Written by Nick Heer.

Reading List

The following is an assemblage of pieces by myself which I consider representative of this website, along with some favourite pieces by others.

Mine

These articles are works which I believe are some of the best I’ve written. If you want a quick-ish summary of what this site is about, these should whet your appetite.

Unplugged Mysteries:

As far as I can tell, Liberty and Unplugged are selling different versions of the same white label phone that run the same fork of Android. Both say they are liberating users from “Big Tech”, both say they offer higher degrees of security and privacy — whether that is true is to be determined — and neither has made any commitments to long-term support. Unplugged is not affiliated with Glenn Greenwald, and the claims of PR people should be tested. Oh, and Erik Prince is just the worst.

My ‘Not a Shadowy Nonprofit Group’ T-Shirt Has People Asking Questions Already Answered by My Shirt:

Exposing the drug marketplace hiding inside a photo platform or the use of forced labour by suppliers is a worthwhile effort. I applaud a more critical look at big businesses, especially those that are somehow trusted to police themselves, and there is no bigger industry today than tech. Besides, critically underfunded public institutions depend on third-party notifications like these to investigate malpractice.

Still, the volume of investigations produced by the [Tech Transparency Project] and the project’s focus got me wondering who was funding this operation. The answer to that question is less transparent than the initiative’s name would suggest.

Bain Brains Take Pains to Ascertain Gains in Mains’ Reign:

The impression I get from this study is that an acquisition by a big company of something else can be a wider indication of the value of that market, hopefully creating competition in that space. But that is not what much of this data shows. There are so many examples here of “hyperscalers” hopping onto an existing market trend that it is hard to see that case being made. The closest the authors get is with Instacart’s boom following Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods — but “Instacart” appears nowhere in this study.

Supermicro​fragilistic​expialidocious:

When I woke up this morning and saw Techmeme’s rewritten headline, “Sources: US investigators say hardware and firmware of Supermicro servers were tampered, with an extra chip loaded with a backdoor to send data to China”, I thought there must be some strange bug that is loading old news. Alas, this is a new story, with new sources — over fifty people spoke with the reporters, apparently — new evidence, and new allegations. But rather than clarifying the 2018 article, I find that I have many of the same questions now about two blockbuster articles.

The Bullshit Web:

An honest web is one in which the overwhelming majority of the code and assets downloaded to a user’s computer are used in a page’s visual presentation, with nearly all the remainder used to define the semantic structure and associated metadata on the page. Bullshit — in the form of CPU-sucking surveillance, unnecessarily-interruptive elements, and behaviours that nobody responsible for a website would themselves find appealing as a visitor — is unwelcome and intolerable.

Death to the bullshit web.

Criteo and AdRoll: The Web’s Cookie Monsters:

If you shop on the web as much as I do and you use Safari, you’ve probably come across this notice sliding into the bottom of your browser window. […]

I’ve seen this banner on the websites of retailers ranging in size from boutiques to major brands, and it seemed a little bit fishy to me with its super careful wording. So I did a bit of digging.

My iOS Reviews

Every year, I write used to write a comprehensive review of iOS:

Others’

These articles are favourites from other writers, and I would like to share them with you. Many of these articles are not tech-related, but I imagine you’re not a one-sided reader (I also bet that you’re beautiful and smart), and most are not recent (though they’re still relevant and interesting). Please let me know if you spot any broken links.

The Art of Electronic Deduction by David “StankDawg” Blake

Your powers of intuition and deduction should be something that you always have turned on. Think of it as the hacker’s version of “Spidey-sense”. As the type of people who question everything and believe nothing until we have confirmed it with our own eyes, analytical skills play a huge part in most hacker’s personalities. When you see anything on the internet, or anywhere else for that matter, it should always be studied and questioned.

Kanye West: Project Runaway by Noah Callahan-Bever

Months went by, and—save for two brief one-line check-ins on my recovery (I’m fine now, thanks!)—Kanye was ghost. At least until mid-January, when an email appeared in my inbox: “Yooooooo, happy new year fam. I can’t wait to play you this new shit!!!!” He explained that he’d holed up in Hawaii and was importing his favorite producers and artists to work on and inspire his recording. Rap Camp! Two weeks later, while Kanye was briefly in NYC, I got a preview of five rough, but incredibly promising songs: “Power,” “Live Fast, Die Young,” “Monster,” “Lost in a World,” and “Gorgeous.” And even better, I got an invite to Hawaii.

