Work Overload!

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I’m working on contract at a VC funded startup in Central London, and realise I haven’t posted here for some time. I’m still reading relentlessly on the train journeys in and out, but not found the time to pen comments about things that pique my interest for several weeks.

One comment I can relate to was on Sylvia Spruck Wrigleys’ “Fear of Landing” blog, which describes the events leading up to air accidents, or in the case of this week, to a close call. This related to a 757 diverted from Newcastle to Manchester – and landing with virtually no fuel left.

The piece I relate to is what happens when mixed signals were arriving at a rate where both pilots on the flight deck got insanely busy:

“He had too many tasks at the same time; the human response to this is to limit the amount of processing and over-focus (or fixate) on a single task. He lost all overview of the situation and of his role (as the captain) of pilot monitoring”.

I had that just over a week back, but one late night and working over the weekend got things back on course. Until then, I did find myself ignoring lots of signals while I obsessed over finding one root cause. Now I understand why.

Cited post at http://fearoflanding.com/accidents/overloaded-overspeed-and-out-of-fuel/

Grain Brain: modern science kills several fundamental diet myths

Having tracked my own daily food consumption (down to carbs, protein, fat levels, plus nett calories) and weekly weight since June 2002, I probably have an excessive fascination with trying to work out which diets work. All in an effort to spot the root causes of my weight ebbs and flows. I think i’ve sort of worked it out (for me here) and have started making significant progress recently simply by eating much fewer calories than my own Basal Metabolic Rate.

Alongside this has been my curiosity about Microbiomes that outnumber our own cells in our bodies by 10:1, and wondering what damage Antibiotics wreak on them (and their otherwise symbiotic benefits to our own health) – my previous blog post here. I have also been agonising over what my optimum maintenance regime should be when I hit my target weight levels. Above all, thinking a lot about the sort of sensors everyone could employ to improve their own health as mobile based data collection technology radically improves.

I don’t know how I zeroed in on the book “Grain Brain”, but it’s been quite a revelation to me, and largely boots both the claims and motivations of newspapers, the pharmaceutical industry and many vogue diets well into touch. This backed up by voluminous, cited research conducted over the last 30 years.

A full summary would be very too long, didn’t read territory. That said, the main points are:

  1. Little dietary fat and less than 20% of cholesterol consumed makes it into your own storage mechanisms; most cholesterol is manufactured by your liver
  2. There is no scientific basis to support the need for low cholesterol foods; allegations that there is an effect at blocking arteries is over 30 years old and statistically questionable. In fact, brain functions (and defence against Alzheimer’s and other related conditions) directly benefit from high cholesterol and high fat diets.
  3. The chief source of body fat is from consumption of Carbohydrates, not fat at all. So called low fat diets often substitute carbs and sugars, which further exacerbate the very weight problems that consumers try to correct.
  4. Gluten as found in cereals is a poison. Whereas some plants open encourage consumption of seeds by animals to facilitate distribution of their payload, wheat gluten is the other sort of material – designed specifically to discourage consumption. There is material effect on body functions that help distribute nutrition to the brain.
  5. Excessive consumption of carbs, and the resulting effect on weight, is a leading cause of type 2 diabetes. It also has an oxidising effect on cholesterol in the body, reducing it’s ability to carry nutrients to the brain (which is, for what it’s worth, 80% fat).
  6. Ketosis (the body being in a state where it is actively converted stored fats into energy) is a human norm. The human body is designed to be able to manage periods of binge then bust systematically. Hence many religions having occasional fasting regimes carry useful health benefits.
  7. The human genome takes 60-70,000 years to evolve to manage changes in diet, whereas human consumption has had a abrupt charge from heavy fat and protein diets to a diet majoring on cereal and carbs in only the last 10,000 years. Our relatively recent diet changes have put our bodies under siege.

The sum effect is guidance err on the side of much greater fat/protein content, and less carbs in the diet, even if it means avoiding the Cereals Aisle at the supermarket at all costs. And for optimum health, to try to derive energy from a diet that is circa 80% fat and protein, 20% carbs (my own historical norm is 50-55% carbs). Alcohol is generally a no-no, albeit a glass of red wine at night does apparently help.

Note that energy derived from each is different; 1g of protein is typically provides 4 kcals, 1g of fat is 9 kcals, and 1g of carbs is 3.75 kcals. Hence there is some arithmetic involved to calculate the “energy derived” mix from your eating (fortunately, the www.weightlossresources.co.uk web site does this automatically for you, converting your food intake detail into a nice pie chart as you go).

