Tinkering

The Anti-Halo Effect

Appification

Create pro-consumer mobile technology and open up a new market of multi-platform and platform-agnostic users who want the best devices.

The Washington Post ran a great article on the increasing problems of vendor lock-in with tablets and mobile devices. In simple language it boils down the problem around why buying an app for one device doesn't give you access to that app anywhere else; if you switch from an iPhone to an Android phone, you'll have to re-buy your apps, and your iTunes content. This partially is lock-in, but there's also a halo-effect - you can transfer an app from on iPhone to a new iPhone, or content from your desktop iTunes to your iWhatever - and the more devices from the same vendor, the better the system works.

But this is a horrible direction to take, and why I rarely buy apps or content from locked-down stores like iTunes. My desktop computer runs Ubuntu Linux, my tablet Android, and my phone is an iPhone. The media server for our house is a Mac Mini, and I finally retired my hold-out Windows computer last year. I refuse to buy music that I can only listen to on one of those myriad devices any more than I'd buy a CD that only plays in my car, but not in my home, or food that I could eat in the kitchen, but not in the dining room or on a picnic.

By and large, I'm a good target demographic - some discretionary income, a gadget afficionado, and generally plugged in to fun new technologies, but my market is rarely well served.

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The robots are coming Jon Fri, 09/23/2011 - 06:26

A colleague and I have the first of two articles posted on FastCompany - discussing the role of automation in job creation -- and destruction:

Look deeply into the beady little electronic eye of your vacuum-cleaning robot, and you’ll see a machine bent on world domination. For now, it focuses on finding and eradicating dirt, but every time it gets into a particularly extracted fight with a wall, your feet, or a house pet--you know it has larger ambitions. More concerning than the Roomba’s aggressive policy stance against furniture legs is what it as a product means for labor, job creation, and automation.

We’re used to a well-worn path in manufacturing, and business in general. An extra bright cave-dweller figures out how to use a round object to help move large things, early adopters begin to share the practice, and then pretty soon everyone is using wheels. Eventually, artisan wheel-makers find themselves out of a job when factories start pumping out robot-manufactured wheels, and we move on as a society--wheels are now a given commodity.

The thing is, those robots have taken over the factory floor, and are moving upstairs.

Read more: http://www.fastcompany.com/1781904/instead-of-just-eliminating-jobs-aut…

Apples that are neither green nor easy to digest. Jon Fri, 04/22/2011 - 10:25

A few weeks back, I saw this show, "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs" at the Woolly Mammoth. It's by Mike Daisey, and is a work of non-fiction, describing his experiences infiltrating electronics factories in China (read a bit about that at ABC News, and watch the embedded TechCrunch interview. It's playing in Seattle soon, and might come back to DC eventually. It is absolutely worth watching. It perfectly captures the Apple fanboy, and technology enthusiasts in general, and will have you howling with laughter at you see yourself in his portrayals of these characters. By the end, however, you may not want to touch your iPhone. Or buy one. Or consider the conditions under which it was made.

To add on to that, Apple just got named as the least green tech company by GreenPeace, focusing primarily on their coal-powered data centers. Facebook came in second, while Yahoo, Google and Amazon were praised for their use of clean energy.

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Tech4Dev: What's in your backpack?

Inveno's ICT_Works blog recently advertised their awesome addition to the ICT4D world - a solid toolkit to carry to the field.

I made a much lower-tech personal version many years ago, as an IT Peace Corps volunteer. Mine of course was (a) very low cost and (b) designed to travel stuck in side-pocket of a backpack on a crowded country-bound bus. OK, it was really just a few screwdrivers, a 3-2 prong electrical adapter, and a flashlight.

I also always carried around:

1 ~3' crossover cable or crossover adapter (no faster way to test networking!)

1 multi-head cable tool (the kind with a core USB retractable cable and a pouch of other cable-heads to turn it into a phone, network, mini/micro/device USB, firewire, etc. -- easy way to carry around "the right cable for the job" when you're not sure what today's job might be)

My favorite toolkit items were more around the software end of the spectrum, though:

1 bootable USB stick with DamnSmallLinux and a PortableApps Suite

1 bootable floppy with WinXP/NT admin password reset tool

1 BartPE bootable XP CD with anti-virus and diagnostic tools

1 Knoppix or other Linux LiveCD that will work on a wide range of hardware and let you extract files from the HDD

1 CD and USB stick of common free/shareware/OSS software tools - anti-virus, various anti-mal/spy-ware, registry cleaners, zip/archive software, OpenOffice, PDF creation tools, and so on.

