Tag Archives: quantified self

SXSW Interactive 2015 Wrap-Up


March 20, 2015 at 4:58 pm (No Comments)

Spring break has come and gone in Austin, which means that we’re recovering from another amazing SXSW Interactive festival. This year for me was a year of narrative story technologies and Community.  For the last several years I’ve been going to SXSW with my wife, Irma, and this year she had her own session.  That meant she spent a lot of time in the women in tech tracks, and we didn’t see each other as much as usual.  It’ll be interesting to read her write up, when she gets to it.

Friday – Al, Tim, BBQ, Old Friends, & 3D Printed Clothes

Friday started off with Life in the OASIS: Emulating the 1980’s in-Browser, a panel from Ready Player One author Ernest Cline (who has a new novel coming out, Armada, which I just pre-ordered), and Jason Scott, rogue librarian at the Internet Archive, talking about 80’s video games an in-browser emulators. Unfortunately due to our bus driver getting lost (transportation was a recurring pain-point at SXSW this year) I wasn’t able to make the session, but Jason, being a free-range archivist, put up the audio for all of us to enjoy.

Al GoreWhile we didn’t have time to get to the Life in the OASIS session, we had some time to burn till the session after, so Irma and I headed to Exhibit Hall 5, which is big and always has a lot of room to plop down and get your stuff sorted.  SXSW is the kind of conference where you can be just looking for a place to get your bearings and end up listening to Al Gore talk about climate change, the Pope, and his newfound optimism, which is exactly what happened.

After Al we moved up front for a presentation from perennial SXSW personality Tim Ferriss, who had a 30 minute How To Rock SXSW in 4 Hours talk, followed by QA. It’s always weird for me to see Tim at SXSW. I was on the first row of his first SXSW talk on the tiny Day Stage promoting the about to be released 4 Hour Work Week, way back in 2007.  To say our paths diverged would be an interesting understatement.  The main points of Tim’s talk were: Don’t be a jerk and treat everyone like they could make your career (because they probably can),.  He had some hangover cure suggestions (eat avocados before you go party), and reminded all the introverts to take the time to breathe.

Tim FerrissOne anecdote he told on the treating everyone well point was from one of his early CESes.  He spent most of his time in the bloggers lounge (a good place to meet people), and while everyone was trying to get the attention of Robert Scoble, he chatted up the lady checking people in.  Eventually he made a comment about Robert, and she said, “Oh, you should totally talk to him.  He’s my husband, let me give you a ring back in San Francisco and we’ll have lunch.”  So yea, you never know who people are.  I was standing in line at a session later in the conference and started talking to the lady next to me, who turned out to be the head of innovation at Intuit.

After Tim it was time for lunch, and we ended up at Ironworks BBQ. They have a $16.45 3 meat sampler plate (beef rib, sausage, and brisket), and well… a picture’s worth a thousand words…

Ironworks BBQ Plate

Our buddy Matt Sanders (formerly a Polycot, then an HPer, and now at Librato) was in town from San Francisco for the conference, and joined us to indulge in smoked meat.  We ended up eating at Ironworks at least 3 more times, which was kind of expensive, but fast and good.

After lunch Matt and I headed over to the new JW Marriott to a panel from Dutch fashion designer Pauline van Dongen titled Ready to Wear? Body Informed 3D Printed Fashion. This session was a perfect example of what makes SXSW such a unique conference: It’s a subject that I’m curious about, but one I’d never go to a conference specifically to see.  Pauline was wearing some of her tech-enabled fashions (a shirt with solar cells embedded in it), and talked about how fashion meets technology and how often in technology we design for the static (interlocking shapes), not the organic.  She profiled two of her projects, one a sleeve that morphs based on the wearer’s movement, and the other a neck ruff that uses electrically contracting wire to ‘breathe’ while worn. The challenges she faced (48 hour print cycles, unpredictability of material behavior) and insights discovered were really interesting, and it was one of the panels I kept thinking about most over the next few days.

After this panel I wandered through the job fair for a bit, which has expanded significantly in the last year.  It was interesting to see Target and Apple looking for candidates at SXSW.

Saturday – Storytelling Machines, Future Crime, New Parents in Tech

Talk Photo

First thing Saturday morning was my session with Jon Lebkowsky: Machines That Tell Stories.  We had a great turnout, and there are notes from the discussion at the link. Looking over the schedule, storytelling and storytelling systems were a very hot topic.  I was talking to Deus Ex Machina (an interactive theater project) producer Robert Matney later that it felt like the story zeitgeist erupted out of nowhere, and the flood of sessions made for a very interesting conference.  The discussion was really interesting, and it was gratifying to hear that there was a lot of cross-pollination between attendees.  I even heard that people were still connecting at the airport on their way home.

SocksChris Hurd, one of my friends and the guy behind DVinfo.net, gave me a tip one time from his years working big trade shows like NAB: The best way to keep a spring in your step at a long conference is to change your socks in the middle of the day.  So after leading our session, and stopping into the 3M booth, we went back to the car, dumped our stuff, and I changed my socks.  We had a long day ahead of us, and it was definitely worth it.

