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: 2 July 2015

Four short links: 2 July 2015

Mathematical Thinking, Turing on Imitation Game, Retro Gaming in Javascript, and Effective Retros

  1. How Not to be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking (Amazon) — Ellenberg chases mathematical threads through a vast range of time and space, from the everyday to the cosmic, encountering, among other things, baseball, Reaganomics, daring lottery schemes, Voltaire, the replicability crisis in psychology, Italian Renaissance painting, artificial languages, the development of non-Euclidean geometry, the coming obesity apocalypse, Antonin Scalia’s views on crime and punishment, the psychology of slime molds, what Facebook can and can’t figure out about you, and the existence of God. (via Pam Fox)
  2. What Turing Himself Said About the Imitation Game (IEEE) — fascinating history. The second myth is that Turing predicted a machine would pass his test around the beginning of this century. What he actually said on the radio in 1952 was that it would be “at least 100 years” before a machine would stand any chance with (as Newman put it) “no questions barred.”
  3. Impossible Mission in Javascript — an homage to the original, and beautiful to see. I appear to have lost all my skills in playing it in the intervening 32 years.
  4. Running Effective RetrospectivesEach change to the team’s workflow is treated as a scientific experiment, whereby a hypothesis is formed, data collected, and expectations compared with actual results.
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Four short links: 1 July 2015

Four short links: 1 July 2015

Recovering from Debacle, Open IRS Data, Time Series Requirements, and Error Messages

  1. Google Dev Apologies After Photos App Tags Black People as Gorillas (Ars Technica) — this is how you recover from a unequivocally horrendous mistake.
  2. IRS Finally Agrees to Release Non-Profit Records (BoingBoing) — Today, the IRS released a statement saying they’re going to do what we’ve been hoping for, saying they are going to release e-file data and this is a “priority for the IRS.” Only took $217,000 in billable lawyer hours (pro bono, thank goodness) to get there.
  3. Time Series Database Requirements — classic paper, laying out why time-series databases are so damn weird. Their access patterns are so unique because of the way data is over-gathered and pushed ASAP to the store. It’s mostly recent, mostly never useful, and mostly needed in order. (via Thoughts on Time-Series Databases)
  4. Compiler Errors for Humans — it’s so important, and generally underbaked in languages. A decade or more ago, I was appalled by Python’s errors after Perl’s very useful messages. Today, appreciating Go’s generally handy errors. How a system handles the operational failures that will inevitably occur is part and parcel of its UX.
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Four short links: 30 June 2015

Four short links: 30 June 2015

Ductile Systems, Accessibility Testing, Load Testing, and CRAP Data

  1. Brittle SystemsMore than two decades ago at Sun, I was convinced that making systems ductile (the opposite of brittle) was the hardest and most important problem in system engineering.
  2. tota11y — accessibility testing toolkit from Khan.
  3. Locustan open source load testing tool.
  4. Impala: a Modern, Open-source SQL Engine for Hadoop (PDF) — CRAP, aka Create, Read, and APpend, as coined by an ex-colleague at VMware, Charles Fan (note the absence of update and delete capabilities). (via A Paper a Day)
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Four short links: 29 June 2015

Four short links: 29 June 2015

Surgery Lag, Clippy Lesson, Telegram Bots, and Censorship Complicity

  1. Surgery Lag Time (ComputerWorld) — doctors trialling very remote surgery (1200 miles) with a simulator, to see what naglag is acceptable. At 200 milliseconds, surgeons could not detect a lag time. From 300 to 500 milliseconds, some surgeons could detect lag time, but they were able to compensate for it by pausing their movement. But at 600 milliseconds, most surgeons became insecure about their ability to perform a procedure, Smith said.
  2. Clippy Lessons (The Atlantic) — focus groups showed women hated it, engineers threw out the data, and after it shipped … It turned out to be one of the most unpopular features ever introduced—especially among female users.
  3. Telegram’s Bot PlatformBots are simply Telegram accounts operated by software – not people – and they’ll often have AI features. They can do anything – teach, play, search, broadcast, remind, connect, integrate with other services, or even pass commands to the Internet of Things. (via Matt Webb)
  4. New Wave of US Companies in China (Quartz) — Evernote and LinkedIn let the Chinese government access data and censor results. Smith believes that LinkedIn and Evernote are setting a dangerous precedent for other internet firms eying the Middle Kingdom. “More US companies are going to decide that treating the Chinese like second class information citizens is fine,” he says.
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Four short links: 26 June 2015

Four short links: 26 June 2015

Internet of Gluten, Testing Less, Synthetic Blood, and Millibot Guns

  1. 6SensorLabs — product is a grind-your-food-for-my-sensor product that tests for the presence of gluten. Or, as celiacs call it, death.
  2. The Art of Testing Less Without Sacrificing Quality (Paper a Day) — until finally you don’t test at all and it’s perfect!
  3. Synthetic Blood Transfusions Within Two Years (Independent) — Britain’s National Health Service, boldly planning on still being around in two years.
  4. Self-Assembling Millirobotic Gauss Gun (IEEE Spectrum) — they’ll blast their way through arterial blockages.
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Four short links: 25 June 2015

Four short links: 25 June 2015

Enchanted Objects, SE Blogs, AI Plays Mario, and Google's Future of Work

  1. 16 Everyday Objects Enchanted by Technology (Business Insider) — I want a Skype cabinet between our offices at work.
  2. Software Engineering Blogs — ALL the blogs!
  3. MarI/O (YouTube) — clear explanation of how an evolutionary algorithm figures out how to play Mario.
  4. Google’s Monastic Vision for the Future of Work (New Yorker) — But it turns out that future-proofed life looks a lot like the vacuum-packed present. […] Inside, it is about turning Google into not only a lifestyle but a fully realized life. The return of the Company Town.
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Four short links: 24 June 2015

