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February 26 2014

February 25 2014

February 13 2014

Four short links: 13 February 2014

  1. The Common Crawl WWW Ranking — open data, open methodology, behind an open ranking of the top sites on the web. Preprint paper available. (via Slashdot)
  2. Felton’s Sensors (Quartz) — inside the gadgets Nicholas Felton uses to quantify himself.
  3. Myo Armband (IEEE Spectrum) — armband input device with eight EMG (electromyography) muscle activity sensors along with a nine-axis inertial measurement unit (that’s three axes each for accelerometer, gyro, and magnetometer), meaning that you get forearm gesture sensing along with relative motion sensing (as opposed to absolute position). The EMG sensors pick up on the electrical potential generated by muscle cells, and with the Myo on your forearm, the sensors can read all of the muscles that control your fingers, letting them spy on finger position as well as grip strength.
  4. Bitcoin Exchanges Under Massive and Concerted Attack — he who lives by the network dies by the network. a DDoS attack is taking Bitcoin’s transaction malleability problem and applying it to many transactions in the network, simultaneously. “So as transactions are being created, malformed/parallel transactions are also being created so as to create a fog of confusion over the entire network, which then affects almost every single implementation out there,” he added. Antonopoulos went on to say that Blockchain.info’s implementation is not affected, but some exchanges have been affected – their internal accounting systems are gradually going out of sync with the network.

February 04 2014

Four short links: 4 February 2014

  1. UX Fundamentals, Crash Course — 31 posts introducing the fundamental practices and mindsets of UX.
  2. Why We Love Persona And You Should Too — Mozilla’s identity system is an interesting offering. Fancy that, you might have single-sign on without Single Pwn-On.
  3. Raspberry Pi As Test Harness — Pi accessory maker uses Pis to automate the testing of his … it’s Pis all the way down.
  4. The Holodeck Begins to Take Shape — displays, computation, and interesting input devices, are coming together in various guises.

February 03 2014

Four short links: 3 February 2014

  1. How In-App Purchases Has Destroyed the Games Industry — fantastic before-and-after of a game, showing how it’s hollowed out for in-app-purchase upsell. the problem is that all the future generations of gamers are going to experience this as the default. They are going to grow up in a world, in which people actually think this is what gaming is like. That social engineering and scamming people is an acceptable way of doing business.
  2. Making Makers — kid-tested curricula for kids learning to code, to 3D print, stop motion animation, and more. (via BoingBoing)
  3. 555 Footstool in the Wild — awesome furniture in the shape of the ever-popular timing chip.
  4. What a Brand Knows About You When You Log In With Facebook (Twitter) — good lord. (via BoingBoing)

January 28 2014

Four short links: 28 January 2014

  1. Intel On-Device Voice Recognition (Quartz) — interesting because the tension between client-side and server-side functionality is still alive and well. Features migrate from core to edge and back again as cycles, data, algorithms, and responsiveness expectations change.
  2. Meet Microsoft’s Personal Assistant (Bloomberg) — total information awareness assistant. By Seeing, Hearing, and Knowing All, in the future even elevators will be trying to read our minds. (via The Next Web)
  3. Microsoft Contributes Cloud Server Designs to Open Compute ProjectAs part of this effort, Microsoft Open Technologies Inc. is open sourcing the software code we created for the management of hardware operations, such as server diagnostics, power supply and fan control. We would like to help build an open source software community within OCP as well. (via Data Center Knowledge)
  4. Open Tissue Wiki — open source (ZLib license) generic algorithms and data structures for rapid development of interactive modeling and simulation.

January 27 2014

The new bot on the block

Fukushima changed robotics. More precisely, it changed the way the Japanese view robotics. And given the historic preeminence of the Japanese in robotic technology, that shift is resonating through the entire sector.

Before the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami of 2011, the Japanese were focused on “companion” robots, says Rodney Brooks, a former Panasonic Professor of Robotics at MIT, the founder and former technical officer of IRobot, and the founder, chairman and CTO of Rethink Robotics. The goal, says Brooks, was making robots that were analogues of human beings — constructs that could engage with people on a meaningful, emotional level. Cuteness was emphasized: a cybernetic, if much smarter, equivalent of Hello Kitty, seemed the paradigm.

