Mind if I interrupt you?

Notification centers and Apple Watches beg the question: what’s the best way to interrupt us properly?

We’ve been claiming information overload for decades, if not centuries. As a species, we’re pretty good at inventing new tools to deal with the problems of increasing information: language, libraries, broadcast, search, news feeds. A digital, always-on lifestyle certainly presents new challenges, but we’re quickly creating prosthetic filters to help us cope.

Now there’s a new generation of information management tools, in the form of wearables and watches. But notification centers and Apple Watches beg the question: what’s the best way to interrupt us properly? Already, tables of friends take periodic “phone breaks” to check in on their virtual worlds, something that might have been considered unthinkably gauche a few years ago.

Alistair_Croll_post_interruptionsSince the first phone let us ring a bell, uninvited, in a far-off house, we’ve been dealing with interruption. Smart interruption is useful: Stewart Brand said that the right information at the right time just changes your life; it follows, then, that the perfect interface is one that’s invisible until it’s needed, the way Google inserts hotel dates on a map, or flight times in your calendar, or reminders when you have to leave for your next meeting.

But all of this technology is interfering with reflection, introspection, and contemplation. In Alone Together, Sheri Turkle observes that it’s far easier to engage with tools like Facebook than it is to connect with actual humans because interactive technology’s availability makes it a junk-food substitute for actual interaction. My friend Hugh McGuire recently waxed rather poetically on the risks of constant interruption, and how he’d forgotten how to read because of it.

At work, modern productivity tools like Slack might do away with email conventions, encouraging better collaboration, but they do so at a cost because they work in a way that demands immediate attention, and that interrupts the natural rhythm we all need to write, to read, and to immerse ourselves in our surroundings. It’s hard to marinate when you’re being interrupted. Read more…

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Designing for ecosystems: Making meaningful IoT products and services

Mike Kuniavsky on PARC’s work on IoT and the mindset shift the IoT will require.

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Attend Experience Design for the Internet of Things, our online conference where six of the smartest people working in design and the Internet of Things will share actionable advice and the essential knowledge you need to create extraordinary IoT experiences and advance your craft. Mike Kuniavsky will present “User experience and predictive device behavior in the internet of things.”

The emergence of the Internet of Things has prompted the production of thousands of new connected devices. More challenging and interesting in many ways, though, is how to embed intelligence into existing products and services. Corporations are trying to wrap their collective minds around the possibilities the IoT presents, but many don’t have the internal expertise to make sense of the space. Companies like Palo Alto Research Center Incorporated (PARC) are helping these organizations with the transition to the IoT. I recently chatted with Mike Kuniavsky of PARC. Kuniavsky is a user experience designer, researcher, and author. He is a member of the Innovation Services Group at PARC, a strategy consulting team within the research organization, formerly known as Xerox PARC.

Bringing the IoT to Fortune 50 companies

PARC has been around since 1970 and has contributed to the evolution of computing, including laser printing, graphic user interface, and the Ethernet. It should be no surprise that they are working on the next generation of computing with the IoT. Kuniavsky explains a bit more about what he and the team are working on:

The Innovation Services Group is essentially PARC’s consulting arm. Of course Xerox is still PARC’s biggest client because it’s our parent company, but it is no longer our group’s biggest client, for sure. We mostly work with Fortune 50 companies. A lot of what we do is essentially reduce the risk of adopting novel technologies through the use of user experience design and ethnography, and an innovation strategy. These days, a lot of that is in the form of looking at things that are broadly in the Internet of Things. Part of that is because that’s where my expertise is; I’ve been playing with connected hardware for 25 years. Part of it is because that’s where there’s a lot of interest. It’s gotten me to really think about the entire ecosystem that the Internet of Things is. It’s not just hooking up a sensor to the Internet and sticking it somewhere in your house. It’s a much larger ecosystem, from my perspective. That’s what we’ve been exploring a lot because that’s what’s interesting to our customers, is understanding not just how this piece of cheap commodity hardware, which can be replicated very easily by any one of their competitors, is going to create an advantage for them, but how this one specific piece of hardware is going to create an ecosystem that is going to be very competitive and is going to create significant value. Read more…

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Navigating the health data ecosystem

The "six C's": understanding the health data terrain in the era of precision medicine.

Ian Eslick, Tuhin Sinha, and Rob Rustad contributed to this post.

Download a free copy of “Navigating the Health Data Ecosystem,” the first in a series of reports covering our recent investigation into the health data ecosystem, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

A few years ago, O’Reilly became interested in health topics, running the Strata RX conference, writing a report on How Data Science is Transforming Health Care: Solving the Wanamaker Dilemma, and publishing Hacking Healthcare. Our social network grew to include people in the health care space, informing our nascent thoughts about data in the age of the Affordable Care Act and the problems and opportunities facing the health care industry. We had the notion that aggregating data from traditional and new device-based sources could change much of what we understand about medicine — thoughts now captured by the concept of “precision medicine.”

