During New York Social Media Week 2014, soft electronics rocked the spotlight. During Tech In Motion’s Wearable Technology Fashion Show, models showed off accessories and clothing that lit up, matched moods, and collected or displayed personal data.See also: Wearable Tech Walks The Runway In 3D Printed Heels
The softer side of wearable technology hides LED lights, battery packs, electronic devices, and even actual computers like the Raspberry Pi, in the folds of clothing fabric. Designers stitch up their concepts—part computer, part craft—with conductive thread. This isn’t just wearable tech—it’s sewable tech.
In a world where Google Glass and Pebble rule the day, it's easy to overlook their softer cousins just over the horizon. It’s not their heyday yet, but they’re clearly on the way.The Soft Spot Of Soft Wearables
Sensoree's GER Mood Sweater.
Look no further than Fashion Week. London-based CuteCircuit debuted its line of glowing iPhone-controlled dresses and suits. CuteCircuit, which has already made waves by designing high-tech gowns for celebrities, is the first wearable electronics company to present a line at Fashion Week.
The fashion industry is clearly warming to wearable tech. Recent examples include Intel’s partnership with fashion house Opening Ceremony to create a "smart bracelet" and Fitbit’s collaboration with Tory Burch to make chic versions of its fitness tracker.
So far, though, much of that activity involves "hard" accessories like bracelets. Actual clothing items, like Sporty Supahero, a light-up cycling jacket, or body metric tracker Hexoskin, are still highly expensive prototypes. What gives?See also: Smart Jewelry: 5 Gadgets To Keep Notifications At Your Fingertips
“It’s hard to make wearable tech washable,” said Kristin Neidlinger of Sensoree. “So far, electronics in fabric are tricky and delicate.”Don't Wash Me
Neidlinger designed a series of Mood Sweaters for the Wearable Technology Fashion Show, which are designed to help people with sensory processing disorders wear their feelings on the outside; the sweater is designed to change color to reflect the wearer’s mood. But since they’re netted with LED lights and conductive thread, they are currently dry-clean only.
There’s also the issue of battery packs, which can be large and unwieldy, sometimes creating an unsightly lump.
“It’d be great to take a CuteCircuits outfit apart to see where they hide the battery pack,” said Leslie Birch of Geisha Teku. Birch’s fashion show creation, the Florabrella, is a Blade Runner inspired umbrella with LED lights that change color to match the user’s outfit.
One of Birch’s solutions? To hide the battery holder inside a T-shirt tag. The LED Sequin that Birch uses in this project is hand-washable. But there's still no way to toss conductive clothing in the wash.
Soft electronics are lighting up the runway, but it’ll be a while until they’re in our closets. Designers know what the problems are, but they don’t have solutions yet.A Thriving DIY Community
If you can’t wait for soft wearables to get here, you’re not alone. Thousands of do-it-yourself minded makers have taken the craft into their own hands.
"I think a lot of it has to do with customization," said Birch. "If people want their electronic clothing to look cookie cutter, they'd go to Old Navy and buy the hoodie with the built in earbuds. I can make something that nobody else has."
One of the largest communities is at Adafruit, a DIY electronics hobby company. The company’s director of wearable electronics, Becky Stern, comes up with products, tutorials, and contests each #WearableWednesday on the community blog.
Stern got started in soft electronics in college, when she took a class on making wireless toys. In part thanks to things like the Adafruit Beginner LED Sewing Kit, it’s easier than ever for people of all ages to get started making wearable technology, no prior engineering knowledge required.
“Building electronics with your hands is certainly a fun brain exercise, but adding crafting into the mix really stretches your creativity,” said Stern. “Sewing is fun and relaxing, and adorning a plush toy, prom dress, or hat with a circuit of tiny parts can make you feel like you're some kind of futuristic fashion designer.”
Just like Internet of Things tinkerers have the Raspberry Pi and Arduino Uno as tools of choice, the soft electronics community also has adapted devices specifically for this hobby.
The Lilypad Arduino is a set of sewable electronic pieces developed by MIT Media Lab professor Leah Buechley. It’s smaller and flatter than an Arduino Uno, and is especially designed to be stitched to fabric with conductive thread. Buechley herself showed off its abilities with a biking jacket capable of LED turn signals just over your shoulder blades.
A similar platform is Adafruit’s FLORA, which the company released just last year. FLORA can be daisy chained with various sensors for GPS, motion, and light. On release, its touchstone project was a sparkle skirt that lights up when you move.
There aren’t any hard numbers on the DIY wearables community, but it’s clear from browsing members’ projects on Instructables that this group is far broader than your typical collection of electrical engineers. Stern also noted that there are 10,000 copies of FLORA in the wild, and the company ships them worldwide.
According to Stern, it’s simple. Make electronics touchable, and watch them take off.
“Playing with sensors and conductive textiles breaks electronics out of their hard shells and makes them more relatable,” she said.
Lilypad Arduino embroidery photo by Becky Stern; inline photos courtesy of Adafruit, Sensoree
The makers of Raspberry Pi have just released a sound card designed especially for the tiny, $35 Linux-based computer.
The Wolfson Audio Card.
The Wolfson Audio Card is being produced by Farnell Element 14, the same UK company that also manufactures the Raspberry Pi. At $33, the card costs nearly as much as a Raspberry Pi, and it's even almost the same size.
The audio add-on board fits directly onto the Raspberry Pi’s P5 pins. It features an onboard microphone and a Wolfson audio processor that supports high-res audio up to 24-bit / 192KHz. The board also hosts four 3.5 mm jacks—one for a headset/boom mic combination, one for mic input, one for connecting to devices like iPods and phones, and one for connection to amps or speakers.
But the most important feature of the new sound card is that it processes sound itself. External sound processing takes the load off the tiny Raspberry Pi processor and makes it sound better, opening up new DIY capabilities for the Pi.
Here are three projects you can make with a Wolfson Audio Card and a Raspberry Pi:VoIP for Raspberry Pi
Make cheap phone calls over the Internet by configuring your Raspberry Pi for Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). Use an open source program like Elastix to give your Pi VoIP capabilities, then connect a headset/boom mic combination to one of the Wolfson Audio Card’s 3.5 mm jacks to make hands-free conference calls.Voice Activate Your Pi See also: Raspberry Pi: Everything You Need To Know
Instructables user Janw used a vintage ‘50s intercom to turn his Pi into a "Raspberri Personal Assistant." But with the Wolfson Audio Card, you no longer need to go antiquing to complete this particular project. Attach the sound card to the Raspberry Pi and then follow the tutorial to set up voice command software for the same effect.Raspberry Pi Music Station
It was already possible to turn your Raspberry Pi into a remote Pandora music station by hooking it up to a pair of speakers. But when the Pi has to process sound itself, it becomes slower and lower quality than it would be on your average computer. By using the Wolfson as a go-between, it’s possible to get higher definition sound with less strain on the Pi.
These are just three of the projects that first come to mind. Farnell Element 14 also suggests using the Raspberry Pi as a high-definition audio recorder, or developing and playing online games that allow in-game audio so you can chat with friends.
Photos courtesy of Farnell element 14
The Jetsons-like future of cars that can drive themselves—or otherwise make the driving experience safer and more pleasant—is here. But fanfare aside, there's a far less pleasant issue that needs to be addressed: There is a profound potential for companies to misuse our data.
