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February 24 2014

Four short links: 24 February 2014

  1. Understanding Understanding Source Code with Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (PDF) — we observed 17 participants inside an fMRI scanner while they were comprehending short source-code snippets, which we contrasted with locating syntax error. We found a clear, distinct activation pattern of five brain regions, which are related to working memory, attention, and language processing. I’m wary of fMRI studies but welcome more studies that try to identify what we do when we code. (Or, in this case, identify syntax errors—if they wanted to observe real programming, they’d watch subjects creating syntax errors) (via Slashdot)
  2. Oobleck Security (O’Reilly Radar) — if you missed or skimmed this, go back and reread it. The future will be defined by the objects that turn on us. 50s scifi was so close but instead of human-shaped positronic robots, it’ll be our cars, HVAC systems, light bulbs, and TVs. Reminds me of the excellent Old Paint by Megan Lindholm.
  3. Google Readying Android Watch — just as Samsung moves away from Android for smart watches and I buy me and my wife a Pebble watch each for our anniversary. Watches are in the same space as Goggles and other wearables: solutions hunting for a problem, a use case, a killer tap. “OK Google, show me offers from brands I love near me” isn’t it (and is a low-lying operating system function anyway, not a userland command).
  4. Most Winning A/B Test Results are Illusory (PDF) — Statisticians have known for almost a hundred years how to ensure that experimenters don’t get misled by their experiments [...] I’ll show how these methods ensure equally robust results when applied to A/B testing.

February 21 2014

Four short links: 21 February 2014

  1. Mapping Twitter Topic Networks (Pew Internet) — Conversations on Twitter create networks with identifiable contours as people reply to and mention one another in their tweets. These conversational structures differ, depending on the subject and the people driving the conversation. Six structures are regularly observed: divided, unified, fragmented, clustered, and inward and outward hub and spoke structures. These are created as individuals choose whom to reply to or mention in their Twitter messages and the structures tell a story about the nature of the conversation. (via Washington Post)
  2. yaspa fully functional web-based assembler development environment, including a real assembler, emulator and debugger. The assembler dialect is a custom which is held very simple so as to keep the learning curve as shallow as possible.
  3. The 12-Factor App — twelve habits of highly successful web developers, essentially.
  4. Fast Approximation of Betweenness Centrality through Sampling (PDF) — Betweenness centrality is a fundamental measure in social network analysis, expressing the importance or influence of individual vertices in a network in terms of the fraction of shortest paths that pass through them. Exact computation in large networks is prohibitively expensive and fast approximation algorithms are required in these cases. We present two efficient randomized algorithms for betweenness estimation.

February 17 2014

Four short links: 17 February 2014

  1. imsg — use iMessage from the commandline.
  2. Facebook Data Science Team Posts About Love — I tell people, “this is what you look like to SkyNet.”
  3. A System for Detecting Software Plagiarism — the research behind the undergraduate bete noir.
  4. 3D GIFs — this is awesome because brain.

February 11 2014

Four short links: 11 February 2014

  1. China’s $122BB Boom in Shadow Banking is Happening on Phones (Quartz) — Tencent’s recently launched online money market fund (MMF), Licai Tong, drew in 10 billion yuan ($1.7 billion) in just six days in the last week of January.
  2. The Weight of Rain — lovely talk about the thought processes behind coming up with a truly insightful visualisation.
  3. Data on Video Streaming Starting to Emerge (Giga Om) — M-Lab, which gathers broadband performance data and distributes that data to the FCC, has uncovered significant slowdowns in throughput on Comcast, Time Warner Cable and AT&T. Such slowdowns could be indicative of deliberate actions taken at interconnection points by ISPs.
  4. Javascript Puzzlers — how well do you know Javascript?

January 31 2014

Four short links: 31 January 2014

  1. Bolts — Facebook’s library of small, low-level utility classes in iOS and Android.
  2. Python Idioms (PDF) — useful cheatsheet.
  3. Michael Abrash’s Graphics Programming Black Book — Markdown source in github. Notable for elegance and instructive for those learning to optimise. Coder soul food.
  4. About Link Bait (Anil Dash) — excellent consideration of Upworthy’s distinctive click-provoking headlines, but my eye was caught by we often don’t sound like 2012 Upworthy anymore. Because those tricks are starting to dilute click rates. from Upworthy’s editor-at-large. Attention is a scarce resource, and our brains are very good at filtering.

January 28 2014

Four short links: 28 January 2014

  1. Intel On-Device Voice Recognition (Quartz) — interesting because the tension between client-side and server-side functionality is still alive and well. Features migrate from core to edge and back again as cycles, data, algorithms, and responsiveness expectations change.
  2. Meet Microsoft’s Personal Assistant (Bloomberg) — total information awareness assistant. By Seeing, Hearing, and Knowing All, in the future even elevators will be trying to read our minds. (via The Next Web)
  3. Microsoft Contributes Cloud Server Designs to Open Compute ProjectAs part of this effort, Microsoft Open Technologies Inc. is open sourcing the software code we created for the management of hardware operations, such as server diagnostics, power supply and fan control. We would like to help build an open source software community within OCP as well. (via Data Center Knowledge)
  4. Open Tissue Wiki — open source (ZLib license) generic algorithms and data structures for rapid development of interactive modeling and simulation.

January 24 2014

Four short links: 24 January 2014

  1. What Every Computer Scientist Should Know About Floating Point Arithmetic — in short, “it will hurt you.”
  2. Ori a distributed file system built for offline operation and empowers the user with control over synchronization operations and conflict resolution. We provide history through light weight snapshots and allow users to verify the history has not been tampered with. Through the use of replication instances can be resilient and recover damaged data from other nodes.
  3. RoboEartha Cloud Robotics infrastructure, which includes everything needed to close the loop from robot to the cloud and back to the robot. RoboEarth’s World-Wide-Web style database stores knowledge generated by humans – and robots – in a machine-readable format. Data stored in the RoboEarth knowledge base include software components, maps for navigation (e.g., object locations, world models), task knowledge (e.g., action recipes, manipulation strategies), and object recognition models (e.g., images, object models).
  4. Mother — domestic sensors and an app with an appallingly presumptuous name. (Also, wasn’t “Mother” the name of the ship computer in Alien?) (via BoingBoing)

January 21 2014

The reason everyone should learn to code

Why do we want everyone to learn to code? It’s certainly not to produce a nation of coders. I have no delusions about everyone learning to code: it’s not going to happen, and may not even be desirable.

But the underlying rationale behind a slogan isn’t the slogan itself; it’s what the slogan enables. I’m not terribly interested in whether or not ex-Mayor Bloomberg learns Python. I hope that helps him in his new career, but I suspect he’ll do just fine, regardless of his programming skills. I am much more interested in the excitement behind organizations like Black Girls Code, excitement that derives directly from the “everyone should code” meme.

Why black girls? And black boys, too, for that matter? Because, as yet another depressing but absolutely correct article points out, the poor shall inherit…poverty. If you’re a poor black kid in an underfunded, inner city school, your career options look an awful lot like McDonald’s and Wal-Mart. Minimum wage all the way.

Learning to code is one of the few ways to break the cycle of poverty. Back in the early 80s, one of my friends was spectacularly wrong when he said that “he was sad that he was in the last generation of people who would get into software development without a formal education in programming.” (He was a Stanford grad, but not in CS.) That’s been proven wrong every year since then. A formal education in computing is certainly not irrelevant (that’s another discussion), but it’s also not an absolute requirement, and won’t be for the foreseeable future. And those jobs, whether they’re in web shops, back offices, or wherever, are much better than the dead-end minimum wage positions at McDonald’s and Wal-Mart.

And that’s important. Because there really isn’t another reliable way to break the cycle without college. There’s no “Black Girls Practice Law” or “Black Boys Bank.” Law, banking, medicine — any professional discipline except for software — all have a much higher barrier to entry, and all start with a college degree. And for an inner city kid, college is a fragile enterprise. Even if you get into a good school with a complete financial aid package that will support you for four years, you’re still only one emergency away from dropping out. A parent loses a job or gets sick, and suddenly you’re quitting to become the breadwinner.

Even after learning to code, the poor certainly face many barriers to a technical career. Anil Dash has written about the other codes that minorities must learn to succeed in corporate culture, and the changes in corporate culture that are needed to enable success. Dash’s point is extremely important: learning to code isn’t some kind of a panacea that gives the poor a free ticket to social mobility.

