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: 27 February 2015

Four short links: 27 February 2015

No Estimates, Brand Advertising, Artificial Intelligence, and GPG BeGone

  1. #NoEstimatesAllspaw also points out that the yearning to break the bonds of estimation is nothing new — he’s fond of quoting a passage from The Unwritten Laws of Engineering, a 1944 manual which says that engineers “habitually try to dodge the irksome responsibility for making commitments.” All of Allspaw’s segment is genius.
  2. Old Fashioned Snapchatget a few drinks in any brand advertiser and they’ll admit that the number one reason they know that brand advertising works is that, if they stop, sales inevitably drop.
  3. Q&A With Bruce Sterling on Artificial Intelligence — in which Sterling sounds intelligent, and the questioner sounds Artificial.
  4. GPG and Me (Moxie Marlinspike) — Even though GPG has been around for almost 20 years, there are only ~50,000 keys in the “strong set,” and less than 4 million keys have ever been published to the SKS keyserver pool ever. By today’s standards, that’s a shockingly small user base for a month of activity, much less 20 years. This was a great talk at Webstock this year.
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Four short links: 26 February 2015

Four short links: 26 February 2015

Autocompletion, Colliding Trends, Microservices, and Writing Useful Code

  1. awesomplete — MIT-licensed ultra lightweight, usable, beautiful autocomplete with zero dependencies in Javascript.
  2. How to Seize the Opportunities when Megatrends Collide — excuse the cheesy title, the chart from PwC showing pairwise combination of trends, is interesting.
  3. Adopting Microservices at Netflix: Lessons for Architectural Designyou want to think of servers like cattle, not pets. If you have a machine in production that performs a specialized function, and you know it by name, and everyone gets sad when it goes down, it’s a pet. Instead you should think of your servers like a herd of cows. What you care about is how many gallons of milk you get. If one day you notice you’re getting less milk than usual, you find out which cows aren’t producing well and replace them. People for Ethical Treatment of Iron, your time has come!
  4. Your Job is Not to Write Code (Laura Klein) — I know what you’re thinking. This will all take so long! I’ll be so much less effective! This isn’t true. You’ll be far more effective because you will actually be doing your job. Amen to it all.
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Four short links: 25 February 2015

Four short links: 25 February 2015

Bricking Cars, Mapping Epigenome, Machine Learning from Encrypted Data, and Phone Privacy

  1. Remotely Bricking Cars (BoingBoing) — story from 2010 where an intruder illegally accessed Texas Auto Center’s Web-based remote vehicle immobilization system and one by one began turning off their customers’ cars throughout the city.
  2. Beginning to Map the Human Epigenome (MIT) — Kellis and his colleagues report 111 reference human epigenomes and study their regulatory circuitry, in a bid to understand their role in human traits and diseases. (The paper itself.)
  3. Machine Learning Classification over Encrypted Data (PDF) — It is worth mentioning that our work on privacy-preserving classification is complementary to work on differential privacy in the machine learning community. Our work aims to hide each user’s input data to the classification phase, whereas differential privacy seeks to construct classifiers/models from sensitive user training data that leak a bounded amount of information about each individual in the training data set. See also The Morning Paper’s unpacking of it.
  4. Privacy of Phone Audio (Reddit) — unconfirmed report from Redditor I started a new job today with Walk N’Talk Technologies. I get to listen to sound bites and rate how the text matches up with what is said in an audio clip and give feed back on what should be improved. At first, I though these sound bites were completely random. Then I began to notice a pattern. Soon, I realized that I was hearing peoples commands given to their mobile devices. Guys, I’m telling you, if you’ve said it to your phone, it’s been recorded…and there’s a damn good chance a 3rd party is going to hear it.
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Four short links: 24 February 2015

