SMS in Disaster Response — Haitians SMS urgent needs to 4636, where they’re translated through crowdsourcing and acted on. All based on the Uhsahidi SMS engine.
Inside Open Source’s Historic Victory — open source developer wins against someone who took his work, added it to an open patent application, and then sued the open source developer for violating his patent.
What’s Wrong with Confidence (Pete Warden) — the lean startup approach and the scientific method. Good read, with two magnificent quotes: “Strong opinions, weakly held, and Confidence is vital for getting things done, but it has to be a spur to test your theories, not a lazy substitute for gathering evidence.
If You’re a Pirate — the user experience of legitimate DVDs is shite. That’s not the only reason that people pirate, but it sure ain’t helping.
Peer Review: What’s it Good For? (Cameron Neylon) — harsh and honest review of peer review with some important questions for the future of science. But there is perhaps an even more important procedural issue around peer review. Whatever value it might have we largely throw away. Few journals make referee’s reports available, virtually none track the changes made in response to referee’s comments enabling a reader to make their own judgement as to whether a paper was improved or made worse. Referees get no public credit for good work, and no public opprobrium for poor or even malicious work. And in most cases a paper rejected from one journal starts completely afresh when submitted to a new journal, the work of the previous referees simply thrown out of the window. Some lessons in here for social software, too.
Analog IMDB — The transition is moving slowly, but it’s moving. It’s a fascinating thing to watch. The technology is the dull part: what’s interesting is the shift in perception. You know how sometimes you turn off a certain section of your brain and force yourself to see a word not as a piece of language with meaning, but as a sequence of black shapes and white spaces? It’s like you’re seeing that image for the very first time and suddenly “bird” seems like a very odd thing. I’ve been buying all of my in-print books electronically for a couple of years. Physical books aren’t weird to me yet. But damn, that old copy of the Maltin guide was a freaky and bizarre object. It’s the first time I looked at a book and didn’t see a container for information. I saw dead wood.
Chartdroid — an open source charting library for Android.
China Bugs and Burgles Britain — The gifts — cameras and memory sticks — have been found to contain electronic Trojan bugs which provide the Chinese with remote access to users’ computers. Beware geeks bearing gifts.
Bespin — sexy HTML5 “code-in-the-cloud” IDE from Mozilla Labs. If the future is truly in locked-down hack-free devices whose only interface to the world is through the web browser, these sorts of IDEs are going to become critical for finding and raising the next generation of hackers.
Why I Am Disappointed with Nature Communications (Cameron Neylon) — fascinating to learn what you can’t do with “non-commercial”-licensed science research: using a paper for commercially funded research even within a university, using the content of paper to support a grant application, using the paper to judge a patent application, using a paper to assess the viability of a business idea.
Five Obstacles for Synthetic Biology — a reminder that biology is bloody hard, natural or synthetic. “There are very few molecular operations that you understand in the way that you understand a wrench or a screwdriver or a transistor,” says Rob Carlson, a principal at the engineering, consulting and design company Biodesic in Seattle, Washington. And the difficulties multiply as the networks get larger, limiting the ability to design more complex systems. A 2009 review showed that although the number of published synthetic biological circuits has risen over the past few years, the complexity of those circuits — or the number of regulatory parts they use — has begun to flatten out. (via Sciblogs)
Copyright Fail (BoingBoing) — rare out-of-copyright Jack Benny masters discovered in the CBS vaults, but CBS won’t release them or say why. As Cory says, “this isn’t how copyright is supposed to work.”
Nat Friedman Leaving Novell — one of the original Ximian founders, with interests in many directions and the coding chops to make them real. He’ll found another startup, topic as yet unknown, which will be one to watch.
Bruce Sterling’s State of the World 2010 — sometimes funny, often thought-provoking, always interesting. Americans really want and need and desire a Futuristic Vision Thing, they get all lonesome and moody without one, but it’s absolutely gotta be one of those good-old-fashioned American Futuristic Vision Things, just like the Americans had in the 1950s when everybody else was still on fire from total war and cleaning up the death camps.
Four Possible Explanations for Google’s Big China Move (Ethan Zuckerman) — I’m staying out of the public commentary on this one, but Ethan’s fourth point was wonderfully thought provoking: a Google-backed anticensorship system (perhaps operated in conjunction with some of the smart activists and engineers who’ve targeted censorship in Iran and China?) would be massively more powerful (and threatening!) than the systems we know about today. It’s deliciously provocative to ask what the world’s strongest tech company could do if it wanted to be actively good, rather than merely “not evil”.
