All posts made in Jan. 2015:

Drones and renders

So the two things I got from yesterday's hardware-ish coffee morning were:

  • TV is dead, and the new TV is Youtube and Twitch -- the live streaming video platform for video gamers to watch other video gamers play video games. Bought by Amazon for pennies shy of $1BN last year, and by February 2014, it was considered the fourth largest source of peak Internet traffic in the United States. Here's the start-up I would do if I had some special access: Use GoPro cameras on drones with automatic follow-me functionality, and broadcast streams of climbers and surfers. Live. Put a tip jar on the side of the page.
  • In the age of renders and green screens, proving that a physical thing is real is super, super difficult. An app or website, you can share a screen grab or an animation and that's as good as the software itself. It's all just pixels. But physical things -- I hear again and again about the lengths we go to, to drum home the point that this gadget or this printed product ACTUALLY EXISTS and YET everyone thinks it's make-believe. So aside from sending the thing (whatever it is) to people through the post, or pointing a live webcam at it (which seems to carry some verisimilitude), ideas welcome... It's a tough sell to get a potential customer to put down cash when, deep down, they're sceptical about whether the product is genuine.

Thanks Gavin, David, Tom, Basil, Matthew, James, and Alex! Coffee again in a couple of weeks.

Books read January 2015

By date finished...

Nineteen Eighty-Four is so much more horribly prescient than I remembered. History lives only in the present; feels like Wikipedia, like electronic records of all kinds? How Orwell put his finger on that I don't know. And man, the paranoia. We swim through paranoia, it's our ocean, we can't see it.

Caroti's book on generation ships is half a history of the eras of science fiction, and half what generation ships meant in those eras. (Generation ships are starships where people live and die before it reaches its destination hundreds of years later.)

The Book of Strange New Things. Beautiful sentences. Meanings delicately poised. A Christian missionary, a man and wife, estrangement. And to discover this is Faber's final novel and he wrote it while his wife Eva was dying -- heartbreaking.

Filtered for what's around us


Ambient loops from sci-fi.

Including! 12 hours of the engine noise from the ship Discovery in 2001: A Space Odyssey.


Bitter Lake by Adam Curtis available for viewing on iPlayer.

A tone poem of the last 50 years of Afghanistan.

Curtis' blog post introducing it: Events come and go like waves of a fever. We - and the journalists - live in a state of continual delirium, constantly waiting for the next news event to loom out of the fog - and then disappear again, unexplained.


Postcards from a supply chain by Dan W -- It might be a photo, an anecdote, a video or a map. There will be mines and refineries and markets and ports and ships and containers. Lots of containers.


The Trees that Return Your Emails.

Did you know that you can email every single tree in the City of Melbourne - and they'll write back?

Right now, you can log onto the City of Melbourne's Urban Forest Visual map and email any tree you'd like within the council's boundaries.

Yep, all 60,000 of them.

I used the website to email a Corymbia Spotted Gum with ID 1358524.

Hardware coffee mornings in SF and Adelaide

A quick note that hardware-ish coffee morning (here's the pattern) is spreading:

  • San Francisco! this Wednesday at 9:30AM at Coffee Bar on Mariposa. (That's Wednesday as in today, the 28th.) Convener is @obra of hardware startup Keyboardio
  • Adelaide! the Bean Bar on Currie Street on Friday the 29th January from 8.30am for an hour or so -- that's @andrewdotcom.

Go along! Let me know how it goes!

Next London coffee morning is tomorrow -- here's the announce list.

Comment on Internet of Things terminology

Dan Hon commented: The thing - ha - about the internet-of-things is that it's a weird descriptor.

from a consumer point of view, for most things, why would it have wifi if it couldn't be connected, in some way, to the internet? Which is sort of the position that all of this IoT business is a temporary blip and that instead you'll just be looking for "doorbells" or "lightbulbs" or "locks" and you won't really get a choice about whether they "come with internet" or not.

I'll go with that. The internet won't stay trapped behind glass. -- That was a useful encapsulation to explain what we were doing with Berg Cloud.

Of course lightbulbs should be networked. But my hunch is that - with connectivity - we'll find new products that means that we no longer focus on light bulbs per se. Maybe connectivity will mean that we'll buy "lighting," verbs not nouns.

I guess the scale of the difference I mean is like software. Which, when networked, became social. Our global village.

