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February 13 2014

Four short links: 13 February 2014

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

February 05 2014

Four short links: 5 February 2014

  1. sigma.js — Javascript graph-drawing library (node-edge graphs, not charts).
  2. DARPA Open Catalog — all the open source published by DARPA. Sweet!
  3. Quantified Vehicle Meetup — Boston meetup around intelligent automotive tech including on-board diagnostics, protocols, APIs, analytics, telematics, apps, software and devices.
  4. AT&T See Future In Industrial Internet — partnering with GE, M2M-related customers increased by more than 38% last year. (via Jim Stogdill)
Sponsored post

December 20 2013

Four short links: 20 December 2013

  1. A History of the Future in 100 Objects — is out! It’s design fiction, describing the future of technology in faux Wired-like product writeups. Amazon already beating the timeline.
  2. Projects and Priorities Without Managers (Ryan Carson) — love what he’s doing with Treehouse. Very Googley. The more I read about these low-touch systems, the more obviously important self-reporting is. It is vital that everyone posts daily updates on what they’re working on or this whole idea will fall down.
  3. Intellectual Ventures Patent Collection — astonishing collection, ready to be sliced and diced in Cambia’s Lens tool. See the accompanying blog post for charts, graphs, and explanation of where the data came from.
  4. Smokio Electronic Cigarette — the quantified cigarette (not yet announced) for measuring your (electronic) cigarette consumption and uploading the data (natch) to your smartphone. Soon your cigarette will have an IPv6 address, a bluetooth connection, and firmware to be pwned.

December 18 2013

Democratizing technology and the road to empowerment

Advancements in technology are making what once was relegated only to highly educated scientists, engineers and developers accessible to — and affordable for — the mainstream. This democratization of technology and the empowerment it affords was an underlying thread through many of the stories at this year’s Business Innovation Factory (BIF) summit. From allowing hobbyists and makers to innovate and develop on an advanced level to enabling individuals to take control of their personal health data to using space suits to help children with cerebral palsy, technological advancements are beginning to empower — and enrich — at scale.

With the rise of quantified self, for example, people have begun amassing personal data based on their activities and behaviors. Some argue that QS doesn’t go quite far enough and that a more complete story can be told by incorporating emotional data, our sense of experience. While it’s empowering in many ways to be able to collect and control all this personal big data, what to do with this onslaught of information and how to process it remains a question for many.

Alexander Tsiaras, who founded theVisualMD, argued in his talk at BIF9 that “story gives a soul to the data,” and that it’s time to change the paradigm, to start using technology to create ecosystems to empower people to understand what’s going on inside their bodies as a result of their behaviors.

Using visualization and interactive media, personal big data — medical records, test results, lab reports, diagnoses, and exercise and eating habits, for instance — are deconstructed, as Tsiaras explained, to “demystify” the data: “The beauty of visualization is that it speaks to everyone,” he said. From stories to explain test results to stories to help patients visualize the processes going on inside their bodies when they eat particular foods or when they exercise, people are able to turn their personal big data into stories, whether to better understand a chronic condition or to understand how their behaviors play into prevention. “This is the most important thing,” Tsiaras argued, “the moment you take control, that empowerment is huge.”

Arguably, one of the most democratizing and empowering of technological innovations is 3D printing — innovators can now manufacture the products they conceive, even at scale. BIF storyteller Ping Fu emphasized the potential of the technology through a powerful personal story of how her past experiences led her to computer science — a breakthrough, she explained, that changed her life personally and professionally, leading her to co-found 3D printing and design company Geomagic. Fu defined innovation as “imagination applied” and shared examples of innovations in 3D printing, including the Smithsonian’s plan to scan and print artifacts from its collection (which can now be achieved by individuals at home), custom prosthetics designed as mirror images of actual limbs, and the digital preservation of UNESCO World Heritage sites. Fu stressed that the technology should not be viewed as a platform for printing tchotchkes, that real-world, useful products are being produced.

This argument was further supported by storyteller Easton LaChapelle, a 17-year-old high school student who has used 3D printing technology in coordination with advancements in (and some creativity with) engineering materials to create a robotic hand that’s wirelessly controlled by a robotic glove — complete with haptic feedback — and a 3D-printed brain-wave-controlled robotic arm.

