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October 02 2013

Four short links: 2 October 2013

  1. Instant Translator Glasses (ZDNet) — character recognition to do instant translating, and a UI that turns any flat surface into a touch-screen via a finger-ring sensor.
  2. — diagramming … In The Cloud!
  3. Airmail — Mac gmail client with offline mode that fails to suck.
  4. The Page-Fault Weird Machine: Lessons in Instruction-less Computation (Usenix) — video, audio, and text of a paper that’ll make your head hurt. We demonstrate a Turing-complete execution environment driven solely by the IA32 architecture’s interrupt handling and memory translation tables, in which the processor is trapped in a series of page faults and double faults, without ever successfully dispatching any instructions. LOLWUT?!

August 21 2013

L'e-mail est-il mort ? La surveillance inévitable ? Voici le Projet caliop

L’e-mail est-il mort ? La surveillance inévitable ? Voici le Projet #caliop

Le projet Caliop a pour objectif de fournir des outils et une plate-forme de courrier électronique dans lesquels l’utilisateur pourra avoir confiance, la confidentialité des communication étant garantie dès la conception. Les révélations autour de #prism ayant montré que l’utilisateur ne peut avoir confiance dans les services tels que #gmail dont le modèle économique repose sur la publicité, et suite à l’arrêt récent de différents services de courrier électronique sécurisés, Caliop veut repenser (...)


Reposted bycheg00 cheg00

May 16 2013

Four short links: 16 May 2013

  1. Australian Filter Scope CreepThe Federal Government has confirmed its financial regulator has started requiring Australian Internet service providers to block websites suspected of providing fraudulent financial opportunities, in a move which appears to also open the door for other government agencies to unilaterally block sites they deem questionable in their own portfolios.
  2. Embedding Actions in Gmail — after years of benign neglect, it’s good to see Gmail worked on again. We’ve said for years that email’s a fertile ground for doing stuff better, and Google seem to have the religion. (see Send Money with Gmail for more).
  3. What Keeps Me Up at Night (Matt Webb) — Matt’s building a business around connected devices. Here he explains why the category could be owned by any of the big players. In times like this I remember Howard Aiken’s advice: Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas. If it is original you will have to ram it down their throats.
  4. Image Texture Predicts Avian Density and Species Richness (PLOSone) — Surprisingly and interestingly, remotely sensed vegetation structure measures (i.e., image texture) were often better predictors of avian density and species richness than field-measured vegetation structure, and thus show promise as a valuable tool for mapping habitat quality and characterizing biodiversity across broad areas.

April 24 2013

Four short links: 1 May 2013

  1. Pin: A Dynamic Binary Instrumentation Toola dynamic binary instrumentation framework for the IA-32 and x86-64 instruction-set architectures that enables the creation of dynamic program analysis tools. Some tools built with Pin are Intel Parallel Inspector, Intel Parallel Amplifier and Intel Parallel Advisor. The tools created using Pin, called Pintools, can be used to perform program analysis on user space applications in Linux and Windows. As a dynamic binary instrumentation tool, instrumentation is performed at run time on the compiled binary files. Thus, it requires no recompiling of source code and can support instrumenting programs that dynamically generate code.
  2. Lasers Bringing Down Drones (Wired) — I’ve sat on this for a while, but it is still hypnotic. Autonomous attack, autonomous defence. Pessimist: we’ll be slaves of the better machine learning algorithm. Optimist: we can make love while the AIs make war.
  3. Advice on Rewriting It From Scratch — every word is true. Over my career, I’ve come to place a really strong value on figuring out how to break big changes into small, safe, value-generating pieces. It’s a sort of meta-design — designing the process of gradual, safe change.
  4. Creating Gmail Inbox Statistics Reportsshows how to setup gmail to send you an email at the beginning of each month showing statistics for the previous month, such as the number of emails you received, the top 5 to whom you sent email, the top 5 from whom you received email, charts on your daily usage.

