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: 13 January 2016

Four short links: 13 January 2016

Object Lessons, Data Programming, Generational Adoption, and Product Observations

  1. Object Lessons — Bogost and Schaberg edit a series about the hidden lives of ordinary things, from advocates to attendants, heresies to shares. For anyone who cares about products.
  2. A Data Programming CS1 Course (PDF) — We have found that students can be motivated to learn programming and computer science concepts in order to analyze DNA, predict the outcome of elections, detect fraudulent data, suggest friends in a social network, determine the authorship of documents, and more. The approach is more than just a collection of “nifty assignments”; rather, it affects the choice of topics and pedagogy.
  3. Cars and the Future (Ben Thompson) — This generational pattern of adoption will, in the history books, look sudden, even as it seems to unfold ever so slowly for those of us in the here and now — especially those of us working in technology. The pace of change in the technology industry — which is young, hugely driven by Moore’s Law, and which has largely catered to change-embracing geeks — is likely the true aberration. After all, the biggest mistake consistently made by technologists is forgetting that for most people technology is a means to an end, and for all the benefits we can list when it comes to over-the-top video or a network of on-demand self-driving vehicles, change and the abandonment of long-held ideals like the open road and a bit of TV after supper is an end most would prefer to avoid.
  4. CES 2016 Observations for Product PeopleThe big challenge is no surprise. Software development is unable to keep up with the hardware. What is going to separate one device from another or one company from another will be the software execution, not just the choice of chipset or specs for a peripheral/sensor. It would be hard to overstate the clear opportunity to build winning products using stronger software relative to competitors. Said another way, spending too many cycles on hardware pits you against the supply chain for most products. The whole piece is solid.
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Four short links: 12 January 2016

Four short links: 12 January 2016

Civilian Drone Market, Things Learned, Playful Things, and Bottom-up CS

  1. Overview of the Civilian Drone Market (DIY Drones) — Six categories: toy quadcopters; FPV/racing; consumer camera drones; prosumer camera drones; consumers, industrial, agricultural, NGO and Research drones; winged and VTOL drones.
  2. 52 Things I Learned in 2015 — very high strike rate of “interesting!”
  3. How to Turn Complicated Things into Playful Things (Tom Whitwell) — Children are the apex players, at the top of the hierarchy. Only when they’re absent will adults play. […] You know when play is working, because the room gets noisy.
  4. Bottom Up Computer ScienceA free, online book designed to teach computer science from the bottom end up. Topics covered include binary and binary logic, operating systems internals, toolchain fundamentals, and system library fundamentals.
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Four short links: 11 January 2016

Four short links: 11 January 2016

Productivity Mystery, Detecting Bullshit, Updating Cars, and Accountable Algorithms

  1. Why Americans Can’t Stop Working (The Atlantic) — summary of a paywalled economics paper on the mystery of increasing productivity yet increasing length of the work week. (via BoingBoing)
  2. On the Reception and Detection of Pseudo-Profound Bullshit (PDF) — These results support the idea that some people are more receptive to this type of bullshit and that detecting it is not merely a matter of indiscriminate skepticism but rather a discernment of deceptive vagueness in otherwise impressive sounding claims. (via Rowan Crawford)
  3. Tesla Model S Can Now Drive Without You (TechCrunch) — the upside of the Internet of Things is that objects get smarter while you sleep. (In fairness, they can also be pwned by Ukrainian teenagers while you sleep.)
  4. Replacing Judgement with Algorithms (Bruce Schneier) — We can get the benefits of automatic algorithmic systems while avoiding the dangers. It’s not even hard. Transparency and oversight with accountability.
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Four short links: 8 January 2016

