Thursday, February 28, 2008

Flash as an API: the little runtime that could

A few days ago playing with Yahoo live I was wondering about the possibility of using an API to integrate it with other applications.

The APIs they provide are a combination of three things:
1. Two flash players, a regular and a skinless one.
2. A set of Javascript APIs mostly to modify the Flash player's behavior.
3. REST Web Services to query broadcasts, channels and their viewers.

The Flash players being called as APIs was kind of a revelation for me. I never thought of Flash as an API, although it makes total sense. It seems like the increasing relevance of video and audio on the internet as these reach a broader application base, are bringing Flash into a whole new status.

What other cases are becoming standard Flash applications on the web?
. Promotions such as sweepstakes
. Quick forms
. Demos, tutorials
. Product presentations, navigation, 3D views.
. Complex interface GUIs.
Together with web services you can build pretty powerful applications.

According to Adobe the penetration of the Flash Player is 98.8% above any other competitor. [Thanks to Mauro]
Silverlight doesn't seem to be putting up a real fight, although it'd only take including it with the distribution of IE or Updates and that'd do it ...

I believe one of the most overlooked revolutions to come in the short future is the un-sequentiality of video as it becomes augmented (GPS, timed) and searchable (image, sound searches) and I think Flash will have an interesting role on that.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Learning: can Mindset change it all?

Reading "MindSet" from Carol S. Dweck was an inspiring source of understanding how our minds work specially when it comes to learning.

It explained why I went through most of my school years just focused on grades instead of learning itself. I adopted the mainstream belief of my time that was that intelligence was a fixed ability that you either had or not and in whatever amount you had it that was it. Once I got to get the label of "intelligent" my only worry was to keep up with it. When a kid focus is on keeping a label, all that's really important is lost. On the other hand, as the book explains, when you give a kid the opposite belief, that intelligence as any other ability is trainable and is attainable and increasable, they flourish carelessly while they focus on learning and satisfying their own curiosity.

Basically, the bottom line of the book is, never tell a kid how smart they are, always praise the effort they made and the results they obtained. In other words, instead of saying: "you're so smart!", tell them: "look how great you're doing now, after practicing your math today". It's kind of hard to believe that just such a small change in mindset can make such a difference, but in reading the book I realized this is the case.

It's been longly known now, that kids love to be presented with challenges. For something to be perceived by kids as a challenge, it has to be leveled to their present skills and just one notch up. If something is too hard, it'll be frustrating. Too easy? boring. It looks like computers will in the long term be able to impart a much better learning experience to kids than a teacher can, as they'll be able to personalize the experience to the exact degree needed in each case.

I hope my daughter's teacher doesn't take offense when I give her the book ;)

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Yahoo live!

We were thinking at home on how to install a webcam and share it with some family and friends, thinking on buying an IP webcam, getting the fixed IP with our service provider, when I stumbled on this new service from Yahoo called Yahoo Live.

I loved this little product. It allows you to broadcast with any simple webcam. We tried on Sunday and it was fun. Then, yesterday I worked from home and I used with the intention to communicate better with co-workers being live. I'm not too convinced of the fact that they don't allow for now broadcasting for a closed private group. I'm sure this is just part of their early strategy with the product which is now on experimental release.

While exploring I got to see a webcam in an apartment in Saudi Arabia with great windows showing the streets, as well as a guy showing what he could see from the windshield of his car while driving through Philadelphia streets. Also, there was a group of artists in Stokoholm painting live for 3 hours, it was pretty cool. It's kind of interesting, although right now it's mostly people checking out the technology itself or the typical dating crowd ...

I wish they provide APIs to implement mashups on top of them, although it's a not too complicated flash application, just the broadcasting part of it might be a little more complicated to figure out.

Unfortunately, the guy that was at the front of this and other cool new products in yahoo, such as yahoo pipes, has resigned and is heading to Google right now ... I have a deja vu with the times years ago when Microsoft was the one stealing talent across the board ....

Monday, February 18, 2008

PMOG, a fun multiplayer online game

According to Tim O'Reilly this is an example of Augmented Reality, which is the overlapping of layers of information on top of each other. In this case, the game is about completing missions that will involve navigating web pages avoiding mines and defending yourself with armors as you accumulate datapoints that allow you to purchase other digital arsenal.
I personally am not very affected to games but I wanted to get a taste of this one as beyond the game itself there's great innovation in the fact of having through a browser plug-in a layer of metainformation on top of the regular web browsing.
Don't wait for an invitation, just subscribe to the beta of the game and they'll send you an invite on your email.
One mission I found very cool was the Task and Project Management Online that guides you through a set of Project Management online tools. I'll have to come back to it as I'd like to start using one of these tools soon.

