Simon Willison’s Weblog

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For the Fairmont, the Tonga Room is an inherited embarrassment, as though it were a local lord whose ancestors captured a repellent goblin and chained him up in the cellar, but the goblin is inexplicably adored by the townsfolk and the children, who sneak the goblin food and treats, and cry when the goblin’s master moves to strike it.

In the Basement of the King # 28th March 2019, 9:11 pm

The Next CEO of Stack Overflow. “Including the Stack Exchange network of 174 sites, we have over 100 million monthly visitors. Every month, over 125,000 wonderful people write answers”—this fits the rule of thumb for user-generated content that only a tiny portion of your audience will actively create content: in this case it’s just 0.125% (one eighth of one percent). I’d love to know how many people are upvoting or performing other more lightweight interactions. # 28th March 2019, 3:12 pm

Programmer migration patterns. Avery Pennarun explores the history of modern programming languages and how developers have migrated from one to another over time. Lots of fun insights in this. # 28th March 2019, 4:59 am

VisiData (via) Intriguing tool by Saul Pwanson: VisiData is a command-line “textpunk utility” for browsing and manipulating tabular data. “pip3 install visidata” and then “vd myfile.csv” (or .json or .xls or SQLite orothers) and get an interactive terminal UI for quickly searching through the data, conducting frequency analysis of columns, manipulating it and much more besides. Two tips for if you start playing with it: hit “gq” to exit, and hit “Ctrl+H” to view the help screen. # 18th March 2019, 3:45 am

The Cloud and Open Source Powder Keg (via) Stephen O’Grady’s analysis of the Elastic v.s. AWS situation, where Elastic started mixing their open source and non-open source code together and Amazon responded by releasing their own forked “open distribution for Elasticsearch”. World War One analogies included! # 17th March 2019, 7:08 pm

What the Hell is Going On? (via) David Perell discusses how the shift from information scarcity to information abundance is reshaping commerce, education, and politics. Long but worthwhile. # 17th March 2019, 4:50 pm

Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats.

Howard H. Aiken # 17th March 2019, 3:15 pm

Client-side instrumentation for under $1 per month. No servers necessary. (via) Rolling your own analytics used to be too complex and expensive to be worth the effort. Thanks to cloud technologies like Cloudfront, Athena, S3 and Lambda you can now inexpensively implement client-side analytics (via requests to a tracking pixel) that stores detailed logs on S3, then use Amazon Athena to run queries against those logs ($5/TB scanned) to get detailed reporting. This post also introduced me to Snowplow, an open source JavaScript analytics script (released by a commercial analytics platform) which looks very neat—it’s based on piwik.js, the tracker from the open-source Piwik analytics tool. # 15th March 2019, 4:03 pm

Generating a commit log for San Francisco’s official list of trees

San Francisco has a neat open data portal (as do an increasingly large number of cities these days). For a few years my favourite file on there has been Street Tree List, a list of all 190,000 trees in the city maintained by the Department of Public Works.

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D3 Projection Comparison (via) Fun Observable notebook that lets you compare any two out of D3’s 96 (!) geographical projections of the world. # 10th March 2019, 10:58 pm

datasette-jellyfish. I learned about a handy Python library called Jellyfish which implements approximate and phonetic matching of strings—soundex, metaphone, porter stemming, levenshtein distance and more. I’ve built a simple Datasette plugin which wraps the library and makes each of those algorithms available as a SQL function. # 9th March 2019, 6:29 pm

Publish the data behind your stories with SQLite and Datasette. I presented a workshop on Datasette at the IRE and NICAR CAR 2019 data journalism conference yesterday. Here’s the worksheet I prepared for the tutorial. # 9th March 2019, 6:27 pm

I commissioned an oil painting of Barbra Streisand’s cloned dogs

Two dogs in a stroller looking at a gravestone, as an oil painting
Two identical puffs of white fur, gazing at the tombstone of the dog they are

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MySQL: How to get the top N rows for each group. MySQL doesn’t support the row_number() window function that’s available in PostgreSQL (and recent SQLite), which means it can’t easily answer questions like “for each of these authors, give me the most recent three blog entries they have written” in a single query. Only it turns out it can, if you abuse MySQL session variables in a devious way. This isn’t a new feature: MySQL has had this for over a decade, and in my rough testing it works quickly even on tables with millions of rows. # 4th March 2019, 11:38 pm

List of Physical Visualizations (via) “A chronological list of physical visualizations and related artifacts, maintained by Pierre Dragicevic and Yvonne Jansen”—327 and counting! # 4th March 2019, 2:45 am

import-pypi. A devious Python 3 hack which abuses importlib.machinery to add a hook such that any time you type “import modulename” it checks to see if the module is installed and runs “pip install modulename” first if it isn’t. Intended as a joke, but if you habitually fire up temporary virtual environments for exploratory programming like I do this could actually be a neat little time-saver. # 29th March 2018, 10:16 pm

