Thursday, March 26, 2015

Internet users urged to go dark on metadata

Submitted March 25, 2015 at 02:31PM by k-h

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Actual home automation: building the helpful dumb house

Robots aren't anywhere close to being able to automate the annoying aspects of our lives.

I've gotten another Raspberry Pi, and the first one is working well with Oscar - other projects like TheThingSystem and Ninjablocks have falled by the wayside a little.

The only things I've got that I can feasibly automate include an automated cat feeder; or maybe an outdoor vertical garden.
Neither is really solving a proper life problem - not the same way that watering timers do.

After thinking about it for a while, the issue isn't making the full leap to automation. A modern flushing toilet is an incredible piece of automation - gone is the requirement to deal with waste daily, and when linked to a modern sewage system; the benefits to health, labour and much more are a very good trade-off.
All of this is reduced to a simple mechanical button and a charge from your council.

Building collaborative agents that can reason about the best rules to apply in the best situations is a very hard problem. Simple triggers like "motion detected in room X" firing "switch on light" need contexts and bounds: there's no point switching on a light if it is daylight; or put better; the ambient light provides a suitable visibility.
Dealing with multiple actors at once and building models of their "comfort" is way, way beyond what we can do - the sensors we have and means to deal with their input are far far to limited.

Maybe this isn't such a bad thing. Many people have recently ridiculed light switch apps on phones - a simple mechanical trigger coupled with a human solves the room lighting problem in a residential house really well.

So by that token, what can we do with more limited sensors, automated schedules and basic rules that can be reduced to a user hitting a button; or not?
I think the answer goes back to Oscar and TODO list systems like Trello - higher level decision making is almost always going to require a person; and the decision making should be for difficult or relevant tasks.
Trello and others solve the communication amongst a group of humans problem really well - it ends up being a really rough service bus.

What can we do to take advantage of that?

Observation 1: The federal government is really stuffing up the South Australian economy, with doubt around renewable energy projects, car manufacturing support ending, defence projects being on-again, off-again.

Observation 2: A lot of skilled labour is looking for new opportunities, through things like Airtasker or Gumtree. Many of these folks aren't 100% tech saavy, but are tech saavy enough. They aren't going to earn a living, but they are going to be able to take small opportunities. Provided that doesn't inflict an opportunity cost on them (being unable to find full time work because they are too busy chasing small scale work).

Observation 3: Service provider hubs are cropping up like wildflowers. The next evolutionary steps for a lot of them are going to be APIs - be it internal APIs for mobile apps or public APIs. Uber has forced all of the taxi companies in South Australia to compete with apps - they aren't pretty, but they are an evolutionary step.
In the Philippines, the taxi based culture is very prevalent - aggregators have sprung up with a few major 'platforms' allocating work across companies.

Google Now is the best implementation so far of 'Helpful Agent' that I've seen, recognizing when there is travel happening and prompting with directions, food, etc.

We can surely take the google now approach to sensing when something is happening; and prompting a user for decisions. The candidates should be recurring.

To that end I think my next project is going to be "Raspberry Pi that polls users for feedback constantly".
The idea for anyone who has flown through Singapore's Changi airport is pretty familiar - How would you rate the cleanliness of this room? Poor, OK, Great? on a touch screen.
Combine that with an agent that offers to post a job to Airtasker for a one-off clean, and you are really onto something.
Apps like exist, as do a lot of fitness apps (Google health, Up, etc); even for your dog (Whistle; which I have found to be very effective) - people have done a lot of data collection in the past.
Automating that and focusing on the problem areas in your home is going to create a much smarter sensor. You don't need to build an entire AI to understand a model of the real world if you optimize the questions correctly.

This will not get us smart houses, but potentially helpful dumb houses. I think that's a pretty worthy goal.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

I pretty much killed my dog on Christmas Eve

I pretty much killed my dog. She was sick, but it doesn't abate the responsibility I feel.

Shelley, or as I later found out, Ashiga's Pride, was my greyhound.

She was shy, to the utmost degree - not many greyhounds are vocal, or particularly active. Shelley was all of this and much more: a couch potato to the Nth degree.

I only knew her for a short time, but her quiet unassuming nature meant that we had an instant bond.

Unlikely a lot of greyhounds, she had no prey instinct. She got along just fine with cats, other dogs and much more. The concept of being a Velcro Dog was very well understood - if we travelled, she tried to.

By the end, she was ill. The thing that makes me feel sick though is not the tunor that was slowly taking her life, but the display of trust she put on every step of her last day.

I knew something wasn't right, but had attributed it to a side effect of post operative medication. I was wrong. A trip to the vet turned into a one way ticket.

At every step, I took the rational choice - minimize pain, suffering, best long term outcome, minimal expense (no point spending thousands to give a dog 24 more hours of pain).

What I can get over is how disconnected I was. I never treated it like I was losing something, just a series of decisions with no consequences beyond the obvious.

I still can't reconcile how sick she was with the dog I know.

I feel so terribly responsible - she followed me from the start, and kept so calm even as I encouraged the vets to give her the life ending drugs. I watched her relax into the arms of death - it was not peaceful, Neither my partner nor I believed she was really dead - we kept patting a corpse, trying to ask it for forgiveness.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

More 3D printed buildings

China might be already a fair way down this path, but it's good to see the execution of these kind of ideas spreading.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Missing Maps, Ebola and Learn OSM

I've spent a large amount of time over the past weeks mapping for Ebola. You can see some of my work, along with many others in Freetown, Kayes and more.

Often it has been an article of faith that the requesting organisations find mapping contributions useful; with feedback few and far between. For example, we saw some usage during Typhoon Haiyan, but it's hard to know if you are being truely effective.

This past fortnight, that doubt has been firmly put to bed. MSF has launched Missing Maps, proactively calling on the global community not to donate money, but to donate time.

Additionally, a thread on the HOTOSM mailing list has nicely overlapped in demonstrating value - and of course, personal anecdotes go a long way to making things relatable.

Given this renewed push from the people consuming open street map data in crisis situations, I began to wonder how I could turn my efforts from "dedicated mapper" to something more magnified.

I was lucky to have Nick Tailguy commit to a refreshed OSM Tasking manager guide and talk to the mailing lists - I've since contributed a number of small edits that will hopefully go on to encourage new mappers to confidently contribute in times of need.

To really kick it up a notch, I'm considering outreach to universities in ebola impacted locations - but I could really use the help of a dedicated few to push me further here; if the idea truely has value.

Monday, November 10, 2014

TIL: Sewing machines are just an early 3d printer

Darn you, internet. $25 for a sewing machine?  THIS PRICE POINT IS COMPELLING. Why, I could... uh... make... pants. Or even better, my sock budget has just been blown out of the water.

Those two use cases are about one more practical, day to day use case than I can come up with for owning a 3D printer as an average person with no particular manufacturing skills, needs or ideas.

I look forward to the first 3D printed sewing machine, or fabric based 3D printer.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

New project: CloCkWeRX/campbelltown


By CloCkWeRX

Campbelltown City Council Development Proposals

November 5, 2014 at 9:30AM

via GitHub