From that early thinking, we developed the framework for a grant with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) to explore the technical, organizational, legal, privacy, and other issues around aggregating health-related data for research — to provide empirical lessons for organizations also interested in pushing for data in health care initiatives. Our new free report, Navigating the Health Data Ecosystem, begins the process of sharing what we’ve learned.

After decades of maturing in more aggressive industries, data-driven technologies are being adopted, developed, funded, and deployed throughout the health care market at an unprecedented scale. February 2015 marked the inaugural working group meeting of the newly announced NIH Precision Medicine Initiative designed to aggregate a million-person cohort of genotype/phenotype dense longitudinal health data, where donors provide researchers with the raw epidemiological evidence to develop better decision-making, treatment, and potential cures for diseases like cancer. In the past several years, many established companies and new startups have also started to apply collective intelligence and “big data” platforms to health and health care problems. All these efforts encounter a set of unique challenges that experts coming from other disciplines do not always fully appreciate. Read more…

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CSS Grid Layout: The modern way of doing layout on the Web

The O'Reilly Radar Podcast: Rachel Andrew on modern Web layout, and Kyle Simpson defends JavaScript Coercion.

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Subscribe to the O’Reilly Radar Podcast to track the technologies and people that will shape our world in the years to come.

In this week’s episode of the Radar Podcast, O’Reilly’s Mac Slocum chats with Rachel Andrew, founder of edgeofmyseat.com, about CSS Grid Layout and the role responsive design is playing in emerging Web technologies.

In 2004, Andrew published The CSS Anthology: 101 Essential Tips, Tricks & Hacks. Through the years of revisions, she noted in the interview, not that much has changed; sure, we’ve moved on from Netscape 4, she said, but “the [layout] methods we’re using haven’t moved on much since I wrote that book, which is kind of terrifying.” This is why Andrew is so excited about CSS Grid Layout, which she sees as bringing Web layout into the modern day:

CSS Grid Layout is a new spec, an emerging spec. It originally came from Microsoft. In fact, there’s an early implementation of it in IE 10 and 11. It’s kind of moved on now. It’s really a specification for laying out Web pages and/or applications. It’s something that we haven’t really had up to now. The specs and the sort of things that we’re using for layout, things like float and so on, really are quite like hacks to get them to work. Developers have been working around this stuff for years. Grid, I’m quite excited about because it’s sort of the first time it feels like a really modern way of doing layout on the Web.

Read more…

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Ghosts in the machines

The secret to successful infrastructure automation is people.

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“The trouble with automation is that it often gives us what we don’t need at the cost of what we do.” —Nicholas Carr, The Glass Cage: Automation and Us

Virtualization and cloud hosting platforms have pervasively decoupled infrastructure from its underlying hardware over the past decade. This has led to a massive shift towards what many are calling dynamic infrastructure, wherein infrastructure and the tools and services used to manage it are treated as code, allowing operations teams to adopt software approaches that have dramatically changed how they operate. But with automation comes a great deal of fear, uncertainty and doubt.

Common (mis)perceptions of automation tend to pop up at the extreme ends: It will either liberate your people to never have to worry about mundane tasks and details, running intelligently in the background, or it will make SysAdmins irrelevant and eventually replace all IT jobs (and beyond). Of course, the truth is very much somewhere in between, and relies on a fundamental rethinking of the relationship between humans and automation.
Read more…

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Apple Watch and the skin as interface

The success of Apple’s watch, and of wearables in general, may depend on brain plasticity.

Recently, to much fanfare, Apple launched a watch. Reviews were mixed. And the watch may thrive — after all, once upon a time, nobody knew they needed a tablet or an iPod. But at the same time, today’s tech consumer is markedly different from those at the dawn of the Web, and the watch faces a different market all together.

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Apple Watches. Source: Apple.

One of the more positive reviews came from tech columnist Farhad Manjoo. In it, he argued that we’ll eventually give in to wearables for a variety of reasons.

“It was only on Day 4 that I began appreciating the ways in which the elegant $650 computer on my wrist was more than just another screen,” he wrote. “By notifying me of digital events as soon as they happened, and letting me act on them instantly, without having to fumble for my phone, the Watch became something like a natural extension of my body — a direct link, in a way that I’ve never felt before, from the digital world to my brain.”

On-body messaging and brain plasticity

Manjoo uses the term “on-body messaging” to describe the variety of specific vibrations the watch emits, and how quickly he came to accept them as second nature. The success of Apple’s watch, and of wearables in general, may be due to this brain plasticity. Read more…

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