FUD Game Theory and extreme marketing?

There’s this recurring thought that I have.  Every time I see or hear something in the news that sounds slightly unbelievable, I think about it from a game theory standpoint.

How do you get people to do what you want, against their own reason?  One way is through inspiration.  “We’re going to take that hill.  Not all of us will live in doing it, but our names will live on for our valorous act!!”  The adrenalin gets pumpin, and up the hill we go.

Then there’s the more mundane.  I went to Panera Bread the other day, and like most retailers these days, they asked “do you have our customer loyalty card, by which we can collect purchasing habits data on you, and use it for our marketing, and sell you name and number to someone else once it’s no longer of use to us?”.  They didn’t actually say it that way, but it amounts to that.  What do I get in return?  “A secret reward, just for registering (with your phone number)”.  Well, being in Panera, I’m thinking, the ‘reward’ must be some free pastry or some such.  Maybe a 10% off coupon.  It seems harmless enough, why wouldn’t I sign up for that.  I don’t even have to carry the magnetic strip card, just tie it to my phone number, and I’m all set.  Of course, I’ll use the same phony number I use for all these loyalty card offers, just for kicks.

What am I willing to give up, just to get a little bit of reward here and there?

Then there’s gaming me.  Andy Kaufman was a famous gamer, to extremes.  He would pull off stunts that were way over the top, you know, the kind of joke that goes on far too long, way past the punch line, to the point of embarrassment.  You kept watching and interested, because it was so unbelievable that anyone would go to such lengths of spectacle just to entertain themselves.

Now, I come to the point.  If I want to promote a movie these days, would I use traditional methods?  Would I advertise using trailers in movie theatres, six months before the release?  Nah, my movie is mediocre at best.  How would Andy Kaufman do it?

If I were Andy, and put in charge of marketing a marginal movie with a fairly insensitive plot, I might do the following.  I would ‘leak’ the movie to the internet.  I would do it in such a way that seems unbelievable, outrageous.  I might invoke and enlist the skills of cyber hacking crews, whether real or made up.  I would introduce a certain amount of FUD into the mysterious leaks, tying them into the movie in one way or another.  I might even take scenes from the movie, and have them played out in real life.  I would get nation states involved, get everyone outraged, put the movie on everyone’s lips.  I would get the movie banned, “for public safety”, then I’d leak it some more through various channels.  Black market sales, private screenings, reporters on scene in secret enclaves.  I’d get everyone to a fever pitch, then I’d eventually release the details of the deal being struck for a special world wide premier of the movie, so that brave souls and free citizens everywhere could show they would not bow to the demands of terrorists and thugs.

The Netflix and BlueRay disk releases would follow soon thereafter, and the company I’m marketing for would make a mint, and reward me handsomely.  At least that’s what Andy Kaufman would do.

The world we live in has a lot of information available at our fingertips.  The challenge of living in such a world is to be ever vigilant, and grounded in values that keep us grounded in the swirl.

BitCoin? Again?

It’s been two years since I mused about BitCoin.  Since that time, it has become quite a bit more prominent.  What’s happened?  Well, it was at the center of finances for a drug thing, the preferred currency of criminals the world over, and now accepted by reputable firms, the latest being Microsoft itself.

I thought this thing was just a passing fad, to die out once every minor realized the futility of wasting electricity on generating hashes.  But, it seems the currency has lasted into legitimacy.  The US IRS/Treasury did an interesting thing.  They termed it an asset, not a currency.  And therefore, you’re supposed to pay taxes each time you exchange it… Yah, good luck with that.  But, it’s young still.

The big deal here I think is to have the likes of Microsoft invested into the currency.  Microsoft, a multi-billion dollar company, is now taking in this cyber currency.  What will that mean?  I don’t think anyone in the world will truly understand the implications, network effects, unintended effects, etc.

At the very least, it means that Microsoft has one more tool to do currency trading.  According to stock reporting, MS is one of the best currency traders in the world, reguarly doing as well as any investment company out there.  So, as they say, follow the money.

I also think this is a major step for the re-birth of currencies.  The dollar, long the stalwart, is showing signs of its age.  It’s hard for a paper currency to keep up with the dynamics of modern day market forces.  Quantitative easing?  Print more money, monkey with the prime lending rate, treasuries, blah blah blah.  Not that cyber securities will be any better, but they do have an interesting aspect of being controlled more directly by distributed market forces.