Ubuntu 10: Worth the wait

Just a quick note: Ubuntu 10 totally rocks. Better digital video and audio support (via HDMI and toslink) than Windows 7, slicker than Mac OSX with a great dock and productivity-enhancer with gnome-do/docky, tons of crazy user interface enhancements, a smooth 3D desktop... the list goes on. It's amazing, and it's open source.

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Waiting for Ubuntu 10

I finally broke down and bought a laptop, as my existing bevy of half-working laptops is now seriously impacting my ability to actually get things done, as opposed to yak shaving in order to fix the random problem of the day.

Here's a quick tour of my harem of laptops:

A "desktop replacement" system that was cutting edge ... seven years ago - which is surprisingly still my "prime" system.

The "get me through grad school" system that was grabbed off of DellAuction ... four years back, which now has a hard drive which smells of impending FAIL and a hinge which is held together with metal glue

My indefatigable Dell Latitude which I got at the liquidation auction of Agillion in 1999, which traveled with me from Austin to Venezuela to Jamaica to DC, and has had Win2k, 98SE and various flavors of Linux running on it.

Last but not least, my OLPC, which I have a soft spot for, but it's not exactly super-fast itself)

The laptop (a Lenovo Ideapad) has arrived, pre-installed with Windows7, but I am doing my best to not use it much. I'm waiting for Ubuntu 10 to come out tomorrow and see what craziness I can get into there.

My get-me-through-grad-school system is currently running Ubuntu, but isn't quite up to the task of my expectations (I love running all the eye-candy available with "Compiz", which you can see an old demo of at youtube.

Behind the Wire: How To build your own news portal

ServiceWire Logo

ServiceWire.org is a refreshed version of a news system that's been part of YSA's servenet.org toolset for years. In fact, when servenet.org was launch in the mid-nineties (1996 in fact) its motto was "Our Content in Youth Info" - a few years ahead of its time in terms of "Web 2.0" concepts or peer-generated content.

In late 2008 I decided it was time to bring ServiceWire up to date with current technologies. It still got a smattering of news and press release submissions from the field, but it was no longer the source of news and knowledge about what was happening in the service movement.

At its heart, ServiceWire is very simple - it takes content from the service field and collects it all in one place, making it easy to follow, comment on, and explore trends.

Read on to learn all about how it works, how you can take greater advantage of it, and how you can make your own version of it!

In Defense of the Laptop

Reading Alanna Shaikh's writeup on the OLPC Program as a failure in the UNDispatch and clicking through to Timothy Ogden's harsh commentary, I began to feel a bit defensive for OLPC. I know, it's a bit out of character, but not really.


SJ Preaching to the Open Source Choir

Perhaps this is because SJ reminded me of some of the core good things that remain part of OLPC during his talk at the OLPC Learning Club / HacDC.org seminar Tuesday night. SJ went off on tangents on the value of open hardware in society, and the simple concept for learners when they realize that they have complete ownership and ability to open up and modify not only the tools inside the apps on the OLPC laptop, but the code that creates the tools, the code that is the operating system underneath those tools, and the hardware itself that the OS is running on top of. This is empowering and fundamentally and importantly different from a Microsoft environment, where everything is closed and locked down once you try to step outside the walled gardens.

Drupal Mapping IV: Filtering and Customization of the Map

This is the continuation of my journal on getting mapping to work for Global Youth Service Day in Drupal, which starts with an overview of maps and drupal, and continues with a discussion of modules, then talks about getting content into the map.

Remember back in Part II where I mentioned the Views and Panels module?

Views gives you very precise control over what shows up on new maps you can show up. Even better, use can create "arguments" that can be passed through the URL to further define what shows up. For example, I created a view whose base URL was /gysd/map/ -- if you go there, you get a listing of years to choose from (do you want to see events from GYSD 2008? GYSD 2009?) If you click on 2008, the url is now /gysd/map/2008 - and you see all the events for that year. I then created some other map options to list by country, state, and so on, so there's another path that goes like this: /gysd/map-by-location/2008/us/FL . If I cut that one off at 2008/, I'd see a listing of all the countries I had data for. If I cut it at us/ , I'd see all the regions (states) with data. You could also set a map up with zip codes, taxonomies, and so on. Drupal 6's Views2 is an order of magnitude more powerful that Views1, and alone it's a reason to upgrade to D6.

To create a map view, you have to first (after installing the views modules above, and creating a new view) select GMap View from the Page view set of options (under View Type). This enables the map functionality. I put information into the Header section to guide users in the navigation process.