But Dash’s arguments about cultural skills notwithstanding: learning to code is table stakes, for the urban poor, for the rural poor, even for the third world poor. I’m sort of amused by the anxiety among certain programmers about the great unwashed getting into their privileged domain. Slogans aside, there are many reasons aside from job skills to learn to code (cultural literacy being among them) — and just as many reasons that most people will not learn to code. An overpopulation of coders? That isn’t going to be a problem. Coders who don’t share the skin color or cultural norms of white male brogrammers? Bring them on; we need more.

The point of everyone learning to code isn’t producing a nation of coders. It’s about finding talent among people who haven’t been programming since they were 10 years old. It’s about providing education for those who need to learn to code and may not have any other way to start. And it’s about tapping into their creativity and the problems they need to solve, which are almost certainly more important than the current crop of me-too startups. I’d be willing to bet that it’s easier for an inner-city kid to get a scholarship to a summer basketball camp than to find someone to teach him JavaScript and Python. We need to fix that. And we can.

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.

January 15 2014

Four short links: 16 January 2014

  1. MapGive — State Dept launches OSM contributing tool “to help humanitarian efforts”.
  2. Principles for Making Things for The Web — excellent!
  3. Traffic Studies are Simulations (Computerworld) — simulations are an important software genre, oft ignored. (via Slashdot)
  4. CodePilotan Xcode plugin which lets you woosh through your code and save a lot of your time. See also the main site.

January 13 2014

Four short links: 14 January 2014

  1. LayoutIt — drag-and-drop design using Bootstrap components. These tools are proliferating, as the standard design frameworks like Bootstrap make them possible. There’s unsustainable complexity in building web sites today, which means something will give: the web will lose to something, the technology forming the web will iterate, or the tools for the web will improve.
  2. How Silicon Valley Became The Man — I’m fascinated by the sudden spike in anti-corporate tension in SF. This interview gives me some useful vocabulary: New Communalists and the New Left. And two more books to read …
  3. USB Rubber Ducky — USB dongle that pretends to be a keyboard and types out your text REALLY fast. (via Root a Mac in 10s or Less)
  4. Simple Git Workflow is Simple — Atlassian producing videos on how to use git, good starting point for new code drones.

Four short links: 13 January 2014

  1. s3mper (Github) — Netflix’s library to add consistency checking to S3. (via Netflix tech blog)
  2. Powerup Smartphone-Controlled Paper Airplane — boggle. You know the future is here when you realise you’re on the Internet of Trivial Things.
  3. clmtrackr (Github) — real-time face recognition, deformation, and substitution in Javascript. Boggle.
  4. Nine Wearables (Quartz) — a roundup of Glass-inspired wearables, including projecting onto contact lenses which wins today’s “most squicky idea” award.

January 10 2014

Four short links: 10 January 2014

  1. Software in 2014 (Tim Bray) — a good state of the world, much of which I agree with. Client-side: Things are bad. You have to build everything three times: Web, iOS, Android. We’re talent-starved, this is egregious waste, and it’s really hurting us.
  2. Making Systems That Don’t Suck (Dominus) — every software engineer should have to read this. Every one.
  3. IBM Struggles to Turn Watson Into Big Business (WSJ) — cognition services harder to onboard than seemed. It smells suspiciously like expert systems from the 1980s, but with more complex analytics on the inside. Analytic skill isn’t the problem for these applications, though, it’s the pain of getting domain knowledge into the system in the first place. This is where G’s web crawl and massive structured general knowledge is going to be a key accelerant.
  4. Reading This May Harm Your Computer (SSRN) — Internet users face large numbers of security warnings, which they mostly ignore. To improve risk communication, warnings must be fewer but better. We report an experiment on whether compliance can be increased by using some of the social-psychological techniques the scammers themselves use, namely appeal to authority, social compliance, concrete threats and vague threats. We also investigated whether users turned off browser malware warnings (or would have, had they known how).

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)

December 16 2013

Four short links: 17 December 2013

  1. WebGraph a framework for graph compression aimed at studying web graphs. It provides simple ways to manage very large graphs, exploiting modern compression techniques. (via Ben Lorica)
  2. Learn to Program with Minecraft PluginsYou’ll need to add features to the game itself: learn how to build plugins for your own Minecraft server using the Java programming language. You don’t need to know anything about programming to get started—-this book will teach you everything you need to know! Shameless Christmas stocking bait! (via Greg Borenstein)
  3. In Search of Perfection, Young Adults Turn to Adderall at Work (Al Jazeera) — “Adderall is just the tip of the iceberg,” Essig said. “There are lots more drugs coming down the pike. The way we set up our cultural model for dealing with psychologically performance-enhancing drugs is a real serious question.”
  4. Explain Shell — uses parsed manpages to explain a shell commandline. (via Tracy K Teal)

