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Posts Tagged ‘Internet

“Of course there’s a lot of knowledge in universities: the freshmen bring a little in; the seniors don’t take much away, so knowledge sort of accumulates”*…

Professor Paul Musgrave on the wacky world of university fundraising…

I would like you to buy me a chair. Not just any chair: an endowed chair.

Let me explain.

Universities have strange business models. The legendary University of California president Clark Kerr once quipped that their functions were “To provide sex for the students, sports for the alumni, and parking for the faculty.” These days, the first is laundered for public consumption as “the student experience” and the third is a cost center (yes, many to most professors have to pay, rather a lot, for their parking tags). (The second remains unchanged.)

You can tell that Kerr was president during a time of lavish support because he didn’t include the other function of a university: to provide naming opportunities for donors.

Presidents, chancellors, and provosts seek to finagle gifts because the core business of universities—providing credits to students in exchange for tuition—is both volatile and insufficient to meet the boundless ambitions of administrators and faculty alike. (Faculty might protest that their ambitions are quite modest, as they include merely limitless research budgets and infinite releases from course time—but other than that, they ask only for cost of living adjustments as well as regular salary increases.) Trustees expect presidents to bring in new buildings and new chairs; presidents expect trustees to help dun their friends and acquaintances for donations. The incentives even trickle down to deans, directors, and chairs, all of whom live with increasingly austere baseline budgets and a concomitant incentive to find and cultivate donors to expand, or even just support, their operations.

It’s easy, and wrong, for faculty to be cynical about this. First, these operations reflect the gloriously incongruous medieval nature of the university. Higher education in its upper reaches resembles medieval monasteries, and such monasteries provided not just seclusion and sanctity for their initiates but the possibility of the purchase of virtue for the wealthy. So, too, do universities offer grateful alumni and those sentimental about the generation of knowledge opportunities to turn worldly wealth into tax-deductible noblesse oblige.

Second, donors are the customers for the other product of the university: the social proof of good works. Universities offer donors solicitous for the future of the less fortunate opportunities to subsidize tuition, and they offer donors more interested in the benefits of knowledge the opportunity to subsidize research. The reward comes in some combination of the knowledge that such works are being done and the fact that the donor’s name will be associated with it. (Few large university buildings are named the Anonymous Center for Cancer Research.)

The bar for giving continues to rise. Nine-figure gifts were once unheard of; nowadays, they are striking but no longer unprecedented. For such a sum you can have a constituent college named for yourself. The next frontier must be the billion, or multi-billion, dollar gift. For that level, of course, the reward would have to be commensurate. Given that Harvard was named for a donor who left some books and a few hundred pounds to his eponymous university, one wonders whether someone in Harvard’s charitable receiving arm hasn’t calculated how much it would cost to become, say, the Zuckerberg-Harvard University. (I would wager that an earnest offer of $10 billion would at least raise the issue.)…

[There follows a price list for endowed/named Chairs at different universities, and an analysis of their economics. The author suggest that a chair for him would run $2.5-3 million…]

Fascinating: “Buy Me a Chair,” from @profmusgrave.

* A. Lawrence Lowell (legal scholar and President of Harvard University from 1909 to 1933)


As we dig deep, we might recall that it was on this date in 1991 that the World Wide Web was introduced to the world at large.

In 1989, Tim Berners-Lee (now Sir Tim) proposed the system to his colleagues at CERN. He got a working system implemented by the end of 1990, including a browser called WorldWideWeb (which became the name of the project and of the network) and an HTTP server running at CERN. As part of that development, he defined the first version of the HTTP protocol, the basic URL syntax, and implicitly made HTML the primary document format.

The technology was released outside CERN to other research institutions starting in January 1991, and then– with the publication of this (likely the first public) web page— to the whole Internet 32 years ago today. Within the next two years, there were 50 websites created. (Today, while it is understood that the number of active sites fluctuates, the total is estimated at over 1.5 billion.)

The NeXT Computer used by Tim Berners-Lee at CERN that became the world’s first Web server (source)

“Good design’s not about what medium you’re working in. It’s about thinking hard about what you want to do and what you have to work with before you start.”*…

From the team at Readymag, a project exploring the impact of women in design (and calling attention to the ongoing gender imbalance in the design industry). For example…

Susan Kare [pictured above] is famous for designing Apple’s Macintosh interface elements, icons and typefaces in the 1980s, as well as a number of other pixel-based graphics for early computers. She was one of the key figures in the PC usability revolution initiated by Steve Jobs at Apple. Kare is often referred to as “the woman who gave the Macintosh a smile,” for designing the original Happy Mac icon…

19 others at “Designing women,” from @readymag.

