‘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.
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.)
Two Way Street — an 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)
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)
The Trolley and the Psychopath — Not only does a “utilitarian” response (“just kill the fat guy”) not actually reflect a utilitarian outlook, it may actually be driven by broad antisocial tendencies, such as lowered empathy and a reduced aversion to causing someone harm. Questionably expanding scope of claims in the behavioural philosophy research. (via Ed Yong)
Exploit Exercises — a variety of virtual machines, documentation, and challenges that can be used to learn about a variety of computer security issues, such as privilege escalation, vulnerability analysis, exploit development, debugging, reverse engineering, and general cyber security issues.
David Recordon Joins US Govt — This 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.
Carbon3D — Traditional 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.
There Is No Now — One of the most important results in the theory of distributed systems is an impossibility result, showing one of the limits of the ability to build systems that work in a world where things can fail. This is generally referred to as the FLP result, named for its authors, Fischer, Lynch, and Paterson. Their work, which won the 2001 Dijkstra Prize for the most influential paper in distributed computing, showed conclusively that some computational problems that are achievable in a “synchronous” model in which hosts have identical or shared clocks are impossible under a weaker, asynchronous system model.
Deep Learning Hardware Guide — One of the worst things you can do when building a deep learning system is to waste money on hardware that is unnecessary. Here I will guide you step by step through the hardware you will need for a cheap high performance system.
Designing the Human-Robot Relationship (O’Reilly) — We can use those same principles [Jakob Nielsen’s usability heuristics] and look for implications of robots serving our higher ordered needs, as we move from serving needs related to convenience or performance to actually supporting our decision making to emerging technologies, moving from being able to do anything or be magic in terms of the user interface to being more human in the user interface.
Why Are Geospatial Databases So Hard To Build? — Algorithms in computer science, with rare exception, leverage properties unique to one-dimensional scalar data models. In other words, data types you can abstractly represent as an integer. Even when scalar data types are multidimensional, they can often be mapped to one dimension. This works well, as the majority of [what] data people care about can be represented with scalar types. If your data model is inherently non-scalar, you enter an algorithm wasteland in the computer science literature.
The Web’s Grain (Frank Chimero) — What would happen if we stopped treating the web like a blank canvas to paint on, and instead like a material to build with?
Bruce Sterling on Convergence of Humans and Machines — I like to use the terms “cognition” and “computation”. Cognition is something that happens in brains, physical, biological brains. Computation is a thing that happens with software strings on electronic tracks that are inscribed out of silicon and put on fibre board. They are not the same thing, and saying that makes the same mistake as in earlier times, when people said that human thought was like a steam engine.
Smart Pocket Watch — I love to see people trying different design experiences. This is beautiful. And built on Firefox OS!
Knowledge-Based Trust (PDF) — Google research paper on how to assess factual accuracy of web page content. It was bad enough when Google incentivised people to make content-free pages. Next there’ll be a reward for scamming bogus facts into Google’s facts database.
Making Wrong Code Look Wrong (Joel Spolsky) — This makes mistakes even more visible. Your eyes will learn to “see” smelly code, and this will help you find obscure security bugs just through the normal process of writing code and reading code.
Simple Testing Can Prevent Most Critical Failures — We found the majority of catastrophic failures could easily have been prevented by performing simple testing on error handling code – the last line of defense – even without an understanding of the software design. We extracted three simple rules from the bugs that have lead to some of the catastrophic failures, and developed a static [Java] checker, Aspirator, capable of locating these bugs. One of the tests is a FIXME or TODO in an exception handler.
Quantum Machine Learning Algorithms: Read the Fine Print (Scott Aaronson) — In the years since HHL, quantum algorithms achieving “exponential speedups over classical algorithms” have been proposed for other major application areas […]. With each of them, one faces the problem of how to load a large amount of classical data into a quantum computer (or else compute the data “on-the-fly”), in a way that is efficient enough to preserve the quantum speedup.
Global Forecast System — National Weather Service open sources its weather forecasting software. Hope you have a supercomputer and all the data to make use of it …
High-reproducibility and high-accuracy method for automated topic classification — Latent Dirichlet allocation (LDA) is the state of the art in topic modeling. Here, we perform a systematic theoretical and numerical analysis that demonstrates that current optimization techniques for LDA often yield results that are not accurate in inferring the most suitable model parameters. Adapting approaches from community detection in networks, we propose a new algorithm that displays high reproducibility and high accuracy and also has high computational efficiency. We apply it to a large set of documents in the English Wikipedia and reveal its hierarchical structure.
FAA to Regulate UAVs? (Forbes) — and the Executive Order will segment the privacy issues related to drones into two categories — public and private. For public drones (that is, drones purchased with federal dollars), the President’s order will establish a series of privacy and transparency guidelines. See also How ESPN is Shooting the X Games with Drones (Popular Mechanics)—it’s all fun and games until someone puts out their eye with a quadrocopter. The tough part will be keeping within the tight restrictions the FAA gave them. Because drones can’t be flown above a crowd, Calcinari says, “We basically had to build a 500-foot radius around them, where the public can’t go.” The drones will fly over sections of the course that are away from the crowds, where only ESPN production employees will be. That rule is part of why we haven’t seen drones at college football games.
Milestones for SaaS Companies — “Getting from $0-1m is impossible. Getting from $1-10m is unlikely. And getting from $10-100m is inevitable.” —Jason Lemkin, ex-CEO of Echosign. The article proposes some significant milestones, and they ring true. Making money is generally hard. The nature of the hard changes with the amount of money you have and the amount you’re trying to make, but if it were easy, then we’d structure our society on something else.
Woodcut Data Visualisation — Recently, I learned how to operate a laser cutter. It’s been a whole lot of fun, and I wanted to share my experiences creating woodcut data visualizations using just D3. I love it when data visualisations break out of the glass rectangle.
Why is Concurrent Programming Hard? — on the one hand there is not a single concurrency abstraction that fits all problems, and on the other hand the various different abstractions are rarely designed to be used in combination with each other. We are due for a revolution in programming, something to help us make sense of the modern systems made of more moving parts than our feeble grey matter can model and intuit about.
Building the Workplace We Want (Slack) — culture is the manifestation of what your company values. What you reward, who you hire, how work is done, how decisions are made — all of these things are representations of the things you value and the culture you’ve wittingly or unwittingly created. Nice (in the sense of small, elegant) explanation of what they value at Slack.
The Internet of Things Has Four Big Data Problems (Alistair Croll) — What the IoT needs is data. Big data and the IoT are two sides of the same coin. The IoT collects data from myriad sensors; that data is classified, organized, and used to make automated decisions; and the IoT, in turn, acts on it. It’s precisely this ever-accelerating feedback loop that makes the coin as a whole so compelling. Nowhere are the IoT’s data problems more obvious than with that darling of the connected tomorrow known as the wearable. Yet, few people seem to want to discuss these problems.
Keysweeper — a stealthy Arduino-based device, camouflaged as a functioning USB wall charger, that wirelessly and passively sniffs, decrypts, logs, and reports back (over GSM) all keystrokes from any Microsoft wireless keyboard in the vicinity. Designs and demo videos included.