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: 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.
Comments: 2
Four short links: 26 August 2014

Four short links: 26 August 2014

Public Exploit Construction, Robot Myths, Empathy, and Social Scaling

  1. The Poisoned NUL Byte, 2014 Edition (Project Zero) — from Google’s public security efforts, this detailed public description of how an exploit was constructed from a found vulnerability. They’re helping. Kudos!
  2. Myths About the Coming Robot Economy (Eric Sofge) — the entire discussion of the so-called robot economy, with its predictions of vast, permanent employment rates and glacial productivity gains, is nothing more than a wild guess. A strong pushback on the Pew Report (PDF): Frey and Osborne’s analysis is full of logical leaps, and far-reaching conclusions drawn from cursory observations about robots that have yet to replace humans.
  3. Content for Sensitive Situations (Luke Wroblewski) — People have all kinds of feelings when interacting with your content. When someone’s needs are being met they may feel very different then when their needs are not being met. How can you meet people’s needs?
  4. Urban Villages (Senseable City at MIT) — People who live in a larger town make more calls and call a larger number of different people. The scaling of this relation is ‘superlinear,’ meaning that on average, if the size of a town doubles, the sum of phone contacts in the city will more than double – in a mathematically predictable way. Surprisingly, however, group clustering (the odds that your friends mutually know one another) does not change with city size. It seems that even in large cities we tend to build tightly knit communities, or ‘villages,’ around ourselves. There is an important difference, though: if in a real village our connections might simply be defined by proximity, in a large city we can elect a community based on any number of factors, from affinity to interest to sexual preference. (via Flowing Data)
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Four short links: 25 August 2014

Four short links: 25 August 2014

Digital Signs, Reverse Engineering Censorship, USB Protection, and Queue Software

  1. Greenscreen — Chromecast-based open source software for digital signs.
  2. Reverse Engineering Censorship in Chinese Cyberspace (PDF) — researchers create accounts and probe to see which things are blocked. Empirical transparency.
  3. USB CondomA protective barrier between your device and “juice-jacking” hackers.
  4. queues.io — long list of job queues, message queues, and other such implementations.
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Four short links: 22 August 2014

Four short links: 22 August 2014

Crowd Problems, Robot Butler, Opportunistic Encryption, and A/B Framework

  1. Blame the Crowd, Not the Camera (Nina Simon) — Cameras weaponize an already unwieldy mob of people.
  2. The Botlr — the Cupertino Starwood hotel has a robot butler (botlr) doing room service.
  3. tcpcrypt — opportunistic encryption of all network traffic.
  4. Sixpack — language-agnostic A/B testing framework.
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Four short links: 21 August 2014

Four short links: 21 August 2014

Open Data Glue, Smithsonian Crowdsourcing, MIT Family Creativity, and Hardware Owie

  1. Datan open source project that provides a streaming interface between every file format and data storage backend. See the Wired piece on it.
  2. Smithsonian Crowdsourcing Transcription (Smithsonian) — 49 volunteers transcribed 200 pages of correspondence between the Monuments Men in a week. Soon it’ll be mathematics test questions: “if 49 people transcribe 200 pages in 7 days, how many weeks will it take …”
  3. MIT Guide to Family CompSci SessionsThis guide is for educators, community center staff, and volunteers interested in engaging their young people and their families to become designers and inventors in their community.
  4. What to Do When You Screw up 2,000 Orders (SparkFun) — even hardware companies need to do retrospectives.
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Four short links: 20 August 2014

Four short links: 20 August 2014

Plant Properties, MQ Comparisons, 1915 Vis, and Mobile Web Weaknesses

  1. Machine Learning for Plant Properties — startup building database of plant genomics, properties, research, etc. for mining. The more familiar you are with your data and its meaning, the better your machine learning will be at suggesting fruitful lines of query … and the more valuable your startup will be.
  2. Dissecting Message Queues — throughput, latency, and qualitative comparison of different message queues. MQs are to modern distributed architectures what function calls were to historic unibox architectures.
  3. 1915 Data Visualization Rules — a reminder that data visualization is not new, but research into effectiveness of alternative presentation styles is.
  4. The Broken Promise of the Mobile Webit’s not just about the UI – it’s also about integration with the mobile device.
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Four short links: 19 August 2014

