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February 24 2014

Four short links: 24 February 2014

  1. Understanding Understanding Source Code with Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (PDF) — we observed 17 participants inside an fMRI scanner while they were comprehending short source-code snippets, which we contrasted with locating syntax error. We found a clear, distinct activation pattern of five brain regions, which are related to working memory, attention, and language processing. I’m wary of fMRI studies but welcome more studies that try to identify what we do when we code. (Or, in this case, identify syntax errors—if they wanted to observe real programming, they’d watch subjects creating syntax errors) (via Slashdot)
  2. Oobleck Security (O’Reilly Radar) — if you missed or skimmed this, go back and reread it. The future will be defined by the objects that turn on us. 50s scifi was so close but instead of human-shaped positronic robots, it’ll be our cars, HVAC systems, light bulbs, and TVs. Reminds me of the excellent Old Paint by Megan Lindholm.
  3. Google Readying Android Watch — just as Samsung moves away from Android for smart watches and I buy me and my wife a Pebble watch each for our anniversary. Watches are in the same space as Goggles and other wearables: solutions hunting for a problem, a use case, a killer tap. “OK Google, show me offers from brands I love near me” isn’t it (and is a low-lying operating system function anyway, not a userland command).
  4. Most Winning A/B Test Results are Illusory (PDF) — Statisticians have known for almost a hundred years how to ensure that experimenters don’t get misled by their experiments [...] I’ll show how these methods ensure equally robust results when applied to A/B testing.

January 13 2014

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 07 2014

Four short links: 7 January 2014

  1. Pebble Gets App Store (ReadWrite Web) — as both Pebble and MetaWatch go after the high-end watch market. Wearables becoming more than a nerd novelty.
  2. Thinking About the Network as Filter (JP Rangaswami) — Constant re-openings of the same debate as people try and get a synchronous outcome out of an asynchronous tool without the agreements and conventions in place to do it. He says friends are your social filters. You no longer have to read every email. When you come back from vacation, whatever has passed in the stream unread can stay unread but most social tools are built as collectors, not as filters. Looking forward to the rest in his series.
  3. Open Auto AllianceThe OAA is a global alliance of technology and auto industry leaders committed to bringing the Android platform to cars starting in 2014. “KidGamesPack 7 requires access to your history, SMS, location, network connectivity, speed, weight, in-car audio, and ABS control systems. Install or Cancel?”
  4. Jacob Appelbaum’s CCC Talk — transcript of an excellent talk. One of the scariest parts about this is that for this system or these sets of systems to exist, we have been kept vulnerable. So it is the case that if the Chinese, if the Russians, if people here wish to build this system, there’s nothing that stops them. And in fact the NSA has in a literal sense retarded the process by which we would secure the internet because it establishes a hegemony of power, their power in secret to do these things.

December 04 2013

Wearable computing and automation

In a recent conversation, I described my phone as “everything that Compaq marketing promised the iPAQ was going to be.” It was the first device I really carried around and used as an extension of my normal computing activities. Of course, everything I did on the iPAQ can be done much more easily on a smartphone these days, so my iPAQ sits in a closet, hoping that one day I might notice and run Linux on it.

In the decade and a half since the iPAQ hit the market, battery capacity has improved and power consumption has gone down for many types of computing devices. In the Wi-Fi arena, we’ve turned phones into sensors to track motion throughout public spaces, and, in essence, “outsourced” the sensor to individual customers.

Phones, however, are relatively large devices, and the I/O capabilities of the phone aren’t needed in most sensor operations. A smartphone today can measure motion and acceleration, and even position through GPS. However, in many cases, display isn’t needed on the sensor itself, and the data to be collected might need another type of sensor. Many inexpensive sensors are available today to measure temperature, humidity, or even air quality. By moving the I/O from the sensor itself onto a centralized device, the battery power can be devoted almost entirely to collecting data.

Miniature low-power sensors can be purpose-built for a specific application. Because I’m interested in wearable computing, I recently started using a Jawbone UP band, one of the many fitness sensors available that also tracks sleep. Years ago, I thought about enrolling in a study at the Stanford Sleep Clinic because I’d read about the work in a book and wanted to learn more about my own sleep cycle. The UP band is worn on a wrist and translates motion it senses into pedometer data and sleep quality data. Will an UP band give me the same quality of information as a world-leading sleep clinic? I doubt it, but it’s also way more affordable (and I get to use my own bed).

