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: 6 April 2015

Four short links: 6 April 2015

Disruption, Copyright Investment, Max Headroom, and Right to Tinker

  1. The Difference Between Direct Competition and DisruptionAs the ships grow, their engines have become vastly more efficient and sophisticated, the fuel mix has changed, and complex IT infrastructure has been put in place to coordinate the movement of the containers and ships. But fundamentally, the underlying cost structure of the business has not changed from 1950, when the first container ships carried a mere 500 to 800 containers across the world. (via Salim Virani)
  2. The Impact of Copyright Policy Changes on Venture Capital Investment in Cloud Computing Companies (PDF) — Our findings suggest that decisions around the scope of copyrights can have significant impacts on investment and innovation. We find that VC investment in cloud computing firms increased significantly in the U.S. relative to the EU after the Cablevision decision. Our results suggest that the Cablevision decision led to additional incremental investment in U.S. cloud computing firms that ranged from $728 million to approximately $1.3 billion over the two-and-a-half years after the decision. When paired with the findings of the enhanced effects of VC investment relative to corporate investment, this may be the equivalent of $2 to $5 billion in traditional R&D investment.
  3. Max Headroom Oral History“Anybody under the age of 25 just loved it. And anybody above that age was just completely confused.”
  4. Auto Makers Say You Don’t Own Your Car (EFF) — Most of the automakers operating in the U.S. filed opposition comments through trade associations, along with a couple of other vehicle manufacturers. They warn that owners with the freedom to inspect and modify code will be capable of violating a wide range of laws and harming themselves and others. They say you shouldn’t be allowed to repair your own car because you might not do it right. They say you shouldn’t be allowed to modify the code in your car because you might defraud a used car purchaser by changing the mileage. They say no one should be allowed to even look at the code without the manufacturer’s permission because letting the public learn how cars work could help malicious hackers, “third-party software developers” (the horror!), and competitors.
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Four short links: 3 April 2015

Four short links: 3 April 2015

Augmenting Humans, Body-Powered CPUs, Predicting the Future, and Hermit Life

  1. Unpowered Ankle Exoskeleton“As we understand human biomechanics better, we’ve begun to see wearable robotic devices that can restore or enhance human motor performance,” says Collins. “This bodes well for a future with devices that are lightweight, energy-efficient, and relatively inexpensive, yet enhance human mobility.”
  2. Body-Powered Processing (Ars Technica) — The new SAM L21 32-bit ARM family of microcontroller (MCUs) consume less than 35 microamps of power per megahertz of processing speed while active, and less than 200 nanoamps of power overall when in deep sleep mode—with varying states in between. The chip is so low power that it can be powered off energy capture from the body. (via Greg Linden)
  3. Temporal Effects in Trend Prediction: Identifying the Most Popular Nodes in the Future (PLOSone) — We find that TBP have high general accuracy in predicting the future most popular nodes. More importantly, it can identify many potential objects with low popularity in the past but high popularity in the future.
  4. The Shut-In EconomyIn 1998, Carnegie Mellon researchers warned that the Internet could make us into hermits. They released a study monitoring the social behavior of 169 people making their first forays online. The Web-surfers started talking less with family and friends, and grew more isolated and depressed. “We were surprised to find that what is a social technology has such anti-social consequences,” said one of the researchers at the time. “And these are the same people who, when asked, describe the Internet as a positive thing.”
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Four short links: 2 April 2015

Four short links: 2 April 2015

250 Whys, Amazon Dash, Streaming Data, and Lightning Networks

  1. What I Learned from 250 WhysLet’s Plan for a Future Where We’re All As Stupid as We Are Today.
  2. Thoughts on Amazon Dash (Matt Webb) — In a way, we’re really seeing the future of marketing here. We’ve separated awareness (advertising) and distribution (stores) for so long, but it’s no longer the way. When you get a Buy Now button in a Tweet, you’re seeing ads and distribution merging, and the Button is the physical instantiation of this same trend. […] in the future every product will carry a buy button.
  3. A Collection of Links for Streaming Algorithms and Data Structures — is this not the most self-evident title ever?
  4. Lightning Networks (Rusty Russell) — I finally took a second swing at understanding the Lightning Network paper. The promise of this work is exceptional: instant, reliable transactions across the bitcoin network. But the implementation is complex, and the draft paper reads like a grab bag of ideas; but it truly rewards close reading! It doesn’t involve novel crypto, nor fancy bitcoin scripting tricks. There are several techniques that are used in the paper, so I plan to concentrate on one per post and wrap up at the end. Already posted part II.
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Four short links: 1 April 2015

