Week 18

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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:

simple_pacman_training-2

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

“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.”

“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.”

Q1 2015 global smartphone market share

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

“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:

“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.”

  • 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.

visua_studio_code

Google and Android

“websites the ability to deliver notifications to devices, even if the Chrome browser isn’t running.”

Sending directins to a phone using Google search

  • 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.”

Apple Watch

“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?””

“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.”

Smart Cases

  • 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

“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.”

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.

Yallo 730x431 Yallos Android app brings call recording, captioning and automatic reconnection to your phone

Cloud, DevOps and Big Data

  • 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:

data_lake_2

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.”

  • 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:

“[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

Photo original

  • Smart toilets are big in Japan and could be everywhere else one day:

Software Development

“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. “

“Go feels a lot like coding in a lean scripting language, like Python, but you get type safety for free.”

  • 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:

  • 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:

W150423_GAVETT_WHATREALLY

Work and Culture

“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.

KeepCalm

  • 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 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.”

UK Election

  • 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:

Twitter Election Predictions