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February 27 2014

February 18 2014

January 21 2014

Four short links: 21 January 2014

  1. On Being a Senior Engineer (Etsy) — Mature engineers know that no matter how complete, elegant, or superior their designs are, it won’t matter if no one wants to work alongside them because they are assholes.
  2. Control Theory (Coursera) — Learn about how to make mobile robots move in effective, safe, predictable, and collaborative ways using modern control theory. (via DIY Drones)
  3. US Moves Towards Open Access (WaPo) — Congress passed a budget that will make about half of taxpayer-funded research available to the public.
  4. NHS Patient Data Available for Companies to Buy (The Guardian) — Once live, organisations such as university research departments – but also insurers and drug companies – will be able to apply to the new Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) to gain access to the database, called care.data. If an application is approved then firms will have to pay to extract this information, which will be scrubbed of some personal identifiers but not enough to make the information completely anonymous – a process known as “pseudonymisation”. Recipe for disaster as it has been repeatedly shown that it’s easy to identify individuals, given enough scrubbed data. Can’t see why the NHS just doesn’t make it an app in Facebook. “Nat’s Prostate status: it’s complicated.”

January 20 2014

Four short links: 20 January 2014

  1. idb (Github) — a tool to simplify some common tasks for iOS pentesting and research: screenshots, logs, plists/databases/caches, app binary decryption/download, etc. (via ShmooCon)
  2. Twitter Infrastructure — an interview with Raffi Krikorian, VP of Platform Engineering. Details on SOA, deployment schedule, rollouts, and culture. (via Nelson Minar)
  3. Orbit (Github) — a standalone Javascript lib for data access and synchronization.
  4. Chromium is the New C Runtime — using Chrome’s open source core as the standard stack of networking, crash report, testing, logging, strings, encryption, concurrency, etc. libraries for C programming.

December 02 2013

Four short links: 2 December 2013

  1. CalTech Machine Learning Video Library — a pile of video introductions to different machine learning concepts.
  2. Awesome Pokemon Hack — each inventory item has a number associated with it, they are kept at a particular memory location, and there’s a glitch in the game that executes code at that location so … you can program by assembling items and then triggering the glitch. SO COOL.
  3. Drone Footage of Bangkok Protests — including water cannons.
  4. The Mature Optimization Handbook — free, well thought out, and well written. My favourite line: In exchange for that saved space, you have created a hidden dependency on clairvoyance.

November 07 2013

Four short links: 7 November 2013

  1. Learn to Search — cheeky but spot-on help for people running conferences.
  2. Offline Firstno, the mobile connectivity/bandwidth issue isn’t just going to solve itself on a global level anywhere in the near future. THIS!
  3. 10 Things You Should Know About AWS — lots of specialist tips for hardcore AWS users.
  4. The League of Moveable Type — AWESOME FONTS. Me gusta.

November 05 2013

Four short links: 5 November 2013

  1. Influx DBopen-source, distributed, time series, events, and metrics database with no external dependencies.
  2. Omega (PDF) — ���exible, scalable schedulers for large compute clusters. From Google Research.
  3. GraspJSSearch and replace your JavaScript code based on its structure rather than its text.
  4. Amazon Mines Its Data Trove To Bet on TV’s Next Hit (WSJ) — Amazon produced about 20 pages of data detailing, among other things, how much a pilot was viewed, how many users gave it a 5-star rating and how many shared it with friends.

September 09 2013

Four short links: 11 September 2013

  1. On the NSA — intelligent unpacking of what the NSA crypto-weakening allegations mean.
  2. Overview of the 2013 OWASP Top 10 — rundown of web evil to avoid. (via Ecryption)
  3. Easy 6502 — teaches 6502 assembler, with an emulator built into the book. This is what programming non-fiction books will look like in the future.
  4. Kochiku — distributing automated test suites for faster validation in continuous integration.

September 03 2013

What is an enterprise, anyway?

This post was co-authored by Mike Loukides and Bill Higgins.

