Simon Willison’s Weblog

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Weeknotes: first week of Stanford classes

One of the benefits of the JSK fellowship is that I can take classes and lectures at Stanford, on a somewhat ad-hoc basis (I don’t take exams or earn credits).

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Microservices are about scaling teams, not scaling tech

Petrus Theron # 28th September 2019, 4:23 pm

If you’re a little shy at conferences, speaking is The Best way to break the ice. Nobody talks to you before the talk. Everybody want’s to talk to you afterwards, largely because they have a way in. As such, public speaking is bizarrely good for introverts.

Andy Budd # 26th September 2019, 3:15 pm

Looking back at the Snowden revelations (via) Six years on from the Snowden revelations, crypto researcher Matthew Green reviews their impact and reminds us what we learned. Really interesting. # 25th September 2019, 5:48 am

People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystem are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you?

Greta Thunberg # 23rd September 2019, 8:28 pm

The Distribution of Users’ Computer Skills: Worse Than You Think (via) Research from 2016: “Across 33 rich countries, only 5% of the population has high computer-related abilities, and only a third of people can complete medium-complexity tasks” # 23rd September 2019, 2:49 pm

Weeknotes: Design thinking for journalists, genome-to-sqlite, datasette-atom

I haven’t had much time for code this week: we’ve had a full five day workshop at JSK with Tran Ha (a JSK alumni) learning how to apply Design Thinking to our fellowship projects and generally to challenges facing journalism.

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Anyone with solid knowledge of both SQL and genetic engineering want to write me an UPDATE query to turn me into a dinosaur?

@simonw # 19th September 2019, 4 pm

genome-to-sqlite. I just found out 23andMe let you export your genome as a zipped TSV file, so I wrote a little Python command-line tool to import it into a SQLite database. # 19th September 2019, 3:58 pm

Weeknotes: ONA19, twitter-to-sqlite, datasette-rure

I’ve decided to start writing weeknotes for the duration of my JSK fellowship. Here goes!

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My JSK Fellowship: Building an open source ecosystem of tools for data journalism

I started a new chapter of my career last week: I began a year long fellowship with the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships program at Stanford.

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Evolving “nofollow” – new ways to identify the nature of links (via) Slightly confusing announcement from Google: they’re introducing rel=ugc and rel=sponsored in addition to rel=nofollow, and will be treating all three values as “hints” for their indexing system. They’re very unclear as to what the concrete effects of these hints will be, presumably because they will become part of the secret sauce of their ranking algorithm. # 10th September 2019, 9:16 pm

sqlite-utils 1.11. Amjith Ramanujam contributed an excellent new feature to sqlite-utils, which I’ve now released as part of version 1.11. Previously you could enable SQLite full-text-search on a table using the .enable_fts() method (or the “sqlite-utils enable-fts” CLI command) but it wouldn’t reflect future changes to the table—you had to use populate_fts() any time you inserted new records. Thanks to Amjith you can now pass create_triggers=True (or --create-triggers) to cause sqlite-utils to automatically add triggers that keeps the FTS index up-to-date any time a row is inserted, updated or deleted from the table. # 3rd September 2019, 1:05 am

How we rolled out one of the largest Python 3 migrations ever. “If you’re using Dropbox today, the application is powered by a Dropbox-customized variant of Python 3.5” # 25th September 2018, 11:02 pm

Build impossible programs. Delightful talk by Julia Evans describing how she went about building a Ruby profiler in Rust despite having no knowledge of Ruby internals and only beginner’s knowledge of Rust. # 19th September 2018, 6:38 pm

Sqorn (via) JavaScript library for building SQL queries that makes really smart usage of ES6 tagged template literals. The magic of tagged template literals is that they let you intercept and process interpolated values, making them ideally suited to escaping parameters in SQL queries. Sqorn takes that basic ability and layers on some really interesting API design to allow you to further compose queries. # 19th September 2018, 6:34 pm

Letterboxing on Lundy

Last week Natalie and I spent a delightful two days with our friends Hannah and Adam on the beautiful island of Lundy in the Bristol Channel, 12 miles off the coast of North Devon.