The UP is based around accelerometers that monitor motion in all three axes. A small button on the side is used to switch between the waking mode, in which the band collects pedometer data, and the sleeping mode, in which the band monitors the depth of sleep. It’s not necessary to take the band out of sleep mode in the morning, but it will not automatically go into sleep mode at night. (I did wonder if an ambient light sensor might help switch modes, but I didn’t ask Jawbone if that was in development.)

I was interested in the UP because it also integrates with If This/Then That (IFTTT), which readers might recognize from a post I wrote on lighting automation. Because the UP tracks sleep patterns, it is naturally suited to work with my home lighting, triggering the lights to turn on in the morning; in fact, that’s exactly what I did. (You can access the IFTTT recipe here.) Since I’ve already set up the lights to be controlled by IFTTT, all I needed to do was create another trigger. When new sleep is logged with the UP band — which means that I am awake and have taken action to log the sleep — the power to the lights is turned on.

ifttt-up-fig1ifttt-up-fig1

I have the non-wireless version of the UP band, which synchronizes by plugging directly into the phone.  To get data out of the band, I plug it into the phone, grab the data, and an app on the phone loads the data into the Jawbone service.  The entire process takes a couple of seconds and two taps on the screen.  It does mean that the trigger won’t fire until I connect the band to my phone in the morning, but I’m now practiced enough to accomplish that maneuver in the dark. (Jawbone has since released an improved version of the band, the UP24, that synchronizes data wirelessly.  With the new model, I would move the band into the awake mode and the lights would turn on without needing to involve my phone at all.)

The second reason I was interested in the UP is that it’s easy to log the data it collects in a spreadsheet. Whenever sleep gets logged by the band, the details are saved in a Google Drive spreadsheet. In addition to logging time, the band is able to tell the difference between deep and shallow sleep, as well as the number of times you wake up. I recently attended a Wi-Fi Alliance meeting in Europe, and the data on sleep quality was helpful in monitoring how well I was adjusting to the new time zone.

ifttt-up-fig2ifttt-up-fig2

What I most liked about spending the time with UP is that it shows the promise available in all kinds of wearable sensors. Just as many functions came together to create today’s smartphone — a web device, music player, and general-purpose computer — there is a wearable device out there with good battery life, the ability to control remote devices, and monitor physical activity. The Pebble was only the beginning.

As I go through the data in the future, I may do some of my own number crunching to see what other insights can be gleaned. And just for laughs, my favorite IFTTT recipe for use with UP is to warn somebody by e-mail if their sleep time is low.

May 30 2013

Four short links: 30 May 2013

  1. Facebook IPO Tech Post-Mortem (PDF) — SEC’s analysis of the failures that led to the NASDAQ kicking Facebook’s IPO in the NADSAQ. (via Quartz)
  2. Run That Town — SimCity for real cities, from the Australian Bureau of Statistics and using real census data. No mention of whether you can make your citizens shout “Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi Oi Oi!” after three cans of lager at an Aussie Rules game. (via John Birmingham)
  3. Maintaining Focus (The Atlantic) — excellent Linda Stone interview. We may think that kids have a natural fascination with phones. Really, children have a fascination with what-ever Mom and Dad find fascinating. If they are fascinated by the flowers coming up in the yard, that’s what the children are going to find fascinating. And if Mom and Dad can’t put down the device with the screen, the child is going to think, That’s where it’s all at, that’s where I need to be! I interviewed kids between the ages of 7 and 12 about this. They said things like “My mom should make eye contact with me when she talks to me” and “I used to watch TV with my dad, but now he has his iPad, and I watch by myself.”
  4. Networked Motion Sensors in Hospital Bathrooms (NY Times) — At North Shore University Hospital on Long Island, motion sensors, like those used for burglar alarms, go off every time someone enters an intensive care room. The sensor triggers a video camera, which transmits its images halfway around the world to India, where workers are checking to see if doctors and nurses are performing a critical procedure: washing their hands. [...] the video monitoring program, run by a company called Arrowsight, has been adapted from the meat industry, where cameras track whether workers who skin animals — the hide can contaminate the meat — wash their hands, knives and electric cutters.