More on @SusanKare here.

Susan Kare


As we give credit where credit is due, we might recall that it was on this date in 1985 that the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA, later DARPA) opened internet domains for registration. Symbolics Computer Corporation was the first out of the gate with Symbolics.com. The company used the website to sell specialized computers running the programming language Lisp. (Symbolics initially meant these machines to develop artificial intelligence but were a little ahead of their time; they later adapted them for other uses.)


Written by (Roughly) Daily

March 15, 2023 at 1:00 am

“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main”*…

But in what does the “continent”– our community– consist? Further to yesterday’s piece on Epicureanism, Noah Smith argues that the internet has changed what “community” means…

… I think the kind of communities we inhabit has simply changed. In the past, our communities were primarily horizontal — they were simply the people we lived close to on the surface of the Earth. Increasingly, though, new technology has enabled us to construct communities that I’ve decided to call vertical — groups of people united by identities, interests, and values rather than by physical proximity… for most of history, most of the people you interacted with most of the time were the people who lived near to you — your horizontal community.

Horizontal communities can often be stifling and repressive, because they impose community norms on people with a diverse array of occupations, temperaments, and backgrounds. Sinclair Lewis’ novel Main Street is a great depiction of the ever-present, crushing conformity pressure of small American towns in the 1910s. But that social pressure was nothing compared to the pogroms, inquisitions, and genocides that enforced religious, cultural, and racial homogeneity in many of the world’s horizontal communities — and which still do, in some parts of the world.

When the people around you pressure you to be the same as them, you can use exit, voice, or loyalty — you can knuckle under and conform, you can fight back and rebel, or you can simply leave and find some place that you fit in better. A lot of immigration to the U.S. was driven by misfits looking for communities where they didn’t stick out as much. In the latter half of the 20th century, Americans themselves sorted into different parts of the country in order to create pockets of local political homogeneity.

In fact, our use of the word “community” to describe racial, religious, and sexuality groups is probably a relic of an ugly pattern of history, in which minorities were forced to live in circumscribed, segregated areas — Chinatowns, ghettos, the Castro in San Francisco — either by law, or by mass violence that made them unwelcome elsewhere…

But then the internet came along, and everything changed. Suddenly we stopped being isolated and started being social again, through the windows of our laptop screens and phone screens. There was a whole world of human interaction waiting there for us — forums, social media feeds, chat apps, online games, and so on. Suddenly we were surrounded by people all the time — or at least, their written words, and perhaps once in a while their pictures or videos or voices.

Constant internet usage allowed us to organize a far greater percentage of our human interaction around vertical communities. It let us find the people we identified with and interact with them, rather than being forced to interact with whoever was close to us on the map. We could surround ourselves with other anime fans, or other Muslims, or other economists, or other trans people — and we did. What were once notional bonds of connection that existed mostly in our minds became Facebook groups and subreddits and loose networks of Twitter contacts. And those spaces developed their own norms, rules, customs, and institutions, because now, thanks to the internet, it was easy to do that…

The identity-based “communities” that people talk about are thus no longer simply shorthand for a notion of cultural or political affinity with distant people, or for a fading memory of segregated neighborhoods. They’re thriving online verticals — archipelagos of online spaces where people can go to talk about what it means to be gay, or Jewish, or Pakistani. And like the small towns of Sinclair Lewis’ day, these vertical communities have the ability to use social ostracism to punish those who deviate from consensus norms and political objectives.

At the same time, horizontal communities didn’t completely vanish. We still educate our children in physical space (more or less), meaning we still have to deal with other children’s parents in a local community. Local government policies rule many of the aspects of our lives that are still offline — food, public safety, housing, transport — and this means we have to go to city planning meetings and school board meetings and various other community forums to hash out our differences with people who don’t share our interests or our identities. We now live in a world where our communities exist in three dimensions — the familiar hodgepodge of local humanity in two dimensions, and our self-sorted online spaces in a third.

And this dichotomy presents an enormous challenge to our institutions… for now and for the foreseeable future, our public goods are provided locally, but our social interaction happens in the cloud. In theory, this could be a dangerous recipe…

Eminently worth reading in full: “Vertical Communities” from @Noahpinion.

* John Donne


As we find our folks, we might recall that it was on this date in 1933 that The Lone Ranger debuted on Detroit’s WXYZ radio station. Created and written by station-owner George Trendle and Fran Striker (who went on to create the Green Hornet and Sgt. Preston of the Yukon), they aimed create an American version of Zorro. Though (or perhaps because) they worked with no real knowledge of Texas in the period, their creation became an American icon, succeeding on radio, television, in comic books, film shorts, feature films, books, and newspaper strips.


