Jenn Webb

Jenn Webb is a veteran of the newspaper industry turned freelance scribe, editor, and researcher. She is a nerd with a passion for technology and cultural disruption. She currently serves as O'Reilly Radar's managing editor and helps to investigate topics in the Design, IoT+, Data, and Emerging Tech spaces.

Bluetooth LE has solved the 50% problem, cracking open the IoT

The O'Reilly Radar Podcast: Alasdair Allan on BLE, data from the Pluto flyby, and the future of "personal space programs."

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In this week’s O’Reilly Radar Podcast, O’Reilly’s Mac Slocum chats with Alasdair Allan, an astrophysicist and director at Babilim Light Industries. In their wide-ranging conversation, Allan talks about the data coming out of the New Horizons Pluto flyby, the future of “personal space programs,” and why Bluetooth LE (BLE) is cracking open the Internet of Things.

Here are a few highlights from their conversation:

The only thing Bluetooth LE shares with traditional Bluetooth is the name.

Bluetooth LE, now that Google Android also supports it, has solved the 50% problem. … Now that all of the smartphones in the world have Bluetooth LE, or at least the more modern ones, there is a very easy way to produce low-power devices — wearables, embedded sensors, all of that sort of stuff — that anyone can access with a smart phone.

The Internet of Things is neither about the Internet, nor really the things. I much prefer the academic term “ubiquitous computing,” but no one really seems to want to use that, which is somewhat unfortunate.

You don’t have to worry about power, and that can be a real lever to open up the wearables market in the same way the BLE was a lever to open the IoT market.

There are hardly any impact craters on the surface of Pluto, so that means that the surface itself is active. … Also, there’s these huge mountain ranges, three-and-a-half-thousand meters tall — and they’re pointy. There is no way the mountains on Pluto should be pointy.

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Avoid design pitfalls in the IoT: Keep the focus on people

The O'Reilly Radar Podcast: Robert Brunner on IoT pitfalls, Ammunition, and the movement toward automation.

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For this week’s Radar Podcast, I had the opportunity to sit down with Robert Brunner, founder of the Ammunition design studio. Brunner talked about how design can help mitigate IoT pitfalls, what drove him to found Ammunition, and why he’s fascinated with design’s role in the movement toward automation.

Here are a few of the highlights from our chat:

One of the biggest pitfalls I’m seeing in how companies are approaching the Internet of Things, especially in the consumer market, is, literally, not paying attention to people — how people understand products and how they interact with them and what they mean to them.

It was this broader experience and understanding of what [a product] is and what it does in people’s lives, and what it means to them — that’s experienced not just through the thing, but how they learn about it, how they buy it, what happens when they open up the box, what happens when they use the product, what happens when the product breaks; all these things add up to how you feel about it and, ultimately, how you relate to a company. That was the foundation of [Ammunition].

Ultimately, I define design as the purposeful creation of things.

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Signals from OSCON 2015

From Pluto flybys to open source in the enterprise to engineering the future, here are key highlights from OSCON 2015.

Experts and advocates from across the open source world assembled in Portland, Ore., this week for OSCON 2015. Below you’ll find a handful of keynotes and interviews from the event that we found particularly notable.

Cracking open the IoT

In an interview at OSCON, Alasdair Allan, director at Babilim Light Industries, talked about the data coming out of the New Horizons Pluto flyby, the future of “personal space programs,” and the significance of Bluetooth LE to the Internet of Things:

Now that all the smartphones have Bluetooth LE — or at least the modern ones, there is a very easy way to produce low-power devices (wearables, embedded sensors) that anyone can access with a smartphone. … It’s a real lever to drive the Internet of Things forward, and you’re seeing a lot of the progress in the Internet of Things, a lot of the innovation, is happening — especially in Kickstarter — around BLE devices.

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Moving toward a zero UI to orchestrate the IoT

The O'Reilly Radar Podcast: Andy Goodman on intangible interfaces, and Cory Doctorow on the DMCA.

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In this week’s Radar Podcast episode, O’Reilly’s Mac Slocum chats with Andy Goodman, group director of Fjord’s Design Strategy. Goodman talks about the shift away from screen-based interfaces to intangible interfaces, what he calls “zero UI.” He also addresses the evolutionary path of embeddables, noting that “we already have machines inside us.”

Here are a few of the highlights:

Sensing technologies are allowing us to distribute our computers around our bodies and around our environments, moving away from monolithic experiences, a single device, to an orchestration of devices all working together with us at the center.

