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: 29 May 2015

Four short links: 29 May 2015

Data Integration, Carousel, Distributed Project Management, and Costs of Premature Build

  1. Using Logs to Build Solid Data Infrastructure — (Martin Kleppmann) — For lack of a better term, I’m going to call this the problem of ‘data integration.’ With that, I really just mean ‘making sure that the data ends up in all the right places.’ Whenever a piece of data changes in one place, it needs to change correspondingly in all the other places where there is a copy or derivative of that data.
  2. TremulaJS — sweet carousel, with PHYSICS.
  3. Project Advice (Daniel Bachhuber) — for leaders of distributed teams. Focus on clearing blockers above all else. Because you’re working on an open source project with contributors across many timezones, average time to feedback will optimistically be six hours. More likely, it will be 24-48 hours. This slow feedback cycle can kill progress on pull requests. As a project maintainer, prioritize giving feedback, clearing blockers, and making decisions.
  4. YAGNI (Martin Fowler) — cost of build, cost of delay, cost of carry, cost of repair. Every product manager has felt these costs.
Comment
Four short links: 28 May 2015

Four short links: 28 May 2015

Messaging and Notifications, Game Postmortem, Recovering Robots, and Ethical AI

  1. Internet Trends 2015 (PDF) — Mary Meeker’s preso. Messaging + Notifications = Key Layers of Every Meaningful Mobile App, Messaging Leaders Aiming to Create Cross-Platform Operating Systems That Are Context-Persistent Communications Hubs for More & More Services. This year’s deck feels more superficial, less surprising than in years past.
  2. When the Land Goes Under the SeaAs it turns out: People really despise being told to not replay the game. Almost universally, the reaction to that was a kernel of unhappiness amidst mostly positive reviews. In retrospect, including that note was a mistake for a number of reasons. My favorite part of game postmortems is what the designers learned about how people approach experiences.
  3. Damage Recovery Algorithm for Robots (IEEE) — This illustrates how it’s possible to endow just about any robot with resiliency via this algorithm, as long as it’s got enough degrees of freedom to enable adaptive movement. Because otherwise the Terminators will just stop when we shoot them.
  4. The Counselor — short fiction with ethics, AI, and how good things become questionable.
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Four short links: 27 May 2015

Four short links: 27 May 2015

Domo Arigato Mr Google, Distributed Graph Processing, Experiencing Ethics, and Deep Learning Robots

  1. Roboto — Google’s signature font is open sourced (Apache 2.0), including the toolchain to build it.
  2. Pregel: A System for Large Scale Graph Processing — a walk through a key 2010 paper from Google, on the distributed graph system that is the inspiration for Apache Giraph and which sits under PageRank.
  3. How to Turn a Liberal Hipster into a Global Capitalist (The Guardian) — In Zoe Svendsen’s play “World Factory at the Young Vic,” the audience becomes the cast. Sixteen teams sit around factory desks playing out a carefully constructed game that requires you to run a clothing factory in China. How to deal with a troublemaker? How to dupe the buyers from ethical retail brands? What to do about the ever-present problem of clients that do not pay? […] And because the theatre captures data on every choice by every team, for every performance, I know we were not alone. The aggregated flowchart reveals that every audience, on every night, veers toward money and away from ethics. I’m a firm believer that games can give you visceral experience, not merely intellectual knowledge, of an activity. Interesting to see it applied so effectively to business.
  4. End to End Training of Deep Visuomotor Policies (PDF) — paper on using deep learning to teach robots how to manipulate objects, by example.
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Four short links: 26 May 2015

Four short links: 26 May 2015

Keyboard Programming, Oblique Strategies, Engineering Ethics, and Visualisation Gallery

  1. Introduction to Keyboard Programming — what happens when you press a key. (hint: a lot)
  2. Oblique Strategies: Prompts for ProgrammersDo it both ways. Very often doing it both ways is faster than analyzing which is best. Now you also have experimental data instead of just theoretical. Add a toggle if possible. This will let you choose later. Some mistakes are cheaper to make than to avoid.
  3. The Responsibility We Have as Software EngineersWhere’s our Hippocratic Oath, our “First, Do No Harm?” Remember that moment when Google went from “amazing wonderful thing we didn’t have before, which makes our lives so much better” to “another big scary company and holy shit it knows a lot about us!”? That’s coming for our industry and the software engineering profession in particular.
  4. Gallery of Concept Visualisation — plenty I hadn’t seen before.
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Four short links: 25 May 2015

Four short links: 25 May 2015

8 (Bits) Is Enough, Second Machine Age, LLVM OpenMP, and Javascript Graphs

  1. Why Are Eight Bits Enough for Deep Neural Networks? (Pete Warden) — It turns out that neural networks are different. You can run them with eight-bit parameters and intermediate buffers, and suffer no noticeable loss in the final results. This was astonishing to me, but it’s something that’s been re-discovered over and over again.
  2. The Great Decoupling (HBR) — The Second Machine Age is playing out differently than the First Machine Age, continuing the long-term trend of material abundance but not of ever-greater labor demand.
  3. OpenMP Support in LLVMOpenMP enables Clang users to harness full power of modern multi-core processors with vector units. Pragmas from OpenMP 3.1 provide an industry standard way to employ task parallelism, while ‘#pragma omp simd’ is a simple yet flexible way to enable data parallelism (aka vectorization).
  4. JS Graphs — a visual catalogue (with search) of Javascript graphing libraries.
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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.
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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