it wields. From an investor standpoint it does a great job monetizing it's community. The problem is that Yelp essentially weights the scales, depending upon who is paying them ad money.

Whereas Google did a great job by separating church and state (search and ads), Yelp happily blends the two together. The end result is a little bit of fact and a little bit of fiction.

YMMV, but we think discovering through trusted friends rather than group averages is how the future looks.

18pfsmt 6 days ago 0 replies      
I lived in roughly the same place for the last 20 years, so yelp is very interesting to me. I often notice poor ratings where I believe high ratings are deserved, but also low ratings where high ratings are deserved.
RayJR 5 days ago 1 reply      
I cannot believe the coincidence! My father owns a small pizza business (small as in 1 store, 22 years) and yesterday a yelp power user got upset because I didn't give her free jalepenos. She knew we charge extra for things like ranch but still expected jalepenos for free. She got so mad she changed her review and said there was a "hair" in her pizza "months ago." She is obviously saying this to damage us because she was treated the same as all customers and expects special treatment. Extortion? That's how it felt but I don't care because our true customers know better and are great people. See the whole thing here: http://www.yelp.com/biz/rays-pizza-irvine. Sort by date, most recent review.

This was yelps response when I reported this user: Hi there,

Thank you for inquiring about the reviews of Ray's Pizza on Yelp.

We've looked at Jayne L's review, and since it appears to reflect the personal experience and opinions of the reviewer, we are leaving it intact. Unfortunately, we don't take sides on factual disputes, and suggest instead that you contact the reviewer again to clarify any misunderstandings.

We think it's important for businesses to be part of the conversation, and have created a suite of free tools to help business owners get the most out of Yelp. It looks like you've already unlocked your business page. As a reminder, you can:
- Communicate with your customers via private message or public comment
- Track how many people view your business page
- Add photos and a detailed description of your business
- Convert Yelp users into customers by posting a Yelp Deal to your listing
You can login to your account here: https://biz.yelp.com/

Yelp User Support
San Francisco, California

I am a yelp user and it was great but for businesses its getting out of hand when there is no transparency. What if people are paid to yelp a lot and then use their influence to sell reviews? It could happen.

gphil 6 days ago 0 replies      
This is not the first time this has come up on HN:


syeren 6 days ago 0 replies      
I'm really looking forward to the day that this 'business practice' of Yelp's comes to a broader audience.

While I agree that you can say this is a business model, I can't agree that it is morally correct in anyway, even in a world of capitalism.

bumbledraven 5 days ago 0 replies      
Filtering legitimate reviews is a big problem. Once I discovered that Yelp filtered most of my reviews, I stopped writing them. It's not even like I'm some anonymous coward (not that there's anything wrong with that, of course): I have had a photo of myself on Yelp for a long time, my account is linked to a few friends of mine on Yelp, and I even went to a Yelp event. I wonder how many other people like me stopped writing reviews for the same reason?
peterwwillis 6 days ago 0 replies      
When I want to find a good place to eat, first I 1. ask somebody where a good place is and what they liked that they ate 2. figure out what kind of food i want and look for the best rated places near me 3. compare the menu with what i know about the cuisine, pictures of the place and any details i can scrounge up 4. then I just go and try to pick something I think i'll like.

Food isn't rocket science. Good places are open for a while and have lots of people and you avoid chains and franchises. Don't complain about the service, nobody cares. Don't complain about the prices, nobody cares. Don't complain about the clientele or the ambiance, nobody cares. It's about the food, stupid.

damncabbage 6 days ago 0 replies      
Yelp really is the cool-startup version of the Better Business Bureau.
micheljansen 5 days ago 0 replies      
I first read about Yelp's extortion practices in 2009 [1]. I thought that now they have grown so big, the extortion would have stopped. Apparently not :(

[1] http://www.eastbayexpress.com/ebx/yelp-and-the-business-of-e...

dbcfd 5 days ago 0 replies      
As a business owner, I have also seen the extortion for advertising model. Businesses that advertise with Yelp have low star reviews filtered, while businesses like mine that do not, have reviews from valid customers (often with friends and other reviews) filtered, to lower star ratings.

I have also seen reviews that are blatantly fake (e.g. reviews from Santa Claus, comical reviews, etc.) persist, until a significant amount of time passes. This indicates manual removal, and no actual Yelp filter.

danbmil99 6 days ago 0 replies      
Funny story. I recently was going to order out from a Chinese restaurant that I had recently ordered from before and recall enjoying. I had to google the number, and in so doing came up with a couple terrible Yelp reviews. For some reason I decided to listen to the toobz instead of relying on my own judgement. Ended up ordering horrible greasy food from a better-rated, well-known jaunt.

TL; DR: I let Yelp override my own experience, what's up with that?

zephyrnh 5 days ago 0 replies      
I think this makes sense. Filtered reviews are reviews that yelp considers to be fraudulent. They may be reviews created by multiple accounts from the same computer to inflate a restaurant's rating. Or they may all be negative reviews created by one person with multiple accounts to try to hurt a business they weren't happy with. Either way, I think it's perfectly reasonable that such a system of filtering should and does exist.

Now maybe their filtering system is so horrendous that it makes a 4-star restaurant seem like a 2.5 star restaurant, but I find this hard to believe.

As for asking people to advertise with them to make "bad reviews disappear", that would be terrible, so I can't speak to that, since all we have to go on is this particular owner's word vs Yelp's. Is there any proof of this happening?

lhnn 6 days ago 0 replies      
Yelp apparently does what the BBB does: Extort people by offering "brand cleanup" in exchange for advertising dollars. A disgusting business practice, and I'm sure to pass this along to my "social network".
sheraz 6 days ago 0 replies      
Mr. Larive is spot on in his opinion, and I think he offers good solutions to the dilemmas of business response and participation.

Yelp is representative of a fundamental problem with so many review sites, and our society at large -- namely that it attempts to coalesce many dimensions of data (a person) into a single score.

And, just like FICO, and the SAT/LSAT/etc, Yelp and its predecessors (BBB) attempt to do the same for businesses.

Worse still, they rely on the "Wisdom of Crowds" when it comes to qualitative measure and taste. An average 2.5 stars tells me nothing, especially because I'm an elitist prick and think the average Yelp commenter is an idiot.

I fear that people substitute a Yelp rating for their own critical-thinking, and that is wrong. It is just as wrong that schools judge students largely based on a single test score. It is wrong that lending happens based on a opaque algorithm.

I fear that Yelp is just another symptom that our society is sick. Our brains have atrophied to the point where we only look for one number that determines the succes or failure of our education, our lives and our livelihood.

Or is that a touch melodramatic?

cft 6 days ago 0 replies      
I find that the star rating of places/reviews in Google maps in Android is more reliable. Presumably, it does not suffer from the extortion bias either.
tmchow 6 days ago 0 replies      
Shameless plug:

We just launched Chewsy (http://chewsy.com) last year after years of frustration with these aggregate business review sites. We're focused on rating what you ate and sharing recommendations with friends. It's similar to other food apps on the market but different in significant ways. For example, it's not like a vertical instagram like some of those other popular food apps.

We're very much in growth mode, but San Francisco is getting some good traction and our hometown of Seattle is thriving.

I encourage you to try it out and perhaps it can help you find your next best meal (and help you recommend something to your friends).

matan_a 6 days ago 0 replies      
This is my rule for Yelp:

1. Listen to bad reviews.
2. Ignore good reviews.

jadc 6 days ago 0 replies      
Even though the article mentioned restaurants specifically, I believe the point about Yelp being fundamentally flawed extends much beyond food.

I have heard similar reports from doctors saying that Yelp is filtering out their 5 star reviews unless they advertise with them.

Send Them Your Money: A Campaign to Send The RIAA/MPAA Billions sendthemyourmoney.com
373 points by staunch  1 day ago   128 comments top 23
maeon3 1 day ago  replies      
Very creative and thought provoking, but wrong.

A DVD version of avatar sells for say $20 and Riaa gets some percentage of that. Joe blow downloads avatar for free from google or some other website, ptp or sneakernet. Joe blow sends the riaa some percentage of $20 in photocopied money. That does not provide the same utility for riaa as the avatar.mp4 did for Joe blow.

Whether or not Joe blow's download of avatar for free is unfair against the store that stocks the DVD, the trucker who moved it, the actors, producers and supporting staff or the media ads that promoted it is another question. The question comes down to how much Joe blow WOULD have paid for avatar.mp4 had his only option been to purchase a DVD, wait and rent it, or watch it at a friends house.

When we replace avatar with "schematics for a 3d printable car/computer/cup" then we will have to deal with this problem of rewarding the creators of valuable data according to how badly people want it, preserving our freedom from censorship and preserving net neutrality. Yarr!

ck2 1 day ago 4 replies      
The irony here is it's a much worse federal crime to photocopy US currency.

You can get around this by making sure it's (much) smaller than the original and only copied on one side.


corin_ 1 day ago 1 reply      
Seeing the title, here's what I was expecting to read:

"They think illegal downloads happen because people want to steal, we think they happen because people what better digital distribution. Send them money [real, actual payments] so they think 'holy shit, look how much money we just got sent, think how much more we could make by offering good digital distribution'."

Which would be a more interesting, more thought-provoking campaign, in my opinion - though one with obvious flaws, and I certainly wouldn't personally endorse it.

anthonyb 1 day ago 2 replies      
> They've made it very clear that they consider digital copies of physical property to be just as valuable as the original.

Wow, talk about missing the point.

Digital copies of movies and music are just as valuable as the originals, particularly as CDs and DVDs become obsolete. Copies of dollar bills are somewhat less so - you can't buy stuff with them.

If you actually want to argue against the movie and music industries, you'll need to use real facts, not convenient, pretend ones.

tibbon 1 day ago 1 reply      
By doing this you're clearly stealing money by making digital copies of it, devaluing money for everyone and making the maker of the money (US Mint) bankrupt.
Danieru 1 day ago 1 reply      
Here is some low fidelity ascii money: http://www.retrojunkie.com/asciiart/money/bills.txt

Think of it as mp3 money.

memset 1 day ago 1 reply      
This is just awful.

"They've made it very clear that they consider digital copies of physical property to be just as valuable as the original."

What is an "original"? With food I understand. smell:food::sound:coins. Or even smell:food::picture:money. So in this case, picture:money::torrent:??

What is the 'original'? The physical medium containing the footage original? A live performance?

If you were to pay for the movie - just as one might pay to eat actual food - what would you pay for? If not a copy of the movie's bits on your hard drive, what? Or do you think nothing at all?

The original article was saying that there used to be a scarcity in the act of watching a movie: you had to go to the theater. Now that scarcity, the problem of "how shall I procure this entertainment" has been solved.

But movies themselves still cost money. Movies themselves are scarce! We can watch movies as easily as we breathe air. But we cannot make movies as easily.

dools 1 day ago 1 reply      
Hold on - I thought this was an awesome idea right up until it was a joke.

Why don't we actually give the RIAA millions of dollars?

Like, the argument from all advocates of digital freedom isn't that artists don't need money to survive, but by making things simple and easy, people will quite willingly part with their money.

So why not solve this "chicken and egg" issue by hurling a few eggs their way to get the ball rolling?

Let's give them shitloads of money to prove that people will willingly pay for their product.

literalusername 1 day ago 0 replies      
Don't bother trying to load the MPAA's contact page if you reject their cookies. It just loops a reload. I'm not exactly surprised that they value tracking over usability.
AshleysBrain 1 day ago 2 replies      
Don't a lot of copiers/scanners have technology that prevents them copying currency? Thought there was a special dot pattern or something.
Jd 1 day ago 0 replies      
This is pointless and a complete waste of time.
kreek 1 day ago 1 reply      
To paraphrase James Taylor being a musician is a blue collar job, but at least blue collar jobs pay minimum wage. If the attitude conveyed in this site keeps up independent content creators are just going to say it's not worth it and all you'll be left with is the manufactured pablum the music industry serves up.
bithive123 1 day ago 0 replies      
I am concerned that sites like this do more harm than good because they misrepresent the issue. Taking this joke to its logical conclusion, why not instead post a shell script that makes a trillion copies of dollar_bill.jpg and then offer to "license" it to the RIAA for a modest fee?
bborud 13 hours ago 0 replies      
I'm pretty sure that scanning US currency, printing it and then sending the result across state borders is quite possibly a federal offense so I wouldn't exactly recommend you do this.
tkahn6 1 day ago 1 reply      
> They've made it very clear that they consider digital copies of physical property to be just as valuable as the original.

What does this even mean? It appears the message of this campaign is that digital music is devoid of monetary value.

sukuriant 1 day ago 2 replies      
IANAL. Is it illegal to photocopy money and send it? Or, is it just illegal to use the photocopied money?
sofifonfek 18 hours ago 0 replies      
Does anyone know how the japanese judge story [2] and the german trickster Till Eulenspiegel [2] are related ? I knew the story as an adventure of Till Eulenspiegel.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C5%8Coka_Tadasuke#Famous_cases

[2] http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Till_Eulenspiegel

wisty 21 hours ago 0 replies      
I was hoping it was something like this - you can donate $0.01 by credit card, and they will lose out (overall) due to merchant account fees.
scoot 1 day ago 1 reply      
What are the odds that two articles at the top the front page of HN refer to the same obscure (?? I hadn't heard it before) tale of Ōoka Tadasuke and the stolen smell?