Did we just see the emergence of the “galactic units”?

I don’t know, but having Microsoft in the game is a game changer.  I’m sure all other largish companies with billions in assets to manage will soon follow suit.  Then, the world will become an even more interesting place.

More Drone Nonsense

Just having a tool/toy in hand makes you thought wander of the possibilities.  After flying the iris+, taking some video in my local neighborhood, and watching other videos people are taking, I believe this whole flying sensor platform thing is going to be quite transformative.  Here are some more thoughts on what might likely come;

Surveillance – of course, but since these things are so cheap and easy, it’s not just going to be the state watching the citizenry.  In fact, the state may lag behind due to various restrictions, such as budget, laws, and the like.  Just imagine that everything will be filmed and listended to by someone.

Everyting else is a form of surveillanace in one form or another.

Animal tracking – As a child I watched Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kindom.  Marklin Perkins set things up, and Jim Fowler jumped out of the truck to tag the wild rhino.  Well, with a drone, you could just sneak up on the animals from a distance, blow a tracking dart into them, and be done with it.  Not so sexy for the insurance salesmen, but easier for the animal trackers.

Agriculture – another no brainer.  You want to survey the fields.  Fly a pattern, send pictures back to something that can make sense of them.  Dispatch robot machinery to fix problems.  I’m no aggie, but it must be pretty difficult to inspect what’s going on in a field that covers hundreds our thousands of acres.  With a drone, or a few, you could do cameras, take simple soil samples, and the like, send data to some processor, and do your analysis.

Mapping – Another no brainer.  Google has spent years trying to perfect the whole mapping thing.  Multi-camera rigs worn by intrepid mappers, cars with roof mounted thingies, and the like.  But, technology stands still for no technological dream.  Take you van equipped with 20 drones, park it in the center of town, and within an hour, you no doubt can do the job that a self driving car would have done in a few days.  The drones can no only do the street view, but they can do the view up to 100ft as well, pretty easily.  They can track the wifi hot spots, and all the other fun things google has gotten into trouble for.  It doesn’t take a large company, or a monsterous outlay of cash to implement this one either.  I could easily imagine local companies getting in on the act, promoting the intricacy of their maps, or the timeliness.

Sports – When I was in college, I met this guy who with his father, invented that camera system that zips around sports stadiums.  That has provided quite a nice view on the playing field from above.  With drones, you could assign a drone per player, and have them zipping around constantly, filming from interesting angles.  I, as a viewer, could setup my tv viewing to watch the 2 or 3 camera views that I prefer.  Always watch the quarterback, wide receiver, safety, the ball, or the hot dog vendor…  Of course there would have to be automated air traffic control so the drones don’t knock into each other, but that’s a sure bit of software that must be developed anyway.  Ad hoc localized air traffic management for drones.

Some things are autonomous, some things require interaction.  The possibilities are fairly limitless at this point.

The new neighborhood watch

A few years back, I attempted to build an arducopter with my daughter.  We didn’t quite finish that project before her school work lead her off to college.  Roll forward a few years, and 3D Robotics now sells the Iris+ (and a couple of others).  At the urging of a friend, and because it was my birthday/christmas, I purchased one of these newfangled flying machines.

Thus far I have only done a basic up/down forward/back test flight.  Then I mounted the GoPro camera, and started dreaming.

I had this conversation with my brother where we were riffing on the idea of overblown surveillance, and how the every day citizen might participate.  One of the themes was the transformation of neighborhood watch.

Our observation was that the local ‘security company’ could easily be replaced with automated machines (probably flying) wandering the streets.  It can be done without much invasion of privacy as well.  Let’s just imagine that I have an application where a machine launches from my front door perch, checks the mail box, and returns.  while it’s out and about, it looks around, feeding video back to my home computer.  And that’s that.  Alternatively, I could have the machine sitting on a perch, and once every 30 minutes or so, it does a circuit around my property, taking in video from top to bottom.

With today’s connectivity, such applications are easy to imagine.  At the very least, the video can be fed to my phone, and I can always see what’s going on.  It’s a simple extension of the fixed cameras that might already be doing surveillance around my property.  It can just get into more nooks and crannies without all the hard wiring required of the static system.