And it won't necessarily be an "internet" and an "internet of things" but still, just, and only, the internet, at least I hope so, because the whole point of the internet - or at least, just one of the points of the internet is that things can link from one thing to another thing and that's why the superset - the internet of networks of things - will be the one that wins. Hopefully.

So I have some very rough mental models that I use, now I'm officially exploring the Internet of Things.

  • Words... I use titlecase "Internet of Things," and fully capitalise "IOT" (not IoT) so it doesn't look prissy.
  • Internet of Things is an awesome rallying flag. All kinds of technologies, skills, opportunities, adjacencies, and changes are involved. We're still building and debating it into being. I'm reminded of Web 2.0 and Tim O'Reilly's 2005 essay, What Is Web 2.0: Design Patterns and Business Models for the Next Generation of Software. We don't talk about Web 2.0 any more, but that's what the deployment phase of the web was, for almost a decade.
  • It doesn't feel to me like there is the IOT in the same way there is the Internet. There are IOT technologies and IOT experts and an IOT mindset. But it's not a single thing. Why? Because technically it's not fully connected, and I would argue that it doesn't need to be. And also because it's like that bit in The Graduate, I just want to say one word to you. Just one word. ... Plastics. What? Pacemakers or wind turbines? Well, yes. All of the above.

Here's the working definition I have in my notebook: We see the internet of things wherever a physical thing is connected by some kind of data carrying link to a computer capable of running software.

I'm casting a wide net -- we've built a lot of infrastructure (train platform signage, building facilities) that we don't call IOT but it is. Or it's close to being so. Why is this good?

  • The physical thing is no longer closed. By adding software, features can be added and iterated in response to user needs
  • The computer end of things is easily networked, so things can be monitored and controlled remotely, data aggregated to provide extra intelligence, and the whole system incorporated into other software systems
  • The opportunity space off the Internet of Things is therefore opened up

So given my working definition, I need to refer to two types of connectivity:

  • Connectivity is any kind of wired or radio link between the physical things and... anything else. Another physical thing, in a mesh network. A controlling computer capable of running software, such as an iPod Touch. A server.
  • Backhaul is the specific connectivity that joins the thing to the internet. This doesn't mean that the thing is routable on the open internet... it might just be networked to other things behind the same corporations firewall.

I can think of lots of things that would benefit from connectivity without backhaul. I'd like to be able to orchestrate the behaviour of all the lightbulbs in my house, for example; remote control from the open internet is a bonus.

Then back to Dan's original point... and that's why the superset - the internet of networks of things - will be the one that wins. Hopefully.

Hopefully. Maybe. But where my mental model takes me is to draw analogies with dumb unconnected stuff... my home. And I like that there are doors, that close, and windows that are see-through but with curtains; I can leave the phone off the hook and pull the plug on the wi-fi. There are switch by walls where my hand finds them, and those hidden at the back of the cupboard by the stove. These aren't just security models -- they're ways of making sense of the stuff I have in my life.

Still I go back the connected lightbulb and it's eventual value. To discover the it might require building out the whole Internet of Things first... the World Wide Web was already 7 years old by the time launched and so discovered the real value of the medium.

And maybe that'll require the open internet and all that implies. I hope so too but I think we have to make that case from value, because it's not necessary.

Filtered for magic and legitimacy


Types of magician banned in ancient Rome, listed in the Codex Justinianus published in 534 AD.

A haruspex is one who prognosticates from sacrificed animals and their internal organs; a mathematicus, one who reads the course of the stars; a hariolus, a soothsayer, inhaling vapors, as at Delphi; augurs, who read the future by the flight and sound of birds; a vates, an inspired person - prophet; chaldeans and magus are general names for magicians; maleficus means an enchanter or poisoner.

(Source, book 9, section 18.)

Look, you know, consultants.

(In the context of Rome, magic is efficacious.)


Account planning.

Cut open a goat and read the emails.


New system for data visualisation of London by After the flood: the London Squared Map. Squares and a pretty river wiggle.


Sitting and smiling.

4 hour meditation sessions, recorded with Google Hangouts. Sitting and smiling.

35 videos to date.


2 hours and 36 mins into video #5, someone breaks into the house. Then, after presumably seeing me sitting still and smiling in front of a camera, lit from beneath by a florescent bulb, he promptly descends the stairs and exits the house.


