Four Short Links

Nat Torkington's eclectic collection of curated links.

Four short links: 27 July 2016

Robotic Furniture, Knitting Compiler, 18F Manual, and 360-Degree Camera Plans

  1. Ori Systems -- robotic furniture, from MIT Media Lab.
  2. A Compiler for 3D Machine Knitting (Disney Research) -- We present a compiler that can automatically turn assemblies of high-level shape primitives (tubes, sheets) into low-level machine instructions. These high-level shape primitives allow knit objects to be scheduled, scaled, and otherwise shaped in ways that require thousands of edits to low-level instructions.
  3. 18F Employee Manual -- fascinating view into working for the clue factory inside DC.
  4. Surround 360 Open Sourced (Facebook) -- FB open-sourced the design of their 360-degree camera and software. The open source project includes the hardware camera design and software stitching code that makes end-to-end 3D-360 video capture possible in one system — from shooting to video processing. These pipelines are a control point in that industry, so is interesting to see FB open sourcing theirs.

Four short links: 26 July 2016

Map Strategy, Data BS, Peer Preservation, and Photos from Sketches​

  1. What Makes a Map? (Simon Wardley) -- the art of strategy based upon situational awareness remains one of those topics which are barely covered in business literature. The overwhelming majority depends upon alchemist tools such as storytelling, meme copying, and magic frameworks like SWOTs. It is slowly changing, though, and every day I come across encouraging signs.
  2. Guide to Spotting Data BS (Guardian) -- Full Fact has shown how the political parties play “indicator hop,” picking whichever measure currently supports their argument.
  3. Book Piracy as Peer Preservation (Computational Culture) -- Aleph is also patently a library. Its work can and should be viewed in the broader context of Enlightenment ideals: access to literacy, universal education, and the democratization of knowledge. The very same ideals gave birth to the public library movement as a whole at the turn of the 20th century in the United States, Europe, and Russia. Parallels between free library movements of the early 20th and the early 21st centuries point to a social dynamic that runs contrary to the populist spirit of commons-based peer production projects, in a mechanism that we describe as peer preservation. The idea encompasses conflicting drives both to share and to hoard information.
  4. Convolutional Sketch Inversion (PDF) -- arxiv paper on using deep neural nets to turn sketches into realistic 3D photo-like pictures.

Four short links: 25 July 2016

Game Theory, Face Recognition, Android Augmentation, and Closed Health Data

  1. Game Theory is Really Counterintuitive -- a fun collection of brain-bending research findings in game theory/economics.
  2. Modern Face Recognition -- the different steps and what they recognize. Readable!
  3. Andromium -- turn your Android phone into your laptop.
  4. Stop the Privatization of Health Data (Nature) -- We believe that closed-data and closed-algorithm business models in health—at scale—will hamper scientific progress by blocking the discovery of diverse ways to examine and interpret health data.

Four short links: 22 July 2016

Experiential Scenarios, Chinese Innovation, iPhone Monitor, and Patriot Act Challenge

  1. Designing an Experiential Scenario (Stuart Candy) -- a model for scaffolding experiential scenarios and design fiction.
  2. Chinese Censorship And Innovation -- “There’s this strange belief that you can’t build a mobile app if you don’t know the truth about what happened in Tiananmen Square,” said Kaiser Kuo, who recently stepped down as head of international communications for Baidu, one of China’s leading tech companies, and hosts Sinica, a popular podcast. “Trouble is, it’s not true.” Article exploring relationship between the Great Firewall and the innovation within Chinese mobile and web environment.
  3. Snowden Designs Device to Warn When iPhone's Radio is Active (Wired) -- On Thursday at the MIT Media Lab, Snowden and well-known hardware hacker Andrew “Bunnie” Huang plan to present designs for a case-like device that wires into your iPhone’s guts to monitor the electrical signals sent to its internal antennas.
  4. Why I'm Suing the US Government (Bunnie Huang) -- EFF and Bunnie are challenging the bit of the Patriot Act that prevents reverse engineering cryptographically protected things (e.g., firmware). Bunnie makes a great case why it's important to do this.

