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: 19 August 2014

Four short links: 19 August 2014

Adjustable Ethics, Face Projection, Mod Minecraft, and Robot Grasp

  1. Robot Cars with Adjustable Ethics Settings (Wired) — no user-servicable virtues inside. In an important sense, any injury that results from our ethics setting may be premeditated if it’s foreseen.
  2. Face-Tracking with Projection Mapping: Weird (BoingBoing) — amazing video of real-time face mapping combined with projection mapping. It is, as promised, weird.
  3. LearnToModteaches you how to code by teaching you how to mod Minecraft. It gives you two different ways to code: with blocks or with Javascript. Preorder for Oct 2014 promised release. (via Wired)
  4. Grasping with Robots: Which Object is in Reach? (Robohub) — This post is part of our ongoing efforts to make the latest papers in robotics accessible to a general audience.a new approach to build a comprehensive representation of the capabilities of a robot related to reaching and grasping. Very short, very readable, as promised.
Comment: 1
Four short links: 18 August 2014

Four short links: 18 August 2014

Space Trading, Robot Capitalism, Packet Injection, and CAP Theorem

  1. Oolite — open-source clone of Elite, the classic space trading game from the 80s.
  2. Who Owns the Robots Rules The World (PDF) — interesting finding: As companies substitute machines and computers for human activity, workers need to own part of the capital stock that substitutes for them to benefit from these new “robot” technologies. Workers could own shares of the firm, hold stock options, or be paid in part from the profits. Without ownership stakes, workers will become serfs working on behalf of the robots’ overlords. Governments could tax the wealthy capital owners and redistribute income to workers, but that is not the direction societies are moving in. Workers need to own capital rather than rely on government income redistribution policies. (via Robotenomics)
  3. Schrodinger’s Cat Video and the Death of Clear-Text (Morgan Marquis-Boire) — report, based on leaked information, about use of network injection appliances targeted unencrypted pages from major providers. Compromising a target becomes as simple as waiting for the user to view unencrypted content on the Internet.
  4. CAP 12 Years Later: How the Rules Have Changed — a rundown of strategies available to deal with partitions (“outages”) in a distributed system.
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Four short links: 15 August 2014

Four short links: 15 August 2014

Illustrated Delivery, Self-Assembling Swarm, Language Analysis, and Design for Failure

  1. Continuous Integration and Delivery Illustrated — worth many thousands of words.
  2. Thousand Robot Swarm Self-Assembles into Arbitrary Shapes — you won’t sleep. If they only chittered, it would be perfect.
  3. srclibopen source language analysis toolchains (currently for Go, Python, JavaScript, and Ruby) with a common output format, and developer tools that consume this format.
  4. How to Architect with a Design for Failure Approach (Cloud Academy) — “design for failure” is what the rest of us call “design for the real world.”
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Four short links: 14 August 2014

Four short links: 14 August 2014

Ceramic 3D Printing, Robo Proofs, Microservice Fail, and Amazing Graphics Tweaks

  1. $700 Ceramic-Spitting 3D Printer (Make Magazine) — ceramic printing is super interesting, not least because it doesn’t fill the world with plastic glitchy bobbleheads.
  2. Mathematics in the Age of the Turing Machine (Arxiv) — a survey of mathematical proofs that rely on computer calculations and formal proofs. (via Victoria Stodden)
  3. Failing at Microservices — deconstructed a failed stab at microservices. Category three engineers also presented a significant problem to our implementation. In many cases, these engineers implemented services incorrectly; in one example, an engineer had literally wrapped and hosted one microservice within another because he didn’t understand how the services were supposed to communicate if they were in separate processes (or on separate machines). These engineers also had a tough time understanding how services should be tested, deployed, and monitored because they were so used to the traditional “throw the service over the fence”to an admin approach to deployment. This basically lead to huge amounts of churn and loss of productivity.
  4. Transient Attributes for High-Level Understanding and Editing of Outdoor Scenes — computer vision doing more amazing things: annotate scenes (e.g., sunsets, seasons), train, then be able to adjust images. Tweak how much sunset there is in your pic? Wow.
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Four short links: 13 August 2014

Four short links: 13 August 2014

Thinking Machines, Chemical Sensor, Share Containerised Apps, and Visualising the Net Neutrality Comments

  1. Viv — another step in the cognition race. Wolfram Alpha was first out the gate, but Watson, Viv, and others are hot on heels of being able to parse complex requests, then seek and use information to fulfil them.
  2. Universal Mobile Electrochemical Detector Designed for Use in Resource-limited Applications (PNAS) — $35 handheld sensor with mobile phone connection. The electrochemical methods that we demonstrate enable quantitative, broadly applicable, and inexpensive sensing with flexibility based on a wide variety of important electroanalytical techniques (chronoamperometry, cyclic voltammetry, differential pulse voltammetry, square wave voltammetry, and potentiometry), each with different uses. Four applications demonstrate the analytical performance of the device: these involve the detection of (i) glucose in the blood for personal health, (ii) trace heavy metals (lead, cadmium, and zinc) in water for in-field environmental monitoring, (iii) sodium in urine for clinical analysis, and (iv) a malarial antigen (Plasmodium falciparum histidine-rich protein 2) for clinical research. (via BoingBoing)
  3. panamax.io containerized app creator with an open-source app marketplace hosted in GitHub. Panamax provides a friendly interface for users of Docker, Fleet & CoreOS. With Panamax, you can easily create, share and deploy any containerized app no matter how complex it might be.
  4. Quid Analysis of Comments to FCC on Net Neutrality (NPR) — visualising the themes and volume of the comments. Interesting factoid: only half the comments were derived from templates (cf 80% in submissions to some financial legislation).
Comment: 1
Four short links: 12 August 2014