Three YouTube stars meet President Obama for a post-State of the Union interview: Holy Shit, I Interviewed the President, by Hank Green.

"News" released its antibodies immediately. @rupertmurdoch: POTUS hard to follow saying no 'available' time for Netanyahu and then hours today with weird YouTube personalities. Strange timing.


Walking around the White House, seeing the Press Briefing Room and all of the two-hundred-year-old chairs and decoy helicopters reminded me that the history of post-democratic power is really the history of legitimacy.


There is nothing actually legitimate about Fox News (or MSNBC for that matter) and young people know this. They don't trust news organizations because news organizations have given them no reason to be trusting.


Legacy media isn't mocking us because we aren't a legitimate source of information; they're mocking us because they're terrified.

And here's the fucking motherlode:

The source of our legitimacy is the very different from their coiffed, Armani institutions. It springs instead (and I'm aware that I'm abandoning any modicum of modesty here) from honesty. In new media this is often called "authenticity" because our culture is too jaded to use a big fat word like "honesty" without our gallbladders clogging up, but that's really what it is.

Glozell, Bethany and I don't sit in fancy news studios surrounded by fifty thousand dollar cameras and polished metal and glass backdrops with inlayed 90-inch LCD screens. People trust us because we've spent years developing a relationship with them. We have been scrutinized and found not evil. Our legitimacy comes from honesty, not from cultural signals or institutions.

We have been scrutinized.

Sharpest analysis I've read in forever re: What Is Going On.

The internet means we don't have to trust second-hand signals, and we choose not to because second-hand signals have been abused. In who we get our views from - and who we give our money to - we can scrutinize.

Filtered for a squelchy something or other


Words in the 25 most common passwords of 2014:

  • password
  • qwerty
  • baseball
  • dragon
  • football
  • monkey
  • letmein
  • mustang
  • access
  • shadow
  • master
  • michael
  • superman
  • batman
  • trustno1


I can't remember when I first saw this, a segment from a BBC natural history document of a man hunting an antelope by endurance running.

It takes hours.

The hunter uses his hand to get into the mind of the antelope -- there's a moment where he has to think at it does, choose the same direction, pure animal empathy.

Yeah humans! I can't help it, every time I see this. Go us!

It's a bit of a weird reaction I know, because mostly my sense of "us" is mammals. When I think "we're all in it together," when I'm trying to figure out what's ok and not ok about sacrificing dogs in the pursuit of leaving this planet to live in space, my loyalties are mammals. And my sense of "people" goes wider still. Distinguishable matter, probably. Asteroid people. A very different mode of thinking and being, sure, but a type of personhood and rights unto themselves.


I'm completely obsessed with this extended mix of Bojack's theme: great sounds. Deep dubstep bass, loooong sax, and some weird squelchy something or other. Can't stop listening.

Bojack Horseman on Netflix.


A digital clock where all the components are visible, every resistor, capacitor and all the wiring unpacked from its silicon chips, and laid out.

Next coffee morning and how to run one

Let's do coffee morning again! Next week.

Thursday 29th January, 9.30am for a couple of hours, at the Book Club (100 Leonard St).

It would be lovely to see you, come along! There's a vague "making things" skew, but honestly I've spent a lot of time chatting about dogs and music...

We had way too many dudes last time. So if you're Not A Dude or you bring a friend who is Not A Dude, I will be extra extra EXTRA pleased to see you. Please help me fix this.

Last week's coffee morning was bonkers... 15 people, 3 unreleased prototypes from hardware startups, an emergent theme about how to sell products. Other coffee mornings have been more low-key: Six of us talking nonsense and drinking too much caffeine. I don't really mind what happens, it's all good, maybe it'll just be me and my laptop next time :)

(What works for me)

But seeing as coffee morning is spreading to San Francisco I thought it might be worth writing down what works for me...

