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Newsfeeds from around the industry
Geeking with Greg


  • More quick links
    More of what caught my attention lately:
    • "Make infinite computing resources available internally ... Give teams the resources they need to experiment ... All employees should be limited only by their ability rather than an absence of resources or an inability to argue convincingly for more." ([1] [2])

    • "Accept that failures will always happen and guard ... [against] cascading failures by purposefully causing failures" ([1] [2])

    • "The importance of Netflix’s recommendation engine is actually underestimated" ([1] [2])

    • Courts are getting more skeptical about software patents ([1])

    • Nice way of putting it: "The prevailing business culture in the banking industry weakens and undermines the honesty norm" ([1] [2])

    • "[On] the overcrowded, overstuffed, slow-loading web, you are bound to see a carnival of pop-ups and interstitials — interim ad pages served up before or after your desired content — and scammy come-ons daring you to click. Is it any wonder, really, that this place is dying?" ([1])

    • A very effective social engineering attack "compromised the accounts of C-level executives, legal counsel, regulatory and compliance personnel, scientists, and advisors of more than 100 [major] companies" ([1])

    • An 11 hour Microsoft Azure cloud service outage that impacted just about everyone using it worldwide, including internal users like MSN.com and Xbox Live ([1])

    • Stack traces at arbitrary break points in Google's cloud services running live with near zero overhead ([1] [2])

    • Free SSL certificates (for HTTPS) from a non-profit out of EFF, Mozilla, Cisco, and Akamai ([1])

    • The journal Nature makes its papers free for everyone to read ([1] [2])

    • Combining neural networks like components yields new breakthroughs ([1] [2])

    • Robotics guru Rodney Brooks says, "Relax. Chill ... [The press has a] misunderstanding of how far we really are from having volitional or intentional artificially intelligent beings." ([1])

    • Undersea drones are enabling new feats: "The first time ... the black sea devil anglerfish ... has been filmed alive and in its natural habitat" ([1])

    • Bats jam the sonor of other bats when they're both trying to catch the same insect. It's like a dogfight up there. ([1])

    • Great tutorial on CSS and HTML just launched by Khan Academy and jQuery's John Resig ([1])

    • Fun visualization of the periodic table by how common the elements are in the earth's crust, ocean, human body, and sun ([1])

    • Hilarious parody of the Amazon Echo promotional video ([1])

    • South Park has a surprisingly good (and funny) criticism of freemium games that gets all the issues correct around preying on people with a tendency toward compulsive gambling ([1] [2])

    • Great Dilbert comic on how engineers think of marketing ([1])

    • Good Xkcd comic on over-optimization ([1])

    • Loved this SMBC comic: "He said I wasn't very good at math" ([1]) 


  • Quick links
    What has caught my attention recently:
    • Netflix says the value of its recommendations algorithms is $500M/year ([1])

    • Details on the internals of LinkedIn's recommender system ([1])

    • Fantastic list of some hard and interesting big data problems at Facebook ([1] [2])

    • Google Glass may target "'superhero vision', like seeing in the dark, or magnifying subtle motion or changes" ([1] [2])

    • A claim that Amazon's cloud revenue is $4.7B this year, supposedly x30 bigger than Microsoft ($156M) and x70 Google's ($66M) ([1])

    • "We have a 10 petabyte data warehouse on S3" ([1])

    • Google's Eric Schmidt says, "Our biggest search competitor is Amazon" ([1])

    • Apple was and still is almost entirely an iPhone company ([1])

    • Tablet sales are projected to be flat now, and the growth boom for tablets appears to be done ([1])

    • But, it's interesting that specialized, expensive, and often poorly done custom hardware is getting replaced with a cheap touchscreen tablet ([1])

    • So far, it doesn't look like Windows 10 is going to fix what was wrong with Windows 8 ([1])

    • What? "Microsoft loves Linux" ([1] [2])

    • Delivery startups are back: "Silicon Valley wants to save you from ever having to leave your couch. Will it work this time around?" ([1])

    • Despite the difficulty older adults have with tiny mobile keyboards, older adults and seniors don't use voice search much ([1])

    • Speculation that hardware to enable gesture control on mobile phones will be widespread on new phones next year ([1])

    • A claim that "solar will soon reach price parity with conventional electricity in well over half the nation: 36 states" ([1])

    • "HP’s Multi Jet Fusion printer can crank out objects 10 times faster than any machine that’s on the market today ... 3D print heads that can operate 10,000 nozzles at once, while tracking designs to a five-micron precision." ([1] [2])

    • Is biology about to be transformed by the use of many drones to gather lots of data? ([1] [2])

