Four Short Links

Nat Torkington's eclectic collection of curated links.

Four short links: 13 January 2017

CSV Conference, Autonomous Paper Planes, Test Wisely, and Some Silliness

  1. CSV Conference -- A community conference for data makers everywhere, featuring stories about data sharing and data analysis from science, journalism, government, and open source.
  2. Disposable Paper Drones -- an autonomous drone made out of cardboard that can fly twice the distance of any fixed-range aircraft because it’s disposable. The drone only goes one way. Star Simpson's project at OtherLab.
  3. Engineering War Stories -- Tests aren’t free. Be economical. We had a TDA (Test Driven Apocalypse) where our CI builds had crept up to 20 minutes, tests were failing randomly, and development speed was at an all-time low. It was extremely demoralizing waiting 15-20 minutes and getting a random test failure. We called it The Roulette.
  4. The Best Hacker News Conspiracy Theory Ever -- A few nights ago, over a liberal quantity of beers, my friends and I came up with our latest nonsensical conspiracy theory.... This is wonderful fun.

Four short links: 12 January 2017

China and Bitcoin, Software Repeatability, Tesla Radar, and Chinese Data Market

  1. China's Deep in Bitcoin -- RMB accounted for 98% of global bitcoin trading volume over the past six months. (via Marginal Revolution)
  2. Software Repeatability -- we're rapidly moving into a space where the long tail of data is going to become useless because the software needed to interpret it is vanishing. [...]Second, it's not clear to me that we'll actually know if the software is running robustly, which is far worse than simply having it break.
  3. No, a Tesla Didn't Predict an Accident and Brake For It (Brad Templeton) -- Radar beams bounce off many things, including the road. That means a radar beam can bounce off the road under a car that is in front of you, and then hit a car in front of it, even if you can’t see the car. Because the radar tells you “I see something in your lane 40m ahead going 20mph and something else 30m ahead going 60mph” you know it’s two different things. The Tesla radar saw just that.
  4. China Data for Sale -- Using just the personal ID number of a colleague, reporters bought detailed data about hotels stayed at, flights and trains taken, border entry and exit records, real estate transactions and bank records. All of them with dates, times and scans of documents (for an extra fee, the seller could provide the names of who the colleague stayed with at hotels and rented apartments). Most major Chinese apps report IMEI numbers.

Four short links: 11 January 2017

Stacked Hydrogels, Beginning Measurement, Yubikey Experiments, and Find Lectures

  1. Stacked Hydrogels for Implantable Microelectromechanical Systems -- enables development of biocompatible implantable microdevices with a wide range of intricate moving components that can be wirelessly controlled on demand, in a manner that solves issues of device powering and biocompatibility. As with almost all such papers, "enables" isn't the same as "we now can make," but this is a clever step forward. (via Robohub)
  2. The First Four Things You Measure -- great advice for how to start measuring useful things about your service.
  3. Yubikey Handbook -- A collection of guidelines, use cases, and experiments with the Yubikey.
  4. Find Lectures -- tens of thousands of video and audio lectures, search and browsing. (via Werner Vogels)

Four short links: 10 January 2017

AI Ethics, Real Names, Popup VPN, and Serverless ​COBOL

  1. Top 9 Ethical Issues in AI (WEF) -- unemployment, inequality, humanity, mistakes, bias, security, unintended consequences, singularity, and robot rights.
  2. The Real Name Fallacy -- real names don't make for more civility, forcing real names in online communities could also increase discrimination and worsen harassment.
  3. PopUp OpenVPN -- Make a self-hosted OpenVPN server in 15 minutes.
  4. COBOLambda -- Serverless COBOL on AWS Lambda. (via Werner Vogels)