We all eagerly anticipate being saving a few cents off our regular gasoline bill, we may also be ensuring we're uninsurable—or worse. Who will protect us from our own data?The Rise (And Rise) Of The Data Monster
The automobile industry is taking data privacy very seriously, but it's going to be an ongoing issue for manufacturers to grapple with. Speaking at CeBit this past week, Volkswagen chairman Martin Winterkorn expressed concern that automobiles could become "data monsters":The car must not become a data monster. Car makers already protect drivers from hydroplaning, fatigue and traffic. They must also protect against government misuse of data. I clearly say yes to Big Data, yes to greater security and convenience, but no to paternalism and Big Brother.
That's easier said than done, especially when Winterkorn expects the auto manufacturers that stand to profit from our data to also selflessly protect it on our behalf. According to a report of his speech, Winterkorn called for a "voluntary commitment from the car industry to protect customer data and said his company stands ready to join such an effort."
What a nice sentiment. Sadly, the auto industry doesn't work that way.
I'm not ringing alarm bells or suggesting everyone return to the idyllic days of horse-drawn carriages. (Not so idyllic for horses.) Rather, I'm suggesting that in our frenetic rush to put our data to work, we've fallen woefully short of figuring out how to balance data protection with data use.The Problem Is Us
Striking this balance is tricky, particularly since we—the very people who generate the data—are so callous in our concern for how it is used, as I've argued before. So long as vendors like Volkswagen and Google make data-driven deals, we're likely going to keep shoveling them our data to make their vehicles go—literally.
Maybe the question isn't how can companies help us manage our data more wisely—but whether companies are willing to help us at all.
Companies are set up to make money: That is their raison d'être. It's probably asking too much to insist they put profit-maximizing motives aside for the greater good. And it may also be too much to ask consumers to curb their appetites for a deal, or stop peddling their data to the highest bidder—or really any bidder.
Hence, Tim O'Reilly suggests that the right answer might "not [be] to prohibit the collection of data, as so many misguided privacy advocates seem to urge, but rather, to prohibit its misuse once companies have that data." O'Reilly calls out insider trading regulations as an example of a law that kicks in once someone has extraordinary data. Getting the data isn't wrong, but using it in certain ways is.Let The Market Decide?
Trust in the government, at least here in the U.S., isn't exactly booming right now. It's hard to imagine good laws emerging from bodies so driven by special interests and partisanship. This could take awhile.
However, it's very possible that data protection will become a key feature vendors sell to differentiate themselves. Wal-Mart's Gibu Thomas, senior vice president of mobile and digital, puts it this way:The Walmart brand is fundamentally built on trust. It’s a place people have gone for many years, where they know they’ll save money. Our philosophy is pretty simple: When we use data, be transparent to the customers so that they can know what’s going on. There’s a clear opt-out mechanism. And, more important, the value equation has to be there. If we save them money or remind them of something they might need, no one says, “Wait, how did you get that data?” or “Why are you using that data?” They say, “Thank you!” I think we all know where the creep factor comes in, intuitively. Do unto others as you want to be done to you, right?
I suspect most people don't associate Wal-Mart with "trust," and even fewer people associate it with "data privacy." This isn't a knock on Wal-Mart, but rather a recognition that we're simply not far enough along to clearly distinguish between companies we can trust our data with, and those with we can't.
Take ownCloud. While not a consumer brand, and minuscule compared to competitors like Box and Dropbox, ownCloud recently raised another $6.3 million in its quest to give enterprises more control over their data. It's not hard to envision a day when consumer brands, too, will start to distinguish themselves in similar ways, offering consumers fine-grained control over their data.
Indeed, Google launched its Data Liberation Front years ago to provide just such a service, though it hasn't amplified this message as much lately. Only as the market matures and demands it will Google and others really elevate their standards for data privacy and security.Government And Markets
Today, we're happily selling our data birthright for a mess of pottage, and soon enough we're going to be throwing our data into Google's self-driving cars to save a few bucks on gas and give ourselves the luxury of texting while driving. But that's because this kind of data collection and usage is still so new that vendors don't really need to compete for our data—at least not yet.
Over time, as vendors start to blend together, data control will become a selling point, and so we'll see vendors giving us control not for our sakes, but rather for theirs. This won't replace government intervention, but rather complement the legislation. Together, the market and the law can help us tame our appetite for the almighty deal.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.
Even by NASA standards, the newest mission in search of life on other planets is really, really complicated. Loaded with literal moving parts, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope—“JWST” for short—is as ambitious as it is technically challenging. As anyone who watched the Mars Rover landing (or the movie Gravity) with bated breath can attest, a lot can go wrong in outer space.
That’s why virtual reality hardware—with the Oculus Rift VR headset leading the charge—provides a perfect testing ground for feats of engineering like the Webb spacecraft. And, believe it or not, the Webb team is already putting the Rift to the test.Not Your Average Space Telescope
NASA’s new space observatory—scheduled for an October 2018 launch—will ably take the baton carried by the Kepler spacecraft, NASA's prolific planet finder launched in 2009, to seek worlds that resemble our own. About as tall as a four story building, Webb is shaped more like a pirate ship than a rocket. That’s because Webb cleverly folds down to catch a ride into space.
Once there, the space telescope blooms from its flower bud-like form, all while it moves to its programmed position. To collect deeper data than anything ever launched into space, the spacecraft has unique features, like an advanced honeycomb of 18 gold hexagonal mirrors to gather light (in the form of heat) and a specialized sunshield canopy to keep the instruments extremely cool.
Unlike the Hubble space telescope, which hangs out in Earth’s orbit like a satellite, Webb will travel one million miles away from our home planet, where it will soak up data in the form of photons. Currently, three-quarters of the hardware, a massive engineering undertaking, is complete.Space Science Meets Game Science
The Oculus Rift has plenty of less astrophysical applications.
Here in Austin, NASA’s booth is stationed about 15 feet into SXSW 2014’s gaming expo—a cacophony of cosplay and virtual assault rifles—and that’s no coincidence. Given the increasing grandeur, intricacy and expense of the agency’s deep space missions, NASA's big dreams now intersect with the gaming industry’s expansive imagination at myriad points. (Beyond VR, NASA has partnered with the makers of the Kerbal Space Program, a space simulation game, to fire up interest in its [real] Asteroid Redirect Mission.)
Here at SXSW 2014, I spoke to Alberto Conti, an innovation manager and astrophysicist at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems—NASA’s main contractor for designing and building the JWST—about how virtual reality and the Oculus Rift are changing the game.
“There’s a lot—a lot—of modeling that’s been done in astronomy in general for many, many years,” Conti reminded me. But physical test chambers and non-immersive virtual modeling (think a PC screen) are giving way to hardware pioneered by the gaming world.
“One of the things that we’re very interested in doing is to try to use the Oculus. To try to use immersive realities to [create] scenarios for particular simulations: say you can simulate an instrument for example, or you can simulate our systems and how they behave,” Conti said. "We’re moving that direction."Be The Simulation
Webb's hexagonal sunshields.
Conti can wax downright enthusiastic about what engineers can accomplish with immersive virtual reality:
We have both this immersive 360 degree [simulator]—our 'holodeck'—but we also have the ability to hook up an Oculus. [Oculus] has the hardware right. It’s a very interesting piece of hardware because it changes the paradigm.... [Conti gestures at a massive touchscreen at the NASA booth showcasing the Kepler and Hubble missions.] This is immersive, it’s touch, it’s great—but you’re not in it.
You can imagine actually using [the Oculus Rift] for serious work. What if I have an engineer look at the schematics of how a particular instrument works? What if you could actually simulate how the light goes through an instrument inside the James Webb space telescope? That’s pretty powerful, right?
Particularly for things that are as complex as Webb. The more complex they are, the more the role of simulation is going to grow.