Next I went to a session titled Future Crimes From the Digital Underworld by Marc Goodman. It’s always interesting to see the people who’ve given a talk a lot of times versus people who are presenting the material for the first time.  Marc’s obviously really practiced at this talk, complete with jokes, audience-call-outs, and what have you.  It’s a fun talk, but the net-net is that everything in security is terrible, and it’s just going to get worse with trillions of IoT devices.  I didn’t need Marc to tell me that.  I have Taylor Swift.

After that was Irma’s meetup: New Parents in Tech. She had an interesting turnout, with only one other woman (there was a lot of competition for the women technologist this year, with a strong moms in tech panel opposite), but a lot of dads.  Two product guys from Fisher Price showed up, too, and I had an interesting discussion with them about Baby’s Musical Hands (Clara’s first app) and iPad cases (they don’t sell many anymore, possibly due to the kid market saturating with hand-me-downs).  After a good discussion, it was on to…

Saturday/Sunday – Community

Harmontown

Community!  And Harmontown!  And Dan Harmon!

Ok, I’ll admit it. Community is my biggest takeaway from SXSW. It’s my favorite TV show, the only thing I watch obsessively.  I’ve seen every episode, most of them a half dozen times. I follow the actors (even the lesser-known ones) on twitter. Fanboy = Me.

Yahoo! Screen picked up Community last year after NBC didn’t renew it.  The switch from broadcast to streaming distribution made it perfect SXSW fodder, especially after the Harmontown documentary premiered at SXSW Film last year.  Yahoo! pulled out the big guns, though, and beyond just having Dan show up to talk about the switch, they brought the whole cast, and premiered the 1st episode of the new season a few days early for the fans.  It was epic.

Community CastWe had great seats for Harmontown, and were next to the stage when they brought out the cast and showed the season premier. When they showed the episode everybody sat down on the floor, and in one of the most amazing things I’ve ever been in the middle of, we all sang along kumbaya style to the theme song.

The episode was great, and we had a wonderful time.

The next morning, after a panel I’ll talk about in a second, was a SXSW panel with the Community cast.  Everyone was there again, and there was a great discussion about the show.  For my money, it was even more interesting than Community’s previous Paleyfest discussions, probably due to the fact that there wasn’t a real moderator, just Dan Harmon asking the cast questions.  We had front row seats for that one, too.

Community Panel

Some notes for Community fans:

  • In the QA someone mentioned Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design as their favorite (it’s my favorite too, I was the weirdo in the audience who applauded at that), and Dan told a story about how they essentially threw out the last 1/3rd of the episode (the original ending involved the teachers creating the conspiracy) while they were shooting.  The final scene didn’t get scripted until they were in the study room blocking it off. They had NBC Standards and Practices on the phone, because there’s a lot of gunplay, and they were describing it, and finally the person from Standards and Practices said ‘Is there any way you can make it about gun safety?’  And if you’ve seen the episode, that’s how the ending happened.  Lots of Community episodes come together at the last minute.
  • The speech Ben Chang gives in Analysis of Cork-Based Networking (about the character being a real person, but just being portrayed as crazier and crazier) was lifted nearly verbatim from an email Ken Jeong wrote to Dan Harmon about the character. When Ken was performing it, he teared up (those are real tears) because he was so touched.
  • Alison Brie’s contract is up this season, we’ll see if she’s back if they make a movie or Season 7.
  • In discussing the longer episodes now that they aren’t constrained by NBC commercial breaks, Joel McHale noted that The Dick Van Dyke Show episodes were 29 minutes, which made me think that there’s an interesting comparison between The Dick Van Dyke Show as Community and I Love Lucy as The Big Bang Theory.

Ok, so that’s Community.  It was great.  Watch it on Yahoo! Screen.

Sunday – Transmedia Storytelling, Bot Authors, & Makers

Before the morning Community panel was a session titled Worlds Without Boundaries: Books, Games, Films, with James Frey (author and media maker) and Jon Hanke (architect behind Google’s Ingress game).  It was a fascinating discussion about media that crosses boundaries.  James mentioned he was heavily inspired as a kid by the book Masquerade, which included puzzles and a treasure hunt in the real world.  In his series, Endgame, there’s a puzzle pointing to keys that unlock a chest in the Caesars Palace casino in Las Vegas holding $.5, $1, and $1.5 million dollars in gold (per book, respectively).  They’re doing an app with Niantic Labs (Google), and they’re planning films.  It’s an interesting product development scheme: Have a stable of creatives come up with a world.  Sell some of the rights (film, TV), partner to do some products (games), and do others in house (books, novellas).

