January 2015 Archives

The 3Ps of the blockchain: platforms, programs and protocols

There is a burgeoning landscape around the blockchain’s decentralized consensus protocol technologies.

Bitcoin_chain_9179_BTC_Keychain_Flickr

Although it may be early to baptize new buzz lingo like “Blockchain as a Service” (BaaS) or “Blockchain as a Platform” (BaaP), there is a burgeoning landscape of various implementations and activity in and around the blockchain’s decentralized consensus protocol technologies.

I’ve already covered the blockchain’s sweet spot as a development platform in “Understanding the blockchain,” so it is no surprise that its landscape will be made up of platforms, protocols, and (smart) programs.

Breaking-up the bitcoin-blockchain paradigm

In a perfect world, we would have a single blockchain and a single cryptocurrency. But that doesn’t seem to be in the cards, whether it is technically feasible or not. Although wide-scale adoption and a critical mass of users aren’t there yet, the market is signaling for a diversification of choices, some based on the bitcoin currency and its blockchain protocol, and others not. Read more…

Four short links: 21 January 2015

Four short links: 21 January 2015

Mousey PC, Sad G+, Medium Data, and Upgraded DARPA Contest Robot

  1. PC in a Mouse — 80s = PC in a keyboard. 90s = PC in a box. 2000s = PC in the screen. 2015 we get PC in a mouse. By 2020 will circuitry be inline in the cable or connector?
  2. Estimating G+ Usage (BoingBoing) — of 2.2B profiles, 6.6M have made new public posts in 2015. Yeesh.
  3. Medium Data — too big for one machine, but barely worth the overhead of high-volume data processing.
  4. New Hardware for the DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals (IEEE) — in the future, we’ll all have a 3.7 kwh battery and a wireless router in our heads.

The Internet of Things is really about software

Our new report, "What is the Internet of Things," traces the IoT's transformations and impact.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is everywhere right now. It appeared on the cover of the Harvard Business Review in November, and observers saw it in practically every demo at CES.

One of the reasons that it’s ubiquitous is that it bears on practically everything. A few years ago, many companies might plausibly have argued that they weren’t affected by developments in software. If you dealt in physical goods, it was hard to see how software that existed strictly in the virtual realm might touch your business.

The Internet of Things changes that; the kinds of software intelligence that have already revolutionized industries like finance and advertising are about to revolutionize all the other industries.

Mike Loukides and I have traced out our idea of the Internet of Things and its impacts in a report, “What is the Internet of Things,” that’s available for free here.

As much as we all love the romance and gratification of hardware, the Internet of Things is really about software; the hardware just links the Internet to the rest of the world. If you think of the IoT as a newly developing area in software, it’s easy to draw out some characteristics of it that are analogous to things we’ve seen in web software over the last decade or so. Read more…

What containers can do for you

Docker, Rocket, and big industry changes are making it a great time to seriously consider using containers.

Container Image: CC BY-SA 2.0 Photocapy https://www.flickr.com/photos/photocapy/252737232/in/photostream/

If you read any IT news these days it’s hard to miss a headline about “the container revolution.” Docker’s year-and-a-half-old engine had a monopoly on the buzz until CoreOS launched its own project, Rocket, in December.

The technology behind containers can seem esoteric, but the advantages of bringing containers to your organization are more compelling than ever. And containers’ inherent portability opens up exciting new opportunities for how organizations host their applications.

Containerization is having its moment and there’s never been a better time to check it out for yourself.

