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: 14 August 2015

Four short links: 14 August 2015

Jeep Hack, Blockchain for Beginners, Three Next:Economy Papers, and Signs of Self-Destruction

  1. The Jeep Cherokee Hack (Kaspersky) — details from the Black Hat talk.
  2. The Complete Beginner’s Guide to Blockchain Technology — in case you’ve been slipping on your nerd cred.
  3. Automation Angst (The Economist) — discusses three papers: (1) automation creates new jobs; (2) the sweet-spot of automation has been in mid-range intellectual, mid-rate physical tasks; and (3) know the history of automation/unemployment scares.
  4. Observational Signatures of Self-Destructive Civilisations (arXiv) — Using the Earth as an example, we consider a variety of scenarios in which humans could extinguish their own technological civilisation. Each scenario presents some form of observable signature that could be probed by astronomical campaigns to detect and characterise extrasolar planetary systems. I feel like there’s a business form of this paper, too …
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Four short links: 13 August 2015

Four short links: 13 August 2015

Learning Style, Artisinal Cash, Docs at Scale, and Homophily Research

  1. Elements of Style: Learning Perceptual Shape Style Similarity — code and data for research that helps perceive stylistic similarity between objects that transcends structure and function. For example, we can see a common style such as “Danish modern” in both a table and chair, though they have different structures. Until now, machines have found it difficult to do the same. (That quote cribbed from the phys.org writeup) Our new AI overlords may be cruel and heartless, but they’ll be able to tell Danish Modern from Shaker.
  2. The Advent of Artisinal Cash (NY Times) — details the rise of local physical currency around the world. Nonetheless, the use of traditional paper money is clearly on the wane. Perhaps these smaller, more attractive artisanal paper notes are merely last bursts of glory before it disappears entirely. Though as Mr. Deller, the artist behind the latest Brixton pound, said, “As long as there are drug deals and criminality, there’ll be a need for cash.”
  3. Documentation at Scale1. Acknowledge that brute force doesn’t work; 2. Make documentation a first class citizen; 3. Make documentation executable; 4. Track the intent.
  4. Exposure to Ideologically Diverse Information on Facebook (Facebook Research) — Friends shared substantially less cross-cutting news from sources aligned with an opposing ideology. People encountered roughly 15% less cross-cutting content in news feeds due to algorithmic ranking and clicked through to 70% less of this cross-cutting content. Within the domain of political news encountered in social media, selective exposure appears to drive attention.
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Four short links: 12 August 2015

Four short links: 12 August 2015

Economic Futures, Space War, State of Security, and Algorithmic Fairness

  1. Possible Economics Models (Jamais Cascio) — economic futures filtered through Doctorovian prose. Griefer Economics: Information is power, especially when it comes to finance, and the increasing use of ultra-fast computers to manipulate markets (and drive out “weaker” competitors) is moving us into a world where market position isn’t determined by having the best offering, but by having the best tool. Rules are gamed, opponents are beaten before they even know they’re playing, and it all feels very much like living on a PvP online game server where the referees have all gone home. Relevant to Next:Economy.
  2. War in Space May Be Closer Than Ever (SciAm) — Today, the situation is much more complicated. Low- and high-Earth orbits have become hotbeds of scientific and commercial activity, filled with hundreds upon hundreds of satellites from about 60 different nations. Despite their largely peaceful purposes, each and every satellite is at risk, in part because not all members of the growing club of military space powers are willing to play by the same rules — and they don’t have to, because the rules remain as yet unwritten. There’s going to be a bitchin’ S-1 risks section when Planet Labs files for IPO.
  3. Not Even Close: The State of Computer Security (Vimeo) — In this bleak, relentlessly morbid talk, James Mickens will describe why making computers secure is an intrinsically impossible task. He will explain why no programming language makes it easy to write secure code. He will then discuss why cloud computing is a black hole for privacy, and only useful for people who want to fill your machine with ads, viruses, or viruses that masquerade as ads. At this point in the talk, an audience member may suggest that bitcoins can make things better. Mickens will laugh at this audience member and then explain why trusting the bitcoin infrastructure is like asking Dracula to become a vegan. Mickens will conclude by describing why true love is a joke and why we are all destined to die alone and tormented. The first ten attendees will get balloon animals, and/or an unconvincing explanation about why Mickens intended to (but did not) bring balloon animals. Mickens will then flee on horseback while shouting “The Prince of Lies escapes again!”
  4. Algorithms and Bias (NYTimes) — interview w/Cynthia Dwork from Microsoft Research. Fairness means that similar people are treated similarly. A true understanding of who should be considered similar for a particular classification task requires knowledge of sensitive attributes, and removing those attributes from consideration can introduce unfairness and harm utility.
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Four short links: 11 August 2015

