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December 13 2013

Four short links: 13 December 2013

  1. Bunnie Huang Live (YouTube) — talk given at the Make:Live Stage at Maker Faire NYC, covering his experiences and advice for getting hardware made. (via Makezine)
  2. Bill Gates’s Best Books of 2013 — interesting list!
  3. The Robots are Here (Tyler Cowan) — a bleak view of the future in which jobs that can be done by robots are done by robots, and concomitant power spiral towards the rich. I let this one sit for a while before posting, and I still think it’s wildly important.
  4. Philips Hue Lightbulb — awesome widely-available commercial ambient display.

October 07 2013

Four short links: 9 October 2013

  1. Android Malware Numbers — (Quartz) less than an estimated 0.001% of app installations on Android are able to evade the system’s multi-layered defenses and cause harm to users, based on Google’s analysis of 1.5B downloads and installs.
  2. Facebook Operations Chief Reveals Open Networking Plan — long interview about OCP’s network project. The specification that we are working on is essentially a switch that behaves like compute. It starts up, it has a BIOS environment to do its diagnostics and testing, and then it will look for an executable and go find an operating system. You point it to an operating system and that tells it how it will behave and what it is going to run. In that model, you can run traditional network operating systems, or you can run Linux-style implementations, you can run OpenFlow if you want. And on top of that, you can build your protocol sets and applications.
  3. How Red Bull Dominates F1 (Quartz) — answer: data, and lots of it.
  4. Ground-Level Air Pollution Sensor (Make) — neat sensor project from Make.

April 26 2013

The makers of hardware innovation

Chris Anderson wrote Makers and went from editor-in-chief of Wired to CEO of 3D Robotics, making his hobby his side job and then making it his main job.

A new executive at Motorola Mobility, a division of Google, said that Google seeks to “googlify” hardware. By that he meant that devices would be inexpensive, if not free, and that the data created or accessed by them would be open. Motorola wants to build a truly hackable cellphone, one that makers might have ideas about what to do with it.

Regular hardware startup meetups, which started in San Francisco and New York, are now held in Boston, Pittsburgh, Austin, Chicago, Dallas and Detroit. I’m sure there are other American cities. Melbourne, Stockholm and Toronto are also organizing hardware meetups. Hardware entrepreneurs want to find each other and learn from each other.

Hardware-oriented incubators and accelerators are launching on both coasts in America, and in China.

The market for personal 3D printers and 3D printing services has really taken off. 3D printer startups continue to launch, and all of them seem to have trouble keeping up with demand. MakerBot is out raising money. Shapeways raised $30 million in a new round of financing announced this week.

Makers are discovering that the Raspberry PI, developed for educational uses, can fit into some interesting commercial niches.

The marketing-friendly phrase, “Internet of Things,” is beginning to mean something, with new boards such as Pinoccio and Electric Imp.

Design software is getting better, and less expensive, if not free, although the developers of TinkerCad announced that they were abandoning it.

And an 11-year old maker, Super Awesome Sylvia, was recognized at the White House Science Fair, exhibiting a watercolor robot that will soon be a kit sold through Evil Mad Science.

“Hardware is the new software” reported Wired and the New York Times. Joi Ito of the MIT Media Lab said it was one of the top trends to watch in 2013.

This year’s Hardware Innovation Workshop, held May 14-15 at the College of San Mateo in San Mateo, Calif., during the week leading up to Maker Faire Bay Area, will provide a deep dive into the new world of hardware startups. You’ll learn what VCs are thinking about hardware startups, which startups got funding and why. You’ll meet dozens of newly formed startups that haven’t launched yet. You’ll also learn from maker case studies and from the founders of hardware incubators.

Among our speakers are:

  • Chris Anderson, CEO of 3D Robotics and founder of DIY Drones
  • Massimo Banzi, co-founder of Arduino
  • Robert Faludi, collaborative strategy leader at Digi International
  • Bunnie Huang, co-founder of Chumby
  • Ben Kaufman, founder and CEO of Quirky
  • Scott Miller, CEO and co-founder of Dragon Innovation
  • Alice Taylor, founder, Makie Lab
  • John Park, COO/GM, AQS
  • Carl Bass, CEO of Autodesk
  • Ted Hall, CEO of ShopBot

Learn more about the Hardware Innovation Workshop. O’Reilly Radar readers can register using the code “RADAR13″ and save $100.

