Sunday, December 28, 2008

Being unemployed / post-Christmas holidays are great!


Here's roughly what I'm up-to at the moment.

jQuery / Javascript / Titanium

I've pretty much got jQuery under my belt. (Not hard, really) and am playing a lot with Javascript, now in Chrome. (Which is nice and fast and hasn't caused me any problems so far Kaunda).

This doesn't, of course, mean that I'm now a great Ajax UI designer (yet); but at least it's not javascript / or DOM-wrangling (via jQuery) which is stopping me.

I've done a number of cute experiments which I hope to show you soon. And then I'll try them in Titanium which looks pretty sweet too. This could be what I was hoping for from Adobe Flex / AIR.


I started playing with Django because a lot of the Python job adverts I've seen are mentioning it. (Far more than, say, Zope. And Turbogears is clearly of infinitesimal interest to prospective employers.)

The most striking thing for me is that it's almost exactly like Google Application Engine. Or rather, I suppose GAE is heavily derived from Django.

The only differences seem to be that you have a relational database behind the scenes rather than Google's own BigTable and I guess I'll need to come to terms with the templating language which I ducked out of when I was writing Mind Traffic Control.

Anyway, Django looks pretty straightforward.

A couple of days ago I was looking at the Blimpduino site. I was thinking it would be cool to have one, but my own electronics and model making skills probably aren't up to it. Same with Johnny Chung Lee's cheap multi-touch Wiimote whiteboard. I'd love to have one. And I was kind of expecting that, by now, someone would have started making and selling a pens + wiimote package for people who want this but don't want to build it themselves.

But that doesn't seem to have happened.

So I started wondering whether there's some kind of site where you can ask people in your locality to make stuff for you. Something like a cross between Rentacoder and the Alchemy part of Etsy. There are undoubtedly people with a good understanding and feel for electronics projects who could knock off a couple of IR light-pens with alacrity. Whereas I'd bumble around not doing it for months.

So where's the site which creates a market for such things? Is it Etsy? If not, and if there doesn't seem to be anything similar, I'm thinking that this is going to be my Django learning exercise. It could be a useful service. (Think that you're encouraging small-scale, on-demand local production and helping stimulate economic activity during what's going to be a pretty bad year for many people. I'll probably add the option of offering and bidding using (eg. LETS) or even barter too.)

I'll knock together a draft site over the next week or so (it *is* my Django learning exercise too) and then, as I'm off to various entrepreneurial meetups I'll talk about it to them.

If it really looks like there's nothing similar out there, I may take this further. It's a definite "should exist". OTOH I can't quite believe that it doesn't. So if someone tells me about an existing one in the meantime, I'll leave it at that.


I just discovered Chuck which appears a very interesting music programming language. I've been looking for something like this for a while, and it sounds pretty good on first listen. Time to go back to some of my more simulation oriented music experiments again.

Finally, merry circuit bent christmas and new year to you all.


John Powers said...

I'm most interested in your idea to create a market to encourage "small-scale, on-demand local production!"

In my usual not-understanding way I want to point to a couple of things that caught my interest and seem somewhat related.

First at the social network Ned a person there wanted to do a useful project to hone his skills making sites with Django. Here's the thread. If you scroll through you'll see I got annoyingly off-topic--it's even worse than it seems because I sent a rather long PM to answer his protest "Why are you telling me this shit."

The reason for pointing to it at all is his project brought to mind your piece on Facebook and the virtues of walled gardens.

To make your site work some how the "trust" factor has to be worked out. I suppose that's why you specifically mention that the market be local.

My friend at Ned wants to incorporate a ride sharing application to his site. Many ride sharing online platforms are either linked to closed employer networks or to Facebook.

Okay, I'm probably really off the wall here, and the trust factor must be obvious and only seems tricky to me.

On the Django homepage they list some sites that use Django. Among them is EveryBlock. I suspect you might find it worth looking at how that plays out in various neighborhoods. In many neighborhoods it's primarily an old media site, but what interests me is the few neighborhoods that draw in user content through other sites like Flickr.

I don't think it's quite enough to link customer and maker like say eBay links buyers and sellers. You pointed to KithKin. They are a makers collective and with their site try to build a community of interest around the work.

I think it might be possible for your site to work rather like ride sharing sites that use Facebook. Basically these sites don't reveal personal information about people at the site, just their route data. In order to connect with the rides, they have to go through Facebook.

The second thing I wanted to point to is Maker Faire. Even while that's an event in Ghana I've been conversing with some of my Ugandan friends about how to draw attention to this initiative there. Really what we want is some way to encourage "small-scale local production." A part of the issue for us is something like the "last mile problem." Computer and Internet connections are not ubiquitous in Uganda, but not uncommon. The key thing is making use of the Internet even for people unlikely to go online. Obviously mobile phones and SMS are useful, and I'm still stuck on what amounts to a Zine culture.

Anyhow, what you do with this Django project will be of keen interest to me.

Composing said...

Thanks John.

Very good points. I haven't thought nearly enough about trust and what the responsibilities of the site are beyond simply putting people in touch with each other.

Obviously Rentacoder provides its own Escrow service which is a large part of the value it adds. I was (lazily) assuming I could get away with relying on people meeting (and paying) in person, but there is undoubtedly a lot more to it than that.

This will definitely need a bit more thinking. As will the possibility of using something like Facebook or other third party id provider. There seems to be some code that might be helpful.