January 23 2012

Four short links: 23 January 2012

  1. Adafruit Flora -- wearable electronics and accessories platform. (via Tim O'Reilly)
  2. Killed by Code -- paper on software vulnerabilities in implantable medical devices. Discovered via Karen Sandler's wow-generating keynote at linux.conf.au (covered here). (via Selena Deckelmann)
  3. DIY London -- fun little Budget-Hero game to make apparent the trade-offs facing politicians. Kids should play Sim* and Civilization games: you get a sense of tradeoffs and consequences from these that you don't from insubstantial activities. More City Hall games, please! (via David Eaves)
  4. Lessig on How Money Corrupts Congress (Rolling Stone) -- glad to see Larry's profile rising. This is key: I lay out my own voucher program that tries to do that, but the challenge isn’t as much to imagine the solution as much as it is to imagine the process to bring about the solution, given how entrenched the cancer is and how much the very people we need to reform the system depend upon the existing system. (see also an excerpt from Lessig's new book) (via Long Now)

October 19 2011

Four short links: 19 October 2011

  1. OmniTouch: Wearable Interaction Everywhere -- compact projector + kinect equivalents in shoulder-mounted multitouch glory. (via Slashdot)
  2. Price of Bitcoin Still Dropping -- currency is a confidence game, and there's no confidence in Bitcoins since the massive Mt Gox exchange hack.
  3. vim Text Objects -- I'm an emacs user, so this is like reading Herodotus. "On the far side of the Nile is a tribe who eat their babies and give birth to zebras made of gold. They also define different semantics for motion and text objects."
  4. Hard Drive Shortage Predicted (Infoworld) -- flooding in Thailand has knocked out 25% of the world's hard drive manufacturing capacity. Interested to see the effects this has on cloud providers. (via Slashdot)

September 30 2011

Wearing Android on your sleeve

WIMM Labs concept watchThe people behind WIMM Labs believe we're experiencing a shift toward information immediacy. To meet that shift, WIMM created a new class of personal devices that delivers information at a glance.

The company's platform for connected, wearable devices is based on the tiny WIMM module, a wristwatch-sized Android-powered computer that has a capacitive touchscreen, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, an accelerometer, magnetometer, audible and tactile alerts, and a 14-pin accessory connector.

An early-stage Silicon Valley-based company, WIMM is trying to lead the "micro experience" movement of wearable hardware. The company hopes to license its platform to brands in a variety of industries, including mobile, sports, finance and consumer electronics.

I recently spoke with Ted Ladd, director of developer relations and platform evangelist for WIMM Labs, about the convergence of wearable tech and micro experiences. Ladd will lead a session on "Wearing Android: Developing Apps For Micro Devices" at the upcoming Android Open Conference.

Our interview follows.

What shifts are driving society toward wearable computing?

Ted LaddTed Ladd: We are now connected to the cloud and to each other all the time. Wearable technology makes that connection more convenient and powerful. You can read a recent SMS or pay for your coffee with a flick of the wrist. Or you can track your workout — reps, calories, heart rate — without trying to strap a smartphone to your chest. These technologies are available today.

The value isn't just from wearable technology; it's also from the proliferation of Bluetooth-enabled sensors — from heart rate to proximity — and web services that can collect and interpret that data. Wearable technology provides the local hub for these sensors, allows the user to see and interact with the data directly via local applications, and then sends the data to the cloud (with the user's permission).

What are "micro experiences"?

Ted Ladd: Micro experiences are subtle glances of immediately relevant information. It's things like looking at your watch to tell the time, looking at the thermometer to see the temperature, or glancing at the speedometer to tell the speed. We have extended this metaphor to wearable computing to help developers design Micro Apps that deliver these glances. Since our platform is built on Android, the challenge when building a WIMM Micro App is not technical. Instead, the challenge is to rethink the features and UX of the app.

Android Open, being held October 9-11 in San Francisco, is a big-tent meeting ground for app and game developers, carriers, chip manufacturers, content creators, OEMs, researchers, entrepreneurs, VCs, and business leaders.