March 28 2013

Four short links: 28 March 2013

  1. What American Startups Can Learn From the Cutthroat Chinese Software IndustryIt follows that the idea of “viral” or “organic” growth doesn’t exist in China. “User acquisition is all about media buys. Platform-to-platform in China is war, and it is fought viciously and bitterly. If you have a Gmail account and send an email to, for example, NetEase163.com, which is the local web dominant player, it will most likely go to spam or junk folders regardless of your settings. Just to get an email to go through to your inbox, the company sending the email needs to have a special partnership.” This entire article is a horror show.
  2. White House Hangout Maker Movement (Whitehouse) — During the Hangout, Tom Kalil will discuss the elements of an “all hands on deck” effort to promote Making, with participants including: Dale Dougherty, Founder and Publisher of MAKE; Tara Tiger Brown, Los Angeles Makerspace; Super Awesome Sylvia, Super Awesome Maker Show; Saul Griffith, Co-Founder, Otherlab; Venkatesh Prasad, Ford.
  3. Municipal Codes of DC Freed (BoingBoing) — more good work by Carl Malamud. He’s specifically providing data for apps.
  4. The Modern Malware Review (PDF) — 90% of fully undetected malware was delivered via web-browsing; It took antivirus vendors 4 times as long to detect malware from web-based applications as opposed to email (20 days for web, 5 days for email); FTP was observed to be exceptionally high-risk.

February 21 2013

Four short links: February 21 2013

  1. Administration Strategy on Mitigating the Theft of US Trade Secrets (Whitehouse, PDF) — the Chinese attacks on Facebook, NYT, and other large organisations are provoking policy responses. WSJ covers it nicely. What is this starting? (via Alex Howard)
  2. BodyMedia FitLink — can use this to gather caloric expenditure and sleep restfulness. (via Jonathan Brewer)
  3. Bend Not Break — she had an amazing life but this caught my eye in the Make review: In China, she told me, making and craftsmanship are highly revered, and under Mao, factory jobs were prized. Her experience working in Mao’s factories planted a seed in her mind that sprouted when she sought to create her own company. Rather than launch another internet-based business as was the rage at the time, she wanted to connect software to the physical world. (via Makezine)
  4. DIY Weapons of the Syrian Rebels (The Atlantic) — if WWII France had had X-Box controllers, they’d have been releasing remote controlled homebrew deathmobiles too.

February 15 2013

Masking the complexity of the machine

The Internet has thrived on abstraction and modularity. Web services hide their complexity behind APIs and standardized protocols, and these clean interfaces make it easy to turn them into modules of larger systems that can take advantage of the most intelligent solution to each of many problems.

The Internet revolutionized the software-software interface; the industrial Internet will revolutionize the software-machine interface and, in doing so, will make machines more accessible. I’m using “access” very broadly here — interfaces will make machines accessible to innovators who aren’t necessarily experts in physical machinery, in the same way that the Google Maps API makes interactive mapping an accessible feature to developers who aren’t expert cartographers and front-end developers. And better access for people who write software means wider applications for those machines.

I’ve recently encountered a couple of widely different examples that illustrate this idea. These come from very different places — an aerospace manufacturer that has built strong linkages between airplanes and software, and an advanced enthusiast who has built new controllers for a pair of industrial robots — but they both involve the development of interfaces that make machines accessible.

The Centaur, built by Aurora Flight Sciences, is an optionally-piloted aircraft: it can be flown remotely, as a drone, or by a certified pilot sitting in the plane, which satisfies U.S. restrictions against domestic drone use. Customers include defense agencies and scientists, who might need a technician onboard to monitor equipment in some cases but in others send the plane on long trips well beyond a human’s comfort and safety limitations.

John Langford, Aurora’s founder, described his company’s work to me and in the process offered a terrific characterization of what the industrial Internet does: “We’re masking the complexity of the machine.”

The intelligence that Aurora layers onto its planes reduces the entire flight process to an API. The Centaur can even be flown from the pilot’s seat in the plane through the remote-operator control. In other words, Aurora has so comprehensively captured the mechanism of flight in its software that a pilot might as well fly the airplane he’s sitting in through the digital pipeline rather than directly through the flight deck’s physical links.

A highly-evolved interface between airplane and its software means that the software can draw insight from the plane, reading control settings as well as sensors to improve its piloting performance. “An experienced human pilot might have [flown] 10,000 to 20,000 hours,” says Langford. “We already have operating systems that have hundreds of thousands of flying hours on them. Every anomaly gets built into the memory of the system. As the systems learn, you only have to see something once in order to know how to respond. The [unmanned aircraft] has flight experience that no human pilot will ever build up in his lifetime.”

The simplified interface between humans and the Centaur’s combined machinery and software might eventually make flight vastly more accessible. “What we think the robotic revolution really does is remove operating an air vehicle from the priesthood that it’s part of today, and makes it accessible to people with lower levels of training,” he says.

Trammell Hudson's PUMA robotic arm setup at NYC Resistor, with laptop running kinematics library, homemade controller stack, and robot.Trammell Hudson's PUMA robotic arm setup at NYC Resistor, with laptop running kinematics library, homemade controller stack, and robot.

Trammell Hudson's PUMA robotic arm setup at NYC Resistor, with laptop running kinematics library, homemade controller stack, and robot.

I saw a different kind of revolutionary accessibility at work when I visited Trammell Hudson at NYC Resistor, a hardware collective in Brooklyn. I came across Hudson through a blog post he wrote detailing his rehabilitation of a pair of industrial robots — reverse-engineering their controls and building his own new controller stack in place of the PLCs that had operated them before they were salvaged from a factory with wire cutters.

