Nat Torkington

Nat has chaired the O'Reilly Open Source Convention and other O'Reilly conferences for over a decade. He ran the first web server in New Zealand, co-wrote the best-selling Perl Cookbook, and was one of the founding Radar bloggers. He lives in New Zealand and consults in the Asia-Pacific region.

Four short links: 22 May 2015

Four short links: 22 May 2015

Automobile Ownership, Architectural Robots, UX Psychology, Go Packages

  1. GM: That Car You Bought, We’re Really the Ones Who Own ItGM’s claim is all about copyright and software code, and it’s the same claim John Deere is making about their tractors. The TL;DR version of the argument goes something like this: cars work because software tells all the parts how to operate; the software that tells all the parts to operate is customized code; that code is subject to copyright; GM owns the copyright on that code and that software; a modern car cannot run without that software; it is integral to all systems; therefore, the purchase or use of that car is a licensing agreement; and since it is subject to a licensing agreement, GM is the owner and can allow/disallow certain uses or access. In the future, manufacturers own the secondary market.
  2. Architectural Robots (Robohub) — The concept is named ‘Minibuilders.’ This is a group of robots each performing a specific task. The first robot layers a 15 cm (6 in) footprint or foundation, while a second and a third robot print the rest of the building by climbing over the structures they already printed and laying more material over them. This design is only possible at construction scale where printed layers are solid enough to support a robotic print head.
  3. The Psychology of UX — digging into 10 things about human psychology that should inform UX.
  4. gigoFetching packages in golang can be difficult, especially when juggling multiple packages and private repositories. GIGO (Gigo Installer for Go) tries to solve that problem, effectively being the golang equivalent of Python’s pip.
Comment
Four short links: 21 May 2015

Four short links: 21 May 2015

Font Design, Pro Go, ICANN Foolishness, and Bad Organisations

  1. On Font Design (Kris Sowersby) — The many pairs of hands and eyes involved have made this typeface special for me. For the first time I don’t feel I have ownership of a typeface I have ostensibly “created.” Lovely to read about the design journey for a font.
  2. Why We Use GoWe use Go because it’s boring. Previously, we worked almost exclusively with Python, and after a certain point, it becomes a nightmare. You can bend Python to your will. You can hack it, you can monkey patch it, and you can write remarkably expressive, terse code. It’s also remarkably difficult to maintain and slow.
  3. Unfortunately We Have Renewed Our ICANN AccreditationYou can thank ICANN for this policy, because if it were up to us, and you tasked us with coming up with the most idiotic, damaging, phish-friendly, disaster-prone policy that accomplishes less than nothing and is utterly pointless, I question whether we would have been able to pull it off at this level. We’re simply out of our league here.
  4. Why Good Developers Write Bad Code (PDF) — trigger warning: software development pathologies from the real world.
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Four short links: 20 May 2015

Four short links: 20 May 2015

Robots and Shadow Work, Time Lapse Mining, CS Papers, and Software for Reproducibility

  1. Rise of the Robots and Shadow Work (NY Times) — In “Rise of the Robots,” Ford argues that a society based on luxury consumption by a tiny elite is not economically viable. More to the point, it is not biologically viable. Humans, unlike robots, need food, health care and the sense of usefulness often supplied by jobs or other forms of work. Two thought-provoking and related books about the potential futures as a result of technology-driven change.
  2. Time Lapse Mining from Internet Photos (PDF) — First, we cluster 86 million photos into landmarks and popular viewpoints. Then, we sort the photos by date and warp each photo onto a common viewpoint. Finally, we stabilize the appearance of the sequence to compensate for lighting effects and minimize flicker. Our resulting time-lapses show diverse changes in the world’s most popular sites, like glaciers shrinking, skyscrapers being constructed, and waterfalls changing course.
  3. Git Repository of CS PapersThe intention here is to both provide myself with backups and easy access to papers, while also collecting a repository of links so that people can always find the paper they are looking for. Pull the repo and you’ll never be short of airplane/bedtime reading.
  4. Software For Reproducible ScienceThis quality is indeed central to doing science with code. What good is a data analysis pipeline if it crashes when I fiddle with the data? How can I draw conclusions from simulations if I cannot change their parameters? As soon as I need trust in code supporting a scientific finding, I find myself tinkering with its input, and often breaking it. Good scientific code is code that can be reused, that can lead to large-scale experiments validating its underlying assumptions.
Comment
Four short links: 19 May 2015