FloorAfter the Community panel I spent some time in the SXSW trade show.  General themes this year were lots of Japanese hardware startups (on Kickstarter, natch), lots of countries, and almost no hosting or cloud booths (save for Softlayer).  A lot more music, and a little ergonomic furniture.  Overall a less interactive-heavy trade show than years gone by.  I’m not entirely sure why that was, but there you go.  Wordpress didn’t come with their great t-shirts this year, so I guess I’ll have to actually go to the store to buy my clothes.  I did manage to pick up a new Olloclip, though, and even got to see it built in front of me.

In the afternoon I made it over to Automated Insights panel When Robots Write The News, What Will Humans Do?, moderated by James Kotecki, Automated Insights’ PR guy. This was an great discussion between Robbie Allen, the CEO of Automated Insights, and Lou Ferrara, a VP from Associated Press.  Automated Insights’ software produces AP stories in sports and stock reporting from raw data, and it was interesting to hear their discussion about what will be automated and where human value really lies.  Automated Insights thing is producing one billion pieces of content for one person each, which I think everyone can agree is where a large part of the content we consume is headed.

After the Automated Insights panel I headed over to SXSW Create, the free maker area of the conference.  While I was there I got to try out Lumo, a new interactive projector for kids that’s about to hit Indiegogo.  More on that later.

The Gaming Expo next door to Create was as crazy as ever, and really starting to outgrow the space they have for it.  The only larger space downtown is the Convention Center, though, which puts them in kind of a bind.  VR headsets were everywhere (almost always accompanied by lines of people waiting to use them), and it was good to see indie games like That Dragon, Cancer represented.

Monday – API Fails, Narrative Systems, Non-Linear Story Environments, Enchanted Objects, Home Projector Installations, & BBQ Science

The next day I tried to get into Wynn Netherland’s talk Secrets to Powerful APIs, but I was late, so Matt and I couldn’t fulfill our tweet-promise.

Instead, Matt and I went to the MedTech expo, and saw an interesting startup doing a small wireless body temp monitor for babies (slap a bandage over it, battery’s good for a month), some interesting sleep trackers (lot of quantified self folks at SXSW) and of course Withings with their smart watch whose batteries work for 8 months.

After that I headed to Technology, Story, and the Art of Performance by Elena Parker (who came to our Machines That Tell Stories session and had some of the best insights) and Michael Monello from Campfire, a division of Sapient Nitro that specializes in unique interactive experiences.

Elena and Michael’s presentation was one of the most meaty of the sessions I attended, full of helpful, hard-won insights into interactive projects.  Slides are available here, and audio is here..  They showcased three: Deja View, a project for Infinity where actors you see on screen talk to you through the phone (dynamic video branching and voice recognition), Hunted, an ARG-like that used some clever magic tricks to make users think they were being controlled, and a project for the From Dusk Till Dawn TV series, where players could call in and talk to the character Santanico Pandemonium and she would try to recruit them for her cult (branching narrative, voice recognition).

Some of my major takeaways from the presentation:

  • MaxMax: Elena talked about how while in games you program for MinMax (system constantly minimizes the players chances while maximizes the games chances, by attacking the player, moving enemies toward them, etc), in interactive story experiences you want to optimize for MaxMax, where you give the users as much of a chance of progressing as you can.  They’re likely only going to experience it once (replay value not being high, except for people who want to understand how the system works), so work as hard as you can to make sure they succeed.
  • Embrace Genre: When you’re giving people a new and unfamiliar experience, ground them in tropes and genre conventions they already understand. That way they have something to hold on to.
  • 3 Act Structure: Use the standard exposition, rising action, climax story structure.  Everybody understands it, it works, if you’re re-inventing all the other wheels, don’t re-invent that one.
  • Magic!: There’s an interesting cross-over with the magic community.  They worked with a magician to design some of their interactive tricks (powered, in the end, by people sitting in a call center). Fooling the brain is what they do, and is what delights our users.
  • Don’t Branch: Traditional Choose Your Own Adventure stories use a branching structure, which leads to some short experiences and some long ones.  That’s a negative for experiences you want users to fully enjoy, so instead of branches, create a looping structure where each act breaks into sections, but they all come back at the end.  Something like this:  -=-=-=-
  • Test: When you’re testing an interactive narrative, write out only the main 80% line first, and test it on 5 people.  This will validate your assumptions about how most people will view it, and won’t waste your time creating alternate paths if your base assumptions are broken.  Once you’ve passed 5, write out the rest and test on 50 people (I think this was how it went, they should post the slides soon) to validate your overall script.  Then run a production beta test on as many people as you can to get data for all the subtle things you wouldn’t expect.

Stories Asunder PanelAfter this panel I kept with the story theme and went to the Stories Asunder: Tales for the Internet of Things panel, with Lisa Woods from the Austin Interactive Installation meetup, and her team that produced Live at the Dead Horse Drum, an iBeacon powered non-linear location-based story experience on the east side of Austin.  Also joining them was Klasien van de Zandschulp from Lava Lab, who’s created some really fascinating geo-fence/iBeacon based non-linear story experiences in the Netherlands, including one under development where inhabitants of museum paintings create a social network the user can browse (think HogwartsPaintingBook).  They had some really interesting examples, and I hope to experience some of their work soon.

