- Insect-Inspired Collision-Resistant Robot — clever hack to make it stable despite bouncing off things.
- The Battle for Power on the Internet (Bruce Schneier) — the state of cyberspace. [M]ost of the time, a new technology benefits the nimble first. […] In other words, there will be an increasing time period during which nimble distributed powers can make use of new technologies before slow institutional powers can make better use of those technologies.
- Cisco’s H.264 Good News (Brendan Eich) — Cisco is paying the license fees for a particular implementation of H.264 to be used in open source software, enabling it to be the basis of web streaming video across all browsers (even the open source ones). It’s not as ideal a solution as it might sound.
- Principal Component Analysis for Dummies — This post will give a very broad overview of PCA, describing eigenvectors and eigenvalues (which you need to know about to understand it) and showing how you can reduce the dimensions of data using PCA. As I said it’s a neat tool to use in information theory, and even though the maths is a bit complicated, you only need to get a broad idea of what’s going on to be able to use it effectively.
Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.
As the end of December approaches, it’s time to take a look at the year that was. In a lot of ways, 2013 was a status quo year for mobile, with nothing earthshaking to report, just a steady progression of what already is getting more, um, is-y?
We started the year with Apple on top in the tablet space, Android on top in the handset space, and that’s how we ended the year. Microsoft appears to have abandoned the handset space after a decade of attempts to take market-share, and made their move on the tablet space instead with the Surface. In spite of expensive choreographer board room commercials, the Surface didn’t make a huge dent in Apple’s iPad dominance. But Microsoft did better than Blackberry, whose frantic flailing in the market has come to represent nothing so much as a fish out of water.
Will WebRTC disrupt or be disrupted?
WebRTC promises to deliver computer to computer communications with minimal reliance on central servers to manage the conversation. Peer-to-peer systems promise smoother exchanges without the tremendous scale challenges of running video, for example, through central points.
The WebRTC Conference and Expo was unlike any other web conference I’ve attended. Though technologies in development are common at tech conferences, I can’t remember attending a show that was focused on a technology whose future had these levels of promise and uncertainty. Also, despite the name, WebRTC doesn’t resemble much of the Web despite being built into some browsers (more hopefully coming soon) and supporting HTTP(S) proxying.
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…
Why innovate in the product space, when you can leech money instead?
It is with some amusement that your humble servant read this week of Microsoft’s lucrative business licensing their patents to Android handset makers. How lucrative? Evidently, over two billion dollars a year, five times their revenue from actual mobile products that the company produces. What is harder to discover, unless you do a lot of digging, is what the Android vendors are actually licensing. You have to dig back into the original suit between Microsoft and Motorola to find a list of patents, although they may have added to their portfolio since then through further acquisitions. The thing is that, unlike many parts of the software industry, the cellular portion actually has some valid patents lurking around. Cell phones have radios in them, and there are continual improvements in the protocols and technologies used to make data move faster. As a result, it is a perfectly reasonable assumption to make that Microsoft has acquired some of these cellular patents, and is using them as a revenue stream. Unfortunately, a look at the Motorola suit patent list tells a different story. Read more…
Flying Robot, State of Cyberspace, H.264, and Principal Component Analysis
Good Dev, User-Hostile Patterns, Patent Victories, and Drone History
- What to Look For in Software Dev (Pamela Fox) — It’s important to find a job where you get to work on a product you love or problems that challenge you, but it’s also important to find a job where you will be happy inside their codebase – where you won’t be afraid to make changes and where there’s a clear process for those changes.
- The Slippery Slope to Dark Patterns — demonstrates and deconstructs determinedly user-hostile pieces of software which deliberately break Nielsen’s usability heuristics to make users agree to things they rationally wouldn’t.
- Victory Lap for Ask Patents (Joel Spolsky) — story of how a StackExchange board on patents helped bust a bogus patent. It’s crowdsourcing the prior art, and Joel shows how easy it is.
- The World as Fire-Free Zone (MIT Technology Review) — data analysis to identify “signature” of terrorist behaviour, civilian deaths from strikes in territories the US has not declared war on, empty restrictions on use. Again, it’s a test that, by design, cannot be failed. Good history of UAVs in warfare and the blowback from their lax use. Quoting retired General Stanley McChrystal: The resentment caused by American use of unmanned strikes … is much greater than the average American appreciates. They are hated on a visceral level, even by people who’ve never seen one or seen the effects of one.
Antivirus Numbers, 3D Printer Explosion, 3D Printing's Particulate Problem, and Simulating Touch
- The Anti-Virus Age is Over — for every analyst that an AV company hires, the bad guys can hire 10 developers.
