Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Aereo asks: Are we moving towards a permission-based system for technology innovation?

Today the Supreme Court handed down a copyright ruling against internet company Aereo, whose business model was to "rent" small antennae to subscribers so they could watch over-the-air tv via their computer, laptop, smart phone or tablet. The company also provided DVR-type cloud storage for its customers.

The heart of the matter seemed to be, to the justices, that Aereo looks a lot like a cable provider, re-broadcasting content from the TV networks. This author agrees. Getting someone to pay you for someone else' content, without paying a royalty, is copyright infringement. Cable firms pay "re-broadcast" rights to the networks for their content; so should Aereo.

The internet is clearly a medium for content distribution; any ISP (be it COMCAST, AT&T or T-Mobile, or Verizon, here in the U.S.) should be classified as a "common carrier", as content providers such as XFINITY, Aereo, or even your local TV station's web page, are providing you quality (ha, we hope) content via the pipes that are the internet.

However, the founder of Aereo is right in asking, why should entrepreneurs ask permission to innovate? However, if they piggy-back on someone else, they should pay. That was this author's experience with Apple and SAP when we launched Bluedog as an application service provider in 1998 -- license WebObjects and R/3, to produce innovation and value for the customer. If there's money to be mad with an idea, everyone wins.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Build Drones, not roads

More from the "Robots are Good" file: Adreas Raptopoulos is the founder of Matternet, a company building a network of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to transport medicine and goods in places with poor road infrastructure. His idea -- "drones for good" -- employs small, electric UAVs to transport packages weighing up to a pound or so and containing items like vaccines, medicines or blood samples, over distances 10 kilometers at a time. using drones for transportation that leapfrogs roads, his idea could improve lives for many, many people. And make drones a popular tool for good, instead of evil.

Think of how mobile networks have overtaken land lines in poorly connected countries -- some countries just don't bother stringing wires. Why not the same, with roads? Where's the flying car when we need it?

Remember Bannockburn

While everyone remembers Guy Fawkes day, I like to remember the 24th of June, anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn. No rhyme, but a crucial lesson, regardless.

On this day some 700 years ago, the Scots were aiming for independence. Thinking outside the box, Robert the Bruce had his sappers dig a field of scores of holes, each only a few feet wide and deep, but excavated at a crucial point where the English were advancing. These small traps, capable of snapping horse's legs, meant the cavalry had to stay on the narrow Roman road. Unable to spread into a proper formation, they were left vulnerable.

While the battle ended well for the Scots, the war of independence dragged on. And, in the end, we all know how that worked out. perhaps wankers colonized Scotland, but history, well, history is written by the winners.

Lesson: act today with fortitude and cleverness — even in the face of certain disaster. Although, of course, the outcome may not matter in the long run.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Smaller Drones = Less Likely Injury

This Washington Post article highlights another problem with military-grade UAVs or drones: size. Of course, in physics, the larger the mass times the speed of the object, the greater the energy released. With commercial drones, size is often limited due to the economic constraints of constructing a vehicle large enough to carry out a specific objective, versus the monies a firm has to invest. With the government, and the military in particular, drones are often based on full-size aircraft. While the appeal of flying massive unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) has great appeal, it is this author's opinion that, as the pilot-in-command is not physically present when flying the craft, he or she has less incentive to keep that craft safe, and away from innocent people on the ground.

For example, in this story, the FA-18 pilot avoided a school full of children when his aircraft was in danger -- he was willing to risk injury or death to prevent others from coming to harm. When a UAV pilot is sitting in an air conditioned office flying a massive craft at speed, will he or she have the same reactions?

As with the Google Car, this author would be most comfortable with a large increase in the number of aircraft overhead in the CONUS should the government put forth guidelines on using autonomous control as a means of ensuring greater safety.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

What to do when the wind "don't blow an' the sun don't shine"

Solar and wind are the most talked about renewables when it comes to alternate energy sources. But when the wind doesn't blow, and the sun "don't" shine, how does one meet one's power needs?

A logical approach is to store electricity when those types of generators are out peak output, for consumption later. Batteries can be environmentally unfriendly, costly, and not meet performance goals.

Vanadium flow batteries offer the kind of low cost, high capacity energy storage solutions that will help transform the wind and the sun into power sources that rival fossil fuel plants for stability and reliability, but as always there are a couple of obstacles: where to get the transition metal vanadium, at a reasonable cost? One possibility is to recover the metal from other industrial activities, such as oil/gas production, or from recycling.

On a related note, why is the cost of solar so much less in Germany compared to the US? One possibility is that this s primarily due to Germany's more mature market, so market scale and associated learning-induced "cost reductions" are at work. However, as this article discusses, it seems the tax structure in the US is skewed away from adoption-incentives, resulting in higher costs for American buyers of solar over German ones.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Want a bigger return-on-investment? Try science, not war...

