October 2012 Archives

Sorry I was laughing during your funeral

When contexts collide.

Since the advent of Twitter I’ve often found myself laughing at funerals, crying at parties, and generally failing time and again to say the right thing. Twitter is so immediate, so of the moment, but it connects people across the globe who may be experiencing very different moments.

This first struck me during the Arab Spring. Maybe I was just finishing a nice dinner in Philadelphia and was lingering over a drink, tweeting the usual crap, while a world away Egyptians (and later Libyans and Syrians) were out by the thousands throwing themselves into mortal danger. Of course, they weren’t paying attention to my banalities while they filled Tahir Square and defended Aleppo, but I still floated by. And in any case, my tweet stream was full of their moment, raging past me. Once I noticed the dichotomy, my political witticisms and flippant comments on the news of the day tossed out between bites of my dessert seemed ridiculous as they bobbed downstream amidst all that anger, action, and danger. It just felt so, … inappropriate. I couldn’t help but go silent. A more primitive sense of decorum, evolved while our voices shared common place and time, welled up and shut me up.

I thought of this again the other night but in reverse. I was very fortunate and came through Sandy basically unscathed. But in the late afternoon of the storm I was out in the wind and rain for about an hour and a half trying to stop a water leak that was flowing through my foundation into the basement, while the whole time I had one eye on a 100-foot pine tree that was swaying threateningly over me. When I came back in, soaked through, and with my mind 100% on Sandy and my immediate safety, I checked Twitter out of habit. Naturally, the first tweet I saw was from Darrell Issa, snug in California, tweeting about the latest non-hurricane-related thing he wanted us to rage about. Dammit Darrell, we’re in the middle of a hurricane, we’ll get pissed about Benghazi next week ok?

During Sandy most of us east coasters had just one thing on our minds while our west coast friends’ normal lives continued unabated. We were tweeting about threatening trees, power outages, and 14th street fire balls while they were tweeting about Windows 8, a Yammer user conference, and whatnot. Lots of people on both coasts, who didn’t feel immediately threatened, were making light and telling jokes. In response I saw more than a few tweets along the lines of “not really appreciating the jokes while I watch the water rise.”

When I went about my business during the Arab Spring I used to feel weird, like they might read my tweets and think “Don’t you know we’re dying out here? There you are just living your life. What’s wrong with you?” The other night I had to remind myself that 2,500 miles and the continental divide separated my moment from those of my friends in California. Two streams, naturally bifurcated by geography and current experience, flowed together to mix awkwardly on my phone. Read more…

Comments: 12

Visualization of the Week: 161 years of hurricanes

Using NOAA data, developer John Nelson visualizes every hurricane since 1851.

Given the pummeling the East Coast of the U.S. has taken this week from Hurricane Sandy, a hurricane visualization seemed apropos. Simon Rogers at The Guardian’s Data Blog highlighted developer John Nelson’s work visualizing every hurricane since 1851:

Hurricanes since 1851
Click here for the full visualization.

In a blog post, Nelson describes the view: “You are looking up at the Earth; Antarctica at center, the Americas to the right, Australia and Asia to the left, and Africa at the bottom.” The color variations are tied to hurricane intensity — the brighter the dot, the more intense the hurricane. He also brings up some interesting hurricane facts, noting the void circling the image is the equator, as hurricanes can’t cross it. Read more…

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Four short links: 31 October 2012

Four short links: 31 October 2012

Turing Complete Users, Live Bootstrap Editor, Remix Exemptions, and Automatically Strengthening 3D Designs

