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: 3 February 2015

Four short links: 3 February 2015

Product Trends, Writing Code, Simple Testing, and Quantum Gotchas

  1. Frog Design Predictions (Wired) — designers pick product trends, arrayed from probable to speculative.
  2. Making Wrong Code Look Wrong (Joel Spolsky) — This makes mistakes even more visible. Your eyes will learn to “see” smelly code, and this will help you find obscure security bugs just through the normal process of writing code and reading code.
  3. Simple Testing Can Prevent Most Critical FailuresWe found the majority of catastrophic failures could easily have been prevented by performing simple testing on error handling code – the last line of defense – even without an understanding of the software design. We extracted three simple rules from the bugs that have lead to some of the catastrophic failures, and developed a static [Java] checker, Aspirator, capable of locating these bugs. One of the tests is a FIXME or TODO in an exception handler.
  4. Quantum Machine Learning Algorithms: Read the Fine Print (Scott Aaronson) — In the years since HHL, quantum algorithms achieving “exponential speedups over classical algorithms” have been proposed for other major application areas […]. With each of them, one faces the problem of how to load a large amount of classical data into a quantum computer (or else compute the data “on-the-fly”), in a way that is efficient enough to preserve the quantum speedup.
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Four short links: 2 February 2015

Four short links: 2 February 2015

Weather Forecasting, Better Topic Modelling, Cyberdefense, and Facebook Warriors

  1. Global Forecast System — National Weather Service open sources its weather forecasting software. Hope you have a supercomputer and all the data to make use of it …
  2. High-reproducibility and high-accuracy method for automated topic classificationLatent Dirichlet allocation (LDA) is the state of the art in topic modeling. Here, we perform a systematic theoretical and numerical analysis that demonstrates that current optimization techniques for LDA often yield results that are not accurate in inferring the most suitable model parameters. Adapting approaches from community detection in networks, we propose a new algorithm that displays high reproducibility and high accuracy and also has high computational efficiency. We apply it to a large set of documents in the English Wikipedia and reveal its hierarchical structure.
  3. Army Open Sources Cyberdefense Codegit push is the new “for immediate release”.
  4. British Army Creates Team of Facebook Warriors (The Guardian) — no matter how much I know the arguments for it, it still feels vile.
Comment: 1
Four short links: 30 January 2015

Four short links: 30 January 2015

FAA Rules, Sports UAVs, Woodcut Data, and Concurrent Programming

  1. FAA to Regulate UAVs? (Forbes) — and the Executive Order will segment the privacy issues related to drones into two categories — public and private. For public drones (that is, drones purchased with federal dollars), the President’s order will establish a series of privacy and transparency guidelines. See also How ESPN is Shooting the X Games with Drones (Popular Mechanics)—it’s all fun and games until someone puts out their eye with a quadrocopter. The tough part will be keeping within the tight restrictions the FAA gave them. Because drones can’t be flown above a crowd, Calcinari says, “We basically had to build a 500-foot radius around them, where the public can’t go.” The drones will fly over sections of the course that are away from the crowds, where only ESPN production employees will be. That rule is part of why we haven’t seen drones at college football games.
  2. Milestones for SaaS Companies“Getting from $0-1m is impossible. Getting from $1-10m is unlikely. And getting from $10-100m is inevitable.” —Jason Lemkin, ex-CEO of Echosign. The article proposes some significant milestones, and they ring true. Making money is generally hard. The nature of the hard changes with the amount of money you have and the amount you’re trying to make, but if it were easy, then we’d structure our society on something else.
  3. Woodcut Data VisualisationRecently, I learned how to operate a laser cutter. It’s been a whole lot of fun, and I wanted to share my experiences creating woodcut data visualizations using just D3. I love it when data visualisations break out of the glass rectangle.
  4. Why is Concurrent Programming Hard?on the one hand there is not a single concurrency abstraction that fits all problems, and on the other hand the various different abstractions are rarely designed to be used in combination with each other. We are due for a revolution in programming, something to help us make sense of the modern systems made of more moving parts than our feeble grey matter can model and intuit about.
Comment: 1
Four short links: 29 January 2015

Four short links: 29 January 2015

Security Videos, Network Simulation, UX Book, and Profit in Perspective

  1. ShmooCon 2015 Videos — videos to security talks from ShmooCon 2015.
  2. Comcast (Github) — Comcast is a tool designed to simulate common network problems like latency, bandwidth restrictions, and dropped/reordered/corrupted packets. On BSD-derived systems such as OSX, we use tools like ipfw and pfctl to inject failure. On Linux, we use iptables and tc. Comcast is merely a thin wrapper around these controls.
  3. The UX ReaderThis ebook is a collection of the most popular articles from our [MailChimp] UX Newsletter, along with some exclusive content.
  4. Bad AssumptionsApple lost more money to currency fluctuations than Google makes in a quarter.
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Four short links: 28 January 2015

Four short links: 28 January 2015

Note and Vote, Gaming Behaviour, Code Search, and Immutabilate All The Things

  1. Note and Vote (Google Ventures) — nifty meeting hack to surface ideas and identify popular candidates to a decision maker.
  2. Applying Psychology to Improve Online Behaviour — online game runs massive experiments (w/researchers to validate findings) to improve the behaviour of their players. Some of Riot’s experiments are causing the game to evolve. For example, one product is a restricted chat mode that limits the number of messages abusive players can type per match. It’s a temporary punishment that has led to a noticeable improvement in player behavior afterward —on average, individuals who went through a period of restricted chat saw 20 percent fewer abuse reports filed by other players. The restricted chat approach also proved 4 percent more effective at improving player behavior than the usual punishment method of temporarily banning toxic players. Even the smallest improvements in player behavior can make a huge difference in an online game that attracts 67 million players every month.
  3. Hound — open source code search tool from Etsy.
  4. Immutability Changes Everything (PDF) — This paper is simply an amuse-bouche on the repeated patterns of computing that leverage immutability.
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Four short links: 27 January 2015

