Four Short Links

Nat Torkington's eclectic collection of curated links.

Four short links: 22 May 2017

Meta Tutorial, Network Game, Indigenous VR, and Facebook Moderation

  1. An Interactive Tutorial on Making Interactive Tutorials -- full of the little details that you only learn by doing many times. (via @redblobgames)
  2. Netsim -- a simulator game designed to teach high schoolers about networking theory. (via @errorinn)
  3. Indigenous Australia in VR (SMH) -- The idea is to create a complex game where the user, wearing an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset, can engage with and learn about Aboriginal culture—and it's the campus elders and other Indigenous people who are driving the content.
  4. The Facebook Files -- the Guardian has copies of some of Facebook's moderation docs. Eye-wateringly, and eye-openingly, comprehensive guides to the situations that crop up online and the rules for navigating them. In one of the leaked documents, Facebook acknowledges “people use violent language to express frustration online” and feel “safe to do so” on the site. It says: “They feel that the issue won’t come back to them and they feel indifferent toward the person they are making the threats about because of the lack of empathy created by communication via devices as opposed to face to face. There's a lot of (perhaps amateur) psychological analysis behind these guidelines because of the complex social and personal circumstances in the edge-cases and conflicts. The big challenge for Facebook is to curtail some behaviour without removing the engagement-driving illusion that it's "my Facebook" that I am posting to (when, in fact, it might be more accurate to refer to posting as "crapping all over my friends' screens.")

Four short links: 19 May 2017

Algorithmic Fallibility, AI Sketches, Traffic Obfuscation, and Engineer-Manager Pendulum

  1. Algorithmic Fallibility and Economic Organization -- algorithms have benefits (when they get the right answer) and costs (when they get the wrong answer). This article creates three scenarios and uses the tools of economics to analyze them.
  2. Google Releases Sketches -- Sketch-RNN, a generative model for vector drawings, is now available in Magenta. Comes with 50M drawings as training data.
  3. Bedlam -- Google Chrome extension to generate random web traffic/DNS requests to make your web traffic data less valuable for selling.
  4. The Engineer-Manager Pendulum (Charity Majors) -- The best frontline eng managers in the world are the ones who are never more than 2-3 years removed from hands-on work, full time down in the trenches. The best individual contributors are the ones who have done time in management.

Four short links: 18 May 2017

Checking Fact-Checkers, Simpler Java, JSON Feed, and Street-Fighting Mathematics

  1. Checking How Fact-checkers Check -- I evaluate the performance of two major online fact-checkers, Politfact at Tampa Bay Times and Fact Checker at Washington Post, comparing their interrater reliability using a method that is regularly utilized across the social sciences. I show that fact-checkers rarely fact-check the same statement, and when they do, there is little agreement in their ratings. Approximately, 1 in 10 statements is fact-checked by both fact-checking outlets, and among claims that both outlets check, their factual ratings have a Cohen’s κ of 0.52, an agreement rate much lower than what is acceptable for social scientific coding. The results suggest that difficulties in fact-checking elites’ statements may limit the ability of journalistic fact-checking to hold politicians accountable. (via Marginal Revolution)
  2. Kotlin -- a Swift-like take on Java. Statically typed programming language for modern multiplatform applications 100% interoperable with Java and Android. Steve Yegge loves it, and here's a rundown of the main language features.
  3. JSON Feed -- another tilt at the content syndication windmill. "It's Atom but in convenient COBOL Object Notation," he said twitching. "Both remaining bloggers have signed up to use it!"
  4. Street-Fighting Mathematics (PDF) -- MIT book on the art of educated guessing and opportunistic problem-solving. The major sections are: Dimensions; Easy cases; Lumping; Pictorial proofs; Taking out the big part; Analogy.

