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February 14 2014

Four short links: 14 February 2014

  1. Bitcoin: Understanding and Assessing Potential Opportunities (Slideshare) — VC deck on Bitcoin market and opportunities, long-term and short-term. Interesting lens on the development and gaps.
  2. Queensland Police Map Crime Scenes with 3D Scanner (ComputerWorld) — can’t wait for the 3D printed merchandise from famous trials.
  3. Atheer LabsAn immersive 3D display, over a million apps, sub-mm 3D hand interaction, all in 75 grams.
  4. libcloudPython library for interacting with many of the popular cloud service providers using a unified API.

November 18 2013

Four short links: 18 November 2013

  1. The Virtuous Pipeline of Code (Public Resource) — Chicago partnering with Public Resource to open its legal codes for good. “This is great! What can we do to help?” Bravo Chicago, and everyone else—take note!
  2. Smithsonian’s 3D Data — models of 21 objects, from a gunboat to the Wright Brothers’ plane, to a wooly mammoth skeleton, to Lincoln’s life masks. I wasn’t able to find a rights statement on the site which explicitly governed the 3D models. (via Smithsonian Magazine)
  3. Anki’s Robot Cars (Xconomy) — The common characteristics of these future products, in Sofman’s mind: “Relatively simple and elegant hardware; incredibly complicated software; and Web and wireless connectivity to be able to continually expand the experience over time.” (via Slashdot)
  4. An Empirical Evaluation of TCP Performance in Online GamesWe show that because TCP was originally designed for unidirectional and network-limited bulk data transfers, it cannot adapt well to MMORPG traffic. In particular, the window-based congestion control and the fast retransmit algorithm for loss recovery are ineffective. Furthermore, TCP is overkill, as not every game packet needs to be transmitted in a reliably and orderly manner. We also show that the degraded network performance did impact users’ willingness to continue a game.

November 14 2013

August 01 2013

Four short links: 2 August 2013

  1. Unhappy Truckers and Other Algorithmic ProblemsEven the insides of vans are subjected to a kind of routing algorithm; the next time you get a package, look for a three-letter letter code, like “RDL.” That means “rear door left,” and it is so the driver has to take as few steps as possible to locate the package. (via Sam Minnee)
  2. Fuel3D: A Sub-$1000 3D Scanner (Kickstarter) — a point-and-shoot 3D imaging system that captures extremely high resolution mesh and color information of objects. Fuel3D is the world’s first 3D scanner to combine pre-calibrated stereo cameras with photometric imaging to capture and process files in seconds.
  3. Corporate Open Source Anti-Patterns (YouTube) — Brian Cantrill’s talk, slides here. (via Daniel Bachhuber)
  4. Hacking for Humanity) (The Economist) — Getting PhDs and data specialists to donate their skills to charities is the idea behind the event’s organizer, DataKind UK, an offshoot of the American nonprofit group.

April 08 2013

Four short links: 8 April 2013

  1. mozpaya JavaScript API inspired by but modified for things like multiple payment providers and carrier billing. When a web app invokes navigator.mozPay() in Firefox OS, the device shows a secure window with a concise UI. After authenticating, the user can easily charge the payment to her mobile carrier bill or credit card. When completed, the app delivers the product. Repeat purchases are quick and easy.
  2. Firefox Looks Like it Will Reject Third-Party Cookies (ComputerWorld) — kudos Mozilla! Now we’ll see whether such a cookie policy does deliver a better user experience. Can privacy coexist with a good user experience? Answers on a tweet, please, to @radar.
  3. How We Lost the Web (Anil Dash) — excellent talk about the decreasing openness and vanishing shared culture of the web. See also David Weinberger’s transcription.
  4. 3D From Space Shuttle Footage? — neat idea! Filming in 3D generally requires two cameras that are separated laterally, to create the parallax effected needed for stereoscopic vision. Fortunately, videos shot from Earth orbit can be converted to 3D without a second camera, because the camera is constantly in motion.