Four short links: 1 April 2015

Tuning Fanout, Moore's Law, 3D Everything, and Social Graph Analysis

  1. Facebook’s Mystery MachineThe goal of this paper is very similar to that of Google Dapper[…]. Both work [to] try to figure out bottlenecks in performance in high fanout large-scale Internet services. Both work us[ing] similar methods, however this work (the mystery machine) tries to accomplish the task relying on less instrumentation than Google Dapper. The novelty of the mystery machine work is that it tries to infer the component call graph implicitly via mining the logs, where as Google Dapper instrumented each call in a meticulous manner and explicitly obtained the entire call graph.
  2. The Multiple Lives of Moore’s LawA shrinking transistor not only allowed more components to be crammed onto an integrated circuit but also made those transistors faster and less power hungry. This single factor has been responsible for much of the staying power of Moore’s Law, and it’s lasted through two very different incarnations. In the early days, a phase I call Moore’s Law 1.0, progress came by “scaling up”—adding more components to a chip. At first, the goal was simply to gobble up the discrete components of existing applications and put them in one reliable and inexpensive package. As a result, chips got bigger and more complex. The microprocessor, which emerged in the early 1970s, exemplifies this phase. But over the last few decades, progress in the semiconductor industry became dominated by Moore’s Law 2.0. This era is all about “scaling down,” driving down the size and cost of transistors even if the number of transistors per chip does not go up.
  3. BoXZY Rapid-Change FabLab: Mill, Laser Engraver, 3D Printer (Kickstarter) — project that promises you the ability to swap out heads to get different behaviour from the “move something in 3 dimensions” infrastructure in the box.
  4. SociaLite (Github) — a distributed query language for graph analysis and data mining. (via Ben Lorica)
Comment: 1
Four short links: 31 March 2015

Four short links: 31 March 2015

Boring Technology, Psychology Memes, Engineering Ladder, and Flatpack Refugee Shelters

  1. Choose Boring Technology (Dan McKinley) — Adding technology to your company comes with a cost. As an abstract statement this is obvious: if we’re already using Ruby, adding Python to the mix doesn’t feel sensible because the resulting complexity would outweigh Python’s marginal utility. But somehow when we’re talking about Python and Scala or MySQL and Redis, people lose their minds, discard all constraints, and start raving about using the best tool for the job.
  2. Dunning-Kruger and Other Memes — a reality check on the popsci conception of some psych research.
  3. Sharing our Engineering LadderIn addition to the ladder causing problems inside of my team, we were having a hard time evaluating candidates during interviews and determining what level to hire them into. Particularly at the more senior levels, it wasn’t clear what the criteria for success really looked like. So, together with my tech leads and engineering managers, we rewrote the ladder to be more specific. It has been very helpful both for the process of reviews and promotion committees as well as for the process of hiring.
  4. Ikea’s flat-pack refugee shelter is entering production (The Verge) — The UNHCR has agreed to buy 10,000 of the shelters, and will begin providing them to refugee families this summer. […] Measuring about 188 square feet, each shelter accommodates five people and includes a rooftop solar panel that powers a built-in lamp and USB outlet. The structure ships just like any other piece of Ikea furniture, with insulated, lightweight polymer panels, pipes, and wires packed into a cardboard box. According to Ikea, it only takes about four hours to assemble.
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Four short links: 30 March 2015

Four short links: 30 March 2015

Philosophical Research, Reading Turing, Security Exercises, and Golang Madness

  1. The Trolley and the PsychopathNot only does a “utilitarian” response (“just kill the fat guy”) not actually reflect a utilitarian outlook, it may actually be driven by broad antisocial tendencies, such as lowered empathy and a reduced aversion to causing someone harm. Questionably expanding scope of claims in the behavioural philosophy research. (via Ed Yong)
  2. Summary of Computing Machinery and Intelligence (1950) by Alan Turing (Jack Hoy) — still interesting and relevant today. cf Why Aren’t We Reading Turing
  3. Exploit Exercisesa variety of virtual machines, documentation, and challenges that can be used to learn about a variety of computer security issues, such as privilege escalation, vulnerability analysis, exploit development, debugging, reverse engineering, and general cyber security issues.
  4. GopherJS — golang to Javascript compiler so you can experience the ease of typed compiled languages in the security and stability of the browser platform.
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Four short links: 27 March 2015

Four short links: 27 March 2015

Welfare and Entrepreneurialism, Infrastructure Secrets, Insectoid Robots, Hacking Hexbugs