Hmmm ... off to think more. Cheers.

John Powers said...

What the heck do you want a drone for anyway? You might be interested to search "kite arieal" photography at Flickr.

You've related Hagel's unbundling of three different kinds of specialties. Is the crux of your Django site project is really a Customer Relations business? Or is it a Product Innovation and Commercialization business?

If what sparked your idea for a Django-based site was the desire to connect with someone locally who could quickly build you a LED light pen or DIY Drone, at heart you're still a product innovator. You're willing to do the coding for the site, but I bet you want the content to come from someone else.

The same thing is true of my friend at Ned building his local site. That's where EveryBlock seemed so interesting to me. I think they've got a formula they can reproduce in different areas, but the sites still depend on editors. What would be nice is a site that was more or less automatic.

I'm not sure how EveryBlock gets the information it does, but two of the features seem pretty close to the more or less automatic notion I have in mind. One of them is a news aggregator and the other a localized image feed.

In John Hagel's piece on unbundling he points out that media companies can succeed as Customer Relations Businesses. Make Magazine is a brilliant example of a media company doing just that. One of the features at the Web site's Forum/Community tab is Make Maps.

That's a cool feature, and yes, I know working with maps is hard. But I pointed to the Maker Faire in Ghana and one of the people behind that is Erik Hersman who's been involved in making Ushadidi. If you haven't gotten whiff of that project it's worth a quick look. Ushahidi is a platform which crowdsources crisis information. I think this open source initiative has many possible applications outside the original intention. And of course the thing that comes to mind is a way to collect and visualize information about local small scale economic production.

What I flop at in my thinking about this is when I think of customer as “buyer” and then everything is about matching, say, you with someone who can put together two led light pens from parts on the workbench in two minutes flat. Another way of looking at it is where buyer and seller are thought together as the customer of the site you create. The product then isn't the things made but the communities of interest between people.

Sites like Craig's List do a good job of connecting buyers and sellers. And really that's where the source of your idea stems.

But a need I don't see fulfilled so well is the relationship between makers, a site that enables the “pull” approaches that Hagel advocates. Obviously you're talking about making stuff considerably less complex than automobiles, but the thought experiment of open-sourced automobile manufacture is popular these days and is an example of the idea of pull produciton.

I don't have what I'm trying to say together, which is why I'm sputtering about. I'm trying to get at the point that what I see in your idea is not so much putting buyers and sellers together, but rather a platform for enabling local small scale production. The buyers are obviously important, but the unfulfilled part is a platform for producers.

Argh! I know that what you really want is to play around with Django to add to your skill set and make you more economically valuable to employers. But the need you identify for a site that creates a market where people can build stuff for others is very real and needed everywhere. I can't seem to help myself from droning on—sorry.

Composing said...

He he!

Actually, no idea *really* why I want an autonomous blimp. It just seems damned cool. That's all. (Sorry this isn't more profound.)

Same with the Wiimote whiteboard. I love standing in front of white-boards and writing. I imagine I'd love to be able to program that way ... physically, waving my arms around, instead of hunched over a laptop. But whether it would *really* work ...


No idea at all.

And the blimpduino is totally gratuitous. I'm kind of scared of the idea of a camera on these things. Although I infer that's the killer app. (Privacy is going to be in real trouble soon.)

Maybe it's because these are robots I can finally believe in.

Maybe there's something beautiful about being lighter than air.

Maybe it's something vaguely related to this. (NB: Superstruct is *fiction*)

The Hagel unbundling issue is another I haven't really thought through. (Damn, you're asking the awkward questions this time! ;-)

I'd guess creating a platform / market like this is "product innovation". Assuming it *is* innovative, which I'm still not convinced about.

I'm hoping a port to Google Application Engine or Amazon AWS - which would give it a sound enough infrastructure if it really became a going concern. I'm lousy at the Customer Acquisition and Relations side of things. (Look at Mind Traffic Control.)

On another Hegel issue, you've grasped my unstated intent perfectly. It's *exactly* about the *pull* model applied to local, "artesanal" production. That's what Etsy's Alchemy hints at but without the emphasis on "local".

The African Makers Fayre is an awesome idea and the other links are very cool too. Thanks. I'll keep you posted when I have something to look at.

John Powers said...

Phil you're too kind to tolerate my missives and so much more to respond!

These days I've got the economy on my mind. Part of the American automobile bailout bargaining is to kill industrial unions. My reflexive position is "Worker of the world unite!"

My ideas are inchoate. But when I read your idea the problem to be solved didn't seem so much as to connect buyer with seller as to make a platform for makers to collaborate.

I'm not sure that line of thinking really makes sense.

Yesterday Rudolf Kaehr put up a paper The logic of the bailout strategy: The end of capitalism or the end of the state?. Kaehr points out: "Therefore, the whole bailout saga is a secret coup:
coup d'´etat and coup de capitale." He offers in response to that "bailouts to save living space and future(s) have to be discovered and invented beyond state and capital."

One way or another I see your idea as a way for people to organize their labor to achieve common goals. And perhaps the invention of a space beyond state and capital.

John Powers said...

Via a post by Ethan Zuckerman Is ad-supported journalism viable in a pay-for-performance age? a link to Doc Searls and a link to Vendor Relationship Management. As always there are lots of smart people thinking about stuff I'm only dimly aware of. But VRM, right that's the ticket!