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Busy season, but still reading and finding some of the good stuff.


The Hairy Arm

Unlike what I usually post here, this entry is something I re-discovered after having forgotten its exact name for several years. Over that time, I know I tried multiple times to Google my way back to it. That never worked - until now!

Oliver Burkeman, The theory of the hairy arm: the tactical benefits of making deliberate mistakes (November 23, 2013)

The tactic goes by many names, but my favourite is the Theory Of The Hairy Arm. An American business consultant, Lawrence San, tells the following story about a colleague he calls Joe, who worked as a graphic designer in the days before computers.

Lawrence San, The Theory of the Hairy Arm (no date)

Many years ago I had the privilege of doing some work for a vice president of marketing – I’ll call him Joe – who was, without doubt, the nicest executive I’ve ever met. (Yes, I know I just damaged my curmudgeonly reputation by admitting this.) Joe was close to retirement when I met him.

What is the term for a ‘decoy’ feature or intentional bug? (October 9, 2012)

I have forgotten a slang programming term. This thing is an intentional bug or a decoy feature used as a distraction. An example usage, “Hey Bob, QA is doing a review today. Put a $THING into the module so they actually have a problem to find”.

Bob Roach, Quora Answer to “How is the term ‘hairy arms’ used in graphic design and illustration?” (Jul 20, 2015)


Gwen Sharp, Race, Gender, and Likes on OkCupid (March 31, 2017; originally published September 2010)

Finding: White people talk about what they like. AfAm, Latinx people talk about who they are.


Angela Grammatas, Guest post: Make Your Browsing Noiszy (March 31, 2017)

An app that will create traffic in the background, intended to obfuscate your actual activity and worsen whatever signal-to-noise ratio an ISP might desire to make it worth selling. Or maybe just advanced monkey-wrenching, IDK…


Andrew Wulf, The Biggest Difference Between Coding Today and When I Started in the 80’s (March 20, 2017)

I’m a lot older. But seriously, the biggest skill back then was invention, creativity, imagination, whatever you would like to call it; unlike today there was no Google, no Stackoverflow, no open source at your fingertips, rarely even someone to email to ask for help.


Nathan Yau, Pianist eye tracking

From YouTube: What does a pianist look at while playing? Put a pair of eye tracking glasses on a professional while he plays. Then compare to a student.


Sam Machkovech, Did Reddit’s April Fool’s gag solve the issue of online hate speech? (April 3, 2017)

As always, Betteridge’s Law of Headlines would apply: no! But interesting nonetheless.


Scott Rosenberg, How Google Book Search Got Lost (April 11, 2017)

In the last year I was in academia, and trying my best to reorient my research profile in a more Americanist direction, Google Books was a real asset in finding primary sources, especially literary references to the Ku-Klux Klan (hyphenation historically accurate for the Reconstruction period). I still have a ton of those PDFs. Sad but understandable that this is where it all comes out.


Artificial Intelligence: Implications On Marketing, Analytics, And You (March 30, 2017)

If Avinash Kaushik is writing this, then you’d best pay some attention.


The Paris Review, Robert Caro, The Art of Biography No. 5 (Spring 2016)

Caro: I said, I understand that, because he had learned from his father’s failure the cost of not looking reality in the face, of wishful thinking, of thinking that this land is beautiful so it will support cotton when it won’t. You can’t be wrong.


Rob Garrot, You Know That Thing You Do? You Don’t Do That Anymore. (April 3, 2017)

Pair this with Kaushik and ask yourself at what point having your personal and professional identities overlap is going to cause you trouble.


Ben Thompson, Not OK, Google (April 26, 2017)

I tend to agree that fake news is actually more of a problem on Google than it is Facebook; moreover, I totally understand that Google can’t make its algorithms public because they will be gamed by spammers and fake news purveyors. But even then, the fact remains that [Google,] the single most important resource for finding the truth, one that is dominant in its space thanks to the fact that being bigger inherently means being better, is making decisions about what is true without a shred of transparency.


Header image by Igor Ovsyannykov, via Unsplash

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David D. LaCroix


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