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: 29 April 2015

Four short links: 29 April 2015

Deceptive Visualisation, Small Robots, Managing Secrets, and Large Time Series

  1. Disinformation Visualisation: How to Lie with DatavisWe don’t spread visual lies by presenting false data. That would be lying. We lie by misrepresenting the data to tell the very specific story we’re interested in telling. If this is making you slightly uncomfortable, that’s a good thing; it should. If you’re concerned about adopting this new and scary habit, well, don’t worry; it’s not new. Just open your CV to be reminded you’ve lied with truthful data before. This time, however, it will be explicit and visual. (via Regine Debatty)
  2. Microtugsa new type of small robot that can apply orders of magnitude more force than it weighs. This is in stark contrast to previous small robots that have become progressively better at moving and sensing, but lacked the ability to change the world through the application of human-scale loads.
  3. Vaulta tool for securely managing secrets and encrypting data in-transit.
  4. iSAX: Indexing and Mining Terabyte Sized Time Series (PDF) — Our approach allows both fast exact search and ultra-fast approximate search. We show how to exploit the combination of both types of search as sub-routines in data mining algorithms, allowing for the exact mining of truly massive real-world data sets, containing millions of time series. (via Benjamin Black)
Comment
Four short links: 28 April 2015

Four short links: 28 April 2015

Mobile Numbers, Robot Growth, Business Town, and The Modern Economy

  1. Defining Mobile (Luke Wroblewski) — numbers on size, orientation, and # of thumbs across mobile users. 94% of the time, it’s in portrait mode.
  2. PwC Manufacturing Barometer: RoboticsPlanned acquisition of robotics systems over the next two to three years was cited by a maximum of 58% -– with nearly one-third (31%) planning to acquire a moderate amount (25%) or many more robotics systems (only 6%). A larger number plan to acquire a limited number of robotics systems (27%). (via Robohub)
  3. Welcome to Business Town — delightful satire. Captain of Moonshots is my favourite.
  4. The Asshole Factory (Umair Haque) — The Great Enterprise of this age is the Asshole Industry. And that’s not just a tragedy. It is something approaching the moral equivalent of a crime. For it demolishes human potential in precisely the same way as locking up someone innocent, and throwing away the key.
Comment
Four short links: 27 April 2015

Four short links: 27 April 2015

Living Figures, Design vs Architecture, Faceted Browsing, and Byzantine Comedy

  1. ‘Living Figures’ Make Their Debut (Nature) — In July last year, neurobiologist Björn Brembs published a paper about how fruit flies walk. Nine months on, his paper looks different: another group has fed its data into the article, altering one of the figures. The update — to figure 4 — marks the debut of what the paper’s London-based publisher, Faculty of 1000 (F1000), is calling a living figure, a concept that it hopes will catch on in other articles. Brembs, at the University of Regensburg in Germany, says that three other groups have so far agreed to add their data, using software he wrote that automatically redraws the figure as new data come in.
  2. Strategies Against Architecture (Seb Chan and Aaron Straup Cope) — the story of the design of the Cooper Hewitt’s clever “pen,” which visitors to the design museum use to collect the info from their favourite exhibits. (Visit the Cooper Hewitt when you’re next in NYC; it’s magnificent.)
  3. Two Way Streetan independent explorer for The British Museum collection, letting you browse by year acquired, year created, type of object, etc. I note there are more things from a place called “Brak” than there are from USA. Facets are awesome. (via Courtney Johnston)
  4. The Saddest Moment (PDF) — “How can you make a reliable computer service?” the presenter will ask in an innocent voice before continuing, “It may be difficult if you can’t trust anything and the entire concept of happiness is a lie designed by unseen overlords of endless deceptive power.” The presenter never explicitly says that last part, but everybody understands what’s happening. Making distributed systems reliable is inherently impossible; we cling to Byzantine fault tolerance like Charlton Heston clings to his guns, hoping that a series of complex software protocols will somehow protect us from the oncoming storm of furious apes who have somehow learned how to wear pants and maliciously tamper with our network packets. Hilarious. (via Tracy Chou)
Comment
Four short links: 24 April 2015