Four short links: 9 January 2017

"Universal Truths," Getting Stuck, Kafka Dot Com, and Auto Ordering

  1. 50 Universal Truths for Success (Business Insider) -- I've been collecting my own "lessons learned" and some look like these. In the early stages of a company, career, or project, you’ll have to say “yes” to a lot of things. In the later stages, you’ll have to say “no.” True for stages of life as well.
  2. How do Individual Contributors Get Stuck? (Camille Fournier) -- top advice. My competence took a massive step forward when I finally realized what caused me to get stuck (and what getting stuck felt like). Noticing how people get stuck is a super power, and one that many great tech leads (and yes, managers) rely on to get big things done. When you know how people get stuck, you can plan your projects to rely on people for their strengths and provide them help or even completely side-step their weaknesses. You know who is good to ask for which kinds of help, and who hates that particular challenge just as much as you do.
  3. Kafka the Entrepreneur (Guardian) -- wanted to write indie European travel guides, came up with a five-page business plan, but was so paranoid he demanded NDAs from publishers before meeting ... so nobody funded him.
  4. TV Anchor says "Alexa Buy Me A Dollhouse" on Air (The Register) -- voice-command purchasing is enabled by default on Alexa devices. Hilarity ensures.

Four short links: 6 January 2017

Learn 6502, Graphviz in Browser, Messenger Bot Discovery, and Data Shapeshifting

  1. Easy 6502 -- take your first steps in programming in the assembly language behind the Apple II and the Commodore 64. It has an inline assembler and 6502 emulator, resulting in a tutorial that reads like an iPython Notebook.
  2. Viz.js -- Graphviz in your browser.
  3. FB Messenger PM on Discovery -- short version: discovery is not FB's problem; it's your problem as a bot-developer. Have an audience, and point them to your bot. There will be no instant millionaires courtesy of Facebook's discovery system. This leaves me feeling unsatisfied, even as I understand the temptation to avoid the Robert-Scoble-Wearing-It-In-The-Shower-brand death moment of shiny new tech du jour.
  4. Odo: Shapeshifting For Your Data -- It efficiently migrates data from the source to the target through a network of conversions.

Four short links: 5 January 2017

Crowdsourced Phone, Social Network Analysis of Literature, Sterling and Lebowsky, and Narrative Patterns

  1. Crowdsourced Phone Gets Release Date and Price -- September, $199, and the two features from the crowdsourced list of "what could we put in a mobile phone?" are eye-tracking navigation and an adhesive case that lets you stick it to surfaces.
  2. Comparative Social Network Analysis of Irish and British Fiction, 1800-1922 -- they just added Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man on the anniversary of its original publication.
  3. State of the World -- Sterling and Lebowsky go again. Not that I forgive them for cyberspying, but really, getting kicked out of a country is such a personal drag. You've got to sell your house, get rid of your car, fire the babysitter, fill out all kinds of stupid international paperwork... One minute you've got a plum job in Washington, a weird foreign power where things are just getting lively and interesting, and the next day you're packing a valise like some goddamn Syrian refugee. Just because you've been spearphishing VCs, CEOs, and Congressmen, whatever. Sure, it's sneaky and against the host country's national interests, but were you supposed to NOT do that? You're in the freakin' diplomatic corps! It's an existential condition.
  4. NAPA Cards -- narrative patterns. I'm not sure it's useful, but even making me go "are these really examples of the same category of thing?" is making my brain work in interesting ways.

Four short links: 4 January 2017

Science and Complexity, App Store Farm, Portability over Performance, and Incident Response Docs

  1. Science and Complexity (PDF) -- in the first part of the article, Weaver offers a historical perspective of problems addressed by science, a classification that separates simple, few-variable problems from the “disorganized complexity” of numerous-variable problems suitable for probability analysis. The problems in the middle are “organized complexity” with a moderate number of variables and interrelationships that cannot be fully captured in probability statistics. The second part of the article addresses how the study of organized complexity might be approached. The answer is through harnessing the power of computers and cross-discipline collaboration. Originally published in 1948.
  2. How to Manipulate App Store Rankings the Hard Way -- photo shows a wall of iPads in front of a woman. Her job is to download, install, and uninstall specific apps over and over again to boost their App Store rankings. (via BoingBoing)
  3. Intel's 10nm Chip Tech -- As has been the case for years already, clock speed isn’t liable to increase, though. “It’s really power reduction or energy efficiency that’s the primary goal on these new generations, besides or in addition to transistor cost reduction,” Bohr says. Improved compactness and efficiency will make it more attractive to add more cores to server chips and more execution units onto GPUs, he says.
  4. PagerDuty's Incident Response Documentation -- It is a cut-down version of our internal documentation, used at PagerDuty for any major incidents, and to prepare new employees for on-call responsibilities. It provides information not only on preparing for an incident, but also what to do during and after. It is intended to be used by on-call practitioners and those involved in an operational incident response process (or those wishing to enact a formal incident response process). Open sourced, so you can copy it and localize it for your company's systems and outage patterns. (via PagerDuty blog)