Pop Software — great blog post about this new category of software. The people who are consuming software now are a vast superset of the people who used to do so. At one time, especially on the Mac, we’d see people chose software based upon how well it suited their requirements to get a job done. This new generation of software consumers isn’t like that – they’re less likely to shop around for something rather they shop around for anything. These are people who want to be entertained as much as they want to have their requirements met. […] Apps are not Applications – they are their own things. They are smaller. They are more fun. Pop software has amazing scale, is hit-driven, is a very hard business for developers, and isn’t going away. (via timo on Delicious)
Why Hasn’t Scientific Publishing Been Disrupted? — an analysis of the scientific publishing world: what roles it serves, how some of those roles can be better served by new technology, and which roles are still mired in traditions and performance plans anchored to the old models. As is often the case, people won’t move to the new system when the amount they’re paid is determined by the old system. (via timoreilly on Twitter)
mytop — a MySQL top implementation to show you why your server is so damn slow right now.
What Could Kill Elegant High-Value Participatory Project? — The problem was not that the system was buggy or hard to use, but that it disrupted staff expectations and behavior. It introduced new challenges for staff […]. Rather than adapt to these challenges, they removed the system. […] No librarian would get rid of all the Harry Potter books because they are “too popular.” No museum would stop offering an educational program that was “too successful.” These are familiar challenges that come with the job and are seen to have benefit. But if tagging creates a line or people spend too much time giving you feedback? Staff at Haarlem Oost likely felt comfortable removing the tagging shelves because they didn’t see the tagging as a patron requirement, nor the maintenance of the shelves as part of their job.
Gremlin — a Turing-complete, graph-based programming language developed in Java 1.6+ for key/value-pair multi-relational graphs known as property graphs. Graph structures underly a lot of interesting data (citations, social networks, maps) and this is a sign that we’re inching towards better systems for working with those graphs. (via Hacker News)
Anic — programming language based on stream and latches. I still can’t figure out whether it’s an elaborate April Fool’s Day joke that was released too soon, because the claim of “easier than *sh” is a bold one given the double-backslash and double-square-bracket-heavy syntax of the language. Important because it’s built to be parallelised, and we’re in transition pain right now between well-understood predictable languages for single CPUs (with hacks like pthreads for scaling) and experimental languages for multiple CPUs.
Testing, Testing — at the end of an interesting article on health care reform comes this: The poverty of our health-care information is an embarrassment. At the end of each month, we have county-by-county data on unemployment, and we have prompt and detailed data on the price of goods and commodities; we can use these indicators to guide our economic policies. But try to look up information on your community’s medical costs and utilization—or simply try to find out how many people died from heart attacks or pneumonia or surgical complications—and you will discover that the most recent data are at least three years old, if they exist at all, and aren’t broken down to a county level that communities can learn from. It’s like driving a car with a speedometer that tells you only how fast all cars were driving, on average, three years ago.. (via auchmill on Twitter)
View Source is Good? Discuss (Alex Russell) — fantastic post, mandatory reading. View-source was necessary (but not sufficient) to make HTML the dominant application platform of our times. I also hold that it is under attack — not least of all from within — and that losing view-source poses a significant danger to the overall health of the web.
How Visa, Using Card Fees, Dominates a Market — (NY Times) two interesting lessons here. First, that incentives to create a good system are easily broken when three parties are involved (here Visa sets the fees that merchants pay banks, so it’s in Visa’s interest to raise those fees as high as possible to encourage more banks to offer Visa cards). Second, that that value-based charging (“regardless of our costs, we’ll charge as much as we can without bankrupting or driving away all of you”) sounds great when you’re doing the charging but isn’t so appealing when you’re on the paying end. Visa justifies its fees not on the grounds of cost to provide the service, but rather by claiming that their service makes everything more convenient and so people shop more.
Doing It Wrong (Tim Bray) — What I’m writing here is the single most important take-away from my Sun years, and it fits in a sentence: The community of developers whose work you see on the Web, who probably don’t know what ADO or UML or JPA even stand for, deploy better systems at less cost in less time at lower risk than we see in the Enterprise. This is true even when you factor in the greater flexibility and velocity of startups. I’ve been working with a Big Company and can only agree with this: The point is that that kind of thing simply cannot be built if you start with large formal specifications and fixed-price contracts and change-control procedures and so on. So if your enterprise wants the sort of outcomes we’re seeing on the Web (and a lot more should), you’re going to have to adopt some of the cultures and technologies that got them built.
Analytics X Prize — The Analytics X Prize is an ongoing contest to apply analytics, modeling, and statistics to solve the social problems that affect our cities. It combines the fields of statistics, mathematics, and social science to understand the root causes of dysfunction in our neighborhoods. Understanding these relationships and discovering the most highly correlated variables allows us to deploy our limited resources more effectively and target the variables that will have the greatest positive impact on improvement. The first contest is to predict homicides in Philadelphia. (via mikeloukides on Twitter)
Protecting Cloud Secrets with Grendel (Wesabe blog) — new open source package that implements Wesabe’s policies for safe handling of customer data. It uses OpenPGP to store data, and offers access to the encrypted data via an internal (behind-the-firewall) REST service. The data can only be decrypted with the user’s password. Hopefully the first of many standard tools and practices for respecting privacy.