Popcorn Time — interview with the creator. All the elements we used already existed and had done so for a long time. But nobody had put them together in an interface that talked to the user in a nice way, said Abad. Very Anonymous approach to software: Who are you going to sue? The first? The second? The third? I did the design. Was it illegal? I didn’t link the various parts together. There is no comprehensive overview of who did what. For we don’t have any business. We don’t have any headquarters or a general manager.
Slow Chemistry (Nature) — “lazy man’s chemistry”: let a mix of solid reactants sit around undisturbed while they spontaneously transform themselves. More properly called slow chemistry, or even just ageing, the approach requires few, if any, hazardous solvents and uses minimal energy. If planned properly, it also consumes all the reagents in the mix, so that there is no waste and no need for chemical-intensive purification.
Oura — very nice wearable, with no UI to worry about. Put it on, and it’s on. (via Fast Company)
Science Isn’t Broken — it’s just a hell of a lot harder than we give it credit for. Beautifully written (and interactively illustrated) description of why science is easy to get wrong.
Eigenvectors in Plain English — absolutely the easiest to understand explanation I’ve ever read. It’s a miracle. (And I crashed and burned in linear algebra when matrices were used, so if *I* can get it …)
Possible Economics Models (Jamais Cascio) — economic futures filtered through Doctorovian prose. Griefer Economics: Information is power, especially when it comes to finance, and the increasing use of ultra-fast computers to manipulate markets (and drive out “weaker” competitors) is moving us into a world where market position isn’t determined by having the best offering, but by having the best tool. Rules are gamed, opponents are beaten before they even know they’re playing, and it all feels very much like living on a PvP online game server where the referees have all gone home. Relevant to Next:Economy.
War in Space May Be Closer Than Ever (SciAm) — Today, the situation is much more complicated. Low- and high-Earth orbits have become hotbeds of scientific and commercial activity, filled with hundreds upon hundreds of satellites from about 60 different nations. Despite their largely peaceful purposes, each and every satellite is at risk, in part because not all members of the growing club of military space powers are willing to play by the same rules — and they don’t have to, because the rules remain as yet unwritten. There’s going to be a bitchin’ S-1 risks section when Planet Labs files for IPO.
Not Even Close: The State of Computer Security (Vimeo) — In this bleak, relentlessly morbid talk, James Mickens will describe why making computers secure is an intrinsically impossible task. He will explain why no programming language makes it easy to write secure code. He will then discuss why cloud computing is a black hole for privacy, and only useful for people who want to fill your machine with ads, viruses, or viruses that masquerade as ads. At this point in the talk, an audience member may suggest that bitcoins can make things better. Mickens will laugh at this audience member and then explain why trusting the bitcoin infrastructure is like asking Dracula to become a vegan. Mickens will conclude by describing why true love is a joke and why we are all destined to die alone and tormented. The first ten attendees will get balloon animals, and/or an unconvincing explanation about why Mickens intended to (but did not) bring balloon animals. Mickens will then flee on horseback while shouting “The Prince of Lies escapes again!”
Algorithms and Bias (NYTimes) — interview w/Cynthia Dwork from Microsoft Research. Fairness means that similar people are treated similarly. A true understanding of who should be considered similar for a particular classification task requires knowledge of sensitive attributes, and removing those attributes from consideration can introduce unfairness and harm utility.
A New Artificial Compound Eye (Robohub) — three hexagonal photodetectors arranged in a triangular shape, underneath a single lens. These photodetectors work together and combine perceived changes in structured light (optic flow) to present a 3D image that shows what is moving in the scene, and in which direction the movement is happening.
Google’s Defensive Patent Initiative (TechCrunch) — good article, despite TechCrunch origin. Two-tiered program: give away groups of patents to startups with $500k-$20M in revenue, and sell patents to startups.
Bosun — an open-source, MIT licensed, monitoring and alerting system by Stack Exchange.
The Rise of Computer-Aided Explanation (Michael Nielsen) — Hod Lipson of Columbia University. Lipson and his collaborators have developed algorithms that, when given a raw data set describing observations of a mechanical system, will actually work backward to infer the “laws of nature” underlying those data. (Paper)
Meet DJ Patil — “It was this kind of moment when you realize: ‘Oh, my gosh, I am that stupid,’” he said.
Interview with Bruce Sterling on the Convergence of Humans and Machines — If you are a human being, and you are doing computation, you are trying to multiply 17 times five in your head. It feels like thinking. Machines can multiply, too. They must be thinking. They can do math and you can do math. But the math you are doing is not really what cognition is about. Cognition is about stuff like seeing, maneuvering, having wants, desires. Your cat has cognition. Cats cannot multiply 17 times five. They have got their own umwelt (environment). But they are mammalian, you are a mammalian. They are actually a class that includes you. You are much more like your house cat than you are ever going to be like Siri. You and Siri converging, you and your house cat can converge a lot more easily. You can take the imaginary technologies that many post-human enthusiasts have talked about, and you could afflict all of them on a cat. Every one of them would work on a cat. The cat is an ideal laboratory animal for all these transitions and convergences that we want to make for human beings. (via Vaughan Bell)
P Values are not Error Probabilities (PDF) — In particular, we illustrate how this mixing of statistical testing methodologies has resulted in widespread confusion over the interpretation of p values (evidential measures) and α levels (measures of error). We demonstrate that this confusion was a problem between the Fisherian and Neyman–Pearson camps, is not uncommon among statisticians, is prevalent in statistics textbooks, and is well nigh universal in the pages of leading (marketing) journals. This mass confusion, in turn, has rendered applications of classical statistical testing all but meaningless among applied researchers.
Modern Methods for Sentiment Analysis — Recently, Google developed a method called Word2Vec that captures the context of words, while at the same time reducing the size of the data. Gentle introduction, with code.
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.
Using Monitoring Dashboards to Change Behaviour — [After years of neglect] One day we wrote some brittle Ruby scripts that polled various services. They collated the metrics into a simple database and we automated some email reports and built a dashboard showing key service metrics. We pinpointed issues that we wanted to show people. Things like the login times, how long it would take to search for certain keywords in the app, and how many users were actually using the service, along with costs and other interesting facts. We sent out the link to the dashboard at 9am on Monday morning, before the weekly management call. Within 2 weeks most problems were addressed. It is very difficult to combat data, especially when it is laid out in an easy to understand way.
NSF Requiring Public Access — NSF will require that articles in peer-reviewed scholarly journals and papers in juried conference proceedings or transactions be deposited in a public access compliant repository and be available for download, reading, and analysis within one year of publication.
Filtered for Capital (Matt Webb) — It’s important to get a credit line [for hardware startups] because growing organically isn’t possible — even if half your sell-in price is margin, you can only afford to grow your batch size at 50% per cycle… and whether it’s credit or re-investing the margin, all that growth incurs risk, because the items aren’t pre-sold. There are double binds all over the place here.
Crowdsourcing Isn’t Broken — great rundown of ways to keep crowdsourcing on track. As with open sourcing something, just throwing open the doors and hoping for the best has a low probability of success.
etcd Hits 2.0 — first major stable release of an open source, distributed, consistent key-value store for shared configuration, service discovery, and scheduler coordination.
You Can’t Play 20 Questions With Nature and Win (PDF) — There is, I submit, a view of the scientific endeavor that is implicit (and sometimes explicit) in the picture I have presented above. Science advances by playing 20 questions with nature. The proper tactic is to frame a general question, hopefully binary, that can be attacked experimentally. Having settled that bits-worth, one can proceed to the next. The policy appears optimal – one never risks much, there is feedback from nature at every step, and progress is inevitable. Unfortunately, the questions never seem to be really answered, the strategy does not seem to work. An old paper, but still resonant today. (via Mind Hacks)
Program Synthesis Explained — The promise of program synthesis is that programmers can stop telling computers how to do things, and focus instead on telling them what they want to do. Inductive program synthesis tackles this problem with fairly vague specifications and, although many of the algorithms seem intractable, in practice they work remarkably well.
Ev Williams on Metrics — a master-class in how to think about and measure what matters. If what you care about — or are trying to report on — is impact on the world, it all gets very slippery. You’re not measuring a rectangle, you’re measuring a multi-dimensional space. You have to accept that things are very imperfectly measured and just try to learn as much as you can from multiple metrics and anecdotes.
Nature, the IT Wizard (Nautilus) — a fun walk through the connections between information theory, computation, and biology.