But the multiple core meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex following the 2011 tsunami changed that focus abruptly.

“Fukushima was a wake-up call for them,” says Brooks. “They needed robots that could do real work in highly radioactive environments, and instead they had robots that were focused on singing and dancing. I was with IRobot then, and they asked us for some help. They realized they needed to make a shift, and now they’re focusing on more pragmatic designs.”

Pragmatism was always the guiding principle for Brooks and his companies, and is currently manifest in Baxter, Rethink’s flagship product. Baxter is a breakthrough production robot for a number of reasons. Equipped with two articulated arms, it can perform a multitude of tasks. It requires no application code to start up, and no expensive software to function. No specialists are required to program it; workers with minimal technical background can “teach” the robot right on the production line through a graphical user interface and arm manipulation. Also, Baxter requires no cage — human laborers can work safely alongside it on the assembly line.

Moreover, it is cheap: about $25,000 per unit. It is thus the robotic equivalent of the Model T, and like the Model T, Baxter and its subsequent iterations will impose sweeping changes in the way people live and work.

“We’re at the point with production robots where we were with mobile robots in the late 1980s and early 1990s,” says Brooks. “The advances are accelerating dramatically.”

What’s the biggest selling point for this new breed of robot? Brooks sums it up in a single word: dignity.

“The era of cheap labor for factory line work is coming to a close, and that’s a good thing,” he says. “It’s grueling, and it can be dangerous. It strips people of their sense of worth. China is moving beyond the human factory line — as people there become more prosperous and educated, they aspire to more meaningful work. Robots like Baxter will take up the slack out of necessity.”

And not just for the assemblage of widgets and gizmos. Baxter-like robots will become essential in the health sector, opines Brooks — particularly in elder care. As the Baby Boom piglet continues its course through the demographic python, the need for attendants is outstripping supply. No wonder: the work is low-paid and demanding. Robots can fill this breach, says Brooks, doing everything from preparing and delivering meals to shuttling laundry, changing bedpans and mopping floors.

“Again, the basic issue is dignity,” Brooks said. “Robots can free people from the more menial and onerous aspects of elder care, and they can deliver an extremely high level of service, providing better quality of life for seniors.”

Ultimately, robots could be more app than hardware: the sexy operating system on Joaquin Phoenix’s mobile device in the recent film “Her” may not be far off the mark. Basically, you’ll carry a “robot app” on your smartphone. The phone can be docked to a compatible mechanism — say, a lawn mower, or car, or humanoid mannequin — resulting in an autonomous device ready to trim your greensward, chauffeur you to the opera, or mix your Mojitos.

YDreams Robotics, a company co-founded by Brooks protégé Artur Arsenio, is actively pursuing this line of research.

“It’s just a very efficient way of marketing robots to mass consumers,” says Arsenio. “Smartphones basically have everything you need, including cameras and sensors, to turn mere things into robots.”

YDream has its first product coming out in April: a lamp. It’s a very fine if utterly unaware desk lamp on its own, says Artur, but when you connect it to a smartphone loaded with the requisite app, it can do everything from intelligently adjusting lighting to gauging your emotional state.

“It uses its sensors to interface socially,” Artur says. “It can determine how you feel by your facial expressions and voice. In a video conference, it can tell you how other participants are feeling. Or if it senses you’re sad, it may Facebook your girlfriend that you need cheering up.”

Yikes. That may be a bit more interaction than you want from a desk lamp, but get used to it. Robots could intrude in ways that may seem a little off-putting at first — but that’s a marker of any new technology. Moreover, says Paul Saffo, a consulting professor at Stanford’s School of Engineering and a technology forecaster of repute, the highest use of robots won’t be doing old things better. It will be doing new things, things that haven’t been done before, things that weren’t possible before the development of key technology.

“Whenever we have new tech, we invariably try to use it to do old things in a new way — like paving cow paths,” says Saffo. “But the sooner we get over that — the sooner we look beyond the cow paths — the better off we’ll be. Right now, a lot of the thinking is, ‘Let’s have robots drive our cars, and look like people, and be physical objects.’