Four short links: 21 July 2016

Hints for System Design, REST Guidelines, HTTP Lint, and Skype Centralises

  1. Hints For Computer System Design -- old paper on software engineering best practices, from '80s computer scientists. I've been taking notes in a gist. Make it fast, rather than general or powerful. One of several low-level suggestions that have high-level analogues in the modern-day product management advice of being able to say "no" to customers rather than implement every random whim.
  2. Microsoft REST API Guidelines -- technical guidelines for MS APIs.
  3. httpolice -- linter for HTTP requests, takes HAR files or the raw streams and can integrate with mitmproxy. WIN.
  4. Skype Finalises Its Move to the Cloud -- Skype used to be p2p and decentralised, now it's firmly cloud-based and centralised. That brings with it the ability and risk of surveillance (and leaves behind a few TVs and other devices that hard-baked the no-longer-supported p2p protocol).

Four short links: 20 July 2016

Slack Visualization, Malware Spidering, Dataflow as Database, and History of Cartography

  1. TeamChatViz -- open source visualisations for your Slacks.
  2. malspider -- a spidering framework to detect the signs of a compromised website.
  3. Dataflow as Database (Frank McSherry) -- This post is going to try out the idea that we might design a database as a functional data-parallel computation mapped over an input sequence of transactions. Which probably has lots of issues, but thinking them out is going to be good for your brain.
  4. History of Cartography -- On this site the University of Chicago Press is pleased to present the first three volumes of the History of Cartography in PDF format.

Four short links: 19 July 2016

Returned Time, Online Attention, Serverless Architectures, and Seeing Privilege

  1. The Time Saved Through Automation Must be Granted to the People -- Sam Kinsley found and translated a fascinating interview with Bernard Stiegler. Very Next:Economy, but through a French Marxist lens!
  2. The Empirical Economics of Online Attention -- increasingly valuable offerings change where households go online, but not their general online attention patterns. This conclusion has important implications for competition and welfare in other markets for attention.
  3. Serverless Architectures -- about Functions As A Service like Amazon Lambda.
  4. White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack (PDF) -- recommended paper for everyone in a team. To redesign social systems we need first to acknowledge their colossal unseen dimensions. The silences and denials surrounding privilege are the key political tool here. They keep the thinking about equality or equity incomplete, protecting unearned advantage and conferred dominance by making these subject taboo.

Four short links: 18 July 2016

Startup Cities, Weird Language, Driverless Cars, and In-Browser Terminal Emulation

  1. Politically Incorrect Guide to Ending Poverty -- To launch new charter cities, he says, poor countries should lease chunks of territory to enlightened foreign powers, which would take charge as though presiding over some imperial protectorate. Romer’s prescription is not merely neo-medieval, in other words. It is also neo-colonial. The status quo in many countries is bad from entrenched interests preventing the masses from prospering, traditional reform is slow. Romer's suggesting new cities as startups to disrupt the status quo, with analogous associated risks and rewards.
  2. Full Metal Jacket -- a programming language that's intrinsically parallel, has no variables, is composed with mouse rather than keyboard, and will make your head go boom.
  3. Techno-Optimist's Take on Driverless Cars and TImelines -- Chris Dixon (partner for A16Z, behind their investment in driving automation tech) lays out an optimistic timeline: 2 years before most cars ship with smarter cruise control, and a fully-driverless Uber might be 5 years away. In cases like this, I struggle to figure out how much credence to give him: he's both incentivised to be over-optimistic (VC investments have a <10y timeline) while also in the business of making things happen sooner than we expect.
  4. HyperTerm -- an open source (MIT) in-browser terminal emulator.

Four short links: 15 July 2016

Cybernetics History, Cybersecurity Report, Ranch Robots, and Planned Obsolescence

  1. Digging into the Archaeology of the Future -- review of Rise of the Machines, a history of cybernetics. See also The Future as a Way of Life.
  2. Royal Society's Cybersecurity Research Report (PDF) -- RECOMMENDATION 1: Governments must commit to preserving the robustness of encryption, including end-to-end encryption, and promoting its widespread use.
  3. Swagbot to Herd Cattle on Australian Ranches (IEEE) -- researchers from the Australian Centre for Field Robotics at the University of Sydney, led by Dr. Salah Sukkarieh, have designed and tested an all-terrain robot called SwagBot that’s designed to be able to drive over almost anything while helping humans manage their ranchland.
  4. The LED Quandry: Why There's No Such Thing as Built to Last (New Yorker) -- building bulbs to last turns out to pose a vexing problem: no one seems to have a sound business model for such a product.

