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: 26 January 2016

Four short links: 26 January 2016

Inequality, Conversational Commerce, Minsky Lectures, and Trust vs Transparency

  1. What Paul Graham is Missing About Inequality (Tim O’Reilly) — When a startup doesn’t have an underlying business model that will eventually produce real revenues and profits, and the only way for its founders to get rich is to sell to another company or to investors, you have to ask yourself whether that startup is really just a financial instrument, not that dissimilar to the CDOs of the 2008 financial crisis — a way of extracting value from the economy without actually creating it.
  2. 2016 The Year of Conversational Commerce (Chris Messina) — I really hope that these conversations with companies are better than the state-of-the-art delights of “press 5 to replay” phone hell.
  3. Society of Mind (MIT) — Marvin Minsky’s course, with lectures.
  4. Trust vs Transparency (PDF) — explanation facilities
    can potentially drop both a user’s confidence and make the process of search more stressful.
    Aka “few takers for sausage factory tours.” (via ACM Queue)
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Four short links: 25 January 2016

Four short links: 25 January 2016

Company Mortality, Geoffrey West Profile, Microservice Toolkit, and Problem-Free Activities

  1. The Mortality of Companies — Geoffrey West paper: we show that the mortality of publicly traded companies manifests an approximately constant hazard rate over long periods of observation. This regularity indicates that mortality rates are independent of a company’s age. We show that the typical half-life of a publicly traded company is about a decade, regardless of business sector.
  2. The Fortune 500 Teller — profile of Geoffrey West. (via Roger Dennis)
  3. Gizmoa microservice toolkit in Golang from NYT. (via InfoQ)
  4. Intellectual Need and Problem-Free Activity in the Mathematics Classroom (PDF) — Although this is not an empirical study, we use data from observed high school algebra classrooms to illustrate four categories of activity students engage in while feeling little or no intellectual need. We present multiple examples for each category in order to draw out different nuances of the activity, and we contrast the observed situations with ones that would provide various types of intellectual need. Finally, we offer general suggestions for teaching with intellectual need.
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Four short links: 22 January 2016

Four short links: 22 January 2016

Open Source Ultrasound, Deep Learning MOOC, Corp Dev Translation, and Immersive at Sundance

  1. Murgen — open source open hardware ultrasound.
  2. Udacity Deep Learning MOOC — platform is Google’s TensorFlow.
  3. CorpDev Translation“We’ll continue to follow your progress.” Translation: We’ll reach back out when we see you haven’t raised more money and you are probably more desperate because of your shorter runway.
  4. 8i Take Immersive Tech to Sundance8i’s technology lets filmmakers capture entire performances with off-the-shelf cameras and then place them in pre-existing environments, creating a fully navigable 3-D VR movie that’s far more immersive than the 360-degree videos most have seen.
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Four short links: 21 January 2016

Four short links: 21 January 2016

Hidden Networks, Dissolving Sensors, Spies Spy, and Redirected Walking

  1. Big Bang Data: Networks of London (YouTube) — guide to the easy-to-miss networks (fibre, CCTV, etc.) around Somerset House, where an amazing exhibition is about to launch. The network guide is the work of the deeply talented Ingrid Burrington.
  2. Sensors Slip into the Brain and then Dissolve When Done (IEEE Spectrum) — pressure and temperature monitors, intended to be implanted in the brain, that completely dissolve within a few weeks. The news, published as a research letter in the journal Nature, described a demonstration of the devices in rats, using soluble wires to transmit the signals, as well as the demonstration of a wireless version, though the data transmission circuit, at this point, is not completely resorbable. The research was published as a letter to Nature.
  3. GCHQ Proposes Surveillable Voice Call Encryption (The Register) — unsurprising, but should reiterate AGAIN that state security services would like us to live in the panopticon. Therefore, don’t let the buggers anywhere near the reins of our communication systems.
  4. These Tricks Make Virtual Reality Feel RealScientists are exploiting the natural inaccuracies in people’s own proprioception, via a technique called “redirected walking,” to create the perception of space where none exists. With redirected walking, […] users can sense they are exploring the twisting byways of a virtual city when in reality they are simply walking in circles inside a lab. Original Redirect Walking paper.