Bill Higgins of IBM and I have been working on an article about DevOps in the enterprise. DevOps is mostly closely associated with Internet giants and web startups, but increasingly we are observing companies we lump under the banner of “enterprises” trying — and often struggling — to adopt the sorts of DevOps culture and practices we see at places like Etsy. As we tried to catalog the success and failure patterns of DevOps adoption in the enterprise, we ran into an interesting problem: we couldn’t precisely define what makes a company an enterprise. Without a well understood context, it was hard to diagnose inhibitors or to prescribe any particular advice.

So, we decided to pause our article and turn our minds to the question “What is an enterprise, anyway?” We first tried to define an enterprise based on its attributes, but as you’ll see, these are problematic:

More then N employees
Definitions like this don’t interest us. What changes magically when you cross the line between 999 and 1,000 employees? Or 9,999 and 10,000? Wherever you put the line, it’s arbitrary. I’ll grant that 30-person companies work differently from 10,000 person companies, and that 100-person companies have often adopted the overhead and bureaucracy of 10,000 person companies (not a pretty sight). But drawing an arbitrary line in the sand isn’t helpful.

Not “born on the web”
So, Google isn’t an enterprise? Any definition of enterprise that omits some of the largest and richest companies in the world can’t be right. The contrast between web-native companies and companies that predate the web is interesting and important, but that hardly seems like the right way to define “enterprise.”
Dull, hierarchical, stuck in the past

The company your father (or grandfather, maybe) worked for? Sure, there are companies that fit this description, both large and small. These types of companies are not our audience. A company that is stuck in the past isn’t likely to adopt DevOps practices in any meaningful way. Enterprises are not monoliths, and we have found many cases of thoughtful, forward-looking individuals who are members of the DevOps community, learning from the Etsys and Netflixes of the world about how to adapt their cultures and practices to improve their delivery and operations.
Multiple lines of business
As companies grow beyond a single product line or market, they often form semi-autonomous divisions and centralize common functions like IT. However, certain companies — Apple is the exemplar — organize functionally rather than divisionally. Microsoft is following Apple’s lead to adopt a functional org structure. Does this mean Microsoft will soon cease be be an enterprise? Of course not.

What is an enterprise and why does it seemingly present unique challenges to adopting DevOps? After discussing this question with some industry colleagues, we realized our problem was that we were asking the wrong question. Horace Dediu of Asymco provided the key insight by suggesting that whether or not something is an “enterprise” is irrelevant. The key success criterion is an organization’s ability to learn and its willingness to change based on what it learns.

This struck home. Is an organization sufficiently agile to change its practices when the landscape changes? John Allspaw writes about corporate culture and the need to adapt in his article Blameless PostMortems and a Just Culture. The point of doing a post-mortem after a failure is to learn about what went wrong and figure out how to adapt in the future, not to establish blame. Corporations that need to establish blame never learn; they only put in place increasingly inflexible firewalls trying to make sure the same mistakes don’t happen again. The firewalls can’t prevent the next incident (because no two disasters are the same), but they limit the flexibility and freedom the organization needs to improve its operations. Allspaw concludes that you can only learn from your mistakes in a blame-free environment. Corporations can learn when they don’t behave as if everything is a zero-sum game where there are winners and losers.

Art Kleiner struck a similar theme at O’Reilly’s Foo Camp: companies that are successful over the long term need both cultural exceptionalism (we’re different; the rules don’t apply to us), and humility. Sometimes the rules do apply, and we have to go back to the drawing board and redesign our strategies to face the new situations. The ability to build distinctive capabilities is the key to long-term survival, but the distinctive capabilities can become traps unless they are linked to a culture with a discipline of challenging itself. And with this context, whether a corporation is an “enterprise” is surely much less important than whether it can learn. 30-person startups can learn, but they can also be as hidebound and traditionalistic as the largest corporate megalith.