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Extended Validation Certificates are Dead. Troy Hunt has been writing about the flaws of Extended Validation certificates for a while. Now iOS 12 is out and Mobile Safari no longer displays their visual indicator in the URL bar (and desktop Safari will stop doing so next week when Mac OS Mojave ships). EV certificates are being dropped by many of the larger companies that were using them. “This turned out to be a long blog post because every time I sat down to write, more and more evidence on the absolute pointlessness of EV presented itself”. # 18th September 2018, 1:41 pm

Tech Notes: TypeScript at Google (via) In which Evan Martin provides some fascinating colour on the state of JavaScript tooling within Google, which has some unique challenges given that Gmail is 14 years old now and Google have evolved their own internal JavaScript stack which differs widely from the rest of the industry (mainly because it predates most of the successful open source tools). “Which leads me to the middle path, which my little team has been pursuing: incrementally adopt some external tooling where it makes sense, by figuring out how to make it interoperate with our existing code base.” # 2nd September 2018, 7:08 pm

A tour of JavaScript timers on the web (via) Do you understand the differences between setTimeout, setInterval, setImmediate, requestAnimationFrame and requestIdleCallback? I didn’t. # 2nd September 2018, 10:10 am

The (broken) economics of OSS (via) ‪This is worth reading: a very well thought-out summary of the challenges of financially supporting open source infrastructure projects in a world of cloud providers‬. Matt Klein is the creator of the Envoy proxy at Lyft. One of his conclusions is that the open source fellowship model (where foundations provide a full time salary to key maintainers) deserves more attention. # 2nd September 2018, 9:10 am

When you’re pump­ing mes­sages around the In­ter­net be­tween het­ero­ge­neous code­bas­es built by peo­ple who don’t know each oth­er, shit is gonna hap­pen. That’s the whole ba­sis of the We­b: You can safe­ly ig­nore an HTTP head­er or HTML tag you don’t un­der­stand, and noth­ing break­s. It’s great be­cause it al­lows peo­ple to just try stuff out, and the use­ful stuff catch­es on while the bad ideas don’t break any­thing.

Tim Bray # 1st September 2018, 1:41 am

This Is What Happens When Millions Of People Suddenly Get The Internet (via) “Countries which come online quickly rank lowest in digital literacy & are most likely to fall for scams, fake news” # 19th September 2017, 4:59 am

Scraping hurricane Irma

The Irma Response project is a team of volunteers working together to make information available during and after the storm. There is a huge amount of information out there, on many different websites. The Irma API is an attempt to gather key information in one place, verify it and publish it in a reuseable way. It currently powers the irmashelters.org website.

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Need new noms

I’m in a similar space to you at the moment: looking to expand my cooking horizons with new adventures.

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Lovecraft-inspired fiction and cookbooks (unrelated!)

Have you considered the Laundry Files series by Charles Stross? They are novels about a secret UK government department which fights off lovecraftian threats while suffering through the typical burucracry you would expect from the UK government.

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Let’s make moving and packing FUN again

Something nice I’ve done in the past that has worked surprisingly well is to record a time lapse video of the packing. I used software for my laptop (an OS X app called Gawker, but I don’t think it works today so you may need a different solution) which takes a frame every 30 seconds and combines it into a video. Stick the laptop in a high up corner with a good wide view of the room and get to work.

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Help with next steps for a startup

Have you thought about applying to Y Combinator? The reason I ask is that “I have lots of expertise in language learning and basically zero expertise in startups, market research, business, fundraising, app pricing, etc” is pretty much YC’s sweet spot: they know that it’s much easier teaching those things to engineers and makers than it is to teach engineering to business people (I’m assuming you have product and engineering skills based on your description of your progress so far).

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Which investors would consider a natural language processing startup in London?

I don’t know the answer, but I know how you can find it: track down as many London-based AI/machine learning/NLP startups as you can and look at who their investors are.

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What are some early examples of SaaS?

37 Signals’ Basecamp was one of the pioneers if modern SaaS back in 2004.

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