Our visual sense is the most important to us, so taking that away [with zero UI] actually leaves us, in some ways, a bit more vulnerable to things going wrong — we can’t see what is an error state in a haptic experience…it’s possible that we’re setting ourselves a lot of design challenges that we don’t know we have to solve yet.

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Trillions of things sending billions of messages

The O'Reilly Radar Podcast: Mickey McManus on preparing for an era of unbounded malignant complexity.

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In this week’s episode of the Radar Podcast, O’Reilly’s Mike Hendrickson talks with Autodesk research fellow Mickey McManus about engaging with extreme users and what’s going to happen when we have trillions of things sending billions of messages. McManus also talked about how we can prepare for the coming era of unbounded malignant complexity.

Unbounded malignant complexity

In talking about Trillions, a book McManus co-authored with Peter Lucas and Joe Ballay, McManus explained what exactly we’re up against in the next five years as our world becomes more and more permeated with computation:

We are probably five years away from trillions of computing devices, and that wouldn’t be bad, but then imagine a world saturated with computers. It’s almost like a super-saturated solution. They’re not all connected, so maybe we could cope with that. But, concurrently, connectivity is joining Moore’s law — people like Intel are working on Moore’s law radio that basically puts all the parts of a radio on silicon. Which means that, suddenly, the cost of connectivity drops to dirt, to nothing, to dust.

We’ll have this super-saturated solution where that seed hits it, and we’re going to turn the sock inside out. We’re going to go from information in computers, like your super computer in your pocket, to us being surrounded by information. … The next information age will be an era of unbounded malignant complexity. Because there’s a lot of stuff. We have to get ready for that.

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To create the future we want, we need more moonshots

The O'Reilly Radar Podcast: Tim O'Reilly and Astro Teller talk about technology and society, and the importance of moonshots.

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In this week’s Radar Podcast episode, Tim O’Reilly sits down with Google X’s Astro Teller. Their wide-ranging conversation covers moonshots, the relationship between technology and society, the learning process for hardware, and more. What follows are some snippets of their conversation to whet your appetite — you can listen to the entire interview in the SoundCloud player below, or download the podcast through Stitcher, TuneIn, or iTunes.

Technology doesn’t create net losses for the economy

Tim O’Reilly: The policy makers, I think, need to stop talking about creating jobs and start talking about the work we need to do in the world, because if you do that work, you do create jobs. I was struck by this when I went to Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home. He was really into scientific agriculture, as was Thomas Jefferson. He had this vision that America could feed the world. There was that economic vision: there is something that needs doing. One of the things I love about Google X is it’s driven by solving problems, and those problems actually often do create new opportunities for work.

Astro Teller: I completely agree with you about the problems. In addition, when you look at the history of technology — its introduction, and what happened in society afterword — technology has functioned in every case in the past as a lever for the human mind or for the human body. Things like the introduction of spreadsheets destroyed the business, the profession of bookkeeping — but because we trained people, we as society trained people, they became accountants, they became analysts. As many jobs as were lost were created, and more work, more productivity was created in the process. The bulldozer took away, in a very analogous way, a lot of jobs from people who were digging with shovels, but because we trained them to do things like build the bulldozers, drive the bulldozers, maintain the bulldozers, it wasn’t a net loss for the economy.

I believe that the failure mode we are currently in, to the extent that there’s a failure mode, is not the introduction of new technologies but the failure of our society to train the young people of the world so that they will be prepared to use these more and more sophisticated levers.

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“Internet of Things” is a temporary term

The O'Reilly Radar Podcast: Pilgrim Beart on the scale, challenges, and opportunities of the IoT.

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In this week’s Radar Podcast, O’Reilly’s Mary Treseler chatted with Pilgrim Beart about co-founding his company, AlertMe, and about why the scale of the Internet of Things creates as many challenges as it does opportunities. He also talked about the “gnarly problems” emerging from consumer wants and behaviors.

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The future of data at scale

The O'Reilly Radar Podcast: Turing Award winner Michael Stonebraker on the future of data science.

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In March 2015, database pioneer Michael Stonebraker was awarded the 2014 ACM Turing Award “for fundamental contributions to the concepts and practices underlying modern database systems.” In this week’s Radar Podcast, O’Reilly’s Mike Hendrickson sits down with Stonebraker to talk about winning the award, the future of data science, and the importance — and difficulty — of data curation.

