My First Raspberry Pi Robot

I’ve been doing a lot of things lately, and blogging is clearly not one of them. Most recently, I put together a Raspberry Pi robot. I used the Redbot kit from Sparkfun as well as their RaspiRobot controller board. I also found a cute quala head portable speaker to attach later. My mother asked for a video and this is the result. That weird music is just something I wrote back in highschool useing Fast Tracker II.

The Mess Of Social Media

Did you know kids don’t use email? They say they prefer social media and txt messages. The other day I opened up Pidgin for the first time in a while and realized that I haven’t added any “new” contacts in years. I barely write to my own blog and have failed to visit my RSS feed reader in a very long time.

Meanwhile, I use Facebook on a daily basis. Sometimes I keep tabs on my mobile. My problem with Facebook has recently become what my problem on MySpace used to be. I don’t like the software. I want something very different. I stay for two reasons. First, I know a lot of people who are active on Facebook. Second, I haven’t found an alternative I would want to encourage my friends to join.

The recent closure of Internet connectivity in Egypt during the revolution sends a strong message about ownership of the Internet. Ownership should be distributed. The tool that replaces Facebook should be distributed. Diaspora perhaps?

It’s really pretty simple. If we the people can hang on to the Internet – even if it means building our own – then we stand a chance. Otherwise, nothing changes from the way things have been for thousands of years. This is about to become very important.

Stephenf, iPad, and some rationality…

ComputerSo I see this trending topic going around called, “I need to talk to you about computers.” It didn’t take me long to facepalm. See, Stephenf does a fine job of painting a perspective of technology evolution with a wide scope. He also has a fine point about consumers desiring more specialized and easier to use devices.

Unfortunately, Stephenf missed obvious points. First, the trend isn’t strictly with computers becoming more specialized. There’s also a trend of specialized devices becoming more computerized. Actually, we’ve had specialized devices for a long time. Take a car radio for example. A car radio was once electro-mechanical with no logic circuits. Somewhere along the way car radios became digital devices with lcd displays. Now, folks have full blow media centers inside their automobiles. There exists a giant webbing of technological points and the tendency is for those points to converge – for gaps to be filled in. Netbooks are an example of a gap being filled in. The devices are more powerful than smartphones yet more portable than laptops. Netbooks are popular because they filled a need.

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webOS: A New World Open

Palm Pre and The Legend of TalibahWelcome to the next big thing: webOS. Palm’s new smartphone, the Pre running their brand new operating system, webOS truly breaks new ground. webOS represents an evolutionary step that does to smartphones what Web 2.0 did to the Internet. Keep in mind, we’re talking about webOS, not the Pre. While the Pre is a solid piece of technology, it’s basically a lot of existing hardware re-arranged in a nice package. The evolutionary step comes from Palm’s new operating system. Lets look at two big pieces:

Interoperability

Remember when we first adopted technologies such as RSS feeds and publicly available Web application APIs? The design change was a shift to better interoperability for the user. The result was a better overall user experience on the Internet.

This concept is echoed all over in webOS’s design fundamentals. The recent cat and mouse game with Apple over iTunes is the most widely known and obvious example. This was never an issue for me. I use Ubuntu as my desktop operating system. There’s no version of iTunes for Ubuntu. Even if there was, I wouldn’t use it. I prefer to simply copy my DRM free music right from my hard drive onto the Pre. Increasingly, people want the media they buy to play on all the devices they own. With webOS on the Pre, it’s just that easy – without installing any additional software.

Palm introduced us to the world of device syncing a long time ago. This is how most iPhone and iPod users update their music now. Unlike these devices, the Palm does not require any additional software installations for the user. In fact, information like calendars, phone numbers, and even your facebook accounts are all kept in sync over the wireless connection.

Palm is making it a point to have webOS openly communicating in every way it can. In a way, a Pre running webOS is a well established little node of your social network. If you’re chatting with a friend over google chat and they go offline, you’ll automatically switch to sending text messages to their phone. The experience is seemless from your point of view.

Application Development

I recently installed the Palm Mojo SDK and built my first test app. With my existing CSS knowledge, I laid out a simple tile based grid with a sprite on top. I was surprised to recognize the MVC architecture of the framework. I’m familiar with MVC from building Web applications. Any Web 2.0 era developer will likely remember how things changed with MVC frameworks first came on the scene. The big difference here is that the language is javascript and the application runs on the smartphone client instead of a web server.

A significant section of the tech community criticized the SDK. It’s entirely true that developing games that take advantage of the machine’s hardware is not possible in the SDK. However, early homebrewers had 3D videogames running on the Pre before the SDK was released. The Pre and webOS have the capacity for gaming level graphics.