“The arm itself has no smarts — just motors and quadrature encoders,” he says. (Even the arm’s current position is stored in the controller’s memory, not the robot’s.) Hudson had to write his own smarts for the robot, from scratch — intelligence that, when the robot was new, resided in purpose-built controllers the size of mini-fridges but that today can be built from open-source software libraries and run on an inexpensive microprocessor.

The robot’s kinematics — the spatial intelligence that decides how to get the robot’s hand from one place to another by repositioning six different joints — run on Hudson’s laptop. He’s interested in building those mathematical models directly into a controller that could be built from widely-available parts by anyone else with a similar robot, which could give second lives to thousands of high-quality industrial automation components by taking discarded machines and assigning new intelligence to them.

“The hardware itself is very durable,” Hudson told me. “The software is where the interesting things are happening, and the controllers age very rapidly.

Hudson’s remarkable feat of Saturday-afternoon electrical engineering was made possible by open-source microcontrollers, software libraries, and hardware interfaces (and, naturally, his own ingenuity). But he told me the most important factor in the success of his project was the rise of an online community that has an extraordinarily specialized and sophisticated understanding of electronics. “The ease of finding information now is incredible,” he said. “Some guy posted the correct voltage for releasing the arm’s brake, and I was able to find it in a few minutes and avoid damaging anything.”

“We went through a white-collar dark ages in the 1980s,” Hudson said. “People stopped building things. No one took shop class.” Now hardware components, abstracted and modularized, have become accessible to anyone with a technical mindset, who can improve the physical world by writing more intelligence onto it.

In an earlier reverse-engineering project, Hudson wrote his own firmware, which became Magic Lantern, for Canon’s 5D Mark II digital SLR camera. “I have a 4 by 5 [inch] camera from the 1890s — with my Canon 5D Mark II attached to the back,” he says. “The hardware on the old camera is still working fine, but the software on the 5D is way better than chemical film.”


This is a post in our industrial Internet series, an ongoing exploration of big machines and big data. The series is produced as part of a collaboration between O’Reilly and GE.

February 07 2013

DIY robotic hands and wells that text (industrial Internet links)

Two makers come together to make a robotic hand for a boy in South Africa (TechCrunch) — The maker movement is adjacent to the industrial Internet, and it’s growing fast as a rich source of innovative thinking wherever machines and software meet. In this case, Ivan Owen and Richard Van As built a robotic hand for a South African five-year-old who was born missing fingers on his right hand. Owen is an automation technician and Van As is a tradesman. They did their work on a pair of donated MakerBots — evidence that design for machines and the physical world at large is more accessible than ever to bright enthusiasts from lots of different backgrounds. The designers even open-sourced their work; the hand’s CAD files are available at Thingiverse. Owen and Van As are running a Fundly campaign; more information is available at their Web site.

WellDone — Utilities in the developed world use remote monitoring widely to keep far-flung equipment running smoothly, but their model is tough to apply in places where communications infrastructure is thin, though. This initiative has adapted the philosophy of the industrial Internet to the infrastructure that’s available: SMS text messaging. WellDone is installing water-flow sensors at local wells that send flow data by SMS to a cloud database. The system will alert local technicians when it detects anomalies in water flows, and the information it gathers will inform future data-driven development projects.

Manufacturing’s Next Chapter (AtlanticLIVE) — I’m visiting this conference in Washington, D.C. today; it’s also being live-streamed at The Atlantic‘s Web site. At 2:35pm Eastern Time and at 3:25pm, panelists will talk about the effect of technology on industry and the rise of advanced manufacturing.

Electricity Data Browser (U.S. Energy Information Administration) — The EIA has made its vast database of detailed electricity statistics available through an integrated interactive portal. The EIA has also built an API that opens more than 400,000 data series available to developers and analysts.


This is a post in our industrial Internet series, an ongoing exploration of big machines and big data. The series is produced as part of a collaboration between O’Reilly and GE.

January 25 2013

Why we spun out Maker Media

Today, O’Reilly Media announced that we have spun out Maker Media into a separate company. I want to give a bit of background on why we did this, and what we think the opportunity is for the new Maker Media company.

The arc from enthusiast to entrepreneur

Many of the most interesting technologies of the next decade will involve innovations in hardware, not just software. The Maker movement, like all enthusiast movements, is a harbinger of deeper change.

What Dale Dougherty first recognized in 2005 when he published Make: Magazine and began Maker Faire was that there was a new upwelling of interest in making things, embracing everything from new technologies like 3D printing and other forms of advanced manufacturing, robotics, sensor platforms, to crafting and older hands-on technologies. The early projects in the magazine — aerial photography with kites, a programmable cat feeder made out of an old VCR, hacked robot dogs sniffing out environmental toxins — may have seemed trivial at the time, but they were a sign of things to come.

In 2005, Jeff Han’s work with multitouch interfaces was a maker project at NYU. In February 2006, when he demoed his work at TED, it was a WOW moment. A year and a half later, with the release of the iPhone, the multitouch screen was the foundation of a transformative consumer product.

Multitouch was just the beginning. Smart phones are sensor platforms: GPS, compass, accelerometer, camera, microphone, and dozens more specialized sensors create new possibilities for application design that are only now being exploited more fully. Applications like Square Wallet and Uber are only possible because of these platforms.

The problem is that, as has often been said about AI as well, as soon as something crosses over into the consumer realm, it’s no longer seen as “makerish.” When Nike is selling quantified self devices, when your bathroom scale tweets your weight, it’s hard to see this as part of the Maker movement. Yet thinking about how much further we have to go in applying sensors to transform applications and business processes will help you see important opportunities that you might otherwise miss.

A sensor and control platform like Arduino still seems to belong to the Maker universe, but an application that uses the consumer sensor platform of a smart phone does not. But this is the very heart of the distinction that will help you to see the future more clearly.

To understand the trend line of the Maker movement, ask yourself “What are makers playing with today that has already become mainstream? What other kinds of devices and business processes can be transformed by the additions of sensors? What are the opportunities here for startups?”

When you ask yourself these questions, and then look around, you will realize that the Maker movement is the next big thing.

As a result, we decided it was time to create Maker Media as a standalone vehicle to ride this new wave of innovation. Dale Dougherty, my partner from the early days of O’Reilly, and the creator of both Make magazine and Maker Faire, was the one who recognized this wave coming, and has nurtured it for the last seven years. Now, he has a platform to continue his work and take it to the next level.

Below, a few thoughts from Dale about the origins of Make, and where he wants to take Maker Media.


Making becomes popular

Thoughts from Dale Dougherty

I first mentioned the idea for MAKE Magazine to Tim in a cab in Portland. We were heading to the Open Source Conference and I had a few minutes to pitch him on a magazine that I said would be “Martha Stewart for Geeks.”  We had a good conversation, talking about how hackers were hacking the physical world, applying a mindset learned from developing software to customize, personalize and create physical environments. Tim’s encouragement was the initial step in developing what would become MAKE Magazine. I certainly had no idea that many years later we’d be talking about a global Maker movement. Indeed, what has happened is simultaneously that making and the geeks behind it have broken into the mainstream. Making is now popular.

From the beginning, I was fascinated by makers. I enjoyed meeting makers, getting to know their stories, and seeing firsthand the amazing projects they were doing. I realized that makers would enjoy meeting each other and talking about their projects, sharing the kinds of details that they were able to share with me. That was the inspiration for Maker Faire, and I wondered at the time if other people would find makers as fascinating as I did. Maker Faire was really an experiment to find out. A team headed by Sherry Huss organized the first Maker Faire in the Bay Area, and we chose to hold it at a fairgrounds/expo center. We wanted Maker Faire to be fun and we wanted families to come. We re-invented the fair. In 2012, there were over 60 Maker Faires around the world, most of them organized by community-minded individuals who wanted to support and promote making in their city or region.

While MAKE started out with geek hobbyists, the audience now includes families who look for fun, educational projects to do together. It also includes makers who are developing new products and services for other makers and other audiences. It includes professional engineers and industrial designers. Makers have become entrepreneurs, sometimes accidentally, by discovering there’s a market for what they do. They build components and kits, and we sell them in Maker Shed, and many other places. They create tools such as 3D printers and CNC machines and microcontrollers. Makers have created a new market ecosystem.

MIT economist Michael Schrage, who wrote an article for MAKE’s Kits issue on kits as an engine of innovation, has a new book called Who Do You Want Your Customers To Become?*  He writes that the best innovation transforms your customers. It engages them in “reimagining, redefining, and redesigning” their future. The mission of Maker Media is to help more people become makers, and participate broadly in making a better future for themselves, their families and their communities.

I’m excited by the opportunity for Maker Media and its team. I’m grateful to Tim, Laura Baldwin, my colleagues at O’Reilly and the extended O’Reilly community for supporting the growth of MAKE. I look forward to developing this new edition of MAKE, and expanding the reach of MAKE as a global brand that brings makers together.

* (Schrage, Michael (2012-07-17). Who Do You Want Your Customers to Become? (Kindle Location 57). Perseus Books Group. Kindle Edition.)

January 24 2013

The bicycle barometer, SCADA security, the smart city in a disaster (industrial Internet links)

The Bicycle Barometer (@richardjpope) — Richard Pope, a project manager at Gov.uk, built what he calls a barometer for his bike commute: it uses weather and transit data to compute a single value that expresses the relative comfort of a bike commute versus a train commute, and displays it on a dial. It’s a clever way of combining two unrelated datasets and then applying algorithmic intelligence. As more data from a sensor-laden world becomes available, we’ll need better tools like this one for reducing it to useful, simple, informed prescriptions.

