Posts tagged: tech
I wrote about the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, a boarding high school in Aurora, IL, for Wired:
The IMSA Wednesdays are like Google’s “20 percent time” — only better. “At Google, 20 percent time is actually tacked on to the rest of your job. ” says Daniel Kador, another former IMSA student. “At IMSA, it really is built into your schedule.” And though Kador and other students admit that they spent more than a few Wednesdays just goofing off — as high school students so often do — they say the environment at IMSA ends up pushing many of them towards truly creative work. And it pays off.
After teaching himself to program at IMSA, Chu went on to the University of Illinois, where he worked on NCSA Mosaic, the first graphical web browser, following in the footsteps of fellow IMSA alums Robert and Michael McCool. And, eventually, he joined several other IMSA graduates as an early employee at PayPal, where he still works today.
Chu is just one of many tech success stories that have sprung from IMSA over the years (see sidebar, page two). Other IMSA alums have gone on to discover new solar systems, teach neurosurgery, and found such notable tech outfits as YouTube, Yelp, SparkNotes, and OK Cupid. And the spirit that moved Chu to teach himself programming is still very much alive and well. You can think of IMSA as a Hogwarts for Hackers.
Colin Berkshire writes:
The invention of email is widely credited to be Ray Tomlinson (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ray_Tomlinson) in 1971. In one especially oddball webpage, VA Shiva Ayyadurai claims to have actually invented email in 1978. (http://www.inventorofemail.com). Mr. Ayyadurai mostly substantiates his claim by playing games with the definition of what email is, basically arguing that email didn’t exist until his particular program was written, and that nothing beforehand actually amounted to what he defines as being email. I won’t play those games with you here. […]
And, the #1 ESS ADF was in full production service February 3, 1969…almost five years before Ray Tomlinson sent the first email message and well before ARPANet even existed. To clarify, that was full commercial service…not a research laboratory.
When the #1 ESS ADF system was cut into service in 1969, it was of a truly massive scale for the time. 1,250 terminals located in 720 locations across the country were connected. These were used by Western Electric and AT&T Long Lines to send administrative messages, traffic orders, commercial service orders, payroll, plant service results, and budgeting reports. There was no other system, including universities, with such widespread use.
Full Story: Cloudave: The Origin of Email
The system is described in the Bell System Technical Journal in 1970, and is also mentioned by Jim Haynes in an essay on Teletype Corporation.
I interviewed Soylent creator Rob Rhinehart for my latest TechCrunch column:
Fake meats have been around for years, but a new crop of Bay Area startups backed by tech investors think they can make meat substitutes good enough to compete with the real deal. Beyond Meat — backed by Twitter founders Evan Williams and Biz Stone via their company Obvious Corp — created an eerily accurate chicken substitute, for example.
But the most ambitious project is Rob Rhinehart‘s cheekily named “Soylent,” an attempt to replace food entirely with a liquid shake that has all the protein, fat, carbohydrates and micronutrients you need. The only ingredients recognizable as food are salt and olive oil. He claims to have lived exclusively on the stuff for a month. He says he has started eating real food again, but two months later he still gets 92 percent of his meals from Soylent.
Rhinehart makes an unlikely food scientist. He’s an engineer fresh off a stint at a Y Combinator-backed networking startup called Level RF that never exited stealth mode. He says he doesn’t have a background in chemistry. “Formally no more than an undergraduate level, but I am a huge proponent of self-study, online courses, and textbooks,” he says.
Previously: The Food Free Diet
“You’re a small elite of very young people who are working hard for an elite of mostly baby boomer financiers so that they can buy governments, shut the governments down and destroy the middle class and the nation state.”
Here’s my article for Wired about why so many scientists ended up working in the tech industry:
Tech companies are snapping up scientists with backgrounds in fields like physics, mathematics and bioscience — people we might expect to be busy curing cancer, saving the environment or discovering the origin of the universe. It’s easy to be cynical about this. “The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads,” former Facebook data scientist Jeff Hammerbacher told Business Week in 2010. But it’s happening for a reason.
It’s not that tech companies need people with PhDs. Many of the best data scientists in the business only have bachelor’s degrees. It turns out that many scientists are moving into tech because opportunities aren’t as prevalent as you might think.
The U.S. produced 100,000 PhDs between 2005 and 2009, while creating only 16,000 new professorships, according to data cited by The Economist. Though we’re used to hearing about PhDs in the humanities ending up as low-paid adjunct professors or baristas, we tend to expect another fate for people who major in fields like bioscience or physics. But even the natural sciences produce more PhDs than professorships. […]
Those that do land jobs are often frustrated. “Scientists spend more time chasing funding than thinking about the science,” Berkolz says. And because funding sources are so risk adverse, the type of research funded tends to be conservative. “Scientists are supposed to be all about falsifiability,” Miller says. “But your job as a professor is to never be wrong. It’s hard to be intellectually experimental when you’re a scientist.”