  • Space beats structure. Hardware-ish coffee morning is once every two weeks, same time, same place. I'll be there, people come and go. There's no sign-up list, no name badges, no speakers. There are a bunch of great events out there, I don't need another place to be in an audience. Open space.
  • Informality wins. It's good to not have regular attendees... It's like a street corner, familiar faces and surprise visitors. I try to help this by making sure there are lots of little conversations, not one big one, and by making connections if two people seem to be talking abut the same thing. Mingling is where magic happens.
  • Convening not chairing. I announce a week ahead of time, and send reminders. I circulate my own perspective afterwards. If I'm having relevant meetings, I ask people to come to the coffee morning instead; that helps set a tone. I also collect names: Everyone gets added to a mailing list where they get all the updates. But at the thing itself, I just chat.
  • Bonfires not fireworks. For weird chats that have a chance of going deep and leading to new ideas, I suspect that 2 people is better than 20. A fine balance of familiarity and novelty. So: Slow burn. If I'm on my own one week, that's fine. Just keep going. Telling everyone and making it too big too fast would kill it.

If I'm ever in any doubt, I go back and read what Russell did with his coffee mornings in 2007. He's who it all comes from.

For email updates, join the coffee morning announce list.

Filtered for pictures and what's OK


The decision to remove Grand Theft Auto 5 from the shelves of Target and K-Mart stores in Australia caused quite the reaction, especially in the American gaming press.

The move was discussed, argued over and written about, but the act itself took place in Australia, and reflects Australian culture and history.

Grand Theft Auto 5, Australian culture, and how the American press misses the point.

What comes across in this article - through a number of examples - is that, in Australia, debate is not polarised, but We're more likely to participate in public debates about [speech and art], more likely to feel heard and have more faith in judging it.

Public discussion of what's OK.


A neat flow diagram of the various publicly funded research projects that fed into the iPhone.


Gorgeous pictures of 3D fractals.


Beautiful Instagrams through aeroplane cockpit windows, but... But taking photos, or using most any electronic device, while piloting a commercial aircraft is prohibited by American and European regulators.


Some also appear to be flouting even stricter regulations for takeoff and landing, when not even idle conversation is allowed in the cockpit.

But my goodness the photos are beautiful.

That question of what's OK... how do we decide... when do individuals break the rules and when don't they... how do enough individuals break the rules and go "this is the sublime, this is what being human is about" and then as society we figure out that we choose the rules, and we have to find ways of making it safe to take photos from cockpit windows and share them?

Whatever, they're only Instagrams. But pretty ones.

How do we choose what's OK? How do we, as a society, choose what we want?

Filtered for weekend reads


I mentioned the women's movement classic The Tyranny of Structurelessness the other day, on the dangers of refusing to admit power... informal structures have no obligation to be responsible to the group at large. Their power was not given to them; it cannot be taken away. Their influence is not based on what they do for the group; therefore they cannot be directly influenced by the group.

Here's a critical response by Cathy Devine, The tyranny of tyranny, which raises the counter-risk of roles in organisations standing in the way individuality:

What we definitely don't need is more structures and rules, providing us with easy answers, pre-fab alternatives and no room in which to create our own way of life.


we are reacting against bureaucracy because it deprives us of control, like the rest of this society; and instead of recognising the folly of our ways by returning to the structured fold, we who are rebelling against bureaucracy should be creating an alternative to bureaucratic organisation. ... it is more than a reaction; the small group is a solution.

Touches on a few topics I'm super curious about right now... small groups, informality, a trust in the irreducible human element.


Genevieve Bell and Paul Dourish's 2006 paper Yesterday's tomorrows: notes on ubiquitous computing's dominant vision which makes the compelling argument that the habit of researching ubiquitous computing (now called Internet of Things) as something science-fictional or in the future prevents us from applying those learnings to the ubiquitous computing already here today.

the centrality of ubiquitous computing's "proximate future" continually places its achievements out of reach, while simultaneously blinding us to current practice. By focusing on the future just around the corner, ubiquitous computing renders contemporary practice (at outside of research sites and "living labs"), by definition, irrelevant or at the very least already outmoded. Arguably, though, ubiquitous computing is already here; it simply has not taken the form that we originally envisaged and continue to conjure in our visions of tomorrow.

I worry about this with the Internet of Things. There's a lot of research and good thinking... a ton of understanding. But without a deliberate effort to draw that research into the present, will present-day IOT - like connected products in Kickstarter and city-wide transit swipe cards - be able to learn?

And what I really mean is, given research and products come from groups of individuals, do these people hang out and have a common language?


Pulp's Big Moment, the New Yorker on the origin of mass-market paperbacks in the 1930s... The key to Lane's and de Graff's innovation was not the format. It was the method of distribution.