November 27 2012

Printing ourselves

Tim O’Reilly recently asked me and some other colleagues which technology seems most like magic to us. There was a thoughtful pause as we each considered the amazing innovations we read about and interact with every day.

I didn’t have to think for long. To me, the thing that seems most like magic isn’t Siri or self-driving cars or augmented reality displays. It’s 3D printing.

My reasons are different than you might think. Yes, it’s amazing that, with very little skill, we can manufacture complex objects in our homes and workshops that are made from things like plastic or wood or chocolate or even titanium. This seems an amazing act of conjuring that, just a short time ago, would have been difficult to imagine outside of the “Star Trek” set.

But the thing that makes 3D printing really special is the magic it allows us to perform: the technology is capable of making us more human.

I recently had the opportunity to lay out this idea in an Ignite talk at Strata Rx, a new conference on data science and health care that I chaired with Colin Hill. Here’s the talk I gave there (don’t worry: like all Ignite talks, it’s only five minutes long).

In addition to the applications mentioned in my talk, there are even more amazing accomplishments just over the horizon. Doctor Anthony Atala, of the Wake Forest University School of Medicine, recently printed a human kidney onstage at TED.

This was not actually a working kidney — one of the challenges to creating working organs is building blood vessels that can provide cells on the inside of the organ structure with nutrients; right now, the cells inside larger structures tend to die rapidly. But researchers at MIT and the University of Pennsylvania are experimenting with printing these vessel networks in sugar. Cells can be grown around the networks, and then the sugar can be dissolved, leaving a void through which blood could flow. As printer resolution improves, these networks can become finer.

And 3D printing becomes even more powerful when combined with other technologies. For example, researchers at the Wake Forest Institute of Regenerative Medicine are using a hybrid 3D printing/electrospinning technique to print replacement cartilage.

As practiced by Bespoke Innovations, the WREX team, and others , 3D printing requires a very advanced and carefully honed skillset; it is not yet within reach of the average DIYer. But what is so amazing — what makes it magic — is that when used in these ways at such a level, the technology disappears. You don’t really see it, not unless you’re looking. What you see is the person it benefits.

Technology that augments us, that makes us more than we are even at our best (such as self-driving cars or sophisticated digital assistants) is a neat party trick, and an homage to our superheros. But those that are superhuman are not like us; they are Other. Every story, from Superman to the X-Men to the Watchmen, includes an element of struggle with what it means to be more than human. In short, it means outsider status.

We are never more acutely aware of our own humanity, and all the frailty that entails, as when we are sick or injured. When we can use technology such as 3D printing to make us more whole, then it makes us more human, not Other. It restores our insider status.

Ask anyone who has lost something truly precious and then found it again. I’m talking on the level of an arm, a leg, a kidney, a jaw. If that doesn’t seem like magic, then I don’t know what does.

October 19 2012

Four short links: 19 October 2012

  1. Home-made 3D-Printed Drones — if only they used computer-vision to sequence DNA, they’d be the perfect storm of O’Reilly memes :-)
  2. Hacking Pacemakers For DeathIOActive researcher Barnaby Jack has reverse-engineered a pacemaker transmitter to make it possible to deliver deadly electric shocks to pacemakers within 30 feet and rewrite their firmware.
  3. Google N-Gram Viewer Updated — now with more books, better OCR, parts of speech, and complex queries. e.g., the declining ratio of sex to drugs. Awesome work by Friend of O’Reilly, Jon Orwant.
  4. Deanonymizing Mobility Traces: Using Social Networks as a Side-Channela set of location traces can be deanonymized given an easily obtained social network graph. [...] Our experiments [on standard datasets] show that 80% of users are identified precisely, while only 8% are identified incorrectly, with the remainder mapped to a small set of users. (via Network World)

October 12 2012

The promise of WebGL

WebGL (Web Graphics Library) is a JavaScript API maintained by the Khronos group, a standards body responsible for other open standards including OpenGL.

