Four Short Links

Nat Torkington's eclectic collection of curated links.

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.

Four short links: 24 April 2017

Sports Analytics, Book Recommendations, Breakthrough Tech, and Engineering Leadership

  1. Bringing IoT to Sports Analytics (Adrian Colyer) -- IoT + cricket, two great tastes ... You might initially think that gyroscopes and accelerometers would be great for [spin tracking]: but gyroscopes can only cope with spins up to about 5rps (while professional bowlers can generate spin of over 30rps), and gravity is not measured in accelerometers during free-fall. This leaves magnetometers.
  2. Book Recommendations by TED 2017 Speakers -- a good and diverse list. Thankfully, they're not all "Mindfulness Sales Techniques of the Renaissance: A Historic Look at Believing in Yourself for Happiness and Profit" type of bollocks.
  3. Ten Breakthrough Technologies for 2017 (MIT TR) -- the good news is: some of them are hard to turn into advertising business models! They are: reversing paralysis, self-driving trucks, paying with your face, practical quantum computers, the 360-degree selfie, hot solar cells, Gene Therapy 2.0, the cell atlas, botnets of things, and reinforcement learning.
  4. How I Lead 4 Years of Computer Engineering -- Life is like a real-time strategy game. It's great to know beforehand how others played it when they were at your situation. In this short post, I'm summing up scenarios I faced, decisions I made, and their outcomes during four years of computer engineering.

Four short links: 21 April 2017

Glare-Free, People Suck, Robots Swing, and This Cute Hack Wants You to Be Happy

  1. PhotoScan -- really good explanation by Google of how they assemble a glare-free image from multiple shots at different angles.
  2. Climbing Out of Facebook's Reality Hole (Mat Honan) -- The problem with connecting everyone on the planet is that a lot of people are assholes. The issue with giving just anyone the ability to live broadcast to a billion people is that someone will use it to shoot up a school. You have to plan for these things. You have to build for the reality we live in, not the one we hope to create.
  3. Tarzan Robot (IEEE Spectrum) -- built by Georgia Tech, swings on wires.
  4. Tiny Care Terminal -- cute terminal app. (via Monica Dinculescu)

Four short links: 20 April 2017

Account Takeover, Trello Inspiration, Forced Obsolescence, and Technology Caution

  1. Protecting Your Users From Account Takeover (Slideshare) -- Nick Malcom's slides from his talk at OWASPNZ.
  2. Trello Inspiration -- how a bunch of companies use Trello.
  3. Apple's Forced Obsolescence (YouTube) -- a tech repairer talks about the ways Apple is actively thwarting repair efforts, which contributes to an ever-growing pile of e-waste. (via BoingBoing)
  4. Build a Better Monster (Maciej Ceglowski) -- I contend that there are structural reasons to worry about the role of the tech industry in American political life, and that we have only a brief window of time in which to fix this.

Four short links: 19 April 2017

Featured Snippets, Text Summarization, VC's Business Model, and Aphyr's Tools

  1. Google's Featured Snippets Screw Your Site -- Google declined to answer specific questions for this story, including whether it was shooting itself in the foot by destroying its best sources of information. (via BoingBoing)
  2. Taming Recurrent Neural Networks for Better Summarization -- interesting and readable article explaining a new paper on automatic text summarization.
  3. How Venture Capital Works (Slideshare) -- great post that explains the VC "liquidity Ponzi scheme" (to use Steve Blank's words). VCs raise money on the expectation of delivering at least 4x gross return.
  4. Aphyr Uses This -- The safety analysis work I do is CPU and memory intensive, and readily parallelizable. Comcast gave me an OSS research grant to build a machine for that work, so my desktop is a ridiculous 48-way Xeon (2x E5-2697v2), with 128GB of ECC DDR3 and 11 TB of miscellaneous SSDs & spinning rust. The motherboard is wonky and refuses to find half the disks on boot. You can crash the box by using certain USB ports. We have a complicated relationship.

