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: 4 May 2015

Four short links: 4 May 2015

Silicon Valley Primer, GraphQL Intro, Quantum Steps, and Complex Systems

  1. Silicon Valley Primer — a short but interesting precis of what made the Valley great, with stories of the nobility. From a historian. All these new people pouring into what had been an agricultural region meant that it was possible to create a business environment around the needs of new companies coming up, rather than adapting an existing business culture to accommodate the new industries. In what would become a self-perpetuating cycle, everything from specialized law firms, recruiting operations and prototyping facilities; to liberal stock option plans; to zoning laws; to community college course offerings developed to support a tech-based business infrastructure.
  2. Introduction to GraphQLWe believe that GraphQL represents a novel way of structuring the client-server contract. Servers publish a type system specific to their application, and GraphQL provides a unified language to query data within the constraints of that type system. That language allows product developers to express data requirements in a form natural to them: a declarative and hierarchal one. The nightmare of the ad hoc API morass is a familiar one …
  3. Critical Steps to Building First Quantum ComputerThe IBM breakthroughs, described in the April 29 issue of the journal Nature Communications, show for the first time the ability to detect and measure the two types of quantum errors (bit-flip and phase-flip) that will occur in any real quantum computer. Until now, it was only possible to address one type of quantum error or the other, but never both at the same time. This is a necessary step toward quantum error correction, which is a critical requirement for building a practical and reliable large-scale quantum computer.
  4. Five Short Stories About the Life and Times of Ideas (Nautilus) — In the following five short chapters, David Krakauer, an evolutionary theorist, and president elect of the Santa Fe Institute, haven of complex systems research, examines five facets of chain reactions, each typifying how ideas spread through science and culture. Together they tell a story of how the ideas that define humanity arise, when and why they die or are abandoned, the surprising possibilities for continued evolution, and our responsibility to nurture thought that might enlighten our future.
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Four short links: 1 May 2015

Four short links: 1 May 2015

Go Examples, Penrose Map Hacks, Robotics Industry, and Archaeological Robotics

  1. Go By Example — a chance to replicate the experience of learning Perl or PHP, whereby you know nothing but copy and adapt other people’s code until it works and you’ve empirically acquired an intuition for what will trigger the compiler’s deathray and eventually someone points you to the docs that were opaque and suddenly a lightbulb goes off in your head and you shout “omigod I finally get it!” and the Real Engineer beside you rolls their eyes and gets back to genericising their containers for consensus or whatever it is that Real Engineers do now.
  2. Penrose Binning — entrancing visual hack for maps.
  3. Chinese Shopping for Robotic Ventures — Amazon has drones, Facebook has VR, Google and China are fighting it out for Robots. Meanwhile, Apple is curled up in a mountain filled with gold, their paws twitching and stroking their watches as they dream of battles to come.
  4. Robot Arm Brings Humanity Back to the Stone Age (IEEE) — Using robots to build a massive database of scrape/wear patterns for different stone-age tools. Currently, Iovita is experiencing some opposition from within his own profession. Some believe that manual experiments are closer to the past reality; others find that use-wear analysis in general does not advance archaeological theory. Iovita thinks this is mainly due to the fact that most archaeologists have a humanities background and are not familiar with the world of engineers. OH SNAP.
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Four short links: 30 April 2015

Four short links: 30 April 2015

Managing Complex Data Projects, Graphical Linear Algebra, Consistent Hashing, and NoTCP Manifesto

  1. More Tools for Managing and Reproducing Complex Data Projects (Ben Lorica) — As I survey the landscape, the types of tools remain the same, but interfaces continue to improve, and domain specific languages (DSLs) are starting to appear in the context of data projects. One interesting trend is that popular user interface models are being adapted to different sets of data professionals (e.g. workflow tools for business users).
  2. Graphical Linear Algebra — or “Graphical The-Subject-That-Kicked-Nat’s-Butt” as I read it.
  3. Consistent Hashing: A Guide and Go Implementation — easy-to-follow article (and source).
  4. NoTCP Manifesto — a nice summary of the reasons to build custom protocols over UDP, masquerading as church-nailed heresy. Today’s heresy is just the larval stage of tomorrow’s constricting orthodoxy.
Comment: 1
Four short links: 29 April 2015

