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.