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Four short links: 20 January 2016

Four short links: 20 January 2016

Rules-Based Distributed Code, Open Source Face Recognition, Simulation w/Emoji, and Berkeley's AI Materials

  1. Experience with Rules-Based Programming for Distributed Concurrent Fault-Tolerant Code (A Paper a Day) — To demonstrate applicability outside of the RAMCloud system, the team also re-wrote the Hadoop Map-Reduce job scheduler (which uses a traditional event-based state machine approach) using rules. The original code has three state machines containing 34 states with 163 different transitions, about 2,250 lines of code in total. The rules-based re-implementation required 19 rules in 3 tasks with a total of 117 lines of code and comments. Rules-based systems are powerful and underused.
  2. OpenFace — open source face recognition software using deep neural networks.
  3. Simulating the World in Emoji — fun simulation environment in the browser.
  4. Berkeley’s Intro-to-AI MaterialsWe designed these projects with three goals in mind. The projects allow students to visualize the results of the techniques they implement. They also contain code examples and clear directions, but do not force students to wade through undue amounts of scaffolding. Finally, Pac-Man provides a challenging problem environment that demands creative solutions; real-world AI problems are challenging, and Pac-Man is, too.
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Four short links: 19 January 2016

Four short links: 19 January 2016

Spermbots, Reputation Risks, Lab Robot, and Stack Expansion

  1. SpermbotsResearchers from the Institute for Integrative Nanosciences at IFW Dresden in Germany have successfully tested tiny, magnetically-driven power suits for individual sperm that can turn them into steerable cyborg “spermbots” that can be remote controlled all the way to the egg. But can they make an underwire bra that the washing machine doesn’t turn into a medieval torture device?
  2. What’s Eating Silicon ValleyIn 2014, more Harvard Business School Grads went into technology than into banking for the first time since the dot-com era. […] another reason Wall Street had trouble maintaining goodwill was because of some of the attributes above—hard-charging, too much too soon, parallel reality, money flowing everywhere, rich white guys, etc. The Wall St comparison was new to me, but I can see it as a goodwill risk.
  3. OpenTrons — $3,000 open source personal lab robot for science, with downloadable/shareable protocols.
  4. Why Big Companies Keep Failing: The Stack Fallacy — you’re more likely to succeed if you expand down (to supplant your suppliers) than up (to build the products that are built on top of your product) because you’re a customer of your suppliers, so you know what good product-market fit will look like, but you’re just fantasizing that you can supplant your downstream value.
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Four short links: 18 January 2016

Four short links: 18 January 2016

Machine Learning Technical Debt, Audio Matching, Self-Tracking Research, and Baidu's Open Source Deep Learning Code

  1. Hidden Technical Debt in Machine Learning Systems (PDF) — We explore several ML-specific risk factors to account for in system design. These include boundary erosion, entanglement, hidden feedback loops, undeclared consumers, data dependencies, configuration issues, changes in the external world, and a variety of system-level anti-patterns.
  2. Large-Scale Content-Based Matching of Midi and Audio FilesWe present a system that can efficiently match and align MIDI files to entries in a large corpus of audio content based solely on content, i.e., without using any metadata.
  3. Critical Social Research on Self-TrackingI am currently working on an article that is a comprehensive review of both literatures, in the attempt to outline what each can contribute to understanding self-tracking as an ethos and a practice, and its wider sociocultural implications. Here is a reading list of the work from critical social researchers that I am aware of. Trigger warning: phrases like “The discursive construction of student subjectivities.”
  4. Warp-CTC — Baidu’s open source deep learning code. Connectionist Temporal Classification is a loss function useful for performing supervised learning on sequence data, without needing an alignment between input data and labels.
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Four short links: January 15, 2016

Four short links: January 15, 2016

Bitcoin Resolution, Malware Analysis, Website Screw-Ups, and Dronecode.

