Open Source

Video At Home with Tim O'Reilly (Videos 5 and 6 of 6) 6

Today's videos are parts five and six of our casual interview with Tim O'Reilly, founder of O'Reilly Media and one of the most influential open source boosters around. (You supplied the questions. He supplied the answers.) We had a lot more to say about Tim Tuesday when we ran parts one and two of our video interview with him. Yesterday we ran parts three and four. (Today's alternate Video Links: Video 5 ~ Video 6.)
Open Source

Video At Home with Tim O'Reilly (Videos 3 and 4 of 6) 6

Today's videos are parts three and four of our casual interview with Tim O'Reilly, founder of O'Reilly Media and one of the most influential open source boosters around. (You supplied the questions. He supplied the answers.) We had a lot more to say about Tim yesterday when we ran parts one and two of our video interview with him. (Today's alternate Video Links: Video 3 ~ Video 4; transcript covers both videos.)
Books

Interviews: Ask Tim O'Reilly About a Life Steeped In Technology 39

Today's interview guest is literally a household name: If you look at the shelves in nearly any programmer's house, developer shop or hackerspace, you'll probably see a stretch of books from O'Reilly Media (or O'Reilly & Associates, depending on how old the books are). Tim O'Reilly started out publishing a few technical manuals in the late '70s, branching from there into well-received technical reference and instructional books, notably ones covering open source languages and operating systems (how many people learned to install and run a new OS from Matt Walsh's Running Linux?), but neither Tim O'Reilly nor the company has gotten stuck in one place for long. As a publisher, he was early to make electronic editions available, in step with the increasing capabilities of electronic readers. Make Magazine (later spun off as part of Maker Media, which also produces Maker Faires around the world) started as an O'Reilly project; the company's conferences like OSCON, Fluent, and this year's Solid are just as much a manifestation of O'Reilly's proclivity for spreading knowledge as the books are, and those are only part of the picture, being joined with seminars, video presentations, and more. Tim O'Reilly is often hailed as a futurist and an activist (he was an early proponent of 3-D printing and hardware hacking, and a loud voice for patent reform) and he's got his eye on trends from global (how the Internet functions) to more personal -- like ways that physical goods can be produced, customized, and networked. So please go ahead and ask O'Reilly about what it's been like to be a publisher of paper books in an ever-more electronic world, as well as a visionary in the world of DIY and fabrication, or anything else on your mind. As usual, ask as many questions as you'd like, but please, one per post.
Biotech

Why Not Every New "Like the Brain" System Will Prove Important 47

An anonymous reader writes "There is certainly no shortage of stories about AI systems that include the saying, 'like the brain'. This article takes a critical look at those claims and just what 'like the brain' means. The conclusion: while not a lie, the catch-phrase isn't very informative and may not mean much given our lack of understanding on how the brain works. From the article: 'Surely these claims can't all be true? After all, the brain is an incredibly complex and specific structure, forged in the relentless pressure of millions of years of evolution to be organized just so. We may have a lot of outstanding questions about how it works, but work a certain way it must. But here's the thing: this "like the brain" label usually isn't a lie — it's just not very informative. There are many ways a system can be like the brain, but only a fraction of these will prove important. We know so much that is true about the brain, but the defining issue in theoretical neuroscience today is, simply put, we don't know what matters when it comes to understanding how the brain computes. The debate is wide open, with plausible guesses about the fundamental unit, ranging from quantum phenomena all the way to regions spanning millimeters of brain tissue.'"
Earth

Most of What We Need For Smart Cities Already Exists 65

An anonymous reader writes "Looking to a day when modern infrastructure is network addressable, Glen Martin considers that, lacking only requisite content and relatively simple augmentation, most of what we need for smart cities already exists: 'Using smart phones, pedestrians could "wake up" the objects by accessing codes generally used by the city to identify street items that required repair. Each bit of infrastructure would make some kind of declamatory statement — sometimes gracious and welcoming, sometimes didactic, sometimes peevish. The "interlocutor" would then respond, and a brief exchange would ensue. The object would then invite the passerby to return for more conversation.'"
The Internet

The Internet of Things and Humans 55

An anonymous reader writes "Speculating the future of human computer interaction, Tim O'Reilly contemplates how humans and things cooperate differently when things get smarter. He says, '[S]o many of the most interesting applications of the Internet of Things involve new ways of thinking about how humans and things cooperate differently when the things get smarter. It really ought to be called the Internet of Things and Humans ... is Uber an #IoT application? Most people would say it is not; it’s just a pair of smartphone apps connecting a passenger and driver. But imagine for a moment the consumer end of the Uber app as it is today, and on the other end, a self-driving car. You would immediately see that as #IoT. ... Long before we get to fully autonomous devices, there are many “halfway house” applications that are really Internet of Things applications in waiting, which use humans for one or more parts of the entire system. When you understand that the general pattern of #IoTH applications is not just sensor + network + actuator but various combinations of human + network + actuator or sensor + network, you will broaden the possibilities for interfaces and business models."
Book Reviews