Four short links: 12 August 2014

Digital Services Playbook, Brain Computer Interface, In-Game Economics, and Motorcycle Reality

  1. US Digital Services Playbook — good sense from the US Govt’s latest “try not to cock up more Govt IT projects” brigade.
  2. Open Brain-Computer Interface — “open” as in “source”, not as in “cut”.
  3. Blockmarket — visibility into the in-game trading of The Blockheads. (via Dave Frampton)
  4. Skully (trigger warning: TechCrunch) — a step towards augmented reality for motorcyclists: panoramic visual awareness via in-helmet display.
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Four short links: 11 August 2014

Startup Anthropology, Ends to Means, Permission to Test, and Distributed Systems Research

  1. Anthropology of Mid-Sized Startups — old but good post about the structures, norms, and dimensions of startup culture. Like a religion, a startup will care for its collective interest by defining certain things as sacred. A classic example is the company’s logo. This symbol is, quite literally, “set apart and forbidden” by brand guidelines, which often specify exactly how the logo must be presented and how far it should sit from the other elements on a page (thus separating the sacred from the profane).
  2. What Leads To — I love the elegant mechanic of decomposing an end back to a means you can do right now. Lots more sophistication obviously possible, but the fact that it’s not just about “thumbs up this end!” or about actions divorced from intention, makes it a step ahead for social software.
  3. Researching Link Rot (Pinboard) — graceful notification of a test, and with the simple ability to opt-out.
  4. The Space Between Theory and Practice in Distributed Systems (Marc Brooker) — I went through everything I’ve read on distributed systems and arranged them on a spectrum from theory to practice the two ends would be really well populated, but the middle would be disturbingly empty. Worse, changing to a graph of citation links would show a low density from theory to practice.
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Four short links: 8 August 2014

Four short links: 8 August 2014

Synchronization, Security Pi, YouTube Stardom, and Javascript Logging

  1. Everything You Wanted to Know About Synchronization But Were Too Afraid to Ask (PDF) — This paper presents the most exhaustive study of synchronization to date. We span multiple layers, from hardware cache-coherence protocols up to high-level concurrent software. We do so on different types of architectures, from single-socket — uniform and non- uniform — to multi-socket — directory and broadcast-based many-cores. We draw a set of observations that, roughly speaking, imply that scalability of synchronization is mainly a property of the hardware.
  2. Raspberry Pi as Low-Cost Security Camera (Instructables) — $120 HD motion-sensing web-viewable security camera.
  3. Inside YouTube’s Fame Factory (FastCompany) — great article about the tipping point where peer-to-peer fame becomes stage-managed corporate fame, as Vidcon grows. See also Variety: If YouTube stars are swallowed by Hollywood, they are in danger of becoming less authentic versions of themselves, and teenagers will be able to pick up on that,” Sehdev says. “That could take away the one thing that makes YouTube stars so appealing.”
  4. Sherlog.js (Github) — Javascript error and event tracker application. Honestly, I have no idea if this is any good but the name is golden. I’m such a sucker.
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Four short links: 7 August 2014

Four short links: 7 August 2014

Material Design, Stewart's Slack, Sketching in Javascript, and Neural Networks and Deep Learning

  1. Material Design in the Google I/O App (Medium) — steps through design thinking as they put Google’s new design metaphor in place. I’ve been chewing on material design. It brings an internal consistency and logic to the Android world that Apple’s iOS and OS X visual worlds have been losing over the years. How long until web users expect this consistency too?
  2. Stewart and Slack (Wired) — profile of Foo Stewart Butterfield and his shiny Slack startup.
  3. p5js — a new Processing-inspired code-as-sketching in Javascript. Using the original metaphor of a software sketchbook, p5.js has a full set of drawing functionality. However, you’re not limited to your drawing canvas, you can think of your whole browser page as your sketch!
  4. Neural Networks and Deep Learning — a free online book to teach you … well, neural networks and deep learning.
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Four short links: 6 August 2014

Four short links: 6 August 2014

Mesa Database, Thumbstoppers, Impressive Research, and Microsoft Development

  1. Mesa: Geo-Replicated, Near Real-Time, Scalable Data Warehousing (PDF) — paper by Googlers on the database holding G’s ad data. Trillions of rows, petabytes of data, point queries with 99th percentile latency in the hundreds of milliseconds and overall query throughput of trillions of rows fetched per day, continuous updates on the order of millions of rows updated per second, strong consistency and repeatable query results even if a query involves multiple datacenters, and no SPOF. (via Greg Linden)
  2. Thumbstopping (Salon) — The prime goal of a Facebook ad campaign is to create an ad “so compelling that it would get people to stop scrolling through their news feeds,” reports the Times. This is known, in Facebook land, as a “thumbstopper.” And thus, the great promise of the digitial revolution is realized: The best minds of our generation are obsessed with manipulating the movement of your thumb on a smartphone touch-screen.
  3. om3d — pose a model based on its occurrence in a photo, then update the photo after rotating and re-rendering the model. Research is doing some sweet things these days—this comes hot on the heels of recovering sounds from high-speed video of things like chip bags.
  4. Microsoft’s Development Practices (Ars Technica) — they get the devops religion but call it “combined engineering”. They get the idea of shared code bases, but call it “open source”. At least when they got the agile religion, they called it that. Check out the horror story of where they started: a two-year development process in which only about four months would be spent writing new code. Twice as long would be spent fixing that code. MSFT’s waterfall was the equivalent of American football, where there’s 11 minutes of actual play in the average 3h 12m game.
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