At Forbes, an excellent article on government outlays -- the choices our lawmakers exercise have a profound impact on us. And our children.

We’re in the midst of a remarkable stream of scientific and medical advances, spurred by dramatic advances in biotechnology, computing, and miniaturization. Our knowledge of biology has led to amazing leaps in our understanding of aging, immune responses, inherited diseases, and brain function, to name but a few. And yet we’re cutting science funding, year after year...

We've given up on the Super Conducting Super Collider, and the Tokamak reactor is limping along. Physics (expressed as math) is the study of the mechanical universe -- the basic science that underlies all the natural sciences. Uncovering basic rules of the behavior of matter and energy on every scale like quantum phenomena and the theory of the Big Bang, literally transform transformed our view of the natural world. Inventions like the transistor and the laser have ignited modern technology. Physics consists of many sub-fields, including particle and nuclear physics, atomic and molecular spectroscopy, optics, solid state physics, biological and medical physics, computational physics, acoustics, astrophysics and cosmology. We need to know more, to survive in this great universe.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Like Photoshop in the Virtual World? How about an eye dropper tool IRL?

From a near-by site: "Known as Scribble, the new technology lets you draw any colour in the world almost instantly.
The pen uses a 16-bit RGB colour sensor and scans real life items before creating a colour-matched ink, The Huffington Post reports. For example, you could scan a blade of grass (or an orange, as above) and the Scribble will create the exact colour for you and transfer it either onto paper or a mobile device."


Friday, June 6, 2014

Alternative to Autonomous Vehicles

You probably have heard of Uber and other car share apps/services. Here's twist - a self-organizing bus service. From Slashdot, we read...

'This new-old method of transport has comfortable seats and Wi-Fi. But its real innovation is in its routing. It is a "pop up" bus service, with routes dictated by millions of bits of data that show where people are and where they need to go. The private service uses chartered buses and is run by a start-up technology company called Bridj.' 'Bridj collects millions of bits of data about people's commutes from Google Earth, Facebook, Foursquare, Twitter, LinkedIn, the census, municipal records and other sources. "We crunch these millions and millions of data points through a number of algorithms that are existing, or that we're refining, to tell us where people are living and working," Mr. George said. "And through our special sauce,we're able to determine how a city moves."'

Bridj collects millions of bits of data about people’s commutes from Google Earth, Facebook, Foursquare, Twitter, LinkedIn, the census, municipal records and other sources. “We crunch these millions and millions of data points through a number of algorithms that are existing, or that we’re refining, to tell us where people are living and working,” Mr. George said. “And through our special sauce, we’re able to determine how a city moves.”

The NYT has more...

Monday, June 2, 2014

Wired thinks GoogleCar = more surveillance

Over at Wired Magazine,

...for most people, the link between government surveillance and freedom is more plainly understood by cars, rather than personal computers. As more and more objects become connected to the Internet these questions will grow in importance.And cars in particular might become, as Ryan Calo puts it in a 2011 article on drones, “a privacy catalyst”; an object giving us an opportunity to drag our privacy laws into the 21st century; an object that restores our mental model of what a privacy violation is.

The author continues,

“Self-driving” is another misnomer. Driving decisions are never “self-made.” They are accounted for by algorithms when they are not accounted for by drivers. These algorithms reflect many decisions that aren’t self-made either: they are the conscious answers to complicated safety, ethical, legal and commercial dilemmas. Calling a robotic car “self-driving” diverts attention from the surrender of autonomy to algorithms, making it harder to navigate the policy questions that arise.

Self-driving cars are coming–slowly and progressively, with various stages of automation before the streets are filled with no-hand-on-wheel vehicles like the prototype Google revealed Tuesday–but they are surely part of our near future. They hold considerable promise for the environment and for road safety.

They also embody our debate on freedom, autonomy, and privacy when it comes to computing systems–revealing just how intrusive remote access to computing systems by the government or individuals can become.

At The Atlantic, we read:

The automobile has afforded greater freedom to so many different kinds of Americans: the mad dreamers portrayed in On the Road; the post-World War II families who suddenly had the means to pack their kids in the backseat and vacation a thousand miles from home; the Jim Crow-era blacks for whom cars were an alternative to racist public-transportation systems; the generations of American teenagers who cruised the local strip in their own versions of American Graffiti. This heritage is dear to many, and helps explain popular opposition to policies as diverse as toll roads, speed cameras, and permitting the Transportation Security Administration to expand its operations on the nation's highways. All challenge a romantic preference for an America where anyone can climb into a car, fill up, and drive wherever they damn well please unimpeded.

But the anonymity of driving is fading. For example, automatic license-plate readers threaten much of the privacy we have enjoyed, getting to our destination.