Four short links: 24 April 2015

Jeff Jonas, Siri and Mesos, YouTube's Bandwidth Bill, and AWS Numbers

  1. Decoding Jeff Jonas (National Geographic) — “He thinks in three—no, four dimensions,” Nathan says. “He has a data warehouse in his head.” And that’s where the work takes place—in his head. Not on paper. Not on a computer. He resorts to paper only to work the details out. When asked about his thought process, Jonas reaches for words, then says: “It’s like a Rubik’s Cube. It all clicks into place. “The solution,” he says, is “simply there to find.” Jeff’s a genius and has his own language for explaining what he does. This quote goes a long way to explaining it.
  2. How Apple Uses Mesos for Siri — great to see not only some details of the tooling that Apple built, but also their acknowledgement of the open source foundations and ongoing engagement with those open source communities. There have been times in the past when Apple felt like a parasite on the commons rather than a participant.
  3. Cheaper Bandwidth or Bust: How Google Saved YouTube (ArsTechnica) — Remember YouTube’s $2 million-a-month bandwidth bill before the Google acquisition? While it wasn’t an overnight transition, apply Google’s data center expertise, and this cost drops to about $666,000 a month.
  4. AWS Business NumbersAmazon Web Services generated $5.2 billion over the past four quarters, and almost $700 million in operating income. During the first quarter of 2015, AWS sales reached $1.6 billion, up 49% year-over-year, and roughly 7% of Amazon’s overall sales.
Comments: 2
Four short links: 23 April 2015

Four short links: 23 April 2015

Medical Robots, Code Review, Go Lang, and Ambient Weather

  1. Future of Working: Real World Robotics, Medical & Health Robotics (YouTube) — interesting talk by Kiwi Foo alum, Jonathan Roberts, given to a Future of Working event. New class of tools, where the human uses them but they won’t let the human do the wrong thing. (via RoboHub)
  2. On Code Review (Glen D Sanford) — Pending code reviews represent blocked threads of execution.
  3. Four Days of Go (Evan Miller) — Reading Go’s mailing list and documentation, I get a similar sense of refusal-to-engage — the authors are communicative, to be sure, but in a didactic way. They seem tired of hearing people’s ideas, as if they’ve already thought of everything, and the relative success of Go at Google and elsewhere has only led them to turn the volume knob down. Which is a shame, because they’ll probably miss out on some good ideas (including my highly compelling, backwards-incompatible, double-triple-colon-assignment proposal mentioned above). Under this theory, more of the language choices start to make sense. There is no ternary operator because the language designers were tired of dealing with other people’s use of ternary operators. There is One True Way To Format Code — embodied in gofmt — because the designers were tired of how other people formatted their code. Rather than debate or engage, it was easier to make a new language and shove the new rules onto everyone by coupling it with Very Fast Build Times, a kind of veto-proof Defense Spending Bill in the Congress of computer programming. In this telling, the story of Go is really a tale of revenge, not just against slow builds, but against all kinds of sloppy programming.
  4. TempescopeAmbient weather display for your home. In my home, that’s a window. (via Matt Webb)
Comment
Four short links: 22 April 2015

Four short links: 22 April 2015

Perfect Security, Distributing Secrets, Stale Reads, and Digital Conversions

  1. Perfect Security (99% Invisible) — Since we lost perfect security in the 1850s, it has has remained elusive. Despite tremendous leaps forward in security technology, we have never been able to get perfect security back. History of physical security, relevant to digital security today.
  2. keywhiz a system for managing and distributing secrets. It can fit well with a service oriented architecture (SOA).
  3. Call Me Maybe: MongoDB Stale Reads — a master class in understanding modern distributed systems. Kyle’s blog is consistently some of the best technical writing around today.
  4. Users Convert to Digital Subscribers at a Rate of 1% (Julie Starr) — and other highlights of Jeff Jarvis’s new book, Geeks Bearing Gifts.
Comment
Four short links: 21 April 2015

Four short links: 21 April 2015

Chromebooks and Arduinos, 3rd Person Driving, Software Development, and Go Debugging

  1. Chromebooks and Arduino — two great edtech tastes that taste great together.
  2. 3rd Person Driving (IEEE) — A Taiwan company called SPTek has figured out a way to use an array of cameras to generate a 3-D “Around View Monitor” that can show you multiple different views of the outside of your car. Use a top-down view for tight parking spaces, a front view looking backward for highway lane changes, or a see-through rear view for pulling out into traffic. It’s not a video game; it’s the next step in safety.
  3. Lessons Learned in Software Development — omg every word of this.
  4. Cross-Platform Debugger for Gotake the source code of a target program, insert debugging code between every line, then compile and run that instead. The result is a fully-functional debugger that is extremely portable. In fact, thanks to gopherjs, you can run it right here in your browser!
Comment
Four short links: 20 April 2015

