Caught in a Mesh

Caught in a Mesh (reprinted from the Metro Spirit, 3-27-14)

This week I thought that I was going to introduce an amazing overlooked piece of technology.  I was so proud that I was able to weed it out from all the fluff – that my contribution for once was going to be compelling and relevant!  I imagined all my devoted fans overwhelming Twitter with compliments (Hi, Mom!).  And in my mind’s eye, I even pictured Joe White demanding my article be featured on the front page of the Metro Spirit web site.  It brought a tear to my eye.

 So with a childlike enthusiasm, I raced down the stairs and showed my wife this amazing discovery.  “Isn’t this great?”  I beamed with joy.  “Isn’t this the coolest thing ever?”  I waited for her validation of my discovery, patiently anticipating the adulation that I deserve and the exaltation that soon will be coming my way.

 Her initial response struck me as quite unemotional.  Then I heard what she was saying.  “Yeah.  We use that all the time to share video.  I mean, you can’t email mpegs.  You really can’t send movies without it.”

 The balloon popped, and my ego descended into the bottomless abyss.

 While it made is first appearance on the iPhone with iOS7 last fall, I concede that AirDrop is not a new technology.  As a matter of fact, AirDrop appeared on iMacs with the release of Lion back in July 2011.  Unfortunately, the Mac OS and iOS versions of AirDrop are not compatible.  We all hope that will change soon.

 AirDrop provides the capability to share files between devices, which of course, is nothing remarkable.  However, AirDrop utilizes an ad hoc network to perform the communication.  Instead of creating a connection over a shared network, such as a common Wifi access point, AirDrop creates private, peer-to-peer connection directly between the two devices.  The two devices can share data without the need for either of them to be connected to the Internet. 

 While AirPlay is a simple file share application, iOS7 delivers the capability for much more.  The iOS7 operation system includes a set of application development tools called the Multipeer Connectivity Framework.  This framework provides programs to create ad hoc networks of multiple devices, a “mesh” network.  When would a mesh network be useful?  A great example would be the recent ice storm.  Many folks lost their home Internet and mobile services, and as a result, they lost all connectivity to the outside world.  Using the Multipeer Connectivity Framework, a new mesh network would be created using direct smartphone-to-smartphone connections.  Applications aware of this network would continue to operate and help people keep in touch.

 Applications utilizing Apple’s Multipeer Connectivity Framework are appearing in the marketplace.  The mobile messaging application, FireChat, released last week, allows users to share messages and pictures with others nearby.  FireChat highlights another feature of peer-to-peer networks.  A group of users can form an independent and private network with little oversight or control from a central management source.   For example, a mesh network could be setup inside a secure organization, providing an alternative route for information to be removed.  On the other hand, if you’re organizing a political protest against a brutal dictator, these mesh networks could work out really well.

As more applications utilize Apple’s multipeer framework, we’ll begin to understand the potential of using mobile devices to create mesh networks.  In the meantime, the knowledge that people can connect in ways other than the Internet is useful, even if all you need to do is share video.

 Until next time, I’m off the grid.  @gregory_a_baker

PI Day, Part 2

PI Day, Part 2 (reprinted from the Metro Spirit 3-20-14)

 First of all, I need to share how my PI Day ended.  As you know, last Friday night, my wife and I were set for a date night to go see Veronica Mars.  Oh, but wait…did it even occur to us that no theater in this city would pick up the movie?  That’s right.  None. Zip. Zero.  Our best hope was the 65-mile journey to the Dutch Square 14 in Columbia – which, by the way, was the only theater in SC to run the flick.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t pull that off on short notice.  We hit the reset button, and got my parents to keep the kids this Friday night so we could make the trip to Columbia.  It turns out, though, that Veronica Mars released on iTunes last Friday as well.  I guess we’ll save the gas and popcorn money and camp out with our Apple TV.  (Please don’t let my mom know, though.)