Four short links: April 18

Word Processors, Open Data, Robot-Proof Jobs, and New Coder Con

  1. Rope Science -- discussion docs explaining the CS used in the Xi text editor. (Sorry for putting a bunch of these in over the years, but the data structures that lie invisibly behind your word processor are hypnotic magic to me.)
  2. Steve Ballmer Becoming an Open Data Junkie (NYT) -- building the soon-to-open USA Facts aggregated and interrogable pool of open data about the USG's performance. Mr. Ballmer calls it “the equivalent of a 10-K for government,” referring to the kind of annual filing that companies make. “You know, when I really wanted to understand in depth what a company was doing, Amazon or Apple, I’d get their 10-K and read it,” he told me in a recent interview in New York. “It’s wonky, it’s this, it’s that, but it’s the greatest depth you’re going to get, and it’s accurate.” If only facts mattered in public policy!
  3. Robot-Proof Jobs (NPR Marketplace) -- new series looking at jobs that won't be taken by automation (or will they?!).
  4. Codeland -- an NYC tech conference for new coders.

Four short links: 17 April 2017

Emoji Detail, Macintosh Emulation, In-Browser Editors, and Furless Tickle Me Elmo

  1. Emoji for Fun and Profit -- Cal Henderson's Webstock talk, which is basically Far More Than You Ever Wanted To Know About Emoji (But Cal Had To Learn To Implement Them).
  2. Early Macintosh Emulation in the Internet Archive -- not just a time warp for old farts, but a valuable way to keep data and research alive and running for future historians.
  3. slate.js -- Slate is a completely customizable framework for building rich text editors.
  4. Furless Tickle Me Elmo -- as the human in the video says, "that's so disturbing!"

Four short links: 14 April 2017

Visual Effects, Political Economics, Building Software, and Low-Level Programming

  1. Pippin Barr's Water Museum Notes -- Currently, I’m dealing with an issue where if you stand a really specific distance from the water and look into it, it refracts the world around it in a kind of scary infinite-looking regression of swirling shapes. A bit like a demon is about to swim up out of it and claim your soul. Not what I want. Lest you think programming any kind of visual effect is a SMOP.
  2. Political Economics Lecture Notes (MIT) -- a 500+ page textbook, essentially. (via Marginal Revolution)
  3. Increment -- an online magazine dedicated to covering how teams build and operate software systems at scale, from Stripe but featuring writeups of practices and experiences from other companies.
  4. Low-Level Programming University -- reading list for those who would become a low-level (assembly, C, kernel, device-driver) programmer.

Four short links: 13 April 2017

Make Your Own Phone, Awful Onboarding UX, Institutionalizing New Systems, and WebGL for Visualization

  1. How I Made My Own Phone (YouTube) -- wow. He bought the parts, assembled it, debugged it. Testament to the Shenzhen markets.
  2. How United Onboards New Users -- lousy UX in their app, not just on their planes.
  3. How Stat Got Stuck -- the hardest things to institutionalize are new systems that require constant work.
  4. -- Uber's WebGL framework for data visualization. (via Nathan Yau)

Four short links: 12 April 2017

3D-Printed Titanium, Searching Cellphones, Augmented Reality, and Educational Virtual Robots

  1. Boeing To Use 3D-Printed Titanium Parts on the Dreamliner -- Norsk expects the U.S. regulatory agency will approve the material properties and production process for printed parts later this year. That will "open up the floodgates," Yates said, by allowing Norsk to print thousands of other parts for each Dreamliner, without each part requiring separate FAA approval, resulting in millions in expecting savings per plane. [...] General Electric Co is already printing metal fuel nozzles for aircraft engines. But Norsk and Boeing said the titanium parts are the first printed structural components designed to bear the stress of an airframe in flight. (via Slashdot)
  2. How the Denver Police Crack and Search Cellphones (Vice) -- DPD's Investigative Technology Bureau has plans for just about any eventuality in fact, with rules ordering the battery be removed to guard against remote data deletion, all chargers and wires be seized with the phone, and perhaps the most important of all: don't start digging through the phone on your own because it is a) illegal and b) you are gonna destroy evidence.
  3. The First Decade of Augmented Reality (Benedict Evans) -- the more you think about AR as placing objects and data into the world around you, the more this becomes an AI question as much as a physical interface question. What should I see as I walk up to you in particular? LinkedIn or Tinder? When should I see that new message—should it be shown to me now or later? Do I stand outside a restaurant and say 'Hey Foursquare, is this any good?' or does the device's OS do that automatically? How is this brokered—by the OS, the services that you've added, or by a single 'Google Brain' in the cloud? Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Magic Leap might all have different philosophical attitudes to this.
  4. Robotopia -- Introducing kids to coding with tiny virtual robots.

