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.

Podcast: news that reaches beyond the screen

Finding ways to make media interact with the physical world

Reporters, editors and designers are looking for new ways to interact with readers and with the physical world–drawing data in through sensors and expressing it through new immersive formats.

In this episode of the Radar podcast, recorded at News Foo Camp in Phoenix on November 10, Jenn and I talk with three people who are working on new modes of interaction:

Along the way:

For more on the intersection of software and the physical world, be sure to check out Solid, O’Reilly’s new conference program about the collision of real and virtual.

Subscribe to the O’Reilly Radar Podcast through iTunesSoundCloud, or directly through our podcast’s RSS feed.

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Sustainability

What will stop the march of technological progress?

bathroom-tilesTim O’Reilly gave some sobering remarks last week at Techonomy about the things that might halt the sort of technological progress that has come to feel inexorable: war, fundamentalism, anti-science sentiment, etc. Human progress has practically stopped over many long periods in recorded history, he pointed out, and we won’t necessarily be able to predict the next dark age by reading out from the patterns of history.

After the conference ended, I spent the afternoon driving to San Diego across some really spectacular Sonoran terrain that’s been repeatedly reshaped by cataclysmic floods and dried out by thousand-year droughts in a flourish/perish cycle that’s much longer than any in human history. I took a long side-trip to see the Salton Sea, which is an accidental re-creation of an ancient lake, formed in 1905 when a canal levy that was built during a period of land speculation broke and diverted the entire flow of the Colorado River into a below-sea-level basin for two years. The highly-saline ecological disaster that resulted, and the horizon-to-horizon industrial farming that surrounds it, is really striking for the relentless speed at which that environment was created on human terms and in cycles that are totally uncoupled from nature’s.

The punch line to a day of thinking about sustainability came on checking into a pretty ordinary hotel in San Diego and finding the scene in the above photo: bathroom tiles full of ancient fossils that were preserved and stored on a timeline of millions of years and rendered into building materials on a timeline that’s probably six orders of magnitude shorter.

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Podcast: the democratization of manufacturing

A conversation with Chris Anderson, Nick Pinkston, and Jie Qi

Manufacturing is hard, but it’s getting easier. In every stage of the manufacturing process–prototyping, small runs, large runs, marketing, fulfillment–cheap tools and service models have become available, dramatically decreasing the amount of capital required to start building something and the expense of revising and improving a product once it’s in production.

In this episode of the Radar podcast, we speak with Chris Anderson, CEO and co-founder of 3D Robotics; Nick Pinkston, a manufacturing expert who’s working to make building things easy for anyone; and Jie Qi, a student at the MIT Media Lab whose recent research has focused on the factories of Shenzhen.

Along the way we talk about the differences between Tesla’s auto plant and its previous incarnation as the NUMMI plant; the differences between on-shoring, re-shoring and near-shoring; and how the innovative energy of Kickstarter and the Maker movement can be brought to underprivileged populations.

Many of these topics will come up at Solid, O’Reilly’s new conference about the intersection of software and the physical world. Solid’s call for proposals open through December 9. We’re planning a series of Solid meet-ups, plant tours, and books about the collision of real and virtual; if you’ve got an idea for something the series should explore, please reach out!

Subscribe to the O’Reilly Radar Podcast through iTunesSoundCloud, or directly through our podcast’s RSS feed.

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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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