Written by (Roughly) Daily

January 30, 2023 at 1:00 am

“There are only two different types of companies in the world: those that have been breached and know it and those that have been breached and don’t know it.”*…

Enrique Mendoza Tincopa (and here) with a visualization of what’s on offer on the dark web and what it costs…

Did you know that the internet you’re familiar with is only 10% of the total data that makes up the World Wide Web?

The rest of the web is hidden from plain sight, and requires special access to view. It’s known as the Deep Web, and nestled far down in the depths of it is a dark, sometimes dangerous place, known as the darknet, or Dark Web

Visual Capitalist

For a larger version, click here

And for a look at the research that underlies the graphic, click here.

What’s your personal information worth? “The Dark Web Price Index 2022,” from @DatavizAdventuR via @VisualCap.

(Image at top: source)

Ted Schlein


As we harden our defenses, we might recall that it was on this date in 1994 that arguments began in the case of United States vs. David LaMacchia, in which David LaMacchia stood accused of Conspiracy to Commit Wire Fraud. He had allegedly operated the “Cynosure” bulletin board system (BBS) for six weeks, to hosting pirated software on Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) servers. Federal prosecutors didn’t directly charge LaMacchia with violating copyright statutes; rather they chose to charge him under a federal wire fraud statute that had been enacted in 1952 to prevent the use of telephone systems for interstate fraud. But the court ruled that as he had no commercial motive (he was not charging for the shared software), copyright violation could not be prosecuted under the wire fraud statute; LaMacchia was found not guilty– giving rise to what became known as “the LaMacchia loophole”… and spurring legislative action to try to close that gap.

Background documents from the case are here.

The MIT student paper, covering the case (source)

Written by (Roughly) Daily

November 18, 2022 at 1:00 am

“It’s going to be interesting to see how society deals with artificial intelligence”*…

Interesting, yes… and important. Stephanie Losi notes that “in some other fields, insufficient regulation and lax controls can lead to bad outcomes, but it can take years. With AI, insufficient regulation and lax controls could lead to bad outcomes extremely rapidly.” She offers a framework for thinking about the kinds of regulation we might need…

Recent advances in machine learning like DALL-E 2 and Stable Diffusion show the strengths of artificial narrow intelligence. That means they perform specialized tasks instead of general, wide-ranging ones. Artificial narrow intelligence is often regarded as safer than a hypothetical artificial general intelligence (AGI), which could challenge or surpass human intelligence. 

But even within their narrow domains, DALL-E, Stable Diffusion, and similar models are already raising questions like, “What is real art?” And large language models like GPT-3 and CoPilot dangle the promise of intuitive software development sans the detailed syntax knowledge required for traditional programming. Disruption looms large—and imminent. 

One of the challenges of risk management is that technology innovation tends to outpace it. It’s less fun to structure a control framework than it is to walk on fresh snow, so breakthroughs happen and then risk management catches up. But with AI, preventive controls are especially important, because AI is so fast that detective and corrective controls might not have time to take effect. So, making sure controls do keep up with innovation might not be fun or flashy, but it’s vital. Regulation done right could increase the chance that the first (and possibly last) AGI created is not hostile as we would define that term.

In broad strokes, here are some aspects of a control framework for AI…

Eminently worth reading in full: “Possible Paths for AI Regulation.”

See also: “Can regulators keep up with AI in healthcare?” (source of the image above)

And as we ponder constructive constraints, we might keep in mind Gray Scott‘s (seemingly-contradictory) reminder: “The real question is, when will we draft an artificial intelligence bill of rights? What will that consist of? And who will get to decide that?”

Colin Angle


As we practice prudence, we might recall that it was on this date in 1971 that UNIX was released to the world. A multi-tasking, multi-user operating system, it was intitally developed at ATT for use within the Bell System. Unix systems are characterized by a modular design that is sometimes called the “Unix philosophy.” Early Unix developers were important in bringing the concepts of modularity and reusability into software engineering practice, spawning a “software tools” movement. Over time, the leading developers of Unix (and programs that ran on it) established a set of cultural norms for developing software, norms which became as important and influential as the technology of Unix itself– a key part of the Unix philosophy.

Unix’s interactivity made it a perfect medium for TCP/IP networking protocols were quickly implemented on the Unix versions widely used on relatively inexpensive computers, which contributed to the Internet explosion of worldwide real-time connectivity. Indeed, Unix was the medium for Arpanet, the forerunner of the internet-as we-know-it.

Ken Thompson (sitting) and Dennis Ritchie, principal developers of Unix, working together at a PDP-11 (source)

Written by (Roughly) Daily

November 3, 2022 at 1:00 am

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