Simon Willison’s Weblog

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DuckDB (via) This is a really interesting, relatively new database. It’s kind of a weird hybrid between SQLite and PostgreSQL: it uses the PostgreSQL parser but models itself after SQLite in that databases are a single file and the code is designed for use as an embedded library, distributed in a single amalgamation C++ file (SQLite uses a C amalgamation). It features a “columnar-vectorized query execution engine” inspired by MonetDB (also by the DuckDB authors) and is hence designed to run analytical queries really quickly. You can install it using “pip install duckdb”—the resulting module feels similar to Python’s sqlite3, and follows roughly the same DBAPI pattern. # 19th September 2020, 11:43 pm

Array programming with NumPy—the NumPy paper (via) The NumPy paper is out, published in Nature. I found this enlightening: for an academic paper it’s very understandable, and it filled in quite a few gaps in my mental model of what NumPy is and which problems it addresses, as well as its relationship to the many other tools in the scientific Python stack. # 17th September 2020, 4:34 pm

“I Have Blood on My Hands”: A Whistleblower Says Facebook Ignored Global Political Manipulation (via) Sophie Zhang worked as the data scientist for the Facebook Site Integrity fake engagement team. She gave up her severance package in order to speak out internally about what she saw there, and someone leaked her memo to BuzzFeed News. It’s a hell of a story: she saw bots and coordinated manual accounts used to influence politics in countries all around the world, and found herself constantly making moderation decisions that had lasting political impact. “With no oversight whatsoever, I was left in a situation where I was trusted with immense influence in my spare time". This sounds like a nightmare—imagine taking on responsibility for protecting democracy in so many different places. # 15th September 2020, 9:11 pm

Stories of reaching Staff-plus engineering roles (via) Extremely useful collection of career stories from staff-level engineers at a variety of different companies, collected by Will Larson. # 11th September 2020, 3:30 am

15 rules for blogging, and my current streak (via) Matt Webb is on a 24 week streak of blogging multiple posts a week and shares his rules on how he’s doing this. These are really good rules. A rule of thumb that has helped me a lot is to fight back against the temptation to make a post as good as I can before I publish it— because that way lies a giant drafts folder and no actual published content. “Perfect is the enemy of shipped”. # 10th September 2020, 6:09 pm

AVIF has landed. AVIF support landed in Chrome 85 a few weeks ago. It’s a new lossy royalty-free image format derived from AV1 video and it’s really impressive—it can achieve similar results to JPEG using a quarter of the file size! Jake digs into AVIF in detail, providing lots of illustrative examples created using the Squoosh online compressor, which now supports AVIF encoding. Jake used the same WebAssembly encoder from Squoosh to decode AVIF images in a web worker so that the demos in his article would work even for browsers that don’t yet support AVIF natively. # 9th September 2020, 4:49 pm

Render Markdown tool (via) I wrote a quick JavaScript tool for rendering Markdown via the GitHub Markdown API—which includes all of their clever extensions like tables and syntax highlighting—and then stripping out some extraneous HTML to give me back the format I like using for my blog posts. # 3rd September 2020, 12:08 am

airtable-export. I wrote a command-line utility for exporting data from Airtable and dumping it to disk as YAML, JSON or newline delimited JSON files. This means you can backup an Airtable database from a GitHub Action and get a commit history of changes made to your data. # 29th August 2020, 9:48 pm

California Protected Areas Database in Datasette (via) I built this yesterday: it’s a Datasette interface on top of the CPAD 2020 GIS database of protected areas in California maintained by GreenInfo Network. This was a useful excuse to build a GitHub Actions flow that builds a SpatiaLite database using my shapefile-to-sqlite tool, and I fixed a few bugs in my datasette-leaflet-geojson plugin as well. # 21st August 2020, 11:15 pm

Announcing the Consortium for Python Data API Standards (via) Interesting effort to unify the fragmented DataFrame API ecosystem, where increasing numbers of libraries offer APIs inspired by Pandas that imitate each other but aren’t 100% compatible. The announcement includes some very clever code to support the effort: custom tooling to compare the existing APIs, and an ingenious GitHub Actions setup to run traces (via sys.settrace), derive type signatures and commit those generated signatures back to a repository. # 19th August 2020, 5:48 am

Datasette 0.46 (via) I just released Datasette 0.46 with a security fix for an issue involving CSRF tokens on canned query pages, plus a new debugging tool, improved file downloads and a bunch of other smaller improvements. # 9th August 2020, 4:57 pm

Pysa: An open source static analysis tool to detect and prevent security issues in Python code (via) Interesting new static analysis tool for auditing Python for security vulnerabilities—things like SQL injection and os.execute() calls. Built by Facebook and tested extensively on Instagram, a multi-million line Django application. # 7th August 2020, 8:50 pm

Design Docs at Google. Useful description of the format used for software design docs at Google—informal documents of between 3 and 20 pages that outline the proposed design of a new project, discuss trade-offs that were considered and solicit feedback before the code starts to be written. # 7th August 2020, 4:31 pm

Zero Downtime Release: Disruption-free Load Balancing of a Multi-Billion User Website (via) I remain fascinated by techniques for zero downtime deployment—once you have it working it makes shipping changes to your software so much less stressful, which means you can iterate faster and generally be much more confident in shipping code. Facebook have invested vast amounts of effort into getting this right, and their new paper for the ACM SIGCOMM conference goes into detail about how it all works. # 5th August 2020, 3:27 am