But the most important robots working today don’t have physical embodiments, says Saffo — think of them as ether-bots, if you will. Your credit application? It’s a disembodied robot that gets first crack at that. And the same goes for your resume when you apply for a job.

In short, robots already are embedded in our lives in ways we don’t think of as “robotic.” This trend will only accelerate. At a certain point, things may start feeling a little — well Singularity-ish. Not to worry — it’s highly unlikely Skynet will rain nuclear missiles down on us anytime soon. But the melding of robotic technology with dumb things nevertheless presents some profound challenges — mainly because robots and humans react on disparate time scales.

“The real questions now are authority and accountability,” says Saffo. “In other words, we have to figure out how to balance the autonomy systems need to function with the control we need to ensure safety.”

Saffo cites modern passenger planes like the Airbus 330 as an example.

“Essentially they’re flying robots,” he says. “And they fly beautifully, conserving fuel to the optimal degree and so forth. But the design limits are so tight — if they go too fast, they can fall apart; if they go too slow, they stall. And when something goes wrong, the pilot has perhaps 50 kilometers to respond. At typical speeds, that doesn’t add up to much reaction time.”

Saffo noted the crash of Air France Flight 447 in the mid-Atlantic in 2009 involved an Airbus 330. Investigations revealed the likely cause was turbulence complicated by the icing up of the plane’s speed sensors. This caused the autopilot to disengage, and the plane began to roll. The pilots had insufficient time to compensate, and the aircraft slammed into the water at 107 knots.

“The pilot figured out what was wrong — but it was 20 seconds too late,” says Saffo. “To me, it shows we need to devote real effort to defining boundary parameters on autonomous systems. We have to communicate with our robots better. Ideally, we want a human being constantly monitoring the system, so he or she can intervene when necessary. And we need to establish parameters that make intervention even possible.”

Rod Brooks will be speaking at the upcoming Solid Conference in May. If you are interested in robotics and other aspects of the convergence of physical and digital worlds, subscribe to the free Solid Newsletter.

January 17 2014

Four short links: 17 January 2014

  1. Making Remote WorkThe real­ity of a remote work­place is that the con­nec­tions are largely arti­fi­cial con­structs. Peo­ple can be very, very iso­lated. A person’s default behav­ior when they go into a funk is to avoid seek­ing out inter­ac­tions, which is effec­tively the same as actively with­draw­ing in a remote work envi­ron­ment. It takes a tremen­dous effort to get on video chats, use our text based com­mu­ni­ca­tion tools, or even call some­one dur­ing a dark time. Very good to see this addressed in a post about remote work.
  2. Google Big Picture Group — public output from the visualization research group at Google.
  3. Using CMOS Sensors in a Cellphone for Gamma Detection and Classification (Arxiv) — another sense in your pocket. The CMOS camera found in many cellphones is sensitive to ionized electrons. Gamma rays penetrate into the phone and produce ionized electrons that are then detected by the camera. Thermal noise and other noise needs to be removed on the phone, which requires an algorithm that has relatively low memory and computational requirements. The continuous high-delta algorithm described fits those requirements. (via Medium)
  4. Affordable Arduino-Compatible Centimeter-Level GPS Accuracy (IndieGogo) — for less than $20. (via DIY Drones)

January 13 2014

Four short links: 14 January 2014

  1. LayoutIt — drag-and-drop design using Bootstrap components. These tools are proliferating, as the standard design frameworks like Bootstrap make them possible. There’s unsustainable complexity in building web sites today, which means something will give: the web will lose to something, the technology forming the web will iterate, or the tools for the web will improve.
  2. How Silicon Valley Became The Man — I’m fascinated by the sudden spike in anti-corporate tension in SF. This interview gives me some useful vocabulary: New Communalists and the New Left. And two more books to read …
  3. USB Rubber Ducky — USB dongle that pretends to be a keyboard and types out your text REALLY fast. (via Root a Mac in 10s or Less)
  4. Simple Git Workflow is Simple — Atlassian producing videos on how to use git, good starting point for new code drones.