    • More evidence that some of the best innovations come from combining ideas from two very separate fields ([1])

    • "Every success in AI redefines it. But we haven't just been redefining what we mean by AI-we've been redefining what it means to be human [and intelligent]." ([1])

    • "China is merely regaining a title that it has held for much of recorded history" ([1])

    • Funny Dilbert comic on multitasking and checking e-mail too often ([1])

    • The Onion: "This already vanishing glimmer of pleasure is exactly what we've come to expect from Apple" ([1])

    • Great SMBC comic: "The humans aren't doing what the math says. The humans must be broken." ([1])


  • At what point is an over-the-air TV antenna too long to be legal?
    You can get over-the-air HDTV signals using an antenna. This antenna gets a better, stronger signal with less interference if it is direct line-of-sight and as near as possible to the broadcast towers. So, you might want an antenna that is up high or even some distance away to get the best signal.

    But if you try to do this, you immediately run into a question: At what point does that antenna become too long to be legal or the signal from the antenna is transmitted in a way where it is no longer legal?

    Let's say I put an antenna behind my TV hooked up with a wire. That's obviously legal and what many people currently do.

    Let's say I put an antenna outside on top of a tree or my garage and run a wire inside. Still seems obviously legal.

    Let's say I put an antenna on top of my roof. Still clearly fine.

    Let's say I put it on my neighbor's roof and run a wire to my TV. Still ok?

    Let's say I put the antenna on my neighbor's roof, but have the antenna connect to my WiFi network and transmit the signal using my local area network instead of using a direct wired cable connection. Still ok?

    Let's say I put the antenna on my neighbor's roof, but have the antenna connect to my neighbor's WiFi network and transmit the signal over their WiFi, over the internet, then to my WiFi, instead of using a direct wired cable connection. Still ok?

    Let's say I put my antenna on my neighbor's roof, but my neighbor won't do this for free. I have to pay a small amount of rent to my neighbor for the space on his roof used by my antenna. I also have the antenna connect to my neighbor's WiFi network and transmit its signal over their WiFi, over the internet, then to my WiFi, instead of using a direct wired cable connection. Still ok?

    Let's say, like before, I put my antenna on my neighbor's roof, pay the neighbor rent for the space on his roof, use the internet to transmit the antenna's signal. But, this time, I buy the antenna from my neighbor at the beginning (and, like before, I own it now). Is that okay?

    Let's say I put my antenna on my neighbor's roof, pay the neighbor rent for the space on his roof, use the internet to transmit the antenna's signal, but now I rent or lease the antenna from my neighbor. Still ok? If this is not ok, which part is not ok? Is it suddenly ok if I replace the internet connection with a direct microwave relay or hardwired connection?

    Let's say I do all of the last one, but use a neighbor's roof three houses away. Still ok?

    Let's say I do all of the last one, but use a roof on a building five blocks away. Still ok?

    Let's say I rent an antenna on top of a skyscraper in downtown Seattle and have the signal sent to me over the internet. Not ok?

    The Supreme Court recently ruled Aereo is illegal. Aereo put small antennas in a building and rented them to people. The only thing they did beyond the last thing above is time-shifting, so they would not necessary send the signal from the antenna immediately, but instead store it, and only transmit it when demanded.

    You might think it's the time shifting that's the problem, but that didn't seem to be what the Supreme Court said. Rather, they said the intent of the 1976 amendments to US copyright law prohibit community antennas (which is one antenna that sends its signal to multiple homes), labelling those a "public performance". They said Aereo's system was similar in function to a community antenna, despite actually having multiple antennas, and violated the intent of the 1976 law.

    So, the question is, where is the line? Where does my antenna become too distant, transmit using the wrong methods, or involve too many payments to third parties in the operation of the antenna that it becomes illegal? Can it not be longer than X meters? Not transmit its signal in particular ways? Not require rent for the equipment or space on which the antenna sits? Not store the signal at the antenna and transmit it only on demand? What is the line?

    I think this question is interesting for two reasons. First, as an individual, I would love to have a personal-use over-the-air HDTV antenna that gets a much better reception than the obstructed and inefficient placement behind my TV, but I don't know at what point it becomes illegal for me to place an antenna far away from the TV. Second, I suspect many others would like a better signal from their HDTV antenna too, and I'd love to see a startup (or any group) that helped people set up these antennas, but it is very unclear what it might be legal for a startup to do.

    Thoughts?