Four short links: 24 June 2015

Big Data Architecture, Leaving the UK, GPU-powered Queries, and Gongkai in the West

  1. 100 Big Data Architecture Papers (Anil Madan) — you’ll either find them fascinating essential reading … or a stellar cure for insomnia.
  2. Software Companies Leaving UK Because of Government’s Surveillance Plans (Ars Technica) — to Amsterdam, to NYC, and to TBD.
  3. MapD: Massive Throughput Database Queries with LLVM and GPUs (nvidia) — The most powerful GPU currently available is the NVIDIA Tesla K80 Accelerator, with up to 8.74 teraflops of compute performance and nearly 500 GB/sec of memory bandwidth. By supporting up to eight of these cards per server, we see orders-of-magnitude better performance on standard data analytics tasks, enabling a user to visually filter and aggregate billions of rows in tens of milliseconds, all without indexing.
  4. Why It’s Often Easier to Innovate in China than the US (Bunnie Huang) — We did some research into the legal frameworks and challenges around absorbing gongkai IP into the Western ecosystem, and we believe we’ve found a path to repatriate some of the IP from gongkai into proper open source.
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Four short links: 23 June 2015

Four short links: 23 June 2015

Irregular Periodicity, Facebook Beacons, Industry 4.0, and Universal Container

  1. Fast Lomb-Scargle Periodograms in Pythona classic method for finding periodicity in irregularly-sampled data.
  2. Facebook Bluetooth Beacons — free for you to use and help people see more information about your business whenever they use Facebook during their visit.
  3. Industry 4.0 — stop gagging at the term. Interesting examples of connectivity and data improving manufacturing. Human-machine interfaces: Logistics company Knapp AG developed a picking technology using augmented reality. Pickers wear a headset that presents vital information on a see-through display, helping them locate items more quickly and precisely. And with both hands free, they can build stronger and more efficient pallets, with fragile items safeguarded. An integrated camera captures serial and lot ID numbers for real-time stock tracking. Error rates are down by 40%, among many other benefits. Digital-to-physical transfer: Local Motors builds cars almost entirely through 3-D printing, with a design crowdsourced from an online community. It can build a new model from scratch in a year, far less than the industry average of six. Vauxhall and GM, among others, still bend a lot of metal, but also use 3-D printing and rapid prototyping to minimize their time to market. (via Quartz)
  4. runCa lightweight universal runtime container, by the Open Container Project. (OCP = multi-vendor initiative in hands of Linux Foundation)
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Four short links: 22 June 2015

Four short links: 22 June 2015

Power Analysis, Data at Scale, Open Source Fail, and Closing the Virtuous Loop

  1. Power Analysis of a Typical Psychology Experiment (Tom Stafford) — What this means is that if you don’t have a large effect, studies with between groups analysis and an n of less than 60 aren’t worth running. Even if you are studying a real phenomenon you aren’t using a statistical lens with enough sensitivity to be able to tell. You’ll get to the end and won’t know if the phenomenon you are looking for isn’t real or if you just got unlucky with who you tested.
  2. The Future of Data at ScaleData curation, on the other hand, is “the 800-pound gorilla in the corner,” says Stonebraker. “You can solve your volume problem with money. You can solve your velocity problem with money. Curation is just plain hard.” The traditional solution of extract, transform, and load (ETL) works for 10, 20, or 30 data sources, he says, but it doesn’t work for 500. To curate data at scale, you need automation and a human domain expert.
  3. Why Are We Still Explaining? (Stephen Walli) — Within 24 hours we received our first righteous patch. A simple 15-line change that provided a 10% boost in Just-in-Time compiler performance. And we politely thanked the contributor and explained we weren’t accepting changes yet. Another 24 hours and we received the first solid bug fix. It was golden. It included additional tests for the test suite to prove it was fixed. And we politely thanked the contributor and explained we weren’t accepting changes yet. And that was the last thing that was ever contributed.
  4. Blood Donors in Sweden Get a Text Message When Their Blood Helps Someone (Independent) — great idea to close the feedback loop. If you want to get more virtuous behaviour, make it a relationship and not a transaction. And if a warm feeling is all you have to offer in return, then offer it!
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Four short links: 19 June 2015

Four short links: 19 June 2015

Computational Journalism, Bio Startups & Patents, Ad Blocker Wars, and The Night Watch

  1. Computational Journalism — Google awards to projects around computational journalism. Sample: The goal of the project is to automatically build topic “event threads” that will help journalists and citizens decode claims made by public figures, in order to distinguish between personal opinion, communication tools, and voluntary distortions of the reality.
  2. Editing the Software of Life — research yielding the ability to edit DNA has spawned a new set of biotech startups, and a patent morass. Zhang already holds the first of several vital and broad patents covering cas9 genome editing. Yet, Doudna and Charpentier had filed patent applications covering similar ground earlier than Zhang.
  3. Ad Blocker-Stopping Software — the evolutionary battle between ads and blockers is about to get gunpowder. As Ethan Zuckerman said, advertising is the original sin of the Internet.
  4. The Night Watch (PDF) — There is nothing funny to print when you have a misaligned memory access, because your machine is dead and there are no printers in the spirit world.
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