How the Kindle got its name#

I can't have a conversation about the Kindle without someone asking, "What the hell does ‘kindle' mean?" Well, here you go.

[Jeff Bezos] wanted to talk about the future of reading, but in a small, not braggadocio way. We didn't want it to be ‘techie' or trite, and we wanted it to be memorable, and meaningful in many ways of expression, from "I love curling up with my Kindle to read a new book" to "When I'm stuck in the airport or on line, I can Kindle my newspaper, favorite blogs or half a dozen books I'm reading."

The last days of the polymath#

I freakin' love articles like this, and the accompanying illustration is perfect.

I especially enjoyed Posner's take on the "games" monomaths play in an effort to dismiss generalists as being unable to understand their disciplines.

The new literacy#

[Lunsford] organized a mammoth project called the Stanford Study of Writing to scrutinize college students' prose. From 2001 to 2006, she collected 14,672 student writing samples--everything from in-class assignments, formal essays, and journal entries to emails, blog posts, and chat sessions. Her conclusions are stirring. [...]

Lunsford's team found that the students were remarkably adept at what rhetoricians call kairos — assessing their audience and adapting their tone and technique to best get their point across. […]

We think of writing as either good or bad. What today's young people know is that knowing who you're writing for and why you're writing might be the most crucial factor of all.

You should follow me on Twitter

October 16, 2009

If you're a long-time reader of this site, you should follow me on Twitter, where I provide an endless stream of wit and sarcasm, for free. Oh, I also talk ad nauseum about whatever gadget I've just bought (or am thinking about buying), Mac/iPhone software I'm currently using/hating/loving, books I'm reading (via the Kindle DX of course), etc., most of which discussions never make it here. (You mustn't forget my other role as an IP attorney, which is Latin for "most days I don't have time to type more than 140 non-work characters at a stretch.") Only on Twitter can the gamut of my neuroses, pessimism and (sometimes!) delight be explored, nay, celebrated. Yeah, it's basically a celebration of thought and observation. Get it? See what I did there? Ah, never mind.

Further, I always respond on Twitter, and usually within a day, because I'm constrained to 140 characters and don't feel ‘guilty' when a response can be handled with less than that (or, *gasp*, more, like when I use two tweets!). (I always respond to email too, but, well, sometimes it takes me a year or more because I like to imagine that multiple horses have to trek my letter from California to New York, where it gets loaded onto a steam-powered ship carrying tobacco to Europe, where, in the basement of some old Parisian bar the reader finally pores over every word by candlelight. Truth is, most of my email is from people I don't know, a group to which I feel increasingly less obliged to respond to in a hurry, especially when the response is going to take me more than a few minutes. Also, with a large queue, the aggregated time required to respond adds up quickly. Finally, I probably should have made this a footnote instead of a parenthetical that now is as long as the rest of this post.)

Anyway, see you there. (If you're a long-time reader, then please @message me on Twitter to let me know; I'll be much more inclined to follow you back as we likely have very similar interests, etc.)

* is Unix#

Ryan's I like Unicorn because it's Unix appears to have started a mini-meme of folks writing simple forking network servers in their language of choice. I'm really enjoying reading 'em -- they're a sort of Rosetta Stone of network code -- so I'm going to keep a running list of links here.

Remove Spotlight's menubar icon in Snow Leopard

October 14, 2009

This is just a simple tip on how to safely remove the Spotlight icon from your menubar. I disable Spotlight completely on my system (run the following terminal command if you'd like to do the same: sudo mdutil -a -i off), but even if you do use Spotlight, this solution shouldn't affect its operation, just the icon. (UPDATE: This likely will disable any keyboard shortcuts used to invoke Spotlight.)

One way to kill the icon is to remove or rename the Search.bundle package found at /System/Library/CoreServices. Obviously though, by renaming or deleting the bundle you run the risk of something breaking if a future software update attempts to read from or write to it. Another possible solution is to remove or replace with a "blank" PDF the MDSearchMenuIcon.pdf file within the /Contents/Resources/ directory of Search.bundle, but I suspect that while this may remove the icon, the space allocated to it in the menubar will persist.