Conti also thinks the Oculus could help scientists browse massive data sets with only gestures and engineers test virtual instruments in two hours rather than waiting six months.
“I think we are starting to see all of this stuff become commercial and very, very cheap,” he said. "There’s going to be an explosion of these kinds of tools. Your minority report kind of thing is not that far fetched—people do it now. Oculus is getting very close to that."
Webb images courtesy of NASA/JWST; Oculus Rift image by Taylor Hatmaker for ReadWrite
Apple has released iOS 7.1, the latest version of the operating system that powers iPhones and iPads. It addition to fixing security vulnerabilities and other bugs, it bears several interesting new features.
iOS 7.1 formally introduces CarPlay, Apple’s new vehicular infotainment system for new cars in 2014. With CarPlay, Apple is making a play to be the de facto system for navigation through Apple Maps, music with iTunes and third party apps like Spotify, messaging and touch-less control through the Siri virtual assistant and phone calls.See also: Apple's iOS 7.1 Update Can't Come Soon Enough, Because The Bugs Are Piling Up
CarPlay will be shipped in cars from Volvo, Ferrari, Honda, Hyundai and Mercedes this year with partners like BMW, Chevrolet and Ford down the road.
Here are six other things you need to know about iOS 7.1.Push-Button Siri
The Siri virtual assistant has been improved to know when you stop talking. Hold down the Home button on your iPhone or iPad when speaking and release it so Siri stops listening. Basically, Apple has turned given Siri walkie-talkie capabilities. Certain languages and regions (Japanese, Mandarin, British English and Australian English) have more natural and easier to understand language.Flat Gets Flatter
iOS 7.1 brings a couple design tweaks to the flat design that Apple first rolled out in iOS 7. Users can now switch between light and dark keyboards through the “Accessibility” settings. Several icons are more defined, such as the Message, Phone and FaceTime app icons. The “parallax” effect (where the screen moves in the background) can now be disabled or reduced.New Camera Settings
iPhone 5S users get new settings in iOS 7.1. HDR (high dynamic range) will turn on automatically for iPhone 5S users. HDR basically makes the camera app take several pictures at different exposures and then composites them together to be a sharper final image. HDR was originally released with iOS 7 on the iPhone 5S and is not available to other iPhone models that don't carry the A7 processor.Touch ID Improved
Many users have complained that the Touch ID fingerprint sensor on the iPhone 5S does not work well after a couple months of use. This is partly a hardware problem but also a software issue. In iOS 7.1, Apple has improved the Touch ID software to be more accurate leading to quicker response times fewer rejections. Let us know in the comments if the update to Touch ID improves the performance on your iPhone 5S.Improved Performance For iPhone 4
The oldest Apple device that can run iOS 7.1 is the iPhone 4. Many users complained that the iPhone 4 was basically unusable with iOS 7 and took Apple to task for basically turning their phones shiny bricks. In iOS 7.1, Apple promises improved performance for the iPhone 4 with better responsiveness.Calendar Design Update
It may be a small token, but Apple did improve the way you see events in “Month View” in the calendar app to be more accessible and readable.
Have you downloaded iOS 7.1 yet? What changes do you see to Apple’s latest update? Let us know in the comments.
Despite winning the mobile platform battle against Apple, Google may have ultimately lost the war by focusing on the wrong battle. While Google dominates mobile with Android, its $50 billion advertising business is in serious jeopardy as content becomes app-ified. By focusing on a platform for native apps, while essentially ignoring HTML5, Google may have helped to prop up a market that is somewhat immune to Google's search technology.The Web Plays Second Fiddle To Native Apps
I use Google constantly on my phone, looking up answers to questions, translations, dictionary definitions and more. But I'm the exception to the rule, a rule that says people spend far more time with mobile apps than the mobile Internet. As recent Nielsen data shows, we spend the vast majority of our time with apps, not the mobile web, when using our devices:
Given Google's dominance of the mobile operating system market, it's easy to forget that Google sits atop a $50 billion advertising business that depends upon its ability to index content and advertise against that content. In a mobile world that is more fixated on apps than the web, however, Google has a problem, as The Wall Street Journal's Rolfe Winkler highlights:
Google spiders can't freely crawl apps, where mob dev users spend 80% of their time. Big challenge to its search biz. http://t.co/rWKDV5wQMN— Rolfe Winkler (@RolfeWinkler) March 10, 2014
What's a search giant to do?Deep Links To The Rescue
Google has taken a few different tactics to address the mobile app problem, among them "deep links" into apps, whereby a developer makes the content within her app discoverable to Google. Winkler notes:Google in the fall launched an initiative to better see—and direct—what smartphone and tablet users do on their devices. The effort seeks to mimic what Google built on the Web, with an index of the content inside mobile apps and links pointing to that content featured in Google's search results on smartphones.
Such "deep links" into apps could prove to be an acceptable way to index all of the content currently buried from Google's view inside apps. But given that Google must strike deals individually with each app owner, rather than proactively scouring the web for content, Google has set itself an incredibly difficult task.
There are, after all, more than one million apps in the Apple AppStore, and a similar number in the Google Play store. That's a lot of conversations for Google to have, even if it is making it possible for developers to reach out to it.HTML5 And The Mobile Web
It needn't be this way. One of the core premises of HTML5 is that HTML5 apps—even hybrid apps that combine both HTML5 and native code—are searchable. This is good for Google, of course, but it's also good for developers. The primary problem that any developer has is to get someone to use her application. It's this same principle that has made open source so successful: proprietary software protects first in order to monetize, but it's impossible to monetize something that no one knows or cares about.
And yet Google's efforts in HTML5 have been somewhat muted.
This isn't to suggest that Google hasn't promoted HTML5. It has. Google has been evangelizing HTML5 for years through sites like HTML5 Rocks, great design tools and other means. And yet both Apple and Microsoft have often more vocal proponents of HTML5 than Google.
No matter Google's sincerity on HTML5, however, is the reality that it doesn't appear to be united in its efforts to make the mobile web searchable, as former Mozilla CEO (and current partner with Greylock, a venture firm) John Lilly points out:
@mjasay it's almost like they're divisionalized & fighting a multi-front war. puts incredible pressures on even very good companies.— John Lilly (@johnolilly) March 10, 2014 Building The Web Google's Way
Yes, there are problems with HTML5. It still doesn't deliver the performance that native code can. But often this criticism applies to 100% HTML5 apps, and misses the more popular hybrid approach. Developers are increasingly targeting HTML5, as a recent VisionMobile report indicates, though generally as their back-up to Android and iOS, which Google should do more to foster and to target.
Google knows how to index the web. By investing heavily in improving and promoting HTML5, Google could help to build the mobile web, and monetize it handsomely.
This isn't without precedent. Back in 2001 IBM announced that it would spend $1 billion to make Linux an enterprise-grade operating system. Thirteen years later, Linux dominates a broad swath of markets. Perhaps it's time for Google to make its own $1 billion commitment, this time to HTML5.
In his first live video interview, renowned NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden told attendees at South by Southwest Interactive that as citizens, it’s our responsibility to install basic encryption measures and demand increased reform surrounding government mass surveillance.
“What I wanted to do [by leaking the documents] was inform the public so they could debate a decision and provide consent for what we should do,” he said via a somewhat flaky video link.
When asked what the average user can do to protect themselves against invasions of privacy, Snowden said that full disk encryption, network encryption and Tor browsing is effective for deterring mass surveillance. Tor is a heavily encrypted network that protects users' online browsing and communication, but it is difficult for the average consumer to install and use.