Four short links: 19 May 2015

Wrist Interactions, Kubernetes Open Source Success, Product Quality, and Value of Privacy

  1. Android Wear vs Apple Watch (Luke Wroblewski) — comparison of interactions and experiences.
  2. Eric Brewer on Kubernetes — interesting not only for insights into Google’s efforts around Kubernetes but for: There’s so much excitement we can hardly handle all the pull requests. I think we’re committing, based on the GitHub log, something like 40 per day right now, and the demand is higher than that. Each of those takes reviews and, of course, there’s a wide variety of quality on those. Some are easy to review and some are quite hard to review. It’s a success problem, and we’re happy to have it. We did scale up the team to try and improve its velocity, but also just improve our ability to interact with all of the open source world that legitimately wants to contribute and has a lot to contribute. I’m very excited that the velocity is here, but it’s moving so fast it’s hard to even know all the things that change day to day. Makes a welcome change from the code dumps that are some of Google’s other high-profile projects.
  3. We Don’t Sell Saddles Here — Stewart Butterfield, to his team, on product development and quality. Every word of this is true for every other product, too.
  4. What is Privacy Worth? (PDF) — When endowed with the $10 untrackable card, 60.0% of subjects claimed they would keep it; however, when endowed with the $12 trackable card only 33.3% of subjects claimed they would switch to the untrackable card. […] This research raises doubts about individuals’ abilities to rationally navigate issues of privacy. From choosing whether or not to join a grocery loyalty program, to posting embarrassing personal information on a public website, individuals constantly make privacy-relevant decisions which impact their well-being. The finding that non-normative factors powerfully influence individual privacy valuations may signal the appropriateness of policy interventions.
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Four short links: 18 May 2015

Four short links: 18 May 2015

Javascript Tools, Elements of Scale, 2FA Adoption, and Empathy

  1. Tools are the Problem Tools don’t solve problems any more; they have become the problem. There’s just too many of them, and they all include an incredible number of features that you don’t use on your site –but that users are still required to download and execute.
  2. Elements of Scale: Composing and Scaling Data Platforms (Ben Stopford) — today’s data platforms range greatly in complexity, from simple caching layers or polyglotic persistence right through to wholly integrated data pipelines. There are many paths. They go to many different places. In some of these places at least, nice things are found. So, the aim for this talk is to explain how and why some of these popular approaches work. We’ll do this by first considering the building blocks from which they are composed. These are the intuitions we’ll need to pull together the bigger stuff later on.
  3. Estimating Google’s 2FA AdoptionIf we project out to the current day (965 days later), that’s a growth of ~25M users (25,586,975). Add that to the ~14M base number of users (13,886,058) exiting the graph and we end up at a grand total of…nearly 40 million users (39,473,033) enrolled in Google’s 2SV. NB there’s a lot on the back of this envelope.
  4. Empathy and Product DevelopmentNone of this means that you shouldn’t A/B test or have other quantitative measure. But all of those will mean very little if you don’t have the qualitative context that only observation and usage can provide. Empathy is central to product development.
Comment: 1
Four short links: 15 May 2015

Four short links: 15 May 2015

Army Cloud, Google Curriculum, Immutable Infrastructure, and Task Queues

  1. Army Cloud Computing Strategy (PDF) — aka: “what we hope to do without having done, to use what we’re doing to them.”
  2. Guide to Technical Development (Google) — This guide is a suggested path for university students to develop their technical skills academically and non-academically through self-paced, hands-on learning.
  3. Immutable Infrastructure is the Future (Michael DeHaan) — The future of configuration management systems is in deploying cloud infrastructure that will later run immutable systems via an API level.
  4. machineryan asynchronous task queue/job queue based on distributed message passing.
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Four short links: 14 May 2015

