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: 20 February 2015

Four short links: 20 February 2015

Robotic Garden, Kids Toys, MSFT ML, and Twitter Scale

  1. The Distributed Robotic Garden (MIT) — We consider plants, pots, and robots to be systems with different levels of mobility, sensing, actuation, and autonomy. (via Robohub)
  2. CogniToys Leverages Watson’s Brain to Befriend, Teach Your Kids (IEEE) — Through the dino, Watson’s algorithms can get to know each child that it interacts with, tailoring those interactions to the child’s age and interests.
  3. How Machine Learning Ate Microsoft (Infoworld) — Azure ML didn’t merely take the machine learning algorithms MSR had already handed over to product teams and stick them into a drag-and-drop visual designer. Microsoft has made the functionality available to developers who know the R statistical programming language and Python, which together are widely used in academic machine learning. Microsoft plans to integrate Azure ML closely with Revolution Analytics, the R startup it recently acquired.
  4. Handling Five Billion Sessions a Day in Real Time (Twitter) — infrastructure porn.
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Four short links: 19 February 2015

Four short links: 19 February 2015

Magical Interfaces, Automation Tax, Cyber Manhattan Project, and US Chief Data Scientist

  1. MAS S66: Indistinguishable From… Magic as Interface, Technology, and Tradition — MIT course taught by Greg Borenstein and Dan Novy. Further, magic is one of the central metaphors people use to understand the technology we build. From install wizards to voice commands and background daemons, the cultural tropes of magic permeate user interface design. Understanding the traditions and vocabularies behind these tropes can help us produce interfaces that use magic to empower users rather than merely obscuring their function. With a focus on the creation of functional prototypes and practicing real magical crafts, this class combines theatrical illusion, game design, sleight of hand, machine learning, camouflage, and neuroscience to explore how ideas from ancient magic and modern stage illusion can inform cutting edge technology.
  2. Maybe We Need an Automation Tax (RoboHub) — rather than saying “automation is bad,” move on to “how do we help those displaced by automation to retrain?”.
  3. America’s Cyber-Manhattan Project (Wired) — America already has a computer security Manhattan Project. We’ve had it since at least 2001. Like the original, it has been highly classified, spawned huge technological advances in secret, and drawn some of the best minds in the country. We didn’t recognize it before because the project is not aimed at defense, as advocates hoped. Instead, like the original, America’s cyber Manhattan Project is purely offensive. The difference between policemen and soldiers is that one serves justice and the other merely victory.
  4. White House Names DJ Patil First US Chief Data Scientist (Wired) — There is arguably no one better suited to help the country better embrace the relatively new discipline of data science than Patil.
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Four short links: 18 February 2015

Four short links: 18 February 2015

Sales Automation, Clone Boxes, Stats Style, and Extra Orifices

  1. Systematising Sales with Software and Processes — sweet use of Slack as UI for sales tools.
  2. Duplicate SSH Keys EverywhereIt looks like all devices with the fingerprint are Dropbear SSH instances that have been deployed by Telefonica de Espana. It appears that some of their networking equipment comes set up with SSH by default, and the manufacturer decided to reuse the same operating system image across all devices.
  3. Style.ONS — UK govt style guide covers the elements of writing about statistics. It aims to make statistical content more open and understandable, based on editorial research and best practice. (via Hadley Beeman)
  4. Warren Ellis on the Apple WatchI, personally, want to put a gold chain on my phone, pop it into a waistcoat pocket, and refer to it as my “digital fob watch” whenever I check the time on it. Just to make the point in as snotty and high-handed a way as possible: This is the decadent end of the current innovation cycle, the part where people stop having new ideas and start adding filigree and extra orifices to the stuff we’ve got and call it the future.
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Four short links: 17 February 2015

Four short links: 17 February 2015

Matthew Effects, Office Dashboards, Below the API, and Robot Economies

  1. Matthew Effects in Reading (PDF) — Walberg, following Merton, has dubbed those educational sequences where early achievement spawns faster rates of subsequent achievement “Matthew effects,” after the Gospel according to Matthew: “For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath” (XXV:29) (via 2015 Troubling Trends and Possibilities in K-12)
  2. Real Time Dashboard for Office Plumbing (Flowing Data) — this is awesome.
  3. Working Below the API is a Dead End (Forbes) — Drivers are opting into a dichotomous workforce: the worker bees below the software layer have no opportunity for on-the-job training that advances their career, and compassionate social connections don’t pierce the software layer either. The skills they develop in driving are not an investment in their future. Once you introduce the software layer between ‘management’ (Uber’s full-time employees building the app and computer systems) and the human workers below the software layer (Uber’s drivers, Instacart’s delivery people), there’s no obvious path upwards. In fact, there’s a massive gap and no systems in place to bridge it. (via John Robb)
  4. The Real Robot Economy and the Bus Ticket Inspector (Guardian) — None of the cinematic worries about machines that take decisions about healthcare or military action are at play here. Hidden in these everyday, mundane interactions are different moral or ethical questions about the future of AI: if a job is affected but not taken over by a robot, how and when does the new system interact with a consumer? Is it ok to turn human social intelligence – managing a difficult customer – into a commodity? Is it ok that a decision lies with a handheld device, while the human is just a mouthpiece? Where “robots” is the usual shorthand for technology that replaces manual work. (via Dan Hill)
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Four short links: 16 February 2015

Four short links: 16 February 2015

Grace Hopper, Car Dashboard UIs, DAO Governance, and Sahale.

  1. The Queen of Code — 12m documentary on Grace Hopper, produced by fivethirtyeight.com.
  2. Car Dashboard UI Collection — inspiration board for your (data) dashboards.
  3. Subjectivity-Exploitability TradeoffVoting-based DAOs, lacking an equivalent of shareholder regulation, are vulnerable to attacks where 51% of participants collude to take all of the DAO’s assets for themselves […] The example supplied here will define a new, third, hypothetical form of blockchain or DAO governance. Every day we’re closer to Stross’s Accelerando.
  4. Sahale — open source cascading workflow visualizer to help you make sense of tasks decomposed into Hadoop jobs. (via Code as Craft)
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Four short links: 13 February 2015

Four short links: 13 February 2015

Web Post-Mortem, Data Flow, Hospital Robots, and Robust Complex Networks

  1. What Happened to Web Intents (Paul Kinlan) — I love post-mortems, and this is a thoughtful one.
  2. Apache NiFi — incubated open source project for data flow.
  3. Tug Hospital Robot (Wired) — It may have an adult voice, but Tug has a childlike air, even though in this hospital you’re supposed to treat it like a wheelchair-bound old lady. It’s just so innocent, so earnest, and at times, a bit helpless. If there’s enough stuff blocking its way in a corridor, for instance, it can’t reroute around the obstruction. This happened to the Tug we were trailing in pediatrics. “Oh, something’s in its way!” a woman in scrubs says with an expression like she herself had ruined the robot’s day. She tries moving the wheeled contraption but it won’t budge. “Uh, oh!” She shoves on it some more and finally gets it to move. “Go, Tug, go!” she exclaims as the robot, true to its programming, continues down the hall.
  4. Improving the Robustness of Complex Networks with Preserving Community Structure (PLoSone) — To improve robustness while minimizing the above three costly changes, we first seek to verify that the community structure of networks actually do identify the robustness and vulnerability of networks to some extent. Then, we propose an effective 3-step strategy for robustness improvement, which retains the degree distribution of a network, as well as preserves its community structure.
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Four short links: 12 February 2015

Four short links: 12 February 2015

Finance Instrument, Retro Predictions, Trust Engineering, and Haptics

  1. Update on indie.vcWe’ve worked with the team at Cooley to create an investment instrument that has elements of both debt and equity. Debt in that we will not be purchasing equity initially, but, unlike debt, there is no maturity date, no collateralization of assets and no recourse if it’s never paid back. The equity element will only become a factor if the participating company chooses to raise a round of financing or sell out to an acquiring company. We don’t have a clever acronym or name for this instrument yet, but I’m sure we’ll come up with something great.
  2. How Nathan Barley Came True (Guardian) — if you haven’t already seen Nathan Barley, you should. It’s by the guy who did Black Mirror, and it’s both awful and authentic and predictive and retro and … painfully accurate about the horrors of our Internet/New Media industry. (via BoingBoing)
  3. Trust Engineers (Radio Lab) — Facebook has a created a laboratory of human behavior the likes of which we’ve never seen. We peek into the work of Arturo Bejar and a team of researchers who are tweaking our online experience, bit by bit, to try to make the world a better place. Radio show of goodness. (via Flowing Data)
  4. DARPA’S Haptix ProjectThe goal of the HAPTIX program is to provide amputees with prosthetic limb systems that feel and function like natural limbs, and to develop next-generation sensorimotor interfaces to drive and receive rich sensory content from these limbs. Today it’s prosthetic limbs for amputees, but within five years it’ll be augmented ad-driven realities for virtual currency ambient social recommendations.
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Four short links: 11 February 2015

Four short links: 11 February 2015

Crowdsourcing Working, etcd DKVS, Psychology Progress, and Inferring Logfile Rules

  1. Crowdsourcing Isn’t Broken — great rundown of ways to keep crowdsourcing on track. As with open sourcing something, just throwing open the doors and hoping for the best has a low probability of success.
  2. etcd Hits 2.0 — first major stable release of an open source, distributed, consistent key-value store for shared configuration, service discovery, and scheduler coordination.
  3. You Can’t Play 20 Questions With Nature and Win (PDF) — There is, I submit, a view of the scientific endeavor that is implicit (and sometimes explicit) in the picture I have presented above. Science advances by playing 20 questions with nature. The proper tactic is to frame a general question, hopefully binary, that can be attacked experimentally. Having settled that bits-worth, one can proceed to the next. The policy appears optimal – one never risks much, there is feedback from nature at every step, and progress is inevitable. Unfortunately, the questions never seem to be really answered, the strategy does not seem to work. An old paper, but still resonant today. (via Mind Hacks)
  4. Sequence: Automated Analyzer for Reducing 100k Messages to 10s of Patterns — induces patterns from the examples in log files.
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Four short links: 10 February 2015

Four short links: 10 February 2015

Speech Recognition, Predictive Analytic Queries, Video Chat, and Javascript UI Library

  1. The Uncanny Valley of Speech Recognition (Zach Holman) — I’m reminded of driving up US-280 in 2003 or so with @raelity, a Kiwi and a South African trying every permutation of American accent from Kentucky to Yosemite Sam in order to get TellMe to stop giving us the weather for zipcode 10000. It didn’t recognise the swearing either. (Caution: features similarly strong language.)
  2. TuPAQ: An Efficient Planner for Large-scale Predictive Analytic Queries (PDF) — an integrated PAQ [Predictive Analytic Queries] planning architecture that combines advanced model search techniques, bandit resource allocation via runtime algorithm introspection, and physical optimization via batching. The resulting system, TUPAQ, solves the PAQ planning problem with comparable accuracy to exhaustive strategies but an order of magnitude faster, and can scale to models trained on terabytes of data across hundreds of machines.
  3. p2pvc — point-to-point video chat. In an 80×25 terminal window.
  4. Sortable — nifty UI library.
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Four short links: 9 February 2015

Four short links: 9 February 2015

iBeacon at Scale, Product Teams, Progress Bars, and Distributed Fallacies

  1. The Realities of Installing iBeacon at Scale (Brooklyn Museum) — death by a thousand mundane little real-world pains.
  2. How We Build Software (Intercom) — rare to see descriptions of how to build product teams.
  3. MProgress.js — Material Design progress bars for the web.
  4. Eight Fallacies of Distributed Computing — your network is unreliable, slow, congested, insecure, changing, expensive, and inconsistent. And that’s on a good day.
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