Enchanted ObjectsOn the way to my next panel I walked by the SXSW bookstore, and noticed that David Rose whose book Enchanted Objects I’d done a double-take on a few days before was going to be signing it just about then.  So I bought a copy and a few minutes later David showed up, and we had a great 10 minute long conversation about projection mapped interactive art objects.  David teaches at the MIT media lab, in addition to a lot of other stuff, and his book has moved straight to the top of my to-read stack.  It sounds exactly like a subject I’ve posted about here before, and something that feels like it’s moving from Bruce Sterling design fiction to real world product very quickly.

After talking to David I headed to the Storytelling Engines for Smart Environments panel, which had Meghan Athavale (aka Meg Rabbit) from Lumo Play on it. Meg’s been doing interactive projection installations in Museums for many years, and has had the question ‘Can I get this in my house?’ posed more than a few times. Recently component prices have been dropping, so she’s designed the Lumo Interactive Projector, a projector based toy for kids, and is about to run an Indiegogo for it.  Meg’s the kind of entrepreneur you can’t help but root for.  She came to SXSW by herself, set up a booth in Create, and is trying to drum up as much excitement as she can.  I really hope her Indiegogo is a big hit.

After Storytelling Engines I headed over to the GE BBQ Research Center with Matt and Irma for some free BBQ.  It was good, but Irma didn’t care for it.  Research accomplished!

Tuesday – AR/VR, Moonshots, New Assets, Space Cleaners, & Happy Bruce

Mixed Reality HabitatsTuesday morning I hit the Mixed Reality Habitats: The New Wired Frontier panel presented by IEEE. My biggest ‘wow’ takeaway, aside from the fact that nobody seems to know what Microsoft’s up to with Hololens or those Magic Leap guys (light fields?) with their headset, was from Todd Richmond, Director at USC’s Institute for Creative Technologies, who said his group felt that most people would be wearing headsets (Google Glass-like or Hololens AR like, or Oculus Rift VR like) 8 hours a day for work in 5-10 years.  When someone says something like that, I think it’s time to take notice.  Consider the headsets of today as the original iPhone.  Think about how far we’ve come in the 6 years since that was released.

After that I watched Astro Teller speak about Moonshots at Google [x]. His main point was that they always strive to fail quickly and get real-life feedback as fast as possible.  He talked about a bunch of wild projects they’re working on like delivery drones, internet by high-altitude self-driving balloons, kite-based wind power, the self-driving car, and others.  With each he emphasized how failure early lead to faster learning.

I hit a session entitled How to Rob a Bank: Vulnerabilities of New Money, with some fairly impressive speakers. Their main point seemed to be that your personal information is an emerging asset class that you should be concerned about.  That just like your dollars in a bank, your purchase history and address and Facebook posts have value, and we don’t really know how to protect that yet.

On our way back through the trade show Irma and I ran into Astroscale, a company from Singapore started by some Japanese ex-finance guys (follow me, here).  They’ve hired engineering resources to design a satellite that will de-orbit space debris.  Imagine that your $150 million dollar satellite is going to be impacted by a bit of out-of-control space junk.  You pay these guys $10 million, and then go find that space junk, attach their micro-satellite to it, and de-orbit it before it can crash into you.  And they’re running a promotional time capsule project with Pocari Sweat and National Geographic to collect well wishes from kids and send them via a SpaceX launch to the moon.  So yea, 30 years after Reagan’s Star Wars and Brilliant Pebbles, and here’s what we’ve got.  I’m surprised it isn’t on Kickstarter.

The end of SXSW is always Bruce Sterling’s talk, and this year was no different.  Bruce was kind of happy this year, and was almost channeling Temple Grandin in appearance, but happy Bruce isn’t always most interesting Bruce.  If you’d like to give his talk a listen, it’s up on SoundCloud.  Hopefully next year he’ll have some tales from Casa Jasmina to share.

So that was it, SXSW Interactive 2015.  5 days of old friends, new friends, stories, the future, BBQ, and space junk.  I can’t wait to see you next year!

Building a Personal Cloud Computer


September 13, 2013 at 12:21 pm (2 Comments)

Wednesday I presented a talk at the Austin Personal Cloud meetup about Building a Personal Cloud computer.  Murphy was in full effect, so both of the cameras we had to record the session died, and I forgot to start my audio recorder.  I’ve decided to write out the notes that I should have had, so here’s the presentation if it had been read.

Personal Cloud Meetup Talk.001

In this presentation we’re talking about building a personal cloud computer.  This is one approach to the personal cloud, there are certainly others, but this is the one that has been ringing true to me lately.

Personal Cloud Meetup Talk.002

A lot of what people have been talking about when they speak about the personal cloud is really personal pervasive storage.  These are things like Dropbox or Evernote.  It’s the concept of having your files everywhere, and being able to give permission to things that want to access them.  Think Google Drive, as well.

