Interview with Alan Kay

Dr. Dobbs:

In June of this year, the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM) celebrated the centenary of Alan Turing’s birth by holding a conference with presentations by more than 30 Turing Award winners. The conference was filled with unusual lectures and panels (videos are available here) both about Turing and present-day computing. During a break in the proceedings, I interviewed Alan Kay — a Turing Award recipient known for many innovations and his articulated belief that the best way to predict the future is to invent it.

[A side note: Re-creating Kay’s answers to interview questions was particularly difficult. Rather than the linear explanation in response to an interview question, his answers were more of a cavalcade of topics, tangents, and tales threaded together, sometimes quite loosely — always rich, and frequently punctuated by strong opinions. The text that follows attempts to create somewhat more linearity to the content. — ALB]

The agony of Li Wangyang

Teddy Ng:

The 21 years that Li Wangyang spent in jail for his pro-democracy activism after 1989 made him a virtual unknown on the mainland.

But his suspicious death on June 6 sparked uproar in Hong Kong and widespread concern about the ongoing persecution of activists on the mainland.

Disruption: The Tiny Newspaper In North Carolina That Scooped Up Journalism’s Big Prizes

Dan Cooper:

Yancey County is located in the mountainous western stretch of North Carolina, about 45 minutes from Asheville. The county’s population is less than 18,000, and yet it has two local papers to serve it: the Yancey Common Times Journal, which has been in publication more than a hundred years, and the “other” newspaper, the Yancey County News, founded in 2011. The paper’s masthead lists only two people—husband and wife Jonathan and Susan Austin—but nevertheless, its first year out, the Yancey County News has won two major journalism awards, the E.W. Scripps Award for Distinguished Service to the First Amendment and the Ancil Payne Award for Ethics in Journalism.

The prizes were both awarded for stories reporting on corruption in the county’s official channels. In one series, the paper revealed that the county’s deputy-sheriff had pawned county-owned firearms for personal gain; another series uncovered absentee ballot fraud, voter coercion, and voter anonymity rights violations in the county. Juries for both awards recognized not only the quality of the reporting, but the extraordinary efforts necessary to get such reporting done in a paper’s first year of existence.

Dead Peasants Insurance

John Lanchester:

“Dead peasants insurance” is a term that sounds as if it comes straight out of Monty Python. If only that were true. Here’s an example of what it means: in 1999, Michael Rice, a 48-year-old employee of the supermarket firm Walmart, collapsed while helping a customer carry a television to her car. He died a week later, and an insurance company paid out $300,000 for the loss of his life.
So far, a sad but not unusual story; the twist was in the identity of the people who benefited from the insurance. It wasn’t Rice’s family, who didn’t get a penny, but Walmart. In a subsequent lawsuit, it turned out that Walmart had hundreds of thousands of such policies on employees, so every time one of them died, the huge corporation enjoyed a tiny windfall. And that’s dead peasants insurance, or, as it is also known, “janitors insurance”. They are forms of what the insurance industry calls Stoli, or “stranger originated life insurance” – in other words, an insurance policy taken out on your life by someone else, not on your behalf but on theirs.

Why is Nobody Freaking Out About the LIBOR Banking Scandal?

Matt Taibbi:

The furor is over revelations that Barclays, the Royal Bank of Scotland, and other banks were monkeying with at least $10 trillion in loans (The Wall Street Journal is calculating that that LIBOR affects $800 trillion worth of contracts).

The banks gamed LIBOR for two semi-overlapping reasons. As noted here last week, there were instances of Barclays traders badgering the LIBOR submitters to “push down” rates in order to fatten their immediate bottom lines, depending on what they were trading or holding that day. They also apparently rigged LIBOR downward in order to produce a general appearance of better health, essentially tweaking their credit scores a few ticks upward.

Most intriguingly, or perhaps disturbingly, there were revelations last week that Bank of England deputy Governor Paul Tucker had a conversation with Diamond at the peak of the crisis in 2008. The conversation reportedly left Diamond, and subsequently his traders, with the impression that the bank had carte blanche to rig LIBOR downward in order to help allay spiraling public fears about the banks’ poor financial health.

Die Zeit Uses Six Months of Mobile Data to Profile Green Politician


Have you ever wondered just how much your phone reveals about you?

That’s what Green party politician Malte Spitz wanted to discover…

A 2008 German law required all telecommunications providers with more than 10,000 customers to retain six months worth of data on all calls, messages and connections. Germany’s Constitutional Court ruled the law unconstitutional in 2010.

Spitz acquired (meta)data from his telecom provider covering a period from August 2009 to February 2010. Zeit Online has made the raw data available via Google Docs. To demonstrate just how much of a personal profile can be crafted, Zeit Online augmented the data with publicly available information such as Spitz’s tweets and blog entries.

Libor scandal: How I manipulated the bank borrowing rate

The Telegraph:

An anonymous insider from one of Britain’s biggest lenders – aside from Barclays – explains how he and his colleagues helped manipulate the UK’s bank borrowing rate. Neither the insider nor the bank can be identified for legal reasons.

It was during a weekly economic briefing at the bank in early 2008 that I first heard the phrase. A sterling swaps trader told the assembled economists and managers that “Libor was dislocated with itself”. It sounded so nonsensical that, at first, it just confused everyone, and provoked a little laughter.

Before long, though, I was drawing up presentations to explain the “dislocation of Libor from itself” for corporate relationship managers. I was deciphering the subject in emails, internally and externally. And I was using the phrase myself openly with customers of the bank.

What I was explaining was that the bank was manipulating Libor. Only I didn’t see it like that at the time.