Saturday, August 22, 2015

Oh, my goodness! I thought August was when everybody took vacation and nothing got done...

  • Why is Bitcoin forking?
    The problem is that any change, no matter how obvious, can be nixed entirely if it becomes “controversial”, meaning another person with commit access objects. As there are five committers and many other non-committers who can also make changes “controversial” this is a recipe for deadlock. The fact that the block size was never meant to be permanent has ceased to matter: the fact that removing it is debated, is, by itself, enough to ensure it will not happen. Like a committee with no chairman, the meeting never ends. To quote the committer who has pushed hardest for stasis, “Bitcoin needs a leader like a fish needs a bicycle”.
  • The technology behind preview photos
    We started evaluating standard compression techniques to find the best way to compress this data to 200 bytes. Unfortunately, simply entropy encoding the image, with, say, zlib, gets you only a factor of 2. Still too big. We then evaluated a bunch of nonstandard techniques, but we decided it was better to leverage other code/libraries that we had. So, we looked at JPEG image encoding, which is a very popular image codec. Especially since our image is going to be blurred heavily on the client, and thus band-limiting our image data, JPEG should compress this image quite efficiently for our purposes. Unfortunately, the standard JPEG header is hundreds of bytes in size. In fact, the JPEG header alone is several times bigger than our entire 200-byte budget. However, excluding the JPEG header, the encoded data payload itself was approaching our 200 bytes. We just needed to figure out what to do about that pesky header!
  • Getting Garbage Collection for Free
    An example of this occurs when Chrome is showing an animation on a web page. The animation will update the screen at 60 FPS, giving Chrome around 16.6 ms of time to perform the update. As such, Chrome will start work on the current frame as soon as the previous frame has been displayed, performing input, animation and frame rendering tasks for this new frame. If Chrome completes all this work in less than 16.6 ms, then it has nothing else to do for the remaining time until it needs to start rendering the next frame. Chrome’s scheduler enables V8 to take advantage of this idle time period by scheduling special idle tasks when Chrome would otherwise be idle.
  • How the cloud will devour open source
    Take MySQL, for example. The database has changed hands a few times, with Sun acquiring MySQL AB in 2008, then Oracle picking up the asset through its acquisition of Sun the following year. But MySQL, Sun, and Oracle have collectively made a heck of a lot less -- orders of magnitude less -- by selling MySQL-related services than Amazon Web Services has made by selling MySQL ­as­ a­ service (that is, Relational Database Service).

    Nor will MySQL be the last open source project to be more heavily monetized by a cloud giant than by the original developers who brought it into the world.

  • The End of the Internet Dream
    What does it mean for companies to know everything about us, and for computer algorithms to make life and death decisions? Should we worry more about another terrorist attack in New York, or the ability of journalists and human rights workers around the world to keep working? How much free speech does a free society really need?

    How can we stop being afraid and start being sensible about risk? Technology has evolved into a Golden Age for Surveillance. Can technology now establish a balance of power between governments and the governed that would guard against social and political oppression? Given that decisions by private companies define individual rights and security, how can we act on that understanding in a way that protects the public interest and doesn’t squelch innovation? Whose responsibility is digital security? What is the future of the Dream of Internet Freedom?

  • Aggregation and the New Regulation
    It follows, then, that to the degree that governments answer to the people, effective control and regulation of these companies will be even more difficult than regulating the monopolies of old: that’s why Google got its first deal, and it’s why Uber was able to stare down de Blasio. What changed in Google’s case, though, was the Axel Springer article and the widespread attention it received. Similarly, while Amazon is not being accused of antitrust (for now anyways), at least in some small way the company was this weekend forced to respond in a way they usually avoid because of an article. Meanwhile, Uber, seemingly in a worse position politically, emerged from its crisis stronger than ever, confident in its ability to wield the collective influence of its customers to accomplish its political ends.
  • Science Isn’t Broken
    The p-value reveals almost nothing about the strength of the evidence, yet a p-value of 0.05 has become the ticket to get into many journals. “The dominant method used [to evaluate evidence] is the p-value,” said Michael Evans, a statistician at the University of Toronto, “and the p-value is well known not to work very well.”