One size does not fit all

Stonebraker notes that since about 2000, everyone has realized they need a database system, across markets and across industries. “Now, it’s everybody who’s got a big data problem,” he says. “The business data processing solution simply doesn’t fit all of these other marketplaces.” Stonebraker talks about the future of data science — and data scientists — and the tools and skill sets that are going to be required:

It’s all going to move to data science as soon as enough data scientists get trained by our universities to do this stuff. It’s fairly clear to me that you’re probably not going to retread a business analyst to be a data scientist because you’ve got to know statistics, you’ve got to know machine learning. You’ve got to know what regression means, what Naïve Bayes means, what k-Nearest Neighbors means. It’s all statistics.

All of that stuff turns out to be defined on arrays. It’s not defined on tables. The tools of future data scientists are going to be array-based tools. Those may live on top of relational database systems. They may live on top of an array database system, or perhaps something else. It’s completely open.

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“The purpose of the IoT is to give humans superpowers”

Tim O’Reilly and Cory Doctorow talk about the opportunities and challenges presented by the Internet of Things.

In a recent conversation, Tim O’Reilly and Cory Doctorow addressed a wide variety of issues surrounding the evolution of the Internet of Things. We’ve distilled their conversation into a free downloadable report, “Opportunities and Challenges in the IoT: A Conversation with Tim O’Reilly and Cory Doctorow,” in which they address questions from folks on Twitter about security, the impact of the IoT on industry, IoT innovation in the public sector, and much more.

Taking a look at industry, O’Reilly addressed a Twitter question from @leahthehunter regarding which companies and technologies are most profoundly impacting the evolution of the Internet of Things:

I think the biggest mistake people make with the Internet of Things is in thinking that it’s about devices. Sure, there are sexy devices: your Nest thermostat. Your Internet-connected drone, or whatever, and people go, ‘Oh, awesome.’ Yes, and there’s things like smart TVs, but the biggest impact to me seems to be when you start thinking about how sensors and devices can change the way you actually do things. … What really seems interesting is if you take Uber as a model of an Internet of Things company and use that as your icon rather than, say, Nest, you say, ‘Oh wait a minute — what’s really happening here is we’re saying once you have connectivity and sensors out in the world, you can actually completely rethink an industry.’

O’Reilly noted that the biggest opportunities in the IoT lie not in new devices but in rethinking user behavior to design better user experiences and increase value for users. Doctorow agreed, pointing out that he’s interested in the notion of “treating human beings as things that are good at sensing and not things that are there to be sensed.” Read more…

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Guidance for startup CEOs in the hot seat

The O'Reilly Radar Podcast: Dan Shapiro on his new book Hot Seat, startup co-founders, and imposter syndrome.

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In this episode of the O’Reilly Radar Podcast, I chat with Dan Shapiro, author and CEO of Glowforge, about his new book Hot Seat: The Startup CEO Guidebook, why startups need co-founders, and why startups are hotbeds for imposter syndrome (and why that’s OK). He also talks a bit about his new endeavor, Glowforge, and how it’s different from other startups he’s launched.

Shapiro explained that the target audience for the book isn’t limited to startup CEOs — in fact, he noted, it’s quite the opposite. “The audience that I’m really excited about getting to see this is everybody who’s not the startup CEO,” he told me. This would include everyone else in the startup ecosystem: co-founders, employees working at a startup, and people employed at big companies who are thinking about taking the leap to found their own startups. He said he wrote this book for “people who are on the cusp or who are touching or who are thinking about that role, either directly or indirectly” — he wrote the book he’d wished he’d had when he started out:

The thing that I wished I’d had in my startup experience — and was always missing — was the honest and unfiltered look at the earliest days of a startup. That was not just, ‘here’s some advice,’ because advice is plentiful and mostly wrong, but real experiences of the stuff that happens. My personal experience, I’m on my fourth or fifth company now, depending on how you count, was that, especially in my first and second companies, I was going through misery and suffering and had these terrible problems. I thought I was the only one who did. I was ashamed to talk about them because everybody else seemed like everything was great and sunny, and I was like, ‘Wow, if my co-founders and I can’t get along, how am I even fit to think about running a company, or shouldn’t we just give up now.’

It was only years later that I realized that almost every set of co-founders has problems and has trouble getting along and runs into issues, and that’s okay. That there are techniques for dealing with that and this is actually really common; it’s just that people are ashamed to talk about it. I wanted to write the book that took lots of peoples’ stories and put them together in the context of, ‘look, startups involve a lot of highs, which there is no shortage of to read about in the press, but a lot of lows as well’ and those are not as often talked about; to talk about some of the experiences of those lows, and strategies for dealing with them.

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