Affordable access to 3D printing, LaChapelle said, was key to his ability to move forward with his designs, and he noted that 3D printing is a driving force for innovation: “I can design something in my room and hit print, and within an hour, it’s in front of me; that alone is really fascinating, that you’re able to design something and have it physically in front of you; it’s remarkable in today’s world — it’s a whole evolving technology.”

Advancements in technology aren’t only empowering LaChapelle to create innovative designs in robotics; they’re empowering him to help humanity, and in turn, empowering humanity. He explained during his story:

“When I was at the science fair in Colorado, I had the first generation of the arm there for a public viewing, and a 7-year-old girl came up to me. She had a prosthetic limb from the elbow to the fingertip, with one motion — open-close — and one sensor. That alone was $80,000. That was really the moment that touched my heart, the “ah-ha” moment, that I could take what I’m already doing, transfer it directly to prosthetics, and potentially make people’s lives better.”

The final iteration of the arm is completely 3D printed, making it lightweight — from fingertip to shoulder, it’s in line to weigh less than five pounds — and cost about $400 to produce. “The third generation arm is the final [iteration of the arm] and the point where it can change people’s lives,” said LaChapelle. He’s currently working on developing exoskeleton legs for a friend who was paralyzed in a car accident, technology that he’ll make available to anyone with paralysis, MS or any other condition that impairs movement: “I want to solve this. My approach is to give them something they can afford and something they can use easily.”

You can watch LaChapelle’s inspiring talk in the following video:

In a similar vein, storyteller Dava Newman, professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics and Engineering Systems at MIT, explained how her team uses advances in materials technology to develop exoskeleton space suits to address particular issues astronauts experience in space, such as combating bone density loss, and increasing mobility and flexibility (see the gravity loading countermeasure suit, which is also used to help children with cerebral palsy perform daily activities).

Suits are also designed with high-precision EGain sensors to help provide muscular protection and measure hot spots and pressure while astronauts are training, in hopes of preventing shoulder injuries, for instance. The ultimate goal is developing the BioSuit, which uses electrospun materials, dielectric elastomers and shape memory alloys to provide a skin-tight, pressurized but flexible suit environment for astronauts. Newman stressed that the importance of our work as scientists, designers, researchers, artists, mathematicians, etc., is to take care of one another:

“…200 miles, 400 kilometers — Boston to New York — that’s where we’re living in space now; it’s low Earth orbit, and it’s fantastic and it’s great, but it’s been 40 years since we’ve been to another planetary body. I think, with all my great students and all the great dreamers in the world, we’ll get to the Moon, we’ll get to Mars, and we’re going for the search of life. It’ll be humans and rovers and robots all working together. The scientific benefit will be great, but the most important thing is that we learn about ourselves — it’s in the reflection and thinking about who we are and who humanity is.”

As technology advances and empowers more and more people to create, build and produce more and more innovative products and experiences, a discussion has begun as to the responsibility we have as engineers, scientists, designers, etc., to consider the implications and ramifications of our work, to using our designs for the benefit of humanity, to further social progress in a positive direction. It’s clear through these and other storytellers from BIF9 that doing so results in a more enriching, empowering experience for everyone.

December 06 2013

Quantified Self to Essential Self: mind and body as partners in health

“What are you tracking?” This is the conversation at Quantified Self (QS) meetups. The Quantified Self movement celebrates “self-knowledge through numbers.” In our current love affair with QS, we tend to focus on data and the mind. Technology helps manage and mediate that relationship. The body is in there somewhere, too, as a sort of “slave” to the mind and the technology.

From blood sugar to pulse, from keystrokes to time spent online, the assumption is that there’s power in numbers. We also assume that what can be measured is what matters, and if behaviors can be measured, they can be improved. The entire Quantified Self movement has grown around the belief that numbers give us an insight into our bodies that our emotions don’t have.

However, in our relationship with technology, we easily fall out of touch with our bodies. We know how many screen hours we’ve logged, but we are less likely to be able to answer the question: “How do you feel?”

