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 March 2015

Four short links: 27 March 2015

Welfare and Entrepreneurialism, Infrastructure Secrets, Insectoid Robots, Hacking Hexbugs

  1. Welfare Makes America More Entrepreneurial (The Atlantic) — In a 2014 paper, Olds examined the link between entrepreneurship and food stamps, and found that the expansion of the program in some states in the early 2000s increased the chance that newly eligible households would own an incorporated business by 16%. (Incorporated firms are a better proxy for job-creating startups than unincorporated ones.)
  2. Security of Infrastructure Secrets — everything has a key that’s just one compromise or accidental drop away.
  3. Festo’s Fantastical Insectoid Robots Include Bionic Ants and Butterflies (IEEE) — Each butterfly has a 50-centimeter wingspan and weighs just 32 grams, but carries along two servo motors to independently actuate the wings, an IMU, accelerometer, gyro, and compass, along with two tiny 90-mAh lithium-polymer batteries. With a wing beat frequency of between one and two flaps per second, top speed is 2.5 m/s, with a flight time of three to four minutes before needing a 15-minute charge. The wings themselves use impossibly thin carbon rods for structure, and are covered with an even thinner elastic capacitor film.
  4. Arduino Celebration and Hexbugs hacking with Bob Martin (SparkFun) — The Hunter demo is a combination of object detection and object avoidance. It uses an IR sensor array to determine objects around it. Objects that appear and then disappear quickly, say in a second or two are targets which it will walk towards; however, a target that stays constant will be avoided. I’m still trying to find the perfect balance between making a decision between fleeing prey and a wall using only simple proximity samples from an IR detector array.
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Four short links: 26 March 2015

Four short links: 26 March 2015

GPU Graph Algorithms, Data Sharing, Build Like Google, and Distributed Systems Theory

  1. gunrocka CUDA library for graph primitives that refactors, integrates, and generalizes best-of-class GPU implementations of breadth-first search, connected components, and betweenness centrality into a unified code base useful for future development of high-performance GPU graph primitives. (via Ben Lorica)
  2. How to Share Data with a Statisticiansome instruction on the best way to share data to avoid the most common pitfalls and sources of delay in the transition from data collection to data analysis.
  3. Bazela build tool, i.e. a tool that will run compilers and tests to assemble your software, similar to Make, Ant, Gradle, Buck, Pants, and Maven. Google’s build tool, to be precise.
  4. You Can’t Have Exactly-Once Delivery — not about the worst post office ever. FLP and the Two Generals Problem are not design complexities, they are impossibility results.
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Four short links: 25 March 2015

Four short links: 25 March 2015

Selling Customers, Classier Parsing, License Plates, and GitHub's CSS

  1. RadioShack’s Customer Data For Sale (Ars Technica) — trying to sell customer data as part of court-supervised bankruptcy.
  2. Classp: A Classier Way to Parse (Google Code) — The abstract syntax tree is what programmers typically want to work with. With class patterns, you only have two jobs: design the abstract syntax tree and write a formatter for it. (A formatter is the function that writes out the abstract syntax tree in the target language.)
  3. 4.6M License Plate Records From FOIA Request (Ars Technica) — from Oakland.
  4. Primerthe CSS toolkit and guidelines that power GitHub.
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Four short links: 24 March 2015

Four short links: 24 March 2015

Tricorder Prototype, Web Performance, 3D Licensing, and Network Simulation

  1. Tricorder Prototypecollar+earpiece, base station, diagnostic stick (lab tests for diabetes, pneumonia, tb, etc), and scanning wand (examine lesions, otoscope for ears, even spirometer). (via Slashdot)
  2. Souders Joins SpeedcurveDuring these engagements, I’ve seen that many of these companies don’t have the necessary tools to help them identify how performance is impacting (hurting) the user experience on their websites. There is even less information about ways to improve performance. The standard performance metric is page load time, but there’s often no correlation between page load time and the user’s experience. We need to shift from network-based metrics to user experience metrics that focus on rendering and when content becomes available. That’s exactly what Mark is doing at SpeedCurve, and why I’m excited to join him.
  3. 3 Steps for Licensing Your 3D-Printed Stuff (PDF) — this paper is not actually about choosing the right license for your 3D printable stuff (sorry about that). Instead, this paper aims to flesh out a copyright analysis for both physical objects and for the digital files that represent them, allowing you to really understand what parts of your 3D object you are—and are not—licensing. Understanding what you are licensing is key to choosing the right license. Simply put, this is because you cannot license what you do not legally control in the first place. There is no point in considering licenses that ultimately do not have the power to address whatever behavior you’re aiming to control. However, once you understand what it is you want to license, choosing the license itself is fairly straightforward. (via BoingBoing)
  4. Augmented Traffic Control — Facebook’s tool for simulating degraded network conditions.
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Four short links: 23 March 2015

