Four Short Links

Nat Torkington's eclectic collection of curated links.

Four short links: 26 April 2019

Simplify Gmail, Watch Web Pages, Easy Debugging, and Sleep Deprivation

  1. Simplify -- A Chrome extension that brings the simplicity of Google Inbox to Gmail. (via FastCompany)
  2. WatchMe -- WatchMe can watch for changes to an entire page, or a specific section of it. It's appropriate for research use cases where you want to track changes in one or more pages over time. WatchMe also comes with psutils [Python system and process utilities] (system tasks) built in to allow for monitoring of system resources. Importantly, it is a tool that implements reproducible monitoring, as all your watches are stored in a configuration file that can easily be shared with others to reproduce your watching protocol.
  3. PySnooper -- instead of carefully crafting the right print lines, you just add one decorator line to the function you're interested in. You'll get a play-by-play log of your function, including which lines ran and when, and exactly when local variables were changed.
  4. Need for Sleep -- we found that a single night of sleep deprivation leads to a reduction of 50% in the quality of the implementations. There is notable evidence that the developers’ engagement and their prowess to apply TFD [test-first development] are negatively impacted. Our results also show that sleep-deprived developers make more fixes to syntactic mistakes in the source code.

Four short links: 25 April 2019

Values Risk, Brain Interface, Hacking Scooters, and Behavioral Change

  1. Fastly S-1 (SEC) -- Our dedication to our values may negatively influence our financial results. We have taken, and may continue to take, actions that we believe are in the best interests of our customers and our business, even if those actions do not maximize financial results in the short term. For instance, we do not knowingly allow our platform to be used to deliver content from groups that promote violence or hate, and that conflict with our values like strong ethical principles of integrity and trustworthiness, among others. However, this approach may not result in the benefits that we expect or may result in negative publicity, in which case our business could be harmed. (via Anil Dash)
  2. Brain Implant Can Say What You’re Thinking (IEEE Spectrum) -- a new type of BCI, powered by neural networks, that might enable individuals with paralysis or stroke to communicate at the speed of natural speech—an average of 150 words per minute. The technology works via a unique two-step process: first, it translates brain signals into movements of the vocal tract, including the jaw, larynx, lips, and tongue. Second, it synthesizes those movements into speech. The system, which requires a palm-size array of electrodes to be placed directly on the brain, provides a proof of concept that it is possible to reconstruct natural speech from brain activity, the authors say.
  3. Australian Lime Scooters Hacked To Say Sexual Things To Riders -- And while this was just audio files, there have been concerns about scooter hacks that might be more dangerous. Researchers at the security firm Zimperium recently demonstrated that they could force a scooter to accelerate and brake by using a Bluetooth-enabled app from up to 100m away. But Lime doesn’t operate the scooter model that was used in Zimperium’s hack demonstration. Users are hacking scooters around the world to max out their speed and get free rides. But other people are simply interested in adding a little chaos to the world. People have been placing stickers over the QR codes used to start a ride, smashed the scooters in the street, and sometimes simply set them on fire.
  4. The Behavioural Change Stairway Model -- Active Listening; Empathy; Rapport; Influence; Behavioural Change. [...] Though the stakes of business negotiations are usually not as high as that of a hostage negotiation, the psychological basis for diffusing conflict are related between the two contexts. The manager who is negotiating with a frustrated employee or client will be well served by walking with his or her counterpart up the “Behavioral Change Stairway.”. (via Simon Willison)

Four short links: 24 April 2019

Control is a Shrug, Glitch Languages, Streaming Media Server, and CRISPR's New Model Organisms

  1. Users Want Control is a Shrug (Ian Bicking) -- Making the claim “users want control” is the same as saying you don’t know what users want, you don’t know what is good, and you don’t know what their goals are.
  2. Language Support on Glitch: A List --a write-up of getting languages running in the Glitch environment. (via Simon Willison)
  3. Ant Media Server -- open source streaming media server, supports RTMP, RTSP, WebRTC, and Adaptive Bitrate. It can also record videos in MP4, HLS, and FLV.
  4. CRISPR Gene-editing Creates Wave of Exotic Model Organisms (Nature) -- Biologists have embraced CRISPR’s ability to quickly and cheaply modify the genomes of popular model organisms, such as mice, fruit flies, and monkeys. Now they are trying the tool on more-exotic species, many of which have never been reared in a lab or had their genomes analyzed. “We finally are ready to start expanding what we call a model organism,” says Tessa Montague, a molecular biologist at Columbia University in New York City.

