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December 16 2013

Four short links: 16 December 2013

  1. Suro (Github) — Netflix data pipeline service for large volumes of event data. (via Ben Lorica)
  2. NIPS Workshop on Data Driven Education — lots of research papers around machine learning, MOOC data, etc.
  3. Proofist — crowdsourced proofreading game.
  4. 3D-Printed Shoes (YouTube) — LeWeb talk from founder of the company, Continuum Fashion). (via Brady Forrest)

December 06 2013

Four short links: 6 December 2013

  1. Society of Mind — Marvin Minsky’s book now Creative-Commons licensed.
  2. Collaboration, Stars, and the Changing Organization of Science: Evidence from Evolutionary BiologyThe concentration of research output is declining at the department level but increasing at the individual level. [...] We speculate that this may be due to changing patterns of collaboration, perhaps caused by the rising burden of knowledge and the falling cost of communication, both of which increase the returns to collaboration. Indeed, we report evidence that the propensity to collaborate is rising over time. (via Sciblogs)
  3. As Engineers, We Must Consider the Ethical Implications of our Work (The Guardian) — applies to coders and designers as well.
  4. Eyewire — a game to crowdsource the mapping of 3D structure of neurons.

December 04 2013

Four short links: 4 December 2013

  1. Skyjack — drone that takes over other drones. Welcome to the Malware of Things.
  2. Bootstrap Worlda curricular module for students ages 12-16, which teaches algebraic and geometric concepts through computer programming. (via Esther Wojicki)
  3. Harvestopen source BSD-licensed toolkit for building web applications for integrating, discovering, and reporting data. Designed for biomedical data first. (via Mozilla Science Lab)
  4. Project ILIAD — crowdsourced antibiotic discovery.

November 29 2013

Four short links: 29 November 2013

  1. Huaqiang Bei Map for Makers — excellent resource for visitors to an iconic huge electronics market in Shenzhen. (via Bunnie Huang)
  2. A 16th Century Dutchman Can Tell us Everything We Need to Know about GMO PatentsThere’s nothing wrong with this division of labor, except that it means that fewer people are tinkering. We’ve centralized the responsibility for agricultural innovation among a few engineers, even fewer investors, and just a handful of corporations. (and check out the historical story—it’s GREAT)
  3. Polymath Projects — massively multiplayer mathematical proving ground. Let the “how many mathematicians does it take” jokes commence. (via Slashdot)
  4. Stats on Dying TV — like a Mary Meeker preso, accumulation of evidence that TV screens and cable subscriptions are dying and mobile-consumed media are taking its place.

September 07 2013

The Real Problem With a Service Called 'Ghetto Tracker'

The Real Problem With a Service Called ’Ghetto Tracker’
http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/09/the-real-problem-with-a-service-called-ghetto-tracker/279403

The basic premise of Ghetto Tracker/Good Part of Town — to crowdsource travel advice – actually isn’t so outrageous, but the framing, even without the word ‘Ghetto’ in the name, and the intention — to label whole geographic areas as ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ “safe” and ‘unsafe’ — make the operation distasteful.

http://cdn.theatlantic.com/newsroom/img/posts/ku-bigpic.png
#geolocalisation #crowdsourcing

August 20 2013

Four short links: 20 August 2013

  1. pineapple.io — attempt to crowdsource rankings for tutorials for important products, so you’re not picking your way through Google search results littered with tutorials written by incompetent illiterates for past versions of the software.
  2. BBC ForumAmerican social psychologist Aleks Krotoski has been looking at how the internet affects the way we talk to ourselves. Podcast (available for next 30 days) from BBC. (via Vaughan Bell)
  3. Why Can’t My Computer Understand Me (New Yorker) — using anaphora as the basis of an intelligence test, as example of what AI should be striving for. It’s not just that contemporary A.I. hasn’t solved these kinds of problems yet; it’s that contemporary A.I. has largely forgotten about them. In Levesque’s view, the field of artificial intelligence has fallen into a trap of “serial silver bulletism,” always looking to the next big thing, whether it’s expert systems or Big Data, but never painstakingly analyzing all of the subtle and deep knowledge that ordinary human beings possess. That’s a gargantuan task— “more like scaling a mountain than shoveling a driveway,” as Levesque writes. But it’s what the field needs to do.
  4. 507 Mechanical Movements — an old basic engineering textbook, animated. Me gusta.