Four short links: 14 May 2015

Human-Machine Cooperation, Concurrent Systems Books, AI Future, and Gesture UI

  1. Ghosts in the Machines (Courtney Nash) — People are neither masters of machines, nor subservient to their machine-learning outcomes — we cannot, and should not, separate the two. We are actors, together, in a very complex system. David Woods calls this “joint cognitive systems.”
  2. TLA+ (Leslie Lamport) — two tutorials: “Principles of Concurrent Computing” and “Specification of Concurrent Systems.” Ironically, I see people grizzling that the book on distributed systems hasn’t been linearised. I wonder if you can partition it into the two tutorials and still have full availability…
  3. Deep Learning vs Probabilistic vs LogicAs of 2015, I pity the fool who prefers Modus Ponens over Gradient Descent.
  4. Touché (Disney Research) — measur[es] capacitive response of object and human at multiple frequencies, a technique that we called Swept Frequency Capacitive Sensing. The signal travels through different paths depending on its frequency, capturing the posture of human hand and body as well as other properties of the context. The resulted data is classified using machine learning algorithms to identify gestures that are then used to trigger desired responses of the user interface.
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Four short links: 13 May 2015

Four short links: 13 May 2015

Makey Makey Go, Driverless Accidents, HTTP/2 Guidelines, and Choking The Mac

  1. Makey Makey Go (Kickstarter) — $19 portable Makey Makey hardware kit. (via Makezine)
  2. US Driverless Car Accidents (NYTimes) — Delphi sent AP an accident report showing its car was hit, but Google has not made public any records, so both enthusiasts and critics of the emerging technology have only the company’s word on what happened. The California Department of Motor Vehicles said it could not release details from accident reports. This lack of transparency troubles critics who want the public to be able to monitor the rollout of a technology that its own developers acknowledge remains imperfect.
  3. Architecting Websites for the HTTP/2 EraHTTP/2 introduces multiplexing, which allows one TCP/IP connection to request and receive multiple resources, intertwined. Requests won’t be blocking anymore, so there is no need for multiple TCP connections on multiple domain names. In fact, opening multiple connections would hurt performance in HTTP/2. This is going to be exciting.
  4. tripmode — software to control the downloads your Mac software wants to make, even when you’re tethered or on a pay-per-meg hotspot.
Comment
Four short links: 12 May 2015

Four short links: 12 May 2015

Data Center Numbers, Utility Computing, NSA Art, and RIP CAP

  1. We Used to Build Steel Mills Near Cheap Sources of Power, but Now That’s Where We Build DatacentersHennessy & Patterson estimate that of the $90M cost of an example datacenter (just the facilities – not the servers), 82% is associated with power and cooling. The servers in the datacenter are estimated to only cost $70M. It’s not fair to compare those numbers directly since servers need to get replaced more often than datacenters; once you take into account the cost over the entire lifetime of the datacenter, the amortized cost of power and cooling comes out to be 33% of the total cost, when servers have a three-year lifetime and infrastructure has a 10-15 year lifetime. Going back to the Barroso and Holzle book, processors are responsible for about a third of the compute-related power draw in a datacenter (including networking), which means that just powering processors and their associated cooling and power distribution is about 11% of the total cost of operating a datacenter. By comparison, the cost of all networking equipment is 8%, and the cost of the employees that run the datacenter is 2%.
  2. Microsoft Invests in 3 Undersea Cable Projects — utility computing is an odd concept, given how quickly hardware cycles refresh. In the past, you could ask whether investors wanted to be in a high-growth, high-risk technology business or a stable blue-chip utility.
  3. Secret Power — Simon Denny’s NSA-logo-and-Snowden-inspired art makes me wish I could get to Venice. See also The Guardian piece on him.
  4. Please Stop Calling Databases CP or AP (Martin Kleppman) — The fact that we haven’t been able to classify even one datastore as unambiguously “AP” or “CP” should be telling us something: those are simply not the right labels to describe systems. I believe that we should stop putting datastores into the “AP” or “CP” buckets. So readable!
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Four short links: 11 May 2015

Four short links: 11 May 2015

Age of Infrastructure, Facial Expressions, Proof Assistants, and Programmer Talent

  1. Welcome to the Age of Infrastructure (Annalee Newitz) — The Internet isn’t that thing in there, inside your little glowing box. It’s in your washing machine, kitchen appliances, pet feeder, your internal organs, your car, your streets, the very walls of your house. You use your wearable to interface with the world out there.
  2. Facial Performance Sensing Head-Mounted Display (YouTube) — glorious use of an Oculus headset, to capture (for reproduction on an avatar) fine-grained facial expressions. From SIGGRAPH 2015.
  3. Mathematical Proof Assistants — human augmentation in mathematics.
  4. The Programmer Talent Myth (LWN) — Jacob Kaplan-Moss on the distribution of programmer talent and the damage that the bimodal myth causes.
Comments: 2