Train stations! Wire racks! Putting books where books weren't usually sold!

Instead of relying on book wholesalers ... de Graff worked through magazine distributors. They handled paperbacks the same way they handled magazines: every so often, they emptied the racks and installed a fresh supply.

Plus the usual high-brow/low-brow scuffle.

Speaking of which, readers absorb less on Kindles than on paper, study finds. Interesting if true, but I'm suspicious of high-brow snobbery.


The New York Times on a series of 36 questions that makes any couple fall in love (you're also required to do 4 minutes of silent continuous eye contact).

From before: the similarities between dating and variable-interval operant conditioning.

And OF COURSE somebody on Hacker News went and turned the 36 questions into a website... Want to fall in love? Play The Love Game (TM).

Hacking intimacy.

Is there a serious difference between this and Jeff Bezos's acclaimed method to introduce "Service-Oriented Architecture" at Amazon by imposing the two-pizza rule? any team should be small enough that it could be fed with two pizzas.

Filtered for cats and bears


List of company name etymologies, Wikipedia.

Some Korean companies:

  • Daewoo which means 'Great House' or 'Great Universe' in Korean
  • Hyundai 'the present age' or 'modernity' in Korean
  • LG from the combination of two popular Korean brands, Lucky and Goldstar
  • Samsung meaning three stars

Good names. Great universe.


Business Cat has some coffee.


When you press the Help button on the ticket machine at the subway in Japan, a man climbs out of a hidden little door.


24 pieces of life advice from Werner Herzog.

Some faves:

  1. Send out all your dogs and one might return with prey.

  2. Learn to read the inner essence of a landscape.

  3. Take revenge if need be.

  4. Get used to the bear behind you.

Today's coffee morning, and SALES SALES SALES

Coffee morning 4 was super fun! Great chat and thank you for coming, Tom, James, Martin, Tom, Matthew (who took a photo), Dev, James, Daniel, Basil, Ben, Chris, Iskander, another Tom, and Jess!

Three people showed prototypes from their hardware startups. So, so good. Two people had successful Kickstarter campaigns under their belts. There was talk of new year's resolutions and books, and Dev described his brand of technology as the art of turning things off and on... but, you know, in an experience sort of way. And I got to play with some Duplo because Jess brought her infant. Or someone's infant, I didn't think to ask.

But before I get to any of that:

Holy shit, TOO MANY DUDES.

This is a real problem. I know this is only chat and coffee, but what I'm attempting to foster here is a sparky street corner where serendipity occurs. With no structure! Informality! And it's working well. But when it's mostly men it's just weird.

So I had a chat with Basil and I had a chat with Jess, and we've got a couple of ideas about how to bring this back into alignment with the regular world -- and there's no excuse, especially because hardware startups so often have women founders. If I don't fix this soon, it'll get entrenched. So more ideas welcome.

Selling to people who aren't your mates

When I was a kid, I had an LP -- a long-playing vinyl record, which is kind of a large black CD where the sound is actually sculpted into the surface of the plastic -- and I guess I should also say that a CD is a Compact Disk, at which point you say: Compact compared to what? It stores a hundredth of what you get on an iPod and you can't even plug your headphones in.

An iPod, by the way, used to be a physical thing. Now it's an app on your phone.

I had an LP.

On the LP was a novelty song by Charlie Drake called My Boomerang Won't Come Back, and I won't pretend it was anything other than shamefully racist. Sayeth Wikipedia, the track is not exactly a paragon of political correctness, even by 1961 standards. In the song, an Aboriginal meeting is described as a 'pow-wow', something more appropriate for Native Americans, while their chanting sounds more African than Aboriginal.

Here's the song on Youtube. Listen at your own risk.


The punchline of the song is where the boy who's boomerang won't come back (who has practiced till I was black in the face/ I'm a big disgrace to the Aborigine race) meets a witch doctor (I know, I know...) who tells him:

if you want your boomerang to come back, well, first you've got to throw it.

Which is true. And also hands-down the best sales advice I've ever encountered.


One of the most common challenges I see in hardware startups is that, after the initial burst of selling, product sales stall.

