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Alberto Bietti
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A lesson in shortcuts.

Long ago, as the design of the Unix file system was being worked out, the entries . and .. appeared, to make navigation easier. I'm not sure but I believe .. went in during the Version 2 rewrite, when the file system became hierarchical (it had a very different structure early on).  When one typed ls, however, these files appeared, so either Ken or Dennis added a simple test to the program. It was in assembler then, but the code in question was equivalent to something like this:
   if (name[0] == '.') continue;
This statement was a little shorter than what it should have been, which is
   if (strcmp(name, ".") == 0 || strcmp(name, "..") == 0) continue;
but hey, it was easy.

Two things resulted.

First, a bad precedent was set. A lot of other lazy programmers introduced bugs by making the same simplification. Actual files beginning with periods are often skipped when they should be counted.

Second, and much worse, the idea of a "hidden" or "dot" file was created. As a consequence, more lazy programmers started dropping files into everyone's home directory. I don't have all that much stuff installed on the machine I'm using to type this, but my home directory has about a hundred dot files and I don't even know what most of them are or whether they're still needed. Every file name evaluation that goes through my home directory is slowed down by this accumulated sludge.

I'm pretty sure the concept of a hidden file was an unintended consequence. It was certainly a mistake.

How many bugs and wasted CPU cycles and instances of human frustration (not to mention bad design) have resulted from that one small shortcut about  40 years ago?

Keep that in mind next time you want to cut a corner in your code.

(For those who object that dot files serve a purpose, I don't dispute that but counter that it's the files that serve the purpose, not the convention for their names. They could just as easily be in $HOME/cfg or $HOME/lib, which is what we did in Plan 9, which had no dot files. Lessons can be learned.)

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L'application Android Marduru est sur le Play Store!

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Some photos of HackTaMine, Mines ParisTech's first hackathon!
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HackTaMine (6 photos)
6 Photos - View album

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I believe the internet has been one of the greatest forces for good in the world over the past quarter century. So when the Guardian requested that I speak to them over the past few months about internet freedom, I decided it was important to participate.

I think the article is a pretty good read but is a short summary of a long discussion. My thoughts got particularly distorted in the secondary coverage in a way that distracts from my central tenets so I think they are worth clarifying here.

(see article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2012/apr/15/web-freedom-threat-google-brin)

Today, the primary threat by far to internet freedom is government filtering of political dissent. This has been far more effective than I ever imagined possible across a number of nations. In addition, other countries such as the US have come close to adopting very similar techniques in order to combat piracy and other vices. I believe these efforts have been misguided and dangerous.

Lastly in the interview came the subject of digital ecosystems that are not as open as the web itself and I think this portion has led to some misunderstanding of my views. So to clarify, I certainly do not think this issue is on a par with government based censorship. Moreover, I have much admiration for two of the companies we discussed -- Apple and Facebook. I have always admired Apple’s products. In fact, I am writing this post on an Imac and using an Apple keyboard I have cherished for the past seven years. Likewise, Facebook has helped to connect hundreds of millions of people, has been a key tool for political expression and has been instrumental to the Arab Spring. Both have made key contributions to the free flow of information around the world.

So what was my concern and what about Google for that matter?
I became an entrepreneur during the 90’s, the boom time of what you might now call Web 1.0. Yahoo created a directory of all the sites they could find without asking anyone for permission. Ebay quickly became the largest auction company in the world without having to pay a portion of revenue to any ISP. Paypal became the most successful payment company and Amazon soared in e-commerce also without such tolls or any particular company’s permission.

Today, starting such a service would entail navigating a number of new tollbooths and gatekeepers. If you are interested in this issue I recommend you read http://futureoftheinternet.org/ by +Jonathan Zittrain. While openness is a core value at Google, there are a number of areas where we can improve too (as the book outlines).

But regardless of how you feel about digital ecosystems or about Google, please do not take the free and open internet for granted from government intervention. To the extent that free flow of information threatens the powerful, those in power will seek to suppress it.

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online class by Yaser!
Free Machine Learning course from Caltech beginning April 3rd. Claims to be not "watered-down"

The course will be taught by Yaser S. Abu-Mostafa, a Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the California Institute of Technology. The course will run for 8 weeks beginning April 3rd till May 31st.

Every week there will be 2 lectures which will be streamed live on Tuesdays and Thursdays between 5:30 - 6:30 PM GMT. Homeworks will be in the in the form of multiple choice questions. Based on the cumulative score in the homeworks, students will be ranked on a scoreboard. The course doesn't seem to have exams or programming assignments.

Registrations open next-week.

Via: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3703782

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This is awesome!

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Blood-borne nanobots: here we come

Shades of +Neal Stephenson's Diamond Age with its blood-borne nanobots maintaining human health: A DNA-sized nanobot that identifies and latches onto cancer cells. http://bit.ly/zlKjEa

Put that together with this new wireless pharmacy on a chip http://www.smartertechnology.com/c/a/Optimized-Systems/Wireless-Implant-Meters-Drug-Doses/ and we're definitely entering a science-fiction future.

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Really, Google is evil now? Let's Get Real. How About Apple?

I just came across this story:

Google’s Broken Promise: The End of "Don’t Be Evil"
BY MAT HONAN
JAN 24, 2012
<http://gizmodo.com/5878987/its-official-google-is-evil-now>

I have to confess that I find the furor to be overblown.

Collecting data isn't evil. It's the currency of the future, a currency that we provide in order to buy useful services, many of which can ONLY be provided if that data is aggregated and analyzed and made relevant. There are evil things that you can do with that data, but just collecting it isn't evil. I wish people would avoid the linkbait headlines unless they have evidence that Google is actually doing bad things with that data.

If you want an example of a company that is doing "evil", consider Apple. I was horrified when I heard Mike Daisey, author of the one-man show "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs," talking on This American Life about working conditions in the factories that make the iPhone and iPad, and Apple's tepid monitoring of those conditions. When a company has $98 billion in cash, and profits of tens of billions of dollars each quarter, does it really need to squeeze every last cent out of manufacturing costs?

The account of how Apple's factories substituted n-hexane, a neurotoxin with well-documented long term adverse health effects, for alcohol to wipe those shining screens clean, gaining a miniscule advantage in drying time but exposing workers to a lifetime of disablement, nearly brought me to tears.

That's evil. Of course, Apple never promised to do no evil, so they get a free pass.

Journalists should listen to this episode, and then write about that, please:

http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/454/mr-daisey-and-the-apple-factory

Update: The point of this post was not to excuse Google by saying Apple is worse. It was to draw a distinction between the potential for harm (Google is collecting all this data, and that could be bad) and actual harm (Apple - and just about every other company making cheap electronics - is countenancing incredibly bad labor practices that do real damage to people, right now.) There are many things that Google does that I consider as violations of its "Don't be evil" mantram (including profiting from ads from content farms, spammers, IP thieves, et al), but collecting and analyzing user data isn't one of them. I'd be delighted to hear about and spread the word about actual violations of user privacy on Google's part that are causing actual harm. But alarmism about what they might do, given how much data they have, isn't a case of actual harm, and doesn't make Google "evil".
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