ENTRIES TAGGED "Google"

Talking to Chromecast from iOS

Part One: Easily find Chromecast devices on your local network

Now that Google has opened up the Chromecast API for anyone to play with, it’s possibile to create iOS applications that can leverage the $35 device as a way to display to HDMI devices wirelessly. In this series of tutorials, we’ll go over the API, starting with configuring your project to use the framework, and finding devices out on your local network to play with.

Let’s assume you’ve set up a Chromecast device attached to an HDMI TV and have it configured for your local network. Now it’s time to get an App set up to use it. We’ll use the iPhone Simulator in these examples, since it can talk to Chromecast devices just like a physical device, as long as the Mac you are developing on is on the same LAN as the Chromecast dongle.

Begin by creating a project, as usual. For this example, I used a single-view Storyboarded app. I set up an UITableView inside the default UIView, hooking it’s datasource and delegate to the default view controller the wizard had created. Next, I went to the Google Google Cast API page and downloaded the iOS framework, then used the “Add Files…” project option to add the framework to the project, copying in the files.

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Upward Mobility: Your phone is your robot’s best friend

Rosie the Robot may feel more comfortable talking to Siri than to you

Recently, Glenn Martin wrote an article describing how robotics in moving out of the factory and into the house. And while Glenn restricted himself mainly to the type of robots that pop into your head when someone says the word (either the anthropomorphic variety or the industrial flavor), the reality is that there are a lot of robots already in the hands of consumers, although it might take a moment to recognize them as such.

I’m speaking of drones, and especially quadcopters, which are proliferating at an enormous rate, and are being used to do everything from documenting a cool skateboard move to creating a breathtaking overflight of a horrific disaster site.

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Upward Mobility: Predictions for 2014

All predictions are for entertainment purposes only!

It is a generally accepted requirement that all technology pundits attempt a yearly prognostication of the coming 12 months. Having consulted my crystal ball, scryed the entrails of a falcon, and completed a 3 day fasting ritual in a sweat lodge set up inside a Best Buy, I will now tempt the Gods of Hubris and make my guesses for the year in mobile.

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Update Mobility: The Year in Mobile

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

As the end of December approaches, it’s time to take a look at the year that was. In a lot of ways, 2013 was a status quo year for mobile, with nothing earthshaking to report, just a steady progression of what already is getting more, um, is-y?

We started the year with Apple on top in the tablet space, Android on top in the handset space, and that’s how we ended the year. Microsoft appears to have abandoned the handset space after a decade of attempts to take market-share, and made their move on the tablet space instead with the Surface. In spite of expensive choreographer board room commercials, the Surface didn’t make a huge dent in Apple’s iPad dominance. But Microsoft did better than Blackberry, whose frantic flailing in the market has come to represent nothing so much as a fish out of water.

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Upward Mobility: The Mobile Payment Problem

Mobile Payment is going to take a lot of cooperation by a lot of competing interests, or a clever end-run

There was a time when the two big unsolved puzzles of online finance were micropayments and mobile payments. Micropayments were a problem because no one seemed willing to make sub-dollar transfers economically viable, while mobile payments had a chicken-and-egg solution / vendor paradox. Sites like PayPal and Square seem to have finally resolved the micropayment issue, as are more out-of-left-field ideas like Bitcoins. Mobile payment is still a morass of competing solutions, however.

For a while, Near Field seemed to be the sword that would slay the dragon, but Apple’s continual refusal to adopt the technology would leave a big segment of the mobile market out of the play. Even if someone comes up with a new point of sale (POS) terminal leveraging the more universal Bluetooth Low Energy, the real challenge isn’t the hardware. The problem is getting dozens of POS vendors and all the banks that issue cards to sign onto a new standard, and getting enough stores and retail venues to adopt it. Chicken and the egg once again.

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NoSQL Choices: To Misfit or Cargo Cult?

Retreading old topics can be a powerful source of epiphany, sometimes more so than simple extra-box thinking. I was a computer science student, of course I knew statistics. But my recent years as a NoSQL (or better stated: distributed systems) junkie have irreparably colored my worldview, filtering every metaphor with a tinge of information management.

Lounging on a half-world plane ride has its benefits, namely, the opportunity to read. Most of my Delta flight from Tel Aviv back home to Portland lacked both wifi and (in my case) a workable laptop power source. So instead, I devoured Nate Silver’s book, The Signal and the Noise. When Nate reintroduced me to the concept of statistical overfit, and relatedly underfit, I could not help but consider these cases in light of the modern problem of distributed data management, namely, operators (you may call these operators DBAs, but please, not to their faces).

When collecting information, be it for a psychological profile of chimp mating rituals, or plotting datapoints in search of the Higgs Boson, the ultimate goal is to find some sort of usable signal, some trend in the data. Not every point is useful, and in fact, any individual could be downright abnormal. This is why we need several points to spot a trend. The world rarely gives us anything clearer than a jumble of anecdotes. But plotted together, occasionally a pattern emerges. This pattern, if repeatable and useful for prediction, becomes a working theory. This is science, and is generally considered a good method for making decisions.

