Point Of No Return

In 1927, Charles Lindbergh climbed into his plane, The Spirit of St. Louis, and accelerated down a 5,000 foot mud soaked runway. The plane was fully loaded with aviation fuel and there was some concern he might not get it airborne. His plane reached V1 speed, when takeoff could no longer be aborted, it was the point of no return. Fortunately for Lindbergh, he got airborne and lived to tell the tale.

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Updating My Plank

As a man who loves his technology, one thing I enjoy reading about is how others use theirs. There is a small degree of voyeurism in this, but mostly it is because the digital world is deep and wide and at times hard to navigate. While there is much merit in Robert Frost’s notion of the road not taken, at times I love it when things just work. For that, some brave soul needs to have trodden the road first.

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Code is Speech?

In the early 1990’s, Daniel Bernstein, a Berkeley mathematics PhD student, wanted to publish the source code for an encryption algorithm he had written along with an accompanying mathematics paper. In the age of Github, such an event would go largely noticed. Particularly if the author is a student, who usually struggle to get their professors to read their work, let alone anyone else. But in the 1990’s, this was groundbreaking. This is because until what became known as Bernstein v. Department of Justice,’ the US government designated encryption as a ‘munition,’ classifying it along with a range of deadly weapons and thus subject to export restrictions.

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Language Defect: Privacy

Advertisement for the automatic (dial) telephone service of the Illinois Telephone and Telegraph Company

In around 1140, a Spanish Jewish philosopher and poet, Judah Halevi (יהודה הלוי), wrote perhaps his most famous book. The Kuzari, or to give it its full title The Book of Proof and Evidence in Support of the Abased Religion, took the form of a dialogue between a rabbi and a pagan. The central theme of the work was the existence of a ‘God of history’ rather than an abstract ‘God of the philosophers.’ The work explicitly rejected the neoplatonism which suffused the milieu in which Judah Halevi lived and advocated for a God of the Jews and a God of Islam. Part of the answer to the problem for which Halevi was trying to solve was a defect in the language used to talk about God.

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Centralising the Decentralised

A sketch of the French author and traveler Alexis de Tocqueville

A lament I often read in the Fediverse is that too many people flock to a handful of mega instances, a process which steadily centralises a platform designed to be decentralised. Yet for all its noble goals, can the Fediverse break free of becoming yet another example of a Pareto distribution? A phenomenon Robert K. Merton termed the ‘Matthew effect‘ – link to PDF of his 1968 article:

For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.

Matthew 25:29

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