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Receding Technology

The session I staged at FooCamp this year was deliberately meant to be a fun, none-too-taxing diversion at the end of two brain-baking days.

It was based on (not only a quote from BSG) but something that Matt Biddulph had said to me a while back – possibly when we were doing some work together at BERG, but it might have been as far-back as our Dopplr days.

He said (something like) that a lot of the machine learning techniques he was deploying on a project were based on 1970s Computer Science theory, but now the horsepower required to run them was cheap and accessible in the form of cloud computing service.

This stuck with me, so for the Foo session I hoped I could aggregate a list people’s favourite theory work from the 20thC which now might be possible to turn into practice.

It didn’t quite turn out that way, as Tom Coates pointed out in the session – about halfway through, it morphed into a list of the “prior art” in both fiction and academic theory that you could identify as pre-cursors to current technological preoccupation or practice.

Nether the less it was a very fun way to spend an sunny sunday hour in a tent with a flip chart and some very smart folks. Thanks very much as always to O’Reilly for inviting me.

Below is my photo of the final flip charts full of everything from Xanadu to zeppelins…

Foo2014-PriorArt_session

The chairman writes:

*Everybody’s got a theory about the Internet-of-Things and its killer applications.

*It reminds me of the days when the Information Superhighway was all about 500-channel television. Nowadays we’ve got five zillion channel television, and it’s scarcely recognized as an existent technical reality. Those historical acts of foresight are so beside the point now that they’re “not even wrong.”

Can I have a … ?, originally uploaded by straup.

This Saturday saw the first-ever PaperCamp successully prototyped.

After an amount of last-minute panic, I think I stopped being stressed-out about 5 minutes into Aaron’s talk.

Instead I started to become delighted and fascinated by the strange, wonderful directions people are taking paper, printing and prototyping the lightweight, cheap connection of the digital and the physical.

Jeremy Keith did a wonderful job of liveblogging the event, and there is a growing pool of pictures in the papercamp group on flickr.

Highlights for me included the gusto that the group gave to making things with paper in a frenetic 10min session hosted by Alex of Tinker.it, Karsten‘s bioinformatic-origami-unicorn proposal, and the delightful work of Sawa Tanaka.

Also, the fact that we’ve made Craft Bioinformatic Origami Unicorns a tag on flickr has to be seen as a ‘win’ in my view.

Lots of people didn’t hear about this one as I was deliberately trying to keep it a small ‘prototype’, and also we were luckily operating as a ‘fringe’ event to the Bookcamp event that had been set up by Russell, Jeremy and James and didn’t want to take the mickey too much (thanks guys) – so apologies to those who didn’t make it.

But, the enthusiastic response means we’ll definitely be doing this again, as a bigger, open, stand-alone event, maybe in the summer, with more space, more attendees and hopefully more heavy-duty printing and papermaking activities.

The next PaperCamp is going to be in NYC in early Feb, and I hear noises there maybe one gestating in San Francisco also…

Stay tuned, paperfans…

Chief Engineer Henry writes:

“Hello there,

We’re doing ok – slowly, but surely. I’ve been continuing to build & test in the evenings and weekends – I’ve built a ‘unit revolution’ of the new helix, using the original framework but with 00 gauge model railway to convey the postcard, which is supported on cardboard and held in place by some natty adjustable brackets which i’ve built from odd bits of plywood and acrylic which was hanging around.

test-build of one revolution of the spiral

Attached are some (in build) pics…
The parts were easy enough to make (especially with my natty new tabletop bandsaw) but I’ve been being extra cautious and testing what happens to the structure over time – I don’t want any of those subtle changes that were frakking things up with the last ‘design’.
The brackets need a little more work, in order to induce controllable camber – I think its a matter of a bolt per bracket, connected to the copper pipe.
customisable camber brackets
That way, I’ll be able to ‘dial in’ the amount of camber needed for each quarter of the helix (at the top, too much camber is a bad thing – it stops the truck because it hasn’t started moving very much, at the bottom you need quite a bit – the truck is moving rather quickly and has a tendancy to fly off – more camber required…)
The next stage is to complete the entire helix – which is a matter of manufacturing more of the same standard parts and slotting them together. The helix can then be tuned and the rest of the layout completed.
So, the carrying postcard should be able to decend via gravity. Hopefully the more finite adjustment of the track will mean that this will work fine…. hopefully.
the postcard carriage
I was giving quite a lot of thought to how the truck would get itself back up to the top – the last meeting with Russell fixed me on having a powered arduino controlled shunter to do the work.
All the other methods seem too complicated in one way or another. The shunter is simplest – it can either be battery powered (with a recharge station at the shop end of the track) or can be powered through the track itself, just like a model railway.
I’m inclined to go for the battery powered option – because then the track doesn’t have to be cleaned (which is a pain in the arse, and will be tricky considering how delicate the track supports will be….)
In *theory* once the helix part is complete, the rest of the track is very easy – about as easy as it was to make that bit of track we built previously. The next complicated part is the postcard pickup, and following that the part that pushes the postcard off the truck at the other end.”
Slow and steady wins the race!
Maybe…
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Joshua Ellis, republished by Jim Rossignol:

“Feeding poor people is useful tech, but it’s not very sexy and it won’t get you on the cover of Wired. Talk about it too much and you sound like an earnest hippie. So nobody wants to do that.

“They want to make cell phones that can scan your personal measurements and send them real-time to potential sex partners. Because, you know, the f*cking Japanese teenagers love it, and Japanese teenagers are clearly the smartest people on the planet.

“The upshot of all of this is that the Future gets divided; the cute, insulated future that Joi Ito and Cory Doctorow and you and I inhabit, and the grim meathook future that most of the world is facing, in which they watch their squats and under-developed fields get turned into a giant game of Counterstrike between crazy faith-ridden jihadist motherf*ckers and crazy faith-ridden American redneck motherf*ckers, each doing their best to turn the entire world into one type of fascist nightmare or another.

“Of course, nobody really wants to talk about that future, because it’s depressing and not fun and doesn’t have Fischerspooner doing the soundtrack. So everybody pretends they don’t know what the future holds, when the unfortunate fact is that — unless we start paying very serious attention — it holds what the past holds: a great deal of extreme boredom punctuated by occasional horror and the odd moment of grace.”

Internet Angels is a government program to create a ‘buddy-system’ of mentors from ordinary people who are comfortable with the web and the internet, to get others, generally friends and family, online:

“He wasn’t sure that he wanted to go on the internet. I said ‘come on, we’ll go on Friends Reunited and find your old schoolmates’. To me, it’s best to hit on someone’s interests. I taught him by sitting next to him and explaining it, one step at a time. I’d say ‘double-click on that’ or ‘type in that box’. Sometimes I’d take the mouse to show him, but usually he’d be in control.”

There’s a two-part info pack which prospective Angels can download to get started, which supports them in mentoring and has another part which supports their subject. A nice idea.

» Internet angel info pack: downloads

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