  1. Turing Complete UserGeneral Purpose Users can write an article in their e-mail client, layout their business card in Excel and shave in front of a web cam. They can also find a way to publish photos online without flickr, tweet without twitter, like without facebook, make a black frame around pictures without instagram, remove a black frame from an instagram picture and even wake up at 7:00 without a “wake up at 7:00” app. [… They are] users who have the ability to achieve their goals regardless of the primary purpose of an application or device. (via BoingBoing)
  2. Bootstrap Live Editora WYSIWYG HTML5 Editor built for Bootstrap. It offers a nice and elegant way to edit and beautify html content with Bootstrap-ready UI elements. I love how Bootstrap has become this framework for simpler website creation. I’m just disappointed they’re all startups chasing $ instead of being open source infrastructure.
  3. DCMA Exemption Recommended for Remixrecommended expanding the noncommercial remix exemption to cover both DVDs and online services. The reference to “motion pictures” covers “movies, television shows, commercials, news, DVD extras, etc.”
  4. New Tool Gives Structural Strength to 3-D Printed Works (Science Daily) — Findings were detailed in a paper presented during the SIGGRAPH 2012 conference in August. Former Purdue doctoral student Ondrej Stava created the software application, which automatically strengthens objects either by increasing the thickness of key structural elements or by adding struts. The tool also uses a third option, reducing the stress on structural elements by hollowing out overweight elements. (via BoingBoing)
Comments: 2

NYC’s PLAN to alert citizens to danger during Hurricane Sandy

A mobile alert system put messages where and when they were needed: residents' palms.

Starting at around 8:36 PM ET last night, as Hurricane Sandy began to flood the streets of lower Manhattan, many New Yorkers began to receive an unexpected message: a text alert on their mobile phones that strongly urged them to seek shelter. It showed up on iPhones:

…and upon Android devices:

While the message was clear enough, the way that these messages ended up on the screens may not have been clear to recipients or observers. And still other New Yorkers were left wondering why emergency alerts weren’t on their phones.

Here’s the explanation: the emergency alerts that went out last night came from New York’s Personal Localized Alerting Network, the “PLAN” the Big Apple launched in late 2011.

NYC chief digital officer Rachel Haot confirmed that the messages New Yorkers received last night were the result of a public-private partnership between the Federal Communications Commission, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the New York City Office of Emergency Management (OEM), the CTIA and wireless carriers.

While the alerts may look quite similar to text messages, the messages themselves run in parallel, enabling them to get through txt traffic congestion. NYC’s PLAN is the local version of the Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS) that has been rolling out nation-wide over the last year.

“This new technology could make a tremendous difference during disasters like the recent tornadoes in Alabama where minutes – or even seconds – of extra warning could make the difference between life and death,” said FCC chairman Julius Genachowski, speaking last May in New York City. “And we saw the difference alerting systems can make in Japan, where they have an earthquake early warning system that issued alerts that saved lives.”

NYC was the first city to have it up and running, last December, and less than a year later, the alerts showed up where and when they mattered.

Read more…

Comments: 11
Four short links: 30 October 2012

Four short links: 30 October 2012

Sandy's Latency, Better Buttons, Inside Chargers, and Hidden Warranties

  1. Fastly’s S3 Latency MonitorThe graph represents real-time response latency for Amazon S3 as seen by Fastly’s Ashburn, VA edge server. I’ve been watching #sandy’s effect on the Internet in real-time, while listening to its effect on people in real-time. Amazing.
  2. Button Upgrade (Gizmodo) — elegant piece of button design, for sale on Shapeways.
  3. Inside a Dozen USB Chargers — amazing differences in such seemingly identical products. I love the comparison between genuine and counterfeit Apple chargers. (via Hacker News)
  4. Why Products Fail (Wired) — researcher scours the stock market filings of publicly-listed companies to extract information about warranties. Before, even information like the size of the market—how much gets paid out each year in warranty claims—was a mystery. Nobody, not analysts, not the government, not the companies themselves, knew what it was. Now Arnum can tell you. In 2011, for example, basic warranties cost US manufacturers $24.7 billion. Because of the slow economy, this is actually down, Arnum says; in 2007 it was around $28 billion. Extended warranties—warranties that customers purchase from a manufacturer or a retailer like Best Buy—account for an estimated $30.2 billion in additional claims payments. Before Arnum, this $60 billion-a-year industry was virtually invisible. Another hidden economy revealed. (via BoingBoing)
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Tracking the data storm around Hurricane Sandy

When natural disasters loom, public open government data feeds become critical infrastructure.

