Friday, March 13, 2015

What I'm reading, mid-March edition

The fruit trees are all happy, everything is in bloom.

And I'm reading a completely random collection of stuff...

  • Disambiguating Databases
    The scope of the term database is vast. Technically speaking, anything that stores data for later retrieval is a database. Even by that broad definition, there is functionality that is common to most databases. This article enumerates those features at a high level. The intent is to provide readers with a toolset with which they might evaluate databases on their relative merits.
  • There is No Now
    One of the most common mistakes in building systems—especially, but not only, distributed-computing systems on commodity machines and networks—is assuming an escape from basic physical realities. The speed of light is one such reality, but so is one that is more pernicious and just as universal: we cannot make perfect machines that never break. It is the combination of these realities, of asynchrony and partial failure, that together make building distributed systems a difficult pursuit. If we do not plan and account for failures in individual components, we all but guarantee the failure of combined systems.
  • The future of Team Foundation Version control
    We've been investing heavily in Git because there's a ton of work to do to bring it up to parity with what we can do with TFVC. I think people get confused for a number or reasons. We talk about our progress on Git a lot. The industry talks about Git a lot. And, if you are watching, you'll hear more and more about teams inside Microsoft adopting Git. My own team has moved a bunch of stuff to Git.
  • How GitHub Conquered Google, Microsoft, and Everyone Else
    Google Code is dying because most of the open source world—a vast swath of the tech world in general—now houses its code on GitHub, a site bootstrapped by a quirky San Francisco startup of the same name. All but a few of those thousand projects are now on GitHub.
  • Open-sourcing Pinball
    After experimenting with a few open-source workflow managers we found none of them to be flexible enough to accommodate the ever-changing landscape of our data processing solutions. In particular, current available solutions are either scoped to support a specific type of job (e.g. Apache Oozie optimized for Hadoop computations) or abstractly broad and hard to extend (e.g. monolithic Azkaban). With that in mind, we took on the challenge of implementing a highly customizable workflow manager build to survive the evolution of the data processing use cases ranging from execution of basic shell commands to elaborate ETL-style computations on top of Hadoop, Hive and Spark.
  • The sad state of sysadmin in the age of containers
    Nobody seems to know how to build Hadoop from scratch. It's an incredible mess of dependencies, version requirements and build tools.

    None of these "fancy" tools still builds by a traditional make command. Every tool has to come up with their own, incomptaible, and non-portable "method of the day" of building.

    And since nobody is still able to compile things from scratch, everybody just downloads precompiled binaries from random websites.

  • Booster Test
    NASA socials give some inside access to people like me (and you, if you live in the USA and want to sign up next time) who have no official connection to the space program. Yesterday we got to tour the plant where the boosters are made. It was great to learn about techniques for mixing, casting, and curing huge amounts of propellant without getting air bubbles or other imperfections into the mix and without endangering workers. The buildings in this part of ATK have escape slides from all levels and are surrounded by big earthworks to deflect potential explosions upwards. It was also really cool to see the hardware for hooking boosters to the main rocket, for vectoring nozzles, and things like that. Alas, we weren’t allowed to take pictures on the tour.
  • Wild-Winter Whodunnit—Climate Change Over the U.S. With a Slow Jet Stream?
    It’s a notion so vast in scale it’s difficult to imagine, yet the mechanics are fairly simple. The jet stream is generated by a combination of Earth’s rotation and the flow of air down atmospheric gradients between high-pressure, mid-latitude warmth and low-pressure Arctic cold. Over the last several decades, the Arctic has warmed faster than any other region; during periods of especially heightened warming, as occurs when melting sea ice exposes dark, sunlight-absorbing waters, the north-to-south temperature difference shrinks. The pressure differences flatten.

    This decreased gradient slows down the jet stream—and as it slows, it also seems to become wavier, plunging south or veering north when encountering atmospheric obstacles it would once have coursed straight through.

  • The 2015 California Earthquake Forecast
    We can’t deal with the situation using simple, linear computer models based on one idea of Earth’s behavior. The third UCERF is a supple, fine-grained instrument that takes advantage of many significant advances during the last decade. When I told a USGS quake guy yesterday how much I admired the new model, his eyes twinkled. They’re proud of this.
  • Great ladies of history find a new home in strategy games
    Paradox's chief operating officer is Susana Meza-Graham, and she says she loves working in the demanding strategy game space. "I love that the games we develop and publish within the strategy space matter for others," she says. "We have countless examples of teachers using our games as a way to bring history, politics and economics to life for their students."

    She shows me a TED talk from Alex Petroff, who at 6:38 minutes in says Paradox games have helped him run an NGO dedicated to getting rural people out of poverty in the Congo.

    "We've never gone out of our way to label a game as typically 'male' or 'female'," Meza-Graham says. "Instead we try to find appealing ways to communicate the merits of the game and what makes them special and worth playing."

    Crusader Kings II in particular has a higher ratio of female players than many of the company's other strategy games. Meza-Graham puts the total at about 40 percent.

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