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 March 2014

Four short links: 20 March 2014

Smart Objects, Crypto Course, Culture Design, and Security v Usability

  1. Smart Interaction Lab — some interesting prototyping work designing for smart objects.
  2. Crypto 101 — self-directory crypto instruction. (via BoingBoing)
  3. Chipotle Culture — interesting piece on Chipotle’s approach to building positive feedback loops around training. Reminded me of Ben Horowitz’s “Why You Should Train Your People”.
  4. Keybase.io Writeup (Tim Bray) — Tim’s right, that removing the centralised attack point creates a usability problem. Systems that are hardest to attack are also the ones that are hardest for Normal People to use. (Can I coin this as the Torkington Conjecture, with the corollary that sufficiently stupid users are indistinguishable from intelligent attackers?)
Comment |
Four short links: 19 March 2014

Four short links: 19 March 2014

Legal Automata, Invasive Valley, Feature Creep, and Device Market Share

  1. The Transformation of the Workplace Through Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, and Automation — fascinating legal questions about the rise of the automated workforce. . Is an employer required to bargain if it wishes to acquire robots to do work previously performed by unionized employees working under a collective bargaining agreement? does the collective bargaining agreement control the use of robots to perform this work? A unionized employer seeking to add robots to its business process must consider these questions. (via Robotenomics)
  2. The Invasive Valley of Personalization (Maria Anderson) — there is a fine line between useful personalization and creepy personalization. It reminded me of the “uncanny valley” in human robotics. So I plotted the same kind of curves on two axes: Access to Data as the horizontal axis, and Perceived Helpfulness on the vertical axis. For technology to get vast access to data AND make it past the invasive valley, it would have to be perceived as very high on the perceived helpfulness scale.
  3. Coffee and Feature Creep — fantastic story of how a chat system became a bank. (via BoingBoing)
  4. The Rise and Fall of PCs — use this slide of market share over time by device whenever you need to talk about the “post-PC age”. (via dataisugly subreddit)
Comment |
Four short links: 18 March 2014

Four short links: 18 March 2014

On Managers, Human Data, Driverless Cars, and Bad Business

  1. On Managers (Mike Migurski) — Managers might be difficult, hostile, or useless, but because they are parts of an explicit power structure they can be evaluated explicitly.
  2. Big Data: Humans Required (Sherri Hammons) — the heart of the problem with data: interpretation. Data by itself is of little value. It is only when it is interpreted and understood that it begins to become information. GovTech recently wrote an article outlining why search engines will not likely replace actual people in the near future. If it were merely a question of pointing technology at the problem, we could all go home and wait for the Answer to Everything. But, data doesn’t happen that way. Data is very much like a computer: it will do just as it’s told. No more, no less. A human is required to really understand what data makes sense and what doesn’t. (via Anne Zelenka)
  3. Morgan Stanley on the Economic Benefits of Driverless CarsThe total savings of over $5.6 trillion annually are not envisioned until a couple of decades as Morgan Stanley see four phases of adoption of self-driving vehicles. Phase 1 is already underway, Phase 2 will be semi-autonomous, Phase 3 will be within 5 to 10 years, by which time we will see fully self-driving vehicles on the roads – but not widespread usage. The authors say Phase 4, which will have the biggest impact, is when 100% of all vehicles on the roads will be fully autonomous, they say this may take a couple of decades.
  4. Worse (Marco Arment) — I’ve been sitting on this but can’t fault it. In the last few years, Google, Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Twitter have all made huge attempts to move into major parts of each others’ businesses, usually at the detriment of their customers or users.
Comment |
Four short links: 17 March 2014

Four short links: 17 March 2014

Wireframe Quiz, Business Values, Mobile Dev, and the Bad Guy Mindset

  1. De-Design the Web — quiz, can you recognise common websites from just their wireframes? For the non-designer (like myself) it’s a potent reminder of the power of design. Design’s front of mind as we chew on the Internet of Affordances. (via USvsTHEM)
  2. Words I Hold Dear (Slideshare) — short but effective presentation on values in business. If you are confident that you can bear responsibility, and will not do anything immoral, illegal, or unethical, then it is not too hard to choose the path that promises the most adventure.
  3. Android Development for iOS Devs — in case you had forgotten that developing for multiple mobile platforms is like a case of fire-breathing butt warts. (not good)
  4. The World Through the Eyes of Hackers (PDF) — I’ve long thought that the real problem is that schools trains subordinates to meet expectations and think like a Nice Person, but defence is only possible when you know how to break expectations and think like a Bad Guy.
Comment: 1 |
Four short links: 14 March 2014

