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: 8 July 2015

Four short links: 8 July 2015

Encrypted Databases, Product Management, Patenting Machine Learning, and Programming Ethics

  1. Zero Knowledge and Homomorphic Encryption (ZDNet) — coverage of a few startups working on providing databases that don’t need to decrypt the data they store and retrieve.
  2. How Not to Suck at Making ProductsNever confuse “category you’re in” with the “value you deliver.” Customers only care about the latter.
  3. Google Patenting Machine Learning Developments (Reddit) — I am afraid that Google has just started an arms race, which could do significant damage to academic research in machine learning. Now it’s likely that other companies using machine learning will rush to patent every research idea that was developed in part by their employees. We have all been in a prisoner’s dilemma situation, and Google just defected. Now researchers will guard their ideas much more combatively, given that it’s now fair game to patent these ideas, and big money is at stake.
  4. Machine Ethics (Nature) — machine learning ethics versus rule-driven ethics. Logic is the ideal choice for encoding machine ethics, argues Luís Moniz Pereira, a computer scientist at the Nova Laboratory for Computer Science and Informatics in Lisbon. “Logic is how we reason and come up with our ethical choices,” he says. I disagree with his premises.
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Four short links: 7 July 2015

Four short links: 7 July 2015

SCIP Berkeley Style, Regular Failures, Web Material Design, and Javascript Breakouts

  1. CS 61AS — Berkeley self-directed Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs course.
  2. Harbingers of Failure (PDF) — We show that some customers, whom we call ‘Harbingers’ of failure, systematically purchase new products that flop. Their early adoption of a new product is a strong signal that a product will fail – the more they buy, the less likely the product will succeed. Firms can identify these customers either through past purchases of new products that failed, or through past purchases of existing products that few other customers purchase.
  3. Google Material Design LiteA library of Material Design components in CSS, JS, and HTML.
  4. Breakoutsvarious implementations of the classic game Breakout in numerous different [Javascript] engines.
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Four short links: 6 July 2015

Four short links: 6 July 2015

DeepDream, In-Flight WiFi, Computer Vision in Preservation, and Testing Distributed Systems

  1. DeepDream — the software that’s been giving the Internet acid-free trips.
  2. In-Flight WiFi Business — numbers and context for why some airlines (JetBlue) have fast free in-flight wifi while others (Delta) have pricey slow in-flight wifi. Four years ago ViaSat-1 went into geostationary orbit, putting all other broadband satellites to shame with 140 Gbps of total capacity. This is the Ka-band satellite that JetBlue’s fleet connects to, and while the airline has to share that bandwidth with homes across of North America that subscribe to ViaSat’s Excede residential broadband service, it faces no shortage of capacity. That’s why JetBlue is able to deliver 10-15 Mbps speeds to its passengers.
  3. British Library Digitising Newspapers (The Guardian) — as well as photogrammetry methods used in the Great Parchment Book project, Terras and colleagues are exploring the potential of a host of techniques, including multispectral imaging (MSI). Inks, pencil marks, and paper all reflect, absorb, or emit particular wavelengths of light, ranging from the infrared end of the electromagnetic spectrum, through the visible region and into the UV. By taking photographs using different light sources and filters, it is possible to generate a suite of images. “We get back this stack of about 40 images of the [document] and then we can use image-processing to try to see what is in [some of them] and not others,” Terras explains.
  4. Testing a Distributed System (ACM) — This article discusses general strategies for testing distributed systems as well as specific strategies for testing distributed data storage systems.
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Four short links: 3 July 2015

Four short links: 3 July 2015

Storage Interference, Open Source SSL, Pub-Sub Reverse-Proxy, and Web Components Checklist

  1. The Storage Tipping Pointthe performance optimization technologies of the last decade – log structured file systems, coalesced writes, out-of-place updates and, soon, byte-addressable NVRAM – are conflicting with similar-but-different techniques used in SSDs and arrays. The software we use is written for dumb storage; we’re getting smart storage; but smart+smart = fragmentation, write amplification, and over-consumption.
  2. s2n — Amazon’s open source ssl implementation.
  3. pushpina reverse proxy server that makes it easy to implement WebSocket, HTTP streaming, and HTTP long-polling services. It communicates with backend web applications using regular, short-lived HTTP requests (GRIP protocol). This allows backend applications to be written in any language and use any webserver.
  4. The Gold Standard Checklist for Web ComponentsThis is a working draft of a checklist to define a “gold standard” for web components that aspire to be as predictable, flexible, reliable, and useful as the standard HTML elements.
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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.
Comment: 1
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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