July 24 2013

Four short links: 24 July 2013

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

June 06 2013

Four short links: 6 June 2013

  1. ShareFest — peer-to-peer file sharing in the browser. Source on GitHub. (via Andy Baio)
  2. Media for Thinking the Unthinkable (Bret Victor) — “Right now, today, we can’t see the thing, at all, that’s going to be the most important 100 years from now.” We cannot see the thing. At all. But whatever that thing is — people will have to think it. And we can, right now, today, prepare powerful ways of thinking for these people. We can build the tools that make it possible to think that thing. (via Matt Jones)
  3. McKinsey Report on Disruptive Technologies (McKinsey) — the list: Mobile Internet; Automation of knowledge work; Internet of Things; Cloud technology; Advanced Robotics; Autonomous and near-autonomous vehicles; Next-generation genomics; Energy storage; 3D Printing; Advanced Materials; Advanced Oil and Gas exploration and recovery; Renewable energy.
  4. The Only Public Transcript of the Bradley Manning Trial Will be Produced on a Crowd-Funded Typewriter[t]he fact that a volunteer stenographer is providing the only comprehensive source of information about such a monumental event is pretty absurd.

April 15 2013

Four short links: 15 April 2013

  1. Know Your HTTP Posters (GitHub) — A0-posters about the HTTP protocol.
  2. Crowdserfingwhen a large corp uses crowd-sourced volunteering for its own financial gain, without giving back. It offends my sense of reciprocity as well, but nobody is coerced into using Google Maps or contributing data to it. How do we decide what is “right”?
  3. Exposed Webcam Viewer — hotels in Russia, lobbies in California, and blinking lights in the darkness from all around the world. (via Hacker News)
  4. Beauty and Joy of Computingan introductory computer science curriculum developed at the University of California, Berkeley, intended for non-CS majors at the high school junior through undergraduate freshman level. Uses Snap, a web-based implementation of Scratch.

February 06 2013

Four short links: 6 February 2013

  1. Manipulating Google Scholar Citations and Google Scholar Metrics: simple, easy and tempting (PDF) — scholarly paper on how to citespam your paper up Google Scholar’s results list. Fortunately calling your paper “AAAAAA In-vitro Qualia of …” isn’t one of the winning techniques.
  2. Seamless Astronomybrings together astronomers, computer scientists, information scientists, librarians and visualization experts involved in the development of tools and systems to study and enable the next generation of online astronomical research.
  3. Eye Wirea citizen science game where you map the 3D structure of neurons.
  4. Open Science is a Research Accelerator (Nature Chemistry) — challenge was: get rid of this bad-tasting compound from malaria medicine, without raising cost. Did it with open notebooks and collaboration, including LinkedIn groups. Lots of good reflection on advertising, engaging, and speed.

January 11 2013

Four short links: 11 January 2013

  1. How to Redesign Your App Without Pissing Everybody Off (Anil Dash) — the basic straightforward stuff that gets your users on-side. Anil’s making a career out of being an adult.
  2. Clockwork Raven (Twitter) — open source project to send data analysis tasks to Mechanical Turkers.
  3. Updates from the Tour in China (Bunnie Huang) — my dream geek tourism trip: going around Chinese factories and bazaars with MIT geeks.
  4. How to Implement an Algorithm from a Scientific PaperI have implemented many complex algorithms from books and scientific publications, and this article sums up what I have learned while searching, reading, coding and debugging. (via Siah)