Four short links: 29 April 2015

Deceptive Visualisation, Small Robots, Managing Secrets, and Large Time Series

  1. Disinformation Visualisation: How to Lie with DatavisWe don’t spread visual lies by presenting false data. That would be lying. We lie by misrepresenting the data to tell the very specific story we’re interested in telling. If this is making you slightly uncomfortable, that’s a good thing; it should. If you’re concerned about adopting this new and scary habit, well, don’t worry; it’s not new. Just open your CV to be reminded you’ve lied with truthful data before. This time, however, it will be explicit and visual. (via Regine Debatty)
  2. Microtugsa new type of small robot that can apply orders of magnitude more force than it weighs. This is in stark contrast to previous small robots that have become progressively better at moving and sensing, but lacked the ability to change the world through the application of human-scale loads.
  3. Vaulta tool for securely managing secrets and encrypting data in-transit.
  4. iSAX: Indexing and Mining Terabyte Sized Time Series (PDF) — Our approach allows both fast exact search and ultra-fast approximate search. We show how to exploit the combination of both types of search as sub-routines in data mining algorithms, allowing for the exact mining of truly massive real-world data sets, containing millions of time series. (via Benjamin Black)
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Four short links: 28 April 2015

Four short links: 28 April 2015

Mobile Numbers, Robot Growth, Business Town, and The Modern Economy

  1. Defining Mobile (Luke Wroblewski) — numbers on size, orientation, and # of thumbs across mobile users. 94% of the time, it’s in portrait mode.
  2. PwC Manufacturing Barometer: RoboticsPlanned acquisition of robotics systems over the next two to three years was cited by a maximum of 58% -– with nearly one-third (31%) planning to acquire a moderate amount (25%) or many more robotics systems (only 6%). A larger number plan to acquire a limited number of robotics systems (27%). (via Robohub)
  3. Welcome to Business Town — delightful satire. Captain of Moonshots is my favourite.
  4. The Asshole Factory (Umair Haque) — The Great Enterprise of this age is the Asshole Industry. And that’s not just a tragedy. It is something approaching the moral equivalent of a crime. For it demolishes human potential in precisely the same way as locking up someone innocent, and throwing away the key.
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Four short links: 27 April 2015

Four short links: 27 April 2015

Living Figures, Design vs Architecture, Faceted Browsing, and Byzantine Comedy

  1. ‘Living Figures’ Make Their Debut (Nature) — In July last year, neurobiologist Björn Brembs published a paper about how fruit flies walk. Nine months on, his paper looks different: another group has fed its data into the article, altering one of the figures. The update — to figure 4 — marks the debut of what the paper’s London-based publisher, Faculty of 1000 (F1000), is calling a living figure, a concept that it hopes will catch on in other articles. Brembs, at the University of Regensburg in Germany, says that three other groups have so far agreed to add their data, using software he wrote that automatically redraws the figure as new data come in.
  2. Strategies Against Architecture (Seb Chan and Aaron Straup Cope) — the story of the design of the Cooper Hewitt’s clever “pen,” which visitors to the design museum use to collect the info from their favourite exhibits. (Visit the Cooper Hewitt when you’re next in NYC; it’s magnificent.)
  3. Two Way Streetan independent explorer for The British Museum collection, letting you browse by year acquired, year created, type of object, etc. I note there are more things from a place called “Brak” than there are from USA. Facets are awesome. (via Courtney Johnston)
  4. The Saddest Moment (PDF) — “How can you make a reliable computer service?” the presenter will ask in an innocent voice before continuing, “It may be difficult if you can’t trust anything and the entire concept of happiness is a lie designed by unseen overlords of endless deceptive power.” The presenter never explicitly says that last part, but everybody understands what’s happening. Making distributed systems reliable is inherently impossible; we cling to Byzantine fault tolerance like Charlton Heston clings to his guns, hoping that a series of complex software protocols will somehow protect us from the oncoming storm of furious apes who have somehow learned how to wear pants and maliciously tamper with our network packets. Hilarious. (via Tracy Chou)
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Four short links: 24 April 2015