Four short links: 23 March 2015

Agricultural Robots, Business Model Design, Simulations, and Interoperable JSON

  1. Swarmfarm RoboticsHis previous weed sprayer weighed 21 tonnes, measured 36 metres across its spray unit, guzzled diesel by the bucketload and needed a paid driver who would only work limited hours. Two robots working together on Bendee effortlessly sprayed weeds in a 70ha mung-bean crop last month. Their infra-red beams picked up any small weeds among the crop rows and sent a message to the nozzle to eject a small chemical spray. Bate hopes to soon use microwave or laser technology to kill the weeds. Best of all, the robots do the work without guidance. They work 24 hours a day. They have in-built navigation and obstacle detection, making them robust and able to decide if an area of a paddock should not be traversed. Special swarming technology means the robots can detect each other and know which part of the paddock has already been assessed and sprayed.
  2. Route to Market (Matt Webb) — The route to market is not what makes the product good. […] So the way you design the product to best take it to market is not the same process to make it great for its users.
  3. Explorable Explanations — points to many sweet examples of interactive explorable simulations/explanations.
  4. I-JSON (Tim Bray) — I-JSON is just a note saying that if you construct a chunk of JSON and avoid the interop failures described in RFC 7159, you can call it an “I-JSON Message.” If any known JSON implementation creates an I-JSON message and sends it to any other known JSON implementation, the chance of software surprises is vanishingly small.
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Four short links: 20 March 2015

Four short links: 20 March 2015

USA Hire, AR Game, CS Cheatsheet, and 3D Printing Cured Resin

  1. David Recordon Joins US GovtThis afternoon, President Barack Obama will announce a newly created position for David Recordon, who has worked as one of Facebook’s engineering directors since 2009. Recordon will join the White House as the director of information technology. Obama building an A team from Foo Campers.
  2. MagicLeap/Weta Workshop FPS in AR (YouTube) — fun!
  3. Theoretical Computer Science Cheat Sheet (PDF) — how to appear smart.
  4. Carbon3DTraditional 3D printing requires a number of mechanical steps, repeated over and over again in a layer-by-layer approach. CLIP is a chemical process that carefully balances light and oxygen to eliminate the mechanical steps and the layers. It works by projecting light through an oxygen-permeable window into a reservoir of UV curable resin. The build platform lifts continuously as the object is grown.
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Four short links: 19 March 2015

Four short links: 19 March 2015

Changing Behaviour, Building Filters, Public Access, and Working Capital

  1. Using Monitoring Dashboards to Change Behaviour[After years of neglect] One day we wrote some brittle Ruby scripts that polled various services. They collated the metrics into a simple database and we automated some email reports and built a dashboard showing key service metrics. We pinpointed issues that we wanted to show people. Things like the login times, how long it would take to search for certain keywords in the app, and how many users were actually using the service, along with costs and other interesting facts. We sent out the link to the dashboard at 9am on Monday morning, before the weekly management call. Within 2 weeks most problems were addressed. It is very difficult to combat data, especially when it is laid out in an easy to understand way.
  2. Quiet Mitsubishi Cars — noise-cancelling on phone calls by using machine learning to build the filters.
  3. NSF Requiring Public AccessNSF will require that articles in peer-reviewed scholarly journals and papers in juried conference proceedings or transactions be deposited in a public access compliant repository and be available for download, reading, and analysis within one year of publication.
  4. Filtered for Capital (Matt Webb) — It’s important to get a credit line [for hardware startups] because growing organically isn’t possible — even if half your sell-in price is margin, you can only afford to grow your batch size at 50% per cycle… and whether it’s credit or re-investing the margin, all that growth incurs risk, because the items aren’t pre-sold. There are double binds all over the place here.
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Four short links: 18 March 2015