In our obsession with numbers and tracking, are we moving further and further away from the wisdom of the body? Our feelings? Our senses? Most animals rely entirely on their senses and the wisdom of the body to inform their behavior. Does our focus on numbers, measuring, and tracking move us further and further away from cultivating a real connection to our “Essential Self”?

What if we could start a movement that addresses our sense of self and brings us into a more harmonious relationship with our bodymind and with technology? This new movement would co-exist alongside the Quantified Self movement. I’d like to call this movement the Essential Self movement.

This isn’t an either/or proposition — QS and Essential Self movements both offer value. The question is: in what contexts are the numbers more helpful than our senses? In what constructive ways can technology speak more directly to our bodymind and our senses?

I’ve always enjoyed “the numbers” when I’m healthy, and this probably has contributed to making good health even better. When I’m not healthy, the numbers are like cudgels, contributing to a feeling of hopelessness and despair.

For people struggling with health challenges, taking medication as directed can be considered a significant accomplishment. Now, progressive health clinics are asking diabetics to track blood sugar, exercise, food intake, and more. While all of this is useful information, the thing not being tracked is what high or low blood sugar feels like, or what it feels like to be hungry or full. The factors contributing to the numbers often are not and cannot easily be recorded.

I love the IBGStar for measuring blood sugar. For me, the most helpful information is in all the information around what might have contributed to the numbers: how late did I eat dinner?  How many hours did I sleep?  Did I eat a super large meal? Did I exercise after dinner? Did I feel that my blood sugar was high or low?  What did that feel like? Tracking answers to these questions touches on elements of both QS and Essential Self.

So, what is Essential Self and what technologies might we develop? The Essential Self is that pure sense of presence — the “I am.” The Essential Self is about our connection with our essential nature. The physical body, our senses and feelings are often responsive to our behaviors, to others, and to activities in ways to which we fail to attend. What if we cultivated our capacity to tune in in the same way animals tune in?  What if we had a set of supportive technologies that could help us tune in to our Essential Self?

Passive, ambient, non-invasive technologies are emerging as tools to help support our Essential Self. Some of these technologies work with light, music, or vibration to support “flow-like” states.  We can use these technologies as “prosthetics for feeling” — using them is about experiencing versus tracking. Some technologies support more optimal breathing practices. Essential Self technologies might connect us more directly to our limbic system, bypassing the “thinking mind,” to support our Essential Self.

When data and tracking take center stage, the thinking mind is in charge. And, as a friend of mine says, “I used to think my mind was the best part of me. Then I realized what was telling me that.”

Here are a few examples of outstanding Essential Self technologies; please share your examples and experiences in the comments:

    More than eight million people have downloaded f.lux. Once downloaded, f.lux matches the light from the computer display to the time of day: warm at night and like sunlight during the day. The body’s circadian system is sensitive to blue light, and f.lux removes most of this stimulating light just before you go to bed. These light shifts are more in keeping with your circadian rhythms and might contribute to better sleep and greater ease in working in front of the screen. This is easy to download, and once installed, requires no further action from you — it manages the display light passively, ambiently, and non-invasively.
    When neuroscience, music, and technology come together brilliantly, is the result. Many of us enjoy listening to music while we work. The folks at understand which music best supports sustained, engaged attention, and have curated a music library that can increase attention span up to 400% according to their website.  The selections draw from core neuroscience insights to subtly and periodically change the music so your brain remains in a “zone” of focused attention without being distracted. “Attention amplifying” music soothes and supports sustained periods of relaxed focus. I’m addicted.
  • Just for fun, use a Heartmath EmWave2 to track the state of your Autonomic Nervous System while you’re listening to one of the music channels.