There were two conversations I had this morning that made me think of this. There's a startup at Techstars who is thinking about the same thing; I've had similar conversations with a couple of other hardware startups thinking their way through this. I've experienced this myself, and the story goes as follows:

You're a designer, or a creative technologist, or whatever. You're good at networking so you know how to reach many thousands or millions of people.. You're good at pitching your idea, well practiced, so you know how to craft a story. You launch your product; it sells.

And sales are decent. When you have PR.

But hardware ain't websites and ain't apps. You don't get an email address with hardware. You can't encourage your users to spam their Facebook friends, like an app can. Apps have got virality: Monkey see app, monkey download app from the App Store right there and then. Hardware got no virality. Users don't get more users.

So sales don't hockey-stick.

Now what you do is what everyone does when they experience a challenge, which is you repeat what made you successful in the first place. You do what you're really good at. You iterate the design, add features, you do better PR, you do a bunch of talks and you craft better stories.

But this is a build it and they will come approach. It probably doesn't work.

Your local social network is now saturated. You need to reach beyond your mates - and your mates of mates - and sell in a different way. But how?

You gotta advertise.

At Techstars, I've been privileged to work with people who really know their shit about digital marketing. They understand e-commerce inside-down and upside-out.

Here's a simple thing they talk about: Putting a budget against, say, Facebook ads. Try a bunch of stuff, see what works. Whatever profit you make from that, recycle it: buy more ads! If you're receiving money from new sales on a weekly basis, you get to recycle money every week. If you get money daily, you recycle daily and grow faster!

As you get better at selling, you recycle the cash and your budget grows and grows... but it's free money! It's still your original budget!

I was talking to Dev about this - at the coffee morning - and he went through the same thing for his Kickstarter campaign. He said that digital marketing was clear and obvious... once it had been framed for him as an engineering challenge with end goals and a toolset. What channels generate sales? What phrases work? Measure it all.

Anyway, I know this is obvious, but it's all about reaching and selling to the people we don't already know, in a repeatable, testable, iterated-and-improvable way. And I only say it because I've had this conversation a dozen times in the last month, and as tech folks and designers (as opposed to biz and marketing people) it appears to be something that we don't notice, or don't get to, or find excuses to not do because "the product isn't ready" or something. Holy shit I've heard a lot of excuses.

This sales attitude has got to be in the team DNA early on, or it'll feel alien when it - inevitably - gets introduced later. What the product is and how the product is understood AND SOLD has to evolve hand-in-hand.

If you want your boomerang to come back, first you've gotta throw it.

Other reason I bang on about this: Ignoring sales is a personal pitfall, and I want to make sure that, for my next venture, I think about sales as early as possible. Ultimately it'll make for a better product.

Next coffee morning

Coffee morning 5 will be January 29th, same bat-time (9.30am), same bat-channel (Old St). For reminders, join the mailing list.

Folks who came today: Thank you for coming! If you want me to connect you with anyone you chatted to, drop me a mail -- I collected email addresses. I'd love to hear about the conversations you had, let me know what sparked your imagination!

Filtered for the Internet of Things


What acronym do we give the Internet of Things? John Gruber:

"IoT" is a terrible acronym, especially in a world where Helvetica and Helvetica-like sans serifs are so popular. Capping the "o" too would help a little -- it would make it much more clear that it's spelling EYE-oh-TEE, not ell-oh-TEE.

Ok, IOT it is.

I wrote a post back in 2013 about how any of Amazon, Apple, and Google could become the default platform for IOT.

Since then...

Amazon have launched new Amazon Web Services tech focused on supporting sensors and web-connected devices.

Google acquired the home gadgets company Nest, back in January 2014. Since then they've been expanding the platform for developers, and there are now many home products that work with Nest. My feeling is that, for IOT, this is the best way to build a platform: Start with a killer product, then include partners, then finally move to 3rd party developers.

And Apple released Homekit, some standard tech for wireless chips that makes 3rd party products work better with iPhones. For instance, every Homekit product has to support identification: Users need ways to identify the accessory they are adjusting, so make sure to provide quick access to a control that physically identifies the accessory. In the case of a light bulb, for example, you might let users flash the bulb using your app to confirm its identity in the home.

Most interesting? Apple has added features to the Apple TV box so that it enables Homekit products being controlled from outside the home: So, while commands like 'Siri, turn off the lights in the living room' will always work while connected to your home Wi-Fi network, they won't from the airport unless you have an Apple TV.