Book Review: Mobile HTML5 37

Michael Ross (599789) writes "Web designers and developers nowadays are familiar with the critical decision they face each time before building an application intended for mobile devices: whether to target a particular device operating system (e.g., iOS) and create the app using the language dictated by the OS (e.g., Objective-C), or try to build an operating system-agnostic app that runs on any device equipped with a modern web browser (primarily using HTML5, CSS3, and JavaScript), or try to do a combination of both (using a library such as PhoneGap). The second option offers many advantages, and is the approach explored in the book Mobile HTML5, authored by Estelle Weyl, an experienced front-end developer." Keep reading for the rest of Michael's review.
Microsoft

Should Microsoft Give Kids Programmable Versions of Office? 226

theodp (442580) writes "Over at Microsoft on the Issues, Microsoft continues to lament the computer programming skills gap of American kids, while simultaneously lobbying for more H-1B visas to fill that gap. Saying that states must do more to 'help students gain critical 21st century skills,' Microsoft credits itself and partner Code.org for getting 30,606,732 students to experience coding through the Hour of Code, claiming that K-12 kids have 'written 1,332,784,839 lines of code' (i.e., dragged-and-dropped puzzle pieces), So, if it's concerned about helping students gain programming skills, shouldn't Microsoft be donating fully-functional desktop versions of MS-Office to schools, which would allow kids to use Visual Basic for Applications (VBA)? While Microsoft's pledge to give 12 million copies of its Office software to schools was heralded by the White House and the press, a review of the 'fine print' at Microsoft suggests it's actually the online VBA-free version of Office 365 Education that the kids will be getting, unless their schools qualify for the Student Advantage program by purchasing Office for the faculty and staff. Since Microsoft supported President Obama's call for kids to 'Don't Just Play on Your Phone, Program It', shouldn't it give kids the chance to program MS-Office, too?"
PHP

The New PHP 254

An anonymous reader writes "This article at O'Reilly Programming suggests that PHP, a language known as much for its weaknesses as its strengths, has made steady progress over the past few years in fixing its problems. From the article: 'A few years ago, PHP had several large frameworks (e.g. CakePHP, CodeIgniter, and so on). Each framework was an island and provided its own implementation of features commonly found in other frameworks. Unfortunately, these insular implementations were likely not compatible with each other and forced developers to lock themselves in with a specific framework for a given project. Today the story is different. The new PHP community uses package management and component libraries to mix and match the best available tools. ... There are also exciting things happening with PHP under the hood, too. The PHP Zend Engine recently introduced memory usage optimizations. The memory usage in PHP 5.5 is far less than earlier versions.'"
Cellphones

Are You a Competent Cyborg? 101

An anonymous reader writes "Beyond your smartphone screen lies an infinitely more interesting world, if only you could get past the myopic app view you're currently bound to. Glen Martin ponders the existential unease lying at the root of the Internet of Things: 'We're already cyborgs: biological matrices augmented by wirelessly connected silicon arrays of various configurations. The problem is that we're pretty clunky as cyborgs go. We rely on screens and mobile devices to extend our powers beyond the biological. That leads to everything from atrophying social skills as face-to-face interactions decline to fatal encounters with garbage trucks as we wander, texting and oblivious, into traffic. So, if we're going to be cyborgs, argues Breseman, let's be competent, sophisticated cyborgs. For one thing, it's now in our ability to upgrade beyond the screen. For another, being better cyborgs may make us — paradoxically — more human.'"
The Internet

Why the Internet of Things Is More 1876 Than 1995 142

An anonymous reader writes "Some folks would like you to think that 1995 was the year everybody was brought online and that, starting this year, we'll bring everything else along for the ride. If that seems far fetched to you, Glen Martin writes about how the Internet of Things has more in common with the age of steam than the digital revolution: 'Philadelphia's Centennial Exposition of 1876 was America's first World's Fair, and was ostensibly held to mark the nation's 100th birthday. But it heralded the future as much as it celebrated the past, showcasing the country's strongest suit: technology. ... While the Internet changed everything, says Stogdill, "its changes came in waves, with scientists and alpha geeks affected first, followed by the early adopters who clamored to try it. It wasn’t until the Internet was ubiquitous that every Kansas farm boy went online. That 1876 Kansas farm boy may not have foreseen every innovation the Industrial Revolution would bring, but he knew — whether he liked it or not — that his world was changing."'"
Robotics

The Changing Face of Robotics 49

An anonymous reader writes "Using sensors to interface socially, the next generation of robots may not fit the classic idea of what a robot should be. Glen Martin writes: 'Equipped with two articulated arms, it can perform a multitude of tasks. It requires no application code to start up, and no expensive software to function. No specialists are required to program it; workers with minimal technical background can "teach" the robot right on the production line through a graphical user interface and arm manipulation.'"
Math

