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March 23 2012

Top Stories: March 19-23, 2012

Here's a look at the top stories published across O'Reilly sites this week.

Why StreetEasy rolled its own maps
Google's decision to start charging for its Maps API is leading some companies to mull other options. StreetEasy's Sebastian Delmont explains why and how his team made a change.

What is Dart?
Dart is a new structured web programming platform designed to enable complex, high-performance apps for the modern web. Kathy Walrath and Seth Ladd, members of Google's developer relations team, explain Dart's purpose and its applications.

My Paleo Media Diet
Jim Stogdill is tired of running on the info treadmill, so he's changing his media habits. His new approach: "Where I can, adapt to my surroundings; where I can't, adapt my surroundings to me."


The unreasonable necessity of subject experts
We can't forget that data is ultimately about insight, and insight is inextricably tied to the stories we build from the data. Subject experts are the ones who find the stories data wants to tell.

Direct sales uncover hidden trends for publishers
A recent O'Reilly customer survey revealed unusual results (e.g. laptops/desktops remain popular ereading devices). These sorts of insights are made possible by O'Reilly's direct sales channel.


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November 03 2011

Developer Week in Review: The hijacking of an insulin pump

A future batch of kindlingIt was a great week at the Turner household! Although we love our house, we've frequently said to each other, "You know what we could really use? A 25-foot-long tree limb wrapped in power lines blocking our driveway." Well, this weekend mother nature decided to help us fill this void in our landscaping, and threw in some ornamental cherry firewood as well (chainsawing not included). Thankfully, I spent the extra bucks on Saturday to get our LPG tank topped off, so I've got generator power for 10-14 days. Given we're on day four with no power in sight, that was a good decision.

It could have been worse, of course. For example ...

A scene from an upcoming technothriller

Plucky researcher Ann McManna walked across the room toward the podium, ready to reveal the details of the fiendish plot she had uncovered to the waiting reporters. Now the world would know about the conspiracy to corner the world supply of macadamia nuts. Her heart pounded with excitement, her mouth was dry and she perspired, in spite of the air conditioning that was making the room practically an ice box. As she approached the stage, she bumped against a table, stumbling and suddenly having trouble seeing her path through blurry eyes. Something was wrong, but she couldn't focus, couldn't identify what was happening to her, even as she collapsed to the ground. Minutes later, the paramedics would close the eyelids of her corpse.

Some fanciful invention of Tom Clancy or Robin Cook? Not anymore, thanks to research by McAfee's Barnaby Jack, presented at this year's Hacker Halted conference. Using some custom software and a special antenna, Jack was able to control Medtronic insulin pumps as far as 300 feet from the controller. He was able to disable the tones that warn a user that insulin is being pumped, and trigger a 25-unit bolus of insulin. In some circumstances, this could kill a victim.

As networked computers appear in more life-critical items, this is a good reminder that security should be job No. 1, not something to think about if you have time. Too many proprietary device manufacturers seem to depend on security through obscurity, rather than security in depth.

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The first taste is free, but you'll be back

One of the perils of depending on public APIs from for-profit companies is that they may get turned into a profit center down the road. Users of the Google Maps API learned that lesson recently, as Google announced that high-volume users will no longer have free access to the APIs starting next year. Before you start panicking, the definition of high-volume will be more than 25,000 calls a day (2,500 if you use the custom styling features), and the rate over 25,000 is $4/1,000 calls. Google claims that less than 1% of all users will run up against this limit.

The problem with using beta or "free" services in your products is that, unless the terms of use specifically say that it will be free forever, you have no contractual agreement to lean on, and the provider is able at any point to change how (or even if) the service is provided.

Linus Torvalds vs. C++

Linux progenitor Linus Torvalds has a reputation for diplomacy and fence building — that's practically the only way to herd the stampede of cats that is the Linux developer community. But when he gets upset, the results can peel the paint off the walls.

We got a good example this week, as Torvalds responded to a complaint about the fact that the git source control system was written in pure C, rather than C++. In a nutshell, Torvalds called C++ a lousy language that attracts substandard programmers and leads to sloppy, unmaintainable code. In general, I tend to take any blanket condemnation of a programming language as hyperbole, but Torvalds seems to genuinely loathe C++. We'll have to see if his anger against the language alienates any of the kernel developer base, or if people will just shrug it off as Linus being Linus.

Got news?

Please send tips and leads here.