Four short links: 17 May 2017

Shipping Apps, Cloud Economics, Computational Theory, and Imitation Learning

  1. How Etsy Ships Apps -- starts with a nifty summary of their chatops-based push process, then moves to how they tackle shipping for mobile apps. So, we built a vessel that coordinates the status, schedule, communications, and deploy tools for app releases. Here’s how Ship helps: (1) keeps track of who committed changes to a release; (2) sends Slack messages and emails to the right people about the relevant events; (3) manages the state and schedule of all releases.
  2. Usage Patterns and the Economics of the Cloud (Adrian Colyer) -- cloud providers overwhelmingly use static pricing models; what’s going on? Here’s the short summary: the data shows that there is actually very little variation in demand volatility for cloud datacenters at the moment, thus the current pricing model makes sense. If you look more closely at actual CPU utilization rates, though, you see that behind the constantly powered-on VMs, there are true variations in usage patterns. Therefore, as we move to cloud-native applications, and especially to models such as serverless that can much more effortlessly and granularly scale up and down in response to changing demands, we can expect the optimum pricing models to also change. Even then, it appears that having just two price bands, peak and off-peak—with off-peak times set in advance, would obtain the majority of the efficiency gains available.
  3. New Kind of Science -- available free. (via Stephen Wolfram's long article on NKoS and what's happened in the last 15 years).
  4. One-Shot Imitation Learning -- ideally, robots should be able to learn from very few demonstrations of any given task and instantly generalize to new situations of the same task, without requiring task-specific engineering. In this paper, we propose a meta-learning framework for achieving such capability, which we call one-shot imitation learning. (via OpenAI)

Four short links: 16 May 2017

Flash Organizations, Collaboration Data Set, De-Anonymizing Mobile Data, and Hacking Economics

  1. Flash Organizations: Crowdsourcing Complex Work By Structuring Crowds As Organizations -- Our system introduces two technical contributions: 1) encoding the crowd’s division of labor into de-individualized roles, much as movie crews or disaster response teams use roles to support coordination between on-demand workers who have not worked together before; and 2) reconfiguring these structures through a model inspired by version control, enabling continuous adaptation of the work and the division of labor. We report a deployment in which flash organizations successfully carried out open-ended and complex goals previously out of reach for crowdsourcing, including product design, software development, and game production.
  2. Media Manipulation and Disinformation Online (PDF) -- research from Data & Society that seeks to answer the questions: Who is manipulating the media? Where do these actors operate? What motivates media manipulation? What techniques do media manipulators use? Why is the media vulnerable? What are the outcomes?" (via BoingBoing)
  3. Trajectory Recovery From Ash (Adrian Colyer) -- how easy it is to deanonymize theoretically anonymous data. Even in a data set in which you might initially think there is no chance of leaking information about individuals, they can recover data about individual users with between 73% and 91% accuracy—even in data sets which aggregate data on tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of users! Their particular context is mobile location data, but underpinning the discovery mechanism is a reliance on two key characteristics: (1) individuals tend to do the same things over and over (regularity)—i.e., there are patterns in the data relating to given individuals, and (2) these patterns are different across different users (uniqueness).
  4. Economia: A Festival on Economy Without the Economists (We Make Money Not Art) -- As curators Wiepko Oosterhuis and Olga Mink wrote: Why not start by treating economics like any other technology? Play with it, hack it, use input from other disciplines, unleash science fiction on it, approach it in an artistic manner. In short, take ownership so that we can reshape and rework economics as we see fit. I love the idea of the minimum wage machine: Turning the crank yielded a one cent euro coin every 4.018 seconds, that’s €8.96 an hour, the minimum wage in The Netherlands right now. The coins dropped as long as you turned the crank. I saw many people trying it. All of them stopped after the first few cents. You want to have a go because it’s a fun and straightforward installation, but you quickly realize how depressing and mind-numbing routine work is.