Four short links: 13 January 2014

  1. s3mper (Github) — Netflix’s library to add consistency checking to S3. (via Netflix tech blog)
  2. Powerup Smartphone-Controlled Paper Airplane — boggle. You know the future is here when you realise you’re on the Internet of Trivial Things.
  3. clmtrackr (Github) — real-time face recognition, deformation, and substitution in Javascript. Boggle.
  4. Nine Wearables (Quartz) — a roundup of Glass-inspired wearables, including projecting onto contact lenses which wins today’s “most squicky idea” award.

January 09 2014

Four short links: 9 January 2014

  1. Artificial Labour and Ubiquitous Interactive Machine Learning (Greg Borenstein) — in which design fiction, actual machine learning, legal discovery, and comics meet. One of the major themes to emerge in the 2H2K project is something we’ve taken to calling “artificial labor”. While we’re skeptical of the claims of artificial intelligence, we do imagine ever-more sophisticated forms of automation transforming the landscape of work and economics. Or, as John puts it, robots are Marxist.
  2. Clear Flexible Circuit on a Contact Lens (Smithsonian) — ends up about 1/60th as thick as a human hair, and is as flexible.
  3. Confide (GigaOm) — Enterprise SnapChat. A Sarbanes-Oxley Litigation Printer. It’s the Internet of Undiscoverable Things. Looking forward to Enterprise Omegle.
  4. FLIR One — thermal imaging in phone form factor, another sensor for your panopticon. (via DIY Drones)

January 08 2014

Four short links: 8 January 2014

  1. Launching the Wolfram Connected Devices Project — Wolfram Alpha is cognition-as-a-service, which they hope to embed in devices. This data-powered Brain-in-the-Cloud play will pit them against Google, but G wants to own the devices and the apps and the eyeballs that watch them … interesting times ahead!
  2. How the USA Almost Killed the Internet (Wired) — “At first we were in an arms race with sophisticated criminals,” says Eric Grosse, Google’s head of security. “Then we found ourselves in an arms race with certain nation-state actors [with a reputation for cyberattacks]. And now we’re in an arms race with the best nation-state actors.”
  3. Intel Edison — SD-card sized, with low-power 22nm 400MHz Intel Quark processor with two cores, integrated Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
  4. N00b 2 L33t, Now With Graphs (Tom Stafford) — open science research validating many of the findings on learning, tested experimentally via games. In the present study, we analyzed data from a very large sample (N = 854,064) of players of an online game involving rapid perception, decision making, and motor responding. Use of game data allowed us to connect, for the first time, rich details of training history with measures of performance from participants engaged for a sustained amount of time in effortful practice. We showed that lawful relations exist between practice amount and subsequent performance, and between practice spacing and subsequent performance. Our methodology allowed an in situ confirmation of results long established in the experimental literature on skill acquisition. Additionally, we showed that greater initial variation in performance is linked to higher subsequent performance, a result we link to the exploration/exploitation trade-off from the computational framework of reinforcement learning.

January 06 2014

Four short links: 6 January 2014

  1. 4043-byte 8086 Emulator manages to implement most of the hardware in a 1980’s era IBM-PC using a few hundred fewer bits than the total number of transistors used to implement the original 8086 CPU. Entry in the obfuscated C contest.
  2. Hacking the CES Scavenger HuntAt which point—now you have your own iBeacon hardware—you can just go ahead and set the UUID, Major and Minor numbers of your beacon to each of the CES scavenger hunt beacon identities in turn, and then bring your beacon into range of your cell phone running which should be running the CES mobile app. Once you’ve shown the app all of the beacons, you’ll have “finished” the scavenger hunt and can claim your prize. Of course doing that isn’t legal. It’s called fraud and will probably land you in serious trouble. iBeacons have great possibilities, but with great possibilities come easy hacks when they’re misused.
  3. Filtering: Seven Principles — JP Rangaswami laying down some basic principles on which filters should be built. 1. Filters should be built such that they are selectable by subscriber, not publisher. I think the basic is: 0: Customers should be able to run their own filters across the information you’re showing them.
  4. Tremor-Correcting Steadicam — brilliant use of technology. Sensors + microcontrollers + actuators = a genuinely better life. Beats figuring out better algorithms to pimp eyeballs to Brands You Love. (via BoingBoing)

January 02 2014

January 01 2014

Four short links: Jan 1 2014

  1. Witracktracks the 3D motion of a user from the radio signals reflected off her body. It works even if the person is occluded from the WiTrack device or in a different room. WiTrack does not require the user to carry any wireless device, yet its accuracy exceeds current RF localization systems, which require the user to hold a transceiver. It transmits wireless signals whose power is 100 times smaller than Wi-Fi and 1000 times smaller than cellphone transmissions.
  2. A Linux Christmas — Linux drives pretty much all of Amazon’s top-selling consumer electronics.
  3. Techno Panic Timeline — chart from Exposing the War on Fun showing the fears of technology from 1493 to the modern day.
  4. Best Paper Awards in CS Since 1996 (Jeff Huang) — fantastic resource for your holiday reading.

December 30 2013

Four short links: 30 December 2013

  1. tooldiaga collection of methods for statistical pattern recognition. Implemented in C.
  2. Hacking MicroSD Cards (Bunnie Huang) — In my explorations of the electronics markets in China, I’ve seen shop keepers burning firmware on cards that “expand” the capacity of the card — in other words, they load a firmware that reports the capacity of a card is much larger than the actual available storage. The fact that this is possible at the point of sale means that most likely, the update mechanism is not secured. MicroSD cards come with embedded microcontrollers whose firmware can be exploited.
  3. 30c3 — recordings from the 30th Chaos Communication Congress.
  4. IOT Companies, Products, Devices, and Software by Sector (Mike Nicholls) — astonishing amount of work in the space, especially given this list is inevitably incomplete.

December 18 2013

Four short links: 18 December 2013

  1. Cyberpunk 2013 — a roleplaying game shows a Gibsonian view of 2013 from 1988. (via Ben Hammersley)
  2. The Future Computer Utility — 1967 prediction of the current state. There are several reasons why some form of regulation may be required. Consider one of the more dramatic ones, that of privacy and freedom from tampering. Highly sensitive personal and important business information will be stored in many of the contemplated systems. Information will be exchanged over easy-to-tap telephone lines. At best, nothing more than trust—or, at best, a lack of technical sophistication—stands in the way of a would-be eavesdropper. All data flow over the lines of the commercial telephone system. Hanky-panky by an imaginative computer designer, operator, technician, communications worker, or programmer could have disastrous consequences. As time-shared computers come into wider use, and hold more sensitive information, these problems can only increase. Today we lack the mechanisms to insure adequate safeguards. Because of the difficulty in rebuilding complex systems to incorporate safeguards at a later date, it appears desirable to anticipate these problems. (via New Yorker)
  3. Lantronix XPort Pro Lx6a secure embedded device server supporting IPv6, that barely larger than an RJ45 connector. The device runs Linux or the company’s Evolution OS, and is destined to be used in wired industrial IoT / M2M applications.
  4. Pond — interesting post-NSA experiment in forward secure, asynchronous messaging for the discerning. Pond messages are asynchronous, but are not a record; they expire automatically a week after they are received. Pond seeks to prevent leaking traffic information against everyone except a global passive attacker. (via Morgan Mayhem)

December 12 2013

Four short links: 12 December 2013

  1. iBeacons — Bluetooth LE enabling tighter coupling of physical world with digital. I’m enamoured with the interaction possibilities: The latest Apple TV software brought a fantastically clever workaround. You just tap your iPhone to the Apple TV itself, and it passes your Wi-Fi and iTunes credentials over and sets everything up instantaneously.
  2. Better and Better Keyboards (Jesse Vincent) — It suffered from the same problem as every other 3D-printed keyboard I’d made to date – When I showed it to someone, they got really excited about the fact that I had a 3D printer. In contrast, whenever I showed someone one of the layered acrylic prototype keyboards I’d built, they got excited about the keyboard.
  3. Bamboo.io — open source modular web service for dataset storage and retrieval.
  4. state.jsOpen source JavaScript state machine supporting most UML 2 features.

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.

November 28 2013

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