MiWHackerNews 20 hours ago 1 reply      
this violates us laws and international treaties on currency controls. It's conspiracy to commit counterfeitng and inciting others to commit wire fraud

Remember they used to hang people over this. Newton watched with glee as coin shavers he had caught were executed.

Mmmm move on. Not quite right.

See EUrion

paulsutter 10 hours ago 0 replies      
Hilarious and clever, but would any of us want to be paid for our mobile apps or online services with the same currency?
reaktivo 1 day ago 1 reply      
Somewhat related? Is selling your physical dvd allowed in the US? A crowd sourced Netflix would be awesome, where you can rent directly from and to other users.
thuang513 22 hours ago 0 replies      
isn't that what we are doin when people go watch all the crap movies?
Kaspersky: Duqu Trojan uses 'unknown programming language' zdnet.com
355 points by Slimy  5 days ago   117 comments top 31
scottdw2 5 days ago 3 replies      
The payload could have been modified (to obfuscate its origin / source language) using a product named codesurfer/x86.


If it has access to source code, it can instrument the build process, and obtain disassembly that is high quality enough to support rewriting. Using it's scheme API you can modify the CFG of each procedure directly, serialize the rewritten parts out as nasm, and even relink with the object files you don't have source for.

It works with any build system, and supports gcc / as / ld and cl / link.

So it may not have actually been written using a custom pl.

runn1ng 5 days ago 4 replies      
I will be repeating a notion I read on YCombinator elsewhere - but I, too, find it incredibly cool that we live in a time when wars are fought online like that.

We have online revolutionaries anarchists and REAL nation-wide revolutions, started on online networks (talking about Arabic Spring here); we got FBI agents, looking through IP addresses on IRC networks to catch a small group of bragging attackers; we got invisible army of Chinese hackers that noone knows who they are, only that they are really good; some unknown entity making amazingly well done and thought out trojan like stuxnet and now duqu, that seems to be right from pages of some hyperbolic comic book; and, last but not the least, the Russian mafia lords employing Zeus trojans and whatnot to make botnets that mine bitcoin, purely digital currency.

It's an amazing world we live in. Can't wait what the future will bring.

viraptor 5 days ago 1 reply      
Unless I'm mistaken it looks like a very dynamic language. The screenshot they're showing seems to point at initialisation of a new object, which actually copies function pointers for each of its methods. That's not needed for static languages which would just point to vtables. It looks like it doesn't use real GC though - object's destructor is called right away on a failed allocation. And the destructor is possible to change too...

So something like compiled javascript sans GC really. Or maybe like precompiled python.

Doesn't seem very obfuscated either imho - there's a bunch of static data copied in a series of moves. If someone really wanted to obfuscate those, this looks like a fairly low hanging fruit: grab a list of 5+ mov-s of constants and change them into xor+copy of a memory range to confuse pointer detection.

Can you see any more characteristics in that fragment?

anigbrowl 5 days ago 4 replies      
The company has named it the Duqu Framework

I am confident that within a week there will be 3 front page posts on HN along the lines of 'Why I use Duqu and you should too'.

jd 5 days ago 2 replies      
Writing an unpolished programming language isn't that much work in comparison to writing a complex virus. Especially low level languages where instructions map pretty closely to the CPU instructions are easy to create.

I think it makes a lot of sense to write a custom programming language/compiler because virus scanners tend to use fingerprints to recognize dangerous pieces of code. So you want a compiler that deliberately obfuscates the code it writes and also outputs instructions in such a way that it avoids triggering known virus scanner fingerprints.

apaprocki 5 days ago 1 reply      
To me this just seems like someone wrote their own little OO system in C, similar to how GObject works. The book Object Oriented Programming with ANSI by Axel-Tobias Schreiner[1] even has example types which use the nomenclature 'ctor' and 'dtor' as in the snippet of code they show (See section 2.5, page 17). It isn't hard to write a little class generator that writes out all this boilerplate code[2] from a C++/C# like input file. The benefit is, of course, the resulting code size and avoiding any linkage to the std C++ library.

[1] http://www.planetpdf.com/codecuts/pdfs/ooc.pdf
[2] http://www.jirka.org/gob.html

jgrahamc 4 days ago 0 replies      
It might well be a macro language and not compiled. For example, HLA (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_Level_Assembly) has many of the features that are present here. It has its own library functions, objects/classes, and produces code that looks bit like it was compiled.
computerbob 5 days ago 1 reply      
The actual real blog which zdnet summarized from which is far more interesting:


nivertech 5 days ago 0 replies      
They doing it wrong.

Instead of trying to compile code examples in every candidate PL, they should:

1. Crawl x86 binaries from the Internet / download sites / code archives.

2. Write M/R job, which will disassemble and look for patterns they discovered.

3. Once patterns found - investigate the source of binary (i.e. who uploaded it to download site, maybe it was on university FTP server or maybe it's part of commercial driver released by company XYZ).

andrewcooke 5 days ago 1 reply      
is it dumb to suggest that someone who understands c++ (or other compiled oo language) would/could write assembler in this way? just from reading the description (things like variable locations of method tables, various registers for "this", and lack of memory management) it sounds like it could be handwritten, but structured in a similar way to c++.
beza1e1 4 days ago 0 replies      
Looking the assembly I see two things: (1) no name mangling. So either this was lost in the decompilation/deciphering phase by the Kaspersky guys or mysterious language does not support method overloading. (2) the assembly looks reasonably tight and optimized, so a solid code generation backend (GCC,LLVM,MSVC,...) was used.

Especially because of the name mangling i was thinking of Vala [0]. However, Vala relies on GObject and does probably not work on Windows. Anyways, I guess it's an OO language compiled to C in an intermediate step. This would explain (2).

RodgerTheGreat 5 days ago 0 replies      
If I read that properly, it sounds like Objects have their own function tables- this would seem to indicate an object oriented language based on prototypal inheritance.
tlrobinson 4 days ago 1 reply      
I've seen the theory that Stuxnet/Duqu was developed by a state thrown around a lot, but what's the actual evidence?

It's not particularly hard to write a simple programming language. Worms are very specialized pieces of code. It doesn't seem that crazy that someone would create a language tailored for worm development.

samstave 5 days ago 2 replies      
This is one of the most interesting netsec (if not THE most) questions of our time.

We have what is effectively an alien virus, given how advanced it was, its construction and spawing of duqu and being written in an unknown language.

This is serious awesome cyberpunk stuff - but scary as hell at the same time.

With the revelation of Stuxnet and Duqu, NOBODY should think anything they do/say online is safe.

nikcub 4 days ago 2 replies      
They learnt from watching all the research firms reverse engineer Stuxnet and eventually stop it. What they are doing is obfuscating the output. If you look at a default DLL or EXE build from VS it is amazing how much information is included that helps you attach a debugger and work out how it works.

The authors learnt from the Stuxnet experience and I wouldn't be surprised if they are not testing their own worm using black-box reverse engineering tools to figure out what the research guys will work out when they eventually find it in the wild.

This has worked so well that Kaspersky think that the authors actually invented a new language, when it is likely still just C++, some machine generated code, some obfuscator tools (game makers have been using them for years to stop crackers) and likely manually changing the outputted assembler.

daeken 5 days ago 2 replies      
This makes fairly little sense to me. Why wouldn't one write such a virus using straight ASM, or possibly write a VM in ASM and write the payload in the VM's bytecode (this option makes it particularly easy to do metamorphic code, though doing it with well-written ASM is also very possible)? It seems like creating a custom language -- or hacking up compiled C++ or whatnot -- is a bit of overkill considering that the basic tenets of virus writing are: keep it simple, don't get caught; this wouldn't aid in either of those.
alan_cx 5 days ago 1 reply      
Please forgive, and correct, me if I have this wildly wrong:

This is referred to as Stuxnet 2. And the original was "proven" to have been made to attack Iranian nuclear labs, and what not. Conclusion being that it was made by some government agency. I suppose foil hat theory would point fingers at CIA/NSA type people.

Assuming the above is correct, or correct enough, its it not surprising to see what might be a new language for this virus, if it has a nation state's resources behind it? If that is the case, what chance is there that any one will be able to crack this mystery?

meatsock 5 days ago 0 replies      
are properly written code obfuscators able to throw off detection of their originating language?
vessenes 5 days ago 1 reply      
Apparently I am the only one who thought immediately "Goldman Sachs." My money is on this being SLANG.
Yxven 5 days ago 3 replies      
Why would creating your own programming language for a virus be a good thing? If viruses are the only thing written in this language, wouldn't the language make it easier for the anti-virus companies to detect it without having to worry as much about false positives?
darxius 5 days ago 1 reply      
What driverdan said makes sense. It is much more likely that they obfuscated or masked their code instead of inventing an "unknown" programming language. Even so, the obfuscation method used I'm sure would be pretty cunning (seeing as these folk mean business).

It's interesting to see Kaspersky suggest that the state is behind this solely based on some unknown code. Does anyone know why that would be a likely conclusion on their part?

Cieplak 5 days ago 3 replies      
Haskell or Lisp, perhaps?
damiankennedy 5 days ago 0 replies      
Maybe they just embedded something like RTOS-32. The company that makes it (www.On-Time.com) say it can be integrated with Visual Studio and used along side Visual C++.
spullara 4 days ago 1 reply      
I like the idea that it is an OO language that forgoes its own runtime library and instead uses the Win32 API as its native library. This would be a great language to write viruses in -- perfect for just glueing together APIs and doing some very small scale business logic without having to learn C++.
wololo 4 days ago 0 replies      
related: an anti-reverse engineering tool at microsoft called "warbird" (http://forum.doom9.org/archive/index.php/t-130166.html, search for warbird)
Marwan 4 days ago 0 replies      
To me it seems just Kaspersky are advertising their product, nothing more.
ekm2 4 days ago 0 replies      
Someone in an earlier post had claimed it is MASM32
flabberghast 5 days ago 1 reply      
Well, given that Unit 8200 is up, and the U.S. Cyber Command is active this looks exactly like what they'd do.

Just wait until they let the A.I. make the language as so it is not human decipherable.

logn 4 days ago 0 replies      
ahh, that's assembly
petermcd 4 days ago 0 replies      
In my best Commander Tigh voice: "Looks like exactly the kind of code a Cylon would write, to me."
OpenStreetMap: Welcome Apple osmfoundation.org
356 points by sambeau  5 days ago   150 comments top 24
sambeau 5 days ago  replies      

  "It's also missing the necessary credit to OpenStreetMap's
contributors; we look forward to working with Apple to get
that on there."

ugh 5 days ago 8 replies      
Then congratulations Apple, for making a not so great map even worse. I can't really judge map quality in the US, but in Germany it sucks. Cities show up twice or are missing completely, labels are often small, unreadable and ugly. There is no consistency in the placement of lables.

OSM has its fair share of inconsistencies but it's not that bad.

The map is ok for what it is: Just for presentation inside of iPhoto, not for browsing or finding your way. I really hope that Apple doesn't plan to use this anywhere else and hat they just didn't go with Google because they can't customize their maps any way they want.

(That missing credit is also shameful. I was looking everywhere inside of iPhoto but couldn't find it. Stuff like that sould at least be moderately easy to find.)

petsos 5 days ago 1 reply      
I wonder if this is a temporary quick and dirty solution from Apple, pending a full-scale switch to their own maps in iOS 6.0.
5h 5 days ago 0 replies      
This is (for me) a very timely validation of OSMs efforts, congrats to them!
NameNickHN 5 days ago 2 replies      
There are two things that Apple should do in order to avoid being viewed as a jerk once again. Put in the credit to OpenStreetMap and make a sizable donation to the OpenStreetMaps Foundation.
mrinterweb 5 days ago 0 replies      
I can see a big migration away from Google Maps with Google's new pricing. Google's pricing can potentially get prohibitively expensive quickly. 25000 map views per day and $4/1000 map views that exceed the free 25000 map views. I am starting a new project that is focused around mapping. There is no way Google Maps will work for me with their pricing model. Open Street Maps is great.
mokus 5 days ago 1 reply      
In addition to the attribution, I'd like to know how they are going to comply with the "share-alike" part of the license. Where can I download "Apple maps"? According to the OSM FAQ, it should contain not only the OSM data but all other data they have merged in.

It also seems like they should be required to release all the styling parameters and/or code needed to render the maps exactly as they appear in iPhoto - does anyone know how far CC-BY-SA reaches in a case like this?

EDIT: for that last part, I guess they probably would be fine just releasing the whole thing pre-rendered.

rmc 5 days ago 0 replies      
There are some licence and copyright matters to be dealt with, but it's good to see another company switch to OpenStreetMap
Shank 5 days ago 2 replies      
I thought someone compared the terrain with OSM and in certain locations it differs?

Edit: They're apparently combining map data in some places.

dan1234 5 days ago 1 reply      
Has it been confirmed that they're using OSM data or could the data be a product of their acquisition of Placebase (back in 2009)?

Apple have actually been using this tile set for a while (it's used in the slide show mode of the current version of iPhoto for OS X).

stevenp 5 days ago 1 reply      
We know that Apple is working on using their own map technology based on some of their acquisitions. Is it possible that OSM is just a stop-gap until their own maps are ready to go? Perhaps they didn't want to enter into another licensing agreement with Google if they're going to be ready to switch to their own solution later this year with iOS 6?
JVIDEL 5 days ago 1 reply      
What is the word I'm looking for, "disappointed"?

The lack of given credit to OSM doesn't seems like an accident, and I was looking forward to see what Apple was doing with that amazing mapping technology from SAAB.

This is underwhelming to say the least, I was expecting much more from Apple.

sharmi 5 days ago 0 replies      
I see this as a favorable move to OSM. Hopefully the OSM's data would be enriched further considering the huge volume of people who would come in contact with OSM. OSM still lacks in a few places like middle east (Kuwait). But what was surprising was, wikimapia has several orders of magnitude better data for the same region compared to OpenStreetMap or other commercial map providers ( That includes google maps, yahoo maps etc )
nchlswu 5 days ago 1 reply      
Could someone clarify using a service like OSM or Google Maps vs. using their data for map tiles?

After the announcement I read tweets that basically said Apple was still using the Google Maps service, but the tiles were rendered by Apple?

Based on what I'm reading it sounds like I misunderstood or am misremembering what I read.

MRonney 5 days ago 1 reply      
The map for my hometown shows a train station that hasn't existed since the early 1900's.
X-Istence 5 days ago 1 reply      
The Apple tiles are completely missing the street I live on ...
dutchbrit 5 days ago 0 replies      
Someone at Apple definitely deserves a good spanking..
chpolk 5 days ago 0 replies      
With many of these larger map-based apps switching to OpenStreetMap, does anyone know any apps that receive a large amount of traffic that are currently/going to stay with Google Maps? And if so, how are they dealing with the charges (is it doable with a large amount of traffic without a significant source of revenue)?
Metapony 5 days ago 1 reply      
Link is down. I'd ask for a google cache link, but the irony would make me implode.
dbkbali 5 days ago 1 reply      
Great Apple, do no evil! How can we get better coverage for Asia?
Tycho 5 days ago 0 replies      
Just when I thought they couldn't get any more evil.
robertgaal 5 days ago 0 replies      
How can a project this cool have such an ugly website? It's shit like this OSM...
phil 5 days ago 2 replies      
I don't get it. Where's the evidence that these maps are based on OSM data versus, say, Navteq or TeleAtlas data?

The tiles use terrain data that nobody thinks is from OSM, and when I look at North American cities, the street grids certainly don't seem to match any better than you'd expect.

This post sounds pretty confident but they don't explain why.

tseabrooks 5 days ago 1 reply      
It feels a bit silly to fawn over map tiles... and I'll probably be accused of being an "Apple Fanboy"... But I'll be damned if those aren't some gorgeous tiles.

Hopefully, this signals apple will move away from google for the built in maps app and provide something superior themselves with something comparable to the kick ass turn by turn in the current Android devices.

Hidden gems in Mac OS X dtrace.org
339 points by ahalan  3 days ago   48 comments top 10
Terretta 3 days ago 1 reply      
Not sure if it qualifies as a "hidden gem" in OS X itself, but the new Signature management in Preview, using the built in iSight to scan a handwritten sig off a sheet of paper, is an amazing time saver.

// Number 8, bitesize.d, rocks.

LeafStorm 3 days ago 6 replies      
Honestly, so far none of these have been the major performance bottleneck on my Macbook. For me, it's been RAM. Even though I have 4 GB of RAM, I have at least 3 GB wired or active at any given time - Chrome alone takes up roughly 1 GB of it, with all its helper processes. But unfortunately I really have no idea how to bring my RAM usage down.
mcav 3 days ago 4 replies      
Is there anything that lets you view how much network _bandwidth_ an application is using? I've looked before with no luck.
euroclydon 3 days ago 1 reply      
One of the features that differentiated Macs from Windows early on for me was how they systemized PDFs. Not only could it read and write PDFs, it was eager to do so.
vasco 3 days ago 1 reply      
>> Why Unix? Mac OS X is Unix under the hood: the Darwin kernel

Just beeing pedantic but I think Darwin is the operating system, not the kernel. The kernel is Mach 3.

brown9-2 3 days ago 2 replies      
About "why is my Macbook fan so loud?", has anyone successfully attempted to clean out dust from inside the laptop to reduce the fan noise?
timc3 3 days ago 0 replies      
Excellent list, one of those things that I keep coming back to hacker news for.
lysium 3 days ago 2 replies      
I once tried to look into dtrace because I was missing strace from Linux. I gave up when I realized I had to learn a whole language just to do what strace did for me on Linux.

Now I'm enlightened to see there is dtruss. It works different than strace and needs privileges, but I'm glad that I've found the strace alternative.

atopuzov 3 days ago 0 replies      
Nice one. Getting to know DTrace was on my todo list for the next few moths.
teeray 3 days ago 0 replies      
I never knew about this tool--my mind has been blown. Thank you OP!
Learning from 20 years of personal analytics stephenwolfram.com
331 points by hendler  5 days ago   58 comments top 18
nod 5 days ago 3 replies      
The scope and scale of this data is breathtaking! However... it strikes me that the best that he could do with this data was plot it and say "oh, I remember those events". I wouldn't feel like all of that effort was worth it, if I were him. What did it DO for him? Apparently very little.
sr3d 5 days ago 3 replies      
As someone who's trying to optimize his life better, what strikes me the most is this part of the post:

  For my consistent experience has been that the more 
routine I can make the basic practical aspects of my life,
the more I am able to be energetic"and
spontaneous"about intellectual and other things.

This reminds of the book Uncertainty that I'm reading. Very interesting indeed.

siavosh 5 days ago 4 replies      
This is amazing. I think the quantified self movement is going to be huge. With more personal tracking gadgets (fitbit, jawbone, nike fuel), measurements are going to become more and more seamless, passive, and complete. Not only will you get historical insights into your blind habits, but you can finally have an objective feedback loop on your behavior, and make necessary adjustments.

But one of the biggest challenges is going to be privacy...

Sukotto 5 days ago 0 replies      
If this sort of thing interests you, check out Kevin Kelly's Quantified Self collaborative project.


kayoone 5 days ago 1 reply      
wow, so he was and is writing a minimum of 50 up to 200 emails per day ? Insane, that would take up my whole day, but since hes mostly managing his company his job probably is mostly about writing stuff to people, but still amazing to keep that up for so long.
citricsquid 5 days ago 1 reply      
For anyone that wants to track their own typing, check out the whatpulse project: http://whatpulse.org/

My typing (http://whatpulse.org/stats/users/210575/) seems to match his in frequency, around 10 million per year.

pofla 5 days ago 1 reply      
If you're curious about the setup he uses there's more here.
10char 5 days ago 1 reply      
My side project http://AskMeEvery.com helps with personal data tracking. It asks you a question of your choice (ie how many phone calls did I have, how many commits, anything) every day and graphs your responses over time. Might be useful if you're interested in this.
mhansen 4 days ago 2 replies      
If this kind of thing interests you, I made an app that graphs last.fm song listens in the same way as Wolfram's graphed his emails.

I find changes in listening habits correlate well with big life changes.


peter_l_downs 5 days ago 0 replies      
I would love for all of the little tools and scripts he uses to keep track of this data to be released publicly. Half out of curiosity (how exactly does he do it?) and half out of interest in doing this myself. Although his post doesn't seem to make any important conclusions from the data, I'm sure that there are some really interesting correlations, patterns, etc.
commanderkeen08 4 days ago 0 replies      
When I was reading James W. Pennebaker's "The Secret Life of Pronouns," I started consciously collecting as much personal data as I could for this exact reason. I'm 23 and I've got most of everything I've ever done on a computer since I was around 14 logged. I started thinking about the amazing insights that all of this data can reveal to me in the future. Every IM conversation, email, blog entry, text message, tweet everything I've liked on Facebook. I can only imagine in 20 years, having a psychiatrist ask me what my childhood was like and being able to show them a piechart of how many times I complained about something to someone.
ramblerman 4 days ago 1 reply      
This kind of data would be so cool for body related things

- Calory intake per day

- caffeine

- minutes exercised

- blood pressure

I could imagine in the future this would be quite feasible. The biggest barrier probably isn't technological, rather the resistance to the idea of injecting/carrying a little digital monitor

Drbble 4 days ago 0 replies      
> one can type and use a mouse just fine while walking on a treadmill, at least up to"for me"a speed of about 2.5 mph.

Anything you can do while typing and talking on the phone isn't much exercise.
This seems far more annoying and inefficient than simply taking a 10 minute 5-6mph jog on the treadmill around the block before lunch.

sneak 4 days ago 0 replies      
All of this data is already going into our computers. I bet people would pay for a slick app/service that visualizes it well, like RescueTime but more holistic.
wr1472 5 days ago 1 reply      
I wonder how he reliably recorded the phone call data?
jpalley 5 days ago 0 replies      
If you are interested in seeing this sort of data for yourself - it is exactly this experience we are building at BrainPage.

Leave your email on http://signup.brainpage.com - we'd love your feedback as it gets ready.

m_a_u_r_i_c_e 4 days ago 0 replies      
i can measure so i can mess with it. What did the person learned more then if he would have asked collegues and his fam members. Humans are imho the more important data filters and aggregators. I prob.missed the point.
jl6 4 days ago 1 reply      
How do you scan 230,000 pages of paper?
Never Negotiate Piecemeal. Here's Why bothsidesofthetable.com
326 points by dwynings  3 days ago   37 comments top 14
nostrademons 3 days ago 1 reply      
You could look at this by viewing negotiating as a way of arriving at a globally optimal solution that maximizes everyone's happiness, rather than as a way to allocate surplus that's inherently zero-sum.

When you negotiate piecemeal, there's little room for prioritization. There's give & take on each individual issue, and one person is the winner and one person is the loser on that particular issue, and you don't have the flexibility to make sure you win on the issues you care about and lose on the ones you don't.

When you treat the agreement as a whole, you can look at it as an effort in prioritization. Each side will care more about certain issues. You want each side to win on the issues they care about, and lose on the ones that they don't. The negotiation, then, is just a way of teasing those priorities out effectively and making sure that everybody's needs can be met at once.

MattRogish 3 days ago 1 reply      
Yes, it's called "bundling".


I highly recommend everyone learn the basics of negotiation. This isn't rocket science and is one of a set of well-known techniques.

Go buy "Getting to Yes". It's a great primer to negotiation.


lionhearted 3 days ago 0 replies      
Wow, what a great piece. Lots of good advice. Made me cringe in recollection at a few times in my life.

Interestingly enough though, my most adversarial negotiation of my life went like this (caught partner embezzling funds after he'd had a personal finance crisis)... interestingly, that one was wound down by email and fax with entirety of the agreement like this, and was the most successful. I didn't get this point back then (I still screw it up, actually, by trying to proactively "fix" things and oftentimes taking things at face value that are just leverage/negotiating moves). Yet -- I got lucky. My ex-partner's father was a lawyer, so we just faxed/emailed drafts back and forth.

That one came out OK, good outcomes even. Many other situations I had a much better position and better odds, but did poorly since I compromised/conceded/"helped"/"fixed" too early and set an expectation that things would continue that way.

Hmm. Expectations are a funny thing.

This is a really great article. Anyone who thinks it's not relevant to them should read it twice, since it covers a hell of a lot of life. Brilliantly put piece.

jayzee 2 days ago 0 replies      
I do agree that negotiating while considering the entire scope can be useful and beneficial to both parties, but it can be counter-productive to disclose your priorities. If one of your priorities is not a priority for me, I can still pretend that it is a priority for me, and give-in after a lot of tough back-and-forth. Then I can use that as leverage as we go down the list.

I feel that you should test the other side's priorities before you disclose yours. You would not want to trade an elephant for a pawn.

nutjob123 3 days ago 1 reply      
A good point was made however I really don't like these blog posts which attempt to be a "negotiating for dummies" style resource. Negotiating is a well understood field and there are many textbooks and academic resources for people who would like to learn more. Normally these resources are meant for lawyers but the explanations about why people negotiate following certain patterns should be accessible to most people.
ChuckMcM 3 days ago 0 replies      
"And most of us start with zero training."

I take from this that my life is atypical since both I and my three daughters took up negotiation training at about the age of 3 and worked hard to improve our skills from then on :-)

I liked the article, its true life is negotiation be it with your spouse, your partners, your kids, or even the taxi driver. I think a good take away is that if you have never considered all the negotiating you do, you might think about picking up a couple of books on it.

I can recommend "Getting to Yes" http://www.amazon.com/Getting-Yes-Negotiating-Agreement-With... as a great place to start.

cheatercheater 2 days ago 0 replies      
In my latest contract, I negotiated in a kinda-piecemeal way. I was going to be hired by this big company, and got a fairly shitty contract: they never worked with contractors and got a contract from their parent company. It had unpassable clauses geared towards fucking me over, such as a clause that disabled you from handing over debts to collection agencies. The whole thing had in total about 20 problems I needed to address. I first negotiated the rate. Next, I wrote the CEO with the 16 least important problems. Once he parsed that and agreed to everything (because they weren't things important for him anyways) I wrote him with the outstanding big problems. He admitted to that all, after some argumentation. Finally, one issue was outstanding. I pressed on and he wrote the following to the middle manager: He beat me to a pulp, just agree to everything he wants. Finally, after the contract was signed, I made sure to remind the guys of some things that are implied by the local law that they would have to honor in the end. Doing things this way saved me a lot of trouble and won me a big fat wallet.
recroad 3 days ago 1 reply      
tl;dr Don't negotiation point by point, get all the points first, prioritize them, and then negotiate.
verelo 3 days ago 0 replies      
I have a bunch of negotiating heading my way and i think this is some advice that will really help. We have a lawyer and now i think about it, that is how i recall him working...although i just thought that was how he worked.

Who would have thought problem solving skills would hold us back?

jamesaguilar 3 days ago 1 reply      
It's weird to me that this guy is jokes so much about Stuart's Jewish parents. Aren't we past that by now?
erikb 3 days ago 4 replies      
I really don't like these "do this way ALWAYS" or "NEVER EVER do that" advices. In my eyes it will not help the reader. A good plan is not one that magically pops up in your head, but one that you refined many thousand times through sweat and experience. The upper bound (in terms of success) of most strategies is much higher then most people think. Just choose one that makes you feel comfortable. If people want to negotiate piecemeal, they SHOULD! If they do that often and work out how to act in different occuring situations (good and bad ones will come with EVERY strategy), then their plan will gradually improve.

I claim that the worst strategy, but with very well worked out details and executed by a practitioner with a lot of experience and who is well shaped for that strategy, will beat most people applying the best strategy. Of course with 26 years in age, I can't say that my theory is true or not. But my experiences until now support that theory. What do you think?

mathattack 3 days ago 0 replies      
Absolutely true. I learned this in an academic setting, after which it seemed so obvious. Very time efficient, and increases the chance that both sides leave happy.
EGreg 3 days ago 0 replies      
Very good advice! I like it.
Create 2 days ago 0 replies      
this is old hat. 13th century, Florence.

now, its just called double-entry bookkeeping system. works for money, and low-and-behold business deals. some people look at their whole life from this perspective.

Paul Graham Keynote at PyCon brianrue.wordpress.com
303 points by brianr  4 days ago   118 comments top 21
bambax 4 days ago  replies      
> inbox is a todo list. email is the protocol for putting stuff on it

I see these categories of email

1. Email from people you know that you're likely to respond to, and which therefore lead to "conversations"

2. Reminders and "things to do" that you need to act upon; once you have acted upon it you usually update the status of the task by mailing back

3. Read-only email: email sent by corporations that you somehow need to store but that you will never respond to (they often come from aptly-named "no reply" addresses; but mailing lists are part of it too)

4. Random stuff (close to spam, but not really): things you have to read because they may be important, but usually aren't

Gmail is optimized for #1 and does a good job at it. Lately it started to address #4 by trying to automatically detect "important" email; in my opinion this doesn't work well, but it could eventually work.

AFAIK nobody is seriously trying to solve #2 and #3, and in my experience #3 and #4 cause most of the clutter. Which makes #3 the most urgent problem with the highest ROI.

What if you could use a special email address for "read-only email" that would receive #3 mail and deal with it:

- organize it automatically by sender (or "topic") and period (not by subject / conversation / date: all my utility bills of one year are ONE object and not a dozen different conversations, for example)

- save all attachments (that deserve it) as PDFs

- notify you only when necessary (not easy)

- etc.

I've been toying with mailgun today, and it seems building a first version of this isn't out of reach; I'd be very interested to exchange ideas on this subject.

larsberg 4 days ago  replies      
Curious point:
> replace universities
> heading down wrong path last couple decades. not fun for students or professors.

Is that (fun part) generally true? I'm in my thirties, and I certainly had lots of fun at my previous job (MSFT, on developer tools), but none of it compared with either my undergraduate or Ph.D. student experiences. That also seems to be true for most of my colleagues and friends --- who have done the startup sold for lots of money, big smash-hit video games, part of the i* device releases from day 1, etc.

All of the faculty I know really love it as well. Certainly, I hear bad things from the assistant (untenured) faculty, but all of the folks I meet who've made it over the hurdle seem to really love their work and have a lot of fun.

Are non top-tier universities really that bad? Or is my circle of friends and programming languages researchers just a bunch of weirdos?

pron 4 days ago 2 replies      
Everything here could be summarized under the headline "solve people's annoying, day-to-day problems (in an original manner)". There are some great perspectives here, but I have a (little) problem with the premise of "solve people's annoying problems". I understand that this probably was a business talk to people interested in entrepreneurship, and, certainly this is great advice for people wanting to build a profitable business. But in the end, this is all it is: "how to make lots of money from software? Answer: solve people's annoying problems".

In a society where engineers are arguably playing an increasingly important role, I think this outlook is too limited. This perspective is what I would expect in a CPA convention. If engineers are so smart, powerful and essential, is this what you want to inspire them to do? Have them make cooler gadgets, easier "content consumption experience", better to-do lists to make people more "productive" and, lastly, possibly provide better health so that they would live longer to buy more gadgets and "consume" more "content"?

If engineers are so smart, powerful and essential, why not inspire them to find ways to alleviate poverty and promote justice, education and equality? Well, you say, this is not a job for engineers. Well, if engineers are expected to think of new ways to book sleeping arrangements or sell clothes, their insight can surely be turned to loftier goals. I don't want to be caught saying anything positive about Facebook, but for better or worse, they have changed the way people around the world communicate with each other, compete with each other, and see themselves as part of society. So, yes, engineers are certainly capable of achieving some great feats.

Many lawyers make lots of money. Lots. And probably many of them became lawyers for that purpose. But It's hard for me to imagine - and maybe I'm wrong about this - but it's hard for me to imagine a well known lawyer delivering a keynote speech at a lawyers convention, where his main points are tips for making lots of money. Lawyers may be hypocritical (and they are), but at least many of them separate their business goals from their sources of inspiration. So why should engineers be inspired only by business tips? Is money the main source of inspiration for us? Doctors and lawyers make money, too, but they aspire for - or, at least, are inspired by - more. Even writers, directors and actors aspire for more than making money, or even "delivering content" or providing entertainment. They dream that, perhaps, some of their work might carry some Truth. Give people a new perspective about life, maybe even change people's lives - but not by making them simply more "productive". Peh, productivity - if there ever was a more overrated and servile word.

Anyway, we should aspire to do the same. Fellow engineers, do whatever makes you feel good about yourselves. Do whatever you need to make lots and lots and lots - piles - of money. By all means, solve people's annoying problems; that's a great advice. But don't aspire to that. You should dream about solving humanity's serious problems. You should dream of making this a truly better world - in every respect.

lr 4 days ago 2 replies      
6. bring back the old moore's law

I'll have to dig up my BeOS Bible this weekend, but I though the BeOS solved this problem over 15 years ago. I have been floored for years that chip makers keep telling developers to write code to work with multiple CPUs. If those developers are OS developers, then fine. But application developers? No way. This is the job of the OS!

mahmoudimus 4 days ago 1 reply      
Thanks for this! Lots of wisdom here. This one particularly rings very true:

"Only way to get a product visionary as the CEO of a company is to start it and not get fired."

From the same part in the article,

"None of the existing players will " not run by product visionaries."

Later elaborated on as: "just have to be better than samsung, hp, motorola " not so hard"

Doesn't this in itself bring an interesting question? Why is that those companies cannot innovate or have visionaries? Surely, they must. Maybe that's another opportunity though. How to find the visionaries in your company and reward them for doing so?

spdy 4 days ago 0 replies      
http://streamti.me/ Livestream from PyCon 2012
It gets better every year :)
YooLi 4 days ago 6 replies      
Is this available in video format? I can't help but think reading this is taking something out of context or missing information. Quick glance:

1. dinosaur egg " make a search engine that all the hackers use. (top 10,000). - Like Google Code Search? That didn't turn out too well.

2. inbox is a todo list. email is the protocol for putting stuff on it. - What? I use email to converse with people, not to list what I need to do. Occasionally I will send myself a reminder mail with a list of TODOs, but my email inbox is definitely not a todo list.

5. his friend from apple: there will be no new good stuff post-steve jobs. - Is his friend Tim Cook? Isn't Apple famous for secrecy even inside Apple or do all 9000+ employees in Cupertino know what's in the pipeline?


binarycrusader 4 days ago 0 replies      
I felt Paul's analogies about copying things and selling smells in talking about copyright were a little awkward. They were a response to an audience member that asked how he could justify disparaging the music industry selling copies of music in view of software depending on that model.

In fairness, as he stated himself, he wanted to write a proper essay first about it so was attempting to come up with something on the fly.

I felt the proper response should have been something more along the lines of: Copyright only exists because society in general recognizes that right. So if society in general no longer believes it is a right, then business models will have to change to reflect that.

I personally don't know what the right long-term answer is, but clearly, since you can copy bits for "zero" cost, it's going to be even harder to convince people to pay in the future as they come to that realisation collectively.

andrewparker 4 days ago 1 reply      
Anyone have a video link? Google came up empty for me
AmericanOP 4 days ago 1 reply      
I keep hearing how difficult it is to build a standalone email client which integrates with gmail. Does anybody have a link to any good discussions for why it's so hard?
derwiki 4 days ago 0 replies      
Ongoing diagnosis seems simliar to one of the recent X-Prizes:


And the idea of the X-Prize seems to be mostly in-line with the spirit of Y Combinator. I only last night saw all the current X-Prizes and am pretty impressed.

why-el 4 days ago 0 replies      
I think another argument against universities would be the growing expectations they impose on students. The sort of academic inflation we see today, where people are expected to go from bachelors to masters to phds regardless of whether that is relevant to them, or better yet, to the industry they are targeting.
AceJohnny2 4 days ago 4 replies      
A nitpick:

don't try to identify a precise thing in the future. better model: columbus. “there's something west. i'll sail westward”.

I bristle at seeing Colombus propped up as a model. The guy was wrong (he thought the earth was smaller than it actually was, so attempted to sail west as a shorter route to the East Indies), wrong (he discovered the Carribeans, not mainland America), wrong (he still thought he found the East Indies, i.e. south-east asia!).

But alas, actual truth carries less rhetorical power than popular myths.

Ingaz 3 days ago 0 replies      
>6. bring back the old moore's law

I'm not an expert in this field by any means, but I think this idea is not so "frightening".

There was rumors in 2006 that AMD tried to develop "Reverse Hyperthreading". No official notes though.

Intel Anaphase: http://newsroom.intel.com/docs/DOC-1111


joering2 4 days ago 0 replies      
> 2. replace email. inbox is a todo list. email is the protocol for putting stuff on it

I think what he actually meant is that if you logon to your mailbox, you see threads of stuff to do. Hence, your mailbox with names, subjects and content is really a "todo" for the day/week/etc.

I think, in the near future, we humans will be a creating protocols on our own. We will be creating our own protocols and "pushing" data, instead of "pulling" it from the web, like it is right now.

In my spare time, I am actually working on a paper covering that. I call it "hapi": Humans with Application Programming Interface. Will be glad to share more when its done.

endeavor 4 days ago 1 reply      
"find the tiny thing that turns into the gigantic idea"

I like this, or it at least validates some of my thinking. All of my startup ideas are small and modest, something that will help me and maybe some people like me. But I have no idea where the idea will take me...

hallnoates 4 days ago 3 replies      
> dinosaur egg " make a search engine that all the hackers use. (top 10,000). don't worry about doing something constraining in the short term, because if you don't succeed in the short term there won't be a long term

Umm, search is just fine thank you. I could not survive without Google currently. The only thing I don't like about them is the lack of good customer support and the way they tend to develop unintuitive things with poor documentation (appengine was hard as hell to develop to, Android is getting better, but still they don't have a Rails-style "get up to speed" doc- they have a long way to go) But search is not their problem or mine.

> 2. replace email

> inbox is a todo list.

No, it isn't. It's a method of asynchronous communication and file transfer. If you're using it as a TODO list, you're doing it wrong.

> powerful people are in pain because of email. that's an opportunity.

B.S. Email has survived Facebook, Twitter, Google Wave (cough)...

> whatever you build, make it fast. gmail has become painfully slow.

Maybe on a Pentium III. It isn't slow for me though.

> 3. replace universities

Good idea, but won't happen. The problem is any business/institution that gets continuous revenue without having to be accountable. Universities suck because they don't have to provide what they are needed for, they only have to compete with each other. The service the universities should provide is the preparation of its students for the betterment of the world. However, what this means is debatable, and the hippies of the 60s that grew up in an environment where they didn't have to work their asses off (like the teenagers of the depression era) are the ones teaching our kids how to feel better about themselves by building a hut in a 3rd world country.

> 4. kill hollywood

The studios are the only ones that really know how to produce. Music, T.V. and movies are all about production. The YouTube era won't last forever. It is only a matter of time before they get a full handle on things again.

> 5. a new apple

Apple is still on top of the consumer market. Solve problems that need solving in the way you feel is best. Don't work hard to be something else. Apple didn't.

> 6. bring back the old moore's law

>...it would be great if a startup could make a lot of cpus look to the developer like 1 cpu.

As an analogy, why don't we make Ruby look like 8086 programming? Parallel computing is different- you can't solve problems with the same mentality.

davidkobilnyk 4 days ago 0 replies      
I took the part about email being a todo list to mean that, it's inherently a todo list in the sense that it's a list of messages you have to deal with. You don't have to purposefully use it as a todo list for it to effectively be one.
ikawe 3 days ago 0 replies      
> it would be great if a startup could make a lot of cpus look to the developer like 1 cpu. most ambitious: do it automatically with a compiler.really hard, but is this really impossible?

>if so, prove it if not, the expected value of working on it might be really high.

parallel complexity theory:

agumonkey 4 days ago 0 replies      
+1 for a more continuous medical system.

I'd be curious to see the percentage of deaths caused by delayed diagnostic.

Genomics prices are heading down, let's make it easy, fast, and integrative.

xxiao 4 days ago 0 replies      
waste of my time, frankly
Why Are Lawyers So Expensive Even With The Excess Supply Of Lawyers? forbes.com
296 points by mirceagoia  7 days ago   209 comments top 39
grellas 7 days ago 1 reply      
A few quick thoughts (am about to go into a meeting):

1. Lawyers are not immune from market forces. This is easily seen at the micro level: a new practitioner with no established reputation can charge $800 per hour and see where that gets him (of course, precisely nowhere). On the macro level, law has been a boom business ever since at least the 1960s when expansive liability theories came to be widely adopted by the legislatures and the courts. So, what used to be regarded as a dispute over garbage at the local dump becomes a massive environmental enforcement action by which dozens of parties face multi-million dollar liabilities; what used to be a distribution chain in which only the end-point seller typically bore liability to the consumer becomes massive product liability suits going back to the manufacturers and imposing strict liability on them in ways that can ruin a multi-billion business; what used to be the $.25 that a cab driver overcharged you because of some shifty trade practice becomes a major class action in which all the vendors in the area are swept in to face a protracted legal fight and potentially substantial damage exposure; etc., etc., etc. The point being: the legal landscape has changed dramatically and, for example, the Big Law firm that I worked at in the early 1980s grew from 23 lawyers in 1965 to about 250 in 1980 and is today over 1,000 lawyers. Demand is up in a huge way over the decades and law remains a boom business in this respect (certainly Big Law remains so) notwithstanding the recent economic calamities that have beset us all. That is the main reason why the very high fees are charged: because businesses are willing to pay them (when they are not, overt or disguised discounting occurs with great regularity).

2. That said, I am no fan of the Big Law model and have expressed my criticisms at some length elsewhere (see, e.g., http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1648342). I also have stated in some detail why I think the large firms have been left reeling from the recent economic shock and how this has caused a general revulsion against the billable fee structure used in these firms (see http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1649507).

3. In reality, the legal field is pretty diverse and price does matter for those who consume legal services (why shouldn't it?). The providers of those services who remain stuck in old ways will need to adapt to the short-term problems but they obviously hope to keep the old structures in place in hopes that the good old days will return. For the broader legal market, however, there is already wide variety in the range of services and pricing offered. As a consumer, you need to do your due diligence and shop around. In the broader market, lawyers want your business and will adapt as needed to get it.

thinkcomp 7 days ago  replies      
There are all sorts of reasons, but first and foremost is the lack of transparency in all things legal. This is why I'm working on PlainSite (http://www.plainsite.org). The opacity creates the illusion of difficulty, the need for (arbitary) specialized knowledge, and uncertainty as to the real price because so many factors are hidden from view.

For example: you're expected to follow the law even without knowing what the law says. When you want to find out what the law says, it's not easy--it's certainly not available in a standardized format. When you want to interpret what you find, assuming you find it, that's not easy either. Courts interpret things in new ways all the time.

The federal court system charges you to access public information contained in court proceedings, with limited exceptions--that is, if you even know where to look for it. See http://www.thinkcomputer.org/20120209.pacer.pdf. The interface is terrible and hard to use. The way in which you write lawsuits is obscure, counterintuitive, and creates additional needless work.

In addition to all of these factors, and perhaps because of them, lawyers (especially at big firms) have institutionalized fraud. It's taken for granted that legal billing is often fraudulent. If you charge $500 per hour and your system only resolves to the tenth of an hour, that means if you spent four minutes writing an e-mail, you can charge for 0.1 hours, or $50. But really you only did $33.33 of work. That's a nice cushion. But what actually happens is that an attorney might do 45 minutes of work and round it up to an hour--even though that work is formatting in Microsoft Word that the client could have done; or printing out a Word document in order to scan it in as a PDF. Still seem worth $500 per hour?

For those lawyers not at large firms, they're covering expenses (such as law school) that are enormous. High rates are a necessity, and who would charge far lower than market rates anyway? It might be interpreted as a signal that something is wrong.

Of course, don't for a minute think that paying $800 per hour will get you a better lawyer than paying $300 per hour. It might. Either way, you'll be paying someone in a staggering number of cases to unscientifically guesstimate What The Government Might Do, when the answer is, "who knows?". That doesn't mean all lawyers are the same; some are definitely better than others. But it has nothing to do with price.

More lawyers could afford to charge reasonable market rates, and not work for large firms, if it weren't for the ABA mandating that you have to attend a law school (that results in huge piles of debt) or clerk for years (four in California) in order to join the bar. See http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/25/opinion/are-law-schools-an....

Lawyers know, too, that you can't get rid of them (also thanks to the ABA), and so you're locked in. There's a monopoly on business representation, for example. See http://www.plainsite.org/issues/index.html?id=137. It's absurd.

JackC 7 days ago 0 replies      
Before we talk too much about why lawyers are so expensive, it's worth checking out how much they actually get paid. It's the weirdest salary chart you'll ever see:


Basically it's the sum of two separate curves -- a bell curve centered around $45,000 a year, and a sharp, sharp peak up at $160,000.

What's going on here? Well law is two separate markets -- the bell curve is the 90% of lawyers who compete on cost in a more or less normal market, and the sharp peak is the 10% of lawyers who work at BigLaw firms that march in lockstep at $160,000 for new associates.

So for the 90%, the answer is that law is a highly competitive market. You're paying $150,000 in tuition to get a job that averages $45k a year when you start, and won't go up too fast. You're doing largely hard, boring work, it sucks to do without support staff, and it's time-consuming to do right. If the product costs a lot, it's not because the lawyer is overpaid -- it's because that's how much it costs to produce. Lawyers who drop below that price go out of business.

For the 10%, they're in a weird parallel universe where the cost of their service is almost totally irrelevant to their clients. They're handling international mergers, billion-dollar divorces, and Federal indictments of entire financial firms. The question of whether the lawyers charge $300 or $600/hr is like the question of whether your parachute costs $50 or $100 before you jump out of a plane. If there's the slightest chance that the $100 parachute is safer, you go for it. That's why the starting salaries march in lockstep -- no BigLaw firm can afford to let people think that the cream of the crop from Harvard Law is being hired by their competitors. They'd lose all their business if anyone else had a clear edge. But this only relates to a small minority of lawyers.


To disclose my own bias, this article/conversation is strange to me because I took a big pay cut to go from programming (which I could do before I graduated from college) to law (where most of my lower salary goes to student loans). I knew I would. I didn't join the BigLaw 10% (which I would have hated), but I'm getting to work on things that matter to me, and I'm proud I made that call. But to see a bunch of programmers talk about why lawyers have it so good ... yeesh.

This isn't to say that law can't get easier or cheaper. There are huge wins to be had from automation here, and I always turn into the resident tools guy wherever I work. I've had to get pretty good at VBA of all things, and 1000 curses on that misbegotten tongue. (Jashkenas, are you listening? Need a project after CoffeeScript?) I also think law school needs to get a lot cheaper -- like college tuition in general, it's been growing at twice inflation for decades, and that can't be right.

One other thought -- the bar is indeed a protected guild, and I'm not sure where I stand on that, but there are reasons for it. First and foremost, you will never know whether your lawyer has done a good job. If you hire a programmer, there may be problems behind the scenes, but you can more or less tell whether they've done what you hired them to do. If you hire a lawyer, and you lose your case, you will often have not the slightest idea whether they were competent -- there's just not enough signal for most laypeople to analyze in most cases. Even my own supervisors often have no idea whether I've done my job right. They ask me a question, I answer it, and without repeating the work I did they have no way of telling whether I'm right or how long it should have taken to complete.

Requiring education, examination and licensing is one way to address that problem. It definitely raises the price. In theory it also lowers the chances that you're buying snake oil. Something to consider anyway.

pak 7 days ago 1 reply      
So, Forbes is republishing Quora answers now? This must be part of that new strategy where they try to gain more traffic (http://www.forbes.com/sites/kashmirhill/2012/02/16/how-targe...) with other people's content (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/19/magazine/shopping-habits.h...).
jerrya 7 days ago  replies      
This may not apply to the world of corporate lawyers the answer seems to be about, but at a smaller level, there are enormous switching costs involved in moving away from, and training a new lawyer.

And it's not a free market. In a free market, the consumer can walk away from a purchase. Most times individuals or small businesses need a lawyer, they are in no position from walking away. They need a lawyer. And they need to stop spending time searching, and get on with resolving.

So a lot of claims from lawyers that they operate in a free market are really not true. They mistake what are basically extortion/price gouging rates for free market pricing.

And the search is expensive too, with few (?) lawyers willing to offer 30 min to an hour of their time to discuss your needs for free. This is another factor in increasing switching costs for the consumers.

And of course, price is used as a signal for quality in a market in which quality is very hard to measure by most consumers. Sure I got a great deal on a lawyer, he only charges $150 per hour. Hmm, Your lawyer charges $400 per hour? Now, I'm not so confident.

jonnathanson 7 days ago 3 replies      
To some extent, lawyers (or, more accurately, law firms) are Veblen goods -- meaning that their services are perceived as being better if they're more highly priced and exclusive. There's a general perception that a high-priced lawyer is a top-notch lawyer, and that skimping on such lawyers carries a huge deal of legal risk.

This dynamic plays out particularly in the BigCorp world, and especially if there's ever a perceived threat of litigation. (The idea that a competitor would hire "the best of the best," or "an army of lawyers," or "top guns," drives your own desire to pay for same).

noonespecial 7 days ago 0 replies      
Part of the reason might also be that the law has become so complex (as well as, in my opinion, intentionally obfuscated) that it demands a certain amount of resources to engage it at all. If you can't meet that level, its best not to engage it at all.

You can't launch a satellite halfway into orbit to save a few bucks. You go all the way, or stay home.

rayiner 7 days ago 1 reply      
The legal field isn't really amenable to simplistic economic analysis. With all due respect to thinkcomp, the idea that licensing requirements are what is driving the cost of legal services is totally wrong.

First, legal services generally aren't that expensive. If you need someone to help you draft a deed to some property, you can probably get that work done for cheaper than you would pay an engineer to design you a retaining wall on that property. When people say legal services are expensive, what they mean is that high-end corporate legal services are expensive.

Second, corporate legal services is not expensive because of limited supply. There are about 45,000 JD's graduated each year, and maybe 3,000-4,000 are hired at big firms that do corporate work. The rest work for far less money, in the $45-$60k range. If you wanted to start a firm doing corporate legal services at low cost, paying attorneys $80k a year (half the going rate of a first year at a large firm), you would literally drown in job applications. While in a platonic sense there is a supply constraint in the legal field, it has a practical effect more akin to crash safety regulations in cars than something that actually constrains supply to drive up prices.

If the state bars got rid of the requirement that lawyers attend an accredited law school, there would be almost no change in the cost of legal services at the top. Big firms hire the large majority of their associates from only 20 or so schools, out of the 200 that exist. Why would adding a category of potential hires below the huge group of people already not getting hired drive down salaries?

The price of high-end legal services is insensitive to the supply of lawyers for the same reason the price of Apple products is largely insensitive to the number of Korean competitors in the market: 1) brand is tremendously important; and 2) there are actual differences in the quality of the product.

Re: 1) Because it is difficult to tell whether your lawyer did a bad job or whether you just had a bad case, branding and signaling becomes tremendously important. It is that branding and signaling that makes companies keep going to firms that hire primarily from the top schools, even when there is nothing, legally, that prevents them from taking it to firms that have more diverse hiring standards.

