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: 24 October 2014

Four short links: 24 October 2014

Parallel Algorithm, Open Source Bio, 3D Printed Peptides, and Open London Data

  1. PaGMOParallel Global Multiobjective Optimizer [...] a generalization of the island model paradigm working for global and local optimization algorithms. Its main parallelization approach makes use of multiple threads, but MPI is also implemented and can be mixed in with multithreading. PaGMO can be used to solve in a parallel fashion, global optimization tasks.
  2. Avoiding the Tragedy of the Anticommons — Many people talk about “open source biology.” Mike Loukides pulls apart open source and biology to see what the relationship might be. I’m still chewing on what devops for bio would be. Modern software systems throw off gigabytes of data, and we have built tools to monitor those systems, archive their data, and automate much of the analysis. There are free and commercial packages for logging and monitoring, and it continues to be a very active area of software development, as anyone who’s attended O’Reilly’s Velocity conference knows.
  3. peppytides (Makezine) — 3d-printed super accurate, scaled 3D-model of a polypeptide chain that can be folded into all the basic protein structures, like α-helices, β-sheets, and β-turns. (via Lenore Edman)
  4. London Data Store — dashboard and open data catalogue for City of London’s data release efforts.
Comment: 1
Four short links: 23 October 2014

Four short links: 23 October 2014

Hard Javascript, Responsive Progress, Software Experiments, and Facebook Emotions

  1. You Don’t Know JSa series of [CC-licensed] books [to be published by O'Reilly] diving deep into the core mechanisms of the JavaScript language.
  2. progressbar.js — responsive progress bar.
  3. Microsoft Garage — Microsoft software experiments, in public. This is awesome.
  4. Creating Empathy on Facebook (NY Times) — On Facebook, teenagers are presented with more options than just “it’s embarrassing” when they want to remove a post. They are asked what’s happening in the post, how they feel about it and how sad they are. In addition, they are given a text box with a polite pre-written response that can be sent to the friend who hurt their feelings. (In early versions of this feature, only 20 percent of teenagers filled out the form. When Facebook added more descriptive language like “feelings” and “sadness,” the figure grew to 80 percent.)
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Four short links: 22 October 2014

Four short links: 22 October 2014

Docker Patterns, Better Research, Streaming Framework, and Data Science Textbook

  1. Eight Docker Development Patterns (Vidar Hokstad) — patterns for creating repeatable builds that result in as-static-as-possible server environments.
  2. How to Make More Published Research True (PLOSmedicine) — overview of efforts, and research on those efforts, to raise the proportion of published research which is true.
  3. Gearpump — Intel’s “actor-driven streaming framework”, initial benchmarks shows that we can process 2 million messages/second (100 bytes per message) with latency around 30ms on a cluster of 4 nodes.
  4. Foundations of Data Science (PDF) — These notes are a first draft of a book being written by Hopcroft and Kannan [of Microsoft Research] and in many places are incomplete. However, the notes are in good enough shape to prepare lectures for a modern theoretical course in computer science.
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Four short links: 21 October 2014

Four short links: 21 October 2014

Data Delusions, OS Robotics, Insecure Crypto, and Free Icons

  1. The Delusions of Big Data (IEEE) — When you have large amounts of data, your appetite for hypotheses tends to get even larger. And if it’s growing faster than the statistical strength of the data, then many of your inferences are likely to be false. They are likely to be white noise.
  2. ROSCON 2014 — slides and videos of talks from Chicago open source robotics conference.
  3. Making Sure Crypto Stays Insecure (PDF) — Daniel J. Bernstein talk: This talk is actually a thought experiment: how could an attacker manipulate the ecosystem for insecurity?
  4. Material Design Icons — Google’s CC-licensed (attribution, sharealike) collection of sweet, straightforward icons.
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Four short links: 20 October 2014

Four short links: 20 October 2014

Leaky Search, Conditional Javascript, Software Proofs, and Fake Identity

  1. Fix Mac OS Xeach time you start typing in Spotlight (to open an application or search for a file on your computer), your local search terms and location are sent to Apple and third parties (including Microsoft) under default settings on Yosemite (10.10). See also Net Monitor, an open source toolkit for finding phone-home behaviour.
  2. A/B Testing at Netflix (ACM) — Using a combination of static analysis to build a dependency tree, which is then consumed at request time to resolve conditional dependencies, we’re able to build customized payloads for the millions of unique experiences across Netflix.com.
  3. Leslie Lamport Interview SummaryOne idea about formal specifications that Lamport tries to dispel is that they require mathematical capabilities that are not available to programmers: “The mathematics that you need in order to write specifications is a lot simpler than any programming language [...] Anyone who can write C code, should have no trouble understanding simple math, because C code is a hell of a lot more complicated than” first-order logic, sets, and functions. When I was at uni, profs worked on distributed data, distributed computation, and formal correctness. We have the first two, but so much flawed software that I can only dream of the third arriving.
  4. Fake Identity — generate fake identity data when testing systems.
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Four short links: 17 October 2014