Read more…

Four short links: 20 January 2015

Four short links: 20 January 2015

Govt IoT, Collective Intelligence, Unknown Excellence, and Questioning Scalability

  1. Matt Webb Joining British Govt Data Service — working on IoT for them.
  2. Reading the Mind in the Eyes or Reading between the Lines? Theory of Mind Predicts Collective Intelligence (PLoS) — theory of mind abilities are a significant determinant of group collective intelligence even when, as in many online groups, the group has extremely limited communication channels. Phone/Skype calls, emails, and chats are all intensely mental activities, trying to picture the person behind the signal.
  3. MIT Faculty Search — two open gigs at MIT, one around climate change and one “undefined.” Great job ad.
  4. Scalability at What Cost?evaluation of these systems, especially in the academic context, is lacking. Folks have gotten all wound-up about scalability, despite the fact that scalability is just a means to an end (performance, capacity). When we actually look at performance, the benefits the scalable systems bring start to look much more sketchy. We’d like that to change.

Striking parallels between mathematics and software engineering

Becoming more familiar with mathematics will help cross pollinate ideas between mathematics and software engineering.

Mathematics_Tom_Brown_Flickr

Editor’s note: Alice Zheng will be part of the team teaching Large-scale Machine Learning Day at Strata + Hadoop World NYC 2015. Visit the Strata + Hadoop World website for more information on the program.

During my first year in graduate school, I had an epiphany about mathematics that changed my whole perspective about the field. I had chosen to study machine learning, a cross-disciplinary research area that combines elements of computer science, statistics, and numerous subfields of mathematics, such as optimization and linear algebra. It was a lot to take in, and all of us first-year students were struggling to absorb the deluge of new concepts.

One night, I was sitting in the office trying to grok linear algebra. A wonderfully lucid textbook served as my guide: Introduction to Linear Algebra, written by Gilbert Strang. But I just wasn’t getting it. I was looking at various definitions — eigen decomposition, Jordan canonical forms, matrix inversions, etc. — and I thought, “Why?” Why does everything look so weird? Why is the inverse defined this way? Come to think of it, why are any of the matrix operations defined the way they are?

While staring at a hopeless wall of symbols, a flash of lightning went off in my mind. I had an insight: math is a design. Prior to that moment, I had approached mathematics as if it were universal truth: transcendent in its perfection, almost unknowable by mere mortals. But on that night, I realized that mathematics is a human-constructed tool. Math is designed, just like software programs are designed, and using many of the same design principles. These principles may not be apparent, but they are comprehensible. In that moment, mathematics went from being unknowable to reasonable. Read more…

Four short links: 19 January 2015

Four short links: 19 January 2015

Going Offline, AI Ethics, Human Risks, and Deep Learning

  1. Reset (Rowan Simpson) — It was a bit chilling to go back over a whole years worth of tweets and discover how many of them were just junk. Visiting the water cooler is fine, but somebody who spends all day there has no right to talk of being full.
  2. Google’s AI Brain — on the subject of Google’s AI ethics committee … Q: Will you eventually release the names? A: Potentially. That’s something also to be discussed. Q: Transparency is important in this too. A: Sure, sure. Such reassuring.
  3. AVA is now Open Source (Laura Bell) — Assessment, Visualization and Analysis of human organisational information security risk. AVA maps the realities of your organisation, its structures and behaviors. This map of people and interconnected entities can then be tested using a unique suite of customisable, on-demand, and scheduled information security awareness tests.
  4. Deep Learning for Torch (Facebook) — Facebook AI Research open sources faster deep learning modules for Torch, a scientific computing framework with wide support for machine learning algorithms.

Beyond lab folklore and mythology

What the future of science will look like if we’re bold enough to look beyond centuries-old models.

Chemistry_Set_Alejandro_Hernandez_Flickr

Editor’s note: this post is part of our ongoing investigation into synthetic biology and bioengineering. For more on these areas, download the latest free edition of BioCoder.

Over the last six months, I’ve had a number of conversations about lab practice. In one, Tim Gardner of Riffyn told me about a gene transformation experiment he did in grad school. As he was new to the lab, he asked two more experienced scientists for their protocol: one said it must be done exactly at 42 C for 45 seconds, the other said exactly 37 C for 90 seconds. When he ran the experiment, Tim discovered that the temperature actually didn’t matter much. A broad range of temperatures and times would work.

