Blogging vs. Learning
It’s now a year on from the first weekly round up publication on this blog at the end of April 2014. WordPress has started appending a trailing ‘-2’ to each week’s post slug serving as a reminder that we’ve already encountered it in 2014. It’s been quite a journey blogging a lengthy post weekly for a year and something of a milestone to have stuck with it. Reader feedback has generally been good so the format hasn’t changed massively over the last 12 months, though I continue to look for ways to minimize content each week and not overwhelm. A hosted instance of WordPress has proved to be a trusty tool for supporting the blog with an easy to understand control panel allowing the base install to be kept up to date ensuring the focus remains on published content. More recently, however, the blog has vied for attention with an Artificial Intelligence MOOC that I’ve been pursuing and enjoyed hugely. It’s helped underpin my growing interest in AI with a better technical understanding. I’ve now published a standalone article covering my thoughts on the experience which includes links to videos outlining the development of an intelligent Pacman:
Undertaking the MOOC also reminded me of the importance of continued learning in the face of the accelerating pace of technological change going on in the wider world. It shouldn’t be an either/or but with a lot of other commitments, pursuing both roundup blogging and learning concurrently is a challenge. One possible solution may lie in blogging about learning. That may be a direction the blog starts to evolve in over the course of the year. Meanwhile, on with this week’s roundup 🙂
Manufacturers and Devices
- Not only is Nokia is not going to make a return to mobile phones, it may also be in the process of trying to divest itself of HERE, its maps division. Techcrunch reported that the unit may be worth as much as $4billion after securing another deal this time with Facebook to provide mobile mapping to properties like Instagram and Messenger:
“Besides Facebook, sources tell us that other possible buyers for Nokia Here include Apple, a car consortium, Samsung, Uber, Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent and (wait for it) Yahoo.”
- ArsTechnica reported an interesting analysis of the performance of Qualcomm’s flagship 64-bit octocore Snapdragon 810 chipset that powers the HTC On M9 and Sony Xperia Z4 and will be in many leading 2015 Android handsets. There have been persistent rumours of the 810 overheating and initiating thermal throttling to control running temperature. Evidence for that seems to be pretty clear in the ArsTechnica analysis which indicates that throttling prevents the chip from ever reaching its top clock speed of 2GHz:
“chips throttle, but the 810 throttles more than most, and it’s severe enough that the 810 is actually slower than the 801 or 805 in some CPU-bound tasks over the long haul.”
- Strategy Analytics are reporting that Xiaomi are now the global number three smartphone maker behind Samsung and Apple:
- Ethical Android smartphone maker Fairphone has just been crowned Europe’s fastest growing startup by TNW. They have a very laudable aim but as they themselves freely acknowledge, their first smartphone model which shifted over 60,000 units was more a starting point on a long journey:
With component makers reluctant to provide full disclosure on every aspect of the production, it remains to be seen whether a 100 percent ‘fair’ phone is an achievable goal, but it’s certainly a worthy one.
- The US Naval Research Laboratory has revealed an invention which is the fruit of 10 years of research, a new type of bulletproof glass called Spinel made from “a special type of synthetic powdered clay“. It could revolutionise device displays in the future.
- Microsoft Build 2015 developers conference proved to be another major watershed for the company in its post-Ballmer journey. Windows 10 as expected offers a slick, unified cross-platform Universal Windows Platform across a range of form-factor devices. However, it arrives with some interesting extras, notably the ability to use a Windows 10 based phone as your desktop and two new middleware “app bridges” called Islandwood and Astoria to ease the process of porting both iOS and Android apps respectively to run on Windows 10. The aim is to build a base of a billion Windows 10 based devices “within 2-3 years”.
- Clearly Microsoft needed to do something to catch up with iOS and Android. Whether mobile developers take up app bridge support en masse is another matter but there’s no doubt that the company has regained a tech leadership position with the move:
“Windows 10, with its hooks into Azure Cloud services, better support across a variety of devices and the promise of freaking holograms with HoloLens, finally puts Microsoft back into a leadership role.”