On the other hand, when lacking experience, we tend to over value the experience of others when we assume they have more. This works in straightforward cases, like learning to cook a burger (watch someone make one, copy their process). This isn’t so useful as similarities diverge. Watching someone make a cake won’t tell you much about the process of crafting a burger. Folks like to call this cargo cult behavior.

How Fit are You, Bro?

You need to extract useful information from experience (which I’ll use the math-y sounding word datapoints). Having a collection of datapoints to choose from is useful, but that’s only one part of the process of decision-making. I’m not speaking of a necessarily formal process here, but in the case of database operators, merely a collection of experience. Reality tends to be fairly biased toward facts (despite the desire of many people for this to not be the case). Given enough experience, especially if that experience is factual, we tend to make better and better decisions more inline with reality. That’s pretty much the essence of prediction. Our mushy human brains are more-or-less good at that, at least, better than other animals. It’s why we have computers and Everybody Loves Raymond, and my cat pees in a box.

Imagine you have a sufficient amount of relevant datapoints that you can plot on a chart. Assuming the axes have any relation to each other, and the data is sound, a trend may emerge, such as a line, or some other bounding shape. A signal is relevant data that corresponds to the rules we discover by best fit. Noise is everything else. It’s somewhat circular sounding logic, and it’s really hard to know what is really a signal. This is why science is hard, and so is choosing a proper database. We’re always checking our assumptions, and one solid counter signal can really be disastrous for a model. We may have been wrong all along, missing only enough data. As Einstein famously said in response to the book 100 Authors Against Einstein: “If I were wrong, then one would have been enough!”

Database operators (and programmers forced to play this role) must make predictions all the time, against a seemingly endless series of questions. How much data can I handle? What kind of latency can I expect? How many servers will I need, and how much work to manage them?

So, like all decision making processes, we refer to experience. The problem is, as our industry demands increasing scale, very few people actually have much experience managing giant scale systems. We tend to draw our assumptions from our limited, or biased smaller scale experience, and extrapolate outward. The theories we then tend to concoct are not the optimal fit that we desire, but instead tend to be overfit.

Overfit is when we have a limited amount of data, and overstate its general implications. If we imagine a plot of likely failure scenarios against a limited number of servers, we may be tempted to believe our biggest odds of failure are insufficient RAM, or disk failure. After all, my network has never given me problems, but I sure have lost a hard drive or two. We take these assumptions, which are only somewhat relevant to the realities of scalable systems and divine some rules for ourselves that entirely miss the point.

overfitting

fitting

In a real distributed system, network issues tend to consume most of our interest. Single-server consistency is a solved problem, and most (worthwhile) distributed databases have some sense of built in redundancy (usually replication, the root of all distributed evil).
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Upward Mobility: A Web of Dependencies

The App Store model has increased the uncertainty of the software release process

The recent unavailability of the Apple Developer’s Portal just underscores how increasingly dependent developers have become on third parties during the software lifecycle. For those who are not following the fun and games, the developer.apple.com sites, which include much of the functionality needed to develop Mac and iOS applications, has been unavailable for more than a week as of this writing. Although iTunes Connect, the portal used to actually deploy apps to the App Stores, has remained available, the remainder of the site territory has been off-limits.  This is all thanks to a security intrusion (evidently by an over-zealous researcher.)

The App Store model has fundamentally changed how software is distributed, mostly for the better (IMHO), but it has also removed some of the control of the release process from the hands of the developers and companies they work for. As I have spelled out previously in my book on iOS enterprise development, the fact that Apple has the final say on if and when software goes into the store has required more conservative release timelines. If you want to release on the first of September, you need to count back at least two weeks for “gold master”, because you need to upload the app, potentially go through a round of rejection from Apple, and then upload a fixed version.

Android apps don’t suffer from this lag, because most of the Android stores don’t do any significant checking of the applications uploaded to them. The Devil’s Deal that Apple developers have made with Apple is that in return for the longer wait time to get apps in the store (and having to follow Apple’s rules), they get a de facto seal of approval from Apple. In other words, it is assumed that apps in the iTunes store are more stringently policed and less likely to crash or do harm (deliberately or else-wise.)

The current downtime has brought that deal into question, however. Suddenly, developers who need new provisioning certificates, passbook certificates, or push notification certificates find themselves with nowhere to go. Even if iTunes Connect is available, it doesn’t do you any good if you can’t get a distribution certificate to sign your app for the store. I’m sure that there are developers at this moment who have had their finely tuned release strategies thrown into disarray by the in-availability of the developer portal.

Being essentially at the mercy of Apple’s whims (or Google’s, for that matter) can’t be a pleasant sensation for a company or individual trying to get a new piece of software out the door. The question that the developer community will have to answer is if the benefits of the App Store model make it worth the hassles, in the long run.

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Asynchronous Processing with PHP on App Engine

OSCON 2013 Speaker Series

Note: Amy Unruh, Google Cloud Platform Developer Relations, is just one of the many fantastic speakers we have at OSCON this year. If you are interested in attending to check out Amy’s talk or the many other cool sessions, click over to the OSCON website where you can use the discount code OS13PROG to get 20% off your registration fee.