Just over fourteen months ago, social, mapping and mobile data told the story of Hurricane Irene. As a larger, more unusual late October storm churns its way up the East Coast, the people in its path are once again acting as sensors and media, creating crisis data as this “Frankenstorm” moves over them.

Hurricane Sandy is seen on the east coast of the United States in this NASA handout satellite image taken at 0715 GMT, October 29, 2012.

[Photo Credit: NASA}

As citizens look for hurricane information online, government websites are under high demand. In late 2012, media, government, the private sector and citizens all now will play an important role in sharing information about what’s happening and providing help to one another.

In that context, it’s key to understand that it’s government weather data, gathered and shared from satellites high above the Earth, that’s being used by a huge number of infomediaries to forecast, predict and instruct people about what to expect and what to do. In perhaps the most impressive mashup of social and government data now online, an interactive Google Crisis Map for Hurricane Sandy pictured below predicts the future of the ‘Frankenstorm’ in real-time, including a NYC-specific version.

If you’re looking for a great example of public data for public good, these maps like the Weather Underground’s interactive are a canonical example of what’s possible.

Read more…

Comments: 9
Four short links: 29 October 2012

Four short links: 29 October 2012

Behaviour Modification, Personal Archives, Key Printing, and Key Copying

  1. Inside BJ Fogg’s Behavior Design Bootcamp — see also Day 2 and Day 3.
  2. Recollect — archive your social media existence. Very easy to use and I wish I’d been using it longer. (via Tom Cotes)
  3. Duplicating House Keys on a 3D Printer — never did a title say so precisely what the post was about. (via Jim Stogdill)
  4. Teleduplication via Optical Decoding (PDF) — duplicating a key via a photograph.
Comment: 1

Listening for tired machinery

Cheap sensors and sophisticated software keep expensive machines running smoothly

Software is making its way into places where it hasn’t usually been before, like the cutting surfaces of very fast, ultra-precise machine tools.

A high-speed milling machine can run at 42,000 RPM as it fabricates high-quality machine components within tolerances of a few microns. Excessive wear in that environment can lead to a failure that ruins an expensive part, but it’s difficult to use physical means to detect wear on cutting surfaces: human operators can’t see it and detailed microscopic inspections are costly. The result is that many operators simply replace parts on a pre-determined schedule — every two months, perhaps — that ends up being overly conservative.

The researchers’ milling machine, shown with sensors near the cutting device. (Source: X. Li, M.J. Er, H. Ge, O. P. Gan, S. Huang, L.Y. Zhai, S. Linn, Amin J. Torabi, “Adaptive Network Fuzzy Inference System and Support Vector Machine Learning for Tool Wear Estimation in High Speed Milling Processes,” Proceedings of the 38th Annual Conference of the IEEE Industrial Electronics Society, pp. 2809-2814, 2012.)

Enter software: in a paper delivered to the IEEE’s Industrial Electronics Society in Montreal last Thursday*, a group of researchers from Singapore propose a way to use low-cost sensors along with machine learning algorithms to accurately predict wear on machine parts — a technique that could cut costs for manufacturers by lengthening the lifespan of machine parts while avoiding failures.

The group’s demonstration is a promising illustration of the industrial Internet, which promises to bring more intelligence to machines by linking them to networks and integrating them with sophisticated software. Techniques from areas like machine learning, which can be computationally intensive, can thus be available in monitoring parts as small and common as cutting surfaces in milling machines.

Read more…

Comment: 1

Strata Week: Real-time Hadoop

Cloudera ventures into real-time queries with Impala, data centers are the new landfill, and Jesper Andersen looks at the relationship between art and data.