Scada Security Predictions: 2013 (IndustryWeek) — Tofino Security founder Eric Byres predicts that 2013 will be the year that tablets start to show up on the plant floor. “We won’t see a full invasion of iDevices on the plant floor in 2013,” he writes, “but the wall will be breached.” Security researchers I’ve spoken with usually say that iOS is a remarkably secure platform, but connecting more devices to industrial control systems means more endpoints that make the job of securing an industrial system much more complicated.

Adaptation (The New Yorker, subscription required for full article) — Some smart-city systems, especially targeted communications and infrastructure monitoring, have become important elements of disaster preparedness.


This is a post in our industrial Internet series, an ongoing exploration of big machines and big data. The series is produced as part of a collaboration between O’Reilly and GE.

November 30 2012

Four short links: 30 November 2012

  1. Kids Use Minecraft to Design School“Students have been massively enthusiastic, with many turning up early to school to work on their Minecraft designs and they continue to do so at home too.” Also see the school’s blog.
  2. Napster, Udacity, and the Academy (Clay Shirky) — the fight over MOOCs is really about the story we tell ourselves about higher education: what it is, who it’s for, how it’s delivered, who delivers it. [...] The possibility MOOCs hold out isn’t replacement; anything that could replace the traditional college experience would have to work like one, and the institutions best at working like a college are already colleges. The possibility MOOCs hold out is that the educational parts of education can be unbundled. MOOCs expand the audience for education to people ill-served or completely shut out from the current system, in the same way phonographs expanded the audience for symphonies to people who couldn’t get to a concert hall, and PCs expanded the users of computing power to people who didn’t work in big companies.
  3. The Hobbit, Redux — the main programmer for The Hobbit game was a woman. Under-credited, as usual.
  4. Aerial Drones — from the Make magazine holiday gift guide. I want five of everything, please Santa.

September 17 2012

Four short links: 17 September 2012

  1. Aaron Swartz Defense Fund — American computer systems are under attack every day of the week from foreign governments, and the idiot prosecutor is wasting resources doubling down on this vindictive nonsense.
  2. Baghdad Community Hackerspace Workshops (Kickstarter) — Makerspace in Baghdad, built by people who know how to do this stuff in that country. (via BoingBoing)
  3. Teaching Web Development in AfricaI used the resources that Pamela Fox helpfully compiled at teaching-materials.org to mentor twelve students who all built their own websites, such as websites for their karate club, fashion club, and traditional dance troupe. One student made a website to teach others about the hardware components of computers, and another website discussing the merits of a common currency in the East African Community. The two most advanced students began programming their own computer game to help others practice touch typing, and it allows players to compete across the network with WebSockets.
  4. Transient Faces (Jeff Howard) — only displaying the unchanging parts of a scene, effectively removing people using computer vision. Disconcerting and elegant. (via Greg Borenstein)

August 03 2012

They promised us flying cars

We may be living in the future, but it hasn’t entirely worked out how we were promised. I remember the predictions clearly: the 21st century was supposed to be full of self-driving cars, personal communicators, replicators and private space ships.

Except, of course, all that has come true. Google just got the first license to drive their cars entirely autonomously on public highways. Apple came along with the iPhone and changed everything. Three-dimensional printers have come out of the laboratories and into the home. And in a few short years, and from a standing start, Elon Musk and SpaceX has achieved what might otherwise have been thought impossible: late last year, SpaceX launched a spacecraft and returned it to Earth safely. Then they launched another, successfully docked it with the International Space Station, and then again returned it to Earth.

The SpaceX Dragon capsule is grappled and berthed to the Earth-facing port of the International Space Station’s Harmony module at 12:02 p.m. EDT, May 25, 2012. Credit: NASA/SpaceX


Right now there is a generation of high-tech tinkerers breaking the seals on proprietary technology and prototyping new ideas, which is leading to a rapid growth in innovation. The members of this generation, who are building open hardware instead of writing open software, seem to have come out of nowhere. Except, of course, they haven’t. Promised a future they couldn’t have, they’ve started to build it. The only difference between them and Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Sergey Brin, Larry Page and Steve Jobs is that those guys got to build bigger toys than the rest of us.

The dotcom billionaires are regular geeks just like us. They might be the best of us, or sometimes just the luckiest, but they grew up with the same dreams, and they’ve finally given up waiting for governments to build the future they were promised when they were kids. They’re going to build it for themselves.

The thing that’s driving the Maker movement is the same thing that’s driving bigger shifts, like the next space race. Unlike the old space race, pushed by national pride and the hope that we could run fast enough in place so that we didn’t have to start a nuclear war, this new space race is being driven by personal pride, ambition and childhood dreams.

But there are some who don’t see what’s happening, and they’re about to miss out. Case in point: a lot of big businesses are confused by the open hardware movement. They don’t understand it, don’t think it’s worth their while to make exceptions and cater to it. Even the so-called “smart money” doesn’t seem to get it. I’ve heard moderately successful venture capitalists from the Valley say that they “… don’t do hardware.” Those guys are about to lose their shirts.

