Links for 2014-10-10

  • How Videogames Like Minecraft Actually Help Kids Learn to Read | WIRED

    I analyzed several chunks of The Ultimate Player’s Guide using the Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease scale, and they scored from grade 8 to grade 11. Yet in my neighborhood they’re being devoured by kids in the early phases of elementary school. Games, it seems, can motivate kids to read—and to read way above their level. This is what Constance Steinkuehler, a games researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, discovered. She asked middle and high school students who were struggling readers (one 11th-grade student read at a 6th-grade level) to choose a game topic they were interested in, and then she picked texts from game sites for them to read—some as difficult as first-year-college language. The kids devoured them with no help and nearly perfect accuracy. How could they do this? “Because they’re really, really motivated,” Steinkuehler tells me. It wasn’t just that the students knew the domain well; there were plenty of unfamiliar words. But they persisted more because they cared about the task. “It’s situated knowledge. They see a piece of language, a turn of phrase, and they figure it out.”
    When my kids are playing Minecraft, there’s a constant stream of “how do you spell X?” as they craft nametags for their pets. It’s great!

    (tags: minecraft gaming kids education spelling school reading literacy)

  • “Gold” 4-star review from the Irish Times

    Niall Heery belatedly follows up Small Engine Repair, his 2006 mumblecore critical hit, with a slightly less off-centre comedy that makes imaginative use of a smashing cast. The story skirts tragedy on its leisurely passage from mishap to misadventure, but Gold remains the sort of picture you want to hug indulgently to a welcoming bosom. It gives humanism a good name.
    Go Niall! it’s a great movie, go see it

    (tags: gold movies friends reviews irish-times indie)

  • JCDecaux Developer API

    web service API for Dublin Bikes data (and other similar bikesharing services run by JCD):

    Two kinds of data are delivered by the platform: Static data provides stable information like station position, number of bike stands, payment terminal availability, etc. Dynamic data provides station state, number of available bikes, number of free bike stands, etc. Static data can be downloaded manually in file format or accessed through the API. Dynamic data are refreshed every minute and can be accessed only through the API.
    Ruby API: https://github.com/oisin/bikes

    (tags: jcdecaux bikesharing dublin dublin-bikes api web-services http json open-data)

  • Best games I played in 2013

    my coworker JK’s favourite games of 2013: Gone Home, Last Of Us, Proteus, Papers Please etc. I really want to play these, since they’re all totally my bag too.

    (tags: games gaming todo want 2013)

  • Why Amazon Has No Profits (And Why It Works)

    Amazon has perhaps 1% of the US retail market by value. Should it stop entering new categories and markets and instead take profit, and by extension leave those segments and markets for other companies? Or should it keep investing to sweep them into the platform? Jeff Bezos’s view is pretty clear: keep investing, because to take profit out of the business would be to waste the opportunity. He seems very happy to keep seizing new opportunities, creating new businesses, and using every last penny to do it.

    (tags: amazon business strategy capex spending stocks investing retail)

  • Spark Breaks Previous Large-Scale Sort Record – Databricks

    Massive improvement over plain old Hadoop. This blog post goes into really solid techie reasons why, including:

    First and foremost, in Spark 1.1 we introduced a new shuffle implementation called sort-based shuffle (SPARK-2045). The previous Spark shuffle implementation was hash-based that required maintaining P (the number of reduce partitions) concurrent buffers in memory. In sort-based shuffle, at any given point only a single buffer is required. This has led to substantial memory overhead reduction during shuffle and can support workloads with hundreds of thousands of tasks in a single stage (our PB sort used 250,000 tasks).
    Also, use of Timsort, an external shuffle service to offload from the JVM, Netty, and EC2 SR-IOV.

    (tags: spark hadoop map-reduce batch parallel sr-iov benchmarks performance netty shuffle algorithms sort-based-shuffle timsort)

  • UK psyops created N. Irish Satanic Panic during the Troubles – Boing Boing

    During the 1970s, when Northern Ireland was gripped by near-civil-war, British military intelligence staged the evidence of “black masses” in order to create a Satanism panic among the “superstitious” Irish to discredit the paramilitaries. The secret history of imaginary Irish Satanism is documented in Black Magic and Bogeymen: Fear, Rumour and Popular Belief in the North of Ireland 1972-74, a new book from Sheffield University’s Richard Jenkins, who interviewed Captain Colin Wallace, the former head of British Army “black operations” for Northern Ireland.

    (tags: northern-ireland 1970s the-troubles ireland uvf ira history black-magic satanism weird fear mi5)

  • Netflix release new code to production before completing tests

    Interesting — I hadn’t heard of this being an official practise anywhere before (although we actually did it ourselves this week)…

    If a build has made it [past the ‘integration test’ phase], it is ready to be deployed to one or more internal environments for user-acceptance testing. Users could be UI developers implementing a new feature using the API, UI Testers performing end-to-end testing or automated UI regression tests. As far as possible, we strive to not have user-acceptance tests be a gating factor for our deployments. We do this by wrapping functionality in Feature Flags so that it is turned off in Production while testing is happening in other environments. 

    (tags: devops deployment feature-flags release testing integration-tests uat qa production ops gating netflix)

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