  1. Welfare Makes America More Entrepreneurial (The Atlantic) — In a 2014 paper, Olds examined the link between entrepreneurship and food stamps, and found that the expansion of the program in some states in the early 2000s increased the chance that newly eligible households would own an incorporated business by 16%. (Incorporated firms are a better proxy for job-creating startups than unincorporated ones.)
  2. Security of Infrastructure Secrets — everything has a key that’s just one compromise or accidental drop away.
  3. Festo’s Fantastical Insectoid Robots Include Bionic Ants and Butterflies (IEEE) — Each butterfly has a 50-centimeter wingspan and weighs just 32 grams, but carries along two servo motors to independently actuate the wings, an IMU, accelerometer, gyro, and compass, along with two tiny 90-mAh lithium-polymer batteries. With a wing beat frequency of between one and two flaps per second, top speed is 2.5 m/s, with a flight time of three to four minutes before needing a 15-minute charge. The wings themselves use impossibly thin carbon rods for structure, and are covered with an even thinner elastic capacitor film.
  4. Arduino Celebration and Hexbugs hacking with Bob Martin (SparkFun) — The Hunter demo is a combination of object detection and object avoidance. It uses an IR sensor array to determine objects around it. Objects that appear and then disappear quickly, say in a second or two are targets which it will walk towards; however, a target that stays constant will be avoided. I’m still trying to find the perfect balance between making a decision between fleeing prey and a wall using only simple proximity samples from an IR detector array.
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Four short links: 26 March 2015

Four short links: 26 March 2015

GPU Graph Algorithms, Data Sharing, Build Like Google, and Distributed Systems Theory

  1. gunrocka CUDA library for graph primitives that refactors, integrates, and generalizes best-of-class GPU implementations of breadth-first search, connected components, and betweenness centrality into a unified code base useful for future development of high-performance GPU graph primitives. (via Ben Lorica)
  2. How to Share Data with a Statisticiansome instruction on the best way to share data to avoid the most common pitfalls and sources of delay in the transition from data collection to data analysis.
  3. Bazela build tool, i.e. a tool that will run compilers and tests to assemble your software, similar to Make, Ant, Gradle, Buck, Pants, and Maven. Google’s build tool, to be precise.
  4. You Can’t Have Exactly-Once Delivery — not about the worst post office ever. FLP and the Two Generals Problem are not design complexities, they are impossibility results.
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Four short links: 25 March 2015

Four short links: 25 March 2015

Selling Customers, Classier Parsing, License Plates, and GitHub's CSS

  1. RadioShack’s Customer Data For Sale (Ars Technica) — trying to sell customer data as part of court-supervised bankruptcy.
  2. Classp: A Classier Way to Parse (Google Code) — The abstract syntax tree is what programmers typically want to work with. With class patterns, you only have two jobs: design the abstract syntax tree and write a formatter for it. (A formatter is the function that writes out the abstract syntax tree in the target language.)
  3. 4.6M License Plate Records From FOIA Request (Ars Technica) — from Oakland.
  4. Primerthe CSS toolkit and guidelines that power GitHub.
Comment: 1
Four short links: 24 March 2015

Four short links: 24 March 2015

Tricorder Prototype, Web Performance, 3D Licensing, and Network Simulation

  1. Tricorder Prototypecollar+earpiece, base station, diagnostic stick (lab tests for diabetes, pneumonia, tb, etc), and scanning wand (examine lesions, otoscope for ears, even spirometer). (via Slashdot)
  2. Souders Joins SpeedcurveDuring these engagements, I’ve seen that many of these companies don’t have the necessary tools to help them identify how performance is impacting (hurting) the user experience on their websites. There is even less information about ways to improve performance. The standard performance metric is page load time, but there’s often no correlation between page load time and the user’s experience. We need to shift from network-based metrics to user experience metrics that focus on rendering and when content becomes available. That’s exactly what Mark is doing at SpeedCurve, and why I’m excited to join him.
  3. 3 Steps for Licensing Your 3D-Printed Stuff (PDF) — this paper is not actually about choosing the right license for your 3D printable stuff (sorry about that). Instead, this paper aims to flesh out a copyright analysis for both physical objects and for the digital files that represent them, allowing you to really understand what parts of your 3D object you are—and are not—licensing. Understanding what you are licensing is key to choosing the right license. Simply put, this is because you cannot license what you do not legally control in the first place. There is no point in considering licenses that ultimately do not have the power to address whatever behavior you’re aiming to control. However, once you understand what it is you want to license, choosing the license itself is fairly straightforward. (via BoingBoing)
  4. Augmented Traffic Control — Facebook’s tool for simulating degraded network conditions.
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