Four short links: 23 April 2019

Worker-run Gig Factories, Persistence of Firefighting, Discriminating Systems, and Activation Atlas

  1. When Workers Control the Code (Wired) -- workers form co-ops to code and run gig economy apps, and make decent rates because there's no rent-seeker platform in the middle. A great counter for rising prices and plummeting driver pay post-IPO. (via BoingBoing)
  2. The Persistence of Firefighting in Product Development -- The most important result of our studies is that product development systems have a tipping point. In models of infectious diseases, the tipping point represents the threshold of infectivity and susceptibility beyond which a disease becomes an epidemic. Similarly, in product development systems there exists a threshold for problem-solving activity that, when crossed, causes firefighting to spread rapidly from a few isolated projects to the entire development system. Our analysis also shows that the location of the tipping point, and therefore the susceptibility of the system to the firefighting phenomenon, is determined by resource utilization in steady state.
  3. Discriminating Systems -- headlines from the major findings: There is a diversity crisis in the AI sector across gender and race. The AI sector needs a profound shift in how it addresses the current diversity crisis. The overwhelming focus on "women in tech" is too narrow and likely to privilege white women over others. Fixing the "pipeline" won’t fix AI’s diversity problems. The use of AI systems for the classification, detection, and prediction of race and gender is in urgent need of re-evaluation. Also comes with recommendations.
  4. Activation Atlas -- By using feature inversion to visualize millions of activations from an image classification network, we create an explorable activation atlas of features the network has learned which can reveal how the network typically represents some concepts. Beautiful.

Four short links: 22 April 2019

GANs via Spreadsheet, Open Source Chat, Sandboxing Libraries, and Flat Robot Sales

  1. Spacesheet -- Interactive Latent Space Exploration through a Spreadsheet Interface. (via Flowing Data)
  2. Tchap -- the French government's open source secure encrypted chat tool, built off the open source Riot. (via ZDNet)
  3. Sandboxed API -- Google open-sourced their tool for automatically generating sandboxes for C/C++ libraries. (via Google Blog)
  4. Industrial Robot Sales Flat (Robohub) -- It was only up 1% over 2017. Important note: No information was given about service and field robotics. (which may well be booming)

Four short links: 19 April 2019

AI Music, Mind-Controlled Robot Hands, Uber's Repo Tools, and Career Resilience

  1. AI and Music (The Verge) -- total legal clusterf*ck.
  2. A Robot Hand Controlled with the Mind -- student uses open source hand and trains brain-machine interface, and holy crap we live in an age when these kinds of things are relatively easy to do rather than requiring massive resources.
  3. Keeping Master Green -- This paper presents the design and implementation of SubmitQueue. It guarantees an always green master branch at scale: all build steps (e.g., compilation, unit tests, UI tests) successfully execute for every commit point. SubmitQueue has been in production for over a year and can scale to thousands of daily commits to giant monolithic repositories. Uber's tech. (via Adrian Colyer)
  4. Early Career Setback and Future Career Impact -- Our analyses reveal that an early-career near miss has powerful, opposing effects. On one hand, it significantly increases attrition, with one near miss predicting more than a 10% chance of disappearing permanently from the NIH system. Yet, despite an early setback, individuals with near misses systematically outperformed those with near wins in the longer run, as their publications in the next 10 years garnered substantially higher impact. We further find that this performance advantage seems to go beyond a screening mechanism, whereby a more selected fraction of near-miss applicants remained than the near winners, suggesting that early-career setback appears to cause a performance improvement among those who persevere. Overall, the findings are consistent with the concept that "what doesn't kill me makes me stronger."

