Nerd Corner #69

Hi friends!

After talking to some of you, this week I'm trying something different and turning this email upside down. We'll go straight into the coolest finds of last week, then nerd corner, and lastly books!

If you can spare a few minutes after reading this, I'd love to hear from you. What do you think about the new structure, what would you like to see more/less of?

Cool Finds 🤯

  • The Man Who Carried Computer Science on His Shoulders. This one is one hell of an article. It is a very personal and complete profile of Edger Dijkstra, one of the most influential computer scientists of our time. While most of us who studied Maths or Computer Science know about Dijkstra's shortest-path algorithm and some of his contributions to software engineering I was surprised to learn about his EDWs, a sort of newsletter that he'd send to friends and collaborators with all sorts of details and explanations about his research. Over the years these became quite famous since he published most of his research through them avoiding the troubles of publishing in peer-review journals.

  • Speaking of peer-reviewed journals, in Problem with Peer Review, Piotr Wozniak makes a compelling argument against it: "peer review increases scientific standards, but it also dramatically decreases chances of learning something unique and wildly inspirational." While I believe that we need some refereeing when publishing scientific research, I wonder what would happen if we removed it altogether. After all pre-print servers like the arXiv have only helped speed up the dissemination of new research.

  • Regardless of your political views, if you're worried about your finances and believe that things will change too much (for better or worse) in the coming four years, this article from Of Dollars and Data, and this one from Financial Samurai should put your worries to rest.

  • In Extreme Thinking Michael Nielsen describes the three principles that, in his experience, allow scientist to endure the struggles of deep thinking and scientific research despite "being stuck with the same equipment [brains] like everybody else". These are a strong sense of purpose and meaning, belonging to a community and contributing to something larger than yourself, and having a powerful long-term vision.

Nerd Corner 🤓

We've talked about privacy and security before. And while I'd love to talk less about them, the truth is that there are always new threats and issues around the corner.

Since passwords are almost useless and easily breakable, most companies now offer different forms of multi-factor authentication (MFA for short) to verify that who's really accessing the account is its owner and not some impersonator. For ease of use, the most common MFAs are based on SMS: you get a one-time code on your phone that you must type in to verify your identity. But as Microsoft's head of Identity Security warns us in his latest blog post, phone-based MFAs are also easily breakable and we should stop using them.

I personally use a security key that I carry with me most of the time and I can easily plug into my laptop or phone whenever I need a new access code. If that's too paranoiac for you, you should at least start using an app-based authenticator like Twilio's Authy.

Books 📚

While I'm still reading Edison's biography (I'm currently reading about his period helping create new war technology during WWI) I was so inspired by Dijkstra's article that I went on a deep dive through his work (warning: very technical with some mathematics):

Before you go 😎

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And, if you come across anything interesting this week, send it my way. I love discovering new things through Nerd Corner readers!

Have an awesome week!