Four short links: 11 August 2015

Real-time Sports Analytics, UI Regression Testing, AI vs. Charity, and Google's Data Pipeline Model

  1. Denver Broncos Testing In-Game Analytics — their newly hired director of analytics working with the coach. With Tanney nearby, Kubiak can receive a quick report on the statistical probabilities of almost any situation. Say that you have fourth-and-3 from the opponent’s 45-yard-line with four minutes to go. Do the large-sample-size percentages make the risk-reward ratio acceptable enough to go for it? Tanney’s analytics can provide insight to aid Kubiak’s decision-making. (via Flowing Data)
  2. Visual Review (GitHub) — Apache-licensed productive and human-friendly workflow for testing and reviewing your Web application’s layout for any regressions.
  3. Effective Altruism / Global AI (Vox) — fear of AI-run-amok (“existential risks”) contaminating a charity movement.
  4. The Dataflow Model (PDF) — Google Research paper presenting a model aimed at ease of use in building practical, massive-scale data processing pipelines.
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Four short links: 10 August 2015

Unionize BigCos, Design Docos, IoT Protocol, and Hackability

  1. Employees at Google, Yahoo, and Amazon Lose Nothing if They Unionize (Michael O. Church) — When a company’s management plays stack-ranking games against its employees, an adversarial climate between management and labor already exists. This is a deeply interesting article, with every paragraph quotable and relevant to The Next Economy. Read it.
  2. Design Documentaries — a really nice index of design documentaries, many with YouTube links.
  3. MQTT — IoT connectivity protocol designed as an extremely lightweight publish/subscribe messaging transport. It is useful for connections with remote locations where a small code footprint is required and/or network bandwidth is at a premium.
  4. Camp for Apple II Fanatics“I invested a lot of time and knowledge into the Apple II, to the point where I really understood all of what the system is doing. All 64K of memory and what’s happening in RAM and ROM, the firmware the programs are using when they run on the Apple II,” he said. “With today’s machines, you get farther away from the metal the thing’s running on. Things change so fast, your phone is a million times more powerful than the Apple II was, but you can’t do things on the metal.” The micros were invented by the people who built and ran the minis and mainframes of old, and gave people the same insight. Tablets and mobiles were invented by the people who built and ran micros, and took away that same insight.
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Four short links: 7 August 2015

Four short links: 7 August 2015

Dating Culture, Resilient Go Services, Engineering Managers, and Ads Up

  1. Tinder and Hook-Up Culture (Vanity Fair) — “There have been two major transitions” in heterosexual mating “in the last four million years,” he says. “The first was around 10,000 to 15,000 years ago, in the agricultural revolution, when we became less migratory and more settled,” leading to the establishment of marriage as a cultural contract. “And the second major transition is with the rise of the Internet.”
  2. Building Resilient Services with Go — case study of building a Go app to survive the real world.
  3. 90-Day Plan for New Engineering Managers — so much truth, from empathy to giving up coding.
  4. Networks Increasing Ad StuffingTV audiences (as determined by Nielsen C3 measurements: TV watched both live and three days after the show was first aired on catch-up services) are down 9% year on year, yet ad loads on some networks are up as much as 10% on last year. The dinosaurs are hungry.
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Four short links: 6 August 2015

Four short links: 6 August 2015

Music Money, Hotel Robot, Performance Rating, and SIGGRAPH Papers

  1. Open the Music Industry’s Black Box (NYT) — David Byrne talks about the opacity of financials of streaming and online music services (including/especially YouTube). Caught my eye: The labels also get money from three other sources, all of which are hidden from artists: They get advances from the streaming services, catalog service payments for old songs, and equity in the streaming services themselves. (via BoingBoing)
  2. Savioke — hotel robot. (via Robohub)
  3. Deloitte Changing Performance Reviews (HBR) — “Although it is implicitly assumed that the ratings measure the performance of the ratee, most of what is being measured by the ratings is the unique rating tendencies of the rater. Thus, ratings reveal more about the rater than they do about the ratee.”
  4. SIGGRAPH Papers Are on the Web — collected papers from SIGGRAPH.
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Four short links: 5 August 2015