WebGL allows developers to display hardware-accelerated interactive 3D graphics in the browser without installing additional software — READ: no plug-ins needed. It’s currently supported by most of the major browsers (Chrome, Safari, and Firefox). Though it’s not clear when or if Microsoft will support WebGL, the applications created with WebGL are impressive. Ellie Goulding’s Lights illustrates its power.

Tony Parisi (@auradeluxe), author of WebGL: Up and Running, sat down with me recently to discuss how WebGL is changing the way 3D is developed and displayed on the web. While Flash has long been the dominant tool for developers creating animations, WebGL looks promising. My own take is that if the libraries for WebGL continue to mature I believe WebGL will succeed at becoming the preferred tool of choice for developers.

During our interview Parisi elaborated on the state of WebGL, why he thinks it will succeed and where he sees WebGL being used next. Highlights from our discussion include:

  • Why use WebGL? — Developers are using WebGL for visualizations, building consumer applications, and game development because it results in better visuals and better performance. Just check out Google Maps, which was rewritten with WebGL. [Discussed at the 1:03 mark.]
  • What is the most difficult part of learning WebGL? — Like any new technology, WebGL’s documentation is scattered and actionable information is even harder to find. That’s part of the reason Tony wrote his book. In addition, WebGL is low level, which means it can be difficult to learn. There are several libraries that have been created that developers are using that hide some of the low-level details and complexities. More on this below. [3:19 ]
  • WebGL in action — Check out some of Tony’s favorites to see what WebGL can do: Chrysaora demonstration, created by Aleksandir Rodic, is a real-time simulation of a live jellyfish forest (it is mesmerizing); another great application is My Robot Nation, a commercial site that lets you build your own 3D figurine using an in-browser modeling tool. [7:37]
  • On choosing a WebGL library — There are a growing number of WebGL libraries available, making it difficult for developers to select one for their needs. Tony discusses his favorite and some of the factors to consider when making a decision. [4:43]
  • WebGL for big data? — Tony talks about the future of WebGL, including data visualization and CAD. [10:47]

The full interview is available in the following video:


October 02 2012

Four short links: 2 October 2012

  1. Print Your Own 3D Parts (Wired) — Teenage Engineering, makers of a popular synthesizer known as the OP-1, posted the 3-D design files of various components on digital object repository Shapeways, and is instructing 3-D printer-equipped users to print them out instead of buying them.
  2. Legacy Media Demanding Surveillance In ISPsmusic rights groups including the Recording Industry Association of Japan say they have developed a system capable of automatically detecting unauthorized music uploads before they even hit the Internet. But to do that they need to be able to spy on Internet users’ connections and compare data being transferred with digital fingerprints held in an external database. That can only be achieved with the assistance of Internet service providers who would be asked to integrate the system deeply into their networks. It’s Japan for now …
  3. Sensors for Industrial Espionage (NPR) — Genscape also places electromagnetic monitors beneath the power lines running into the Cushing tank farms to measure their power usage. This gives them an idea of how much oil is being pumped into and out of Cushing.
  4. TypeScript — Apache2 licensed typed superset of JavaScript that compiles to plain JavaScript.

May 31 2012

Using Python for Computer Vision

Python is a tremendous asset when you're trying to classify images, track changes in scenes, search for items within images, implement augmented reality, or do the myriad other things that fall under the umbrella of Computer Vision. In this interview, Jan Erik Solem, author of the upcoming book "Programming Computer Vision with Python," describes the uses for some common operations, and choices programmers have.

Highlights from the full video interview include:

  • The value of Python in computer vision [Discussed at the 0:24 mark]
  • Searching for images within images [Discussed at the 2:13 mark]
  • Clustering or grouping images [Discussed at the 3:22 mark]
  • Constructing a 3D scene from images [Discussed at the 6:11 mark]
  • Modeling and calibrating a camera [Discussed at the 7:22 mark]

You can view the entire conversation in the following video:

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July 21 2011

Four short links: 21 July 2011

  1. Sugar -- a Javascript library that fixes inconsistencies in built-in classes (Strings, Arrays, etc.) and extends them with much-needed time-saving functionality (e.g., automatic iterators over regular expressions; Date creation from strings; binding scopes to functions).
  2. Tilt -- clever Firefox plugin that lets you view the DOM on your page in 3D. Excellent for visually understanding the structure and layout of your page. I can't wait to see the applications of this in debugging and teaching.
  3. Improving Hadoop Efficiency on Graph Data -- three techniques: clustering data instead of randomly partitioning across nodes; allowing different data to be replicated differently; graph-optimized storage. (via Big Data)
  4. Learnings from the Long View (PDF) -- scenario planning lessons learned from the founder of the field. Most of the scenarios they talk about are near and dear to the O'Reilly heart: smart networks, augmented reality, synthetic biology, energy from bacteria, super macro- and micro-manufacturing. (via Rob Passarella)

February 07 2011

Four short links: 7 February 2011

  1. UK Internet Entrepreneurs (Guardian) -- two things stood out for me. (1) A startup focused on 3d printing better dolls for boys and girls. (2) it seems easier to the government to start something new and impose its own vision than it is to understand and integrate with what already exists.
  2. TreeSaver.js -- MIT/GPLv2-licensed JavaScript framework for creating magazine-style layouts using standards-compliant HTML and CSS.
  3. Using git to Manage a Web Site -- This page describes how I set things up so that I can make changes live by running just "git push web".
  4. Strata Data Conference Recap -- Clean data > More Data > Fancy Math — this is the order which makes data easier and better to work with. Clean data will be easier to work with and provide best results. If your data isn't clean, it is better to have more data than having to resort to fancy math. Using higher order statistical processing, while workable as a last resort, will require longer to develop, difficult algorithms and harder to maintain. So best place to focus is to start with clean data.

January 19 2011

Four short links: 19 January 2010

  1. Implementing REST -- This is a place for exploring aspects of implementing applications using the REST architectural style. This may include statements about existing frameworks and libraries, general discussions about the nature of the style and how it may be expressed and/or encouraged via a programming framework, etc.
  2. When Teaching Restrains Discovery -- read about this research (short story: the more specific the skills taught, the less exploratory students were) and think about how we teach people to program, how we teach them the company culture, how we teach them to succeed.
  3. The Maker Generation in the Enterprise (JP Rangaswami) -- We have to get away from the idea that knowledge work is smooth and stable and uniform and assembly-line in structure and characteristic. Knowledge work is lumpy. Period. There will be peaks. And there will be troughs. The current thinking appears to go something like this: “If we have troughs it will look like we don’t have enough work to do, so we need to pretend to work. Let’s fill our days up in advance with things that don’t depend on market or customer stimulus, things we can plan well in advance. And let’s call these things meetings. Then we can look busy all the time.” Such thinking has produced some unworthwhile consequences.
  4. i.materialise 3D Printing in Titanium -- Titanium’s high heat resistance, high accuracy and unparalleled strength lets designers now make things that before now could only be made by the research and development departments of only the largest corporations in the world. By putting this technology in the public’s hands were democratizing manufacturing and giving you the opportunity to, design and order something this is exactly as you want it to be. (via Chris Anderson on Twitter)

December 01 2010

Four short links: 1 December 2010

  1. 2 Kinects 1 Box (YouTube) -- merging data from two Kinects in real time, to get astonishing 3D information. (via Chelfyn Baxter)
  2. Crowdsource is not Open Source (Simon Phipps) -- there are some businesses that don't understand this, and exploit community for their sole benefit in the name of open source. Ignorance of the four freedoms is dangerous.
  3. We Like Lists Before We Don't Want to Die (Spiegel) -- fascinating interview with Umberto Eco. If you interact with things in your life, everything is constantly changing. And if nothing changes, you're an idiot. (via Aaron Straup Cope on Delicious)
  4. $139.99 Android Tablet at Toys R Us -- sales of Android tablets (as well as Apple tablets) could help bolster the after-market accessory opportunity for wireless players, including modem makers and wireless operators.
  5. (via Sylvain Carle on Twitter)