Four short links: 11 April 2017

Algorithms and Data Structures, Facebook Considered Harmful, Typing Saga, and Minecraft Bucks

  1. 350+ Algorithms and Data Structures Problems -- kata to keep your koding krew on their toeses?
  2. The More You Use Facebook, The Worse You Feel -- Our models included measures of real-world networks and adjusted for baseline Facebook use. When we accounted for a person’s level of initial well-being, initial real-world networks, and initial level of Facebook use, increased use of Facebook was still associated with a likelihood of diminished future well-being. This provides some evidence that the association between Facebook use and compromised well-being is a dynamic process.
  3. Typing: The Technical Interview (Aphyr) -- Seize two meaningless constants from the void, and imbue them with meaning. Freyja would be pleased. To birth an algebra into the world is a beautiful thing. Don't try to follow the code unless you have already returned from beyond the river, two coins jangling in your pocket.
  4. Minecraft Launching Its Own Currency -- in-app payments.

Four short links: 10 April 2017

Federated Learning, Texas Sirens, Robotic Sorting, and Deep Learning for Science

  1. Federated Learning (Google Blog) -- your device downloads the current model, improves it by learning from data on your phone, and then summarizes the changes as a small focused update. Only this update to the model is sent to the cloud, using encrypted communication, where it is immediately averaged with other user updates to improve the shared model. All the training data remains on your device, and no individual updates are stored in the cloud. Papers on Federated Averaging and Secure Aggregation underpin it.
  2. Hackers Set Off 156 Emergency Sirens at Midnight -- in my day we just set a paper bag of poo on fire and rang the doorbell before running away.
  3. Chinese Robotic Sorting System (YouTube) -- cute! (and expensive). (via People's Daily China)
  4. A Look at Deep Learning for Science -- Galaxy shape modeling with probabilistic auto-encoders, finding extreme weather events in climate simulations, learning patterns in cosmology mass maps, decoding speech from human neural recordings, clustering Daya Bay data with denoising autoencoders, and classifying new physics events at the Large Hadron Collider.

Four short links: 7 April 2017

Super-Voting Shares, 23AndMe Reports, Doggy Doo Data, and Off-Grid Social Network

  1. Why Uber Won't Fire Its CEO -- brief recap of the history of super-voting shares, which keep founders in control even when their equity is reduced.
  2. FDA Approves Ten 23AndMe Genetic Reports -- slowly creeping back to legitimacy after "move fast and break things" moved them in the path of the FDA for breaking the law.
  3. What I Learned From 20,000 Dog Poops -- This tells us that reports about dog fouling are roughly parabolic—there are more in areas in the middle than those that are either very deprived or very not. You'll never write a sentence as good as that in YOUR data analysis report.
  4. Scuttlebutt -- an off-grid social network. (Via an excellent writeup)

Four short links: 6 April 2017

Gaze Warping, Interpreting Permissions, Prolog Book, and Neat Tutorial

  1. Gaze Warping -- deep learning to change where eyes in a photo look. The demo is amazeballs, and the paper is here. (via BoingBoing)
  2. Usefully Interpreting Permissions (PDF) -- great paper that suggests users understand permissions warnings more when using: Entities, Concepts, and Topics (ECT); Sentiments; Top Collaborators; Shared Interests; Faces with Context; Faces on Map. They're more then 2x as likely to question apps that ask for too many permissions if the permissions are explained in terms of these kinds of user-meaningful data. (via Adrian Colyer)
  3. The Power of Prolog -- free book on Prolog.
  4. Build Your Own Text Editor -- tutorial that shows you, in 184 steps [...] how to build a text editor in C. [...] It’s about 1,000 lines of C in a single file with no dependencies, and it implements all the basic features you expect in a minimal editor as well as syntax highlighting and a search feature.

Four short links: 5 April 2017

Hardware is Hard, Disassembler, Linear Models, and Reinforcement Learning

  1. Promises vs. Reality -- recapping a Kickstarter campaign experience, which doubles as this week's "my god, physical products are hard" reminder.
  2. Plasma Disassembler -- an interactive disassembler for x86/ARM/MIPS. It can generate indented pseudo-code with colored syntax. (via
  3. Learning to Rank with Linear Models -- very readable intro to useful statistics, with the Macguffin problem of ranking search results.
  4. Practical Reinforcement Learning -- A course on reinforcement learning in the wild. Taught on campus in HSE and Yandex SDA (Russian), and maintained to be friendly to online students (both English and Russian).

Four short links: 4 April 2017

Molecular Informatics, Culture Pain, Science Commercialization, and Early UIs

  1. DARPA Looking to Molecular Informatics -- Instead of relying on the binary digital logic of computers based on the Von Neumann architecture, Molecular Informatics aims to investigate and exploit the wide range of structural characteristics and properties of molecules to encode and manipulate data. “Chemistry offers a rich set of properties that we may be able to harness for rapid, scalable information storage and processing,” said Anne Fischer, program manager in DARPA’s Defense Sciences Office. “Millions of molecules exist, and each molecule has a unique three-dimensional atomic structure as well as variables such as shape, size, or even color. This richness provides a vast design space for exploring novel and multi-value ways to encode and process data beyond the 0s and 1s of current logic-based, digital architectures.”
  2. Google Wing Team's Woes -- To solve the design problems, the flight-testing crew’s supervisor, Tony Nannini, wanted to do what Google managers often do in such situations: Collect loads of data. And there the pain began.
  3. Nocera's Latest: Bionic Leaf -- Nocera's core tech is artificial photosynthesis, and they have a steady stream of related headline-grabbing demos. I suspect their challenge is scale. Science is about doing something once, however expensive or manual the process. Commercialization is about driving it from pioneers to settlers and town planners, but that's easier said than done.
  4. Charles Babbage's Mouse Pointer (Webstock) -- Marcin Wichary's fascinating talk from this year's Webstock.

Four short links: 3 April 2017

Topology Toolkit, Stream Processing, Koomey's Law, Xerox PARC

  1. Topology ToolKit -- open source library and software collection for topological data analysis in scientific visualization.
  2. Heka -- an open source stream-processing software system developed by Mozilla. It is a heavily plugin-based system. Common operations such as adding data to Heka, processing it, and writing it out are implemented as plugins. Heka ships with numerous plugins for performing common tasks.
  3. Koomey's Law -- the number of computations per joule of energy dissipated has been doubling approximately every 1.57 years. This trend has been remarkably stable since the 1950s (R2 of over 98%) and has actually been somewhat faster than Moore’s law. Jonathan Koomey articulated the trend as follows: "at a fixed computing load, the amount of battery you need will fall by a factor of two every year and a half."
  4. What Made Xerox PARC So Special? (Alan Kay) -- his Quora answer is great. The idea was that if you are going to take on big important and new problems, then you just have to develop the chops to pull off all needed tools, partly because of what “new” really means, and partly because trying to do workarounds of vendor stuff that is in the wrong paradigm will kill the research thinking.

Four short links: 31 March 2017

Robot Tentacle, Sharing Myth, Math OCR, and Club Penguin's Last Hoorah

  1. Robotic Tentacle -- a worrying development which moves the CyberKraken-day Clock forward two minutes.
  2. The Myth of the Sharing Economy and Its Implications for Regulating Innovation -- The Myth convinces people that the sharing economy is comprised of self-regulating platforms, which allow microentrepreneurs to utilize their excess capacity in an altruistic manner. However, the sharing economy is actually comprised of companies driven as much by market forces and failures as any taxicab company or hotel chain. The Myth possesses a simple and seductive appeal. It uses the familiar idea of sharing to make the claim that platforms are unique and should be subject to new and different regulation or no regulation at all. This Myth not only harms platform users, the environment, and the culture and diversity of communities, it has helped sharing economy platforms become powerful influencers in Silicon Valley, state legislatures, and beyond. (via Sam Kinsley)
  3. Mathpix -- cute app to OCR written equations and then let you graph and explore them in Desmos.
  4. Club Penguin's Dying Moments (Vice) -- when communities go away.

Four short links: 30 March 2017

Tacotron Speech, QM Code, Reversing Malware, and Modal Guidelines

  1. Tacotron: A Fully End-to-End Text-To-Speech Synthesis Model -- Tacotron achieves a 3.82 subjective 5-scale mean opinion score on U.S. English, outperforming a production parametric system in terms of naturalness. In addition, since Tacotron generates speech at the frame level, it's substantially faster than sample-level autoregressive methods. Google put audio samples online.
  2. Quantum Mechanics for Programmers -- code-based explanation of QM.
  3. Reverse-Engineering Malware 101 -- what it says on the cover.
  4. Best Practices for Modals -- Modals have become today’s version of the dreaded pop-up window. Users find modals annoying and have been trained to instinctively and automatically dismiss these windows. But if you absolutely must modal out, here's how to do it with a minimum of disgrace.