These concepts are certainly valid, but I’m more interested in software, and I think computing really comes down to running programs.  For me, the personal cloud has storage, but it’s power is in the fact that it executes programs for me, just like my personal computer at home.

That computer in the slide is a Commodore +4, the first computer I ever laid fingers on.

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Back then, idea of running programs for yourself still appealed to the dreamers.  They made movies like TRON, and we anthropomorphized the software we were writing.  These were our programs doing work for us, and if we were just smart enough and spent enough time at it, we could change our lives and change the world.

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This idea isn’t new, in fact AI pioneers were talking about it back in the 50s.  John McCarthy was thinking about it back then, as Alan Kay relates when he talks about his 3rd age of computing:

They had in view a system that, when given a goal, could carry out the details of the appropriate computer operations and could ask for and receive advice, offered in human terms, when it was stuck. An agent would be a ‘soft robot’ living and doing its business within the computer world.

That’s been the dream for a long time…

Personal Cloud Meetup Talk.005

But that never really happened.  The personal computer revolution revolutionized business, and it changed how we communicated with each other, but before the Internet things didn’t interconnect to the point where software could be a useful helper, and then we all went crazy making money with .com 1.0 and Web 2.0, and it was all about being easy and carving out a market niche.  Then something else hit…

Personal Cloud Meetup Talk.006

Mobile exploded.  If you’ll notice, mobile applications never really had an early adopter phase.  There was no early computing era for mobile.  You could say that PDAs were it, but without connectivity that isn’t the same as the world we have now.  Most developers couldn’t get their app onto a mobile device until the iOS app store hit, but that platform was already locked down.  There was no experimentation phase with no boundaries.  We still haven’t had the ability to have an always-connected device in our pocket that can run whatever we want.  The Ubuntu phones may be that, but we’re 6 iterations into the post-iPhone era.

Personal Cloud Meetup Talk.007And who doesn’t love mobile?  Who doesn’t love their phone?  They’re great, they’re easy to use, they solve our problems.  What’s wrong with them?  Why do we need something else?  Well, let’s compare them to what we’ve got…

Personal Cloud Meetup Talk.008With the PC we had a unique device in so far as we owned the hardware, we owned our data, and EULA issues aside, we owned the software.  You could pack up your PC, take it with you to the top of a mountain in Nepal, and write your great novel or game or program, with no worries about someone deactivating it or the machine being EOLed.  Unfortunately the PC is stuck at your house, unscalable, badly networked, loaded with an OS that was designed for compatibility with programs written 25 years ago.  It isn’t an Internet era machine.

With the web we got Software as a Service (SaaS), and with this I’m thinking about the Picasa’s and Flickr’s and Bloggers of the world.  No software to maintain, no hardware to maintain, access to some of your data (but not all of it, such as not having access to traffic metrics with Flickr unless you paid, and only export rights if you were paid up).  But in this new world you can’t guarantee your continuity of experience.  Flickr releases a redesign and the experience you’ve depended on goes away.  The way you’ve organized and curated your content no longer makes sense.  Or maybe as in the case of sites like Gowalla, the whole thing just disappears one day.

Mobile has it’s own issues.  You often don’t own the hardware, you’re leasing it or it’s locked up and difficult to control.  You can’t take your phone to another provider, you can’t install whatever software you want on it.  Sometimes it’s difficult to get data out.  How do you store the savegame files from your favorite iPhone game without a whole-device snapshot?  How do you get files out of a note taking app if it doesn’t have Dropbox integration?  In the end, you don’t even really own a lot of that software.  Many apps only work with specific back-end services, and once your phone gets older, support starts to disappear.  Upgrade or throw it in the junk pile.

Cloud offers us new options.  We don’t have to own the hardware, we can just access it through standards compliant means.  That’s what OpenStack is all about.  OpenStack’s a platform, but OpenStack is also an API promise.  If you can do it with X provider, you can also do it with Y provider.  No vendor lock-in is even one of the bullet points on our homepage at HP Cloud.

Implicit in cloud is that you own your own data.  You may pay to have it mutated, but you own the input and the output.  A lot of the software we use in cloud systems is either free, or stuff that you own (usually by building it or tweaking it yourself).  It’s a lot more like the old PC model than Mobile or SaaS.

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All of these systems solve specific types of problems, and for the Personal Cloud to really take off, I think it needs to solve a problem better than the alternatives.  It has to be the logical choice for some problem set.  (At the meetup we spent a lot of time discussing exactly what that problem could be, and if the millennials would even have the same problems those of us over 30 do.  I’m not sure anyone has a definitive answer for that yet.)

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This is what I think the Personal Cloud is waiting for.  This explosion of data from all our connected devices, from the metrics of everything we do, read, and say, and what everyone around us says and does.  I think the Personal Cloud has a unique place, being Internet-native, as the ideal place to solve those problems.  We’re generating more data from our activities than ever before, and the new wave of Quantified Self and Internet of Things devices is just going to amplify that.  How many data points a day does my FitBit generate?  Stephen Wolfram’s been collecting personal analytics for decades, but how many of us have the skill to create our own suite of tools to analyze it, like he does?