Four short links: 14 July 2016

DB UI, Belinda Johnson, New Librarian of Congress, and Reactors for Distributed Programming

  1. SIEUFERD (MIT) -- a general-purpose user interface for relational databases. UI of a spreadsheet, storage & data model of a database.
  2. Belinda Johnson -- profile of AirBnB's chief business affairs and legal officer. This faith she has in the people she works for and with has inspired deep loyalty in her colleagues. “She asks you tons of questions to probe your idea,” says Caro, who joined Airbnb from Square two years ago to work for Johnson. “And then lets you decide how far you’re going to go with it.” Johnson’s guiding belief is that conflict can be resolved through dialogue.
  3. New Librarian of Congress Appointed -- “I will be honored to build on the legacy and accomplishments of my predecessors in this position, to be part of a continuing movement to open the treasure chest that is the Library of Congress even further, and to make it a place that can be found and used by everyone,” she said in a statement. Looking forward to her actions to modernize LoC, and very glad there's a professional librarian in the role. See also Librarians Are Not Neutral for why I have high hopes she'll be a force for good.
  4. Reactors, Channels, and Event Streams for Composable Distributed Programming -- Unfortunately, it is difficult to reuse or compose message protocols with actors. Reactors, proposed in this paper, simplify protocol composition with first-class typed channels and event streams. We compare reactors and the actor model on concrete programs. (Registerwall to get the (free) PDF)

Four short links: 13 July 2016

EU vs AI, Diverse Genomics, Modern Dev, and These Robots Were Made for Walkin'

  1. EU Regulations on Algorithmic Decision-Making (PDF) -- We summarize the potential impact that the European Union’s new General Data Protection Regulation will have on the routine use of machine learning algorithms. [...] We argue that while this law will pose large challenges for industry, it highlights opportunities for machine learning researchers to take the lead in designing algorithms and evaluation frameworks that avoid discrimination. (via Wired)
  2. Why Genetic Research Must Be More Diverse (TED) -- Ninety-six percent of genome studies are based on people of European descent. The rest of the world is virtually unrepresented.
  3. Beyond the Twelve-Factor App -- O'Reilly ebook breaks out the 15 factors that really separate modern development from state-of-the-art 2004 skills.
  4. Robots with Humanlike Gait (IEEE) -- The side-by-side (or rather, back-to-front) comparison at the end really drives home how closely DURUS’ gait matches a natural human walking gait. The only other human-scale robot that we’ve seen walk anything like this is Boston Dynamics’ PETMAN. The videos are wow.

Four short links: 12 July 2016

Training AI Programmers, Serverless Python, Machine Money, and Whimsy Board Tool

  1. Conditional Action Programmer -- Microsoft's IFTTT, with the twist that you're training machine learning to be able to stitch together services based on natural language descriptions of what you want to do. Make no mistake: this is the thin end of the automated coding wedge.
  2. Serverless AWS Framework for Python -- preview of a sweet Flask-like tool coming from Amazon. Lambda is seriously cool.
  3. Machine Money and People Money -- Tim O'Reilly takes the idea of Universal Basic Income for a walk, encountering John Maynard Keynes, Nick Hanauer Paul Buchheit, Samuel Johnson, Hal Varian, and Hank Green.
  4. Apache Whimsy Board Agenda Tool -- The ASF manages its board meetings via a text file that contains the agenda for the meeting. PMC reports, comments on those reports, and action items associated with those PMCs are stored in separate places in that text file. The agenda tool brings this data together and makes it easier to both navigate and update that file. (via Sam Ruby)

Four short links: 11 July 2016

Chatbot Challenges, Chatbots For All The Wrong Reasons, Chinese Counterfeits, and Virtual Discounts

