Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Twilight of Operating Systems?

Steve Crandall sent me a thought provoking pointer this week to a blog post by Benedict Evans.  The gist of the post is that Windows as an OS is declining in influence.  This is backed with some nice analysis and charts.  He contrasts this with the, "exploding sales of the new wave of mobile UNIX devices."  Somehow I do not think that I would call iOS and iPhone and iPad a Unix device.  However I think he is correct in suggesting the diminishing influence of the Windows OS, but I would extend this to all traditional OSes including linux.  Simply I think a much smaller portion of the public will be interacting with an OS that supports command lines, editors and file systems and more will be interacting with information appliances (old school term but still relevant).  Increasingly more folks are puzzled by a dos woot t-shirt I wear and I think this is indicative of the trend Evans discussed.  However I think the same could be said for classic unix prompts, $ or #.  Folks are interacting more with apps than OSs.  Within a decade, the number of folks who can work with OSs may approach 1970s levels.  This of course is good and bad but I am beginning to feel like the old auto mechanic bemoaning the days of strictly mechanical cars that could be repaired without use of logic probes!  I would be interested in your thoughts.

On other fronts my quadcopter has passed all the checkout tests and should be ready for first flight this week, I just have to pad some wire/frame interfaces so that the wires do not fray.   I will regale you with video when that happy event occurs.  Later

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Facebook versus Google+ Zeitgeist

My perception is that Google+ and Facebook are used differently by folks.  Overall there is a more scientific, engineering and "let me impress you with my knowledge,"  slant on Google+, whereas Facebook reflects more of folks lives and aspirations.  This impression was enforced a bit by a personal tally on Birthday wishes to me this week.   I received 23 on Facebook and 2 on Google+.  Of course it just may be that my friends differentiate the two but I suspect that is not the case.  I would be interested in your opinion of the uses of each.

On the hacker front I am in the midst of building an adafruit power supply board, I am hoping to finish it today, since I want to replicate the LED candle that I built and see if I can then flash an  8 bit atmel to replicate it.  Seems like a gradual way to move into special purpose boards.  By the way I have found adafruit kits to be well done with clear instructions that  explain the purpose of each component on the board.  This also is my 5th project using the Aoyue 937 solder station and I am really impressed.  I use a soldering temperature of 370 C and it heats rapidly and maintains the temperature.  Highly recommended. 


Sunday, July 14, 2013

Pre Singularity, Post Life Bit Distribution

I have purchased a considerable amount of digital music and digital books from Amazon, O'Reilly, Apple and Barnes and Noble.  Digital music is especially close to my heart since I was involved in a very early digital music effort, a2bmusic at AT&T, which really was a foreshadowing of what was to come.

In order to determine whether I could distribute my books to relatives, friends and institutions after my death I wrote an email to each of my content providers.  Here's the text:

This may be a crazy question but I have a substantial number of <insert name> ebooks.  Can I bequeath them to someone or to some organization?  I know I could just will my login and password but that is not the same since someone would have to effectively become me.

So do you have some policy to point to or do the books go away when I go away? 

Thanks and sorry if this is a creepy question but I am trying to sort this out.
The responses to this email were interesting (for amazon and apple I included music too):

  • First Barnes and Noble had zero clue and  basically sent me a form response detailing how I could loan an electronic book.  
  • Apple stated there is no iTunes policy for donating purchases, and it is not possible to transfer purchases, however they would be willing to transfer ownership if the account owner died, but the relatives would have to provide the necessary documents.
  • Amazon, actually called me, it was a baroque process, I had to provide a phone number and they would call me within the minute and they did.  The service rep was great and she suggested just having the relative go into my account and change the email address.
  • O'Reilly sent me email that they were going to discuss their policy and get back to me.   Given my experience with O'Reilly I know they will and I will let you know how that goes.
  • (updated December 26th, 2013) O'Reilly has a policy on their web page that addresses their policy - essentially you can give your ebook to another person with some caveats. The policy can be found here.  This is the key text from that link:


    Lending: If you buy an O'Reilly ebook from, you may lend it to another person, provided that you do not retain any copies of the book after you lend it. This is the same as the situation when you lend a used print copy—when you lend the copy, you deliver it to the buyer and no longer have a copy in your library. If you have bought a hard copy/ebook bundle, you may of course retain the hard copy, if you lend the ebook.
    Resale: If you buy an O'Reilly ebook, when you are done with it you may resell it, provided that you do not retain any copies of the book after you sell it. This is the same as the situation when you sell a used print copy—when you sell the copy, you deliver it to the buyer and no longer have a copy in your library. If you have bought a hard copy/ebook bundle, you may of course retain the hard copy, if you sell the ebook.
    By the way, because the lifetime access is a special benefit available only to those who purchase ebooks directly from us, the lifetime access benefit is not transferable to the recipient of your used ebook.
So basically you can transfer all of your bits to another person with varying degrees of difficulty.   However you can not divide your digital assets, so for now best divide by bit provider - my son gets the Apple collection, my daughter the O'Reilly collection and my wife the Amazon collection.  Not great, but a beginning.  I will continue to advocate for a more flexible way of distributing our digital life to our loved ones and keep you posted.

On the hardware hacker front I built a quick kickstarter, qflame.  The most interesting aspect is that I surface mounted the LED's and the solder joints held.  This was the first surface mount soldering I have done and it was a gentle introduction.  I do like the way the board was programmed and the flicker is very effective.  I know want to discover how to do the whole thing myself.  I also have an email into the kickstarter to see if he is going to sell kits or open source the design.  Note to self, need tweezers for next surface mount adventure or buy more bandaids.  Later!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Science Inspiration

Steve Crandall pointed me to an interesting kickstarter that essentially provides you with a controllable spacecraft destined for the moon.  What enthralled me about this craft was its plan to use a solar sail as propulsion.  Solar sails were the siren that lured me to science, in particular one marvelous science fiction story on solar sails by Arthur C. Clarke in Boy's Life, the US scouting magazine.  Thanks to google you can read the story that inspired me so many years ago, highly recommended.

Steve Crandall has an excellent blog called Tinglinde, also highly recommended.  Later!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

To the moon with Lua

On kickstarter I sponsored a linux game engine project, called Leadwerks.  At the level I sponsored the language it supports is Lua.  Since one of my principles is to learn at least one new computer language each year, I figured Lua's one of the selections for 2013.  I will chronicle my experience with Lua and also would appreciate any advice folks might have on learning it or their opinion of it.  So far my investigation revealed that it has heavily drawn from scheme, which is a plus in my book, but that you have to pay for convenient forms of the documentation.  While I really believe in supporting art, I would like to be convinced that it is art before I support it.  I also am considering including it in the coding modules of my Human Computer Interaction course at Stevens next winter and would appreciate your opinions on that.

Other progress my quadcopter kit is slowly progressing, not much motivation since the poor choice of batteries for the kit required me to order a charger from HobbyKing and that may take as long as 45 days!  Not good.

I have sponsored other interesting kickstarters recently too.   For those of you interested in the sous-vide cooking technique, I recommend a combo of kickstarters, one for temperature regulation, codlo, and one to accomplish really low budget vacuum sealing, thriftyvac.  As a bonus I have exchanged email with both of the kickstarters and they are really great folks.  If you want to dip your food in the sous-vide pool, this is an inexpensive way to begin. 

One other kickstarter worthy of mention is a fountain pen, visionnaire.  Being an aging hacker I grew up on the elegance of fountain pens and this seems like a great deal.  A fountain pen with a good flow  is more comfortable to use after all those years on the keyboard.  In this age of bits on the screen it is still great to receive an occasional handwritten piece of snail mail on fine paper, highly recommended.

Finally a bit of an announcement.  As of July 1st I am starting a book on Human Computer Interaction.  I will keep you posted on that progress too.  No working title yet, but I sure would like to work Humane into the title.  I was a fan of Raskin's principles.  I will try not to go so long between posts.  Later!