Four short links: 11 January 2013

  1. How to Redesign Your App Without Pissing Everybody Off (Anil Dash) — the basic straightforward stuff that gets your users on-side. Anil’s making a career out of being an adult.
  2. Clockwork Raven (Twitter) — open source project to send data analysis tasks to Mechanical Turkers.
  3. Updates from the Tour in China (Bunnie Huang) — my dream geek tourism trip: going around Chinese factories and bazaars with MIT geeks.
  4. How to Implement an Algorithm from a Scientific PaperI have implemented many complex algorithms from books and scientific publications, and this article sums up what I have learned while searching, reading, coding and debugging. (via Siah)

December 04 2012

The MOOC movement is not an indicator of educational evolution

Somehow, recently, a lot of people have taken an interest in the broadcast of canned educational materials, and this practice — under a term that proponents and detractors have settled on, massive open online course (MOOC) — is getting a publicity surge. I know that the series of online classes offered by Stanford proved to be extraordinarily popular, leading to the foundation of Udacity and a number of other companies. But I wish people would stop getting so excited over this transitional technology. The attention drowns out two truly significant trends in progressive education: do-it-yourself labs and peer-to-peer exchanges.

In the current opinion torrent, Clay Shirky considers MOOCs one of the big disruptive technologies of our age, and Joseph E. Aoun, president of Northeastern University, writes (in a Boston Globe subscription-only article) that traditional colleges will have to deal with the MOOC challenge. Jon Bruner points out on Radar that non-elite American institutions could use a good scare (although I know a lot of people whose lives were dramatically improved by attending such colleges). The December issue of Communications of the ACM offers Professor Richard A. DeMillo from the Georgia Institute of Technology assessing the possible role of MOOCs in changing education, along with an editorial by editor-in-chief Moshe Y. Vardi culminating with, “If I had my wish, I would wave a wand and make MOOCs disappear.”

There’s a popular metaphor for this early stage of innovation: we look back to the time when film-makers made the first moving pictures with professional performers by setting up cameras before stages in theaters. This era didn’t last long before visionaries such as Georges Méliès, D. W. Griffith, Sergei Eisenstein, and Luis Buñuel uncovered what the new medium could do for itself. How soon will colleges get tired of putting lectures online and offer courses that take advantage of new media?

Two more appealing trends are already big. One is DIY courses, as popularized in the book Fab by Neil Gershenfeld at the MIT Media Lab. O’Reilly’s own Make projects are part of this movement. Fab courses represent the polar opposite of MOOCs in many ways. They are delivered in small settings to students whose dedication, inspiration, and talent have to match those of the teacher — the course asks a lot of everybody. But from anecdotal reports, DIY courses have been shown to be very powerful growth mechanisms in environments ranging from the top institutions (like MIT) to slums around the world. Teenagers are even learning to play with biological matter in labs such as BioCurious.

Fundamentally, DIY is a way to capture the theory of learning by doing, which goes back at least to John Dewey at the turn of the 20th century. The availability of 3D makers, cheap materials, fab software, and instructions over the Internet lend the theory a new practice.

“I believe in everything never yet said.”–Rainer Maria Rilke, Das Stunden-Buch

The other major trend cracking the foundations of education is peer-to-peer information exchange. This, like learning by doing, has plenty of history. The symposia of Ancient Greece (illustrated in fictional form by Plato) and the Talmudic discussions that underlay the creation of modern Judaism over 2,000 years ago show that human beings have long been used to learning from each other. Peer information exchange raged on centuries later in cafés and salons, beer halls and sewing circles. Experts were important, and everybody could recognize the arrival of a true expert, but he or she was just first among equals. A lot of students who sign up for MOOCs probably benefit from the online discussion forums as much as from the canned lectures and readings.

Wikipedia is a prominent example of peer-to-peer information exchange, and one that promulgates the contributions of experts, but one that also has trouble with sustainability. (They’re holding one of their fund-raisers now, and it’s a good time to donate.) This leads me to ask what business model colleges can apply in the face of both MOOCs and peer-to-peer knowledge. How do you mobilize a whole community to educate each other, while maintaining the value of expertise?