In an unrelated conversation, DJ Kleinbaum of Emerald Cloud Lab told me about students who would only use their “lucky machine” in their work. Why, given a choice of lab equipment, did one of two apparently identical machines give “good” results for a some experiment, while the other one didn’t? Nobody knew. Perhaps it is the tubing that connects the machine to the rest of the experiment; perhaps it is some valve somewhere; perhaps it is some quirk of the machine’s calibration.

The more people I talked to, the more stories I heard: labs where the experimental protocols weren’t written down, but were handed down from mentor to student. Labs where there was a shared common knowledge of how to do things, but where that shared culture never made it outside, not even to the lab down the hall. There’s no need to write it down or publish stuff that’s “obvious” or that “everyone knows.” As someone who is more familiar with literature than with biology labs, this behavior was immediately recognizable: we’re in the land of mythology, not science. Each lab has its own ritualized behavior that “works.” Whether it’s protocols, lucky machines, or common knowledge that’s picked up by every student in the lab (but which might not be the same from lab to lab), the process of doing science is an odd mixture of rigor and folklore. Everybody knows that you use 42 C for 45 seconds, but nobody really knows why. It’s just what you do.

Despite all of this, we’ve gotten fairly good at doing science. But to get even better, we have to go beyond mythology and folklore. And getting beyond folklore requires change: changes in how we record data, changes in how we describe experiments, and perhaps most importantly, changes in how we publish results. Read more…

Understanding the blockchain

We must be prepared for the blockchain’s promise to become a new development environment.

Editor’s note: this post originally published on the author’s website in three pieces: “The Blockchain is the New Database, Get Ready to Rewrite Everything,” “Blockchain Apps: Moving from the Jungle to the Zoo,” and “It’s Too Early to Judge Network Effects in Bitcoin and the Blockchain.” He has revised and adapted those pieces for this post.

There is no doubt that we are moving from a single cryptocurrency focus (bitcoin) to a variety of cryptocurrency-based applications built on top of the blockchain.

This article examines the impact of the blockchain on developers, the segmentation of blockchain applications, and the network effects factors affecting bitcoin and blockchains.

The blockchain is the new database — get ready to rewrite everything

The technology concept behind the blockchain is similar to that of a database, except that the way you interact with that database is different.

For developers, the blockchain concept represents a paradigm shift in how software engineers will write software applications in the future, and it is one of the key concepts that needs to be well understood. We need to really understand five key concepts, and how they interrelate to one another in the context of this new computing paradigm that is unravelling in front of us: the blockchain, decentralized consensus, trusted computing, smart contracts, and proof of work/stake. This computing paradigm is important because it is a catalyst for the creation of decentralized applications, a next-step evolution from distributed computing architectural constructs. Read more…

Four short links: 16 January 2015

Four short links: 16 January 2015

RF Snooping, Class and Tech, Nuclear Option, and Carbon Fibre

  1. It’s Getting Easier for Hackers to Spy on Your Computer When It’s Offline (Vice) — surprisingly readable coverage of determining computer activity from RF signals.
  2. An Old Fogey’s Analysis of a Teenager’s View on Social MediaTeens’ use of social media is significantly shaped by race and class, geography, and cultural background.
  3. Putting the Nuclear Option Front and Centre (Tom Armitage) — offering what feels like the nuclear option front and centre, reminding the user that it isn’t a nuclear option. I love this. “Undo” changes your experience profoundly.
  4. 3D-Printing Carbon Fibre (Makezine) — the machine doesn’t produce angular, stealth fighter-esque pieces with the telltale CF pattern seen on racing bikes and souped up Mustangs. Instead, it creates an FDM 3D print out of nylon filament (rather than ABS or PLA), and during the process it layers in a thin strip of carbon fiber, melted into place from carbon fiber fabric using a second extruder head. (It can also add in kevlar or fiberglass.)