Four short links: 15 May 2017

Formal Systems, Deep Learning, Assembly Games, and Logs vs. Metrics

  1. Form and Content in Computer Science (Marvin Minsky) -- Minsky's 1970 ACM Turing Lecture. Let us consider a more elementary, but still puzzling, trade-off, that between addition and multiplication. How many multiplications does it take to evaluate the 3 X 3 determinant? If we write out the expansion as six trinomials, we need 12 multiplications. If we collect factors, using the distributive law, this reduces to nine. What is the minimum number, and how does one prove it, in this and in the n X n case? The important point is not that we need the answer. It is that we do not know how to tell or prove that proposed answers are correct! The interesting work currently being done in formal systems has a long heritage, but struggled for attention and interest in researchers for a long time.
  2. Questions & Intuition for Tackling Deep Learning Problems -- a great list. Never mind a neural network; can a human with no prior knowledge, educated on nothing but a diet of your training data set, solve the problem? Is your network looking at your data through the right lens? Is your network learning the quirks in your training data set, or is it learning to solve the problem at hand? Does your network have siblings that can give it a leg-up (through pre-trained weights)? Is your network incapable or just lazy? If it’s the latter, how do you force it to learn?
  3. Computer Games that Make Assembly Language Fun (IEEE Spectrum) -- three polished games that do a surprisingly good job of making coding in assembly language fun. To be clear, none of these titles involve writing assembly for real hardware. They all use virtual systems with minimal instruction sets. Still, they do capture the essence of assembly coding, with complex behaviors squeezed out of simple commands.
  4. Logs vs. Metrics -- difference between logs and metrics is huge. A log is an immutable record of discrete events that happened over time while metrics are a set of numbers that give information about a particular process or activity usually recorded over time to form a time series. I loved the RED method: "request rate, error rate, and duration of requests to tell you how busy your service is, whether there are any errors in it, and what its latency is."

Four short links: 12 May 2017

Amazons Competes with Investment, Answering Questions, Designing for Survivors, and Open Source Support

  1. Amazon Chows Into Its Seed Corn -- Amazon invested in Nucleus via the Alexa Fund, then released their own version of Nucleus' functionality. The move will also likely deal a blow to the Alexa Fund, the investment vehicle through which Amazon has been supporting startups building products and services to be controlled by voice.
  2. Inferring and Executing Programs for Visual Reasoning​​ -- Facebook Research's paper that uses deep learning to answer questions like "Does the small sphere have the same color as the cube left of the gray cube?". Code released on github. (via @PyTorch)
  3. Privacy & Security Practices when Coping with Intimate Partner Abuse -- Google paper that combines technology practices with three phases of abuse to provide an empirically sound method for technology creators to consider how survivors of IPA can leverage new and existing technologies. Overall, our results suggest that the usability of and control over privacy and security functions should be or continue to be high priorities for technology creators seeking ways to better support survivors of IPA. (via Martin Shelton)
  4. How the TensorFlow Team Handles Open Source Support (Pete Warden) -- A successful open source project is a denial-of-service attack on its maintainers' time, so it's really interesting to see how the Google team both prioritised support and automated much of the drudgery around it.

Four short links: 11 May 2017

First-Person Stop-Shooter, Parkinson's Wearable, Neural Net Mystery, and Fly Fast and Break Things

  1. Medusa FPS (We Make Money Not Art) -- Karolina Sobecka‘s Medusa FPS is directly inspired by these semi-autonomous and autonomous weapons. In her First Person Shooter game, the player uses an AI-assisted gun that guides his or her hand to aim more effectively and fires when a ‘target’ enters its field of view. Which of course seems to wipe out much of the thrill of playing a FPS game. Medusa FPS, however, reverses the usual logic and goals of FPS games. The challenge for the player here is to fight against his or her own in-game character and prevent it from shooting anyone. They cannot drop the weapon nor stop it from firing, but they can obstruct it (and the gun’s) vision.
  2. Microsoft's Project Emma: A Wearable for Parkinson's Sufferers -- This disease makes it impossible for her to draw straight lines or write legibly. With the wearable on her wrist, however, normal writing and drawing is possible. Remarkably, how it works isn't 100 percent known. (via Slashdot)
  3. Understanding Deep Learning Requires Rethinking Generalization (Paper a Day) -- ANNs are bloody good at memorising things (even just 2-layer ones: There exists a two-layer neural network with ReLU activations and 2n + d weights that can represent any function on a sample of size n in d dimensions). You can train them on randomness and they'll learn to parrot it perfectly, but with no predictive value. And they don't seem to sweat any harder than when you teach them patterns and have them predict values they haven't seen. In [this] case, there is no longer any relationship between the instances and the class labels. As a result, learning is impossible. Intuition suggests that this impossibility should manifest itself clearly during training, e.g., by training not converging or slowing down substantially. To our surprise, several properties of the training process for multiple standard architectures is largely unaffected by this transformation of the labels.
  4. Learning to Fly by Crashing (PDF) -- We crash our drone 11,500 times to create one of the biggest UAV crash dataset. This dataset captures the different ways in which a UAV can crash. We use all this negative flying data in conjunction with positive data sampled from the same trajectories to learn a simple yet powerful policy for UAV navigation. (via IEEE Spectrum)