- The excitement didn’t end there either. Microsoft announced that Windows 10 IoT Core is now available for Raspberry Pi and followed up with an incredible demonstration of it in action with a HoloLens projecting a virtual assistant on top of a Raspberry Pi powered robot:
- Instructions on how to install Windows 10 IoT core on Raspberry Pi 2 are available here. Microsoft’s focus on HoloLens-related wow led Engadget to speculate whether they bought Minecraft simply to complement their virtual reality headset. The extent to which the company has travelled by championing the product is examined in this NYT profile piece which suggests that with HoloLens they at least stand a chance of leapfrogging the smartphone arena which they’ve already conceded to Android and iOS:
“At least with HoloLens, Microsoft appears to be skating to where the puck could be headed in technology, rather than where it has been. Brad Silverberg, a venture capitalist in Seattle and a former senior executive at Microsoft, said he was encouraged that the company was doing that rather than playing catch-up in smartphones.”
- Time go even further pointing out that Microsoft’s share price has risen 53% under Nadella and that the company is “killing it” right now.
- One other announcement that deserves elevation is Microsoft’s release of Visual Studio Code, a simple cross-platform IDE that runs on Linux, Mac and Windows. It’s available for free binary download right now and from initial investigation, seems to offer a great starting point for Code Club participants.
Google and Android
- Google’s addition of push notification support to the latest desktop and mobile versions of Chrome is a significant new entry in the “notification as UI” space. It offers brands a simpler cross-platform way of integrating with Google-flavour Android smartphones by offering:
“websites the ability to deliver notifications to devices, even if the Chrome browser isn’t running.”
- Sounds like this push notification support is being used to enable the delivery of directions via Google Search:
- Hotwording support has been limited to “OK Google” to date but now it will extend to Shazam as well and potentially many other brands via Google’s custom actions framework.
- On the subject of third party integrations, Google Now today has over 100 partner information sources for its cards including Spotify, Runkeeper, Zipcar and OpenTable.
- Perhaps one day you’ll be able to “OK Google” for fashion advice given this report suggesting that the company intends to:
“start issuing fashion trend reports based on user searches twice a year. The new trend aggregations are part of the company’s bid to become a bigger player in e-commerce and fashion beyond its product search engine or advertising platform.”
- Business Insider are reporting that at long last “for the first time, Android is making more money from apps than iOS is“.
- Interview with Jony Ive conducted at the Condé Nast International Luxury Conference as befits a company that continues to be a money-making machine jet-fuelled by mass market brand adoption in mainland China:
- Gruber suggests Apple Watch is merely “a cool watch that does cool things“ and that we shouldn’t overthink it:
“It’s about desire, not necessity. Convenience, fun, and style are not needs. They’re wants. And people will gladly pay for what they want. The iPad faced similar misguided criticism. How many times did you hear or read someone say of the iPad, “Why would anyone who already has a phone and a laptop need an iPad?” That was the wrong question, because almost no one needed an iPad. The right question was “Why would someone who has a phone and laptop also want an iPad?””
- And one of those cool things it will allow you to do is rekindle forgotten Tamagotchi memories:
- Luxurious and cool it may be but there is a distinct theme of v1.0 about the initial software. Matt Haughey wrote an interesting Medium post about his first 24 hours with Apple Watch and managed to raise a concern that will be very relevant for many users who have less than perfect eyesight:
“Notifications themselves are formatted in unique ways for every app, with no standards. Some are quite wordy and reminded me now that I’m over 40, I’m nearing the time to get bifocals/progressive lenses because it’s tough to read teeny tiny text on a small screen a couple feet away from your eyes.”
- Nexpaq have announced a Kickstarter for the ultimate in smart cases, a modular system that fits a range of leading smartphones and built around a set of swappable modules. The venture comes across like the Project Ara of smart cases promising investors a smartphone exoskeleton that can be controlled via Bluetooth. The idea is that Nexpaq will build a community to expand what is already an impressive collection of launch modules. If they can address quality, this could be a real hit:
“The launch lineup includes a battery module, a speaker, an LED flashlight, an SD card reader, a thermometer and humidity sensor combo, and a module that functions as a pair of programmable buttons. There’s also a USB flash drive, an air quality sensor, a breathalyzer, a laser pointer, a 64GB storage drive that plugs directly into your phone, and a dummy module for slots that aren’t in use. All of these are controlled via Nexpaq’s app, which also works remotely over a Bluetooth connection when the case isn’t on a phone.”
Apps and Services
- NYT on how social media giants LinkedIn, Twitter and Yelp took “a beating” on Wall Street this week:
“The performances illustrate the way investors are questioning whether social media companies can keep their growth rates vigorous enough to justify their valuations.”