Re: 2) The adversarial nature of law means that there is an arms race for the smartest people. While a lot of even high-end legal work can be very routine and boring, some of it can be very complex. That 10% of legal work that requires out-thinking the opposing counsel can have major repercussions for companies, and as such companies are willing to spend the money to ensure that their lawyers are smarter (at least on paper) than the opposing party's lawyers.

chollida1 7 days ago 1 reply      
the way I had lawyer, dr, etc. fees explained was that they can charge so much as you often don't get a second chance.

If your life is on the line for an operation, you want the best doctor available.

Your life on the line in a trial, you get the best lawyer available.

This has a trickle down effect. Or put another way, if you don't get a second chance, things had better go right the first time. Fear is a powerful motivator.

Want that dream house?

Better make sure the paper work from the forclosure is done properly. Sure you can try to do it yourself or with a budget firm, but what if they make a mistake. Your dream house is gone.

Want to make sure your kids are protected in case of your death, better get the best lawyer you can to do your will. Sure, you can print a form off the internet, but we've all seen that go wrong. Don't your kids deserve peace of mind during the troubling times surrounding your death?

shawnee_ 7 days ago 2 replies      
Traditional supply-demand economics just doesn't explain the behavior of "middleman" industries, such as lawyering, real estate agenting, etc.

Traditional supply-demand economics assumes a 1:1 ratio where there is one buyer and one seller and there is some amount of economic surplus that the two parties play tug-of-war with. Traditional supply-demand economics works great when buyer and seller negotiate directly.

But in middleman industries, the middlemen can hop on either side, and play for either team. They are able to effectively scope out surplus from either or both sides, predatorize the weaker side with almost _no risk_ to themselves, and destroy a lot of the potential realized value between the original parties in their process.

So basically it creates a "parallel" economy where prices aren't determined by supply or demand, but rather by fear and a kind of high-stakes prisoner's dilemma between buyers and sellers where buyers and sellers bear all the risk and lawyers and agents reap all of the rewards.

ShabbyDoo 7 days ago 1 reply      
There is one restriction in particular which I believe has a huge effect on the legal industry's slow pace of change -- only lawyers may own companies which provide legal services to clients (vs. in-house counsel). So, want to start an online, virtual law firm? Either act as a referral service or make sure you never want a non-attorney to have equity in your company. Why does this rule exist? I haven't a clue.
Duff 7 days ago 0 replies      
A: Because they get other jobs that meet their income requirements.

People who make it through law school usually aren't idiots. So if they fail to achieve a satisfactory career in Law, they move into other areas. Attorneys work in government as political appointees, lobbyists and policy people; they work as corporate managers; they run businesses in areas other than law, etc.

Also consider that the barriers of entry for lawyers are high. Referrals are a huge source of business, so it's difficult to start a new firm without alot of capital.

wtvanhest 7 days ago 3 replies      
The unobvious but major thing missed is that hiring the wrong lawyer is far more expensive than an additional $300 per hour.

Since the only way to know if you are hiring the right lawyer is to base it on brand, top firms have a lot of pricing power and middle firms dissapear.

larrys 7 days ago 0 replies      
The article doesn't address what could be the most important factors.

First, your relationship with a lawyer is a personal relationship. And it's hard to break a personal relationship over a yearly price increase of single digit %.

And lawyers regularly wine and dine and become "friends" with their clients. The client really thinks that the lawyer likes them. If you've ever worked in sales you know what I mean by this. Lawyers are nice and friendly and that insures the loyalty of the client. When I was in high school I delivered gifts to the clients of a small law firm. I remember the partner deciding who got what gift (based on amount of work). This wasn't a bribe. Just a thank you to insure ongoing loyalty. (Maybe some were bribes of course).

Remember rates aren't doubled they go up a little each time they are raised. If you are already paying $400 per hour you aren't bolting for $425/hr. It's not like rates are doubling in a year.

The other reason is FUD. People convince themselves and rationalize that a certain lawyer at a certain rate will get the job done. They are afraid of switching lawyers and having a bad outcome.

So the above is certainly one of the things that keeps legal rates high.

What about new startup lawyers? Well the way any professional service works you start out with whatever work you can get at whatever price you can get (let's say). Then as you gain clients you slowly wean yourself from the low priced clients (by taking longer, not returning calls etc.) and they get the message. This leaves you with the best clients who you can raise rates on (because they like you and are fearful of changing).

So even if there was a group that charged low rates (to corporate buyers) over time their rates would rise as well. Because of the person factor I mentioned in the first paragraph.

Finally, even though lawyers can now market (I remember when they couldn't) they won't "sell" in the traditional sense. If I sell a service (like web hosting web design or unix sysadmin) I can pickup the phone and call people. I can go door to door. I can place ads. Lawyers can place ads of course but that's not the most effective way to sell personal services. Then you are waiting for someone to contact you. Selling is selling. If lawyers were ethically allowed and it was acceptable practice to "cold call" I believe you would see rates dropping in certain types of work.

lallysingh 7 days ago 0 replies      
There are a few things to add in here (IANAL, but I'm close to quite a few).

A major element is billable hours.

When you want to reduce a bill for a client, during bad times or whatever, you can always under-bill the number of hours spent. Or change the mix of high-low-rate hours expended. Reducing the number of hours billed doesn't (necessarily) reduce the number of billable hours you can credit the attorneys.

While you can have equal salaries across departments, you have bonuses, which depend on how many hours you billed. Also, #billable hours is a great sort criteria for who's first on the shit-list and first on the promote-list.

lionhearted 7 days ago 0 replies      
Having worked some recently with lawyers, their chief value is similar to that of the historical value of having assassins on the king's payroll. The power is not in using the assassins, which is expensive and dangerous, but in that people are more scared to provoke and escalate with someone known to employ assassins.
jasonkester 7 days ago 0 replies      
Same reason so many of us here can bill out at several hundred dollars an hour even though there is an unlimited supply of people calling themselves computer programmers who will happily try to do the same job for $7/hr.

Valuable stuff is worth paying more for.

tsotha 7 days ago 0 replies      
The same reason professional athletes make so much money even though high schools and colleges are full of kids who want to play for a living. Just having a good lawyer isn't enough - he needs to be better than the lawyer on the other side.
tomkarlo 7 days ago 0 replies      
I used to "hire" law firms regularly for my clients. What's not being mentioned here is that since in most cases the individuals _choosing_ the law firms for large financial and M&A transactions (which represent the real meat of the "big law" business) generally aren't directly paying the legal fees, there's relatively little incentive for them to push for lower prices. (And if I remember correctly, if those legal fees are part of a financing transaction, they don't count against the businesses "normalized/adjusted" income, either.)

If I'm the CFO of a company that's doing a $500M financing round, am I really going to choose a lesser law firm to save maybe $100K in bills? I'm already probably paying the bankers $5M or more to do the deal in fees (arguably, that's the real gouging, given that the work doesn't really scale with the deal size but the fees do.) If I choose a cheaper firm, and they mess up (and frankly, all the firms make mistakes, especially when you have junior associates drafting filing docs) it could cost me my job.

(The most cost-conscious clients I've seen were entrepreneurs or at least majority owners of businesses - they saw those fees as coming right of out their own pockets, so they tried to do whatever they could to keep them down)

In-house counsels are definitely trying to push down costs by doing more things internally or offshoring more mundane stuff like day-to-day contracts. But at the same time, most of your in-house counsels come from a big law firm, so they're unlikely to break away completely, either.

nextparadigms 7 days ago 7 replies      
Any way this market can be disrupted? Maybe through some more efficient/decentralized/AI-based services that would do much of the lawyer's jobs, forcing them to reduce their billing rates?
simonbrown 7 days ago 1 reply      
Surely that's an opportunity for a new firm? The demand is obviously there (plenty of people don't see a lawyer for financial reasons), as is the supply (apparently).
rayiner 6 days ago 0 replies      
To respond to one point in the article:

> Associate salaries are not an efficient, free market.

That is probably true, but the evidence supplied in the article supports an inference the opposite of the one made by the author. If everybody in New York pays $160k as an informal arrangement, that suggests artificially low salaries, not artificially high ones. Why would a bunch of firms act informally in concert to artificially drive up their costs?

And associate salaries, of course, have only an indirect effect on legal fees. The price of a good is directly influenced only by supply and the demand curve. The costs of making the good are irrelevant except to the extent they influence supply. Clients, of course, don't care what associates make. The amount they will pay for services is entirely a function of their demand and the supply of law firms willing to do the work.

mfaustman 7 days ago 0 replies      
This whole argument that this is "not a free market" is silly. None of the factors pointed to here would actually limit choice or restrain price movement. It is a free market, but that does not mean that the market lacks information asymmetries that would artificially morph prices.

As Antone points out, there is a strong quality perception issue. Ironically, it is the Bottom Line Law Group that is fighting this perception of quality on a daily basis (vs a Wilson or Fenwick). Thus it does not matter if the supply increases if the consumer perceives the bottom-end as an inferior good.

This skewed perception is rooted in a total lack of transparency in the legal industry. This lack of transparency limits the consumer's ability to find lawyers like Antone, and keeps the cost of standard information and a simple opinion high.

I agree with Antone that the industry is on the brink of change, but it is a BIG messed up industry. Change will come in many forms within the industry's mirco verticals. It will come from networks of smaller more specialized law firms such as the Bottom Line Law Group, and from innovations which create more transparency in the industry to find qualified attorneys and access quality information.

shingen 7 days ago 0 replies      
It's why Legalzoom is doing so well.
pbreit 7 days ago 0 replies      
The fee overage acts as insurance. Since the downside of legal services (no matter the competence) is significant, consumers believe the extra money they are paying will help mitigate any unfortunate circumstances.
itmag 6 days ago 2 replies      
HN, help me make up my mind: is an abundance of lawyers to be seen as a necessary component of a complex society? Or is it a symptom of decay? Are lawyers necessary agents of the greater good or are they vampiric rent-seekers on a byzantine legal morass?

I'm not trying to be clever; I genuinely want to figure this out.

andrewtbham 7 days ago 0 replies      
The supply of lawyers is high, but the supply of good, experienced lawyers with good reputations is lower.
physicslover 6 days ago 0 replies      
My naive understanding is that only lawyers can own and operate a law firm. In other words one can't form the equivalent of an HMO and hire a bunch of lawyers and pay them a salary and offer legal counsel to individuals.

I believe this is mandated by bar associations on ethical grounds, though I find it absurd. This artificially inflates the cost of legal services.

Uchikoma 6 days ago 0 replies      
What I found interesting in dealing with layers: they charge high rates even for standard contracts, EULAs etc. and when asked if one is safe with their advice, only tell you that courts can decide in whatever way they want - so no.
crusso 6 days ago 0 replies      
Think about this. If you have too many doctors, they run out of sick people and their prices go down. They don't go out and start injuring people to make business for themselves.

Lawyers do just that. If they don't have work, they can attack innocent citizens to create work for themselves. Frivolous law suits create new market pressure for more attorneys. Whenever you see slip-n-fall attorney commercials, that's just an window into the parasitically-based ecosystem that lawyers operate in.

Failing that, lawyers are the most likely profession to go into politics and create more laws that need what to sort them out? Oh yeah, more lawyers.

It's a troubling profession that needs to be considered carefully when you're making decisions about the economic impact of laws upon society.

puppop 7 days ago 2 replies      
Because there are no H-1B lawyers.
johnnygleeson 7 days ago 0 replies      
For anyone interested there is a good book called 'The End of Lawyers?' by Richard Susskind, a visiting Professor at Oxford, that discusses the ways in which technology will gradually commoditize many elements of traditional legal practice.



1. Introduction - the Beginning of the End?
2. The Path to Commoditization
3. Trends in Technology
4. Disruptive Legal Technologies
5. The Future for In-house Lawyers
6. Resolving and Avoiding Disputes
7. Access to Law and to Justice
8. Conclusion - the Future of Lawyers.

joshuaheard 6 days ago 0 replies      
Simple, because government keeps passing more and more laws that create more ways to become liable. While there may be growing supply of lawyers, there is a growing demand due to this explosive growth of new laws. Stop the government from controlling every inch of our lives, and you will see lawyers getting cheaper.

I also agree with the previous reply that this article only deals with the 10% of lawyers who work in big firms. The other 90% of lawyers that don't work in big firms are out there competing everyday for your business and are charging reasonable rates.

jriley 7 days ago 0 replies      
I would add:

1) Pay can be high with win/lose stakes

2) Different pay models (contingency)

ktizo 7 days ago 0 replies      
Perhaps it is because lawyers are, by definition, the experts at defending dubious practices.
nwenzel 7 days ago 0 replies      
Supply Induced Demand. They're out there, so you need one too. The other guy has 2, you better get 2, too. No such thing as an "excess supply."
bonesinger 7 days ago 2 replies      
This article misses one point, law school is expensive!

Students generally will want to pay their 6-figure debts with a matching salary.

When you don't have to worry about a huge debt, it allows you to be riskier and try other avenues, such as public interest, or work in small lesser known industries

GigabyteCoin 6 days ago 0 replies      
Who said there is an excess supply of lawyers?
kwekly 7 days ago 2 replies      
"Back to Econ 101. What happens when you double the price of something? Demand for it decreases."

Pretty sure what he's describing is sliding the supply curve straight up, which has exactly the opposite effect.

SSH Key Audit on Github (required) github.com
291 points by ericelias  6 days ago   105 comments top 23
pilif 6 days ago 2 replies      
What makes me the most happy about this is that they ask for the password in order to add a key now.

I was always very afraid of XSS attacks (I know - there shouldn't be any - but there could and were, though not for this) that would add another key, so I always hoped they would add that additional bit of protection.

As such: Another huge thanks to @homakov for forcing the issue.

memset 6 days ago 6 replies      
Here is the command you use to obtain your fingerprint for this audit:

`ssh-keygen -lf ~/.ssh/id_rsa.pub`

spicyj 6 days ago 0 replies      
The accompanying email:

  A security vulnerability was recently discovered that made it possible
for an attacker to add new SSH keys to arbitrary GitHub user accounts.
This would have provided an attacker with clone/pull access to
repositories with read permissions, and clone/pull/push access to
repositories with write permissions. As of 5:53 PM UTC on Sunday,
March 4th the vulnerability no longer exists.

While no known malicious activity has been reported, we are taking
additional precautions by forcing an audit of all existing SSH keys.

# Required Action

Since you have one or more SSH keys associated with your GitHub
account you must visit https://github.com/settings/ssh/audit to
approve each valid SSH key.

Until you have approved your SSH keys, you will be unable to
clone/pull/push your repositories over SSH.

# Status

We take security seriously and recognize this never should have
happened. In addition to a full code audit, we have taken the
following measures to enhance the security of your account:

- We are forcing an audit of all existing SSH keys
- Adding a new SSH key will now prompt for your password
- We will now email you any time a new SSH key is added to your
- You now have access to a log of account changes in your Account
Settings page
Sincerely, The GitHub Team

--- https://github.com support@github.com

rdl 6 days ago 6 replies      
Why are ONLY keys at risk, which this implies?

Presumably someone could have added a key, done evil, then removed the key. Evil includes all sorts of interesting things, like checking in code under the name of an existing contributor. This could potentially be really subtle and would be difficult to find in an audit later.

(Remember the stink over OpenBSD potentially having backdoors in the IPsec stack, revealed in late 2010? http://blogs.csoonline.com/1296/an_fbi_backdoor_in_openbsd)

andrewjshults 6 days ago 2 replies      
They also did a notification when you tried to push:

ERROR: Hi andrewjshults, it's GitHub. We're doing an SSH key audit.
Please visit https://github.com/settings/ssh/audit/<removed>;
to approve this key so we know it's safe.
Fingerprint: <removed>
fatal: The remote end hung up unexpectedly

A little weird to see when you're doing a push but good that they put it in there. Their email got flagged as bulk in gmail so until I saw this I didn't know they were doing the audit.

pak 6 days ago 3 replies      
As an interesting side effect, they will have pretty exact stats on how many active users they have; might help them sunset old accounts or move them to the slowest servers.

(Because of the offline nature of most git actions and different habits on pushing/pulling, it's probably hard to otherwise estimate how much a user cares about their github.)

avar 6 days ago 4 replies      
Correct me if I'm wrong but the nature of the vulnerability was that someone who's not you had to submit a page with certain POST variables they could have determined after the fact to be malicious while logged in.

So the fact that they're sending out this E-Mail tells us that they either don't keep logs on requests + POST contents, or that they haven't had the time or inclination to analyze this data if they have it.

jgrahamc 6 days ago 2 replies      
It would be interesting to know the details of the vulnerability. Given that they've patched it, it would be good to see what the error was in case others are affected.

Was this Rails-related and what was it?

spullara 6 days ago 0 replies      
I guess this answers my questions about how long this vulnerability existed (a long time) and whether or not they could verify no other accounts were compromised (no).
joshklein 6 days ago 1 reply      
Several comments below praise the Github team response to this vulnerability. I agree. But it should also be mentioned that the first email I sent to my company this morning read, "should [our product] source code be in the cloud?"
finnh 6 days ago 0 replies      
Sadly the link in the email isn't direct (it's a tracking link through "news.github.com"), so Thunderbird flags it as a possible phishing attempt =(

Edit: github send out an email with a link to the ssh audit page; that's the email to which I refer

niels_olson 6 days ago 5 replies      
Um, is anybody else having the experience that their keys really do seem to be different?
rwmj 6 days ago 0 replies      

This script is very useful when doing this audit, because you can turn your .ssh/authorized_keys file into a list of key names and fingerprints to check against what github is showing you.

skrebbel 5 days ago 0 replies      
Damn I envy the GitHub guys. They can send a mail to their users about SSH Keys and nearly all users simply understand it and get it over with.

In any other business, the result of a similar mail would be an overloaded helpdesk, a significant reputation hit and a massive bucketload of competitor FUD.

benatkin 6 days ago 0 replies      
It was easier for me to just delete all of the keys. I had some I didn't need anymore. I also didn't pick great names for the keys I had. It's easy to add a key so instead of checking the fingerprints I can just create a new key.
zby 6 days ago 1 reply      
I've just seen it and I headed to Hacker News to verify if it was legit :)
Ecio78 6 days ago 1 reply      
I've just registered yesterday on Github (it's suggested for Coursera's Saas Class i'm attending) but they've sent it to me too, even though the vulnerability has already been resolved before my account was created. Maybe they've not checked account age..
tomjen3 5 days ago 1 reply      
Why are you guys praising GitHub? They basically screwed up thrice: first by not catching such an obvious flaw (granted it should have been changed in Rails, but still), second by breaking half the scripts that rely on their service and finally by sending such an obnoxious email (really required action? Who the hell to do you think you are?).

Anyway it is pretty moot at this point since I have long ago forgotten my password and changing the orgion to somebody else is pretty easy.

That said, can anybody recommend alternatives? I know Bitbucket and they seem pretty great, especially as they allow private repositories, but it seems the consensus here doesn't like them for some reason?

homakov 6 days ago 1 reply      
Is it a good idea to check created_at != updated_at ?

People update public keys very rarely.
I would even say NEVER.

Just make an sql against your table to see what are the most possibly are malicious keys.

(i see no reason to update timestamps doing 'the trick'. I believe attackers didn't)

levigross 6 days ago 0 replies      
They also added a audit log so you will be able to track and address any future issues.. https://github.com/settings/security
ricardobeat 6 days ago 0 replies      
Did this change just disable re-use of deploy keys across multiple repos?
homakov 6 days ago 1 reply      
you got balls guys. It is hard to force everyone to do something but you did it. Kudos

also, if we go back few years ago this way would be a bit secure to handle keys
@key.body = params..
@key.title = params..
I am sure update_attributes is good choice when you got 5+ fields and update database scheme pretty frequently.
Just my 2 cents

my8bird 6 days ago 0 replies      
while this was a good response to their security issue a little heads up would have been good. they broke all of our auto builds and by the time we figured it out the guy who's key was used for the builds was gone on his vacation. luckily, we got ahold of him prior to him turning his phone off.
Successful people are successful swombat.com
287 points by rmah  3 days ago   107 comments top 25
pron 3 days ago  replies      
Daniel Tenner's blog is terrific, but I'd like to voice some opposition (yet again). This post is but another specimen in a long line of articles quite popular here on HN that regard life and "success" as an optimization problem. This genre is the hacker version of self-help books, and like many self-help books it assumes that 1) you have near complete control over your life and the outcome of your endeavors, and 2) that attempting to optimize all life's variables is worthwhile. I have issues with both of these assumptions.

First, much in our lives is governed by pure chance. I can't quantify exactly how much, but it's a lot. It's true that here in the West, we've managed to eliminate many forms of sudden destruction that were quite common in pre-modern life (and are quite common today in less developed countries), and when disaster strikes we have mechanisms for mitigating its effects like insurance and medicine. All this has led the Western man to believe that if he picks his priorities just so and organizes his life just right, he has a good chance of achieving any goal he sets out to achieve. This is, well, to put it simply - not true. Not only is this not true, but believing it is dangerous for two reasons: The first is that if in spite of everything you do not "succeed" you may come to believe this is the result of some personal failing; this may be, but it certainly not necessarily so. The other is that when others do not attain success you may come to believe that this is the result of some personal failing on their part - like laziness, and, again, this ain't necessarily so. Especially in America, where social mobility is so rare compared to other modern countries (though it's better than in underdeveloped nations), many failings are simply due to the environment a child was born into. But even if you're born to the right parents, disaster, and fortune will strike you at random.

My problem with the second premise, that we should even aspire to optimize our lives, is more one of a personal preference. One of my favorite books is Fyodor Dostoyevsky's "Notes from Underground". The book's protagonist has this to say:

"Now, I am living out my life in my corner, taunting myself with the spiteful and useless consolation that an intelligent man cannot become anything seriously, and it is only the fool who becomes anything."

"For man's everyday needs, it would have been quite enough to have the ordinary human consciousness, that is, half or a quarter of the amount which falls to the lot of a cultivated man of our unhappy nineteenth century, especially one who has the fatal ill-luck to inhabit Petersburg, the most theoretical and intentional town on the whole terrestrial globe."

He rebels against intentionality. He balks at modern attempts to optimize life. He insists on his right to do things out of sheer spite. He want do do things that go against any common or uncommon sense. He sometimes wants to inflict pain upon himself, to wallow in the ensuing misery, and enjoy it. And though he is far from a man anyone would want to end-up like, he is a free spirit who chooses to be a slave only to his own neuroticism rather than to anyone else's utilitarian logic.

kevinalexbrown 3 days ago 5 replies      
Instead of making choices that benefit others, make choices that benefit yourself.

I have a problem with this statement. I think of all the people that have put in hard, boring work so that you can write that blog on an open-source powered internet, so that I can type this response on my unix powered mac, so that we can go to Wikipedia and gain knowledge only the exceedingly wealthy could have had 200 years ago.

Other than that, I'm really at a loss for words.

EDIT: seriously, am I missing something? Even when that one guy was trying to talk about how some child prodigy who had died wasn't very smart, and pg talked about how embarassed he was for hackernes, I don't know if I've ever seen something I disagree with so profoundly. Did the author only mean 'make those choices some of the time'? It seems to me that the natural conclusion to that statement is pretty disgusting.

holdenc 3 days ago 3 replies      
The funny thing about successful people is they are treated with great respect, while the college drop-out, street musician or starving artist doesn't get taken seriously -- until -- they become successful. And all of a sudden they can charge a nice sum for a day of talking or doing the same things they for years while mostly ignored. People love to hand out accolades, money, responsibility and respect to the same people they ignored for a long time -- after they are successful.
coffeedrinker 3 days ago 1 reply      
My immediate concern is your definitions of success, growth, and self-sacrifice. You have narrowed your discussion to a person working a startup, but you have chosen too broad of language.

Instead of growth, I think you should have use the idea of investment. One chooses how you to spend his time, and that may be in learning new tools, creating a product, or non-work related things.

Self-sacrifice is the key to producing strong personal relationships, and not something that should be rejected based on a faulty association with time spent in business. Whether one works for himself or another, it is not self-sacrifice; rather, it is toward the reward. Self-sacrifice for personal reward is no longer self-sacrifice.

Success in business or wealth (which seems to be your focus) may be completely unrelated to other people's definitions of success. One may choose not to invest his time toward monetary success because he defines success not by becoming rich but by enjoying strong relationships with his family. Note that I am not saying that one cannot be "successful" at both, but there are many who have become wealthy to the detriment of everything I would consider success. To me they are wealthy or well-known, but truly failures.

Acting for the benefit of others does not have to be to one's own detriment, and relationships without self-sacrifice are ultimately doomed.

shingen 3 days ago 1 reply      
I don't believe that success is a life long habit for most people. I think successful people learn how to be successful through trial and error.

There are formulas for success and failure. Some people learn faster, some people learn slower; some lessons are better than others and get you there faster; some people are fortunate enough to be able to fail in more modest ways while they're simultaneously being successful in the grand scheme of things (Zuck). Sometimes randomosity bails you out of stupid choices, sometimes you hit the floor hard; the choice to learn or not is up to the individual either way.

Some people become successful early, and fail late. The list of former Forbes 400 members is littered with these people. Some people fail early, and succeed later, and for the rest of their lives, having learned their lesson.

In my experience, failure can feel a bit like living through a great depression. You become emotionally reflexive based on what you've learned / digested. Same way people learned to be extremely frugal after The great depression. If you learn the right lessons from it, your reflexes will keep you from making similar stupid mistakes later on. I don't know how you really learn those lessons without experiencing them (even if you do so in the 'fail small and often, while succeeding overall' manner).

dkarl 3 days ago 1 reply      
Having a self-sacrifice mind-set means consistently making decisions that benefit someone or something other than yourself, and often at a cost to yourself.

This is a very rational way of looking at things, much too rational to describe a "mind-set." From the point of view of most of our brain, the parts of our brain we've lived with our whole lives but still have a hard time communicating with, investing in yourself is self-sacrifice. You sacrifice short-term pleasure for long-term pleasure. You even sacrifice short-term success for long-term success. The long-term success is off the radar of most of your brain, so you need a mindset that sees your "sacrifice" in a positive light.