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The other play the Personal Cloud can make is as a defense against the productization of you.  Bruce Sterling was talking about The Stacks years ago, but maybe there’s an actual defensive strategy against just being a metric in some billion dollar corporations database.  I worked on retail systems for a while, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if based on the order of items scanned out of your cart at Target (plus some anonymized data mining from store cameras) they could re-construct your likely path through the store.  Track you over time based on your hashed credit card information, and they know a whole lot about you.  You don’t know a whole lot about them, though.  Maybe the Personal Cloud’s place is to alert you to when you’re being played.

Personal Cloud Meetup Talk.013In the end I think the Personal Cloud is about you.  It’s about privacy, it’s about personal empowerment.  It’s uniquely just about you and your needs, just like the Personal Computer was personal, but can’t keep up, so the Personal Cloud Computer will take that mantel.

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The new dream, I think, is that the Personal Cloud Computer runs those programs for you, and acts like your own TRON.  It’s your guardian, your watchdog, your companion in a world gone data mad.  Just like airbags in your car protect you against the volume of other automobiles and your own lack of perfect focus, so your Personal Cloud protects you against malicious or inconsiderate manipulation and your own data privacy unawareness.

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To do this I think the Personal Cloud Computer has to live a central role in your digital life.  I think it needs to be a place that other things connect to, a central switching station for everything else.

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And I think this is the promise it can fulfill.  The PC was a computer that was personal.  We could write diary entries, work on our novel for years, collect our photos.  In the early days of the Internet, we could even be anonymous.  We could play and pretend, we could take on different personas and try them out, like the freedom you have when you move to a new place or a new school or job.  We had the freedom to disappear, to be forgotten.  This is a freedom that kids today may not have.  Everything can connect for these kids (note the links to my LinkedIn profile, Flickr Photos, Twitter account, etc in the sidebar), though they don’t.  They seem to be working around this, routing around the failure, but Google and others are working against that.  Facebook buys Instagram because that’s where the kids are.  Eventually everything connects and is discoverable, though it may be years after the fact.

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So how do I think this looks, when the code hits the circuits?  I think the Personal Cloud Computer (or ‘a’ personal cloud computer) will look like this:

  • A Migratory – Think OpenStack APIs, and an orchestration tool optimized for provider price/security/privacy/whuffie.
  • Standards Compliant – Your PCC can talk to mine, and Facebook knows how to talk to both.
  • Remotely Accessible – Responsive HTML5 on your Phone, Tablet and Desktop. Voice and Cards for Glass.
  • API Nexus – Everything connects through it, so it can track what’s going on.
  • with Authentication – You authenticate with it, Twitter authenticates with it, you don’t have a password at Twitter.
  • Application Hosting – It all comes down to running Apps, just like the PC.  No provider can build everything, apps have to be easy to port and easy to build.
  • Permission Delegation – These two apps want to talk to each other, so let them.  They want to share files, so expose a cloud storage container/bucket for them to use.
  • Managed Updates – It has to be up to date all the time, look to Mobile for this.
  • Notifications – It has to be able to get ahold of you, since things are happening all the time online.
  • and Dynamic Scaling Capabilities – Think spinning up a hadoop cluster to process your lifelog camera data for face and word detection every night, then spinning it down when it’s done.

Personal Cloud Meetup Talk.022So how do we actually make this happen?  What bits and bobs already exist that look like they’d be good foundational pieces, or good applications to sit on top?

Personal Cloud Meetup Talk.023No presentation these days would be complete without a mention of docker, and this one is no different.  If you haven’t heard of docker, it’s the hot new orchestration platform that makes bundling up apps and deploying lightweight linux container images super-easy.  It’s almost a PaaS in a box, and has blown up like few projects before it in the last 6 months.  Docker lets you bundle up an application and run it on a laptop, a home server, in a cloud, or on a managed Platform as a Service.  One image, multiple environments, multiple capacities.  Looking at that Ubuntu Edge, that looks like a perfect way to sandbox applications iOS style, but still give them what they need to be functional.

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Hubot is a chat bot, a descendant of the IRC bots that flourished in the 90’s.  Hubot was built by Github, and was originally designed to make orchestration and system management easier.  Since they connect and collaborate in text based chat rooms, Hubot sits in their waiting for someone to give it a command.  Once it hears a command, it goes off and does it, whether it be to restart a server, post an image or say a joke.  You can imagine that you could have a Personal Cloud Computer bot that you’d say ‘I’m on my way home, and it’s pot roast night’ to, and it would switch on the Air Conditioner, turn on the TV and queue up your favorite show, and fire up the crock pot.

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The great thing about Hubot, and the thing about these Personal Cloud Bots, is that like WordPress Plugins, they’re developed largely by the community.  Github being who they are, Hubot embraces the open development model, and users have developed hundreds of scripts that add functionality to Hubot.  I expect we’ll see the same thing with the Personal Cloud Computer.