Four short links: 27 January 2015

Autonomous Corporations, Abstract Thought, Down Rounds, and Distributed Messaging

  1. Decentralised Autonomous Corporations — Charlie Stross’s near-future fiction of Accelerando comes closer to reality: Malice – revenge for waking him up – sharpens Manfred’s voice. “The president of agalmic.holdings.root.184.97.AB5 is agalmic.holdings.root.184.97.201. The secretary is agalmic.holdings.root.184.D5, and the chair is agalmic.holdings.root.184.E8.FF. All the shares are owned by those companies in equal measure, and I can tell you that their regulations are written in Python. Have a nice day, now!” He thumps the bedside phone control and sits up, yawning, then pushes the do-not-disturb button before it can interrupt again. After a moment he stands up and stretches, then heads to the bathroom to brush his teeth, comb his hair, and figure out where the lawsuit originated and how a human being managed to get far enough through his web of robot companies to bug him.
  2. Coding is Not the New Literacy (Chris Grainger) — We build mental models of everything – from how to tie our shoes to the way macro-economic systems work. With these, we make decisions, predictions, and understand our experiences. If we want computers to be able to compute for us, then we have to accurately extract these models from our heads and record them. Writing Python isn’t the fundamental skill we need to teach people. Modeling systems is. Amen!
  3. Let’s Stop Laughing at Groupon (Fortune) — it is much easier to survive a valuation decline as a public company than as a private one.
  4. nsq — Bitly’s open sourced realtime distributed messaging platform.
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Four short links: 26 January 2015

Four short links: 26 January 2015

Coding in VR, Git Workflows, Programming as Bookkeeping, and Valuing People

  1. How Might We Code in VR? — caught my eye because I’m looking for ideas on how to think about interaction design in the holoculus world.
  2. Git Workflows for Pros — non-developers don’t understand how important this is to productivity.
  3. All Programming is Bookkeeping — approach programming as a bookkeeping problem: checks and balances.
  4. Why I Am Not a Maker (Deb Chachra) — The problem is the idea that the alternative to making is usually not doing nothing — it’s almost always doing things for and with other people, from the barista to the Facebook community moderator to the social worker to the surgeon. Describing oneself as a maker — regardless of what one actually or mostly does — is a way of accruing to oneself the gendered, capitalist benefits of being a person who makes products.
Comments: 2
Four short links: 23 January 2015

Four short links: 23 January 2015

Investment Themes, Python Web Mining, Code Review, and Sexist Brilliance

  1. 16 Andreessen-Horowitz Investment Areas — I’m struck by how they’re connected: there’s a cluster around cloud development, there are two maybe three on sensors …
  2. Patterna web mining module for the Python programming language. It has tools for data mining (Google, Twitter and Wikipedia API, a web crawler, a HTML DOM parser), natural language processing (part-of-speech taggers, n-gram search, sentiment analysis, WordNet), machine learning (vector space model, clustering, SVM), network analysis and <canvas> visualization.
  3. Code Review — FogCreek’s code review checklist.
  4. Expectations of Brilliance Underlie Gender Distributions Across Academic Disciplines (Science) — Surveys revealed that some fields are believed to require attributes such as brilliance and genius, whereas other fields are believed to require more empathy or hard work. In fields where people thought that raw talent was required, academic departments had lower percentages of women. (via WaPo)
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Four short links: 22 January 2015

Four short links: 22 January 2015

MSVR, The Facebook, Social Robots, and Testing Microservices

  1. Microsoft HoloLens Goggles (Wired) — a media release about the next thing from the person behind Kinect. I’m still trying to figure out (as are investors, I’m sure) where in the hype curve this Googles/AR/etc. amalgam lives. Is it only a tech proof-of-concept? Is it a games device like Kinect? Is it good and cheap enough for industrial apps? Or is this the long-awaited climb out of irrelevance for Virtual Reality?
  2. The Facebook (YouTube) — brilliant fake 1995 ad for The Facebook. Excuse me, I’m off to cleanse.
  3. Natural Language in Social Robotics (Robohub) — Natural language interfaces are turning into a de-facto interface convention. Just like the GUI overlapped and largely replaced the command line, NLP is now being used by robots, the Internet of things, wearables, and especially conversational systems like Apple’s Siri, Google’s Now, Microsoft’s Cortana, Nuance’s Nina, Amazon’s Echo and others. These interfaces are designed to simplify, speed up, and improve task completion. Natural language interaction with robots, if anything, is an interface. It’s a form of UX that requires design.
  4. Microservices and Testing (Martin Fowler) — testing across component boundaries, in the face of failing data stores and HTTP timeouts. The first discussion of testing in a web-scale world that I’ve seen from The Mainstream.
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Four short links: 21 January 2015

Four short links: 21 January 2015

Mousey PC, Sad G+, Medium Data, and Upgraded DARPA Contest Robot

  1. PC in a Mouse — 80s = PC in a keyboard. 90s = PC in a box. 2000s = PC in the screen. 2015 we get PC in a mouse. By 2020 will circuitry be inline in the cable or connector?
  2. Estimating G+ Usage (BoingBoing) — of 2.2B profiles, 6.6M have made new public posts in 2015. Yeesh.
  3. Medium Data — too big for one machine, but barely worth the overhead of high-volume data processing.
  4. New Hardware for the DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals (IEEE) — in the future, we’ll all have a 3.7 kwh battery and a wireless router in our heads.
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