Four short links: 24 April 2015

Jeff Jonas, Siri and Mesos, YouTube's Bandwidth Bill, and AWS Numbers

  1. Decoding Jeff Jonas (National Geographic) — “He thinks in three—no, four dimensions,” Nathan says. “He has a data warehouse in his head.” And that’s where the work takes place—in his head. Not on paper. Not on a computer. He resorts to paper only to work the details out. When asked about his thought process, Jonas reaches for words, then says: “It’s like a Rubik’s Cube. It all clicks into place. “The solution,” he says, is “simply there to find.” Jeff’s a genius and has his own language for explaining what he does. This quote goes a long way to explaining it.
  2. How Apple Uses Mesos for Siri — great to see not only some details of the tooling that Apple built, but also their acknowledgement of the open source foundations and ongoing engagement with those open source communities. There have been times in the past when Apple felt like a parasite on the commons rather than a participant.
  3. Cheaper Bandwidth or Bust: How Google Saved YouTube (ArsTechnica) — Remember YouTube’s $2 million-a-month bandwidth bill before the Google acquisition? While it wasn’t an overnight transition, apply Google’s data center expertise, and this cost drops to about $666,000 a month.
  4. AWS Business NumbersAmazon Web Services generated $5.2 billion over the past four quarters, and almost $700 million in operating income. During the first quarter of 2015, AWS sales reached $1.6 billion, up 49% year-over-year, and roughly 7% of Amazon’s overall sales.
Comments: 2
Four short links: 23 April 2015

Four short links: 23 April 2015

Medical Robots, Code Review, Go Lang, and Ambient Weather

  1. Future of Working: Real World Robotics, Medical & Health Robotics (YouTube) — interesting talk by Kiwi Foo alum, Jonathan Roberts, given to a Future of Working event. New class of tools, where the human uses them but they won’t let the human do the wrong thing. (via RoboHub)
  2. On Code Review (Glen D Sanford) — Pending code reviews represent blocked threads of execution.
  3. Four Days of Go (Evan Miller) — Reading Go’s mailing list and documentation, I get a similar sense of refusal-to-engage — the authors are communicative, to be sure, but in a didactic way. They seem tired of hearing people’s ideas, as if they’ve already thought of everything, and the relative success of Go at Google and elsewhere has only led them to turn the volume knob down. Which is a shame, because they’ll probably miss out on some good ideas (including my highly compelling, backwards-incompatible, double-triple-colon-assignment proposal mentioned above). Under this theory, more of the language choices start to make sense. There is no ternary operator because the language designers were tired of dealing with other people’s use of ternary operators. There is One True Way To Format Code — embodied in gofmt — because the designers were tired of how other people formatted their code. Rather than debate or engage, it was easier to make a new language and shove the new rules onto everyone by coupling it with Very Fast Build Times, a kind of veto-proof Defense Spending Bill in the Congress of computer programming. In this telling, the story of Go is really a tale of revenge, not just against slow builds, but against all kinds of sloppy programming.
  4. TempescopeAmbient weather display for your home. In my home, that’s a window. (via Matt Webb)
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Four short links: 22 April 2015

Four short links: 22 April 2015

Perfect Security, Distributing Secrets, Stale Reads, and Digital Conversions

  1. Perfect Security (99% Invisible) — Since we lost perfect security in the 1850s, it has has remained elusive. Despite tremendous leaps forward in security technology, we have never been able to get perfect security back. History of physical security, relevant to digital security today.
  2. keywhiz a system for managing and distributing secrets. It can fit well with a service oriented architecture (SOA).
  3. Call Me Maybe: MongoDB Stale Reads — a master class in understanding modern distributed systems. Kyle’s blog is consistently some of the best technical writing around today.
  4. Users Convert to Digital Subscribers at a Rate of 1% (Julie Starr) — and other highlights of Jeff Jarvis’s new book, Geeks Bearing Gifts.
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Four short links: 21 April 2015

Four short links: 21 April 2015

Chromebooks and Arduinos, 3rd Person Driving, Software Development, and Go Debugging

  1. Chromebooks and Arduino — two great edtech tastes that taste great together.
  2. 3rd Person Driving (IEEE) — A Taiwan company called SPTek has figured out a way to use an array of cameras to generate a 3-D “Around View Monitor” that can show you multiple different views of the outside of your car. Use a top-down view for tight parking spaces, a front view looking backward for highway lane changes, or a see-through rear view for pulling out into traffic. It’s not a video game; it’s the next step in safety.
  3. Lessons Learned in Software Development — omg every word of this.
  4. Cross-Platform Debugger for Gotake the source code of a target program, insert debugging code between every line, then compile and run that instead. The result is a fully-functional debugger that is extremely portable. In fact, thanks to gopherjs, you can run it right here in your browser!
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