Here are a few stories from the data space that caught my attention this week.

Cloudera’s Impala takes Hadoop queries into real-time

Cloudera ventured into real-time Hadoop querying this week, opening up its Impala software platform. As Derrick Harris reports at GigaOm, Impala — an SQL query engine — doesn’t rely on MapReduce, making it faster than tools such as Hive. Cloudera estimates its queries run 10 times faster than Hive, and Charles Zedlewski, Cloudera’s cloud VP of products, told Harris that “small queries can run in less than a second.”

Harris notes that Zedlewski pointed out that Impala wasn’t designed to replace business intelligence (BI) tools, and that “Cloudera isn’t interested in selling BI or other analytic applications.” Rather, Impala serves as the execution engine, still relying on software from Cloudera partners — Zedlewski told Harris, “We’re sticking to our knitting as a platform vendor.”

Joab Jackson at PC World reports that “[e]ventually, Impala will be the basis of a Cloudera commercial offering, called the Cloudera Enterprise RTQ (Real-Time Query), though the company has not specified a release date.”

Impala has plenty of competition on this playing field, which Harris also covers, and he notes the significance of all the recent Hadoop innovation:

“I can’t underscore enough how critical all of this innovation is for Hadoop, which in order to add substance to its unparalleled hype needed to become far more useful to far more users. But the sudden shift from Hadoop as a batch-processing engine built on MapReduce into an ad hoc SQL querying engine might leave industry analysts and even Hadoop users scratching their heads.”

You can read more from Harris’ piece here and Jackson’s piece here. Wired also has an interesting piece on Impala, covering the Google F1 database upon which it is based and the Googler Cloudera hired away to help build it.

(Cloudera CEO Mike Olson discussed Impala, Hadoop and the importance of real-time at this week’s Strata Conference + Hadoop World.)

Read more…

Comment: 1
Four short links: 26 October 2012

Four short links: 26 October 2012

Windows 8 Web Theme, Taxing Mobile Payments, Digital Divide and Digital Service Delivery, and Consequences of Internet of Things

  1. BootMetro (github) — website templates with a Metro (Windows 8) look. (via Hacker News)
  2. Kenya’s Treasury to tax M-Pesa — 10% tax on mobile money-transfer systems. M-Pesa is the largest mobile money transfer service provider in Kenya, with more than 14 million subscribers. […] It is estimated that M-Pesa reports some 2 million transactions per day. […] the value of money transferred through mobile platforms jumped by 41 per cent in the first six months of 2012. Neer mind fighting you, you know you’re winning when they tax you! (via Evgeny Mozorov)
  3. Digital Divide and Fibre RolloutAs the group of non-users gets smaller, they are likely to become more seriously disadvantaged. The NBN – and high-speed broadband more generally – will drive a wave of new applications across most areas of life, transforming Australia’s service economy in fundamental ways. Those who are not connected in 2015 may be fewer, but they will be missing out on far more – in education, health, government, commerce, communication and entertainment. The costs will also fall on service providers forced to keep supplying expensive physical and face-to-face services to this declining number of people. This will be particularly significant in remote communities, where health consultations and evacuations by flying doctors, nurses and allied health professionals could potentially be reduced through e-health diagnostics, and where Centrelink still regularly sends teams out to communities. As gov2 expands and services move online, connectivity disadvantages are compounded. (via Ellen Strickland)
  4. Smart Body Smart World (Forrester) — take note of these two consequences of Internet of Things and Quantified Self: Verticals fuse: “Health and wellness” is not its own silo, but is connected to our finances, our shopping habits, our relationships. As bodies get connected, everyone is in the body business. Retail disperses: All retailers become computing retailers, and computing-specific retailers like Best Buy go the way of Blockbuster. You wouldn’t buy a smart toothbrush at a specialty CE store; you’d be more likely to buy it in the channel that solves the rest of your hygiene needs. (via Internet of Things)
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