  • Why can't I buy a solar panel somewhere else in the US and get a credit for the electricity from it?
    Seattle City Light has a clever project where, instead of installing solar panels on your house where they might be obscured by trees or buildings, you can buy into a solar panel installation on top of a building in a more efficient location and get a credit for the electricity generated on your electric bill.

    Why stop there? Why can't I buy a solar panel in a very different location and get the electricity from it?

    Phoenix, Arizona has about twice the solar energy efficiency of Seattle. Why can't I buy a solar panel and enjoy the electricity credit from that solar panel when it is installed in a nice sunny spot in the Southwest?

    This doesn't require shipping the actual electricity to your home. Instead, you fund an installation of solar panels on top of a building in an area of the US with high solar energy efficiency, then get a credit for that electricity on your monthly electricity bill.

    I suppose, at some boring financing level, this starts to resemble a corporate bond, with an initial payment yielding a stream of payments over time, but people wouldn't see it that way. The attraction would be installing solar panels and getting a credit on your energy bill without installing solar panels on your own home. Perhaps the firm arranging the installations and working out the deals with local utilities could be treating the entire thing as the equivalent of marketing bonds to people who like solar energy, but the attraction to people is that visceral appeal of a near $0 electricity bill they see every month from the solar panels they feel like they own and installed.

    Even with the overhead pulled out by the company selling this and arranging deals with local utilities so this all appears on your local electricity bill, the credit on your electricity bill still should be much higher than you could possibly get installing panels on your own home with all its obstructions and cloudy weather. Solar generation in an ideal location in the US easily can generate twice as much power as what is available locally, on your rooftop.

    So, why hasn't someone done this? Why can't I buy solar panels and have them installed not on my own home, but in some much better spot?

  • Quick links
    What caught my attention lately:
    • 12% of Harvard is enrolled in CS 50: "In pretty much every area of study, computational methods and computational thinking are going to be important to the future" ([1])

    • Excellent "What If?" nicely shows the value of back-of-the-envelope calculations and re-thinking what exactly it is you want to do ([1])

    • The US has almost no competition, only local monopolies, for high speed internet ([1] [2])

    • You can't take two large, dysfunctional, underperforming organizations, mash them together, and somehow make diamonds. When you take two big messes and put them together, you just get a bigger mess. ([1])

    • "Yahoo was started nearly 20 years ago as a directory of websites ... At the end of 2014, we will retire the Yahoo Directory." ([1] [2])

    • Investors think that Yahoo is essentially worthless ([1])

    • "At a moment when excitement about the future of robotics seems to have reached an all-time high (just ask Google and Amazon), Microsoft has given up on robots" ([1])

    • "Firing a bunch of tremendously smart and creative people seems misguided. But hey—at least they own Minecraft!" ([1])

    • "Macs still work basically the same way they did a decade ago, but iPhones and iPads have an interface that's specifically designed for multi-touch screens" ([1] [2])

    • On the difficulty of doing startups ([1] [2])

    • "Be glad some other sucker is fueling the venture capital fire" ([1])

    • "Just how antiquated the U.S. payments system has become" ([1])

    • Is everyone grabbing money from online donations to charities? Visa's charge fee on charities is only 1.35%, but the lowest online payment system for charities charges 2.2% and most charge much more than that. ([1])

    • "For most people, the risk of data loss is greater than the risk of data theft" ([1])

    • Password recovery "security questions should go away altogether. They're so dangerous that many security experts recommend filling in random gibberish instead of real answers" ([1])

    • Brilliantly done, free, open source, web-based puzzle game with wonderfully dark humor about ubiquitous surveillance ([1])

    • How Udacity does those cool transparent hands in its videos ([1])

    • There's just a bit of interference when you move your hand above the phone, just enough interference to detect gestures without using any additional power or sensors ([1] [2])

    • Small, low power wireless devices powered by very small fluctuations in temperature ([1] [2])

    • Cute intuitive interface for transferring data between PC and mobile ([1] [2])

    • "Federal funding for biomedical research [down 20%] ... forcing some people out of science altogether" ([1])

    • Another fun example of virtual tourism ([1])

    • Ig Nobel Prizes: "Dogs prefer to align themselves to the Earth's north-south magnetic field while urinating and defecating" ([1])

    • Xkcd: "In CS, it can be hard to explain the difference between the easy and the virtually impossible" ([1] [2])

    • Dilbert: "That process sounds like a steaming pile of stupidity that will beat itself to death in a few years" ([1])

    • Dilbert on one way to do job interviews ([1])

    • The Onion: "Startup Very Casual About Dress Code, Benefits" ([1])

    • Hilarious South Park episode, "Go Fund Yourself", makes fun of startups ([1])


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