Monday, January 27, 2014

The Maker-Bot Revolution - Writ Large

The revolution continues in the transformation of our world, courtesy of the internet. One key technology is the 3d printer, which will open up new worlds by lowering the cost of many goods, speed the delivery of those goods into everyone's hands, and increase the creative options to enable ideas to become reality.

Some current 3d printers use the technique MakerBot and Da Vinci printers employ -- rolls of plastic wire that are then melted, piece by piece, and deposited as tiny dots to create objects. The resulting pieces can be light and strong, but their surfaces show a characteristic banded texture and the resolution is limited; the overall impression is crude. The so-called "printed gun" uses a much more sophisticated -- and expensive -- type of plastic dispensed from an industrial 3d printer.

One model that may emerge -- a bifurcated system, where the combination of 3D printing and manufacturing produces a low-end “Less Expensive, Less quality” model, where manufacturers focus on rapid iteration wth localized facilities, and a high-end “Premium” model, where groups provide product ideas and social capital to facilitate small businesses and local creativity.

Certainly the surface of the full gamut of possibilities of 3d printing are only being scratched. The people's gun is one area -- societal boundaries pushed. Another could be in terms of scale. With this device, you can "print" a house in 24 hours.

Created by Professor Behrokh Khoshnevis from the University of Southern California, this new giant 3D concrete printer can build a 2,500-square-foot house in just 24 hours, layer by layer. The giant robot replaces construction workers with a nozzle on a boom (pumping concrete from trucks), which squirts out concrete and can quickly build a home based on a CAD drawing.

For this author, it is not too difficult to imagine entrepreneurs or local small businesses competing with Ford or Kia to disrupt broad markets, such as for the automobile. The same holds true for other industries, such as consumer products or engineering. Don't underestimate the creativity of the motivated business person.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Analog Planning Tool

Each January I start a fresh paper planner/calendar. While I live and work by my product,, I also maintain a paper-based tool. This allows me to work on task lists, calendar and a short list of contActs wherever I am, whenever.

One planner that I like very much is the Hobonichi Techo. This year marks the second year the Hobonichi Planner is available in an English edition. Sonya Park, owner and creative director of select shop ARTS&SCIENCE, has directed the project for an international Hobonichi Planner that can be enjoyed by customers anywhere in the world. The simple page design provides ample freedom and is easy for anyone to use. Several features of the original planner have been maintained in the English version, including the one-page-per-day design, lay-flat binding and daily quotes. The stylish, textured black cover is stamped in gold with the Japanese characters for techo along with the ARTS&SCIENCE logo. The 2014 edition cover features a slightly more matte finish.

For the convenience of global users, new features of the 2014 edition planner include a listing of holidays around the world, and a “Coming Up!” page before each month to allow users to write down important dates and devise plans for the month ahead.


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Car Company And Universities Team Up for Auto-drive Improvements

Ford is joining MIT and Stanford University to develop solutions to the obstacles to autonomous driving.

“To deliver on our vision for the future of mobility, we need to work with many new partners across the public and private sectors, and we need to start today,” said Paul Mascarenas, chief technical officer and Vice President, Ford research and innovation.

Ford and MIT are working on advanced algorithms to help a vehicle learn to predict where moving vehicles and pedestrians could be. Ford and Stanford are exploring how sensors might see around obstacles. Ford says that the typical driver will maneuver around a line to allow them to see around obstacles like a big truck. The research with Stanford hopes to make sensors to see what is ahead of the robot vehicle.

Ford's automated Fusion Hybrid research vehicle uses the same technology already in the company's other vehicles available now for sale, but adds four LiDAR sensors to generate a real-time 3D map of the vehicle's surrounding environment.

The WSJ has more...

Monday, January 20, 2014

BBC reports on study casting doubt on quantum computing performance

Over at the BBC, research is reported on regarding the speed of commercial quantum computers. In some tests devised by a team of researchers, the commercial quantum computer has performed no faster than a standard desktop machine. The team set random maths problems for the D-Wave Two machine and a regular computer with an optimised algorithm.

The general feeling is, quantum computers have the potential to perform certain calculations significantly faster than silicon-based counterparts. The computer (or tablet or smart phone) we use today works by "flipping the switch" on bits that exist in one of two states: 0 or a 1. Quantum computers may address multiple states beyond the binary -- they encode information as quantum bits, or qubits, which can exist in superposition. Qubits represent atoms, ions, photons or electrons and their respective control devices that are working together to act as computer memory and a processor. Because a quantum computer can contain these multiple states simultaneously, such a device has the potential to be millions of times more powerful than today's most powerful supercomputers.