  1. Ten Challenges in Highly Interactive Dialog Systems (A Paper a Day) -- The second challenge is to layer different personalities or behaviour styles on top of the same basic functionality, and the third challenge is to enrich interaction behaviour. A good example of this is backchanneling (feedback given while someone else is talking “ok,” “yeah,” “uh-huh,” and so-on).
  2. Wrong Narrative, Wrong Mindset, Wrong Solutions -- “Normal” people do not care about issues being faced by the apps developers. If you are not a developer, investor, or journalist, chances are, you do not spend a minute of your day thinking about dwindling app store revenues, worsening app discovery problems, or the fact that an average person downloads no new apps every month. So, if the motivation behind building a bot feels like something your non-techie friends and relatives don’t care about, it is safe to drop the bot product altogether.
  3. Amazon's Chinese Counterfeiting Problem (CNBC) -- Sales from Chinese-based sellers more than doubled in 2015 on Amazon's marketplaces, while the company's total revenue increased 20%. And recently, Amazon even registered with the Federal Maritime Commission to provide ocean freight, simplifying the process for Chinese companies to ship goods directly to Amazon fulfillment centers, cutting out costs and inefficiencies. [...] Critics say Amazon hasn't put the necessary checks in place to manage the influx of counterfeits. Reminds me of how YouTube achieved critical mass by ignoring copyright, then got pious and law-abiding only when there was enough volume to monetize.
  4. Quantity Discounts on a Virtual Good -- The results of a massive pricing experiment at King Digital Entertainment [...] involving more than 14 million consumers. [...] We found remarkably little impact on revenue, either positively or negatively. There was virtually no increase in the quantity of customers making a purchase; all the observed changes occurred for customers who already were buyers. These and other surprizing findings.

Four short links: 8 July 2016

Farm Data, AI Mortality, Great Visualization, and Doing Social

  1. The Land Grab for Farm Data -- It’s time we put farmer data rights up front, in clear language that establishes who owns the data.
  2. Death and Suicide in Artificial Intelligence (PDF) -- A technical subtlety of AIXI is that it is defined using a mixture over semimeasures that need not sum to 1, rather than over proper probability measures. In this work, we argue that the shortfall of a semimeasure can naturally be interpreted as the agent’s estimate of the probability of its death.
  3. 12 Complex Concepts Made Easier Through Great Data Visualization -- they're wonderful, but I wonder how many will still be alive and working five years from now.
  4. Things I Learned Working at Serial -- incredible run-down of how the social media manager for Serial approached her job.

Four short links: 7 July 2016

Building Blocks, Mental Models, Pose Data Set, and Parsing Data Formats

  1. Digital Reality -- EDGE conversation with Neil Gershenfeld. It's all top-shelf thinking. There are 20 amino acids. With those 20 amino acids, you make the motors in the molecular muscles in my arm, you make the light sensors in my eye, you make my neural synapses. The way that works is the 20 amino acids don't encode light sensors, or motors. They’re very basic properties like hydrophobic or hydrophilic. With those 20 properties you can make you. In the same sense, digitizing fabrication in the deep sense means that with about 20 building blocks—conducting, insulating, semiconducting, magnetic, dielectric—you can assemble them to create modern technology.
  2. Mental Models I Find Repeatedly Useful -- as Maciej said: Gabriel Weinberg has published a Dictionary of Received Ideas for our time and place. This is modern nerdthink.
  3. MPII Human Pose Data Set -- around 25K images containing more than 40K people with annotated body joints. The images were systematically collected using an established taxonomy of every day human activities. Overall, the data set covers 410 human activities and each image is provided with an activity label. Each image was extracted from a YouTube video and provided with preceding and following un-annotated frames. In addition, for the test set we obtained richer annotations, including body part occlusions and 3D torso and head orientations.
  4. NAIL (PDF) -- A practical tool for parsing and generating data formats.

Four short links: 6 July 2016

Design Toolkit, Future Fiction, Bio Pacman, and Post-Work Life

  1. Design Method Toolkit -- set of approaches and techniques.
  2. Tactical Awareness -- 100 short stories (each 100 words long). It's very weird, this world we're building, with no overarching plot, some very unsettling corners, and no other moral lesson than with hindsight, it does look like something we would do, doesn't it? Preview some stories on BoingBoing.
  3. Microscopic Pac-Man (Norse) -- out of research at the Department of Micro and Nano System Technology (IMST) at HSN: The legendary labyrinth of 80s computer game Pac-Man is recreated in micro version - with a diameter of less than a millimeter - and filled with microscopic swap and predators, swimming around in a nutritious liquid. (via BoingBoing)
  4. Would a Work-Free Future Be So Bad? (The Atlantic) -- When people ponder the nature of a world without work, they often transpose present-day assumptions about labor and leisure onto a future where they might no longer apply; if automation does end up rendering a good portion of human labor unnecessary, such a society might exist on completely different terms than societies do today. Relevant to Next:Economy.