Four short links: 8 January 2016

Modern C, Colorizing Photos, Flashing Toy Drones, and Web + Native

  1. How to C in 2016 — straightforward recommendations for writing C if you have to.
  2. Using Deep Learning to Colorize Old Photos — comes with a trained TensorFlow model to play with.
  3. Open Source Firmware for Toy DronesThe Eachine H8 is a typical-looking mini-quadcopter of the kind that sell for under $20.[…] takes you through a step-by-step guide to re-flashing the device with a custom firmware to enable acrobatics, or simply to tweak the throttle-to-engine-speed mapping for the quad. (via DIY Drones)
  4. Mobile Web vs. Native Apps or Why You Want Both (Luke Wroblewski) — The Web is for audience reach and native apps are for rich experiences. Both are strategic. Both are valuable. So when it comes to mobile, it’s not Web vs. Native. It’s both. The graphs are impressive.
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Four short links: 7 January 2016

Four short links: 7 January 2016

Holocaust Testimony Preservation, SLOTH, Body Modding, and Blockchain Monoculture

  1. Interact: A Mixed Reality Virtual Survivor for Holocaust Testimonies — description of how Nottingham researchers are building a virtual experience to recreate conversation with Holocaust survivors. This has great possibility for preservation of testimony.
  2. SLOTHweak hash functions continue to be used in various cryptographic constructions within mainstream protocols such as TLS, IKE, and SSH, because practitioners argue that their use in these protocols relies only on second preimage resistance, and hence is unaffected by collisions. We systematically investigate and debunk this argument.
  3. DFW Home of Body ModdingDallas is at the center of two movements that are each trying to bring implants to the mainstream. Tattoo artists and technophiles head one, and well-heeled university neurologists and medical device engineers form the vanguard of the other.
  4. On the Dangers of a Blockchain MonocultureWould you use a database with these features? Uses approximately the same amount of electricity as could power an average American household for a day per transaction; Supports 3 transactions / second across a global network with millions of CPUs/purpose-built ASICs; Takes over 10 minutes to “commit” a transaction; […]
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Four short links: 6 January 2016

Four short links: 6 January 2016

Spherical Projection, Sterling's Future, GNU Radio, and End-to-End Design

  1. Science on a Sphere — for when you want to see global data visualised without 2-D projection distortion.
  2. Lebowsky and Sterling’s 2016 State of the WorldThese physical barriers will suffer the “Fukushima effect:” the dikes you built to resist the tsunami only hold those catastrophic waters in, once the almighty wave comes over the top. Also, the industrial complex you are trying to protect from natural disaster becomes the source of a secondary, artificial disaster. (via BoingBoing)
  3. GNU Radio Tools for Radio Wrangling/Spectrum Domination (YouTube) — DEFCON talk.
  4. End-to-End Arguments in System Design (PDF) — End-to-end arguments are a kind of “Occam’s razor” when it comes to choosing the functions to be provided in a communication subsystem. Because the communication subsystem is frequently specified before applications that use the subsystem are known, the designer may be tempted to “help” the users by taking on more function than necessary. Awareness of end-to-end arguments can help to reduce such temptations.
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Four short links: 5 January 2016

Four short links: 5 January 2016

Inference with Privacy, RethinkDB Reliability, T-Mobile Choking Video, and Real-Time Streams

  1. Privacy-Preserving Inference of Social Relationships from Location Data (PDF) — utilizes an untrusted server and computes the building blocks to support various social relationship studies, without disclosing location information to the server and other untrusted parties. (via CCC Blog)
  2. Jepson takes on Rethink — the glowingest review I’ve seen from Aphyr. As far as I can ascertain, RethinkDB’s safety claims are accurate.
  3. T-Mobile’s BingeOn `Optimization’ Is Just Throttling (EFF) — T-Mobile has claimed that this practice isn’t really “throttling,” but we disagree. It’s clearly not “optimization,” since T-Mobile doesn’t alter the actual content of the video streams in any way.
  4. qminer — BSD-licensed data analytics platform for processing large-scale, real-time streams containing structured and unstructured data.
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Four short links: 4 January 2016

Four short links: 4 January 2016

How to Hire, Real World Distributed Systems, 3D-Printed Ceramics, and Approximate Spreadsheets