November 15 2010

Four short links: 15 November 2010

  1. Between the Bars -- snail-mail-to-blogs transcription service for prisoners, to make visible stories that would otherwise be missed. there is a religous program here called Kairo's in the program inmates are given letters and drawings made by small children not one in that program did not cry, after reading the words of incouragement from those kids. An unmissable reminder of the complexity of human stories, suffering, and situations, the posts range from the banal to the riveting. (via Benjamin Mako Hill)
  2. Kinect Opensource News -- a roundup of open source Kinect hacks. I like memo's gestural interface the best. Impressive stuff for just a few days' access to the open source drivers. (via Andy Baio)
  3. You Fix The Budget (NY Times) -- a simpler version of Budget Hero, which lets you choose policies and see their effect on the deficit. Unlike Budget Hero, the NYT app doesn't discuss non-deficit consequences of the actions (social consequences, ripple-on economic effects). Like Budget Hero, you can't add your own policies: you're forced to choose from the ones presented. Real life is more complex than this simulation, but even something this simple is powerful: by interacting with this, you understand the magnitude of (say) education vs healthcare, and you realize how much of the current debate is froth.
  4. Meet the New Enterprise Customer, a Lot like the Old Enterprise Customer -- Ben Horowitz nails the difficulty of selling to the enterprise, and drives a stake through the "they'll buy our service with their credit cards, like consumers do" myth. xcellent enterprise sales reps will guide a company through their own purchasing processes. Without an enterprise sales rep, many companies literally do not know how to buy new technology products. (via Mike Olson on Twitter)

November 10 2010

October 27 2010

Four short links: 27 October 2010

  1. Bleach -- HTML sanitizer, which some might say is an impossible task.
  2. TAT Home -- a gesture-powered 3d home screen for Android.
  3. Omaha -- the autoupdater used in Chrome and other Google projects, open sourced.
  4. Google Refine -- Freebase GridWorks has new home and new name, with new checkins happening all the time. An excellent ETL tool for figuring out what data you have and getting it into the right format.

September 03 2010

Four short links: 3 Sep 2010

  1. Arranging Things: The Rhetoric of Object Placement (Amazon) -- [...] the underlying principles that govern how Western designers arrange things in three-dimensional compositions. Inspired by Greek and Roman notions of rhetoric [...] Koren elucidates the elements of arranging rhetoric that all designers instinctively use in everything from floral compositions to interior decorating. (via Elaine Wherry)
  2. 2010 Mario AI Championship -- three tracks: Gameplay, Learning, and Level Generation. Found via Ben Weber's account of his Level Generation entry. My submission utilizes a multi-pass approach to level generation in which the system iterates through the level several times, placing different types of objects during each pass. During each pass through the level, a subset of each object type has a specific probability of being added to the level. The result is a computationally efficient approach to generating a large space of randomized levels.
  3. Wave in a Box -- Google to flesh out existing open source Wave client and server into full "Wave in a Box" app status.
  4. 3D Sound in Google Earth (YouTube) -- wow. (via Planet In Action)

September 01 2010

What we can learn from data, 3-D and a giant globe

Web 2.0 Expo New York - 20% off with code RadarRows and columns are great for spreadsheet vendors, but end users have to jump through all sorts of cognitive hoops to make them work. We're just so used to them, and our alternatives are so limited, we don't know how bad we have it.

Julia Grace knows. As a researcher at IBM (and occasional commercial star), Grace is exploring new ways of finding, sorting and interacting with data -- and her tools go way beyond spreadsheets and pivot tables.

Grace digs in to her recent observations in the following interview, and she previews her keynote for the upcoming Web 2.0 Expo in New York.

Here's a few highlights from the Q&A:

  • The "I don't care what you ate for breakfast" detractors are happy because many social media users are shifting away from personal updates. But Grace isn't sure that's a good thing. To illustrate, she recalls a pleasant personal exchange with one of her Twitter followers -- someone she follows in turn -- that probably won't happen again. "I'm a data source now," Grace explains. "I'm not necessarily a person."
  • Her day job sometimes combines social data, geo location and a seven-foot-tall, three-dimensional globe.
  • Grace says the 3-D shift isn't just for movie theaters and televisions. The third dimension could also change how we access information.

