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 April 2016

Four short links: 26 April 2016

Driverless Trucks, Say No, Pricing Truths, and Task Worker Stats

  1. Driverless Trucking Numbers (TechCrunch) — $4.5k to truck something across country, 75% of which is labour. Trucks most fuel-efficient at 45mph but drivers are paid by the hour and their hours capped at 11/day. More truck drivers killed on the job than any other occupation. Truck drivers are 1% of the workforce, and it’s the most common job in 29 states. And more “gosh this is gonna be interesting” numbers.
  2. Email Isn’t the Problem — Glyph nails it. The thing you are bad at is saying ‘no’ to people. The downside of lauding 20 year olds in tech is that they build software for other 20 year olds: software that creates noise, distraction, opportunity. When you are doing what you want to do, though, that same software inhibits your ability to do it. All we have is poorly-evolved meat to fight the wily silicon ….
  3. Terrible Truths of Pricing — The first rule of pricing is that you don’t talk about pricing. What he says might be true, but the absence of any question of morality around pricing drugs (which he tackles outright) makes me grumble “price of everything and value of nothing”.
  4. The Rise and Nature of Alternative Work Arrangements in the United States, 1995-2015 (PDF) — Workers who provide services through online intermediaries, such as Uber or Task Rabbit, accounted for 0.5 percent of all workers in 2015. About twice as many workers selling goods or services directly to customers reported finding customers through offline intermediaries than through online intermediaries.

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Four short links: 25 April 2016

Four short links: 25 April 2016

VR Movies, Retiring Products, Public Surveys and False Democracy, Federated Design Teams

  1. Making Movies with Virtual RealityAs Julia Kaganskiy, who runs an art-and-technology incubator at the New Museum, put it, “We’re watching the semiotics come together in front of our eyes.”
  2. A Methodology for Retiring Products — if you’re any good, you’ll have to do this.
  3. Boaty McBoatface and the False Promise of Democracy — my take: you want opinions, but you also want committed opinions. Your poll/survey/vote will erect (or fail to erect) barriers to participation, and those barriers represent a measure of commitment. No barriers = lots of votes, but high risk of Boaty McBoatface. High barriers = few votes, but from those who care.
  4. Team Models for Scaling a Design System — actually a dig into federated design teams, which is the rough shape that a lot of large companies end up in. The fundamental tension: As a design system stabilizes, every team I’ve observed has designers that do build, document and sustain it, and designers that can’t or say they want to but don’t.

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Four short links: 22 April 2016

Four short links: 22 April 2016

Unicorn Hazards Ahead, Brainprinting for Identity, Generating News Headlines, and Anthropic Capitalism

  1. Why The Unicorn Financing Market Just Became Dangerous to Everyone — read with Fortune’s take on the Tech IPO Market. “They profess to take a long-term view, but the data shows post-IPO stocks are very volatile in the case of tech IPOs, and that is not a problem the underwriters try to address.” Damning breakdown of the current state. As Bryce said, Single-horned, majestic, Weapons of Mass Extraction.
  2. Brainprints (Kurzweil) — 50 subjects, 500 images, EEG headset, 100% accuracy identifying person from their brain’s response to the images. We’ll need much larger studies, but this is promising.
  3. Generating News Headlines with Recurrent Neural NetworksWe find that the model is quite effective at concisely paraphrasing news articles.
  4. Anthropic Capitalism And The New Gimmick Economy — market capitalism struggles with “public goods” (those which are inexhaustible and non-excludable, like infinitely copyable bits that any number of people can have copies of at once), yet much of the world is being recast as an activity where software manipulates information, thus becoming a public good. Capitalism and Communism, which briefly resembled victor and vanquished, increasingly look more like Thelma and Louise; a tragic couple sent over the edge by forces beyond their control. What comes next is anyone’s guess and the world hangs in the balance.

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Four short links: 21 April 2016

Four short links: 21 April 2016

BitCoin with Identity, Hardware is Hard, Data Test Suites, and Internet Voting

  1. Bribing Miners to Regulate Bitcoin — interesting! A somewhat conspiracy-theoretical take on an MIT proposal to layer identity onto Bitcoin. Features repurposed DRM tech, no less.
  2. Tesla Model X Quality Issues (Consumer Reports) — hardware is hard.
  3. Data Proofer — open source software that’s test cases for your data, to help ensure you’re not pushing corrupt data into production.
  4. Internet Voting? Really? (YouTube) — TEDx talk by Andrew Appel comparing physical with online voting. Very easy to follow for the non-technical.

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Comment: 1
Four short links: 20 April 2016

Four short links: 20 April 2016

Explaining Classifier Predictions, Formatting Currency, Questioning Magic Leap, and Curing Slack Addiction

  1. Why Should I Trust You?: Explaining the Predictions of Any Classifier (PDF) — LIME, a novel explanation technique that explains the predictions of any classifier in an interpretable and faithful manner, by learning an interpretable model locally around the prediction. Torkington’s Second Law: there’s no problem with machine learning that more machine learning can’t fix.
  2. How Etsy Formats Currency — I’m saving this one because it chafes every time I do it, and I do it wrong every time.
  3. Magic Leap in Wired — massive story by Kevin Kelly on the glories of Magic Leap, which The Verge noted still left a lot of open questions, such as “what the hell IS Magic Leap’s technology” and “why does everyone who works for Magic Leap sound like they’re on acid when they talk about the technology?” Everyone who wants their pixel-free glorious VR to be true is crossing fingers hoping it’s not another Theranos. The bit that stuck from the Wired piece was People remember VR experiences not as a memory of something they saw but as something that happened to them.
  4. Curing Our Slack Addiction — an interesting counterpoint to the “in the future everyone will be on 15,000 Slacks” Slack-maximalist view. For AgileBits, it distracted, facilitated, and rewarded distracting behaviour, ultimately becoming a drain rather than an accelerant.