December 12 2013

Four short links: 12 December 2013

  1. iBeacons — Bluetooth LE enabling tighter coupling of physical world with digital. I’m enamoured with the interaction possibilities: The latest Apple TV software brought a fantastically clever workaround. You just tap your iPhone to the Apple TV itself, and it passes your Wi-Fi and iTunes credentials over and sets everything up instantaneously.
  2. Better and Better Keyboards (Jesse Vincent) — It suffered from the same problem as every other 3D-printed keyboard I’d made to date – When I showed it to someone, they got really excited about the fact that I had a 3D printer. In contrast, whenever I showed someone one of the layered acrylic prototype keyboards I’d built, they got excited about the keyboard.
  3. Bamboo.io — open source modular web service for dataset storage and retrieval.
  4. state.jsOpen source JavaScript state machine supporting most UML 2 features.

December 10 2013

Four short links: 10 December 2013

  1. ArangoDBopen-source database with a flexible data model for documents, graphs, and key-values. Build high performance applications using a convenient sql-like query language or JavaScript extensions.
  2. Google’s Seven Robotics Companies (IEEE) — The seven companies are capable of creating technologies needed to build a mobile, dexterous robot. Mr. Rubin said he was pursuing additional acquisitions. Rundown of those seven companies.
  3. Hebel (Github) — GPU-Accelerated Deep Learning Library in Python.
  4. What We Learned Open Sourcing — my eye was caught by the way they offered APIs to closed source code, found and solved performance problems, then open sourced the fixed code.

December 09 2013

Four short links: 9 December 2013

  1. Reform Government Surveillance — hard not to view this as a demarcation dispute. “Ruthlessly collecting every detail of online behaviour is something we do clandestinely for advertising purposes, it shouldn’t be corrupted because of your obsession over national security!”
  2. Brian Abelson — Data Scientist at the New York Times, blogging what he finds. He tackles questions like what makes a news app “successful” and how might we measure it. Found via this engaging interview at the quease-makingly named Content Strategist.
  3. StageXL — Flash-like 2D package for Dart.
  4. BayesDBlets users query the probable implications of their data as easily as a SQL database lets them query the data itself. Using the built-in Bayesian Query Language (BQL), users with no statistics training can solve basic data science problems, such as detecting predictive relationships between variables, inferring missing values, simulating probable observations, and identifying statistically similar database entries. Open source.

November 25 2013

Four Short Links: 25 November 2013

  1. Drone Journalism“The newspaper was for still images,” said Mr. Whyld, who builds his own drones, “but the Internet is for this.” is the money shot from a NY Times piece (not linked to directly, as is paywalled)
  2. Best UX Patterns for Mobile Web Apps (Luke Wroblewski) — advice from Google Chrome Dev Summit.
  3. You Don’t Know JS (Github) — book in progress, funded by a Kickstarter.
  4. SparkA Chrome app based development environment with a reusable library of GUI widgets.

November 12 2013

Four short links: 13 November 2013

  1. ISS Enjoys Malware — Kaspersky reveals ISS had XP malware infestation before they shifted to Linux. The Gravity movie would have had more registry editing sessions if the producers had cared about FACTUAL ACCURACY.
  2. Big Data Approach to Computational Creativity (Arxiv) — although the “results” are a little weak (methodology for assessing creativity not described, and this sadly subjective line “professional chefs at various hotels, restaurants, and culinary schools have indicated that the system helps them explore new vistas in food”), the process and mechanism are fantastic. Bayesian surprise, crowdsourced tagged recipes, dictionaries of volatile compounds, and more. (via MIT Technology Review)
  3. Go at 4 — recapping four years of Go language growth.
  4. Las Vegas Street Lights to Record Conversations (Daily Mail) — The wireless, LED lighting, computer-operated lights are not only capable of illuminating streets, they can also play music, interact with pedestrians and are equipped with video screens, which can display police alerts, weather alerts and traffic information. The high tech lights can also stream live video of activity in the surrounding area. Technology vendor is Intellistreets. LV says, Right now our intention is not to have any cameras or recording devices. Love that “right now”. Can’t wait for malware to infest it.
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