Makers are geeks like you and me who have decided to go ahead and build the future themselves because the big corporations and the major governments have so singularly failed to do it for us. Is it any surprise that dotcom billionaires are doing the same? Is it any surprise that the future we build is going to look a lot like the future we were promised and not so much like the future we were heading toward?

Related:

June 22 2012

Four short links: 22 June 2012

  1. Reality Bytes -- We make things because that’s how we understand. We make things because that’s how we pass them on, and because everything we have was passed on to us as a made object. We make things in digital humanities because that’s how we interpret and conserve our inheritance. Because that’s how we can make it all anew. Librarians, preservation, digital humanities, and the relationship between digital and physical. Existential threats don’t scare us. We’re librarians.
  2. Kickstarter Stats -- as Andy Baio said, it's the one Kickstarter feature that competitors won't be rushing to emulate. Clever way to emphasize their early lead.
  3. ICANN is Wrong (Dave Winer) -- Dave is right to ask why nobody's questioning the lack of public registration in the new domains. You can understand why, say, the Australia-New Zealand bank wouldn't let Joe Random register in .anz, but Amazon are proposing to keep domains like .shop, .music, .app for their own products. See all the bidders for the new gTLDs on the ICANN web site.
  4. The Art of GPS (Daily Mail) -- beautiful visualizations of uncommon things, such as the flights that dead bodies make when they're being repatriated to their home states. Personally, I think they tend too much to the "pretty" and insufficient to the "informative" or "revealing", but then I'm notorious for being too revealing and insufficiently informative.

June 18 2012

Four short links: 18 June 2012

  1. What Facebook Knows (MIT Tech Review) -- Analyzing the 69 billion friend connections among those 721 million people showed that the world is smaller than we thought: four intermediary friends are usually enough to introduce anyone to a random stranger. and our close friends strongly sway which information we share, but overall their impact is dwarfed by the collective influence of numerous more distant contacts—what sociologists call "weak ties." It is our diverse collection of weak ties that most powerfully determines what information we're exposed to.
  2. Human Microbiome Mapped (The Scientist) -- the Human Microbiome Project sequenced DNA of bacterial samples collected from 242 healthy volunteers. 3.5 terabytes of data, all accessible through public databases. One fascinating finding: Although each body part is characterised by some signature microbial groups, no species was universally present across every volunteer. "One of the HMP's original mandates was to define the core microbiome, or the bugs that everyone shares," said Huttenhower. "It looks like there really aren't any."
  3. Kids Today Not Inattentive (Neuroskeptic) -- There's no evidence that children today are less attentive or more distractible than kids in the past, according to research just published by a team of Pennsylvania psychologists. (via Ed Yong)
  4. Teaching Makematics at ITP (Greg Borenstein) -- Computer vision algorithms, machine learning techniques, and 3D topology are becoming vital prerequisites to doing daily work in creative fields from interactive art to generative graphics, data visualization, and digital fabrication. If they don’t grapple with these subjects themselves, artists are forced to wait for others to digest this new knowledge before they can work with it.

June 06 2012

Four short links: 6 June 2012

  1. Why Latency Lags Bandwidth (PDF) -- across disk, memory, and networking we see bandwidth growing faster than latency comes down. This paper covers why and what we can do about it. (via Ryan Dahl)
  2. Michael Lewis's Princeton Commencement Speech -- a subtle variation on "work on stuff that matters" that I simply love. Commencement speeches fly around this time of the year, but this one is actually worth reading.
  3. The Amazon Effect (The Nation) -- Readers of e-books are especially drawn to escapist and overtly commercial genres (romance, mysteries and thrillers, science fiction), and in these categories e-book sales have bulked up to as large as 60 percent. [...] Amazon swiftly struck an alliance with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to handle placing its books in physical stores. In a transparent subterfuge aimed at protecting its tax-avoidance strategies, Amazon intends to publish many of its books under a subsidiary imprint of Houghton’s called New Harvest, thus keeping alive the increasingly threadbare fiction that it has no physical presence in states where it does business online. I did not know these things. (via Jim Stogdill)
  4. Learn by Doing (Slate) -- Dale Dougherty's excellent call to arms to turn away from zombie-producing standardised test classes to learning by making real things. The empty campus on test day horrified me.

May 24 2012

Four short links: 24 May 2012

  1. Last Saturday My Son Found His People at the Maker Faire -- aww to the power of INFINITY.
  2. Dictionaries Linking Words to Concepts (Google Research) -- Wikipedia entries for concepts, text strings from searches and the oppressed workers down the Text Mines, and a count indicating how often the two were related.
  3. Magic Wand (Kickstarter) -- I don't want the game, I want a Bluetooth magic wand. I don't want to click the OK button, I want to wave a wand and make it so! (via Pete Warden)
  4. E-Commerce Performance (Luke Wroblewski) -- If a page load takes more than two seconds, 40% are likely to abandon that site. This is why you should follow Steve Souders like a hawk: if your site is slower than it could be, you're leaving money on the table.

