A Fool to Open Source

This week, while paying a visit to one of our Fortune 500 clients, they asked us why we open sourced our software. “Anyone could just copy your work” they said. “Aren’t you afraid that someone steals your business from you?” Wow. We hadn’t thought of that. We just figured we were following the Lean Startup guidelines by sticking to the free tier of GitHub. It costs $25 per month to hide your code in private repositories you know! But then we looked into the gravity of our mistake and here’s what we found:

Other companies can create value on top of our platform. For themselves! How selfish!

We were feeling quite confident that we had the $19 trillion Internet of Things market opportunity all to ourselves given our early mover status. After all, we announced our IoT pivot a week before Cisco, the company responsible for that claim. But it turns out that other companies could leverage our open source platform to “create” additional value. For instance, a third party could focus on a specific vertical outside of our expertise, and develop a useful targeted product with our code base as a foundation. That supposed additional value would in effect be a stolen slice of our $19T pie! Unless, of course, they’re naïve enough to open source too, allowing us to reciprocate and rightfully reclaim our slice!

Collaborators could contaminate our code base under the auspices of free contributions!

We also felt confident that, in our conquest of the global IoT market, we could maintain a clean, pure code base dignified of such an endeavour. But then, to our chagrin, individuals outside our organisation insisted on collaborating and contributing to our open source code. Sure, they claimed to be “fixing bugs” or “adding features” but we all know that can’t be true: why would anyone work without pay? Their intentions could only be malicious. Surely they must be saboteurs seeking to steal from our pie! After all, look at what open collaboration has done to the Linux operating system. Yikes! Is anybody still using that?

The community could continue to use our software even should our organisation perish!

Okay, we’re still having a hard time wrapping our heads around this one. It’s bad enough that we have to share our pie with selfish third-parties and “collabo-raiders”. Now imagine that they eat the whole $19T, causing us to starve and perish as an organisation! Apparently our open source code base would continue to live on indefinitely! How unjust! This surely explains why so many clients and partners have been keen to adopt our platform: we’d have absolutely no recourse to childishly revoke our work out of spite! In fact, we are relegated to subsist but from the meager rations of pie that they dole out each month in exchange for our open source software as-a-service. What kind of pathetic business model is that?!?

We learned a tough lesson this week. By accidentally open sourcing our software, it has become nothing more than a platform bastardised by open collaboration and trampled by an influx of clients and partners. If only we had the prescience to patent a proprietary code base. Imagine how much further ahead we, and the IoT, would be today.

Blogging about Tweeting about Blogging

Just now we wrapped up an hour-long #StartupChats session on Twitter discussing the importance of blogging and one’s startup (summary via Storify). And now that we’re writing about that here, we are effectively Blogging about Tweeting about Blogging as the title implies!

Why? Because that hour of human-generated 140-character content flying across the Internet made us think of the future, the Internet of Things, and what the machine-generated content might look like if technology were truly contextually aware and cognisant of the physical world.

A few weeks ago, we presented at the Ambient Intelligence conference in Waterloo and closed with the following thoughts:

  • What if (non-human) things were in complete control of what they shared and with what?
  • What if the information they shared increased their access to utility?

For instance, taking the automotive example, which was often cited at the conference, imagine self-driving cars negotiating with parking spaces and one another. Now imagine we could follow that as a Twitter conversation just like #StartupChats, but rather #ParkingChats. Of course such negotiation between inanimate objects (or, more accurately, their “avatars”) is totally foreseeable, however it is likely to employ a more machine-friendly communication mechanism. But perhaps in the future Internet of Things, an intrepid developer will create a human-friendly translator for such machine communication that may in fact prove to be rather entertaining:

SelfDriving99:   @tightparkingspace are you free?

tightparkingspace:   @SelfDriving99 why yes, I am.

SelfDriving99:   @tightparkingspace on my way baby!

IDriveMyself_123:   @SelfDriving99 perhaps you should ask @tightparkingspace again. #winning

SelfDriving99:   @tightparkingspace WTF?

tightparkingspace:   @SelfDriving99 welcome to the #SharingEconomy dear! cc @IDriveMyself_123

IDriveMyself_123:   @tightparkingspace @SelfDriving99 LOL

Clearly, we are not the first to think about such humour:

Given that this post started out on the subject of Blogging about Tweeting about Blogging, the deeper (silly) question is whether the above conversation might subsequently be discussed at a higher level via another medium? In other words, might those self-driving cars and parking spaces “blog” about their tweeting-about-parking experience?

Curiously enough, our answer today would be “perhaps”. If the goal of ubiquitous computing and the Internet of Things is indeed to maximise efficiency, one could argue that the algorithms behind efficiency calculations would indeed be dynamic and subject to improvement themselves. Hence the idea of machines blogging about tweeting about parking, with the goal to increase parking efficiency, may not be completely far-fetched. And should it come to that, one can only hope that we as humans find humour, inspiration and, dare we say, a deeper appreciation of ourselves, in those translated discussions.

Limited Edition Artisanal Hub

Limited Edition Artisinal Hub

Disclaimer: this is a sillyActive blog post and, although the featured hub is in fact real (it was our first prototype back in January 2012) nothing else in the post should be taken seriously in any way. Enjoy!