- The New York Post surveyed the carnage at LinkedIn which saw a 25% drop in its share price after missing analyst expectations, wiping $1billion off founder Reid Hoffman’s shareholding leading to the Post offering the dry comment that: “LinkedIn has just been endorsed for a new skill: scaring Wall Street.”
- NYT meanwhile suggested that Twitter’s troubles lie in the reluctance of marketers to buy into “direct-response” advertising due in part to a perception on their part that Twitter is unable to precisely target or track customers. It’s a sign of how far Twitter still has to go to reach the likes of Facebook and Google in terms of being able to convert user engagement to ad revenue.
- Adding to a sense of a reset around social media propositions was the story of the decline and shuttering of anonymous OTT messaging app Secret amid gossip of a founder with cold feet and a Ferrari:
Secret’s trajectory illustrates the flash-in-the-pan nature of Silicon Valley’s current technology boom. Even as a handful of start-ups rise to stratospheric valuations and take in billions of dollars in financing, other privately held companies cannot sustain their following.
- Facebook meanwhile seemingly remains insulated from doubt capitalising on the growing strength of its mobile proposition. This week it announced the addition of video calling to Facebook Messenger in a thinly veiled attempt to assault Skype’s dominance of the space.
- Last year the blog covered Talko who were reportedly the standard bearers of Voice 2.0, the “next big thing in mobile”. They seem to have gone on mute since then but this week TNW reported another Voice 2.0 proposition in the shape of call recording + captioning startup Yallo.
Cloud, DevOps and Big Data
- The recent AWS London Summit session slides are now available online.
- Really interesting InfoQ presentation about how luxury eCommerce site gilt.com shifted “from a monolithic Ruby on Rails application to a cloud-based microservice ‘lots of small applications’ platform utilising Scala, Docker and AWS.” It’s another microservices migration success story with AWS autoscaling proving to be the critical enabler for supporting the massive capacity peaks the business requires:
“Gilt.com is an online shopping website based in the United States, which specialises in flash-sales of luxury brands and lifestyle goods. The nature of a flash-sale means that traffic to the website spikes massively fifteen minutes before the time the sale starts, and then rapidly reduces over the next two hours before returning to a low baseline. The result of this traffic pattern means that the cost of application failure depends greatly on the time of day a problem occurs.”
- This sponsored CapGemini post makes the important observation that the “time to insight” (or TTI) from analytics tools has been shrinking for years. Further that any business unable to extract insight in near real time from the exploding volume of unstructured data on their hands is going to die unless it adapts quickly. The solution they propose is a “BDL” or big data lake. Right on cue, Microsoft announced an Azure BDL proposition designed to be perfectly at home within a heterogenous environment capable of interoperating with Hadoop, Spark and Kafka:
- Good Udacity blog post on data science interview questions suggests a number of areas to focus on refreshing your knowledge. From a technical and tools perspective the following areas are : i) linear/polynomial regression, ii) decision trees, iii) dimensionality reduction (feature selection/extraction), iv) clustering. A good complementary piece is this post on “three things about data science you won’t find in any books“ – namely that it’s all about evaluation and feature selection/extraction.
Artificial Intelligence, Robots and Drones
- NYT’s Robotica is a video series examining “how robots are poised to change the way we do business and conduct our daily lives.” This episode focuses on how Chinese industry is undertaking a broad drive to replace human workers with “faster, cheaper” robots:
- DARPA EXACTO “magic bullets” are capable of manoeuvring in mid-air to hit a moving target with the support of real-time adjustment of trajectory. The door being opened here is to a world where bullets never miss – the Terminator would have been a lot shorter film if he’d been armed with EXACTO AI:
“Fitting EXACTO’s guidance capabilities into a small .50-caliber size is a major breakthrough and opens the door to what could be possible in future guided projectiles across all calibers.”
- Engadget on the USAF’s top secret long-term space vehicle, an autonomous drone “capable of staying in orbit for more than a year at a time”:
- Fetch Robotics’ Fetch and Freight are a matching pair of packing robots designed to “eliminate much of the efficiency-botching human labor from warehouses“. They look perfect for an Amazon fulfilment centre near you:
- While commentators focus on Amazon delivery drones, the Swiss Post is moving ahead with a “proof of concept” for drone-supported mail delivery and has indicated that:
“[it] will start using quadcopters developed by a company called Matternet to drop off its customers’ parcels during a pilot program this summer. Matternet ONE can carry anything up to 2.2 pounds for over 12 miles on a single charge, and the Post will put it to the test delivering small things like medicine or documents.”
