Author: Jon Evans

Death to C, ++

The C programming language is terrible. I mean, magnificent, too. Much of the world in which we live was built atop C. It is foundational to almost all computer programming, both historically and practically; there’s a reason that the curriculum for Xavier Niel’s revolutionary “42” schools begins with students learning how to rewrite standard C library functions from scratch. But C is no longer suitable for this world which C has built. I mean “terrible” in the “awe-inspiring dread” sense more than the “bad” sense. C has become a monster. It gives its users far too much artillery with...

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Why so costly?

Technology makes things better. Not morally, of course: military technology kills and maims people more efficiently, surveillance technology invades privacy more pervasively, and so forth. But improved technology leads to more output from less input for any system. Almost a tautology, right? I mean, that’s the whole point. So why, in our technology-laced world, do certain domains keep getting more expensive and less efficient? This is veering dangerously close to economics, and I’m anything but an economist, so let me quickly outsource most of that talk to Slate Star Codex, talking about cost disease, and Pedestrian Observations, discussing infrastructure....

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Cry ‘Havoc!’, and let slip the dogs of lulz

Well, why not? I mean, you know, what the hell. Dave Aitel’s proposal over at The Hill for “a cyber investigatory setup funded by private industry” to react to hacks into the American government may not be a good idea, per se, but who can afford that kind of cost-benefit analysis when we’re already in the throes of de-facto high-seas Internet warfare? Let’s just issue some letters of cybermarque and see what happens! Back in the days of fighting sail, letters of marque authorized private vessels known as privateers to attack, seize, and profit from ships designated as targets....

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The Uber and the frog

How the mighty are fallen. Travis Kalanick is out, and Uber has become something of a headless horseman, with no current CEO, COO, CFO, CMO, VP of Engineering, or general counsel. Its alleged valuation has fallen by $18 billion and counting. How did this happen? Or maybe a better question is: how could this not have happened? It really wasn’t so long ago, believe it or not, that Uber was everybody’s darling except for regulators and taxi cartels — and, presumably, employees who were reluctant to risk the consequences of speaking up against its toxic culture. Which, as I...

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How to kill a golden age

So I was sitting in the Theatre of Salt in Florence with my friend Jo discussing golden ages, as one inevitably does when in Florence — it having been the birthplace of that most famous and most consequential of all golden ages, the Renaissance — and I found myself speculating that Silicon Valley’s own ongoing golden age is at real risk of ending soon. I don’t think anyone would dispute that the last several decades have been a golden age. First Intel and Hewlett-Packard, then Apple and Cisco, then Alphabet and Facebook, as silicon and networks and software ate...

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The new new things that weren’t

We’re always looking for the New New Thing in tech, since long before Michael Lewis coined the phrase. Often we are entirely too successful. There are so many New New Things — and so many of them fall from the sky like burned-out flares soon enough, to further litter the graveyard of Old New Things. Can we learn from them? Probably. Will we learn from them? Probably not. But it’s worth remembering them anyway, from time to time. And so I give you this highly idiosyncratic list of yesterday’s tomorrows from the twenty-teens: 2010 Chatroulette was perhaps the most...

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Facebook is broken

The problem is this: Facebook has become a feedback loop which can and does, despite its best intentions, become a vicious spiral. At Facebook’s scale, behavioral targeting doesn’t just reflect our behavior, it actually influences it. Over time, a service which was supposed to connect humanity is actually partitioning us into fractal disconnected bubbles. The way Facebook’s News Feed works is that the more you “engage” with posts from a particular user, the more often their posts are shown to you. The more you engage with a particular kind of post, the more you will see its ilk. So...

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Blockchains are the new Linux, not the new Internet

Cryptocurrencies are booming beyond belief. Bitcoin is up sevenfold, to $2,500, in the last year. Three weeks ago the redoubtable Vinay Gupta, who led Ethereum’s initial release, published an essay entitled “What Does Ether At $100 Mean?” Since then it has doubled. Too many altcoins to name have skyrocketed in value along with the Big Two. ICOs are raking in money hand over fist over bicep. What the hell is going on? (eta: in the whopping 48 hours since I first wrote that, those prices have tumbled considerably, but are still way, way up for the year.) A certain...

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