Today we are proud to unveil our limited edition artisanal reelyActive hub. The product of countless months of intensive research and development, this hub represents the cutting edge in not only reel-to-Ethernet connectivity, but also DC transmission line power injection.

Connaisseurs will appreciate the raw beauty of the solid oak base. Hand cut and unfinished, it symbolizes the natural quality of this product. The wood pairs beautifully with the stainless steel of the two meticulously selected hose clamps, each coupling an active design element in delicate balance.

The hub’s energy resonates from a vintage Atari AC/DC converter. Just as audiophiles appreciate the subtleties of power supply construction, we have spared no expense in selecting the finest examples from the late nineteen-seventies, long recognized as the golden age of 12VDC converters. A generous length of cable ensures enough reach for the hub to be showcased as the centrepiece of any modern room.

The design is brought to life by the GW215 RS-422-to-Ethernet serial device server. Its gently blinking LEDs remind that this is a fully functioning piece of art. Housed in a full-metal enclosure, and featuring exposed terminal blocks, it brings an industrial intensity to the design, in juxtaposition with the recreational air of the Atari power supply.

Finally, reel connectivity is provided with the ultimate evolution in twisted pair cable design. Building on the foundations of Denon’s revolutionary AKDL1, our Cat5e pairs are hand twisted in perfect balance by master craftsmen. Exotic, noise-suppressing tie-wraps secure the cable to the harness at carefully selected locations. Each pair is then routed to the corresponding terminal block following a geometrically-optimal curve radius.

The result is an unmatched example of form, function and art. A must for any serious IoT or RTLS collector. Reserve your limited edition artisanal hub today as quantities are limited!

Connected Things: a decade of progress?

The above video, the infamous Legomercial, is about to celebrate its ten year anniversary. In January 2003, over the span of a week, I built the Lego sets, shot the stop motion using a Lego webcam, wrote the entire score using an Alesis Quadrasynth and produced the video using VideoWave, the rendering taking hours on an AMD Duron 700MHz. We played the video in a non-stop loop for two days at our booth at the Davis Centre of the University of Waterloo as we showed off our fourth-year design project.

The project: a web-connected home automation system. Three engineering classmates and I built a web server, an embedded client, a digital controller and a few analog sensors and actuators. Essentially, you could use a web page to turn electrical outlets on and off in your home. You could read your thermostat remotely. And you could remotely trigger the Ferris Bueller doorbell message to play off of a CD-ROM. And it all worked!

I bring this up because at LeWeb’12 in Paris, SmartThings demoed remotely turning on and off a Christmas tree in Minnesota by using a smartphone. It was a great demo with a sexy mobile app and the audience loved it. But it gave me flashbacks to 2003 when people told us we were late to the game and that X10 already enabled the connected home. So if the technology exists, and people are excited by the idea, why are there still so few connected Things in the home?

Fuck Yeah Internet Fridge asks the age old question “why doesn’t my fridge have the Internet yet?” In the Legomercial, we show the connected oven (Samsung has now built this), the doorbell camera (now crowd-fundable as Doorbot) and the pet feeder (which you can have today as FeedandGo). So there’s been some progress, but contrast that to the following:

  • the mobile device in your pocket today is more powerful than the computer used to create and render the Legomercial and it even shoots photos and videos
  • we had to build and host our own web server for the system to work whereas today you could have that up and running on AWS in minutes
  • in the Legomercial we show the Netscape browser (we avoided IE back then too), Web 2.0 has come a long, long way since then

All this to say that the idea of connecting Things is as cool as ever, but progress lags far, far behind mobile devices, the cloud and the web. So, will 2013 finally be the year of the Internet of Things? Will it be consumer applications that lead the way? Will GE’s Industrial Internet or Cisco’s Internet of Everything lead the way? Time will tell, but one thing’s for sure, it’s not technology that’s holding us back.

Shit just got reel silly

To inaugurate the sillyActive blog, it felt like the best thing would be to post the first bit of reelyActive silliness. And here it is:

Shit just got reel


This photo was taken on April 3rd, 2012 (look how pale my arm is!). At that time, reelyActive was a project barely three months old being run through düngengineering, my engineering consulting company. We had working technology, but certainly nothing that qualified as a MVP. We were applying to get on stage at the Montreal International Startup Festival and we knew we were a long shot. So we took this photo of Pier-Olivier and myself, tossed it on our landing page and hoped that when our application was reviewed we’d at least generate some smiles from the Bad Boys 2 fans with enough knowledge of German to catch the nuance that düngen (my family name) means to fertilize, using, you guessed it, shit!

In the end, it didn’t get us on stage, but we still had a great time at the festival. By that time, our webpage had serious content and we set up our landing page to have two options: Serious Site and Silly Site. The Silly Site was simply the above photo. And while we have no scientific data to back up which site was more popular, whenever we went through the access logs, chances were that when someone stumbled upon our website for the first time, curiosity took them to the Silly Site first.

So there you have it. Anecdotal evidence suggests that our visitors enjoy silliness and that’s why our first blog post shall be silly! And we promise to deliver plenty of silliness limited only by the fact that we actually have to run our business, which turns out to be a rather time-consuming affair. 😛