Four short links: 18 April 2019

Geospatial Feature Engineering, 3D Reconstruction, Fast NLP, and Learning the Zork Interpreter Language

  1. Geomancer -- a geospatial feature engineering library. It leverages geospatial data such as OpenStreetMap (OSM) alongside a data warehouse like BigQuery. You can use this to create, share, and iterate geospatial features for your downstream tasks (analysis, modeling, visualization, etc.).
  2. Meshroom -- a free, open source 3D Reconstruction Software based on the AliceVision framework.
  3. BlingFire -- A lightning fast finite state machine and regular expression manipulation library. [...] We use Fire for many linguistic operations inside Bing such as tokenization, multi-word expression matching, unknown word-guessing, stemming / lemmatization, just to mention a few. cf NLTK.
  4. Learning ZIL -- what the Infocom games were written in, decades before Inform. Andrew Plotkin wrote an intro that explains how it sits in the universe. (Note: this is useless but historically interesting.)

Four short links: 17 April 2019

Infocom Source, Twitter Design, New Ways of Seeing, and Software Blowouts

  1. Infocom Source Code Uploaded -- with some version control (retroactively manufactured from different versions of the source code). Uploaded from a hard drive of Infocom material copied at the time of the acquisition. Jason Scott described the contents. See also DECWAR source.
  2. I Kind of Hate Twitter (Jason Lefkowitz) -- a very good product analysis of why Twitter drives unproductive behaviour. Example: Push delivery makes it hard to ignore what people are saying about you. If someone’s talking about you on the web, you have to go into Google and search to find that out. If someone’s talking about you on Twitter, though, it’s very likely right in your face. This can be flattering if people are saying nice things, but if they’re not, it can feel embarrassing and/or painful; and people who are embarrassed or wounded tend to do stupid things, like lash back at the person who did the wounding, that they regret later when the pain has worn off.
  3. New Ways of Seeing -- new BBC show from James Bridle which looks to be great. (via The Guardian)
  4. Why Software Projects Take Longer Than You Think—a Statistical Model -- A reasonable model for the “blowup factor” would be something like a log-normal distribution. If the estimate is one week, then let’s model the real outcome as a random variable distributed according to the log-normal distribution around one week. This has the property that the median of the distribution is exactly one week, but the mean is much larger [...]

Four short links: 16 April 2019

Data Brokers, AI Research Ethics, Overclaimed Science, and Hardware for ML

  1. Facebook Transparency Tool (Buzzfeed) -- A transparency tool on Facebook inadvertently provides a window into the confusing maze of companies you’ve never heard of who appear to have your data.
  2. Microsoft’s AI Research with Chinese Military University Fuels Concerns (SCMP) -- “The new methods and technologies described in their joint papers could very well be contributing to China’s crackdown on minorities in Xinjiang, for which they are using facial recognition technology,” said Helena Legarda, a research associate at the Mercator Institute for China Studies, who focuses on China’s foreign and security policies.
  3. @justsaysinmice -- points out bogus science claims by adding "in mice" where appropriate. Genius.
  4. What Machine Learning Needs from Hardware (Pete Warden) -- More arithmetic; Inference; Low Precision; Compatibility; Codesign.

Four short links: 15 April 2019

Making a Group, Robot Arms, Human Contact, and a Personal Archive

  1. You Should Organize a Study Group/Book Club/Online Group/Event! Tips on How to Do It (Stephanie Hurlburt) -- good advice on how to get people together.
  2. Berkeley Open Arms -- Berkeley Open Arms manufactures the BLUE robot arm that was developed at UC Berkeley's Robot Learning Lab. Paper (arXiv link).
  3. Human Contact is a Luxury Good (NYT) -- Life for anyone but the very rich—the physical experience of learning, living, and dying—is increasingly mediated by screens. Not only are screens themselves cheap to make, but they also make things cheaper. [...] The rich do not live like this. The rich have grown afraid of screens. They want their children to play with blocks, and tech-free private schools are booming. Humans are more expensive, and rich people are willing and able to pay for them. Conspicuous human interaction—living without a phone for a day, quitting social networks and not answering email—has become a status symbol.
  4. ArchiveBox -- The open source self-hosted web archive. Takes browser history/bookmarks/Pocket/Pinboard/etc., saves HTML, JS, PDFs, media, and more.

Four short links: 12 April 2019

Automating Statistical Analysis, Chinese AI, Data Sovereignty, and Open vs. Government Licensing

  1. Tea: A High-level Language and Runtime System for Automating Statistical Analysis -- In Tea, users express their study design, any parametric assumptions, and their hypotheses. Tea compiles these high-level specifications into a constraint satisfaction problem that determines the set of valid statistical tests, and then executes them to test the hypothesis. Open source.
  2. Chinese AI -- the things that you probably don't realize about Chinese AI, such as the language gap disadvantaging Western researchers. (via BoingBoing)
  3. It's Time to Think about Jurisdictional Data Sovereignty (Kris Constable) -- not something that Americans think about, but which the rest of the world is chewing on.
  4. The Curious Case of Public Sans (Matthew Butterick) -- Public Sans is a derivative work of Franklin Sans, which requires derivatives to be released under Open Font License (OFL). But work of a government employee or agency is in the public domain. Oof.

Four short links: 11 April 2019

6 Pagers, Ethically Aligned Design, Infrastructure Malware, and IPv6 Scanning

  1. Using 6 Page and 2 Page Documents To Make Organizational Decisions (Ian Nowland) -- 6 pages and 60m meeting, or 2 pages and 30m meeting, with agenda designed to get to "disagree and commit." (via Simon Willison)
  2. Ethically Aligned Design (IEEE) -- a vision for priotizing human well-being with autonomous and intelligent systems.
  3. Safety Tampering Malware Infects Second Infrastructure Site -- The discovery has unearthed a new set of never-before-seen custom tools that shows the attackers have been operational since as early as 2014. The existence of these tools, and the attackers' demonstrated interest in operational security, lead FireEye researchers to believe there may be other sites beyond the two already known where the Triton attackers were or still are present.
  4. Scanning IPv6 Address Space -- the Mikrotik story is grim.

Four short links: 10 April 2019

iPhone Dominance, Security Keys, Embedded Systems Course, and Better Slack Client

  1. 83% U.S. College Students Have an iPhone -- from Piper Jaffray research. Android: 9%. Presumably 8% of U.S. college teens love their Nokia 3310s.
  2. Phishing and Security Keys -- Security Keys flip this on its head, trading something humans are bad at (noticing subtle differences) for something computers are good at (identifying exact matches). With Security Keys, instead of the user verifying the site, the site has to prove itself to the key. 💻🔐💪Is this useful for convincing people who need to be convinced that security keys are the way and the light? I don't know, but every bit of ammunition has to help.
  3. Embedded Systems Software Engineering -- a CMU course with notes, exercises, etc.
  4. Ripcord -- Slack (and Discord) client that is not built on browser tech, so it's zippy compared to Slack's own client.

Four short links: 9 April 2019

From Chrome to Edge, Old Web, Public Sans, and The Feedback Fallacy

  1. What Microsoft Removed from Chrome to make Edge (The Verge) -- Microsoft has removed or replaced more than 50 of Google’s services that come as part of Chromium, including things like ad blocking, Google Now, Google Cloud Messaging, and Chrome OS-related services.
  2. It Seems that Google is Forgetting the Old Web -- it seems more correct to say that Google forgets stuff that is more than 10 years old. If this is the case, Google will remember and index a smaller part of the web every year. Google may do so simply because it would be impossible to do more, for economical and/or technological constraints, which sooner or later would also hit its competitors. But this only makes bigger the problem of what to remember, what to forget, and, above all, how and who should remember and forget.
  3. Public Sans -- Open source. A strong, neutral typeface for text or display. From USWDS.
  4. The Feedback Fallacy (HBR) -- identifies three theories underpinning coworker feedback, and shows how they're all wrong. What these three theories have in common is self-centeredness: they take our own expertise and what we are sure is our colleagues’ inexpertise as givens; they assume that my way is necessarily your way. But as it turns out, in extrapolating from what creates our own performance to what might create performance in others, we overreach. Research reveals that none of these theories is true. Gives advice on how to give feedback more effectively, too. At best, this fetish with feedback is good only for correcting mistakes—in the rare cases where the right steps are known and can be evaluated objectively. And at worst, it’s toxic.