May 18 2012

Four short links: 18 May 2012

  1. Overlapping S-Curves of Various Products (PNG) -- product adoption speed over time. (via Beta Knowledge)
  2. High School Makerspaces Q&A with Dale Dougherty (Radioshack) -- Experimentation is one of the things we’re trying to promote. If you do experiments, a number of them fail and you learn from that failure and say, “Gee, I could have done that differently.” It’s metacognitive skills that we’re trying to develop—a way of thinking, a way of doing that increases your confidence in your own abilities and in your capacity to learn. I’d like students to believe that anybody can do these things, not that only a few people are good at math or only a few people are good at programming. The goal is to reduce the barrier to those subjects and show that anybody can be good at them. (via Tim O'Reilly)
  3. Google Glass Patent: Infrared Rings and Fingernails (The Verge) -- The patent describes a wearable computing device whose interface can be controlled by infrared markers in the form of bracelets, rings, artificial fingernails, or effectively invisible temporary decals. A camera in the glasses would pick up radiation reflected from the marker, giving it a point of reference for user control. (via Chris Arkenberg)
  4. OAuth is Your Future (Flickr) -- design fictions to provoke thought. DHS accessing your Foursquare history? Aie. (via Dan Hon)

April 06 2012

Announcing Make's Hardware Innovation Workshop

Hardware Innovation Workshop

The maker movement is a remarkable new source of innovation. We are starting to see what results from a powerful combination of open hardware + personal fabrication tools + connected makers. Sometimes this innovation is hard to identify in the excitement that surrounds Maker Faire. Yet at Maker Faire, you can find new products and new startups at various stages of development that you will see almost nowhere else. Business people tell me they come to Maker Faire expecting to have a good time with their family but unexpectedly walk away impressed by the creativity and innovation they find there. As the song says, "there's something happening here." Even now, the pace of development is quickening and the number of hardware startups is rapidly growing.

Tim O'Reilly has been urging that the opportunity is now to showcase makers as professionals who are starting new businesses and developing new products. So, I'm happy to announce a new business conference during the week of Maker Faire, taking advantage of the makers who are already coming to Maker Faire. Presented by Make, the Hardware Innovation Workshop will be held Tuesday and Wednesday, May 15-16, at Xerox PARC in Palo Alto, California. (I'm excited to have PARC host us and this event because of its long history as a source of technology innovation.)

The Hardware Innovation Conference will present a number of hardware-related startups and review the major platforms and the new toolset for prototyping and personal fabrication. It's an intimate setting to meet the leaders of the maker movement and understand how makers are changing the technology landscape, in much the same way that enthusiasts once helped to create the personal computer industry.

Our presenters will include:

  • Massimo Banzi of Arduino, an Italian interaction designer and engineer who created this open source micro controller. The Arduino platform has become the Linux of open source hardware and it is found at the heart of many maker projects.


  • Carl Bass of Autodesk, a maker himself whose new consumer division, which acquired Instructables, is exploring the software and services needed by this emerging maker market.

  • Jay Rogers of Local Motors is creating an open source car through collaborative design and he's built a micro factory for assembly of these cars by the owners themselves.
  • Ayah Bdeir of Little Bits is one of those non-traditional product designers who has developed a new educational product.
  • Allan Chochinov of Core 77 is starting a new program called Products of Design at the School of Visual Arts in NYC, which is reshaping product design around what makers are able to do.
  • Nathan Seidle of Sparkfun Electronics runs one of the major suppliers for maker projects. He's also a partner for makers who have the idea but not the factory to build a new product.
  • Bre Pettis of MakerBot will explore the 3D printing opportunity in consumer markets. MakerBot is the Apple II of the personal fabrication revolution. Brad Feld of Foundry Group will tell us why he's invested in Makerbot.
  • Mark Hatch of TechShop, whose membership model for a community workshop has become a hub for hardware innovators. i>
  • Bunnie Huang of Chumby and author of "Hacking the Xbox," who understands how Asia's manufacturing capacity might be tapped by makers.

  • Check our event website for full program details.

    The lesson for us from makers is that hardware isn't as hard as it used to be. It's benefiting from the same forces that allowed open source to reshape the software industry and create the web economy. Makers are part of a prototyping revolution that is inviting a new audience to design and develop products. Open technologies and new collaborative processes just might change the face of manufacturing by making it much more personal and more automated. Unlike traditional manufacturers, makers are able to pivot easily to serve niche markets. In addition, larger companies are hiring makers and maker advocates to infuse their own teams with creative ideas and keep track of these new market opportunities.

    The conventional wisdom is that Silicon Valley investors don't like hardware startups, but that's not stopping makers. We even see hardware startups raising capital from non-traditional sources such as Kickstarter. (Twine raised over $850,000.) This is causing some investors to pay attention. As an angel investor said to me recently: "Everybody's just looking at mobile/social. I want to look at things outside that well-developed space and that's why I'm looking at makers."