The full interview follows.

What insights or capabilities does social media data give us that we didn't have 5-10 years ago?

Julia GraceJulia Grace: These technologies have reduced the barrier for entry for sharing, communicating and talking with other individuals. This is a story that's been told many times before: we used to interact with people locally, then we could call them on the phone, then we could go on planes, then we could email them, etc.

But to expand this: I think of someone walking past a stream or creek who can use their social network to report on conditions: "This stream bed is really low." "There's trash." Citizen science sorts of things.

And then your peers see this information and think "these people are interacting with the environment" or "maybe they're exercising more" or "maybe they're going to cool events." This kind of data broadens your horizons and allows you to understand more about the people you know. You also come in contact with people that perhaps would have been inaccessible before.

As the novelty of social networks fades, how do you see them changing?

JG: The beautiful humanizing features of social networks are slowly going away. It's becoming more about finding information fast, and getting it to your network fast.

As an aside: I met Omar Wasow, the co-founder of BlackPlanet, at a conference. He came up to me and said: “I read your Twitter stream. I feel like I know you.” We had this fantastic moment together. I told him I also followed his tweets, and I congratulated him for being on "Oprah."

But I don't think this kind of exchange would happen anymore because I don't share the sorts of things I used to. I'm a data source now. I'm not necessarily a person. I'm curious to see what will happen in the future as we become more and more boring because we're about news and not about people.

Julia Grace will make the case for a new dimension of data analysis at the Web 2.0 Expo in New York. Save 20% off registration with the discount code "radar."

What will you focus on in your Web 2.0 Expo keynote?

JG: We're at the dawn of the 3-D era. No longer will we go to the movies and see flat content. We're looking to bring 3-D into our homes, 3-D in video games, etc.

I've been thinking about how this 3-D movement is affecting Web 2.0. How can we take data and digital artifacts and use 3-D to tie this information together and show it?

We had charts. We had bar graphs. Then we made the charts interactive and we made the bar graphs clickable. And then we built mashups and put stuff on Google Maps. But inevitably, these visualizations are distorted and they're inaccurate. And you really can't show rich data. All of the tweets and Facebook updates and photos and geotagged information can't be shown on a bar graph.

But how can you represent that? How can I show something in 3-D? What we did at our lab was buy a seven-foot-tall, three-dimensional spherical projection surface. It's a big globe that we can project data on.

This seven-foot-tall globe helps IBM researchers explore data in new ways. In this photo, the globe is illustrating the spread of disease as part of the STEM public health project.

When I saw the globe I thought it would be cool to gather all the photos I've taken over the past two years and chart them. For example, I have Halloween photos. I know when Halloween was. I know where I was on Halloween, more or less. But it would be much easier for me to find those photos if I could look at the geographic regions where my photos were clustered, and then zoom in.

Instead of sorting by time, I think in the future we'll sort by and visualize by geography. That's a much better way to organize and recall information. More importantly, using this globe and using 3-D is a cooler and more pervasive way to show social networking data and personal data.

When I go to use something like Twitter and Facebook, like all of us do, everything is always time ordered. But now that we're generating truly global data, and we're able to look at information on this global scale, location is more important than time. You need to know where information is coming from in order to really understand what's going on.

As we adopt 3-D, will we need to deprogram our 2-D reference points?

JG: When we think about data, we think about something on a physical device. It's something we have to query for. But if we could just show it on a display, then visually, I think it will communicate. It will come across very clearly because we won't need complex mechanisms for sorting and searching. It will all be a natural and intuitive way to move around and zoom in as if it were on some sort of a map.

This interview was edited and condensed.


Julia Grace will discuss the relationship between Web 2.0 and 3-D at the Web 2.0 Expo in New York, being held Sep. 27-30. Save 20% off registration with the discount code "radar."

April 28 2010

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