I think this is also probably why some researchers fabricate experimental data.
My article for Wired on the 50th anniversary of the original graphical user interface:
Fifty years ago today, Ivan Sutherland introduced the first graphical computer application: a drafting program called Sketchpad.
At a time when computers were operated with punch cards and command lines — and the mouse had not yet been invented — Sutherland used a light pen to manipulate lines and shapes on a screen. With Sketchpad, you could draw perfectly straight lines, change the size of shapes without altering the proportions, and create “rubber band lines” you could bend and stretch — many of the things you can do today with programs like AutoCAD and Adobe Illustrator.
Sketchpad’s legacy can’t be overstated. It directly fed the creation of Douglas Englebart’s oN Line System (the subject of the “Mother of All Demos”), which would influence, well, every graphical computing system that came after it, from the Xerox PARC Alto to the Apple Macintosh to the iPhone.
I wrote for TechCrunch about the way automation and machine learning algorithms may start putting writers out of jobs:
Discovering news stories is actually the business that Narrative Science wants to get into, according to Wired, and CTO Kristian Hammond believes finding more stories will actually create more jobs for journalists. I’m not so sure. It will depend on a few things, like how much more efficient writers can be made through technology and how much risk publishers will take on “unproven” story ideas vs. safe computer generated ideas. The idea behind Current was that it could help publishers find lucrative stories to run to subsidize more substantial reporting. Of course publications will continue to run original, differentiating human written reporting. But the amount resources dedicated to that sort of content may change, depending on the economics of automation.
And the possibilities get weirder. Look at drone journalism. Today drones, if they are used at all, are just used to extend journalists capabilities, not to make us more efficient or replace us. But how could drones change, say, event or travel coverage in coming years? Will one reporter with a suitcase full of drones and a server full of AI algorithms do the work of three?
Previously: DARPA Training Computers to Write Dossiers
By definition, a computer is a machine that processes and stores data as ones and zeroes. But the U.S. Department of Defense wants to tear up that definition and start from scratch.
Through its Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa), the DoD is funding a new program called UPSIDE, short for Unconventional Processing of Signals for Intelligent Data Exploitation. Basically, the program will investigate a brand-new way of doing computing without the digital processors that have come to define computing as we know it.
The aim is to build computer chips that are a whole lot more power-efficient than today’s processors — even if they make mistakes every now and then.
The way Darpa sees it, today’s computers — especially those used by mobile spy cameras in drones and helicopters that have to do a lot of image processing — are starting to hit a dead end. The problem isn’t processing. It’s power, says Daniel Hammerstrom, the Darpa program manager behind UPSIDE. And it’s been brewing for more than a decade.
From The Atlantic:
In his final year at the Design Academy of Eindhoven, Tom Loois received a vague assignment: “Design your personal definition of silence.” Loois, whose training is in product design, had no idea what to do. He found himself, as the deadline approached, wandering around the city searching for inspiration. Then he noticed a little alley near his route home from school.
“I stopped my bike,” he says, “and I thought, ‘I’ve passed by here so many times but I’ve never been here.’ I don’t know where it goes, where it might lead.” It was a eureka moment for the Dutch designer. “I found my silence in the places I’d never been.”
Loois’s final project ended up being a smartphone app called BlankWays, which charts your progress through the city, noting which paths you’ve come down before and suggesting itineraries to cover new ground. The app indicates and measures which parts of the city you’ve traveled, and which you haven’t:
(via Amber Case)
Remember how earlier this year Regina Dugan, the former director of DARPA, took a job at Google? Now we know what she’s up to there:
Google has also created a department within Motorola—Advanced Technology and Projects—comprised of researchers charged with finding cutting-edge technologies that could give Motorola’s products an edge. And the executive refresh includes a new senior vice president, Regina Dugan, a former director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Pentagon’s long-term research arm. […]
But whether the DARPA research model can work in the fast-evolving world of smartphones is unclear, says Chetan Sharma, a wireless analyst in Seattle. “Regina does bring in outside perspective specially related to projects that are leaps, versus incremental steps,” he says. “However, this will need to be executed under the constraints of competition, time, and money.”
While DARPA has had some storied successes—such as the precursor to the Internet—it also freely admits that it often fails. And it has pursued some odd projects, such as setting up a research program to figure out how to reassemble shredded documents.