Save 20% on registration with the code AN11RAD

Are there downsides to the information immediacy that wearable computers provide?

Ted Ladd: Just like with a smartphone, perpetual connection to the office, to friends, to sensors, and to the cloud has its drawbacks. We are deluged with information. What we want to do is funnel only the most important information into personal snippets that fit subtly into our lives.

What do you see as the first killer app for the WIMM platform?

Ted Ladd: We are a platform company, so our business model is to help existing companies easily design and launch wearable products — using our module at their core. For a fitness company, the killer app is exercise tracking in real time. For the military, it is body sensing, location tracking, and communication. For a theme park, it may be real-time updates on the wait times for popular rides. For a consumer company aiming at business professionals, it might be a context-specific task list. As a platform provider, we try to enable our licensees to create the killer app for their industries.

Now, speaking only for myself, I love the calendar and the Starbucks Micro Apps. They are more convenient and subtle than the apps on my smartphone.

What were the biggest challenges you faced in developing the WIMM platform?

Ted Ladd: Our device is always on, displaying the time and other possible data on a reflective screen. In this "passive" mode, the device is running on a small microcontroller, which sips power. When I touch the screen, the device launches its full-color capacitive touchscreen and ARM 11 applications processor.

Designing this dual-processor architecture was not trivial. Happily, the user doesn't see the complex hardware and software processes that make this work. The user only sees the time, and then with a touch, a full computer.

What are some of the obstacles to the adoption of wearable computing?

Ted Ladd: A common thought in the press is that wearable technology will not evolve because the smartphone has already captured the mass market. As evidence, the press cites the perceived trend away from wrist watches, especially among the younger, more digitally connected generation. I disagree. Once people see the current and rapidly evolving functionality of wearables, they will see the value for this class of products as a complement to their smartphones. And as major consumer brands add fashion and extra functionality via hardware and software, the value will become immediately apparent.

What kinds of developer tools do you provide?

Ted Ladd: We are launching our Software Developer Kit soon, which is an add-on to the Android Developer Tools, along with an emulator, sample code, design guidelines, videos, and forum. We also have a Hardware Developer Kit for people who want to design accessories that attach to a WIMM module.

We will also start shipping the WIMM One Developer Preview, which includes the WIMM module, a wrist strap, paddle charger, and cable. This product aims to help developers understand the platform's capabilities.

This interview was edited and condensed.

Related:

August 17 2011

Four short links: 17 August 2011

  1. Tablib -- MIT-licensed open source library for manipulating tabular data. Reputed to have a great API. (via Tim McNamara)
  2. Stanford Education Everywhere -- courses in CS, machine learning, math, and engineering that are open for all to take. Over 58,000 have already signed up for the introduction to machine learning taught by Peter Norvig, Google's Director of Research.
  3. Wearable LED Television -- 160x120 RGBs powered by a 12v battery, built for Burning Man (natch). (via Bridget McKendry)
  4. Temporary Tattoo Biosensors (Science News) -- early work putting flexible sensors into temporary tattoos. (via BoingBoing)

June 20 2011

Four short links: 20 June 2011

  1. HD Video Recording Glasses (Kickstarter) -- as Bryce says, "wearable computing is on the rise. As the price for enabling components drops, always on connectivity in our pockets and purses increases, and access to low cost manufacturing resources and know-how rises we’ll see innovation continue to push into these most personal forms of computing." (via Bryce Roberts)
  2. Sketching in Food (Chris Heathcote) -- a set of taste tests to demonstrate that we've been food hacking for a very long time. We started with two chemical coated strips - sodium benzoate, a preservative used in lots of food that a significant percentage of people can taste (interestingly in different ways, sweet, sour and bitter). Secondly was a chemical known as PTC that about 70% of people perceive as bitter, and a smaller number perceiving as really really horribly bitter. This was to show that taste is genetic, and different people perceive the same food differently. He includes pointers to sources for the materials in the taste test.
  3. Investigating Millions of Documents by Visualizing Clusters -- recording of talk about our recent work at the AP with the Iraq and Afghanistan war logs.
  4. Managing Crowdsourced Human Computation (Slideshare) -- half a six-hour tutorial at WWW2011 on crowdsourcing and human computation. See also the author's comments. (via Matt Biddulph)

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