Four short links: 10 May 2017

Indie Finances, Fog UI, Push on Green, and Scratch for Distributed Systems

  1. Indie Band Finances -- Pomplamoose shed light on the economics of their recent tour and how they've not so much "made it" as "are making it every day." We’re entering a new era in history: the space between “starving artist” and “rich and famous” is beginning to collapse. Interesting for those tracking the gig economy and how people make money with digital creativity.
  2. MistForm: Adaptive Shape-Changing Fog Screens -- Mistform combines affordances from both shape-changing interfaces and mid-air displays. For example, a concave display can maintain content in comfortable reach for a single user, while a convex shape can support several users engaged on individual tasks. MistForm also enables unique interaction possibilities by exploiting the synergies between shape-changing interfaces and mid-air fog displays. For instance, moving the screen will affect the brightness and blurriness of the screen at specific locations around the display, creating spaces with similar (collaboration) or different visibility (personalized content). Neat tech, but if you thought it wasn't fun sitting beside someone using their laptop on the bus, wait until their display is basically a sneeze.
  3. Push on Green (PDF) -- overview of the DevOps approach that Google takes. The nine steps of feature flags was a great a-ha for me.
  4. NetsBlox -- NetsBlox is a visual programming language and cloud-based environment that enables novice programmers to create networked programs such as multi-player games. Its visual notation is based on Scratch, and it uses the open source JavaScript code base of Snap! NetsBlox opens up the internet with its vast array of public domain scientific and other data sources, making it possible to create STEM projects, such as displaying seismic activity anywhere on Earth using an interactive Google Maps background. Similarly, weather, air pollution, and many other data sources such as the Open Movie Database and the Sloan Digital Sky Server are available. NetsBlox supports collaborative program editing similar to how Google Docs work.

Four short links: 9 May 2017

Chinese Online Shopping, Google's Fuchsia, Leaving Top-Down, and Open Source SyntaxNet

  1. Chinese Shopping Numbers (BCG) -- According to China’s National Bureau of Statistics, Chinese consumers spent $750 billion online in 2016—more than the U.S. and the U.K. combined.
  2. Google's Fuchsia Operating System -- The interface and apps are written using Google's Flutter SDK, a project that actually produces cross-platform code that runs on Android and iOS. Flutter apps are written in Dart, Google's reboot of JavaScript, which, on mobile, has a focus on high-performance, 120fps apps. It also has a Vulkan-based graphics renderer called "Escher" that lists "Volumetric soft shadows" as one of its features, which seems custom-built to run Google's shadow-heavy "Material Design" interface guidelines.
  3. Composers as Gardeners -- So, my feeling has been that the whole concept of how things are created and organized has been shifting for the last 40 or 50 years, and as I said, this sequence of science as cybernetics, catastrophe theory, chaos theory, and complexity theory, are really all ways of us trying to get used to this idea that we have to stop thinking of top-down control as being the only way in which things could be made.
  4. SyntaxNet Open Sourced -- Our release includes all the code needed to train new SyntaxNet models on your own data, as well as a suite of models that we have trained for you, and that you can use to analyze text in over 40 languages.

Four short links: 8 May 2017

Skimming Text, Image Attribute Transfer, Reproducible Research, and Robots Surviving Clutter

  1. Learning to Skim Text -- Despite their promise, many recurrent models have to read the whole text word by word, making it slow to handle long documents. For example, it is difficult to use a recurrent network to read a book and answer questions about it. In this paper, we present an approach of reading text while skipping irrelevant information if needed. The underlying model is a recurrent network that learns how far to jump after reading a few words of the input text. Basically implementing a teenager reading for school, then. (via hardmaru on Twitter)
  2. Visual Attribute Transfer through Deep Image Analogy -- the sample images are stunning.
  3. Practice of Reproducible Research -- 31 case studies of reproducible research workflows, written by academic researchers in the data-intensive sciences. Each case study describes how the author combined specific tools, ideas, and practices in order to complete a real-world research project. Emphasis is placed on the practical aspects of how the author organized his or her research to make it as reproducible as possible.
  4. Manipulation Under Clutter and Uncertainty With And Around People (YouTube) -- an hour-long lecture on the challenges of robotics in actual human environments. I hope they take a while to solve this problem, because hiding in my kid's room is literally my only survival plan for the robopocalypse.