Four short links: 19 August 2014

Adjustable Ethics, Face Projection, Mod Minecraft, and Robot Grasp

  1. Robot Cars with Adjustable Ethics Settings (Wired) — no user-servicable virtues inside. In an important sense, any injury that results from our ethics setting may be premeditated if it’s foreseen.
  2. Face-Tracking with Projection Mapping: Weird (BoingBoing) — amazing video of real-time face mapping combined with projection mapping. It is, as promised, weird.
  3. LearnToModteaches you how to code by teaching you how to mod Minecraft. It gives you two different ways to code: with blocks or with Javascript. Preorder for Oct 2014 promised release. (via Wired)
  4. Grasping with Robots: Which Object is in Reach? (Robohub) — This post is part of our ongoing efforts to make the latest papers in robotics accessible to a general audience.a new approach to build a comprehensive representation of the capabilities of a robot related to reaching and grasping. Very short, very readable, as promised.
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Four short links: 18 August 2014

Four short links: 18 August 2014

Space Trading, Robot Capitalism, Packet Injection, and CAP Theorem

  1. Oolite — open-source clone of Elite, the classic space trading game from the 80s.
  2. Who Owns the Robots Rules The World (PDF) — interesting finding: As companies substitute machines and computers for human activity, workers need to own part of the capital stock that substitutes for them to benefit from these new “robot” technologies. Workers could own shares of the firm, hold stock options, or be paid in part from the profits. Without ownership stakes, workers will become serfs working on behalf of the robots’ overlords. Governments could tax the wealthy capital owners and redistribute income to workers, but that is not the direction societies are moving in. Workers need to own capital rather than rely on government income redistribution policies. (via Robotenomics)
  3. Schrodinger’s Cat Video and the Death of Clear-Text (Morgan Marquis-Boire) — report, based on leaked information, about use of network injection appliances targeted unencrypted pages from major providers. Compromising a target becomes as simple as waiting for the user to view unencrypted content on the Internet.
  4. CAP 12 Years Later: How the Rules Have Changed — a rundown of strategies available to deal with partitions (“outages”) in a distributed system.
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Four short links: 15 August 2014

Four short links: 15 August 2014

Illustrated Delivery, Self-Assembling Swarm, Language Analysis, and Design for Failure

  1. Continuous Integration and Delivery Illustrated — worth many thousands of words.
  2. Thousand Robot Swarm Self-Assembles into Arbitrary Shapes — you won’t sleep. If they only chittered, it would be perfect.
  3. srclibopen source language analysis toolchains (currently for Go, Python, JavaScript, and Ruby) with a common output format, and developer tools that consume this format.
  4. How to Architect with a Design for Failure Approach (Cloud Academy) — “design for failure” is what the rest of us call “design for the real world.”
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Four short links: 14 August 2014

Four short links: 14 August 2014

Ceramic 3D Printing, Robo Proofs, Microservice Fail, and Amazing Graphics Tweaks

  1. $700 Ceramic-Spitting 3D Printer (Make Magazine) — ceramic printing is super interesting, not least because it doesn’t fill the world with plastic glitchy bobbleheads.
  2. Mathematics in the Age of the Turing Machine (Arxiv) — a survey of mathematical proofs that rely on computer calculations and formal proofs. (via Victoria Stodden)
  3. Failing at Microservices — deconstructed a failed stab at microservices. Category three engineers also presented a significant problem to our implementation. In many cases, these engineers implemented services incorrectly; in one example, an engineer had literally wrapped and hosted one microservice within another because he didn’t understand how the services were supposed to communicate if they were in separate processes (or on separate machines). These engineers also had a tough time understanding how services should be tested, deployed, and monitored because they were so used to the traditional “throw the service over the fence”to an admin approach to deployment. This basically lead to huge amounts of churn and loss of productivity.
  4. Transient Attributes for High-Level Understanding and Editing of Outdoor Scenes — computer vision doing more amazing things: annotate scenes (e.g., sunsets, seasons), train, then be able to adjust images. Tweak how much sunset there is in your pic? Wow.
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