This challenge — not just a business challenge, but really the challenge of tapping expertise effectively — happens to be one that O’Reilly is dealing with in the field of publishing. We introduced the equivalent of filmed stage shows in the mid-1990s when we created the Safari Bookshelf to provide our books on a subscription-based website. The innovation was in the delivery model, which also delivered a shock to a publishing industry dependent on print sales.

But we knew that Safari Bookshelf barely dipped into the power of the web, which has grown more and more with advances in HTML, JavaScript, and mobile devices. Safari Bookshelf is much more than a collection of web pages with book content now. As a training tool, the web has exploded with other experiments. We offer an interactive school of technology also.

So the field of education will probably see lots of blended models along the way. It’s worth noting that proponents of open content have called for licensing models that reinforce the open promise of the courses. Some courses ask students to write their own textbooks and share them — but one asks where they get the information with which to write their peer-produced textbooks. In an earlier article I examined the difficulties of creating free, open textbooks that are actually usable for teaching. Such dilemmas just show that the investment of large amounts of time by experts are still a critical part of education — but applying the broadcast model to them may be less and less relevant.

November 13 2012

Four short links: 13 November 2012

  1. 3D Printing Photobooth Opening in Japan (io9) — A technician at the lab will scan your body (much like with early photography, you’ll need to be able to hold a certain pose for 15 minutes) and print out an impressively realistic 3D photo that captures not only your features, but also the basic textures of your clothing and hair. (via Julie Starr)
  2. Feynman Flowers — crowdsourcing analysis of STM imagery for nanoscale physics research. (via OKFN)
  3. Mobile Trends — Android on exponential growth vs iOS’s linear growth, and many more data-driven observations. Apple has a mobile product at every $50 price point between $0 and $850.
  4. The Definitive Guide to Forms-Based Website Authentication (Stack Overflow) — exactly what the title says.

October 01 2012

Four short links: 1 October 2012

  1. FlightfoxReal people compete to find you the best flights. Crowdsourcing beating algorithms …. (via NY Times)
  2. Code Monster (Crunchzilla) — a fun site for parents to learn to program with their kids. Loving seeing so much activity around teaching kids to program. (via Greg Linden)
  3. Telling People to Leave Finance (Cathy O’Neil) — There’s an army of engineers in finance that could be putting their skills to use with actual innovation rather than so-called financial innovation.
  4. Kittydar (GitHub) — cat face recognition in Javascript.

September 03 2012

Four short links: 3 September 2012

  1. The Seductive Allure of Edu-Tech Reform (Chris Lehmann) — While it may be seductive to think that rooms of children on computers, each following some computerized instruction at their pace, monitored by school aides, with a handful of teachers around when things get particularly tough is a solution to both the educational and fiscal crisis we find ourselves, we need to understand that it’s fools gold we would be chasing.
  2. human.io — write microapps, tasks for people to do. This is a simple way to allow a publisher to turn a passive audience into a mobile army of participants. This allows publishers to easily create missions and activities to get people involved more directly than just reading stuff on a screen. If Twitter is HTML, then Human.io is CGI. (via Joshua Schachter)
  3. Why Contracts Have UPPER CASE PARAGRAPHS — fascinating! (via Anil Dash)
  4. Designing Meetings to Work (Luke Wroblewski) — notes from Kevin Hoffman’s talk. Doing something is better than seeing something, which is better than hearing something. THIS.

August 28 2012

Seeking prior art where it most often is found in software

Patent ambushes are on the rise again, and cases such as Apple/Samsung shows that prior art really has to swing the decision–obviousness or novelty is not a strong enough defense. Obviousness and novelty are subjective decisions made by a patent examiner, judge, or jury.

In this context, a recent conversation I had with Keith Bergelt, Chief Executive Officer of the Open Invention Network takes on significance. OIN was formed many years ago to protect the vendors, developers, and users of Linux and related open source software against patent infringement. They do this the way companies prepare a defense: accumulating a portfolio of patents of their own.

According to Bergelt, OIN has spent millions of dollars to purchase patents that uniquely enable Linux and open source and have helped free software vendors and developers understand and prepare to defend against lawsuits. All OIN patents are available under a free license to those who agree to forbear suit on Linux grounds and to cross license their own patents that read on OIN’s Linux System Definition. OIN has nearly 500 licensees and is adding a new one every three days, as everyone from individual developers to large multinationals are coming to recognize its role and the value of an OIN license.

The immediate trigger for our call was an announcement by OIN that they are expanding their Linux System Definition to include key mobile Linux software packages such as Dalvik, which expands the scope of the cross licenses under the OIN license. In this way OIN is increasing the freedom of action under which a company can operate under Linux.

OIN’s expansion of its Linux System Definition affects not only Android, which seems to be in Apple’s sights, but any other mobile distribution based on Linux, such as MeeGo and Tizen. They have been interested in this area for some time, but realize that mobile is skyrocketing in importance.

Meanwhile, they are talking to their supporters about new ways of deep mining for prior art in source code. Patent examiners, as well as developers filing patents in good faith, look mostly at existing patents to find prior art. But in software, most innovation is not patented. It might not even appear in the hundreds of journals and conference proceedings that come out in the computer science field each year. It is abstraction that emerges from code, when analyzed.

A GitHub staffer told me it currently hosts approximately 25 TB of data and adds over 65 GB of new data per day. A lot of that stuff is probably hum-drum, but I bet a fraction of it contains techniques that someone else will try to gain a monopoly over someday through patents.

Naturally, inferring innovative processes from source code is a daunting exercise in machine learning. It’s probably harder than most natural language processing, which tries to infer limited meanings or relationships from words. But OIN feels we have to try. Otherwise more and more patents may impinge (which is different from infringe) on free software.

August 15 2012

Four short links: 15 August 2012

  1. Reproducibility Initiative (Science Exchange) — a service offering researchers who will attempt to reproduce your work. Validated studies will receive a Certificate of Reproducibility acknowledging that their results have been independently reproduced as part of the Reproducibility Initiative. Researchers have the opportunity to publish the replicated results as an independent publication in the PLOS Reproducibility Collection, and can share their data via the figshare Reproducibility Collection repository. The original study will also be acknowledged as independently reproduced if published in a supporting journal. See also writeup in Nature.
  2. Designing Open Projects (PDF) — IBM report with very sensible advice on steps to take when creating open projects for engagement and participation. Should be recommended reading for all who hope to get others to help.
  3. Hustleboards — “disposable forums”, easy lightweight web-based chats. Nice and simple UI.
  4. Prosthetic Retina Helps Restore Sight in Mice (Nature) — computer-mediated vision won’t change our world, but it’ll change what we think is in our world.

August 02 2012

On co-creation, contests and crowdsourcing

I had decided to update the branding at one of my companies, and that meant re-thinking my logo.

Here’s the old logo:

Original Middleband Group logo

The creative exercise started with a logo design contest posting at 99designs, an online marketplace for crowdsourced graphic design.

When it was all done, I had been enveloped by an epic wave of 200 designs from 38 different designers.

It was a flash mob, a virtual meetup constructed for the express purpose of creating a new logo. The system itself was relatively lean, providing just enough “framing” to facilitate rapid iteration, where lots of derivative ideas could be presented, shaped and then re-shaped again.

The bottom line is that based on the primary goal of designing a new logo, I can say without hesitation that the model works.

Not only did the end product manifest as I hoped it would (see below), but the goodness of real-time engagement was intensely stimulating and richly illuminating. At one point, I was maintaining 10 separate conversations with designers spread across the Americas, Asia and Europe. Talk about parallelizing the creative process.

In the end, the project yielded eight worthy logo designs and not one but two contest winners! It was the creative equivalent of a Chakra experience: cathartic, artistic and outcome-driven at the same time.

Co-creation, crowdsourcing and the Maker movement

Part of my draw to try out this crowdsourced model is that I consider myself a Maker and am a serious devotee of co-creation types of projects, where the line between creator, consumer, customer and service provider is inherently gray.

Why do I like this model? Because it facilitates a rich exchange of ideas and skill sets, and is highly collaborative. It’s part of the larger trend of melding of online, offline, events and exchanges into new types of value chains.

It’s a bucket that includes Kickstarter (funding platform for creative projects), Foo Camp (the wiki of conferences), Maker Faire (festival and celebration of the Maker movement) and X PRIZE (radical breakthroughs through contests), to name a few.

Plus, there’s an authenticity to that which is grass roots — that which opens a new economic domain for direct-to-consumer connections, a new modality for handcrafted, and customized offerings, even more so in a world that is tuned for mass-production.

One only has to scan the project listings at Kickstarter or the exhibitor lists at Maker Faire to see the catalytic role this wave is playing for robot makers, artisan bakers, knitted goods purveyors, sculptors, app makers, device builders and do-it-yourself kit creators. In times of stagnant economic growth, it is heartening to see how much leverage there is when you can integrate discovery, engagement, personalization and monetization, as this model does.

It’s the yin to the yang of homogenization, and as such, has promise to ignite real, durable growth across many different market segments in the years ahead.

The good, bad and ugly of crowdsourced design

With crowdsourced design, I experienced two primary pitfalls and one indirect one.

The two primary ones were:

  1. You run the risk that a designer is modifying someone else’s design. In fact, one of the designers of the 38 who submitted designs got kicked out of the competition for just that reason (i.e., non-original work).
  2. Since it’s an all-or-nothing outcome for the participants, some of the designers will diss each other, which led one designer to pull a design that I actually liked.

The indirect pitfall was the cost dynamic. Namely, given the low cost, a lot of the designers are outside the U.S., which means you could be losing out on senior, higher-dollar U.S. designers, unless you materially up the award that you want to commit to (99designs gives you tools so you can guarantee winners, increase award levels, etc.).

That stated, it’s the 80/20 rule in action: 80% of the designs that captivated me the most came from 20% of the designers. Because of the competitive nature of the format, the back-and-forth process was highly iterative.

Choosing a logo (or two …)

Meanwhile, as we got to the last hours of my logo design project, I faced a dilemma.

When I got down to the final 4-5 candidates, there were two designs that really got under my skin, each from a different designer.

Plus, as Middleband is my “umbrella” company through which a bunch of my different ventures get seeded (before being spun off as separate entities), I could see a scenario where having a second logo path in hand would be a great option to have.

Now, the cool thing about a model like 99designs is that I could affordably acquire two designs (the cost was an incremental $245 to award a second contest winner), and it was push-button easy for all parties.

So that’s what I did. Here are the two winners:

Middleband Group winning logos

Related:

June 12 2012

Four short links: 12 June 2012

  1. Amazon's Insanely Crap Royalties (Andrew Hyde) -- Amazon offers high royalty rate to you, but that's before a grim hidden "delivery fee". Check out Andrew's graph of the different pay rates to the author from each medium.
  2. SparkFun Education -- learn electronics from the good folks at SparkFun.
  3. TaskRabbit -- connects you with friendly, reliable people right in your neighborhood who can help you get the items on your To-Do list done. Lots of people and projects sniffing around this space of outsourced small tasks, distributed to people via a web site.
  4. Henry Ford on Bootstrapping (Amy Hoy) -- Amy has unearthed a fascinating rant by Henry Ford against speculative investment and finance. I determined absolutely that never would I join a company in which finance came before the work or in which bankers or financiers had a part. And further that, if there were no way to get started in the kind of business that I thought could be managed in the interest of the public, then I simply would not get started at all. For my own short experience, together with what I saw going on around me, was quite enough proof that business as a mere money-making game was not worth giving much thought to and was distinctly no place for a man who wanted to accomplish anything. Also it did not seem to me to be the way to make money. I have yet to have it demonstrated that it is the way. For the only foundation of real business is service.

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