At this year’s Google I/O, we launched the PHP runtime for Google App Engine, part of the Google Cloud Platform. App Engine is a service that lets you build web apps using the same scalable infrastructure that powers many of Google’s own applications. With App Engine, there are no servers to maintain; you just upload your application, and it’s ready to go.

App Engine’s services support and simplify many aspects of app development. One of those services is Task Queues, which lets you easily add asynchronous background processing to your PHP app, and allows you to simultaneously make your applications more responsive, more reliable, and more scalable.

The App Engine Task Queue service allows your application to define tasks, add them to a queue, and then use the queue to process them asynchronously, in the background. App Engine automatically scales processing capacity to match your queue configuration and processing volume. You define a Task by specifying the application-specific URL of a handler for the task, along with (optionally) parameters or a payload for the task, and other settings, then add it to a Task Queue.
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Google Glass: From Google I/O to Maker Faire

Could technology be bringing people closer together?

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I had quite an experience at Maker Faire this weekend. So instead of a follow up on Google I/O today I’m going talk about how wearables, specifically Google Glass, seem to be bringing people closer together rather than farther apart. So, more on Google I/O later in the week.

A Tale of Two Events
I first broke out my Google Glass at Google I/O where Glass Explorers and Googlers filled the Moscone West sporting the device. Glass Explorers are those that pre-ordered the I/O last year and winners of the #IfIHadGlass contest. The mood towards Glass at I/O was, generally, split into the have’s and have not’s. Those with them proudly showed them off while others fell into the following camps: carefully measured excitement, cool intrigue, and those who were over it. I think for the most part the subdued reaction was a reflection of attendees wanting to be able to get into the action immediately. It was a shame that Glass wasn’t available for purchase to those at I/O this year.

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In stark contrast to that reaction was the response I received from attendees of this past weekend’s Maker Faire. My first inkling of what was ahead were the whispers. I would hear excitedly, “Is that the Google Glass?” which made me smile. However, when I met up with my 11:30 a.m. appointment at his booth and started talking about and sharing the Glass with him and his colleagues a mob quickly formed. Frankly, I got scared for a moment as a mass of people forced inward towards me, and then thought what if someone just takes off with these? But, no one did. These mini-mobs happened to me twice, both times in the Electronics area (not surprisingly). The outcome of these Glass flash mobs, however, was quite simply lovely. Individuals were polite, asked me questions, wanted to take pictures of themselves with it and that was it. Throughout the day people would comment on them, stop me to talk, but it was always a pleasure with people smiling ear to ear when I had them play with the device.

What will wearables really mean to society?
The quick answer for now—who knows? I have to say I was a bit overwhelmed by all of this social engagement. I had anticipated some notice, but this? Now, granted, the attendees of a Maker Faire might skew towards being interested in new gadgets and devices but my experience was unexpected—and wonderful. I talked to more random, happy people at this event than I have in a long while. It has given me a new perspective on recent issues that have come up regarding the Glass, such as invasion of privacy and the idea that we are disconnecting with the world more and more via personal devices, when in fact I was finding just the opposite. Maybe in time everyone will have a Glass or have seen one and it won’t be a big deal. But for now, it is generating interaction and discussion about technology with young and old alike.

Oh, and here you can see what it is like to be attacked by a T-Rex from my POV via the Glass, scary stuff. Click here to see the T-Rex Attack.

This will be the first post in a series on my journey through the world with Glass.

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Commerce Weekly: Wal-Mart looks outside the (big) box to battle Amazon

Wal-Mart and Google pursue speedy delivery. Elsewhere, more reasons for retailers to fear smartphones, and mobile may be eBay's best bet.

Wal-Mart wants to crowdsource delivery, while Google chases same-day

On the heels of launching its in-store delivery locker program to compete with Amazon Locker, Wal-Mart has announced it’s toying with the idea of having in-store customers deliver online orders to speed delivery times. Reporting on the news at Reuters, Alistair Barr and Jessica Wohl note that, in essence, Wal-Mart would be experimenting with the growing crowdsourcing trend that works well in so many other areas, so why not for Wal-Mart delivery? They write:

“A plethora of start-ups now help people make money by renting out a spare room, a car, or even a cocktail dress, and Wal-Mart would in effect be inviting people to rent out space in their vehicle and their willingness to deliver packages to others.”

Barr and Wohl mention a few of the “why nots” — numerous legal, regulatory and privacy obstacles — but report that Joel Anderson, chief executive of Walmart.com, believes it to be a viable plan. “This is at the brain-storming stage,” he says, “but it’s possible in a year or two.”

At Bloomberg’s Businessweek, Susan Berfield points to the bigger picture: “Even if the idea never moves past the hypothetical, the fact that Anderson is even talking about it signals how serious a threat Walmart considers Amazon.” Wired’s Laura Heller agrees, noting that though there are “far too many unattractive variables” for this program to become a reality, “it shows the retailer is thinking outside of the box when it comes to competing with its online competition, Amazon.”

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