FEATURED STORY

Four short links: 27 August 2014

Four short links: 27 August 2014

Discourse 1.0, Programmable Matter, Versioned Databases, and What Humans Learned About Machine Learning

  1. Discourse turns 1.0 — community/forum software that doesn’t suck.
  2. Programmable Matter (IEEE Spectrum) — recap of where research is going in this area.
  3. Liquibasesource control for your database. Apache 2.0 licensed.
  4. A Few Useful Things to Know About Machine Learning (PDF) — This article summarizes twelve key lessons that machine learning researchers and practitioners have learned. These include pitfalls to avoid, important issues to focus on, and answers to common questions. My fave: First-timers are often surprised by how little time in a machine learning project is spent actually doing machine learning. But it makes sense if you consider how time-consuming it is to gather data, integrate it, clean it and pre-process it, and how much trial and error can go into feature design.
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Postmortems, sans finger-pointing: The O’Reilly Radar Podcast

In this episode, John Allspaw talks in-depth about blameless postmortems and creating a just culture.

Editor’s note: you can subscribe to the O’Reilly Radar Podcast through iTunes, SoundCloud, or directly through our podcast’s RSS feed.

When you’re dealing with complex systems, failure is going to happen; it’s a given. What we do after that failure, however, strongly influences whether or not that failure will happen again. The traditional response to failure is to seek out the person responsible and punish them accordingly — should they be fired? Retrained? Moved to a different position where they can’t cause such havoc again?

John Allspaw, SVP of technical operations at Etsy and co-chair of the O’Reilly Velocity Conference, argues that this “human error” approach is the equivalent of cutting off your nose to spite your face. He explains in a blog post that at Etsy, their approach it to “view mistakes, errors, slips, lapses, etc., with a perspective of learning.” To that end, Etsy practices “blameless postmortems” that focus more on the narrative of how something happened rather than who was behind it, and that remove punishment as an outcome of an investigation.

Read more…

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Not just the government’s playbook

The 13 principles in the U.S. CIO's Digital Services Playbook are applicable for everyone.

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Whenever I hear someone say that “government should be run like a business,” my first reaction is “do you know how badly most businesses are run?” Seriously. I do not want my government to run like a business — whether it’s like the local restaurants that pop up and die like wildflowers, or megacorporations that sell broken products, whether financial, automotive, or otherwise.

If you read some elements of the press, it’s easy to think that healthcare.gov is the first time that a website failed. And it’s easy to forget that a large non-government website was failing, in surprisingly similar ways, at roughly the same time. I’m talking about the Common App site, the site high school seniors use to apply to most colleges in the US. There were problems with pasting in essays, problems with accepting payments, problems with the app mysteriously hanging for hours, and more.

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Ten years of OpenStreetMap

OSM is moving out of its awkward adolescence and into its mature, young adult phase.

OSM_logo-2Next to GPS, the most significant development in the Open Geo Data movement is OpenStreetMap (OSM), a community-driven mapping project whose goal is to create the most detailed, correct, and current open map of the world. This week, OSM celebrates its 10th birthday, which provides a convenient excuse to highlight why its achievements to-date are amazing, unusual, and promising in equal parts.

When the project was begun by Steve Coast in 2004, map data sources were few, and largely controlled by a small collection of private and governmental players. The scarcity of map data ensured that it remained both expensive and highly restrictive, and no one but the largest navigation companies could use map data. Steve changed the rules by creating a wiki-like resource of the entire globe, which everyone could use without hinderance. Read more…

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O’Reilly purchases Pearson’s stake in Safari

Safari Books Online is now a wholly owned subsidiary of O’Reilly Media.

I’m pleased to share some exciting news. On Friday, August 1st, O’Reilly purchased Pearson Education’s 50% ownership share of our Safari Books Online joint venture, and Safari is now a wholly owned subsidiary of O’Reilly Media, Inc.

O’Reilly believes strongly in the direction Safari is heading, and we came to believe that there are substantial opportunities for both organizations working much more closely together. O’Reilly is primarily a media company (books, events, online in-person and video training, expert network), and Safari has the technology, sales, and distribution channel for bringing content to the widest audience possible, especially a B2B audience.

Going forward, O’Reilly and Safari will work together to create new features and products, but Safari will continue to operate as an independent entity, as it did when jointly owned by O’Reilly and Pearson. There are no changes in Safari’s products, staffing, offices, or operations. The Safari brand and domains remain the same, and Pearson will remain a key strategic content partner of Safari. All their current materials remain available, and their future books and videos will be added to the service. Read more…

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Programming in concert mode

Andrew Sorensen's cyberphysical music-making demonstrated programming real-time systems in real time.

Music and programming share deep mathematical roots, but have very different senses of “performance”. At OSCON, Andrew Sorensen reunited those two branches to give a live “concert” performance as a keynote. Sorensen brought his decade of “live coding musical concerts in front of an audience” to a real-time demonstration of Extempore, “a systems programming language designed to support the programming of real-time systems in real time”:

“Extempore is designed to support a style of programming dubbed ‘cyberphysical’ programming. Cyberphysical programming supports the notion of a human programmer operating as an active agent in a real-time distributed network of environmentally aware systems.”

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