For example, getting up early and knocking out an extra feature at work brings you immediate positive rewards. People notice it, and they notice you. That's relatively easy, a lower form of self-sacrifice. Staying up late studying linear algebra or a new concurrency paradigm doesn't bring you any immediate external rewards. (Sometimes you get the joy of understanding a major new idea, but more often it's just hard work.) It will bring rewards someday, but that pleasure is off your radar. You need a psychological connection between the pleasure you pass up today and a reward that is unspecified and even unimaginable because it is impossible to predict in any concrete detail.

One way of making that psychological connection is the concept of sacrifice, which often shows up as an important aspect of religious faith. Acting correctly now will bring rewards in the future: in the afterlife, in the next lifetime, or if you believe in the "Prosperity Gospel," next quarter. Christianity explicitly promotes sacrifice by setting up Jesus as the highest model for emulation, and by adopting the symbol of his sacrifice as the symbol of the religion itself.

I am not religious myself, but I think it is significant that we selfish, self-interested human beings are attracted to the power of sacrifice embodied in the story of Jesus(+). Perhaps it has something to do with the potential we see to better our own lives and the lives of the people we care about if only we had the discipline to sacrifice ourselves to what we value. Setting aside the moral question of whether it is appropriate to value our own well-being more highly than that of another person, it is painfully obvious that we value the well-being of ourselves today much more highly than the well-being of ourselves next year, or even next week. If our psychological concept of self and selfishness cannot extend to the person we will be next week, then perhaps it is in our long term self-interest to develop a mentality that helps us sacrifice ourselves to something that is (or merely seems) separate from us.

There are other ways to tackle the problem, but no single strategy will take us very far by itself. Cultivating a sense of intrinsic pleasure in the deferred-reward activities that we substitute for immediate-reward activities helps, but it can be overwhelmed by factors that affect mood, such as fatigue, problems in other areas of our lives, or simply having a bad day. Imagining the rewards can help, but sometimes the rewards are uncertain or unknowable. Pride can be a useful tool, but when we're tackling challenging work or something we aren't very good at, pride is sometimes best kept out of the picture. Sometimes stuff just sucks, and the only thing we can do is embrace the pain as evidence that we are following the right path.

Obviously there are pitfalls. You need to guide your sense of sacrifice so that it serves whatever you think is important. (Your children, your career, your guild, your six-pack abs, whatever.) Some people blindly sacrifice themselves for whoever walks by, hoping to find someone who returns the favor, so there's no arguing that a sense of self-sacrifice can express itself pathologically when it's poorly directed. Still, I think self-sacrifice is not just a morally beautiful idea, but a pragmatic way of pursuing your own interest as well.

(+) Religion is a worthwhile subject for HNers who are interested in "success literature" articles like this one. A common feature of all major religions is that there is an optimal way to live that brings the highest reward, but our morally or intellectually flawed selves naturally revolt from that path and seek lesser pleasures, which ultimately lead to disappointment or even punishment. Religion is the struggle to understand the higher path, detach ourselves from the compelling illusions that dominate our behavior, and attune ourselves to the highest source of good so we can follow it with conviction. Many articles on HN read the same way if you define success as the highest good.

manmal 3 days ago 2 replies      
A good friend of mine is the very opposite of a successful person, by almost every definition - she has been poor almost all her life (way below our country's poverty level), obese, chronically overworked, always stressed out, and often depressed. You'd expect that she is of the so-called lower class, but no - she's VERY intelligent and only hasn't finished her master thesis yet because she "has so much other stuff to do".

Swombat casually mentioned that success might be a lifelong habit - in her case it seems that UNsuccess can also be a habit. Whenever a decision comes along, she decides for what's good for others. I recently heard she might even put off her baby plans for one year just because her pupils asked her to stay with them until school leaving exam. She also hates money, and starts inviting people for dinner (who earn a lot more than her) whenever she got some € to spare.
Every week she's having a fever because she sleeps only 2-3 hours a day so she can spend more time with working for her students (from whom she can't take much money, because they are, well, students).

I really like her - almost everybody does. Such sacrificing personalities are well thought-of in our society. Many people admire her for her ability to work 15h a day, while earning almost nothing. But it's a life I would never want to lead.

Recently, her life has finally improved, and she has been forced to earn more so her husband is allowed to move to Austria. Still, she now has 3-4 jobs at a time, hustling around so she earns < half of what I make by working 20-30h per week.

erikpukinskis 3 days ago 1 reply      
Lately, when people ask me "how do I get started learning to program?" I tell them the exact opposite of the OP.

I say, as I've been saying for years, that they should just think of something they want to build, and try to figure it out. And then I add this:

It doesn't matter if you succeed or fail. Programming is constant failure. You try something and it doesn't work. You try again and it doesn't work. You might try 50 different things before you find the one that works.

And while success might matter when you're on the job, it doesn't matter when you're learning. Because you learn exactly as much from your failures as your successes. When you figure out that Rails won't work for your streaming media server because it can't hold enough connections open, after investing weeks of investment.... great! You learned a thousand important lessons.

If you had succeeded, because you randomly chose Node.js at the start, you would've actually only learned 999 important lessons.

Which isn't to say that I disagree with the OP... often success does compound. But learning to program, at the very least, is an area where it's just Attempt--not Success or Failure-- that compounds.

lhnz 3 days ago 1 reply      
"Every decision should be optimised so that personal growth is part of the deal, and self-sacrifice is not."

My perspective is different:

Sacrifice yourself for life. Go all in! Not for yourself, your masters, or your peers, but for life itself. This isn't about success. This is about living to your fullest potential and consistently reaching a state of flow in which you are able to fully appreciate all facets of your journey, not just its end.

edit; I'm being down-voted but I did not write a content-less post. I simply disagree with the author. He is trying to optimise for success and by implication happiness, but has not considered hedonistic adaption [0] and flow states [1]. I believe his optimisations will not be fruitful long-term.

[0] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hedonic_treadmill

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flow_(psychology)

funkah 3 days ago 0 replies      
> Many people think it makes sense to sacrifice everything for some elusive success that's waiting a few years down the line when their startup makes it big.

Yep, it's a sucker's bet. You only get one shot at life, and you should be living it, not dreaming of the day when you can. And big things promised in the future have a funny way of not actually arriving.

bdunn 3 days ago 1 reply      
Amy Hoy calls this concept "stacking bricks" - working on project after project until you have a wall of success. Overnight successes get a lot of praise and press, but they're rare. Extremely rare. And often times a fluke rather than the result of an uncannily talented person.

You can also educate others ("sacrifice" your knowledge) while also increasing your success score. In fact, most of the people I really respect on Twitter, for example - many of which I've never met - I respect because they've taught me something. And almost all of them are financially successful.

jonmc12 3 days ago 0 replies      
Great thinking - but I think the dichotomy of self-sacrifice vs growth is not the most useful conceptual model. I found the intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in 'The two paths to success' to be more relatable when it comes to optimizing for growth.

Focus on self-sacrifice could be described as an intrinsically motivated activity to optimize for personal growth in realizing the ideal of benefitting others. For me, these intrinsic cycles have been self-benefitting - a focus on a particular product, or a focus on growth of engineering skills. In both cases, relationships suffer, bank accounts dip - but at the end of the cycle I have a more evolved product or a much stronger set of engineering skills.

Extrinsic motivation will optimize for a different set of success criteria. Maybe growing skills not as important at this phase, but perhaps growth in relationships, self-promotion and financial gains are the better opportunity to grow.

Yes, growth is the basis of success, but interest is only part of the magic - perhaps more important is arbitraging the value created as you switch between these 2 contexts of motivation.

JVIDEL 3 days ago 0 replies      
It's amusing for me that this kind of advice is taken as something novel and even inspiring, not for the advice itself or the person giving it but because it shows how deformed our post-modern perception of the world is. That most people out there actually believe they can get rich with no previous effort of any kind but a matter of "positive attitude" shows the western civilization has decayed a lot. 100 years ago the West was already centuries ahead of the rest of the world because 300 years before it refused to follow "tradition" and expect the "Gods" to provide and to taketh away. When water didn't come to us we built pumps, something as simple as that was an almost unheard-of mentality in the history of mankind, the only other exception being the complex aqueducts built by the Roman Empire. When the Romans stopped building they experienced a slow painful death, and right now we have massive infrastructure deficits which go unfixed because well, any serious infrastructure project is measured in decades, so how do you take credit of that? If you're a politician you won't be in office by the time it's done, and with the increasing instability of the markets investors will probably have moved on to something else more than once by the time the project ends. One would believe than with our average lifespan more than doubling in the past 200 years we should be able to think further ahead, but in reality the post-modern society its fixated on the present, as if the future, a time other than now, was a concept so abstract our brains couldn't process it.
jhspaybar 3 days ago 0 replies      
One other aspect that is probably lurking below the surface and many of you may know but aren't focused on is that many people become a little bit successful and stop taking the risks of new endeavors. With the idea that the greatest successes are typically built on smaller successes, we also must be aware when we've found a success that placates our desires for even greater endeavors. Be happy with the things you've done(that great job, the nice house, etc) but don't stop using your current success as a building block for the next just because your current success is comfortable.
chipsy 3 days ago 0 replies      
I think there's actually a balance between the self-sacrifice view and the optimization view. Your parents have to sacrifice to give you care and attention. Likewise, you have to sacrifice to build skills. All along, chance factors come in to affect whether you're going to remain a healthy person, or crippled/dead.

However, once you cross certain thresholds of ability, optimization becomes a preferred solution. Networking starts to matter more. To build a desired connection you can "sacrifice for someone else." Once you have the connections, unique chances to work on ideas pass through you, and as we already know, ideas + opportunity are prerequisite to most forms of "success." Once you have that, the self-sacrifice process starts again, as now you have to prove that it can be done.

akg 3 days ago 0 replies      
Vince Lombardi's famous quote "Winning is a habit" comes to mind. I think what makes successful people successful is this attitude that no matter what they do, regardless of it's significance, they give it all they have. They want to win (using some subjective definition of winning).

I highly recommend reading James Wallace's "Hard Drive" (http://www.amazon.com/Hard-Drive-Making-Microsoft-Empire/dp/...) which provides some insight into Bill Gates. Regardless of your thoughts about the man, I think it is an extremely interesting read. The basic premise is that Gates is extremely competitive even on a minuscule scale, and it is due to that obsession & competitiveness he is where he is today.

xarien 3 days ago 0 replies      
I agreed with the post until I got to the self sacrifice portion. Life isn't a zero sum game. When you help others, you're helping yourself at the same time.

I've always followed a pay it forward even with people I've met for the first time and it has paid for itself time and time again. Watch how fast someone comes running when they hear you need a favor when they've received one from you...]

The other point I'd like to make is that I believe happiness and success go hand and hand. I know a lot more selfless happy people than selfish ones. Of course, success isn't one dimensional and if monetary measurements are the only indicator then....

rgraham 3 days ago 0 replies      
>If you're going to work on a startup, plan things out so that even if it fails without making a single ripple, you'll still be better off after than you were before.

I've been thinking about this lately. It's really important to chose to spend time on things that are positive for you whether the primary aim or best case scenario pans out or not. Great post.

Tycho 3 days ago 0 replies      
He's basically saying that constant reinvestment of your capital leads to ever increasing success (and maybe, one day, blockbuster success).

I took my savings from my first job, went back to university to learn programming, then got a job with over double the salary. Now earn enough to save money (not that much, maybe a few thousand a year), and also learn a lot of new skills on the job (finance). I've avoided things that take up all my surplus cash/time... But I'm not sure how to 'reinvest' at this point. One obvious choice is doing a CFA (company pays the bills but it would be a huge timesink). Or I could try iOS or web development and use my money to get outside help where needed to make a good product. Or i could invest in stocks/bonds or something.

Anyone else care to share their history of, uh, reinvestment success?

anklos 3 days ago 0 replies      
I believe LIFE IS A RANDOM GAME. You may argue that hard working can change the fate. Yes. But hard working should also be seen as an attribute that is set in your body when you are born, and it is random. So a person is created with random attributes, and he will live with random chances happening around him. That's the game of life.
JoeAltmaier 2 days ago 0 replies      
xkcd of course has something to contribute to this conversation:
dustineichler 3 days ago 0 replies      
No matter how it seems, success is seldom if ever "overnight". Yes, it may seem things come easier to some than others, but to me personally... success isn't what you accomplish so much as it is how quickly you get up from constantly being knocked down. I've failed more times than I care admit... and I'm probably better for it. Maybe success looks like a pattern of determination.
tzaman 3 days ago 3 replies      
Totally agree - but I still think some amount of sacrifice is necessary at the beginning, when you finish your education and start with 0 (if you're lucky, some have student loans).

Unless you have wealthy parents that is.

yason 3 days ago 0 replies      
Success is a life you won't regret.
TuxPirate 3 days ago 0 replies      


       cached 14 March 2012 04:11:01 GMT