The Mojo SDK creates a low barrier of entry to thousands of Web developers interested in building smartphone apps. If you want a simple interface for your Web app, building it on the Pre is extremely easy.

Conclusion

If you’re like me, and you’re a fan of Clay Shirky, you might already see the formula that’s at play here. Palm opened up channels to lots of existing technology by improving interoperability in webOS. Then, Palm made it easy and inviting to come contribute to this new exploration. Palm didn’t just release a great smartphone, they created an architecture for participation. Thank you Palm.

You’re A Social Media What?

I’ve struggled with some job titles in the past. Occasionally I would be filling a new role that related to some emerging tech and have the challenge of trying to tell people what I was doing in as few words as possible. About the time I would finally settle on something I thought fit, I would either find out that the title I selected already meant something else or that the popular group think of the greater community already selected another title and I just hadn’t noticed it yet.

Apparently, group think settled on the title of “Social Media Expert” recently. Meanwhile, the title is being mocked in a few places. Here’s what I know about social media – it’s not likely, perhaps not even possible, to be a social media expert. If you knew everything about social media this morning (even though you didn’t), by this evening it will have changed and evolved so much you’ll have already fallen behind.

In fact, I would go so far to say that anyone who is willing to call themselves a Social Media Expert immediate brands themselves as a fake – a seller of snake oil in a roadside freak show. That’s not to say you’re not wonderfully gifted in understanding the ebb and flow of social media dynamics – but an expert you are not.

So here’s an alternative, call youself a Social Media Specialist. Face it, you’re not an authority on social media. Social media is greater than any one of us. However, if it is your passion, if you are dedicating a significant part of your energy to understanding it and being involved in it – then call yourself a specialist.

Hey, that’s just my $0.02.

Running vs Driving

Alright, I’m an advocate of not driving more than need be. I’m kind of lazy, so I’m not always a good advocate. However, you’ve got to use your body to keep it working. That’s the neat thing about a self-maintaining machine. Anyway, that said, let me get to my quick point. I’ve seen a number of comments from treehugger ecogeeks about the amount of calories a car consumes daily versus the amount of calories our bodies use. It’s interesting stuff, but there’s a point I see missing often times. Cars carry heavy stuff (if only itself) across long distances very quickly. So lets play with some numbers.

First, there’s this popular link over on GOOD showing the amount of calories in gasoline. Meanwhile there’s a considerably less popular link to NutriStrategy’s calories burned per exercise. From the first link, we know that gasoline has 31,268 calories per gallon. A Ford Escort gets upwards of 40mpg. Lets make the math easy and say it gets 31.268 mpg. (See what I did there?)

31,268 cpg / 31.268 mpg = 1,000 calories per mile

This car weighs almost 2,500lbs. The average American is slightly lighter. According to that NutriStrategy chart, running at 10mph for 1 hour burns 1126 calories for a 155lbs person. Can you run at 10mph for a full hour? Holy crap. Anyway, lets pretend you can. In 1 hour at 10mph, you’ll run (approximately, I’m no mathematician) 10 miles. (See, I’m doing it again.) So, lets do the math.

1126 c / 10m = 112.6 calories per mile

Neat.. so we’re looking at a car using somewhere between 8 and 9 times as many calories per mile. Now less toss weight in. The car was 2500lbs (not including the person) and our person is 155lbs.

2500lbs / 155lbs = 16.1

The car is moving the same amount of weight as 16 people. Now, you might say “but a lot of that car weight is the engine itself…” True, but the same is true for the human, no? So lets keep going a moment. Let see how many cpm per pound we’re using.

Car: 1000cpm / 2500 = 0.40 calories per mile per pound…

Human: 112.6 / 155 = 0.73 calories per mile per pound…

Assuming a car speed of around 60mph, that means a human uses almost twice as many calories per pound to move at 1/6th the speed of the car. That is assuming no extra load for either. Toss in another person or two and a couple of hundred pounds of gear, what do you think is the best way for you and your mates to travel over long distance?

Now that I’ve blogged in support of the automobile, I’d like to say that I’m not a big fan of America’s addiction to cars. I’d like to see better use of trains, actually. However, pretty pieces of art showing calorie use compared is kind of a load of crap. Speaking of crap, I wonder what kind of numbers you would get if you compared the emissions per calorie consumed for a car versus a human? Ewww….

The Next Big Thing In Mobile

It’s an old idea that has yet to see the light of day. I’ve heard more than one person talk about it and I’ve fantasized about how to implement it myself a few times. I’m finally confident that it’s inevitable.

