Of Open Tabs and Persistent Concerns

I’ve left this logbook under-attended for a while now, and since I want to get back into writing mode, it’s a good time, an appropriate moment also to get back into posting here. Once again, one of the prompts for doing so is a browser full of tabs. A lot of interesting pages to digest and some sense that their contents will be useful later.

In general, I would say that the pages that remain open, that persist, in my web browsing fall into two categories which I have not yet been able to resolve into one. The first category is making and manufacturing and the future of work in the world. It results in open tabs like:

  • An Ars Technica interview with Cory Doctorow on his new novel, Walkaway in which Doctorow imagines a post-scarcity world built upon his interest in open-source software, reputation management, and other ideas that have long fascinated him. (I confess that I tried reading his Makers but it just didn’t work for me.)

  • In the interview, Doctorow mentions Bruce Sterling’s Shaping Things, which seems worth a read, since it aspires to be both a history of how we have used energy and matter to create objects in our world but also how we might go about doing that in the future.

  • Also in this vein of the future of work or the future of ideas about work is a Guardian column on how the privatization of innovation in the U.S. is in fact starving the country of its innovation. What Ben Tarnoff argues is that private firms and private capital are not capable of taking the kind of risk that the public sector can.

Now, some of these things I read because part of me wants to write a follow-up book to The Amazing Crawfish Boat that focuses on how to address, or redress, issues that not necessarily the technology boom has brought about but the changes in our thinking: sometimes we get a little carried away. When I read things like the following in particular, I am struck by how much it might benefit from spending time with a farmer:

Accelerationists argue that technology, particularly computer technology, and capitalism, particularly the most aggressive, global variety, should be massively sped up and intensified – either because this is the best way forward for humanity, or because there is no alternative. Accelerationists favour automation. They favour the further merging of the digital and the human. They often favour the deregulation of business, and drastically scaled-back government. They believe that people should stop deluding themselves that economic and technological progress can be controlled. They often believe that social and political upheaval has a value in itself. (Andy Beckett, 11 May 2017, “Accelerationism: how a fringe philosophy predicted the future we live in”, The Guardian LINK)

Plants take time to grow. You can’t change that. (Not a lot, anyway.) People take time to mature, to digest not only their food but also the information they ingest. The problem with the current crop of people running the show is their incredibly short lives and attention spans. (I wonder if this will change when anti-agapic is discovered. When we have longer lives will we be so stuck in short cycles? Perhaps we delude ourselves into thinking that the ping of endorphins would somehow be offset by the knowledge that we have more time. Maybe we would just have longer lives but still pass through them as junkies.)

The second category is my interest in artificial intelligence and machine learning and big data. That’s up next.

Ready for Robots

This semester, Fall 2016, is a busy one, with two conference papers, one at the American Folklore Society and another at Social Informatics, and a book manuscript due, but being so busy also means I am looking forward to some down time, and spending that time with my daughter who has some interest in robots. So I’ve started collecting information — some tips here, some projects there — to keep us busy during the winter months.

Make magazine is always a good source, and I’ve come across a couple of pages worth holding onto for the time being:

Musical Forest

This. This is how I want to spend my time. I want to spend it working with people in small groups to do amazing things. Ideally, it would involve making physical things as well as things like essays, books, software, analyses. If I could imagine the kind of consultancy that would allow that to unfold, I would apply for a job at it or try to create it.

This idea, of how we want to spend our time, arises in the wake of having a number of conversations with my daughter about, sigh, her homework. What she wants to do, and, really, what her brain needs to do, is play. And the kind of play she needs, in particular, is the kind of deep, immersive play that consists of building a world and then turning a series of characters loose within it. She does it with amazing ferocity and abandon. At times, it is like watching a horse burst forth from a race gate, or a cliff diver plunge into the water below.

The conversations we have with her is both about how to make homework more interesting to her but also, I confess, about encouraging her to focus on getting her homework done, and quickly, so that she can play. I know this isn’t the best way to frame homework, but you work with what you have, and our daughter’s imagination is not piqued by most school assignments. (We have tried to talk with her school about this, not just for her sake but for all the kids like her, but we have had little luck.)

What we say to her, in effect, is that most people have things to do which they must do in order to do the things they want to do, love to do, and that one’s goal in life is to try to make those two things converge as much as possible so that, each and every day you get up, you have to do things that you love to do.

Unfortunately, for me, my current context is one of divergence, not convergence. I am looking for ways to adjust this path, to find convergence, but I’m not there yet.

Matter.io

As soon as _The Makers of Things_ is out, I am going to send a copy to the folks at [Matter.io][]. Maybe they’ll have something for me to do. I think it would be great fun to work with people who are thinking about making and who are oriented towards the future.

[Matter.io]: http://matter.io/

Windows IoT Developer

I just signed up for the [Windows Developer Program for IoT][]. It turns out I have more experience, now, than I realized. And it looks like Microsoft is really trying to lower the bar to get people involved in developing for the *internet of things*, for which I thank them. In my application I noted that

> I am interested in how we can take complex artifacts, like novels or spoken discourse, or complex behaviors, like the approach of a weather system to my home, and model them computationally — essentially, turn them into numbers/vectors — in order to understand them and/or to provide useful feedback to users.