  1. How to Hire (Henry Ward) — this isn’t holy writ for everyone, but the clear way in which he lays out how he thinks about hiring should be a model to all managers, even those who disagree with his specific recommendations.
  2. From the Ground Up: Reasoning About Distributed Systems in the Real World (Tyler Treat) — When we try to provide semantics like guaranteed, exactly-once, and ordered message delivery, we usually end up with something that’s over-engineered, difficult to deploy and operate, fragile, and slow. What is the upside to all of this? Something that makes your life easier as a developer when things go perfectly well, but the reality is things don’t go perfectly well most of the time. Instead, you end up getting paged at 1 a.m. trying to figure out why RabbitMQ told your monitoring everything is awesome while proceeding to take a dump in your front yard. An approachable argument for shifting some consistency checks to application layer so the infrastructure can be simpler.
  3. 3D Printed Ceramics to 1700°C (Ars Technica) — The key step used in the new work is to replace the standard polymers used to create ceramics with a chemical that polymerizes when exposed to UV light. (These can have a variety of chemistries; the authors list thiol, vinyl, acrylate, methacrylate, and epoxy groups.) This means they’re able to be polymerized using a fairly standard 3D printer setup. In fact, the paper lists the model number of the version the authors bought from a different company.
  4. Guesstimatespreadsheet for things that aren’t certain.
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Four short links: 1 January 2016

Four short links: 1 January 2016

Caffeine, Matt Webb, Human Robots, and Bloated Websites

  1. Is Caffeine a Cognitive Enhancer? (PDF) — Two general mechanisms may account for most of the observed effects of caffeine on performance: (1) an indirect, non-specific ‘arousal’ or ‘processing resources’ factor, presumably explaining why the effects of caffeine are generally most pronounced when task performance is sustained or degraded under suboptimal conditions; and (2) a more direct and specific ‘perceptual-motor’ speed or efficiency factor that may explain why, under optimal conditions, some aspects of human performance and information processing, in particular those related to sensation, perception, motor preparation, and execution, are more sensitive to caffeine effects than those related to cognition, memory, and learning. See also Smith 2005‘s caffeine led to a more positive mood and improved performance on a number of tasks. Different effects of caffeine were seen depending on the person’s level of arousal. Linear effects of caffeine dose were also observed. This is evidence against the argument that behavioral changes due to caffeine are merely the reversal of negative effects of a long period of caffeine abstinence. (via cogsci.stackexchange.com)
  2. On Stars and Thinking Things Through (Courtney Johnston) — Matt (to my eyes, anyway) doesn’t have a singular ‘thing’: he has this kind of spangly web of interests and skills that coalesces around a line of enquiry and results in the making or doing of a thing, and these things in turn become part of that web and generate further experiments and thinking. Seconded.
  3. Human-like Robot — and just like a real woman, the first paragraphs about the robot focus on soft skin and flowing brunette hair not how well she does her job. Progress!
  4. Website Obesity (Maciej Ceglowski) — The javascript alone in “Leeds Hospital Bosses Apologise after Curry and Crumble On The Same Plate” is longer than /Remembrance of Things Past/.
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Four short links: 31 December 2015

Four short links: 31 December 2015

Reverse Engineering Playground, Feeding Graph Databases, Lessig, and Fantasies of Immortality

  1. crackmes.de — practice playground for reverse engineering and breaking protections.
  2. Feeding Graph Databases — exploring using logging systems to feed graph databases.
  3. Lessig Interview (WSJ) — the slogan says regulation should be more technology neutral. I am not sure I ever heard a more idiotic statement in my life. There is no neutrality here, just different modes. … I don’t what think the law should say here is what services can do and not do, because the technology is so (fast-changing) the law could never catch up. But that what (we want) to avoid are certain kinds of business models, a prison of bits, where services leverage control over access to content and profit from that control over content.
  4. Bubble-Driven PseudoscienceIn terms of life extension, here are the real opportunities: closing the gap between black and white patients, lowering the infant mortality rate, and making sure the very poorest among us have access to adequate care. You can make sure that many people live longer, right now! But none of this is quite as sexy as living forever, even though it’s got a greater payoff for the nation as a whole. So instead of investing in these areas, you’ve got a bunch of old white men who are afraid to die trying to figure out cryonics.
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