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: 24 June 2014

Failure of Imagination, Meat Failure Mode, Grand Challenges, and Data Programming

  1. Maximum Happy Imagination (Matt Jones) — questioning the true vision of Marc Andreessen’s recent Twitter discourse on the great future that awaits us. His analogies run out in the 20th century when it comes to the political, social and economic implications of his maximum happy imagination.
  2. The MirrortocracyIt’s astonishing how many of the people conducting interviews and passing judgement on the careers of candidates have had no training at all on how to do it well. Aside from their own interviews, they may not have ever seen one. I’m all for learning on your own but at least when you write a program wrong it breaks. Without a natural feedback loop, interviewing mostly runs on myth and survivor bias.
  3. Longitude Prize — six prize areas, Grand Challenge style, in clean flight, antibiotic resistance, dementia, food, water, and overcoming paralysis. Mysteriously none for library system that avoids DLL hell.
  4. The Re-Emergence of DatalogMichael Fogus overviews Datalog and provides examples of how it is implemented and used in Datomic, Cascalog, and the Bacwn Clojure library. See also notes from the talk.

Four short links: 23 June 2014

Blockchain Intro, Machine Collaboration, Safety Systems Thinking, and Where Keystrokes Go To Die

  1. Minimum Viable Block ChainWhat follows is an attempt to explain, from the ground up, why the particular pieces (digital signatures, proof-of-work, transaction blocks) are needed, and how they all come together to form the “minimum viable block chain” with all of its remarkable properties.
  2. Common Ground and Coordination in Joint Activity (PDF) — research paper on the components and requirements and failure modes of collaboration, with an eye to how machine actors can participate as collaborators. (via John Allspaw)
  3. Engineering a Safer World (Nancy Leveson) — Systems thinking applied to safety. Free download of the MIT Press ebook. (via John Allspaw)
  4. Scott Hanselman’s TipsKeep your emails to 3-4 sentences, Hanselman says. Anything longer should be on a blog or wiki or on your product’s documentation, FAQ or knowledge base. “Anywhere in the world except email because email is where you keystrokes go to die,” he says.
Four short links: 20 June 2014

Four short links: 20 June 2014

Available Data, Goal Setting, Real Tech, and Gamification Numbers

  1. Dynamo and BigTable — good preso overview of two approaches to solving availability and consistency in the event of server failure or network partition.
  2. Goals Gone Wild (PDF) — In this article, we argue that the beneficial effects of goal setting have been overstated and that systematic harm caused by goal setting has been largely ignored. We identify specific side effects associated with goal setting, including a narrow focus that neglects non-goal areas, a rise in unethical behavior, distorted risk preferences, corrosion of organizational culture, and reduced intrinsic motivation.
  3. Tech Isn’t All Brogrammers (Alexis Madrigal) — a reminder that there are real scientists and engineers in Silicon Valley working on problems considerably harder than selling ads and delivering pet food to one another. (via Brian Behlendorf)
  4. Numbers from 90+ Gamification Case Studies — cherry-picked anecdata for your business cases.
Four short links: 19 June 2014

Four short links: 19 June 2014

Interactive Narrative, Robot Economies, 8-Bit Philosophy, and Citizens and Sensors

  1. odyssey.js — storytelling tool to assemble interactive stories from narrative, pictures, maps.
  2. Our Work Here is Done: Visions of a Robot Economy (NESTA) — free downloadable ebook containing pieces from a variety of authors covering economics, engineering, history, philosophy and innovation studies. (via Robot Economics)
  3. 8-Bit Philosophy — learn philosophy with an 8-bit aesthetic. (via EdSurge)
  4. Sensors and Citizens: Finding Balance in the New Urban Reality (Frog Design) — as the sensor systems themselves become capable of autonomous data collection and information creation, we will begin to encounter closed-loop spatial sensing networks capable not only of taking instructions, but also of taking action. When that happens, nearly every industry and government imaginable—and your daily life—will be deeply affected. This is exciting, scary, and inevitable.
Four short links: 18 June 2014

Four short links: 18 June 2014

Browser Crypto, Real Time Consistency, Exploring CS, and CS as Social Movement

  1. Javascript Cryptography Considered Harmful — tl;dr: “don’t”. If you don’t trust the network to deliver a password, or, worse, don’t trust the server not to keep user secrets, you can’t trust them to deliver security code. The same attacker who was sniffing passwords or reading diaries before you introduce crypto is simply hijacking crypto code after you do.
  2. Eventual Consistency in Real Time Apps — answering How do you ensure that your local model is in sync with what’s stored on the backend?
  3. Exploring CSBoth courses are designed to teach the fundamental concepts and big ideas of computing along with coding, and to inspire kids about computer science’s creative potential to transform society.
  4. Why Computer Literacy Is Key To Winning the 21st Century (Mother Jones) — [teaching CS to] middle and high schoolers at the UCLA Community School, an experimental new public K-12 school. “I saw this as a new frontier in the social-justice fight,” she says. “I tell my students, ‘I don’t necessarily want to teach you how to get rich. I want to teach you to be a good citizen.’”
Comment: 1
Four short links: 17 June 2014

Four short links: 17 June 2014

Decentralised Consensus, Disruption Critiqued, Digital Reputation, and Stuff That Matters