Four short links: 17 October 2014

2FA, Copy Image Text, Electric Garbage Trucks, and MSFT's Q

  1. Time to Enable Two-Factor Authentication on Everything (Gizmodo) — instructions for enabling 2fa on Google, Facebook, and other common consumer Internet services. (via BoingBoing)
  2. Project Napthaautomatically applies state-of-the-art computer vision algorithms on every image you see while browsing the web. The result is a seamless and intuitive experience, where you can highlight as well as copy and paste and even edit and translate the text formerly trapped within an image. Chrome extension. (via Anil Dash)
  3. Garbage Trucks and FedEx Vans (IEEE) — Foo alum, Ian Wright, found traction for his electric car biz by selling powertrains for garbage trucks and Fedex vans. Trucks have 20-30y lifetime, but powertrains are replaced several times; the trucks for fleets are custom; and “The average garbage truck in the U.S. spends $55,000 a year on fuel, and up to $30,000 a year on maintenance, mostly brake replacements.”
  4. Microsoft’s Quantum Mechanics (MIT TR) — the race for the “topological qubit”, involving newly-discovered fundamental particles and large technology companies racing to be the first to make something that works.
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Four short links: 16 October 2014

Four short links: 16 October 2014

Eye Catcher, Exoskeleton, Homebrew Cray, and Information Architecture

  1. Eye Catcher (We Make Money Not Art) — the most banal-looking wooden frame takes thus a life of its own as soon as you come near it. It quickly positions itself in front of you, spots your eyes and starts expressing ‘emotions’ based on your own. Eye Catcher uses the arm of an industrial robot, high power magnets, a hidden pinhole camera, ferrofluid and emotion recognition algorithms to explore novel interactive interfaces based on the mimicry and exchange of expressions.
  2. FORTIS Exoskeleton (Lockheed Martin) — transfers loads through the exoskeleton to the ground in standing or kneeling positions and allows operators to use heavy tools as if they were weightless. (via CNN)
  3. Homebrew Cray-1A – fascinating architecture, but also lovely hobby project to build the homebrew. The lack of Cray software archives horrifies the amateur historian in me, though. When I started building this, I thought “Oh, I’ll just swing by the ol’ Internet and find some groovy 70′s-era software to run on it.” It turns out I was wrong. One of the sad things about pre-internet machines (especially ones that were primarily purchased by 3-letter Government agencies) is that practically no software exists for them. After searching the internet exhaustively, I contacted the Computer History Musuem and they didn’t have any either. They also informed me that apparently SGI destroyed Cray’s old software archives before spinning them off again in the late 90′s.
  4. How Do Committees Invent? — 1968 paper that gave us organizations which design systems [...] produce designs which are copies of the communication structures of these organizations. That was the 1968 version of the modern “your website’s sitemap is your org chart”.
Comment: 1
Four short links: 15 October 2014

Four short links: 15 October 2014

Recognising Uncertainty, Responsive Screenshots, Rapid Prototyping, and SD Drones

  1. Guidance Note on Uncertainty (PDF) –expert advice to IPCC scientists on identifying, quantifying, and communicating uncertainty. Everyone deals with uncertainty, but none are quite so ruthless in their pursuit of honesty about it as scientists. (via Peter Gluckman)
  2. pageresResponsive website screenshots. (via infovore)
  3. SparkFun Rapid Prototyping Lab — with links to some other expert advice on creative spaces. Some very obvious software parallels, too. E.g., this from Adam Savage’s advice: The right tool for the job – Despite his oft-cited declaration that ‘every tool is a hammer,’ Adam can usually be relied on to geek-out about purpose-built tools. If you’re having trouble learning a new skill, check that you’re using the right tools. The right tool is the one that does the hard work for you. There’s no point in dropping big bucks on tools you’re almost certainly not going to use, but don’t be afraid to buy the cheap version of the snap-setter, or leather punch, or tamper bit before trying to jerry-rig something that will end up making your life harder.
  4. Dudes with Drones (The Atlantic) — ghastly title (“Bros with Bots”, “Bangers with Clangers”, and “Fratboys with Phat Toys” were presumably already taken), interesting article. San Diego is the Palo Alto of drones. Interesting to compare software startups with the hardware crews’ stance on the FAA. “We want them to regulate us,” Maloney says. “We want nothing more than a framework to allow us to continue to operate safely and legally.”
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Four short links: 14 October 2014

Four short links: 14 October 2014

Science Startups, UAV Platform, Distributed vs Scalable, and Multiplayer Spreadsheet

  1. VCs Return to Backing Science Startups (NY Times) — industry and energy investment doubled this year, biotech up 26% in first half, but a lot of the investments are comically small and the risk remains acutely high.
  2. dronecode — Linux Foundation common, shared open source platform for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). The platform has been adopted by many of the organizations on the forefront of drone technology, including 3DRobotics, DroneDeploy, HobbyKing, Horizon Ag, PrecisionHawk, Agribotics, and Walkera, among other.
  3. Distributed is Not Necessarily Moe Scalable (Murat Demiras) — well-reasoned and summed up in this tweet by @jamesiry: Some people when faced with a problem think, I know, I’ll use distributed computing. Now they have N^2 problems..
  4. ethersheet — open source collaborative/multiplayer spreadsheet.
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Four short links: 13 October 2014

Four short links: 13 October 2014

Angular Style, Consensus Filters, BASE Banks, and Browser Performance

  1. Angular JS Style Guide — I love style guides, to the point of having posted (I think) three for Angular. Reading other people’s style guides is like listening to them make-up after arguments: you learn what’s important to them, and what they regret.
  2. Consensus Filters — filtering out misreads and other errors to allow all agents, or robots, in the network to arrive at the same value asymptotically by only communicating with their neighbours.
  3. Why Banks are BASE not ACIDConsistency it turns out is not the Holy Grail. What trumps consistency is: Auditing, Risk Management, Availability.
  4. perfmap — front-end performance heatmap.
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