- Network Connectivity Optional (Luke Wroblewski) — we need progressive enhancement: assume people are offline, then enhance if they are actually online.
- Whoosh — fast, featureful full-text indexing and searching library implemented in pure Python
- Flanker (GitHub) — open source address and MIME parsing library in Python. (via Mailgun Blog)
- Stream Adventure (Github) — interactive exercises to help you understand node streams.
A backchannel look at what's on our radar.
The Radar team does a lot of sharing in the backchannel. Here’s a look at a selection of stories and innovation highlights from around the web that have caught our recent attention. Have an interesting tidbit to contribute to the conversation? Join the discussion in the comments section, send me an email or ping me on Twitter.
- Pencil — FiftyThree’s new Pencil tool is a super cool gadget that exhibits interesting technology from a software meets hardware perspective. (Via Mike Loukides)
- littleBits Synth Kit — littleBits and Korg have teamed up to bring DIY to music with a modular synthesizer kit. From John Paul Titlow on Fast Company: “Hobbyists have been doing this for many years, either through prepackaged kits or off-the-shelf components. The difference here is that no soldering or wiring is required. Each circuit piece’s magnetized and color-coded end makes them effortlessly easy to snap together and pull apart … Notably, the components of the kit are compatible with other littleBits modules, so it’s possible to build a synthesizer that integrates with other types of sensors, lights, and whatever else littleBits cooks up down the line.” (Via Jim Stogdill)
Offline Design, Full Text, Parsing Library, and Node Streams
Software patents, in particular, have become little more than the re-enshrinement of the rentier in law.
When I was about 16, I went to visit my grandfather in Denver, where he’d decided to retire. He moved there after spending 30 years in Midland, Michigan working for Dow Chemical. I guess he went west for the dry air. I don’t know if it was good for his lungs, but it sure didn’t go well with wool carpet. I shocked myself every time I touched something. Sometimes the spark would arc three inches from my finger tip to a door knob. There would be a visible flash and pop, and then a reflexive jump. It was a bit terrifying after a while. My grandfather, being an engineer, had figured a simple solution to that problem: he just touched every door knob with his key to ground himself before he opened it. It worked fine, but I didn’t remember to do it. Not once. But that’s not the point of this post.
One evening, we got to talking about his work at Dow and he showed me his patents. He was proud to show them to me, and I was proud of him. The fact that he had all those patents struck me as a testament to his ingenuity. He was smart, and the U.S. Government was acknowledging it in a most formal way.
Most of his patents were about some chemical process or another, but one of them caught my imagination as particularly cool. He realized that the heat coming off of the leading edge of a high-speed aircraft could be used to pre-catalyze jet fuel. I loved airplanes (back then, I still wanted to fly jets), it seemed smart, and I think I just liked the cartoony nature of the drawing in the patent.
He worked for Dow, so naturally all of his work was assigned to the company. And really, that seemed fine to him, and to me. After all, to him that patent was probably less about the temporary grant of government-sponsored monopoly and more about the USPTO’s recognition of his intellect put to paper. It would have been nice for him if Dow had sold his invention to Boeing for lots of money, but it was sort of orthogonal to the intrinsic incentive framework he was working from.
As odd as this mindset seems to me now, it was a mindset I adopted explicitly at the time, and held onto implicitly for a long time after. That evening must have been important to me because I resolved then to patent some of my ideas some day. Years later in my career, when I was working for a small consulting firm, I started making patent applications with my colleagues. Read more…
Disruption, Telepresence, Drone Mapping, and TV Malware
- Innovation and the Coming Shape of Social Transformation (Techonomy) — great interview with Tim O’Reilly and Max Levchin. in electronics and in our devices, we’re getting more and more a sense of how to fix things, where they break. And yet as a culture, what we have chosen to do is to make those devices more disposable, not last forever. And why do you think it will be different with people? To me one of the real risks is, yes, we get this technology of life extension, and it’s reserved for a very few, very rich people, and everybody else becomes more disposable.
- Attending a Conference via a Telepresence Robot (IEEE) — interesting idea, and I look forward to giving it a try. The mark of success for the idea, alas, is two bots facing each other having a conversation.
- Drone Imagery for OpenStreetMap — 100 acres of 4cm/pixel imagery, in less than an hour.
- LG Smart TV Phones Home with Shows and Played Files — welcome to the Internet of Manufacturer Malware.
Web portals and mobile apps have the potential to facilitate regional collaboration between municipalities.
Editor’s note: this post originally appeared on Glenn’s CityState blog. This version has been lightly edited.
Others have written — and I’m sure will continue to write — with enthusiasm and hyperbole about the ways that new web portals and mobile apps are changing the landscape of public participation and responsive city planning. It seems that we are constantly being showered (or perhaps barraged?) with fun new social media tools to engage citizens and activate urban sharing networks — for everything from reporting graffiti to mapping public murals (yes, the irony is noteworthy), and from finding a parking space to avoiding being mugged, and so on. Whether or not these apps will ever wind up being the “game changers” we are often promised remains to be seen, but the level of excitement and activity they are generating is undeniable, especially after so many years of resignation and inattention to urban problems.
That said, despite the energy that has been thrown behind developing and promoting these new weapons in our urban information arsenal, one aspect of these tools has been noticeably overlooked: the potential they provide to facilitate regional collaboration between municipalities, an as-of-yet unfulfilled dream of urban planners in the past century. Read more…
What will stop the march of technological progress?
Tim 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.