  1. Erisa platform which allows developers and users to deploy consensus driven applications which rely on decentralized architecture and a consensus driven blockchain database backend. Open source (modified MIT).
  2. The Disruption Machine (New Yorker) — long detailed critique of the “disruption” hypothesis of Clayton Christensen, particularly questioning the case studies cited in The Innovator’s Dilemma.
  3. Web Reputation Systems and the Real World (Randy Farmer) — Don’t cross the streams. Good digital reputations should always be context-limited: the nature of the inputs should constrain the use of the reputation scores that are output.
  4. Bill and Melinda Gates Commencement Speech (Quartz) — excellent urging to work on stuff that matters. The pessimists are wrong in my view, but they’re not crazy. If innovation is purely market- driven and we don’t focus it on the big inequities, then we could have amazing advances and inventions that leave the world even more divided.
Comments: 3
Four short links: 16 June 2014

Four short links: 16 June 2014

Decision Trees, Decision Modifications, Mobile Patents, Web Client

  1. Quick DT — open source (Java) decision tree learner.
  2. Revealing Hidden Changes to Supreme Court OpinionsWHEREAS, It is now well-documented that the Supreme Court of the United States makes changes to its opinions after the opinion is published; and WHEREAS, Only “Four legal publishers are granted access to “change pages” that show all revisions. Those documents are not made public, and the court refused to provide copies to The New York Times”; and WHEREAS, git makes it easy to identify when changes have been made; RESOLVED, I shall apply a cron job to at least identify when the actual PDF has changed so everyone can see which documents have changed.
  3. Microsoft’s “Killer” Android Patents Revealed (Ars Technica) — Chinese Government required them disclosed as part of MSFT-Nokia merger. The patent lists are strategically significant, because Microsoft has managed to build a huge patent-licensing business by taxing Android phones without revealing what kind of legal leverage they really have over those phones.
  4. HTTPiea command line HTTP client, a user-friendly HTTP client.
Four short links: 13 June 2014

Four short links: 13 June 2014

Decentralized Web, Reproducibility Talk, Javascript Microcontroller, and Docker Maturity

  1. Mapping the Decentralized Movement (Jon Udell) — the pendulum is about to swing back toward a more distributed Web.
  2. John Ioannidis: Reproducible Research, True or False? (YouTube) — his talk at Google. (via Paul Kedrosky)
  3. Tessel — a microcontroller that runs Javascript. For those who can’t handle C.</troll>
  4. Docker MisconceptionsThis is not impossible and can all be done – several large companies are already using Docker in production, but it’s definitely non-trivial. This will change as the ecosystem around Docker matures (via Flynn, Docker container hosting, etc), but currently if you’re going to attempt using Docker seriously in production, you need to be pretty skilled at systems management and orchestration.
Four short links: 12 June 2014

Four short links: 12 June 2014

Our New Robot Overlords, Open Neuro, Anti-Surveillance Software, and LG's TV Made of Evil and Tears

  1. Norbert Weiner (The Atlantic) — His fears for the future stemmed from two fundamental convictions: We humans can’t resist selfishly misusing the powers our machines give us, to the detriment of our fellow humans and the planet; and there’s a good chance we couldn’t control our machines even if we wanted to, because they already move too fast and because increasingly we’re building them to make decisions on their own. To believe otherwise, Wiener repeatedly warned, represents a dangerous, potentially fatal, lack of humility.
  2. Open Ephys — open source/open hardware tools for neuro research. (via IEEE)
  3. Startups Selling Resistance to Surveillance (Inc) — growing breed of tools working on securing their customers’ communications from interception by competitors and states.
  4. Not-So-Smart TV (TechDirt) — LG’s privacy policy basically says “let us share your viewing habits, browsing, etc. with third parties, or we will turn off the `smart’ features in your smart TV.” The promise of smart devices should be that they get better for customers over time, not better for the vendor at the expense of the customer. See Weiner above.
Four short links: 11 June 2014

Four short links: 11 June 2014

Right to Mine, Summarising Microblogs, C Sucks for Stats, and Scanning Logfiles

  1. UK Copyright Law Permits Researchers to Data Mine — changes mean Copyright holders can require researchers to pay to access their content but cannot then restrict text or data mining for non-commercial purposes thereafter, under the new rules. However, researchers that use the text or data they have mined for anything other than a non-commercial purpose will be said to have infringed copyright, unless the activity has the consent of rights holders. In addition, the sale of the text or data mined by researchers is prohibited. The derivative works will be very interesting: if university mines the journals, finds new possibility for a Thing, is verified experimentally, is that Thing the university’s to license commercially for profit?
  2. Efficient Online Summary of Microblogging Streams (PDF) — research paper. The algorithm we propose uses a word graph, along with optimization techniques such as decaying windows and pruning. It outperforms the baseline in terms of summary quality, as well as time and memory efficiency.
  3. Statistical Shortcomings in Standard Math Libraries — or “Why C Derivatives Are Not Popular With Statistical Scientists”. The following mathematical functions are necessary for implementing any rudimentary statistics application; and yet they are general enough to have many applications beyond statistics. I hereby propose adding them to the standard C math library and to the libraries which inherit from it. For purposes of future discussion, I will refer to these functions as the Elusive Eight.
  4. fail2ban — open source tool that scans logfiles for signs of malice, and triggers actions (e.g., iptables updates).