Four short links: 18 March 2015

Moonshots, Decacorns, Leadership, and Deep Learning

  1. How to Make Moonshots (Astro Teller) — Expecting a person to be a reliable backup for the [self-driving car] system was a fallacy. Once people trust the system, they trust it. Our success was itself a failure. We came quickly to the conclusion that we needed to make it clear to ourselves that the human was not a reliable backup — the car had to always be able to handle the situation. And the best way to make that clear was to design a car with no steering wheel — a car that could drive itself all of the time, from point A to point B, at the push of a button.
  2. Billion-Dollar Math (Bloomberg) — There’s a new buzzword, “decacorn,” for those over $10 billion, which includes Airbnb, Dropbox, Pinterest, Snapchat, and Uber. It’s a made-up word based on a creature that doesn’t exist. “If you wake up in a room full of unicorns, you are dreaming,” Todd Dagres, a founding partner at Spark Capital, recently told Bloomberg News. Not just cute seeing our industry explained to the unwashed, but it’s the first time I’d seen decacorn. (The weather’s just dandy in my cave, thanks for asking).
  3. What Impactful Engineering Leadership Looks Like — aside from the ugliness of “impactful,” notable for good advice. “When engineering management is done right, you’re focusing on three big things,” she says. “You’re directly supporting the people on your team; you’re managing execution and coordination across teams; and you’re stepping back to observe and evolve the broader organization and its processes as it grows.”
  4. cxxnet“a fast, concise, distributed deep learning framework” that scales beyond a single GPU.
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Four short links: 17 March 2015

Four short links: 17 March 2015

Open Source Personal Assistant, Flintstoning Robots, Year of Personal Assistants, and Infrastructure Curiosity

  1. Sirius — UMich open source “intelligent Personal Assistant” (aka Siri, Cortana, Google Now, etc.). Text recognition, image recognition, query processing components. They hope it’ll be a focal point for research in the area, the way that open source operating systems have focused university research.
  2. MIT DragonBot Evolving to Teach Kids (IEEE Spectrum) — they’re moving from “Wizard of Oz” (humans-behind-the-scenes) control to autonomous operation. Lovely example of Flintstoning in a robotics context.
  3. Personal Assistants Coming (Robohub) — 2015 is the year physical products will be coming to market and available for experimentation and testing. Pepper ships in the summer in Japan, JIBO ships preorders in Q3, as does Cubic in the fall and EmoSpark in the summer. […]The key to the outcome of this race is whether a general purpose AI will be able to steer people through their digital world, or whether users would rather navigate to applications that are specialists (such as American Airlines or Dominos Pizza).
  4. Incuriosity Killed the Infrastructurebeing actively curious about “fishy” things will lead to a more stable and happy infrastructure.
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Four short links: 16 March 2015

Four short links: 16 March 2015

Turing and Bechdel, Women in Leadership, Coding Messaging, and VR Affordance

  1. Ex Machine: When Turing Meets the Bechdel TestThe Bechdel Test is useful for more than examining gender representation. It can be our Turing Test for creating believable alien or artificial life forms. If you look at our filmic or cultural representations of the other or alien, then you have to be struck by the singular nature of them all. From Frankenstein to Big Hero 6, do they have any reality without the central human characters? No, they are alone. Even Alien is alone. At least in Frankenstein, it is the utter aloneness of the new form that is the whole story. Films that have pushed the envelope are few. And doing a quick mental check, one was left feeling empathy for the ‘others’ in only a couple, like Westworld, BladeRunner, and Planet of the Apes, and the books of writers like Brin and Cherryh.
  2. Women in Business: The Path to Leadership (PDF) — Grant Thornton International Business Report on women in senior roles, operational and governance. Ends with some sound recommendations (via Rowan Simpson).
  3. Adventures in Messaging Queues — extremely readable tale of developing a custom piece of distributed infrastructure.
  4. Valve’s SteamVRWhat these two experiences shared was an overpowering sense of intimacy with the virtual space. This is brought home again and again in the demos, and its impact is profound. The smallness of the space you can move around – 15 feet square – is almost a virtue in this respect, because it focuses you on your immediate surroundings in a way the vast majority of video games don’t, and which has much more in common with real life.
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