Our original article talked about DevOps as a framework of cultural characteristics, supporting practices, and supporting tools. While this is technically correct, it obscures a key point: culture is the high-order bit — specifically, an organization’s culture as it affects its ability to learn and change. However one defines “enterprise,” what really matters is an organization’s culture — its values, norms of behavior, and reward systems determine whether or not it will be able to evolve, whether the challenge is adopting DevOps, or anything else. This is as true for massive international conglomerates as it is for small startups.

August 27 2013

Four short links: 28 August 2013

  1. Juju — Canonical’s cloud orchestration software, intended to be a peer of chef and puppet. (via svrn)
  2. Cultural Heritage Symbols — workshopped icons to indicate interactives, big data, makerspaces, etc. (via Courtney Johnston)
  3. Quinn Norton: Students as Hackers (EdTalks) — if you really want to understand the future, don’t look at how people are looking at technology, look at how they are misusing technology.
  4. noflo.js — visual flow controls for Javascript.

August 12 2013

Four short links: 13 August 2013

  1. How Things Work: Summer Games Edition — admire the real craftsmanship in those early games. This has a great description of using raster interrupts to extend the number of sprites, and how and why double-buffering was expensive in terms of memory.
  2. IAMA: Etsy Ops Team (Reddit) — the Etsy ops team does an IAMA on Reddit. Everything from uptime to this sage advice about fluid data: A nice 18 year old Glenfiddich scales extremely well, especially if used in an active active configuration with a glass in each hand. The part of Scotland where Glenfiddich is located also benefits from near-permanent exposure to the Cloud (several clouds in fact). (via Nelson Minar)
  3. Who Learns What When You Log Into Facebook (Tim Bray) — nice breakdown of who learns what and how, part of Tim’s work raising the qualify of conversation about online federated identity.
  4. lolcommits — takes a photo of the programmer on each git commit. (via Nelson Minar)

August 05 2013

Four short links: 6 August 2013

  1. White Hat’s Dilemma (Google Docs) — amazeballs preso with lots of tough ethical questions for people in the computer field.
  2. Chinese Hacking Team Caught Taking Over Decoy Water Plant (MIT Tech Review) — Wilhoit went on to show evidence that other hacking groups besides APT1 intentionally seek out and compromise water plant systems. Between March and June this year, 12 honeypots deployed across eight different countries attracted 74 intentional attacks, 10 of which were sophisticated enough to wrest complete control of the dummy control system.
  3. Web Tracing FrameworkRich tools for instrumenting, analyzing, and visualizing web apps.
  4. CoreOSLinux kernel + systemd. That’s about it. CoreOS has just enough bits to run containers, but does not ship a package manager itself. In fact, the root partition is completely read-only, to guarantee consistency and make updates reliable. Docker-compatible.

Four short links: 5 August 2013

  1. EP245 Downloads — class materials from the Udacity “How to Build a Startup” course.
  2. scrz.io — easy container deployment.
  3. The Factoring Dead: Preparing for the Cryptopocalypse — how RSA and Diffie-Helman crypto might be useless in the next few years.
  4. How to Design Programs — 2ed text is a work-in-progress.

July 25 2013

Four short links: 25 July 2013

  1. More Git and GitHub Secrets (Zach Holman) — wizards tricks. (via Rowan Crawford)
  2. Building a Keyboard from Scratch (Jesse Vincent) — for the connoisseur.
  3. Practicing Deployment (Laura Thomson) — you should build the capability for continuous deployment, even if you never intend to continuously deploy.
  4. 3D Printed Atoms (Thingiverse) — customize and 3d-print a Bohr model of any atom.