September 24 2013

Four short links: 24 September 2013

  1. Measuring Heart Rate with a Smartphone Camera — not yet realtime, but promising sensor development.
  2. iBeaconslow-power, short-distance location monitoring beacons. Any iOS device that supports Bluetooth Low Energy can become an iBeacon, and can detect other iBeacons when they are nearby. Apps can be notified when iBeacons move in and out of range of the device, and can monitor the proximity of iBeacons as their proximity changes over time.
  3. Analysis: The Quantified Self (BBC) — radio show on QS. Good introduction for the novice.
  4. Tinke — heart rate, blood oxygen, respiration rate, and heart rate variability in a single small sensor that plugs into your iOS device.
  5. September 08 2013

    August 10 2013

    Four short links: 12 August 2013

    1. List of Malware pcaps and SamplesCurrently, most of the samples described have the corresponding samples and pcaps available for download.
    2. InterTwinkles — open source platform built from the ground up to help small democratic groups to do process online. It provides structure to improve the efficiency of specific communication tasks like brainstorming and proposals. (via Willow Bl00)
    3. Lavabit, Privacy, Seppuku, and Game Theory (Vikram Kumar) — Mega’s CEO’s private blog, musing about rational responses to malstates.
    4. Telepath Keylogger (Github) — A happy Mac keylogger for Quantified Self purposes. (via Nick Winter)

    May 31 2013

    Four short links: 31 May 2013

    1. Modeling Users’ Activity on Twitter Networks: Validation of Dunbar’s Number (PLoSone) — In this paper we analyze a dataset of Twitter conversations collected across six months involving 1.7 million individuals and test the theoretical cognitive limit on the number of stable social relationships known as Dunbar’s number. We find that the data are in agreement with Dunbar’s result; users can entertain a maximum of 100–200 stable relationships. Thus, the ‘economy of attention’ is limited in the online world by cognitive and biological constraints as predicted by Dunbar’s theory. We propose a simple model for users’ behavior that includes finite priority queuing and time resources that reproduces the observed social behavior.
    2. Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends (Slideshare) — check out slide 24, ~2x month-on-month growth for MyFitnessPal’s number of API calls, which Meeker users as a proxy for “fitness data on mobile + wearable devices”.
    3. What I Learned as an Oompa Loompa (Elaine Wherry) — working in a chocolate factory, learning the differences and overlaps between a web startup and an more traditional physical goods business. It’s so much easier to build a sustainable organization around a simple revenue model. There are no tensions between ad partners, distribution sites, engineering, and sales teams. There are fewer points of failure. Instead, everyone is aligned towards a simple goal: make something people want.
    4. Augmented Reality Futures (Quartz) — wrap-up of tech in the works and coming. Instruction is the bit that interests me, scaffolding our lives: While it isn’t on the market yet, Inglobe Technologies just previewed an augmented reality app that tracks and virtually labels the components of a car engine in real time. That would make popping the hood of your car on the side of the road much less scary. The app claims to simplify tasks like checking oil and topping up coolant fluid, even for novice mechanics.

    April 17 2013

    Four short links: 17 April 2013

    1. Computer Software Archive (Jason Scott) — The Internet Archive is the largest collection of historical software online in the world. Find me someone bigger. Through these terabytes (!) of software, the whole of the software landscape of the last 50 years is settling in. (And documentation and magazines and …). Wow.
    2. 7 in 10 Doctors Have a Self-Tracking Patientthe most common ways of sharing data with a doctor, according to the physicians, were writing it out by hand or giving the doctor a paper printout. (via Richard MacManus)
    3. opsmezzo — open-sourced provisioning tools from the Nodejitsu team. (via Nuno Job)
    4. Hacking Secret Ciphers with Pythonteaches complete beginners how to program in the Python programming language. The book features the source code to several ciphers and hacking programs for these ciphers. The programs include the Caesar cipher, transposition cipher, simple substitution cipher, multiplicative & affine ciphers, Vigenere cipher, and hacking programs for each of these ciphers. The final chapters cover the modern RSA cipher and public key cryptography.

    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.

