EveryBlock Redesigned — EB has been defined for a while now as “that site that makes my city’s statistics useful and relevant”. Now they’re getting more into the user-reporting: As valuable as automated updates of crime, media mentions, and other EveryBlock news are, contributions from your fellow neighbors are significantly more meaningful and useful. While we’re not removing our existing aggregation of public records and other neighborhood information (more on this in a bit), we’ve come to realize that human participation is essential, not only as a layer on top but as the bedrock of the site. They have a new mission: our goal is to help you make your block a better place. That’s a bold goal, and quite a big change from where they were at. Will they manage any aspect of journalism, or will this become a GroupOn-ad-filled geo-portal for MSNBC? Looking forward to finding out.
Typography in 8 Bits: System Fonts — nifty rundown of fonts from the microcomputer days. I still go a bit weak-kneed at the sight of the C64 fonts. Which aspect of the system you’re building will be remembered with weak knees in (gulp) thirty years’ time? (via Joshua Schachter)
Mechanical Turk Requester Activity: The Insignificance of the Long Tail — For Wikipedia we have the 1% rule, where 1% of the contributors (this is 0.003% of the users) contribute two thirds of the content. In the Causes application on Facebook, there are 25 million users, but only 1% of them contribute a donation. […] The lognormal distribution of activity, also shows that requesters increase their participation exponentially over time: They post a few tasks, they get the results. If the results are good, they increase by a percentage the size of the tasks that they post next time. This multiplicative behavior is the basic process that generates the lognormal distribution of activity.
Copyright Destroying Historic Audio — so says the Library of Congress. Were copyright law followed to the letter, little audio preservation would be undertaken. Were the law strictly enforced, it would brand virtually all audio preservation as illegal. Copyright laws related to preservation are neither strictly followed nor strictly enforced. Consequently, some audio preservation is conducted.
Interview with Marcin Wichary (Ajaxian) — interview with the creator of Google’s Pacman logo, the original HTML5 slide deck. One of the first popular home video game consoles was 1977’s Atari VCS 2600. It was an incredibly simple piece of hardware. It didn’t even have video memory – you literally had to construct pixels just moments before they were handed to the electron gun. It was designed for very specific, trivial games: two players, some bullets and a very sparse background. All the launch games looked like that. But within five years, companies figured out how to make games like Pitfall, which were much, much cooler and more sophisticated. Here’s the kicker: if you were to take those games, go back in time, and show them even to the *creators* of VCS, I bet they would tell you “Naah, it’s impossible to do that. The hardware we just put together won’t ever be able to handle this.” Likewise, if you were to take Google Maps or iPhone Web apps, take your deLorean to 1991 and show them to Tim Berners-Lee, he’d be all like “get the hell out of here.” (via Russ Weakley)
Liberating Lives — The historian Tim Hitchcock, behind projects such as the Old Bailey Online and London Lives, has reflected on the impact of digitisation on our access to archives. Archives, he notes, tend to reflect the assumptions and practices of the institutions that created them. But by providing new ways into these records systems, technology can undermine the power relations that persist within their structures. Read the entire post, which has a moving description of the bureaucracy of Australia’s racism and the modern-day projects built on it. (via spanishmanners on Twitter)
50 Years of Cyborgs: I Have Not the Words (Quinn Norton) — We need language that lets us talk about the terrorism of little changes. Be they good or bad, they are terrible in aggregate. Thought-provoking essay pushing our ideas of change, future, technology, and culture until they break. (via kevinmarks on Twitter)
FuXi — Python-based, bi-directional logical reasoning system for the semantic web from the folks at the Open Knowledge Foundation. (via About Inferencing)
Harness the Power of Being an Idiot — I learn by trying to build something, there’s no other way I can discover the devils-in-the-details. Unfortunately that’s an incredibly inefficient way to gain knowledge. I basically wander around stepping on every rake in the grass, while the A Students memorize someone else’s route and carefully pick their way across the lawn without incident. My only saving graces are that every now and again I discover a better path, and faced with a completely new lawn I have an instinct for where the rakes are.
GelSight — gel block on a sheet of glass, lit from below with lights and then scanned with cameras, lets you easily capture 3D qualities of the objects pressed into it. Very cool demo–you can see finger prints, pulse, and even make out designs on a $100 bill.
Redis Tutorial (Simon Willison) — Redis is a very fast collection of useful behaviours wrapped around a distributed key-value store. You get locks, IDs, counters, sets, lists, queues, replication, and more.
The Monetization Paradox — interesting post by Charlie Stross about the quandry of authors. he proposed $9.99 cap on ebooks replaces the high-end $24 hardcover. Not only does it mean less royalties for the authors, it means less money for the publishers — or, more importantly, their marketing divisions. Here’s a hint: if I wanted to spend my time marketing my books I’d have gone into marketing. I’m a writer. Every hour spent on marketing activities is an hour spent not writing. Ditto editing, proofreading, commissioning cover art, and so on. This is what I have publishers for.
Python’s Moratorium — Python language designers have declared a moratorium on enhancement proposals (feature requests) while the world’s Python programmers get used to the last batch of New And Shiny they shipped. I’m reasonably sure that the ALGOL designers went through exactly the same discussions, and I know Perl did too. So, don’t be afraid of it – don’t think that Python is evolutionarily dead – it’s not. We’re taking a stability and adoption break, a breather. We’re doing this to help users and developers, not to just be able to say “no” to every random idea sent to python-ideas, and not because we’re done. Reminds me of Perl god Jarkko Hietaniemi’s signature file: “There is this special biologist word we use for ‘stable’. It is ‘dead’. — Jack Cohen.
x86 Assembly Encounter — To use a construction industry metaphor, an average x86 assembler has the complexity and usefulness of a hammer, while the DSP world is using high-speed mag-rail blast-o-matic nail guns with automatic feeders and superconducting magnets. […] I find it ridiculous that the most popular computing platform in the world does not have a decent assembler. What’s even worse, from the discussions I’ve seen on the net, people are mostly interested in how fast the assembler is (?!) rather than how much time it saves the programmer. (via Hacker News)
Finding Tennis Courts in Aerial Photos — more hacking with computer vision techniques and publicly-available data. This is going to lead to good things (and some unpleasant surprises, as that which was formerly “too hard to find” ceases to be so). (via Simon Willison)
Historic Documents in Computer Science — my eye was caught by John Backus’s first FORTRAN manual, Niklaus Wirth’s original Pascal paper, the BCPL reference manual (the C programming language got its name from the C in BCPL), and Eckert and Mauchly’s ENIAC patent. (via Hacker News)
Top E-Tailers Profiting From Scams — Vertrue, Webloyalty, and Affinion generated more than $1.4 billion by “misleading” Web shoppers, said members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. […] The government says the investigation shows that [the companies] “trick” consumers into entering their e-mail address just before they complete purchases at sites such as Orbitz, Priceline.com, Buy.com, 1-800 Flowers, Continental Airlines, Fandango, and Classmates.com. A Web ad, which many consumers say appears to be from the retailer, offers them cash back or coupon if they key in their e-mail address.
Image Swirl (Google Labs) — interesting image search result navigator. It’s fun to play with, trying to figure out why particular sets of images are grouped together.
Create Crisis (Dan Meyer) — great call to arms for educators. It’s still astonishing to me how few “learning xyz” books follow this advice. Would-be authors, take note! If there were ever an easy way to make your computer book stand out for being better than the rest, this is it!
The Internet of Things That Do What You Tell Them: Cory Doctorow passionately explains how computers are already entwined in our lives, which means laws that support lock-in are much more than inconveniences.