Four short links: 14 March 2014

Facebook Criticism, New Games, Face Recognition, and Public Uber

  1. The Facebook experiment has failed. Let’s go backFacebook gets worse the more you use it. The innovation within Facebook happens within a framework that’s taken as given. This essay questions that frame, well.
  2. Meet the People Making New Games for Old Hardware“We’re all fighting for the same goal,” Cobb says. “There’s something artistic, and disciplined, about creating games for machines with limited hardware. You can’t pass off bloat as content, and you can’t drop in a licensed album in place of a hand-crafted digital soundtrack. To make something great you have to work hard, and straight from the heart. That’s what a lot of gamers still wish to see. And we’re happy to provide it for them.”
  3. DeepFace: Closing the Gap to Human-Level Performance in Face Verification — Facebook research into using deep neural networks for face recognition. Our method reaches an accuracy of 97.25% on the Labeled Faces in the Wild (LFW) dataset, reducing the error of the current state of the art by more than 25%, closely approaching human-level performance. “The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads.” —Jeff Hammerbacher.
  4. Helsinki Does Uber for BusesHelsinki’s Kutsuplus lets you select your pick-up and drop-off locations and times, using a phone app, and then sends out a bus to take you exactly where you need to go.
Comment |
Four short links: 13 March 2014

Four short links: 13 March 2014

Parallel Programming, Malignant Computation, Politicised GDS, and Data Stream Toolkit

  1. Is Parallel Programming Hard? And, If So, What Can You Do About It? — book by Paul E. McKenney, on single-machine multi-CPU parallel programming.
  2. Malignant ComputationThe bitcoin mining network would work just as well if it had far less computation devoted to it. Bitcoins would be mined at exactly the same rate if 1/2 or 1/4 of the computational resources were devoted. This means that bitcoin has incentivized a tremendous amount of computational busy work.
  3. GDS Becomes Political (Computer Weekly) — She [Opposition MP] said that digital should not be about imposing a way of working on the public sector – Labour is not fond of the “digital by default” mantra – but about supporting public service delivery. [...] “When this government decided upon the digitalisation of this [online job search] service they apparently did not take into account those with poor literacy skills, mental health issues or learning difficulties – who, as most people would have predicted, make up a higher-than-average proportion of the unemployed.”
  4. streamtools (Github) — a graphical toolkit for dealing with streams of data. Streamtools makes it easy to explore, analyse, modify and learn from streams of data. (via OpenNews)
Comment |
Four short links: 12 March 2014

Four short links: 12 March 2014

Web Past, Web Future, Automated Jerkholism, and Science Education

  1. High Volume Web Sites — Tim Berners-Lee answers my question on provisioning a popular web server in 1993. The info.cern.ch server which has the Subject Catalogue gets probably a relatively high usage, about 10k requests a day, or (thinks…) one every 9 seconds. the CPU load is negligible. In fact of course the peak rate is higher, but still its not really a factor. That was when the server forked a subprocess for each request, too. See also one of my early contributions to the nascent field of web operations (language alert).
  2. Tim Berners-Lee Calls For Web Magna Carta (Guardian) — Unless we have an open, neutral internet we can rely on without worrying about what’s happening at the back door, we can’t have open government, good democracy, good healthcare, connected communities and diversity of culture. It’s not naive to think we can have that, but it is naive to think we can just sit back and get it.
  3. BroAppAutomatically message your girlfriend sweet things so you can spend more time with the Bros. Reminds me of the Electric Monk in Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. The monk notices that humans have machines to watch TV for them. Now we have machines to be shitty boyfriends for us. (via Beta Knowledge)
  4. World Science U — quick answers, short courses, long MOOCs. I wonder how you’d know whether this was effective at increasing scientific literacy, and therefore whether it’d be worth doing for computational thought or programming.
Comment: 1 |

The Story I’ll Tell at the Web’s 25th Birthday Party

I’ve known the Web a long time. We go way back. Past Web 2.0 and Ajax, past DHTML, past tables, past cgi.pl, past Plexus, back to HTTP/0.9 and the NCSA daemon and the line mode client. Back then we didn’t have megabytes of Javascript loading for each page, no templated framework generators building our CSS from…
Read Full Post | Comment |
Four short links: 11 March 2014

Four short links: 11 March 2014

Game Analysis, Brave New (Disney)World, Internet of Deadly Things, and Engagement vs Sharing

  1. In-Game Graph Analysis (The Economist) — one MLB team has bought a Cray Ulrika graph-processing appliance for in-game analysis of data. Please hold, boggling. (via Courtney Nash)
  2. Disney Bets $1B on Technology (BusinessWeek) — MyMagic+ promises far more radical change. It’s a sweeping reservation and ride planning system that allows for bookings months in advance on a website or smartphone app. Bracelets called MagicBands, which link electronically to an encrypted database of visitor information, serve as admission tickets, hotel keys, and credit or debit cards; a tap against a sensor pays for food or trinkets. The bands have radio frequency identification (RFID) chips—which critics derisively call spychips because of their ability to monitor people and things. (via Jim Stogdill)
  3. Stupid Smart Stuff (Don Norman) — In the airplane, the pilots are not attending, but when trouble does arise, the extremely well-trained pilots have several minutes to respond. In the automobile, when trouble arises, the ill-trained drivers will have one or two seconds to respond. Automobile designers – and law makers – have ignored this information.
  4. What You Think You Know About the Web Is WrongChartbeat looked at deep user behavior across 2 billion visits across the web over the course of a month and found that most people who click don’t read. In fact, a stunning 55% spent fewer than 15 seconds actively on a page. The stats get a little better if you filter purely for article pages, but even then one in every three visitors spend less than 15 seconds reading articles they land on. The entire article makes some powerful points about the difference between what’s engaged with and what’s shared. Articles that were clicked on and engaged with tended to be actual news. In August, the best performers were Obamacare, Edward Snowden, Syria and George Zimmerman, while in January the debates around Woody Allen and Richard Sherman dominated. The most clicked on but least deeply engaged-with articles had topics that were more generic. In August, the worst performers included Top, Best, Biggest, Fictional etc while in January the worst performers included Hairstyles, Positions, Nude and, for some reason, Virginia. That’s data for you.
Comment |
Four short links: 10 March 2014

Four short links: 10 March 2014

Wolfram Language, Historic Innovation, SF Culture Wars, and Privacy's Death

  1. Wolfram Language — a broad attempt to integrate types, operations, and databases along with deployment, parallelism, and real-time I/O. The demo video is impressive, not just in execution but in ambition. Healthy skepticism still necessary.
  2. Maury, Innovation, and Change (Cory Ondrejka) — amazing historical story of open data, analysis, visualisation, and change. In the mid-1800’s, over the course of 15 years, a disabled Lieutenant changed the US Navy and the world. He did it by finding space to maneuver (as a trouble maker exiled to the Navy Depot), demonstrating value with his early publications, and creating a massive network effect by establishing the Naval Observatory as the clearing house for Navigational data. 150 years before Web 2.0, he built a valuable service around common APIs and aggregated data by distributing it freely to the people who needed it.
  3. Commuter Shuttle and 21-Hayes EB Bus Stop Observations (Vimeo) — timelapse of 6:15AM to 9:15AM at an SF bus stop Worth watching if you’re outside SF and wondering what they’re talking about when the locals rage against SF becoming a bedroom community for Valley workers.
  4. A Day of Speaking Truth to Power (Quinn Norton) — It was a room that had written off privacy as an archaic structure. I tried to push back, not only by pointing out this was the opening days of networked life, and so custom hadn’t caught up yet, but also by recommending danah boyd’s new book It’s Complicated repeatedly. To claim “people trade privacy for free email therefore privacy is dead” is like 1800s sweatshop owners claiming “people trade long hours in unpleasant conditions for miserable pay therefore human rights are dead”. Report of privacy’s death are greatly exaggerated.
Comment |