Four short links: 8 April 2019

Chinese Livestreaming, Tech and Teens, YouTube Professionalizing, and Inclusive Meetings

  1. Inside the Dystopian Reality of China's Livestreaming Craze -- Livestreaming exacts a huge mental toll on the people who do it. It’s easy money, but also toxic. Overeggs the dystopia (all interaction is a performance, professional interaction no less so), but is still a quick precis of where livestreaming is at in China. As for the toxic money, just ask Justin Kan.
  2. Screens, Teens, and Psychological Well-Being: Evidence From Three Time-Use-Diary Studies -- We found little evidence for substantial negative associations between digital-screen engagement—measured throughout the day or particularly before bedtime—and adolescent well-being.
  3. The Golden Age of YouTube is Over (The Verge) -- By promoting videos that meet certain criteria, YouTube tips the scales in favor of organizations or creators—big ones, mostly—that can meet those standards. My favorite part is where YouTube refers to the people who made it popular as our endemic creators, a phrase that'd make Orwell stabbier than usual.
  4. Inclusive Scientific Meetings -- This document presents some concrete recommendations for how to incorporate inclusion and equity practices into scientific meetings, from the ground up. This document includes three sections: planning the meeting; during the meeting; and assessing the meeting. A great cheatsheet that applies to non-science meetings, too.

Four short links: 5 April 2019

DIY Bio, Perl, Knowledge Graph Learning, and Amazon Memos

  1. Engineering Proteins in the Cloud -- Amazingly, we're pretty close to being able to create any protein we want from the comfort of our Jupyter Notebooks, thanks to developments in genomics, synthetic biology, and most recently, cloud labs. In this article, I'll develop Python code that will take me from an idea for a protein all the way to expression of the protein in a bacterial cell, all without touching a pipette or talking to a human. The total cost will only be a few hundred dollars! Using Vijay Pande from A16Z's terminology, this is Bio 2.0.
  2. 93% of Paint Splatters are Valid Perl Programs (Colin McMillen) -- tongue-in-cheek, but clever. I, of course, am fluent in those paint splatters. Have written a best-selling book on executable paint splatters. I should feel called-out, I guess, but it's too funny for me to feel much pain.
  3. AmpliGraph -- Python library for representation learning on knowledge graphs. [...] Use AmpliGraph if you need to: (1) Discover new knowledge from an existing knowledge graph. (2) Complete large knowledge graphs with missing statements. (3) Generate stand-alone knowledge graph embeddings. (4) Develop and evaluate a new relational model.
  4. Writing Docs at Amazon -- how to write those famous six-page narrative memos as preparation for meeting with Jeff Bezos, from someone who was there. As much about the meetings as the memos, as it should be.

Four short links: 4 April 2019

Language Creators, Undersea Cable, Open Source Trends, Making Math Questions

  1. A Conversation with Language Creators: Guido, James, Anders, and Larry (YouTube) -- A lot of people make the mistake of thinking that languages move at the same speed as hardware or all of the other technologies we live with. But languages are much more like math and much more like the human brain, and they all have evolved slowly. And we're still programming in languages that were invented 50 years ago. All the principles of functional programming were thought of more than 50 years ago.
  2. Undersea Internet Cables and Big Internet Companies (APNIC) -- interesting numbers. Between 2016 and 2020, about 100 new cables have been laid or planned. [...] The unit cost is cheaper for new cables than old cables whose lit capacity is increased. [...] In the last five years, the cables that are partly owned by Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Amazon have risen eight-fold, and there are more such cables in the pipeline. These content providers also consume over 50% of all international bandwidth, and TeleGeography projects that by 2027, they could consume over 80%.
  3. Making Sense of a Crazy Year in Open Source -- if you haven't kept your eye on the latest weirdness in open source licensing (as companies attempt to squeeze commercial leverage from licenses), this is a great intro. Elastic CEO Shay Banon summed it up, saying: “We now have three tiers: open source and free, free but under a proprietary license, and paid under a proprietary license.”
  4. Mathematics Data Set (GitHub) -- This data set code generates mathematical question and answer pairs, from a range of question types at roughly school-level difficulty. This is designed to test the mathematical learning and algebraic reasoning skills of learning models. Not what Dan Meyer would call good problems, mind you!

Four short links: 3 April 2019

HTML DRM, Toxic Incentives, Moral Crumple Zones, and Stats + Symbols

  1. The Effects of HTML's DRM -- middlemen DRM vendors can say "no" to your software playing video.
  2. YouTube Executives Ignored Warnings, Letting Toxic Videos Run Rampant (Bloomberg) -- The company spent years chasing one business goal above others: “Engagement,” a measure of the views, time spent and interactions with online videos. Conversations with over 20 people who work at, or recently left, YouTube reveal a corporate leadership unable or unwilling to act on these internal alarms for fear of throttling engagement. How you incentivize your product managers matters.
  3. Moral Crumple Zones: Cautionary Tales in Human-Robot Interaction -- Just as the crumple zone in a car is designed to absorb the force of impact in a crash, the human in a highly complex and automated system may become simply a component—accidentally or intentionally—that bears the brunt of the moral and legal responsibilities when the overall system malfunctions.
  4. Combining Symbols and Statistics So Machines Can Reason About What They See (MIT) -- overview of a paper that combines reasoning (symbols) with perception (statistics). Combining the two is one piece of progressing AI.

Four short links: 2 April 2019

Content Moderation, Speech in 1.6kbps, Science is Hard, and Forensic Typography

  1. Your Speech, Their Rules: Meet the People Who Guard the Internet (Medium) -- Adam: “Six months ago we told you, ‘Don’t pave the city with banana peels.’ You decided, ‘Let’s see what happens if we pave the city with banana peels.’ We are now here to clean up the injuries.”
  2. A Real-Time Wideband Neural Vocoder at 1.6 kb/s Using LPCNet -- this is witchcraft. Skip straight to the demos and have your mind blown. 8kb/s used to be the norm for crappy audio, but this is better quality in 19% of the bandwidth.
  3. Statistically Controlling for Confounding Constructs Is Harder than You Think -- Counterintuitively, we find that error rates are highest—in some cases approaching 100%—when sample sizes are large and reliability is moderate. Our findings suggest that a potentially large proportion of incremental validity claims made in the literature are spurious.
  4. Forensic DEC CRT Typography -- recreating the real look of a VT100.

Four short links: 1 April 2019

Communist RuneScape, API Versioning, Computer Graphics, User Stories

  1. The Communist Revolution inside RuneScape (Emilie Rākete) -- In 2007, a communist RuneScape clan was formed to bring proletarian rule to Server 32 of the world of Gielinor. In a context of scattered clan infighting, the RuneScape communist party was a rampantly victorious social force. Under the wise leadership of SireZaros, the communists waged a revolutionary struggle against reactionary and bourgeois clans that saw more than 5,000 player characters killed in the fighting.
  2. Back-end/Front-end Versioning (Christian Findlay) -- A submission can be rejected [from Google/Apple App Store] for any number of reasons, and it can take up to several days for any one submission to reach the store. On top of this, any user can choose to delay an upgrade, and many users will be on older phones that are not compatible with your current front-end API version. This leaves leaves a situation where front-end versions may be out of sync with each other, or out of sync with the latest back-end version. Here is a quick look at two patterns that might emerge as a strategy to solve the problem.
  3. Introduction to Computer Graphics -- a free, online textbook covering the fundamentals of computer graphics and computer graphics programming.
  4. Engineering Guide to Writing User Stories -- the headings are: Using consistent language; Users do not want your stuff; Removing technical details; Clarifying roles; Making user stories verifiable; Spotting the incompleteness; Ranking user stories.