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January 28 2011

November 16 2010

Four short links: 16 November 2010

  1. A Room to Let in Old Aldgate -- a lovely collection of photographs of lost buildings from The Society for Photographing Relics of Old London. Think of them as the Wayback Machine of their day. (via Fiona Rigby on Twitter)
  2. Wikipedia Fundraising A/B Tests -- get a glimpse into the science that resulted in Jimmy Wales's hollow haunted gaze staring at you with the eerie intensity of a creepy hobo talking about how tasty human liver is.
  3. It Takes A Lot of Money to Stay in Business (Ponoko) -- guest blogs by Chris Anderson on the lessons and rules of maker businesses. Most Maker businesses that I’ve talked to have to hold parts inventory closer to 25% of their annual sales.
  4. Sencha Touch -- mobile multitouch Javascript toolkit, now fully GPLed. (via Simon St Laurent)

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October 21 2010

Four short links: 21 October 2010

  1. Using MysQL as NoSQL -- 750,000+ qps on a commodity MySQL/InnoDB 5.1 server from remote web clients.
  2. Making an SLR Camera from Scratch -- amazing piece of hardware devotion. (via
  3. Mac App Store Guidelines -- Apple announce an app store for the Macintosh, similar to its app store for iPhones and iPads. "Mac App" no longer means generic "program", it has a new and specific meaning, a program that must be installed through the App store and which has limited functionality (only one can run at a time, it's full-screen, etc.). The list of guidelines for what kinds of programs you can't sell through the App Store is interesting. Many have good reasons to be, but It creates a store inside itself for selling or distributing other software (i.e., an audio plug-in store in an audio app) is pure greed. Some are afeared that the next step is to make the App store the only way to install apps on a Mac, a move that would drive me away. It would be a sad day for Mac-lovers if Microsoft were to be the more open solution than Apple. cf the Owner's Manifesto.
  4. Privacy Aspects of Data Mining -- CFP for an IEEE workshop in December. (via jschneider on Twitter)

August 18 2010

Four short links: 18 August 2010

  1. BBC Dimensions -- brilliant work, a fun site that lets you overlay familiar plcaes with famous and notable things so you can get a better sense of how large they are. Example: the Colossus of Rhodes straddling O'Reilly HQ, the Library of Alexandria vs the Google campus, and New Orleans Mardi Gras began at the headquarters of Fred Phelps's Westboro Baptist Church. (via this piece about its background)
  2. Podapter -- simple plug that takes mini-USB and goes into an iPod or iPhone. (via Tuesday product awesomeness)
  3. New NexusOne Radio Firmware -- a glimpse of the world that's sprung up sharing the latest goodies between countries, carriers, and developers. For everyone for whose products the street has found a new use, the challenge is to harness this energy, enthusiasm, knowledge, and devotion. In terms of cognitive surplus, this far exceeds the 1 LOLCAT minimum standard unit. (via YuweiWang on Twitter)
  4. Echoes Nest Remix API -- access to database of song characteristics and tools to manipulate tunes. See the Technology Review article for examples of what it's capable of. (via aaronsw on Twitter)

August 02 2010

July 20 2010

Four short links: 20 July 2010

  1. Dangerous Prototypes -- "a new open source hardware project every month". Sample project: Flash Destroyer, which writes and verifies EEPROM chips until they blow out.
  2. Wabit -- GPLv3 reporting tool.
  3. Because No Respectable MBA Programme Would Admit Me (Mike Shaver) -- excellent book recommendations.
  4. The Most Prescient Footnote Ever (David Pennock) -- In footnote 14 of Chapter 5 (p. 228) of Graham’s classic Hackers and Painters, published in 2004, Graham asks “If the the Mac was so great why did it lose?”. His explanation ends with this caveat, in parentheses: "And it hasn’t lost yet. If Apple were to grow the iPod into a cell phone with a web browser, Microsoft would be in big trouble."

July 09 2010

Hardware hacking heaven

OSCON this year will be a delight for anybody interested in working with hardware. A full open source hardware track offers a range of talks to get you started with hardware hacking, and gives a great insight into the current options for prototyping.

Many software developers are astonished to find that there's nothing that hard about hardware, and a few basic skills can go a long way. Some have bemoaned that you can't hack your iPhone the way you used to be able to learn with an Apple ][, but that doesn't mean there aren't options out there.

From microcontrollers such as Arduino, through to complete systems such as the SheevaPlug and BeagleBoard, there are now many accessible form factors to enable novices and experts alike to begin experimenting and prototyping hardware systems.

Where to start?

Save 20%The home is naturally a place where many of us get started with hardware hacking. At OSCON, father-and-son team Bruce and Matthew Momijan will discuss software control of home automation systems. Find out how to cron your washing machine and script your telephone.