  1. The Resolution of the Bitcoin ExperimentIf you had never heard about Bitcoin before, would you care about a payments network that: Couldn’t move your existing money; Had wildly unpredictable fees that were high and rising fast; Allowed buyers to take back payments they’d made after walking out of shops, by simply pressing a button (if you aren’t aware of this “feature” that’s because Bitcoin was only just changed to allow it); Is suffering large backlogs and flaky payments; … which is controlled by China; … and in which the companies and people building it were in open civil war?
  2. Malware Analysis Repository the materials as developed and used by RPISEC to teach Malware Analysis at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Fall 2015.
  3. How Websites Screw Up Experiences (Troy Hunt) — they’re mostly signs of a to-the-death business model.
  4. Dronecode Moves Forward — Linux Foundation’s Dronecode project has 51 members, is used commercially, and has technical working groups looking at camera and gimbal controls; airspace management; and hardware/software interfaces.
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Four short links: 14 January 2016

Four short links: 14 January 2016

DRM at W3C, Tractor DRM, Self-Driving Timeline, and Emoji Analytics

  1. You Can’t Destroy a Village to Save It (EFF) — EFF have a clever compromise for W3C’s proposal for DRM on the Web. [T]he W3C could have its cake and eat it, too. It could adopt a rule that requires members who help make DRM standards to promise not to sue people who report bugs in tools that conform to those standards, nor could they sue people just for making a standards-based tool that connected to theirs. They could make DRM, but only if they made sure that they took steps to stop that DRM from being used to attack the open Web. I hope the W3C take it.
  2. Copyright Law Shouldn’t Keep Me From Fixing a Tractor (Slate) — When a farmer friend of mine wanted to know if there was a way to tweak the copyrighted software of his broken tractor, I knew it was going to be rough. The only way to get around the DMCA’s restriction on software tinkering is to ask the Copyright Office for an exemption at the Section 1201 Rulemaking, an arduous proceeding that takes place just once every three years.
  3. License to DriveI have difficulty viewing No Drive Day as imminent. We’re maybe 95% there, but that last 5% will be a lengthy slog.
  4. Text, Sentiment & Social Analytics in the Year Ahead: 10 Trends — emoji analytics and machine-written content are the two that caught my eye.
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Four short links: 13 January 2016

Four short links: 13 January 2016

Object Lessons, Data Programming, Generational Adoption, and Product Observations

  1. Object Lessons — Bogost and Schaberg edit a series about the hidden lives of ordinary things, from advocates to attendants, heresies to shares. For anyone who cares about products.
  2. A Data Programming CS1 Course (PDF) — We have found that students can be motivated to learn programming and computer science concepts in order to analyze DNA, predict the outcome of elections, detect fraudulent data, suggest friends in a social network, determine the authorship of documents, and more. The approach is more than just a collection of “nifty assignments”; rather, it affects the choice of topics and pedagogy.
  3. Cars and the Future (Ben Thompson) — This generational pattern of adoption will, in the history books, look sudden, even as it seems to unfold ever so slowly for those of us in the here and now — especially those of us working in technology. The pace of change in the technology industry — which is young, hugely driven by Moore’s Law, and which has largely catered to change-embracing geeks — is likely the true aberration. After all, the biggest mistake consistently made by technologists is forgetting that for most people technology is a means to an end, and for all the benefits we can list when it comes to over-the-top video or a network of on-demand self-driving vehicles, change and the abandonment of long-held ideals like the open road and a bit of TV after supper is an end most would prefer to avoid.
  4. CES 2016 Observations for Product PeopleThe big challenge is no surprise. Software development is unable to keep up with the hardware. What is going to separate one device from another or one company from another will be the software execution, not just the choice of chipset or specs for a peripheral/sensor. It would be hard to overstate the clear opportunity to build winning products using stronger software relative to competitors. Said another way, spending too many cycles on hardware pits you against the supply chain for most products. The whole piece is solid.
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