Four short links: 5 July 2016

Natural Language, Human Augmentation, Programming Mistakes, and Facebook Management

  1. Natural Language Understanding (Almost) From Scratch (Paper a Day) -- Collobert et al., describe four standard NLP tasks, each of which has well established benchmarks in the community. As of 2011, the state-of-the-art in these tasks used researcher-discovered task-specific intermediate representations (features) based on a large body of linguistic knowledge. The authors set out to build a system that could excel across multiple benchmarks, without needing task-specific representations or engineering.
  2. Human Augmentation Fiction -- creator of a new Amazon series interviewed. “We’ll have old tech mixed in with new tech in one big mish-mash,” Zlotescu said, “Holograms doing the same functions as AR. Bionic eyes performing similar functions to Google Glass. Organic bionics and modifications being grown while metal arms are being built. There will be a lot to choose from, so get ready.” (via Mia Bennett)
  3. Investigating Novice Programming Mistakes (PDF) -- the time to fix an error is not noticeably related to how often a student will encounter it.
  4. How Facebook Tries to Prevent Office Politics (HBR) -- At Facebook, moving into management is not a promotion. It’s a lateral move, a parallel track. Can't emphasise enough the value of a strong individual-contributor career path; so many great coders are wasted being meh managers.

Four short links: 4 July 2016

Visualizing Traveling Salesman, Face Recognition, Single Repo, and Next Economy

  1. Traveling Salesman Problem Visualized (Flowing Data) -- nifty!
  2. OpenFace (PDF) -- A general-purpose face recognition library with mobile applications. Github repo holds the code.
  3. Why Google Stores Billions of Lines of Code in a Single Repository -- At Google, we have found, with some investment, the monolithic model of source management can scale successfully to a codebase with more than one billion files, 35 million commits, and thousands of users around the globe.
  4. Technology and Business As If People Matter (Tim O'Reilly) -- this reminds me of Tim's Web 2.0 observation, that there were a bunch of things swirling around new businesses that made them interesting and different from what had come before.

Four short links: 1 July 2016

Interactive Machine Learning, Pattern Recognition Tutorials, AI Safety, and Decentralised Web

  1. Interactive Machine Learning (Greg Borenstein) -- human-in-the-loop machine learning. What’s needed for AI’s wide adoption is an understanding of how to build interfaces that put the power of these systems in the hands of their human users. What’s needed is a new hybrid design discipline, one whose practitioners understand AI systems well enough to know what affordances they offer for interaction and understand humans well enough to know how they might use, misuse, and abuse these affordances.
  2. Tutorials on Topics in Statistical Pattern Recognition -- a good collection of resources.
  3. Notes on the Safety in Artificial Intelligence Conference -- In her presentation, Claire Le Goues of CMU said "before we talk about Skynet we should focus on problems that we already have." She mostly talked about analogies between software bugs and AI safety, the similarities and differences between the two and what we can learn from software debugging to help with AI safety. Now there's an approach I can get behind.
  4. How to Break Open the Web -- a write-up of the decentralised web conference. We can’t just turn on a newly decentralized Internet; it looks more and more like a collection of overlays that, over time, could replace some core technologies. (via BoingBoing)

Four short links: 30 June 2016

Connectome Data, AI Pilot, Seeing Sound, and Open Internet

  1. Human Connectome Project Update (IEEE) -- [...] completed scanning the brains of 1,200 healthy adults [...] freely available [...] 5,600 investigators have entered [...] able to access and download 9.5 petabytes of imaging data. The data set includes scans of brain activity while individuals are at rest and while doing tasks. It also contains structural scans with information on the size and shape of the folds of the brain in the cortex, the trajectories of local and long-distance neuronal fibers traversing the brain’s white matter, and more. (via Hacker News)
  2. AI Pilot Beats Air Combat Expert in Dogfight (Popular Science) -- The A.I., dubbed ALPHA, was developed by Psibernetix, a company founded by University of Cincinnati doctoral graduate Nick Ernest, in collaboration with the Air Force Research Laboratory. According to the developers, ALPHA was specifically designed for research purposes in simulated air-combat missions.
  3. The Daredevil Camera -- nifty device, to see the location of sounds, but also fascinating description of the debugging process for physical invention. It's not the math that's hard—it's the novel combination of components to achieve the end.
  4. Open Season -- This means that while market forces strongly influence the day-to-day conversations about the Internet, the longer term debate needs the presence of a strong public voice to defend societal values. It is incumbent on us all to ensure that the open Internet continues to serve all of us, preserving essential qualities of ubiquity, accessibility, safety, and utility that we should expect from every public common space. Amen. Regulators today seem to discount the Internet's benefits and overprice social costs.