April 06 2011

Developer Week in Review

Spring came in like a lion here in the Northeast, with an April Fools' Day mini-blizzard, even though Lion itself isn't due to be released until summer at the earliest. While I waited for more hospitable weather to emerge, I've been huddled indoors working on a Kickstarter project with my son, and I will now shamelessly plug it: It's a high-powered replacement for the Wii sensor bar, designed to let you sit comfortably at the other end of a room while you use your Wii. You can read more about it here if you're interested.

Meanwhile, there were the usual interesting developments in the developer world.

Google: Now promoting gray as a moral choice

Like most major technology companies, it can sometimes be hard to judge where Google lies on the moral spectrum. However, the King of Search took moral ambiguity to a new level this week with a press release that basically said:

  • Software patents are evil
  • But all the other cool kids are doing it.
  • And if we don't get some, we can't defend ourselves.
  • So we're making a move for the Nortel patent portfolio.
  • And if we get it, we'll use it to protect open source, sweetness and apple pie, but in ways we aren't spelling out precisely.

It's nice to say that acquiring the Nortel patents will protect Android and Chrome from patent attacks, but unless the portfolio is placed in a trust it will remain a weapon that Google can use against anyone they choose. Unless they are legally fenced off, Google could break their word at any time. I'm not saying that they would, but if they suddenly decided they wanted to take out the iPhone, for example, they could point the patent missile at Apple, and all the iOS developers would get caught in the crossfire.

The real solution, of course, is to get rid of the loathsome things all together. But in a political climate where former RIAA lobbyists become federal judges ruling on file sharing cases and corporations are writing international intellectual property law using the U.S. government as a proxy, my hopes that this will get fixed anytime soon are low.

Can Hollywood pass the Turing Test?

News has emerged of a feature-length documentary in production on the life of Alan Turing. If there's a figure in computer science who needs to be better known by the general public, Turing is certainly a good candidate. However, if the trailer is anything to go by, it doesn't look like it's going to break any box-office records. Consisting entirely of talking heads, das blinkenlight computers and photo stills, it won't give "Freakonomics" or "An Inconvenient Truth" a run for their money in the audience captivation department.

There are lots of early computer pioneers who deserve better exposure, such as John von Neumann and Alan Kay, and it would be great if someone did a Connections-style series linking how we got from Babbage to the iPhone. Turing's story has particular pathos, because of how his sexual preference set events in motion that robbed the world of a gifted computer pioneer, but it doesn't look like this movie is going to tell it in a way that will appeal to a general audience.

April Fools' on Google's April Fools'

It's become a yearly ritual for Google (along with ThinkGeek and Slashdot and myriad others) to flood the web with fake products and stories on 4/1. This year, one of Google's fake product announcements was for Gmail Motion, a product that would let you operate Gmail using body language. Some folks over at USC thought it was a great idea, so they decided to implement Google's interface, using a Microsoft Kinect:

It was a cute idea, but I think they should have put their efforts behind this gag Google product, which I've been dying to see appear in the real world.

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February 15 2011

October 07 2010

Four short links: 7 October 2010

  1. How to Manage Employees When They Make Mistakes -- sound advice on how to deal with employees who failed to meet expectations. Yet again, good parenting can make you a good adult. It’s strange to me that in the technology sector we have such a reputation for yellers. Maybe it’s business in general and not just tech. [...] People stay at companies with leaders who rule like Mussolini because they want to be part of something super successful. But it does tend to breed organizations of people who walk around like beaten dogs with their heads down waiting to be kicked. It produces sycophants and group think. And if your company ever “slips” people head STRAIGHT for the door as they did at Siebel. I’d love to see a new generation of tech companies that don’t rule through fear. (via Hacker News)
  2. Information Wants to be Paid (Pete Warden) -- I want to know where I stand relative to the business model of any company I depend on. If API access and the third-party ecosystem makes them money, then I feel a lot more comfortable that I'll retain access over the long term. So true. It's not that platform companies are evil, it's just that they're a business too. They're interested in their survival first and yours second. To expect anything else is to be naive and to set yourself up for failure. As Pete says, it makes sense to have them financially invested in continuing to provide for you. It's not a cure-all, but it's a damn sight better than "build on this so we can gain traction and some idea of a business model". Yet again, Warden reads my mind and saves me the trouble of finding the right words to write.
  3. 0Boxer -- Chrome and Safari extensions to turn gmail into a game. (via waxy)
  4. Twitter's New Search Architecture (Twitter Engineering Blog) -- notable for two things: they're contributing patches back to the open source text search library Lucene, and they name the individual engineers who worked on the project. Very classy, human, and canny. (via straup on Delicious)

September 16 2010

Strata Week: The challenge of real-time analytics

The call for proposals for O'Reilly Strata ends on Sept. 28. We're keen to hear your stories about the business and practice of data, analytics and visualization. Submit a proposal now.

When MapReduce is too slow

This week the Register reported on Google's move away from a MapReduce architecture for compiling their search index. Pioneered by Google, MapReduce is a way to distribute calculations among many processors. MapReduce led the field in big data analytics frameworks, and is now popularly used in the form of the open-source Hadoop project, spearheaded by Yahoo!

Does Google think MapReduce is dead? Not quite. The problem is that MapReduce is a batch processing architecture. Google was recomputing their entire search index and replacing it wholesale every few hours. By contrast, content is being updated on the web in real-time. With a MapReduce-centric architecture, Google could never be truly up-to-date.

Caffeine, Google's new indexing system, supports incremental indexing and avoids the refresh rate problem of MapReduce. Carrie Grimes of Google explained the benefits, writing in a Google blog post:

With Caffeine, we analyze the web in small portions and update our search index on a continuous basis, globally. As we find new pages, or new information on existing pages, we can add these straight to the index.

Google isn't the only company that wants real-time big data processing. Facebook, deeply invested in Hadoop, are working to get their latencies down to matters of seconds rather than minutes. Real-time analytics is a priority for many of companies I've spoken to in researching the Strata program. Whether it's MapReduce-based or not, we will see the emergence of more real-time big data technologies over the next 12 months.

  • Want to get a taste of using MapReduce without deploying any infrastructure?
    Check out, a simple self-contained Python MapReduce implementation.

Feeling blue

The folks at COLOURlovers noticed that a lot of people favored the color blue for their Twitter theme. Was this just because Twitter itself was blue, or does blue have a stronger hold on our preferences? To investigate, COLOURlovers decided to research the top 100 online brands.

Blue, the color of Twitter, Facebook, Paypal, and AT&T, does indeed dominate online brands. But it's not alone. There's a strong showing for red from companies such as CNN, ESPN, Comcast, CNET, BBC and YouTube. Red seems to be a strong indicator for media organizations.

Excerpt from COLOURlovers visualization.

Is there any hope for variety, or we doomed to a red-blue future? COLOURlovers suspect that once category leaders establish a certain color, newcomers are likely to repeat it.

Once a rocketship of a web startup takes flight, there are a number of Jr. Internet astronauts hoping to emulate their success ... and are inspired by their brands. And so blue and red will probably continue to dominate, but we can have hope for the GoWallas, DailyBooths and other more adventurous brands out there.

Personal email analytics

Email is one of the richest, most useful and most infuriating sources of data in our lives. For years we've been wanting tools to help make sense of the flow of people and information that it brings. In 1991, for example, Jaimie Zawinski created the Insidious Big Brother Database (BBDB), with the aim of making both email and people more manageable.

BBDB can automatically keep track of what other topics the sender has corresponded with you about; when you last read a message from the sender; what mailing lists their messages came through; and any other details or automatic annotations you care to add. It also does a good job of noting when someone's email address has changed.

More recently it seems that innovation has been slower to come to email clients. However, the opening up of GMail's API has brought some interesting new tools, based on machine learning and analytics.

For basic exploration of your email flows, try Graph Your Inbox. This is a Chrome browser extension that will chart queries over your GMail data, essentially a Google Trends for your email. Below is a graph comparing the volumes of email I sent and received.

Graph Your Inbox results for outbound vs incoming email

With tools such as Graph Your Inbox we can retrospectively mine our own email and discover the ebb and flow of people and projects in our lives. Can machine learning help us in a proactive way? Whether you are conscious of it or not, machine learning techniques help us daily in the fight against spam. But what about separating the signal from the noise among our non-spam communications?