How a Cheese Goes Extinct (via) Ruby Tandoh writes for the New Yorker about the culture, history and anthropology of cheesemaking through the lens of the British cheese industry. I learned that two of my favourite British cheeses—Tymsboro and Innes Log, have sadly ceased production. Beautifully written. # 2nd August 2020, 5:51 pm

sqlite-utils 2.14 (via) I finally figured out porter stemming with SQLite full-text search today—it turns out it’s as easy as adding tokenize=’porter’ to the CREATE VIRTUAL TABLE statement. So I just shipped sqlite-utils 2.14 with a tokenize= option (plus the ability to insert binary file data from stdin). # 1st August 2020, 9:19 pm

James Bennett on why Django should not support JWT in core (via) The topic of adding JWT support to Django core comes up occasionally—here’s James Bennett’s detailed argument for not doing that. The short version is that the JWT specification isn’t just difficult to implement securely: it’s fundamentally flawed, which results in things like five implementations in three different languages all manifesting the same vulnerability. Third party modules exist that add JWT support to Django, but baking it into core would act as a form of endorsement and Django’s philosophy has always been to encourage people towards best practices. # 1st August 2020, 12:28 am

Why Your Christian Friends and Family Members Are So Easily Fooled by Conspiracy Theories (via) I think the title undersells this: this is a really great piece of writing on conspiracy theories, why people fall for them and why it’s so hard to dig people back out again—regardless of any particular religion, despite being written for a Christian audience. # 31st July 2020, 6:28 pm

Sandboxing and Workload Isolation (via) Fly.io run other people’s code in containers, so workload isolation is a Big Deal for them. This blog post goes deep into the history of isolation and the various different approaches you can take, and fills me with confidence that the team at Fly.io know their stuff. I got to the bottom and found it had been written by Thomas Ptacek, which didn’t surprise me in the slightest. # 30th July 2020, 10:19 pm

How GPT3 Works—Visualizations and Animations. Nice essay full of custom animations illustrating how GPT-3 actually works. # 30th July 2020, 12:58 am

Some SQL Tricks of an Application DBA (via) This post taught me so many PostgreSQL tricks that I hadn’t seen before. Did you know you can start a transaction, drop an index, run explain and then rollback the transaction (cancelling the index drop) to see what explain would look like without that index? Among other things I also learned what the “correlation” database statistic does: it’s a measure of how close-to-sorted the values in a specific column are, which helps PostgreSQL decide if it should do an index scan or a bitmap scan when making use of an index. # 29th July 2020, 7:04 pm

datasette-media 0.4. datasette-media is my Datasette plugin for serving media (e.g. images) directly from Datasette. The first version used file paths saved in a column and served the data from disk—this new version adds the ability to serve content from BLOB columns, such as those created by the new “sqlite-utils insert-files” command. It also adds configurable support for resizing images based on querystring parameters like ?w=100. # 28th July 2020, 2:22 am

sqlite-utils 2.12 (via) I’ve been experimenting with ways of improving BLOB support in Datasette and sqlite-utils. This new version of sqlite-utils includes a “sqlite-utils insert-files” command, which can recursively crawl directories for files and add their contents to SQLite with configurable columns containing their metadata. I was inspired by Paul Ford who has been creating multi-GB SQLite databases of images and PDFs. It turns out that when disk space is cheap this is a pretty effective way of working with interesting corpuses of documents and images. # 27th July 2020, 7:36 am

pypi-rename. I wanted to rename a PyPI package (renaming datasette-insert-api to datasette-insert as it’s about to grow some non-API features). PyPI recommend uploading a final release under the old name which points to (and depends on) the new name. I’ve built a cookiecutter template to codify that pattern. # 25th July 2020, 11:07 pm

PostgreSQL full-text search in the Django Admin. Today I figured out how to use PostgreSQL full-text search in the Django admin for my blog, using the get_search_results method on a subclass of ModelAdmin. # 25th July 2020, 11:05 pm

Doing Stupid Stuff with GitHub Actions (via) I love the idea here of running a scheduled action once a year that deliberately fails, causing GitHub to send you a “Happy New Year” failure email! # 25th July 2020, 9:19 pm

The unofficial Google Cloud Run FAQ. This is really useful: a no-fluff, content rich explanation of Google Cloud Run hosted as a GitHub repo that actively accepts pull requests from the community. It’s maintained by Ahmet Alp Balkan, a Cloud Run engineer who states “Googlers: If you find this repo useful, you should recognize the work internally, as I actively fight for alternative forms of content like this”. One of the hardest parts of working with AWS and GCP is digging through the marketing materials to figure out what the product actually does, so the more alternative forms of documentation like this the better. # 22nd July 2020, 5:20 pm

22 Principles for Great Product Managers (via) By Alex Reeve, a PM at LinkedIn. These are really strong—I particularly liked the “leading your team” section which emphasizes ensuring your team understand the goal and the path to reach it, and that you know what winning will look like and how to tell. # 20th July 2020, 8:17 pm

Tempering Expectations for GPT-3 and OpenAI’s API. Insightful commentary on GPT-3 (which is producing some ridiculously cool demos at the moment thanks to the invite-only OpenAI API) from Max Woolf. # 18th July 2020, 7:29 pm

Develomentor podcast: Simon Willison – Data Journalism, The Importance of Side Projects (via) Grant Ingersoll interviewed me for the Develomentor podcast. We talked about my career so far, and how much of it was driven by side-projects that I’ve worked on individually or with Natalie. # 17th July 2020, 1:33 am

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