In the study, researchers comparing D-Wave's $15 million computer (utilizing quantum mechanics) was calculating faster than a regular machine. Of course, the researchers were only looking at one type of computing problem and the D-Wave may perform better in other tasks. Read more...

Monday, January 13, 2014

Want Your Mobile Apps to Work Better? Start with Canonical Services in Your Enterprise Architecture

To leverage legacy systems so they can be "mobilized," consider adopting an approach that aligns canonical data models in service oriented architecture (SOA) with your message models. Such a data model may be developed top-down based on business requirements or, alternately, through reverse engineering of existing data structures. This is the approach I've used most frequently.

So how to do this?

While it sometimes is difficult to create pure system-independent canonical models, aspiring to that in the context of SOA is a worthy goal. It helps to define data types (think of them as the "leaves" on the tress of your XSD, an XML schema or road map for the XML document). This structure could be similar to data types which are used in the RDBMS in your master data sources.

Next, find the differences -- map the supported data types in other systems and databases within your infrastructure. Typical conflict arises in types like "STRING" or "FLOAT". It pays to use more restricted form of this data type. If the databases contain something atypical -- for instance number of decimal places is lower than number which is required by your legal requirements (especially financial transactions) -- you can then disable that column to do critical transactions by creating a branch in data types. This can then be programmatically set during translations from system-specific data types in your Common Data Model, where you can use common static tables translating. The end result will be a set of data types compatible with your systems and also usable via in semantic standards over your ESB.

The next step is to define basic business objects representing entities within the semantic standard which will have structure, that will be understandable for you business and will be valid for consumers of your services. Of course, you will reuse data types from your data types set and business objects should be dependent on domain. For example, business objects for contract details in different domains if those domains require unique fields. Caveat: data types should be the same; look for archetypes in existing models such as Dublin core.

Finally, define the service interfaces. Are you utilizing a standardized form of message for request and response? Within this form you should use business objects, used whole prevent to fragmentation of interfaces, which could decrease the potential for reuse.

At Bluedog, we have found that canonical data model can provide a common format for the information content of the messages of the individual services, leading to a horizontal alignment of message formats across services.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Taking over the driver's seat - another study predicts uptake of autonomous vehicles

There are man benefits to the self-driving car, and these will drive acceptance once such vehicles clear regulatory hurdles.

Several traditional car makers are embarking on autonomous-vehicle projects, and are by the likes of Google and other major industry suppliers. IHS is only predicting self-driving cars to make up two-tenths of a percent of sales in 2025, with price premiums of $7,000 to $10,000. By 2035, 9.2-percent of new vehicles sold will be autonomous, as prices are driven down to a mere $3,000 more than a traditionally controlled vehicle.

“There are several benefits from self-driving cars to society, drivers and pedestrians,” says Egil Juliussen, principal analyst for infotainment and autonomous driver assisted systems at IHS Automotive. Juliussen co-authored the study with IHS Automotive senior ADAS analyst Jeremy Carlson.

“Accident rates will plunge to near zero for SDCs, although other cars will crash into SDCs, but as the market share of SDCs on the highway grows, overall accident rates will decline steadily,” Juliussen says. “Traffic congestion and air pollution per car should also decline because SDCs can be programmed to be more efficient in their driving patterns.”

Ford, for example, has initiated work on its own autonomous vehicle as well as a solar-powered hybrid plug-in outfitted with silicon panels right on the roof. The Ford C-MAX Solar Energi concept car gets an estimated EPA mileage rating of 100 mpg, and its rooftop array is capable of generating 300 watts. For the self-driving Fusion, Ford replaced the bulky LIDAR units on current autonomous vehicles are four smaller scanners. Linked together, the LIDAR units compose a 360-degree, three-dimensional view of the surroundings, processing the information and allowing the vehicle to accelerate, brake, and steer without driver intervention.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Exoskeleton-wearing teen - paralyzed - to kick off the World Cup

When the World Cup kicks off this summer in Brazil, a paralyzed teen, using a mind-controlled exoskeleton, will make the ceremonial first kick.

Sponsored by the Walk Again Project, this event will showcase how technology improves lives. The Walk Again Project is a nonprofit, international collaboration among the Duke University Center for Neuroengineering, the Technical University of Munich, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, the Edmond and Lily Safra International Institute of Neuroscience of Natal in Brazil, The University of California, Davis, The University of Kentucky, and Regis Kopper of The Duke immersive Virtual Environment.