Wearables and the Internet of Things
- The Tag Heuer Android Wear smartwatch will retail at around $1400 and launch in “October or November”.
- Tiko is a Kickstarter unibody 3D printer priced at $179:
- Smart toilets are big in Japan and could be everywhere else one day:
- Some great advice from InfoQ on how to achieve the ultimate goal of a software tech lead:
“which is, of course, creating a strong technical environment that can be relied on and which empowers the developers to do their best every day, feeling secure and aware of the quality of their code.”
- Much of it ought to be familiar by now – use of version control, code review, automation, iterative development. However, being a tech lead is about much more that isn’t included on the list. For example effective prioritisation discussed in this post is the bane of the tech lead in many organisations. The author suggests the “Moscow” prioritisation framework is a good solution but your mileage using it will vary depending on corporate culture:
“Whether you’re an engineering leader, project manager or key stakeholder, its very easy to say “yes” to every new feature, especially if it means adding something to someone else’s ever-growing list. “
- Matt Welsh blog article about a Google production system rewritten almost entirely in Go is interesting and hints at “a best of both worlds” compiled and typed high performance language which is nevertheless able to offer readability, terseness and fun:
“Go feels a lot like coding in a lean scripting language, like Python, but you get type safety for free.”
- Popular Python IDE PyCharm now supports IPython in a “Python Console” window.
- Dave Beazley gave another of his celebrated Python presentations at PyCon 2015 in Montreal. The topic this time was Python concurrency explained with the aid of a Fibonacci number microservice taking that old trusted familiar of programming primers into new territory:
- Interesting InfoQ presentation on analysing social graphs to build a “page rank” of friends using F#.
- HBR on the myth of the high growth software company. Turns out that Unicorns are very few and far between. Less than 0.6% of publicly launched software companies between 1980 and 2012 reached $4billion in annual revenue and interestingly, that list includes Microsoft, Google, Adobe, Oracle, SAP and AOL:
Work and Culture
- WashPo with a good post on the unravelling of globalisation which was once seen as the aspirational endpoint for all expansionist companies. The world is not flat, it’s “full of hurdles and obstacles” requiring due care and attention in order to navigate:
“There’s money to be made for multinationals the world over, but they are going to have to rethink their strategies for making it. Though presented as a way to eliminate economic disparities and magically expand multinational revenue streams, globalization is, simply put, still a barely profitable and perplexing strategy for most companies.”
- Engineering team performance management at Box as espoused by SVP Engineering Sam Schillace revolves around transparency and fairness. His five key principles of effective performance management are:
- Have clear standards for performance.
- Have an opinion on the role of managers early.
- Have a process for evaluation and reward.
- Don’t be soft on low performance.
- Be consistent without losing speed.
- A popular post on HBR on how to respond when someone else takes credit for your work, no doubt on account of it being a common occurrence in the modern workplace. Things to do include remaining calm, assessing what just happened and insisting that your contribution is properly understood and acknowledged.
- It’s an oft-repeated mantra that information is the new gold. However, as this HBR report outlines, many traditional businesses are singularly ill-equipped to cope with the management of digital assets, in particular unstructured data.
“the natural reaction is for executives to under-invest in information. On a short-term basis, the only thing they can expect in return for focusing on data is the headaches that follow from explaining, justifying, and evaluating their operations to colleagues and investors.”
- Wearing a suit makes you think differently. Reading between the lines, it seems to turn the individual wearing it into, well, a “suit”:
“wearing clothing that’s more formal than usual makes people think more broadly and holistically, rather than narrowly and about fine-grained details. In psychological parlance, wearing a suit encourages people to use abstract processing more readily than concrete processing.”
- With the tightest UK election in decades less than two days away, @edent uses Twitter support, measured in terms of the number of followers a candidate has, as a predictor for electoral success. Turns out that on that basis, the likely government falling out of #GE2015 would be a Labour-LibDem-Green alliance. It is of course as he freely admits a bit of a silly exercise but another illustration as highlighted in last year’s Scottish #IndyRef that there seems to be a distinct liberal skew in social media election chatter:
- It’s enough to encourage New Scientist to examine whether we might not be better off with an AI government unlikely though that may seem even in these Singularity-obsessed times: