Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Stuff I'm reading, mid-week edition

I'm beginning to wonder if I'm over Kingdoms of Amalur; I had a four-day weekend and haven't played it even once. But then again, I was pretty busy with lots of other things going on, including re-creating this delightful hike from Weekend Sherpa.

But in case the rainy weather is keeping you indoors today, here's a few things you might find interesting:

  • Ever wonder how Netflix keeps track of your queue? The implementation has recently changed, and the team have described some of the improvements they undertook: Netflix Queue: Data migration for a high volume web application
    Migrating data to an eventually consistent data store, such as Cassandra, for a high volume, low latency application and verifying its consistency is a multi step process. It involves an one time data forklifting and then applying further changes incrementally. There could be error cases where the incremental updates cannot be successfully applied for reasons such as timeouts, throttling of data stores, temporary node unavailability etc. Running an end to end consistency checker and validating data by doing shadow reads helped us better evaluate the consistency of the migrated data.
  • The hearings have begun regarding the sinking of the HMS Bounty replica, and gCaptain is following the proceedings: Bounty Hearings Begin – Chief Mate Testifies
    After Svendsen’s testimony was finished, Carroll and the panel discussed a piece of evidence (CG-12) – a 2010 survey report from the American Bureau of Shipping – that outlined 19 deficiencies requiring attention if Bounty was to be issued a Load Line certificate. The issues ranged from weather-tight fittings and missing hatch gaskets to improper drainage and problems with watertight bulkheads. The Coast Guard investigator kept repeating the phrase “that repair was not done” when referring to an interview with the ship’s owner following the sinking. The load line certificate was never issued.
  • You may have thought the Oracle v. Google lawsuit was over. Not so: the case is now under appeal. Florian Mueller discusses some of the primary issues: Oracle's appeal brief clears up misconceptions about software patents-copyright relationship
    The claim that increasingly broad protection through software patents renders copyright superfluous should set off the alarm bells in the minds of some of the people who cheered about Judge Alsup's ruling but simultaneously criticize (or fundamentally oppose) software patents. For example, the Electronic Frontier Foundation isn't really being consistent on these two issues.
  • I can't get enough of this Tesla v. The New York Times thing. Bruce Schneier looks at the medium-term privacy implications: Automobile Data Surveillance and the Future of Black Boxes
    it gives you an idea of the sort of things that will be collected once automobile black boxes become the norm. We're used to airplane black boxes, which only collected a small amount of data from the minutes just before an incident. But that was back when data was expensive. Now that it's cheap, expect black boxes to collect everything all the time. And once it's collected, it'll be used. By auto manufacturers, by insurance companies, by car rental companies, by marketers.
  • The understatement of the day comes from this fascinating article about the ongoing studies into Burmese Pythons on the Florida Everglades: Biggest Python in Fla. Snake Hunt Released Into the Wild
    Initially the prize for the longest snake went to a man who brought in a 10-foot long python, but on Sunday another longest snake prize was given to Blake Russ and Devin Belliston of Miami who wrangled an 11-foot long python. The error in measurement, according to Mazzotti, has to do with the difficulty of measuring a live python.
  • Speaking of Python, the Python I spend much more time dealing with is a programming language called Python. As Ned Batchelder notes, one of the things that programming language educators should think about is how terrible our basic programming language idioms are for describing simple concepts: Getting started with programming terminology
    Expressions have no range of emotion at all, arguments aren't debating anything. Comprehensions are incomprehensible, floats just lie there. You can't put a price on values, dictionaries have no order.
  • Junio Hamano takes a few moments out of his incredibly busy life to help us understand The Maintainer's Life. It's basically what some people might call "project management":
    what I the maintainer alone does as the project leader.
    • Keep an eye on end-user reports and requests that haven't been responded, find somebody in the community (i.e. victims) who are knowledgeable enough to handle them, and redirect.
    • Accept the patches polished in the review process and manage releases.
  • Wired is featuring a human-interest story about one of my absolute favorite bloggers, James Hamilton: Why Amazon Hired a Car Mechanic to Run Its Cloud Empire
    Much like two other cloud computing giants — Google and Microsoft — Amazon says very little about the particulars of its data center work, viewing this as the most important of trade secrets, but Hamilton is held in such high regard, he’s one of the few Amazon employees permitted to blog about his big ideas, and the fifty-something Canadian has developed a reputation across the industry as a guru of distributing systems.
    (Yes, most people would say 'distributed systems', not 'distributing systems'. But anyway.)

  • Totally unrelated to Hamilton's work at Amazon, Scott Hanselman tracks down and describes the details of one of the many social engineering frauds that are rampant on the Internet. Learn how they work, and avoid them! Chasing an active Social Engineering Fraud at Amazon Kindle
    there are a series of chats with "Scott" using their Live Chat system. So, this is a social engineering hack, not a "password compromised" hack. The person has reported that "Scott's" Kindle is broken and has asked for a replacement, but then later tried to redirect the delivery. The customer rep says they can't redirect it. However, it appears the bad guy tried multiple support folks until they finally got the package redirected.
  • My mother raises an interesting point about how we respond to "historical fiction": Texas, by James Michener
    I became irritated quickly with becoming involved with a family or an individual character and then, checking the list he had helpfully added to the front matter, would find they were fictional.
  • In local news, the Artemis Racing team are said to be making a presentation here in town next week; I'm going to check the schedule to see if I can attend. Meanwhile, the Oracle Racing team have finished repairing their boat and are scheduled to be back on the water: Exclusive news! Four AC 72′s expected to hit SF Bay on Monday.
    Will they be cautious with their new toy, or will they hit the ground running to catch up with the other teams who have been operating daily on the Hauraki Gulf and right here on the bay? Either way, Oracle will have to watch out for high speed traffic because on Monday there is expected to be four AC72s plying the waters of San Francisco!
  • I love it when I find things like this on the Internet: it's simply a self-published, sentimental photo-essay about growing up on the East Shore of the Chesapeake Bay. Quite nice: Four Seasons on Brick Kiln Road
    The poetry in the town can be found in the smell of steamed hard crabs, the pungent funk of the salt marsh, the sound of hymns being sung, the soft creak of a rocking chair on a weathered front porch. Days and weeks drift by in long periods of idleness interrupted by the occasional Lions Club pancake supper or great storms sweeping over the Chesapeake.
  • Joe Duffy reflects on what "Software Leadership" means, and hits on a point that's been made before (e.g., Joel Spolsky's "smart, and gets things done"), but it's still worth making, and making again: Software Leadership #1: Code Speaks; Love the Code
    I’ve seen it afflict software engineers too: "I’ve been a professional developer for 10 years, so my job is now to tell others what to do rather than doing anything myself." At this point, they might adopt the title Architect.


    The idea that you can improve the state of software, whose bloodline is code, without ever writing a line of it or becoming proficient in it, is complete insanity. And yet it’s generally accepted.

  • Saving the meatiest for last, don't miss this superb and lengthy investigation into the new world of BitCoin and Silk Road: Using Silk Road
    It’s worth noting that the buyers bear the real risk on SR. A seller can easily anonymize themselves and send packages without difficulty: simply drive out of town to an obscure post office and mail it, leaving behind fuzzy surveillance recordings, if even that. (See the Silk Road subforum on shipping (mirror).) A buyer, on the other hand, must at some point be physically present to consume the ordered drugs or items. There’s no way to cleanly separate herself from the shipment like the seller can. Shipping is so safe for the seller that many of them will, without complaint, ship worldwide or across national borders because customs so rarely stops drug shipments.

This week, may the challenges you face pale beside "the difficulty of measuring a live python."

Happy reading!

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