The PARC tour of 2013 (printed circuits, better batteries, contextual systems, and more)

PARC is the Palo Alto Research Center which is one of the world’s most famous R&D labs (ethernet, object oriented printing, guis, and much more were invented here). In this five-part tour you’ll see what these smart people are working on now. Steve Jobs, famously, in the early 1980s, visited this lab and bought the rights to get a deep look at the technology that would become the Macintosh.

This is a five-part tour where you’ll meet several different teams/people and see five different innovations, coming soon. Let’s go!

Inkjet printed circuitry

Part II is a look at how they are printing lithium ion batteries, which brings up to 30% more energy density without coming up with a new esoteric chemical formula.

New battery manufacturing technique from PARC

How do you make things? Well, a team at PARC is working on helping people who make things make them faster and cheaper through a new software suite that you’ll see here.

New manufacturing efficiencies come out of this PARC-built tech

Sensors, machine learning, computer image recognition, all come together on this team where you’ll hear about what the latest contextual thinking is at PARC.

Contextual Intelligence discussion: what is it?

How can you send a database, or give access to it, while making sure that different people can only see data that they are supposed to? Think of a spreadsheet. What if person A is only supposed to be able to see Rows A, C, and E, while person B is supposed to see rows A, B, and F. That’s hard to make happen in modern databases. Here you’ll hear the latest thinking from PARC, famous R&D lab, about how it will solve that problem. Interesting discussion about privacy in this “post Snowden” world, too.

In-database privacy, from PARC

Finally, I filmed an extra tour on my Google Glass where I met Mike Kuniavsky, who showed me around its room of innovations. You’ll have to click over to Google+ to see that video.

Thanks to all these fine people who spent time with me this week.

Well, hello WordPress 3.6

February? That’s the last time I posted here? Wild. I guess I fell into Facebook and Google+ and just haven’t been back. My numbers in both places continue to climb very quickly. Four million followers on Google+. 550,000 on Facebook. I’m the number one most followed on Flipboard. Same on Quora. So, I don’t think I made a bad choice. That said, I’ve cleaned up my WordPress blog. Went back to basics. I’ll be back soon to start talking about the book I’ve been writing with Shel Israel, titled the “Age of Context.” It’s going very well, just about finished with the content. Already have sold a few thousand copies, which is great since it won’t be out until late October. This weekend I’m off to see Australia’s startups for the first time. Anyway, thought I’d get a quick post up to see if the new WordPress 3.6 works and see if anyone is still watching this via RSS. If you are, please say hi.

UPDATE: I just wrote this over on Facebook about ye olde WordPress blog:

WordPress 3.6? Yeah. I haven’t blogged since February. I just posted and realized why I haven’t: blogging just seems so cold and lonely compared to Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. I don’t think it matters to the millions of people who want to blog but it does to me. It’s the longest time in 12 years that I haven’t blogged.

I wonder if anyone still uses RSS to watch my blog’s feed?

I turned off all my non-essential plugins, deleted all the spam comments that were waiting for me, and turned on the latest WordPress theme that came out with the new WordPress 3.6.

Even with all the new cool features it still feels like work to blog when compared to typing out a quick post on Facebook. Blogging feels like it should only be for “important” stuff now, not quick little posts that I don’t really care if anyone reads.

Writer block. First world problems. All that.

At one point a few years back I figured I’d never be able to stop blogging. Turned out my life didn’t end. Heck, I’ve gotten invited to better conferences, have more email than ever, and my videos are getting viewed more often, etc.

Now I’m faced with: what’s my old blog for?

Siri's contextual sister, Tempo, blows away Apple's iPhone calendar

This is the year of increased productivity, particularly on mobile. Just a week ago we saw the highly-hyped launch of Mailbox. That is a really nice email replacement app that’s a lot nicer than Apple’s own email app. (I can’t use it because it doesn’t support Gmail’s labels, which I use extensively, but other than that it certainly is nice and has been racking up great reviews).

But today brings a really huge shift in productivity apps: Tempo is the first app that looks for context from your email, calendars, contacts, and even social networks to build a new kind of calendar. One that brings important things you need to know into your calendar. “We wanted to bring a full replacement experience,” says Raj Singh, founder and CEO of TempoAI in the attached video.

So, why is it so good? Why do I believe that Apple should buy it, just like it bought Siri?

  1. It brings you important data that you forget to enter. Email addresses, phone numbers, attachments, pertinent emails and facts, all are gathered and brought into your calendar.
  2. It makes it easier for conference calls. You click on the number and it’ll automatically add in your PIN codes and other codes to get accepted into a conference call.
  3. The views are nicer than Apple’s calendar. Easier to use while walking, or doing other things (if you are running late for a meeting you will call them, right? Distracted driving kills and this calendar is a lot easier to find important things like phone numbers).
  4. It hooks up to some things on the Internet. Put a flight number in your calendar? It’ll find the status for you. This is the kind of anticipatory feature that contextual systems will increasingly bring us (just like Google Now). The more this knows about you the better it’ll serve you.
  5. It’ll anticipate your needs and help you live your life. It’ll tell you drive times to your next meeting, for instance.

Is it perfect? No. What I found after using it for a few weeks is that I’ve changed my calendar behavior slightly so that it properly finds the right emails. I used to enter things like “Meet Sam.” Now I’ll change that to “Meet Sam Levin at home.” Just that extra detail keeps it from getting confused and bringing in wrong emails. I found when I put things into my calendar like “BLOCK” it would try to find something in my email that matches that, so I needed to change my titles once in a while to make my calendar more useful.

It also is mostly client side at this point, which means that you can’t share this stuff with other people. Raj says they are working on an enterprise version, which will let you share your Tempo calendars with other people (I share my Google calendar with Rocky and my wife so they can add things and change things on my behalf).

In the video Singh explains how the calendar works, and where it’ll be going.

So, when I first saw Siri (I was the first to see it outside of SRI) I turned to the team and said “you’re gonna get bought very quickly.” I had no idea that Steve Jobs would end up buying it after only a couple of weeks on the market. The Siri team said Jobs was so desperate to get Siri that he called dozens of times to convince the team to join Apple.

Will Tim Cook do the same with Tempo? I think he should. Yes, there are competitors coming but they aren’t as good. I predict, though, that instead of about $220 million it cost Apple to buy Siri, that buying Tempo will cost a billion. Why? Because Apple will want to keep this out of Google’s hands (and out of Mark Zuckerberg’s hands, too — imagine if Facebook got this calendar).

By the way, if you get Tempo, you should also upgrade your Gmail, which will help Tempo find only good stuff. Here’s some other things I did to my Gmail account to clean it out of crap which might find its way onto your calendar:

  1. I turned on SmartLabels. This is a feature in labs and separates promotional and social emails out of your inbox.
  2. I turned on OtherInBox. This will further filter emails that aren’t important out of your inbox. It is filtering all my press releases into a separate folder, for instance. I also use Sanebox, but that costs money and doesn’t do much more than OtherInBox for most people. If you are a heavy email user I’d recommend buying that too.
  3. I use Unroll.me. This unsubscribes me from mailing lists and junk email senders. You have to be careful with this, because it’ll unsubscribe you from mailing lists you actually like to get, but it does dramatically clean up your inbox, at least in my experience. Another choice is Swizzle, which some say is better than Unroll.me. I’m trying both, will report more soon.

Anyway, this is the most productive new app I’ve gotten in more than a year. Hope you find it as useful as I do. Get it in the iOS app store here.

Age of Context book is now funded, latest news

chase

Shel Israel just announced that we have raised $100,000 to fund the development of our book, “Age of Context.” If you haven’t heard that we’re working on a book, we are, it’s going to focus on how companies are able to build highly anticipatory services (think of Google Now) and highly personalized services (ToyTalk, for instance, is building toys that will interact differently with you depending on who you are and where you are) because of these five things:

  1. Sensors that are exponentially increasing. You are carrying seven sensors in your smartphone. But soon we’ll have a lot more. 
  2. Wearable devices. Google Glass, Oakley AirWave, Plantronics, Smith I/O Recon, FitBit, Basis, Nike FuelBand, Jawbone Up, and more are coming nearly every week. (In the photo above that I shot on Saturday in Sun Valley, Idaho you can see famous photographer Chase Jarvis wearing the Smith I/O Recon ski goggles that have sensors and a display).
  3. Database innovation. Big data, database computation, cloud-based databases, and more are bringing new capabilities to developers.
  4. Rapidly increasing social data. Twitter is about to have a billion-tweet day. That number is continuing to double every year or so.
  5. Rapidly increasing location data. Foursquare, Yelp, Facebook, Google Maps, Waze, and many others are seeing yearly doubles, if not more, in location data.

Over the past year we’ve seen this “contextual service” trend just get more and more important. To get the book done I needed help, which is why I am working with Shel Israel, Forbes author, again. But he needed to quit his consulting business to write the book quickly (we’re going to try to turn this book around very quickly, expecting to get it on the market by October, 2013). Also, we wanted to self publish the book, in order to be more agile (most book publishers just can’t turn around a book fast enough, nor do they like letting authors publish content for free ahead of the book). So, we’re using Guy Kawasaki’s methodology for publishing, which he calls APE (Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur).

In addition to getting Shel paid, the funds will be used to edit, design, and market the book.