To obviate these issues, you simply can change the permissions on the Search file within Search.bundle so that only root can read from and write to the file. By doing this, you ensure that 1) you (and other users of the system) can't read from the file; and 2) any future updates via Software Update can transpire without issue.

You can set the proper permissions by executing the following terminal command:

sudo chmod 600 /System/Library/CoreServices/Search.bundle/Contents/MacOS/Search

Next, restart SystemUIServer by issuing the killall SystemUIServer terminal command.

Voila! The icon's gone. (Note that I haven't tested this on Mac OS X v10.5 and below.)

Man vs. God#

[The WSJ] commissioned Karen Armstrong and Richard Dawkins to respond independently to the question "Where does evolution leave God?" Neither knew what the other would say. Here are the results.

The Referendum#

The Referendum is a phenomenon typical of (but not limited to) midlife, whereby people, increasingly aware of the finiteness of their time in the world, the limitations placed on them by their choices so far, and the narrowing options remaining to them, start judging their peers' differing choices with reactions ranging from envy to contempt. The Referendum can subtly poison formerly close and uncomplicated relationships, creating tensions between the married and the single, the childless and parents, careerists and the stay-at-home. It's exacerbated by the far greater diversity of options available to us now than a few decades ago, when everyone had to follow the same drill. We're all anxiously sizing up how everyone else's decisions have worked out to reassure ourselves that our own are vindicated -- that we are, in some sense, winning.

A curiously thoughtful and introspective must-read that hits awfully close to home as I get ready to say goodbye to my 20s and, well, let's just leave it at that (here on this public site that far too many people read). (Via Jason Kottke.)

The collider, the particle and a theory about fate#

A pair of otherwise distinguished physicists have suggested that the hypothesized Higgs boson, which physicists hope to produce with the [Large Hadron] collider, might be so abhorrent to nature that its creation would ripple backward through time and stop the collider before it could make one, like a time traveler who goes back in time to kill his grandfather. […]

"It must be our prediction that all Higgs producing machines shall have bad luck. [… God] rather hates Higgs particles, and attempts to avoid them."

So. Awesome.

30 years of failure: the username/password combination#

[N]euroscience has indicated that the human brain simply doesn't perform well at free-associating text that, on its own, has little inherent meaning. As one of the papers cited puts it, "the multiple-password management crisis [can be viewed as] a search and retrieval problem involving human beings' long-term memory." And, although our long-term memory for images and words that we've assigned meanings to is quite good, we don't do as well with passwords, which (ideally, at least) should look like a near-random string of characters. It's another challenge entirely to remember which password to associate with a specific account.

Um, one word: 1Password.

DNA origami#

DNA origami is actually something of a misnomer; as William Shih notes, the process is more like DNA knitting. Think of a strand of DNA as a straight line--it has no area of its own. But by folding the line back and forth on itself, you can produce a flat plane.

In Rothemund's method, a length of single-stranded DNA folds back and forth to fill in a flat shape, be it a star, a square, or a smiley face. Then, shorter strands stick parallel and perpendicular to it, turning the single-stranded DNA into a double helix that links back to itself, stabilizing the shape. Finally, a computer tests the shape for structural stability. The finished product, to use the knitting metaphor, is a star, square, or smiley face-shaped blanket.

Archimedes had begun to discover calculus#

For seventy years, a prayer book moldered in the closet of a family in France, passed down from one generation to the next. Its mildewed parchment pages were stiff and contorted, tarnished by burn marks and waxy smudges. Behind the text of the prayers, faint Greek letters marched in lines up the page, with an occasional diagram disappearing into the spine. […]

An intensive research effort over the last nine years has led to the decoding of much of the almost-obliterated Greek text. The results were more revolutionary than anyone had expected. The researchers have discovered that Archimedes was working out principles that, centuries later, would form the heart of calculus and that he had a more sophisticated understanding of the concept of infinity than anyone had realized.