Curious. Sounds like Apple is building the right thing.


Half of the Internet of Things is the things.

But making hardware is hard. Or rather... it requires a process which isn't familiar to most of the startups who turn their attention to hardware, and investors aren't familiar with how to fund hardware startups.

So specialised startup incubators are emerging.

The Economist has a special report. Hacking Shenzhen, Why southern China is the best place in the world for a hardware innovator to be.

Focuses on Haxlr8r.


Two hardware startups I've run across recently...

Re-Timer, a wearable headset that uses bright lights to tinker with your circadian rhythms -- and fix jet lag.

And Kisha, the umbrella you'll never lose. It's a weather forecast app, plus an alert that goes off if you leave your umbrella outside your "safe" places.


From IBM, this Executive Report, Device democracy: Saving the future of the Internet of Things (via @bruces).

Liquifying the physical world.

Great summary of the opportunities and challenges in scaling IOT.

Challenges identified:

  • The cost of connectivity
  • The Internet after trust
  • Not future-proof
  • A lack of functional value
  • Broken business models

From experience, these are exactly the challenges businesses face as they have to adapt to connected products.

I'm impressed with what IBM are up to at the moment. Their collaboration with Apple has produced some solid business apps, and their new design language is great.

Also: The UK government's approach to the Internet of Things is laid out in the Blackett review, a paper by the Government Chief Scientific Adviser on what the IOT opportunities are and how the government can help.

Coffee morning 4

Let's have another coffee morning! First one of 2015.

Thursday 15th January, 9.30am for a couple of hours, at the Book Club in Old St.

Do come, it would be lovely to see you!

Here's what what happened at the last coffee morning. tl;dr we talked about the manufacturers of web-connected products speaking to consumers for the very first time, and sexy turducken. Also there were crackers.

And here's what coffee morning is all about... a mini, informal street corner to chat about nonsense and hardware. But mainly to drink coffee and hang out.

Oh and -- if you want reminders by email, there's now a coffee morning announce list. Subscribe here.

See you next Thurs!

Filtered for monkeys and A.I.


Who owns the monkey selfie?

There was an interesting dispute last year around that photo the monkey took of itself... or rather, a photographer was out to take pictures, but a monkey nicked the camera and took loads of pictures, then the photographer picked out a particularly good one and shared it, and everyone called it the "monkey selfie."

Then Wikipedia published the photo without asking the photographer, and justified it by saying that actually the monkey owned the photo.

Anne takes this to an interesting place:

Does the monkey have agency? Clearly.

Is the monkey the author-photographer? Sure.

Is the monkey the owner? Possibly.

And if this nonhuman has agency, and the power of authorship and ownership, what about other nonhumans?

What about the camera? What kind of agency does it have? Can a camera author an image? Own a photograph?

Is the camera the author of the photo?


Amazon's robotic fulfilment army [video].

In other robot news, If Your Robot Buys Illegal Drugs, Have You Committed a Crime?

If I give you a cake, did I deliberately make you happy? Of course.

If I order it to be sent online? Of course.

If I flip a coin and if it comes up heads then you get cake, then I flip the coin and it's heads? Yes.

If I write a program that can buy all kinds of stuff and sometimes buys cake? Probably, yes.

If I write an artificial intelligence that wants to delight you, and it happens to get you cake, is that still my agency? I think so, yes.

At a certain point of complexity (is it complexity that matters?) it's no longer my agency. But I don't know what that is.

I want there to be like an age of majority for systems of cause and effect, with a threshold of complexity rather than years since birth.

3. is an automated, email personal assistant to help you arrange meetings. It uses artificial intelligence.

Matt Turck's analysis of A.I. as a space is great. How artificial intelligence will come to market:

we're about to witness the emergence of a number of deeply focused AI-powered applications that will achieve commercial success by solving in a definitive manner very specific issues.

...which is a great way to think about it. I don't care how this personal assistant works, but it's great that the company behind it were able to create it. And they were able to create it because of A.I.

If it does something weird or wrong, whose fault is that? The programmers? In some cases. But in most cases, if the person I'm arranging a meeting with is let down or offended or pissed off... it'll be my fault, the user, the person who introduced the A.I. into the situation.

So how do I "interview" an A.I. for this personal assistant job role? How do I get to know them, assure myself they're not going to do anything bonkers?


