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January 27 2014

Four short links: 27 January 2014

  1. Druid — open source clustered data store (not key-value store) for real-time exploratory analytics on large datasets.
  2. It’s Time to Engineer Some Filter Failure (Jon Udell) — Our filters have become so successful that we fail to notice: We don’t control them, They have agendas, and They distort our connections to people and ideas. That idea that algorithms have agendas is worth emphasising. Reality doesn’t have an agenda, but the deployer of a similarity metric has decided what features to look for, what metric they’re optimising, and what to do with the similarity data. These are all choices with an agenda.
  3. Capstone — open source multi-architecture disassembly engine.
  4. The Future of Employment (PDF) — We note that this prediction implies a truncation in the current trend towards labour market polarization, with growing employment in high and low-wage occupations, accompanied by a hollowing-out of middle-income jobs. Rather than reducing the demand for middle-income occupations, which has been the pattern over the past decades, our model predicts that computerisation will mainly substitute for low-skill and low-wage jobs in the near future. By contrast, high-skill and high-wage occupations are the least susceptible to computer capital. (via The Atlantic)

January 06 2014

Four short links: 6 January 2014

  1. 4043-byte 8086 Emulator manages to implement most of the hardware in a 1980’s era IBM-PC using a few hundred fewer bits than the total number of transistors used to implement the original 8086 CPU. Entry in the obfuscated C contest.
  2. Hacking the CES Scavenger HuntAt which point—now you have your own iBeacon hardware—you can just go ahead and set the UUID, Major and Minor numbers of your beacon to each of the CES scavenger hunt beacon identities in turn, and then bring your beacon into range of your cell phone running which should be running the CES mobile app. Once you’ve shown the app all of the beacons, you’ll have “finished” the scavenger hunt and can claim your prize. Of course doing that isn’t legal. It’s called fraud and will probably land you in serious trouble. iBeacons have great possibilities, but with great possibilities come easy hacks when they’re misused.
  3. Filtering: Seven Principles — JP Rangaswami laying down some basic principles on which filters should be built. 1. Filters should be built such that they are selectable by subscriber, not publisher. I think the basic is: 0: Customers should be able to run their own filters across the information you’re showing them.
  4. Tremor-Correcting Steadicam — brilliant use of technology. Sensors + microcontrollers + actuators = a genuinely better life. Beats figuring out better algorithms to pimp eyeballs to Brands You Love. (via BoingBoing)

September 01 2011

Subscription vs catchment

Recently I was filling out an OSCON feedback survey and arrived at a question that stumped me:

Which of the following industry publications and/or blogs do you read on a regular basis?

Following it was a very long checkbox list, starting with ARS Technica and ACM Queue and ending at ZDNet:

OSCON survey

I started going down the list, answering as best I could, but what I really felt was: "The world doesn't work this way anymore!"

As far as subscriptions go, the main thing I subscribe to these days is Google Alerts and other filters for the topics I care about. Things just float through my alerts, or my Twitter feed, or whatever the catchment du jour is. Subscribing would feel like over-commitment to a single source. If the feedback form had asked "Which of these do you find yourself clicking on most often?" that would have been much closer to reality.

I still have an RSS reader, somewhere around here, but the only two items from the survey list actually in my reader are, I think, Slashdot and O'Reilly Radar. Yet, I read articles from the others all the time. In fact, I'm pretty sure I've read more ZDNet articles than Slashdot articles in the last month, even though I'm "subscribed" to Slashdot but not ZDNet.

As I'm usually not in the advance guard of technology trends, I'm pretty sure I can't be the only person who's basically given up on old-fashioned subscriptions [1]. Is the "subscribe to X" model on its last legs?

Active source loyalty may just not be a thing anymore on the Net. Who evaluates sources as sources now? We're looking more at the cloud of endorsements and references around the sources. This gives us subtle clues as to whether we should go the whole way and click through. More and more, this is true even with publications that have a good reputation and that have spent effort to build that reputation. I like Linux Weekly News (LWN), but I'm not actually going to go to their front page. I'm going to wait until the generalized social waves coursing through the Net bring LWN to me.

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The catchment model means that the urgent task, for those trying to get your attention, is to look enough like what your friends and colleagues endorse to fool your filters. (Of course, one way to do that is to enter into partnerships with the filters, or just be the filters. The rest of this parenthetical aside is left as an exercise for the reader.)

In the past, the sources were a destination all on their own. But as the sources become inputs into a larger filtering system, the filters are the next natural target for those seeking influence — or as we prefer to say in the technology field, the next site of innovation. When people are trawling so many sources, it no longer pays to concentrate on sources at all. It makes much more sense to start studying how the trawlers work and how to become part of the filtering infrastructure.

Perhaps this is all obvious. It just struck me because I've filled out similar evaluation forms for years, and only lately has that question felt like it's based on an obsolete model. And that model doesn't just go away: it gets replaced with something else, something in which broad data collection and pattern discernment matter far more than the reputation and branding of any individual source.

Thanks to Andy Oram for his helpful comments on earlier drafts of this post.


[1] Subscriptions on the Internet, that is. I'll still get my paper copy of The New Yorker until they make it illegal to chop down trees to support East Coast intellectual elitism — a day I hope never comes.

Associated photo on home and category pages: email_subscribe by derrickkwa, on Flickr



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July 02 2010

Four short links: 2 July 2010

  1. Brien Lane, Melbourne -- an alleyway painted with statistics about the area. Urban spaces as screens. Check out the other photos. (via Pete Warden)
  2. Apps 4 Africa -- from US State Department, The challenge is to build the best digital tools to address community challenges in areas ranging from healthcare to education and government transparency to election monitoring. (via Clay Johnson)
  3. Hopeful Monsters and the Trough of Disillusionment (Berg London) -- this was a great Foo talk, lovely to see the ideas written up and circulated widely.
  4. Tyranny of the Daily 10 Percent (Julie Starr) -- do we have a production quality problem, or do we have a filter problem? Intersection of two trends we've seen: "news reinvention" and "information overload". I find myself wanting to spend more time quantifying what we’ve already got that’s good and being clearer about what we think is missing, before thinking about what to replace it with and how to foot the bill.

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