Invisible Autoupdater: An App’s Best Feature — Gina Trapani quotes Ben Goodger on Chrome: The idea was to give people a blank window with an autoupdater. If they installed that, over time the blank window would grow into a browser.
Crackpot Apocalypse — analyzing various historical pronouncements of the value of pi, paper author concludes “When πt is 1, the circumference of a circle will coincide with its diameter,” Dudley writes, “and thus all circles will collapse, as will all spheres (since they have circular cross-sections), in particular the earth and the sun. It will be, in fact, the end of the world, and … it will occur in 4646 A.D., on August 9, at 4 minutes and 27 seconds before 9 p.m.” Clever commentary and a good example when you need to show people the folly of inappropriate curve-fitting and extrapolation.
clang — C language family front-ends to LLVM. Development sponsored by Apple, as used in Snow Leopard. (via Nelson Minar)
OmniAuth — authenticate against Twitter, GitHub, Facebook, Foursquare, and many many more. OmniAuth is built from the ground up on the philosophy that authentication is not the same as identity. (via Tony Stubblebine)
DIY UAVs for Cyber-Warface — aerial drone that poses as celltower, sniffs wifi, cracks passwords, and looks badass. The photo should be captioned “IM IN UR SKIES, SNIFFIN UR GMAIL SESSION COOKIEZ.” (via Bryan O’Sullivan)
Wicked Problems (Karl Schroeder) — a category of problem which, once you read the definition, you recognize everywhere. 5. Every solution to a wicked problem is a “one-shot operation”; because there is no opportunity to learn by trial and error, every attempt counts significantly. I like Karl’s take: our biggest challenges are no longer technological. They are issues of communication, coordination, and cooperation. These are, for the most part, well-studied problems that are not wicked. The methodologies that solve them need to be scaled up from the small-group settings where they currently work well, and injected into the DNA of our society–or, at least, built into our default modes of using the internet. They then can be used to tackle the wicked problems.
Stanford AI Class — Peter Norvig teaching an AI class at Stanford with online open participation. Joins Archaeology of Ancient Egypt in league of university classes where anyone can join in. The former will let you register with Stanford (presumably for $$$) to join the class. The latter lets you audit for free, as the class will be run in open and transparent fashion. The former will be supported by the for-sale textbook, the latter by freely-downloadable readings.
Sensory and Chemical Analysis of “Shackleton’s” Mackinlay Scotch Whisky (PDF) — Three cases of Mackinlay’s Rare Highland Malt whisky were excavated from the ice under Sir Ernest Shackleton’s 1907 expedition base camp hut at Cape Royds in Antarctica in January 2010. The majority of the bottles were in a pristine state of preservation and three were returned to Scotland in January 2011 for the first sensory and organoleptic analysis of a Scotch malt whisky distilled in the late 1890s. I love science where figures have captions like: Principal component analysis (PCA) of peat derived congeners in peated whisky and new-make spirit. I hope the finders got to drink at least some of it, but sentences like this make it seem improbable: The three whisky bottles, minus the whisky sampled via the syringe for this work, will be returned to New Zealand and the Antarctic Heritage Trust will subsequently return the artefacts to Antarctica and place them back under the floor of Shackleton’s hut for posterity. (via Chris Heathcote)
Basel Wear — to answer the question I know was burning on your lips: “what *did* the Swiss wear in 1634?” Impressively detailed pictures from a 1634 book that is now online. One of the reasons I’m in favour of digitizing cultural collections is that we’re more likely to encounter them on the net and so ask questions like “how did people dress in 1634?”, “why did everyone carry keys?”, and “what is a Sexton?”
databranches: Using git as a Database — it’s important to approach your design for using git as a database from the perspective of automated merging. Get the merging right and the rest will follow. I’ve chosen to use the simplest possible merge, the union merge: When merging parent trees A and B, the result will have all files that are in either A or B, and files present in both will have their lines merged (and possibly reordered or uniqed).
Joshfire — open source (dual-licensed GPLv2 and commercial) multiplatform development framework built on HTML5.
Science Shackled by IPR (Guardian) — it is estimated that some 20% of individual human genes have been patented already or have been filed for patenting. As a result, research on certain genes is largely restricted to the companies that hold the patents, and tests involving them are marketed at prohibitive prices. We believe that this poses a very real danger to the development of science for the public good. (via Gabriella Coleman)
Principles of Uncertainty — probability and statistics textbook, for maths students to build up to understanding Bayesian reasoning.
Playable Archaeology: An Interview with the Telehacks Anonymous Creator (Andy Baio) — The inspiration was my son. I had shown him the old movies Hackers, Wargames, and Colossus: The Forbin Project and he really liked them. After seeing Hackers and Wargames, he really wanted to start hacking stuff on his own. I’d taught him some programming, but I didn’t want him doing any actual hacking, so I decided to make a simulation so he could telnet to hosts, hack them, and get the feel of it, but safely. (Andy was the interviewer, not the creator)
The Heritage Health Competition — Netflix-like contest to analyze insurance-claims data to develop a model that predicts the number of days a patient will spend in hospital in the coming year. $3M prize. (via Aza Raskin)
DSPL: DataSet Publishing Language (Google Code) — a representation language for the data and metadata of datasets. Datasets described in this format can be processed by Google and visualized in the Google Public Data Explorer. XML metadata on CSV, geo-enabled, with linkable data. (via Michal Migurski on Delicious)
Why is Evidence So Hard for Politicians — Ben Goldacre nails how politicians go about “evidence-based policy making”: So the Minister has cherry picked only the good findings, from only one report, while ignoring the peer-reviewed literature. Most crucially, he cherry-picks findings he likes whilst explicitly claiming that he is fairly citing the totality of the evidence from a thorough analysis. I can produce good evidence that I have a magical two-headed coin, if I simply disregard all the throws where it comes out tails.
pixelfari — Safari hacked to look like it’s running on an 8-bit computer. This sense of playfulness with the medium is something I love about the best coders. They think “ha, wouldn’t it be funny if …” and then can make it happen.
Phantom of the Flopera (YouTube) — Bach’s Tocata and Fugue in D Minor (BWV 565) as performed by floppy drives. Creative intimacy with one’s tools is a sign of mastery. (via Andy Baio)
Save Entire BBC Archive (Ben Goldacre) — I pointed earlier to the questionable BBC closure of scores of websites in the name of cost-cutting. It’s a torrent of an archive of spidered BBC websites. (via Andy Baio)
Android Hidden NFC Capabilities Unlocked — Gibraltar Software Factory, based in Argentina, went through the source code of Android 2.3 and found that Google has purposefully hidden several NFC related API calls, most likely due to the fact that they’re not quite stable enough for public release. Some minor tweaking of the source code, and boom, they’ve enabled write support for NFC tags. This means mobile phones will not just read RFID tags, but also act like RFID tags. (via Chris Heathcote on Delicious)
Pinboard Creator Maciej Ceglowski (ReadWriteWeb) — I think many developers (myself included) are easily seduced by new technology and are willing to burn a lot of time rigging it together just for the joy of tinkering. So nowadays we see a lot of fairly uninteresting web apps with very technically sweet implementations. In designing Pinboard, I tried to steer clear of this temptation by picking very familiar, vanilla tools wherever possible so I would have no excuse for architectural wank. The other reason I like the approach is that the tried-and-true stuff is extensively debugged and documented. The chances of you finding a bug in MySQL or PHP as the author of a mid-sized website are microscopic. That’s not the case for newer infrastructure like NoSQL or the various web frameworks.
Mobile Economics will Trend Towards Web Economics (Fred Wilson) — A central issue with the Internet, no matter what device and presentation layer you use to access it, is that there is an unlimited amount of content available. Evan Williams calls it “a web of infinite information” in this chat with Om Malik. What is valuable is filtering and curation. Restricting access to content doesn’t work. Someone else’s content will get filtered and curated instead of yours. Scarcity is not a viable business model on the Internet.
Magic Tile — geometric and topological analogues of Rubik’s Cube. Mindblowing fun with math.
Apple I Basic as Mac OS X Scripting Language — great hack. The “apple1basic” executable is a statically recompiled version of the original binary. All code is running natively. It plugs right into UNIX stdin and stdout. You can pass it the filename of a BASIC program to run. You can run BASIC programs like shell scripts. (via Hacker News)
How to Discredit Net Neutrality — the Level3-Comcast dispute isn’t as straightforward as you might think (or as I implied). Increasingly, advocates of net neutrality have pegged their case to a larger and more powerful role for FCC regulation in the internet industry. And thus the net neutrality debate, instead of focusing on developing new institutional arrangements to preserve internet freedom on BOTH the demand and supply side, descends into a replay of the early 1980s, Reagan-era punch and judy show between democrats and republicans, with one arguing for “more government” and the other for “less government.” Neither talking much sense about what the government should actually do. There’s a missing discussion here about competition preventing carrier abuses, competition that the US lacks.
The Dark Side of Open Source Conferences (Val Aurora) — A good first step is for conferences and communities to adopt and enforce explicit policies or codes of conduct that spell out what kind of behavior won’t be tolerated and what response it will get. Much in the way that people don’t stop speeding unless they get speeding tickets, or that murder is totally unacceptable to most people but laws against it still exist, harassment at conferences may seem obviously wrong, but stopping it will require written rules and enforceable penalties.