From a New Yorker article about HBO’s Silicon Valley:
The first season ended with a climactic competition: Pied Piper’s compression algorithm pitted against that of its rival. “The writers wanted Richard to have an epiphany that would suddenly make his tech an order of magnitude better,” Dotan said. “So we had to invent a breakthrough—something that would be huge, but realistic.” Dotan called his compression expert, Tsachy Weissman, an engineering professor at Stanford. “He spent hours walking me through the very dense history of lossless compression,” Dotan said. “The way I understood it, basically, was that Claude Shannon, in 1948, worked on compressing files from the top down, using coding trees, whereas David Huffman, a few years later, approached it from the bottom up.” He made a PowerPoint presentation about this and delivered it to Judge and Berg. “They thought about it for a while, and then they said, ‘You mentioned top-down and bottom-up. What about starting in the middle of the data set and working from the middle out?’ So I asked Tsachy, ‘What about middle-out? Is that a thing?’ He didn’t say, ‘That’s ridiculous.’ He said, ‘That’s intriguing, actually. It might work.’”
In the show, Richard’s “middle-out” epiphany is inspired not by a Stanford professor but by the most elaborate dick joke in TV history. To distract themselves from work, the Pied Piper engineers debate the quickest way to “jerk off every guy” in a crowd. (It’s a long story.) They belabor the point, drawing diagrams on a whiteboard. Eventually, one of them suggests that it might be maximally efficient if he “jerks off four guys at a time,” by aligning “two guys on either side, with their dicks tip to tip”—in other words, “from the middle out.” Richard’s eyes light up, buoyant strings begin to play in the background, and he walks to his computer and starts to code.
In 2015, Weissman convened the Stanford Compression Forum, which resulted in a forty-page white paper outlining what middle-out compression might mean. One of his graduate students, Vinith Misra, worked out the math more explicitly in another paper. “Clearly, middle-out compression doesn’t work as well as it does on the show,” Dotan told me. “If it did, we’d all be trillionaires. But we do have an arrangement where, if Tsachy and Vinith ever perfect it, Mike and Alec will share the Nobel Prize with them.”
And I liked this insight from Figes’ book (mentioned here) about art under the early Bolshevik regime (when they were too busy mass-murdering peasants and aristocrats to bother censoring artists):
In music, for example, there were orchestras without conductors (both in rehearsal and performance) who claimed to be pioneering the socialist way of life based on equality and human fulfilment through free collective work. There was a movement of ‘concerts in the factory’ using the sirens, turbines and hooters as instruments, or creating new sounds by electronic means, which some people seemed to think would lead to a new musical aesthetic closer to the psyche of the workers.
Figes (writing in the 1990s) seems to think the idea of ‘electronic music’ is hilarious.