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I’ve talked about Weavrs pretty extensively here on the blog before, so I won’t go into serious depth, but I think that the Personal Cloud Computer is the perfect place for something like Weavrs to live.  Weavrs are social bots that have big-data derived personalities, you can create as many of them as you like, and watch them do their thing.  That’s a nice playground to play with personalities, to experiment and see what bubbles to the top from the chaos of the internet.

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If you listen to game developers talk, you’ll start to hear about that initial dream that got them into game development, the dream of a system that tells stories, or tells stories collaboratively with you.  The Kickstarted game Sir, You Are Being Hunted has been playing with this, specifically with their procedurally generated British Countryside Generator.  I think there’s a lot of room for that closely personal kind of entertainment experience, and the Personal Cloud Computer could be a great place to do it.

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Aaron Cope is someone you should be following if you aren’t.  He used to be at Flickr, and is now at the Cooper-Hewett Design Museum in New York.  His Time Pixels talk is fantastic.  Two of the things that Aaron has worked on of interest are Parallel Flickr, (a networkable backup engine for Flickr, that lets you backup your photos and your contacts photos, but is API compatible with Flickr) and privatesquare (a foursquare checkin proxy that lets you keep your checkins private if you want, or make them public).  That feels like a really great Personal Cloud app to me, because it plays to that API Nexus feature.

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The Numenta guys are doing some really interesting stuff, and have open sourced their brain simulation system that does pattern learning and prediction.  They want people to use it and build apps on top of it, and we’re a long way away from real use, but that could lead to some cool personal data insights that you run yourself.  HP spent a bunch of money on Autonomy because extracting insights from the stream of data has a lot of value.  Numenta could be a similar piece for the Personal Cloud.

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That’s the Adafruit Pi Printer, Berg has their Little Printer, and they’re building a cloud platform for these kind of things.  These devices bring the internet to the real world in interesting ways, and there’s a lot of room for personal innovation.  People want massively personalized products, and the Personal Cloud Computer can be a good data conduit for that.

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Beyond printers, we have internet connected thermostats, doorknobs, and some of those service companies will inevitably go away before people stop using their products.  What happens to your wifi thermostat or wifi lightbulbs when the company behind it goes way?  Personal Cloud lets you support that going forward, it lets you maintain your own service continuity.

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Having an always-on personal app platform lets us utilize interesting APIs provided by other companies to process our data in ways we can’t with open source or our own apps.  Mashape has a marketplace that lets you pick and switch between api providers, and lets you extend your Personal Cloud in interesting ways, like getting a sentiment analysis for your Twitter followers.

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In addition to stuff we can touch over the network, there’s a growing market of providers that let you trigger meatspace actions through an API.  Taskrabbit has an API, oDesk does, Shapeways does, and we haven’t even begun to scratch the possibilities that opens up.

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One thing to watch is how the Enterprise market is adapting to utility computing and the cloud.  The problems they have (marketplaces, managed permissions, security for apps that run premises, big data) are problems that all of us will have in a few years.  We can make the technology work with enterprise and startups, but for end users, we have to make it simple.  We have to iPhone it.

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So where do we start?  I think we have to start with a just good enough, minimum viable product that solves a real problem people have.  Early adopters adopt a technology that empowers them or excites them in some way, and whatever Personal Cloud platforms appear, they have to scratch an itch.  This is super-critical.  I think the VRM stuff from Doc Searls is really interesting, but it doesn’t scratch an itch that I have today in a way I can comprehend.  If you’ve been talking about something for years, what will likely happen is not that it’ll eventually grow up, it’s that something radical will come out of left field that uses some of those ideas, but doesn’t honor all of them.  That’s my opinion, at least.  I think the Personal Cloud community that’s been going for years with the Internet Identity Workshop probably won’t be where the big new thing comes from, but a lot of their ideas will be in it.  That’s just my gut feeling.

Personal Cloud Meetup Talk.046The last caveat is that Apple and Microsoft and Google are perfectly positioned to make this happen with vendor lockin easily.  They all already do cloud.  They all have app stores.  They have accounts for you, and they want to keep you in their system.  Imagine an Apple App Store that goes beyond your iPhone, iPad and even Apple TV, but lets you run apps in iCloud?  That’s an easy jump for them, and a huge upending of the Personal Cloud world.  Google can do the exact same thing, and they’re even more likely to.

Personal Cloud Meetup Talk.047 So thanks for your time, and for listening (reading).  If you have comments, please share them.  It’s an exciting time.

The Quantified Car: Progressive Snapshot


January 31, 2012 at 10:55 pm (2 Comments)

Let me paint you a picture: It’s the near future.  Your insurance company sends you a little gadget that you carry around.  It notes when you get a little too aggressive or if you’re out partying too late, and automatically sends the information wirelessly back to your insurance company (say, the 164th largest company in the US).  If you do something they consider risky, it might even alert you with a buzz or beep.  If you fit their definition of lower-risk (by, say, not being out past midnight) they give you a discount on your policy.