Here’s the sponsors, thank you to each one of them:

  • Rackspace, the open cloud company. They served as our lead sponsor and they have been the most generous contributor so far.
  • EasilyDo is the first context aware pro-active assistant mobile app. It is sort of the GoogleNow of iPhone apps, except it actually lets you do stuff in the app, like track a package or add a contact.
  • Betaworks is a data-driven media company based in New York that builds and invests in the social web.
  • Microsoft Bing is one of the world’s leading search engines, helping millions of consumers do, not just search.
  • Autodesk, the 3D design, engineering and entertainment software company.
  • MindSmack, an interactive agency that designs and develops for mobile, web and TV.

Some things:

  1. Being a sponsor doesn’t influence what we write in the book. We are going to tell it like we see it and cover competitors of these well.
  2. We still need more funds to properly promote the book. Usually book publishers give you an advance, then take you on speaking tours and arrange PR through radio, TV, and newspapers. We’re going to fund that ourselves. Write me if you would like to be involved: scobleizer@gmail.com
  3. The $100,000 raised so far is about three times what we would have been able to raise through traditional publisher and has a bigger upside because we can be much more agile and innovative (getting the book on market quicker after being done, for instance, or publishing all of our own work on our blogs).

Here’s some of our latest interviews (these are in addition to the dozens of interviews we’ve posted previously):

 

The Contextual, Sensual CES2013

It’s been a week now since the Consumer Electronics Show closed. I wanted to take that time to read all the reports and get rid of any overhype I picked up because of all those big screens that I saw.

Really the story was sensors. Whether video sensors on glasses, heart rate sensors on watches, or 3D sensors that you can interact with, this CES was more about sensors than anything else.

For a taste of just how big a deal this was this year, check out this video of Primesense’s private suite.

Don’t know Primesense? It licensed its technology to Microsoft for the Kinect sensor. You know, the one that can see you dancing, or gesturing, or moving around. It even does pretty good face detection. It knows I’m playing instead of my sons.

But this year the technology took a Moore’s law-style turn. It got a LOT smaller. It’s now a stick of chewing gum instead of something longer than most of my books. It’s lower cost. Will run less than $100. It’s much higher resolution. It now is so accurate it can see how hard you are pressing against a desk.

Listen to Primesense founder Aviad Maizels talk about his vision for 3D sensing.

Speaking of 3D sensors, I did see the Leap Motion. I like what they are doing too and we’ll do a video in the future with them. But their sensor is optimized for over keyboard use, not room use, so I find the Primesense has me dreaming about a contextual future a lot more.

At CES I had dinner with execs from GM and Ford and they are thinking about how to use these sensors in cars. Both to personalize the car (with a sensor like this they could tell you are sitting in drivers seat) but also to do things like wakeup alarms if you are falling asleep while driving. Also, hand gestures will be more efficient in many ways than voice systems, particularly for moving around user interfaces. Listen in to John Ellis, head of the Ford Developer Program, talk about the contextual future of cars:

The other thing I saw were wearable computers. Listen in to these two visionaries who are building really interesting wearables. Recon Instruments builds the heads-up displays that Oakley is including in its AirWave ski goggles and Pairasight has built a glasses with two 1080p cameras. The Texas Instruments chipset Pairasight was using lets you stream about 1.5 hours of 1080P video on a single battery charge (and the battery is tiny, so this is a breakthrough). Pairasight’s glasses are in prototype stage. Recon’s are shipping now.

That all led me to talk with Don Norman, who I ran into at CES. Don’t know who he is? He used to be a fellow as a User Experience Architect, which was the first time User Experience was used in a title at Apple and later became Vice President of Apple’s Advanced Technology Group, but that hardly explains Don, go read his wikipedia entry.

So, what does it mean?

Well, consumer electronics are about to become anticipatory and personal.

Think about Google Now, which shows you all sorts of ways to live your life better (like the fact that I better leave for my meeting now because traffic is bad on way into San Francisco). Our world will know you at a deep level. Don’t believe me? Look again at the Primesense video. In there is a demo by Shopperception which lets retail stores see what you are buying in real time. Freaky, huh? But you know we’ll let stores do this. Why? We’ll get paid to. I see everyone in Safeway using their Safeway card, which already allows pretty deep tracking of buying behavior. Imagine a display near the cereals saying “hi Robert Scoble nice choice of Cheerios, if you want a second box it’s half off.”

The sensual, contextual age of consumer electronics is here ready or not.

The contextual and exponential future of Facebook

Facebook book

Rocky Barbanica and I visited Facebook’s headquarters today and interviewed a bunch of people for the book “Age of Context” that I’m writing with Shel Israel.

What’s the age of context? Five radically expanding technologies/data types.

1. Sensors.
2. Wearable computing.
3. Big Databases.
4. Social network behavior.
5. Location.

What will that bring for consumers? Highly personalized experiences and products. For companies? An extraordinary level of contextual business intelligence: clear vision of what your business will be and who your customer is.