OK.  So, I’ve got my private property surveillance covered.  Now, what if my neighbors all do the same thing.  Every single one of us has a private machine that surveils our own private property, feeding video into each of our private homes.  Great, we’re the most surveilled neighborhood on the planet.  Now, I choose to share my surveillance data with my nearest neighbors.  Both houses next to me, the two behind me, and the two in front of me.  They do the same, so on and so forth, for as long as there is connectivity between close neighbors.  That gives me access to what I can see, what my neighbors can see, etc.

Of course, now the data is not just stored on my local machine, we probably cobbled together the neighborhood surveillance cloud application, so all the video feeds are probably sent up to Azure.  Well, of course once it’s up in Azure, I can apply Cortana to the task of keeping track of things.  ‘Cortana, how many times has that car circled the neighborhood?’  Of course it can get more interesting because all sorts of image processing and recognition can be applied with the infinite compute resources of the cloud.  ‘Cortana, dispatch the police to that house where the guys are stealing the tv’.

This is all technology that’s ready at hand today.  I would not be the least bit surprised if within 2 – 3 years there is a kickstarter for exactly this kind of application.  Perhaps 3D Robotics themselves will get into the act and provide such software for free.  Then of course the gov’t will come along and ask for the keys to access such data.  Such is the way of things.

These seem to be the times in which we live.  Technology accelerates the advancement of technology.  As things become less expensive, and easier to manipulate, there’s a certain ratcheting up of application capabilities.  At all times, scary, humbling, and empowering.


Engineering lessons everywhere

Writing software is a very interesting and odd pursuit.  It’s not like the more physical forms of ‘engineering’, where you’re measuring, cutting, reaming, nailing, etc.  Much to the chagrin of my fellow software engineers, I will typically describe writing software as similar to creative writing.  Contrary to what most people think, I find leveraging communications and language skills far more useful than math and science skills.

I’ve been doing this for a few decades now (I can say that since I’m now 50!), and I have found that since writing software is a very cerebral pursuit, it needs to be balanced with more physical forms of intelligence.  One example from a few years ago, I found it useful to take up baking arts.  I bought several books on artisan break baking, cake making, and the like.  I spent quite a few months, late nights, and long hours in the kitchen baking up goodies to foist upon my poor unsuspecting workmates.  It started with innocent little tea cookies, but then exploded into lemon chiffon cakes, holiday loafs, fondant, and all manner of unspeakable mini, fluffy, mariner soaks goodies.  The madness didn’t end until I moved to India (baking supplies left behind).

Bread making was a very challenging affair as well.  Whereas cake making is largely about getting ingredients right, mixing well, and a properly tuned oven, break making is a lot more iffy.  How much flour?  Well, it depends upon the amount of moisture in the air, and how hot it is that day.  Making some sourdough from scratch?  Well, what kinds of naturally occurring yeasts are in the air around you?  How much kneading?  How long, how much punching down, all very soft skills.

But, I find these pursuits very similar to software design, oddly enough.  There are some portions of software that are fairly well defined and precise.  You can writing code for a micro controller, in assembly, and get down to fairly exact timing details to blink your christmas lights appropriately (like cake making).  On the other end of the spectrum, you can try to build a multi-tenant web service that scales to world proportions. (more like break making).  I found the pursuits to be fairly similar.  You start with some recipe/pattern, you try to apply it, you make some adjustments along the way, and you cook up something that’s unique, but recognizable.

Recently, with garage reclamation, I’m finding the same thing applies.  Even better, with the advent of youtube, I’m able to get lots of recipes, and learn a lot faster than purchasing books.  I’ve been following this one guy downtoearthwoodworks.  He’s an older guy, at least older than me I think, looks very experienced, and he cranks out these very nice step by step multi-part videos about how to do and make various things in the shop.  Recently, I’ve started following a project to build a sanding station. The cool thing about this project is the very first video in the series is the design criteria.  Well, I’ll be darned if that isn’t exactly the same thing as software development.  Even better, he knows the weight it will have to hold, that it needs wheels, what kind of storage, etc.  From there he draws up plans and begins to execute.  Of course not everything will work out according to plan, but he is equipped to improvise, and doesn’t design himself into a hole.

I’m going to build that sanding station, even if I don’t do a lot of sanding, because when I do engage in any sanding, I want it to be easy, so the right tool for the right job.

If only software were similar.  Old geysers with slow voices, and tons of experience, taking the tools from their shops, and showing us how to put together interesting and useful things.  Something to consider.


This is not my father’s workshop

I have been spending a lot of time in the garage reclamation project.  It started with the construction of a single rolling utility bench, and now I have visions of building a giant 4’x8′ CNC thing.  Along the way, I’ve had various thoughts and experiments as I discover bits and pieces in the garage.

At one point, I had these giant wire rack shelves in there, with all sorts of plastic boxes, stuffed full of tools and toys from years of accumulated tinkering about.  One of the goals I have is to get as much as possible out of the plastic boxes, and into more visible forms, so that I’ll actually use up the supplies, rather than buying new each time I do something because I didn’t know I already had it.  For example, I swear I have at least a mile’s worth of ethernet cables stashed away.  Who knows how that much accumulates.  And that’s with getting rid of a bunch already.

I recently took apart 4 rolling peg board stands which I had built up for rolling around a much larger shop.  They don’t work so well in the garage as there’s not enough space for them to roam around.  So, I have a bunch of swivel locking casters now available for other things.  Why on earth did I purchase these giant casters then?  These casters are rated for 750lb each!  If I use 4, then we’re talking 3000lb of capacity.  I’m not sure my car weighs that much.

To make things more interesting though, I also purchased some adjustable height floor locks.  These things are also massive.  I could imagine hoisting up my house and rolling it around on these.

Why am I purchasing industrial grade equipment for home use?  Foolish tinkerer is the best explanation.  But, it’s also fun to think from the ground up.  I want to build a fairly large workbench/space.  Of course I want it to be on casters, because I want to move it around.  But, I also want stability, because some heavy duty torquing action might be taking place atop the thing.  So, I start with the giant wheels and jacks.  Honestly, If the bench is more than about 400lb (which is likely), the swivel locks on the wheels will likely be good enough.  But, having the adjustable jacks gives me the option of a relatively flat workplace as well as even more stability.

To digress, when I was a little kid, the garage workshop consisted of a giant 4×8 plywood sheet (at least my 5 year old mind remembers it being that big), mounted on a 2×4 into studs against the wall, with some legs holding it out on the other end.  My dad had various plastic bins of stuff, and pegboard on the wall for tools and whatnot.  Of course camping and picnic supplies stored below.  We had hand tools, and a power drill.  No circular saw, no table saw.  Tape measure, and whatnot.  And that’s about that.

Roll forward a few decades, and in my slightly oversized 2 car garage, I managed to have a contractor’s delta, a nice JET bandsaw, bench top drill press, compound sliding miter, and an assortment of dewalt battery operated things.  I even had a compressor and nail gun (very scary stuff).  That was good for building things like tables, shelving units, trimming baseboards, building strip kayaks, and generally being handy.  But alas, that all disappeared when I moved to India.

To rekindle the garage workshop, when I moved back to the US, I purchased a sawstop contractor’s saw.  That’s the saw that will stop before cutting off your finger.  A good thing to have in a table saw for weekend shop warriors I think.  That came from a recommendation of a woodworker who had already lost a bit of one of his fingers.  The saw itself is not giant, but I did get the 52″ extended fence, which is actually 81″ long.  That makes it quite a beast.

One more move, and finally we’re in a house with a long 4 car garage.  At first, we just shoved all manner of stuff into the garage, including those tall steel racks, and more steel roller racks, and tons of plastic bins, storage containers, wood, shelving pieces, and whatnot.  The table saw was not assembled because there was not room for it.  but, I did managed to create the rolling workbench/assembly table.  Very handy that.

After some nights and weekends, I did managed to put up some storage solutions against the walls.  On one wall, a french cleat system, which allows for attaching anything, currently using those slotted shelf attachment things you typically find in quick closet makeovers.  Then, along the other long wall, I put up the same slotted shelf stuff, but without the cleats.  With wall storage in place, many storage bin contents were emptied onto the walls, consolidated, discarded and what have you.

Then along came the 80×30″ electronics workbench.  Really this was a precursor to the more giant general workstation, but it’s been good to gather all the bits and pieces of electronics minutia laying around the shop.  finally the soldering iron has a place, and the caps and resistors are on display, ready to help the micro controllers on bread boards.  Anything else of interest has found wheels under it, like the floor standing drill press (finally usable with some eBay purchased parts).  Lumber against the wall, sorted by type and thickness.  And finally the table saw can be assembled.

I assembled it.  It actually takes a fair bit of work to get the fence rail situated correctly.  But there it is.  Also, there is a router stand (kreg) with router (bosch), and router lift (jessem).  I still don’t have the pocket holed, and the giant band saw, but basically back to a full strength shop.  But what’s different about this vs what my dad had?

After assembling all this stuff, and finally making it usable, I find that I want and can have different things out of the shop than what my dad had.  CNC machines are relatively cheap, compared to the days of my dad’s garage.  In fact, back in those days, we did not even have ‘home computers’, let alone micro controllers flying quad copters.  So, home milling would be an extremely specialized manual apprentice sort of thing reserved for people who were actually in the trade.  But not so today.  Today, I can work in metals.  Given an appropriate CNC, and a MIG welder, I could probably assemble a lot of serious stuff from raw materials.

The CNC offers other possibilities as well.  I purchased the table saw with the idea that I’d be cutting up wood in various configurations for furniture mostly, but possibly to make different types of machines as well.  But now what?  Can the CNC just do everything the table saw could have?  In general yes.  It can easily make any of the straight or angled cuts I would have done on the table saw.  It can even do the various beveled cuts, and at a lot more interesting angles to boot.  The CNC can also take place of what I might have done with the jig saw, and a lot of the easier profiling work I might have done with the router.  I can even take on a lot of the simple drilling work that I would have done with the drill press.

My gosh!  How could I ever need any other tool?  The CNC can/will do it all!!  Well, maybe not absolutely everything, but I’m willing to bet that most of the stuff I would have done with those other tools can easily be handled by the appropriate CNC machine.  So, what’s appropriate?

Starting from the desires, and working my way up.

I want to be able to work in metal.  At the very least, I want to work in aluminum.  I want to be able to work with a plasma cutter for the most interesting metals.  I want to work in wood.  All of this at least in 3-axis.  I’m willing to assuming a 5-axis machine is a separate deal altogether.

I want to be able to handle 4’x8′ sheet goods, straight from the home improvement store.  I want to be able to carve foam, way, frozen rubber, acrylic, whatever.  I want it to be relatively safe, and I want enough variety to be able to change it over time, adding tools, and capabilities.

Whew, that’s a tall order, and mothing like what my dad had in the garage.

What I need is a giant universal workstation which can support various activities, least of which might be a giant gantried CNC machine.  But, I’m willing to start small.  In the small, there are two things I really need.  First, is a rolling cabinet for the saw stop.  I’ve gone back and forth a few times as to whether this is the giant end all be all workbench, but I think I’ve finally settled on a much simpler ambition.  I need something that can carry the saw, and act as a general wood cutting station.  It will need to hold the sawstop, and it’s super long fence.  It does not have to double as a router table, because one already exists, but it should be the same height as the first rolling workstation so it can act as an out feed table.  I’m thinking something like this plan.  The saw already moves around now, because it has the contractor’s stand under it, but this will make it more convenient, and provide storage for all those little bits and pieces that are related to shaping wood with power tools.

That leaves the giant station.  This thing will have to hold a CNC machine of fairly large girth.  I’m thinking something on the lines of this large support structure.  At first, I’m not going to build that giant machine, but I will build the workbench that might support it.  In the meanwhile, I’m going to put together this much more diminutive Grunblau Platform machine.  Over time, these CNC machines will no doubt weigh in the hundreds of pounds, thus justifying the giant workbench, so that’s where I’ll apply the industrial equipment.

The garage workshop is in transition.  I’m a lunatic in terms of playing around with stuff, so I’m way out on a limb with my considerations and requirements.  But, I would not be surprised if within a few years, instead of seeing table saws, routers, and jig saws in the local home improvement center, we don’t start to see CNC machines, with the options of working in wood, metals, and other materials.  They’ll have tool heads, so you can add a 3D printer if you like as well.  It’s all about automated motion and software at that point.

In short, software rules the day, linear motion is easy, garage workshops are transformed.  This is not my father’s workshop, but I’m sure he’d be proud and fascinated to use it.

One more from the dust bin

At one point, I had counted 8 ‘computers’ in the house.  That was a few years ago.  Recently, I looked at the logs of the home router and saw 21 connected devices.  That’s cell phones, tablets, printer, desktops, laptops, rokus, apple TV, experimental boards, etc.  Things sure add up.

Going through the various boxed up electronics, I came across one that was fairly interesting when I purchased it.  The Via Embedded ARTiGO line started a few years back.  I have one of the earliest (doesn’t even have a name on the front).  This thing probably originally ran either Windows XP or a form of Linux.  When I booted it, I had Ubuntu running on it.  Well, an Ubuntu desktop is not particularly snappy on such a small device, but it was running.  When I purchased it around 2009, I was exploring different forms of home entertainment system.  In the end, it couldn’t really deliver the goods, so it languished since then.  Turns out the Roku box has been the best all-rounder for the past few years.

But here it is, this hunk of metal in one of those “don’t I look cute as a giant heat sink” cases.  It speaks “Industrial installation”, although there are no mounting holes on the case itself.  What to do with it now?

It has 10/100 ethernet and wifi, vga output, 3 USB 2.0 ports, audio in/out, and that’s about it.  It’s fairly warm to the touch, even when it’s not actually doing anything but displaying the terminal screen, and not actually running anything.  The size is that of a thick paperback novel.

I’m thinking hard about what I want to do with this thing.  Should I hook it up to some cameras and let it do security work around the house?  Can it be a web server?  Can it run XBMC?  Maybe it’s a better proxy server?  All very interesting questions.  I don’t know for sure right now, but if I had to guess, I am imagining some application where it finds itself in the garage, attached to some machine or another.  Possibly doing work to automated moving something every once in a while.  Perhaps operating a conveyor belt or equipment lift.  It’s not fast or robust enough to serve up media.  It doesn’t have fast enough connectivity to really do the proxy thing for the whole house, and I decided home routers are better at that anyway.  It consumes too much electricity (although less than a desktop) to be constantly on.  So, some occasional use scenario.

How does it compare to today’s crop of contenders?  The closest thing in my mind would be the cubitruck metal case with battery (cubieboard 3).  This is the cubieboard, based on AllWinner A20.  It has vga, hdmi, audio, SPDIF, IR, micro SD, gigabit ethernet, b/g/n wifi, OTG, 2x USB 2.0.  The metal case kit includes a 5300mAh battery, and 128Gb SSD.  All this for $169.  These days, all these ARM boards run various forms of Linux from tinyCore, to Arch, to Lubuntu and full blown server Ubuntu.  They don’t typically run Windows, but I’m sure future versions will run a form of Windows as well.

The box is the size of a packet of cigarettes, and runs off a 5v 2A power supply.  The case design itself is the same “hey look, I’m a giant heat sink” as the Via machine that I am purposing, and it even has mounting holes.  But darn, what a difference a few years makes!  This machine could easily be left on all the time.  It’s silent (no fans), and it has its own internal battery backup.  I guess that makes it more like a laptop, but without screen and keyboard.

I think one of these could do nicely in the garage for a couple of uses.  One might be running the giant CNC machine I’m currently planning.  That’s an “occasionally on” usage, which would not leverage the “always on” capabilities of the device, but it’s so small it could almost be hidden within the framing of the machine.

Another usage could be as the XBMC host for the garage audio system.  That should always be on, and the fact that the device has an IR built in would make it that much easier to use in some situations.

I like the direction things are headed in tech.  Smaller, less power consumed, more capable.  The machines can be purpose built, at relatively low costs.  The machine choices aren’t so much about operating systems any more for me either.  What’s important is what piece of software it’s going to run.  If it’s going to be an XBMC box, then the OS must be the one that runs XBMC best on this particular device.  I’m not going to lock into a vendor ecosystem just for the sake of it.  So, vendors need to think the same way.  It’s all about value, and that means the ecosystem must provide value to developers so they’ll target and create awesome applications.

At any rate, I’ve found another device that might find usage in a targeted application in the workshop.  At the same time, I have decided I must have the modern day equivalent (possibly more than one) to use for various other applications.

Life is good in computing these days.


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