Saturday, July 21, 2012

Random stuff I'm reading currently

Herewith, some things that you might or might not find interesting:
  • Jacqueline Piatigorsky, one of the great benefactors of chess in my lifetime, has died at the age of 100. Randy Hough has a nice memorial essay about her here.
    Mrs. Piatigorsky's name is forever linked to the Piatigorsky Cup GM tournaments held in Los Angeles in 1963 and 1966. Participants included world champions Petrosian, Spassky, and Fischer. She oversaw all the details of these events, including the relay of moves to the analysis room, and personally designed the Cup. She even placed the demonstration boards on the stage herself once when none of the helpers were present and none of the masters would deign to help. These two tournaments, universally considered to be the strongest in the U.S. since New York 1924, did much to enhance the stature of chess in the U.S. and generated still-popular tournament books.
  • The Olympics are starting in just a couple days. Are you ready? has just what you need: Longform’s Olympics Primer. I particularly enjoyed Will You Medal in the Morning? and the story of Penny Brookes from Much Wenlock
    Then de Coubertin hied to the Olympian Fields and saw the Games for real. Yes, it was only Much Wenlock, one little town in the Midlands, and the Olympians were mostly just Shropshire lads, but now it wasn’t a dream. Right before his eyes, the baron could see athletes running and jumping, with laurel wreaths placed upon the victors’ brows and brotherhood upon the horizon of sport.
  • Everybody's talking about the fascinating discussion between Eric Schmidt and Peter Thiel that occurred at the Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference in Aspen. Happily, Fortune magazine have made a full transcript of the debate available on their website. In general, I'm usually more on Schmidt's side than Thiel's, but in this particular case I think Theil made some great points, and Schmidt really ought to think about some of what Thiel had to say. An excerpt:
    ADAM LASHINSKY: You touched on the employment issue earlier, the New York Times did a major piece suggesting that Apple doesn't account for the same kind of employment in the United States that General Motors did in the 1950s. And you make a similar case, Twitter, Facebook, as great as they are, 140 characters is neat, but they don't' employ a lot of people.

    PETER THIEL: They're all great companies.

    ADAM LASHINSKY: In that they're profitable.

    PETER THIEL: But, they're not ones that are able to basically ‑‑ you know, they're sort of the exception to the rule that we don't have enough innovation. So, you have to avoid confusing the specific and the general. Google is a great company. It has 30,000 people, or 20,000, whatever the number is. They have pretty safe jobs. On the other hand, Google also has 30, 40, 50 billion in cash. It has no idea how to invest that money in technology effectively. So, it prefers getting zero percent interest from Mr. Bernanke, effectively the cash sort of gets burned away over time through inflation, because there are no ideas that Google has how to spend money.

    Thank you, Fortune, for making the transcript available. Go read it!
  • Staying on the social aspects of computing angle for just a bit, don't miss this fascinating short essay in the Atlantic: Rich Kids of Instagram Epitomize Everything Wrong with Instagram
    The very basis of Instagram is not just to show off, but to feign talent we don't have, starting with the filters themselves. The reason we associate the look with "cool" in the first place is that many of these pretty hazes originated from processes coveted either for their artistic or unique merits, as photographer and blogger Ming Thein explains: "Originally, these styles were either conscious artistic decisions, or the consequences of not enough money and using expired film. They were chosen precisely because they looked unique—either because it was a difficult thing to execute well (using tilt-shift lenses, for instance) or because nobody else did it (cross-processing)," he writes. Instagram, however, has made such techniques easy and available, taking away that original value.
  • Jeff Atwood is back with a nice essay about the ongoing introduction of new programmer jargon: New Programming Jargon. I loved "Common Law Feature", "Smug Report", and "Yoda Conditions".
  • Except for the persistent mis-spelling of "yacht", this article from the OCSC Sailing Blog is fun: Fun and interesting places to sail in SF Bay. Meanwhile, the first of the new America's Cup boats has launched, and what a boat it is!
  • Oracle have shut down the long-running Sun Labs research effort called Project Fortress: Fortess Wrapping Up
    over the last few years, as we have focused on implementing a compiler targeted to the Java Virtual Machine, we encountered some severe technical challenges having to do with the mismatch between the (rather ambitious) Fortress type system and a virtual machine not designed to support it (that would be every currently available VM, not just JVM). In addressing these challenges, we learned a lot about the implications of the Fortress type system for the implementation of symmetric multimethod dispatch, and have concluded that we are now unlikely to learn more (in a research sense) from completing the implementation of Fortress for JVM.
  • Perhaps unsurprisingly, mobile devices are already starting to bump up against the limits of a 32-bit implementation, so soon there will be 64-bit ARM processors. Over at Linux Weekly News, Jon Corbet has a nice summary of the work underway to add 64-bit ARM support to Linux: Supporting 64-bit ARM systems
    The 64-bit ARM instruction set is completely different from the 32-bit variety, to the point that there is no possibility of writing assembly code that works on both architectures. The system call interfaces also differ significantly, with the 64-bit version taking a more standard approach and leaving a lot of legacy code behind.
  • VMWare are open-sourcing an intriguing new database engine that they call Affinity. Apparently this work comes out of a company that VMWare bought, called Pi Computing; VMWare's Richard McDougall explains a bit of the history here. It looks like a very complete effort; they have a full transactional model with snapshot isolation.
    Affinity uses the Read-Only multiversion [ROMV] protocol for read-only transactions, thus enabling non-blocking reads. This only applies to transactions that are explicitly specified as read-only by the caller. These transactions read a snapshot that will correspond to the effect of committed write transactions up to the point the read-only transaction started (n.b. if the number of snapshots grows very large at any point in time, an older [already allocated] snapshot may be used). In contrast, plain read-write or read-only transactions (not explicitly marked as read-only by the caller) progress according to the 2-phase-locking protocol, and may in some cases read data items in a "newer" state than the corresponding explicit read-only transaction would.
    It's interesting that the most complete and informative page in their documentation set is what they call their Terminology Page. Getting terminology clear is a great first step!
  • I'm just totally digging Werner Vogels' new series on "Back-to-Basics", in which he picks one or two classic papers a week to re-read and re-discover. I hope he keeps this up! Here are the first two episodes: Interestingly, I just re-read Lamport's paper myself a few weeks back.
  • This is an interesting effort: Best Paper Awards in Computer Science
  • Sam Overton is proposing to add virtual nodes to Cassandra. Read his proposal here. The Acunu team continue to generate interesting ideas and systems.
  • I'm not sure I understand what DBToaster is, but it looks interesting.
    The DBToaster compiler accepts queries written in SQL, and generates query engine code that can be incorporated directly into any C++ or Scala project
    Their white paper adds considerable additional details.
  • OSCON 2012 has just finished, and it looks like it was another good year for the conference. Here's the proceedings.
Yeah, you're right, this was some pretty random stuff. Well, don't say I didn't warn you!

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