Four short links: 5 May 2017

Question Answering, Ultrasonic Tracking, GitHub as Resume, and AI M:TG

  1. SQuAD -- Stanford Question Answering Dataset (SQuAD) is a new reading comprehension data set, consisting of questions posed by crowdworkers on a set of Wikipedia articles, where the answer to every question is a segment of text, or span, from the corresponding reading passage. With 100,000+ question-answer pairs on 500+ articles, SQuAD is significantly larger than previous reading comprehension data sets. And there's a contest to build AI to answer the questions.
  2. Ultrasonic User Tracking -- more than 200 Android apps found using ultrasound cross-device tracking (uXDT). uXDT is the practice of advertisers hiding ultrasounds in their ads. When the ad plays on a TV or radio, or some ad code runs on a mobile device or computer, it emits ultrasounds that are picked up by the microphone of nearby laptops, desktops, tablets or smartphones. (via BoingBoing)
  3. Leaving Apple -- Developers have long argued that job seekers should have a strong public portfolio, as demonstrated experience can account for the lack of a relevant degree. After years of building up my portfolio, it became apparent that most outside recruiters I talked with never looked at my blog/GitHub, despite a strong emphasis of both on my résumé.
  4. AI for Modern Card Games (PDF) -- sure you had fun at work today, but did you teach a computer to play Magic: The Gathering and get a bachelor's degree for it?

Four short links: 4 May 2017

Secure Coding, Bank Account API, Font Recognition, and How to Write a Paper

  1. Alarming State of Secure Coding (Andy Oram) -- The details below tell the same basic story in every case—only a minority of respondents think the practice is sufficiently in place, and a large chunk always reports they want to perform the practice and cannot do it at all. The bigger problem is that programmers are taught to find the golden path ("how do I get the computer to do this thing?") and not the tester/security mindset ("how can I get the computer to do something else?")
  2. Bank Account With an API -- Extend your account by building new features and integrating with other services using our securely hosted JavaScript code.
  3. Typefont -- An algorithm [implemented] in JavaScript that recognizes the font of a text in an image using the Tesseract optical character recognition engine and some image processing libraries.
  4. How to Write a Paper (PDF) -- excellent advice, also summarized in these slides.

Four short links: 3 May 2017

Amazon Economics, IoT Security, Counterfeit Numbers, and HUD Car Chase

  1. Economies of Density in E-Commerce: A Study of Amazon's Fulfillment Center Network -- We find that Amazon saves between $0.17 and $0.47 for every 100-mile reduction in the distance of shipping goods worth $30. In the context of its distribution network expansion, this estimate implies that Amazon has reduced its total shipping cost by over 50% and increased its profit margin by between 5% and 14% since 2006. Separately, we demonstrate that prices on Amazon have fallen by approximately 40% over the same period, suggesting that a significant share of the cost savings have been passed on to consumers.
  2. IoT Security Anti-Patterns -- how to avoid your sales turning into a botnet, among other things.
  3. Trade in Counterfeit ICT Goods (OECD) -- On average, 6.5% of global trade in information and communication technology (ICT) goods is in counterfeit products, according to analysis of 2013 customs data. That is well above the 2.5% of overall traded goods found to be fake in a 2016 report.
  4. HUD Car Chase Video -- it's amazing how close to Grand Theft Auto it is.

Four short links: 2 May 2017

Elon Musk, Trump's Tech Group, 3D-Printing Buildings, and Great Face Models

  1. Elon Musk Interviewed at TED -- looking at tunneling technology, it turns out that in order to make a tunnel, you have to — in order to seal against the water table, you've got to typically design a tunnel wall to be good to about five or six atmospheres. So, to go to vacuum is only one atmosphere, or near-vacuum. So, actually, it sort of turns out that automatically, if you build a tunnel that is good enough to resist the water table, it is automatically capable of holding vacuum. [...] November or December of this year, we should be able to go all the way from a parking lot in California to a parking lot in New York, no controls touched at any point during the entire journey.[...] It's never going to be perfect. No system is going to be perfect, but if you say it's perhaps — the car is unlikely to crash in a hundred lifetimes, or a thousand lifetimes, then people are like, OK, wow, if I were to live a thousand lives, I would still most likely never experience a crash, then that's probably OK.
  2. President Trump's New Tech Group to ‘Transform and Modernize’ the U.S. Government -- because nothing is more Silicon Valley than reinventing the wheel and claiming it's because of your genius.
  3. MIT's 3D Printing for Buildings -- Unlike typical 3-D printing systems, most of which use some kind of an enclosed, fixed structure to support their nozzles and are limited to building objects that can fit within their overall enclosure, this free-moving system can construct an object of any size. As a proof of concept, the researchers used a prototype to build the basic structure of the walls of a 50-foot-diameter, 12-foot-high dome—a project that was completed in less than 14 hours of “printing” time.
  4. Large-Scale 3D Morphable Models -- a 3D Morphable Model (3DMM) automatically constructed from 9663 distinct facial identities. To the best of our knowledge, LSFM is the largest-scale Morphable Model ever constructed, containing statistical information from a huge variety of the human population. Matched with the paper Face Normals “in-the-wild” using Fully Convolutional Networks (PDF). The software is open source. (via Science Mag.)

Four short links: 1 May 2017

DPRK's Tablet, Idea Scarcity,, and Apple-Picking Robots

  1. North Korea's User-Surveilling Tablet -- It records the time and computer [ID] into a file each time it is opened. So, if a file is shared from person to person, someone in possession of the final copy can examine the watermarking data to determine how it spread from person to person. On a mass scale, this data can be used to plot entire social networks of people. And app lockdowns and screenshots every time you open an app. “This basically finishes all of your efforts to be a normal user in the DPRK,” he said. “It’s virtual[ly] impossible.” It's worth pointing out that this is basically the mobile device management software that schools install on their Chromebooks and tablets, only DPRK at least has the decency to let the user see the screenshots that the state can see.
  2. Are Good Ideas Getting Harder to Find? (PDF) -- Across a broad range of case studies at various levels of (dis)aggregation, 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. [...] In addition to Moore’s Law, our case studies include agricultural productivity (corn, soybeans, cotton, and wheat) and medical innovations. Idea TFP [total factor productivity] for seed yields declines at about 5% per year. We find a similar rate of decline when studying the mortality improvements associated with cancer and heart disease.
  3. Teasing -- Mike Bostock really took Bret Victor's ideas on board and is building a reactive REPL for building d3 visualizations, with UI elements and introspection. Not released yet.
  4. Apple-Picking Robots -- for the machines to work, apples and other crops must be grown in new trellis systems that allow robots to see and harvest the fruit, she said. “We are evolving the tree architecture and apple placement to be compatible with robotics,” Lewis said, a process called “robot-ready.”

Four short links: 28 April 2017

FM Backscatter, 20 People, Information Operations, and Techniques of Magic

  1. FM Backscatter (Adrian Colyer) -- The prototype system built by the authors achieved data rates of up to 3.2 kbps, and ranges of 5-60 feet, while consuming as little as 11.07 μW of power.
  2. 20 People Creating The Future (Wired) -- some new folks amidst familiar faces like Maciej Ceglowski, Parisa Tabriz, and Matt Cutts.
  3. Information Operations and Facebook -- We define information operations, the challenge at the heart of this paper, as actions taken by organized actors (governments or non-state actors) to distort domestic or foreign political sentiment, most frequently to achieve a strategic and/or geopolitical outcome. These operations can use a combination of methods, such as false news, disinformation, or networks of fake accounts aimed at manipulating public opinion (we refer to these as “false amplifiers”). As Maciej said, The three threats the doc outlines—content creation, false amplification, and targeted data collection—are literally the Facebook business model.
  4. Teller Reveals His Secrets (Smithsonian) -- 1. Exploit pattern recognition; 2. Make the secret a lot more trouble than the trick seems worth; 3. It’s hard to think critically if you’re laughing; 4. Keep the trickery outside the frame; 5. To fool the mind, combine at least two tricks; 6. Nothing fools you better than the lie you tell yourself; 7. If you are given a choice, you believe you have acted freely.

Four short links: 27 April 2017

Open Source Mail Delivery, Superhuman AI, Probabilistic Graphical Models, and Golden Ages

  1. Postal -- A fully featured open source mail delivery platform for incoming & outgoing e-mail, like SendGrid but open source. I enjoyed this comment on Hacker News, where the commenter talks about turning a $1K/mo mail bill into $4/mo by running their own mail infrastructure. (Downside: you would need to get yourself familiar with SMTP, postfix, SPF/DKIM, mx-validation, blacklists, etc. And by "familiar," I mean "learn it to the core.")
  2. The Myth of a Superhuman AI (Kevin Kelly) -- he makes a good argument that buried in this scenario of a takeover of superhuman artificial intelligence are five assumptions that, when examined closely, are not based on any evidence. These claims might be true in the future, but there is no evidence to date to support them.
  3. Probabilistic Graphical Models -- CS228 course notes turned into a concise introductory course [...]. This course starts by introducing probabilistic graphical models from the very basics and concludes by explaining from first principles the variational auto-encoder, an important probabilistic model that is also one of the most influential recent results in deep learning.
  4. Watch It While It Lasts: Our Golden Age of Television -- The Parisian golden age [of art] emerged out of the collapse of a system that penalized artistic innovation. For most of the 19th century, the Académie des Beaux-Arts, a state-sanctioned institution, dominated the production and consumption of French art. A jury of academicians decided which paintings were exhibited at the Salon, the main forum for collectors to view new work. The academy set strict rules on artistic expression, and preferred idealized scenes from classical mythology to anything resembling contemporary life. For the most part, the art that resulted was staid and predictable, painted by skilled but anonymous technicians. It sure doesn't feel like we're in a golden age of technology innovation, and I sure recognize a lot of the VC horde mentality in the Académie description.

Four short links: 26 April 2017

Information Asymmetry, Startup Simulator, HTTP Filter, and Inside Juicero's Hardware

  1. How Online Shopping Makes Suckers of Us All (The Atlantic) -- “Many moons ago, there used to be one price for something,” Dolan notes. Now the simplest of questions—what’s the true price of pumpkin-pie spice?—is subject to a Heisenberg level of uncertainty. Which raises a bigger question: could the internet, whose transparency was supposed to empower consumers, be doing the opposite? Basic information asymmetry: vendors have all the behavioural data on the buyers. (via BoingBoing)
  2. Startup Simulator -- basically the real thing.
  3. TamperChrome -- a Chrome extension that allows you to modify HTTP requests on the fly and aid on web security testing.
  4. Why Juicero's Press is So Expensive (Bolt) -- Juicero raised nearly $120M from well-known investors before shipping a single unit. The team spent over two years building an incredibly complex product and the ecosystem to support it. Aside from the flagship juice press, Juicero built relationships with farmers, co-packing/food-processing facilities, complex custom packaging, beautifully designed mobile/web applications, and a subscription delivery service. But they did all this work without the basic proof that this business made sense to consumers.

Four short links: 25 April 2017

Citizen Neuroscience, Counter-Drone Techniques, Cloud Vision Illusions, and Advanced R

  1. Mozak -- citizen science neuroscience game. Help us build models of brain cells, and help scientists learn more about the brain through your efforts!
  2. Counter-Unmanned Aircraft System Techniques -- U.S. Army's advice on dealing with drones.
  3. Google's Cloud Vision API is Not Robust to Noise -- we show that by adding sufficient noise to the image, the API generates completely different outputs for the noisy image, while a human observer would perceive its original content. We show that the attack is consistently successful by performing extensive experiments on different image types, including natural images, images containing faces, and images with texts.
  4. Advanced R -- Hadley Wickham's book.