Even Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who works closely with Snowden in the continued disclosure of NSA documents, did not know how to use encrypted technologies when he began communicating with the whistleblower. Both Snowden and panel moderators at today’s SXSW festival joked about the “Glenn Greenwald test,” meaning if the average person doesn’t know how to use encrypted technologies, they won’t be implemented on a large scale—so any new secure communication methods need to be easily accessible to the average person.
The event in Austin, Texas, attracts technologists from around the world, many of whom understand and know how to install things like Tor. The people who attended his panel likely have the ability to learn and educate the general public about the importance of secure encryption, and some can even create better, more mainstream systems that can be used by a broader audience in the future.
“[Governments] are setting fire to the future of the Internet, and the people in this room now are all the firefighters,” Snowden said.Collect Data, But Don’t Store It
The audience at Snowden's live interview.
Snowden, a former NSA contractor, is not opposed to all surveillance. He acknowledged that data collection is important for both national security and business that operate in a free market online. It’s how the government or companies use the data that’s the problem.
“It’s not that you can’t collect any data, it’s that you should only collect the data and hold it as long as necessary for the operation,” he said. “Even companies whose business models collect data, don’t need to store it after it’s used.”
When Snowden leaked information about an NSA program called PRISM that exposed the government data collection from technology companies including Google and Facebook, it brought up the question of whether voluntarily giving your data to companies to use for advertising is just as bad as the government itself collecting it.
Both Google and Facebook use people’s data to sell them advertisements by scraping and indexing keywords that appear in searches and conversation. It’s similar to blanket NSA surveillance that collects data from citizens.
The difference, Snowden said, is that people using Facebook or Google aren’t forced to give up information. “Companies can surveil you to sell you products and that can be bad,” he said “But technically it’s voluntary contracts.”Putting The Entire Country’s Safety At Risk
The Snowden documents continue to reveal that the U.S. government has elevated offensive operations, like spying on citizens both at home and abroad, instead of defensive operations that protect intellectual property and communications of our own.
“So much of our country’s economic success is based on our intellectual property, and our ability to create and share and compete,” Snowden said. “America has more to lose than anyone else.”
By prioritizing its efforts on information collection, it opens the U.S. up for potential cybersecurity attacks. And when the government monitors and reports everyone’s communications instead of targeting suspects, there is very little value to be gained.
Snowden said that because there is no accountability in the federal government for organizations like the NSA, there needs to be a group of trusted public representatives and civil rights officials that oversees government regulation.
“We need a watchdog that watches Congress,” and calls them out on the lies, he said. Which then begs the question: Who watches the watchmen?
Throughout the talk Snowden didn’t once mention his exile or his status as one of America’s most wanted men. The candid conversation focused on his desire to educate the public about the continued violation of rights, and what the average person can do to protect themselves, and, eventually, succeed at reforming the government.
Snowden doesn’t regret a thing—he said if he could do it all again, he would. “I took an oath to support and defend the Constitution, and I saw the constitution was violated on a massive scale,” he said.
Regardless of whether or not people support Snowden’s actions, his disclosures have significantly improved Internet security, and have sparked a conversation and debate about privacy that may have never happened without him.
Lead image by Taylor Hatmaker for ReadWrite
Editor's note: This post was originally published by our partners at PopSugar Tech.
Reading the entire Harry Potter series in a week—could it be possible?! Spritz, a new app that debuted at last month's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, wants to reinvent how you read and get you bolting through books while you do it. It will be loaded on Samsung's upcoming Galaxy S5 and Galaxy Gear 2 smartwatch devices as an email app that moves away from scrolling, swiping, and pinching by streaming words one at a time at the user's reading speed.
Spritz's technology streams words individually using a display called a Redicle, which keeps the eye centered on the same place as each new word appears. According to Spritz's research, the most time-consuming part of reading is the act of the eye moving from word to word across the page. In aligning the word, as seen in the nearby example, the brain and eye don't have to waste time processing movement and can get on to the reading. Finally conquer A Song of Ice and Fire!
In addition to English, Spritz supports Spanish, French, German, Russian, and Korean, and is working on getting the app to customers beyond the new Samsung gadgets soon. If you need to get kick-start your reading time now, read on for more apps that'll have you zooming through books.Velocity
As its name suggests, Velocity ($3) wants to push your reading time to superhuman levels. The app, specifically made for the iOS 7 interface, also uses a one-word-at-a-time approach, but it's the integration into the iPhone ecosystem that we love. Avid users of Instapaper and Pocket can speed read the articles saved in those services through Velocity, so you can perfect this habit with materials that'll captivate you.
Speed Reading Trainer
Androidians, the free Speed Reading Trainer promises to get you up to 500 words per minute in two weeks. Continue to check your progress as you increase read times with the app's diagnostic tool.Acceleread
Turn your speed-reading practice into a game with Acceleread (iOS, free with in-app upgrades starting at $5), which lets you create measurable goals within its training course program. Receive gold stars and trophies when you reach reading goals and track your progress with charts that show your current speed, highest speed, and average speed. It's for the speed-reading data hound!
Image courtesy of Getty/Daniel Roland
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Google may be commonly associated with Google Glass, one of the most striking, and perhaps strangest, wearable devices out there. But where development of new wearable technology is concerned, the fun is just beginning, a top Google executive said Sunday.
Wearable gadgets aren't just smart versions of glasses or watches, but also anything that embeds sensors that can collect data and deliver it to devices that can then better serve their users, said Sundar Pichai, senior vice president of Chrome, Android and apps at Google. And where that broader wearables market is concerned, "we are just scratching the surface," he said.
Pichai discussed wearables and all things Android in an on-stage interview with author and Federated Media founder John Battelle at SXSW Interactive in Austin, Texas, on Sunday.Google's Wearable Strategy: Everything And Then Some
It is often easy to forget that Google isn’t necessarily a hardware company. It partners with manufacturers to make smartphones and tablets under the Nexus series and also has a manufacturer build Google Glass for it. Chromebooks with Chrome OS are made by partners. When the Motorola sale to Lenovo becomes official, Google will be officially out of any part of the hardware manufacturing game.See also: Google To Release Android Software Developer Kit For Wearables
Which means that if and when Google comes out with a smartwatch, it will be in conjunction with some type of manufacturing partner. The rumors now are pointing to a Google smartwatch in conjunction with LG to be announced at its Google I/O at the end of June. In the meantime, Google will make a play to dominate the wearable world in the same way it does the mobile world with a new software developer kit for Android to be released this month.
"In two weeks we are launching the first developer SDK for Android [wearables]. That will lay out the vision for developers in how we see this market working," Pichai said. "When we think of wearables, we think of it as a platform. We see a world of sensors. Sensors can be small and powerful and gather a lot of information that can be useful for users. We want to build the right APIs for this world of sensors.”
Google doesn’t think of wearable gadgets as just smartwatches, fitness bands, or Google Glass, Pichai said. Any type of wearable technology, be it sensors embedded in your jacket or your shoe, is the target Google is shooting for. It is the essence of the connected self that Google wants, and it needs developers to build the applications necessary to achieve that reality.
Pichai did not say how long Google has been working on the wearable SDK, but Apigee developers Prabhat Jha and Ed Anuff figured that Google could put together a skeleton SDK (like the initial one Google released for Chromecast recently) in two weeks or a fully featured one in about six months. The question of how long Google has been working on the wearable SDK is pertinent after Samsung ditched Android for Linux-based Tizen in its new Gear 2 and Gear Fit smartwatches.
Is Google just reacting to Samsung, or has it long planned to release an SDK intended to dominate the wearable space? We will learn when the wearables SDK drops in a couple of weeks and software developers give us their impressions on its depth and capabilities.The View From Android Central
Pichai also discussed Android at length, although his spiel on the subject hasn't evolved much. To wit: Android is open-source and freely available to anyone and has great benefit to manufacturers and developers because of its massive scale.
“Android is one of the most open systems I’ve ever seen. What makes Android great is it’s literally designed from the ground up to be customized in a very powerful way,” Pichai said.
As with any mega company with a platform that affects millions upon millions of people, Google gets its fair share of speculation, gossip and general interest into what actually happens with Android. What does Google think of Amazon and Nokia’s use of Android? Is Android really free? What kind of stipulations does Google give its business partners? What is really the relationship between Samsung and Google like?See also: Sure, Microsoft Could 'Fork' Android—But It Would Be A Huge Waste Of Time
Amid all that speculation, Pichai sat down to … reaffirm the official talking points Google has laid out for Android.
“Nothing that we do is ever exclusive,” Pichai said about Android licensing agreements and placing Google services on devices from hardware manufacturers like Samsung or HTC. “We do have business relationships, we do licensing relationships and people want to use Google services on top of Android. But in theory you can use Android without Google. If you do a licensing arrangement, we do require our services to be installed, but it’s not exclusive—you can preload any other services you want.”
Pichai and Google will insist forever that nothing nefarious is going on with Android. They respect users privacy, they are not racketeering manufacturers into Google Mobile services and so forth. The Android Open Source Project is open to all that wish to use it. Google Mobile Services is a contractual agreement where Google’s apps get pre-loaded onto manufacturers’ smartphones.
This is the essential white and black of Android, and neither Pichai nor Google will go into what individual business contracts look like with each one of its partners. When it comes to Android, Google sets performance and design standards and benchmarks and will be involved in the quality assurance testing of mobile devices. How manufacturers customize devices and what they pre-load onto it is of less concern to Google than making sure that the Google apps and cloud integration are present.
Mt. Gox, the Bitcoin exchange that was the victim of a massive hacker attack that stole hundreds of millions of dollars of its users’ bitcoins—forcing the company to file for bankruptcy protection—is under attack again. This time, the exchange says a group of hackers has broken into the company’s servers, allegedly targeting the company’s CEO, Mark Karpeles, in a search for answers.
According to Forbes, hackers on Sunday allegedly hijacked Karpeles’ personal blog and Reddit account to post a pair of angry letters, which said the Mt. Gox CEO had stolen at least some of users’ bitcoins for himself. Included with the letters was a large file that contained an Excel spreadsheet, which purports to show Mt. Gox’s company balances in 18 different currencies, including Bitcoin—something the hackers hoped to use as proof of Karpeles’ lying about users’ lost or stolen money.
Accepting cash in the form of VC funding is not the right choice for all entrepreneurs or business models. Although money is always tight, some startup founders decide that they want to go about fundraising a different way—one that doesn't involve giving away big pieces of the equity pie.
Eleven entrepreneurs from the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) offer some tips for raising money without relying on venture capital:1. Merchant Cash Advances
Although I rarely recommend them to my merchant account clients, in some instances, obtaining a merchant cash advance on your credit card processing income can be a great way to get a cash infusion. If you're not in a position to get bank financing and aren't looking for a traditional investment, these advances can be a good option.
You'll need to have at least one year of history with a credit card processor to apply. The good news is there are options that exist that won't sit on your personal credit. And in some cases, you can negotiate the terms of payback time and interest with the provider.
If you don't want to take VC money just yet or you're unclear of the path you'll take, convertible notes are a great way to raise money. Basically, you open conditions like, "We want to raise $500,000," and you give investors conditions on the minimum investment and the prices for your stock.
Then investors have the option of keeping this money as a loan and returning it or converting it into shares when a larger round of funding takes place. It's great because it allows you to have a flexible valuation until the company has proven traction.
At Switch, we went the route of raising money from friends and family and staying lean and becoming extremely good at managing cash flow. I continue to own 100 percent of the company. It has been stressful to not have some backup cash in the bank, but owning and controlling the destiny of the company is an awesome end result.
VC money is tough to acquire, so most small businesses need to look for alternative forms of financing. A popular way to raise initial capital, as well as develop a proof of concept is through crowdfunding.
If you're developing a product, you can fund your business through pre-orders; otherwise you can offer other rewards in exchange for donations. Thanks to the JOBS Act, you can now crowdfund for equity, which has begun to become popular through platforms such as Fundable.
Before starting a company, I thought "charge card" was just another term for "credit card." In fact, they are different things entirely.
A charge card allows cardholders to spend much larger amounts of money, but the credit limit must be paid back more quickly (usually in less than 90 days). If you're looking for working capital to help run your business in the short term (for example, while you're waiting to be paid by clients), charge cards can be the perfect solution.
ZinePak has a few charge cards. Our favorite is the Plum Card by American Express, which rewards cardholders with 1.5 percent cash back for charges that are paid off in full within 10 days of the statement date.
One red flag for investors of startups is when founders don't seem committed to the project. Employees can walk away from a business at the drop of a hat. If an investor puts money into a venture that loses its founders in the early development of the company, the company usually fails.
If you put your own money into a project, I guarantee your company will have a higher chance of success than if you took only outside investor dollars. Extending this even further and encouraging your employees to invest in the company can further commit each employee to the success of the company while getting you the funding you need.
Financing of tangible assets is a lot less risky for lenders than a cash advance on future sales or a personal loan. Many reputable equipment finance firms will offer 100 percent financing on everything a startup needs, from servers to computers to filing furniture and fixtures.
Leveraging good personal credit as a guarantor can help build credit for a business equipment loan that will be paid back through the guarantor's personal finances if the business fails to pay it. This frees up valuable capital that can be used for payroll and other marketing expenses.
I am not a fan of cash advances because the interest rates will crush a young company, and they are usually impossible to pay back early, even if you attempted to refinance them.
Zig Ziglar said it best: "Timid salesmen have skinny kids." His quote expresses the truth about selling and growing a business. If you're scared to sell, then you're going to have a very tough time making it in business.
The best way to fund your business is to get sales. Get on the phone, call your customers and make them an offer. We found out that our customers wanted someone to set up campaigns for them and would pay for it. Knowing this, we then started a service side of the business and generated $20,000 the first month. Sales cures all.
Institutions are lending, rates are still relatively low, and securing a good business loan is a real option.
If possible, opt for a line of credit. A line gives you complete flexibility to spend and repay the loan at your discretion while only paying interest on the amount used. If you are a product company, factoring receivables is also a very strong option. If cash flow is tight and you need to finance the next round of product or cover payroll, factoring can provide a relatively fast and low-cost alternative to a conventional loan.
I have worked with and mentored so many entrepreneurs who tell me they feel there are no financing options out there for their businesses, yet they have zero revenue or aren't even trying to earn revenue. Here's the thing: Most businesses never get VC funding, and many can't even get bank loans when they are starting out. Often, the only way to "make it" is through cash flow.
So before you try alternative financing options, are you selling something? If not, what can you offer to earn money even if it's not ultimately what you want your main revenue stream to be in the future? I know a video software company that started to earn revenue through video production consulting. Having cash on hand during their shift from a service-based to a product-based business helped them thrive.
If you have a good product, money isn't hard to come by. The hard part is finding good people who offer a strategic benefit to your company and its development.
To start gathering funding, make an initial round of friends and family and ask them for suggestions and further networking opportunities. Use your parents' Christmas card list and your very popular sister's Facebook page. See if you can get someone close to you excited.
Once you uncover a passionate angel investor, you can use generated profit to open a line of credit. The most important aspect in financing decisions is to find personalities that complement yours and people who are excited to invest and stay behind the scenes. If you have a good product, people will give you money.
—Ty Morse, Songwhale
Google's head of Chrome and Android, Sundar Pichai, announced today that the company would release a new software developer kit for wearable gadgets within the next two weeks. Speaking with John Battelle at a panel discussion at SXSW 2014, Pichai mentioned that new SDK was coming from Google to help developers create Android apps for devices like smartwatches and fitness bands.
"In two weeks we are launching the first developer SDK for Android. That will lay out the vision for developers in how we see this market working," Pichai said.
Pichai didn't give more details of what the Android SDK for wearables would specifically entail, but it will likely help developers take advantage of current and emerging sensor technology that will be baked into smartwatches and fitness bands. Google has released similar SDKs for Android for television, automobiles and tablets.
Facebook announced today that its developers conference—F8—will return after a hiatus of three years on April 30th at at the San Francisco Design Concourse. Parse CEO Ilya Sukhar announced the return of f8 at an event at South By Southwest in Austin, Texas.
Event registration and details will be made by Facebook shortly. For more information, see the F8 event page here.
Thirty years in, one of gaming’s weirdest persisting legends is about to get mythbusted.
The story is one of a fallen gaming great’s secret shame: a landfill containing millions of copies of Atari’s worst-selling, worst-received game ever: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Atari, a multi-billion industry leader in its prime, remains a compelling case study in corporate collapse, and a nostalgic soft spot for gamers the world over, who are dying to see what comes out of the landfill.
For decades gamers have speculated about the site’s whereabouts, long thought to be somewhere near Area 51—a fact that amps up the mystery factor, naturally. Xbox, now producing its own original content, took interest in unearthing the mystery and airing the next chapter in a quasi-fable that loyal gamers have followed for three decades.
Fuel Entertainment’s Mike Burns, a longtime Atari fan, is partnering with documentary filmmakers Simon and Jonathan Chinn of Lightbox to provide Microsoft a run of five to ten Xbox Live-exclusive original films, starting with the hour-long "Dumping The Alien: Unearthing The Atari Graveyard." The team will be literally digging up Atari’s so-called “concrete tomb”—pinpointed to Alamogordo, New Mexico, in the coming months. Lightbox’s Jonathan Chinn and Fuel’s Burns swung by SXSW to update the gaming world on their progress.Bringing The Myth To Light
Atari’s mega-flop, 1982’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial for the Atari 2600, was commissioned as a companion experience to the wild success of the feature film. Atari’s parent company Warner Entertainment misgauged the gaming community in a decision that proved fatal: instead of easy sales, the game was met with near universal derision—a failure that factored into the massive losses the company experienced starting in 1983. “It’s absolutely unplayable,” says Chinn. "It’s the worst game of all time.”
Gaining access to the site required written permission from the city of Alamagordo, a process that took about a year and a half, including sit-down meetings to convince the mayor of the cultural significance of the city’s (second) odd claim to fame. Lots of things about Alamogordo are weird. The first atomic bomb was detonated there, for one.
“If we have to wear hazmat suits in order to excavate it, we will,” says Chinn. "As long as we don’t have a bulldozer hit an atomic bomb that wasn’t detonated—but that would make a theatrical release for sure. I think there’s gonna be a lot of stuff there … it’s not just like a little treasure chest. It’s 10 truckloads of Atari merchandise.”
According to Chinn, even the Smithsonian Institute has expressed interest in taking home a piece of whatever retro gaming history is unearthed. But the excavation team thinks they’ll be so much that, ironically, they’ll probably have to trash the bulk of it all over again.More Than A Crappy Game
The project—undertaken out of sheer fanboy curiosity before Microsoft was involved—is about more than solving a mystery. The dump site, half urban legend, half corporate failure coverup, symbolizes a half billion dollar misfire that went down in history. “Atari should be Apple,” says Chinn. “What the hell happened at Atari? We wanted to unearth the story of why a company that had everything going for it failed.”
For the gaming community, Atari’s E.T. flop is also an emblem of the disconnect between Warner Communications—which bought Atari in 1976—and the era's nascent gaming community. The game’s designer, Howard Scott Warshaw, was given an insanely brief six weeks to create the game, start to finish.
“Some say that considering he had six weeks, it was a masterpiece,” says Chinn. “Atari means something to all of us. The idea that I had video games in my house that I could play whenever I wanted—that’s in a way what the promise of the digital revolution was about.”
When Chinn asked a room of maybe 100 people here at South By Southwest Interactive how many would be interested in making the pilgrimage to New Mexico for the dig in the coming months, roughly 50 raised their hands. The team behind the film invites gamers to show up and take home a literal part of video game history.
But what if they come up empty handed? Chinn remains confident: “I know they’re there. I know they’re somewhere in that landfill. We can’t dig up the whole landfill—it’s hundreds of acres. If it’s not there … well, we’re going to keep digging until we find it.”
Header image by Taylor Hatmaker for ReadWrite
Weeks after Pebble gave iPhone users access to its smartwatch app store, the company has finally opened it up to Android users as well. At the announcement, Pebble also revealed a new set of app partners, one of whom now offers an intriguing new use for the smartwatch: the ability to control smart homes from your wrist.See also: 10 Cool Things A Pebble Smartwatch Can Do
Pebble had previously announced a partnership with iControl, whose technology powers smart home services from companies like Comcast Cable, ADT and Time Warner Cable. TWC has now released a Pebble app for its Intelligent Home subscribers. Using the watch, they can change the control modes for their connected-home gadgets—from "home" to "away," for instance, which might turn off lights and lower the thermostat. They can also monitor their thermostats and even change the ambient temperature before they arrive home, among other things.
Pebble's previously announced Mercedes-Benz partnership also materialized this week with its new DriveStyle Pebble app. The killer features include vibration alerts for road hazards, accidents and speed limits, as well as control over navigation, music and social networks. The app, however, only works with a Mercedes vehicle (not included) and an iPhone. You'll also need Drive Kit Plus, an iPhone integration setup for the Mercedes.
Apps from the two other new Pebble partners, eBay and Evernote, are a bit more universal. The former lets users find products on the online auction site, tap into eBay Feeds and add items to Watch Lists. The latter puts Evernote checklists, reminders and notebooks on your wrist.
These join other smartwatch apps—including Yelp, ESPN, Foursquare and GoPro, among others—which are all available in the Pebble Appstore. Android users can get access by updating their Pebble mobile app to version 2.0 in Google Play.
Though some of these apps have a limited audience, they speak to the expanding features and usability of Pebble, in particular, and perhaps smartwatches in general—suggesting that the next great mobile revolution really might be within arm's reach.
Feature image by Adriana Lee for ReadWrite; all others courtesy of Pebble
MOOCs, or massive open online courses, are quickly becoming technology darlings. Companies like Coursera, Udacity, edX and others provide college-caliber online courses taught by professors from the most prestigious universities. Millions of students interested in pursuing inexpensive post-secondary education can take classes on anything from nutritional health to machine learning—right from the comfort of their own home.
It’s not just about learning new skills. "Graduates" of these classes can receive paid course certificates or accreditation, which is always great to showcase on LinkedIn. Some organizations, like Udacity, have even partnered with universities to create entirely MOOC-based degrees.
I registered for a five-week course on Coursera, Terrorism and Counterterrorism: Comparing Theory And Practice. I’m interested in global politics and how the definition and scope of terrorism has changed since September 11, 2001, and since the topic was equally intriguing and different from the tech community I’m knee-deep in, I figured this class would provide a good introduction to massive open online courses.
The course was available under Coursera’s “Signature Track” program, so I paid $49 to receive a certificate of completion when I passed the class. It was a waste of $49.
I failed my first MOOC.
It wasn’t for lack of trying. When I first signed up, I took it very seriously.MOOCs Are Not A Substitute For College
I’ve argued, and still believe, the traditional university lecture is dead. As online education programs skyrocket in popularity, brick-and-mortar universities are embracing aspects of the online college lecture, like interactive videos and online discussion forums.
The difference is, MOOC professors are teaching thousands of students—hundreds of thousands in some cases—thus eliminating the intimacy of one-on-one interactions that are so beneficial in most offline classroom settings.See Also: Udacity Ignores Reality, Founds Open Education Alliance
My Coursera professor, Edwin Bakker from Leiden University in the Netherlands, taught the course via video lectures. He provided great insight, paired it with interesting required readings, and led Google Hangouts throughout the course, though only a handful of students were able to participate. Time zone differences and limited space ultimately resulted in a select few students receiving the opportunity to participate in this more intimate online setting.
Furthermore, the MOOC system for reviewing and grading submitted material is still imperfect. Granted, automatically-graded quizzes make it easy to keep track of one's marks, and instructors or teaching assistants are good at providing feedback through discussion forums or otherwise, but assignments that required me to submit essays or complex answers beyond multiple-choice questions weren't graded by the instructor—which, in my case, turned out to be detrimental to the overall class experience.You Just Can’t Trust The Internet
In my entire college career, I never failed a class. I pulled all-nighters to study for tests and write essays, and all the work I put in eventually paid off. My Coursera class was a totally different story.
I'll admit it: I had minimal motivation. Sure, I didn’t want to waste $49, but I certainly didn’t stay up all night finishing a 600-word essay—the goal of receiving a course completion certificate just wasn't appealing enough.
Students on the Signature Track were required to submit two essays and pass multiple quizzes. The quizzes were easy—we were given multiple attempts to get a perfect score—but the essays were a different story. Since the professor was unable to grade them himself, each student was subject to peer reviews—five of them. And each review impacted your grade.
Students were given a rubric to follow, and the graders would base their assessment off that. To pass, we needed to get 60% on each essay—this would account for 30% of the final grade.See Also: Online Education Is Trying Very Hard To Make Itself More Respectable
I failed my first essay. All but one reviewer gave me a failing grade, for reasons unknown.
One reviewer claimed my using Fox News as a source rendered all my other sources meaningless. (Normally I would agree with the commenter, however it was an essay about the Oklahoma City Bombing, and I linked to bomber Timothy McVeigh’s letter to Fox News. You can read my essay here.)
Admittedly, the essay was not my best work. When I’m taking a college-level course without paying college-level prices, or getting anything in return besides knowledge or a completion certificate, I simply won’t try as hard. But I did follow the rubric and met all the requirements for a passing grade.
In true Internet fashion, these peer reviews were totally anonymous. I couldn’t discuss with my reviewer why he or she thought my essay was lousy, and I couldn’t defend my link to Fox News. I felt uncomfortable and powerless. Stupid. This is not an environment that encourages productive learning.
To achieve certification, students must finish both essays and grade other students’ contributions. I knew my next essay would be just as bad as the first one, considering the amount of time I spent writing it, and knowing I couldn’t give anymore of my already busy schedule to this class, I failed.A Probability Of Failure
I wish I could say my experience was unique. But if you sign up for a massive open online course, chances are you won’t finish it.
On Coursera, the average student retention rate is just four percent. No more than 51 percent of students passed Udacity’s online math program offered at San Jose State University. And according to a study released in May 2013, the average MOOC completion rate was just 6.8 percent, and the six most-completed courses relied on automatic testing, not peer review grading.
Completion rates for MOOCs are so poor, Udacity’s founder Sebastian Thrun admitted his company doesn’t educate people the way he intended.
In an effort to combat abysmal completition rates, Coursera is creating degree-like programs that give paying students a more substantial certificate of completion after passing all the classes in a specialization certificate group.
“We do believe doing a capstone project and earning a specialization certificate will provide greater incentive and motivation for students to complete,” Coursera cofounder and co-CEO Andrew Ng told ReadWrite earlier this year.
As much as I wanted to finish my course, the time restrictions and the grading process turned me off. And thus, I became just another one of the vast majority of students who fail massive open online courses.How MOOCs Can Succeed
There are a variety of factors that, if implemented, would make me want to take another online course.
For starters, anonymous grading should not determine the students' success—at least not by itself. If I had the ability to defend myself and possibly change a grade, I might be more inclined to get actively involved. In college, I was always allowed, if not encouraged, to meet with the professor or teaching assistant who graded my work to challenge or ask questions if I didn't agree with the final grade. Even if I didn't change someone's mind, chatting with someone made feel more at ease.
YouTube, one of the world's leading online social platforms, recently nixed anonymous comments; now, anyone who chooses to leave feedback on a video must do so with their Google+ profile attached to it. If comments on cat videos require a personal identity, then I think essays for online courses should, too.
One reason MOOCs are so popular is because they're so cheap. While this is good for many students that can't afford a traditional college route, other students require further incentive. The price point for certificates of completion is relatively inexpensive—unlike universities that cost an arm and a leg.
A former Coursera student told me earlier this year that he would rather pay $600 for a class offered through a university than take a similar subject online, simply because he knew he would be more inclined to finish it with a significant investment. Coursera's initiative into specialty courses are aiming to do this: By charging more money for a more comprehensive program, students are incentivized to finish the courses they paid good money for, and the program becomes more well-rounded, too.
MOOCs provide invaluable resources for continuing education and opportunities for students to take courses they might not have otherwise taken. But when I compare my experience, albeit just one course, to the education I received at a traditional university, I wouldn’t trade my in-person college career for a suite of online class credentials, no matter how many university heavyweights stand behind them.
Lead image by Adriana Lee for ReadWrite.
Google chairman Eric Schmidt and Director of Google Ideas Jared Cohen led a discussion at Friday’s SXSW event in Austin, Texas, which described the ways technology is impacting privacy, security and policy on a global scale.
The two Google execs said they visited at least 35 countries, a majority of them unstable autocracies such as North Korea, and examined the impact technology is having on citizens in those countries.See also: Google's Game Of Moneyball In The Age Of Artificial Intelligence
As citizens are empowered with mobile phones and connectivity, Eric Schmidt said “revolutions are going to be easier to start, but harder to finish."
According to a report from Pew Internet, emerging nations are catching up to the U.S. when it comes to technology adoption, specifically of mobile devices and social media.
Although Internet access is not nearly as prevalent in developing countries, those who do have access are using social media to reach out to the world. For instance, in Egypt, 88% of Internet users are using social media—taking to those websites to drive global awareness of violence and uprisings around the Arab Spring. Stories surrounding the Syrian civil war are also being told on social media—so much so that the government is attacking its citizens to combat information leaving the country.
Cohen said the situation in Syria is so bad that people are getting killed over their social media posts.
Grassroots revolutions like these have inspired governments to try and control the Internet. But what they’ve found is that by turning off the Internet, they admit they are afraid. Schmidt said dictators' new models revolve around infiltrating and manipulating the Internet, as opposed to shutting it off completely.