I interview Facebook's Mike Shaver

I met with people like Mike Shaver, director of engineering, at Facebook. Listen in:

He talks about context, and how different contexts, like, say, when you’re driving, which is different than when you are reading Facebook on your couch, and is different than if you were skiing down a slope, could be used to bring different items to you.

He told me before we started recording that Facebook is, indeed, trying to pick the best items for you to see. It’s a difficult job because there so many different kinds of users. My dad, for instance, might only read Facebook once a week and never clicks like on his items. Me? I read Facebook every few minutes and click like on thousands of things a week.

Facebook has to pick, out of millions of potential messages, only about 30 for us each to see, each time we refresh the page (or, better yet, drag down on the mobile app).

It’s clear Facebook is also in the midst of a huge shift: one from web pages that have no contextual data to mobile and wearable computers where there is a huge amount of contextual data. My desktop computer doesn’t let me use it in different contexts like driving, skiing, running, eating, or shopping at the local mall. My mobile phone does. Facebook is in the middle of being rebuilt for mobile users, and soon, wearable computer users and maybe automobile heads up display users. Oakley, for instance, just started selling ski goggles that have heads up displays in them (we did a separate interview with that team).

An office at Facebook

One thing I noticed, after having conversations with about seven of Facebook’s execs, is that some seem to be ahead of the rest of the company in their thinking. Sam Lessin, who is director of product, talked to me about the exponential growth in identity information and the kinds of personalized, contextual, experiences that will enable in the future. Imagine walking into a bar you’ve never been into before and they say “hey, Robert Scoble, welcome, do you want your usual Oban whisky?” Or, imagine skiing at Squaw Valley and they will know that you are probably hungry, since every day you check into a lunch place by 1:30 p.m. and it’s now 1:45 and you haven’t eaten yet. “Hey, Mr. Scoble, are you hungry yet? Our sushi restaurant has a seat available after your next run.” Then imagine that I can invite a friend to join me, all via our wearable computers, and I learn that that friend doesn’t like Sushi “hey, you invited Mr. Smith to join you, but we know he doesn’t like sushi, would you like to switch to our steak restaurant instead?” That is all very possible, and Lessin explains how that might work.

We also talked about what it was like to build for a billion users compared to building at a startup with a few thousand users.

Hack at Facebook

Finally, I met Mike Schroepfer, vice president of engineering. His teams, when they check in code, affect more than a billion people now. Think about the power to screw up that that gives an engineer. He told me that keeping up with exponentially-growing contextual data about all of us is very difficult. They rebuilt their engineering teams to check in code twice a day and ensure that Facebook doesn’t slow down as it gets more engineers. He showed me the engineering team, which mostly works in one big room so that system conditions can be discussed fast.

This was an extraordinary way to get inside one of the world’s great companies and hear how they think. Hope you enjoyed it.

By the way, while I was there, they rolled out a new feature: nearby (here’s Techcrunch’s writeup of the new feature). They gave me access while I was meeting there and I checked into one of the restaurants there (free food baby).

We’ll be back at Facebook on Wednesday to meet with the team that wrote that feature. It’s barely the start of where Facebook’s information discovery features are going. Hint: the future is contextual, which will let them build new kinds of search/discovery features.

Some things I learned, while there:

1. Everything you do on Facebook will affect what comes in your view in the future. If you like crappy things that you don’t care about, you’ll see more crappy brands that you don’t care about in the future and it might even affect your experiences when you walk into bars, churches, schools, shopping malls, etc. Using Highlight, for instance, I can see what kinds of things you like and I’ll treat you a lot differently based on what you’ve liked.

2. Facebook is teachable. If you hide items, you’ll see fewer of those kinds of items in the future. Like more items and you’ll see more of those in the future.

3. Facebook is looking to help you distribute content to who you want to distribute to. Facebook gets a lot better if you put each of your friends into either your “close friend” or “acquaintance” list. Put family members on your family list, and you’ll be able to send photos just to your family members very easily. Spending some time tuning your friends lists dramatically increases the quality of your feeds and also lets you see items from your friends and family so you don’t miss them.

4. Facebook’s new gift feature will be able to build new kinds of stores in the future. If I buy a gift, like I did for Sam Levin, who got engaged last night, Facebook can learn about what kinds of things I like to buy for people, but it also lets Sam switch his gift without letting me know, so now Facebook knows more about the kinds of things Sam likes to receive.

Anyway, hope you enjoy this look inside Facebook and also appreciate that you get to see the raw material for the writing of our book, which should be out in Q3, 2013. Here’s some other photos from the campus.

Facebook's headquarters

Fun at Facebook, not in Kansas anymore

Hack at Facebook

Ice cream at Facebook

Epic cafe at Facebook

Facebook clothes at company store

Facebook teddy bears

Facebook pens

Mark Zuckerberg on wall at Facebook headquarters