Skip to content

Real Time Social Search: It’s coming around again?

August 21, 2011

I worked at a company called me.dium a few years ago. They have since turned into OneRiot and gone on to another target market and business model.  Recently, some me.dium alums circulated an email noting a new company with a very similar idea to the old me.dium.  The new company, Whoislive, is jumping in with a web browser sidebar that you install when you start using their service to surf with your friends  (“Surf with Friends”(TM) me.dium?).

From their website:

For the first time ever, see who is browsing on any Web page. Chat, get tips, share links, and meet new people with similar interests. Use the Web like you always do, only now, see what happens when you can see Who is Live!

Well…sort of.

One major difference between Whoislive and me.dium, again, from their website:

Can I also see people who are browsing on other pages of the same website?

No. You can only see who is live with you on one page at a time.

Me.dium had a map of the local neighborhood of sites your friends were surfing. More or less creepy?  You decide.

Anyway, this reminded me that, while the business model of me.dium didn’t get anywhere, there was some interesting technology under the covers. It was just getting off the ground, but there were hints at some possibly fertile directions for research and development.  It also reminded me that I started to write this up a few years ago and still had a draft around.  Most of the ideas are covered under patent applications made by me.dium (and so are public information already, but nearly unreadable) and some are fairly “obvious” (though that seems to be mostly neglected as criteria for patentability (see, e.g. this patent for a wooden dog toy you throw)). The explorations of how the system might work and attempts to create some toy examples to assist with explanations, as well as, the section on proposed new signals is my work. If you are at all interested in the details of how we were trying to create surf-with-friends, take a peak. (Fair warning, this draft hasn’t been edited much, so some of it might be a little cumbersome.)

Smart tear-down and build-up of trust from Sinek

July 26, 2011

Sinek talks about what is common in us and how it affects social interactions–and business speak.  Is trust simply pattern recognition? I think this is an interesting evolutionary and social question. I hope it is no more cynical than necessary.


Certainty and possibilities

February 27, 2011

I don’t know that I love the name–“possibilians” seems a bit clumsy to me–but I value the idea.

I find too many skeptics who assume that we know a lot more about what isn’t than it seems possible to know.  Vigilant skepticism adds to the quality of conversation.  As a vehicle for combating dangerous silliness like parents not vaccinating children against smallpox or polio, sorting through the facts carefully and re-evaluating the explanation, insisting on coherent, repeatable experiments makes sense. But knowing what isn’t is much more difficult. Certainty on the right and the left has left us less able to solve difficult problems.

Neuroscientist David Eagleman’s Pop Tech! presentation is worth a watch.

David Eagleman on Possibilianism from PopTech on Vimeo.

(Reposted from KK)

BBC’s “Joy of Stats”

December 31, 2010

Awhile back, I argued here that we should be teaching more statistics in high school and college, especially over Calculus.  When I wrote before, I was thinking of skills and knowledge that includes:

  1. Ability to choose what statistical tools to use.  For example, it would be great to have students who could apply significance measures, evaluate probability and its relationship to risk and know when the average is meaningful (Normal Distribution) or nearly useless (Power Laws).
  2. Practical skills with data collection and manipulation tools such as text editors and spreadsheets, statistics packages (maybe something like R?) and moving data around. Because bigger data sets are so common and rich, it is not enough to know how to calculate the average of a few numbers with a calculator.
  3. Experience and confidence with quantitative analysis as a basis for consistent qualitative reasoning and decision making.

I was delighted to see that the BBC production “The Joy of Stats” with Hans Rosling is now available on YouTube.  This piece does a great job of showing why and what to explore with statistics.  And Hans is entertaining.