    Please join me along with Tim O'Reilly and the creative team of Make Magazine and Maker Faire for a program focused on maker-led innovation at a historic location in the Silicon Valley. Due to the venue, we are limited to 300 participants. If you're coming from outside the Bay Area, you can stay for the weekend of fun at Maker Faire, May 19-20th.

    Event: Hardware Innovation Workshop
    Dates: May 15-16
    Location: Xerox PARC, Palo Alto, CA

    March 07 2012

    The dilemma of authentic learning: Do you destroy what you measure?

    John Seely Brown tells us the half-life of any skill is about five years. This astounding metric is presented as part of the ongoing discussion of how education needs to change radically in order to prepare students for a world which is very different than the one their parents graduated into, and in which change is accelerating.

    It's pretty straightforward to recognize that new job categories, such as data science, will require new skills. The first-order solution is to add data science as a college curriculum and work the prerequisites backward to kindergarten. But if JSB is right about the half-life of skills, even if this process were instantaneous, the learning path begun in kindergarten might be obsolete by middle school.

    The second-order solution is to include meta-skills into the curriculum — ensuring young people learn how to learn, for instance, so that they can adapt as new skills are required with increasing frequency. This is essential, but raises the question of how to stay ahead of the skills curve — what are the next critical things to learn, how do you know, and how do you find them?

    John Seely Brown and co-author Douglas Thomas propose in their book "A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change" a third-order solution, which is to inculcate the mindsets and dispositions that will lead us, as independent agents, to the things that matter. These include curiosity, questing, and connecting.

    A similar theme emerged at the Design, Make, Play workshop at the New York Hall of Science in January. Focused on the question of how the maker movement can catalyze innovation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education, participants included technologists, makers, learning science researchers, educators, and more, all wrestling with how to translate the authentic, integrated experiences that designing, making, and playing provide into something that can be measured, understood, and incorporated into education.

    The primary outcomes of making, designing, and playing look much more like JSB's dispositions than the skills demonstrated on standardized tests of reading, writing, and arithmetic. At the same time, though, practical skills are developed — the kinds of projects exhibited at Maker Faire require the same skills as many high tech professions.

    This highlights the most pernicious, devilish, intransigent challenge to bringing critical learning into school. Through the lens of standardized tests, higher order skills, meta-skills, and dispositions are literally invisible. Yet, these tests are the gold standard of educational efficacy for judging schools, educational innovations, and now even teachers themselves. School boards are held accountable by property owners for such test results due to their direct correlation to property values. Innovators, researchers, and even the philanthropic institutions that fund them are beholden to education investors for meaningful results that prove innovations work — with test scores as the default.

    This conundrum is well understood by the very stakeholders who are trapped by it, and there are efforts at many levels to combat it — from incorporating critical thinking skills into the core standards being adopted by most states to alternative measures of effectiveness being adopted by grant makers. At the DMP workshop, participants struggled with the very real challenge of authentically articulating the benefits of design, make, and play at different levels and the measures that would make these benefits visible. It's a tricky balancing act to reduce something to metrics without losing its essence.

    One fascinating approach was presented by Kevin Crowley about how to recognize the impact of science experiences such as those found in museum exhibits on young people. Crowley and his colleagues researched the forces and events that influenced scientists and science enthusiasts in their career/hobby choices. They identified the notion of experiences that caused "science learning activation," which they defined as a "composite of dispositions, skills, and knowledge that enables success in science learning experiences." The idea is that perhaps we can measure the degree to which a specific informal learning experience creates such activation and that this becomes one of the measures that shines a light on the outcomes of making.

    As the gathered experts brainstormed to articulate the genuine outcomes of making for students and how to capture those, it became clear that this is a task that is both crucial and emergent. If authentic learning is to become available to all students regardless of means or zip code, the iterative and ongoing process of articulating the educational values of a world of rapidly changing expectations must become a priority for experts and lay folk alike. What are your thoughts? How do we capture and share the soul of making without turning it into something that can be tested using the No. 2 pencil?

    Related:

    March 02 2012

    Top stories: February 27-March 2, 2012


    Here's a look at the top stories published across O'Reilly sites this week.

    The privacy arc
    We're at a point in privacy's evolution where sanitized tech solutions are clumsily attempting to introduce (or reintroduce) human connections into our experiences.


    Creating Maker-friendly cities

    Governments, particularly local governments, need to do more to understand and adapt to what might be called DIY citizenship.


    Major TOC theme: Business models to monetize publishing in the digital era
    Here we look at monetization in publishing, including subscription/access models, freemium, and ad-based models. See more major themes from TOC '12.

    Permission to be horrible and other ways to generate creativity
    Author and web design consultant Denise R. Jacobs reveals lessons she learned about creativity while writing her first book. She also discusses her efforts to give women and people of color more visibility in the tech world.

    Video keynotes and interviews from Strata CA 2012
    The Strata California 2012 video playlist includes keynote addresses and insightful interviews with innovators shaping the data space.


    Strata Santa Clara 2012 Complete Video Compilation includes workshops, sessions and keynotes from the 2012 Strata Conference in California. Learn more and order here.

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