The candidate will he will be picked from a pre-approved group of patients who have been taught how to operate the sophisticated exoskeleton.

Monday, January 6, 2014

"You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means"

In keeping with what a great swordsman once uttered, using that word wrong doesn't make your web service work better. The Application Programming Interface (API) in Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) is a new catch phrase, we hear. This so-called 'REST API' is almost always just an 'HTTP interface' given a fancy name to make it sound better, more so than the integration strategy many consultants are offering up. In an organization with an e-commerce or web development team, this "programmer" view makes SOA seem cool.

REST stands for Representational State Transfer, as proposed in a doctorate dissertation. This approach uses the four HTTP methods GET, POST, PUT and DELETE to execute different operations, compared to SOAP, which creates new arbitrary commands (verbs) like getAccounts() or applyDiscount(). Thus, a REST API is a set of operations that can be invoked by means of any the four verbs, using the actual URI as parameters for a web service operation. For example, we might have a method to query all case management accounts which can be called from /accounts/all/ to invoke a HTTP GET and the 'all' parameter. This tell the web service that to return all accounts, probably in an XML stream annotated for the particular client (with CSS, for example, for a browser).

Here at Bluedog, our apps have always been built with the web tier against the same set of "APIs" as the mobile tier. The advantage of a Java/WebObjects framework is "out-of-the-box" support for a variety of clients. The Ajax framework in Project Wonder provides many of the features that Rails users have come to expect, but written in a style that fits well with "The WebObjects Way" of doing things. An attempt is made to avoid writing javascript whenever feasible, as well as providing as much support for component actions as possible.

The majority of Ajax framework is written without dependencies on ERExtensions (the core framework in Project Wonder). This means that for most Ajax capabilities (the JavaScript/CSS components that give sizzle to the browser), we can use a framework without making a Web Service or Application extend any classes. Advanced capabilities can be designed using supporting classes that are available in the ERExtensions framework or by extending the open source classes such as ERXSession in our foundation frameworks.

The rise of mobile has harkened back the older client/server model which emphasized rich client interfaces, first made popular with Swing and other attempts at native Java clients. With our "API-first" development model, the Java/WebObjects tier is the interface to the device -- or client. When you put a desktop browser client, mobile native app (Objective C for iPhone or iPad) or a desktop app in front of the app server you make a mobile-enabled stack is simple. And all is right, in the world of SOA.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Did Your Espresso Machine Just Tweet You?

When asked, I like to explain the "Internet of Things" as an ecosystem of technologies monitoring the status of physical objects IRL (in real life, in "meatspace", as opposed to cyberspace), capturing meaningful data, and communicating through the great internet IP network to our software apps. For Bluedog, the Internet of Things means smart objects, machine to machine communication, RF technologies, and a central hub of information.

As a proponent of service oriented architecture, I find the idea of the Internet of Things to be compelling. With devices of all kinds reporting data in real-time, people have the ability to make quicker, more accurate decisions. In the supply chain, managers could monitor the status of shipments like a crate filled with expiring pharmaceuticals or spoiling veggies. With sensors, RFID tags, and RFID readers, supply chain participants view in real-time the exact location of the cargo inside the warehouse, its point of origin, time until expiration, and factors in the environment like temperature that might impact the process.

This transparent process improves efficiency, reduces waste, and allows traceability. If a shipment is determined to be unsuitable for consumption due to spoilage or other unforeseen circumstance, the root cause will quickly be discovered from the plethora of information available.

Kevin Ashton likely first coined the phrase in 1999, but the idea has evolved in the intervening time. Initially, it was used to describe the limitations in the relationship between the internet, computers, and the physical world. Ashton was describing how nearly all the data available on the internet originates from a human. With available and emerging technologies, Ashton believed information about things need not be dependent on a manual interaction; it could be an automated process.

At Bluedog, we see the adoption of such supporting technologies as a means of spurring innovation. IP networks are commonplace throughout homes, offices, warehouses, even city streets. Industry need and government mandates are regulating technologies leading to accepted standards across boundaries, allowing for interoperability among devices. The cost and size of devices continues decreasing which allows companies to embed smaller, common items with GPS, Q-codes or bar codes, RFID, and low-cost sensors.

Contemplate the future, on this, the close of 2013. Drones and other autonomous vehicles, more mobile computing, the Cloud, the frontiers of space being pushed back, new genetics, physics, materials science and other advancements! The future is so bright, I've gotta wear shades.