The original Reddit source code, written in Lisp in 2005 (via) “If anyone’s interested, I found a hard drive in my garage with the original Reddit Lisp code from 2005. Been looking for it for years. Enjoy.”—spez # 29th March 2018, 10:13 pm

Watching companies gradually realize “blockchain is just super expensive consensus and only makes sense for untrusted counterparties” is a wild, expensive trip

Kyle Kingsbury # 29th March 2018, 9:25 pm

Use The Index, Luke! Paging Through Results (via) The best explanation of keyset pagination I’ve seen. Keyset pagination is where instead of using OFFSET/LIMIT to return the next page of results you instead track the last seen value in the column you sort by and then return the next X results that follow it. This allows you to paginate to arbitrarily deep offsets within a table, whereas OFFSET/LIMIT requires first iterating across all preceding rows and tends to stop working well after the first few thousand results. # 29th March 2018, 5:30 pm

Vega-Lite. A “high-level grammar of interactive graphics”. Part of the Vega project, which provides a mechanism for creating declarative visualizations by defining them using JSON. Vega-Lite is particularly interesting to me because it makes extremely tasteful decisions about how data should be visualized—give it some records, tell it which properties to plot on an axis and it will default to a display that makes sense for that data. The more I play with this the more impressed I am at the quality of its default settings. # 28th March 2018, 5:22 pm

Baltimore Sun Public Salary Records (via) The Baltimore Sun have published an interactive search engine for public salaries of Maryland state employees, and it’s powered by Datasette! Since data journalism is one of my key use-cases for Datasette I’m incredibly excited to see this in the wild. They’ve also published the underlying source code (see the via link) which is a really nice example of how to use Datasette’s custom templates and canned query functionality. # 28th March 2018, 5:12 pm

Charles Proxy now available on iOS (via) I didn’t think this was possible, but the Charles debugging proxy is now available for iOS. It works by setting itself up as a VPN such that all app traffic runs through it. You can also optionally turn on SSL decryption for specific hosts by installing a special certificate (which involves jumping through several hoops). It won’t work for apps that implement SSL certificate pinning but from playing with it for a few minutes it looks like most apps haven’t done that, even apps from Google. Well worth $8.99. # 28th March 2018, 3:57 pm

Cloud-first: Rapid webapp deployment using containers (via) The Research Software Engineering group at ICL have written a tutorial on deploying web apps as Docker containers using Azure and they use Datasette as the example application. # 28th March 2018, 3:50 pm

Touring a Fast, Safe, and Complete(ish) Web Service in Rust. Brandur’s notes from building a high performance web service in Rust, using PostgreSQL via the Diesel ORM and the Rust actix-web framework which peovides Erlang-style actors and promise-based async concurrency. # 28th March 2018, 3:47 pm

Describing events in code (via) Phil Gyford built an online directory of every play, movie, gig and exhibition he has been to in the past 38 years using a combination of digital archaeology and saved ticket stubs. He built it using Django and published this piece extensively describing the process he went through to design the data model. # 28th March 2018, 3:41 pm

Building a combined stream of recent additions using the Django ORM

I’m a big believer in the importance of a “recent additions” feed. Any time you’re building an application that involves users adding and editing records it’s useful to have a page somewhere that shows the most recent objects that have been created across multiple different types of data.

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Using flamegraphs. I really like flamegraphs as a profiling tool—we have support for them baked into our Tikibar debugging toolbar at Eventbrite—but interpreting them isn’t particularly intuitive on first glance. Julia Evans has put together a great explanation of how to read them as part of the documentation for her rbspy Ruby profiler. # 21st March 2018, 8:56 pm

User-defined Order in SQL (via) This is a fun intellectual exercise: how can one efficiently implement a user-defined order in a SQL table? The obvious initial approach is to have an integer position column, but this means every subsequent row must be updated when an item changes position. Joe “begriffs” Nelson explores some clever alternatives, including floating point or decimal positions (allowing new items to be inserted at a midpoint between existing positions) and a new custom rational number type he buiIt as a PostgreSQL extension. # 21st March 2018, 2:07 pm

Adhering to a plan Moon spelled out more than three decades ago in a series of sermons, members of his movement managed to integrate virtually every facet of the highly competitive seafood industry. The Moon followers’ seafood operation is driven by a commercial powerhouse, known as True World Group. It builds fleets of boats, runs dozens of distribution centers and, each day, supplies most of the nation’s estimated 9,000 sushi restaurants.

Sushi and Rev. Moon # 21st March 2018, 12:52 am

It seems as if you are never ‘hardcore’ enough for YouTube’s recommendation algorithm. It promotes, recommends and disseminates videos in a manner that appears to constantly up the stakes. Given its billion or so users, YouTube may be one of the most powerful radicalising instruments of the 21st century.

Zeynep Tufecki # 20th March 2018, 7:20 pm