    Scientists’ overreliance on p-values has led at least one journal to decide it has had enough of them. In February, Basic and Applied Social Psychology announced that it will no longer publish p-values. “We believe that the p < .05 bar is too easy to pass and sometimes serves as an excuse for lower quality research,” the editors wrote in their announcement. Instead of p-values, the journal will require “strong descriptive statistics, including effect sizes.”

  • Sharp Regrets: Top 10 Worst C# Features
    When I was on the C# design team, several times a year we would have "meet the team" events at conferences, where we would take questions from C# enthusiasts. Probably the most common question we consistently got was "Are there any language design decisions that you now regret?" and my answer is "Good heavens, yes!"

    This article presents my "bottom 10" list of features in C# that I wish had been designed differently, with the lessons we can learn about language design from each decision.

  • Eve Version 0
    Version 0 contains a database, compiler, query runtime, data editor, and query editor. Basically, it's a database with an IDE. You can add data both manually or through importing a CSV and then you can create queries over that data using our visual query editor.


    Our original goal was to build a "better programming," one that enabled more people to build software. To that end we set out to find a simpler foundation, a language with few parts that could still produce everything from your vacation planner to machine learning algorithms. We ultimately found our answer in research out of the BOOM lab at Berkeley and took off trying to prove that with such a simple language you could still build real software. We've built compilers, editors, Turing machines, even a clone of Foursquare to prove that our strategy is workable

  • A Children’s Picture-book Introduction to Quantum Field Theory
    In this post I want to try and paint a picture of what it means to have a field that respects the laws of quantum mechanics. In a previous post, I introduced the idea of fields (and, in particular, the all-important electric field) by making an analogy with ripples on a pond or water spraying out from a hose. These images go surprisingly far in allowing one to understand how fields work, but they are ultimately limited in their correctness because the implied rules that govern them are completely classical. In order to really understand how nature works at its most basic level, one has to think about a field with quantum rules.
  • A Beginner’s Guide to Eigenvectors, PCA, Covariance and Entropy
    This post introduces eigenvectors and their relationship to matrices in plain language and without a great deal of math. It builds on those ideas to explain covariance, principal component analysis, and information entropy.
  • Ways to deal with the growing number of CS majors.
    Univ of MD at College Park will have 2100 students in the CS program next year. Thats... a lot! CS is up across the country which is mostly a good thing but does raise some logistical questions. How are your schools handling the increase in the number of CS students? Here are some options I've heard people use.
  • Say goodbye to the weirdest border dispute in the world
    The exchange between India and Bangladesh means that the world will not only lose one of its most unique borders, but it will also lose the only third-order enclave in the world – an enclave surrounded by an enclave surrounded by an enclave surrounded by another state.
  • New Growth in Temescal Alley Means Death for Polymorph Recording
    Set in a cluster of old storage lockers just one block off Telegraph Avenue, the tiny retail corridor feels like it could have sprung from a different century, yet it's also redolent of the handcrafted, pastoral ethos that's characterized new development in Oakland. Temescal Alley has been designated a hipster hotspot in the press and become a go-to destination for First Friday Art Murmur.
  • A Bolivian Subway in the Sky
    The city of La Paz, Bolivia, has long struggled with transportation issues. Steep terrain, high density, and narrow streets have resulted in years of traffic nightmares for fleets of minibuses and private taxis. In the past two years, the government has worked to alleviate this by building the largest urban cable-car system in the world. Currently La Paz has three urban ropeway lines in operation, stretching over 10 kilometers, with plans to triple the size of the network. The city recently announced six new lines, which will extend the aerial system to 30 kilometers and carry up to 27,000 passengers an hour.

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