A MathML Progress Report: More Light Than Shadow 84

An anonymous reader writes "Recent reports of MathML's demise have been greatly exaggerated. Given the amount of marketing dollars companies like Apple, Google, and Microsoft have spent trying to convince a buying public to purchase their wares as educational tools, you'd think they'd deliver more than lip service by now. MathJax team member, Peter Krautzberger, has compiled a great overview of the current state of MathML, the standard for mathematical content in publishing work flows, technical writing, and math software: "20 years into the web, math and science are still second class citizens on the web. While MathML is part of HTML 5, its adoption has seen ups and downs but if you look closely you can see there is more light than shadow and a great opportunity to revolutionize educational, scientific and technical communication.""
Programming

Has Flow-Based Programming's Time Arrived? 268

An anonymous reader writes "Flow-based programming keeps resurfacing lately. FBP claims to make it easier for non-programmers to build applications by stringing together transformations built by expert programmers. Many projects have already been using similar approaches for a long time, with less (or different?) hype. Is it time to take a closer look at flow-based programming? 'Clean functions – functions without side effects – are effectively pure transformations. Something comes in, something goes out, and the results should be predictable. Functions that create side effects or rely on additional inputs (say, from a database) are more complicated to model, but it’s easier to train programmers to notice that complexity when it’s considered unusual. The difficulty, of course, is that decomposing programs into genuinely independent components in a fine-grained way is difficult. Many programmers have to re-orient themselves from orthodox object-oriented development, and shift to a world in which data structures are transparent but the behavior – the transformation – is not.'"
Programming

The Curious Mind of Ada Lovelace 110

An anonymous reader writes "Going beyond the usual soundbites about Ada Lovelace, Amy Jollymore explores the life of the worlds first programmer: 'When I heard that Ada Lovelace Day was coming, I questioned myself, "What do I actually know about Ada Lovelace?" The sum total of my knowledge: Ada was the first woman programmer and the Department of Defense honored her contributions to computation in 1979 by naming its common programming language Ada.
A few Ada biographies later, I know Augusta Ada Lovelace to be an incredibly complex woman with a painful life story, one in which math, shame, and illness were continuously resurfacing themes. Despite all, Ada tirelessly pursued her passion for mathematics, making her contributions to computing undeniable and her genius all the more clear. Her accomplishments continue to serve as an inspiration to women throughout the world.'"
DRM

The W3C Sells Out Users Without Seeming To Get Anything In Return 348

An anonymous reader writes "Questioning the W3C's stance on DRM, Simon St. Laurent asks 'What do we get for that DRM?' and has a thing or two to say about TBL's cop-out: 'I had a hard time finding anything to like in Tim Berners-Lee's meager excuse for the W3C's new focus on digital rights management (DRM). However, the piece that keeps me shaking my head and wondering is a question he asks but doesn't answer: If we, the programmers who design and build Web systems, are going to consider something which could be very onerous in many ways, what can we ask in return? Yes. What should we ask in return? And what should we expect to get? The W3C appears to have surrendered (or given?) its imprimatur to this work without asking for, well, anything in return. "Considerations to be discussed later" is rarely a powerful diplomatic pose.'"
Programming

What Developers Can Learn From Healthcare.gov 267

An anonymous reader writes "Soured by his attempt to acquire a quote from healthcare.gov, James Turner compiled a short list of things developers can learn from the experience: 'The first highly visible component of the Affordable Health Care Act launched this week, in the form of the healthcare.gov site. Theoretically, it allows citizens, who live in any of the states that have chosen not to implement their own portal, to get quotes and sign up for coverage. I say theoretically because I've been trying to get a quote out of it since it launched on Tuesday, and I'm still trying. Every time I think I've gotten past the last glitch, a new one shows up further down the line. While it's easy to write it off as yet another example of how the government (under any administration) seems to be incapable of delivering large software projects, there are some specific lessons that developers can take away. 1) Load testing is your friend.'"
Security

Security After the Death of Trust 162

An anonymous reader writes "Simon St. Laurent reviews the options in the wake of recent NSA revelations. 'Security has to reboot. What has passed for strong security until now is going to be considered only casual security going forward. As I put it last week, the damage that has become visible over the past few months means that we need to start planning for a computing world with minimal trust.'"
Books

Is HTML5 the Future of Book Authorship? 116

occidental writes "Sanders Kleinfeld writes: In the past six years, the rise of the ebook has ushered in three successive revolutions that have roiled and reshaped the traditional publishing industry. Revolution #3 isn't really defined by a new piece of hardware, software product, or platform. Instead, it's really marked by a dramatic paradigm change among authors and publishers, who are shifting their toolsets away from legacy word processing and desktop publishing suites, and toward HTML5 and tools built on the Open Web Platform."

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