Per Cohen:In the major cities in Damascus, the government has set up check points and ask you for your phone and login information... My friend’s brother resisted and they held a gun to his head.
According to Cohen, his friend's brother eventually relented and gave the government officers his phone. The officials saw something posted on the man's social media page that was sympathetic to the opposition, and so he was shot.Protecting Citizen Data
When last year's Edward Snowden revelations revealed governments were collecting personal data from tech companies, Google was very surprised by the behavior of both the U.S. government and Great Britain’s security administration.
Since that time, Google now encrypts data at multiple points of source by using 2048-bit encryption and perfect forward secrecy that switches keys at every session. In other words, it's now way more difficult to get Google's data than it was before the NSA revelations.
Both Schmidt and Cohen support whistleblowers and leaking potentially scandalous information, but the Google executives believe there needs to be better methods for disclosing information and protecting those who come forward.
“Without oversight and without people watching things, misuse can occur,” Schmidt said. “Somebody within those organizations should have said, ‘What happens when someone discovers this?’”Keeping The Internet Open
The Internet is an open highway, available to people without restrictions in many parts of the world. But as governments fight for control of their people, they often fight for control of the information portal that continues to give them a voice.
In the book The New Digital Age, Schmidt writes about the balkanization of the Internet, and said at the SXSW lecture that it’s entirely possible for governments to create their own intranets to control the flow of information.See also: Facebook Drones May Soon Be A Reality
Iran is the first country to propose such an option. In 2012, the country pushed for a “national Internet,” which promised to wall off a part of cyberspace for its citizens’ use and therefore be able to control every aspect of it. As a result, Google blocked Gmail in Iran shortly thereafter.
“We’re worried that not only will the balkanization will occur, but gradually in a way that no one notices it,” he said. “They might use child safety as a starting point.”
Russia is another country that seeks to control online information. (Ironically, it’s where Snowden is allegedly staying to avoid U.S. prosecution.) Russia allows for the arbitrary removal of videos that feature young children, but the country casts a wide net to take down any videos they disagree with.
People want to control their privacy and governments want to control their citizens' data, which has typically caused a great deal of dissonance. But at Friday's SXSW talk, Schmidt discussed two new trends in technology that are driving both the people and the government to take control of their own information.
“One is empowerment of citizens with mobile devices—they are supercomputers,” Schmidt said. “The other thing is that information once published publicly is no longer revocable.”
As Google continues its push to make Internet available on a wider scale through projects like Fiber and Loon, its executives are making sure those information superhighways continue to remain open for everyone, even as the world's governments vie to control the pipes.
Lead image by Selena Larson for ReadWrite
Today Facebook announced plans for a new data center in Luleå, Sweden—one based on modular architectural concept the company calls “rapid deployment data center,” or RDDC. One of the construct approaches, “flat pack”—basically a way of packing together the modular walls of a data center into easily transportable units, much like a box containing a disassembled bookshelf—was inspired by Ikea, the minimalist furniture and home accessory company that's also based in Sweden.
Sadly, there's no word on the assembly instructions, which are presumably in pictorial form, or whether hex wrenches are included with every set.
Image courtesy of Facebook
I’ve been making the trek to Austin for South By Southwest Interactive almost as long as the weeks-long conference has been called “Interactive.” And while like many longtime attendees, I have mixed feelings about the event's metastatic growth, I think there's still something magical that happens when so many people with a common interest in finding the future of technology converge in one place.
So this year, I’m leading the largest team ReadWrite has sent to SXSW in years. Here's what we're up to and what we're looking for.Sorting Out My #siliconvalleyproblems
I'm speaking on Sunday, March 9, on the topic of “#siliconvalleyproblems”—the peculiar challenges faced by the tech industry as it morphs from outsidery geeks to insidery power players, and the history that’s shaped it.
If you won't be in Austin, or just want a preview, I'm also doing an AMA, or "ask me anything,” interview on Reddit, the social news site, on Saturday morning. While I won't give away details of my presentation, it's a great chance to ask me questions before I go on stage.See also: How To Survive SXSW
In between those appearances, I'm attending a number of panels and presentations on the topic of networked health and digital fitness to gather fodder for my ReadWriteBody series. I'm also doing two workouts with MapMyFitness, the maker of exercise-tracking apps. I'm really stoked to get my first look at Armour39, the fitness tracker made by MapMyFitness's new parent company, Under Armour.Going Mobile In Texas
Dan Rowinski, our mobile editor, tells me he’s less focused on the panels and more on the people—the developers, designers, and platform architects walking the streets of Austin. That means “registering for every party imaginable, just so I have options,” he says. That’s less about drinking and more about listening: When the liquor and music flow, so do technology's secrets.
There are a few key talks he's planning to cover, like Google Android chief Sundar Pichai's conversation with John Battelle on Sunday. (I'd be there, too, except that it takes place at the same time as my talk. Don’t worry, Sundar—I'm not taking it personally.)
He also sees mobile spreading beyond the smartphone, which means tracking news about smart cars, smart wearables, and smart cities. And as in recent years, Austin during SXSW proves to be an ideal testbed for mobile technologies—a preview of what happens when we have large numbers of people using social, location-aware apps all in the same place: “Austin’s good at showing the trends before they happen."Getting In Social Time
Our social-media reporter, Selena Larson, is a first-timer at SXSW, full of the raw enthusiasm and passion I remember having my first time at the event. It’s a sign of South By's enduring strength that it continues to attract newcomers who look at it with fresh eyes, and I’ve charged Larson with discovering what's new this year.
What’s got her excited on the official schedule: "Eric Schmidt's talk today about the new digital age, the panel on MOOCs and whether or not it's just a fad, PRISM whistleblower Edward Snowden's video appearance, and a panel on internet privacy."
She adds: "Plus, all the lovely parties that I'll meet people at."
Sounds great, Selena. Just one request: Do not die.Game Of Drones
Taylor Hatmaker, our lead contributor to ReadWritePlay and a SXSW veteran, is looking for the weird, quirky stuff that only happens in Austin. (ReadWrite witnessed a bro getting tased by a drone Friday morning, for example.)
Hopefully there won't be anything as morally grotesque as 2012’s homeless hotspot marketing stunt, but the prolific growth of connected hardware promises to blur the lines between the digital and physical—and Hatmaker and her camera will be there to witness it for ReadWrite.
She'll also be looking at cool developments in indie gaming (both games and hardware innovations like those from Oculus VR), hearing more about streaming-music competitors like Rdio and Beats, and mixing in some fun stuff about space exploration from NASA/JPL and private spaceflight companies. Beyond that, she want to soak up as much as possible around the issue of empowering women and people of color to diversify the tech industry.Party On!
Jane Pratt has found the 25 most shameless people on the Web—and brought some of them to Austin.
While ReadWrite isn’t throwing its own party this year, our sister site xoJane is celebrating the “25 Most Shameless People on the Web” with its xoShameless party the evening of Monday, March 10. SXSW attendees can get in with their badges, and people shameless enough to crash SXSW without a badge are welcome to RSVP.
I just have one bone to pick with my colleague Jane Pratt: How on Earth did I not make the list?
A special thanks to Chaotic Moon Studios for providing coworking space to ReadWrite during SXSW.
Photo of drone-tasing victim Jackson Sheehan by Dan Rowinski
Samsung has launched itself boldly—again—into the crowded and largely unprofitable Internet music market with a new streaming radio service it calls "Milk." It's powered by Pandora rival Slacker, features a haptic dial interface and an 8-second pre-caching feature designed to let new songs start instantly, and is only available to users of Samsung Galaxy smartphones and phablets.