Related:

April 11 2011

January 07 2011

ePayments Week: McAfee worries about mobile security


Here's what caught my attention in the payment space this week:

Android, iOS, and geolocation services all on McAfee's endangered list

Urban legend has it that when Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed banks he replied, "That's where the money is." No surprise then that as mobile commerce grows, so does its lure to black-hats. McAfee Labs released its 2011 Threats Predictions, which cites mobile operating systems (Android and iOS) as well as abuses tied to location services like Facebook Places, Gowalla, and Foursquare. The fast growth of smart phones is likely to make 2011 "a turning point" in threats to mobile devices, McAfee's report says, adding that the loose integration of these devices with business systems makes this threat particularly worrisome. The report also expressed concern about the rise of URL shorteners which, because they hide the code about to be launched, represent a "huge opportunity for abuse."

Stirring the Hotpot in Portland

Google Places recommendationGoogle takes another step toward deployment of near-field communications (NFC) transactions with its current Hotpot promotion in Portland, Ore.. Hotpot, Google's local-recommendation service, is designed to integrate with Google Places and make it easier for folks to post reviews and see what others think about local businesses. Google says it's working with hundreds of vendors in the Portland area to whip up interest in the program. While we expect that Android phones will soon be capable of using NFC technology to handle payment transactions with a tap or wave of the phone, the Hotpot trial uses an NFC chip embedded in stickers that merchants can place in their windows to show they're fans of Google Places. Anyone with a newer Android phone (like the Nexus S) can tap the sticker to learn more and get reviews of the business.

How will Facebook spend it?

While the business press analyzed the financial implications of Goldman Sachs' $450 million investment in Facebook this week (including some scrutiny over which investors were offered in and why), the rest of us wondered how Zuckerberg and company would spend that money, along with the $50 million it raked in from Russia's largest Internet company, Digital Sky Technologies. VC Circle, which focuses on investment news from an Indian perspective, wondered if, in addition to beefing up its international footprint (hiring in more countries, improving its local language capabilities), Facebook might invest its new funds to improve its mobile platform. VC Circle noted that roughly one third of Facebook's 600 million members access the site from mobile devices at least part of the time and that Facebook could do more to allow them to tailor their interface to suit whatever device they prefer to use. That optimization is likely to become more important as Facebook pushes its Places program and any commercial tie-ins (like discounts or coupons) that may accompany it.

Got payment news?

Suggestions are always welcome, so please send tips or news here.





If you're interested in learning more about the payment development space, check out PayPal X DevZone, a collaboration between O'Reilly and PayPal.


July 12 2010

Four short links: 12 July 2010

  1. Shogun: A Large Scale Machine Learning Toolbox -- open source (GPL v3), C++ with interfaces to MatLab, R, Octave, and Python. Emphasis for this toolkit is on SVM and "large scale kernel methods".
  2. The Agnostic Cartographer (Washington Monthly) -- land and sea are easy to measure compared to the trouble you get into when you put names on them. The end of the colonial period, hastened by World War II, ushered in a broad crisis in geographical data collection. “The modern era collapsed under its own weight,” says Michael Frank Goodchild, a British American geographer at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “By the 1970s it was apparent that it was no longer going to be sustainable to have a world in which national governments sustained geographic information.”
  3. Niu Personalized Newspaper to Launch -- sign up, select news sources, and every day you get a personalized 24-page print newspaper on your doorstep. They're not attached to print, but print is the delivery mechanism their customers preferred.
  4. Ambient Devices -- amazing lineup of products that ambiently reflect data (mostly weather). I love the umbrella whose handle glows if you should take it today. (via data4all on Twitter)

February 25 2010

Four short links: 25 February 2010

  1. like python -- lets you write Python in Valleygirl, LOLCAT, fratboy, and rap. Still not a handle on writing Perl in Latin. (via Hacker News)
  2. Belief In Climate Change Hinges On Worldview (NPR) -- applicable beyond climate change. Whether you get what you want depends on how it's framed and how it's delivered. The paper cited is available for PDF download.
  3. gheat -- add a heatmap layer to a Google Map. For more on its design and implementation, read Chad Whitacre's blog.
  4. TrueType VT220 Font -- turns out it's not as simple as a straight bitmap. This article explains how scanline gaps and a dot-stretching circuit create the look we old-timers remember. (via rgs on Delicious)

November 18 2009

Four short links: 18 November 2009

  1. Memento: Time Travel for the Web -- clever versioning hack that uses HTTP's content negotiation to negotiate about the date!
  2. Ordnance Survey Maps to Go Online -- The prime minister said that by April he hoped a consultation would be completed on the free provision of Ordnance Survey maps down to a scale of 1:10,000, (not the scale of a typical Landranger map set at 1:25,000). The online maps would be free to all, including commercial users who, previously, had to acquire expensive and restrictive licences at £5,000 per usage, a fee many entrepreneurs felt was too high. No word yet on license. (more details here)
  3. Mapsicle -- open source Javascript library to create mashups and application on Google Streetview, from NZ developers Project X. It has been released by Google as part of the Maps Utility library.
  4. Freedom of Creation Shop -- online store for 3D-printed objects. (via Makezine).

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