Jon Bruner

Jon Bruner is a data journalist who approaches questions that interest him by writing and coding. Before coming to O'Reilly, where he is editor-at-large, he was data editor at Forbes Magazine. He lives in New York, where he can occasionally be found at the console of a pipe organ.

Software, hardware, everywhere

Software and hardware are moving together, and the combined result is a new medium.

Real and virtual are crashing together. On one side is hardware that acts like software: IP-addressable, controllable with JavaScript APIs, able to be stitched into loosely-coupled systems—the mashups of a new era. On the other is software that’s newly capable of dealing with the complex subtleties of the physical world—ingesting huge amounts of data, learning from it, and making decisions in real time.

The result is an entirely new medium that’s just beginning to emerge. We can see it in Ars Electronica Futurelab’s Spaxels, which use drones to render a three-dimensional pixel field; in Baxter, which layers emotive software onto an industrial robot so that anyone can operate it safely and efficiently; in OpenXC, which gives even hobbyist-level programmers access to the software in their cars; in SmartThings, which ties Web services to light switches.

The new medium is something broader than terms like “Internet of Things,” “Industrial Internet,” or “connected devices” suggest. It’s an entirely new discipline that’s being built by software developers, roboticists, manufacturers, hardware engineers, artists, and designers. Read more…

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Podcast: ratings, rankings, and the advantage of being born lucky

A conversation with Sean Taylor, Hilary Mason, and John Myles White about how ratings affect our thinking

Outcomes following random exogenous upvotes and downvotes on message board posts. Image via Sean Taylor.

Researchers randomly upvoted some posts and downvoted others on a popular message board. The upvoted posts became substantially more popular over the long run. Image via Sean Taylor.

Is popularity just a matter of simple luck–of some early advantage compounded by human preference for things that are already popular? A paper published today in Science offers some insight into the way that popularity emerges in online ratings. Lev Muchnik, Sinan Aral, and Sean Taylor were able to set up a randomized experiment on a popular Reddit-like message board in which they gave some posts a one-point upvote on publication and others a one-point downvote. Posts that were “born lucky” ended up with 25% higher scores on average than those without modification.

In our latest podcast, Renee DiResta and I are joined by Sean Taylor, Hilary Mason and John Myles White to talk about Sean’s findings and about ratings, rankings and reviews in general. Bits and pieces that come up in the podcast:


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The end of integrated systems

The programmable world will increasingly rely on machine-learning techniques that can interact with human interfaces

I always travel with a pair of binoculars and, to the puzzlement of my fellow airline passengers, spend part of every flight gazing through them at whatever happens to be below us: Midwestern towns, Pennsylvania strip mines, rural railroads that stretch across the Nevada desert. Over the last 175 years or so, industrialized America has been molded into a collection of human patterns–not just organic New England villages in haphazard layouts, but also the Colorado farm settlements surveyed in strict grids. A close look at the rectangular shapes below reveals minor variations, though. Every jog that a street takes is a testament to some compromise between mankind and our environment that results in a deviation from mathematical perfection. The world, and our interaction with it, can’t conform strictly to top-down ideals.

We’re about to enter a new era in which computers will interact aggressively with our physical environment. Part of the challenge in building the programmable world will be finding ways to make it interact gracefully with the world as it exists today. In what you might call the virtual Internet, human information has been squeezed into the formulations of computer scientists: rigid relational databases, glyphs drawn from UTF-8, information addressed through the Domain Name System. To participate in it, we converse in the language and structures of computers. The physical Internet will need to understand much more flexibly the vagaries of human behavior and the conventions of the built environment.
Read more…

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Podcast: quantum computing with Pete Worden and Bob Lee

The director of NASA's Ames Research Center and the CTO of Square talk about Ames's new computing venture, fraud prevention, and dirigible hangars.

Hangar One at Moffett Field, built for the US Navy's early dirigible program.

Hangar One at Moffett Field, built for the US Navy’s early dirigible program. Photo via Wikipedia.

At Sci Foo Camp a few weeks ago we recorded a conversation with Pete Worden, director of NASA’s Ames Research Center, and Bob Lee, CTO of Square. Among our topics on this wide-ranging podcast: quantum computing, which Ames is pursuing in partnership with Google; fraud prevention; and the remarkable Hangar One, built to accommodate dirigible aircraft at Moffett Field (the former Navy base that’s now home to Ames).

On this recording from O’Reilly: Jon Bruner, Jim Stogdill and Renee DiResta. Subscribe to the O’Reilly Radar Podcast through iTunes, SoundCloud, or directly through our podcast’s RSS feed.

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Interactive map: bike movements in New York City and Washington, D.C.

The cities appear to breathe as bicycles move into office districts in the morning and out in the evening.

From midnight to 7:30 A.M., New York is uncharacteristically quiet, its Citi Bikes — the city’s new shared bicycles — largely stationary and clustered in residential neighborhoods. Then things begin to move: commuters check out the bikes en masse in residential areas across Manhattan and, over the next two hours, relocate them to Midtown, the Flatiron district, SoHo, and Wall Street. There they remain concentrated, mostly used for local trips, until they start to move back outward around 5 P.M.

Washington, D.C.’s bike-share program exhibits a similar pattern, though, as you’d expect, the movement starts a little earlier in the morning. On my animated map, both cities look like they’re breathing — inhaling and then exhaling once over the course of 12 hours or so.

The map below shows availability at bike stations in New York City and the Washington, D.C. area across the course of the day. Read more…

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Podcast: George Church on genomics

"Like a spaceship that was parked in our back yard"

A few weeks ago some of my colleagues and I recorded a conversation with George Church, a Harvard University geneticist and one of the founders of modern genomics. In the resulting podcast, you’ll hear Church offer his thoughts on the coming transformation of medicine, whether genes should be patentable, and whether the public is prepared to deal with genetic data.

Here’s how Church characterizes the state of genomics:

It’s kind of like ’93 on the Web. In fact, in a certain sense, it’s more sophisticated than electronics because we have inherited three billion years of amazing technology that was just like a spaceship that was parked in our back yard and we’re just reverse-engineering and probably not fully utilizing even the stuff that we’ve discovered so far.

A few other helpful links:

On this podcast from O’Reilly Media: Tim O’Reilly, Roger Magoulas, Jim Stogdill, Mike Loukides, and Jon Bruner. Subscribe to the O’Reilly Radar podcast through iTunes or SoundCloud, or directly through our podcast’s RSS feed.

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Podcast: what makes a scientist?

How scientists become scientists, whether science is still advancing at Newton's pace, and the future of neuroscience and bioengineering.

At Sci Foo Camp last weekend, we enjoyed sitting down with several thoughtful scientists and thinkers-about-science to record a few podcast episodes. Here we speak with Tom Daniel, a professor of biology, computer science, and neurobiology at the University of Washington, and Ben Lillie, co-founder of The Story Collider and a Stanford-trained physicist. First topic: what brings people to science, and how we compare to our icons. Along the way, we mention Hans Bethe, Isaac Newton’s epitaph, and John McPhee’s trip across Interstate 80.

We’ll post the rest of the series over the coming weeks. In the meantime, you can find more episodes of our podcast and subscribe on iTunes or SoundCloud.

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$20,000 and a trip to Shenzhen

An incubator that leads to an accelerator that leads to China's high-volume manufacturers.

Manufacturing is rapidly becoming more accessible to people whose expertise lies elsewhere. The change is most apparent at the small scale, where it’s become easy to order prototypes made on high-quality 3D printers and electronics in small batches from domestic factories. High-volume Chinese manufacturing has been tougher to get into.

A new incubator launching today, and led by our former O’Reilly colleague Brady Forrest, is aimed at lowering the barriers to getting physical goods manufactured fast and in high volumes. Highway1 will prepare nascent hardware companies to enter the accelerator pipeline of the Sino-Irish supply-chain giant PCH International. It offers portfolio companies up to $20,000 and a hardware crash-course that includes a trip to the factories of Shenzhen. Forrest says his curriculum will eventually be made public (minus the China junket, of course).

The successful companies that progress to PCH’s accelerator will have PCH as both an investor and supply-chain manager, essentially drawing from the same network that supplies some of Silicon Valley’s bestsellers.

Forrest put it to me this way: “There is no Amazon Web Services for hardware, but we’re the closest thing to it.”

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Radar podcast: the Internet of Things, PRISM, and defense technology that goes civilian

A strange ad from a defense contractor leads us to talk about technology transfer, and Edward Snowden chooses an unnecessarily inflammatory refuge.

On this week’s podcast, Jim Stogdill, Roger Magoulas and I talk about things that have been on our minds lately: the NSA’s surveillance programs, what defense contractors will do with their technology as defense budgets dry up, and a Californian who isn’t doing what you think he’s doing with hydroponics.

The odd ad in The Economist that caught Jon's attention, from Dassault Systemes.

The odd ad in The Economist that caught Jon’s attention, from Dassault Systemes. Does this suggest that contractors, contemplating years of American and European austerity, are looking for ways to market defense technologies to the civilian world?

Because we’re friendly Web stewards, we provide links to the more obscure things that we talk about in our podcasts. Here they are.

If you enjoyed this podcast, be sure to subscribe on iTunes, on SoundCloud, or directly through our podcast RSS feed.

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Radar podcast: anthropology, big data, and the importance of context

JavaScript emerges as a heavyweight computing tool, and laser rangefinders illustrate the need to slow down and consider context.

Jim Stogdill, Roger Magoulas and I enjoyed a widely discursive discussion last week, available as a podcast above. Roger, fresh from our Fluent conference on JavaScript, opens by talking about the emergence of JS as a heavyweight computing tool and the importance of openness in its growth. A few other links related to our discussion:

If you enjoyed this episode, subscribe to our podcast series on iTunes or SoundCloud.

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