Four short links: 5 August 2015

Facebook Video, Lost Links, Regulatory Push, and LLVM Teases

  1. Theft, Lies, and Facebook Video (Medium) — inexcusable that Facebook, a company with a market cap of $260 BILLION, launched their video platform with no system to protect independent rights holders. It wouldn’t be surprising if Facebook was working on a solution now, which they can roll out conveniently after having made their initial claims at being the biggest, most important thing in video. In the words of Gillian Welch, “I wanna do right, but not right now.
  2. The Web We Have to SaveNearly every social network now treats a link just the same as it treats any other object — the same as a photo, or a piece of text — instead of seeing it as a way to make that text richer. You’re encouraged to post one single hyperlink and expose it to a quasi-democratic process of liking and plussing and hearting: Adding several links to a piece of text is usually not allowed. Hyperlinks are objectivized, isolated, stripped of their powers.
  3. California Regulator Pushing for All Cars to be Electric (Bloomberg) — Nichols really does intend to force au­tomakers to eventually sell nothing but electrics. In an interview in June at her agency’s heavy-duty-truck laboratory in downtown Los Angeles, it becomes clear that Nichols, at age 70, is pushing regulations today that could by midcentury all but banish the internal combustion engine from California’s famous highways. “If we’re going to get our transportation system off petroleum,” she says, “we’ve got to get people used to a zero-emissions world, not just a little-bit-better version of the world they have now.” How long until the same article is written, but about driverless cars?
  4. LLVM for Grad Students — fast intro to why LLVM is interesting. LLVM is a great compiler, but who cares if you don’t do compilers research? A compiler infrastructure is useful whenever you need to do stuff with programs.
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Four short links: 4 August 2015

Four short links: 4 August 2015

Data-Flow Graphing, Realtime Predictions, Robot Hotel, and Open-Source RE

  1. Data-flow Graphing in Python (Matt Keeter) — not shared because data-flow graphing is sexy new hot topic that’s gonna set the world on fire (though, I bet that’d make Matt’s day), but because there are entire categories of engineering and operations migraines that are caused by not knowing where your data came from or goes to, when, how, and why. Remember Wirth’s “algorithms + data structures = programs”? Data flows seem like a different slice of “programs.” Perhaps “data flow + typos = programs”?
  2. Machine Learning for Sports and Real-time Predictions (Robohub) — podcast interview for your commute. Real time is gold.
  3. Japan’s Robot Hotel is Serious Business (Engadget) — hotel was architected to suit robots: For the porter robots, we designed the hotel to include wide paths.” Two paths slope around the hotel lobby: one inches up to the second floor, while another follows a gentle decline to guide first-floor guests (slowly, but with their baggage) all the way to their room. Makes sense: at Solid, I spoke to a chap working on robots for existing hotels, and there’s an entire engineering challenge in navigating an elevator that you wouldn’t believe.
  4. bokken — GUI to help open source reverse engineering for code.
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Four short links: 3 August 2015

Four short links: 3 August 2015

Engineering Management, Smartphone Holograms, Multi-Protocol Server, and Collaborative CS

  1. A Conversation with Michael LoppMy job is to my get myself out of a job. I’m aggressively pushing things I think I could be really good at and should actually maybe own to someone else who’s gonna get a B at it, but they’re gonna get the opportunity to go do that. […] Delegation is helping someone else to learn. I’m all about the humans. If I don’t have happy, productive, growing engineers, I have exactly no job. That investment in the growth, in the happiness, the engineers being productive, that’s like my primary job.
  2. 3D Hologram Projector for Smartphone (BoingBoing) — is in hardware hack stage now, but OKYOUWIN maybe it’s the future.
  3. serve2dserve2 allows you to serve multiple protocols on a single socket. Example handlers include proxy, HTTP, TLS (through which HTTPS is handled), ECHO and DISCARD. More can easily be added, as long as the protocol sends some data that can be recognized. The proxy handler allows you to redirect the connection to external services, such as OpenSSH or Nginx, in case you don’t want or can’t use a Go implementation.
  4. GitXivIn recent years, a highly interesting pattern has emerged: Computer scientists release new research findings on arXiv and just days later, developers release an open-source implementation on GitHub. This pattern is immensely powerful. One could call it collaborative open computer science (COCS). GitXiv is a space to share collaborative open computer science projects. Countless Github and arXiv links are floating around the Web. It’s hard to keep track of these gems. GitXiv attempts to solve this problem by offering a collaboratively curated feed of projects. Each project is conveniently presented as arXiv + Github + Links + Discussion
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