- It’s Complicated — Danah Boyd’s new book on teens use of the online world is available for PDF download (but buy a copy anyway!).
- Building a Solid World — O’Reilly research paper about the “software-enhanced networked physical world”. Gonna be mighty interesting in a world where our stuff knows more and is better connected than its owners.
- What Did Not Happen at Mt Gox — interesting analysis of some of the popular theories. Overall, Bitcoin has been an ongoing massive online course on economics and distributed systems for the libertarian masses. It’s ironic that Mt. Gox turned into a chapter on fractional reserve banking.
- Papers We Love (Github) — a collection of papers from the computer science community to read and discuss.
Eric Raymond’s “Myth of the Fall,” an account of the rise of software portability and reusable open source code (rather than the fall from a free software eden), should be required reading for free and open source developers, and for anyone who cares about the future of technology.
It exactly matches my experience working with Unix starting in the early eighties, although I’ve always talked about it from a somewhat different angle: because Unix was a portable operating system running on incompatible hardware, the only way you could distribute your free software was in source form. In other environments, while there was a “freeware” culture (just there is today on smartphone platforms), that was always binary freeware. You would just download the program and run it, whether you were on CP/M or DOS or the Mac. Only on Unix did you have to compile the source code into binaries for your brand of machine. The reason open source culture grew from Unix was not political, it was architectural.
And because 9-track tapes were a bitch to ship around, and it took forever to send around programs (even the relatively tiny ones of the day) on slow networks, we used tools like Patch to share just the modified code as tracked by version control systems. Unix’s philosophy of portability, which included not just a programming language (C) optimized for portability, but also an architecture of small, modular programs communicating using standardized rules for input and output, also shaped the design of the internet and applications like email and the World Wide Web that grew on top of it. Read more…
Is freedom just another word for a smart environment?
You know the “Next Big Thing” is no longer waiting in the wings when you hear it dissected on talk radio. That’s now the case with the Industrial Internet — or the Internet of Things, or the collision of software and hardware, or the convergence of the virtual and real worlds, or whatever you want to call it. It has emerged from academe and the high tech redoubts of Silicon Valley, and invaded the mainstream media.
Of course, it’s been “here” for a while, in the form of intelligent devices, such as the Nest Thermostat, and initiatives like the Open Auto Alliance, an effort involving Audi, GM, Honda , Hyundai, Google and Nvidia to develop an open-source, Android-based software platform for cars.
But we are now tap-dancing one of those darn tipping points again. As software-enhanced objects, cheap sensors, and wireless technology combine to connect everything and everybody with every other thing and person, a general awareness is dawning. People — all people, not just the technologically proficient — understand their lives are about to change big time. This is creating some hand-wringing anxiety as well as giddy anticipation, and rightly so: the parameters and consequences of the Internet of Things remain vague. Read more…
A multitude of signals points to the convergence of software and the physical world.
Our new Solid conference is about the “intersection of software and hardware.” But what does the intersection of software and hardware mean? We’re putting on a conference because we see something distinctly new happening.
Roughly a year ago, we sat around a table in Sebastopol to survey some interesting trends in technology. There were many: robotics, sensor networks, the Internet of Things, the Industrial Internet, the professionalization of the Maker movement, hardware-oriented startups. It was a confusing picture, until we realized that these weren’t separate trends. They’re all more alike than different—they are all the visible result of the same underlying forces. Startups like FitBit and Withings were taking familiar old devices, like pedometers and bathroom scales, and making them intelligent by adding computer power and network connections. At the other end of the industrial scale, GE was doing the same thing to jet engines and locomotives. Our homes are increasingly the domain of smart robots, including Roombas and 3D printers, and we’ve started looking forward to self-driving cars and personal autonomous drones. Every interesting new product has a network connection—be it WiFi, Bluetooth, Zigbee, or even a basic form of piggybacking through a USB connection to a PC. Everything has a sensor, and devices as dissimilar as an iPhone and a Kinect are stuffed with them. We spent 30 or more years moving from atoms to bits; now it feels like we’re pushing the bits back into the atoms. And we realized that the intersection of these trends—the conjunction of hardware, software, networking, data, and intelligence—was the real “news,” far more important than any individual trend. Read more…
Vanishing Money, Car Hackery, Data Literacy Course, and Cheaper CI
- The Programming Error That Cost Mt Gox 2609 Bitcoins — in the unforgiving world of crypto-currency, it’s easy to miscode and vanish your money.
- Ford Invites Open-Source Community to Tinker Away — One example: Nelson has re-tasked the motor from a Microsoft Xbox 360 game controller to create an OpenXC shift knob that vibrates to signal gear shifts in a standard-transmission Mustang. The 3D-printed prototype shift knob uses Ford’s OpenXC research platform to link devices to the car via Bluetooth, and shares vehicle data from the on-board diagnostics port. Nelson has tested his prototype in a Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 that vibrates at the optimal time to shift.
- Making Sense of Data — Google online course on data literacy.
- Cost-Efficient Continuous Integration at Mozilla — CI on a big project can imply hundreds if not thousands of VMs on Amazon spinning up to handle compiles and tests. This blog post talks about Mozilla’s efforts to reduce its CI-induced spend without reducing the effectiveness of its CI practices.
This lower-cost technology could greatly enhance consumer convenience for many applications.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the new low-energy form of Bluetooth (BLE) recently, with an eye toward thinking about ways it can be used. The core advantages the protocol has over other similar standards is that it’s optimized for lower data rates, and extremely long battery life. While we may complain about how much energy a Wi-Fi device uses, it’s acceptable to charge your phone once a day. If we could eliminate the need to recharge, what lower-data rate applications could we build?
The most obvious application of something like BLE is that it communicates over a shorter range, and therefore, can provide precise location information. Companies like Euclid Analytics measure foot traffic by using Wi-Fi signals, so the precision of the location is fairly rough. BLE devices have a smaller operating range, and thus would be able to provide information on what aisle a person is in instead of a broad area of the store. (And yes, there are obvious privacy concerns here, especially given that many users tend to accept all the privileges requested by an app running on their phone, which might make BLE-enabled location personally identifiable.) Read more…