[Windows Developer Program for IoT]: http://dev.windows.com/en-us/featured/Windows-Developer-Program-for-IoT

Amazon 3D Prints

[Amazon now offers 3D printing on demand.][a] It looks like you can only order from some pre-determined templates, but I wonder if there isn’t a way to upload designs — I know a number of on-line vendors offer this. Speaking of which, that reminds me that our local library now has a 3D printer. It’s time to swing by to see what they are up to and to get more involved with the local maker scene.

[a]: http://www.amazon.com/b?ie=UTF8&node=8323871011

3D Printing

[Forbes reports on Shapeways][], a 3D printing facility in Brooklyn, New York that can print by fusing nylon dust particles. Some of their jobs are so precise that they produce moving parts, machines, in the printing process. They can also print in metals. Clearly, this is the future for a lot of manufacturing. Why cast, mill, or forge when you can print?

The counter-argument to such a claim is that, given what it takes to set up a print job — in terms of 3D modeling in advance, there is a whole host of work, one-offs for which this might not make sense. I am also thinking of the kind of custom work that folks like the Olinger Repair Shop do.

[Forbes reports on Shapeways]: http://www.forbes.com/sites/andygreenberg/2012/12/10/inside-the-worlds-biggest-consumer-focused-3d-printing-factory/

Rebooting the Tractor

Bloomberg Business Week has an interesting report on a [post-acolyptic survival machine farm][]. The farm’s founders say they are working on a “civilizational reboot”, which is an interesting idea in and of itself, but what I found most interesting is that they are trying to re-create basic machines using a semi-standard set of spare parts. The tractor below is but one example of a variety of machines that are all running off what they describe as a “power cube”:

> Most of Factor e Farm’s equipment runs on an in-house invention called a Power Cube. It’s a black metal box about the size of an office copier, with a 27-horsepower engine that runs a hydraulic pump. The Power Cube’s engine can drive the bulldozers; the pumps can power the table saws and other smaller, stationary machines.

[post-acolyptic survival machine farm]: http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2012-11-01/the-post-apocalypse-survival-machine-nerd-farm

Milling in Multiple Dimensions

[This machine is amazing](http://singularityhub.com/2010/04/05/5-axis-robot-carves-metal-like-butter-video/). As the Singularity Hub article notes: a great deal of attention is focused on 3D printing, which is increasingly being done with metal, but there are moments where milled materials are superior. Is the gap close-able? If so, how long?

The difference between milling and printing is that with the former you start with a large chunk of material and then slowly carve out what you don’t need. Printing would seem to be more inefficient in which you only “print” or build up the material you need.

Home-Grown DropBoxes

Let me be clear: I love [DropBox][]. I depend on [DropBox][]. I use [DropBox][] everyday. [Dropbox][] makes it possible for me to be as productive as I am. (All failings in productivity are entirely my own fault — well, and I’d like to blame Apple for its continuous jinking of iTools, MobileMe, iCloud, on-line name *du jour*.) Until [DropBox][] there was no reliable syncing of files. Sometimes I would forget if I had remembered to sync to my flash drive or if I had synced a computer before I had started working on a document. Or, when I tried to rely on iDisk, I realized that I could not rely on it.

In short, before there was DropBox, there was hope and there was chaos and there was swearing.

After DropBox: certainty, calm, confidence.

As great as DropBox is, and other services like it — please note, I am not looking at you (yet) iCloud — it still requires two things: a subscription and a willingness to have your data on other people’s boxes.

I’m not really opposed to having my data live on other people’s boxes. My real problem is that I can’t afford to have as much of my data as I would like live on other people’s boxes. There is a host of data, mostly media, that I would prefer to have more ready access to, but I can’t, because I can’t afford the cost of that many gigs in the sky.

Now, DropBox or DropBox clones can’t fix all of my problem, because in part the way these services work is they sync files across machines, and so that means that you need to have room enough on all machines for the synced files to live.

No can do, Houston. This MBA only has 128GB, and I can’t afford to bump it. And even if I could afford it to 256GB or 512GB, I’m not entirely sure that would fix the problem.

And so I it’s time to explore the DropBox clones to see how well they might serve my large, complex problem.

*Please note: all the links to DropBox are to the primary home page. No affiliate links, no bonuses for me. And that’s okay, the good folks at DropBox have proven themselves.*

[DropBox]: http://dropbox.com/

## The Alternatives

* AeroFS
* Bitcasa (reports are its buggy and immature)
* Cubby
* Owncloud (buggy and limited)
* Symform
* [Tonido Sync](http://www.tonido.com/app_sync_home.html). Also has a [low-powered hardware setup](http://www.tonidoplug.com/tonido_plug.html).
* Unison (for the ambitious DIYer)