My personal information system

November 13, 2010

Shelf of my notebooks (1/2 dozen more somewhere)

After my last post, I started thinking about all of the pieces of my personal information system.  It turns out that it is surprisingly complicated.  I have tried many social media services, online information services and quite a few desktop personal information products.  I have abandoned a lot of them because they take more time and energy than they are worth.  Some I have abandoned include,, (imported to Evernote), (now owned by Jive),,,, me.dium ( I was an employee at the time), plaxo…

When I thought about how many I have quit using, I started thinking about how much was left. And of course, I made some notes (yes, in the margin of a notebook).  After a couple of minutes, I decided I needed to start over with two full pages. Below is a scan of the map of my Personal Information System–click on it to embiggen. I use RSS feeds (Google Reader) daily and LinkedIn, but they don’t seem to fit because nothing I use integrates well with LinkedIn and articles in my RSS feed that I want to keep become Evernote notes.  It is still pretty complicated but (I think) I currently value all of the pieces.

My personal information system

Dr. Skippy's personal information system

Evernote, abundance and the value of forgetting

November 7, 2010

I have used notebooks for recording ideas, notes and tasks since college and I have shelves full of them. One of my first blog posts was about Moleskine notebooks.  Over the years, I have developed a system for managing topics, tasks, meeting notes etc. in these notebooks. I have journals from work, from vacations and even a few pages of daily journals from more introspective times in my life. And in nearly every notebook, I have used a boring meeting to create a quick index of things I might want to find again.

Recently, I have jumped into using Evernote for nearly everything I want to remember.  I currently use it on the Web, on the Windows desktop at work and at home, on my Android phone and on my iPad.  I have consolidated all my links from Delicious and abandoned that.  I had a library of PDF’s I have downloaded, read and valued on a local hard drive.  I uploaded those to Evernote and deleted the originals.  I dropped all of my writings from work, my dissertation, etc. into Evernote and deleted most of those.  I scanned some receipts and other paper documents into Evernote and shredded those.

I now capture any notes I might need from a whiteboard with my phone and import those.  Evernote is pretty good at recognising hand-written notes and making them searchable. I still like writing with a real pen in paper journals.  But now, when I record something I think I might want to find later, I take a picture with my phone and load into Evernote.

This changed prompted some observations:

Abundance.  Disk space is cheap and loading things into Evernote is available everywhere I am.  It is cheap and easy.  This means that I can upload more than I previously could file, draw, record, etc. and easily find it.  Because of tagging and search, having recorded all of this stuff gets in the way of finding what I want less and less.  In the past, digging through a file cabinet for that one receipt or paper your wrote 10 years ago when 99% of the stuff isn’t what you are looking for was very time-consuming.  Now it doesn’t matter if 99.999% of your notes aren’t relevant to a search–you never see them.  This brings me to another point…

Letting go.  There may be a temptation to manage your Evernote repository to make sure there isn’t redundancy, out of date stuff, or stuff you no longer care about.  Doing this with a file cabinet is probably not too bad an idea if you want to be able to find something fast.  In Evernote, unless you can do this with the original tags or notebooks you created, be sceptical of the value of doing it at all.  Abundance of space and the ease of storing and retrieving notes means “managing” as an activity isn’t worth your time.  Tag as best you can when you put the note into Evernote.  Write a few words that will remind you why this item was important to you and move on.  If you run across a note you want to fix, edit or delete it.  But don’t go looking for them.

The value of forgetting.  One of the best things about paper notebooks is that when you revisit them, you realise how much you forgot that never needs to be relived.  I often highlight or strike out old notes when I am looking for something in an old notebook, noting that something is forgettable (and good riddance!). The value of forgetting is immense for cognition, synthesis and creativity. I have a few details we need to remember very specifically (addresses, passwords, etc.). I have a few creative ideas that I will want to use as a launching pad for a future project.  Occasionally, I may have created a clever poem, story, essay or picture.  But everything else is in the way.

Evernote promises a simple and more effective way of remembering, and, hopefully, of forgetting. I doubt that I will search for Everything I have put into Evernote.  Some things will be forgotten, as they should be.

Drawing lusona

September 5, 2010

Lusona is a Eulerian Path mandala that shows up in the traditions of African and Indian cultures.  I made a short demonstration video this morning showing the drawing of one traditional path.  Ron Eglash has a nice write-up and gives some additional references in his great book African Fractals.

