- Quantitative Reliability of Programs That Execute on Unreliable Hardware (MIT) — As MIT’s press release put it: Rely simply steps through the intermediate representation, folding the probability that each instruction will yield the right answer into an estimation of the overall variability of the program’s output. (via Pete Warden)
- Category Theory for Scientists (MIT Courseware) — Scooby snacks for rationalists.
- Textblob — Python open source text processing library with sentiment analysis, PoS tagging, term extraction, and more.
Why everyone must understand manufacturing, and why the most creative companies design hardware and software together.
It was a pleasure, as always, to talk with Joi Ito a couple of weeks ago. He and I are co-chairing Solid, our new conference about the intersection of software and the physical world, and we recorded part of our conversation in the video below to frame the program we’ve assembled.
Joi is, of course, the director of the MIT Media Lab, where the emphasis is on working across disciplines: engineers take on art and designers hit the oscilloscopes. The kind of development process standard in the new generation of hardware startups — small groups of people hacking away at electronics and software to come up with products that combine both — has been familiar at the Media Lab for decades.
Now the Media Lab’s emphasis is on projects that go all the way to manufacturing and distributing: moving from “demo or die” to “deploy or die,” as Joi puts it. Projects that deploy can be vastly more impactful than those that just demo — putting thousands of devices into the hands of users rather than just a couple. Plus, the manufacturing process is a crucial source of both constraints and creative possibility. Joi says, “Understanding manufacturing is going to be key to design, just like understanding the Internet has become key to running a company.”
Other topics that arose in our conversation — and that are also central to Solid: the merging disciplines of hardware and software, the role of expertise in creating manufactured products, agile hardware development, the importance of having software design and hardware design in the same place, and the need for a new ethics as manufacturing becomes democratized.
Coding for Unreliability, AirBnB JS Style, Category Theory, and Text Processing
Virtual Fences, State Fonts, Simple Prompts, and MIT Health Hackery
- How Virtual Fences Will Transform Rural America (The Atlantic) — When it comes to managing animals, every conventional fence that I have ever built has been in the wrong place the next year.
- Stately — a font of states which mesh together, so you can style individual states in CSS. Clever! (via Andy Baio)
- Code Triage — mails you a todo from your favourite Github projects. Interesting to see (a) what happens once there’s an easy way to access things like issues across multiple projects; and (b) what a lightweight hack it is for increasing participation. What small things could you send out each day, something different to each person, that’d help you make progress? Hm.
- MIT’s Health and Wellness Hack Day — 80 participants, two weeks. Good writeup in Fast Company. The focus here is on producing commercially viable products.
Some parts of the American university system work well for their students. The rest are ready for disruption.
The American college system is staggeringly large: 2,421 four-year institutions enroll about 18.5 million college students. The proportion of Americans with a bachelor’s degree is at an all-time high — a social victory if they’re able to enjoy a positive return on their degrees, which the Pew Research Center estimates at about $550,000 on average.
And the very existence of that system is threatened, as we are to believe it, by the massive open online course, or MOOC, offered by new ventures from the likes of Stanford, Harvard and MIT. In an essay last week, Clay Shirky compared universities and MOOCs to record companies and Napster: in both cases, the incumbents operated by providing something inconveniently and locally that could be provided conveniently and universally on the web. I don’t agree with the entire essay, but Shirky is absolutely right to point out that the college industry is made up of several markets, and they’ll be disrupted in different ways.
American higher education is deeply divided: it’s outstanding for a relative small handful of students and pretty bad for everyone else. The disruption of MOOCs will likely start at the bottom and move up from there. The question on which we should meditate is: how far up will it move? Read more…
- Sun A Year After: The Open Source Projects — roundup of what happened to Sun’s open source projects after the Oracle acquisition. It’s like the plague struck: some are dead, some are dying, some are fearful, others plough on resolutely.
- libcpu — open source library for emulating CPUs, built on llvm. (via a Stackoverflow answer on emulators)
- MIT Open Courseware Supports Independent Learners — they’ve taken some popular classes and made sure the material stands alone, by writing new material to replace references to closed/offline/etc. textbooks. OCW Scholar is not a distance-learning program, but rather educational materials provided for free without the support of an instructor or teaching assistant. The trade-off for this content-based approach without interaction is that OCW Scholar can be used by a very large audience for only the cost of digital distribution. How long until cheap teaching universities spring up, offering the MIT courseware with on-site TAs?
Crowdsourcing, fraud detection, and open data tools were touted at a recent Senate hearing.
A hearing on innovative uses of technology in government examined stimulus spending transparency at Recovery.gov, fraud detection through open data analysis, and the potential of crowdsourcing.