Intel have released a computer that plugs into the back of a TV.

When you open the box, it plays the Intel jingle.

Filtered for the great outdoors


What playing cricket looks like to Americans (video).

I've been sick since just after Christmas -- nothing much, just a light cold that turned into a sinus infection which is usual for this time of year. A slight ringing in the ears; dizziness if I move my head too fast.

Every year this happens! I need my sinuses like I need a hole in the head. Badum tish.

The weirdest effect of this barely-there sickness is that it's leaching my volition. I have zero ideas. Or rather, I can respond to stuff quite adequately. But self-starting volition: Nope. All gone.

Cricket is simultaneously boring and this long, complex, open-ended... something. The annual-or-so Australia/England Test series - the Ashes - comprises five 5-day games. The place in a series can only be described half as stats and half as story.

All the possible cricket fielding positions.

My favourite is when the games are being played in Australia, because then I have the radio on all night and I listen to the ebb and flow of the game through dozing and the half-light of consciousness. And that fully felt, undescribable sunlit contest builds in my head for a month and a bit, the length of the series. A soundtrack.

I wonder why we fall so easily into accepting a movie soundtrack. Maybe we have soundtracks in regular life. Not heard but felt. And that's the niche being occupied.

Regularity, daily routine, the beat of a soundtrack composed in microhertz. I can choose.

Good grief, I need to see the Sun.


The Capital Ring (which is in yellow on this map) is a 70-something mile walk circumnavigating London, linking together parks and open spaces in the city.

It's made of 15 sections.

I think I need some outdoors, that's basically it.

But I also wonder, why no volition? What's resting? What's finding a new direction?


The US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) publishes random numbers, every minute of the day: FEB25F1F8A3CD0712 7162AAFF20D0B17D 5A7FFF80523028C8 BE793471EED8335 A955C461D6F4B9C2 8075327469F57315 F2CA216CC5805561 1DF490AEAF64F2B9

The story of how it works is interesting. Coin flips, seeds, and trust.

I don't think having new ideas is quite like having an internal random number generator. But whatever's gummed up in my sinuses right now, that's what's rusty, or sore and stuck.

I think the reason I reach for this kind of language is that one way of seeing illness is as a psychic phenomenon. If I bash my leg, a bruise comes up: fluid builds up around the flesh to hold it and cushion it while it repairs. My being sick is also me wanting to be sick; I am the fluid cushioning, in a way. But holding what while it builds strength?

There's also something magical about being sick that always brings home to me how embodied we are. No mind/body partition here, no way.

Related: I watched the movie Computer Chess over the holidays. The Guardian review calls it audaciously boring. Human/machine. Recommended!


One of my favourite accounts on Twitter is @herdyshepherd1 -- he's a shepherd in the Lake District. It's mainly pictures of sheep and his dogs (and fields) early in the morning. Which would be enough...

It's also, for me, a sense of connection. With sheep and dogs (and fields).

Which is wonderful.

His story.

His photos on Instagram. Must follow.

Then there's stuff like his commentary on fell walking, for instance, Wainwright's canonical fellwalks of the 1950s.

It is quite common for Lake District shepherds to have not been to some of the other valleys - knowledge and work is very local.

The idea of ticking off fells like Wainwright is a fairly alien notion to local folk - many would reply 'what for?'

Older folk thought fell walking was a sign of someone not being a full shilling.

Fell walking is inherently modern - based on idea that an individual can experience something and that the 'self' matters...

But older working communities are more medieval in their perceptions and value an individual within their working context... Self irrelevant

'This accidental present is not the all of me... That was so long in the making' Oodgeroo Nuunucal

So, Lake District has two cultures... One that is very modern and about the 'self' and one very old and native that is about the 'community'

It's the X Factor that has set me off... No one gave a damn if you had a 'passion' before romanticism. Wordsworth turned in to Simon Cowell

The genius of romanticism is that it says everyone can join the club... Whereas older patterns of experience of place are earned/closed

I've been trying to be a farmer/shepherd for about forty years and am in the beginners class... Fell walking is easy to become part of!

[true enough, although walking (and tourism) is surely important for your communities?] Yes. I like guests, not conquistadors

@herdyshepherd1 is James Rebanks, and his book, The Shepherd's Life, is out in April: His family have farmed in the same area for six hundred years.