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: 5 December 2014

Four short links: 5 December 2014

Gaming Cancer, Touch Interface, Petal Lampshade, and Biology HLL

  1. Nanodocan online game that allows bioengineers and the general public to design new nanoparticle strategies toward the treatment of cancer. (via The Economist)
  2. Rendering Haptic Volumetric Shapes in Mid-Air Using Ultrasound (PDF) — SIGGRAPH paper on using ultrasound to fool your senses into feeling a 3D shape in the air. (via Slashdot)
  3. Open Up Lamp — genius lampshade that opens with the heat of the lightbulb, like petals opening. (via Matt Webb)
  4. Anthaa high-level language for biology, making it easy to rapidly compose reproducible work flows using individually testable and reusable Antha Elements. (via Mike Loukides)
Comment
Four short links: 4 December 2014

Four short links: 4 December 2014

Click to Captcha, Managing Hackers, Easy Ordering, and Inside Ad Auctions

  1. One Click Captcha (Wired) — Google’s new Captcha tech is just a checkbox: “I am not a robot”. Instead of depending upon the traditional distorted word test, Google’s “reCaptcha” examines cues every user unwittingly provides: IP addresses and cookies provide evidence that the user is the same friendly human Google remembers from elsewhere on the Web. And Shet says even the tiny movements a user’s mouse makes as it hovers and approaches a checkbox can help reveal an automated bot.
  2. The Responsive Enterprise: Embracing the Hacker Way (ACM) — Letting developers wander around without clear goals in the vastness of the software universe of all computable functions is one of the major reasons why projects fail, not because of lack of process or planning. I like all of this, although at times it can be a little like what I imagine it would be like if Cory Doctorow wrote a management textbook. (via Greg Linden)
  3. Pizza Hut Tests Ordering via Eye-TrackingThe digital menu shows diners a canvas of 20 toppings and builds their pizza, from one of 4,896 combinations, based on which toppings they looked at longest.
  4. How Browsers Get to Know You in Milliseconds (Andy Oram) — breaks down info exchange, data exchange, timing, even business relationships for ad auctions. Augment understanding of the user from third-party data (10 milliseconds). These third parties are the companies that accumulate information about our purchasing habits. The time allowed for them to return data is so short that they often can’t spare time for network transmission, and instead co-locate at the AppNexus server site. In fact, according to Magnusson, the founders of AppNexus created a cloud server before opening their exchange.
Comment
Four short links: 3 December 2014

Four short links: 3 December 2014

VIsual NoSQL, QA MindSet, Future Programming, and Interactive Cities

  1. Visual Guide to NoSQL Systems — not quite accurate in the “pick any two,” but still a useful frame for understanding the landscape.
  2. The QA Mindset (Michael Lopp) — Humans do strange shit to software that we could never predict in the controlled setting of our carefully constructed software development environments. This x1000.
  3. Future Programming 2014 Videos — a collection of talks on boundary-pushing ideas around IDEs, code control, distributed objects, GPUs, etc.
  4. Some of These Things are Not Like the Others (Tom Armitage) — writeup on sensor-rich interactive cityscapes designed for residents to thrive rather than for merchants to transact. Lovely.
Comment
Four short links: 2 December 2014

Four short links: 2 December 2014

e-Paper Watch, Probabilistic Go, Z-Machine in Hardware, and Glorious Underlines

  1. FES Watch — e-paper watch, including strap. Beautiful, crowdfunded, made by a Sony subsidiary that’s looking at e-ink for wearables and more. (via The Verge)
  2. Probabilistic Data Structures for Go — introduction to the go-probably library for when you can’t store every single value, so will trade off memory usage against accuracy.
  3. Z3 — implementation of the Infocom Z-Machine in hardware. Check out the easter eggs. I look upon my works and despair.
  4. Towards a More Perfect Link Underline — glorious typography on the web. A phrase you don’t often hear together without “would be a nice thing” at the end of the sentence.
Comment
Four short links: 1 December 2014

Four short links: 1 December 2014

Marketing Color, Brain Time, Who Could Have Foreseen 19100, and ASCII Cam

  1. Psychology of Color in Marketing and Branding — sidesteps the myths and chromobollocks, and gives the simplest pictorial views of some basic colour choice systems that I found very useful.
  2. Brain Time (David Eagleman) — the visual system is a distributed system with some flexible built-in consistency. So if the visual brain wants to get events correct timewise, it may have only one choice: wait for the slowest information to arrive. To accomplish this, it must wait about a tenth of a second. In the early days of television broadcasting, engineers worried about the problem of keeping audio and video signals synchronized. Then they accidentally discovered that they had around a hundred milliseconds of slop: As long as the signals arrived within this window, viewers’ brains would automatically resynchronize the signals; outside that tenth-of-a-second window, it suddenly looked like a badly dubbed movie.
  3. CS Bumper Stickers (PDF) — Allocate four digits for the year part of a date: a new millenium is coming. —David Martin. From 1985.
  4. ASCIIcam — real-time ASCII output from your videocamera. This is doing terrible things to my internal chronometer. Is it 2014 or 1984? Yes!
Comment
Four short links: 28 November 2014

Four short links: 28 November 2014

Material Design Inspiration, Event Processing, Launch Infrastructure, Remote Work

  1. Material Up — material design inspiration. MD is a physics engine for UI.
  2. Flafka (Cloudera) — Flume plus Kafka, offers sub-second-latency event processing without the need for dedicated infrastructure. (via Abishek Tiwari)
  3. terraform.io — open source package providing a common configuration to launch infrastructure, from physical and virtual servers to email and DNS providers.
  4. Remote Work: An Engineering Leader’s PerspectiveEven proponents of remote work seem to think that you should either have a distributed team from the get go, or stick to a traditional on-site team. Our experience shows that this is incorrect…
Comment
Four short links: 27 November 2014

Four short links: 27 November 2014

Scalable Infrastructure, Lens Tech, Javascript Frameworks, and Morality Valley

  1. Stumbleupon’s Big Data Architecture Using Open Source Software (PDF) — not just the list of tools but the functions they implement. Useful!
  2. Innovega — making a contact lens with a tiny bump that acts as a microscope for content shown in glasses. That description, and this link via MIT Technology Review)
  3. How to Pick a Front-End Framework — not unreasonable opinions, largely useful.
  4. [Silicon Valley] Bedevilled by Moral Issues (NYT, registerwall) — given that Silicon Valley tends to copy and paste the mantra, “we’re making the world a better place,” it seem reasonable to expect that tech companies would hold themselves to a higher ethical standard.
Comment
Four short links: 26 November 2014

Four short links: 26 November 2014

Metastable Failures, Static Python Analysis, Material Desktop, and AWS Scale Numbers

  1. Metastable Failure State (Facebook) — very nice story about working together to discover the cause of one of those persistently weird problems.
  2. Bandit — static security analysis of Python code.
  3. Quantum OS — Linux desktop based on Google’s Material Design. UI guidelines fascinate me: users love consistency, designers and brands hate that everything works the same.
  4. Inside AWSEvery day, AWS installs enough server infrastructure to host the entire Amazon e-tailing business from back in 2004, when Amazon the retailer was one-tenth its current size at $7 billion in annual revenue. “What has changed in the last year,” Hamilton asked rhetorically, and then quipped: “We have done it 365 more times.” That is another way of saying that in the past year AWS has added enough capacity to support a $2.55 trillion online retailing operation, should one ever be allowed to exist.
Comment
Four short links: 25 November 2014

Four short links: 25 November 2014

NSA Playset, Open Access, XSS Framework, and Security Test Cases

  1. Michael Ossman and the NSA Playset — the guy who read the leaked descriptions of the NSA’s toolchest, built them, and open sourced the designs. One device, dubbed TWILIGHTVEGETABLE, is a knock off of an NSA-built GSM cell phone that’s designed to sniff and monitor Internet traffic. The ANT catalog lists it for $15,000; the NSA Playset researchers built one using a USB flash drive, a cheap SDR, and an antenna, for about $50. The most expensive device, a drone that spies on WiFi traffic called PORCUPINEMASQUERADE, costs about $600 to assemble. At Defcon, a complete NSA Playset toolkit was auctioned by the EFF for $2,250.
  2. Gates Foundation Announces World’s Strongest Policy on Open Access Research (Nature) — Once made open, papers must be published under a license that legally allows unrestricted re-use — including for commercial purposes. This might include ‘mining’ the text with computer software to draw conclusions and mix it with other work, distributing translations of the text, or selling republished versions. CC-BY! We believe that published research resulting from our funding should be promptly and broadly disseminated.
  3. Xenotixan advanced Cross Site Scripting (XSS) vulnerability detection and exploitation framework. It provides Zero False Positive scan results with its unique Triple Browser Engine (Trident, WebKit, and Gecko) embedded scanner. It is claimed to have the world’s 2nd largest XSS Payloads of about 4700+ distinctive XSS Payloads for effective XSS vulnerability detection and WAF Bypass. Xenotix Scripting Engine allows you to create custom test cases and addons over the Xenotix API. It is incorporated with a feature-rich Information Gathering module for target Reconnaissance. The Exploit Framework includes offensive XSS exploitation modules for Penetration Testing and Proof of Concept creation.
  4. Firing Range — Google’s open source set of web security test cases for scanners.
Comment
Four short links: 24 November 2014

Four short links: 24 November 2014

Magic Leap, Constant Improvement, Philanthropofallacies, and Chinese Manufacturing

  1. How Magic Leap is Secretly Creating a New Alternate Reality (Gizmodo) — amazing piece of investigative tech journalism.
  2. Better All The Time (New Yorker) — What we’re seeing is, in part, the mainstreaming of excellent habits. […] Everyone works hard. Everyone is really good.
  3. Stop Trying to Save the World (New Republic) — What I want to talk shit on is the paradigm of the Big Idea—that once we identify the correct one, we can simply unfurl it on the entire developing world like a picnic blanket. (note: some pottymouth language in this article, and some analysis I wholeheartedly agree with.)
  4. Christmas in YiwuWe travelled by container ship across the East China Sea before following the electronics supply chain around China, visiting factories, distributors, wholesalers and refineries. Fascinating! 22km of corridors in the mall that dollar store buyers visit to fill their shelves. I had never seen so many variations of the same product. Dozens of Christmas stockings bearing slightly different Santas and snowmen. Small tweaks on each theme. An in-house designer creates these designs. It feels like a brute force approach to design, creating every single possibility and then letting the market decide which it wants to buy. If none of the existing designs appeal to a buyer they can get their own designs manufactured instead. When a custom design is successful, with the customer placing a large order, it is copied by the factory and offered in their range to future buyers. The factory sales agent indicated that designs weren’t protected and could be copied freely, as long as trademarks were removed. Parallels with web design left as exercise to the reader. (via the ever-discerning Mr Webb)
Comment