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: 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.
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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.
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Four short links: 8 May 2015

Four short links: 8 May 2015

Robot Hands, Top Robots, Dependency Management, Unix Utility

  1. Shadow Robot’s Dextrous Hand (Robohub) — The now infamous crab bisque recipe was prepared copying the exact movements of 2011 BBC MasterChef winner Tim Anderson. The robot switches on a hob, scrapes butter into the pan and adds prepared and measured ingredients – from a specific place on the worktop. But, it doesn’t do the chopping… That, says Rich, is an AI problem.
  2. Top 10 Most Innovative Companies Of 2015 In Robotics (Fast Company) — from exoskeletons to limbs to inflatables and toys.
  3. go get Considered Harmful — because it’s 2015 and we’re still trying to figure out dependency management and versioning. If you want me, I’ll be in a corner waiting for the rest of CPAN to install.
  4. Pathpicker — nifty utility. I can’t believe it’s 2015 and we’re still able to find useful Unix utilities to create.
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Four short links: 7 May 2015

Four short links: 7 May 2015

Predicting Hits, Pricing Strategies, Quis Calculiet Shifty Custodes, Docker Security

  1. Predicting a Billboard Music Hit (YouTube) — Shazam VP of Music and Platforms at Strata London. With relative accuracy, we can predict 33 days out what song will go to No. 1 on the Billboard charts in the U.S.
  2. Psychological Pricing Strategies — a handy wrap-up of evil^wuseful pricing strategies to know.
  3. What Two Programmers Have Revealed So Far About Seattle Police Officers Who Are Still in Uniformthrough their shrewd use of Washington’s Public Records Act, the two Seattle residents are now the closest thing the city has to a civilian police-oversight board. In the last year and a half, they have acquired hundreds of reports, videos, and 911 calls related to the Seattle Police Department’s internal investigations of officer misconduct between 2010 and 2013. And though they have only combed through a small portion of the data, they say they have found several instances of officers appearing to lie, use racist language, and use excessive force—with no consequences. In fact, they believe that the Office of Professional Accountability (OPA) has systematically “run interference” for cops. In the aforementioned cases of alleged officer misconduct, all of the involved officers were exonerated and still remain on the force.
  4. Understanding Docker Security and Best Practices — explanation of container security and a benchmark for security practices, though email addresses will need to be surrendered in exchange for the good info.
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Four short links: 6 May 2015

Four short links: 6 May 2015

Self-Driving Cars, Cloud BigTable, Define "Uptime," and Continuous Delivery Architectures

  1. Andrew Ng (Wired) — I think self-driving cars are a little further out than most people think. There’s a debate about which one of two universes we’re in. In the first universe it’s an incremental path to self-driving cars, meaning you have cruise control, adaptive cruise control, then self-driving cars only on the highways, and you keep adding stuff until 20 years from now you have a self-driving car. In universe two you have one organization, maybe Carnegie Mellon or Google, that invents a self-driving car and bam! You have self-driving cars. It wasn’t available Tuesday but it’s on sale on Wednesday. I’m in universe one. I think there’s a lot of confusion about how easy it is to do self-driving cars. There’s a big difference between being able to drive a thousand miles, versus being able to drive anywhere. And it turns out that machine-learning technology is good at pushing performance from 90 to 99 percent accuracy. But it’s challenging to get to four nines (99.99 percent). I’ll give you this: we’re firmly on our way to being safer than a drunk driver.
  2. Google Cloud BigTable — Google’s BigTable, with Apache HBase API, single-digit millisecond latency, and “fully managed”. G are hell-bent on catching up with Amazon and Microsoft at this cloud serving thing.
  3. Call Me Maybe: AerospikeWe’re setting a timeout of 500ms here, and operations still time out every time a partition between nodes occurs. In these tests we aren’t interfering with client-server traffic at all. Aerospike may claim “100% uptime”, but this is only meaningful with respect to particular latency bounds. Given Aerospike claims millisecond-scale latencies, you may want to reconsider whether you consider this “uptime”.
  4. 31 Continuous Delivery Architectures (Slideshare) — from a vendor, so one name crops up repeatedly (other than “Jenkins”), but it’s still good devops voyeurism/envy.
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Four short links: 5 May 2015

Four short links: 5 May 2015

Agile Hardware, Time Series Data, Data Loss, and Automating Security

  1. How We Do Agile Hardware Development at MeldIn every sprint we built both hardware and software. This doesn’t mean we had a fully fabricated new board rev once a week. […] We couldn’t build a complete new board every week, and early on we didn’t even know for sure what parts we wanted in our final BOM (Bill of Materials) so we used eval boards. These stories of how companies iterated fast will eventually build a set of best practices for hardware startups, similar to those in software.
  2. Recording Time Series — if data arrives with variable latency, timestamps are really probabilistic ranges. How do you store your data for searches and calculations that reflect reality, and are not erroneous because you’re ignoring a simplification you made to store the data more conveniently?
  3. Call Me Maybe, ElasticSearch 1.5.0To be precise, Elasticsearch’s transaction log does not put your data safety first. It puts it anywhere from zero to five seconds later. In this test we kill random Elasticsearch processes with kill -9 and restart them. In a datastore like Zookeeper, Postgres, BerkeleyDB, SQLite, or MySQL, this is safe: transactions are written to the transaction log and fsynced before acknowledgement. In Mongo, the fsync flags ensure this property as well. In Elasticsearch, write acknowledgement takes place before the transaction is flushed to disk, which means you can lose up to five seconds of writes by default. In this particular run, ES lost about 10% of acknowledged writes.
  4. FIDO — Netflix’s open source system for automatically analyzing security events and responding to security incidents.
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Four short links: 4 May 2015

Four short links: 4 May 2015

Silicon Valley Primer, GraphQL Intro, Quantum Steps, and Complex Systems

  1. Silicon Valley Primer — a short but interesting precis of what made the Valley great, with stories of the nobility. From a historian. All these new people pouring into what had been an agricultural region meant that it was possible to create a business environment around the needs of new companies coming up, rather than adapting an existing business culture to accommodate the new industries. In what would become a self-perpetuating cycle, everything from specialized law firms, recruiting operations and prototyping facilities; to liberal stock option plans; to zoning laws; to community college course offerings developed to support a tech-based business infrastructure.
  2. Introduction to GraphQLWe believe that GraphQL represents a novel way of structuring the client-server contract. Servers publish a type system specific to their application, and GraphQL provides a unified language to query data within the constraints of that type system. That language allows product developers to express data requirements in a form natural to them: a declarative and hierarchal one. The nightmare of the ad hoc API morass is a familiar one …
  3. Critical Steps to Building First Quantum ComputerThe IBM breakthroughs, described in the April 29 issue of the journal Nature Communications, show for the first time the ability to detect and measure the two types of quantum errors (bit-flip and phase-flip) that will occur in any real quantum computer. Until now, it was only possible to address one type of quantum error or the other, but never both at the same time. This is a necessary step toward quantum error correction, which is a critical requirement for building a practical and reliable large-scale quantum computer.
  4. Five Short Stories About the Life and Times of Ideas (Nautilus) — In the following five short chapters, David Krakauer, an evolutionary theorist, and president elect of the Santa Fe Institute, haven of complex systems research, examines five facets of chain reactions, each typifying how ideas spread through science and culture. Together they tell a story of how the ideas that define humanity arise, when and why they die or are abandoned, the surprising possibilities for continued evolution, and our responsibility to nurture thought that might enlighten our future.
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