PC Forum by Maciej Cegłowski

Last month I attended PC Forum, a conference of IT movers and shakers that attempts to answer the question “when 400 CEOs, venture capitalists, and high-powered corporate executives use an open wireless network, does it occur to anyone to encrypt their email?”

Answer correctly and you win an all-expenses paid, five hundred forty day trip to the sun-kissed Arizona pokey.

Subject: Cube Burning by Simson L. Garfinkel

When NeXT announced that the first NeXT Cube was made of cast magnesium, I am sure that I was not the only person who imagined what fun could be had by setting it ablaze. Of course, at more than seven thousand dollars each, I doubted that anybody would ever actually carry out the experiment.

The Submarine by Paul Graham

One of the most surprising things I discovered during my brief business career was the existence of the PR industry, lurking like a huge, quiet submarine beneath the news. Of the stories you read in traditional media that aren’t about politics, crimes, or disasters, more than half probably come from PR firms.

And Oranges by John Gruber

The point of all this is that in some cases, some people seem unwilling to concede that any criteria other than the ones they themselves deem important actually matter, or even exist.

That’s dogmatism, and the nature of dogma is such that it pretty much kills any reasonable discussion or debate.

How Apple and Amazon Security Flaws Led to My Epic Hacking by Mat Honan

But what happened to me exposes vital security flaws in several customer service systems, most notably Apple’s and Amazon’s. Apple tech support gave the hackers access to my iCloud account. Amazon tech support gave them the ability to see a piece of information — a partial credit card number — that Apple used to release information. In short, the very four digits that Amazon considers unimportant enough to display in the clear on the web are precisely the same ones that Apple considers secure enough to perform identity verification. The disconnect exposes flaws in data management policies endemic to the entire technology industry, and points to a looming nightmare as we enter the era of cloud computing and connected devices.

What is Noka Worth? by Scott Reitz

I’ll admit that the first time I visited Noka’s web site two years ago, I experienced sticker shock, even though I was no stranger to pricey gourmet chocolates. I figured I’d let some time pass, see if they survived, and maybe take a closer look at the company and its product later.

The time has come for that closer look.

In the coming days, we’ll search for the answer to one simple question: Are Noka’s chocolates worth the money?

Hammer Time Over by Jo Roberts

“I think it’s easy to make impenetrable music and hide behind that. Making noise is easy, making stuff people understand is an easy thing to do. Making a pop song is a fucking hard thing to do and making one that’s not idiotic is even harder.”

The Social Network Soundtrack’s Artwork by Rob Sheridan

An early idea I had was to digitally corrupt the images we had from the film, combining a “glitch art” visual aesthetic I’ve always been interested in with a metaphor for digital images shared on Facebook, the corruption they’re susceptible to, and the corruption portrayed in the film. This idea resonated with Trent, so I began experimenting with different ways to destroy the publicity stills Sony had sent me.

Flying the SR-71 by Brian Shul

One moonless night, while flying a routine training mission over the Pacific, I wondered what the sky would look like from 84,000 feet if the cockpit lighting were dark. While heading home on a straight course, I slowly turned down all of the lighting, reducing the glare and revealing the night sky. Within seconds, I turned the lights back up, fearful that the jet would know and somehow punish me. But my desire to see the sky overruled my caution, I dimmed the lighting again. To my amazement, I saw a bright light outside my window. As my eyes adjusted to the view, I realized that the brilliance was the broad expanse of the Milky Way, now a gleaming stripe across the sky. Where dark spaces in the sky had usually existed, there were now dense clusters of sparkling stars. Shooting stars flashed across the canvas every few seconds. It was like a fireworks display with no sound.

Books

I sometimes track what I’m reading on my Goodreads profile. You can follow along with my star ratings to see what I’m reading and what I like.