Sounds like the future, doesn’t it?  Pervasive metric collection, big data analytics, pattern and custom behavior based pricing optimization?  Except that it’s been available since last year, just for your car.

Progressive calls it Snapshot, it’s a little device that plugs into your car’s debug port.  It gets it’s power from the car’s battery, reads the car’s metrics directly from the car’s computer and reports automatically back to Progressive via the AT&T network.  They know how fast you’ve gone (speed 1 second ago – speed now = braking speed per second, over a 7 mph drop per second and you’re a risk), they know when you drive (the cell network includes time as part of its protocol, so you never need to set its clock), what you drive (the vehicle identification number is transmitted) and likely generally where you drive (since they presumably know what cell tower the device is talking to).  There isn’t a GPS in it so they don’t know exactly where you are (so unlike a car rental monitor, they don’t know if you were breaking the law by speeding in a specific place).  Since they’re your insurance company they also know a lot about you financially (they use your credit history to determine your rate, for instance), where you live (if you live in a shady neighborhood, full coverage might be more expensive), how old you are (if you’re young you pay more), your gender (girls pay less) and whatever other data they can derive from your name and address (oh, you gave them your social security number when you signed up, didn’t you?).

To some people this is just usage based car insurance, which has been around for a while.  For those in the experience and conversion monetization business, this is something else.  It’s an insane treasure trove of data, willingly given by customers.  Their privacy statement explicitly says so: ‘To meet our legal obligations to state departments of insurance, we retain information collected or derived from the device for the time we determine is required by law; after which we will de-personalize the data and keep it indefinitely.’  Imagine what kind of data their analysts are rolling in!  “Here’s a snow day in Texas, notice how 50% fewer people who live in higher income neighborhoods aren’t commuting today, presumably because they can telecommute, but only 15% of people in less advantaged neighborhoods are staying at home.”  “35% of 32-35 year old primary drivers with 1+ children make 3+ mid-day trips during the week, while only 25% of 36-42 year olds do.”  “Here’s the rage-graph of peak braking velocity grouped by age, notice how it drops from 21 on, then spikes again for men at what’s considered the mid-life-crisis.”  If dating sites can produce interesting graphs like these, imagine what insurance companies can do?

Some people would be shouting Big Brother and 1984 at this point, but in reality it’s no more than Google, Facebook or your cell phone provider know about you.  When your pill bottles report back to your insurance company, it’s no more than your health insurance provider knows about you.  The future is going to be behavior modification heavy.  Unless society reacts strongly and begins to value privacy and anonymity more, it’s how everything’s going to be.  Google makes it’s money because it knows who you are and can optimize your ad viewing experience to maximize the money you spend.  Insurance companies want people who brake slowly, don’t drive at peak times or even drive much at all.  Energy companies want people to not use power at peak times.  Some companies may even want to use the data to optimize our collective driving experience by crowdsourcing the speed of traffic to avert gridlock.

Progressive doesn’t do a great job of explaining what Snapshot is in it’s commercials, it isn’t an easy story to tell in 30 seconds, but it isn’t hard to convince someone to try it when they’re on the phone switching car insurance.  “Save up to 30%, no possibility of my rate increasing?  Sign me up!”  In fact, if not for the fact that my sister-in-law mentioned driving slower due to her Snapshot beeping at her for braking hard, I probably would have never realized that it was the quantified self in car form.  For those of us in the ‘data industry,’ the potential is scary, but for some of middle America a 30% reduction in car insurance is worth the loss of privacy.  How long and how far it’ll go, only the future can tell.

Update:

I haven’t seen a teardown of the Snapshot device, yet.  I’d be curious to see what’s inside.  It also seems like Allstate has something similar (nee identical) called Allstate Drive Wise.  In fact, they were fighting it out over whether each could offer it.

If I were writing the Bruce Sterling or Cory Doctorow version of this story, there would be an enterprising group of car tuners on the border, maybe driving stolen cars through Nuevo Laredo, their tech guru comes up with some fancy way to rewrite the VIN data as it’s read off the engine debug port and they realize they can make a little dongle that sits between the debug port and the Snapshot device to smooth out acceleration data.  They get somebody in Shanghai or Monterrey to make 10,000 of them, and since it’s a legal grey area, get people to mark them up 150% and sell them with targetted Facebook ads.  “Maximize your insurance discount!  Drive how you want!”  Who knows if the Snapshot devices can have their firmware updated over the air, but if they can, imagine a running tech battle between the car chippers and Progressive programmers like the DirecTV access card hackers back in the day.

On a more melancholy note (maybe this is the William Gibson version), with so many people using Snapshot, essentially a wirelessly connected black box for your car, statistically there have to be some people who have had accidents and likely died, with the graph of data from the exact moment of the crash sitting on Progressive’s servers.  Imagine a particularly effected individual in the data processing department collecting those and spinning art out of them in an anonymous only-on-the-internet memorial.