Our picks of the week from around the web, including making memorable yet secure passwords, the state of synthetic biology and how rumours spread on Facebook.

A eulogy for Twitter
Adrienne LaFrance & Robinson Meyer | Atlantic | 30 April 2014

“Something is wrong on Twitter. And people are noticing. Or, at least, the kind of people we hang around with on Twitter are noticing. Users are less active than they once were. Twitter says these changes reflect a more streamlined experience, but we have a different theory: Twitter is entering its twilight. People are still using Twitter, but they’re not hanging out there. The Ezra Kleins of the world have already left.”

Great works of software
Paul Ford | Medium | 30 April 2014

“Is it possible to propose a software canon? To enumerate great works of software that are deeply influential – that changed the nature of the code that followed? I set myself the task of picking five great works of software. The criteria were simple: How long had it been around? Did people directly interact with it every day? Did people use it to do something meaningful?” The list: Office, Photoshop, Pac-Man, Unix, Emacs.

The new synthetic biology: Who gains?
Richard Lewontin | New York Review Of Books | 29 April 2014

Sobering essay, elegantly written, broader and deeper and much more interesting than its bare title might suggest. It asks, in brief: For whose good is science conducted? “Nothing in history suggests that those who control and profit from material production can really be depended upon to devote the needed foresight, creativity, and energy to protect us from the possible negative effects of synthetic biology.”

The strange truth about fiction
Adrien Friggeri et al | Facebook Data Science | 29 April 2014

How rumours spread: an examination of datasets from Facebook. Truth does matter. “Although false rumours are predominant (62% of cascades have been tagged by Snopes as false), we observe that true rumours are more viral, in the sense that they result in larger cascades, achieving on average 163 shares per upload, whereas false rumours only have an average of 108 shares per upload.”

Nature’s other drive
Addy Pross | Aeon | 29 April 2014

Physics and chemistry describe a world that, for all its complication, is basically mechanical; biology describes a world that is not. The logic of life may be more randomised, it may be more purpose-driven; the universal rules have eluded us – but perhaps not for much longer. “The conceptual unification of biology with physics and chemistry is now underway.” It begins with new understanding about the origins of life.

The internet is protected by two guys named Steve
Chris Stokel-Walker | Buzzfeed | 25 April 2014

The upside of Heartbleed: It shone a spotlight on the OpenSSL team, which consisted of one developer in England, a business manager in America, and occasional contributors who were, in effect, maintaining a key piece of internet infrastructure in their spare time. Now their importance has been recognised, and they are getting some help – not a lot, but enough to hire a second full-time developer.

The quest for randomness
Scott Aaronson | American Scientist | 23 April 2014

Wonkish. Can you ever be reasonably sure that something is random, in the same sense you can be reasonably sure something is not random? Probably not; and at a metaphysical level you might say that even random numbers are determined by the universe or by God. But at a real-world level here’s a rule of thumb: If you can specify the number using any formula shorter than the number itself, then it isn’t random.

One startup’s struggle to survive
Gideon Lewis-Kraus | Wired | 22 April 2014

Gritty portrait of start-up culture in San Francisco, from the perspective of two struggling entrepreneurs. It’s relatively easy to raise a modest amount of money to model your idea; but then it’s a lot harder to raise serious money to launch your business. That’s when the terror creeps in. You work and worry like crazy. You lose weight, you age fast, you don’t sleep. “Too late for promise, too early for results.”

How to outguess passwords
William Poundstone | Medium | 21st April 2014

How do you create a password that is arbitrary enough to defeat hackers, but simple enough to remember easily? Here’s a brisk guide to current practice, including a piece of immediately actionable advice: “Instead of thinking of a phrase and converting it to a password (which won’t be all that random), get a truly random password and convert it to an easy-to-remember phrase.”

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