    January 03 2013

    Four short links: 3 January 2013

    1. Community Memory (Wired) — In the early 1970s, Efrem Lipkin, Mark Szpakowski and Lee Felsenstein set up a series of these terminals around San Francisco and Berkeley, providing access to an electronic bulletin board housed by a XDS-940 mainframe computer. This started out as a social experiment to see if people would be willing to share via computer — a kind of “information flea market,” a “communication system which allows people to make contact with each other on the basis of mutually expressed interest,” according to a brochure from the time. What evolved was a proto-Facebook-Twitter-Yelp-Craigslist-esque database filled with searchable roommate-wanted and for-sale items ads, restaurant recommendations, and, well, status updates, complete with graphics and social commentary. But did it have retargeted ads, promoted tweets, and opt-in messages from partners? I THOUGHT NOT. (via BoingBoing)
    2. Latency Numbers Every Programmer Should Know (EECS Berkeley) — exactly that. I was always impressed by Artur Bergman’s familiarity with the speed of packets across switches, RAM cache misses, and HDD mean seek times. Now you can be that impressive person.
    3. Feds Requiring Black Boxes in All Vehicles (Wired) — [Q]uestions remain about the black boxes and data. Among them, how long should a black box retain event data, who owns the data, can a motorist turn off the black box and can the authorities get the data without a warrant. This is starting as regulatory compliance, but should be seized as an opportunity to have a quantified self.
    4. Average Age of StackExchange Users by Tag (Brian Bondy) — no tag is associated with people who have a mean age over 30. Did I miss the plague that wiped out all the programmers over the age of 30? Or does age bring with it supreme knowledge so that old people like me never have to use StackExchange? Yes, that must be it. *cough*

    November 09 2012

    October 26 2012

    Four short links: 26 October 2012

    1. BootMetro (github) — website templates with a Metro (Windows 8) look. (via Hacker News)
    2. Kenya’s Treasury to tax M-Pesa — 10% tax on mobile money-transfer systems. M-Pesa is the largest mobile money transfer service provider in Kenya, with more than 14 million subscribers. [...] It is estimated that M-Pesa reports some 2 million transactions per day. [...] the value of money transferred through mobile platforms jumped by 41 per cent in the first six months of 2012. Neer mind fighting you, you know you’re winning when they tax you! (via Evgeny Mozorov)
    3. Digital Divide and Fibre RolloutAs the group of non-users gets smaller, they are likely to become more seriously disadvantaged. The NBN – and high-speed broadband more generally – will drive a wave of new applications across most areas of life, transforming Australia’s service economy in fundamental ways. Those who are not connected in 2015 may be fewer, but they will be missing out on far more – in education, health, government, commerce, communication and entertainment. The costs will also fall on service providers forced to keep supplying expensive physical and face-to-face services to this declining number of people. This will be particularly significant in remote communities, where health consultations and evacuations by flying doctors, nurses and allied health professionals could potentially be reduced through e-health diagnostics, and where Centrelink still regularly sends teams out to communities. As gov2 expands and services move online, connectivity disadvantages are compounded. (via Ellen Strickland)
    4. Smart Body Smart World (Forrester) — take note of these two consequences of Internet of Things and Quantified Self: Verticals fuse: “Health and wellness” is not its own silo, but is connected to our finances, our shopping habits, our relationships. As bodies get connected, everyone is in the body business. Retail disperses: All retailers become computing retailers, and computing-specific retailers like Best Buy go the way of Blockbuster. You wouldn’t buy a smart toothbrush at a specialty CE store; you’d be more likely to buy it in the channel that solves the rest of your hygiene needs. (via Internet of Things)

    July 25 2012

    Four short links: 25 July 2012

    1. Bank of England Complains About AR Bank NotesAfter downloading the free Blippar app on iPhone or Android, customers were able to ‘blipp’ any ten-pound note in circulation by opening the app and holding their phone over the note. An animated Queen, and other members of the Royal Family, then appeared on the screen and voiced opinions on the latest football matters.
    2. Kittydar — open source computer vision library in Javascript for identifying cat faces. I am not making this up. (via Kyle McDonald
    3. Quantified Mind — battery of cognitive tests, so you can track performance over time and measure the effect of interventions (coffee, diet, exercise, whatever). (via Sara Winge)
    4. Jellyfish Made From Rat Cells (Nature) — an artificial jellyfish using silicone and muscle cells from a rat’s heart. The synthetic creature, dubbed a medusoid, looks like a flower with eight petals. When placed in an electric field, it pulses and swims exactly like its living counterpart. Very cool, but the bit that caught my eye was: the team built the medusoid as a way of understanding the “fundamental laws of muscular pumps”. It is an engineer’s approach to basic science: prove that you have identified the right principles by building something with them.
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