The Perfect Fish House Accessory – My wife’s family is from upstate Minnesota.  They have a strong Norwegian heritage; so doing things outside in the cold doesn’t strike them as odd.  Her family enjoys a number of outdoor winter activities – snow mobile riding, cross-country skiing, and ice fishing.  Ice fishing is the one activity that always struck my as, well, insane.  Granted, I’m not much of a fisherman, but the idea of sitting in subfreezing weather waiting for a fish on the other side of a sheet of ice to bite into a hook doesn’t really sound like a lot of fun.  But as with most things, there’s more to the story.

Ice fishing is more than a casual activity.  It’s an event that requires investment and preparation.  The first investment is the fish house.  Far from my naïve view of a shivering eskimo dropping a cane pole line through a hole in the ice, the modern ice fisherman practices his sport from the environmentally-controlled surroundings of his fish house.  Standard equipment generally includes electric generators, gas stoves, space heaters and satellite TV.  Of course, some fish houses are larger and more confortable than others.  Add a full kitchen, sleep area, and a bathroom, and one would find only a few reasons to leave the ice.

Ice fishing trips are as common as camping trips down here.  If you can’t get tickets to the Packers game, it’s only a short trip to the fish house to enjoy a weekend of fishing and watching football.  However, if a few extra people show up, you run the risk of running out of supplies.  For example, what happens if you run out of beer?  If the wind picks up, it would be quite a pain to hike back to the marina.  Also, you would miss most of the game.  Fortunately, the local Lakemaid brewery came up with a great solution:  beer-delivery drone.

Don’t believe me?  Let me refer you to You Tube:  

Of course, as with most other entrepreneurial endeavors, a federal bureaucracy exists to shut down any and all innovation.  In this case, the Federal Aviation Administration issued a cease and desists because the drone was being used for commercial purposes.  The FAA says they will issue regulations for the commercial use of drone next year, but don’t expect any beer delivery, or delivery of any other product, until at least 2017.

     Until next time, I’m off the grid@gregory_a_baker


Happy ∏ Day!

Happy ∏ Day! (reprinted from the Metro Spirit, 3-13-14)

Two significant events occur on March 14 this year.  The first is the release of the Veronica Mars movie.  The second is the annual celebration of PI (or ∏) Day!

Yes, PI Day – The geekiest of all the observed holidays.  This is the day we get to reflect and pontificate on all things PI.  PI, of course, is the most well known of the mathematical constants – the circumference of a circle divided by its diameter.  No matter how large the circle, this ratio remains constant.  The first few digits of PI is 3.14, hence the celebration on March 14 (3/14).  PI is a fundamental numerical constant in our universe, and the value regularly appears in mathematical models for physics, electronics, statistics, and yes, even rocket science. 

Here are some quick facts about the number PI:

  •  ·      PI is an irrational number.  This means that PI cannot be expressed as a fraction of one integer divided by another integer.  Since it cannot be expressed as a ratio of integers, the decimal representation of PI requires an infinite number of digits.
  • ·      It is speculated that the ancient Egyptians were knowledgeable of PI.  The Great Pyramid of Giza (constructed around 2600 BC) had a perimeter to height ratio of 6.2857.  This ratio is approximately equal to 2 PI, or 6.2832.
  • ·      The earliest written approximations of PI date about 1900BC – 1600BC from Egypt and Babylon.  They both got the first two digits correct.
  • ·      The earliest use of the Greek symbol ∏ to represent PI is by William Jones in 1706.  Widespread adoption of the symbol ∏ began when the preeminent mathematician Leonhard Euler published Mechanica in 1736.
  • ·      Modern PI Day celebrations began in 1988 at the San Francisco Exploratorium.  The event was organized by Larry Shaw and involved marching around one of the circular spaces and eating fruit pies.
  • ·      A popular approximation of PI is 22/7, and in the geekiest of groups, July 22 is celebrated as Approximate PI Day.
  • ·      Just for reference, the first 100 digits of PI are:  3.1415926535897932384626433832795028841971693993751058209749445923078164062862089986280348253421170679

My first recollection of the true meaning of PI is my Evans High School trigonometry class.  While Mr. Johnson is most renowned for his rendition of the Pythagorean theorem, I vividly remember him marching around the unit circle.  As we all know, PI is an integral part of the unit circle.  I find the symmetry and elegance of the structure most soothing.  PI over 6, PI over 4, PI over 3, PI over 2, and so on.  The mathematical equivalent of rinse, lather and repeat.  If only more things in life would behave like the unit circle.