Yoga quickies

This page has quick yoga meditations or practices that last less than 2 or 3 min each:

Yoga quickies

More of my thoughts on yoga:

Digital veins art

[From szara's soup]

Monday, February 11, 2008

Maslow's pyramid

Maslow's hierarchy of needs was IMHO the representation of one of those great thoughts of humanity and I come back to it from time to time. It was written in 1943 as part of Maslow's theory of human motivations. Today, I still can use it to auto-diagnose where I'm at. If I'm worrying too much for the little stuff, for sure I'm heading towards the bottom of the pyramid.
If I'm loving, inspired, thinking creatively, then I'm heading towards the top. It's a nice graphical reminder and also for me an intention declaration.

I like to think that the pyramid is inverted in my daily life as I like to think that technology allows us to grow up in the pyramid, but I'm not convinced that either of them is really true.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Linked. How everything is connected to everything else.

This is the title of a great book by Albert-László Barabási.

The book narrates the history of networks from its origins around the eighteen century conceived as simple random graphs, growing to explain the complex networks we see today in every day's world from molecules to genes to neurons to the economy and the web.

As history progresses we start to understand that most networks in nature have common properties such as:

. Small worlds, there exist a small limited degree of separation between any two nodes. In other words, given any person in the planet, there are an average of six other people needed to reach any other person. The same is true for web pages in a number of 19. This property has become controversial lately (why can't be find Bin Laden if we live in a small world?) as a potential but not always a achievable property as it depends on the nodes cooperation and intentions.

. Hubs and connectors. Nodes are not randomly connected. There is a rule called the 80/20 rule (80% of the links are concentrated by 20% of the nodes), which establishes that some nodes concentrate links and act as connectors in the small worlds.

. Richer get reacher. These networks follow a power law distribution curve instead of a bell curve like a random network would. The reason for that is that new nodes attach to the network not in a randomic way but they follow the principle of preferential attachment. An example of this principle applied to the web would be that when choosing between two pages one with twice as nodes as the other, about twice as many people link to the more connected page.

. Survival of the fittest. Nodes always compete for connections because links represent survival in an interconnected world. Fit-get-rich is the rule, although some networks stop being scale free networks when winner takes all. This book written in 2003 mentions as an example the case of the Operating Systems area with a single hub and many tiny nodes. Interestingly enough, it mentions Google not being a winner takes all ... so far ... Anyway, fitness distribution might predict winner-takes-all behaviors.

. Achilles heel. Robustness is an emergent property of these networks, as the higher the interconnection and distribution the more guaranteed is their robustness. The Achilles heel are the hubs, a network could be bring to their feet just by damaging a few key nodes, its hubs. Anybody that has ever been stuck in Chicago airport knows what it means.

. Viruses and fads. Hubs, often referred to in marketing as "opinion leaders", "power users" are nodes with more connections than the average node. Usually, because of these same connections they are the first to know and experience the new cool stuff and they are responsible for "evangelizing" about them as well. If you want something to be viral in a certain net identify your hubs and preach to them

. Topology can be centralized (known as spider), decentralized (known as star, the internet for instance) or distributed (mesh like), the optimum and least vulnerable one, although not achievable for the internet or the web which took a live of their own.

. Fragmentation. Tendency to form communities shaping continents and islands. This explains why it's so hard to find some documents in the web with our current tools.

One of the last questions left open in the book is: as the planet seem to be evolving into one vast computer made of billions of interconnected processors and sensors, when will this computer become self-aware? Neuroscientists are kind of asking the same question in retrospective, how did we humans become aware as the result of our sensorial and neural networks? Without a doubt one of the deepest questions of this century.

Loved this little book, it has implications for all sorts of networks ranging from the genetic world to economics and the internet.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Gratitude and happiness

Little by little we see scientific proof for different popular sayings and beliefs.

This time, I came across an article talking about the link between gratitude and happiness.

If you don't believe, do what science would do:


Try waking up in the morning and practicing gratitude for any little thing you are/have or can think of. After a few you'll notice your happiness level going up.