Google recently introduced Priority Inbox, in an attempt to help users decide which emails are important. Small voting buttons and dividers in the interface enable you to train Priority Inbox. But some of this seems a bit redundant -- we already passively prioritize by how quickly we read and reply to messages from different people. Why can't the computer learn?

SaneBox is a web application that takes a more low-key approach. It will label mail according to whether it needs immediate attention, can be postponed for later, or whether it's a bulk mailing. I've been using it for some months, and it admittedly takes a little time to learn to trust. The results however are impressive. Simply removing non-urgent mail from view lowers stress levels considerably.

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March 05 2010

Four short links: 5 March 2010

  1. Rapportive -- a simple social CRM built into Gmail. They replace the ads in Gmail with photos, bio, and info from social media sites. (via ReadWrite Web)
  2. Best Practices in Web Development with Django and Python -- great set of recommendations. (via Jon Udell's article on checklists)
  3. Think Like a Statistician Without The Math (Flowing Data) -- Finally, and this is the most important thing I've learned, always ask why. When you see a blip in a graph, you should wonder why it's there. If you find some correlation, you should think about whether or not it makes any sense. If it does make sense, then cool, but if not, dig deeper. Numbers are great, but you have to remember that when humans are involved, errors are always a possibility. This is basically how to be a scientist: know the big picture, study the details to find deviations, and always ask "why".
  4. WoW Armory Data Mining -- a blog devoted to data mining on the info from the Wow Amory, which has a lot of data taken from the servers. It's baseball statistics for World of Warcraft. Fascinating! (via Chris Lewis)

February 10 2010

Google Buzz: Is it Project, Product or Platform?

googlebuzz.pngI think that it's great that Google is iterating Gmail (read Tim O'Reilly's excellent write-up on it here), and actually improving an existing product, versus rolling out a knock-off of something that is already in the market.

Nonetheless. I am confused. I thought that Google Wave was destined to be the new Gmail, but after yesterday's announcement, I am left wondering if Gmail is, instead, the new Google Wave.

How did that happen? Well, for starters, the Company is so obtuse about what's a Project, what's a Product and what's a Platform that I am unsure if Google Buzz is to be treated akin to a "concept car" or if it constitutes a real strategic initiative within the Company.

Worse, Google has this somewhat head-achey culture of creating overlapping offerings (think: Buzz, Wave, Reader, Talk, Gmail, Chrome, Android), and then giving cloudy guidance on demarcation lines between what is what.

As a customer, partner or developer, wouldn't it be nice if they could just be clear where they are experimenting, where there's a committed road map with release dates and where the offering ties into a larger vision (e.g., core technologies with unified strategies)?

For example, wouldn't Google Reader be better nested inside of this buzz-able Gmail than in its current wooden frame? Will the Company ever have a unified reader/player model?

Similarly, if Android is the hot mobile platform, why do we need Chrome? Will tablet devices, a hybrid between mobile devices and netbooks, be Chrome powered or Android powered?

Adding to the confusion, over the years I have seen enough cases where Google offerings sit in Google Labs, yet by all accounts, are real products.

In other cases, the term Beta is more marketing moniker than anything; it doesn't really mean anything, as it's not like Google is (generally) committing to dates and deliverables.

Still, in other cases, we just stop hearing about the offering, but even in those cases, the product never fully dies (read: Orkut).

All of this leaves me wondering what in Google's DNA suggests a culture of delighting customers, and relentlessly focusing on the details needed to deliver a better user experience that is supported by a clear strategy?

If anything, the "Google Way" has taught me that their loosely-coupled approach leads to uninspiring, weakly integrated products that may or may not have a predictable lifecycle to them.

Put another way, why should I pay prolonged, serious attention to Google Buzz until Google shows that THEY are committed to paying prolonged, serious attention to it?

Related Posts:

  1. The Chess Masters: Apple versus Google

  2. Open "ish": The meaning of open, according to Google

  3. Google Android: Inevitability, the Dawn of Mobile and the Missing Leg

  4. The Google Android Rollout: Windows or Waterloo?

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