Four short links: 3 January 2017

Fortran MVC, Decent Security, Livecoding a Game, and Data Pipelines

  1. -- is like PHP: FastCGI runs a script that outputs HTML strings. (via Werner Vogels)
  2. Decent Security -- good advice for people who aren't security experts. (via Taylor Swift)
  3. Handmade Hero -- this chap is writing a game, from the ground up, on Twitch. He explains everything he does, so this is basically a master-class for the true would-be games programmer.
  4. Proof -- A Python library for creating fast, repeatable, and self-documenting data analysis pipelines.

Four short links: 2 January 2017

Measurement, Oblique Programming, Memory Models, and Bunnie's Book

  1. Five Things I Learned from Hubbard in 2016 -- We need less data than we think, and we have more data than we realize. Notes from How to Measure Anything in Cybersecurity.
  2. Oblique Programming Strategies -- Is it better to estimate it quickly or compute it slowly? Good list of barrier-breaking approaches, based on the Oblique Strategies cards.
  3. Memory Models -- There are about six major conceptualizations of memory, which I’m calling “memory models,” that dominate today’s programming. Three of them derive from the three most historically important programming languages of the 1950s—COBOL, LISP, and FORTRAN—and the other three derive from the three historically important data storage systems: magnetic tape, Unix-style hierarchical filesystems, and relational databases.
  4. The Hardware Hacker: Adventures in Making and Breaking Hardware -- Bunnie Huang's new book.

Four short links: 30 December 2016

Westworld as Game, Sensor Batteries, Topic Matching, and WeChat's Networking

  1. These Violent Delights (Emily Short) -- Westworld from an interactive fiction designer's point of view. But there are other things you’d need in a system like this that I didn’t see. For instance: tracking player knowledge. What information has been revealed to which players? Does everyone know what they need to know in order to get a satisfying arc from this story? A multiplayer experience combined with real-world scope/hearing issues makes this extra tricky, because you can have players walking in and out of one another’s scenes or telling one another plot information, and you have to somehow account for all that and make sure everyone understands what’s going on well enough to have a good time.
  2. AI and Unreliable Electronics (Pete Warden) -- fascinating details about energy use and energy need. I’m convinced that smart sensors are going to be massively important in the future, and that vision can’t work if they require batteries. [...] These sorts of applications will only work if the devices can last for years unattended. We can already build tiny chips that do these sorts of things, but we can’t build batteries that can power them for anywhere near that long, and that’s unlikely to change soon.
  3. Fast Topic Matching -- A common problem in messaging middleware is that of efficiently matching message topics with interested subscribers. [...] This is frequently a bottleneck for message-oriented middleware like ZeroMQ, RabbitMQ, ActiveMQ, TIBCO EMS, et al. Because of this, there are a number of well-known solutions to the problem. In this post, I’ll describe some of these solutions, as well as a novel one, and attempt to quantify them through benchmarking. (code on GitHub)
  4. Mars -- a cross-platform network component developed by WeChat.. Interesting because WeChat works well across unreliable networks, whereas other systems often struggle even on reliable networks.

Four short links: 29 December 2016

Polyglot Notebook, SQL Proxy, Global Radio, and Diagnosis from Breath

  1. Beaker Notebook -- a code notebook that allows you to analyze, visualize, and document data using multiple programming languages. Beaker's plugin-based polyglot architecture enables you to seamlessly switch between languages in your documents and add support for your favorite languages that we've missed. [...] We currently provide support for Python, R, Julia, Groovy, Ruby, Java, Scala, Kdb, Clojure, JavaScript, HTML, Markdown, and LaTeX. And can translate variables between languages.
  2. Proxy SQL -- high-performance MySQL proxy.
  3. Radio Garden -- find radio stations from around the world, with a UI that emphasises the global nature.
  4. Diagnosis and Classification of 17 Diseases from 1,404 Subjects via Pattern Analysis of Exhaled Molecules -- an artificially intelligent nanoarray based on molecularly modified gold nanoparticles and a random network of single-walled carbon nanotubes for noninvasive diagnosis and classification of a number of diseases from exhaled breath. See also Quartz article. (via Slashdot)

Four short links: 28 December 2016

Throughput vs. Quality, Software is Hard, Video Witchcraft, and TOPS-20 Simulator

  1. Throughput vs. Quality -- road widening is wonderful for boosting throughput -- that is, it gets more people and cars onto the road. Yet, it's mediocre or worse for improving the quality of life of the typical resident. An economist, engineer, or technocrat typically believes that boosting throughput is important, but voters usually are less impressed. Western democracies are encountering more problems that have this logical structure and bring an analogous clash of values.
  2. Writing Software is Hard -- Getting started programming today has never been easier. From open source to superb books and tutorials to bootcamps, it’s a splendor. This is in sharp contrast to the fact that programming has also never been harder to master, in both depth and breadth. There has never been more languages, more concepts, more frameworks, libraries, tools. It’s impossible to know, let alone understand, it all.
  3. Face2Face: Real-time Face Capture and Reenactment -- this will blow your mind. Check out the video demonstration. (via Vaughan Bell)
  4. TWENEX -- a simulator of the PDP-10 OS, TOPS-20. (via Seth Morabito)

Four short links: 27 December 2016

Marshall McLuhan, Video Falsehoods, Load Balancing, and Programming as Shrinking Problems

  1. How to Become a Famous Media Scholar -- the story of Marshall McLuhan's deliberate and orchestrated rise to fame and the corresponding shift in the stories that he told, makes for a fascinating read. In short: he stayed religious but retuned his message from a Chestertonian "boo modernity" to "rah technology and advertising!", and deliberately sought celebrity. Wired's canonizing of him seems prescient for what the web would become: a quagmire of self-made celebrities and clickbait ad millionaires.
  2. Falsehoods Programmers Believe About Video Stuff - I think this set waiting until the next vsync is easy in OpenGL; OpenGL is well-supported on all operating systems; OpenGL is well-supported on any operating system. just beats this set: the display’s refresh rate will be an integer multiple of the video file’s frame rate; the display’s clock will be in sync with the audio clock; I can accurately measure the display’s clock; I can accurately measure the audio clock; I can exclusively use the audio clock for timing; I can exclusively use the video clock for timing. So much painful learning encoded in so few words.
  3. Are You Load Balancing Wrong? (Tom Limoncelli) -- the answer is probably "yes," but don't worry, as Tom's here to sort you out. Three Ways To Do It Wrong is my favourite H3 so far today.
  4. Programming as Semantic Compression -- I look at programming as having essentially two parts: figuring out what the processor actually needs to do to get something done, and then figuring out the most efficient way to express that in the language I’m using. Increasingly, it is the latter that accounts for what programmers actually spend their time on: wrangling all those algorithms and all that math into a coherent whole that doesn’t collapse under its own weight. (via Michael Nielsen)

Four short links: 26 December 2016

Zimbu, Mistakes, Atari, and Dashbot

  1. Zimbu Programming Language -- nifty BASIC-like language for the learner, by Bram Moolenaar.
  2. What We Learned from Our Mistakes in 2016 (Guardian Developer Blog) -- remember to always check your work: no matter how small your change, you’re probably breaking something somewhere.
  3. 8-Bit Workshop -- 6502 code editor and an Atari emulator in one website. Sweet! (via Hacker News)
  4. Dashbot -- open source car nav accessory. Quirky UI!

Four short links: 23 December 2016

Superintelligence, Life Principles, VR Resources, and Interactive Dynamic Video

  1. Superintelligence: The Idea That Eats Smart People (Maciej Ceglowski) -- Maciej lays it down. It's all my favorite part. Read it.
  2. Principles -- a hedge-fund manager's principles for life. I've been writing down my own view of How Life Works, so it was interesting to see similarities and differences.
  3. VR Resources -- designer resources from Facebook, tailored to VR. License doesn't permit their use in finished products, only in designer mockups.
  4. Interactive Dynamic Video -- MIT research: identify small motions, from there figure out the degrees of freedom and waveform, and then let you distort accordingly. Impressive video, and stay to the end for dancing.