Four short links: 24 February 2015

Open Data, Packet Dumping, GPU Deep Learning, and Genetic Approval

  1. Wiki New Zealand — open data site, and check out the chart builder behind the scenes for importing the data. It’s magic.
  2. stenographer (Google) — open source packet dumper for capturing data during intrusions.
  3. Which GPU for Deep Learning?a lot of numbers. Overall, I think memory size is overrated. You can nicely gain some speedups if you have very large memory, but these speedups are rather small. I would say that GPU clusters are nice to have, but that they cause more overhead than the accelerate progress; a single 12GB GPU will last you for 3-6 years; a 6GB GPU is plenty for now; a 4GB GPU is good but might be limiting on some problems; and a 3GB GPU will be fine for most research that looks into new architectures.
  4. 23andMe Wins FDA Approval for First Genetic Test — as they re-enter the market after FDA power play around approval (yes, I know: one company’s power play is another company’s flouting of safeguards designed to protect a vulnerable public).
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Four short links: 23 February 2015

Four short links: 23 February 2015

Self-Assembling Chairs, Home Monitoring, Unicorn Horn, and Cloud Security

  1. MIT Scientists and the Self-Assembling Chair (Wired) — using turbulence to randomise interactions, and pieces that connect when the random motions align. From the Self-Assembly Lab at MIT.
  2. Calaosa free software project (GPLv3) that lets you control and monitor your home.
  3. Founder Wants to be a Horse Not a Unicorn (Business Insider) — this way of thinking  —  all or nothing moonshots to maximise shareholder value  —  has become pervasive dogma in tech. It’s become the only respectable path. Either you’re running a lowly lifestyle business, making ends meet so you can surf all afternoon, or you’re working 17-hour days goring competitors with your $US48MM Series C unicorn horn on your way to billionaire mountain.
  4. Using Google Cloud Platform for Security Scanning (Google Online Security) — platform vendors competing on the things they can offer for free on the base platform, things which devs and ops used to have to do themselves.
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Four short links: 20 February 2015

Four short links: 20 February 2015

Robotic Garden, Kids Toys, MSFT ML, and Twitter Scale

  1. The Distributed Robotic Garden (MIT) — We consider plants, pots, and robots to be systems with different levels of mobility, sensing, actuation, and autonomy. (via Robohub)
  2. CogniToys Leverages Watson’s Brain to Befriend, Teach Your Kids (IEEE) — Through the dino, Watson’s algorithms can get to know each child that it interacts with, tailoring those interactions to the child’s age and interests.
  3. How Machine Learning Ate Microsoft (Infoworld) — Azure ML didn’t merely take the machine learning algorithms MSR had already handed over to product teams and stick them into a drag-and-drop visual designer. Microsoft has made the functionality available to developers who know the R statistical programming language and Python, which together are widely used in academic machine learning. Microsoft plans to integrate Azure ML closely with Revolution Analytics, the R startup it recently acquired.
  4. Handling Five Billion Sessions a Day in Real Time (Twitter) — infrastructure porn.
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Four short links: 19 February 2015

Four short links: 19 February 2015

Magical Interfaces, Automation Tax, Cyber Manhattan Project, and US Chief Data Scientist

  1. MAS S66: Indistinguishable From… Magic as Interface, Technology, and Tradition — MIT course taught by Greg Borenstein and Dan Novy. Further, magic is one of the central metaphors people use to understand the technology we build. From install wizards to voice commands and background daemons, the cultural tropes of magic permeate user interface design. Understanding the traditions and vocabularies behind these tropes can help us produce interfaces that use magic to empower users rather than merely obscuring their function. With a focus on the creation of functional prototypes and practicing real magical crafts, this class combines theatrical illusion, game design, sleight of hand, machine learning, camouflage, and neuroscience to explore how ideas from ancient magic and modern stage illusion can inform cutting edge technology.
  2. Maybe We Need an Automation Tax (RoboHub) — rather than saying “automation is bad,” move on to “how do we help those displaced by automation to retrain?”.
  3. America’s Cyber-Manhattan Project (Wired) — America already has a computer security Manhattan Project. We’ve had it since at least 2001. Like the original, it has been highly classified, spawned huge technological advances in secret, and drawn some of the best minds in the country. We didn’t recognize it before because the project is not aimed at defense, as advocates hoped. Instead, like the original, America’s cyber Manhattan Project is purely offensive. The difference between policemen and soldiers is that one serves justice and the other merely victory.
  4. White House Names DJ Patil First US Chief Data Scientist (Wired) — There is arguably no one better suited to help the country better embrace the relatively new discipline of data science than Patil.
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Four short links: 18 February 2015