In celebration of PI Day this year, I plan to have a busy day.  First of all, I’m going awake early and go on a PI-mile run.  Every meal will include some sort of pie.  Breakfast will be the sausage breakfast pie from the Betty Crocker web site; lunch will involve either apple pie or chocolate pie (haven’t decided which yet); and dinner will be a homemade pizza pie.   I’ve ordered a unit circle clock for my office, and at 3/14 1:59 PM (3.14159), we will observe PI Day by reciting Euler’s Identity.  Finally, my wife and I will finish the day by going to the Veronica Mars movie…which is, of course, totally unrelated to PI.  However, if the VM movie weren’t playing, we would sit home and watch the movie  ∏ .

Tweet us some pictures on how you are celebrating PI Day! 

Until next time, I’m off the grid@gregory_a_baker










Bing – They Finally Got It!

Bing – They Finally Got It! (reprinted from the Metro Spirit 3/6/14)

Could it be possible that Microsoft has finally seen the light?

Since its inception, Microsoft’s business model is based on receiving a license fee from each copy of its operating system.  This model is great when you own a 95% market share as Microsoft did during the 1990’s.  However, it’s not so good when your competition gives away their product for free.  The mobile world now dominates the technology sector, and Google and Apple dominate this world.  The business models for both Google and Apple subsidize the development of their operating systems in order to obtain revenue from other sources – online ads for Google, and hardware and App Store content for Apple.  In this scenario, very few people are willing to pay an additional Microsoft “tax” for their device.

This isn’t to say that Microsoft is unfriendly toward the cloud.  Quite to the contrary, their Office365 offering is quite compelling, especially for small businesses.  The Office365 is a subscription-based service that provides business-class email, online file storage (known as OneDrive), conferencing and IM, and most importantly, the ability to install Microsoft Office applications on up to five devices per user.   In addition to Office365, Microsoft’s Azure platform provides a virtual infrastructure for hosting applications, especially those that are heavily weighted toward Microsoft SQL and/or SharePoint.  Throw in Bing and Skype, and Microsoft has a more than respectable, comprehensive cloud offering.

Unfortunately for Microsoft, Google and Apple also have great clouds, and they do a much better job of guiding consumers to their online services.  As well they should, since the consumers are interacting directly with their software – either Google Android or Apple iOS.  Microsoft has a very good mobile operating system in Windows Phone, but no one uses it because of the expense.  I wonder what would happen if Microsoft started giving away a version of its OS away for free?

We might get to find out.  Several outlets have reported that Microsoft is experimenting with a version of Windows 8.1 that will be released as a free or low-cost upgrade.  The version is named Windows 8.1 with Bing, and it’s expected to be released later this spring.  Early previews don’t indicate a large change in functionality since Bing-powered applications are already included in 8.1.  Even if it’s only a licensing change, this is a big change for Microsoft and could have a large impact on the mobile environment.

K-Cup Lockdown – By now, we are all familiar with the printer market works – sell a low-cost printer to the consumer to get them locked into buying consumables (i.e. ink).  In order to keep 3rd parties from selling alternative (i.e., reasonably priced) cartridges, manufactures may include a smart ID tag or some other proprietary feature that cannot be copied.  Using a similar thought process, Keurig appears to be locking-down its next release in order to prevent others from copying its K-cups.

Keurig new version of brewers will include interactive readers designed to work only with official Keurig-licensed K-cups.  This change is intended to counter the loss of sales that’s occurred since its patent expired at the end of 2012.  Since that time, numerous competitor cups have been marketed at significantly reduced pricing.  Originally, the Keurig Vue brewer was intended to replace the K-Cup, but the Vue has not received widespread adoption.  Will Keurig be successful in recapturing the K-Cup market?  This consensus around our office is, “Ummm…Na.”

Until next time, I’m off the grid@gregory_a_baker