July 24 2013

Four short links: 24 July 2013

  1. What to Look For in Software Dev (Pamela Fox) — It’s important to find a job where you get to work on a product you love or problems that challenge you, but it’s also important to find a job where you will be happy inside their codebase – where you won’t be afraid to make changes and where there’s a clear process for those changes.
  2. The Slippery Slope to Dark Patterns — demonstrates and deconstructs determinedly user-hostile pieces of software which deliberately break Nielsen’s usability heuristics to make users agree to things they rationally wouldn’t.
  3. Victory Lap for Ask Patents (Joel Spolsky) — story of how a StackExchange board on patents helped bust a bogus patent. It’s crowdsourcing the prior art, and Joel shows how easy it is.
  4. The World as Fire-Free Zone (MIT Technology Review) — data analysis to identify “signature” of terrorist behaviour, civilian deaths from strikes in territories the US has not declared war on, empty restrictions on use. Again, it’s a test that, by design, cannot be failed. Good history of UAVs in warfare and the blowback from their lax use. Quoting retired General Stanley McChrystal: The resentment caused by American use of unmanned strikes … is much greater than the average American appreciates. They are hated on a visceral level, even by people who’ve never seen one or seen the effects of one.

July 04 2013

June 12 2013

Four short links: 12 June 2013

  1. geogit — opengeo project exploring the use of distributed management of spatial data. [...] adapts [git's] core concepts to handle versioning of geospatial data. Shapefiles, PostGIS or SpatiaLite data stored in a change-tracking repository, with all the fun gut features for branching history, merging, remote/local repos, etc. BSD-licensed. First sound attempt at open source data management.
  2. Introducing Loupe — Etsy’s monitoring stack. It consists of two parts: Skyline and Oculus. We first use Skyline to detect anomalous metrics. Then, we search for that metric in Oculus, to see if any other metrics look similar. At that point, we can make an informed diagnosis and hopefully fix the problem.
  3. Bluetooth-Controlled Robotic Cockroach (Kickstarter) — ’nuff said. (via BoingBoing)
  4. Nature Sounds of New Zealand — if all the surveillance roboroach anomaly detection drone printing stories get to you, put this on headphones and recharge. (caution: contains nature)

May 30 2013

Four short links: 30 May 2013

  1. Facebook IPO Tech Post-Mortem (PDF) — SEC’s analysis of the failures that led to the NASDAQ kicking Facebook’s IPO in the NADSAQ. (via Quartz)
  2. Run That Town — SimCity for real cities, from the Australian Bureau of Statistics and using real census data. No mention of whether you can make your citizens shout “Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi Oi Oi!” after three cans of lager at an Aussie Rules game. (via John Birmingham)
  3. Maintaining Focus (The Atlantic) — excellent Linda Stone interview. We may think that kids have a natural fascination with phones. Really, children have a fascination with what-ever Mom and Dad find fascinating. If they are fascinated by the flowers coming up in the yard, that’s what the children are going to find fascinating. And if Mom and Dad can’t put down the device with the screen, the child is going to think, That’s where it’s all at, that’s where I need to be! I interviewed kids between the ages of 7 and 12 about this. They said things like “My mom should make eye contact with me when she talks to me” and “I used to watch TV with my dad, but now he has his iPad, and I watch by myself.”
  4. Networked Motion Sensors in Hospital Bathrooms (NY Times) — At North Shore University Hospital on Long Island, motion sensors, like those used for burglar alarms, go off every time someone enters an intensive care room. The sensor triggers a video camera, which transmits its images halfway around the world to India, where workers are checking to see if doctors and nurses are performing a critical procedure: washing their hands. [...] the video monitoring program, run by a company called Arrowsight, has been adapted from the meat industry, where cameras track whether workers who skin animals — the hide can contaminate the meat — wash their hands, knives and electric cutters.

May 24 2013

April 24 2013

Four short links: 24 April 2013

  1. Solar Energy: This is What a Disruptive Technology Looks Like (Brian McConnell) — In 1977, solar cells cost upwards of $70 per Watt of capacity. In 2013, that cost has dropped to $0.74 per Watt, a 100:1 improvement (source: The Economist). On average, solar power improves 14% per year in terms of energy production per dollar invested.
  2. Process Managers — overview of the tools that keep your software running.
  3. Bittorrent Sync — Dropbox-like features, BitTorrent under the hood.
  4. Brython — Python interpreter written in Javascript, suitable for embedding in webpages. (via Nelson Minar)
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