Simon Willison’s Weblog


Tuesday, 13th February 2024

How To Center a Div (via) Josh Comeau: “I think that my best blog posts are accessible to beginners while still having some gold nuggets for more experienced devs, and I think I’ve nailed that here. Even if you have years of CSS experience, I bet you’ll learn something new.”

Lots of interactive demos in this. # 7:51 pm

Announcing DuckDB 0.10.0. Somewhat buried in this announcement: DuckDB has Fixed-Length Arrays now, along with array_cross_product(a1, a2), array_cosine_similarity(a1, a2) and array_inner_product(a1, a2) functions.

This means you can now use DuckDB to find related content (and other tricks) using vector embeddings!

Also notable: “DuckDB can now attach MySQL, Postgres, and SQLite databases in addition to databases stored in its own format. This allows data to be read into DuckDB and moved between these systems in a convenient manner, as attached databases are fully functional, appear just as regular tables, and can be updated in a safe, transactional manner.” # 5:57 pm

Before we even started writing the database, we first wrote a fully-deterministic event-based network simulation that our database could plug into. This system let us simulate an entire cluster of interacting database processes, all within a single-threaded, single-process application, and all driven by the same random number generator. We could run this virtual cluster, inject network faults, kill machines, simulate whatever crazy behavior we wanted, and see how it reacted. Best of all, if one particular simulation run found a bug in our application logic, we could run it over and over again with the same random seed, and the exact same series of events would happen in the exact same order. That meant that even for the weirdest and rarest bugs, we got infinity “tries” at figuring it out, and could add logging, or do whatever else we needed to do to track it down.

[...] At FoundationDB, once we hit the point of having ~zero bugs and confidence that any new ones would be found immediately, we entered into this blessed condition and we flew.

[...] We had built this sophisticated testing system to make our database more solid, but to our shock that wasn’t the biggest effect it had. The biggest effect was that it gave our tiny engineering team the productivity of a team 50x its size.

Will Wilson, on FoundationDB # 5:20 pm

Aya (via) “A global initiative led by Cohere For AI involving over 3,000 independent researchers across 119 countries. Aya is a state-of-art model and dataset, pushing the boundaries of multilingual AI for 101 languages through open science.”

Both the model and the training data are released under Apache 2. The training data looks particularly interesting: “513 million instances through templating and translating existing datasets across 114 languages”—suggesting the data is mostly automatically generated. # 5:14 pm

The original WWW proposal is a Word for Macintosh 4.0 file from 1990, can we open it? (via) In which John Graham-Cumming attempts to open the original WWW proposal by Tim Berners-Lee, a 68,608 bytes Microsoft Word for Macintosh 4.0 file.

Microsoft Word and Apple Pages fail. OpenOffice gets the text but not the formatting. LibreOffice gets the diagrams too, but the best results come from the Infinite Mac WebAssembly emulator. # 4:06 pm

Caddy: Config Adapters (via) The Caddy web application server is configured using JSON, but their “config adapters” plugin mechanism allows you to write configuration files in YAML, TOML, JSON5 (JSON with comments), and even nginx format which then gets automatically converted to JSON for you.

Caddy author Matt Holt: “We put an end to the config format wars in Caddy by letting you use any format you want!” # 4:22 am

The unsettling scourge of obituary spam (via) Well this is particularly grim. Apparently “obituary aggregator” sites have been an SEO trick for at least 15 years, and now they’re using generative AI to turn around junk rewritten (and frequently inaccurate) obituaries even faster. # 12:36 am

2024 » February