- 3D Printing’s 2014 Renaissance (Quartz) — patents on sintering about to expire which will open up hi-res production. Happened in the past when patents on fixed deposition modelling expired: Within just a few years of the patents on FDM expiring, the price of the cheapest FDM printers fell from many thousands of dollars to as little as $300.
- Ultrafine Particle Emissions from Desktop 3D Printers (Science Direct) — Because most of these devices are currently sold as standalone devices without any exhaust ventilation or filtration accessories, results herein suggest caution should be used when operating in inadequately ventilated or unfiltered indoor environments. (via Slashdot)
- Aireal — focussed changes in air pressure simulate sensations of touch. The machine itself is essentially a set of five speakers in a box–subwoofers that track your body through IR, then fire low frequencies through a nozzle to form donut-like vortices (I imagine the system as a cigar-smoking Microsoft Kinect). […] In practice, Aireal can do anything from creating a button for you to touch in midair to crafting whole textures by pulsing its bubbles to mimic water, stone, and sand. (via BoingBoing)
Island Traps, Apolitical Technology, 3D Printing Patent Suits, and Disk-Based Graph Tool
- Trap Island — island on most maps doesn’t exist.
- Why I Work on Non-Partisan Tech (MySociety) — excellent essay. Obama won using big technology, but imagine if that effort, money, and technique were used to make things that were useful to the country. Political technology is not gov2.0.
- 3D Printing Patent Suits (MSNBC) — notable not just for incumbents keeping out low-cost competitors with patents, but also (as BoingBoing observed) Many of the key patents in 3D printing start expiring in 2013, and will continue to lapse through ’14 and ’15. Expect a big bang of 3D printer innovation, and massive price-drops, in the years to come. (via BoingBoing)
- GraphChi — can run very large graph computations on just a single machine, by using a novel algorithm for processing the graph from disk (SSD or hard drive). Programs for GraphChi are written in the vertex-centric model, proposed by GraphLab and Google’s Pregel. GraphChi runs vertex-centric programs asynchronously (i.e changes written to edges are immediately visible to subsequent computation), and in parallel. GraphChi also supports streaming graph updates and removal of edges from the graph.
The DoJ sues Apple and five major publishers, Yahoo files patents to put ads in ebooks, and B&N one-ups Amazon.
Amazon does a happy dance as five of the Big Six publishers and Apple are sued by the DoJ. Elsewhere, Yahoo looks to increase revenues with ebook ads, and B&N lights up its Nook.
Inside Apple, Microsoft Acquires Netscape Patents, Open Science, and Smart Meters
- Inside Apple (Amazon) — If Apple is Silicon Valley’s answer to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, then author Adam Lashinsky provides readers with a golden ticket to step inside. In this primer on leadership and innovation, the author will introduce readers to concepts like the “DRI” (Apple’s practice of assigning a Directly Responsible Individual to every task) and the Top 100 (an annual ritual in which 100 up-and-coming executives are tapped a la Skull & Bones for a secret retreat with company founder Steve Jobs). Hopefully it can provide a better template for successful executive behaviour than “be an arsehole who has opinions about design” which seems to be all that many have taken from the life and works of Steve Jobs. (via BoingBoing)
- Microsoft Buys Netscape Patents from AOL (Slashgear) — when your employer says “we need you to file for a patent on this, just so we can build up our defensive arsenal”, bear this in mind: you can never know that the defensive portfolio won’t be bought by an aggressive competitor in the future. I’m not sure that we can all sleep sound knowing that Microsoft owns autofill and SSL.
- Open Data and The Gulf Oil Spill (Ars Technica) — competing interests meant uncoordinated data collection, reporting distorted research by omitting caveats on preliminary work and findings, and talking openly about what you’re doing can jeopardise your chance of publication in many journals. I found data collection stories particularly horrifying. (via Pete Warden)
- Smart Meter Hacks — Liston and Weber have developed a prototype of a tool and software program that lets anyone access the memory of a vulnerable smart meter device and intercept the credentials used to administer it. Weber said the toolkit relies in part on a device called an optical probe, which can be made for about $150 in parts, or purchased off the Internet for roughly $300. “This is a well-known and common issue, one that we’ve warning people about for three years now, where some of these smart meter devices implement unencrypted memory,” Weber said. “If you know where and how to look for it, you can gather the security code from the device, because it passes them unencrypted from one component of the device to another.” Also notable for the fantastic line: “What you’re hearing is the sound of [a] paradigm shifting without a clutch,” Former said.