Four short links: 18 February 2015

Sales Automation, Clone Boxes, Stats Style, and Extra Orifices

  1. Systematising Sales with Software and Processes — sweet use of Slack as UI for sales tools.
  2. Duplicate SSH Keys EverywhereIt looks like all devices with the fingerprint are Dropbear SSH instances that have been deployed by Telefonica de Espana. It appears that some of their networking equipment comes set up with SSH by default, and the manufacturer decided to reuse the same operating system image across all devices.
  3. Style.ONS — UK govt style guide covers the elements of writing about statistics. It aims to make statistical content more open and understandable, based on editorial research and best practice. (via Hadley Beeman)
  4. Warren Ellis on the Apple WatchI, personally, want to put a gold chain on my phone, pop it into a waistcoat pocket, and refer to it as my “digital fob watch” whenever I check the time on it. Just to make the point in as snotty and high-handed a way as possible: This is the decadent end of the current innovation cycle, the part where people stop having new ideas and start adding filigree and extra orifices to the stuff we’ve got and call it the future.
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Four short links: 17 February 2015

Four short links: 17 February 2015

Matthew Effects, Office Dashboards, Below the API, and Robot Economies

  1. Matthew Effects in Reading (PDF) — Walberg, following Merton, has dubbed those educational sequences where early achievement spawns faster rates of subsequent achievement “Matthew effects,” after the Gospel according to Matthew: “For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath” (XXV:29) (via 2015 Troubling Trends and Possibilities in K-12)
  2. Real Time Dashboard for Office Plumbing (Flowing Data) — this is awesome.
  3. Working Below the API is a Dead End (Forbes) — Drivers are opting into a dichotomous workforce: the worker bees below the software layer have no opportunity for on-the-job training that advances their career, and compassionate social connections don’t pierce the software layer either. The skills they develop in driving are not an investment in their future. Once you introduce the software layer between ‘management’ (Uber’s full-time employees building the app and computer systems) and the human workers below the software layer (Uber’s drivers, Instacart’s delivery people), there’s no obvious path upwards. In fact, there’s a massive gap and no systems in place to bridge it. (via John Robb)
  4. The Real Robot Economy and the Bus Ticket Inspector (Guardian) — None of the cinematic worries about machines that take decisions about healthcare or military action are at play here. Hidden in these everyday, mundane interactions are different moral or ethical questions about the future of AI: if a job is affected but not taken over by a robot, how and when does the new system interact with a consumer? Is it ok to turn human social intelligence – managing a difficult customer – into a commodity? Is it ok that a decision lies with a handheld device, while the human is just a mouthpiece? Where “robots” is the usual shorthand for technology that replaces manual work. (via Dan Hill)
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Four short links: 16 February 2015

Four short links: 16 February 2015

Grace Hopper, Car Dashboard UIs, DAO Governance, and Sahale.

  1. The Queen of Code — 12m documentary on Grace Hopper, produced by fivethirtyeight.com.
  2. Car Dashboard UI Collection — inspiration board for your (data) dashboards.
  3. Subjectivity-Exploitability TradeoffVoting-based DAOs, lacking an equivalent of shareholder regulation, are vulnerable to attacks where 51% of participants collude to take all of the DAO’s assets for themselves […] The example supplied here will define a new, third, hypothetical form of blockchain or DAO governance. Every day we’re closer to Stross’s Accelerando.
  4. Sahale — open source cascading workflow visualizer to help you make sense of tasks decomposed into Hadoop jobs. (via Code as Craft)
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