Look at the current generation of mobile devices. While these devices do not “live up to the dream” of mobile computing, they are rapidly evolving in that direction. Here’s a day in the life of a future mobile device.

Your device is sitting in a magnetic cradle where it is connected via bluetooth to your media center. When the alarm goes off, the media center plays a soothing beach track to wake you up. As you wake up, you tap the top of your device and say “weather”. As you finish getting up, the day’s weather forecast is played through your media center. You shower, dress, grab your device and head out the door.

Walking up to your car, you tap out a few menus on your device’s perfectly fluid multi-touchscreen user interface. By doing this, you’ve remotely unlocked your car and started your engine. This also started a bluetooth connection that enabled the bluetooth GPS antenna to boost your device’s performance as well as a bluetooth connection to the car radio. After resting your device on the car’s magnetic cradle, you tap the top of your device and say “news”. While driving to work, you issue a variety of voice commands such as “local” and “technology” to guide the news reporting. Today you’ve decided to listen to the latest BBC podcasts and live streams.

Once at work, you sit at your desk and pull up your tablet computer. In the bottom of the computer there’s a rectangular bay that perfectly fits your mobile device. You drop your mobile device into place and the tablet prompts you for a passcode. This passcode requires turning circles on the screen in a combination pattern. Once logged in, the tablet computer interfaces with our mobile device. The tablet can now use the networking capabilities of your mobile device. All of your personal files are now accessible by the tablet computer including those stored on a cloud. The mobile device works as an authentication system for online services. With your mobile device plugged in, when you go to Facebook, you are automatically identified via your mobile device.

Enough of the story, but you get the idea. Your mobile device will become what your wallet is today. It will also become what your

Portable Video Wikipedia

How handy would this be? – A rich media based version of Wikipedia where all the content was video based. No, I don’t mean a flash website. I mean a huge organized archive of video clips that present useful information.

Now how cool would it be if you could sync your iPod style device to this database at any time and keep it up to date with the database?

As an example, you could hook it up to a GPS and it could tell you interesting things about where you’re at in the world. Imagine driving past a national monument and the kids in the back seat are treated to a history lesson on the flip down video screen.

Another example, you’re laying on your back with your significant other and looking at the stars. One of you asks about a constellation so you pause that romantic background music long enough to get the low down on those heavenly bodies.

Open Source Social Networking

Social Networking is easy. Any user can jump online and join one of hundreds of social networking sites. The “friends list” concept is popping up all over the place. You can find social networks for posting pictures, videos, and even finding dates. Perhaps it’s the ease of use that enables them to be so popular.

What I would like to see happen next wouldn’t be as “easy” as our current batch of social networks. Because it’s not easy, I don’t expect the idea to ever take off. Still, I would like to see it happen just as much.

I would like to abstract the friends list concept entirely. This would also require abstracting the identity concept entirely (see OpenID and Sxip). Anyway, the concept is such that you manage a mast friends list somewhere. This would contain considerably more complex information than what most social networks offer now. It would allow for grouping, would show number of hops between you and another person, and would allow for public/private view management. Above all else, it would be build such that you are not locked into any one platform. If you build a personal home page, you could write an app that enables your social network. If you installed a piece of popular web software for content management on your personal site, it would include plugins to activate your social network.

Basically, what I’m getting at, is removing the social network from the walled garden of a service provider. Now instead of having a profile on a service, you have your own website that you can develop as you see fit.

I think that this concept will eventually happen in one form or another. It’s taking a while for the identity management stuff to catch on so I’m sure it will be a long time. I’ve thought about the problem in a few different ways and I’m not sure what the best method of solving the problem would be. Maybe it’s built on something as simple as defining relationships in your anchor tags.

Just thinking out loud about this one. If anyone knows of projects of this nature, please let me know.

Forum Interface Evolved: PHPBB + Yahoo! UI

PHPBB with Yahoo! UI
I’m all excited this morning. I ran into Jack Slocum‘s PHPBB+YUI project. You can see the default PHPBB install here and then check out the YUI version here. The readability improvements are absolutly astounding. I’ve seen attempts to create multi-pane forum views fail many times. This version seems to take a lot of cues from a mail client interface – and takes them very well.

I don’t know just how well evolved the project is, how bug free the interface is, or if every feature is fully implemented. However, this drastic change in forum formatting seems to present almost no learning curve time. Unlike many interface designs, I didn’t find myself ‘figuring it out’ – it just made sense. That may be because I’m used to a mail client interface… or it may be because that interface is so well evolved.

Regardless, it’s refreshing to see this kind of work being done. I can’t wait to see this sort of UI work make it into standard forum interfaces. The forum really does need to either evolve… or die.