Getting started with Hadoop with Amazon Web Services

July 8, 2010

Last night, I gave a presentation at the Boulder/Denver Hadoop Meetup on getting started using Amazon’s Elastic MapReduce. Amazon’s EMR is Apache Hadoop, cloud resources and Web services that implement a scalable, on-demand MapReduce solution for analyzing very large data sets.

The presentation contains step-by-step instructions for getting your first simple project running on EMR and a short overview of the map-reduce way of thinking about data problems. The slides also contain many links to tools, papers, and examples.

Download EMR-HadoopMeetup slides and example code and slides (including latex/beamer file).

Semantic robot control and biomimicry

May 29, 2010

Recently, there have been a couple of amazing examples of robots attaining some amazing low-level movement and navigation autonomy.  Here are a couple of examples.  First, a quad-copter that can perform some startling complex high speed navigation stunts:

Second, a beetle-like walker that can easily navigate rough survaces:

Progress on robots has been pretty steady for years, so what is interesting about these particular examples?

The ability to direct a robot’s higher level movements with reliable outcomes.

That is, a shift from directing robots with syntax (manipulating control surfaces, motor speeds, servo positions) to directing with semantics (go to the living room).  Robots like those shown above will soon be able to take commands at a high level and carry them out reliably and safely.

Broad access to robot servants

We have reached a point in sophistication and cost where small, autonomous robots can be controlled with higher level commands.  To learn to fly a quad-copter via remote control of throttle and pitch in a way that can navigate a window with 3 inches of clearance takes hours of practice and crashed copters. As shown above, now we can merely command that it be done.  The cost of these devices has reached a few hundred dollars each and will continue to fall quickly.

Swarms of robots (“many hands make light work”)

These developments mean that small robots can be directed to “got into the living room” or “fly across the park without hitting anything and find little Bobby.”

The possibility of cheap, small autonomous robots performing tasks such as searching for hurricane survivors, mapping oil spills, collecting anti-personnel mines, carrying out surveillance, assisting you in the garage or mowing your lawn is now very real.

With the ability to direct them at a high level, the opportunity to carry out large tasks with many small specialized robots is in reach. With our current knowledge of collective behaviors, swarms of robots could be called on to perform large scale work requiring collaboration and coordination.

Bio-mimicry and fear

There is something unsettling about both of these videos.  They both demonstrate movements that are life-like, and often associated with animals we’d rather not have too big or too close.  Both robots execute robust recovery and control actions much like beetles or house flies. I postulate that this bio-like attribute is core to the technical success demonstrated here.  But it is also clear that this attribute may be more a than a little distasteful to people.

Will we adapt to the creepiness and have a swarm of crawlers clean the house? Or is this technology DOA because it violates some survival instinct?

Another concern is the new, cheap capabilities to do harm that come with any technological advance. Will ethics and countermeasures evolve fast enough to head off a major mis-appropriation of robot swarms?

Transparency and legitimacy

May 21, 2010

Global Guerrillas laments the behavior of the US Government/BP around the unfolding tragedy of the oil spill in the Gulf as an,

example of an approach, reinforced by ongoing global financial disasters, that uses media manipulation and confidence boosting as a substitute for real solutions.  It fails to punish bad behavior due to the need for collusion between the government and the offending corporations to construct the information campaign.  It fails to construct real solutions since the facts are not known and the number of people able to address the problem is extremely limited.  Also, since these people are the same people that caused the crisis, real solutions are avoided to prevent adverse publicity.  Most importantly, it is yet another body blow to the nation-state and the global market system as legitimate organizational constructs.

In organizational leadership, there is an inverse relationship between transparency and legitimacy.  As secrecy and obfuscation go up, societies collective support of the legitimate powers and roles of the organization go down.

This happens because (1) people don’t trust their leaders and the organizational systems serve their interests. Trust can break down to a point where people undermine the parts of the system that are beneficial (e.g vaccinations are hurting you more than polio or smallpox) and (2) there are fewer better solutions people lack information or open creative dialog about problems and possible responses.

This has always been the case, but the cause-effect time delay is getting shorter partly because the systems encompass many layers of social, financial and political systems and are more richly connected.

%d bloggers like this: