Open the app to see what’s new. Check updates that have been posted on the secrets I’ve commented on first. Click through each of them. Go into the main feed, read down to where I last left off. Scroll back to the top, pull down to refresh. Head back to updates.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
That’s been my life over the past week, as Secret has become all-consuming devourer of my time and attention. When I’m reading Secret I’m ignoring everyone and everything else around.
When I’m not reading Secret, I’m thinking about secret.
I’m pretty sure this is how an addict feels, and I’m becoming increasingly concerned that if I don’t stop soon, my abuse of this app will have dire circumstances for my work and social life.
Maybe I’ll open up too much, let slip something really damning in a moment of weakness, and someone will find me out. Maybe my friends will realize that I’m the one trolling them and they’ll cease to be my friends. Maybe people will just get tired of me ignoring them, while I scan for new Secrets over and over again. Maybe I’ll miss an important deadline because I was neck deep in my friends’ gossip.
It’s not even the gossip that gets me, not the mean-spiritedness or the trolling or the braggadocio, not the impossible lies or the regrettable truths.
It’s relating to other human beings in this weird, anonymous state where we’re stripped of all the trappings society defines us by. It’s being just another voice in the darkness, seeking to be heard for who we really are.
Google’s Android OS is the dominant mobile platform by market share, but it’s also increasingly pushing beyond portables and onto a range of other devices types — including, if this crowdfunding campaign delivers on its promises, the boring old wall switches in your home.
bRight Switch is a prototype project that’s within touching distance of its $115,000 Indiegogo crowdfunding goal (with less than a day of its campaign left). Its aim is to replace plain old light switch hardware with what’s basically a small tablet fixed to the wall, expanding the functionality of the switch interface beyond simply just switching your lights on and off.
The bRight Switch actually plugs into a base unit to convert a wall switch from dumb switch to smart screen, but its makers claim the installation process is an easy job for an electrician.
The bRight Switch tablet design is customised for a wall-mounted context to offer features that make sense in such a setting, such as people detection to automatically turn on lights on when someone walks into a room.
Other features the smart switch is set to support include the ability to remotely switch your lights on and off via the Internet and a learning mode that gets to know your routines over time and automatically switches lights on and off based on prior usage.
Also on board is a security feature whereby you can play back footage recorded by the camera on one of the switches in another room. Plus videocalling (via Skype, or similar) and streaming music via Internet radio services such as Pandora.
Other features include a built-in alarm; temperature display; dimmer ability for certain types of bulbs; an intercom feature allowing for chatting between bRight Switches located in different rooms; plus other security features such as setting an alarm to be triggered by motion in a particular room.
The units will also run standard Android apps, so you could presumably fire up Angry Birds on your wall if you’re really bored. bRight Switch’s makers are also planning to supply an open API to encourage developers to create new apps for the wall beyond what they’ve envisaged.
Of course, all these features are aspirations at this point with only a prototype of the bRight Switch in existence. If the device hits its funding target, which at the time of writing is looking pretty likely, its U.S. based makers reckon they can deliver to backers by July.
The switches use Wi-Fi to plug into your home router to support functions such as Skype calling and streaming Internet radio, while the Z-wave wireless protocol is used for talking to lights around your home that are not wired directly to the switch.
How much will this smart light switch set you back? They’re charging $75 per switch for non-Bluetooth switches, and $90 for the Bluetooth version. Or $325/$435 for a five-pack of the two respective options.
What’s the point of the Bluetooth addition? Added functionality such as the ability to link up to external Bluetooth speakers for “full spectrum sound” — or, getting even more customised about home automation, the ability to track your phone (and therefore you) around the house, providing a “custom personalized experience as you move from room to room.”
The bird is the word this week on the TechCrunch Droidcast: That pixelated fowl from Flappy Bird has wormed its way into everyone’s hearts. We discuss the game, and the strange circumstances surrounding its creation and apparent demise. Also, we debate the usefulness and potential of Mozilla’s new Android launcher.
This week is also the 7th Annual Crunchies, our annual awards gala to celebrate startups in Silicon Valley, so next week we’ll likely have updates from that event, where there doubtless will be some tangential Android news on display.
We invite you to enjoy weekly Android podcasts every Sunday at 4:00 p.m. Eastern and 1:00 p.m. Pacific (new time!), in addition to our weekly Gadgets podcast at 3 p.m. Eastern and noon Pacific on Fridays. Subscribe to the TechCrunch Droidcast in iTunes, too, if that’s your fancy.
Intro music by Kris Keyser
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Google Glass is still months from its public launch, but after the initial hype, most of the recent news around Glass has been negative. It seems like for every positive round of publicity Glass gets, it soon gets hit by something negative soon after.
Just a few days ago, for example, word spread that the New York Police Department was testing Glass. Google itself isn’t working with the NYPD, as far as I can tell, but somebody there probably got Glass through the Explorer program. Still, that story was enough to get the fears around privacy and Glass back into the news cycle (and onto the Drudge Report). Just take a look at the comments on CNN’s story about this if you want to know what people think about Glass.
Google’s problem is that only a very small number of people have ever tried Glass, while everybody seems to have an opinion about it. The company isn’t ready to launch it publicly yet, so since late last year, it’s been taking Glass onto a roadshow around the U.S. This weekend, for example, the team went to Atlanta to give people there a chance to try Glass.
The idea here is simple: let people try it, so they can understand how it works. Too many people still think Glass always records everything around you. They may even believe that it has built-in face recognition or other tools that will invade their privacy. The reality is far less interesting, up to the point where at the Atlanta event, Google now shows off a lot of the sports Glassware and Word Lens so people can see Glass can actually be quite useful outside of showing you the weather and Google+ updates.
At its roadshows, Google lets you try Glass, but it also ensures that local politicians get a chance to try it. It’s pretty easy for somebody who wants to make his name in politics to take on Google without ever trying Glass, after all, and get his 15 minutes of fame on local news (and maybe a few minutes on cable news, too).
To change public perception of Glass (if that’s indeed still a possibility), Google needs to expand this kind of program before public launch. Until then, Glass will remain a privacy invading, face tagging, covert photo-taking headset for most.
Lynn Rothschild has short brown hair and smiley eyes. She cracks jokes about biology and microscopes with ease. Diana Gentry, her decades-younger Ph.D. student, loves classic video games and vegetarian cooking. She lives near Silicon Valley. The two colleagues have a funny banter, and have spent holidays together. But they share one unique goal.
They’re trying to 3D-print wood in space.
The Stanford University researchers have been working long hours honing a three-dimensional printing process to make biomaterials like wood and enamel out of mere clumps of cells. Pundits say such 3D bioprinting has vast potential, and could one day be widely used to transform specially engineered cells into structural beams, food, and human tissue. Rothschild and Gentry don’t only see these laboratory-created materials helping only doctors and Mars voyagers. They also envision their specific research – into so-called “synthetic biomaterials” – changing the way products like good-old-fashioned wooden two-by-fours are made and used by consumers.
Here’s their plan: Rothschild, an evolutionary biologist who works for NASA and teaches astrobiology at Stanford, and Gentry, her doctoral advisee who is trained in biology and mechanical engineering, are working with $100,000 they received last fall from the space agency’s Innovative Advanced Concept Program. They say they’re on track to prove their concept by October: a three-dimensional printing process that yields arrays of cells that can excrete non-living structural biomaterials like wood, mineral parts of bone and tooth enamel. They’re building a massive database of cells already in nature, refining the process of engineering select cells to make and then excrete (or otherwise deliver) the desired materials, and tweaking hardware that three-dimensionally prints modified cells into arrays that yield the non-living end products.
In short, your 3D printer could soon be your hardware store, your butcher, and your dentist.
“Cells produce an enormous array of products on the Earth, everything from wool to silk to rubber to cellulose, you name it, not to mention meat and plant products and the things that we eat,” Rothschild said. “Many of these things are excreted (from cells). So you’re not going to take a cow or a sheep or a probably not a silk worm or a tree to Mars. But you might want to have a very fine veneer of either silk or wood. So instead of taking the whole organism and trying to make something, why couldn’t you do this all in a very precise way – which actually may be a better way to do it on Earth as well – so that you’re printing an array of cells that then can secrete or produce these products?”
Rothschild and Gentry’s setup is different from using basic 3D printers that deliver final products. Instead, the NASA-funded researchers are using 3D printing as an enabling technology of sorts. Their setup involves putting cells in a gelling solution with some sort of chemical signaling and support into a piezoelectric print head that spits out cells that form a gel-based 3D pattern.
This team is by no means the only one experimenting with 3D cellular printing. The publicly traded San Francisco company Organovo is using a lower-resolution type of printing to create living tissue for medical research and therapeutic applications. Columbia, Mo.-based firm Modern Meadow is developing processes to 3D print leather and edible meat. A Cornell University team last year unveiled a 3D printed synthetic ear. Academic researchers across the globe have been logging multiple related advancements, including making synthetic spider silk from bacteria.
Andrew Hessel, a biotechnology analyst who is a distinguished researcher with San Rafael, Calif.-based Autodesk Inc., said the emerging field of 3D bioprinting is a “pretty wide open space” with different researchers “all dancing on multiple fronts at once.” And the research is not without controversy. Information-technology research firm Gartner, Inc. recently predicted 3D printing of living tissue and organs will soon spur a major ethical debate.
Hessel said the most-complex 3D bioprinting research is being done with the actual engineering of cells. Companies like Organovo, for example, aren’t actually engineering the cells, and instead are differentiating and laying them in a way that they can mature and grow in to functional tissue.
Other groups are focused on finding ways to manipulate the print modules so they can manipulate the cells faster and cheaper.
And then, Hessel said, are the researchers like Rothschild and Gentry, “who are really just learning how to manipulate cells to do completely new things.” They are using 3D printers because they are the best way to pick and place specific materials on a growth plate.
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“3D printing was not designed for mass production, like making computer chips,” Chen said. “It was designed for personalized, patient-specific products or customer-specific production. So I think it’s a perfect fit for medical, because everybody’s different, for each disease case is different.”
Still, full-blown 3D bioprinting is not yet reality. Hessel said researchers are struggling with generating large amounts of bio-based materials in a way where 3D printers can deposit them and really have functional output. Gentry, indeed, said one of her team’s biggest challenges relates to demonstrating and quantifying the actual material yield.
Nonetheless, Gentry is optimistic. She sees their work as not only making structural biomaterials through 3D printing, but making them better.
“If you looked at a piece of plastic, by in large, a small piece of it is just like a large piece of it; this is not true of most biomaterials,” Gentry said. “They have very interesting properties and structures on a micro or sometime molecular scale that stack and create these sort of emergent macro-scale properties. So they behave differently in different directions. We are trying to show that we can manufacture these materials so that those really fine-grained properties work for us.”
She envisions products like wood reinforced with carbon fiber, or equipped with copper nano-wires that change its electrical conductivity, sitting someday on hardware store shelves.
“I want to see if I can add a new class of materials to the palette of materials that people make things out of,” she said.
Yesterday, the developer behind Flappy Bird said he would be removing the remarkably/mysteriously successful game from the App Store in just 22 hours.
Sure enough, the game appears to be gone. And in its spot on the #1 spot on the iOS leaderboard? A Flappy Birds clone.
Flappy Bird’s developer, Dong Nguyen of Vietnam, suggested that the many pressures of success had become overwhelming.
I am sorry 'Flappy Bird' users, 22 hours from now, I will take 'Flappy Bird' down. I cannot take this anymore.—
Dong Nguyen (@dongatory) February 08, 2014
It is not anything related to legal issues. I just cannot keep it anymore.—
Dong Nguyen (@dongatory) February 08, 2014
He later followed up to clarify that the game was not being removed for legal reasons, nor would he sell Flappy Birds to someone else.
According to an interview with The Verge last week, Dong Nguyen disclosed that the game was making upwards of $50K per day in ad revenue.
Many internet commenters had suggested that the tweet was something of a ploy to bump downloads up even higher; that Dong would have a “last minute change of heart” after the tweet lead to a surge of downloads and further secured the game its #1 spot. Given that the game is seemingly gone from both the iOS and Android stores (with a million clones left in its wake), that doesn’t appear to be the case.
The strikingly-similar game that now takes its place aboard the iOS App Store’s free games chart is called “Ironpants”, and the concepts are essentially identical: You’re controlling a flying thing. Tap to make flying thing go up. If your character touches anything, you lose. You’re a superhero instead of a bird, you’re dodging crates instead of Mario-inspired pipes — but at its core, it’s pretty much the same game. The main difference I’ve noticed so far: the ads are significantly more in-your-face.
For the curious: according to App Annie, Ironpants was first added to the app store on January 27th of 2014, 10 days after Flappy Bird first reached the number 1 spot (January 17th) and roughly 2 weeks before Flappy Bird was removed (February 9th.)
Could the bird return, if Nguyen does decide to bring it back? It’s feasible. It depends on how it was “removed” from the App Store. If the app package was removed from iTunes Connect entirely, Nguyen would need to resubmit it and wait for Apple’s approval, and it will have lost its previous download count, reviews, etc. If he just turned off its country-by-country availability, bringing the game back could be a matter of ticking a few check boxes.
If you’d downloaded Flappy Bird before it got the self-dropped App Store ax, you should still be able to download it indefinitely if you ever delete it from your phone. The download button will be hiding in your iCloud “Purchased” list, which is in turn tucked away into the Updates screen in the app store.
Gillmor Gang – Robert Scoble, Kevin Marks, Keith Teare, and Steve Gillmor. Live recording session has concluded for today. Find us on Facebook at Facebook.com/GillmorGang
Late in 2013, I stumbled upon two bootstrapped entrepreneurs with deep backgrounds in mobile development — Timothy Lee and Nathan Esquenazi — who were on very focused, technical, educational mission: To take some of the best web developers and train them to develop for mobile platforms. Everyone knows it’s impossible to find good mobile engineers across iOS and Android, and with talent either locked up in big companies or fragmented across so many startups, their startup was born: CodePath, an intense, live, workshop-style bootcamp for engineers to work on mobile development projects. For this weekly mobile column, I invited the CodePath founders share their vision, as well as to explain the program to engineers and companies who may be interested.
How was CodePath formed, and what’s your mission?
Our mission is to empower software developers, free of charge, to continuously expand their skillsets across new specializations and platforms. To start, we have designed an accelerated program that effectively ramps up engineers in iOS and Android development. The programs we offer are supported by paid training and sponsorship from mobile startups.
CodePath was formed largely out of our shared passion for teaching and curriculum development. About a year ago after our startup was acquired, we had the opportunity to design and develop a project-based mobile curriculum for Yahoo. We ran hundreds of engineers there through this program and saw the opportunity to bring this unique format and structure to the startup community at large.
Why is the program restricted to developers with a CS background?
Fortunately, there are a wealth of great programs and low cost curriculums that already exist for junior or aspiring developers. However, not many companies are addressing the needs of the professional developer community. We find that there are many inefficiencies in the way that developers today ramp up on the latest technology stacks. In addition, seasoned developers often find transitioning out of their existing specialties to be quite difficult. While we strive to keep our curriculum as open as possible to everyone today, there’s an incredible value in initially focusing our programs towards the professional audience.
Don’t the plethora of online coding courses provide enough tools for people to learn these skills?
There is definitely an almost overwhelming amount of online resources and we certainly don’t miss developing in a pre-Stack Overflow era. However, there are many advantages to learning within a structured, accelerated program with an emphasis on best practices and standards. We think the programs are valuable in part for the same reason people find value from a personal trainer at the gym or for the same reasons an athlete has a coach. We think the weekly code reviews, well-designed curriculum and peer collaboration on real projects can make the learning process considerably more fun and effective.
How do the iOS courses differ from the Android courses?
The courses are more similar than they are different. First and foremost our programs are about creating an effective learning environment and connecting talented engineers together so they can build interesting products. Both courses give engineers a chance to ramp up on the respective platforms, adopt the best practices surrounding mobile development, and explore how to design enjoyable user experiences. The iOS course is focused around the latest iOS 7 technologies and techniques. The Android course is focused on introducing the world of modern Android development with KitKat. In that sense, the development environments, tools, and platforms are what separate the two courses while the spirit and the format remain the same.
Do you plan to extend to Glass, or other wearable platforms?
Absolutely, we think part of the strength of Android in particular is the proliferation of Android-based devices that extend far beyond the phone. Automobiles, eyewear, tablets and even military helmets are quickly becoming a part of the Android ecosystem and we are interested in actively encouraging exploration of those platforms as they are adopted.
How do larger companies who want to hire mobile talent get placements, and how do they get involved in Code Path?
We are currently exploring the various ways our programs can provide value to companies. We think increasing the pool of talented iOS and Android engineers is in the best interest of many local companies. We have been working with companies like Yahoo, Hulu, Zendesk, MyFitnessPal, and Riviera Partners to sponsor our past CodePath programs. For companies that need mobile training for their engineers, we allow them to reserve paid seats in our San Francisco courses. Any company interested in getting involved as a sponsor or inquiring about mobile training should contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.
What are some key stats around the program so far? Are you thinking of expanding beyond the Bay Area?
Right now we are very focused on providing the best programs that we can within San Francisco but we are committed to expanding these programs in time to other cities. Here are a few of our key stats:
The average participant has a CS degree and 4 years of professional experience
CodePath has a diverse group of students and about 30% of our alumni are female engineers
Over 100 engineers have taken our program in San Francisco in small cohorts of 15-30
CodePath has trained 200+ engineers at Yahoo and helped many transition to the mobile team
Our current volunteer mobile mentors include senior iOS and Android developers from Nest, Climate Corporation, Edmodo, Couple.me, Klout, Couchsurfing, and FlipBoard
Why does mobile development pose such a challenge, even for adept web developers?
As an experienced engineer, learning the nooks and crannies of any new framework takes a significant time investment. One difference in web and mobile is there is not really a distinction between a front-end mobile developer and a back-end mobile developer. A successful mobile developer must be full stack and must consider user interaction as much as technical implementation. As part of our program, we emphasize the level of visual detail required to create polished mobile experiences, which is often a new challenge for web developers that are currently focused on scalability and infrastructure. One other challenge is the difference in architecting, testing and deploying for embedded devices as opposed to applications in the cloud.
As a two-person bootstrapped company, how will Code Path grow?
Right now we rely on people to spread the word about our mobile courses to friends and colleagues. If you know any engineers interested in learning iOS or Android, have them sign up for the next program starting in March. If you know of companies that have mobile training needs or would be interested in sponsoring our initiatives, we’d love to meet them. If you are a mobile engineer interested in mentoring or teaching, we definitely want to talk with you. Feel free to reach out to us for any reason at email@example.com.