Four short links: 22 December 2016

Brainless Slime, Significance Testing, Year of Breaches, and Deploying to AWS

  1. A Brainless Slime That Shares Memories by Fusing -- but enough about Silicon Valley, here's some science.
  2. When Null Hypothesis Significance Testing is Unsuitable for Research: A Reassessment (John Ioannidis) -- Null hypothesis significance testing (NHST) has several shortcomings that are likely contributing factors behind the widely debated replication crisis of psychology, cognitive neuroscience, and biomedical science in general. We review these shortcomings and suggest that, after about 60 years of negative experience, NHST should no longer be the default, dominant statistical practice of all biomedical and psychological research.
  3. Learning from a Year of Breaches -- This year’s incidents involving APT groups notably focused their attacks directly on employee’s personal emails and endpoints. Whether they show up at the office with their personal devices won’t matter if they’re sharing credentials or access tokens on personal accounts and devices, or accessing corporate accounts from home.
  4. Deploying AWS with Terraform and Shell Scripts -- an 18F one-day training class. (via Jez Humble)

Four short links: 21 December 2016

Topic Modeling, Datafication, Toy Spies, and Partisan Beliefs

  1. Gensim -- topic modeling in Python for humans.
  2. Datafication and Ideological Blindness -- Replacing strategy with metric optimization is stupid enough, but it’s even more dangerous for companies that choose the same metric as competitors.[...] A strategy is useless if your stronger competitor has the same strategy. Without differentiation there’s no advantage. Execution of the strategy matters, though.
  3. Listening Dolls -- the conversations that Cayla records are sent to servers at a company called Genesis, which makes the doll, and to another company called Nuance, which makes voice-recognition software for this any many other products. Nuance also has a database used by law enforcement and military and intelligence agencies that matches voiceprints.
  4. Partisan Bias in Factual Beliefs about Politics -- indications that partisanship decreases in the face of a cost for being wrong.

Four short links: 20 December 2016

Ingestible Origami Robot, Feature Flags, AI Q&A, and Disappearing Ideas

  1. Ingestible Origami Robot (MIT) -- The researchers tested about a dozen different possibilities for the structural material before settling on the type of dried pig intestine used in sausage casings. “We spent a lot of time at Asian markets and the Chinatown market looking for materials."
  2. Feature Flags Implementations (Tom Limoncelli) -- notes on a couple of techniques for implementing feature flags.
  3. MS MARCO -- a set of 100,000 questions and answers that artificial intelligence researchers can use. Described in this Microsoft blog post.
  4. Are Ideas Getting Harder to Find? (PDF) -- The number of researchers required today to achieve the famous doubling every two years of the density of computer chips is more than 25 times larger than the number required in the early 1970s. Across a broad range of cases and levels of disaggregation, we find that ideas—and in particular the exponential growth they imply—are getting harder and harder to find. Exponential growth results from the large increases in research effort that offset its declining productivity.

Four short links: 19 December 2016

Robot Arm, Societal Collapse, Bot NLP, and Tech in Hostile States

  1. Giant Robot Arm -- don't think of the worms in Dune while watching this video of a pneumatic robot arm.
  2. Notes on Collapse of Complex Societies (PDF) -- notes on this classic archeology text, see also a talk for the gist. His thesis is that there's a Coase's Nature of the Firm for complexity of societies: eventually the maintenance of a large society is too hard and it splinters into smaller, more maintainable societies. Measures complexity by number of artefacts. (via Simon St Laurent)
  3. -- Open source language understanding for bots, a drop-in replacement for popular NLP tools like,, or LUIS.
  4. Technology in Hostile States (TOR Project) -- some general principles that are: Do not rely on the law to protect systems or users; Prepare policy commentary for quick response to crisis; Only keep the user data that you currently need; Give users full control over their data; Allow pseudonymity and anonymity; Encrypt data in transit and at rest; Invest in cryptographic R&D to replace non-cryptographic systems; Eliminate single points of security failure, even against coercion; Favor open source and enable user freedom; Practice transparency: share best practices, stand for ethics, and report abuse.