14 Aug 2018
I have met the Bullshit Web, and it is me.
It’s not that I intended to create a bloated webpage, and I don’t
think anyone ever leads with that intention. But it’s terribly easy
to do. In fact, all you need to do is follow all the “current best
practices”, and what you’ll end up with is bullshit – potentially
orders of magnitude more of it than actual content.
I didn’t think too hard about this when I migrated by ancient blog
from its crusty Perl-based foundations onto a ‘modern’ static site
generator, with an inoffensive pre-built template I tweaked slightly.
But looking at its load times in Chrome, it’s amazing how a few small
decisions – “oh hey, let’s use a nice web font!” – can add hundreds
of kilobytes and full seconds onto an initial page load.
Hopefully we’re on the cusp of a return to web minimalism, as the
performance curve of end-user devices (particularly mobile devices)
starts to flatten out; it simply won’t be possible to continue to cram
quite so much shit into each page, and assume that faster connections
and rendering engines will make it acceptable.
But that will require a shift in thinking among everyone who creates
content for the web, where the performance cost of each “nice-to-have”
feature is weighed, and nothing is tossed in just for the heck of it,
or because that’s what “everyone else is doing”.
Read more »
12 Nov 2017
The last few months have been particularly busy for me, and as a result I haven’t been keeping tabs on basically anything outside of my day job. It was therefore interesting to read Gwern Branwen’s recently-updated article on “time lock” encryption, which has always been a topic of interest to me due to its wide range of applications.
Reliable time-lock encryption has been a goal since the early days of widespread strong cryptography, and is often discussed in the context of key escrow schemes like Shamir’s Secret Sharing Scheme (SSSS).
But in many ways, time-lock encryption has more practical applications to the average user than an escrow system like SSSS. (Although in part this is because SSSS has never, to my knowledge anyway, been implemented in an easy-to-use fashion. It has remained the province of very high-end applications, like signing the DNSSEC root zone key.) There are lots of applications where people don’t use cryptography because of the risk of data loss – making your data as vulnerable to complete and catastrophic loss as the key (which is sort of inherent in any good cryptographic scheme) is often not desirable. Similarly, there are probably places in which people are using data encryption and taking on the risk of data loss unknowingly, whether personally or on behalf of others. E.g. the person who encrypts their personal computer and memorizes the key, and then gets run over by a bus. Hopefully their family didn’t need or want anything on...
Read more »
09 Aug 2017
It’s always easy in retrospect to point out where major companies blew it, and squandered a huge lead over rivals; typically it’s difficult to see it when it’s actually happening, and nearly impossible to predict in advance.
However, we may be seeing such a situation happen right now, in the form of Netflix. But interestingly, and in contrast to Sears and other typical crushed-by-the-Internet 1990s cases, Netflix’s trouble is due not to inaction, but to conscious and deliberate steps the company has chosen to pursue as part of its strategy. In particular, its decision to abandon a dominant position where it had a structural advantage over rivals that was nearly impossible to compete with, and instead enter an arena where it has no particular advantage and faces a constant stream of new competitors.
I’m talking, of course, about their switch from an Internet-facilitated DVD rental service to a streaming-video one. Since this was at the time hailed as something of a bold and brilliant move, some explanation is probably in order.
Prior to their 2011 pivot into streaming, Netflix’s little red envelopes dominated home distribution of movies and TV shows. Their only real competition, Blockbuster, which had largely consumed the business of several other chains and countless mom-n-pop rental shops, went bankrupt in 2010. Prior to finally collapsing, Blockbuster even tried to bring the fight to Netflix with its own unlimited-rental-by-mail service, but couldn’t make the numbers work.
By most accounts, Netflix had basically perfected the DVD-by-mail business model....
Read more »