Thursday, May 17, 2012

Book Review: Screw It, Lets Do It

I picked up Richard Branson's Screw It, Let's Do It at the library in audio book form as something to easily get through on a recent business trip where I was going to have a bunch of driving.

I was a fan of his earlier book, Losing My Virginity, and had mixed reviews for Business Stripped Bare. This latest one rates somewhere between the two. More generalized advice, less detail on the early days of Virgin Music and Virgin Atlantic (Losing My Virginity covers both well), but does cover some hairy tales of his sailing and ballooning exploits. Some of these stories overlap with the earlier book, but its interesting enough storytelling that I didn't mind.

Screw It, Let's Do It

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

3D Printing and wonders of the Internet

Top of the list of things I will NOT be using my 3D Printer for? Buttplugs!

That said, the fact that someone is using Republican candidate approval rating data visualization to cast molds for 3D printed buttplugs, well... if this doesn't demonstrate the wonders of maker culture in the Internet age, I don't know what does.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Book Review: How to Fix Copyright

In late 2009 I reviewed William Patry's great book, Moral Panics And The Copyright Wars. I had high praise for many elements of the book, but dinged Patry a bit for not having a prescriptive solution for any of the issues he raised. I don't think I was alone in this complaint as he responded with a follow-up book late last year entitled How to Fix Copyright.

Like the Moral Panics book, How to Fix Copyright is an even-handed, and extremely thorough treatment of the topic. If it comes off as "copyfight"-leaning to some, it's only because he is critical of the current state of copyright, which leans heavily in favor of rights holding organizations and companies.

Those interested in the topic needn't read the first book, as this one covers the arguments, history, and current state of the law adequately enough with numerous case examples. Perhaps not as deep as the first book in background, but deep enough.

In terms of prescribing solutions, he does this time around. Among his suggestions: Basing the debate on empirical evidence rather than moral panics and biased metaphor, enacting reasonable (shorter) terms of limited monopoly, conditions that take into account the difference between media types, and modernization and unification of rights-holding organizations to allow for international licensing. He also examines several of the issues around international licensing costs and piracy that are really failures to address different  market needs - i.e. Failed business models masquerading as copyright issues.

Some will be frustrated by Patry's refusal to offer a bullet-point list of solutions. He opts instead to weave them through the book as he notes that the issues are complex and nuanced. I admire his sticking to his guns on this. Not all in life fits on a powerpoint slide.

My only fault for the book is this: The first book didn't propose solutions, the second proposes the 'what' but not the 'how'. It's difficult to see the steps toward making these things happen giving the existing regimes and laws, the entrenched interests and their lobbyists. A debate based on fact is a great idea, but how to make one happen, let alone unwind elements of the DMCA? Granted, these aren't easy questions (Some are ones that caused Lessig to go chop at roots).

The above 'fault' is really more a wish. I hope he continues to do great work on this important topic. In the meantime I recommend this book. He's an engaging writer that makes this subject matter highly engaging.

How to Fix Copyright

Monday, May 7, 2012

Is the 3D-Printing Tipping Point Upon Us?

I've been on-and-off following the 3D printing scene since first seeing one at Siggraph about a 2000 or so. I, like many others, noted that initial price points were, like color laser printers, only suited to high-end professional use but poised to fall quickly. The implication, of course, is that eventually it hits consumer price points and then something big happens.

At that time, units costed in the neighborhood of $30k. In 2009, Makerbot introduced the cupcake at about $1000 in kit form. Makerbot's gone on to improve the products in that price range while others have taken the barebones kits even lower. Printrbot launched a Kickstarter project in late 2011 with a $544 price point for their printer in kit form.

Recently, my friend Billy launched his own design via Kickstarter, with beta kit prices at $300 plus shipping. I'm on the list for one and am excited that I can roll up my sleeves with the tech while supporting a friend's project.

Anyhow, the fall in pricing for kit-form printers certainly feels Moore's-law-esque, or something close to it. Interesting point will be when pre-built, ready-to-print devices hit the market at sub-$500. I'll go out on a limb and say: CES 2014.

Some other anecdotal indicators:

This weekend, Alisa and I went out to DC for a long weekend to check out the Art of Video Games exhibit at the Smithsonian and to do some sight-seeing. First, on the flight on the way out was a documentary about various pop-science stuff, and one segment was on 3D printing. It speculated that in the near future the corner Kinkos will have one for printing replacement parts for your air conditioner, etc.

Then, on Saturday night Alisa and I were out having dessert in Georgetown and a table of college kids there with their parents were discussing 3D printers. The interesting thing was that they were non-technical people, but clearly enthused about it ("I have no idea how it works - maybe layers of paper or something - but it ACTUALLY BUILDS PHYSICAL OBJECTS").

There's something significant about technology that captures consumer layperson interest when there still isn't clarity about what the killer app is. I don't know what it will be, but there are hints. Easy-to-use CAD apps like Tinkercad. Print-your-own-toy applications. Lots of innovation happening in the space.

If there's interest at this stage, then imagine what happens when a killer app finally does come along... BOOM. Tipping point.

Really feels like we're close to it.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Book Review: Rainbows End

It's sometimes said, only half-jokingly, that Neal Stephenson's Snowcrash had such an effect on people that a fair number of them ran off and started VRML-related startups. There is some truth about it's influence. For example, J Allard often cited it as an influence when laying the initial plans for Xbox 360 & Xbox live. Snow Crash's influence had little to do with the book's plot, and far more to do with the compelling vision that Stephenson painted of the Metaverse

What Snowcrash was Virtual Reality, Rainbows End may be to Augmented Reality. I flagged it a while back to read (it was written in 2006!!), but decided to pop it to the top of the stack given renewed excitement around AR.

Vigne paints a truly compelling picture of the tech's possibilities. Some may be father fetched than others, but this doesn't matter. I found it to be intellectually stimulating on the subject of AR and it's possibilities for entertainment, informational and geographic navigation, advertising, education, and tons more.

It's a must read for anyone in tech for that reason alone. If you need more reasons though, how that the book also has...

Octogenarian hackers, mech-powered ARGs, terrorist librarians, crowd-sourcing riots, fan-fic universes, persona-hijacking, "War Against Computing",  materials-hacking shop classes, and at least one waskally wabbit, all involved in giant embroglio that comes to a page-turning crescendo.

Great book, highly recommended for anyone interested in AR's potential, or those that enjoyed Snow Crash or Diamond Age or others of that nature.

Rainbows End