Taking things a step further and hitting the metal, "Hardware Hacking 101" will demonstrate how to build small single-purpose devices, and give an overview of what to look out for when starting to wrangle chips and PCBs.

Hardware takes many forms, and it's not just about circuit boards. Hacking in Real Life: Crafting for the Modern Geek invites you to find out what happens when you mix fractals, 3D printers, robotics, open source, high-powered lasers, and non-orientable surfaces with wood, plastic, textiles, steel, cloth ... and lots of coffee.


The little board that could has captured the imagination of many developers. It's responsible for demystifying hardware for many of my friends, seasoned software developers who never knew they could do hardware. If you've never met Arduino before, get introduced with a hands-on three hour tutorial, or follow a quick introduction, then stay for the fun.

arduino.jpgParallel programming may seem too obscure for the everyday developer, but it makes a surprising appearance as a tool for artists and makers. In a session on the Plumbing toolkit, we'll hear how with six lines of code we can go from making simple blinkenlights to responding to environmental sensor inputs.

Reaching out further into the environment, OSCON regular Russ Nelson will be talking about how he used Arduino and sensors to monitor water quality. For me, that really represents the power of Arduino: hacking the real world.

The final piece of the sensor puzzle is of course to display your data. "Open Source Data Visualization on Open Source Hardware" is a soup-to-nuts tour, covering data acquisition to visualizations.

Small-form computing

If soldering isn't your scene, there's still plenty you can do with the progressive miniaturization of entire systems. The SheevaPlug computer is now the basis of several consumer devices. It runs Linux, is power-efficient, and very hackable. The Plug Computing Primer will give a tour of the strengths and weaknesses of using this device in practice.

Taking it one step smaller, the BeagleBoard is a three-inch-square board from Texas Instruments that provides netbook-like performance with very low power consumption. Its hardware design is itself open source, opening possibilities for derivative design. "How to Boot Linux on the BeagleBoard" will introduce the board and its developer ecosystem.

Hack the world around you

With the current slate of tools, it's never been easier to write code that runs on low-power, small-format devices. And many of these tools are familiar to conventional software developers. The goal of the hardware track is to combine toolsets and inspiration so you can hack the real-world problems around you.


OSCON will be held July 19-23 in Portland, Ore. Radar readers can save 20% on registration with the discount code OS10RAD.

June 07 2010

Four short links: 7 June 2010

  1. UKI: Simple UI Kit for Complex Web Apps -- Uki is a fast and simple JavaScript user interface toolkit for desktop-like web applications. It comes with a rich view-component library ranging from Slider to List and SplitPane. Includes the now-ubiquitous mockup, which has become to UI library webpages what the bucket of grease and dirt is to household cleaner commercials. (via Hacker News)
  2. NanoNote -- USD100 minute sub-notebook computer (320x240 screen, 126g including battery, 2G storage, qwerty keyboard) with Creative Commons (attribution, sharealike) licenses on the schematics.
  3. On Android Compatibility (Dan Morril) -- Rewind to about 5 years ago. [...] Back then as today, it was practically unheard of for a feature phone to ever get a software update.[...] The reason was that the smartphone platform vendors controlled the software. It was exceedingly difficult for OEMs to differentiate on software because they had little control over the software. It was difficult for them to differentiate on features because they could only ship features supported by the OS they were using. But it was still a fiercely competitive market and they still innovated as hard as they could. So they innovated on the only dimension they had control over: hardware and industrial design. [...] Think about that. Easier to rev hardware than software! A fantastically lucid explanation of the messed-up age of carrier-controlled mobile platforms that we're just leaving (and yes, we probably do have Steve Jobs to thank for that). (via Kevin Marks)
  4. Living and Learning in the Cloud (EdTalks) -- talk by the deputy-principal of a New Zealand high-school that's running all open source, and has extended the "available to be improved" mindset to rooms and curriculum. (via br3nda)

June 04 2010

Four short links: 4 June 2010

  1. HomeSense -- an open user-centered research project investigating the use of smart and networked technologies in the home, with uber-Arduino-rockstar Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino. (via titine on Twitter)
  2. Kelvin's Thunderstorm (Instructables) -- "create lightning from water and gravity". Simple and impressive science. (via Paul Fenwick)
  3. Graph Visualization Code in Javascript (Stack Overflow) -- good pointers to interesting libraries.
  4. ChEMBL - Neglected Tropical Disease archive -- a repository for Open Access primary screening and medicinal chemistry data directed at neglected diseases. CC0-licensed datasets identifying several tens of thousands of compounds active against the malarial parasite P. falciparum in an effort to lower the cost of drug creation for this neglected disease. (via Common Knowledge blog)

April 28 2010

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