There is a lot more detail in the book relating to how various bodily functions work, and what measures are leading indicators of health or potential issues. That’s useful for my sensor thinking – and to see whether widespread regular collection of data would become a useful source for spotting health issues before they become troublesome.

One striking impression i’m left with is how much diet appears to have a direct effect on our health (or lack thereof), and to wonder aloud if changes to the overall carbs/protein/fat mix we consume would fix many of the problems addressed by the NHS and by Pharmaceutical Industries at source. Type 2 Diabetes and ever more common brain ailments in old age appear to be directly attributable to what we consume down the years, and our resulting weight. Overall, a much bigger subject, and expands into a philosophical discussion of whether financial considerations drive healer (fix the root cause) or dealer (encourage a dependency) behaviours.

For me personally, the only effect is what my diet will look like in 2015 after I get to my target weight and get onto maintenance. Most likely all Bread and Cereals out, Carb/Cake treats heavily restricted, Protein and Fat in.

I think this is a great book. Bon Appetite.

Footnote:  I’m also reminded that the only thing that cured my wifes psoriasis on her hands and feet for a considerable time were some fluids to consume prescribed by a Chinese Herbal doctor, and other material applied to the skin surface. He cited excess heat, need for yin/yan balance and prescribed material to attempt to correct things. Before you go off labelling me as a crackpot, this was the only thing that cured her after years of being prescribed steroid creams by her doctor; a nurse at her then doctors surgery suggested she try going to him under a condition of her anonymity, as she thought she’d lose her job if the doctors knew – but suggested he was able to arrest the condition in many people she knew had tried.

I suspect that the change in diet and/or setting conditions right for symbiotic microbiomes in her skin (or killing off the effect of temporarily parasitic ones) helped. Another collection of theories to add to the mix if technology progresses to monitor key statistics over millions of subjects with different genetic or physiological characteristics. Then we’ll have a better understanding, without relying on unfounded claims of those with vested interests.

 

iPhone 6 Plus – Initial Impressions

iPhone 6 Plus

Having measured my Nexus 5 (in it’s protective case), it was just over 3″ wide – nominally exactly the same width as the new iPhone 6 Plus. Hence I was happy, despite the 6 Plus being 1/2″ taller, that it would fit in my pocket. With that in mind and with its impressive looking specs, I pre-ordered a Space Grey 64GB iPhone 6 Plus the minute I could do a quick hop, skip and jump through their online store (unlike previous releases, the website was up before the iOS Apple Store app on my iPad). Promised to be delivered on launch day (September 19th), it was delivered that day at 8:50am. With that, the last weeks journey began.

Overall, delighted with the device. It is very snappy, the fingerprint reader works fast and reliably, and I duly installed my complete set of apps on it. Just a few issues with iOS 8.0.0 as shipped:

  1. When out and about, it will occasionally lose all WiFi connectivity. This only happened about once per day on the 6 Plus, and a reboot of the handset (which is now fast) fixed it.
  2. On my iPad Mini, I got the occasional keyboard freeze (normally mid typing when a notification popped up). Reboot fixed that.
  3. After upgrading my iPad Mini, icons representing Safari web pages (as saved with “Save to Home Screen”) got replaced with a blank target graphic: Missing Icon from Save to HomeScreen
  4. Finally, a few apps hadn’t been updated by the time I received the iPhone 6 Plus. One being Instagram Hyperlapse, where the screen progressively lightened as video footage was taken, and on saving, it claimed there wasn’t able to stabilise the footage. HealthKit apps also needed a fix before supporting apps were going to be put back on the App Store.

Having installed iOS 8.0.2 today (one week after the initial release of 8.0.0), (1),(2) and (4) of the above issues have been fixed, (3) is still outstanding and most of my apps have updated. Just waiting for things like the FitBit app to update HealthKit now.

The unfortunate thing is the usual carping in the media about bending iPhones (this happens even if you put all your weight on an iPhone 5S) – and only affected 9 (single digit!) out of the 10 million handsets shipped on the launch weekend. And all the usual worthless iOS vs Android verbal and written tennis.

Personally, i’m absolutely delighted with my iPhone 6 Plus. Everything is working well, and the speed and graphics quality are simply astounding. The battery lasts 2 days use, and the camera quality is wonderful. With that, i’ll leave with the apps I use:

  1. Home Screen (I have an Extras folder there containing apps I rarely or never expect to use: Compass, Tips, Voice Memos, Contacts, Find iPhone, Find Friends, Podcasts, Game Center, GarageBand and iTunesU).
  2. Work and Comms Apps
  3. Social Networks
  4. Money and Shopping
  5. Television and Video
  6. Travel
  7. Reading Material

Click to see larger images. Enjoy.

Ian Waring iPhone 6+ HomeScreen

Ian Waring iPhone 6+ Work & Comms Page

Ian Waring iPhone 6+ Social Page

Ian Waring iPhone 6+ Money & Shopping

Ian Waring iPhone 6+ TV and Video Page

Ian Waring iPhone 6+ Travel Page

Ian Waring iPhone 6+ Reading Page

Another lucid flurry of Apple thinking it through – unlike everyone else

Apple Watch Home Screen

This happens every time Apple announce a new product category. Audience reaction, and the press, rush off to praise or condemn the new product without standing back and joining the dots. The Kevin Lynch presentation at the Keynote also didn’t have a precursor of a short video on-ramp to help people understand the full impact of what they were being told. With that, the full impact is a little hidden. It’s a lot more than having Facebook, Twitter, Email and notifications on your wrist when you have your phone handset in your pocket.

There were a lot of folks focussing on it’s looks and comparisons to the likely future of the Swiss watch industry. For me, the most balanced summary of the luxury esthetics from someone who’s immersed in that industry can be found at:  http://www.hodinkee.com/blog/hodinkee-apple-watch-review

Having re-watched the keynote, and seen all the lame Androidware, Samsung, LG and Moto 360 comparisons, there are three examples that explode almost all of the “meh” reactions in my view. The story is hidden my what’s on that S1 circuit board inside the watch, and the limited number of admissions of what it can already do. Three scenarios:

1. Returning home at the end of a working day (a lot of people do this).

First thing I do after I come indoors is to place my mobile phone on top of the cookery books in our kitchen. Then for the next few hours i’m usually elsewhere in the house or in the garden. Talking around, that behaviour is typical. Not least as it happens in the office too, where if i’m in a meeting, i’d normally leave my handset on silent on my desk.

With every Android or Tizen Smart Watch I know, the watch loses the connection as soon as I go out of Bluetooth range – around 6-10 meters away from the handset. That smart watch is a timepiece from that point on.

Now, who forgot to notice that the Apple Watch has got b/g WiFi integrated on their S1 module? Or that it it can not only tell me of an incoming call, but allow me to answer it, listen and talk – and indeed to hand control back to my phone handset when I return to it’s current proximity?

2. Sensors

There are a plethora of Low Energy Bluetooth sensors around – and being introduced with great regularity – for virtually every bodily function you can think of. Besides putting your own fitness tracking sensors on at home, there are probably many more that can be used in a hospital setting. With that, a person could be quite a walking network of sensors and wander to different wards or labs during their day, or indeed even be released to recuperate at home.

Apple already has some sensors (heart rate, and probably some more capabilities to be announced in time, using the infrared related ones on the skin side of the Apple watch), but can act as a hub to any collection of external bluetooth sensors at the same time. Or in smart pills you can swallow. Low Energy Bluetooth is already there on the Apple Watch. That, in combination with the processing power, storage and b/g WiFi makes the watch a complete devices hub, virtually out of the box.

If your iPhone is on the same WiFi, everything syncs up with the Health app there and the iCloud based database already – which you can (at your option) permit an external third party to have access to. Now, tell me about the equivalent on any other device or service you can think of.

3. Paying for things.

The iPhone 5S, 6 and 6 Plus all have integrated finger print scanners. Apple have put some functionality into iOS 8 where, if you’re within Bluetooth range (6-10 meters of your handset), you can authenticate (with your fingerprint) the fact your watch is already on your wrist. If the sensors on the back have any suspicion that the watch leaves your wrist, it immediately invalidates the authentication.

So, walk up to a contactless till, see the payment amount appear on the watch display, one press of the watch pays the bill. Done. Now try to do that with any other device you know.

Developers, developers, developers.

There are probably a million other applications that developers will think of, once folks realise there is a full UNIX computer on that SoC (System on a Chip). With WiFi. With Bluetooth. With a Taptic feedback mechanism that feels like someone is tapping your wrist (not loudly vibrating across the table, or flashing LED lights at you). With a GPU driving a high quality, touch sensitive display. Able to not only act as a remote control for your iTunes music collection on another device, but to play it locally when untethered too (you can always add bluetooth earbuds to keep your listening private). I suspect some of the capabilities Apple have shown (like the ability to stream your heartbeat to another Apple Watch user) will evolve into potential remote health visit applications that can work Internet wide.

Meanwhile, the tech press and the discussion boards are full of people lamenting the fact that there is no GPS sensor in the watch itself (like every other Smart Watch I should add – GPS location sensing is something that eats battery power for breakfast; better to rely on what’s in the phone handset, or to wear a dedicated bluetooth GPS band on the other wrist if you really need it).

Don’t be distracted; with the electronics already in the device, the Apple Watch is truly only the beginning. We’re now waiting for the full details of the WatchKit APIs to unleash that ecosystem with full force.

iOS devices, PreSchool Kids and lessons from Africa

Ruby Jane Waring

This is Ruby, our two and a half year old Granddaughter and owner of her own iPad Mini (she is also probably the youngest Apple shareholder out there, as part of her Junior ISA). She was fairly adept with her parents iPhones and iPads around the house months before she was two, albeit curious as to why there was no “Skip Ad” option on the TV at home (try as she did).

Her staple diet is YouTube (primarily Peppa Pig, Ben & Holly’s Magic Kingdom, and more recently Thomas the Tank Engine and Alphablocks). This weekend, there was a section on BBC Click that showed some primary school kids in Malawi, each armed with iPads and green headphones, engrossed doing maths exercises. The focus then moved to a Primary School in Nottingham, using the same application built for the kids in Malawi, translated to English but with the similarly (and silently) engrossed.

I found the associated apps (search for author “onebillion” and you should see five of them) and installed each on her iPad Mini:

  • Count to 10
  • Count to 20
  • Maths, age 3-5
  • Maths, age 4-6
  • 2, 5 and 10 (multiplication)

The icons look like this, red to the left of the diagonal and with a white tick mark, orange background on the rest; the Malawi versions have more green in them in place of orange.

Countto10icon

We put her onto the English version of “Count to 10″, tapped in her name, then handed it over to her.

Instructions Count to 10

Tapped on the rabbit waving to her, and off. Add frogs the the island (one tap for each):

Count to 10 Add Frogs

Then told to tap one to remove it, then click the arrow:

Leave one frog on IslandDing! Instant feedback that seemed to please her. She smiled, gave us a thumbs up, then clicked the arrow for the next exercise:

Add birds to the wire

which was to add three birds to the wire. Press the arrow, ding! Smile and thumbs up, and she just kept doing exercise after exercise on her own bat.

A bit later on, the exercise was telling her to put a certain number of objects in each box – with the number to place specified as a number above the box. Unprompted, she was getting all those correct. Even when a box had ‘0’ above it, and she duly left that box empty. And then the next exercise, when she was asked to count the number of trees, and drag one of the numbers “0”, “1”, “2”, “3” or “4” to a box before pressing the arrow. Much to our surprise (more like chins on the floor), she was correctly associating each digit with the number of objects. Unprompted.

I had to email her Mum at that stage to ask if she’d been taught to recognise numbers already by the character shapes. Her Mum blamed it on her Cbeebies consumption alone.

When we returned her home after her weekend stay, the first thing she insisted on showing both her Mother and her Father was how good she was at this game. Fired it up herself, and showed them both independently.

So, Kudos to the authors of this app. Not only teaching kids in Malawi, but very appealing to kids here too. Having been one of the contributors to its Kickstarter funding, I just wonder how long it will be before she starts building programs in ScratchJr (though that’s aimed at budding programmers aged 5-7). It’s there on her iPad already when she wants to try it – and has her Scratch literate (and Minecraft guru) 10 year old brother on hand to assist if needed.

I think buying her her own iPad Mini (largely because when she stayed weekends, I never got my own one back) was a great investment. I hope it continues to provide an outlet for her wonder of the world around her in the years ahead.

 

Yo! Minimalist Notifications, API and the Internet of Things

Yo LogoThought it was a joke, but having 4 hours of code resulting in $1m of VC funding, at an estimated $10M company valuation, raised quite a few eyebrows. The Yo! project team have now released their API, and with it some possibilities – over and above the initial ability to just say “Yo!” to a friend. At the time he provided some of the funds, John Borthwick of Betaworks said that there is a future of delivering binary status updates, or even commands to objects to throw an on/off switch remotely (blog post here). The first green shoots are now appearing.

The main enhancement is the ability to carry a payload with the Yo!, such as a URL. Hence your Yo!, when received, can be used to invoke an application or web page with a bookmark already put in place. That facilitates a notification, which is effectively guaranteed to have arrived, to say “look at this”. Probably extensible to all sorts of other tasks.

The other big change is the provision of an API, which allows anyone to create a Yo! list of people to notify against a defined name. So, in theory, I could create a virtual user called “IANWARING-SIMPLICITY-SELLS”, and to publicise that to my blog audience. If any user wants to subscribe, they just send a “Yo!” to that user, and bingo, they are subscribed and it is listed (as another contact) on their phone handset. If I then release a new blog post, I can use a couple of lines of Javascript or PHP to send the notification to the whole subscriber base, carrying the URL of the new post; one key press to view. If anyone wants to unsubscribe, they just drop the username on their handset, and the subscriber list updates.

Other applications described include:

  • Getting a Yo! when a FedEx package is on it’s way
  • Getting a Yo! when your favourite sports team scores – “Yo us at ASTONVILLA and we’ll Yo when we score a goal!
  • Getting a Yo! when someone famous you follow tweets or posts to Instagram
  • Breaking News from a trusted source
  • Tell me when this product comes into stock at my local retailer
  • To see if there are rental bicycles available near to you (it can Yo! you back)
  • You receive a payment on PayPal
  • To be told when it starts raining in a specific town
  • Your stocks positions go up or down by a specific percentage
  • Tell me when my wife arrives safely at work, or our kids at their travel destination

but I guess there are other “Internet of Things” applications to switch on home lights, open garage doors, switch on (or turn off) the oven. Or to Yo! you if your front door has opened unexpectedly (carrying a link to the picture of who’s there?). Simple one click subscriptions. So, an extra way to operate Apple HomeKit (which today controls home appliance networks only through Siri voice control).

Early users are showing simple Restful URLs and http GET/POSTs to trigger events to the Yo! API. I’ve also seen someone say that it will work with CoPA (Constrained Application Protocol), a lightweight protocol stack suitable for use within simple electronic devices.

Hence, notifications that are implemented easily and over which you have total control. Something Apple appear to be anal about, particularly in a future world where you’ll be walking past low energy bluetooth beacons in retail settings every few yards. Your appetite to be handed notifications will degrade quickly with volumes if there are virtual attention beggars every few paces. Apple have been locking down access to their iBeacon licensees to limit the chance of this happening.

With the Yo! API, the first of many notification services (alongside Google Now, and Apples own notification services), and a simple one at that. One that can be mixed with IFTTT (if this, then that), a simple web based logic and task action system also produced by Betaworks. And which may well be accessible directly from embedded electronics around us.

The one remaining puzzle is how the authors will be able to monetise their work (their main asset is an idea of the type and frequency of notifications you welcome receiving, and that you seek). Still a bit short of Google’s core business (which historically was to monetise purchase intentions) at this stage in Yo!’s development. So, suggestions in the case of Yo! most welcome.

 

Microbiomes and a glimpse to doctors becoming a small niche

Microbiomes, Gut and Spot the Salmonella

When I get up in the morning, I normally follow a path on my iPad through email, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, Feedly (for my RSS feeds) and Downcast (to update my Podcasts for later listening). This morning, Kevin Kelly served up a comment on Google+ that piqued my interest, and that led to a long voyage of discovery. Much to my wifes disgust as I quoted gory details about digestive systems at the same time she was trying to eat her breakfast. He said:

There are 2 reasons this great Quantified Self experiment is so great. One, it shows how important your microbial ecosystem is. Two, it shows how significant DAILY genome sequencing will be.

He then gave a pointer to an article about Microbiomes here.

The Diet Journey

I’ve largely built models based on innocent attempts to lose weight, dating back to late 2000 when I tried the Atkins diet. That largely stalled after 3 weeks and one stone loss. Then fairly liberated in 2002 by a regime at my local gym, when I got introduced (as part of a six week program) to the website of Weight Loss Resources. This got me in the habit of recording my food intake and exercise very precisely, which translated branded foods and weights into daily intake of carbs, protein and fat. That gave me my calorie consumption and nutritional balance, and kept track alongside weekly weight readings. I’ve kept that data flowing now for over 12 years, which continues to this day.

Things i’ve learnt along the way are:

  • Weight loss is heavily dependent on me consuming less calories than my Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), and at the same time keeping energy deduced from carbs, protein and fat at a specific balance (50% from Carbs, 20% Protein, 30% fat)
  • 1g of protein is circa 4.0 Kcals, 1g of carbs around 3.75 Kcals, and fat around 9.0 Kcals.
  • Muscle weighs 2x as much as fat
  • There is a current fixation at gyms with upping your muscle content at first, nominally to increase your energy burn rate (even at rest)
  • The digestive system is largely first in, first out; protein is largely processed in acidic conditions, and carbs later down the path in alkaline equivalents. Fat is used as part of both processes.
  • There are a wide variety of symbiotic (opposite of parasite!) organisms that assist the digestive process from beginning to end
  • Weight loss is both heat and exhaust. Probably other forms of radiation too, given we are all like a light bulb in the infrared spectrum (I always wonder how the SAS manage to deploy small teams in foreign territory and remain, for the most part, undetected)

I’ve always harboured a suspicion that taking antibiotics have an indiscriminate bombing effect on the population of microbiomes there to assist you. Likewise the effect of what used to be my habit of drinking (very acidic) Diet Coke. But never seen anyone classify the variety and numbers of Microbiomes, and to track this over time.

The two subjects had the laboratory resources to examine samples of their own saliva, and their own stool samples, and map things over time. Fascinating to see what happened when one of them suffered Salmonella (the green in the above picture), and the other got “Delhi Belly” during a trip abroad.

The links around the article led to other articles in National Geographic, including one where the author reported much wider analysis of the Microbiomes found in 60 different peoples belly buttons (here) – he had a zoo of 58 different ones in his own. And then to another article where the existence of certain microbiome mutations in the bloodstream were an excellent leading indicator of the presence of cancerous tumours in the individual (here).

Further dips into various Wikipedia articles cited examples of microbiome populations showing up in people suffering from various dilapidating illnesses such as ME, Fibromyalgia and Lyme disease, in some instances having a direct effect on driving imbalances to cause depression. Separately, that what you ate often had quite an effect in altering the relative sizes of parts of the Microbiome population in short order.

There was another article that suggested new research was going to study the Microbiome Zoo present in people’s armpits, but I thought that an appropriate time to do an exit stage left on my reading. Ugh.

Brain starts to wander again

Later on, I reflected for a while on how I could supply some skills i’ve got to build up data resources – at least should suitable sensors be able to measure, sample and sequence microbiomes systematically every day. I have the mobile phone programming, NoSQL database deployment and analytics skills. But what if we had sensors that everyone could have on them 24/7 that could track the microbiome zoo that is you (internally – and I guess externally too)? Load the data resources centrally, and I suspect the Wardley Map of what is currently the NHS would change fundamentally.

I also suspect that age-old Chinese Medicine will demonstrate it’s positive effects on further analysis. It was about the only thing that solved my wifes psoriasis on her hands and feet; she was told about the need to balance yin/yan and remove heat put things back to normal, which was achieved by consumption of various herbs and vegetation. It would have been fascinating to see how the profile of her microbiomes changed during that process.

Sensors

I guess the missing piece is the ability to have sensors that can help both identify and count types microbiomes on a continuous basis. It looks like a laboratory job at the moment. I wonder if there are other characteristics or conditions that could short cut the process. Health apps about to appear from Apple and Google initiatives tend to be effective at monitoring steps, heart rate. There looks to be provision for sensing blood glucose levels non-invasively by shining infrared light on certain parts of the skin (inner elbow is a favourite); meanwhile Google have patented contact lenses that can measure glucose levels in the blood vessels in the wearers eyes.

The local gym has a Boditrax machine that fires an electrical up one foot and senses the signal received back in the other, and can relate body water, muscle and fat content. Not yet small enough for a mobile phone. And Withings produce scales that can report back weight to the users handset over bluetooth (I sometimes wonder if the jarring of the body as you tread could let a handset sensors deduce approximate weight, but that’s for another day).

So, the mission is to see if anyone can produce sensors (or an edible, communicating pill) that can effectively work, in concert with someones phone and the interwebs, to reliably count and identify biome mixes and to store these for future analysis, research or notification purposes. Current research appears to be in monitoring biome populations in:

  1. Oral Cavity
  2. Nasal
  3. Gastrointestinal Organs
  4. Vaginal
  5. Skin

each with their own challenges for providing a representative sample surface sufficient to be able to provide regular, consistent and accurate readings. If indeed we can miniaturize or simplify the lab process reliably. The real progress will come when we can do this and large populations can be sampled – and cross referenced with any medical conditions that become apparent in the data provider(s). Skin and the large intestine appear to have the most interesting microbiome profiles to look at.

Long term future

The end result – if done thoroughly – is that the skills and error rates of GP provided treatment would become largely relegated, just as it was for farm workers in the 19th century (which went from 98% of the population working the land to less than 2% within 100 years).

With that, I think Kevin Kelly is 100% correct in his assessment – that the article shows how significant DAILY genome sequencing will be. So, what do we need to do to automate the process, and make the fruits of its discoveries available to everyone 24/7?

Footnote: there look to be many people attempting to automate subsets of the DNA/RNA identification process. One example highlighted by MIT Review today being this.

How that iPhone handset knows where I am

Treasure Island MapI’ve done a little bit of research to see how an Apple iPhone tracks my location – at least when i’ll be running iOS 8 later this autumn. It looks like it picks clues up from lots of places as you go:

  1. The signal from your local cell tower. If you switch your iPhone on after a flight, that’s probably the first thing it sees. This is what the handset uses to set your timezone and adjust your clock immediately.
  2. WiFi signals. As with Google, there is a location database accessed that translates WiFi router Mac addresses into an approximate geographic location where they’ve been sensed before. At least for the static ones.
  3. The Global Positioning System sensors, that work with both the US and Russian GPS satellite networks.  If you can stand in a field and see the horizon all around you, then your phone should have up to 14 satellites visible. Operationally, if it can see 2, you can get your x and y co-ordinates to within a meter or two. If it can see 3, then you get x, y and z co-ordinates – enough to give your elevation above sea level as well.
  4. Magnetometer and Gyroscope. The iPhone has an electronic compass and some form of gyroscope inside, so the system software can sense the direction, orientation (in 3D space) and movement. So, when you move from outdoors to an indoor location (like a shopping centre or building), the iPhone can remember the last known accurate GPS fix, and deduce (based on direction and speed as you move since that last sampling) your current position.

The system software on iOS 8 just returns your location and an indication of error scale based on all of the above. For some reason, the indoor positioning with the gyroscope is of high resolution for your x and y position, but returns the z position as a floor number only (0 being the ground floor, -1 one down from there, 1..top level above).

In doing all the above, if it senses you’ve moved indoors, then it shuts down the GPS sensor – as it is relatively power hungry and saves the battery at a time when the sensor would be unusable anyway.

Beacons

There are a number of applications where it would be nice to sense your proximity to a specific location indoors, and to do something clever in an application. For example, when you turn up in front of a Starbucks outlet, for Apple Passport to put your loyalty/payment card onto the lock screen for immediate access; same with a Virgin Atlantic check-in desk, where Passport could bring up your Boarding Pass in the same way.

One of the ways of doing this is to deploy low energy bluetooth beacons. These normally have two numbers associated with them; the first 64-bits is a licensee specific number (such as “Starbucks”), the second 64-bit number a specific identifier for that licensee only. This may be a specific outlet on their own applications database, or an indicator of a department location in a department store. It is up to the company deploying the Low Energy Bluetooth Beacons to encode this for their own iPhone applications (and to reflect the positions of the beacons in their app if they redesign their store or location layouts).

Your iPhone can sense beacons around it to four levels:

  1. I can’t hear a beacon
  2. I can sense one, but i’m not close to it yet
  3. I can sense one, and i’m within 3 meters (10 feet) of it right now
  4. I can sense one, and my iPhone is immediately adjacent to the beacon

Case (4) being for things like cash register applications. (2) and (3) are probably good enough for your store specific application to get fired up when you’re approaching.

There are some practical limitations, as low energy bluetooth uses the same 2.4Ghz spectrum that WiFi does, and hence suffers the same restrictions. That frequency agitates water (like a Microwave), hence the reason it was picked for inside applications; things like rain, moisture in walls and indeed human beings standing in the signal path tend to arrest the signal strength quite dramatically.

The iPhone 5S itself has an inbuilt Low Energy Bluetooth Beacon, but in line with the way Apple protect your privacy, it is not enabled by default. Until it is explicitly switched on by the user (who is always given an ability to decline the location sharing when any app requests this), hardware in store cannot track you personally.

Apple appear to have restricted licensees to using iBeacons for their own applications only, so only users of Apple iOS devices can benefit. There is an alternative “Open Beacon” effort in place, designed to enable applications that run across multiple vendor devices (see here for further details).

The Smart Watch Future

With the recent announcement and availability of various Android watches from Samsung, LG and Motorola, it’s notable that they all appear to have the compass, gyroscope but no current implementation of a GPS (i’ve got to guess for reasons of limited battery power and the sensors power appetite). Hence I expect that any direction sensing Smartwatch applications will need to talk to an application talking to the mobile phone handset in the users pocket – over low energy bluetooth. Once established, the app on the watch will know the devices orientation in 3D space and the direction it is headed; probably enough to keep pointing you towards a destination correctly as you walk along.

The only thing we don’t yet know is whether Apple’s own rumoured iWatch will break the mould, or like it’s Android equivalents, act as a peripheral to the network hub that is the users phone handset. We should know that later on this year.

In the meantime, it’s good to see that Apple’s model is to protect the users privacy unless they explicitly allow a vendor app to track their location, which they can agree to or decline at any time. I suspect a lot of vendors would like to track you, but Apple have picked a very “its up to the iPhone user and no-one else” approach – for each and every application, one by one.

Footnote: Having thought about it, I think I missed two things.

One is that I recall reading somewhere that if the handset battery is running low, the handset will bleat it’s current location to the cloud. Hence if you dropped your handset and it was lost in vegetation somewhere, it would at least log it’s last known geographic location for the “Find my iPhone” service to be able to pinpoint it as best it could.

Two is that there is a visit history stored in the phone, so your iPhones travels (locations, timestamps, length of time stationary) are logged as a series of move vectors between stops. These are GPS type locations, and not mapped to any physical location name or store identifier (or even position in stores!). The user has got to give specific permission for this data to be exposed to a requesting app. Besides use for remembering distances for expenses, I can think of few user-centric applications where you would want to know precisely where you’ve travelled in the last few days. Maybe a bit better as a version of the “secret” app available for MacBooks, where if you mark your device on a cloud service as having been stolen, you can get specific feedback on its movements since.

The one thing that often bugs me is people putting out calls on Facebook to help find their stolen or mislaid phones. Every iPhone should have “Find my iPhone” enabled (which is offered at iOS install customisation time) or the equivalent for Android (Android Device Manager) activated likewise. These devices should be difficult to steal.

ScratchJr released: teach 5-7 year olds to program!

ScratchJr Graphic

Great news received this morning:

Project Update #6: ScratchJr ready for launch!

For backers only Posted by Mitchel Resnick ♥ Like

As backers of our ScratchJr Kickstarter campaign, we wanted you to be the first to know: We’re officially releasing ScratchJr tomorrow (July 30)!

You can download the free iPad app from the Apple App Store. Also, check out the updated ScratchJr website.

Thank you for your support of ScratchJr. We hope you enjoy it!

(We’re now working on an Android version, for release later this year.)

– The ScratchJr Team

Thunderbirds are go!

The simplest leading indicators of future performance

Crystal Ball Future

I saw a note from one of my ex-colleagues from my 17 years at DEC in a long line of the mutual hatred of who became known as “GQ Bob”, aka Bob Palmer. Palmer presided over losses in 5 years that exceeded the total profits of the company in the preceding 35 years, before selling what was left to Compaq, who in turn sold out to HP. The note struck a chord with me:

I worked for a number of years in “The Mill”, the ancestral home of Digital Equipment Corporation. Each day, I’d walk up the hill from the lower Thompson Street parking lot and into the Thompson Street lobby, past the very-near-to-the-door visitor parking area (“Blue Pass Required!”). Each day, I’d see a white Porsche 911 parked in visitor parking. After months of this, my interest had been piqued, so I asked Security who was the visitor that parked their Porsche here day after day. “Oh, that’s no visitor; that’s Bob Palmer’s car. He’s VP of manufacturing. “Isn’t that *VISITORS ONLY* parking?” I asked?” I just got a shrug back. So I figured out where his office was in the Mill and took a walk down there. “Palatial” is the word that came to my mind; with huge office areas and practically no people. I formed my opinion of Bob Palmer that day, and it never changed the rest of the years I was at Digital.

When I was in the UK PC Dealer team back in 83-84, one of our account managers (David Bedding) visiting prospective resellers always did one piece of due diligence, and would walk away from anyone who violated it. He would measure the distance from the nearest visitor car parking space to the front door, and the nearest space reserved for employees (and especially so a Director) to that same door. If the visitor spot wasn’t closer, he wouldn’t sign them up on principle. He’d just report back that he was “underwhelmed” at the prospect of recruiting them and declined to waste his time doing so.

It was simply the best leading indicator of attitude to customers that no business plan could mask.

With hindsight, the other leading (negative) indicator was the owner having a goal to be bought out and to drive the business with that objective above all other considerations; the road was littered with the remains of those outfits.

Meanwhile, the ones that obsessed over their service to their customers, above all else, did far better. But that’s obvious, isn’t it?