Four short links: 20 April 2015

Edtech Advice, MEMS Sensors, Security in Go, and Building Teams

  1. Ed Tech Developer’s Guide (PDF) — U.S. government’s largely reasonable advice for educational technology startups. Nonetheless, take with a healthy dose of The Audrey Test.
  2. The Crazy-Tiny Next Generation of Computers — 1 cubic millimeter-sized sensors are coming. The only sound you might hear is a prolonged groan. That’s because these computers are just one cubic millimeter in size, and once they hit the floor, they’re gone. “We just lose them,” Dutta says. “It’s worse than jewelry.”
  3. Looking for Security Trouble Spots in Go — brief summary of the known security issues in and around Go code.
  4. The New Science of Building Great Teams (Sandy Pentland) — fascinating discussion of MIT’s Human Dynamics lab’s research into how great teams function. The data also reveal, at a higher level, that successful teams share several defining characteristics: 1. Everyone on the team talks and listens in roughly equal measure, keeping contributions short and sweet. 2. Members face one another, and their conversations and gestures are energetic. 3. Members connect directly with one another—not just with the team leader. 4. Members carry on back-channel or side conversations within the team. 5. Members periodically break, go exploring outside the team, and bring information back.
Comment
Four short links: 17 April 2015

Four short links: 17 April 2015

Distributed SQLite, Communicating Scientists, Learning from Failure, and Cat Convergence

  1. Replicating SQLite using Raft Consensus — clever, he used a consensus algorithm to build a distributed (replicated) SQLite.
  2. When Open Access is the Norm, How do Scientists Communicate? (PLOS) — From interviews I’ve conducted with researchers and software developers who are modeling aspects of modern online collaboration, I’ve highlighted the most useful and reproducible practices. (via Jon Udell)
  3. Meet DJ Patil“It was this kind of moment when you realize: ‘Oh, my gosh, I am that stupid,’” he said.
  4. Interview with Bruce Sterling on the Convergence of Humans and MachinesIf you are a human being, and you are doing computation, you are trying to multiply 17 times five in your head. It feels like thinking. Machines can multiply, too. They must be thinking. They can do math and you can do math. But the math you are doing is not really what cognition is about. Cognition is about stuff like seeing, maneuvering, having wants, desires. Your cat has cognition. Cats cannot multiply 17 times five. They have got their own umwelt (environment). But they are mammalian, you are a mammalian. They are actually a class that includes you. You are much more like your house cat than you are ever going to be like Siri. You and Siri converging, you and your house cat can converge a lot more easily. You can take the imaginary technologies that many post-human enthusiasts have talked about, and you could afflict all of them on a cat. Every one of them would work on a cat. The cat is an ideal laboratory animal for all these transitions and convergences that we want to make for human beings. (via Vaughan Bell)
Comment
Four short links: 16 April 2015

Four short links: 16 April 2015

Relationships and Inference, Mother of All Demos, Kafka at Scale, and Real World Hardware

  1. DeepDiveDeepDive is targeted to help users extract relations between entities from data and make inferences about facts involving the entities. DeepDive can process structured, unstructured, clean, or noisy data and outputs the results into a database.
  2. From the Vault: Watching (and re-watching) “The Mother of All Demos”“I wish there was more about the social vision for computing—I worked with him for a long time, and Doug was always thinking ‘how can we collectively collaborate,’ like a sort of rock band.”
  3. Running Kafka at Scale (LinkedIn Engineering) — This tiered infrastructure solves many problems, but it greatly complicates monitoring Kafka and assuring its health. While a single Kafka cluster, when running normally, will not lose messages, the introduction of additional tiers, along with additional components such as mirror makers, creates myriad points of failure where messages can disappear. In addition to monitoring the Kafka clusters and their health, we needed to create a means to assure that all messages produced are present in each of the tiers, and make it to the critical consumers of that data.
  4. 3D Printing Titanium, and the Bin of Broken Dreams — you will learn HUGE amounts on the challenges of real-world manufacturing by reading this.
Comment