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Four short links: 19 April 2016

Four short links: 19 April 2016

Security Controls, Dataflow Checkups, Fair Use Wins, and Internet Moderators

  1. Security Controls for Computer Systems — Declassified 1970s DoD security document is still relevant today. (via Ars Technica)
  2. Checking Up on Dataflow Analyses — notable for a very easy-to-follow introduction to what dataflow analysis is. Long after the chatbot startups have flamed out, formal methods research in CS will be a key part of the next wave of software where code writes code.
  3. Fair Use Triumphs in Supreme Court (Ars Technica) — a headline I never thought I’d see in my lifetime. The Supreme Court let stand the lower court opinion that rejected the writers’ claims. That decision today means Google Books won’t have to close up shop or ask book publishers for permission to scan. In the long run, the ruling could inspire other large-scale digitization projects.
  4. The Secret History of Internet Moderators (The Verge) — the horrors and trauma of the early folks who developed content moderation systems (filtering violence, porn, child abuse, etc.) for Facebook, YouTube, and other user-contributed-content sites. It’s still a quiet and under-supported area of most startups. Some of them now meet roughly monthly for dinner, and I’m kinda glad I’m not around the table for that conversation!

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Four short links: 18 April 2016

Four short links: 18 April 2016

Classic Programmer Paintings, Equality at Work, Bitcoin as Politics, and Raising Robotic Natives

  1. Classic Programmer Paintings — hilarity has ensued. The captions are brilliant.
  2. Equality Takes WorkWomen do not prefer saying less: They anticipate the treatment they will receive when they say more.
  3. Bitcoin as Politics: Distributed Right-Wing ExtremismThe lack of any thorough, non-conspiratorial analysis of existing financial systems means that bitcoin fails to embody any true alternative to them. The reasons for this have little to do with technology and everything to do with the existing systems in which bitcoin and all other cryptocurrencies are embedded, systems that instantiate the forms of social power that cannot be eliminated through either wishful thinking or technical or even political evasion: the rich and powerful will not become poor and powerless simply because other people decide to operate alternate economies of exchange. […] Because it operates without such an account, bitcoin’s real utility and purpose (and that of the cryptocurrency movement in general) can be better understood as a “program” for recruiting uninformed citizens into a neoliberal anti-government politics, understanding the nature and effects of which requires just the attention to political theory and history that bitcoin enthusiasts rail against. So … not a fan, then?
  4. Raising Robotic Natives — design/art artefacts for generations growing up with robots.

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Four short links: 15 April 2016

Four short links: 15 April 2016

Building Economic Models, Living in a Computer Simulation, Distributed Ledgers, and 3D-Imaged DNA

  1. How to Build an Economic Model in Your Spare Time (PDF) — Hal Varian’s article is to economics research what The Manual by the KLF is to pop music.
  2. Are We Living in a Computer Simulation? (Scientific American) — an overview of the kind of scientific argument one normally has in the pub rather than Scientific American.
  3. Intel Ledger — open source experimental distributed ledger from Intel, described here.
  4. Berkeley Lab captures first high-res 3D images of DNA segments (Kurzweil) — “This is the first time for directly visualizing an individual double-strand DNA segment in 3D.”
Comment: 1
Four Short Links: 14 April 2016

Four Short Links: 14 April 2016

New Statesmen, Autonomous Vehicle Reliability, Conversational Software, and TensorFlow Playground

  1. Tech CEOs Cast Themselves as the New Statesmen (Buzzfeed) — the logical consequence of the corporation replacing elected government as the most efficacious unit of organization.
  2. How Many Miles of Driving Would It Take to Demonstrate Autonomous Vehicle Reliability? (RAND) — it may not be possible to establish with certainty the safety of autonomous vehicles. Uncertainty will remain. In parallel to developing new testing methods, it is imperative to develop adaptive regulations that are designed from the outset to evolve with the technology so that society can better harness the benefits and manage the risks of these rapidly evolving and potentially transformative technologies.
  3. We Don’t Know How to Build Conversational Software — current brand-driven conversations are deeply underwhelming (phone trees with more typing is dystopic shopping), but I don’t know that we need to solve general AI for chatbots to provide an illusion of utility.
  4. TensorFlow Playgroundtinker with a neural network right here in your browser. Don’t worry, you can’t break it. We promise.
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Four short links: 13 April 2016

Four short links: 13 April 2016

Gesture Learner, Valuing Maintainers, Google's CS Education, and AI Threats

  1. focusmotion.iothe world’s first machine learning SDK to track, learn, and analyze human motion on any sensor, on any OS, on any platform. You (or your users) train it on what combination of sensor patterns to label as a particular gesture or movement, and then it’ll throw those labels whenever.
  2. How Maintainers, not Innovators, Make the World Turn (City Lab) — cf Deb Chachra’s Why I Am Not a Maker and everything Warren Buffett ever wrote about investing in boring businesses. It’s nice to realize that we’ve gone from “you’d be crazy to throw your career away and join a startup” to “hey, established industry isn’t bad, either, you know.”
  3. Google CS Education — all their tools and resources for CS education in one spot.
  4. Will The Proliferation of Affordable AI Decimate the Middle Class? (Alex Tabarrok) — I hadn’t heard this done before, but he steps away from the A in AI to ask whether greater natural intelligence would threaten the middle class in the same way—e.g., from rising India and China.

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